Shiloh did actually blush at that but he turned as quickly to be manly and powerful, and hoisted the doe upon his shoulders with practiced ease along with his pack. Tucking the legs of the deer around either side of his neck he strutted a few steps past Belle. Taking a deep breath, the sound rushing in his nose in a soft whistle of air as he leaned in just enough to really capture it again.
"You know, once I have someone’s scent…" he paused his steps in front of her spinning around on one foot until he faced her. "I can find them again. But that’s not as much fun as a race," he said walking towards her, eyes glistening with mischief found in a child, and flashing with a ring of gold around the blackness of his eyes. He leaned in for dramatics but his smile broke all pretenses of this being anything serious.
"I can beat you to the meadows outside of the harbor, in a run, with this upon my back," he said wrapping his arms across his chest to lock around the legs to keep the deer in place. "And with it I win a dance after dinner," he said boldly in a whisper of fun, letting his fur ripple over his forearms, down his thighs and calves. The bones in his face shifted slightly, brows furrowing forward in added bone in bulking muscle to hallow his cheeks and elongate his jaw that would be able to accommodate his fangs.
"Try to keep up, and if you win, you can tell me what your prize is." And before he would let her speak he took off. Phasing more into his beast form as his legs elongated, shaping to that of his wolf as he remained on two legs. He plowed through the woods, brush and low handing branches smacking against this skin in small slashes across his skin that healed with every stride closer to his home. He could smell, the sea air, mixed with his unique scent of cinnamon and musk. Letting his ears pitched back for a second in curious wonder if she followed he phased completely human before exploding from the tree line and right into the meadow on the outside of the Ports.
A sea of violets swaying in the gentle breeze coming from the waters edge littered the small patch of greenery, the Ports in full swing of their day but with only two massive ships in the harbor. Docks of pales gray woods over the years reaching out into the blue ocean large enough to house eight of the largest ships in the world. The square was packed with vendors of all kinds, and Shiloh could smell the pies, and foods littering the small stands that made his stomach growl. Small local stores, with their homes above dotted the backdrop past the square and Shiloh found himself in stunned silence over his little home.
Not realizing if Belle won or lost the peaceful moment was stirred by her scent and he faced her with a soft smile momentarily forgetting the bet. “Not much right?” he said, watching the line of carriages leave off the main road heading to all the cities and villages in Athoria. Horses shoes knocking against soft worn cobblestone set in red hardened clay from the sea. “Did you win?” he asked, not really caring if she did or not, just excited to show her everything around his home.
It would hardly have been a fair match no more than a year ago, when Belle was in full possession of all her heavenly powers. Then she could have merely willed herself to the new place, or flown on gilded wing. Now, she had to rely on muscle within and without and its inevitable fatigue. There was hardly a choice, however, as her challenger had gained a headstart and left her with no recourse for protest.
She wouldn’t have balked at the challenge given the chance, anyway, and, even now, as she found herself left behind, all she could think of was the other’s playful nature and brash claims; both brought a smile to her face and she was glad of it. Then, gaining her wits, she set off after him, idly wondering how much of the frienship growing between them would be a game of catch-me-if-you-can.
There were short-cuts she knew, secret paths unknown to Men that she remembered from ages past, but it was to no avail. Shiloh, even with his burden, was the faster of the two. Belle gave good chase, however (and were they counting injuries incurred during the race, she would have been the victor for she avoided all scraping, scratching branches, roots and rocks) and was at the werewolf’s side once more not terribly long after he had arrived at the prescribed finish line.
It was a prettier space than she had expected, purple and green, a salty tang on the light breeze, the ocean and its infiniteness just over the horizon. Looking to the ports and town square she thought she might understand, just a little, the man’s draw to this place; his loyalty to her people. They seemed an honest, hard-working bunch; simple and true, deserving of a richer afterlife than the hardscrabble one they forged on earth.
“It’s beautiful,” she answered, just slightly breathless and cheeks flush from the challenge. Belle shook her head at Shiloh’s next question, a soft breath of laughter accompanying the gesture. “You were too fast for me so you will have your dance. I only hope you don’t have two left feet in this form.” A wink and she was off, feet following a path to the town proper.
“Show me your home,” she called over one shoulder, trusting her wolfish companion would be close behind.
Shiloh found he could listen to her speak all day. Her voice soft spoken, poetic in the little uplifts of certain letters and the drawn out vowels that made him focus on every words leaving her tongue. He didn’t think it possible to be affected by speech, but if they chose to sit under the tree and talk the rest of the day he would be oddly content with that. Swinging slightly from a branch, he lowered easily, holding himself up on one arm before dropping to the ground.
White littered the green grasses, around her feet, and he found himself smiling beautifully at the entire image of the flowering tree in the mists of a terrifying forest. Little velvet petals had found their way lodged in his hair, sliding down his shoulders as he walked over to her space. Moving his hand slowly not wanting to push his boundaries, but willing to walk them, he reached up and pulled a single trapped petal along her bottom lip from the skin and blew it off his finger sending it spiraling into the rest.
"I sure made a mess," he chuckled, "how is it you managed to keep those, less than friendly like me, predators off your trial? I didn’t smell you right away which was new. But not many people wonder this far north. Actually, I have only ever ran into a handle of people over the years up here," he said shaking his head to rid the petals from his hair. "I actually come up this way under Rahu, or the full moon. Safer for most if people stayed away from the area then, even you."
He wasn’t sure why he said that. Maybe a small warning to what he actually was. Though confident she would be a worthy challenger he would hate to run into her up here under those circumstances. Friend or foe didn’t exist to him under those powerful rays. Maybe to other wolves, but not to Shiloh. Not without his maker there to keep him in line. Now his scars itched along his back, the three clawed lines extending from his shoulder blades down below his tailbone. The oval brand barely defaced, scared in a raised brand of his old pack, Silas had only let one claw run through it before he banished him.
Shaking those thoughts as quickly as possible, he played up a bright smile to hide all his inner demons suddenly racing forward to cloud and darken his mood. “How many more animals you need? I can help you catch a few more if you like? or we can walk to the ports, talk, maybe get dinner.” He said it confidently though a small blush crept up his neck that he had went there. Not having much to lose either way, both suggestions would be fun. He just needed a distraction, and didn’t want to see her leave yet.
Belle stood still as Shiloh drew near, her eyes locked on his face, perhaps reading his intentions or, then again, perhaps she only wished to gaze upon his masculine beauty. Lips parted just so as he pulled the errant petal free; fingertips reached up to gingerly touch where his own had just grazed, like a young girl reacting to a first unexpected kiss.
She echoed his laugh with her own, a soft breath of a sound. A stray, stubborn petal remained in his hair and she reached up to pluck it free, tit for tat, fingers combing mussed strands back in place, echoing the gesture imparted when he had been in wolf’s form. A moment came and grew then, in the scarce space between them, where she might have been so bold as to kiss him, but it faded and passed. The huntress stepped back, putting inches that might have been miles between them.
“I’ve traveled these woods for — many, many years,” Belle began and there was a beat, a pause, in her statement. “I know my way and am known. Most predators know to turn at the sight of a hunter.” Her tone turned teasing, playful, with the last remark. “But I will bear your warning in mind and be more mindful of the moon’s phases in future months and keep my travels further south when the moon is full.”
The gratitude was sincere. Though she could feel a closeness growing between them, she had no doubt that, under the maddening influence of a full moon, Shiloh would no longer be the sweet, playful young man before her, but little more than a crazed wild beast. And though she had faced similar foes, and worse, in her time, she had no desire to test her skill against preternaturally strong claws and jaw or to do him harm. His scars had not gone unnoticed, even if they remained unspoken of; such marks, she knew, rarely carried happy memories and she did not wish to cause him distress. They were a point of curiosity, though, and, maybe, she thought, if their friendship continued, she would one day ask for the story.
“What I have is plenty, thank you,” Belle said, returning his smile. “We should return to the ports so you can disperse your gift. The sooner she is prepared, the sooner your families’ cooking pots will be once more full.” Then, not wanting him to think his hopes had been utterly dashed, she laid a hand on his arm. “I can think of no better way to spend the remainder of this day than with you, Shiloh. I would love to see your ports and to dine with you.”
Azrael’s eyes slid aside to the woman who was nothing but grace and kindness, whose words were surely meant empathetically rather than infested with a wicked modicum of castigation. Perpetually hard to read and confoundingly sour, he hadn’t taken them as such. What did she know of suffering in all her life-bearing positivity, the benevolence of her verdant vestments? Human beings deserved all of the suffering they brought upon themselves though their blatant disobedience. Only through their pain could any sort of redemption be achieved, could their festering existences be absolved - without it, how would they ever know the tenderness of their creator, the light in which their afterlives would be swaddled? The angel of death looked back down. His hair slid from shadow-sewn shoulders to cover his face in a silken curtain.
The stroke was quick, though it was nary much of one. The thin blade of the dagger served its purpose well, piercing deep between pre-punctured plates of armor covering the chest, past the ribs and to the slowly thumping heart of the desperate man lying in wait. As he exhaled his final breath so Azrael inhaled. How sweet it was, the soul’s escape, felicity and fervor for the blissful apex of his work rendered in flutter of eyelashes, an ensuing sated sigh. He crossed himself and pushed the remaining waste aside; more compost fodder for whomever was unlucky enough to be saddled with cleaning up that fatal mess.
"I appreciate you coming so quickly," he said as he stood, "There is use for your skill yet, I suppose." It was certainly a queer way of saying thanks. Wiping the sanguine soaked blade of the knife along his hip, Azrael returned the thing from whence it came when it was resheathed.
Following her fellow’s suit, Sofiel, too, crossed herself at soul’s departing and spared a last compassionate glance at the recently deceased.
Though she didn’t revel in war’s waste, she was no wise ignorant of battle and suffering. While her brother in arms came at conflict’s end, reaping what spirits proved ripe, she found herself in battle’s heat, steel cutting down enemy hordes, arrow shot raining death and agony on the unprotected, the unsheltered. She bore no malice for the difference in their roles; Azrael was well-suited to his as she was to hers. And, if she were entirely truthful, she found more enjoyment in the work she engaged away from the battlefield; there was a joy to be found in nature and her bounty just as it could be found, odd though it seemed, in the ordered books she tended listing the world’s souls.
As Azrael has chosen to take her words contrary to their meaning, so Sofiel remained blissfully ignorant of his sour tone. “Of course,” she intoned, head inclining ever so slightly, a sweetly sincere smile on her lips. “I would come to your aid at any time, Azrael, as I’m sure you would come to mine.” On her feet once more, she fell into step beside her dark counterpart. “Would you mind overmuch if I stayed with you? It’s so rare to find just we two.”
The question and observance were friendly in nature, no ulterior motive shewed in moss-green eyes or sun-bright expression.
Shiloh hadn’t even made it to the deer before it was dead upon the ground. It’s eyes flashing in that way that meant its life was ripped from it’s body, soul departing to what ever God collected them. His smirk filtered through his beast that took form from his charge, and dotted his skin in patches of fur. As he walked over to it he lowered to his knees, sniffing at the carcass along the haunches and to its neck. The Garou paused at the arrow, pulling it easily out bringing about its rich scent of blood that sent his head forward in a bow, pressing his hands into the side of the animal as he remained on his knees for the moment.
Shiloh was angry at his God. Had been for three years now, but he still said thank you. Still took the time to be thankful for any sacrifice of life for his benefit. Even the innocent humans who stumbled upon his path on a full moon, and his control left nothing short of a true monster found in fairytales. Regardless of his distain to a God who never listened he said his blessing to the soul of the creature Belle killed swiftly and rose to his feet with a nod in agreement to her statement.
"Not for me," he said softly, reaching down to hull the entire doe upon his shoulders. Its head flopping down his back as he looped his arm around its hind legs. "For the Ports. There aren’t many locals there, about five families maybe since its mostly for trade but the Inn and other small buildings house some people I have come to love so I bring them kills every once in a while." Walking over towards her he handed her the bloodied arrow, with a softer smile. Nudging her arm in matching playfulness as he noticed hers was an added treat to his day, as not many women came to take much notice from the ronin.
He set the deer down upon the ground near the tree he already forgot the name for. It was stunning though, something so unique and different then anything he ever saw before. Hog tying the deer’s legs, and wrapping a small burlap bag over its head he let it sit a moment for details not needing to be spoken on when dealing with a fresh kill. Its blood had dripped upon his skin as he ran his thumb along the small tickling line to place it in his mouth. He couldn’t help closing his eyes to the warm taste. Glancing with a wink he wandered to the tree and pulled himself up. Climbing up as high as he could go just to see how tall it was.
"Where did you learn to shoot?" he asked, hoping he wasn’t prying too much. "Right into it’s heart. Really beautiful form too, all second nature, instinctual I might need to see that again. It does things to a hunter like me." His chuckled filtered through the leaves as he shook a branch high above her to cover the entire area in white petals.
That Shiloh intended to take the doe to others and share its meat came as a pleasant surprise to Belle. It added another facet to the Garou’s personality and, truth be told, made him that much more intriguing.
Eyes and mind calculated weight on the hoof and subtracted hide, head, intestines. The doe was large for her breed and well-fed; living, she would have stood taller than the bucks of smaller deer breeds. “A skilled butcher should see a hundred pounds of boneless meat gotten from her, perhaps more. Your families, if thrifty, will be well fed for a nearly a month’s time. This is a generous gift you give them, Shiloh. Her skin will fetch a fair price as well; bones and teeth can be sold, too, for the making of jewelry. Your people will have done well by her death.”
Belle looked down to the doe once more, silent for a moment, perhaps offering her own prayer for the departed spirit, then glaced back to the man at her side and the arrow in his hand. She took it with a small, grateful smile and slid it back into her quiver with its mates.
Head craned back to watch her fellow hunter’s clamboring and climbing and her smile turned joyous at his antics. “My Father taught me.” The answer was cagey; whatever her past might be, it would seem she wasn’t quite ready to divulge too much of it. “Archery is — I suppose it’s as you said, it’s second nature; instinctual. Beautiful.”
She let the thought drift away, carried on a gentle breeze and replaced by a soft rain of fragrant petals. Hair, eyelashes, lips, and cloth caught the floral deluge. Uplifted face showed joyous beauty and she held hands out to catch all she might as if, perhaps, by catching the falling petals she might catch and hold onto this moment.
War was hell.
…Or ecstasy, depending on the point of view. Azrael stalked among the scattered bodies of a clearing whose atmosphere was still resonatingly electric from the throes of battle. Its length was scarred with fatalities rung from the odious rag of war, casualties caused by the pettiness of human discourse and disagreement. Swords lie upon that tract in the warm glow of sun, shimmering and broken in scattered piles, stabbed as sabers through the chests of men to pin them onto the ground that bore the red stain of their final days, as if they were sample specimens stuck in waiting for their souls to be dissected from their mangled forms. The heat brought by the sun’s rays did little to ease the stench of decay that lingered in stagnant patches around the collection of corpses, but it was far from off-putting to the angel. As he stepped over the putrid forms below, black skirt trailing through the mess of blood and mud in grim assimilation, he felt sublimely sated.
In steps, Azrael sought the still writhing shape of a man who had yet to abandon his mortal struggle. Eyes roving the wreckage splayed before him, inattentive to the path he walked from his senses guiding the way, he thought of his lost brother Abaddon. Maybe war was hell, maybe this spat was his doing. The destructive signature was certainly reminiscent, but far be it for the angel to be able to tie it back to any significance. All demons were destructive; they easily summoned havoc and chaos in the spaces that were without, but, to a degree, the same could be said for his kind - those warriors of the Creator. After all, He was the original warmonger with his jealousy, his fear-inducing wrath. Upon the sharp slice of horizon, a threatening storm cloud traipsed across the otherwise clear sky. Heeding the warning, Azrael lay his troublesome thoughts to rest. He turned his eyes down to meet those that looked up at him, jaundiced and glassy with a near constant stream of tears.
Kneeling, the angel took the man’s head into his lap, gently cupping cheeks that were soiled with blotches of Earth and the essences of fallen comrade alike. His wounds were grave enough to lead the man down an unreturnable road, and yet the walk was long and miserable. Flies swarmed in droves, feeding themselves full of tissue-meat that had turned gangrenous from lack of attention, insect kings drunk upon natural degeneration, thriving where another was failing. Despite this, there was no pawing - the shabby remnants of the man had naught the limbs to; no moving, for his strength was sapped and his voice gone to the point it was little more than the ghostly huffs of breathy sobs in the presence of the being that would usher him off this mortal plane. The man had suffered through the wait of a day already, and though there was some demented thrill that coursed through Azrael’s divine body because of it, the angel of death would not prolong it any further.
Sliding a filthy hand into the fold of black cloth over his breast, he removed a dagger whose scabbard was resplendently wrapped in symbols wholly pietistic. Discarding it to do the deed, as the blade was approaching the man’s throat was when the angel noticed they were eclipsed. Looking up, the monolithic form of a bear whose mouth was dripping salivation cast a shadow upon them. Azrael softly sighed.
"Ever gracious Sofiel,” he whispered, “see it in your heart to spare this man from further flaying of flesh in his final moments. Let his passage be paid by the merciful kiss of this misericorde rather than the ravenous raking of teeth and claws."
Sofiel’s answer was nigh-instantaneous, the angelic woman appearing in a breath full of earth and wood and newgrowth. Nutbrown hair hung loose to her waist, sides intricately braided and tied upon themselves, sprigs of wildflowers tucked in here and there in spots of riotuous color. Her dress belonged more to the woods surrounding this clearing of death, all airy and shades of green. Intricately carved bone decorated a slender waist, from which a heavy dagger hung, and the bone jewelry repeated about throat and delicate wrists interspersed here with animal teeth polished to a jewel-esque gleam.
Disregarding, for the moment, her fellow and the dead and dying surrounding him, she stole to the menacing bear. One hand lifting in a symbol of peace and goodwill, the other beckoning to the mad creature in a show of faith and trust. She spoke to it in low, soothing tones, the language unknown on earth as Man had forgotten so long ago how to speak with Animalkind. The beast’s anger calmed, dissapated, with time as it came to understand that this just ended battle had precious little to do with it and its young; that these Men had destroyed each other and posed no threat. It was a dialogue, between girl and beast, and in the end, she bade bear goodbye, hands cradeling its massive head as she bent to touch her forehead to it. A gentle smile curved the corners of petal pink lips as she called the bear friend and wished it luck in the seasons ahead.
Finally, laboriously, the bear turned away and lumbered back to its secret lair. Sofiel, task completed, turned to Azrael and his still at hand work. Quietly, respectfully, she knelt on the other side of the still-lingering man cradeled in the reaper’s lap.
"You’ll have no further trouble from the woods’ predators." Her voice was low, the words gentle in their intoning. "Please, release this one; he has suffered so much." The girl’s request, as though her compatriot needed urging to get on with his work, came not from a distaste for war or an overly sensitive disposition, but from a dislike of needless suffering. Death came, inevitably, unstoppable, with life, but she saw no need for it to be a tortuous thing if succor was so easily gotten and given.
"Many others? Hmm," he flirted, grinning as he took to a walk through the woods. "Most only think we are in children’s tales. Come in the night, black a night, with dripping fangs to eat their bones." Shiloh huffed a laugh. "My mother use to read me those stories when I was human. Told me never to stray close to the forest or the wolves might take me. It worked when I was young, but I found myself wrapped up in sword fighting once I turned twelve, never worried about those beasts, convinced I could fight them off….see where that left me."
Maybe that was another warning from his mother he never took seriously. Not sure if she ever knew the destiny planned for her son. Shiloh picked up a stick twirling it around to wield it as a fake sword in front of him. “Bow and arrow your weapon of choice Belle?” he asked always curious about people who hunted animals in different ways. “I can usually catch them with my speed, break their necks before they see me coming. Keeps the coats clean, when I want to take the meat back to the ports.”
Shiloh’s ear twitched as they walked, musing about random things as the forest remained quiet around them. Reaching up he pulled down a white flower upon the most random tree surrounded in the mess of the Hallowed Oak. “What a strange tree,” he said pulling the white petals in his hand and blowing them her way. All around them were the haunting tangle of crooked creepy trees, yet here among the darkness rested this beautiful creation. It almost made him want to pray. “Here” he grinned, handing her a flower and turned to pull a piece of the bark away to bring it to his nose.
"I have no idea what tree this is," he said slightly bewildered, bringing the bark to his mouth to bite on it. Bitter, no heavenly sap or nectar upon his tongue. "Oh," he said peering around the large trunk to where a beady eyed doe stood staring their way. "Guess you can show off for me now if you like," he said resisting the urge to chase after the perfect prey, "after all I did give you a pretty flower, a fox, and my best berries. The least you could do is kill that deer with one arrow before I catch it." Shiloh shot one glance her way, winking before he took off.
"I never had a mother, but my Father issued similar warnings of dangerous men whom I was to stay away from at all costs and yet, here we are, disobidient children that we are …" She followed Shiloh’s lead, stepping after him deeper into the woods, eyes lowering at her returned flirtation.
She nodded at his question. “I’ve had a bow for as long as I can remember, though I’m no slackard with steel.” The heavy huntsman’s knife on her belt attested to that; an arrow might bring down an animal, but it wouldn’t skin and quarter it for ease of transport and it was all but useless in the rare case of a close quarter animal attack.
As they came to the blooming tree, she passed to one side as Shiloh passed ‘round opposite, one hand passing over rough bark and patches of smooth moss. The blown petals landed on shoulders and pelts and cheek, adding a sweetly feminine air to the girl’s rather masculine tunic and leggings. She accepted his latest gift, her fingers brushing lightly against his, tucking the flower behind one ear. It suited her and, if he were like to let his imagination run wild, Shiloh might envision her crowned with blooming bursts of wildflowers.
"It’s a milkwood pine," Belle said in wonderment, half to herself, half to her companion. "No wonder you’ve no idea what it is, they’re not known to grow this far north. So far from home, what wayward bird brought you here as a seed…?" Given the inquisitive look in her eye and the half-murmured question it would seem she expected an answer from the silent sylvan sentinal.
Her musings, internal or external as they might have been, were cut short by Shiloh’s soft exclamation. Belle turned her attention to the doe, already gauging the distance it stood from them and calculating the shot neccessary to fell it. She accepted the challenge without a word, muscle memory guiding her hands as they readied longbow and arrow. Again, she took off after the Garou and, once more, at a slower pace, but this time her aim was true. Before he was three-quarters to his mark, the doe fell to her knees then side, an arrow showing just behind the shoulder, having hit her, mercifully, in the heart.
"My gift to you, Shiloh. I trust it serves." The smile gracing her lips carried an air of playfulness.
Shiloh rolled up from his back, legs bent slightly at the knees as he finally was able to see his hunter. His smile was bright, sparking in white teeth that sent a blush to the tips of his ears at hearing the name of their kind on her tongue. “You know the term Garou? Not that of werewolf or wolven beast? You must be something more than what meets the eye as well if you know a term like that,” he said with a cocky grin, sliding a berry into his mouth.
The wolf hadn’t had that much fun on a hunt in a while, and he looked over the woman who much to his delight wore a matching smile in friendliness. Pressing his palms into the soft soil he pushed off sending his body into the air. Golden tan fur erupting upon his skin, shedding his human freckled flesh with thick, powerful muscle as his face shifted and molded into his wolf form.
In seconds he was his beast, towering in height. Lean legs, and his half tail wagging slightly in excitement to phase in front of someone. He walked over, keeping his head low as he nudged his head under her hand. Breathing in the strange smell from her wrist. Air. The cleanest air, that of the highest mountain heavy in ozone, and crisp morning clouds low on the horizon by the ports. He put it to memory, locking it away so he could track her in the woods, or if she ever wanted to play hunt again.
Walking backwards he shot her a wolfish smile even in his fully phased form that always came out startling if people weren’t prepared to see all his teeth. Pushing up quickly, he rose upon his two feet, sending his knees to buckle inside out, and snap back into place for his human body to take form. Turning around to walk towards his pack on the ground in moments he was back to his fully human form as the last of his joints snapped back into place.
Peering over his shoulder he barked a laugh, “I haven’t done that in front of someone in a long while. That’s the full me though, my half phase is quiet frightening but quite unnecessary when meeting woman hunters in the woods.” Shiloh pulled out a pair of spare wrinkled shorts and stepped into them as he talked. “You can have that fox, Ill catch another,” he said sliding the article low upon his hips before turning to face her.
There was something more to her, and he couldn’t place it but he felt drawn to her presence already. Either way, he was grateful to have met someone friendly in the woods, and not a human scared of the big bad wolf. Pulling out the fruits, he threw the bag over his shoulders, hand out stretched holding a small pile of little blue berries towards her. “Name’s Shiloh by the way,” he said putting a few berries in his mouth. “Can I have your name? or are we destined to play chase as hunter and beast?” he asked biting his lip to hide his smile.
"I know those names, too, and crueler, more ignorant ones, beside," Belle admitted, head cocked slightly to one side. Her smile took on an air of the enigmatic; what more she might be or might have been she kept closely guarded.
She watched the man’s transformation back to beast with ill-concealed interest; though her days had been long she had never seen such a thing with such clarity. It was beautiful, in a wild unfettered way, the way a storm roiling at sea is beautiful, and she felt blessed to have been allowed to bear witness to the change.
The lupine head that had insinuated itself beneath her hand was patted, delicate fingers combing through fur, thumb rubbing the slight groove between predator’s eyes. In that moment she knew she had made a most unlikely friend. She let her hand drift from his skull to her side as he stepped away, changing once more. Surprising herself, she found her eyes drifting, just for a moment, past waist and hips before snapping back and up to his shoulders. More and more human every day, came the unbidden thought before being hastily pushed aside.
At the fox’s mention, she brushed a hand against its tail. “Thank you. For the fox and for your trust.” She stepped closer to him now so as to accept the proferred palmful of berries. Two or three were plucked from the group and placed between pearl-like teeth for a rose pink tongue to savor their taste.
"Shiloh," she repeated the name, tasting and testing it alongside the berries. Both, it seemed, were to her liking. "You make admirable quarry, but I would rather we were friends than hunter and prey. You can call me Belle."
Shiloh howled in a high pitch yip that was far from the manliest thing ever to come from his mouth in his Garou form but he couldn’t help the fun he was having. Her face was priceless. Slightly shocked upon the fox but probably more so that he knew where she was, and even after the offered the token of peace she still trailed him. It was too perfect. There was something more to her, it was interlaced in her scent. Proving that there was more than what appeared on the outside, as most supernaturals wore their homid faces well. Shiloh was no exception to that rule. His beast able to remain tucked behind the illusion of human skin and bones until he wanted to release it.
Running ahead he leaped to the trees, phasing enough for his massive paws to claw their way up the tree and scramble half way until he felt he was hiding from sight. His half phase was usually enormous, towering near seven feet, but he took on more of his human features as he hung from a branch. His muzzle flattening in small pops of bones that sounded like a barrel rolling across cooblestone. It use to hurt, the phasing of bones that elongated and reshaped under his flesh, but after three hundred years it was near instant if he wanted it to be. Just a flash of pain like placing your hand over a flame. He loved it.
Pulling himself up upon the branch he phased completely into his human form revealing a small leather satchel hung around his completely bare body as he hid from view. His smile was explosive, eyes glistening in the brightest hues found in the meadows of spring. Her scent filled the air, just as the last of his fur faded into tan freckled skin, and he pulled out a slingshot from his bag to load a small round fruit. Training is eye he pulled the object back and flung it towards her, followed by a booming laugh that would have awakened the dead sending him clean out of the tree to fall upon the ground laughing.
Though she had kept her distance, Belle was still close enough to see the wolf leap into the tree in a decidedly feline move. Delicate eyebrows darted upwards as, again, this creature displayed queer, unwholsome behaviors. Killing the thing for its hide had long since fled the girl’s mind; what she pursued now was knowledge, a more precious thing than any goods or gold.
Well-tuned ears caught the faint sound of bones popping into, or out of, place and she wondered, for a fleeting moment, if the creature was wounded or if it had come across another prey animal. When nothing fell from the tree’s branches, her curiosity grew. The flung fruit made her start, a rare thing, head jerking to one side to allow the projectile passage. No wolf had ever, being that they lacked the manual dexterity to do so, thrown anything.
And, so, the mystery deepened.
And, nearly instantly, it solved itself. The laughing man on the ground, and his appearance was less shocking than one might think, answered all questions in Belle’s mind. A thought lingered, though, with its clearing, that there was once a time when she would have known what the wolf was with but a glance.
“Stars and saints,” she swore softly, stepping into the clearing before the man’s former hiding spot. “You gave good chase, Garou. I would have thought you were but a wolf if not for the fox and fruit.” Her voice was soft and sweet, like a summertime afternoon. Her gaze didn’t leave his face, the corners of her mouth turned up in an amused grin.
Shiloh could smell something divine mixing with the other scents of the forest. The crack of the bow string winced his ears back upon the crown of his head as he paused in stride to stare at the woman in the distance. Fluttering heart steady, consistent of a hunter on the prowl. Maybe even after the little fox now running away. Her step to the side calculated, that of a switch from little fox to that of his massive wolf.
A chuckle resonated in his chest, taking in her flowing hair pinned from her face as to not hinder her aim. Arms corded in the best of ways, still retaining a level of femininity paired with skin pale, near flawless even in the soft light dancing through the thick canopy above. He usually didn’t play games with humans, unless she wasn’t. But being sighted in the thick woods by another always stirred a want to. Test her skills. See if she could sink an arrow upon his thick coat. Turning his head in a curious manner, breathing in her rich scent to imprint it to memory he took off. Kicking soil upon the air in a wave as he pushed, Shiloh picked up speed to catch the fox she missed.
Weaving through the trees, crooked and eerily designed. Like fingers trying to snatch him up upon the ground. It made for new training for the Garou, and he wondered for a moment how well the woman trailing him knew these woods. Peering over his head to see if she was following him, he let his tongue dart out to wet his nose as he picked up the scent of the fox, leaping completely into the air he pounced upon the small prey. Crushing it under his massive size easily snapping its neck. He sent a quick prayer out for the creature before putting it in his mouth, its limp form hanging from his jaws as he tossed it in the direction of where he could hear her moving. With a glint of excitement he howled, sending his head back and to the air before he took off for another prey hoping maybe the pretty hunter would follow.
Belle kept her eyes on the lupine form, tracking it visually as it took off after the frantic fox. Confident the predator hadn’t taken note of her presence, she gave cautious chase. Experience taught her it would do no good to exert herself in the first minutes when such a hunt might take hours and, so, she was slow and steady in her steps. Sharp eyes took in tracks, disturbed growth; ears picked up those triumphant howls and the softer, subtler sound of paws hitting ground, stirring leaves and snapping dry twigs in their haste.
These woods were familiar to the huntress, far moreso than the stone cities made by Men. Her deeper memory, that which could not be taken from her, recalled when this place was no more than saplings and green earth, before any creature made its mark with foot or tool. She moved with the confidence of one who knows that each step will land just so; like one guided by absolute, unshakable faith.
She paused to watch him to make the kill she had missed. It would have been easy to take him there, but she stayed her hand; he had earned this moment, let him revel in it. Admiring respect turned to surprise when the fox’s corpse was thrown in her direction, laid at her feet like an offering or, perhaps more true, bait.
It was a behavior she had never in all her time, angelic or mortal, seen displayed by the lupine. Intrigued, she picked up the dead thing, adding it to her pack, and kept on the wolf’s trail, dogged and insistent in her pursuit.