Chapter 2: Prey for Two
It was a tense, quiet walk toward Rengar's make-shift camp. The pride stalker had expressed his disagreement of going to Nidalee's desired location, partly because it meant he'd be surrounded by her feline family and the other part because he wanted to skin the deer for its hide. At the condition of keeping his hands where she could see them, she agreed. Nidalee held her spear at the ever ready, while Rengar hold the deer over his shoulders, his hands up so she could see all of his fingers. The young buck had finally been put out of its misery with a swift snap of its neck, the coat remained undamaged as intended.
After several long minutes, they arrived. Rengar hung the buck up with the aid of a rope, slowly placing his weapons down in clear sight of her. It was not until he began skinning it with a much smaller knife that she finally lowered her weapon, placing the butt of her spear on the dirt. She put herself between him and his two hunting knives, bolas, and other items.
"That was a very good toss earlier." Rengar admitted, a chuckle escaping his throat. He touched the wound, the bleeding had stopped halfway through the match, to examine it for a moment. "Did you know, had I not moved when I did, it would have struck my abdomen?" He asked.
Nidalee was silent for a moment before she spoke. "I did. If not, I was aiming for your chest anyway." She said. She adjusted her weight from one foot to the other, watching him skillfully skin the buck. Admittedly, she was in awe of his ability to remove the whole of the fur without damaging it. The only part he did not skin was the head. "Why are you leaving part of it on?" She asked, gesturing with a flip of her hand to the untouched head.
He turned to her, then in the direction of what she gestured. "A trophy to mount on my wall." He explained. He flipped his skinning knife in his hand, then held the handle out to her. "I need one of my knives to gut it." He said.
She debated this, watching his eyes as she reached for the knife. Her fingers wrapped around the offered handle, then she took it from his grip and set it down on the small table behind her. She then found the sheath to one of his knives and held it out to him, keeping the handle of the knife in her hand.
When he took it in his grip, she released, her hand going to join the other on her spear. "Why are you going to gut it? Why not eat it raw?" She asked. It was not that she wanted to know, but wanted to keep him talking, distracted.
He dug the knife into the throat of the deer, cutting the head off with ruthless efficiency. A little blood did get on the inside of the hide, but it could be easily washed off. He held the head so it would bleed away from the fur, put his foot on the bottom of the hide, and carefully cut off the hide going to the neck. "I am going to gut it to remove the organs I will not eat. Do you normally eat them?" He asked, placing the knife back into its sheath at his belt, taking the deer's head in one hand and its hide in his other.
She shook her head at his question, so he went on. "My father taught me how to cook, in addition to hunting, and I've found the taste much more preferable than raw meats." He added as he draped the hide of a low hanging tree branch, placing the fur over the branch so the half that was attached to the skin could air out. He then returned to the rest of the deer, which was now bleeding from its neck where the head once connected.
Rengar took out his knife once more, brought it to the carcass's breast, but stopped before he cut an opening into it. His head turned to her. "Would you care to join me for an afternoon lunch? I am not the greatest cook, but I can cook venison with ease." He offered, a "pleasant" smile, accompanied by fangs, made him look more hostile than friendly.
Nidalee's stomach growled in hunger, causing her cheeks to redden a little before she adjusted her stance once more. Her eyes took in the make up of his camp. A small table that held his weapons and hunting tools, a crate under it for either his trophy or something else, a lantern hung on the same branch as the recently skinned hide, a hammock was set up several feet off the ground, and there was a fairly odd odor in the air, produced by a familiar plant near the hammock. It was the type of plant that gave off a scent most beasts would avoid, herself included had she been in cougar form.
Judging it to be safe, she nodded, but turned a warning look to him. "Thank you for the offer, and I will accept." She said. She glanced to his wound, debating something. "Is that wound I inflicted bothering you?" She asked, more so to fill the void of silence while she watched him. He appeared to have lost the desire to try and kill her now. That, or he waited for her to drop her guard.
Rengar's knife slid into the carcass's breast, traveling upward, making a perfectly straight cut from the top portion of its chest to the bottom. When she asked about his wound, he shrugged his shoulders, emptying out the deer's guts into a hole before she had arrived. "I've been injured before, but thank you for the concern." He said. When the last of the guts were emptied out, he concealed the hole with a thick layer of dirt, then patted it down. He knew how to keep keep predators and scavengers from coming to his camp for food. Then again, she knew he was no amateur hunter.
She nodded in reply, then watched him put the knife back into its sheath. He didn't return it to her. "How long will it take for the meat to drain and cook?" She asked. She had began to relax a little, yet remained ready in case she had to defend herself, especially when she noticed him keep the knife on him.
"Ten minutes, maybe less." He said. He took a seat on his hammock, laying down to wait. "Do you know what those gun shots were from?" He asked. This was near her territory, even if it was still part of the Kumungu Jungle, and he also used this area as a hunting ground for game. If there were hunters, poachers, or loggers about, destroying the natural order, the two of them may have a common enemy.
Nidalee's response was long in coming. "Treasure hunters, actually. They come from time to time seeking fortunes, yet find only the remains of others. What few flee and live are never the same." Her parents, her birth parents, came for the same reasons. Even after so many years and experiences, their deaths still lingered in her nightmares now and again, their suffering and anguish alone enough to bring her awake in a cold sweat. "I only saw one of them with a gun, but others may be armed." She added.
Rengar considered this silently, swinging back and forth with his foot. "Do you require assistance in ridding the jungle of them?" He asked, his tone almost scary. This was not the first time he had killed invaders in his territory, temporary or not. Rarely, would he offer his aid to help another protect their territory.
She thought about this, watching the blood drain from the animal onto the ground. "No. They can seek their own deaths if they are foolish enough to stay, otherwise I would have chased them away by now." She answered. Had there been any children among the group, she would have chased them away, or at least frightened them.
There was another gun shot, followed by a cry in the distance. Both Nidalee and Rengar looked in the direction of the sounds. Rengar let out a chuckle. "So you speak the truth." He said. Nidalee did not find it funny, but she did smile at the thought of them fleeing in blind terror, the look on their faces.
Nidalee turned her head from the direction of the sounds back to Rengar, a frown on her face. "Where do you live, anyway?" She asked, the question bringing a confused look onto Rengar's face. "You do not live near the Kumungu Jungle, I would know your scent and have stayed away otherwise." She added, explaining her question.
Rengar gave her a toothy smile, showing fangs, as he turned his head to her, his foot stopping the motion of his swinging. "And why do you want to know that?" He asked.
She gave a one shoulder shrug, then stared into his eyes, a silent answer to say she wanted an answer.
"I'm a wanderer. Ever since my meeting with Kha'Zix and entry to the League, I've been living in a small house near the Institution. I've been trying to fill it with trophies for several weeks now." He proudly said. He left unsaid the special places reserved for more worthy trophies, such as Kha'Zix.
When she did not question him further, he rose from his place, effortlessly and with great practice pulling the knife from its place at his belt with a thumb and his fore finger. The blade spun once, came to rest in his palm, and he began to test the deer's meat with his free hand. "Do you want a leg or part of the chest?" He asked.
"Better raw or cooked?" Rengar questioned, waving a leg bone in one hand and a last chunk of meat in the other.
Nidalee, who quietly chewed the meat from half the animal's ribcage, looked down from her place above, a branch she had chosen to lay on. She kept her spear within arm's reach, ready to snatch it up at the first sign of trouble, but removed her suspicions of her fellow bestial hunter attacking her. For now, anyway. She swallowed before speaking. "Better cooked, but medium rare, you called it?" She asked. He nodded. "Is my favorite." She finished, then took another bite.
Rengar leaned his back against the tree behind himself, looking up at his companion. It was a different tree, the two facing one another rather than next to one another or diagonally, to keep the tension eased. "Cooking meats is best done through testing it and its color. Whether it is cold or hot, matters only to the one eating the meat." He explained.
She let out a purr, catching his undivided attention for just a moment, as she bit into an unusually tasty piece. "I will consider your offer." She took a few bites, tearing the tender meat from the bones, before swallowing slowly, savoring each and every bite. "For now, I am sorry." She said.
This caused him to put on his questioning face once more. "You are apologizing for...?" He asked.
"Thinking you had invaded my territory and planning to kill you." She finished. She picked off several bones, free of meat, and tossed them to the ground, then picked off a bone, examining it briefly before chewing it for a moment. "However, if you try to kill me again, and the League do not get to you first, I will give you the choice of death: Claw, spear, or your own hand." She warned, raising an eyebrow in anticipation for his response.
It was a smile and his own eyebrow being raised, only this one as though accepting a challenge. "Well, since you were honest, I was trying kill you. First, as a cougar to have stuffed and to be used as a foot rest. Second, when I saw your human form and knew who you were, to find out who was the better hunter." He said, a wicked grin on his face.
His grin turned to a frown when he felt something hit his head. That something bounced off and landed on the ground. Looking down revealed it to be a small bone; a rib bone. Even without looking, he could feel her glare on him. "I hunt for the trophies, not just to eat, and to challenge myself." He added.
When he heard something hit the ground with a soft thump, Rengar looked over to see Nidalee, her back to him and crouched down from the landing. She rose slowly, using her spear to raise herself along with the aid of her legs.
Finally, she turned around, a smile gracing her facial features. Their eyes locked. At that moment, they were not part animal and human, champions of the League of Legends, nor even male or female. They were hunter and huntress, issuing a silent challenge to find out who was the better. In those long moments, they were rivals, practically issuing and both accepting a duel to the death.
Rengar was the one to speak. "The moon will be full in a few days." He said.
Nidalee nodded. "That will be the meeting time." She agreed.
With that, she assumed her animal form, then stalked toward the bushes, turning her head for just a moment before almost disappearing. He lost sight and sound of her seconds later.
As he packed up his things, burying the remains of the deer, Rengar only half paid attention to his work. The huntress, Nidalee, was not just a worthy prey for him, but also a work of art in body and skill. Her curves, movements, knowledge, and personality all made up the wondrous bestial huntress he had, at first, saw only as another member of the Institution of War. Now, he saw Nidalee as a huntress of as much talent as he. Perhaps, given her upbringing, more.
The days would seem like months as he waited the full moon and agreed meeting.
Though he knew there would be consequences for his actions, he felt a pang of regret for being unable to overpower such a beautiful, graceful, and worthwhile prey. Had he continued, he knew there would be no winner. He also knew she knew the same.
Had she gone another direction, he would have tried again...
When she was felt he was far enough away, staying downwind so as to be able to catch his scent, Nidalee picked a tree and climbed it, resting not only her legs but her nerves. That was not an easy task, yet it provided her with a warning, if not knowledge of a danger.
Rengar, the pridestalker, was a magnificent hunter in body and mind. His reaction time, muscular build, and training had produced a refine, well-trained master of the art of hunting. The loss of his eye, an accident she had heard happened between him and Kha'Zix, did not dampen his skills, but enhanced them through his own determination. He was a predator among predator. One to be feared more than death itself.
In her mind, she grinned in anticipation. Evelynn was a predator, but she was no hunter. Though she hunted for food, Nidalee looked forward to the challenge ahead of her,
If the League became involved, the reasons would not be a concern, if there were any. She would have killed Rengar, a fellow champion, and the punishment worse than anything she could think of...
No. No matter what, she could not risk that. If she were to kill Rengar, her home would be in danger, and she unable to protect it.
A few days, and then they would meet again to set the rules and guidelines of their challenge. Rengar had his trophies, but Nidalee had her home and feline family, the only family she had, to lose. She could not risk the lives of her family and her home for her pride as a huntress.
Suddenly, she wished she had drove the treasure hunters away instead of chasing her prey to another predator.