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(Character: Amagdalum; Artist: Kawacy)

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(Character: Nobunaga; Artist: Kawacy)

They were inseparable: cat and dog.

And they got along just as poorly.

"Leave me alone, Amag!" 'Course, Nobunaga didn't really mean it. It came out as a panicked scream, but there was nothing on Nobu's face but sheer delight. Flickering sunlight illuminated her sharp teeth at intervals, and her green eyes' pupils had narrowed into deadly slits, as always under situations of high stress.

Her ears, matching in color her black hair, made subconscious adjustments as she tore through the jungle vegetation, constantly changing their angle for her auditory advantage.

Nobunaga heard Amagdalum laughing behind her as she wove through the dense foliage, trying to lose the dog spirit.

Of course, being a cat spirit, Nobunaga was always the prey: the object of the hunt.

She moved swiftly through the trees, "swift" being an understatement. Underfoot, she crushed green, leafy plants. Her shoes left deep footprints in the moist soil, and small branches reached out and snagged her clothing, creating tears and leaving sharp cuts on her skin. Interestingly enough, the game of the chase left no room in her awareness for the processing of pain.

She'd deal with it later.

The jungle was beautiful at this hour, but Nobu had no time for aesthetic appreciation now. Though she knew Amag would never hurt hertheir bond was too strongher body didn't know that. With the surges of adrenaline racing through her, Nobu's body had entered a mode of "fight-or-flight," a product of Nobu's evolutionary heritage.

But it had been too long. They'd been fighting for over an hour now, and her muscles screamed with exhaustion. She cursed under her breath, making a decision. Amag wouldn't win this time.

She slowed down purposely, enough for the dog to catch up to her—

And heard the unmistakable sound of a blade cutting through the air.

Thwack!

Nobu leapt back from the flash of white dominating her right-field vision. She blinked hard, clearing the sweat that had fallen through her dark lashes, until the figure before her came into focus.

There Amagdalum was, her chest rising and falling rapidly. Her dress shirt, having once been a glossy, shiny white, was stained with dirt and blood. The sleeves were ripped and had been rolled above the elbows. It took her only a moment to pull the blade free from the tree, leaving a deep incision in the wood. Her eyes sparkled with primal joy.

"Runner's high?" Nobu gasped, acutely aware that Amag had been seconds too late. She stepped further back and reached for her sword's hilt. With a glittering flash of black, the long and thin blade was out of its scabbard and held menacingly before her. She smirked, crouching slightly in a stance reminiscent of a feline, and made a show of protracting her claws.

Amagdalum bared her teeth and lunged.

Her blade slammed into Nobu's, forcing her backward. She dug her shoes into the ground and leaned forward, trying her best to prevent the dog spirit from overpowering her, but it was impossible. Strong though Nobu was, she was no match for Amag.

But whereas Amag had greater strength, Nobu had greater speed.

"Something like that." Amag smirked, sensing victory, and leaned in further, forcing the dark blade closer to Nobu's body. Behind the anger, she saw uncertainty in Nobu's eyes; Amagdalum, both taller and stronger, could easily win now. 

Nobu grit her teeth, her arm muscles aching as she tried to keep the sword distant. But it took all her strength, and Amag knew it. She effortlessly pushed harder still, until they were only inches away. Then Amagdalum grinned, and delivered a hard kick to Nobu's back leg.

Yelping in surprise, the cat spirit lost her balance and landed hard on her back. The force of impact knocked the ebony blade from her fingers. Quickly, she reached for the sword, but Amag beat her to it, using her free hand to press Nobu's deep into the ground. She used her other to aim the edge of her sword at Nobu's neck, pressing the blade against her skin.

"I've got you now!" 

Nobu said nothing for a moment, regaining her breath. Her mind was racing. Due to the speed at which she was currently processing information, it seemed that time began to slow down. Her deep, emerald eyes looked up toward Amag's expression of predatory focus.

"No way out," Amag continued. "Might as well give up. I win, again."

Amagdalum waited for Nobu to say the words of surrender so she could get off and help her up; at the moment, she had all but pinned Nobunaga beneath her.

Nobu said nothing.

And then the unexpected happened.

Nobu's expression became coy.

Her eyes shining with a confusing energy, she reached for Amagdalum's sword-hand, lightly resting her fingers over her wrist. Amagdalum flinched at the unexpected touch, feeling a sudden sensation of fear, but for some reason didn't pull away. She wasn't sure what, but something about Nobu's touch made her skin feel electric.

She didn't realize she was staring at Nobu's hand.

Nobu used her thumb to stroke the back of her hand gently; soothingly. For some reason unbeknownst to her—a reason she was scared to explore—the touch relaxed her. If it had been somebody else, the massage might have caused her heart rate to slow down and her breathing to deepen; but because it was Nobu, she had to remember how to breathe.

Still, she tried to meet Nobu's eyes, not wanting to show weakness.

Nobu shot her a charming smile.

"You always do, don't you?" Nobunaga murmured softly.

"What?" Her voice came out sharper than she'd intended. Having been so distracted by... irrelevant stimuli, Amag had completely forgotten what it was she had said. 

"You always win," Nobu said, amused. "Very impressive."

Her eyes lazily studied Amagdalum, who was struggling to keep her expression guarded. Amag suddenly became aware of the sound of her own heartbeat quickening in her ears, and cursed internally the moment she realized the feline would undoubtedly have noticed. After all, she could hear Nobu's heartbeat, which had for a while been slowing down. 

Amagdalum didn't mean to—her muscles weren't even tired—but her sword-hand trembled involuntarily. Conscious that Nobu must have felt this subtle, almost imperceptible movement, she suddenly couldn't bring herself to meet Nobu's eyes.

In the blink of an eye, Nobu gripped Amagdalum's wrist more tightly, and twisted her arm. Her guard having been temporarily lowered, Nobunaga took advantage of the timing to wriggle her pinned-down hand free of Amag's slackening grasp and reach for her ebony sword. She forced Amagdalum to fall backwards, leaping to her feet and leveling the pointed tip at her chest.

Amagdalum's eyes were wide and she wore an expression of shocked alarm. Blushing involuntarily, she looked at Nobu with an expression of disbelief.

Nobu raised an eyebrow.

"I win."

It took Amag a moment to grasp what had occurred, but when she did, her expression deepened into a flustered scowl.

"D-damn you!"

The jungle was dense, and teeming with life. Caught up in the chase, neither had noticed the minute details that might have earned them wonder for their excruciatingly beautiful surroundings. 

Slipping through gaps in the thick foliage overhead, the sunlight fell in shafts of glittering light. It made its way down Nobu's sword, and glinted off of her belt and uniform buttons. The sunlight also fell on Amag, glistening off her shirt and lighting a fire to her red eyes. Slowly, Nobu's eyes began to return to normal, the slits widening and her face adopting a more human expression.

Amagdalum glared murderously as Nobu laughed at her own cleverness. 

"That was faster than usual."

"You were fast," Amagdalum muttered, almost under her breath. Of course, thanks to her superior senses, Nobu had no trouble understanding her words. 

Nobu retracted her claws and extended her hand, offering to help Amagdalum up. Amagdalum didn't move. She glanced up at Nobunaga's face, which had now adopted a placid and relaxed expression—a trusting and loving expression—but her own expression was guarded. She ignored the kind gesture until Nobu's ebony-colored blade was back in its sheath. Then she reached for her own sword's hilt and stood up on her own.

"You're faster than you used to be," Amag stated, crossing her arms before her chest. She was feeling uncomfortable and she couldn't deny it, though not just because she had lost. It also had to do with the way she had.

"And you're stronger than you used to be," Nobu pointed out, a smile on her lips. Amagdalum studied Nobu's expression warily, reassessing the person standing in front of her.

Emotionally manipulated. She had been emotionally manipulated.

Amagdalum shrugged, part of her frustration dissipating as she thought about the truth of what Nobu had said. She had gotten stronger, and that pleased her. More than she would say. But Nobu's words couldn't quiet the unease that lingered in her mind.

Just what exactly did Nobu see in me to make her think that would have been effective? What was that about?

"Yeah, whatever, fair enough." She put a hand on her hip and began to look around, adopting a neutral facial expression of boredom. "Too bad that's done with—fighting you is one of my favorite things to do."

Avoiding the elephant in the room.

Unlike Nobu, Amagdalum was actually barefoot, and her claws sunk into the cool and moist soil. Surrounding her feet was a forest of clovers that had cushioned her fall. Nobu laughed, stepping forward and trying to straighten her collar. A lot of good that would do; this was yet another article of clothing they had, in their passion, damaged. The movement startled Amagdalum, who instinctively tried to pull back. However, after a moment, she stopped resisting.

"I promise, the feeling's mutual. And don't worry;  there will always be a next time. Besides, I think an hour and a half of playing rough is long enough. Let's head back now—what do you say?"

Edited by Fox

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