CH : 24 – DISCOVERY PART 3B
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DISCOVERY PART 3B

Day 426; 1408 (Afternoon)
Focus: 513

513: "Come out, WOLF!"

513 yelled-out a second time.

He had his own issues to deal with and could spare no time entertaining impertinent guests, especially ones whose methods of 'play' involved battering the host.

Just as 513 prepared to yell a third time, the wolf -- Rialla -- made her presence known. 

A narrow, almost imperceptible vertical gap appeared in a patch of clear space inside of 513's basecamp. From the gap emerged the graceful silhouette of the towering, yet familiar figure of an enormous wolf, which blocked the view behind it in a hazy, opaque shadow.

Unlike 513’s previous, yet fateful encounter with the wolf -- where the wolf seemed to have appeared from nothing -- in this instance, he easily detected the wolf's flashy approach, by virtue of his True Sense.

Keeping calm, he watched-on as the wolf’s giant body materialized in place. Upon completion, the wolf immediately spoke.

Rialla: "Oh, how unexpected! To realize my visitation from a single gale...hmm. Perhaps I should forego such warnings in the future~."

Rialla cheerfully declared.

Just as before, a flood of sounds drilled into 513's mind without his permission. But unlike the past, the wolf’s choice in communication came filtered through a series of feminine tones -- a distinct difference from the ambiguous mixture of voices it had used in the past.

After recovering from the initial discomfort caused by the wolf’s mental message, 513 briefly pondered to himself. [Is the wolf trying to tell me it's female? I already knew that though…] 

Not sure what to make of the wolf's intention, 513 casually shrugged his shoulders with indifference, then stared directly at the wolf. After a brief staredown, he rested his practice spear against his left shoulder and replied.

513: "State your business, wolf."

It was a declaration delivered with authority.

Rialla: "Tsk. Tsk. How unrefined. How shameful! To treat your guest as a nuisance! How uncouth!~"

Rialla playfully testified, as her over-sized tail vigorously wagged in the air.

The tail-wagging concerned 513, since the wolf had appeared dangerously close to his workstation and storage units. He didn't want her oblivious nature to cause destruction to his home -- a likely outcome given his previous experience.

With a slight hint of worry hidden in his voice, he responded in a no-so-friendly manner.

513: "Shut it. You are no guest of mine. State your business, then leave, wolf."

He growled.

From his reply, Rialla's mood soured, and her tail turned limp.

[Good, one crisis averted.] Relieved, 513 mused.

Instinctively, he felt the events from his previous encounter with the wolf would somehow repeat itself here, so he readied himself for the occasion. Fortunately, the wolf’s motives seemed slightly different from its last visit.

Rialla: "That is the fourth time you have disgraced my being, there will not be a fifth!"

Rialla snarled, baring her sharp fangs at 513. 

She was clearly upset that he had called her a mere 'wolf'.

Meanwhile…

[Oh, god. I could use a fifth right about now.] Reasoned 513, distracted by a mountain of frustrations which had funneled itself into thoughts of liquor; unexpectedly, his mind had duped itself into entering the world of delusions.

513: "..."

As such, he failed to respond to Rialla in a timely manner-- his mind, suffused with images of spirits and wine.

Rialla: "..."

[No reaction?] Rialla pondered as she stared at 513. [Why must he be preoccupied by such meaningless thoughts?]

Rialla: "Absentminded, are we?"

Rialla questioned after a brief moment of pause. Her obvious threat had gone unattended and she needed to know why.

513: "Hmm, yea. Sure."

513 casually replied.

Rialla's voice had echoed inside his head, shattering his delusion from the inside-out. But he did not want to admit that, especially to the wolf.

From an outsider's perspective, what he had done would seem foolhardy and downright suicidal, but he had everything calculated from the start -- to achieve the best outcome.

Probably.

Incensed by 513's uncaring attitude, Rialla made her disgust known.

Rialla: "Grrr. I am no mere wolf! I am a Highborne Eclipse Wolf! More importantly, I am a Rho…"

Rialla's proclamation started fierce, but gradually trailed-off into silence as she realized her own pride almost prompted the disclosure of a secret.

Now, fully out of his self-induced delusion and wading deep into the conversation, 513 picked-up on Rialla's mistake and sought to capitalize.

513: "Oh? A Rho…?"

513 mocked, mimicking Rialla's previous statement.

Rialla: "...omit my blunder...or would coercion be preferable?"

Rialla threatened as her snow white fur gradually darkened into charcoal -- a preemptive measure to show the seriousness of the situation.

Seeing this, 513 lost all motivation in prying any further.

513: "No need, don't care."

He waved his hands with disinterest, hoping to avoid a disaster.

Rialla: "Then the matter is settled."

Rialla replied as the color her fur returned to normal.

513: "So, back to my question...it is the same question I had asked during our first meeting, and is the same question I am asking you now: why are you here?"

513 glared at Rialla, fully expecting to receive a typical non-answer.

While he waited for her reply, his mind began playing tricks on him.

From his periphery, he sighted the inexplicable appearance of bloodied corpses littering his basecamp. Some were partially buried in the snow, while others leaned against the basecamp's structures, as-if positioned there for a photo shoot. 

If he hadn't already completed his routine inspection earlier that day, the presence of corpses would have greatly surprised him -- though, an unlikely circumstance given his defensive measures.

[Is this the new side-effect of Trauma Healing? One to replace the voices? A visual nightmare?] He pondered. [I highly doubt this wolf is the type to play mind tricks. It is too proud and too full of itself...]

He then remembered what happened the last time he met Rialla.

[Please don't tell me this is another hallucination…]

With doubt cast over the root-cause behind the phenomena, 513's mood quickly changed, causing him to, once again, fall deep into thought.

Rialla, sensing the subtle changes to 513's demeanor, decided to withhold her reply.

Rialla: "Hmph!"

She harrumphed in disappointment as she aimed her snout towards the dull, grey sky. 

[Mental instability…] Rialla considered.

It was the one thing she worried about when holding a conversation with 513. His mind would often wander when the two of them talked, causing a breakdown in communication. 

The information she had was important, so she would only divulge it when 513's mind had reached clarity.

Gradually coming back to his senses, 513 soon found the price of his...inattention.

Directly in-front of him was Rialla, who had grown tired of waiting for him to emerge out of rumination, and had curled-up next to the smoke pit to keep herself warm.

Seeing the female wolf comfortably snoozing next to the place where he normally cooked food en masse, 513 smacked himself in the face.

[God. Damn. It.] He complained in his heart. [She’ll probably ask for food...shit...why can't I keep my focus? Having a conversation should not be this difficult.]

Shaking his head in bitterness, 513 closed his eyes and took a deep, calming breath.

513: "Haaah…"

After releasing a long-winded sigh, he took a gander at the sleeping wolf and decided to leave her be. 

[Perhaps returning to routine will help clear my mind of unnecessary thoughts.] He told himself.

◊◊◊◊◊◊

Day 426; 1427 (Afternoon)
Focus: 513

Some time had passed since Rialla’s arrival. While she slept, 513 had silently resumed his combat training. 

By attempting to reduce the noise generated by his own movement -- as to not wake-up the wolf -- 513 discovered a new method of intense exercise: movement using only the balls of his feet. Doing so reduced the impact noise produced by his footwork while creating the ideal contact surface for launching quick dashes and side-steps.

It wasn’t a revolutionary idea. Most animals on Earth already did this: cats, dogs, and so-on. Even Olympic runners ran using the balls of their feet during the drive-phase of their sprints, for explosive acceleration.

While 513 had already incorporated this method during his footwork drills, he wasn’t conscious about it. His body naturally moved to maximize power output, but it was far from being efficient. His tight footwork might have appeared grounded and well-practiced, but it was nothing more than controlled sloppiness.

Looking at it now, he realized that he needed to revise his training methods to focus on efficient body mechanics. Beyond that, he could move onto efficient take-down, disarming, locking, hooking, and breaking techniques. 

He believed that becoming adept in manipulating weaponry as-if it was an extension of his own limbs was necessary to become effective in a fight to the death.

*SIZZLE* *SIZZLE* *SIZZLE* 

While 513 was engrossed with his training, the hissing sounds from the smoke pit grew more intense. Several racks of frozen meat he had prepared earlier that morning had begun to thaw under the heat of the coals, bringing with it a new source of fat which occasionally caused tiny flare-ups as they rendered-out.

Due to this, Rialla, who was comfortably sleeping beside the smoke pit, suddenly awoke.

Rialla: “Hrrrnnngf.”

Rialla yawned into thick, lush her fur.

[To wake me from such a peaceful slumber...it would be regrettable if the food within this enclosure is lacking.] She complained while eyeing the smoke pit.

513: “Feeling rested?”

513 ridiculed, after hearing her yawn.

He had put his combat training on hold after noticing Rialla stir in her sleep.

Feeling refreshed and invigorated by his newly-conceptualized training exercises, 513  unceremoniously sat directly across from the wolf.

Rialla: “...MEAT…”

Rialla mumbled, with half-closed eyes.

513: “Yeah, yeah, yeah...”

[...♬ I am Lorde1Joke referencing South Park's mockery of the singer 'Lorde'.♬ ...FUCK! I’m doing it again.] 513 panicked.

Noticing his hesitation, Rialla spoke.

Rialla: “Troubled?”

513: “...n-no. If I feed you, will you tell me why you’re here?”

Inquired 513, as he sought for a compromise. 

He wanted to end things swiftly before nightfall.

Rialla: “That will depend on what I am fed~.”

Rialla impishly replied. 

Clearly, she enjoyed teasing the man who was unafraid of her domineering presence.

513: “Tch. Troublesome.”

513 mumbled under a low breath.

Irked, he stood-up and made his way towards the smoke pit.

Rialla: “Hoho...I do not appreciate your tone~.”

Replied Rialla, still playfully toying with 513.

513: “...good for you.”

513 snapped back while lifting a leather flap on the side of the smoke pit, which relieved built-up pressure from the inside.

*FSHHH*

The sudden noise of pressurized air escaping the structure startled Rialla for a fraction of a second, garnering 513’s attention.

513: “Pffft.”

Rialla: “Y-you are mistaken, I did not...”

Her excuses trailed-off as the thick smell of smoked meat spread throughout the basecamp. The scent was powerful enough to silence the beast.

513: “If you can, try not to drool on the structure.”

513 warned Rialla, treating her like a child. 

By the time 513 had re-emerged from the smoke pit with an armful of cured meat, a small pool of Rialla's drool had already formed on the ground.

Rialla: “L-like I would do such a detestable-”

513: “Here. Fetch.”

513 interrupted while throwing a large, cured slab towards Rialla’s mouth.

*CHOMP*

Instinctively, Rialla snagged the meat with her teeth and began to feast.

Seeing her react like an over-sized pup, 513 had an epiphany. [I wonder if I can tame her.] He thought, amused by the prospect.

Rialla: “Take...those...disgusting...eyes...off...of...me.”

Rialla protested between blissful chews.

She didn't know what 513 was thinking, but his glare sent shivers up her spine.

[Damn, guess not.] Thought 513, dejected that he was turned down immediately.

513: “Well...when you finish, let’s talk.”

---Chapter End

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