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In the Middle of the Night

By EtherealEquinox

For Fushen & I
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FushenRichard Morris   132d ago

Richard Morris awoke the same way he did every morning: with the rays of the sun. Unfortunately for him, there was no avoiding the penetrating beams that seared into the back of his eyelids each day. Groaning against the intrusion, the man rubbed his tired eyes for a moment before pushing himself up into a seated position at the edge of his tiny bed. Brilliant blue orbs opened with sleep still hanging heavily upon them. The dark circles beneath indicated a restless night. But a decent amount of sleep had always been difficult to come by, even when he used to sleep in his own bed.

It had been almost a year since he’d been home to London. A year since he received a mysterious letter inviting him to stay at the Vatican, Italy’s righteous Holy City. A year since he accepted the vow to stay and train in order to take on the task of fighting the [i un]holy.

If someone had approached Rich several years prior with claims of monsters skulking around in the night, he would’ve written them off as deliriously ill with madness or, at the very least, one pint too many. There were many shady creatures in capital of England, of course, but none of supernatural nature. A pickpocket here, a violent affray there maybe. However, tales of demons who could only move through darkness while preying on the blood of unsuspecting victims were things of stories and fairytales, mere parables weaponized against badly behaved children. Or so he’d once thought.

He might’ve remained blissfully blind to the deadly pestilence had he not had a run in with one of the creatures himself. The memory alone, though the incident had taken place over a year ago, still had the power to keep him up at night. It lingered in the recesses of his subconscious, darkening the corners of his mind, never giving him a moment’s peace. The attack was far worse than that of any wild animal. It was brutal, bloody, and baleful. Rich’s stomach churned with revulsion and his blood boiled with anger at the mere thought. For that reason, he was only all too eager to accept the Vatican’s invitation to join the initiative in eradicating the beasts and sending them back to the Hell from whence they came.

As Richard stood, his joints loudly protested the movement with a cacophony of popping. He winced at both the sound as well as the soreness that accompanied it. Every muscle in his body ached. He hadn’t experienced such profound pain since the start of his training. Now that he neared the end of it, it seemed silly that he felt equally tender. Rich was far from the same person he’d been when he arrived, after all. Grueling sessions studying hand to hand combat and different weaponry fully transformed the boy into a man. He’d led a rather posh life at home, never really exposed to any true hardships, so he arrived soft and weak. After a year’s worth of rigorous physical preparation, however, Richard now boasted a defined muscular physique fit to match that of those he hunted; he was a strapping specimen. [i ‘Then why,’] he wondered, [i ‘Do I feel like such a bloody pile of pulp?’]

The answer became clear as he noted the purple-black welts that were beginning to darken along his arms and legs. The swords with which they practiced were blunted for obvious safety reasons, but the blows that landed still hurt like the devil. [#4169E1 “Bastards,”] Rich mumbled under his breath as he reached for his linen shirt, wincing slightly as he did so.

Richard referenced two men simultaneously with the pejorative. The first was Arturo Moretti, the teacher with whom Richard had most of his interactions since arriving. He was a short, tan spitfire of a man who often favored playful cocky ridicule during their sessions, but he’d been far more severe during the last few weeks. It was as if he was intent on running his recruits into the ground. Drills were longer, harder, and without respite. No doubt he, like everyone else, was anxious about the upcoming commencement that loomed ever closer. With only two days before the final trials, it was clear that he wasn’t keen to allow anyone to fail under his tutelage and risk smearing his reputation.

The second man that Richard cursed was Erik van Kleve. They’d come into the Vatican around the same time, and soon became fast friends – if only because they appeared to be the outcasts of their class for one reason or another. As the underdogs, they had much to prove. The two men subsequently pushed one another to become better each day, giving their all in both study as well as sparring, quickly rising through the ranks at all levels. It was for that reason that, just as Richard was most often taking lessons with Arturo, he was also most often paired with Erik as a fighting partner. There were hardly any others skilled enough to be pitted against them, so they’d go against each other. The years’ worth of camaraderie was no saving grace either. And Erik was a merciless brute. Rich found that strength admirable, even if at times extremely painful.

Resolved to return the favor, Richard finished getting dressed by pulling on his trousers and a pair of worn leather boots. Just as he was readying himself to leave, he quickly doubled back to grab something off his bedside table. He slipped the twine over his dark hair, the small wooden symbol of a cross resting comfortably against his chest. It was meant to be worn at all times as a final means of protection, but the thing was so [i damn] itchy. So, Rich opted to keep it off during the night. With everything else fully accounted for, he exited the room.

It wasn’t long before the man was standing outside the door of Erick’s residence and pounding against it loudly with his fist. [#4169E1 “Get your arse up, van Kleve!”] Seldom a day went by that Rich let the German sleep in. He figured that if he was forced to be awake, then so too was his friend. Misery loved company. [#4169E1 “I’m headed down to the pinecone. I expect you to meet me there in ten minutes, or I’ll be back up with a bucket of ice water.”] It was hardly an empty threat since Rich had done it once before.

The ‘pinecone’ that Richard referred to was an expansive courtyard within the Vatican. It was so aptly named because of the large, bronze pinecone-shaped statue that decorated a vast niche in one of the walls at the end of the courtyard. Lush green lawns sprawled out in front of it, leaving plenty of space to maneuver for sparring. Behind the statue, tucked away out of sight, were a couple of antique armoires where the practice weapons were kept. Rich flung open the double doors of the one on the right to reveal a modest collection of smallswords, cutlasses, daggers, stakes, and a few pistols. Though guns were a generally more powerful weapon, there were so few in the mock-up armory because they presented very little danger to the enemy. It was useful to know how to use but would hardly be the weapon of choice in real combat. Less than enthused to be on the receiving end of more swordplay, Richard’s settled on using the stakes that morning. He grabbed two – again, both with blunted tips – and shut the doors.

As he was turning the corner from behind the statue, he could see Erik’s figure coming from the opposite end of the pitch. [#4169E1 “Morning,”] he called cheekily once the man was within hearing range. [#4169E1 “Slept well, I hope.”] Rich smirked, tossing the stake in the air, allowing it to flip several times before catching it deftly. Then, spinning suddenly, he slung the wooden weapon with great force toward his friend. It sped through the air, aimed directly at Erik’s chest followed by the words, [#4169E1 “Think fast!”]
EtherealEquinox[Erik]   124d ago

[center As of late it genuinely felt like that pure exhaustion was Erik’s perpetual state of being. No amount of sleep was ever enough. Sure, his lifestyle back home as being a part of a group of game hunters providing for his village was difficult. That kind of work put his body through a special type of hell. The constant travel, tracking, and killing of animals was enough on its own. But depending on how big they were, sometimes it was an absolute pain in the neck to break down and haul home. However, the skills the job imparted upon him were invaluable in Erik’s eyes. It gave him strength, endurance, a sharp eye, and swiftness with blades. He also felt very comfortable surviving in the woods by himself. Climbing trees and carrying tools of the trade and the meat it yielded conditioned him to rougher, more nomadic way of living. And Erik typically preferred this as he did not like being in a singular place for very long, although it was nice to have a home to go back to when he finished a hunting trip.]


[center Given the fact that he liked going from place to place he regularly found himself going stir crazy in the Vatican after being invited to participate in a training program for hunters of the undead. Before he had received his letter of invitation Erik had heard whispers of ferocious beasts in his hunting colleague circle. Some of the men claimed to have come face to face with a creature fiercer than any animal they had come across. Erik had not thought to take anything they said very seriously simply because he felt that he was more of a logical person. However, he did find what the others had to say were interesting. The Bavarian man found the gory tales of missing people and mutilation acting more like gruesome ghost stories while out in the mountainous forests. But these doubts certainly changed when Erik came home to find out that somebody near and dear to his heart had been mutilated and dumped on the outskirts of their village. It had been quite upsetting as it appeared that it was more brutal than just a simple murder. And the body was not the first to end up in such a state either.]


[center But in his bed Erik was sweating in his sleep, having a nightmare about what had happened back home. However, the uncomfortably warm anxiety was stopped dead in its tracks when the man found himself waking up to loud banging on the door of his Vatican dwellings. For a moment he couldn’t understand who was yelling and what even was being said. But the only person who really did this to him was Richard Morris. The Englishman really did have a lot of nerve, in Erik’s opinion. [b [i “Come in here and I will string you up by your ankles!”]] was the man’s immediate response when he processed what was happening. But as quickly as Richard was there, he was presumably gone as the yelling and assault on the door stopped. The man heaved himself to sit up in his bed, blinking to get his eyes adjusted to the sunlight seeping into his room. He certainly did not want to have to get soaked and then fight Richard at whatever hour in the morning it was. Erik was the farthest thing from a morning person, though. So, with great effort he actually got out of bed and went to wipe the nightmare sweat off his face. Erik could feel in his bones that today was going to be a long day. Regardless, he dressed casually and comfortably before pulling on his well-worn boots. He simply combed through and shook out his hair while walking out of his residence to make way down to the pinecone. He wasn’t so much scared of Richard’s wrath. But it was his pettiness that irritated Erik to no end.]


[center The actual walk to the pinecone was short, but Erik really tried to relish the simplicity and quiet of the atmosphere during the time he had to himself. The German felt that he wasn’t the most religious of men, but he was hoping to God that Richard wasn’t up to anything ridiculous. But upon approaching the pinecone Erik let out a heavy sigh, hearing the other’s cocky energy come out with his words. Instead of responding he stared dead at his comrade with an unwavering glare. And it didn’t take long for Erik to be on the receiving end of one of Rich’s early morning attacks. Was Erik excruciatingly tired? Yes. However, he still had working eyes. It was hard to miss what the Englishman was doing. Out of reflex Erik snatched the stake flying straight for his chest. [b “I would say that I will pray for you. But every day you give me a reason to gift you with express courier service to God to let Him sort you out.”] The German spoke. [b “Because I don’t know what makes you think it’s smart to try and do this before breakfast. I know you’re English, but that’s not an excuse.”] Erik was certainly vicious with his words in the morning, especially after being rudely awakened. He gestured at Richard with the stake he now possessed. [b “I would think that by now you would understand that I am a firm believer in making those lie in their own graves that they dig. You certainly would not be the first.”] the man spoke in a matter-of-fact tone.]


[center But Erik at his core didn’t actually hate his friend, though. He would never admit it, but Richard’s antics helped him stay sane being cooped up in the Vatican for so long. That didn’t pardon Rich from Erik’s retaliatory taunts. The German cleared his throat and adjusted his posture. [b “You absolutely can sod off, you pompous prick.”] Erik added, purposely imitating the other’s accent. Over the course of the last year this was a new skill Erik worked on purely for the comedy value of giving Richard shit. But he took a couple of leisurely strides, so he stood directly in front of his friend. Erik then took his stake and pressed the blunted tip against Richard’s chest in return for his attack. [b “So we can either squash this morning squabble to see who has to make breakfast. Or we can leave for the dining hall peacefully. It’s up to you whether or not you want your ass kicked yet again to start of your day…”]]
FushenRichard Morris   113d ago

It came as no surprise that the German was quick enough to stop Richard’s oncoming attack, but the Englishman feigned impressed incredulity all the same. This joking gesture clearly had no effect on Erik’s early morning foul mood, however. The other man wielded weapons that were not locked in the armoire armory with all the rest. Instead, they tumbled out of his mouth testily. And while they were not blades, they were equally as sharp. Whereas others might’ve withered beneath the words, Rich only grinned; they slid off his back like oil on water.

[#4169E1 “[i You?] Pray for [i me?]”] Richard pretended to clutch his pearls. [#4169E1 “And here I thought you weren’t a very religious man, van Kleve. I’m honored.”] To add to his dramatics, the Englishman delivered a mocking low bow. He made sure to keep his eyes up on his friend, however, just in case he saw fit to retaliate. Again, Erik only did so with his words. A threat this time. Followed by a near spot on imitation of Richard’s accent. Both of which made him laugh.

Erik was a bit of a wonder in that way. He could seem so stoic sometimes, ever soured by the stick lodged firmly up his arse. But he had a sense of humor that could shock when one least expected it. Richard liked this about the man. Laughter was the one thing the Vatican could use ample more of, in his opinion. Everything was otherwise so by-the-books. There was a sense of solemn severity that came with the task of protecting the innocent from the undead, of course, but that didn’t mean that everyone had to refrain from having fun with it. Richard was often scolded for this stance, but Erik was one of the few who enjoyed it. Or, at the very least, tolerated it.

 [#4169E1 “Oh, come off it. You wouldn’t want to go putting me into any grave.”] Richard kept a wary eye on Erik, but his tone remained lightly mischievous. [#4169E1 “You’d miss this ‘pompous prick’ too much.”] He gave the German a wink even as the man sauntered closer to press the stake into his chest. Rich’s gaze wandered down to the weapon slowly before looking back up at his friend. His opponent. The challenge was clearly written on the man’s face in answer to the ultimatum that Erik posed. Richard swatted the stake away and attacked.

[center ~~~]

Within fifteen minutes, Richard was lying on his back gasping for the air that had been knocked out of him while both wooden stakes pointed directly at his throat. Erik hovered over him, blood trickling down from his right nostril. Inexplicably, despite the pain and exhaustion, Rich’s smile still lingered. [#4169E1 “I… let you… win,”] he panted. [#4169E1 “Just… felt bad… for waking you… up.”] Lifting a hand, Rich used the cuff of his sleeve to swipe the blood from Erik’s upper lip. Sensing that this caught the German by surprise, with a mighty shove Rich used the momentary advantage to push Erik off and join him on the ground. Laughter rang throughout the empty courtyard.

Richard pushed himself up into a seated position, his knees propped up and his elbows extending his arms limply on top of them. He shook his head as his laughter died down. [#4169E1 “Hope you’re not too worried about your graduation, mate. You’ve certainly no reason to be. You fight like the devils we’re after.”] Not much was known about the graduation ceremony that the new hunter recruits faced. At least not by the recruits themselves. All the information they were given was simply that all aspects of their training would be put to the test. There was a rumor that the commencement even changed every year to keep the inductees on their toes, so there was no telling what they were supposed to expect. Therefore, it wasn’t uncommon for anxious nerves to run rampant throughout the complex the closer graduation came. Even at the top of the class with Erik, Richard could feel the pressure to perform creep up. But that was nothing an early morning sparring session couldn’t fix.

Rich’s hair stuck to his forehead slick with sweat. He swiped his fingers through it, combing it back and simultaneously sending beads of perspiration flying. With a grunt, he pushed himself to his feet, stretching out his newly aching back as he did so. Rubbing it gingerly, Rich collected the weapons, cleaned them, and placed them back where he’d found them. When he saw that Erik was still on the ground, he offered him a hand to help him up. [#4169E1 “Well, I’m a man of my word. And I’d say that was a fight worthy of whatever breakfast you’d like. So, what’ll it be today, van Kleve?”]
EtherealEquinox[Erik]   76d ago

[center Richard really knew how to push Erik’s buttons just right sometimes. And the German hated it. But he also refused to openly admit to such feelings. Some days called for more than just plain cursing the other man out. Today already felt like a day in which Erik wished to kick the Englishman’s chest in just to watch him writhe around breathlessly. And the snarky quips from Richard certainly were not aiding the other man’s survival rate. Not by a long shot at least. Erik felt like he was dead tired. And he was fairly confident this translated into the death glare the was giving. If Richard wanted to be an unrelenting smart ass then so be it.]


[center [b “Well, I have been spending my free time discussing how to live in the godliest way possible with Father Niklaus.”] Erik spoke, shifting his weight onto on foot. [b “Even though he is Swiss. God forbid he be anything other than neutral.”] the German rolled his eyes as he spoke of one of the exorcist priests in the Vatican. [b “But the good news for you is that I am almost never neutral! I will hog tie you like a game animal and throw you into the woods to starve, Richard.”] the man spoke flatly. [b “Or do you think you would have more fun playing a prey animal? Perhaps a good arrow to the knee to teach you a lesson?”,] Erik wondered out loud, still firmly holding the stake’s point against Richard’s chest, [b “Do feel free to chime in here because I am just musing out loud here at this point.”] Erik sighed.]


[center Erik’s general persona was suspiciously ruthless in the eyes of their peers. There had been rumors all throughout training that he had definitely killed at least one human before. And while the German knew the truth, he was not inclined to dispel the cloud of speculation he had at the Vatican. This was in contrast to Richard who was cracking some type of joke or engaging in some kind of unexpected altercation or shenanigans that made at least one person laugh. Even if that one person was himself. Erik really had no idea how Arturo dealt with the Englishman as his pupil. Arturo really did seem like he had the patience of a saint, but the brutality of a demon. That appeared to be a common theme floating around the training programs at the Vatican.]


[center The thought of Richard’s mentor made Erik reflect on his own teacher; Kristina. Much like himself, Kristina hailed from the Kingdom of Bavaria. But this woman was as tall as most men and was certainly a wall of a human being compared to other woman of the time, even by Erik’s standards in his home village. That was in combination of her being an immeasurably brutal mentor. From day one she was running her batch of recruits into the ground. Kristina made it very clear that if they did not like her being their mentor that they needed to quit. If they thought she was going to cut them slack? They needed to quit. She did not tolerate what she perceived as weakness among her ranks and threatened often early on in the process that she would expel them if she believed they did not have what it took to become vampire hunters. Erik could recall many a time that he witnessed Kristina criticizing Arturo’s methods saying that he was being ‘too soft’ with the new blood. Erik knew for a fact that Kristina could and would eat Richard for breakfast. In the German’s mind it was blessing that Richard did not directly have to train under Kristina’s tutelage. But has unforgiving as she was, she was efficient. And she prided herself on the hunters she had been able to train over the years.]


[center But Erik’s mind was directly brought back into the present times when Richard chose to take an offensive route and attack him, leading to yet another one of their hand-to-hand spar sessions. Part of Kristina’s regime is that you cannot look at your opponent as a person. The need to disregard any bit of another’s humanity was quite difficult even for Erik during training because they were fighting each other, not the undead. But often times he employed his hunter mindset that when in spars. He treated it like it was a fight for his life every time. And Kristina didn’t care just how handsy he got. As long as he settled his scores and didn’t interrupt some Vatican function, she let him spar as he pleased outside of training. So, this particular morning battle with Richard was not much different. However, he did actually get a hefty kick to the man’s chest in before pinning him with stakes at Richard’s throat. Erik had knelt down for this just so he could stare into the other’s eyes to instill maximum ‘I will end you’ feeling to the tussle.]


[center [b “I do not need the pity of a spoiled Englishman.”] Erik remarked, voice low and accent thick. But he was indeed caught off guard when said Englishman raised a hand to wipe away leakage from a gentle nosebleed Erik had acquired. He did not know why the man would do that for him. He was perfectly capable of caring for himself. But it was not until he was stumbling back and landing on his own ass that he realized the caring gesture was a clever ploy to distract him. [b “Always a fox with your clever tricks, Richard. Good on you.”] Erik nodded. While the German certainly had pride, he also felt comfortable enough to recognize Richard’s cunning skill. That he could at least respect.]


[center Soon enough, though, Erik followed suit with sitting up, looking over at Richard to listen to what he had to say. The compliment made Erik cock his head slightly off to the side. [b “I think we all have a reason why we are here to fight. If the devil is who we are after, then he is going to have to deal with the giant chip on my shoulder.”] the man huffed in response. [b “But I have to give it to you, your craftiness never ceases to impress me. I also think you will do just fine with graduation.”] Erik nodded, genuinely feeling like Richard would make a fine hunter in grand scheme of things. But the man decided that he was going to take his sweet time to collect himself before getting back up again as Richard decided to be a busy bee and tidy everything up. The last thing he expected, though, was for a helping hand to be reached out to him to assist in getting him back on his feet. Erik accepted the gesture nonetheless and heaved himself up in the process. In return the German gave Richard a hand on the shoulder, contemplating what he would have wanted for breakfast.]


[center With his hand still resting on Richard’s shoulder Erik leaned slightly. [b “I could go for a good plate of peppered scrambled eggs, wurst, and buttered bread.”] he explained with a hand gesture to emphasize just how good he thought it sounded. That was honestly a typical breakfast for him back at home and he was quite homesick, so he definitely wanted something that could quell both his hunger and longing for home. Stepping away from Richard, Erik stood in contemplation before looking back at his training companion. [b “Although that must sound incredibly basic to your tastes?”] he smirked, knowing that food preferences have always been a friendly point of contention between them for the past year. [b “You probably much prefer your scones and morning tea, yeah?”] he asked with Richard’s imitation accent. [b “You know, long live the queen, or whatever you all ramble on about over there.”] Erik rolled his eyes. It was ironic because they had a king where he was from, but Erik was fairly anti-royalist since he did not see the purpose and use that the royal family served. He was just waiting for the day that Bavaria was annexed by Prussia to further expand the German empire. Either way he did not quite care for all the politicking that sort of business entailed. He just knew that he didn’t like the current king and that it was just a matter of time before the larger force of Prussia took control.]


[center But with the chatter aside Erik decided to lead the way to the kitchens because his stomach was going to get angry if it didn’t get some sustenance soon before the day of grueling training truly got started. [b “I don’t know what Arturo has planned for you and your group today, but I know Kristina is going to absolutely run us into the ground with final drills because according to her ‘training never ends, even after graduation.’”] Erik admitted. [b “I heard that she is enlisting the help of the exorcists that are not out on assignment to hide themselves all over the city. And that we not only have to fight them but bring them back like we are on an actual hunt.”] Erik was quite interested in the endeavor although he knew it was going to be a long ordeal because the exorcists literally fought like it was the devil they were after. [b “And we all know Kristina already gave them permission to use deadly force as necessary. Because if we die now then clearly we are not meant to graduate.”] he laughed a bit. He thought of his mentor as completely ruthless even though it was with a purpose. Part of Erik appreciated the woman’s approach to teaching; however, it still blew his mind even a year later just how callous she was about anything, her students included.]


[center The German then went about to gathering the cooking implements necessary to get both of them breakfast. The man was silent as he did this, quiet with his contemplation because with all jokes aside the final test to graduate loomed above him like a heavy, dark cloud. He wanted to know what the test was going to entail, but everyone in the Vatican refused to let any information about this year’s test slip. [b “I know that after graduation, though, I am going back to my home village to clean up the clear mess we have going on there. I will finally be able to help clean house and help everyone rest easier at night.”] Erik pondered aloud. He then glanced over at his friend for a moment. [b “You have had a year to think about what you are going to do, Richard? After you get out of here, what do you think you will do first?...”]]
FushenRichard Morris   50d ago

The morning spar and the rare compliment from the German had a bright grin widening Richard’s cheeks as he helped Erik to his feet. The sullen man was likely to cut him down rather than build him up more often than not, so Rich accepted the nicety gratefully. But not humbly. [#4169E1 “You’re absolutely right. I suppose I am pretty impressive, aren’t I? Cheers, mate. I knew you’d come round to the idea of it sooner or later.”] He laughed at the resulting scowl these words inspired. No doubt Erik was wishing he’d held his tongue. Rather than undermine the praise, however, he simply leaned against Richard’s shoulder and told him what his palate craved for breakfast. Followed of course with a witty jab about the Englishman’s own tastes.

Richard shook his head as he followed his friend out of the courtyard toward the kitchens. [#4169E1 “We don’t toast to the queen every time we have tea and scones, you know. Besides, that combo [i is] incredibly basic. Once we’ve washed our hands of this place, I’ll have to culture you some with a real English fry up. In fact, it’s not too far off from your mountain man meal. Keep the sausage, egg, and bread, but add bacon, hash, mushrooms, tomatoes, beans, and blood pudding to the mix. Now there’s a fine breakfast!”] Drool was all but pooling at Richard’s mouth as he envisioned the heavenly spread hot and ready awaiting him in his family’s dining room. Individually, each component of the meal wasn’t much to sneeze at but eaten all together was enough to inspire deep sleep for at least five hours after consumption. While nothing nearly as excessive was served for meals in the Vatican, Richard hastened his pace to the kitchens all the same. The thought of food of any kind had set his stomach rumbling.

As they walked, he distracted himself from his hunger by listening to proposed lesson plan that Kristina had in store for Erik’s group that day. Firm was the hand that wielded the whip over the heads of the German’s fellow recruits. Or so Richard had heard, anyways. Kristina was infamous for being a hardened brute of a woman with a penchant for pain. No mercy, no sympathy. There was some argument about whether her methods were too tough, whether she was simply overcompensating for being born a woman in a male-dominated trade. But the bitch bred fighters. Strong ones. So, there was no real rush to rein her in either. While there was no question that her tutelage produced some of the best hunters, Richard did not envy Erik his assigned mentor. He’d never seen once her crack a smile and from that observation alone he was certain they’d have made an ill pair forever at odds. At least Arturo had a sense of humor about him.

[#4169E1 “That bird needs a break from this place more than anyone else here, if you ask me,”] Richard commented. [#4169E1 “Running ragged all over the city I guess I can understand, but bringing your charges back? What’s the point? If it was me out there for real, I’d kill the bastard as soon as I saw him and be done with it.”] There was a darkened edge to Richard’s voice that seldom made an appearance. It was only likely to arise whenever he made serious mention of the creatures they hunted. Just as quickly as the shadows crossed his features, however, he lightened once again. [#4169E1 “But far be it from me to know how to best exhaust you lot. Just do your best not to die out there.”] He clapped a hand to Erik’s back encouragingly.

[#4169E1 “I think Arturo is walking us through fighting with injuries today or something along those lines.”] He shrugged, uncertain what that could possibly entail. Arturo had failed to give them much information on what he’d meant about this upcoming training drill. It seemed like a redundant lesson to teach though in Richard’s opinion. The recruits typically sustained injuries in regular sparring sessions already. What more was the man going to do, chop a limb off to see how they fared? [#4169E1 “I really can’t imagine him wanting to bloody us up too much before graduation,”] he mused in response to his own thoughts. [#4169E1 “Seems to me that would be counterintuitive to getting us to pass. So, we’ll see.”]

The two reached the kitchens not long after the conversation about their respective mentors ended. Silence spanned the distance between them as Erik broke away to gather the necessary cooking tools. Richard did not mind this. Having spent the better part of a year by the other man’s side, the quiet was comfortable as opposed to awkward. He leaned against one of the countertops as Erik busied himself, arms crossed over his chest, and his gaze focused on one of the windows. Only the clattering of pots and pans filled the still air. With his chin tilted upward towards the rays of streaming sun, eyes gently shut to bask in the warm beams, even in his simple clothes he looked like a very pampered cat without a care in the world.

At Erik’s voice, he started slightly. He had dozed off. The restless nights quickly took their toll if Richard didn’t always keep himself busy. Acting as though he hadn’t been nodding, Richard pushed himself from the counter and met his friend in front of the breakfast ingredients he’d gathered. The man plucked four eggs from the open carton, two in each hand, and cracked them expertly over a glass bowl. Not a single sliver of shell slipped in. After tossing the freshly emptied eggshells, he began to season and then whisk the mixture with a fork. Simultaneously, he set a fire to the stovetop, put a skillet on, and started searing several links of bratwursts.

Having spent plenty of idle time at home while his parents worked, a younger Richard Morris often found friendship and company with the only other adults that occupied his house: the help. Though they were often instructed not to fraternize with the boy, they were hard-pressed to resist his charm and antics. In any case, the best kinds of fun were those that were forbidden. So, Richard learned the art of many of their trades. He certainly wasn’t a master of all of them – his sewing was shoddy work at best – but he could get by on his own well enough when others weren’t readily available to do things for him.

In answer to Erik’s question, he coolly said, [#4169E1 “Some demon wreaking havoc back in your hometown too then, hm? I’ve the same situation. And now, a personal score to settle.”] He moved the German sausages onto a serviette once they were done in order to help soak up the grease. Then, he dumped the eggs into the still hot pan to cook, shuffling them around with a spatula every now and again. [#4169E1 “So, I’ll be eager to get back, see my folks, kill a fiend. Typical homecoming, you know.”] The laugh that followed was a dry one. With the eggs now scrambled, Richard divvied up the portions onto two separate plates, followed by the sausage links, and finally a slice of buttered bread for each man. He shut off the stovetop, wiped his hands on a nearby towel, and handed a plate to Erik.

[#4169E1 “And voila! Eat up and enjoy.”] Prompted by the dull clawing of hunger aching at his insides, Rich dug right into the food without hesitation. The eggs were just slightly underdone, leaving them creamy in texture and accented by the liberal amounts of pepper. The sausage, on the other hand, were left on the skillet longer than necessary which resulted in a crunchy char on the outer layer while the inside remained tenderly juicy. And the buttered bread was thick, which made for a handy tool for sopping up extra grease as well as delivering the food in perfectly proportioned bites from plate to mouth. It was a good, hearty meal. Even if it wasn’t a full English fry up.

Richard finished his meal before Erik did and set about tidying up the used dishes. He waggled an eyebrow playfully at his counterpart. [#4169E1 “How do the spoils of victory taste then? As good as home?”] It was clear that the man was just fishing for another compliment. [#4169E1 “Even better perhaps? I’d wager the cooking back in your village has surely dipped some if you’ve got a wild beast running around out there. They make for awful distractions, those things.”] He tsk’d his tongue lightly, as if scolding an unfortunate, but minor accident. In reality, of course, he knew only all too well that the consequences were far more severe. Thinking then that the casual air with which he mentioned it might be some cause for offense on Erik’s part, he suddenly sobered. [#4169E1 “What sort of mess does that leave you with when you return then? I don’t know that I ever did hear about why you came here in the first place.”] Richard finished cleaning, drying, and returning the dishes to their respective cabinets. Then, leaning against the counter once more, turned his fully undivided attention to the German, looking expectant.


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