Lost Creek Hollow Lynx
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@Ash Paw 

Daylight hours in November were becoming shorter with every week. On days, when the blanket of steel grey clouds so thick that not a single ray of sunlight could break through, Esma felt as if someone had stolen the sun altogether. She tried to remember, which bear-god should she address to change the situation, only to humble herself with the idea that the two great spirits had way more important business to deal with than to answer a young girl's questions or do any favours to her. Same as adults, towards whom she had great respect and never argued or questioned their decisions and requests. 

Still she wondered, if just like there were small people like her in the world, there were also small gods too? Not as all powerful as the big ones, who kept the weight of this world on their shoulders, but who still had access to the wealth of knowledge she did not? This thought excited and consumed her and she decided to try and contact them. Gods liked gifts, right? So, what could a teenager, who did not own anything and was not particularly talented in anything (yet), offer? 

Food. That would be first. Luck would have it that Esma had a leftover bone from a feast few days ago. She liked it very much and was not particularly willing to part from it, but she knew that the knowledge she was seeking did not come for free. You had to sacrifice something. The second was more difficult to come up with, though she thought very hard, while digging a hole right next to the roots of a tall fir tree. There she placed her bone and added some conifer cones, because they looked peculiar and gods had to like peculiar stuff.

The third thing that came to her mind was plants. Mother had a stash of dried plants and some of them smelled really nice. So off she went, hoping that Ash Paw would be there so that Esma could ask for permission. She was not and being the obedient child she was, despite her wish to go and rummage through the stash, Esma sat down and waited patiently. 
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Ash Paw did not like thr omen that no sun brought. And it was with careful precision she herself was seeking out appeasement to the gods. Freah kill sat near the den mouth waiting to be separates, cleaned and moved.

It was with a small dose of delight and curiosity that her daughter caught her attention. A small smile for her child. 

Hello Esma!
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Esma jumped, when she heard her mother address her, because she had not seen her in the beginning. Briefly she wondered, how that had happened, but then it was not a new thing. Ever so often the world inside her creative mind took over the one she was existing physically. And when it was not easy to discern, which was which, it was just as easy to miss people. 

"Hi!" she squeaked and fell silent, suddenly feeling that her reasons for coming to find her mom were selfish. Surely Ash Paw had better use to her plants than to spend them on a silly game that her daughter had come up with. Grown up people did not believe in magic and it would be very shameful, if her mom found out that Esma, who was almost an adult, was still engaging in games that served no purpose.

It was not that Ash Paw had ever done anything to instill these ideas about, how the world worked in Esma's mind. Nor had she contributed to her lack of self-confidence. The seed had already been there, a bit of help from other puppies and Esma's own talent of catering to it and helping it grow - and here she was, wrapped in doubt and embarrassment.

"What are you doing?" she asked, looking down at the meat and then back at her mom. 
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Her daughter jumped, she was surprised, but said nothing. Esma was a different child. She was not a hard child or difficult. She went about her day and did as she was asked and took her time in the den. She was compliant and sweet natured. 

Ash Paw lovingly moved some of the herbs around. I am searching for some herbs to give in appeasement to the gods Atka and Sos. With some meat as well.

She nodded her head towards the meat by the door. I must separate it and I will put the fur aside for any future children or if one of you should want something warm. The rest will go to my altars. This is the time of Sos, but balance must be attained.

She smiled at her daughter then. What are you doing with your day?
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The moment Ash Paw revealed that she was in the process of making her own sacrifice to the gods, Esma's enthusiasm for her project disappeared. It had been so silly in the end. What did she know of, what gods actually liked? Compared to mom, who had had a lifetime of practice and who - Esma believed - had spoken to them personally. She hoped that no one would find the things she had collected and decided to scatter them the moment she was excused and allowed to leave. 

The mention of meat made her cast a questioning glance down at the fresh prey, who she would have rather ate herself. Surely gods had their godly food, so, why let it waste? Again - she scolded herself for such heretic thoughts. Her hunger before the matters of universe meant nothing at all. She would find lunch elsewhere and gladly not share it with anyone. She wanted to ask, what the time of Sos actually meant and why, but she felt as if she was supposed to know it already. Perhaps or rather - of course - mom had told them this at some point and she simply had missed it. Being busy, imagining things and keeping the stolen souls of items in check. 

"Not much," she shrugged, wishing that she could have come up with a more impressive answer. But she was not capable of lying convincingly either, therefore this ambiguous answer was neither a lie, nor a truth. "Do you need help?" she asked, before her mom managed to make further inquiries about her day. 
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Axfleeting look passed by her dsughters face. One Ash wasn't sure of. She tilted an ear for a moment and thought about it.

Ash moved some herbs and spoke softly. What do you think gods would like?

She continued with a smile. I can always use help.
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What do you think gods would like? Esma's expression changed to the one of horror, because she had not prepared herself for this particular question. She had watched her mom doing the rites on many occasions, but she had never truly bothered to learn them herself. Because she could never be as good as Ash Paw was and she still naively believed that moms were people that would be around forever. Death did not exist in her world as a concept yet. To her the mention of the dead or ghosts was the same as unicorns and dwarves to other people. Supernatural creatures not tied to the living at all. Now, however, with this question at the forefront she felt as if she was in an exam, where only the correct answers counted. 

"I... food?" she said and studied her mom's face in a questioning manner. This had to be correct on some level. Food was the most valuable resource in Esma's world. It kept you happy and alive. So - it had to matter to the gods too. Because you gave them, what you valued the most and what you could not live without, right? The idea of an offering was that you had to feel its loss and therefore increase its value in the eyes of the gods. "What do you want me to do?" she quickly asked, hoping that this would prevent Ash Paw from asking any more academic questions and thus learn, how ignorant her own daughter was. 
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Horror colored her daughters face and Ash realized she had caused a small panic. But she saw nothing wrong with the question everyon3 approach3d gods differently.

Ash chuckled. Food sure, pelts, parts, herbs, anything you consider valuable can be used within reason. For instance i love herbs so i often give them.

Ash smiled. You can help me with the herbs or you can begin skinning the meat there. Whichever you prefer.
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Esma would have preferred to eat the meat instead of skinning it with the knowledge that it would go to an invisible godly entity. It would be the same as having to unwrap tasty candy and be allowed to only sniff the wrapping papers. She was not confident in her ability to abstain from stealing a bite and thus cause wrath of gods and disappointment of mom. Therefore after sending one last glance full of hunger and longing towards the meal not meant for her she decided to volunteer for plants. 

"Herbs?" she half-stated/half-asked and took a step forward, ready to do anything Ash Paw needed as long as she would ask no other questions about gods and rituals.
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Ash Paw didn't miss the longing hunger filled look and she remembered well how hard it was to abstain from stealing bites when she had been little. But that was alright. Her daughter had done well and moved from temptation, not many could do that. 

I put away some pieces for us to enjoy after are work is done. She said quietly and gently as if sharing a secret, not accusing.

Ash Paw moved her pile near her daughter, within it's innards there was mint, oregeno, and very rare Yarrow. Though she would love to give Yarrow to the gods, frankly they needed it for the wounds of some of their wolves. 

The Yarrow this one. She pointed it out. It needs separated, unfortunately we need it more than the gods right now. So we will be giving them Mint and Oregano. They need separated into two different piles of each, so four total of those two. one of each for us, and one of each for the offering.
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Well, to be honest - on empty days in late autumn Esma had shelved her obedience before gods and had - in fact - stolen some older goods from previous offerings. Her reasoning being that she would be of more use to gods as a living follower than a dead one. Mom needn't know this.

While mom explained, what each plant was for, Esma leaned down to sniff them. She scrunched her nose, not liking the smell of either one. Then looked up at Ash Paw as if asking, if this really something gods would enjoy. If they were in any way like the regular wolves, they would prefer meat. And that part that made them special - meant that they could not get colds, right?
"Alright," she nodded, sat down and began to work.
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Ash may have b3en scandalized to know her daughter took bsck an offering. Though, she also knew it came with age. And she couldn't force her daughter to believe or show reverance to her gods or any god. Only show what she believed and hope.

Ash toiled beside her daughter. I know it seems strange to give them somwtjing i love. But that is the point to share what I care for. It is more personal because it is somwthing I would prefer to keep. Ao in the offering i give piecea of myswlf by showing the importance. Selflessness. In a sesne.

She brushed a muzzle along her daughters diwny head if she would allow and then went bsck to her own work.
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Selflessness. Meaning that you gave up something you valued. In order to make it a worthy offering to the gods. Esma understood the concept and still felt turn. Between, what the right thing that was expected from her, and the thing she felt was right for her. She thought about her imaginary collection of items, the souls she had reaped, and wondered, if the same rule applied to them. Could gods look inside your head and ask for particular thoughts? Was a thought a worthy sacrifice?

"Is a thought a piece of yourself?" she asked in a moment of boldness, which was not very characteristic of her. Yet, it turned out that, when it came to ideas that she held dear and that mattered, she could speak up and forget her own insignificance in the world for a while.
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Ash Star wasn't a selfless wolf usually. Truth be told she could be bone deep selfish. She was haughty and proud and sometimes cruel.  But tried her hardest to rectify, have an even balance when she was the less desirable things. Even if the good ones didn't come naturally.

Ash nodded. It can be. Especially the thoughts you dare not say aloud, because you're uncomfortable or fearful of retribution. Or your own personal truths and secrets.
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Esma had hoped to hear a different answer. Something along the lines - oh, no, not at all! Gods don't care, what you think! While in many ways her ideas of being small and of no importance in the big scheme of things may have appeared as a serious lack of confidence, she had also found comfort in that. It gave you a certain freedom to carve a little nook in the fabric of the world and live there comfortably. Unnoticed and unbothered. Now, she had to wonder, whether gods could look inside her mind and take away any of the souls of her toys and items she had liked stored there. Do it so that she would have no memory of it, but feel loss. As much as the girl was mostly indifferent to physical items that were to be sacrificed, she found that sacrificing her thoughts would be too much. Impossible even.

Therefore she had to clarify: "Are thoughts something gods would want as an offering? Or they are mine to keep and think?"
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Ash heard the question and she blinked in surprise. Though she could understand not wanting others, even gods to hear her thoughts. She was mmm not nice in her mind to a lot of wolves.

No my darling. Your thoughts are your own always implicitly. I hope uf nothing else in this world, i teach you that. No one, not even gods have control of your heart or your thoughts. Nor do they have a right to them. Those things must be earned or given freely.

Ash settled to her haunches and furrowed her brow.

Many do not believe like i do and it is important to know this and know that i wouldn't hold anyone conteptiously were they to not follow Atka or Sos as I do. And it is also important to know there are different religions, different gods. Do i believe mine are the right ones yes, but i know of others. I know everyone has a right to follw what they will. It is why we have free will.
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Other gods? Esma tilted her head to the side, feeling puzzled. How so? How did they split the world between them? If they did, did they ever fight with each other? Was there a hierarchy or were they all equal in their own rights? A paragraph of words had open floodgates of questions and opportunities. Esma felt both elated and amazed by the prospects. 

"Are they the same gods - that other people believe in - but with different faces?" she asked. Maybe there were only a couple of great spirits up there. They could change their form freely and take one that inspired respect and admiration. "Do others besides our kin also have their Atka and Sos?" she asked. "Or they are ours alone to believe in?"
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A small gentle laugh. She had not realized her daughter would be so curious. Perhaps despite her shyness she had a little more of her mother in her than Ash had realized.

She furrowed her brow. That is not an easy answer. And it comes down to others belief systems. I believe in Atka and Sos. To me they are the only gods, but I have met others who have believed in gods with different names. I even know some of their names and such. Because I am spirtualist. To me that means i guide whomever in their spirtual ways no matter the gods they believe in.

She briefly thought of Toula. Her daughter may benefit from learning from the temples there, but silver hated it and she didn't wish to cause her distress. Maybe she should speak with @Silvertongue and give @Wren a chance to earn her good graces by protecting her daughter to the kingdom. It was worth a thought.

tags for reference for small idea.
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"But, how can you guide a person on their spiritual way, if you know their god by name only?" Esma asked, so invested in the topic that she forgot that she was supposed to be shy, quiet and listen more than ask questions. 

"Or - are they the same gods just they call them differently?" she added. Esma had always thought that "Sos" was not a good respect-inspiring name for such a big and important job. It was like... something a baby could come up with. 

She did not have the comparison, but her narrator does. Having a leader of the most influencial pack in the world by the name of Happy Longbottom. By and itself there was nothing wrong with the name, but... not entirely right either. Though, if it had the ability to destroy the world... well... this made Esma think. Maybe the name did not matter so much as the power it had. You could call him "that old fart" (Esma lost in her thoughts chuckled at this), but it would be "That Old Fart" to you, remember to bow, to sacrifice and die for me, or else!
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Ash  made a soft hmm. Her paws stilling as she thought how to best answer.

But I don't know their gods by name only. I have learned how they pay tribute to their gods. And all gods accept prayers.

Ash didn't mind the questions. She actually enjoyed it. And she got a glimpse into the beautiful young lady her daughter was turning into. A small sense of pride warmed her chest.

Some gods are the same. But most are different in both how they receive tributes and sometimes how they pray.

Ash would have been a little horrified at her daughters thoughts. And probably would have prepared an extra sacrifice just in case Sos was listening.
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"And which gods do our gods sacrifice and pray to?" Esma asked next, because, if Atka and Sos were reflections (that's, what she had learned) of, what theis subordinates were, then they had to believe in something too. Come to think of it... who had made the great bears in the first place?

"How did Atka and Sos come to be?" she followed up with another question after listening carefully on, what Ash Star had to say.
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A small smile. They don't. In our religion they are the gods. They have always been and will always be.

Ash frowned. There are minor gods and spirit guides, but Atka and Sos are two halves to the whole.

A soft smile. Some would argue they don't exist or that they were from something more. And that is their right, but it is not what I believe.
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Always have been and always will be. Forever and always.

Beautiful words, but Esma's furrowed brow told that she was not quite content with the answer. This statement belonged to the long "Cause I said so" list. Something you used, when you did not know the answer and wanted to put the discussion to a halt. Could it be that even her mom did not know everything? Or was it not allowed to ask some things? She wanted to ask, but decided against it. She knew her place. A nobody. For now. But there would come a day, when she would be knowledgable and important enough to challenge Ash Paw with this question. 

She also wanted to ask, whether mom was confident that, what she believed was the right truth. Now it sounded as if Atka and Sos were dependant on, who believed them. If people believed something different, then the duo did not exist to them. "How can something exist and not exist at the same time?" she mused, puzzled by this. "If... other people do not know Atka and Sos, therefore they are not real to them. But they believe something else that is not real to us... What is the truth in the end?" she asked. 
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Ash had no qualms about admitting she didn't know wverything. It wasn't a fun truth, but it was a truth none the less. She certainly liked to think she knew more than most. And the ego on her sometimes made her seem as if she thought she knew all.

by faith.

Ash Paw smiled and gave a truth that was hard to bear. 

We don't. No matter what you believe in or how hard. No one really knows of the otherside. We know brief catchings. Of those who walked with spirits and came out alive, but wven their truths are murky and omniscent. After all the gods encompass all. And how could you truly fathom all of everything unless you were everything?
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"I can't," Esma admitted quietly. She memorized her mom's explanation, but just as it had before - it did not quite cut it. They had spoken earlier that thoughts of people were theirs alone. Gods could neither hear or take them. Which meant that even gods did not know everything? Which led to an idea of, what then truly made them better than them? Which would lead to a situation, when one day in distant future Esma would have a crisis in faith. Not today. Today she believed that her puzzlement about these deep philosophical topics was because of her own ignorance. Mom had been longer in this world than her and therefore could talk with confidence. 

"What is faith then?" Esma asked her final question, before she returned to her task to help her mom. 

Last one from me.
Ask before skipping. Esma was born 3/5/23