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"Must you always cause problems whereever you go, Darvain?" a hissing voice called from behind a dark-haired youth.
The youth tilted his head back so he could look over his shoulder at the Arachnid who had spoken. Her four pure, white eyes glinted from under equally white bangs. From the waist up, she would have been a beautiful woman with a thin waist and full chest, clad in her signature spider silk armor. Below that was a different story. She was still beautiful, but in a creepy way. Where her hips should have curved into a nice set of league long legs was the giant body of a black widow. Her long spider legs moved with only the slightest sound across the cobbled stones. A smaller set of legs curled in against her navel, shifting as she walked. Her exoskeleton was smooth as satin and decorated with a blood red hourglass shape. Her face was a little unsettling to those who weren't used to being around her kind, with long fangs that stuck out from the sides of her jaw through slits in her cheek. She could slick them together like pincers when she wanted to, but normally kept them out of her way when talking.
"It's not my fault those dogs didn't know how to hold their tongues in front of a lady," When the youth spoke, his voice didn't move like most people's. It was a monotone sound, without any inflection to match was he saying.
"Like you really care what is said in front of me," she teased, her hiss amused.
"I do care Ailis. They were being rude. Someone should teach them manners," he corrected, tugging on the reins in his hands. His mount, Rashnir was starting to get a little restless at the slow pace.
"You're such a sweet liar Darvain. It's a wonder you don't have more lady callers back at the guild," she chuckled.
"You both talk too much," a deep voice chastised from under the dark grey hood he wore.
Darvain glanced at the rider beside him, rolling his odd-colored eyes. "You're just being antisocial, Ansel."
There was a snort from under the hood and a giggle from Ailis. "You have no room to talk, Princling. Most people at the guild don't even know what your voice sounds like."
Darvain shrugged, flicking his hair from his eyes. "If they had anything interesting to say, maybe I would speak more."
"They are entertaining Dar. I've seen those small smirks you get when you think no one is looking," Ailis teased affectionately.
He shifted in his saddle, pulling his hood up to hide his face. "They are about as entertaining as grass."
"Then maybe you should have been a gardener," Ansel muttered, earning a laugh from Ailis.
Ravanhollow was the closest thing to home Darvain had ever known, with a bustling market and thriving guild. The guild hall was the center point of the town, full of a motley crew of mages, warlocks, hunters and warriors. There was never a good tell of who you were going to run into when you walked in those doors, but there was always a good time. People would send in jobs for the guild to take care of, Master Reeves being the one who selected teams or solo people to go out and take care of them.
Darvain was never sent out alone, always in the company of the only two people in the guild who actually look after him. Ailis and Ansel, his foster parents. Out of everyone in the guild, they were the only ones who he respected, other then Master Reeves.
"I hope Aveline has some warm food for us. I'm getting sick of dried meat," Ansel grumbled, flicking the Isla's reins.
The beast snorted, stomping her foot on the cobblestones. Darvain narrowed his eyes at her before pulling up on his own reins. Rashnir shook his head, his orange eyes bright with annoyance.
"We should walk the rest of the way to the Hall. These two are getting too annoyed. We don't want them to hurt Johnathan again," he suggested, already slipping down from his saddle.
As soon as his feet touched the ground, Rashnir let out a steam whistle screech that echoed through the town. Well if they didn't know we were home yet, they do now, he thought as he pulled the reins down roughly to get the beast to make eye contact. Beside him, Ansel was sliding down as well, Isla behaving more then her brother.
"That's enough you brat," Darvain snapped, reaching up to try and undo the bridle from the horse. It would have gone a bit easier if the thing would stop moving its head around, agitated.
Once the metal bit was out from between Rashnir's teeth, the horse reared, kicking into the air theatrically. Darvain rolled his eyes. Isla looked at her brother reproachfully, standing there calmly while Ansel unbuckled her saddle bags and saddle. When Rashnir was back on all four hooves, the youth did the same. His bags were light, holding only a few pouches and a change of clothes. Free of their burdens, both horses took off towards the edge of the town.
"I told you normal horses would have served you better," Ansel teased, slinging his saddle bag over his shoulder.
Darvain scowled, waving his hand towards the saddles and bridles. They sank into their shadows, disappearing into the cobbles as if they were never there. "Find me a normal horse that can handle being around Ailis in that form and me."
Ailis chuckled. "I guess it would be a bit hard for a horse to stay calm around the three of us all the time."
As Ailis spoke, she shuddered. The ripples passed over her exoskeleton, turning them a light milky color. There was a crunching noise, like a bug being squished under a boot, as the lower half of her body sunk into her back. Watching it was unsettling. Now standing on two feet, Ailis folded the eight spider's legs behind her back.
"Here, my love," Ansel said, holding out a light grey cloak.
"Thank you, darling," Ailis threw the fabric over her shoulders, positioning her extra limbs so they were barely visible.
Darvain watched, the corner of his lip showing the barest hint of a smile. As different as the pair were, they complimented each other well. Where Ansel was dark and hard, Ailis was light and soft. They completed each other in a way Darvain couldn't understand, but admired. It was what had drawn him to them in the first place.
"We should get to the guild. Master will be expecting us," he said, reaching down to grabbing his saddle bag and tossing it over his shoulder.
The guild hall was a massive building five floors. The top three were used for apartments for members of the guild who didn't like the idea of holding a house in the rest of the town. The second floor was set up almost like a wrestling room with separate rooms for multiple partners. The main floor was a massive bar, job board and the Master's Office. The bar was open to all of Ravanhollow and was the biggest place for most of the town to meet.
Darvain almost smiled as he walked up to the main doors. Finally, he thought, touching the red doors.
"Master!" A squeaky voice piped up from beside the door.
Darvain turned his head, his eyes narrowed. Erasmus hopped between its two spindly legs, wings shifting nervously to keep him from falling over. The Gargoyle was a small thing, only standing about a foot and a half with large opal eyes. The many colors in the gems glinted in the sunlight.
"Erasmus, how are you?" Ailis asked, reaching out to stroke the gargoyle's head. The small barbs that lined her fingers scraped across the rough stone of his skin.
The small creature hummed, rubbing his head into her touch. He may have been Darvain's servant but he had a soft spot for the Arachnid. "I am very well, Miss Ailis."
"And Sydna?" Darvain asked, impatient. He had been expecting Erasmus to be at the gate when he returned, with his favorite human. Neither had been there and the waiting was irritating him.
Erasmus cowered a bit, looking down at the cobblestoned stairs. "S-she is with her m-mother today, Master."
Darvain hissed, scowling. If Lyra had her, it was going to take him all day to be able to find them. Ailis chuckled, ruffling his hair so it stood up all over the place.
"Relax, little one. She will come find you when she can. She always does," she placated.
He snorted but nodded. Erasmus, sensing the acceptance, fluttered his granite wings and landed on Darvain's shoulder. The Noxen glanced at him through the corner of his eye but didn't say anything. He was used to the little thing sitting there. Erasmus had a hard time keeping up when he walked and he wasn't allowed the fly in the guild hall. Master Reeves had forbidden it after the third vase had been broken.
"What news have we missed?" Darvain asked, pushing open the doors.
The guild wasn't crowded, only a few people sitting and drinking. There were the couple regulars who never seemed to leave on a job and, of course, Aveline standing behind the bar cleaning a glass. She was beautiful, even to Noxen standards. Long almost white hair tumbled down her back in a waterfall of curls, her angelic face brightened with her impish smirk as Marcellus tried to flirt with her. She looked up when Darvain's group stepped in, her eyes lighting up.
"Nothing really Master. Mister Reeves has been in his office since yesterday after he received a letter, but that is all," Erasmus answered, fluttering his wings a bit.
Ansel looked at the small thing. "A letter? From where?"
"Lady Aveline said it was from Lyciem."
Darvain's breath caught as Ailis gasped. He turned his head quickly, his black eyes narrowed. "You're sure?"
Erasmus nodded frantically, his wings tightening against his body. The shadows around the trio began to swirl a bit, twisting and reaching out unnaturally.
"Control yourself," Ansel warned even as he headed towards Master Reeves' office.
Darvain and Ailis followed quickly, candles blowing out as the Noxen passed.
Master Reeves's office was a place that Darvain had grown to know well in the last twenty years, especially in his childhood. His own temperament had gotten him sent there more than once while he was being raised by Ansel and Ailis. They didn't know what to do with him when his tempers would cause him to rage and self destruct. It was mostly occupied by the master's desk with a few cell-like chambers built into the side wall. They weren't occupied at the moment, but Darvain had seen a few guild members come back with people in chains. He knew that was where they ended up until they were dealt with.
Reeves didn't look up when the group entered without knocking. He was leaned over his desk, a book open on top of a map. Grey hair peaked out from the thong he held it back with, curling around his temples. He looked exhausted, bags under his eyes and a haggard expression creasing his wrinkled face.
"How did the job go?" Reeves asked, still not looking up.
"What news have you received from Lyciem?" Darvain asked, completely ignoring the master.
Ansel shot him a sharp look, but was waved off by the Master. Reeves looked up at them, his ice blue eyes still sharp even with lack of sleep. He gazed at the Noxen, searching his face for something that only he knew. Darvain didn't know if the master liked what he found but Reeves nodded a bit before sitting back in his chair.
"You're father has died," Reeves said. "Robert sent me news of it. The funeral will be held in a weeks time."
Darvain's teeth clenched. The pain he knew was supposed to come from losing your father didn't resonate through him. If anything, he was pleased. He had no fond memories of his father, only scars. It wasn't something he would mourn, only notice and discard as so much trash. The only fond memories of his time with his father were when his mother, Melrose had been alive. Before his father had killed her.
"Dar?" Ailis asked, her hand touching his shoulder affectionately.
Darvain shook his head a bit, removing the darkness from his mind. "I'm fine."
Ansel was looking at him, searching him. He knew the cruelty of Jarl, knew the truth in Darvain's words. After all, it had been him that had asked Darvain to come away with him when he found the young Noxen bleeding in the forest with a Strygian iron dagger through his shoulder.
Erasmus shifted a bit on Darvain's shoulder, trying not to tremble. The lose of the the Noxen King would hit the little gargoyle harder then his master. Gargoyles had been the servants on the Noxen for generations. They felt the lose of each one as a blow to themselves.
"How did he die?" Darvain asked, looking back at the Master.
"He quarreled with one of the priests in Lyciem. One of the Lunar deities I think," Reeves answered.
"Moon Drip?" Ansel asked, startled.
"Mixed with a bit of Dragon's Blood as a crucible."
Darvain snorted. His father had enjoyed Dragon's Blood mixed in with his wine. The addition of the Moon Drip Poison would have been easily masked under the pungent flavor of the blood. "The old fool."
"Will your brother become the next Lord?" Ailis asked, her white eyes narrowing.
Darvain shook his head. "That's not how our kind work. Enoch and I were only Princes because Jarl was Lord. We would be given a place in the Gauntlet, but the title and responsibilities go with the winner. If either of use won then it would continue the bloodline we have had for the last few generations. It doesn't matter much though. The Raynelle's held the title before Lord Balthus."
Reeves nodded; he had known all of this from his dealings with the Noxen long before Darvain came to Ravanhollow. "Do you want to take your place?"
The young Noxen paused, his breath halting for a moment. If the master had asked this long ago, when Ansel had found him, he would have screamed and hollered for his place. Now though? He looked at his adoptive parents, taking in Ansel's frown and Ailis's wide eyes. He could feel the worry radiating from both of them. It sunk into his flesh, seeping into his spirit. No, he wouldn't do that to them.
"No. Enoch can take the mantle if he wants it. I gave up that right a long time ago."
Darvain moved, stepping away from his adoptive parents to lean against the wall in the office. The shadows at his feet rippled, stretching into small points before curling in on themselves again. He watched for a moment, thinking. His father was dead and the Tourment would start soon. It would be interesting but none of his concern. He chose his path and his brother chose his. Enoch would most likely be the nest in the line if he didn't let his temper get the best of him. The thought made him shiver slightly. Lunaus help anyone who stood in his brother's way.
"So, how did the job go? I haven't gotten a raven from the client yet," Reeves asked, turning his attention towards Ailis and Ansel.
Ailis kept Darvain in her sights but spoke to Reeves. "Not that bad. The Pooka was irritated that the client had built in the Fae ring. It wasn't anything we couldn't handle."
"Did you have to kill the Faer Folk living there?" the master asked.
Ansel shook his head. "Thanks to Darvain. He is a lot better at talking to them then we thought he would have been. Apparently the Faer Folk have some respect for Noxen, especially Princes."
"It's not respect. Its fear. My kind once held theirs as slaves along side the Gargoyles," On his shoulder Erasmus shivered. "We let them go when Lord Mykolas was almost killed by one of theirs. I think his name was Theros. We have a kind of pact with them. They don't cause troubles and we don't collar them again."
Ansel nodded. His line had been one of the ones that had helped the Faer Folk gain their freedom. That had never caused any issues between the two of them though. Ansel knew Darvain didn't agree with that kind of thing. His pact with Erasmus was more because he liked the little creature, not because he thought it was lower on the food chain then him.
"Either way, it was resolved without bloodshed?" Reeves pressed.
Darvain nodded, his shadow relaxing into just what it was. "Nothing that wouldn't heal in a day or two. The client's men were wounded a bit by the Pooka and its kin. Nothing major though. The worst was a set of broken ribs from a fallen bough."
"Good," Reeves nodded. A twinkle came to the older man's eyes as he grinned. "Sydna will be pleased. She went out with Lyra to find you a gift. Apparently Aveline let it slip your birthday is soon, Darvain."
The Noxen sneered, glowering towards the door. "Damn her."
Ailis laughed. "Aw, look Ansel. He's blushing."
Darvain wasn't. His kind couldn't blush but she knew his embarrassed expression well enough. The sneer mixed with him hiding his eyes behind his bangs.
"Shut up," Darvain grumbled.