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[P]  The Price

Offline Falks Mar 28 2020, 12:31 AM
#1
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The smell of rain stirs him from the dark.

Falks blinks into the gray morning sliding through the gaps in the loft. The wood creaks in a warning, protesting its weak integrity before the storm breaks. The heady moisture sticks to the walls, making them swell like a bloated wound, driving him up to his feet. The sharpest parts of him bruise from sleeping on the uneven floor, spreading into an insistent ache that demands he abide its will and wait for it to fade. Tucking himself away in the back of the dilapidated house only affords so much protection from the weather, and even less from the curious senses of predators. Stooping to grab his belt and sheath, he clips it around his waist, shoulders his bow and quiver, and secures his knapsack. Staying in one place for too long is foolish at best, and deadly at its worst. He'd accepted the consequences that came with his abandonment, knowing that when he turned his back and tore himself free of the throne's thorns and brambles, the stain left behind would his mark in history. A sad ending, he'd surmised, given that the journey had started out with much promise.

Sometimes, he cursed the sudden onset of his conscience, feeling its weight like a tumor inside his skull.

The brush is thick and full of teeth, snagging and pulling at his clothes like the desperate hands of ghouls. Careful not to get cut and leave traces of his blood for beasts to follow, Falks climbs through the overgrown doorway and steps out onto the forest floor. Birds and their distant, echoing cries bring song to the early morning, failing to brighten the dreary gloom that hangs in the mist. It feels surreal, instead, a haunting lilt that pulls delicately at his attention. He is not a morning man, never has been, and finds it easiest to become distracted in the waking hours. Still, it has been years, and he forces himself to remain sharp and alert, casting off the soothing siren call of nature. It's beautiful out here, he's noticed as time stretches on, watching the woods strip and blossom through the seasons as they pass. A shame that he cannot appreciate it like he once had.

Reaching up to his face, he rubs his eyes with calloused fingers and fishes his waterskin from his side. The water is warm, musky, and unpleasant. It leaves his senses tinged with its flavor, a crooked nose pulling his lip into a snarl at the taste. Damn thing needed to be cleaned, that's for sure.

His path diverts, striding silent as a cat across the debris-laden ground. Every step is measured and cautious, golden eyes scanning like a hawk. Built like a hunter, he moves like prey, stiff and coiled--ready to bolt or turn and retaliate at a moment's notice. Complacency was a larger threat than anything he currently faced, wary of its hold and the contradictions it imposed. While his resolve withers, his body acts on instinct. It seeks to protect itself despite the fatigue that seeps into every aspect of his being. Everything intangible within him was ready to give up, to stop and force an end to the daunting, empty road he walked.

Guilt is a terrible thing, a termite that gnaws at his bones and eats the integrity. Parasitic by nature, it serves little purpose other than to keep him here with the notion that he owes a debt to the world and its people for the suffering he's caused. Part of him knows that it's absurd, and that same voice is what made him remember the way to Foresign castle, or a den of dire wolves that would be glad for the easy meal.

A coward's way out, certainly. Yet another obstacle.

The soft gurgle of the brook he comes upon slowly draws him from his thoughts, bending on one knee after surveying his surroundings to dump the waterskin and rinse it out. Keenly aware of the emptiness of his pockets and the age of his tools, he purses his lips at his reflection at the thought of replacing the dirty thing.

The snap of dry cedar has him back up and drawing an arrow in the blink of an eye, feeling the tension in the string as he pulls it back and watches the trees. A large shape bleeds from the dull greens and browns of the wood, striking rust-orange and lean. The dire that approaches is familiar, causing his shoulders to slacken from their hunched position and his grip on the bow to loosen.

"Noah," He greets as he replaces his bow, though he does not go back down to continue cleaning his waterskin, "Your timing is impeccable." Falks draws no closer, choosing instead to keep his ground and wait for the other to come near if he so wished. There was no reason to feel so threatened by a friend, and yet he could not bring himself to fully trust anyone, these days. Glancing over the massive wolf, his gaze immediately notices that something is... off. Eyes narrowing, his look becomes inquisitive before it falls into a hardly-present state of concern. One of his left toes is gone. Cleanly removed down to the knuckle.

"Are you alright?" He slays the compulsion to move.
Offline Noah May 13 2020, 3:44 AM
#2
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The rains had started rather suddenly during the early dawn hours as Noah made his way back towards the would have been abandoned cabin in the woods had a familiar face not have been discovered there a few days prior. Vague memories and scents that toyed upon the wolf’s mind served as a guide for that off-kilter pace that had been adapted as the lean frame wound itself through the trees. Wind tussled wet locks of the dire’s mane to spatter it in broken patterns across a scarred crown as that stripped pelt was left to lay sleek over every structure that rest beneath it. Rust toned fur clinging to the wild one’s frame as water carved itself into steady streams which cascade itself off the wolf’s underside. Distraction, a wandering mind, thought of the one who had been left with the debate of how dry the shelter would be leaving him now. The wooden ceiling having some holes in it though leaves bathed the top with the hope to aid such lacking structure – Falks would not remain entirely dry but the job would be done.

It was within the hour the skies eased their downpour into a drizzle that died amongst the branches as the leaves caught the moisture only to drop as the weight became too much. Foliage trails itself across the man’s body as leaves brush against his face and the branches fingers drag along the sides of his pelt, leaving miniscule paths in their wake only for them to be brushed away as something else caught itself in the short coat lining the wild one who drifted through the trees. Some of the steps Noah took were left to be hesitant, a reflection of pain dancing along nerves that had been cut short as a paw settled itself upon the earth. Large ears turned back with a wince as a mind traveled back to those days passed, back to the woman who had promised her aid to a boy for a small price – an offering. Some would have better labeled the cost a sacrifice as the digit was severed from place till the joint gave way with a pop at the knuckle.

Physical pains were far from a foreign concept to the dire as much had come to pierce and tear at the hide he had been given over the years by various adversaries. But this, this was different than all of those times. It had been deliberate, quick when it came down to it, though it was something that was not pressed back by already surging adrenaline. It had been a slow crawl, a moment of disbelief for the fact the woman actually wished for such things, before foolish agreement lead to the heated sensation left to radiate through the false man’s forearm even after the woman had pulled away with a claimed prize. Now it left the wolf’s step to fall as if a thorn had been driven deep between his toes to take the place of what was now lacking. Tentative placement found at first upon the earth as a partially hobbled gait accompanied the dire like a pup who broken a toe rather than misplaced one. Pressure upon the semi-sealed wound spiked discomfort through his nerves till it settled like fire at the back of his shoulder blade just along the spine.

It had to be pressed aside, forgotten of, for there was the promise of a return to be upheld though it came later than had been expected. Only a few more moments and the ever familiar scent of the human turns Noah around for it was enough to signal he was no longer at the house. Steps had taken the man down to the nearby stream which had served a number of purposes in the brief moments he had spent idling by an old friend’s side as if assuring there was still something left to cling to. Seeking to see if some form of kinship that had been developed during the years he spent in Stadarfell had not yet been lost to the times. A hopefulness wishing to ensure that yet another bond’s thread had not been taken within his jaws and gnawed upon, snapped at, between the panicked fangs of a fallen Seraphim. There had been suspicion, who would not hold some level of it, in the dire’s appearance as the human had watched him closely at first as if to judge his intentions – as if forming his own reassurances that teeth would not soon be turned against him and buried deep into his flesh.

Such thoughts left the wolf to prove something though it also played into the way he approached the man who was currently hunkered down at the edge of the brook. Gentle splashes of water put to an abrupt stop as Noah did nothing to hide his approach for he was no predator seeking a meal in the Straw King. Weight had settled upon a fallen branch which was quick to snap beneath the pressure and the dire was quick in his adjustment as a body shifted further from the overgrowth to look down at the man who had whirled around to greet him. Arrow notched into place, ready to fire, though no mind was placed towards the defensive act. It was good to know the aged man was still ready to act even in these greyed hours of dawn. “Glad to see you still on your toes,” notes of humor coiled tight upon the exhaustion that found the tamed wolf’s voice as he moved closer to stand upon the banks.

‘Noah,’ relief touching those tones as they lifted passed the human’s lips and the weapon was lowered with the recognition, ‘Your timing is impeccable.’ A flash of teeth as dark lips turned back in what one could equate to a smile upon those wolven features fell into place, “Sometimes I try.” Conversation kept to a minimum as the once King’s eyes could be felt trailing over the rusted pelt even as the wolf moves towards him with as much of an eased pace as a body could allow. “What’s the ma-“ lyrics catching upon Noah’s tongue as Falks interjected his concerns, ‘Are you alright?’ Worry causing the dire to pause in more than just his speaking as a body came to a stop upon the distance graveled grounds. Crown tilting partially at the inquiry as if it was out of place though he offered no deflection, “Of course, not to worry, old friend.” An attempt to carry charm in his address though it was lacking the full presentation and flourish of the man beneath the furred hide. “I don’t leave prints of blood as I walk,” paws pressed down and lifted against the dirt as if to prove that point, “So I think I am doing alright.”
Offline Falks May 14 2020, 6:49 PM
#3
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Hefty as they are, dire were no different from wolves. If anything, they were more efficient, even with the detriment of their size. If Noah had not wanted him to know he was coming, it was well within his skills to mask his approach. However, there was a kinship sponsored between them when Noah had sought his brother in Svalbard and joined them, becoming an ally, protector, and a rock in the churning sea of doubt when so many were swallowed by the waves. Falks is grateful to him for his persistence in companionship, one who seeks his relationships rather than let them fall by the wayside. He was invaluable, and that is why Falks set him at an arm’s length. There was trust there, no getting rid of it just because he thought it safer, but there was uncertainty as well. He had known Noah in a much more narrow amount of time than the decades he spent with Fenrir, his children, and Malfius. All had fled or perished, their status either rotting, unknown, or mad.

Castle Forseign did not have a great track record, and Falks could only assume it would come after himself or Noah next.

With the way that the dire announces his presence, Falks is quick to react--bow drawn and string taut before he lowers it upon recognition of the figure. The rusty hue of the short pelt is streaked with lines of rain and darkened, red-tipped mane flattened and parted into sections that lay with disarray along his neck. He tries to hide it, but Falks is keen, and notices straight away the subtle limp in his gait and the missing toe.

Of course, Noah tries his hardest to deflect the question and undermine his pain or discomfort. The human furrows his brow, golden eyes unyielding yet no less concerned as he walks through the brook and closes the distance between them. Noah is taller than him in this state by a few heads or so, his skull wider across than Falks’ entire torso. It is no wonder they once regarded them as gods of the forests--giant, elegant beasts that tilled the land of prey and kept the cycle of nature intact. Even ragged and drenched from the rain, Noah is a massive, beautiful thing, and Falks will never get used to having to look up into those canid eyes and feel the searing heat of his breaths fan across his chest. All his years of hunting ingrained a twinge of caution in his muscles, wary of the teeth longer than the palm of his hand that lay betwixt those blackened lips.

”You may be alright right this very second, but I’m more concerned about where your toe went. He kneels at the dire’s feet, head level with his chest as he examines the closed wound. It is only days old and the cut is clean. Too clean to be an accident. ”Noah, please tell me what happened to you. It was clearly removed by someone who knew what they were doing.” Falks stands again, his gut clenching. There were a very limited number of reasons that the dire would need to have such a small extremity amputated completely, and he hopes that it was due to a minor injury that bloomed into infection, and not some other nefarious purpose.
Offline Noah May 19 2020, 11:50 AM
#4
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Worn eyes turned upon the human whose weapon was lowered just as promptly as it had been lifted to meet the potential threat that made way through the foliage. Recognition had been the wolf’s saving grace in that moment for in Falks’ mind it was the face of one of the few dire who had been in the castle, in the throne room the day of the Mad King’s return, and now he was the beast who had come to stand before him once more. Light tones eased themselves over dark lips in a compliment towards the man’s ability to hold tight to his ability of such sudden movements in a matter of defense though it was not hard to notice the sudden adoption of distance within that golden gaze. Noah’s own sights easily able to track just where eyes focused upon an injured gait and it caused the man to still his steps as if it would influence the stance which told of the hound’s desire to avoid pressure upon the limb.

Falks shows a determination on the matter as question arcs from his tongue and cuts the wolf’s own inquiry short. There is no great desire brewing within the man to elicit a higher calling of fallen hopes or a lasting impression upon the human who wants to know more. So Noah plays it off, as best as is allowed, with a declaration there is no blood to follow his steps and in light of that things will be fine - for the time being. Yet the once King is not so impressed as his brow darkens before steps guide him across the brook to close what distance remained between them. The human smaller in this instance as Noah’s chin dipped down to gauge the man’s actions as he kneels before him with a downward focus. Persistence echoing into place once more with a wonder of just where the digit had gone despite the fact that he claims there is nothing to fear.

A heavy exhale leaves through flared nostrils in a heated breath upon the human who has come so close, debate rolling through an already turmoiled mind with all it clung to. Muscles shifted as Noah let himself fall back to sit haunches upon the damped grounds of the forest as a sense of ill-placed correction found itself trailing through his maw, “Technically it’s a finger that has run off, funny as it is to imagine.” A joke heavily lost upon the one who has come to inspect him more closely as if seeking to find any other wounds that may have marked itself fresh upon that titanous form. Yet he would find nothing but old scars etched across the wolf’s hide exposed with the way fur has clung to that frame now. Still there is no amusement in the way he is regarded now as concern, a need to know, clouding the forefront of the human’s mind and it is not hard to tell in the way Falks looks to him now.

Noah toys with the ideals of truths verses the lies that could spill forth yet he is left upon the seesaw of which would be the best in the end. This did not concern the man, did it? It was a curious request from a woman who had struck a sense of bewilderment into the hound but it was the fee that had to be paid by those interested in getting the help that she was willing to provide. Yet a sense of unknowing claws itself within his gut yet he allows ears to pull forward as Noah sought out further deflection at the time. Form lifting despite it having just found rest as the pace drove him to brush passed the human in order to reach the brook as the wolf looked upon his own reflection as if looking to see if he could even believe himself. “With injury comes consequences,” answers vague but shifted against truth, “All of it plays into an overall wellbeing.” Though it was not entirely the wellbeing of oneself such as the case may be. “It is best to go to a professional when something needs removed, yes?” A truth that melded into the lies for that sense of unknowing and discomfort of intentions. The witch’s reasonings had sounded just, almost fair, so it was a sacrifice to be made, a contract signed in blood in order to grant a life.
Offline Falks May 21 2020, 11:00 PM
#5
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A great risk presents itself in the keeping of friends within the wild bounds of the unclaim. Numbers create problems, and from problems arise an eventual misfortune. Here, the price could be a steep as death or grave injury, as well as the inherent sacrificial demands of nature's hungry cycle. Falks has almost nothing left, and the sharp sting of concern he feels upon noticing Noah's gait alarms him. It is not easy to be so distant from those he calls friends, even more difficult when it isn't because he wants to. Yet another way he gives all that he has and receives nothing in return.

The russet-colored dire is flippant with the confession, acting as though he just discovered it at the same time that Falks had. The dark brow of the former general folds, pinching in the center in a look of fixed attention. The site is clean, no hanging flesh or uneven ends that would have him believe that this was an accident. The toe (or finger, rather) is still healing based on his troubled gait and the ease at which the dire attempts to redirect his focus. If he knew Noah in any lesser extent, he would have taken his word as truth and questioned nothing. Alas, Falks is keenly aware of the goodness in the seraphim, and has never forgotten what a steady presence he was at he, and his brother's, sides. Through the worst humanity had to offer, Noah stepped from the wilds to embrace his kin and those that were most important to him, seeking a connection and forging a lasting bond that many would have allowed to remain an enigma.

"Hard to imagine a single finger running off on its own, you might have had me if two were missing." He replies, his joke made in an attempt to relax the large beast and lower his defenses in order to be truthful.

Not that he could if he wished, Falks steps aside to allow the dire passage to the edge of the brook. The corded muscles strung tight beneath that damp pelt shift with each limp of his stride, tense from favoritism to the uninjured side. A measured breath is taken, seconds counted before release at the vague statement he is given as an explanation. Walking through the wet grass, the dew from the night's rain clinging and soaking his pants, he joins Noah at the edge of the water. Peering at the dire's reflection, it is easy to compare their size. It was a wonder he ever approached these fallen gods so carelessly, how he was ever able to bring something so large and so formidable down.

"Why did it need removal?" Navigating conversation was never a strong suit for him, at least ones that were anything but cordial. "I only ask because of the threats we face, and how unusual the circumstance." He does not have to elaborate to hint at the ties between blood magic and sacrifice.
Offline Noah Jun 7 2020, 11:55 AM
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Worry creases itself across the human’s brow as those aged eyes refuse to leave the way Noah pulls himself along across the soil. Unable to miss the way every muscle twitch is drawn into that golden gaze almost as if the man could see how nerves screamed out for each motion to halt if only to be granted a still, yet still tender, moment of reprieve. In a way they are granted that wish as the dire finds pause and a tone is angled towards the former King with correction that churns like a bad joke against dark lips. Falk’s brow only seemed to furrow more at that as inspection does not turn from what was lost, no longer there, and Noah had to fight the desire to pull his paw back for it would not help to ease the case of nothing was wrong. Though the man seeks to ease his mind as words echo upon a similar line, a joke, though each fell flat upon their tongues for it was a lie hard bought.

Two digits made it more believable as it spoke of a trap or anything other than a calculated movement, any injury to the rest of the wolf’s paw would have made it more of a truth. Yet such things were not readily present. It was just the one, a single clean cut line drawn across the knuckle while those around it remained intact. There was no buying the lies of the seraphim desperate to ease the mind of the once King and still friend. Air was drawn in slowly through the wolf’s nostrils as movement carried his frame to the edge of the rippling brook as that golden gaze turned to linger upon his own reflection. Haggard and worn features looking back as a jaw shifted enough to form sounds as he spoke in a way of convincing himself. A hope to pass such words off as truth within his own mind for to accomplish that perhaps there was a chance Falks would find some thread of acceptance to what was spoken.

However, it was impossible to even consider the words that dropped heavily from his tongue even as it nervously pushed against lips. In the end shoulders sagged as the maned neck craned lower with a sense of defeat when the human approached his side. Bright eyes, though they looked down towards the reflection, seemed to stare right through him as question burned within the man’s throat as he sought after a line of comfort to know if things were going to be okay. Though as that question hung over them Noah found himself growing quite as large ears turned back and that unease continued to coil within his stomach for, in truth, there was no knowledge to the extent the witch had desired a piece of himself. Comments kept vague, playing upon a giving nature that was willing to part with sacrifice, she was not clear with intention for it was her business and it did not belong to the wolf. And still he agreed. Foolish acceptance, desperation to fill the void of where there was nothing he could do.

Vivica, she offered help, so the wolf readily accepted the price that came with it. Yet Falk’s questions now hung over him as concern mounted further with the wordless retort and the way the hound’s own uncertainty bled into the way his features deflated. “As I said,” the line caught within his throat as he thought of just what he was to say. “With injury comes consequences,” a repeated tone though it is with a glance towards the man’s distorted reflection upon the surface, “A price to pay for the improvement of health. Be it mine or anothers.” Such words were not a lie per se for there was a life to be aided, death to ward off, yet it lacked the details the man no doubt sought. Hesitance to voice the familiarity each of them would hold in the witch’s name and her involvement in the matter. “So when an offer is made,” a deal struck, “to chase away the reaper,” at least put him on pause, “one takes it. Don’t they?”

Seeking some form of reassurance despite the way the wolf’s words still remained vacant of the detail. Though somewhere within worry festered, it boiled over and escaped the cage it had attempted to be kept in to trail further like a plague within the wolf. Clawing at his chest as it refused to still and silence itself for it only grew louder the longer he sat and tried to hide it. After all as the witch had said magic takes a lot out of a person this was nothing more than a debt to be paid. Wasn't it? A reach towards what was wanted to be believed to quell the fear that had begun to stow itself away in his mind and nothing more.
Offline Falks Jul 10 2020, 12:43 PM
#7
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Falks waits with saintly patience as Noah wrestles with himself. The dire is, of no surprise, self sacrificial to the point of it being a detriment to his own health. It is not difficult to recall the way he left the wild he knew to join his brother’s side, how he floundered with utmost dedication to remaining as staunch support of their needs. When Falks’ friends had become few, and his allies even more scarce, Noah had been there--unmoved by the call for the King’s head. He cannot forget or repay that kindness, it simply wasn’t possible, and the thought that Noah might have found himself in a similar position fills him with an unimaginable dread.

His suspicions would have subsided, were there any evidence to contradict the clean cut. Blood magic was nothing new to the world, and unfortunately witnessed on his part. Users, more often than not, sought outside offerings before their own. Being a soldier in the King’s army for as long as he had, policing the populace of Svalbard had led to many a disturbing sight.

Noah was not among the free men who walked with impunity. No, he had ties to Malfius, to Falks, and to the Dead King. Hati would not rest until she had them all skinned alive and hung their pelts like banners above the keep.

”Noah…” His answer is so vague, haunting the wolf’s expression as though he were looking into the eyes of a specter in the water, ”What have you done, my friend? I cannot help you if you hide the truth.” Falks reaches out, scarred hand hesitant for a brief moment. He is not used to the emotional side of things, the comfort, exposing himself on his belly while expecting to be flayed open. He steadies, and presses a hand into the damp, orange fur on the side of Noah’s neck. The dire is warm, burning like a furnace, his coat dotted with specks of deep umber and cream. The only other he had been so close to without drawing blood had been Malfius, and he too, was a sight to behold.

”We all run in fear of death, but sometimes there are things far, far worse. Your heart is large, yet you are not a fool. Would you give of yourself, knowing that it could bring suffering?” He is not admonishing him, merely lamenting at what could be the reason the wolf was being so dodgy with details. ”I wish to protect you, as you have protected me.” And he means that.
Offline Noah Jul 29 2020, 12:17 AM
#8
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Fears refused to silence themselves and the longer there was an attempt to hide away the truth the more ravenous the feeling became. What was once nothing but something gnawing at the back of his mind became gnashing teeth that devoured the reason to stay silent. Nervous behaviors bled into each motion conducted by the hound even in this stilled state of reflection he’d found himself in. Suddenly a crown felt heavier than it had been before as the avoidant words spilled between his teeth though the way worries settled against his heart was more apparent as Falks, a friend to the wolf for many years, spoke his concerns. Noah’s mind reeled with what was to be done, what should be done, everything that should have been done differently before leading up to this point. Yet there was no way to grasp onto what was wanted anymore as a mind reached out for that longing for what a heart felt was missing but unable to find.

‘What have you done, my friend?’ Time alters a mind, fear eats away at the heart, though the man beneath it all still wished to find a sense of satisfaction within himself in some way despite all the sins that had been committed in the past due to his actions. However, this added to those actions didn’t it? Something that was to be regretted in the future only to wait for the outcome to bring about a deliverance of justice to the one who had faltered. Falks’ concerns burrowed that deeper within the wolf who felt himself deflating further as suddenly his crown felt that much heavier. That golden gaze did not lift as ears folded back, not in anger, but in the acceptance of his woes and fears as they picked him apart. Distress folding in on him as lips curled back, “I’m afraid,” voice wavering as the human’s hand pushed through his dampened pelt.

Reluctance was a struggle that remained though the lyrics pushed passed it as they dripped with that lingering regret. The line alone was able to stand as it was though it was an incomplete thought, “I’m afraid you’ve wrongly judged me for not being a fool.” For that is all he could be as betrayal was something that never let him go as a heart ached for all that had been corrupted in that one move years ago. However, it was this present act that only solidified his foolishness. To strike a deal with the woman from Svalbard, knowing the prices that had been placed upon their heads, was perhaps the worst thing to have done even if it would have come at the cost of a child’s life. Selflessness, a want to help and give, was more a disease to the hound than any other ailment that could have possessed him.

‘I wish to protect you, as you have protected me.’ Those words drew Noah’s attention to lift and meet that worried expression upon the human’s features, words once more struggled to find themselves into place. “I wish to offer you the same,” no harm wished upon those he had come to grow close to although it had been a struggle to find himself fitted into their ways after having left the wilds and soon enough along a part of himself to be tamed in the process. “Though I fear I may have put strain on that promise.” Jaws parted though for a moment there were no words to accompany the act as dark lips came back together as if there was a certain way to tell him. “Vivica, she…” hesitation once more putting a strain on what was to be done, Falks deserved to know, though the hound feared the outcomes on both ends. “She offered to help.” Perhaps for a price which outweighed the service and was something that should have never been accepted even if it felt it was the right thing to do. “And I accepted her deal.”