Redtail Rise Tombstone
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All Welcome 
The Caru went looking for @Ancelin today. Since pinpointing their craving for an actual adult conversation, their yearning for such had intensified greatly. They wouldn’t mind speaking to his mate, either, but Masque favored her own cousin as far as companionship went.

They plodded along the border where the rise met the neighboring grotto, sniffing along for fresh scent trails. Their long tail flicked as they weaved along, nose combing along the ground. Occasionally, Masque lifted their red muzzle into the air to sample the breeze.
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the mateship of ancelin to lilia had subdued him in many positibe and noticeable ways. when masque was spotted ahead, the young hunter's face broke into a craggy grin. "hey cuzzo," he teased, stalking over with waving tail to exchange scents.
life was — well. it was different now, but ancelin had seen it didn't need to be half so bad. "what're you up to today, masque?"
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When they finally tracked him down and approached, they neutralized their posture. The tip of their long tail wagged when he favored them with a grin and a casual greeting. It caught them off guard a little while at the same time promptly boosting Masque’s mood.

Hey, they rejoined with a dry laugh. I was looking for you. Redd… is gone, I think. I don’t see Relic much these days. These were facts, simple (if not easy) enough to convey, yet the next part was a little more difficult for the Caru to articulate. I feel… out of place lately, I suppose. Aside from the pups, I don’t really talk to anyone. I want to change that, starting with you, Masque said, taking a breath before finishing with, if you can spare the time.
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"of course, masque," ancelin said, surprised and pleased to be sought out. he worried his lip with a tooth or two and fell into step with them, a little sigh breaking from his throat.
"it's weird to have so many gone," he found himself saying, glancing sideways at his cousin. "first atreus and d — aventus. then m — arielle." the entire natal family, disappeared. "then aunt avi, and prophet, and redd, and now relic." kinda.
something like pain tightened his eyes. "i wanted to leave, actually."
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Ancelin seemed more than receptive to fostering their bond a bit more. Masquerade’s long tail switched and they ducked their head gratefully, falling into step beside him when the Bjern began to move. They didn’t know where they were going or what they were doing, though the Caru also didn’t care.

Their breath caught in their throat when Ancelin casually mentioned his brother’s name. Masque never thought about that, though it couldn’t be helped in the moment. They remembered all the gore—Atreus’s innards—smearing the riverbank and the way his body had sunk out of sight. They swallowed thickly, glancing away.

There was no way anyone could ever find out what they’d done, though Masquerade suddenly wondered whether it was horribly disingenuous to befriend Ancelin, knowing they’d slain his brother. They really should’ve thought about this before, though the Caru had quite effectively suppressed the memories of that day.

Realizing they hadn’t spoken in turn, Masquerade swallowed a second time, cleared their throat, rewound his words in their head and decided on naked honesty going forward: Really? I’ve thought about leaving too.
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ancelin grunted at that, surprised but — maybe not. "everything changed when your mom disappeared," he said soberly. "i — you know, i never got over losing to relic. it was because everyone left. i just — i felt like i'd never get a chance to prove myself."
it felt good to be open, be direct. "well, where would you go, masque? if you did leave." let them dream. he wanted to hear it.
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Their ears pulled back at Ancelin’s astute observation. Masquerade could only nod their head in complete agreement, even if he embellished his reasoning from there. The Caru didn’t understand the point about Relic, if only because they’d never dabbled in such matters. It was one of the reasons they often felt out of place here: fighting loved ones for station did not make sense to them, even though it was often the way of the wolf.

Why do we have to prove ourselves? Who do we have to prove ourselves to? Masque pondered aloud, head cocking. That’s the thing: I don’t want to go anywhere. I just don’t know if I fit in here. I feel like… They felt that familiar frustration mounting when a word suddenly popped into their head. It’s like I’m too cerebral for this place. I like to use my mind and my words to communicate, not my teeth and tail so much.

They knew they were indirectly insulting other members of the rise, though Masque did not intend any disrespect. It was just a mismatch between their predispositions and others who called the rise home. Avicus had fallen somewhere in between, the Caru felt, striking the balance that had gone missing right along with her.
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cerebral in a silent pack. ancelin said nothing to dispute this, though he didn't truly understand. it was the way of things. but some part of him sensed masque wanted more, and with everything that had happened, he couldn't blame her.
"do you, uhhh, do you want to like, go? find others who talk. not even to leave," he rushed, stumbling, "just to have more words in your life."
a pause, an inhale; "and we have to prove we're ready, i guess. ready to hunt and fight and lead. augur won't be around forever. so we have to be ready now," he said with conviction.
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No, they said, that’s the thing. I don’t want to leave. I don’t… Masque sighed. I don’t know what I want. I’m still trying to make sense of everything, after…

They shrugged, knowing Ancelin understood. “Everything changed when your mom disappeared.” Augur wouldn’t be around forever either, he reminded Masque. They nodded mutely. They’d always envisioned their own litter mates in positions of power, in their mother’s stead. That hadn’t panned out, of course.

Maybe it’s up to us to bring in a new era at some point, they mused lowly. It’s not that I want to usurp Augur. Hardly. But you’re right, we’re the next generation. Not just us, Masque clarified, gesturing between them, and Lilia. But the younger ones too. Some of them have a lot of promise, Masque posited, thinking of Mulherin.

They lapsed into silence for a few moments before catching Ancelin’s eye and smiling wanly, observing, Perhaps it’s just a matter of time and we just have to hang in there. Be patient. And things will fall into place eventually.
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a new era spoke usurpment anyway, didn't it? ancelin chose not to comment this, wanting to preserve the intimacy between masque and himself. they weren't wrong, after all. "i have no doubt that you're gonna be up there, and maybe one of them too," he stated.
bringing in a new era.
his mouth twitched. masquerade was a redtail through and through, while he and lilia weren't. maybe —
"patience has an end date," he grunted, kicking a bit at the ground. "are you gonna have kids?" was his cousin even allowed? of course there'd be permission; of course lilia would give it.
he hoped.
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Masque looked at him when he mentioned they would be up there someday. Ancelin said it with such casual confidence, like it was some sort of foregone conclusion. In their mind, it was anything but…

His next question completely sidetracked them. They wondered if he expected their answer to be a quick affirmation. They were the Caru, after all, a seasoned midwife and sitter at this point.

No, they said, not sharply per se but with finality. Are you and Lilia? they asked, guessing that he would confirm but trying not to make any assumptions about this conversation.
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ancelin was thinking of he and lilia; he was thinking of them, not only together, but running from redtail — he had half a mind to say 'yeah, but i don't want to have them here.'
that might open a can of worms. and so ancelin jammed that lid down tighter. "we'll see," he said wryly. "lot can happen between now and then."
something between he and masque now, a secret unsaid. "you know augur and his wife will if we don't," ancelin teased with a smirk.
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Some would call his reply noncommittal, though Masquerade just saw it as pragmatic and reasonable. They acknowledged it with a bob of their head, lips parting to say something in response when he made a comment about Augur and New Snow. There was something conspiratorial about it, though the Caru couldn’t discern any hidden meaning.

I’m sure they will. I think the rise could support two litters, if you and Lilia decided to have one. I’ll be happy to tend to mothers and pups, Masque reminded, fairly certain they would still be here when the time came, despite agreeing that, “A lot can happen between now and then.”

If Redd was really gone, would Relic eventually disappear too? And was it possible Masquerade themself would follow in their mysterious footsteps? Despite all their misgivings lately, they’d meant what they said: Masque didn’t want to leave the rise. They just weren’t sure they would have a choice in the matter at some point.

Pushing that thought aside, the Caru squinted thoughtfully before saying, You’re the first to ask me that in a very long time, by the way. But then, this entire conversation started because it feels like I never have anybody to talk with… They laughed dryly, then sighed. I’m glad we’re having this conversation, Ancelin. It’s nice having someone to talk to.
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we can keep going or fade! <3

a wry smile touched his eyes, followed by a shy glance. "it's nice to talk to you too, masque," he said, a fair mumble in comparison to how his voice had been before. "and i want my kids to know you too, earlier than i did. sorry we never before, you know. i was just — mad. uh, fucked up, really. till lilia."
soft velveteen notes of love in his voice. he wanted that feeling to be something masque experienced, something for redd, for atreus, damn, even relic. it had filled so many emptiness, the devotion he cultivated for her.
"so let's keep it up." ancelin bunched his shoulders. "bet you can't beat me to larksong," he challenged, dancing away on the balls of his feet; in the next moment, he would shoot off in a run.
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Masquerade wasn’t sure what to say to Ancelin’s remarks, in part because they were again reminded of Atreus. By the time they formulated a response in their head, he’d quite literally moved on by springing toward the familiar grotto.

Bet you’re right, they muttered entirely playfully, snorting as they loped after him.

I went for the fade but I’m with Ancelin: “let’s keep it up” and have another one soon. :D
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