Hunting the Hunter Ch. 07byEnithermon©
In the high recesses of the vaulted room, the air hung heavy with waxy sediment and a silent, suspended cloud of ancient, flickering dusk. The late morning sunlight illuminated them as it streamed in through the high, leaded glass windows.
There was a thin, tepid quality to the light. Indeed, it seemed too weak to crawl anymore than halfway down the ash gray walls, leaving the well worn floor shrouded in milky darkness. It always seemed that way here, in this place, no matter how bright and robust the sun outside.
On the walls, ensconced candles made up for the lack of light from above, casting unnatural shadows and making even the cheapest bits of glass and metal shimmer like rare Altmeri treasure. Dark velvet hangings complemented the unsettling aura, adding an element of the prurient to the mise-en-scene.
There were three figures standing in the sickly spot light. Three figures, and their audience—a black and silver cat who watched intently through heavy-lidded eyes. Brilliant slits of emerald peering out from the darkness. One of the figures turned his own eyes away and tried to find something else to focus on.
The figure, Arthur Delatour frowned at the glass case in front of him and valiantly resisted the desire to open his mouth, to denounce this abomination, and rail against all that was ugly in the world. It was a truly powerful urge. Every ounce of his being was dying to cry out, to snatch up the monstrosity from the woman's hands and hurl it to the ground, thus saving her from what was surely an unspeakable fate. But to do so would upset his business, bring unwanted attention to his presence, and no doubt delay him further. It was simply best not to get involved.
Instead, he feigned immense interest in an unusual pendant which for all intents and purposes appeared to be a large ruby set in an ebony square, surrounded by some sort of veined green stone...jade perhaps. On closer inspection, the ruby appeared to be one of those nasty, laboratory grown fakes mages liked to produce when they're down on their luck. He sniffed.
It was fascinatingly garish...but it wasn't any worse than the nightmare the woman beside him was cooing over.
To his dismay her hand, the nails of which he noticed were unfashionably long, suddenly appeared under his nose and the horror stared back at him: three minuscule little stones exploding out of a decidedly thick ring on overly long prongs. Pink. Pale Blue. Yellow. In descending order. He glanced up at her.
"They're my birth stone, and those of my children....be honest, what do you think?"
"You've payed for it already?" He asked mildly, giving in as he was no longer able to hold himself away from the conversation, yet still determined not to make a scene.
"I had it made especially. I designed it myself!" She beamed.
He smiled charmingly. "I think it's quite lovely. And such a nice family keepsake."
"That's what I thought!" She smiled down at her ring with renewed pleasure. "They can pass it on to their own children one day. Maybe even add a stone or two."
Those poor children, he thought with an internal head shake. Delatour glanced up at the Nord behind the counter with a desperate expression. The Nord caught it and cleared his throat. "Would you excuse me 'mam, I just have to fetch something for this gentleman."
She waved him off. A brief moment later he returned and Delatour bowed gratefully.
"See how it fits...if there are any problems...just drop by anytime." The man said, nodding to the envelope.
Delatour waited until he was well away from the shop, and sure he wasn't being followed before he opened the package and withdrew the letter. A new report from Cheydinhal. He smiled darkly. With very good news it appeared.
He made a bee-line for the elven gardens and veered into a narrow alley off of the main thoroughfare.
He knocked, almost giddily, and waited with his hands pressed behind his back, still gripping the letter.
The man opened the door a crack, and seeing who it was, stepped back letting the door follow.
Delatour took it as an invitation, stepped crisply into the dimly lit room, and held the letter out to the man without preamble. The roughian took it, and scratched at the shadow of a beard covering his chin, his sharp blue eyes coldly razing over the letter. Delatour couldn't help but smirk as he looked up from the paper with a raised brow.
"This lead any good?"
"Oh yes." Delatour drawled, his smirk turning into a proper grin of delight. "My friend, we are, as they say, in business."
Delatour caught the repressed curl of a sneer and decided to tone down his enthusiasm a touch and cleared his throat. "Yes, well, you'll have to forgive my excitement. If you were the one who had to explain to our collective employer why we've had so little success as of late, and why we've lost so many people, then you would be chipper too."
He grunted and turned away, gesturing to a nearby table. "Want a drink?" Delatour glanced around the place and winced. It was dank and dusty and had that mildewy atmosphere of...il ne su quoi. But generally, in his experience, such an atmosphere connoted the lack of a woman's presence...or money...in that order. Even the meanest shack or hovel could be made livable when a little delicacy is shown.
As a bachelor it often amazed him to see the level of barbarity some men let themselves descend into, even at the heart of the empire, in its capital city no less. Then again, Imperials as a rule weren't generally inclined towards delicacy...too much of the rough and ready in their nature to be truly refined.
He adjusted his sleeves and cleared his throat. "Thank you no, I have much to see to, and to arrange. This was my first stop, but once our business is concluded I must make myself available to our gracious lord."
The hard blue eyes shot back to his. "You came here directly?" There was a sharpness in his tone which well matched his eyes. "What if you were followed?"
He, however, was not one to be chided by the likes of this cave dweller, no matter how effective an operative he was. "I was not." He bit out shortly. "And quite frankly enough time and resources have been wasted already. I heartily suggest you spend what little time we do have pursuing this lead and less fretting about someone finding you asleep in your bed, all unprepared.
"Frankly I expect you won't be here come sundown anyway." He straightened, tugging his jacket. "His lordship has requested that should the information we received prove reliable, we will act immediately with the plans he himself has drawn out."
The man scoffed. "What does he know of it? Some prissy high-born fool who d—"
"Might I remind you," he interrupted coolly, "that the prissy fool is the one footing the bills and paying your wage...and what's more, he has no reason to believe any plan of yours will be any more successful than one of his. It's not as if you've had a very good track record so far. Between the debacle with the guard and the attack on Wariel..."
"Fine. Yes. Very well." He waved him off and dropped into a chair, resting his elbows on the table. "As long as it's known I don't favor the plan.
"I've been talking around," he continued, "listening to the chatter, and I think this new player is more dangerous than your master realizes. I've seen her work, seen the results of that work. He hasn't. She wasn't alone at Wariel you know, there were claw marks on at least half the bodies...claw marks, and arrows, and burns that'd make your stomach turn. By Talos, Delatour, she was fucking the creature while it was pretending to be a man, when she must know what it is. What kind of person would do that?"
Delatour shrugged. The man's obvious distress was a little unnerving, but he maintained his airy calm. "Well, she is a dark elf. Vicious, treacherous creatures those." He chuckled to himself. "Like Altmer really, just more upfront about it."
The man shook his head, rubbing his mouth in obvious frustration. He continued as if Delatour had never spoken. "If this fails like I think it will...it's just going to make her more aggressive. It'll bring her out...force her into an offensive position. And the rest along with her. It's already begun."
The Breton only smiled in response, his eyes darting to the door, as if seeing through it and into the distance. "Yes. That, I believe, is the point."
She didn't hear him moving toward her, but she felt it. There really weren't words to describe the sensation. Or how she knew who it was slipping soundlessly into the room for that matter, but she knew it when she felt it.
The hair on her neck rose and her flesh prickled.
It was just like it had been the first time, in those ruins. Only this time it was stronger, and more familiar, and this time she didn't need to turn around.
Instead she simply kept breathing, slowly pulling the air in and out of her lungs. Eventually he came close enough that she could hear his breathing as well. Slow and steady. For a moment, she mistook it for her own.
He was in front of her, she guessed, and watching her. She could feel those eyes on her. She still didn't open her eyes to confirm it, but she allowed a small smile to turn the corners of her mouth before she resumed her meditation.
She focused inward again, feeling the pulse of her magica as it flowed through her like blood, in some ways very literally like blood-- in her blood for that matter. It filled her until her skin fairly pulsed with it.
She'd been telling the truth when she admitted to being no good with summoning spells. What little she knew came from her stint as an acolyte of Boethia, and even that required she use her natural abilities with blood magic. Without it she'd be even worse at summoning than she was at healing. A half decent summoner would never need something like that. Some didn't even need a circle...but what are you going to do? Not a whole hell of a lot.
She flinched slightly as she realized she was drifting and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly and refocusing on the pulsing in her veins. She was almost back into it when she felt something else. A niggling sensation at the back of her brain.
A stray thought, not fully formed, which really shouldn't have been there.
She reached for it and was a little shocked to realize it wasn't hers. It was too...green.
Her lip twitched. He must be projecting. It felt just like it had when she'd accidentally slipped into his head the other night. She wondered if he knew he was doing it. Was he trying to get into her head?
Instead of pushing it out or ignoring it, she gave up on her focusing exercise and turned her attention to the intruding thoughts.
Or perhaps 'thoughts' was too strong a word. They were more impressions...feelings. The most prominent one was concern. There were different shades of it. There was a general sense of fear and foreboding, lingering and undefined, but she could feel a sort of watchful caution, one which flirted with...curiosity. This felt more immediate, more directed. After a moment she realized it was directed at her.
Ever so slowly she opened her eyes.
He was right in front of her, a few feet away, resting on his haunches with his paws extended before him like one of those guardian statues you see outside of a khajiit temple. He was staring back at her as she knew he would be.
The sensation at the back of her mind shifted slightly in response, but it wasn't anything she could put her finger on.
She smiled slowly. It was a naughty smile. "Hello handsome. See anything you like?"
The sensations shifted again, only this time warming in a funny way—and not haha funny. It seemed to grow until her insides started to respond and heat in turn. It didn't take her long to add those numbers together.
He hadn't so much as blinked, let alone moved or given any indication of hearing her, but it was so obvious he did. That is, if the vibes he was giving off were to be trusted. She chuckled.
"Did you know you're projecting?"
He did blink then, and tilted his head slightly. She felt a vague sense of confusion from him, but the more distracted she became the fainter it was.
"You must be more of a natural with the mystical crap than I thought. I seem to be picking up the vibes you're sending out." She grinned. "Hey, I have an idea. Lets play a game." She wanted to test out how accurate this vague sensation was. She took a deep settling breath and closed her eyes, trying to refocus herself.
"Ok. Think...sexy thoughts." Nothing. She frowned and opened her eyes. Even though he was still a lion, the look he was giving her was unmistakable. "Oh come on! Don't be such a spoil sport!"
After a brief stare down he snorted.
"Good." She inhaled again and closed her eyes. "Lay it on me."
Did he ever. She was expecting another one of those warm tingling sensations, but instead she got blasted with an incendiary spell...only in the good way. Like...really good. And then it just got out of hand.
It was as if her body was a raging, fiery ball of hot and red and want, and just as quickly as it hit her, her mind slammed down on it to block it out, shocked by its suddenness.
It had lasted all of a few seconds, but she was breathing hard and her hands were shaking. Her eyes fluttered open to see him staring hard at her. She knew that look all too well. In fact she was probably returning it ten fold.
He rose to his feet and closed the gap between them until they were less then a hand's span apart. She raised her hand and ran it up his neck, closing it tightly in his fur. He didn't move, and she wondered if he was aware of the tremors shivering in her belly or the wetness growing between her legs.
She knelt there, trying to think of something to say...but she was getting nothing.
"Inanna!" A voice called from down the hall...Desdemona's voice. She wasn't sure if she should be grateful or annoyed. Either way the interruption saved her from having to come up with something halfway intelligent to say.
"There you a....oh, ah, sorry." Inanna's hand dropped into her lap as they both turned to face Des. "I...didn't mean to interrupt, but your figures..."
Inanna licked her lips and took a deep breath, trying to settle herself and refocus. "What about them?"
"They're looking a little weak, and starting to flicker and fade in a way that doesn't look too healthy. I thought they'd last longer than that."
She nodded. "They should. That was my fault. I was distracted and lost my focus."
"Yeah." Inanna noticed the wary glance she cast in Feric's direction.
"No worries. I'm about as ready as I'll ever be anyway. Might as well get started." She looked back at Feric. "You and everyone else are welcome to watch the fireworks. It's perfectly safe. I'm not summoning anything hostile...well...Aunty Beobani was always known to be a little jumpy...but that's what the defensive circle is for." She grinned and got to her feet, using his shoulder to steady herself as the blood began flowing properly, making her legs ache something fierce.
There was something about the action which threw her mind back to the night at the lake...or maybe it was just the lingering red haze still drifting at the corners of her vision and the warmth between her legs.
She shook herself back into reality and grinned toothily at Des. "Let's get this over with shall we?"
The room was all set and ready to go with the summoning circle writ large at the center of the long hall. The cubs were being corralled, as usual, by the team efforts of Aina and Lucas who were keeping little hands and feet off of the markings. Everyone else was there as well, though most were keeping a polite distance and all except Feric were human and dressed. They had been since they'd arrived with Des. Des who was still casting side long glances at Feric as they entered the room.
Ah, yes, that. For some reason it hadn't occurred to her that their lion forms would make Desdemona uncomfortable.
It seemed to have occurred to everyone else. Everyone but Feric apparently. Then again, maybe it had occurred to him. Maybe he was perfectly aware of the effect it could have on her. Naughty boy. She winked at him when Des wasn't looking...he probably didn't understand why...but that was fine, let him think she wasn't on to him.
Inanna surveyed the circle with a quick walk around, double checking that all was as it should be. The red glow of the runes looked a little odd, clashing as it did with the perpetual bluish glow of the ruins, and looked rather sinister. Red, glowing Daedric script usually did look sinister though, regardless of the location. Still, the contrast was an off putting reminder of where her own natural skill originated, along with a good chunk of her family tree. On Muthsera-mama's side at least.
She put it out of her mind. It was what it was, and it worked. That's what really mattered. And it wasn't about the nature of the thing but the application....right? After all a sword in the hands of some one like her Max was not doing quite the same job as the sword in the hands of the Dark Brotherhood.
Then again, a sword is made for one thing and one thing only: to kill. There was no getting around that cheery little fact.
"Alright." She waved her hands in an unnecessary shooing gesture. Unnecessary since Des was the only one close enough to the circle to cause any problems. "I'm not doing anything too dangerous but it's best if everyone keeps their distance. Okey dokey....here goes nothing."
She didn't dick around, and simply unsheathed the knife she'd brought and ran the blade lightly over the top of her arm. She knelt and pointed her arm downward and waited for the welling blood to flow in the right direction. Her pointed index finger hovered over the the outer ridge of the circle which had been, through clever device, connected to the inner circle as well...one of Desi's tricks, a mystical two for one. And so long as the line held, so would the spell.
As the first drop left her finger she began her incantation. This particular spell was rusty from infrequent use, but she'd make it work. It was really all about will and focus anyway.
On the last word, the red glowing runes shifted into a purple and then lightened to blue, matching the blue glow of the surrounding walls. Inside the central ring a half dozen spots of concentrated blue appeared, swirling like mist around a glowing core, each one growing stronger, larger, and more distinct as the spell came to fruition. There were six of them...six.
She dropped her arm and frowned. Finally each glowing mass resolved itself into a fully...or at least mostly, articulated figure of one of her ancestors. All of them were looking at her...a few of them looked rather smug...which was never a good sign. She watched them back. They declined to comment.
"Six? Seriously?" She asked in Dunmeri, looking at each of them in turn. Uncle Assurban smiled slightly, but that was the only reaction she got from any of them.
Finally one spoke, Her great-grandmother, and former wise-woman. "Have you forgotten so quickly? You ask too much of us, and most who headed your call did so begrudgingly."
Her jaw literally dropped. "Again...seriously? Are you people nuts?"
Her grand mother sighed and rolled her eyes. "Inanna..."
"It was for the bloody Nevarine! Dagoth Ur was trying to fetching kill us! "
"Language my black a—"
"Inanna..." Assurban interrupted gently, "you must have expected something of this nature. It's not as if you've been in perfect standing with the family recently."