There is a curse. They say:

May you live in interesting times.

POSTED: Mon Jan 21, 2019 6:49 pm

[WC: 1337] Related to this thread.

The temperature dropped significantly before nightfall. O'Riley became aware of this when he finally pulled himself away from the goat carcass he had been feasting on. In the mountains the cold hit fast, battering the sensitive parts of his face when wind blew in from the north. He thought to travel back to Salsola with urgency, but with a belly distended from a well-earned meal, laziness overcame such thoughts.

He, rightfully, felt his pack had very little to fear. Salsola was large and its defenses many. The Shield was not lacking for interested members, and others (like his lovestruck cousin) were capable fighters. More and more often he found himself growing irritable when he thought about Grievous and his budding relationship with Idrieus. They were annoying, the pair of them, gazing at one another like dumb cows. At least they continued to do their duties.

Below him, in the fields, horses grazed. O'Riley watched them as the sun began to sink. Without Inferni's aid, it was harder to maintain control over the wild animals. He wondered if poachers had struck without them knowing and decided the loss could be forgotten. Salsola had the most valuable horses in the region within its stables – they took the wild-bred that showed potential, of course, but breeding and gifting had done most of the work.

In spring, he thought, he would talk to Elphaba about it. Perhaps by then they would have a Horsemaster. The void left by his aunt's disappearance and Scorpius' retirement was bothersome, but they had carried on. They always carried on.

O'Riley lingered with his thoughts as darkness fell and the moon rose. He could smell smoke on the wind. From his high vantage point the light of small campfires dotted the landscape. In some places there were more than others, like the city of Amherst. He liked to imagine if he stared very hard he could see the same from from across the dark water where the Cavalieri lived. Their attempts at reaching out to Salsola had made O'Riley terribly suspicious. If Kamari had not been present when Elphaba first met their spokeswoman, he might have asked her to infiltrate them.

They needed more spies. He needed more spies.

Eventually, encouraged by the cold seeping up through the rocks, O'Riley found his feet. He once again debated returning to Salsola, and was surprised by his reluctance to do so. The full moon likely meant activity beyond the norm, and he was put off by the notion. If the witches intended to worship their gods and spirits, let them – he'd busy himself elsewhere.

Without much forethought, the wolfdog found himself moving down the north face of the mountain. It was likely he had traversed these paths before, or at least seemed that way from how purposeful his movements were. The cold did not lessen as he reached the foothills, though the saltwater prevented ice from forming along the coast. He traversed this way, pausing every so often when the clouds parted to illuminate his breath. O'Riley felt restless. A part of him itched for drugs or alcohol, but his reluctance to be bothered by his Family kept him from turning back.

He did not know when he decided to come to the mine, but he must have, for he found himself standing before the dark gaping hole in the mountain. It was a place that brought up conflicting feelings within him – conquest and violence and a fear of death that touched him even now. O'Riley hated that sensation above all else. Even now as he stood there alone in the frost, the fur along his spine prickled and his face constricted with fury.

An owl hooted in the night, spooking him. O'Riley jumped and felt terribly foolish. He admonished himself silently and left the mine without entering.

His trail carried him east, seeking water. A small stream nearer the valley quenched his thirst, though the bitter cold burned his throat. There were fresh tracks in the mud, but the cold had sapped any heat from the marks and he could only guess at their age. He chose against following these and again ascended the mountain, encouraged by the light of the moon.

At some point, though, this changed.

He didn't realize when it began, or when he sensed it, but the fading light soon became apparent. Puzzled, he looked up and found himself staring. A shadow had begun to appear on the moon, but more than that, it was red.

O'Riley Eternity was not a believer. He could have been – he was the descendant of religious leaders and fanatics, of the true believers and the damned. Ancient legends he had never been taught warned against his coming. In another place (or if his great-grandmother had lived) he might have been culled at birth. No one had told him this, of course, for his mothers were wise and knew how to keep secrets. Denial was his lesson, and denial was easy.

Yet as he stood there, almost entranced, he wondered about the implication. Omens and superstition grew in the places where he had no room to allow contradictions to his superior place in the world.

For the entirety of the eclipse, O'Riley stood alone on the mountain and wrestled with his thoughts. He heard howling from all around, carried on the cold wind that had begun bringing clouds back with it, but it all sounded far away.

Go home, a small voice urged.

Defiantly, the wolfdog instead found an alcove in the rocky mountainside where the wind could not reach and there settled. He was awake only until the heat from his body filled the space and then dozed into a sleep uninterrupted by dreaming.

******


It was well after dawn when O'Riley woke. He was stiff from the uncomfortable position but stretching and getting in motion again seemed to loosen up his joints and muscles. By the time he reached The Waste he was warm and even hungry. Rabbits bolted from his path but were too small for a proper meal, and the deer he had seen bolted long before he was close. There were other tracks in the snow too – pawprints he sniffed at but could not gain information from. At one point he had felt himself being watched but not seen the culprit despite his attempts to lure them out and abandoned this pursuit.

The empty plains were awash with snow, and he imagined more might be coming.

More tracks led him towards Salsola, and he carelessly trampled over these as his tireless lope carried him westward. Small trees seeking to encroach on the Bay dotted the landscape, but it was not until he was closer to the proper forest that the stinking smell finally reached him.

Nostrils flaring, he stopped at once. Something about the awful stink was familiar, but he could not connect it to the source.

There was noise further from within the wood. Drawn to it, O'Riley broke into a jog. He was concerned about the proximity to Salsola's borders, and certain he had smelt something like this before...

If he could turn back from what he found, he might have.

A great pile of black logs and branches that reeked of smoke and carbon rose in a mass. O'Riley, whose eyes were keen, could make out that there was more to this – but he was looking at Embla too, scream-laughing, pulling at her head in hysterics, and the wide-eyed fox at her side, and as he broke into a full out run saw pearly white and shining gold in the pyre.

That was what it was, he realized dumbly, even before he reached her side.

Embla? He called, shoving himself into her space, doing what he could to put his massive body between the young woman and the corpse. Embla I need you to breathe. Look at me, look at me, he urged, wishing for all the world he could be any place but here.

Everybody hit the ground
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Salsola
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POSTED: Mon Jan 21, 2019 9:34 pm

He was dead. He was dead, he was dead.

Her poor eyesight was only a small mercy. It was true that she was spared some of the visual details, the way too much of his teeth were exposed, the blisters crawling up his desperately clawing hands, the state of what were once his eyes. She did not see him beyond that dizzying glance, the little glints of jewelry that had melded with his body, what she had mistaken as just another blackened tree branch. He was further blurred through tears.

Oh but she smelled it now: carbon, stinking burnt hair, heated metal, blood. And she had touched him. The fingers that clawed the sides of her face left smears of black and red.

Her daddy was dead. After all this: all this worrying, all this praying, because Embla had only ever feared that he would go away like her mother had gone away, that one day she would wake to find him skeletal and fading at her side. How worried she'd always been! Now she didn't have to worry anymore, did she?

Embla laughed and laughed, each shrieking cry punctuated by gasping pained breaths as tears left tracks through the char on her cheeks.

Terrified by the blackened, twisted corpse of her caretaker, and terrified by the hysterics her young charge entered into, the fox spun in circles. Her heart hammered in her tiny chest, and her dark eyes cast about wildly. Her jaws open and shut without making a sound, though she was trying to say Embla over and over and over again. She twirled another nervous rotation, realizing that what had done this could easily still linger in the wood.

Paralyzed by anxiety and indecision, Jalda did not react when the great, dark shape bounded through the vegetation toward them – even though it could have meant certain death. She cast a desperate look Embla's way, but then the wolf was there, and she recognized his scent. Trembling, she skittered a few steps away in the frost, while the Erilaz positioned himself between the girl and her father's pyre.

Gasping, giggling, hiccoughing, Embla startled at the dark figure that encroached. His low, rough voice rasped in her ears, and his eyes – faint Helsi purple – found her starburst pupils. Almost instinctually, Embla reached for him, one hand grasping either side of his broad head, leaving more char and blood on his fluffy cheeks. She stared back at him, and tried to breathe, though this came in sharp gasps and was broken up by sobs.

He... He's...

He's dead, he's dead, he's dead.

[440 words]


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Raze
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but tomorrow may rain, so
i'll follow the sun

POSTED: Tue Jan 22, 2019 10:56 pm

[WC: 369]

She pulled his face towards her. All the muscles in his neck tensed, as if he might pull away, but there was an instinctive and cultural demand that he give into her needs. Reluctantly, he stepped forward and let her sob into his face. It was a horrible noise. He had never heard something so terrible as this keening wail of a daughter whose heart was breaking.

Her fingers painted his cheeks with soot and blood like warpaint.

I know, I saw, he reassured her. Perhaps some merciful god with foresight had ruined Embla's eyes so that she would not need to see this atrocity. O'Riley had burnt bodies before, but this...

This was unfinished business.

You. Fox, he dropped his eyes to the panicking animal. It had a name, but he couldn't remember it in this moment. Go find Keenan. Tell him to get Igor, and bring them here. I need a...a blanket, O'Riley stumbled on his words, hearing how heartless they must have sounded. He was practical, that was all.

They didn't need a blanket. They needed a bag. He needed his scouts to look for those responsible, and most of all he needed to contain this because already the implication of the act was becoming almost unbearable. His heart was racing like the skittering paws of the silver fox as it reluctantly obeyed.

Who would do this? Who would dare?

The Sotto Capo were second only to himself and Elphaba. If they could be hurt, if they could be taken out, what did that say for the safety of the Mafiosi? Would the Family look at this and find doubt in their leadership? Their highest, most powerful magician was not supposed to be killed, least of all burnt in a horrible mockery of their most sacred funeral rights.

O'Riley was outraged. His face was rigid with fury.

You're okay. You can hold onto me, he told the crying girl. But we should move away from here. Not far, I promise, but out of the open. I'm with you, you're safe with me, but I need you to move, O'Riley repeated, no longer asking.

He needed to shift. He needed to get her away from this place.

Everybody hit the ground
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POSTED: Wed Jan 23, 2019 12:44 am

Crying, she threw her arms around his neck and pressed her forehead against the side of his face when he stepped a little closer to her. They had been close like this once before, though it was not attraction that made her hide in his fur. She needed something, someone, to hold onto — someone real and breathing – and he felt safe. Part of her trusted that nothing else terrible could happen with the big wolf there.

It was for this reason that Jalda left when instructed, though she startled at the direct address. Though Loki and Stjarna had always treated her like a child, if one of a lesser race, few in Salsola deigned to speak to her like an individual. Her jaws opened to say something, whether that be a protest or an agreement, but her words always failed her in the moment. Meekly, she ducked her head and sprang away from the clearing, torn up with guilt. She did not want to abandon Embla, who would need her more than ever now, but she was secretly glad to be away from the horrible sight of the corpse.

The little fox ran as fast as she could, faster than she ever had before.

Embla barely heeded those words, but she found herself obeying O'Riley's instructions. She did not quite feel in control of her actions, and surely would not have moved if the man were not guiding her step by step. Jerkily, she bobbed her head, and wiped her eyes with a forearm. She kept her fingers tangled in the thick dark fur of his mane as she stood. Slowly, she let him lead her a few steps, then a few yards, from the clearing. She cried still, because each step seemed like so much, but he promised her not far, and she held fast onto that. It would seem like an impossible task, otherwise.

[318 words]


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Raze
Luperci
but tomorrow may rain, so
i'll follow the sun

POSTED: Wed Jan 23, 2019 12:12 pm

[WC: 326]

Under the shade of an old pine, on a blanket of needles untouched by snow, they came to rest. He stood very still as she shakily sank to the ground. She was beginning to cry herself out, O'Riley thought – the noise was not quite so loud now.

When she finally let him go, he stepped back and focused – on his bones, on his body, on his breathing. The aches and pains of the shift were familiar and welcomed. His already terrible size increased, and with teeth-gritting speed all of his limbs stretched and grew. It felt like he was taking too long, but the process was faster than it had ever been before. O'Riley rose from his hands and knees with a grimace, flexing his fingers and shaking his too-long mane. He cut it when possible, as every shift brought the length back.

He had the presence of mind to put himself in a place where he could see the horrific pyre and she could not. There, O'Riley squatted until he was closer to her level. If he needed to react quickly, he wanted to be able to find his feet as fast as possible.

Embla, he said quietly, as if speaking to a spooked horse. I know this seems impossible now, but I need to ask you some questions. Don't think, just try and answer. It's okay if you can't, but I need you to try. Can you do that for me?

She made some motion of agreement, some soft sound. O'Riley could see the panic was moving into something else – shock. He wondered if he should have asked for Grievous or another healer, and decided against it.

Like it had been with Delfina, and even Odalis, he needed to hear things without any influence beyond his own. It was all about controlling the narrative, and gathering all those secrets he hid away.

When was the last time you saw your father?

Everybody hit the ground
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POSTED: Wed Jan 23, 2019 4:21 pm

Her knees touched the soft bed of pine needles as she sank down, her soft gasping and whimpering beginning to fade from sheer exhaustion. It took time for her to pull her hands from O'Riley's neck, and once he pulled away from her and began to shift, she drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms tightly around them. Tucking her tail and burying her face against her arms, she made herself as small as she could, her head swimming with pain and her whimpering muffled against her fur. She shook.

Eventually the Erilaz talked to her, coaxing her from her state of shock, his voice steady and gentle if still rough. Her clouded eyes peeked over her arm, and she mumbled assent. She could try. She could try if she didn't have to think. His assurances eased some of the pressure.

She wondered nothing about why he was asking, or what. Later, she would agree that it made sense, because whoever had done this terrible thing might threaten the pack. The death of a Sotto Capo was an awful thing. The last Crone had burned to death too, they said. No one knew what strangers lurked in the wood and what they might do next.

Her head swam and pulsed. Her mouth felt dry.

Luh-last night, Embla said. We went to bed, and when I woke up, he was gone. Katinka said Khael saw him cross into the woods.

She dropped a hand from her side to play with the pine needles. The scent reminded her of her father, too, and the skinny tree in their yard. She pulled a handful to her nose and breathed that sharp scent, ignoring their prickle on her paw.

[293 words]


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Raze
Luperci
but tomorrow may rain, so
i'll follow the sun

POSTED: Wed Jan 23, 2019 6:37 pm

[WC: 340]

Last night.

The moon.

O'Riley felt a jolt of supernatural fear that prickled his fur all over again. What had drawn the Crone out here, alone, when they should have been leading the pack's coven? His thoughts spun. Some of the dark ideas which came to him were not worth repeating. Only after he pushed away these most unlikely of possibilities did he settle upon the two which made the most sense.

Loki Helsi, like his mother before them, had been cursed to death by fire.

Someone enemy had done this terrible thing.

Krokar had burnt, the scouts had all said. The fire had been intentional. Salsola had set fire to the heart of Inferni, but it had been an act of war. Let the coyotes twist the story as they liked, he understood that the decision had been tactical. It had ended the war, making it a necessary act of violence. War required those who fought it to make difficult decisions and do terrible things. Any act of importance came with a cost.

That was how magic worked too. O'Riley knew well enough that whoever had done this had called down something they didn't understand.

Had the moon bled for the Crone, when they died? Or had it been a warning the magician missed?

Did he say anything unusual to you, before then? O'Riley pressed. He squeezed Embla's hand. She wasn't focusing on him, but he didn't mind that terribly – his gaze kept returning to that awful black ruin and the fields beyond.

Had it been the coyotes? They had scattered, but he had found them once before, all camped together. He sorely regretted not razing the place, but by the time he had returned they had gone. They were out there, though, and they had plenty to be angry about. The spiritual leader of Salsola was the next best thing to its true command.

O'Riley wanted to find whoever did this and ensure it didn't happen to her.

Who was he with before you? Do you remember?

Everybody hit the ground
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POSTED: Thu Jan 24, 2019 12:20 pm

The Erilaz squeezed her hand, reminding her that he was there, but Embla only looked at him briefly before dropping her gaze. It was good that her eyesight was bad, and that he was big – he took up all the space before her so that she could not see the clearing. She instead tried to focus on his question, but the longer she entertained it, the more upset she got again. It felt terribly important that she remember, but she couldn't.

I-I-I don't know, she whined. He didn't say anything strange.

The strangest thing he had done in some time was urge her to take her riddle, but she understood that as the pressures of their community's expectations. Otherwise, she couldn't recall. She remembered being worried, some days, but Embla was often worried about such things. She could tell O'Riley about every moment that Loki looked sad, or stared off at the sky too long, but maybe that was not relevant.

He wasn't with anybody, she said, starting to curl inward on herself more, trying to draw back the hand that O'Riley grasped. The stink of charcoal was still on her fingers. She blinked, the scent reminding her of something more benevolent. Daddy was writing on the desk upstairs before he came to bed. He sketches plans for traps, and he writes down signs and dreams too. Maybe had a dream? The moon was red, that's – that's a sign, right?

She began to tremble again. I don't know what time he left, I slept through it, I should've woken up and talked to him...

She rubbed at her eye with the back of her wrist. Where's Jalda? She wanted her fox.

[296 words]


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Raze
Luperci
but tomorrow may rain, so
i'll follow the sun

POSTED: Fri Jan 25, 2019 7:11 pm

[WC: 600]

Writing, she said. It was not uncommon for people to write, for things were easily forgotten otherwise. He found himself pushing out old information when it became irrelevant to his current needs. Now he stretched the limits of his imagination as to what might be found in the Crone's house.

Oh yes, he needed to contain this.

That's your fox? She's coming back. Don't worry, he said, turning his head to the west.

It took longer than he would have liked. He didn't know who had been harder to find, the cat or his cousin, but in the end the trio arrived. Had the situation not been so grave it might have been a comical sight – the fox, bottle-brush tail and ears as flat as a snake, followed by a fluffy spotted cat, all pursued by Igor, huffing and puffing. Though certainly fit and healthy, it had been a long run for him. He was heavier than he ought to have been, O'Riley thought sourly.

The winter added weight to them all. It was a terribly bountiful season for wolves, even if they now faced the consequence for their Kingdom's reckless might.

He was on his feet in an instant. They're back, it's all right, he told Embla. The fox sprinted past him, but O'Riley wasn't looking at the dark animal.

Already he was lifting his hand, pointing, drawing the newcomers' attention to stinking wreckage. Keenan's pupils got very large. The wolfdog, panting, looked but did not seem to comprehend what he was seeing.

Embla you stay here. Both of you, he added, and left them.

******


Did anyone see you leave?

No, the cat answered, his little stubby tail twitching. Keenan could smell the pyre from the distance. It made his whiskers curl. No, I don't think so.

What happened? Igor asked dumbly, his hands on his knees. He hadn't brought just a blanket, and the big bag on his back was now visible. O'Riley's earlier anger evaporated – the supplies he had brought could be useful. A blanket alone wasn't going to be able to contain the awful mess they would need to bring back with them.

The evil would need undone.

The Crone is dead, O'Riley explained quickly. He saw Igor's pale face constrict with confusion, and then saw this expression change as he looked from the blind girl to the blackened boughs and bones. Shh, the wolfdog hissed. Don't make a scene. Just...get what you can. I'm going to help you, he added with a growl when Igor's face blanched. Lay out the blanket at least.

As he went to do this, O'Riley looked to Keena. He dropped down and muttered a few choice words to the cat. The wildcat rubbed his face against the Erilaz's hand and bounded off through the snow.

Igor turned to watch the cat leave, but returned to spreading out the hide he had brought when Keenan race over the rolling hills as they gave way to fields. The Bay was expansive. A night was a long time, but the cat had a good nose. Maybe they'd find something – but O'Riley was afraid they wouldn't learn the truth so easily.

He returned to Embla's side after doing all this. The fox seemed to be grounding her. Maybe they were grounding each other, he reconsidered.

We're going to go home soon. Can you wait for us? It will be best if we all go back together, O'Riley pressed her. He was no longer trying to touch her – she had closed herself off again, and the fox was watching him nervously.

Everybody hit the ground
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POSTED: Mon Jan 28, 2019 1:23 pm

Jalda leaped into her arms and snuggled fiercely against her neck, and Embla began whimpering anew as tears spilled once more onto her cheeks. She squeezed the animal tightly, though the pressure did not seem to bother Jalda. Touch was important, no matter what form it came in, and it anchored them into reality. Everything else – the glances exchanged by the males as they spoke, even the instructions spoken softly by the Erilaz – seemed ethereal in comparison to the texture of the other's fur.

By the time O'Riley returned to them, Embla had fallen silent again. She pet her fox and nodded distractedly at his words. She did suddenly want to be home, to fall asleep in her room with the faint scent of herbs and incense drifting through the tower. She didn't consider how empty it might feel without her father there. Imagining life without him was a new, startling thing – a greater dread than she could confront right now.

She shut her eyes while she waited, barely aware of the men as they moved in the clearing. Meanwhile the grey fox watched, with rising bile, then glanced fretfully at the sky.

I'm good wrapping this up unless you have anything else you wanted to do with it? :>

[196 words]


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Raze
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but tomorrow may rain, so
i'll follow the sun

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