Cricket Creek Bog hippopotamus
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Akashingo
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#1
All Welcome 
the wanderlust was beginning to sharpen in ramesses.
nyra had left to found another vanguard, or pack, or something else — he had not cared to know, though it was his responsibility to know.
he suspected the brat and the pretty boy would be going with her, which only inflamed his lusts.
it was rottingly hot today. he travelled until Ra caught him and sank the man into the thick waters of a bog, where he panted and lay his head back against the firmer earth.
pharaoh swayed there, senses deadened but eyes trained in wonder at the shimmer of heat which had made him so lethargic.
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Loner

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#2
vaguey vague

after an assault that had been, at least in his mind, completely illogical, aditya had stayed clear of any place with any trace of that woman, sight or smell or sound. this was still too close for comfort, but he could only go so far in a given time. getting old, as they said, was indeed a bitch.

now, picking his way through yet another bog, the sight of pale fur and that pack-scent, he froze, feeling his new wounds burn, his belly tighten.

and then, disbelief. pharaoh? aditya called out, cocking his head. he took a step or two closer, but kept his distance overall; if he was indeed allied with the wolves that his attacker associated with, he didn't want to tempt fate—old friend or not.

friends didn't always stay friends.
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#3
the drone of flies melded and melded until he felt he could hear the midday singing again, telling all to go indoors and sleep through the heat of the afternoon.
and then another sound cut through it.
ramesses blinked muzzily, turning his cheek against the sticking mud to regard the form of aditya, appearing from baked earth heat as if he had always been.
pharaoh himself had been raised in hotlands, but his months in the teekon had thickened his coat, and he laboured beneath it now.
"priest," he answered, smiling despite himself.
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he raised a brow at the man, submerged deep in water. he had the right idea, aditya supposed, though that was where the mosquitoes seemed to linger most. it was a shame that the weather had forced their hand, made them choose between oppressive heat and biting bugs. even he, who normally liked some extra warmth, was uncomfortable.

is it cool beneath the water? he asked, half-rhetorically. when he came across a less-fetid river or stream, he'd take a dip. for now, he was content to observe from afar. 

without waiting for pharaoh's response, he went on. it's good to see you again, aditya mentioned, smiling. i assume you've found a home here, among other wolves?

he did not begrudge pharaoh's departure—not when he, himself, had chosen to depart.

in a different world. . .

or, hell, with a different man, for one as flighty as aditya would never be able to keep a pack together, not for any great length of time. charisma and persuasion only went so far.
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Akashingo
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#5
in time, ramesses would be painted with thick, reeking mud. but for now it kept the insects from his lower extremities. 
"i have no home, aditya," pharaoh said with the rolling bitterness of a displaced man. "i only stay until i am restless."
he flicked his eyes beyond the priest for any sign of his birdbone daughter, but saw no other figures.
"these saints are powerful." he turned his gaze back to the ageing man. "what do you know of them?"
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it was as if he, himself, had spoken; the words rang too true, too close to his heart, and he found himself looking away, unable to find pleasure in their shared lifestyles. how he wished it could be different for anyone else. pharaoh would understand, when he was old, and desperate to put down roots. . .only to find that the roots had vanished altogether.

but then came talk of saints, and aditya shook his head, turning his eyes back to the man in the bog. nothing much, except one of their warriors attacked me in the swamp some ways south of here, he replied truthfully. unprovoked. a large, pale woman. she had the same pack-scent as you.

thus, he assumed that she was one of these 'saints'—a laughable misnomer for the white-furred behemoth. he had met few less saint-like in his life, at least on first impression.

how did you come to be with them? he asked.
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Akashingo
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"nyra," ramesses supplied, but not helpfully. "i believe she and kynareth seek to expand their empire here. she had a child this year, and while she was already brutish, these things have made her even more cruel."
the old priest was beyond the age of posing a true threat to these powerful saints. ramesses had not missed how aditya had looked away, but pressed on, rambling in an attempt to keep the heat at bay.
"she does not like me." a grin. "i am not made of clay to be molded. i am pharaoh." a glint in his eye before it subsided beneath langour again. "where did you go, holy man?"
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he nodded at the description, then smiled, teeth gleaming, at the addendum. he had always liked pharaoh.

south, to be with family, aditya explained. for a while. but i, too, am restless.

curious, he began to wade into the water, and before long was shoulder-deep. it did feel nice, a boon in such hot weather, and he let his eyes close briefly in momentary bliss.

then, they opened once more, fixed gold and hawkish on pharaoh. i am no threat to their empire, he said, confirming what the man already knew. i mean only to travel, and to hunt when and where i can. but maybe it would be best for me to go elsewhere.

best, and inevitable, too. sooner or later, the winds would pick him up again.
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Akashingo
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#9
family. he almost asked after brook, the fluttering little kingfisher girl. but he quieted his jaw on that account, watching as aditya came to join him in the cool muck beneath the fetid surface.
"the saints are powerful. unless you journey far, you will not be able to escape their reach. even if you are an old man." a twinkle. he settled his neck more comfortably, shut his gaze. "better to pledge your fealty to their hallowed heads," he said rakishly, sardonically, "and live another day. nyra would be happy to kill anyone, i believe."
wallowing pleasantly then, pharaoh and priest.
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he shook his head, expression one of stubborn humor. no. i've lived too long to pledge myself to wolves like that, adi replied, moving deeper, letting the water cover the ever-more pronounced sway of his back. i will go, then.

exhaled, then, almost a snort, and sent shivering ripples across the surface of the fetid pond. they will make no friends and many enemies this way, he continued, though he supposed they knew that already. no one will wish to join their ranks—they will have to take recruits by force.

there were downsides to less aggressive packs, too, but one way or another, they all eventually fell. and when that inevitable demise came, it was better to have allies, those to lean on when times grew, well, lean.

how long will you stay? he asked quietly.
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Akashingo
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"until i am no longer interested." he did not comment upon the rest of aditya's words, for while the priest was correct, there was nothing to be done about it. "they are warlike and know nothing but war. yet they are strong, and many wish to join."
"i myself would stay longer, except that i do not intend to be part of their skirmishes."
"your daughter, is she with you?" a friendliness continued, meant to disguise his true reasons for asking. pharaoh was a creature who served only himself.
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aditya was about to comment on pharaoh's wise decision to stay out of the fray when the man asked after brook. his face fell, and he swallowed, looking away. she is still in the south, with family, he murmured. long accustomed to the yoke of guilt slung over his shoulders, he bore the weight as well as he could, still averting his gaze.

my restlessness does not suit anyone but myself, adi continued. she's better off without me. better to find her own way in the world, perhaps start a family of her own. 

all he wished for her was to be happy. she was a sad creature, and no doubt why. a mother long gone, and a father that slipped in and out of her life like the changing of seasons. and a past without him that he'd never quite been able to learn—and now he never would.

the water was a blessing against the heat, and when he began to crawl out of the pool, he found his coat covered in mud and slime that would, god willing, protect him against the nagging, nibbling insects in the swamp.
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Akashingo
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guilt? in a priest? was aditya less holy than he had thought? ramesses watched the old wolf climb from the pool, though he himself remained unmoved. ramesses slowly twitched a grime-soaked ear. "perhaps you must be a grandfather before you can settle. that was my father's insistence. he wished to see his son and his daughter bring forth new little falcons."
a sharp and empty smile, glittering and pristine.
"but i have only bastards and my sister has only bastards. the difference is that she will seek to place her bastards upon the throne of our father. that is the sacrilege. the breaking of tradition."
he closed his eyes once more. "you are not only a priest but a man who takes comfort in his family."
arrogance rather than astuteness.
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he snorted, breath coming fast. perhaps, he said, but there was no conviction behind the words. better that his line died with him; now that brook existed (and the others, somewhere, too) they had the burden of carrying his lineage on. poor them.

aditya rose from the swamp, sending water dripping in his wake. i'll leave before your alpha female finds me so close, he told pharaoh, shrugging. maybe we'll meet again, bhai. for now, farewell.

it was effective, he thought, moving through the trees with fewer biting insects at his haunches. sticky as he was, he was protected. 

and he was glad to have found pharaoh here, though pharaoh reminded him of. . .

potential. wasted.
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Akashingo
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ramesses was surprised when aditya took his leave, but only just.
pharaoh sank deeper into the muck, and soon fell into a fitful sleep.
his dreams returned the exile to his homeland, and for a time he forgot all that had gone on.
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