[P] You can test the water
Cape Acadia
#1
OOC: Foredated to May 16th. Early afternoon in Cape Acadia, near New Caledonia's border.

Marten watched the waves as they lapped at the sandy shoreline. They hadn’t seen anyone since that smelly drinking house in Gaspesia, and though she’d hoped to be able to explore New Caledonia and see her new friend Woodsmoke again, Thread had insisted on blazing a trail straight to the big island they’d seen from the mountains. Marten didn’t think that was very fair, but she’d never seen him so excited before, so she let it slide.

Speaking of sliding, she pushed her paws forward in the damp sand until she was lying down in it. It was colder by the water, but it was still a lot hotter than Marten wanted it to be. Why couldn’t it be cold and rainy like back home? She liked the new spring grass, and the bright green leaves on all the trees, but she liked being comfortable way more.

Marten huffed into her paws and closed her eyes. If she flopped down closer to the treeline, she could probably take a nap without getting wet. Thread was busy packing up their camp and keeping an eye out for strangers, which didn’t leave much for her to do except wait for him to be done. Maybe if the yearling was lucky, someone from New Caledonia would wander all the way out here and cure her boredom for her.

They probably wouldn’t, but Marten would really appreciate it if they did.

Something about the salty sea air made Marten sleepy, and with her eyes already closed, it was only a matter of time before she started snoring. The tide would reach her eventually — and probably sooner than later with how quickly it was coming in — but Marten didn’t really care. So what if she got wet and salty? In her humble, but very important and trustworthy opinion, napping was more important than staying dry anyway.
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#2
It was too soon to tell, but Jonk remained confident that Woodsmoke was pregnant and he’d be a father soon. Would they resemble him, or his beloved’s other partners more? How many would there be? Would they have all their toes? All those questions and more crashed against Jonk’s mind like the incoming tide. Whatever the answers, he knew they’d be perfect and he’d love them more than anything else in the world — even more than Woodsmoke.

Even if they were missing, or had a few additional, toes.

The golden man timed his breathing to the push and pull of the waves to calm himself. With the Spring Fling over and his mateship ceremony mere days away, he needed some alone time to clear his head. Cape Acadia had become his refuge of choice over the past two moons. Few walked its shores except for fellow New Caledonians, and even that was rare; perhaps the coastal pack had enough shoreline to explore that they didn’t need anything else.

When Laki’s waters reached the boulder he was sitting on, Jonk hopped off into the surf and continued his trek along the beach. If he stayed out long enough, the large, sloping hills would cast a shadow on him at sunset. If he stayed out even longer, he would be able to see the full moon disappear behind them, setting west like the sun toward the Great Prairie.

As distracted by his thoughts as he was, Jonk didn’t notice the small wolf splayed out in the sand; if he had, he wouldn’t have gotten close enough to scare her before announcing his presence.
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#3
No sooner had Marten fallen into a dreamless half-sleep, a twig snapped less than twenty feet away from her head. Her eyes shot open and a series of sharp, fearful barks escaped her mouth before she could stop them. Unable to decide which direction to run in, the yearling froze in place instead. Whoever — or whatever — it was, it was going to regret messing with Marten!

Thankfully, there was no mysterious assailant seconds away from attacking her. Instead, once her eyes had adjusted to the light again, she saw an equally startled man staring at her. He was super tall, and his mane was full of leaves, and he didn’t look like any wolf she’d ever seen before. Marten breathed a sigh of relief and waited for her animal guides to stop growling, bugling, and squeaking before introducing herself.

After jumping to her feet and making a few important observations, of course.

”You’re so tall! Why are your ears so small? Are you from New Caledonia?” Marten asked, her tail wagging all the sand off itself as she spoke. He was just so weird looking, and that made her want to know everything about him even more than everyone else she’d ever met. ”Oh, my name is Marten! What’s your name?”

Clearly bewildered by her rapid-fire questioning, the yearling grinned with all her teeth so she wouldn’t be tempted to ask the stranger anything else until he had the chance to answer.
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#4
No sooner had he frightened the shiftling into a barking frenzy, she began peppering him with questions about his appearance and pack of origin. She reminded Jonk of his youngest, most precocious sister, and he was immediately endeared to her as a result. ”I— Oh, alright.” As soon as he’d opened his mouth to answer, she’d blurted out her name and asked him for his.

Just like Teba indeed.

”Let’s start from the beginning, shall we?” Jonk asked, only continuing when the girl nodded enthusiastically. ”I’m so tall, and my ears are so small, because I look a lot like my father. I am from New Caledonia, though I have only lived there for two seasons. And my name is Jonk, which is kind of like Marten if it sounded completely different.” The joking introduction earned a shrill, goofy laugh from the girl, and Jonk couldn’t help but laugh too.

”You’re not alone out here, are you?” Jonk asked, wondering if she had family or friends nearby. The idea of a shiftling dispersing so young was unthinkable to him; surely she had someone to rely on, given her young age and warmness to strangers.

Right?

Regardless, Jonk would be able to look out for her while in each other’s company. No harm would come to the girl in his presence, beyond the mild fright she’d received when he’d accidentally scared her awake. He blamed his overactive fatherly instincts; ever since Woodsmoke had told him she’d gone into heat, he’d been more protective than usual.
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#5
That was all very interesting, Marten thought as she got her giggles under control, but the most interesting part was Jonk being from New Caledonia. Woodsmoke lived there, too! Did they know each other? Were they best friends? Even after the youth fair in Casa di Cavalieri, Marten didn’t really understand how large packs worked.

To get to the bottom of this, she asked Jonk a subtle, non-leading question: ”Do you know somebody named Woodsmoke? Way shorter than you, dark fur, talks to birds?” Admittedly, Marten didn’t know too much else about Woodsmoke, except that she’d lived in the area for a long time.

Or maybe the yearling did, and she’d just forgotten. Usually one of her animal guides would have reminded her by now, but since they’d remained silent since the fright wore off, she had to assume she hadn’t forgotten anything important

The wind suddenly shifted, blowing both the salty sea air and Jonk’s scent toward her. He smelled like a lot of canines, but Woodsmoke’s scent was totally maybe in there somewhere! Maybe if she got a closer sniff? Padding forward a few steps, Marten sniffed the air again and was happy to smell Woodsmoke more strongly this time. They did know each other!

Which Jonk confirmed a few seconds later, before adding that not only did he know her, they were mates. ”Wow! What’s that like?” Thread had mentioned having multiple mates before, but he didn’t like to talk about them much. ”My mom and dad are mates, but I don’t really know anyone else.” Chimera and Rock didn’t count; they’d disappeared without a trace beyond their scent, so they were probably ghosts.
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#6
Instead of answering his question, Marten completely ignored it and asked one of her own. Did he know Woodsmoke? What a strange, serendipitous question. ”Uh yes, I do know her. We’re mates, in fact.” Jonk explained, much to Marten’s excitement. She apparently had little experience around mated pairs, only complicating the picture in Jonk’s mind. ”And it’s… Wonderful, in my humble opinion. Mateship is a promise to always be there for your best friend, and for them to always be there for you. At least, that’s how it works in my homeland.” The lands of the great water were much the same, even if they prioritized romantic love above most else.

”Do you live out here with your mom and dad, then?” Jonk asked. It would make sense; she didn’t speak of them as if they were dead, or even particularly far away. Perhaps not close enough to step through the treeline at any moment, but close enough to take care of her, keep her safe, and teach her the ways of the world.

Though they seemed to have missed a lesson or two about strangers, as harmless as Jonk was, if she’d met him and Woodsmoke recently. Who else was Marten talking to in the wilds, alone and with only her teeth and claws for protection? No one dangerous, clearly, otherwise she wouldn’t have been so eager to get to know him.

But Marten had yet to run out of surprises, it seemed. She wasn’t out here with her mom or dad, or even an older sibling; she was traveling with her self-described “best friend” Thread. ”... Oh. I’m happy to hear you’re not alone. If you don’t mind me asking, how long have you known Thread? What’s he like?”

Jonk quickly realized he had made a mistake, for Marten proceeded to tell him the extremely long, unnecessarily detailed story of how she left home with four animal spirits to guide her, met Thread near the coast of a giant lake — which Jonk had heard of, but not gone far enough south to see — and traveled with him ever since. And now they were apparently going to find a giant island, which he had also heard of, and make a home there “forever and ever.”

The golden man took a moment to take Marten’s entire, complicated story in. ”That’s… That’s quite an adventure you’ve been on,” he said, increasingly bewildered by the wildling girl. ”I traveled a long way to get here, too, so I understand how exciting it can be.” Jonk was careful not to ask any more questions, fearing she had even more stories to overwhelm him with.

He didn’t mind listening to them! They were just a lot to take in all at once.
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