I still like this story. Man. I should probably work on it again sometime. Even if the names are little bit. Let me think. Gay. Characters, though? Awesome. ... or something. They were both originally for an RP, but that never panned out.

Kimito and Yuzu

Kimito wondered if it was too late to reconsider her line of work if she was already dangling one-armed off a cliff in a thus-far vain attempt to retrieve a canteen. Probably. "You should have thought of that before you left the house!" as her mother would have put it. She gritted her teeth, sweat beading on her brow as she strained her left arm in one last attempt to retrieve it.

And damn 'pay-after-services-are-rendered' straight to hell!

Briefly caught up in the fury of that thought, she made an unthinking lunge at the canteen, loosening the clod of dirt that held her anchored in place. She uttered a strangled sound, feeling the dirt crumble under her fingers. Damn that roc, while she was at it. Stupid bird. She'd lost half her provisions in the bottom of the chasm, and on the returning sweep -- well, there went her canteen.

She stretched toward it again, then screamed thinly as the dirt threatened to give way completely. There had probably been a better way of going about this. Too late now, and she'd have to abandon her only water supply -- always carry a backup! -- to the cliffside, which didn't need it anyway!

Thinly echoing curses made their muffled way down into the chasm as Kimito swung her left arm back, catching the side of the cliff. "Damn it," she said aloud, as she pulled herself up over the edge, then, "Damn it!" She huffed in a deep breath. "Damn it all to the gods sitting up on their bright heavenly bottoms, and --" Here she paused, flipping herself over to land in a crouch. "-- Damn that bird!"

She seriously doubted the gods were listening in particular. "Ugh," she said, for no reason other than to utter a sound of disgust, and she stood up, limping a little where she'd pulled a muscle trying to get away from the roc. How was I supposed to know there was a nest there, anyway? None of the usual warning signs at all, and the idiot who'd hired her hadn't said anything about it.

Kimito sighed, feeling much put-upon, then leaned over to scoop up what was left of her pack from where it lay, near a boulder. Enough food for what, a week? If she skimped, maybe. Her stomach snarled as if in reaction to that thought. Three days, tops.

She stomped ungraciously back toward the shallow stretch of trees that formed the border between the cliff and the thicker forest. She'd dropped her bow -- not to mention her quiver of arrows -- back there when the roc had tried a lunge through the trees. Oh well, she thought glumly. I got my mark, I suppose. That idiot of a merchant had wanted her to fetch -- he'd actually used the word 'fetch' -- a couple of silver stones from a nearby cavern. Pity he'd neglected to warn her about the oversized buzzard guarding the pass!

The buzzard itself was going to make a five-day feast for some scavenger at the bottom of the canyon, owing to a lucky misdirection spell that had sent it careening into the far wall. She was fairly proud of that, doubting even the finest mages in the Territory had to cast many spells while falling off a cliff.

"I'll charge him double for this," she mumbled, reaching the trees and spotting her bow -- exactly where she'd dropped it. She'd only been at this bounty job for a year or so, she reflected, scooping it and the quiver up, then wandering around the general area to find her scattered arrows. She wasn't supposed to be good at it yet. But she should be able to distinguish a bum offer when she got it -- right?

Of course not.

The half-elf finished retrieving her arrows and slung bow and quiver into place, quickly double-checking her pack to make sure the stones hadn't gone the way of her provisions, then limped toward the path to begin the long trudge back to the township where she'd hired. She wasn't actually a bounty hunter, but she'd gotten herself a guild permit anyway -- just to make things smoother when she was out on a job. She considered herself more of a wanderer than anything else, an affectation that would have undoubtedly sent her father into hysterical giggles. Well, I am a wanderer, she consoled herself stubbornly. After all, I do wander.

From there, her thoughts returned drearily to the long walk back, so she would have completely missed the sound of the violent battle -- had she not nearly walked right into the battle itself. Writhing around the outer fringes and closing on the center itself was a tangle -- apparently carnivorous, because, twined in three of its plant-like tentacles, was a fox. It struggled madly, trying to bite the vine that was wound around its neck, squeezing tighter with each convulsion, but Kimito could tell it hadn't much longer to live. Blood streaked its dark silver fur, and flecks of foam laced its mouth.

She wondered how long it had been struggling there, and she approached, slowly, so as not to attract the weed's attention. In that, she was successful, but as she drew nearer, the fox jerked its head sideways, staring at her so fiercely she took a step back.

"Get lost!" it snarled out, lunging again at the tangle weed, which yanked two of the tentacles that held him in opposite directions, eliciting a squeal of pain.

"What?" Her stare became baffled. Did the little hairball want to be eaten?

"I said get out of here!" it snapped, lunging again. "Come any closer and I swear I'll take a piece out of your --" He choked as the tangle squeezed his neck, attempting to draw him down toward the center, its mouth. "-- HIDE!" He jerked back, clawing at the earth to anchor himself.

"I'm here to help," she offered up uncertainly.

"I don't want your -- damned help! Get away!" His voice was becoming strained with the effort of fending off both her and the carnivorous plant.

She stared for another moment, then shook her head. Whether the little monster wanted it or not, she was honor-bound -- for one reason or another, probably something in the guild rules -- to help out. She unslung her bow and reached back into her quiver for an arrow. The fox caught her movement and increased his struggles frantically -- though she wasn't sure if he was more afraid of her shooting him or the plant.

"Breath of the dragon," she murmured, knocking an arrow to the bow and beginning to chant the first incantation that came to mind, "whose tongue of flame have singed the greatest forests of the continent -- I call on your power to aid this -- errrhh -- fox!" She hoped it really was a fox. "Cast Element: Fire!" The spell cast, she loosed the arrow, which burst into flame as it left the bow, at the plant, which burst into flame on the arrow's contact.

A thin scream tore into the air, and the tentacles immediately dropped the fox, which fell to the ground with an ungracious curse. The plant, still writhing, made a lunge at the animal, but the fire burned fast, and it fell dead within moments of the attempt. The fox staggered to its feet and limped away from the tangle, sitting down and drawing in a few ragged breaths. Its eyes were red-shot, and its gray fur was matted with the blackish stain of dried blood.

Kimito stood uncomfortably for a moment, then she put her bow away. "Erm --"

"You --" the fox gasped out before she could get any farther, "idiot."

"What?" Kimito retorted, astonished.

"Is that the only word you know?" the fox snapped. It appeared to be recovering some of its energy in the wake of the battle. "You stupid idiot! I told you not to save me -- you'd think with those ears, elves would have learned to listen to everything they hear --"

"I'm only half --" Kimito bit out without thinking, and the fox continued his rampage with the new material she'd provided.

"Oh, so you're a half-and-half? Well, that explains everything!" His tone dripped. "You don't have your usual elfish smarts because you're one part stinking human!"

"What the hell is wrong with you!?" Kimito screamed at him. "I just saved your lousy life, you little hairball -- if this is what your kind considers gratitude --"

"I told you not to!" the fox screamed back, jumping to its feet in spite of its wounds, one or two of which started bleeding all over again. "You stupid little shit! I told you to leave me alone!"

"I'm not stupid, you half-sized chunk of tangle-bait --"

"Oh, you aren't, huh?" He bared his canine teeth in a threatening grin. "Then how come you didn't recognize a black fox when you saw it, you moronic half-breed!?"

Kimito stopped, mouth hanging open in the middle of a retort, as the fox's words sank in. "Oh -- no ..." Black foxes were a rare breed, said to be directly descended from the original mage-beasts of Fauker's Plain and more often than not magically talented. Of course, if that was the case, why hadn't it just used magic against the tangle . . .? Unless it hadn't been paying attention -- like her and that roc. The fox hadn't desisted in his torrent of abuse during her ponderings, and she snapped her attention back to him as he raised his voice in fury.

"Yeah, 'oh no', you halfbred daughter of a mad donkey -- I hope your ears wither, you bite-cursed wolf slut --"

"SHUT UP for a minute!" Kimito screamed at him whole-heartedly. "Yeah, I was stupid for rescuing a monster, but what's your problem!?"

The fox stared at her, apparently flabbergasted by the fact that she didn't know why he was angry at her. His mouth worked soundlessly, and she used that opportunity to continue.

"This works out to your advantage, you scrawny, mis-colored excuse for --"

"ADVANTAGE!?" the fox half-shrieked, recovering -- if his face hadn't been covered with fur, Kimito would have wagered it was a dark shade of purple by now. "What do you know of any advantage --"

"You're free to go, stupid!" she snapped. "I have places to go and things to do, so I don't have time to kill you or trap you! So use your magic and go away! Hell, you could kill me right here!"

The fox stared at her, amazement and disgust playing at war across his furry features. Within moments, the expression cleared, and he was gazing at her with regal detachment. Tossing his head and giving his dark-rimmed ears a shake, he opened his mouth and yawned, showing off a red tongue and two rows of bright, sharp teeth. "Well," he said, and his brush tail slapped against the ground. "Shall we be going?"

"What!?" This time it was Kimito who lost her temper. "Shall we be going? What does that mean, you half-sized ankle-biter?! I already said you could go!"

The look he gave her was bland. "I told you not to save me."

"What does that have to do with anything?" The half-elf tossed her head in annoyance.

"It means, my dear half-breed," the fox said, acid returning to his voice, "that we are going to be stuck with each other for a very, very long time."

Kimito's stare was blank, then a slow comprehension began to dawn. "But --"

The fox gusted out a snort of impatience. "I was in mortal danger," he said slowly, as if explaining the business to a mentally challenged four-year-old. "You removed that danger. You took the responsibility of my blood on yourself. Thus, I am obligated to do the same for you until death do us part."

Kimito paled.

"We are bonded, my good half-elf. Companions forever." He bared his teeth in an unpleasant grin. "My name is Yuzu, what's yours?"

There had been better ways to deal with the situation, Kimito supposed, than screaming curses like a Gandereen fishwife and attempting to bring the punishment of the gods down on both of their heads at once. Particularly because it hadn't worked. She craned her neck around in an attempt to peer into her backpack, where the fox was currently ensconced, but she couldn't crane it far enough and wound up hurting her neck instead of accomplishing anything productive. Even more humiliating for the both of them, she reflected grimly, ten minutes into their second screaming match, the fox's eyes had rolled into the back of his head and he'd collapsed, leaving her to save his life for the second time in as many hours. She almost wished the healing spell hadn't worked.

He'd woken up while she was bathing his wounds in the closest stream she could find, and he'd sunk his fangs solidly into her thigh before she could explain that she was trying to help, which only infuriated him further. He had then peppered the air with slanderous comments about her parents and upbringing, not to mention her medical abilities, while she was trying to bandage him up. After a particularly vulgar tirade, she told him he could shut up, or she could shove his head under the water and hold it there until she was satisfied his mouth was clean.

At least he went to sleep after that. Kimito sighed aloud, gazing heavenward and inquiring of the gods for approximately the fifth time in an hour why she had deserved to be blessed with this particular trial. At least Devon township wasn't far off. She had marched for a day and a half with no food (the fox had eaten it all in one sitting) and little sleep, and between her stomach's bitter snarling and her companion's unending commentary (when he was awake), she was beginning to feel grouchy.

As the town grew on the horizon, the fox stirred in her backpack. "I do hope," he mumbled drowsily backward at her, "you're not seriously considering taking me into that town."

"And why wouldn't I?" She gave the pack an unnecessary jounce and was rewarded with an irritated noise.

"Well." His comment was punctuated with a yawn. "You've taken Myju's place as stupidest being to ever walk the planet. He'll be awfully disappointed, if I ever get the chance to tell him." The last was muffled; he'd apparently tucked his nose under his haunch.

"And just why is it such a bad idea to take you into town?" Kimito demanded, but a contented whuffling indicated that he'd already gone back to sleep. She muttered something rude and attempted to figure it out for herself. That, at least, would pass the time until they reached the town gates.

She didn't see why his presence was an issue, aside from what the reactions of the townsfolk would be if they saw him. They'd probably both be shot on sight. Or maybe someone would give her the benefit of the doubt and rescue her from the monster who was obviously using her and holding her captive. That was an interesting idea. Maybe it would be someone male. Dashing. Handsome. Brave. . . .

"Stupid," Yuzu put in, shifting slightly.

"He wouldn't either be stupid -- " she retorted hotly, then froze, mouth half-open. "You - you - you little voyeur!" she exploded. "You were reading my mind!"

"Rather unfortunately," came his muffled reply. "If you don't stop thinking with your, well, whatever it happens to be with females, you're liable to get us both questioned by the gate guards. Both of whom are male, indubitably brave, handsome, dashing, and staring at you."

Kimito had been about to yank her backpack off, drop it on the ground, and kick it solidly into the brush, but she changed her mind in mid-motion and attempted to make the yanking-off look like a last-minute check of her equipment. "I hope you suffocate," she growled covertly, shoving the pack back into position. Yuzu deigned not to respond.

The guards - who were indeed both male and handsome, at least - were still watching her when she returned her attention to the gate. She chose a dull, weary expression and started trudging toward them, eyes fixed unwaveringly on the market beyond. With a practiced hand-motion, she flicked out a piece of heavy parchment and handed it to them - her temporary pass in and out of the town. Pretentious, in a village of this size, but it kept them from checking her bags, which had been advantageous on more than one occasion.

He mumbled something and handed it back to her before she'd even taken her next step, and she let the tight knot between her aching shoulders relax. Her mind was bent on where she'd met the deceptively jolly tradesman who'd hired her when a strange sizzling noise sounded directly behind her, followed immediately by an alarm gong.

"Told you," said her backpack.