Hunting the Hunter Ch. 05byEnithermon©
Once bitten, twice shy.
That's how it went right? Well... it was true enough, but biting he could handle. In his case it was more like, 'once nearly hacked to death with swords, twice shy of said swords.' Didn't quite trip off the tongue in the same way though, did it. Feric huffed.
Normally he wasn't one to be wary of a fight, and he could say with absolute and confident certainty that Inanna wasn't either. To be honest they both reveled in it most of the time. He could read it in her eyes and body, and saw that she got the same electric charge out of it as he did...but there was still an awfully big "however" at the end of that thought. After the debacle at Wariel, he was feeling unusually inclined towards using avoidance as his primary mode of conflict resolution. Inanna was, for the most part, content to go along with this. After all, he hadn't been the only one loitering on deaths front porch.
It was in part because of this that they had come to an unspoken agreement to avoid Skingrad and Chorrol, and had stayed well north of the roads on their return trip, taking the hard routes and using the streams and natural caverns to complicate their trail. Even with proper trackers Feric knew they'd have a bitch of a time following them, and he was pretty sure they were fresh out of those at the moment.
But one can never be too careful.
He felt hot breath ruffling the fur on the back of his neck and tilted his head.
"You don't suppose there's such a thing as too careful, do you?" A low, laughing voice whispered into his ear. He flexed his claws and wondered, and not for the first time, if she was somehow in his head.
He shook his head in response, but without turning his gaze away from the group of trolls milling about in the small ravine below. They were cutting it a little close, but the trolls would unequivocally muck up whatever trail remained.
"I hate those things. They smell worse than goblins....barely, but they do. Let's just roast them all and get on with our lives." Feric did turn his head then to cast a dirty look at his smirking partner. She only grinned back with her trade mark cockeyed smile and slapped his shoulder with the back of her hand.
"Y'er no fun, Serjo."
He flicked his tail and turned his attention to the three lumbering beasts lurking just below the boulders the two of them were presently perched on. The trolls were wonderfully stupid creatures, and half blind, but they could move fast once they caught wind of you. Their sickly greenish color also made them difficult to spot until they were nearly on top of you. As it was, the reverse was true in this case, and it was he and Ina who were nearly on top of them.
Feric did his best to ignore the feeling of Ina's small, slender body pressing lightly against his side as he watched the trio slowly meander off in a new direction. When they were sufficiently out of sight he flicked his tail in satisfaction and felt her murmur against his ear.
"Aye aye captain."
She was off, and he kept close behind, watching the nearby group as he and Ina skirted the clearing and headed toward another grouping of boulders which he hoped would take them back out of the little forest valley. They were almost there when she signaled and they were forced to duck in behind a collection of low brush. She held up two fingers and he sniffed the air. There were more and they were close, very close. The damn things must have just come around the side of the rock pile they were headed towards. They crouched in low together, frozen in readied positions. She looked at him and held up her fingers. Tiny flames danced gaily across the tips. He shook his head again and she pouted dramatically before flicking her hand and dispelling the fire. His eyes lingered unintentionally on the fullness of her lower lip as she chewed it absently.
As they waited his attention slowly began to slide...again. He resisted the urge to growl but his claws flexed as he rolled his shoulders in annoyance.
It had been impossible to keep his attention off of her since the night of the storm, more so than usual that is...and he really hadn't thought that was possible. After she had passed out he'd moved both of them under an overhanging rock for cover and they'd spent the night curled together, kept dry by the boulders and hidden by the long grass. When they woke he was on his side and she was wrapped around him with her head and arms resting on his hind flank and her long legs under one of his paws. She'd wriggled against him and blinked her eyes open with a startled, and then sly, smile.
Her voice had washed over him like rough, raw silk, waking and thrilling every part of him with two words: 'Morning Handsome.' That was all it took. That, and the naughty little grin which accompanied them. It was then he'd realized how utterly lost he was and how much he really did want her. No, not just want...need. He had to have her, there was no way around it. Maybe it was the words, or maybe it was how right she'd felt curled up against his flank, or perhaps it was the recent reminder of how short life really was. Near death experiences had a tendency to make one aware of that particular fact. He felt an irrepressible shudder run through him at the thought. It had been far too close.
Whatever the reason, something had happened. Something that had changed his mind about claiming her, or at least his response to claiming her, since that ship had sailed. He shifted restlessly and shot her a glare when she poked his side, telling him to sit still. She shot his look right back at him. He sighed inwardly and turned away and back toward his wandering thoughts.
It wasn't that he hadn't wanted her before, that had remained unchanged, what had really altered was what he planned to do about it. Ignoring it wasn't going to work, or rather, hadn't...at all, and the mating couldn't be undone, at least not easily or without great sacrifice. So really there was only one reasonable option left: make her his.
It wasn't an unappealing thought. Of course, just how he planned to do that was a mystery and the problem had kept him occupied and reserved for the bulk of the journey.
Also disconcerting was the fact that Ina seemed different now as well. She was still her usual self: confident, smart-mouthed, and playful, but there was something else there, an edge of some kind, and a distance. He let it go considering the scene they'd just come out of wasn't exactly rainbows and roses, but the sense that something was off, that something had changed, pulled at the back of his mind in disconcerting ways.
Eventually, and he imagined to Ina's chagrin, the troll's moved on and they were free to make their way out of the ravine unscathed and unchallenged. When they had reached the other side, and were safely away Ina caught up to him and prodded his flank with her hip.
"You're taking me hunting when we get home." she grumbled at him.
He only had one response to that. He purred. She laughed.
Right on time. God I'm good. Inanna smiled with satisfaction at the sight of Max's horse strung up with a long line of Bay mounts, all huffing and shifting and generally looking bored silly. All Bays, all between 16 and 17 hands, with matching saddles, bridals—imperial issue...they come standard with the armor and the self righteous attitudes. Again though...she'd take them over the Indoril guards of Morrowind, who were just uptight pricks. Uptight pricks with control issues, actually. Yeah a little smug superiority was alright, at least they were polite. And they called her ma'am...which was just plain adorable.
There were one or two outliers in the string of equestrian conservatism, one stubby little painted horse who looked like it had an attitude problem, and a mild looking white gnawing absently on what ever it was horses were supposed to gnaw on. She knew guar would pull up big wads of wick wheat and grind that stuff for hours on those big flat teeth of theirs. She guessed it must be something similar. At any rate, they let her know it was a slightly mixed crowd tonight for supper...but still pretty heavy on the legionnaire presence...not surprising for Roxies.
She turned away from the sight and Feric watched her curiously as her eyes scanned the woods. Come on come on come on....aha! She resisted the urge to chortle in triumph as a be-robed blonde emerged from the forests edge.
Innana waved at Mirisa, and happily absorbed the priceless look Feric was giving her. It was the little things in life that always gave the most pleasure.
She had indeed invited Mairisa to meet them here with the promise of being able to update each other on their respective situations more than a day earlier than if she'd waited at home...but the real reason she invited her was sitting inside while his horse counted flies.
Mirisa nodded and joined them as they made their way to the door. Inanna took the lead as they fell in behind her to begin their respective run downs of the last few days' activities. She pointed them in the direction of the familiar pasty white face of Bart the trainee when they joined her inside. She herself looked around for the trainer. He found her first and wasted absolutely no time whatsoever.
"Hey, who's the blonde?" Max asked nudging her in the ribs. She grinned and slipped her arm under his. If he wasn't going to dick around, then neither was she.
"Well let's find out shall we?" She dragged him over to the table before he could protest and shoved him out in front. Feric, who was already sitting at the table cast a glance up at her. His face held placid indifference, but the twinkle in his eye told her he knew exactly what she was up to. "Max, you know Feric, and this here's Mirisa his..." she gave Feric the 'your turn to jump in' look and he smiled and let her hang. She screwed up her face back at him and Max gave her an uncertain look. Mirisa snorted in disgust at the whole spectacle and held out a hand.
"Really?" Ina blurted, for some reason surprised. That, she did not know. Usually she was good on picking up on blood lines...for some reason Ashlanders all were.
As the humans say, blood is thicker than water...and as the Dunmer say, 'and it spills just as easily.' She chuckled to herself. Reversing human expressions was a national pass time. 'The pen is mightier than the sword...' : 'Then draw n'wah, so we can find out.' Draw...get it?
Mirisa shrugged and turned her eyes on her, pulling Ina back into the present. "By marriage."
Max's face fell as he shook her hand. She loved playing cards with him, he was a god-damned book. And M thought she was obvious...Ha!
"Oh...you're married are you?" There was a twinge of hope in his voice and Ina fought hard to choke back what she knew would be a shit-eating grin. She didn't dare look at Feric knowing that the look he would probably give her would make her crack for sure.
She so knew Max'd like her. He liked tough chicks...not those delicate wilting flower types. He had good taste that way. Present company included.
Mirisa shook her head. "Widowed."
"Sure, it's been a few years." Mirisa shrugged. A negligent gesture, but Inanna still caught the shadow of long buried pain flit over her features. Suddenly all desire to have any fun at her expense vanished in a poof of guilt. Ugh, this was going to leave a bad taste. Man, Mirisa was always trying to ruin her fun.
No, you know what? Screw that. Mirisa still needed to get laid, heartbroken or not. In fact it was good medicine. She found her inner grin again and shoved Max into the seat next to Mirisa. This wasn't fun at anyone expense...it was a public service.
"Sit, I'll get drinks." She winked outrageously at Mirsia whose brow crinkled slightly before she caught on and rolled her eyes with an exasperated sigh.
"You alright?" Max asked as he adjusted himself in his seat to keep his fancy-ass imperial plate from catching on the furniture. That's why she wore leather, that and the way human armor rattled around. Anything worth killing would hear you a half-hour before you ever hear it, and likely return the favor before you get the chance.
Ina shrugged her musings away and watched Max and Mirisa out of the corner of her eye as she made her way over toward Roxy to place an order. Mirisa looked for a second like she was going to set Max straight and on his merry way, but something else flitted across her face and she smirked instead.
"Yeah...I'm alright." She let out a humorless laugh. "I think your friend is trying to play matchmaker."
"Oh..ah," he laughed, slightly uncomfortable, then grinned and shook his head with a shrug. "Sorry about that...'fraid it was my fault...I asked about you."
Mirisa's face opened up for a split second in surprise before turning back into her standard hard-edged smirk. Ina missed the next exchange since she neared the bar and thus the cavalcade of off duty guards and soldiers who milled about blocking her view. She did catch the appraising look in Mirisa's eye though. And why shouldn't she look. Max was a man in his prime, barely forty and in great shape. In her professional opinion it was the perfect age for a human, where the brains finally catch up with the brawn before things start heading south for the winter years. She nodded, satisfied.
Her work here was done.
She allowed herself a self-satisfied smile as she saddled up to the ancient, mangled counter Roxie called the bar and leaned forward on her palms.
"So, who does a girl have to fuck around here to get a drink?" She called to the broad-hipped woman who was bent over behind the bar and giving a few indiscreet guards a memorable view of her ample cleavage. "By Talos, Roxy, you need to get a license for those things, else they're gonna take you in for causing a public disturbance." She exclaimed loudly.
A few of the legionnaires and mercs who were slumped along the bar and drifting around behind her chuckled in appreciation.
One who was clearly on duty and in full armor lifted his head from over his stew and looked sideways at the dark elf next to him. She winked at him and he grinned.
"Hello Glenroy." she murmured to the darkly tanned imperial.
"Hello beautiful." He smoothed back in a deep baritone. Another warrior in heavy armor that matched Glenroy's— armor she recognized as something more impressive than just regular legionnaire fare— leaned in and peaked past her partners shoulder to get a look at Inanna. Inanna nodded politely to her and was about to have Glenroy introduce them when Roxy stood up and pushed a chunk of the strawberry blonde fluff she called hair out of her eyes and adjusted her weaponry in her corset. An act which earned an approving grunt or two from her audience. She huffed.
"What can I get you chere?" the curvy little Breton asked, her pink cheeks glowing from exertion.
"Something that doesn't taste like imperial swill."
The Breton only grinned. "Desole, my love, that's all we carry." Inanna shook her head in mock disgust.
"Hmmm." Was the only reply.
She sighed. "Well, I'll take what I can get then I suppose." She tipped her head toward her table and received a comprehending nod. "Got any interesting news to add to the order since I've so graciously decided to bear the swill?"
Roxie shrugged. "Nothing interesting that won't cost you a little extra. Though," she paused and smirked, "you wouldn't believe who's move back in next door."
"Oh god, you're kidding me?"
"Don't they understand that when you die, you're supposed to stay dead?" She asked with earnest frustration. Not that long ago, maybe a year or two past, Ina had helped a legionnaire empty out a nest full of nasty zombies and their necromancers. Now it appears they had returned for another round. "No,"she continued, "they wouldn't would they. That's sort of their 'thing.' Fetchers."
Roxie had her back to her, filling one of the glasses, but kept talking. "Well, the news there is that I'm offering up a little cash bonus to anyone willing to do something about it."
"Well...I'll take it into consideration." Ina offered in a non-committal fashion, then changed the subject."Where's our lady Malene?" Inanna asked conversationally looking around for the square-jawed Nord woman who usually handled the bar.
"Ahhh...you're a good over-lord Roxy."
She snorted as she placed the first mug in front of Ina. "Hardly. That mopey Redguard bribed me for it so he could take her to a play in the city." Ina arched an eyebrow. "Platonic of course" Roxy added with a smirk.
"He still mooning over her?"
"Naturalment. Until he dies."
"Poor bastard." Glenroy muttered beside her.
She turned on him. "You wouldn't be caught dead doing that now would you Glen?"
His partner laughed. "Him? He hasn't got a romantic bone in his body."
"Hey now," he defended good naturally, putting his hands up in front of him in a warding gesture. "I happen to have a very romantic bone...." he grinned slyly, "and it's pretty big too."
"Ugh" said the dark haired imperial woman beside him.
"I second that." Muttered Inanna, then leaned across Glen and offered her hand to the woman. "Inanna by the way."
Ina glanced at the man between them and Jena elbowed him in the ribs "I hope that's not how you pick girls up." He chuckled and nodded to Ina who had withdrawn and was laying a few coins on the counter before collecting her beers.
"I don't know. How do I pick women up Ina?" Ina tilted her head and looked thoughtful.
"Well...I seem to recall something about 'put your hands in the air and turn around slowly'" Glenroy chuckled at that but Jena looked a little uneasy.
"Is that so?" She asked looking between them before her eyes settled on Ina with a new wariness. "You run with that sort of crowd?"
Claude, another regular, and (she knew) a talented freelance battle-mage looked up from his beer and smirked. "Ina runs with all the crowds...don't you sweetheart?" Inanna smile sincerely, and laughed.
"I like to think I'm 'equal opportunity'. But," She said turning back to Jena, "it was a misunderstanding."
Glenroy snorted. "She got off on a technicality."
She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, 'cause 'technically' I didn't do anything wrong."
"She broke into the council room." Pipped another voice from down the bar. Everyone here knew this story...legionnaires were like old-hens when it came to gossip and this was very old news. Jena's face opened up in surprise.
"In the palace?"
"I fell." Her lip twitched.
"Ten stories with no injuries?" Glenroy asked wryly.
"I'm from Morrowind...we're good with heights."
Jena cocked a brow at her. "Levitate is still a banned spell in the empire."
Ina grinned. "Feather Fall."
"Technicality" muttered Glen, stooping back over his soup.
Jena frowned. "Why would you want to break into the council room anyway...nothing is in there."
"I'm guessing just to see if she could," said another voice behind her and another familiar imperial face leaned in with a leer beneath his legionnaire helm and grazed the small of her back with his knuckles.
"Watch it, Mattius." She purred and gave him a sardonic look. She was about to tell him what she'd do if he didn't when a strange shiver ran up her spine. Some one was watching her...hard. She cast a casual glance around the room to find green eyes boring into hers from a dark face. Her humor faltered and she blinked just as Feric turned his gaze away and rejoined Mirisa and Max in conversation.
She caught herself at the last second. And plastered a big naughty-girl grin on her face. "Well ladies and gents it's been a lark, but I've got things to see and people to do." She sent a parting wink in Jena's direction and sauntered back to her table with two fists full of mugs and a soft smattering of chuckles behind her. Thank you ladies and gents you've been a great audience...tip the waitress, etc, etc...