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What's Next?
#1
Morning was early in the pack.  The sun rose and the earth dried out from the night's cooling dew.  The hunt was on.  It was a normal morning for Sierra - except for the fact that her dream still lingers with her.  She stole a glance at the man she had shared herself with - however in the dream it might be.  It was a first - hopefully of many.  But she was here for a reason.  A paying job so she could keep surviving. 

Her camera was slung over her shoulder as Sierra readied to go on the hunt with the pack.  It would be a rare experience most humans didn't get to see.  But Sierra had taken part many times.  This time even with her bow in hand, she held her camera ready to take candid images.

She smiled at Tristan, "Do you want to hunt with the pack?"  She hoped he would.  The wolves wanted to show them the place of the old one.  The youngest were a buzz and Never was sad he couldn't go with them on the hunt, he was too young and no matter how many times Sierra told him this he wanted to go.  the images he projected were of sadness and loneliness.   He was being a drama queen.
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#2
The light curled claws around his eyelids. So many hours running wild in the dream left him weary the next morning, but moments upon waking drifted tantalizing aromas. Whether the hint of fresh food or Sierra’s allure, he soon roused.

He hadn’t intended on an extended excursion into the woods. Brenna was content wherever she roamed, but Tristan did have real responsibilities awaiting him. Sierra proved to be too much of a temptation, however, and he was exploring the hunting trails along with the pack soon enough.

The images of an old, twisted tree continued to blur through his mind. The wolves’ chatter was focused singularly upon the smell of must and mold. Whatever they sought, it was ancient. Sierra was likewise curious. He smiled back at her, wondering how much of the previous night may or may not carry into the waking world. “Lead onward, lady.” He bowed grandly, the gleam of adventure in their golden eyes.
"Don’t waste your time looking back, you’re not going that way."
Rognar Lothbrok
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#3
The hunt lead them to the place where Growl as a Bear saw the ancient one. They had chased a deer through the wreckage that had come through covered in new growth. Most of the pack wandered back with the hunt. But Sierra stayed and stared at the images that flooded her mind.

A tree like creature walking and talking, and growing on the remnants of the destruction before it. Ancient ones was all she could get from the wolf who'd seen him, it. Sierra drew her camera and took pictures, though the creature was gone a strange sort of peace remained in it's wake.

"I wonder what it was." She looked to Tristan but she wasn't sure he knew either, but for all his talk of trolls maybe that was a troll? But that didn't seem likely, it didn't have the same smell or feel of the stone she'd seen in the dream.
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#4
Tristan fell into silence as the pack journeyed. They drank and ate as needed. For all of Sierra’s ferocity, he did worry about the slender stems of her legs. They looked unaccustomed to hard hikes. Hell, Tristan thought himself tough, but by midday and he was ready for a rest. The wolves shared their memories of the two-legged tree, but Tristan’s frustration blocked more. The scent of it was long gone, and as Tristan gathered Brenna to his lap, he shook his head at Sierra. “I don’t think this thing really exists. Sounds like a fairy tale.” He grinned a toothy grin, recalling their dream the night before. Trolls and fairies he could imagine. Tree men were ridiculous.

But when a pretty girl insisted, Tristan would not deny. He was treading through a bog when a sort of chatter broke out in his head. The wolves were curious as pups in a meadow. Tristan was one of the last to come through, but what he found was bizarre indeed. A circle completely decimated a clearing of trees. Scorch marks like remnants of old fire licked the surroundings. Yet strangely, infant vines crept new growth like a patch was sewn carefully into what must have been a gouging wound.

The wolves danced at the edge, uninterested in going beyond the rim. Their noses turned high, and even Tristan caught the scent of must,  mold, and wet earth. Yet no rain pattered the ground that day. Where they were wary, Tristan plunged straight through the veil between natural and not. At the center he knelt at a bright orange flower unlike any he’d ever seen before. Its veins were black and red, pulsing and shimmering as though it had its own heartbeat.
"Don’t waste your time looking back, you’re not going that way."
Rognar Lothbrok
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#5
Tristan barreled over the edge where the rest of he wolves stayed at the edge. Sierra watched as he disappeared below the char but she didn't wait long before following him. Never stayed at the edge with the other wolves as they moved through the unnatural world. Tristan let in front of a flower she'd never seen the likes of before. Her camera was up in an instant she snapped a few pictures of Tristan and the flower before moving closer to snap some close up. "He did this." The wolves howled and images of the tree man, green man, whatever it, no he was did this.

Sierra backed up and took more shots of everything else including the wolves. It was a once in a lifetime shot.

When the awe for Sierra woe off she smiled at Tristan. "Where do you think he came from? Or even went?' Sierra couldn't smell anything but the flower in the middle of the new grow. But the wolves gave her a general direction. "Do you think we could find it again?'

Sierra didn't bother with waiting or even the warnings from the wolves as he headed in the direction the wolf visions said it had left. She had no idea where she was going.
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#6
Sierra’s voice trickled through the glacial slowness of his thoughts. Even the scents that usually distracted his nose were dismissed as he was drawn closer and closer to the petals beneath. He drew in a deep breath, but the normal scents of pollen and perfume were absent. A warmth blossomed his cheeks, and tenderly, Tristan cupped the plant in his palms. The warmth suffused his skin in such a way he hadn’t realized the chill of its absence. The veins continued to pulse and the gold of his eyes flickered with its radiance. A smile lightened his lips and a sort of peace settled.

A pinch of the fingers, and the stem of the flower came away from the earth. He stood, holding the treasure before him a moment, marveling at its preservation despite the severance from its roots, only to tuck it selfishly inside his jacket.

The warmth cradled his chest like Sierra's hands had done in the dream. He started to follow the female when the barest hint, like an exhalation of breath, tickled the back of his neck. He turned, gasping upon the sight at his feet. In the flower's place, two more buds uncurled, twice their heat beckoned.

Cautiously, Tristan plucked them again, only to smile victoriously when four additional ones sprang almost instantly to life.
"Don’t waste your time looking back, you’re not going that way."
Rognar Lothbrok
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#7
It wasn't that she expected Tristan to follow her every move, that would be strange, but before she reached the top of the crater's ridge she turned to see what Tristan was doing. In his hand sat two flowers, and four sat on the ground in full bloom. She blinked at the impossibility of one now four, but two sat in Tristan's hands, where did they come from.

The wolves at the top of the other side were dancing back and forth. The magic in this place was encompassing everyone, and the flowers were the least of their discoveries. "Tristan..." She called his name, but she had no words for what was happening. Nothing to say, her mouth unable to form words as her mind raced with thousands of images from the surrounding wolves and her own thoughts.

"Hercules told of the deeds, The fertile serpent that sprang forth again from the fruitful wound, grown rich from her own hurt." Sierra muttered. It had been in a book she once read. She'd done a lot of reading back in her youth when only metal walls encapsulated her life. She'd never thought most of it would spring forth any knowledge.

Sierra walked back down and put her hand on Tristan's arm and pulled gentle away from the flower. "Maybe you shouldn't do that." There didn't seem to be any danger. But danger came from all sorts of directions, and pretty magical flowers could be no different. "What if next time it comes back like a venus fly trap and eats us." It was a joke, but the magic was heavy on this place. And even the wolves stayed away. That was warning enough for Sierra.

[[ quote from Ovid, Heroides 9. 87 ff (trans. Showerman) (Roman poetry C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) found at https://www.theoi.com/Ther/DrakonHydra.html ]]
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#8
He met Sierra as she began her return. The flower in his pocket warmed his chest as did the two in his hands. One he offered, “flower for the lady wolf.” A wry smile touched his lips. She would sense its warmth if she drew near. The gilding of her eyes shone the veins that pulsed, and Tristan began to wonder if the awareness of the flower’s appearance was an artifact of their wolfish vision.

“Lets not to make it angry, then,” he said. His gaze was eventually drawn to the wolves. Their stomps and sniffs were eager to be away. Tristan was torn. Something about this place warred his halves within: the man, the wolf, and the troll. A monstrous combination. The tree-walker must be real, he realized, or the battle in his heart would not be so acute.

One last glance over his shoulder saw the remaining four flourishing. Perhaps other strange findings lay in their path.
"Don’t waste your time looking back, you’re not going that way."
Rognar Lothbrok
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#9
The flowers were warm to the touch and she wondered how that could be. She took the flower from Tristan with a smile. It was probably the most 'romantic' thing she'd ever been given. Considering her life span was limited to just her family it was not a surprise, but to the outside world it would seem strange. And to Tristan it had to too. He believed in faires and trolls but the ancient that made these with his mere presence, but maybe Tristan would change his mind. They could talk to wolves, men could rend stone into statues with nothing but a thought. Magic was real. What other wonders lie in their wake.

"The ancient took something, the wolves images are fuzzy on what." Sierra nestled the flower in her hair behind an ear. The warm radiated against her face like a gentle kiss, which only served to remind her of the night in the dream. She blushed as she pointed in the direction it had gone. "It went this way." There were a ton of pictures already, and she'd pulled Tristan away from whatever he had been doing she smiled. "Or we could go back." There was a playful smile on her lips. "The wolves won't follow us past here. Respect or Fear I'm not sure which maybe both of their ancient friend's privacy. We'd be alone."
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#10
The flower seemed to light Sierra’s pale features to life. Tristan nodded with approval and followed close behind. A whistle summoned Brenna and the pup bounded heedless of invisible barriers to his feet. A quick pat on the head and they were off.

He thought about ancient ones and the mass of tangled images knotted in his mind. The wolves saw stinging vines and smelled new predators. Thorns were a natural part of the forest, something that wolves accepted, but something they avoided. That was the only analogy he could interpret about their sensations: accepting but wary.

They were going to be alone, Tristan smiled with the instincts of a predator himself. His rations would be out soon, and they were far from town. “Unless these flowers are edible, we’ll need to hunt again soon.”

Sierra seemed to possess the keener connection to the ancient one, so it was to her that he deferred.
"Don’t waste your time looking back, you’re not going that way."
Rognar Lothbrok
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