A Cold Hollow

Title: A Cold Hollow
Time Period: August 21, 135 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: A good time is ruined by a bad bad person, this time it really wasn't her fault.

This road is, despite its attachment to monuments and castle, grounds, one of Leonard Hightower's favorite routes to take in the warm seasons. He finds it more beautiful than the muck of the moors, or the hot sun of the vales. The water is passably crisp here, away from the stirring of the harbour. He used to bring his children here, when they were wee things; there would be a blanket and a picnic on one of the larger, flatter rocks along the loch. The girls would pick along the shore to find treasures, and the boys would splash about and get a scolding by their mother. Leonard has no doubts that both he and Deidre miss those days, for all their communicable dislike for the other's presence in these later years. It is less like true hate and more of a hurt that turned into hate.

Sometimes he still comes out here, like today, when it is clear, in order to wipe the cobwebs from his head. It's been a stiff month so far, and perhaps he has earned a moment of contemplation.

Pap, pap, pap, plop. A stone skips out onto the flat water, teasing ripples as it goes. Though Leonard was never an athlete or soldier like some of his brothers and cousins, he can still roll up his pants and sleeves, and take off his shoes to go skipping stones. Sage is unseen, but the gray shape further out gives her away when it bobs a spittle of breath to the surface. The rock hits its last hop, and the bottlenose pops from below with the smooth thing between needly teeth.

"I'm not going to run out, you know —"

The boughs of a willow tree hang low in an arch, creating a small and hidden shelter on the shore. It isn't the only one of its kind, trees and fallen logs too many to count along the crumbling banks of the lochs, but until now it had gone unnoticed. Only when Leonard bends for another flat rock in the water does this one allow for a sound let between its stringy curtain.

A low and angry rumble, one that Leonard has heard countless times from dogs. This one is a bit different in pitch, a bit more feral, and grows in strength exponentially with the seconds that the veterinarian lingers in his stoop.

Sage tosses the rock in the air, head above water now. She has taken the guise of an otter before, though it has been mainly to accompany other familiars. The dolphin is for deeper water, like where she throws his rock, which she immediately dives down to catch again. It leaves her mage chuckling to himself, before he leans over to root around for a new stone.

The sound does not escape him, of course; the man freezes in place, straining his eyes to peer past his brow, to hopwfully find where it is coming from. Without actually turning to face whatever it could be. Sounds like a dog, presents like a dog. An angry one. Hnnnngh is the only sound that makes it from his chest.

Pupils like pinpricks of black against a grey sky stare back at Leonard through the leaves, taking the meeting of eyes as a challenge. Jagged teeth, old and broken from snapping the bones of prey flash when lips are peeled back to turn the growl to snarl. Saliva foams near the corners of the wolf's hanging jaw and drips in a long string toward the ground near its paws. Dried blood that runs from shoulder to toenail marks it as injured, an old one, at least a week.

"Daddy," a whisper from behind it, a boy's voice, too old to be considered a child but too young to enter teens. The cusp of age where a young lad wishes to be taken more seriously but too small to take as anything but lightly. "Daddy, I'm scared."

Leonard immediately looks down to the thing's front feet, rather than keep eye contact. He shifts and steps further back into the shallows, turning himself to appear submissive enough. For those passing moments, he feels uncertain as to why it would be down here, save for its injury leading it to find easier prey.

He has no gift of time, to think, before he hears a voice he has not heard in several years. One that he fights to remember, in the wake of forgetting more and more. The vet's sharp intake of breath stings in his lungs, escaping in an incredibly weak exhale through his nose.

"…Dalton? No —" Phenomena in this day and age, however, gets its blame from rightful places. Magic be damned. Just the name brings hot fluid to Leonard's eyes. Down below, the dolphin has sensed his distress, and races back toward the surface, nearer to the shore. Sage's beaked smile is incidentally inappropriate as she shows in the water, near where her mage is pacing back a few more steps. He has no time to care about getting wet.

The beast gnashes and lets off a sound that's a combination of yelp and bark, lunging toward the curtain but not out of it. Its body is just not long enough to reach and it seems unwilling to leave the sancuary. Cowering back into the dark recesses of its hollow, the white irises keep their bead on Leonard.

"Daddy, the wolf, the wolf has my bones."

It is Dalton's voice coming from the curtain, behind the thing. Or… from the thing. Inside perhaps? The mongrel shrinks back from inspection, pale eyes seeming almost luminous until a ray of sunlight peeks to the muddy edge of the shore. When the dolphin shows its little dolphin teeth, a happy thing compared to the anger she can sense coming from behind the veil.

The dolphin slides up beside Leonard's legs, bumping her stomach on the muddy bottom, scraping her side against his knee. He is not far enough back that he needs to start swimming, but the loch is a cold, threatening pool. He would like to not drown, either If beasts can hear a man's heartbeat, this man has one of the loudest, pounding at what he feels is the back of his throat. As if he might cough it up. The watery look in Leonard's green eyes does very little to help him seem stalwart, and his palms find the surface of the water. Only there does he look up towards the canine nose, rather than ankles.

"…The wolf has your bones?" Dalton's father echoes, half straining to see anything more beyond the shadow. "…Stay back. Please. Stop this."

Whatever could Leonard be implying.

The area around the wolf seems bare of bones, at least ones of the human variety. Water fowl, river rats, more than an average number of cats, these are scattered around the beast's hiding place but there is no trace of anything that could have been a small boy at one point. The intrusion isn't taken kindly. Lunging out again, the wolf splashes its front paws into the water, its muzzle snapping just inches from the man.

It doesn't seem to want to kill him, or even hurt him. Just go away.

A child's sob from further inside hints at the possibility that there's a small cave or ditch. Dalton hiccups and begins to wail as weakly as he did in his final days. When he was lucid enough to. "Daddy, help, make it better…."

Leonard isn't full enough of himself to stand his watery ground when a wild animal is snapping at him. He pedals even further back, ending up having to put one arm over Sage's back. She barks in confusion, flicking at the surface with her tail, and posturing as best she can while flippered. It is not as easy as it sounds. The reflection of sun off of the water lights up his face, where his eyes have finally spilled over, running silently.

"I can't. You're dead, I— Sage —" The man chokes on his words now, breath short. They need to get away from here, but the wolf is literally keeping him from the land again. He finally regains mind enough to try and address the creature itself, unashamed of his sudden, hot tears. "I don't care if it's you doing it — just let me leave — don't bring my boy into this."

It crawls backward and as it does, Dalton begins to panic and shriek. "Daddy!! Daddy don't let it get me!! Please!!" They don't seem to affect the lupine as it retreats into the hole, effectively blocking Leonard's line of sight.

His path to land is clear, as if the creature understood the man's wants. It's half compliant. "Help me!! Help!!" Dalton's wails reach a fevered pitch. Once its tail whips out of sight there's a feral series of barks and the lad is suddenly dead silent.

Nobody ever calls Leonard Hightower a hero; and certainly not on behalf of any bravery. He covers his ears with his hands and hides behind the broadside of Sage, gray shape slinking around him protectively. He is, much of the time, a coward, unless he knows he can be otherwise. When it comes to the paranormal, it is understandably the former. The sound of his son's voice is so realistic that he simply ends up sputtering out a moan of defeat and putting himself over his Familiar's back as she approaches the shoreline. Flippers to hooves, and sleek skin to fur the color of rust.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry…" Leonard wrings his hands through Sage's wet, flaxen mane and slings himself onto her back, burying his face at the bottom of her neck. "Forgive me." Sage stamps up from the water and onto the beach, kicking water up as she goes. She may not understand, but she understands enough to be desperate in getting him out of there.

From her hiding place, Traa-dy-Liooar turns an ear to follow the stomp of hooves. Whatever the old man was blathering on about, calling her Dalton and shedding tears, she didn't quite understand. Then again, she never paid the veterenarian much attention before. This form must have had some profound effect on him, something to file away in the memory banks for later use.

Hiding place safe for the time being, she curls into a smaller ball and closes her eyes as soon as the hoofbeats fade to nothing. Tomorrow, another cat will go missing from the town, perhaps two. Not only do they taste good, it makes her feel so much better about being duped by one.