"Hey. ... Hey. Wake up."
Lukiel jolted awake when he felt someone pat him roughly on the shoulder. It took a few seconds to remember he'd crawled into the back of the wagon to sleep after his mind kept him awake the previous night.
The vampire tried to stretch out the kinks and rolled over to send the former hunter an annoyed scowl. "What?"
Adonai didn't seem fazed. "Watch the wagon. The horses need a break, and I have a few things to do."
Though a bit disgruntled about having his nap interrupted, Lukiel nodded and rubbed his eyes as he pushed himself upright. Just as well, he supposed. If he slept too long, he'd be restless again tonight.
He stayed where he sat as he tried to wake himself up. The wagon jiggled a bit, an indication the phoenix had climbed down from the front seat, and then it went still again. Things were relatively quiet outside, but there was enough noise to hint they'd stopped in a town somewhere. Since they were supposed to reach Clorenthia by the end of the day, it was probably a neighboring village.
After a while, Lukiel almost nodded off again. The boredom did nothing to keep him awake, so he finally climbed out of the wagon to take in his surroundings. The hot sun that was out that morning now hid behind a thick wall of clouds, and the air felt wet and heavy. They'd probably see a storm later.
Adonai wouldn't be too happy about that.
He moved around to the front to check on the horses. Their reins had been wrapped on a post by a water trough, and they somehow found amusement in swatting their tails. More than once, they nipped at each other's ears in a playful manner. Hey, whatever helped them pass the time.
Lukiel had no idea how much longer the phoenix would be gone, so he found the brushes and went to work to cool the animals down. They settled a little bit, but they still tried to nip at him during their games.
"Hey, lookie here, boys."
The unfamiliar voice sounded close, so the vampire glanced behind him to see where it came from. A group of four men stood nearby, one of them obviously inebriated and smirking at him while the others appeared uncomfortable. He had no idea why they were there, but he picked up a bad vibe when the tipsy one spoke again.
"We were looking for some fun tonight. Looks like we found it."
Eh, great. Now he knew what was up. Lukiel said nothing; he only rolled his eyes as he returned his attention to the horses. Maybe if he ignored the men, they would go away.
"Boss, it's a guy."
"Ya think I care?"
No such luck.
The vampire still didn't turn around, but he did speak up to discourage any unwanted advances. "Piss off."
The drunk didn't take a hint. Lukiel felt a cold hand take a hold of his arm and try to pull him away from the animals. "Don't worry, I'll make sure you enjoy it, too."
The grip was weak, so he was able to yank free. "Doubt it. You're clearly all talk."
He turned away with plans to hide out in the back of the wagon again, at least until these losers took the hint and left. But he didn't get far and almost stumbled when a much rougher grip caught him by the collar and jerked him backwards.
"Ya know what? I ain't got the patience for that mouth of yours."
This time the hold was too tight for him to pull away without the use of his inhuman strength. Fun though it would be to scare these guys, there were enough people in the streets that Lukiel didn't dare let his vampiric traits be seen. He didn't know how these folks might react to the sight of a fanged undead creature.
He struggled to get free and opened his mouth to scream. Maybe if he drew attention, the creep would finally back off. Before he could, though, the drunk released him and he fell back against the wagon. The horses jumped from the sudden ruckus, but they soon settled.
Unsure of what happened, Lukiel straightened in time to see Adonai tug the inebriated stranger away by his hair and twist his arm painfully behind his back. The drunk tried to wrestle himself free, but the former hunter had a firm hold on him.
"And no one here has patience for your stupidity," Adonai spat. He tugged the other man backwards and spun him around to shove him towards his friends. "Beat it."
Somehow the drunk kept his footing, but he did fall into the guy closest to him and nearly knocked him over. He spun back around as soon as he could stand straight and shot a glare at the phoenix. "Watch yourself, pal."
Adonai sent back a harder look, one that caused the stranger to shrink back a bit. Lukiel had to bite his tongue to keep his amusement in check.
"Get lost. I won't say it a third time."
By now, a few people had stopped to stare, and that gave the drunk enough incentive to at last abandon his objective. The group of men headed off down the road in the opposite direction, with the ring leader stumbling every few steps.
Adonai rolled his eyes and turned to unwrap the horses' reins, and then he hopped into the wagon's front seat. "Come on, let's go."
Lukiel stepped around to climb up the other side, but as he did, he felt a little light headed - enough that he almost tumbled backwards. The phoenix caught him before he did and pulled him into the seat. It caused the vampire to fall against the other man, and he quickly straightened up so his flushed face wouldn't be noticed.
The movement only made his vertigo worse. He had to lean forward and rest his head in his hands to hold himself steady against the bounce of the wagon.
Adonai waited to say anything until he steered the horses towards the town gates. Even then, he kept his voice down. "When was the last time you fed?"
Lukiel tried to remember, but he couldn't. So he didn't answer.
The former hunter sounded annoyed. "We'll stop somewhere on the road. You'll pass out if we wait until we get back."
The ride continued in silence until the horses veered off the road into a clearing. Adonai tugged on the reins to bring the animals to a stop, and then he turned his attention to the vampire. "Get. And don't let it go this long again. I'll wait here."
Lukiel hopped down and headed into the trees without a word.
A light rain had begun by the time the vampire returned to the wagon. His clothes were wet enough to be annoying, but he could tolerate it. He was more concerned for Adonai and whether the oncoming storm would cause any problems for the phoenix.
At the clearing, Lukiel found the horses under a makeshift canopy and the wagon parked against a grove of trees to guard against the wind. The former hunter was nowhere to be seen and was likely hunkered down inside.
Guess Lukiel didn't have to worry. Clearly the other man knew how to cope with the rain when he knew it was on the way.
The vampire hesitated to climb into the wagon himself. He'd rather not be in such an enclosed space with Adonai, given the phoenix's irritation at him earlier. He was probably in a corner waiting to box Lukiel's ears for forgetting to feed since before they left the hunter's guild.
He shook his head. What a ridiculous idea.
"Get your ass in here."
He winced when a voice called from the wagon. Adonai must have been listening to know when he came back. Maybe the guy was waiting to clobber him.
Well ... he sure as hell couldn't sit out here in the rain all night. Eventually he did climb into the wagon, but he took note of where the former hunter sat and made a point to move to the opposite side.
The first several minutes passed in silence, save for the light rain that pattered on the wagon cover and the wind that started to kick up. Lukiel spent that time wringing the water out of his clothes. He didn't want to make eye contact with the other man, and the dim light from the lantern made it easy to do. Although, he could sense a pair of eyes on him.
These next few hours would get awkward real quick if it kept up like this. But Lukiel didn't dare open his mouth.
Next thing he knew, something hit him in the face and momentarily blacked out his vision when it draped over his eyes. He quickly realized it was a blanket and yanked it off with an annoyed scowl. "What was that for?"
Funnily enough, it looked like Adonai hadn't moved an inch, yet the vampire knew he had to have been the one to toss it. "Just thought it would make it easier to dry off," he answered with a shrug. Then he leaned back and closed his eyes.
Lukiel didn't say anything, as it seemed the brief conversation was over, but he did glance down at the blanket. After a moment, he used it to dry off his hair and draped it over his shoulders. If nothing else, it warded off some of the chill, even though it didn't truly bother him.
He suddenly remembered something and spoke up before he could hold his tongue. "Oh, hey, Adonai?"
The phoenix opened his eyes and quirked an eyebrow in confusion.
"For today, I mean. I could've fought him off, I guess, but at least this way, no one had to find out what I was."
The other man went silent for a short while. "You holding up all right?"
That wasn't the response he expected. "Y - yeah ... Yeah, of course I am."
Adonai didn't appear convinced. "Liar. No one's all right after something like that."
Lukiel felt his face flush and quickly looked away. Hopefully the lack of light hid his agitation.
What happened this evening hadn't been the first time a perverted drunk mistook him for a woman from behind and tried to hit on him. Once they realized he was a guy, though, they always turned tail. Today was the first time the offender didn't back off on his own.
To be honest, the vampire didn't want to think about how it may have gone down had Adonai not cut in. So he scrambled for something else to talk about. Anything. Silence wasn't even an option because then his mind would dwell on everything and drive him nuts.
After a few minutes, a thought crossed his mind. "I just realized something."
By now, the phoenix had returned to his original position and didn't acknowledge the statement except for a quiet murmur.
Lukiel didn't know if this would be an appropriate topic, but he went ahead with it, anyway. "I know almost nothing about you. Except that you're a phoenix and used to be a hunter."
This time, Adonai's surprise was apparent. "Why the sudden interest?"
The other man didn't answer immediately. It seemed he was trying to figure out why the topic was brought up. But eventually, he did speak again. "Not much to tell, really."
"Sure, there is." Lukiel suddenly felt a little bold, so he stretched his legs out in front of him and sat up straighter. "I always used to think phoenix birds were just stories. Is that why those thugs jumped you in Fraemead? Because of those stories?"
Adonai tipped his head to the side. "Where are you going with this?"
"I'm just curious, is all. I mean, I never really had a chance to think on it before now. Since you're not hunting anymore, you have a family to back to, right?"
Again, the phoenix hesitated. This time, though, Lukiel got the feeling he'd asked a question he shouldn't have, especially when the other man returned his stare to the far side of the wagon. "Not that I know of."
That answer caught him off guard. "You don't?"
Ooh, boy. Definitely shouldn't have asked that one.
Adonai seemed to guess where his thoughts went because he was quick to add, "Not because they're dead or anything. I just don't think they exist."
It was the vampire's turn to be confused.
In his usual indifferent way, the former hunter stretched as he elaborated on his answer. "For as long as I can remember, it's just been me. Don't remember any family or being a kid. Hell, I don't even know how a phoenix comes into existence. They're just there."
Lukiel went quiet as he debated whether to say what he wanted to say. Finally, he threw caution to the wind. "Well ... if you're ever out this way again ... you'll have a family waiting for you here."
Wow. That was cringy.
He expected the phoenix to be a smart ass in response, and he wasn't disappointed. A smirk appeared on the other man's face as he spoke. "Corny much?"
The vampire managed a chuckle. At least the guy's reaction wasn't negative.
Lukiel hopped down from the wagon as it pulled to a stop outside his house. "You'll return everything, then?"
Adonai nodded and tugged at the reins when the horses tried to wander off. "Yeah. I'll take care of it."
The vampire lifted his hand to stifle a yawn. Yesterday's rainstorm lasted well into the evening and threw off their planned travel schedule. Adonai said he was wide awake and offered to drive so they could return to Clorenthia at a decent time. They got back right around sunrise. Lukiel tried to sleep for the rest of the ride and failed miserably, so he was quite tired.
Unsurprisingly, the former hunter picked up on it and sent him a look. "Better sneak in a nap. Before your brother finds out you're back."
Fair point. Given Lucien's penchant for tackle hugs, all bets for any sleep would be off once the kid was up for the day. The thought made the vampire laugh quietly in spite of his exhaustion.
Adonai said nothing else and steered the horses back onto the street. Lukiel watched his retreating form for a moment before he slipped silently into the house. He could have gone up to his room, but he stretched out on the sofa instead. The phoenix would return long enough to let them know when he intended to leave, Lukiel figured, so he wanted to be where he could hear the other man enter the house.
It confused him when he awoke mid-morning and the phoenix wasn't around.
When Adonai still didn't return by early afternoon, the vampire walked down the road to Illano's shop. He peeked into the front room to find the shopkeeper busy with a customer, so he waited for the other man to finish before he approached the counter.
Illano greeted him with his typical warm smile. "Hey! You're back!"
Lukiel worked up the energy to return it. "Yeah. Made it there and back in one piece." He stole a quick glance around the shop. "So, um, have you seen Adonai around lately?"
"Not since this morning. He dropped off the horses and the wagon, and then he took off."
"Did he say where he was going?"
The shopkeeper shook his head.
Lukiel felt his hackles begin to rise. That jerk really just left without a word to anyone? His hands balled into fists, though he didn't notice until Illano spoke again.
"You all right? What's wrong?"
The vampire didn't bother to hide his building anger. To avoid snapping at his friend, he simply turned heel and walked out of the shop. When he got back to the house, he sat on the front step and took a moment to try to calm himself.
He didn't have much luck. Adonai should have at least had the decency to say goodbye to everyone before he disappeared. Or at least Luc. The kid had come to look up to the former hunter as a second older brother of sorts. Kind of a jerk move to leave him hanging like this.
And Lukiel's comment yesterday about family? Didn't mean much to the phoenix, after all.