“Are you sure you’ll be alright Syn? This IS a month long journey…” The worry was evident in Cassandra’s voice as she handed off a thick padded blanket for the shifter to place in one of her large carrier bags. The third rite was finished and now came the fourth. Dedication. This one wasn’t going to test just one over the other. But if both handler and Tokotas could make it out there within a months time. Rules for this one were especially clear. No bringing food for your mount and only bring what your Tokotas could carry on his or her back. Not that it would be Syn’s first time doing something like this, but it would be the first time doing it with Keeper of Souls. No one else. Just them for a month long span. “It’s a good thing you already keep your pack here Syn. Or you’d have an issue finding someone to take them all in.” Yep, Leroy was as straight-forward as ever as he kept watch of the two females while he leaned up against one of the barn support beams. Keeper of Souls stood before the three as he waited for Syn to finish loading him up with all the supplies they would need. Luckily Tokotas were large animals and carrying to big sacks full of his handler’s crap wouldn’t be TO hard for the curly to manage. “I’ll be fine guys. Relax! I mean, this isn’t my first camping trip. Leroy knows all about my… uhhhh…” Pausing, Syn seemed to think over what she was going to say while Leroy quickly jumped in to save her. “She’s done it back home. Many times. Right Syn?” “Err yeah right. Lotta times back on the old homestead haha!” Reaching behind her head, Syn gave her hair a slight tussle as Cassandra glanced between the two.
Well, that was weird. But she wouldn’t dig further into it. The red head’s past was her own and the grey haired handler had no right to ask her about it. “Still. Be careful. Here.” Reaching into her pocket, the youth pulled out a small wooden and yarn made necklace as she placed it gently in Syn’s hand. “It’s a good luck charm. My aunt taught me how to make them before she passed. It’s two sticks crossed with a pattern around it. Kind of like a dreamcatcher? But it is suppose to bring good luck.” Smiling, Cassandra watched as Syn looked it over before placing it into the pocket of her winter jacket. “Thanks so much Cassy! I’ll wear it everyday!” After hugs were given and the last of the bags placed upon Keeper’s back, Syn headed off into the wilds as Leroy and Cassy stood in the doorway of the large barn. “She’ll be alright… right Leroy?” Glancing toward the taller figure, Cassandra could see that hard gaze the shifter gave when he seemed to be unsure of things, but it quickly cleared as he gave a shake of his head and nodded. “She’ll be fine. She has Keeper doesn’t she?” True, but Cassy still worried. She wanted her friend to come back.
‘Day 1. Keeper and I are traveling straight through the tundra and toward the mountains. They say it’s suppose to take a week or two to climb over them. Maybe we can stick to that route before we turn about and head back. Only 30 days left. We can do this!’ The small booklet in Syn’s hand was quickly snapped shut as she nudged Keeper into a gentle loop. They didn’t need to go TO far from the village, but they had to at least be out in the wilds. “We’ll have to keep an eye on boy. Wild Tokotas. Trappers and hungry prey. We don’t want to fall victim to anything like that.” <We do not have to worry Syn. You have done this before and so have I. We can conquer it easily together.> That’s what she liked to hear! Leaning over to pat the ginger male, Syn held on as Keeper put on a boost of speed and traveled further away from their homestead. By the time dark rose and the sky was black, they could only see a speck of light in the distance. Since Autumn would soon become Winter, the weather had changed for the worst. Chilling winds had picked up and already they blew their nasty cold on the two travelers. No warm welcome. Only the bite of Winter’s wrath. “We best find a place to take shelter in for the night Keeper. It would cost us more than a cold if we sleep out here.” Tucking herself deeper inside the thick down jacket, Syn felt the cold nipping at the tip of her rosy red nose as Keeper lowered his head and tucked his ears against his skull.
His thick fur kept him warm enough, but even a Tokota could only take so much. Luck seemed to tip in their favor as Keeper soon found a small fort of trees that seemed to have fallen over one another. It wasn’t a cavern, but finding that out in the middle of the tundra would be nearly impossible. Letting Syn off first, Keeper pushed himself into the shelter as his handler went to work on unstrapping all the baggage from her mount’s back. Once the curly was free of the leather straps and sheep skin bags, he slipped downward under his curled mane touched the ground. He’d block the way in order for Syn to stay warm, though his shifter master seemed to have other ideas. Soon both Tokotas and shifter were curled together as the red head took her canine form and kept curled around Keeper’s body. Warm enough. They’d have to keep tucked in together until morning.
‘Day 5. Already we have been traveling for 5 days straight. Nothing really that has bothered us, though Keeper has caught himself a few rabbits for his dinners these last few days. Poor boy needs to find something larger. However, he seems to easily hunt like he was one of his wild cousin. I just hope it doesn’t all go to his head. I myself find the wilds a bit unsettling. I’m used to such things, but I still miss the voice of someone else nearby or at least Leroy cursing me out.’ Another cold rush of wind had the shifter pausing in her writing as she felt Keeper shivering underneath her. Five days so far. They had traveled about five days from the village which was no longer in sight. The tundra had been fierce and it seemed that the two would have taken longer to travel straight through, but they had found a small stream that had lead them into a nearby forest grove.
Not much better. Snow starting to come off the tops of the trees and the trail soon covered in tree debris, but it was better than being blown about by the hard winds knocking around the tundra landscape. Keeping a tight gloved grip on her reins, Syn glanced upward toward the trail before them as Keeper kept himself at a fast trot. “Not so bad. Huh boy? We still got 25 days left, but we’re doing well so far?”<Says the one who is not carrying the supplies.> Ah there was his sarcastic tone. Syn couldn’t help but cock a slight smirk at hearing her mount speak back to her. “How about next round I carry the bags and you on my back? Would that make you feel better Keeper?” <Much. Thanks for that Syn.> Laughter filled the air as the red head straightened herself and nudged her mount into a run. “Well, first we gotta make it through this godforsaken forest. Then we’ll talk about switching.”
Deeper the two made their way as all ears and eyes were used to listen for anything that might be out there. Moments before a lone howl had caught both Syn and Keeper of Souls attention, but they hadn’t seen anything so far. No sign of wolves or another Tokotas. Nor dogs seemed to be out and about. Really, any animal would have been smart and kept themselves hidden from this mini storm. <Look Syn! Up ahead!> Shit! Guess some animals weren’t as smart as Syn would have thought. Before them stood another Tokotas. This one looking battle scarred and ready for a fight. One eyes missing and the maw of this beast covered in bite marks. Fuck. This wasn’t just some Tokotas that had gotten lose. This boy was wild as they came. With fur black as night and eyes amber as they come, the brute took a few steps toward the two before charging toward them.
“ACK!” Quick to attack and end it from the looks of it. Thankfully Syn was thinking on her feet like she had been trained to do. “Into the bushes Keeper! Now!” Another hard nudge to his sides sent the curly into the dense thick forest as the other Tokotas chased them through the bush. “ShitshatSHIT!” Cursing to herself, Syn glanced over her shoulder to see the wild Tokotas gaining. Dammit! They were bogged down. Usually Keeper could move faster than this but because of the bags… well fuck it all! Pulling a long knife from her boot, Syn cut the cords that held her bags to Keeper’s back and could only watch as they all spilled out behind him. All her food… all her clothes… all the supplies she had packed. Great. Just great. While it kept the wild Tokotas busy and allowed for Keeper to escape those deadly jaws, Syn still felt like this was going to end badly. Just in a different way.
‘Day 17. We escaped another attack. It seems the wild Tokotas in this part don’t take kindly to others in their territory. Luckily Keeper and I escaped without injury, but it seems my boy has become to worn to hunt for his food. After a good rest, we managed to snag a few rabbits, but it was only enough to feed us a bit. My down-coat has gotten some tares in the back and its to the point where I can feel the wind blowing right through me. All out supplies we lost the first five days to a surprise chase. Thank god we haven’t seen that brute again. Keeper and I have 14 more days to go and I don’t know how much longer we can last without food and fresh water. I’ve told Keeper that if something happens to me he should leave to find Leroy. But he never answers. The snow needs to let up soon or will both starve.’ By herself, Syn would have easily figure out something to do. Keep to the trees. Build a fort in the snow. Something. But with Keeper underneath her there was no way she could do any of that. The thousand pound animal was larger than a bear and couldn’t easily hide away from the weather. <Syn are you alright?> Keeper’s voice hummed in her ear as the shifter shivered within her tattered coat. “I’m….mmm fine. Fine Keeper. Just a bit cold.” Smiling, Syn could feel her lips crack slightly from how dry and cold they had become. She was going to look like a mess when she got back. <Shift then? Your wolf form could handle this weather just fine.> True, she could use that form. But how was that testing themselves to this rite? It was about dedication. Not taking the ease way out. Syn knew she could easily survive in that form. Much more than her human one. But Keeper and her had to pass this rite as rider and mount. That is what she promised herself. “I’ll be… f-fine boy. I’m f-fine.” Giving Keeper’s neck a soft pat, she felt his shoulders roll as he started up a quick trot through the snowing pass. Once they got higher into the mountains. They could maybe find a cavern to stay a few days. That and also find something to eat. They both needed fresh meat.
‘Day 26. I’m cold. Very cold. Keeper kept telling me to shift and escape the coldness, but I tell him I’m alright. So far we have gotten deeper into the mountain coves and found a small herd of goats that Keeper was more than happy to take down. After filling our bellies, we continued on until we finally crossed the other side of the mountain. Now it’s time to turn around and head back. Shouldn’t be to long now that we’ll both be home and move on to Keeper’s last rite. Hopefully the trip home won’t be as bad as the trip out here.’ Glancing toward her Tokotas, Syn could see that Keeper was worried for her. But he also knew that she wanted to push herself just as much as he wanted to keep on going. The storm had passed and now they were surrounded by banks of newly fallen snow. The goat meat filled make-shift sack that Syn had fashioned to Keeper’s back gently bumped across the curly’s flank as the wind picked up and blew hard against them. “I think you’ve done an amazing job Keeper. They have to pass you now!” Reaching upward she gave the curly a soft pat as he let out a comfortable grumble. <We did a great job Syn. Come on. We should start heading back before the weather gets really bad.> He spoke the truth. Both of them wanted out of this cold forsaken lands before they froze to death.
<Looks like we have company.> The trip back was going smoothly enough. They even had a day or so to spare. But as Keeper and Syn got closer to the village they both found that a familiar face was waiting for them. The black scared Tokotas that they had seen their 5th day of travel. <He won’t let us pass. Not without a fight.> Narrowing his gaze Keeper let out a slight growl of warning as the other took a closer step toward them. “I guess no running this time.” Letting out a haggard sigh, Syn slipped from Keeper’s back as she quickly removed his equipment and let him lose. Before the other Tokotas could react, Keeper had rushed forward and smashed into the other. Both males soon began snapping and snarling at one another as the fighting continued. Blood splattered the ground as Keeper kept his stance and glared at the other while the black male Tokotas took a small step back. While the ginger attempted another charge, he found his foe had decided against the battle as the wild male quickly turned on his heels and fled into the forest. “HAH! That’s what you get you big bully!!” Syn grinned as Keeper let out a snort before giving a swift kick at the snow below his paws. <Hopefully he won’t return. Now. Shall we go home?> Words she loved hearing. Nodding, Syn tossed her Tokotas equipment back onto his back and swung herself on. Just one more day. They were close to finishing. So very close.
They were back! Finally. A month had passed and they had returned to where they had started. Leroy was pleased with how things turned out, though he was annoyed at Syn’s whining in his ear after her return. Leroy where is the hot water! Leroy make some hot food! Leroy I need some new clothes! Leroy this and Leroy that. Still. Syn seemed very happy to be back and among her pack. Keeper was also happy to return as he greeted the others with happy whines and licks. Now. One last rite. Both Keeper and Syn would only have that left.