Hunting the Hunter Ch. 04byEnithermon©
Thanks for your patience. I really do hope you enjoy this installment.
It filled every crack of the dense, pine scented woods which cut a swath of grey green across the treacherous terrain of northern Cyrodiil. Filled it near to bursting. No sign of life, no wolves, no squirrels, no birds...even the wind which usually rattled through these cliffs was apparently on vacation, leaving the air heavy and still.
Silence. Some people worshiped it, some people were afraid of it. Inanna was just plain old sick and tired of it. They were half way to Chorrol and she could still count the number of words spoken between them on her fingers. The fingers of one hand no less. Pathetic.
"Ok, this is getting old fast."
"Tell me about it."
She turned back to look at him, startled by the response. So far he'd stuck to his lion, aka 'I don't want to talk about it,' form. She stopped and pulled her pack off, fishing out his clothes for him before tossing them at him indecorously.
"I am telling you."
He looked at her, his face calm and stoic and unreadable.
"Nice poker face...remind me never to play with you." She re-tied her bag and slung it back over her shoulder, and waited just long enough for him to get his sandals done up before moving again, intentionally veering their path and taking them down the hard way over a series of high mossy boulders. They were kind of pretty with the waterfall of moss cascading over them and little rock flowers blooming around them, but they looked tricky as hell to get down. She tightened her pack straps before hopping quickly down, skipping from boulder to boulder in rapid succession, landing finally in a light crouch in the soft forest floor below. Ha, beat that sucker. She turned around and looked back up at him with a mild smile. She wasn't bitter...no sir, not little ol' her.
He looked down, looked back to her, then down again at his sandals.
"You know, this would have been easier if I hadn't changed. You did that on purpose didn't you?" He grinned, his white toothed smile lighting up his face and making those blazing green eyes dance. It lit hers up too. Dunmer see, Dunmer do, she couldn't help herself, a smile like that is catching...catching and addictive.
"I admit nothing." She put her hands on her hips and cocked them. "What? You're two feet not good enough to beat mine...you're going to let a girl beat you?" He narrowed his eyes, but his smile barely faded.
He arched a brow at her. "Come now, you know I don't mind being beaten by someone worthy of it, or either sex..." he smirked deviously, "but it ain't gonna be you sweet heart." She blinked in surprise at that.
She was still laughing when he landed, admittedly with every bit of ease as she had, in the soft loam beside her.
"Ha!" He crowed playfully. She shoved his shoulder.
"You got lucky."
"I don't need luck."
She rolled her eyes and continued on, picking her way around a few lesser boulders, occasionally letting a branch or two snap back behind her. One finally caught him and she heard him curse softly.
"You ok back there?" she asked sweetly.
She smiled at the trees in front of her. "What happened to 'sweet heart'?"
"It was just payback for that pussy cat crack." She chuckled and threw him his hard earned smile over her shoulder. He returned it.
"Does this mean we're friends again?" she asked lightly.
"Were we not before?"
"You tell me." She cast him another look, this one a touch more arched.
His gleaming smile dimmed, unfortunately, and he sighed. "I'd like to think so. I don't want that to change."
"If you tell me this is a 'let's just be friends' speech, I swear I'll gut you."
"Ok. I won't tell you."
"You know, pine needles don't taste nearly as good as they look. Just so you know, for future reference."
She could only laugh. And boy did that ever feel good.
The trees were thinning a little as they approached what appeared to be the Gold Road. She paused to let him catch up, casting her eyes to the sunset hues of the sky.
"What do you think? Should we keep going and push through, or just call it a day?" he asked as he skirted a stump to come up next to her.
She frowned at the setting sun. "These woods can get pretty dicey, and the terrain is...interesting in the dark." He nodded.
"I think I remember passing an Alyeid well once in this part of the world, does that sound about right to you?"
She nodded. That would give them cover and a convenient source of power if things got ugly.
"You read my mind boss."
He gestured for her to lead the way.
She turned back and arched a curious brow at him.
"Do we get to be friends again...even though I'm pissing you off?"
She blinked at him a moment then grinned. This delightful creature sure was full of surprises.
"Only because you just said that." She pursed her lips. "But don't press your luck bucko."
He looked so relieved that she felt she was in instant danger of softening again. It was going to take some work to be a hard ass about this. But she had plans for this pussy cat of hers, and she wasn't going to let a little thing like pity get in her way. Nope, not her. And they were lovely plans too; he was going to be sooooo mad at her for it...but lord was he going to enjoy it while it lasted. She had to resist the urge to cackle manically.
"I'm not sure how I feel about that expression on your face." he gave her an appropriately cautious look. He might be sweet, but he sure wasn't stupid, this one.
"Oh, nothing to worry about, I assure you." He let out a single dry chuckle. "Why doesn't that reassure me?"
The willowy mer stiffened and turned, one pale brow arching impossibly high over a crystal blue eye, which had narrowed somewhat, matching the sneer which twisted his lips.
"It's Honditar. How many times must I remind you? You insufferable child."
Feric could practically feel the acid seeping out of the Altmer's pores. He was typical Altmer: tall, slender, with gold skin and pale silvery hair and, of course, he oozed condescension. However, as they approached him as he stood idle under the canopy of the great oak which defined the central square, Feric did notice a few unusual traits. At just a few inches over six feet he was actually a little short for an Altmer male, many of which were as tall as seven feet, though equally slender as to make them less imposing. With his mane of silver hair, this mer looked a little wilder and unkempt than was typical as well. That's not saying much of course, Feric still felt like a ruffian next to him, but high elves were renowned for their almost obsessive fastidiousness. He was also wearing the dark greens and browns of a woodsman and a fine elven bow was hanging off one of his shoulders.
He glanced at his companion who was giving the mer an ear to ear grin, clearly unphased by the less than warm welcome. Not that Feric was terribly surprised by that.
"Oh don't be that way, luv. You're not still sore about me kicking your shiny gold ass half way across the empire are you?" The mer's brow arched even higher, though how was a wonder.
"Gods only know what you're talking about." She mimed taking a shot on a bow, aiming the invisible arrow at the rose window decorating the front of the mages guild.
"I seem to recall you cheating." He murmured with a sight sneer.
She was still grinning. "All's fair in love and bouncy-bouncy." She turned and winked at Feric. "War too." He kept his face placid and his eye rolling to himself. She'd been so quite for so long that it was odd to see her hamming it up for someone again. Still, he couldn't fault the performance. It was tough to tell sometimes what performance was for whose benefit. If he hadn't already seen her turn it off and on with so many others he'd have jumped to some conclusions about her himself. As it was he was just mildly confused.
Honditar let out a sigh and crossed his arms, rolling his eyes in a very un-Altmer like way. "It was an archery contest, and you jumped the hind with a knife."
"Ah, ah, ahhh, not until after I'd already slowed it down with arrows...I did technically shoot it, eventually." The mer turned to Feric and scoffed, gesturing to Ina with an open palm.
"Incorrigible. Clearly you see what I mean." Feric hadn't really realized it but he'd been chuckling to himself and shaking his head at her, easily picturing her leaping from some tree like a feral thing. Hell, he'd already seen it firsthand. Feric gave the Altmer his best smile and held out a hand. The mer took it.
"Feric, and yes, I'm beginning to feel your pain."
"Honditar. Don't let her suck you into one of her games, and if you do, pay very close attention to the wording of her bets."
"Speaking of which you still owe me money." Ina interrupted poking Honditar in the shoulder and earning another glare from him.
"Ah, is that the reason for this particularly charming visit?"
Feric watched her eyes go wide in mock innocence. 'Honditar! Is it so shocking that I'd just want to say hello to a good friend?" The pale brow jumped again.
She shrugged. "Honoured acquaintance then." Feric watched curiously as her face shifted to something a little more somber, "I always make time for people who take their archery seriously."
"Ironic, since you don't."
The high elf clasped his hands behind his back and began making a circling inspection of Inanna. Feric stepped back to let him pass, and Honditar inclined his head politely in acknowledgment.
"No bracers, no gloves, Imperial fletching on," he paused and drew an arrow from her quiver with delicate fingers, as though he were pulling something unsavoury out of his soup, "Ye gods, what is this?"
"Chitin, that's eons of tradition right there Hon baby."
"Ugh. With glass heads?"
"Don't knock it till you try it."
"I'd rather not"
"Is that a bad thing?" Feric asked politely. Both curious and inclined to get on the mer's good side, even if Ina wasn't. The last thing he needed right now was another enemy.
The mer was still giving the little imp a look of supreme distaste.
"That depends...would you consider a necromancer sewing a Bosmers head on an Argonian body with Orcish legs a bad thing?"
"More like human legs," Inanna interjected. "Let's be accurate in our criticism now."
"More like disturbing, if not horrific."
Inanna threw back her head and returned the fair mer's haughty look.
"I...am an artist!"
"You're a hack."
"I could still take you." She narrowed her eyes at him and tipped her face up to his. "I bet those slender Altmer bones of yours would snap like dry twigs." He leaned in.
"I'd like to see you try it with a cranium full of my arrows."
"That a dare?"
Feric cleared his throat, suddenly concerned that this was getting a little out of hand. They seemed like old acquaintances, but he wasn't sure just how good or bad the blood actually was between them. They both turned towards him. He nodded toward a city guard who'd thankfully chosen to pass by at that moment. Inanna grinned and Honditar gave him a mild smile and straightened.
"Fear not Feric...I wouldn't do more than take the little twit over my knee. That is how one deals with children is it not?"
Ina stuck her tongue out at him and Feric suppressed a chuckle and the Altmer's lips twitched in an obvious attempt to suppress his own mirth.
"Honestly though, what brings you to my corner of the province?" He gestured to a stone bench. The two of them sat, but Feric opted to remain standing and kept an eye out for interested eyes and ears. They were in the guild district so most people were going about their business in a brisk manner, unconcerned by the reunion taking place in front of them. So his job was pretty easy.
"I'm actually looking for Glistel, but that slippery little minx is never around when I want her."
"What makes you think I know where she is...it's a big town. Other people's business is hardly my concern."
"A little birdie told me you and Glistel have an understanding."
The mer pursed his lips again. "Next time you see said birdie you should tell him he needs to keep his big Dunmer mouth shut."
She chortled. "You should know better than telling him anything Hon, he's worse than a Dres courtesan." He sighed and his shoulders slumped slightly.
"Yes, yes he is. S'wit."
She laughed and patted him on the arm. "You need to stop hanging out with us Dunmer, we're wearing off on you."
"Well, dare I ask what you want the esteemed Lady Glistel for?"
"Oh you know...girl stuff."
"What can I say, it's 'that time of the century'" she husked out in a loud whisper.
"Is it indeed? Our little Ina is all grown up is she? How terrifying." He paused and looked down his nose at her. "You know it's often a false start the first time around, so don't be disappointed if it doesn't pan out for you...so to speak."
"Gee thanks dad."
"Alright then. I'll get a hold of her for you. The Oak and Crosier at midnight?"
"The pretty little Khajiit who runs it makes a superb venison pie. You'll like it. And her too, she's an affable sort of girl." Feric could have sworn the mer accentuated the word affable, and raised his own eyebrow at the high elf, who only gave another mild smile in return.
Ina just nodded. "Gottcha."
The mer sighed again and patted her on the knee, an affectionate gesture which surprised Feric, though he kept it to himself.
"Good to see your head's still attached little girl. Try to keep it that way....Glistel would be put out to lose another gossip, and you know how unbearable she is when she's upset."
"To spare you the inconvenience, I will try."
"Very kind." He stood, brushing smooth the non existence wrinkles from his clothes. He bowed slightly to Feric to who nodded back.
"Indeed. Till we meet again." The mer gave him a quick glance. "Nice to see your taste in company is improving with age, Inanna." He smiled slightly when Feric let out an involuntary cough. "Good day to you both." He called over his shoulder as he strode leisurely away with a wave.
Ina jumped up off the bench. "Faaaantastic. One down. Let's go find Modryn." She sidled up next to him and slipped her arm under his. He obediently accepted it. So much for not touching her, he mused...but then, he had to pick his fights, didn't he? Besides, she felt rather nice pressed up against him, and she smelled like...damn it. For the love of Kyn, why did she have to smell so bloody good all the time.
"You ok in there big guy?"
He cocked his brow at her. "Pardon?"
She motioned to her head with a spinning finger. "I can see the wheels turning."
"Ah. Yes...I'll live...probably." he groused. She chuckled.
"You're an odd duck, kitty cat."
"Says the insane Imp."
"Admit it, we'd make a cute couple of weirdos together. We can run away and join a circus...be the freak show." He suppressed another chuckle.
"Like you, I admit nothing. Who's Modryn?" he changed the subject. She narrowed her eyes at him then cleared her expression.
"He's the little birdie who can't keep his beak shut, and he's our man in the Fighter's guild. He's also why I had to drop in to the book store earlier."
"If he can't keep his mouth shut should we really be talking to him?"
She grinned. "Clever boy. No, he's good about the real stuff, he's just a sucker for a romance. Deep down in that black heart of his, he's really a big softy."
"We need them for this? The fighter's guild?"
"Not necessarily, but we're already here, might as well make introductions before things get hairy. He's a good guy, and well respected in the guild. He's even a family friend of the new Guild master and his kin, every member of which is in the guild, even their teeny tiny little sister, who is surprisingly scary in a fight. Big things in small packages, you know? Anyway, there is no one better than Modryn to have next to you in a scrap, he's utterly fearless...well maybe you want him out of sword range if he IS literally next to you, he gets a little wild, but definitely good to have on your side nonetheless. I wouldn't want to fight him, that's for sure."
She had walked them over to a long three story building nearby and led them inside. To the right was an impressive arrangement of weaponry arranged tidily on tables and racks, to the left a huge circular table covered in baskets of bread, fruit, empty bottles of ale, and a large half naked Orc. Ahead was a wide stair case and on it a sight imposing enough to make the arsenal and the drunk Orc look like doilies and kittens.
A Dunmer, at least 6'3, not including the rise of a bluish black Mohawk over an otherwise bare skull, clearly dressed for action in less than polished steel mail, with a claymore strapped to his back and a mace to his hip, was making his way towards them, his blood red eyes flashing furiously. A scowl that could churn the stomach of a hardened soldier plastered to his lean well worn face, a face which bore the signs and marks of many years, and many more battles.
"Gro-ba!" He shouted, loud enough to make them both wince as it filled the room and bounced off the walls. "Get the hell off the table before I rip off your head and piss down your neck, you sniveling, pointy-toothed, guar-herder."
At the sound the sleeping Orc startled awake and rolled indecorously onto the floor. The dark skinned elf clunked down the stairs, his snarling face turning on them. Feric had to fight the urge to turn around and walk right back out. In the corner of his eye he saw Ina catch her bottom lip in her teeth. The Orc stumbled to his feet and trotted past them out the door, his head bent low as if expecting something to come winging by it any second, and giving them a sheepish smile and nod.
"Raised in a god-damn barn. " He stopped in front of them and tilted his head, looking down at Ina. "Ashlander. What do you want from my life now? Skingrad run out of vampires?"
Inanna stepped forward, her face placid and bowed slightly, holding out a folded leather skin in both hands. He lifted the corner and peaked in. Feric knew from seeing her buy the stuff that all it contained was a set of paint brushes. His scowl lessened slightly, though it remained for all intents a nasty unwelcoming expression. He nodded at Feric.
"Well, you going introduce me woman, or are you just going to stand there gaping like a Nord with a leaky brain pan?"
"Serjo Modryn, this is Serjo Feric. Feric, Modryn."
Serjo? He'd never heard her call anyone else that yet, it definitely piqued his interest. Feric offered a hand to shake. The Dark elf had a grip like a bear on scooma. It was no wonder she called him Serjo. He was half tempted to check for broken bones. The grim dark elf gave him the old up and down.
"You looking for work? You look like you might last an hour or two." Feric arched a brow at him, but followed Ina's lead and said nothing. The guy wasn't endearing himself very fast, though like Ina said, it was probably better to have this one on your side. He sighed internally, if these were Ina's friends he'd hate to see her enemies, he felt like he was perpetually walking a razor thin line with her, and them. Modryn tilted his head towards the stairs.
"Head up, show your friend here around, I'll be up in a minute."
"Is the old lady around?" She asked as she started towards the stairs.
"What do I look like, a watch dog?"
"Kinda. You do bear a passing resemblance to a nix hound."
To his surprise the Dunmer warrior laughed, a low gravelly sound. "Watch your tongue or I'll watch it for you."