[AW] Don't have time for ghosts
It was a ghost town now. No, Oberyn thought – it was the ruins of a ghost town, not even recognizable from what it once was.

He did not come to the former territory of Cour des Miracles often, though it was becoming easier to do so. The land was starting to change and become unrecognizable: he had heard that the ground had shaken twice during his absence with such severity it brought down towers and pieces of the mountains (and even a mountain itself, if the rumors were to be believed). During the spring there had been flooding. While the rivers and streams in the area were further south, Lunenberg had been exposed to the salty air for years. Powerful waves had struck the buildings closest to shore, and these days, where the line between the sea and the land was drawn had changed too.

Oberyn roamed the old streets quietly, moving at a steady lope. He was a powerful looking animal, one which had benefited from several seasons in a plentiful land. Even so, in his native form he was vulnerable to other Luperci, and every so often he would pause to sniff the wind or look in the direction of unexpected movement. There were few Luperci here, though. This had surprised Oberyn at first, but he was becoming used to the isolation. It boded well for his group, he thought – they would have less trouble from the “civilized” canines who might have seen them as easy targets.

Mostly he saw sea-birds, which were noisy and harassed him when he came too close to their nesting grounds. Occasionally he spooked smaller mammals, which were quick to flee into the ruins or further up the hill, towards Kodiak Pass.

Alone, Oberyn trekked on.

Open for one! Oberyn is in his Lupus form.
[Image: wolfmoon.gif] Devolve Word of the Day - 28 August 22 verb | to change to a worse state or condition

Location: Lunenburg (Shattered Coast) || NPCs: -- || Form: Lupus

Life was easier these days than it had been during the Sisters' delicate dance. The spirits were sharing their mysterious secrets with Vannin again and both brothers had filled in quite nicely with Harley's insistence that they eat first. And even though what Oberyn had proposed wasn't really a pack in the traditional sense of the word, the spirit of it was still there: they were stronger and healthier and safer in numbers — that was the essence of being in a pack.

It seemed to Elkin that they had at last pacified Sova's ire.

Loping tirelessly away from the thick woodlands of Ethereal Eclipse, the trees grew fewer and smaller until they gave way to grassy plains and rocky outcrops. He gave a little herd of fat, shaggy prey — creatures who looked to Elkin as though the spirits had played a trick on a herd of deer and turned them all into small, squat things with silly antlers and laughable noises — a half-hearted chase before the smell of the sea drew him away to the shattered, stony coast.

He had not visited the sea from this direction before. Finding a a trail of stunted vegetation that could not completely hide the dark, weathered, crumbling asphalt that it tried so valiantly to reclaim, the sea was forgotten as Elkin followed it north. The ruins — some of them taken by nature while others were taken by fire — that he came upon meant nothing to him, though the ghost-smells that still clung to these places — all of them much too faded or subtle or amalgamated irreversibly together for them to reveal much of anything useful — left him feeling unsettled and awed.

But these splintered, seaside ruins that had been devolved by nature and time were the worst and the best of them all.

"Oberyn!" Elkin howled to the solid-framed wolfdog he spotted up ahead, breathing a word of thanks to the Goddesses for not making him pass through this dead, forgotten place alone. He approached Oberyn respectfully: posture low, curled tail hooked and wagging at his hocks, tongue lapping at the air with the intention of finding his face. "Hey! This place is strange, huh? I found other ruined things along that broken trail, but this...!"

He scanned the buildings whose once-colorful facades had long been stripped and faded by wind and frost; rain and snow; sea and salt with hackles lifted into pointy peaks between his shoulder blades.

[WC -- 413]
A familiar voice rang out behind him, and Oberyn turned to locate its source. He recognized Elkin at a distance – he was dark like Makwaikwe but had tell-tale patches of white down his throat and on his face. Travel had dulled the pale fur around his paws, and up close he smelled like the road: woodland and grass, dirt and faint traces of asphalt. Oberyn breathed all of this in as the younger man made appeasing gestures near his face, and though he briefly stood still and held a position of dominance, it fell away with a quick wag of the tail and return nose-push to reassure his companion all was well.

They had no leader, he had told them. Even so, sometimes Makwaikwe behaved like she was (but she had always been like that, Oberyn thought, and saw nothing wrong with it).

The bigger wolfdog could not match Elkin's enthusiasm, but followed his gaze to take in the sight. It was a miserable reflection of what it had been, even a few years ago, but he didn't tell the young man this.

“It is strange, isn't it? Was there anything like this where you and your brother came from?” He asked. Makwaikwe had not grown up around buildings either, but the way she reacted to them was far different – she loathed them, and had complained bitterly the few times they had been forced to seek shelter in ruins during their journey.

We would be better off if they were all gone, she had said.
Location: Lunenburg (Shattered Coast) || NPCs: -- || Form: Lupus

When Oberyn's stiff posture relaxed, Elkin ceased his humble air-licking and returned the other wolfdog's gesture with a nose-bump of his own. With his coiled tail returning with ease to its natural place against his back, the yearling kept it wagging jovially as his vision snagged upon shape after artificial shape. Where they still stood, the buildings made straight, hard lines against a landscape that was otherwise dominated by soft curves of endless variation.

"Like this? No way," the younger wolfdog replied, giving Oberyn a brief glance. "We'd find smaller things like these sometimes. But never so many in one place!"

After their exile, he and Vannin had stuck largely to prey trails and avoided those hard, broken paths of asphalt like the one that had lead Elkin to these ruins by the sea. Maybe it was for that reason, rather than dumb luck, that neither of them had stumbled onto any of the larger human settlements before now. May be it was simply the will of the gods. Regardless, Elkin found this place and the structures that made it up distinctly perplexing.

"What are they for, Oberyn?" he asked, lifting his head from a crumbled concrete stoop that he had been sniffing. "Do you know? Are they good for anything?"

Being older than him, Elkin thought that Oberyn must know more than him about such things. Older wolves always knew more than the younger generations — that was how puppies learned. It was the way of life. But those things were usually reserved for hunting and tracking and defense. Still, Elkin was hopeful and it showed in his eyes.

[WC -- 274]
“The things that came before us used to live in them,” he told the younger man. That was what his father had explained, anyway. With their variation in size and uniformity there had been deviation in their true purpose, but Oberyn had not cared enough to learn all of these things. “Some Luperci do now – the ones that keep to two legs and collect things, anyway.”

Greed was what drove their kind to live like men, Oberyn believed. Those who came to covet goods and materials quickly found themselves needing places to keep these things. Over time, this led to the need to defend their goods, and soon enough spiraled into a cycle where the things that they owned controlled every aspect of their lives. Without anything beyond themselves to worry about, he and his mate were not bound to such small spaces. They had the whole expanse of the world to consider. Only familiarity, and what had turned out to be a sad dream to reconnect with his roots, had brought Oberyn back to this land. Had he been a different man, he might have reclaimed the buildings abandoned by Cour des Miracles and rebuilt the old kingdom.

He shrugged his broad shoulders and scoffed at the notion of such selfish behavior.

“We can go inside and look at them, if you want. Some aren't safe,” he explained, and used his nose to indicate a semi-collapsed structure nearby. “They can fall down the way old trees do. But if we're careful, it's all right.”
Location: Lunenburg (Shattered Coast) || NPCs: -- || Form: Lupus

The things that came before.

Just like the buildings themselves, there was a sense of mystery and awe in those words and what they meant. What were those "things" that came before? They must be similar in thought and shape, surely, to those among them who preferred to pass through their lives on two legs and have caches of belongings. Were they like Alice — or, rather, was Alice like them — then? Did they, too, make clothing and wear accessories and keep horses and wield external weapon rather than rely on their own tooth and nail?

Lost in his thoughts, Elkin fell uncharacteristically silent. It was no secret that other Luperci lived in different ways than how he had been raised — he had heard the lore passed down from generations past — but to see evidence of what that might look like left him feeling strange.

Then Oberyn spoke again, causing the yearling's ears to gave a quick flicker, and, just like that, he was released from the spell that history had cast upon him.

After a brief look towards Oberyn, he swiveled his head to regard the decrepit building that the wolfdog had gestured to with his nose. Elkin then shook the feelings of strangeness from his pelt and licked his nose.

"Okay," he said and, hating the small sound of his own voice, straightened his posture to bolster his confidence. With more enthusiasm, he said, "Sure! Can you tell which ones are safe? Because... they all kinda smell like old, sick trees."

Relaxing his tail a little lower on his back and allowing his ears to fall gracefully to the sides of his head, Elkin deferred wholly to his elder.

[WC -- 281]
The silences were getting more comfortable, Oberyn suddenly realized.

There had been, instinctively, a sort of distance kept between the two groups – or rather, the trio and the pair – which had chosen to remain in contact peacefully. In the time of their ancestors this might not have happened. Things were smaller and more difficult then, and because their brains had not evolved to such reason, conflicts often arose in place of unity. That had not been so for the five of them.

Even so, there had been more talk at first – most of it nervous, or testing. The boys didn't seem all that distrustful, but that was why Harley had taken to guiding them as she did. They were too young and inexperienced when it came to the real, physical dangers out there in the world. Oberyn, who had valued what saw in the collective, was now beginning to identify them as individuals. There were more nuances to them now, and more time spent listening on his part.

“Most of the time,” Oberyn said, wanting to give no illusion to their odds. “I'll show you what to look for, so you know.”

The tawny-brown wolfdog turned and loped down one of the wide streets. It was mostly overgrown now. The battle between the wind, saltwater and ground had changed the terrain, but the asphalt lingered and many portions of it were further ruined by the remnants of oil and gasoline. Each year a little more of mankind was buried, but the things they left behind would linger in the world long after.

Wanting to first find a poor example, so Elkin had a better understanding of what he was meant to avoid, Oberyn sniffed out a damp alleyway and led them to a structure whose windows had long been shattered. Ice and the thaw had twisted a good portion of the front-end of the shop into a strange angle. The shady area felt a hair cooler than the main thoroughfare they had left behind. It was an extreme example: one which stunk with a sour, telling scent.

“This one is a bad one,” the wolfdog explained. “They won't all look or smell like this. You can see the cracks in the wall, and that smell means the wood inside is wet.”
[Image: lantern.png]  WordtoberConsolation Corner  Decrepit

Location: Lunenburg (Shattered Coast) || NPCs: -- || Form: Lupus

Where an older, wiser Luperci might have regarded Oberyn's response with appropriate consideration and caution, Elkin thought of it with far more confidence. Despite the struggles that the boys had faced since their banishment — tribulations that had made them grow faster than they might otherwise have done had they been allowed to age among their pack — they were still young and youth had a way of allaying reasonable fears. Fears, such as the possibility of a decrepit old structure caving while it was being occupied, that might have persisted if Elkin was a more seasoned man.

But there was, too, the source of response to consider. Oberyn, much like Harley and Makwaikwe, was someone who Elkin regarded with reverence. While their companionship of the two groups was based, more or less, on equality and mutual interests, it was difficult for the yearling not to think of Oberyn as something of a leader. It nothing else, Oberyn remained, at present, the only male role model in his life.

Thus, when the Elkin heard "most," it held more weight and certainty for the young wolfdog than it should have. And whatever innate concerns remained he had tried to dislodge with the robust, full-bodied shake of his dark pelt.

Giving his curled tail an agreeable wag, the yearling loped after the older wolfdog down a wide path that was gnarled and broken in places where evidence of the ones that came before tenaciously remained.

He slowed when Oberyn came up to a building with front that hung catawampus. The windows, long empty of glass and revealing little of whatever was inside except for shadows, yawned in crooked, irregular angles. Rot made fissures in the walls. Stepping up to the dilapidated building, Elkin's nose twitched and twisted, drawing the smells and effortlessly committing them to memory. He smelled the bad wood — he smelled other things, too — and took sight of the cracks in the wall.

"So we shouldn't go in this one," he said, stepping away from the building again and glancing at Oberyn. "Right? Ones that look and smell like this should be avoided." He sneezed then, clearing his nose. "And other things like this, if they don't smell so strongly, are safer?"

[WC -- 375]
In some ways, they had become leaders. As the two eldest members of the group, they had a responsibility to provide guidance to the others. For as much as he wanted to let everyone have a voice, sometimes it was easier to simply do what needed done: asking directly.

Elkin was quick. He was young, and had been robbed of the chance to develop his natural talents under the direction of superiors. Whatever had forced him and his brother away from their home had cost them this additional education and experience. Both Oberyn and Makwaikwe had the benefits of these things, even though it had been their more recent journey which had forced them to learn far faster. Believing that the boys, who had peculiar ways of thinking and names for things, had come from far away, Oberyn imagined they had been put through the crucible of true survival.

Ancient wolves would not have tolerated the presence of two brothers. In time, they might grow to become a proper risk to the superiority of the lead male. Luperci had changed. The way they lived changed. Even now, what they were doing was only an imitation of what their ancestors had done. They weren't the same, but their advanced knowledge and mutation provided them advantages that ensured they remained alive.

“Right. We'll go find one we can go inside,” Oberyn said, and when he and Elkin had finished sniffing around the old structure, set off to do just that.

Several minutes later, on a street higher up the sloping hill and in a cool, dry place, Oberyn chose an old ranch-style residence with a half-cocked door that looked promising. Like most of the homes in the area, the larger glass windows had been destroyed by one natural disaster or another, and the breeze kept air circulating through the structure. There was no moldy smell, no sign of decay beyond the standard. If he was a wolf who lived in buildings, Oberyn might have seen the sense in trying to save this one.

“You can always test too. You're fast,” he added, thinking back to what he knew about the young man. Oberyn led Elkin to the side of the building. “So you can do this. Use your paw,” Oberyn said, lifting his front leg. “Or your foot. If you think it might fall, use your foot – that way you can run if it does. I don't think this one will, though. See how it doesn't smell bad? It's not as close to the water. All water can rise,” he reminded the younger man. “But I don't think it ever came up this far.”

Leaning back to a comical sitting position, Oberyn lifted a paw and pushed – gently at first, and then with his whole weight – against the side of the house.

When it didn't budge or make any noise to suggest a fall imminent, he smirked and dropped down. They circled around to the covered porch and ascended. While it groaned under their weight, it did not give way. Pleased by this, Oberyn sniffed around the door. When he determined the structure was empty, he stuck his head through the gap. His shoulder could just barely fit, but he was strong enough to force it further ajar.

Long-abandoned, the inside of the place was littered with fall leaves, piles of dust, and a myriad of thick cobwebs that draped every corner and window of each room. It was all a no-color brown. Chewed up furniture and sturdier metal and wood frames remained where they had been abandoned. The cabinets of the open kitchen were wide open, as if they had been raided in the past.

The two Luperci, misplaced and yet familiar in such a setting, disturbed a fine layer of dust on the floor as they entered.

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