Firestone Hot Springs It's always bears!!
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@Val

In the end Dwin decided that she needed to get out Brecheliant. The days had begun to look very much like one another and the routine was making her feel as if all the best times in her life had already gone. With Jay as the only other young wolf at home to talk to (and even with him you could not be 100% honest or discuss everything that weighed you down) and the rest of the adults busy in raising the new generation, Dwin felt lonely. During childhood adult life had been draped in a golden glow of promises of greatness, adventures and not a single boring day. Now - she could remember perfectly all of the few truly interesting days, but the rest were a blur.

She warned her parents that she would be gone for a few days. On the doorstep, she promised her Enchanted forest that she would not be gone long. That she was not abandoning it as so many others already had. Yet... the further she went, the happier and lighter her sould felt. Everything looked so much different than, when she had traveled here for the first time in winter. The persistent heat had and lack of rain had kept the grass in the plains from growing, making it easy for the young wolf to move fast. She stopped for a drink at a nearby lake. Followed random tracks left by animals of prey as well as predators. Life felt full and colourful again, now that she was out on the road. Being on the move felt as natural to her as breathing.

When the sun began to set, Dwin sought refuge in a place that had amazed many of her Blackthorn and Redleaf ancestors. The Fire hot springs. One and only such place in the whole area. She lied down to rest near one of the pools, enjoying the warmth and watching the first stars appear in the dark blue sky. All was well.
Sapphique
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there was something about the road that slipped forth unbidden joy. it was the promise of a spark in a lightning storm, the dashing arc of a shooting star, the untapped spoils of a blue vista — for thousands of years the road had bid his ancestors, and for a thousand years more the road had laid down the patchwork in the tapestry of a million lives.

val missed the road from time to time. the way he felt unburdened, beholden to nothing and no one save his own time. but he was attached to his life at sapphique too; the two were different draughts of sweet nectar, and he supped from them both.

a navy sky spilled overhead as val stopped by the Firestone hot springs. he’d found scent of a bear near the tangle, and told @Mireille of his plans to at least escort it well beyond their claim. it was adolescent, which posed little risk to him, but val wished to impress upon the brute no future excursions would be tolerated.

the trail went cold some hours before, and it was too late to turn back for sapphique. val set for the springs - he could rest here and resume his journey in the morning.

only, when he came upon the stone rest he was not alone. a figure and a scent warned him his solitude was broken — it took him longer than he’d anticipated to recognize who it was.

dwin?
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Sorry for the wait! Life outside the Wilds is consuming and very interesting! :D

At some point Dwin must have dozed off, because she missed Val's approach entirely and therefore awoke in quite a shock and panic. She stared at him for a good minute or two, while her brain tried to assess all its options as quickly as possible. And, when the face before her hit "I know you!" frame, she exhaled and relaxed visibly. 

But the problem persisted - she knew the guy, she remembered having met him, but it had happened such a very long time ago (for wolves with their life expectancy months must feel like eternity), that his name was avoiding her like stealthy ghost. You see it in the distance, try to reach him, but it just cackles and scoots off. 

"You are in luck today," she responded. "In case you no longer want to run by your old name, you may introduce yourself again."
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val startled when dwin jumped awake. in the dark he’d not seen she’d been sleeping — guilt briefly lit his features.

it relieved him to see her well and alive. truthfully val had wondered after her survival in the months that ensued; once or twice he’d hoped to find her at the sound, but as always the strand was cold and he alone.

she’d forgotten his name. had he even given it? his memory of their conversation blurred with time but pieces still stuck to memory and brought a smile to his face. hadn’t he likened her to a dead seal?

that is perhaps the most creative way i’ve heard someone frame that they’d forgotten a name. he took in a deep breath, recalling one tidbit about their conversation. he’d shared a name with her grandfather. valravn elwood dahomey-rivani-eyjolfur. but you can call me val. you don’t look like a dead seal anymore. what magical things have you seen since we last talked?
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"So you are V.E.D.R.E. for short?" Dwin asked innocently, while wondering simultaneously, why the hell did parents give their kids so many names. After all the longer they got, the more likely it was that they would get chipped at the end. Like tapeworms. "Alright... such a good fellow like you deserves something better. Could it be that... oh! Val the Valiant. I cannot promise you I won't forget it the next time we meet," she smiled at him.

"You have a way with ladies - as gallant as ever," she said sarcastically. "Well, I think that the oldest and the best magic in the world helped me. Food and rest," she explained. "I guess that true-love's kiss might be overrated, but then again - I will never find out now, will I? You did not suggest that option, when we met last," now she was grinning devillishly at him. 
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vedre did not have the same punch as val’s longwinded name, but he supposed there were worse names out there.

val the valiant - a brave and iconic name for a man reduced to tears by a single drop of sea-spray. val’s face twisted ruefully.

i do seem to have a way with things. he flicked an ear as he drew to a comfortable sit a respectable distance from the pool. i’m glad to hear a little food and rest was all you needed. it bemused val at times just how much the body was reliant on this duo; biologically speaking, it seemed like poor planning.

as far as kisses went, val started. their last encounter, he had very much viewed her as a child — he understood dwin enough to know she might resent this inference, but when one is four times older than the thing they speak to, the age chasm can appear quite wide. val shuffled in stifled discomfort.

dwin was older now — by all accounts, an adult in the eyes of many. from val’s fatherly perspective, he wondered if chantale (or heaven forbid, miette) would ever be in dwin’s position — encountering an unknown male alone. he hoped for all of sapphique’s daughters that the road and its travelers would be kind to them. i seem to remember last time, you did not seem keen on an old man’s presence. as you should be - not everyone wants to be kind to loners. now that you have some miles under those gnome feet, what has changed? what fantastic things have you seen?
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"In that case your family must be given an award for patience," Dwin pointed out, wondering, if all Val's family members were witty like this. She had limited experience with people outside her immediate circle of acquaintances, but she suspected that manner of talking and discussing, as well as sense of humor was something you inherited. 

"Me thinks that you have not met a truly old man," she said, finding it funny that Val all of a sudden pictured himself to be this all-wise grandpa, when in reality he could not be much older than her. Of course, she did not realize that months ago, when they had met for the first time, the age gap between them had felt wa-a-a-ay bigger than it was now.

Now - with all her self-proclaimed disintrest in the opposite sex and having no intention to ever thread the traditional path of marriage-children-kitchen - he almost seemed eligible. Give it another year and - lo and behold - her thought would change again. "These gnome feet have been resting and keeping up with the new kids," she said. "And what about your creaky joints and stiff hips, old man? Dare I suggest that you must watch that weight of yours, because obesity is no friend to failing legs," she said.
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oh, they have many awards. mostly seashells and pine cones - occasionally a pearl if theyre extra patient. the good cheer on val’s face became momentarily eclipsed by sadness as he thought of the most patient of all: his maman.

the conversation turned, blessedly — but upon finding his person under teasing attack, val puffed and huffed. come to think of it, had he ever even met an old man? he’d met many old women — perhaps the wilderness favored them over their less graceful counterpart.

i will have you know i am almost one myself. as far as you calling me fat, maybe living with a pack has its benefits. i can visit the larders whenever it suits me. what is this about new kids? val wondered; if dwin was keeping with seemingly new arrivals, had she settled down with her family?
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"Well, they say that it is better to start them family early. Easier to run after and play with kids, when you yourself are young and childish," Dwin spun the tail, keeping her act quite convincingly serious, save for the sly glint in her eyes, fixed on Val's expression. "So - you know, how it goes, met a man, married him few days later and in a month - lo and behold a litter of rascals in a parsley bed," she told. By now the myth of parsley beds had been rebuked and she knew more of, how kids were actually conceived. 

"What about you? May I congratulate you on a new wife and bundles of horror and joy?" she asked innocently, though there was more interest in his reply than she would be ready to admit. 
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val supposed there was truth in starting young; one would still have the boundless energy that seemingly was dispensed on tap with children. on the other hand, babies raising babies seemed incredibly challenging.

he was closer now to geriatric age than he was to juvenile age; for him, the timing seemed just right. old enough he’d garnered some valuable life experience and patience; not so long in the tooth he couldn’t chase after a legion of parsley-bed puppies.

you had kids? his gaze fixed to her in half-worry. it was not so much an indictment of her capability, but an indictment of the assumed male that had sown the first seed in that parsley bed. she was a kid! he missed the glint in her gaze initially, coming to realize its presence at the end of her inquiry. what did you name them?

it occurred to val belatedly that she may be testing him. he exhaled through his nose, processing and discarding his own feelings about the matter aside. no wife, but i do have puppies. a spark of deep affection for them shone in his eyes. val may not have the highest opinion of himself, but in his eyes his children were the zenith of his life’s accomplishment. their names are tousaint, thibault, chantale, and sobeille. then there are the adopted kids — ravin and astera. as well as my nieces, chani and chiro.
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For a moment there Val bought her sham story and Dwin revelled in his shock and confusion. The joy was short-lived though, he did not joke back. Instead he went on telling about his own four-legged wards and with the each kid's name he called, his value in the marriage market sunk lower and lower. Here he had begun as a tall, dark, young and handsome stranger and 8 kids later he had turned into a balding middle-aged man with a food-belly, wearing oversized t-shirts and shorts, and socks in their sandals. She listened to him, staring incredulously all the time. You are incredibly boring... She thought to herself, ignoring the fact that she had asked him for the facts in the first place. 

"Well... the names are: I.Am.Messing.With.You. You and I are true troublemakers, Messing is an angel, Am is learning his first words and With is not much a talker, but we are sure he is plotting either world domination or its inevitable end," she explained with a shrug. "So are you a willing nanny or involuntarily involved?" she asked, this time not expecting much from him. 

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shortly after val finished his account, he registered dwin's face; and it wasn't pure joy that stole across her features. he quieted for a moment, realizing his mistake -- dwin had only been teasing. but he had not! his children were his lifeblood now, and he their ward. things were very different than that day he met her on the strand.

his expression turned from incredulity now to something diffused by amusement. for all her youthfulness, there was a cheekiness to her that val delighted in. there was the thought that she and he might not have been so different, in a different life.

ah well; in the right place, but the wrong life. so messing is an angel, just like their mother -- surely you and i don't get troublemaking from you. he tried to follow along with a wink. a very willing nanny. there is a time the road is no longer so inviting, and it is much more fulfilling to pull ones' feet up and watch others grow. his glintwater gaze turned to her, measuring her response. that time may be a while yet for you. but i am old -- and adorned in white socks, birkenstocks, and beer belly -- and the road is not kind to old people.
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Dwin suppressed the urge to argue that Val was not that old at all. That your true age was the way you felt, not the number of summers you had seen. That it was not the spirit that aged, but the body that failed. And so on and so on, until she had to ask herself, why did winning this argument and convincing him otherwise mattered to her so much? Was it just because she did not like the unintended patronizing vibe that came along with his words? When you will be my age you will understand, what I am talking about? Or that he implied she was still a stupid child worth his time only as an amusing and naive conversation partner?

She felt herself bristle inside from the indignation and the perceived unfairness and it was so, so tempting to tell Val to go to hell and that he did not know anything and a lot of other stuff that she would later regret. But she did not. Because he would most likely go and she would have lost a potential friend. Someone a bit older than her and yet not as old as her parents or Teya. Someone, who had just been a very young person and had not yet forgotten, how difficult, conflicting and oftentimes confusing it was to be such. So she bit back that anger and decided to turn the conversation a different way. Something else he had said got to her and, since he was in no way related to her or would not be likely to relay this to her family, she felt free to ask. 

"Why do you like kids?" she asked with genuine curiousity, because it was obvious that her experience was vastly different. "I mean, I do not. I do not hate my younger siblings or cousins, but were they not related to me and I was not obliged to help... I would run for the hills," she said. "What is there to like? I don't even understand, what joy my parents had in having me, because little kids are awful."
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val sensed a stirring under his friend's skin. perhaps what he had said came across a way he hadn't intended. such a disconnect reminded him that once upon a time, he'd met someone he'd perceived as impossibly old when he was her age -- what was it about elders that put the youth up in arms? he'd forgotten.

perhaps it was that time only advanced: the youth could not look through the lens of their elder's lives, anymore than the elders could look forward, to a world where they were no longer relevant. the old regarded the young with bitterness to see such energy wasted -- and the young could not conceive how the old resigned to a life restricted by parameters.

he sighed, sorry for the unrest he'd inspired. but dwin held her tongue, and val, grateful for it, navigated the thorny landscape of their new topic. he laughed -- for some children were truly awful. i suppose that some people do not like children, and that is okay. the world would be boring if all of us resigned to a life of pup-rearing and babysitting. some of us have to explore and discover great things. while the rest of us change diapers. i think it is just me. it seems like the part -- he handwaved weakly -- the parenting part, i mean -- just fits. plus, they keep you busy and.. here val's tone changed a little, surprising even himself by how much he'd shared in so few words: they keep you so worried and busy for them, that you don't have to think too much.
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"I think I do not like my siblings or cousins, because they are so much like me, when I was a kid," Dwin replied truthfully, because she was no kid-hating, selfish monster. She sincerely wanted to like them, she had even been excited in the beginning to share the world with them and teach, having a shot at being that older and wiser person. Maybe find friends. Instead it had been a constant string of one disappointment after another, mainly because kids did not give a damn of, what interested her or what she wanted to show. And Frolic in particular did not seem to even have a capacity to pay attention or even learn. She headed out fearless in the world, seeding fear in everyone else for her safety. 

She had given her younger relatives very juicy epithets in her mind and sworn at them, she felt frustrated and annoyed in her presence to the point that she no longer wished to spend any time in their company and she fled, every time she heard them coming. It had got so hard to be that better adult, who wanted to give the best to the kids, that she no longer wished to try. Being reminded daily of her failure as an older sibling, was bad enough. She kept trying for her parents' sake, she counted months until the youth would become independent enough to care for themselves, all the while feeling trapped and unhappy. 

"It is... they bring out the worst in me," she admitted and showing this kind of vulnerability took courage. "I... am not a bad person, but I just can't be me with them. It is this other Dwin that is so far from, what Me-Dwin is, that I no longer know her," she explained. "If it were not for my aging parents... I often just want to leave and not look back," she sighed. 
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val felt a stirring for dwin - he did not truly understand her situation, having never been a “big brother” himself — but he could sympathize. it was hard with siblings.

for a fleeting moment he thought of his own sister. each time he remembered regin, it hurt him to do so — and so, he thought of her less.

why can’t you be yourself with them? he asked quietly, realizing in turn that there was merit to her truth. raising children was hard work - in caring for their own needs, you often put aside yourself. he wondered if this was why he enjoyed parenthood; there was less time to examine his own life, and in turn, less time to truly reflect on the mortality of his own existence. i bet you are a great older sister — and i bet your little siblings see you through totally different eyes. they likely adore you. the neat thing about little siblings is the older sibling can do no wrong. he smiled. i would know — i was a baby brother once.
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Val did not seem to understand her and Dwin felt disappointed. It was unfair to consider or even ask him to be her therapist, especially since he did not know her at all, still she kind of looked up to him. Exactly the way he had said her younger siblings were looking up to her. As capable of not doing anything wrong. In her case - as him capable of knowing more and everything and making it right. Or simply saying that not liking kids was a perfectly normal thing that happened and she should not feel bad. That she should embrace it. 

Instead him trying to twist her quite objective assessment of her attitude towards the kids made her frown. She had learned lately that lying to kids had better results than sticking to the boring truth. But she could not make the same allowances, when it came to her own conscience. She knew she could do better and she knew that she could not for whatever reason. Him telling that she was the best sister there was regardless of the objective facts - was simply refusing to face the truth. Dwin was not good with kids. Period. 

"I do not think that you understand," she shrugged, not wishing to go in great details of all the things she could have done better, but had not. She also did not want to delve too deep in the personal matters anymore. Showing someone your vulnerable side was not pleasant. Even if the company was good. "Tell me about your home - what is it like?" she changed the subject of their conversation. 
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to val’s enormous shame, he’d misinterpreted what dwin meant. this was evident in the way she closed shut like a book — snap end closure and all.

he kicked himself inwardly, examining what she’d said before. but in truth, val lacked the imagination to imagine the bad in anyone, least of all dwin. a trench line of deep thought appeared on his forehead.

the topic changed to something less turbulent. already val felt the choppy waters reside, but where was he left when the storm passed? he’d still somehow let down his friend.

he sighed. i’m sorry, you’re right. I don’t think i understand. an olive branch for his stupidity — would she take it?

as far as the rest goes, val supposed an easier topic was less difficult to misconstrue. well, i believe last time we left it off as that being a question too personal for strangers. but now that we are friends — a measuring glance there to confirm she agreed: my home is by the ocean. i am the adopted son of rosalyn and erzulie, two women who used to lead sapphique, my birth pack. though at the time of my birth, it was called rusalka. he spared her the history lesson, instead opting for cliff notes (no pun intended). you could say i went full circle — i left my home, and then returned. but truthfully, there is nothing special about my home. it is just a place. it is the family that resides there that matters to me. now, what about you? i know small pieces, from what you’ve shared — but what about your home; is it important to you? or, is the road more important now?
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Val admitted that he really did not understand her and therefore puzzled Dwin, who had not expected him to agree with her on this. People usually continued to argue and make their point. Huh. She thought to herself briefly, memorized this and went on listening about Sappique. 

He gave disappointingly little details about it, but emphasized that people he loved and cherished were the true definition of home. Dee had expressed a similar sentiment and at the time Dwin had not completely agreed. Now - as time had passed, she no longer knew exactly, what home was anymore. 

"It was that simple, when I was a kid. And I was so glad to be back from my first stint at travelling," she shared. "But then my siblings left and new were born and everybody had each other with... I do not really have friends there," she concluded and this surprised even her. "I mean... outside family, people I could talk to - like we do now," she clarified so that Val would not start to see her as this poor friendless creature that needed to be pitied. 

"It is... I dunno. I love my dad and mom so much, I know that they won't be around forever and I love to talk with them - they are my favourite people, but... they are parents. They are not friends. You do not... cannot tell them everything, you know?" she weaved the line of thought as she went along. "And they do not have the same interests either. I have heard stories of mom being a great traveller and adventurer in her youth, but now... she is so wrapped in kids and caring for my dad - he is very old - that she is no longer interested," she explained. 

"So... in essence... I think some parts of the home are still there, but it is no longer complete. It does not make me happy or fulfilled. Or inspired," she finished. Brecheliant - the forest of stories and magic - had faded away. The place was still there, but the magic was gone. "Ever felt like that about your home?"
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val listened as dwin spoke, hoping he might learn from what she said next what she initially had truly meant; if anything, some context might clear up why he was so infinitely stupid.

to his surprise, she shared a great deal in common with how he’d felt at his own age. like her, he’d grown up with a sibling that left, and often had felt like the whole family had someone except for him. of course, this wasn’t necessarily true - his adoptive mothers loved him very much. but biologically, he was an island — and chacal was the closest thing he had to a true sister.

his expression turned to a sad smile as she spoke of her parents and how they would not be around forever. there was a sorry truth in this — he was forced to reflect on his own parents. hell, he had four — and all were dead.

things changed as you got older. the lens in which you looked through life as a child were bright and clear; but with each year collected, perspective altered the lens — things beautiful before could look grimy, things bright and colorful lost their luster.

yes, as a matter of fact — i did feel that about my home. which is why, when i think of home it is not a place, it is people. but the people in your life come and go — he shared a soft glance her way. you have to find your own little light to hold and keep, no matter the people around you. your parents may be your parents, but they were your age once. a family has a way of sinking into you like roots in a tree. you lose your sense of individuality when you have children. maybe that is what happened to your parents - maybe that is why you feel uninspired. and maybe having kids isn’t for you, and your feeling restless and unfulfilled is your soul’s way of saying you haven’t found your little light yet.
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Dwin's own little light. The metaphor was captivating and there was so much for her to think about. "I think I had it, when I was a kid. Or, when we met on the shores," she said, though she could not quite put a name to, what that light had been. Nothing material and definitely not another wolf in her life, rather... she had felt confidence. A time, when the destination did not matter so much as treading the path. Now? Walking had become colourless and the end of the road was shrouded in darkness. 

"Its gone now. I lost it somewhere," she concluded, though this did not sound quite as correct. It would imply that she could find the same light again somewhere, when she knew it was not possible. Because just like a candle it had burned and eventually fizzled out, because she had grown up, her needs had changed and with a bit of experience and maturity had come also a very realistic outlook on life. 

"But I will have something to think about," she added, getting to her feet and stretching. "I'll need to get back now," she explained. "But if you ever feel overwhelmed by kids - come and say hello to me in the caldera," she offered, though it was highly unlikely that he would take that offer beyond politely agreeing to a thing he had no intention of fulfilling. 
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val's heart sorrowed to hear such words: i lost it somewhere. in what state must her mind and heart be to believe such a thing? he saw lights dazzling all around her.

he watched her thoughtfully as she rose in the supine stretch of a cat. your light is never lost. it's like the sun - some days will be cloudy. some days, it'll be brilliant. your day will come.

now it was his time to rise. he did so reluctantly, noting the new complaints in his bones he still viewed as quite young. if i get tired of the kids, i'll just bring them to the caldera. safe travels, dwin.

for a little while he watched after she left, noticing another sensation had sunk into his bones equally as unwelcome.

a strange and unsettling kind of sadness.
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"Now you really speak like an old, wise man," Dwin replied to his encouraging words, not quite believing him. At this stage of life it was all or nothing to her. If the figurative light did not shine brightly, it meant that she had lost it. Or it was defective at least. No middle-grounds. No half-truths. Same with a lot of things and promises she would make in the course of her second year. Never ever having kids. Never falling in love. Until life would twist and turn and throw something or someone in her way to change her mind. That was the beauty of growing up and maturing and finding your balance in life. Inner-Dwinness - a term she had for a state it would take a lifetime to master. 

"Yeah, right," she shook her head in disbelief, though for a moment there was a hint of horror at his suggestion. "Just you. No kids," she emphasized. "I have two elderly parents at home," she went on. "I would not want to have their premature demise by being buried under a pile of screaming, boisterous kids," she added. And with that she bid him her farewells and took off home.