Depthless Hunger

Chapter 265: The Great Unicorn Hunt
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After so long training and preparing, not to mention battling the Thunderbird, the unicorn hunt was a bit disappointing. Most of Kai's competitors weren't that much stronger than him, and their grace over the desert wasn't more than he could manage with his new abilities. Despite all the preparations he and Omilaena had made, he probably didn't need to go all out.

The unicorns, though... they were going to make all the work worth it.

Those he'd glimpsed were among the strongest sacred beasts he'd ever seen, with strong Soul Levels and above all speed. The Thunderbird might have have them beat in raw velocity, but that was aerial maneuvering and the unicorns were graceful in an entirely different way. If he managed to eat one, he would definitely gain a power that wouldn't be ashamed to be fused with the Thunderbird.

After so much work consuming that monster, its essence still sat in his soul, not entirely formed into an ability. In a way that felt odd, but it was only appropriate: he wasn't going to waste essence so valuable on some trivial ability he would only use temporarily or in certain situations. If he did everything right, this would finally remove one of his greatest remaining weaknesses.

Technically there were many other parts of the great hunt, because unicorns were extremely rare. There were flights of pegasi migrating across the continent, for example, but he was thoroughly uninterested in them after all his previous training. His hunger insisted that he should chase and eat more of them, even if it wouldn't do any good, and had to be suppressed.

One of the most important parts, which he hadn't understood until the hunts truly began, was actually wild horses. Apparently the elves were widely known for the quality of their horses, which they continually improved by careful breeding. Kai could easily run faster than even fine horses, but there were some that surged with chakra who could run at blinding speeds. Fast enough he even considered trying to eat one.

One group of those passed him and several riders turned sharply, blowing sand and dust in his direction. "You see how futile this is?" It was Heruul Cryswind, atop one of the slender desert steeds. "It doesn't matter if you forced your way in, you can't compete wi-"

"Have you caught a unicorn yet?" Kai asked with a blank smile. The elf scowled down at him and looked like he wanted to act, but anything other than light competition was frowned upon during the hunt.

"These are only the first days! The unicorns will not be run ragged until later, which you would know if you properly studied our ways."

"I'm sorry, there's still so much to learn." Kai had found that constant politeness worked better than trying to beat the elves with sheer arrogance.

Heruul and his whole group rushed off over the desert after their newest quarry. There was no way they were going to be successful, not now. Not only were the unicorns faster than all but the best horses, they were clever and agile. He'd seen one group spend a lot of resources to get a net around one, but it cut its way free with a nasty edged horn and escaped.

As far as he could tell, there were several different strategies among the elves who tried for the greatest prizes like the unicorns. Some devoted themselves to stealth and built traps in areas where the unicorns passed. Kai didn't think he could compete with local experts and none of them had been successful yet anyway. Others tried to wear down the unicorns, slowly exhausting them over the course of days until they could be penned in.

For his part, Kai was hoping to purely outrace them. He actually had a lot of supplies stored in his spatial ring, from ordinary trap-making materials to a syringe with an adrenaline boost from Omilaena. So far he hadn't needed them. A unicorn provoked serious competition, but it was no Thunderbird.

Eventually the sun hit the horizon and Kai decided that he'd tried enough for the day, so he loped back toward the pavilion. The third major strategy was trying to hunt the unicorns at night while they slept and he thought that method would be cheating for him. Instead he headed back to rest and prepare himself for a new attempt the next day.

Usually returning was nothing special, since he just touched base with Omilaena during her own work. Today, however, he saw that she was talking with another woman, which surprised him briefly until he saw that it was Zae Zin Nim.

Holy shit, it was Zae Zin Nim.

For a second he stopped dead, unsure how to react. He'd grown so used to seeing her covered in thick black scars that it was surreal to see her with unblemished skin. Of course she looked good, and it meant that she had finally broken through, but how would she want him to react? Somehow he'd expected to have warning when she advanced so he could think through everything. Oh shit, oh shit, they'd noticed him, he didn't have any more time...

His natural instincts made him smile as he approached and he hoped that wasn't a mistake. "You advanced," he said quietly. "Are you feeling better?"

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"Yes, I finally am." Zae Zin Nim seemed quietly pleased, perhaps just with her own progress - she'd certainly taken a huge leap in power. "The Blackblood Physique should have dissolved, however, and I'm not sure why I still see it in my soul."

"Well, you aren't exactly on the same path any more. But the important thing is that you feel like yourself again. No more lingering problems?"

"No, none. Thank you for all your help getting this far."

She was smiling back at him but not saying anything. Kai was afraid his smile would look stupid or creepy but he couldn't stop. It occurred to him that maybe emphasizing the change would be putting pressure on her, based on what she'd said earlier about waiting for her. This difference might change everything for her, whereas for him Zae Zin Nim was still just his companion. Navigating this new situation could be a challenge...

"You two gonna fuck, or what?" Omilaena stood just to the side, eyes twitching irritably between them. Zae Zin Nim blushed and turned on her angrily.

"Don't be vulgar!"

"Hey, you're the ones pinning adult conversations on advancement."

"We don't have to talk about any of that now," Kai said. "You're strong enough to fight your father's cultivators now, right? If you can build that chakra into something that hides you, then you'll have achieved all your goals on Rosemount. I don't know if we can get to the Commonwealth for Omilaena, but we can leave if y-"

"No." Zae Zin Nim raised one hand and shook her head. "You have supported me this far... both of you have... and it's my turn to support you. Finish your unicorn hunt first. I can wait."

Once they got over the awkwardness, it was easy to talk again, and it was good to have the three of them truly back together instead of separated by their training. They didn't talk about anything personal, just discussed their plans after the hunt. Allegedly the elven school had already started up, though Omilaena was adamant that it wouldn't be worth their time. Overall, it was just good to be back with the two women again, even if his feelings were still a bit confused.

Kai's night was filled with strange dreams, but the next morning he ran into the Elven Wilds with new motivation.

.

..

.

Normally Zae Zin Nim would not have been happy to sit and watch like an ornamental maiden while a man competed in a competition, but this was Kai and that was different. His human soul hadn't changed massively, but his monstrous soul had clearly grown to fill the new space granted by his D-rank Physique. He was faster and more graceful, especially in the air.

While they watched, Omilaena explained what they had done, in particular the fight against the Thunderbird. Zae Zin Nim wished that she could have joined them, even though it had turned out well in the end. For the first time she realized that cultivation would actually take her away from the people she cared about. At least they were both people who dedicated themselves to advancement as well.

Both. Zae Zin Nim frowned and decided not to think about that. She could sort out her emotions later, since they would finally have peace after the unicorn hunt.

There was a single exciting event back at the pavilion itself, because one elven faction formed a massive hunting party and tried to herd a unicorn back toward a trap. It managed to leap over the line of cavalry, then bounded up the side of the pavilion itself, sending viewers scattering in all directions.

Zae Zin Nim didn't move, staring at the unexpectedly grotesque beast. It was only majestic the way some predatory beasts were majestic, with its sleek mane and flashing hair. But when she looked into its eyes she saw only an ugly animal there, and the twisted horn was surprisingly brutish even without the blood running down the side.

Too late she realized that she was the only one who hadn't moved. The unicorn lowered its head as if it intended to impale her and began to charge. She instinctively raised her hands, prepared to ward off the blow. If the unicorn came to her, she would not back down.

Abruptly it blew air out its nose and wheeled about, rushing off in another direction. She lowered her hands carefully, puzzled. Other hunters were running after it, and Omilaena tried to capture it for her experiments, but they stopped her because she wasn't part of the hunt. The interruption seemed to be the most exciting event of the day for most watchers, but it just left Zae Zin Nim a bit troubled.

"You didn't even flinch," a nearby elven woman said. "Would you have tried to fight it?"

"I would have killed it," Zae Zin Nim answered confidently. "I thought unicorns were purer, more elegant creatures than that."

"Pure?" One of the elf's friends snickered. "I don't know what kind of unicorns you have on Cloudspire, but I doubt they're any different. What do you think that big horn symbolizes? Why do you think they're attracted to virgins?"

"Actually..." The first elven woman's face broke into a mocking smile. "Is that why it ran away?"

Staring between the two of them, Zae Zin Nim realized what she had been missing. "Surely unicorns aren't as... as base as that..."

"She's blushing! With that skin it couldn't be more obvious..."

"Hey." Omilaena suddenly slouched between the two elven women, wrapping her arms around their waists. "Just because you gave it up to the first randy unicorn you saw doesn't mean you should mock others."

"You're projecting." One of the elven women laughed in surprise, but the other glared at Omilaena. "I've seen how women like you can be in other lands, always-"

"I'm not the one watching the men chase after big thrusting horns..." Omilaena was practically groping the other woman now, in a way Zae Zin Nim made sure not to watch, and kept whispering directly into her ear, in a way she made sure not to hear.

Whatever had been said and done, the two elven women retreated, flushed and laughing. By contrast Omilaena still looked completely cool, without a trace of lust in her. Zae Zin Nim had known a few women like that, using their sexuality as a weapon instead of a vulnerability. She told herself that it wasn't really vulgar, just a technique.

"Thank you," Zae Zin Nim said quietly.

"No problem." Omilaena came to stand beside her.

"Let's... help Kai kill these things."

"I'm not sure if that's technically cheating," Omilaena said with a lazy smile, "but I'm game either way."

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