Hunting the Hunter Ch. 06byEnithermon©
I've decided to post what I have thus far, in order to mitigate the effects of that rather blatant 'cliffhanger' ending of the last post. This isn't especially short, but it isn't the length of the average 'Hunter' installment, so if you feel dissatisfied, I apologize, but it was this or making you wait that much longer.
So, bearing all this in mind, and remembering how very much I adore you...
WHEN LAST WE LEFT OUR INTREPID HEROES:
"At least I have moral standards, you treacherous snake."
"And I so hope they comfort you when you die, sad and alone."
Feric had simply stood watching, agape, as the strange scene played out before him, but now it was just too much. The last thing he needed was attention drawn to them by her getting into a fist fight in the middle of the street...and people were starting to stop and stare. No doubt they were hoping to get a vicarious thrill out of seeing two attractive females trying to rip each others hair out in the mud.
He knew better though. Ina would just clock her. Or set her on fire. That wouldn't be pretty. But before he could intervene and pull them apart, the two women suddenly lunged towards each other and...hugged?
* * * *
Inanna practically squealed as she wrapped her arms around Desdemona's waist, lifting the slightly taller woman off the ground in a tight bear hug. Des was laughing and cupped Inanna's face in her hands and peppered her cheeks with kisses when she wasn't too busy hugging her back. Ina eventually pulled back with a grin, gripping the Breton by the shoulders as she looked her friend over. "Woman, you look even younger than the last time I saw you..."
Des chuckled and tossed a few wavy locks of silky chestnut hair back over one shoulder with a sly, flirtatious grin. "I keep telling you the Telvanni have their uses...I'm not the masochist you seem to think I am." Ina returned the grin.
"No, just a 'gold-digging whore', remember?" Des giggled at that and slipped her arm through Inanna's.
"Don't tell me you really Are still giving it away for free?"
"Give? Like hell. If I see something I want I take it."
"Speaking of which" She drawled in a low whisper, "...I couldn't help but notice the cool drink with the granite jaw and the FAN-tastic arse."
Inanna watched as those devious, sharp eyes zeroed in on the man still standing behind her...and still looking very confused, she noted as she turned her own eyes in the same direction. Crap.
"He's not loaded, or a psycho wizard, so leave him alone." She whispered harshly. Des started, then, with a very evil grin, glanced back at her with a flutter of lashes.
"Chere, I know I like my men tall, dark, and Obscenely rich, but I am open minded. Also, most of them are sociopaths, not psychotic...there's a marked difference, thank you very kindly. I do have some standards."
"Bull...and stop looking at me like you think you know something. You don't."
"You Are allowed to call dibs you know. If it's important to you, that is." Still, that knowing grin remained. Bitch. She could be such a...a...bitch. She really was like a sister...and that was probably why no one got under her skin quite like Des could. Ina still hadn't figured out how she did it. Of course on the flip side, few people could be quite as much fun.
She was going to respond but Feric was suddenly before them and Des was pulling away to offer him her hand like some damned courtier. To Inanna's intense satisfaction, he took a minute to stare at it in confusion before accepting it, hesitantly, and giving her a polite nod. "Feric, this is Desdemona Doucet. My sister." His mildly befuddled expression became a deeply befuddled one as he looked between them.
"Really? I wouldn't have guessed."
Desdemona laughed again, pulling her hand away and patting Ina's arm with it. "Not by birth, obviously, but by circumstances quite beyond our control...but then you can't choose your family, can you? They are thrust upon us by fate's fickle hand, and we mere mortals can do naught but acquiesce and endure her cruelty as best we are able."
Again with the befuddlement.
"Bard." Inanna offered dryly.
"Ah." He seemed to gather himself up then, and right before her eyes mutated into the 'slick charmer' version of himself she'd seen him pull out for most of her other acquaintances. Like a conjuror's trick—Tada!. "Forgive me," he smiled, "I was momentarily thrown off by the unusual exchange earlier. It's a pleasure to meet you."
"The pleasure is all mine, I assure you." She cooed.
"So, you just arrived?" Ina interrupted curtly, and she hoped, discouragingly. She wasn't normally the possessive type...but dammit, she saw him first. Maybe she should just brand her initials on his ass and put an end to it. 'Cause Des was right about one thing...it was pretty fantastic. The thought brought a faint curling smile to her lips.
They both turned to her and Des nodded.
"Indeed. But, in accord with the customs of your illustrious people, I didn't come empty handed. I brought you a present."
"Don't be acidic dear, you'll like it, trust me." She turned and waved to someone up the street. Inanna's eyes followed, then widened.
"You're kidding me..."
Feric watched as the two men he'd noticed earlier joined them, the dark elf in the lead, and with a smile slowly creeping across his harsh, angular features. Features made that much more unnerving by a series of jagged lines tattooed across his forehead and temples.
"Hassour!" She cried, striding forward to meet him. Feric half expected her to jump him like she had the woman, but to his surprise she came to stop in front of him and lay her hand over her heart and gave what looked like a rather formal bow, one which the foreign looking Dunmer returned. They exchanged a few words in Dunmeri as the Khajiit came to join Desdemona.
"Feric, this is Dar'Basha, a friend from Morrowind, and my companion. Dar'Basha, this is Feric. I'm afraid I have precious little else to offer about either of you. She smiled and flicked her hand apologetically with a shrug. The Khajiit bowed. "A pleasure. As she said, I am a friend of Muthsera Doucet," he gestured to Desdemona, "I presume you are an acquaintance of her 'sister'?"
"Ah, yes. How do you do."
The Khajiit tipped his head. "I am well, sir." The Khajiit was certainly polite enough, though politic and vague, but Feric had to admit that his presence made him rather uneasy. He was not unaware of the irony of that discomfort, but the fact of the matter was, his only experience with the species had been as hunters. But then, if it hadn't been for Inanna, he could have said the same thing about the Dunmer.
It also didn't help that he was still feeling a might thrown and uneasy about what had passed between Ina and the Breton woman, and once again had to wonder why all of her supposed friends seemed more like enemies. Though, he considered, she and the other dark elf seemed to be on more traditionally friendly terms, if he could go by tone of voice alone.
As if on cue, the two finally joined them. Introductions were made, and it turned out that the Mer was apparently a close cousin of hers and a fellow Ashlander. He was passing in the same direction as Desdemona and so had decided to accompany her to see Inanna before turning north to his own business.
Desdemona immediately suggested they all retire to the inn up the road where she was staying since she'd not eaten yet, but Ina shook her head. "Can't. Not there anyway."
"Why not? It looked the least shady of the two."
The Breton arched an accusatory brow. "What did you do?" Feric couldn't help but chuckle, if silently, at the strange mix of guileless innocence and unrepentant pride that came across Ina's face.
Every eye remained on her. "Nothing...that they didn't completely deserve...." she eyed them back defiantly...then wilted. "I don't want to talk about it. Besides, the company is better at Dervera's. She's from Morrowind."
That seemed to settle it for everyone and after a casual shrug or two, they found themselves making their way to an unassuming looking building with a painted sign which announced from a distance that they were approaching "Newlands Lodge."
Ina was chatting away in Dunmeri with her cousin, and the other two were doing much the same, leaving Feric room to fall back a little. His sense of unease grew as they neared the lodge, and as he saw a drunken looking Dunmer propped out in front of the building. Then it multiplied itself tenfold as a group of Orc came out from around the other side of the Inn and entered...but not before giving them and everyone else in the vicinity a very unwelcoming glare.
His gut was sending him messages again, but this time his senses were in full agreement. Hell.
They were filing through the door and Feric was too caught up in preparing himself for the worst to notice that Ina had dropped back and was waiting to stop him at the door. Her restraining hand on his arm made him start slightly.
She was frowning. "You ok, Serjo?" She whispered. He was about to wave her off with a 'fine', but changed his mind when he caught the concerned glint in her eye.
"A little thrown. That's all. It's...been a lot to take in." Her expression shifted, softened.
"Yeah...sorry about that. I get all worked up sometimes, get enthusiastic. If I get to be too much, just whack me upside the head." She grinned. "No more new stuff, or people...I promise...that I can help...obviously." Her hand slid down over his, running her thumb over the back of it before pulling away.
He grinned crookedly back at her. "I'll believe it when I see it. By the way...who are they?" They had entered the Inn proper and he nodded toward a group of Orcs who had taken up most of the space around the bar, looking quite comfortable with themselves. The remaining people in the room were situated around the edges, hunched over the tables and keeping to themselves. They were mostly Dunmer and one or two who were neither Orc nor Dunmer and who were subsequently keeping their heads down and their eyes on their drinks.
"Orum gang. Bad eggs those." She whispered back. "Try not to piss them off if you can help it." He watched the Orcs carefully out of the corner of his eye as they found a table against the wall. He immediately pulled out the chair nearest the wall and offered it to Ina, then took the one next to her, placing himself between her and the room. Of course he hadn't realized what he was doing until she cast a questioning look in his direction.
Screw it, he wasn't going to feel bad about it. Instead he went back to subtly scrutinizing the group as a handsome Dunmer woman came to take their order. It was instantly apparent to him who the leader of the group was. Firmly the leader, from the looks of it. He was also scanning the room, and exuded an aura of comfortable authority. The others around him were joking and jostling one another, but every now and then they'd flick their eyes to the one in burgundy. They probably had no idea they were doing it.
"Who's the one in the burgundy doublet?" He asked, whispering to Ina when the other three seemed suddenly occupied with arriving drinks.
She didn't miss a beat. "Magub gro-Orum. He's one of the brothers who run the gang. People are more afraid of his younger brother...but they shouldn't be. This one actually has some fair skill with magic. I heard he trained to be a warlock or shaman in the old country. Not the kind of guy you want to piss off...but he's also more reasonable than his brother, smarter. But that isn't saying much."
"Alright," Desdemona interrupted, leaning over him slightly and brushing his arm with hers as she reached out to tap on the back of Ina's hand. "Let's have it." She leaned back, brushing against him even more firmly. He didn't think much of it, seeing as how she was clearly just as much the consummate flirt Inanna was, if not more...but he Was interested in the way Ina's eyes had narrowed.
His lip twitched, but he somehow managed to keep his grin in check. Payback. He'd like to say he wasn't a jealous man...but that would be a lie. And misery loved company.
He gave Desdemona a warm smile, which she returned, before looking mildly back at Ina. Ina didn't look pleased, but the expression was gone in a flash, and was replaced by her usual playfully twisted grin.
"Have what, dear?"
"The details, the story. What's our narrative?"
"Our narrative?" She cocked her brow.
"You heard me. A girl likes to know her lines before she walks on the stage dear. And it appears I've already missed the curtain call...so catch me up, would you?"
Ina stared at her a moment, shrugged and cleared her throat. "Well, Once upon a time, in a land far far away..."
Desdemona cut her off with a derisive sound. "Please, you can do better than—"
"Woman, shut it, or you're not getting anything."
Desdemona's lip curled slightly. She turned back to Feric with a toothy smile, her fingers brushing along his upper arm. "Did you know that when the Bards of the Northmen begin one of their epics of the old tongue they always start with—"
Everyone jumped in their seats when Inanna leapt to her feet and slammed her fist down on the table, cutting Des off and making the sparse collection of mugs and glasses tremble. Everyone in the room turned to look at her, and she returned the look with a hard one of her own, before filling the unexpected silence.
"Hwaet!" she shouted, "In gear-dagum, tha aethlingas....and that's as much as I remember." There was another, slightly longer silence. Someone across the room burst out laughing.
Desdemona gestured to the still standing Ina. "Like that. A much better opening."
Inanna crashed back into the chair and slumped.
"Ok, the plot is thus:" she held her hands out, palm up, as if displaying something for their inspection, "A foreign people are chased into Cyrodil by a group of mercenaries bent on hunting them down. Their motives, those of the mercenaries that is, are unknown but they are persistent...the motives of those hunted is clear and simple, survive, and when able, destroy the force which threatens them."
"Who's our protagonist?"
She gestured to Feric, "Our dashing hero, and leader of his small but stalwart band. Who, while battling the enemy met an equally dashing Dunmer, moi" she spread her arms to indicate herself, "who in turn has decided to help in her usual fashion."
"Which is what, specifically?"
"You know...the usual. Figure out who the villain is, where they're hanging out, and hold them down while the hero gets their licks in. Oh, and thrashing everyone in need of it along the way, of course."
"Of course. And then, enter not quite as dashing but far more charming bard with the high class connections?"
"Absolument, ma belle."
"Knowledge IS power after all...and I have more than enough to go around. So, do we know who the villain is yet?"
"No. That's problem number one."
"Then this is our first project. A good plot needs a good villain. I wonder if it'll be an interesting twist, or some hackneyed stereotype. Stereotypes are easier...more obvious and there are no pesky moral dilemmas...but twists are more interesting."
"I really don't care, I just want to make them dead. No dilemma there."
"Oh that's right...you don't do the whole moral ambiguity thing do you. You just pick a side and go."
"This is hardly the time for That conversation, Des."
"Mm, Is it ever the time?"
"Right. Back to the matter at hand." She leaned back in her chair and fingered an errant curl of hair thoughtfully. "How long has this been going on then?"
"Decades." Feric answered.
"So they, or he, or she has access to a good deal of money. Any leads?"
"Feric and I found one initial: D. I'm waiting for word from the guild which might give us more information. Should be any minute now."
"I'm going to bet whoever it is will have at least a contact in the Imperial city, if not a base. It's a centralized position with access to all the resources a growing plot needs. I'll go there first. Do you have anything set up at your own base of operations?"
"What sort of things?"
"I don't know: wards, traps, teleports, communication orbs..."
"Ah, we're sort of low tech...wait, teleports?"
"They're the newest fad back on the Azure Coast, a little tricky to set up, but the convenience! You know, you never did know how to take advantage of that sort of thing. You always just strong arm your way through a caper. Well, it doesn't matter, we can fix all that. I've picked up more than a few helpful tricks over the last few years." She turned and smiled at Feric, "With your permission of course Sera." Before he could answer she turned to the Khajiit next to her, "What do you think?"
"I think, Muthsera, that it might be helpful for me to precede you as your servant and set up a household fit for a Retainer of House Telvanni. Of course there will be some talk..."
"Hmm, yes, but when they do talk, make it Oathman rather than Retainer...I think I've earned the promotion, don't you?" She winked and the Khajiit chuckled and bowed his head obligingly.
"As my lady wishes. I shall leave tomorrow morning. This will give me ample time to make arrangements as you prepare yourself here." He paused then stroked his furry cheek with the back of one hand. "In fact, if you don't mind, I think I shall pay the outfitters a visit right now, before they close for the night." He stood and bowed to the table as he left.
"So, does the Imperial city sound like a plan to you Ina?"
"I had been thinking it would be a good place for you to start."
Feric cleared his throat and flicked his eyes toward the Orcs, two of which were sauntering over. The boss was still leaning casually at the bar, but Feric could see he was watching closely out of the corner of his eye: watching and waiting. He could feel the small hairs on his neck raise in response, and the beginnings of a rumbling growl vibrating silently in his chest. He knew from their swagger that this wasn't going to end well if he didn't establish the ranking system, and quickly. But there were too many of them, and though he knew Ina was good for a fight, he doubted the bard would be...and he couldn't tell with the other Dunmer. That left him with very few options.
Besides, that wasn't what needed to happen. He could tell without even looking that they were eying him, not the others. He was the outsider and the new threat, and this was a size up. But he wasn't about to let flunkies do the sizing, that would be mistake number one. He would just have to get rid of them in order to get to their leader....but how? He felt them looming before they spoke, but said and did nothing, even as all eyes were darting toward the newcomers.
"How's our favorite little dark elf tonight?" The one who hadn't spoken chuckled. It was a dry raspy sound, like he'd been punched one too many times in the throat.
His voice increased that impression when he did speak. "Yeah, sugar. Why don't you bring your pretty Breton friend over to the bar for a few drinks?" Feric noticed the Dunmer sitting across from him raised a brow, but for the most part looked neutral and unconcerned, even smiling faintly.
"Gentlemen." Ina's cousin smoothed dryly, his voice also gravelly though more in the way that Ina's was, like rasping quicksand. "While I commend your taste," he continued, "it's very unkind of you to deprive us of our company. Perhaps you would be so kind as to join us instead?"
"I don't think so. Come on girl, maybe you can give us a little dance or two."
Ina smirked and was about to tell them 'some other time' when she noticed Feric's hand had formed a fist, and that he was slowly rising from his chair to turn and face them. His expression was stony, and she was filled her with uncharacteristic apprehension. Uncharacteristic for her, that is.