[AW+] It all makes me stronger.
set in Ethereal Eclipse
He had grown more bold about moving farther from the rendezvous site. There were rules and he tried to follow them, but Zoltan wasn't scared to roam a bit further afield than he had when he was younger. The boy was growing into his body and also his fearlessness. Nothing yet had given him reason to fear. Nothing had ever sought to harm him. The warnings of his parents didn't fall on deaf ears. It was just that sense of invincibility and low awareness of his own mortality that came with youth. He'd come to realize it in time; this was just a phase like any other.

The Haskel boy was peeing on a tree when he spotted something strange. Not interesting enough to stop him mid-stream, but interesting nonetheless. When he was near done with his business, the boy started hopping that direction with one leg still held aloft until he could let it drop back to join its partners without getting pee on it. He'd done that before and it had been pretty gross. Even by his standards.

The Strange Thing that he had seen was not entirely strange once he got closer. It was Different from ones he had seen before, but still similar. It was a Small Thing that hissed at him aggressively as he drew near, spying the way that it held one paw up. It didn't appear to be peeing, so he assumed the Small Thing - it was a cat of some sort, he was pretty sure - had injured its foot. The curious cub sniffed the air, taking in its unique scent and marking it to remember the way it looked alongside its scent. There was no Mother Smell, which made him wonder where its parent was. This didn't look like a grown Thing. Though cats came in all shapes and sizes, didn't they? Just like canines did.

This one was many many times smaller than Parzival. It had a spotty splotchy sort of pelt with ears that ended in dark tufts. It was smaller than him, though he had once been as small as it was when he was much younger. "You hurt?" he asked, wondering if it spoke High Speech. Parzival did, which stood to reason some other felines might too. Maybe he could help it, if it was wounded and in need of care. Though he didn't have Harley with him, who was the healer of their group. He could maybe convince it to come home with him for care? Would a cat even trust a wolf?
He had met Oberyn the last time he was in this area, he recalled. There were still no distinguishable scents of pack which made him wonder if the male was still around. He had brought some smoked fish in his pack that was for the gold-eyed male and his group if he did find them. A mark of appreciation for the assistance in finding his sister. He assumed they ate smoked meats even if they didn't cook meat that way themselves.

He heard a small voice in the near distance and raised his ears, wondering if he had imagined it. The sound wasn't repeated. Polli was still fairly certain he had heard hurt in the words that were uttered, though. Which made him both curious and slightly apprehensive. It had been a question from the small voice so presumably they weren't hurt and there were not a lot of other noises to indicate someone recently injured... he dismounted from Avarice so that he could walk more quietly toward the source.

When he drew nearer, he spotted a young male. Blue eyes, a coat and build that reminded Wog of Oberyn... had the other male had children when Polli was here last? He hadn't seen or scented any. Then again, he wouldn't have. It wasn't something that the father - who would've had very young cubs at the time - would've disclosed to a stranger. They also wouldn't have been of moving around age if he was guessing the cub's age correctly. He wasn't a pup expert, but he could venture a decent guess.

The cub seemed to be peering at a small cat. What appeared to possibly be an early season lynx cub. Which probably meant mama was nearby and would be none too happy to find a wolf cub poking at her child. "Hey, kid, not a real great idea to mess with a kit like that." he called out to the young wolf, his bronze gaze shifting across the area in search of the kitten's parent. He'd defend his fellow wolf it came to it, but he was really hoping they could get away from it before mama came looking.
Zo wasn't alone long before there was an adult there. He had expected that. What he hadn't expected was the two-legged stranger who smelled strongly of an animal that Zoltan didn't know. He snorted, clearing his nose of the smell because it was so odd yet it clung to the unknown male's coat like it was part of his pack scent. What kind of pack did he have? Was there somewhere else that had something other than wolves in it? It didn't smell like Parzival, so it wasn't the cougar's group...

The kit hissed at the stranger and stepped backward, though it definitely was favoring one of its paws. The Haskel boy swiveled his gaze between cat child and wolf adult, his ears twitching a bit as he considered. He backed up a bit himself to give space between him and the cat as well as the unknown male. He did know he wasn't supposed to trust Strangers and this guy was a Stranger for sure. There was no scent on him that reminded the Haskel boy of someone he knew.

"Nah mess wit, Zo checkin' it." he said, looking at the kitten again who seemed to be pressing itself against the ground as if hoping they would forget it. "Hurt paw." he explained, tipping his head this way and then the other as he tried to assess from different angles whether there was an obvious injury. He glanced at the Stranger a couple of times too to make sure the scarred male hadn't advanced upon their position at all. If needed, Zoltan would yelp for help.

He frowned as the kitten started to creep backward again, slowly as it tried to put no weight at all on the injured foot. "Where go, kitty? Go your mama?" he asked, once again raising his ears and hoping the small feline spoke High Speech. Zoltan thought he'd like to see the kitten's mama. She was probably really pretty. Maybe she spoke High Speech... he shifted on his feet as he considered if he should follow the kit. He glanced again at the Stranger, wondering if the Stranger would follow too if he did that. Zoltan hadn't yet decided if it was a good idea to follow anyway...
The kit had the right reaction: hiss, back up, try to get away from two obviously larger predators. Even the cub was bigger than the kit. It should've already been scuttling away before Polliwog approached. This in and of itself made the dark wolf apprehensive about it. There were diseases that could make the instinctive reactions shift or get erased entirely. If this cat had one of those... it could be a risk. To him, to the wolf cub, and to the entire area. Such diseases needed to be dispatched quickly if possible.

The wolf pup had backed up a bit, but not as much as Polli would've liked to see. At least the feline seemed to be heading the right direction: away from them. That was what Polliwog wanted to see. He actually didn't care what the younger wolf had been doing with the kitten. If it wasn't "killing it to eat it" or "capturing it because I know what I'm doing", then there wasn't a good reason to be near it at all.

"Let it go. You can't do anything for it. Its mama needs to help it, and I doubt your parents would be happy if you just wandered off after it." he said, as if he knew what the kid's parents would like. He was only recently aware of his own parenthood, but he assumed he would've hated it if Kelsi was this little and trying to play "follow the kit into the woods" while she was this young. "Speaking of which, where are your parents?" the swordsman asked, looking around as if expecting them to appear out of thin air.

The younger male wasn't super young, certainly not on the teat anymore. He was also too young to be traveling alone unless he had been forcibly removed from his pack or something.
Zo didn't like being told what to do by a stranger adult, because they weren't in charge of him. He looked between the adult and the retreating kitten with a frown, considering what to do. Soon enough the kit had disappeared into the foliage. Which sort of made his decision for him. It would've been easy enough to follow the scent trail of the cat. Zoltan just suspected it was true that he shouldn't follow. His parents would be very mad if he pissed off some mama cat and ended up injured.

"They around, somewhere." he shrugged, sniffing the air as if expecting one of his parents' scents to appear on the wind. "Dunno, let me wander a bit more now than when I was littler. But they're near." he narrowed his eyes meaningfully. If he screamed or yipped or called loudly or howled, they'd come for him. The adult couldn't abscond with him into the underbrush quickly enough to stop an angry pair (at least) from showing up to save their cub.

He tilted his head a bit and considered the stranger more fully. The other wolf walked on two legs; he had seen it before, but that didn't make it any less strange to him that someone chose that. As soon as he shifted the first time - which was apparently inevitable - he'd shift back and then plan to never be on two legs again. It was such an awkwardly balanced body to his eyes, not at all suited to sniffing or hunting or anything fun at all. This stranger also had a lot of scars which made him back up another pace to create more distance between them. Someone with a lot of scars had been in a lot of fights.

Zoltan considered whether or not he should ask, but ended up going with "where'd you get all those scars?" as his inelegant way of finding out more about that.
His life had never been typical since he had left his family far too young. From barely managing to find a place of safety before he ended up a carcass to becoming a sailor at a young age to seeking his sister for most of his adult life. It had been nothing like what an average cub did. At least it was his understanding most cubs before shifting age were closely monitored and managed by their parents.

This boy might be shifting age, but if so he was just barely shifting age. He seemed confident enough about being alone and also of the fact that he was not entirely alone. Wog did not miss the implication that any attempt at harm would be met with violence. He'd have assumed as much. Unless the cub was abandoned - and his healthy body was evidence he was not - there was someone was at least close enough to bring quick vengeance for a claw raised against their offspring.

The topic shifted on him and he wasn't surprised by it. The scars were strange to someone who had obviously not gotten a single one yet in his young life. "Lots of different places, lots of different stories. How about you pick one and I'll tell you where I got that one." the wolf said after a moment, crouching so his scars were closer to the cub and more visible. He did not move any nearer, though; he'd respect the distance the youngster had put between them. "I'm Polliwog, by the way."
The boy's confidence was anchored in a childhood that had never done him harm. Everyone around him had always been kind, no one had ever approached him with sharp teeth or claws seeking to rend. There was only so much caution that careful parenting could create within a child. Instinct drove some of it, too - he naturally did not want to be someone big and potentially a Threat - but mostly it was his mother's voice in his head telling him to be careful about those he didn't know.

He found his caution about the scarred wolf waning as he grew more accustomed to the idea that no harm was imminent. The Stranger - ah, Polliwog he had now introduced himself as - seemed nice enough. He'd warned Zo about interacting with the cat cub and even asked after his parents. Those weren't things a Threat would do, were they? Not likely. A Threat would've scooped him up or chased him or grabbed his scruff or bitten his ears. Polliwog had done none of those things so tentatively he seemed fairly nice. And more interesting visually than Astropop had been.

"That 'un." he gestured with his muzzle at the adult wolf, which was probably incredibly unhelpful as he wasn't using a finger to point and also they were a fair distance away from each other still. "Uhhh, 'cross your muzzle." the boy continued. "'m Zo." he didn't give his full name because it didn't occur to him that it might matter. He liked to be called Zo. So no one really needed to know the mouthful that composed his entire name.
Zo, likely a nickname unless he had very succinct parents. It wasn't as if he needed more than what the boy wanted to be called, though. Maybe that wasn't even essential, unless he did end up coming across the parents later or they met at a later date. Since it seemed he was going to share a story and then probably be on his way. The child was no longer at risk of being mauled by the kit's mother; that had been Wog's main intention. He had no further obligation to the growing wolf.

"The one across my muzzle, huh?" he rubbed at the spot thoughtfully, thinking back to the day when it had happened. "Took a hilt instead of a blade, believe it or not. Lucky it wasn't the sharp side of a blade or I might've had more than a scar there. It came down pretty hard, though, and it smarted probably most of any of my injuries. Couldn't smell right for weeks after, it was miserable." he said. It probably wasn't the kind of glorious tale that the cub had been seeking, but Polli had never been great at weaving a tale that kept others listening. Except when he talked about stars. Then sometimes he could get going well enough that others listened. Like his daughter's mother had.

The scarred swordsman stretched his arms a bit and nodded at Zo. "You going to be alright on your own now? Don't follow that kit." he warned, though he realized after he said it that he might be causing the opposite reaction from what he wanted. When he was a cub, an adult saying insistently no was practically like them daring him to do it.
The adult told him a story that was interesting, especially the words hilt and blade, because he wasn't sure exactly what they meant. He understood there were tools that wolves used with their hands. Presumably that referenced one of them. His blue eyes darted to the thing hanging at the man's side curiously, wondering if that was the blade and hilt. Later, he'd ask his dad what he knew of these things. Zo didn't want to reveal his ignorance to the stranger.

"Oh, yuh, be fine. Never really alone, 'nyway." he said with a bit of a cheeky grin, his tail waving to and fro with amusement. The Fangs were always around this area; he was sure at least one was within earshot if he howled, at least. They might even be closer than that and listening in to the conversation. Zoltan wasn't afraid either way; he felt certain of his safety.

Besides, the stranger seemed ready to leave and Zo had no reason to stay either. The boy bobbed his head briefly in farewell to the adult and then bounded off into the brush. Not toward the kitten. Despite his curiosity, the adult had warned him, and besides it was probably really far away now. There were bound to be more interesting things closer. Maybe he'd just track down his dad or mom to tell him more about blades and hilts so next time he could understand what he was told about them. Just because he wasn't going to use those things didn't mean he shouldn't know what they were.
The child was confident and self-assured in a way that made Polliwog think that he had a safe home where he could return. Casa di Cavalieri was far enough from here that it had to be some loner group. Hopefully one that was indeed within easy earshot and had just assessed him as "not a threat"; the Justice thought again of Oberyn. The other male lived near enough. He wouldn't wager on it, but it wouldn't be too farfetched to imagine this might be the other male's get.

"Seeya around, then, Zo." Wog said with a wave to the boy in a returned farewell.

He walked back toward Avarice, hoping the stallion hadn't somehow decided to wander off somewhere. It would've been a strange choice, but nothing was outside the realm of possibility in the world. He'd certainly seen stranger things in his time.

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