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on the other side of nowhere
#1
Coniferous trees extended upward from the forest floor, their branches like fingers that reached toward the clouds to form a thick canopy that sheltered the inhabitants below from the summer sun. Two figures drifted through their shadows, their movement tied with one another, twisting through the foliage in tandem. Time seemed suspended for Ankai as each step was the same as the last, surrounded as she was by a perpetual stream of the same vegetation that she thought may extend to eternity, her agile legs weaving their way through the detritus and debris of the forest floor with practiced ease. Restlessness crawled beneath her skin and made her head a tangle of racing thoughts, each one further encroaching into her awareness as the foliage did; the deeper they traversed, the denser the forest became, and she found the diminishing light suffocating, feeling trapped within her thoughts as they clouded her mind like the shadows that hazed her vision.

She glanced toward her monochrome companion, allowing her discomfort to ebb in the warmth she felt in her presence. She knew she could process the tumult of her unfurling anxiety with Vera.

Do you think we did the right thing? she said, her query as abrupt as the onslaught of her emotions were. Realizing how confused Vera may be, she clarified, When we left? The others we left behind...” She shook her head, not wanting to dwell on the troubling notion further.

It was unlike her to question herself and become mired in the crags of mounting self-doubt, but her balance was off as she repeatedly shifted from the present to her past. She often recalled those she had left behind, her grief palpable but often fleeting. She willed her mind to remain in the present, momentarily attentive to the birds that twittered around them, their vitality revived with summer's arrival, but each time her thoughts wandered back to the past, and the memories she carried. Even with Vera by her side, she still felt the ghost of her brother, lingering, ever the watchful guardian.

A weight, suffocating with its heft, settled in her chest.

@Vera
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#2

Don't let the fire of
saints compel you
The environment had shifted and changed since the journey began. The valley and fields they first inhabited had felt like forever ago as the ground shifted, vegetation growing and becoming something new entirely. The trees curled their branches over them, inviting the two into their haven, it grew darker and heavier, but it felt like a cocoon. It felt safe to her, the shadows enveloping all the negativity that seeped from her skin. Even since departing the bitterness was still there, still just as vitriolic as before and her mood struggled to rise above the simmer of unabashed meanness she held onto.


She could feel the eyes on her but it remained unacknowledged for the moment. Maybe it was time to stop and rest or maybe she was going to try and coax her out of this horrid mood again. It wouldn’t be long before her friend said something to draw her out. Vera was far less likely to engage in case her temper got the best of her, she did like her companion after all and it wouldn’t be fair.


‘Do you think we did the right thing?’


Her eyes didn’t deviate from in front of her paws but her ear closest flickered towards the wolf next to her. The right thing? ’ When we left? The others we left behind...‘ Her facial muscles twitched as she combated making an odd expression, she didn’t want to look like she was being insulting, it was more perplexing to her than anything. It was never a question in her mind, after all, she had been waiting to leave the moment she’d turned of age and her friend only gave her the freedom she craved earlier. “Of course we did, I told you how horrible that place was. It was better that we left,” Vera responded coolly, stopping her steps and turning to her friend. “Look, they wouldn’t turn anyone away if they wanted to go back but I’m not. I’m better off out here and with you, okay?” It always seemed so long ago when she’d been brought into the group, welcomed, and Vera had no intentions of being friendly. It was interesting to think how malicious she had been to everyone at one point before Ankai had wormed her way into Vera’s heart. She had no doubt this was the better life for them but she wouldn’t stop her friend if she wanted to go back.


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#3
Aware that her emotions radiated from her, she presumed that Vera knew of her forlorn mood long before her words gave voice to it. The predictability of it didn’t change the relief that swelled beyond her restlessness, however, when Vera responded to allay her burgeoning anxieties. “Of course we did,” she said immediately, her expression puzzled as she questioned how Ankai had become lodged into this uncertainty. “I told you how horrible that place was. It was better that we left.” To her own memory, the pack that had taken them in had not been horrible, but she did recall similar feelings to those she experienced now: unease itching beneath her skin, the yearning and impatience for something bigger and better than what they had.

Vera stopped to turn toward her then, and Ankai mirrored her so that they faced one another. “Look, they wouldn’t turn anyone away if they wanted to go back but I’m not. I’m better off out here and with you, okay?” Surprise contorted Ankai’s expression, her brows quirking upwards. I’m not leaving you, she said quickly, only realizing then how absurd her anxieties were. While she may have misgivings about leaving behind who they did, she didn’t regret who she left with. She had a connection with Vera that she wanted to further explore, and the exhilaration of their escape lighted her heart in a way she hadn’t experienced before.

It was in stark contrast with the tension she felt now, thoughts and energy she had contained within her worming their way to the surface in a deluge of atypical malaise. I’m not gonna go back, I don’t regret leaving with you, she asserted, not wanting her own unease to transpose into instability in their relationship because Vera was all she was sure about right now. “It’s just…” Her voice trailed away as she attempted to name the source of her restlessness, but found nothing but a tangled mass instead. She again remembered that this was akin to how she felt on the precipice of their escape, recognizing the weight of the same tedium and inertia. Don’t you think this is boring? We’ve gotta do something with ourselves that’s not just wandering around. She observed Vera expectantly, wondering if her friend shared the feeling, or if she had been content to continue roaming without a purpose in mind. It was an entirely new environment, after all; perhaps Vera was satisfied in exploring it, free from the imposing structure that had accompanied pack life.

@Vera
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#4

Don't let the fire of
saints compel you
They'd been fluttering along and the winds of change for months now. She had never truly been absolutely alone before, not since before the disaster and even then, did that count? Perhaps she should have been more aware of Ankai's mood, Vera had been driving them onward, onward, onward... If only to get Avani behind her forever. She had gone on about the wretchedness of the pack that took in the wounded, helped and encouraged but they had put shackles on her, binding her to fields until Ankai came to her rescue. She wouldn't go back and if her friend so wished it, she would at least accompany her back to the fields from where they first started.

Not that she would like it.

Unfortunately for her, Ankai had become her sole weakness and she'd bite her tongue and spare her from bitterness if it came down to it. So she offered her friend the idea, they'd welcome her back but it would be a celebration for the return of only one back into their ranks. 'I'm not leaving you.' It was a minor sweep of relief, Vera not invested in the idea that she'd lost her other half, the signs weren't there. 'I'm not gonna go back, I don't regret leaving with you.' A smile twisted black lips, affection blossoming in her chest. 'It's just...' The feeling began to melt away, she knew what was coming, the 'but' of the conversation. It was common. She did it often as a child.

'Don't you think this is boring? We've gotta do something with ourselves that's not just wandering around.'

That wasn't quite what she had expected but it was more welcome than alternatives she was imagining. Vera's eyes hardened, focusing on dark orbs that looked back at her. What... did loners even do? Wasn't this the point? Just wandering around until you found someplace interesting or making a home in the tiniest jurisdiction you could find until being displaced by a pack? She was quiet, demure at the question. Ankai had done this far longer than she had, this was her first time ever doing something like this and no one had... really told her what you do. Not that she asked. She let Ankai inform her of what was normal procedure and simply adopted the look of faux experience. "It is boring, I agree," she countered finally, her eyes drifted towards the woods momentarily before returning to her friend. "So why don't we cause a little bit of mischief? See what's going on around here?" Vera was hoping to inspire with this game, an idea of a little game or competition between them. Discovering more about their surroundings would likely be encouraging - that was a smart move for a pair of loners, surely.


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#5
Her companion's statement of agreement was enough to quell Ankai's anxieties, at least for the moment; a smile curled her lips as relief displaced her malaise. It had occurred to her after she spoke how absurd her disquiet was—she should enjoy their shared freedom while she could—but her prior experience as a loner had acquainted her well enough to the lifestyle that the novelty of it dissipated quickly whilst the quiet that took its place allowed the whispers of her ambitious heart to resound as raucously as a roar.

Vera continued, "So why don't we cause a little bit of mischief? See what's going on around here?" Ankai's grin widened in response, revealing an impish glint of teeth. Though the two differed, sometimes significantly, Ankai has found that they agreed on matters of importance. "What were you thinking?" The warmth and affection she felt for her friend exuded through her earthen gaze. It occurred to her then that perhaps this experience was more onerous than expected for Vera as well—it can be easy to idealize venturing off on their own, but another matter entirely to endure it. "This is your first taste of freedom—what had you always dreamed of doing until now?" she asked, eager to explore more of her friend's inner workings and desires, conveyed through the swing-saw sway of her tail. She imagined that Vera had a motivation that propelled her out of their former pack beyond merely ridding themselves of its shackles, although she tended to forget that not everyone had their head in the clouds as much as she did.

@Vera
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#6

Don't let the fire of
saints compel you
It was comforting that she could ease her friend from whatever troubling thoughts were brewing. The smile that Ankai gave her was uplifting and endearing and thus, Vera was determined to keep her happy to the best of her abilities. At the proposal, Ankai’s features were even more bright and it made Vera elated at how excited she appeared to be. Ankai was vibrant and when she was excited or passionate, it was so easy to observe when her smile reached her eyes, a brilliant gleam lighting up her dark eyes.


‘What were you thinking?’


That was a good question, honestly... She should have been prepared for a question such as this but now she had to ponder and be quick witted. Afterall, she didn’t want to disappoint. ‘This is your first taste of freedom-what had you always dreamed of doing until now?’ She hadn’t had any plans. None. She had wanted freedom and figured she would wander until she died. Unhappy, alone, and unencumbered. Who wouldn’t want that happy lifestyle? Not that it felt that way any longer, not with Ankai, at least the unhappy and alone part. Her life would have been different before Ankai, before Avani, before... It wasn’t best to dwell, but, she had not thought that far ahead.


Vera had been quiet for a spell, long enough that she needed to say something otherwise Ankai might think she had nothing and that would not happen. “Well... What I was thinking is maybe a little competition,” she cooed, throwing her head back and flicking her tail. She stamped her paws on the ground, hoping to have Ankai giddy over the idea. “We should see what’s around us, more importantly, who is around us. So whoever finds the best gossip wins and the loser has to do anything that the winner wants,” Vera stated matter-of-factly. “I mean, we could pretend to be anyone – that might actually be even more fun, who has the most outrageous, far-fetched story and see who’s gullible enough to fall for it,” Vera snorted, a small giggle ending the statement. That might be better, that way they wouldn’t have to split up or maybe they’d do both.


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@Anoushkigal
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#7
Ankai enjoyed watching how Vera fed off of her animated energy and this, in turn, lifted her own mood further from the malaise that had afflicted her earlier. This was what had been missing, she realized—the excitement of discovering a new place, and the interest to explore it. She awaited Vera's answer eagerly as she observed the cogs of her companion's mind churn. A response did not come as readily as Ankai had expected, but that did not pique her scrutiny at all. Rather, she provided her friend the time she needed, the height of her anticipation never waning. 

“Well... What I was thinking is maybe a little competition,” Vera said, punctuated with the stamping of her forelegs. Ankai's brows rose as an indication of her interest—already, Vera had hooked her in. As she detailed the purpose and rules of their game, Ankai nodded readily and grinned. Certainly, Ankai was capable of scrounging up gossip; her warmth had a way of providing others the comfort they needed to open up. Not that she would exploit another's secrets for the sake of a game, but… she saw little wrong with a benign competition between friends. 

At least, that was until Vera continued with, “I mean, we could pretend to be anyone – that might actually be even more fun, who has the most outrageous, far-fetched story and see who’s gullible enough to fall for it.” And here was where the two contrasted one another. At the suggestion of deceiving others for their own enjoyment, Ankai's lips contorted into a frown, her face scrunching in distaste. "Vera, you know I'm not any good at lying!" she proclaimed, then laughed amicably as her mind foretold how clumsy and contrived any falsehoods would be when produced from her mouth. Vera was masterful with words, crafting new scenarios and identities with ease. But Ankai always struggled with the concept—even detecting dishonesty was a skill that was not within her disposition. Indeed, Ankai would likely be someone who was gullible enough to be enticed by Vera's tall tales. She knew, though, that herself and Vera simply differed in how they conducted their mischief, and she would not deny Vera the delight of playing the game how she desired. "You can play it that way if you want, but I'm just gonna be honest. I don't know how to be anyone but myself anyway," she said, hoping Vera would understand her misgivings but would still have fun with their competition all the same. Ankai would be eager to hear about Vera's escapades, even if she could not participate in the same way.

@Vera
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#8

Don't let the fire of
saints compel you
She'd managed to dodge one of the questions - distracting Ankai with a game that would entertain her for a while. Vera wasn't going to win this game, however, she knew it. Being as sour and rude as she was, it would easily fall into victory for her companion. Not that she'd say anything of the nature, she wasn't that invested in the idea. Although she hated the idea of splitting up, they rarely did such things because of unease of it.

'Vera, you know I'm not any good at lying!'

A minor smirk slid onto her lips, one of her brows rising as she tilted her head and stuck her tongue out teasingly. Still happy, that's all Vera needed to be content. 'You can play it that way if you want, but I'm just gonna be honest. I don't know how to be anyone but myself anyway.' Vera gave a shrug, nodding lightly in response. That was fine, she was positive her friend would win regardless. "Alright, well that's all there is to it! Let's have a few days for the competition that way we each have enough time to meet someone. Then we'll vote, sound good?" Vera's tail wagged lightly, knowing that she'd actually have to meet at least one other soul in this area to keep Ankai from figuring out how little effort she'd put in. "Start today?" Vera crouched down, her head near her paws and tail up in the air playfully, waiting to dash away.


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@Anoushkigal
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#9
Shadows from the canopy above cast onto her friend's face, and as Vera grinned with her tongue outstretched, Ankai avowed to commit this moment to memory. Although scatterbrained at times, moments like this, when they shared such elation that she wished it wasn't temporary, her mind etched the details of it into her the cerebral folds of her memory so that she wouldn't ever forget. Even if their teasing was almost mundane in its routine, she was a sentimentalist who carried memories like cherished mementos, and would recall them with fondness in the quiet moments of her life.

Vera agreed to Ankai's compromise easily, then laid out the remainder of the game's rules accompanied by the jovial wagging of her tail. Ankai nodded in response, feeling her heart enkindle with the prospect of competition—she was ever the overachiever, even for cordial games with relatively minor rewards. "Start today?" Vera asked whilst shifting her body into a position that invited play, paws outstretched and tail hoisted upward.

Ankai beamed. "Yeah, we'll meet right back here when we're done. Now, eat my dust!" she said as she bounded off; her paws scraping detritus from the forest floor as she pivoted away may indeed have flung debris into Vera's crouched form, and before long she had disappeared into the surrounding foliage. She did not depart, however, without first tossing her head back to return Vera's teasing outstretched tongue.

exit
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