It turned out that Drake's idea of 'somewhere near here' meant half an hour walking through the dark, damp and windy streets, a journey that – by it's end – left the young man and his new charge shivering and sniffling as they came to a stop outside the mouth of an eerie-looking alleyway.
"Ohh, no," Echo stamped her foot down defiantly, smashing the surface of a large puddle with her trainer. Retaliation came in the swift form of a spray of ice-cold droplets that attacked her already soaking pyjamas. The girl groaned, and wished for the umpteenth time that night that her mysterious 'rescuer' had let her go back for a change of clothes. "I'm not going down there, uh-uh. I don't even know if I can trust you. Heck, I don't even know you!"
"First name Drake, middle name the, surname Vagabond Exorcist," the man snapped grouchily, giving her a shove into the gaping maw of the alley. He was easily twice as strong as her, so she was sent stumbling helplessly into it. "Geez, I've been telling you that for the last half hour! And Raven called me by name! Do you have short-term memory loss, or something? Because, y'know, next time a demon attacks you – which it probably will now they know you have a Gift. They're a sucker for all that mystical crap – remind me to be on vacation if you can't even remember a simple thing like a name!"
They walked on in a heavy, mood-laden silence for a few more steps, their footsteps splashing against the waterlogged cobblestones and reverberating along the narrow confines of the passage ahead of them. Suddenly, Echo started at Drake's vice-like grip as it clamped down on his quivering shoulders. This is it! She thought wildly, panicking in his clutches. I knew it! This was all some sick and disgusting plot to get me alone in –
"Hey? He-llo…earth to dream girl? Wake up, will you? You want to talk past the place, then I guess that's your prerogative. Me, I'm crashing here."
"Oh," the girl was instantly relieved, but then she turned to face the place. "Oh."
'Here' was a doorway set into the wall of the right building, and as far as doorways went it was pretty ordinary, hewn from rough, dark oak that seemed to bleed out into the lighter brickwork. No, it was pretty standard…except, that is, for the arcane characters etched along every inch of its frame in golden-yellow paint (or, maybe something worse that just smelled like paint), and a bead-curtain with small animal bones instead of the beads.
"Oh…oh, no!" Echo shook her head, a mix of fear and disgust playing across her face. "I'm not going in there. I'm not even going to touch it! What are those, chicken heads?"
"Nah, girly…dey be rats."
The deep, wild voice caught Echo by surprise as the monstrous curtain was swept aside by a large black hand as it reached out from the shadows of the room beyond. What followed as the body the voice belonged to stepped out into the alley caused her to scream with such a shrill pitch that Drake thought he could feel his ears bleeding.
The man had to squeeze to get his stocky frame through the open doorway, every inch of him scarred muscle. Even his face hadn't escaped the punishment, it seemed, a V-shaped cut starting from the middle of his upper lip and branching away, narrowly missing his nose but running over both his eyes to finish hidden beneath a brow of short, colourful dreadlocks. His eyes rendered sightless, they had long ago been removed and replaced with two vacantly staring glass eyes. The parts of his scarred body that weren't visible were covered by something closely resembling a beige toga.
By the time Drake, teeth clenched tight, had managed to calm Echo down enough to silence her screams, it had started to rain once again, a light drizzle falling upon their already-soaked bodies.
"T-th-those scars," Echo whimpered, shuddering from revulsion at the sight of the giant man before her, as well as the cold shower. "How...?"
"Self-inflicted," Drake explained hurriedly, flinching with every heavy drop that hit his exposed head. Catching the girl's horrified expression he hastened to add, "Comes with the job – self-sacrifice, that sorta thing. Echo; meet Bocor – Bocor, Echo. There, introductions done and dusted, can we please get in out of this infernal rain now?"
"Pleased t'meetcha, girly," the fearsome man known as Bocor grinned wildly, revealing a set of yellowing teeth. "Come inside, why don'tcha…"
Hesitating, Echo had to be reassured by Drake more than once that everything was okay before she entered under the giant's arm, careful not to touch the bone-curtain with any part of her body. Drake was quick to follow, relieved to get in and get dry…
There was a flash of white light and a blunt force struck the young Exorcist in his mid-section, knocking him back into the air until he crashed into the opposite wall ten feet behind him. The brickwork shattered and depressed inwards on impact in a small circle that closely encompassed his body before he, plus debris, fell to the ground with a heavy splash.
"Damn," he muttered weakly, face-first in a muddy puddle as stone, mortar and dust showered down upon his unprotected back. "The wards…of course."
It came as no surprise to Drake when he felt the two massive hands grab him by his shoulders, yanking him up and off his feet with effortless ease before slamming him back against the damaged wall.
The empty, bug-eyed gaze of Bocor peered intently at him, mere inches away from his face. "What you done t' yourself, man?" he growled dangerously, his whole weight pressed against the struggling Exorcist in his grasp. "What you done now t' be refused entry, hmm? Show old Bocor."
Drake resigned to the fact that, like it or not, the other man would find out the truth sooner or later as Bocor, like Echo, had the Gift of telepathy. Dropping his defences, Drake simply slumped in his grip and awaited the inevitable. Don't repel him like you did the Rislen, he warned Lucifer.
Within seconds the large man gasped, releasing Drake as he took a few steps back, Still weakened by his previous injury, Drake landed on his feet but crumpled under his weight, struggling to stay on his knees and not collapse entirely back into the puddle. "You with him now!" Bocor accused in sheer disbelief, shaking a condemning finger down at the coughing Exorcist.
"No…he's with me. There's a difference, I'm in control."
"You know not what you are messing with, man! We're talking bad, here, de worst kind of bad!"
"Look," Drake growled impatiently, struggling to his feet, fuelled by his rage. "He invoked the Rite of Atonement, and I was honour-bound to accept the Pact –"
"Honour be dammed!" Bocor hissed imploringly. "Better honour than soul, too…couldn't you just make an exception?"
"I've only ever mad one exception, and you know that…look where that's gotten me," Drake added bitterly.
"Aye, and I thank you for dat, man! But dis is not de same!"
"Just…just drop the wards, let me get cleaned-up and I'll explain everything," sighed the young man reluctantly, the rain now soaking him to the bone. "Don't worry," he added when Bocor looked uncertain. "I am in control…he wouldn't have it any other way."
"Oh, well if High an' Might Luc – "
'Sounded like he was about to worship me,' the voice of Lucifer mentioned, bemused as the tall man quickly negated all his wards momentarily. 'Are you quite sure he can be trusted?'
"Don't you both start," Drake growled as he pushed his way through the unrestraining bone-curtain, Bocor sealing it back up after him. "I am not in the mood!"
Half an hour later, the three of them were seated around Bocor's roaring fireplace. Both Drake and Echo were cleaned-up and in a new set of misfitting clothes as their original outfits hung to dry on a clothes-horse to the left of the fire, the thick logs of which crackled and burned slowly in their flickering embrace.
The giant man had made them all large bowls of steaming vegetable soup, which he handed to both of them at once before sitting down, cross-legged upon his thickly rugged floor.
"Don't you worry, girly," he nodded towards Echo, who was taking small, tentative sips from her own balsawood bowl, suspicion playing in her eyes. "Ain't nut'ing in dat soup dat Mother Nature ain't grown from a seed."
"He's saying it isn't poisoned," Drake clarified after she continued her small sips.
"I know what he said…it's just so damn hot!" setting the bowl aside on a small coffee table to cool, the girl looked around the room with inquiring eyes; save for the fireplace, the coffee table, the clothes horse and the rug they all sat upon, Bocor's living room was bare. "Not much, is it?"
"Less is best," he replied slowly, although his deep frown dared her to pursue the matter further. Wisely, she choose to change the subject.
"So," she sighed, crossing her arms over her new itchy clothes. "Just who are you two? Just what kind of whackos have I fallen in with, huh?"
The two men exchanged glances in silence. "I think," Drake told the other finally, "that this is way of suggesting that further introductions are required…you first, Bocor. Age before beauty," he added with mysterious emphasis.
Whatever he had been talking about, only Bocor seemed to know. The huge man grunted humorously and shifted until his back was up against a wall. "Girly, how old would you say I am?"
Echo looked from one man to the other, as if sizing them up would help her answer. "I don't know…thirty? Forty, maybe?"
"Add ten, and den triple dat," Bocor replied, grinning as if he'd just received the greatest of compliments. "Well, no, t' be honest, dat ain't exactly true…"
Leaning towards the mystified young girl, he fixed her with an empty-eyed grin before adding. "No, I was fourty…when I died."
End of Chapter IV
A/N: There! The end of another chapter, and just one question this time: what does everyone think of the new character Bocor? I tried to make his voodoo accent sound realistic, but is it just annoying. He's integral to the story right now, but he doesn't have to stay if he proves unpopular…the last thing I want you all to do is feel like you have to put up with an awful character.
Just one more chapter like this, and then the action picks up again in a way you'll (probably) never guess!
SympleSymon (aka Stargazer)
Recommendations (Because FP Never Advertises the Good Ones)
Zora Ink – by felicia13
Strike Me Down – by Dice Darwin
Angel's Halo (all) – by YjanZ Providence
Blood Stained Rose – by Darket
The Guardian Negotiator – by Niki Tori
Tsukigoten – by Otohime Masaki (I'm the new beta, so it's only fair I mention this great story, right…?)
Rebirth – by Michael T.D. (review this and MAKE him update, it's THAT damn good!)
If I've forgotten anyway, which I probably have, just drop a hint, y'know, like 'Oi! Where's me Rec, dammit!'
…or not. We're not all ruffians, eh?