[P] Sea to shining sea.
for VikSys!
(word count: 447)

The tides were an interesting thing to observe. The pull and push of water that was dictated by an invisible force, swaying them to and fro in a pattern that could become predictable to those who learned the ocean's ways. In general she was not one to study the ocean. It interested her only when it related to a ritual or when she saw something in it that she wanted. Otherwise, the red-earred wolf let the ocean be. Its water was too salty for her fur and made her skin itchy.

She had uses for beaches, though. The things that the ocean gathered would often creep to shore, brought there by the ocean's ways and landing there like small gemstones to fetch for one such as her. Not usually actual gemstones, that was for caves and damp places or good fortune in old settlements. No, the ocean brought shells and sea glass and the remnants of crabs or other sea animals. All of these things had their uses.

Angora had spent most of the day walking the shoreline looking for things that she could use. Her bag at her side made a faint noise when she walked; it was good that she was not planning to travel under any sort of secrecy, the bag couldn't have been silenced if she tried. Too many bits and bobs inside of it tapped against each other. She'd have needed a whole other satchel just for wrapping them all up if she had needed secrecy. She'd hide the bag and return for it if her plans had to change and she needed to be silent.

The wolf considered how much longer she would stay; her gaze shifted to the sky for a moment. The sun was starting to creep further down toward the horizon and the coolness of night would be upon her soon. Good. Night was a good time to travel, because it did not bear the insufferable heat of daytime that came by midday most of the summer. She might even be cold out here by the ocean when the sun had fully gone to rest.

She smiled at the thought of being cool. Though she had worn fairly simple clothing (a loosely fitted off-white shirt tucked into a pale gray skirt made of light fabric), she was still warmer than she would have normally enjoyed. Sometimes she thought it would've been easier to be someone who didn't mind being naked regularly, then she'd have needed no layers at all. Alas, she had been born and brought up with some class.

The witch chuckled to herself at the thought, humming a soft tune as she continued her beach combing.

Don't wanna live as an untold story
Rather go out in a blaze of glory
A cloudless sky swathed the world in the gentle robin's egg blues of the smoothest shell.

Before then the sun rose with great fanfare. It spilled its crimson blood over the heavens. Liam and Sphinx watched its ascent together. Father and child, teacher and student, celestial weavers that circled one another. The two del Mortes were motionless for hours, stalwart boulders that drank in the celestial body's fiery and cleansing rays. Their vigil was a sacred rite, a Trial of Eventide. Sphinx would fast for more than just the day; they planned to forego food and drink into the night.

The moon's splendor was best witnessed when one was at their purest.

"Valleui, Golden eagle of the morning. Sharp talons of wit. Wingspan of freedom..." Liam mumbled under his breath. He squeezed his eyes shut in focus.

"...Eagleface." Sphinx smirked up at their father.

Liam opened his eyes with surprise. He opened his mouth to say something, anything, but all that came was laughter. Sphinx always had a good sense of humor. They fell over together on the beach's sands and kicked their legs until their chortling ceased.

"Eaglefaced Valleui. Thank you for giving my child the opportunity and safety. The pride and the potential. Dual-Spirit, you are our liberty. Please bless them with the gifts and bounty you have given me and more. Sphinx del Morte will wear your colors with pride and spread the good word."

Liam sat up, grains of sand falling from the fur of his back, when he heard new footsteps ghost over the beach's grain. He thought he recognized her from the poisoned banquet. Sphinx looked up at their father again in social reference. They deferred to him on every matter concerning other Luperci as most did. He was their leader.

Jus' show me how to stop feelin' like this.

Might you be Liam of once-was Caledonia?

I’m happy to prove myself the best Archivist, L-Liam.

No Liam, we are not wounded. This is vulnerable.

Let the criticisms and comments come. Let the eagerness to please and elevate him fuss over him. He was impervious to their words. The only thing that changed him were the scars that cut through the landscape of his hard earned muscle. That was the price he paid for his survival. His skin was all he had when he was little.

mi sinpin li kulupu. mi toki li ona. He led his people. He would speak with her. Liam stood up. He always did. He extended both of his hands, empty palms faced up, expression peaceful and serene. Sphinx scooted behind his legs.

"Ah, hello. What brings you here on this gods-given morning?"
(word count: 389)

She had considered her option as the sun began to sink beyond the horizon level: to return home or to stay there in neutral territories? The walk home would be greater than a day and she had been out in the heat for most of this one... the wolf swished her tail as she considered. And then she yawned. It was the yawn that really decided her; nap by the beach somewhere cool, and then she could return to Salsola the next day.

Nothing had disturbed her rest, though she woke sooner than she would have liked with another wide-jawed yawn. Her gaze peeked out at the horizon where the sun was slowly making its bloody way back into the world. Sunrises were magnificent. She rarely had opportunity to see them. The red-earred wolf twitched her ears as if to clear the last remnants of sleep before she stood, stretching languidly to warm all of her cramped muscles.

There were two others further along the shoreline now. They had not been near enough to wake her from her slumber, though they were nearer than she would have liked. Apparently her curled up position behind rocks had been sufficient. Which meant she had chosen well. Even if there were those in her pack who wouldn't have agreed. Certainly she was a bit annoyed with herself because it meant she was extra sandy. But that hardly mattered. There'd been enough sand in her coat before she napped too. When she got home she'd take quite the bath.

One of the strangers had stood as she approached, his hands outstretched palms-out in a gesture she recognized as peace, openness, frankness, honesty, generosity, goodness from body language. She never believed what a body said. Sometimes it was full of the same lies that packed its owner's mouth. She should know.

Her teeth gleamed in a faint smile, her tail wagging lightly to express her own friendliness. Angora waved, her gaze flickering briefly down to the younger canine who seemed to be attempting - and failing - to hide behind the standing one. "Just wandering the sands looking for trinkets to use in my art." she said, jingling the satchel at her side so that the shells tapped against each other to express what she meant. "What gods do you think have given us this morning?"

Don't wanna live as an untold story
Rather go out in a blaze of glory
Sphinx’s multichrome eyes remained steadily on Angora. Their dark furred body stayed tucked tightly behind their father’s long legs. Liam could feel the same curiosity he felt about this woman spark in his child. He did not need to look - he need only feel how their fingers curled into his calves.

Liam smoothed a hand over Sphinx’s head in a pat of reassurance. He hushed them. He would not promise Sphinx that this newcomer was a safe stranger when he could not guarantee it. White lies eroded trust and respect. No, he would instead help Sphinx remain calm as they and the other Eclipsians helped him to do the same.

”You create art with trinkets?” he echoed.

That caught Liam’s interest. He recognized her from the poisoned banquet, but he knew nothing of her beyond that. Sphinx’s ears perked up too. A budding artisan themself in arts like glassblowing, Liam could tell Sphinx was already on the edge of their seat.

The Chief shifted his footing. He chewed on the mysterious woman’s phrasing as more of her words came. When his foot moved, it hit something hard, something more solid than the beach sands beneath his toes. Liam bent over to pluck it from the sand. He examined what sat in his palm briefly.

”Hmm.” He hummed in thought.

A golden suggestion whispered itself into his thoughts. If Liam focused, he thought he could hear eagle wings beating the air.

The Chief’s eyes flicked back up to meet the woman’s.

”The same gods that gave you this gift.”

He held his palm out for her to see. Sphinx came from behind Liam to stand on their tippy toes and crane their neck at it. A small turquoise figurine of a fox sat among the skin pads of Liam’s palm. The gem was worn and weathered through erosion, but the fox’s striking stare and smirk remained carved into its face.

”The same gods that tell me this belongs to you now.”
(word count: 369)

This was all strange. The boy - was it a boy? a girl? the child - seemed apprehensive and hid behind their parent like a much younger wolf might. It was harder for them to do it because they were big enough to stand on their own two feet. She saw the way that the older wolf - parent? - seemed to soothe them with a brush of fingers against the top of their head. Maybe they were feeble of mind. These things did happen, and it was up to a parent whether they raised or culled them.

"Yes, mostly, like, bracelets and necklaces that kind of thing. I'd totally show you but I didn't bring anything finished. Didn't, like, expect to meet anyone else who might like to see them." she said with an apologetic wince. Which was partially true. She also just didn't want to tote a bunch of finished items around with her whenever she went wandering. It might even mess with the cosmic energy of trying to find the right shells if she had an already-made trinket buzzing away in her pocket.

The adult seemed to move forward and then stop, pausing to consider something. It was obvious after a moment that he had paused because of whatever it was he was digging out of the sand. The gift for her from the gods he worshipped. She had never gotten a gift from a god before. Hell, she had never selected a god in particular to praise. Angora's magic didn't work that way. She had never selected anyone specific to direct or utilize for it. Maybe someday she would, if she found one strong enough to suit her purposes.

She stepped nearer as he held out what he had found, her eyes alighting with interest on what he had found. It looked like a fox, carved well though possibly eroded over time. That he had found this was indeed fortuitous and shined upon both her and the meeting itself. Luck or something like it was on her side. She stepped nearer and held out her hand. "I have never, like, gotten a gift from a god before." she admitted. "Does it mean they ask something of me in return?"

Don't wanna live as an untold story
Rather go out in a blaze of glory
Liam gave a curt nod of understanding.

”I don’t carry my artisanal work with me unless I intend to trade either,” Liam said, an easy smile on his face.

He beckoned her forth with what he thought to be the gods’ offering. When the woman came closer, Liam was able to pick up on her scent… Or lack thereof.

She smelled very clean. Very floral.

Liam paused to wonder at that. He had connected dots like her to others before. His shellshocked mind worked quickly to jump to conclusions, but that compass was not always correct. It could infrequently lead him into a drunken Sublime stupor that necessitated intervention. Kule reminded him of the dangers in maladaptive paranoia. It was thanks to his mate’s comfort that he maintained sanity.

He was likely overthinking it.

He would keep his eye on her, however.

”No. The gods need nothing like that from the mortal soul like mine or yours. We may give offerings, but they come with no strings of debt attached.”

Liam’s tongue hovered over the word debt’.

Sphinx suddenly darted from between Liam’s legs. They signed at him with frantically dipping fingers. They shook their head side to side. They gestured at Angora once, then twice. They finished with a fold of their arms.

Liam’s pup never failed to surprise him. They taught him new things every day just like their mother, Kule, did. He raised his hands and signed back with a gravely serious expression cast over his face. His gaze returned to the woman’s with a warm chuckle.

”Sorry, I can get a little carried away. Omens like that fox are potent, aren’t they? I forget myself, I am Chief Liam del Morte.”

Sphinx perked their large ears upward, suddenly alert. They likely sensed what he was going to ask next:

”What do I call you?”
(word count: 429)

"Wise. Never know who might, like, try to take things from you on the road." she said with a solemn nod of her own. As if she had ever faced such a thing. No brigand had ever tried to take from her personally, though she had assisted in thwarting a group that tried to take from Salsola as a whole.

Something shifted when she got nearer to him, as if she had triggered some memory or thought inside of him that didn't gel with their previous conversation. There was something different about him as he considered her. Angora wondered if he didn't like lavender. She inhaled his own scent, unmasked and easy to detect through no overlying scent like lavender. A lot of wolves just wore their own scent, though, that was not all that unusual. It wasn't just Salsola that liked to add something extra to their smell, but not everyone liked to have more than their own smell about them.

There was more emphasis in what he said next, too, the word debt like a bell in the sentence. What was that supposed to mean? Angora considered it. "I am, like, glad for that." she said with a puzzled tilt to her head.

Before she could ask if he was insulted by her somehow, the younger wolf darted out and made quick gestures with their hands. It reminded her of Silas, who could not speak. Was this canine also not able to talk? Who had taken his tongue? It was made all the more confusing by the name of the other wolf at the ocean. Liam del Morte, which was also Silas's last name. Very strange. She wondered if Liam was related to him somehow. Angora might need to snoop around about that once she got back to Salsola. If he was Silas's kin, that was interesting indeed.

She heard the way that he asked for her name and thought that he knew. Likely a former Caledonian, then, but it didn't mean she had to reveal anything at all. Even if she was Out to him, she did not need to tell the truth about her name. The way he said it was like a signal "I know what you are"; she would take that for what it likely was. "Asphodel, or Del for short if you prefer. It is nice to meet a Chief, that sounds like a pretty important title. Where does your tribe reside?" she asked with guileless intent. Likely Kamari already knew of this Chief's people and she was not really a spy.

Don't wanna live as an untold story
Rather go out in a blaze of glory
Asphodel introduced herself to him, but first, she called Liam wise.

The opinions others had of him and the words they ascribed to him varied so wildly. Liam thought that was due to lacking the full picture. He was a humble sort as well, but he had a difficult time thinking of something to dispute her compliment. It felt even more likely that he should offer less in comment when her puzzled response came.

Liam and his people were a new presence. This woman was new to him as well, but she seemed well-intentioned enough with her suspiciously wiped scent aside.

”Hi Asphodel, I’m Sphinx.” They finally broke their silence and waved with a short turn of their hand.

Sphinx grew more accustomed to socializing with those outside of their group. It was a good thing Liam managed to take them and the other Caledonian youth far from the fatal conflicts that raged in their former home. If Sphinx had to live through another war, they would have needed a longer time and more work to recover from it. Liam knew they all had needed extensive recuperation in the fallout, and other issues still persisted as they rebuilt and established themselves. Their homes were sturdy and so were their resolves.

Liam prayed every day for their people’s peace and stability would continue.

”It’s nice to meet you, Asphodel. That would be because my people chose me to guide them through adversity. We reside a bit of a journey out from this area, we just came here to practice a sacred rite.”

He gestured back to her now.

”Dare I ask where your tribe resides?”
(word count: 360)

It turned out the younger canine could talk with their mouth, a thing she hadn't known before they did it. They named themselves: Sphinx. It was an interesting name for a child. It spoke of mystery, mystique, intelligence; these were things one could not monitor in a newborn as it took its first breaths. A lot was placed on a child who had a name like that. "Well met, Sphinx. I like your name. It is wise, like your... father?" this last was a question as she glanced between the two of them, seeing if she had correctly assessed the relationship. It seemed likely given their closeness.

It was not unfair to assume the tribe that Liam led (if he did indeed know her from New Caledonia's Ball) was one of the splinter tribes that had formed after the former ally of Salsola fell. She wasn't even sure what they had been named, though she thought there were probably several. How disappointed their High King would have been to know that they had gone different directions instead of remaining together. This male had not been a leader before the pack fell if her assessment was correct. There had only been one of those: High King Iomair who (as far as she knew) had absconded. Unfortunately with his crown... she had always so hoped to somehow acquire that.

"Oh, we do not, like, have one place to call home, unfortunately. We are travelers." she sighed whimsically as if it were a matter of sadness to her. If he believed that she would be honest about Salsola just because he had possibly guessed (or had seen her at the Ball and knew), he was sorely mistaken.

Her head tipped slightly, "I am curious always of the religion of others, though. If you wouldn't mind sharing what it was that you were here to do? I understand, of course, if it is something not to be shared." this was true. Angora really enjoyed learning about the mystical practices of other groups. Sometimes she was scornful of them, sometimes she gained something from them. Either way, she never lost out by learning about them.

Don't wanna live as an untold story
Rather go out in a blaze of glory
Liam smiled kindly when Angora regarded him with respect. Perhaps he was wrong to be so jumpy this time. If he was, he would not mind. It was always better to foster connection, Respect and Trust than tension and hatred.

”Yeah, something like that. Their mother picked their name for them. My mate is stubborn, so I knew not to question their choice,” he said, expression fond.

Sphinx tittered at that. Their father stood on the trembling earth of paranoia. Once he relaxed a tad in this new woman’s presence, Sphinx came out of their shell with him – if only enough to say hello.

”I see. Let me know if you need directions, I know newcomers to these lands are turned around easily.”

He left it at that. Any further questioning Liam hoped to levy would only bear the fruits of suspicion and annoyance. He had a hunch and nothing else. It was better to judge her based off the contents of character that he could see. False assumptions gave donkey-faces.

”Our religion? Oh, not a problem at all. Our pantheon is open. I am more than happy to share.”

Sphinx’s dual-toned eyes glittered with excitement. They said and did little else. Liam guessed that his pup was just happy to hear more from their father about their gods.

”I am a sunweaver. That means I follow the eagle-faced god of the sun, Valleui. He has another face, one that the moonweavers follow: Valleuar. That is the owl-faced god of the moon. Sphinx has chosen to worship both sides of that coin.”

Liam ruffled their hair. The pride that swelled in his chest would sustain him for some time.

”The rite we are performing is initiatory. The Trial of Eventide is what sunweaver hopefuls undergo, as I have myself. The Trial of Zenith is for the moonweavers. Both rituals require fasting and vigil. Sphinx is undertaking each Trial.”

Sphinx waved at Liam again to get his attention. Once they had their father’s eyes on them, their fingers looped through more signing. Their lips mouthed wordlessly over each movement.

”I won’t forget to mention the other gods. One thing at a time, silly!” Liam’s chuckle reached his belly now.
(word count: 482)

The smooth way he used the child's pronoun they made her think that the child had been brought up in an unusual way. Either that or they had changed when they got older. The non-gendered were... an odd group to Angora. It made them difficult to categorize in her head. What was Male, what was Female... they defied this and took bits from each. She liked the orderly separation of the sexes, it did not appeal to her that some might sit outside of it. Gora thought it a failing to not choose, but she never voiced it. Not even to her mentor Innokentiy who was also of indeterminate gender, though they were "mother" so in some ways they selected female... Their choice he said, too, about the mother; likely another like Innokentiy that bore a child and yet was not entirely female... she'd not dwell on it.

Far more interesting to her was the discussion of his pantheon of gods. Although a witch, she had never specifically committed to any religion. She had a vague awareness of some of the gods that Nindari believed in. She knew what her mother believed. When it came to a group of god(s) that she might interact with, though? Angora left it open to interpretation. Her communication was with the world Beyond and those who inhabited it. Not specifically to This God or That God or The Other God.

It seemed Liam del Morte's beliefs were rather open to its followers in how they wanted to praise. He was a follower of the sun-god, but his child was a follower of both moon and sun. That seemed in alignment with the way a non-gendered canine would be. Uncommitted to one specific path and instead weaving between the two. Sunweaver, moonweaver... rituals involving fasting and Trials. It sounded like a lot of work just to impress a god. Did they not believe in their own power without the specific patronage of a deity? Angora held her tongue on the matter.

Instead, Asphodel smiled and looked between the two of them, absolutely no sign of her inner thoughts appearing on her face. "Ohh, fasting is hard. I've never done it on purpose, but doing it on accident is not fun." she said with a slight wince as if in memory. "That is impressive that you're willing to do that kind of thing so young as part of your commitment to your gods." she said to Sphinx, then looked back to Liam with a wag of her tail. "You must be so proud of them." she was careful to use the same pronoun that he had for the child.

"Are there gods for, like, every element?" that would be a lot of different gods to choose from. Maybe Sphinx was actually more committed than she thought by only choosing two gods if there were actually dozens of them.

Don't wanna live as an untold story
Rather go out in a blaze of glory
Sphinx abruptly turned their head from their father to look at Angora. They raised a brow at her. Liam felt similarly confused, though he had an idea if what she meant.

”...Do you mean starving?” Liam asked.

Liam and Sphinx exchanged glances between one another. She continued to speak before either of them could edge in any other words. These luperci had some common ground, but they had their differences, too. As a loner once again that experienced conflict after conflict, loss after loss, death after death, move after move…

The Chief was well-acquainted with starvation.

She said he must be proud. He nodded thoughtfully.

”I am so proud. Sphinx has a real talent for the spiritual realm.”

She asked another question. For a brief moment, the paranoia needled back into his thoughts. Another mysteriously well-fed and vague luperci had liked to fire questions at him. Unlike that stranger, however, this one was not so interrogatory.

”Hmm. Not necessarily based off of element, though they do have their domains. There are others aside from Valleui and Valleuar. There is Brig, the Eternal Flame, the Heart of Vengeance, Nanin, the Depths-Devourer, Nín, and the fusion of the last two: Elder God Osoa.”

Liam counted off each of their divine patrons on his fingers. With each name he stuck out another finger on his left hand and pointed with his right hand. Once he had four fingers up, he wiggled them thoughtfully.

”Hmm. I’m not missing one, am I, Sphinx? Well, there is Dúr, but all the Stonecarvers are elsewhere now.”

It was an unfortunate fact that those of Aegas scattered further to the winds with New Caledonia’s splinters. It was a fact nonetheless. Liam put his hand down.
(word count: 300)

Her ears twitched back once as if embarrassed, her eyes casting aside for a moment in remembered pain. "Yes..." she looked to the sky and then back to them with a winsome smile. "Not for long, though, and not for a long time." the life of a loner daughter of merchants was bound to occasionally have hiccups that involved poor self-care; sometimes you didn't trade enough to eat well. Salsola had never faced famine in the time that Angora Valentine had lived there, but Asphodel had struggles that she portrayed which the red-earred witch had never (and would never) experience.

The father-and-child duo seemed well in sync with one another. It was something she felt she had seen more often in other families rather than in her own. She loved her parents, but there wasn't this close almost-symbiotic relationship that tethered these two together. It might be more common among loners? She had so many she could see and so much to do in the bountiful realm of the Thistle Kingdom that she had never needed to cling to Morgana's skirts once she was weaned. It felt a bit like arrested development to her; this youngster seemed old enough to be off on their own, instead of clinging to their father's legs.

Liam listed off more of the gods and one caught her ear particularly: Nin. So he must be a former New Caledonian or at least followed the same religion as Nindari's father had. Because it was that water goddess who was the beginning formation of the other wolf's name. "I believe I met one of your tribe before... Nindari? She swam with me in a lake and we talked of Nin a little bit." she said with genuine fond remembrance. "Is she still with you?" Asphodel asked hopefully.

Don't wanna live as an untold story
Rather go out in a blaze of glory
Liam nodded in understanding. They were all on different paths on life. He could forgive her that. They had found other common ground by now regardless. Everyone was different, but they were all still alive and walking the same land, were they not? She bled the same color he did.

Sphinx shook their head to confirm that their father had not left anything out. He patted their shoulder with a chuckle. They were already growing to be much brighter than himself. That was good; that meant the future had hope.

”You know Nindari?”

That gave Liam pause.

”...No. She isn’t. We’re really worried about her,” he admitted.
Ah, so it seemed the Chief was not aware that Nindari had transplanted herself into Salsola. It seemed he wasn't that close with her since he didn't know... though actually, she didn't think that Nin had traveled anywhere since she had settled into her new home. Which meant that there was no communication with those who might have wondered. More than likely, a lot didn't know where she had ended up. Only Salsola itself knew.

Asphodel didn't, though, so of course she frowned with concern. "Oh, no, worried? Why?" she flicked her ears back. What could possibly have them concerned for her friend? It wasn't a normal thing for anyone to worry overly about adult canines doing what they wanted with their lives. Obviously there was reason to worry. The red-earred wolf wondered how much he would reveal of what had transpired and why one might need to be concerned about a certain bright-eyed yearling.

Don't wanna live as an untold story
Rather go out in a blaze of glory

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