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Oblique Reference
Fic: Cado in Tenebris (6/?) part 1 
9th-Mar-2008 03:57 am
misc: awesome like an albatross
Title: Cado in Tenebris (6/?)
Author: Calex
Rating: PG-13… ish?
Disclaimer: As ever, this story, the plot and characters are mine. The universe was created and shared between the writers of the Oblique Reference Project of which there are now four. Any resemblance to persons living or dead, or situations are purely coincidental; therefore, don’t sue.
Notes: Despite saying that I’d try to get this part up as soon as possible, the writing of it wasn’t done for more than a month after, so sorry to all of my readers. Saying that, er, here! Hope you all like it. And check out my journal for more ficbits to tide you over. There are a series of ficlets for a future story I’m writing set in the OR universe and a few AU stories featuring the brats of CiT and other OR ‘verse characters. Some even set in RP verse.
Note the second: If anyone’s wondering where I got the ranking for the Demons, it’s from the grimoire, ‘The Lesser Key of Solomon’. Information can be found on Wikipedia.
Note the third: How sad is it that this is turning out to be my longest fic so far? It’s past the 40000 word mark and, eep, not even half way through. Of course, it’s probably because I waffle and write unnecessary things but hey, maybe you guys would like a bit of background, of which this chapter certainly does have a dearth of.

Previous chapters: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Colours (side story, NWS)


Download: Chapter 1 - 6 (.pdf file)






How has it come to this?

The question seemed to be set on repeat in his mind from the moment he had seemed fit enough to gather himself away from the balcony and rejoined the party, repeated as he spoke and laughed and made conversation, repeated when he teased and flirted with Haagenti, Lilith and Eleksha, repeated as he and Bael danced their careful dance around each other, avoiding each other so very perfectly, managing to somehow stay away from each others’ sight despite the small number of people present. Not that it wasn’t obvious that they were trying to avoid each other, far from it in fact. The air was too tense for people not to notice, but Caellach forced a cheerful expression on his face and neatly sidestepped prying comments and questions from friends. He knew that they meant well, that they were merely worried for him but it did nothing to lessen the pain in his heart at each “are you alright” or “what the hell is going on”. Fionn in particular seemed adamant in trying to find out what was wrong and Astaroth… well, he merely smiled sadly and did not press for which Caellach was extremely grateful. He could do without the sympathy and sadness, though, but he would take whatever he could get out of the present situation.

Eleksha and Lilith both had tried to draw him aside to speak of it but each time he had laughed it off and blithely changed the subject, ignoring the exasperation from both sisters, though Eleksha was far more obvious with hers than Lilith was. Then again, Eleksha had always been quicker to temper and impatience while Lilith seemed to have her brother’s unflappability. Soon (though nowhere near soon enough for him) the clocks chimed the midnight hour and forced the party to withdraw to bed, much to his extreme relief. The relief was short-lived, however, and his good cheer plummeted as he saw Bael offer his arm to Brén, and watched as the young prince accepted it with a shy smile. In his own turmoil he had forgotten what the first stipulation of the contract was; to truly make Brén his, Bael would have to consummate their new relationship, regardless of whether the Demon Lord would choose to take Brén as his lover later on or not. He tore his gaze away when the two stepped out of the room and pasted a smile on his face as he bade goodnight to the rest. He fairly fled the room, ignoring their concern.

But where could he go? He felt like running, like riding, trying to lose his worries in flight but where? Everywhere he went it seemed as though precious memories were stored there, taunting him with images of happier, more innocent times. Images of him and Bael when they were younger, images of smiles that were just for him, of laughter and conversations. Finally he fled to his room, almost slamming his door closed in his haste and locking it hurriedly behind him before heading straight for the decanter of whiskey he had spied there before. Pouring himself a more than generous amount, he gulped it down, ignoring the burn as it went down his throat, coughing slightly, eyes watering but still it would not stop the memories, still his mind tormented him with scenes, a particular scene just three days before his abduction. He sank down onto the armchair by the fire, shoulders drooping and could not help but remember…


He had been in the Dark Court for a month at that point and he could not imagine himself elsewhere. The days were filled with fun and laughter, spending time with Eleksha and Lilith and Bael and Astaroth. Despite his earlier reservations, he thought now that the redheaded Demon Lord wasn’t too bad: stoic and slow with his smiles, but not too bad. After all, how could someone whom Bael thought so highly of be anything but wonderful? Although he occasionally missed his home, his mother and siblings, the four Demons did much to keep his melancholy at bay. They became like a second family to him, and he was even fond of the many servants in Bael’s home, and even of Bael’s stern father and gentle mother. It helped, perhaps, that everyone seemed to dote on him in equal measure. Even if the court sessions and balls he had been forced to attend was rather drab and dull, it did nothing to diminish his joy at being there and finding friends that had wormed their way so quickly and surely into his heart.

That day it was only just him and Bael. Astaroth had duties to attend to, having just hit his majority. Although he had refused to make the Offering and claim more power, he was still powerful enough that the Lord of Demons had taken note and given him the responsibility of a guard of his own. Caellach respected Astaroth for that, in awe of the Demon with his rare smiles and sad eyes and while he regretted that they would not spend their day together, he could not deny the gladness he felt at being able to spend some time alone with Bael. It was a rare enough thing, sometimes, but since the girls had been forced to go to their lessons, he had what he wished for. He and Bael used to spend much of their time alone together but with the date to Bael’s birthday coming so soon he had to prepare for the ball his father was throwing, and also had to prepare to make his offering.

Caellach so hated to sulk about that, though. Bael was so patient with him and indulged him in many of his wishes but he knew that the Offering was important to Bael. He couldn’t help but wonder what the older boy would end up being, though. He was sure that Bael would pass the rank of Prince to King, but he was the first to admit that when it came to Bael, he had a bit of a bias. So he was very much curious and nervous and excited for his friend.

They had planned to spend the day outside, go to the park and relax, but it had started raining so instead they were ensconced in the room Bael had said was his forevermore, when he chose to came back. It wasn’t even an ‘if he chose to came back’, but a when because it was an acknowledgement that Caellach belonged with them. He had made friends beyond the four Demon Lords and Ladies and had made friends with the servants and cooks as well. Caellach couldn’t imagine his life without this household as a regular part of it. Bael was sitting on the armchair by the fireplace and was reading aloud to him from a book of Myths and Legends of the Shadow Realm while Caellach curled up by his feet, laying his head on Bael’s knee. Bael had a hand on his head, unconsciously combing his fingers through Caellach’s hair and that along with the warmth of the cheery fire made the Hellhound feel both lazily drowsy and with the strange need to purr.

It was comfortable, the air filled only with the crackling of logs and Bael’s smooth, low voice and Caellach glanced up to grin, admiring again the face and figure of his friend. He had seen his share of beautiful people in his sojourns to Court and the Demon race was nothing if not filled with beautiful people and yet there was something different about Bael, something about him that set him aside from the rest and that was an observation that was not tainted by Caellach’s own admitted bias. No, Bael’s beauty was almost unearthly, ethereal, emphasized by palest skin, long silver hair and the intriguing blue green eyes that swirled with power even when Bael was just a Duke. He said ‘just’, but it was certainly a feat for a young Demon to be when he had not even made the Offering yet.

Astaroth was another anomaly of the system, but the evidence of his power was subtler for his eyes only glowed with his power when he used it. Bael had told him once that Astaroth’s eyes would always hold the hint of the fire he had if he used it as regularly as Bael used his magic, but Astaroth had always guarded his powers so very carefully. With good reason, he remembered Bael murmuring to him when he had asked, but he and no one else had divulged the reason for it. It was his own father who had answered his question.

“Astaroth is powerful, very much so,” Deaglán had said sombrely to his son, upon questioning. “Prince Vassago told me that just two years before, the woman betrothed to Astaroth was killed by a group of bandits on her way to the Dark Court from their manor in the country. When Astaroth the news, his powers just… exploded. The fire that was called by Astaroth’s rage and anguish levelled four homes in the Dark Court and killed a little girl who was trapped in her room. Astaroth was put on trial but the Order of Kings declared him innocent but ever since then, he has been very careful about keeping his emotions so very tightly in check.” He smiled sadly, then. “It’s the reason why Astaroth won’t make the Offering. He fears that he will lose what control he has if his powers grow considerably larger. It is a pity, that boy would make a King and a good member of the Order but…” Deaglán sighed. “I do not blame him for being so wary. He bears the heavy responsibility of his powers, and he does so with great dignity. He is truly deserving of all of our respect.”

Caellach was startled out of his thoughts when he felt a sharp tug on his hair, looking up questioningly at Bael who still held a white strand between his fingers. The Demon smiled at him, twining his hair around a long finger before letting it curl around Caellach’s face and went back to combing his fingers through the rest of Caellach’s hair.

“You looked lost in your thoughts, Puppy.”

“I really wish Astaroth hadn’t given me that infernal nickname,” Caellach muttered, making a face to which Bael only laughed. “It was bad enough when only he called me thus but when you and the girls followed suit as well… Am I never going to be able to get rid of it?”

“With great difficulty,” Bael said, solemnly, laughing again as Caellach stuck out a tongue at him. “Now do tell me what thoughts put that sombre expression on your face. Are tales of myths and legends not to your taste?”

“It’s not that,” the young Hellhound said, sighing. “I was thinking of what Father said about Astaroth. About what happened. It’s not fair that he be so burdened even now. It was an accident and while regrettable he cannot continue to blame himself forever. I can’t ever imagine living my life so very cautiously and keeping my emotions so very tightly in control.”

“He does what he thinks he must,” Bael replied, sighing. His hand slid away from Caellach’s face to twist unhappily in his lap. “We have all tried to draw him out but he is stubbornly set in his beliefs. Always has been ever since he was a child but certainly worse still after Penemue’s death.”

“Penemue… his fiancée?”

“That’s right.” Bael’s smile was fond and tinged with deep sadness. “We were childhood friends for our homes were nearby and our parents close besides that. Yet while she was as though a third sister for me, it was never so simple between her and Astaroth. Theirs was always deeper, stronger and no doubt were she to live they would be happily married forever more. Fate, though, is a cruel master.”

“I’m sorry,” Caellach murmured. He got to his knees, turned to face Bael and cupped that face which seemed more impossibly beautiful than ever with his sadness and grief. “For the friend that you’ve lost, and the friend that has changed so irrevocably.” Bael smiled at him, hand reaching up to cover one of Caellach’s and squeezing gently, though not moving after that.

“There is no need for your apology. It is of no fault of yours that we had lost a person dear to us but merely a sad twist of fate. But if anything, I wish that Astaroth would not burden himself overmuch about it, though I know it is foolish to even think thus. He’s always been responsible and thoughtful.”

“I’m still sorry,” Caellach argued, moving closer to hug the Demon, eyes squeezed shut. “At least for your loss if nothing else. I don’t like seeing you so sad.”

“You’re kind,” Bael smiled and his voice, that smooth calm voice that Caellach loved so much, sounded rough with emotion. “If there was a part of myself lost after her death then you have certainly filled it, and then some. You’ve become so precious to me so quickly, my Caellach.”

There was something in his tone that caught the Hellhound’s notice; something that resounded with the tangled emotions in him that was caused by Bael. He looked up to find those dizzying, beautiful, swirling eyes on his and before he could speak, before he could say anything, words were cut off as warm, firm lips pressed to his. He went utterly still as shock filled him, shock at the realization of what was happening, and who was kissing him. Shock and, slowly, pleasure. He found himself responding automatically, eagerly, arms wrapping around Bael’s neck as he tilted his head, allowing the Demon to deepen the kiss and returning it almost shyly. It was not his first kiss but oh, how it felt like it. It was sweet and soft and made him feel warm all over. Bael tasted like the sharp tang of green apples sweetened and flavoured with cinnamon sugar and he wished he could glut himself in the taste and pleasure of his kiss.

When they broke apart, he was breathless and panting slightly, cheeks flushed as he stared in disbelief at the beautiful Demon who seemed equally out of breath, thinking Bael had never looked more beautiful than when his hair was mussed by Caellach’s fingers, when his eyes were bright and his cheeks held that trace of pink. He couldn’t resist leaning forward for another taste of that kiss swollen lips, swallowed Bael’s delighted laugh and moan, loosing himself again in it until he pulled back, pressing his forehead against Bael’s and laying his lips on the corner of the Demon’s mouth. His arms were now around Bael’s waist and he held on, heart light and smiling happily, their closely pressed bodies letting him feel the quick fluttering of Bael’s own heartbeat.

“I love you,” the Demon murmured and Caellach squeezed his eyes tightly shut, feeling dizzy and hot and impossibly, impossibly happy because it couldn’t be happening to him, it had to be a dream. “I love you, Caellach ó Riagáin.”

“Idiot,” he said, choking on a laugh. “You shouldn’t. There’s so many others who would deserve you more than I, more that would suit you better but oh the Lady, Bael, I cannot help but be happy.” He felt Bael’s lips, curved into a smile as they pressed against his cheek.

“Tell me why, for I find myself needing to hear it from your own sweet lips.”

“Idiot,” Caellach said again, pulling back, smiling, laughing and crying just a little though he would vehemently deny it if anyone asked or pointed it out. “Of course I…” He took a deep breath, cupping Bael’s face in his hands before pressing his lips against Bael’s in another hard, desperate kiss. “I love you, you stupid Demon. Though the Lady only knows why.”

“Impertinent brat,” Bael teased, nipping his lower lip playfully. “I’ll teach you to ruin my good mood.”

“Oh?” Caellach asked, sounding coy and looking at him through his lashes, eyes mischievous. “And what will you do to this impertinent brat? Will you punish him, good sir Demon?” Bael growled, standing up and all but yanking him into his arms, the Hellhound laughing all the while. His smile was edged with playfulness so rarely seen and desire, swinging the laughingly protesting Hellhound into his arms, striding towards the bed and dumping him unceremoniously before climbing onto it himself.

“Maybe I will. Do you have a particular means of punishment that you would prefer, oh puppy mine?” Caellach laughed again, twining his arms around Bael’s neck and pulling the Demon down on top of him.

“How about you demonstrate a few of your own preferences to me and I’ll tell you my own later on?”

“We have a deal then,” Bael whispered before sealing his lips over Caellach’s again.




He didn’t want to remember that. The aching sweetness and innocent lust and love that now caused his heart to ache so terribly. His hand went unconsciously to rub over his heart before he stilled it, calling himself every bit a fool. The ache was only an illusion but oh how his heart protested otherwise. He remembered easy kisses, maddening touches. Remembered the feel of that hair, surprisingly warm despite the cool colour, like silk on his skin. He remembered hesitant hands and exploring caresses, and always pleasure, drowning pleasure for three short, wonderful days before his life turned into a nightmare. Love, so easily given and received, love that in three weeks had been poisoned by bitterness and pain and anger and yet it had never turned to hate. Even at the worst moments, even as horrible, terrible words were exchanged could he not find it in himself to hate Bael and oh, how he wished that he could.

He brought the glass to his lips to take another gulp but cursed upon realising that it was empty. He wasted a split second deciding on whether he should refill the glass and take the damned tumbler over as well before another curse slipped from his lips and the sound of broken crystal filled the room. He watched impassively as the flames flared, licking at the remaining drops of alcohol and as brilliant shards fell to the burning logs. Undoubtedly the servants would gossip about the loss of one glass and the remains of it in the cold ashes of his fire come morning, but at that moment, he couldn’t find it in himself to care. His head fell back against the chair, hands gripping the armrests until his knuckles whitened but it still wasn’t enough. He felt the beast of his other form rumbling beneath his skin, uneasy and impatient and wanting to escape and he wanted to, Lady how he wanted to let it. Wanted to shift from human flesh to Hellhound, wanted to feel his teeth lengthen, for claws to rip through furniture as easily as a knife slid through warmed butter.

Cursing again, he shoved himself abruptly out of the chair, all but stumbling for the whiskey, not bothering to go back to his chair before tipping his head back, gulping down the alcohol. He wanted to feel numb, to forget and mostly, to erase the voice from his mind that whispered slyly all the things that was happening in the room not too far from his own. Tried to block the images of Bael and Brén, entwined, moving, naked flesh pressed against naked flesh. He choked on a sob as it proved fruitless, as his traitorous mind showed him image after taunting image of silver and dark hair tangling together, of Bael moving over Brén, making the younger Cerberus cry out in pleasure. Claiming him as he had never had the chance to claim Caellach, the person he had professed to love six long years ago. He laughed bitterly at that, taking another swig of whiskey before running the back of his hand over his mouth to wipe away liquid that had trickled out. His whole body felt heavy, his head felt heavy but it seemed as though his quest for numbness would be denied to him, as he still saw it, still thought of it. With another curse, he contemplated flinging the decanter towards the fireplace as well, but thought better of it.

He fell to his knees, pressing the heels of his hands to his eyes, breathing ragged and close to sobs. It shouldn’t hurt this much, shouldn’t claw at him so. He was starting to think that returning was a mistake, started to think that he was every kind of fool that his sister had called him to think that it was in any way a good idea for him to return to the Dark Court. He wished that he could travel back in time, wished he had the opportunity to refuse Minister Stiobhard’s request, to say firmly that he was sorry, but he couldn’t do it, consequences be damned. Now he was stuck, unless he spoke of things to Brén and he found himself loathe to do it, not wanting to worry the young prince who was had become a friend, found himself loathe to admit to his own stupidity, his own mistakes, not wanting to own up to the event that had forever scarred him. Despite laughingly telling Fionn that he would one day tell him of all that had transpired, he didn’t know how he ever could.

It wouldn’t be so bad if he couldn’t still see Bael and he when they were younger, if his present self didn’t still hold strong echoes of the feelings he held for the Demon. It wouldn’t hurt so much if some stupid, foolish part of him didn’t still find itself loving Bael. And that was what rankled the most, the fact that he was still so very… idiotic to still be love the Demon, to still want him, to still need him. He and Bael and had always had some sort of strange connection, from the moment their eyes had met, and he had taken the Demon’s politely offered hand. He would not say it was love at first sight for he scoffed such ideas even then, but he couldn’t deny that there had been a… connection between the two of them, like they met and suddenly their lives clicked into place, as thought they were meant to meet, meant to stay by each others’ side. It was that selfsame feeling of connection which had lead him to bitter disappointment in the end.

He was tired, ever so tired. Less than one day back in Bael’s presence and already this turmoil. He shuddered to think what it would progress to in the coming days, weeks, months. Years. The prospect of cold civility with Bael, of being unable to have anything but that cold civility with Bael nearly drove him mad. While he knew that it was himself who was at fault, he could not forget, could not find it in himself to forgive just yet and part of him feared that if, when he could it would be too late. And another part of him had to wonder whether it was because he still wanted the Demon’s love or because of petty jealousy, because he was unable to think of anyone else by Bael’s side. It was all just such a fucking mess and he hated it.

“What am I doing?” he murmured to himself and tasted salt on his lips. “What are we doing? Lady, take me back home. I don’t know if I can do this.” He bit his lip hard to hold back more tears, stopping only before the tender flesh tore if only to avoid awkward questions in the morning. The morning… after Bael and Brén finished their binding. What sort of face would he put on? He didn’t know how he was supposed to face his young prince knowing what had transpired between him and Bael that night. Groaning aloud, he forced himself to his feet and stumbled to bed, uncaring that he still wore his clothes and that he wasn’t even under the covers, suddenly so bone weary tired and all he wanted to do was sleep, to forget for a night and just lose himself in dreams. Although he feared he would never be granted reprieve from his thoughts, his eyes grew heavy, the battering that his emotions took exhausting him completely and the last thought he had was of a gentle smile that had once belonged only to him before blessed darkness took him.


*

The filtering sun through his uncovered windows woke him, a few hours later than he was used to in the base but nonetheless much earlier than nobles normally woke and he draped an arm over his eyes to shield them. His head throbbed faintly but he supposed the hangover could be worse considering his reckless consumption of whiskey the night before, not to mention the several glasses of wine and brandy he had indulged in before, during and after dinner. He groaned slightly, pitifully but forced himself to waken, sitting up gingerly, pleased when he felt no untoward nausea. Perhaps his brothers taunting him to indulge in alcohol had been good for something after all, though it had been quite some time since he had drank in such excess. He was pretty sure the large decanter was nearly if not completely empty. He ran a hand through his tousled hair, blinking blearily around his room before his eyes fell to the sword the servants had left propped against the wall. A bath was in order, then, and perhaps he should see if Astaroth and his good Major and Captains were sparring as they said they would and join them. That decided, he made his way to the bathroom, dropping his clothes carelessly to the floor.

Not half an hour later, hair still damp and dressed casually in a thin white shirt, tan trousers and boots, sword strapped to his hip, a cup of coffee having been consumed and another in his hand along with a freshly baked buttered croissant in his free hand, he went in search for his companions. He found them in the training ground behind the large town house Bael occupied whenever he had to be in the city for Order business. He stood to the side for a while, taking stock of each and every person’s prowess, grinning at Fionn and Lorccán as they sparred with members of Astaroth’s guard before he caught sight of the redheaded Demon Lord. Astaroth was observing his men fighting, shouting encouragement and advice in equal measure, dressed as simply as he was. Finishing his coffee, he handed the empty cup to a lingering servant before brushing his fingers free of crumbs and walked towards the Demon. Stepping wordlessly to his side, he watched the proceedings for a time until he felt eyes on him, turning to smile at the other man.

“Good Morning,” he greeted, softly, and watched as Astaroth returned his greeting with that barely-there smile of his before looking down at the sword on his hip.

“Is that merely decorative, or do you know how to use it, Puppy?” The challenge was clear in his voice and Caellach raised a brow at that, smirking. He felt anticipation coiling in his gut, wanting to see how Astaroth would be as an opponent. Shrugging indolently he returned the challenge full force.

“We could perhaps wonder on it all morning, or maybe we could ascertain it. Would you partner me, Your Grace, or are you afraid that I might embarrass you in front of your men?”

“Confident words. Arrogant, most would say. Well then, I accept your challenge.” Astaroth too was smiling, the same razor edge of anticipation for a fight in his expression, but Caellach could sense genuine curiosity. He knew that Astaroth was a good fighter, had seen the older man practice before and was sure that he had only gotten better with time, but Astaroth was at a complete loss. He had no such example, albeit outdated, of Caellach’s ability. Others had stopped upon hearing the pronouncement, whispers breaking through as one by one the men halted their own sparring to watch the two of them. They picked a spot, and Caellach moved to take off his shirt, stopping when he caught Astaroth’s cocked brow.

“I would presume you would not wish to have any sort of restriction during this, Your Grace.”

“Sure that you’ll make me work for it, are you?” Astaroth asked, laughing slightly, but he complied and took off his own shirt, throwing it carelessly to the side as did Caellach. They both faced each other, Astaroth with sword drawn and body tensed for the fight. Caellach merely stood, legs spread to find his centre of balance, sword still sheathed at his side, eyes watchful, but otherwise relaxed. The Demon raised his eyebrow at that. “Will you not draw your sword, My Lord?”

“I have my own methods of sparring as you do yours. Come at me, Duke Astaroth.” Caellach grinned, almost ferally. It was all the invitation Astaroth needed to move, lightning quick, but Caellach was quicker, used to sparring with Tighernán who was, for all his slowness elsewhere, was one of the best swordsmen of Tir na Mairbh, and the best swordsman of the Cerberii Court. He sidestepped Astaroth’s lunge, smoothly driving his elbow into the startled Demon’s side. Astaroth stumbled slightly but recovered quickly, sword flashing towards Caellach again but this time, metal met metal and the clang of it was resounded through the practice area. All but Fionn startled at that, not even noticing Caellach drawing his sword until it met Astaroth’s. Pressing the flat of his sword against Astaroth’s, palm enforcing it, he pushed the other man away, jumping nimbly back.

They circled each other, now, both learning to be wary of each other, watching the movement of each other’s bodies and learning from them. Caellach read the minutest twitch of Astaroth’s leg and stepped to the side as the Demon moved once more, but Astaroth, whose parry was almost too quick for him to block, blocked his own thrust. Cheering filled the air, some for Astaroth, some for Caellach, but the combatants were completely unaware, lost instead in the deadly dance they were participating in. Caellach smiled, sharp and feral and lost in his enjoyment of pitting strength against strength, of finding and exploiting Astaroth’s weaknesses and defending his own.

They were surprisingly evenly matched, both getting used to the other’s style of fighting. Caellach, as ever, incorporated more than swords and soon Astaroth followed suit as they jumped and twisted, punched and kicked and really, it was a dance to watch them. A dangerous dance of limbs and blades not blunted for safety, trusting each other’s skill as to not get hurt. Caellach rolled after a particularly well placed kick from Astaroth, bracing himself on his hands and kicking upwards, catching the Demon full on the chest. Both scrambled to get up, Caellach unarmed this time. When the Demon seemed to hesitate, Caellach shook his head and charged, moving seamlessly into hand to hand combat, getting strikes and blocking blows with the sheath of his sword before a strike to Astaroth’s wrist loosened the Demon Lord’s hold on his own sword. The two stood equally unarmed and circled each other again, looking for every possible opening, ignoring feints and making some of their own. Astaroth had the advantage of size and strength, but Caellach was quick and agile and had enough experience fighting against bigger men as a child that he compensated for what he lacked with relative ease.

They were showing strain, though, as the fight reached and went past half an hour. People were still yelling themselves hoarse as they exchanged blow after blow. Caellach blocked a punched with his arm, made as though to deliver his own punch and as he noticed Astaroth taking the feint, he lurched up and drove his head into the Demon’s, ignoring the slight pain as he pulled the older man and threw him over his shoulder. He moved quickly for his sword, turning to block Astaroth who had landed near his own and the fight began anew. Sweat was starting to sting his eyes, but he was long used to it, hands still sure and firm around the hilt of his sword. His body would not last much longer before Astaroth would be able to discern a mistake, so he knew he had to finish it and do it quickly. Possible modes of attack he considered and dismissed in his mind as he and Astaroth continued their dance of attack and defend, attack and defend, until finally he lit upon something and grinned wickedly. Astaroth, who caught the expression, was immediately wary but he was still unprepared for what Caellach did next.

Caellach had always been quick to learn and had a natural talent when it came to fights. Tighernán was a better traditional swordsman, but Caellach had a gift of absorbing various styles and so he had learnt to fight with broadsword and short sword, learnt to fight with a main gauche, with the styles of fighting of most of the creatures of the Shadow Realm and even had tutors who taught him styles found in the Human Realm. But his speciality was fighting with two short swords. Since he didn’t have that, he did have his sheath. So when Astaroth moved to attack, he blocked the thrust with his sword… and knocked him over the head with the sheath. And just as it had with Tighernán, the sheer ridiculousness of the move startled Astaroth enough that he froze, and Caellach twisted, ducked under Astaroth’s arm held up by his sword and kicked the Demon hard, making him stumble. When Astaroth whirled around, he froze yet again, the tip of Caellach’s sword at his neck. He paused, looking first at the sword holding him in place, then he looked up at the smirking Hellhound, looking as though he was fighting the urge to roll his eyes.

“That was cheating.”

“No it wasn’t,” Caellach denied, cheerfully. “You do what you must to win, eh, Your Grace? Wasn’t like I was hiding the sheath.”

“Not that,” Astaroth grumbled, though there was a measure of reluctant amusement in his tone. “Who the hell knocks their opponent on the head like that?”

“I figured if it would work against Tier, it would work with you.” Astaroth really did roll his eyes this time, to the astonishment of his men and sheathed his sword before draping an arm around Caellach’s shoulders.

“Well if the great Tighernán ó Riagáin was beaten than who am I to defeat such a move?” he said, drolly and Caellach laughed as they moved towards their discarded shirts, which were handed to them by a waiting servant, who also handed them a towel.

“Your Grace, King Bael has requested your presence, along with the guests for lunch in half an hour.”

“Of course. Thank you.” The servant bowed low and moved back inside and Astaroth sighed, mopping up sweat. “I suppose that practice is over for now. We should get ready. Men, get cleaned up and don’t dally going back to your posts.”

“Yes sir!” they chorused, bowing to Astaroth before unfurling their wings and launching themselves away. Astaroth turned to Caellach then, smiling genuinely, admiration plain on his face.

“You fight better than I would have imagined, Puppy. When did you start to learn?”

“Me?” Caellach laughed. “When I was young, father made all of us learn, even Von. But I never really got into it until Tier showed signs of proficiency and started lording it around. I was determined to get better to trounce him and make him eat his words.” He looked rueful. “Of course, it didn’t quite end up that way, but I discovered a love for it and my father indulged in my whims and hired tutors for me to continue to learn various styles of sword and hand to hand fighting. Especially after – well, you know.”

“Yes,” Astaroth said quietly, and clapped his hand on Caellach’s shoulder, squeezing slightly. “Now come, we should not dwell on unpleasantness. We should get ready for lunch. Gentlemen.”

“Your Grace,” they said, bowing and he returned their bow before they made their way inside.


*



On to Part 2!
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