skekMal usually could occupy himself pretty well. If he didn’t hunt, he usually was making bone tokens, explored land to find new thing he could pursue or just observed living beings, not interfering. All knowledge sooner or later was useful and the better he knew the land, the more successful were his hunts.
Now he wanted to have a company in hunt. And since all his brethern was too lazy to even think about the idea of hunting, he had one option, which suited him best, to be honest. Only he could understand his ways, even if not always approved. And he trusted his bow as much as his own blades.
The Hunter observed urVa as he slept. Not in the mystics settlement, not in the safe gathering. He was his blood, his mind. He knew that killing fear and feel of danger was to face it.
But skeksis never were good at just observing for longer time, even if skekMal was better at it than the others. He slowly descended from the branch he held and jumped just near his urRu counterpart, purposefully lashing his tail over urVa’s side, like a insolent child waking up his parent when all should be long ago asleep.
The tree was urVa’s home, and it was his friend. It offered him shelter under its gentle branches, and it let him use its twigs to make arrows. It was a fine place for slumber, and for meditation, and for resting after a long day spent patrolling in secret, looking for fights to end, and lives to save.
A good friend though it was, it never moved, it never spoke, and urVa felt … lonely.
Gelfling thought him a myth, and Podlings knew better than to wonder whose shadow that was, what they saw from the corner of their eye. Urru never raised a brow as he left the valley, and they welcomed him with equal apathy when he returned to check on them. He rather enjoyed the company of Mother Aughra, but ever since she learned to journey through the stars, she seemed to care less and less about the ground beneath her feet. And then there were the Skeksis. As a whole they did not matter to urVa – they were to him no better and no worse than the rest of his own kind: lost among the details of their respective occupations, sewing and writing and collecting their lives away.
SkekMal, though, was another story. SkekMal, the Hunter, his other, his reflection in a deep, dark pool, very much alike and yet completely different. UrVa wondered at times if skekMal thought of him, despite their differences, if he too felt alone in this living, breathing world, if he too wished to feel the pulse of Thra in the company of someone who could sense it too.
Those were the last thoughts on urVa’s mind as he fell asleep. His first thought upon being startled awake he uttered out loud in a flat tone: “… ah. Wonderful.”
skekMal growled in content. When he was alone, he felt that there is something missing. Now he didn’t feel it, the black hole of his soul absorbing the light.
Though he didn’t indend to show the urRu any sort of sign that he is glad from the meeting. He crouched near the slowly awakening urVa, who only seemed to be slow and indifferent like other urRu, and grinning at him, he spoke.
“Hanging from a tree like a makrak. You always sleep here, easy prey for a predator. Testing your luck, Archer?“
He didn’t need to add that by predator he didn’t mean rakkida or hangus. And didn’t need to as well, that urVa risked nothing. His bow wasn’t his only weapon.
He very often, when tired by a difficult hunt, himself were falling asleep among the leaves, yet his senses alert and even during rest, ready to kill anything that dared to bother or attack him. No one ever took him by surprise in this forest, apart the pure reflection in front of him. The urRu made from this tricky and risky task an art. skekEkt would envy urVa’s creative skills.
Today, though, it will be him, who sets the rules, as he intended to confront urVa with something he tracked already before and came from this encounter victorious yet wounded. He will make the wilderness pay that debt, when his blade slashes the beast’s insides.
He would like to have his counterpart near when it happens, let him feel his victory, and take it in. It will make both stronger.
UrVa narrowed his eyes and tried to rub the sleep off them. He remembered… no, it couldn’t have been a dream. It was a waking thought, a memory of… missing skekMal’s company? Now that he was suddenly here, though, in flesh and blood, sharp as a blade, vivid as sunlight, adorned with tokens of death and radiating the purest lust for life…
“My resting place is no secret, skekMal.”
… and being as exasperating as always…
“Something hidden in plain sight is not prey.”
… but never quite enough to hate …
“It is a trap.”
And with that, urVa jumped towards skekMal, locking their hands together, seeking to push him on his back.
He knew, all too well, that he was the only creature that skekMal couldn’t fight to the death. His skull was the only trophy that he would never collect. Somehow it felt right. As two, he could stand in skekMal’s path, and selfish as the reason may be, at least one soul would exist that skekMal would find it in his heart to spare.
As one, well.. urVa tried not to not even imagine.
skekMal expected that, seeing the glimpse in urVa’s eyes when he locked his hands with his own but the Archer managed to take a hold on him, pushing him back. urVa was as strong as him, and his more massive body was giving him benefit of weight, able to pin him to the ground, if he desired.
The Hunter was faster, though. They matched together, strength and speed, one against each other.
skekMal had one more skill, which urVa didn’t. His body was incredibly bendy and he used that now. He tried to wriggle himself violently from the urRu grasp, his talons scratching the surface of Archer’s skin, feeling as his own flesh burns with pain.
Yet urVa was patient and stale and infuriating and seemed like a stone and they remained like that, in the lock, urVa with bleeding hands and skekMal with a snarl on his masked face.
“You use old tricks, Archer” he growled.
Somewhere, beneath his skull trophy, a violent smile formed, when he suddenly stopped opposing, loosened his muscles and allowed urVa to follow him as both fell on the thick branch under his counterpart’s usual sleeping place.
As soon as skekMal spoke, urVa frowned and braced himself for something completely unpredictable. Luckily for both of them, urVa could think on his feet just fine, and in midair too.
He let go of skekMal, but kept track of his movements as they both tumbled down together. Sunset-colored leaves danced around them and birds flew out of their way as they landed on the branch.
Eye to eye they were, and despite himself, urVa enjoyed the thrill of the challenge.
It felt good to spar with skekMal, urVa had to admit. As much as they might hurt one another at times – and this current scratch was nothing compared to what they were both capable of doing – they both knew that they would always live.
Whenever skekMal injured himself during his solitary hunts, urVa immediately began to help with the healing process on his end, and not just for his own sake. Frustrating though he was, he couldn’t help his empathy and compassion towards the Hunter.
“Good morning to you too, skekMal”, he said, evenly, looking him in the eyes.
skekMal, back pressed against the wood support, then, one, two twists of his body and he was on his legs, the tree big enough to hold them both on one thick branch.
“Good morning, Archer” his mask hiding his expression but urVa possibly was guessing him easily. If the Hunter was angry, he would attack, really attack, to self-wound both of them. The endurance for pain each other had was really strong and giving the other lessons was one of their way of living as one.
His tail lashed when he spoke again.
“You are not easy prey, urVa” this time he used his name, not the title. “But I have seen harder to catch. But not harder to kill.”
That was at least truth. He couldn’t kill the Archer, not killing the Hunter. Two hearts beating as one, if one stops, the other perishes too. Not that he ever meant to kill him. He was just toying with him, a play, he couldn’t refuse himself.
“You don’t like to kill the innocent. What if I gave you prey that killed many of the gelfling and quite possibly will kill even more? Haven’t you feel their pain last night? Your senses acute as mine. I sensed blood.”
That was a half-truth. The gelfling were indeed attacked by the wild beast he planned to hunt on. But the reasons why he craved for this hunt, were definitely not as unselfish as helping the few endangered gelfling.
This was skekMal in a good mood, urVa could tell. Playful, alert, eager for a challenge… and there it was. Indeed he had caught the scent of blood, and indeed he did seek to protect Gelfling as much as he could. His only regret was that he could only be in one place, at one given time, and there was always, always, so much to do.
Strange… it had not occurred to him till then that perhaps skekMal, in his pursuit of worthy opponents, was also taking out those that caused too much harm to the more defenseless creatures of Thra.
UrVa was under no impression that skekMal was ever overcome by the same desire to defend, but at least he had never pretended otherwise, quite the opposite to how he would expect most Seksis to behave… which was something that the Archer could definitely respect.
If the Hunter’s goals chanced to coincide with his own, it was not an opportunity that he could afford to waste.
“Indeed I have, skekMal. I was hoping to track the creature myself as soon as I could. If you want us to go after it together, I shall follow your lead.”
skekMal’s eyes shone when he jumped off the lowest branch and landed on the ground.
urVa’s presence definitely will enhance the hunt. Maybe it will be less bloody but most surely very thrilling. urVa knew things that even he didn’t, mostly connected with gelfling kind. If both’s knowledge joins hands, this hunt will not only be more fruitful but more…
“I sensed the beast not far from here” he said, his voice steady and collected, but not his being. “If we go fast enough, we can catch it before it reaches the next gelfling settlement. And that is what you seek for, yes?”
And knowing that urVa is almost as fast as him, in spite of his urru body, he lowered on the fours and sprinted like a wild animal, his blood boiling with anticipation.
… and there he goes.
Very typical of skekMal to skip the step of waiting for urVa’s confirmation. And why should he wait, come to think of it? It was an urgent situation, after all. Besides, urVa thought that he had left that agonizingly slow way of thinking behind him, in the Valley.
He rather liked the Hunter’s quick-thinking, spontaneous nature, always alert, always ready to attack. He had it in him too, and whether it was something he always had, or he had learned it from skekMal… it didn’t matter. What mattered was here and now, and their plan.
The Archer followed, of course, perfectly able to keep up; the difference between their speed was unimportant, given that he needed to stay a bit behind anyway if he was to shoot.
What was that … excitement building up within him? That eagerness to end the life of this creature? Even one that was harming Gelfling? Was it his own, or did he feel it through skekMal? A part of him didn’t want to continue that thought.
skekMal didn’t turn to see if the Archer follows him. He knew he was.
His all senses focused on finding the tracks and scent mark, telling him where he should seek.
He saw the beast as it attacks the gelfling. Though he didn’t tell urVa – his counterpart would frown. But possibly would keep his dissaproval for himself, he knew how Hunter was and that gelfling lives didn’t matter to him as much as unspoiled hunt.
The track they they went was difficult but skekMal knew urVa will keep up. He always was.
Suddenly, a sharp scent and accompying noise stopped him in run.
He halted, talons dug deep in the earth. Yes, there was something big, though he didn’t hope it may be his prey, that fast.
But hunter must be alert, even if it’s not the animal they seeked for.
He took a strong breathe in and closed his eyes, waiting for his urru to join him.