The Fortress and The Raven | Epilogue

Iaurdagnire's picture


Collaboration writing between Apeldille and I of a meeting between Iaurdagire and Ephiré (written from their points of view respectively), in which their story arc is closed. Thank you Apel for letting Ephiré be such a large part of Dag's story, it wouldn't have gotten as far without him (:

Jack to the King | Overthrow | Start your Descent
... aftermath


It has been a long process, though time seems to pass quickly in the forest. The brutal war forgotten for now, Dag had busied himself with re-introductions, ceaseless bows of thanks to the warriors who brought him home, and greeting new faces he had missed in his absence. Some old friends took longer to face than others; the responsibility to truly put forth the weight of his words as he meant them seeming too great a task. Thankfully, over the course of recent days, the older and wiser war torn stag had been awash with clarity.

There was one stag whom he needed to see, and it had now become a matter of urgency. The time was right, he felt - even if the other didn't.

Late evenings tend to be when Dag roams the forest. After spending so long in the dark away from all things he considers beautiful, it is perhaps a mental suffering that has yet to be quashed. But the dim light of dusk moves him. The blunt intensity of the setting sun outlines his current pleasures so exquisitely; everything shimmers in the gentle spring wind with a gilded outline of liquid gold. The pond, a scatter of blinking diamonds in the distance.

The giant enjoyed a slow walk from Dandelion Hill baring left on evenings such as this, following where First Forest soil meets the Birch. The quiet yet visually intrusive nature of his stride was sometimes enough to stop fawns in their tracks in order to stare at this slow-moving beast of a stag, perhaps to see if he were real. Head held naturally high, his heavy crown was perfectly balanced to glide around the forest with him as if it weighed nothing. Whatever he was, he walked like he belonged, like he knew the soil and each tree personally. The way he carried himself hadn't changed physically, but there was something about him now that could be felt from him no matter where you stood or what you said to him. A new, keen and sharper edge, and a whole new understanding of the world than what he had previously. Time was indeed wisdom, though he found even now there was still much to learn; still things to contradict the moral value of one’s actions.

He stops mid-step, carefully placing his hoof down and standing very still.


Dag speaks his name under breath to affirm his decision to seek him, now, wasting no more time and instinctively making off on a firm trot in the direction of the birch forest.

His painted face becomes riddled with deep furrows as he tries to contend with his thoughts of what exactly is to pass between them. The Fortress' life was ultimately secured thanks to him, and the indebtedness Dag feels for the great raven-masked stag's act of compassion runs so deep in his heart, he just doesn't know how to answer him for such an extreme trial of mental strength. Though the brutality of his form as he moves through the forest at speed and his vehement expression looks anything but thankful.

The raven stag himself stands unmoving atop one of the Birch's billowing hills; a black silhouette against the darkening sky. Still and motionless, black hair the only thing moving, dancing in the evening breeze. In great contrast to his calm exterior, the insides of his mind are raging. The great ocean that is his very core may seem still and mirror-like on the surface, but in the depths the currents boil, and the things moving there are agitated.
He thinks of recent events, of Verve's blood soaking the birch forest floor, of grief and loss and many other things. He thinks of the dark day when new carnelian patterns ran down Iaurdagnire's broad chest, of the sound of a skewered windpipe. Faster and faster his thoughts swirl, until the numbness in his heart becomes the eye of the storm, the only safe place he knows.

Lost in old memories, lost in the world in his head.
The sudden warning warble of a blackbird is enough to make the stag's ears twitch slightly, and eventually a certain sharpness returns to his gaze as he slowly raises his head, watching the surroundings.

Long shadows mingle in the birch grass as the setting sun colours everything a reddish gold. The wind is fading, but not until he catches the well-known scent it carries: Iaurdagnire. The faint smell of smouldering ashes and burning forests announces his arrival, long before Ephiré can see him.

Some part of him has waited for this; anxiously paced back and forth in the back of his mind, anticipating the inexorable confrontation. Did he do the right thing, that fateful morning, when the cold misty dawn turned blood red? The numbness once again creeps forth, step by step, matching the stride of the antediluvian giant he can see in the distance and moving forward with the same inevitableness he can sense in the Fortress.

Suddenly, Ephiré is glad for the hill, glad for the distance it puts between him and the bull. Distance. Every so often, he fails to maintain it, and one would think he'd be used to the consequences by now, wouldn't he? But no, he isn't, and perhaps he never will be.

His face is hidden behind a large, black-polished skull, once belonging to some great bird of prey; the cruel curve of its beak glimmers in the faint light and he is suddenly, painfully, reminded of the day he found it beside his home trees. A gift from Verve, who now lay broken and bloodied in the Birch, and he is suddenly very grateful that it hides his face so well.
And then he turns to look at the scarred bull approaching him, and the eternal expression of the skull he wears likely matches the one Iaurdagnire wears quite well.

Ephiré is spotted by him, but instead of slowing down, the bulls momentum only seems to systematically increase until he is running at full tilt by the time he crosses the clearing to the base of the hill.
Dag charges up the incline with a relentless power that served him well in the face of the war-faring Spring Wolf, and it is the thought that Ephiré delivered that particular battle to him on that fateful day that drives him forward with such monstrous vigour. As he is launched over the summit, Dag's head lowers to show his intention; a wall of tines envelope Ephiré's view and were set to close in on him in a deadly embrace.

One part of Ephiré's mind screams at him to sidestep, to pivot just out of reach of the the other giant's tines like he usually would; the other welcomes the deadly embrace with fervent desperation. In the end, he lowers his own crown in return, and for a split second the power sparking between them threatens to swallow and shatter them both... but it doesn't. Instead the deafening crash that echoes through the Birch is enough to make the numbness in the Raven's heart retreat for a while, leaving a peculiar emptiness paired with sudden clarity in its wake.
Unyielding like rock, like the earth's very foundation, he barely moves an inch at the onslaught of the Fortress. Sinews and muscle stretch and ripple under rough dark skin, hooves digging down, shredding the earth as antler meet antler.

If Ephiré had moved or stumbled under his onslaught, Dag would have been disappointed. The moment they collide, the terrifying crash of their antlers revive memories of that moment on Dandelion Hill where they fought, now well over a year ago. Their bodies sway in the aftershock, only briefly jostling until their antlers are comfortably interlocked.

Then nothing. Almost complete silence, save for Dag's breathing as he tries to recoup himself.

The immovable Fortress stands very still, as if all energy has left him. His intention? Partly to pick off from where they had left off, and partly because this was the only way stags could meet on the most personal of levels; eye-to-eye in what would normally be confrontation. But no, this was no act of revenge by Dag - there is no hint rage in his eyes, no blood-lust. Meeting this way was the only way he could ensure Ephiré's bravery was paid in recompense; to show he still trusted the Raven Stag whole-heartedly to meet him at his worst. None other in the forest but him truly saw his dark side, and perhaps none other than Dag was given the chance to be so close as to really see into the eyes of the storm beyond the Raven’s polished beak. To see the deep ocean blues staring from the mask hollow shadows just inches away, distinguishable from his pale skin by the darkened rings around his eyelids; only up close could one notice this tell-tale sign of physical and mental stress of the ageless stag's experiences.

Dag had his own secrets to share - dark brown, heavy browed eyes locked on Ephiré's, and from his throat an ominous crackle resonated; his whole approach up to this moment was that of a distant thunder-sky, eventually sounding by the guttural rumble of his voice.

"I can never repay you for what you did for me, Ephiré. The reason I have not sought you until now is because it seems my journey hadn't ended in the way I expected. In some ways, it still hasn't." The giant pauses, leaning slightly into Ephiré's antlers.
"Life seems to reward the worst in us sometimes."

Silence. The black stag meets Iaurdagnire's gaze and says nothing. Perhaps the bull can see the emotions raging behind dark eyes, perhaps he will only see the still, calm ocean mirror. And then, when the silence turns threatening, suffocating - a sound erupts from him. If Iaurdagnire is thunder, then the raven stag is the cold, slow, thousand-year-grind of a glacier, of ice and snow crumbling, crushing the earth beneath.
”Iaurdagnire.” The single word, spoken in a hoarse, broken voice, an echo from the great, black Void. It rumbles through the air, a storm on the horizon, and carries a multitude of emotions, all mingled and tangled and hard to distinguish from each other.

"It certainly does." The gravelly words carries a sense of regret, of old wounds and dark thoughts. Unsure of what to say, of what to do, he falls silent, waits for the other instead, but his ears perks up more than what they did before; in his eyes, the sea is calming down.

But below the surface, a hard and heavy stone is continually thrown by an unseen current, every collision threatening to destroy it.
"It only takes a second to burn what took a lifetime." The Fortress interjects, watching Ephiré's every change in body language.
"... How do you do it?" His tone of voice suddenly changes, now softer yet with an edge of uncertainty and unease that all to quickly turns to anger. "How do you stay as you are."
Facing his confidant brought an identity crisis in Dag to the surface, one which he thought he had under control until now. His volcanic temper is certainly evident in the way he clenched his jaw and shuffled his feet, their antlers clacking as he moves to steady himself.
"The forest owns me," he growls, voice rough and tremulous, "it expects great things of me; to be there for when I am needed, to keep standing for what is right. To maintain whatever it is I have brought to this place."
His foundations appeared to have been shaken.
"When something is hard to see, we turn away and look in the wrong direction. What is stopping me from getting lost and undoing what everyone has built me up to be."
There was a sudden weakness in his gaze, something quite sad, like his soul was cracking at the corners. Dag was a symbolic force of nature; a heart and strength of will that dominated in dark hours. Usually whenever something went wrong, he had the mental fortitude to move past them and put them right; his life and the reason he was still alive was testament to that.

Suddenly, Dag's eyes close in an exhausted sigh and his shoulders slump, and he speaks again - only this time, defeated -
"How do you stay as you are."

”Yes.” Ephiré knows how little time it takes for a life to shatter, and how long it takes to pick it up again.

He eyes the bull when he asks how he does it, and then quietly lets Iaurdagnire's words wash over him. The anger in the bull does not go unnoticed, and he can sense the source of it, but it is met with the same stillness that has radiated from him the whole conversation. At Iaurdagnire's last question, the raven stag's gaze sharpens, and the shift in his posture once again makes their antlers clatter.

He thinks of desperate attempts at keeping his distance, of repeated failures, of long, dark nights at the end of the world where nothing stands between him and the sharp stone he silences his mind with. And then he smiles, a joyless, crooked smile.

”Do you really want to know?” The words are double-edged, laced with bitterness and whips through the air between them. They are meant more for his own ears than Iaurdagnire's. His dark voice goes down to an almost-whisper, gravelly and jarring, and he isn't sure which answer he is hoping for.

Dag's eyes open to deliver the most ice-cold of stares severe enough to hold them both on the spot with held breath, and in a silky undertone Dag whispers back his answer,
And in a flash careens his head down and forward towards the ground, forcing Ephiré backwards and unlinking their antlers in one swift, calculated movement that bounces Ephiré from his rooted position. As Dag removes his antlers - like drawing a sword from its scabbard - the pair part and Dag watches him lose his footing.

The stag stumbles slightly, hastily extending a back leg to balance himself again. No. No, of course not. He is still smiling, still without any trace of real joy, but soon his expression fades and goes back to his usual emotionless state as the brief window into his mind is shut: locked and sealed once again. Likely for the best, he thinks briefly, before turning to look at the other bull.

"I see now."
Ears perk forward as the giant's eyes narrow, now standing very tall against the saffron sky. As conniving as his mind is, he could not have predicted that small window of opportunity.
"The downfall is in the guarding of our weaknesses from the world, even if doing so is what enforces our strength to overcome." He steps forward and moves just to the side of Ephiré, casting an eye skyward to watch the distance between their crowns,
"Because when we stop to think about them, all it will ever do is -" he pauses to lightly tap the other's outer tine with his own to prove a point, "- distract us."
A strong smile lifts his painted face as he looks to Ephiré with familiar warm and knowing eyes.

”Of course you do", the raven stag answers dryly, back on familiar territory now.

”Perhaps. But knowing your weaknesses means they are less likely to do us harm... we may stumble, but not fall." He almost laughs, but the sound is strangled and cut off. ”My whole life is distractions", he mumbles, carefully stepping out of the others reach, instead describing a circle around him, eventually ending up beside the bull. He tilts his head, and with a very deliberate movement he lightly jabs one of his front tines into Iaurdagnire's behind. "It's good to have you back", he says, and means it, even if the words are flat-sounding. He wishes his current mood was better, and that the circumstances were too. "But please don't make me do anything like that ever again."

Dag flinches at the light-hearted yet vengeful jab to his rear, then offers a sincere and apologetic smile.
"Never again, my friend." He touches the bridge of his nose to Ephiré's shoulder in recognition of the pain he inflicted upon him, physically and otherwise; he hoped his dear friend knew that his debt to him was a lifetime.


Kaoori's picture


Mis's picture

Aaaaaah this was suuch an

Aaaaaah this was suuch an amazing read. Love the colors of the blog and the bottom image too. These two are so awesome. But I really got pulled in!
Sighthoundlady's picture

Writing par excellence, I

Writing par excellence, I always enjoy written stuff from you both, Dag and Apel. Been waiting for this resolution for ages, it was gratifying to finally see how this meeting went. Love both these guys. Lovely blog, good work.
parrotsnpineapple's picture

The music and imagery and

The music and imagery and writing...all of it beautiful. The reconciliation at the end was beautiful; and interesting to think about. Two soldiers locking antlers to apoligise....I dont have words but this is beautiful.
Well done to the both of you.
Iaurdagnire's picture

Thanks for getting through

Thanks for getting through the wall of text guys! ♥ I think Apel and I went back and forth writing bits for like... 2 weeks? Haha.

The idea had been floating around in my head for a while about how these two would meet again. A normal welcome back + a brofist didn't seem to cut the mustard in my opinion, this was way better (in which Dag is Ephire's bitch for forevermore) X')
Munkel's picture

Finally got the time time to

Finally got the time time to read this.
Wonderful and heartwarming, I really adore their friendship.
Silverpaw15's picture

This was simply gorgeous. I

This was simply gorgeous. I have no other way of describing it. A fitting conclusion to the events between the two.