The new mare was settling in rather well, enjoying the respite from war, and learning how to deal with her past experiences. She sought comfort with her fellow veterans, and even though she felt like she didn't quite fit in with the large number of gilded horses, she was assured by Aeldi, their eldest and most experienced, that she was just as much a part of the family as anyone else.
Life was quiet. The staff would occasionally preform mock-up battles and jousts on horseback to relieve some of the latent tension in the numbers that originated from Shadowvale. Tiifa loved these little reenactments and rode smoothly under whoever happened to be on her back at the time. Occasionally, these would be preformed for the children of a riding class that learned at the Rescue. Tiifa loved them, as well.
All was calm for her, and she enjoyed herself in a late afternoon graze, a bit separated from the rest of the herd, but none the less content.
"Good afternoon..." A pleasant voice called out to her, and she lifted her head, ears twitching forward.
It was that purple gilded stallion that also came from Shadowvale. She'd never seen him around before-- rumor had it he was a nobleman's steed and lived a posh life of luxury, although no one ever sought to ask him. He had an ego that he exuded wherever he went, and even as he approached her with carefully placed steps, so his mane and tail swayed just so in the light breeze, Tiifa felt a small curl of resentment writhe in her breast.
"Hello." She greeted. "I don't think we've been introduced."
"We haven't; I'm here to remedy that." Stopping a respectful distance away, he lifted his head slightly to glance down at her, "I am Kuja."
"Tiifa. It's a pleasure." Well... perhaps not a pleasure, but she was taught by her late mother to always be polite if she could be. A faint twitch in the stallion's nose made her quickly re-think that course of action.
"Likewise, I'm sure." He intoned after a moment, "They tell me that you were, much like a majority of the rest, a warrior. Is that not correct?"
"Of course." She shifted slightly to hide the view of her single, thin scar. While not very noticeable, it was more visible from the front, as it left a bit of grey skin revealed on the black of her chest, where it crossed to her left side.
"It must be nice to not have to fight anymore-- well... not unless it's for sport."
"I don't suppose you'd know about that, would you?"
"Of course not! I am not common swill, and have never seen battle."
"That's a shame," Remarked Tiifa, ears flicking back in annoyance, "If nothing else, it strengthens character."
"Oh?" He canted his head, and a lazy smirk slid onto his white muzzle, "Do you believe me to be lacking character, Tiifa?"
"The kind of character that matters, I think." His condescending attitude was starting to grate on her nerves, and she felt herself tense, even before he snorted a soft laugh.
"Oh, I'm sure, I'm sure..." He humored in a tone that made Tiifa snort derisively, "And that mark on your underside... would that be character as well?"
Feeling a surge of anger roil within her, she flattened her ears and lifted her head. Damn! If nothing else, he was observant.
"Can't kick the teeth out of everyone you meet and expect to come away completely unscathed."
"Aeldi's a better warrior than I am. I admit that. He's also twice the stallion you'll ever be with that attitude."
That seemed to sting a bit, and Kuja's ears fell in anger.
"You think so, do you?"
"Yeah, I do."
For several agonizing moments, the two stared eachother down. Tiifa had to look up at him to begin with, and that arrogant lift of his head for him to look down his nose at her didn't help.
Kuja was the first to speak.
"I'll let you get away with that sleight this time, but be warned that I do not take insults to my person lightly."
"It's not a sleight if it's true." She returned with all the precision and sharpness of an arrow. The stallion before her recoiled with an affronted snort.
"I've had just about enough!!" And with that, Tiifa lunged at him, hooves connecting with his sides and teeth embedding themselves just above one of the golden curls that adorned his coat. With a frustrated and pained roar, he managed to shove her off, losing balance and falling onto his back and kicking upwards to propell himself to a position less prone, and to get back onto his hooves. Tiifa, for the sake of not killing him on the spot, landed to the side of him, but turned to deliver a powerful backwards kick into his own hind quarters. Kuja returned with a powerful bite-- she wasn't expecting that much of a fight out of someone so prissy-- and landed another blow with his front hooves glancing her back.
He was on top of her.
She was about to have none of that.
Lashing out with a buck so strong it made her leave the ground with both of them, Kuja was thrown off of her to tumble onto the ground and pick himself back up. He was at enough of a distance for her to turn and face him.
She'd done him a great deal of damage. Blood stained his purple coat a blackened color, and it ruined the white of his back legs in places.
She could tell she was bleeding as well, and her hips hurt from suffering the weight of a stallion landing on them. The very thought embarrassed her-- that could have quickly become something else-- and she tossed her head, dancing on her front hooves, ready for another attack.
But Kuja's legs were shaking, and his breath was labored.
"Not used to the fight, are you, pretty boy?!" She scoffed, "You're just like us! It's in your blood as much as it's in mine! Just because you got the posh life before doesn't spare you from it now!"
They'd drawn a crowd, and Tiifa was certain she'd heard the soft gasp and cry from the rose mare that Kuja was often seen with.
Aeldi was looking on beside Imjara. Allegro, Aedriana, and Aubade were nearby, with Amari behind her mother. Iumy had come to watch from near the treeline, and little Insaril was near him, looking on in awe.
Tiifa reared and pawed the air again, issuing her challenge.
Rain began to fall. The blood tan thin over his coat where she could see it, and mingled into his mane and tail. His hooves were dirtied, and he shifted, squelching mud onto the white feathers. He watched her with an analytic eye, turning when she stepped nearer to him, and presenting his left side to her.
The dancing was getting them nowhere, and Tiifa lashed out again.
This time, she was struck with a hoof to the face as Kuja reared to greet her, and she took a tumble in the fresh mud, getting back up and lowering her neck as he charged her.
Her skull connected soundly with the underside of his jaw, and she heard his teeth click together painfully. He snarled in anger and pain and lashed out to bite her neck. His teeth sunk into her fur and skin as thunder rolled overhead, a bright flash of lighting illuminating the scene. They had destroyed a section of the pasture, and blood and mud coated them both. Gone was Kuja's pristine appearance, and he looked now, to her, more suited for war. She shoved him away from her with a well-placed hick to the rib cage, and he released her, blood covering his white muzzle.
He'd gotten her pretty good. She snorted, shook her mane, and readied herself for another charge
"HEY!!" Both combattants froze-- Tiifa landed her charge rather than launching at Kuja with it, and Kuja lowered the front hoof he'd cocked to lash back out at her next attack. Three figures came dashing through the downpour-- the Drow Tiifa knew as Penthe, the lizard woman Shea-tam, and the director of the stables, who Aeldi had named Stary. Shea-tam and Penthe had halters, and Stary was carrying a first aid kit. She, of the three of them, looked the angriest.
"That is ENOUGH." Although Tiifa didn't appreciate being yelled at, and flicked her ears back, she calmly let Shea-tam halter her and check her out. Penthe and Stary went to Kuja, who got a slap on the neck so hard that it clapped over the pasture like thunder. He shied from the impact and squealed. Stary hadn't hit any one of his wounds, thankfully, but she clearly knew that he'd instigated the fight.
"You-!! Don't play innocent, I know you had to have done something! How dare you!" She lectured the stallion, who looked irate and ready to bite at her. He snapped, and got another flat-palmed slap on the nose.
"Don't you EVEN!!" The red-haired director snarled, and he shied away and ducked his head, receiving an even sterner lecture in the tongue of the Drow as Penthe checked him over.
Stary turned on Tiifa, and the mare braced herself. She, too, got a slap on the neck for her troubles. It stung, but she was prepared for it, and she knew that she, too, deserved that reprimand.
"You hit first. I don't care what he did, you're all here, you're all on the same side, you don't attack one another." Huffing, she set to work wiping away the mud from the open wounds and cleaned them as best she could in the torrential downpour.
"I can't see shit out here, guys, lead them to the quarantine barn and I'll patch them up." Penthe and Shea-tam walked with the two Snjorrir, and Aeldi took up space between them to ensure another fight didn't break out.
Kuja was silent, but fuming, Tiifa could tell. She was angry too, but had taken Stary's words to heart. She shouldn't have attacked him. She should have just walked away, no matter how it would have bruised her pride.
"I hope," Aeldi commented lowly to the both of them, "That you have gotten that out of your systems." Tiifa turned to look at him, but Kuja paid him no more mind that a cocked ear as he stared intently ahead.
"I'm sorry, Aeldi, I-"
"I know. I agree, but your course of action was not the best. You're a proud warrior, as am I. It does not make us any lesser or greater than another who has not seen the trials of combat."
At this, Kuja's ears perked towards Aeldi, and he gave the elder stallion a sideways glance.
"Nor does never seeing war first hand make you any greater than those of us who partook in it." Aeldi left them with that as the two were lead out into the complex, and into the quarantine barn where Stary and Zale, a weathered man with grey hair, saw to patching and cleaning the two of them up. Despite their conflict, they were placed in adjacent stalls for care, and left there once they were all patched up.
Tiifa let her weary legs rest, and curled up in the far corner of her stall. A shift from the other stall made her look up. Kuja was glancing through the bars at her, looking decidedly less noble than he normally did with an ice pack strapped to his halter under his chin. She'd headbutted him there, and it looked painfully swollen.
"I underestimated you." He stated after a moment.
"There won't be a round two." Tiifa retorted, "If that's what you're looking for."
"No. I'm not. I don't care for the field of combat. I've no skill for it."
"Oh, I don't know, you did a number on me. My hips sure hurt."
"And not in the way we both would like them to, I'm sure~" A soft chuckle, and his face vanished from view as he paced to the other side of his stall. Tiifa took that long to register what he had said, what he had meant, and snorted in alarm.
"W-what the hell do you mean by that?! Kuja?! Hey!!"
"Goodnight, Tiifa~ Pleasant dreams~"
A storm was rolling over the complex, blowing dark clouds over an otherwise flawless evening sky. The full moon shed its flickering light between the clouds as the wind whipped the storm ever onward. Thunder rolled in the distance, beyond the peaks of the mountain range that the back of the massive complex stood against.
Everyone was preparing for the spring storms. The horses who stayed in their stalls in the evening had all been brought in, and those that preferred to shelter outside had stayed out there.
In the newly constructed barn just for the otherworldly Snjorrirs, the gilded herd had nestled down for the evening, even the most noisy and demanding of them quiet as the sound of far-off thunder rolled through the air and shook the floor.
Penthe glanced up and frowned.
"We're down one."
"Yes," Returned Shea-tam, who had finished taking a head count, "Iumy isn't in."
"He's a Mancer-- he can handle the storm."
"But perhaps we ought to locate him anyway." The Argonian flicked her tail, "The storm sounds bad."
"And it hasn't even breached the peaks yet. It'll get stronger when it's forced over the mountains."
"...You're right. Maybe he can be coaxed into his stall for the night."
Together, the two set out into the fields with lantern and halter.
The majority of the Snjorrirs were kept separate from the other horses on the Rescue, and stayed in their own large pasture, with a few isolated, smaller corrals. Iumy naturally kept his distance from the rest of the nobly marked herd, and so fights rarely, if ever, broke out. He and the upstart Kuja had gotten into a scuff not long ago, but the gilded stallion had retreated when Iumy nearly took his feathers for a prize, and bit his hind quarter with those lethal fangs. The wounds had not been deep, thankfully, but the Mancer had driven his point home-- he was not to be trifled with. Even Aeldi, the wizened herd leader, knew better than to needle the lone wolf.
Calling out for the stallion, Penthe kept a weather eye out for the flash of peach against the treeline that would give away their quarry.
They heard him before they saw him. A gutteral cry more befitting a large cat or a great beast cut through the shifting of leaves and rumble of far away thunder. It rose in pitch, and then fell, much like the howl of a wolf.
Shea-tam stopped dead, but Penthe only laughed.
"Howling at the moon." He assured the alarmed Argonian, "He's simply feeling at home. That's a good sign. It means he's happy." At the Drow's explanation, her ears fell to a more relaxed position and she sighed.
"Hardly a pleasing noise."
"It's more intimidating when called on the battlefeild. An entire pack of them will do that to communicate with one another, especially if they've circled and flanked the enemy. They think like wolves. They act like wolves. They would be wolves were they not bred horses."
The howl sounded again, and following the sound, the two handlers discovered the Mancer stallion standing alone in the field, with his head canted up and eyes blissfully closed as he sang to the moon. Thunder rumbled again, and his white fangs glistened in the flickering moonlight.
Penthe whistled, and Iumy lowered his head, ears perking forward and predatory eyes fixing on the pair. They reflected red in the light of the lantern, making him an imposing presence for a moment.
Once he realized who they were, however, he trotted over, tail swishing and ears forward. He pressed his nose into Penthe's shoulder and huffed lightly as the Drow scratched behind his earss.
"It's storming. Come in for tonight."
Reluctantly, the stallion agreed, and was lead halfway to the barn before the first of the rain rolled in off the foothills.