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In the Middle of the Night

By EtherealEquinox
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For Fushen & I
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FushenRichard Morris   244d 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]   236d 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   225d 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]   188d 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   162d 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.
EtherealEquinox[Erik]   61d ago

[center The Englishman’s response regarding his country’s reigning queen actually got a form of a laugh out of Erik. [b “I don’t know how you expect me to know that, though. I have literally never been to England in my life. You know I hate boats.”] the German grumbled, automatically not liking even the idea of setting foot on a boat. Sure, he could swim just fine. But being on a boat of any kind made Erik horrifically ill. It was never pretty, hence why he avoided any and all travel by boat as much as possible. [b “I am perfectly fine riding by horse or walking to where I need to go, thank you.”] he nodded his head to emphasize his statement. But then Richard mentioned his ideal food items for a meal and Erik couldn’t help but shake his head. [b “Hash?? We have already established this, Richard. They’re potatoes. Maybe take note from your Irish neighbors. I hear they know all about that.”] the Bavarian man rolled his eyes. [b “Or better yet ask your favorite person in the entire world, Oisin, about it. I’m sure he’d love your curiosities.”] Erik spoke, words dripping with sarcasm. From their very first days of training Oisin, an Irishman, made it very clear that he did not like Richard. Some days Oisin went out of his way to make Richard’s day miserable. Other days he didn’t even want to give Richard’s existence recognition. Even under Kristina’s tutelage Oisin was a very hot or cold person.]


[center [b “Or even Charlemagne. Sometimes with how you two talk about each other I’d think you were an old married couple.”] Erik added as an extra jab. Charlemagne, or Charlie to a select few, was a French winemaker who hated any English person purely ‘based on principle’. However, Charlemagne reserved his dislike for spar sessions mostly. But he was not immune to lashing out with some comment about how Richard was a spoiled brat and giving him the occasional ‘V’ hand gesture in passing. [b “Kind of makes me wonder what the world would be like if you English folk kept your noses out of everybody’s business.”] Erik mused. He honestly found Oisin and Charlemagne ganging up on Richard pretty funny. But Erik often stepped in to break up squabbles as to not disturb the peaceful sanctity of the Vatican and to be adults. Did this earn him some dislike from their classmates? Absolutely. But Erik had long since made the decision that he was not there to make friends. Therefore, couldn’t care less what Oisin or Charlemagne had to say about him.]


[center [b “I don’t understand her sometimes. All I know is that I am lucky to have already known to never cross an angry German woman. Apparently everyone else had to learn through trial by fire.”] the man shrugged. [b “She said the only reason why we can’t kill them is that they’re actually exorcists that the Vatican needs. But apparently these exorcists truly don’t fear anything because they think this is a sport at this point.”] Erik shook his head. [b “Eh, if I die, then clearly I didn’t do a good enough job. But we shall see what happens.”] the man mentioned casually. He was not all that worried about his wellbeing during today’s exercise. The man was just hopeful that he’d be successful in bringing back one such exorcist without much fuss. [b “But best of luck to you. Especially with Charlemagne in your group. He’s quite short, but his agility is remarkable at this stage.”]]


[center But in the kitchen Erik was content with minding his own before striking up conversation again over the well earned breakfast meal. Pushing around bits of egg on his plate the German responded with a simple, [b “Isn’t that what we’re all here for in the end, though? To settle a score? To get closure. Claim revenge, whatever you may want to call it.”] the man added. Everyone had their own unique story here at the Vatican, but the reason why they all signed up for training could boil down to the same reason or two. But when the Englishman talked about a homecoming Erik looked up from his plate. [b “Absolutely. You know, putting the undead back where they belong and all that.”] accompanied by the slightest of smirks. Their humor while quite different found similarities in being dark and/or sarcastic.]


[center But, the other man’s comments on what he thought about the food caught his attention. [b “For one, nobody on this planet can top my Oma’s cooking, thank you. My Mutti comes in a very close second automatically. Although we all kind of cook for each other in my village. One helping another type of business.”] And he was about to tack on another comment in retaliation for Richard’s fleeting disrespect to the grave situation in which his home village faced. The backpedaling Richard did made Erik contemplate what he was really facing upon his return home and even brought him to the Vatican in the first place. These thoughts made Erik reach deep into the breast pocket of his buttoned shirt and pulled out a few worn photographs. He looked through the small pieces and put one particular photo back in his pocket. The others he set out on the table for Richard to look at. One was of Erik and his brothers all dressed and ready for Oktoberfest celebrations, clearly in the midst of drunkenly laughing at God knows what, causing some blur in the photograph. Another was a portrait of Erik gingerly holding a little girl who was sitting on his knee, her delicate braids secured with pieces of ribbon. The child was hiding her face in Erik’s chest but had peeked out at just the right moment. In the photo the man’s gaze was directed down at the child but was soft with a paternal sweetness. Another was a more formal family portrait of Erik and his brothers all standing behind their mother and father seated in front of them.]


[center [b “One of my brothers is why I am here. Albert.”] Erik noted, pointing out Albert among the brotherly and family portrait. Albert was clearly the most lively of all the brothers just by the glint in his eye and tearful expression from laughing so hard. [b “He is the father of this little girl, Viktoria. And she loved him to death like no other. She was her father’s shadow. They were practically inseparable.”] the German sighed, thinking about his niece back home. [b “I love my niece more than I can express, but she fought so hard with her small body so I wouldn’t leave to come here.”] Erik could remember Viktoria’s desperate shrieks as her mother peeled her off him when he was leaving the village. [b “But she fought so hard because Albert, her father, had been found slaughtered on the outskirts near dense forest.”] The man sighed heavily. [b “Albert has been one in the string of many slaughters over the past few months. Of course, everyone is mourning the loss. Our mother has taken it quite hard. But his daughter Viktoria completely changed when she realized her father wasn’t coming home.”] He then gathered the photos and neatly tucked them back into his pocket and buttoned it shut.]


[center [b “While I am here to be able to stop whatever is terrorizing my village. I am also selfish in wanting to bring down whatever took my brother from us. He was far too young and ambitious to have been snuffed out like that."] the male commented before going back to finishing his food, the conversation served as a sobering reminder why it was so important that he pass the final test to graduate in the coming days. [b “And honestly I’m pretty sure Viktoria hates me for leaving, but I can only hope that she’ll come to understand with time since she’s still young.”] He couldn’t begin to imagine how Viktoria felt while was physically clinging to him like her life depended on it. [b “But I’ll be sure to braid her hair and go flower and berry picking as much as I can with her when I go home.”] As the man spoke Erik figured the image of doing such activities was probably comedic to an outsider’s perspective, and likely Richard’s as well. But the more he thought about his niece, the more his heart ached knowing how hurt she felt. [b “I know that all sounds alien coming from me, participating in children’s activities, but my nieces and nephews are everything to me. They may not be my children, but I certainly treat them as such.”] And that was as close Erik was willing to get to outright admitting he had a soft spot for anything.]


[center But, his gaze shifted up and locked with Richard’s as if to indicate the seriousness of what was to come next bearing an ever-silent threat. [b “I hear the others talk about feeling homesick. And frankly, I [i really] want to go home. I actually miss getting raided by the children all running errands for their parents. I miss the mountain air. I miss sitting outside beside a bonfire and just staring up at the stars at night. By myself and with select people. And while I hate it in the moment, I miss my mother nagging me because I smelled like death coming home fresh from a hunting trip.”] the man huffed, getting some feelings off of his chest. [b “Then there’s the men here talking about their wives waiting for them at home. Like Charlemagne. He seems like a genuinely doting husband based on how he speaks of his wife Nadine. That kind of talk, though, I cannot grasp. I’m not married, nor have I been doing any ‘courting’ as the supposed proper people call it. But all of the banter about spouses makes me feel quite isolated. Definitely makes me want to go home even more.”] Erik quietly mused before he refocused. [b “I know everyone says I’m too much of an asshole to ever marry, but if I hear you even whisper about this , you can kiss your ass goodbye.”] the German added, covering his bases.]


[center After breakfast was done, Erik assigned himself the task of cleaning up, so the kitchens were damn near spotless by the time others arrive, especially the nuns. He was not about to be the one to piss off an Italian nun because he dirtied her cookware and didn’t clean it up. [b “I may be from the Alps, but I’m not a barbarian, unlike what some people here might say.”] he chuckled a bit. So many things have happened at the Vatican since his initial arrival, Erik felt like he might actually miss it when he left. But he was simultaneously itching to get the hell out of there with the swiftness. The man’s thoughts were also lingering on what training exercise that Kristina was going to have them doing that day. Erik found himself to be fairly familiar with the exorcist priests at the Vatican. There were a few that he didn’t quite agree with, but most he could actually bare being around if the occasion called for it.]


[center [b “While it has been a wonderfully aggravating morning with you, Richard, I must go get properly dressed for the day’s activities. Because I will be damned if I get dragged back by these exorcists who are just taking the piss out of us for fun.”] Erik grumbled. Over the past year he spent listening to the Englishman speak, the German never could catch himself when Richard’s turn of phrases rolled off his own tongue. For those who did catch this, it was cause for some taunting because of how the two were almost always found together since the beginning of training. So, for Erik to be talking like Richard, albeit with a distinctly German accent, made for interesting conversation amongst their classmates. [b “I don’t know if we’ll be back and done for lunch, but worst comes to worst we can reconvene for dinner. Discuss the woes of the day and all of that.”] Erik added with a casual wave of the hand. [b “Don’t get your ass kicked too much, though. The nuns and I can only do so much to help you.”] the man said with a final little side eye before making an exit out of the kitchens.]


[center Erik was preoccupied preparing for his day whilst Kristina was busy greeting and speaking with a fellow alumni of the program. The man she was speaking to was both feared and respected by most hunters who had a sense of a brain. The hunter was both infamous and famous in the eyes the Vatican. He had been a part of the class that Kristina and Arturo had been in. But as the years had gone by, Valentin, an Austrian, took no interest to teaching. However, he did make the occasional visit when he wasn’t busy working just to scare the shit out of the new blood and to also say hello to his old classmates. But Valentin was usually known as The Black Death to those who didn’t personally know him and to the covens of vampires he often snuffed out with a terrifying swiftness. Valentin’s penchant for tracking, baiting, and exterminating the undead, even at night, made him a prized graduate by the Vatican’s standards. His moniker coming from the time of the actual plague was given through groups of other hunters across Europe as Valentin usually kept his true identity close to his chest. Only a select few knew Valentin by his actual name and not just his nickname.]


[center Kristina respected this, though, as he was one of the handful of people she actually had a healthy respect and fear of. She could recall the many times that they fought and just how vicious he was even as a recruit. At least in her mind she could remember a handful of times where Valentin absolutely bordered on hand delivering her soul to God. And those fights were always the roughest to recover from. Kristina knew she couldn’t speak for Arturo, but during training it seemed that Valentin did not hold back with his opponents regardless of their gender. Kristina just knew Valentin was violently efficient. And she was willing to bet good money that Arturo also had some stories about what it was like training alongside a person who was taller than doorways and just dwarfed most of what was around him. And this just so happened to be one of the days that Valentin made one of his unannounced visits since his schedule allowed it.]


[center Kristina was not expecting Valentin to stick around for long, but the Austrian did want to see Arturo and rough up the upcoming graduates for fun. The German woman didn’t see anything wrong with this. While Valentin was definitely more experienced than the Vatican’s latest hunters in training, Kristina found it to always be a learning opportunity to experience the unexpected and how to outsmart a larger opponent given that Valentin was a bit over 213 centimeters last he said.  However, Kristina did not know, nor did she care much, who it was that Valentin chose to harass that day. Her only stipulation was that Valentin not actually kill her students simply because she knew of his brutality. [#900 “The only thing I will hope for you if you kill one of my pupils is that you have already made peace with your God.”] the woman said plainly, but with locked eye contact. This only made Valentin laugh. [#03a82d “If you are going to threaten me, Kristina, at least say it with conviction. Your thinly veiled threats really do not do much for you.”] he taunted, tone cool and even. [#900 I knew you were vicious, but I never took you to be a masochist.”] she rolled her eyes exceptionally hard. This comment elicited a snort from Valentin. [#03a82d “If only you knew the truth then, hm?”] It was almost like a game between the two to see who could get the other to back down first. But Kristina simply crossed her arms over her chest. [#900 “You’re about as blood thirsty as the undead, I know. Or does the big bad Black Death need a pat on the back [i that] badly?”] The two then got as close to a joint laughter by huffing air out of their noses simultaneously.]


[center [#03a82d “Well, since Arturo wants to be a ghost and not say hello, please give him my regards. In the meantime, I’m going to see which of your precious children I can find.”] Valentin straightened his posture before turning on his heel. As he was walking away he spotted Richard, which made Valentin stop. The Austrian then looked around for a moment and turned his gaze back to the other man. [#03a82d “Where’s your little pretzel munching friend, Morris?”] Valentin inquired, referring to Erik. [#03a82d “You two are practically married with how I always see you together when I visit. Is van Kleve too busy for you now? [i Must be a right shame, innit?]”] Valentin was no different in mocking Richard for him being English. The only difference it seemed like from others in the current class was that Valentin did not actually have a dislike of English people. He found them to be quite funny and entertaining to be around, particularly in a pub setting. [#03a82d “Keep your head on a swivel, Morris. Also, tell Arturo I would like a proper greeting from an old friend.”] was how Valentin bid the other adieu and going about his business, albeit with a slightly different mission in mind now. He did not have grief with Richard. But Valentin sure as hell did with Erik because the German refused to stop speaking poorly upon being Austrian. It truly was a weird circle of conflict.]


[center Kristina seemed to make light work on sharpening her own weapons by the Pinecone area, waiting for her students to return with an exorcist in tow or to be brought back by the exorcists themselves. And it was a slow trickle effect. One by one her pupils would check in to confirm the completion of their main assigned task that day. Although, there were a small number of those who were delivered battered and bruised by the Vatican’s exorcist. Kristina could only shake her head in disapproval, pointing at her students with a dagger in hand reprimanding them for still being so weak so close to graduation. While she was not yelling at them, her speech was deceptively bored. [#900 “They might as well have killed you. What is the point of trying to pass through commencement if you cannot even hunt down a human being? How can we expect you to put down the undead if you cannot even complete this simple task? Now you are here wasting [i my] time groaning and moaning on about how you are hurt. Save your sniveling for your parents and confessionals, not me. And you call yourself men? [i Pathetic.]”] While internally she was fuming because truly. How can these few students who failed be expected to survive long enough to support the cause of depleting the number of vampires that existed? Sometimes the longevity of a student genuinely surprised Kristina. How they could last so long was truly a mystery sometimes.]


[center For the most part, though, she was fairly pleased by her class. A majority faired just fine, as she expected. However, she couldn’t help but wonder what was taking Erik so long. In Kristina’s opinion, the fellow Bavarian was usually the swiftest with his work. He had never been the very last one to finish what she assigned. For the trainees who were successful she asked if Erik had been spotted around during their exercise, but none could confirm the man’s whereabouts. That in itself wasn’t entirely unusual since Erik was very good at concealing himself when he wanted to. Kristina ended up pacing about the Pinecone area. Her students that were not too badly maimed hung about the outskirts out of curiosity, chatting amongst each other since they also were wondering what the hell was going on with Erik. And the outcome of Kristina pacing was usually either terrible or amazing. The trainees had no way to tell which one it was going to be.]


[center Some of Kristina’s pupils even were wondering if they should approach Arturo to see what he had to say. But as soon as that idea began to circulate there had been a distant commotion heard. It sounded extremely aggressive with the sounds of at least two men yelling at each other, although what was being exchanged couldn’t be identified. As it drew closer Kristina could hear that it was all a mishmash of some of the most seething German that could be spoken. And it was then she knew exactly what was going on. Then it even began to dawn on the other trainees what was happening. Valentin had found Erik, and the two were deep in a struggle with one another and it sounded like the yelling and sounds of hasty footfalls were approaching the Pinecone. Quickly Erik came into view, bloody and running with a knife in hand. The trickle of a bloody nose from his spar with Richard earlier that day turned into a bloody faucet out of both nostrils. He also had a decent cut on his cheek that was not doing him any favors along with other lacerations that turned his clothes into a splattered mess. Not far behind Erik was Valentin who also did not look well but was equally pissed off. The Austrian had a pretty disgusting split lip, cuts all over, and just as soiled of an outfit as Erik.]


[center Kristina’s expression had turned from one of concern to surprise as she watched Erik run like his life depended on it. And it looked like it really did in the moment. They had been beating the shit out of each other and chasing the other around all day. Valentin had not planned to go so far, but Erik of course had gotten mouthier than the Austrian cared to listen to. Thu, their current round of fisticuffs was in a stage of pursuit. However, fatigue was getting to Erik because Valentin was quick to close the distance in a few strides before violently snatching Erik by the back of his shirt collar. The German then found himself getting choked out by his shirt while already low on air from running so damn much. And as quickly as that happened Erik could feel the razor thin blade of Valentin’s dagger against his neck. For a split second he was surprised by the predicament, but he was winding up to stab Valentin himself. But Kristina swiftly strode up and slapped the back of Erik’s head and back handed Valentin in a singular fluid motion. Erik already had enough of a splitting headache at that point and dropped his weapon, Valentin’s clattering onto the ground as he redirected his attention to Kristina.]


[center Upon being released from being choked out by Valentin, Erik crumpled to the ground into a hacking heap as he regained is ability to breathe. This was coupled with having to spit out blood every few breaths while Kristina chastised the two of them for being so disruptive in the Vatican. However, Erik really did not hear much of what Kristina had to say over the insults Valentin was cursing him with. The German was just trying to form coherent thoughts through the sharp pain in his face and head in general. Erik couldn’t tell if Valentin broke his nose or not. But what he did know was that Valentin was a massive asshole in the grand scheme of things. But Erik did his best to get himself back on his feet regardless. He turned to face both Valentin and Kristina only to get hit with a, [#03a82d “And what are going to do? Go home and cry to your little boyfriend about it?”] from Valentin. And almost as quickly as those words left the man’s mouth Erik spat blood in the other’s face. [#900 “Valentin, you need to get the hell out of here. Make yourself useful somewhere else because your petty vendetta is not needed here. Erik, get your shit together and clean yourself up, you’re soiling the courtyard. We will talk later.”] Kristina sternly intervened.]


[center And for a minute that felt like an eternity there was a tense silence in the air that was prone to burst again at any moment. Erik was shaking with rage and adrenaline, but he pushed his feelings down and moved to walk away as Kristina pushed Valentin to go in the opposite direction. Erik’s newest objective was to clean up and assess the damage and see if anything was something he could fix himself or if he would need to see Dr. Riedl, one of the physicians the Vatican had on grounds for everyone; hunters, exorcists, priests, nuns, etc. Erik had no idea if he would be able to make it to dinner with Richard despite having previously planned on it earlier. But with how everyone loved to talk about each other’s business within the program, Erik was sure the incident with Valentin would circulate promptly. For now, the dazed German just wanted to get ahold of a basin of water to begin the arduous cleanup process while muttering things like [b [i “Jesus Christ”]] and [b [i “What the fuck”]] to himself…]


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