After a week of scraping and clawing, the feral horde had forced it's way into the small chamber and then retreated for Jergal to proceed. It had taken the lives of a number of the beasts, to clear away the warded iron doors. Jergal did not need to worry about carcases considering the very fact that a demon typically turned to dust after being slain. The demon stepped past a curious beast that was staring around one corner in the tunnel. Jergal was carrying a torch through the dark passage to make sure the way was indeed clear. He stepped past a shattered iron door into a dimly lit room. Luminescent lichens sat at the base of a crack along one wall. There was a sound of rushing water that faintly emerged from that small fissure. Jergal paid no heed to the distant noise and instead looked to the figure manacled directly to the wall.
The figure appeared to be that of a slim young man. A mane of black hair adorned the man's shoulders. His eyes were closed and his chest was slowly but steadily rising and falling. There was not a single insect nearby. There were a few rat skeletons though. These appeared to have been desiccated for quite some time. Jergal studied one of the rats and was only partly surprised when it twitched and ran up the pant leg of the manacled man and nestled itself on his shoulder. Jergal only chuckled and looked to the sleeping form again.
Samael of the Dark, that was his name, was in a very restful trance. He heard the whispers of his rat calling to his mind. He opened his eyes and let them take in the soft green and blue light in the room. His roaming eyes found the scarfaced demon in front of him and narrowed. He then cocked his head, listening to his rat.
"Masterrrr......doors.. have been ...destroyed... by that one"
Samael gazed up at one of his wrists at the inscribed iron there. He then brought his stare back to Jergal, instantly realizing the name in his dark mind. He couldn't speak the name as he was mute. He yawned and shrugged the ache of the clamps away for a bit, twas an ache renewed with being awakened.
Jergal strode close to the fellow and studied him, his eyes clearly disapproving of worn leather bands crossing the man's pale chest, crisscrossing front and back. These seemed to disappear into the tapered pants. Jergal new better though. This was a creature that could cause a lot of death and havoc if not stopped. He caught Samael gazing into his eyes and didn't flinch. Then he spoke.
"Do you know why I am here, Samael?" Samael remained quiet for a bit before speaking clearly into Jergal's mind.
"You are here, because you need me causing mischief", the voice went quiet before coming back again, "that is it, isn't it?"
Jergal shook his head and smiled, not at all surprised by the voice directly inside his mind. He carefully studied the full form of the necromancer and let his eyes drop to the man's legs which ended in hooves. Those were also clamped to the wall. Sure the necromancer was shorter then he was, but that did not matter, this was not another one of those feral beasts that had been dispatched entering the complex.
"Aye, that is exactly why I am here, to release and to send you on your way to do as you wish in those favorite haunts of yours."
Samael smiled, revealing perfect, white teeth and made a show to struggle against the manacles, thus attracting Jergal's attention to them. Jergal came forward and whispered the necromancer's name, but in the infernal tongue towards the runes. Each manacle turned to rust and clattered freely to the ground in parts. The two other rats scurried aside and hissed at Jergal. It was a strange sound, like a cage of bone chimes sending forth their notes.
Jergal stepped back and brushed some of the reddish dust from his hands. He felt the room suddenly grow colder and took yet another step back. He was impressed now, seeing what he was. There in front of him Samael had pulled himself away from the wall and regained some of his strength.
Samael stood there holding one of the rats. He had sent it's consciousness into piece finally, before he drained the energy from his familiar and absorbed it into his own. The rat didn't argue when it's master said it required it's energy. Despite the rats being his familiars, they were still expendable. Samael stepped forward away from the wall and stretched fully, 500 years of soreness being stretched from his joints quite audibly. Jergal chuckled as he listened to the popping joints. He knew the feeling of aches quite well, though he could not even begin to comprehend such longitude held in position. Another interesting thing was that no matter how much age the stretching revealed, the necromancer still seemed as fresh and livid as any man would be in his 30s.
Samael had indeed dropped the ambient temperature in that cave. Simply the process of increasing his energy had robbed the atmosphere of some of it's warmth. Samael closed his eyes and took in a deep breath. When he opened his eyes, the iris's were a shimmering silver, these threw off a light of their own. Samael literally then took a step up into the air and hovered there on both feet. Jergal could hear a soft moan pick up in the wind as if something were awakened. He stepped aside leaving the open passage available. Samael nodded and gathered up his remaining rats, the rats scampering up his bare arms and curling up on his shoulders and clinging to the leather straps. Samael then floated off, taking the chill that filled the air with him.
Jergal watched the necromancer float away. Once Samael had gone around a corner in the tunnel, his mane of black drifting outwards behind, Jergal inhaled deeply of the once again warm air. He rubbed his hands briskly restoring some circulation to his system. He continued to sit there staring down the hall, his mind racing through the possible outcomes of this. He still had not a clue that all of these events had been foreseen.
Earlier in the week, a courier had shown up Merelda's with a sealed letter. Merelda had been surprised to see that the letter was addressed to her and Rick. She was included because so Rick wouldn't be alone in a crowd of their own. Of course Merelda was excited to go, it meant she got to try on her mother's dress. Rick was interested in going, but he didn't have any proper attire. This meant he needed to go to a tailor and look at getting a tunic made.
It was the morning after the letter arrived that Merelda had sent Rick off on his way to a local seamstress. Rick had paid in full for a fitting and the purchase of a fine brown tunic and trousers to match. It was on his way back that he saw a sign posted by the town guard, "Looking for new Recruits" which was followed by "Show up at MoonGate Garrison on Friday", is what the notice said. Rick of course was intrigued. Those days later when it finally came to being Friday, things had so far gone well that week.
Rick rose out of bed early in the morning and smiled once he figured out what that tasty smell in the air was. Merelda was alrighty out in the kitchen preparing some fresh breakfast for him. Rick entered the kitchen and was greeted with a warm smile from Merelda as she sat the stuff on the table and bade him to sit. She sat across from him with her own food.
"So you ready for today?" She asks. After chewing his bite of eggs he looks across the table at her face and smiles as he speaks., "I think I am, would you like to come along with me?"
She tilts her head and smiles. "Of course I'll come with you, and I'll carry your bundle home from seamstress." She took another forkful and munched on it thoughtfully, her eyes watching Rick, before she spoke again. "I think you'll be handsome in some armor with a sword at your side."
Rick purposely gazed down at his food, not wanting her to see the spark of shyness in his eyes and tried to speak. "I... I don't even think..."
Merelda just laughed and interrupted him quite promptly. "Don't be silly Rick, you'd be great as a guard, maybe you'll even make captain someday."
Rick smiled at how she dodged discussing his looks with him and happily dug into his breakfast as Merelda did the same. When they were finished Rick did up the dishes and helped clean up. With Merelda dragging him by the hand, the two of them soon left for the market which is where all the craftsmen and women were located.
It was a typical loud and busy day at the market. There were merchants everywhere trying for profit, there were farmers selling their fresh goods while you can hear the workings of the various smiths. The overall traffic of noise wasn't as bad as it could be. Then there are the drunkards slouched outside the taverns while many are entering those very same taverns for a meal or business. Rick and Merelda made skirted the majority of the crowd as they headed straight for one of the tented venders. Merelda stopped and gazed at the rolls of fabric, fascinated with the different patterns and colors of cloth. Rick stepped up to the counter and waited patiently for one of the workers to finish stacking some articles. The woman came over with a smile and nodded. She accepted the coins that Rick gave her and disappeared into the back. He could hear a drawer being opened up and then shoved close again with a lock. At least the money that was made was kept out of sight. The woman came back with a very fine tunic for Rick and a matching pair of trousers. She bade him to stand still so that she could test the measurements against Rick's form and nodded, pleased that everything was good.
Drusillia walked up to the stand humming to herself and paused suddenly. Her eyes spotted Rick and Merelda and quickly studied them. She took a silent breath and nodded to Merelda as she passed the young woman. She shouldn't have been surprised to see the two of them here. She gestured for one of the attendants and quickly exchanged several coins and in return was given some trimmed material. She walked away casually at first and then quickly disappeared once out of earshot.
She returned to her household and locked the door behind her. She chuckled when she noticed her sister reading one of the books. Her sister looked at her and gave her a curious face.
"What's so funny Dru?" She asked. Dru responded with a bit more of a chuckle. "That man you fell in love with really does have a nice rear end."
Teresetta just shook her head and sighed a bit before changing the subject. She was in moon to argue with her sister.
"What were you doing that led you to get such a view of him?" She queried. She sat up and set the book aside. It was a collection of historical lore written by an unknown author. She noticed the items her sister had gathered and was once again amused that her sister had only obtained a invitation to the ball because of her herbal skills. She wasn't the only herbalists in the region but she was one of the more established. Teresetta knew of one other herbalist who had been set up in town but moved away. That one was only known by her, because Dru recognized the peculiar nature of that one.
Rick and Merelda had vacated the market shortly after that and made their way to the local garrison. Rick stopped and froze in awe at the sight of the structure. Though he was a good hundred yards away the fort which disappeared into a vast expanse of trees was still on a decent scale. The forward walls jutted forth from the treeline. To the sides were two sturdy stone towers with walls connecting to a gatehouse in between. Rick turned to Merelda and was about to speak when she kissed him upon the cheek and drew back some. Left stammering a bit , Rick smiled and held his ground as she backed off.
"Rick, have fun ok. I'll wait for you at the nearbye tavern ok. I'll even book us some rooms for after the ball tonight." She gave a warm smile and hugged the bundles close. She turned around with a wave and started heading off to the tavern just down the road. At least it wasn't a far trip to the Baron's manor.
Rick watched her go and finally found his body obeying him again. He turned and strode up to the gatehouse and inside. In the courtyard the legion champion was training a squad of swordsman. Rick didn't stop to watch these as he was now in the queue making it's way to the barracks. Once Rick was finally up front he was admitted entrance inside. A guard patted him down and then gestured for him to make his way down the stairs.
The walls were of carved stone blocks placed securely among each other. The doors were wooden planks held together by iron bands. Through one such open door was a well-lit chamber. Rick was beckoned into here by a guard. Inside there were a few tables, a few soldier were sitting at them eating. Off to the side through an open doorway, Rick spotted a blacksmith at work crafting a large sword. Rick's attention went to the large man striding towards him. The man held his helmet in one hand, slots cut into the sides for the mans slightly enlarged ears. He was layered from the toes of his Boots to the tips of his gauntlets in hard leather and plates of iron.
"Ah, you must be the foreigner that has been rumored to be in these parts." His voice rumbled with a deep heartiness. The man walked set his helmet down on a nearby chair and gave Rick a smile.
"No need to answer young man, I can tell you're clearly not one of us, but you sure do seem to be of the same shape." He looked Rick up and down studying the lean , tanned and toned form of the human.
"I imagine you're here with interest in joining the legion!"
Rick subconsciously went straight to attention, his hands hands straight out down his sides, and his feet closely situated with toes lined up to an invisible line. His back straightened in the heartbeat reaction. "Sir, that I am......"
The knight chuckled and reached over patting Rick on the shoulder, startling him. Having been given a good shake of the shoulder Rick looked into the man's eyes and saw approval there.
The big man laughed and moved a step back, he turned on one armored heel and fetched a sword from it's rack and tossed it towards Rick. Rick caught the blade by the handle, he nearly fumbled it though which brought another round of rumbling laughter. Rick flushed but realized quickly it wasn't meant to insult him. He looked down to the blade in his hands, he studied the rather plain hilt with a cloud-hidden moon embedded inset into the grip.
"You can talk boy, this isn't a library!" The man stood with his hands resting on his own swords pommel, the point resting on the floor, his attention fully on Rick.
"Well... I was only being respectful in front of one so important." Rick took a careful unskilled swing of the blade, quickly realizing it would be better held by his other hand before continuing.
A nearby soldier smirked seeing Rick's obvious lack of skill with the blade and suddenly shut up when he received a glare from the speaker. He gulped and disappeared through the doorway into the bowels of the fort.
"So tell me your name boy", Demanded the leader.
"Sir it's Richard Mayven, Rick for short." Rick stopped working with the blade and rested the point on the floor.
"Ah, sounds like a strong name to me lad." He paused and gestured to one of his officers and sent the man away in the same direction as the offending soldier. He then returned his attention to Rick. "Well my boy, you shall know me as Sir Sirius Strapenholme. You will not receive your orders directly from me until you have made some progress here in the fort. You will be following every order of my instructors and your first position will be wall patrol. Is that clear soldier."
Rick nodded and then looked at the armor of the surrounding troops. Sirius caught the young man's gaze and spoke up, reading his mind. "I will have you outfitted with a snug and secure set of armor once you pass the weapons training, until then feel free to use the barracks if you ever need to, the same with the local chapter of the temple." He went forth and retrieved the sword from Rick and shook hands with him.
"Good luck and may the gods give you strength." He turned on one foot and departed leaving Rick standing there. Rick looked around and was guided upstairs to a training hall where an instructor was tending to a rack of weapons. The next potential recruit had already been sent in and was waiting for Sirius to grant him audience. Rick entered the room and waited for the instructor to speak.
It took a few minutes, the man was carefully inspecting the wooden weapons situated upon the rack. A halberd was leaning against the wall next to a quarterstaff and a spear, each truly resembled the weapons that they were mockeries of. The rack itself held swords of varying sizes, each also made of wood. To the other side of the rack was a series of shields. Small round bucklers, round shields and tower shields were leaning up against the wall. The instructor finally gazed over at Rick and smiled a strange smile. A pair of canines protruded from his upper jaw, they clearly weren't quite designed for his face, a genetic mistake was all really considering these people obviously had felines in their ancestry.
"Ahhh... I see I have another student, do come right in." The man had a bit of a lisp, but was still understandable.
Rick nodded and approached at the man's bidding and stopped in front of sword rack. The man half loped up to Rick and studied how lean the former fighter pilot was. He then lifted a short sword from it's holder and held it out for Rick. Rick accepted it and watched as the weapons master moved over to the shields and grabbed a round shield with an arm strap attached to it.
Rick looked at the man and nodded. He slipped his off hand and arm through the strap, reaching through until he could clutch the handhold. He wielded the sword with his primary arm.
Ragustaad the quick was his name. He may have been born with physical deformities but he was still one of the finest swordsman in the region. He had chosen to live out his remaining existence serving as weaponmaster of the MoonGate Legion Fort. He picked up one small sword and a second longer sword. He held the longer one with his left hand and the shorter one with his right. He motioned to Rick to move to the combat mats. Rick did as was told and stood there waiting for some order.
Ragustaad suddenly came at Rick, moving forward with the longer blade first meeting a surprised Rick's shield with some force. Rick had not been expecting the attack and got his shield up just in time. His arm shuddered from the impact, a good thing he was fit and strong. His surprise vanished and he pushed the shield forward and watched the master swap the short blade for the long blade and watched the short one leap over the shield coming for his face. Rick tried to stop it but didn't get his sword up soon enough to avoid what he thought would be a slap against his cheek. He winced and then opened his eyes to see Ragustaad's wooden blade balanced near his cheek. Rick sighed just a little. Those lips smiled showing off the slightly crooked canines and their owner backed off a little.
"Well, well, it seems you can at least accept what's coming. Now for the fun stuff so try to keep up." He had a bit of an unnerving chuckle and lunged forward for Rick again. Rick fought valiantly in defense parrying somewhat successfully most of the incoming blows, he'd taken a few slaps to the thighs and a few more to the arms. At one point he tried something new. Ragustaad had been charging at him as if going for the kill. Rick set down the shield, it's bottom edge catching the floor. When Ragustaad got as close as what seemed possible, Rick suddenly brought the shield up and in line with his shoulder and smashed through between the blades and thudding against Ragustaad. Ragustaad was surprised that this newcomer to the art of the sword had effectively knocked the wind from him. He refused to give his student the satisfaction, he brought the short sword down, got it past the inside of Rick's thigh and pulled in the opposite direction.
Rick overbalanced and tumbled down to his knee, the wooden blade having forced his leg to an angle. He looked up panting at the swordsman and lowered his eyes in defeat. Ragustaad smiled and went to the rack and put the weapons up. He approached Rick and offered him a fuzzy hand. Rick took it and got up and looked at his teacher's face.
"We are done for the day Rick, put your weapons back and feel free to relax and leave as you will." He watched as Rick went over and put his weapons, rubbing the slight tenderness from his arms afterward. At least the bruises weren't going to be obvious. He then bowed to the instructor and headed off. The instructor watched the curious specimen that was rick as he left. He shrugged and realized that he himself was just as curious to look at too. The man disappeared and reappeared a bit later with a short sword and a long sword, for his left and right hands accordingly. Ragustaad went into battle with an imaginary foe and would remain there for a while, a brilliant dance of steel it was.
Rick wasn't fully sure what joining the local legion would entitle him to. At least it would give some feeling of accomplishment. He arrived at the Tavern in a little while and stopped to smell the aromas in the air and it suddenly reminded him of Roxy. He shook away the image, not understanding just then why the aromas of the kitchen would do so.
He went to the stairwell, his hand moving to the rail. His eyes roamed up and there was Merelda in a lovely leaf brown gown, it bordered on being transparent, the brown fabric so light in color. She smiled down at him and gave a twirl showing off the gown in a very girlish way.
Rick approached and she stepped back letting him admire more so. He felt his heart flutter seeing her and he had to then swallow it as it rose up his throat. "You're........ quite...... beautiful Merelda" He blushed a bit and the girl giggled. "Well go change silly man, and let me see how you look at that point." Rick nodded and let Merelda lead the way. She entered the room before him and gestured to an outfit laid out on the bed.
Merelda sat there and just stared at him, watching Rick hesitate, she wanted to see him dressed. He asked her to turn around and she actually pouted but then twisted her hips to the side and rotated on that leg taking her slender form along for the ride. She then realized there was a mirror there and chuckled a bit. She brought her fingers up and left two parted so she can stare. There in the mirror was an oblivious Rick stripping down first to the waist, then he lowered his trousers. He was humming softly to himself.
Rick pulled on the fresh trousers and followed up with a shirt matching Merelda's dress almost in shade. He then eased into the finely trimmed Jacket. He then turned to Merelda and gave Merelda an insincere glare. She made a squeak sound and blushed covering her face fully to hide it. Rick grinned and stepped over to the Merelda trying to hide in her hands. She was still facing the mirror when Rick stepped up behind up her and removed her hands from her sight. He leaned forward and whispered , "You look quite wonderful in this dress, and I'm glad I'm worth looking at, really I am Merelda."
She looked up at his image in the mirror and studied his face. "Does it hurt?"
Rick puts on a confused face.
"Does what hurt Meralda?" She turns around and tilts her head up at him, "your girlfriend?!"
Rick looks down and chews his lips, his eyes slowly meeting hers, he then gulps and shakes his head. She nods and throws her arms around him, pulling him close in an embrace. She whispers as she stands there with her face buried in his chest. She mumbles, "I'm sorry she's gone Rick."
Rick nods and sighs, "I do miss her, but it feels like she's been gone for longer then it has."
Now Merelda looks up in curiosity, "what do you mean by longer?"
He just shakes his head and stares into her eyes; he has to stop himself from falling into those orbs. "It's weird, maybe it's just me, but it didn't feel real with Roxy before she was lost to us."
She just shrugs, not understanding and keeps him close, breathing softly, smiling some when Rick's breathing matches her own once more. His embrace of her tightens with the sudden blast of a lightning strike outside. It's starting to rain outside. Merelda smiles a bit and looks towards the window at the curtain of gray, she then brings her gaze back to Rick, and then speaks, "I think it's time we get going Rick, we don't want to miss the party do we.'
The two figures were standing out under the overhang at the front of the tavern listening to the galloping of hooves as the coach drew close. It stopped a few yards away and Rick, holding up an umbrella guided Merelda inside and he followed her. Sitting down across from her, he smiled and turned his attention to the rain and the pitter patter of beasts of burden as they made their way to the manor.
That very same evening the town herbalist was standing in front of a mirror and admiring herself in the simple but elegant gown she purchased. It fit her figure well; the back was open with over-the-collar straps meeting up at the back of her neck. It was a fall brown with yellow trim along the edges. She twirled in front of the mirror and put on a girlish smile seeing the motions of the fabric. She turned around and looked to her sister who was once again staring out the window into the cloudy world. The herbalist sighed and called out to her sister, "dear sister, you really should have accept what you are and what you cannot have."
Teresetta looked to her sister and cast her a questioning look.
"What is wrong with you, do you not practice what you preach?" She frowned and turned away, staring off into the void, sighing to herself after a bit.
Dru approached and placed her hand upon her mourning sister's shoulder. She felt her sister shudder, she spoke then in a more serious tone.
"It's not that I don't practice, I practice this so well. One needs to blend in to all angles of society to not arouse suspicions. Maybe I just enjoy these opportunities to view the drunken, and the merry, and the ploys going on in the background, you know the workings of the mortal mind in it's pitiful limited existence."
Teresetta shoulder's sagged and she closed her eyes trying to lose herself. She didn't hear the door open or close shut as her sister left for the ball. Ticket in hand. She instead let her mind roam back to all the times she did spend with the human, she is not sure why she regrets what she did, but she does. She lets herself sink into her mind when suddenly the image of her Jergal, that scarred face of his as if leaning in close to hers, that hot breath as though dripping on her flesh. The fear she feels seeing this makes her suddenly leap to her feet. She looks around, almost not recognizing her surroundings. She gazes at Dru's house and relaxes a bit. She sighs and grasps the top of the chair, trying to settle her heart rate back to normal. She really hated that creature. She was not sure of it, but something felt really out of place. She looked back out the window and into the night.
Gerrard Lionsbane looked across the hall as his guests were filling into the grand hall of his Uncle's Estate. He had been hand delivering drinks to many of the single ladies, not to mention the female partners of many a noble. He really was quite bored by the whole ordeal though. All of the visiting dignitaries and their guests were usually just interested in politics and collecting wealth. He had himself another glass of drink and went off into the crowd to see what he might find.
Merelda and Rick were greeted at the door by Gerrard. He gladly led them to the hall and let them be, not wanting to bother them with the political atmosphere. The two of them went off into the dance hall, after having a sample of the menu. That was when he noticed the her.
Dru had been spending the evening dancing with different hopeful suitors, none holding her fancy, dancing with them for the joy of dancing. When Gerrard suddenly stepped up, thus scaring off her dance partner, her grew very nervous. Gerrard could not understand the true meaning of the flash of nervousness on her face.
"Would you dance, beautiful lady of the herbal arts?"
Her heart skipped a few beats, her mind yelling at her that this was one known for successfully hunting down her kind. She gulped as her hand reached forward as if of its own volition. She looked into those eyes and nodded. Gerrard smiled, taking her hand in his own, interlacing his fingers with hers and led her into the current dance routine.
Rick and Merelda were enjoying the night too. Rick had never been much of a dancer and Merelda had never had much of a chance with a decent partner. Those two did join in with other dancers and participated in those dances that required them to shift partners, but every time they came back together and found that they enjoyed that time the most.
It was after sometime as the party was dying down, that Dru was having problems with her thoughts. She did indeed enjoy dancing with Gerrard, even though she was being easily read by him. Gerrard could see the nervousness stamped out on her face. Dru could tell she was being studied and of all things, she blushed.
"Are you enjoying yourself," he asked her quietly. Her eyes darted up to meet his and her face flashed thru several partial emotions, anger, fear and absolute happiness. She tried to respond and quietly got out, "yes, and you are a fine partner." Once again she blushed and looked down, her heart racing out of control. Gerrard just laughed, lifted a hand free from her waist and stroked the woman's cheek, having not a clue that beneath the skin was a creature of a different colored blood. He asked her, "Can I get you a drink, maybe even a snack?" She just nodded and watched the man go, her cheek still warm from his touch. She watched him go, studying his physique from behind, before shaking her head and turning away. Several women were glowering at her, but she ignored it and quickly made her way out of the hall, pushing aside several servants in her tearful rush. Those were tears mixed with sadness and joy. How could she be so stupid, is what she was thinking. That man had been so wonderful and just melted her on the spot. She even knew that Gerrard hadn't been working any magic over her, but it didn't matter because he had filled her heart with such warmth.
When Gerrard had come back to the spot where he had the herbalist, he was confused as to where she had gone. Soon several women came flocking to him, hoping for a drink and a dance. He shrugged sadly and took a few more dance partners that night before retiring for the morning. His dreams were filled of the Herbalist and her smiles.
Dru spent the rest of the night holding onto her sister at her home, both of them lost in their emotions, things demons aren't supposed to be feeling for non-demons.