start with your name.

POSTED: Thu Aug 25, 2011 2:12 am

Tammi with Claudius!

The first visit to AniWaya, just days before, had ceased without result; the Aston had stood before the borders contemplating the shifted winds and the lonely calls of the birds, clueless as to what had occurred in his absence. He had thought to call for a friendly face — Dawali, perhaps, as he really didn't mind the old red wolf — but Attila found the silence and stillness to be overbearing. With Markku missing from his side, the Aston hardly felt at home in AniWayan lands; the spirit guide had stuck with him through thick and thin, but vanished suddenly months prior. Attila thought to question Dawali on the matter, but something within his mind argued against it. Another time.

After turning and aiming back towards the north where he tented near the mountains, the white man met Leonard and stopped momentarily, then never continued his journey after the two separated. Still sore and bitter upon learning the loss of his sister just days before, the Aston could not seem to tear himself away from the familial bonds that surely still lurked in the pack of his birth. He could not risk another sibling lost to a stranger's idiocy. He could not risk his own sanity worrying for their sake.

Marching back to the borders, the two-legged Aston raised his head and squared his shoulders, fearless at whatever might come from the mists of difference to face him. His call — loud and to-the-point — requested Claudius or Oceane in its echoes, and the man could only hope they both still remained ... unlike Noir.

And how strange it was, to howl at the borders of one's past home...

POSTED: Thu Aug 25, 2011 4:06 pm

WC: 456

Claudius had nearly dropped his clay pot at the sound of the howl. Never had he expected his brother to return. The thought that he would have to go speak with his brother made his heart leap into his throat, and again, he fumbled with his clay pot and nearly dropped it -- again. His hands now shaking, he slowly and carefully set the pot aside. He had realized that his skills were limited to only dyeing and that if he truly wanted to become a better craftsman, he should seek out other skills. So, he had been practicing with painting; though, he wasn’t too sure how to make the colours as vividly as his dyes. They also refused to stick sometimes, which annoyed him to no end. No matter; he would return to this problem later.

He stood up slowly and unconsciously dusted the dirt off his pelt. It was a human habit that he had somehow picked up, perhaps from his readings. His mother would be proud (would she?)

He bent down and picked up his jars of homemade paint and firmly sealed the lids. He then set them next to his clay pot and straightened up once he was done. He walked to the door his den, which was normally obscured by a caribou pelt, but today had been pulled back to let in the light. He took it down and let it hang across the cave entrance and then weighed it down with rocks. Ever conscious of the smaller mammals, he didn’t want anything to ruin his work.

He then took a deep breath -- to calm his jittery nerves -- and shifted into his lupus form. It took him a good five minutes before he was done because he was so nervous. He had not seen Attila in over a year, after all. He replied with a howl of his own to let his brother know he would come to find him. He hoped he hadn’t sounded as anxious in the howl as he actually felt.

One more deep breath and he was off. To see his brother. The journey to the edge of the territory did not take long; unlike most of the tribe, he lived in a cave in the south and was therefore closer to the southern border than anyone else.

He arrived quicker than he’d anticipated. It seemed as though for most of the run, he’d been a little spacey, so he felt like it hadn’t taken any time at all. But he needed more time. This was all too soon. He hadn’t seen Attila in a year.

He approached slowly and called out cautiously: “A-a-a-tt-ila.” Ever present the stutter.

He hadn’t seen him in a year.

POSTED: Thu Aug 25, 2011 8:47 pm


In moments, his call was answered in tones familiar — shaking, stuttering, cowardly Claudius. Attila breathed relief: Good, he's still here. For his weak, fragile brother to be caught up in their mother's strategies for vengeance made potential for disaster. Claudius couldn't handle revenge, couldn't muster the strength to kill another living being, even if it was for justice of their long-lost sister. His brother was simply too soft for that — not in a bad way, but to picture Claudius raising a knife with shaking fingers, his eyes wide like moons, his mouth dry — well, Attila had every right to cringe and scold the sudden sickness ni his stomach. He never wanted one as gentle as Claudius to, well, kill.

Perhaps that was why fate had deemed at least one bastard in their litter, and it certainly wasn't Oceane. Attila would do it. He was best suited to, in the end.

His older brother — though half his size — shook and stuttered something awful upon reaching him, even despite the peace in Attila's icy eyes. The Aston did not smile, did not raise his head in a false confidence, did not move to bully or scold or discourage; Attila only lowered his head and frowned, a darkness in his features that hinted at shame and anger alike deep within his heart.

"Claudius," he said, "I'm so sorry." For what, exactly? For the years of torment the younger brother had forced upon the older? For the loss of Noir, or the separation of their mother and himself? For whatever had happened in these god-forsaken lands that stank of hate and impurity?

His eyes dipped. "Tell me what's happened here," he began. He couldn't bear to discuss Noir with his brother just yet — not when Claudius still resembled the little foolish girl so in big bully Attila's cold eyes.

POSTED: Fri Aug 26, 2011 6:54 pm

WC: 303

Those were not the words Claudius would ever had expected from his brother. Attila didn’t apologize for or about anything as far as Claudius could remember. So why now? What was different that suddenly made Attila regret something -- whatever it was? The apology was so vague that Claudius couldn’t tell what it was in reference to. It could be in reference to anything — or —


Claudius frowned in a move completely uncharacteristic for him. Normally his common expressions were concern, worry, and neutrality. But this was new. He didn’t know what to say. So, he didn’t say anything. He was silent and contemplative as he tried to decipher the intent of Attila’s words. He couldn’t figure it out, so he wondered if Attila really was sorry. What a novel idea.

And then again, Attila spoke, and again, Claudius had no answer. What did he want to know? About what? Where? AniWaya? Of course he meant AniWaya, since where else would Attila be referring to? But Claudius didn’t know if Attila knew about the ‘changes’ around these parts with Maska Ahote and Wematin Kuruk.

“Dawa-a-ali was deposed. Re-mo-ov-e-d-d by... someone... fro-o-om the Great... Tribe... Ma-a-a-aska Aho-o-te claims... things...” he paused. “We atta-a-a-cked Crimson Dreams.” A frown. “They didn’t dese-e-e-e-rve i-it but we-e-e-e did. Ma-a-a-ska chased out... Liliana... and Nayati and the-ei-eir ki-i-ids... a-a-an..d... wh-e-e-en they to-ook their chi-i-il-dren, Maska... wanted... them... and he went against Dreams...” He felt himself shiver a bit and unconsciously began to rub his wrists where he had been tied up. Suddenly, he felt very cold. He folded his arms, but it wasn’t enough, so he pulled them closer. He loosened his arms a bit and then clasped his triceps his hands. He was still so very, very cold and he felt like he would never warm up.

POSTED: Fri Aug 26, 2011 9:32 pm


A normal individual might have moved to embrace his now-shivering brother, but Attila knew well their relationship did not hold the bonds necessary for such an action. They were, and had never been , close — normal for Attila with most he met, let alone his family. His bond with their mother was stronger than most relationships she maintained; most of the women he bedded from time to time were purposefully never seen again and removed from his presence at the earliest opportunity. He did not make friends, and did not get along well with his siblings. Attila was, in every sense of the word, as much a loner as one could probably be without multiple social disorders or a permanent status as a eunuch.

But did he regret it? The Aston wasn't sure.

Despite numerous looks of confusion and alarm, Claudius managed to spill the recent AniWayan occurrences Attila had begun guessing at. An overthrow and sacking of Dawali, and a great "visitation" from members of the Great Tribe. The Aston was not particularly surprised — he'd always seen members of that tribe as stiffs and snubs — and despite a respect for Dawali, the Aston wasn't about to get involved in business he no longer partook in. But raids? Attacks against Crimson Dreams? Trouble with Nayati and Liliana, both of whom had been no more than graceful guardians to the tribe? He shook his head. "Unreal," he muttered, and it was true — to swallow such dark and dirty information and consider AniWayans capable of it was nothing less than mindblowing.

"So that's great," he sighed, "my sister gets slaughtered and my birthplace is up in a frenzy. I thought of all places, AniWaya would be the one to stay the damn same." Had he had the fingers in his current form, the boy would have been rubbing at his eyes and temples in efforts to release some of the strain and annoyance. Claudius bleached, shivering still as if the dead of winter was upon them. Attila made no movement to comfort — such behavior was normal for his stammering older brother, and it would only confuse Claudius further to move in compassion rather than impatience. Concern showed in his eyes and furrowed brows, however: "Why don't you get out of here, Claudius? Come with me, back up north. Mom's there, too."

POSTED: Fri Aug 26, 2011 10:06 pm


Claudius didn’t know how to react. His brother’s emotions were totally different from what he remembered: here, Attila was sad, sighing, and shocked. The Attila with whom Claudius had grown up would never have done this. Seeing his brother display this diversity of emotion was shocking for Claudius, too, and made his shivering grow worse. He wanted to stop, but he couldn’t and even though it was a warm summer’s day, he just felt cold. Somehow, being a mostly arctic wolf didn’t help, either. His white fur did nothing to stop the chills.

Claudius froze when Attila spoke. He had previously been rubbing his arms, but now, he couldn’t even move. He felt his body grow even colder, but he couldn’t shiver anymore. He was stuck.

“So… you… know,” Claudius replied, his eyes dark. He looked away. Suddenly, he couldn’t bear to look at his brother because he realized they looked so alike: the pale fur, the blue eyes. They were brothers, but they were missing the rest of their siblings. They were missing their mother and their father. They were a broken family in the end when all Tayui had wanted was for them to be happy and fulfilled.

“I—” Claudius began, but stopped. Why not? “Wh-e-e-ere… are… you? I… don’t want to… go-o-o… I… nee-ee-d to be-e-e my…self… even… if i-i-it means… not be-e-ing with… you…” Regrettable, but necessary.

POSTED: Fri Aug 26, 2011 11:36 pm



Attila found it strange to watch Claudius darken and shy away at the mention of their sister's death, a reaction worlds different than the violent one Attila had pushed himself through. His hand had bruised terribly from the incident, broken perhaps, and still ached to step on. Unbandaged and set on the ground, the thick fur of the arctics was quick to cover any scratches or scars. Out of sight, out of mind.

"Yeah," he replied, iced eyes just as hollow and dark. "Mom told me."

A pause spanned before Claudius could choke out a refusal. So his brother was growing himself a spine of sorts, then? The very thought threatened a smirk on the younger Aston's face — in normal circumstances Attila would not have thought twice about laughing off his brother's somewhat forced confidence and bravado, but in the wake of their sister's murder, it was blatantly inappropriate. This strength, forced or not, was what Attila had always encouraged in both Claudius and Noir alike, even if he had encouraged it a little more brutally than a brother probably should. Perhaps it was those "efforts" (an excuse for bullying, really) that had hardened Claudius, perhaps it was Noir's death or recent AniWayan tragedies — if nothing else, all three combined would have had some effect on the boy. Attila wouldn't say he was quite "proud" of it, not yet. Not until Claudius could really prove he could manage... that he could survive.

"North of a pack called Salsola, on the Pictou," he began, rolling his shoulders. "Mom's been staying there since she heard one of the members had something to do with Noir's... thing. It's probably best you stay here anyway... you're not really the type to get your hands dirty." He dipped his head. The things he and his mother would do in compensation for Noir, well... he didn't want to think about it. There was just something not right with old Tayui anymore.

He straightened up, just slightly, and looked his brother in the eyes. "With all that's happening here, I just don't want something to happen to you, too. I know we're not close or anything, but it's not like we have a lot of family left. We never even had Dad at all." Whoever the hell he was.

POSTED: Sat Aug 27, 2011 1:26 am

Best typos ever. :D (WC: 378)

Claudius frowned. So Attila had only just found out about Noir’s death; that was why he was acting so strangely. Claudius wasn’t used to this contemplative silence, these long and drawn out hesitations or the quiet pauses from his brother. He expected bravery and braggadocio, not… this. Of course, Attila’s wry smile – which Claudius hoped was approval – at his insistence in remaining in AniWaya made the pale boy feel much better. No, the pale man; he was a few moons away from three years and he needed to start acting like it.

When Attila spoke again, it was calm and neutral. Claudius couldn’t remember if they’d ever had a real conversation like this before: it had always been sneers and cajoling cackles, the likes of which he still recalled quite clearly. Still agitated, Claudius uncrossed his arms and began twisting his fingers and intertwining them between one another. Once he had every two fingers twisted together, he twisted them the other way. He continued this repetitive action all the while Attila spoke, hoping that it would somehow calm him. He didn’t shake anymore, but he still felt that need to move and do something when he felt so helpless.

Claudius frowned when Attila mentioned Noir’s ‘thing.’ It wasn’t a thing; it was murder.

“It—” he began, but stopped abruptly when Attila continued speaking. He thought Claudius hadn’t gotten his hands dirty. But he had. He stopped twisting his fingers and let his hands hover in the air for a moment. He could feel the rope again. He scratched at his wrists as he replied: “I already… ha-a-a-ave.” He flattened his ears and then looked away. He wasn’t proud of it, but he had tried to help. He had only ended up hurting himself.

When Attila spoke again, Claudius felt his mouth fall open and remain there, suspended, in an ‘o.’

“Oh,” he replied, mimicking the shape his mouth had made. He hadn’t realized he had ever meant anything to his brother. He looked away. He couldn’t stand looking into his brother’s eyes; he was too earnest. “I—I… I guess. Yeah.” He frowned. “But I-I…” he began. Could he say it? “I’m not just… le-e-efto-o-overs. I… you can’t… just… prote-e-e-ct me cuz you-ou’ve go-ot no… one… e-else…”

POSTED: Sat Aug 27, 2011 4:25 am


Aaand Attila's back to normal. :x Not a sign to end the thread, unless there's no other way.

He admitted to already "dirtying" his hands, scratching irritably at his wrists with a fascinating ferocity. The younger Aston watched with curious eyes and silent words; what had Claudius done? Knowing his brother's immature, surely he had only strangled a rabbit or accidentally pushed someone or something feebly similar. It took every effort not to scoff and mock him at the thought, though the distressed rubbing and scratching of his brother pulled him away from the thoughts. Attila didn't want to question the fact, but he knew the behavior was unnatural even for someone like Claudius, and enough became enough. Why do you keep doing that? he said finally, vaguely motioning with a flick of the head at his brother's odd movements, a slight hiss in his tone hinting at the beginnings of annoyance.

However, the irritation in that tone became nothing compared to the fury that rose quickly in his eyes as his brother continued, speaking with the backbone he had definitely developed since the last time they'd met. His lips thinned and twitched, aggravation forming wrinkles in his otherwise handsome features. Attila thought to simply leave, to say nothing and accept Claudius's words as truth, but he could not. Noir's death might have shifted something within him, but the shift was slight. The brother Claudius knew still lurked within.

Who's the older brother here, Claudius? he said, words forming in a restrained snarl. He stepped in close, moving in and towering over his "older" brother with a high head and square shoulders, scarlet burning within the frosted ice of his eyes. You think you can do a better job than me at protecting yourself? You, who can't even form a sentence without sounding like you're about to piss yourself? I offered my help as the competent one between the two of us. You don't want it? Fine.

He turned suddenly, shadows in his face and toned frame moving with intent to depart. Good luck, 'big' brother.

Images by Aland Berning and Mr. John

POSTED: Mon Aug 29, 2011 9:04 pm

Cue the crying! (WC: 437)

He was wrong. He did need his brother’s help, but not like this: not because his brother felt like he owed him something or because he felt obligated. If anything, Claudius wanted to really feel like they were brothers, not just two random strangers coincidentally connected by blood relation. There was no real relationship or semblance of belonging in that sad scenario and Claudius desperately wanted to create a world where he belonged.

Sure enough, Attila was doing what he did best: criticizing Claudius. He knew that Gerenuk certainly did a fine job of this, too, but he also knew that Gerenuk had his best interests at heart, like all spirit guides did. But he could never be too sure with Attila.

He squeaked loudly and jerked his head up in response, but did not say anything. Instead, he stilled his active hands so that he stood, clasping onto his wrists with his hands. He glanced away for a moment and then looked back at Attila, trying to find a way to explain it. He didn’t get far, since quickly, Attila returned the conversation to the real problem. Apparently, Claudius mused, he was no longer the old brother here. He never thought it really mattered since they were all born on the same day, but apparently was significant to Attila. Claudius shrugged helplessly and said nothing, yet.

He couldn’t say anything. Not when Attila was right anyways. He was a stupid, useless little boy and there wasn’t really much else he could do about it. He’d fallen so deeply into a depression after Noir died and Tayui left and he felt like he was only just beginning to pull himself out of the hole he’d dug for himself. But hearing this all only re-affirmed his suspicions. He was useless and he was worthless. Not even his own brother could love him.

“I--” he began, but found no real words would come out. He took a long, gasping breath, and tried again: “A--A--t...”

Still nothing.

He felt tears welling up in his eyes. He stuttered a few more attempts before he took a few steps back. He clutched his hands close to his chest, flattened his ears, and hunched his shoulders forward a bit. He had to be crying now. Why did his brother hate him so much?

“I--I... ju-u-u-u-hh... h.... ju-hust...” he began, but succumbed to a wheezing sob before continuing: “do-o-on’t... waa-a-ha-ah-hant... y-you to fe-eel... o-oblig...a-ated... I... w-would o... only wa-a-a-aha-anant you-ou-our he-e-lp if... y-ou w-a-a-ant to... be-e-e-e-cause you... ca-a-a-re ab-ou-out me... no-o-ot because... y-you th-th-ink you owe... it... becau-ause... N... N-n... Noi-oi... r... di-ie-ed...”

POSTED: Sun Sep 04, 2011 8:04 pm


It was an entirely pathetic display, what Attila glanced over his shoulder to see, but nothing he was not unfamiliar with. The younger brother, handsome and tall, wearing the scowl; the older brother, cowardly and shying away, tearing up and yowling some amount of stuttering nonsense Attila could only understand thanks to well-trained ears and experience with it. He snorted: So Claudius was no different after all. Attila had expected nothing but proof of the same. His compassion now wasted, the Aston's cruel iced eyes stared down his older brother with similarities from their childhood. Attila had tried, and he'd meant it — and Attila Aston was not one to be flip-flopped around and manipulated. He knew better than to take what little shit Claudius could attempt to throw at him.

Attila cared about him, but not enough to argue back and forth with a crying, whining moron.

"Stand up straight," he snapped suddenly, twisting back around. "If you're going to talk back to me, stop your fucking crying. For God's sake, Claudius, straighten up, come on!"

He was well aware Claudius would most likely only cower more, but once again, Attila had tried. He sighed, letting that temporary rage subside, and attempting to address him in sympathetic tones once more. "I do care, Claudius. I don't want you dead. I don't want our mother dead and you never seeing her again. I don't want you wasting your life away here because you're too scared. I was starting to help Noir. I ran out of time."

I don't want to run out of time again. "You're my brother and one of our crazy mother's sons. You're capable of more than this." You just need ... pushing.

POSTED: Fri Sep 09, 2011 2:54 am


Claudius scowled at his brother through his tears, but was too tired and emotionally worn out to do much else. He lowered his arms from his chest and then crossed them in front of them, but changed his mind so he was clutching each wrist with the opposite hand. This let him scratch at his wrists better so that he could renew the scabs that had formed after the rope had been removed. He still scratched there, always reminding himself of that stupid night.

Claudius jerked his head up when he realized he had drifted off – somehow – as his brother had been shouting at him. At the last, ‘come on!’ Claudius narrowed his eyes, took a step forward, and even felt his lip twitch, but didn’t actually bare his teeth. That would just be dumb and Claudius liked to think that he was the smart one in the family.

He took another step forward when Attila said that he cared about him. Really? Did he? Then what was all of this? Why was he so mean? Claudius had always thought it was Attila’s way of showing he cared, and he’d discussed it many times with his mother to try and understand it, but it still didn’t make sense. Why would his brother make him feel so bad if he really loved him?

“I’m not wasting… my li-i-ife he-e-e-re,” he corrected. He took a few more deep breaths to try and steady himself, but that only reminded him of the night he’d been held captive in the house. He had breathed then, too, to steady himself. He began to panic and dug his nails into his arms to try and calm himself down. It didn’t help.

“There are… thi-i-i-ings you do-on’t kno-o-w. I wa-a-a-anted to-o join… Dahlia… d-d-de… Mai-ai-ai-ha-ai,” he began. With pure concentration, perhaps he could stop the stutter. “When I got there… I found out… Conor had died… and it had… disbanded… in our… absence.” A slow pause, and: “he was our half-bro-hu-o-ther through our father.” No stutter – yet. “I wa-a-a-anted to know more… about him. But he died and… so… I-I… c-a-ame ba-ack… even though… Da-a-a-awali was… removed… I just wanted to help… Crimson… Dre-e-e-eams and wa-a-a-rn them but I wa-a-as captured.” He took another deep breath and scrunched his eyes shut and then continued. “He tie-ie-ied… me… up… I to-o-old him… everything… be-ca-a-a-use I… hate… this ne-e-e-w leader.” He paused, and then looked around, hoping spies weren’t listening. Shit, too late. “I’m not just… go-o-oing to… abandon… my home or Da-wa-a-ali… I belong here.”

POSTED: Thu Sep 22, 2011 5:23 pm


Attila considered his brother's every word with focused attention; not a single stutter branched past his ears. Indeed, Claudius had been busy, as Attila had hoped he'd been — busy, and more seemingly involved than normal. Though abandoned by their mother for her own goals and destinations, Claudius had yet to fall apart. He'd sought out their half-brother, who went by a name Attila had never heard. More names, more faces he had never seen nor been informed of. What was his mother trying to hide? Why did he still not know the identity of his father, when even Claudius seemed to?

He wondered, just briefly, if he himself would shake so terribly with the information weighed on his brother's shoulders.

Just as he and their mother were on some sort of justice trip to avenge Noir, Claudius had set for himself his own variation of goals and an inner obligation to help. He had suffered — it explained the scratching at his wrists. Tortured, perhaps. A fire burnt in the younger Aston's chest ever so briefly before he forcibly extinguished it. That's exactly why I wanted you to come with me, he said, no bitterness in his tone. Hints of concern, darkness, fear. A desolation in his icy blue eyes.

All right, he said finally, inhaling deeply and releasing the breath in a long sigh. I understand. You got your own stuff to do, and I got mine. Mom and I, we're going to take down the people who killed Noir, but... we'll try to keep in touch.

Claudius had, one way or another, responded in the way he had always urged Noir to. He showed signs of strength and determination he had never before, even if they were still in a cowardly fashion. It was a step; Attila acknowledged that with a stiff nod and strong gaze connected with his brother's eyes, then turned to leave once more. Don't let yourself get killed, he said finally, eyes wandering a nervous moment before he added on one final, weak word: please.

Images by Aland Berning and Mr. John

POSTED: Fri Sep 23, 2011 10:16 pm

Oohh just so you know, Attila does know Haku killed Noir, but Tayui never told him Haku is also his father~ :o

Claudius nodded, now understanding why Attila had been so forceful before. He never would have thought it was because he wasted to help; always, Claudius had assumed it was because Attila wanted his own way for his own twisted reasons. One of these reasons had never been because he had cared for anyone. Claudius realized now that he had always assumed so much about his brother, probably because his brother had never taken the time to show him who he really was; and because Claudius had never been strong enough to try to find out.

He was more surprised with Attila's next response. Alright? Really? Attila was okay with this? Claudius would have expected a fight, not understanding. He never would have expected any of this from his brother. Claudius didn't really know what to say to any of it, either: surely Attila knew that Haku was dead and could not be avenged? If Attila was with their mother, she would have to tell him. Claudius couldn't break the news to another sibling; not again.

He sighed quietly when Attila appealed to him. She shook his head and then nodded when he realized that was the response he wanted: yes, he would not die.

"I'll try," he replied. He grinned when he realized he had said this without a stutter, but quickly stopped when he realized what he had just said. That was certainly nothing to grin about. "Where will you… be? I-If I wa-a-a-ant to-o fi-ind you." Attila had said he and Tayui were 'up north', but that could mean anything. If Attila really was being genuine, then a real location would help, or even just a way to contact him. Claudius would be happy just to have a way to tell them he was okay; he didn't want to worry them. He was alive.

POSTED: Sun Sep 25, 2011 9:13 pm


Oh, derp. o.o I am all kinds of derp.

Clearly Claudius did not expect the reaction he received, and at that Attila could only avert his gaze and resist all efforts to simply shrug it off like nothing. The younger Aston knew well his own personal attempts to "turn over a new leaf" of sorts, though his interactions with his brother proved perhaps the male had not changed at all at his core. Perhaps it was too early, he considered. He had not yet had the full opportunity to allow Noir's death to sink in. He had not yet gazed into the eyes of his sister's murderers nor seen what monsters lurk within. He had not yet tasted their blood or learned what it meant to be a killer himself.

Glancing briefly at Claudius, Attila could only hope he would never face choices and situations of the same. Claudius, a killer? The concept dragged across his mind like smeared black paint against a white canvas. Impurity. A stain on something otherwise innocent. Attila knew himself fitted better to suit such stain on his soul. He would take the task onto his own shoulders for that reason, like so many others.

No relief washed over his form at the nod; no peace of mind calmed the storm in his ears. A word of confirmation would not be enough; for Claudius to stand strong and victorious in the end would be the end-all proof Attila needed. If Claudius died, then he'd only died a liar.

"Salsola," he said, after a moment's struggling to remember the name, "that's where mom has been staying. I'll be at the end of the Pictou, north of there, until she tells me to do otherwise." A pause. "It'd be good for you to come. She's not ... right in the head."

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