After the events of Rhythm of the War drums
Sauntering through the vast assortment of fighters, vehicles and cargo that was scattered across the current field that Azalea had dubbed home for today, strode a young man with ice-cyan eyes that almost shone with an alien light.
Lukina had found a spot of shade on a low hanging branch of a tree at the edge of the camp. Her back was against the rough bark and her legs were stretched out on the branch, her rifle was tucked in the crook of her arm. It appeared that the ruby haired half-elf was napping.
As a rather burly man with, strangely enough, his shoulders replaced with cybernetics, caused the wolf-eared wanderer to sidestep quickly, his eyes caught a flash of scarlet amongst a backdrop of brown and green.
Curiosity piqued, the Agarthan - bearing a simple tactical vest with a greatsword swung over the back and revolver at his side - sidled off to one edge of the thoroughfare and gazed off, scanning the trees for that strange sight again.
In no time, his hunter's eyes picked out the silhouette of a young woman balancing on a surprisingly thin branch. Wolf blinked a couple times, he couldn't tell at this distance but she seemed to be stock still, as if she naturally rested perfectly on the slippery limb in some miracle of nature.
Treading over, unable to turn away before seeing more on this impossible skill, the ex-cavalryman drew up close to the vastly branching oak tree which interwove with the canopies of those surrounding it in a uncanny mattress of green that spread out above the forest like a tea cozy.
From this angle, he couldn't make out Lukina's beautifully formed face despite the light dappling of light that somehow speared its way through the dense overhead. The somewhat muscled young man readied his vocal chords best he could, coughing lightly before he piped up in a unrecognizable accent, "H-Hello?"
The half-elf yawned and stretched, her ears twitching at the upwards call. She peered over the side of her perch and downward at the wolf-eared young man that had fought alongside her previously. Her evergreen eyes appraised the attractive face but it was the glowing cyan eyes that caught her attention, even from her height above him.
"Hello!" She called down in response. She shifted her balance on the branch to sit with her legs dangling over the edge of the branch to more fully look at the caller. Her silver body armor gleamed in the dappled sunlight. "How does the morning find you?"
The messy-haired Wildman blinked a few times in a rather unintelligent fashion, too alarmed and surprised that the elegant woman before him was someone he actually recognized to respond in a timely manner.
"Whoa-" he began, taking in her image as she came into view. He wasn't sure what is was but he felt as if Lukina's appearance had set a trigger inside him, little did he know that elves with their innate affinity for animals, stretched to his somewhat bestial kind.
He felt almost as if he should bow but managed to resist the urge. "Excellently, my lady! Clear skies and gentle winds, perfect for hunting no?" the Agarthan strung together the sentence meticulously in his mind, saying 'skin' instead of 'skies' would have made things a little more awkward.
Lukina smiled, "It is, hold on, I'll come back down." She adjusted the rifle over her shoulder and carefully climbed back down the tree. Even with the weight of the body armor, the half-elf seemed to have been well conditioned for navigating the tall obstacle.
It was about half-way between the branch she had been napping on and the ground that the half-elf let go of the bark and dropped easily to the ground. She rose to her full, diminutive height and smiled. "Are you getting used to the camp?"
Wolf's floofy ears twitched instinctively as the graceful half-elf touched down with not so much as a whisper from the foliage underfoot. The way her auburn hair gleamed when the light graced it was quite spectacular. "Trying my best," he smiled appreciatively, his pearly whites showing - all tipped like a canine no matter what type of tooth was traditionally was there.
"The language is hard but the people are kind, when I come back with a stag I get cheers. Life is simple." The black-grey haired man tore his eyes away from Lukina to the array of tents below them meaningfully, pausing for a mere moment.
"I never thanked you for helping me in the charge, Lukina Aleksasha Petrora, I'd be a big dead pile of fur if you hadn't been there."
"They enjoy the meat, many aren't used to surviving from the land," Lukina smoothed a hand over her hair. "But, you are welcome. I wish I could have made it back earlier... I could have been there for her so she wouldn't have..." her voice grew softer as she trailed off. Her expression became serious for a moment before she looked back at the wolf and smiled again. "But, the sky is clear and the wind is still. It is a good day for a hunt."
A puzzled expression alighted her companion's complexion for a moment, though it seemed he had the tact not to ask whatever was on his mind. As she met his eyes again, the unlikely warrior offered Lukina a reassuring smile.
An idea sparked inside his head, turning to glance at the woodland beyond for a moment. "Miss Petrora," the wolf bowed in a show-manlike fashion, looking up into her startling emerald eyes as he did. "Would you do me the honor of joining me in little competition?"
"Oh? What did you have in mind?" She leaned forward, appraising him and his wolfish ears. The half-elf still wasn't sure what species the man was. "I definitely don't think I can beat you in a foot race." Lukina held her hands behind her back, resisting the urge to touch his ears. Her eyes considered them for a long moment before glancing back down to his cyan eyes again.
The fur-clad Agarthan just managed to catch the huntress observing his large, dark ears and they wiggled slightly in the almost negligible breeze that wound through the aged trunks surrounding them. He knew exactly what to say.
"How about..." the ice-eyed man offered, raising back up to stand before her with a playful smile. "First one to catch something wins? If you win, you get to have a good look at me." The warrior spoke in an innocent enough tone, wiggling those floofy head-ornaments. "If I win, I get to have a good look at you?" he smiled, winking as he did.
The half-elf's ears blushed pink before her face did. "O…ok. What are your terms?" Her eyes drifted back up to his again for a moment before she focused on his face.
It worked, he couldn't believe his luck! "Hmm..." Wolf made a show of tapping his chin as if in deep thought, turning and looking around broadly as if searching for ideas.
"How about only short-ranged weapons, to make things interesting? Oh..." The Agarthan took a moment to remember how Lukina was wearing some sort of magical invisibility cloak armor-thing. "Only natural camouflage?"
He smiled wide, resisting the urge to grin. "It's been ages since I've had a hunting partner."
Lukina raised an eyebrow. "I can give you my word that I will not use my armor's camouflage." She nodded, reluctantly. "I think I have short range... I don't think my sword is good for hunting." She looked up at the tree and the sky above, scanning. "The same, actually." She smiled again and returned her gaze to his face. "Although, I seem to be at a natural disadvantage, Wolf, I look forward to the challenge."
Wolf nodded a few times, eyes dancing to the mighty Zweihänder tucked away in its scabbard. "How about you suggest some terms for me? I did challenge you after all..." He smiled warmly, gesturing to his revolver and sword questioningly.
"You stay in this form, and use short ranged weapons," Lukina suggested quickly. "But, I wonder, will you be able to keep up?" She smiled again and was quickly back up in the tree. She looked down and grinned. "Let's go!"
"Done, if that's all." Wolf winked slyly, obviously content in his abilities. A beaming grin grew from one corner of his mouth, spreading quickly as she spoke. “You’re on!" he shouted from terra firma to his elven partner, the image of the two of them almost picturesque.
Without giving her another second, Wolf leaped forwards into the undergrowth surrounding her tree, falling to all fours as he did. "Go!" The sound rang out, echoing through the densely packed trees and causing a few nearby birds to take off in a flurry of startled feathers.
Lukina launched herself through the trees, following the path of the birds as they took flight. She was familiar with this forest and the flight paths of the birds. But she knew that she had to be silent to sneak up on the little things, but she decided to not yell down to the wolf, she just had the impression that he was following her beneath in the brush below.
Far below, Lukina might have found her hunch to be surprisingly correct. Not only was the primal hunter trailing her, he had a few ideas of his own. Cyan eyes glowed in the underbrush while her own were cast to the heavens, keeping a watch on his redheaded rival and the area around. His shapely nose sniffed periodically, taking in whatever scent could be construed as prey. Pupils slowly shifted to become more slitted, predatory as the levy's blood began pumping. The hunt was afoot.
Lukina saw it there in the next tree. It wasn't the bird she was hoping for but it was another creature. She slowed down and crept along the tree branch, reaching for her boot knife. Her Zweihänder was far too large for use in the tree. She kept her eyes on the squirrel like creature as she advanced on it, quieting her breathing as she moved forward.
He smelled it before he saw it, the aura of small game just lilting across his sensitive nose. Wolf glanced from left to right as he bounded forwards, the glow of his eyes going so far as to even illuminate a little around him. The predator slowed in confusion, leaps growing shorter until he stopped.
Wolf raised his head upwards, one large ear flopping to the side in a curious manner until he spotted it. Big bushy tail, black squinting eyes. The wolfman didn't just spot the prey but Lukina, expertly sneaking towards the oblivious creature like she was born for it.
An amazed smile crept across his lips, she was good. Very good. Time to change tactics, he decided, planting his hands onto the trunk of the tree. Hardened nails dug in and even gave him purchase as if he was a panther. Ever so gradually, quietly, the Agarthan crept up the ribbed bark towards the graceful huntress above.
Lukina gripped the knife and tested the weight in her hand, It'll do. She held her breath for a moment and threw the knife at center mass of the small creature. Her ears perked at the stillness beneath her. What is he up to?
Down, down past the half-elf's legs, feet, through the branch and to the other side. Upside-down like some sort of primate, Wolf clung to the wooden appendage, chest pressed flat against the curved surface as hand over hand, foot over foot he mirrored the athletic girl above.
Just as the knife soared through the air, he swung himself around circular branch with a grunt of exertion, to land in a crouched position just before Lukina, eyes meeting hers with a sly smile, blocking the path of the redheaded elf. "Hello there."
Lukina's eyes narrowed as the knife embedded into its target with a weak squeak. Her muscles were tense as she crouched on the branch. The Agarthan was in her way. "Hello." She calculated the distance, the height of the man in the way. Her ears twitched in irritation. "Poaching, are we?"
The way-keeper gave Lukina a look of mock hurt, "You wound me! I'm just... strategizing." The messy-haired man tilted his head to one side, as if gauging something or other. He glanced over his shoulder inconspicuously, taking the moment to check out Lukina's perfect technique. "Beautiful kill by the way~"
"Thank you." Lukina took advantage of the moment of distraction to jump up to the branch above them and bolt towards her prize and the other tree.
The Agarthan took off in hot pursuit, having banked on something like this happening. Throwing his whole body upwards in a great jump, his fingernails splintered the next tree along as they dug in deep. In a few motions, he was right on her heels. Still, she was faster.
Lukina slid towards the squirrel and her knife, grabbing both as she fell from the tree. "Got it!" She judged the distance as she fell back down towards the ground, and threw out her grappling line from her wrist rig to stop her descent. "Whew."
As the nimble huntress slid forwards, Wolf dived to catch up, almost grazing her ankle as Lukina snatched up the prize. His fingers curled as if to grab her foot but she'd already gone, much to his amusement.
Brushing his front off and shaking like a wet dog from the woodchips, her partner leaned over the edge of the branch to the victor below. "Impressive! I wouldn't want to be hunted by you, Lukina." Wolf smiled down, sizing up the fall. This was gonna hurt.
Lukina maneuvered onto a lower branch, retracting the line back into her wrist rig as she held up the squirrel. "Haven't had to throw a knife in forever." She slid the knife back into its sheath and stared up at him. "I hunted you once before."
He'd just about figured the damage he'd take from the long drop and it wouldn't be anything serious. The man bounced back and forwards on the balls of his feet in preparation, calling down. "Wait, you hunted me..? Hold on a sec."
Taking a deep breath in the Agarthan let himself drop, sailing through the air and careening to the ground with a nasty crunching sound. Immediately, through gritted teeth and closed eyes, the soldier righted himself and began to stand through the pain.
Lukina winced as the Agarthan hit the ground. "Ow. Why?" She gracefully made her way to the ground, landing softly with the squirrel in hand. "It was incidental, you were after the bird that Creature was riding when we found you at the ship."
A strange, subtle glowing seemed to emanate from Wolf's knees and ankles, the pain on his features greatly decreasing. "Ah, it was easier." He waved generally, as if it was nothing although no doubt there was some element of showing off to blame. "Oh!" The fur-eared man's expression seemed to light up at the memory, then he smiled knowingly. "That's very true, you caught me then too."
With that, as if he hadn't just cannon-balled the ground, he bowed his head a little and looked down, carefully taking Lukina's hand in his. "And as your reward-!" The warrior stated theatrically, gradually guiding her hand to the tip of one delightfully floppy ear.
The pink returned to her ears and spread to her face as he guided her hand to the tip of his ear. She gently pressed the velvety fur beneath her fingertips and let it drift down to the base of his ear. She stood up on her toes to get a better look at his ears, where the fur ended and the hair began. "...What are you? I've never seen someone like you before," she asked softly, stroking the fur of his ear.
He blushed a little as the beautiful elf stroked, once again feeling that strange sub-serval shiver across his spine, or maybe that was something else? "I-I'm not sure." he admitted, his icy gaze lowered from hers in embarrassment. "I get pictures in my mind of who I was before I got here but they're strange."
"I know I heal quickly and I can change.. I don't know much else. I know where I came from wasn't too different from here." His gaze seemed to glaze over for a moment, obviously trying to remember anything he could. "But there was no sky? I don't know."
The answer caused a tinge of despair to take the young man's features, until one of Lukina's careful strokes made the floofy ear wiggle happily and Wolf to smile in satisfaction. "Mmm..." he purred as the auburn-haired girl hit a spot he hadn't known was there, much like a dog.
Her blush deepened as the Agarthan purred, though she did not stop petting his ears. "This planet is strange... I think the old Gods are calling us here... there are many things that don't make sense. It's like a nexus... we just get pulled here... but I have only heard of another person that can change shape but he is not like you. You are unique." Lukina smiled gently. "Maybe we'll find out where you came from.. if the Gods are kind enough to grant us clarity."
"Perhaps once you know, we would be able to help you return home, if given the opportunity, anyway. I can understand what it feels like to be drifting alone down the current, but I seem to have found the shore," the evergreen of her eyes glowed softly in reflection of the cyan of his as she met his gaze once more, her tone reassuring. "There is always a sky, though the clouds might obscure it or the night too dark. The last star has not died, there is still light."
Lukina's meaningful, poetic words struck a chord with the singular man stood before her. They were so kind but so empathetic, as if she spoke from the heart. "The last star.." he murmured, the beauty of the elf's words self-evident, her radiant emerald eyes carrying her meaning.
"Maybe we're here for a reason, for some sort of purpose." Wolf mirrored, "Home.." He trailed off, getting lost in her sparkling eyes, ears wiggling in a mix of emotions. "I'm glad you've found a home." The hunter smiled sadly, yet with optimism in his voice.
"You still have a chance to find it, your home, the old or perhaps a new one. The future is what you make of it," she smiled brightly, her face flushed a deeper shade of pink as she let her hand return to her side, suddenly self-conscious. Her eyes flicked away. "Gomen nasai, I get carried away." She toyed with the squirrel she had in her hands. "Oh, I almost forgot. I guess this little one is breakfast?" She held the small creature up. "It's been so long since I've had to stalk something like this that I almost forgot about him."
Her companion blinked a few times as the squirrel was brought up - it had entirely slipped his mind amidst deeper thoughts. Casting his eyes down and smiling nervously, the Agarthan rubbed the back of his messy grey-black hair a little. "Mhm! We can get a fire going if you want and make a proper meal of it, if you'd like?" Wolf raised his eyes up again as he spoke, catching Lukina's eye for a moment before glancing away once more, resting on their kill.
Having moved further from camp and built their own quant campfire beside a little meandering stream, the two rangers perched around the fire where the squirrel was almost cooked, having been expertly skinned and prepared by Lukina. Wolf, himself, probably would have eaten the animal raw but that wouldn't be the best first impression.
Juices balled and fell to the hot coals with a meaty sizzle, filling the smoky air with the aroma of cooked foods. The sky had grown darker since they had completed their little contest, a few fluffy grey clouds soaring overhead as the fumes from the fire rose and mingled with their brothers above.
She had settled beside the fire and removed some of her armored plating, it sat in a neat pile behind her stump. Only the black base layered bodysuit remained. The evening is growing colder and her breath hung hotly in front of her, but she didn't seem to mind it. The half-elf thoughtfully tended the fire. "We won't have to stay outdoors, if we don't want to soon. We've taken the city back, it'll just be a matter of time now."
Her companion carefully bent over and picked up one of the many thick sticks on the ground, turning it over in his hands and surveying it for imperfections. The wood was wet from recent rains but was almost what he was looking for, brushing some little pieces of moss free.
"I don't mind," the foreign man smiled warmly over, the air before him fogging also with each rise and fall of his chest. Though the hearty fire crackled away, the spent sticks snapping and filled the air with ambience on occasion, the sun was quickly losing strength. "I mean, are you cold…?" His voice was questioning in tone but his intention was obvious, absentmindedly running a few slender fingers through his furry down.
"Not at all. I've been trained to be outdoors in conditions. It's just that things are still changing. The province stabilizing is a good thing," she commented softly, her eyes watching the fire dance across the surface of the charring logs. "It just means that my job is going to change a bit too."
It struck him that he knew very little of what they were actually doing here, the man had been drafted in after he accidentally got mistaken for a recruit. Nobody had really bothered to explain.
Expertly, his dexterous fingers began to trace along the piece of smooth wood, fingernails causing flakes of soft wood to float lazily to the ground as he sheared them off little by little. "How are things going to change?" his voice carried a tinge of worry, this is all he had known. He shifted up the fallen tree he was perched upon so they could talk better, closer to the crackling fire as he did.
"The war for the province isn't over. The Black King's army has just moved to another province... which means that things are going to get worse. They will have new people, more supplies... and there will be more ground to cover. This province will be fine, but the battlefield is shifting." the half-elf toyed with a thin branch in her hand, the heat from the fire and her bodysuit was starting to be too much. She unzipped the suit to the middle of her breasts to make it more tolerable. "I will have to range out farther and scout the next province to figure out where they are going. I don't know if Azalea will keep pressing or stay and hold."
He understood at least some of what she was saying, though the overarching nature of things escaped him. This close to the flickering flames, his white-grey fur coating was becoming a little uncomfortable. As he saw Lukina begin to make herself more at home with him, the fur began to recede from the man's toned muscles, becoming more humanlike and lightly dressed as he did, ears shrinking a little.
The change was subtle but probably noticeable as more of the hunter's body was revealed, in friendly company. The wood in his hands began to start taking shape, becoming long and tapered at one end, widening to a thick base near the bottom.
Lukina's eyes drifted to Wolf as his form shifted and the fur receded once more. She pursed her lips thoughtfully together, as puzzlement crossed her face, unsure of what to make of the man. "What are you making?" She asked suddenly, awkwardly changing the subject as she moved closer to the Agarthan to get a better look at what he was doing with his hands.
She was close enough to pick out the subtle delicate lingering scent of lilies the mingled with the earther scent of the hard wood smoke and pine in her ruby hair.
Wolf's eyes widened a little in pleasant surprise as the elegant girl shifted closer, the evening sun glinting off her glossy hair as she moved through the camp. "It... it's not ready…" The hunter responded nervously, glancing between the soft earthen ground and the beautiful creature beside him as he did. Embers floated lazily up the plume of the fire, surrounding the two with glowing fireflies of the flame's offspring.
He stole another glance at his travelling companion, his musk and her fragrance mixing in the air in a surprisingly complementary scent. "Alright, it's still a work in progress... Love and time..." The man mused, his messy grey-black hair rustling in the breeze as he opened his cupped hands for Lukina, sidling closer so their shoulders almost touched.
Inside, there was the beginnings of some sort of hard wood handle, around seven inches in length, so smooth it was as if it had been sanded. It's curved, ellipse shape looked like it would fit perfectly into her hand, as if it was the work of a master craftsman. Those of more inclined minds could probably think of one or two... other uses... for the smooth, lengthy item. "Since you're so skilled with a knife, I thought you might like one made for you rather than off a factory line..."
Her ears twitched curiously at the mention of love but she did not comment on it. The half-elf leaned gently against him as she looked down into his hands at the knife handle. She smiled gently, her surprise played across her face as she looked back up to meet his eyes. "That's...sugoi desu ne... amazing. How did you do that just now?"
"I don't see any tools, but... I appreciate the thought. I don't want to trouble you," she replied softly, shyly as she looked back down at the wood work once more.
His expression lit up as Lukina smiled to him, a warm fuzzy feeling rising inside his somewhat exposed chest. She was so soft, leaning against his side, the fire crackling away and bathing them both in an aura of safety and light against the cool evening air.
He wasn't quite sure what to say, blushing a little, the orange tinge around them helping to obscure the wave of feelings that tingled through him.
"Oh... it's nothing." He smiled broad, appreciation radiating to his partner. "Just a lot of time to myself and these things." Wolf reached over a little so his hand nearly brushed against Lukina's own. She would just about to be able to make out with her glittering emerald eyes that his fingernails were somehow hardened and reflective, a shade darker than they were supposed to be.
Her curiosity won out as she gently took one of Wolf's hands into her own to examine it more closely. "You did that with your claws? Sugoi. Do they stay like this or can you transform yourself more?" Her voiced was edged with her excited questioning and she stopped herself, blushing again before her tone softened again.
"Sorry... I shouldn't press, I've just never seen someone that can transform their body this way... there are some many different species here on Piyapon and I'm trying to learn more about all of them. Maybe, we'll be able to find someone else like you so you won't have to be alone?" She offered him a sympathetic smile, still holding his hand in hers.
His blush deepened to a shade of crimson as Lukina's gentle, porcelain skin slid across his own, his hand taken into a silky embrace unlike anything he'd experienced from his short memory.
"It depends..." He whispered to her, mind growing electric as her delicate body pressed against his in their oasis against the deepening darkness, as if the world had fallen away and they were the only people left in this vast universe.
His fingers laced gently with hers by pure instinct, gazing deeply and meaningfully into her shining emerald orbs. "Nobody wants to be alone..." The Agarthan muttered quietly, leaning in gradually towards the auburn-haired huntress before him.
His lips met Lukina's supple, soft own in a thrilling, enchanting spark of sudden passion. His arm wove gently around her waist, bicep flexing to pull her a little closer as they melted into each other's arms, his fur tickling her cheek delightfully. A deep heat darted across his body coming from his very core, two beings of the forest shining through the darkness creeping around them as they entwined.
Her body tensed as she was pulled against him, she was lost for a moment in the passion of the kiss and the suddenness of the embrace. The warmth and the darkness called to her but she suddenly pulled away. Lukina quickly rose to her feet, her face an embarrassed shade of scarlet. Her eyes were wide and he could hear the furious racing of her heart. Her expression was filled with confusion as she backed away. "A..Watashi.."
Wolf blinked a few times as Lukina backpedaled, yet didn't move from where he sat and instead simply cast his eyes downward. After a long second, they rose little by little until they joined the flustered elf's gaze. He seemed to search her through them in a manner no creature less in tune with nature could manage. "It's okay." He said simply, in the calmest, most understanding voice, as if he had somehow looked deep inside her and felt what she was feeling.
"I.. sorry.. I.." She stammered as she slipped into the shadows behind her and ran.
The lone hunter looked on as Lukina's ruby hair faded into the inky blackness of the Kowloonian night closing in, the image of her imprinted in his mind long after her form had disappeared. Head down, the muted sounds of whittling permeated the air that was as still as a sheltered lake.
The fire dutifully crackled away, the young levy curled up against the nearest heat-bathed log as his eyes began to slip closed, the scent of lilies still in his mind as everything became dark. Nestled in his hand, a beautifully carved, unblemished artwork, the word "Lukina" engraved on the hilt in runes no one else living could decipher.