Cal crouched low to the ground, keeping their center of gravity low as they sneaked through the narrow tubes and tunnels that ran through the hab. Silently, they crept, for they had a goal, a feat that would surely prove to the strange plant woman they found themself living with that ferocious Cal deserved to be the Alpha of this new pack they had formed. Today, Cal would escape the hab unit, hunt for food, and return it to the plant Lyceldra. This would serve twofold, proving both Cal's guile in escaping from Lyceldra's nest without permission, as well as Cal's strength in hunting some terrific beast endemic to this “Hab-Ring” as Lyceldra called it and proving themselves to be able to support the pair. But first, she had to escape.
Sneaking was one of the things Cal found simple. Move in shadow, press down on your toe tips with each step, keep your knees locked and bowed and your core muscles loose and flexible to maintain balance. It certainly helped that whatever this strange building was made out of, it never creaked or groaned beneath like some buildings they had raided in past. Home, they guessed they should call it now. One of their very first power struggles with the mushroom was over the hab, and she had made it VERY clear that this was their home now, though she promised to keep Cal safe from now on. Cal wasn't so sure, but it had to admit that they hadn't been harmed or even missed a meal in the few nights Cal had lived with. Still, they had never seen Lyceldra with a weapon, how does she expect to protect her den without claws and fang? Then again, a little voice in the back of Cal's mind reminded them, she DID defeat them, claim them, and drag them kicking and screaming into her pack.
Cal darted across a hallway, from tube to tube, shrinking under the moment of exposure darting from hiding place to hiding place. In the distance, a creak and a snap echoed softly off the dark walls of the hab. Cal froze, breath shallow and controlled, as they eliminated almost all idle sound their body maked. They sat this way for minutes, frozen, resisting the urge to breath deeper, every muscle held in lockstep ready to make a dash for safety. Still, minutes pass and nothing came. Cal's breaths slowly got deeper, as they started to move again, heading deeper into the tunnel and toward where they know the hab door to be. This time they would make it out, they were certain.
A shadow darted through a crossways ahead of Cal, and Cal lowered themselves to the ground, hoping beyond hope their pursuer didn't see them as she made that turn. At least that warned them.; Cal was already being hunted, that much was now assured. Cal waited a minute, a minute more, and then broke out into a skitter as they threw their body down the soft tubing towards the front door. From Cal's left, a pale white masss lunges forward from the darkened tunnel intersection. A Trap! Their hunter had waited for them to pass before they begun the chase. Cal's logical mind told them that this was illogical, if she wanted to catch them, she should have cornered them between Cal and the door, not chase them, and she must WANT the chase. Cal's survival instincts, the far more powerful voice, however, already had Cal running, pushing their body aggressively into the narrow walls of the tunnel, bouncing from wall to soft, plush-like wall as they beelined for the door.
Behind them, the mass grew closer, heaving and swelling and bursting with dripping needled rainbow flowers. It seemed to spew pale yellow spores like steam off boiling water, filling the tunnels with her soft, tingling, numbing love. Cal saw the door ahead, glowing around the border and dilating the little creature's eyes, but they also felt their breath hitch as their chest warms and numbs with each lungful of tasty spores.
“Hush, now...” the mass whispers in a soft, caring tone as it drags itself through the tunnel behind Cal, squishing its heaving mass through the narrow tunnels of Cal's lair, “There is no need to fear, my little hunter.” Cal groaned and attempted to drag themselves out of the mouth of the tunnel. They could escape their pursuer, prove what a powerful hunter they were...!
But no, a frilled vine wraps around Cal's foot pulling them backward into the mass as a sharp pinch can be felt in their lower back. A gentle warm snuggly feeling came over Cal as they grumpily relaxed in the soft fungi, as Lyceldra finished their journey to the front door with Cal held snuggly in her vines.
“That was very impressive, little hunter” she praises, a vine gently stroking the grumpy beast's cheek. “you almost escaped my vines, at least for a little while. What was it you sought in the world outside?” she asks, her glimmering yellow eyes catching Cal's leaving them with a vaguely confused expression overtaking their pout.
“Um, ah...!” Cal croaks, still unused to using their voice. “Wanted to hunt. Wanted to prove to Beta that Cal is Alpha” she said, with as much bravado in their voice as the xenodrug allowed them. Lyceldra stifles a giggle, bringing a vine to her mouth at this cute display.
“How savage! But, little hunter, how did you expect to hunt without your cute little weapons?” she asks curiously, eyes still holding Cal's as she carries him back into the depths of the overgrown hab, using the larger Affini sized hallways of their shared home. The light was dimmed, as usual, imitating moonlight, and the bioluminescent plants and fungi of their home both added to and blocked the light in many place. It looked like some deep forest, overgrown with fungi, and if Cal was perfectly honest, they really liked living here, though they would never admit it to their packmate and admit weakness.
“Cal would...make do!” they exclaimed in response, the pout returning to their lips despite the warm tingly feelings coming from the nice vines.
A grin reaches Lyceldra's wooden lips as she keeps gazing down at Cal, carrying her charge through the hallways as deep as the hab will go, to her own lair, kept separate to the lair that Cal kept in the tubes inside the walls. Cal had never been inside, of course, that was BEGGING for an ambush, but there was a first time for everything. Her room looked like an enchanted glade, a large mattress on a wooden platform surrounded by a placid pond, reflecting the large moonlamp directly above. Vegetation twisted around the clearing, leaving a skylight so to speak of artificial glittering stars. Along the back wall, held in a display of vines, Cal saw something that dropped their jaw.
“M-My fang! My claw!” they exclaim, scrambling weakly in vain to escape Lyceldra's grasp. Sure enough, a familiar pair of stone dagger sat on display, free for the taking, directly above a mural of stone. Again Cal felt shock as they realized, these were their paintings, somehow removed from their old cave lair and transported here as large curved stone slabs which had been rearranged into a sort of art display. Still, this realization was overshadowed by their oldest partners, directly in front of them. “Mine! Grrr! Give now!” Cal manages to demand, harmlessly biting and gnawing the vines holding them close.
Lyceldra gently drapes the limp little hunter over the vines, and they quickly, weakly grab their claws, holding them to their chest protectively. Lyceldra can't fight the fond smile from reaching her lips at the sight, but quickly clears her throat and makes herself as stern as she can. “You can have these around the hab, but if you intend to leave the hab with these, expect a hunt, my little prey.” she says, her vines swelling and spiraling at the thought. Again, as was becoming increasingly, uncomfortably common, she feels the sharp pang of her cordycep flexing subconsciously, hungry for such a cute little morsel to be hers.
Cal tilts their head, the clever hunter quickly reading between the lines. “If...If I get claw and fang from your den to the outside, I can hunt?” they ask curiously.
“IF indeed, little hunter. You haven't managed to escape me yet, after all.” she purrs, predatory smile showing her thorns. Instantly, Cal is up and moving, lunging for the door....! And flopping onto the ground beside the vines bonelessly, still all warm, limp, and snuggly. Lyceldra deftly snatches the daggers as the creature falls, and places them back up in their display. “Oh, so close~” she patronizes, scooping up Cal again. “Alas, little hunter, you have not hunted yourself a meal. But that's okay, that just means I get to feed you.” Cal says nothing and pouts as they are carried back to the hab's kitchen.
Cal scratched and tugged at their collar idly, still pouting as Lyceldra spins around the kitchen making lunch. The kitchen was one of the least overgrown room, to avoid a fire hazard, but it still gave the impression of a cozy cottage kitchen deep in the woods, not that the little desert dwelling Cal had the cultural background to understand what aspect of human culture Lyceldra was imitating. For the umpteenth time, as Lyceldra seared the outside of a square of meat rare and tossed a small steamed and buttered pile of wild greens, she wondered how it was that Cal was abandoned where they were found. The few times she had asked them, they clammed up quick, not comfortable enough with Lyceldra yet to share, but that was okay. The pale, ghostly form twirled and unfurled as she plated up the meal, scooped up Cal, and slid down into their seat, firmly on Lyceldra's lap.
The little beast cutely squirmed, but couldn't hide their excitement for the meal from their caretaker. The fungi had mastery over flame, like the city people, and she made good smelling food! Raw meat was yummy and good too, but...the way this meat smelled made Cal's mouth go drippy and nose go sniffy as they tried to figure out what the good smell was. Maybe Lyceldra was the better hunter, too, the small, traitorous voice in the back of their head suggests, and is quickly squashed.
“Ah!” Cal demands, mouth open. Lyceldra grinned, her vines shivering. The little thing was already begging for food after only a few meals with Lyceldra, and had taken to cooked food like a horse to water. She sliced a piece of meat, taking great pride in the way her little hunter tracked the morsel with their eyes as they watched its journey from the plate to their mouth. In one quick motion, Cal snapped the meat from the chopsticks, almost taking a chunk of wood with the meat thanks to their aggressive bite. Lyce pursed her lips and hummed. They still clearly needed to work on proper food etiquette, or at least smaller bites, but Lyceldra couldn't deny how absolutely adorable Cal was.
Cal for their part gazed at Lyce suspiciously, the “Care-Taker's” joy clear on her face. “Why is 'Celdra smiling like that?” they voiced their suspicions. Lyceldra tilted her head, her smile only growing at the question.
“Because you are adorable, my little hunter” she explains. “The way you close your eyes and savor every bite. You are completely and utterly cute.” Lyceldra said, punctuating her statement with another scrumptious bite.
“Key-ute?” Cal mimicks blankly.
“It's a word that implies a protective urge.” Lyceldra explains, an easy smile on her face as she keeps feeding Cal. Stroke, BITE! “It's something that people use to describe soft small things that need to be protected.”
“soft-small? No!” Cal denies, mouth snapping shut petulantly as a greasy slice of meat bop pointlessly off their lips. “Not soft, not small, fierce!” they insist, hands going up into cute little claw gestures. Lyceldra just smiles, and picks up the leftovers, returning them to the stasis box for later snacks.
“Perhaps I should show you what I mean.” she said, scooping up the grumpy Cal and spinning to face the kitchen's replicator. “Hab, please print us project file Culebrón for us, would you?” she calls to the disembodied voice that Lyce sometimes talks to.
“Of course.” the hab responds, and not a few moments later, a soft ding can be heard from inside the replicator box. Opening it up to let out a box full of steam, Cal blinks owlishly from Lyceldra's arms at something small, dark, and fuzzy waiting inside.
The plushie looked like Cal! Or, well, how Cal preferred to think of themselves, all dark fur and long squishy claw. It was a deep black and looked the perfect size to be held, because instead of Cal's human-shaped form holding all of these monstrous parts, this one looked like a ball of softness, two bright luminescent yellow eyes peeking from a part in the fur. It was a beast like Cal, and clearly a fearsome one judging from its appearances. Cal wanted to touch it, and Lyceldra wasted no time in handing the plushie over to Cal.
“This is your new friend!” she explained, as the gently rumbling plush was pressed into Cal's chest. Instantly, they buried their face in the soft purr, letting out a happy humming noise. “It's very 'cute' isn't it?” she prompted.
Cal pursed their lips. “....cute....” they mulled, gazing down into the plushies eyes for a moment. It looked like a small them? They never thought they would meet another them. Cal wanted to keep it safe. Was that what 'cute' was? “Okay, new friend is cute.” Cal finally agrees, smiling happily down at the new companion.
Lyceldra visibly swelled with glee as Cal bonded so easily to the plush, unable to resist all her vines squeezing around them like they were here own toy. “Cute.” she agreed, though Cal got the funniest feeling she wasn't talking about the plushie. A soft pale blush reaches Cal's tanned cheeks. “Now, my darling little hunter, it's time for your bath!” she exclaimed happily, brushing a soft vine through Cal's still quite matted hair.
“Bathing time?” Cal wondered aloud as they're taken by their captor for their first bath together.