Redsand Canyon as the building continues to burn
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#1
All Welcome 
82F, 3pm, clear skies. territory #2 - devil's chalice
@Finley Grebe

the chalice fit the saints like a glove. fit its name, too. another place renard doubted any other pack would bother with, as thoroughly fucking uninhabitable as the rest of the canyon. no need to question the line of reasoning that had led donovan to this as an alternative to a forest that bled red sap from the trees.

they complained. that was just good sport.

less sand here. the ground sloped up into sharp, rocky hills thick with cacti of every possible form. before joining the saints, they'd never seen anything like them. they were growing fond, though; they had thick enough fur that it couldn't hurt too badly, and winding their way around without getting poked was good practice -- practice that continued on for what felt like miles, hill after hill. didn't seem likely anyone would try to intrude here, either, but the same could be said of the rest of the place -- they'd still need to know it.

the next hill descended into a tiny clearing, cacti trailing off into rocky sand, a tiny oasis. with the sun beating down like it was, like it did day after day with no cover but the canyon walls, the sky clear and cloudless and glittering blue, it was no surprise it was little more than a puddle. no swimming here like they'd done in the plains but they bent down to drink, at least. what rocks and plants this area had to provide offered a bare fraction of the shadow they were used to, and nobody born in the ice could possibly be used to this after a week, not even renard.



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narration’s just using “he” unless/until Finley learns otherwise

There were refuges among the mountains; this wall of cacti was not one them them. Finley had taken to the canyons like a trout in a desert, but it was high time she got over herself and readjusted. Besides, a packmate’s scent wound through the spike-infested growths, and she was long overdue in familiarizing herself with the other new Saints.

If there was an advantage to long fur in the desert, it meant that the pricks got caught among hairs as she passed; provided she was careful with her paws, they made little contact with skin. Unfortunately navigating a hillside of cacti was nothing like weaving through trees and undergrowth, and by the point the land opened again, Finley’s pelt was adorned with needles. Lovely first impression!

She announced her presence with an equally-unsubtle shake, ejecting some of the looser spines, and began her descent towards the middling excuse for an oasis. From the pack meeting Finley recognized the stranger, if not by name then by tail. He and Colin had stayed on the sidelines, watching the romantic drama of the leadership unfold, which made him as good a candidate for resumed meet-and-greets as any—someone, presumably, with a head on his shoulders.

As she drew nearer Finley also noted that the hybrid’s fur, thick and dark like her own—how half the pack hadn’t died of heatstroke was beyond her—was largely free of the cacti’s defenses. “How’d you get through here?” she asked, before standing a fair distance away for a drink. Even the water was warm. What a home.
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if the north had something in common with the desert, it was the quiet. a different sort of quiet. the snow swallowed up the sound, left everything white and frozen; the desert was the furthest possible thing from frozen, and the quiet came from the empty heat. everything hiding away in burrows or under rocks, not concerned about the veritable army donovan and nemisis had managed to antagonize in the last month.

they would never wish the same, of course; while they preferred a leader capable of holding her tongue until they had the bite to back up their bark, it promised to be an intriguing time.

speaking of desert quiet. the crunch of rock behind them stole their attention; unlike the catacombs the other night, one ear swiveled sedately back, followed by the rest of their head. for a moment, as they turned, thought it might be donovan, looking to cash in on their promise – but there was no mistaking him for the stranger who emerged. they hadn’t seen so much as a glimpse of him all day.

renard felt slightly better about his priorities.

they gave her a nod, noting the abundance of spines lodged in her fur. she was passingly recognizable despite her new adornments – the late arrival to their little exploration, returning just in time to take her place in the audience for a thrilling round of romantic rivalry. shame they were wolves and so lacked the accompanying popcorn.

“carefully.” no room for brushing against things that could snap or rustle when there was prey set in front of you, when that prey was another wolf. “i saw you at our…meeting…but i don’t think i got your name.” they dipped their muzzle. “renard.”

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The stranger took his time noticing his new visitor, greeting Finley with little more than a nod. “Carefully.” Not the talkative type either, eh? She could appreciate that. Of the Saints she knew thus far, the most talkative more than compensated for the rest. A good trait on Donovan’s behalf, perhaps, seeing as he’d amassed so many in so little time; on Nemisis, Finley would swear to hell and back she was reserving her judgment. The hammer had come down days ago, but it was of little relevance here and now.

Then again, a marked pause before dubbing the pack’s… meeting, whatever it had been, further cemented Finley’s idea that she might be meeting someone of similar mind. Renard introduced himself with a dip of the muzzle, and Finley lifted her head from the water to return the gesture. “Finley.”

And thus, with names swapped, Finley was subject to the mortifying ordeal of making small talk. Among those she’d spoken with thus far, the subject of one’s “sad” story before the Saints never failed. Right to the point, then: “So, Renard, what brought you to the Saints?” Had he sparred with Donovan, was he taking to the heat just as well as the cacti, what did he make of that “meeting”; surely learning more about someone was simple as running down a checklist. The one-sided nature of these questions, that of an interrogator and a hapless subject, had occurred to Finley, sure, but she’d had little trouble getting past them thus far.

There were also those scars. Not as glaring as those on Derg’s face, and perhaps missed on a first look, but scarring nonetheless. Finley studied Renard more intently. If his story was at all similar to Derg’s, she’d have to start keeping track of the packmates whose casual exteriors hid the marks and strength of seasoned fighters.
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after their myriad encounters with donovan, who was only too ready to joke and flirt at the slightest provocation; their single brief meeting with nemisis, who was too busy talking herself up to shut her mouth; and their chat with auriel, who had come directly out of the gate to deliver a stunning error of judgment by calling them sad to their face, it was likewise a surprise for renard to find someone as taciturn as finley appeared to be.

a surprise, but a good one. wouldn’t it be nice to find another person more given to thinking than charging in half-assed? much as they respected donovan, his dealings with nemisis were, thus far, doing nothing for his image – nor was the frenzy already eager to batter down the doors before they had fully established themselves.

“oh, nothing special.” they were privy to only two sad stories: donovan’s, whose they at least held a modicum of sympathy for, and nemisis’, whose – anyone who brought sympathy up in front of her had a snowball’s chance in a forest fire of a positive reception, and it was an understatement to say they did not care to spend the effort. she didn’t even seem particularly kind to donovan, for whatever was going on there; they doubted her concern was for much past her position and whatever shit she’d been so pleased with outside the den. “i had a good home, a good position. they taught me what i needed to be useful to them. i used it, and then i taught it to their children. i enjoyed it, for a while, but all good things get boring eventually.” renard smiled wryly. “i suppose we can’t all have as tragic a story as donovan.”

lifting their head, renard fixed her with a thoughtful look, one that did not miss the way her eyes roved over them. it lifted her a fraction in their estimation – someone knew how to properly size a threat. “as long as we’re sharing life stories, enlighten me. what brought you here?” their head tipped to the side. “surely not the sunny weather.”

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Nothing special indeed; Renard’s story was a stroll through an open field compared to Derg, who lost everything up to and including half his face, and Colin, whose phrasing and demeanor suggested deeper struggles than his clipped tone revealed. If anything, Renard’s past sounded idyllic as it came—good home, good position, a tutor. Useful. To leave it all in pursuit of excitement… well, Finley was hardly the center of attention, but word on the wind bore no shortage of drama.

Renard’s mention of Donovan’s story had Finley realizing that she had not, in fact, heard the details of Donovan’s sordid history. The Grandmaster’s pack had “fallen,” he’d said directly, and of course there was Derg’s assumption that all Saints (during the travels, at least) had sad stories, but that was all. Ah well. Packs sure had a habit of going to hell. Finley spared each of these tales of woe with little more regard than the fact of rain after a clouded sky. At least with Renard there was no need to scrape up empty condolences; she returned his smile with a small nod.

There was still the matter of his scars, but Finley hadn’t expected Derg to offer the circumstances of his own. It was perfectly reasonable for a stranger to keep such details to themselves. Respectable. Finally, some good fucking common sense.

Just as unsurprisingly, Renard turned the question back on her, accompanied with a head tilt and remark that… hm, was he joking? Surely he could see Finley wasn’t a desert wolf, not the least from her storming of the cacti moments before. Regardless, she paused for a moment before answering, finding the words; she’d be damned if her phrasing was heard as a cry for pity again.

“Nothing tragic myself. My pack taught me well. Left as a yearling and continued my training til finding Donovan.” Perhaps “left” was a stretch, but there was no way to phrase her coming-of-age failure without confessing to the loss. Should have been obvious, in retrospect. The fact she hadn’t “left” of her own accord was of little concern now.

Acutely aware that the summary left something to be desired, Finley added, “He spoke awfully highly of his former pack, didn’t he?” Something between doubt and amusement underlie the hypothetical. “I’m sure you haven’t had a dull moment since joining.”
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renard had never given information for free once in their life, and they didn’t plan to start with finley. all the pieces held their own bit of truth, of course; they weren’t lying about anything, just…concealing the specifics. any bodies, any blood, any of the visible scars decorating the places where they’d fucked up and the lesson had been hammered in – those were between them and the people they’d left…one way or another.

she seemed like she had a head on her shoulders, so perhaps the perfunctory story she offered in response concealed cards she was holding close to her chest in turn, an intelligence that would fit what they’d seen of her so far.

or maybe there was nothing there to tell, and so there was nothing there to conceal, but that wasn’t nearly as exciting a concept.

“he did indeed.” and then it was all burned down by a single woman donovan was too blinded by to see the danger in. maybe there was a lesson to be found there, if he’d open his eyes to see it. instead they rolled down a parallel path to a similar end. not an opinion renard would be spinning in full to their packmates, but to finley, they couldn’t resist baiting the lure. “i wonder how much he learned."

her other query proved less of a minefield to answer. “i met donovan back in the forest. hunted and sparred with him before i made the decision. though by the time i came around to join, i’d missed most of the fun.” a smile. “but we’ve all heard the talk, i’m sure. our leaders have kicked up quite a fuss for themselves.”

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“He did indeed.” So Donovan had talked up his fallen Saints to Renard as well. Thus Finley was drawn to another parallel conclusion: Renard, too, must have been lured to the pack by promises of strength. Though there was an unspoken question in the follow-up, of how much Donovan had “learned,” and this gave Finley pause. Had she known of the betrayal of his ex-mate, or that he had an ex at all, the subtext may have been clear. But circumstances be damned; Renard’s question of Donovan’s judgment was apparent, and Finley noted it with heightened interest.

To speak so questioningly of one’s leader, far out of earshot… more common sense, given the situation, or hearsay on principle?

Finley let the comment linger, just for this conversational turn, as Renard described finding the pack before joining. Smart. Very, very smart. But more curiously: he was aware of their… reputation, as it were, yet counted himself among the Saints’ backup regardless? Finley certainly liked to think she’d have done the same in his position. Absolutely. No doubt. Reserving judgment, assessing the area, taking her time, and not getting swept up in a speech that was sounding emptier by the day. Finley was not so susceptible.

No. Renard had made a reasonable decision, and she had done the same, and that was that.

Regardless, Renard returned the podium to Finley with a smile. She responded first with a nod, her fleeting but ever-memorable encounters with Nemisis still clear as if they’d occurred yesterday. And there was, still, the trouble of the Saints having been driven out in the first place. Finley had dismissed this as an unfair gang-up, several packs against a whole three, four wolves; now she wondered again if something much deeper had been at play.

“Just a few days ago I saw Nemisis at the border, confronting another pack’s ‘monarch.’” It wasn’t hearsay if she was simply stating facts. The final word, monarch, was hesitant; Finley hadn’t stuck around long enough to judge the nature of the traveling wolf’s then-unquestioned title. “Something about Donovan.” An open secret, considering the pack meeting. “Certainly a choice topic for that level of fuss.”
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donovan had seemed eager enough to share his tale, dismissive enough of it afterwards. he’d called it a pussy-ass vent, but the banked fury in his voice made it clear enough he dwelled on it, as if the fact that he’d walked all the way here and raised the saints right back out of the rubble wasn’t enough. renard expected he would have been more than happy to share with the rest of his recruits; even if finley was unaware, her ignorance wouldn’t last.

his loss should have been enough of a lesson – do better, or this will happen again – and it was not. who would be the one to hammer it in, they wondered? would it be nemisis? would it be the mess he had already made? the fire already burned out of control.

not their desired way to play things.

the bait was taken. the comment lingered between them, and renard watched her face, but if she had picked up on the meaning threaded in the words there was nothing there to suggest it. smart. it was a long game they had to play; it was only expected that there would be ample time to wait.

renard’s own knowledge of the saints’ problems was patchy. donovan did not seem nearly as concerned as he should – one couldn’t take things seriously all the time, and they wouldn’t want to, but there were no bones in place. wait and see. that was only bound to end in disaster. they weren’t familiar enough with the packs to pick apart scents on the border of ravensblood and donovan had given them little more than names and descriptions.

they hoped to change that soon – and finley’s admission seemed an excellent place to start. one ear flicked, the only indication of their interest. “do you know what pack?” a wry smile curled the edges of their mouth. “donovan seems to be the only topic to raise it. i have to believe someone has some concern about,” an exaggerated shrug, everything else. yet he hasn’t seemed too worried.” certainly nemisis hadn’t either. but they expected that of her.

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Renard was proving to be unequally unreadable. Only the slightest flick of an ear and, as he talked, another grin—still miles away from Donovan’s smirks and the sad, perhaps performative smiles of Derg—was his only noticeable shift of expression. Was it intentional, chosen with the consideration of his accompanying words?

This was much easier to focus on than the dawning realization that, in fact, Finley had not caught the name of the pack. Renard had given no indication of his familiarity with the mountains, and if anything seemed much more comfortable than she. A blow to her ego, then, if he knew more, but it’d be equally silly to feign an answer. He continued, at any rate, with a shrug that was certainly intentional—he hadn’t struck her as the dramatic type—and once again brought Donovan’s judgment into question. This time the implications were much closer, a steak on a stick mere inches from her face.

They hadn’t seen each other since the meeting. Had her belated skulk told Renard enough? Or was he testing the waters in turn? For all her ongoing paranoia it felt as though it’d been ages since Finley had needed to keep her senses attuned in what, to an unknowing outsider, may have seemed like passing conversation.

She welcomed the challenge.

“It was a tense confrontation,” Finley replied, with a small shrug of her own. “We didn’t exchange names or titles so much as glares. She’d been traveling, the ‘monarch.’” Or, in fewer words: no.

But on to the next query. Donovan had been exploring a remote little cave, of all places, last Finley had caught him; not exactly the priority of a commander mobilizing his forces. “Donovan seems secure in these canyons. He’s had little difficulty finding new recruits, even here.”

And for what? To defend this arid land? What kind of warriors get ripped apart by romantic drivel before the enemy can even think about crossing the border?

If there was doubt in Finley’s words it was indicated only by a slight shake of the head, as if dislodging more cacti-marks; her ever-flat tone betrayed no confidence in Donovan, either. To speak of his plans with such pride now would have been transparently feigned.
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it was a shame she had no further information, but they couldn't pass judgment over wanting to escape the wrecking ball of nemisis' attention. the only things renard had seen her get angry over were donovan and refusing to submit to her questionable authority. if things were particularly exciting, both at once. it was easy to buy that was what she had chosen confrontation over. if even a fraction of this mess drew directly from her getting territorial over their leader…

it was ridiculous. and yet that didn’t keep it from being believable.

as with colin, they had not seen finley since the meeting that had done nothing but cement their concern over donovan’s choice of mate. it was difficult to figure how much of that was their own preference and how much was simple coincidence. the canyon was large and they spent much of their time on their own, mapping every cliff and valley; if there were any unimpressed by the squabble, though, it was them.

perhaps why they skirted dangerously close to showing their hand. their words would never hold water on their own – but they were a suggestion. finley already seemed a preferable alternative to the unstable cannibal currently in charge of the position, but one conversation did not a decision make.

over the thickets of cacti, the canyon walls rose; beyond them, the sunspires. of course donovan felt secure in these canyons; it would be a long, hard walk to lead any force here, and the saints had the upper hand. but no mountain posed an impassable obstacle to a person determined enough, and they couldn’t discount the possibility.

“he has a way with words.” more than words, he had a grand plan, conviction…they had nothing but three years of training and nothing to do with it. why not pledge to a man so clearly ambitious? ambition carried you fascinating places, as long as you were smart; this was something, now, they were beginning to doubt. “that’s why i find the situation we’re in so surprising.” the words carried a conversational, even distracted air, as though the thought was of no consequence – of course, it was anything but.

it was not only nemisis who was the problem. even before anything else he might have done, donovan had given her her throne.

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casually immortalizing this because it is a giant mood. also hope you like metaphors

Had Finley been privy to Renard’s own assumptions—that she withheld information intentionally, to dodge Nemisis’ wrath—she might have been amused. The dark spitfire, for all her venom and bestowed authority, didn’t particularly scare Finley on her own. Perhaps it was the odd way she’d skulked from the encounter, indicating something physically amiss that Finley lacked the insight to recognize. Even Donovan’s claims of his partner’s bloodthirsty past didn’t scare Finley, at least not in the way a pup would yelp at a wayward shadow.

Nemisis “scared” Finley the same way one feared a child on a throne: almost laughable in their absurdity, if not for the guillotine looming above all their subjects’ necks. The stupid compliance of such a ringleader’s forces could be formidable as a swarm, or so Finley had heard. Stupid. But dangerous.

All right, maybe Nemisis did unsettle Finley, in that roundabout way. The realization, locking every last doubt into place like a jigsaw’s long-withheld solution, could have left the subordinate shuddering. But Finley was, ultimately, no more clued in to Renard’s intentions than he to her own, and the dots hung tortuously unconnected.

It was much easier to concern herself with Donovan’s judgment. The Saints were his pack, or so he’d framed it, and he’d instated such a volatile wolf as his second-in-command. Who could blame the child when her guardian stood idly on the sidelines?

“He has a way with words” indeed. On which note, “surprising” was certainly a choice word. Of course the ambitious would meet challengers, and Donovan’s (so-called) warrior pack would naturally be the type to incite confrontation where there was none. So had Finley’s birthplace; their mere presence in an area could send the locals rioting, rabid for the mere crime of existing in an arbitrary radius. But there lie a key difference: Helios had been nomadic. The Saints, as advertised, were not.

The Saints, at this rate, were boiling in their own canyon and cranking up the heat.

Finley let Renard’s words linger unanswered for a few moments, baiting him to fill the silence. Were his distraction genuine, surely his words would have been less loaded. And by now he must have known he was being studied; the sentiment, if so, was mutual. The closest he’d get, for now, was a noncommittal nod.

To a different wolf she might have made a throwaway comment about the territory shift, from bleeding sequoias to barren stone. But Renard remained conspicuously pricker-free. Such a topic, bordering dangerously on complaint, was plan B. Always a good thing to have.
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renard’s surprise lay squarely with their position. of course donovan would drive the saints into conflict with anyone fool enough to cross them. there was nothing to be had in a pack clinging to outdated ideals of peace; inevitably someone would show up who was not so willing to play nice. they were doing the rest of the packs, scrambling in fear of their approach, a service, no matter if they could not see the fact giftwrapped in front of their nose.

what was a surprise was the sheer number he had whipped into this fury before even establishing his pack – placed under the banner of their newest aspiring tyrant – they did not have the upper hand yet, and he continued along with his frustrating lack of concern like they did. as though when things got too annoying he could step into the willows and snap all of their necks with one twist of his jaws, as one might extinguish the life of an irritating scavenger. not a single order had come down along the lines of find out what these people are doing, and here they sat in the bottom of their canyon, twiddling their thumbs and getting familiar with the cacti while the storm boiled on the horizon.

renard itched to do something. whether that was about the willows or about their overseer, and under donovan’s command there was nothing that could be done. watch the mountains. wait for the shoe to drop. build their strength and how long would they go unnoticed here? they were an old hand at sitting still when the situation called for it; this situation called for anything but.

the words lingered, bowing under the weight of the entire multi-paragraph conversation they were carrying (and that is personally causing smoke to come out of my ears trying to understand). renard bent their head unhurriedly to drink, suspecting finley had picked up just as much of what was left unsaid as they had, but patience was a virtue and they were in no hurry to speed things along. talking in careful half-truth and half-metaphor was a hobby.

“there’s a lot we’re betting on.” nemisis to keep herself in check, donovan to keep himself in check, the romantic rivalries not to fracture them apart before they’d even begun, the masses to generously wait until they’d gotten their feet back under themselves. muzzle still brushing the water, the thread of feigned unconcern remained.

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Renard took his time filling the gap—rather understandable, seeing as the two had given each other author-baffling paragraphs worth of subtext to work with, and neither wolf was inclined to spell anything out. Finley still hadn’t gotten a read on Renard’s intentions but could only assume they too paralleled her own: if they were straightforward, they’d be asking “do you think the two in charge have lost their sun-foresaken minds, if they had much of any to begin with, and where the hell does that leave us?!”

Unfortunately for everyone involved, Finley would not be the initiator of such a conversation. To admit such flagrant judgments aloud, point blank, would put a bigger target on her neck than her mere presence around Donovan as a female. Sure, if she threw her cards down, and Renard ran with them straight to the leadership, it wasn’t as though he had proof. But could Finley defend herself in the face of confrontation? Not convincingly. And much as she questioned her tentative home, she’d rather die for it than be chased out with her tail between her legs. (Or so she assumed. Time would tell if that particular judgment call would warrant making.)

Subtext it was, then. Dancing around the question with the grace of a text wall, scrutinizing Renard’s true intentions with every word, and biding her time for anything resembling insight. “There’s a lot we’re betting on” was not that revelatory comment, but Finley could work with it. More passive language, begging to be questioned for clarification.

As far as Finley was concerned, their only bet was whether Donovan’s judgment was sound. Her faith in it lapsed by the day.

She sat back, in no rush to leave or conjure a reply of her own. Renard’s head was down. If she wanted a closer facial study she might have mimicked the movement, risked getting in his space—but his expression had scarcely been readable this whole time. Wasn’t worth the blatant invasion.

Eventually Finley settled on: “Are you familiar with the desert, Renard?” She might be reluctant to confess unfamiliar with the broader mountain area; the sands and their wildlife, however, were clearly fair game. And asking about familiarity was a far cry from admitting her dislike. But what kind of question would it be were it not double-edged? Could this biome’s vast expanses of dust sustain the pack? For how long? Long live the Saints.
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#15
it was indeed unfortunate that neither of them seemed to have any interest in speaking to each other beyond progressively more cryptic metaphor. equally unfortunate that they both thought they were being smart about it, when it was something they’d both be eager to agree on. no matter how much either of them thought that might be the case – and renard did, otherwise they wouldn’t have bothered with the hook in the first place – it all sailed right over both of their heads and made itself comfortable in the desert beyond.

they were not bothered. these things took time, and they were not so eager yet to – well, they were already creeping around in the shadows, but the thing about shadows was that they concealed you. stepping directly out into the light – donovan was not displaying competence, exactly, but neither had it graduated into blatant incompetence. a lot of risk to take, on a stranger they’d spoken to for less than five minutes, all told.

concern would come later. it would truly be the nail in the coffin when the saints’ leaders displayed enough weakness that they needed to take action.

and yet the moment crept closer and closer each day. they were not oblivious to its approach. what was left was the lingering hope that donovan could turn this around before they had to step in – as though he’d displayed any helpful ability beyond beckoning wolf after wolf into his forces. not that charisma was to be dismissed, but they needed…more.

satisfied for now, renard lifted their head from the shrinking pool and met finley’s gaze head on.

“as familiar as any of the saints, i think.” the lines were examined, read; there was less danger in this direction than there was to admitting a lack of faith in donovan’s judgment out loud. the smile still coiled along their lips, a near-permanent presence. everyone’s miserable here, but we know the ins and outs.” the canyon exited into the peaks of the sunspires, a narrow path into the pine forest, and the kinder places were not altogether barren; prey was not something pinging on renard’s sprawling list of concerns right now. maybe that spoke to just how deep the hole they’d dug for themselves was.
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If only Finley had picked up on Renard’s true intentions; this would have been a different conversation entirely. As it stood she assumed the worst, and so far away and down the assumption went, nestled in the sand and buried in layer upon layer of sand and metaphor and diversion. Congratulations were in order; they’d played themselves.

But ignorance was bliss. Finley’s realization about Nemisis had also crash-landed into the sand, writhing and swearing its vengeance at a more opportune moment; likewise, Finley hadn’t the slightest idea of Renard’s looming compulsion to action, and thus would continue deeming him suspect until otherwise reassured. Not as suspect as Nemisis or Donovan’s judgment, perhaps, but on the hypothetical wall nonetheless.

Some would find such games and record-keeping exhausting. It was a fact of life for Finley. Thus, even with the shifted topic, she searched for a hold—and latched on to “everyone’s miserable here.” Emphasis on the everyone. Renard sounded awfully confident; how many connections had he made? Then again, even Donovan’s panting had been noticeable from the tail end of the “meeting.” Half the wolves here, their dark coats made for the shadows, were prime targets for the sun’s wrath.

Why here? Being swifter than the average wolf among cacti and boulders was nothing if the land offered no substance.

Still. They were here, like it or not. And, with the topic in somewhat less murky waters, Finley took a chance on being direct. She had Renard’s full attention once more. “You certainly seem to know your way around the cacti.” This would be close to a confession as she was willing to stray, for now. All word games aside, she still looked ridiculous by the flora’s blessing. “Why not avoid them?” Why not barrel through the fray, all care to the wind, clinging—desperate, nigh-irrational—to the idea that some inherent strength would keep one immune?
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#17
like their companion, for renard, the games were just…how things went. how things had gone back at home, and how they continued to be. playing by your own rules was an advantage, and renard didn’t mind doing what they had to to come out on top; and, privately, there was a thrill in it that they were loathe to abandon entirely.

even if the case was that it became impossible to understand. assess your opponent’s moves, play your own; they were at opposite ends of a chess board, and neither was budging for fear of giving the game away.

and then, staring them right in the face, she moved the queen.

renard watched it go. dangled so tantalizingly in front of them. they could match answer with answer; they could let her make her move. she’d been so kind as to tip her hand –

so would renard. it was only fair – and they were in the mood to be entertained.

“why should i?” unblinking, they watched her, an eagerness in the predatory glitter of their eyes. now you’re getting it. now we’re getting somewhere. “if they become a problem, they can be removed.”

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127 Posts
Ooc — Flyleaf
Away
#18
that metaphor slapped me in the face and reminded me of my old flame chess nerd phase…. learned something new today!

While Finley thought of plants and recklessness, Renard seemed to latch onto something else entirely. If he had been blinking scarcely before, entranced in their game just as much as she, his focus was truly piqued as he spoke. She’d moved a bishop; he saw a queen. Did he think their game was settled? Only a fool flaunted her power in the opening—or so beginners were taught. With enough skill it could fool a grandmaster.

But Finley, far as she was concerned, had moved a bishop.

She returned his stare, unwavering. “If they become a problem.” Peculiar word choice when the symptoms were evident. Would the conversation have taken this turn were the cacti smooth? But more concerning was the follow-up; the metaphor had been discarded.

Renard called for mutiny.

Did Finley want the same? More importantly: would she confess if she did? How easy it would have been, to agree…! leaving the middling pawns behind for the agreement they were not on opposite sides at all, and in fact should have been playing checkers against a rampant amateur with pieces stained red. If Renard’s signaling spoke true, he had a plan. Which was much, much more than Finley could say for herself. All she had to do was take the bait.

But he hadn’t earned his scars for nothing. Nor had she survived so long on blind trust.

Finley chose her words more carefully than ever; each one, a landmine. “I appreciate your tenacity.” Ah, but to let this be the one that got away…. Would it be so bad to give, just a little more? “Be careful. I wouldn’t die to pull out a thorn.” Nor would she let herself bleed out among them. Still: not a commitment; not a condemnation.

Given their conversation, the “warning” was delivered with little genuity. Of course Renard was careful. Had either of them been anything but?

maybe wrap in another round or so? especially since they got a more current thread going now :o regardless, this has been super fun!
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forget about truth and consequence
249 Posts
Ooc — markab
Rogue
Away
#19
kldsgjklsdjg WELL youre ahead of me, ive never played chess once in my life. i am just talking out of my ass.
sounds good to me! thank you for the thread <3 its been a very fun challenge to write, haha!

in the grand scheme of it all, this was a much more significant shift than before. they didn’t dare to think either of them had revealed that much – a tip forward did not a full hand make – but they had certainly given finley more than she’d given them. no war was won without a little sacrifice, and they could afford to give her this. a concession – a show of appreciation for someone’s ability to match word for word, when the rest of the saints were…well, they were the saints. exactly what donovan had recruited.

exactly what donovan had recruited seemed to be conspicuously lacking in the ability to think before talking. aside from finley; aside, very possibly, from colin. the standoff in healer’s pass had proved that. renard’s interest was perhaps too easily won – it had landed them here, after all – but there was a line to be drawn at romantic spats.

and their interest now found someone else. the game continued. nothing was won in a single conversation: a good lesson to learn.

they let her clarification linger, and the stare with it. if. there was still a fingernail’s worth of room for things to change here, to avoid the rising inevitability of change, whether that came at the cost of nemisis, of donovan, of both. mutiny was not a hobby, it was an end result.

her following words were much more intriguing. the meaning was clear – she knew what they spoke of. and – for now – she would not be the one to run to donovan and nemisis for it. nothing more, nothing less. as much as could be expected – she had nothing from them besides the vaguest glimpse of an idea. nobody would seat themselves firmly on their side unless they were a fool.

finley did not strike them as a fool.

“i wouldn’t expect you to. if i couldn’t pull out my own, i’d deserve what was coming.” renard tipped their muzzle to her, a polite, pleased acknowledgement. “curious to see how you handle them.” a brief, considering pause followed the word. “i’ll be watching.”


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127 Posts
Ooc — Flyleaf
Away
#20
sdfghjkl wouldn’t have guessed tbh! thank you for the thread as well; it’s been a fantastic challenge >:3

Thus ground had been ceded, a barely-spoken agreement come to; Renard’s hand, authentic or not, was tipped along with his muzzle. Something resembling their charade kept up nonetheless, by a thread, just for kicks. As suspected he would be careful indeed—and of course he’d deserve what was coming should a mutiny fail, Finley wouldn’t be the one to question that. She’d always assumed rebellion foolish, on principle, and if pressed would stand by it even now. But, as began many a self-justification, this was different. These leaders had not earned their position; uprising was not merely inevitable, but warranted in its absence.

Still, one couldn’t just plow into authority and hope to escape unscathed. They needed a plan, safeguards against retribution. Renard might not have Finley today, on the basis of a single conversation, but he had her interest. For the time being, perhaps that was enough.

“Curious to see how you handle them.” Frankly, so was she. Knowing this was on the table, vague a not-quite-offer as it was, somehow both settled and gnawed at her. The desert oasis shimmered, promising and ever-tempting—but if it turned into dust before their eyes, the journey was not worthwhile and the efforts of travel wasted.

Regardless, Renard would watch. That much was a promise. Finley, resolute, met his eyes; he was hungry. But if he knew these canyons well as he acted, he wasn’t starving. She would not be the one to feed him, not for now.

With that Finley dipped her head; as would she, as if to say, though of course she wouldn’t; she had better things to do than keep track of her packmates, beyond merely knowing they existed and having a conversation or two to get to know them. Ha, better things. Like ruminating. This had given her much to chew on.

Out of habit Finley stood, ready to leave without another word—yet something compelled her not to turn her back on Renard, at least not without a closing statement. Simple farewells, however, had never been Finley’s forte. “I’m sure you will,” she said. “Stay sharp.”

Unless Renard had more to say (and really, didn’t they both?), Finley would leave him in the chalice. Barbed walls promised to leave her with more tokens of their encounter, newcomer’s vigilance be damned. Such was life.
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forget about truth and consequence
249 Posts
Ooc — markab
Rogue
Away
#21
last post for me!

another parallel, another piece of the puzzle hidden in a tangle of double-edged words: like finley, renard was not a leader. they were a follower, a weapon, an executioner: they had been that for years. they preferred it that way. the point of rebellion was an obtuse thing at best; they’d ended more than one.

yet two months in this place, watching an entire deck of cards slowly topple down on its head, they couldn’t regret the decision – to leave, or to sacrifice the pawn. where was the fun in things when you weren’t toeing the line? waiting for the tightrope to snap and spill them all into the water was still better than the old routine, and in the meantime they were more than happy to let donovan point them any which way.

good for her she’d been careful. a smart move to make. if donovan pointed them in her direction, well, it would be a mistake – she was the only one here with a head on her shoulders – but they’d do it. they wouldn’t be the one to offer the information, of course, not when it would bring them both under the gun.

still, the fact remained.

renard tipped their head. watched her turn and vanish into the hills, a cacti’s worth of needles still lodged in her fur.

they weren’t one for omens or superstition. a waste of time. all that mattered was your teeth and tongue and ability to use them.

but wouldn’t it be funny if it was.