When solid ground grows soft with emerald moss and rivulets of black mud, and coffee-colored water pours slowly around the trunks of densely carpeted trees, this marks the beginning of Laod Mor: the swamp of Blossom Forest. Time itself seems to slow to a soporific crawl . . . the humid jungle air grows stagnant, thick with the scent of rich flooded earth and an abundance of green things that can be found nowhere else—except perhaps Caidir Olc. In some areas of the swamp, water rises so high the only way to cross it is to crawl across fallen logs or massive roots arching from their liquid beds; in other places a wolf might wade easily through the mire—or find a fortunate stretch of mostly dry earth. Pieces of the great river, Glaesfaet Sceawere, also slice through from time to time: small falls that feed into surprisingly clear pools, only to terminate into tar-like pits. Of course, Laod Mor’s beauty shines brightest at night. Here, fireflies gather at all times of the year . . . suffusing the shadowy place with millions of twinkling lights.

Those looking to hunt here of course find a myriad of water prey, including caiman, turtles, fish, crayfish, otters, and toads.




Kershov had not planned on staying out until nightfall, but now that the sun had finally tucked itself into its den below the horizon he decided he should probably head back to Uyaraut. The massive bone-white male had never been particularly given to wandering; he protected his territory with vicious, possessive tenacity, as if leaving it only for a moment would leave it helplessly vulnerable to attack. “Paranoid” would never enter his vocabulary in reference to himself . . . yet Ker might admit, grudgingly, that a part of him from his chaotic days running a gang still lived inside of him. Back on the unforgiving tundra, the lines that separated one territory for the next were constantly being washed away and rewritten with blood. You did not simply walk away from your home expecting it to remain safe—lest you return to find you bed already occupied by enemies, their teeth still wet with the gore of your family. Frowning slightly, the savage Czar turned his path toward home, moonlight dappling his back and giving his pallid coat a ghostly quality.

Drawing near Laod Mor—the new swamp born from Blossom’s rampant magic—Ker caught the song of a lone female on the wind. He paused for a moment, ears turned toward the sound, head tilted curiously when another call did not answer. A youngling . . . alone? And after the violent rupture that had turned the world inside out? That did not sit right with the frost-breathing phantom . . .

And neither did the thin whine of distress that shivered over the trees not five minutes later.

“Oh, for the love of . . .” Kershov stalked angrily into the swamp, his immaculate alabaster pelt soon getting speckled with deep black-brown mire. He kept his paws on the driest land he could find, and jumped onto fallen logs when even those rare patches sank into glimmering moonlit pools. His sensitive auds could hear the unknown lass struggling nearby—and soon he discovered the source of the issue. Splashes and ripples coursed through the standing water, pinpointing the girl where she’d fallen. If it hadn’t been for the pale mark painted over her forehead, Kershov might not have seen the shadowy lass in the first place. She was a tiny thing—hardly out of puphood, her young body still slightly awkward as she grew into what might become an elegant frame. And it looked like she wouldn’t have that chance to grow up, if she continued sinking in the mud like that.

“Enjoying a late night swim, little one?” Kershov called out in a hard voice, bottomless black eyes glaring in the girl’s direction. He did not move from his perch; he wanted to be certain he could get closer without also sinking himself. “What are you doing out here by yourself?”


【Free – tied to none – father to Kirastasia and Kavik – xathira】

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