[P] When the world has fallen out from under me
p. Anders Holt | Gaspesia
OOC: Foredated to late April in northern Gaspesia.

Something had drawn Marten past the Silver Strip and southwest to Gaspesia, a great forest that she’d hunted hares through a long, long time ago. New Caledonia still stood strong then, with no signs of crumbling any time soon. She remembered the leaves being darker than in summer and the prey she caught being brown-furred and fat; it had been a good autumn, which led into a difficult winter.

The canopy was thin, many of the leaves still small and pale, but it still cast dappled shadows on the new spring grass. Marten wondered if there was more deer here now, with fewer canines to hunt the herds that Woodsmoke had told her about. They criss-crossed the woods in large groups, usually at dawn and dusk, but Marten hadn’t spent a lot of time here before New Caledonia disbanded; she’d only ever seen a couple at a time in the distance.

It was the wrong time to see the herds now too, but maybe she’d spend the night under the trees before trekking home. Marten liked camping in the woods, especially when those woods were in newish places and she didn’t have any traveling companions to worry about. She missed being on her own with only her animal guides for company — not counting the occasional loner she bumped into.

Marten had been so busy searching for Kohl for so long, she hadn’t had a lot of time for herself. She was pretty sure that was why her guides disappeared in the first place; she’d been too distracted to listen to them.

Too busy wondering as she wandered, Marten barely noticed the stream that cut through the old leaf litter and new grass until she tumbled face-first into the cold water. She sputtered and coughed, and came up with a face covered in mud. Stumbling backward in shock, the ankle that plunged into the water ached when she put weight on it. "No, no, no, no, nooo..." Marten groaned. She plopped down on her haunches, shook as much mud off her face as possible, and tried to examine the damage. Except her paw was covered in mud too, and it was really, really hard to get the mud off when it hurt to touch. Ugh. So much for a fun camping trip.
[Image: springforth.png] Spring Forth, Words! precarious

[606] Crow Wiki. She's in Lupus, Anders is in Optime w/ scent disguised.

The northern forest hosted a variety of almost boreal plant life that was less commonly found in Tantramar, and Anders’ entire purpose in coming here was to search for herbs and other useful flora that he might bring home to cultivate. But after parting ways with his Salsolan companion and running into Crow, he found himself terribly distracted. This wasn’t indicative of any magical spell the somewhat-obnoxious girl had put on him, or any interest in her beyond concern for her health, but because Crow simply would not leave him alone despite gentle hints.

It was only because she was lonely, Anders thought. If he told her point-blank to go away, she would probably listen to him — as it was, he was certain she understood his subtle cues and was gleefully ignoring them on purpose. Her light blue eyes glinted with mischief, and more than once she disappeared into the surrounding woods only to remerge from the shadows with enough skill to startle him.

”Gods!” he exclaimed, though the deities he appealed to were nonspecific. ”Where did you even learn to do that?”

The skinny brown wolfdog sneezed laughter, then twitched her ears at his question, the half-flopped things pulling back. She looked a little sad a moment, her nose quivering with a slight sniff before she said, ”My mom — she taught me how to survive in the wild. Amalthea Grimalkin.” Then her tail wagged, her confidence and energy returning. ”The cats helped me learn how to stalk really quietly, too.” She crouched and drew herself, paw-over-paw, across the old spruce needles. She was nearly silent, he had to admit that.

”I’ve heard about the cats,” Anders said, fondly remembering meeting Kelsi. He began to recount this to Crow, but an owl’s soft hoot — hours before dusk — stymied him. He blinked and looked into the trees for the nocturnal bird.

Chanticleer the crow hooted at him again, ruffling his mottled feathers, then began to laugh with a soft buk-buk-buk. Shaking his head at the mimic, Anders looked back down for his obnoxious companion, then realized she’d vanished again. This time, though, the rustle of sedges betrayed her.

Anders growled, though his tail wagged in play. ”That’s it, I’m getting you.” He chased in the direction of the resultant high-pitched scoff.

They ran for a little bit, until Crow slowed down and the Optime-formed wolfdog nearly tripped over her smaller shape. She had her nose set to the ground and was sniffing, an odd expression on her face; her body language had wilted again. Her mood seemed like a precarious thing, operating on rules that he did not understand, as little as he knew her.

He did realize she was trailing a scent, though, and hesitated, keeping several yards behind. He didn’t particularly want to meet anyone else out here, not when he needed to eventually return to Nickodemus. He didn’t want to make up a reason for being out here, especially after straying from his original purpose.

The sound of a splash and a groan of pain or worry dashed these thoughts from his mind, as instinctual concern drove him forward.

A she-wolf about their age, lean but not skinny like Crow, was plopped in a muddy streambank and holding a paw awkwardly; she looked like she had just taken a spill. Crow was approaching her, lowering her ears submissively and making friendly signs and noises to pacify the female as she inched forward to sniff.

”Are you okay?” Anders asked, a gentle but worried smile drawing up his lips and brows.
[Image: 2-2-anders.png]
Marten took a slow, deep breath to try and calm her anxious thoughts. She focused on the budding trees, the new grass, and the crunch of leaf litter as she shifted her weight from one good leg to another. If Marten could relax enough to assess the situation, she could make a plan. And she definitely needed one; an injured paw would slow her down, and the pain would make it easy for her to lose focus and get lost. Triple S Ranch was close enough that she could limp there, but then what? Marten wasn’t sure if they had any healers or if she even needed a healer.

Before panic could set in, she heard footsteps.

The dark-furred, lanky canine caught Marten’s attention first, her friendly sounds distracting the wolf from her injured paw. ”Hi!” she barked back, her tail tapping against the leaf litter. The doggish woman smelled like she was Marten’s age, while her two-legged companion was harder to determine. ”And no, not really. I kind of fell into a stream and hurt my paw.” At least, that was the part that hurt the most. Marten was sure her tumble would ache in all sorts of places once she could rest.

”My name is Marten. I live… That way!” She said, pointing her sore paw in the direction of the peninsula. She tried to shake the mud off it again, but it didn’t want to go anywhere. ”Are you two from around here?” They didn’t seem like former New Caledonians. With how long the pack had been disbanded, it made sense for more canines to move into the unmarked territories. Hopefully nice ones who wouldn’t cause any trouble for her friends at Triple S Ranch.

It felt like forever since Marten had encountered friendly faces in the wild, even though it had only been a couple days. Marten couldn’t afford to turn away their kindness, even as Lynx flooded her mind with all sorts of guarded, suspicious thoughts; she needed all her limbs in good, working order to make it home.

Marten was more insolvent than usual, unable to hunt them a meal in exchange for their assistance, but she hoped they would help without it. Maybe she could invite them to camp dinner instead!
Leaves stirred beneath the brown brush of the young wolf’s tail. She didn’t seem too terribly upset, though her response about being hurt was honest. Mud dripped from her hurt paw as she raised it vaguely toward the northeast, giving her name and asking the pair where they were from.

”No, I’m from Portland,” the merle collie answered — which wasn’t really a lie, depending on one’s definition of from. Until this past winter, it would have been completely honest. His current allegiance was best kept under wraps.

Crow twitched her nose. ”Me too,” she said after a beat. It made sense, if she was a Grimalkin and learned to stalk from their feral cat colony. ”I’m Crow.”

”My name’s Anders,” he continued, smiling gently.

This was honest. He knew that Salsolans generally gave false names or invented new identities — like Angora, who posed as Asphodel, the daughter of lone traders — but giving his real name felt best for Anders. It connected him to his family (rather than the Family) and gave credence to the story of being a Portland native who happened to be wandering.

”I’m out here looking for herbs. I’m a healer,” Anders explained, waving his feathered tail as he came to crouch beside the wolf. ”I can’t work magic and make your paw stop hurting, but I could wipe the mud off and take a look at it, if you want?” He extended a pale hand to take Marten’s paw if she wanted him to.

Behind him, Crow paced the bank and cocked her head. Her fang scraped her bottom lip, as if she wanted to say something but was debating whether she should.
[Image: 2-2-anders.png]
Why were so many canines from Portland? Marten had never been there, hadn’t even known about it when she passed north of it with Thread, but it seemed like a really big place with lots of canines. Marten shrugged to herself; she guessed it didn’t matter. She tipped her muzzle at crow and smiled back at Anders, though hers was a little weaker, a little more uncertain. He was a healer and he wanted to help, but could he? He seemed unsure of himself, and that made Marten unsure too.

Despite her concerns, Marten held out her paw for Anders to wipe the mud off of and examine. It fit nicely into his pale hand, the way she expected a healer to gently hold an affected limb, and her smile grew a little stronger to match his. She felt like she was in good, if anxious paws. ”Are uh… Are you okay, Crow?” Marten asked, unable to ignore the dark-furred woman’s pacing. It made her feel like something was going to happen that maybe only she didn’t know about.

That was silly, though. Marten’s paw was injured; of course she felt a little weird and vulnerable as a result. Lynx’s suspicious murmurings weren’t helping either, despite her guide’s best intentions. Marten was pretty sure — though admittedly not certain — that they weren’t going to hurt, or kidnap, or eat her.

At least no one could hear Lynx except her; Marten was pretty sure Anders and Crow wouldn’t want to help her anymore if they could.

Wincing as Anders began wiping the mud off her paw, Marten squeezed one eye shut to distract herself from the pain. It was just a little creek! What an unlucky way to get hurt so far from home.

Anders gently took the she-wolf's paw, happy that her smile grew stronger, as he really was trying to keep a reassuring look about him. In his old clinic, he would have felt more confident -- but that was working alongside a doctor more experienced than he, who could catch his mistakes. Of course he'd feel more comfortable then, surrounded by all the bandages and herbs he might need. Out here in the woods, he couldn't make promises.

He did at least have a gentle hand, sloughing mud from Marten's wrist and occasionally probing with his fingers, his brown eyes studying the female's face to see when she winced. She didn't yelp, though, which reassured him that the injury wasn't as serious as a break. He touched her toes and in between, too, checking to see if she'd cracked a nail or torn the webbing, but kept his fingers light in case she got uncomfortable and wanted to pull away.

As he worked and Marten asked after Crow, the apothecary swiveled one ear toward his curly-coated companion, equally curious what was wrong.

Crow stopped pacing at once, her head lifted and her expression not unlike that of a rabbit frozen in the middle of a path. Her floppy ears swept back as she replied without another beat, "Yeah, I'm okay." Her tone wasn't sharp or mean, but it did suggest that there was no reason to think she wasn't okay.

Anders shook his head and gave Marten a look to suggest that Crow was just like that. During what little time they'd spent together, the young wolfdog had been pretty evasive, and seemingly for no reason.

Feeling her joint and toes again, he hummed. "It isn't broken," he said. "I think you just tweaked it pretty bad, but if you--" The pad of his finger brushed something that seemed to hurt Marten, and he stopped to look at it. "Here, I think you have a scrape -- let's put your paw in the water to wash that off."

A breath on his shoulder made him jolt, as Crow seemingly manifested from nothing to reach his side and peer curiously at what they were doing.

"It might be easier to shift when you can so that you aren't still putting weight on it," Anders said. "Some rest should--"

"So, when y'say you live that way," Crow interrupted, her words streaming close together without hardly a breath, "d'ya mean far o'er that way or did you live in th' pack that was 'round here or--"

Without quite meaning to, Anders huffed. He didn't want to be cross at Crow, but the way her muzzle hovered over his shoulder made him anxious, and while he wouldn't have really cared about an interruption in any other instance (it wasn't in him to get frustrated at that), working with a patient was different.

The girl took a step back and smiled crookedly. "Just didn't know how far you had to walk to get home, is all," she concluded, her voice far more measured and nonchalant.
[Image: 2-2-anders.png]
Marten winced and wiggled as Anders worked, his probing fingers almost ticklish between her toes. Even Crow’s pacing couldn’t distract her from how weird it felt to have someone examining her foot so intently. She usually just walked off injuries, or slept a lot until she felt better.

The sound of Crow’s voice pulled Marten from her thoughts. Her tone was matter-of-fact and left no room for argument; she was okay, and that was that. Anders gave her an apologetic look, but the forest-eyed wolf just nodded and looked away again. Crow’s okayness was now known.

Anders explained that he didn’t think her paw was broken, and Marten had just “tweaked it” instead — whatever that meant. She smiled when he offered to wash a scrape off for her, and stuck her leg out to let him do so more easily. ”Thank you,” she said quietly, as appreciative as she was tired. It was a funny feeling; it wasn’t quite the feeling she got before she was possessed by one of her animals guides, but it wasn’t quite normal tired either. Maybe she was just overwhelmed.

Before Marten could explain that she couldn’t shift and she’d just have to limp home, Crow sneaked up on them and interrupted. Her voice was so fast that she had to listen really closely to understand her — kind of like Thread sometimes. ”I live on the peninsula… Thattaway!” Marten said, pointing east-ish with her nose. ”It’s a nice place. You should come visit for camp dinner sometime!” Marten said, her tail thumping against the ground. They had helped her, which meant they were her friends, which meant she could invite them to camp dinner!

Crow explained why she’d asked, and Marten made a soft oh sound in acknowledgement. ”It’s pretty far away, I guess. The land bridge is all long and windy.”

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