Duskfire Glacier colors and shapes, the imaginary
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Sapphique had entertained Teya, Reyes, and Caracal for a short while… and the seafarer kept to the fringes to give Rosalyn and Erzulie time with their son and grandchild. The sting of rejection still poisoned Njord, feeling less like a father and more like a sperm donor, and he wondered how he had let himself slip so deeply into this fictitious relationship. His bonds with Sobo, Coraline, Loko, and Mireille felt genuine… but if Rosalyn and Erzulie wanted him out of their lives tomorrow, there was nothing he could do to stop them.

He crossed the Tangle to dutifully track the broken antler herd, as Haunt had once done, and then he continued on towards Redtail Rise. Njord passed the deer carcass he had helped Angler bring down just a few days prior. It was mostly bones, now – picked clean by scavengers. But there was enough sinew and grizzly bits left for breakfast.

In his peripheral, the sun hit the glacier to the East just right. It shone like a diamond in the distance. Duskfire. The land of his ancestors. His original destination a year ago.

Njord descended the Rise and crossed Dawnlark Plains, and then the Moraine. The trees began to crowd open fields until the scrim became a dense forest. To his surprise, there was a border marker. A pack lived here? He felt his heart skip a beat and wondered if he had roots in this place. Njord tipped his head back and called to them – half expecting a red wolf, like Tuwawi, to greet him at their doorstep.
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She needed to take Caracal back to the caldera within the next few days. For the moment, though, her little brother had absconded into one of the nearby territories. He said he wanted to do some exploring on his own. She couldn't fault him—he was growing up and becoming independent—though she did worry a bit. Even Meerkat preferred to buddy up for most forays outside of the territory.

The yearling sat patiently at the borders, keeping an eye out for his return, and took the opportunity to give herself a very intensive grooming. By the time she finished, her fur was damp. Although she felt cleaner, she also felt colder. Meerkat rose onto all fours, shook out her freshly washed pelt and prepared to begin walking to get some blood flowing.

Then a howl rose up nearby. Although she didn't fancy herself any kind of guardian, there was something vaguely familiar about the voice. Meerkat trotted in that direction, a curious expression on her face which transformed into a smile when she spotted Njord's unmistakable figure.

"Bonnie day!" she called out to him, laughing lightly as she came to a halt a few feet away. "Bet you didn't expect to find me here," Meerkat remarked, pale tail swinging. "Welcome to Duskfire Glacier. What brings you here?"
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Someone did greet him, and they weren’t red. “Meerkat?!” Njord exclaimed when the emissary emerged from the  tree line. She was the last wolf he expected to meet at these glacial borders. For a moment his troubles left him and the redtail was simply happy to see a familiar face. Her impersonation made him chuckle a hearty laugh. “Ahoy!” he said, astonished. Duskfire Glacier. So this was the place of Sveijarn legends.

He suddenly felt so alive, that Njord realized he’d allowed himself to isolate too long among the cliffs. The man thought himself responsible and loving, but a toxic codependency has grown in the absence of a true, reciprocal relationship. For a second he wished to steal Meerkat away with him to Dragoncrest, if only to have a friend – but, ah… she was a part of the pack here, now.

As these thoughts ran through his head, Meerkat would be able to visibly see the spark of joy upon his face wilt away into sobered gloom. Njord did his best to compartmentalize it, and continued on.

“I saw tha glacier from tha Rise, an’ ‘av never travelled out this far East, ya ken. It’s a long story, but… my ancestors used ta live ‘ere.” His blue gaze searched the tall trees for old memories. “Was tha reason I travelled ta Teekon in tha first place…” His voice was thin. An unrealized dream.

He paused, brows knitted. “Yer sister, Haunt… she’s gone, Meerkat.” His blue gaze dropped, heart sunk.
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Her soft brown eyes watched the series of expressions drift across his face, from astonishment to joy to perturbation. Meerkat's tail slowed, then stilled, her own face pulling into lines of uncertainty. He explained a connection with the glacier via his ancestors, though that didn't explain the suddenly glum look in his eye. But the next few words out of his mouth certainly did.

Meerkat felt a pang at the news, though she had hardly known her half-sister. He would've known her better. She swallowed and looked at him now with sympathy on her face. She could tell that, by "gone," he meant dead. What had happened to Haunt?

"I'm so sorry to hear that," the yearling said softly. She studied his face, or what she could see of it now that Njord's gaze had dropped. Meerkat inched closer to him, reaching out to offer a nudge if he accepted it. After a moment's consideration, she said, "Tell me what happened?"
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Njord eyed a pale colored pebble on the ground and how it sat apart from the other rocks. His ears turned back as a deep frown creased his face, feeling small and alone like that stone. It wasn’t until Meerkat touched his shoulder did his gaze flick up. Something within Njord was rocked by her attentions and he could feel wetness in his eyes begin to gather – but he staved it with a cough and cleared his throat.

“It was terrible Meer,” he grumbled. “Erzulie said she was bein’ haunted by bad dreams of Sapphique’s demise. She was stayin’ on the outskirts… and one day she went missin’.” Njord remembered the shadowy figure hovering over his friend. “When we found ‘er she was layin’ on tha ground in a state… she couldna move. Barely’ blinkin’ or talkin’ but not a cut on ‘er. She passed tha same day.” Little did he know, Erzulie offered the girl a compassionate death by means of black lichen.

A sigh rattled Njord’s chest. “M’sorry,” he apologized, “I didna mean ta come ‘ere and be like this. But seein’ you…” He could see pieces of both Kaertok and Haunt in her visage. “I ‘ad ta let you know.” He wished to steer the conversation to a more pleasant place, but waited for the fresh wave of grief to pass.
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Njord used the word "terrible" and it was apt enough to encompass the details he described. Meerkat's heart went out to Haunt and everyone who'd miss her. She supposed she was among them, though not nearly in the same way as the wolves who'd really known her well. He seemed to be one of them, judging by the look on his face.

"That sounds awful. I'm glad she went quickly," Meerkat said a little slowly, hoping she wasn't saying the wrong things. "Please don't apologize. I appreciate you telling me, especially since you definitely weren't expecting to deliver bad news today..." After all, he hadn't known he would find her here and would have to dredge up such a painful topic.

A beat of silence fell between them, Meerkat giving Njord a moment of remembrance, before she tentatively prompted, "You said your ancestors lived here...?"
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Njord appreciated that Meerkat was gentle in her tone and words. His head bobbed in bitter solidarity as they fell quiet together to share a moment of silence for Haunt’s memory.

He sighed and felt some weight lift from his shoulders. “Aye,” he said, glad to be past the sad thoughts. “My aunt Maera said my grandsire Njal an’ grandam Tuwawi ‘ad a pack ‘ere an’ started the Sveijarn name.” He looked to the sky and could see the glacier’s peak beyond the treeline. “She tol’ me stories of it when I was jus’ a pup.” Njord shook his head, “but I dinna ken they left any blood behind.”

His gaze eyed the Redhawk once more. “What’re ya doin’ ‘ere anyway? ‘Av ya left tha Caldera?” he wondered aloud.
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Just because none of the names he mentioned rang as familiar, it didn't lessen Meerkat's interest in the subject. She hadn't realized there was any family legacy involved with the glacier. She wondered if any of the pack's current inhabitants were tied to these Sveijarns. Her lips pursed thoughtfully when he mentioned there were no blood connections at present, as far as he knew.

Speaking of family ties, he wondered why she wasn't at the caldera. "I left to make a fresh start, I guess you could say," Meerkat said, which was the long and short of it. "I've lived here a couple of months now... long enough to know my way around if you'd like me to play tour guide again," she added with a laugh, recollecting their time roaming the caldera.

"So yours is a family name? My family has one of those too," Meerkat said in the next breath, having misheard "Njal." She thought of her dad, who shared his mother's (her grandmother's) name. "You know, speaking of the Redhawks, they claimed the caldera, then moved from there, only to eventually move back. Is that why you're here? Come to claim the family landmark?" she quipped.
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Fresh starts. Njord was familiar with those. It had been over a year since the voyager had swam away from Meares Island. He had built a completely new path in Sapphique, but he could hear the songs of a life unfilled calling to him like a siren. Again, a thought of loneliness nipped at him, and his lids fluttered as if he had stepped on a thorn.

He veiled this with a blink at Meerkat’s observations. “Did somethin ‘appen?” he asked, wanting to know if there was a reason Meerkat needed to get away. Maybe it was the war in the South which threatened her home? “I’ll be missin’ those Caldera apples,” he jested with an overdramatic sigh, “but I canna pass up a tour from tha gifted Meerkat. Maybe I can come back another day an’ you can show me aroun’?” Njord suggested. Better to stave off the present loneliness with the promise of a future visit.

She also asked about his name. “To be honest I nev’r thought about it. I canna be sure… my mum’s side of the family were tha seafarin’ folk an’ they named fer one of tha sea gods. But me Da ‘ad a funny way of bendin’ my mum’s will.” Perhaps Valtyr had managed to slip a nod to Njal in his son’s name – Njord wish he had asked on his last visit.

At her last remark, Njord let a breath release any remaining tension in his shoulders. “It was my dream ta do that,” he said whimsically with a gentle smile. Maera’s tales had painted a glorious picture in the redtail’s mind and, at one point in time, he envisioned himself reclaiming the land of ice to continue the Sveijarn name. “But tha sea called to me, an’ I ‘ad ta listen.”

Life was funny like that… you think you’re on one path, but then a gift drops unexpectedly in your lap. “Besides,” he remarked, “seems like tha glacier is in good hands... with you protectin’ it.” His gaze softened then, in admiration for the young woman. She was driven, and made her own path in life. "How's yer life here? Do ya like it?" he asked, genuinely hoping for her happiness.
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She shook her head at his question. It wasn't entirely truthful, though there was no single event or trauma that had led her here and she didn't want to drag down the conversation. Meerkat's lips parted when he accepted her offer, only to say he would come back another day for it.

Before she could insist she'd be happy to show him around today, Njord answered her other questions. She listened without interrupting, focused on his words, though she did have a thought she decided to voice once it was her turn to speak.

"It's really good," Meerkat said, which sounded bland to her own ears. "I'm really happy here, actually. Hey, if you ever get tired of the coast or just find yourself in need of a new adventure, you should consider living here. We have a great group here and it'd be neat to have a legacy member." She winked. "Sure you don't want that tour today? I'd be happy to."
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Meerkat was so full of life that her light illuminated Njord’s dim bulb. As she smiled, so did he – mirroring her expressions and finding her sentiments about Duskfire infectious. “I’ll be rememberin’ that invitation,” he assured her as his imagination began to craft pictures of what life would look like beneath the glacier. Could he ever move away from the sea? So much of him felt at home in the cliffs… but a piece of him did not. How could he fill the hole in his heart?

She pressed again about the tour and Njord felt himself crack – wanting to string out the time together a while longer. “Twist my paw why don’t ya,” he jested. “Al’right, lead me astray, ‘Kat! I dinna ken ‘ow you’ll top tha apples, tho…” the man joked as he side stepped towards her, ready to follow.
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This post comes with a visual aid!

She grinned at the nickname, tail swinging as Njord relented. "Awesome. We can hit all the landmarks and picture your ancestors running around on them," she quipped back. "Personally, I think that's a lot cooler than apples. But that's just me."

Winking and motioning for him to follow, Meerkat showed him to the nearby ice field. "Watch your step," she told him as she led him across terrain that was at once rugged and slippery. "It's worth the risk, though, at least at night. The views are spectacular."

From there, she headed slightly south. "This is Black Break Ravine. I heard one of our members, @Rye, actually fell down there once. He's okay now, though," Meerkat assured quickly, giving Njord a moment to peer down into the gulch if he liked before moving off to the next stop on the tour.

"This place has a name which I currently can't recall," she mused aloud, leading him into the trees of Bosk Iana. "It's so beautiful here in the morning. There's something almost magical about the way the light hits here."

They soon moved on. "And this," she continued, "is the aptly named Meltwater Lake. Let's stop to catch our breaths and get a drink, 'cause the next part of the journey is all uphill." Meerkat pointed at the looming glacier itself even as she took a seat by the water.
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Njord followed Meerkat at her haunch around Duskfire’s perimeter. It was a treat to move along the patrol path and see the territory up close and personal. The Caldera had been grand, but the glacier was old and majestic. The cold, winter air bit at his nose as Njord admired the bowed trees of the sleepy forest and the shine of the glacial lake. The beauty of this land filled his heart… and he felt ghosts of the past following as the pair traveled together.

A haunting howl on the air… or was that the wind through the trees? Njord, not spiritual by nature, felt a deep connection to this land. It sent goosebumps across his skin. There was a shift within him.

He actively listened and appended a nod or a ‘hmm’ at Meerkat’s descriptions. Slowly, as time went on, his attentions drifted from Duskfire and settled solely upon her. New details spurred his attentions. The lilt of her voice, the curve of her ears, the brightness in her eyes… but suddenly these warm feelings were serrated by the guilt of potentially betraying his connection with Erzulie and their children.

Njord did his best to break up his gaze until they arrived at a rest stop. “This land is verra beautiful, I can see why ya love it so,” the red-tail said as he stooped to take a long drink. Meerkat sat there, perfectly poised, next to him. Njord felt a moment arrive. A window of opportunity. Water dripped from his chin as he looked at her, tongue pressed against the back of his incisors. Time suspended.

His internal monologue screamed at him. Say somethin'!

Njord hesitated too long, and the moment passed.

“A-ahem,” he cleared his throat, standing again and blinking a few times in an attempt to play off any awkwardness. “Ya must go easy on this ‘ere beachcomber, I dinna ken if I’ll make it up tha rise!” he laughed, thinking how much more rugged the wolves of Duskfire had to be than those of Sapphique. He stood at attention, ready to follow her once more.
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Oblivious to any awkwardness, Meerkat looked around and tried to see the territory through fresh eyes. She had only lived here since the summer, yet she knew the place pretty intimately by now. It really was quite lovely, with a lot of variation in the terrain so even a scout like her never grew bored.

"I prefer the lower reaches myself, though you've gotta check out the views," Meerkat quipped in reply. "And don't forget to picture your ancestors making the same climb you're about to take," she reminded him cheerily, winking.

After taking a quick drink herself, Meerkat motioned them onward. She found the least treacherous footpath the glacier offered, which would take them on a winding, scenic route. She went slowly for her own sake as well as her guest's, pausing often to point out something noteworthy in the distance.

Finally, they made it to the pinnacle of the colossal block of ice. Off to the east, they would find a place called Ice Grotto. Meerkat pointed it out to Njord but didn't venture closer. "I've only gone there once or twice. I always feel like an endangered species when I'm there. I hear you can find your way through the glacier itself down into the hollows next door." She shook her head. "No thank you."

But she did guide him west, toward Duskfire Plain. "Someone told me this was specifically a lake before it froze. So, I guess you could say we have our own private ice skating rink all year round. Bet you don't have one of those at Sapphique." Meerkat chortled.

"Now we'll make our way to Greyfall Caverns. They work sort of the same way as the grotto but they don't feel quite as treacherous. I don't feel like a giant ice cube is going to fall on my head at any moment when I'm down there. One of the biggest caves actually has a skylight and a waterfall. It's probably my favorite feature of this place."

When they made their way there, Meerkat decided to take another break and let Njord enjoy the sight of the sunlight pouring in through the opening and causing rainbows to dance through the misty air. The noise was something else, with the acoustics. The thunder of the waterfall pounded off the rock walls and bounced back and forth, making conversation nearly impossible. She idly wished he knew ptero.

When he was ready, the yearling led him through some more subterranean tunnels and eventually they emerged at the foot of the glacier, on the edge of Bosk Iana. "Tada!" Meerkat declared, spinning around to face Njord. "That concludes the tour of Duskfire Glacier."
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At Meerkat’s reminder, Njord envisioned his ancestors moving swiftly through the land. Up the glacier and accross the ice… streaks of red and silver fur. If only he knew how short-lived and tumultuous Njal and Tuwawi’s empire was… perhaps he wouldn’t have been so nostalgic about it at all.

They wove together into the caverns to find a thundering waterfall hidden from sight. The glacier’s runoff must have fed the lake through this source – and it was a magical place. Though cold, the wind couldn’t bite here… and the sun forced it’s way through an opening in the ceiling. The deafening sound paired with the shimmering mist made the cave feel ethereal. Njal? Tuwawi? Larus? Are you still here? Njord thought to himself.

Eventually, Meerkat shepherded him along through Duskfire’s tunnels until they ended up at their starting point. Njord was tired, but fulfilled. “Tha was quite tha walkabout,” Njord jested, “I dinna ken tha last time I saw a land so majestic.” Duskfire and Sapphique couldn’t have been anymore opposite in terrain and ecosystems, despite their close proximity. “Ya ‘ave a way of bringin’ out tha bes’ in everythin’, Meerkat,” he complimented earnestly.

“I know you’ve been ta Sapphique a ‘andful times… but it would be my honor ta show ya ‘round, if ya ever cared ta visit tha coast,” he suggested. "We ‘ave our own private beach,“ he added with a smile, to make the suggestion feel more attractive. And Kaertok's and Haunt's headstones, he thought to himself sullenly. 

"But thank ya... really. It was a treat ta see where my family came from. T'was kismet ya found me," Njord said.
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She was flattered by his compliment, her eyes sparkling and her tail swaying. Meerkat wasn't particularly surprised by the subsequent invitation to visit Sapphique. She felt a twinge of guilt when she recollected that her only visits there had as been brief as they were fraught. It was definitely time to rectify that.

"I can't say exactly when," the yearling said, "but I can promise I'll make a point to pay you a visit and spend some time there. Don't tell anybody I said this but a private beach actually sounds even better than a penthouse ice skating rink..." It made her think of the island where her friend once lived, the sense of paradise.

"You're welcome," Meerkat responded cheerily to his thanks, "but I'm pretty sure you found me, at least today." Her smile gentled a little and she hummed under her breath, feeling the meeting drawing to its inevitable conclusion and wanting to be sure to say, "Thank you for letting me know about my sister."
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Njord chuckled at Meerkat’s thoughts about the benefits of having a personal beach. He, too, could feel their visit waning and so he took a step back with a small nod of his head.

“O’course,” he replied when Meerkat mentioned Haunt. “I dinna ken if yer tha spiritual type, but Haunt’s grave rests on Sapphique’s cliffs. Kaertok’s too… if ya ever felt like payn’ yer respects. They ‘av tha best seat in tha house… over lookin’ the sea. ‘Specially when tha sun sets.”

A weak smile flashed across his face, but he kindled into something warmer. “Take care. I’ll be seen’ ya,” he called. With a wave of his red tail, the man returned home to Sapphique and would dream of Duskfire, the Sveijarns, and his golden navigator.
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