The gentle rock of a cart.
The raptor, she follows close behind, obscured by wind and rain as the night comes on fierce and flailing, a wolf of a night, howling into his ears that he’s certain are about to fall off. Beside him, a warm body, something he can’t say he’s grateful for. The bard is welcome, if you can call him such — his comments, a chore to weather gracefully, but he is at least a minor consolation that he is not really alone in this. And still, the warmth recedes and hides in the empty pit of his gut, his heart seized in an iron grip he has yet to break, that he’s not sure will ever ease.
He’s not sure if he wants it to ease.
Whatever hold he has left on himself still remains, frozen in place by wind and rain. He closes his eyes, waits for the trip back to end, where they can find a hearth once more, and maybe, just maybe, he can sleep.
The latter comes quicker than he expects.
The ring is small. The air is stale, stinking, the whole place smells like piss and beer and sweat, and he can’t bring himself to care. There are people on all sides, cheering, waving bags of coins and placing bets as another, another man falls to him and in the frothing sea of cheers and screams that fill the hall. The sound of it, the wave that rushes over him as he pushes his hair back again, dropping the tie and pulling everything back up.
It burns in his arms and legs, tenses. The wooden gate into the sand pit opens to let the defeated combatant out, and closes — someone shouts a word or two, and he feels briefly renewed, if only a little. This is what he wants, this is what he needs. Distractions, a chance to focus on something besides what happens at night, what happened in bed. What happens to women who leverage your own sanity against information, that’s what he tries to forget. And where fighting doesn’t allow it, he’s taking long draughts of ale, something to ease the path backwards into his head.
Check yourself, and get ready.
The crowd erupts once again as the next challenger steps into the ring, and the tiefling shifts on his feet taking him in — all seven feet of him, marble-skinned, with a sharp gaze, humming with some sense of divine irony. He checks his wrist wraps, and swallows hard, this behemoth does much the same. They meet in the center with a handshake, Beel summons what he has left in him to make it firm and confident, but he knows what’s happened already. His eyes glint and wrinkle with a small grin, that stare bores into him with a deadly accuracy, and perhaps, he feels a part of himself wilt in response, faltering a little while his tail lashes and flails in response, like an angered cat.
Maker’s beard he’s gorgeous.
A bearded man taps their hands to separate them, and the tiefling backs into his respective corner, shaking out the cramps and soreness forming in his arms, and lifts his hands to block his face. His opponent does much the same, and despite the cock-sure attitude, there’s something tempting, enraging in that grin. “Keep it clean, fellas”
Beel takes the first two steps forward, this behemoth does the same, mirroring him when he can, and it takes a bit of a rhythm going before his goading takes the full effect. The tiefling lunges briefly with a fist — just a tap, just testing defenses, he blocks it easily, but isn’t prepared for the jab that comes at his other side. Beel at least gets a groan out of him, a good contact of that body.
He responds in kind, his fists are broad and heavy as they buffet his sides, but he takes it in stride, bouncing back and catching him by surprise enough with a blow to his ribs. He catches his face in his palm, and headbutts the other as hard as he can and for a moment the whole world rings, but it sends him to the ground. Somewhere a bell rings, and he shakes his head clear as he takes his short walkabout. Short and sweet. Just one more, he can rest.
“I said clean, Goat!”
He shakes his head and readies himself again. Already he can feel the fatigue setting in, his eyes refuse to focus. A smarter person might have retired, but no — not him, he’s got miles to go now, just miles. Just one.
A bell rings again and when he sets up, when he steadies himself he’s blindsided by a mountain of a man barreling into him, slamming him into the wall. The crowd erupts into a displeased roar, but there’s enough of a gap on the rebound that the tiefling gets his legs up under him and kicks as hard as he can. His grip slackens with impact, and he nearly, very nearly slips away, if it weren’t for the quick grip on the tail that the other gets. He’s pulled back and whirled around and into the sand below. His weight falls fully down on him, and a bell rings after the daze passes. A cheap loss, he scrambles to his feet again and glares.
He’s met with the same disarming smile, and a quiet skip in his chest.
This man knows what he’s doing, and that boils deep in his blood, somewhere under his heart and burned into his ribs. It feels like bile, and when they reset, he knows where he has him.
“Eyes on me, little lamb” he calls, fingers flexing and his eyes taking this mark as gently as he can. And he has his attention alright.. The giant looks a little taken aback, he readies himself as well and only smiles in response, slowly.
“I don’t want them anywhere else, sweetheart,” he rasps. He knows, in that moment as they rush to meet each other with equal, opposite grapples, that he is screwed.
They jockey for position, but even with height on his side, the giant cannot completely force Beel to the ground. He digs in with all the stubbornness that he can possibly muster, while the air around them charges with an energy he doesn’t understand and can’t fathom. The crowd’s whipped up into a frenzy, shouting, throwing things and throwing their own punches as this battle between them peaks. He doesn’t realize he’s been shouting, straining.
His foot slips. Wide hands find their chance and push him off balance.
His face hits hard against the wooden floor beneath the sand, and the crushing, opposing weight on his back and legs returns. The crowd roars with a mix of disdain and righteous applause for their own reasons and devices, and it’s only after the bell rings once more than man removes himself from his back. A hand grabs his. He’s pulled up into the light of the room, his head swimming.
“Are you okay?” It’s the same voice that had stunned him in the last round. He looks up, and what an odd feeling it is.
“I– yeah, yeah I’m okay”
The hand guides him out of the ring, the crowd boos the lack of a continuing fighter, but Beel is still being held onto with this leading hand, and a growing pit in his gut. And where he had been sure stepping into the small arena for the first time, he now feels… uneasy, unsure.
“Let me buy you a drink? You fight well”
“I– uh. Yeah. Th—thank you? I don’t — you won, I should be buying you a drink”
“But you took me down in the first round after three other matches, I was watching you — you have guts”
“…. I mean, I think everyone does, that’s kind of a… key point to remaining alive. Guts”
He must have hit his head harder than he thought, and a warm feeling overtakes his face in a matter of seconds and the feeling is alien in a horrendously familiar way. And… he allows this. He allows this drink, he allows this conversation.
“What’s your name, little Lamb?”
And for the moment, he thinks, it’s good enough.
How often does he want to say it? How often does he need to?
The sky plays off the vibrant hue of his hair, dappled in sunlight, by leaves.
He barely remembers, such sweet words — sunshine, darling. Sweet thing. How rich he’d felt in that moment, words around him like they could sell the world. His eyes are brown.
Do you remember? How we met?
It was only in spring.
I know, feels like a lifetime ago.
When he wakes, it’s in a rented bed. Not the same one, but another that doesn’t bear the red stains for the previous day’s events, and the sun is low, and steadily falling into the ocean to the West. Ache sets in his bones like a poison, and the chill of night creeps in through the windows — dammit, there’s a curfew, isn’t there?
“I think I won that round by a knockout, sweetheart”
He looks up (and still, he’ll never get used to this) at the man before him, hardly in any shape to reply with something intelligent or smart, and waving him off just the same.
“You… have not failed to surprise me, Hadriel” he says, actually surprised at how rough his voice sounds. A steaming mug is put down at his bedside, and Beel sits up to drink from it. Hot cider, it burns wonderfully. “The night is yours, for certain”
“The night is mine, but what about you? Will you be staying?” And he looks a little proud at that — he’s not yet worked out who or… what he is, mostly, but the details remain fuzzy in the heat of the day. Beel snorts and stifles the embarrassment rising in his face.
“I can’t. Not today”
“Do you have somewhere to be?”
He doesn’t anticipate another flood of warmth to his cheeks, he stands, holding onto the table and balancing, tail swishing. “I… should check in with the others, before too long” he grumbles, pulling up his woolies, his trousers. “Unless they’d start to think I’d been… kidnapped or rustled again”
“In a way you were”
He throws a pillow at him, and it misses by a country mile — the man still bats it away with ease, and levels a finger at him with a dark stare, betrayed only by that knife-edge smile. “Behave”
“Kidnapped or rustled, I could make it happen” Hadriel says with a gravity that makes the tiefling’s stomach flutter, that gravity punctuated with dark eyes, a sharp smile. He knows that he’s got him figured out, tip to tail, and were he wiser? He would have left already.
But he isn’t. And he hasn’t.
He pulls on his shirt in silence, and Hadriel rises to meet him for just a moment in the firelight. He doesn’t move, a mouse caught in the gaze of a hawk, allows the approach with a looks. Maybe it’s the regret. Maybe he’s starting to remember all he’d come this way to forget, but it’s enough to draw his attention.
“Come back to me soon”
“…we barely know each other, Hadriel”
“Then maybe I’d like to know you more” he says, firmly, and punctuated with hands on Beel’s face and a kiss. “Don’t make me wait too long, sweetheart. You’ve got a lot to learn still”
His entire being shudders and flips with the feeling, the thumbs on his face, the gentleness of rough and scarred hands. A bolt of fear runs through him, same as the hot pang of a feeling he thought he’d grown past long, long ago.
He jolts himself awake, the rain cold enough to rouse him with icy stings, a bullet that impacts and numbs his face with every drop as he tilts to the side and onto the wooden cart’s feeble sides. His hands tremble. His chest heaves, and the memory, the threat of it, rocks him. The darkness has advanced, but only slightly — this kind of country looks the same from the road out, there’s no telling how long he’d been… there. Here.
Long enough. He shakes, and leans forward, pressing the journal closer to his chest, the sword at his side, and he shivers like his life depends on the friction.
He does not allow himself to mourn, not yet.