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Sunset. 
 

The final hours of the fourth day.

 

Weary and low on hope, the hunter falls to his knees and washes down his face in the nearby stream. Sounds of the dense forest have come to a hush, the wildlife prepared for nightfall. The monsters of this region are ruthless, the strongest the man has ever faced, yet it won't deter him away from the goal. Countless new wounds, scars painted across tanned skin – trophies to forever mark his longest hunt. More satisfactory from the endeavors once his prey is captured.

Yet, it's becoming reckless and more dangerous then ever. Supplies are low, areas for shelter from the Night Beasts scarce. Chances of getting out here alive, with his target or not, are slim. But he has to keep fighting. He must.

I'll find you...! Even if it kills me!” 

A faint noise in the distance breaks the stillness, a splash further up the stream. A common noise, yet it startles the human. It's been all but silent besides the rustle of leaves in the breeze for the past hour.

Likely nothing,” comes in thought, “but better safe then sorry. Besides, need to keep moving.” After his canteen is filled and wounds patched, he moves silently through the brush. Within minutes does he arrive at a pond where two streams meet – the clear waters catching reflections of dimmed light. As expected, there's no movements, no sound. There comes a sigh, his thoughts were correct. Perhaps the exhaustion is producing noises, that or the onset infection of an earlier injury. “Should find shelter.”  Right as his back turns, that familiar splash is heard once again. Head whips over a shoulder, eyes at full alert and scanned all around. It doesn't take long to see a shape, the source of the noise. The hunter kneels into taller brush entranced by the beautiful sight.

Near the center stands a slender figure by its back at thigh height within the pond, sun-kissed skin peppered with umber freckles. A short, fluffed tail shakes away droplets as a hand parts through ashen hair – its pointed ears wiggling along under a pair of tanned antlers. 

A Cer-fae!” What luck! Exactly the creature he's been after. But is it the same one he's sought for these unmerciful days? Soon as it faces the hunter's relative direction, there's no doubt about it. The distinct marking under those honey colored eyes, petite nose and angled jawline – it's him. The mysterious deer-like creature that's captivated the human since first glance. 

“You...!” He no longer veils his presence and boldly steps to the water's edge. The fae's sight locks to the muscular figure, expression in shock. 

“The human,” he responds in a gentle tone. 

“The one and only! A bath before fleeing home?”

“Indeed.” Despite the initial surprise, the creature lacks any fear when approaching the other. He steps fully out from the pond and inspects the hunter with a keen gaze. “Thought you've given up by now.”

“Have no reason to.” Leaning to the side of the tree, he flashes a toothy smile in return. “Already told you I'll hunt you to the end of the world.”

“Your determination is admirable and also not one to underestimate. Yet...” Nose twitches for a brief moment as he gathers a set of leather garbs left nearby. “You won't be human for long.” 

“You Cer-fae keep surprising me. No idea you creatures possessed that power.” A hand comes to press over the armor at his shoulder, the leathers stitched and stained faintly with blood. “Can smell a Night Beast's bite?” 

“Us guardians of the forest are sworn to fight the foul plague of twilight along with any other threats that tread our land, you know well. We must know all signs. Funny, is it not? Try to kill me as human only for me to kill you once you've turned.” 

“Who said I'm out to kill you? Never did clarify my purpose.” A brow of the fae raises inquisitively. A mark of power for humans is to kill his kind, be it a Cer-fae or any other fae. But the hunter's intentions are clearly not that, otherwise there would already be a knife in his gut. Defenseless, not a stitch of clothing and distracted by causal discussion – what better time? Interest is piqued, golden eyes narrowed.

“Then tell me, human,” he begins placing the fur and scaled armor on, “while we're at peace, do remedy my thoughts. Why it is you hunt me? To sell my antlers or body for wealth? To drain my magic to further power your allied elven mages?”

“Neither,” he replies without hesitation, “I'm after you.” A vague answer, the fae grows ever more curious. 

“Then to keep me as a slave? Walk me around your stone cities like a pet and sideshow for the masses.” The human responds with a shake of the head and stands up straight, gloved hands brushed down his attire.

“Would never do such a thing to a gorgeous man like yourself. Your beauty is unworthy of shackles.” Yellow eyes round out, a faint dust of red grown at his freckled cheeks. Humans are known for their charm, yet to have flattery pointed at him is all too embarrassing. Not even his own kin has complimented his appearance in such a manner. 

“Gor-gorgeous? My beauty? Did you use the wrong terms? I am nothing of that.” The realm inhabits fairer creatures, ones less reclusive and roam the same streets as humans. Why him? 

“I beg to differ. You've captivated me since I laid eyes on you. The chase is kept because I want you. As you Cer-fae call it...” The hunter subconsciously licks over his lips. “... mating.” The stag is now unsure if to be disgusted or flattered, nose wrinkled up.

“You chase me, risk your life to... bed me? Interesting...” Not the answer that was expected by a long shot. So all this blood and feared nights are simply for sexual gain? Humans, brainless things they can be at times. Never-the-less, the creature puts on a smile. “Then answer me this. Why didn't you take me while I lacked garbs? Anytime during this peaceful conversation?”

“Simple,” the other responds with a nod, “because I want to gain it. The chase we've had has my blood boiling. The thrill is unlike any I've experienced! If I'm to take you, it can't be handed over without a fight!” The determination is more prevalent then initial belief, the fae muses. A fair 'huntsman,' in a perplexing way. Is this the meaning of this human's past pursuits no matter the prey? Regardless, this adds an interesting piece to the puzzle. Tufted ears give a flick.

“Strange human you are, but a motive is a motive. Then that shall be our deal. If you're able to catch me, then I'm all yours.” A mischievous grin creeps to his face, which is all too surprising to the hunter. Is the creature showing its true colors or are Cer-fae more fickle than stories play them out to be? “The thing is, you won't. You never will. And judging by that scent, this will be our last chase. A Night Beast you'll become within hours.”

“Then you'll run slow for me, right?” replies the human just as playful, arms folded over chest with a challenging look.

“You wish to gain, yes? I'll be running till breathless, hard and fast enough until my ankles are numb.” Those ears pin down and stance stiffens, as if ready to dart away at any given moment. The human's posture shifts as well, grin wild.

“Just what I wanted to hear...!” Gold eyes meet turquoise in an intense stare. Neither unmoving for seconds, what turns to a minute, only to be broken by a twig snapping nearby.

 

The chase is on.

 

The fae pivots at his heels and leaps through the brush, his opponent responding in a flash. There's a reach out, intended to snag an arm before it truly begins, but completely misses – fingers grabbed at air. Worth a shot, like hell that will ruin the drive. Without missing a step, the human is in full pursuit, heavy footfalls leaving the forest bed in crumbles. The tree line moves faster and faster as the pace increases, dead set on keeping his prey within sight. The summer breeze brushes hard against face and blows back unruly, viridescent hair. The final pursuit of the fae and his human life. It's all or nothing.

“Indulge me!” the fawn shouts, clearly heard like the forest itself is speaking, “With this being our last fight, please do tell your name!”

“Tch, how amusing!” he howls back, “Seeing as you asked so nicely, it's Basshi!”

“Hmph, for a human, it's not horrible! Then allow me to tell mine, that way you'll know the name of the one that slays you come your transformation!” His head turns over a shoulder, impressed he's able to keep up in spite of his injuries. This won't be boring. “I go by Ao'yagi, it's been a pleasure. Sadly, our time together has ended!” 

 

--- 

 

Faster, go faster!” 

 

The blur of the other figure is barely within sight as the hunter races through the forest brush, the soft glow of the setting sun guiding the way. The injury at his right shoulder is all but burning much like lungs and soles, but he has to press forward. A log jumped, a rock dodged – so close, yet so far. Passion sears his intentions, from the prize he may receive and the ring of his prey's name.  

Ao'yagi. 

It's beautiful, much like the fae himself. A rarity in it's own to hear the name of a supernatural creature, a blessing. Yet... this is it. His mortal life will end within hours, soon joining the monsters of the night. Mindless, only out for blood – his friends and family forever gone. Why? Why is he spending his last shreds of sanity chasing after a dream? A stupid one at that. Then again, there's not enough time to return to the city no matter how fast he runs before the curse sets in.

 

This is it. The final hunt.  

 

“Ao'yagi!” he screams through the woods, “Don't hold back on me!” The fae's agility is being tested to it's limits. With every turn and tumble he sprints in a way he never has before. He doesn't really understand it himself why the challenge was accepted. It reeks of absurdity unfitting for a high ranking warrior such as himself. And yet here he is. More of a thrill seeker than he made himself to be.  

"And you the same!" he calls back in a taunt as he glides seemingly effortless at the forest terrain. Steps light as the wind against the pursuit.  

For the passing days, all thoughts and movements have been pinpointed in capturing this stag. Unknown to Ao'yagi has the human watched, studied little movements from bounds over forest bed to how the elements themselves lift the Cer-fae into heights unimaginable by mortals. It's become predictable, in a way. Better, this isn't his first hunt of the elusive forest dwellers. Ao'yagi is skilled, definitely a warrior class, yet weaknesses can be exploited. 

 

That is... if the right opportunity arises. 

 

So he waits, seconds turning to minutes in pursuit – stamina drained to ceaseless puffs of airs for life. The fae is cocky, all knowing he'll win this battle, which is another card against the table. He'll eventually be open, the right time to strike upon him. 

Keep going, you can do this, Basshi! You aren't weak!!”

“You'll be mine!” he again shouts, “Only a matter of time!”

Ao'yagi indulged the human because he knew there's no way the other would triumph. He's been doing this for days after all, injured and spent. He considers this as a benevolent act given that he would have to say goodbye to his humanity, among other things. He smirks at the other's confidence and carries on. Despite self-assurance, he doesn't let up one bit. A high tree was in sight, so he opted to climb that. Surely Basshi can't reach that height with how heavy his being is at the moment. Agile and cleaver as ever, the fae escaped by doing much the same on an earlier chase. 

 

Not this time.  

 

Sights lock and study how the creature maneuvers up the bark – there's a pattern. To the trained eyes of an elite hunter, the subtle sways and leaps are easy to follow. Here's his chance, otherwise his prey will be lost within the canopy and take another hour or so to track if hidden in the tree line. He closes some distance, Ao'yagi around half way up the massive timber when a move is made. A throwing dagger – which he sparsely uses – is snatched up from his belt and thrown with precision, aimed at a looser area of the fae's armor near a hip.

Ao'yagi was sure he'd be able to escape within the canopy. Once he reached his goal it would be checkmate for Basshi and that'll be the last he would see of him at least in conscious human form. A branch was within his reach. From there he would pull himself and shuffle through the branches.  

But then he felt something snag. His belt was pinned on the trunk of a tree with-

 

A... dagger?!”

 

His footing loosened and he tripped on the next branch. The stem he's supposed to hold onto went pass by his fingers. The next thing he knew he was falling. It was unbelievable! How could've he miscalculated?! Time seemed to be in a stand still until he hit the forest floor on his rump with a rough thud. 

"Oof!"

From calculation did the human expect the fae to fiddle the knife, keep his grip with a free hand from until freed. Yet there he is on the grassy earth, belt torn to shreds and completely exposed. Better yet, the gap between them is minimal – a solid jump is all it would take. And that's the hunter's decision. Mustering whatever strength left, a last dash and leap of faith is undergone. Despite his injured and bulky form, leathered hands make direct contact with the fae's shoulders and slam down – upper body doing the same. Their chests meet, each hearts beating a mile a minute, turquoise hues fully embracing the golden.

 

Beautiful... absolutely stunning!” 

 

He's witnessed the creature lacking a stitch yet this... this becomes the highlight. Pupils dilated, the shock prevalent – the hunt is a success!  

 

Ao'yagi is his!  

 

“Caught... you...~"