[AW] The Demons That Lurk Within
She was losing light. In a small cycle of time, what little light remained of the afternoon sun would perish beyond the horizon, drowning the wolf in a cold and unforgiving darkness that she was woefully unprepared for. Her every intention had been to find shelter before that point--just a place to hole up in to pass the evening in relative comfort--but an unanticipated run-in with a particularly territorial individual had thrown her off course, interrupted her plans, and essentially derailed her good intentions. Never mind the fact Ria had absolutely been trespassing somewhere she didn't belong; it was just a shame the individual had been so hellbent on protecting what had caught her eye, and that they had done so well enough to succeed.

Another heavy breath escaped her lungs in a plume of foggy smoke, only faintly warming her nose as it passed. This was so much more difficult than it had been back home... There, she would have been bedding down amidst her kin, her siblings and cousins, sharing space and body heat, with bellies full from a meal procured by her sister most likely. But she's gone... Even if Coriander were back home, Tanith would not be there with a bloody grin and wagging tail, proudly displaying whatever small creature she had managed to procure from the snow with her impeccable hearing and talent for hunting through dense powder. And there would have been no Asherah there to assist in cleaning the still-healing wound on her scruff either...

A small, pitiful whine slipped out of her dark muzzle, the snow dampening the sound, but she felt the pain of it echo throughout her body. It throbbed within the bite wound near the base of her neck, ached in the bruises left over from the multiple escapes she had recently undertaken, and crushed her lonely, homesick heart. "I'm sorry," she muttered in a hoarse whisper, another in a long line of apologies she hoped the freezing wind would carry to her brother, Donnes, to appease his anger. He hadn't heard her when she said it to his face, but maybe, just maybe, from this distance...he would finally listen and know she hadn't meant for this to happen.

The recollections of her estranged family naturally stirred up unresolved emotions--guilt, sadness, longing--so strong they caused her footsteps to falter, and already unsteady on her feet, Coriander stumbled. The split second it took her to catch herself, the quick instinct to preserve and maintain her footing, was all it took as a trigger. "No...no, not again." Her heart began a rapid race in her chest as panic gripped her, just as her body seized and flexed almost all at once. It was happening: the change that had taken place just yesterday, a change that was entirely unnatural and downright frightening. The dark wolf gritted her teeth around a fearful growl and clenched her eyes shut as she felt her body lengthen, shift, taking on the same freakish bipedal shape as the wolf-like individual to attack her days before.

It happened much more quickly this time, though the change was no less jarring. Where once she as a wolf stood upon four legs in the midst of a snowy wood, now crawled a monster on all fours, slender claws digging into her palms as her knees hit the snow. Ria gasped and whined as she fought not to crumble entirely in place, her large ears folding against a mess of dark hair. Why did this have to happen now? She was so exposed! In desperation, she dragged herself forward on her hands and knees toward the base of the nearest tree, and huddled against its reassuring solidness as she continued to breathe in ragged gasps. "I-It'll go away," she told herself, hugging her new arms around her large but seemingly fragile body, "it doesn't stay."

Or at least it hadn't yesterday. She could only hope it would fade again...and refused to think about what would happen if it didn't.

OOC: Set in Western Gaspesia, sundown, directly after an unanticipated shift. First post, woo! Have a confused Ria~

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The area was near Del Cenere, so Tallulah found herself roaming outside quite often. It was by the west that she spotted another. Her brief excursion to The Rest Stop behind her, she did not wander as far now. There was still time to prove herself to her new group and become a ranked individual in the pack. Until then, she rode and traded and hunted. She patrolled outside the gang's land. She did all that she asked herself to do, and what others did as well. "Hey!" she called now, concern laced her blue eyes as she slowed Rusty "ya okay there, miss?"

They seemed to be hunched over, as if in pain or suffering. Tallulah did not know what they talked about... But the murmurs did cut through the cold air. Rusty stopped paces away from the stranger, nickering also in concern. But he stood cautious, ready to take off if this was a planned ambush. The gyrfalcon she was nursing back to health dug his talons softly into her shoulder. He flapped his good wing once, beady eyes on the strange Luperci. "Do ya need help?" she asked, unaware of their turmoil. In her Optime form, she did not stand as tall as some...

But to one who would not be used to such forms, it could be intimidating. Tallulah slid off Rusty's back and tried to approach. Her stance was cautious but concerned. She did want to help, but she didn't know how to help. Not unless she was told what ailed them, for she did not have a healer's touch. Maybe someone in the Gang could...? She could only hope.

ooc; 275 words, tagging you!
How long? Pressing herself as close as she could against the rough bark of the tree, Coriander--now in her Optime guise--turned her eyes upon the horizon and felt her heart sink even as the sun proceeded to do the same against the edge of the earth. Too long. No matter how long this transformation lasted, her light was nearly gone, and the opportunity for a night of relative comfort was rapidly darkening like the skies above. She couldn't find shelter that quickly, not before the nighttime temperatures fully set in. Hugging her arms more tightly around her middle, Ria bit her tongue to stop another despairing whine from slipping out, knowing it would do nothing to help. This was all her fault, same as everything else. If she had just acted with more smarts, with more care...

Perhaps the cold was already getting to her as well, for it wasn't until a voice called out that the dark monster-wolf realized she was no longer alone in her misery. Though company was even less preferable. Her shoulders hunched in shame and guilt as she tried to shrink her strange shape into something less noticeable as if to hide, assuming the stranger hadn't yet seen her very visible wrongness in the quickening shadows. But as she shifted in place, peering through her lavender right eye and tilting her muzzle outward in a vain attempt at catching a scent, Ria realized this was no ordinary wolf as she first thought.

The fur along her shoulders and spine bristled with clear apprehension just as her mismatched eyes opened wide from seeing the stranger, a soft, choked gasp heralding another panicky racing fit of her sensitive heart. Coriander turned, pressing her back to the tree with her legs drawn inward and her feet and hands grasping for purchase beneath the snow. She didn't even register the wound on the back of her neck protesting the quick movement. Another one. This stranger too was misshapen and malformed, accompanied by other creatures that, under normal circumstances, shouldn't have looked so chummy beside a predator of this stature. Everything about this image was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong!

A fearful, threatening growl started in the back of Ria's throat, full of warning and dread. "Stay back, monster," she rasped around it, the words coming out with a clearly nervous undertone despite the gruff delivery. The naked Luperci stared at the dressed woman standing before her, feeling cornered by her approach but confused by the lack of open hostility. Why was this one different? Was it really only because Coriander hadn't tried to steal from her first? Unable to help herself, she spat out a question, one meant to learn not only about the stranger...but about her own current state of being: "What are you?"

OOC: Thanks for hopping in! Sorry about Ria ^^; She's new to this lol

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Obvious fear.

Tallulah understood at once, and she did not need the stranger's words to confirm it. Her first shift. She stopped, slowed her pace so she had distance between herself and the other new Luperci. A hand raised, but the other reached into her satchel. The Gyrfalcon shuddered against the wind, fluffing his feathers up - but kept an eyeball on the other. If she meant to attack Tallulah, he'd take her eye. Maybe her fingers if he could. "Ya must be cold and hungry" the dog hybrid murmured, pulling out an apple. Rusty's ears piqued but he said nothing, not even when the apple was meant for him. He could share. Especially with someone who needed it. "here" she tossed it at the woman's feet and backed up "if you're cold, I can make a fire?"

She ignored the term 'monster', for they were more or less the same 'species' now. "I'm a Luperci," she said, answering her question "I can shift to a biped - like right now" she tried to make her twang vanish to explain in a clear way "and into four-legged forms, if I want" she hesitated before she pointed out "there's lots of Luperci in this land. You" must have become infected "You're one of us now. Was this your first shift?" Poor thing. Who had infected her and left her in such a state? "if it makes ya more comfortable, I can turn into... well, I can turn four-legged?" The offer was genuine enough, kindness sparkling in her blue depths. "oh, I'm Tallulah by the way. That's Rusty" the huge horse nickered in greeting "and this is our new friend." she introduced the Gyrfalcon who glared evenly.

"He don't have a name, but he won't hurt ya. I swear" The avian had yet to be violent in any way toward anyone. She had just taken Rusty and him out for a little stroll, that's all "I won't hurt ya either." she added for the woman's benefit.

ooc; 332 words, tagging you!
thanks! hope you have fun!
The racing of her heart didn't entirely cease but it did ease slightly when the woman stopped advancing toward her, recognizing the boundary that had been established there between them in the snow. Good. While she wasn't in her preferred shape to deal with overly curious strangers, Coriander wasn't about to let another of these unsettling, bipedal wolves get near enough to hurt her again. It should have clicked then, the association between her recent attack and the subsequent changes that were very presently taking place inside her body, but her nerves were still rattling too strongly for those pieces to fall into place. It was hard to think when the thing that had become her newest nightmare was standing mere feet in front of her...

...doing everything in her power to diffuse a very tense situation. "Cold and hungry" was a severe understatement given how travel had treated Ria lately, but there was somehow still hope in her--hope that let itself be known when whatever item the woman procured caused the dark Luperci's growl to falter. Handouts were an unheard of thing in her world--Uzuns were self-sufficient above all things and capable of fending for themselves in every situation--but she couldn't stop herself from silencing her growl and sniffing at the air as the object was lobbed gently to land in the snow at her feet. Her eyes were transfixed on the spot in the snow, wanting desperately to know if she'd just been handed food, and with another distrusting look she sat forward to pick it up. What is this? Turning the apple around in her hand, she wrinkled her nose. Not food after all then.

Dropping the apple, she let her hand fall into the snow as she crouched forward and stared hard at the odd woman giving her strange explanation to her being. "Luperci?" A meaningless word...at least up until this point. What if what the stranger said was true? What if Ria was now...whatever that word meant? Her gaze dropped to stare unseeing at the ground between them as her deeply furrowed brow indicated her thoughtful consideration of these statements. Shift...lots of Luperci...infected...one of us... Did that mean...this was normal? Was this transformation a natural occurrence for their kind? What even was their kind now? Just days before, this would have been an absurdity, and yet... Lifting her hands and turning them over before her, staring at her padded fingers, Ria knew this wasn't a daydream.

But was it still a nightmare? Sitting up, her eyes roamed across her new shape--long, muscular limbs; a full torso with narrowed waist; claw-like appendages where her paws should have been--and she wondered if this could be normal. Infected... "How?" Suddenly, Ria lifted her head, her rust and lavender eyes boring into the stranger with the look of a lost child. "How did I... I shouldn't do this. This...is not right." No, it was still very wrong. She shouldn't have been able to change her shape, had never been able to when she lived back home. Back home... This happened after she left. Was this a result of her exile? Some greater manifestation of her fall from favor with her kin? "Am I...being punished?" Her ears folded as a look of fresh grief and guilt overcame her, her body sinking slightly in toward itself as the pieces of her heart started to break in new and painful ways.

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The apple told her what she needed to know. Tallulah watched as the woman rejected it, apparently not as hungry as she assumed the stranger to be. Wolves would eat berries if there was no meat available. She didn't have meat, since she hadn't expected to travel far today. If she was going for a better, longer ride... Well, that'd be another story altogether. "Sorry," she said, uneasily smiling "I don't really have any meat on me, else I'd give you that" She felt bad she could only offer fruit "but you can eat the apple. The juices - It'll hydrate you, even if it won't take the hunger away..."

The woman asked after the term she had used, to which Tallulah shrugged. "I only heard the term once or twice, but ya can say 'shifter' if it makes more sense" Her Pa had been a teacher, so she heard 'Luperci' a few times. Though neither of them knew where the term originated from or what it meant. Only that it was what they called themselves, compared to non-Luperci "ya ain't being punished" she added patiently "ya... developed new things" Gods, how she wished her Pa was here to explain better "new skills. Ya have hands now to use." She held up her own, wiggling her fingers.

But? "It'll take a few minutes but ya can shift back, depending" nobody was stuck in Optime form forever "ya don't have to shift again if ya don't want to" some chose to live as simple beasts "ya weren't born with the ability to shift. Not like me and others" Tallulah explained kindly "but ya always had the chance to become one, I think. Err... did ya... Did anyone hurt ya?" she paused, frowning "lately, I mean" she corrected "if ya ran into a shifter, they could've infected ya. A bite, maybe?" If so, they also needed to tend to the wound. It was a shame Tallulah was not a medic. She frowned, crossing her arms.

"We really should get ya out of the cold," she remarked mostly to herself, raising a finger to tap her chin "if ya new at this, it'll be awkward for a few days" But was she allowed in Charmingtown, with a wolf in tow? Maybe she should bring her back to the loner band? What about - no, she didn't know any other packs. The leaders of Del Cenere would know what to do, probably. "how about I make a fire and hunt something for ya to eat?" She could explain better once the woman was full of food and less delirious.

ooc; 433 words, tagging you!
Ria's gaze fell once more to her hands and stared uncertainly at her palms, slowly curling and uncurling her long, clawed fingers before turning them over to stare at their backs. How naturally it had come to her just now, to reach out for the apple with this strange hand without so much as a second thought. In fact, now that the racing of her heart had begun to slow and the initial fear was waning, she was able to note more clearly how her body didn't necessarily feel wrong, despite what her mind told her. There was no pain to speak of from the transformation--ignoring, of course, the wound on her neck--nor did anything struggle to respond or react strangely as she made it move. Her ears still twitched, she could sit upright, she could still smell...

And I can change back. There was a great deal of comfort taken from that single grain of knowledge alone, a whole day's worry beginning to fade in the face of a new, budding hope. This didn't have to be a scary thing. This was something that could be controlled, and there were apparently a number of others with this capability already living in the world to prove it. One such individual, Coriander realized suddenly, who had acted without consideration for his fellow canine and was responsible for her acquisition of this freakish super power. "A bite," she repeated in quiet distraction, absently lifting a hand to touch her dark mane where it rested at the base of her neck and covered her healing wound. Yes...she had been bitten. An infection...not punishment.

The woman's kind offer of making a fire and hunting for her seemed to finally pull the dark Luperci's thoughts away from her revelation and back to the present with a sharp inhale of the cold evening air. That was right. Her situation was still poor no matter which way she looked at it--or at least would be if she didn't take the compassion from her fellow canine being extended her way. Lifting her eyes to stare again, Ria studied the woman anew, not with fear or revulsion but in utter incomprehension. Where did this endless well of kindness come from, and how was it she ended up on the receiving end of it? "Why? Coriander asked through a look of confusion, tilting her head to one side much like a perplexed child might, "why help me?"

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"I'm sorry."

Tallulah could not hope to understand what the woman was going through. She had been born a true shifter and had shifted naturally at six months. Her Pa had been so proud, expecting it any day. Both her parents were Luperci. She was set to inherit the shift as well. "It's mighty strange at first" she expressed with a faraway look on her face "most of us born with it shift when we're but six months old. Some others... are infected, aye." She didn't like to use that term but it is what it is. Before she could offer to assist further, the woman seemed to shake off most of the confusion and somewhat accept it. With that came questions.

"Why?" she balked, lifting a brow with a chuckle "even if you ain't a shifter, if I found ya cold and alone, scared... I'd still help ya" Tallulah didn't know why some were so reluctant to accept help and suspicious of those who offered it freely. It's just how she had been raised, honestly. But she could... understand. The world was big and scary. It was best to be cautious. "I can't rightly leave ya like this. It's confusin' for ya, and leavin' ya alone to figure it all out... You might not survive without some help." Grim as the words were, she had to be blunt. Teach a Luperci to fish, and he was set for life. Give him fish, and he'd always bitch about more.

"I can teach ya some basics. Then it's up to ya to figure out what ya wanna do" she added and turned, back to Rusty. She quickly slid off the saddle and other equipment before taking a blanket from his back. She trusted the newly turned Luperci wouldn't bite or snarl, so she approached and extended the blanket. "ya can use that to keep warm while I start a fire" Tallulah smiled, still kindly "Rusty don't mind sharin'. Not when someone needs it" The horse nickered from behind his friend, as if in agreement. "my pack, ah... don't rightly like wolves. I dunno the whole reason, else I'd bring ya to our border and ask for help."

She'd have to do this alone. "But I have some medicine to put on the bite to prevent infection, I think." She was not a healer. Gods, she didn't even know who was in the pack.

ooc; 402 words, tagging you!
Try as she might to wrap her mind around the woman's intention, Coriander visibly struggled. There was no profit in this that she could see, nothing to be gained from assisting a fledgling Luperci floundering with her newly acquired transformational abilities and struggling simply to survive even beyond that already mountainous task. In fact, had she been in her place, it would have made all the sense in the world to simply move along, to let the world claim that which didn't possess the fortitude to continue on its own–or even claiming a bit of it for herself if there was something to be taken first. The world was harsh and unforgiving, and in her experience one either learned to rise above the challenge or become squashed by its weight.

And, boy, was it a bruising bite to learn this woman thought she currently belonged in the latter category. The whole of her face seemed to pucker with her wounded pride, an expression akin to a pout accompanying a guilty droop of her over-large ears. Maybe Donnes had made the right call after all then, sending her away when he did. This only further proved how much of a liability she had been to the family, a weight tied to their tails that they were forced to drag around and carry–a weight that had already claimed two of them. They're better off without me.

Ria was vaguely aware of the woman shuffling things around beside her four-legged prey-friend in the background, but only acknowledged her again when she approached and extended a new offering her way. Her rust and lavender eyes alighted first on the blanket and then up at the woman, piecing together what she said while debating whether to accept. Donnes would never have taken the handout, and he surely would have beaten her for even considering it. But he wasn't here…and, as the woman plainly put it, Ria wasn't going to survive without help…and she didn't want to die.

With a visibly guilty expression, the dark wolf took the offered blanket and for a moment simply held it in her hands, staring at the fabric and running it between her fingers. It was heavy and thick, and warm where it draped over one folded knee. Was that why this woman wore other fabrics on her like a second fur-coat? Coriander gave another studying look at the stranger before pulling the blanket over her head to let it fold over her body like a makeshift cloak, holding the ends closed at her chest with her face still exposed. Hm. A little awkward and scratchy in places--and it smelled very strongly of Rusty--but it was already doing its job warming her up.

She shrank a little further within the blanket as her comfort level with it grew, even going so far as to elicit a soft hum of contentment. Such a small thing, a mere sheet of fabric, and already her situation felt less dire. Which was why, when the next offer of medicine came, Coriander didn't immediately react with outright suspicion. "Medicine?" The concept wasn't entirely new to her as she was aware of what naturally growing plants could be eaten to help certain minor ailments, but given how everything about this woman was strange and different she felt certain even this would come in a very different packaging than she was familiar with. "What medicine?" she asked as her nose already began to twitch expectantly, anticipating yet another new smell, another new concept, to go along with this new Luperci lifestyle.

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Tallulah was a proud woman, so she understood the other's flash of defiance. "It ain't a weakness to accept help," she told her "most of our kin help each other regularly. Ain't no shame in it. Especially if ya can use the skills and knowledge later. Make it your own." This woman had probably run with others, non-Luperci, but had no knowledge of packs of Luperci. Tallulah did not want to burden her with so much information so she kept it to herself for now. When the blanket was accepted, she smiled and backed away. The next few moments were all about gathering firewood and stones to use for a safe flame.

She did not talk until the woman did. Placing the sticks upright and a circle of stones to prevent the fire from getting out of hand between them, Tallulah struck a flint she had been carrying. Having retrieved it when she got the blanket, it was in her hands now and used to make a small fire. She bent down and blew on the flickering lights, making them bigger. "Yeah, some medicine" she repeated "I ain't a healer, but I know some things about disinfectin' and patching." She had to be on the ranch if someone got hurt, or one of the herds of animals got sick. Pa mostly handled the healing duties, but she assisted a lot of the time.

"What's your name?" she asked, looking up from the fire at the other woman "I figure a few rabbits'll be out in this cold to find food themselves" she added with a grin "but I'll try to find a few of them. Come. Sit by the fire. It won't hurt ya." Tallulah gestured to the opposite side, currently vacant. If the new Luperci did something foolish like reach a hand into the flames - yeah, it'd hurt. But otherwise, it was perfectly safe. Rusty lumbered to Tallulah's side, chewing on some grass he had found through the snow. The gyrfalcon still hugged her shoulder, gazing around at their location with keen senses. He seemed to wish he could hunt with them.

Alas, his wing was not fully healed yet.

ooc; 361 words, tagging you!
While Tallulah worked establishing the campfire, Coriander became distracted again with the blanket. Lifting a corner of it discreetly to her nose, the dark Luperci gave it a more direct sniff and assessed the scent that it carried, that of the strangely comfortable prey-beast accompanying the woman. Her eyes flicked in its direction with wonder and calculation. Why in the world did it follow her like a shy little pup might? Did it not recognize the danger that it was in, claiming a predator as its caretaker? Though, admittedly, with all her kindness and gentle demeanor, Tallulah hardly gave an intimidating impression. Maybe this was simply another lost soul she had taken under her figurative wing--like the bird of prey currently favoring its own on her shoulder.

The spark from the flint initially caused her to jump from inattention, more so because of the flash that accompanied it, but the fire it ignited was enough to capture her interest. Recollection and recognition came first--Ria recalled such a substance once razing a home her family had claimed in times past that sent them fleeing for safety--but the fear wasn't quite as strong as it had been in those near-forgotten moments. This fire was tiny, fragile as a newborn pup and threatening to gutter out with each movement of the frigid night air around it. If not for the stranger's careful hand--in all things, it seemed--it surely would have been snuffed out before it could grow into the fiery beast Ria was previously acquainted with.

Enraptured by the flame, watching closely its flickering dance amid the kindling, she slid cautiously closer across the snow on her knees when invited to draw nearer. Already she could smell the smoke, so much fainter and less suffocating than she remembered, and felt the heat of it, gentle and soothing compared to the oppressive blaze of her past. The blanket slipped slightly as Coriander lifted an awkward hand and tentatively reached for the fire, stopping suddenly when she felt the familiar sting of it. The danger was still there, she realized, but this fire was demure, a creature contained and subdued and incapable of lashing out or swallowing that which stood around it. "Huh." Did Donnes know such a thing was possible? If so, she could only imagine the destruction he would have wrought upon the world in their name.

The sound of Rusty nearing the pair and subsequently beginning to graze upon uncovered grass drew Ria's ears forward and her attention away from the softly crackling fire, toward the stranger and her strange companions. Vaguely she heard again the woman's inquiry from a moment ago, and she answered belatedly, "Coriander. I'm Coriander Uzun." Uzun. A strong line of tundra wolves; capable, cunning, and fiercer than the frozen world that tried tirelessly to bring them down. While speaking the surname aloud usually filled her with an unbreakable sense of pride, today it…didn't quite reach that point. Nor could she shake the sense that her current situation was proof of her failure in representing that name to the fullest, as her siblings did.

She pulled the blanket back up into place, shrinking into it again as if to hide from the scrutiny and judgment of her kin even across the great distance that separated them. But, despite her own numerous shortcomings, praise for the accolades of her kin came as naturally as breathing. "My sister likes hunting rabbits," Ria mumbled, half in response to Tallulah’s thought of catching some for the two of them and half simply for something to say. "She's good at it." She wasn't in the least accustomed to holding conversations with strangers--at least conversations that took longer than to cackle and inform them of the danger they landed in crossing paths with the Uzuns--but for reasons beyond her comprehension she felt inclined to try.

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"What a pretty name!" Tallulah remarked to her brightly as she finished setting up the fire "kay" she pushed herself to her feet and took her bow from her back "I'll see if your sister puts me to shame" a chuckle of good nature "I'm aiming for at least two of them." She gave Coriander a salute before leaving Rusty with her. The bird hopped from her shoulder and onto the saddle before turning back to the new Luperci. He fixed her with a long stare as if he didn't trust her yet. But the gyrfalcon made no other movements. Just silently watched.

The dog hybrid would trot off in pursuit of prey. While rabbit was better, she could find something else to bring back if she could not find some. Her hunt took her all of a half an hour, to when Tallulah thought about shifting to better hunt down food. It was not her best time, but by the off chance due to luck... she found a rabbit burrow. Sitting a distance from them, she trained her arrow on the nearest unlucky rabbit. A quick shot took the little thing down, and the second rabbit was even unluckier. It came outside at the scent of blood, saw its companion

- and was shot dead.

She plucked both bodies from the ground and came back to Coriander. Setting one down, she began to skin the first. "It tastes better if I take the fur off" she explained to the new Luperci "then I'll roast it over the fire" she added, pausing in her task to pick up a stray stick. Once the fur was gone, she placed the rabbit onto the stick and held it over the fire "ya wanna try?" she added, nodding to the one on the ground. Of course, Tallulah would not give a knife to the woman. Handing a weapon to someone she didn't know was like shooting your own foot. But the woman's claws would be good at skinning.

The smell of game wafted over the air. She leaned forward to inspect the crispy body before pulling it out. Nicely charred but not burnt, it'd be crunchy and easy to swallow. "Here," she said generously, standing up before the fire and extending the food to the woman "the first bite is yours." If Coriander took it, Tallulah settled back down. Rusty shifted his weight and came closer to the flames, allowing them to warm his huge body.

ooc; 412 words, tagging you!
Coriander snorted softly in a plumy exhale, her soft features curling slightly and taking on the expression of a lazy sneer. Of course her sister would put this woman to shame with her skill; her family expected nothing less than perfection, executed each activity solely on that level, and held no room in their hearts for failure of any kind. Never mind the fact Ria believed her kin incapable of any imperfections--they were her world, her heart, the very reason she lived and breathed. And yet she was here, so far away from them, banished from any association  to prevent her poisonous shortcomings from harming another of their name. Months she had spent away from them, trekking along by her lonesome, and she was still no closer to accepting her miserable fate.

It soured her mood as the sneer drooped into a halfhearted frown, and distractedly she watched as Tallulah set aside her winged companion with the prey-beast and wandered off with a smooth, bowed wooden stick in her hand. Ria couldn't imagine why she needed it; hunting was done with tooth and claw, not half-bent sticks. She felt even more certain of Tanith's superiority as she rolled her eyes and shifted them to the creatures left behind, standing across the fire from her. Eyes narrowing, she met the predatory gaze of the gyrfalcon with a spark of irritation, sensing the keen intellect behind his scrutinizing stare. It unsettled her, made the dark Luperci feel as if he judged her just as harshly as her kin, and folding her ears uncomfortably she looked away.

The fire eventually drew her attention back to it, and in the quiet crackling that followed she felt herself beginning to doze. The little blaze didn't entirely push back the cold, but between it and the blanket Coriander felt far more comfortable than she had at any point along her travels thus far. It lulled her into a state of complacency that bordered on inattention as her eyelids began to drop and her hand started slipping on the blanket. She wasn't sure how long she'd been in this state of near-sleep and only recognized it when the sound of light paw-steps announced the return of Tallulah--and two caught rabbits.

Ria blinked, a little impressed despite herself, but it was such a minor feeling compared to the confusion that rattled through her as the woman skinned one rabbit and proceeded to skewer it on a stick to rest over the fire. In no point of her life had Coriander ever had cooked meat, nor was the concept even remotely familiar to her. In fact, part of her worried what this would do to the rabbit meat, particularly since she had seen what fire could do to a forest when it had its way with things. Looking to the other rabbit, she huffed a derisive little, "Hmph," and reached for it with one clawed hand. At least one of the rabbits wouldn't be ruined by fire.

She used her teeth, as it was the most familiar method of preparing fresh kills for consumption, but even as she sneaked in a little taste of the rabbit she skinned, it was the scents from the fire that stirred her hunger. Her nose twitched with the first smells of cooked meat and her eyes roved in the direction of the skewered rabbit sitting over the fire, staring at it with a mixture of intrigue and puzzlement to the point it distracted her from finishing her work with the half-skinned rabbit she held. What was happening? Why did it actually smell...appetizing? Her brow lowered into a furrow of concentration and remained when she was offered the first taste, which she reached out for with a slow, tentative hand while setting aside the half-skinned rabbit with the other.

Pulling the piece of meat close, Coriander dropped her nose to it and confirmed that the smell she'd detected did indeed come from it, and already it made her mouth water. She licked at her lips once before sampling just a little taste of the meat--and then immediately scarfed the entire bite down with a possessive growl. It was drier than she was used to, but something about sitting over the fire had altered the flavor in a positive way. Licking her fingers and lips, she eyed the remaining bites of cooked rabbit and then Tallulah with a hesitant tension, silently but clearly considering whether to take the rest for herself.

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There was no way in hell's green acres she was gonna fight the other Luperci for the remaining scraps. If Coriander was that hungry, Tallulah was grateful she had been able to help. Missing one rabbit wouldn't put her back, but both? She'd surely resort to hunting on all fours in desperation. Besides; it wasn't a good idea to come between a hungry beast and their food. "Eat it," she said, gesturing to the charred meat's remains "ya need it more than I do." She looked down back to the fire, the flames dancing in her blue depths. She also knew; this was the most she could do for Coriander. Knowing her pack's bias toward wolves...

She would not be welcome in Charmingtown for more than a few days. Not long enough to recover and there could be trouble if Coriander took offense to the coyotes sneering at her. The other Luperci didn't seem to take offense well, either wounded to her ego or worse. Tallulah didn't doubt the feral woman would resort to violence. "Here" she placed a stick in her hands and tossed it to Coriander's left side "stick your rabbit on that and hold it over the fire" But it didn't stop the Del Cenere Unkindled from helping her right at the moment "make sure it doesn't char too much. You can always pick the burnt skin off." She added with a shrug.

The meat underneath would be nice and toasty. "Better than eatin' it raw, eh?" she chuckled, poking the fire with another stick. Maybe she'd soon leave. It seemed like the Luperci was better off now, and the location was smack dab - unknowingly - between a few communities. Surely Tallulah had done enough, even if she felt like helping more than what she had. It wasn't fair or kind to leave Coriander here alone. "if ya want" she began "I can take you to me pack" her blues lifted to stare at the other "ya don't have to live there. But ya can sleep in a nice, warm bed for a few days. Have a good meal." But it was up to the new Luperci.

Being around her own kind may make it less of a shock. She hoped Coriander took her up on it but understood if not. It wasn't easy to place your trust into a stranger's hands. Especially when you didn't know anything about the pack a stranger referred to.

ooc; 407 words, tagging you!
She wholly anticipated resistance of some kind. What wolf in their right mind let another take what was theirs without a fight, without even the slightest spark of irritation? But that was exactly what Tallulah did--even encouraging the untoward behavior--and the outright acceptance of Coriander's greed threw the dark Luperci enough to make her hesitate. Why? This, like so many other things the woman had done, made absolutely no sense to her, and she struggled to wrap her mind around the moment to put it to rights. If she did reach for the cooked rabbit...would she be playing into some grander scheme the woman across from her concocted? Would this backfire somehow? Ria's rust and lavender eyes shifted to the rabbit again, almost warily, but she did reach for it, only now with a tentative hand as her ears threatened to flatten with nerves.

Having the cooked meat in her possession, however, spurred her into action even as warning bells continued to ring through her conscience. She pulled the remaining meat off of the skewer and set the stick aside before sniffing this piece too, confirming at least in the way she knew how that it didn't smell out of sorts--though admittedly her experience with cooked scents had only begun a few short minutes ago. With a greater caution, Coriander resumed eating in small, careful bites, seemingly unaware that the blanket had fallen away to fold around her back and sides and expose her more to the cold. The meal distracted her, as did her company when the woman yet again offered further assistance and another stick on which to cook the other half-skinned rabbit.

For a second time, Ria hesitated, looking between the skewer and Tallulah, though as before she took this too as she finished eating the first rabbit and cleaned at her muzzle with her tongue. She felt...odd...accepting this help, and stared at the fresh skewer with a mixture of uncertainty and disgust, as if it might start wriggling in her hand at any moment. Setting it awkwardly in her lap, she grabbed for the half-skinned rabbit and finished what she'd started, haltingly putting this one on the skewer as she recalled Tallulah doing with the first. It wasn't entirely steady and sat a little sideways on the stick, and as she tried to prop it beside the fire it did fall once before she managed to get it settled. Huh. Coriander was learning how to cook.

Her attention stayed focused on the skewered rabbit expectantly, even as across from her Tallulah tended to the flame. She was still waiting to see some change indicative of the rabbit being ready when the woman made a new proposition: a visit to rest within her pack. Ria instinctively frowned and started, "I have a-" only to realize if she finished the sentence, she would be lying. Donnes had made it clear as crystal that he would have willingly traded her life to get back those of their kin who had gone missing, making it just as clear that, while they remained absent, there was no place for her there. Feeling the cold then, whether from the chilled night air at last reaching her or the even chillier exile awarded by her brother, Coriander distractedly reached for the blanket and pulled it up around herself to hide within the shelter of its scratchy warmth.

It took a little while to ask, and when she did her voice was quiet, subdued, "You have a pack?"

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"That I do."

Tallulah remained quiet until the woman spoke. Her ears twitched when Coriander began, only to pin back against her head when it seemed the woman couldn't - at least to the dog hybrid - go back to her people. Maybe now that she was a Luperci, she would be rejected? Her people seemed to be feral. "They don't like wolves" she decided to be honest about that "you'd be able to stay for two days at maximum unless ya talk to the high ups" the alphas "I could do that for ya, considerin' ya don't know our ways." Not Luperci Ways, but Del Cenere Ways.

She shrugged against the cold and the subject. "I don't rightly know why wolves ain't allowed for long, but ya could speak to others in Charmingtown. Get a grasp of where to go, what other packs'll accept ya" it was better than sitting in the cold "I also have some stuff to trade, so we can get ya some clothes and dried meat for the road if it pleases ya" Tallulah didn't want to throw Coriander out in the wild with nothing "I'm sure someone can point ya in the right direction." It was cruel to reject someone for their species, but she knew that bias existed.

Maybe even for a good reason. But a new Luperci alone in the wild wouldn't last long. Especially a wolf - they were pack animals. "Or I can point ya to one of the Loner Bands. I only know one, but it'll be closer than Del Cenere." And they would accept her and help her, surely? The Luperci seemed kind and understanding to Tallulah. Besekel and Uriah were high content wolves too. If she explained Coriander's situation... Maybe. She had a better chance at the Rest Stop than Del Cenere.

ooc; 302 words, tagging you!
From within the shadow of the blanket draped over her, Coriander yet again frowned and hunched her shoulders defensively. Why would she wish to visit a pack that was going to hate her on sight? She wasn't unfamiliar with bias, and admittedly harbored her own, but seeking out assistance from those who would instantly hate her seemed foolhardy and self-destructive. What were the odds they would even let her within their borders just to visit, let alone stay for a couple days to rest as this woman claimed they would? Tallulah's offer of speaking on her behalf in order to garner some leniency with her leaders earned a quietly skeptical, "Hmph," while she pulled the blanket more tightly around herself.

But still she listened as the pale Luperci woman went on, and Ria would have been lying if she denied some interest in the prospect of a visit. The way she said it, there appeared plenty to be gained from it--information, food, more exposure to how these bi-pedal wolves lived. Now that part of the mystery behind her new condition had been explained, at least a small modicum of curiosity remained for this world that was so very different from the one she had been raised in, one that apparently now belonged to her as well.

Feeling heat gather on the wound at the base of her neck, she let the blanket slip to her shoulders and reveal an expression of uneasy consideration while the cool air eased the discomfort of her bite. Her mismatched eyes stared into the shifting flames of the campfire for a short time while she internally warred with herself, even though the answer seemed obvious no matter how she tried to look at it. Uzuns were supposed to be self-sufficient and superior to everyone else that walked this earth--but Coriander had never lived up to their expectations and had always been just a little too soft for her family's liking. And she still didn't want to die.

With options lined out before her that she didn't fully comprehend, it was difficult for the new Luperci to make a proper decision regarding her fate. Buying herself a few more seconds, she shifted forward onto her knees and grabbed for the skewered rabbit still propped over the fire and brought it closer to sniff and inspect. Turning the skewer slowly within her hand, Ria gave a soft, "Hm," before letting her rust and lavender eyes meet the blues of the woman across from her. Not a wolf, of that she was certain, but some careless, trusting breed of canine just waiting for her kindness to be taken advantage of. Her brother would have recognized that right away.

The dark Luperci lifted her chin and eyed the woman anew. "Fine," she answered at last, taking a bite of the rabbit and and speaking around it, "take me to them. Either of them." Coriander didn't care, nor would she let herself at any point in whatever interactions followed those visits. She needed to be strong like her family now that they were no longer at her side, and the best way to do that was to emulate their behavior. She didn't know how exactly, but she was going to use this kindness extended her way to her advantage while she had it.

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Due to the nature of having fed and staved off some cold from the new Luperci, Tallulah opted to go to The Rest Stop. It was faster than getting to Del Cenere, where Coriander could potentially be looked down on. She didn't need that when she was so exposed to everything at once. Uriah and Besekel would help her surely. They were kind folks, with plenty of wolf blood in both of them. "Okay," she began "we'll go to Bête Noire then." It was a better plan than marching to Del Cenere with a loner in tow, expecting her pack to put up Coriander. She was new to the pack as well; Tallulah couldn't ask them for favors.

She did not rise from the earth though, making sure Coriander was properly warmed by the fire before traveling. "I'll walk ya there, and we'll see about what they can do for ya" she murmured, already trying to plan ahead in case something went wrong "rest up and let me know when ya wanna go" she added to the new Luperci "it won't be a long walk, but it's hard without ridin' through the snow." Rusty could support both their weights but she didn't know if Coriander wanted to try riding a horse right away. Best take this slow and steady. It was a whole new world for the woman, and Tallulah would do her best to help when possible.

Tallulah hoped she was doing the right thing. It was all she ever hoped to do in her life; do good for others and be kind to them. Of course, she did not expect Coriander to repay the debt at any time. There were more important things to consider. Like food and shelter, clothing, and sleep. Warmth and comfort. She could also trade a bit at the Rest Stop while there. Hopefully for Coriander and for herself as well. She'd take the rabbit skins to Uriah and Besekel in the hope they could use them.

ooc; 333 words, tagging you!
if you want, i can start another thread for us at the rest stop! i already contacted corie (uriah's rper) and they gave us the go-ahead!
Bête Noire. The name and phrase meant nothing to her, though she continued to consider it as she ate the last of the cooked rabbit. If she had followed the conversation correctly, this wasn't the name of the territory claimed by Tallulah's pack but was the loner band she thought may be willing to help--in a more cordial manner. All the better; even thinking about stepping onto territory claimed by individuals who were liable to turn an eye of disdain in her direction made Ria feel defensive and cagey, and no amount of curt hospitality would have stopped her from reacting. Her sense of honor wouldn't have allowed it. But here perhaps, in this loner band, she could get whatever further help Tallulah thought she needed and be better prepared to continue facing the remaining winter season alone.

It wasn't a joyous thought, and made her heart ache just a little more strongly at the cold and lonely future stretching out in front of her, but it at least was something to do, a direction to move in. After being directionless for weeks, it was a small mercy to have somewhere to go--and admittedly someone to go there with. Tallulah wasn't at all the sort of wolf Ria would have thought to come across in the wilds, too soft for her own good, exuding a kindness Coriander was certain the world would sap from her until that well ran dry. Was it her non-wolf blood that made her this way, the same non-wolf blood that made her coat so pale and spotted? She wouldn't have lasted as an Uzun either.

With the rabbit meat gone, Ria dropped the skewer-stick in the snow at her side and licked at her lips and fingers until they were clean. Looking across at Tallulah, she noted the woman's expectant, attentive posture, as if waiting for something, and it took a another couple awkward seconds for Coriander to realize she waited on her. A cue, some indication she was ready to move along to this resting spot nearby. The dark Luperci shifted the blanket into her lap and ran her fingers along one edge again, so very reluctant to hand the item back but recognizing the difficulty in traveling with it draped over her wolf shape--

Oh. She ducked her head to look at her strange body again, and a worrisome frown settled upon her brow. She could change, the woman had said it was something they could do, but... "How do I...change?" It had only ever happened on its own terms before, not with any sense of control or influence on her part. Coriander lifted her head to look questioningly at Tallulah, hoping this was something that could be mastered in a moment and praying she wasn't somehow stuck like this indefinitely.

OOC: Sweet! Yeah, I'm all for it, thanks!

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"I wouldn't shift just yet" Tallulah's blue eyes roamed over the blanket that the woman held "it'll be colder without it covering ya, and yer legs will be easier to get over any snowbanks" While she sympathized with Coriander's need to go back to the way she had been, it wasn't logical at the moment. "I'll show ya how when we get to the Rest Stop. Promise." Because taking off her clothes to shift would make Tallulah feel naked, picturing unknown eyes on her. She didn't want to do that right now, in the middle of nowhere. Best in a secluded room with only Coriander to view. Besides, the twins may have an easier time explaining than Tallulah had.

With plans now, she felt better. Quickly, she kicked dirt over the fire to suffocate it. The flames died at the combo of cold earth and snow. She inspected to make sure they were gone completely before her attention shifted to the other woman again. "Let's go" she attempted to sound cheerful again, not offering her hand to Coriander due to a respectful distance between them "if ya need to stop anytime, let me know" she added, turning her back to ready Rusty for the journey. She grasped his reigns and began to lead them back to the Rest Stop, stepping around Coriander to lead her through the safest parts on the route.

High snowbanks aside, they tried to keep to the trail. The road less traveled could be done any day, this was much more important not to risk. "They'll probably have some better medicine there," she said over her shoulder "and light, so we can look better at your bite." Tallulah hadn't forgotten about that, but she was not as confident a healer as some would think. She may appear to be, but she didn't want to risk anything.

ooc; 310 words, tagging you! END!
x <-- the new thread!
Coriander frowned, clearly unhappy with the prospect of remaining in this new, odd shape for longer than she thought necessary. All her travels thus far had been done upon four legs, and even if it had posed complications at certain points or made her seek out a different, longer route, it had still been comfortable--or at least as comfortable as traipsing directionless through the dead of winter could be for a lone individual. Her shoulders sagged as Ria stared at herself again, and then at the blanket still balled up in her lap. Well...at least she wasn't being asked to give the item up just yet. Maybe somewhere along the walk she could think of a way to talk the Luperci woman into letting her keep it.

With a huff, she pulled the blanket back over her head and tugged the edges into place so it folded around her shoulders as before, a warm and scratchy second-coat that draped across her upper body and occasionally made her bite feel itchy. In the process, she saw the world swallowed up by darkness as the fire sputtered out beneath a fresh layer of dirt and snow in front of her, and watched as the last of the smoke reached skyward in slender, curving wisps that still made her nose wrinkle from the smell. It was painfully clear now that night had finally arrived in earnest, without any trace of sunlight from the horizon, and she exhaled in a misty fog of quiet relief realizing she very narrowly had avoided another night of aimless wandering through the cold and unforgiving dark. All because of this stranger.

Ria glanced the woman's way when she stepped aside to collect her companions and watched her movements closely, noting how fluidly she moved and with a natural grace she was certain she would never emulate. Setting her expression resolutely, the dark Luperci planted her free hand firmly within the snow--the other holding tight to the blanket to prevent it from slipping--and pushed herself up into a crouch and then hesitantly onto two legs. She didn't pull herself upright but stood with a heavy hunch, as if still considering dropping to all fours instead. It felt awkward and her balance felt off-kilter, but when she took a step Coriander was surprised to find her body responded instinctively and carried her forward with only the slightest wobble that was quickly corrected.

Her ears stood perked and attentive atop her head as she walked for the first time, slowly losing the wary anticipation she carried through each tense movement when she continued not to tumble forward onto her nose as she wholly thought she would. It was both strange and curious--and perhaps a little exhilarating?--to do something so new and different, to realize she had become something more than simply an unwanted exile. What would her family think of her now? Would it have pleased them to see her growth, this new change that she would have been all too happy to share with them to make their family even stronger?

She hadn't realized one hand had subconsciously lifted to scratch at the edge of her bite until one claw scraped uncomfortably close and made her wince aloud, and Tallulah's words registered a moment late. Medicine. A proper cleaning for the wound. She nodded in the darkness and set to holding the blanket in place with both hands as she trudged along behind her guide and her companions, quietly marveling over her new capabilities for a while longer before curiosity overtook her wandering mind and she contemplated what awaited her at their destination.


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