Well sir I guess there's just a meanness in this world.

POSTED: Mon Jan 07, 2019 7:12 pm

[WC: 700] Phosphagos Foothills. Set after this thread.

In the hours after Otilie Novak's brutal murder, her killer meditated.

His life's work had been fulfilled in the completion of the woman's death. It had seemed so very important for this to come about that he had focused on such a thing long through the duration of his adult life, and now that she was dead he wasn't sure what he felt. Emotions were complicated, and the words for them not expansive enough to capture the turmoil within him. It was an existential crisis of such magnitude that he had gone into something not unlike a trace, shocked by the realization of what he had done.

Among these feelings, Degaré lacked any sense of guilt. He was regretful only that he had not drawn the act out longer – oh what things could have been done if he had any patience! The deed mattered, the end mattered, and that was important.

When the snow started falling, he barely noticed.

Degaré sat alone in the field, breathing slowly. He had not washed the gore from his body and it was blackening and starting to freeze. Just as he did not feel the snow he did not feel this horror as it sat upon him, though it attracted many a curious scavengers. The ravens were the boldest of the lot, but they kept their distance. They were birds who had seen wolves before, and who stayed only long enough to see the blood-covered creature was not wounded before cawing insults and winging back from the forest where they had come from. Degaré did not notice them go, just as he did not notice the fox or the feral cat which both wisely chose to be on their way.

His perception of time passed strangely while he sat there, statuesque.

He hoped he would hear Omni. It would be reassuring to know he had done well, and that his sacrifice was accepted. Degaré craved these things. Part of what had led them to staying behind had been his desire to be among people who valued him.

When he finally came back to himself, though, Degaré couldn't find a simple answer. The emptiness within him seemed to remain, and this puzzled him deeply. Killing her was supposed to make him feel better.

He came back to them as night fell. By then he had taken time to wash himself. His stomach ached from hunger, and he was looking forward to eating again.

The murder seemed like it had happened a very long time ago. Days.

Huddled around a small fire the two men were dark shapes against the night. Though the snow had stopped the clouds remained and the wind rustled at the highest branches in the nearby forest. Degaré padded into the light slowly, and without a word came to stand where the heat had melted away the snow.

Talbot, having removed his mask, was near the fire. His cloak was still damp from where he had scrubbed it, spread out beneath him and stained from the dead woman's blood. He was combing his hair and seemed blissfully ignorant to Degaré's arrival.

They must have found food sometime during his absence, because there was a sizeable remnant left for the wolf. He dragged this aside and consumed it nosily, and returned to the firelight soon-after. After finding a comfortable spot he settled languidly and for a few moments did nothing more than stare at the fire.

Degaré turned his attention towards Milos.

You understand I had to do that, he said slowly. His voice sounded strange to his ears. You understand us now, I think.

Talbot side-eyed their captive. He was trying very hard not to smile. In the firelight, his pale eyes gleamed nearly the same way Degare's blind-half did. The damage to his face had been catastrophic, but the it was Talbot who turned ugly and mean looking as they awaited a response. The evil within him was kin and common to that of his counterpart.

Escalation depended upon a partnership. Degaré and Talbot gave each other permission to do terrible things. Together, they were two devils fueling one another into doing ever more. Self-hating men so easily became monstrous.

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POSTED: Wed Jan 09, 2019 8:36 pm

Time had been slipping away from Milos for a while now, ever since that night of the fire and the masks and the screams. Days had passed since then – sunrise, sunset; grey skies, starry nights; shining sun, glowing moon – but there was no sense in keeping count of how many. Mere days, or a handful of weeks? A multitude of months, perhaps. If it weren't for the slow crawl of the season, the fallen Captain could have convinced himself that it had been years.

Oddly, it felt as though a massive wedge of time had separated him from the hours since the murder, too.

Since expelling the meager contents of is stomach and staggering back to his feet after the two cruel men, Milos focused exclusively on his movements. One foot, crunching freshly fallen snow, pushing the weight of his body into a paw print whose fate it was to age and be forgotten (just the same as the fate of men, he supposed). Another foot, the same fate, propelling his thin body forward and forward toward a destination he had not been told.

For all Milos knew, they intended to take him far away and slaughter him in the same manner as the coyote woman with the ivory plume. If it weren't for his daughter, the hollow man might have accepted such an end without an honest attempt at a fight.

Maybe. But instincts did funny things, sometimes, when one's survival was at risk.

Milos wanted to believe that his inaction to play the savior in Otilie's final moments was to survive long enough to preserve Daisy's young life, but he could not deny that there were more primal, more visceral, factors at play in his decision to sit back and watch the woman die. Genuine as his fear for his daughter's safety was so, too, was the desire to keep his own vulnerable flesh safe from the confinement and the terror and the agony of Degaré's savagery.

It had dawned on the wolfdog, as he pushed himself forward through the snow and kept in line with his captors, that he was not filled with so much compassion and altruism as he had lead himself to believe for so long.

Who had he become? Who had he been?

If Talbot talked to him in Degaré absence, Milos had forgotten. Maybe he had, and had received a response in turn, but Milos had forgotten that, too. Meat was cooking over a warm flame that the fallen Captain couldn't feel, nor remember helping with, if he had. Everything, up until the moment Degaré's voice addressed him, had been done in a blur of thoughtless reactions and unconscious movements.

When he replied, his didn't recognize the voice as it breathed, "Yes." Mechanically, as though being pulled by the strings of a marionettist, Milos lifted his head up from the hunk of meat in his hands that he hadn't touched and looked hollowly into the half-blind, mangled face of a man whose soul seemed only an empty, endless void.

No, said that bold and noble voice that Milos had known his to be, once. This had the been the voice that had stood up to violent oppression and which had endured myriad sacrifices. It had been the voice of a man who had nothing to lose.

There was a great lot to lose, now.

"Atonement. Retribution." He swallowed but there was nothing to wet the arid desert that his mouth and throat had become. "Justice." He didn't know what they wanted him to say, but he understood these things very well now. "Had t' be... done."

Against the gentle flickering of firelight, Milos' cheekbones looked sharper than they had been in a great long while and the shadows found shallow dimples along his temples that they never had before. They licked and kissed these places with dark and devilish tongues, dancing in time to the cadence of the flames.

He wanted to ask about Daisy. He wanted to know what fate they had in store of her, for him. Beneath his bony sternum, his heart began to thrum, encouraged by a violent release of unmerciful anxiety.

Somewhere in the darkness of the dormant wood, an owl hooted gently and was answered by the tender call of another. Such different lives birds commanded, and in such a different world. Milos found himself in envy of their freedom from the internment that his own world had become to him. How simple it would be, he thought hopelessly, to spread your wings and fly up and up and away from it all.

The eerie, shortened scream of a rabbit pierced the night air and silence returned to the forest once more.

"What... what now?" he managed at last, his voice scarcely a whisper for the the fear he had in his heart what the answer would be. Would he become their captive until the end of his his days, made to help them seek out and exact retribution on countless other innocent souls? Would he be returned to the camp where the Omniscients had held him and his daughter before they had been torn away from one another?

Or was this the end of the line? Was this him, looking over the edge of a cliff into a crevice that promised only death?

Milos was as still as a leaf without a breeze to lift it up, his body tense and his fingers clutching the chunk of meat between his cold, numb fingers. He scarcely dared to breathe and the hammering of his heart in his ears filled the silent void for what felt to him like an eternity.

It might have appeared, at first glance and if the light of the fire caught them just right, as though there was hope in his amber eyes. But mostly there was acquiescence and there was weariness and, perhaps most of all, there was fear.

[WC — 1000]


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Luperci Mate to Eliza but you'd become my candle in the dark
the sun still rises
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POSTED: Sat Jan 12, 2019 4:30 pm

[WC: 411]

Degaré considered killing him.

He had been considering this for a very long time, actually. When they had first begun talking about where to go, when Stella had come back so upset and angry, he had thought about Captain Milos Parhelion. At his core, Degaré hated the idea of authority – he identified this with those who had sent his brother away, those who had done nothing to help him or his family when they needed it. This faceless mass became a role that strangers so easily could fill. He had not been the first man they had come across, but he had been the first in a position of power.

It could have been anyone. Chaos was a part of their deities design. Omni asked for sacrifice and promised the coming of the end. Finding answers in the act of violence reassured him of measurable costs. The existential crisis of death was far too massive and significant for him to grasp with.

He coughed.

That's it, Degaré answered gruffly, clearing his throat.

Talbot's brows furrowed with confusion. His smile began to fade.

If you understand, you have a chance to save yourself. You can save everything you love.

Degaré –

As if he had forgotten Talbot's presence, the head of the big wolf snapped to the side. His muzzle twitched a little. When the wolf spoke, his voice had that same strange quality to it. Go get her.

Go get who?

Go get his daughter.

Now? Why don't we all just go when the sun—

No, Degaré growled. His expression was strange, and caused the dog to (surprisingly) hold his tongue. It made him seem feral and hostile, and awoke old fears in the healer. Go get her now. Just her.

This made Talbot's expression further twist together. He seemed to be considering something, as he looked from Degaré to Milos. Finally, with great showmanship and obvious reluctance, he began to gather his things to travel. The masks he carried for them were hidden beneath his garments, carefully positioned where they would not be damaged. The dog put his hood up before walking off into the night.

In the silence that followed, Degaré continued to stare at Milos. The fire warmed his pelt and dried the places where the snow had dampened it. It looked like it might snow again. The air smelled like it each time the wind blew.

What did you believe before this? Degaré asked his captive.

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POSTED: Sat Jan 12, 2019 7:40 pm

He didn't understand, and so Milos said nothing and instead only stared into Degaré's ruined face with gentle creases pinching together his brows in a show of confusion and uncertainty. Was this a trick? Did those two short words carry within them the weight of death? They were vague enough; they were final enough.

When only silence followed the wolf's words and more of an explanation was offered, the mysticism and alarm within Milos only grew bolder. For all he had been made to do and all he had been made to watch, this felt like another trial – another terrible means to the pleasant end he had been seeking for such a long time. What would they do to him next, to prove he had understood? To allow him to save himself and everything that he loved?

Talbot's voice drew a forceful reaction from Degaré, and Milos found himself turning his own dark head to look into the sharp face of the coydog. In stark contrast to the confident grin that the fallen Captain had grown accustomed to seeing, there looked to be and expression that lacked amusement and, perhaps, even agreement. But it was difficult to understand anything when so very much was being said in so very few words.

Milos didn't know whether to be grateful towards Degaré, for demanding Daisy be brought to him, and elated at the idea of seeing his daughter again after much too long, or whether he should prepare his heart and soul for more unimaginable horrors to come. The only solace he could find was in the perception that Talbot did not seem to be happy with the wolf's decision, though whether or not that was due solely to being averse to traveling through the night or because the reason for Degaré's decision to reunite Milos with his daughter was not unwholesome was left to be seen.

Regardless, Milos did not like the idea of Daisy being alone with Talbot. But, helpless as he was, all he could do was watch the coydog pack his things, pull up his hood, and disappear into the darkness and then hope that he wouldn't dare do anything to harm the child for fear of upsetting Degaré.

Milos watched the patch of inky forest where Talbot had gone long after the shape of the man had disappeared, turning his head again only after the wolf spoke. "A goddess," he replied after a heavy pause. "Th' River Goddess, we called 'er." He looked steadily into the fire when he said, "Reckon she's dead t' me, now."

[WC — 438]


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Luperci Mate to Eliza but you'd become my candle in the dark
the sun still rises
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POSTED: Fri Jan 18, 2019 10:45 pm

[WC: 378]

There was a cursed river back where I came from, the big wolf said. It was all the rivers, actually – the place where they came together. Rýchla voda utopil, he said. The language sounded old. He hadn't spoken about his home in what felt like a very long time, and the sound of the words woke dark memories within his thoughts. For as long as he had been away from Terchová, his birthplace still managed to haunt him.

Degaré's absentee stare fixed on a place inward, even as he gazed at the broken man beside him. Such rampant destruction was only a forefront to what lay ahead. Milos had witnessed what was coming, and that was the most important thing when it came to their mission.

This was part of the process. It was all part of the plan.

People died there. No one knows how many, but people always died. The river took them. We, he emphasized this, meaning the Omniscients. , know that the water is connected to the flesh. I think that's why the rivers always take people. It eats them, Degaré concluded. He was speaking to himself as much as Milos, verbalizing his thoughts without Talbot to interrupt or try and derail him.

A branch popped in the fire and embers flew into the night sky. The forest had settled back into its rhythm, almost as if the terrible violence done to Otilie Novak had never happened.

This was part of things too.

My home was very far from here. I don't think I could find it again, even if I wanted to. She's the reason I left, he explained. She and her hrdlorez, they attacked me, all of them, like a mob. I think they would have killed me.

Degaré paused. He flexed his claws. Talking about that time felt wrong. That wasn't who he was anymore. Slowly, his gaze began to roam – looking at the haunted expression on the wolfdog's face, and the way he so easily stopped carrying himself with pride. People were usually so boring, but Degaré had seen enough Milos to wonder. Milos could hide his scars in a way Degaré could not, but they were there all the same.

Before Krokar, who were you? He asked.

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POSTED: Sat Jan 19, 2019 1:21 pm

Rivers. Gods. Death.

Milos was aware, quite abruptly, of his own breath going in and out as Degaré gravelly voice told him things that the fallen Captain had not asked to hear. He listened, though – did not dare make the mistake not to – but the beastly wolf's words competed with the pumping of Milos' heartbeat and the whooshing of respiration that roared within his ears.

Rivers provided the elixir of life and, even now, after his goddess of rivers had abandoned him and his belief in her had fallen silent and dark, Milos believed this to be true. Could a river be cursed? He did not think so, not unless some god or goddess wished for the people who relied on it to suffer. He was not afraid of rivers, no more than he was afraid of trees or boulders or campfires. But he was careful to respect them, and cautious not to underestimate their power.

Gods, though. Once, gods had been something to welcome and to praise and, perhaps more than anything, to deeply respect. They were powerful. They could command the rivers to swallow people whole, encourage a tree to flatten a den, send a boulder rolling through a village, level an entire forest with fire. Rather than the elements all around them, it was the gods who were cursed. Now, thought Milos, gods were something to fear and to despise.

Death was upon them all.

The sharp sound of a branch popping in the flames evoked a violent, though fleeting, reaction from the broken man, who jerked his arms, fingers still clutching that hunk of flesh which had, by now, grown cool and hard in death and cold, toward himself in what might have been an attempt at self-defense. His eyes, dull and hollow, widened and spun in his head in a frenzied search for the source of the noise.

Embers lifted off the fire, dancing up and into the dark sky. With an ache so impossibly raw that a bubble of a sob crawled up his throat and threatened to reveal his pain, Milos was reminded of catching fireflies with Eliza on a midsummer night in Krokar. With a sharp intake of breath and a strangled grunt, the fall Captain choked on his sob and held his breath. It was only the flames, he told himself. It was only the embers.

But the danger remained, all the same.

Degaré carried on and Milos continued to listen, nodding now and then but never looking the man in the face. It might be taken as a sign of pride, if he did; a challenge. There was little pride left in the dark wolfdog's sunken chest, and even less strength left in his body to fight. But Milos did not want to fight. All he wanted, all he ever wanted, was to keep his daughter from harm and make sure they got home alive.

With a blink of surprise, and perhaps a little dread, the Parhelion recognized Degaré's question and knew it to be directed at him. He cleared his throat and swallowed, though there was nothing in the desert of his mouth to choke down. "B'fore Krokar?" he croaked and, when other concerns had stolen away his attention before, he was now very aware of the frozen air that kissed those whip marks that crisscrossed his back. They had left raised, hairless scars where they had licked his flesh time and time again.

"I was... I was a slave," he continued, wishing he did not have to but knowing that there would be consequences if he refused. It felt wrong, revealing this vulnerable and intimate piece of himself to the man who had managed to ruin him so completely.

But everything was wrong, now.

"Worked in th' fields'n th' stables, with th' sheep'n goats..." He cleared his throat again. "Sometimes th' horses, too." Those were the better tasks that he had been made to do. It was when he had been made to work the tavern or the brothel that Milos got himself into trouble. That, and his seemingly endless resiliency, bold determination, and brazen courage.

Thinking back on that time again, now, Milos thought he would have died a long time ago were it not for Chaska to lift him up and give him strength.

Had Eliza been with him here, he wondered if the same would have been true or if his spirit would still have been shattered.

No, reprimanded himself harshly, feeling shameful. It was better that Liz was not here. It was better this way.

"Weren't well liked, if ya couldn't tell," he said after a while, falling silent again as he stared with a haunted look into the cheerfully dancing flames. But the physical suffering paled in comparison to the psychological torment.

[WC — 807]


The Shoal
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Luperci Mate to Eliza but you'd become my candle in the dark
the sun still rises
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POSTED: Sat Jan 19, 2019 2:56 pm

[WC: 337]

A slave, he said, and the word stewed in his thoughts. Degaré had learned of slavery after he had left Terchová. They had not had such a thing in his feral upbringing, though there were people who found themselves at the bottom of the pack. Nature intended this. The pack would sort itself, and someone would become the scapegoat. Everyone needed someone else to blame.

Milos described work. It sounded like what people did everyday. It hardly sounded as terrible as the word seemed to indicate.

He was ignorant, of course. Degaré had let himself live in darkness – it was so terribly easy to do when he was half-blind to begin with. Even now he could not see how suffering in the world was happening, and how his actions were adding to the amount of people touched by such horror. Pain was relative. After all, Degaré was hurting too. Even now with that damn woman dead, he was hurting.

Maybe. He wasn't sure what he was feeling. Hollow, mostly.

Being a slave means you couldn't leave, yes? Like now. They hadn't called it that. They hadn't called this imprisonment or anything so terrible. No, this was an education. This was salvation.

Degaré imagined everything must have seemed very shocking. They had grown into the idea in the Appalachia, slowly finding the true name and idea of god and what was to come. New prophecies so often came with dire lessons, and Milos and his family had been exposed to the light. After so long in darkness, it was no wonder he seemed so shaken.

And they hit you, he went on, no longer guessing where the scars had come from. It must have been bad. Degaré knew about what it took to leave a mark that lingered after such a long time. He had been in a far worse state when his had been festering, poisoning his blood.

Considering this, and where Milos had been when Degaré first met him, he pressed: When did you escape?

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POSTED: Sat Jan 19, 2019 7:34 pm

Had those transformative moments in their individual lives taken a more positive turn, and they had fallen in with one another under happier circumstances, it might have been nice to share a fire and a meal with a wolf of similar origins. In a sea of increasingly sophisticated and civilized canines, knowing more individuals who continued to live in the ways that the wolves of old had – hunting by tooth and claw; singing songs together under an open sky; welcoming the next generation in dens beneath the earth – would have been comforting.

Ah, but Milos did not know of Degaré's feral beginnings any more than the secui beast knew of his own. And, besides that, he had renounced the lifestyle that he had been born into a good, long time ago. All because his life, in those early months, had not taken a more positive turn. Instead, he had been flung into a whirlwind of servitude, prostitution, and abuse.

And then, just when he had settled into a blissful routine of safety, fidelity, and love, life took another turn toward misery.

"Yes," he said hoarsely. "Bein' a slave means ya en't able t' leave." Against his better judgement, he continued, "'Cause your life don't belong t' you, no more'n the life of a horse'r a goat belongs to them." That was all they had been to Ulick, anyway: livestock. "Ya do what your master tells ya t' do." Not unlike his current situation, he thought, though there had been enough differences between his servitude toward Degaré and that of Ulick to encourage Milos not to focus too long on the similarities. "Else ya find yourself on th' post." Or worse.

Unbidden, the memory of Chaska's swollen face and peeling nose and sunburned ears flashed into his mind. The sound of flies and that sucking, sticky sound of maggots feasting filled his ears and Milos closed his eyes briefly, squeezing them together until he felt dizzy. "Wouldn't've wished it on my worst enemies," he said quietly, his voice soft and raspy. Not even Degaré. Not even Talbot. Though, the fallen Captain would have been lying if he said that the thought wasn't tempting.

Especially after what they had done to Otilie.

Breathing in deeply the acrid aroma of ash and smoke, the dark wolfdog slowly lowering his torso and set the chunk of prey flesh on the ground. Then, resting his forearms on the tops of his bent knees, Milos stared silently into the flames. If he wasn't hungry before, he most certainly wasn't hungry now.

When Degaré spoke again, Milos blinked. "Dunno," he murmured, then forced himself to think. He did so in terms of events and milestones – the birth of his boys; that midsummer night with Liz; when he had joined Krokar – then continued, "Reckon it's been a handful'a years, now. Been in Krokar longer'n I haven't. "

Was that right? Milos fell silent as he thought, but he felt certain that it was. Krokar had been his home for most of his life now, and he desperately wanted to get back to it. "What's..." He felt the muscles of his throat tense and constrict painfully with anxiety. "What's gonna happen? A frozen vice clenched his heart and lungs, as though warning him against asking what he hurt to know. "To my daughter'n me?" Milos didn't dare breathe while he waited for Degaré to answer, his mind racing with the worries that he was making a mistake by asking.

[WC — 598]


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Luperci Mate to Eliza but you'd become my candle in the dark
the sun still rises
even through the rain

POSTED: Tue Jan 22, 2019 6:51 pm

[WC: 610]

Reducing people to things sounded like it should have been hard, but history suggested otherwise.

Equality was an ideology which countered the natural order of things. There were leaders and followers, and people who took advantage of things which gave them more power. How corrupting this force was, how chaotic, and how easy it was to give into something that seemed to offer so much. To live and breathe and wake each day should have satisfied the soul.

But hungry things they were, seeking truth and answers or justice masked as revenge. Power granted the ability to control one's fate (a given right, indeed, but who really paid attention to things like that these days?) in the face of an uncertain future.

One thing was certain – the end was coming. The world was rushing towards its final days and oh so many of these people didn't even know what awaited them. It was out of love that they did this, the people who called themselves Omniscients. Why else would they come to this wretched end of the earth if not summoned by Omni itself?

All of this had been outside of his control. He was a much a slave to this desperate, toxic trust as Milos had ever been to a mortal master. Certainly what the Omniscients did was out of love, but Degaré had carried hatred in his heart since he was a boy. It had grown with him. His world had very little room in it for free thought.

Now that the woman was dead, all those things he had pushed down rushed up like the river when it overflowed.

He was had wanted Talbot gone, but now he sorely wished for his companion's return. Anxiety leeched into his blood the way the cold did with his toes. The fire would need more wood soon. How far were they, from the others? It was hard to say – they were roving, all of them, cast like bones to stir up fortune and not yet reconvened.

They would soon. The moon was starting to swell. He could see it above them when the clouds parted every now and again. Degaré could crudely measure the length of the night by its position, just as he could the day by the sun. The season was turning. Each day the light changed, even if the temperature continued to fall as the days went on.

Degaré leaned towards the fire.

I don't know, the wolf answered his captive as honestly as he could.

After that, they didn't talk much at all.

******


In the hours that followed, Degaré dozed. He would wake occasionally, leave the light of the fire to relieve himself and return unceremoniously. No part of him feared rebellion from Milos, who had made his nature very apparent to Degaré. They had his daughter, after all.

Talbot would do more than kill the girl if he found out. Sometimes he had implied his desire to do as much to Degaré, who refused to indulge in his sick fantasies and made his own opinion on the matter abundantly clear. They tugged a chain between them, the two men, and oh what devils they were. Milos had learned that by now. He would know better.

Dawn was nearing when the pair finally arrived. It was a still morning and terribly cold. The sky had turned a rosy pink, but blue-gray clouds dotted the horizon. There was a slight breeze, and every so often it would stir at the smoking embers of their campfire.

The smaller figure, bundled up in something one of the girls must have given her, was running ahead of Talbot.

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POSTED: Thu Jan 24, 2019 6:14 pm

There was silence, though it was impossible to tell for how long it stretched. To Milos, it had felt like minutes; days; months; years – forever and ever – and, all the while, there he sat with his breath trapped painfully within his chest and his body stiff and frozen and taut, afraid of the words that would scratch themselves, raspy and rough, out of the beast's throat.

Afraid because he had no more hope left to wish for happier outcomes. Afraid because, in his head, a million pessimistic thoughts and images and possibilities clawed his mind into terrible shreds. Afraid because all he could do was expect the worst possible response. Afraid because he did not want any of this. Afraid because this was reality.

When the wolf finally answered, his words were a cold steel poker pressed slowly through his chest – past fur and skin and fat; past muscle and cartilage and bone – down and down until he could feel the cruel tip tickle the surface of his heart with every agonizing beat.

And there, it was left.

Staring into the flames, not daring to look into Degaré's horrible face as it neared the dancing firelight, Milos forced himself to breathe. Then, slowly, he managed a small and hesitant nod. His answer might have stirred hope in a less despairing soul, but to the fallen Captain, who had seen the tenacity and the abhorrence and the savagery that his captor was capable of, and also the understanding and the forgiveness and the tolerance that he was gravely lacked, this was a vast chasm of dark, silent, dreaded unknown.

He was stuck within this single moment in time, with no moving forward and no going back; where not his mind or his body or his life were any longer his own; with no hope for the future and no fondness for the past.

He was trapped, wholly and painfully, in a state of purgatory.

Pushing his parched, pink tongue out from between his dark lips, the despondent wolfdog attempted to smooth his whiskers this flat strip of muscle felt like a foreign object in his mouth – it was a pencil eraser, a chunk of clay, a silicon nub – and his thick, dark whiskers sprung back out from his muzzle with disobedience and discord. How appropriate, Milos thought with misery, that he should not even have control over the lifeless whiskers on his own tired face.

After that, the silence returned and remained with few interruptions.

--------------------

Had he slept? An awareness returned to him now and again, where before there had been only a dark and endless void, but it felt less like waking up and more like returning to reality after a completing the journey of a daydream.

Except, no, that wasn't right; it was not day and there were only nightmares left.

A trance, then? Maybe. Or maybe his brain had, in fact, managed to steal some sleep from the demons that lurked within after all. Mostly though, Milos thought as he rubbed a clammy and calloused palm up his forehead and through his dirty, unkempt mane, it didn't matter one goddess-damned bit why there were lapses in time – gaps in memory and awareness that spanned intermittently throughout the long and horrible night – because, one way or another, the end would be upon them come Talbot's return.

Whenever Degaré roused and departed from their camp, Milos was acutely aware of his absence. His heart would kick up its tempo and that sense of foreboding that had refused to leave him since the beginning of the end of this whole awful experience would intensify agonizingly. But then, moments later, the hulking wolf would return again, perfunctory and silent, and Milos would allow himself to breathe again.

How many times had this happened? He wasn't keeping count. And it didn't matter, not really.

The night continued to drag on all the same.

Eventually, though, it did end. It ended just the same, Milos was intensely aware, as all things do. But, for a stretch of time that he was not aware of, the broken wolfdog thought he was hallucinating the gradual lightening on the horizon. He stared at it unblinkingly until his dry eyes burned and glistened, and then, after allowing a brief reprieve, he continued on this way until there was no doubting the coming of dawn.

Beneath a soft pink that reminded Milos of Otilie's blood mixed with the perfect, glittering snow, Talbot returned. And there – there!

"Papa! Papa!" Her voice was the sweetest thing he had heard in a good, long while.

Rising abruptly from where he had taken his vigil – staggering slightly from the numbness in his rump and thighs – Milos dropped to his knees in the snow near their dying fire and opened his arms for his daughter to fall into. "Daisy!" he cried, he whimpered, he wailed, squeezing her so tightly against his cold, sunken chest that she squeaked. His arms shook as he held her there, one hand against the back of her head and the other wrapped around her torso.

He did not want to release her but he had to see her – he had to make sure they did not hurt her – and so, with hesitation, Milos loosened his grip and pull away from her, his hands on either of her shoulders so he could take her in.

"Oh, m' girl," he wept, smiling in spite of himself. She looked good. Whatever they had done to Krokar or to him, it seemed to him, at least in that fleeting glance, that they had taken good care of his daughter. He brushed a tear away from her golden eye with the knuckle of a finger before combing his fingers through her wild mane. "I missed ya so much."

He could have almost made himself believe that everything would be fine – that they would be given asylum and be allowed to return home with their lives intact. But then Milos caught Talbot's eye.

Pulling Daisy close to him again, Milos held her against his chest and looked from Talbot to Degaré.

Silent and still as prey who knows that they're within the sights of a predator, but unsure yet how best to react, he awaited their sentence.

[WC — 1031]


The Shoal
Bullhead
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Mandi
Luperci Mate to Eliza but you'd become my candle in the dark
the sun still rises
even through the rain

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