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A Cat Who Writes ([personal profile] acatwhowrites) wrote2017-01-06 09:15 am

An Unusual Alliance

title: An Unusual Alliance
players: Lu Han/Luhan, Do Kyungsoo/D.O.
rating: PG-13
word count: 5,320w
warning/s: brief descriptions of battles and physical injuries
summary: Peace is impermanent, and hope is all but lost. The species across the lands and seas are only surviving, almost completely apart when not facing off in battle. Alliances are built in broken daily. Backs and hearts carry scars of betrayal and distrust.
a/n: Originally written for Room9093's fest. I wanted to go with a Skyrim sort of AU, which is why Kyungsoo's pretty much a Khajiit (called Felid here, which is actually just a member of the cat family), but it did not work. It ended up a bit more Tolkien. The title comes right from the original prompt, which I only managed to cover maybe half of.
Read on: AFF || AO3 || LJ

For generations, the world has been at war.

Peace is impermanent, and hope is all but lost. The species across the lands and seas are only surviving, almost completely apart when not facing off in battle. Alliances are built in broken daily. Backs and hearts carry scars of betrayal and distrust.

At the center of conflict are man and elves. Their burning hatred stands on principle, with the source of their ancestors' animosity lost in history. Amongst their own tribes and cities, they kill one another to taste victory and display their strength. Weaker groups cower and abandon their homes to flee and beg for aid from another group they once fought, devoting support until the battles are won and precarious friendships crumble.

Now, it's simply the way of the world. Peace is unattainable, and its definition changes it into something indescribable.

Hidden by the deep green vegetation at the edge of the forest, Han watches another skirmish between warring clans of man. He's seen more battles and war-torn towns now than when he was actually a soldier. Beside him, Lu the deer bites the buds off new flowers and chews with single-minded tranquility. The anger and anxiety from the battlefield below them doesn't reach its heart. It knows that once the elf witnesses the end of the day's bloodshed or simply grows bored that they'll continue their journey into the unknown. They're in no hurry.

When they first met, either side stood tall or sat proudly on their mounts. Flags fluttered over them both, displaying coats of arms and family seals of the people funding the fight. Somewhere, someone shouted the first battle cry, and they met in the middle of the field with clashes of armour and swords. Archers stayed behind, letting loose arrows into the sky that fell over the footsoldiers like hell's rain, impaling friend and foe alike.

Hours later, the battle cries have been silenced. The only cries are those of the desperate and dying, struggling to hold back the enemy even as their limbs are sliced from their bodies and lifeblood stains the trampled grasses red and brown.

"It won't be long until everyone is dead or better off dead, Lu," he says aloud. The deer lifts its head and blinks thickly-lashed eyes at him, neither compassionate nor condemning. The elf sighs, feeling the weight of the corpses on the earth, and sends a quiet prayer of tranquility for their souls. "We should go."

The sun will set, soon, blanketing everything in deep shadow and hiding the gruesome scene. By morning, scavengers will have picked their pockets and bones, leaving little to distinguish one soldier from the other. The duo will find a safe, concealed place to pass the night and continue their aimless journey in the new morning.

Most nights, when he sleeps deeply enough, Han dreams about his home. Usually, the dreams are pleasant and warm. He's managed to train his mind to avoid the darker memories, although sometimes, when his deep sleep is due to exhaustion, the memories seep through.

Deep in the forests nearly as old as the earth it grows from, green elves enjoy another day of fruitful harvests and easy labour. Their soldiers come and go, training for the inevitable, but their hollowed tree houses and wide, raised gardens have never been trampled or burned. Generations lived and died within their forest, and only the oldest and wisest elves worry about a future of foreign soldiers spilling blood over their home roots. No one younger worries with them, offering teas made from leaves and roots to help ease their anxieties.

Luhan grows up ignoring the talk, finding better use of his time running around the forest with the other children. Still barely older than a boy, he's gifted his own great red deer, still a baby itself. Lu follows him everywhere and carries him farther and farther from home, a thrill spreading through their chests as they explore more of the world they only hear about from returning soldiers and elders.

On one of these exploratory runs, Luhan stands on the stirrups hanging on either side of Lu's ribs and reaches for a leaf that's just reached the perfect shade of red. It's a bold, even vermilion, like the sky just as the sun is rising, and he knows his mother will love it.

He leans forward and grasps the limb near its trunk, walking up the rough bark to swing himself up into the leaves. Lu snorts and stomps the ground, impatient to be moving. Luhan ignores it and carefully plucks the leaf's stem from the branch. It's light and flutters in the light breeze, as though nervous and afraid in Luhan's fingers. Held up to to the canopy, Luhan admires the ignited orange of the sun and the veins that fork across the leaf like rivers. Below, he hears a twig snap. Lu's ears flip backwards, and it looks over its shoulder with wide eyes, standing very still.

The songbirds hush; all Luhan hears is Lu's anxious breaths and the breeze in the leaves.

There's a crunch and shush of leaves as someone's toe drags through the decaying forest carpet. Luhan picks off a piece of bark, damp from the shade and about the size of his palm. He tosses it at Lu's flank, frightening it to rear onto his hind legs and bellow before leaping over a fallen log and galloping into the trees. A hunter leaves their hiding place, arrow nestled on their bow string, and Luhan frowns. Any elf knows to not hunt the deer; they must be human. He didn't know humans ever entered this forest.

Tucking the red leaf over his heart in his tunic, Luhan climbs around the tree trunk to a neighbouring limb and crouches, dropping right as the hunter passes beneath him and falling squarely on their back. The arrow falls from the bow, which is snatched from the hunter's hand and tossed aside.

He's never had any real motivation to fight. Along with the other children, Luhan learned to hunt and fish and survive in the woods, all preparations for their future as potential soldiers. Practicing where to place his feet and how to handle a bow and knife are great skills, he knows, but everything flies out of his mind and leaves him functioning on base instinct when faced with an actual enemy.

The hunter tries to lift themselves off the ground, pushing their palms into the earth, but Luhan is heavier then he looks and channels his magic to weigh down his bones even more. Curious, he tugs the woven hood from the hunter's face and gasps. "A man!?" He's never seen a human before. They're described to him as small but powerful, bloodthirsty, and difficult to reason with. "But you're just a child..."

"Like you're one to talk." The hunter appears young, with a round, full face and sharp eyebrows that lean down over his nose in an unhappy vee. "That deer you scared away could've fed a family, you know!" He kicks his legs, striking Luhan's thigh with the heel of his boot. "Get off of me!"

"What kind of barbarian eats deer?" Luhan scoffs. Lu picks its way back to the small clearing, nuzzling Luhan's sleeve to apologise for leaving him as the elf stands and brushes off his knees. "You humans are worse than I thought."

"And how many humans have you met, forest elf? You don't look much older than me."

"Enough," Luhan lies. He scoops up the abandoned arrow with his toe and tosses it to the boy. "Here. Don't try shooting any more deer." It's a sign of god faith, he hopes. If he ends up with an arrow in his chest, it'll have been a sign of stupidity, and his fingers dig into the deer's fur.

The arrow is tucked into the quiver with the rest of its brethren, however. The boy slips the bow over his head and under an arm so it sits diagonally over his chest and back. Lu flinches and grunts, shifting side to side and ready to bolt.

"Why are you so far into the forest? Don't you know what creature live here?"

"I'm not afraid, and I was hunting, obviously, until you scared away my prey."

"You should be afraid," Luhan replies. He crosses his ankles and sits across from the boy. "This isn't just a normal forest. Its magic makes everything grow bigger and stronger. A boy like you is easy prey. Even if you'd managed to shoot Lu, the scent of his blood would've drawn out every other predator, more than the arrows you've got."

"If you're trying to scare me, it's not working. I can take care of myself." He holds his quiver in his fist.

The setting sun highlights the boy's dark hair, revealing shades of brown. Luhan looks at the sky and feels the waning power of the sun as it lowers itself to the horizon. "It's late. You should go home." He gets to his feet. "Don't rely on your sense of direction, if you have one, to leave the forest. Follow the sun. The energy changes at night." According to the stories told while growing up, while the sun powers the land, the moon wants to trap the energy in the ground to keep the sun from returning. Any soul lost in the forest is forfeit to the moon and keeps it longer in the sky.

"Thanks." The boy stands and slings his quiver over a shoulder. "My name's Minseok, oldest son of the royal Kim family. What's yours?"

"Luhan. The deer clan." Lu groans, irritatedly blowing Luhan's hair over his face.

"I promise not to hunt any more deer, Luhan of the deer clan." Minseok bows a little, glances at the sky, and follows the sun through the trees.

Luhan waits until he doesn't hear the human boy's footsteps before mounting his deer again. Lu throws his head and makes his opinion known. "He isn't a threat, Chi. Relax. Let's just go home, and I'll put some sweet grass into your dinner as an apology, okay?" Large ears twitch in interest, although the deer keeps his head forward to feign indifference. Luhan rubs down his neck fondly and taps his heels into the deer's sides, setting off through the forest at an easy pace that would have them home before anyone would ask questions.

Minseok is a part of a training party of other young soldiers, sent into the forest and surrounding area for practical experience and to learn self-reliance. They meet again, by accident, and continue meeting on purpose, quickly forming a friendship that transcends their races and world conflict.

They know, now, that they never should have met.

Luhan returns home just to be swept away to the main house. He's forced to his knees and faces the clan leaders. They're wise but blinded by bias, growing up under the influence of too many generations of conflict. They cut his long hair and take his name and his home, casting him out into the forest.

He still wonders if it's luck that Lu the deer followed him, or if his mother or grandmother intentionally untethered it.

With no clan and no home, Han and the deer drift in and out of the forests across the nations. They join the occasional skirmish, more brawls than battles, but most of their experiences are peaceful. They avoid small villages and trade with merchants in major cities and ports.

Between the two seas rises monstrous, snow-capped mountains. Towns at the base offer supplies and guides; Han buys food and rope but declines a guide. Lu has sure feet and a confident stride, able to handle any terrain.

"You're a fool, if you go alone," an older white elf warns. The mountain goat bleats its agreement beside her.

"So I'm a fool," Han replies, packing the supplies into the bags hanging over Lu's back. "I'm a live fool, though." He swings up onto the saddle, and Lu sets off at a trotting pace, quickly leaving the little village and its warnings behind.

For the first couple hours, they follow a worn trail that winds up through grasses and brief clusters of woods at an easy but steady incline. The temperature remains warm until they climb into a thick fog. Lu continues its rhythmic stride, although its ears flip and twitch more frequently, picking out sounds and following them to determine danger. Han stays alert as well, still on the saddle but reaching and prodding around them with thin needles of magic.

They take a break once they're above the fog. Lu lies down and eats the tiny wildflowers and short grasses on an outcropping of rock that offers views into the far distance. Han lounges beside it, staring at the clear sky but not seeing its vast expanse, focused on the calmness around them. As a green elf, he's used to constant chatter of woodland creatures and birds, buzzing insects and rustling leaves. Mountains have a silence that's unnerving; he goes around them when he can, but this range is far too long and drops into the sea at either end.

Lu nudges his shoulder, and Han smiles, rubbing its soft nose. They'll walk though the night, breaking every couple of hours. Han may be a fool to travel alone, but he isn't such a fool to sleep in the mountain elements. They're quiet, now, but the moon will draw out packs of wolves and scouts of monkey clans.

Something rushes from the cover of scrubby trees. Han reaches for the knife strapped to his hip but strikes his forehead on the horn of his saddle. The deer rears up, terror blinding its senses. Its broad back catches Han square in the chest, and he distantly thinks he hears a crack before back-pedalling to catch his balance, although there's not enough outcropping for each of his steps, and he plummets over the edge. Lu's forelegs slam to the ground, and its hooves kick up dirt and gravel as it bolts.

He's not sure how long he lies where he fell, but Han knows he is in pain. Groaning assures him that his ribs may be bruised, but they're not broken or at least have not punctured his lungs. Rolling over proves to be difficult to impossible, as a pain so sharp shoots up his leg and throws his body into shock. He's fallen off Lu before—he's been thrown, and he's been trampled—but he never struck anything on the way down. He can't hear Lu, even with his ear to the ground.

"Excellent," he says to the stars beginning to wink through the darkening sky. "Now this fool is stranded." He figures it'd happen sometime, dying. It's fitting that he's alone, years after being exiled from his home. Having Lu's company and guidance was indefinite.

He closes his eyes, mentally drawing away the pain from his leg and urging it to reform into something more pleasant. He never had much luck with healing magic, however, and now is no different. All he can feel and focus on is the throbbing in his mangled limb that he's too frightened to look at or touch.

If he's still long enough, the dropping temperatures of the night will numb everything.

Soft grunting wakes him, warm breath thawing his cheeks.

There's no ice on his eyelashes, he finds, opening his eyes. Lu croons lowly and nuzzles his face.

Crackling and popping draws Han's attention to the fire beside him. "When did you learn to build fires, Lu?" he asks with a smile. The deer blows his hair in his face and lays its massive head on Han's stomach. He strokes its antlers and looks farther around the small camp. A pile of wood sits nearby, as well as a pack Han doesn't recognise. His own are cushioning his head and elevating his leg, which is extended and tied to strong branches with the belts from his packs.

"You're awake." The stranger's steps are completely soundless, light from the flames melting the shadows from his clothing and features. He's carrying more wood and drops some leaves onto the fire. Han knows the scent as they burn; it deters most animals.

"Where am I?"

"Not too far from where I found you, after you fell. I couldn't get you too far without your friend's help." Lu picks up its head proudly. Han kisses its face in thanks. "The leaves will keep most animals away, but I'll keep watch through the night. Rest."

"You need to sleep, too. I can keep watch—"

The stranger waves a hand dismissively; his eyes flash green in the firelight. Han yawns and wonders what else is burning among the leaves. With Lu on his left side and the fire on his right, Han's comfortably warm and quickly falls asleep.

Waking up again, he thinks his fall and stranger saviour were a dream, but he sits up on his elbows and feels his hair sticking to his face with sweat. His prone leg still rests in elevation.

Lu licks the salt from his face and stands still as the elf grasps its antlers and struggles to his feet. He finally gets an arm around the deer's neck and hops fully upright. His broken leg throbs; the rest of him feels bruised and exhausted, although the sun's high enough that he must have slept for hours.

"You shouldn't be upright." Again, Han marvels at the quiet of the stranger's movements. In the daylight, the reason is obvious. Felid people are naturally stealthy and known for their soundless movement. Humans and elves alike hire Felid mercenaries for their silent skills. He's met a few on his travels; they're not the friendliest people he's ever met. "How do you feel?" He offers a small pouch closed with a drawstring; Han finds fresh berries inside and thanks him.

"Like I fell off a cliff, but I'll live."

The Felid nods. "We can't stay here. You have a fever, so your deer will carry you; we can't take too many breaks."

Han agrees easily. As he eats, he realises he's light-headed and dizzy and terribly hungry. He thinks he says as much, but the Felid doesn't reply except to help him onto the saddle. Lu stands still, bowing its head a little when Han leans forward against its neck. He's too weak to hold the reins, but the Felid takes them once he's cleared evidence of a campsite and has everything packed.

Every once in a while, they stop for water, and the Felid continuously offers his waterskin to Han to drink from. He's not sure where they are or where they're going. It doesn't seem to get any colder; they're not crossing over the mountain.

One of the nights they make camp, Han's lucid enough to ask his new companion where they're headed. Lu grazes nearby, never wandering too far from Han.

"Crossing the mountain is a week-long trip, more if the weather is bad, which it usually is. Cutting through it is faster." Dwarves carve a living out of mountains, mining gems and metals from the earth. Their clans create networks of tunnels and grand caverns within many mountains. Gaining entry is no easy feat; dwarves are notoriously unwelcoming to strangers, especially elves.

"Have you done it before?"

The Felid holds him upright, so Han can drink again. It's not water, but it's cool and refreshing. "Not on this mountain, but yes."

Han nods and yawns, wiping the back of his hand across his mouth. The brief conversation exhausted him. "I'm Han, by the way," he introduces with a slight slur. He feels himself gently lowered back down, and Lu folds its legs to lay beside him again.


After a couple more days of travelling and drinking whatever medicine Kyungsoo the Felid gives him, Han is feeling good enough to actually stay awake the entire day. He pays attention to their surroundings; it's noisier in this part of the mountain. Trees grow thick and tall, hosting mushrooms and housing squirrels and raccoons as well as badgers in their roots. Quail chicks follow their mother after their small party passes, and he sees a pheasant take wing, spooked by their presence. Everything is electric with liveliness. He feels nostalgic.

Kyungsoo isn't much of a conversationalist, but years alone dulled his own natural chattiness. The few times Kyungsoo's spoken, it's been to tell Han to drink or to suggest a brief break.

"Hold on," he says. Han sits back, and Lu steps in place anxiously. Its ears move side to side, drawing in sounds, and Kyungsoo's tall, tufted ears angle behind them. He hands Han the reins. "Stay here."

"Why? Kyungsoo?" He doesn't feel anything, letting go of his magic while injured and delirious. Sliding off Lu's back, he plants his feet and feels its shakes and tremours.

Nearby, something big is walking. Slow, plodding steps carry a tremendous body.

Lu urges him into the trees, and they wait.

The steps shake the ground so much Han holds onto Lu for support, keeping as much weight off his splinted leg as possible. They seem to pass, and Lu snorts.

A tree is uprooted, pulled from the grassy floor in a gargantuan fist. Beady, unintelligent eyes glare into the green, set close together in a fleshy, ashen face.

Lu rattles and shakes its antlers, dropping its ears and stamping. It bounds away from the troll's slow grab, but Han can only drop to the dirt and push himself back with his hands and one good leg. The troll looks between him and Lu, whose fur and tail are raised aggressively. Han makes for a much easier, nonthreatening target.

Usually, trolls are docile. They're too stupid to know conflict but can be bribed with food and lead to an enemy's home. Their diets are like that of scavengers; they eat whatever they can get their hands on, and some people claim to have seen them even chewing rocks.

Han drags himself back against a tree trunk, struggling to get out of the troll's way, but it follows with a deadly, single-minded purpose.

He's absolutely useless and defenseless, still under the heavy influence of his fever. He's never nearly died twice in as many weeks. Lu calls to him, short, distressed grunts, and leaps to try distracting the troll.

A limb creaks overhead, dropping something right onto the troll's head. It grunts in confusion, trying to turn its head this way and that to see what fell, but it can barely turn its head on its fat neck. Kyungsoo stands on the creature's shoulders and plants his hands on its head, leaning over to look into its face.

Bellowing, the troll swings its heavy fist, but Kyungsoo easily dodges and ducks away.

Claws sharp and precise, he digs into the creature's flesh as he holds on with his legs, long tail swinging to keep him upright even as he's thrown side to side. He holds onto a waxy ear and drives the forefinger and middle finger of his other hand into the troll's eye, piercing it and it them from its socket. Enraged, the troll runs half-blind to the rock face, intending to crush its assailant. Kyungsoo's light and fast, however, evading easily and slipping a long, slim dagger in the place he'd been clinging. As the orc slams its body back against the rock, it embeds the blade into its engorged heart.

Kyungsoo leaps clear of the body as it falls with an earth-shaking thud. Grass is torn from its roots and seems to halo the dead troll's hairless head.

Lu throws its antlers and stomps again, dancing with anxious energy to where Han sits. Its too nervous to help him up, but Kyungsoo takes his arms and pulls him easily to his feet. He couldn't notice before, but Kyungsoo's strong, although small-statured. His eyes are yellow like the sun, a stark contrast to his dark fur, a mix of cinereous and jet grays.

"You hurt?"

"No more than before. Thanks for that." He watches curiously as Kyungsoo drops the eye he stole into a small bag and ties its drawstring around the top. He can't image what use it could possibly have.

"There's a cave near here, about half an hour's walk. Can you make it?"

"Yes." He's tired, but a cave means actual shelter for their camp. They can stay for longer than a couple hours or a day.

Lu's calmer and holds still long enough for Kyungsoo to help Han onto its back. "You were brave, Lu," Han compliments, hugging the deer's thick neck. He lets his arms hang and dozes.

Kyungsoo touches his shoulder. "This cave belongs to a bear. Stay put, and do not move until I tell you." Last time Han didn't do as he was told is still very fresh in his mind; he nods and pets Lu's ears.

An angry bellow cuts through the trees, roars and growls commentating a battle Han stays away from. He feels the strength of the bear and admires it, although it falls after what Han thinks is a brief fight. He taps Lu's sides, and the deer treads cautiously towards the cave.

The bear falls with a final grunt, landing in its blood with a wet thud. Kyungsoo removes glass vials from his pouch and holds them at the animal's ruined throat. He fills ten such containers with the hot blood and wraps them in a cloth that he then whispers to and replaces in his pouch.

"What's that for?"

The Felid's ears sit back on his head, obviously displeased. There's blood in his fur, but Han doesn't see any wounds. "I told you to wait."

"I got bored."

Kyungsoo rolls his eyes, but his ears stand upright again as he works. "A creature like this is rare. It's so old, it's just about ancient," Kyungsoo explains. He touches the fur, and Han thinks the Felid is appraising its potential value. "Its mind was leaving it, so it's better off, now, but that brute strength is in its blood. I can sell these for a lot of coin."

"You sound like a mercenary," Han mutters. He holds onto Lu's neck and dismounts, stepping around the reaching pool of blood. It stinks, but the cave appears to be warm and dry, otherwise.

"If you want to survive, you need to find out what works. Surviving itself is mercenary."

"Now you sound like a priest."

Kyungsoo follows him into the cave with a scowl and sets his pack on the floor. "Stay put, elf. I'll be back."

Han hobbles around to face him. "Where are you going?" He doesn't like the blank worry in his voice, but he likes being abandoned in such a weakened state even less.

The Felid's tail jerks as he picks his way around the great corpse. "We need food. Just stay put. Nothing will come here with this stench."

It's gross comfort. Han doesn't say anything else and looks around the cave, instead. Some lichen and moss started to grow near the mouth of the cave, but farther back is bone dry. It's been years since water formed the cave, but Han can still feel it in the rock walls.

He falls into a fitful sleep while waiting, using Lu's flank as a pillow and waking only when Kyungsoo nudges his good leg with his foot. "See how comfortable you are?" He holds up limp, fur-covered bodies. Rabbits. "Dinner. And here," he adds, tossing a stick onto Han's lap. It's nearly as thick as his forearm and reaches his chest in length. "You can walk around with that, now. Give the deer a break."

Han thanks him and eyes the gutted kill. "You are going to cook them, right?"

Kyungsoo snorts and returns to his pack to fish around for things Han couldn't imagine. "Maybe not," he snipes, "if you're going to take that attitude. I could pick some lovely sweet grass for you, if you'd rather a salad. It'd be easier on your weak teeth." His tail swishes behind him, sweeping aside the grass and leaves the bear had brought in for its den.

Han thought it was a good question, considering how little he knows about the Felid. He's resourceful, opportunistic, generous, and a talented fighter. Maybe raw rabbit is more practical, somehow.

However, against Han's musing, Kyungsoo builds a fire and cleans the rabbits skillfully, seasoning them with something from his pack that draws out incredible flavour. It's nothing Han's ever tasted before, and he has no idea what is it, but it's quite good. Between the two of them, they completely devour the rabbits and pick their bones clean.

"I've been wondering," Lu Han drawls, lazy with a full belly and the edge of fever. "What were you doing when you found me?"

Kyungsoo chews his food carefully. He doesn't make unnecessary effort, Han's noticed, while moving, speaking, or even eating. He thinks he's being ignored when the Felid finally replies, "Hunting."

"Hunting Lu?"

"I could sell his hide, meat, bones, everything, for a fortune. A great red deer like him is worth more than a great bear to many clans. Particularly humans. I am sorry that he threw you," he adds softly.

"Do you do anything that doesn't revolve around money?"

"It takes money to live." The tall ears fall a little, and he sighs almost wistfully. "And I want to repay people who were kind to me." He stares at the fire between them, seeing something Han can't. He could hear the beginnings of a story, though, and pushes himself upright a little more. Lu remains asleep, breathing deep and even behind him.

"What happened?" He expects to be ignored or told off, but Kyungsoo's shoulders slouch, as though under a great weight, and his tail wraps over his thigh.

"When I was little, barely able to walk on my own, humans raided my village. We're a prosperous clan, prosperous race, something others were madly jealous of, especially with this unending war.

"I was just coming home from playing at the riverbed with my friends. We'd catch frogs and chase fowl. My brother grabbed me right off the street and shoved me into our root cellar, telling me to stay put. He left me, and I tried to follow him. I just remember everyone running. I was separated from my parents and brother, and I haven't seen anyone from my home since."

"What happened to everyone?" He's picking at scabs, he knows, but Kyungsoo's talking, and that seems to be more important. Scabs are temporary; wounds heal, although scars remain.

"They were slaughtered. Even our fur, hide, and bones are valuable, it seems. I never found my family—I don't know if they died or escaped or were imprisoned—and I wandered, becoming a nomad before I was even old enough to know what a nomad was. Some of the villages I found were kind to me, although they were human. They took me in, fed me, gave me clothes and work. I had purpose, and I found my talents while living with an exiled elf couple."

"What is it you actually do?"

"I find rare items that people pay a lot of money for." They're quiet, each following personal trails of thought. Kyungsoo breaks the silence first. "Why are you here, Han? What business does a green elf have in the mountains?"

Han shakes his head. "No real reason. Just felt like wandering."

Kyungsoo nods, although Han's certain he knows it's a lie.

The fire spits, logs falling over each other to settle closer to the ash. Han stretches, wiggling his toes, and settles more comfortably against Lu's side.

They don't talk anymore, and Kyungsoo stays awake as Han finally drifts to sleep.