Disclaimer: Characters belong to Ruby Party. But the idea for this story is mine.
-Shoulder of Loneliness-
A lone rider on a swift brown horse raced through the dirt road towards a large mansion. The mansion was swamped with sketchy looking men. Most were relaxing, cleaning their weapons, eyes on the rider. The house itself looked to be recently invaded, broken windows and blood on the side panels of the doorway indicated as such.
The rider approached the fence and shouted his name as the men aimed their weapons at him. They lowered their guns so the man was free to stop his horse and tie it to the front lawn fence.
He treaded up the steps to the front door of the mansion and he slammed his gloved fist on the door. A few seconds later, the door opened, revealing a spindly middle-aged man with thinning blond hair.
The rider removed his hat, revealing his shaved head and the scar that ran from his brow to his chin along the side of his face.
"I believe he asked for my report," the rider said. His voice was gravelly, probably due to the other long scar along his throat.
The spindly man frowned but nodded, "You're late. He doesn't like to be kept waiting."
The scarred man grunted in response as the other led him to the dining hall. Inside, was a large dining table with the vilest of men sitting in chairs along it. They were talking quietly amongst themselves, feasting on the food in front of them. At the head of the table was the devil himself, eating peas and potatoes with a cloth napkin stuffed in his collar.
The scarred man cautiously approached the head of the table, very aware of the sinister eyes following his every move. A few looked ready to murder if he made the wrong move. He stepped at the head of the table and the spindly man announced him.
"Boss, Michael has returned—"
Erebos snapped in a chillingly cool voice, "I can see that, Billy."
Billy backed away and left Michael with his boss.
"So, Michael. What news does Isaiah give me?"
Michael swallowed and nodded, "Well, sir, Isaiah ran into some trouble with the Silver Knights, but they took care of it handily."
The look Erebos gave him was solid and stern, as if he were waiting more.
Michael inhaled sharply, "They dispatched everyone they came across…except one."
Erebos sighed and tugged his napkin out of his collar and threw it on the table. He sat back in his chair, "So, what was Isaiah's plan then?"
Michael's voice became weak as he stuttered, "I-I'm not sure, sir. They had them all strung up and they executed all of the Knights except Dion, who managed to escape."
"Isaiah's just playing with his food, more like," a tan outlaw grumbled cheerily, finding amusement in Isaiah's malicious tendencies.
"As long as it doesn't come to bite us in the ASS!" Erebos growled causing his men to shrink in fear. He then turned back to Michael and resumed with a calm tone. "As much as I thank you for coming all this way to report, I sense you are withholding something else."
Michael licked his lips and wiped his brow. It was evident he was nervous.
"I-It's about the girl."
At this Erebos seemed to perk up.
"One of our train gangs managed to track her by the description given to us from our friends out east. She was on a train to Wodon."
"Good. When can I expect her here?"
Michael went silent and looked back at Billy, "She…managed to escape."
"What?" Erebos' tone turned downright chilly, and suddenly the potatoes and carrots seemed cold to the taste of some of the bandits.
Michael shrugged and shook his head, "There was an unexpected development. A gunman—"
"A single gunman?"
"Are you telling me that a single gunman managed to do away with the entirety of those train plants?"
"That was what was reported. I'm not sure of the details."
Erebos stood, surprisingly calm as he pondered, "Several other gangs are still in the know and she couldn't have gone far. We'll catch her in Wodon, that's for sure. But for now…"
He grabbed Michael by the collar and threw him on the table, pinning him there.
"Too bad you aren't younger or prettier, the last girl I had died on me, the little whore. So sometimes a nice clean young man would do."
Michael's eyes widened, his heart in his throat. He began babbling, "I had nothing to do with anything, I just report."
"Indeed you do," Erebos reached over for a dinner knife, "And I have a message for Isaiah. The girl is top priority and to find her along the tracks to Wodon."
Using the knife, Erebos sliced through the buttons of Michael's shirt, exposing the man's unblemished chest.
"And so you don't forget it, I'll carve it into you."
Michael's screams filled the dining hall as Erebos began cutting into his flesh with the blunt knife.
Warmth flushed her skin. She no longer felt that she was outside, but rather indoors, by a hearth. When Angelique opened her eyes, she realized she was on a sofa, a blanket over her, and she was facing a warm blazing fire in a fireplace.
Bewildered, she sat up and looked around. She was in a home. A warm comfortable home. One not unlike her home back east. And yet it was different.
She stood and walked to the nearest window. It was night, but the glowing of the other houses illuminated a winter wonderland. Giant pines surrounding the village and in the back was a great big mountain range, unfrozen waterfalls falling from the crevices and decorated with a mix of green trees and snow.
A noise came from another room and it startled her.
Angelique cautiously crept to the door and opened it a crack. On the other side was a small dining room. Men were sitting around it, men she recognized. It looked like they were getting ready for dinner. The door was pulled open from her grasp.
J.D. was on the other side, looking surprised. He had a cooking pot underneath his arm and was wearing an apron.
He smiled, "Ange, we were about to wake you. Dinner's ready."
Relief flooding her chest, and confusion in her eyes she stepped in, finding Hyuga and Rayne discussing something as they sat in their dinner places. Rayne looked up from his conversation with Hyuga and smiled and nodded.
Angelique cautiously sat at the front of the table, feeling a flood of indescribable happiness. She watched as J.D. poured warm stew from the pot into the bowls in front of the men.
That was when Angelique noticed something. There were five places set at the table. Four were obviously for her, J.D., Rayne, and Hyuga, but there was one extra. But for whom?
"He's late," Rayne said with a bit of sourness. "He's always late."
J.D. placed a hand on Angelique's shoulder. It was comforting and apologetic, but why?
"I'm sure he's having a hard time trudging through the snow. He'll be here with the firewood soon enough," he said sweetly.
As Angelique was about the ask whom, the door at the front of the room opened…...
She awoke, finding masked Nyx leaning over her, lightly shaking her shoulder.
"We should get going," he said in a surprisingly soft tone, but from what Angelique could see, he probably still had a short fuse. There were dark circles under his eyes as he didn't sleep at all that night, keeping watch over her.
He moved away to give her room as she sat up. Angelique stood, noticing that Erwin was on the other side facing towards the woods.
"He's in time out," Nyx called as he was kicking dirt over the ash from the fire to cover their tracks. "The animal as useful as he can be, is wearing on my nerves."
Angelique approached the horse and stroked his strong neck. Erwin huffed and grunted.
"Ever thought you are the one wearing on his nerves?" Angelique shot back in an airy tone. "Why he's nothing but the most reliable of animals isn't he?"
Erwin's ears twitched and he turned his had back, prompting Angelique to stroke his long snout. His eyes closed in appreciation.
"Yeah, you're a good boy," Angelique muttered, finding comfort in the stallion's affection.
Nyx muttered something unintelligible as he gathered what little items he had laying around. He reached into a satchel draped over Erwin's hindquarters and pulled out an apple. Polishing it with his arm, he handed it to Angelique.
"Here, I found these earlier this morning. Something for you to eat."
As Angelique took the apple, she investigated it all the while unsure what to look for. She stared up at the man.
"Thank you," she replied softly. There was a gentle silence that followed as Angelique dared to stare directly into his beautiful blue eyes. It was the only thing she could see of him, that and his long dark hair. But why did he hide the rest of himself?
Erwin broke the silence with a disdainful snort.
Nyx sighed and reached in the satchel and pulled out a large carrot.
"I didn't forget you," Nyx told his horse and fed Erwin the carrot.
Angelique watched quietly as Nyx patted Erwin's flank. It seemed to her that the two may not like each other, but had a strange mutual respect. Erwin was stubborn in regards to his rider, as was Nyx harsh on Erwin, but travelling alone the two were obviously the only close company they had.
Nyx adjusted the saddle and grabbed Angelique by the waist just as she was about to bite into her apple. She gave a noise of protest as he hoisted her upon the saddle.
"Steady," he said softly as he pulled himself up behind her. "And no sudden movements."
Several miles away, Rayne, Hyuga, and J.D. pushed their horses as much as they could, but racing them as far as they did yesterday wore their steeds out and they couldn't ride as fast through the grass.
As such, Rayne especially was growing impatient.
But as the green lush grass, elongated into tall field grass, J.D. paused.
Hyuga looked back, "What's the matter?"
J.D. looked worried, his head held high in the air, as if he were listening for something. He blinked and snapped his gaze back to his companions, "Nothing, I think. I just…I think we should slow down until we can get to the rock pass."
Rayne's brow furrowed, not wanting to slow down at all. Yet, he knew that if J.D. complained something was up. J.D. had a lot of endurance and never complained. So for him to be concerned…
They slowed to a soft canter and J.D. pulled ahead, his eyes wandering in the grass as if he were looking for something.
The other two were silent; watching J.D. carefully trod the terrain ahead of him.
"What d'you think is up with him?" Rayne whispered to Hyuga.
The former soldier shrugged, "I always though the big fella was a little off in the head, but…"
Rayne glanced around at the waving grass wondering why J.D. was being so cautious.
His curiosity was voiced as he began, "Hey, J.D. what—"
Rayne was interrupted as he felt something whizz by his ear. He instinctually winced and Hyuga pulled out his rifle as several large figures from charged out of the brush with whoops and hollers. These large impressive figures looked strange, with long colored hair and webbed ears. They held out rifles, muskets, tomahawks and bows and arrows as they circled the group.
"Christ!" Hyuga screamed in alarm, "The Dragon Clan!"
He took aim at one pointing a musket at him.
"Don't!" J.D. shouted and Hyuga stopped.
"Why the hell not?!"
"Just stand down!" J.D barked. They have never heard J.D raise his voice at anyone.
Hyuga and Rayne stopped. J.D dropped from his horse, hands held high in surrender and he approached the largest of the Dragon Clan, mighty warrior with long green hair.
Then, J.D. spoke, but it was nothing Hyuga or Rayne could understand. He spoke directly to the large Dragon Clan warrior. Then there was silence as the warrior pondered a bit. He was eyeing J.D with hesitation as if he didn't know whether or not to trust him.
The leader nodded to the others and said a few words. The rest of the Dragon Clan lowered their weapons. J.D and the Dragon Clan warrior had a few more words, but the rest of the warriors still eyed them with care.
J.D eventually gathered to Huyga and Rayne.
"Well?" Rayne said, arching a brow.
"Just follow my lead. As long as we don't make any sudden movements, we should be fine."
J.D mounted his horse and trotted ahead through the thickets and weeds. Keeping a wary, cruel eye on the Dragon Clan, Hyuga and Rayne followed waiting until sufficient distance between them and the Clan was made before even daring to talk to J.D.
"What in God's name was that about?" Hyuga asked with a distinct panic in his voice.
"What does it matter? I got us passed them without having them trying to kill us." J.D responded. His shoulders tensed and there was a distinct look of whimsical sorrow in his face, but neither one of his companions could see it.
"I still would like to know," Hyuga said.
J.D could only swallow as he glanced back at the veteran.
"This wasn't the first time he talked to these savages," Rayne said to Hyuga.
"THEY ARE NOT SAVAGES!" J.D barked and he glared back at the two men. "They are just wanting to protect what's theirs. I fail to see how that makes them savages."
Hyuga and Rayne were still in silence, shocked. Rayne especially felt a pang of guilt, forgetting that J.D had connections with the Clans. But even then J.D couldn't keep up his façade.
"I'm sorry," the large man apologized. "I shouldn't have yelled. Either way, they have traps littered everywhere in these plains and in forests. Mostly for hunting, but partially to draw away other tribes and people like you."
"What about you?" Hyuga asked. "What makes you so different?"
It took several minutes for J.D to answer, and yet still he shifted in his seat.
"When I was young," J.D said, "Just a boy upon reaching adolescence I woke up in a Dragon Clan village. I have no memories of who I was or where I came from prior to when I awoke."
"Amnesia?" Rayne asked.
"I suppose," J.D answered. "It was obvious that I looked so much different than them, but I knew of no other people. I was raised as a part of the Dragon Clan and it wasn't until I reached manhood that the Clan Mother told me who I was, that I was found by a river, strangely perfectly preserved and asleep. The river was sacred as it came from the High Mountain Pasthahok. Many thought that my discovery was ordained by the spirits. The Clan Mother gave me the option to stay and live my life as a part of the Dragon Clan or go out and discover my own people."
"I assume that since you are here, you chose the latter," Hyuga responded.
J.D turned to look over his shoulder, "I did have many friends with the Dragon Clan, I always felt isolated in my looks and abilities. I at least wanted to see what else was out there and found…well…the eastern man. The story goes on from there. I found some sort of satisfaction in bringing justice to the towns and it got me here today."
When J.D finished, all that was heard was the buzzing of the bugs and the clopping of the hooves of the horses.
The ride was uneventful for Angelique. Nyx was being extremely careful trotting in the forest.
Still, a sense of unease maintained its stay in Angelique's mind. What was Nyx going to do with her? He said he has her for money? Surely not a ransom since none of her family that she knew of existed to pay. What was all this importance of her? Here she was, just a student from the East trying to meet a priest in the backwoods of Arcadia. So why was Erebos and the Silver Knights thirsting for possession of her? It made no sense.
False identification. That had to be it. They thought she was someone else, perhaps.
Nyx was probably in the same boat.
Angelique blinked as she felt Nyx's torso press against her back. She turned and Nyx straightened abruptly, rubbing his eyes as if he was maintaining his will to stay awake. So he really was up all night.
Nyx pulled on the reigns as the forest became harder to maneuver in. He hopped off and held to on the reigns leading the horse. Getting the blood flowing to his legs could keep him awake.
"Don't you dare move from that saddle," Nyx warned again. Angelique didn't have to be told twice.
Even if she thought to escape, she more than likely wouldn't get far in the growing darkness.
But even the darkness was becoming a burden for Erwin and Nyx. Nyx stopped by a small flowing stream.
"Interesting," he said listening to the trickle of the water, "There must be a pond or lake nearby."
"Does that mean something?"
Nyx nodded in the darkness, "Usually a camp or town is close."
"Wodon?!" Angelique asked fearing that her voice would betray her excitement.
"No, not that close," Nyx said. "Get off that horse."
He pulled on her arm and helped her off Erwin. Immediately, Erwin wandered off to sip the water from the miniscule stream.
"Gather some branches within this circle. And watch yourself. No suspicious moves."
Angelique frowned in response, hating to be watched like a hawk. Still she bent down and picked up the nearest branch and few twigs for kindling and brought them to the pile Nyx already started.
Nyx grunted in distaste, "Jeez, do you know nothing of survival?"
Angelique blanched and backed away as Nyx snatched her branch and twigs from the pile.
"Don't get them from the stream. They're wet. You can't light wet wood. Try going over to dry areas."
Angelique was surprised at Nyx's change of tone. Stern one second, calm and understanding the other. She supposed she could not let that bother her. He was tired after all. That was evident by the way he rubbed his eyes.
There was a terrible crash and a harsh scream that filled the sky. It was an inhuman scream and the cry continued. Without hesitation Nyx sprinted towards the cry.
"Erwin!" he cried as he sprinted through the darkness. Angelique followed.
Blinking through the dark Angelique saw Nyx slide to the ground when Erwin was laying, writhing, his legs flaying, breath coming out in harsh snorts.
"What's going on?" Angelique said in panic.
Nyx braced himself over Erwin trying to calm him, "His legs are caught in a trap—sit still, Erwin!"
Erwin grunted and twitched again, but for an animal his size a twitch was no small thing. Nyx tried to hold him down while reaching for his knife in his boot.
"Hang onto him," Nyx's voice betrayed his sense of panic and Angelique obeyed, cradling Erwin's head in her lap and stroking his nose. Erwin's twitching weakened, but his snorting persisted.
Nyx found his knife and began to frantically cut the thick rope in several places so it was easier to untangle Erwin's legs.
Once free Erwin flailed a little, trying to right himself. Nyx held onto his neck and flanks.
"Easy Erwin, I don't want to take a risk on harming your legs even further," Nyx said in a calm voice. As if the horse understood him, Erwin remained on the ground, but upright. Meanwhile Angelique looked on in shock as Nyx stroked Erwin's nose a few times and patted the animal on the head. Never had she seen Nyx treat Erwin with such care. Usually, they treated each other with distaste, but now…
"Umm…" she started as Nyx rose to his feet.
What was she supposed to say? 'Are you actually just a big softy to animals?' That alone would probably warrant a knife through her chest or a bullet through her brain. She just hugged her legs tighter to her chest and shook her head.
Nyx went about tracing a rope to a tree, where a definite trap was placed. He cut the rope from the tree.
"As I thought. A trap by the Dragon Clan."
Angelique flinched, "What?"
"They were here. Probably trying to drive off intruders."
"Does that mean they'll come here?"
Nyx chuckled, "Hard to say. They won't come at night, I would gather. Even the Dragon Clan needs sleep. But we may have to move our hides early in the morning."
Angelique didn't feel much better, but she realized she had to be more careful around here.
Nyx finally got around to making the fire, positioning it so it would warm Erwin and Angelique. Erwin was quite content after the ordeal, nibbling on apples and carrots Nyx gave him.
Angelique began stroking Erwin's mane, "Have you and Erwin been together a long time?"
Nyx sat down with a sigh, stretching his long legs, "Not really. I got him about a few months ago."
"He must've been expensive. I'm sure white stallions are valuable."
Angelique had no idea of the pricing of horses, but she could gather a guess.
"For breeding, sure he'd come by a pretty penny. But I didn't pay for him."
Angelique frowned at Nyx's response.
"Then that means you—"
"Stole him, of course. Snatched him from a corral of Ranger horses," Nyx chuckled. "I guess his sense of duty and my desperation is why we clash. Better than roaming the backwoods alone, right Erwin?"
Erwin snorted, not amused. Nyx sighed and unfurled the thick rope he cut from the trap.
For the rest of the night, they were silent, Angelique occasionally checking to see if Erwin's legs were still okay. Occasionally she'd glance over at Nyx, who remained as he was, staring into the fire.
Even the hypnotic dance of the flames began to make Angelique drowsy. She drew herself in, afraid to reach too far out into the darkness of the woods. That and the warmth the fire gave off was a godsend, since the night was so chilly.
Rocks on the ground were kicked as Nyx stood on his feet, a piece of rope in his hand.
"Are you tired?" he asked.
"A little," she responded, wondering what he was going to do with the rope.
"Stand up then," he replied.
She stood to her feet, but backed away when he approached her. He caught her by the wrist and pulled her towards him. He took one end of the rope and tied her wrists together.
"What are you-?"
"Relax this isn't permanent," Nyx replied sourly as he tied the other end loosely around his forearm. "It's to keep you from wandering while I rest."
Angelique blinked, realizing Nyx's initiative to finally get to sleep. Still she looked down at the rope they were tied to. She was tied fairly close to him. There was no way she could get far, and she would have limited freedom away from his body.
"So if you want to sleep, I suggest you do so, since laying down will probably be the only position you'll be able to manage while I'm catching a night's sleep."
And Angelique was left in an unbelievable and uncomfortable situation of literally being dragged to the ground as Nyx crawled to the floor. She now had to face her captor's back as the fire flicked over the darkness.
The ground wasn't comfortable, but the body heat of Nyx gave this warmth that the fire did not have. Perhaps it was the strange feeling of protection. At least from the wilderness outside of their fire circle. She certainly wasn't safe from him, or whatever fate had in store for her if she didn't escape.
But where could she go? She'd more than likely die horribly out in the woods if she were left to her own devices. Then again, there was no telling what Nyx was going to do.
Nyx had fallen asleep, Angelique presumed. His breathing was mellow. Yet, he moved and rolled over to his other side, so now he was face to face with her, their noses just inches apart.
Angelique's nose wrinkled in panic at first, but then she realized that he was out cold. He must've been really tired. Why put yourself through such a burden over such a silly obligation as her?
And Angelique still hadn't been able to see his face in its entirety. Even as he was sleeping, the fabric of the face cloth was bubbling with every breath Nyx took. Why keep his identity a secret from her? Then she got to thinking about his twin.
Maybe, Nyx was ashamed of his face in comparison to his brother's. Could it be so hideously scarred that he couldn't bear anyone to see it?
She was curious.
Angelique waited patiently. Her hands, still tightly bound by the heavy robe, slowly inched upward. She did this as quiet as she could manage, before her fingertips touched the dangling end of the triangle of fabric on his face.
Slowly, very slowly, she began to pull it down.
The bandana barely made it an inch down Nyx's nose, when his blue eyes snapped open his hands caught her wrists.
"You are a sneaky little lass, aren't you?" he said with some amusement in his low voice. His grip around her wrists tightened to an almost painful degree.
"Please," Angelique said, staring into his tired, exhausted blue eyes, regretting ever being so bold. "You're hurting me…"
Nyx responded with a scoff, as he pushed himself off the ground and he sat on his knees.
"That's nothing to what Erebos would do to you if he was in a bad mood," he then turned his gaze down towards here. "What were you doing, sneaking a peek?"
Angelique remained frozen, unable to speak or think of a response.
"Trying to see if I really looked like Erebos?"
"What would it matter? Why are you so afraid to show me your face?" Angelique snapped back, feeling her cheeks go red.
To her shock and mild dismay, Nyx didn't respond. He just turned and sat so his back was to her. His head moved to glance at her over his shoulder. The fire reflected passionately across his eyes, betraying an incomprehensible emotion. Angelique put her head down in shame and embarrassment.
"He has an attractive face," Nyx said, his voice heavy and dark and dull. "Last time I came upon him, it was finely featured and rough. Every inch a man. My looks aren't nearly as captivating as his. And so, showing you my face even though you know who I am is redundant and unimportant."
After a brief pause, Nyx turned his head back to face the fire, "But my disposition, ugly as it is, isn't nearly as grotesque as Erebos'. Know that."
Nyx fell onto his side, kicking up dust, as he resumed his sleep.
And then Angelique felt the cold loneliness as she stared at his back, until she fell asleep as well.
A/N: Another chapter. I actually found Erebos fun to write. Sick I know, but fun.