[AW] It's a comedy of errors
Black River Reserve
OOC: Foredated to mid-May.

Marten’s sore paws were soothed by the cool sea water that lapped at the shore, no longer freezing cold and icy like it had been all winter. She thought about the warmth of summer. Teaching Kohl to swim in the balmy strait, racing Thread along the sandy beaches of their home, sunbathing with Blaise after a long day of exploring…

Quincy too, who came here to skip rocks some days, flat chunks of what he called “sandstone” easy enough to find along the water’s edge. She’d never be able to skip them with him — not unless she got really good at throwing stones with her teeth — but she liked to watch. When the strait had frozen over in places, she’d helped him punch holes through the ice for fun.

Marten felt safe going deeper on a clear, spring day. She splashed in the water up to her elbows and blew bubbles out of her nose, even though it burned a little if she did it too much. Marten couldn’t see the opposite shore no matter how much she squinted, but she knew she could see the mountains if she traveled far enough east along the water. Her and Thread had traveled through those mountains a long time ago, trying to avoid witches who ate puppies and kidnapped unassuming travelers.

She still wasn’t sure if the stories about Salsola were true; if she’d ever met a Salsolan, they’d kept it a secret.

Marten required a little more rest and a little less running around the past moon, but that didn’t stop her from slipping into the water and paddling until she couldn’t touch the bottom anymore. Marten loved being carried by the push and pull of the tide. Rivers and lakes flowed in one direction, when the water flowed at all. Even the really big lakes Thread showed her were like that; their waves reminded her of the ocean, but they weren’t the ocean.

The strait was definitely water that connected to the ocean. And Marten, despite her best intentions, swam further than she should have from shore.

At first, it was easy not to notice the change in the swell of the waves around her. Marten wasn’t further from shore than she’d ever been — she’d swam across the whole strait before, at one of its narrowest points — but something felt different when she tried to swim back to shore. She… Couldn’t. At least, not without significant, tiring effort. Lips pulled back and pupils wide with fear, she paddled as hard as she could toward her home, her paradise, her family.

And then she couldn’t swim back at all.

The last thing Marten remembered was feeling less like her and more like Bear, before her grip on her mind and body disappeared entirely. There was only swimming inside the current, pulled by the river that had sprung from the sea, and hoping it would take them to the unseen land on the other side.

Battered by the waves that stole them from their home, Bear clambered onto a distant shore and collapsed on the sand. She panted into her aching forelegs, tongue lolling from her dry, foul-tasting mouth. The sun was sinking lower in the sky. She needed to find fresh water and shelter first, and then she could sink into the kind of fitful, dreamless sleep that always followed danger.

Marten, for all her good will and determination, was not a lucky wolf. Bear wondered if some stronger being felt this was condign punishment, cursing them all to suffer for her inexperience.

The animal guide groaned and pushed their soaking wet, sand-covered body off the beach, legs shaking with each step. Water, shelter, sleep. That would get them through the day and night, and then she could figure out where they were and how to get home again. Bear dragged their feet up and forward, up and forward, into the marshy forest and away from the surf; wherever she was going, it had to be safer than where they had just been.

The north had brought much of the same, as Tulay saw it. The horses had taken them almost back the way they had come. Everything they knew lay to the south, though it was still little. The novelty of traveling again had worn off and the day had been spent in silence. Their path took them to the eastern edge of the land, with sparse coastal pines and sandy earth.

Winds came off the sea, though they hardly saw it as they picked their way through the marshland. Tulay was relieved to see fresh water, allowing the animals to drink from what looked like one of many tributaries tumbling toward the sea. Despite the spring day, the forest felt quiet. Tulay could see nothing wrong with the forest and blamed the tumbling stream for muting the wood.

"Let's take a break here," Tulay said, sliding off of Gala's saddle. The horse let out a sigh of contentment as she removed her saddle and soon did the same for Elias. Tulay apologized to them for the sparse pickings but at least they had water. She stretched her sore legs, removing her own leathers allowing the cool air to meet fur dense as it was. It was coming out in clumps for the coming summer.

Mischa had settled by the stream but Tulay was determined to see the ocean, using the break to stretch her own legs. She ventured away from camp, finding something akin to a path. Letting the scent of salt and thinning trees guide her she felt she was getting close.

When she heard movement through the marsh she paused, turning her head to the retreating sound. A deer? Tulay followed, making a ruckus of her own but soon caught sight of a sopping wet wolf. They were trudging into the wood looking exhausted and half drowned. "Are you alright?" She called cautiously, curious about the canine's wellbeing.

She walked toward him, slowly at first to not frighten him. Without her armor, she looked more like a wooly sheep. "You'll catch your death, all wet like that." She said gruffly, seeing if he would offer an explanation. Tulay could make a fire but her flint and tinder were back at camp. She was reluctant to bring anyone back but she couldn't allow an innocent to die of hypothermia.

[WC — 389] | NPCs: Mischa, Gala, Elias
heeeeyyy! she's here to help!
The first shallow, sand-choked stream Bear saw, she shoved her muzzle in it and started drinking. It was gritty and tasted like all the land it had passed through to get to her, but it was cold, fresh water. Wherever their stumbling paws took her, that was where she would have to drink.

Bear’s relief was short-lived, interrupted by what sounded like a deer crashing through the marshland. Her head rose on an unsteady, drooping neck, even as her parched throat begged her to keep drinking. Where she expected a doe — or even a stubby-antlered buck — to appear, a canine did instead.

Bear squinted at the maker of the loud, brush-breaking sounds. The canine had thick, brown and white fur and eyes the color of leaves, though she didn’t know what time of year in particular. Spring, summer, autumn? They all looked so similar to Marten, so that meant they all looked similar to Bear too.

Was she alright? Did she look alright?

”No, we’re… I’m not,” Bear grunted, surprised by the sound of her own voice. It was easy to forget that it was deeper and gruffer than Marten’s. If their body wasn’t so dangerously tired, she’d have been more cautious around the large, fluffy stranger. The scent of horse wafted off of her, even at a distance; maybe she belonged to a nearby pack?

”I’m pretty sure I’m half dead already,” Bear said, before trying and failing to shake themselves off; she couldn’t muster up the energy to shake hard enough. Exhaustion pulled at their body’s limbs, and moving forward was becoming a losing battle.

Bear failed to stay standing, dropping back on her haunches and wobbling side to side even while seated. ”I’m so tired…” She moaned, before squeezing her eyes shut and tucking her chin against her chest. Bear had never swam that far before, and she hoped she never had to swim that far again. ”I need… I need food. No, water. Please?” It seemed like a silly request when surrounded by so many streams headed out to sea, but Bear needed water that wasn’t full of sand and grit, water she wouldn't collapse in.

"Please?" She asked again, now begging. "Please?"

Tulay stopped just short of the debilitated wolf. She looked like she was barely able to stand and her words were plaintive sounds. Her gruffness all but fell away. As she came closer, the stranger didn't even move to react. Tulay frowned, listening to her words.

"You are not dead yet, I do not think the reaper will come for you today." She responded calmly, "Be still, save your energy." Watching her struggle to move was a sad sight.

Her camp was not far away but Tulay doubted the poor wolf could make the journey. She hesitated for a moment, but no hostility came off of the stranger. She was simply trying to survive. "I'll take you to my camp, water there." Crouching, she lifted the wolf into her arms. Even soaking wet, her weight was hardly a hindrance. The dog started picking her way back, finding a slightly better trail than her first.

"I am Tulay," She said as she walked, "I have many questions but later, after you are dry."

As camp came into view and she was met with the gazes of both horses. Gala approached first, investigating who Tulay had brought back. She shouldered past the horse and approached where Mischa still sat. "Get some kindling and my flint, I found this one barely moving." She commanded, setting the stranger down on a roe hide.

Mischa was still registering the new arrival but did as she was told, pulling their fire supplies from a bag and pulling snags from nearby trees. Tulay went to the stream, wading in a few steps before filling a water skin. The waters came from the marsh, filtered and clean. She returned to where the borzoi had begun to arrange the tinder, eyeing the newcomer with guarded suspicion. Though, Tulay knew she was fighting down some level of excitement about a new conversation partner.

Placing a bowl before the stranger, she filled it with her waterskin and went to spark the fire. Tulay spoke little as she did, nursing small coals until a crackling campfire warmed her face. She stepped back to let it grow, feeding it larger pieces of wood until it crackled contentedly. Both of the dogs sat in expectant silence, occasionally glancing at who they shared a fire with.

[WC — 389] | NPCs: Mischa, Gala, Elias
She said yoink you're coming with me
Bear wanted to scoff at the brown and white-furred dog, as if she had the energy to argue about whether or not she might die today. Instead, beside her plaintive whines, she remained quiet and still as instructed. Save your energy, her rescuer said. Bear wished she could do that, but she had to keep moving; how else would she get Marten home? If not today, then tomorrow or the next day. There was no time for real, curative rest in the wilderness — not to Bear.

She yelped softly when she was picked up, her sore limbs not sure whether to ache from the pressure of being held or relax from the relief of being carried. ”Thank you,” Bear whispered, the gentle motion of Tulay’s footsteps slowly rocking her to sleep. She didn’t know if she could answer any questions, but she would try when she woke up.

Bear’s slumber was restless and frequently interrupted, whether from being laid down on a hide, to the sounds of a fire being started, to having a bowl of clean water pushed in front of her nose. Water was good, and she drank it so greedily she spilled half of it before it could reach her tongue. That helped her wake up, if only a little bit. Just enough to lift her head from her burning forepaws and take in the two dogs who had saved her.

”I’m Marten,” Bear murmured, just loud enough for them to hear. Her throat was so dry, and her stomach rolled every time she moved too fast. ”I’m lost, and… And I don’t know where I am, or how to get home.” She was too tired to reliably follow the coast in her current state, especially for such a long distance.

”Do you, um… Do you know of a peninsula north of here?” Bear asked. She doubted they would take her the entire distance, but maybe they could accompany her until she was less exhausted.

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