Suri was frostbitten, or damn near close to it when she made the final push over the hillside, and the telltale blood-red thatch roof of The Dove came into view. "Oh, thank Christ." She murmured through partially blue lips and forced her feet to move faster through the growing depths of the snow.
In the past three hours, the snow had gone from manageable to almost a foot deep. It was rapidly piling on, making the surrounding pines heavy and tired-looking under their white burden, and the leafless oaks looked barren and sad. The thick rows of Manzanita were practically half-buried, their lovely red branches losing their color to the encroaching winter frost, branches clawing through the white sheet like skeletal fingers reaching up from a new grave.
Morbid, morose, but exactly her own fate, she knew, had she not found the single sign a mile back marking the way up the track to the only Inn in a twenty-mile radius.
The White Dove was called a "common ground"; a place where anyone, regardless of affiliation, could find shelter, some hot food, good beer, and supplies. Meanwhile, it also doubled as the local stronghold of the resident badass and proprietor, a giant known simply as Black Jack, 'ol Jack, or even more simply, just Jack.
It made for some interesting interactions, but as far as she knew, the man had never let anything spiral out of control. He operated under the assumption that everyone could keep it in their big-boy pants long enough to not slaughter each other on sight and enjoy a simple bowl of soup in peace.
He was Demoi, a creature of the underground, chaos and Hell, yadda-yadda, and now, she thought gratefully, her saving grace.
As she got closer through the whirling windswept snow yard, trying to contain her enthusiasm to manageable levels, she heard the thrumming of deep bass music and could see the churned muddy tracks of carts and horses leading up to the doors and back stables. A white tendril of smoke curled from the massive rooftop and swept down into her face as she neared, and as she closed the distance, she could hear the undercurrent of uproarious voices, the racket of drunks shouting, and the forced laughter of people in too close quarters. Civilization at its finest, and she wanted to run to it with open arms.
However, it seemed The Dove was in full swing on such an unholy evening, and she had to brace herself for a potential disappointment, praying that there was some room left for one solitary creature.
As capitalistic as Ol' Jack was, he had never turned her away, at least not the last two times she had been through. It seemed he had a soft spot for her, for whatever reason, and the first time she had passed through, he had even let her stay for free, "cause she was just so damned cute."
It had bothered her at first that he had considered her "cute", raising every flag she had ever had, but so far, Jack had never made a pass at her and seemed to think of her more as a daughter figure than a sex object. It was a nice change of pace and kept her coming back.
As scary as he could be, he was also a businessman and seemed to know exactly how he could or should handle his patrons. So, it was either telepathy or just good business sense, but either way, she was grateful for his niceties towards her.
Here was hoping for a third time.
She hit the door and entered and felt an immediate sense of surprise and relief both. Surprise because she did not think she had ever seen the Dove so packed; relief because she was leaving the god-forsaken cold where it belonged; outdoors.
From the upper landing down to the tables, it was standing room only. Looking around, Suri was a little intimidated to find not a whole lot of human faces that swiveled to look at the newcomer joining the merriment.
However, the hearth was roaring, the smell of food and liquor permeated the air with a welcoming heady strength that made her stomach roar in appreciation, and the body heat of so many, packed so tightly, made it an instant inferno.
She could handle a few rowdy Demoi in exchange for such comforts.
Suri shut the door and shook herself free from snow, leaving her hood up as she pressed into the throng of wild partiers, glancing at the massive clock he had always had over his bar. It was late, almost nine, and from the looks of things, the party had been raging for a while.
Halfway through the mob, she almost stumbled as she tried to stop herself from running into a giant of a beast, looking up and then even farther up, nearly nine feet in fact, at the impossibly massive body.
He was so muscular his veins were strained against taut charcoal gray skin like someone had drawn lines across his body with a black marker, arms alone as big around as small keg barrels. The face was as fascinating as it was terrible, with a heavy hairless brow, eyes like slashes of black ink glowering down at her with tiny pinpricks of golden pupils. The nose was more bull-like, long, as wide as her forearm with a heavy jawline. The very obvious difference being, that his teeth were more wolf than cow, long and jaggedly sharp. A pair of massive shoulders, attached to a massive neck almost as thick as her waist, helped support an enormous set of three and a half foot curved ivory horns, the ends darkening to the same charcoal gray as his skin and fading to a shining, enamel black.
As a general rule, Minotaur's were not very pleasant and Suri let the drunken beast thunder by undisturbed before continuing on towards the bar.
She had not really expected to see Black Jack in person, at least, not so soon upon arrival, but she found him behind the bar, his deep rolling laughter permeating through the atmosphere like a thunderclap.
Jack could have been one of the scariest demons she had ever seen personally, if only because of this immense size, and it was visibly apparent why no one wanted to scrap with Ol' Jack or defy his rules.
Imposing did not begin to cover the hulk that was Black Jack. At twelve feet, he dominated the room and made even the Minotaur look puny. He was a thick twelve feet too, with a massive beer belly that jiggled when he laughed under his white button-up. His shirts sleeves were rolled up his forearms, away from hands that could have enveloped her head and squeezed until it popped like an offending pimple, and his face was the size of three of Suri's, with only the one solitary eyeball to fill that space. She wasn't implying that one had been stabbed out. No, Jack was a Cyclops, and that one centered eye was an opaque jet black that nearly drowned the entire eyeball. He sported long thick hair as a long as Suri was tall, pulled back away from a jovial-looking face in a waist-length waterfall.
Besides those minor details, he was remarkably average looking as far as it went and was currently talking to a very human-looking group of Military-esque men.
Upon a second glance, she knew better. They wore the armor and Crown crest of The Fallen Legion stamped on one shoulder, and these ones in particular, also sported a rather wicked looking snake on the other, a sword plunged through its breast. It denoted their affiliation she knew, though she didn't recognize the symbol off-hand. Either way, that was a group Suri wanted absolutely nothing to do with.
Fallen had a reputation for being bad company, and some of the evilest creatures she had ever heard stories of were Fallen Angels and those of their line. Unfortunately, legend had proceeded many of the worst long before the Apocalypse, heralding in the New Age of Demoi infestation with an already lengthy laundry list of previous grievances had, from every religion, across every culture, pretty much as far back as history had been written.
Within the group, a very handsome... no, gorgeous man, akin to what you might imagine a shining Grecian god to look like, cast blue eyes her way, catching her stare, and she quickly looked away from that intense gaze. It was as if his eyes had been cut from ice chips and were just as cold, clearly stating to mind her own damn business.
She waited, willing herself not to look back at the Legionnaires sitting so close to her, trying to be casual while she waited for Jack to notice her.
It did not take long, however, for someone to notice her, and she felt him coming like a physical tidal wave in her direction, eyes burning holes on the back of her skull. She did not so much as see him, as feel a pull of power so intense she could feel it like a shroud smoothing over her scalp and prickling her nape with near painful intensity.
She tensed, hand very slowly drifting down toward the 45 she kept at her left hip. Her teeth ground in a tireless nervous dance as she felt the offender close in, finally glancing back to see who was coming at her in that roil of intent.
He was a Dagmoi, a breed of varying demon that she particularly dreaded. They were otherwise known as Pans or Sirens, tricksters, flirts, sex-hounds, occasionally rapists, and exceptional pains in the ass. They were, as a general rule, devastating to look at, with a unique brand of magic they saved just for their chosen prey. Look into their eyes, stare into those drowning depths, and you could fall forever.
Suri did not recommend it.
This guy was no different from a million other Pans she had seen in her life. He was working it though, with wavy silken blond hair, soft doe-like, melting brown eyes lined with a lighter ring of caramel color, and long lashes that were dark and feminine, set into a face that angels could cry for. High cheekbones flattered a straight, well-formed nose and chiseled jaw, though his chin was just a little too cleft for her tastes. He was an easy six foot and was well built, not like the Minotaur had been, but had a natural muscle tone that creatures who ran a lot usually acquired. The trim waist and his six-pack was about where sexy ended for her though.
From his hips down was essentially oversized goat legs if goats could stand on their hind legs, that was. It came complete with a short, tufted tail, golden blond fur, and a massive set of genitalia that gave Pans the world over their particular reputations.
He didn't bother with Hello when he drew up beside her, lips curved into a pleased smile when he caught sight of her. "I, am Vero." His voice was a lilting satin tenor, charming, oozing with unspoken promises of pleasure beyond your wildest dreams, guaranteed.
Suri dropped her gaze immediately. She knew better than to try to stare a Pan down. The last thing Suri wanted to do was melt into those soft, honey and chocolate-colored eyes. She had enough problems without adding overly attentive Pans to the mix.
"I, am not interested." She said it brusquely, willing him away with all the fervor of a praying man at the Last Supper, and stared straight ahead. Damn Jack, but he needed to get over to her sooner rather than later.
Vero seemed momentarily taken aback by her instant rebuttal but, like most Pans, was unperturbed by her refusal. "What, no name? I thought every human had a name?" He grinned, flashing teeth so white they were almost blinding. Suri didn't bother with a response. Keeping quiet rarely got her in trouble, but hey, there was a first time for everything.
He frowned at her, eyes tightening with a flash of anger. "I'm just trying to be friendly." He persisted, placing a long-fingered hand on her shoulder.
Suri drew the line with touching. Jack's rules be damned, she pulled the 45 and with it hidden beneath her cloak cocked back the hammer and flicked the safety off. Only herself and Vero heard it above the din in the Tavern. Instantly he withdrew his hand and stepped back.
Suri smiled sweetly and looked at his startled face, although it was pretty hard to be a badass when you couldn't really meet someone's eyes. "Don't ever touch me again Vero, or I will blow your fucking balls off." She stared hard up at him, focusing sort of between the eyes, motionless with the gun in hand, watching the shock fade and change to anger on his handsome face.
But, in the end, with the barrel of a gun firmly pointed at his family jewels, he turned and left, shoulders tight, shoving through the jostling crowd with enough force that he nearly knocked a man onto his ass on his way past.
Suri relaxed, thanking God for small miracles and bigger guns, put the safety on her weapon, and replaced it silently in its holster, no one the wiser. Or so she had thought.
She happened to glance over to where Jack still dallied and noticed the Legionnaire with the shock of blue eyes, watching her with an amused smile, just the barest curve of full lips.
She did not smile back. Blue eyes turned away, and that was that.
Suri sighed, rubbing her forehead, and felt a massive wave of tension ease from her when Jack finally seemed to spot her at the bar. His colossal mouth split into a wide grin before he came at her, her name booming off his lips. "Suri. My Girl!"
Great, she could have saved the theatrics and just given Vero her name after all. The whole damn Inn knew it now anyway.
He slapped the bar with a boom that made her jump. "What can I get yah?" He seemed genuinely pleased to see her, but as far as she knew, he acted that way with everyone who entered his establishment.
Wincing at the sheer volume and power in his voice, she managed a weary smile. "Beer and board, what else is there Jack?" Shaking his hand would have just been awkward considering their size difference, so she let the smile suffice. "You have anything left?" Please don't send me back into the cold, was what she really wanted to plead.
His eye narrowed, and he frowned thoughtfully, glancing around the crowd. "Hmm, not too much left now. I'm expecting a large party in 'bout an hour or so." He seemed to be doing a mental check in his head.
Suri felt her hopes crumble; if there was no room, she was out of luck. She stared at him, for the first time feeling that slight edge of panic, knowing if she had to go back out into that storm, she would probably die before the sun rose. The elements showed no mercy to the unprepared, Demoi or Human alike.
She was pretty sure from the softening in his expression that her panic was showing on her face. "Lemme see what I got." He amended, smiling down at the tiny human female, a look of almost fatherly fondness spreading over his face. "Don't worry girl, let ol' Jack take care of ye'." He turned and bellowed an order in a guttural, undecipherable tongue, and a Wisp appeared quickly from thin air. "Get the girl anything she wants, on the House." He said the last with a wink to her and vanished back behind the drapes behind his bar, his large figure startling quick on his feet, despite his lumbering size. Maybe gravity didn't apply to the Demoi, she thought with a small smile after him.
The more she thought about it, the more she realized that maybe it wasn't just Jack that was fond of her; Suri was pretty damn fond of him too.
The Wisp was precisely what the name seemed to imply. They were a strange creature, comprised of smoke, if smoke could solidify enough to fetch you a beer. It was tall, stretched strange and thin, and when it moved, you could see through it like a ghost, see the tendrils of smoke that comprised its figure moving and drifting within that odd shape like smog contained inside a glass. His face was ghostly, a mere imprint of features warping with movement, eyes slashes of darker mist in his eerie face. They did not speak, at least not to her, but they understood just fine. "Just a beer and some stew if you have any please." She said thankfully, sitting at the stool a creature had just vacated.
Wordlessly the Wisp vanished, and she settled in to wait for Jack's return, praying that he finagled something for her in the time he was gone.
When he reappeared from the doorway, pushing aside the drape, he did not come to her but instead went to the blond, blue-eyed Demi-god she had studiously tried to ignore at the Legionnaires table and bent low saying something lost to the band-stand and volume of the crowd.
She watched out of the corner of her eye, feeling herself tense when the blond turned and looked at her with those icy eyes for the third time that night. Jack glanced in her direction as well, and she tried to pretend like she found the wall of bottles super interesting while they had their conversation undoubtedly regarding her.
Great, just fabulous. Suri hated when people talked about her, and she hated coming under the radar of creatures that most people were afraid to whisper about, let alone speak directly to.
Finally, after a mini eternity, she saw the Legionnaire nod once and turn back to his party. Jack straightened and strolled back to her. "Alright girl. Ol' Jack has it all squared away." He rustled under the counter for a moment and then came back up with a long, elegant, large key. The room number was the base of the key itself, fashioned to curl into the number 9 within the metal itself, and reminded her of one of those old-fashioned skeleton keys from the old days.
She swallowed and accepted it. "Jack, if you had to deal with...those guys for me, I would have honestly preferred you not have."
He grinned and chuckled so deeply his belly shook. "Those boys are naught to fear Suri. Well...not here and now under my roof. It barely cost me a thing other than a few free rooms is all."
She groaned. "Jack, you didn't have to do that."
He tutted. "Don' be ridiculous, I couldna' in good mind, 'ave sent you back to your death in the elements." He patted her hand on the bar lightly. "Eat an' rest. The boys will be fine bunking with another, for one night." Jack smiled at her kindly and left to attend other business, just as a Wisp reappeared with a steaming bowl of heavenly smelling stew, a thick hunk of barley bread resting in its depths, and a huge mug of beer.
He set it down, and before she could even say thank you, it was gone just as swiftly.
She mentally shrugged and dug in, lost for the moment in the simple pleasures of good food and better ale, and felt the knot that was her stomach loosen. The joy of eating killed the deep-seated cold that had seemed to worm its way permanently into her skin. As she thawed out and refueled, she began to relax, even enough to pull down her hood and let her mind clear of all her worries. She had enough money for the room, some supplies for the next day, and anything past that would have to just wait for another day to grind her down again.
Right then and there, she was pretty content.
She polished off the huge helping, the large mug, and pushed it all away with a happy sigh, and eased off her chair to grab her bags, when all of a sudden, the door banged open.
Unlike her arrival, the stir this caused was immediately apparent.
Everywhere around her, creatures paused in their revelries and seemed to hold a collective breath.
It was a large group of darkly clad men, and again she was forced to correct herself. Not men, more Fallen, and she could only assume this was the group Jack had been waiting for.
They shook themselves of snow in the doorway as they piled in, and the crowd seemed to press itself back and away from the new arrivals to give them some space. Gradually the volume picked back up, but Suri could see nervous glances being cast in the newcomer's direction, felt her own sense of apprehension climb when the person in the lead tossed his hood back in a cascade of snow, baring a face that would have made women around the globe swoon.
He was all high angles, chiseled, and breathtakingly beautiful. Dark, emerald-colored eyes swept the scene before him with an easy, arrogant disdain from an eternally youthful face. Still, the look in the depths of them was anything but young and carefree.
The green of his beautifully shaped, heavy-lidded eyes was deep with the weight of countless ages, of things seen and done that would have made weaker men quail. His lashes were so dark his eyes looked rimmed with kohl and graced a face that was as masculine as it was beautiful. His jaw was nicely squared, chin strong and perfectly formed to complement the lush, full lips adorning his face; lips that seemed to hold a perpetual smirk at the corners as if all amused him, even the darker humor of life. His nose was strong, slightly hooked at the tip but beautifully fit his slashing features and almost harshly contoured cheekbones. His brow was high, and his brows perfectly shaped arched wingtips, giving him a permanent look of superiority. His hair fell loose and unbound when he removed his cloak, falling to his waist in a thick black waterfall so dark it shimmered with blue highlights when he moved.
At first glance, he wore the typical armor of the Legion, but this mans' was different, she realized upon closer inspection, tailored perfectly for his tall, leanly muscled figure, those broad shoulders made broader by the shoulder plates of gleaming silver steel, and it took her a moment to notice it was the designs in the metal that made it different. The engraved crest on his left shoulder was not the typical crowned rising sun, but rather a dual-headed Lion, one looking left, the other right. Centered just above the figure was the imprint of a crown.
As far as she knew, there was just a handful of variations of the Lion emblem in the Legion: A crowned one headed Lion, which Blue eyes at the bar wore, marking him as some kind of high-ranking Officer, the Three-headed Lion which Lucifer himself was said to wear, and the two-headed Lion which denoted Lucifer's rarely chosen Generals, who were allowed to act in his stead during his absences.
Unless the rules were changed and she had missed the memo, she was looking at one of those now, which meant the man who had just entered the room was one badass motherfucker.
Yeeeeaaah...no thanks. Suri was gonna have to take a hard pass on this one. Hard. Pass. In fact, if she and this guy never managed to cross paths she'd be god damn ecstatic over her good fortune.
It definitely explained why so many people gave him a wide berth when he started deeper into the Inn, tugging off his gloves as he made his way with his entourage towards the Legionnaires tables. It also explained why a battalion of Wisps had just appeared around him, taking his cloak, bags, and generally fawned all over the newcomer as if he was a King on high, and these were his lowly subjects.
Jack intercepted him at the table side, wreathed in eager smiles, the only one aside from the arrivals people who didn't seem terrified of him. "Nikkolain!" He beamed happily at the black-haired god. "It has been centuries."
To her surprise, the Fallen smiled up at the giant, and it transformed his face into something show-stopping, melt-you-to-your-toes marvelous. His beauty was suddenly inhumanly perfect, and that smile was so deadly it should have dropped everything it touched to its knees and made 'em beg for mercy. "Jacolizeil. I have long meant to pay your territories a visit."
Huh, Learned something new every day.
They shook heartily, and she got the impression that somehow the Cyclops and this man were longtime friends, which boggled her mind. Jack did not seem the type to have "bros," and this guy, even less, but they were grinning at each other, exchanging pleasantries like they had bunked together in college and joined the same fraternity. It was just...bizarre to see.
She slid back into her seat and slipped her hood back up, somehow not eager to cross the room into any of these guys' lines of sight, and turned her back on the whole affair. It was so none of her business who this guy was. Still, it was hard not to hear Jack even as the crowd's volume level began to approach its expected, typical uproar. "When Caziel came to me requesting board, he didna' tell me it was for you. I am honored to house such a man. Please, lemme get you anything you desire. Women? Ale? Food?" He laughed. "Of course, all on th' House t'night."
Nikkolain laughed, the sound good, smooth, and silken, rubbing through things uncomfortably low in her body. "I am too weary for a woman right this moment. We have been riding hard to make it here before the storm overtook us. Perhaps something hot by the fireside would suffice for now?" He made it a question, but his tone suggested that he knew it would be provided at his whim.
Jesus, who was this guy?
Jack nodded, barreling over to the fireside tables, bellowing for anyone in the seating areas to get the Hell up and move along. She was uncomfortably aware of the proximity in which the Fallen all passed behind her, taking the hastily vacated seats.
Jack sat amongst them when all got settled in, and after a while, she relaxed. At least they weren't close to her anymore. Of that, she could be eternally grateful about.
She gathered her belongings, knowing damn well that while these guys were being served, no one else was getting anything for as long as that took, so instead started up the broad set of steps to check out Room Nine.
It was an exceedingly nice chamber, equipped with two twin-sized beds, a tub, and a small dresser. An armoire graced the far wall and a vanity area complete with a long mirror for dressing, and the small gas lamps were set to go.
It took only a few minutes to light them all and dump the contents of her small pack onto one of the beds. Suri immediately frowned at her meager belongings.
They wouldn't have filled one dresser drawer, let alone the rest of the room's storage, and honestly, the idea made her a bit depressed.
This was what her life had become; constant motion forward with nowhere to go. She didn't own much of anything. Just a few changes of clothes, the basic necessities and a couple sacks of bread and dried meat, her canteens, and an old faded picture of her mother and her before she had died and left Suri utterly alone in the world.
She folded that particular pain back swiftly before she could think too harshly on it, tucked the photo back into its special little pocket before she took out a change of clothes, grabbed her brush, and brought it all over to the vanity.
God, but she looked pathetic, she thought, catching her reflection with a frown. Haggard even, would be the better term.
Her warm-brown eyes looked back at her tiredly from beneath her dark brows, their usual soft almond shape worn down with dark circles like she had been punched in both eyes. Even the color looked duller, she thought; exhausted, tired of life maybe and the rigors of survival.
Her hair was lank, slightly greasy looking from sheer neglect, and she was sure, in general, smelled none too pretty either. The usual bounce to the chestnut waves was heavy with travel, too little care, and lack of hygienic practice from being so long on the road in such inhospitable conditions. Days old sweat and grime made the color, usually, a pretty sun-streaked deep brown with highlights of auburn and darker browns, just...mud-brown. Her skin was dirty, and she looked faintly gray and drawn. Stress, she thought in disgust and turned away from the horrid visage.
That Pan had to have been pretty desperate if he had gone after this, she thought with wry humor, chuckling to herself. Laughter was better than crying, she supposed and locked the door before going to the tub.
A hot bath cured all ills, and now that she had the option, she was not about to pass it up. So, with a lighter heart, she filled the basin and sank in up to her chin, thanking whichever Legionnaire she had stolen the room from, and let herself soak her worries away.
Jack had even supplied some luxuries. Things like an exceedingly fragrant, homemade shampoo and soap, a washcloth, and there was a set of soft-looking towels piled in a wooden chair just beside her. Life was good, at least right then.
She stayed in there long enough to ease the ache in her feet and lower back, scrubbing and then scrubbing some more until she squeaked clean before she stepped out, feeling like a new woman.
A good night's sleep and she would feel like a million dollars and be more than ready for the journey that awaited her, or so she told herself. She didn't want to think how long she would be on the road this time, and as Suri tossed her old stinky clothes in her bathwater with a grimace, she wondered, not for the first time, if she could ask Jack to hire her on.
It was not typical of him she knew. The only human women under his employ were all whores. Suri would have rather slit her wrists than wander down that road, but maybe he could use a good turndown service or something that would earn her permanent room and board. She knew the girls and Demoi under his employ lived very comfortably, with individual rooms about half a mile down the other side of the hill, in a compound he lived in. His private Militia, farm and ranch hands, and general help were all fat happy, and well-tended, and even his ladies-of-the-night were all clean, plump, and well taken care of. The new world's version of a 401k, she supposed.
They even had a Mistress that oversaw their general welfare. That particular Mistress came in the form of a massively round, loud-mouthed creature that looked like an undersized Dragon, scaled and immensely powerful in her own right, and one did not bother or injure her girls without expecting dire consequences in the form of blood and pain. People fondly called her Jill, as in Jack and Jill, but as far as she knew, that was just because her people did not typically have names, so Jill sufficed.
As soon as she thought it, she knew she would never ask. It was not in her nature to accept handouts, and besides, it wasn't really the life she was looking for. She wanted her freedom, craved it, and constantly sought out someplace she could make her own. Ideally, she'd love a small cabin somewhere secluded far away from Demoi and Human alike, with maybe some farm animals and a couple of dogs and just herself for company. She could farm and be self-sustaining until she got old and died peacefully in her sleep when she was too far gone to help herself any longer.
She sighed forlornly, looking at her meager belongings.
She was a long way from the dream, but Hell, what was this life but dreams anymore?
Suri had never stayed any place long enough to meet a man or think about a husband and kids. Hell, had never found a place stable enough amongst her own kind to even dream of it, and most work offered to her was unsavory or monotonous at best.
It was with these thoughts that she redressed, hoping to score another beer and find the outhouse before the snow became too deep to maneuver through, drying her hair until it frizzed with friction before dragging a brush through the thick tresses.
Staring in the mirror, she looked like a new woman, her skin warmer and supple-looking, pink-cheeked; even her lips fuller and pinker now that she had chased the cold from her body. Her hair fell around her in a soft multi-hued cloud that caught the soft lamp glow and spun it gold and bronze and dreamy. Her eyes were still dark, but the effect was lessened now that she had taken care of the rest, and for the first time, she looked and saw the woman she knew was hiding beneath the harshness of the world.
She was delicate to look at, with softly curved jaw and chin, high cheekbones that were sweetly rounded as opposed to sculpted or harsh, with eyes that could have been called over large in comparison to her softly sloped, slightly long nose and full mouth.
She was pretty when she wasn't a dirtball, even Suri could see that, but most of the time, she wished she looked more Amazon than Pixie. She wished she was all high contour and height, chiseled from solid muscle and intimidating as Hell. It would have made life a sight easier, that was for sure. Instead, even in the shapeless shirt and plain blue jeans, her body was delicately boned, her hips full, breasts high and tight, and a lifetime of walking had made her ass high and firm and supple. She knew that because countless males of all types had commented upon it many uncomfortable times in her life.
At five-five, she would never be considered overly short, but nor would any accuse her of having any real height.
After twenty-four years of living and breathing on this planet, Suri was finally accepting that she was what she was, that she didn't look intimidating or the least bit authoritative. So, she had learned to make up for that with a lot of attitude and defensive aggression against would-be suitors and pursuers. She had pulled her gun first, often times when she didn't even need to, but she was still alive when others she had known weren't, and she could only thank her paranoia and the giant gun on her hip for that.
She put her belt, complete with said gun, back on, donned her thick woolen coat, hiding the weapon from prying eyes, and left the cloak. The jacket had a hood if she needed to run out, and her gloves were in her pocket. She took care to lock her door, though if someone was really intent on stealing her stuff, she figured they were probably harder up than she even was, bless their sad souls, and rewound herself down the stairs.
She was halfway down the steps when she felt that niggling sense of being watched and glanced down over the throng, searching the crowd suspiciously. Her step slowed before she lost the upper hand, but when her eyes found nothing but curious glances her way at her paranoid gaze, she sighed and scrubbed her eyes before continuing down into the crowd.
Paranoia; it wasn't always your friend.
Jack prided himself on seeing trouble before it happened, prided himself on
nipping it in the bud before it was even a whisper of intent.
However, about an hour into Nikkolain's arrival, he caught a few things simultaneously from the side of his eye while he chatted with one of Nikkolain's men and felt a frown tick his lips, not at all sure how to curb this new problem before it spiraled.
Nikkolain, his brother Dante, and that son of a bitch Caziel had, as one, caught sight of something across the room. Their heads had turned towards a singular point of interest, eyes sharp like silent predators upon the figure that had caught their collective attention.
Jack followed their line of sight and felt something deep and frightened pluck his belly nervously.
Suri had made her way back down from her room, but it was the Suri that could turn a man's head in a thrice. She had obviously bathed, a man could not fault her for that, but it had turned her from the standard street fare into that softly enticing, soft-bodied vixen that he had met over two years ago. Even in simple jeans, boots, and an oversized woolen that hid that fabulous upper body, she was striking. It did nothing to hide the curve of that ass, the lean length of her thigh, or belie the confident glide of her body's motion. She moved with the effortless grace of a woman used to dodging and ducking and trusting her own limbs to see her through the worst scenarios and it was a confidence to intrigue men like the ones in present company.
Her hair was loose and glorious in its golden-hued glory, so tempting to just reach out and see if it was as soft and feather-light as it looked, and her face, scrubbed to bright high color, looked golden and unbelievably striking.
Some women needed pounds of makeup to appear doll-like, beautiful, or alluring; Suri was not one of them. Instead, she had a natural beauty that makeup could easily overwhelm, her lashes so long and pretty, made her already beautiful eyes more intense and almost exotically lined with natural eyeliner.
He sighed and cursed her for showing up tonight of all night. He would never turn her away, but he knew Nikkolain, he knew his brother, hell, he knew the Fallen in general, and if there was one thing they all shared, it was a love for soft-bodied, human women with faces that reminded them of sweeter times.
More concerningly was that it was Nikkolain's eyes that stayed riveted on her as she paused on the steps, her eyes darting nervously as though she could sense his stare before he tracked her progress as she continued and submerged back into the crowd. Only when she was lost to sight did the man's dark green eyes shift over to find Jack's narrowed singular ocular. "I may reconsider my weariness of women tonight, Jack." He mused, tossing back his beer with a deep pull of strong throat muscles.
Jack swallowed and shifted uncomfortably. "Well, I got a lot, but I'm afraid she ain't one of mine. She's just a patron for th' night."
Nikkolain's lips curved thoughtfully, and Jack did not like the sudden gleam in his eyes. "What a pity." He murmured almost to himself.
However, it was Caziel, with his blue eyes craftily narrowed, who leaned forward with a small smile. "Perhaps our dear patron could arrange a meeting. He did after all, give the girl one of our rooms for the night as soon as she arrived. Obviously, he must know her well, to garner such favor."
Dante, who was almost as striking as his sibling, with eyes a blue as dark and deep as Nikkolain's were green, turned that gaze to Jack in question. He had the same dark line of lashes that swept his cheeks when he blinked, the same high arcing bone structure, but his coloring was tanner as opposed to olive. Dante was actually the taller and larger built of the two, with hair the color of amber and russet falling down his back in a thick loose braid. He was a looker for certain, but somehow he lacked that certain...something, charisma, charm maybe, that his younger brother wielded so dangerously.
He smiled curiously, ever serious eyes narrowing at Jack's face. "Perhaps not. Jack does not look pleased by the notion."
Nikkolain laughed, and the sound was just a touch demeaning. "You may be right Dante. You look as though the idea makes you vaguely ill Jack." He was looking the giant over with some bemusement now.
Jack's frown deepened. "Nikko, you know I'd do a lot for yah, but Suri just ain't going t'be one of them." He shook his head and drained his massive tankard. "You boy's would eat 'er alive and spit out th' bones, and I'm too fond of th' girl tah' feed her to your brand of wolves."
The three Fallen laughed at the metaphor, but Nikkolain inclined his head graciously. "So be it. I can't say you are wrong." He laughed again, but his eyes had rediscovered her at the bar, waiting for service. He waved his hand, and a Wisp appeared as if on command. "Fetch that girl at the bar anything she desires. Do not tell her from whom, but put everything she orders on my tab."
Dante arched a brow. "That is far from your character brother."
Nikko chuckled when the Wisp vanished. "Perhaps I am trying a new tactic, Dante." His face lolled lazily towards Jack now, putting his interlocked hands behind his head and resting his skull against them. "What was her name?"
Jack sighed, resigned now to this growing farce. "Suri."
He licked his teeth thoughtfully and then glanced at Caziel, who all but beamed back at him with that wicked delight he garnered from every uncomfortable situation. "Let the game begin."
Suri was prepared for a wait, but at this point, she had almost given up entirely, about to say to Hell with it, seconds before a Wisp just appeared before her. It was so sudden her heart lurched, but all he had was a mug filled to the brim and slid it towards her.
She smiled gratefully and reached for her
coin purse, opening her mouth to ask how much, up until he vanished just as
quickly as he had manifested. "Uh..." She began to empty air before
frowning with annoyance. Damn it, she wasn't trying to start a tab, she just
wanted to pay as she went. Every time she opened a tab, she got carried away.
Next time, she'd tell him. She thought it, happily indulging in the full tankard and spun lightly on her chair to watch the Inn's happenings. The atmosphere was quickly escalating, she could see. The place had been inundated with Jack's Girls, and everywhere in sight creatures were happily paying the wages to get a little extra attention, a dance, and later entertainment, including a vast majority of the Legionnaires. She could well imagine what a relief it would be to most of the girls who got selected by them. Unlike some in the room, they were at least pleasant and human to look at.
Some Demoi she could not imagine lying beneath while they took their pleasures and imagine staying sane the following day. There was definitely some monsters better left under the bed rather than on top of it, she affirmed with a frown, watching one particular woman, younger than herself she was willing to bet, have to plaster on a fake smile when a grotesque, toad-like male who even managed to look slimy, twirled her onto his lap. His rolls of fat and extra chins would have been unappealing on even the most human face.
Still, she took it like a champ, but Suri shuddered at the very idea of having those greasy hands anywhere near her.
What a life, she thought sadly, averting her eyes from that particular horror.
She finished her beer setting the empty tankard on the bar and jumped with surprise when the Wisp reappeared. Before she could utter a word, it vanished with her mug, only to reappear just as swiftly a minute later. "Hey..." She began when he slid it to her then dissolved into thin air before she could finish.
She scowled, and tapped the bar, wondering if she should even drink this one, and looked around, finding Jack's massive frame across the room, speaking to the Minotaur rather crossly, over the tear-streaked head of a small woman who was rubbing her arm where a large imprint of a hand was appearing.
Was Jack maybe buying her beers tonight? It would make sense as to why the Wisp seemed to be watching her like a hawk, but somehow, she didn't think Jack would extend his niceties to an all-night party on the house.
She glanced around but found no avert attention her way, nothing too forward anyway, and finally lifted the beer to her lips once again.
To Hell with it, she thought. She'd sort it out later.
After the third one, handled in much the same way, she finally was too suspicious for words and slipped off the stool, leaving it untouched, and walked towards where she had seen Jack last.
The press of bodies was thick; smoke hung in the air like a cloud, and the music was bone-jarring this close to the bandstand. Suri took a deep breath, claustrophobia winning out, and stopped trying to weave through the immersive crowd. Instead, she tried to search him out from where she stood and found him nowhere to be found. You'd think a man who had one eye and was twelve feet would be easy to spot, but apparently, Jack was a master at hide-and-seek because he had vanished like a wraith in the wind.
Defeated for the moment in her quest, she opted to search out and use the facilities, get some fresh air, and started a retreat, pulling her gloves on and her hood up while she pushed towards the door. It was an odyssey in and of itself, and by the time she pushed the door outwards, the silence and lack of bodies was sheer relief.
The cold, not so much. It hit her squarely in the face like a coldcock, and she grit her teeth before making the plunge back out into the frostbitten winter scape. At least the way to the outhouse was marked with a long line of glass-housed torches, strung together with lengths of rope so that even a complete imbecile would not get lost going back and forth.
A couple stumbled by laughing, wrapped in the man's cloak, and she heard the woman exclaim, "...just had to pee so bad..." before their voices were lost to the wind.
She ducked her head and forged along the rope line, hating every moment of the cold, and shot into the small smelly space, holding her breath while she locked the door and took care of business as quickly as she could. The beer had gotten her, and she re-buttoned and zipped swiftly before blasting back out into the icy winds and snow.
It had gotten deeper in her time inside the Inn, and she blindly steeled herself and concentrated on the return trip, hugging herself unhappily.
She was so lost in the misery of it that she did not hear or even mildly sense the footsteps muffled in the snow slink up behind her and was almost to the door when she felt strong arms wrap around her and pluck her easily from her feet out of the snowdrift.
Her startled scream was lost to the wind and noise beyond as she suddenly was just airborne, body careening several feet before smashing into the deep snowbank just off to the side of the Tavern.
A shape, black in outline and cloaked, fell on her while she was still gasping and recovering from the fall, her head ringing with the impact, and still, instinct alone sent her scrambling for her 45 with a breathless cry, heart surging fearfully when large hands wrapped around her wrists and forced them both into a grip so tight, it made the nerves in her fingers spasm.
A face lowered down, and in the dim lighting from the Inn, she could make out the familiar contours of Vero's lovely face; only now, the look was not so lovely to behold. He snatched her face with harsh bruising fingertips, falling onto his knees around her, and forced her head up. "Look into my eyes kitten. Know you will go begging me to sink into you when it's said and done."
She snarled and tried to wrench her face away. "Get off of me you son of a bitch." She screamed it, squeezing her eyes shut against the beat of magic trying to pull her in.
His fingers began to squeeze. "Open them or I will break this pretty little jaw." He growled, voice deepening into something more animal than human. She stubbornly wrestled against him, kept her eyes firmly shut despite the raging torrent of pure, unfiltered horror raking through her at that moment. Rather broken in the body than in soul, her mind argued, despite the cold terror that screamed to just give him what he wanted and come out okay on the other side of it.
She opened her mouth though and screamed a sound of pure fury and desperation, and to her absolute surprise, he released her.
Surprising enough, that her eyes opened long enough to see the descent of his hand, right before he made contact, hitting her hard enough that her head snapped to the side; she tasted blood, and the pain that exploded in her head with an accompanying blinding flash of lights and stars, left her reeling and the world a bit askew.
She spit blood, coughing, and this time when he snatched her face, it hurt a lot, enough that she whimpered and tried to curse him anyways. "Open those pretty eyes." He purred now, almost tenderly. "And we can make this a fun time."
"I'll kill you." She managed to spit out, yet somehow it lacked her previous vigor.
He laughed at that fine joke before she felt his fingers fall and grasp the zipper of her coat, pulling it down the line of her body. In her life, she had never screamed quite as loud or shrilly as she did at that moment, wildly jerking when he backtracked the motion, slipping his hand under the edge of her shirt and onto the flat plane of her belly.
Sick anxiety exploded alongside that ravaging fear, as she realized with no more pretense that no matter how she strained and fought him, she wasn't going anywhere. Panic hit her and she began to fight for all she was worth, which against something like him just wasn't going to be enough.
She kicked, thrashed, bucked, cursed his entire family line, all while he patiently rode her protesting body like he had all the time in the world. When his fingers slid up and found nipples hard with cold and icy fear, he laughed softly and squeezed one so hard she cried bloody murder. "Poor kitten. So helpless...so..." He never had a chance to finish that sentence. Instead, a look of absolute surprise crossed his face and shut his mouth so suddenly it was almost surreal, like a terribly horrid freeze-frame poised over her.
It took her a moment to blink away the tears clogging her vision, but finally, she saw what had shut him up so swiftly.
The delicate point of a sword was pressed lightly to his throat just beneath the line of his jaw, another to the wildly thrumming pulse between his collarbones.
Very slowly, he sat back, prompted by the press of those blades.
She looked up and saw the last creatures in the world she had ever expected to come to her aid. Even in the darkness, there was no mistaking the gleam of those bright, alien eyes, two blue, one green as emeralds glowing in the darkness as though lit by their own internal light.
It was the green-eyed one, without a blade visible, who smiled down at the Pan, gaze colder than the winter around them. "I've always thought Pan's were far too pushy for their own good gentlemen. Show our friend here the true meaning of the word helpless."
Suri froze, thinking that they meant her somehow before the two blue-eyed Fallen plucked the Pan off of her as though he weighed no more than a puppet. He too, seemed petrified with his own terror, eyes rolling between the two, and she heard one of them laugh softly. "Don't worry, we'll let you live little Pan."
"You may just wish you were dead though." The other laughed. She recognized him as the one from the bar, the one with the ice-chip colored eyes.
They dragged him back into the shadows, and after a minute, she heard the first scream he uttered break the night. Then, something thick and meaty sounding snapped loud enough to make her almost physically ill before the silence suddenly reigned in the windswept frozen landscape.
… silence that enveloped both her and the wicked-eyed man standing over her.
After a long moment of the most intense eye contact she had ever experienced, his hand appeared in front of her, breaking her from her shocked trance. She looked at it as if she had no clue what it was and then up at that amazingly beautiful face, now thawed into something far more reasonable and friendly.
Her hesitation was obvious, but in the end, she put her trembling hand in his and let him pull her back up to her feet, feeling a bit entranced by his proximity, and more likely, the earlier blow to the head. The motion, however, proved too much, made her head spin. She staggered, feeling her stomach warble dangerously and lost her footing.
He caught her with a fluidity of motion that was too quick to follow, catching her against a leather-clad body, seemingly carved from steel, and it took an embarrassing amount of time to remember that it actually was steel, or rather, his armor beneath that dark cloak and long whipping hair.
Suri clung to him for a moment while the world spun and slowly righted itself again, forehead pressed against the solid expanse of that very masculine chest, breathing labored and heavy while she got herself together. Unfortunately, the more the world cleared, the closer she found herself to tears, and that was just unacceptable, but the humiliation was a relentless, unbearable sting, one she had no defense against right then.
It was about then that she also realized she was leaning heavily against a creature she should have been running away from while screaming to high Heaven, his hand a comfortable, easy presence on her back. The other was petting her with surprising tenderness, fingers easing through the length of her hair slowly as if mesmerized by the feel of it. He was also amazingly warm, his body heat like an inferno radiating around her as though he possessed the fires of Hell beneath his skin, and slowly, she finally looked up at him.
He smiled, green eyes glowing back at her before his fingers left her hair and touched her swelling lip gently. "Are you okay then?" He asked softly.
She nodded, stopping with a wince when that made her head explode with pain. "Yeah. I'll be okay." She managed hoarsely. "My head just hurts is all."
He surprised her by laying the back of his hand on her forehead. "I'm sure. Being hit in the face by Demoi have that effect." There was a sudden pulse of heat from his skin against hers, and warmth, deep and lingering, flashed through her skull. She felt it like a physical weight caressed her brain and ricocheted down through her body with tangible force. The cut on the inside of her mouth tingled with sudden numbness, blinding her momentarily with a flash of pure white light behind her eyelids, and then it all faded as suddenly as it had come.
She opened her mouth to scream foul, pulling back with shock, wondering what the Hell he had just done to her, and realized as she did so that her jaw no longer hurt; in fact, nothing did. In double-fact, she felt...great, clear-headed, and headache-free, the cut in her mouth miraculously vanished, with only the lingering high of that incredible heat making her feel warmed and toasty as though she had just laid by the fire.
Suri gave him a look of pure confusion, shut her mouth, and slowly stepped back.
He let her go without issue, lips curved in an amused smile, eyes plainly laughing at her reaction.
"Wh-what did you just do?" She finally asked softly, shivering the moment she left the protective line of his body.
He laughed softly, eyes all a-sparkle with good humor. "The Fallen are still blessed with many gifts, the least of which is the ability to heal minor injury." His head tilted, and he motioned back to the Inn. "Shall we head in?"
He turned and didn't wait for her answer, trudging with ease through the high drifts back towards the welcoming beacon of indoor lights.
Suri hesitated, looking back in the darkness where his men had dragged the unfortunate Pan, and realized she really didn't want to stay out there in the cold, waiting for their return, so she turned and followed behind him, watching his back warily, stepping into the tracks he had made and wondered just how in the Hell she got herself into situations like this? She didn't want to know this guy; he vibrated with the energy of bad news in every conceivable way. He was powerful in a time when power was everything, attractive in the way God was attractive to Popes, and his station in life proclaimed him as a man that made other beings of pure evil bow down and lick his shoes.
Did she really want to be following behind him right then, feeling like she owed him something? Because in the real world, that's just what it was anymore; people didn't do things for no good reason, at least, no one she had ever known.
Still, he had just saved her ass, literally, and it would be beyond the pale to just shrug that off in this day and age and not even give him the time of day.
So, begrudgingly, she followed him, and when he paused in the doorway, opening the door for her with a sly smile and darkened eyes, she felt her heart do a nervous little flip and walked past him back into the lights and warmth and crush of the partying mob.
She jumped when she felt his hand touch her shoulder lightly, head snapping up, eyes huge in her face, but he just smiled and motioned towards where his Legionnaires sat. "Please. Let me buy you a beer by the fire." He offered, and the look in his eyes proclaimed that there was to be no argument. Not if she was smart.
She felt thoroughly ensnared by this man, and he had done nothing but save her from an overzealous Pan and offer her a beer. It was confusing, and terrifying and yet she could do nothing but nod awkwardly.
If ever she had felt outclassed and overwhelmed, this was the moment. She could mark it on the calendar of her life as the strangest, most surreal of her existence to date, and she had had a few worthy of that title before tonight.
It was odd to have the crowd part for her, with him at her back, as if she was a queen amongst peons, and nervously swallowed when they neared his table, step faltering when eyes of all shades and colors hit her.
She could see the curiosity in the Legion's face as their Master brought her back to them, and she felt herself quail under that level of scrutiny. Dear God, she thought, almost panicking, breathing coming a bit short and fast, and stopped, turning on heel so abruptly he almost ran into her. "Look, thank you but this is unnecessary. Really. Thanks...but..." She floundered under those cool green eyes. God, but he was even more glorious up close in the light. Suddenly she felt like she was fourteen and having her first crush.
Bad Suri, she scolded herself angrily. This was not the guy to get her panties in a twist over. Talk about being out of her league.
She shook her head, but he just laughed, that low curling sound of pure eroticism, and caught her around her shoulders with a casual loose arm in the guise of friendly action. She wasn't fooled for a minute over the nice guy routine, and it just made her hackles rise a bit more. "Don't be ridiculous. We are the most human company you'll find here I promise you that." He grinned down at her when he had to propel her into motion once more. "No one here will bite unless you desire it, which is more than I can say of some under this roof." He laughed and pointedly motioned to the girl who Toady had accosted, who was in the process of peeling his rather drunken lecherous hands from her bosom. "Young beautiful women find themselves in dangerous situations, whether they will it or not." He said it softly, and Suri jumped when he casually brushed her hair behind one shoulder while she had been oggling the unlucky prostitute, the brush of his fingers sudden and electric, calling her wide eyes back up to his.
Dear Lord, but this man was intense, and worse, touchy. Usually, that would have been her cue to flip the table and scatter, and yet somehow, she wasn't quite inclined to overreact in her usual go-to-manner with this one.
She wasn't sure why. Sure he had saved her out in the snow, and sure he was sexier than steak on a silk pillow, but usually, that didn't equate to being calm and easy on her part. If anything, it should have made her more suspicious and far more apt to react with wild aggression. Instead, she was staring up at him like she had never been in contact with the male sex in her life and wanted to kick herself for putting such an obvious target on her own forehead. She may as well have been carrying a sign that said, "Maiden in Distress, HELP!".
His smile spread knowingly, the weight of things she had only begun to dream of heavy in his green gaze. "Wouldn't you agree?"
It took her a second to remember what they had just been talking about before her line of distracting self-loathing thoughts had veered her off course, but how could she not agree when she had nearly just been the victim of such a scenario?
He motioned to a vacant chair. "You could do worse than the Legion tonight." He sat smoothly, watching her waffle indecisively, and she cast another glance at that girl, at the crowd growing rowdier and more lecherous by the second.
Suri was forced to agree with his casual observation and slipped into the chair beside him, catching the eye of a rather handsome man who leaned back and arched a brow. "Who's this boss?" He queried curiously.
Nikkolain smiled, but his eyes were all for her when he said, "I suppose we'll find out."
She exhaled nervously. "Suri." She provided it a touch reluctantly.
Nikkolain's smile widened just a touch. "Nikkolain, but most call me Nikko."
"Or Master, or Boss...or Boss-Master." The other Legionnaire quipped with a wide grin. He winked at her and held a hand out. "Marcos."
She eased down a bit and took the offered hand. "Nice to meet you."
"Likewise." She caught his eyes drift over her briefly. "Enjoy the night amongst the damned Suri." With that, he turned back to the card game he and several others were currently playing.
Suri looked down and took a deep calming breath; she could do this. Her eyes flicked up and found his green ones roaming her face curiously, but they stilled and met hers squarely. "You look incredibly fearful being here Suri."
She shrugged. Why deny it? "Your reputation tends to proceed you guys."
He laughed pleasantly and sat back, placing one ankle over the other knee, and leaned an elbow against the table. "Mine in particular or in general?"
"In general." She glanced at the emblem on his shoulder. "Though I imagine yours has to be pretty vast to earn such a mark." Damn it, damn it! Why was she engaging him in conversation? It was too stupid for words, and yet...damn it all, she was kind of interested. Afraid but interested.
He shrugged casually. "Perhaps. Perhaps it is just over bloated with rumor." His eyes sparkled when he said it.
She found her lips quirking. "Somehow I don't think your Leader of the Damned is one who goes off rumor and good looks alone."
Nikko chuckled and nodded. "You would be entirely right." He leaned forward then lowered his tone. "Somehow I think that speaking about such things to you would only accentuate your dis-ease here, rather than alleviate it, and tonight I'm not in the mood to be feared or regarded with horror." He sat back once more, eyeing her curiously. "So, tell me. How does one find themself alone and completely at odds in the world at large Suri? Do you not have family?" He tilted his head and reached out for a mug and brought it to his lips before asking, "Maybe a husband?"
She shifted uncomfortably. "I'm not married Nikko, if that's what you're asking."
His lips curved. "Hmm, interesting. So, you are a wanderer of sorts then?" He looked her over. "I know you are no whore of Jacks nor under his employ."
Suri arched her brow. "How do you know that?" She asked it suspiciously, ridiculously feeling like she had to defend that statement.
He took a deep drink and shrugged a shoulder before saying bluntly. "Because I asked him."
A thrill went over her spine. "What? When?"
He glanced at the clock. "About an hour ago when you came back down from your room." His eyes danced with amusement. "I'll admit it was me who sent you those drinks. I was curious to meet you, and Jack was quite adamant he wanted nothing to do with such a meeting."
She sat up and crossed her arms, for a moment completely without an idea of how to respond. At least she could thank Jack later for not selling her down the river. Finally, she asked the only question that mattered. "Why?"
He laughed. "Why what? Why he did not wish us to meet, or why I wanted to?"
She frowned. "Both I guess."
He regarded her with a small smile and finally said what she could only assume was the truth. "Because I could not help but notice you when I laid eyes on you, and as for Jack, well, I believe he was concerned for your wellbeing."
She somehow frowned harder. "Should I be concerned?"
His eyes met hers, deep and challenging. "What do you think?" She didn't miss his matching intonation and barely kept from scowling at him rather childishly.
Instead, she made a show of looking at him, that curve of lip, that amazing bone structure, those eyes that glittered with evil promise, and finally nodded. "I think I should be, yeah."
That made him laugh before he signaled for something with an idle hand gesture. "Beautiful but honest. A rare find." A Wisp appeared at his signal. "Bring us mead. I know Jack well enough to know he has a cask of it somewhere, and a bottle of something warming and alcoholic."
When the Wisp vanished, he turned those eyes back to her, warm and crinkled at the corners with pleasant regard. "What?" He asked curiously, seeing her arched brow.
She pursed her lips to suppress a small smile, relaxing despite her better judgment. "I was just wondering what it would be like to snap and have everything come running to my beck and call."
He threw back his head and laughed, and it drew the curious gaze of his Legion around him. The sound was so pure and clear, musical in its clarity that she felt her loin tighten dangerously, and a thrill of pure infatuation streak through her. He finally managed to get his humor under control and looked back at her, eyes over bright with mirth and still chuckling, reached out and downed the contents of his mug, slamming it down with a loud clatter that made several people jump around her. "I like you Suri. You have a fire most human women lack in the world anymore." He leaned towards her then, eyes bright. "I will tell you since you asked though, It is good, and I enjoy it; immensely." His tone dropped intimately now, for her ears only. "But, I wonder, how many times I'd have to snap until you came running to that call? Something tells me it would not be nearly as many times as you might wish it to be."
She turned scarlet and looked away. Somehow, she had a feeling that he was right. Her mind firmly said hell, no, but her body was saying a lot of other stuff just then.
Thankfully, she was saved from a response by the arrival of both Wisp and the other two-some of her three-person rescue party.
They appeared through the crowd, the blond grinning ear to ear when he found his chair, flopping down with a boneless type of grace, and the other, a stunning redhead who looked incredibly similar to Nikkolain, took the seat right beside her without hesitation.
To call him a redhead, though, was like calling the ocean blue and not acknowledging the raging torrent of colors and hues it possessed or the sheer beauty of it in general. He was as stunning as Nikko in a vastly different way, and she noted he had a much more somber way to him, his eyes darker and more shuttered, his lips lacking that easy curve Nikko had. Here was a man with a far more serious approach to his life, and she could appreciate that.
He smiled, however, when he sat, blue eyes the color of sapphire shimmering over her curiously. It was the blond with those ice chip eyes who leaned forward and reclaimed a mug. "Well, that was fun." He said with a wide sinister grin.
She couldn't quite say what it was, but something was terrifying about Blondy, despite the utter perfection of his beauty, more than even Nikko or anyone else she had met so far, as though beneath that fine exterior, something evil and dark lurked and reveled in every ounce of sinister energy in his soul. It was there, shimmering in the same eyes that had so easily told her scram earlier, and she had listened without argument.
The Wisp set down more clean mugs, a large pitcher of a clear sparkling amber liquid, and a bottle of something dark and intimidating and vanished wordlessly.
The redhead leaned forward and plucked up the dark bottle, smile widening. "Jack knows you well. I have not seen a bottle of Jaeger in ages."
Nikko just smiled and looked between the two men. "Is he dead?"
For a second, she thought he meant Jack before realizing he was referring to the missing Pan.
"No." He replied idly, twisting the cap off and taking a large swig before saying. "Though I imagine he wishes he was. Caziel has some boredom issues apparently and took them out on the unfortunate creature."
Caziel, the blond she assumed, just shrugged carelessly. "This life without war is boring. I must find some ways to entertain myself." He looked now to where she watched him with narrowed eyes. "You look as though you don't approve." He noted with a small smile.
She shrugged, deciding to err on the side of caution with this guy. "I'm just grateful you came to my help is all."
He arched a brow, accepting the bottle from the other man's hand. "Perhaps, but you still don't approve. What? Is it pity or empathy for such a creature that makes you regard us with condemning eyes?"
Suri didn't really want to get into the topic of morality with creatures who didn't really sweat such details in life, but, since he asked, "I don't approve of torture." She said it carefully.
He laughed and looked at the redhead. "Did we torture him, Dante?" He asked.
Dante merely looked at her, and after a moment, inclined his head. "Perhaps to some delicate sensibilities, yes."
Caziel just grinned and took a deep chug before he passed the bottle to her, much to her surprise. His eyes remained utterly wicked when she gingerly accepted it, smelling the liquid that immediately reminded her of licorice from her childhood. "You will not regret trying it, I assure you."
She glanced over to Nikko, but he was merely watching their exchange with deeply amused eyes, lips curved rather enchantingly with that small smile, and said, "He is not wrong."
She sighed. The Hell with it. Her night was officially and rapidly approaching the weirdest of her life. How often did she find herself surrounded by Legionnaires, being bought drinks and rare liquor, after a near-rape experience where said men had ridden to her rescue? Never, that was when, and honestly, the idea of strong alcohol right then sounded better than not having it.
She took a pull and made an immediate face as the thick liquid hit her throat and her taste buds like a hammer on an anvil and coughed, shoving it from her, much to the three of theirs great amusement. "Good God. I don't know if I hate it or love it." She exclaimed.
Nikko took it and swigged it like a champ. "Most would say the same. Some say it's an acquired taste."
She laughed softly and shook her head, the warming effect quite immediate, and poured herself out a mug of mead, which in contrast was clear, sweet, and tasted like a crisp apple. That she could live with. "Oh my god." She groaned. "I've never had mead this good." She didn't mean to say it aloud, especially with such gusto, and was a bit embarrassed. Maybe the three large mugs of ale before were already affecting her brain, or maybe it was the magic touch of the Demoi; either way, she was not usually this outspoken, especially around creatures she would have otherwise avoided fearfully like a plague.
Nikko poured out his own helping and smiled. "Jack has always had fine tastes in such things; women, horses, booze, it's all much the same to his eye."
Dante leaned back, and again the resemblance between them was striking. She was feeling a little hot under the collar, and she wasn't entirely convinced it was just the booze anymore. "So, can we have the name of the woman we rescued or is it a secret?" He asked then.
She blushed a bit. "Oh, sorry, I'm Suri."
"Dante, and this I'm sure you gathered, is Caziel." He smiled, and the expression made her glance between him and Nikko with obvious question. He arched a brow and glanced over to the man in question. "We are brothers if you are curious."
She swallowed a large mouthful of mead. "Sorry, I wasn't trying to stare." She managed with only the slightest hint of the incredible awkward awkwardness that was plaguing her. There was something off with her tonight, she scolded herself. Suri could chalk it up to the near-disaster out in the snow, or their rescue of her or whatever else, but in reality, as terrible as the moment been and as grateful as she was of their benevolent act of heroism, nothing in her was scarred for life, or overly shocked in any capacity. She and Vero's interaction was pretty standard, an example of what to expect when you were stupid and let your guard down, even if just for a single minute in this world anymore. What wasn't standard was this shuffling, weird sense of interaction she was forcing herself to abide by like she was relearning how to not be an isolated weirdo with zero social skills. She was staring like a country bumpkin at a foreigner, and worse was that she was being obvious about it. It wasn't like her to be this accomodating, not in any facet of any light imaginable, but nor was it like her to be this seriously inept with conversation and social graces.
They both laughed and it was like being caught between a sensual mixtape of alternating sexiness. "Don't be. You are not the first to wonder." Nikko said offhandedly. "There is no great secret about it."
She looked between them, then to Caziel. "But not you right?"
He grinned. "No, just the lucky third wheel." He chuckled darkly. "Though depending on who you ask, it may be they who are deemed lucky enough to sit beside me."
They all laughed at that, and she shifted uncomfortably, feeling that terrible sense you got when you were thrown in the mix with people with a lot of history and inside jokes, and you were floating on the edge of it, not sure whether to join in or run crying from the room. She had a feeling that had anyone else made such a quip, Nikko nor Dante seemed the type to be so easily amused. But then again, maybe they were just nice easygoing guys and she had them all wrong.
Looking at them all, with their glowy eyes, pointy swords, and shiny armor, she doubted it.
"So how long are you staying at the Dove Suri?" Nikko asked curiously, eyes again drifting over her in that way that made her insanely glad she was just staying the night. "Caziel mentioned Jack gave up one of the rooms reserved for us for you to grace instead."
She stiffened and cursed inwardly. "Look, I told him not to..."
Nikko held up a hand. "It was merely an observation, not a criticism." He interrupted.
She shrugged nervously, trying to settle back into her seat, and picked up her mug. "Just the night."
His brow arched at that. He reached out, lifted the pitcher and topped hers off and the rest before filling his own back to the brim. It was going down a little too smoothly, she noted with a frown. He sat up and pointed towards the door. "Were you not just out there with that Pan?" He frowned at her. "Only a fool would not know that this storm is going to continue the rest of the week. I fear, there is not many who will be leaving before then Suri. Those who do, run the risk of exposure." He looked her over. "Do you have a death wish?"
Suri sat back with a beleaguered sigh. "Look, it's not your business why I'm leaving so soon. I just have to."
He frowned. "Do you have someone you're meeting?" Apparently, minding your own damned business was not a strong suit of Nikko's.
"Well, no." She admitted frowning back at him.
"A job, some previous engagement?" He pressed.
She frowned harder. "No."
"So," He drummed long fingers on the table thoughtfully, "There is absolutely no pressing reason why you are going to go out in the world to die is that it?" He sounded amused and condescending, which immediately pricked her.
"I have no intention of going out there to die." She snapped. She did not want to admit to this man, this guy who had it all, that she just couldn't afford extended room and board. That was it, plain and simple, and she was not willing to ask Jack for any more considerations. She didn't like owing people, even those as willing to accommodate as Jack. "It's not my first Rodeo. Believe it or not, I've survived worse." She took a deep, fortifying drink, chugging it back, and slammed the mug on the table. "Now, if your done subtly insulting my intelligence, I'll just be going now." She made to stand, done playing house with the Legion of the damned for the night, and Nikko reached out so swiftly she didn't even see him move until his hand was lightly circling her wrist.
"Trust me, if I was trying to insult you, it would not be subtle." His tone was softer, almost intimate despite the rowdy crown and immediate audience. "Please, sit. Forgive any perceived insult." He made it sound like she was being crazy and it made her scowl at him. Still, he was looking at her with those soft green eyes, and after a moment, she settled back, pulling her hand back from his.
"Look, no offense guys, you seem nice enough, which I'm honestly surprised about."
Caziel laughed at that. "Now who is slinging insults?"
She frowned at him but continued and met Nikko's eyes squarely. "If I'm honest you all freak me out, on a level I can't really say why, but you do. You talk nice, you look nice, but I have a strong feeling you are not nearly as nice as you come off as. In fact, I'm looking at your boys club logo's and it pretty much tells me that not any one of you are as nice as you're pretending to be." She shook her head. "Thanks for the drinks, and thanks for the rescue, but honestly, this whole night is making my bad guy radar go off the charts." She shifted under those intense sharp gazes. "I just really don't want to find out why your being so nice to me in particular."
Nikko considered her in silence for a moment, that devil may care grin wiped off his face at her admission like white off a chalkboard. "Why," He asked finally. "Must we have any ulterior motive? Believe it or not, there are those amongst the Legion who despise rapists and more-so, have tender regard for women in general. There will be countless men and creatures who will tell you never to cross our path, but have you ever met a woman who can truly say the same?" He leaned forward and her scalp contracted headily with sheer awareness of him when he pulled his chair closer. "Who's to say I don't just see a woman who may or may not, need some aid at the moment? Who's to say that I am not merely extending a hand of friendship to someone who, in my eyes, desperately needs one?" He looked down her body pointedly. "I will not say I would not be very, very interested to have you share my bed instead of one alone while we find ourselves locked up here in the Dove, but that's not really my only motive." His green eyes flicked back up and met hers under his brow. "So. Now that uncomfortable truths have been voiced, tell me again, why you choose death over shelter?"
She glanced over at Dante and Caziel, who were both watching the exchange; Dante curiously, Caziel with a rather wolfish grin, and for whatever reason, answered him. "I don't like owing people things, even Jack." She admitted finally.
He looked so long and so deeply into her eyes that for a moment, she forgot how to breathe, and then with a sudden smile, he sat back as if somehow satisfied by her answer and made that summoning motion once more. A Wisp appeared as if conjured. "Inform Jack that his Lady here is to be my guest." He looked at her with what could only be described as a challenge when he said. "As long as she needs it to be." She opened her mouth to argue, but infuriatingly the Wisp was gone before she could say a peep. That, was getting very annoying.
She stared at him open-mouthed, incredulously taken aback by his blatant dismissal of her concerns. "I literally just said I didn't want to owe anyone anything."
"Nikko hears only what he desires." Caziel looked delighted by the entire ordeal.
She ignored him, eyes all for the man in front of her. "You don't even know me." She managed, voice strangled.
He shrugged and poured her out another mug and slid it her way, eyes dark and gleaming with wicked enjoyment. "I like what I know so far." He motioned to his brother and Caziel. "They could tell you as easily as I that most would not speak to any of us so blatantly, especially when they are as intimidated by us as you claim you are." He put a lot of emphasis on that word. "It's refreshing and I tire of kiss-asses and whores surrounding me." Caziel laughed at that, but Dante had merely fixed her with those amazing blue eyes and was regarding her like she had done something interesting.
Nikko smiled at her and lifted his mug to empty air. "To new friendships, and perhaps more." He lifted the mead to his mouth and the other two followed suit.
Suri hesitated, officially accepting that she was out of her league, but finally lifted her mug back up, eyeing him over with a look of bemusement. "This has just reached a new level of bizarre, even for me Nikko." She said then.
He laughed, that wonderful, rich, almost edible sound. "Oh, my dear girl, you have not begun to experience bizarre yet. Give it some time." He winked at her and called for another pitcher.
Merci pour la lecture!
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