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Praetorian

[Port Caelum] The Hunting Grounds

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Her half moon gaze rests every lazily on a napkin and glass.  Smokey blue shadowed eyelids contrast the bright semi-circles of her irises. Her pupils, dead to everything but the condensation running down the glass, are akin to pools of coffee snuggled in brightly contrasting mugs. Lifting her left hand up, her index sweeps from the right side of her face to her left, brushing her bangs to the side with a vermillion stilettoed nail.

Plump lips, painted pale pink, pinch together as her annoyance steadily grows. Maybe it’s the music, perhaps it is the clamor of couples, or maybe it is something entirely unrelated to the situation at hand, but there are no doubts that her mood is foul.

Bringing her left hand down to the glass, with every intention of picking it up, she pauses. Something runs down her spine, a small spark of electricity that jumps from vertebra to vertebra kissing life into her nervous system. Before she knows why her alabaster skin tightens against her muscles and bones, and a small tremor runs rampant across her extended hand. Lifting her head from her palm to look parallel with her shoulder, she finally sees it.

The air ripples as the light bends and distorts into a twisted oblong ellipsoid that seems to spiral and collapse into itself.  Along the edges of it, even through the low light and haze, she can see near perfectly magnified reflection of the wooden bar directly behind her.

Her eyes close and then reopen, this time fully. The distortion is gone, replaced by a man. It takes her a second to process this new presence, and with it the fact that he seems to be every so slightly brighter than his surroundings.

“Well, hello.” The words are dawn out, each syllable taking three to four times longer to pronounce than it should have. At least that’s how it feels to her. In fact, this very moment she is living through seems to be taking forever.

“Hi.” He responds, although she finds herself completely unaware that he said anything. Rather, she’s lost in the movement of his body, how his skin seems to seamlessly meld into itself without wrinkling or bulging, how it seems too smooth, too perfect. Her eyes break from his face as soon as she realizes that she is staring, her gaze quickly averting down to the ground as she lets out a gasp. “I’m sorry.” She murmurs from behind her palm.

“It’s okay, I just came over to see if you wanted to dance.”

She looks up to see his arm outreached, fingers splayed. The ivory hand is encircled with a white sleeve garnished with platinum cufflinks, which barely protrudes from the black and grey pinstriped three-piece jacket.

Laying her hand in his, she’s suddenly overcome with a desire to retreat. Maybe it’s that his skin is too smooth, so smooth that it feels textureless. Maybe it’s the chill that overtook her fingers as soon as she touched his hand. Or perhaps it’s the unnatural firmness of his flesh, unbending to touch. Or just maybe it is something primal and instinctive. Whatever it is she ignores it, and against her better instincts she stands up. “I’d love to dance.”

She doesn’t remember walking onto the dance floor, nor can she recall just how long she’s been there. It isn’t that time has stopped, it feels more like it doesn’t coherently flow. As her hips and shoulders sway and roll, and she grabs his silver tie to pull him closer, she swears she sees herself still sitting at the table.

“What are you looking at?” She feels his lips brush across the edges of her ear, his breath warm and moist.  She takes a step back and locks eyes with him. His pupils have an endless depth that seem to readily devour everything… pulling all aspects of the world into them, lost for eternity, and for a second she feels like they’re trying to devour her.

“I’m trying to figure that out myself.” She coos back, her gaze still locked with is. She hadn’t noticed it before, but his irises are a near perfect disc of gold. At least that’s how she feels at a glance. The longer she stares, the more she can see specks of crimson and cobalt prominence bubble up along the rim. They seem to swirl in a molten pool before sinking back into the depths of gilt corona.

His arm raises up above her, dangling her limb, as he half spins her causing her skirt to flare up. With her arms now crossed over her breasts and her back pulled into his chest, she can feel his jawline near the base of her skull, along her neck. “I need to tell you something… I’m not human.” She expects the news to be shocking.

“I’m not sure who would mistake a spider for human.” His response is comfortable, as if she had asked him his favorite color. “I wonder, Jorōgumo.” He pauses briefly to place his lips directly against her ear, “Who is caught in whose web?”

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She doesn’t remember when it happened and she certainly doesn’t remember how it happened. She is almost less sure of how it happened. However, here she is, in the woods, running. She darts between trees, skips between bushes, stumbles over rocks, and staggers up the densely packed mountain forest as she flees from her pursuer.

She could have sworn that just a moment ago she was inside the club dancing with a stranger. Now in the middle of the night, dress thoroughly torn, she aimlessly runs. She can’t explain what primal instinct compels her to run, but even as her thighs and calves tighten up, and her breath becomes increasingly short, fear compels her to keep pushing on. Every fiber of her being tells her that if she stops moving, she’ll die.

As the faintest hint of pale moonlight breaches the canopy above her, she catches sight of a darker shadow along the face of the mountain. Turning ever so slightly she sprints for it and leaps through the wall of darkness that separates the outside world from the safety of the cave. She hits the ground with a thud, scrambles to her knees, and crawls deeper into the cavern, only stopping once she’s found a large enough boulder to hide behind. Braced firmly against it, as if to meld with the rock, she clasps both hands over her mouth to muffle her frantic breathing. As seconds pass her by her panicked heart calms and her erratic breathing stabilizes. With a bit of poise she leans around the side of the boulder so that she can watch the entrance.

“You smell absolutely divine.”

She hears his voice, and although it seems to come from all directions, she gets the uncanny sensation that its near her. Breaking her gaze from the entrance, to look into the depths of cave, she finds a pair of glowing golden orbs hovering about six feet in the air.

“What do you want with me?” The question is a whimper that barely escapes her lips.

The darkness peels away from his figure and writhes in anguish along the stone as crackles of electricity ripple down his limbs. His left hand rises up and with it tendrils of thought slither out to swarm across the ground and air. Before she can react, her body is ensnared. She can feel something that isn’t quite there wrap around her legs, arms, torso, and neck. As her muscles strain to pull free her arms free of the bindings, she feels her skin part. Forcing her head down, she watches her skin and muscles bulge as something worms and wiggles its way through her skin, permeating through her physical body and into her very essence.

“That’s such a silly question. I want you, nothing more… nothing less.” He finally answers, his left arm drawing back as he mimes pulling her toward him. In response her body drags across the ground, stopping about a foot away.

The titan takes a step closer to her and gingerly plants his lips upon her sweat dotted forehead. “If I said I’m sorry, I would be lying.” Pulling his head back, he offers an almost sincere smile. “Thank you for the dance, it was… something.”

Although she can’t explain the exact cause of the feeling, within seconds it feels like her insiders are being twisted and pulled part. The invisible tendrils that penetrated her skin ignite. A flow of blue and purple light travels from her body through the metaphysical conduits, to his. She can feel her skin tighten, her insides shrink, and her bones start to crack under the weight of her own existence. Her skin separates, turning to fine soft filaments that break off and drift away as a steady flow of angel air. A torrent of dust pours from her body, causing her human guise to crumble around her. However, even the oversized spider that remains isn’t spared, and within seconds is reduced to a dehydrated husk.

Clenching and then relaxing his fist causing the psychic hold on the yokai to relinquish. The husk drops to the cavern floor and crumbles, leaving only the dress as a reminder of the woman’s existence.

Slipping both hands into his pants pockets, Farkis exists the cavern and casts a dull glance up to the moon. “I’m still hungry.” His remark is just as likely for the celestial object as it is for himself.

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Trails of fire leaves glowing arcs of ember in the night sky, as a herd… flock, murder(?) of Sogenbi cruise a few hundred feet above the port. The fiery plumes that surround the floating heads flicker wildly in the air, compelled to dance by the force of passing wind. In some ways they are reminiscent of migrating birds, however it seems doubtful that these lesser Yokai possess even rudimentary avian intelligence. No, if anything they are little more than fixtures of the background, some part of the scenery akin to the mountains. And while they might very well be compelled to follow certain flight paths by remnants of their past lives, everything they do is preprogrammed.

Watching them from below, the titan flexes. Two bulges form beneath his jacket causing the fabric to tear. Ebony ichor splatters along the ground and trees, its pyrophoric properties causing the splatter to ignite into several small blue fires. Cracks within his marble skin give way to an explosion of vermillion and obsidian feathers. A set of amorphous black limbs seem to endlessly stretch out, winding through trees and past boulders, before suddenly snapping back into place and widening. From within a cloud of feathers the wings stretch out again and then propel him into the air with a single downward thrust. The ground beneath him craters in response as the suspended feathers explode outward, embedding into trees and rocks.

Within a few seconds he’s closed the distance to the herd to just a dozen feet. Trailing off to their left flank for a moment, he follows in silent pursuit. Golden eyes work from one living fireball to the next. Straightening his wings out, and applying a secondary thrust vector, Farkis suddenly shoots up above the flock. His wings fold around his body, causing his ascent to stop and for a brief moment he seems to aimlessly float upward. However, there is abrupt shift into a ground bound dive. Reapplying the thrust vector, he careens to the ground, his trajectory set to have him pass straight through the middle of the flock.

Within a few feet of the Sogenbi, Farkis’ wings extend again, the sudden application of drag causing him to almost immediately stop. The wings snap and crack as they elongate into taloned arm-esque limbs, the multi jointed claws snagging multiple floating heads at once as they bend inward to force them into centrally located maws lined with hooked teeth.

The numerous sogenbi of the flock disperse, instinctually driven to avoid a threat that they can’t fully comprehend. However, the titan is relentless. The amorphous limbs collapse back into wings and he pulls out of his descent to resume the chase.

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The night was restless, an intangible feeling that snaked through the wind which rustled leaves. The wilderness just outside of the port city was a cacophony, a melody that only the evening in this region could produce. Sounds of wild animals and demons alike created an orchestra and tonight the symphony was deafening. It added to the feeling of foreboding that lingered in the air, perhaps what had all the nocturnal creatures in a ruckus. 

That wasn't the reason the port's Queen was outside of her estate and strolling through the dense thicket of trees. The city was occasionally a stifling thing for the elder fox. It was a cage, a collar, and leash that demanded her to behave a certain way. The vixen was an animal, after all, born in a den with a fur coat and tiny paws. Now she was royalty, a leader of yokai, monsters, and humans alike. No longer a simple fox with only basic instincts to ensure her survival. 

She could feel it; her instincts clamored at her to turn around and leave the forest. There was something here, a dangerous thing that made the hair on the back of her neck stand on end and her chest tight with trepidation, but she continued. From above, she was a phantom of white that ghosted through the trees, her long white and gold locks reflecting the moonlight. The vixen was dressed in all white, a simple hanfu with no additional embroidery to decorate the garment. The chiffon rippled and flowed behind her as the daiyokai strolled deeper into the thick of the woods. 

Movement above her gave the woman pause, and she stopped, tilting her chin up to look at the sky. Her eyes narrowed on the winged man that dove towards the floating orbs of fire, and she watched silently while the Sogenbi fell prey to an unknown hunter. The food chain was such an odd thing. Once upon a time, humans assumed that they were apex predators, then they learned of yokai. Now, Akako watched as lesser yokai were victim to a being unlike any she had encountered before. 

Her instincts demanded she move while curiosity held her rooted as she watched, her expression impassive. Akako tucked her hands into each opposing sleeve of her hanfu dress and held her forearms. When would this creature notice her observing? Akako thought to release a sliver of her yoki from where it was tightly bound and hidden away to prevent giving away her presence. No, she could be patient and wait. For now, she observed with mild interest. 

Edited by Akako Akari
grammar

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An apex predator, by definition is a creature that in a given environment has nothing to hunt it, while actively hunting something. It doesn’t necessarily hunt all of the available prey items, it just isn’t hunted. Orcas and Great White sharks are both apex predators that exist within similar environments, and although Orcas could very much kill and eat the sharks, they usually don’t.

It is by this tiny detail in the definition that Farkis does not qualify for the term, for there are things that actively hunt him. Of course, they equally do not qualify for the definition, for he also hunts them. It is within this highest tier of the food chain that he resides, along with a host of other beings that simultaneously fill the role of predator and prey to those that are also prey and predator.

Due to this dichotomy, the titan has become exceptionally good at identifying things that try to eat him. Usually, they take the form of unthreatening and unassuming women inexplicable charm and unnatural curiosity, which distract from the fact that they aren’t fearful. While Succubus and Jorogumo are the most common, Farkis has come to accept that any proverbial White Lady is both a threat and invaluable resource.

So it is, that as Farkis makes his last pass through the flock of fireballs that he catches glimpse of a presence-less white apparition looking at him. Rather than pulling up from the dive, he vanishes into the tree line, presumably crashing through trees and rocks in the process. However, the cacophony of percussion that should accompany any crash is noticeably missing, as is his essence.

This very presence, which had saturated the rural land, that had gnawed away at the minds of the local yokai throwing them into a frenzy of fleeing, that had inspired a sense of dread about the fleeting nature of their lives, is suddenly and inexplicably absent.

In that moment, the air feels thinner, lighter, cooler, and fresher. It’s as if a cold front rolled through clearing away a bog of thick and stagnant humidity. This reprieve is fleetingly brief, and all at once the weight of his existence falls back into existence like a collapsing cavern. Or maybe, it is more akin to a tidal wave, an unyielding force that violently pushes its way through everything, saturating it to its core as washes away in semblance of a sane world.

Regardless, all at once, his essence is everywhere. Although it pours from the core of his being, the rate of overflow is so great that at her current close proximity to him, there is no distinguishable direction of source. And she is in fact, dangerously close.

The first clear indicator of his location isn’t a particular scent, motion, or a footfall. It is the steady crackling of electricity. Off to Akako’s left, the distinctive crack of current leaping across air gaps, and the thud of arcs striking the ground, heralds the titan’s approach. In the next instance he is there, a nightmare solidified into the real by whim alone.

The golden glow of his irides illuminates his pale face, contrasting with the blue ripples of current that cascade along his body. Freshly fed, Farkis’ body produces unfathomable amounts of psionic energy that overflows from his reservoirs and energizes the air around him, causing it to burst with iridescent light.

Taking a step toward her causes the ground to ripple, like freshly disturbed water. The rising and falling crest of the concentric waves of rock and stone transverse up the trees causing them to momentarily flex and warp into unnatural facsimiles of reality.

Lifting his left hand, as if maybe to grab onto her, sends the air into feverish dance as the light from the stars coalesce into a single halo of light that is both unfathomably dark, and yet so impossibly bright that it can’t be directly looked at. As his hand lowers, he comes to a stop behind a black wrought iron chair that is tucked beneath a glass top table. Drawing the chair out from beneath the table, which certainly wasn’t there before, causes the chair on the other side to slide out simultaneously.

Without breaking his gaze from her, the titan’s wingless body slips into the chair. His left leg crosses over his right knee as his hands clasp together on his knee. “Now then.” The finally speaks, the dissonance of his voice reverberates through the metal and ground, causing it to echo back a somber dirge. “What have we here?”

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Her fox ears twitched, straining to hear anything, but there was silence when she should have heard the snapping of branches, the rustle of leaves, and the booming crash. There was nothing but an eerie silence, and her instincts screamed, but stubborn as she was, curious as she was, she remained. Not only did she hear nothing, but there was no scent, no aura that she could feel aside from her own and the wildlife that was retreating. It was alarming, and logically she knew that leaving now would probably be the wisest choice. She was building what would eventually be an empire, and this particular risk might be unwise. 

However, there was excitement in the unknown, and this being was just that. One didn't live several millennia to walk away from something that sparked an ember of interest. This was new, strange to her and the demoness found herself holding her breath as she listened carefully for the winged man that presumably crashed to the forest floor. 

Then the atmosphere changed, causing a sensation unlike when Akako unleashed the full weight of her yoki. Where the vixen inspired the air to warm and thicken when she tore the fabric of space, this was cool, refreshing, and then it was gone. Righted again so suddenly that she wondered if she had imagined it, but then that doubt was put to rest when she felt his energy once again. 

As if she stood before the sun, she was basked in his energy as if it were warm rays. As it were, she couldn't trace his physical location, though her eyes did scan the trees before her until she finally turned her cheek to look to her left. At the first distinctive crack of electricity, the demoness turned to look. She moved then, turning to face the being, her nine tails sweeping behind her before they settled to swaying idly without touching the ground. 

He began his approach, and Akako lifted her chin, squared her shoulders, and bid her beast to settle itself. What was it... or he, if it was a man at all. Surely he wasn't an illusion; she was particularly good at spotting them given her modus operandi. Given the nature of his energy, she wondered if he was a psion, but this was beyond a human being with psionic capabilities. She wasn't blind, and it was impossible not to notice the effect he was having on their setting. 

It was, however, a surprise when he reached forward. Akako's left foot slid back a fraction, ready to retreat or to brace herself. Whatever she instinctually anticipated never came; instead, there was light. Her right hand pulled away from her sleeve, and she covered her eyes even as they closed to shield herself. When the world seemed to darken again, Akako slowly lowered her hand and looked to the titan. 

A set of chairs and a glass table was arranged before her inexplicably, and she puzzled over it for a moment. Could this be a trap? It was likely. She took a step back then lifted her golden eyes to meet his as he spoke. Her eyes widened for the briefest moment as she heard his voice or voices before she replaced the impassive mask she was known for. 

"I suppose I should ask the same," she said, forgoing her usual conventions. 

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Farkis’ gaze dims at her response, the contours of his mouth nearly vanishing as his lips pinch together. Now that he has more than just a passing glance at her, his interest begins to dwindle. Shit, what’s the word I’m looking for? Neko? No, that’s a cat. Akaname, Akabeko…. Amemasu… Byakko… Dodomeki… Enenra… Furi.. Hihi… Iyaya… Jubokko… Ki—kirin?

Although the thoughts aren’t vocalized, they echo from his psionic pressure as hundreds of whispering voices, each with its on distinctive pitch and tone. The hive of thoughts wildly roll about, washing over the surroundings, much like pooled water on a flat surface.

The vexation on his face grows with every moment as he continues to struggle with a word that rests just at the tip of his tongue. The ears, the tail, the smell, it’s all so painfully familiar… like some kind of long-lost memory that refuses to surface.

The air around them shimmers and churns, twisting and bending into a projection of a small child with a bushy brown tail and a set of equally brown ears. “Sarah… no Robin? God, what was that kids name?” He leans back into the chair, his hand rising up to his chin as his thumb and forefinger frame his lips. “Inu no josei, what is uh… that thing called? Not inu….” His left-hand breaks from his face as he swipes it at the projection of the girl, causing it to dissipate.

“DAMNIT!” The exclamation is marked but an upswell and then outpour of thought which causes the glass table to writhe and moan. As vibrations course through the amorphous material hums. The eerie pitch harmonizes with the numerous whispering voices into an ethereal song with mournful undertones.

The titan’s hand drops to the table, his fingertips quickly tapping an ever-hastening pattern. After several seconds of contemplation, he finally looks back at Akako. The lines of his face twist into surprise, as if he just realized she is there, “Oh, hi. Did we have an appointment? Please, take a seat.” His gaze breaks from her again as he begins to look around. “Now where did I put the kettle?” At a second he gives up searching, and returns his attention to the woman. His eyes lock with her’s, from his glowing pools of gold specs of crimson and cobalt swirl out from the all-consuming voids of his pupils and bleed into the iridescent discs. “I like your eyes, they’re very pretty. I might keep them.” The offhanded comment is delivered as his attention and focus resynchronize. “Ah… that’s right. Now I remember. I’m going to eat you.”

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Why wasn't he speaking? Her brows furrowed as she watched while his face pinched with frustration. Then all at once, a cacophony of voices drowned her, chattering endlessly as they all tried to decide what the vixen's nature was. She was hardly registering each word whispered from what she could imagine was his mind, and it made her incredibly curious. Her eyes narrowed on him, and she nearly took a step closer, if only to inspect him and decipher something that might strike her as familiar. But her nose and every other sense deemed that he was an oddity and something unlike anything else she'd ever encountered. 

And he was dangerous. 

Akako could sense that without a shadow of a doubt. This being was a predator to yokai, though she wondered if she could be a danger to him too. It was exciting to consider, and perhaps more foolish for her to stick around to find out. The demoness was rarely intrigued to this extent, and so she stayed despite the clamoring of her instincts and insisted otherwise. 

An image had her avert her attention to see the child with a likeness to her, but somewhat different in coloring, size, and of course the number of tails. The daiyokai shifted her gaze once again and landed on the seated being before her. He was still on about what she was, and it amused her a bit. Her lips twitched, nearly cracking the carefully crafted facade she deemed appropriate in front of this stranger. 

"Kitsune," a mere three syllables rolled off her tongue as she remained standing before him before he finally looked to her again. 

He seemed startled that she was there and then she tilted her head, also confused with him. It seemed as if there were several personalities rolled into one which was concerning and also captivating. So, the demoness found herself stepping forward and lowering herself into the seat, unwilling to leave this chance meeting to spend more time in her study. Akako didn't take his veiled threat lightly, however. There was something more to it, and she knew that letting her guard down would mean death, but the danger of it was exciting. Adrenaline coursed through her and she reveled in the feeling that she thought she'd never feel again. 

"Oh? That is quite the claim." 

Her lips tilted up as she offered the hint of a coy smile. "I must say... most gentlemen have the courtesy to treat me to dinner before making outlandish statements." 
 

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