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Fall & Rise

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She absolutely, under no circumstances whatsoever, could slow down. If she slowed down for anything, she was a dead woman. Now, she usually wasn’t always in this kind of situation, but sometimes, things get out of hand and spiral out of control before one can slip away unnoticed.

 

The village Adelina had stuck the night out in was calm and quiet, so she had thought she would be safe. Of course with her horrible luck, before the sun even rose to greet the sleepy villagers, they had been woken by the sound of soldiers knocking on their doors so hard that they might as well have screamed the poor dozing souls awake instead.

 

They had managed to track her, again. No matter how many times she lost them, they always got back on her trail. She don’t know how, and she definitely don’t plan on sticking around to ask. So, like any sensible person on the run, she jumped from her inn rooms window onto the closest tree, lost her grip immediately, and toppled less than gracefully down onto her ass. With the ruckus of branches snapping and her loud mouth barking out a rather unladylike curse, the soldiers had easily found her, the houses they had managed to get into half ransacked as they ran to chase her.

 

Luckily, the inn was located in front of the forest, which she quickly darted into, despite her aching bum. With darkness on her side, she quickly got those bastards far enough behind her that she didn’t have to fear an arrow piercing her anytime soon. Instead she had to worry about the tightly packed foliage. Trees, dark and tall, stood proudly, but very close. If she wasn’t tripping over a fallen log, she was nearly bashing her face into one of the upright ones. Ferns and bushes covered whatever area hadn’t been packed down by animal trails, which she desperately tried to avoid. Trails were expected to be followed, and those dumb bastards with swords would no doubt go down the ones most traveled.

 

So instead, she leapt and tripped her way through the undergrowth, begging whatever gods were out there to at least make her path of destruction not that noticeable. And to please not get caught.

 

Whatever god heard her plea must have been in a humorous mood, for her second prayer was violently destroyed when she tripped right over a half rotten fallen tree, and sent her tumbling straight over it and into the mud. The cold, disgusting mud.

 

When Adelina pushed herself up from the dirt with scraped hands, her gaze instantly landed on two big deerskin boots directly in front of her face. Oh no. She quickly raised her head up, and nearly shouted in fear.

 

An orc. Thick arms and broad shoulders, massive tusks and a bow in their hands to match their largely proportioned body. Their face was equal parts surprised and disgusted as well, their thick top lip pulled back in a half snarl while their eyebrows were furrowed but raised in surprise. If she wasn’t in fear for her life, Adelina could easily find the appeal in said face. Strong jawline, flat nose, thickly lashed eyes with irises the color of deep water, and well, ignoring the tusks, plush lips that looked divine for kissing. Thick dark brown hair that was cut rather short, was swept back from their face, as if they tried to slick it back each morning, but the unruly waves kept it from being even remotely tameable. Strands escaped the sides to frame those high cheekbones in a very, very attractive way. A single small silver hoop hung from the middle of their left ear, which twitched.

 

“Please,” Adelina gasped, hands up in front of her as if it would defend her from the strength of an orc. “Please don’t kill me. I just need to-”

 

They both whipped their heads to the forest she just crashed through at the sound of men. She turned back to the hopefully merciful orc, nearly on the verge of tears. “Please, please don’t let them get me!”

 

They looked down at her, eyes wide in what she could recognize as pure fear. The runaway was slightly surprised because an orc? Showing fear? It’s never been heard of.

 

The orc quickly turned and grabbed a small bag near their feet, and it’s then that the girl actually looked, and realized that she hadn’t just stumbled into an orc, but onto an orc about to butcher its kill. A stag laid on its side, a single crudely crafted arrow shaft sticking from its neck. The orc had obviously just gotten to it before she had came crashing in. Adelina watched as it easily slipped the bag onto their back, and ripped the arrow from the carcass with a sickening sound. They began to run the between the trees, away from her.

 

She scrambled to her feet with a cry, nearly slipping back in the mud, but found her footing and tore off after them. They glanced behind them as they ran, and she swore she saw annoyance cross that beautifully strong face before they huffed and ran faster. Adelina had barely caught her breath when she had fallen, and her lungs burned ten times worse than the muscles in her legs.

 

As she followed this orc, who was very obviously trying to shake her, the sound of the soldiers clanking armor faded until they could only hear the hush of grass beneath their feet, and the sound of birds in the branches.

 

She didn’t know how long she ran, but when she crashed into the orcs back when they abruptly stopped, she fell to her knees, heaving as much air into her lungs as possible. Her flimsy tunic clung to her back like a second skin from all the sweat. When she finally managed to even her breathing out, she leaned back to look at the orc.

 

Their chest was also heaving and she blushed as she noticed the swell of breasts beneath their - her - own sweaty shirt. The orcess looked displeased and uncomfortable from the twist of her lips and the human bowed her head. “I’m sorry,” Adelina panted, “but I had to follow you. They… those men would have killed me… or worse if they caught me.” When she looked back up at the other woman, she noticed how her hands quiver, the fear slightly in her eyes again.

The orc snorted in frustration before she shook her head, as if clearing her mind, and turned her gaze to the forest before the two of them. She looked for a while, until she sighed and looked back to Adelina. Said human wobbled up on shaky legs and the orc lifted her hands to move them in a series of various motions. Adelina stared dumbfounded at those calloused hands, before she slid her gaze up to the orcs.

 

“I’m sorry… I don’t understand what you are trying to tell me.” She growled at weak response, but Adelina raised an eyebrow in curiosity. “You understand Common if you know what I am saying… why don’t you just say it? I mean, I’ve never heard Orcish before, but the accent can’t be that bad!”

 

The orcess instantly stiffened, face blank. Whoops. Adelina must have hit a sore spot. Maybe she had a really bad accent…

 

She, once again, turned on her heel and stomped off into the trees, but Adelina easily followed her, despite having to jog to keep up with her steady steps. Now that she wasn’t running for her life and not depleted of oxygen, she took a moment to examine her peculiar savior.

 

She wore simple breeches made of some sort of leather, the sides laced up to reveal a scant inch of her murky green skin. Her tunic was a roughspun muslin, it’s natural off white color a stark contrast to her skintone. Oddly enough, to complete her simple ensemble, was a thick, worn mauve scarf. The human couldn’t imagine why she wore it in the middle of summer heat, but she didn’t dare question it when she might put her foot in her mouth again.

 

She had a belt as well, that held two knives secure to her hips, as well as a satchel carrying who knows what. Her quiver was tied secure over her shoulder, and she carried her massive and simple bow in a tight grip.

 

“Um,” Adelina started, immediately feeling meek when the orcess looked over her shoulder at her. “Where… are we going?” The orcess, of course, said nothing, but growled low in her throat and gestured with the common flick of the wrist that basically meant the question was brushed aside. Great.

 

They trekked in silence after that for what felt like hours, for the sun had long ago risen into the middle of the sky, and was now beginning it’s slow descent again. Adelina heaved a deep breath of the fresh forest air and paused. Was she smelling… smoke?

 

She looked to her orc companion again, who was rolling her shoulders as if expecting a fight. Adelina swallowed hard. She had heard stories about orc strongholds, and how rank was determined by fights and kills. If that is were the orcess was leading her...

 

Well, better than the soldiers.

 

When she stumbled out of the treeline and against her saviors broad back, Adelina was taken back by what greeted her gaze. This was no stronghold - this was a village! Nestled within the deep protection of the forest, a village full of orcs laid hidden. She could see it was busy - the strong bodies of orcs roamed around running various tasks, children darting between their legs as they played, and animals the size of draft horses sniffed around or simply lazed in whatever shade could be found. She was surprised to see a small amount of non-orcish faces in the crowd.

 

In fact, one of them was fastly approaching them, hot on the heels of a large, massive male orc, his shirt forgotten in the sun’s unbearable heat. “Kahn!” The orc roared with a laugh, arms spread wide as he approached her orc, who huffed and crossed her arms. This didn’t stop the male orc, who was now in front of them, his muscled armed tight around the other. His skin has a more blue undertone than her orc - Kahn? - and both his wrists had two thick black banded tattoos. The most notable feature about him though, was the array of hideous pale scars that puckered all along his body. His face was striped with them…! “Your hunt was short! I know it has been long since you went on your own, but I expected you to be gone a few more days.”

 

Kahn pushed the orc off her with a growl, her hands deftly moving in those gestures again. The other orc furrowed his brow as he followed the motions with his steady gaze - which immediately slid over to Adelina who huddled behind Kahn with surprise. She meekly stepped back, but found the new orc very close to her suddenly. “A human, huh? What were you doing out in our woods, gettin’ chased by a pack of metalheads?” His voice was deep and rumbled like thunder. He was, for lack of better words, intimidating as hell. His nostrils flared and he scrunched his nose up. “You stink like fear. Real bad.”

 

Adelina leaned as far back as she could without physically stepping back, but was saved from the intruding orc by the human that had followed him and stayed quiet at his side. “Ba’lak,” her low voice scowled, “you’re frightening her. Step back and for the last time, quit telling people how they smell.” The newly named Ba’lak smiled sheepishly, enormous tusks glimmering in the sunlight, before he stepped back from the on edge girl.

 

“Sorry, sorry. You know I can’t help it.”

 

The human women rolled her eyes before she pushed past the mountain of muscle to stand in front of Kahn and Adelina, hands on her hips. She was also huge, for a human. Her skin was dark, her hair darker even. Her eyes were the color of amber, and her scowl was easily replaced by a soft look of concern. “You were running from soldiers, huh? You okay?”

 

Momentarily stunned into silence by all that was happening to her at once, Adelina awkwardly stuttered out, “Uh, yeah, I mean, they didn’t get me, so I’m still alive, I guess.”

 

The human woman nodded, her gaze sharp but oh so gentle at the same time. “You must be tired…?” She subtly hinted at wanting to know the others name, which Adelina hesitantly gave. The taller human nodded. “Well, follow me then, Adelina. Ba’lak and I have finished our chores and were just about to begin some lunch.”

 

Adelina weren’t sure what was going on, but nodded numbly, and followed behind the woman.

 

---

 

Callan, the human woman who was the mate of Ba’lak, was not the best cook. In fact, neither of them were. Instead of poisoning Adelina and the tired Kahn, they led them both to a yurt closer toward the outside of the bustling settlement, where various animals lazed around, as well as had fences with animals of all sorts gathered within. A blood elk, not within the fences, roamed close by and Adelina sucked in a deep breath. Those creatures were rare and not to be trifled with.

 

Massive creatures, with antlers that crowned their head like the top of a mighty oak. They had coats the color of old spilt blood - no one is certain if it simply that color, or it’s stained by it. They had hind legs like a normal elk, but their front legs were paws with retractable claws. They also had long coarse tails. Unlike their other members of the cervinae breed of mammals, like common deer and moose, blood elks loved meat. They had a mouth full of sharp teeth to prove it.

 

Adelina aimed to steer clear of it, but it immediately trotted over, chuffing all the while. Ba’lak laughed, but stepped back from it as well. She freaked when it turned those abysmal eyes to her, but instantly froze when she felt a hand touch her shoulder. Adelina turned to see Kahn, her eyes warning the small human not to do anything stupid. Kahn reached out her other hand to the beast, who laid its snout in her palm with a pleased chuff. Adelina watched dumbfounded as Kahn tickled under it’s chin with a grin.

 

“That is Kahn’s mount, Sabrie. Don’t ask how she tamed it,” Ba’lak explained when he caught the confused and bewildered look on Adelina’s face. She only managed a soft ‘oh’ before the creature sauntered off, obviously pleased with the attention it’s rider had given. Kahn snorted behind her, her chest warm against Adelina’s back, before she stepped away from her and toward the entrance of the yurt.

 

Adelina scrambled after her, Ba’lak and Callan close behind. Kahn pushed the flaps inside but did not announce herself to the figure inside. She instead opted to throw her bag down and kick her boots off. Adelina were pleased to find that whatever had been cooked and prepared smelled divine - she wasn’t so pleased to see one of those massive wolves that the orcs used as mounts relaxing on some thick pelts, it’s sharp blue eyes wary of the human stranger that followed the others.

 

It was Ba’lak who announced their arrival. “ Tassam !” He yelled in orcish, which had the other figure wince at the volume. “We are hungry! And we brought a guest! Oh!” Ba’lak just never seemed to run out of breath Adelina noticed as he continued to chatter. “Kahn also returned from her hunt. She didn’t bring back any meat though, so I guess it wasn’t really a hunt.” Kahn, who straightened up from where she was crouched unpacking her bag, tossed a small sack she pulled from her bag at him. It harmlessly hit him and fell to the ground, and he continued to smile.

 

The person who owned the yurt was, of course, another orc. They were a wide figure, thick at the waist and of course, with massive arms. Their head was cleanly shaven, and a nasty scar marred their upper lip. They kept their entire torso in wraps, as well as the entirety of their left arm.

 

They laughed and met Ba’lak in the middle of the homely yurt for a tight hug, before they motioned Kahn to receive a hug next. She obeyed and let the shorter orc hold her in a tight hug. “My babes!” They chuckled, grin wide. “Didn’t think I’d have ya both under my roof together anytime soon!” They released Kahn, and peered at Adelina curiously as she tried to melt into Callan’s shadow. “Another human, eh? You brats sure like to bring back the softest of the species, that’s fer sure.”

 

Callan scolded and crossed her arms. “Excuse me? I am not soft.”

 

The orc waved her off with a grin. “A joke, a joke! No need ta get worked up,” they rumbled, but those dark eyes turned to Adelina again. “And what are you doin’ here, little one?”

 

Adelina swallowed thickly. She wasn’t sure what the proper way to greet an orc was, so she opted to follow Ba’lak’s lead. “Uh, hello Tassam… ?” They blinked in surprise at her, before they threw their head back with a bark of laughter. Even Callan chuckled beside her.

 

“My name ain’t Tassam , silly - Tassam is orcish for parent, caretaker! I raised these two siblings when their ma and pa kicked the bucket when they were babes… just me an’ Acorn, with two brats ta take care of.” The wolf in the corner - Acorn, how cute! - chuffed with a flick of her tail. Their eyes sparkled in mirth. “I’m Borka, finest animal tamer and cook in this little slice o’heaven.” They did a little fake curtsey as Adelina’s cheeks lit up in embarrassment.

 

“Oh, I’m sorry!” She squeaked, but Borka simply shook their head in forgiveness.

 

“Nothin’ to apologize for. Now come, come. Sit an’ eat.” Adelina warily followed, already to find Kahn lounging against a pillow around the small fire and pot that was placed in the center of the home. The smoke lazily drifted up and out the circle in the roof. Adelina gingerly placed herself by Kahn, who gave her an annoyed side eye, but didn’t comment at all. Adelina frowned back at her. Callan situated herself on Adelina’s other side, Ba’lak all but falling into place beside her, which left Borka to take the spot between the rambunctious scarred up orc and Kahn.

 

Adelina shifted uncomfortably, but no one else seemed uncomfortable with the situation. Then again, she didn’t know any of them while they all knew each other. Borka began to fill bowls with rice and stuffed a dark meat covered in some sort of sauce beside it before he handed them around the circle. “So,” they started, “first things first. Kahn,” the orcess in question didn’t even bother to look up as she spooned rice into her mouth. “Where and how did ya find this pretty little lady?” Adelina blushed at the compliment, and watched as Kahn balanced her bowl on her knee to make those gestures again with her hands. The way she communicated was… strange, but Adelina had seen it before, in a village long ago. The boy who used it was a mute since birth apparently, and used sign language to communicate with his community. Was Kahn a mute as well? It would make sense, seeing as how she hadn’t said a word since Adelina had crashed into her.

 

Borka watched her hands intently and once she was finished and picked her bowl up again, Borka nodded seriously. “So ya were running from some metalheads, eh? Now why is that? Ya up to no good?”

 

Adelina swallowed nervously, but knew it wasn’t wise to lie to orcs. It’s not like… what she did was that bad. “Oh, you know, um, nothing too horrible!” Ba’lak wasn’t even paying attention, too busy shoveling his mouth fool, but Kahn watched her from the corner of her eye. Adelina nervously fidgeted with her bowl. “I was… um, arranged to be married,” she started, voice quivering only slightly. “I had never met him, and he was three times my age! I did the only sensible thing and tried to sneak out the night before but,” she paused, her grip on the bowl tightening as she stared into the low flames, “the man was right outside my door. He had planned on…” Adelina shook her head, “Well, when he tried to get me to do my wifely duties immediately, I panicked.” She looked up with a furrowed brow. “I didn’t think hitting him with a vase would kill him, but it did.”

 

Kahn had now turned to her fully, her eyebrows ticked up in shock. Borka was likewise stunned, but Callan placed a reassuring hand on Adelina’s shoulder. Her eyes shone with sympathy, and Adelina had no doubt she knew of the pain that came with the human custom of arranging marriages for power.

 

“It was self defense,” Ba’lak said casually as he wiped pieces of rice from his beard. “Ain’t no reason for them to chase after you.”

 

Adelina sheepishly looked to the side. “He was the Marquess of the Outer Banks. So, I had kinda committed a very large crime.” Ba’lak choked on the bite of rice he had just taken, nearly choking if not for Callan there to slap his back. He coughed and Adelina glanced warily at the others. Kahn had given her full attention, but her hands were rapidly signing at her, but Adelina looked at her in confusion.

 

It was Borka who translated once they got over their own speechlessness. “She’s askin’... if yer noble blood. If yer presence is gunna be a problem here.” Adelina didn’t know what shocked her more - the fact that Kahn was adressing to her, finally, or that she was worried that her presence would lead a whole pack of angry human soldiers to their home.

 

Adelina shook her head fiercely, “No, no! I am not noble, I swear. My father was only a Baron, which is why he was trying to wed me off. My family was the farthest from nobility possible.” As for the second part of the question… she bit her lip. “I hope they give up on chasing me, for it has been months now. Usually this is around the time tracking parties are expected to return and give up.”

 

The tent was silent for a few long moments, until Kahn shifted to Borka, her hands conveying words Adelina couldn’t understand. Borka furrowed their brow as they conversed with her between the gestures. “But Kahn- Ah, but where will she… Ya ain’t serious, are ya? … Aight. I’ll talk to ‘em. Ya, ya, I know… She’ll be safer in ‘ere.”

 

When Kahn was satisfied, she dropped her hands and crossed her arms to stare into the fire, avoiding the grin her brother was giving her, as he had been watching her words as well. Borka peered at Adelina over the pot and flames. “Don’t worry, we’ll keep ya safe. After all, Kahn brought ya back from the hunt, so yer ours now.”

 

Adelina swallowed, but couldn’t help but feel a bit of relief at Borka’s kind eyes.

 

---

 

It had been a four months since the fateful day that Adelina fell into Kahn’s life, literally, and she had found that life in the settlement was better than she could have ever imagined. Borka had brought her and Kahn to the elders, who found sympathy for her when she retold her story. They granted her refuge, and Borka had dragged her back to their yurt.

 

Since then, Adelina had become Borka’s apprentice more or less, in an effort to earn her stay and prove her worth. Borka found it rather entertaining to watch her mingle with the various animals they kept and trained, but Adelina easily adapted and followed their lead in how to handle the different species. She stayed away from Sabrie of course, as the only people allowed near her were Kahn and Borka.

 

She was also please to find that Kahn lived with Borka, and worked with Callan as a tanner for the various leathers brought in by others of the settlement. Callan was highly skilled in her trade and Adelina was always fascinated by the way the other human deftly handled leatherworking. Kahn was equally impressive, but Adelina found it harder to watch Kahn work, or do anything for that matter.

 

At first, she had been fine, but lately, Adelina found that just looking in Kahn’s general direction was hard. Adelina would flush red if Kahn made eye contact with her, and stuttered like a fool when the orcess gestured words at her. Borka had been patiently trying to teach Adelina sign language, and she knew enough of it now to understand Kahn speak in full sentences.

 

It was hard not to get flustered around Kahn, seeing as she was definitely the most beautiful woman Adelina had ever laid eyes on. Sure, she was stiff and serious, but she was also had the kindest soul. She had let Adelina take the best of her furs and pillows to sleep with on the pallet beside hers in the yurt, she introduced Adelina to the others of the settlement, and Kahn always was a warm comfort at her side when she would go foraging with her in the lazy evenings.

 

Kahn was exquisitely perfect, and Adelina thanked whatever god had twisted her luck all those months ago.

 

Adelina was currently thanking the gods again as she and Borka walked down to the designated bathing pool, only to find Kahn at the far end already there with a few others, furiously scrubbing that unruly hair with goat soap Adelina had made only days before, back towards the others.

 

Borka easily greeted the others and undressed right there, unashamed of the ugly scars that marred the entirety of their left body (a run in with a rather vicious animal, they told Adelina) and cared not for their unbinded breasts either. They jumped into the water with a loud laugh, splashing Kahn who shot them an annoyed look.

 

One thing about orcs is that they don’t care much for nudity. The body is only that - a body. There is no shame in hiding it, or acting like it must be covered. So when Kahn saw Adelina at the edge nervously taking her shirt off, Adelina was surprised to see her quickly squat into the water up to her chin. Was she… embarrassed? Adelina grinned and eagerly stripped the rest of her clothes and jumped in as well. When she broke the surface of the water with a gasp, she shivered and smiled at Kahn. The orcess smiled back, but she was very obviously trying hard not to show an inch of her skin above the murky water.

 

It was Borka who shouted Adelina’s name, so she turned just in time to catch the hunk of soap they had brought to share. She yelped as it nearly slipped from her grasp, laughing with the others when she fumbled with it above the water.

 

When Adelina turned back to smile at Kahn, she found her gone. Adelina felt her chest tighten at her absence, but continued on with bathing anyway.

 

---

 

That evening, Adelina found herself laid out and relaxed in the goat’s enclosure, the stars bright in the dark sky. It was a quiet night, one that called for a friendly drink and the company of close friends. Yet here she was, alone and sober with goats as her only company.

 

Adelina thought briefly about how drastically her life had changed since she spilled the blood of Marquess Randall. Once, she had laid in plush beds with sheets made of the softest silks. Now, she cozied up on a fur pallet, covered by hand stitched quilts and hides as soft as a rabbit pelt. Before, Adelina dined on meals made by hidden chefs and sat like a proper lady who took tiny bites. Just hours ago, she had helped Borka make a roast, shared it with the others, and laughed loudly between hearty mouthfuls when Ba’lak spilled mead all over himself. She was to greet others with curtsies and soft pleasantries, yet when she walked the pathways of the settlement, hugs and pats on the back were exchanged. Some of the elderly even greeted her with kisses on the cheeks.

 

The cicadas buzzed happily in the trees, and she closed her eyes in tranquil peace. She don’t know how long she laid there, but she opened her eyes when she heard heavy steps approach her. Adelina tilted her head to the side, only to see Kahn approach with a thick stick in hand. She greeted the orcess with a murmur when Kahn sat beside her in the soft grass, and looked at her with a small smile in response. Kahn turned her attention to the stick which Adelina now noticed was half carved. It was hard to tell what, but when she pulled out a small knife and resumed her work, Adelina found yourself lulled into peacefulness by the soft shucking sounds, as well as the hum of the night. Adelina laid beside her in quiet for some time, simply admiring her deft hands, or sneaking looks at her concentrated face. She was so beautiful…

 

Adelina eyes lingered on Kahn’s scarf for a moment, and she realized that she had never actually seen Kahn without it. Everyday, no matter the weather, she wore it bundled around her neck, and even at night, she would have it on, no matter how many times Borka scolded her that it was a choking hazard. She had always shrugged her tassam’s concerns off and slept peacefully with it anyway.

 

And now, with the comfortable atmosphere and the way Kahn let Adelina rest so close to her, she decided to ask. “Kahn,” she blinked down at Adelina, head tilted curiously. She smiled at her. She really was too cute. “I was wondering something.”

 

She placed her carving to the side, and nodded her head for the human to continue. Adelina hesitated only a moment, unaware to the way Kahn’s eyes lingered on the way she nervously bit her lip. “Why do you always wear that scarf?”

 

Kahn didn’t respond, but Adelina noticed immediately the stiffness that hit her. She was uncomfortable with the question, obviously. If her body language wasn’t enough, the way she reached up to touch said scarf and hold it with a white knuckled grasp gave away her dislike of the question. She held it like words would pull it from her.

 

“I’m sorry,” Adelina murmured, genuinely guilty for causing such a reaction with her question. “I shouldn’t have asked… it’s none of my business-”

 

Adelina stopped speaking when Kahn held her hand up to halt her words. She released her scarf to sign slowly. ‘It is alright. I should tell you.’ Adelina rolled to sit up beside her, the chirp of grasshoppers filling the silence, as well as a goat bleat in the distance. She was frowning, but continued. ‘You know of how Ba’lak was injured?’

 

Callan had informed Adelina of how her mate had suffered his many wounds - he was found by the men of her village when he had been sneaking around for her. He had really been minding his own business and picking wild flowers he planned on giving her at their secret rendezvous later that night, when he had been attacked by Callan’s own elder brother and a few of the other men. He had nearly died that night, but they let him live to limp back to his village. A warning to keep away from their women.

 

It was sickening to know that humans had done that to him, and Adelina had wept for him when she next saw him. Adelina nodded. “Yes… it’s horrible. I’m sorry my kind have hurt your family so.”

 

Kahn looked to the moon for a few seconds before she turned that midnight blue gaze back to Adelina. ‘He wasn’t the only one hurt by humans.’ Adelina’s eyes went wide as Kahn grasped her scarf with calloused fingers and slowly, cautiously, unraveled the fabric from her neck.

 

At the sight of what laid beneath, Adelina felt a shocked gasp leave her. A thick scar, nearly the width of two whole fingers, marred her skin like some sort of sick collar. Kahn tilted her head around to show that it didn’t do a complete circle, but stopped on the sides of her neck in jagged points. It was pale against her forest green skin, and looked raised and bumpy.

 

She spoke again, in the only way she could. ‘I was young, and foolish. I had gone out on my first hunt alone, and left to go farther north where big game was, hoping to impress them with a mighty kill as my first.’ To the north was the human kings realm of power - where Adelina had once lived a life of luxury. ‘I… strayed too close to an only human settlement. I was warned to never get too near before knowing the nature of their tolerance. The easily found me a few nights later when I had set up camp.’

 

Adelina placed a gentle hand on her knee when she seemed to struggle to continue. Kahn covered her hand momentarily, the warmth setting her heart aflame, before she continued. ‘I was surrounded, but it wasn’t simply guards. There was a hunter there - one that hated orcs especially. I don’t know why, but he saw me pinned beneath the others and instantly demanded he be the one to kill me.’

 

She took a deep breath and shakily exhaled it. “Kahn-” She stopped Adelina once more, but this time, she pressed her finger to the humans lips.

 

When she withdrew them to sign, Adelina could see the pain in her eyes. ‘They held me in a kneeling position and tilted my head back. He wanted to behead me. Carry my decapitated head back as a trophy… He had done only a shallow slice before a shadow lunged from the trees. Borka had sent Acorn to trail me and watch my back. If Acorn hadn’t been there, that hunter would have managed to slice more than my vocal box. It was deep enough though, and I dying, unable to properly breath. By the time Acorn finished ripping them apart, I was half gone. She helped me onto her back, and before I could take my last breath, she got me home. She was nicknamed Swiftfoot, for the journey should have taken a full day, but she made it in mere hours.’

 

Adelina watched as Kahn gently touched the scar, a distant look on her face. ‘I recovered well, but mentally… I had learned to fear humans. I hated them. When they nearly killed Ba’lak, I wished nothing but death upon them. Then Callan came into our village, desperate for him, and I wanted nothing more than to strangle her. I didn’t. I couldn’t. I was too scared of her.’ She began to sign again and faltered, shyly looking at Adelina. No doubt she worried the human was uncomfortable with her hatred toward her kind, but Adelina knew there was more she needed to say. She nodded encouragingly.

 

‘I… refused to acknowledge her bond to my brother. I wouldn’t accept it, yet she pursued my approval until she made me see her as Callan and not just a human. I still feared humans, but she helped me in ways she couldn’t possibly understand. And then you came crashing in. Literally.’ Adelina chuckled a little, and Kahn smiled lopsidedly. ‘I was frightened, but you were stubborn and refused to stop following me. You were just like Callan. So I… I told myself I would see you for you and not as what I feared.’

 

She took Adelina’s hand and raised it to her chest. When her small palm laid flat above her breasts, Adelina felt her cheeks redden at the furious beating of Kahn’s heart. ‘I am glad I did, for you are more than human. You are…’ Kahn slowly ducked her head in embarrassment, and Adelina could hardly breathe. ‘You are perfect. Beautiful. Kind. I couldn’t fear you if I ever wanted to, because you have taken my heart.’

 

“Kahn,” Adelina breathed out and lifted her other hand to cradle that strong jawline. Kahn half closed her eyes, leaned into her hand and purred. It was a broken purr, yes, but it came from deep within her chest, not her torn throat. “You have no idea how much I want to kiss you right now.”

 

She raised an eyebrow, her thick lips turning up around her tusks, before she brought a hand up to cradle the back of Adelina’s neck and move in. Kahn kissed Adelina like it was the only thing worth living for, her tusks pressed into the soft human skin, lips slotted against soft human ones, and one hand in thick hair, the other moving along the smaller body. Adelina had both her arms around Kahn’s neck and tangled in her own locks, eager to have her closer. This was all Adelina had ever wanted. Love. This was it, and it was amazing.