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LMS V: Past the Breakers



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Sun Jul 28, 2019 5:31 am
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TheSilverFox says...



@TheSilverFox please jump on this wagon with me.


@Ventomology: do the thing
me: okay

Alright, I've had this story kinda floating around in my head the last couple months, but it only really took shape Thursday. I'm also a bit exhausted from the plot tangle that is BATP, so I present

Past the Breakers

Queer Romance with Magical Foxes



The Backstory:

There's only two things I can write: high fantasy and vaguely creepy poetry. This obviously isn't poetry; it's actually distantly related to BAtP (distant enough that this story probably won't become a plot tangle too). Long story short, The Creator barged into an empty dimension, created a universe (yay!), made a family out of his AI partner and a few people he grew out of vats (yay?), got on the nerves of a remnant from the last universe (not yay!), picked a fight, won, etc. The Creator looked at what was left from that fight and decided "you could make a world out of this," so that's what he did. He populated one continent with humans, and another continent with all the less violent and volatile creatures The Creator and his enemy had made.

And it was all going great, but the humans were too busy worshiping The Creator to do anything useful or productive. He wasn't a big fan of that, so he offered some humans the chance to get on boats and sail over to the other continent. Oh, and then he lifted the human continent up into an alternate dimension/'heaven' thing, but that's not really important right now.

What matters is that there was now a bunch of empty ocean, blocked off from the other continent by some pretty big walls. The Creator also wasn't sure what to do with some of the more violent and volatile creatures he and his enemy had made. So, he decided to kill two birds with one stone by making a new continent (ugh, so many continents), and sticking them on it.

A couple millennia later, those creatures mellowed out some, so might as well see what they're up to.

The Setting:

The story is set in and around a village of kitsune by the coast. By village, I mean a group of grass-roofed adobe houses grouped kinda closely together, surrounded by farmland. They grow wheat and corn, since, despite being next to the sea, the place doesn't have super fertile soil (think the white cliffs of Dover). Also some sheep and cows grazing around, because why not.

By kitsune, I essentially mean bipedal foxes who grow additional tails about every 12 years or so. Their magical power increases with every tail, maxing out with the 9th (though no one's really lived long enough to see what that having nine tails might be like). The older the kitsune, the stronger they are, which actually relates to the only form of government the village has. Foxes with more than a couple tails usually rally together as warriors if the village is ever attacked, with the one having the most being the head of the guard. Head of the guard is not a prestigious position, and it rarely comes up, but it's the closest thing to a leader the town has.

And by coast, I mean a set of cliffs with the occasional sandy beach and inlet. It's not exactly a safe place, even if you don't consider all the big and dangerous creatures swimming around in there.

The Characters:

Xain (pronounced basically like Zane), a two-tailed kitsune. A fisherman in a time and place where nobody else wants to even go near the water, he lives in what used to be his parents' house, a little ways from the village. When his parents died of illness, he and his sisters moved closer to the village, but he found it wasn't quite to his liking. Now he goes fishing with his father's rod, line improvised from some of the clothes his oldest sister sends him, and a spear. Otherwise, he's generally busy keeping the house clean, fending off his concerned and controlling sisters, and being insecure. Getting close to growing his third tail.

Idiot (placeholder name until I can find a good one), who is an idiot. Also a fox, which is a pretty important distinction. He has one tail, a pretty fixed amount of magical ability, and is the sole character not from this continent. An adventure who had wide eyes and a lot of money, but now finds himself a little jaded and a lot broke. Getting stranded in a strange place with people who don't understand a word he says can do that to someone. Likes maps, keeps tons of drawing and notes about everything and everyone he runs into. Just a little bit of an ego.

Yisele, a two-tailed kitsune and Xain's older sister. Very friendly, chaotic, happy-go-lucky person. Social butterfly of the village, keeps trying to get Xain to come back and embrace all the uncertainty and fear of being outside his parents' home. Xain likes to think he has enough uncertainty and fear already.

Yisele's wife, a three-tailed kitsune. Daughter of the head of the guard (who has five tails). Adorably romantic and good at punching things, an effective combination.

Verta, a three-tailed kitsune and Xain's oldest sister. Mother of two. The calm and rational sister who decided to take it on herself to keep her siblings safe. Which means she can be pretty controlling and harsh, though she's extremely defensive of her family. Got Xain to work on her husband's farm for a bit, hasn't stopped trying to get him back there. Picked up weaving from her husband, and usually makes clothes for the villagers. Was a warrior once or twice, has the scars to show for it.

Verta's husband, a three-tailed kitsune and Xain's brother-in-law. Father of two. Doesn't talk too much, but generally a friendly and calm person. Definitely the person Xain goes to when he wants to get his sisters off his back.

The Plot: Not too sure? Right now I just have idiot washing up on shore, befriending Xain, them overcoming mutual language barriers, Xain's sisters showing up, etc. Oh, and bipedal saber-tooth tigers who grow fangs so large they can accidentally impale themselves, and definitely won't show up to cause havoc down the road. But, whatever I decide to do, assuming an 18+ rating from the start probably should help.

Spoiler! :
where I stole the title from

phpBB [media]
S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
a persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma per ciò che giammai di questo fondo
non tornò vivo alcun, s'i' odo il vero,
senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

Inferno, Canto 27, l 61-66.
  





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Mon Jul 29, 2019 4:48 pm
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Magebird says...



I know you're not entirely sure what the plot is going to be, but this story sounds awesome and I can't wait to see whatever you're scheming for it! Do you know where you'll be posting it for LMS?

And, even more importantly, how long do I have to wait before a character from this shows up in a roleplay?
Send review requests to The Crow's Nest!

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Tue Jul 30, 2019 12:55 am
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TheSilverFox says...



@Magestorrow: haha I just plotted the entire thing out earlier today, so there's been a lot of scheming going on.

I'm not sure if I'm posting it in this thread or actually publishing it? On one hand, publishing makes it a little easier for people to find than just posting it here, but I also have a habit of taking reviews super seriously and stressing out over them. So yeah, I'mma just wait until September before I figure out what I want to do.

Maybe not for a little while! This novel is super new, and I need to get a little more comfortable with the characters before throwing them in some RPs. They would be pretty entertaining, though.
S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
a persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma per ciò che giammai di questo fondo
non tornò vivo alcun, s'i' odo il vero,
senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

Inferno, Canto 27, l 61-66.
  





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Sun Aug 04, 2019 7:53 pm
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TheSilverFox says...



Whoop, should probably write an update to this - setting's set up, plot's plotted, characters are planned out, this novel should be pretty smooth sailing when I get to writing it.

More of the Backstory: Obviously, the kitsune isn't the only sentient species on the continent. There's quite a few scattered around, but the real power player in the area (and the one that's going to come up most often) is the saber-toothed tigers. They carved out a territory to the northwest, fighting rival groups like the dire wolves and consolidating their power. These days, they're a bit like the Vikings - largely farmers and settles who've established a semi-stable set of kingdoms over the lands they've occupied, while raiders and adventurers attack the surrounding area and/or create the foundations for new kingdoms. I'll switch between saber-tooth tiger and tiger for the sake of convenience, so fair warning.

The dire wolves used to be prominent rivals, but lost their power after a long series of wars with the tigers. The last war saw their capital destroyed, their population enslaved, and their warriors exiled to a far away island that definitely won't be relevant in the story.

More of the Plot:

Idiot and his idiot decisions end up guiding a lot of the plot. Whether shooting a gun to scare off a monster, selling some of his notes to a trader, or keeping a really detailed account of the equipment that he used to get to this continent in the first place, he ends up setting a lot of things in motion. Not that it's really his fault. Unfortunately, idiot and Xain have to deal with a lot of the consequences.

When it is idiot's fault, it's mostly because of his internal struggle. Part of him wants to go back home a successful, beloved adventurer, while the other part of him is coming to terms with what could happen if those two continents know each other exists. That's the heart of the plot, essentially.

More of the Characters:

Leader of the Raiders, who is the leader of the raiders. Saber-toothed tiger, very leader-y and calm under pressure. Maybe he should get more character development?

Jerk, who has a much less polite name in my notes. Village tiger who decided he was a big fan of the raiding and signed up. Is fluent in both the tiger and kitsune language, which is rich for someone who regularly wears kitsune fur.

Jerk's mom, who is not a jerk. Lived in the village with her son as her only surviving family member, and he ended up dragging her along into the raiding business. She's old, extremely disinterested in anything her son does, and a healer.

Shipbuilder, who builds ships. A village tiger who got hired to build a ship. Kind of a bigot for someone who knows the kitsune language.

Oichi, a nine-tailed kitsune. Nine-tailed kitsunes typically have so much magic/energy that they lose their corporeal form, which they definitely always take well.

Aaand a couple more characters who would probably be even more spoilery than these ones.

Ugh a month to go before I start writing. ;-;
S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
a persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma per ciò che giammai di questo fondo
non tornò vivo alcun, s'i' odo il vero,
senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

Inferno, Canto 27, l 61-66.
  





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Sat Sep 28, 2019 4:40 am
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TheSilverFox says...



The Writing


Chapter One: One-Tailed

Part One (1,003 words): Yee, time to try my hand at this whole novel thing again. Note that forepaw refers to hands, and hindpaw refers to feet. I just find it really hard to describe the bipedal version of a quadruped creature in terms of bipeds.

Spoiler! :
Strange things washed up on shore all the time. Sometimes splinters of wood from what might’ve once been a boat. Sometimes the stray tentacle or rotting lump of meat. Sometimes bones. Xain was convinced that, when he was a kid, a whale had beached itself on the tiny cove outside his parents’ house. His father had kept Xain inside the house, though – Xain had barely known anything had happened until he’d heard the whispers among the villagers when his father had gone to town to sell his wares. The kitsune understood why his father had done that. As much as he loved the sea, what it spat out wasn’t his business. Especially if he couldn’t eat it or sell it.

Staring down the winding path in front of him, Xain let out a deep breath. On a clear day like this, with the smell of the tranquil sea in his nostrils and the morning dew budding around his paws, he could catch some large fish. He wasn’t keen on anything getting in the way of that. His two tails twitched as he stepped away from the thin layer of grass, paws navigating over rocks and avoiding holes. The dim light of the sun, just barely rising above the horizon, illuminated the switchbacks carved into the white rock below him. The switchbacks that he had gone up and down a thousand times, almost since the moment he could first walk. He knew these steps, these crevices, these gaps inside and out. There was (usually) nothing to fear here.

Xain tapped the bottom of his fishing pole against the stone, humming snippets of tunes to himself. The sunlight, pink and red and white, climbed up the wall to meet him. He lowered his head to keep from getting blinded, since his forepaws were a little preoccupied holding up his fishing rod and net.

Which left his ears to pick up on the splashing of something in the distance.

The kitsune paused. Setting his pole and net against the rock that jutted out in front of him, he crouched down and grabbed its edges. Just like his father had taught him. And Xain wasn’t too far from the house, if worst came to worst. He wasn’t always that lucky.

As much as the sun reflected off the cliffs, the pale sand on the beach, and the blue-green water at the center of the cove, it didn’t take Xain long to spot what was making that noise. And, to Xain’s surprise, it was some kind of boat. A completely intact one, with a design that Xain couldn’t recognize. The tigers always preferred bigger and more imposing boats, while the (very few) kitsune boats he’d ever seen had used plenty of straw and whatever else had been on hand. Trees were hard to come by here.

Curious, Xain decided to do something his father wouldn’t have done – he made his way a little further down the path, quickly resting on his belly behind a smaller rock. Still far enough away that he felt fairly secure, though the tentacles on some of the bigger creatures in the ocean could possibly reach him. He ignored the pit in his stomach and kept on watching.

Now it was possible to pick out more detail on the boat. Specifically, there was one occupant, who appeared to be trying to paddle with a paw. It clearly wasn’t nearly as effective as the tide, but Xain guessed that the occupant was trying to escape from something. The long, murky shapes in the water confirmed that guess.

Xain bit his lip. As far as he could tell, the stranger was some sort of kitsune. Was it someone he knew? Was it one of his siblings? The stranger was on a strange boat, wearing clothes that Xain wasn’t familiar with (and a few more layers than most of the people Xain knew, including himself), so it couldn’t be them. But he felt a bit guilty feeling relieved about that.

Some of the larger waves carried the boat towards the shore. One threw the boat onto the sand, sending the occupant flopping face-first onto dry land. Heartbeat roaring in Xain’s ears, the kitsune couldn’t begin to imagine how much more terrified the occupant was as the occupant pulled their face of the sand and caught sight of the long, green-and-pink tentacles that began to slip their way out of the water. Suction cups the side of Xain’s head twitched, while the tentacles curled and unwinded.

The stranger was doomed. The creature didn’t exactly know where they were, but that didn’t matter. They were too close to the ocean, too far from the cliffs, going up tentacles that were too fast and too flexible. They’d probably be dashed against the rocks, or crushed, or, worse yet, pulled into the water.

But the stranger didn’t get the message, because they ran back to their boat. A few seconds of paws running along the crevices of the boat later, the stranger pulled out some kind of long wooden tip with a metal end. Before Xain could figure out what the stranger was trying to do, the stranger pointed the stick towards one of the tentacles.

A boom! rang out. The stranger toppled onto the sand in a cloud of smoke, while the tentacles flailed. After throwing lot of foam and spray, along with a couple bubbly screeches, the creature slipped back into the water, fading into the dark depths of the cove and the ocean beyond. The cove fell silent.

Xain hesitated, waiting for any other noise to let him know that the creature was still there. He got the impression that he wouldn’t be doing any fishing today, but he wasn’t concerned about that. Was the stranger alright? What had the stranger done? Had the stranger killed the creature? There was only one way to find out.

Once his stomach stopped feeling like it was churning, Xain slowly pulled himself onto his hindpaws and began to navigate the cliffs.


Part Two (636 words): xain: are you an orphan

Spoiler! :
When his paws touched the cold sand, Xain hesitated. The stranger rested on the sand a stone’s throw away, besides the long wooden stick. Xain half-expected the stranger to twitch, yawn, move – nothing happened. The stranger was out cold. Which was perfectly understandable.

The kitsune decided to walk over to what he was a little more comfortable with. Standing beside the broad-bowed boat, with water gently washing over Xain’s hindpaws, Xain set a paw against the wood. Yep, that was wood. Bleached and cracked from exposure to the sun, but surprisingly intact. There were a few scratches along the sides that Xain wasn’t curious to learn anything about, and a small amount of water inside the boat, but that either wasn’t a problem or could be fixed easily, respectively. Xain just wasn’t sure if he could pull it away from the shore before something dragged it back in the water. He’d have to figure that out after he dealt with the stranger.

Xain looked over at the stranger. And blinked. It’d been a little hard to see through the reflected sunlight, but that definitely wasn’t a kitsune. The fur color was a little too red, that body was a little too compact, and the stranger smelled wrong. It wasn’t the smell of the stranger’s leather overalls, or the tan shirt (which was still made out of some material Xain couldn’t place). It was the stranger’s matted and gritty fur. Against his better judgment, Xain walked over, kneeled down by the stranger, picked them up by their head, and sniffed. Eugh – Xain wrinkled his snout. They clearly hadn’t taken a bath in a long time. But they weren’t a kitsune.

So, what were they? Xain shifted the stranger onto his side, taking note of the tail. Only one? Where they a kit? What was a kit doing out here, dressed up in strange clothes, sitting in a strange boat, waving some strange stick around? Had their parents abandoned them? Speaking of that strange stick, Xain reached a claw out and tapped the metal end. The heat flashed its way through his arm, causing him to yank it back. His claw managed to pick up some of the strange-smelling black powder that also littered the stranger’s paws. Hmm.

Well, Xain wasn’t going to get any answers until the stranger woke up. Sticking his arms underneath the stranger, Xain lifted him back onto the boat. The boat shifted ever so slightly, but didn’t slip back into the cove. Grabbing the stick by the (fortunately much cooler) wooden end, Xain also tossed it into the boat. After that, it was a matter of getting around to the other side of the boat, looking down to make sure nothing in the water was trying to bite his ankles, and slowly shoving the boat across the beach.

A few breaks later, Xain managed to wedge the boat between two rocks by the cliff. The boat probably wouldn’t be submerged in high tide, though he wasn’t sure if it’d be intact when he got back. Whenever he got back. Ugh – so much for fishing.

It was when Xain picked up the stranger again that Xain noticed something jammed into one side of the boat. A chest, from the looks of it. A locked chest. What was that about?

Xain, trying to keep his snout as far away as possible, looked at the stranger out of the corner of his eye. The stranger’s chest rose and fell gently, while the stranger’s head slowly tiled towards Xain. The stranger looked a little too peaceful for Xain to rummage around their (many) pockets.

And maybe just a little adorable, but Xain didn’t want to admit that. With a huff, Xain navigated the unconscious stranger around the rocks, and began to make the long climb back up.


Chapter Two: Introductions

Part One (450 words): aw yiss, family drama time

Spoiler! :
A fire crackled in the hearth at the center of Xain’s home.

Xain hummed to himself as he attached cleaned-out fish to strings, suspending them over the fire. He was starting to run low on his supply of manure, straw, and the occasional bit of driftwood, but hopefully he’d be able to cook enough fish to keep him going for another week or two. The less often he had to go to the village, the better. Though he wasn’t quite sure how things would work out now that he had another mouth to feed.

The stranger was currently on the other side of the one-room house, tucked into bed. Hopefully the stranger wouldn’t complain about the flax pillow or the straw-filled mattress when they woke up. And they’d started to snore an hour or two ago, so Xain guessed that wouldn’t be too much longer.

Turning around, Xain reached down to open a couple of straw boxes next to what he liked to think of as the kitchen. One box had strings of cooked fish, while another had been partly filled with raw fish. Xain took out a couple of yesterday’s catches and set them down on a metal plate beside a basin. The water in the basin was looking a little murky, but Xain figured he could clean and scale the fish before he replaced the water.

A rusted knife and a little while later, the kitsune had some more fish to string over the fire. With that out of the way, Xain moved to the table beside the kitchen. He had to admit, he was a little happy to have the chance to pull out one of the chairs he’d stacked in the corner of the room. It had been a while since he’d needed any of them.

Grabbing a string from one box, Xain laid out a couple slices of well-cooked fish meat on the table. With the addition of a couple pouches of water, the kitsune could finally sit down and pick apart the cooked fish in front of him.

Xain sighed. He felt like he’d done the right thing by brining the stranger back to his house, but he wasn’t quite sure how he could make this situation work. Ideally, he could find out who the stranger was, who the stranger’s family was, and point the stranger in the right direction. If that he didn’t work out, he’d probably have to teach the stranger how to fish. It was difficult enough for Xain to feed himself, given the kinds of things the sea liked to throw at him. Himself and the stranger? He’d have to think about going to the village. Going to his sisters.


Part Two (886 words): xain you may think it's just because rasca was adrift for a long time, but no, rasca has zero self-awareness ever

Spoiler! :
No, he wouldn’t worry about that. That was a last resort. If he could get the stranger out quickly, or if the stranger and him could live off of the ocean, Xain wouldn’t have to bring his sisters into this. That didn’t stop him from thinking about their murmurs of disapproval, their raised snouts, or the paws they would set on his shoulder as he used up his claws to tear the fish into pieces. He realized he hadn’t taken a bite.

Spearing one of those pieces with a claw, Xain raised it up to his face. And then paused. Had the stranger stopped snoring?

Xain glanced at the bed. Yep, the stranger was definitely awake; they yawned, stretching their arms. Eyes still closed, they paused in the middle of scratching their back, clearly having realized something was off.

The stranger’s eyes shot open. They darted around until they focused on Xain, whereupon the stranger pulled their bedsheet up to their neck and glared at the kitsune. That’s when the stranger growled something that Xain didn’t quite understand.

“What?” Xain said, tilting his head slightly. Maybe the stranger was just exhausted, hungry, or thirsty after spending what Xain had to guess had been days on that boat. After all, the stranger hadn’t exactly smelled like they had taken a bath in quite some time. Unless they didn’t like baths. Which was a little gross of them.

Narrowing their eyes, the stranger repeated whatever they had said, but more slowly.

“I don’t understand what you’re talking about?” said Xain, setting his piece of fish down. He thought about getting out of his seat, but figured that’d spook the stranger a little more than they already were.

The stranger, face wrinkled in confusion, said something else. Xain had the feeling it was the same question – it had the same intonation and tone – but almost like it was in another language. That Xain also couldn’t understand, though he swore he could vaguely recognize some of the words.

However, he couldn’t really deny it at this point; they spoke different languages. And Xain had never heard of the languages the stranger was speaking. So much for getting the stranger out of here quickly.

Having seen Xain’s open mouth and bewildered expression, the stranger threw their paws up in the air. Then the stranger seemed to realize something else, because their eyes bugged out, they started patting their bed, and they glanced around at the floor. Before Xain could ask what was bothering the stranger, the stranger focused on Xain again and made some kind of gesture with their paws. The outline of something?

Oh. Xain pointed to a spot behind the bed. Craning around, the stranger quickly wrapped their arms around the chest that Xain had left there. And began caressing the wood. Hng.

Xain was pretty sure it was the right time to get up. His chair screeched as he pushed it back and walked over to the stranger. The stranger, now resting his head on top of the chest, tried to wave Xain off. Taking the hint and keeping a couple feet away from the stranger, Xain gestured back towards the table.

Almost immediately, the stranger fixated on the cooked fish, and began to pull themselves out of the bed. Only for Xain to get another confirmation that the stranger had spent a long time on a boat; the stranger slumped onto the floor, arms and legs shaking. Xain took that as a cue to wrap his arms around the stranger’s shoulders and pull the stranger onto their feet. The stranger resisted, if waving their arms and mumbling what Xain guessed were threatening comments was resistance, but they quieted down as Xain dragged them over to the table.

A minute later, Xain found himself sitting opposite from the stranger, who was currently engrossed in stuffing their face full of fish, tipping the pouch of water over their mouth, and generally being a rude houseguest. Not that Xain could exactly blame them, but it did make things a bit awkward. The language barrier between them wasn’t all that helpful either.

Once it looked like the stranger had slowed down, Xain decided to take the opportunity to introduce himself. It seemed more and more like they were going to be under the same roof for a little while, so they might as well know each other’s names.

Pointing to himself, the kitsune said, “Xain.”

The stranger, in the middle of gnawing on their last piece of fish, froze. “Xain?” they said, pointing to themselves after a few seconds of staring at Xain.

What. What did the stranger think Xain was saying? The kitsune shook his head, then pointed to himself a little more forcefully. “Xain.”

“Xain,” said the stranger, copying the kitsune.

Ugh. With a deep sigh, Xain gestured to himself. “My name is Xain,” he said slowly and carefully, extending the pads of his paws to the stranger when he finished.

The stranger seemed to (finally) get the hint. They pointed to themselves; when Xain nodded, they said, “Rasca?”

Ah, so that was their name. Nodding, Xain said, “It’s nice to meet you, Rasca.”

Confusion flickered across the stranger’s face. “Xain?” the stranger said.

Xain got the feeling the next couple weeks were going to be a little long.


Chapter Three: Getting to Know You

Part One (229 words): no, I don't know if xain has ever played charades/a game comparable to charades, and I'm definitely not making stuff up as I go along

Spoiler! :
Xain watched as the string on his fishing soared through the air and landed at the edge of the deeper water in the cover. As he stood there, ankles in the water, he tried to think about the words that he’d learned today.

It had been about a week since he’d pulled Rasca away from the shore. Rasca had spent most of that week in bed, and Xain could only get them to come out from under the bedsheets with food. And whatever Rasca had in that chest, but Rasca wasn’t keen on explaining the chest to Xain. Sometimes, when Xain left the house in the early morning to go fishing, he could hear Rasca open the chest. But it, and Rasca’s lips, would always be closed by the time Xain came back.

That wasn’t necessarily Xain’s problem – talking to Rasca, and figuring out Rasca’s situation, was. Their meals were starting to turn into vaguely annoying games of charades, where Xain and Rasca would point to different objects in the house and name them. Yesterday night, Rasca had named a pillow, and maybe the chimney. Or maybe fire. It had been a little hard to tell, since Rasca had been a little uncomfortable sitting next to the fire. Xain wasn’t quite sure why; the kitsune had gotten used to the smell a long time ago. And Rasca smelled worse.


Part Two (1087 words): Once I caught a fish and dad stoned it to death in front of me without telling me what he was going to do beforehand, anyways here's your weekly post

Spoiler! :
But Xain could take care of that. In the meantime, the kitsune focused on the surface of the water, rolling around new words in his head. Learning another language was, strange. He’d heard snippets of other languages from traders, sailors, travelers that wandered into his village or by his house, but it had been gibberish to him. They’d either been talking to each other, hadn’t known what language he knew, or had been humming some tune. None of that had anything to do with him. Taking that gibberish and applying it to something he knew was a little off-putting.

The string snapped taut. On instinct, the kitsune hauled the rod back, sending a large brown fish soaring into the air. As the kitsune twisted around, he threw the rod towards the sand. In a few seconds, the fish crashed onto the beach, flopping around helplessly.

Xain walked over to the fish. Maybe he’d bring it to Rasca and ask what it was called in Rasca’s language. Two words for the same thing, unless Rasca’s idea of a fish was a little different from Xain’s idea of a fish. Hmm. Xain felt like he’d get the hang of it eventually, but it scared him. Maybe the rock that he picked up meant something more like a pebble or a boulder in Rasca’s language. How could he ever figure that difference out? Maybe it didn’t matter – maybe Xain would get Rasca back to their home before it became an issue. Or maybe Xain would figure out how to think and speak in two different languages, blend them together, sound like he’d spoken them both for his entire life, impress his family, understand Rasca perfectly. He did like the idea, even if he wasn’t sure how to make it happen. It’d take a while, at the least.

Slamming the rock on the fish’s head, Xain watched as it started to struggle a little less, mouth opening and closing more slowly. It stopped moving after the third blow; Xain picked it up and dropped it into a basket. At least the fishing hadn’t been so bad. After Rasca had driven away that monster, it must’ve told its friends to stay away from the cove. The larger creatures wouldn’t be scaring away the fish for a while. Hopefully. Those things could be surprisingly persistent, especially since they weren’t used to a whole lot of resistance.

Right now, it didn’t look like Xain would run out of fish too quickly. He still needed to get Rasca to join him, even though that’d make Rasca’s already impressive appetite worse. Before he could do that, though, Rasca needed a bath. Xain wasn’t about to let Rasca’s rancid odor drive the fish away.

That was why, with only a couple hours of fishing behind him, Xain slung the basket over his shoulder, grabbed his rod, and began making his way up the cliff. The gentle morning wind nipped at his ears, while the stone under his paws felt frigid. He ignored it. The seasons didn’t change too much in a place like this – it was always humid, never too hot, could get frigid in the winter. And it was only a couple weeks before harvest season wrapped up, so the weather wasn’t going to get any more reasonable than this for a long time. Not the worst time to take a bath.

Reaching the top of the cliff, Xain walked around the house. Not far from the back of the house, a stone well with a rotting wooden conical top had been set into the ground. Xain remember when his dad had last replaced that top with the prow of a boat; the kitsune could still see where the peak of the cone curved. A rope stretched deep into the well, with a submerged pouch of water on the other end.

Xain set his basket and rod down, stretching. He winced as his back popped, then relaxed as he rotated his shoulders and caught side of the metal basins set next to well. Walking over, Xain dragged one around the side of the house. He wanted to respect Rasca’s privacy, after all.

It wasn’t long before Xain found himself yanking the rope up, pouring pouches of water into each of the basins. Between the rotting top and the frayed rope, it wasn’t the safest thing he’d ever done. But he could still remember sitting on his father’s shoulders, trying to hold the top up while the father nailed it into place. He didn’t quite feel in the mood to replace them, even if they’d been around long before he’d grown his second tail.

The basins were just wide and just deep enough for Xain to sit in, so long as his legs dangled over the side, so it only took until the sun had risen slightly above the cliffs for the kitsune to fill them up. Now came what Xain suspected was the hard part – getting Rasca to take a bath.

On the bright side, the commotion had clearly woken Rasca up. Rasca stared at Xain as he walked into the house, rod and basket in hand. But, by the time Xain had walked over to the kitchen to set the rod and basket down, they’d already flopped back into bed and wrapped themselves up in blankets. Ugh.

Xain made his way over to the bed in question, gently prodding the lump resting on it. Nothing. Another prod. Nothing. A third prod. Rasca’s snout poked out from the blankets, sniffing in Xain’s general direction. Xain could see a pair of eyes in the shadow of the blanket. Good enough.

Crouching down, Xain tugged at the blanket around Rasca’s snout, tapping Rasca’s overalls while waving a paw over his nose. Rasca took the hint, given the way that they growled and shoved their snout back into the blanket. The blanket turned into a pile of flailing limbs and grumbling, spitting out overalls, a shirt, an undershirt, boots, long socks, and boxers. The kitsune was a little concerned about how he’d wash all of those things, since he didn’t quite recognize the thick fabric on them, but he figured they’d probably take to cold water well enough.

Still, there was the matter of Rasca themselves. After some more prodding, Rasca seemed a little less enthusiastic about giving up the blanket, but (eventually) handed it over anyway. Tail wrapped around their waist, Rasca turned their back on Xain, and was even less enthusiastic when Xain kept on poking them.


Part Three (857 words): I was going to write "his tail scratching his back" but I am human and have limits, and my fox-people having prehensile tails is one of those

Spoiler! :
Rasca groaned, waving an arm at Xain. Ugh. With Rasca not being very cooperative, Xain figured it’d be best to bring the tub to them. Setting Rasca’s clothes on the floor, Xain walked outside the house, around the corner, and grabbed onto the edges of the basin. A lot of struggling, growling, and scraping later, Xain managed to haul the basin up to the front of the house. “Come on out!” Xain said. “I don’t want my house smelling like wet fur!”

A growl came out of the entrance. Ugh. Well, Rasca must’ve heard all that noise, and they could definitely see the edges of the basin from the bed. If Rasca didn’t take the hint, Xain would have to be a little more forceful. Xain wasn’t about to share a house with someone who smelled that awful, especially if the other person was okay with it. Xain had no idea how Rasca’s parents could’ve tolerated them; he certainly wasn’t about to. Still, Xain had been waiting a week, and he could wait a few more hours. In the meantime, Xain could take his own bath.

The kitsune walked around to the back of the house, where his own basin was. Slipping off his loincloth, he slipped into the water. Just a tad frigid, but he’d been doing this long enough that he didn’t notice. Besides, he liked being able to rest into the water and stare out at the horizon. As he scratched his back, his eyes shifted from the gently rolling plains to sharp cliffs. It wasn’t always the friendliest place; those short, gray grasses didn’t provide any protection from the winds, and they made farming a bit of a challenge (as he’d found out in the couple months he’d tried to farm). The rocks on the cliff were cold and unforgiving, and the sea was full of strange, large, dangerous creatures. He’d certainly gotten his fair share of cuts, bruises, and scratches from the both of them.

And yet, this was all his. His house. His well. His basins. His fish. His thatch baskets. His family had made a living off of this land, and so was he. As many evenings as he saw stray tentacles, as many family members told him that they were worried for his safety, he didn’t want to be anywhere else.

He tilted his head back, staring up at the mostly clear sky. Pale blue, with a few clouds running across it. It wouldn’t look this nice for a long time. Xain frowned; he didn’t way that matched up with his situation, but he was trying to keep an eye on a kit he didn’t understand. A very unhygienic and strange kit, at that. What would happen if his family decided to pay a surprise visit? What if he couldn’t teach the stranger how to fish? He wasn’t in the mood to head back to the village, or see how the stranger would get along with the others. If the villagers weren’t big fans of Xain, they wouldn’t like the stranger. Maybe he felt just a tad protective, but the stranger wouldn’t have been alive if Xain hadn’t gotten them out of there.

Reaching down into the basin, Xain pulled out a comb. He began to run the comb along his arms and legs, trying to smooth out the fur. It was always nice to see the knots uncurl, tangles and twists fade away, matted furs stick back up. The only thing that dampened his mood was knowing that it’d be a long time before he’d stop worrying. It had taken him years to get comfortable living on his own here; he guessed that the stranger, if they were staying around, could take as long. Or longer – even with Xain as a support, the stranger had some weird motivations. Which meant that Xain would have to face his family. And he’d faced them plenty of times, but it never stopped being scary to him. They’d never said to his face that they’d drag him back to the village if they were afraid of, but they’d never had to. He hated that.

Once he felt like most of his fur was spreading out, Xain pulled himself out of the water. He stretched, then pressed his forepaws against his back. Time for the less fun part; Xain grabbed the basin and tipped it over, spilling water onto the soil. It ran between grass blades, reaching towards the cliffs. The soil wasn’t nearly deep enough to soak much of it in, so it sat there, waiting to freeze up with the night. Xain had some less than fond memories of slipping on that ice in the past. And Xain still needed to wash all the clothes in blankets, which meant filling that basin right back up.

Fortunately, by the time Xain made it back to the house, loincloth in hand, he found the other basin pulled away from the house and tipped over. Some fur in the water also told him that Rasca had actually gone and taken a bath.

Alright. So Rasca did take the hint. Xain could work with that.


Chapter Four: Open Book

Part One (211 words): lmao languages

Spoiler! :
“Soil,” Xain slowly said in Rasca’s language, handing a block of earth over to Rasca.

“Soil,” Rasca said back, using Xain’s language. The fox (that’s what he liked to call himself) reached up and set the block into a corner of the house. “Block of soil.”

Xain nodded, reaching down to scoop up yet another block in the pile beside them. “Block of soil.”

Tail twitching, Rasca stepped out of the way and gestured towards a higher-up spot. “Small,” he said, gesturing to himself. “You are not.”

Perks of being a head taller. Xain set the block in place, then stepped back to admire his handiwork. They’d only been working for a couple hours, and had spent a lot of that time tearing down worn and collapsing bricks, but that corner of the house was already fitting back into place. It looked almost normal again; it would by the end of the day.

“Good?” Rasca said, looking over at Xain.

Xain nodded again. “Good.”

Rasca took the opportunity to immediately make a beeline for the front of the house. Not exactly what Xain had meant, but figuring out this whole metaphors and hidden meanings thing was a bit of a challenge. Besides, Rasca was probably going to go get his sketchbooks.


Part Two (1,012 words): lmao stress

Spoiler! :
It’d been a bit of a surprised to find out why Rasca had been obsessed with that chest, but Rasca adored those books. The fox loved to make sketches of anything that caught his interest – the horizon, the house, the cove, the plains, Xain, so on. Which was why the fox was already coming back around the corner, sketchbook and charcoal in paw.

Xain wasn’t quite sure how he felt about being sketched. Rasca had shown him a couple sketches, and Xain had been pulled in by that attention to detail, the postures, the little smiles and frowns in those facial expressions. It had almost been like looking in a mirror. And yet, Xain hadn’t looked in a mirror in years. He’d seen his own reflection in puddles plenty of times (and sometimes in the cove, if the ocean was calm enough). Though he didn’t want to criticize Rasca’s art skills, Xain couldn’t help but wonder if those drawings were wrong. Were Xain’s whiskers really that long? Did Xain’s ears really taper off like that? Seeing himself on a piece of paper felt strange, especially since it reminded Xain that he hadn’t thought much about how he looked in a long time.

Oop, Rasca had started gesturing at Xain. Hoisting a block up to about the height of his head, Xain stared up at the corner of the house and tried his best to look serious. Uncomfortable or not, Xain had to admit those sketchbooks gave Rasca something other to do than eat or sleep. Other than trying to talk to Xain, but Rasca generally had to leave the bed if he wanted to find any inspiration for a drawing.

It took until Xain’s arms had just started to shake before Rasca gave a thumbs up. Or, what Xain was reasonably sure was a thumbs up. Ugh, it was annoying enough that they had to try to understand what the other was saying. All those little gestures and signs were icing on the cake. But Rasca had already started to walk away, so Xain hoisted the brick onto the corner and adjusted it so it fit nicely in place.

Plopping down on the ground, Xain crossed his legs and took a deep breath. He still wasn’t sure what to think of Rasca. They’d only known each other for a couple of weeks, and they had an enormous language barrier to overcome, but Xain was starting to realize just how little he knew about Rasca. Age, for example. Xain had been convinced that Rasca was a kit, because of Rasca’s one tail. But Rasca had seemed a little confused when Xain had pointed at his tail, and that conversation had quickly turned into something about the number of summers they had both been through. From the way Rasca described it, he was only a couple summers younger than Xain. Which didn’t make any sense at all. What had happened to Rasca’s tails? Was there something wrong with Rasca that kept him from growing tails? Rasca had seemed confused when Xain had explained growing tails (possibly because Xain had done that by gesturing something moving away from his butt), so there was the chance that foxes just didn’t grow tails. A pity – Xain wasn’t far off from growing his third.

And Rasca wasn’t being honest, either. That chest was far too large to hold just those sketchbooks, but Rasca didn’t want to explain what else was in there. Xain was almost certain Rasca had stuffed the metal stick in there the moment Xain’s back was turned. When Xain had asked about it, Rasca had grimaced and said, voice a little high-pitched, that he didn’t know what Xain was talking about. Xain had tried to get it into Rasca’s head that Xain needed to know where Rasca had come from and why Rasca had ended up here, but Rasca had shut his lips and looked away. Rasca also hadn’t been keen on the idea of going fishing, which didn’t make Xain nervous at all. It wasn’t like Xain’s plan was starting to fall apart, or Xain needed outside help or anything.

They were sharing the same bed now. Xain had grown tired of sleeping on the floor, especially with as cold as it was getting, and had figured they were just familiar enough with each other that it wouldn’t make Rasca too uncomfortable. Rasca never brought that up, but Rasca definitely liked to kick Xain in his sleep. That felt a little too appropriate.

But that wasn’t quite why Xain hadn’t been getting much sleep. He’d been alone in this house for a couple years now. How was he supposed to share a bed with someone he didn’t know if he could trust or not?

“Good?” Rasca said. The kitsune turned his head to see the fox peeking around the corner.

Pulling himself up, the kitsune gestured to the blocks still on the ground. Slapping himself on the forehead, Rasca walked on over. Snatching up a block, Rasca stared up at Xain’s face and said again, “Good?”

Oops, Xain had been frowning at Rasca. Shaking his head and blinking his eyes, Xain sighed. “Good,” Xain said, though he got the distinct feeling that his smile didn’t line up with his eyes.

Rasca smiled awkwardly, but didn’t say anything; he started moving blocks over to the corner of the house. Xain followed suit, taking the blocks from Rasca, lifting them up, and sliding them into place. Silence fell over the both of them. It was an anxious silence – as simple as the work was, as quiet as the work was, as much as it brought Xain comfort by being part of his normal routine, Xain had been thinking a little too long. A question had also started worming its way through his brain.

“Rasca?” Xain said at last, setting the brick into place and staring down at the fox.

The fox winced, instinctively cradling the brick closer to his chest and hunching slightly. “Yes?” Rasca said.

Xain pointed over at the cliff. “Fish?” the kitsune said.


Part Three (1,042 words): rasca does not actually like the boat

Spoiler! :
The fox visibly winced. Not a great sign. “Yes?” Rasca said, gesturing to the house.

Ugh, Rasca was deliberately misinterpreting him. Xain shook his head and said, “Go to cove.”

“Many fish,” Rasca said, tilting his head at the house.

“For one,” said Xain. The kitsune set a paw on his hip and frowned.

Lowering the brick he was holding, Rasca gulped. “Couple days?” the fox said, taking a step back.

The kitsune shook his head. “We need food,” Xain said, setting a paw on Rasca’s shoulder. A tad rude, but it looked like Rasca had half a mind to run away, and that wouldn’t help either of them. Fortunately, it was about then that Xain realized he had another way to persuade Rasca. If Xain couldn’t appeal to their ability to eat, Xain could appeal to Rasca’s hobbies. “Draw the water.”

Rasca’s eyes lit up. “Yes?” he said.

“Yes,” Xain said. “Go to cove, fish, draw the water.”

The light slipped away, replaced by a frown. “Fish?” Rasca said.

“No fish, I no go to cove,” said Xain.

The fox stared out towards the cliffs, biting his lip. Xain knew that there was no way Rasca would go to the cove on his own. Rasca knew what was down there – even if the cliffs, the cove, the water were gorgeous, it wasn’t worth the risk to go without someone who knew what lurked in the depths.

Still, Rasca had been more than a little stubborn the last couple weeks. With every second that Rasca looked away, Xain grew more worried that Rasca would try to go on his own. And then whatever leverage Xain had over Rasca would fall apart, because Xain wasn’t about to let Rasca head to the cove alone. And Xain got the feeling he wouldn’t quite be able to restrain Rasca either. That would only make them living in the same house even more stressful.

Fortunately, Rasca bowed his head and said, “Fish.”

Ugh, finally. Trying not to let relief show on his face, Xain nodded. “Rod?” the kitsune said, tracing out the shape of the rod.

Since Rasca began to walk over to the house, Xain figured he’d gotten the hint. The kitsune took the opportunity to snatch up the few remaining bricks and slide them in. Standing back, Xain sighed. Not the prettiest work Xain had ever done, but he could smoothen them out soon. Besides, it was his house – he could do what he wanted with it.

Walking quickly, Xain headed around the corner of the house and almost ran right into Rasca. Rasca jumped back, almost dropping the rod in his paws. Clutching his chest, Rasca took a deep breath, then handed the rod over to Xain. Not the best part.

“It’s noon,” Xain said, pointing to the sun as he walked towards the front door. Rasca quickly caught up to him, keeping pace. “Fish asleep, monsters asleep.”

That seemed to make Rasca feel a little better; the fox had stopped shaking by the time Xain walked into the house, snatched a net from where it had been lying by the baskets, and handed it over to Rasca.

After that, Xain made a beeline for the coast, with Rasca right beside him. Xain let out a quiet sigh of relief as he thought of every reason that it had been better that Rasca had agreed to go fishing. The cliffs they found themselves navigating down weren’t extremely dangerous – the path was wide enough to fit both of them side-to-side, if not comfortably, and none of the drops between the switchbacks were that steep. However, someone who wasn’t familiar with the path could easily get themselves hurt, either by tripping over a rock, slipping down the side of the cliff, or both. And Xain didn’t exactly have a lot in the way of first aid.

“Fish asleep,” Rasca said as they rounded one switchback. The kitsune looked back to see the fox dragging the net along the ground, steps slow and heavy. Hng.

“Yes,” Xain said, tugging on the corner of the net. The fox glanced back, then draped the net over himself. Xain nodded in approval. “Learn to fish, then fish.”

Hindpaws digging into the sand, Xain waited for Rasca to step onto the beach. Rasca hesitated at the edge of the rocks, nudging the edge of the sand with his hindpaws. Whatever the fox thought, it was enough for him to walk onto the beach.

Nodding, Xain walked out onto the beach. Even with the midday sun, the sand felt cool as it wormed between his claws. A faint gust whipped up the water, which formed little white caps as it crashed onto the shore. And, sure enough, the ocean was just frigid enough that Xain could already feel the tips of his claws go numb as he walked into the water. However, the kitsune didn’t notice that, since he realized that he hadn’t been hearing Rasca’s pawsteps.

Xain looked back, finding Rasca staring at a spot by the cliffs to Xain’s right. Oh, that was where Xain had left the boat, wasn’t it? Though the kitsune had the feeling he’d regret it, his eyes followed Rasca’s, catching sight of the splinters of what had once been a boat. It didn’t help that the sand was dry enough to show that the tide never went that far. Something had clearly decided to smash up the boat. Something strong, if a plank of wood resting a few feet up the cliff was anything to go by, or how a piece of one of the oars was protruding up from the sand to Xain’s left.

The kitsune wasn’t terribly surprised – even if Rasca had killed that monster, it wasn’t out of the question that some other one had been attracted to the cove by all the fish. And those monsters were usually smart enough to know that boats meant targets (they usually weren’t smart enough to know boats could also make for threats). And a monster could’ve easily smelled traces of Rasca on that boat. Poor Rasca; he’d probably been fond of that boat, if how he treated that chest was anything to go by.

“Asleep,” Xain called, gesturing for Rasca to come over.


Part Four (1,067 words): oooooooh mysteeeeeeerious

Spoiler! :
Visibly shaking, Rasca pointed to the boat. Ugh, it didn’t look like the fox was going to move. Sighing, Xain made his way back to the shore. The kitsune wasn’t quite sure whether to place a paw on the fox’s shoulder, or give the fox a hug, or anything like that, so he decided to stop in front of the fox and repeat, “Asleep.”

The fox relaxed slightly, shoulders slumping. When he reached paw towards Xain, the kitsune took it in his own and squeezed gently. “Yes?” Rasca said, looking at Xain with wide eyes.

“Years here,” Xain said, nodding. “Yes.”

Placing his other paw on top of Xain’s, Rasca let the kitsune walk the both of them into the ocean. The fox made a small squeaking noise – a glance back told Xain that it was both the temperature of the water and the net trying to slide into it. One of Rasca’s paws shot back to readjust the net, and then Rasca tightened his grip on Xain’s paw.

It wasn’t long before the water reached halfway between their ankles and their knees (enough for Rasca to stop at one point and roll up his trousers). Deep enough; Xain stopped, gently shaking his paw free from Rasca’s. While Rasca pulled the net off and slipped it into the water, the kitsune crouched down, staring at the shifting sands around his hindpaws. Nothing hiding in the sand, as far as he could tell.

“What?” Rasca said from over Xain’s shoulder. The kitsune turned his head back, almost smacking Rasca with his snout. Just a tad too close for comfort.

Xain shook his head. “Nothing,” he said, waving for Rasca to take a step back as he rose up. Then Xain gestured for Rasca to take a few steps forward. The fox gave a couple hesitant glances, but rolled his trouser legs up a little more and made his way deeper into the water.

Rod in hand, Xain yanked the string back, throwing it forward so it landed close to where Rasca was standing. “Catch fish,” Xain said, pointing at himself, then pointing at Rasca, “Net.”

Rasca nodded. Taking a wider stance, the fox tossed the net into the water, then reached his paws down to pick it up. For a second, Rasca toppled forward – Xain gasped, but Rasca quickly yanked himself back up, net in his paws.

Letting out a sigh of relief, Xain shook his head. “Net,” the kitsune repeated, using his spare forepaw to gesture lowering the net into the water. Rasca nodded and gave a sheepish grin, shoving the net into the water and shaking it like he was trying to trap some aggressive fish. Water spraying across his clothes, Rasca looked over to Xain and tilted his head, the fox’s smile growing a little more strained.

When Xain nodded, Rasca let out a sigh of relief and pulled the net back. Swiveling around, Xain pointed to a spot on the other side from where Rasca was standing. Rasca tried to move over there, but Xain raised a paw. “Catch fish, throw fish, net fish,” Xain said to Rasca. The fox shivered, but seemed to get the point – he stayed in place.

Xain threw the string back into the water. A few seconds later, he tugged on it, then hauled it over his head. Rasca bolted after it, or as much as he could bolt in the water; he managed to kick up a good amount of sand in the process. Between that and the effort of raising the net over his head, the fox was almost distracted enough to flop into the water. However, Xain quickly grabbed Rasca by the nape of his neck. The fox growled, but took the next few steps very carefully. A few seconds later, Rasca lowered the net into the water, and Xain gave a nod.

They spent the next few hours gradually make their way across the cove, Xain picking new spots for Rasca to run to. The kitsune was genuinely surprised at how well the fox took it. In spite of the cold, how hard it was to run across the water, how much his clothes got soaked, Rasca got into the rhythms of catching fish quickly. It helped that they took a few breaks, so Rasca could run back to the shore, grab his book, and start drawing sketches. And, towards the end, Rasca looked to be in good enough spirits that Xain could teach Rasca some of the basics of using the rod himself. Which Rasca also got the hang of, though the fox wasn’t so quick about tossing the string back, and wasn’t so slow about pulling the string in. But that’d just take practice.

With the sun not too far away from the horizon, Xain found himself resting on the shoreline, propping his arms against the sand while he stared up at the sky. The clouds had started to break apart and drift away, leaving behind the pale sun and an even paler blue sky. The rod, net, and Rasca’s trousers soaked in the sunlight beside Xain, while the fox stood at the edge of the water and scribbled his surroundings. The fox looked so focused, staring at the cliff faces and the waves so intently, not even noticing the water beginning to pour over his hindpaws, that Xain was almost afraid to say something. But the kitsune did have something to say.

“Sorry,” Xain said. When Rasca blinked in looked in the kitsune’s direction, the kitsune made a gesture that the fox would hopefully interpret as Xain grabbing him by his fur.

Rasca shook his head. “Okay,” the fox said. “Not wet.”

A small pause.

“Fish tomorrow?” said Xain, voice sounding more confident than he had been expecting.

Rasca nodded. “Fish,” he said, slipping his book and charcoal back into his pocket and stepping back from the waves. The fox sat down beside Xain, crossing his legs and staring out at the horizon.

Between his small frown, the barely-visible bags under his eyes, and the way his snout twitched, the fox almost looked sad. It hurt to see that emotion on Rasca’s face. And it hurt more that Xain wasn’t sure if he could ask why. Maybe he’d find out, one of these days. At least “one of these days” didn’t sound nearly as scary as it used to. That was something.


Chapter Five: Stinging

Part One (1,052 words): gosh darnit, I checked my notes after I wrote this and found that I had a much better plan in mind. Ugh, I'mma definitely have to go edit this sometime.

Spoiler! :
“You can see?” Rasca said, standing at the edge of the water. Waves washed up against the soles of his boots, while sunlight began to color the white cliffs in shades of pink and purple. The fox crossed his arms and shivered, rattling the net on his head.

“All time,” said Xain, nodding. The kitsune, hindpaws in the water, stared out at the horizon ahead of them. A tad late, since the sun had just started to crest over the ocean, but they could still catch some fish. Hopefully more than usual, now that Xain had someone who could use a net. Besides, though the waves were a little rough this morning, the fog was quickly retreating in the wake of the sun. He wasn’t as worried about being on time, what with the weather better than normal.

Everything had been going according to plan. Xain had been taking out Rasca earlier and earlier every day, and they’d actually caught some fish yesterday. Rasca hadn’t been too comfortable about the whole beating the fish to death part, but Xain had tried to stand between Rasca and the fish and be as quiet as possible. There hadn’t been much more he could’ve done; it was just part of fishing for food. It wasn’t like they were going to eat their food alive. Xain had tried that once, and he hadn’t been a big fan of it.

Xain heard Rasca walk into the water behind him. The kitsune wasn’t sure if he was a big fan of the sloshing noises coming from those boots, or how slow Rasca was moving. Rasca had been more comfortable putting them on when Xain had explained to Rasca that there could easily be monsters at this time of the day, but those boots were still loud. Hng. As long as they helped Rasca stay safe. If they scared the fish away, there was always the chance they could scare the monsters as well.

Catching up to Xain, Rasca walked alongside him. “Day and day and day?” Rasca said, catching the net before it slipped off of his head.

Extending his rod, Xain nodded. “Yes,” he said. “Need food.”

“Get more food, go less?” Rasca said, stopping when Xain did.

“Idea, yes,” Xain said. Pointing to a spot in waters shallow enough to see the sandy bottom, the kitsune nodded. The fox, taking the hint, walked over to that spot. Then Xain lowered his rod, letting the string dangle over the water. It touched the water’s surface, stretching out ahead of the kitsune. And, with the rod baited (with a worm that had been squirming around by the back of the house) and prepared, they waited. Now that they were out to catch fish, Xain knew it’d take a little longer than Rasca was used to for Xain to flick the rod back, but Rasca had shown that he could handle that wait. If nothing else, it made it a little easier for Rasca to see beneath the almost-black waves. Some creatures loved to hide in the –

Something moved at the edge of Xain’s vision. The kitsune, already beginning to move back, glared down at the water around his hindpaws. He could make out his hindpaws, as well as the small clouds of sand that they picked up, but it was hard to spot anything else. Or, until the sun rose enough to illuminate the surface of the water. That tail swishing beneath the waves was unmistakable.

“Oh, sh—” Xain started, trying to turn around, but it was too late. He screamed as he felt a searing pain in his ankle. Dots splashed across his vision, arms and legs buckling and forcing him into the water. The cold ocean rushed around his ears as he struggled to prop his forepaws against the sand. He’d let go of his rod. He didn’t know where it was. His eyes tried to make out any shapes in the water, but it was all too dark and too blurry.

The kitsune almost screamed again when he felt something wrap around his waist. It took him a couple seconds to realize it was a paw – Rasca had grabbed onto him. A second later, Xain’s head popped above the water. Coughing and spluttering, the kitsune’s eyes darted around wildly, trying to catch a glimpse of anything. But Rasca held Xain’s head close to his chest, if only because Rasca was trying to carry the net, Xain, and the rod (Xain could see Rasca clutching it with his free forepaw) out of the ocean.

Xain couldn’t say anything – any words that formed in his brain never made it past his mouth, or came out as anything other than blubbering. Xain couldn’t do anything. Had he been poisoned? Was he alright? He couldn’t exactly feel his knee anymore.

The icy water gave way to sand as Rasca dragged Xain across the shallows. Grunting and groaning, Rasca tightened his grip around Xain’s chest and hauled the both of them onto the beach. Xain flopped on top of Rasca, who quickly squeezed out from underneath the kitsune and dragged the kitsune’s hindpaws onto the beach.

And screamed.

Eyes shooting over to the hindpaw in question, Xain saw blood leaking onto the sand. For a second, Xain’s heart stopped – he couldn’t move that hindpaw, and he swore that he could see bone. What little bit of sense was left in him tried to get a hold of him, reminding him that no, it couldn’t be as bad as that. As matted and blood-stained as his fur was, he couldn’t actually see any bone. A few seconds of looking later told him it was too far above his ankle to have done any significant damage. Sure, he could feel his heart pounding against his chest, and he knew that it wasn’t just a scratch. But he wasn’t dying. Hopefully.

Throwing the net and rod on the ground, Rasca crouched down by the injury. The fox quickly peeled his shirt off, wrapping it around the wound. Tears beginning to stream down his face, Rasca kept glancing at Xain’s face as he tightened the makeshift bandage. It was about then that Xain realized he was just a little startled.

“Okay?” Rasca half-said, half-shouted, reaching over to pull Xain’s head up. “Are you?”
Last edited by TheSilverFox on Mon Dec 02, 2019 3:26 am, edited 1 time in total.
S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
a persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma per ciò che giammai di questo fondo
non tornò vivo alcun, s'i' odo il vero,
senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

Inferno, Canto 27, l 61-66.
  





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Mon Dec 02, 2019 3:26 am
TheSilverFox says...



More of The Writing


*screaming angrily about post limits*

Part One, Redone (1,262 words): lol took care of that


Spoiler! :
“You can see?” Rasca said, standing at the edge of the water. Waves washed up against the soles of his boots, while sunlight began to color the white cliffs in shades of pink and purple. The fox crossed his arms and shivered, rattling the net on his head.

“All time,” said Xain, nodding. The kitsune, hindpaws in the water, stared out at the horizon ahead of them. A tad late, since the sun had just started to crest over the ocean, but they could still catch some fish. Hopefully more than usual, now that Xain had someone who could use a net. Besides, though the waves were a little rough this morning, the fog was quickly retreating in the wake of the sun. He wasn’t as worried about being on time, what with the weather better than normal.

Everything had been going according to plan. Xain had been taking out Rasca earlier and earlier every day, and they’d actually caught some fish yesterday. Rasca hadn’t been too comfortable about the whole beating the fish to death part, but Xain had tried to stand between Rasca and the fish and be as quiet as possible. There hadn’t been much more he could’ve done; it was just part of fishing for food. It wasn’t like they were going to eat their food alive. Xain had tried that once, and he hadn’t been a big fan of it.

Xain heard Rasca walk into the water behind him. The kitsune wasn’t sure if he was a big fan of the sloshing noises coming from those boots, or how slow Rasca was moving. Rasca had been more comfortable putting them on when Xain had explained to Rasca that there could easily be monsters at this time of the day, but those boots were still loud. Hng. As long as they helped Rasca stay safe. If they scared the fish away, there was always the chance they could scare the monsters as well.

Catching up to Xain, Rasca walked alongside him. “Day and day and day?” Rasca said, catching the net before it slipped off of his head.

Extending his rod, Xain nodded. “Yes,” he said. “Need food.”

“Get more food, go less?” Rasca said, stopping when Xain did.

“Idea, yes,” Xain said. Pointing to a spot in waters shallow enough to see the sandy bottom, the kitsune nodded. The fox, taking the hint, walked over to that spot. Then Xain lowered his rod, letting the string dangle over the water. It touched the water’s surface, stretching out ahead of the kitsune. And, with the rod baited (with a worm that had been squirming around by the back of the house) and prepared, they waited. Now that they were out to catch fish, Xain knew it’d take a little longer than Rasca was used to for Xain to flick the rod back, but Rasca had shown that he could handle that wait. If nothing else, it made it a little easier for Rasca to see beneath the almost-black waves. Some creatures loved to hide in the –

“Xain?”

Looking up from the water, the kitsune turned back towards Rasca. He half-expected Rasca to ask about how long Xain was taking, or maybe ask about making a sketch soon. Instead, Rasca appeared to be staring down in the water, shaking visibly. Ice flowed through Xain’s veins as the kitsune cause the unmistakable swish of a tail in the sand between the two of them.

Rasca tried to take a loud step back, but Xain raised a paw. “No,” Xain hissed. The fox paused, boot almost above the water. “Stay. Quiet. Boots safe.”

“Sharp,” the fox whispered back, eyes darting between Xain and the creature.

“Yes,” said Xain, nodding his head. “So, quiet.”

The next few seconds trickled by. Both eyes focused on the creature, which rotated around in the sand. It seemed indecisive, like it had spotted them both and wasn’t sure who to target. Which had to be the case. Xain slowly moved his hindpaws through the sand, trying not to get the creature’s attention. And, fortunately enough, it worked. Unfortunately enough, the creature began to twist its way over to Rasca.

The water exploded into life as Rasca, screaming, turned and began to run towards the shore. Between all the splashing, sloshing, and the sand kicked up, Xain found himself also running, all while frantically scanning the water to see where the creature had gone. He could make out his hindpaws, as well as the small clouds of sand that they picked up, but it was hard to spot anything else in the murky chaos. Or, until the sun rose enough to illuminate the surface of the water. That tail swishing beneath the waves was unmistakable.

“Oh, sh—” Xain started, trying to change direction, but it was too late. He screamed as he felt a searing pain in his ankle. Dots splashed across his vision, arms and legs buckling and forcing him into the water. The cold ocean rushed around his ears as he struggled to prop his forepaws against the sand. He’d let go of his rod. He didn’t know where it was. His eyes tried to make out any shapes in the water, but it was all too dark and too blurry.

The kitsune almost screamed again when he felt something wrap around his waist. It took him a couple seconds to realize it was a paw – Rasca had grabbed onto him. A second later, Xain’s head popped above the water. Coughing and spluttering, the kitsune’s eyes darted around wildly, trying to catch a glimpse of anything. But Rasca held Xain’s head close to his chest, if only because Rasca was trying to carry the net, Xain, and the rod (Xain could see Rasca clutching it with his free forepaw) out of the ocean.

Xain couldn’t say anything – any words that formed in his brain never made it past his mouth, or came out as anything other than blubbering. Xain couldn’t do anything. Had he been poisoned? Was he alright? He couldn’t exactly feel his knee anymore.

The icy water gave way to sand as Rasca dragged Xain across the shallows. Grunting and groaning, Rasca tightened his grip around Xain’s chest and hauled the both of them onto the beach. Xain flopped on top of Rasca, who quickly squeezed out from underneath the kitsune and dragged the kitsune’s hindpaws onto the beach.

And screamed.

Eyes shooting over to the hindpaw in question, Xain saw blood leaking onto the sand. For a second, Xain’s heart stopped – he couldn’t move that hindpaw, and he swore that he could see bone. What little bit of sense was left in him tried to get a hold of him, reminding him that no, it couldn’t be as bad as that. As matted and blood-stained as his fur was, he couldn’t actually see any bone. A few seconds of looking later told him it was too far above his ankle to have done any significant damage. Sure, he could feel his heart pounding against his chest, and he knew that it wasn’t just a scratch. But he wasn’t dying. Hopefully.

Throwing the net and rod on the ground, Rasca crouched down by the injury. The fox quickly peeled his shirt off, wrapping it around the wound. Tears beginning to stream down his face, Rasca kept glancing at Xain’s face as he tightened the makeshift bandage. It was about then that Xain realized he was just a little startled.

“Okay?” Rasca half-said, half-shouted, reaching over to pull Xain’s head up. “Are you?”


Part Two (868 words): very short chapter for everything that goes on in it, somehow

Spoiler! :
Xain tried his best to look a little calmer; lowering his eyelids and closing his mouth (but still gritting his teeth), he nodded.

That didn’t seem to get through to Rasca. Wrapping his arms over his head and biting his lip, the fox stared at the bandage, which had already turned a shade of dark red. Then Rasca pressed his head against Xain’s stomach, mumbling something that Xain didn’t understand. If Xain had to guess, Rasca was saying the word “sorry” over and over again. And Xain wanted to say that no, it wasn’t Rasca’s fault. Rasca had gotten scared, had flipped out over something genuinely scary, probably something he’d never seen before. The kitsune couldn’t blame Rasca for trying to run away - Rasca had even come back to help him. Xain would’ve been at the mercy of the sea and that creature if not for Rasca. But Xain was a little tired, very out of it, and having a hard time breathing with Rasca’s head on his stomach.

“Rasca?” Xain gasped, slowly pulling an arm up from the sand.

The fox glanced up, an eye visible between his arms.

“Go,” said Xain slowly.

Rasca shook his head. “Not you,” he said. Even as tears continued to pour down his face, the fox reached out to grab Xain’s arm and hold it close. At least the fox had raised his head.

Xain shook his head. “Go, home,” he said.

Glancing out towards the sea, the fox shook his head again. “No, I can’t-” he started, voice choppy.

After taking the opportunity to free his paw, Xain set it over Rasca’s mouth. “No,” Xain said, using his other arm to point in the direction of the cliffs. “Us, home.”

Rasca breathed a long, unsteady sigh of relief. He wiped a few tears from his face, then turned around to look at the rod and net. “Walk?” the fox said quietly, beginning to roll up the net as best as he could. Which, given the way it was trying to spill out in every direction, wasn’t great, but Xain wasn’t exactly in a situation to complain.

“You, yes,” Xain said. He tested out his arms and legs – both of his arms were more than a little floppy, jerking along with his heartbeat, but he could move them. His legs, on the other hand, didn’t want to cooperate. He could barely bend his knee on one leg, and he didn’t have any luck with the bleeding one. Hng. “Me? Hmm.”

Stuffing the rod into the center of the loop of net, Rasca twisted back to face Xain. “Hold?” Rasca said, picking up what he’d made and holding it out to the kitsune.

When Xain nodded, Rasca gently lowered the stick and net into Xain’s arms. The kitsune wrapped his arms around the net, the both of them immediately trying to fall apart. Gritting his teeth, he tried to focus as hard as he could on keeping his arms steady. Better yet, he could even tap into his wellspring of magic. As Rasca wrapped his arms around Xain’s chest and began to drag Xain towards the cliffside, Xain watched as a thin layer of ice formed between his forearms and the net. Not comfortable, but it worked.

“Leg?” said Rasca.

Staring down, Xain noticed the trail of blood that stretched along the sand. Far too tempting for any monsters that were lurking in the ocean, but it wasn’t like there was much they could do about it now. “Go,” Xain said.

Sand switched to rock, strong tugs turned to gentle pushes, and Rasca’s frantic breathing turned to slower pants. For his part, Xain closed his eyes and let his mind wander. It didn’t travel far – it didn’t want to think about how he was still bleeding, how cold and rough the ground was, how his leg sent jolts of pain up and down his body, how he was half-convinced he wasn’t in his body. It didn’t want to think about how scared Rasca was, how Rasca blamed himself, how Rasca had been convinced that Xain had told him to leave the kitsune to die. It really didn’t want to think about how much food he had left, how long he’d have to be in bed, what could happen if the injury got infected, if he’d have to go to his family.

Instead, he thought of laying down in bed. His sister had left a bundle of herbs the last time she had showed up. He’d completely forgotten her instructions, but those could certainly come in handy. He just needed to find a better bandage, make some kind of poultice, fall into bed, and go to sleep. If he was lucky, he could wake up the next morning and find out it had all been a dream. And he could go fishing tomorrow. Bring Rasca along, show him the ropes for another few days.

“Xain?”

The kitsune opened his eyes. They’d already made it halfway up the cliffside, and Rasca was currently trying to move Xain around one of the many switchbacks. “Yeah?”

“Good?” Rasca said.

Xain nodded his head. “Good,” said Xain.

“Good,” said Rasca. “Keep good.”

“I will,” Xain said.


Chapter Six: Home

Part One (241 words): gross, words

Spoiler! :
“How are you today?”

Xain frowned. Head against the bedframe, he focused on his paws and tried to think of the right thing to say. “I am okay,” he said, tapping his claws together. A pause. “Thanks you.”

“Thank you,” Rasca said, nodding. The fox had pulled up a chair beside the bed, and was alternating between looking at the kitsune and scribbling in his book. “And your leg?” he said, tilting the tip of his stick (he’d called it a pencil?) to the makeshift cast lying under the bedsheet. A couple pieces of wood, Rasca’s shirt, a few ground-up herbs, and a few odds and ends lying around the house had gone into making it.

“It is, sore,” said Xain. “But better than was last day. Thank you.”

Rasca nodded. “A good to hear thing,” he said. “And yesterday.”

Xain sighed. They’d been stuck in this house for the last week, and he still couldn’t figure out basic words. And sure, languages were hard to figure out, but he’d had plenty of practice, hadn’t he? Getting Rasca to make the poultice had been a challenge all its own, to say nothing about all these conversations. He hadn’t known there was so many words to keep track of, or that those words had to be in the right order, or that there were so many ways to get those words wrong, but not exactly wrong. Like whatever Rasca had just said.


Part Two (1031 words): tmw you get hurt and suddenly you and your weird and rude houseguest have to worry about starving to death, am I right, fellas

Spoiler! :
Noticing the sigh, the fox bowed his head and looked away. “How will it take?” the fox said.

“How long,” Xain replied, then paused. He stared down at his lap, focusing on something beyond the tan bedsheet and his red-orange fur. “Weeks, months, maybe.”

“How many weeks?” said Rasca, biting his lip. “You said months yesterday, so that good is, yes?”

Shrugging, the kitsune reached down and tugged at the bedsheets covering his legs. “That’s is good, yes,” Xain said. He pulled the bedsheets up, quickly focusing on the cast. Even between the planks of wood, he could still see the swelling. His ankle looked more like a grapefruit, or one of those other weird round fruits that a merchant had brought up from the south once. The red and orange had been replaced with hints of blue and purple, and it didn’t move quite like the rest of his leg did. “But I do not know. This never has happened before, and I have often been wrongs.”

Rasca tilted his head. “Not even when a kit were you? And wrong.”

“Never,” Xain repeated. “Dad did not like me going to the ocean. And when you were a kit.”

A small pause. “So, uh,” Rasca began, tapping his pencil against his sketchbook, “How much f-”

“What about you?” Xain said, dropping the bedsheet back over his legs. He leaned forward, resting his chin on a cupped paw as he looked at Rasca. “When you were a kit, what were you likes?”

The fox bit his lip. “What you were like,” said Rasca, “And we do not have any thing big to -”

Xain nodded, saying, “No, we do not. You were a kit, yes?”

“Sure,” Rasca said. His voice grew much quieter, but Xain could still recognize the word. Rasca liked to use that one when he was feeling nervous, or didn’t have anything else to say. Which Xain didn’t mind – he could talk for them both.

“So, what were you like?” said Xain. “You had a dad, yes?”

Rasca nodded.

“Did he take you and him fishing?”

Rasca shook his head. “We, did a whole lot not,” said the fox. “And no ‘and him.’”

The kitsune frowned. “You did not do a whole lot?” he said. “But do fathers not do things with their kids?”

“We just did not,” said Rasca. “He did not talk to me much. He had…strength? So he was busy often. I drew and I wrote and I read and stuff. And then happened things.” The fox’s voice trailed off.

Hmm – that had been the most Rasca had talked about himself since he’d landed here. And Xain wasn’t even sure he knew what Rasca was talking about. Strength? Rasca had hesitated when using that word, so it probably hadn’t been the right one. Maybe the right one had been one that Xain hadn’t taught him. Maybe Rasca had meant something like power? Maybe Rasca’s dad had been leader or captain? Either way, from the sound of it, Xain wasn’t the only orphan. The kitsune set a paw on Rasca’s shoulder, breaking the silence that had fallen over them. “I am sorry,” Xain said. “That must hurt.”

Rasca focused on Xain’s paw. “That is fine,” Rasca said slowly. He set his pencil and sketchbook on the edge of the bed. “It was some time ago.” The fox reached out and grabbed Xain’s shoulder. “Can we try and walk you?”

Blinking, the kitsune nodded. That was a bit of segue – which was just like Rasca – but Xain could understand why Rasca would want to change the topic. Besides, all of Xain’s plans for the next couple weeks involved him walking, and he hadn’t had much success with it a couple days ago. He needed to get the hang of it again.

“We can,” Xain said. He started to shuffle around, but Rasca let go of Xain’s shoulder, grabbing his legs and navigating them over to the side of the bed (while taking care not to knock the book off). While Xain grabbed Rasca’s other shoulder, the fox wrapped his arms around Xain’s chest and slowly began to pull Xain up. The kitsune winced as he felt his injured leg creak and pop, but breathed a sigh of relief once he realized it didn’t give way. A better start than last time. A few seconds later, the kitsune found himself standing and staring down at Rasca, who moved an arm up to Xain’s shoulder. Moving to a spot beside Xain, Rasca used his free paw to gesture at Xain’s legs.

Nodding, Xain began to lift his injured leg. As shaky as it was, and as much of an odd angle as his hindpaw was, the cast did its job. He managed to raise his leg at least a few inches before his vision started getting blurry. He leaned against Rasca, feeling the fox lower Xain’s leg for him.

Then they started walking. Sure, Xain’s parents had told him that he’d had to learn to walk and all, but he couldn’t remember it. And, after that, he’d never had a hard time walking. And yet, here he was, trying to figure out how to make his hindpaw land where he wanted it to. He struggled with every other step; his hindpaw refused to cooperate, trying its best to send him toppling towards or away from Rasca. The fox had an incredible amount of patience, given the way he tugged on Xain, pushed back against Xain, and otherwise did his best to keep Xain steady.

But, before he knew it, he found himself standing in the kitchen. Panting, the kitsune blinked the spots out of his eyes as he stared out over the basin, the knife, the cutting board, the box of dried fish that Rasca had just opened –

Oh.

“How many weeks?” said Rasca, staring up at Xain.

Pinching his snout, the kitsune sighed. “One,” he said. “One and half of one, at most.”

“That is not long enough, you know,” Rasca said.

Xain let out a long breath. “I know,” he replied.

“Are you going to town? To family?”

The kitsune’s shoulders slumped. “Maybe,” he said, lowering his head.


Part Three (1037 words): ;-; (gosh darn it david willis, I've been reading too much dumbing of age again)

Spoiler! :
Slowly closing the box, Rasca looked up at Xain. “Yes,” said Rasca. It was a tone that Xain wasn’t used to, but he figured it out quickly. Rasca was giving him an order.

“Yes,” said Xain quietly, watching Rasca pull himself up. Xain couldn’t help, mostly because he didn’t trust himself to keep his balance if he leaned down. It also stung a little bit that Xain had to do what someone told him, especially in his own house. Even if that other person was right.

“One week,” Rasca said, having risen back up. The fox took the kitsune’s paw and slowly began to turn him back towards the bed. “Keep walking. Your leg will then be fine?”

The kitsune closed his eyes and thought about the answer. Saying no wouldn’t be a good answer, because Rasca could easily point out that they didn’t have any food. And that didn’t leave him many options. Rasca could go to town on his own, which required Rasca to actually spend some time away from Xain, and would also attract attention from the villagers. A stranger wandering into the village, speaking a language nobody can understand while carrying a lot of Xain’s wares? If they didn’t accuse Rasca of being a thief, they would certainly make the trip to Xain’s house. Rasca could carry Xain or lead the way for Xain, but that was also asking for trouble.

“Maybe,” Xain decided on, staring at the floor. He knew that, even with time, patience, and practice, he wouldn’t be able to walk normally. However, maybe he could fake being okay. He still had some of the clothes that his oldest sister had given him. If he could fish those out from under the bed, they’d do a decent job covering the injury. He didn’t gave the guts to come up with a fake identity, but, as long as he didn’t move too much, he could probably act like it was a normal trip to the village. A random, sudden trip to the village, but a normal one.

Before Rasca could think about what Xain meant, Xain gestured in the general direction of the bed. Nodding, Rasca began to lead Xain back. This time, the kitsune felt a little more comfortable about walking across the floor. He almost had a rhythm going with his awkward, wide steps. Sure, he could see things like the fire that they’d only been lighting on really cold nights, or little bones of the fish that Xain was beginning to run out of, but those were things he could take care of later. Or, get Rasca to take care of, since the fox was sort of a messy eater.

A few minutes later, they reached the bed. As Xain took a few deep breaths, Rasca bent down and began to lift Xain’s injured leg with his free paw. The other paw was occupied with pushing Xain back towards the bed. Xain, moving his own paws back and setting them on the bed, stifled a scream as Rasca began to bend the knee on the injured leg. Fortunately, it wasn’t long before Xain found himself sitting down, and not much longer for Xain to be comfortably buried in the bedsheets.

The kitsune stared up at Rasca, who turned his chair around to prop his head on the back and look right back at Xain. Now that Xain wasn’t so focused on walking, he started to realize just how worn-out Rasca looked. One of the fox’s ears twitched at random moments, he was panting very quietly, he kept blinking, and he seemed a little preoccupied with biting his lip. At one point, Rasca even slumped forward and closed his eyes, but jerked himself awake a second later. Not that Xain hadn’t noticed any of this before – it was just extremely easy to notice today.

“Sorry,” said Xain, shuffling to one side of the bed and patting the other. “These has been scary weeks, for you and for me.”

Getting out of the chair, Rasca yawned and slipped into the bedsheets. They found themselves staring at each other, faces dimly lit by the sunlight shining through the edges of the door.

“I am sorry,” Rasca mumbled. “For the wound.”

“Don’t be,” said Xain, reaching out to pat Rasca on the shoulder. Hopefully Rasca would tell that it was supposed to be a comforting gesture. “You were scareds.”

Rasca huffed, folding his arms and tilting his head to look up at the ceiling. “But boots I was wearing. I was more safe.”

“You do not know this,” Xain said. “They are very sharps.”

“What if I and you stood still?” said Rasca.

Xain shook his head. “They are smart,” he said. “You moves even when you stand still. It sees that. And I was closer, maybe.”

Rasca snorted. “I think I very still stand.” He paused, then started talking much faster. “I did not – I was not – but I moved, so you moved, so-” His voice turned breathless, and Xain could tell Rasca was beginning to panic.

So Xain reached out and pulled Rasca into a hug. “It is okay,” said the kitsune, feeling his heart start to pound. “It happened. We will make things better.”

The fox tried to mumble something, but it came out as more of a sob. And, sure enough, Rasca started crying into Xain’s chest. Xain tightened his hug, ignoring the pain as he shuffled his leg ever so slightly, or how breathless the kitsune felt. It didn’t matter – right now, they were both in a scary, dangerous, painful situation, and the least he could do was make Rasca feel a little better.

“Yes?” Rasca said, the word almost broken between a couple of sobs.

“Yes,” said Xain, beginning to pat the fox on the back.

“Thank you,” the fox stammered, pulling his away from Xain’s chest for a second. “I, not have, had a, a, a,”

“Hug,” Xain said.

The fox nodded. “A hug, in much time. I can, hug you, more?”

Pulling Rasca a little closer, Xain nodded in return. With that, Rasca threw his arms around Xain, beginning to cry again.

And they held onto each other, the hours slipping away around them.


Chapter Seven: Sister, Sister

Part One (1055 words): Xain has a lot more confidence in Rasca than I do

Spoiler! :
Trampling over the short grasses that grew on the dirt path beneath him, Xain adjusted himself to keep a piece of wood roped to his back from falling off. His eyes scanning the endless sea of waist-high grass that extended to the horizon, he waited for the familiar outline of earth-brick buildings to rise up in the distance.

Bits of metal and wood knocked together in his arms, mixing with clam shells and the few odd teeth and other bones of assorted monsters. Not as much as he normally carried – he hadn’t shown up to the village in the weeks since he’d run into Rasca, but he hadn’t spent too much of that time fishing either. Partly thanks to the limp that left him half-walking, half-dragging himself across the plains.

He hated how suspicious he looked. The kitsune had tried his best to make himself normal. With a straw hat, a gray cotton shirt, and a white linen tablecloth wrapped around his waist and stretching down to his ankles, he was reasonably sure that he could hide the linen bandages still wrapped around the slightly-swollen cut. As long as he could sit down in the center of town and sell his goods, he’d be fine. But he didn’t feel like he’d be that lucky, especially since his sisters would ask him why he hadn’t been around in a while, why he was wearing the tablecloth his sister had made for him, why he looked so scrawny and pale. On top of the normal questions that they would throw at him when he would ask for bread.

A pit settled in his stomach as he picked out the flat roofs of the buildings poking out of the grass. He didn’t want to be here. He wanted to be anywhere but here. The village reminded him that he’d failed. Despite his best efforts, he hadn’t been able to take care of himself and Rasca. And now he had to face his sisters. Xain had convinced Rasca that it’d be good for them to wait until a market day, so Xain could have a more plausible excuse to show up at the village. Which was what Xain had already been doing. And he’d watched as day after day after day slipped away from him, sending him spiraling to today, to right now, to-

A clump of dirt jolted him out of his thoughts. The kitsune tripped over the clod, quickly pulling himself back before he landed face-first into the earth. His leg groaned, but he managed to keep himself upright. A few deep breaths later, Xain kept on walking.

Hng, Rasca. The fox had had a rough few days. Between the frequent practice sessions to get Xain back to walking, combined with the fish they’d had to ration as they’d waited for market day, Rasca had had more than enough reason to yell at Xain. And Rasca had. Guilt tugged at the kitsune as much as his wares did, especially since Rasca was, for the first time in a long time, alone in the house. The fox did have enough food, and Rasca probably wouldn’t get any guests, but Xain knew how much Rasca hated being alone. The fox still found this place strange.

Realizing that he’d been panting, Xain paused. He straightened himself out, letting out a couple deep breaths as the roofs in the distance grew into mud-brick buildings surrounded by an enormous circle of cut grass. Well, it’d be a little harder to hide his limp now, but he’d been expecting that. As the grass fell down to the level of what he’d been stomping on, he slowed down.

The village was nothing more than a rectangle made out of buildings shoved together, with kitsune able to walk between houses. Other than the captain’s house, none of the homes had ceilings much taller than Xain. The easier to grow flowers or plants on the roof, as a few kitsune were busy doing when Xain approached. Some paused to raise their hoes and wave to him; he waved back, flashing an awkward smile that was thankfully hidden beneath his hat.

He followed the (mostly) unused path as it wound its way towards a gap between the buildings. Other than a few large wooden stakes set to the side, there wasn’t anything or anyone of note. Everyone and everything of note had gathered in the village square. Several kitsune sat in ordered rows, shouting out prices and holding up goods. Some of the wealthier ones had brought flags, posts, or tents to mark their spaces, but most were exposed to the lukewarm midday sun. A crowd of the villagers filtered around them. Farmers and herders argued over prices, haggled, and clustered together to tell stories. From the sound of it, Xain had missed the harvest, which he was alright with. That meant his sister had had time to bake bread.

Whoop, he could see some eyes on him. Trying not to think about how many eyes, Xain moved over to his spot, which wasn’t that far from the entrance. And, out of the corner of his own eye, the kitsune could see someone already making a beeline for him. Wonderful.

“Xain!” boomed the voice of a large and muscular kitsune. The kitsune’s five tails gently rose and fell as he approached, matching his slow and deliberate footsteps. Unlike Xain, who quickly crouched down, fell back, and crossed his legs, this kitsune held his chest high, letting his green and brown robes wave around him in the light wind.

“Hi!” Xain said, flashing an awkward smile as he tried to ignore the pain that shot up through his legs. Here he was, stuck talking to the captain of the guard. The town’s leader, or as much of a leader as the town had. The oldest kitsune. The most powerful kitsune. His father-in-law. Pulling the linen over his legs, Xain set his wares on the ground. As he untied the ropes binding the piece of wood to him, he quietly said, “Looking to buy anything, sir?”

The captain laughed a deep and roaring laugh, enough to send a chill down Xain’s spine. “Not this time,” said the captain, voice quickly growing softer. “I just wanted to see how you were doing. The fishing life treating you well?”

Xain nodded.


Part Two (1053 words): [insert picture of the gunshow "this is fine" dog here]

Spoiler! :
“I mean, I do have all this for sale,” the kitsune said, sweeping his arms over his wares. He got to work arranging them, separating different types of materials and objects of different sizes, all the while glancing at the captain of the guard to see his response.

The captain of the guard nodded his head slowly, nose twitching slightly. Xain tried his best not to freeze up. Rasca had agreed to sleep on the floor the last couple of days (with a spare bedsheet and the clothes Xain had decided not to wear today, of course), but the kitsune knew he probably smelled at least a little like the fox. Not that he could be sure, since he had gotten used to Rasca’s scent a long time ago. But, when he hadn’t been used to it, it’d been strange, musky, almost pungent. If there was any trace of Rasca on him, anyone in the village could potentially pick it up. Especially the one person whose job it was to spot possible threats to his village.

“Is it just this?” the captain said, tilting his head. “You usually have pieces from the prow of a ship or some such lying around, especially this early in the day. Not as much washing up on shore lately?”

Xain internally breathed a sigh of relief – the captain was giving him an easy question. “Yep,” said the kitsune, propping his forepaws on the ground behind him and leaning back. His leg ached slightly, but he felt like he could hold this pose for a little bit. “Maybe the sailors are getting a little wiser, or nobody wants to sail around this time of year. I’ve also had to burn a few things, since it’s getting colder.”

The captain frowned. “Do you need more firewood?” he said. “I’m sure I have a few pieces lying around, and we would be more than happy to give them to you. We also just wrapped up our harvests, so I’m sure we could give you some chaff.”

Shaking his head, Xain tilted his hat forward so the captain wouldn’t see his wide eyes or the way his whiskers quaked. The captain could probably smell on the fear on him, but at least the captain wouldn’t see it. “I’m fine, thanks,” the fox said. “I have plenty of grass to burn, and my sisters gave me a lot of sheep manure last time I came here. It should be more than enough to last the winter.” The truth, for once.

“Oh?” the captain said. “Are you sure? It seems a little odd that you’d burn the wood you sell if you have plenty else to burn. It’s also been a little while since I’ve seen you, so I’d rather like to make sure you’re staying warm.”

Xain sighed. It came out a little longer and more dramatic than he would’ve liked, which matched how he felt about this conversation. “I cut up some of the grass, but it was still wet, so I decided to burn some wood and manure,” he said. “I’ve been trying to catch a lot of fish before winter started, so I don’t have to run to the village all the time again, but I’m just about done with that, so I should be good to go.” Well, Xain hadn’t ripped up the grass yet (he’d get to that later, when it was dead enough that it’d be easy to tear up), and he’d never been that good at getting a surplus of fish, but the captain didn’t need to know that.

A small pause. Xain looked up to see the captain fold his arms, expression still soft. “The fishing went well, then?” said the captain.

Trying his best to subtly bite his lip, Xain nodded. “About as well as it could’ve gone,” he said.

“You don’t fish in the winter, do you?” the captain said. He seemed to be fixated on Xain’s arms. Hng – even with all these clothes on, Xain probably looked a little paler and scrawnier than usual. “I can’t imagine you’d catch a lot of fish, or that it’d be that fun.”

Shrugging, the kitsune said, “Sometimes? If the cove freezes up, sometimes I’ll try and go ice fishing. Dad taught me how to do that.”

“Well, as long as you’re taking care of yourself,” said the captain. “Your fur looks a tad matted, and you smell a little sick, so I hope you can have a nice, long, relaxing winter, particularly after doing so much fishing. It must’ve been rough on you.”

Xain tilted his head. This conversation was just about over – he just needed to look calm for a little longer. “Yeah?” the kitsune said. “But I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do.”

The captain nodded. “Understandable,” he said. “Well, I’ll be on my way. I’m sure your sister would love to see you, so I’ll send her your way.”

“Okay,” Xain said. Not that he could really disagree with that, even though he wasn’t keen on pretending to be calm around either of his sisters. They were much more blunt than the captain, and also a lot more likely to lead him around the village, which would make his limp that much more obvious.

With that, the captain turned around, robes billowing out around him. It was enough to brush against Xain’s legs and pull the linen back slightly. The captain turned his head back as Xain leaned forward, grabbed the linen, and spread it back out over his legs. “And let me know if you need anything,” the captain said. “Food, water, firewood, medicine – we have it.”

One last nod from Xain, who did his best to mask the pain in his expression, and the captain made his way back into the square, wandering among the stalls and talking with a few villagers. When he was fairly sure the captain couldn’t hear him, Xain let out a deep breath. On one hand, he’d given that conversation his best shot. He’d been as honest as he could’ve been, and had mostly succeeded in hiding the injury. And yet, he’d also managed to look strange, anxious, and suspicious. The captain knew that something wasn’t right. If he could figure that out, so would Xain’s sisters. Which could only end well.


Part Three (1040 words): sibling rivalry, a multiversal constant

Spoiler! :
Letting out a sigh, Xain lowered his head and brushed off the dust from the pieces of metal. He felt stupid. Here he was, dressed up in his finest tablecloth, trying his best to lie to his family. He’d been pushing this conversation off for as long as he could’ve, but he would’ve run out of food long before he really recovered. There wasn’t anything he could do, other than hope that they didn’t ask anything. Or they didn’t show up to his house. Well, it had been their house once. They’d all lived in there once. And then, after their parents had died, they’d all gone to the village.

Xain gritted his teeth. He’d hated that. He’d hated every second he’d spent crammed in between those earth walls, he’d hated every second that his sisters had talked about how warm and friendly and cozy the village was, he’d hated every second he’d had to drag a hoe through the ground while his new brother-in-law watched him. And he hated that there really wasn’t anything wrong with the village. The kitsune were nice, he could sell most of his wares, and his sisters’ families had always embraced him. It just hurt that his sisters turned their backs on the house that his parents had built, the house that they had lived in. And it hurt that they were trying to get him to turn his back. He almost wanted them to go to his house, if only so they could realize-

“Xain!”

The kitsune let out a sigh. While he gradually plastered a smile onto his face, he shuffled the plank in front of him and began to set the rest of his goods on it.

“Hey, Xain, look up!”

Doing as she asked, Xain saw his older sister moving towards him. Or, more specifically, she waved from where she was perched on her wife’s shoulder, one paw wrapped around her wife’s arm. Dressed up in a pale green dress that went down to her ankles, a brown top stretching across her chest and over to her elbows, Yisele beamed at him. Yisele’s wife, Iva, gave Xain a toothy grin. Her gray dress and red top matched Yisele’s closely (which was probably the point).

Yisele lowered her paw, tapping Iva on the shoulder. In response, Iva gently lowered Yisele to the ground. Hindpaws touching the ground, Yisele gave Iva a quick kiss on the cheek, then made a beeline for Xain. The younger kitsune tried his best to stay still, spreading out his arms as his sister approached, but no luck – Yisele grabbed him by his arms and pulled him up.

“How are you doing?” Yisele said, wrapping Xain in a hug. “I haven’t seen you in a while.”

Sucking in a breath as he tried to keep his one leg from buckling, Xain flashed a nervous grin at Iva. Iva, for her part, rolled her eyes, walking over and setting a paw on Yisele’s shoulder while extending the other one to Xain. Ah, Iva must’ve assumed that Yisele was hugging him too hard. Which she was.

Yisele pulled her head back, eyes darting across Xain’s face. “You look a little pale,” she said, biting her lip and frowning.

“That’s what I’ve been told,” said Xain as he shook Iva’s paw, trying not to wince at how harsh he sounded. “It’s probably just because winter’s coming up.”

Yisele’s frown grew a little wider. Letting go of Xain, she quickly grabbed and squeezed his arm. “You feel a little cold,” she said.

“It is a little cold outside,” Xain said with a shrug, after Iva pulled her paw back.

“Then we’d better get you inside!” said Yisele, back to beaming again.

Xain grimaced. About where he figured the conversation would go. “But I still have things to sell,” he said, voice a little less certain than he would’ve liked. He gestured down to the plank that Yisele was currently standing on (or, as much as he could with her still grabbing onto him).

Snorting, Yisele said, “It’s a market day for a reason, Xain. C’mon, don’t you want to cozy up by a fire?”

Well, he did, and it wasn’t like Yisele was going to take no for an answer. Still, he put on a wide grin, pointing down to the plank. “Maybe you could take some of these things off my paws-” he began, only for Yisele to turn her head back and nod at Iva.

“Could you please carry his stuff?” Yisele said, already beginning to pull Xain out of the way. With a nod of her own, Iva reached down and gently lifted up the plank.

Xain winced, feeling his leg ache again. He got the sense he wasn’t quite in control here.

As Iva walked up to her, Yisele wheeled around and said, “Okay, let’s get going!” And, with that, Iva and Yisele settled into a brisk walk, Yisele pulling Xain along with her. Which she found to be a little harder than she was expecting, what with Xain quickly falling behind her.

“Something up?” Yisele said, glancing back at Xain. Ugh, she probably noticed how he had started to pant, or how he couldn’t quite bring himself to look at her. “I know you’re a big fan of the outdoors, but maybe it wouldn’t hurt to get on Iva’s shoulder or something?”

Iva let out a deep laugh. “There’s only one kitsune who has that privilege” she said, gently bumping against Yisele. Which, of course, jostled Xain. Ugh.

“He could always get on my shoulder,” Yisele said, pulling her head up and smiling. “I’m almost a warrior now, Xain – I’m growing my third tail.”

Trying not to think about all the villagers that were staring at him, or all the kitsune in the stalls who stopped talking as they passed, Xain looked a little farther down. Sure enough, poking out from Yisele’s dress was the start of a third tail, a nub compared to the two that waved around.

“You’re already getting yours?” said Xain, looking back up at Yisele. Her grin grew just a little wider. “But, we’re twins, aren’t we?”

Yisele ran a paw through her fur. “Perks of being born first,” she said.


Part Four (1061 words): the most functional family

Spoiler! :
Sighing, Xain stared up at the large earth building looming in front of him. A whole two stories tall (even ignoring the small garden on top, which was mostly a few vegetables his sisters grew as a surplus) it towered above its neighbors. Nobody stared back him through the holes carved into the walls on the second floor. His older sister probably already knew he was here, but at least there was one pair of eyes that wasn’t focused on him.

A hush ran its way through the marketplace as Xain, Yisele, and Iva made their way past the stalls. Everyone knew something was up with him. They were watching his every move, fixating on every facial twitch, focusing on every awkward step. Not that his sisters had ever told them something was off about Xain – they would’ve thought that was inappropriate, especially since they felt it was their responsibility to keep him on the right path. But this was the kind of town where everyone knew everyone else. Even someone like him, someone who had left the village, couldn’t escape the rumor mill, couldn’t just come and go and be ignored. Especially not when his sister was married to the head of the guard’s daughter.

Walking up to the building’s oak door, Yisele gave it a few loud knocks (or, loud in the quiet that had settled over everyone). While Iva stopped beside her wife, Xain tried his best to hide behind Iva.

A few seconds later, the door creaked back slightly. “Yes?” came a lower-pitched, quiet voice.

“Vera!” Yisele said, grabbing Xain and yanking him towards the door. While Xain bit his lip (enough to draw blood) and tried to compose himself, Yisele beamed. “You’ll never guess who decided to show up!”

The door swung back, revealing a short kitsune in a blue frock, a red ribbon around her waist. A fire seemed to flash in her eyes, highlighting the row of scars that ran down her snout, pointing out the faint snarl on her face, illuminating the way her ears rose up as she focused on Xain. Of course Vera could guess who decided to show up – there wasn’t much Vera couldn’t guess. She always had a knack for reading the room, picking up on gossip and rumors, telling truth from fiction, staring at someone until they gave something away. And Xain always gave something away.

“Goodness, you look cold, Xain,” Vera said after a couple seconds, stepping out of the way and gesturing into the house. “Come in, come in.”

After setting Xain’s goods down by the door, Yisele and Iva darted into the house, almost sprinting towards the fireplace in the back. The head of the guard had never been interested in decorating, so the two didn’t have to worry about running into anything. Blankets and rugs scattered the wooden floor, with a few chairs arranged around the fire. A staircase winded its way around the walls, vanishing through the wooden ceiling. The smell of leather and metal dropped down from the ceiling, almost buried beneath the scent of freshly-baked bread and burning flax. Xain could figure out where that was coming from right away – a couple tables in one corner of the building, with a few thatch boxes stuffed underneath, along with a half-filled basin marked the kitchen.

Unfortunately, Xain couldn’t glance around for much longer; he felt a pair of paws fall onto his shoulders, and then Vera pulled his head down so she could look him in the eyes.

“You’re very pale,” Vera said, tugging at one of his cheeks. While Xain winced, Vera shook her head. “You haven’t been eating much.”

“Nice to see you too, Vera,” said Xain, bitterness starting to creep into his voice. “How are the kits doing?” Beyond Yisele and Iva starting to wrap themselves in blankets and scooting closer to the orange fire that blazed in the fireplace, Xain swore he could hear the sounds of kids playing.

Vera sighed. “They’re very eager to help out with the cooking and knitting these days,” she said, not letting go of Xain. “Too eager, I’d say.”

“Well, at least you don’t have to do things by yourself anymore,” said Xain.

Narrowing her eyes, Vera replied, “If they were listening to me, sure, I’d be fine with it.”

Xain snorted and tried to pull himself away. To his (hopefully not visible) surprise, Vera let him, shifting her paws to her hips and glaring up at him. He wasn’t entirely sure why, but he figured he’d find out soon. “We definitely listened to mom and dad when we were kits,” Xain said.

“But we learned quickly enough,” Vera said, tapping a hindpaw. “Or, some of us did. What on Fayne are you wearing, Xain? Is that one of my tablecloths?

And here it was. Xain raised a claw and tried to speak, but could only get as far as “I-” before Vera started talking over him.

“Do you even wear the clothes I’ve been giving you? You haven’t been taking them apart, I hope – the weave on your shirt is looking just a tad frayed” – Vera grabbed Xain’s shirt, staring down at the fabric for a couple seconds before looking up at him – “And it’s almost winter, so you’re lucky I’ve been knitting some sweaters for you. Haven’t you been thinking about going to the village for the winter?”

Xain shrugged. “I can still get some fishing done, and I should have plenty of things to burn.” Not that that’d satisfy Vera – she was still going to dump clothes on food on him anyways – but, at this point, making Vera happy wasn’t his top priority.

“You really should,” said Vera, gesturing to all of the blankets. “Some of the elders say it’s going to be especially bad this year, and we’ve been moving most of the farmers into town. I won’t forgive myself if I found out you froze to death in that shack-”

“I know what I’m doing,” Xain growled. Taking a deep breath and letting out a sigh, he tried to ignore the fact that he’d just yelled at his sister. And his sister had never liked being yelled at. “If things feel like they’re going to get bad, I’ll head right over. I live by the sea – I should be able to tell if anything’s coming in.”


Part Five (1051 words): I didn't expect Sive to be this antsy before I started writing him, but I don't regret it

Spoiler! :
Vera narrowed her eyes. “Yes, Dad liked to think that too,” she said. “And I remember all the night we spent huddling around the fire, trying not to freeze to death.”

Of course. She had to go there. Not that Xain could say anything back; she was already starting to walk over to the thatch boxes under one of the tables.

“Well, I’m sure this bread should help you survive the winter,” Vera said, setting a paw on the table as she crouched down and reached for the nearest box. She glanced back at him, lips tight. “Assuming you’re alone, that is.”

Xain rolled his eyes. “I should be fine, Vera,” he said, trying hard to tamp down the nervous twitch that threatened to pop up on his face. Or the smell that started to emanate from the tip of one of his tails. “And why would think I’m not alone?” He realized that made him sound a little bit lonely, but, frankly, better to be alone than be with his family.

Grabbing the box, Vera pulled herself up. “Just something I heard,” she said with a voice that was a little too innocent. “You smell a tad funny, is all.” She extended the thatch basket to him.

“It was a cold,” Xain said, taking a step back. “I got it a couple days ago. That’s why I look a little pale.”

“And why you’re having trouble standing still, obviously,” said Vera, gesturing to his legs. “And why you didn’t seem like a big fan of walking earlier.”

Glancing down, Xain almost cursed. He hadn’t been paying attention, but yep, his bad leg was wobbling slightly. As if making sure he got the hint, his ankle gave him a little jolt of pain. “Yes, obviously,” said Xain, glaring at his sister as he took the box from her arms and pulled it close to his chest. “And I’ll give you this bread after winter ends.”

Vera snorted. “Please, I would certainly love moldy bread,” she said, staring directly into Xain’s eyes. “Maybe it’d smell as fishy as you do.”

Raising his chin, Xain replied, “Yes, I’m a fisherman, and I’m doing my job. Thanks for asking.”

“You know exactly what I meant,” Vera snarled. “I’m not smelling your pathetic little hobby.”

“Yep, you’re smelling my job,” said Xain.

Vera pointed to the wooden plank next to the door. “Your job doesn’t seem like it’s been working out so well for you these days,” she said. “And you certainly don’t sound sick, or I would’ve thrown your a** out of here a long time ago.”

Ugh, she had a point. “I can sneeze for you, if it helps,” Xain said, a malicious smile creeping onto his face.

“Yes, because I’m definitely afraid of you,” said Vera. If it wasn’t for the paw that tapped her shoulder, she would’ve likely come up with a sarcastic remark. Or probably made a comment about his injury. Or both – she could do both. Instead, Xain and Vera found themselves staring back at the tall, lanky kitsune who had walked up from behind Vera. Wearing brown pants and no shirt, Vera’s husband, Sive, towered over them both. Xain could almost see the muscles ripple in Sive’s fur as Sive reached up and tipped back his broad thatch hat. Which made Sive’s quite voice that much more out of place.

“Neighbors want to talk to us ‘bout somethin’,” he said, looking down at his wife. “Somethin’ about our daughter gettin’ their kit to eat somethin’ that made ‘im throw up.”

Even more out of place was the way Vera calmed down. She had been so close to clenching her fists, had had a bit of a hunch, had been straining to keep her voice steady. With a breath, she straightened out and composed herself. Not without shooting a glare at Xain, of course. “I’ll go talk to them,” she said with a huff, walking around Sive and vanishing through one of the entranceways that connected the house to its neighbors.

Internally, Xain sighed in relief. Vera had been getting extremely aggressive; he’d been half-convinced that she’d been a second away from pulling up the tablecloth and exposing the injury. He wasn’t out of the woods yet, since Sive was probably also suspicious, but he wasn’t as hostile as Vera was. Probably because he technically wasn’t family.

“Xain,” Sive said with a nod.

Xain nodded back, moving his good leg so he wasn’t stuck in an awkward position.

“How’s the fishin’ goin’?” Sive said, throwing his arms back and crossing them behind his head. It was a little interesting parsing Sive’s accent – his family had come in from out of the village, and Sive had only adjusted to the village tongue a couple years ago. His accent only popped up when he was nervous.

“Pretty good,” Xain said with a shrug. “Could be better. How’s the farm?”

Sive tilted his head, grimacing slightly. “Same ol’, same ol’,” he said. “Harvested a little late, but not much I coulda done ‘bout it.”

Hng. Hopefully Vera hadn’t packed as much bread into this box, or Xain was going to have (some more) words with her. “Yep,” Xain said. “Sometimes things don’t work out the way you want to.”

That grimace grew a little bigger. “Yeah,” Sive said, looking away. A pause. “Y’know, if ya need any kinda help, we can always-”

Xain raised a paw. “I think I’ve got things under control,” he said.

“Sure, sure,” said Sive. He raised a claw and tried to say something, but it never came out. With a sigh, he stretched out a paw and set it on Xain’s shoulder. “An’ you can tell me if ya don’t? I know yer sisters are kinda pushy, ‘cause they care ‘bout ya an’ all, but I know it sucks ta tell things ta family.”

Shrugging slightly, Xain watched as Sive let go. “It really is fine,” said Xain. “This bread should help out, but I’m pretty confident I can catch plenty of fish before the weather gets bad. And go ice fishing after it does.” Well, Sive had a point – it was a lot easier to admit that the bread was a nice gift to someone who wasn’t his family. Especially when his family despised his job.


Part Six (575 words): god what a long chapter this was

Spoiler! :
“Can ya do that?” Sive said, tilting his head. “Vera said yer dad brought ya down ta shore a couple times, and ya used to slip and fall on yer-”

“Vera says a lot of things,” Xain replied, gritting his teeth.

Sive shook his head. “Sorry, sorry,” he said, staring down at the ground. “Was speakin’ outta line there.” He paused, then looked back at Xain. Xain was a little surprised at how big Sive’s eyes were, the frown on Sive’s face. “It ain’t none o’ my business what ya do, but they’re worried ‘bout ya. I’m worried ‘bout ya. Don’t tell ‘er this, but I don’t like how Vera treats ya.”

The fur on the back of his neck starting to prick up, Xain took a step back. “We’re just siblings?” he said, shrugging as he tried to ignore the pain (why did he keep bringing this on himself?). “That’s just what we do.” As uncomfortable as he was, he could still remember that Sive was an only child.

“But yer just tryin’ to make a livin’ doin’ what ya can,” said Sive. “Ya know my mom used ta tend to the fields. And ya did too, for a little while there. Can’t say I blame ya for cuttin’ ties and headin’ back to yer parents house.” He sighed. “But I dunno if I like the idea that yer gonna be all alone when winter comes.”

Xain took in a deep breath. Part of him wanted to be honest, say that he was scared, tired, frustrated, was trying to take care of a houseguest when he couldn’t even take care of himself. But the rest of him knew that Sive could just as easily tell Xain’s sisters. Xain didn’t entirely trust Sive – the other kitsune was the bridge between Xain and his sisters, which meant Sive wasn’t exactly on Xain’s side. And Xain wasn’t about to hear anyone tell him to leave his house.

“I’ve done it before,” said Xain. When Sive visibly sagged, Xain looked away. “And I can do it again.”

An unsteady silence dropped over the both of them, broken only by the sound of Yisele shuffling and shifting where she sat on her wife’s lap.

“Coming over, Xain?” Yisele called. “The fire’s getting pretty warm.”

Saved by his sister. Nodding his head in Sive’s direction, Xain made his way over to Yisele and Iva. And, internally, Xain counted down the minutes until he’d get out of this town. He could longue around for a little bit, probably pretend to fall asleep (and make sure nobody decided to check his injury), then head on out and go back to selling. Then he could pack up his things, say some final goodbyes (and dodge some comments from his sisters), and make his way back home. Back to Rasca.

Xain slowly lowered himself in front of the fireplace, taking care to adjust his tablecloth so it didn’t expose his ankles. He soaked in the warmth and felt it run up his fur, caress his face. He was fine. He’d gotten through the worst of it. He’d ripped off that bandage, and now he could start to settle down. And all it had taken had been getting off his butt and going to the village. He had to thank Rasca for that.

Well, he’d be seeing Rasca soon. Ideally. The fox had food, water, and shelter – he could take care of himself, couldn’t he?
Last edited by TheSilverFox on Sat Jan 25, 2020 4:19 am, edited 1 time in total.
S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
a persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma per ciò che giammai di questo fondo
non tornò vivo alcun, s'i' odo il vero,
senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

Inferno, Canto 27, l 61-66.
  





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Sat Jan 25, 2020 4:18 am
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TheSilverFox says...



Even More of The Writing


Chapter Eight: Travelers

Part One (494 words): I was reading Stand Still, Stay Silent and I was like "oh hey, Agneta's a cool name" so here we are I guess

Spoiler! :
As Agneta adjusted the straps of her backpack, particles on her rocky skin glittering in the sunlight, she couldn’t help but get the feeling that something was wrong. The fire that hissed as she breathed in and out was the only noise she could hear – even the faint wind that blew through the dying grasses was barely more than a whisper. She could’ve sworn that the kitsune she was paying a visit to would’ve been out and about by now. Especially at this time of year.

Wading through a sea of brown and green, she trampled the grass beneath her enormous rocky feet as she stared out towards the white cliffs on the horizon. Ah, this time of year. Winter had always been a strange concept to her. She’d never felt cold. The fire in the hollows of her eyes had kept on burning, as had the fire in the back of her mouth. Sure, they’d dimmed sometimes, but she’d always sated them with some grass, coal, or rock. Her body was exceptionally good at burning things, and there’d always been things to burn. It was odd to be around creatures that couldn’t do the same thing.

On the bright side, those creatures always had things to sell. She’d already gone to a few of her regular trading spots; her backpack bulged with trinkets, metal and wood, coal, and little mechanical contraptions. They clinked together as she walked, accompanied by the string, planks, and the other odds and ends that she liked to sell to one of her favorite fishermen. Who didn’t appear to be around, if the lack of smoke coming out of the house that appeared in the distance was anything to go by.

Not that that was especially strange. Sometimes, Agneta would wander in to find that Xain had gone to the market. She never minded that, since she could always stay around his house until he came back. No, what was especially strange was that the grasses continued to creep up to her waist. Xain should’ve cut them by now. The grass started getting shorter the more his earth house came into view, but that’d been from past cuts. She couldn’t see any debris.

She kept walking. There was always the possibility something had happened to him. Between the sea monsters and the tigers, he’d always been at a dangerous place. If he was dead, so be it – she could probably search his house for anything of worth, and then move on. She couldn’t expect to be good at her job if she didn’t have to deal with dead people. Death was just the nature of things, and she’d gotten used to it a long time ago. At least, having a bulky rock body made her life a little better, since there weren’t that many things foolhardy enough to pick a fight with her. Agneta huffed. If Xain was dead, she’d obviously let his family know. She wasn’t a monster.


Part Two (1050 words): it's superb owl time and here I am, writing

also I'm assuming xain never taught rasca the word "map," but darned if rasca isn't giving it the old college try

Spoiler! :
As Agneta stepped closer to the house, she tried to spot anything else out of the ordinary. Xain had always told her he could smell her coming, but she didn’t have a nose of her own. Her ears weren’t all that great either – in a wind like this, they whistled over any other noise. The most she could work with was her eyes, which caught a few strands of fur caught between some of the grasses. Probably just Xain shedding. If there’d been a fight, she’d have seen a lot more trampled, cut up, maybe even some blood. Assuming that any fight had been recent, or outside of the house.

She blinked. Agneta found herself in front of the door, a weathered chunk of wood surrounded by blocks of earth. She tried to look through the gaps all along the door’s edge, but couldn’t spot anything out of the ordinary. A glimpse of the fireplace, the basin in the kitchen. It all looked untouched, clean as Xain could make it. She was a little less convinced there’d been a fight. Hopefully.

Taking a deep breath, Agneta knocked on the door. It creaked slightly, but the rusted metal hinges kept it in place. “Xain?” Agneta said.

The silence was deafening. While Agneta didn’t necessarily feel nervous, a pit settled in her stomach. Xain was supposed to be up by now. As far as she could tell, nothing had happened, but she wasn’t sure how to take the disappearance of one of her regular customers. Even living by the coast, he’d always seemed to be doing okay. And, well, he’d always had interesting things for sale. This was supposed to be a regular visit, and she’d been looking forward to it. She’d even brought some tea.

Raising a rocky fist again, she hesitated. She could’ve sworn she heard pawsteps inside the house. That suspicious was only confirmed when she saw something block her view of the fireplace, and the way the door creaked as something tried to lean against it.

Hng. “Is that you, Xain?” Agneta said again. Her voice sounded coarse, especially as she tried to figure out the hisses and growls that went into the kitsune language.

A few seconds of silence. “You are who?” came an unfamiliar voice from the other side of the door. Agneta almost jumped back in surprise. That wasn’t Xain. Even if he had gotten sick, his voice wouldn’t sound that unsteady, that unconfident. Whoever was talking to her was scared of her, though. And she could work with that.

“Who are you?” Agneta said, grabbing onto the rusty piece of metal that served as a door handle. She got the feeling she could easily pull it back, but she wanted to know what the situation was first. Agneta wasn’t keen on terrifying some harmless stranger, even if they were a stranger.

“Asked first, me,” said the voice. Wow, and Agneta thought she wasn’t all that fluent. She had trouble getting her voice to cooperate, but they sounded a little too slow and deliberate. And they got a word wrong.

That didn’t necessarily mean anything, since it was much stranger that Xain would let anyone stay in his house. Especially if he wasn’t around. Sighing, Agneta gave the door a slight tug. Just enough to let the stranger know she meant business. After she heard a yip on the other side, she said, “I’m Agneta. Where’s Xain?”

Another pause. “What you want with him?” said the voice, now a little surprised. The stranger recognized Xain. Agneta internally breathed a sigh of relief – that wasn’t a bad sign. Or, not guaranteed to be one.

“I want to buy from him,” said Agneta. “And you never answered my question.”

The voice huffed. “In town, he is,” said the voice. “He told me to let not any in.” Silence. “I am, Rasca, also.”

Nope, not anyone Xain had ever talked about before. Agneta tilted her head. “Not even me?” she said.

“He not said your name,” said Rasca. They started pressing against the door a little harder. “Go you can to town, yes?”

Hmm. There was always the possibility Xain hadn’t been expecting Agneta to come. He had always been particular about who could go into his house, so it wasn’t exactly a strange request. But Agneta wasn’t sure she trusted Rasca enough to go to the village. Without Xain around, she was relying on the word of someone she had just met. Granted, Rasca had just met her for the first time, and they might’ve been a little suspicious of her. But Rasca and the condition of the grass were just a little too coincidental. “Sure,” said Agneta, realizing she’d been quiet for a little too long, “But I can also wait for him? I’m sure he’ll-”

“Go to village,” said the voice, with a surprising amount of force. “He is there, he help you can.”

Agneta was tempted to press on the door handle a little harder, but hesitated. If Xain was still alive, he wouldn’t appreciate her breaking his door. Besides, she figured she could handle this will a little more subtlety.

“Fine,” she said, letting go of the door handle and taking a step back. She turned around, making a couple of the loudest steps she could. Throwing her head back, she continued, “I’ll go to town. If he isn’t there, I’m coming back.”

When Rasca didn’t respond, Agneta tromped off. She figured that she could duck into the grass and try to hide herself. Staying quiet would be a challenge, but maybe Rasca would end up revealing themselves, or Xain actually would return.

So she froze when she heard Rasca’s voice after she took a couple steps. “What you buy?” said Rasca, voice almost muffled by her footsteps.

Agneta turned back. “What do you have for sale?” she said.

In response, Agneta heard the sounds of someone fumbling their way through the house. The stranger cursed as they grabbed onto sounded like some large object, which they dragged across the floor (oof, Xain wouldn’t like that). Then they heard the sound of something unlocked, followed by a chest’s lid being pulled back.

“Papers with places?” said Rasca, opening the door a tiny amount. That was enough to send Agneta walking over to them.


Part Three (1050 words): tfw this stranger has a really convoluted plan to get rid of you

Spoiler! :
“You mean maps, right?” Agneta said. As she got closer to the door, she tried to peer through the gap to catch a glimpse of Rasca. She tried not to gasp or flinch when she stopped in front of the entrance. Agneta wasn’t convinced she was looking at a kitsune. Kitsune weren’t supposed to be that short, or that orange, and that single tail curled behind Rasca was also out of place. It’d make some amount of sense if Rasca was a kit, but kits didn’t look so scraggly. And they sounded a little more like they were adjusting to language, instead of having grown up with it. Maybe this was a group of kitsune she hadn’t heard about?

Rasca nodded their head. “Yes, those,” they said. The sound of ruffling paper whistled through Agneta’s ears, and then Agneta saw Rasca dangle a map over the grass. “Look.”

Stretching out a rocky palm, Agneta let Rasca drop the map into her hand. She slowly pulled her arm back (she’d had plenty of practice not crumpling maps), then peered down at the paper. It looked like a sea chart. The level of detail got worse from right to left, but she could get the general idea of what part of the world this was. At first. And then she had less of an idea.

“That, doesn’t make sense,” Agneta said slowly, looking up at Rasca as she pointed to the right side of the map. “That shouldn’t be there, it shouldn’t-”

“It does,” Rasca growled. They gripped onto the door with one paw, showing off grimy claws. “There it is.”

Agneta huffed. On one hand, she couldn’t help but admit that some of the details were uncannily accurate. Some of the islands in the middle made sense, and, if that scale was anything to go by, the distances were about on point. And, well, it’d go a long way in explaining why this short kitsune was in Xain’s house (not that that necessarily suggested Xain had, say, let them in). On the other hand, a stranger offering her a strange map was just a tad suspicious. Especially if it was for a price, which she suspected it was. “Prove it,” Agneta said, setting her free hand on her hip. “I don’t want to pay for a fake map.”

“Not pay,” Rasca hissed. Letting go of the door, they raised a claw. “A second.” Then they disappeared back into the depths of the house, complete with more rattling, shaking, and cursing. After about a minute, the kitsune’s paw appeared again. This time, Rasca held some kind of circular, gold-colored piece of metal. Holding out her other hand, Agneta let Rasca drop the piece onto her palm.

When she held it closer to her face, after setting the map on the ground and using that hand to flip it a few times, she felt the fire inside her grow a little stronger. She recognized it – it was an astrolabe. She’d only seen a few of them, but some of the larger ships liked to bring those when traveling to those islands far off the coast. Except she’d never seen one as intricate as this. And she wasn’t just thinking about the spirals and curves that she spotted winding their way around the front and back of the astrolabe. It felt stable, steady, secure in her hands. The gears looked a little more complicated, the angles a little more precise, the design a little more advanced.

Yes, she could make a lot of money off this. Even if it was fake, a couple taps told her it was metallic enough that she could probably pawn it off. Bend the truth a little bit, if she needed to.

“Not pay?” said Agneta, reaching down to pick up the map again. Now she could say she felt a little more confident about it. She tried to keep the suspicion out of her voice, but it snuck in with her hesitance.

Not that Rasca appeared to notice. “No pay,” Rasca repeated. The short kitsune reached out a claw, tapping the right side of the map. “Go here. Someone tell, here I am.”

If Agneta had eyebrows, she would’ve raised them. “That’s all? Really?” she said. Well, that wasn’t exactly all. Assuming that Rasca wasn’t trying to get her killed, it would take a fleet to get across the ocean. All the monsters along the way, the islands scattered few and far between, the hostile animals that sometimes preyed on sailors, all for the promise of she hadn’t even know existed until now? Hng. Maybe the map and the astrolabe were forgeries, but Rasca had put a lot of time and effort into them. And it seemed a little strange that they’d convince Agneta to do something so risky. Rasca didn’t know who she was (as far as she could tell). There’d be plenty of easier ways to get rid of her, if that was what they wanted. Unless they were trying to distract her from thinking about Xain. Which wouldn’t work.

Rasca nodded. “Yes,” they said. A pause. “And tell not Xain.”

Agneta narrowed her eyes. Huh, it didn’t seem like he wanted to distract her. “Why shouldn’t I tell Xain?”

As the kitsune started handing out more pieces of paper, their voice grew quieter. “It is not important.”

On instinct, Agneta grabbed the papers. More charts, more maps, even some notes. Not that she recognized the script – it wasn’t anything like what she’d even seen before. Way too flowery. Not that it mattered, since the drawings provided plenty of context. “Why isn’t it important to Xain?” said Agneta.

“It matters not to him,” Rasca said slowly.

Agneta set down the assorted papers and the astrolabe on the ground. Pulling her backpack over her head, she laid it down beside them, taking care to keep any of other goods from slipping off. The clink of metal almost drowned her out, so she had to raise her voice as she began rolling up the maps and stuffing them into her backpack. “Doesn’t he own this house?” she said.

“Yes,” said Rasca, handing over a few more papers. They moved back into the house, their voice trailing behind them. “But he wants me safe, and I want to go.”


Part Four (1030 words): run fast for your mother, run fast for your father, run fast for your sisters and your brothers

Spoiler! :
Well, she couldn’t disagree with that – outside of what they had for sale, Agneta preferred Xain’s hospitality to Rasca’s lack of it. But, if Xain really wanted them to stay (which didn’t sound wrong for Xain, even though he’d barely been able to take care of himself), Agneta didn’t exactly like Rasca’s plan. She started shoving the last few maps into her backpack.

“And what happens when I tell this someone?” said Agneta, staring up at Rasca. The fire inside her almost growled as she narrowed her eyes.

“Get me they will,” Rasca replied, pulling back the door. It slid against the earth walls, settling into place before creaking Rasca began to lean against it again.

Setting the astrolabe into the backpack, Agenta paused. Was he trying to pull even more things out of the chest? “What if they come and Xain still doesn’t want you to leave?” she said, an anger settling in her that she hadn’t even realized she’d had. “Why are you even here in the first place?”

Silence. The rustling of paper came as Rasca shoved a few more notes under the doorframe, followed by a few pieces of metal. Agneta shuffled closer, looking at the golden sheen of what had all the fancy detailing of the astrolabe. Other equipment, possibly? Given how flat they were, and how she could spot notches carved in regular intervals along them, they almost resembled rulers. Well, rulers that she could fit together, along with a lens.

“Just do it,” said Rasca, voice quiet. And not because of the door. “That is the deal.”

With that, Agneta got the impression that the conversation was over. A huff later, she fit the rest of Rasca’s stuff into her backpack, slung it over her shoulder, and began to walk off. She glanced at the house after every couple steps, hoping that Rasca would do something else. Based on the way the door bulged, Rasca clearly hadn’t stopped leaning on it. Ugh.

Part of her wanted to turn around and see if she could smash the door open, but she didn’t feel like that would be helpful. Rasca had told her that Xain was in the village. She didn’t necessarily know if they were being honest to her, but she didn’t have anything to lose. If Xain was in the village, wonderful. If not, chances were Rasca had killed Xain before she’d gotten there.

Agneta clenched her fists as the fire roared inside her. The grass that rose up to her waist hissed and singed as she made her way through it. She didn’t want to think about Xain’s death. But Rasca had looked way too strange, his maps hadn’t made much sense, and what little she could get of his backstory had been cryptic. Like it or not, she liked Xain. In a business where she didn’t want to get emotionally attached to her customers, he was the closest thing to a friend she had outside of her hometown.

Well, if Xain really was fine, that raised a completely different set of questions. It was possible that Rasca had been lying about those maps, but part of her wanted to believe they were genuine. Otherwise, they’d thrown away a lot of time and effort to get rid of her. Why would they waste a fancy-looking astrolabe and a pile of maps on her? She was fairly sure she wasn’t the only one who came to Xain’s house.

She stared ahead. A path stretched out in front of her, the grass parted and trampled by something else. One of the conversations with Xain flashed through her mind; he’d been pointing in this direction when he’d talked about the village, hadn’t he? Agneta doubled her pace. If Xain was alright, those maps could be real. And, if they were real, and she could find a fleet willing to take her across the ocean, she’d be hailed as a hero.

It wasn’t every day someone found an entirely new continent.

******

It took an enormous amount of willpower to keep Xain from throwing the basket his sister had given him aside as he speed-limped his way back to his house. His heart almost leaped out of his chest as he followed the path of trampled grass Agneta had made, keeping an arm firmly over the basket’s lid. He didn’t want to lose any of the bread and clothes he’d gotten from his sisters, or the metal trinkets and flint he’d exchanged his whole stock for with Agneta. Even if it would get him back to Rasca faster.

Shallow breathes sputtered out of him as the grass began to get shallow and shallower, his house quickly rising into view. Xain’s heart skipped a beat – it looked perfectly fine. Door closed, walls still holding together, nothing out of place. Maybe it would’ve been better if something had been. Maybe that would’ve helped the sense of dread that had settled in his stomach.

He still couldn’t believe what he’d heard. Agneta showing up to the village had been something of a surprise, since Xain hadn’t been expecting her for another week or so. And that was before she’d pulled him out of the way and told him that Rasca had handed her a bunch of strange maps and navigation tools. Xain was sure it’d come off as incredibly suspicious when he’d told his family that he’d had to leave, had made up some explanation about a wall staring to cave in, and had run off as soon as he’d gotten that basket from Vera. But if Rasca wasn’t being so secretive about that chest anymore, something must’ve gone wrong.

Was it Xain’s fault? As the kitsune made his way over to the door, ignoring the screaming pain in his leg, he couldn’t help but think it might’ve been. He’d been the one pushing off going to the village. He’d been the one fighting with Rasca. Maybe Rasca had gotten convinced that Xain wouldn’t come back with food, that Xain would ultimately not confront his sisters. But Xain had been so scared, and so frustrated, and-

Xain pushed the door in. It rotated back, revealing the inside of his house.


Part Five (452 words): leave all your love and your longing behind you, can't carry it with you if you want to survive

Spoiler! :
The fire dead, like normal. The fish strung up and hanging over the ashes, like normal. The blanket spread out (almost) neatly over the bed, like normal. The basin empty, like normal.

But the house was empty. Rasca had left.

The kitsune stood there, eyes darting from corner to corner. Maybe he’d missed something. Maybe Rasca was hiding under the bed, or behind the chest, or outside of the house. Maybe Rasca wanted Xain to think he was gone. It was working; Xain felt his fur stick up on end with every second that he leaned against the door, breath faintly fogging up in the air. And sure, that would be cruel on Rasca’s part, but Xain couldn’t help but feel like he deserved that.

Xain took a minute to build up the courage to look closer. Letting out a shaky breath, he set the basket on the bed, then stared past it. His heart skipped a beat; the chest was still open. The kitsune reached out a paw, grabbing the lid of the chest and slowly pulling it back. His nose wrinkled at the musty smell that rose out of it. Just like that sketchbook, but stronger. Blinking tears out of his eyes, Xain quickly recognized that the chest was empty. Even in the shadows that littered the pieces of lacquered wood (he hadn’t seen lacquer in years, but he’d never forgotten the smell), he couldn’t see any trace of tools, instruments, paper. And, well, Rasca could’ve fit in that chest, but there obviously wasn’t a fox in there.

Gently shutting the chest, Xain reached down and tugged at the edge of the mattress. He knew there wasn’t any point in doing that – that mattress couldn’t hide a pebble without a few bumps showing up – but he needed the confirmation. Nothing other than a few yellow and orange furs.

Xain sucked in a breath as he let the bed go. Then he laughed as he eased himself onto the straw mattress, wrapping the box in his arms. It was a quiet, bitter laugh, one that didn’t reach his eyes, which stared off into space.

He should’ve listened. He should’ve left sooner. He’d made Rasca uncomfortable, he’d caused the both of them to go hungry, and all because Xain had been afraid. Rasca had been patient, Rasca had helped walk him around, Rasca had tried his best to tolerate Xain’s panicking and rambling. But Rasca had hit his limit, had finally given up, and now Xain was alone again.

As he clutched onto his basket, the last of the warmth he’d gotten from the fire gradually seeping into the blanket and the mattress, Xain realized that he didn’t want to be alone.


Chapter Nine: The Witching Hour

Part One (592 words): the dog days are over, the dog days are done, can't you hear the horses 'cause here they come

Spoiler! :
Xain had long ago lost track of how long he’d been spending curled up in bed. He’d barely moved as the sun had set, the moon had risen up, pale light had radiated into his house. The kitsune kept his arms firmly on the basket, shivering as the wind howled outside. Part of him swore that he could almost hear Rasca’s voice, that he was still holding Rasca, that tonight was just another calm and relaxed night while they hid away from the elements. He could almost imagine seeing the fox in the blue and green shapes that blurred and whirled together in front of his eyes.

The kitsune knew that he was tired, that he was seeing things, that he was hearing things, that his mind was trying to distract him from how his stomach rumbled and how the cold had settled in his bones. But it was easier to lean into the fantasy. He couldn’t bring himself to sleep. Even as his body felt like it was floating in air, there was some part of him that was just barely clinging onto consciousness. It kept his hair pounding, fur raised, chest heaving. Especially once that pale light started growing a little bit brighter.

Pulling himself up into a sitting position, the kitsune stared at the bottom of the door. No, it wasn’t a trick of the light. The pale moonlight had been tinged by reds and oranges, which flickered and waved slowly. As tired as he was, it still didn’t take long for Xain to realize that something was terribly wrong.

The kitsune bit his lip as he rose, setting the basket on the floor. He hadn’t seen anything like this in a long time, but he had some less than fond memories of his father and mother herding the kids down the cliff. The house had ended up fine (if a little scorched), but they’d almost starved over the next couple of weeks. They’d lost anything of value that they hadn’t been able to hide.

Walking over to the door and pulling it back, Xain felt a weight settle on his shoulders. He didn’t have the time, energy, or ability to carry much of anything to the town or the shore. He sagged, the wind buffeting his tablecloth skirt. Of course the raiders would be back. Of course the raiders would take everything he had left. Of course this was the way things had to end. If they targeted his house again, he’d have no choice but to move back into the village. There wasn’t any way he could survive the winter without food or his fishing rod. He’d come back to his sisters with just the clothes on his back. Or, if he was especially unlucky, he wouldn’t come back at all.

Against his better judgment, he found himself walking along the side of the house, paw running around the earth wall to provide support. When he made his way around the corner, he could see the torches. A few rose up far into the distance, almost hidden by the sea of grass that swayed back and forth beneath the moon. Strangely enough, the torches almost seemed to be receding. With the way that the door had looked earlier, they’d certainly been much closer. So why had they moved away? Why hadn’t they tried to break into his house? They certainly wouldn’t have had any opposition.

That was about when Xain caught sight of something being thrown through the air in the distance. Followed by a familiar shout.


Part Two (1069 words): nice

Spoiler! :
Resisting the urge to scream Rasca’s name, Xain let go of the house and began to limp his way into the grass. The fox started crouching, hoping to disappear into the grass that rose up in front of him. Even in nighttime, the moon and those torches weren’t doing him any favors. It’d also hopefully mask his smell (his father had told him that the raiders were about as good as the kitsune at picking up odors). His leg didn’t take too kindly to that, but he was a little too tired to pay attention to the pain. Adrenaline shot through his veins while the grass creeped up around him, swallowing him.

In the distance, the torches began to move where Rasca had thrown some kind of bag. Xain couldn’t pick out the fox himself, but he swore that there was a patch of grass that wasn’t quite blowing in the wind. Ugh. Rasca didn’t know what he was doing – he wasn’t familiar with the plains, and he was terrible at keeping himself silent. The kitsune tried to make his strides as long as possible. He needed to get to Rasca before the raiders did. Maybe Rasca would stand a chance then.

Seconds blurred into minutes, steps blurred into each other, the plains blurred into a solid mass of black and green. It wasn’t too long before Xain had gotten close enough to see the raiders’ horses tower over the grass. The raiders themselves were barely visible in the torchlight. Saber-tooted tigers, with tan fur, enormous canines, and padded uniforms slipping in and out of the shadows. There appeared to be three of them, arguing near the spot Rasca had thrown the bag. Not that Xain could understand them, but their conversation sounded fast, angry, tense.

Xain felt a pit in his stomach. He was tired, cold, and he could feel the muscles in his leg slipping into and out of place. It was hard enough to be silent without trying not to scream after every other step, especially now that the adrenaline was wearing off. This was a bad idea. This was such an incredibly bad idea. What was he doing here? They were going to catch him. They were going to kill him. It would’ve been better to wait and see if Rasca’s plan had worked. Rasca had likely been leading them all over the place for the last couple hours, if the fires by Xain’s door had been anything to go by. The kitsune had underestimated Rasca – he kept glancing away from the raiders, but couldn’t spot anything out of place.

The raiders started to hush. Xain’s fur stood up on end as he watched the raiders start to look around. The one who’d been holding up Rasca’s bag threw it on the ground. And the kitsune wasn’t sure if he was imagining it or not, but he could almost swear that they were turning their heads in his direction.

A paw grabbed onto Xain’s shoulder. The kitsune resisted the urge to scream as something pulled him down to the ground, causing his injured leg to bend the wrong way. Slapping a paw over his own mouth and taking a few deep breaths, the kitsune tried to push himself up and straighten himself out. He stretched out his other paw, trying to figure out what had grabbed onto him. Rasca? Some kind of attacker? Xain’s paw quickly brushed against fur, against an ear, towards a snout.

“Xain,” Rasca hissed, voice almost slipping into the wind. “What, are you doing?”

The kitsune blinked. Sure enough, he was grabbing onto Rasca’s face. Xain let go, watching as the fox’s features popped into the life under the moonlight. Rasca. It was Rasca. That orange fur, short snout, arched ears, the-

Rasca grabbed Xain’s head and pulled him down again. Hooves rumbled close by them, shadows from the raider’s torches flickering across Rasca and Xain’s fur. The next few seconds slowed down into breaths, heartbeats. Taking the hint, Xain bit his lip, pressed himself against the ground, lowered his ears, and tried to get a glimpse of where the raiders were. He could smell smoke, see the yellow and orange of the torches flicker in the distance, feel the ground rumble as the horses galloped across it. Still too close.

They just needed to hide. It’d be hard to pick out Rasca and Xain’s scents; they were mixed with the smell of horses and torches, on top of being masked by the wind. And Rasca had probably been running around for some time, which would confuse the raiders even more. It’d be even harder to see Rasca and Xain in the middle of the plains at night. The raiders could have convinced themselves that Rasca had run off somewhere else instead of trying to hide.

“Somewhere else” included Xain’s house. If Xain was lucky, the raiders would leave the house alone. As proud of it as he was, they could decide it was abandoned. Some of the walls still looked battered, nobody had lit a fire there for the last couple days, and no one trying to hide would leave the door wide open. Even if they didn’t, he wasn’t sure they would take anything. The last time he remembered the raiders, there had been far more of them. While they’d been going after Rasca, it sounded like Rasca had something valuable on him. Maybe they would just ignore the basket of food and clothing that Xain had left in the house (which the kitsune realized wasn’t a fantastic decision).

That was all the comfort that Xain could get, outside of holding onto Rasca. The night crawled along, bringing the raiders close to them, farther away, almost out of the horizon, and back again. Every time Xain felt like he could take a breath, the sound of hooves reminded him he wasn’t quite out of the woods just yet. At some points, he could even hear the raiders arguing. But he had to keep quiet, keep hiding, keep hoping him and Rasca would be alright. He tried to stop shivering in the cold; he stifled every sneeze; he kept ignoring every flash of pain. He bit his lip hard enough to draw blood, but he wiped it off and kept a grip on Rasca.

Pinks and purples started to grow on the horizon by the time the raiders finally left.


Part Three (1013 words): very gay, much wow

Spoiler! :
Xain almost didn’t notice the sunrise – black spots splattered across his eyes, masking the still-waving grass, brightening sky, and even Rasca’s face. Shivering, exhausted, leg screaming, Xain could only catch orange lines in the sky and the orange fur in front of him. He needed to eat. He needed to sleep. He needed to do anything other than lay here and try not to die. But his ears kept telling him that the raiders were just a few steps away. Every rustle, every piece of dying grass that blew off in the wind, every noise that Rasca made as he adjusted whatever was in his overalls ricocheted through Xain’s head. He knew it wasn’t rational. He’d heard the raiders yell at each other some time ago, before they’d hopped onto their horses and gone off into the sunset. They were gone.

But Xain still felt his heart skip a beat as Rasca began to pull himself up, brushing off Xain’s shoulder in the process. The kitsune craned his head up to watch Rasca get into a crouch and stare out above the sea of grass. It was about when Xain’s head stopped spinning that he realized just how ragged Rasca looked. The fox’s sunken eyes, shaky paws, ripped-up clothes, and papers spilling out from beneath the fabric told a story that Xain didn’t want to hear. Xain could even see Rasca’s notebook and stick tucked into the back of his shirt.

“Gone,” Rasca said. That sounded more like a question. Blinking a couple of times, the fox shook his head. “Gone,” he repeated, a little less hesitation in his voice.

Xain let out a shaky breath. The fox looked down at the kitsune, giving an expression that Xain recognized matched his own. Worry. Rasca wasn’t the only one who looked like a mess.

A gust of wind rushed past them. They couldn’t stop staring into each other’s eyes. Tears welled up in Rasca’s; he wiped them off, sniffling. Instinctively, Xain reached up a paw and rested it on Rasca’s knee. Taking the hint, Rasca reached out a shaky paw, grabbed onto Xain’s, and pulled him close.

On his knees, Xain found himself at eye level with Rasca. Their breaths fogged up in the air around them, mixing together. It was about then that Xain realized what he’d been feeling over the last day. Part of why he hadn’t wanted to go into town, part of why going into town had stung, all of why coming back to an empty house had devastated him.

And, with Rasca already starting to lean towards Xain, it looked like the fox had come to his own conclusion.

Setting his paw on Rasca’s shoulder, Xain closed his eyes, puckered his lips, and kissed Rasca. For a moment, Rasca flinched. Whoop. Had he been trying to do something else? Xain had just narrowly avoiding smacking Rasca’s snout with his own. Maybe Rasca had dropped something, or had almost fallen asleep. The kitsune pulled his head back and had a flash of worry that lasted just long enough for Rasca to grab Xain’s shoulders, pull the kitsune close, and return the kiss.

Ah. If Xain could breathe, he would’ve breathed a sigh of relief. Instead, crying, Xain and Rasca kissed as the sun broke through the horizon in the distance.

******

“So, dad was dead,” said Rasca. The fox’s head poked out from the blankets that enveloped Xain and Rasca (Vera had been kind enough to make a couple more). Rasca’s head resting on Xain’s chest, the fox let Xain scratch his chin.

“Yes,” Xain replied. His tails wrapped around Rasca’s, tablecloth swapped out for actual pants, Xain reached back to adjust his pillow. Compared to a few hours ago, he felt much better. The both of them had eaten some fish, and were now trying to warm up in the bed. Pinpricks raced up and down Xain’s limbs, but he appreciated them. They reminded him that he hadn’t frozen to death.

Rasca sighed. “And mom died had a long time ago.” He sounded slow, deliberate. The fox was still making some mistakes, but he was clearly trying to figure out his sentences. And Xain wasn’t interested in pressuring him. The fox had spent all of breakfast apologizing for throwing a bag of fish at the raiders. Even though Xain and Rasca had already found those fish. Some a little crushed, but otherwise fine enough to eat.

“And they had monies?” said Xain, wrapping his arms around Rasca. The kitsune wasn’t quite sure how to show sympathy, but, if the squeaking noise Rasca made was anything to go by, the fox got the message.

Rasca sniffed. “Yeah,” he said slowly. “Lots of those. And I, don’t know why dad died. He have did power. I got the money, but not the power. Someone else did.”

“Did you want the power?” said Xain, tilting his head.

The fox shook his head. “I and dad were, not close. I others had teach me things, talk to me, keep me busy. I did not like his job. It sounded busy, and I did want no it.”

Xain frowned. “Sorry about that,” he said.

“It is fine,” Rasca replied, “It happened. But yeah, I money had. And I wanted to go places. Far away places. New places.”

“Like this?” said Xain.

With a nod, Rasca went on. “Like this. So, I made a ship. I gave money people. We went to the horizon of the world, with all the big rocks.”

Hmm – not something that the kitsune recognized. “And no ones did that before?” Xain said.

“Lots of people did,” Rasca said. “But we broke up the ship. We moved it over the big rocks, then put it together back.”

“Wow,” said Xain. He shifted ever so slightly, trying to pull his blankets up a little farther without them completely covering Rasca. “That must’ve taken times.”

Rasca nodded. “But it worked, the fox said. “We made it to the sea, and we tried to go far. But some foxes did not want to go far.”


Part Four (1062 words): that's a 2 out of 3 on the oof scale. also mild tw.

Spoiler! :
Xain bit his lip as he remembered how Rasca had run aground all those weeks ago. “That small boats of yours could not fit many foxes,” he said.

With another nod, Rasca said, “We saw nothing. Just the sea, and more sea, and more sea. And some foxes, got angry, with me.”

The kitsune set his other paw on Rasca’s chest, feeling the way it rose and fell. By now, Rasca’s breaths had started to get a little shaky. After last night, Xain was a little concerned. With as much as Rasca had been running around, and as worn out and haggard as Rasca had looked, part of Xain wondered if Rasca would get sick. Which unsettled Xain. “What did they dos?” Xain said, getting the feeling he knew the answer.

Clasping Xain’s paw with his own, Rasca said, “They off kicked me. Said there was nothing. Said I was trying to all kill them.

“But they were wrong,” said Xain. “Why did you not tells them?”

A pause. “I did not know that,” Rasca said.

Xain frowned. “You had lots of foods, yes?” he said slowly.

Silence.

“Rasca,” Xain said, sighing.

The fox shifted, scooting a little farther away from Xain. “I did not through this think,” said Rasca quickly, voice quiet. “I thought find something we would eventually. But it was not enough soon.”

“How longs were you on that little boat?” said Xain, trying to coax Rasca closer by scratching Rasca’s chin again.

Rasca wouldn’t budge. “I do not know,” said Rasca. “There no food was. I tried to hide some food, in the boat, but they, found it. I was hungry. It was long. I saw some islands, far off.”

“You did not tries to go to them?” Xain said.

The fox shook his head. “I was, tired,” he said. “By the time I saw islands, I could barely paw a lift. I, was sure not they were islands. I was seeing things.”

Xain wrapped his tails around Rasca a little more.

“All had I,” the fox said, “Was my chest, and my-“ he paused, then said something that Xain didn’t understand. Based on what Rasca had set down earlier, Xain got the impression that it was the stick. But Rasca wasn’t calling it a stick.

“A what?” said Xain.

“A gun,” the fox said, then paused. “You would call it a stick? And it had a, a ball.”

Hmm. Xain wasn’t sure what to make of that. “Why?” said Xain, once he realized that Rasca’s had started shaking.

Rasca let out a long, unsteady breath. The kitsune winced – had he said something out of place? “The way works a gun,” Rasca said slowly, flipping himself around and pulling himself up with one paw so that he could raise a claw with the other, “Is that it makes moves the ball.” Stretching out his paw, Rasca moved the claw towards Xain’s forehead. Xain shuffled back slightly, since he wasn’t sure where Rasca was going with this (and Rasca was getting awfully close). However, the most the fox did was reach out and tap Xain’s forehead. It took a moment for Xain to realize what Rasca was suggesting. “Into your head,” said Rasca, confirming Xain’s suspicions.

The kitsune found himself looking into Rasca’s eyes once again. Emotions flooded through the kitsune – he couldn’t place any of them, if only because he was too overwhelmed to figure out what they were. A couple seconds later, it settled into anger. Anger at Rasca’s crewmates. Anger at all that had happened to Rasca. Anger at how long Rasca had been cold, hungry, miserable. Closing his eyes, Xain pulled his head up, hoping to give Rasca a kiss. Try and make up, even if just a little bit, for how painful it had to have been for Rasca to tell that story.

Only for Xain to pause when he felt a claw on his lips. Opening his eyes, Xain looked up at Rasca’s frown. “I am, sorry,” Rasca said, pulling the claw back. Sniffling, the fox blinked a couple tears out of his eyes. When he realized he was looking directly at Xain, Rasca turned his head and stared at the floor. “But, what is this? Who are we? Are we, a couple?”

Xain opened his mouth, but hesitated. It almost felt like his heart had gotten lodged in his throat. “I-,” Xain eventually said, wishing that he could fall into the bed and disappear.

“It, is sudden, yes?” said Rasca, running his claw through his hair. “We known have each other for a long time, but I not did – I am not sure if I did – I know not if -”

The kitsune reached a paw up, then pulled it back slightly. He wasn’t sure if Rasca would be comfortable if Xain set it on his shoulder. “Do you needs to know?” said Xain eventually.

Rasca blinked, eyes immediately darting back to Xain. “What?” the fox said.

“Are you okay with this?” said Xain, gesturing to how Rasca had propped himself up over Xain.

After a couple seconds’ hesitation, the fox nodded. “Yes,” the fox stammered, glancing away from Xain. “I am fine with this. With you.”

“Do we wants to call this anything?” Xain continued.

Another pause. Rasca grit his teeth, but Xain didn’t get the impression that it was out of anger. Fear? Embarrassment? Realization? “What do you mean?” said Rasca. It sounded more like the fox was waiting for Xain to say what Rasca was thinking.

Which Xain would. “We do not, need to be a couple,” the kitsune said, paying close attention to his words. It sounded like something important to say. “We do not, need to be friends. We can be us.”

Tears streamed down Rasca’s face. With a cough to clear his throat, the fox rubbed his eyes. “What if I call it want to something?” Rasca blurted out, voice hoarse. His arm started shaking, threatening to throw him on top of Xain. “What if it is nothing?”

“We do not, have to know right now,” said Xain, finally reaching out of his paw to grab onto Rasca’s unsteady arm. Looking Rasca in the eyes, Xain reached up to wipe off a couple of tears. “If it is nothing, is it nothing. But, we do not, need to call something something for it to be something.”


Part Five (659 words): imagine respecting your partner and what he wants

Spoiler! :
Rasca set his other paw over his eyes. “Calling something it feels better,” he said, voice unsteady. “I have done never this before, I have never felt about you before.”

Moving his paw down Rasca’s arm to stabilize the fox, Xain said, “I haves not either.”

“I am scared, Xain,” said Rasca. Rasca’s tears dripped onto Xain’s clothes as Rasca moved himself a little closer. With Xain keeping Rasca’s paw on the bed, the fox seemed to be shaking a little less. “Of us. I want, to be, with you.”

“You are,” Xain said, but he got the impression that wasn’t what Rasca was talking about. Given everything that Rasca had done over the last day, and the story that Rasca told him, the fox clearly wanted to go back to his home.

With a huff, Rasca rested his head on Xain’s chest again. Xain wasn’t sure what to make of Rasca lying down on top of him, but Xain tried to ignore the discomfort and focus on what Rasca was saying. Rasca’s feelings were the most important part of the conversation. “But you here live, and I live there,” said Rasca quietly.

Xain wrapped his arms around Rasca. “How longs will you be here?” said Xain. “It took you weeks to get here.”

“Longer,” said Rasca, sighing. He slowly lowered his arm, revealing swollen, red eyes. “I think.”

“So Agneta will go there,” Xain said. “And it will takes weeks. And Agneta will go backs. And that will take weeks. Or months. And then it might nots be winter. The monsters are only really quiet in winter.”

Rasca groaned. “That if is, Agneta even wants do it,” he mumbled. The fox began to curl up on Xain’s stomach. Which made it a little harder to pay attention to what Rasca was saying. Xain wasn’t sure how the fox could look so sad and adorable at the same time.

Xain shrugged. “Exactly,” he said. “So you have times. We can deal with this when you have to go.”

A pause. “Okay,” Rasca said. He took a couple deep breaths, blinking a few last tears out of his eyes. “I can wait.”

Biting his lip, Xain let a few seconds pass. “Would you like to kiss?” said Xain.

Rasca snorted. “Sure,” the fox said. Lifting his head up, Rasca puckered his lips and gave Xain a kiss on the cheek.

Xain blushed. “On the lips,” he said, already lowering his head.

Their first kiss had been a little fast, a little desperate, a little emotional. That had made it extremely easy for Xain to ignore that he didn’t know how to kiss. Now that he found himself making out with Rasca, he realized that he wasn’t sure what he was doing. He wasn’t sure how to deal with his lips, or what to do about his tongue, or whether he was being too aggressive. It also wasn’t especially romantic to see Rasca trying to wipe off snot from his nose. But Rasca seemed happy with whatever this was.

Xain wanted to say this was a romance. It felt like a romance. He loved everything about Rasca. The way the fox sketched, how he could hold onto the fox, how the fox cared about him and wanted him to be okay, how Xain wanted the fox to be okay. The fox genuinely liked Xain’s job, and showed much more affection than anyone Xain had met in a long time. At the same time, if Rasca didn’t want to call this a romance, then Xain wouldn’t. If Rasca didn’t want to call this anything, Xain wouldn’t. It wouldn’t be fair for Xain to push that on Rasca. Especially if it would scare Rasca into ignoring his own feelings.

And, well, they were fine. They were finally fine. Maybe not perfect; Xain knew there were a lot of questions neither of them had answered yet. But they had the time to do that.


Chapter Ten: Domestic

Part One (477 words): aww

Spoiler! :
When Xain had started growing his third tail, Rasca had been almost more excited about it than Xain had been.

A couple days after the tigers had arrived, Xain had woken up to a strange feeling, which he had almost chalked up to his back being sore. But, with his sister having grown hers, the timing had been a little too coincidental. He’d checked and, sure enough, his tail had started sprouting. Well, sprouting had felt like the wrong word. It had started curling and growing longer, with thicker and thicker layers of fur replacing old ones. Which had meant plenty of shedding, on top of Xain’s appetite growing much bigger. Xain had been a little nervous that he’d end up causing the both of them to starve. However, as much as he’d felt the box Vera and Yisele had given him had been a little big, it had turned out to have been very helpful. Xain almost hated that – that had probably been the point.

Rasca had been obsessed with the tail. He’d spent each day trying to measure it, taking sketches of it, trying to keep pieces of fur in his sketchbook. Xain had been a little confused, and a little disturbed, by all of that. On the other hand, that had apparently never happened to Rasca. While Xain had grown his second tail about 10 years ago, and would grow a fourth 10 years later, Rasca was stuck with one tail. Unfortunate, but at least Rasca could see Xain’s grow.

And, with a third tail, Xain could use a little more magic. It wasn’t quite enough to make starting the fires on his own worthwhile, but Xain could at least heat up the fireplace, boil some of the water that came from the well, and make the bed a little warmer. That also added to Xain’s appetite, so he had to use his powers less often. Much to Rasca’s disappointment.

Other than the fox’s obsession, Xain found himself getting along with Rasca. Now that Xain had started heading out of the house to cut grass, he didn’t spend all his time with Rasca. But Rasca would usually come along or cut grass nearby. When they were together, it was often them cuddling in bed. With the temperature dropping, frost settling on the plains, the winds getting stronger, and the sea looking darker, it wasn’t like they had much else to do but lay there and talk and hug. They’d even gotten to the point where they could hold conversations in each other’s languages. Rasca didn’t always have his sentence order right, but he understood a lot more than he had even a couple weeks ago. Whatever their relationship was, Xain was proud of Rasca, and he enjoyed the time they spent together. Rasca said he felt the same way.

Not that there weren’t issues.


Part Two (1025 words): I am truly a literary genius

Spoiler! :
Despite how much they talked, they hadn’t gotten to the heart of why Rasca had washed up on shore in the first place. They stitched together all kinds of sentences and threw in all kinds of obscure words, but they never talked about their lives. Not that Xain was being entirely honest either. Rasca had opened up his heart to Xain, but Xain wasn’t sure how comfortable he was doing the same. Xain hadn’t talked about his parents, or why he lived in this house and his siblings lived in town. It wasn’t like Rasca had ever asked, but Xain got the feeling that wasn’t a good excuse. And Xain had a better excuse.

Agneta had come by a couple days earlier. She’d brought some tea, had helped Xain prepare it, and had listened to Rasca and Xain as they told her their story. Agneta had looked incredibly relieved, but had still asked if Rasca had wanted his maps and equipment back. Xain had been tempted to nudge Rasca into saying yes. However, Rasca (and Agneta) had started getting tense when the possibility had come up. And, well, who was Xain to get in the way of Rasca wanting to go home? Agneta had also seemed happy to make that happen, especially when Rasca had told her that she could sell the maps back to him when he had the funds.

Yet, Rasca still wasn’t explaining what he would do after that. Rasca had called himself an explorer, but Xain didn’t know what that was supposed to mean. If Agneta made it back to Rasca’s home, then brought Rasca’s friends (or just other explorers - it didn’t sound like Rasca had any friends), would Rasca sail back home? Would Rasca keep on exploring? Xain liked to believe he was friendly, but there all kinds of animals and creatures that weren’t. He couldn’t see that exploration going well for Rasca. But, if Rasca and the explorers tamed the creatures and drove back other animals, what would happen to Xain? There wasn’t any guarantee that anyone Rasca knew would be as nice as Rasca. It didn’t look like Rasca had kept great company.

And that was why Xain had been keeping his mouth shut. Rasca hadn’t talked about exploring since they’d talked about his voyage, and Xain had barely mentioned his parents in that time. It wasn’t that they didn’t enjoy the time they spent together. To an extent, Xain felt like he could put aside his fears. It felt like he had forever to spend with the fox he cared about. Sure, forever was a long time. Xain had gotten acutely aware that Rasca had poor hygiene and only wanted to wear one outfit regardless of how it smelled. The two had gone fishing once or twice, but hadn’t had much luck. It wasn’t cold enough to freeze up the cove, but cold enough that the fish weren’t keen on biting. The kitsune’s wound had gone from irritating to a dull ache, and Xain and Rasca had long ago taken off everything they’d applied to it. It still wasn’t like Xain or Rasca could go anywhere.

However, Xain wasn’t alone. Xain had spent a few winters alone, and he’d always hated it. He’d always felt trapped in his house, and he’d end up spending all his time pacing around or trying to sleep to skip meals. At least he could talk to someone this time around. And, with Rasca sitting beside Xain, flipping through the sketchbook and showing off different pages, Xain was reminded that he had someone who cared about him. Someone willing to help him out. Someone he could hold onto. Someone who could make forever a little more tolerable. Xain wasn’t sure what to do when forever ended, but he would cross that bridge when he came to it. He didn’t have any other choice.

“And I thought I would try to draw the path I left in the grass,” said Rasca, pointing to one sketch. The fox talked quickly and tried his best to lean part of the book closer to him. “Because is there grass in my country, but it not is this tall.”

Leaning against Rasca, Xain pointed to the part of the book that Rasca had moved away from Xain. “And I can see a really nice sketch of my butt,” said Xain with a smirk.

“You’re never let going to me forget about that, are you not?” Rasca said, biting his lip. “I already sorry said about the tail thing.”

Xain set a paw on Rasca’s head. “I know,” Xain said, “And I forgive you. I’m just impressed at the level of detail, is all.”

Rasca set the book down and crossed his arms, looking away from Xain. “Well I will have know you that this was a guess. I was not trying be a creep.”

“Do you want to sees how accurate it is?” said Xain, trying to keep his voice steady. It was just a little funny to try and push Rasca’s buttons; a couple weeks stuck in a house had made it a lot easier to figure out what those buttons were. He ran a paw through Rasca’s fur, causing the fox’s ears to twitch

Rasca rolled his eyes, trying his best to ignore Xain. “No,” said Rasca. “I want did not take up drawing because I wanted butts to draw. I just wanted to attach the tails to something.”

Nodding, the kitsune said, “Well, you did a nice job.”

“Thanks,” said Rasca, the fox managing to land somewhere between sincere and sarcastic. He closed his sketchbook, then gently rested it on top of the chest beside the bed. The book tilted slightly, but stayed where it’d been set. “Only the best butts for you.”

Hmm. Xain hadn’t quite expected Rasca to fire back. “Because mine is the best,” said Xain.

Sighing, Rasca started leaning against Xain. Xain pushed himself back slightly, allowing Rasca to settle down and set his head on Xain’s lap. As Rasca stared up at the ceiling, Xain lowered his paw to start scratching Rasca’s chin. Rasca smiled up at Xain.
S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
a persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma per ciò che giammai di questo fondo
non tornò vivo alcun, s'i' odo il vero,
senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

Inferno, Canto 27, l 61-66.
  





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TheSilverFox says...



Would You Look At That, There's More Writing




Part Three (1029 words): lol so much for that. also fair warning, there's nothing more than vague references here, but I think it warrants 18+

Spoiler! :
A pause. Their eyes met.

“Um,” said Xain.

“Yeah,” Rasca said, biting his lip.

Xain shuffled slightly and nudged the blankets back. “You” – Xain coughed – “You have a nice butt too. Not, not that I have seen.”

“Oh?” said Rasca. The fox pressed the side of his head against Xain’s stomach.

What was he saying? Why was he saying it? “Yeah,” Xain said. “I, I have not seens its. Just, when we are sleeping?” Xain’s cheeks felt like they were about to burst into flames. His voice got a little hoarse, and he tugged at his shirt. “No, I, no, swear I am nots, not doing anything rude.”

“I, didn’t think were you?” Rasca said. The fox seemed to freeze up as he reached out and began to pull the blankets back. “I wake sometimes up, and you are always sleeping deeply. It, feels nice. You holding to me.”

“It, does?” said Xain. He blinked. “I do that?”

Rasca suddenly looked a lot more interested in the ceiling. “Sometimes you over turn and wrap your arms around me,” he said.

Xain tried to talk, but choked. The kitsune took a deep breath. “I am, so sorry,” he said. “It’s’s, it is, I did not knows, know. I, think I used to hold onto my parents when I was-”

The fox stretched himself out, spreading his arms and legs over half the bed. “It is, fine again,” Rasca said, patting Xain on the shoulder. “It me makes – makes me – feel” – Rasca paused – “cozy?”

The kitsune let out a shaky breath. “Alright,” said Xain. “But, but, let me knows, know, if you do not like it.”

Rasca nodded.

Instinctively nodding back, Xain caught himself. Coughing and blinking his eyes a few more times, Xain went on. “So, your butt,” said Xain.

“My butt,” Rasca said, putting on a smile.

Ugh. Covering his eyes with his paws, Xain said, “It’s, it is, very round?”

“Mhm,” said Rasca.

“And big?” Xain said.

When Xain looked down, he could see Rasca grinning up at him. A strange grin – Rasca had started biting his lip hard enough to draw blood, which didn’t concern Xain at all. But Rasca was taking this a lot better than Xain was. Not that that was frustrating or anything. It wasn’t like Rasca was always hesitant or awkward about literally any other emotion.

“You sure you did not feel it?” Rasca said, grinning.

“No,” Xain groaned, throwing his forepaws over his eyes and leaning forward. “I, would nots, would not do anything like that. Why are you saying that?”

“Just wanted make up for that thing poking the back of my head,” Rasca said.

Xain spluttered out a laugh. Still covering his eyes, the kitsune quickly shifted to the left, causing the fox’s head to flop down on the bed. Xain had to admit that he was having fun. Awkward fun, weird fun, but fun. This wasn’t a side of Rasca that he was familiar with, and it felt, freeing? It felt like a weight was lifting off his chest. And falling back down, but it was something.

“Sorry,” Rasca said, reaching a paw up to Xain’s cheek. Whoop. Did Xain make it look like he was crying? The kitsune had started heaving a little bit, and couldn’t quite stop shaking. Which he couldn’t do too much about. The fox’s voice dropped to a whisper. “Xain, are you alright?”

The kitsune let out a laugh. Which didn’t help, because it sounded way too forced. “No, no, it’s fines,” Xain said between breaths. He rubbed his eyes and wiped away a couple of tears. Shaking his head, the kitsune continued. “I just, was nots expecting that.”

“Okay,” said Rasca. Xain almost missed the hesitation that crept up the fox’s voice, but he could hear it. The kitsune slowly paused and started looking down at Rasca, which was apparently the fox’s cue to move a little closer. “But, uh, but, if would you, you would like see, I, I would not, I mean, I would not be against.”

“I-,” Xain started to say, before something caught his attention. The kitsune pulled his head up, glaring at the door. His ears pricked up; something at the edge of his hearing. It almost sounded like someone stomping on the ground outside of the house. But he was just imagining that, wasn’t he?

“Hm?” Rasca said, turning his head back towards the door. It didn’t seem like the fox had heard it. Which made a little bit of sense, since Rasca’s ears were smaller. Ugh – if Xain was rationalizing that noise like that, it probably was a problem.

Then came the sound of someone knocking on the door. Loud, forceful. That couldn’t be Agneta. She never knocked; Xain always heard her and opened the door before she could get near it. That left only a couple options, none of which Xain liked. Of course they would show up now. Of course. He could never get a break. Everyone in the whole world was in a cruel prank against him.

Pulling back the bedsheets, Xain rose up. “I need you to hide under the bed,” said Xain, eyes darting around as he looked for the basket.

“Um, okay?” said Rasca as another knock came from the door. Just a little louder. “How come? Who is it?”

“Family,” Xain grumbled. Spotting the basket, he wrenched the lid off and began to rummage around for something to wrap around his pants.

Recognizing the urgency in Xain’s voice, Rasca also pushed himself off of the bed. “Here? Now? Why?” the fox said, already reaching down and tugging the edge of the mattress up. The kitsune glanced back; he really doubted he could keep his sisters from coming inside the house, or that Xain could hide under the bed in time, but it was worth a shot.

“I don’t know!” Xain said. By now, the knocking had turned more into a banging. Somebody slammed their fist against the door, and Xain swore he could hear a couple voices whispering between each other outside. Finding a green blanket, Xain began to stretch it out. It looked like it’d be big enough.


Part Four (1078 words): treat me like the sea, oh so salty and mean, ahaha

Spoiler! :
“Xain?” said what sounded a lot like Vera. “Is that you?”

Ugh. He wasn’t surprised, but he’d been hoping it was Yisele and her wife. They were a little less aggressive. “One second!” Xain called, stretching his blanket around his waist and beginning to tie it. The knocking stopped, but Xain got the feeling that someone was pressing against the door; it creaked slightly, bending inwards. Vera could open the door if she wanted to, but she was probably trying to be polite. Or someone had convinced her to be polite. Likely her husband.

Xain looked over at Rasca. The fox had managed to squeeze his legs under the mattress, and he was currently trying to scoot himself back into the wall. Eyes shooting back to the door when Rasca glanced in his direction, Xain finished typing up the blanket. Walking over, the kitsune reached out and yanked on the door handle. The rusted piece of metal almost snapped off as the door groaned its way into the house. And, sure enough, he found his eldest sister catching herself as she let go of the other side of the door and stepped back.

Taking a step forward and stretching his arms so that he blocked as much of the entrance as possible, Xain hesitated. His sisters and both their spouses stood in front of him. He could see worry in all their eyes and in their frowns. Except for Vera’s, which had a lot more fire to it. As far as he could hear and see and smell, they hadn’t brought anyone else with them. He probably would’ve felt the magic radiating off of the village leader, so he couldn’t be around. That was something.

“What-” Xain said, before Vera poked him in the chest.

You,” Vera growled. Xain felt himself shrink back as she took a step forward and glared into his eyes.

Xain pulled his head back, putting on a sheepish smile. Ugh, he could still hear Rasca trying to fit himself under the bed; the fox was trying to keep himself quiet, but Xain could hear the swearing. “Me?”

“What’s wrong with you?” said Vera. She tried to look over Xain’s shoulder, but he moved his head to block her. Vera grit her teeth. “You hide from us for weeks, and then you show up to my house smelling injured, smelling sick, smelling like somebody else. Did you really think you could hide that bulls*** from me?”

“Hol’ up for a sec’, dear,” Sive said. He set a paw on his wife’s shoulder; she shifted back. Then he focused on Xain. Somehow, those pleading eyes were almost worse than Vera’s. “We’re just a lil’ worried ‘bout ya, Xain. Ya were, off, when ya dropped by. Thought we’d pay ya a visit ‘fore the winter.”

Shaking his head, Xain tried his best not to stammer. “Well, I’m fine,” he said a tad quickly. “I got over whatever made me sick, and I finally went and cut up the grass, and-.”

“You’re really going to lie to your own sister?” Vera said. Shrugging off Sive’s paw, she took a step forward, stepping past the door. Wonderful. Xain found himself moving back. “I smell them here.”

“It’s, just,” said Xain, voice already fading.

“It’s just what?” Vera replied, poking Xain in the chest again. As Xain stepped back, Sive slipped past his wife to get into the house. Xain tried to step over to Sive, but Vera grabbed Xain’s shoulder. “It’s just grass? It’s just the manure? Or are you going to make up some weirder s***? I haven’t been to this house in years, but I still remember what it smells like. And this isn’t it.”

Xain grabbed Vera’s paw and pulled it off his shoulders. “Maybe that’s none of your business,” he growled.

“None of my business?” Vera said. She balled her paws into fists and set them on her hips. “Is it none of my business when my brother stops talking to me? When my brother shows up to my village with a limp? When my brother won’t explain where he’s been or what he’s been doing? You better believe this is my business.”

“I gave you perfectly good explanations,” said Xain. “I had a lot going on, and I didn’t have time to go to the village. You ignored me, like you always do. Because it’s not good enough for you. Because there always has to be something wrong with me.”

Vera started shaking. “So,” she said, taking in a deep breath, “Why the f*** are you still living in this house? Why the f*** are you living in the place our parents f***ing died? What’s right about that?”

“It’s better than living in some sh**** village where I couldn’t go to the f***ing sea and do what I wanted to because oh no, it’s too dangerous,” Xain shouted, throwing his arms up. “Oh no, it’s too risky. Oh no, you might get eaten. It’s not like I had anything else going for me. I don’t go to town and s*** on your farming skills. I don’t say you could hurt yourself with a plow, or that you’re going to starve to death, or anything like that. I don’t hate your life. It’s just not mine.”

The kitsune let out shaky breaths. Xain felt anger pulsing through him, waiting to lash out at his sister. He’d never called her out like this. He’d hadn’t said any of this in years. He’d bottled his anger, ignored it, let it fester. If it wasn’t for Yisele, he probably would’ve let a little more of it out.

“So, uh, now that you’ve got that out of your systems, who’s this supposed to be?”

Xain pivoted to the right, then stifled a groan. Iva had pulled up the mattress, revealing Rasca hiding underneath. The fox grinned sheepishly, glancing up at Iva.

Out of the corner of his eye, Xain could see Vera wrinkle her nose. “I haven’t seen anything like them,” she said, notes of disgust in her voice. “What are they?”

The kitsune took a deep breath. “He’s Rasca,” Xain said slowly. “And he’s a fox.”

“A what?” Vera said, taking a step towards Rasca.

“I am, a fox,” said Rasca. Vera flinched and stopped. The fox hesitated, but went on. “That is, uh, why I am so” – he rested his chin on his paws and stared at the floor – “orange? And small? And one tail have?"


Part Five (1087 words): just a little bit of emotional manipulation

Spoiler! :
Yisele blinked. “Huh,” she said, crouching down beside Rasca. “You’re just stuck with one?” she said. “How much magic do you have?”

Rasca’s grin managed to get even more sheepish; he shrugged. “Some?” he said. “Not much. Xain much better is, and is a couple years older.”

Pinching the bridge of her nose, Vera closed her eyes and let out a long sigh. Everyone fell silent as she stretched her shoulders back and glared down at Rasca. “Yisele, could you kindly talk about something more important and ask how this strange man ended up in my brother’s house?” Vera said, before her eyes shot up at Xain. “And could you explain why you’re keeping a strange man in your house?”

“He washed up here,” said Xain slowly. Out of the corner of one eye, he could see Rasca’s expression get a little more nervous. Out of the corner of his other eye, Xain could see Sive start to walk across the room. Not that he could deal with either of those things – he was too tired, too angry, and had much of the truth to fudge. “I found him when I went fishing – I saved his life, just so you know – and I’ve been taking care of him ever since.”

Vera set a fist on her hip. “So, why did you never tell him about us?” she said. “I’m sure that he would’ve settled right in with the rest of the village, and we could’ve helped him go back to wherever he came from.” She glanced down at Xain’s leg. “Might that have something to do with that injury of yours?”

Xain grit his teeth. “No,” he said. “It was an accident. I was trying to patch up a part of the house, and I ended up falling off the roof. That you’d think he’s at all harmful is a lot of the reason why I didn’t take him to the village.” He gestured to Rasca, who had started to pull himself out from under the bed (with Iva holding up the mattress for him). “And you probably would’ve decided that I needed to stay with you as well. I figured I could take care of him on my own.”

“Like you can take care of yourself,” said Vera with a snort. Xain’s eyes drilled into hers; she sneered at him. “Maybe I would’ve been more open to the idea of leaving you alone if you had brought him to us, instead of lying to your own family so you could pretend to look after someone.”

Getting up, Rasca gave Iva a quick bow in thanks and then made a beeline to a spot just behind Xain. Xain could guess what had happened; Sive had probably seen the journal and had decided to pick it up. Wonderful. Sive was nice enough that Xain didn’t think he would talk about the contents of the journal, but that wouldn’t exactly stop Vera from snooping around later. And there would be a later. As much as he didn’t want to admit it, she was here to stay. Better to keep her distracted for a little longer. “And maybe I did,” said Xain, puffing up his chest slightly. “Rasca can talk to you because of me. And I really doubt you would’ve left me alone. You’ve always been waiting for an excuse to drag me back there.”

“Because you’ve never given me a reason that you should stay,” said Vera.

“I saved his life,” Xain growled, pointing back at Rasca. Rasca and Sive had gotten into a quiet conversation; Xain was too preoccupied to pick up on the details, but Sive appeared to be apologizing. Sive had seen something poking out of the journal. At least it wasn’t a complete violation of privacy. “What could have happened if you had kept me in the village?”

“If you were really so adamant about going to the shore to look for washed-up strangers,” said Vera, leaning forward and raising her chin, “Then we would’ve gone along with you.”

Xain grimaced. “Would you?” he said. “Or would you have just told me it was too dangerous, I was too obsessed with that place, I should just stay in the village. Stay until I grow old and die. That would make you happy, wouldn’t it? I’d be so much happier if I did what you told me to. That’s how you treat everyone.”

To Xain’s surprise, Yisele stepped into the fray. “Please, just stop,” she said, pushing her way in between Xain and Vera. “You’re just going to keep going in circles. We’re here for a reason, Vera.” Yisele glared at Vera, voice growing a little more bitter. “I understand that you’re upset, and you have a bunch of reasons for that, but you’re not going to get anywhere if you keep yelling at him.”

“Because I’m being the unreasonable one,” Xain said, rolling his eyes.

Yisele turned her head and glared at her brother. Xain somehow found that more intimidating than anything Vera had done. If Vera was angry, that was almost par for the course. It was a lot harder to piss Yisele off. “Yes, you are,” Yisele said. “I know you don’t like us, and I know you don’t like the village, but really? Did you think we’d just go along with everything? That none of us would wonder what was up with your leg, or why you smelled so funny, or why you were so nervous about everything?”

Xain grit his teeth. “At least I didn’t try to barge into your house,” he said, crossing his arms.

“We’re just trying to keep an eye out for you,” said Yisele. “All these lies haven’t been making us feel any better. And sure, maybe you didn’t even need to tell us about Rasca, but you really could starve without us to help. You’re lucky we decided to get some more food for you.”

“So, what’s the plan?” Xain said, throwing up his arms. “If you’re so worried about me, are you just going to haul me back?”

Vera huffed. “We came here out of the hopes that our worst fears wouldn’t be confirmed,” she said. “Maybe even spend some of this winter with you.”

“We’d like to spend a couple of days here,” said Yisele, raising her voice to talk over Vera. “If everything really is okay, we’ll head on out. But, with Rasca here, it would probably be a much better idea to go back to the village. We’ll keep him safe.”


Part Six (1054 words): just some casual xenophobia

Spoiler! :
“I’d love to have y’all stay the winter at my dad’s place,” said Iva, giving a bit of an awkward glare as she looked between the siblings. Which was fair. “He won’t have any problems if we bring Rasca over.” Her expression hardened slightly. “And if he does, then I’ll just remind him how he reacted when he found out he wasn’t going to have any grandkids.”

A small pause.

“Uh, I should set this bed down,” Iva said, looking away as she bit her lip. “But yeah, just want me to put this back where it was, Xain?” She shook the mattress slightly, causing pieces of straw to slip out.

"Yeah,” Xain said, turning over to Iva and nodding. He glanced back at his sisters; Vera was still glaring at him, while Yisele grimaced. Iva’s father accepted her and Yisele as a couple, but Xain could still remember the commotion when him and his siblings had come into town and Yisele had (very quickly) romanced the captain’s daughter. The captain had been a little too focused on the idea that his descendants would keep the town safe. Even if everyone had buried that hatchet, it was just another reason that Xain wasn’t fond of the village.

Vera rested a fist on her hip. “You’re not going to get rid of us, Xain,” she said. “Just accept it.”

Taking a step forward, Yisele set a paw on Xain’s shoulder, likely more for the sake of getting Xain to ignore Vera. “I know that you’re scared and frustrated,” she said with a voice friendly enough to make Xain ball his paws into fists, “I don’t like how many things you’ve been hiding from us, but I can sort of understand why you did it. You didn’t want to deal with us, and you don’t like our village. But we really think staying there for the winter will be safer for Rasca. That it’ll be safer for you.”

One end of the mattress hit the ground with a thump; Iva let out a very quiet curse, then a quiet apology. Xain sighed. “I don’t hate you,” he said, shrugging Yisele’s shoulder off. He pinched the bridge of his nose and tapped his foot for a few seconds, then raised his head. “It’d just be really nice if you didn’t break into my home.”

“We’re worried about you,” said Yisele. “We want to make sure you’re alright. You can’t hide from us forever, Xain. We’re your family. What if you’d kept doing this? What if we’d stayed in the village until spring? What if we’d headed over here and found you dead? Would that have been worth it?”

A pause. Xain crossed his arms and stared at the ground.

With a cough, Yisele said, “And, just to be clear, are you and Rasca, together? You smell a lot like each other.”

Well, if Vera wasn’t angry before, she was fuming now. Xain could almost see fire spring to life in Vera’s eyes as she drew her mouth into a tight line. “You wouldn’t dare,” Vera said, glaring over at Rasca. “You wash up on shore and romance the first person you see? The same person that you hurt? How dare you try to manipulate my brother like that.”

Xain took a couple steps back, glancing at the grimacing fox that was currently pushing himself against the wall. “Vera, calm down, said Xain, throwing out an arm in front of Rasca. “Like I said, that was an accident. Not that you’d believe that, because you don’t believe anything I say.”

“It would be a lot easier to if you didn’t stop lying to me,” said Vera.

“You know I’m a s****y liar,” Xain growled. When Vera pulled her head back and scowled – a good sign that he was right – Xain went on. “Our relationship is none of your business. We’ve taken care of each other, and we care about each other.”

Slowly making his way around the cabin, Sive stopped behind Vera and set a paw on her shoulder. If he was trying to get her to stop, it didn’t work. “How am I going to trust the fox you thought it was a great idea to hide from us?” she said. There was something a little irritating in the way that she struggled to say fox. It almost felt like that was on purpose. “Even for you, that’s strange.”

“I mean,” Rasca responded, catching Xain off guard. The kitsune had assumed that Rasca was a little too intimidated by Vera. “For what worth it is, Xain, did not want me to you meet? He, did not think you would like me.”

Vera fell silent, especially after Sive tugged her shoulder. Letting out a quiet sigh of relief, Xain said, “Yes, this was my idea. He’s not a kitsune, and he’s not from here. I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t have been all that friendly if I said that I had a fox living with me.”

“Maybe if you’d brought him to the village, I would’ve been alright with him,” Vera snapped.

“Because having a few dozen strangers judge him and stay away from him would be a great idea,” Xain replied. He grit his teeth. “They don’t trust anyone they’re not familiar with. You don’t trust anyone who isn’t a local kitsune or one of the usual traders.”

“There’s not that many people I can trust in this world,” Vera said. “You heard all the stories they told us about the raiders.”

Xain bared his fangs. “Rasca isn’t a raider,” Xain said. He gestured to Yisele and Sive, who had been swapping nervous looks between each other. “And why aren’t you stepping in? She’s full of crap. You know she’s full of crap.”

Lowering herself onto the mattress, which sagged and spilled out even more straw, Iva broke the awkward silence that settled over everyone. “Nobody really goes here,” she said. “The shore isn’t safe, and there isn’t much to plunder. Other than the people. Dad’s fought with the raiders, and he knows they enslave prisoners. Rasca seems pretty nice, though?”

“But pretty nice hasn’t always worked out for us,” Vera said. “And I’m not keen on trusting someone who just washed up on shore, especially when he hasn’t told us where he’s from or why he’s here.”


Part Seven (434 words): Ugh this chapter went on forever

Spoiler! :
“I know why he’s here,” Xain growled.

Vera spread out her arms. “Please tell us,” she said.

“He hasn’t been here before, so he wanted to explore the area,” said Xain. That was basically the truth – it was definitely much easier to say than a complete lie. “Maybe trade with some people. And things didn’t quite work out. Isn’t that right, Rasca?” The kitsune looked over at the fox, who had started to cling onto Xain’s arm. Not exactly helping, but Rasca was trying to talk to Vera.

Rasca nodded. “Yes,” he said, reaching a hindpaw back to kick the chest. “I traded with the, rock person? Some maps and tools.”

Pinching the bridge of her nose, Vera sighed. “Fine,” she said, pulling her head up after a couple seconds. “I don’t know if I believe that or not. You said he washed up?”

“Yes,” said Xain. “He washed up with a canoe and that chest.”

“And his ship?” Vera said, cracking her knuckles.

“Destroyed,” Xain said. The kitsune narrowed his eyes – his sister was probably up to something.

“How convenient,” said Vera. “I’m not sure I trust the motives, or the sanity, of a trader who would willingly sail here.”

Xain scowled. “Don’t call him crazy,” he said, moving a little closer to the fox.

Taking a deep breath, Sive stepped into the conversation. “Vera, we’re goin’ nowhere,” he said, voice a little quieter than normal. “I know this all looks weird, and we ain’t got a lot of reasons ta trust Rasca, but it’d be nice if ya stopped insultin’ Xain’s fishin’ or his relationships. We got bigger things ta worry ‘bout.”

“Yep,” Yisele said, flopping onto the bed and sagging into it. “So, how about we make ourselves at home? Since we’re going to be here a little while.” She shot a couple glances at Xain and at Vera.

Vera straightened up. “Alright,” she said, pointing at Xain. “You better be on your best behavior. I don’t know why I shouldn’t drag your a** back to the village right now.”

Slumping his shoulders, Xain brushed aside Vera’s claw. “You won’t need to worry about me,” he said, voice a little too monotone to be serious. He watched as the rest of his family started to make their way outside, bring in boxes of what smelled and looked like clothes and food, and throw down blankets on the ground. The ground of his house. The house that they were barging into. And they really wanted to make sure it wouldn’t be his house for long. “I’m sure everything will be just fine.”


Chapter Eleven: The Storm

Part One (624 words): can't imagine Xain is going to be a big fan of nighttime after this

Spoiler! :
Xain woke up with a snort.

Pulling himself up, the kitsune sat and waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. A small amount of moonlight shone through the cracks and gaps in the door, but that wasn’t nearly enough to help him. It took a minute or two for him to pick out the blanket, bits of straw poking through the mattress, the rough texture of the earth walls, and the lump that was lying in bed next to him. His heart skipped a beat; he rested a forepaw on the outline. That’s when he realized that the lump was just a little too large to be Rasca. Plus, Rasca snored. Whoever was sleeping next to him was mumbling about something.

Xain sighed. That was Sive. Turning his head to the left, he stared out at the rows of blankets that stretched across the center of his house. Vera, Yisele, Iva, and then Rasca, the fox as far away as possible. As he blinked, eyes tired and eyelids sagging, yesterday started catching up to him.
`
Vera had certainly had a couple of excuses to yell at Xain. While Sive had been polite enough not to bring it up, Vera had picked up and read through Rasca’s notebook. Which meant she had seen the butt drawing. She’d spent the next half-hour yelling at Rasca and Xain, while everyone else had to hold her back and calm her down. And then she’d been very adamant that Rasca and Xain sleep as far apart as possible. Iva had volunteered to sleep next to Rasca, to “keep an eye on him.” Xain suspected that it also meant she didn’t have to be next to Vera. Or any of the siblings; Iva had spent much of yesterday flinching, grimacing, and trying to keep a wide berth, especially when it had looked like any of them had been about to argue with each other. Which was fair.

Xain pulled his legs a little closer, trying to figure out why he’d woken up. Sure, Sive wasn’t exactly quiet, but Xain was usually a deep sleeper. Sleeping through snowstorms and spending days fishing had helped with that. And, well, he didn’t exactly want to be awake. His heart pounded as he remembered how much Vera hated him. How much Vera hated this house. How much Vera hated him being with Rasca. And there she was, sleeping soundly next to the bed, not in a care in the world. That’s what he hated the most about his conversations with her. No matter what he said, no matter how confident he felt, he’d always end up scared and angry and tired afterwards. She always won, even when he did.

No, that wasn’t Sive. Xain swore he could hear something outside. Something that sounded like rumbling. Was that a storm? He hadn’t seen anything on the horizon before he’d gone to sleep, and it didn’t feel especially cold. Taking care to dump his blankets onto Sive – his brother-in-law immediately pulled those blankets closer, kicking the sheets and humming contentedly – Xain slowly pushed himself off the mattress. He tried to keep as quiet as possible. The last thing he wanted was his family to ask what he was doing wandering around the house in the middle of night. Fortunately, outside of Iva twitching once or twice (she appeared to have a firm grip on Rasca, which didn’t sting at all, nor would it make things awkward in the morning), nobody moved.

Grabbing the door, Xain gently pulled it aside, wincing as he heard it creak. Not much he could do about that. Besides, as he poked his head outside and turned his head towards the sea, he realized that he had worse problems.


Part Two (1093 words): I don't know if I'm good at writing fight scenes but they're so fun to write

Spoiler! :
Not a single cloud made its way across the sky, letting the half moon cast its light over the tentacles that rose up from the sea below. Five waved and wiggled about, the moonlight creating shadows that stretched out all the way to where Xain stood. Some tentacles dropped to grip the edge of the white cliff; their slimy green skin glistened as they dug into the cliffs with a crunching noise. The kitsune stood there, frozen. The monster was looking for something. All the kitsune (and the fox) laying in the earth house must’ve been tempting for it, especially with winter on the way. Monsters always got more feisty in the winter. Gripping onto the doorframe hard enough to start burying his claws in the wood, Xain squinted. There was something almost familiar in the way those tentacles moved, the screeching noise that echoed its way up from below. Maybe-

The tentacles all flinched as the monster grew silent. Then the tentacles began to surge forward, crawling across the grass towards the house “S***!” Xain yelled, yanking himself free from the doorframe. His tails began to twitch and curl up as flames sprung to life on his paws. Instinctively, Xain hurled a fireball at one of the tentacles. The fire traveled almost too slowly, but the tentacle bridged the gap all too soon.

Vera, still dressed up in yesterday’s clothes (no one wore pajamas), shot out of the house as soon as the fireball collided with the tentacle. The monster screeched in pain as skin dried up, burned out. The smell of flesh and the sound of the monster almost drowned out Vera’s cursing. Her fighting experience kicked in – without looking at Xain, without saying so much as a word, she ran forward. Ice started to form on her paws, taking on the shape of spears. Screaming in rage, Vera began to hurl them at the monster.

Taking that opportunity to fall back, Xain almost got knocked over by the others. He got a jolt from a shirtless Sive, whose lightning had started to wrap around him, and Iva brushed past him as she, carrying Yisele, shot towards the monster. The monster accepted the challenge; it began raising its tentacles, trying its best to crush the kitsune that were attacking it. But, since it couldn’t look over the cliff, it couldn’t do much. With her husband quickly catching up to her, Vera sidestepped one tentacle and stabbed a second one before it could fall on her.

Xain felt a paw grab his own. Whirling his head back, Xain caught sight of Rasca. The fox, who had wrapped himself up in a blanket, looked sluggish. Slumped, eyelids drooping, Rasca looked like he had no idea what was going on. It took Rasca a couple seconds of staring past Xain and towards the fight before the fox did anything else.

“T-t-t-t-t-th,” stammered Rasca, eyes bulging as his grip on Xain (and the blanket) got a little tighter. In the meantime, while the monster had focused mostly on trying to get past Sive and Vera’s defenses – that lightning caused its tentacles to quiver, which made it easier for Vera to stab them – Iva had set Yisele down. With Yisele out of her paws, Iva had started sprinting across the grass and making some ice spears of her own. “th-th-tha-that c-c-could not-.”

“I thinks it is,” Xain said, glancing back at the monster. Almost as if to confirm their suspicions, the monster howled in surprise as Iva hurled an icy spear over the edge of the cliff.

Rasca gulped. “But I swore I it shot!” he said. The fox’s eyes darted up to Xain, hoping for a confirmation.

Not that Xain could give one. “Dids you hit it?” Xain said, tilting his head.

“I not am, am not, a good aim,” said Rasca. The fox bit his lip and looked away from Xain.

Now the air smelled like blood and burning flesh, and Xain could feel the tingle of electricity running up his spine. Wonderful. He glanced over at the battle scene. Sive and Vera seemed to be holding back three of the tentacles, while Iva and Yisele were preoccupied with the other two. One tentacle slid towards Iva, pulling up earth as it did. She effortlessly threw herself over the tentacle, stabbing her spears into it in the process. The monster screeched and drew back its tentacles, especially after Yisele sent a wave of fire in their direction. Not all terrifying to watch. “It, might not haves worked,” said Xain absentmindedly. The kitsune shook his head. “It does not matter. The monsters get hungry this times of year. It must have smelled us and decided it was worths the risk.”

Mouth agape, Rasca watched the battle for a few more seconds before responding. “Looks like it not was,” the fox said slowly. His head turned up to Xain. “What we do?”

You stay heres,” said Xain, pointing back to the inside of the house. He didn’t know how he sounded so calm. Maybe after all this running around and dealing with family, he was finally getting used to this crap. Maybe. “You haves no magic and no weapons, and you could get hurts.”

“But, you?” Rasca said. The fox had already started to move back inside, but wouldn’t let go of Xain or stop shaking. “You are, not good, with magic.”

Setting his other paw on Rasca’s, Xain nodded. “I guess I will learns,” said Xain. He looked into Rasca’s eyes for a second – bloodshot, slightly red as the fox started to cry, a tad big. Then Xain used his second paw to pull apart Rasca’s claws. Taking the hint, the fox let go and slipped back into the house. Which left Xain to turn around and run towards the fight as the door slowly shut behind him.

“What took you so long?” screamed Vera, voice hoarse. As Xain got closer, he could see why. Everyone looked exhausted. The tentacles had started closing in on Vera and Sive, who were currently kneeling on the ground. Their ice and lightning didn’t stretch nearly as far anymore, though the tentacles were covered with scars and cuts. Iva had started moving closer to them, with Yisele (who had range, but not power) providing backup. Xain didn’t know what Vera expected him to do, but he had to give it a shot. They could still win this fight. If nothing else, they could make their way back to the house – the tentacles hadn’t gotten too close to it yet.


Part Three (1087 words): treat me like disease, like the rats and the fleas, ha ha ha

Spoiler! :
“Sorry, I was busy,” said Xain. Not much of a battle cry, but he made up for it. Thrusting his paw out, he channeled magic through him and cast a fireball at the tentacles. It exploded against the nearest one, showering embers over Vera and Sive (whoops). Xain almost choked on the smell of singed flesh, but he’d done his job; one tentacle looked much more shriveled and battered than it had before. The monster roared, drowning out the rest of the battle.

Iva took that as her cue to meet up with the others. Grabbing onto the nearest tentacle and leaping over it, she turned her ice spear into a axe. As a couple tentacles chased her, and Yisele yelled at her to turn back, Iva hurled at the axe at the shriveled tentacle. It moved fast enough that the monster could only pull back the shriveled tentacle slightly; the axe ripped off the tentacle’s tip, squirting blue blood onto the ground in the process.

The monster didn’t take that well. The tentacles tensed, then shot out in all directions. Vera and Sive were smart enough to squeeze past the tentacles as soon as Iva made the shot. Iva, however, was less lucky. She tried to slow down and turn away, but managed to get hit in the back by a tentacle. For a couple seconds, Iva flew in the air, crashing down not far away from Yisele. Who also didn’t take that well.

While Yisele screamed and began hurling fireballs at the now retreating tentacles, Xain heard a whump! come from the direction of the house. His blood froze as he glanced back. One tentacle had gone far enough to smack into one of the walls. It oozed back slowly, leading behind sagging earth bricks and ripped-up ground. The wall hadn’t fallen yet. However, given how much it had bent inwards, it was only a matter of time. But Xain didn’t have time to run back. Iva was injured, the creature needed just a little more persuasion before it left, and Xain didn’t want to see his house fall apart.

If Xain had set the stage for Iva, Yisele was setting the stage for everyone else. She growled in rage as she scorched the tentacles around her, forcing them back. Xain had never seen her so furious before, but it was obvious that couldn’t last. Yisele’s legs had already started to buckle, and her fireballs shrunk. Fortunately, Sive and Vera were there to target the damaged tentacle. They shot everything they had at it, spraying more blue blood. The monster’s screams weakened as tentacle after tentacle slipped off the edge of the cliff. With Xain also using fire to hold back the tentacles, it was only a matter of time before the monster gave up.

Stopping only a few feet away from the edge, Sive took a deep breath. Enormous bolts of lightning shot out of his claws, illuminating the cliff in white light. Blood, scorch marks, patches of earth all cast shadows. The monster, with one long, low, loud scream, pulled the last of its tentacles down the cliff walls, shredding rocks along the way. Several loud splashes rang out, followed by a few softer ones (likely debris). Everything fell silent.

Xain blinked, trying to get rid of the spots that danced across his eyes. His legs ached, his chest pounded, his lungs screamed, his ears rang, and all of his senses had been overwhelmed by fire and blood. He could even see some embers floating around – Xain stamped them out. As the cliff and half-moon snapped back into focus, Xain caught sight of Sive and Vera, partly covered in blue blood. Sive didn’t even have the ability to pull himself up; Vera, huffing and stumbling across the grass, had set his arm on her shoulder. They made their way towards the house, neither of them giving Xain a look. Not that he could blame them. Right now, all he wanted was to sleep.

“Haha!” Iva said. Looking over in her direction (and trying to avoid seeing the house), Xain saw her kneeling on the ground. Based on the green patch of ground in front of her, she’d clearly thrown up. Puddles of water around her feet, she held her passed-out girlfriend in her arms. Xain’s heart skipped a beat, but he quickly saw Yisele’s chest rising and falling. She was okay. Iva almost seemed to be talking to her, so Iva was likely less alright. “That was amazing! You were amazing! Let’s do that again!”

“Let’s not,” said Vera, walking past Iva. Somehow, the force and weight of Vera’s voice managed to get both Iva and Xain to snap out of their fugue states. Xain found himself walking up towards Vera and Sive, while Iva pulled up Yisele and joined them. Which was when it became obvious that Xain was the only one who could walk. One of Iva’s legs buckled, and blood trickled down from her mouth. Hopefully that meant she had just (literally) bit the dust. Making his way over, Xain pulled one of Iva’s arms over his shoulder. That almost caused him to fall over, but Xain dug his paws into the ground and kept moving. Iva tried to say thanks. It came out more like a grunt, but Xain got the message.

Finally getting the nerve to look over at his house, Xain restrained a sob. One wall had indeed caved in, pulling down part of the ceiling in the process. Earth bricks, some crumpled or broken, lay in a pile. The house had become more of a lean-to, which, outside of there only being a couple holes, wasn’t ideal. Not that Xain could do anything about it.

Stopping in front of the house, Vera looked back at Xain. “Draw up some water from the well,” she said. “We’ll get the blankets in order and make sure that everyone’s alright. Especially Iva.”

“Nope,” Iva said, staggering back and almost taking Xain down with her. “I’m one hundred percent a-okay, yep.”

“Sure,” Vera said. “So you can go keep an eye on my sister, and we’ll keep an eye on you.”

Iva paused. Then, lifting her arm over Xain’s head, she grabbed onto the side of his house as she carried Yisele towards the door.

“And bring Rasca, if you have to,” Vera said to Xain. She sighed. “I don’t like it, but I’m too tired to give a f***. And you’re probably the best off if he tries anything.”


Part Four (611 words): well discard whom you please like the leaves from a tree, ha ha ha

Spoiler! :
“Rasca!” Xain called. “Could you come out?” A couple seconds later, the fox wriggled his way out of the house, making his way around Vera and shooting towards Xain. Coming to a stop beside Xain, Rasca looked back at Xain’s family and sucked in a breath. The family ignored Rasca. Vera pushed against the door, leading her husband into the house. She left the door open long enough for Iva to carry Yisele inside.

Looking up at Xain, Rasca tilted his head. “Are they?” Rasca began, but Xain nodded.

“Fine,” said Xain. The kitsune started walking towards the back of the house, picking the side that wasn’t falling apart. He gestured for the fox to follow. “Hurt, tired, but fine. We are getting waters for them.”

Rasca quickly fell into step with Xain. “You, smell,” Rasca said with a sniff.

“Yes,” Xain said. Stopping in front of the well, the kitsune sighed. “That is the reason why I do not like fighting monsters. Other than getting eaten.”

The fox had probably caught sight of the streaks of blood on Xain’s shirt, if the gagging was anything to go by. Eugh, some of it was also dripping down one of Xain’s ears – no wonder that part of his face felt so warm. “Getting eaten, would bad be,” Rasca said slowly. “Be bad.”

Grabbing the end of the rope that stretched down into the darkness, Xain handed it over to Rasca. “I am, tired,” the kitsune said. “Could you does this?”

Rasca took the rope and nodded.

“Then I will go get the basins,” Xain said. With that, the kitsune turned around and walked off. Or, would’ve, if Rasca hadn’t piped up after Xain took a few steps.

“Are you, okay?” said Rasca with a cough.

Xain paused. Taking a deep long breath, the kitsune bowed his head. “Maybe.”

The well’s rotting wood creaked as Rasca started to pull the bucket up. “They, want us to go, to the village, they not do?”

Looking back at Rasca, Xain shrugged. “Probably,” the kitsune said, a bit more despair creeping into his voice than he would’ve liked. That he had to admit it at all almost drained him more than fighting the monster had. If it wasn’t for the idea that popped into his head, he probably would’ve started crying. “Are you going back to sleep, Rasca?”

Rasca took a deep breath. The fox, legs spread and arms shaking, looked like he was either anxious or figured out how cold it was outside. Either way, it was enough for them to hear the clonk! of the bucket as it collided against the side of the well. “No, probably,” said Rasca slowly, looking up at Xain. “Why?”

“I would like helps from you after all this,” said Xain, turning back and falling into the shadow of the house. His house. Their house, really – his and Rasca’s. They felt comfortable here. They liked being here. They belonged here. Nobody could tell them otherwise. “What do you thinks of my family?”

Silence. “Not great?” Rasca said eventually. Xain didn’t move or look over at the fox. Rasca took that as a sign to keep going. “They care, but, too much? They listen not to you. They scare me. You are great, Xain. You, care, about me. We do both bad things, for bad reasons, but we get better. They us saved, but maybe they brought the monster here? I, do not know.”

Gripping the wall, Xain gave a faint nod. “What I thought,” the kitsune said, pausing before he made his way around the corner. “Let us, do a bad thing together, for once.”

“Okay,” said Rasca quietly.


Chapter Twelve: Exiles

Part One (432 words): bang your head like a gong cause you called it wrong, ha ha ha (clang clang clang)

Spoiler! :
“Get up.”

Unsurprisingly, Vera was the first to do so. With a yawn, she pulled herself up from where she had been lying on her stomach. “Xain?” she said, blinking as she tried to pivot and catch the sunlight that filtered through the door. “Did you get any sleep at-”

She paused, squinting up at her brother. Xain sat on the bed, Rasca to his right and Sive curled up in a ball and wrapped in blankets behind him. Holding Rasca’s gun, Xain glared down at his sister. “What is that?” Vera said, her eyes getting narrower. It didn’t take her long at all to get suspicious.

Xain reached out a paw; Rasca took it. “You’re done,” Xain said. “You’re going home. All of you.”

“Really?” Vera said, tilting her head. Behind her, Iva started to pull herself up. Xain tried his best not to grip the barrel of the gun any tighter, but relaxed slightly when Iva clutched her head and mumbled. “I’m pretty sure you’re coming with us.”

“No, I’m not,” said Xain. “I gave you a chance to be nice, to be friendly, to give a s*** about me instead of pretending to, and you broke into my house. Get out.”

Shrinking back from the gun, Vera set a paw on her hip. “Iva’s hurt,” she said. “Yisele and Sive are still sound asleep. I don’t think it’s a good idea to go back now.”

“It’s almost winter,” Xain said. “Do you want to wait and try your luck? You know how the snowstorms get around here. We’re going to wake Yisele and Sive up, and then you four are going to get out.”

Vera huffed. “You can try,” she said, gesturing to Iva. Which would’ve worked better if Iva wasn’t leaning forward, shaking her head and muttering something about Yisele. “It’s us against you, and I think you’d lose. Right, Iva?”

“What?” Iva said, looking over at everyone else. She blinked a few times, not focusing on anything in particular. “Look, I really didn’t come here to fight things. I like y’all, but I don’t want to get involved in, whatever this is.”

“And you would have to fight things if you left,” Xain said, glaring at Vera. “The monster only showed up when you did.”

Vera bared her canines. “That was just a coincidence,” she said with a voice that Xain wouldn’t describe as confident.

“Really?” Xain said. “The monster, for no reason whatsoever, decided to attack the random house when it was most hungry and when there were the most people inside. Sure, that makes sense.”


Part Two (1052 words): paaaaaaadding

Spoiler! :
She paused for a couple seconds, then glared at Rasca. “Whatever the case,” she said, “Maybe your friend is a little more dangerous than that monster.” The fox shrunk slightly at the comment.

Xain snorted. It felt almost refreshing that Vera changed her argument. She tried to brush it off, but he had a point she had to acknowledge. He could work with that. “Which was why he stayed in the house for the entire fight,” he said.

“With that,” Vera said, gesturing to the gun. “Whatever that is. I know it isn’t yours. It smells like Rasca.”

“That was a big monster,” said Xain. He pointed to the end of the gun. “And this is not.”

Vera sneered as she pulled off blankets. “We’re not either, and we still kicked it’s a**” she said, turning her head back to Iva. “Do you know what that is?”

Having buried her head in her paws, it took Iva a moment to realize Vera was talking to her. “What?” Iva said, looking at Xain. She focused on the gun; Vera’s eyes followed hers. “Huh?”

Xain sighed. He wasn’t exactly in the mood to threaten his family, but he’d brought the gun out for a reason. “It’s a, gun,” Xain said slowly, looking over at Rasca to make sure he’d got the pronunciation right. When Rasca nodded, Xain continued. “It puts, stones, in your head.”

“What?” Vera said, scooting back far enough to almost fall onto Yisele; fortunately, Iva pulled Yisele out of the way. Vera opened and closed her mouth. “W-what? You wouldn’t point a, a weapon on me.”

Letting out a deep breath, Xain nodded. “I am. Get out.”

Vera sounded just a little more frantic. “But, we can’t leave,” she said quickly. “Sive and Yisele are wiped out, and Iva is hurt.”

“Fair,” Xain said, looking back at Sive. Despite the conversation, he was still sound asleep. Hm. “But I don’t think waking them up and getting them to walk back to town is going to hurt them, and I’m pretty sure Iva can handle it. It’s probably a lot easier than, I dunno, breaking into my house and attracting a monster.”

“That’s,” Vera started, before gritting her teeth. She turned back to Iva. “That’s beyond the point. Iva, you’re not alright. You can’t leave, weapon or no. I don’t think he even knows how it works.”

Ugh, of course Vera had called his bluff. The most Xain could do was readjust the gun and try to look confident. “Look,” Iva said, staring down at Vera, “Do you really want to test him? We did kinda break into his house, and he’s probably right that we brought that monster with us. I went along with all this because I was worried about him, but it looks like he’s doing pretty okay?”

“But, Rasca,” Vera said, pointing at the fox in question.

Looking the fox up and down, Iva sighed. “What about Rasca? I’m not convinced he’s a problem. He seems really small and skitterish. If he was going to make a move against Xain at all, it probably would’ve been when Xain waited forever before going to market. There’s no way Xain could’ve kept himself and Rasca fed. And now it’s winter, Rasca knows he doesn’t need to hold Xain hostage or anything to go to the village, and Rasca doesn’t want to kill his only company for the next couple months.”

As much as it hurt his pride to admit, Iva was right – Rasca had had much better reasons to attack Xain when they’d been rationing food. Raising his gun, Xain nodded. “And why would Rasca give me this, if it’s his?”

“What if Rasca has friends?” Vera said. “What then?”

“Ah yes,” said Iva, rolling her eyes and shaking her head. She realized that was a bad idea, if her resting her head against her knees was anything to go by. “Those friends who have never shown up, don’t have anything to steal, and would definitely be angry at Xain for taking care of Rasca.”

Vera huffed. “Unless they decide to make him a slave,” she said.

“Because a single slave would be worth their time,” said Iva.

“Maybe he would be Rasca’s servant,” Vera said.

Iva groaned. “Vera, let’s go home,” she said. “If Rasca’s friends haven’t shown up for months, and I don’t think they have, then they probably think Rasca is dead. That or you’re counting on a ship or a bunch of raiders picking out a house in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of winter, for someone they don’t even know is there. Xain is fine, Rasca is fine, we broke into Xain’s house, he’s rightfully pissed, he has food, water, and shelter - sort of - and I really don’t want to risk more monsters showing up, even if they shouldn't show up.”

“But-” Vera said, voice weakening.

Nudging Yisele with a hindpaw, Iva shook her head. “Nope,” she said. “I still feel like shit – hurt my chest or something, I dunno - but I’m heading back.”

“Uh, you hurt your chest and got a concussion,” Xain said, reaching back to poke Sive in the side. Sive growled slightly.

“Yeah, I’m better off if I go to the village,” said Iva. As Yisele unsteadily pulled her head off the pillow, Iva reached out a paw to balance her girlfriend. “It’s a short walk, and I don’t think any of y’all are healers.” When Vera opened her mouth, Iva said, “With medicine.”

Poking Sive a couple more times, Xain breathed a sigh of relief when Sive finally started to move. “I didn’t want to have to do this,” said Xain, focusing on Vera. Her head snapped back; she scowled. “But I think the monster was too much. I’m fine, especially with the stuff you’ve given me. You’re all going home. See you in the spring.”

The next few minutes slipped away. Xain didn’t have much else to say – Yisele was awake enough to hear, and Iva explained things to Sive when he woke up. Yisele and Sive were both hesitant about leaving, but a few glances at a determined Iva and a defeated Vera convinced them. It wasn’t long before they were rolling up blankets, packing up food, and making sure that Iva could walk.
Last edited by TheSilverFox on Mon Jun 08, 2020 5:10 am, edited 1 time in total.
S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
a persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma per ciò che giammai di questo fondo
non tornò vivo alcun, s'i' odo il vero,
senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

Inferno, Canto 27, l 61-66.
  





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TheSilverFox says...



Who Would've Thought There'd Be More Writing?


Part Three (1081 words): dang, wrote this faster than I'd been expecting to

Spoiler! :
And she could; every couple steps caused her to tip one way or another, but Sive and Yisele could keep her upright. No one said a word. Other than a few glances cast at Xain, his family almost pretended he didn’t exist. Like this was a perfectly normal trip to a neighbor’s house. Which Xain was fine with.

But he could feel the tension in the air, especially as his family started filing out the door. Xain followed, standing at the edge of the door with Rasca next to him. With Yisele and Sive on either side of Iva, and with it being a bad idea for anyone to stand in front of Iva, it was Vera at the back of the group. And it was Vera who turned back and glared at her brother.

“You really think you’ve won, don’t you?” she said, glancing between his face and the gun he held in his paws.

Xain didn’t respond. He shifted the gun slightly, to make sure the barrel wasn’t pointing at Rasca. Even though Xain knew that the gun wasn’t loaded, he still felt a little uncomfortable about it.

“I don’t know how you can live like this,” Vera said. Sive reached back and tapped her shoulder, but she brushed his paw off. “In their house. Eating out of their bowls. Fishing with his rod. Sleeping in their bed. Xain, why?” Beyond her scowl and the fire in her eyes, her voice rose up at the end. She sounded confused.

“Because I didn’t want to let this house fall apart,” said Xain slowly. “We were born here. We grew up here. I just, didn’t want their efforts to go to waste.”

A pause. Vera stood still, her head slowly turning as she stared at Rasca, then at the house, and then towards the sea. Or, maybe past the sea. It didn’t seem like she was focusing on anything. After a few seconds, Vera sneered and pointed to the sagging wall. “Great job doing that,” Vera said, voice breaking halfway through. With that, she wiped her eyes, turned around, and joined the others as they walked away.

Xain’s family made their way to the village, turning into specks that faded into the dying grass. It wasn’t long at all before the kitsune could barely spot them on the horizon. And not much longer before they vanished from view.

“Um,” Rasca said eventually. The fox leaned against the doorframe, looking up at Xain. “That was, a lot.” Rasca bit his lip. “Are you alright?”

Sniffling, Xain felt his legs buckle. He let the gun drop to floor as he propped an elbow against the doorway and set his paw over his eyes. Tears stung his cheeks as he tried to hold back his sobs. “Y-yes,” Xain said, the word jumping out of his mouth. It felt forced, hollow. It was.

Wrapping his arms around Xain, the fox pressed his head into Xain’s chest. “I am sorry,” Rasca said. “I, they did not like, do not, me, and.”

“N-n-no,” Xain began, voice fading out as he cried more, “Y-y-y-you-” But he couldn’t finish that thought; he sagged towards the floor, Rasca moving out of the way so that they were kneeling on the ground. The sun, having risen above the cliffs, shone down on them, the battered house, the blood-splattered and burnt ground, and the gun that had been left on the ground. Which Xain had used to threaten his family. To get back his house. Which was falling apart. And it was only a matter of time before the snowstorms rolled out.

He did have Rasca, though. Rasca would be there for him, and he would be there for Rasca. And maybe that would make everything else a little more tolerable.

******


It only took a couple days for winter to settle in. The first snowstorm rolled through as Rasca and Xain worked to make new blocks of earth. They were able to get the ones they’d made next to the fire, but it was obvious that the ground outside was just too hard to break through. However, the wooden beams on the inside of the house, which held the walls and ceiling together, hadn’t actually broken; they’d just been bent. Thanks to that, Rasca and Xain had to get a little clever. It took a lot of rearranging and reshaping, but they were able to improvise some nails to jam into the beams (once Rasca explained what nails were), finish the ceiling, and start reconstructing the wall. It meant a lot of nights on low sleep, huddled around the fire as the winds from snowstorm after snowstorm tried to howl their way into the house. Xain and Rasca would sometimes wake up to find frost in their fur. Still, after a couple weeks of constant work, the house was beginning to look almost normal again. Sure, Xain needed to check on the basin and the fishing basket, which had gotten slightly crushed when the house had sagged. Fortunately, he’d had the foresight to put the fishing equipment in the chest. It meant a lot to him, after all.

His family hadn’t come back. Xain could guess a couple reasons why. It was possible Iva’s father had put his foot down, or the weather and their injuries made it hard for them to come back, or Vera had, unlikely as that sounded, given up. He didn’t know how to feel about that. On one hand, he’d finally stood up to his family. He’d finally held his ground against Vera, and he’d finally gotten his way for once. On the other hand, he wasn’t sure how long that’d last. When the weather got a little friendlier, he was sure they’d be back at his door again. Vera would point out the state of the house, the others would say that it’d be safer for both Xain and Rasca. Xain had won because the monster had shown up. He wasn’t sure if he could win again.

At least that left him more time with Rasca. More time spent talking, increasingly more time spent cozying up in the bed. Xain could still feel something of a rift between them. He still wasn’t sure what to make of Rasca sending Agneta out. Xain got the impression it would take weeks, if not months, for Agneta to get to where Rasca lived. However, she’d be back eventually. With foxes. Ideally ones like Rasca, but that wasn’t a guarantee.


Part Four (1040 words): Straying into some firmly 18+ territory here, so fair warning.

Spoiler! :
On top of that, Vera had been so harsh to Rasca; the fox still flinched whenever Xain mentioned her. Rasca didn’t seem like the type who’d be out for revenge, but Xain’s family had ignored his personal space so many times, called him a threat, kept him apart from Xain. How would another fox take that?

Not that Xain felt like prying, especially after all the family drama. Rasca didn’t ask about Xain’s parents, or why Vera had wanted Xain to leave the house so badly. But, despite as fast and as angrily as Vera and Xain had been talking, Rasca should’ve heard enough to make some good guesses. If Rasca wasn’t going to bring up Xain’s family – and Rasca hadn’t said a word about Xain’s parents since Vera left – then Xain wasn’t going to bring up Agneta coming back. They’d cross those bridges when they got there.

And, well, there was another bridge on the horizon. Maybe it made for a bigger rift than anything else. With things settling down, and with Xain not having to worry about freezing to death all the time, he could think about other things. Like how close he was to Rasca all of the time. Like how he’d gotten familiar with how soft Rasca’s fur was, the way Rasca’s chest rose and fell, how Rasca’s tail ran up and down Xain’s back.

It was starting to get cold enough that they’d opted to peel off their clothes and wrap the blankets tightly around them when they went to sleep. Xain was used to that – turned out his fur was a lot better at keeping him warm, compared to thin clothes that let the heat slip through. Xain was not used to Rasca clinging onto a bundle of their clothes, and how they’d smell like him in the morning. Sure, they could’ve worn more of the thicker clothes that Vera had brought, but Rasca was uncomfortable with anything that wasn’t what he’d washed in with. And Xain felt like they were just fine right now.

Xain tried not to think about any of these things as he sat at one end of the table, breaking off a piece of bread and nibbling on it. Across from him, Rasca had set an arm down on the table, glancing between it and the notebook he was furiously scribbling in. Since Rasca had set the notebook on his lap, Xain couldn’t get a glimpse. Fairly normal for them both. They’d been talking so much that Xain felt like he’d finally got the grasp of singular and plural words, and Rasca only messed up once every few sentences. They’d gotten the hang of each other’s language – what was there to say? Though that probably wasn’t the only reason they were being so quiet.

“What are you drawing?” Xain said, realizing a couple seconds later that the words had come out of his mouth. He blushed and looked away when Rasca looked up at him.

Rasca opened and closed his mouth. “My arm?” Rasca said after a minute. He stretched his claws, tapping them against the desk. “I want to draw more than landscapes. Bodies, figures, poses, stuff that like. Like that. So I want to figure out arms.”

Nodding his head, Xain said, “How long have you been doing this?”

“A while?” said Rasca, tilting his head. Whoop, had Xain said the wrong thing? It sounded more like Rasca was unsure than anything else. Not that it helped Xain’s anxiety. “Before I ended up here. You saw that with the-” Rasca’s voice dropped – “butt drawing.” With an awkward smile, the fox shifted in his seat. “I just, want more do to. To do. Want to do more. Do better. Yeah.”

“Uh, what kind of stuff have you drawn?” Xain said after a pause. He set a paw behind his back and sighed. Somehow, it had gotten harder for Xain to talk to Rasca the more that they understood each other.

Rasca sighed. “Arms and legs and stuff,” he said, staring down at his notebook. Whatever he saw, it was enough to make him wince. “I am, still figuring them out. All the little claws are hard to work with. I have done not whole bodies.”

A thought popped up in Xain’s head. His cheeks flushed and his mind scrambled as he tried to figure out whether or not he should say it. Against his better judgment, he went for it. “What kinds of bodies?” Xain said slowly. “Haves you ever tried to draw, down there?” Wait. What was he saying? This was a bad idea. This was such a terrible idea. He should’ve kept his mouth shut.

“Down, there?” said Rasca, biting his lip. “I, I, I have, though about drawing, nudes, but I, that would be-”

Xain coughed. Well, if he’d said it, and Rasca hadn’t said no, he might as well keeping going with it. “I could model and-” he said, before pausing. Nope. Nope. He wasn’t going to deal with this. He wasn’t going to dig this hole any deeper. “I am so sorry,” the kitsune went on, shaking his paws and his head. “That was a, a, odd things of me to say, and I do not wants to make you uncomfortable.”

Shaking his head in return, Rasca said, “No, that is fine, I did not think about it, and you brought up a good, a good, a good-” The fox set down his pencil and buried his head in his paws. “Fine!” Rasca blurted out. “Okay, I think you are hot as f***, and I would really like to, like to, f***, okay?”

Both of them froze in place. The room fell silent, except for the howling of the wind outside, which rattled its way through the blankets and objects that Xain had shoved through cracks and holes in the wall. Xain didn’t notice the chill. “Really?” Xain said slowly. “I, I do too.”

“Huh?” said Rasca, pulling his head up. “You, would?”

Xain grinned sheepishly. “We do not exactly have anything else to do,” said Xain. When Rasca sighed, the grin turned into a grimace. “But, you are kind and friendly and care about me, and I think you are, really hot.”


Part Five (553 words): Yep, still 18+

Spoiler! :
“I, have not heard anyone say that about me,” said Rasca, biting his lip.

“Someone should have told you sooner,” Xain said.

Another pause. Well, here he was. Admitting his feelings for Rasca. It was, strange. He’d never been attracted to someone so much before. Sure, he’d had crushes. A couple friends, someone that he certainly didn’t want to mention to Vera. But they’d never gone anywhere, mostly because they hadn’t been able to. This time, though, Rasca felt the same way about him. And, after all the months that they’d spent around each other, all the ways that they’d taken care of each other, all the effort they’d put into understanding each other, Xain didn’t have to worry about messing up anymore. He could express his feelings without scaring Rasca off.

“So,” Rasca said, breaking the silence. He coughed. “How long, have you felt like that?”

Xain shrugged. “A while?” he said. “I definitely felt that way with the, uh, butt conversation.”

“Yeah, that,” Rasca said with a snort. “That was, that happened.”

Leaning forward, Xain stared down at the table. “And maybe before that? There was that time you ran off.” Pulling his head up, Xain raised a paw in response to Rasca’s opening his mouth. “I do not blames you for that. I just, was scared and tired, and I missed you. Curling up in bed with you, all that.”

Rasca nodded. “I think was it, after the kiss, for me?” he said slowly. “It just, felt nice. Maybe not the kiss part? Just how close you were? And some part of me started seeing you differently after that.”

More silence. Xain could feel a few questions in the back of his mind – and Rasca probably did too – but Xain had no idea how to put any of them to words.

Closing his book and setting it on the table, Rasca sighed and ran his paws through the fur on his forehead. “So, have you ever, done this before?” Rasca said.

Xain shook his head. “You?” he said.

“Me neither,” said Rasca, looking away. “And nobody really explained it me to. So, sorry for the next couple hours.”

“No one told me either,” Xain said. He reached out and set a paw down on the middle of the table; after a couple seconds of hesitation, Rasca placed his own paw over Xain’s. “Other than an awkward conversations with my parents. We will give it our best shot, okay?”

Looking up at Xain, Rasca nodded. “Okay.”

A few more seconds passed as Xain and Rasca stared into each others eyes. Glancing down at the half-eaten bread lying next to Rasca’s paw, Xain said, “Right after we finish eating.”

Rasca blinked and stared down at the food. “Yes, right,” said Rasca, grabbing the bread with his other paw. “Eat first, yes.” He took a deep breath, then smiled faintly. “And it would be nice if, you did pose, uh, however you want.”

“I would love to,” said Xain. “Whatever I can do to help a wonderful artist get better.”

Shoving the bread into his mouth, Rasca spat out crumbs as he said, “Thanks. And, thanks for tolerating me.”

“And thanks for tolerating me,” Xain said with a nod. “I have not made it easy for you. I would like to do better.”


Chapter Thirteen: The Nights

Part One (523 words): Still 18+. Imagine ruining a nice moment by talking about serious stuff, ugh.

Spoiler! :
Wow.

Letting out a long, slow breath, Xain listened to the crackle of the fire and the roar of the wind outside as he wrapped his arms around Rasca. He felt, relieved. Which didn’t make too much sense. His heart pounded, he was drenched in sweat, half his body ached, and he felt that combination of awake and exhausted that comes up staying up until the late hours of the night. Like he could barely move a limb, but something in him refused to go to sleep. But he barely paid attention to that. He couldn’t even feel the cold that tried to seep its way through the walls, what with him in the embrace of the fox he cared about. He didn’t care about how the bedsheets had been tossed around. The way that his and Rasca’s scents mixed together felt right. The way that Rasca cozied up, pressing his back against Xain’s chest, felt right. Rasca’s contented sighs felt right.

“Want to go again?” said Rasca, voice slightly hoarse. He turned his head to look into Xain’s eyes; the fox smiled. “I think we just about figured this out.”

Xain grinned back. “I am exhausted,” the kitsune said, moving his paws up to Rasca’s chest and feeling the fox’s heartbeat. It was as fast as Xain’s. “Can we at least take a break first?”

Nodding, Rasca yawned. “Sure,” he said, pausing as he set his paws over Xain’s. “Was that good? Did you like that?”

“That was amazing,” Xain said. “Once we got the hang of things.”

Rasca’s smile turned a little more sheepish. “Yeah, sorry about that,” he said. “I got a little, carried away.”

“And we are both new to this,” said Xain. “As long as we are a little nicer next time around, we should be fine.”

Laughing for long enough for his voice to crack, Rasca turned his head away and sank into the mattress. For once, the silence that settled over them didn’t feel awkward. They both needed water, and they’d probably be sleeping well into the morning, but they had all the time in the world to lay down in bed. In each other’s arms. Basking in the afterglow.

“I am sorry,” Rasca whispered, quiet enough that Xain almost didn’t hear him.

“Hm?” said Xain, pulling his head closer to Rasca’s. “You did not do anything wrong. It still hurts, but I can always use some of the herbs that-”

Rasca sighed. “No, not that,” he said. A pause. “Well, I am also sorry for that, but am I just, I remember, that conversation. With your family. And the things they said.”

Xain wanted to interrupt and point out that it was Vera who had spent the whole time yelling at Rasca and accusing him of being a danger, but Xain got the impression that wasn’t what Rasca wanted to bring up. “Yeah?” Xain said.

“I should not have sold my equipment to Agneta and told her to head back to my country,” Rasca said quickly. “I feel like I am putting you in danger, Xain. I feel like I am a danger to you.”


Part Two (1011 words): wrapping up all these plot threads for no reason whatsoever

Spoiler! :
“No, you are not,” Xain said after a slight hesitation. Which definitely didn’t prove Rasca’s point.

Rasca sighed. “I wish I had done things differently,” he said. “I do know not who she will bring back. Maybe good people. Maybe not. The country I come from is not a very nice place.”

Well. Rasca hadn’t brought up his country that much. He’d talked about his house, his father’s court, markets and courtyards and rivers. But not his father, or what happened to his father, or what kind of country he lived in (other than it had a king). Which Xain didn’t necessarily blame Rasca for, though Xain would’ve liked Rasca to bring that up sooner. “I trust Agneta to find the right people,” Xain replied.

“I have never seen anyone like her,” Rasca said. “Nobody where I live has. She seems like a good person, but what can she do?” A pause. “I should have gone with her. Or just made plans to go myself, after this winter. Or something. Just, I should have done this on my terms.”

Holding Rasca a little closer, Xain said, “Would I have gone with you?”

Silence. Xain felt a small pit settle in his stomach. “Maybe,” Rasca said eventually, possibly noticing the way that Xain started to shift uncomfortably. “Maybe I could have made a boat, shown up back home, told them all about my expedition and my findings, and did not tell them where I went or what I did. This ocean is big, and not very safe – maybe I could get away with it.”

“Do you need to do this expedition?” Xain said.

“What?” Rasca replied.

Brushing one of Rasca’s ears with the tip of his snout – the ear twitched – Xain said, “I know you wanted to see what was here, and you puts all that time and effort to get here, but do you need to let anyone know? It, sounds like you might be happier here? Maybe you do not need to do this.”

Rasca didn’t respond.

“I guess it does not matter,” said Xain, moving his paws up Rasca’s chest. “It is done, and we can only wait and see what happens. Maybe Agneta will come back.”

“Yeah,” Rasca said after a minute. “Maybe.”

Not exactly what Xain wanted to here. It was nice that Rasca regretted that decision, and Xain could see a few situations where Rasca’s decision wouldn’t amount to anything. Maybe Agneta wouldn’t be able to build a ship. Maybe Agneta wouldn’t make it across the ocean (but hopefully not because the ship sank or something). Not that Xain felt any more comfortable about the decision, or Rasca’s logic. It felt like progress, but not a lot of it.

“I am sorry for bringing down the mood,” Rasca said. “Would be it a bad time to ask if you want to be my boyfriend?”

Xain blinked. “Um,” he said, trying to think carefully about his next words. “Really?”

Rasca turned his head back towards Xain’s. “I am unsure if I was, unsure,” he said. “Maybe I was scared. But, after tonight, I am more sure.”

“You do not have to decide,” said Xain. “We can still be unsure. Tonight does not have to means anything about who we are. We can just, be.”

“I know,” Rasca said. “But I like the idea of being a couple. Being called a boyfriend. Calling you a boyfriend. All the pet names and hugs and kisses, but as boyfriends. I think I would like that. The romance.”

“And I think I would like that too,” Xain said. “I would be happy to be your boyfriend.”

The fox let out a shaky breath. “Okay, thank you,” he said, “Because, I know am I, a screw-up, and I know you are worried, and for good reason, and I know I have caused you problems, and-”

“It is okay,” said Xain. “Because of you, I stood up to my sister. Because of you, I have learned so much mores about the world. I wish you would know that you do not have to try to explore the world like this. But, you have not been honest to me, and I have not been honest to you either.”

Yep, Rasca had started to cry. Blinking away a couple tears, the fox choked out, “Really?”

Xain nodded. “I never told you about my parents, or why my sisters really wanted me to leave this house,” he said.

“I heard, bits and pieces,” Rasca said with a sniffle. “You were talking so quickly, and you kinda were all angry, so I could not figure out what all you were saying, but-” a brief pause to catch his breath – “Something, er, happened to your parents? Your parents, died here?”

“They got sick,” Xain said. He paused, thinking about what to say. He hadn’t really thought about what had happened in a long time. And for good reason. “Something went through the village. I am not sure where it came from, but I know dad brought it back home with him. I, do not remember that time very well. I was asleep a lot of the time. I tried hard to stay awake, but I would close my eyes and it would be another day. Everyone was very sick – Vera was the worst, I think. She could barely move.”

Rasca sucked in a breath. “And your parents?”

Xain shook his head. “I think they tried to take care of me and my siblings, but that did not last long. We just, laid in a pile. Running out of food and water. They might have made sure we got more bread and fish, which probably made them weaker. I, do not remember when they died. Or, I feel like I might have heard or seen something, but everything was a bit of a haze. Vera got better first, and then Yisele. I was the last to get sick, and the last to get better. They carried me to the village, and that is when I started to get better.”
S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
a persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma per ciò che giammai di questo fondo
non tornò vivo alcun, s'i' odo il vero,
senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

Inferno, Canto 27, l 61-66.
  








Your hesitation suggests you are trying to protect my feelings. However, since I have none, I would prefer you to be honest. An artist's growth depends upon accurate feedback.
— LCDR Data