Making up beds for the Schools guests tonight had been blessedly distracting while it had lasted. Carrying the pale blue gym mats down into the basement meeting room where the Mephistos plotted their evil deeds, she'd shoved the desks to one side as quietly as she was able and laid the two that looked the most comfortable onto the floor. Combine that with her spare blankets and a very generous slice of her least crushed stuffed sheep memorabilia and she had created what she thought were two perfectly serviceable beds. She'd had to nestle Yuuto into one, and David would find the other waiting when he finally settled in for sleep.
Clara, of course, couldn't share a room with the boys because of how scandalous that would be. She would be getting the best Bak could provide, her own room and the fluffiest pile of stuffed animals in the city. Bak wouldn't be needing her room tonight, she thought. She had to patrol the grounds to make sure no suspicious people infiltrated the building. Besides, if she slept she might start thinking to much and that would make her feel even worse than she did now. Probably.
Bak was good at avoiding her own thoughts. In this case she was still going when the first rays of the sun began to peak over the horizon, stomping around the grounds with one of those big, high power flashlights and ineffectually firing small arms over the heads of old scarfaces and his gang of wives and misbegotten offspring. As she felt her eyes begin to sag closed she couldn't help but notice how startlingly ineffectual she was without her suite of electronic aides, but at least none of the teachers who worked late or came in early were coming out to try and reprimand her. Mostly because none of them had come in this morning.
That was odd, in her opinion. Normally even on weekends a few showed up to do work by now, but this morning the campus was eerily devoid of activity. She supposed that maybe the bug man from the arena had something to do with it, but that thought was pushed from her head as the sound of a car rolling up. Sluggishly she turned and stomped toward the noise, intent on either welcoming the first teacher of the day or telling some confused student that classes had been canceled.
That objective changed as she caught sight of who had just pulled up. Her eyes widened as she quickened her pace, not enough to send her careening into a wall if she tried to stop but a bigger jog than she was used to. She got close enough to confirm, then slowed to a stop a short distance away and just looked at him for a few moments. She opened her mouth but was once again at a loss for words.
"Rurik?" was what she was able to get out. A stupid question, but she felt like it was an important one.
Rurik hadn't been sitting there long when he soon heard a familiar set of stompy footsteps.
"Oh you've gotta be-" It had been less than five minutes, but indeed, it was she. Bak. She seemed to unsure he was really him. "Yeah... yeah, it's me. Pretty sure in ten years someone's gonna ask me to hide a body or something as repayment, but they got me out of jail." He let out a long sigh and stood up. "Anyway, I'm tired and cranky, so I'm gonna go home. If you could keep like a few arm.... gun... lengths away for a bit, that'd be great. Starting to think you're bad luck."
To be fair, his girlfriend was MIA, his arm had been broken, his face had been broken, and he'd nearly died at least twice all in the last 24 hours, all before being arrested. All because he'd been following Bak. All because he hadn't just gone home in the first place...
There was an intake of breath so sharp from the girl that it could have stabbed her in the throat as Rurik began to turn away from her. She stood there, closed off, eyes downcast. She couldn't even say anything to refute that, because he was right. It was just like the demon girl had said, she was sure if it more than ever now. Not just bad luck. Cursed.
She nearly accepted it. Nearly focused on something else, tried to run away like she always did into work. Into some game. She was tired though. She had been running all night and was exhausted, and as she tried again she felt a weight holding her in place.
She'd asked something of Clara. No, she'd Demanded something of Clara. Demanded she help mend the cracks she'd seen forming in the club. So what, now she couldn't do it? She was just going to let the first friend she'd ever had walk away content to let the first friend she'd ever had just walk away like all the others, why? Just because she was too much of a coward to do what she'd told others to?
So, instead of running, Bak did something she didn't think she had ever done before.
In a quivering voice, right on the verge of shattering Bak looked up and spoke. "I am sorry." She said. "I am so sorry for everything. You are right, I am bad luck. But Rurik, I swear, I never wanted it to touch you. Not you. So please, before you leave, you must tell me how to make this right. Please. I do not know how."
Rurik just shrugged a bit at Bak's words. He could hear in her voice how upset she was getting, but he told himself not to let it get to him. She was trouble. People in general were trouble, but Bak was extra trouble. A gun-laden monstrosity that too often turned her sights on him.
Just go home. Just walk. Just-Thud
Rurik hit his forehead against a nearby tree, physically as well as mentally kicking himself.
"No..." Rurik let out the word as part of a long, tired groan. "I'm
sorry." He lazily turned back toward Bak and trudged over to her. "When I think about it, I have enough bad luck of my own. Probably nothing to do with you, really. Forget it." He arched his back and stretched, trying to loosen up a bit. He'd been stuck in a cramped room for hours only to be stuffed into a car after all. "So, uh, as for how to make it right, well, gimme a thumbs up and just promise you won't start crying or something because I'm way too cranky to deal with that shit." He rubbed the back of his head awkwardly. It wasn't much like him to apologize. Not because he thought it was some sign of weakness or anything... mostly just because he never felt bad about the things he did.
Rurik could count on one hand the number of people he felt gave a damn about him, and he wouldn't even need all his fingers. The fact that Bak was apparently one of those people... well... he had no idea how to process that. Yeah, he'd once considered her a friend but thought that had all fallen apart pretty quickly once she'd started shooting at him on a regular basis. But there were two common factors he could think of pertaining to yesterday. Bak had been there for every unfortunate thing that had happened, sure, but she'd also been the one to pick him up afterward.
And if he'd just run away instead of helping her, he'd have never been in a position to stop Clara... and while he wasn't sure he could claim to have made things better, he felt better knowing Clara hadn't eaten Christine's sister... or... something.
"But uh... actually... I do have to get home..." He said that, but the more he thought about it, the more a sickening feeling grew in his stomach. "Thing is though... seems like the city was sort of attacked by a bunch of masked psychos with murder knives... not... not sure what's waiting for me there..." His parents may have had powers like almost every other person in the world, but they weren't exactly fighters. "I... don't suppose you feel like going for a walk?"
Bak just looked at him for a moment, turned back to the school in consideration, then looked back at him. She supposed she knew that everyone in there was all right, and in the light of day she didn't think anything could happen with Clara there, and besides wouldn't it be prudent to know where the other council members lived in case of emergency and it's not like there would be that many people out this early anyway that could cause embarrassing situations for her....
She raised her fist, one thumb pointed at the sky, before following after him off the school grounds. As they walked despite the low traffic and how close they were to the school building Bak couldn't help herself from glancing nervously across the sidewalk for other pedestrians. Still, she could tell her nervousness wasn't anything compared to Rurik's.
"You know," she started, hoping to take his mind off whatever he was imaging. "I never cry. So you could ask me to do something else, because that request is so easy it is almost cheating."
Rurik actually found himself quite relieved when Bak began to follow him. It wasn't like he expected to find a whole pack of cultists sitting in his living room, but he wasn't sure he had the mental or emotional fortitude to handle what may or may not be waiting for him. Hell, he wasn't sure Bak being there would make much of a difference, but he knew he'd rather not be alone.
"Wh- I wasn't..." Rurik was caught a little off guard when she said not crying was too easy. He really didn't need her to do anything. Her following him was already more than he'd expected. Perhaps he should have expected it, recent events taken into consideration. "We're good, Bak. Seriously." He sighed, though added under his breath, "though if you want to stop shooting me in the morning that'd be great..." It had been a while since it had been an issue, come to think of it, but he'd like it to stay that way.
There wasn't much to say for the rest of the trip. Rurik wasn't feeling talkative and Bak looked like she was ready to fall asleep on her feet. He almost felt bad for bringing her along -- it wasn't the shortest walk. But they did get there. It was a lower-class neighborhood. Houses were crammed in, side-by-side like sardines. A set of cements steps led down to his home's front door... but there was something staining them. Here and there, specks of red, seeping into the cracks.
He paused a moment, but then suddenly ran to the door and tore it open.
"Mo-" He began to shout but then went silent...
"Hmm?" Bak asked, not quite hearing what Rurik had quickly said under his breath. He'd insisted that they were "good," but was it really as easy as all that?
She remained silent as they walked, almost lightly dozing as she continued to move. Around her the neighborhoods changed, morphed into a part of Rhea that she had never seen before. She almost bumped into him when he stopped, and as she followed his eyeline to the step she snapped entirely awake with memories of the big man and greater evils.
It can't be said that she was right behind him as he sprinted up the steps, because she had to navigate the accursed steps, but it was a close thing. This time she did
bump into him, and that bump was followed by a jostling as she shoved her minigun right under his arm while simultaneously trying to see under it to determine what, if any, dangers the home could possible hold.
Rurik had stopped when he'd run into two people rather startled by him barging in. The good news was that it was his parents, the bad news was that suddenly he felt Bak's gun poke past him. He supposed he'd put her on alert when he'd panicked. Probably best that he calm her down before-
"WH-WHAT IS THAT!?" his mother immediately lost it upon seeing Bak looming behind him, gun raised.
"Move, boy!" his father shouted next.
"HURRY!" his mother clawed at his sleeves, trying to pull him away.
"Hey, quit i-"SLAM!
And to top it all off, from outside, just behind Bak, came a sudden, massive thudding footstep and an ominous rumbling. The door was nearly bashed off its hinges as a giant, stone golem rose from the earth and began reaching toward Bak.
Rurik's jaw dropped. Right, The Guardian. That's
probably where the blood came from. Mystery solved, but he really needed everyone to calm the fuck down.
"ENOUGH ALREADY!" Rurik roared at the top of his lungs, finally causing his parents and even the stone guardian to halt. For a moment, it was if they were all frozen in time from the shock of Rurik actually raising his voice.
Then, breaking the stalemate, a large, white, mop of a dog trotted over to see what was going on. The family's old sheepdog, Maxim. Not seeming perturbed in the slightest by Rurik's outburst and the newcomer behind him, the dog went right up to the two and sniffed him and Bak before sitting down calmly and looking up at Bak... or one would assume. It was hard to see his eyes behind the long, white dreads of his coat.
'Boof.' He barked quietly. 'I see in you the yes of one who has watched many a flock.' He seemed to say to her.
But probably not.
Regardless of what the dog was getting at, it actually seemed to calm everyone down.
"So... mom. Dad. This is my classmate... Bak Tsarevna," Rurik spoke, still looking a little stressed... "Bak, these are my parents. And our dog... and my dad's golem."
It was still true that his parents weren't fighters, but when you could make giants out of stone, did you really need to be?
As soon as the yelling started Bak tried to point her gun at anything but Rurik's mother and father, which wasn't an easy prospect in this awkward position she had put herself in here on the stoop. She raised it up very quickly, like a surrendering soldier would present his weapon. This, unfortunately, had the effect of trapping Rurik's arm.
She'd thought...well...she wasn't entirely clear on what she'd thought, but it was apparent that the situation was not what she'd thought and if she'd thought a little harder she could have avoided embarrassing herself and picking a fight with what she had to assume was a powerful sorcerer considering the giant stone monster that was radiating menace right behind her.
"I am Tsarevna. I am classmate." She repeated hesitantly, struggling to find words. She supposed she may as well try that magic one again. "I am sorry he was so late in returning."
"Dobroye utro." She said, bringing her weapon down and flipping it back as she attempted to shrink down and maybe melt away behind him.
Timidly, Rurik's parents glanced at each other... and then immediately relaxed.
"It is good you are home, boy! Mother was getting worried," his father said.
"Yeah, cultists will do that." Rurik crossed his arms, happy to leave the police out of his story.
"Ah, yes yes. Strange men came to front door, but guardian took care of them. Very messy." His father nodded.
"Yeah, I uh, I noticed."
"Come, sit, sit. You were not home for dinner last night. Is still in fridge. Eat, you must be hungry," his mother urged.
"Yes, you as well, girl. Sit. Mother makes plenty of food for both of you," his father spoke to Bak.
"Uhhhh... so do you want dinner for breakfast?" Rurik looked at Bak. "Um, you do
eat, right?" He actually couldn't remember. What if she did something weird like drink oil? Did they have oil? Was it offensive to ask? Did he care if it was? No... not really.
"Husband, large girl will break chair!" At this point they did indeed seem more concerned with her size rather than her appearance. Perhaps her similar accent was making her more welcome.
"Do not worry about chair." The man beckoned to the golem which ducked low and stepped into the house.
"No, it will make mess. Is still covered in blood!" Rurik's mother protested even as the golem awkwardly shuffled past Rurik and Bak, knocking a vase off a nearby self in the process. However, it eventually fumbled its way over to the kitchen table and folded itself into a large, stone throne for Bak to sit at if she pleased. "Fine fine, I will clean..." His mother went over the now chair-shaped golem and placed her hand on it. A light washed over the golem and the blood vanished, as well as a few cracks and chips, leaving it pristine. She then pulled out a cloth and dabbed at her own nose before quickly putting it away. A keen eye might have detected a that it had come away with a bit of blood as well. However, before it could be brought up, she hurried off the kitchen the grab food.
"Good, good. Stompy girl will stay, yes? We must thank you for bringing the boy home," his father said.
"No, it is fine." Bak said, equally as timidly as the giant stone thing pushed its way past her and Rurik. "There is much I have to do today..."
But then her stomach objected, letting out the riotous rumble the army that marches on its stomach would make when denied mealtime. She looked down, embarrassed. At points like this she wished she really didn't need to eat. But she did, and she hadn't for pretty much the whole day yesterday.
"Maybe just a little. Thank you." She mumbled, stepping through the surprisingly wide door. If she was being totally honest the household piqued her interest, and not just because it had a dog that didn't start barking the moment it smelled her. The thing struck by her side as she sidled in, and as they moved she life her hand on its head as gently as she could and gave it a scratch.
The other thing was...well...she just had to ask. "Rurik?" She whispered, leaning toward him. "Where are you from?"
Rurik took a seat at the table as well as Bak asked her question. About his past. He didn't like talking about that. And yet he found himself surprisingly loose lipped.
"We used to have a farm in the Old Lowlands. Two dozen or so miles south of that hellhole Yekaterina. We were always worried some shit was going to spill down onto us. You know they had witches there? Like actual witches?" Rurik rolled his eyes. "They usually
didn't wander down into the valley, though. Also heard a story about trolls attacking a school or something? Weird place..." Rurik pursed his lips.
"Ah yes, the farm," Rurik's father chimed back in. "Good life, the farm. Simple. Shame that blight killed all the crops. After that, no food. No money. Had to leave."
That did it. Rurik's expression immediately soured. Sure, the scary stories of Yekaterina had been a thing, but that had been all it was for him -- just stories. In a way, they'd been fun. That had been back when something like happiness hadn't been such a foreign concept... and then so suddenly it had been.
Maxim seemed to notice, padding over and resting his chin on Rurik's lap in an attempt to snap him out of it.
"Wait..." Rurik started thinking. He could kinda guess why Bak had asked. "What about you, then?"
"Clearly she is hardy girl. Must be from Old Country as well, yes?" his father seemed to be thinking the same thing. And if so... had he just shit talked her home to her face?
Bak gave Rurik a look that was halfway between curiosity and disbelief. "I am from Northern heckhole." She leaned forward ominously. "Where I was taught that Southern Lowland were full of poison swamp and cannibal blood farmers." She lowered her head, trying to get a look inside Rurik's mouth. "Mama said you could tell by their red teeth. From all the blood."
She grinned at him. Of course she knew Rurik wasn't a cannibal. Mr. Lalafel, the nice man that had smuggled her out of the country, had told her the government spread all sorts of lies to keep people from trying to leave. Deadly steppe cults, imprisonment for being Yek by hostile governments, and actual dragons just to name a few. She didn't see why they had to, the natural barriers were bad enough. You had to get through the Forest of Nightingales to reach the south from where she lived.
"I had no idea you were farm boy as well. What did crafty witches attempt to steal from you? Did they get destroyed by stone man as well? Or did you blow them up?"
"Yeah, turns out cannibalism is illegal in Rhea. It was a rough transition, but you gotta do what you gotta do, you know?" Rurik said deadpan. So it turned out Bak was indeed from Yekaterina after all. He wondered if any of the scary stories he'd been told as a child stemmed from her, but there were lots of stories of war and guns from Yekaterina, so it was hard to say. "I never fought any witches, I wasn't much of a fighter back then. And like I said, they rarely came our way, and they never really came to our farm in particular."
By then, his mother had finished reheating the leftovers and brought them to the table. Hearing that he'd decided to take part in the tournament, she'd gone all out and prepared some old-fashioned recipes that reminded him of the country. Now though, the ingredients were harder to find when they couldn't just grow their own.
"So... Rurik," his mother spoke up after a minute. "You talk about girl you have... uhh... is this..."
"Yes..." his father also spoke. "You said she is fancy girl. Err, she is fancy, but not quite in way imagined..."
Rurik paused mid bite of food to stare at his parents incredulously.
"I said... her name is Bak. My girlfriend is Christine..." Rurik grumbled. His parents just looked at each other and whispered to each other in a different language. "I can still understand you..."
Rurik said in the same language. It was similar to Bak's first language, though a slightly different dialect and one could tell by his accent he didn't speak it often. His parents both shrunk back in embarrassment and Rurik just looked off to the side in annoyance.
"Well, is good they never got to you." Bak said, slightly disappointed that the image of Rurik blowing witches to pieces with rocks was all fantasy. It would be fun to know what witches really looked like when they exploded. "If they got your hair or blood there is no telling what could have happened. They could have stolen your skull of turned you into tree or any number of horrible thing."
It wasn't long before Bak trailed off, having been engrossed in the spell cast by the food. She took in the smell as Ruriks mother brought it to the table. She hadn't had anything from the homeland since that Bear Pot Celestine had gotten for her the night they met, and felt her mouth begin to water at the sight of it. She eagerly scooped some up as everyone began eating, placing a portion in her mouth and savoring the taste.
The Ruriks parents had asked the question that nearly made her choke.
What was this? Her and Rurik? This was ludicrous! How could they even think...how would you ever mix her up with Christine? Even if Rurik had never brought her home, which was understandable given her lewd nature, surely even a short description would make it clear the two were nothing alike.
"Nyet, nyet," she managed to squeak out between between half gags as the food went down, face crimson in embarrassment. This whole thing was uncomfortable, the entire mood seemed to have taken a turn, and hearing that uncomfortable expressed in a language that was not quite hers only added to that. She had to clear this up. "You do not have anything to worry about, Christine is very beautiful and kind! He is envy of all our classmates." she said urgently. "Rurik is just my friend."
Just. She got a pensive look on her face as she thought about that word. It felt...wrong. Reductive. "In matter of fact, he was first person to make me feel welcome after moving here." She said nostalgically.
He supposed he couldn't blame his parents. He was practically the poster boy for punks and losers. A high class lady like Christine associating with him let alone dating him was unfathomable unless you saw it first-hand. He was pretty sure his parents didn't think she existed. Of course, as Bak spoke, his parents looked at her in disbelief. Now they were no doubt trying to decide what was harder to believe: Christine existing or Rurik being nice to someone like that. Further adding to their conundrum was the fact that Bak had confirmed Christine's existence, though he was sure they'd never truly believe til' they saw her. If they ever got to. He was in no rush. Perhaps he was too embarrassed to show Christine his shabby little home in his shabby little neighborhood. Perhaps he preferred to keep things simple between them. After all, most people considered "meeting the parents" to be a big step.
Considering Rurik had been to Christine's house, and nothing had changed, it was a weak excuse...
"Well... is good he did that," his father eventually spoke.
"Yes, I thought he had forgotten what manners were," his mother added.
The rest of "dinner" was a much less awkward affair. Even reheated the food was nearly perfect and there were no more unwelcome accusations or suggestions. Eventually though, the food did run out. Bak's chair gave her a pat on the head and then unfolded back into its more intimidating form before bumbling its way back outside where it lay down, becoming just another bit of sidewalk as far as the average person would be concerned.
"Was good to meet you, Tsarevna." Rurik's father nodded to her.
"Yes, lovely to see another from the Old Country. You are welcome any time," his mother told her.
'Boof.' Maxim barked. 'Farewell, honorable fellow guardian. May we meet again in green pastures.' He seemed to say.
But probably not.
And so Rurik walked Bak outside.
"Well... thanks for coming over and eating my food, anyway..." Rurik said to her. It hadn't been nearly as dramatic as he'd feared, but that was good he supposed. "Guess you can go... do whatever it is you had to do now."
Bak gave the three of them a deep bow. "Thank you for having me. It was nice meeting you as well."
She gave a particular nod to the dog. 'May your watch over this pasture be long and glorious, diminished though your territory may be.' She seemed to reply.
"I am glad they were alright. They are very kind. But...ummmm.....that was tiny little lie." She admitted awkwardly when Rurik's parents where out of earshot. "With no school there is nothing for me to do besides watch building and wait for Vittorio to wake up." She looked down, her eyes falling on the panel of sidewalk that contained the rock monster that had been all to ready to pulp her. "I was just afraid they would change their minds." More than that, though, something else was nibbling at the back of her mind. She looked back up at him, wondering if she should broach this subject, and remembered the last time she shared her concerns with everyone but the person she was concerned for. "Rurik, have they done something to upset you?"
"If we're being honest, I think they're just happy you kinda sound like them when you talk. Not many people like us living here in Rhea, really," Rurik said. And then she kept talking. "What, no, I just don't like thinking about home is all. Too many bad memories now," he told her, keeping his explanation short. "Anyway, yeah, go watch Vittorio. We all know what happened last time we let him out of our sight." He doubted he'd do anything that dumb again so soon, though. Could he even move? Probably not.
But why take chances? See how far he'd get while Bak was sitting on him... Well that might kill him, but still.
However, before Rurik went back inside and let Bak go, he hesitated. He tried to make himself look her in the eyes, but he couldn't quite hold his gaze there and so shuffled awkwardly in place.
"Hey, look... yesterday I was kinda dead weight for... a lot of stuff. I have a tendency to make things harder than they have to be, you know. Do the bare minimum and all that," he said. "But also yesterday for the first time in a while I actually... kinda tried. And uh, maybe today everything was fine, but the point is you're standin' here when frankly after the way I've been you shouldn't be." He pursed his lips and looked away. He hated touchy-feely shit. "OK, OK what I'm trying to say... is that maybe I'm going to keep trying. So... next time something comes up, let me know. I'll..." he let out a sigh and said something he hadn't said in a loooong time. Certainly not and meant it. "I'll do my best." He realized only after speaking how horribly vague that had all been as he'd attempted to get it over with as quickly as possible. He hoped Bak got the point...
Bak blinked at him. "What an odd thing to say. Without you I would not be standing here at all."
"Chin up, Rurik." she said, repeating the words David had used to calm her down last night. "All of us made mistakes yesterday. I even made Tovarish admit to it. But it is nice to know we will always try our best tomorrow. I know I can count on you."
She smiled at him, just enjoying the moment. Then she glanced up and saw how far the sun had moved in the sky, and lost it. "I should go back before there are more people on street. It was wonderful meeting your family. I will see you at school, bright and early!" With that exclamation she turned away and began the trek back to St. Lucifer's.
Rurik didn't know how to feel as Bak left. She seemed to trust him, but not for the right reasons. Mistakes?
"It wasn't... just yesterday..." Not unless it was an all encompassing yesterday.
Well, she'd said she could count on him. All he could hope to do was make sure she didn't regret it.
Fuck, this was a lot of pressure. Maybe this had been a mistake. It had been way less stressful when he didn't give a damn. Maybe it wasn't too late to-
No, no, no, that hadn't been any good either.
"Bright and early?" Well, maybe not that just yet. Baby steps.