A series of firm knocks resounded on Theodeth's front door.
Theodeth looked up from where he'd buried himself in his books and debated if he wanted to ask Kéveith to answer it for him. The past month saw him constantly tired, the young ones growing inside him drawing on his life energy as a natural part of their developmental cycle. Drakiri weren't really meant to carry the eggs of the eldritch, but as many others before him, here he was.
It took another knock and remembering that he'd sent Kéveith out to replenish his herb supply that he finally, carefully got up - even when he'd carried Dune's clutch, his belly hadn't gotten quite this big nearly this fast, and he knew from experience with Astétó that it meant this clutch was large. Probably also a reason why he'd become so tired.
"Good morning," he greeted on habit when he finally opened the door, only to blink when he saw Sargatanas and Astétó. Like him, they too were in anthro form. "Something wrong?" They didn't normally visit him outside of appointments unless something was, so naturally Theodeth's first reaction was concern.
Astétó noted Theodeth's tiredness and swollen abdomen, which looked more like one who was almost due instead of one only halfway along. He sympathized, having born many similarly large clutches himself, and hoped that this one would be easier on the healer than Ruin's clutch had been on himself.
Sargatanas, as always, had to tilt his head slightly down to meet Theodeth's gaze. "No, not today." His large wings were arranged in such a way overhead to keep the light drizzle off himself and Astétó. In his arms was a medium-sized gift-wrapped box, complete with a green ribbon tied in a neat bow. "We thought we should check in on you. May we come in?"
Theodeth blinked, then stood aside to let them in. "Kéveith is out for the moment, gathering herbs for me. I...was not expecting well-wishers, you of all people, if I'm honest."
Sargatanas ushered Astétó inside, then shook his wings off as best he could outside before stepping in himself and wiping his feet on the rough rug meant for it. "Yeah, well, if it weren't for your healing magic, I could have lost Astétó on two occasions. This is the least I could do."
He smirked at Theodeth. "You look like hell, by the way. And I would know. Why don't you sit down?"
Theodeth gave him a tired smile, then lead the duo further into his home, motioning for them to follow. "I suppose looking like heaven would be too much to ask." Galabastarin did not have the concept of a heaven natively, but he'd picked up many things from the many strange individuals that seemed to congregate around Andatori ever since Sage had brought Sholto to the village.
Once Theodeth was seated, Sargatanas handed the box to him. It took up most of his lap. He backed up, and then sat down next to Astétó and slid an arm around his shoulders. "Something from both of us."
Theodeth blinked again, then gave the two a gentle smile, before carefully unwrapping and opening the box. He was very pleasantly surprised to see a collection of his favourite teas, even the one exotic one that was quite expensive to import. He carefully set each box of tea on the coffee table, giving each one a careful look over before doing so - it was all a very pleasant surprise, with several of the teas being a true delight. It was also very unexpected - while Astétó was known for occasional random acts of kindness, the few times he was out and about within town and during the actual daytime, Sargatanas was most known for, well, using 'I am being less of a pain right now' being as close as he got to anything similar. Though in the past few years, Sargatanas had seemed to warm up to Theodeth himself more...
The healer paused when he got to the bottom of the box, then carefully pulled out an intricate, sheathed ceremonial blade. About the size and shape of a long dagger, the enchantments Theodeth felt in it marked it as an athame, a sort of small ceremonial weapon that, while it could be used lethally, had its primary purpose in channelling the aspects and weaving the strands for spells, essentially functioning much like a wand. Polished ivory engraved with silver swirls and floral patterns, there was a tiny teal gemstone set in the centre of each spiral, a slightly larger one in the middle of the sweeping, reinforcing silver tip, and another near to the crossguard, the largest of them all. It was this largest one he was able to identify as an apatite, a gemstone he only knew of because he'd seen merchants sell it before he'd come to this town, it being quite rare around Andatori itself.
Taking the comfortable, brown, wrapped-leather grip of the athame's hilt in his hand, he carefully drew the shiny, silvery blade from its sheath, revealing it to have a subtle wave along its length - he would have to ask Sholto later if such a waviness served a purpose, or if it was purely decorative. Both edges looked sharp, which made him feel that it was meant to double as a genuine weapon for self-defence - he doubted Sargatanas would go to the effort of sharpening a blade that was itself impractical for combat.
The grip fit his long-fingered hand well, short, round pommel gilded with silver and gold, as was the sweeping, slightly-curled crossguard, with another, small, teal apatite gem. He wondered who had managed to find so many apatites of such a specific shade of teal - usually, even gemstones of the same type were not very often of the very same shade. Putting the mystery aside for the moment, Theodeth carefully weighted the blade and tested its balance in his hand, and found that it felt right to hold.
He finally looked up, and gave Sargatanas and Astétó a grateful smile. "Thank you both. Not often I have surprises that are pleasant, or this delightful."
Sargatanas had watched Theodeth unpack the gifts one at a time, his bladed tail flicking once in a while. He'd found himself growing a little eager. He grinned when Theodeth finally spoke again. "You're welcome. Thought you might like something you could defend yourself with. It's got a few enchantments on it - one of them is that you won't ever have to sharpen it youself."
Theodeth chuckled. "For that, I am grateful. I am no stranger to sharpening, but the needs of a medical instrument are different to the needs of a tool of battle. Though as an athame, it is more than that, which of itself is the best of its qualities. Again, thank you."
Sargatanas waved a hand back and forth. "You don't need to say it twice. I'm just glad you like it and plan on using it. Do you need training in how to fight with a dagger?"
At that, the healer looked at the athame in his hand. "I am familiar with the basics, but actual training...would, in truth, be a good idea. After my clutch is laid, the young ones' development cycle is leaving me with little energy."
"Of course. There's still a few things I could teach you even before then, if we go slow enough. Simple manoeuvres, a few sleight-of-hand tricks you could practice while sitting. You're welcome to contact me for training whenever you're feeling up to it."
"Well, I don't have anything important to see to for the next several hours, if you're willing to stay awhile? We could get started."
Sargatanas smirked. "Sure." He lightly hugged Astétó to him, then slid away to rise. "Mind if I borrow a knife from the kitchen?"
"Go ahead, they're currently air-drying in the rack by the sink."
Astétó then also got up - while he'd been silent, it hadn't been anything unusual for him, generally content to let his mate speak for them both whenever Sargatanas wasn't being too much of an ass. However, that didn't mean he lacked independence or initiative of his own. "Would you like me to set some tea boiling, Theo?"
Theodeth perked up and smiled. "I would appreciate that, thank you." He then took a moment to decide which of the selection of gifted teas he really wanted right then, and handed a box of spearmint over. "I was out of most of these."
"Our arrival was timely, then," Astétó smiled back with some amusement, took the tea box, and then made to follow Sargatanas to the kitchen.
Sargatanas was just drying off the largest of Theodeth's knives with a hand towel when Astétó entered. He glanced at the box. "Mint, huh? I think I'll pass." He kept his voice low, not wanting it to carry to their host. He turned to head back to the other room, but couldn't resist a quick squeeze of Astétó's butt with his free hand on the way out.
"Alright, show me how you hold a dagger," he said to Theodeth once he was standing next to him.
Theodeth took a moment to recall old lessons, then carefully changed his grip on the athame to a reverse grip with his thumb on the round pommel, the slender blade's tip pointed away from him. "I'm aware of a few other ways, but I've been told this is the best for defensive use, particularly for amateurs."
"That's right. And since you're an amateur, that's where we'll start." Sargatanas mimicked Theodeth's grip, then knelt down beside the chair. "From sitting, you can draw it reversed, and bring it up to slash someone who's too close for their own good. Make sure you go for the neck or the eyes." He made the motions as if he was drawing from a sheath of his own, using his right hand to draw from his right hip, and brought the edge of the blade up high and fast.
He repeated the motion, slower, so Theodeth could follow. "Once you make the initial strike, you can either kick them in centre mass to give yourself room to get away, or, if you want to finish the job, bring the blade back in as fast as you can and stab them through the neck. Don't try to stab through the skull, the bone's usually too hard to make it through very far if you don't have enough momentum. I could do it, but I have more arm strength than you. Once you've got your blade in their neck, you can either tear out towards you for maximum damage and a sure death, or go back out the way you came and shove them out of your way."
"Or aim for the carotid artery," Theodeth mused as he slowly repeated Sargatanas' motion again. "Blade's long enough to hit the artery on both sides of the neck, assuming a mostly human-sized and -shaped opponent. Stab wound through either one would result in bleeding out in less than a minute." He gave a wry smile. "I normally prefer not to kill, but a healer's knowledge can be used for it all the same."
Sargatanas gave him a toothy grin. "Very true. And besides, if you've been forced into drawing a weapon, you might as well make sure whoever it is can't come after you."
"Depends on the situation, but usually....usually by that point, they aren't listening to reason anyway," Theodeth acknowledged. "Swifter the end, the less time for I or others to receive serious injury. I just hope it never becomes necessary."
"Have you ever killed someone before, Theodeth?"
"That was sapient? No. Though I have slain non-sapients before, out of necessity for others' and my own safety. Against the various sapients that occasionally attack the village, I am only there in case someone ends up needing immediate healing."
"Hmm... Well, I've come to understand that for ordinary folk, the first kill is hard to get over. Nightmares and shit. I hope you won't suffer that." It was almost caring, coming from Sargatanas. "Now then..."
He went on to teach several more simple defensive manoeuvres, all that could be done sitting, and by the time he finished up with the third set of movements, the tea kettle whistled. "Short break for now?" he asked.
Theodeth smiled. "It would not be unappreciated."
The three of them - well, mostly Sargatanas - ended up talking for several hours over tea and treats, with Sargatanas all too happy to talk about a handful of his combat tales. Some involved quelling demons, others upstart devils or daevas, and other tales glossed over some of his adventures on Galabastarin.
"I'd awoken to find myself in Modasheu," he explained, "ages before the barrier went down. It's its own little wonder of Hell, if you ask me, though a lot more peaceful." He went on to explain some of the fascinating flora and fauna found there, and, naturally, some of the creatures he'd fought and killed - some of them other Nightmare Drakiri.
It was a rough place to live, but to an ex-war general like Sargatanas, whose life was full of war up until recently, it was actually much less stressful. Simple, in fact, because there was no hierarchy, no real order to things, and no one thinking they could tell him what to do or how to do it. Then one day, the barrier fell, and he left to explore the rest of the wide world.
Eventually, his story wound around to how he'd met Astétó and Artemis, and how aiding them in their journey brought him to settle in Andatori. He slid an arm around Astétó's shoulders and smiled. "I never expected to find myself with one I could call a mate, let alone a lover. Where I'm from, no one really expects to find... what I've found."
His smile faded, then he sighed. "And then that eldritch son-of-a-whore had to come along and cause problems. First Astétó, then me, and now you; nevermind the batch of freaks who willingly went to it. I think you'll be glad to know the request I put in to have that creature forbidden from Andatori went through, and the consensus was in favour of it. If that bastard tries to enter the town, the guards all have instruction to attack until it's either dead or flees beyond the town's territories."
"While I would not go so far as to call Sand Dune a 'freak,' he does tend to leave something to be desired when it comes to common sense." Theodeth then shook his head, and offered a smile. "It is a relief to here that the Ruin will not be venturing within town walls anytime soon.. I do not wish death upon any, but what the Ruin has done repeatedly...I wish that on others even less, though I hope this ban does not also extend to the children that have resulted from its actions. They are not to blame for what happened." It was why he still extended his free health care to them, which Nyithas had been thankful for when he'd come for help almost a week ago.
"And put the lives of both mine and Astétó's children in danger as well? No, the ban doesn't extend that far. I just don't want to see any more of these incidents. For all my flaws, I actually give a shit about this town, and the people in it. I live here, and I won't watch my home become completely corrupted by whatever-the-fuck the Ruin is actually supposed to be."
"That 'whatever-the-fuck' is what I'm hoping to learn, one of these days." Theodeth stared into what was his half-finished third cup of tea. Which, given he was pregnant, he should probably make this the last one for the day. "There are many children now with biology well beyond what I am currently prepared for. Bones and Aldron have offered to help - hopefully by learning more, carefully, I'll be better able to determine why their natural corruption causes random illness and be able to do more than just treat the discomfort and hope they pull through."
"Well, I now have two more reasons to help look into that, and I'm a lot less likely to go mad from the knowledge than you are. Vine's got crystals growing out of his scales, and I'm wondering how that will affect his own corruption over time."
"If it's a manifestation of Crystalline, then it may help him better channel it - Crystalline reflects unusual affinity for the primal aspect of Order."
"It is, and I know that." Sargatanas downed the last of his tea. "But I suppose we'll see how he handles it while he grows." He eyed Theodeth for a moment, then glanced out the window. It was a little past noon. "Well, we've been here awhile now. Do you still want our company, or do you want to rest?"
"Kéveith will be back soon, and I should at least try to sleep," Theodeth replied, though he wasn't unappreciative of the indirect offer for continued company. "It's...been surprisingly pleasant having you here, and I'm glad you came by."
Sargatanas smirked. "Feel free to send for me when you want more dagger lessons. I might end up sending Caim once in a while if I'm too busy, but he won't complain." He rose, and stretched his arms overhead, careful not to also stretch his wings too far with them. Once Astétó also got up, he added, "Take care of yourself, Theodeth." He turned to depart.
"Take care of yourself as well, Sargatanas," Theodeth replied with a faint smile. "More people than just Astétó give a damn about you."
"Well, that's good to hear," Sargatanas chuckled.