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[P]  Shelter Within

Offline Valasan May 18 2020, 10:51 PM
#1
  • Ballasburn
  • Age: 51
  • Gender: Male
  • Race: Eximius
  • Rank: Citizen
  • Total Posts: 11
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Blood already had been washed from their weapons and stripped from their clothes, the stream they followed now still flowing even with the thin layer of ice upon its surface. The almost clear crystals crept out from both of the banks, some of it breaking away with the flow that was determined to keep moving. Such a determination reflected in the pair who followed it upstream, deeper into the forests that were getting more dense with each passed mile. Valasan was quiet, as were his steps, with focus swept wide through the relative darkness around them. Faintly glowing eyes refracted the light they were granted from above, though the further they ventured the more it faded. Beneath thick, light gray clouds the stars were engulfed, snow starting to fall in listless flakes. Pointed ears twitched and nostrils flared, the eximius’ chest expanding beneath the furs he wore to take in the punishing air. The temperature continued to drop and his warm breath steamed between his lips, Valasan glancing to Eirik who rounded at his flank to search higher up amidst the sloping inclines for what had been lost.

For now it was a trail, broken and severed by the fallen demigods who turned tail and ran when they had been spotted. He and Eirik had been hunting them for hours, for days now, with nothing but their own hungering steps to carry them forward. The snow began to stick, frosting the grass they pushed through and as it started to fall down quicker it set a haze in their line of sight. To them it wasn’t much of a hindrance, at least for the next mile or so towards the base of the mountains. There weren’t too many other places they could have gone; Valasan had mapped this area for many years prior to their hunt now to know that. It felt strange, like muscle memory knew which way to turn his path when it felt like they were veering off on a whim.

Some part of him could recall the heat of the fires used to cook their game, maybe even the laughter that accompanied the gathering of man and beast around it. The wolves would howl at night almost routinely, calling in even more and ensuring they knew where the others were if they were venturing out to the edges of the territory. It was eerie and melancholic, and where once it had been a peaceful and wondrous sound it just pulled a shiver down Valasan’s spine at the recollection - and it wasn’t from the cold or fear. His heart beat faster than most, skin far warmer to the touch than the human he used to be, but it was still steady in their slow rise. Eirik touched against the brambles and brushed the layers of powdery snow away to set fingers against the shapes of tracks both old and new. Valasan kept watch, chin tilted up away from the furs and both of them seemed quite animalistic in the way they wove in and out of the forest. Shelter would be needed soon, especially with the biting wind tearing its way down from the peaks that struggled to block it.

Valasan moved closer to Eirik, neither of them seeming to catch any trail worth the effort. With the oncoming storm it wouldn’t be wise to keep moving, and the beasts they yearned to cut down wouldn’t be so desperate. Even with their thick pelts and long-winded stamina they could still freeze. Valasan felt it now trying to creep its way beneath the furs to put out the fire that seemed to burn within. A gloved hand reached out, touching against Eirik’s shoulder to gain his attention. When blue eyes turned towards him, head moving in a fluid motion as if the hunter knew where to look before even seeing it, Valasan tilted his chin up to gesture beyond the trees.

The mouth of the cave was not very wide, cutting into a high rise in the shape of a diamond. Eirik didn’t need to be told nor did he ask what it was the elemental desired, a wavelength followed that brought them further up to pass the threshold. Valasan let the hunter duck inside first, hood up now to shield from the wind, and looked out where they had come before following. Both of them were nearly too tall for it, and Valasan’s shoulders too wide. Some accommodation and twisting of the body allowed them into the smaller space that widened out into a larger cavern. Some of the ground was slick with ice, but they were at least allowed to stretch out further. Valasan’s eyes adjusted, pupils widening and ears dropping back with tension still wound tight. He started to make a pass towards where the cave had been etched away in the mountainside, gaze narrowing in hopes to pick apart the darkness.
Offline Eirik May 19 2020, 11:28 AM
#2
  • Corzya
  • Age: 20
  • Gender: Male
  • Race: Eximius
  • Rank: Servant
  • Total Posts: 111
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The hunter eximius trudges through the snow. It’s a brisk pace compared to many. His breath huffs out in silver streams. His gaze is affixed to the ground, the snow making the tracks obvious. The dire pack had no time to attempt to hide their tracks with the eximius hot on their trail, their inhuman (inwolven) vitality, their stamina, always inching ever closer until the clock finally ran out. And once it did, they’d have no more strength to fight in their attempts to flee.

The winter bit at the eximius, too, of course, but a lifetime of training and pain had hardened them. And Valasan was a natural radiator, it seemed. He could sense the heat coming off him; when the cold touched him it turned to fine mist. For his part he’d a rather normal temperature. Even so, he didn’t feel fatigue, yet. Something drove him. He’d programmed in him the love of the Hunt, and he followed the dires’ trail with a fervor, feeling no sympathy even for the smallest sets of tracks, nor the indication of blood with each step, running, running without stop, ’til their bestial paws bled. Now was the Hunters’ time to shine, after all. They’d smoked out the nest in Khorl, torn it apart — and when the rats fled, it was up to them to hunt them down to the ends of Gil’ead.

Thus Eirik was always sent out as part of the vanguard, out in front, to sniff them out and kill them if he could. If it was too much of a challenge he’d retreat to their moving bases to enlist more eximius help. Now, though, it was only he and Valasan. He was familiar with him. Even close. Though, that was a luxury a lot of the experiments couldn’t quite count on…for a myriad of reasons. Svalbard, in their bid to create murder-machines, had given them strength, speed, powers beyond magic, hardness through agony, and many more…but, in the process, stripped them of the vulnerability they needed to form bonds, a thing many would say was a requirement for any army.

His ears lift at the sound of howls. His pupils expand. Once their trail hits the dense woodland at the base of the mountain, his Poacher eyes turn bright amber, and he scans to and fro, spending some time to identify which marks were what… when he finds them, he starts to head off, expecting Valasan to follow. When he grips his shoulder instead, Eirik rounds on him.

He humors him for a time. Though he looks back at his shoulder over the mountain. The sounds of howling had dimmed now. He had chased them long enough to identify their tones.

Four of them still. One falters. Injured, or sick. The bleeding one most likely. They were weak now.

Eirik follows him into the cave — then stops. The place was safe enough. With his Poacher eyes still activated, he knows that any tracks here were stale. His long ears lift up to investigate its innards, listening for any shifting in its depths. But he growls under his breath. He turns. “Storm will cover their tracks.” His voice is a little hoarse from disuse and the punishing cold. “They’re not far away. We should strike them now. Will be easy.” His blue eyes are bright in the dark. “Find them then rest.”

When he spoke it was always a surprise. He used to speak more often as a child — normally too — but now it was all short, staccato sentences, all brief and brisk and to the point. And most of the time he’d not speak at all, for talking was a high risk, low reward deal when you were naught but a test subject, and after that was done, an unthinking soldier.
Offline Valasan May 19 2020, 2:54 PM
#3
  • Ballasburn
  • Age: 51
  • Gender: Male
  • Race: Eximius
  • Rank: Citizen
  • Total Posts: 11
  • Played by: Isilzheha
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Water dripped in the back of the cave, several puddles throughout echoing the droplets in ripples that caught Valasan’s attention. Eirik had been reluctant at first for but a brief second, his eyes shining amber against his pale face, but he stepped inside nonetheless. Valasan let him scan the interior, his eyes better for it, though he still reflexively set hands against the wall to follow their uneven pattern. There were other cracks and dips in the rock, drafts blowing in from deeper within, but none of them were large enough to pass through. Valasan saw Eirik’s silhouette standing near the center of the opening, closer to the exit where the snow started to blow in. It snaked and hissed to scatter along the craggly floor, the angle the cave was in a good one to prevent them from being barricaded in. He could sense the hunter’s agitation, and for the first time in days Valasan felt a flicker of amusement.

He kept Eirik in the corner of his eye as he growled beneath his breath, exasperation known in the tones. ‘Storm will cover their tracks.’ Valasan nodded at that, lips tugging down into something like a frown. A small, silent agreement, as he continued to push along the interior of the cave. Not completely content with it, especially with the jumble of faded scents making this a more frequent stop. He feels Eirik’s eyes upon him, digging into him, and Valasan casually looks over with a raising of his eyebrows. ‘They’re not far away. We should strike them now. Will be easy. Find them then rest,’ he pressed on, each word better than the last with how it grated in his throat. Valasan cleared his own, the days passed in their trek having required no true dialogue. “Are you doubting your ability to pick it back up again?” he asked teasingly, fighting back the flinch at the loudness of his own accented voice.

Found them just before. Let them think we stopped for the evening,” Valasan pressed on, letting his arm drop from to his side. Emerald green met piercing blue, the elemental recalling well the shriek of the younger woman in the downsized pack when Eirik’s arrow sliced through the fur. It was the blood they tracked for a while, the four who struggled to keep distance, then it was the scent. The howls, which they didn’t use now. They had last night, and it had almost cost them everything. The dogs were desperate. “Just a couple of hours. They will have to stop, too, or die long before we get to them with the one you injured.” Valasan didn’t wait for him to say anything, back to one of the smoother portions of the wall and weight dropping down to sit facing the entrance. Off to the side, hidden in the shadows even should there be daylight. His gaze never left Eirik, waiting to see if he would take this rest himself or play catch up if he wanted to keep going.
Offline Eirik May 22 2020, 11:02 PM
#4
  • Corzya
  • Age: 20
  • Gender: Male
  • Race: Eximius
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Eirik gives him a hefty glare. He raises his chin. “I’m the hunter,” he reasserts.

As far as he was concerned Valasan was just back-up. He wanted this pack cleared out quickly if only because he acknowledged that winter was a dangerous time for all — even exi. The dirth of food and warmth wore down on everyone. Terrain became icy, treacherous. They couldn’t hunt them for ever. Were the conditions more favorable…he might have employed the more brutal tactic of picking them off one-by-one. An arrow from the trees when they least expected it, or one dragged away in the night as they slept. The dogs never knowing when another arrow would come singing through the trees. The crueler hunters left their packmate’s remains to be found upon the next morning, strewn out wherever they’d chosen to rest, a head maybe, an ear or a piece of their pelt, so they might sow terror and despair among the survivors. All in the name of weakening them. Agonizingly slowly they would go, one a day, or every two days…the last one, exhausted from the long hunt, worn from the despair, the fear, might be taken the same; or, if their hunter was feeling confident, he might face them at last. It was an efficient tactic of attrition. That, and it minimized the hunter’s risk in having to take them all out at a time.

But that was a method of leisure. Now, with the storm closing in, and the wolves’ howls seeking another pack — Eirik was wary they’d a bigger group to deal with if they didn’t kill them in time. And frankly, he was missing the warm(er) interior of base camp. There he could at least rest. Maybe drink something hot, even.

“Don’t tell you how to spew fire.” Elementals were excellent to have in battle. And in the wintry months they’d other uses too. How easy it was now, setting up a campfire. And he was like a walking, breathing radiator. “Shouldn’t have to stop. Maybe I’ll go on without you.” It looked like he was even considering the notion. Eirik squints at him. Four of them, one injured, all harried and tired from the hunt…still a risk, somewhat. Despite being treated like an automaton Eirik still had a sense of preservation.

Even as he says so, Eirik takes a second, longer sweep around the cavern. Still as empty as he’d presumed it to be. He spends a few seconds in silence, his long ears raised to pick up sounds…there was naught he could hear, no breathing of an unaffiliated, third party, no unwelcome shuffling. He relaxes, just slightly. Eirik begins to explore their space. His eyes are still trained to the ground, mostly, but he looks up to take stock of the ceiling. Snow began to drift into the entrance from where they’d come. Outside, the sounds of howls pick up again.

Eirik immediately returns to it. Then stops. Ears raised up, again, to listen. He looks agitated, energetic; there’s a frantic energy to him as if craning to get to them, like a cat pawing at a birdcage. The fox hides when the wolf howls. Something he learned from his father, many years ago, and something he still thought of whenever he heard the sound.
Offline Valasan May 26 2020, 3:42 PM
#5
  • Ballasburn
  • Age: 51
  • Gender: Male
  • Race: Eximius
  • Rank: Citizen
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'I’m the hunter.'

Valasan's eyes lifted to that where they had drifted beyond Eirik's form by the entrance, meeting the glare that had the hunter just about looking down his nose. He prickled a bit at that. "You're a hunter," he corrected, though he left it at that. Eirik certainly was better in the wilds in that regard, a keen eye for finding tracks in the thickest portions of the Unclaim that seemed altogether untouched. Place him within a city among the creatures who could look just like anyone and knew how to cover themselves from the Bane… Valasan excelled in those departments. That's not where they were currently, so he pushed his combative nature down to relax further against the wall.

He let his eyes close, body wriggling to find contentment even as he had no inclination to remove his gear. He didn't anticipate staying for long anyhow. His ears twitched, pulling back and upwards with each shift Eirik gave on nearly bouncing heels. The hunter was eager to go, not wishing to give quiet to the drive they both had, and to some degree it humored the elemental. It showed it the minor quirk of his lips, just at the corners of one side as he let out a slow breath that ghosted from his nostrils. The winds howled outside, snowdrifts still slithering in as a wall of white shrouded the exterior of the cavern. 'Maybe I’ll go on without you.' His eyebrows lifted, smirk broadening yet this time Valasan didn't rise to the obvious challenge.

"I used to live here. Not far, anyways. They will go through the mountains or backtrack. There's nowhere else." Used to live with them, the dire, wolves of a pack of humans who grew up in the wilds. The thought twisted in his gut, made him feel… sick. Even that was strange, though, in a fleeting way that was easily filtered as an unnecessary feeling. He, too, wanted to feel the bones splintering beneath the fur and see the light die from wild, rolling eyes. They were machines, as it were, but even machines needed pause when they'd been going for days. These new bodies were built on organic foundation, a design flaw of its own that their minds made up for with the drive to keep going and never stop until the job was done. Admirable amidst their peers, terrifying to the beasts at the other end of it.

It's why the two had been chosen, each of them within the cell swapped out or left to hunt alone. Valasan heard the howls. They sounded even more desperate and searching. "Might as well go if that's what you want. I'll catch up, he said finally, one eye cracking open to see Eirik about to leap from his skin with desire. "I'll just stay warm and cozy in here while you chase ghosts in the snow. It'll blow over before you know it." The longer he spoke the more it felt natural, throat no longer quite as raw and hoarse.
Offline Eirik May 29 2020, 3:44 PM
#6
  • Corzya
  • Age: 20
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Eirik didn’t know what Valasan had to smile about. He gives him a decidedly stubborn, set mouth in return. He never took the Hunt as seriously as he should. Eirik stays quiet for a while longer after that, agitated. For as long as the howls go on he listens, ears up, hovering near the entrance, as if turning over his options. The snow falls before him. When he looks at the sky, it is nothing but a gray blanket. Late afternoon by his estimate, and what with the wintry months it would soon be dark. The darkness is not a concern for him so much — he was effective at night as he was at day — but the challenge would be the sheer cold. Luckily, he’d Valasan for that. If all went sideways he could count on his natural heat to keep himself from freezing.

His long ear flicks back at Valasan. He didn’t need to tell him that. They’d both been here a lifetime ago. Eirik, taken when he was young, still had vivid memories of a short boyhood. A little remote, a little muddy, and more than a little cold, but pleasant. Bucolic. He helped them herd goats and sheep. He’d milk udders. He would fish by the creek, or spend his day barefoot after a harvest. Years he’d spent without seeing a soul besides those in the village, and maybe a traveler from a neighboring one. Then, on his tenth —

Well, he could only say that he knew nothing remained. Eirik doesn’t remember all of it, and he’s not sure if he’s blocked it, or if it was something that happened during his mutations, but he recalls the way the hamlet had burned. And all that open sky, exchanged for a dark Foreign dungeon. He could never quite parse why he’d been chosen, nor why their little, unassuming village had been chosen, all the way across the Hinterlands. He would probably never know. How unfair it was, that Stadarfell couldn’t use their own children.

Eirik thought he’d feel something stir being so close to ‘home’, but he doesn’t. All he can think about is dire, dire pelts and dire blood.

Finally he comes away from the entrance. “Mountains are impassable this time of year…” he says. Almost too himself. And they had nearly nothing to eat, now. The dire had been driven to their deaths, for the mountain would would refuse to harbor them. Even less in their injured state. “…Good as dead…”

But he gives him one more sour look. “Didn’t come all this way for the mountain to finish them.”

Besides, they’d have to come back with trophies if they were to get full credit for the kills. A paw at best. They preferred whole bodies, though Eirik didn’t know what they did with them. He circles the cavern, sweeping it one more time. Warm and cozy, he’d said. “Fire?”
Offline Valasan Jun 14 2020, 5:00 PM
#7
  • Ballasburn
  • Age: 51
  • Gender: Male
  • Race: Eximius
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  • Total Posts: 11
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Eirik would always be so serious. More serious than Valasan had ever been about the Hunt. He chalked that up to the fact that Eirik had been among a select few others who were taken from the coastal cities when he was young. Valasan was young, too, when the humans came. Not as much as Eirik, though. He remembered enough to know that the hunter hadn’t always been this way, and knew enough now both from personal experience and observation to understand why that was. There was enough interference now where that might have been a sad thought once, an empathetic response to try and soothe his hunting partner. Always a level of camaraderie would benefit their kind, their particular outfit, but there was a whole lot of static when it came to that. Valasan had more time to grow up outside out the clutches of the humans, and more so from living in the wilds at the base of these very mountains a bit to the east. So it was easier for him to slip into the pattern of it with a seeming carelessness that always put off the hunter. Especially in times like these when he decided they should be patient instead of marching off into the brief blizzard. Perhaps that was more for his own comfort than safety, but in this case Valasan was confident they would have no issue catching up.

They hardly did.

Mountains are impassable this time of year… Good as dead…’ Eirik trailed off, just as he did away from the entrance. Valasan’s eyes were both opened now, the emerald green glow flickering when they found the hunter’s face. He still looked upset and indecisive, Valasan already having situated himself. He didn’t plan on getting up just yet, a decision made on his end. ‘Didn’t come all this way for the mountain to finish them.’ The elemental’s eyebrows rose at that, another nod to show that Eirik was not off the mark. “Nothing but the sea for them one way,” he agreed, “and us on the other.” By now his smile had fallen into a neutral expression again, watchful of Eirik’s pacing without letting it agitate him. “As good as dead.

Eirik paced about again, another sweep of the cavern, Valasan glancing beyond him once more when he thought he’d caught movement that wasn’t the snowfall. It was the swaying of one of the canopies, a shadow in the haze of the branches bending to scrape together with a more powerful gust of wind. At the mention of building a fire Valasan tilted his head, neck craning to give Eirik a pointed look of more sly amusement when he’d come to stand a few feet away. “Visibility is low in the blizzard, but if their howls have been heard and others are desperate enough they will come. A fire might attract attention or scare them into being clever. Though…” he lifted his gloved hands up at that to wiggle his fingers, “I just set things aflame. So you tell me if we should or not, wise hunter.
Offline Eirik Jun 27 2020, 10:09 PM
#8
  • Corzya
  • Age: 20
  • Gender: Male
  • Race: Eximius
  • Rank: Servant
  • Total Posts: 111
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The thought of letting the dire stew still makes him anxious. And, with all his trappings — his skill in tracking, with praxi or no — he still doesn’t know how difficult the incoming storm might make it. Fresh-fallen snow covered everything. If it was enough, the prints would be hidden inches down. And then they’d only the barest of hints to go on…and perhaps only the sounds of their voices. Eirik cannot stomach the thought of their escape. It makes him pace. And he thinks Valasan must be making fun of him, wiggling his fingers like that. He rumbles deep in his throat.

He didn’t know the dire’s situation firsthand, but going by the tracks, the streaks of blood, the fact that they’d no time to hunt, nor find fresh water…they must surely be flagging by now. At first they had been quiet. Then, the more time went on, the more they began to howl — signaling for help, finding it their only option. Yet it would not help. Not only did none answer, it would only lead the two eximius closer…but in the end, they were cornered animals. Once they did catch up definitively, it would become a deathly struggle. Maybe a brief rest would do them some good.

“I’d like a fire. But…” he says. “We are at the end. The end of the hunt must be perfect. No mistakes. It grows dark; they will see it. Smell the smoke, if they are lucky. …No fires.” But, maybe after a job well done — a nice roaring fire would make a good reward. Eirik had long been made to associate simple comforts as rewards.

The best source of warmth now would be Valasan himself.

He inches closer. There’s a question in his eyes, though he doesn’t voice it. The other eximius was always so warm, like a living stove. In any case, this wouldn’t have been the first time Eirik had requested closeness; he was the most convenient source after all…and one of the few of his peers (and superiors) he felt comfortable enough to ask. A gentle touch was hard to come by for a creature born from the Projects. Even now, in the middle of a hunt, he desires it.

He’d still the capacity to remember a similar embrace, when they were both children — many years ago.
Offline Valasan Jul 2 2020, 5:59 PM
#9
  • Ballasburn
  • Age: 51
  • Gender: Male
  • Race: Eximius
  • Rank: Citizen
  • Total Posts: 11
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Annoying the younger eximius became something of a game in and of itself even in the peak of a hunt. From an objective viewpoint, like those of their keepers, it was a glimpse of true nature from the machine they had built. It was a perverted version of that truth, anyways. The jests Valasan gave were often at the expense of the beasts they hunted whether he was aware of it or not, or they were more directly focused on Eirik himself. There was a reason for it, though. Valasan took the Hunt seriously overall, but not so much to the point to strip the smaller enjoyments from it that came with the territory. In this case it was a temporary rest and in a sense to recharge before climbing into the mountains after the pests that had fled there. It was morbid and base, but Valasan didn't think of such things much anymore. He also liked to see how riled up Eirik could get, even knowing how dangerous that was.

There was no incentive to spare one another, especially on hunts. They had their own relations and communication to prevent anything from happening, but Madness could be treacherous. So could anger. Valasan left it alone eventually as the hunter groaned and growled in one during his incessant pacing. They were opposites in this moment, and Valasan didn't feel the same visceral longing to ensure the deaths of the dogs they hunted. They would find the dire - to the ends of Gil'ead if they had to if they managed to get away. In a way they were already at the edge.

'The end of the hunt must be perfect. No mistakes.'

Valasan let out a slow breath that plumed. "What does the perfect end look like to you?" he asked after a time. He'd never brought it up before. On hunts with Eirik it was obvious it became more like an artform, precise and meticulous. He livened more in the wilderness when there weren't shackles upon them and eyes watching their every move. Valasan looked up to Eirik's face when he inched forward, finally ceasing his pacing and staring down at him expectantly. An ear twitched, and with it the corner of his mouth, but he didn't say anything beyond gathering his furs against his arm to open his cloak.

He waited for Eirik's long legs to fold, bringing him down into the space to nestle at the elemental's side. They'd done this before a few times, so it was easy to tell what the other eximius wanted. Though they were about the same height Eirik fit almost perfectly, Valasan's arm pulling the furs over as much as they would allow to conserve more of the heat he gave off. His head fell back to the stone wall, and for awhile he watched the snow falling outside. Eirik had made himself quite comfortable at that point, and finally was still once more. "Do you remember much about the village?" he asked then, thoughts drifting suddenly the longer he sat. Valasan didn't have to specify which village he meant. It was another thing he had never really felt the need to ask before, confusion following close behind the curiosity.