|Arcadia has a temper tantrum. Morrigan is new to the group at this point, and I haven't written much about her at all, but ... well, she's there.|
Fell and Dangerous
The young man settled onto one of the low, stone benches that seemed to be the only seating available in the room, setting several heavy books in varying states of decay next to him. He was oblivious to the watchful eye of the monk who had admitted him to the monastery's treasured library, absorbed in deciphering the blocky letters that made up the text of this particular society. Granted, the man's attention was not so much on him as his companion, who was leaning despondently against a nearby wall, gaze fixed on the sunny weather outside.
Which was fair enough.
He was nothing if not nondescript -- average height, average build, average brown hair and eyes. His clothing was travel-worn and stained, but this too was not unusual when the primary means of transportation for the country's citizens was walking.
The girl, by contrast, was slender and altogether lovely, possessing skin translucently pale and unusual eyes of deep violet. Her hair was nearly as pale as her skin, the barest hint of blonde showing through in the right light, and her clothing was both immaculate and -- to all appearances -- expensive.
She pouted, sidling closer to her companion, who was running his fingers over the text of an early page in one of the books and murmuring to himself. "I'm bored," she said, eliciting nothing more than a grunt from the young man.
A faint, green light washed over the pages of the book, and he lifted his hand, voice also falling silent. He gave a soft, relieved sigh, reaching up to run his fingers through already untidy hair, then returned his concentration to the book.
The girl's pout deepened, brow knitting, and she made another attempt, draping herself over him with a pathetic sigh. "Iufaa, I'm so bored."
"You're the one who insisted on coming," he reminded her, gently removing one of her arms from around his shoulders. "I told you it would be boring."
"No, that's exactly what happened, and it won't do you any good to pretend otherwise." He finally looked up, turning on the bench to face her with a stern expression. "You do this every time, Arcadia. I've told you over and over just to stay and keep Morrigan company, but --"
"I don't like Morrigan," she mumbled.
"I know you don't, but Morrigan's new at this, and she needs all the support we can give her." He sucked in a deep breath, smoothing away his growing frown and reaching a hand up to stroke the girl's hair in what almost seemed like a placating manner. "I know how frightened you were when you first started traveling with me, Arcadia."
The girl's expression turned from petulant to sullen, and she slouched against his back, leaning her face on his shoulder. Another heavy sigh escaped her, but for the moment she seemed content to keep her displeasure to herself.
"What are you reading?" she asked after several minutes of silence.
He turned a page, pausing over an apparent translation difficulty, then lifted the pages up for her to see. "I'm researching local natural and supernatural phenomena," he explained quietly, casting a quick, sideways glance at the monk. "It helps to know what's normal for the area before we go looking for something strange."
"If this book is right -- I'll have to look at the others -- then we're dealing with the usual run, but it mentions something called 'vapors,' and I'm not sure what those are."
"Vapors are the spirits of the dead, still awaiting passage to the blessed lands."
Iufaa's shoulders jerked, and he looked up at the monk with a shaky smile. Somewhere in the midst of the conversation he had closed the distance between them and was watching the pair with an expression somewhere between mistrust and disapproval.
"Oh ... so they're ghosts, then."
"On the contrary," the monk said, expression becoming severe, "ghosts are fell spirits confined to the earth for their living sins."
"Huh," Iufaa said, turning his face back to the book. "Okay."
"Let me see it," Arcadia said suddenly, reaching down to snatch the book before she could be given a proper reply.
She shut the book and turned it over to scan the title. She frowned. "'The Vampire, the Werebeast and Other Fell and Dangerous Monsters." The frown rapidly became a scowl.
"Arcadia, give it ba -- wait!"
She gripped the tattered tome open between her hands, expression suddenly and completely dismissive as she gave her wrists a decisive twist and ripped it in two, a few scattered pages fluttering helplessly to the floor. Then she dropped the separated halves, turned on her heel, and stalked crisply toward the door.
"Arcadia!" Iufaa lurched to his feet, aghast. "Arcadia, you can't just DO that -- it isn't even mine! Arcadia!" He cast the ruined volume a horrified glance, which he then turned to the monk, stumbling toward the door and babbling apologies. "I'm sorry -- I'm so sorry! I'll pay you -- I might be able to fix it -- hang on --"
He dashed into the hall, any chance of catching his companion before she left the building gone. Ignoring startled looks from the few monks and acolytes in the halls, he made his way quickly outside, gaze darting to the trees that lined the well-worn path to the monastery.
She hadn't gone far, huddled in the shade of a tree with her arms around her knees and scowling angrily into space. She turned her face from him as he approached, but he paid the gesture no heed, planting his fists on his hips and frowning at her.
"What did you do that for?" he demanded, frustration once again creeping into his voice. "Do you know how hard it was just to get them to let me in the monastery -- let alone the library! What am I going to do if they don't let me back in?"
He fell silent, watching her half-turned face, and rubbed the back of his neck with a sigh. "I'm sorry, Arcadia, it's just --"
"I'm not a monster," she mumbled, interrupting him.
"I'm not a monster," she repeated, turning to fix him with a defensive glare.
"Of -- of course you're not, why do you -- oh." Iufaa's forehead wrinkled, and he reached up to rub the lines away as he knelt next to her in the grass. "That's still no reason ..." He trailed off when her scowl deepened, shaking his head slightly. "Look, Arcadia," he said gently. "It's possible that vampires in this world are different from the one you lived in."
The scowl faded, replaced with skepticism.
"It's true," he said quickly. "One world I visited --" He paused, dropping to his backside and wrapping his arms around his knees. "Their vampires were blood-drinking, but they didn't have a proper shape. They couldn't even shapeshift, and they only had about animal level intelligence." He paused, frowning for a moment. "They were really fast, though. I never knew a blob could move that fast."
Arcadia was staring at him now, eyebrows arched nearly to her hairline. "Disgusting," was her pronouncement.
Iufaa smiled. "Yeah, they were. But you see what I mean? People may use the same name, but it can refer to something completely different."
The sullen look returned, but it was half-hearted, and she surrendered his point with a liquid shrug. "Will you be able to fix the book?" she asked, the closest thing to an apology he was likely to receive.
"Yeah, I probably can." He ran his hand through his hair, grimacing when his fingers got caught in a tangle. "If they let me back in."
"Master?" a voice spoke from the shadows, and he lurched where he sat, nearly falling sideways when his hand still refused to come free.
"Morrigan," he said, recognition and relief in his tone.
"You've returned more quickly than you suggested. Is something amiss?"
"No, we're fine." He peered into the undergrowth and could barely make out the hazy form of a horse, smoky and indistinct in the shadows. "How are you holding up?"
The figure shifted, and a soft sigh rustled the leaves. "I am becoming more used to the light," she said. "It continues to ache in paler shadows, but I am no longer afraid that I will dissipate."
Arcadia gave a faint, contemptuous snort, but Iufaa ignored her. "That's good. I'm glad it's getting a little easier."
"Will we be going, master?" Morrigan asked, tossing the shadow that was her mane and taking a cautious step closer. "Did you find the information you required?"
"Ah ... no, I have to go back. Things got a little complicated." He glanced back up the road where it wound to the monastery, now out of sight. "We may have to try somewhere else."
He fought a cringe at the weariness in her voice. "I'm sorry, Morrigan. I'll work as fast as I can." A glance at Arcadia told him that she, too, was weary, despite her greater resistance to the sun, and he got to his feet, dusting off tunic and trousers, smiling when she looked up at him.
"Would you like to stay here and rest while I go get things straightened out?"
She hesitated, then gave a short nod, tucking her face back into her knees, and he rubbed the back of his neck again.
"How about when I get back we just rest here until nightfall?" he suggested, and she paused for a moment before nodding again.
"I would like that, master," Morrigan agreed, her form relaxing into the shadows.
"Well, that's settled then." He scratched his ear. "I'll be back soon as I can."
Sucking in a deep breath, he turned to the road and started walking, mentally rehearsing a dozen variations on pleas and apologies to try on the monks and hoping one of them would regain him access to their library.