[RO] a scorpion stung its head
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Vapor clouded from Khael's narrow muzzle as she panted softly, going through the motions with her spear. She leveled her weapon at an invisible foe, jabbed, swung the haft back out of reach, all in encumbered motion. Her poise was careful, her balance trembling, but her dark face betrayed no tension, and she practiced in silence but for short breaths pulling frigid air into her lungs.

The day was cold this deep into autumn, the leaves turning but for the evergreen sentinels in the Blackwood beyond. The jackal wore thick layers to safeguard herself from the temperature, fine fabric padded with the best fleece Tink could provide, and did not leave home without dressing as such – even on more temperate days. Only in the privacy of her home did she feel secure enough to shed this, wrapped around her wife in a yin-yang as they slept on a dwindling bed.

As if nothing had changed, the Milite struck out again. The moon had almost completed its cycle, but she needed to maintain strength, needed strength.

She took a break, slaking her thirst from a waterskin, when she felt a pair of eyes on her: discerning emerald. Mirte Haumann was watching her again, though this time openly, her arms folded across her evergreen blouse and her chin lifted. She smiled, approached when she noticed Khael noticing her.

You have good form with those spears. Do you mind if I join you?

Khael wiped droplets from her whiskers with the back of her wrist. I didn't know you fought, she said, watching the setter cautiously.

Oh, I don't advertise it. She rolled her sleeves back. I'm ashamed to say I haven't kept up with my training, however. I haven't had a good partner in some years. Something almost wistful came into her gaze, but it was brief, and the smile on her broad muzzle never wavered. Perhaps we could spar a little? Some light hand-to-hand? A little movement might keep us warm, hm?

Her hum was soft, her gaze on the padded clothing Khael wore.

It should have been the Henchman's first clue.

And she should have said no, but wary as she was to allow Mirte her whims, she was more wary of letting the setter out of her sight. Ember eyes narrow, she nodded and stepped back, moving in a semi-circle around the ring as Mirte followed on light feet. When Mirte showed no inclination to strike first, Khael lashed out instead, and the setter ducked her blow and shifted speedily to the side – belying her lack of practice. Her smile had dropped, but her calm demeanor did not change.

Not even when she spoke between controlled breaths, weaving and redirecting the clawed hands that lashed at her with clever strikes to wrists and elbows. You are much slower than I thought you were.

Khael growled, aimed a quicker blow at Mirte's head. It glanced off near one of her feathered ears, the chestnut fur whisked aside.

You were not this slow sparring with the servant.

The next growl was sharper, as was the strike. It hit the Confidant hard, enough to make her grunt, but it exposed Khael to a blow to her ribs – leaving her gasping even though this was cushioned by layers of cloth and fleece.

Why, she breathed, circling around again, do you bring this up again? She swallowed, her mouth dry, her gaze hot. I thought I made – myself – clear.

Very clear, Henchman.

Then why do you – uff! A kick glanced off her hipbone, and she stumbled, catching herself before she fell. Her eyes flashed to Mirte, wide, angry. You came here to fight me in the open, you old bitch?

Would you prefer I veil my threats? You didn't. Her face had hardened, despite the smirk making its return. You want us to be clear with each other. Step down, Henchman, and I won't talk. It's a simple transaction.

Driven by rage more than desperation, Khael snarled. Her claws glinted, blunt and black but ready to cut, as she lashed out.

You must have a death wish—

Mirte waited until she closed in. Delivered one precise blow, controlled, that Khael saw almost in slow motion.

The jackal shrieked. No!

The blow was controlled, but she felt immense pain – and stronger than the immediate nausea that came over her was the terror. She dropped down into the sand, cradling her stomach, and found the breath that escaped her was almost a sob. The whites of her eyes flashed as she looked up at the Confidant.

Is that language you understand? Mirte prompted, as Khael pulled up her tunic to rub at the softness of her belly, fingers trembling.
The setter watched this a moment before she crouched to the jackal's level, her sultry voice soft. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices. Her emerald eyes watched the woman's expression shift. Your rank is a small one in the grand scheme of things. Wealth is a small debt in the end, too, because you can always earn that back.

Khael snarled defensively when the setter reached for her, and Mirte smiled, hand freezing over her. Your priorities change when you become a parent, she said. I know this as a fellow mother, Khael. Her head canted, soft ears falling aside, and her smile faded again into seriousness. Do you relent?

It was with difficulty that Khael sat upright, a hand pressed to the swell of her stomach, feeling for dangerous cramps that did not come. When she shuddered it was with a terrible fury as much as exhaustion from fear.

Yes.



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      <div class="title">but between my soft hands they die.</div>
     
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