not sure if this’ll actually end up in the story but i wrote it so it should go somewhere

Tarin had answered the phone at three in the morning to a call from a trucker about a golden eagle that had appeared wounded and flown into the woods. Now, he knelt over the eagle’s inert body, his legs mostly numb where they’d been pressed into the snow.

“What will you do?”

He should have noticed the pair’s arrival—the wind that gusted continually through the woods went still a moment before the crane-masked man spoke. The stars shone out brighter overhead, twinkling through the distorted silhouettes of the branches overhead. The snow glittered, and All Names bled into it. Tarin looked up from the eagle and met Kurki’s ice-pale eyes.

“I don’t know.” He didn’t know how to save animals—that had been Hugh’s area of expertise. Hugh had lived in the mountains long enough to know the anatomy of every denizen of the woods, here, and how to heal them, what to feed them. Martin had been able to connect with the animals, to know which wanted to survive. Or at least that’s what he’d said. Tarin was a fair hand at math and finances, and terrible with animals. But he’d come out here with the intention to try, and found the eagle with its wings spread from its body, flat in the snow.

“This isn’t what—I’m supposed to do,” he said. His voice sounded weak and imploring even to him. Kurki’s eyes remained impassive. “But it’s what they expected of me.”

Kurki tilted his head to the side. “Not what you expect of yourself?”

Tarin curled his fingers in the snow and stood up. The eagle had died minutes after he’d arrived, he thought. He lacked the practical knowledge to know when an animal had died. It could have been barely alive, for all he knew. Either way, he thought bitterly, he’d be of no help to it.

“Martin was good at this. I’m not,” he said.

“Did you not have the same opportunities as he did?”

“Of course I did,” Tarin said. He frowned, shook his head. “But not really. He liked animals, already. Our grandpa knew how to deal with him.”

“But not you.”

Tarin met the crane-masked man’s eyes for a long moment. He felt conflicted, anger boiling somewhere deep inside him.

“No. Not me. They both left me behind.”

He found it unnerving, how All Names continued to stare over his shoulder, unblinking and unmoving aside from the steady motion of their breathing. He wanted to touch the stag again, to feel the thick, coarse fur. But Kurki stood between them, a pale guardian.

The crane-masked man did not speak, and Tarin clenched his fists.

“Why do you care about any of this?”

A gentle smile touched Kurki’s mouth beneath the mask’s curved beak. He turned and lay a hand upon All Names’ cheek.

“All Names feels stagnation and pain. To heal you is to heal some of them.”

Tarin stared and Kurki stared back, and then before he could question Kurki further, both man and god had vanished. Tarin released a long breath he didn’t know he’d been holding, tears burning behind his eyes.

Winter looked so grey, without them there. The stars faded back behind the clouds and the wind blew against him. He pushed his hands into the pockets of his jacket.


Walk Beside

yes, I use the same characters for everything.

He thought of Kurki and the stag. Kurki knew what he could do—Kurki had said that he knew where Hugh and Martin were. Tarin’s mouth settled into a tight line and he turned and walked to the fence. Pulling himself over it, he strode beyond the first solemn line of grey trees. A flurry of shimmering snow settled down onto him from the trees as he walked.

“Come out!” His voice broke, turning the command into a supplication. “Come answer me!”

In response, the woods changed—the wind silenced, the light and contrast of everything revivified. Again he saw them: the pallid stag, the sense of quietude they brought, the way the woods tamed at their behest. Winter did not seem so savage with the stag and their ward standing there. As if in a dream, Tarin brushed snow from his jacket. He did not feel the cold.

“Why are you here?” He’d asked the question before, but Kurki hadn’t answered.

“Why are you here?” Kurki asked in return, blinking slowly.

“I don’t—I don’t know,” Tarin said, choking on the emptiness that question evoked.

“Did you love them?”

“Yes, I—yes.”

“Did they love you?”

His eyes burned with restrained tears. “I don’t know.”

“Their dream is your cage. Why stay?”

Tarin licked his lips and stared at the stag, the creature Kurki had called a god but that just looked broken. The red gaze passed straight by him.

“I have to wait for them,” he said. “They have to—they have to come back. Right?”

Kurki shook his head, betraying no emotion.

“Oh, god,” Tarin said, the years of bitterness festering in his stomach turning into something else—cold panic, colder yet while ensconced by Oregon’s bleak winter. Because it’d been a year that he’d waited for a brother and a grandfather that had never really known him, a year since they’d vanished into these woods and he’d fallen into possession of their dream. He’d waited for them, and yet when he really considered it, he couldn’t remember the last time Martin had looked at him, smiled at him, understood him.

“They looked past me,” Tarin said, the words soft as snow on his lips. “But I need them to come back.”