Hunting the Hunter Ch. 03byEnithermon©
Hi there! I was hoping to get a teeny bit farther along in the plot before posting, but I thought, 'heck, I'll just post it when it's done.' Thanks for your patience and kind comments.
love and mush, enithermon.
Inanna held the wax bar over the single wavering candle flame and watched the thick red tip begin to warp. She caught the single drip in her hand, saving the smooth finish of the desk, and pressed the melting bar to her neatly folded letter. It had been a week since she had returned Feric to his people, and she'd heard little from him since except for brief greetings in passing. They'd thankfully heard little from the hunters as well. It was, however, only a matter of time.
From what they'd told her, it wasn't the hunters who were the threat, and she agreed. They were just appendages. This would be like fighting a draugh. Why spend hours hacking at tentacles when one well placed hit in the jugular would accomplish the same in a much shorter time? She should know. She'd spent one very long afternoon tangled up with one, literally, just a month after her fiftieth. It had been a hell of a way to commemorate it. Inanna leaned back in her chair and chuckled. She couldn't understand the language it had hissed at her...but she got the gist of what he 'meant' to say, she was sure, just as he probably caught the meaning of everything she'd gurgled back. Gurgled, because they were underwater...and he was trying valiantly to choke her to death with one of his five remaining tentacles. Her lips twisted up in fond remembrance.
She was no church follower, indeed like most of her people, she felt the worship of the tribunal was a sacrilege, but that hadn't stopped her from attempting the pilgrimage, not least of all because someone suggested she couldn't do it. Of course a Morrowind Pilgrimage, is not a Cyrodilic one.
Here they merely tramp around the idyllic country side and bless themselves at quaint little alters before moving on. Conversely, to fully complete the pilgrimage of the seven graces, one is required to wade through muck, fight draugh warlords, drown oneself, and then go traipsing into the Ghostgate to visit with corpus stalkers and ash zombies and the gods know what else. She'd even made the pilgrimage to Gnisis temple. There you fight a Dremora guard as he describes-- with all the growling, hissing, charm of a denizen of the darkest realms of Oblivion--all of the horrifying and downright kinky things he's going to do to your skull once he's severed it from the rest of you. Luckily she'd finished the fight before he could move on to other body parts, though not before she discovered that Dremora have absolutely no problem with necrophilia. Gross. No one needed those images in their head...attached or not.
Drowning herself had been the biggest challenge. The will to live is a hard thing to fight. Then again the corpus stalkers were no picnic, those are almost as bad as zombies...almost... she shuddered slightly and replaced the quickly cooling sealing wax in its little shelf.
She loved this desk, it wasn't as nice as the one the vampires had gotten their clever undead hands on, but the wood was rich and dark and the faces of the many drawers carved out handsomely with fine little abstracts. She admired it a little, letting its beauty push out all the weird nasty thoughts that had somehow snuck into her head. She blew on the wax seal to cool it faster and waved the folded sheet in the air before tossing it in a drawer and standing to stretch. She'd been giving it some thought over the last week, while she'd been slipping supplies to Feric's people a little at a time, not wanting her actions to be obvious to anyone who was interested. Of course, who exactly might be interested was precisely what was first and foremost on her mind.
Who, why, and where, and more or less in that order. The 'how' would be ascertained once she knew what she was dealing with. She'd asked, but no one had any answers as to why they were being hunted, only that they were. Whoever it was had others do their dirty work, and it was dangerous work, so they were probably wealthy. Feric had been personally ensuring that the fatality rate was incredibly high among those who took the job.
She shuddered again at the thought, though this time for an entirely different, and more pleasant, reason. She gritted her teeth and forced herself, only half successfully, back to the topic at hand.
She tapped the banister thoughtfully as she made her way upstairs. The expenditure on disposable mercenaries also indicated that this probably wasn't personal, unless the person was completely mad. That was possible, but her initial guess was that it was motivated by compensation of some sort. This was a dangerous and long term hunt, so the motivation must be a powerful one.
And what was the most powerful motivator? Power, obviously. There's a reason all roads lead to the imperial city.
They'd been chased and hounded for over fifty years...that also indicated either more than one person, an organization of some kind perhaps, or a very wealthy, very dedicated Mer, because no human she knew could keep that up this long, not all on their lonesome.
Feric had also informed her that the bodies always disappeared, and were never left behind. This told her that the bodies were important rather than just eliminating the people. They could, after all, take a token from the body, rather than drag the whole thing back to their employer if it was for the purpose of proof. Of course who would be interested in bodies...besides necromancers.
Oh hell, please don't be more of those, she groused. Thoughts of giant shape shifting zombie lions sprung unbidden to her mind and she got a rather nasty taste in her mouth. The memory of the dead imperial on the alter sprung up as well, his face morphing into another more familiar one...she forced the image away before it could fully form. She wasn't going there.
She grabbed an apple from the little nook of a kitchen and crossed into her room. She held the fruit in her teeth as she stripped, and threw herself down on the wide, soft, bed and chewed thoughtfully. Well, regardless of whether it was a rich Mer, or a society of some kind, she knew just the person for the job of getting the inside information for her once she'd tracked them down. She'd written three letters. One to Max, asking him to meet her at the Roxy in two weeks, one to her mother and father, because she was, if nothing else, a good daughter after all, and one addressed to a Tel on the far side of Morrowind.
The contents of the third read only this: Sister, I need you. Cheydinhal. Always, The Velothi.
Three threads, and tomorrow she'd send them shuttling across Tamriel. In the mean time she needed to rest and think. She had asked Feric to come along on the next hunt, or rather the next game of hide and seek with the hunters. Mirisa had been there, and balked slightly, but had the good sense to not complain out loud.
She'd been back and forth several times so far. Cyrus and Bellane, the mated couple were always pleasant, and although Mirisa was also generally polite, she watched her with all the good will of an assassin sizing up their mark.
She was also put off by the fact that, although he was friendly enough and appreciative of her help, Feric seemed to be keeping his distance. She guessed it was for form's sake in front of his tribe...pack...pride, whatever. Perhaps they had a taboo against messing about with outsiders. She'd have to ask, because seeing him so often and not getting to do anything about it was making her edgy.
She still hadn't taken her frustration out on anyone yet, as she was still trying to hold out for when she finally got that big cat alone, but more and more she was wondering when that was going to happen. She'd even had a few offers from a couple of rather well built fellow adventurers, but something in her told her to turn them down. She followed that voice, like she always did, but it left her pretty tightly wound. She almost started a fight with an Orc in Newlands lodge just two nights ago after he made inappropriate comments about her physiology.
Normally such comments would pass without notice, or occasionally even encouraged, but she was looking for an excuse. Sooner or later she'd find one.
The memory gave her another chuckle. Dervera, a fellow Dunmer and the charming proprietor of Newlands lodge, and Borba a local outfitter had seen the look in her eye before the other Orcs had and had turned her around and marched her straight out the door, one at each arm. Borba warned her about messing with the Orum gang, and Dervera about the danger of catching the attention of the city guard, but she didn't care, she just wanted to sink her fist into someone's face. Eventually they'd convinced her to go for a run instead. It had taken the edge off but it wasn't the same.
She sighed. She was really starting to look forward to this hunt. But good lord...nearly a week, she didn't know if she could wait that long.
She wanted to get one of those hunters alive so she could get some answers. They wouldn't know much, but one had to start at the bottom and work their way up. She would also need to start collecting useful toys. She'd examined, or had appraised, a number of useful items taken from the vampires, and had begun stock piling numerous potions and scrolls which would come in handy. There were a few items she didn't have that she suspected by the end she'd need, but it was going to cost. She tossed the core of her apple in a waste basket by the dresser and closed her eyes.
Screw it, she hadn't really wanted a horse anyway.
"Tell me Shadow, can you use a bow?"
Lucas started and whipped around from his post over the ruin's entrance. She'd come to recognize him even from a distance by his dark undercoat. Despite having a slimmer build in his humanoid form, his cat form was equal to Owyns in size, though perhaps not in muscular density. He growled half-heartedly and resumed his post, looking daggers at her. She only grinned back. She'd been playing this game with him every time she returned. The first time she had to dodge a startled attack, now she just got dirty looks.
He huffed, and she watched fascinated as the crouching lion transformed into a naked young man in a matter of seconds. There was some sort of magic involved with the change, she could feel it if she touched it with her will, but it was subtle and deeply innate, as natural as the summoning of an ancestor guardian is to a Dunmer. You just want it enough, and it happens. She had a vague memory of being soothed to sleep as a very small child by a guardian she'd accidentally summoned when waking from a nightmare, Great Uncle Assurban, if memory served. She suspected this transformation was similar.
"Why would I use a bow?"
"To thin and weaken your enemies from a distance before you meet them in battle." she intoned with a dramatic wave of her hand.
She sat down next to him at his post and looked out to watch the woods as well, her grin gone. He gave her a sidelong glance.
"Is it not more honorable to simply face them head on?"
His voice indicated that it was neither a question nor a statement. Rather it sounded like an empty quote. She knew he still found her suspect, but he'd relaxed enough around her to carry on a conversation. She found she enjoyed them immensely in the brief moments she found to speak with him. He may not be as tactful as Aina, but he was capable of subtlety when he was calm.
"Oh, I don't think you think that."
He said nothing.
"I would like to teach you." She continued, still looking out over the stonework ledge, her hands folded placidly in her lap. "I brought you one of my spares. I'll leave it inside. If you're interested meet me back up here after the hunt." She glanced over to him to find him frowning at her in confusion.
"Oh, that is your favorite word, now isn't it?" She gave him a small smile.
"Shall I play Nocturnal to your inquisitive Hermaeus Mora, and tell you that some mysteries run too deep?"
His frown deepened.
"What is hermes mora?"
She opened her mouth to correct his pronunciation and explain, then changed her mind and waved the question away. This was no time to start explaining the mysteries of the Daedric Princes, especially those of secrets and knowledge.
"That's too big a question, and Ambrose will want to hear the answer as well, so it will wait." He sighed.
"Dare I ask what he has to do with it?" She chuckled.
"Oh I think that will become apparent on its own...eventually." She twisted her lips into a smirk. "Alright, straight up, I think you'd be good at it, you have a natural predilection towards stealth, though you need to watch your back a little better," she paused to give him a teasing wink, "and it can't hurt to learn."
He shook his head.
"I've learned to use the weapons I've been given."
"And well you should, and to their most effective at that. But there are many things to learn and many of them useful. Don't you want another tool to use in protecting what's yours?"
He looked at her again.
"We do need everything we can get." He admitted, also giving her a stern look with his dark eyes. She had a feeling he was inferring that this was the reason for her continued existence, and chuckled again.
"Want and need are two different things my love."
He blinked once and looked back out towards the tree line, which was waving softly against the clear morning sky. The movement was hypnotic. She watched his expression turn distant. He let out a long sigh.
"Sometimes they're the same."
His melancholy subdued her. The day was going to be beautiful, and the warm golden sun played through the young spring leaves, sparkling gaily at the two dark figures crouching in the shadow of the bright stones. 'Tell me about it,' she thought morosely, and let out her own long sigh.
She turned back to her companion...but he'd already returned to his feline form and was slinking off towards the tree line. She pulled her braid over her shoulder and toyed idly with the tip, dragging it thoughtfully over her lips, contemplating where the line was between 'want' and 'need,' and when the hell she'd crossed it. More than once she'd almost taken someone for a tumble...in either senses of the word, but she knew it wasn't going to do her any good: as sure as she knew the sun rose in the day and the moons at night.
Somewhere out among the softly waving trees a low and soft sound came to her, a low howling groan. Too low to be a wolf or troll, so her hunter's ears told her, and too high to be an ogre. She closed her eyes and in the mirror of her mind she constructed the shape of the chest that could make such a sound, the distance, the direction, and smiled. Minotaur...and she'd bet her bow on it. The sound came again. There was something mournful in it that sat out of sorts with the warm sun that still danced in red flecks through her eyelids. For a moment the red lights became the red blighted winds, her darkened lids, the bleak ash filled sky, and the sound that reached her ears was the distance moan of the silt striders as they swayed blindly on slender legs...
"You look deep in thought"
Inanna almost bit her tongue in her effort not to start at the sound of the low voice behind her. Now she knew how Lucas felt. God damned sneaky bloody cat. She leaned back and tossed her braid over her shoulder, her gaze following. He looked great. He always looked great. And what was that sensation inside her...butterflies? What, was she twenty all over again? To the sixteen hells with THAT noise. Fetcher.
"Oh, not really. Just listening to you while you thought you were sneaking up on me." She lied through her broadly grinning teeth. She fluttered her lashes and bounced lightly to her feet, propping her fists on her hips. "We ready?" He gave her a mild smile and cocked a brow at her.
"Not unless you have some clever plan you want to voice first." She cocked a brow right back at him.
"No sir. Just leave me one alive."
She turned her smile into a treacherous grin and wriggled her shoulders.
"In-for-ma-tion." He nodded, and gave his head a half-shake. It was his standard response to most of the things that came out of her mouth these days.
"I'll try to restrain myself." She chuckled and clapped him on the shoulder as she walked past him.
"Don't try too hard. You're more fun when you don't." She winked at him over her shoulder and hopped down over the ledge, landing next to the door below. She turned towards it as it opened, revealing Owyn and her favorite blond haired, blue eyed pain in the ass.
"Mirisa, Owyn." She nodded politely, and they inclined their heads politely back. Mirisa looked past her toward Feric.
"Are we ready then?"
"As we'll ever be." He muttered dryly.
Inanna turned towards the sound of his voice, thinking of something smarmy and delightful to say. Except he had removed his clothes and she was treated to an unimpeded full and frontal view, and, consequently, her intentions were dashed suddenly and brutally against the rock hard sculpture of a man before her. All she could do was look busy putting on her gloves as she swallowed the shattered remains of her last coherent thought. She gave her glove an irritated tug. These were some hormones. How long was fertility supposed to last?
Mirisa, thankfully, came to her rescue.
"Are you sure you can keep up? I'd hate to have you fall behind." The challenge sang out to her inner bitch and repaired her mazed thoughts. She narrowed her eyes and curved her lips into the picture of sweetness.
"You're such a darling to be so concerned. Isn't she the sweetest thing? I mean really!" she cooed turning to Owyn, who was also undressing, and though also a very, very fine specimen, didn't seem to have an effect on her. Huh...fickle hormones then? She shrugged mentally, he was too young for her anyway. He tossed his robe behind a broken column and glanced at Mirisa uncertainly.
"Like candy." Mirisa snapped irritably.
"Oooh, feisty." Inanna grinned gleefully as the woman morphed and stalked past her, growling low in her throat. Feric was now comparatively safe to look at, though giving her a look that she interpreted as a plea to behave, and she followed at a trot as the three big cats turned away and melted silently into the trees, heading in the direction Mirisa had spotted the hunters the day before. She drew her bow and relished the giddy shiver that traveled up and down her spine.
Let the games begin.
It was easy enough for her to keep up, as accustomed as she was to running great distances when the need arose. The view was pleasant as well. It wasn't every day a girl got to watch such perfect predators in action and not be too busy fighting for her life to appreciate the spectacle. Inanna couldn't help but admire their powerful grace and the deadly silence of their movements. She'd be a liar if she said she wasn't particularly enraptured with the massive beast who led the group as he weaved his way through the dense woods.
She was therefore a mite disappointed when the three of them suddenly broke off, Feric heading to the left and the other two to the right. She veered slightly to the left, but kept a central position, slowing to weave more carefully between the trees and tossing out unobtrusively low-level detect life spells into the surrounding brush. It wouldn't do to run into something unprepared. She heard a snarl ahead and peered through the brush. The light indicated a clearing, and if they were smart, they'd have a bowman or two set up for shots into said clearing.
Can someone say ambush?
She looked up, and kept moving to her left, skirting a good distance from the tree line.