Cal kept low to the dark grass of the deep forest, claws extended and drawing parallel grooves into the ground as they dashed through the darkened wood. Ahead, Cal could hear their prey, as their glistening fangs began to drip with a sizzling green ichor, pressed into their lips that Lyceldra had painted a pretty black earlier. It was the first time they had been allowed to hunt since they had first had their body changed by the powerful plant they now called their Alpha. Cal had never thought it possible, but seemingly overnight they had awoken with gnashing fangs that dripped with a paralytic xenodrug, as well as a special compound that 'Celdra kept secret, just smiling and telling Cal that it was a special gift to keep them at the top of the food chain. Cal was excited to figure out what else was in their venom, it sounded like a wonderful gift from their Alpha.
The fangs weren't the only gift, as her hands had completely transmogrified! What once were soft, pink, weak things were now sharpened and sleek, covered with a hardened black scale down the arm and leading to a dexterous 4 fingered hand. The black scales of the arm bled seamlessly into Cal's skin, which had taken on a bluer-gray tone by the day, which Cal found quite pleasing. The claws could extend brutal claws that Cal liked to run with, pitting grooves into the floor to fling themselves forward with their own bone, but for some strange reason, they could never manage to extend them without asking Alpha nicely first. Cal had asked her to fix them more than once, but she only ever laughed and pet her more, leading to an inadvertent change of subject.
Her claws were out now, as her nose smelt a familiar scent in the air and her arms and legs propelled her onward into the darkened forest as a pitch black blur. After all, she was It. It was an important thing, apparently, the predetermined hunter that was duty-bound to chase and pin the one who wasn't It, though not to the death, which was a change of pace for Cal. Another funny thing about being It was that when you got the not It, they became the It, so next time, they got to hunt you. It was very strange, but Cal couldn't say that it wasn't fair, this whole It thing. They shivered a little as they remembered the first time they had played this game, when Sydney had been It, and she...she...
Well, Cal actually couldn't remember much, though she did remember Sydney's eyes. Those twin yellow lanterns, so different to her Alpha's chartreuse and silver spirals, yet eventually just as able to pry their mind open and peek inside. Still, she had rightfully captured Cal, and Cal had no complaints. If they were the better hunter, then they wouldn't have been captured by the snake. But now was their redemption. They were IT!
Ahead they spied her, the slithering green serpent camouflaged against the forest floor, her normal internal lights dimmed completely to enable stealth. But not stealthy enough, as the small dark blur came upon the snake like a mongoose hunting its favored foe. True to myth, the tiny, rabid little thing leaped onto the snakes back, Sydney hissing in surprise at how quickly it went from her first hearing Cal to Cal digging into her back. The claws retracted, of course, after all Cal didn't want to hurt their friend, but her maw wasn't so easily denied, her slavering jaws dripping with her venom, sizzling against the snake's skin. Her teeth sunk in, and Sydney let out a pleasured gasp as she felt the fangs sink into her plantflesh and release their payload, a massive dose of Class A and D Xenodrugs designed to turn Cal's prey into a snuggly toy. Still, one dose was hardly enough to down Sydney, though the snake could feel the comfortable stillness fraying the edges of her consciousness.
“Ahh! Little...hunter. You are fast.” she begrudgingly admitted to the preening beast, as she lazily swept her tail across her back, forcing Cal to hop backwards teasingly, in no real danger of being grappled in Sydney's sedated state.
“Sydney may have found Cal hiding last time, but Cal can hunt best than anyone!” they asserted, as they paced around the serpent searching for an in, any sign of weakness, to give her another dose and possibly win the game of It.
Sydney felt sluggish, snuggly, still, but even so she refused to go down without a fight. The snakes fangs glinted, as her eyes opened wide, beginning to glow with an internal light. “Oh, but little hunter, wouldn't it feel so much more comfortable wrapped up in my vines?”
The luminous yellow lanterns in front of Cal had their head spinning, but they had prepared for this, feigning a meek slump forward into Sydney's coils that halfway down turned into a lunge, delivering another decision bite into the plant flesh of the tail. Again, Cal felt the satisfying pulse of their hollow fangs delivering their payload, and Sydney let out a delightful annoyed gasp at the sensation.
“You little....” Sydney began, annoyed, before trailing off, a serene plastic smile appearing on her face as her coils go limp like a plush toy, laid at the ground around Cal's feet. Sydney now gently rested atop the pile of coils, eyes hooded, smiling blankly at Cal like she were happy to see her friend. Cal blinked the yellow lights from their eyes as they giggled and did a little dance of victory. So engrossed were they with their gloating, that Cal didn't notice the forest darkening around them and Sydney, who didn't notice much of anything at all, but greatly appreciated the sensations of the gloating sophont crawling around her Class-A tingling coils.
Cal's mouth watered and their claws flexed as they stood over their prey, a pumping instinct in their head calling for further violence, for decisive victory, for blood and meat and safety and dominance to thrum through all of their actions like it had the last time they hunted. They didn't want to harm their friend Sydney, however the voice that reminded them of such trivialities was near silent beside that thrumming instinct, that force that had kept them alive at the cost of all other creatures alive in the desert.
Still, as loud as that instinct was, something louder still buzzed around the beast, singing with an ethereal music as the forest spoke.
You have hunted well, the voice seemed to speak from all around the pair, though only one pair of ears were left to hear it in Sydney's daze. Cal preened, visibly puffing their chest as the voice complimented their prowess. To the victor goes the spoils, the voice finishes, a smile heard through the forest's tone.
With that important voice's permission, Cal prepared to gut their catch, before the song surrounding them distracted them, their claws retracting and their legs collapsing like jelly under them into the soft grass.
“...Whuh?” Cal murmurs, feeling sort of sedate and slow all of a sudden, a strange coldness radiating from their weird thick neckband they always wore these days, as the song around them got so much louder. Two lovely silver eyes appear in the gloom, and Cal felt their attention narrow onto them without the slightest bit of conscious control, the beast quickly sinking into their yellow-green swirls.
Is that how a hunter shows its dominance? Murder? Death? The forest spoke, blowing away any thought Cal might have of resistance as though it were a driftwood shack in a sandstorm. Cal found themselves nodding without thinking, compelled to answer the voice, even as they stared into the strange floating eyes peering from deep within the forest. Were the eyes getting closer? They were so pretty, and they were getting easier to see.
No, the responds with a thrum of deep finality. Cal's soft nods freeze, and a furrow reaches their brow. No? But that was how...Then how was....Cal's mind suddenly screeched into walls that they were sure weren't there moments before, like a steel trap had closed around it and pinned it to the ground, too trapped to even gnaw off a limb. The voice responded, as if speaking directly to the questions asked in Cal's brain. No, a REAL hunter shows the prey who controls who.
Cal felt their brain tingle as it tried to reshape and conceptualize this new truth. Shows....control? Cal didn't understand, and yet they needed to understand, the thing the forest said was the truth, and Cal knew this to be so.
You struggle. That is okay. You are not the Apex, and perhaps your predator can show you how to treat your prey. Cal blinked as their mind hungrily drank up those words. The eyes were definitely approaching, and approaching fast, and yet Cal's entranced mind couldn't manage to feel worried about it, even as thick tendrils of white mycelia lifted and pulled Cal into their grasp.
Cal's instincts screamed at them, that they should be worried, that they should be struggling, but all they do is gently lean forward in the vines, trying to get closer to those lovely eyes. Lyceldra giggled softly, putting a hand to her lips in a teasing gesture as the pale visage became apparent through the gloom. “How cute~” she purred, speaking with that same voice, that voice that the forest spoke with, the voice that had such good and important ideas. Cal was enraptured, so deeply as to remain blind to the thorned vines that moved in behind them to wrap up and drag away an unresponsive Sydney. “You hunted so well, my little Cal, and I think you need some reward, like a good little prey should get~” Lyceldra sang as her body shifted and wrapped around the little monster.
Cal looked at the twisting, pale shape of Lyceldra, blank with confusion at the teasing and the sudden pressure surrounding her, as she struggled to push thoughts through her brain, like threading paper through jello. “Prey...? No, hunter?” they asserted.
Lyceldra clicked her tongue, as a soft pinch could be felt in Cal's side, the little creature's skin suddenly on fire as they snuggled up to the pale vines surrounding them, all thoughts washed away by that wonderful sensation. “Sometimes, perhaps. But you, my little Omega, will always be my prey.” a dominant expression cut into Lyceldra's serene one as she stared into Cal's eyes, her vines writhing around Cal like snakes as their view became only silvers and gold spirals peering into their very core.
Cal's mind floundered as the ground was torn out from beneath it, letting it fall into Lyceldra's eyes. The world faded around her, devoured completely by the fungus that had so enraptured Cal's mind. Their Alpha was all that was, and that was enough, as Cal's consciousness faded to black
During the after hunt party at the local Pizzeria near the pairs' hab, Cal admittedly felt a bit dazed. As they bit into the hot round yellow thing that melted in their mouth and tasted like magic, they still went over what they remembered again and again. They had won, they remembered that, and the slight grumpiness that Sydney exuded due to her loss proved it, even as the pair enjoyed their dinner.
Then why didn't they remember how it ended? All they could remember were those pretty lights floating in the woods. Cal wondered if they should ask their alpha about Will-o-the-Wisps in the woods or if they could keep the lights as a secret prey to hunt later when they manage to escape Lyceldra's den. They couldn't stop thinking about them, and the thought of hunting them down, finding them, looking at them more and, uh....Whatever comes at the end of hunting had completely captured Cal's attention, that they didn't even notice the Terran approaching as they nibbled one of the strange red meat discs that was on top of the bread thing at one point.
“Did y'all enjoy your food?” the Terran man said hopefully at the side of the table suddenly, smiling at the four bundled up in the corner booth.
“Absolutely, darling.” Rosalia responded, an easy grin on her face ruffling the boy's hair to obvious ecstatic affect. Cal let out a soft hiss under her breath as they noticed the closeness of the Terran, scampering to hide inside the slightly embarrassed Lyceldra.
“Oh, ah! Cal!” she exclaimed and sighed as she felt the little creature find its favorite spot nestled right up beside her core. “...Er, sorry about them, they can be a little shy, especially around Terrans.”
The floret nodded, smile never leaving his face. “Understood! I just hope the cutie liked the pizza!” he laughed, sending a wink toward Lyceldra's chest cavity. Another soft 'hisssss' can be heard. “I'm Arty Aconitum, Second Floret, He/Him, it's wonderful to meet you.”
“Ah! I am Lyceldra Mycota, Second Bloom, She/Her, and this is my friend Rosalia, and her Floret Sydney, She/Her as well for both, and the little cutie inside me is named Cal, They/It-”
“She!” Cal asserts from inside Lyceldra's body, staring out through the vines at her friends. Lyceldra, Rosalia, and Sydney were all 'shes' so she wanted to be one too, whatever that was.
“...She!” Lyceldra adds on, after a momentary shock. “Seems little Cal has been picking some things up about Terran society after all.” she says proudly. Her internal vines give Cal a proud pet, eliciting a grumpy grumble. Cal spins to face the pale walls of the Affini's spinal column behind the core, as though a toddler sitting in a corner. Arty smiled knowingly, perhaps even proudly at where Cal was hiding, nodding in understanding.
Lyceldra sighed good naturedly. “....Though perhaps today has been long enough for little Cal. Thank you for the pizza, Arty, it was wonderful, and you will certainly see us again. Wish your owner well for me, I hope to meet them soon. Perhaps little Cal needs some socialization with their Terran neighbors. Alright Cal, say goodbye to Sydney and the nice Terran~”
“mmmfm.” is all that can be heard, as Lyceldra smiled ruefully, giggles, and carries the grumpy monster back home.