Ruhk – Eye of the Beholder

Describe the same character twice. Once to hate, once to love.

“Well… he might just be Vahlok.”

The silence after Pantriss’ declaration fell into his stomach like a lead weight, and he felt a moment of pure fear like he hadn’t in so very many years.

The eyes of her mother, who had not minutes before been looking at him with interest, turned hard and cold. He could feel other eyes, around and behind him, do the same. It was all he could do not to flee the room right then and there. Already his eyes were quickly scanning the surrounding area, mind furiously working to come up with an escape plan. It wouldn’t be easy, unarmed, but he’d faced worse odds.

His muscles tensed, ready to move, but stopped when he caught motion out of the corner of his eye, as Ves came to stand at his side. In her wake the rest of the Immortals melded out of the crowd, coming to his defense despite the possible danger to themselves. Even Pantriss, though part of him couldn’t understand why, after what she’d done.

He didn’t even fully relax once the danger had passed, and everyone had gone back to what they’d been doing. The room didn’t feel welcoming anymore and adrenaline ran through him, dancing like tendrils of lighting through his veins.

This was exactly what he’d feared when he’d agreed to come to this party, if it hadn’t happened in the exact way he’d thought. He’d been sure someone would recognize him, know him for what he truly was, and hell would finally break loose. Everything would be different when his precious anonymity had been stripped away. But he hadn’t expected his own teammate to out him. Decades of hiding, of watching every step he took, gone in the span of a few breaths. Despite Aaran reassurances, it was impossible not to feel exposed, trapped.

He stalked away from Pantriss, needing to move, to calm himself. After a round of thanking his fellows he ended up at the bar, downing a pair of drinks without hardly breathing. Anger swelled despite himself, and it was all he could do to keep himself from rounding on Pantriss. It hadn’t been her place to expose him like that. He would have been more than happy to leave Vahlok dead and buried, forever.

But that was Pantriss, wasn’t it? Always speaking up even when what they needed most was stealth and subtlety,  hammering her way through problems like a battering ram. She had no sense of why it could be better to lie and avoid the fall out. Sometimes her sense of honor and stubborn devotion drove him half mad. How the two of them had ever gotten on this long, he didn’t know. They were practically day and night.

It was only his danger sense that kept him calm in those moments. If he lashed out it would only confirm everything Pantriss’ mother already thought about him. He’d just be happy when this night was over.

The way his friends had come to his defense had helped calm him somewhat, and he took comfort from their nearby presence. Now that he’d had a chance to think about it he wondered how long had it been since he’d been able to say he had friends. No one else would ever had stood up for him like that. But they were only doing what he would have done for any of them.

Part of him had expected Pantriss to be the outlier, to turn on him when her mother did. She was still young and he’d always been able to tell she tried her best to impress her mother, and live up to her legacy. That much he could understand. Dranfel society was all about glory and great deeds, songs sung, and epics penned. He’d never been much the fan of all that, happy enough to leave it behind. But not everyone had that option.

Despite her apparently boundless confidence, he didn’t think Pantriss fully realized the extent of the amazing things she’d done in her life. From the very first day she’d impressed him, even as parts of her had driven him a bit crazy. Even after everything she was still trying to distinguish herself, outside of the shadow of her mother. Why wouldn’t she have left him and joined the rest that would have been happy to toss him in jail for the rest of his days? Tying herself to him would only ruin her chances.

But Pantriss had been no less quick to defend him than any of the others. She might have exposed him, but it hadn’t been done with malice. And, even more importantly, she hadn’t left him alone afterward. She’d never been the sort to leave her friends behind, no matter the situation, or how dangerous it was for her. Much like himself, she would cross galaxies to save a friend in need.

He’d found his center by the time she found him, and sat down to talk.

He knew, deep down, that he wasn’t going to be able to run away from his past forever, as much as he might have wanted to. Perhaps she’d done him a favor in tearing the bandage off now.

“Meet me in the memorial gardens in an hour.”

Her words settled into his chest, and he felt a sort of warmth suffuse him that he knew had nothing to do with the alcohol.

Not a half hour earlier he probably would have said no. Now he just nodded.

Ruhk walked the quiet hallways, part of him wondering if he was making the right decision, going to meet Pantriss in the gardens.

He’d never quite known what to make of her. Despite his former position he’d never particularly been the shining pinnacle of the Dranfel race. He’d just gone along with things, driven forward by his own moral code, letting his skill and strength speak for themselves. They’d brought him renown, titles, his position. But he’d always felt it was just dressing and, outside of his council glaive he hadn’t taken anything reminiscent of his old life off Xarzha.

Whereas he’d always been something of a outlier, Pantriss, in many ways, exemplified everything Dranfel. From her style of battle, to her music, the way she told stories, to her unwillingness to budge. It had screamed of everything he’d left behind, and he’d done all he could to put distance between them, at first. He’d been so sure she would never have understood.

But then he’d gotten to know her. The way she never compromised on her morals reminded him of himself. Her propensity for truth had been eye-opening. It was almost refreshing to someone like him, who lived far too long in the shadow. He’d almost forgotten what it felt like to be himself. Her light burned away the darkness, and eroded all the barriers he’d put up around himself.

Wasn’t she always the first to admit when she might not be able to do something? The first to throw herself into danger? The first to stand up for those would could not? Pantriss had her faults, but didn’t everyone? He hardly lacked his own.

He paused at the gates to the garden, a wall of tall hedges keeping him from seeing inside. He didn’t need to, though, to know that Pantriss would already be there, waiting for him.

What was she thinking right now? What would she say? There was only one way to find out.

Even so, he hesitated. There was still time to turn around and run. Everyone was still busy at the party. He could grab his glaive, a few other things, and be gone from here forever. He’d disappear again, just like last time. A new name, a new profession, a new life. He didn’t know what was going to happen from here on out. He didn’t who might be, even now, coming for his head.

Did he have the right to put Pantriss in that sort of danger?

But he already knew the answer. She was an adult, and a strong one. It wasn’t his place to make that decision for her, nor did he want to. If, one day, she decided he wasn’t worth it, that was something he’d deal with when the time came.

Yes, he could have run, but he didn’t want to anymore. He’d never thought this rag tag group would be where he’d find himself, where he’d find family, and more. He’d be damned if he denied what he felt when Pantriss’ face filled his mind.

He was a seasoned warrior who had slain Qu’ren. He’d fought by the side of Falkrid himself, was a veteran of so many battles. He’d left his entire life behind, carrying the weight and memory of a planet full of dead. Why, then, was he more afraid of walking through that hedge than he was of just about anything he’d ever done?

He drew in a few breaths, and and thought of Pantriss’ courage. Her spark, her light, called to his own and he felt his resolve firm. Squaring his shoulders, he stepped forward into the garden, to meet whatever future awaited.

If he was lucky, it would be side by side with the dranfel he loved.


The last 12 hours

The last twelve hours

Ruhk dimmed the lights in his quarters, and took a seat in front of his personal computer terminal. Thoughts raced through his mind. Had been since they’d made the decision to go through the portal.

He’d agreed to the mission without hesitation. He wasn’t afraid to die, even more so when there were lives depending on their actions. The day he turned his back on those in need was the day he would no longer be himself.

Still, he had responsibilities he couldn’t so lightly toss aside. And so he’d sent a rather desperate message to one of the few people not on this ship he considered friend. It was a gamble. With the attacks, he didn’t even know if the man was still alive.

He’d spent four tense hours waiting for a response. Thankfully he was able to meet, if only through text.

Ruhk went through the steps of establishing a secure connection and set up the chat client, just the way Ves had shown him when she’d set it up for him.

Ruhk_is_neat has joined the chat

nico_urushihara_32 has joined the chat

>> Ruhk! Glad to hear you’re still alive!

and you nico <<

>> That’s a… new username.

i didnt set up the account for myself. <<

>> Still, I think it fits you.

He picked slowly at the keys. He’d never been very good at typing. To the Dranfel, words were sacred, but at the moment he didn’t have the luxury to give them the proper respect his time limit allowed.

I apologize. waiting until a time like this to ask for help is pretty low. <<

 >> Nah, no apologies needed. Sorry I couldn’t do video. Things are going to hell all over.  Communications are pretty spotty. No one knows what’s going to happen. I just can’t believe it. All those people, and those worlds…

thank you for taking the time. i knew it was a long shot when I messaged you. things are terrible all over. i don’t think anyone even knew this was coming. are you at least safe? <<

>> Safe as I can be, I guess. I’m lucky I’m not on Earth right now, but I can’t get in touch with any of my friends. I’m worried about them. For now I’m safe, though, and I can talk. It’s better than refreshing the newsnet every five seconds and giving myself a panic attack. At least this way I can do something helpful.

I am truly sorry. i hope your friends are safe. we’re all worried about whats going on right now <<

>> So do I. I’m hoping and praying. Not much else I can do with the communications the way they are. Where are you?

with my company. for right now were safe, but we might not be for very long. thats why I contacted you. <<

>> So you have a backup in case the worst happens?

yes. we have a chance to help, to possibly stop this. we cant stand by and do nothing, and I can’t let this information be lost. it’s too important.<<

>> I feel honored that you chose me to send it to, then.

you might not feel that way if it ends up coming to you and you see what it is. <<

>> Consider me warned. :)

so i follow this link that you sent me to set it up? <<

>> Yeah. It’s really easy. I already set up a share folder and everything. I won’t be able to see what you put in it, though, until the time you designate runs out.

i see it. Im sorry, im not very quick with this sort of thing <<

>> Don’t worry about it. Just upload the documents you want into there.

>> Still with me, Ruhk? How’s it going over there? I’m paranoid the connection is going to cut out.

Sorry again. I think ive got everything uploaded. <<

it’s strange, when I look at it like this. theres not actually all that much <<

>> Some is better than nothing at all. I have connections. If I get it I can find more.

that is reassuring. there’s only so much i can do on my own, but i do not want to burden you with this unless there is no other choice. <<

>> Don’t worry about it. I wouldn’t have agreed if I wasn’t willing to take the risk.

if you were any other journalist i would not believe you. even so, I thank you. i could not leave if i didn’t see this done first. <<

>> I appreciate your trust in me.

>> You’re really doing this, aren’t you? You think it’s worth it?

i would not have agreed to join them if i did not. lives are at stake <<

>> Can’t say I fault you for that. How long before I receive your package?

6 months, if i do not return to stop will be up to you then. i would not do this if  there was any other way. <<

>> You don’t have to explain. If nothing else I can promise I’ll take care of it, if it comes to that. Rest assured.

thank you, thats all i can ask. <<

i need to get going nico. there’s lots to do before we go. I can’t say how much this means to me. if i come back, i’ll owe you one. <<

>> Don’t worry about it. Just try to come back, if you can. Don’t let this mess take anyone else away from us. I refuse to believe this is the end.

me too nico. keep yourself safe, and i’ll see you on the other side <<

>> Good luck, my friend. I’ll be rooting for you.

nico_urushihara_32 has left the chat

Ruhk_is_neat has left the chat

Ruhk – Kitchen Rules

“You have to stop leaving bodies in my kitchen.” – Ruhk

The air was warm in the kitchen, but not overwhelming, as something divine smelling turned golden brown in the high-end, stainless steel, oven. A whisk turned briskly through a great bowl full of batter, the base for a dessert of his own making. Experimenting was one of his favorite parts of cooking.

The chef hummed, his deep bass voice filling the air as the Dranfel moved with surprising grace through his domain of spices, meats, and the best stocked pantry he had ever had the pleasure of raiding. Say what he would about his current employer’s very shady business practices, it meant he had a deep pocket to pay for all the exotic ingredients he kept asking for. After he’d proven his skill, the man hadn’t hesitated to give him what he asked for.

Setting his bowl down, he made his way into the massive walk-in freezer. He huffed softly in annoyance, as where he’d expected to find his ingredient was empty. Despite his best efforts this was an open kitchen and he hadn’t yet managed to impress his need for organization on the others.

The chill nipped at him as he searched, and turning the only corner in the walk-in he nearly stumbled over something large that had been dumped in the middle of the floor. Upon close inspection it turned out to be a body.

Ruhk growled, the sound rumbling deep in his throat. This was hardly the first time he’d found a body stashed somewhere in his kitchen, though this was the first time he’d found one in the walk-in. Kneeling down he got a better look. Human, and shockingly young.

“Sorry pal,” he muttered, hating the sight of it. Whoever he’d been, he probably hadn’t deserved ending up next to a bag of frozen broccoli. Steeling himself, he stepped over the body, and searched out his ingredient, all mirth gone as he made his way out of the freezer.

One had to either turn a blind eye, or have some very lose morals, to work for Bram Timsh, the owner of the freezer, and the kitchen. He was one of the more corrupt mob bosses in this city. He ran drugs, gangs, and had his fingers in everything from politics to sports. He hated the man, thought he was the scum of the universe. He wanted little more than to kill him but, for the moment, he was useful.

He desperately needed to expand his cooking repertoire past diner and home food. High end restaurants took too much time to get in, and they asked too many questions. Timsh hadn’t been too hard to impress after a few displays of skill, and now he had all the ingredients his heart desired. He’d only been here two months, but his skill had grown immensely.

He was on a time limit, though. Timsh might have been useful, but he couldn’t stay here very long. The man was loathsome, and the more he saw of him the more it rankled. He was going to enjoy leaving his place a smoking crater when he finally turned in his resignation.

He went back to work. This time he didn’t hum.

Some time later the back door opening caught his attention. It wasn’t unusual for the bosses men to come in through here, so he ignored it, or tried to. A soft, but insistent scraping sound broke his concentration.

Alix, one of the bosses favorites, stepped inside, her purple haired head bobbing a bit as she moved, looking like she was pulling something. He groaned, hoping it wasn’t what he thought it was.

She came around the bank of counters and his eyes narrowed as he saw the body she was dragging along behind her. It looked practically mangled, but a surprisingly well wrapped tarp kept it from oozing all over his floor.

He stepped into her path, easily dwarfing her and blocking her progress.

“You have got to stop leaving bodies in my kitchen. This is not a storage locker.”

“Oh Ruhk, you’re such a baby.” Despite being less than half his height, she had never feared him. “I always get them out before they start to smell, don’t I?” She flashed her green eyes up at him, as if expecting he’d suddenly capitulate.

That sweet look didn’t work on him, knowing her better than that. Her knife would find his throat if he wasn’t careful. She enjoyed killing far too much, which bothered him more than anything else. If it had been up to him, he would have stopped her already, but he could no longer always act how his conscious dictated. He had to move carefully.

“That’s not the point. I make food here. It’s unsanitary.”

Her look darkened.

“Well I need somewhere to leave them while I go talk to the boss. You want me to drag them all over the house?”

“Why don’t you leave them in your car?”

“They go off faster that way, duh. I had a guy explode all over my leather interior once. Never again.”

If she’d been less than the bosses right hand, he would have physically thrown her out of his kitchen.

“Pull that stick out of your ass, you old lizard.” She laughed, when he didn’t reply.

“No one wants to hear your bitching.” With that she gave him an expectant look. When he didn’t move she elbowed him in the side, for all that good it would do her.

“Move your fat ass, or I’ll get the boss on it.”

Ruhk bristled, but finally stepped aside. She brushed past him with a self-satisfied smirk, and dumped the body she’d been dragging in a corner.

He was going to have to do something about this.

Alix looked up at him skeptically, perched on the edge of the creamy marble counter top. It had been a week since their run in, and he’d kept his head down since.

She held a miniature bread loaf in her hand that smelled of vanilla and and other spices.

“What’s it called?”

“Ruhk Loaf. Don’t look at me like that. I’m good at cooking, not naming things. I’m trying to get opinions before I serve it to the boss.”

She actually perked up at that. He was always trying out new recipes, and most often had the staff test them out, so he could refine them before giving it to his employer.

Alix sniffed at the cake-like loaf, but seemed pleased with what her nose told her and nibbled a bit off the corner. After taking a few moments to taste it a crooked grin touched her lips.

“Hey, this isn’t half bad. Good to see you’re not completely useless.”

She took another bite, and then another. The loaf wasn’t all that big, small enough that one person could eat an entire one without issue.

Ruhk turned away and went back to work as Alix continue to munch her way through the loaf.

He counted down in his head, and right on cue a little yelp broke the quiet. Alix made a face and found a napkin to spit her current mouthful of bread into. She’d bitten down on something inside, and did not look pleased about it.

“Did you put nuts in this? I hate nuts!”

“Nuts?” Ruhk turned back to her, raising one scaly brow ridge. “No. Though there is a surprise inside. I baked it just for you.”

Alix looked down at the loaf, a little bump sticking out the edge of the bread. Pulling it roughly apart the loaf crumbled in half in her hands, leaving a mushy pile of sweetbread that cradled a single severed finger.

Horror twisted Alix’s face, and she threw the thing across the room where it hit the wall with a wet thwap. Bolting from her chair she sputtered and spat, rushing to the sink to try and wash her mouth out. The water hadn’t reached her mouth before she started retching.

He followed her at a leisurely pace. He didn’t laugh, didn’t smile, didn’t gloat. When she lifted her head, face ashen and tear-streaked, he was there, peering into her eyes with his own hard as steel.

“Stop leaving bodies in my kitchen.”

This time she just gave a little bob of her head, too horrified to do anything else, and went back to being sick in the sink.

He turned and went back to work, ignoring her until she shuffled out, and he went to clean up.

Perhaps it was time to start drafting up his resignation.

The Best Pancakes in Town

Post re-write – “A memory related to their occupation”

“Ruhk!” A young, high-pitched voice broke through the early morning air.

The Dranfel turned at the sound of his name, already having recognized the voice. Pattering footfalls trotted up to his side. He looked down into the smiling face of his bosses’ daughter. She was tiny, compared to his bulk, and she half had to crane her neck back to look up at him.

“Hey there Mel. Isn’t it a little early for you to be up?” He arched a brow ridge in question.

The girls cheeks puffed out and she lifted her chin in defiance. “It is not! I came to walk to work with you!” She looked so determined that he couldn’t help but relent, and chuckled softly. Mel had lived all her life here, and knew these streets. When he’d first arrived she’d taken it on herself to show him around. A human child leading a hulking dragon around had been quite the novelty at the beginning.

This planet was far enough out of the way many of residents had never seen a real life Dranfel before. The remoteness suited him, though, and provided the perfect place to continue his studies of human cuisine. They’d gotten used to him soon enough.

“All right then.” He shrugged, sending his great wings to bobbing. After a moment he grinned and leaned down closer to her. “You want a ride?”

Mel’s face lit up.”You bet!” He took hold of her under her arms and lifted her up into the air. A delighted squeal rang out as he set her on his shoulders. At just about ten feet it was quite the perch.

“I can see everything!” She threw her arms up in the air, unafraid of her high position. He even let her hold on to his horns so she wouldn’t fall off. Ruhk laughed and set off, chatting with his passenger the rest of the way. It was early still, but those they did pass waved to them. After half a year he’d become a familiar sight in these parts. He dropped Mel off once they arrived and she ran inside to find her father.

Ruhk went straight to the kitchen, his domain. The night cook greeted him as she finished up the last of her work and saw to the end of her shift. The air was thick with the smell of bacon grease, butter, and coffee. He never would have dreamed of such smells as a hatchling, but he had a soft spot in his heart for human food. The kitchen was a bit cramped for someone his size. It had been designed with humans in mind, but he’d learned how to move within the space he was given. Years spent training in quarta had given him an intimate awareness of his body and size and taught him how to move gracefully in a confined space.

His boss had had an apron made just for him. It hadn’t been fancy, but it did the job. That described most everything in the kitchen. The pots and pans were well worn, though he liked to consider them well seasoned. The equipment was aged, owned by his mother, his boss always said. It worked like a charm, even without all the fancy readouts and settings. This wasn’t high class dining, but he preferred that.If there was one thing he’d learned it was that every world, every city, every town had its equivalent of a greasy spoon diner. Singles, the harried, even those wanting comfort food needed a place to go to fill their cravings. In places like these people were not known for remembering faces.

He tied the coarse clothed apron around himself and got to work. Flour, sugar, and eggs churned and molded under his hands, and he added other ingredients as he went along. One of the first things he’d learned here was how to make pancakes, and over the months he’d been experimenting with his own mix, his own tastes. It had been a challenge to see if he could create something that appealed to the human palate. Business had been up, but he hardly liked to take all the credit for that.

Time, and his cares, went away as he worked in the kitchen. Cooking was like a dance, a flow. He felt it in his bones. Batter bubbled and firmed up in the pan, bacon sizzled, eggs became fluffy. Each new order was like a challenge.There certainly were a lot of them today.

The kitchen door swung open and his boss came in. The human had flaming red hair, and his good mood was evident on his face. “We’ve got a line!”

He arched a brow. “A line? Here?” Another might have taken that as an insult, but Ansel knew the sort of place he was running. It wasn’t the type where people usually lined up to eat.

The man held up a creased newspaper in front of him. “We got a great write up in the food section. Look here, see? Best pancakes in town!” He pointed at it with a broad grin. “We’ve had customers come in specifically asking for them. Business has never been this good. And hell, once they get a taste of them they’re bound to tell their friends. No one can resist your pancakes.”

No wonder there had been so many orders this morning. They were running through the usual stock very quickly. He should have felt proud that his recipe was so popular. Instead a ball of ice was slowly forming in the pit of his stomach. How long had it taken him to outdo himself this time? He’d spent nearly a year on that Arcturan colony before they’d really started to notice his cooking.

“Those pancakes of yours are really great!” Ansel’s voice cut through his thoughts. “What we really need to do is step up our advertising game. I’m thinking of having some signs printed up and put around town. With quotes from this review that’d really bring them in. What do you think?”

“I think that would be great.” He smiled, and not even his mother would have been able to tell it was a lie. Ansel was too hyped to read more into it anyway. The man whistled as he made his way back out to handle the queue. He flipped the pan he was holding with an expert hand, hardly having to think about it anymore. It was muscle memory by now. His mind was elsewhere, thinking of what he’d need to pack. There wasn’t much. It was lucky he was off the next two days. It would take longer for him to be missed.

For now, though, there were customers to feed. He would not let them go hungry.

The packs clung heavily against him, everything he owned carried on his back. He’d made himself several meals, since he didn’t know when he’d next get the chance to eat. He needed to be far away from here by sunup. The streets were deserted at this time of night, but he was careful to keep to the shadows when he could.

Before he left he had one last thing to do. It was risky not to head straight to the port, but he swung by the diner first. Even at this hour its lights flooded into the darkness, though it would be much emptier right now. He went round back, where he wouldn’t be seen, and scaled the side of the building. He silently slipped in through the office window upstairs. There wouldn’t be anyone in there at this time of night.

He laid a sealed envelope on Ansel’s desk. Knowing the other man he’d have those advertisement signs printed up by morning. It wouldn’t hurt to leave a little something for him to cover the costs. It was hard not to linger. This place had become familiar, welcoming. He gently tapped a long claw against one of the pictures of Ansel and Mel. He would miss them, more than he realized.

Nothing he left would fully make up for leaving in the middle of the night, without a goodbye, but perhaps he could try. He’d added something else into the package. Some might have considered it more valuable than the money itself. He’d never had cause to share his pancake recipe with anyone before today, but he hoped this would give Ansel a chance to keep the momentum going. After all, it was the pancakes the people wanted, not the one making them. It was better if no one ever knew.

He left quickly, and hurried away through the streets, not looking back. Perhaps he was a coward, but he couldn’t doubt himself now. He thought of Mel as he fled. They’d become good friends over the months. Would she ever forgive him for leaving? Deep down he doubted it. She’d just be another in a long list. She wouldn’t be the last.