Ouroboros Spine salumaruk ⇑
Moonglow

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#1
All Welcome 
the time of nestlings had come, the time of warmer sun. already the walls of the winter ulaq were beginning to run with water.

"daughter. i go to the lake." the invitation for @Sialuk was clear, but the moondrop did not wish to be stopped, despite her injury.

nine days of mourning, of doing little beyond weeping and sleeping and singing, had strengthened the break in her ankle. grime and her own blood still stained her pelt; she had not washed the end of moonspear away.

and so kukutux would not be dissuaded. slow going, but moreso than before. 

at last she came to the expanse with its melting edges, the ice fracturing. the duck lowered herself into it at once with a gasp, but as the sluggish current underneath began to lift soot and blood-brown from her fur, the duck breathed. 

her death songs, finished. she would think of them as blackfox and her young hunter, for surely where he had gone, he ran with others in pursuit of a quarry, weaving in and out of the dancing lights.

kukutux pushed the thoughts away and began to bathe, letting the waters come together over her head before resurfacing. here the ground was still firmly beneath her paws; she groomed herself in the water.

when finally she emerged, the duck shimmered whitely once more, made whole by brother lake. "we will give you a name," she told its spirit, rosy tongue whisking droplets of water from her coat. 

eventually,

she slept atop pine needles upon the bank, the sound of birds filling her mind, in the subtle warmth offered by an early spring sun.
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#2
Invades...

He had not yet been to the lake. His focus had been the animal trails of the lower hills, or the graze-lines and limits of the cliffs, but he did not delve too deeply along the raise of the spine; not until Kukutux began to wander. Raimo saw had not seen her leave the ulaq but he found her scent trailing towards the territory's heart and thought it odd; so he followed, pantherine, prowling after her.

She might still need space. Her mourning songs had ended but Raimo wondered if the ache remained; it would, he had to reason. He ached sometimes for the life he had left behind and his family still lived. He could not fathom what it was that Kukutux felt. He kept up with her but let his shadow grow long — many wolf-lengths.

When he came to the edge of the lake he did not leave the trees. His singular gold eye caught a shaft of spring light, and he saw her, heard her. He watched as she bathed away the dirt and blood and then kept watch as she slept, never too far.
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when she woke it was, she felt, beneath the weight of an unseen gaze. green falling from her pelt; kukutux: pine-scented and miserable. miserable though she should not be. she had sent the pain to the dancing lights. and now it had become a weariness. muzzle lifting to taste the air. 

but there were many fragrances here now. she sorted through them, knowing that it was beyond time for her to begin her meet with each of them. but for now she remained. the duck tucked good foreleg beneath the soft pale hairs of her chest and extended the other, managing the expected hard twinge with a quick grimace.

her ears remained alert, listening to wind whispering gently in the woodland. it was good to be free of the mourning, she thought with a vestige of guilt. but it was the way of things. she and her raindrop had waited. they had sung. they had observed the death taboos. 

suddenly weary again, kukutux closed her eyes, the smell of clean lake-ice filling her senses.
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His bullish face had an additional haggard quality to it, as he emerged from the darkness of the trees to investigate the lake. As he walked Raimo shook the fur of his shoulders to loosen the muscles there, as they had gotten stiff while he had kept his watch. He had not slept much himself.

He tested the frozen edge with a press of one paw, then another. The cold was a shock to his pads despite how tough they had become from all of his mountaineering and the slight shock helped to revive an alert expression to his face. He drank of the lake water, lapping at the surface until the cotton-mouth feeling on his tongue had abated.
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they were not quiet for long. kukutux stirred as raimo's scent invaded her senses; her silent greenstone gaze followed the hunter as he scouted the edge of the lake and then began to drink.

kukutux eyed the hackles he had shook, the long-limbed power of him. he was wolf and cat, and perhaps like them both was raimo dangerous. 

a gentle chuff would sound from her pine-bed, a brief and silent gesture of invitation that invited the man closer if he chose, closer than he had been allowed this far. kukutux did not rise; she watched him closely with stillness upon her snow-swept countenance.
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The water was cold but not flavorless. There must have been a patch of frozen sage somewhere nearby because that was the strongest taste he could identify, which almost made him want to curl his lips.

His stomach gurgled as the water filled it. His thirst was quenched but Raimo felt worse-off afterward and chose to remove himself from the lake's edge, finding his way towards the pale shape of Kukutux.

She seemed to have warmed towards him; her invitation was subtle enough to dismiss if he had work to do, and while Raimo could have moved on, he did enjoy the woman's company. He thought he could make use of her time somehow — and so he approached with his usual low swagger.

He ignored the feeling of her eyes studying him for the most part. Between the mother and daughter Raimo was not viewed so kindly; he knew that much by how Sialuk recieved him, though he hoped to change that view with enough time. He could be patient. This version of Raimo was thoughtful, considerate, and willing to bide his time.

When he was close he sank to his haunches, but looked away — not disinterested, but feigning curiosity in the shuddering trees around them both.
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jadestone gaze pulled itself away as raimo came close. kukutux caught the scent of him; pinebark and loam, stone from the mountains around them, and now the clean clear fragrance of water.

he looked away. she traced the edge of his jawline with her eyes.

raimo wore moonglow. the duck was both surprised and not to feel her awareness waking to this, to him, in a new way. finished with mourning she might be, but kukutux was not ready to take the unseen footpaths of a new future.

but the choice no longer belonged to the wise-woman. "in my head i have given you the name of firsthunter, raimo." perhaps it was the first acknowledgement she had made of his rank. 

"you do not know my ways. but here i wish to have two circles once more. firsthunter chooses who hunts and who will follow from among the men. it is he to whom boys are sent, for he decides if they are ready to hunt."

sons. daughters. children. "so long as he is fair, he is respected by the moon and by the star." raimo had said he would make of himself a blade, and that he had.

"sometimes —" she was not prepared to say it; inkdipped lashes hid for a moment her naked greensward stare, and then she had lifted it to the stoic shadowed plains of the hunter's face. she did not know him, and yet he had helped to make of moonglow a place where hunters might congregate. 

her expression replaced by the stirrings of something unsure, delicate, too new. "sometimes firsthunter is called upon by his leaders for more than hunting." it was all kukutux could say, drawing into herself and yet suddenly hungry and afraid to know what raimo might say.
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He listened to the wind in the trees. The soft plink plink plink of something small melting in to the lake, each drop resonating. When Kukutux began to speak he listened to that too. She always took her time to piece together the proper words, he thought.

It was a stroke to his ego to be named first hunter; he had claimed that role for himself early on but it was the confirmation from Kukutux that brought Raimo confidence. She spoke of children being sent his way for tutelage and while that was an aspect he did not think fondly about, the mention meant that it was a requirement; he would do what was necessary.

Sometimes — sometimes the firsthunter is called upon by his leaders for more than hunting. The thoughtful manner of Kukutux' voice slipped there, struggled honestly, and Raimo finally focused his attention upon her. Watching her face, then carefully dropping his dualistic gaze respectfully.

It is his turn to be thoughtful; although Raimo has not said anything yet, he is focused on the possibilities; namely how this offer would dynamically change the story he was gathering, and how best to capitalize upon the shift of Kukutux' view.

What would you have me do? He asks.
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oakwood and beamgold, his eyes. she recognized with a slight bobbing of her narrow throat that raimo was more than loyal; he was 

inugiksuk!, the inner spirit laughed teasingly, loudly. kukutux flushed helplessly beneath her alabaster fur and turned her eyes out upon the water. at first she had feared her shy desire, as scattered as summerclouds, had been out of resemblance. her husband had moved carefully and worn a tall frame. raimo did also.

but more than that raimo moved with a silent cunning confidence that reminded kukutux of who her true face had been. lynx, came the whisper of her spirit. do not forget who visited you during the death songs.

was it true? had lynx guided a man of her essence into the path and very village of moonglow? he had helped her to build it. 

in about the span of two moons, sialuk would have her first year. she would no longer be a girl. something in-between. the next year was for teaching. but kukutux herself had been married to the seal hunter early. he had come to stay with she and her people upon the island. they had lived in their own small ulaq near to the house of her mother and father. 

she deserves to know deeper things. the things that are as old as death songs. you must be teacher to all now.

"i wish that children will be born in moonglow when the sun shows her warm face again. the earth changes and gives us all more each span of days." spring, curling vibrant and determined around them even as the snow began to retreat back to the taller mountains from where she had come. as long as she continued to speak, she would not have to explain — "if we continue to honor this land, maybe the spirits will feel respected enough to give us more sons and daughters than mine." there; it tumbled out of her mouth and into the open. she could not look at him. she did not know how to look at him, thudding heart filling her own ears.
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At first he was not sure what she wanted. Her eyes slipped to look at his own, stealing glances. The way Kukutux spoke of things was transactional in nature — maybe that was for his own benefit — and as he followed along Raimo came to an understanding. If the mountain were to flourish it would be because of the moon's bloodline; as the master of the hunters he was in line to be a part of that.

The way Kukutux outlined it was not vague but... The manner of her exposition left him with more questions. Was she saying she had chosen him outright? Would she be wanting more children to grow their number, or was she granting him access to someone else? He had planned to impress the both of them, moon and star, and to debate with them over his payment for services rendered — perhaps to steal away one of them for himself, and yet here was Kukutux, a willing companion.

I am glad you come to me with this, he remarks. If it is strong children you seek for the future of Moonglow, I am the right choice.

A small smile crept upon his face, ill-matching with the focus he typically wore. He was pleased that the offer was made to himself instead of the spineless Zane, or the solemn but strong Adrastus. The pale man was likely Raimo's largest threat at this point.

I would consider this the end of our barter. Raimo adds, watching her with the same catlike scrutiny he might afford the prey he often stalked.
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kukutux felt her heart calming beneath a rush of unfamiliar sensation. the way that raimo looked upon her, as if she were an injured deer in the snow, forced her to bite back a shiver. she did not like it.

he was not the only one beneath consideration. in forcing herself to think in plain words upon her situation, three names were given. it felt as though raimo had decided this already for himself. "i am not ready for a husband." there was no shame in such an arrangement. she was a widow who was young. he was chief among hunters. but only her husband might be leader among she and sialuk, and kukutux was unwilling to elevate raimo so soon to that.

a test. he would be father. everyone would know that the duck's nestlings were of his spirit, born beneath her own ulaq. independence of a husband was the right she could now claim, and fatherhood had never been tied to such. raimo had not been firsthunter for many moons. a man could come along who might test him. then her children might not have the status she had meant to give them.

kukutux suddenly wished that she had said nothing; for the way the lynx-man looked upon her; for the way that it made her skin sweep with heat and a low answering pull began in her stomach. "i will not decide now." a barter. it was truth. but perhaps she was willing to be beholden to raimo for longer. however the truth of what he had said was not denied in her wisdom. he would give moonglow strong children.

"besides," and she charged ahead without thinking, mind spinning in a thousand directions, "i will not be able to come to anyone's sleeping place for another moon." crude —! more than she had ever said, and kukutux was consumed by shock at her own ribaldness.

"i mean also to say," a breath, a sideway glint of greenstone toward the shadowhunter, "that as first, as sivullik, you may claim the right to take a wife. any childen born to your ulaq will have your status." heart still galloping like caribou, for as the silence deepened, kukutux wished in wild shame that raimo might reach out to touch her.
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#12
As swiftly as she offered him this future for himself, she revoked it. She denied him quickly enough that his smile faded; he looked at her now with more restraint. Like a boy who had been insulted for their enthusiasm. It was not the first time a good thing had been taken from him for his zeal.

Kukutux might have tried to remedy the situation with her continued conversation, but Raimo was not listening in entirety. He felt wounded, of all things. Steeling himself quickly, fortifying everything about himself, to contain what he felt. She spoke of taking wives and keeping his status as lead hunter contained to his own bloodline, an option he had not thought of before, and certainly did not appeal to him now.

Raimo wanted more than just a title that could be stolen from him. He was a vigilant creature who would not let anyone succeed in that; likewise, he would do everything in his power to advance to where he thought was best for himself — at this point, that was with Kukutux at his side. He was angry. He could not ignore that.

Maybe then I will take Sialuk, she is a fine huntress, and together our children would be formidable. He mused this openly, wondering how the mother might take this option. Did she covet strength as he did? Would it wound her to be overlooked in favor for her younger duplicate? Raimo wondered many things.
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raimo grew angry, a thunderhead with a storm in its chest. ah, she had her answer. and his ire roused her own. 

he spoke of her daughter.

greenfire snapped in her gaze; she gathered herself up to her full height, diminutive but bristled with snow-white spikes. "you disrespect the name of sialuk by saying it in this way, raimo," kukutux seethed, low and distant. she had never before known such anger; she shifted quickly from the lingering sorrow to a fervency on behalf of her raindrop. "she is child no longer, but you will wait twelve more moons for children. and that is if she chooses you."

but both she and this hunter knew that the star in moonglow did not look with favour upon him. "she is not something to be taken, and this is something of which you have no understanding. a woman makes the final choice in who will be her husband. but sialuk will be given moonglow when i am elder." she would not need a husband unless she found a man who bore her respect and would make a good leader.

"she is hunter. she is healer." her hackles smoothed as she spoke. while there was no denying the rage that had sparked sharply in her, it had calmed into simmering scrutiny now. "you will work harder to win her favour." 

wind catching her nape, lifting it into a pale halo. she looked upon his hardened, handsome face. "i mean to honor you above all other men, raimo. i have given you firsthunter name in my tongue. i would even speak kindly of you to sialuk, that she too begins to see respect for you. i have told adrastus that you are first. you keep your place by honoring each role that is held in moonglow." 

despite this, kukutux was not sure at all that raimo had fallen in her eyes. had he not always been so? he had changed not at all, and she had changed much. pine needles, cascading from the curves of her shoulders. incensed, insulted. "maybe i was wrong to ask this of you. maybe i want you in my bed and that is all."
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Raimo did not anticipate much of a response from the wise-woman. He did not know what she might say in response and he had not calculated for that; however when her anger flared in conjunction with his own, he was oddly pleased to see it. Like the cracking of ice over the lake. The thaw of Kukutux' grief spurred by this anger he had brought out of her. This show of love for her daughter elevated Kukutux as far as Raimo was concerned and he no longer thought of Sialuk in the same way. His eyes were only for Kukutux.

Disrespect had occurred and Raimo knew he had done wrong. He had not intended it, but it had happened, and now he would have to work harder to make up for the damage he had caused.

Kukutux focused on teaching him to be better. Her explanations were born of a place Raimo had never seen and a culture that was not his own, but he listened, letting his anger become low embers until he only felt them in the strangest of places: not the ache in his heart, but something lower, more carnal.

And then — Maybe I was wrong to ask this of you. Maybe I want you in my bed and that is all. How bold she was to say such a thing — she wore her anger well but starved it until it could be shed from her, and in her boldness gave Raimo a measure of hope. He felt the burn in his belly deepen.

Raimo did not know if he should speak; he found himself tongue-tied regardless, but on his feet again. Moving close, but not touching her. He would not do that without her consent even if it was all that he wanted. Is that what you want?
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raimo seemed to grow more peaceful. no. it was not peace. the barkgold burn of his eyes scorched her, stole the breath from her body. she felt pinned beneath his gaze, held down against the thawing spring ground while he slowly stripped her white pelt away to expose the muscle and bone beneath. her gaze serrated, cooled, burned again with residual anger and at last the hunger and need sharpened greenleaf behind her stare.

she did not want to say it. she did not want to satisfy raimo with 'yes.' he would see it in her eyes, full upon him as the tightened pale lines of her body loosened despite herself into something warmer. it was not yet her time. a conscious choice, one made in desire rooted solely in herself and not the fiercer pull of those forces outside her figure.

perhaps this would mark the end of her grief. perhaps she needed it only to be chased from her flesh, the last char of moonspear and all she had lost.

kukutux waited for raimo to move. he was close, and her awareness was filled only with him, even the pleasant spring birdsong drowned out again as she imagined, this close, she could hear his own heart. did it run as elk over the plain? or was it assured, unmoved? 

she held his eyes. the warning ache in her mending ankle softened enough to be ignored; perhaps; perhaps;
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She did not warn him away. There were not teeth bared, no show of further rage to thwart his efforts. He was so close to her and so hungry — close enough to look at those green eyes and see a familiar burn within them.

Raimo breathed her in. He studied her. He wondered if this was the attraction of the season bringing them so close or something else — further grief, maybe.

Would you be mine, Kukutux? He rumbles, knowing the answer even as he voices the question. It would be physical; she was not open to more than that, but there was time. He was patient.

Was he much like the husband who lay crushed beneath the spear?
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firsthunter did not touch her. he wished a promise. he wished to possess her. 

"until the sun rises. then i will become moonglow's once more."

and for that time, she would be neither taqqiq nor wife — another test as her body ached for sivullik and her heart found itself desperate. but she would not grovel before him, nor would she make a pledge made in omaik. if he wanted to be her husband, he would do more than come to her sleeping-place.

but this was not that. this raimo understood. she desired him to speak no more; but she did not reach for him, and in this twin-pride surged against one another.

kukutux would not bend first.
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