Sunset Valley II
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#1
All Welcome 
as the sun rose at an arduous pace -- invisible behind a stratum of dark, drizzling clouds -- ego resumed the search for his family; a recently revived desire from the last few weeks. it had been quite some time since he'd caught a waterlogged whiff of something familiar trailing through the taiga, and the sandraudiga had been so far unable to determine which way it led. but he was certain that the scents had been a tangle of @Takiyok, @Mahler, and his brother, and he was more determined than ever to find them.

the ashen nomad cut through a long valley, heading back northeast after feeling like he had gone too far west to find anything. a lonely peak loomed ahead of him, and the drenched wolf was in its shadow before knowing it. through his soldiering, ego felt a hard rumble in his stomach, which forced his nose down and drew his attentions elsewhere as he gave up his task for the time being and began instead to hunt for sustenance.  

For @Stag. Tags are for reference.
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#2
From the cold slopes of the peak Stag watched a wolf wander through the basin, unaware of his identity. Since they had moved to the Peak Stag had spent his time at the borders; patrolling was no favorite past time of his, but he was suspicious of their new home and felt compelled to familiarize himself best he could with the locale.

When the wolf continued browsing through swaths of olive vegetation, Stag bore down the scree and made a casual line towards Ego. His tail was held just high enough that the 'stranger' would know he was coming to inspect him -- but not so high enough as to appear arrogantly jaunty. Stag knew the lowlands were neutral territory, but he wasn't going to let a wolf sniff around on their doorstep unless the stranger had good reason.

Little did he know, this stranger had plenty of reason.
and it brings me to you, but i won't just past through
i'm not asking for a storm.  
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though stag had the visual advantage over his brother, it was ego who had the wind. his long nose tilted up at the burgeoning smell of sagtannet, and he saw the approaching pale stranger from which it carried. the lone eidolon regarded its lifted tail with immediate contempt -- pulling his lips backward into a warning grin -- but he otherwise retained only a defensive posture; seemingly prepared to flee, if it came down to it.

ego stiffened as the male's scent warmed to him, and he had a sudden feeling of déjà vu.

his toothy grimace melted and was replaced suddenly by a more serious look. he lowered his head, flinty gold eyes deeply skeptical, and he asked: "first?"
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#4
Stag's confidence dwindled the further from Sagtannet he went, and the closer to this male he got. The cold pass of Ego's gaze on him was so full of contempt Stag nearly stopped -- there was some toothsome quality to this lurking geist that had Stag reassessing his decision to ever approach in the first place.

His tail nearly flagged, but he continued on anyway. Grim-faced, he thought of Mahler or his father -- neither of which would quail before a stranger, even one built as impeccably as this.

He felt something prickle the back of his subconscious but put it to bed (just more fear, seems like) -- but the male's husky voice prompted Stag to truly draw to a stop. He turned his head, regarding Ego in full from his right eye and then his left -- measuring every bit of familiar and unfamiliar terrain on his brother's body before it clicked into place.

"Ego?" His voice was hushed and disbelieving -- but surely, here was his brother standing at the base of their claim.
and it brings me to you, but i won't just past through
i'm not asking for a storm.  
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#5
"i can't believe it," ego whined softly -- too low to carry in the distance between them -- and he took a compulsory step forward. in that moment, he forgot he had been afraid to face his family for his wrongs; forgot every single hurt and unseen wound inflicted on his psyche. he was suddenly just a boy, seeing his brother for the first time in a long time. more than half their lives. and all he wanted was to be close again -- lost in the memory of his childhood. "STAG!!"

the yearling erupted into a giddy gallop, tail whipping and tongue lolling as he went. the last few lengths, ego bounded

[Image: 2511d05924429d141e3851eee56ed04c.gif]

right up to his stilt-legged littermate and paused for a single beat to receive him, prepared to do so either very gently or very roughly.
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#6
All reticence left Stag as Ego marched forward, closing the final strides in long-legged leaps. Stag rushed forward, eager to close the gap -- his tail beating wildly against his hips as he received his brother.

He slid to a halt as did Ego, his legs trembling -- the disbelief transforming into giddiness as he realized yet another part of his fragmented family had finally returned. Stag's breaths were shaky, but he did not stand still for long -- he crouched into a rough playbow, throwing one large paw at Ego's face in a swipe before he cavorted out of range.
and it brings me to you, but i won't just past through
i'm not asking for a storm.  
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as if no time had passed between them, ego mirrored stag like their brains were hyperlinked. they bowed and made an identical swipe, which drew a broad, competitive grin from him as the spidery firstborn slapped him full across the face with his extended reach. the wanderer launched his full weight forward, attempting to use his brawnier frame to take down Horse-Legs and engage him in an embracing wrestle.

whining delightedly, and laughing with true affection for the first time in months, ego lavished his kin with rough, brotherly kisses -- dampening stag's pale face with each loving flash of his tongue.
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#8
The duo embraced with a heavy clash, grinning and prancing as they spun, twirled, and rejoined as two brothers long at last reunited.

Stag's somber expression melted away to one of joy, and he returned each affectionate lick with a dodge and kiss of his own, until at last he was panting and fending himself from Ego with tiring strokes.

When his chest burned Stag stepped to the side, parrying an enthusiastic swipe with a dog-tired grin. "Where have you been?" He managed, his voice raspy with breathlessness.
and it brings me to you, but i won't just past through
i'm not asking for a storm.  
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#9
ego was surprised when stag seemed to tire first of their roughhousing; though if he were to guess why, he could imagine that his time alone had done more for his stamina than being in a pack had done for his brother's. he pushed the thought from his head, unaware of how these deepening machinations were a legacy passed down from their progenitor: the sandraudiga queen, herself.

the roaming wyvern slid to the ground, his tongue lolling nearly its entire length out the side of his mouth. he admired his brother as they panted -- marveled at the way he had grown, and they way he looked like a young version of their father, only much paler and narrow -- but he saw the question in stag's eyes before it came, and ego looked down at the ground as he spoke it.

"i have so much to tell you," he swallowed, waiting for his breaths to idle before continuing. "i actually lived with other sandraudigas for a while," he said, keeping a close yellow-moon eye on his littermate's face. "this wolf found me after.. after i ran away. when i told him my name, he said he knew where a sandraudiga lived, but that he didn't know them personally."

"i thought he was taking me back to diaspora, but he took me to the red syzygy instead. our aunt, marytr, leads there -- father's sister. it wasn't home, but i guess things turned out alright..." he sighed. "i learned a lot about father, anyway."

ego seemed to want to say more, but he also had his own questions. "where's mother? and secon -- i mean, mesa... and monarch? and what are you doing out here?" this place certainly wasn't the sunspires, diaspora's domain.
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#10
Stag lowered himself to the ground, panting alongside the inimitable form of his brother. How Ego had grown! Much as his brother subtly measured Stag, Stag was subtly inspecting Ego -- that winsome ruff of fur around his nape, the darkening of bladed brown along his near-black fur -- Ego had grown into his own, and looked every bit the basilisk he had sprung from.

Listening with ears bent towards Ego, Stag took in the news of relatives with a mix of interest and surprise. Relatives nearby, a sister? At first, Stag wondered why their father had never told them -- but then he realized, Stigmata never had the chance. He bitterly reflected on the theft of his father's life while he inspected his paws, wondering who and what Martyr was like, and failing to see the familial connection (Stigmata, Martyr -- clever). Prompted by his brother to speak, Stag reluctantly shared the news. "Mother is well -- she's with me, but our siblings are gone. I ran into Monarch -- she calls herself Simmik now -- a month or so back, but she has found her own life." Without us. Without me. Stag unfurled a clenched paw and observed the impression it left in the soft ground. "After dad died, Diaspora merged with another pack and Mahler took over. We moved to Sawtooth, and now we moved again because of enroachment of neighbor packs. We're at the Peak now -- the pack is called Sagtannet." Stag's eyes were dark with sorrow and unspent frustration. "What did you learn about dad? And.." Stag crossed one leg over the other and looked at Ego levelly. He had made a mistake not insisting Simmik come home with him -- he had learned from such mistake. When he spoke again his tone brooked no quarter and was firm as a glacier's edge: "You're going to come home with me and see it."
and it brings me to you, but i won't just past through
i'm not asking for a storm.  
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“What?” Ego blurted out suddenly, at the mention of Diaspora becoming... other. He had managed to hold back any verbal reactions upon hearing that he would see his mother and Mahler again, and learning that his siblings were gone -- that one of them was around, but not with them, and the other was simply gone, as he had been -- but he could not contain his surprise in learning that the mast carved by their father’s teeth had been felled. “That’s not...” Possible. Of course, it was. He had not been there, too cowardly to return, and within him he knew that his lack of support had helped doomed their birthright to a pitiful convergence. One that had not even been strong enough to withstand its competitors in the Sunspires. It sickened him.

They were supposed to be the pack that others ran from. The ghostly Diaspora. They were not meant to be the ones chased out.

This outcome was wrong. This was not what he had expected to return to; and what childish fantasies they all felt like now. How ridiculous, how foolish, he had been to think things would be almost exactly as he remembered.

The shock melted away, leaving him with a sobered look and the taste of ash in his mouth. The yearling shook his head and blinked some feeling back into his face. His brother’s following words registered to him rather belatedly, but Ego met his pine-green eyes with confidence. “I’m done running, brother. I belong with you. To you.” His tail wagged. “We must retrieve Simmik, as well, yeah? This way cannot stand. We should all be together.” We should be living our legacy.

“I want to tell you everything,” he went on. “But I...” His tone grew more somber, and his eyes lowered to the mussed white fur of Stag’s chest. “I have to ask… I have to know… I was always too afraid to know, what you might say… it is why I never came back, even when I could have…” He felt himself taking longer and longer to the get the point, so he sighed softly, resetting his thoughts, and asked: “Do you blame me? For what happened to Father?”
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#12
Stag didn't need to be a mind-reader to understand the emotions Ego was going through. It was like a tempest; wave after wave -- a wave of grief, a wave of confusion, a wave of anger, a wave of disappointment -- melding into a high sea of despair and dead dreams.

He hung his head in silence.

It was not until Ego spoke of retrieving Simmik that Stag looked up again. His gaze was flinty. "We won't be able to take her away." I already tried. She had grown on someone else's lawn -- and there was no uprooting her.

Even if he agreed, they ought to all be together. That was just not how the world worked. He said little else until Ego began to tiptoe, his voice haltingly delivering a question so absurd that for a moment Stag mentally reconstructed the question, convinced he'd misheard.

"What? No." He answered, incredulous. "We were puppies. It sucked. But that's the way that it goes. We can't point fingers any more than we can move a mountain. Life happens, with or without people in it." Stag's somber gaze traced the distant peak in reflective musing. "I am glad you are back, brother."
and it brings me to you, but i won't just past through
i'm not asking for a storm.  
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#13
Stag’s assertion that their sister was immovable did not surprise Ego in the least. No part of him even thought to argue the point; He just accepted it as fact. Just us, then, he declared, punctuating with a curt nod. There was hope for Simmik, he would continue to believe, but the First of them had made up his mind, and the Fourth was inclined to follow.

It helped that he felt guilty for more things than he ever cared to admit to. Even his brother’s emphatic refusal to place fault on him did not immediately begin to lift any weight from his shoulders. It only confirmed to the yearling, that Stag didn’t understand. And how could he, when he didn’t know the whole truth? That it wasn’t just an accident...

That Ego had been frustrated, and petulant enough to run towards that moose on purpose, hoping their father would get hurt.  

If Stag knew this, then he wouldn’t have said that.

The naturally resolute Sandraudiga felt the sensation, unfamiliar to him, of a fork developing on the path of decisions before him. Where there typically lie only a single direction in which to travel, there were now two distinct ways. One way seemed to be the choice to admit, right then and there, that he had realized Stigmata was tired that day, and had intentionally driven him to harm, which turned out to be unforeseeably fatal. This was the choice to trust his brother would repeat his answer about them just being kids, and that he felt no differently on the matter.

The other way — and ultimately the path that Ego took — was the decision to merely bow his head in gratitude, and pretend as if Stag already knew all these things that he could not possibly know. This was the choice to believe he was absolved without all the details. It was less painful than the first; And one made because he wanted so desperately to be loved by his family, if no one else.  

He remembered the disgust on Martyr’s face when he had opened up to her about it, and how coldly she had treated him thereafter. Though he assumed that interaction had steeled him to similar situations in the future, he realized now that it had only traumatized him further. Turned him into someone who would even lie to his family.

Morals eroding, he pined for closeness. I am too, he answered quietly. Now, please, I beg of you, take me to see our mother.

i'm just gonna go ahead and say this is present-dated, so we can have a less-outdated reunion at sag LMAO my bad
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#14
<3

Would Stag have faulted Ego, if only he knew?

It was hard to say. The boy had grown in different ways than he would have, if Stigmata had still been alive. He had grown in such a way that he often strove to see the good in things, even when they were at their most wretched hour.

In truth, would he have turned into the kind-hearted, empathetic Stag they knew today, if he had lived under his father's thumb? Or would the general's iron heart have been transferred like a ritualistic token, from father to son -- where Stag would grow as sharp and hard around the edges as Stigmata had done?

There was no use perusing the what-ifs. They never would be.

Stag may have noted a reticence hanging around Ego like a dark mist, but he did not comment. His eyes were trained ahead as his brother spoke, the tip of his tail twitching in acknowledgement. "Let's go." He gave the boy but one second before he was off at a rowdy clip, eager to stretch his legs and pit his worth against the inimitable strength of his brother -- and to once again, run alongside his kin as if no time at all had ever passed.
and it brings me to you, but i won't just past through
i'm not asking for a storm.