It's because Julian said she could. Anything that goes wrong on this hunting trip should be blamed on Julian. Really.
Catriona, dressed in hunting gear of muted forest hues, her silver-pale hair bound and hidden in a cowl, is stalking along a narrow ledge high up an escarpment. Pebbles skitter with every step. No horses, here. A sword is strapped to her back, but enclosed in a dark scabbard so its light blinds less. Over her shoulder, the Karm tosses, "Be on the alert, Ranger. No maps to assault you here, but far more dangerous creatures."
No, no horses here. Also good that Kiernan's not the slightest bit afraid of high places. And that he's graceful and fairly sure footed. He stalks along behind Catriona, keeping pace easily enough with her. He huffs out a soft snort of sound through his nose. "No need of maps now, m'Lady," he says. Indeed, he's shown far more life to him than he had the last time, and the time before, they'd spoken. This time, he actually /smiled/ several times and seems in a fair enough food. He's careful where he walks. Sword at his waist, long staff strapped over his back, quiver at the other hip, and bow over one shoulder. He doesn't appear to be wearing armor.
Cat casts a wry, amused smile over her shoulder, though not for long. Her eyes refocus on the narrow ledge just in time to hop a sudden gap. "Ugh." She comes down on the other side with a grunt. No grace. All strength. "No? Tis glad I am to hear it. I've never been very good at sympathy, or coddling. Spare the rod, spoil the child," she says, though there is humour in her tone. "Have you found a new true love, then? Or won over the last?"
Overhead, the sky is bright blue, cold, but so far, not at all ominous.
"Didn't much want sympathy or coddling," points out Kiernan. He watches her, and then lightly hops the gap, landing with far more grace than she had. He shakes his head to her questions. "No. And no. And I'm not looking. Nor will I." He says that as though he means to not ever let himself fall into that sort of a position again.
Cat glances back at Kiernan with something akin to an eyeroll that says 'Suuuure'. It's an unfortunate distraction, because there's another gap. Not as big, but just as damning for the person making the misstep. Cat's foot lands in air where she expected ledge, and her dark eyes widen. Her mouth describes an 'o' as she begins to pitch forward.
It's a good thing Kiernan's watching as closely around as he usually does. "Cat, ware," he starts. But he's too late. But he's also not more than a step behind her. He takes that last step and his arm snaps out, closing on her clothing and hauling her back toward him as he pitches himself back toward the uphill side of the ledge their on.
It's a whirlwind of motion, and one that very likely saves the Karm's life. Through her clothes and cloak her heart beat is erratic, her breath coming in short, surprised puffs, little white clouds in the chill air. There is a moment taken, in silence, where Cat simply re-orients herself, calms that quick burst of adrenaline.
In that moment, something whispers from above them, barely noticeable to anyone who wasn't keenly aware:
"Careful, you ought to be. Pretty thing. You might have been hurt by her foolishness."
Above them appears to be... nothing. Just a disembodied voice.
Kiernan's hand is still fisted in Catriona's clothes as she reorients herself. "Okay?" he asks, gently disengaging his fingers from the fist around said clothing. He glances up at that whisper of sound from above. But there's nothing there. "Who are you? Show yourself?" Pause. "And she's not foolish. Anybody can take a bad step. It happens."
"Foolish, foolish, foolish," Whispers the voice again, high and light, -almost- feminine, but the careful listener can hear a note of raw masculinity in the tone.
It takes a moment for Cat to recover enough to step away, and when she does, she casts Kiernan a curious look. "I never said I was foolish. Thank you. For saving me." Her gaze remains on the Ranger, even as he looks up. "Are you... feeling all right?"
Those dark blue eyes of Kiernan's remain looking up, scanning the area without actually resting on anything. Seeking the owner of the voice. "Foolish? I still wouldn't call that foolish," he comments up into the sky. His eyes fall back to Catriona and he shakes his head. "No, not you. We're not alone." He pauses, and smiles, dips his head into a nod. "Of course. You're welcome." He nods to her question. "Aye. Should I not be?"
Breathing. On the back of his neck. That's something Kiernan would notice, right? The warm caress of an exhale, the purr of words right next to... and above... his ear. "Pretty thing. You could have been hurt. I would have been sad. Should I push her? Then we could be alone."
Cat narrows her eyes as Kiernan informs her they are not alone. She scans the ledge, the cliffside, the escarpment. Seeing nothing in her quick perusal, she turns back to him, questioning. "Err. Where? I see and hear nothing..." Her hand is drifting to the pouch at her side.
Kiernan bares his teeth and steps closer to Catriona, shifting to put her at his back in what is obviously a protective stance. He can't see whatever it is, but he can sure as hell hear it. And feel it's breath. "No. If you push her, I will kill you," he states clearly, words full of menace and no little bit of growl to the tone. He shifts an arm backward, corralling Catriona closer to the part of the cliff she's not going to fall off of, and closer behind him as it happens. "Just because you don't see it, doesn't mean there's nothing there," he states to Catriona, tone softer to her. His eyes remain scanning before and just above him.
"Well, obviously," Catriona says quietly, with just a touch of annoyance. Still, the Karm doesn't protest the protection. Instead, she continues the easy slide of her hand toward the pouch.
The disembodied voice doesn't seem phased by Kiernan's threat. The tone that pervades now is jealousy. "You like her? She's pale and small. Scrawny. Just a little push. No one would know." The voice begins to drift around Kiernan, almost as if it clings to the cliffside.
The touch of annoyance has Kiernan's lips twitching upward ever so slightly. Kiernan can't keep her behind him if the thing is clinging to the cliffside. Not if he wants to keep her /away/ from the ledge beside them. "Aye, I like her. I'm her protector." In this case, at least. "No. No pushing. I would know." His eyes follow along where the voice is, following it as it drifts around him. On the uphill side. Damn and blast! Kiernan turns and steps sideways, putting himself between Catriona and the downhill side of the cliff. It's narrow, so he crowds her toward the uphill side. "No pushing," he says again, tone firm.
That last utterance of Kiernan's certainly garners the Karm's attention sharply. Her eyes slant sidelong and a candle emerges from the pouch, black with golden veins. "Yes, no pushing would be preferred," she offers dryly, her small, strong frame moving with little hesitation however the Ranger directs. All of a sudden her head jerks sideways and the caul over her hair is torn free and tossed off the side of the precipice. "OW!"
"You see?" hisses the voice, directly above them now, and not far, judging by the sound of it. "Too pale. Almost grey. Old. Ugly." The touch of a hand strokes Kiernan's face, almost lovingly. A masculine, rough hand, reaching down from above. "Not virile at all. Not like me. I could love you much better."
Kiernan doesn't look to Catriona to see what she's doing. His eyes remain on the empty air at whichever location that voice he can hear had last been. "Hey! Stop that!" He slips an arm around Catriona, just in case the thing, whatever it is, tries to shove her to one side or the other and away from Kiernan. Now, any shove will take him, too. He freezes at the touch to his face. "She's not too pale. I'm paler than she is," he points out. "She's not old or ugly either, you're being an ass." He snaps a hand up, attempting to grab the thin air next to his face, and the arm attached to the hand touching his face. "I don't love her," he says to.. the air.
"Under any other circumstance, this would be comical," The Karm mutters, staying within the protective circle of Kiernan's arm. "What is it?" she asks as he freezes, eyes tracking the dart of his grasp.
The voice is not fast enough to escape that grip. It feels like an arm. A normal, run of the mill human arm. Hairy, and well-muscled, to be sure, but normal flesh, warm and supple. It shivers as Kiernan grabs it, whatever it is. "Ooh. Pretty one. You're the pretty one. Prettiest one in a long time." That breath gets ominously closer to Kiernan's face.
"Funny ha ha," murmurs Kiernan in reply. He keeps his arm around Catriona, though. Better to protect him from.. well, whatever it is. "It... No, /he/ is touching my face." Kiernan's hand stays around that arm. "Will you show yourself?" he asks, obviously meaning the creature who's arm he has hold of. He is pretty enough, isn't he? He doesn't seem to mind the breath getting closer to his face. Or, at least, he doesn't move away.
"For a kiss," the voice whispers. "A kiss and the spell is broken. I will be visible again!" It sounds gleeful. "Your kiss, fairest of lads!" The breathing gets closer... and closer. It pauses just a hairs' breadth from Kieran's face, waiting. It's strong arm doesn't even try to move out of the Ranger's grip.
Kiernan tilts his head just a touch. "A kiss," he replies, neither confirming nor denying. "And if I kiss you, what happens to me?" he asks of the bodiless voice. He's not about to kiss the entity without knowing what might happen as a consequence. His hand remains around the thing's arm. His other arm around Catriona.
Catriona blinks very wide, dark eyes at that. She coughs, just a little, and her cheeks shade slightly pink. It must be the confusion.
The creature cackles with glee, it's breath hot on Kiernan's mouth, though not touching. "You might fall in love with my kiss and live happily ever after?" the voice suggests. "Only one way to find out. Otherwise, push, push push! If I can't have you, you really ought to die with her."
Kiernan raises a brow at Catriona's blink, cough, and blush. He looks back toward the.. well, empty space. "So my options are kiss, or death. If I kiss you, will you let Lady Catriona go free, unharmed, with no pushing?" Something in his tone says that if that's not the case, he'd rather die at the bottom of the cliff.
"My word," The thing cackles in assent, with another puff of hot breath. Something like... a beard... brushes nearer to Kiernan's lips. "The ugly thing goes free for a kiss."
Cat fingers the candle in her hand, shifts against Kiernan's larger form. She remains quiet, listening, squinting up to try and see -anything-.
Kiernan considers it. He feels Catriona shift against him, but doesn't turn his attention from the creature. Finally, he nods. "Then we have an agreement. One kiss for Lady Catriona's freedom. Unmolested. Unharmed. No pushing her off any cliffs." Pause. He leans forward and presses his lips to where the lips should be, judging from the beard and where the voice is coming from.
Imagine Catriona's surprise when the creature manifests above them, kissing Kiernan. It's a giant man-shaped thing. It looks like a man, though some two or three feet taller than most men. And it's hairy. Almost every part of it is covered in thick, coarse, dark hair... and that's the only thing that covers it. For all other purposes, the thing is naked. Handsome, in a barbaric sort of way, but most spectacularly naked. And well-endowed. It makes a sound of pure unabashed bliss as it kisses the Ranger.
Kiernan doesn't skimp on the kiss, either. He gives a good one. Lips parted tongue engaged and everything. Whatever else Kiernan might be, he's a /good/ kisser. Go figure. A gay yeti. Kiernan finally pulls away from the kiss after he's given a very good one.
Cat's cheeks are bright red, by that time. Trapped between a guy kissing another guy, and a wall. This day just got weird.
The large man-creature pulls away, too, his arousal evident... and dangling. "Very well, Pretty One. The ugly thing may go free. I will follow you forever." He waits, as if hoping Kiernan will dismiss Cat. Cat, who looks at the creature with renewed interest. She can't see Kiernan, of course, but she'd be giving him the same look if she could.
Kiernan might as well be holding Catriona as a third wheel. She should be able to see everything. Clearly. Including Kiernan. Who isn't bulging in the slightest. No arousal from this one, it would seem. Or, at least, no evident arousal. He nods to Catriona, indicating that if she's going to leave, now's the time to do so. "Follow me forever, huh? I didn't think I kissed that good."
"Better than better," The creature affirms in it's soft purr to Kiernan. "I love you. Forever." It slinks along the side of the wall, clinging to it by some unnatural means.
"Follow him forever?" Cat queries. Apparently, as soon as it materialized and touched Kiernan, she could hear it. She clears her throat. "If he follows me, will you still follow him?" The wheels in her brain are visibly turning, quick calculation in her dark eyes.
Kiernan glances to Catrion with something akin to suspicion. He releases the creature's arm, letting it slink wherever it will, now. Trusting that it won't do anything to Catriona that might wind up killing her. "What are you planning?" he asks Catriona, eyes on her. He glances to the creature and offers it a smile. "What are you called?"
"Forever," the thing confirms to Catriona, sidling down the wall until it can stand up right on the narrow ledge, closest to Kiernan. "I am called Karl, Pretty One."
Catriona lets her eyes drift from the man-beast to Kiernan. "You remember the thing at the Watchtower?" She nods her chin. "Same deal."
"Karl," says Kiernan. "Why will you love me forever? And why follow me forever?" He sounds curious, like he's trying to understand it. He glances to Catriona and frowns. "What did you do to the thing from the Watchtower? You never did tell me." He shifts perceptibly, now putting himself between Karl and Catriona.
"Experiments," Catriona confirms quickly, dispassionately, shifting so that she might keep her eyes on the creature. The creature which now bares it's teeth behind Kiernan.
"Because you're Pretty, and you kiss well," Karl replies, advancing behind Kiernan. His eyes flashing red.
Kiernan frowns at Catriona and shakes his head. "Experimenting on things isn't right," he says. "Karl, you need to leave." He's not even looking at the creature, his eyes on Catrinoa for the moment as they are. He doesn't see the bared teeth. He doesn't see the eyes flashing red.
Cat sees both of those things, looking at Kiernan. But still, she lets him sweat. "Oh?" she questions lightly, tilting her head as if deep in thought. "If I were to bite into it with my sharp teeth, glare at it with my red eyes when it wasn't looking, would it be right then? Or is that sort of behaviour frowned upon, too?" Karl inches closer along the ledge. He doesn't leave.
Kiernan doesn't seem to be sweating. He shakes his head to her question. "No, it still wouldn't be right, then. Well kill to survive. Will kill to protect or defend. We don't experiment on creatures or people. It's wrong." His back is still to Karl, though his eyes flick away from Catriona for a moment and to Karl.
"By order of Prince Julian," Catriona replies to that, "I am authorized to do just such a thing. He has commanded his Rangers to aid me in doing it. Do you wish to stand against a Prince of Amber?" she asks, even as Karl continues to advance with his sharp smile and newly red eyes. Maybe he just wants a hug? "Because I've done it. -Am- doing it, and I can tell you, it is no picnic."
By order of Prince Julian. That? That is a whole different matter. Kiernan deflates a little bit, but he nods. "As you will," he says, offering no further argument. He even shifts a bit to the side so she can do whatever she wants. He turns to face Karl. "I'm sorry, Karl," he says. He doesn't believe in the hug bit for a second.
That candle Catriona was holding? After a few whispered words, it becomes a sword, snapping gold and black fire. At that, the creature bellows. "Pretty One, why! All I wanted was your love forever." Now? Now he's baring fangs, about to barrel past Kiernan, trying to run the Karm off the side of the cliff. Rocks skitter underfoot dangerously.
Kiernan isn't likely to just stand by and let his charge get shoved off a cliff. His back to the cliff, he lets the creature barrel past him, and then /shoves/, bracing behind him against the cliff face.
It's enough. Before Karl can go toppling off the cliffside the Karm slams the broadside of her flaming sword into his gut, hard enough to drive the tall creature back into the side of the cliff. A brutal fist follows, to the beasts' jaw, hard enough to slam its head into the cliffside. Karl, loving Karl, slumps into an undignified, naked and hairy heap
Kiernan draws his sword a touch after the fact, but the beast is down and taken care of. He keeps the sword out. "What now?" he asks, somewhat curiously. The thing is huge. Kier's not going to be able to carry it for that great a distance. "What is it, anyway?"
Cat stands likewise over the prone form of the creature, her dark eyes watchful. "I will trump it back to the City of Doors, where it will be used to test the candles that will guard the new Watchtowers. It is Chaos," she says, finally lifting her gaze to Kiernan. "But of what providence, I could not begin to say. Will you be all right, left here, to find your way back, or would you like a trump to Amber?"
Kiernan nods to her words. "Alright," he says. "Be careful there, okay?" He falls quiet for a moment and then shakes his head. "I'll be fine getting back by myself. Thank you, though."
Cat dips her pale head, caul lost to the wild now. "Thank you. You saved my life. I owe you." A card is withdrawn from her satchel as she speaks, and then she goes to crouch near the Chaos beast. She looks up at Kiernan. "I'll explain more to you when next we meet. Fair travels, Ranger Kiernan."
Kiernan nods to her. "You're welcome," he says. "You owe me nothing, Cat. I would do so again in a heartbeat." He watches as she gets her card out. Watches as she crouches. He nods to her. "Fair travels to you as well, Lady Catriona." He watches as she fades away, and then continues on along the trail.