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A towering dark figure pauses on his tracks to listen to the wind for a moment. He knows he is getting deep into ogre territory, but cutting his travel time in almost half is definitely worth it. Facing off a few ogres definitely beats the thought of enduring any more of the biting winter chill than absolutely necessary.

It turns out that his ears were right; he spots a young ogre nearby. The greenish-black, humanoid creature is not particularly large for its kind, but still considerably taller than the human wanderer who has invaded its domain. The willowy man and the burly, flat-faced man-eater stare at each other for a moment; it has paused in its tracks and does not seem immediately intent on attacking.

This was interesting behaviour, an ogre that came equipped with enough survival instinct to not attack an intruder on sight? That seemed somehow unlikely.

Then he sees the reason for the creature's hesitation: another ogre about twice its size is busy ripping a tree out of the ground. After this procedure is complete, the larger creature wields the trunk in both hands. Now properly prepared for the hunt, it proceeds to rush towards the cleric, the smaller ogre in tow.

The traveller loosens his mace and shield from their strappings, and faces the pair. He feels almost delighted at the prospect of the upcoming battle: nothing like bashing in some giant skull to warm a man up.

The first swing of the large ogre is sluggish and simple enough to dodge, and while the giant is still learning to use its ad hoc weaponry, the traveller steps past it to land a solid blow on the side of the smaller ogre. It responds with an angry roar and rushes to take revenge, but with an evasive manouver ends up almost running into its larger counterpart.

The dance goes on for a while, and as a third ogre shows up to the site, the traveller decides he should be taking this more seriously. The noise is going to attract more onlookers, and there is a limit to what a lone man can achieve in these woods, even with a good mace.

Before the third ogre has time to join the fray, though, some form of black furry lightning assaults it. Another, more steady swing from the large ogre ensures that he has no time to ponder this event further. The two ogres demand his full concentration now: he sets off a furious assault against the larger one while blocking the smaller ogre's attacks with his shield.

At last the tree-wielding giant goes down, beaten to bleeding submission. At the same time, the sleek ball lightning of black fur finishes off the newest arrival of the ogres. The last one turns to flee, but limps already from the many blows it has recieved. It is quickly run down by the strange ogre-flaying forest animal who promptly puts it out of its misery.

The traveller wipes blood off his mace and watches the beast cautiously. It looks like a panther, but would not be hunting ogres for food, and does not really look like it belongs to these parts. Perhaps it is the pet of some kind of twisted ranger, hiding somewhere in the shadows?

Before he has time to start shouting challenges for any lurking onlookers to come out, the panther begins to shimmer strangely. In front of his eyes, the creature turns into a humanoid form, and once it stands up steadily on two feet, it has been replaced by a female human - or what seems likely to be one, considering that it is somewhat hard to tell under all the winter gear.

He realizes he has heard some stories of people like this, somewhere in the far south. However, there is a pressing question that must be addressed promptly:

"You wear clothes? Where did you pull those out of?"

This gains him a mildly exasperated glare from the female. "You expect me to run around NAKED in mid-winter? What kind of a wet dream hallucination do you take me for?"

She, and this is most definitely a she, is also wearing a rucksack with two dead rabbits hanging from it, he realizes. That is a neat trick, indeed. "Where does your stuff go when you are a panther?"

She only stares at him for a while, as if he were somehow dense. Then she glances at the sky and seems to sniff the air in a somewhat animal-like way. "It's going to be nightfall soon. Were you planning to take on a blizzard with that mace of yours, too?"

He grunts dismissively. "There's no blizzard coming." And there better not be, because there is no proper shelter anywhere nearby that he knows of.

"My nose doesn't lie." She seems to consider something for a moment. "Tell you what. I have a hideout not far from here. You can come spend the night there if your manly pride allows it."

He cocks his head; the offer is unexpected but seems sincere. "I have no problem with being sensible and alive," he admits. Whatever kind of hole in the ground she might be leading him to, it would probably beat trudging on throughout the night.

The pair makes their way through the forest without further ogre encounters. The traveller makes a note that some deliberate evasion may be involved, as the cat-woman is not leading them on a direct route. While she could be trying to make it harder for him to find her hideout too, the twists and turns do not seem elaborate enough to make much of a difference.

That strikes a thought. He glances at his self-declared guide meaningfully and asks, "You invite unknown travellers to your place a lot?"

She smiles brightly at him and purrs, "Only the tasty ones. I'm going to have you for supper since these scrawny rabbits I caught earlier won't be enough to sate me." She casts a sultry glance at him that almost cracks his poker face.

"I see," he chuckles in response.

A moment later they arrive at a small hut, artfully hidden from sight behind a concentration of trees. She opens the door; the place is sparsely furnished but functional. There is a small bed against one wall, table next to another, a firepit in the middle and a small chimney-hole above it. A pile of firewood stands against the far wall.

As he takes the sight in, she slinks closer to him and inches a slender arm right past his bicep, almost brushing it, to point at the wood pile. "Would you mind lighting the fire while I skin these two?" He nods, not needing to look to know she has pulled the dead rabbits from where they hung at her back.

He patiently nurses the fire into life with not-entirely-dry tinder, and takes a look around the single-room hut while waiting for the flames to tentatively lick into the wood. His musings on the architecture of the small residence are suddenly interrupted when he feels a pressure against his back: by the gods, but the sneaky vixen can move quietly when she wants to! But he smells the familiar scent of her winter skins with a hint of female sweat, and determinedly relaxes his tensed, battle-ready muscles. She whispers in his ear, lips brushing against his lobe: "Did you find it difficult to light up my fire?"

The tease wins another chuckle out of him. "Not at all, I'm finding the hostess has prepared a most warm welcome for me." Encouraged by the repeated come-ons, he decides to test the waters and stands up to face her.

He is a head taller than the slight woman, and at this distance she needs to crane her neck to maintain eye contact. The gesture brings a flash of what might be slight nervousness to her eyes, as if she were reconsidering the wisdom of toying with a strange man.

But he is a guest in this house, and has pointedly left his weapons by the door. He makes sure the grave lines on his face to melt into a mirthful smirk, and sees her relax again. Such immediate trust, he muses, can likely only persist in the wilderness like this.

He deliberately moves his gaze to her lips, and she reflexively licks them. "You were planning to roast your catch, I gather?"

Her eyes widen for a moment, but then she seems to remember what she has in her hands. The tip of her tongue flicks out to touch her teeth as she grins mischievously and steps past him to prepare the meat for cooking.

Crouching by the fire leaves her back towards him, and he sheds his coat and undershirt while she is distracted. When the rabbits are all set to stew in peace, he sneaks his hands under her shirt hem, finding supple and warm skin underneath. "So... Where does your fur coat go when you're human, little she-panther?"

She squirms delightedly against his touch. "Oh, I'll show you where I keep my fur coat, woodsman, if you show me that staff you're hiding in your pants."

He grins and pulls her shirt over her head, revealing a smooth, bronzed back. Her skin rises on goosebumps where his fingertips dance on it. Over her shoulders he spies a pair of perk breasts just waiting for attention, and how her nipples are wrinkling up deliciously in the cool air.

"You look like you're a bit cold without it..." He sneaks two fingers under the waistline of her pants, "...but getting all warm down here."

She presses her back against him and then makes her way up from the crouch, deliberately brushing against his chest. "I figured you can help me with that."

"Yeah, what kind of a guest would I be if I wasn't earning my keep, anyway?"

She giggles heartily at this and turns around with a hand raised as if to swat him. Yet she freezes in mid-move when she sees the brand on his chest. Her hand follows its projected path and ghosts against the Scythe symbol, then pulls back as if it burned. The look in her eyes is distinctly nervous when she moves her gaze to his eyes, looking for confirmation - but for what exactly, he is unable to tell.

She seems to recognize the brand, so there is no point beating around the bush. "Yes, I am Scythe. Do you have a particular problem with this or are you just wondering if I will be raping and pillaging you after I make you beg for it?" His trousers are starting to feel tight, and he sends a quick imploring request to local gods: let her sense of humour carry her over the whatever issue his guild branding has awoken in her. While there are benefits to the fierce reputation of his guild, scaring her off at this point would be rather awkward.

Her reaction is rewardingly drawn all over her face: first her eyes narrow at the insolence of the challenge, then widen at the implications and finally crinkle in mutual mirth when she notices her prejudices have been played.

"Ha! I would like to see you try, Scythe whelp."

"Don't say I didn't warn you."