Stories of the Recherché (Episode 1)

14 09 2009

Storytelling is a big thing for me. The Recherché are a long-standing race I’ve used for many years now, and they are always looking for adventure. If you’re curious about what they are, exactly, you can find some background in The Recherché Report. It’s not exactly comprehensive, and has no specifics about these characters, but it may give you some insight into their original incarnation.

Theladas and Jerricah are a busy pair. There’s a lot to be said about each of them: who they are, where they come from, and what they can do. No boring biographies today, though; the story I want to share is far more visceral. I’ll shut up now, and I hope you enjoy this segment of their adventures!

The Mau’s eyes rolled back in his head as he collided heavily with the rocky, cavern wall. The staff tip receded from his cheek, letting him stagger away from the wall. He blinked a few times, trying to focus on his assailant. It was no use. With a groan, the Mau flopped to his knees, swayed for a moment, and crumpled to the stony floor.

“Damn, Mau have thick skulls,” Theladas complained. “Slam their skulls between a rock and a wooden rod and they don’t even crack.” With a roll of his eyes, Theladas raised his staff above the Mau. He inhaled, readying his final strike to the back of the furry beast’s head, when a small, pale-white hand caught his elbow.

“Don’t,” Jerricah protested. “We’re not here to dispatch these ones.” Carefully, Jerricah stepped between the cavern wall and Theladas until she was in front of the boy. His arms immediately relaxed. “The Mau don’t know what it is they’re playing with,” Jerricah reminded him. “They don’t know what these demons-“

“Balaur,” Theladas corrected.

“-Balaur, are capable of, or what they’re after.” Jerricah sighed, closing her eyes and turning to face the fallen Mau in a whirl of blond hair. “It’s just a shame that they won’t listen to reason. We aren’t here to judge them, though; that’s not our place. If he’s not going to get in our way, then we should leave him.”

Theladas leaned forward on his stave, looking over the girl’s shoulder. “Should we get moving on to what we’re really looking for, then?” he asked her; she nodded slightly. “I mean, I don’t mind standing here staring at the unconscious Mau for all time, but time wasted in here is time I don’t get to spend with you.”

“But you are with me,” Jerricah protested. She spun to face the boy again, arms crossed across her chest. “I’m standing right here, aren’t I?” Theladas smirked.

“You didn’t let me finish,” Theladas protested with a wave of his hands. “Spending time with you is great, but dragging you around dank caves that smell like death just feels wrong. It’s hardly the kind of date a normal boyfriend would take you on.”

Jerricah thought for a moment, staring off over Theladas’ shoulder. Then she nodded. “You’re right,” she stated matter-of-factly, “you’re not a normal boyfriend, and this is a terrible place for a date.” She turned from Theladas and marched deeper into the cavern. “You’d better take me someplace nice next time.”

Theladas raised his hand to protest, but Jerricah was no longer looking. With a sigh, he gripped the center of his staff and chased after the blond-haired girl. “It was your idea to come here in the first place,” he muttered.

Two rounded corners later revealed a large, open room carved directly out of the rock cave. Jerricah finally slowed down as she reached the threshold; Theladas caught up to her, stepping into the room first. Three pedestals rested at three corners of the room; in the fourth and final corner, a large red portal crackled with energy and fire.

“Figures,” Theladas said, folding his arms across his chest. “The Mau make these tiny tunnels to get here, and then open up the summoning room for the gate’s size. Who do they think comes through those gates, pygmy demons?”

Jerricah giggled. “Maybe we should thank them,” she offered in reply. “The Mau, I mean. With these tunnels so constricting, the summoning rooms would probably just act like jail cells for the Balaur.” Theladas nodded.

“I’ll write them a thank-you note,” he assured her.

After staring at the portal for a moment longer, the pair looked at one another and nodded. “Gate’s all yours,” Jerricah told Theladas.

“Just be gentle with the crystals this time,” he reminded her as he adjusted the chain links on his forearms. The girl spared a brief moment to glare at Theladas.

“It was a one-time thing,” she scowled. “You were making me nervous while you were fighting off Mau in the hallway.”

“And you nearly-” Theladas cut himself off when he saw the look in her eyes. Her eyes may have been a pretty blue most of the time, but they became downright icy when she was angry. The boy merely grinned before turning back to the massive swirling portal.

Jerricah turned to the nearest stone, leftmost of the portal. She shut Theladas out of her mind, instead bringing her focus to the glowing crimson crystal before her. She could feel the binding powers of the crystal, leeching energy from the ground beneath and channeling it towards the portal across the room. With practiced precision, Jerricah extended her left hand to the strands of connection in the air. As a guitarist plucks at the strings of his instrument, so too did Jerricah’s fingers pluck through the strings in the air. At her touch, each strand snapped loose and slipped limply into the ground. One, then another, and another.

As she reached for the last fiber, her eyes suddenly widened. She willed her hand to stop, but it was too late. The last strand snapped like the others, but it did not fall. The strand held rigid in the air, the severed connection sending an impulse into the dark void beyond the portal.

“Oh, no,” Jerricah whispered as she retreated from the pedestal. The crystal fell from its place, but Jerricah’s focus was broken: the strands vanished from her view. “Thel!” she shouted across the room.

At her call, Theladas looked to the blond-haired girl. He needed only an instant to sense the fear in her voice – he knew they were in trouble.

As if in response to the girl, a feral roar trumpeted through the cavern from the portal. “Hurry!” was all Theladas spared in response. He spun back on the portal and readied his staff. A moment later, a spear-like appendage lashed through the gate at Theladas’ midsection. The boy parried the strike to his side, stepping in tandem to avoid the blow. A clawed hand over a foot across raced through the portal next, slapping down on the ground just before Theladas. The rest of a giant, red-scaled demon followed its hand through the portal; its tail lashed back over its shoulder out of view. A large, plated head with gnashing teeth glowered down at the boy.

With a shout, Theladas leapt forward. He ducked into a roll to avoid the passing swipe of the demon’s claw. He returned with a blow to the demon’s stationary hand; it didn’t seem to notice. Theladas glowered, drew his staff back, and brought the other end down upon the demon’s knuckles. In conjunction with the collision, a burst of light surrounded the demon’s hand. There was a howl of pain as the hand recoiled across the ground – deep scars jutted into the stone floor from the demon’s claws. “That’s right,” Theladas told the demon, “This is gonna hurt a lot more than you were expecting.”

Jerricah spared no attention to the combat by the portal. Her eyes were set on the next stone in order, rightmost of the Abyss gate. She dashed across the room to the pedestal, only to stop mid-step to avoid a shower of rocks. She covered her head with her forearms, waiting for the debris to pass before moving. “We don’t have much time,” she reminded herself. She threw her hands out and back to her sides. “Get it done.”

A few more steps brought her to the second pedestal. Once again she let her mind relax. The strands of support became visible once more to her eyes, and once more she reached out to them. “Don’t rush,” she told herself. “Don’t rush; he’s fine, trust him.” Another strand snapped free. And another. There was no trap on the last line this time; one signal was clearly enough.

She sighed briefly as the second crystal wobbled on its axis. As the last of the strands retreated into the ground, the crystal fell from the air. Jerricah caught the crystal this time, peering curiously at the crimson light that seemed to emanate from inside the glass. “This looks familiar,” she mumbled.

A scream from her boyfriend broke Jerricah’s train of thought. She looked to the portal, worry in her eyes. Theladas was on his back now, his staff off to the side. The demon was now attempting to pin the boy with his unwounded claw, narrowly missing as he rolled away just before being crushed. Jerricah glared daggers at the demon.

“My boyfriend is not a mouse,” she asserted. She ran towards the portal gate, ignoring the turn in the demon’s attention. She reached out to the air around her again, drawing upon the heat of the room. Particle by particle, she drew the heat together into a single form. “Kerberos,” she whispered, “come back to me. It’s time.”

Jerricah came to an abrupt stop about twenty feet from the demon. Theladas was shouting at her to back away, and the demon recognized this new morsel as far easier to eat without the metal rings. Neither one noticed the bubbling of the earth just before her feet. Neither one noticed, that is, until the ground erupted with a fiery plume. A fiery spirit as tall as Theladas now stood between Jerricah and the demon, two massive fists bathed in flame and ready to strike. A second later, they did: the demon’s outstretched claw caught fire as it attempted to swat the spirit away. The flames passed a moment later, but the long black scorch remained upon the demon’s scales.

Kerberos lept forward at Jerricah’s command: it dodged the oncoming claw swipes as it looked for open points of the demon to strike. A fiery hook collided with the demon’s stomach, followed by an uppercut to the chest. Scorches erupted from each of the spirit’s strikes, but the demon seemed unphased. Meanwhile, the demon drove its claws down, forcing the spirit to retreat to avoid destruction.

Jerricah spared a moment to look over to Theladas. “Are you all right?” she called.

“Yeah,” he replied. She could see faint green light encircling his leg. Already his skin had closed; any bleeding from the claw stroke was staunched. “I’ve got this,” he assured her.

Theladas then swiped his staff from the ground. With the demon’s attention fixed upon Jerricah’s incantation, Theladas took a moment to find the weakest point on the demon’s exposed leg. Then he saw it: a gap in the plating to allow joint mobility. Theladas rushed forward, calling forth another holy strike. He brought his weapon down, and with it a beam of light collided with the back of the demon’s knee. With an unearthly wail, the demon fell forward to one knee. Theladas grinned – the limb was disabled for sure.

“Thel!”

Theladas leapt back from the demon at the warning. The demon’s spear-like tail only clipped his shoulder. He gritted his teeth as pain sprouted from the new wound. The appendage froze before Theladas’ eyes: solid ice wrapped up around the tail from the ground and pinned it in place. Theladas gave a supportive grin to Jerricah. “I guess I pissed him off,” Theladas said off-handedly. She shrugged, lowering her hand and returning her focus to her spirit.

Indeed, the demon was enraged. It bashed Jerricah’s spirit back, and then raised both its clawed hands. It roared as it brought the clasped hands down squarely on the beast of flame. There was an explosion of fire, burning brightly against the demon’s hands, yet it passed in an instant. Jerricah lowered her arms from guarding against the explosion and, seeing that her incantation was gone, slowly backpedaled from the demon. Its head was now at eye level, glaring directly at the girl. It growled hungrily.

There was a battle cry from behind the demon. Theladas swung into view, running up the demon’s back and springing into the air. His staff glinted in the crimson light of the Abyss gate as it arced through the air.

Theladas then braced the staff against his body, landing with the blunt end placed squarely on the demon’s skull. The impact drove the demon’s head to the ground with a crash. The stave flexed under the collision, but did not break. Theladas smirked in triumph.

However, as soon as it had fallen, the demon struggled up again. The demon threw its head back violently, tossing Theladas into the air. He yelled, and then fell abruptly silent. “Thel!” Jerri repeated, her eyes wide. She could hear nothing but the screaming demon, though. She stepped back again, raising her hand. She noticed again the crimson crystal – she was still holding it. She blinked, and then ran from the demon. It howled over her shoulder, and even managed to throw a boulder from the wall after her. She was beyond the demon’s reach, though, and its lame leg prohibited giving chase. Again it screamed.

Jerricah didn’t stop as she reached the final active pedestal. She didn’t bother focusing either. She simply jumped and delivered a roundhouse kick to the third crystal. The crystal shattered, scattering shards of glass across the ground. She didn’t need to check to know that the supports were cut – crackling explosions from the Abyss gate told her it was fading fast.

The demon was still howling in hatred and pain. Jerricah spun to face the demon, fire in her eyes. “Go sing somewhere else,” she shouted. She stepped forward, driving a fist into the air, directly at the immobilized demon. A gale torrent broke out across the room, driving from the girl’s fist into the demon. The wind’s unnatural strength managed to bowl the demon over onto its back. The demon fell through the gate, tumbling backwards through the rapidly receding portal. Jerricah’s icy prison shattered under the demon’s weight, and the appendage snapped through the portal. The portal then vanished, at last muting the roars of the demon.

After taking a moment to catch her breath, Jerricah dashed towards the vacancy where the portal had been. Her eyes scanned the room until she found Theladas, lying crumpled against the wall. She skidded to a halt next to the boy and knelt down, bringing his head to her lap. “Hey, Thel,” she whispered urgently, brushing the rock and dust from his hair. When he gave no response, her brow furrowed. “Come on,” she went on, “wake up. Demon’s gone; no need to be scared anymore.”

“I wasn’t scared,” Theladas grumbled in reply. Jerricah giggled to cover her sigh of relief. She hugged his head against her chest.

“Of course you weren’t,” she whispered as she kissed his ear. “Only a normal boyfriend would be scared by a demon like that.”

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