|Return to Me
Author: silvereyedbitch PM
Gerald and Damien return from Calesta's defeat in CoS and part ways, but just for a short while. Something draws them back together. Warnings: M/M, Emotional Angst, AU, some OOC (more towards the end).Rated: Fiction T - English - Fantasy - Words: 8,523 - Reviews: 1 - Published: 11-10-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8691956
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: Don't own CFT. Never will. Nuts.
Warnings: M/M, Emotional Angst, AU, some OOC (more at the end.)
Setting: After they have returned from Calesta's defeat in CoS, Damien and Gerald part ways. Gerald stays at the Merentha castle replica in the Forest, and Damien returns to the church. None of the crap about the fae being discontinued happens or any of the nonsense with Andrys meeting them at the keep.
Return to me
I don't even know why I came here. I can't even answer myself. So what do I say when he asks? Damien thought to himself as he crossed into the courtyard of resurrected Merentha Castle. A small tremor of fear ran through him; quickly passed, and almost unnoticed. This place was symbolic of all the combined evil of Earth and Erna as far as his church was concerned. So why did he feel that this was the only place left to him? His gaze wandered around the stoneworked yard, absorbing every detail as does a man expecting to die soon. The fountain that served as its centerpiece flowed sluggishly, as if the nature of the Forest affected even elements as pure as water. Climbing down from his mount, Damien continued his internal conversation. It actually wasn't so bad getting here. Hardly any detours or games. The last thought caused him to pause for a moment. Which means he knows I'm coming, he added darkly. And he'll damned sure know it's not just for his company.
But Damien had no reasons for anything he did any more. He had removed himself from the church voluntarily, but he was unprepared for the cold reception awaiting him when he came to give a final reporting of the journey towards, and subsequent defeat of, Calesta. His accounting had been long in coming, and he attempted to adequately describe the trials experienced by all parties in their traveling group. When finished, he was frightened by the intensity of the silence that filled the audience hall. The Patriarch had wanted none of it, having obviously drawn his own conclusions long ago. He remarked upon Damien's choices as being influenced by "that demon companion." He even went so far as to say that Tarrant may have invented the entire expedition as some elaborate ruse to gain access to a highly placed member of the church. Ridiculous as these claims were, it was clear the Patriarch believed them wholeheartedly. The worst was when Damien began to try to describe the kind of sacrifice Tarrant had made, extolling the altruistic necessity of the entire ordeal. This, too, was turned away. "You defend him," the Patriarch had whispered coldly. Silence drew between them after that statement. The older man's eyes held Damien's in a paralyzing grip of ice. Then, in a voice devoid of emotion, the Patriarch had quietly stated, "Damien Kilcannon Vryce, you may have rescinded your priestly duties, but one who walks in the light can never rescind his obligations to God. As I see it, you have done just this. You not only travelled with this demon filth, but you now stand here in my presence and defend him. This speaks of an infinitely more sinister infiltration, one that will need immediate and concise action. And I render my judgment now. You are hereby renounced and excommunicated from this faith; never attempt to return here on penalty of death. Such is the price of consorting with servants of the Evil One."
Damien had been so shocked and numb, he did not even recall being led to the front of the cathedral. He remembered looking back at the massive doors as they closed, and he felt the thud of their closing hit him hard again. His breath caught in his throat. Who am I? What am I even worth? His nomadic life and career had left him with no friends, and both his parents were deceased from an accident years ago. No family. No friends. So utterly alone was he that he had sought out the one other person who could possibly relate to this. Tarrant. The Hunter. There was no telling how he would react to Damien's arrival. Their parting had been brief and somewhat awkward. Neither of them knew whether he would be facing the other later at the point of a sword. And so they parted ways, each keeping thoughts and emotions in check so as not to give the other a possible weapon for the future.
Now, standing here alone in this dismal courtyard, Damien felt the first true waves of despair lap at his feet. How far have I fallen? Rejected by the faith I have served all my life for defending that which I have fought against all my life. His thoughts were cut short as the front doors of the castle swung wide on silent hinges. The only sound being the scattered leaves being dragged back by them. Well, I guess I've been noticed, Damien thought as they came to a stop. He tethered his mount by the fountain and turned toward the entrance to his condemnation. No going back now. He strode forward in what he hoped was his usual casual swagger and into the maw of darkness.
As the doors were closing behind him, Damien realized there was no light source inside but that of the gray, predawn air of the Forest behind him, until even that was taken away when the doors came together. Standing in the pitch blackness, he felt adrift in an ocean of nothingness. No light, no sound…this had to be deliberate. After a few moments, he sighed loudly, "Can we just cut the theatrics? I'm tired Tarrant. You want me scared? Okay, I'm scared." But not of you, he added silently. "Just give me some damned light so I can see what I'm supposed to be scared of."
Wall sconces surrounding the large receiving hall began to flare on in pairs until reaching the back of the cavernous hallway. They then began to flare up the large double staircase that spanned to either side of the hall until reaching the summit where a tall figure stood in silhouette. The shadowed figure began moving down the left descending staircase, slowly coming into the light's influence. "Where are your church manners now, priest? Showing up at such an unsavory hour unannounced in my day would leave one waiting in a sitting room for hours before the host deigned to acknowledge them," Tarrant said as he gracefully made his way down the stairs. Why does he have to make everything look so fluid and poised? thought an irritated Damien. He waited until Tarrant made it the rest of the way down before he spoke, noticing as he did that the Hunter had left a goodly distance between them. Ever careful, aren't we?
"Yeah well, I figured I waited long enough to get through those horrible trees out there and counted myself exempt," Damien stated. Tarrant stared at him for a long while, measuring what he saw. When he finally spoke, it was with a touch of curiosity and something else Damien couldn't place, "It has been, what, three months since last I saw you? Has the church already decided to send its finest after my head?" Ah, there was the reason for his caution. Damien drew a long breath before answering. Here comes the part I've been dreading, he thought. "No. No, it hasn't. I just…I came here…I thought…I don't know," he finished quietly. Tarrant circled Damien, and as he did, the sconces lining the staircase began going out. Then the back of the hall began to fill with darkness as even those began to flutter out until reaching just the point where the two men stood. It seemed to Damien that they were standing on an island in the middle of an empty universe.
Tarrant finished his slow circumnavigation of the despairing knight. Tilting his head slightly, he said, "You are scared, aren't you? But not of me. Curious. What wicked thing is it that has this priestly knight so flushed out?" Here goes, thought Damien, gathering what little dignity and courage he had left. "I'm not part of the church anymore, Tarrant; they excommunicated me. I'm not to attempt returning upon pain of death," he finished despondently. Tarrant spun to face straight into him, eyes burning into his soul. "What ignorance is this? Is this some game you play, Vryce? Am I to believe that the church cast you out, and you would come here, without direction, of all places?" Tarrant said in obvious disbelief and sarcasm. His newfound mortality seemed to be weighing in to his overly cautious responses. Damien then related more of the tale to him, including his final mistake of speaking on Tarrant's sacrifice. "Believe what you want," he finished, "You could See the truth if you felt like it. But I don't see that you'd need to. You always seemed to have a pretty good feel for what I was thinking," Damien said, facing the ground with closed eyes. Tired, he was so tired.
The Hunter stood back from the defeated seeming knight, thoughts flashing through those cold metallic eyes. He may be technically human again, thought Damien, but he hasn't had to act like one in centuries. No telling how this will go. It seemed as though the ages stretched between them, their different paths forcing each into a deep introspection. Damien lost in his own despair and self-loathing; Tarrant adrift in a world of new rules imposed upon his now living body. Each had an incredible weakness that the other was privy to now. Once sworn enemies, then reluctant comrades, now…what were they? Perhaps he should have been more careful than he had. Tarrant was certainly skeptical of anything he was hearing. But Damien just couldn't bring himself to care anymore. "Look. Kill me if you want, if even that will satisfy your suspicions. I don't care. Not anymore," Damien said, and he sat down on the cool numarble tiles with head bowed, wondering what was to become of him now.
A minute of pregnant silence followed, with the Hunter statue still in front of him, just barely within influence of the circle of light. "I find…I believe you. Vryce. Because only a fool would allow me as far into his heart and mind as you have had you planned anything of ill intent," Tarrant began. "I find myself at a strange position. The laws I was once subject to are no longer impinging on my every thought and action. The manipulation of elements previously forbidden me has been lifted. And my feeding habits…have changed," he finished softly. Silent for a moment longer, he added, "The topmost northern wing is arranged for guests such as yourself. You will find suitable amenities within the suites. If anything is found lacking, pull the cord at the entrance to the rooms to summon the staff master, and he will see to it. If any are less than accommodating or are found lacking…inform me. Please do," he said wickedly. "My servants will see to your horse and belongings, and I have a few responsibilities to attend to before bedding down, so I bid you farewell…for now." Upon ending his speech, Tarrant made a slight bow and flowed out toward the side exit of the hall, leaving Damien sitting on the floor in his island of light.
He remained there for some time in his mental stupor, and when he finally rose, he found he was exhausted. Mentally, physically, and spiritually he had been drained by these last few months. Climbing the staircase took every ounce of concentration he had left in order to function in a coordinated enough manner to ascend. God, look at me, he thought, I come to the heart of enemy territory and could fall out at any moment. Good choice. He reached what had to be the door to the wing Tarrant had mentioned after passing several adjoining hallways that branched off into the darkness. He took a deep breath and opened the huge polished wood door. And he entered a wonderland of luxury.
Opulent, extravagant, ostentatious…no words he brought to mind could envelope the scene that greeted him. Laid out in Revival style, the rooms were not just spacious but enormous. His apartment back in Jaggonath could have fit into the entry foyer alone. Soaring ceilings ended high in the shadows above him, with murals painted on many depicting imagined scenes from their Terran heritage. Amidst all of this splendor, he had eyes for only one room, though, and it had a bed large enough for an entire family to rest upon. Velveteen covers spread over the topmost portions of layered blankets and pillows. He didn't even bother with them. He sat on the mattress, leaned back onto the middle of it, and was asleep before he could think again.
High up on the observatory tower, Gerald Tarrant looked out over his vast creation. He could feel the thrum of power as it entered the Forest only to be fed into its various Workings and such. He was…confused maybe? Perhaps a little wary. The priest's (former priest, he corrected himself) arrival was so soon after he had sent a Questing out. He had stood on the same parapet then, crafting the fae to his will. Find my purpose, he had commanded, what am I to do with this new form? And for once, his concentration was not so perfect. Perhaps it was the added human piece to his puzzle, but just before the Questing left his hands, unbeknownst to him, the fae sifted through his layers of consciousness and found one recurring theme: loneliness. Unaware of this, though, he could only ruminate over the fact that not even 2 weeks ago, he had sent out the Questing. Perhaps I shall learn something tonight, he thought while looking toward where the Core was about to crest the horizon. He shivered. Much as he wanted to, he still had not stood in the light yet. Centuries of habit were difficult to break free of in just a few short months. Maybe tomorrow, he told himself as he began the long trek through the castle to his western wing. Just as he had told himself for the last three months' worth of dawns.
Damien awoke several hours later, well rested but with a horrible cramp in his neck from lying so awkwardly. He rubbed at it as he made his way to the front of the rooms to the pull-cord Tarrant had mentioned. Leery about what type of people would find employment with the Hunter, but hungry enough to override caution, he pulled the cord. Nothing seemed to happen, but he sat back on one of the entryway couches to wait. Merely one minute later, a man appearing to be in his late thirties showed up at the door inquiring as to his needs. "Where do I get some food around here?" Damien asked, hoping that since there were human servants that Tarrant at least had food suitable for them kept here. "I shall bring you some dishes to select from, sir. The Neocount has briefed us on your habits, so I'm sure you will find everything to your liking." Briefed them on my habits did he? Damien thought. How peculiar that seemed. "The baths are in the furthest part of the suites, sir. His Grace wanted me to be sure to inform you of that," the man said. "Did he now?" replied Damien, becoming irritated. So now he commands my bathing habits as well?
The man left to order the food preparation, and Damien headed to the back to search out the bathroom. A large heated pool in the center of the floor, steam misting along its top, alerted Damien to his findings. A selection of soaps, oils, and other such intricate bathing supplies lay displayed across the countertops surrounding the room. However, there by the water, there was one bar laid beside a shaving kit and scrubbing brush. Now that's presumptuous, thought Damien as he disrobed, scooped up the bar, and splashed down into the water. Wonderful heat assaulted him, and he lay back for a minute just soaking it in and letting his overworked muscles be soothed by it. Bringing the soap to his face, he suddenly caught the scent. Alderash? he thought, surprised. How the hell did he..? Sighing in frustration, Damien grabbed the brush and began washing. Tarrant always noticed everything, even a most infinitesimal detail like preferred scents. Next he'll be picking out a wife for me and genetically enhancing our children.
Toweling dry, Damien found that his old garments were gone. "What the..?" he began. He peered out of the room and into the dressing room beyond. There, laid out across the stand, was an outfit that would have been the height of fashion back in Tarrant's time. Dark forest green, thigh length tunic with black pants. A silken shirt of a slightly lighter green beside those, and shoes that were of no function other than looking stylish. Should've brought my stuff in with the horse, he thought. He donned the smallclothes, the pants, and the shirt, but he forsook completing the ensemble with the tunic…and even a hat! He hadn't noticed that before, but now that he did, he couldn't help but laugh. God, I hope no one sees me, he thought. He put on his old boots, clean now, he noticed, and polished as much as it was possible to polish old boots. Looking at himself in the mirror, he thought, I look ridiculous. Hope that pisses him off; then it'd be worth it.
Coming back toward the other half of the rooms, he smelled some wonderful aromas coming from the smaller room that had a table and a window facing the east. It was almost night again, though, so there was only a touch of light left to glance off of the Forest's tree tops. The servant, who he now noticed was standing at the exit of the room said, "The Neocount will be about in an hour or so. Until then, he bid you to roam the castle if you wish. It is easy to get lost, though. Any set of rooms will have one of the pull-cords, so just go in and pull and wait for someone if you go astray," he instructed. As he turned to leave, Damien said," Thank you. For bringing the food. It's very nice of you even if it is your job. I'm guessing you don't get many visitors here, after all." The man smiled, and dipped his head in a slight bow. "No, we don't. And since his grace hasn't been out in almost three weeks, we have been hard put to stay out of his way. You provide an excellent opportunity," he replied. Then he turned and left Damien to his breakfast.
Damien looked at the food and groaned, "Really?! Is he trying to drive me nuts?" he asked the empty air. There on the tray lay three of his favorite morning dishes, perfectly portioned and perfectly prepared. He stamped over to the chair and flopped down. Choosing his prey, he forked it as if it were going to attack him. It's actually quite good, he thought. The ham had just enough grilling and seasoning that it was tender but crisp at the same time. I guess being evil pays better than the good guys, ran through his head. He finished at a slower pace, figuring that taking his anger out on the food would only give him gas. And that's what I need; to break wind around that pale and humorless…what? Monster? No. What was Tarrant to him now? True, he had been the embodiment of everything wrong with the world, but now…he didn't know. He saved us all, and willingly. How does that weigh against the past transgressions of his soul? he thought pensively. And then something the servant said struck him, He hasn't been out in three weeks! What had Tarrant said to him earlier? His appetite had changed? What did that mean? Too many questions for this early after getting up, he thought, and with a growing headache.
Tarrant's eyes snapped open. His room was still kept as black as night from previous habit. The dark impeded his sight but little, however. Gazing up into the darkness, he could sense the foreign presence of Damien in his home. Odd how one's perspective can change in so little time, he mused. Not long ago, the proximity of this man would have caused a cascade of emotions, none of which were positive, to erupt from within him. Now…now, he didn't know what to make of it. They had no common enemy this time. No ground on which to relate either for that matter. True, each had saved the other's life on several occasions, and after what they endured together there would almost certainly be a lasting feeling of cohesion. But it was not as if they had merely been strangers thrown together by chance. If so, then they would most probably have become fast friends during their trials. As it was, they had met as complete opposites, each representing the doom of the other. And though they had parted on good terms, there was always the question rolling through Tarrant's mind of whether Damien would obey when the Patriarch sent him to go after the Forest's master. And he knew the Patriarch had ordered this. He had Divined enough of the present to gain that information. But anything afterwards could have easily been Obscured to cover for the knight's story of being thrown out.
No, Tarrant thought, No, Vryce was never like that. He would have come to me and proclaimed his intentions, for all the good it would have done him. But his pride and faith would allow for no subterfuge, and so he would have presented himself in a suicide mission. How careless the Patriarch was in throwing away such a devoted servant. Then his thoughts changed track. But for me, Vryce would have been quickly resorbed into the church. Damn his pride! Why couldn't he just pretend he didn't care otherwise for my safety? he wondered angrily. It surely would have cost him nothing and would have saved him so much heartache. I knew they'd be sending knights after me soon, and he could have just feigned indifference to it. Loyalty. That was the reason. Even though I could still potentially return to his worst envisioning of evil, he still felt obligated in his loyalty to defend my name in front of them. What a show that must have been! He sat up in bed, tossing the coverlets out of his way as he did. Sliding off of his overly large, canopied bed, he made his way over to the window. Shuttered as it was, and insulated against even the smallest parcel of light, it appeared no more than a dark rectangular shape along the wall. Tarrant peered into a seam as he pulled it back to test the lighting outside. A grey twilight greeted him. Dressing quickly after that, he left his quarters in search of the source of his contemplation.
His search ended just outside of his library. Feeling Damien's presence, he slowed to assess the feelings flowing from the other man. Part of his new adaptation seemed to be the reading of other's emotional states, which was particularly jarring for a man who hadn't experienced much of them himself in centuries. The door was open, and he came to a stop just outside it and absorbed the emanations from Vryce. Curiosity, yes. He expected that, especially since allowing him free reign in a location that was quite a historical landmark to the knight's faith. But underlying that…oh…pain. Not the kind of physical pain that leaves a mark on the body, but the kind that imprints itself on the soul and is next to impossible to heal. This pain was the sum of many other mixed emotions: sorrow, self-loathing, despair, isolation. Tarrant quickly shut down the channel, feeling nauseated by the sheer intensity of Damien's undercurrent of tumultuous suffering. Taking a steadying moment, he reopened the channel, but not as wide. And then another emotion flew to him. Sorrow again, but not for himself; it was for another. Had someone died as well? Peering around the door and into the room, he saw Vryce standing before a portrait that had many other pictures and memorabilia displayed on a shelf at its base. Oh, thought Tarrant, and then, OH! Damien was inspecting Tarrant's past. The largest portrait depicted himself and Almea just after returning from their wedding. A few others evidenced himself on an unhorse, Almea holding a little boy, and another of a young boy sitting at a desk. In front of the large portrait, several items lay scattered about in mute testimony to the life once lived. Two crystal champagne flutes, a beautiful hair clasp, cuff links, a watch, and two rings stood out amongst the scattered memorabilia.
His sorrow is for me? Tarrant thought. His surprise was then replaced with anger. Quietly he approached the knight. "You're not quite as quiet as you were when you were dead, you know?" Damien said, turning to smile. The smile died as it saw the coldness on Tarrant's face. "Do not pity my life, Vryce. I bore each decision with a depth of understanding you could never imagine. So do not offer me your charity of sadness. I will not have it!" Tarrant said in a loud, yet somehow soft, tone. The former knight backed into another part of the room, away from the offending items. "It's not that I pity you," Damien placated, "I just see what was, and what could still be, a good person," he paused there for a moment and then continued, "It saddens me to see how such a person can fall so easily," Damien turned away as the last words left him. Tarrant paused in his anger, noting the reaction Damien was having to his own words. Slowly Tarrant spoke, "Easily?" he whispered. "Never. Never that, Vryce." Still facing away, the knight breathed deeply, his shoulders dropping a barely perceptible notch. "But you started out so true, so strong. You had every reason to believe in yourself and your cause. You created our faith, man!" Damien said, then more quietly added, "How much more simple to fall when you have a much more basic foundation to stand upon?"
After a length of time, Tarrant decided Damien had said his piece, and so he began to speak, "Vryce, I would…" he began, but was cut short by,"Do you remember when Senzei was lost from the camp?" Damien interrupted, then continued, "You returned at night's fall, and we told you of his disappearance and how we hadn't been able to look for him due to not wanting to split up in enemy territory. Do you remember?" Damien had half-turned towards the Hunter, but was staring somewhere lost in the shadows. Tarrant warily replied, "I do. We found him perhaps a mile from camp with the Fire flask emptied beside him." Damien flinched at the mention of the Fire, the loss still affected him apparently. "Yes, the Fire," Damien whispered into the library's chill air. He turned to face Tarrant, and the Hunter saw a strained expression across the former knight's face. "You remember how mad I was with you? And I told to you leave because burials were for the living, and you were not part of that," he said in a strange tone to Tarrant. The adept only nodded. He had wondered at the outburst then, but had just attributed it to overwrought emotions from a companion's death. Damien picked up again, "It wasn't you I was angry with, it was me," he whispered. "You had told me that you were a seductive evil that was masked by civility once, and that you would change me until I could no longer perceive the difference in black and white, good and evil." He took a shaky breath, and laughed a sick sound, "But I was already beginning to blur the lines, you see. When we reached that clearing, my first concern was for the Fire, and so was yours… This made me draw parallels that I did not want to consider at the time. I was sickened by my actions and thoughts. I still am," he finished, and lapsed into silence.
Tarrant watched the other man carefully. This has been growing inside him for some time, he guessed. How ironic that I should be gaining back my own humanity while the one person I believe deserves it feels he is losing his. "There is an important difference in our views of the situation as I see it, Vryce," he began, "You and I both thought first of the Fire, true. But I did not once regret that as being my first, and only, concern. That you did, and still do, is what marks you as human in my eyes." He let that take time to settle in Damien's mind. "And here you stood in my very library, feeling sorrow over the loss of good in the world that resulted from my fall. Me. The Hunter. And you felt sorrow for my passing?" Tarrant finished, and not without a touch of wonder to his voice. "It seems to me that you are no longer qualified to determine what the definition of humanity is," he finished with a whisper.
"But it isn't just that," Damien began, "I've been feeling this building over the past couple of years. Things that seemed so small have compounded into an avalanche! It's not just little things anymore, though. I've graduated from that. I've lied to my Patriarch for God's sake!" Tarrant stepped toward him. "You merely stated things in as positive a view as the situation allowed. Causing unrest and distrust between yourself and he while you were in absence was hardly prudent," Tarrant answered. Damien shook his head violently. "And you've accused me of using semantics in an argument," Damien said sarcastically, "At best, I was less than truthful. No, Tarrant, you'll never convince me that I am anything other than just another washed-up excuse for a fallen priest. I can't even argue in my own defense to rationalize things any longer. I can't exist like this. When I decided to come here, I didn't have a concrete reason, and I still don't. But I'm starting to believe that I was secretly hoping you or your Forest would handle the matter for me," Damien finished in a resigned tone.
He wanted me to kill him, Tarrant thought in disbelief. An answering pang in his chest startled him, What was that? Refocusing on the dismally depressed man in front of him, he suddenly became angry. He grabbed Damien by the shoulders, moved him to the far wall, and unceremoniously shoved him to sit onto an overstuffed lounging couch. The sudden and intense violence of the move shocked Damien out of his gloomy reverie. He looked up at Tarrant and was about to speak, but was interrupted as the adept began berating him. "You're a bad priest? You? And you deserve death so very very much? Honestly, Vryce, I can't separate the mass idiocy from itself to get to the profoundly unbalanced mental state that has allowed you to sink so far into your own recrimination! Are you truly going to stand there and tell me, ME, that you are a truly bad person?! Your petty faults don't even register against the evil wound throughout my being. If all I had committed were your so-called errors in my service to the Unnamed, I would have been paying my death-price long ago. Do you know why, priest? Your errors and faults matter not at all in the end…because that is the definition of being human! You inconceivably naïve child! Being human is about making mistakes and learning from them. When you make enough of them, you will change if they upset you. And it is certainly obvious to me that you are upset in the extreme, and therefore you are reacting in the very manner that your nature demands. If I had but known that it was this simple to undo everything you stand for, then I would have accomplished your destruction during our first travelling together!" Tarrant was pacing back and forth during his tirade. Damien watched him, stupefied, as the adept kept arguing for his state of humanity. Why is he so concerned? thought (and worried) Damien. Although, he had to admit, the adept's points did make sense. And it felt good to see that someone would actually defend him from himself, even it was a man who was only recently redefined as not being an enemy.
Tarrant whirled, having noticed Damien's flight of thoughts. "Are you even listening to me?!" he yelled, even angrier than before. Coming over in front of Damien, Tarrant towered over him. Dark fae began gathering around the adept's form. "You want to see what evil looks like?" Tarrant said with death in his eyes. Damien could only stare, spellbound by the slowly darkening pale silver of the adept's eyes. Dark fae pooled at Tarrant's feet and climbed his long legs, crossing over his lean torso and then sliding down his arms. Damien gasped as Tarrant's arms shot out to grasp his shoulders and the adept leaned down to face him. The channel flared open wide, no longer a trickle, but a roaring river of power slamming into his mind. "Here is the evil you seek," Tarrant whispered, and Damien cried out as he was no longer seeing from his own eyes.
I'm blind! he thought with panic. But then he saw woodlands around him. His Forest. Damien could feel the creatures within it and every plant that gave it substance. He reveled in it. And then he focused in on a section. A slight scent on the breeze. Fear, he thought to himself. So wonderful! And he began to jog in the direction of that tantalizing fragrance. Recognition came to him that this was her third night. Finally, he thought. This one had not been as pleasing as the others, but you can't win every time. He chose his path and leapt into the dark confines of his Forest, eager to pursue his prey for the final hours.
He found her about a half hour from his last location. She was crouched down beside a stream, clinging to a rocky ledge that sickly shrubs adorned. Halfway between conscious and unconscious thought from exhaustion and terror combined for the past 70 hours, she had stopped here. Pausing to set the scene, he sent out questing tendrils of dark fae, which quickly surrounded the area. To her, it seemed to be growing darker, the silence more stark. Her breathing increased in rate and became more akin to panting. Heart fluttering in her chest, she chanced a peak around her sanctuary of shrubbery. He let her see him, as though he was looking off in the other direction. She ducked back in, trying to make herself as small as possible and somehow quiet her body's reactions to constant fear. Closing her eyes, she steadied herself. Only a little while longer, and she would be free!
When she opened them again, she found herself staring into the silvery depths of the Hunter's eyes, Damien's eyes. He smiles at her, and Damien feels a thrill almost sexual in nature thrum through him as her heart falters, the hope once present in her mind dying before him. She lurches back and falls into the shallow stream bed, slicing open her shoulder against a stone. She struggles back up to stand bleeding before him, her utter terror has frozen her limbs. He approaches her slowly, with the languid grace of a mountain cat, stepping into the water with barely a ripple. She watches with eyes wide as he comes to stand before her. Damien feels himself step up against her, almost as if to embrace her as lovers might. But instead of a warm set of gentle arms surrounding her, a pair of limbs icy as mid-winter snow slide around her, one going around her waist, another behind her neck. He looks down into her face and smiles before making a quick, firm motion with the hand holding her neck.
Years of practice have perfected this. The motion has injured the motor functioning portion of her spinal cord, but not the sensory portion, and he catches her in his arms as the incapacitation takes effect. Finally, a scream begins to erupt from her throat. Damien watches as his hand glides to her neck in a precise, almost surgically concentrated manner. Pressure applied just thus, and a small crunch is just barely audible, as though a bird's wing has broken. The scream ends abruptly. Robbed of motion and now of vocalization as well, she begins to unravel mentally, tears pouring forth from eyes that have seen too much.
He carries her to the bank and lays her against the grassy slope. Letting her watch him, he pulls a thin blade from his waist and runs it up her leg to her belly. A swift motion causes a delicate line of red to blossom from the cut made in her blouse. Air hisses from her mouth. He drags the knife up to her face, catching the tear that falls from her eye. He licks it from the blade. Delicious! Ripping the fabric from her abdomen, he begins to cut a small triangle of skin off, peeling ever so slowly to extend the fiery pain in the nerves. He is about to continue the exploration when she spasms suddenly. He frowns and performs a Knowing. He has been careless and injured the spine too high. The respiratory juncture has been affected, and her lungs are now desperately trying to function without benefit of a diaphragm. Damn the luck! he thinks. He reaches for her head and brings her face to face with him, soaking in her desperation. Then, sighing in resignation, he bites into her arteries at the base of that delicate neck. Only minutes later, he lets her body fall away from him and into the water. He takes a deep breath, and looks down at the stream, whose current is now creating a horrible parody of life with her floating and swaying limbs. Damien feels satisfied and mentally calls to his wolves for them to come take part in whatever they want from her remains. Waste not want not, he thinks to himself smiling.
Damien's eyes flew open from the vision, the horrifying knowledge that he had just witnessed and felt one of the Hunter's infamous hunts shook him to his soul. Slowly, he realizes that Tarrant is still staring at him, gripping his shoulders. When the adept is sure Damien is fully aware again, he speaks, "Now you know," he whispers,"what true evil is. How you could even think that you would compare to that is beyond me. I have admired your fervor and faith just as much as it has annoyed me, Vryce. And seeing you like this has forced a few revelations upon me that I did not previously accept. Or maybe I was just attempting to ignore them." He let go of Damien's shoulders and crossed to the short balcony stopping at the railing and gazing down. During the Sharing, Tarrant had felt sickened at himself for hurting Damien in this way, but he knew it would truly help the man to see the difference between himself and true evil. But why did he feel this way? The introspection had led him to a surprising, and yet somehow not that surprising, conclusion about himself.
Damien stood from the couch in a daze and followed to where the adept stood lost in thought. "Tarrant, I…thank you. For that. I actually feel sort of childish now." He stepped up beside the Hunter and looked straight out across the trees before speaking again. "I have to ask, in light of that horrible Sharing you just granted me. Is that still you? " he asked, fearing the answer. The Hunter closed his eyes and sighed, "It can be. Perhaps it still is. I truly have no idea, Vryce. One thousand years of feeding off of and gaining enjoyment through terror and dying hope…not exactly the easiest of addictions to break away from." He looked as though he was considering his next words carefully. And when he spoke, it was hushed, "I am changed. I know this. I still do not feed as living men do, but more akin to the Iezu. From what little I have gathered over the past three months, it appears that an array of emotions can sustain me. Strong emotions like anger, fear, and…love. And so I am left adrift and bereft of purpose. I must recreate and redefine myself according to my own wishes. This new existence granted by the Iezu mother has just as few instructions as my previous one. Hopefully the lessons will be less painful, though."
Damien was floored. Amazed. Speechless. The Hunter did not have to hunt now! How often had he prayed for just such an occurrence? It was too much to absorb all at once, so he tried to change his line of thinking with another question of Tarrant, "You mentioned revelations about yourself. Was this it? The new rules of your existence?" Tarrant turned slightly to face him, "No. Though the new emotions I feed from have something to do with it." The adept seemed finished with the subject. Well, Damien thought, if he wants to have secrets, then that's his choice. His thoughts were interrupted by Tarrant's continued speech, "If I told you I was feeding right now, what would you say?" "Huh? How could you be? There's no one around but us, and I'm not angry or scared or…oh…" Damien gasped and backed away some from the rail, looking about himself frantically. Oh no. Oh no oh no oh no, he thought over and over. Tarrant turned to face him, "I am sorry, Vryce. I never had this in mind for you. Evil is always so very beautiful and undeniably seductive in its subtlety. I had no idea that it would have this particular effect on you of all people, but I began to suspect it once you arrived here. Now, I am certain. The question is…what are you going to do now?" Internally, the Hunter could barely keep his head above the panic he felt with that question.
Damien's head swam. Time, he needed time to get the broken pieces of his mind to fit back together somehow after he began to realize just what Tarrant was saying. And it wasn't just because he thought the adept was wrong, or even insane. He needed time because he now felt in his soul and heart that he knew why he had come to this place: I love him! NO! Why?! There is nothing but darkness here for me! But he's changing… Not enough yet to matter! But I could help him. You can't be a part of this; it is WRONG! How can love be wrong? He cares nothing for you and will cast you away! No, no, it is right, so very right, and I see it now… Vryce's split emotions warred between each other in a torrential downpour of feelings that coalesced into physical pain. He doubled over and fell to his knees.
Tarrant came swiftly to his side, worry etched across his visage. He could feel the knight's pain echoing out from him, the confusion overwhelming an already fragile state of mind. He loves me! How can this be?! I never thought this possible. Tarrant found his thoughts as tangled as Damien's, trying to resolve the sudden revelation of suppressed emotions in himself, too. Wretched man, why must you force so much of your damned humanity upon me constantly? It seeks out the shadows of my spirit and fills them with something different, something warmer… He knelt beside Damien and cautiously placed a hand on the man's shoulder as sobs of anguish poured forth from the knight. I am not worthy of such devotion. I have done nothing but cause this man hurt and physical injury since we first met. How can his heart be so forgiving when I have done nothing to nurture this in him? Tarrant thought as he gazed at the tear streaked face of the only person on Erna who had ever cared for him after knowing his true nature. Even now, I cause him pain without any effort. No warning could have prepared the Hunter for the burning feeling that swept up from his chest lodged in his throat. He felt crushed and guilty for the pain he had done in this man's life. I love him, too… What to do? How to fix this? He reached out with delicate fingers and pulled Damien's face to within inches of his own, startling the other's sorrow from continuing for a moment.
"Damien," he whispered, soft as silk sliding over skin, "Why do you cry so when I hold the solution to your problems right at my fingertips?" Damien gazed into the pale gray eyes in an advanced state of confusion which lasted even a few seconds after Tarrant leaned the rest of the way forward to catch his mouth in a searing kiss. Awkwardly coming to his senses, the former knight began to respond in kind. He reached forward and pulled the adept closer, feeling the man smile slightly as he did so. It felt so right, so complete. How did he never accept this before? Damien slid his arms around the adept's waist. "Have you heard what I have to say yet?" Tarrant asked with sparkling crystal eyes, tasting the last of Damien's tears on his lips. "You may need to repeat it. I'm pretty washed out right now, and I wouldn't want to misunderstand you," Damien whispered against his lips. And so Tarrant moved forward more aggressively this time, tongue seeking around Damien's own. Long arms encircled the knight, promising love, safety, hope. Tarrant allowed the channel to open fully so Damien became aware of both of their sensations and emotions at the same time. Well, Damien knew he should be feeling both, but he only felt one… Strange, he thought. And then a voice came across his mind in polite laughter, Apparently, we are the same, my Damien, and so you cannot tell our love apart. And then blissful warmth overcame him, and he knew no more of logic for some time.
Damien awoke just before dawn, noting that they had apparently ended up in the overlarge hammock bed that occupied the eastern side of the balcony. He was somewhat stiff in his joints because the hammock was clearly intended for more brief uses, such as watching the Core rise. Seeing the gloom of the Forest subtly begin to lighten, he attempted to sit up. This resulted in an almost tumble from the hammock, which jostled Tarrant awake as well. "Well, I guess you're up," Damien said sheepishly. The adept rolled to face him and was about to speak when something caught his eye behind Damien. The former knight noticed and glanced around. "What?" he inquired. Tarrant sat up quickly and began to attempt to untangle himself from the hammock. "What is it?" Damien asked, with a little more urgency since realizing the adept was suddenly on edge. "It's nothing, I need to go inside to finish something…" Tarrant mumbled quickly, obviously lost in his onslaught of fear. Damien watched him struggle for another minute before putting together the problem. "You haven't faced the dawn yet, have you?" he whispered softly. Tarrant paused for a moment, and Damien could see the despair inherent behind those shining eyes. He doesn't think himself worthy, Damien concluded with a sad thought. He reached out to Tarrant and pulled him closer, ceasing the tangled struggle. "You're the reason anyone can see the Corelight anymore, Gerald. If anyone deserves a brilliant dawn…it's you," Damien finished.
No longer struggling, Tarrant made himself as small as possible against Damien's side. "I have been so long in the darkness…how can you believe that I deserve anything?" Gerald whispered against Damien's shoulder. With a gentle hand, Damien reached out to catch the other man's chin and tilted those silvery windows of the soul to face his response. "I believe I am uniquely qualified to answer that, Gerald," Damien began softly, "I know you. Not like anyone else ever has. I've heard your words, witnessed your actions…but most tellingly, I have experienced the spirit that is your core. People can fake words, and they mimic actions. You can't lie to someone when you speak heart to heart, mind to mind, though. The potential in you for good is so great, Gerald. You deserve to see that, too. How can I make you believe me?"
Damien's words were comforting, beautiful even, but they weren't what finally reached the Hunter. As Damien had been speaking, Gerald had felt the channel flare with emotions from the former knight. He felt the utter conviction with which the other man believed his own words. And he caught a brief glimpse of how Damien saw him. Not as an ancient evil come around to a questionable state of virtue, but as a man with innate good and immense potential for change. Most of all, though, he experienced the love Damien possessed for him. Unfettered and unabridged, it was astounding the man could keep from passing out from its sheer intensity. Tarrant closed his eyes and absorbed this, immersed himself in the warmth and light flowing from the other man's stolid presence.
Tarrant's internal contemplation was halted by a low voice near his ear, "Gerald…look." And he did. Beyond the treetops of the farthest reaches of his Forest, Gerald Tarrant witnessed dawn for the first time in almost one thousand years. The golden orb cast a warm tone over the leafy boughs and slowly began to bathe both men in its radiance. Almost, but not quite, Gerald flinched as the light made its way along his body. He shivered as it covered him completely, but not from cold or dread. It warmed his soul in a way that defied explanation to remain in the presence of the dawn. "I have no words for this beauty," the adept said into the silence. Damien leaned over and pressed his lips against Gerald's in a soft kiss. Holding the adept's gaze after, he whispered, "Some things are beyond words."
End Note: I know. Fluff at the end and the whole tone kind of changes once the fluffy starts. Well, I'm tired. Nyah nyah!