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"Here you go, sweetling," Aveline said as she laid three bowls on the bar top.
"Thank you, Avie," Ailis said, smiling at her friend.
Aveline had at one point been a part of the guild, going out on jobs and helping where she could. All of that stopped on her last job. She had gone out on her own to help a woman who was having a hard child birth. It was supposed to be an easy thing and it had been—until the father had come to claim the child. Luress had given birth to a healthy half breed.
The little girl had been cute, Aveline had told them. With little pointed ears standing on the top of her head and a fluffy white fox's tail, Aveline had known what she was and hadn't cared at all. All she saw was a little child who had almost not come into the world. While she had helped Luress heal from the birth, the girl's father had stormed into the home, snarling; demanding his child be given to him to be raised among its own kind. Aveline had fought him, but had been worn out from helping the mother. He over powered her and had maimed her.
Darvain could still see Aveline being dragged into the guild hall, bleeding and barely alive. Scars now covered her throat and chest where the man had dug into her with claws and teeth. Darvain had been in the guild for only a few months, still trying to learn how to live away from his father. The sight of blood on the woman who had gone out to find out how to make his favorite dessert drove his temper to a height he had never felt before. Reeves had tried to get him to calm down but at the end, Darvain had fled from the guild hall on a then three-year-old Rashnir. That night had been filled with screams of terror and laughter. By the morning, Luress had her daughter, Rena.
Darvain glanced down at his bowl, his expression softening. She had made a stew out of a Shadow Cat someone had brought in. It was close to too late in the hunting season to get any; the price had to have been ridiculous. He doubted she had cared, though.
His shadow under the table reached out to wrap around her ankle, squeezing slightly. She only smiled as she passed out their mugs. Ansel with his beer, Ailis with a blood red wine, and him with a thick honeyed juice. He had never gotten the taste for alcohol, mainly with the visions of his father still swirling in the back of his mind. Sweet, halfway fermented juice Aveline called Nectar was the closest thing he ever got to it.
"Let me know if you guys want anything else, okay?" Aveline said.
The trio nodded and started in on their food. Ansel ripped a piece of black bread from the loaf in the middle of them and dipped it into the thick gravy, his sharp teeth ripping through it easily.
"Are you sure you're okay, Dar?" Ailis asked, stirring her own stew to cool it.
He chewed a bit of gristle slowly, looking up at her. His silver irises caught the fire light, glinting like the metal they resembled. "You think I'm upset because my father died." It wasn't a question. His tone barely moved throughout the sentence, staying the same monotone he had when they were on the road.
Her white eyes were concerned, her fangs twitching. "Of course. Anyone would be if their last parent had died."
Ansel snorted. "If you could call that man a parent. Ailis, don't trouble yourself over our little charge. He won't be shedding any tears over the loss of that man."
Darvain held his spoon out to Erasmus, a decent sized piece of purpled meat on it. The Gargoyle took it eagerly, nibbling on it. "Lord Jarl was a cruel man, mistress. Especially to Master. Master's brother was their father's son, but Master was more like their mother, Morganna."
"Just because we can be cruel doesn't mean that we should be," Darvain said, popping a piece of a potato in his mouth. "My father and brother knew what we were capable of and relished in the fear and pain they could cause. I use that when I have to, not because it want to see something tremble at my feet crying."
Ailis tilted her head a bit, a small smile on her face. "You used to be like that. I remember how you were when Ansel brought you into the guild; lashing out at adults and kids alike just because they were staring at you."
Darvain shrugged. "That's just how my kind are as children. We don't always know how to control ourselves and have been known to cause a lot of harm before he hit adolescents. That was how Ansel had found me. I was in a village tormenting them while they slept because I was hungry."
"When was the last time you feed, speaking of that?" Ansel asked.
"A week or two ago. Before the last job," he answered, feeling something other then his gut grumble. He had been ignoring those pangs while they were on the road. Making traveler on the road start to go mad from a flood of emotions causes talk.
Ansel gave him a hard look. They had had quite a few conversations about how long Darvain would wait between feedings sometimes. It made it hard for him to keep control when he wasn't fed well. Normal food would help it a little bit but not enough to stop him from breaking someone's mind when he did decide to.
The Noxen waved his hand dismissively. "I know. I'll go out tonight to the stockades and see what I can find."
Ansel nodded, mollified for the moment. All of them knew that Reeves had set up a special agreement with the local constabulary to allow Darvain to feed on the inmates instead of the normal citizens. Raze, the Commander, hadn't really cared what Darvain did to them as long as he didn't kill him. They would sometimes ask him to come and help them break a particularly stubborn inmate, only enough to get a confession out of them. Twice Darvain had refused because they had had the wrong person.
As the group ate, Erasmus getting handed more food as he finished his bites, more people started pooling into the guild hall. Spirits were high; everyone was excited for the parade going on in a fortnight. Darvain had never paid much attention to the parade, but normally went because it was an easy feeding ground. He could feed from everyone in town without doing anything more than making the party a little rowdier.
He kept his eye on the door, however, looking for a particular head of blonde curls. It was awhile before she came in, her mother right behind her. Lyra was holding a decent sized cage with a black sheet thrown over it. Sydna skipped ahead of her mother, bright, azure blue eyes scanning the room. Darvain paused, his cup held halfway to his mouth when she entered. The room brightened to his eyes, light flowing out of her like a soft sun. A thin blue dress swirled around her knees as she looked for him, disappointed he wasn't right in her line of sight.
He was moving before he had told his legs to, slipping through the tables to her. She smiled when she noticed him moving towards her, her front tooth missing.
"Darvain!" she squealed, rushing towards him.
He leaned down, catching her as she jumped at him and swung her around. Shadows curled around them, wrapping themselves around her as he clung to her. She smelled like the bazaar, all spices and sweet candies with a hint of hay. She giggled in his arms, squeezing him as tightly as she could. As his shadows retracted, she pulled away to look at him. At seven, she was a little big for most people to pick her up like he did, but he was stronger than he looked. Darvain shifted her to his hip, keeping an arm wrapped around her.
"I missed you!" she said, beaming up at him.
"I missed you too, little Lumen," he answered, touching his forehead to hers for the moment.
Warmth radiated through him from her touch, almost like a fire on a cold winter's day. He could feel her life radiate from her, her joy at seeing him again and the fading fear that he wasn't coming back.
Lyra approached, laughing. "You're going to spoil her rotten, Darvain."
He looked at her and shrugged. "Here, let me take that for you," he said, reaching out for the cage. It was a bit big for the petite woman to be carrying and he could see the strain in her eyes.
Sydna jumped a bit on his hip as he mother let him take it from her. "It's for you."
Darvain raised an eyebrow, glancing down at the cage then at Lyra. She nodded, smiling at him. "She saved up her coins from helping Master Reeves to get it for you. He's small, but Sydna told me you had been looking for one."
Darvain paused. They couldn't have. "Come sit with us while I look at this gift my Lumen has worked so hard for."
Ailis and Ansel greeted Sydna and Lyra when they got to the table, Ansel looking at the cage and raising an eyebrow. Darvain shrugged at his adoptive father.
"What did she get you?" Ansel's voice whispered in Darvain's mind, speaking in a way that he only did when he didn't want others to hear.
"I think I should keep my mouth closed around the little one. She was working with Reeves to save up for it," Darvain answered, frowning a bit.
He sat the cage down on the table and it rattled as something grumbled from under the sheet. Darvain held out the chairs for both Lyra and Sydna and motioned for Aveline to bring some food and drinks for them.
"He doesn't have a name yet. Bruno hadn't thought anyone would want him because he was so small so he didn't give him one," Sydna explained, her curls bouncing in her excitement.
A couple of the guild members paused by the table, smiling at her. She was a bright spot to most of the people there, always welcome to join them and talk. Marcellous, already somewhat drunk, stood by Lyra, smiling broadly.
"Ah, the little one has come to greet her monster," Marcellous exclaimed, slurring a bit.
Darvain narrowed his eyes at the older man but Ailis beat him in speaking. "Hush your mouth, you drunkard."
Sydna followed her, narrowing her bright eyes and looking as fearsome as a small girl could. "Go away."
Marcellous, with some sense left about him, held his hands up in surrender, still smiling. He enjoyed taunting Darvain about what he was, but it had slowed down a bit when Sydna had started coming to his rescue. Darvain didn't really mind it; it had stopped bothering him years ago. He didn't like the fact that the old man had tried to step in and be a father to her when Wallace, her real father, had left when she was three. Marcellous wasn't a good father to his own three bastards, he didn't have the right to step in on someone else's.
Lyra ignored the man, instead turning to Darvain. "Why don't you let him out? I'm sure he's tired of being in that cage all day."
Darvain nodded, reaching out to take the sheet off the cage. Inside was a small puppy. Three sets of ruby red eyes looked out at him, smoke drifting from their nostrils and bone white canine poking out slightly from the beasts' maws. His breath caught. The Hell Hound was obviously the runt of the litter, only a bit bigger than his hands if he put them together. That didn't matter, though. He was perfect. An outcast, much like himself.
The Hellhound growled a bit, one head reaching out to bite at the door to the cage. Erasmus fluttered down to the table from his usual perch on the rafters, landing softly on top of the cage. The beast looked up at the Gargoyle and steamed smoke from its noses.
"He's so small," Erasmus said, poking a small talon into the cage to scratch the left head behind the ears.
"What a cutie," Ailis retorted. "Come on, Darvain. Let him out."
Darvain was having a hard time keeping his emotions in check. All around him shadows shifted, curling towards him. He didn't have the words. Hellhounds were expensive, even this runty little thing would have cost about twenty gold pieces. What could Reeves have had her doing to get the money for it? He would ask the Master later.
"Sydna," Darvain breathed, looking at her.
Her eyes were wide as she waited for his response, hoping she had done a good thing. Wanting him to be pleased. If only she knew, he thought, leaning down to kiss the top of her head.
"Thank you, little Lumen," he whispered in her ear, nuzzling her.
She giggled, a high trilling sound. Her arms snaked around his neck in a hug. "Can I open his cage? Mom wouldn't let me when we got him."
"Of course," the Noxen said, moving the cage a little closer to her.
Erasmus fluttered his wings to keep balance but stayed on. Sydna worked on untying the rope that held the cage closed with some help from the little Gargoyle. As soon as the door was open, the Hellhound stepped out onto the table and stretched, its' pink tongues lolling out in a yawn.
It turned and looked at Sydna, then Darvain. After a moment, it padded towards him and jumped down into his lap to curl in a ball and sleep. Darvain glanced down at it with a raised eyebrow. Apparently being carried in a cage all day was exhausting.
"Aw," Ailis cooed, smiling.
Sydna looked down at it, grinning. She reached out slowly to scratch it at the base of its necks. "He's so sleepy," she said just as she yawned.
Aveline came over then with another round of drinks for them and two steaming bowls of stew. She chuckled. "He's not the only one, Syd."
Sydna tried to hide it, but Darvain could feel her tiredness from the day's shopping. "I'm not!"
"Of course not, little one," Ansel said, grinning.
Darvain looked up at Lyra. She nodded.
"She woke me up early this morning practically shaking. She was so worried you would be home before she was able to get him for you. Bruno had told her before that you had come looking but the litter wasn't ready yet. Apparently they go pretty fast to some of the hunters that come through. That one was his last one because of how small he is," Lyra said, nodding towards the pup.
"He never was one for keeping the runts. What made him keep this one?" Ansel asked.
Lyra nodded at Sydna, who was working through her stew. "She did. She asked him to keep all the puppies because she wanted one. He figured she meant for her, so he thought the runt would be small enough for her. When she told him it was for Darvain, he laughed. Almost wouldn't let us take him because he figured the pup was too small for Darvain to want."
"I think he's wrong on that account," Ailis said.
Darvain nodded, stroking the puppy underneath the table. It was snoring slightly, he could feel the vibrations against his leg. "He's perfect."
Sydna beamed, her mouth full of bread. He reached over and tousled her hair playfully, the smallest hint of a smile curling his lips.