Perhaps changed most of all out of all of the packs is this place. It was stripped out of its forested home and now instead lays at the edge of an ocean. The vast sparkling eternity of the water lays to the south of the land, while the rest of the land is made of rocky outjuttings. Gone are the trees, and all that remains for greenery are the short shrubs that dot the paths in the rock, and the moss that grows thanks to the spray of the waves. Further toward the shore, barnacles are a plenty, and look to cut the pads of those who slip on the wet surface. These extend out into the water itself, and the tough land has multiple caverns scraped into it, providing ample dens for the wolves that live there. Depending on the tide, however, the lower caverns may flood, and the vicious swirling water may prove to be dangerous as there is a strong undertide ready to pull unsuspecting swimmers to their doom. Even the tide itself is powerful enough to push intruders against one cliff or another. The ocean does provide, however, plenty of food for those who brave the waters - there are many breeds of seals and sea lions, though the males that protect each of these are vicious and territorial. There are also turtles that come ashore to breed and to lay their eggs - both the adults and the eggs themselves can provide sustenance to the wolves. But they must take care - the water is deep enough to allow sharks to come to shore from the depths below. Those unwilling to venture the waves or wet their paws with the moist sand of the shore can find snakes and hares in the rocky outcroppings, but they must beware the Komodo dragon and other monitor lizards that perch upon the shore - they are swift and move in groups, not to mention they carry venom in their bite that causes immense pain, paralysis, and prevents blood clotting. This is not the land for the weak of heart or the weak at all really. This is Uyaraut - ‘The Diamond in the Rough’.

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Kershov had willfully forgotten the eruption of rainbow light that fractured the sky midwinter. He’d pushed the shimmering, rippling impossible geyser to the very back of his mind, shaken and disturbed, convincing himself that the subtle sensation of “otherness” pulsating in his core was just his imagination. After a few months, waiting for old grey snow to thaw and for yellow-green grass to push up from the earth, the Alpha actually did forget what had been bothering him secretly for weeks. The alien energy nesting inside of him quieted to a point that he no longer noticed it, the way an aching limb might gradually heal before the afflicted notices. He no longer detected a subtle push against his skin, as if something were pressing tirelessly against the walls of his insides. Plenty of shocking phenomena had shredded through Blossom Forest lately—and Kershov chalked this experience down to another bizarre occurrence that had finally ceased bothering him. He wasn’t about to obsess over a problem that did not exist.

Except . . . quite suddenly . . . that very problem decided to rear its hideous head and flip his world onto its spine like a submissive cur.

He awoke with a pained snarl—jerked out of nothingness by a searing pain prodding his back. It felt as if a thousand nails were shoving their way brutally out of his skin. Making enough noise to frighten the Devil himself, Ker twisted out of his den—snapping at his shoulders—until his wild obsidian eyes could see precisely what dared strike him this early. Snakes? Insects? The first thing he noticed—the first thing he tasted—was the iron tang of his own blood, which dribbled slowly down his sides in miniscule scarlet rivulets. Breathing hard, trying to focus past the astonishment threatening to black out his mind, Kershov at last noticed the strangeness sticking out of his cape. The reason his skin had torn so agonizingly. Hundreds upon hundreds of stiff quills stood at attention down the length of his vertebrae . . . some a few inches long . . . and when he felt himself instinctively lift his hackles all these quills lifted too.

The snarl in his throat abruptly fell silent. His breath smoked in the cool predawn air, a pallid blue where it left his nostrils. Those quills resembled fine thin bones . . . but where had he seen something similar? They called a memory from his mind, an image. “Pin feathers . . . ?” Ker attempted to flex the quills again, grimacing at the sharp pain that accompanied even the most careful movements. Slowly, he reached back to gently crunch the tip of a quill between his teeth; the outer casing crumbled, revealing the soft ends of a feather the color of charcoal. A vicious tug pulled at his guts, as if his soul were falling toward the center of the earth. This was impossible. Ridiculous. He nibbled at another quill, another, ignoring the excruciating sensation that stirred at the bases. Soon he had revealed nearly an entire cape of feathers—smooth and silken, ranging from light grey to ashen onyx. A part of himself. How on earth . . . ?

For the first time in his life, Kershov felt at a complete loss of what to do. His usually calculating mind had hit a wall, a computer overloaded and crashing. He marched away from his den—utterly numb—seeking only to take a walk to clear his mind. Hadn’t he seen Mabbit only a few weeks ago with stumps of bone jutting from his brow? Yes . . . and as far as he knew, the black soldier was perfectly fine. Feathers might simply be a minor inconvenience, rather than a sign of horrors still to come. It wasn’t as if Kershov were particularly vain. If all that changed because of Blossom’s magic was his outward appearance, he could deal with that. What better way to show his strength than to pretend the addition of honest-to-god feathers didn’t bother him in the slightest?

Apparently, his altered physicality affected him more than the Pharaoh wanted to admit. Because not even an hour into his walk, he practically tripped over another wolf—a lass not even part of his pack.

Rapidly righting himself, the ivory warrior whipped backward with a ferocious roar, bottomless pools narrowed dangerously and new feathers fluttering like knives behind him. He dropped into a defensive crouch, hoping to save face . . . when he at last realized whom he was glaring at. Sorrow had shrunken her already petite frame into something pitiful and gaunt, but it was still Stormy Horizion: former queen of Spring Grounds. In the sweet lavender light of morning, her eyes shone fearfully bright. She had collapsed in on herself, trying to nestle in the long grasses as if to disappear into the earth. When Stormy finally spoke, her words rushed thin and brittle past her lips, soothing Kershov’s initial anger enough for the glacial gladiator to straighten his posture and quiet the rumble in his chest. He had never been a merciful ruler. The possessiveness he felt for his territory had not tempered itself in all the time he’d been alive, even after leaving the war-torn tundra. But Kershov had survived his madness and learned that senseless violence was not always the most intelligent first choice, and he had no good reason to strike down this tiny, pathetic creature who obviously had not meant to trespass.

“Abendrot is no more, Miss Horizion. To my knowledge, none of the original packs remain. They have all been scattered throughout the changed landscape under new titles, some with new rulers.” The old Kershov would have loomed over Stormy until she either broke down sobbing, pissed herself, or fled. Instead, the Ice King sighed and carefully lowered himself into seated position, posture still stiff and upright to signal his rank. “This place you’ve stumbled upon, the walls you have . . . overlooked, is Uyaraut: the kingdom by the sea. I rule it just as I ruled Abendrot in the past. Perhaps a tour might set your mind at ease?”

He had no intention of letting the dove leave until he’d discovered what had broken her so; however, he knew better than to let Stormy know that. He didn’t need her panicking any more than she already was.


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