The Mirror Realms, Chapter Two: The Wall.
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Chapter 2: The Wall
Their walk seemed to take ages. Sabine, holding branches aside for him and helping him maneuver past brambles and other overgrowth on the rarely-used path. She could see the demon flagging, feel him leaning more on her when the terrain challenged him.
He winced occasionally, either from something poking at his feet or from his ankles but he didn't complain, at least not verbally.
He'd managed to distract himself with the thousand other things that interested him instead. The trees around them and the way the sun threw shade to the forest floor in patches of green and white. The noises of far off birds and small creatures that made the brush bristle with the pads of tiny paws and talons. The receding roar of the waterfall seemed to visibly comfort him and eventually, he ceased having to lean on her as the constant ache in his legs sunk into the background.
"I...never asked for your name," he said suddenly, his former peaceful concentration broken by his curiosity towards his savior.
"I think I sort of forgot those actually matter..." he chuckled. If it weren't for the fine layer of dirt that darkened his almost blue skin he'd have been a pale shade of pink at his own awkward outburst. Conversation was apparently a point of work for him, he noted inwardly.
Sabine startled- after his long period of silence and contemplation, she'd expected him to be quiet the whole way. She also realized she hadn't bothered introducing herself and could almost hear her mother scolding her. Of course, this wasn't the most conventional social situation, so perhaps she'd give herself another pass. Her cheeks colored and she gave an embarrassed, self-deprecating smile.
"-Sabine. I'm Sabine Dubois. Sorry, that's normally the first thing I do, it's just this whole situation caught me a little off guard. It isn't everyday I find a demon abandoned and shackled in a cave hidden in the side of a cliff, you know...."
"Sabine, eh?" he tried, the beginning "s" coming out more along the lines of a "z" with his thick accent.
He laughed after a second.
"I don't think many people would find that commonplace..." he replied, still somewhat out of breath.
"-and if they do then they must live quite the adventurous life, albeit dangerous I think..." he looked tired, willing himself forward as he knew they likely had a while to go before they would be much of anywhere. He stumbled again and growled with annoyance.
She took his arm slowly and gently, tucking it into hers so he wouldn't fall over again.
"Please, just let me help you along. In a state like this, there's no shame in needing assistance."
He didn't argue, Sabine leading him easily with a calm smile.
"It sounds absolutely exciting, doesn't it? Sure, danger, all that. But it'd be hard to be bored, don't you think?"
"I suppose it would be, wouldn't it..." he mumbled, putting more concentration into where he was walking. He glanced towards her every now and then as they walked. With the attention she put into even such small things, he wondered what this woman would do given actual cause.
"This is a dream," he told himself.
"There is no way on this planet or the next that it was this easy." his thoughts echoed him.
Eventually the path began to look better kept, the dirt more well packed and her boot prints hardly left imprints.
She took her cloak off and offered it to him, the threat of someone seeing him from town was beginning to grow and he may as well have glowed in the dark with how obvious he appeared.
"Here. This should help cover you up. Put it on, put up the hood, and pull it as close around you as you can. You can still lean on me, don't worry. We're going to take a detour around the front gate to a little...side entrance of mine. I don't want the guards stopping us and raising issue before I can get you to my mom."
He took the cloak from her after a moment and looked at the piece of clothing as if he were a child on denotdykha - that is to say, a huge annual holiday on his planet that usually included gifts. His expression softened considerably and he clumsily pulled the cloak around his scarred shoulders to clasp it over his collarbones, the chain between his wrists now shrouded in thick, green fabric.
He smiled, situating the baggy hood to pull it over his pointed ears and the striped horns that decorated his head. Sure, he was still barefoot and wearing an oddly gleaming collar of steel but he stood out much less than a beaten demon in a shade of white so pale he was almost blue. The weight of the wool around him was comforting and foreign, a welcome change he wasn't apt to give up.
She felt an odd, tight sensation in her chest. He was almost like a small child receiving a gift and his face alone nudged some kind of instinct in her. She suddenly wanted to be very sure they weren't caught sneaking in. He needed help. She had to make sure he got it.
"I suppose I certainly look less strange don't I?" he smiled, pulling the front of the cloak closed to hide his bare midriff and the chains that were left. What he really wanted was to sit down soon, as his ankles were turning to fire the longer he stood.
"-Oh, you never really looked strange. Just different than most people around this area. I was more worried about the half-naked part. That and you're paler than I am-which is by far an accomplishment- if I was in less clothing I'd be shining like a full moon on a clear night right now."
She pulled him along. knowing full well the gates that lied around thirty feet to the north-west of them, just barely visible once you were at the end of the treeline. She moved them further to the east,giving the patrolled areas of the wall and gates a wide berth, until they came upon her usual little entrance.
She moved the moss hanging over the opening in the wall. It was plenty large enough to let her slip through, and with some wiggling even a slender grown man could fit, so with as malnourished as Kostya seemed, he could do it-albeit with some awkward floundering, but he'd make it.
She put up a finger.
"-wait here while I go make sure there's not a late patrol or any witnesses."
She ducked inside and checked all around the old, abandoned mill. No one was in sight, and she could sense no one coming. Good.
She poked her head back through.
"-all clear. Can you get through on your own, or-?"
He shifted his weight to just one of his legs, giving the other one a break while he considered the small opening. His legs would surely fit, his shoulders sideways would fit just fine but it was his head he was a bit skeptical about.
He turned his head from one side to the other a time or two before turning himself sideways to put his left foot through first, then one of his shoulders to slide in that way. The rough stone scraped him here and there, the demon paying so little attention to it, it might as well have not happened. His hood was caught on the edge with a grating clunk as he froze in his progress, huffing in frustration. The fabric of his cloak was trapped under the curved inward part of his horns where the tip was and Caine didn't seem in the mood to deal with more slowdowns.
"-Oh bother..." he huffed, attempting to dislodge his head from the jutting section of concrete. He should have known this would happen.
"Bloody useless head decorations..." he hissed, tucking his chin to his chest and finally freeing his head with a trickle of dust that stuck stubbornly to the side of his hood.
He scowled back at the hole comically now that he was on the other side then back at his companion.
"I've always said they weren't good for much other than neck pain and exploits in strange sleeping positions..." he muttered less sourly this time.
She laughed, garnering another smile from Caine. He liked amusing her, it gave him a little validation that his personality hadn't wasted away to nothing.
"-I can't relate to anything getting in the way but the extra weight I put on around twelve....I've never been able to fit quite as well in small spaces since." She jokingly pinched the meat of her hip through her pants before rearranging the moss that hid the hole in the wall. Once satisfied, she turned back to him.
She brushed off his cloak and looked him up and down.
"-well some regular passerby, if they spot us, might not notice much off but a cloaked figure, but we should avoid meeting up with any guards, mages, or warriors. They're a bit more observant, for the most part. Don't want them looking down and noticing the bare feet, or studying the shapes under the hood of the cloak too closely. Just follow me and keep your head down, or as much as you can. It's not much further to my house."
"I'll make it, just lead the way and I'll try to keep up.." He never thought he'd be unable to keep up with a human but here he was starting to tire after less than an hour walking.
She led him through a couple alleys, the pair having to duck down a time or two to avoid being spotted by casual passerby. Once Sabine even was sure they'd been spotted, but the woman continued on after an agonizing moment. They were so close she could almost see it.
She relaxed as they walked up the steps to her porch. No one was in sight, thanks to the comfy situating of the cottage just far enough from other people on all sides and surrounded on two of them by some trees-a few of them fruit trees her mother had planted back when they had first moved into the cottage, while Sabine was still just a round bulge in her mother's stomach.
"This is it. I'll check inside and see if anyone's home. If you hear someone coming, duck down behind those bushes, okay?"
Caine looked nervous as she ran up the steps, leaving him alone on the porch.
He leaned over the porch rail to take some of the weight off his feet and looked at the strange fruit that grew on the trees to the edge of the yard. Flowers grew in a small garden nearby, tiny white flowers surrounded by bright and beautiful blooms he couldn't name if he tried. Everything was so foreign and new, even peaceful despite the thudding of his heart in his chest.
Any moment could possibly be another round of either death or imprisonment loomed over him. He shuddered at that thought and watched the front door as Sabine disappeared into it, glancing back towards the walkway, praying silently that no one would come home.
She popped her head back out not even a minute later.
"All clear! Mom's probably helping out at the infirmary, and Dad's probably tending to temple business." She went quiet, then struck a pensive expression as she considered the speech she knew her mother would give her even as she tended to the wounded demon. The usual spiel about safety and such.
"I hope your patience is longer than mine, and your hearing worse, because Mom is absolutely going to help you, but she's most likely going to be giving me flack the whole time about going outside the safety of the walls on my own while I'm still a fledgeling. She acts like dad never taught me to defend myself or outdoorsmanship even...like I'm some helpless doll." She paused and considered how he might take the change in attitude, then hurried to reassure him.
"-of course, she will help you, regardless. She's never let a wounded person walk away from her without full healing and treatment."
Caine didn't seem pushed one way or another, looking about the main living room that was adorned with tasteful knickknacks and pictures, it looked comfortably lived in, with boots on a rack near the door neatly lined up and some polished. The dark floors looked worn by years of feet and polished often. A small couch and an armchair sat around a thin fireplace against the back wall. The rhythmic ticking of the clock on top of the mantle and something that smelled sort of like lemons or wood polish perhaps.
He paused as he passed the door, registering a little late what she'd said, a feeling of dread starting to form heavy in his stomach.
"...what's this about the temple..? Fledglings?" he asked, He knew she couldn't have been entirely human but she couldn't have been that could she? One of those wouldn't have saved him like this. They drove demons out last time, why would they go through all the trouble to save one?
She turned to him, one eyebrow raised. It seemed pretty clear to her, but then, maybe since he was a noble demon he didn't know much about their world. He knew English, so she'd just assumed he'd know these things.
"Oh, my dad works at the temple. He's...er, well he's Chief Enforcer, but don't worry, if we get mom to meet you first she'll make him leave you alone. As for fledglings, well, it's a term for an angel who only just got their wings, so they aren't full-grown yet. You know, teens like me? I'm almost eighteen though, so my wings should grow again soon enough...I just hope it won't be as painful as last time."
She realized something a few moments later, as it clicked into place into her head. Why he seemed slightly alarmed now.
"Oh, you didn't realize, did you? Well, it's not like it's easy to tell, unless you study our aura closely. Our wings don't show unless we literally call them here from the another plane of existence. Convenient, really, because let me tell you, even with how small mine are now they'd be annoying to have to deal with all the time."
She called her own wings into being, the small, disproportionately underdevoloped black wings spreading, a rebel feather drifting down to the floor. She offered him a reassuring smile.
"-I'm an angel. Don't worry, I'm not gonna hurt you. Mom won't either. We're nice people, I swear. Mom was even friends with a demon once!"
Caine swallowed hard. Out of the fire and into the frying pan. Always had been with him. He took a deep breath, if it weren't for the wall behind him he was almost sure he'd have passed out right then and there.
"...the shackles cut off my senses, including auras..." he said flatly, staring at her almost childish looking wings with ringed eyes the size of quarters. While Sabine was certainly open minded and seemed to believe in her parents, he could hardly put that kind of trust into people he'd never met. People that worked for an entity that probably wanted him dead almost as surely as his family was going to.
'friends with a demon once' his arse, that didn't mean anything. Just because one liked dogs didn't mean they'd let themselves be bitten and from what he knew about a lot of angels -and even most humans- after the war, he didn't figure their opinions of demons were likely much higher than that of dogs either. If anything the dogs had a far better fanbase.
"I am so dead." he squeaked in Venetic.
Sabine worried over the frightened animal eyes and the sentence in his home language, a harsh sound with lots of consonants. She tried again.
"It's not a big deal, just try to relax-you're fine. I told you, Mom's really nice, and Dad just goes with whatever she wants most of the time. He might act scary but I swear he's a huge teddy bear. If he's too mean let me or mom know and we'll set him straight, I swear, but mom and I won't let him do anything bad. Besides, he really just works with the town and temple's best interests in mind, so once he understands you're not a threat I'm sure he'll lighten up."
She tentatively reached out and waited for him to register what she was doing before she took his hand and led him over to the couch, bringing the throw blanket off the couch and around his shoulders, reassuring him with a tight squeeze on his arm.
"Come on, Relax! It's going to be alright. I'm going to go get you some water to drink, and then I'm going to call my mom and have her come home to help you-okay?"
"Just sit tight for a bit. You're going to be fine, I promise."
He stared in disbelief as she walked away, setting the blanket to the side of him. He didn't feel much like dirtying the rest of their nice living room, not with the impending doom that was the door. Or the call. Or gods knew what else could happen. Sabine was young and seemed to be more of the "against the grain" type of person, hardly the typical angel he had heard about.
He propped his elbows on his knees and rested his head in his hands, his horns fitting comfortably in the curve of his hands as he tried to calm himself more.
"Take me to a village full of angels," he thought to himself as he rubbed his tired eyes.
"What could possibly go wrong..." he let his hands drop, still looking towards the ground as his heart raced and his wounds throbbed now that he was sitting. He prayed silently in his head, to anyone that would listen that today wouldn't be his last, even as unease grew in his chest.
Sabine felt a little worried for him, he really seemed to be taking this angel thing hard. She didn't know what she could say to cheer him up, not until her mother got here and she could prove to him they weren't going to kill him. She sighed, vanished her adolescent wings, and turned to go to the kitchen. She'd get him a glass of water for now and then she'd go use the big mirror in the study to call her mother home.
She froze mid-step as she heard the front door opening. A few things happened very quickly in the next few seconds.
She turned hurriedly and lifted Caine by the tie of the cloak from the couch, straining and grabbing his arm as well with her other hand so she wouldn't rip the cloak or fail to move him.
She shoved him around into the kitchen, hiding him behind the wall that separated it from the living room. She made a frantic sign of a finger in front of her lips and then hurriedly sat on the couch as she heard the sounds of someone in the entrance hall, just out of sight.
A masculine voice called into the house as she heard footsteps in the small entry hall.
"Sabine? I'm home early, dear-are you here?"
"Yes, Daddy!" She called. Her heart was pounding in her chest. Not him, not yet. She wanted her mother to meet him first, not her father. He'd overreact.
"I'm in the living room-what are you doing home so early?" She asked him, trying to keep her face straight and voice level.
Her father entered the living room, running one hand through his dark hair in a familiar manner she knew meant he was relieved about something.
"Nothing too serious, dear. Just a little breach in security. It's being taken care of as we speak, I just wanted to make sure you were-"
He was interrupted as the front door opened again. More footsteps sounded out, lighter and faster.
"Sabine-?" Her mother's anxious voice called from the hall.
The small blonde woman hurried into the room.
"Oh, thank goodness, you're alright-Mark darling, did you come to check on her too?"
"Yes, love. She's fine."
Sabine nodded jerkily. She needed a distraction fast-her father was often perceptive.
"And, uh, I just got back from getting some ingredients for you, mom-see?"
She hastily unhooked the pouch from her belt and opened it to take out and show her mother one of the red lotuses.
"Look what I got!" She said hastily, hoping to at least distract her parents from the demon in the kitchen near them. She could take a lecture on safety, but she really didn't want to have to introduce Kostya to both of her parents at once.
To be quite honest, she didn't even want her father to interact with Kostya at all. He didn't do well with the human and angel boys she sometimes brought home, she didn't really want to know how he'd react to a demon. Even a malnourished, half dead demon.
Giselle looked briefly excited and then scowled.
"Sabine! I know I said I needed some Blood Lotus, but you shouldn't have gone outside town on your own!"
Sabine grimaced but accepted the chiding.
"-I know, and I'm sorry, but I heard a tip about this sure spot to harvest them, and I knew you've been needing them for a while, and honestly it wasn't even that far-"
Caine was frozen, standing pressed against the wall of the kitchen only an arms length away from where it lead into the living room.
"What now? What in the name of all 13 gods do I do now?!" his mind screamed, looking towards the back of the kitchen for a back door or even a lead around or something, anything that could give him an out. Maybe they'd go back to work, he hoped. Or perhaps Sabine would distract them for a few minutes. He glanced at a window and wrote it off immediately. Not only would the chains make way too much noise but he was far too clumsy right now to get out of that with any grace becoming of something described as a daring escape.
For now, however, he held his breath and hoped his friend would come through for him.