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Skógafoss
#1
The house locked up, Tristan doused the lights. It still felt odd to not call for Siggi to come to bed. Just as it felt odd to crawl under blankets without her for company. Mourning was an odd conflict within, though. Sadness stretched out like shadows, but not despair. Her life was full. A happy dog. Playful to the end. Ornery to the end. But it was still too soon to think about finding a new pup. Too soon...

He dreamed of birds squawking on cliffs. Walking on summer-green grass. Of burning kettles overflowing in the kitchen. Random and odd things that made no sense when put together. Eventually, sleep deepened with the midnight. And the dream changed.

Running. Always running. A river streamed alongside. Disappearing over the edge of nothingness. A great cliff. The edge that rushed nearer and nearer. He lept with full speed, body bulging with blood and exertion, but it was the ground below that moved up to his feet.

He came to rest at the bottom of a waterfall. It’s gray misty wetness curled droplets in his beard and tickled his nose like he had a cold. He swiped at his face with a sleeve, pulled a hood up from damp shoulders. Water roared his ears. Stop running and you will be found.

So he stopped, turned in a circle, and blinked at what was waiting.

Tristan couldn’t believe his eyes. “Siggi?” Black and white fur and a thick, heavy tail. Its body was the size of a bear. Ears folded forward, only to flicker in irritation for Tristan’s question.

It lifted from the water side. Gulping down the water with great laps of its tongue. The water dripped down the thickness of its throat, but animal was unconcerned.

It looked at him and shook its head no, then went back to its drink.
A thought came to him, one of a smaller animal jumping and rolling at his feet. Another stepped near, great massive paws the size of the firsts’ head. I am no dog. A thought followed, but it wasn’t a defensive retort.

Tristan licked his lips. His heart pound in his chest, muscles tense as hewn logs. The animal licked its own lips contentedly and sat back on its haunches to look at him. Somehow, Tristan got the sense that the animal thought he was an idiot.

“You’re a wolf.” He spoke. The animal yawned, and Tristan blinked. The reaction was not what he expected.
“But there are no wolves in Iceland.” He said like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

The animal snorted and started to walk away.
"Don’t waste your time looking back, you’re not going that way."
Rognar Lothbrok
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#2
[Image: Maggie.jpg]

He had slept many long summers while the world drowsed; when wolves were just wolves, and those who entered the dream did so without knowledge or intention. But ancient things stirred once more, among them new brothers and sisters woken blind and mewling into an existence that did not care for them. Two-legs did not always heed the importance of pack. And they certainly did not remember beyond their short frantic lives. The turn of ages was an unknown concept. They had forgotten much.

Thankfully wolves did not forget, not naturally anyway, and Thorn Paw's was among the oldest of souls in the dream. He shook the sleep from his old bones when those first vulnerable chirps pierced his consciousness, and observed as others nurtured these new weak things and the dream grew thicker with howls, not lonely, but united. The old wolf stretched languorously to the knowledge, tail high, toes spread, jaws widened in yawn, only to pad back round in his den, content to let younger hearts guide.

At least until his rest was disturbed by the endless pounding of man paws; a single, lonely set that thudded ceaseless every time they entered the dream.

This time when Thorn Paw roused, it was not to his sun-basked twilight home of warm rocks and dappled clearings, but a tundra of ice and wide lonely vistas. Cold scent flooded his senses, his thoughts reaching out in vain to any brethren, ears perked to the silence punctuated only by those pounding footsteps.

He watched the pup for a long while; the desperation of the run, night after night, year after year. Creaking bones might have rushed a parallel path and forced notice -- certainly he had always been there watching, but he waited for others to rally as they usually did. As time flushed forward, the young one would be found in the waking world and sheltered protectively in this one. His pack would grow around him, robbing him of his man-sight or flourishing the delicate balance between both two-leg and wolf.

Either way he would be claimed.

He should be claimed.

But no pack came.

And so Thorn Paw continued to follow, until the day the two-leg remembered to use at least one of his senses (the wrong one, but still) and finally realised he was no longer alone. The surprise scented strong, though ignored while Thorn Paw sated his thirst. He had forgotten how obtuse the two-legs could be when they knew not what they were. A dog, indeed. A grave insult had it been made knowingly, but Thorn Paw only provided a rather pointed correction.

He mirrored the pup's unease, flashing tongue to soothe. A yawn cracked his jaw to ease the tension, though the pup seemed too dense to understand. He seemed rather fixated on what Thorn Paw was rather than why he was here. Impossibility meant little to wolves. He was asking the wrong questions. Irritation snorted through the wolf's nose as he stood, slow so as not to startle. 

A sending urged the pup to follow. Large prints followed by smaller in the snow. Sometimes the new ones struggled with even the most basic instructions, so wedded to the communication of their flapping mouths they failed to see the swift simplicity of wolf-speak. Still, he did not refrain from articulating more, though made great effort to send the images slow and clear. A young cub shivering in the ice, head low, tail drooped. The eye stretched endless ice in all directions; no swift running shadows, no mother's warmth or the soft bodies of siblings. Not even the faint comfort of a howl. A pup utterly lost. Where is your pack?
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#3
A sad pup’s howl, cold and alone, filled his ears like the sound echoed inside his own mind. It was going to freeze to death. No large predators wandered the Icelandic wilds: bears and wolves absent. But others roamed closer to the ground. Fox and mink had jaws full of needles. The graceful arctic tern, while elegantly floating on sea breezes, turned ferocious upon any that disturbed their nesting grounds. Short of a polar bear floating to shore on the ice, predators were scarce. But the pup in his mind was not safe. No gun could scare away the weather. There was no hiding from the elements. The pup would die. Tristan shivered despite himself.

Reason and rationality warned him against following, but instinct said otherwise. A funny thing the dichotomy was. Grandfather (uncle) was his most trusted family in the world, yet betrayed his own blood. The gray woman, an invisible stranger, on the other hand was his guardian angel. He’d give her his life if he could so pledge it.

Tristan chewed up the bones of logic and cast the carcass aside. He trailed after the wolf. Pack? Family his mind conjured images of Christmas cards: hearths lit by roaring fires, twinkle lights and roast lamb, loved ones huddled together, gnawing on ears and rolling belly up. But the image was opaque. A fantasy. Christmas as a child was pleasant enough for what any orphan might want. Songs and special pies, tying great strands of red ribbon together.

“No pack,” he finally responded. With the falls of Skógafoss as their backdrop, a gray curtain always moving, Tristan peered longingly into the waters. He once traveled to a similar wonder of the Westfjords, recalled schools of fish darting beneath the surface as one large group. Fish and wolves, terns and seals. A pack that protected the young, taught them how to survive in the world. Úlfar, for all his faults, had done as much for Tristan. Siggi was departed. He'd never realized it before.

Maybe that what was the wolf suggested. As he thought of Úlfar, another image formed in his mind. Of eyes glowing ferocious. Raw anger unchecked. Then a burst of light and the solid stone pillar outside the house. The pillar that Tristan swore turned to look at him sometimes. Profiles of a nose and lips that were there one minute and gone the next. A chill crept up his spine. The scent of something burning curled his nostrils. He closed his eyes. Skógafoss’ crashing swarmed his ears until he was sure he was perched in its spillage.

Shift.

When he opened his eyes again, the crashing water now lapped below. Black sand smushed underfoot. The southern seashore whispered at his feet. But in the distance, great stacks of rock pierced the ocean. Basalt columns broke the curve of the earth like sentry guards of the whole island.

They were near the tiny village of Vik, on the dangerous shores of Reynisfjara beach, where sneaker waves built undisturbed for thousands of miles all the way to the opposite pole of the world. Such waves, even on a still day, were known to crash unexpectedly and sweep asunder any who stood too close. For some reason, such dangers did not concern Tristan.

It was something else that ripped at what was bound within. Bars on Tristan's heart rattled. The chains upon logic snapping. It was the petrified pillars that pulled growls from his lips. In the real world, he never noticed them before. But now, they stared defiant at them. "Trolls," he growled. Here, the shapes were obvious. Awake, the pillar of his grandfather's remains less so. 

His foot dug into the sand, ready to pounce and snap at the eternal prisons of the twisted ones poised upon the sea. Claw and rip at their frozen forms. At his side, Thorn Paw approached.
"Don’t waste your time looking back, you’re not going that way."
Rognar Lothbrok
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#4
The young one's sendings were muddled and unknowing, a warped mix of two-leg things and wolfish instincts. Thorn Paw's ears flattened as he picked through the bones of the answer. Though the pup understood the question at least. Sort of. No pack admitted a deeper loss, the scent of it strong enough to pause the old wolf's stride. Disapproval radiated for the simple acceptance. Alone was not natural. Alone was against nature.

Why? he demanded, aghast, but perhaps the question never pierced the louder shout of distress in the pup's mind. A growl rumbled deep, irritation for the young's reckless antics as he suddenly shifted. Thorn Paw shook, ruffling off the frustration, and prepared to follow.

A moment later black sand sank under the weight of his paws. The pup was ready to pounce into the churning sea, where the stone bones of twisted ones thrust ancient from the waves. The instinct was right but wasted; one might as well rag at dust. Images of hunting affirmed the pup's growl, but with victory over the bloody carcass already won. To illustrate the point, a lunge and nip commanded attention. A flat sound vibrated in the wolf's throat. Thorn Paw sat afterwards, tail neat about his feet. Eyes lambent.

He sent insistent images of pack; the thrill of the run and the hunt; the playful spring of play; the nuzzle and warmth of mate; the wriggling joy of pups. Interspersed between, his impression of the two-leg equivalent of such things. It had the tone of admonishment; an elder guiding foolish youth of the most basic of needs. The dream alone was not enough. A brother needed the heat of his own kind as much as he needed a pack to run with. Dog was not enough.

His muzzle lifted, expectant; waiting to sense understanding.
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#5
Warning! Danger! The looming, twisted spires taunted him. Their frozen bones curling creaky joints, daring Tristan into dangerous waters he knew ought not be entered. Only the nip kept him from leaping forward. He could swim the strongest of seas. To scratch and claw at those stones, he would swim through an ocean of dangers. It would be worth it to see the pillars toppled, bones scattered.

At his side, his companion was calm. An easiness overwhelmed him in those moments. Tristan turned toward him and the spell seemed broken. Twisted basalt reformed to solid shapes. No ridicule barbed. Mockery retreated into the sea until it disappeared beneath the surface. Tristan frowned, sank into the sand and sat alongside the wolf that seemed to be satisfied by the decision.

Like some kind of reward, a lovely montage followed. Tristan found himself smiling despite best efforts to sulk. But the images blurred in his mind. Arms wrapped around him turned to nuzzling cheeks. Laughter to yips.

He put a hand to the buzz of his scalp. A tail of unbound hair fell around his shoulder as he did so. To him, the idea of pack was synonymous with city: a mess of bodies tumbling over one another, the smoke of oil blackening the air, the noise of a thousand yelling voices. He wanted to shield his eyes, bury face in the black sandy beach.

“How?” He asked of the wolf as though it held answers all souls sought.
Tristan wanted to reach out and bury a hand in such thick fur. Just to see if the wolf was real.
“Who are you?” He asked, studying the profile of a strong muzzle. Eyes that flickered gold when they looked upon him. So real.
"Don’t waste your time looking back, you’re not going that way."
Rognar Lothbrok
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#6
It had been a long time since Thorn Paw's last cycle in the waking world, yet even so the ignorance shocked him. The pup's understanding was so utterly broken that for a moment he despaired at how much the two-legs had forgotten. The images choked with man-stink and had nothing to do with the bonds that forged pack, human or wolf. Had the man-child never even known the simple comforts of a two-leg family? Although Thorn Paw saw a cub, he also understood that to his own kind he was not. Where was his mate? Where were the pups yipping at his feet?

Realisation curled his lip against his fangs. No wonder this one had been so hopelessly lost. Time ran strange in the dream, and Thorn Paw idled a long while only watching, but never truly considered before now the possibility that all this time the pup had been alone. Truly alone.

That he did not recognise the terrible shadow of his isolation carved a howl in Thorn Paw's chest, unreleased. Instead he nosed beneath the pup's paw, inviting the touch to answer the question, albeit with a gruff rumble; still insulted to have been named a mere dog. He sent his name in greeting. Of large black paws swatting curious wet noses away from thorny bramble (or, as it happened, nipping equally foolish youngsters away from plunging into the deep). Of a cantankerous growl when the young ones ragged at ears and tail with needled teeth, scattering the pups like autumn leaves. Sharp and soft. Black and white. Thorn Paw.

Something wild and ancient stared out from golden eyes. How was a harder question for the wolf to answer, though his ears pricked to the challenge. The dens of many-two-legs were something he only had vague understanding of; of territories crammed tight, of cages rather than soft dens, and of the yearning release many brothers and sisters fled from. A distinction he tried to communicate with an exasperated snort. Pack was not a place.

The second affirmation was clearer. I am pack now, brother. But of the shifting dream only, and as like as not the silly pup would take time to understand the distinction. If he even understood where he was. Thorn Paw's nose nudged. Come, now. Show me your den.
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#7
Tristan imagined himself picking carefully through brambles, coat snagging and needles scraping. The tangled barbs stretched to the horizon, he lost in the labyrinth. He’d be torn to shreds before escaping. Despair loomed until a shadow fell across his eyes. The shadow moved like a guide, ducking and seeking its way through nature’s dungeon. Tristan sniffed, and followed. The wolf was a guide through dangers; monstrous body holding back the teeth of bloodied brambles for the young to pass unscathed. Even if it meant a thorn in his own side, he took the brunt of it. A leader, an alpha. Thorn paw.

Tristan smiled as the great wolf sat close. The downy fur swept soft, yet contained great strength that might be roused for defense just as easily as for attack. The disunion of two such concepts split Tristan’s perceptions of the world vastly. A pack; companionship. He’d never realized before. In the epiphany, acceptance thinned to rejection. A hunger slid into the former warmth of a content belly. An awakening took him to his feet, and for the first time, when he ran, it wasn’t alone.

He raced up the beach, black sand dusting the air with their prints. The cliffs passed them by like blurs. Then slopes, upward, steep. Waters that narrowed and widened on enormous plains. Waterfalls crashing when their courses encountered rifts in the earth. Eyes watched; and he felt the urge to cheer. What was caged in the chest to burst forth like howling. For the first time, running was fun. Swiftness propelled him farther, faster. Each step greater leaps. Bounding unfettered. He laughed and howled and leaped like the chains holding him down were bit clean through.

The westfjords rolled familiar by. The inlet downslope yawning from the sea was still and gray. The small structure of his grandfather’s former home waited as it always did. The headstone was not here in this world, Tristan already checked. The basalt pillar remained, however. Like those piercing the ocean at Reynisfjara beach, grandfather’s tomb seemed to writhe like a mirage if he looked too closely at it.

Panting, he turned his back on the troll’s stone and smiled at Thorn Paw. “Home,” he said plainly, proud.
"Don’t waste your time looking back, you’re not going that way."
Rognar Lothbrok
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#8
They ran. Thorn Paw's muscles rippled, the wind twisting through the thick ruff of his fur. The pup yipped his delight, blossoming curmudgeonly pride in the wolf's chest. A long time had passed since he had last run with man and the joy of it burst like new life. This was belonging; the bond his pup had not even known to crave, but a taste now nudged the right path. Though undoubtedly obstacles still awaited. It seemed Thorn Paw had a penchant for stubborn cubs.

The dwelling revealed was serviceable, a good and sheltered den for two-legs, far from crowded territories where other men might fear the new gold cast of the pup's eyes. But perhaps too far also, for if pack had come to him here, his man-heart would have shrivelled and died quickly. The wolves embraced the wild ones with the same welcome as those who found balance, but those who forgot the tongue of man never ran as long as those who didn't. The two-legs, with their furless skin and blunt teeth and soft claws, were not made to sustain the cruelty of nature. They lived sharp, furiously short lives; loved for it, and mourned when they returned to the worms. But Thorn Paw's memories stretched far enough to know it was not the only way.

Well made, young one. He padded, sniffing, but the compliment was more to sate a proud heart. What Thorn Paw saw was rock and ice and the stone grave of a twisted one, the sight of which spiked his back with hackles. He stalked around it, ears flattened. The correction would be tough to hear, but such was the ruthlessness of life. The pup had languished long enough in his isolation. He already admitted there were no wolves in Ice Land, and Thorn Paw now scented it true, though a small part of him had hoped to the contrary. He had needed to see for himself. 

He reared back and howled, long and loud and mournful into the sky. When the echo subsided, his ears pricked to the weight of silence, gold eyes intent on the two-leg. Alone. The declaration pinned like teeth at the throat. The images shared were of a battle fought and won, a place of victory over the twisted one but not and never of home.

Home, he insisted, was pack. Home was sleepy yawns nuzzled against the soft fur of another, bellies full, muscles warm from the hunt. Not a where but a who. A together that cared not for the earthy burrow of dens or twisted warmth of blankets, but for the pile of bodies that shared those places. He sent the image of the lost pup again, this time nudged by the shadow of another who left no prints in the snow.
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#9
   

Home was empty but not barren; the air crisp but not cold. A tentative contentment washed Tristan like a cool river. Only in this place was he rooted to the earth itself; a connection blunted by the concrete and asphalt of Reykjavík. He drew a long and deep breath so that the air flooded clean through his panting lungs when a howl pierced the skies.

The sound saddened him. It pulled his shoulders low like ropes tugged at his wrists. Yet pale eyes searched the horizon for an answer. When none came, his heart was not too crushed. For he knew the emptiness of the Runner’s dream. He ran it often and hard. For many years. Never encountering another soul. Not even the gray woman of the Huldufólk appeared. 

Running so hard that the air stung like icicles stabbing on your cheeks; to run until the air was pushed from your chest and every breathe was glacial heavy; when the meat of your legs burn heavy as tree-trunks; as grass, branches and beast whip by in blurred images too fast to identify. He who runs like the wild wind howls. Wyldrunner.

Tristan pushed to stand, gaze fixed upon the distance. The Hidden One’s message resounded like a bell ringing on a clear winter’s morning.

“Stop running in the dream and you will be found. Look to far shores and you will find your true family. Return to the beginning and the end will finally arrive.”

“I stopped running and was found.” He said to himself as much as to Thorn Paw.

Brows furrowed low, eyes sharp upon the waters lapping at the base of the mountainside, but finally, he turned to the east instead.
“True family waits on far shores.” Her omens were true. Could he leave his home? Was it even possible? What would he do in the east? 

The last was an enigma, though. Return to the beginning for the end to arrive. What was the beginning? Was the end an inevitable fate?

“I think I know what I have to do,” he told Thorn Paw, but sadness fogged his voice. The basalt column seemed to protest, but the twisted one within was forever trapped. Grandfather could no longer proclaim Tristan's fate. He had to cut the bindings shackling his wrists to Iceland. Even if it meant gnawing through the ropes with bare teeth.

He couldn’t stay here forever.
"Don’t waste your time looking back, you’re not going that way."
Rognar Lothbrok
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#10
Slowly understanding dawned. Thorn Paw was pleased the epiphany came in its own way, blunting the daunting harshness of a new journey undertaken alone. Or, almost alone, for Thorn Paw would follow in the dream; nudging where necessary, and teaching of this strange place the two-leg would also need to come to understand. Its many delights, and its many dangers.

True family, he agreed. Pack will find you, Wyldrunner. The image of identity flooded with a note of pride, like the day a pup first opened its eyes.

The sadness was noted but would not be dwelt upon. Nor would Thorn Paw tell the pup where to go; pack was an intrinsic and important connection, and the old wolf wished for Wyldrunner to find his own way. It might have been many cycles since Thorn Paw had run in the world of flesh, but the wolves understood how that world was beginning to change. There was a reason new brothers and sisters were beginning to awaken to their senses.

But that was for another time.

He stood. We shall hunt, now. And then you must sleep true. For when the sun rises, it will be time to say goodbye to this place.
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