Cado-Angelus/Days of Deception
From Unofficial Handbook of the Virtue Universe
Days of Deception: A Collaboration
Day One: September 16th
It was dawn and Cado stood just outside the walls of Paragon City, at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, atop a high cliff. It had been quite some time since he'd flown over the Atlantic. It would take him at least two days with a short break between to arrive on the shores of Portugal. He stretched his wings out and took one last look at the land he would not be seeing again for at least another two weeks and dove. His wings caught the air current and he flew, beating to rise in the air, gliding until he needed to lift up again to preserve the strength within them. He would need to keep this up until he found a place to stop close to sundown.
For hours, he flew and not much changed. Every few hours, he came across a set of rocks coming up from the ocean, but none of them were large enough to hold him, nor was it near dark enough to stop. After some time, it became difficult for Cado to keep himself awake and once, he almost crashed into a sharp rock protruding unusually high from the water. He surmised that his weariness was caused by him beating his wings, the uniform nature of the water, and the lack of company to occupy his attention with. Finally, as the sun was about to set, he spotted a large rock to settle on for the night.
He slowed himself and landed on the rock, but despite his previous bouts of tiredness, he could not bring himself to sleep for a number of hours. So, he just sat, thinking about what Xan was doing at that very moment. He hoped he hadn't brought her into something that would put her in too far over her head. In the back of his mind, he thought about what she'd be doing over the next few weeks, the men--specifically his "father" and Roane. He knew, though, that he had told her to do whatever was necessary, and it was just business. Finally, he managed to slow his mind enough to close his eyes and fall asleep.
He saw himself standing behind his parents, Xan on her knees with her hands on the back of her head. She was looking up at his parents and another figure emerged behind her, a pistol at the back of her head. The figure was Roane. She made no protests and as Roane was about to pull the trigger, a tidal wave rushed over them.
Day Two: September 17th
Immediately, Cado awoke, a large wave having washed over him. A nightmare. He hadn't had one of those in years. Something about Xan had brought up things in him that he had hardly ever possessed, if ever at all. But, it was hard for him to say if it was a bad thing - he couldn't say yet. However, the wave managed to avoid crashing over his wings for the most part. He stood up and began to fly, using the same routine as he did on the previous day. He supposed he was about eight hours away from the city of Lagos in Portugal. From there he'd travel over land to a small mountain prison in eastern Romania, where he assumed the man he'd been searching for was being held.
When he finally landed in Lagos, he began rooting around for a place to eat. It had been over 24 hours since he last ate. He didn't get too far, though, before he began getting looks, no doubt due to his appearance. But, no one ever acted further than just to stare. Cado ignored it; he'd gotten used to it since his time as a warrior for his parents. Sleep hadn't come easy the previous night and he needed it, so he decided to spend the rest of the day there, even though it was early in the afternoon.
Although he was getting strange looks from the people, he managed to acquire a room to stay in where he sat in silence for hours, hardly moving. His thoughts switched between the future's tasks and where Xan was and what she was doing. After some time, he began to grow hungry again and ate the food that he'd brought back with him from before. He took out a piece of paper and a pen he'd carried along as well. In his lap, both remained, unused, until he rolled over and went to sleep.
Day Three: September 18th
Another restless night, but no nightmares. When he awoke, it was just barely past dawn. He walked out into the open air and felt the cool sea breeze across his skin. He walked around town, searching for a tall enough building to take off from, and when he did, he climbed up it, beat his wings and prepared to leave. He expected to land at his destination shortly before sundown. His route, fairly direct, would take him over Spain, south of Madrid and almost directly over Barcelona. Then he would cross over Italy in the northern half, but south of the Alps, over Firenze (Florence), and then finally take him over Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro, until he arrived in Romania, just east of the city of Brasov.
His flight took about as long as he'd anticipated and, this time around, there was less fighting of weariness. There was more for Cado to pay attention to than just an open ocean and busied himself with mundane games, like how many bodies of water he saw in an hour.
It was dark when he arrived at the mountain-top settlement. Snow covered the ground, the wind was biting, and the temperature below zero. Normally it would have required layers, but Cado had a high tolerance for cold temperatures. He decided to land near the gate so as to not cause any unneeded chaos. A guard spoke to Cado in Romanian. It had been a while, but Cado knew Romanian from a previous visit and responded.
"What is your business here?" the guard had asked.
"I wish a place to stay, and I also wish to speak to a prisoner of yours in the morning," Cado answered.
The guard contemplated this and nodded, "I'll see what I can do," he said, again in Romanian. He led Cado to a dark and cold shack, turning on a single bulb as soon as entering, "I apologize for the cold, but it doesn't seem to bother you."
"No. I have a high tolerance. Can I request that someone wake me in the morning?" a question to which the guard nodded. "Thank you. At dawn." The guard nodded again and left, allowing Cado to light a fireplace to heat up the shack. He took out his pen and paper and began writing a letter to Xan:
I hope this letter finds you well. I have arrived at the mountain settlement where the man I seek is being held. I imagine that this letter won't reach your hands for at least another few days, if ever. I just want you to know that I arrived safely and am doing well. I sincerely hope that the same can be said of you. I wish you nothing of the best and I'll be seeing you soon.
He paused and decided it not best to sign either Cado or Matthew, so he signed it Lucas Danoge an anagram for Cado Angelus.
It was too late to send out the letter for the night, so he set it and the pen on a bedside table, allowing the fire to die down before he turned off the light and had sleep overtake him.
Day Four: September 19th
By the time a guard came around to wake Cado up, his eyes were already open and he was sitting up in his bed. He looked over and saw both the written letter and the pen just where he had left them the previous night. Why should they not be? Maybe it was to make sure this whole thing had not been a dream. To him, it had sure felt like it. It was still hard for him to believe that he had met a girl that he cared for and that cared for him in return. She did care for him. She was helping him with this, how could she not? The whole thing was still very surreal, but Cado wasn't going to try anything to ruin it.
Letter in hand, Cado exited the shack and got his bearings. The town of Brasov was west of where he was now. He found the westernmost edge and flew down the mountain into the town of Brasov. There, he found the post office to deliver his letter. But, all he could do for a time was stand with the letter in his hand, thinking about what this letter meant. Would Xan receive it? Was it safe to send out this letter? Would anybody at the estate know to give it to her? Then his mind drifted back to one of the last conversations he'd had with her before leaving. It was clear to him that she felt he was limited by his worries, and this was no different.
Finally, he dropped his letter in the outbox and headed back up the mountain. The man he needed to speak to was Russian. His name was Danil Kuznetsov. The man had been KGB and was no stranger to 'negotiation' tactics. But, Cado had a feeling that the information he needed wasn't sensitive enough for him to keep his mouth shut for too long.
He arranged a visit with Danil and met with him in his cell. Kuznetsov was cuffed, in case he tried anything. The two conversed in Russian - another language Cado knew, even though it had been a while since he spoke it, like with Romanian.
"Good morning Danil."
"You are the last person I'd expect to see here, fallen angel." Danil sneered as he said this. It was unexpected: When last Cado and Danil 'met', Cado was not the way he was now. His hair was white, his wings were white, and his markings were blue. Perhaps Danil could see these things, or perhaps he just had strong deductive skills.
"I need some information from you." Cado said.
"Of course you do. Why else would you travel all this way to get here?"
"When we first met, you said something about the son of Michael. Tell me, were you talking about me being the son of the archangel Michael?"
"Questioning your roots, I see. Let me tell you something. For thousands of years, angels have had earthborn children, but the children are usually well-kept secrets. Most of these children aren't even aware of their patronage. That is, unless something... 'persuaded' you to believe otherwise. I'm curious now as to why you think you're the son of Michael. There are many who look like you, but have no patronage such as that."
Cado snarled and stood up, "That is none of your business! My reasons and my suspicions are my own. I need you to either confirm or deny what I believe to be true."
"It is true. Your father is the archangel Michael. But, you are not the only one to have him as a father. In fact, I believe your 'friend' to be in contact with another of Michael's children."
A shouting came from outside and they both looked. Danil chuckled, "These people are not your allies. You better hope they haven't radioed out your location. They're going to try and capture you, and if that doesn't work, they're going to kill you."
"I've fought worse." Cado looked around before slamming a fist into the side of the wall, behind Kuznetsov. The shouting got louder and the bullets flew. The next few minutes were a haze, but by the time it was over, the air was silent and the snow beneath his feet was soaked red.
Kuznetsov strolled out of the hole in the wall of his cell and smiled at Cado, "We'll be seeing each other again real soon. I can feel it."
Cado then decided to go back into Brasov, where it wasn't quite so cold. There he stayed for the rest of the day, thinking about what Kuznetsov had said, about there being others. One of them was with Xan. Did she know about it? Could this person be trusted? So many questions still raced through Cado's thoughts. Questions that he could not yet answer - a fact that was driving him mad.
Day Five: September 20th
Cado awoke to the sound of a horn. He had fallen asleep in the street, and a truck had stopped. He stood up and looked around. It was still dark, but he guessed it was not long until dawn.
He stepped out of the street and began to head out of town. The man, Kuznetsov had disappeared. There was no doubt in his mind that they were going to meet again. And he had a feeling that this meeting would not be a friendly one. After all, Cado was the reason he'd been in a mountain prison for ten years. But, he couldn't worry about that now.
Leaving Brasov, Cado had a few places that he needed to go - places from his past. He needed some time to think about everything he'd done and all he'd been through before arriving in the Etoile Isles.
His first stop was a place in southwestern Turkey. It had been the first place he'd ever been overseas; his first task for his so-called 'parents'. It was the first time he'd really witnessed the bloodshed and the horror that came with the life he was to live.
He waited outside of Brasov until dawn arrived, and then he took off. Most of what he flew over for the next six hours was land, much of which was mountains. He landed at his destination, the closest city being Tefenn.
As he walked over his first battleground, his memories came to life. He had been just a young boy, fighting against grown men, but he'd felt no fear. His training and conditioning had kept him from it. He was tasked to destroy (or convert) a cult that had killed numerous people from Tefenn. The men had laughed at Cado - then known as Matthew and told him to go away. Despite his insistence, the men continued to laugh, so he was given no choice but to kill them.
They believed themselves to have powers, but the only one who truly did was the cult leader. But, even his powers of earth control could not stand up to Cado, and he emerged from his first battle victorious.
This is where it had all began. This is where he started to fight for what he believed, at the time, to be the right thing. He should've realized that what he was doing was not the right thing. Cado was still unsure as to whether the cult had actually killed those people, but it didn't matter. Not everyone there had been a bad person, he was sure. Not all of them deserved death. It had been ten years since that day. Ten years of fighting and killing and occasionally time for relaxation and pleasure, but those were rare.
He sat in quiet contemplation, running the whole situation over and over again in his mind, trying to figure if there had been an alternative. Then, Xan's words came into his mind about him limiting himself. He didn't want to be what he had been before. He needed to limit himself, or people would be in danger, innocent lives, the lives of the few people he cared about. If he didn't limit himself, people who didn't deserve to die would die.
Another thing Xan said resonated with Cado, though, and he now regretted it: He had not stood up to his parents. If he had, perhaps all of this could've been avoided. He knew he was stronger than his parents, but yet, he refused to stand up to them. He supposed that it had been because, after some time, he believed that what was being taught to him, what he was fighting for, had been right.
The day ended with him silently sitting on the piece of earth where he'd made his first kill, his mind drifting from that day, to Xan and then his thoughts finally went away as he fell into a lying position and fell asleep.
Day One: September 16th
A large estate just outside the city limits of Philadelphia awaited Xan. The estate was square with high stone walls surrounding it, and at each corner and between each corner (except for at the front), there were towers that were double the height of the walls; the whole thing was reminiscent of a prison or a concentration camp. Atop the walls were turrets of varying size and functionality. They quietly stood by as they moved from side to side. And in each tower stood a sniper, their eyes fixed on Xan's arrival. The cobblestone path Xan walked on led to a heavy metal gate--the only break in the otherwise fully stone walls. As she approached it, she took notice of a number pad, and above it, an automated voice spoke out.
"Please input code. The user has ten seconds to input first number. Then the user has ten more seconds to complete the code. Failure to do so will result in the activation of the automated defenses."
The turrets turned toward Xan, preparing to open-fire should she not be able to enter in the code received off Ravenyx. She put in the code 0-7-1-7-8-6, however, the metal gates clicked and began to open. There were four sets of heavy metal doors that opened before the gate was fully granted her access. Stepping into the fortress a large courtyard sat before her, leading to the main home. On her left and right were open, grassy areas with stone buildings further on, not connected to the main home amd suggesting more that the establishment was closer to an old fort rather than a prison. However, based on the open layout near the gate it could be safely assumed that there was more than one line of defense. Looking up, it would be difficult to make out, but there were two snipers already carefully aiming at Xan.
A large and heavily scarred man stepped almost immediately up to her, as if there were some sort of invisible door that obscured her vision from him that he opened and proceeded through. He spoke roughly, "State your name and state your business."
July 17th. 1986. Matthew's birthday. I haven't forgotten, she thought to herself after taking a moment to look back on her startling entrance.
I certainly hope he's all right... wherever he is.
If there was one thing she noticed particularly, it was the silence and the echo of her boots against the pathway. She'd heard it at least one hundred times before, but in the moment that sound was her only friend. There were eyes upon her, she knew. Well, intuition said there were and perhaps it was her paranoia patting her on the back, but she'd been absolutely sure she saw them, ready and willing to fire had she given herself away.
In hand with that, she realised that even with the gruff voice before her, she was on the border of lacking. She'd failed to ask for the names of his 'parents'. Was it nerves, overconfidence, or a subconscious desire to plummet herself into death and utter failure? It was a little too late to think of that now. She'd need to be sly and improvise.
And come to think of it, they were probably expecting Ravenyx to return. They'd be surprised when they found out that their magically enhanced (or in other words, possessed) entity had been replaced with a young woman who had no obvious inherent abilities of the sort.
What would Umbra do?
Funny that she'd asked herself about him, of all people. This kind of thing seemed to be right up his aisle though, and between the two of them, he'd always been the more clever. She was deceptive, however, and had done her fair share of lying and withholding information. Perhaps she wouldn't perform so poorly. After all, she was like the amazing prince in all of those childish faerie tales she loved so much.
"Lexan," she finally replied, thinking it sounded more like a car manufacturer than a name. It'd have to do for the time being.
Xan glanced around casually, nonchalantly, or so it would have seemed. That was what the visor was for. Her next words were the careful ones, given plenty of consideration before their use, and she was ready for any consequence that might have come her way as a result.
"I am on the heated trail of one man. I believe you know him as 'Cado'."
The man turned around for a moment and on his back a blade suddenly appeared, much in the same way he himself had. There had been no hint of it before he turned, but with his back to her, she could now see it. However, he seemed to be subtly threatening her with the weapon as he turned. Even as that may have been, he put the threat under the guise of a stand-down order; a dismissive wave of his hand. The snipers came full into view and resumed their patrol atop the roof of the main home.
He turned around swiftly, evidence of the sword disappearing again and sneered, "Cado. Yes. Cado Angelus. Fallen Angel. We know him better as 'Matthew Keller'. I am suspicious of you, but I'm sure you'll get a chance to prove yourself to the masters of the estate: David and Laura Keller. If you are unsuccessful or take too long, I've already been given orders to kill you should I feel it necessary." He paced slowly around Xan, hardly moving his gaze off of her, "And I must say, I do look forward to killing you. Or if you do prove your worth, I look forward to finding out what else you can do." He chuckled, "But, this is wasting our time. They're waiting for you. I suggest you don't keep them waiting too long. They are not very patient people."
As he finished his last sentence, a smile grew on his face and he turned away, taking his spot next to the stairs, and rested his hands behind his back. The man kept his eyes on Xan even as he disappeared again. As Xan went toward the main home, she noticed a square in the center of the courtyard, set to look exactly like the rest of it, but when stepped on, it sounded suspiciously hollow underneath, as if there were something hidden below.
Everything on the outside appeared to have been made out of stone or wood except for the metal gates. It all seemed very peculiar, though, as if each structure were hiding something more within. It was not, however, something readily visible. When Xan stepped through the door of the main home, she was greeted by a tall, lean, bearded man and a shorter, attractive woman with dark hair. The interior of the home was very elegant; thick, expensive carpets covered the floors, various paintings covered the walls, and elegant red drapes covered the windows, making the interior of the house quite dark, despite the light outside of the home.
It was safely assumed that these two were the parents. The woman reached her hand out while the man folded his arms over his chest, and she greeted Xan cheerfully, though appeared to be a bit of malice behind her words, hidden fairly well, "Hello! I certainly hope Roane didn't give you too much trouble. He's only doing his job." She paused and motioned to the man to her right, "This is David, and I'm Laura. We're the owners of this beautiful estate. We have some questions for you, first and foremost is your name."
In the moment the man from before—Roane, as Matthew's 'mother' had been so kind to inform—had drawn his sword, Xan's heart had slowly begun to inch her way from the chest. There was no way to deny that a part of her wasn't the least bit intimidated. Of course, she'd seen scarier things and she'd had men pull their weapons on her before. She'd even had more than one do such a thing at the same time. What was one more man?
Briefly, she thought back to what Cado told her about Roane.
He likes women, alcohol, and blood. I laughed about it then because two out of the three things he and I can agree on. The third is something I have plenty of experience with.
She wondered for only a moment as she replayed Roane's words in her head, if those eyes of his were his versions of lewd. She hadn't put aside what he said. He was interested in what else she could do. It was a part of her obligation to get on his good side, which meant playing up to the part. She'd begun to question how much of it was really a 'part' and how much of it was her mother's genetic deception poking through.
What would Bellona think if she knew about all of this? On second thought, she probably already knew, because that woman knew everything. And little by little, Xan was learning everything, too.
Faced with Cado's—Matthew's (for the sake of making things easier, she referred to him as 'Cado' in her head)—parents, she lifted a hand and tapped the right earring dangling from her ear, as though to remind herself to keep a cool head about the situation.
There were many things to keep in consideration. There was Roane, who she knew would be watching her every move, waiting for her to slip up, and a good assassin—a good mercenary—never slipped up. There was the square in the courtyard, the one that made noise and instantly garnered Xan's suspicion. (She'd need to remember to check it later during the evening when everyone had gone to slumber. Fortunately for her, her apparel was dark enough to camoflauge her, as far as she knew. If not, she'd have a lot of explaining to do.)
And there were his parents. She looked first to his father, David, and began to ponder if he, at all, looked like her own. She could not remember her father, but was under the sinking feeling that she was never given the opportunity to meet him. She simply had yet to figure out why that was. He did not seem to be a man who was in need of physical affection, but surely she knew better than that. All men, all people required some form of intimate attention. He was a good deal older than her, however, she figured—someone more or less appropriate for her mother and not for her.
As long as I keep him in my heart, he will not be disappointed in what I choose to do. He understands that this is my job and I must do whatever is necessary to be successful. My personal feelings are not invested in this. All of this... It is to help Matthew.
She looked onto his mother, Laura. She was beautiful. Xan thought she was so pretty, that she was a little envious. However, Xan had never thought much of her own physical looks and there was no surprise when she foung that every other woman in the world was ten times more becoming. Perhaps slutty. Perhaps skanky. But all the same more becoming. Now was not the time to think on such things. If she thought too much, they would immediately pry into her and with too much pressure, she was very well aware she would snap into two and the results would be disastrous.
This Laura, beautiful and cunning. Xan and her would speak the same language. She would need to find a way to appeal to her senses. All women had weaknesses, though. It was simply a matter of finding the one that really reached into the soul. It would not be an easy task.
She was attentive, everlastingly hanging onto every word without seeming too eager or anxious, but a healthy balance between professionalism and insane enthusiasm. Her posture was straight, a hand slid behind her back momentarily, partially a militaristic stance that she'd often taken with the Watchers and situations that required her utmost dedication and loyalty. She looked between the two parents again and from the corners of her eyes, she took in the condition of the house and it's luxuriant vibes.
It was like a prison. It may have been a fortress. It may have been a classy estate, but Xan felt like nothing more than a beautiful bird trapped within a cage. Certainly Cado must have experienced the same thing. She could not blame him at the least for wanting to escape. She would have done the same, even at the cost of her own life. Living in captivity was far worse than liberating one's self and unfortunately succumbing to the embrace of the less lively.
"He's charming," she spoke in a neutral tone, indicating Roane.
She knew full well that she was better off saying only the important things and being concise, she made no effort to indulge in small conversation. She was there for a reason and she would go to every length possible to make that blatantly clear for them. Xan was no princess present for the ball. She was there for work—and if it called for it, a little inadvertent pleasure.
She gestured over herself once and then rigidly bowed respectfully. If there was one thing Xan knew how to do, it was how to be elegant, refined, noble, and to carry herself with an amazing amount of grace.
"My name is Lexan. Please, inquire of me as you wish."
And I'm certain I'm the very last thing you expected to see here.
Laura continued with her deceptive smile, "Lexan? What a lovely name." The man to her right, her husband, had hardly moved. His gaze lingered quietly on Xan and hard to read, but it was certainly one that gave off an air of being unimpressed. Laura continued to speak, "I would first like to know how you came to hear of our son and our estate. We lost contact with one of our hunters - Ravenyx. Do you know anything about that?"
From behind, a man in black and gold armor came through the door - the armor obscured all of his body, including his face, and a gold glow came from his arms and his head. He stood patiently behind the three while they conversed, hardly making his presence known.
And there it was. They'd mentioned Ravenyx. What did she decide again? In the role of an assassin, it was a competitive business. You made a reputation for yourself by the jobs you took and your success. Obviously the more success meant the better and incomparable public image. You couldn't get anywhere by just letting other people take your jobs and potential clients.
Xan lifted a hand and she straightened her gloves confidently. Her expression hardened, but the only thing that shared it was the tightening of her lips in that disdain. Then she tipped her head and looked between David and Laura before she stopped on the latter. She thought about lifting her visor and abruptly stopped herself. There was a possibility they'd recognise her later and that had to be prevented at all costs.
"I took him out," was the blatant response she gave, not a single ounce of regret. It wasn't not really a lie, after all. She did take him out. She and Cado both, but that part was staying a secret. "When I found out he'd been sent to do something so important, I decided he wasn't fit for it. I'll be taking his position rightfully."
Arrogant. She knew it, but that was the way things rolled when it came to assassinations. If Xan was going to play the game, she might as well have given it her all. The door opened behind her and she refrained from jumping the way she wanted to. She didn't look over her shoulder, however. She needed the confidence to show she had nothing to hide. And really, as long as she was stretching the truth, she might as well have attempted to remain convincing.
She looked back between Cado's parents. What else were they expecting out of her and how much more would she disappoint them? Xan was almost certain she didn't want the answers to those.
Laura took next to no time in order to formulate her response, "And I assume you found out through Ravenyx, one way or another. You have begun to impress me already," She paused, her expression becoming more serious, "But I'm still not convinced. You'll forgive me, but it's not often we get unexpected visitors such as this. Had we known, we would have prepared a test for you. We're going to need a day to create one. Meet us back here at three in the afternoon. Do not be late, Lexan. In the meantime, feel free to familiarize yourself with the grounds." She motioned to the man in armor behind Xan, "Terarch will show you to where you'll be staying."
The man in the armor, Terarch, nodded respectfully once Xan turned to him and motioned for her to follow. After leaving the main home, he led her across a smaller cobblestone path to the right of the main house. Throughout the short journey, he remained silent until they come upon a long, two-story stone structure. He opened the door and waits for her to enter first before he followed her in.
Inside appeared to be some sort of lobby. There were chairs and a dining table near a currently unlit fire place, as well as a refrigerator, oven, and dishwasher. The man spoke for the first time, his voice surprisingly youthful, "Your room is upstairs. Number four."
He watched her for a few moments, or it was assumed that he was, his eyes obscured from her vision, and then he looked around to make sure no one was around to hear them, "But, before you do that. Sit." He motioned toward the dining table.
Terarch. She assumed it was the man behind her. Xan nodded once. It was an eloquent gesture and she turned to give a look to the one indicated.
She'd been silent for the entirety that she followed him, mostly thinking about what kind of test the two would give her and if she'd succeed. She had to prove her worth. She knew it was coming, however, and it came as no surprise. Cado said it anyway. The only thing that remained was wondering about what was to come. There was no sense in worrying too much about something she couldn't exactly foretell.
Her eyebrows lifted. She got to stay in a lovely place. A lovely cell that she'd have to fight to get herself out of. She wasn't looking forward to it and inwardly hoped it wouldn't be entirely too taxing. There'd been no way to predict that either, though. Xan was officially caught between a rock and a hard place, and this time it wasn't between `Lucent and a wall in Cimerora.
She mouthed his words silently to herself. Number four. The room is number four.
Looking over to Terarch, she eyed him very carefully. Surely she would have be on her best behaviour around him as well, which meant no relinquishing any personal information about herself. And anything she had to say needed to be nothing more than an artificial story for the situation.
And without a single protest, she moved to the table, drew out a chair, and sits, prim and proper. It'd... been a while since she'd been somewhere that was so incredibly fine. It was too fine for her. Xan hardly fit in and it's painfully apparent.
"Yes?" she asked him with the concealed loft of a brow.
Terarch sat across from Xan and leaned back in his chair and spoke calmly, almost lazily, and the words that came out of his mouth were sure to come as a surprise, to say the least, to Xan, "I don't know exactly who you are, but I do know why you're here. Why you're really here. It's not a coincidence that Ravenyx goes to the Rogue Isles and within a few weeks, drops off the radar. I don't doubt that you did take down Ravenyx, but I don't think you did it by yourself. And that brings me to this question: Where might Cado be?" He paused, "Of course, I don't expect you to answer that question without me first proving to you that you can trust me."
And when he finished speaking, he put his hands on either side of his helmet and lifted it up off his head. Underneath, his face was young and his head was covered in long blond hair and a goatee covered his chin. But it was what was on his face that likely grabbed Xan's attention. On his face were gold markings, appearing identical to the ones on Cado's, but covered his entire face. He spoke simply after that, "I am his brother, and I would like to help you."
Xan's blood ran cold and she was quick to reach for her axe before raising it forward. Tense arms held it toward Terarch. He knew. He knew about her, knew about what she was really up to, and knew too much. He knew enough that Xan was more than ready to kill him in that moment.
Until he claimed to be Cado's brother. Cado's 'family', however, had not exactly proven themselves worthy of being referred to as a... 'family'. As a result, Xan was apprehensive to think well of anyone who claimed to be a member of his family, especially someone who claimed to be so close as a brother.
She gritted her teeth a little and sucked in a sharp breath, remaining stationary and well about on her guard. Her head turned slightly to cast a scouting glance around, "You'll forgive me if I'm not likely to jump on the idea of you helping me when I've heard what 'family' is like on this end. You'll have to do better than that in the next few seconds before I decide you're a threat to my security and need to die."
Terarch made no attempt to stop Xan, perhaps a surprise to her. He chuckled, "I'm afraid you don't understand. I'm not an adopted brother. I am Cado's blood brother. Perhaps half-brother, but I am certain we share a father - a story for another time. I'm here to find out what I can about Cado and help him. I've been here for... a while now. I've lost track of time, but I've gained his parents' trust. I've been waiting for someone like you, however. Someone who knows where he is and how I can reach him. You're here to find out about the estate. I know about the estate. And the way I see it, words don't mean much, do they? You can give me a chance to help you and prove I'm not your enemy. After all, I'm the only one in here willing to help you. If things get too thick, so to speak, it'd be nice to have someone like me on your side. But if you still don't believe me, you can still try and strike me down."
He paused and motioned to a sword lying just barely within his reach, leaning against the wall, "But, I'm not going down without a fight. I don't think you will, though. If you kill me, things could get bad for you. A newcomer arrives on the estate and within a few hours, someone who's trusted greatly by the owners is murdered? That doesn't do good for your cover."
Cado's blood brother. Cado had never said a word to Xan about anything like it. The situation took a few moments for her to wrap her head around. She replayed the current scenario over again and pointed out the outstanding number of mistakes she'd made. Her irrationality was going to get her killed if she wasn't careful and analysing it all, she had to note she needed to work on some things.
If Terarch was being genuine, however, then it meant he'd come in handy. He'd surely been hiding under the noses of David and Laura for a good amount of time. He won her respect for that alone if for nothing else. And she had to admit that he did look a little like Cado. Not a lot, but a little. The handsome features she saw in her employer were present in his face—aside from the endearing markings. (Or not so endearing in some cases.)
Her axe remained a few moments longer as he spoke and on the inside, anxiety was having a field day with her. Calm, composed Xan was a façade. Calm, composed Xan was artificial. Calm, composed Xan was nothing the way Xan naturally was and only a select few had been allowed to see her so raw. Brother or not, Terarch would not be added to those single digits. Finally, she took his words in good faith.
In hindsight, if he'd actually been an enemy, like Roane, he would have struck her down immediately the moment she implied (not with words, but rather actions) that he was not altogether wrong. She had not denied that she's there to help Cado, or that she had help in taking Ravenyx down.
"...Hm," she mustered up some form of sound of acknowledgment before lowering her axe, though still not hiding it away just yet. "All very valid. If you were really so interested in getting rid of me, you wouldn't waste your time with idle chatter. Or it could very well be that you just want something out of me."
...Tell me it's not another guy I need to sleep with for informational purposes, she silently groaned to herself. This man seems different, however. Shame, too. I'd rather sleep with him than either of the potential requirements.
"I'm assuming that isn't the case," she corrected herself after a moment and slipped her axe into the safe confines from where she withdrew it. Then a hand raised and flicked at her shortened hair, "So you want to help me, and you want me to help you. You're right, Terarch. I need information. You need to see Cado. If you stay around me long enough, I can guarantee that you'll do exactly that."
Then she glanced past him and folded her arms across her chest, "While I have tons of questions for you, perhaps now isn't the best time to ask them. I'm sure we'll have more time to be alone together. It seems I'll be here for a while as I prove my use to the 'parents' you share with Cado." Then she tipped her head forward, unamused, "Or is there something else you need to tell me?"
Terarch let a smirk play across his face, "These people are not my adopted parents as they are Cado's. I'm here to help my brother. But, at the moment, there's nothing else to tell you. You aren't the only one with a cover to keep up. Especially for how long it's been for me. It wouldn't be good for me to blow it. But, you should be careful. I've learned that Laura never tells you everything and she always knows more than what she lets on. And Roane, well, he's smarter than he pretends to be, but he's not the same. If he doesn't like you, he'll let you know. As for David, he's not much of a threat as long as you don't make him angry - which is easier said than done."
He stood back up, helmet still in hand, that was until he put it back on over his head. It once more obscured his face completely from her. He leaned over and picked up his sword and attached it back to his armor. "You're free to go about as you like for the rest of the day, just be careful where you tread while security's watching. Should anything be requested of you by the owners, I'll come find you." He nodded and, without waiting for any response, opened the door and headed back down the cobblestone path he first led her down.
Off he went, without another sound in her direction, leaving Xan to wonder in all of her confusion why he'd been doing this for so long and what he was getting out of it. How many people had he killed? How many unsuspecting victims had been lured into David and Laura's estate, never to escape?
What, exactly, had Alexandra Trine gotten herself into?
She bit into her lower lip as she turned to look around the dining room. It wasn't as nice as the main house, but still pleasant and not something she'd been particularly against having as her environment for the next couple of weeks at least.
She moved carefully away from the table into the direction of the stairs. Her room was number four. And upstairs. Even through everything that had happened, she'd managed to somehow remember it all. Stopping in the doorway, she examined her living quarters, wondered idly how long she'd be trapped in them, and thought back on everything she'd left behind in Rhode Island and the Isles.
What was Plum doing? Likely eating donuts, she imagined. Eddie was probably still working on his reading and writing. Albert and Rey were hard at work as always. Jayden was giving the kind of advice people couldn't get anywhere else. And the others... Xan was certain they were doing everything they could to pass the time. Maybe two weeks would seem like nothing to them. She shuddered at the very thought of returning home to see Albert chide her for taking off and not publicly announcing it.
Except she wasn't running from anything this time. She'd just simply been doing a job. It was no different than Sky and his work for Imperious out in Cimerora. There was absolutely no reason that she should get into any sort of trouble.
As long as she didn't lose her head or get the Watchers involved.
Feeling around her suit, she withdrew the communication device `Lucent offered her before her departure. What was he doing? Flirting with every feminine creature in the nightclubs she imagined. It was almost depressing, but she was hoping the best for him. Funny how she could speak into it and maybe, just maybe, she'd be able to hear him, but there was no guarantee of it working all the way out there. So she tucked it away in silent reverence.
"Well," she offered an idle shrug, mostly to herself. "Might as well get comfortable for the night. I bet things quiet down after the stars come out. I'll take a break for now."
Inching over to her bed, surprisingly more comfortable than the ones in the manor, she sunk into it in contemplation.
Just... one, little nap...
Upstairs, the doors were spaced further apart than a normal hotel, and there were rooms all along three of the four walls of the structure with six doors on each of the longer walls and three on the shorter wall. As promised by the distance between each door, the room was large and, though not as extravagant as the main home, it was perfectly elegant in its own regard. Immediately to her left was a bathroom, followed by a couch and table. Further along there was a large bed sitting in the center of the room. On the wall was a standard analog clock. The window, when opened, revealed a decidedly unpleasant view of one of the outer security walls.
It would be easily noticed that there was no television in the room. In fact, there'd been no signs of television or radio since arriving. It seemed that she was totally cut off from the outside world, save for written letters. How did David and Laura keep in touch with their hunters? How long had Terarch been there, cut off?
The rest of the day passed while Xan slept without any noticeable incident, except for on two separate occasions, a large bell rang, but it was clearly not to tell the time, as each time it rang, it struck three times. And between each time, it had been more than one hour's time.
The sleep was a restless one, though to expect anything but would be a tad silly and ridiculous. Once again, Xan knew partially what to expect from her visit, from her extended stay, and had an inkling of the rules she was bound to. Most of it hadn't come as a surprise.
Perhaps it was the environment, or perhaps it was simply personal feelings, but even in her dreams (or nightmares as would be more accurate), there was an inescapable feeling of solitude. She enjoyed hers from time to time, but the sensation really only led to loneliness and a type of despair she hadn't experienced before. It sat upon her shoulders and weighed her down, and it was hard to be upbeat and confident about the entire situation.
Still, while time had felt as though it was moving absolutely nowhere, the afternoon came and went, beckoning nighttime to sit at her feet and only when she turned onto her side and brought her eyes to the window to absolutely nowhere wonderful, did she notice how black the sky had become. She'd almost slept through it all. Had she been so tired out by her own anxious antics? They were certainly exhausting and she could deny such. It seemed unprofessional to be so controlled by petty things, however.
As quiet as she could possibly be, for she knew not how many people were staying in the other rooms, she donned her suit again and inched down the hall. Over creaking stairs (or perhaps that was her imagination) she inched, feeling less and less like a woman who acted on the behalf of all things righteous and more like a felon. Through the door Terarch had shown her before and out into the night, careful to press herself to each obstacle along the way.
She anticipated nightly patrols and in the back of her mind, wondered why she didn't ask Terarch when she had the chance. She'd simply have to ask him later, assuming she remained alive by the point 'later' arrived. All in all, there would be patrols, she was certain, and she would need to avoid them. As she moved, she edged along warily, careful to make only the sounds that were necessary and to bite back all of the others.
The courtyard. She had to find the courtyard and that single square which left an uneasy knot in the pit of her stomach.
Around the square in the courtyard was completely deserted. There had been no patrols around. Perhaps they were off somewhere else for the moment. The square was heavy, not unexpected, as it was made of stone. The hole led downward with a metal ladder. Even being quiet and careful, it still made noise, but hopefully not enough for any to hear.
At the bottom, it was completely black, save for a few slivers of light, hinting at a doorway guarding a lit room or hallway. In front of her, there was a door. Listening quietly, there were no signs of anyone behind it. The door itself was heavy, but surprisingly quiet.
Further ahead was a long hallway, lit by a single 60-watt bulb. Lining the ceiling and walls were pipes, some of them leaking. It was much more rustic and rundown compared to the rest of the estate. People must not have gone down there all that often.
Continuing further along, she found another door that opened up to a dark room. Above her, voices sounded quietly. It was hard to make out what they were saying, but it was safe to assume that she was underneath the main home and the voices were those of David and Laura. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness around her, she noticed strange objects along either side of her. Upon closer inspection, she discovered that they were mechanical constructs. Robots, or suits of powered armor. But, inactive, as though they were waiting for something.
Above her, the voices got louder, but they were still difficult to make out. Somebody murmured and then silence followed. She then heard the stone square she'd previously opened being lifted up once more, followed swiftly by a loud thump and the stone square closing again. What had that all been about? Was there someone down here with her?
Quick! What do I do?
Panicking seemed to be the first on her list of priorities before she firmly took a hold of what she could not see and forced herself to calm down. It would do absolutely no good to lose her head or put herself in more danger than she'd likely already gotten herself into.
There was a reason people didn't often snoop around, after all, and the chances of something terrible happening increased by thirty fold. She was the queen of irrational actions in the present, almost everything she did and said being something she wouldn't normally. Maybe the others would have been proud of her for such a thing. And on second thought, maybe they'd be just as quick to turn, point a finger in her direction, and tell her she was being stupid.
Ah, yes. It was probably the last option, unfortunately.
Racing further down—if even possible—seemed less than wise. Even with finally being able to make things out in the never-ending ebony air, she knew herself well enough that she'd simply dash along with little care or consideration. She'd have to be something other than herself. She'd have to do something else that was not like her for her own sake.
So she stayed put. Instead of simply being in the middle of whatever pathway she'd stood on, she stepped off and forced her way into the constructs. She'd seen tons of those, she thought, in her trips through Paragon. It was officially gratitude she felt for Cata and Marcasite, even for as strange as both of them seemed to be.
Perhaps if she was lucky, however, if someone came after her, they wouldn't see her in the mess of inactive androids. Of course, the second choice remained that should she have needed to, the axe was available. Hopefully, whoever it could have been wasn't one of the most important people around the estate.
Or maybe it was Terarch. Suddenly seeing him didn't seem like the most terrible thing to happen either.
Footsteps approached. They were heavy, heavier than Terarch's. She heard him go through the first metal door and march through the long hallway. The footsteps stopped right next to the second door, right by Xan and the lights flicked on. The door opened slowly with the flat side of it between Xan and the figure, obscuring her vision from the figure.
The door closed revealing it to, indeed, be Terarch, but he was carrying a body over his shoulder. He didn't realize Xan was there at first and set the body down in front of one of the suits before turning around. He stopped in his tracks and spoke quietly so the people above him couldn't hear, "What are you doing here? You're lucky I wasn't someone else. You came incredibly close to being killed."
Her heart pounded, became a drum calling her to the fields of battle, and as the footsteps approached... closer and closer... she was certain she'd been found out and that she'd soon find herself on the wrong end of a sword. (Not that there was a 'right' end, mind you.) The steps paused beside her and she was not thinking of her last moments. There were no visits throughout her life, mostly because a lot of her life was blatantly blank. Instead, she'd only thought she wanted to die quickly and not long and drawn out.
But she heard his voice and she smiled. She literally smiled gratefully and there were no words in any language that could possibly get across her thankfulness appropriately. At least, if there were they hadn't actually been written yet, so she had no idea how to express herself.
"Terarch!" she exclaimed quietly.
Her tone was in whispers, for him alone and she made no mistake in what she saw, however, and found that though curiosity had a chance of slaying her, it was imperative to understand what was going on. There was something else about the estate, something that perhaps Cado didn't know. It was a part of her obligation to figure those things out and report back to him.
Of course, she was still assuming she'd walk right on out reasonably vertical and breathing.
"I'll answer your question when you answer mine. What are you doing here? And what is that?" she motioned to the body he set down. "And what are these and why?" It was a series of gestures, mostly between the aforementioned body and the robotic units that seemed more and more like creepy mannequins.
Terarch turned toward the open door and pushed it closed, "I'm only doing my job. I didn't kill him; I'm just getting rid of him. When a body comes down here, it's gone the next day. I don't know what happens to them. But what from what I've been able to tell they're preparing for an attack. They hide it well, but when you're on the inside, it's harder to conceal these things. As for where and when and what, I haven't been able to figure that out yet. These..."
He motioned to the robots, "...are just the beginning. In the manor, up above," he pointed up, "they've got a whole system of computers where people can't see them. But if you ask me all these things are to attack Cado when they find him because they know what he can do."
A hand lifted and she draped it over her hip as she listened and her expression grew immediately serious. If what Terarch was saying was true, Cado had about an entire army against him. What the hell were they supposed to do about that? Xan could take on a lot of things. Her strength was definitely not something to be underestimated, but an entire army...?
It seemed ten times better to crush them from the inside out. Perhaps she was better off not trying to split so quickly. And maybe, just maybe, by working together, she and Terarch could completely uncouple the happenings before anything got too out of control.
She looked around again thoughtfully and shifted her weight ever so slightly. What to focus on first? What exactly was her job? Originally, it was just to get information on the patrols of the estate. If she jumped into it alone, Cado wouldn't forgive her for it. They were supposed to come back together, after all, and Xan's pride and inability to work with other people had to take a backseat to what was necessary and what her orders were.
"I see," she managed to reply, though she didn't really see at all. Pulling her lower lip between her teeth vaguely, she tipped her head forward, "And you're just doing their dirty work because you have to. I believe I'm beginning to put the pieces together. Cado doesn't know what he's gotten himself into."
She was quiet for a few moments and gestured with her free hand. She promised him, of course, and Xan, the girl who loved promises, often tried to keep them to the best of her ability, "I came to take a look around. On my way to the estate, I'd heard the faulty entrance as I went through the courtyard. Investigating this area immediately became one of my priorities."
If bodies are mysteriously disappearing the following day, however...
"I'm guessing it's not wise to sit down here unless I want to become like your buddy there," she pointed to the body.
Terarch nodded, "Yeah. I'd advise against that." He looked over at the nearest robot, "He really doesn't know what he's gotten himself into, but that's why I'm here. Not only am I here on the inside, but I'm not too bad in a fight. I've got what I need and what I need to do right now is make sure you live long enough to bring me to him and help you get what you need. I need to head out, but I can meet you back at the lobby to answer your questions. They're letting me off after I finish up here. I can answer any questions you have there."
He paused then added, "It wouldn't be wise to stay here for too much longer anyway."
Since when was it his obligation to make sure she lived? For whatever strange reason, she felt touched by hearing that. The instant she recognised the feeling, however, she rejected it and her lips frown in distaste.
"I don't need any help," her pride spoke for her. "That doesn't exactly mean I'm about to reject your offer for information. I just wonder..."
She leaned in close to him and tilted her head toward him, "...What do I have to part with to get you to talk? People don't give things freely in the world. I've been around long enough to know that. There's an ulterior motive here."
Another glance around and she withdrew, lifting a hand to gesture him out, "Whatever the case is, let's get out of here. We can talk about ulterior motives and your 'information' when you get off. Let's meet in the dining room."
Xan nodded once in his direction as if to reassure her words. Then she jerked her head toward the previous corridor as if to push him along.
He turned back to her, his voice growing more forceful and angrier, responding in a way that Cado would likely never do, "Let me make it perfectly clear that my help is not a request for you to accept or deny. I am going to help you and in turn, you are going to bring me to my brother. Whether you want me to help you stay alive or not, that doesn't matter to me because that's exactly what I'm going to do. So, swallow your pride and take the help when it's offered because it isn't easy to survive here."
He pulled the door back open and nodded to her, "I'll go on ahead and make sure the coast is clear."
She said absolutely nothing in reply. What could she actually say? Not much of anything, really. For a moment she simply looked at him and while Xan would normally grow excessively angry over anyone talking to her in such a way, she seemed remarkably calm.
Then she simply smiled lightly and nodded faintly, "All right. Whatever you say."
He was Cado's brother. Perhaps she should be a little more respectful. It didn't look like she had much of a choice anyway. Terarch had her in a bit of a predicament. Looked like any potential friendship wasn't friendship at all. She's just an instrument to him. That's nothing new.
Then she edged on toward the hall again until she got to the ladder and she paused, "Can we remove the stone up there again, or is there another way out?"
Terarch stood at the top of the ladder, preparing to push the stone back up, "We can leave this way. I don't think you want to leave the other way. The other way being out of the manor. I'm going to open this up, and check for security. I'll give you a signal if there is none, but if there is I'll have to close the hole back up. Once you get out, you'll have to be quick to get out of sight."
He pushed up and the stone square lifted again. He leaves the hole open and looked around for security. When he saw none, he nodded down to her, signaling for her to come up the ladder. "Get out of sight. I'll meet you back at the dining room in a few minutes."
There's a nod given and she waited for his signal before she escorted herself up the ladder. Chances are she wouldn't be going back down there anytime soon and perhaps next time, she'd have Cado with her. On second thought, he wouldn't be able to fit with those elegant wings of his. They'd have to find another way. Or make one.
She paused for a few moments at his side until he closed the hole again. Then she eyed the path back to her residence. Temporary residence.
"I'll see you there in a few."
What he didn't know is that he'd see her out of disguise, which might as well be an entirely different person. She didn't wait for his response and takes the initiative to sneak her way back. Hopefully to miss any potential patrols along the way back.
In the dining room, the fire place was lit, and Xan would have been waiting there for almost ten minutes before Terarch arrived. He walked in quietly, looking around to make sure no one else was around before lifting his helmet up off his head, and unhooking his sword from his armor. He stared absently into the fire, speaking over his shoulder, but not bothering to look, "I apologize for snapping at you. I've just been here too long and I'm ready to get out. When an opportunity presents itself, I don't want to let it get away. I'm not using you. I want to help you, not just for my brother, but also because I hate to see people come in here and get killed. I've seen what these people do, and I want to help stop it."
He turned around, leaning a shoulder on the stone fire place, finally looking at Xan, "Now that we've got that out of the way, you're free to ask what questions you like and I'll answer them as best as I can."
Lifting her visor to sit upon the top of her head, she eyed him closely and listened without much judgment. Was she so transparent? Yes, perhaps she was when she allows herself to be. Of course, it's difficult, considering that she's in a situation with people she doesn't know. In that moment, Xan's not really sure what to do or how to respond.
She's quiet for a few moments, lacing her hands together in contemplation, and she thought carefully before she finally forced words over her lips.
"Terarch, what else can you tell me about the estate? The patrols and what kind of firepower we're working with here? I saw the turrets and stuff. Looks pretty complicated, honestly. I've got plenty to do and plenty to avoid. It'd be nice to know what I'm up against specifically... aside from scarred men and serpent-like women."
Terarch contemplated that question for a few moments, giving it some serious thought. After all, it was a serious questions, and failing to answer it properly could have disastrous consequences for them both. "There are underground defenses all over the estate. I don't know where they all are, but I'm sure there are schematics somewhere in this place. Those defenses come up from the ground, bringing up more turrets. Some of them are automated and some of them are mannable. The heavier weapons are manned, such as .50 caliber weaponry. There are patrols all over the estate, twenty-four hours a day. Each patrol is on four six hour shifts with staggered shift changes."
He sighed and ran a hand through his hair, the markings on his face emitting a soft glow. "And, I'm assuming that the robots we encountered earlier tonight are functional, although I've never seen them actually used, so I don't know what kind of firepower they have. And, there may be other holes like the one you discovered tonight. If there are, I don't know about them. There are also plenty of defenses outside the walls. The most pressing of which is a rather large minefield that covers the entire outer area - aside from the road."
Looking back over at Xan, he waited for a response, while his mind continued to work over anything else he may have missed.
Her eyebrows furrowed. It's all a foreign language to her and honestly, she didn't know the technicalities behind it all. The only thing she did know is that it sounded terrible. It sounded incomparable, actually. Incomparable in terms of being terrible. In fact, it's just some never-ending cycle that played repeatedly over in her head.
She filed everything he said away for future reference. She'd have to report it to Cado when she saw him next. "Hm... I suppose I better move carefully, then. Not that I wasn't beforehand. Just... more so now."
She leaned back in her chair and with her manners forgone, she propped her feet upon the table. "You said you didn't know how long you'd been here. They're not your parents. You're Cado's half-brother. And I don't have to do anything special to get your help." Tipping her head to the side, she chuckled, "At least one thing isn't absolutely terrible."
A smile crept across Terarch's face, "I fancy myself to be a better man than Roane is. The reasons behind what I do aren't quite as cut and dry as his are. He's a man of simple tastes, but he's also very cunning. He'd have to be, or I'm sure someone would have found a way to get him killed a while back. Why, I wouldn't be surprised if he's planning some sort of coup." The smile on his face grew into a sly grin, "Which we may be able to use to our advantage either for getting rid of David and Laura, or for getting rid of Roane and his security team."
"Then it's all a matter of figuring out how he works and getting around it. Or figuring out how to speak the same language."
She slipped her hands behind her neck and she stared at the ceiling. Xan remained silent for a few minutes. She's sure she had other questions in the back of her mind, but most of them were overshadowed by the information she has. The ones that aren't were questions he wouldn't have the answers to.
"Thank you," she managed to begin. "I suppose I did need a little help. Do, rather."
Terarch nodded, "Of course. I suppose if Cado had known what you'd be getting into, he may not have sent you in alone. I'm sure it's a different place now than he remembers, in some ways. It'll be nice to finally be free of all of this. One way or another." Though, he didn't outright say it, he hinted largely at two ways to get free of it. The first, of course, being escaping, while the second is through death.
Leaning his sword down against the wall near the fire place, he turned back to look into it, the question of where his brother is digging into his mind, but he remained quiet, perhaps too quiet. The question of where he is never escaped his lips, but he turns back around, "What's he like? My brother."
No... Cado must not have known, for if he had, even she knew he wouldn't have let her go on her own. This, all of this, however, was not too much for her. She was confident and determined to succeed. She was not so willing to give into the despair of the environment. She believed she could not be stopped unless Death were to embrace her itself and she was skeptical that she should be killed so easily.
That remained to be seen.
She regarded Terarch carefully and sat proper again, crossing one leg over the other. One way or another they're both going to escape, whether it's in a body bag or not. It concerned her, honestly, and tugged at the self pep talks she kept having to offer. Work is work, in the end, and she'd got no other choice other than forward. Fortunately, she had a handsome blond willing to lend her a hand. Things have gotten better.
"What's he like? My brother."
She had to think about it, of course, because Xan didn't really know how to answer things like that. Perhaps they were separated at birth. Perhaps they just didn't recollect one another. She honestly didn't know that much about Cado. She knew the important things and from them could make logical deductions, but that's about it. Saying she's got extensive knowledge on him she wouldn't believe.
She focused on a window and momentarily lost herself in the status of her partner. Was he still alive? Was he all right? Had he reached the destination he was seeking? How far would he go? What would he do? Was it really safe for him to write to her? More questions that Terarch could not answer. Guilt washes over her, staining her cheeks with pink. How could she worry so much about Cado when she knew `Lucent is back in Rhode Island worrying about her? He's waiting for her safe return and while her thoughts meandered to him every now and then, it seemed so very tainted to obsess over Cado's status.
Xan pulled her hands over her face to regain some form of composure before she continued, "He's a good person. He's filled with regret and sorrow, I think, for the things he's done and what he grew up as. In a man that has so much ambition and persistence, he is, at times, limited by his fear and his concern."
Then she looked to Terarch pointedly, "He may have many enemies in the world, but in my opinion, he is his greatest enemy. He is the one who bars himself and prevents his success. All the same, I think he dreams about the things he wants to accomplish and I think he can taste them. It's an honour to work alongside him."
I just wish I had something better to give him.
Nodding quietly, Terarch considered her response carefully. He and Cado are not that much different, it seemed. Terarch himself has had to do things for these people that he didn't and still doesn't like. "I've only heard stories of what he's done. People here have a different perspective of what he used to do. But, I can understand - from hearing the stories - how he feels. The people here have made me do things that I'm not proud of, I can only imagine what Cado had to do."
He folded his arms over his chest and his face became more serious, "If we get out of here, I assume you're going to be meeting back up with Cado, but that's not all you'll be doing, is it? I want to come back with you two to fight. I think that the more the better, and I've been wanting to fight these people, and I would, if not for the army I'd be facing alone."
She hadn't asked Cado what he'd had to do. The most she knew was that he's killed people. She was not so innocent. She was not so pure. Xan has had to kill plenty of people, especially for entry into the Isles. It's something that like Cado and like Terarch, she was not proud of in any means. Those are the kinds of things that she kept hidden to herself, however. There are things that people should not know about her.
Her head inclined thoughtfully. He wanted to come back with her and Cado, because he knew they'll be coming back. Her inevitable return, she imagined, is a part of her job. She assumed such to be the case anyway. Cado hadn't told her she'd be dismissed afterward. It's better if she goes anyway to make sure he'd be all right.
Could... she really look after Terarch, too? In hindsight, he probably didn't need her to do any such thing, but she'd still feel she needed to.
"When we meet up with him, you'll need to talk to him about it. I can't say exactly what his plans are. I'm sure he'll let you in on it. We've some time before we do such a thing, however. Let's not count our chickens before they hatch."
"Some time and work, yes." Terarch nodded, "I can find out more about security - find schematics or whatever you need. But, you might want to get some sleep. It's almost dawn and you have a test. Which I can say, I don't know what it will be." He paused, "But, I'm still willing to answer what questions you have."
Right. Her test. Xan's almost forgotten about it. She looked back to Terarch thoughtfully and wondered if she did have any last minute questions. She can save those prior to her test. She's sure she'd get a little bit of time before she's got to get ready to see him. Suddenly, she realised just how easy it'd be to rely on him.
She couldn't do that. No matter what happens, she could not completely come to depend on him. It wasn't morally proper and Xan didn't work like that with anyone, even with the person closest to her heart.
"If I have any, I'll ask you prior to my test." She paused and gives him a direct look, "Thank you for not ratting me out."
"Of course. I'm not like some of the other people here. I have a heart. But, I should leave you alone now so we can both get our rest." He reached to put his helmet back on, and hook his sword back to his armor, "Good night. I will see you in the morning."
"Goodnight, Terarch," she replied with a sharp nod. "Get some rest. I'll see you in the morning."
She waited for him to depart before she took one more look around. It's a little chilly and even if she's not alone, she felt miles and miles from humanity. Silly, considering she's only half of what that it was. Humanoid, that was. And the other half? Well...
Xan managed to find her bed again and weary of those coming in later to rouse her from slumber, she stayed in disguise. There's no reason to oust herself so easily. Not yet anyway. They'd all get what's coming to them in the end.
Day Two: September 17th
A pounding came at Xan's door a few hours later. It stopped after a few seconds then came again. Roane's voice sounded, "Hey. Get up! I need to have a word with you, assassin." It was light out and the clock on the wall showed the time to be 9:03.
What could he possibly want? Hopefully he hadn't caught her. She'd remembered his ability to appear and disappear quickly. Surely, he hadn't been around and seen her. Either way, she had little choice but to get up.
"I need to have a word with you, assassin."
Those were among the most frightening words for her to hear. Most honestly. Xan inwardly panicked, just as she had before. Then she lazily lifted one eye and pulled her visor over her face. No sense in giving Roane the privilege of looking at her beautiful eyes. That was something reserved for men who didn't look forward to killing her.
Reluctantly she pulled herself from her bed and composing herself she answered the door. A hand rested upon her hip and she gestured with the other, "And what can I do for you, Roane?" If it turned out to be a ridiculous request, she couldn't deny she'd want to punch him in the face. She wouldn't, of course, but it didn't mean she wouldn't want to.
Roane took a step back and folded his arms over his chest, "Something tells me you know more than you're telling us. And if I'm able to figure that out, sure as hell that Laura is too. So, why don't you save yourself some pain and tell me exactly what it is you're hiding. Otherwise, I might be tempted to bring some of my security team up here and... deal with you."
She cocked an eyebrow in his direction. She knew she wasn't that obvious and chalked up his behavior as a means of intimidation. That wasn't going to work.
"You might be tempted. That implies you're not entirely sure of your accusations. You understand the weight of saying such a thing, don't you?" She leaned forward and brazenly prodded him in the chest, hooking her lips into a vague smile. "Honestly, if you'd wanted to see me, you should have said something to me. Roundabout routes are troublesome, don't you think?"
Roane sneered, "I'm going to pretend you didn't touch me, for now. I wonder if you know about the creature you supposedly 'took out' to get here." He paused, peering around her, into her room, "What if I said that I had Ravenyx here? What if I asked it what happened between you and it?" Again, he paused, this time taking his time to look over her features. It's been said over and over again to Xan, but it's clear that subtlety isn't one of his stronger suits, "What would you say? What would you do?"
She almost rolled her eyes. Really, she did. But then she remembered where she was and what she was supposed to be doing. If she gave into Roane's taunts, she was going to give herself away. Xan was confident though, that she could keep her identity a secret.
Taking a moment to consider his words, which she actually wasn't paying much attention to, she lifted her visor to rest upon her head and looked up at him. A faint tilt of the head ensued, "I don't think you get how things work for people--creatures--like Ravenyx and me. He wasn't fit to carry this out. The glory to be gotten from bringing Matthew Keller here is mine and mine alone. There was never a chance of Ravenyx and me working together."
Then she stepped back to allow him entry into her room, if he wanted it. She found the nearest end table and leaned against it, nonchalant and as unfazed as ever by his threats. On the inside, she knew she was walking a fine line, but she remembered what Cado had said before.
"You came all this way to interrogate me. I might as well be hospitable. Would you like a drink?" For even she'd had the time to get acquainted with the drinks in the downstairs kitchen.
Roane raised his eyebrows, "A drink? I would, but I've got work I need to do. How about tonight? By then, you'll have passed... or failed, so I'll know whether or not they trust you. I'll still have to decide for myself, of course, but their trust is going to help."
Xan nodded to him succinctly. Then she gestured with a hand down the corridor from whence he came, "I guess you could call it a 'date', then. Maybe by that point, you won't be so interested in trying to point out flaws that don't exist."
And as opposed to the irritation that normally would have stained those words, she smiled.
He turned on a heel and walked back downstairs, his boots thumping heavily against the wooden stairs. Down below, another voice sounded along with Roane's but it was hard to make out whose it was. Both pairs of boots walked out the door of the building and Xan was left in silence.
Jeez, that was close.
Xan inwardly sighed with relief when Roane excused himself. She closed her door again and glanced around thoughtfully. Right, her exam. How was that going to go? She wasn't going to crack, was she? She'd been doing well so far. Sure, there were the brief moments of absolute panic, but she'd kept them all inside and under strict control.
Then she turned her attention out the window, "...When is that exam, anyway? They said to meet them at 3. I wonder what time it is now." ...Wait, hadn't there been a clock that chimed? But she hadn't heard any chimes recently... What did that mean? And she was still no closer to figuring out when she needed to leave.
Right. Because Xan didn't carry around a watch. Unfortunately.
The clock in her room said the time was 9:10. Everything around her remained oddly still and silent. Almost as if there were something outside waiting to ambush her. Grey clouds began forming over the estate; it looked like it would rain. The clouds made the already depressing scene even more depressing.
So she could either find a different way to spend the next few hours or she could try to find Terarch. Sure, she'd had at least one more question for him, but she didn't necessarily want the answer to it. So she was in a stalemate. Maybe in that case it was better to sharpen the axe until the time came to depart for the main home.
She really hated it when time wasn't rushing along. To pass it, she moved into the corridor and down the stairs into the room with the fireplace. Maybe she'd find something of use there. And if not, at least she'd be wasting the next few hours.
At sometime around 10:30, a commotion started outside amongst a large group of people. As time went on, the noise grew as more people joined in, making everything even more difficult to make out. A few minutes later, a large bell began tolling, but more than three times. It rang five times.
Xan's eyebrows furrowed and when everything became a series of loud noises, she found herself curious and unable to turn it down. So she followed it, unsure of where it would take her, or of what she was getting herself into. But she made sure to keep a grasp on her axe, just in case she needed it. And undoubtedly it would come in handy.
Outside, a large crowd had gathered in front of the manor. No one amongst the crowd was recognizable, but there were four people standing on the porch of the home. Those four figures were Laura, David, Roane, and Terarch. Laura and David stood at the front with Terarch at David's right shoulder and Roane at Laura's left shoulder.
Laura looked out over the crowd, a small smile growing across her face. She waited a few moments for the last few stragglers to show up and she shouted out, "There is a traitor among us. Someone who wishes to destroy us and all that we hold dear. They wish nothing more than to destroy everything!" She moved her gaze across the crowd again, her smile becoming more apparent, "But, the question is, will this person stand up and admit to conspiring against us?"
She paused, waiting, and then she shouted out again, "Lexan? Are you here? If you are, then please come and stand behind me. If you aren't... I'll send Terarch to go get you."
She squinted as she made her way through the crowd, subtle pushes here and there and the occasional coaxing with her axe. When she got to the front, she indicated her presence by waving her free hand.
"Ask for and you shall but receive," she confidently replied.
Then she gave a subtle nod, rested her axe over her shoulder and took her 'rightful' space behind Laura as she looked out over the crowd. So that was how it felt. To be in that position of power. To stand so resolute, so professional, and unwavering. She couldn't deny that a part of her relished in it. Enjoyed it, even.
Laura smiled as Xan walked up and continued her speech, "No one is going to admit it? Admitting it would save the party in question a lot of pain." She watched the crowd for any signs of admittance, but the group remained still and silent, "No? Very well then."
Suddenly, she swung her elbow out and struck Roane in the face. He staggered and Laura put a hand around his throat while Terarch stepped in front of David.
"What are you doing?" the latter of the two asked.
"Taking care of a problem." Laura snarled in retort. She then called out to the crowd, "Somebody bring the block over here." Nobody moved, "Now!" A young bearded man looked around at the crowd before rushing off. A few minutes later, he returned, pushing a large wooden block with a groove in the center and stopped next to the steps.
By then, Roane's hands were bound. Laura unhooked Roane's sword and tossed it aside, before shoving him down towards the block. With some effort, she managed to get his neck in the groove of the block. Then she turned to Xan, "Your test, dear..." she looked down at Roane, "...is to execute this man."
Half of Xan had considered Laura was talking about her when she'd mentioned a traitor. Xan had honestly partially thought that she would be the one with her neck in the groove of the block. She'd expected it, anticipated it, and a part of her had already begun to play it all out in her head along with the repercussions.
`Lucent would have been pissed.
Everything happened so fast, though. Roane was instantly taken down by Laura who was so immensely heartless that... Xan actually thought Bellona would have gotten along with her well. A periodic glance toward David and she realized he probably didn't have a good idea of what was going on. So he may have been just as clueless.
"Your test, dear... is to execute this man."
On the outside, there was not even the slightest hint that Xan felt apprehensive. Her heart immediately grew heavy. For as violent as she was, Xan took absolutely no joy in killing others and more often than not, just wanted to wound people enough to bed rest. Killing people wasn't something she wanted to do. She also knew that when she took Cado's request that she would likely have to step into that position.
She eyed the blade of her axe thoughtfully and in surprisingly graceful moments, pushed aside the hair from his neck, "Strange, isn't it? How you were accusing me of being the traitor when it was you all along. I imagine you had plans of framing me for your crimes. It's unfortunate that you'll meet your end this way. Unfortunate, but entirely necessary."
Carefully, she slid her axe across the back of his neck, applying light pressure, "Have you any last words?"
Roane growled and looked up at Xan before back down at the ground in front of him, "This may be my end, but the end for you, for all of this is just beginning." He spat at the ground before looking back up at Xan, "Get it over with."
After he said his final words, he turned his gaze back forward before closing his eyes and letting out a sigh. He was prepared to die. Behind them, Laura was smiling, but with her arms folded over her chest, and Terarch remained between David and everyone else, holding him back and keeping him from stopping Laura or Xan.
Never was one for long-winded speech, she guessed. Xan's thoughts raced, her heart pounded, her thoughts pulsed in the complicated mess that was her mind, and the entire time she listened to him, she was only half present. In her perspective, the entire world froze to give her the time to truly think about the repercussions of her actions. In reality, nothing froze at all and the only thing anyone would see on the outside was the intense stare she placed onto the man at her compassion.
Compassion. That was a funny word. At one point in time, she would have held compassion for every living being. Because that was the right thing to do in her opinion. This, standing over a man, and willing to end it with her own hands... That wasn't right at all. She knew it. It was going against everything she stood for. If she killed him, all she could picture was her own inner horror as she continuously showered, but would never escape the stains on her hands. Wanting to escape at all seemed stupid and selfish anyway. She'd chosen this pathway knowingly. This was more like Divine Providence, she guessed.
The part of her that wasn't so caught up in her paranoia was the twisted and corrupted part of her that seemed so deviously thrilled with the power that lied within her fingertips. She had the opportunity to end this man's life. She had the opportunity to get rid of an obstacle and continue on a much smoother path. It'd be easier for her. It'd be easier for Terarch. She could go home sooner, and she didn't have to press herself up against him, gaze adoringly, or bat those eyelashes and part those legs.
An impish grin took hold of one side of her lips and easily coerced it up brilliantly. She lowered a hand to fuss with Roane's hair, deceivingly affectionate. Then as she inclined briefly, she left her words for Roane alone.
"It's such a shame, because you were right."
Then with little effort, if any at all, she rotated her axe once and brought it down upon his neck. The movement itself barbaric and swift with lingering venom behind her actions. It was true. She'd hated him. She hadn't known him, but she'd hated him and there was no other option than for him to die.
Her axe sunk through the flesh and bone on Roane's neck and into the wooden block. Dark red blood poured from both the headless body and the severed head. On the porch behind her, Laura was positively beaming. David tried to sidestep Terarch, but the latter grabbed the arm of the former. Immediately, David roared out and struck Terarch in the head, his fist clanging against Terarch's helmet
Terarch staggered backwards from the blow, letting go of David's arm. David rushed down the steps and stopped just out of the reach of Xan's axe. He narrowed his eyes and pointed at Xan, "If you know what's good for you, you'll get out of here as soon as possible. The longer you stay, the more inclined I'll be to end you."
Neither Laura nor Terarch made any more attempts to stop David. She was still smiling pleasantly and he'd just finished readjusting his helmet. David stared at Xan before he turned away and disappeared around the corner.
"Don't mind him, dear. I'm sure he'll get over it." Laura said, still smiling. She wasn't exactly being reassuring, but then again, she might not have been trying.
David and Laura. They were opposing each other. How long had it taken Xan to notice? Or maybe she'd seen it before and just hadn't said anything. She hadn't asked Terarch specifically about it either. She looked between Laura and Cado's half brother before glancing off in the direction David had gone.
Were he and Roane close? Perhaps David's trying to get rid of Laura. I have to know what his angle is. But now isn't a good time. I'll have to get him when he's alone. When it can be just the two of us with no interruptions. I may need to ask for Terarch's help with this.
In actuality, she'd need them both alone, Laura and David. She'd have to see how they operated when they weren't with one another. She got the feeling they were polar opposites. And if Laura wasn't being as deceiving as Xan thought she was, then she would have said the wife was more the bloodthirsty creature than the husband.
"I am only here to carry out my orders," Xan blatantly replied as she met Laura's eyes with her own. Beneath the visor anyway. "And those would be the orders issued by you and him. There is no shame and no regret in doing what is necessary and expected." And perhaps in that moment she turned from the virtuous little princess into the soldier with the axe that was dripping blood at her feet. It wasn't the most becoming image.
Laura's face grew serious and she looked out at the crowd and she waved them off, "You can all clear off now." She turned towards Terarch, motioning towards Roane, "Clean that up."
Terarch stepped down and headed around the opposite corner that David went around, then Laura walked down the stairs as well. She spoke quietly after everyone had left, "May I have a word with you, inside?"
The smallest part of her grew apprehensive when she saw Terarch leave. He'd probably put Roane in that corridor of constructs beneath the courtyard. Like a little graveyard it sure seemed to be. Burial ground was probably the best way to go about it. Then she brought her attention directly onto Laura and nodded. It was a low gesture, one to signify her respect.
"Of course. I am at your convenience," Xan spoke in a neutral tone, as though the events as of recent were only more than a common occurrence for her.
Laura motioned for her to follow her into her home. Once inside, she waved towards a couch, "Please, sit." She waited for Xan to sit down before she began, "I would like to be the first to congratulate you. You still have a little more to prove, but I think I can trust you a little more now, and I want you to know that you're welcome back here any time. But, I have a question for you. I want to know if anyone else has ever said or done anything that would undermine us here."
Xan's posture was surprisingly proper, an old force of habit that she couldn't simply just push away. Besides, no one ever said that an assassin or a mercenary couldn't have a bit of refined nature attached. After all, Umbra was a tad refined. A tad.
She crossed one leg over the other and tipped her head to the side, "Considering I wasn't even aware of Roane's position and he was supposedly one of the more 'well liked' people of your estate, it's difficult to say if anyone else is much the same. You can imagine that I'm apprehensive. Of course, trust is something you earn. It isn't rightfully given."
Then she leaned back and shook her head, "I have seen and heard nothing aside from Roane's outburst that could be constituted as undermining you."
Laura opened her mouth as if to say something, but at that moment, Terarch entered the house, "It's taken care of." he said.
Laura nodded and nodded towards the door, "Thank you Terarch. You may go, Lexan. If you hear anything, please let me know." Laura turned towards the window and placed her hands behind her back, going silent.
"You've my word," Xan replied as she rose to her feet.
She crossed one arm over her chest in a cross between a salute and a bow. Then she moved to the door and looked up to Terarch. There was a momentary pause, as if to pay him some kind of respect, and then she stepped past him. She'd left to go in the direction of her temporary residence, but instead, she chose to wait for Terarch outside, but well out of earshot of any potential conversation he had with Laura.
She had some questions for him and depending on how he answered them determined how she was going to act later on.
After a few minutes, Terarch left the home again and walked down the steps towards Xan. He stood next to her and looked over, "This isn't the first time something like this has ever happened. And the person executed has not always been guilty as Roane probably was."
For a moment, she said nothing at all and simply took in his words with as much grace as she could allow for herself. Then she finally lifted her visor to give him a better idea of what she was thinking when she replied. "Do they make many of their mercenaries do that... or am I the only one who's had to go to such lengths just to prove my worth?" All she could think about was the blade of her axe, which she still hadn't cleaned, and the way Roane's blood was going to stain her. Perhaps she'd pressed herself too far.
But no such thing existed.
Then Xan shook her head, "Forget it. I need to ask you to do something for me. A couple of things, actually." Because talking about David and Laura seemed ten times better than talking about how she was personally feeling. She honestly didn't want to have the latter conversation with anyone.
He put his hands on his hips and looked down and nodded. Xan's first question seemed to be bothering him now. Perhaps Xan wasn't the only who had ever had to do such a thing. It seemed entirely possible that Terarch had to do the same thing to prove what he was worth to the Kellers. Nevertheless, he looked back over at Xan and agreed, "Yeah, sure. Of course. What is it?"
"I need you," Xan began and thought idly about just leaving it there. The consideration was amusing, for her to admit she needed anyone, a man no less. But those kinds of words were reserved for someone who wasn't him, something she was growing vastly aware of. "I need you to help keep David and Laura physically separated."
She idly gestured at him as she clarified, "I need to spend time with each one. I'm sure you've seen it. Their dynamic as a couple, and apart. I have this feeling there could be something important here. I won't be digging into either of them today for the obvious reasons, but in a few days, after David's calmed down." She lifted her eyebrows to Terarch, "Can I rely on you?"
More words she'd typically never use. Reliance. Xan certainly didn't have much of that.
Terarch simply nodded in response, "I'll see what I can do. It's quite a bit easier said than done, but I'll work something out. There's another thing. With Roane dead, the estate needs a new head of security. There's going to be a competition to see who it will be and I'm in the running and the one Laura will be sponsoring. I'm certain David's going to find someone else to sponsor, just to oppose Laura."
Out with the old and in with the new. Guess there are no celebrations to be had.
"They do that a lot, don't they? Get deliberately at each other's throats. In books, people marry for love. Their marriage is more for convenience." She drew a hand over her heart in silent respect, "...I... feel sad when I look at them. I'm not here to help them though, as much as I feel I would want to. Helping the same people who would sooner have your head lobbed off and impaled on a stick... It's foolish, really."
Then she shook her head and looked over to Terarch again, "Is there anything I can do to make it easier for you? It's important that you succeed. You'll be able to keep them separated for me better that way, and you'll also have some additional benefits, I'm sure. I would like to help you in return, for ensuring my safety in my stay here."
Terarch looked out across the estated - or assumedly so, "Although I appreciate the offer, I'm not sure what you could do that wouldn't blow your cover." His chest rose and fell as he sighed silently, "But, I'm not saying no. Not yet. If I can come up with anything, I'll let you know."
"So what do we do now, as a collective? If nothing for the time being, I have my own things I have to take care of." And she knew well enough he'd be pretty busy as well, considering he had the competition to look forward to. Sometime, she'd have to find the ability to corner Laura and David separately for the next stage of her plan.
There was still information to be had.
He nods, "Yeah. I think that's all for now. I'll let you know if anything important comes up." He looked over at Xan, before he turns towards back towards the manor, "If there's nothing else, I have to get ready."
She shook her head at him, "No. There was nothing else I had to add. I'll be rooting for you, Terarch. Do your best." For the sake of them both, she hoped.
Terarch looked back down at her and, without another word turned the same corner he had when disposing of Roane's body. Judging by how he was acting, it was safe to say that what happened earlier had affected him. This had probably not the first of these he had ever witnessed at the estate, but it was no easier for him to deal with nonetheless.
Day Six: September 21st
A knocking came at Xan's door and an unfamiliar voice spoke, "Excuse me, but your presence is requested at the arena by one of the competitors..." the soft male voice paused as if looking for something, "Terarch."
After she'd executed Roane, the days the followed sort of went in a blur. Most of what she heard felt like it had gone in one ear and out the other. It hadn't, actually. She'd filed it all away for the sake of her benefit, or Terarch's, or Cado's, or whatever was going to get her out of the fortress of an estate. She wasn't sure if it was her own mentality or the actual environment, but when things began to change and things grew rapidly, it seemed like everything closed in on her.
Main point above all was that David still wanted her out and Xan still wanted to know why Cado's parents were so adamantly against each other. It wasn't exactly a part of her job to know, but if it was going to help her accomplish further pulling them apart, then she wasn't going to turn it down. After all, she was sure she still had plenty to acquire before she could reunite with Cado and before they could really start off the fireworks.
What was all of that, though? What else did she really need to know? She'd gotten the information regarding the patrols mostly and the firepower that awaited them, and the army of robotic units under the courtyard. She'd gotten rid of one of their greatest enemies, which she still wasn't sure was such a good idea. She was left with the task of further damaging the marriage between the parents and acquiring information on Cado's biological family. Of course the latter depended on the former most likely. It was all interconnected, she guessed.
It came as no surprise when she was called upon, as that seemed to be the way things were beginning to proceed. Every day, she was called for at least something and given that was her job she began to feel less like she was employed, but rather that she was actually living at the estate. When she thought of Paragon, however, and her own homeland which had come back to her thoughts in startling shades of greens, blues, yellows, and violets, she knew she wanted to return home, that she'd missed her friends, her family, `Lucent, Cata, even Umbra.
"Right," she said as she left no hesitance in opening the door and stiffly closing it behind her. She turned to the man who'd addressed her and with a hand upon her hip, she used the free one to gesture, "Is there anything else, or is that all? Speak up and be quick about it."
The man shook his head, "Nothing else concerning you, miss." He looked down at a clipboard he was holding and headed back down the stairs, out the door, and back into the open air of the estate, where she could see other people walking - no doubt towards the arena.
She'd made quick footsteps in the direction of the arena, hoping to avoid the crowds, the commotion, and the attention that would otherwise stem from the competition. She'd told Terarch she was rooting for him. She couldn't deny, however, that it was going to be rough. After what she had to do, which was pretty bad, she was guessing the competition was going to be a little older in style and while Xan loved history (to a geeky extent even), she wasn't that thrilled to be witness to a reenactment.
So she was just inwardly hoping Terarch was going to survive it all and come out on top. But if he had any of Cado's strength, which she guessed came from one biological parent or the other, he was probably going to be fine.
When she'd arrived and mostly avoided the prying eyes, it wasn't until she'd paused by one of the arena attendants to announce her arrival.
"Tell Terarch that Lexan is here as he's requested."
The attendant looked at Lexan, "Oh. Follow me. He's requested to see you in private." She then motioned for Xan to follow her. She led her down a long corridor almost immediately on Xan's right. Stopping near the end of the corridor, the attendant knocked on a door to the right. There was a brief pause before the Terarch appeared. He looked from between the two women, and nodded at the attendant, "Thank you." He held the door open for Xan, "Come in."
To see her in private. That could have meant a ton of things. Most of the time when Xan thought about 'private', she pictured the intimate kinds of things, like the 'give me a kiss for good luck' kind of private. Somehow, she highly doubted Terarch was going to say anything along those lines.
She did as he asked, however, inclined her head respectfully, and allowed him to show her in. Then she drew one hand behind her back and turned to watch him carefully. All she wanted to know was what kind of ill news he was going to give her.
The female attendant walked away as Terarch closed the door and spoke, "These competitions are rigged, for the most part. Eight competitors in one free-for-all match. Six of the eight aren't expected to put up much of a fight with the final two usually being highly skilled fighters, and also the ones sponsored by David and Laura. Everyone has me making it to the final two along with the one David's sponsored, but most have me losing to him. Last time, Roane was sponsored by David and he won. Of course." He sighed. It seemed that even he was unsure of his chances, but he still had to fight.
Rigged? What were the chances that Laura and David gambled on the lives they used? Xan fingered her chin thoughtfully. And they did this kind of thing for fun? The very thought of it made her a little ill and for a moment she grew faint, swayed and used a hand to steady herself. Maybe all of this had become too much.
Wait. Was she really that weak? There was no way. Maybe it was the amount of information that had been shoved at her. This estate was like going to an entirely different world after all.
She finally heaved a sigh and leaned against the wall. Folding her arms across her chest, "I see. So I executed David's pride and joy it seems. Any idea who he's chosen for this one? And what do you think is going to happen? I keep thinking that the loser is going to pay with more than just his pride. The loser is probably going to die. Why keep someone around if they can't prove themselves, right?"
Giving an idle shrug, she continued, "But you're Cado's brother. If anyone should be able to come out on top, it should be you. I don't know if you want me watching you or what's going to make it easier, but I feel like my hands are tied for this particular thing. Maybe that's for the best. If I get well-known for killing people here, others might stop talking to me." In spite of trying to make light of the situation, she couldn't help hide her expression and the distaste in it.
"David chose a man named Lokis. He's probably about Cado's size, or bigger. He's hard to miss. But, yes, the loser is killed... in the arena by the victor. As for the other six, not always. Sometimes they're killed, sometimes they leave without being killed."
He continued, responding to her implied questions, "You'll be required to watch. The competitors sponsored by David and Laura pick someone and they sit next to their respective sponsor on opposite sides of the stadium. But, if not for that, I'd still like you there to watch."
So that's how it was. Xan was going to have to swallow her morals and keep them to herself. All of this was so wrong, as wrong as it was to execute Roane. There was no going back and fixing that, however, even if she took advantage of Ouroboros. She tipped her head at him curiously and lifted her eyebrows scarcely. He wanted her there anyway. She hoped he didn't think she was some kind of good luck charm, because from what she could tell and the little blips of her past that showed themselves were a grand expression of exactly why she didn't have good fortune.
"Do you think it's possible to play both sides of the field, from what you observed?" Which really meant she wanted to know if he thought it was doable to play the clever serpent between Laura and David. Even if he didn't, it wasn't going to change her plans. She'd simply wanted to know. "Whether you do or not, if I'm required to attend, then my guess is I'll be attending."
Then she paused, before choosing her words carefully, "You must be nervous to have asked to see me before all of this." She extended her hands in his direction, palms up, mostly for him to take.
Terarch reached forward taking her hands, his leather padded gloves squeaking a bit, "I am nervous. I've got a lot on the line, including my life. But, this has to be done. If I don't survive, things are going to be more difficult, but I have confidence that you'll get it done."
"Is it possible? It's entirely possible. As long as one doesn't find out you're working with the other, but I can help with that. And that is possible, but it'll be easier with help. All the more reason that this fight is important."
A knock came at the door, "Ten minutes." Terarch called back, "Okay. Thank you."
The corners of her lips rose into a surprisingly sincere smile, the first one she'd really, genuinely shown where relief wasn't involved. She squeezed his hands gently and tipped her head forward to plant her forehead to his.
"You'll do fine," she replied confidently. "I know you will. If you do not have enough faith in yourself, take some of mine and I'll gladly lend it in your direction." She paused when she heard the voice on the other side of the door. Then she withdrew from Terarch and flipped up her visor.
With her right hand, she gave a thumbs up, "Like I said, you'll do fine. Just remember you've got a pretty girl cheering you on. If you do really well, I'll give you something special." Because what man didn't like incentive?
He nodded, "I'm not going to hold back. I think if I do, I'm a dead man." As he said this, the crowd in the arena began to grow louder in anticipation, "It looks like the contestants are starting to gather. I should probably go out there. You're sitting next to Laura on the south side of the arena."
"Do what you have to do. Let your self conscious worry about it afterward. For now, just save your skin. I'll be keeping a very close eye on you."
She moved toward the door and pulled it open after pushing her visor back down, "I'll see you out there." She chose not to wait for his response, assumed he didn't have one, and pushed herself in the direction of the southern region of the arena. She could only imagine the kind of conversation Laura would attempt to have with her. Xan was only beginning to feel more and more socially inept.
Terarch followed shortly after, making his way into the arena. As Xan approached Laura, she smiled, "So, you're Terarch's special person." She chuckles and looks down to the arena. The crowd cheered as Terarch entered the arena. Laura clapped as he did, "There he is."
Down below, Terarch stopped, near the edge of the arena. Seven of the eight competitors were now in the arena. A hush washed over the crowd, and a man walked through the east entrance, opposite of Terarch. He stood tall, taller than Terarch, taller than Cado, albeit by only a couple inches. He also appeared to weigh more than Cado. He had no hair on his head, but he had a beard over his face. His body was strong and he was barrel-chested. The only kind of armor he wore was over his legs and feet with nothing at all over his chest or arms - apart from fingerless gloves over his hands.
In one hand was a large, double-headed axe, and in the other a warhammer. He looked over across at Terarch and a grin spread across his face. This was Lokis. He had the appearance of a gladiator, or a spartan. And as he entered the arena, an roar came up from the crowd. It seemed that the crowd also seemed to favor Lokis over Terarch. Across from them, David and a large woman sitting next to him cheered.
Xan's head tipped to the side as she eyed Laura, wondering what the cunning woman possibly could have meant by that. She was anything but special, and those who referred to her as such usually had a personal reason for doing so. Terarch and Xan's relationship was much too innocent to be considered on that 'special' level. So Xan did what she normally did and assumed Laura meant something entirely different. She had to.
Otherwise it'd get increasingly awkward.
As she turned her attention onto the matter at hand, she was very careful not to sit forward in her chair. One leg crossed over the other, she remained poised and calm, refined and somewhere between a façade of collected nature and nobility. That Lokis... he certainly had a look to him. He reminded her of Cimerora and she almost sighed, but pulled the potential sound to the back of her throat.
Over the cheers of the audience, Xan took a moment to survey the surroundings, David's reactions, and those of the woman who sat beside him and was obviously Lokis's 'special' person as Laura would have stated. Then she anxiously watched and waited and inwardly hoped for the best, knowing fully well that sometimes hoping accomplished everything, and sometimes hoping accomplished absolutely nothing at all.
Terarch appeared to be watching Lokis from across the arena as he had Terarch. He calmly drew his sword before turning his head to observe the rest of the competitors. The bell inside the arena rang and the match started.
Lokis walked slowly towards Terarch as three competitors converged on him. With not much more than a swing from both weapons, they fell, perhaps a little too easily. Maybe they'd been paid to fall, or maybe Lokis was stronger than he looked, which was difficult, since he looked pretty strong already. Another competitor rushed towards Lokis, only to be brutally smashed across the shoulder with his warhammer.
The remaining two ran at Terarch. One, he hit across the face with a forearm, the competitor's body landing hard on the ground. And the other, he slashed across the leg with his sword, knocking him to the ground before landing a kick across his face.
And then it was just Terarch and Lokis, just as it had been predicted.
There was no surprise in the final two. After all, Terarch had already told Xan it was rigged. Even if it hadn't been and even if she'd been surprised, not a bit of it would have shown across her face. In a way, it was so very surreal that she felt like she was in some out of body experience, or the third person perspective of a dream. It was all there in front of her, but she felt like if she touched any of it, her hands would simply fall on through.
Yet there it was. The others had fallen, more or less 'slain' just as had been foretold and just as planned all along. To hide her growing anxiety, Xan propped an elbow along the rest of her chair and cradled her chin in the palm of her hand.
Come on, Terarch. Make the magic happen. If anyone can, it's you. Just don't screw up.
The two rotated in a circle, their backs to the arena wall as they both kept their eyes on each other. Terarch kept his left foot out in front while holding his sword out towards Lokis with his right hand. Lokis roared and lunged at Terarch, baring down on him with both weapons. Terarch jumped backwards and slashed across Lokis' stomach. The latter grunted but continued on, swinging his warhammer, striking Terarch across the shoulder, much in the same way as earlier.
He fell to the ground hard, making an audible "Oof" as he landed. Lokis swung both weapons downwards and Terarch rolled, barely avoiding having his head split open and crushed. He rolled away and stepped back to his feet, swinging his sword toward the behemoth of a man, only to have it met with the man's axe. With his immense strength, Lokis dislodged the sword from Terarchs grip and it wobbled through the air, landing behind Lokis and sliding to a stop about twenty feet away.
Terarch backed up, looking around. Then he sprinted back towards Lokis. Just as the large man was about to bring his axe down on the other's head, Terarch leapt into the air, fully clearing the almost seven foot tall Lokis. He twisted in midair to land facing towards Lokis again. He rolled backwards and picked up his sword in time to see Lokis rushing at him. He stood up, dodging the downcoming axe and ducked to avoid the hammer swinging for his head.
Slashing diagonally across the man's chest with a grunt, Terarch smiled beneath his helmet. Meanwhile, Lokis roared in pain and swung his hammer at Terarch's head again. This time, it struck its mark, toppling Terarch back to the ground and knocking his helmet askew. His sword clattered out of reach as Lokis stepped to Terarch's side. He rolled to his hands and knees, at the mercy of the man with the axe.
Lokis kicked Terarch's head, knocking his helmet off. Immediately, Terarch ducked his head down, letting his hair cover his face so neither David nor Laura discovered who he was. Even as Lokis prepared to behead Terarch much in the same way Xan had Roane, Terarch was still worried about keeping his cover, in case he miraculously managed to survive.
Proverbially she was on the edge of her seat. Physically, she was like stone, never moving, never adjusting. Her eyebrows almost jumped into her hairline the moment he lost his helmet and she felt her chest grow tight. If Laura discovered--if David discovered it, not only was Terarch in trouble, but she had the distinct feeling that she was going to be a bit sunk too.
She reached for a piece of her suit and as slyly as she could, tossed it in David's direction, mostly to thwack him in the head if possible. Then she chose to address his wife, "Laura, I think you chose a very capable man. Very appropriate. Becoming and strong. I wonder if you saw those assets as well." Then she offered a sly smile in Laura's direction.
David blinked and frowned, looking around for the culprit as Laura looked over at Xan, seemingly unaffected by the current predicament the man she sponsored was now in, "Oh, I agree. But, it looks as if he's about to become a little less so."
At the same time, Lokis had begun to bring his axe down towards Terarch's neck. Swiftly, Terarch swung his leg out, planting a strong kick at Lokis' knee. His leg gave a snap and the man buckled to a knee, roaring in pain. Terarch dove for his helmet and put it back on while Laura and David were distracted. He then went and picked up his sword and stepped back towards Lokis, who had dropped his own weapons in favor of cradling his injured knee.
Brandishing his sword with both hands, Terarch drove it straight forward through the man's heart then pulled it out. He looked out over the crowd, his gaze stopping first on Xan and then on the woman sitting next to David, a stunned look on her face. Then he brought a leg back and kicked Lokis in the chest, causing the man to collapse to the ground, dead.
A cheer rose up from the crowd as Terarch stared down at his vanquished enemy, holding his sword towards the ground in his right hand while raising his left hand up into the air as a sign of victory and celebration.
And she did sigh with relief, fortunately covered by the cheers of the crowd, save David and Lokis's special person. Then she rose to her feet at his victory and placed her hands together in rigid applause. Her words of encouragement would come later. When she got the chance to be alone with him again. She had a feeling, they'd need to sit through Laura's words before that happened, though.
David pushed through the crowd and stormed his way out of the arena. Terarch sheathed his sword and looked out across the crowd again. Laura made her way down to the arena floor and to Terarch. She stood next to him and raised her arms. Immediately, the crowd noise died down. She had that kind of power. Was it fear or admiration that drove these people to respect her? Perhaps it was both.
"Our victor has been decided!" She called out to the crowd, but they refrained from cheering for the moment, "And he is most deserving! With his new position, Terarch will ensure our safety here at the estate." She paused and her tone grew darker, "Or face the consequences if he fails to do so. Congratulations, Terarch!" She began to clap and the crowd began cheering again.
Terarch bowed and made his way towards the exit while the crowd continued to cheer. Before going out of view, he turned his head toward Xan as if to silently indicate for her to follow him, no doubt to the same room they'd been in before the competition.
Xan found herself rolling her eyes, something she hadn't done in some time. It'd happened so quickly, she hadn't been able to stop it. But there it was and it was short lived. Of course Laura was making her ever so silent threats, or the not-so-silent ones. To think of what would happen if Terarch were to fail. Technically he already was. He was part of the problem, and Xan was the other. They were both going to wreck the estate from the inside out and when she thought about it like that, she got excited. And impatient.
There was a very subtle nod given to him when he signaled up to her. From the many seats, she made her way through the departing crowds of people and when she was absolutely certain no one else saw her, she crept back along the hallways to the room she'd been taken to previously. At the door, she paused and knocked gently, "Lexan present."
Terarch quietly opened the door and looked out along the hallway, helmet still on his head. He let her in before he closed the door behind them. In the back, out of sight, it sounded as if a faucet was running. Coupled with the fact that his sword wasn't in sight, it was presumed that he was rinsing the blood off his sword. He sat down in a nearby chair (with one across from it) and pulled his helmet up off his head. A nervous chuckle left his throat, "That was a little too close, in more than one way."
At first she paced. She didn't really know what to do and typically when in a room alone with a man, it led to being bent over various objects and physical intimacy. The thought that she even pictured it with Terarch, even for as brief as it was, caused her to immediately reevaluate herself. But then she went right back to pacing behind the open chair that was likely waiting for her to sit down in it.
"You had me sweating there," she admitted. Then she placed her hands upon the back of the chair and leaned over it to him, "But you succeeded like I said you would. David's pissed, though. Not that I was expecting anything differently. Laura's up on cloud nine. You're still alive, and now you're security of the estate." Like an old time announcer, she pulled her visor down and used it as a stand-in microphone, "So what're you gonna' do next?" Never mind the silly smile she had crossing her features.
Terarch smirked as he spoke, "Well, first of all, I think I'm going to celebrate." He stood up, looked at Xan for a moment, tilting his head before walking back towards the faucet. He shut it off and returned with his sword in hand, "You know, toss a few back."
He continued, "After that, though, I'm going to find out what I can about security that I couldn't before. And then I'll be doing some work that will make our return trip a bit easier. But, that means we'll probably have to leave sooner than you probably expected to."
Xan snickered and offered a light shrug in reply, "Really, what can you do? I guess I better make sure everything I'm supposed to do is done before you decide to take off." She fingered her chin thoughtfully. "I think I'm down to a couple more things, but... hopefully those won't take too long."
Then she brightened, "Are you serious about the drinks, though?" Because that suddenly sounded so absolutely necessary that she hoped he wasn't kidding. If it had been months before, she would have been apprehensive, but she'd been in so much thought before she left, that she'd spent almost every night at the D drinking. Drinking with company was bound to be much better than drinking alone.
They could talk about what they were going to do when they returned home. And their dreams for the future. That all sounded very appealing to Xan.
Terarch inspected his sword, rubbing at a spot near the middle before sheathing it, "A little sabotage, you know the deal." He smiled faintly, "I'm absolutely serious. I take it you'd like to join me?" The thought of that made his smile grow a bit more.
Sabotage. It was something Laura and David and the entire estate deserved a nice slice of. Or a few slices. Or a whole sabotage pie, which subconsciously made Xan a little hungry, but was quickly pushed aside in favor of his invitation.
Her eyebrows raised and she nodded in confirmation, "If it's all right. I'd hate to traipse where I'm not wanted or something. You know the deal. I could definitely go for something like that, though. All of this, here? I've worked harder in the last five days than I've worked in my entire time beneath the employ of the Watchers."
"Great!" He hooked his sword back to his armor, "There's a bar, but then someone might show up. I suppose we could go to the back so I'd have some time to put my helmet back on. Or, we could get some drinks and bring it to the dining room in your building... or mine."
"Why don't you come to my place later tonight after everyone else has gone to bed? We can stay up a little later and talk. Not about work, but something different." She tilted her head at him curiously, "Does that work for you?" Her place seemed far more secure and even though Terarch seemed a good man, Xan felt weary having one invite her to anyplace that might have been 'his'.
"That works for me. It'll be nice to take a load off. I don't get many opportunities to do that here." He reached for his helmet, but didn't put it on quite yet, "But, I do have a feeling I'll have more opportunities for that in the future. That is, if I get out of here."
He chuckled softly and shook his head, "I think I will, though."
She placed her visor back on with a smile and nodded, "Yes. We both will, Terarch. Don't forget. I'll be upset if you do." Well, she wouldn't have been, but in that moment she felt more like herself than she had any time prior.
He put his helmet back on over his head and walked towards the door, "I'm sure I'll have a bit of work to do between now and then, though. I'll see you later?" Opening the door, he looked back towards her. There were still remnants of a cheering crowd outside.
She nodded to him and gestured on out the door and behind him, "Of course. Remember. My place. Bring the drinks and I'll provide the impeccable company." Then she grinned, "Go on now. Your fans are waiting for you."
A snort came from the man's helmet, "Fans. Most of them were cheering for Lokis. I'm pretty sure it was a genuine shock when I won and not him. They're fickle, but I'll take what I can get." He laughed and looked out towards the arena, shaking his head again.
A hand at his back, Xan gave him an encouraging shove out the door. "Even if they're not cheering for you, I was. That's likely the most important, isn't it? We are the only friends here, Terarch. How envious the others would likely be." Except they wouldn't have been. Friendship didn't seem a very high point in the estate, but Xan certainly thought she was fortunate.
He chuckled and walked down the corridor, his first step a stumble from the push. Out of the arena, no doubt towards the manor. As new head of security, he was sure to have quite a few more responsibilities on his plate. But, that didn't matter. He was going to be gone in a few more days, one way or another.
She watched him take off fondly and the moment he excused himself she gave a soft sigh. And with the commotion having gone to rest, she returned to her place, deciding it was better to tidy up for when Terarch would drop by later.
The hours passed uneventfully for the most part on her end. She'd made things a little more organized for his visit later on and believing it was more becoming for him, she lost her disguise and wore the same refined cloak she would have back in Paragon, let her hair fall, and felt all entirely relieved to be herself and not an act. Once that had been done, she lounged on her bed, stared at the ceiling for a time and found herself dozing off, lured into dreams of home, the very same dreams that hid the underlying concerns for Cado who was far off and likely hard at work.
She'd return home before he would. She would need to do something to use up her time while she waited for him. And hopefully, he'd return in one piece. That was all she could do. Hope.
Before too long, a tapping came at her door, at the lower portion of it. Odd. Once the door was opened, though, it became apparent that Terarch had 'knocked' using a foot, since his hands were full of various bottles of alcohol and glasses.
Another thing was odd, too. He wasn't wearing his armor, and instead he was wearing a plain white t-shirt, blue jeans, and black laced boots. Noticeably, he had scars over his visible skin, a rather large one on his left arm, going from his forearm to his bicep and disappearing underneath his shirt.
"It's more comfortable like this. I hope you didn't think I spent all my time in my armor." He paused, addressing an obvious issue, "Don't worry, I changed after I got into the building, so no one saw me."
Next to Terarch, Xan would have said she was overdressed and inching into princess territory. Of course, she'd heard it many times before. Her style of dress had her classified as royalty, though she wasn't anything of the sort. But the way she carried herself and the small flicks of the wrist certainly could cause others to make that sort of mistake. Up until she said something inappropriate.
She opened the door for him cautiously, waited for him to come completely in before closing it and brushed herself off. "Oh, good. I'm glad you were careful."
She looked him over carefully and tipped her head to the side. He looked so casual and so comfortable. He looked so... normal. It must have been nice to get out of all of that armor. Then she turned her attention onto the bottles and glasses he held and gestured toward them before pointing to the end table closest to her bed.
"What did you bring for us?"
He looked around the room, like he was seeing if there were any differences between her room and his. He set down the bottles and glasses, "I didn't know what you liked, so I got a few things. Whiskey, scotch, and vodka. I also have beer and..." he paused, clearing his throat, "...wine downstairs, if those are more your taste."
A laugh left his throat and he looked toward Xan, "It's been a little while since a girl has invited me back to her place."
She nodded along with his response and rested her back against the door, slyly locking it. Mostly to keep outsiders... well. Out. Although a part of her...
No. Don't do that, she chided herself.
"I'm sure those will be fine. I don't want you to go out of your way for me." Her cheeks filled with a dark shade of red and she couldn't resist a smile. Funny how he said things that were somewhere in the back of her mind. She wondered what that said about herself. It wouldn't necessarily have to mean anything, though. And thinking like that, she felt a little terrible. But she'd already come between two brothers before. What was another pair, really?
"Does it displease you?" she asked softly, turning on her charm for him.
He smiled, "No, not at all. Such a thing has not and probably never will." He turned towards the bottles and glasses, pouring himself a glass of scotch before he turned back to Xan, "Although, it does make me wonder what else you may have in mind - if anything."
His expression was hard to read, something he shared with Cado; he may have been kidding, but then again, he may not have been. At the very least he was honest.
The features of her face had to give her away. It was precisely the reason why she'd had a disguise in the first place. She thought about what he had to say, however. What did she have planned? Had she even a plan at all? Xan was no more experienced in the idea of seducing men than she was in the field of assassinating people. Most of this had been a series of firsts for her. On the other hand, Terarch would be a good guinea pig for her, and hopefully he wouldn't hate her too much.
"What makes you think I had something else in mind?" Xan moved from her door carefully, almost glided past him on her light feet and after pressing her back to his, she looked over her left shoulder to him. "Do you think I am so untrustworthy, Terarch?"
"Untrustworthy? Oh, no. No no no. That's not what I meant." He took a sip of his drink, "But, it's not everyday that this situation comes up. A good-looking woman invites me up to her place to drink and have conversation with, I mean."
"Are you saying then, that I make you nervous?" She turned and lightly drew up her hands to rest against his forearms. "I would be lying if I were to say that I have not felt lonely here since I came from home. There... is some semblance of..."
Desire? Tainted thought? Yearning? She wasn't sure how to fill that blank, "...of something that I don't quite know how to say I obtain from being near you." It wasn't the first time she'd felt it, of course, and she was certain it wouldn't be the last.
"You don't make me nervous. In fact, quite the opposite. I feel much more relaxed when you're near. It's why I asked you to be my guest at the arena earlier today. I know all too well how lonely it can get here. But, the question is, do you plan on doing anything about that loneliness while you're here?" As he spoke, he brought his empty hand across towards his opposite arm, a finger tracing lightly over her hand.
She almost tensed beneath his touch. Normally Xan would have done exactly that, but even in front of Terarch she had to play some kind of part. If she didn't, she was offering too much of herself. Physical intimacy in her eyes was ten times easier than emotional, even for how utterly innocent she was in those regards. Not innocent to the terms where she hadn't crossed that threshold, but that her list was basically narrowed down to a single person.
Her response was well thought out, clever, cunning, and she very carefully brushed the tip of her finger across his, tentative and caring, "If you wanted to stay with me, you simply needed to tell me."
"And if I did say so, I'd be doing so without any objection from you, right? After all, you did invite me up here." He curled the rest of his fingers downward, now resting his hand fully atop hers. There was the question of Cado. Terarch didn't know the exact nature of their relationship, but he naturally assumed that it was probably at least a little more than professional. But, despite this, he remained silent on the subject of his half-brother.
She had to take a moment to really think about the situation, to think about who she was as a person, to think about what she was. In the back of her thoughts, she considered that her mother would be proud of her. `Lucent had told her she didn't want to be like that, though... But there was no denying that Xan, for all of her confusion, her hurt, her inner torment and anguish, having Terarch near her, having him distract her would do far more good than for him not to. She would be using him perhaps, but with no ill intent as she trusted him enough to let him physically close to her, to touch her where most often she would hastily turn away and flee.
Was it really her or was it... the her she'd built up for this job? Where was the line and had she crossed it? Terarch had a point. She'd invited him. Well, not so much an invite as it was a demand. Subconsciously she'd wanted it. Better him than Roane.
"You have my permission," she replied with a nod. Her expression grew soft with thought and she made no effort to withdraw from him or to hinder.
He considered this for a few long moments before he set his drink back down, turning slowly to her. A smile crawled over his lips and he nodded softly, "I'd like that." He brushed up her arms with his hands and then back down again before he pressed his lips tenderly to hers. Drawing back after a moment, his smile grew, and the markings on his face began to glow a soft, pale gold color.
The gesture in itself was so gentle that she had a very difficult time not being lured into it. Even as he withdrew, she leaned in toward him ever so slightly until she caught herself. Then she rested her gaze upon his face, examining each meticulous marking and marveling at how similar it was to Cado. Perhaps it had been something inherited by the parent they shared. Or perhaps it was an initiation they'd been put through during their days of work. She thought about asking and wisely put the temptation aside.
Glancing past Terarch momentarily at the drinks and glasses he'd brought, she knew well enough that she was already tingling. A little to drink would calm her nerves, even if he couldn't see them. "Please," she began as she looked back up to him, "make yourself comfortable. I will pour a little for us. I'd like very much to hear what your plans will be for the future. Happier days and happier times, if you will."
Slowly, he stepped away from her, giving a nod. He lowered himself down onto the corner of the bed, tilting his head as he watched her. His arms were crossed over his lap. "I've heard of the place where you live, Paragon City. I think I'd like to stay there for a time, just to make sure my brother doesn't get into too much trouble." He smiled, before adding, "Not that he can't handle trouble, but it's nice to have someone else."
"From there, I'm not sure. Maybe when you guys get tired of me, I'll go traveling somewhere. But, I've gotta say, I'm looking forward to not having to live most of everyday inside a helmet, being someone I'm not." He looked down at his left arm, before drawing a finger from his opposite hand over the large scar. But, he realized what he was doing and brought his gaze back over to Xan, a smile forming again.
Between the three he'd said he'd brought, whiskey, scotch, and vodka, she wondered which to pour as he replied to her. Whiskey sours were her favorite drink and while she had no lemon to offer, having half of it seemed better than none at all. She was careful to listen to him and could not resist a smile when he'd admitted he wanted to return to Paragon City. They certainly were brothers, after all.
She poured the first glass, "Cado enjoys Talos Park. I think he said it was his favorite place in Paragon. I suppose that means you may enjoy it there as well. I live in Founders' Falls. Well, lived. Live. I'm sure I'm still listed on their roster. I haven't actually been to my home there for about a month. I think Founders' is the prettiest place in Paragon, though." Then she handed it over to him before pouring out her own.
Leaning idly against the end table as she watched him, she took a moment to admire his scars. Umbra had scars too. Lots and lots of scars, but the difference between them was that Umbra's had faded over time. At least he'd told her as much and typical Xan was typical: skeptical. "I think any place you go will make you far happier than for you to be here." She smiled reassuring for him after taking a sip of her drink. Her free hand lifted and idly fingered the red hair that fell over her right shoulder.
Terarch reached out and quietly sipped the drink handed to him, mulling over what she'd said thoughtfully. "I think it'll be nice to get a fresh start. Maybe I'll get a better track of time again." He chuckled.
He motioned toward her with the drink hand, careful not to spill, "What about you? How long have you known Cado?"
She had every intent to offer some form of solace with his statement, but his question caught her by surprise. Silence ensued and Xan lost herself in some of the earlier memories. When she had met Cado, it was before the initial separation from `Lucent, which had happened mostly due to his treatment of her and the wise intervention done by the Watchers. It'd been a simple meeting. He'd been on his own and Xan being curious Xan had wondered what he was up to.
And he seemed uncertain, shy, and a world of other things that were so different from anyone else she'd ever met that she'd been utterly fascinated.
"Months," she commented idly, still somewhat captivated by sweet nostalgia. "Six months? Something like that. Maybe it's been a little bit longer. So hard to tell because every day seems like such a long time. He and I only recently reunited, however. When he'd told me about his issue, I jumped right on board to lend him a hand."
"Six months. I think I was still here six months ago. I suppose I've been here for maybe a year, but like I said it's hard to keep track of time. I'm not even sure how long you've been here." He looked down at his drink briefly, "I am grateful for your presence, though, I have to admit. I knew that sooner or later someone working with Cado would show up. I'm glad it was sooner rather than later."
Xan shook her head at him, "It was sort of a spontaneous decision made by me. Usually I give a little more thought to things. In a way, doing all of this was an escape from some things I just couldn't deal with. This was supposed to be a way to clear my head, because if I could concentrate on something else, someone else, then I wouldn't be stuck in my own thoughts."
Unfortunately, it didn't work.
She offered an idle shrug in his direction, "Nice to know it's almost done, though. You can go back to Paragon and I..." What was she going to do? "I will go back to doing what I was doing before I decided to take this on."
He tilted his head, "What about my brother? Will you just go your separate ways after that?" He seemed genuinely interested in her response, "I mean, you're friends, aren't you?" His eyes stayed on her as he brought his drink back to his lips and sipped.
Her eyebrows lifted and she set her glass down. Folding her arms over her chest she nodded vaguely, "Your brother and I are good friends. He watches my back and I definitely watch over his. Of course, I've got other things to attend to, so I can't spend all of my time with my friends. I have some loose ends to tie up and some other things I'll have to focus on when I return."
Then she chuckled, "I would never say though, that Cado and I would be going our separate ways. Or you and I, I imagine. After all, for as large as Paragon City is, it's not hard to run into people you know. Get what I mean?" She reached for her glass again and took a long drink.
"True enough, although people here seem to disappear without much warning, and it's not all that big." He finished his drink, standing up to set his glass down, "But, I guess I'll see what you mean soon enough, right?" A smile showed itself on his face as he looked over at Xan in silent admiration.
Her lips hooked into a smile for him and she nodded, "Soon enough. It's better not to be irrational, so let's just do what we can for now. What do you say? Make things a little less complicated, right?" For she certainly hoped he wasn't going to start the fireworks anytime soon. One night to recover, to celebrate his victory, to celebrate life, because in the back of her mind, there was always a chance it wouldn't last.
"A little less complicated, yes." He stepped closer to her and raised a hand to rest on her free arm. His face was calm and relaxed, and it wasn't hard to guess that his had really been the first time he'd been so relaxed since he arrived at the estate, however long ago that was.
She turned ever so slightly, unable to truly disguise the way her cheeks turned pink. Then she finished off her glass and set it aside, "...Did you want some more, Terarch?" She'd guessed not, but looking up at him, she couldn't say she was one hundred percent able to tell. He had a face that disguised most things. An impeccable poker face, she'd say.
He shook his head, "No, I'm alright." His other hand came up to rest on her other arm, now that she was no longer holding a drink. He leaned his head down and brought his forehead to rest on hers. Another smile came across his face. He wasn't sure what this meant for them, if anything, but no objection arose from him.
For one moment and one alone, Xan thought she was trembling, but it was all in her head, it was all her imagination. It wasn't as though she was incapable of uncertainties and more often than not, she was uncertain about something. In hindsight, she remembered being just as wound up tightly when she'd gone to see Umbra that day in the studio room far away from the ears and eyes of other people. He'd had to help her that day and even afterward, she was intimidated.
Terarch was nothing like Umbra, however.
Her chin lifted ever so slightly, forcing the tip of her nose to brush over his as she took a deep breath, "...Did you want to know who I actually am? I'm sure you know by now 'Lexan' isn't my name and is just an alias to use for my protection."
"I'd assumed as much, but I thought that there'd be a better time for it, after we left the estate." Sliding his hands off her arms and to her back, bringing her a step closer in the process. "I would like to know, but it doesn't have to be right here, right now."
Her hands lifted and she pressed them to his chest tentatively as he drew her in. She nodded to him, "I'll tell you my name when we leave. Deal?" Her head tilted and she sought his eyes with curious ones of her own.
He did meet her eyes with his, searching in them for something. He nodded his head and lifted a hand slowly to the underside of her chin. With his hand, he lifted her chin up gently and he leaned down, softly kissing her again.
It was another gentle gesture, one so very gentle, one she wasn't sure she'd expected when she looked at him. Living such a harsh lifestyle made someone jaded and hardened over time. She'd expected him to be just as hard as well. The idea that he wasn't surprised her. Pleasantly.
It took only a moment of hesitance before she gave in and was easily coerced to press her lips back to his. And it wasn't possible to deny that it felt nice.
Even though their lips were only in contact for a few moments, it felt like longer for Terarch, which wasn't a bad thing. During his time up in Xan's room, he found the situation peculiar. Less than a week ago, she'd been threatening to kill him and now he was... well... here. Peculiar, but enjoyable all the same.
If they had been enemies, Xan would have been hard pressed to turn him away. Being with an enemy sometimes made things easier. Sometimes, not always. Her thoughts weren't completely different. At least, not when she could make sense out of them. Having something to drink allowed her to loosen up just a little bit, enough to press herself to him gingerly and use him as support.
Did he want another one, she wondered? Or what was it that he wanted? He was the one holding her, after all, and as far as she knew, pleasing a man wasn't that difficult. All men had boundaries, however, and she didn't know where his was. And she couldn't exactly ask.
Both hands rested at her lower back now, just above her hips. He leaned down to brush their cheeks together affectionately. No doubt, she could feel his markings over her face. They gave off a warm, tingling feeling across her cheek, not much unlike how Cado's markings felt as well. There was obviously some kind of energy going through the markings, and appeared to be a source of their respective powers.
Xan slipped one arm beneath his to find his back and the other arm draped over his shoulder and somewhere between the moments that passed, her eyes drifted shut and her cheeks filled with pink. If she hadn't already been tingling, he certainly invoked it from her. She laughed a little, mostly because it tickled, but because she was all kinds of flutters. No, this nerves thing... It wasn't happening because she hadn't wanted it to. It happened because she was comfortable with Terarch.
Terarch tensed, but only slightly as Xan's hand made its way to his back. His back, it seemed, was sensitive to the touch. Near his shoulder-blades and also at his lower back (as well as on the middle of his back, but couldn't be felt at the moment) were large vertical scars, able to be felt even through the fabric of his shirt. And if she were to feel the other side, she would feel a mirrored scar. Maybe Cado and Terarch had more in common with each other than just the markings and their patronage.
However, Terarch spent his time focusing on giving Xan affection, rather than worrying about what she may have found.
He lulled her into security, a kind she hadn't really had since her arrival. He easily worked away her nerves with gentle touches and his close proximity. It wasn't long that she knew not how to ask what she wanted to ask and decided to, as people often said, 'take the plunge'. Her lips found his again, tender and tentative as if she was expecting him to eventually put her aside and remind her to mind her manners.
He hadn't done it yet though, and perhaps he had no intentions to.
Happily, Terarch pressed his lips to hers, seeming a bit more bold and eager as if to reassure her that it was alright and encourage her further. As their lips remained in contact, he began to slowly rotate them both toward the bed. Perhaps a bit forward of him, but Terarch was not Cado. And brothers they may be, but neither Cado nor Terarch possessed the same level of tentative nature as the other.
She hadn't expected that. If he had been Cado, she knew well enough he wouldn't have done such a thing. But she had made no movement to stop him either. What would be the point? It answered her question about what line there was, or that there was none at all. With hesitant fingertips, the hand at the back of his neck reached into his hair to hold him down to her. He probably didn't need the encouragement, though. He certainly didn't seem to.
He broke the kiss slowly and with hesitation, but he kept his face pressed close to hers. And, through everything, he couldn't help but smile. A week ago, his life was in chaos and he didn't know how to break free of it. Everything that he had done at the estate before Xan's arrival would have been all for naught had he died there, and he knew that. But, once Xan walked in through the gate, there was a glimmer of hope. And now it seemed much more than just hope, but more of a reality; he was going to leave this place in one piece and come back to finish what he had started.
But, he knew that now was not a time to think about such things. Now was a time to let go of the outside world, if only for the night. It was just the two of them, and for the first time in quite some time, Terarch was truly happy.
She'd long since softened within his arms. It had been easy to. He'd made it easy to trust him, which could have been bad if it had been a trap. She would have been sunk. Maybe it was a trap, but it was a sweet trap, a delicious trap, and one she was in no hurry to escape from. Outside the window, the world could have been cruel and she would have understood. But inside her room, there was nothing except compassion and perhaps a little of Terarch's sympathy.
Bringing his lips back to hers, he slowly, quietly began to stoop down to the bed, gently compelling her to, at the very least, sit down on it. He was very sweet and kind about it, something he and his brother seemed to share. On the way down, he brought a hand upwards to rest on her cheek, half-cupping her face while a smile played over his lips, even amidst the kiss.
It was a subtle hint, but one she got all too well. There was no protest as she sunk down, encouraged and motivated by his initiative. Xan sat first and as though to reassure him, she leaned until her back hit the comforter and she used her hands to coerce him down, having broken their kiss before. Her expression was kind and considerate, the sort of affection that wasn't often shown outside of the estate she imagined. The world could benefit so much more if there was adoration like hers, she'd always thought. Sharing it a little was not the most horrible thing she could have done.
"...No second thoughts?" she asked him softly, for his ears alone and she gingerly traced one half of his intricate facial markings.
As he descended, persuaded by her, he thought over her question for only a brief moment before answering, "No, not from me." A hand sunk into the bed just to the side of Xan, supporting Terarch over her. Bending at the elbow, he lowered himself further, seeking out another soft, sweet kiss from her.
And that seemed to settle it. He wasn't going to reject her. She wasn't going to reject him. In fact, he was going to further confirm his words and his decision with a simple kiss. Kissing Terarch was a bit different. Again, the tenderness caught her in its web and she was quite receptive to it. Her fingertips twitched as she reached for his chest, drew her hands across it, and made their homes along his ribcage to rest at his waist.
There's no right or wrong... Umbra had said. ...just what each person likes and doesn't like.
...So what did Terarch like?
Terarch brought his free hand down into the bed on the opposite side of Xan. Now having a hand on either side of her to support himself, he relaxed his lower body enough to rest his legs partially atop hers. Meanwhile, at the attention he was receiving from Xan's hands, he inhaled deeply, bringing his stomach inwards and pushing his chest outwards, slowly.
That kind of subtle sound was incentive enough as well. She lifted her head just enough to feather her lips along his jawline, to the very lobe of his left ear, where she pulled it between her lips momentarily. It wasn't his first time, she hoped, having attention like this, for if it was, she'd feel her stomach grow heavy far too quickly. All of her movements were testing ones, however, and he could stop her whenever he pleased. Her hands had their own plans though, and wormed their way beneath his tee shirt and to the bare flesh beneath it.
He tilted his head just slightly, returning the favor she was granting him by nibbling at her jaw just behind her own ear. Angling his body, he leaned over, supporting himself fully with one forearm. His other hand found a spot on her thigh that was not obstructed by his own leg and rested it there. For him, it had not been the first time he'd gotten this kind of attention, but it certainly hadn't been a short amount of time since the last occurrence.
She pressed herself up against him and drew her lower lip between her teeth. It wasn't the hand. By no means, not the hand at all, even against bare skin, for more often than not, Xan wore skirts when she wasn't being in disguise and gifted with blue hair. At any rate, it was the ear. She sucked in a sharp inhale and held it just until it hurt before she released it.
"...Terarch." Her voice scarcely above a whisper, approving, and an affectionate purr behind it. "...What kinds of things do you like?" For there really was no better way to please him than for him to tell her.
"I'm a man of simple pleasures." he began, softly, "I don't have any... outlandish preferences." He wasn't sure if that narrowed it down at all for her, but he wasn't sure how else to word it without going into excruciating detail. Inwardly, he chuckled at his choice of words. Outlandish preferences. He had no problem with these acts, obviously, but he preferred to remain as subtle as he could. Besides, in a situation like this, it didn't hurt to leave some things up to the imagination. What they were doing wasn't filmed, and there was no script, (although he wasn't oblivious to the fact that those things did exist) but rather something that required a certain amount of spontaneity.
A simple man with simple pleasures. It was a relief to hear, not that Xan hadn't relished in a world of the new prior to her arrival. It was fairly recent, too. She had no plans of sharing such information with him, however. No plans whatsoever.
Instead, she gave him a gentle sigh, of relief, of contentment, of many things actually. One hand pulled across his back and immediately grew tender as her other tugged on his shirt. Losing clothes was a part of the deal. Really, it was.
He paused briefly, allowing her to do what she would before deciding to give her a hand. Readjusting his position, bringing his knees outside her legs, he leaned back slightly on his knees so he wasn't forced to support himself on his hands, and he did help her out as he'd intended to do.
Scars were present on his chest as well. They were all of varying length and severity. The particularly large scar that went up from his left forearm to his bicep did not disappear because a shirt had been there, but rather continued up his arm and ended near the top of his shoulder. There was a relatively fresh looking scar on his right side, just below his ribcage that looked as if he'd been clawed by some large animal.
Nonetheless, he leaned back down, sliding his hands beneath her cloak, beginning to push it off.
Her curiosity got the best of her. Xan's fingers carefully traced the scars he exposed to her, where she could reach at any rate. She watched his face cautiously, just in case she crossed the invisible line somewhere and managed to hurt him. She didn't think she could, not on a man who'd taken on Lokis who seemed more trouble than he was worth immediately. There was an unspoken admiration that lied within her eyes, though she'd rendered herself silent until he returned to her.
Her cheeks flushed a becoming shade of pink when he reached for her and to lend her assistance, she carefully drew one arm out and then the other before words found her tongue again.
"Where did these come from...?"
"Some of them..." He looked down at his chest, as if seeing them brought back memories, "Some of them are from battle, but most of them are... Well, let's just say my adopted parents weren't as accepting of me as Cado's were of him." It was odd that he said that. Cado's adoptive parents weren't actually all that accepting of him, but they did a good enough job of making it seem like they did - at least before Cado 'fell' and they started hunting him.
She chose the scar that crept up his shoulder as her target. She rested her lips against it tenderly in a ginger kiss. Then she held him to her for just a few moments. It was so very characteristic of her, for Xan to be caring. "Those days are over for you, aren't they? Let's do our very best not to let anyone hurt you anymore."
Except he didn't need her protection. Even if he didn't, however, she had the feeling he would accept her help anyway. Funny, how hypocritical she was. Pride always spoke up for her, and surely he had a little pride beneath his exterior as well.
He tilted his head and exhaled out through his nose, his breath going out against her neck. His voice was just a murmur, "I have to say, even though I usually work on my own..." He smiled, now rubbing his nose against her neck affectionately, "I definitely could get used to it."
"Is that so..."
Except it wasn't a question. A slight smile took hold of her mouth and for one moment and one alone, she tensed beneath him. Had he always been so loving for his female companions? Or was she a special case? He knew what he was doing certainly, which was in stark contrast with her. "What else could you definitely get used to?" As if to emphasize her implied point, Xan pulled her hands across his back, making a mental note of the scars left there, so in likeness with her own.
Again, his back tensed slightly. His scars were sensitive, and in all likelihood, the wings that were once there had some sort of connection to the soul, as was the case for Cado. But, to her question, he wasn't entirely sure how to phrase it, so he decided to say it in a way that didn't seem like he was getting attached to her. Because as grateful as he was for her presence, he was going to wait to see where things went, if anywhere.
"I could definitely get used to getting this kind of attention more often."
It was a good answer to a not-so-good question and she had to give him credit for it. Fingertips slipped over his skin and to the crook between his neck and the back of his ears. She pulled him down to her and rewarded him with a sound kiss, still as tender, but a tad more passionate than she'd bothered to do before.
In the back of her mind were the nagging voices that were often there, the same ones who'd told her that executing Roane was wrong, the same ones who'd said the job really wasn't for her, and in the present they were chiding her for her affections with Terarch. Once having done one 'bad' thing, however, why not do the rest of it badly as well? Only she would know. Only Terarch would know, and she really had no plans of sharing it with anyone else. As if firmly decided, she ignored said voices and used his lips to prevent the upturn of her own.
She was met with no resistance and he leaned back down to kiss her. His hands crept gently over her sides as he lifted a knee to bring it to rest on the mattress inside her legs, as opposed to his other leg, which remained on the outside. Briefly, his thoughts returned to the last time he'd been in this situation. It had been nothing more than... a fling. To the both of them. Not totally unlike what this was tonight, but he imagined that he'd be seeing Xan more than just during the act.
The muscles along her ribcage grew rigid, eager even, at the touches he placed. There was something appealing about a man who was gentle. Of course Xan had her moments where she enjoyed things a little rougher, but those were few and far between and only allowed with those she trusted so impeccably. It was too easy to leave marks on her. It'd happened before. There was no doubt that Terarch could do the same. She had the suspicion he wouldn't, however.
How much time had passed? How long had they done the mating ritual dance? How long had they played upon each other with enticement? Time really lost its meaning behind closed doors. She lifted one leg, her right, to brush against his, encouraging and an attempt to lure him to her. That wasn't really necessary, however, for he'd nearly negated the space between them.
Slowly, he brought his other leg to rest next to his first one, between her legs. He drew his hands down to rest on her thighs and exhaled over her lips. A wordless murmur left his throat and he began to nibble on her lower lip, pulling it gently between his teeth and letting go.
There was a strike of familiarity and a single pang of guilt that washed over her. It was so quick that she almost didn't catch it, but...
As long as I keep him in my heart, he will not be disappointed in what I choose to do. He understands that this is my job and I must do whatever is necessary to be successful.
Except actions with Terarch, especially those of the fling kind really weren't a part of her job. Xan would not be able to lie about it later, and she wouldn't want to hide it. She hated having to hide things. It was either to suffer the same avoidance she had before, or to endure the ridiculous Umbra situation all over again.
`Lucent would hate her if she did it. And Xan was positive she couldn't handle that. Not when the two of them had gone through so much already. So the nerves fluttered back up and she realized that companionship was not interchangeable with physical intimacy. Having Terarch near did not require that kind of solace and she wasn't certain she wanted to put any unnecessary risk.
And then there was Cado, who she imagined would be less than thrilled with her for her antics. In a world where Xan would not commit to `Lucent or to Cado, it was not justification for her to act improperly.
It was when he released her lower lip that she found words to speak up again, cheeks rosy with pink and expression as soft as ever, so in contrast to how she presented herself to Laura and David.
"Just a taste is good enough for you, isn't it?"
Terarch lifted his head and tilted it, looking down at her. He knew what this was. He'd seen it before. This wasn't necessarily rejection. In fact, he was almost positive it wasn't rejection. Instead, it was more probably guilt. But, he didn't know if it had anything to do with his brother or if was someone else. Or maybe it was both. Or it could have been a multitude of people that included Cado and this possibly unknown person.
Although he wasn't going to deny - inwardly - that this disappointed him, he was still grateful for the company. Another night, perhaps, more than likely with a different woman. The company was all he had originally come up here for. To expect anything else in the end, was probably almost unreasonable.
A reassuring smile crossed his face and he nodded. He didn't want to put her in a bad situation, worse than she may have already been in. He wasn't that type of person. "Just a taste."
Certainly she'd been in no position to stop him, for if he'd truly wanted something like that from her, he could have simply taken it. Terarch was kind, however, and had not a bone in him that would misuse her or destroy her trust in such a way. They'd certainly come far enough together. It would have been a shame for it to so easily be broken apart by her unwisely opening her mouth and saying the wrong thing.
His expression, however, almost hurt as much as her own inward chiding. In fact, when she really came down to it all, a lot of her was beginning to hurt. She wouldn't say as much or express it, but she had come into her work with enough anguish to begin with. Somehow a little had crept onto her anyway in the midst of everything.
"Thank you for understanding, even if you truly don't," she found herself saying. "You can stay with me, but we don't need to do anything. It's okay just to have you near. Is... that all right?" She pulled her lower lip between her teeth with not as much confidence as she wore so well prior.
He leaned back down to give her a soft kiss, only holding it for a moment, and he smiled again, "It's fine." He propped himself on his knees and looked down at her again. Despite his disappointment, there was no less admiration in his eyes now than there had been earlier. Because he truly did admire the woman for how strong she was. For how dedicated she was to the people she cared about. In a way, Terarch envied her. There had been people he cared about that had come and gone from and died at the estate that he couldn't reveal himself to for fear of being revealed for who he really was.
Was it possible for her to blush any harder? Xan's two sides of soft and hard were so opposing to one another that sometimes she felt like two different people. Maybe he caught onto that. Or maybe he understood that Xan, beneath the suit and behind the axe, didn't have to be without compassion and adoration. His reassurance allowed her to relax and she brought up a hand into her hair, eyed him for a few moments, and leaned back to close her eyes.
"Otherwise, you really would have tired me out. I'm not as pretty when I'm not full of life, Terarch," she laughed in good nature. "So what do you intend on doing then?" Never mind that their position wasn't still compromising. It was more like being young again and playing around with a boyfriend when hormones were lingering in the air.
Glancing over his shoulder, "Well, do you want another drink?" He turned his head back to her. It seemed that he had the intention of getting up regardless of her answer. Most likely to get himself a drink at the very least.
She used her hands to help push herself up, which didn't help in the case of not inching into his personal space, which she hoped he didn't mind too terribly much. "Why don't you indulge? It's your celebration, Terarch. Take advantage of it. Soon we'll be out of here and you can celebrate all you want in Paragon, too." If she had too much, there was a chance she'd either talk too much or not enough or fall asleep on him or something ridiculous like that.
"So why not just enjoy yourself? It's okay to be you here."
A faint smile curled over his lips and faded slowly. He brought himself back to the floor and turned around. As he hadn't put on his shirt, she got her first look at his scars on his back. There were three pairs of scars. The pair at the top were particularly large, and going down his back, they got progressively smaller and closer to his spine. It was subtle, but there seemed to be some sort of gold aura emanating from each scar. Whatever it was, it wasn't quite the same as the markings on his face. When she'd run her hands over his back, there was no heat or tingling sensation.
He poured himself another glass of whiskey and took a drink. His mind went back to all the people that had come to the estate, and gone, for whatever reason or another. It overwhelmed him, but only momentarily. Quickly, he shook his head and took another drink before turning back around to bring his eyes back on Xan.
He spoke, but it seemed to be more thinking out loud than anything, "Not long now. I can finally get out of here."
She adjusted her position the moment he turned, rolled onto her stomach, kicked up her feet and she remained quiet as she looked over him. It was sometimes so much easier to learn about someone by watching them than by talking with them. Body language said a lot, or in Terarch's case, bodily markings. Given to him by his 'parents' who didn't accept him at all, it seemed. Maybe Cado had had it a little bit easier, even if he would have said he hadn't.
She used her arms to support her chin and she smiled lightly as she eyed him, "Just a little bit longer. Then freedom. So close you could almost embrace it. It's almost romantic."
Sitting down on the bed next to her and hunching forward just slightly, he looked over at her. Silent for a few moments. He brought a hand to his lower back and traced a finger over one of his smaller scars and sighed. Finally taking his hand away to hold his drink, he looked ahead, and for a very long time, he didn't speak. His mind was preoccupied with... everything.
She moved onto her side, so she could see him better. For a moment, she remained quiet, didn't bother to chide him, scold him, or anything else like that, as it seemed inappropriate timing. Then she laced her hands together and even as her weight toward the edge of the bed began to pull on her achingly slow, she made no effort to adjust herself.
"You look like your brother right now," Xan began. "He sometimes gets this look about him like he's miles and miles away. I hear I look like that sometimes, too. Don't tell me you're upset because I wouldn't let you..." She blushed, "...you know."
Then she reached over to his forearm and pat it gently, "If you think so much, you won't have room for anything else. Everything should be done in moderation." Logical, of course, but not always realistic. But it was Xan and she was not always realistic.
He turned his gaze back to her, "No. That's not why. I'm just thinking about everything that led up to this." He paused and idly motioned between them, "I mean, not this, but..." He shook his head, "I don't know. It's hard to put into words."
Xan paused for just a moment and then she laughed and she twisted a little more, "No, no. I understand what you're saying. You just don't know how to say it and that's okay. Take a deep breath. It might do you some good. When we see Matthew again, you can thank him all you want. He's the whole reason I even came here."
For if he'd thought of thanking her, surely he'd be wrong.