Hope you enjoy!
Chapter 1 - To Choose Your Own Story
Demons have existed since long ago. None are quite sure as to where they first originated from, but most were under the consensus that it was a different world altogether.
Today, there are demons who roam and live on in our own world. Most often in remote regions, in hiding, or in their few settlements.
They have since as long as any of us can remember been in a state of hostility with the other races of our world, Azeroth.
Luckily enough, due to most of their own self-imposed isolation and the distance they thus keep from the rest of the world, they have had few conflicts past the wars of old times. Becoming an uncommon sight outside of their territories, to the extent that common folk would never see or meet one in their lives.
This, however, like anything else, had its exceptions. The warlocks.
Warlocks have been around and spoken of nearly as long as demons, none knowing exactly when or how they came to learn and practice in their arts, nor how they managed to spread as widely as they had throughout Azeroth.
Many more even questioned whether they truly bent demons to their wills as the tales told, or if they were the ones doing the demons' bidding. It was a subject that remained a mystery to any who weren't warlocks themselves or willing to trust one.
But as far as popular belief went, said warlocks were known as dark magicians, embracing forbidden arts and even calling forth demons and bending them to their will. And as to be expected, when one had such dark powers at their fingertips, when one beckoned and commanded beings the world feared, warlocks, too, in turn became symbols of as is common for people, they grew a certain animosity to those which they feared.
It did not help how any warlocks ever mentioned, be it n the confines of history books or in children's tales, would always paint the image of vileness, a force of naught but evil.
Warlocks had managed to spread across the world, however, they never were in great numbers. Feared, hated and shunned, often times even hunted, they took to hiding, an elusive kind.
Thus it had come to be that warlocks became a reclusive breed, at times surpassing even the demonic minions they commanded in their seclusion, hiding themselves and their abilities in both the corners of the world and even the very capitals of its nations.
And as for demons, whether one were a warlock or not, the first demon they'd have likely heard of if ever any in name would be the imp. Mentioned in fairy tales as twisted fairies, spoken of by warlocks as the simplest demons to control, they were even the most wide spread, not only by word of mouth, but by how much their race numbered.
Those who knew of them weren't quite sure as to why that were the case. They were among the weakest of demons, small, frail, though perhaps in that lied their secret to fruition. They were limber, with an affinity for magic, and they were if not wise, then at least often cunning, and fearful as well. If nothing else, being the weakest meant they could tell to stay their distance from danger.
If ever forced into a fight, they lacked much in the way of physical prowess, though in their aptitude towards magic is where they'd find some solace.
But now, let's instead move our eyes to one of the seven great human kingdoms of the world, Stormwind.
It, too, has warlocks spread in hiding throughout the darker corners of its capital city, which went by the same name of Stormwind.
It is exactly that city we go to today, as we observe a certain large household within it. Inside it we find an... imp? Sitting at a dining table and happily eating and chatting away with the family within?
The Seven Kingdoms.
Seven nations built by the human race. Pinnacles of its existence.
All of them boasted renown and grandeur in many ways, such as Gilneas' famed great Gilnean Wall that was said to be able to hold any attack at bay, its ever unyielding grandeur a testament to that, or Kul'Tiras which was known as an island fortress. Stormwind, on the other hand, boasted its own greatness in its location, as well as the resources it could procure.
While it had reinforced walls that have lasted through many sieges in its own right, and a long and glorious history like all of the seven kingdoms, Stormwind had found itself most famed and prosperous in its capitalization of the southern part of the continent. In its commerce.
While other small settlements took residence in the southern parts of the continent, Stomwind remained the only of the Seven Great Kingdoms within it. Due to its monopoly of the southern regions, it was uncontested even by the other six in several regards, one such being the plentiful mines of varying ores, such as gold, that littered as close as its front yard.
Even within the forest of Elwynn, bordering Stormwind and housing three of its smaller branching settlements, were present two such gold mines.
The capital city's back itself remained towards the sea, allowing for its large harbor in said capital, further helping to boost their greatest tally, trade.
Stormwind did, however, have more to boast than just trade.
It held renown for its champions, its heroes of past who would eventually become the forefathers of its vassal families of today.
Many great houses came from these heroic lines, still in their age long services and bolstering more and more achievements over the generations. One such house was that of Winchester; traditionalistic warriors, champions of many of Stormwind's past wars and battles. Another such was the house of Adel, having quickly adapted to the ways of their trade nation the moment the moment it had solidified itself as such, and having recently branched out into even more different sections of trade under its newest head.
But among all the noble vassal families of Stormwind, the one that remained the highest in power and glory, the richest in history, was the House of Arc.
Ever since Jeanne Arc, the first of the Arc household had become one of the nation's vassals, she had become its cornerstone, leading its military like no other.
She had left no room for doubt of her abilities in her soldiers' minds, and none ever had doubted her, always following in toe, sharing her unbreakable will.
A general who was always at the front line and ready to take hits when any battle may commence, as the tales went, inspiring those that followed her with fervor like no other. Even today, she was revered as the greatest general Stormwind had ever had in its ranks.
And with that, the Arc family had become one of the most prestigious and influential ones in the entirety of Stormwind. Arguably second only to the royal family itself.
While none could quite match the very first head of the household in such renown, over the ages, many great men and women came from the family nonetheless. Noble vassals that did both their name and nation proud.
And now, 400 years after the first Arc, came its latest generation of eight. And so, we put our sights on one of these said eight younglings, the only male of the current generation, the middle child, Jaune. Jaune Arc.
He had always dreamed of being even a bit like his ancestors, much like many nobles would. To match and make proud any of its great heroes from Jeanne Arc down to every Arc of today, his parents included.
Sadly enough, however, he understood that life did not always tend to proceed as one would desire of it.
Despite many a times of practice and training, the young man had to admit to his lack of talent with most to any weapon, his lack of affinity with being among the warriors and paladins that came from his family.
His family was unlike most of the noble houses, which were caring of their own, but tended to put prestige and pride over most else. His valued family even above their pride. Proof of it was that, while it was a first ever in their family that one of their own lacked in their legacy of martial combat, they could understand that some just didn't have the calling for it, and did not begrudge nor belittle Jaune for his inability to become a warrior.
Jaune was a dreamer though, and not one to give up easily. Stubbornness and persistence are both things that have danced between the boundaries of vice and virtue over the ages, and Jaune had plentiful amounts of either.
He knew they'd be fine with him searching for any other aspiration, but he could not accept such an outcome himself. And thanks to that stubbornness, his dedication managed to eventually pay off, his perseverance leading him to discovering an affinity towards magic, something not unheard of but exceedingly rare among the Arcs.
One could try to learn magic, much like they could try and pick up a weapon, but without the talent for it, very few ever managed to excel in it. The Arcs ever only had two mages within their 400 year old bloodline, and they had taken after the legacy of the Arcs as all the rest, not by might, but rather by magic.
It was not quite what he'd planned, but Jaune had been elated with the revelation of his own affinity. However, what he hadn't quite expected was that that certain branch of magic that was meant to be his own was that of the Warlock.
And thus that brings us back to the Arc manor, large and glorious in visage, a small tower at its front, upon it, waving in the wind were two flags, one Stormwind's, at one side, the other engraved with the Arc symbol to the other side, latter smaller, as well as latched onto a longspear, the weapon of the first Arc. Both danced in the winds above the gates of the estate's entrance for all visitors to see.
The first head was quite over the top and showy like that, but what thirst for glory came without such bravado? After all, many of the noble houses had a smaller banner of their own on display, fealty shown in its lesser size in comparison to that of their kingdom's, as a symbol of them bowing to it, yet showing off grandeur as well in having the right to stand by it to begin with.
And within this estate, during the hours of noon, several of the family members had gathered around a big dining table, boisterous and loud, laughing, eating, complaining and more.
It felt more like a tavern's bar than any noble household. Among the table's current residents was Jaune himself, three of his sisters, and the imp Skizzix.
Skizzix had been in the Arc family for the past three years. It had all begun with Jaune attempting to tap into the warlock magics. He didn't know whether to believe of their evil nature or not, but wanted to believe he could use his affinity for good.
He didn't quite have much leeway for success without a teacher, but with the influence of the Arc household he could scour the royal libraries without much difficulty.
Eventually, he came upon a tome, a supposed grimoire of a warlock. He had little room to look a gift horse in the mouth and took it as his hope to understand his abilities.
However, It was far from spectacular in the beginning. He had begun to believe that all the intricate wordings magicians used were simply a sadistic way for them to vex people, as he kept trying to decipher most of what was present in the book. He may have been one now, too, if only in name, but was it so hard to just say things straight and simple?
It didn't help that some parts were in a different language altogether. He couldn't even tell if it was just one or several different ones.
Eventually, he managed to learn some things from it. One was the only spell he could really properly use, something that had become like an innate spell to him, demon skin.
Despite its unnerving, to say the least, name, in actuality, it was a simple defensive aura. Formed from the magical power of the user, both from within and, to an extent, around his body.
Acting like a barrier, it could protect him from harm. It was far from absolute, but it was a defensive measure that could save his life and he was happy to have it. It even extended an inch or two past his body, enveloping and protecting any armor or clothing he had. It also seemed to boost his natural recovery, even if by a meager rate.
The other thing he gained from the grimoire was his meeting with his friend, Skizzix.
Jaune was never quite sure why out of everything in the grimoire, among the very few things simple enough for him to understand was how to outright summon a demon. Regardless, it had been a unique experience for him in many ways.
At first, both of them just panicked and scattered, hiding behind furniture, crates or whatnot. Each at opposing ends of one of the smaller basements in his household that he had isolated himself in to test and train his abilities.
They both had just stood there, he wasn't quite sure for how long. They had just kept looking fearfully at one another, until Jaune had finally decided to get up, slowly and carefully having walked towards the demon in an attempt to show it he had no hostile intentions.
As he had neared, he had seen how genuinely terrified the little demon had been, its shaking intensifying with each step Jaune had taken , eyes fearfully wide and tracing his every movement.
Jaune had gotten down on his knees to match the little demon in height. And then he had used the tenderest voice he could, the one usually reserved for his little sisters.
'Hello... I'm Jaune. There's no need to be afraid."
The imp had just stood there, frightened and unmoving.
"There's no need to be afraid. Don't worry, I won't hurt you."
"You're lying! You're a warlock, you'll enslave me!"
"Enslave? No. No! I'd never do a thing like that!"
"Then why did you summon me?"
"I-I'm sorry, I didn't mean to! It... It was an accident while I was trying to improve my magic. I know that sounds bad, but I'll help you return to your home. I promise. And a promise is something my family never goes back on."
"I, Skizzix, don't have a home."
"I... I'm sorry..."
Both stood silent after that, motionless, both uncertain of what to say.
"You said you were trying to improve your magic? To get stronger?"
"Because I... I'm too weak. I feel like I'm letting down my family... The people that have cared for me the most, the ones I've relied on for everything. I want to live up to their expectations, to our name. I want to be someone who they can rely on..." Jaune's eyes met the ground, a complicated expression on his face.
"...Skizzix is - has always been - weak too." Jaune looked up at him, eyes slightly wide at the little demon.
"Can-Do you think the weakest can truly become like the strong?" It asked, its face, though far different from a human's, held an expression Jaune had no trouble understanding. It matched his own, after all.
"I don't know, I... No, I don't think they - I - can. But... that won't stop me from trying. I think that if I didn't, I'd feel like I betrayed everyone, even myself."
"I see... If I, If Skizzix follows you, will I, will we have a chance to get stronger? Will you not attempt to enslave me?"
"I'd never agree to the idea of enslaving someone! I... I know what is said about warlocks, and I don't know if it's-no, it's probably true that they do that, but, I don't want to be like that." Silence flooded the room anew after that, both of them uncertain in expression still, but the tension, while still heavy, no longer felt as intense as it was moments ago.
"Um, you said you want to get strong too? Why?" Jaune asked. "Not that I mean to pry, you don't have to tell me if you don't want to!", he then added in a panic.
"Skizzix has always been weak, never once did I believe there's any strength to be found for me. Always hiding to stay safe. Always alone. Moments ago, when you offered to take Skizzix back, realization came. There's nowhere to go back to. No one to go back to."
"I... I'm sorry."
"Why do you apologize? It's not your fault."
"I know, but... you've always been alone... Is... Is that why you want to follow me?"
"You are like Skizzix, you say. Weak. But unlike me, you stay strong. Skizzix, I, don't want to stay weak. I don't want to stay afraid and alone..."
"I... I just try though. I'm not strong."
"That's more than Skizzix's ever done."
"I," Jaune's eyes met the ground once more, uncertainty clawing at his desire to help. "I don't know if I'll be able to help. I barely even know what my abilities are supposed to do." He looked up at him, at Skizzix, and it felt like gazing at a kindred soul. His eyes held a glimmer. Of hope, of yearning, of conviction. He knew those feelings well. He'd felt - he feels them all the time. It didn't matter as to what was impossible, he wouldn't allow it to matter. "You can stay here if you'd like. It's my fault that you were brought here, so I'll take responsibility however I can."
"I... thank you."
"I'd be glad to train with you, but... I'm not sure how much help it'd be..." Even conviction wavered at the hands of failure, ever more so as prolonged as it got.
"Skizzix has heard few stories ever, the few I have mostly fairy tales of youth. One such was of a human, weak and frail, yet always standing. Scared and trembling, yet never could you see her back. She would never stop trying, whatever her goal, never to yield. It was a tale I'd not thought of in so long, one I'd have forgotten, yet you reminded me of it. I... also wish to try."
Jaune was left to but stare at him, short for words but not for emotions, inspiration having brought out his fervor of old, a certain serenity overtaking him as the anxiety was chased away.
Lacking in words, he instant pushed his hand forward, the little demon being quick to replicate the gesture. At that moment was the beginning of what might have been the first ever friendship between warlock and demon.
Things had gone... mixed after that. His family's reaction to a demon of all things had not been delicate, though Jaune had felt more than just touched and reassured when they had shown enough faith and trust in him as to give said demon, Skizzix, a chance.
Eventually, his family did warm up to the imp, even if they had more bumps along the road than he'd like to remember. He was now a part of the Arc household, and Jaune wouldn't have had it any other way.
As for Skizzix himself, he was larger than most other imps by his own words, though 'large' was still small by an imp's standards. Demons varied greatly, to the point one would wonder if they were sub-races truly, or if they were instead a plethora of different humanoid races. Heck, if the tales were anything to go by, not all of them were even humanoid!
Aside from being slightly larger, he was much like any normal imp. His hands and legs' nails were claw-like, two horns resting atop his head, and his eyes shone a moonlight yellow. Imps' bodies proportions were alike a human's, only their legs slightly longer and arms significantly longer, and all of them always being very thin. They also tended to have patches of fur, varying but usually on their wrists and ankles much like he had. They also had long ears that would put an elf to shame, and quite varied skin tones, Skizzix's being reddish.
Some might've thought such a creature would come about as strange looking when dressed in human attire, but unlike the rags he once wore that gave him a more frightful visage, the tailored child-sized clothing he would adorn himself with left him in an awkward mix between simply strange and comedic.
He was not one to go out of the manor, for fairly obvious reasons, but it had never been something he'd mind. After all, here, he had something he'd never thought possibly since long ago. Here, he had a home.
In demeanor, he was best described alike Jaune. He was awkward and clumsy at times, nervous at often times too. Even in their abilities, where Jaune lacked that which was so common of an Arc, that talent for armed martial combat, Skizzix, too, lacked what was common of an imp, magic.
Their similarities had brought about plenty of jokes, mostly in the form of teasing from Jaune's sisters about the warlock seeming to match the demon they summon or the other way around. None of them truly did understand much about warlocks still, but it didn't stop them from abusing said fact for their own merriment.
Jaune let out a sigh just as he finished his last bite. It was all he could do as he remembered that day. Skizzix was the demon he summoned. Someone he had also come to considered as a friend. Not too far off from family since they had lived together for three years now.
Despite that, even now, they hadn't made quite as much progress as he'd have liked.
Putting away their silverware, Jaune went to take his blade, Crocea Mors, as Skizzix followed suit and took a hatched that was placed beside said blade.
His family may had given up on training him into a paladin or warrior, but they could see his resolution and did spar with him when they had time. Depending on from where you looked at it, it could be considered as not much or not little, every bit counted as they say, and Jaune was grateful they'd still dedicate far more time and effort than they should despite it being obvious he wasn't making any leaps as a fighter.
Most of the time, it was he and Skizzix that trained.
It was far from the most efficient of methods. One a small, magical demon lacking in magic, the other a hopeless warlock lacking in most of everything, but they kept trying and doing their best. Improving their swordsmanship and axeman-err, hatchetmanship, as time went by. Practicing magic as best they could when they'd lay down their arms.
All that changed, however, on one certain evening. One that would have Jaune at the first true crossroad of his life.
Jaune walked through the bustling streets of the ever lively city that still felt crowded despite the cathedral bell that had signified it had already passed eight mere moments ago.
He was on his way to the district known as the Mage Quarter. Skizzix had shared what little he knew about magic to try and help Jaune, but his knowledge was limited, only from tales and stories. And as for his ever present grimoire, well, it was still his fun time puzzle when he felt lucky enough to believe he could decipher something.
Regardless, he ever so often would still try to look for anything new that might be of aid in the libraries, be they the royal ones or, in this case, the ones within the mage tower.
It was a far shot, considering magics varied, to put it lightly. Magic in its entirety was abstract in nature, chaotic and unpredictable, and each school - as they were categorized in - was not a puzzle but rather a labyrinth of its own. Some believed the different types of magic to have different sources, others that all magic branched out from the same beginning.
Regardless, as unlikely it was for Jaune to learn something about a warlock's magic from other schools, lacking in knowledge as he was, every bit counted.
This night, however, as he was halfway to said tower, he was stopped by someone on the streets.
"Hey, Kid, mind following me for a bit?" Blatantly asked the man as if it was a natural thing anyone would do. He looked to be in his forties, covered in robes similar to a mage, except in dark gray coloring, something not too commonly picked by said flamboyant mages.
Jaune tensed up at the suspicious offer, though after taking a moment to look at his surroundings and noting the still large numbers of people going around, including a guard here and there, he calmed himself, turning back to the man. "Um, can I help you with anything, Sir?"
"Ah, sorry, I was a bit rash there. No need to be so cautious, I mean you no harm. After all, if we don't look after our own, who will?"
The man took a moment to note his surroundings, and once seeing that no one was within earshot, spoke. "I can see the aura around you, kid. You're not really doing much of anything to hide it, to be honest."
"I could tell you're still a novice, but it seems you got more to learn than expected. Your magical power around you, Kid, every mage has it. You seem to be new, unable to stop yourself from emanating it."
"You can tell I'm a... mage?" Jaune restrained his panic. 'He can tell I'm capable of using magic, but as long as he doesn't kno-'
"Mage, huh? If only, but those self-righteous fools are unlikely to consider us as one of them. After all, who would willingly liken themselves to a warlock?"
Jaune's eyes widened. "A warlock? It must be a misunderstanding, er, you must be confusing me with someone, Sir. I'm-"
"There's no need to play pretend, Kid. The fel energies, or demonic ones as they're also called, the magic around you, it's that of a warlock. After all, it takes one to know one." Despite the unease and fear at the threat to his secret, Jaune's panicked mind caught those last words, as well as finally though upon how the man kept specifying 'our' kind till now.
"You're finally paying attention. Good."
"You could tell I was... wait, does that mean others can also tell?"
"Calm down, Kid, I can, but you're not as obvious as you're worrying of being."
"But you said you could see the demonic energies around me, and that mages can notice that."
"Yeah, if you know how to look, and the person you're looking at doesn't quite know how to hide it or has bad control, you can see that they have some sorts of magic they can use. However, identifying what kind it is isn't as easy unless you practice those same arts. If someone's a warlock, or familiar to the point of being able to branch out and attempt to master our trade, they'd be able to tell you're one too. To any other mage, though, you'd simply be a novice who still has basics to work on since he's that readable."
Jaune let out a deep breath he'd not realized he'd taken, most of the tension leaving his body, though he still remained vigilant. A long kept secret, one due to which Skizzix himself hadn't even ever left the Arc manor past its isolated, inner open roof garden. It was a gift goat that the Arc family had so few servants, not being too accustomed to a pampered lifestyle despite being the ones who could most afford it within the whole city. If Skizzix or he was found out, he and his family would be persecuted. He didn't even dare think what they might do to Skizzix.
And what of his demon skin spell, the defensive and healing aura his demonic magics would allow him to cast on himself? Would it give away what he was to any kind of mage, regardless the school of magic they knew? He shivered at the thought, glad he'd never used it outside of his household's premises.
"I like that expression, Kid. A lot more serious and focused, like how an apprentice should be. Surprised or not, however, standing around there and musing over everything will just make you more suspicious than not." Jaune's attention again returned to the man before him. The warlock before him.
"Did you call out to me to warn me?"
"that's part of it, but what I mainly came to you for when I noticed you is to offer you a choice."
"The choice to learn how you can actually put what you got into use."
"You're offering to... teach me?"
"no need to sound so surprised, Kid. Why else do you think I approached you in the first place for?"
Other reasons? There were a few reasons Jaune could think of off the top off his head. The reasons by which one allowed themselves to speak so familiarly with a noble. He'd grown up sheltered, in a family which acted more like average citizens rather than nobles in their interactions, but even then it was hard to miss all of what happened in the world around him, especially with the warnings his family would give him.
Nobles were in a different world in comparison to the rest of the people in a country. Even if Stormwind was among the most lax of the great human kingdoms, its nobles being the most approachable and amicable to the common man, that hardly came close to them actually being approachable.
Jaune would often walk Stormwind's streets, be it to purchase goods, something uncommon of nobles as they'd usually send their servants, or on his way to the library as he had been today, sometimes even going to the training grounds to see if he could get some pointers from any of the soldiers. And in the so many times he'd gone through these streets that would always have people a plenty, they never once had felt crowded.
To disrespect a noble was as good as a crime, even if most of Stormwind's nobles were lax enough to overlook it often enough. None would dare risk the wrath of someone who'd be able to dictate everything about their life, including when it ends. Just like with any other noble, when Jaune moved through the streets, the people parted. When he visited a shop, they stood mostly silent, respectful as can be, answering any questions he may have and not daring to say a word too many lest they overstep their boundaries.
Soldiers? They'd always stand at the ready as if he'd gone to give them commands. Any opinions he'd asked for when there, when training, would be naught but compliments. If he'd asked one if they'd be willing to spar with him, it'd be an accepted order to them, an assured loss that they themselves decided to orchestrate lest they displease him. It was why he'd began to visit the training grounds ever so less and less.
On the streets, at most he'd rarely get a respectful greeting from another stray fellow noble, something that wasn't done justice by simply describing it as 'rare' in comparison to how little a times it would occur. There had been a few times young children had come up to him, reminding him of his little sisters. Their eyes would shine as they saw the sword he'd nearly always carry on his hip and the armor he adorned himself along with it. While he may have been less skilled than most new recruits, to them he may as well have looked like a knight from children's tales. In those rare cases, their parents would be quick to come and pull them away, giving him an apology for the disturbance.
One could only experience all of that oh so many times before they caught on how their world worked. Jaune knew that aside from a fanciful child every week or so, or a courier bringing news, none would really bother just approaching a noble, not even other nobles. The only time one would otherwise do so, it was if they wanted something to gain from them, and had the means to achieve it. An offer of something the noble wanted, had to have. Or held a secret of theirs, blackmail in the simplest of terms.
The man before Jaune had both of those cards.
"And what would it cost?" He asked, trying to keep his voice steady and neutral.
"W-What?" And there went his composure.
"I said that it will cost you nothing but your time and dedication."
"Forgive me for being doubtful, but... that sounds a bit too good to be true." As much as he hated to admit it, few if any were the people he'd seen that would be willing to show generosity without making it an investment. It made it all the harder to accept this man's words.
"Heh, that's understandable, but let me ask you this, if you had something, anything, be it a heirloom, techniques or else, would you not want to eventually pass it down to someone? To let it carry on its - your legacy? I can understand your doubt, but there are few of us around the world, and there'd be none if said world had its way."
Jaune simply continued to gaze at the man in silence, agreeing with his words, though his weariness didn't allow him to so quickly, openly state that.
"Take your time, Kid. As I said, it's your choice. Here. If you decide to come, just recite what's written on the back to the bartender." The man tossed him a piece of paper, a parchment - a map - Jaune realized as he unfolded it. On its back there was indeed a somewhat long, silly and nonessential sentence, a code, obviously enough.
Looking back up he saw that the man had already turned to leave, a glimpse of his back being all he could catch before he had disappeared in the plentiful crowds.
He looked back down at the map, at the actual city map on the parchment's front. A location in the Mage Quarter was circled.
The Slaughtered Lamb.
Jaune wearily entered the bar. He had gone to recover his blade and just as hurriedly came back to the Mage Quarter. It felt like half of his instincts were yelling at him to turn back and run, maybe even report it to the guards.
The other half, however, kept reminding him of the progress he hadn't made on his own. Not to mention there was a bias against warlocks, a common disdain, something he could understand was misguided, something he didn't want to join in.
And finally, there was the point that that man knew Jaune was one.
He had come about as nothing less than shady and ominous, unnerving, but should he have just judged him by that? Could he have even? He already knew, there was more than what meets the eye. Skizzix, a demon he may be, was not the bloodthirsty beast of legends. He himself being a warlock wasn't out on a maddened rampage or attempting to subjugate a kingdom.
In the end, it may have been impulsive, but he'd made his choice. The man also knew his secret, after all, even if he too was a warlock. Jaune's family had made it more than clear that he was not to speak that truth to anyone, so all he felt he could do was trust the man's words. He didn't know what else he could do otherwise.
And his words, they had felt genuine to Jaune. This was his bet, his gamble.
He entered the tavern. It was average in size by the city's standards, but that as good as made it quite the large place. It was reaching the point in the evening when patrons would usually flood it, but it wasn't quite late enough yet, thus it felt- was rather empty.
He walked up to the bartender, a rugged looking man with short black hair and a well-kept trimmed beard and mustache. Despite his profession, with his stature and the air about him, he looked like he'd be able to hold his own against a soldier.
"H-Hey.", he nervously greeted.
"Evening, Kid. What brings you to our humble abode and how may I serve you?"
Was this man a warlock as well? Was it a thing that all of them would call you 'kid'? Would Jaune start speaking like that? Tossing aside those among other useless trivialities, Jaune took a deep breath and made his resolve. "Um, Thal'kit...Thal'kituun?" And proceeded to wonder what the heck he'd even just said.
The bartender raised an eyebrow, though after a moment, gave him a nod, along with a friendly smile. "Not the best pronunciation I've heard, but close enough. Nice to meet you, Kid, they call me Junior."
"Ah, Jaune. Um, sorry, but what did I just say?"
"Thal'kituun, Kid. It's in," He took a moment to note if anyone was close by. "In demonic. It means 'Unseen Guest.'"
"Ah, I see..."
"No need to be so nervous. There are few of them, but here is one of the corners we grasp to, a safe haven for us."
"Are you also a... you know."
"I'm not one myself, but one of my nieces is, so I might as well be considered one too. Speaking of," He then turned, and yelled "Miltia!" A girl quickly coming down from upstairs in reply to his howler.
The girl had short black hair, as well as piercing green eyes. She was garbed in a red robe, and had several large red and white feathers above her left ear. At first glance, most would assume her a mage, possibly a fire one since mages tended to liken their dressing style to that of their school or schools' associated colors if any. Not to mention the feathers, very much fitting the flamboyance of said mages.
"We have a guest, a familiar kind."
"Oh?" She gave Jaune a quizzical look, as if a guest was a rarity in a tavern.
"I'll introduce him to the locals." Receiving a nod from Junior, she turned to Jaune. "Follow me." And with just that, she then walked past him, behind the bar and towards the back of the tavern.
After a moment of uncertainty Jaune turned to Junior and after receiving a nod from him, turned and followed after Miltia.
They entered into what seemed to be a small storage room, it having taken not a minute since waqlking past the bar, yet, coupled with the uncertainties and worries Jaune felt, he had already begun to also feel the awkwardness of their short silence.
"So, it's, um, nice to meet you."
The girl turned her head and spared him a look as they moved, and though still there, the glimmer of curiosity she had seemed to have calmed if not died down. "Yeah, same." And her response in turn was nonchalant, uninterested.
Jaune hadn't really had any particular desire to to be the center of attention of anything, his upbringing being far more humble than would be expected of any nobility. "The name's Jaune. Jaune Arc," However, he was nobility in the end of the day, one whom had quite fanciful dreams and a grand legacy that was hard to not look up to and strive after. "Short, sweet, rolls off the tongue. Ladies love it." So if not stand out, then he'd still at least wish to be noteworthy within his surroundings.
This time the girl stopped, the glimmer of interest - this time with a certain amusement about it - having returned, added on by the mischievous grin she now wore. "Do they now? Well then, aren't you a charmer?"
"Ah, I mean, I'm not sure..." He wasn't quite sure where she was going with her words, but then again, had he ever a clue as to what to follow up with after the latter part of his greeting? "Um, sorry." He averted his gaze in embarrassment.
Miltia eyed him for a few moments "It's fine, whatever." She then turned around and carried on to and through a door at the back. Not receiving any further response, Jaune hurried after her.
It was... well, not quite massive, not when he'd seen the interior of both their keep and castle, as well as several noble estates, including his own, but this far surpassed any mundane building. What they had entered was a cylindrical stair room, likely around a good five meters in diameter, and downwards it carried on for another twenty or so meters by what he could see.
It was all simple, stone and nothing more, the steps included, a few wooden doors as they moved down the walkway, ones likely not important right now as Miltia simply moved past them not sparring them a glance. There were a few - three - at the bottom as well. For a tavern, even a large one such as in the capital, this basement was far more than expansive.
"Sorry too, I guess."
"I will admit to being somewhat exci-intrigued over having a new guest, a fellow warlock. It's a rarity, as even when we find those like us, they often choose not to come. In any case, when I saw you, that you're a noble, I became... doubtful of your intentions."
"You could tell I was a noble? Wait, doubtful?"
"Of course. You're of arguably the most renowned family the city has if we don't count the royal family. Yours also actually remember they have legs unlike other nobles. It's no secret you're your own servants, not caring for having many people do your work for you. People can see you outside often, and most have seen most of your family at least a few times. It took a few moments, but it wasn't hard recognizing you. The emblem on your sword definitely didn't make it any harder."
"Oh..." Now that she mentioned it, indeed, his family was an oddity among the nobles, and a surprisingly common sight there where normally only commoners would be seen. It made it all the more depressing thinking over how empty the streets always felt regardless of that.
"Commoners like us, they can be cautious, though more so fearful, sometimes greedy..." Her face contorted into a scowl for a moment, though she was quick to banish it. "But nobles are prideful. Always. And pride can be far more fierce than greed." She then looked him in the eye. "I was - am - still doubtful of you, but, your family's reputation, how it's known to be like. And you, for a noble, the way you act is... different. Strange even."
"You're welcome." She gave him a grin, one that carried far more emotion that she'd let show till now. "Now come on, if we keep stopping like this, we'll be here all day." The way she walked now was different. In lieu of the caution in her prior steps, her movements now felt more wild.
"Well then," She said as she spun on her heel, having stopped before one of the three doors at the bottom, the largest of them all. Her actions now carried a certain bravado as her grin remained unmoving.
'Just as flamboyant as a mage.' Jaune thought. 'Heh, I guess warlocks are also supposed to be a kind of mage in the end too, huh?'
"Let me be the first to welcome you, Jaune Arc," She pushed the door open, turning and retreating backwards into it as she beckoned him to follow, her hands spread out wide in a show of grandeur. "To the Slaughtered Lamb's warlock coven!"
They had entered into a large circular room, it too having one other door leading off to somewhere, while in the middle of it, there was a large open fire pit, though currently unlit. All around there were plenty of shelves, desks and bookcases, and they were indeed tossed all around the place with no regard for order. Torches adorned the walls and some of the support beams, helping assure one could see pretty clearly within the hidden room, though also helping the eerie and ominous feeling it gave Jaune.
Within it Jaune could also see many figures, mages he might've thought by their attire, if not for the obvious point he already knew. Everyone in this room was like him, a warlock.
One of said warlocks who sat a few meters away from them rose up and approached. It was him, the same man that he'd met back in the city, and behind him walking in toe was an imp, one alike Skizzix.
"Good to see you, Kid. I knew my hunch was more than just that." He gave Jaune a friendly smile, and now that Jaune took a look while being less panicked than their first meeting, he took in his appearance. It was rather... plain. He still wore a simple black rode. As for how he himself looked, he had relatively long black hair that went below his shoulders, somewhat unkempt, and a much more well kept beard and mustache that were, for the most part, alike Junior's.
"The name's Zardeth." The man extended his hand.
Jaune hesitated for a moment. "Jaune." But inevitably mirrored the gesture.
"Is a hunch good enough for taking such a risk?" Came Miltia's voice, the irritation behind it evident.
"Ah, Miltia, a grand entrance you made earlier. I'm glad you gave our guest a proper welcome." However, it seemed Zardeth had not, or had chosen not to notice her displeasure.
"Don't try to change the subject! You know how nobles are, how they would deal with us, so how can you always be this rash?"
"Calm down now, Lass, I can plenty see your worries, but you needn't be. I have an eye for such things and do my research. Have I ever misguided us as of yet?" In contrast to Miltia's current demeanor he remained calm, nonchalant.
She glared at him briefly, but eventually decided to drop it, turning and saying "Whatever." as she left.
"Youth, so energetic and hotblooded over everything. Seeing it makes me miss my own." He simply stated as he looked at her retreating form, following it up with a laugh.
He then turned to Jaune. "So, I'm sure you're plenty curious about plenty of things. Don't worry and ask what you will, and I'll try to answer anything I can." The atmosphere around him change with those words, still wearing a cheery expression, but it was obvious his mood was far more serious now. "After all, we always have questions, even someone who's been traveling this path as long as I."
"You're - we're all warlocks here, right?" At the man's nod, he continued. "I... What are we?"
"Heh, I've heard that question better worded before, but I've also heard worse, I guess. We're warlocks, Kid, nothing really much to it. While like anyone we can try and branch out to many different schools of magic, our affinity lies in shadow and fire, and in the demonic, though that last one is a bit hard to clarify in just a few words."
The demonic? Jaune took note once again of the imp beside them, beside Zardeth. It was not too different from Skizzix, though it had a smaller stature, and its skin was of a darker gray hue to Skizzix's red. He also noticed the bracers it wore, something that might've not been too noteworthy if not for the fact that they seemed to emanate a faint, green glow.
"And anyone can tell," Zardeth carried on. "Demons come about as scary to most people, and with good reason. We warlocks are best able to recognize the dangers they pose."
Dangerous? Skizzix? He could barely swing a hatched enough to match Jaune, and even then Jaune was going easy on him. Jaune out of all people was going easy on someone! Jaune was by far no proper warrior, and Skizzix even less so. He barely knew any theory on the basics of magic too, and was unable to use any. And to top that all off, he'd never once seen him really angry in any way or form to begin with. He couldn't imagine Skizzix as dangerous.
"And we're the ones that have the power to control those monsters that everyone else fears. We might be normal people like everyone else, just some branch of mages with their own bag of tricks, but we might as well be a whole different race to them. Just as none will ever accept a demon, no one will accept us, knowingly." He finished.
Jaune put aside his thoughts on how mismatched the definition of monster was for Skizzix, despite him admittedly being far different in appearance to humans. "So, you're saying that rather than warlocks, it's demons people are afraid of?"
"Not quite, but you can put it that way. Our non-demonic selection of magic is not fundamentally different from other mages, and it is indeed true that it's due to demons that our infamy spreads so far."
"Then, what if they didn't fear them?" Jaune's voice held embers of hope.
"I can see you want to say something, Kid. In what way do you mean not afraid?"
"If we can prove that they're not evil, or at least not all of them. That they can be good and bad just like anyone else. Wouldn't that work?"
Zardeth snickered at those words, though the laugh rang hollow, holding no mirth behind it, and the smile he gave Jaune after that was nothing but somber. "Let's humor that notion, Kid, let's assume it true that there are plenty of good demons. So what?"
"P-Pardon?" Jaune's face spelled out confusion.
"So what if we can make the world believe demons to be alike anyone else? Like an other elf or human or whoever else." His face was now deathly serious.
"Then wouldn't people trust them? Trust us?" Jaune asked, almost argued before he caught himself, not expecting himself to get so agitated over mere words, not being someone to get agitated often if ever. Not when it came to voicing it out.
"Even if demons were the friendliest beings you can meet, then they'd still hate us, probably them as well."
"Isn't it obvious? They're different, and they're strong. Of course, they vary. They're not really just one race, a large conglomeration of races instead. We just call them all demons, and there's no question they all have a certain connection, but each of them is their own kind, an imp and succubus being as different as a gnome and dwarf, or a human and an elf. Even more so. Regardless, most demonic races are powerful, and all of them are vastly different from the rest of Azeroth's inhabitants."
Zardeth then sighed. "Rarely, dreamers like yourself come by, and those dreams are indeed nice ones, but the world ain't no fairy tail. With demons being fundamentally different, and simply potentially powerful enough to challenge us. What reason more does hate need? We fight our own kind for far, far less. And then there's us, once again, those who command them."
Jaune lowered his gaze, unsure, forlorn of expression. Was it really that impossible? Was consensus something never to be reached? He didn't want to believe that, though he also knew, this was something far beyond his head.
"Um, anyway," For now. "Mages share... no, rather, trade knowledge," A change of topic was all he could think to do. "When it comes to this, being a warlock, I don't have much to offer."
"Well, while we'd indeed enjoy learning a few new tricks, we're willing to take in new recruits, as inexperienced as they are. After all, no one wants to see their craft just up and end, Kid."
That seemed reasonable enough. He still felt somewhat uncertain. but he also felt there might be both hope and kinship to be found here.
And then he took notice of the imp at Zardeth's side again, at those bracers yet again.
"Um, pardon, but what are those bracers on your imp companion?"
"Already rushing to learn. I like it. Though, while it makes it sound nicer, you know as well as I, companion is not the most appropriate word here."
Jaune did, though he hoped it not to be the case, hoped it to be alike with Skizzix.
"Those are it's bindings, we call them bracers of binding. They're what makes sure the little cretin actually listens and doesn't try to backstab us. No one likes unreliable help, after all."
"...This is... Don't you think there could be another way? That you could come to understand each other?"
"Oh, if only the world could work that way, Kid, but as I said, it ain't that simple. You know, I used to be a fanciful one like yourself too, but then," He pulled back his robe, then raising his shirt to reveal-
Jaune gasped. It probably wasn't the most polite and tactful of things to do, but it was hard not to. A scar stretched, going down from the left side of his chest, slightly off from where his heart would be, terrifyingly close to where his heart likely was.
"I didn't complete the ritual right when I first summoned a demon. Didn't want to. I believed, like you, that we could find a mutual understanding. I even thought it had worked, the imp going along with my whims initially. The little bastard was biding his time, and he would've been dealt with me if not for his incompetence."
Jaune looked to the imp beside Zardeth once more.
"It's not him, he's a different one. The one who did this, I dealt with him long ago, unlike how he failed to do so with myself. Had to sear this shut with fire magic and grit through to get him, and I barely made it after that too." He fixed his robes. "But not everyone is as lucky, and most demons have more competence than just that."
"I-I'm sorry... But-"
"I learned that the easy way, unlike Jarel." Jaune's lips shut at those words.
"Junior's a nice guy. Nicer than most who lived his life. Lost his village to bandits, and barely managed to escape with his nieces. There were a few other refugees from there, a few are still in the city here to this day, but most, his brother and sister-in-law included, didn't make it. He wasn't manning the tavern back then. That was Jarel's job."
"Yes, he also showed affinity for being a warlock. Was always chipper and friendly. Would try to give advice where he could, and often told people to 'stay away from the shadows'. Heh, that one never was good for business. Shadows came to him though. He became one of us, learned what he could, even got to the point of summoning. Despite my warnings, he decided to also put his trust in the demon he summoned, and I decided to trust in him. Few were as friendly as him, and I expected him to succeed, believed it wholeheartedly."
Jaune was no genius, but one wasn't required to put the pieces of what followed together. His expression had become as mournful as Zardeth's.
"That's right, he summoned one. But it wasn't an imp. Felguards we call em. Doesn't look too different from a human, if you put aside how hulking large they are and their blue, purple or red skin. It was the first and only we'd ever seen, and for him to summon such a powerful demon, it just showed how far his potential went. We could feel the pressure from it alone, and it was staggering. But long story short, Jarel extended a hand to it, didn't force it to obey. It went along for a while, but kept demanding for its thrill of combat, its war. It cared little of what alternatives we offered it, only wanting to quench its bloodthirst. And this one had no cunning, didn't need. Just raw power. Snapped at one point, just cleaved one of our own down, Jarel rushing in to try and stop em, we all did. In the end of the day, we did, but... we had already lost the first it lashed out at, a more than lethal blow, and Jarel had tried to reason with him, his fatal mistake. Our only solace was that only a few of the rest of us had some minor wounds. We had managed to overpower him in numbers. didn't change that our kind came with two less ever since that day."
"I'm sorry..." Jaune wasn't sure what else to say.
"Don't be. It's the past now. Just learn from it. There'll never be a demon that'll truly care for one of us."
The remainder of his stay there was glum. Zardeth tried to pretend, to gloss over it, but even Jaune could see, the man was still faintly shaken at the memories he'd brought up. After what he'd heard, he couldn't put on any cheerful expression, so he'd opted for a neutral one as he was introduced to the other warlocks.
Even later, as he'd left to return to his home, having agreed to study with them, for he still felt a certain kinship, and he knew they were likely his best, if any, chance, he couldn't put under control the jumble that were his thoughts.
He realized it, why Skizzix was so terrified of warlocks, but he could see why they could, in turn, be so guarded - no, equally terrified around demons themselves.
He had begun to feel it too, how impossible it would be to ever find an understanding between demon and warlock. Yet... he had known Skizzix for so long, trusted him. He still did. It was the slither of hope that even now still gave him faith. He couldn't tell Zardeth of him, he felt, not yet, likely not anytime soon, but perhaps someday, perhaps there really was hope, despite everything. That was what he steeled his heart on as he entered through his home's gates.
It had been two months since Jaune had begun his apprenticeship.
He had learned some things from several of the warlocks there, though it was Zardeth who'd usually teach him what he could.
It had not been by the most well organized of methods. They had initially seen what he was capable of, which was little to nothing at all. Since then, it had been mostly focus on him learning the foundations of magic rather than anything specifically for warlocks, since that too was something he lacked and needed badly.
Eventually, Jaune had trusted his own idea of showing them the grimoire. Unlike his expectations, they had not perfectly been able to decipher all within it, but their results were vastly superior to Jaune's own without a doubt. Zadeth had preposition to him that they copy down its contents, and Jaune had agreed. It may have been a forgotten book, like too many in the royal libraries, but Jaune would have felt not right if he were not to return it eventually.
And eventually he indeed had, the warlocks having copied over its contents in but a month's time. Zardeth had even surprised Jaune as he'd given him a more simplified version of it, another copy he'd personally written, or rather, was still filling in, as they were far from having fully figured out all its secrets.
Through it, they'd learn several new prospects about their art. One such was the ability to 'detect demons', as it was called, the only thing Jaune had properly learned so far aside from far better general magic control than he'd previously had. It was simple in its purpose. One would actively concentrate and feel, much like a sixth sense, the presence of demons around themselves, being able to tell a general direction and distance, to an extent.
Practical? Hardly. But Jaune was happy to be making progress and actually learning something.
He'd also spoken with Skizzix. He felt wrong not to share with him this, or that he was now an apprentice. He'd shared it all. And he'd also spoken it, his trust. He'd told him simply and straightforwardly, much like no human was responsible for another one's unrelated actions, he'd not foolishly judge Skizzix for other demon's actions.
It reminded Jaune that they both trusted each other. Perhaps it was an anomaly. Was it because they were both so weak, so desperate? Maybe. It didn't matter in the end though, for they were truly friends, comrades. As long as that truth existed, he'd dare believe it possible, however difficult, to find peace between not just warlocks, but humans and demons in general.
That, however, was no current concern, nothing they'd be able to have a hand in right now. Rather, they spoke of else. Skizzix told him of how some demons were, at least the ones on Azeroth. As far as his knowledge went, his fellow demons would be gathered in the more 'doomed' - as people described them - lands.
The Searing Gorge, The Blasted Lands, The Badlands, all shambled ruins, lands savaged by magic, presumably demonic, where one could most likely encounter said demons. It was common sense to most.
Skizzix was from one of those places. He did not know which. He had strayed from humans, from most other demons too. As far as he knew, they either made villages, not that different from any other race, or they wandered in small groups or alone. Skizzix was the latter, eventually ending up alone. He hadn't wanted to go into more detail than that.
In the villages, he'd described it as dangerous. They tended to be ruled by power, the strongest of demonic races the head, the chieftains. They lived a militaristic life in the harsh lands they inhabited, and while few possibly could have been governed in different ways, most generally looked down on weakness.
Alone in a dying land was, sadly, a safer haven for him than what should've been their home.
Jaune hadn't told anyone else, none of his family of his apprenticeship. Neither had Skizzix upon his request. And all had continued on at mostly the same pace.
And then came a time, some point after three months since he'd began studying with them, today had come.
Jaune had receive a letter from Zardeth. It was sealed, though that did little to calm the warlock, as he always left a spell on it that made the text fade, only gaining back its visibility when radiated with the fel energies of a warlock.
Jaune was unsure if the man was being overly cautious or even paranoid. He gave it little thought though. He was still slightly grateful that Zardeth made sure his family didn't know through said caution, not that they didn't know of himself being a warlock, but he was still uncertain as to how, or even if he should bring up his current training. Yet anyway.
He brought his attention back to the letter. Zardeth had only sent him letters twice before. It was something he'd saved for important matters, such as the gleeful one over managing to decipher a good portion of the grimoire, and the mysterious one of a surprise that had led to him revealing the simplified version he'd specially prepared for Jaune. Jaune couldn't help but snicker at how excitable and childish the man could be sometimes, as hypocritical as it was for Jaune of all people to think that of someone considering how star struck he himself could get at times.
Opening it, he focused a bit of magic in his hand. If it was simply circulating magical energy, His studies weren't for nothing.
"It's time for a little event; consider it the first of your initiations and ceremonies. Be at the Slaughtered Lamb when the cathedral bells ring at eight." Mysterious as usual, perhaps he'd decyphered or found out of a new spell simple enough for Jaune to learn?
Jaune burned the letter after, a precaution he had to follow, as silly as he considered it.
'Initiation, he'd written?' Jaune might've considered he'd meant a small welcoming celebration, but it'd been a decent while since he had joined, so it was probably too late to be that. Ah well, it probably wasn't going to be something too huge, whatever it was. He'd find out when the time came.
Jaune was in his usual attire as he entered the Slaughtered Lamb. Black pants, a black shirt with his light armor over it and armored boots on his feet, all topped off with a more vibrant - more mage-like he hoped - hood over his head. Crocea Mors was present as always at his hip.
He nodded to Junior, and decided to linger for a while, since he'd rushed out, even if he would not dare to admit it, quite excitedly, coming in earlier, having yet to hear the bell signifying eight o'clock. If it truly was something urgent, Zardeth would've probably said so in the note, not to mention Junior likely telling him to rush on down to them.
"Hey, Junior. So... how's evening work going?" Despite knowing him for quite some time, Jaune wasn't exactly a drinker, so he didn't exchange that many words with him.
"Same old as usual. Bit of a weak night, tonight though." Jaune and Junior may have not had the most matching interests, often times lacking any proper topic to talk on, but for those known as bartenders, to listen was what half their job entailed, though rarely anyone would hear out their own worries in turn. "Ah, and don't get me started on this one noble who just won't pay his tab, and it keeps going up and up!" But when one was as awkward as Jaune and more socially... challenged, they tended to become good listeners themselves, in lieu of their lack of finding the right words to usually say themselves. The kind that bartenders could really use from time to time themselves.
Also, having seven sisters might've aided in that to some extent. Especially when they were a noble family, never lacking in 'annoying suitors' as they'd put it.
"And so, then, I had to get Jerry to kick the guy out, cause he was, and I quote, calling me a "vile beast", thinking I'm a dragon or something, and trying to stab me with his quill. I tell you, writers are the worst when drunk!" Despite the annoyance in his voice, Junior still let out a hearty laugh at the memory.
"That reminds me of one time when a suitor had come to try and woo my twin sister." Jaune complained in turn.
"I've heard those tales before, Kid. I agree, it gets annoying, but is it that bad really?"
"I know, I thought the same thing when my sisters would complain. But this guy had somehow climbed up on my balcony, thinking it was my sister's, and it was even about six or so in the morning. I... I may have slightly shouted when I woke up to him and thought that he was some thief."
"You screamed, didn't you?"
"No-No!" Jaune grimaced. "Maybe... A little. The guy even had the nerve to think I'm still my sister after the scream. Only realized after he got a proper look at me when I got up from the ground."
"Haha, you'd even fallen off your bed? At least you can't complain it was boring!" Junior was enjoying himself at his bar for once.
"Yeah... I think I'd prefer boring to that."
"Did you toss him out the balcony or something after?"
"No! Bad as he was, I wouldn't do something like that! Also, before i could properly react, my Dad had already come, and it took myself, my mother and a few of my sisters to stop him from doing exactly that. We couldn't stop him from carrying the guy up to the gate and tossing him straight over though. We were worried he might not be alright, but he got up pretty fast and ran off while yelling about how we'd hear from his family or something, so I guess he was fine in the end." Jaune finished with a sigh.
"That's how most nobles are, Jaune. Pushy, prideful, like to flaunt their power and get their way. I don't know if you've realized, but your family is one of the few exceptions."
"Yeah, I've sort of noticed that over the years."
"Real shame, too. We're already pretty prosperous. If we had a few more ones who focused on the practical and what's at hand the kingdom might not even have any problems right now. Heh, look at me, I swear, whenever you're around, I go and start thinking all fanciful like some starry-eyed kid."
"It's not wrong to think about things being better."
"No, it's not. But staying grounded and realistic is most important. Anyway, while there're so many of them that are tardy or incompetent, we at least don't have to worry as much about them seeing what they shouldn't."
"What? Isn't here the part where you say that everyone'll eventually accepts us? Bygones be bygones, everyone's peaceful and all that?" Junior raised a brow.
"I... Yeah, it usually would be, huh?"
"...Kid, Jaune, don't get discouraged." Junior rested a hand on Jaune's shoulder. "I won't deny, I don't believe that exactly happening myself. But there's always a possibility. Maybe not in the exact way we want, maybe a lot more strained a relationship requiring cooperation for certain reasons rather than mutual understanding, but some day, it is completely possible for us to not be shunned, even if it's not for as friendly a reason as we'd want it to be. Such a day might come, and from there, it can get worse, but it might get better as well."
"Thanks, Junior. It means a lot." Jaune gave him a small smile.
"I'm just being realistic. The world's a crazy place, so anything can happen, including that which we hope for." he grinned. "Anyway, I think it's about time."
"Yeah, I'll be off to see Zardeth then. Thanks again, Junior. Hope you have an easier, and like you prefer, more uneventful evening."
"Heh, always hoping for that. And Jaune, feel free to just call me Hei. And while you're down there, tell that bastard to come up sometimes. Even our rats are getting more time in the sun than him."
"Will do." Said Jaune wiith a last smile and nod as he went into the back storage room.
An overly long spiral staircase later, he found himself going through the large doors of the main hall of the coven, Zardeth already there to greet him with a friendly smile.
"Glad you could make it, Kid. After all, this day's supposed to be about you to begin with." He then handed him a strange object. "Here, you'll need this."
"What's this?" Jaune eyed it. It could've passed for some kind of gem or ruby, probably was one, but not normal for sure. It being purple in color, and it was large, enough so that it barely fit in his hand, feeling more like glass than any gem, yet different. One thing he didn't find uncertain about it, however, and that was the magical energy he could feel emanating from it. The demonic energy he could feel from it.
"Your key to initiation. Come on, we'll be using the ritual room." He didn't wait for a responce, walking towards one of the side doors of the large cylindrical main chamber, Jaune noticing several other warlocks also make their way there.
After a moment's hesitation he too followed.
The ritual chamber, as they called it, was the room they used for, as far as he'd seen throughout his time here, larger and riskier spells. Set up with spell formations and more, it had safeties and more, in case of backfire, and was set up such that they could try channeling their abilities together. He had seen them try several of the spells in his grimoire, though to little fruition.
Regardless, whenever something unpredictable was on their mind involving warlock magic, using magic circles, or also called spell formations, which, while taking time to set up, allowed for amplification or better control among other properties, always came in handy. Any mage worth their salt could appreciate their worth.
As they all gathered around a particularly large formation in the middle of the room, one Jaune had not before seen them use, he took a moment to take note of the crystal in his hand yet again.
He thought again of what it felt like.
Taking a bit more notice now he realized it wasn't appropriate to say it radiated demonic energies. No, that was his magic. Having held it for a while, he could feel its tug. It was, somehow, pulling in his mana, trapping it in itself. He was far from all knowing when it came to warlocks or magic as a whole, but he had never seen anything like this before.
He took note of the spell formation around which they had all been gathered now. It was large, more so than any he'd seen them use before. It was called formation more ofthen than circle since they weren't always circular, but this one was, though the notable thing about it was its size, being roughly three meters in diameter.
"Zardeth... What is this?"
"Jaune, it's been a while since you came under our wing. It's definitely been refreshing having a new recruit in quite a while, since back when Miltia joined us. It made me feel nostalgic, of both when she was starting out, and of even when I was young. And honestly, while your understanding of the arts still has a ways to go, you've shown quite the talent for them."
"Um... thanks?" Despite his confusion, Jaune could feel it, could tell. "But what is this formation for?" He may had not known him for that long, but Zardeth was far easier to read when serious, as Jaune had learned by now, noticing the tinges of sadness in his voice.
"Jaune, I ask you to trust me on this." Was all Zardeth simply said in answer.
Trust, huh? Jaune couldn't deny it. He had tried to stay a bit further away from them, as much as he could when these people, mainly Zardeth, were his teachers, but he would have lied if he said he hadn't grown some comraderie with them. A certain kinship. Zardeth, a few of the other warlocks here who he'd gotten to know slightly better, and Junior, Miltia, and even Melanie, her sister, who he hadn't seen as often, her not being a warlock and instead tending to the tavern with Junior, yet all of them, different to quite the degrees were like a family of sorts.
He would have lied if he had said he felt nothing like that towards them. Obviously not as much as his own family, but like back with Skizzix, with them, he felt a certain kinship, a comraderie.
He took a glance at the circle. Intricately woven, what its formations would have been meant to get across was beyond him, though he could tell it was going to be big. At least as much as when they'd tried some of the spells they'd presumed of the more powerful variety.
He looked back to Zardeth. Miltia wasn't around right now, having gone out with Melanie on errands, Junior at the tavern's front and bar as per usual. Most of the warlocks that were part of the coven were here though, some of them now friendly faces to him. They differed, some of dwarven or gnomish heritage, but all of them treated each other like brother and sister alike regardless that.
Jaune took a deep breath, though let it out quickly. "Alright." And stepped forward, up to the formation's edge, where he presumed he'd have to be. Then he noticed one of the other warlocks motioning for him to move somewhat further forward, inward, and so he entered it, now standing inside one of its edges.
"Jaune," Zardeth began. "You're a nice guy. One of the nicest I've known, even more so considering you're a noble. If you'd met Jarel, I'm sure you both would've gotten along no different than long time friends."
Jaune wasn't sure what to say to that. "Sorry..." He had not experienced the loss of anyone precious as of yet, something he could only be grateful for. He could only imagine what it felt like, couldn't imagine what words could help, try as he may.
"...No, I'm sorry."
The warlocks around the circle began chanting, and the formation radiated beneath his feet. He stepped back, attempting to leave it, but he felt something block his path, and after turning, noticed that push as he may, some form of invisible blockade hindered him.
"Zardeth? What's going on? Let me out!"
"Jaune, I've seen warlocks come and go, some as young as you, and far too many times did they go because of exactly such kindness as yours." His expression was now naught but a saddened one, the mirth that Jaune had become accustomed to seeing on his face nowhere to be found. "People would call it luck, being one of our kind. Be it bad or good, however, depends on who you ask. Whether this power is worth it. It's the same with you, good or bad, you've had the luck of becoming a warlock."
Energy began to swirl within the formation, in the opposite end of where Jaune stood.
"Whatever your view on it, it comes with its burdens. I also once hoped for the same things you do, I learned the hard way that not all things in this world can have that happy ending, but luckily, I had learned it exactly the hard way, not the worst way."
"Zardeth, what are you doing?" Jaune tried to follow his line of thought as he did his best to supress his panic.
"Jaune, I found out the hard way that some things about being a warlock can never be pretty, as much as we wish they were. Jarel, however, as well as other warlocks I've known from long past had found that out the worst way. That's why they're not here now. We persecute and murder even our own, so how could we expect demons to have the slightest of care for any of us?"
Jaune's eyes widened in realization.
"Jaune, you chose to walk the path of a warlock, to study under me, and I chose to take you in as my disciple. I'm sorry, I've lost too many apprentices."
Jaune glanced at the energies once again, and he could see it, a figure. It still wasn't quite there, still hadn't materialized yet, but he knew what was coming. A demon.
"Zardeth, we can't do this!"
"That innocence you have, you don't need to lose it, but it doesn't belong in your craft. I'm sorry, Jaune, I'll understand if you hate me for this, if you never forgive me, but I won't lose another student again!"
The chants of the surrounding warlocks ended, and the swirling energies before Jaune finally took proper shape. The intial body looked almost human, but as the energy surrounding the figure dissipated, the diffences quickly became quick to spot.
The figure was a female, nearly as tall as Jaune. She had long red hair held back in a ponytail, and she was covered in what seemed to be armor, bronze by the looks of it, made with the obvious intent of mobility, though still offering substantial protection. Weapons were also visible at her back, though from in front of her, Jaune couldn't quite tell what they were.
She herself, aside from red hair, had emerald eyes that seemed to glow omniously, as well as a set of white horns atop her head, slightly curved at both their base and tip, each nearly as long as the length of her face. He could see, while not too clearly, a red thin tail of sorts behind her, and on her back were a set of large wings, spanning a meter each, though far too small to realistically lift a human-sized body off the ground. The last noticable feature was her feet, taking the form of red hooves instead.
Jaune turned to Zardeth. "Z-Zardeth, what are you doing?!"
"What I believe is right. I told you already, Jaune, you need to learn, lest you end up consumed by a demon some day yourself!"
"That circle is a new formation, one from your grimoire. We couldn't find the entirity of its basis of summoning, but we saw it could hold secure the beast until a contract is forced. And that soul gem in your hand is one we've learned to craft through our powers. With it, the contract will be absolute and there won't be any threat."
"This isn't right, Zardeth, this shouldn't be done to anyone!"
"Perhaps, but I allowed myself to be convinced before, made the wrong choices too many times. This is the only choice I have!"
Jaune prepared to speak again, but quickly stopped himself at seeing Zardeth. Looking at him, he saw iit in his eyes, the worry, the conviction, and most notably, the desperation. Jaune knew that emotion well.
He understood. He could see why Zardeth was doing it, why he felt it right. But Jaune couldn't agree.
Jaune looked towards the demon before him.
She looked dazed, likely confused too, though it seemed she was regaining her bearings quickly. Obvious fear flashed in her eyes, much like with Skizzix back on that first day, but it seemed that she was quick to forget it, or mask it, as her eyes gained a determined glint and she began to struggle againstt the invisible bounds that held her.
He then looked to Zardeth's minion, for there was no other way to call it. The demon under his will. Then he realized, had he even known its name?
it had one, but whether he'd learned it or not, he'd not thought of it. He'd intentionally thought away from it, not wanting to address the issue he had with doing such a thing. And now he looked at the demon, the imp, expression forlorn, eyes downcast, just off to the room's side as he simply didn't seem to even desire to observe.
He looked to the demoness before him again. Her expression still held determination, but now it also held a mixture of desperation and anger, even if she did well to hide most of it. He tossed the word 'monster' as he looked at her, at the imp behind Zardeth, and then? Then he closed his eyes and recalled it. He recalled Skizzix, the genuine smiles he could wear, the laughter he could join in, the times they'd spent training, or simply the time they'd spent together at all, be it the two of them or his entire family.
He remembered of the time he camped in the library's open roofed garden, as foolish as it'd been, especially after having received an invitation to just spend the night in the keep it was within. He'd done it just so he could be the first to check out that new tale, a simple story of adventure, the one he'd read over with Skizzix, like many other. A monster, Skizzix, huh? Absurd.
"Jaune, we can't hold the circle forever! Focus your mana on the crystal, and then on the demon. That's a Succubus, they're powerful magicians, but they specialize in deception, yet this one, while I have seen only very few of them, I've never seen one like her, with so much raw physical power. Hurry!"
Jaune couldn't deny one thing, though, he understood Zardeth. His reasoning. He agreed, Zardeth had made the choice he thought right.
Jaune firmly grasped the crystal, the soul gem, raising it high.
And then he too, like Zardeth, did what he believed right.
The crystal met the ground fast, proving not too different from glass in this regard as well, cracking and breaking at the force. Quite some time having passed already and their control already waning, the added disruption to the circle from the impact, as well as the distraction it presented to all of the now shocked and surprised warlocks finally led to the spell formation breaking, and the demoness found herself free of her former holds.
"Jaune, what are you doing?!"
"What I also thought right. I'm sorry, but I-"
Jaune couldn't quite turn fast enough at Zardeth's warning, getting shoved to the side as the succubus ran past him, her weapons not drawn. 'Fast!' He'd been taken on several hunts with his father, and if anything, he'd have compared her pace to that of a dashing wolf, or, in other words, frighteningly fast. The formation now broken, the barrier that stopped him from leaving was also gone, and she made no attempts to wait as she ran past everyone and out the door.
"Jaune, do you know what you've done? We've released a demon in the city!"
"But I... I couldn't just accept it. Binding her, enslaving her or anyone like that."
"And that foolishness could've cost you your life! She could have murdered you then and there! And now that demon's lose."
"S-She is. But maybe we can talk to her. I know it's bad, but if we get a chance to reason with-"
"You can't be serious! I was rash, in trying to make you understand when it'd been such a short time, that was a horrible mistake on my end. However, you still want to take such risks after this? She's a succubus at that. They're known for their natural talent in powerful magic, including being deceptive ones, more so than even imps. And that one was physically strong, very strong. If she had the opportunity to become so powerful in might, who knows how potent her magic would be? You won't be able to fight her. And you're telling me you hope to reason with her instead?!"
"It's the right thing to do, it's our fault she got pulled here from wherever she was!" With those words, he rounded on his heel.
"Jaune, don't!" Zardeth's cries went on deaf ears, Jaune having turned to chase after the succubus before anyone could properly react. If he gave them the chance, he knew they'd stop him for his own safety, they weren't bad people, whatever warlocks were made out to be like. That didn't mean they didn't do bad things, sadly, this being one such. But it was as much his mess now as it was theirs.
Finally reaching the staircase, he could hear commotion from above, and hoped it was only panic at seeing a demon and nothing worse.
Powerful, Zardeth had said. That she was dangerous. Likely the case if he fought her. Just off the display of speed from earlier, he could see she was strong. Far stronger than Skizzix or him. And that was not even counting how strong her magic could be, or him not even knowing what it consisted of. But shes'd also, in the end, reacted not much different from how Skizzix had. Bar being braver, more unyielding, she too was simply afraid because of what had just transpired.
Entering the tavern, he let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding as he saw it was mostly fine, only a few chairs having been pushed over, no customers at current, a slow time of the day, though more likely the few there might have been here were scared off due to the passing demon. He dashed out, before even a shocked Junior to the side could call out to him. The city was large, but he had to find her before something even worse happened.
A female form bolted across the darkened alleyways of Stormwind.
She moved at staggering speeds, having lost her pursuers, several guards, some time back. Taking a moment to rest, she huddled in a hidden corner.
Contemplating, uncertain of what to do, when...
"Um, hey there. I, uh, I know I-"
Recognition flashed in her eyes. She was already on her feet, spear raised and pointed at him, eliciting a startled yelp as he fell back.
The fear in his eyes from her less than friendly gesture was evident, yet he didn't seem to carry the intent of running. "W-Wait! I mean you no harm. I... I know that that's hard to believe considering everything. I know that we did something horrible to you, but... I want to help fix this however I can."
She simply stared at him. One of the people who had brought her here. Yet, he too was the one who obviously disrupted that binding spell, whatever it was.
She lowered her spear, though remained vigilant. "How did you find me?" Whether she meant her current position or as to when they'd pulled her away into wherever she was now, she wasn't sure.
"I, um, am still not too sure how my magic works, sort of, but I guess this was a kind of spell we recently discovered. It doesn't really have a name yet, and, at least I'm not really sure how it works either, but it kind of allows me to sense demons that are somewhat close around me."
Had that been how they'd first located her? No, that didn't matter right now. "Why... did you bring me here?" She had heard of warlocks, any demon had, yet the young man before her didn't seem to quite match the tales of them. Perhaps those with him earlier could have more fit that image she had, but he seemed different, from both them and any warlock's general depiction. She did sense a certain familiarity about him as well, however, it was something she couldn't quite place.
"I... We... I'm sorry. I know it would sound like some bad joke to say they weren't as bad as it seemed, that telling you there was bad blood between them and demons wouldn't excuse what they had done." It definitely wouldn't, but she believed she knew better than most how judgemental anyone could be, so she listened on.
"I don't even know how to explain this right. They... thought it was fine to control demons, that they were simply backstabbing them before being backstabbed themselves if they had dared to trust them. That had happened before, and they didn't want to risk trusting demons again." That was a weak argument, but she could at least understand where it came from.
"Then why did they bring me here?" That was something it hadn't explained, however. After all, it wasn't just that they summoned her, it was that he was the one before her. Accustomed to warlocks only as far as tales of them went, it didn't mean she couldn't figure out that he, being there with her in that strange magic circle, was likely the one meant to take control of her. The one whom had spoken his disagreement with exactly that.
"They didn't like - were worried that I feel it right to trust demons. I know it's hard to believe, that I didn't even realize, but they tried to get me to follow through with... that ritual. Maybe they thought it'd change my mind, and that I'd be safer. I... I couldn't agree with that. With what it- I'd have done to you or any other in your place."
"Weren't you afraid?" She asked, genuinely curiousity in her voice. "I just pushed you aside, but there was nothing that was stopping me there from just pulling out my weapon and cutting you down. Weren't you afraid that it would end up not too different from those other tales of my kind you said you had been told of?" She watched him carefully as she waited for his response.
"I... honestly didn't really think about that." Emerald eyes slightly widened at that response.
"Why? My kind, it's not just warlocks, you know how the world looks at us. You... Didn't you think I would be like all the rest?"
"I don't think that's right, at all. To judge someone on their race, or the actions of someone else. Humans also do bad things at times, but, I mean, we don't take any random human to be held accountable for another's actions." His words were so obvious, simple ones, a mere 'yes' being the unmistakable answer to them, yet she'd never heard any put it that way when speaking of her kind.
"Why... How would you help me? Can you send me back?"
"I don't know. But it's my fault this has happened to you, and I'll do what I can to make it right. I don't know how, but I'll search for a way to teleport you back. If I have to I'll even escort you there personally, however far it is!"
Those were grand declarations. She had heard such before. She'd come to know when others would put on an act, all to facilitate their gain. But with this man, it didn't feel such with him. There was something genuine about him. His words felt earnest. Like any other human, he didn't know her, but unlike them, he did not rush to proclaim he did. Once again a feeling of familiarity tugged at the back of her head.
"You understand that the latter is the most likely outcome, right? I don't know much about magic, neither do I know all of the corners of the world, or in which one I am now, so not just going back to where I was, however far it is from here, but we'll also have to wander and search for my home for who knows how long." Strangely, she didn't feel too disappointed at the scenario she'd just hypothesized. There were things to miss from her home, but... being able to be far from it, to escape it - albeit by these questionable means - wasn't that what she wished for?
"E-Even then, I'm the reason you're in this position to begin with. An Arc would... no, I would never accept not correcting this. As much as it is in my power, I will help you get back to your home. I give you my word on that, and an Arc never goes back on their word.
'Arc...' That name. Spoken of even in demonfolk's tales of old. That's what he reminded her of. "What's your name?"
"Ah! Um, my name is Jaune, Jaune Arc. Short, sw-nevermind, it's probably not the best time for that." She eyed him curiously for a moment, but put aside the awkwardness in his introduction. She wasn't the best at them either when trying to make them genuine. Rather, she thought over the name. It was almost like 'hers'. Jeanne Arc, it was. 'Was this man connected to that story of old?' and why did that seem to fill her with some form of hope, why did it push her to trust him?
They remained in silence for what felt like far longer than the few seconds it really was before she spoke anew. "I... don't think I'm very welcome in this city.", and she knew she wasn't, and shouldn't be by anyone, yet for some reason she couldn't help but want his words, this human before her's words to be true, to be able to trust them.
"I... Yes, I'm sorry. I can't quite say everyone here is too... welcoming." He shuffled awkwardly.
"I can understand where they'd come from. If I... What of you? If I accept your offer, it'll cost you much. You'll have to deal with me for far longer than you'd probably like, and you'd risk bringing the ire of your people for dealing with a demon. Are you truly fine with that?" She found herself more anxious over his answer than expected.
"As I said, I give you my word. I brought you into this mess, and I won't abandon you right after that. And... as I said, does it matter if you're a demon? You haven't done anything wrong. If anyone has a problem with you simply due to that, then they're in the wrong!" those words had come out with a lot more passion than the rest of his awkward exchange, something she couldn't help but feel reassured by, even slightly amused.
"A-Also, considering what I did, you shouldn't be apologizing for me having to deal with you." he turned his head away. "I should probably be the one apologizing for you dealing with me..." Blushing in embarrassment over the misfortunes he'd caused this girl who was the one apologizing to him.
'Wait, was he blushing?' She brough a finger to her lips as she contemplated for a moment, not even realizing when she'd dropped her gaurd and lowered her spear. 'When they would blush, it's said that it means they... Ah, right, it meant-'
"Ah! A-Ah, no, no, sorry! I didn't mean to imply anything indecent!"
"...Indecent? U-Um, so anyway..." Jaune quickly and masterfully turned the conversation away from its awkwardness. "It's probably not safe for you here, so maybe it'd be best if I took you home, there we could-" she heard no further than that, feeling heat creep up her face.
A succubus - and by extension, their male counterparts, the incubbus, had only one thing on their minds, most people would say. A prepostorous lie, obviously. Though some might've been better off instead asking in what way that supposed thing was on their mind. 'Ta-Take me to his home? But we just met, it's too fast, too indecent!' She inwardly cried her laments, unnoticing of the boy's cluelessness to her true current ordeals.
"Hey, are you alright...? Ah, sorry, I still haven't gotten your name. Um, but before that, you seem very flushed. Did you get hurt? We shou-" Ah, and he didn't even know her name yet. They were going too fast, far too fast! Humans were too quick to jump to these indecencies, just like in the tales she'd heard!
"I-I think the city's too dangerous, yes! It would be best I vacate the premise first, and we can discuss further outside its gates."
"Are you sure? I'm not sure how easy it would be to get out, and if you're feeling unwell, it would be all the worse."
Ehem," She took a moment to recompose herself. "I believe I can manage to maneuver outside. Is there a moat beyond your walls?"
"How vast would the village outside them be?"
"It's an immediate forest a couple of tenth meters after the walls. There are several villagers but they're quite a bit further away."
"So the natural forests and mountains allow for a safer foothold, I see. Then I think I have a plan, of sorts. If you can find me through that detection ability of yours, I think it would be best to meet up at the break of dawn some ways into this bordering forest." She said a bit too quickly.
"Well, all right." Not noticing the relief she showed at his agreement, he carried on."Then I'll go and see what I can find and be there at dawn, I promise." After that came a few moments of awkward silence, none really knowing where to go from there, and just as Jaune thought it perhaps right to give his goodbye and get a move on-
"My name. I'm sorry, I was very slow to give it."
"Ah, well, once again, my name's Jaune. And it's nice to meet you... though, with these circumstances..."
"No, Even with them, it is indeed nice to meet you, Jaune. I have had a... not too decent picture of humans painted before me, and while I am still unsure of it as a whole, meeting you, the first human I have ever met, has given me a different view to consider. I am genuinely glad to meet you, regardless of the circumstances." She smiled at him, an easy action for her, but rarely coming by genuine desire, yet she felt her lips turn to it so easily right now.
"I-I see. I'm also glad to meet you too, Pyrrha, despite the circumstances. And i promise I'll do all I can to fix this."
"I believe you," She straightened herself. "However, I think it's time we act now." After all, she couldn't let herself be careless for too long. "I'll make my way outside the gates. Do you have any map on hand? it could prove quite useful." The situation was urgent. She was in the middle of a human city, a large and powerful one, and was considered hostile.
"Ah, yes." Jaune shuffled through his pocket, finding it. He wasn't sure why he took the one Zardeth had given him when they'd first met. He tended to have it on hand, even though he knew well both the location of the Slaughtered Lamb and the city in its entirety. Perhaps he kept it for the phrase?
Taking a moment ,he showed her best as he could the key points she asked about.
"Then I'll meet you outside the walls, Jaune. Luck be with you."
"Ah, um, thanks. Good luck to you too, Pyrrha."
And so they parted, Jaune rushing back to the Slaughtered Lamb, deciding to trust in her abilities as he watched her form quickly dash out of the alleyways at a staggering speed. If it was just managing to escape, now with a map in hand too, he felt she would manage it.
"Was about four of em when she just rushed in here, and all of em just scrammed straight out. Bound to be at least one that just goes home and pretends nothing happened, and one who probably thinks he had too much to drink tonight. You know there's bound to also be one who reports this, though." Junior's tone was anything but his usual pleasant one, but the angered words weren't directed at anyone, just simple venting.
Or so Zardeth would've liked to believe. "i know, Junior, I know." But he could tell there was displeasure focused towards him, and he couldn't disagree with it.
"We still haven't found him..."
"I know!" Zardeth snapped. "I... I'm sorry. I'm worried about him too. That damn new ritual, we didn't know it would be this taxing! We can't even gather enough power to even use sense demons. It's pathetic, we just wandered aimlessly across the city like rodents across our tavern, to no damn avail!"
"Zardeth took notice of how Junior pulled away his drink. "That's probably for the better." He didn't protest.
"It's been a few hours now." Junior said forlornly. "Most of the warlocks have come back. I hope my girls come back soon too, otherwise I'll be leaving you to tend to the bar for the night and going out."
"If only I had thought Miltia how to detect demons, we'd be able to group up and follow her." Junior couldn't say he'd ever seen Zardeth like this before. He'd heard of how he'd been with Jarel, though he and the twins had arrived some time after his passing. Perhaps it was all adding up, he could only assume.
"Zardeth, while I disagree with what you did, and I won't say it's not your fault, I can understand what your intentions were."
"They were all wrong, I was a rash fool!"
"Likely, but we have to focus on what's important now. Jaune's still out there as far as we know, still safe, and the demon might've decided to hide away and not reveal itself jab in the middle of hostile territory."
"I know, and that's what worries me. We can't locate Jaune, but he can locate the demon. If he ends up in some isolated area with it... if he-"
"Um, hey. Did I hear my name by chance?"
"Jaune!" Both men exclaimed with obvious relief in their voices.
"Thank goodness you didn't confront the demon on your own!" Zardeth almost cheered, but a moment later, despite the relief on his face now, his mood plummeted much to what it was before.
"I-I... I'm sorry. What I did, how I endangered you-"
"Zardeth, please wait. I... I heard you both talk, and you've told me before, about your... experiences with demons. I... I can't say I'm not mad. I completely disagree with what you did. I am angry that you did it, and I'll probably be even more once I sit down to think it over. But... I understand you only meant well with it."
"It would be best if we try to fix this first, right? We made this mess, we have to then make sure things end right."
"No, this... It was my mistake."
"I also followed through with it. Besides, I, you- we're both in this now. And I'll do what I can, but I don't know if I can do this on my own. I'll need your help, Zardeth, please."
Zardeth took a moment to look at him, the boy- no, the man before him. When had he grown so much? His flaws were still there, he knew well those would not disappear in the snap of a finger, but the determination and drive he felt from him now. Perhaps he was always like that, and he'd just failed to even properly know who his disciple was. Regardless, he had failed as a teacher, and it was about time he acted to fix that.
"Alright. First, we'll need to track the demon down. Jaune, I know you can do that, but we've been left depleted of mana for our magic after the ritual. The demon is likely in hiding, so we can presume the city won't be in much danger immediately, but..." but what if someone fell victim to it? "No, we'll need to make sure we avoid any tragedies. We might be powerless in magic, but we can swing a sword or stick, and we have numbers. We'll make it work. We'll need to gather everyone, and you'll have to be the one to lead us. If you and Miltia can use some magic to support us when we find the demon, then-"
"Yes?" Zardeth was quick to bring his attention to Jaune. Communication was key right now.
"Well, that won't be necessary, actually." Jaune shuffled awkwardly.
"Well, I actually did confront her, the demon. Though it was more talk to her than anything, really."
"What?" He was shocked, but he reeled himself in. "And what happened?"
"Did you die?"
"It's no time for stupid jokes, Junior!" Zardeth roared, anger evident.
"Calm down. Speaking of it, notice Jaune's expression, will you?"
"You don't go being a bartender for ten years without learning to tell what people are feeling. There's urgency in his tone as well, but you can tell, he was calm as to the grievances of a loose demon you presented. I dare believe he may well have found a solution there."
"Ah, well, I actually did talk to her, as I said, and, well, it wasn't really that different from anyone else, really. We kind of found a mutual understanding."
"You... did?" Calling Zardeth's tone surprised would've been an understatement, though his face hardened a second later. "No, Jaune, we can't allow it to happen. For them to fool someone again. They can whisper sweet words to you, but they never feel any obligation to anyone but themselves. Believe me, I wish it was otherwise, but..."
"I... I understand it can be dangerous, but I trust her, Zardeth. I don't know if I can read people too well, probably not, but I still feel like it wasn't wrong to trust her. So please, trust in me."
"Jaune, I...I can't..." Zardeth seemed to struggle for words, though likely more than that.
"I..." Jaune took a deep breath, finally resolving himself. "I have tried what I could from the grimoire before. I told you already, but, I lied, Demon Skin wasn't the only spell I had ever managed to use from it. On an off shot, I had once managed to do a summoning, much like this one, most likely." He could see the surrpirse on both Zardeth and Junior's faces.
"I didn't know what it did before it was already over and too late, and I had summoned a demon, an imp." He noticed Zardeth visibly flinch at that. "But I saw he was afraid, more so than even me. It's a long story, but, I tried to talk to him, I didn't even know how to bind him to begin with, not that I ever would have, and in the end I decided to trust him. For years since then he's lived with us, with me, with my family and he... he's become part of it." Zardeth felt lost for words at that revelation, Junior not far off.
"I am probably too naive at times, and I do know there are demons which aren't good intentioned, but I know there are ones like you and me. Ones who don't just want to cause conflict, mayhem or worse. I know she could be either, and all I'm doing is choosing to trust her, but I feel it right to do so, just like at the time with that imp, Skizzix, who is as much an Arc in everything but name. So, please, Zardeth, trust me."
"It's never an easy choice," Junior began before Zardeth could. "but while you've trusted your students and allowed them to make wrong choices, you've done the same with their right ones. I know it's not easy, Zardeth, but I know you'll do what's right."
After a few moments, Zardeth closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. He then focused his gaze on Jaune again. "What did you talk of with her?"
Jaune's expression brightened, though he, too, didn't waste time and focused back on the issue at hand. "We talked for a while, but for the most part, we decided it best for her to leave the city as fast as possible. I gave her a map of it and she told me she would be able to make it out on her own. We agreed to meet at daybreak. I promised I'd find a way to get her back to her home. Do we have anything, any means to send demons back?"
"No," The answer was sadly instantaneous. "But there might be in your grimoire. You returned it to the library, I presume?"
"Well, that's fine. We already have a copy, and I've given you one partially deciphered one. I also have a second copy I had made, I'll get it in a moment and give it to you, it might give you some ideas, but we have yet to find any such spell that could make a path to wherever we call demons from, not from it. Wait here, I'll be back in a moment."
Jaune and Junior remained in the room as Zardeth rushed behind the counter and towards the coven.
"So, what do you intend to do if we can't find a way to send that demon back, Jaune?"
"...As I said, I promised I'd help her get back. If I have to I'll escort her there, even though we'll have to even search for it to begin with, but... I'll not go back on my promise."
"...I see. Just... watch your back, alright?"
"I will." Jaune nodded back, and tried to give him his best reassuring smile, despite his own concerns over the recent developments.
"Jaune, here." Zardeth called out as he came back with several tomes in his hands. "This is one of the two full copies. And this, this is my personal grimoire. I've only ever recorded what I already know in it, but it may be of aid. After all, if you can manage to summon on a fluke, then it's as good a bet as any."
"Then-" A loud gallop was heard from outside, and walking up to the door, Junior saw the one dismounting. "A guard." He grunted in annoyance and worry.
"Good evening," The man in question said, though the pleasantry of his words didn't match the hostility of his tone. "I've heard some rumors of this establishment of yours as of recent, and, while I don't mean to offend you by implying anything, I must inspect it to make sure there are no... issues as to whom you give haven to."
"Damn!" Zardeth cursed. "There were so few patrons, but still too many. And now a guard will be running an inspection we can't deny, and we've done nothing to conceal the coven's entrance!"
Jaune didn't need to be told what that meant. He had been told to keep under lock and key his warlock nature by his family ever since they'd found of it. After all, they'd enlightened him many a times as to what would happen to a warlock if discovered in the city. His thoughts jumped in a panicked dance as he tried to rationalize what to do.
"Jaune, I don't know how this'll go, but just act natural." Zardeth whispered to him. "You're an Arc, you can turn away the word of a simple soldier about yourself being involved. The others too, they can't be involved in this so easily when they don't live here. If all goes right, I might be even able to make it out that I threatened to harm the twins, forcing Junior into having him allow my coven, no, lair, to be situated here. Then, I'll be the only target of the city's ire."
Jaune found himself lacking in words. How had he decided that so fast, without any hesitation? It had reminded him of why he had come to respect and trust this man so fast. His means were wrong, but his intentions were always for the good of all of the residents here. It made his panic even greater at that thought of what would happen to him if he did as he had said.
Panicked, he thought and though, and then he thought on one particular point of his. 'Make it out as if I've threatened them.' he said? He focused mana in his hand, remembering one of the more simple spells he'd been thought. He still had difficulty with it despite that, but he could manage it, feeling his mana gather, whispering a short chant as it swirled into dark energy, far smaller than what it should have been, but lacking as it was, it was still a bolt of shadows, or as it was called, the Shadowbolt spell.
Zardeth hadn't noticed, his attention focused on Junior. "Sir, as I said, step out of the way, or I'll have to detain you!" The guard pushed in, and Jaune thought decisively. 'It's now or never."
"You are to tell no one!" He yelled, turning towards Zardeth who in turn turned to him, surprise all over his face. "Don't look at me with such a, uh... a flabbergasted expression! You are to tell no one of the spell I cast, do you hear me!" He shook the hand that held the Shadowbolt angrily, or so he hoped it looked as it threatened to disappate, already barely holding with his lacking control. "Just tell them you summoned it or something, but if I find out you, uh, ratted me out, I swear, I'll-" And then, pretending to have just noticed the guard, he turned to him and gave him his best surprised, and hopefully not desperate, expression he could give.
"Um, damn it, another witness!" He overreactedly yelled, but luckily, the guard's attention was on the ball of shadows in his hand rather than his lacking performance. "I can't let you tell others about this!" As he said that, he threw the bolt, off course as he could, but the guard didn't have time to see that, already having turned and running in a panic. A moment later, the bolt impacted the wall, and barely did anything to it, and one could also hear the horse gallop away with panicked yells of 'Yah!' and 'Get' riling it on in its pace.
"J-Jaune, what did you do?!"
"I-I don't know! I panicked, and, I mean, you were going to do something like that too, but I didn't feel it right, so... I panicked!" His words came out quick, almost jumbled, as he took full realization of what he'd just done.
"Jaune, this... this isn't good. I... I don't know. We need to think of something. Even with your family name, after that, it won't go unnoticed."
He had realized that... now. What could happen to his family? And if they found Skizzix? He dared not think how bad it could get from there.
The next few minutes were spent in debates before it was decided, Zardeth and Jaune would both leave for his home, the Arc manor. There were problems to be solved, and they were a plenty.
Jaune was currently at home, on a rather large circular table, around it himself, his parents, Skizzix and Zardeth.
Telling them of his recent apprenticeship had come about as not too bad, and after something like Skizzix whom had been introduced to the family years ago, this probably was left quite a bit more devoid in its surprise factor.
The ritual that Zardeth forced on Jaune, however, was not so well accepted. Zardeth had been open about it, not trying to play innocent, and willing to accept any well deserved wrath, and it might have indeed ended such if Jaune hadn't barely managed to diffuse the situation.
Skizzix himself had been more trusting than not of Zardeth with the first revelation, or more so trusting in Jaune, but had also become guarded and nervous after the second. And then there was Jaune's impromptu performance.
The situation had degenerated a lot after, but the sheer urgency of the matter allowed them to be civil enough for them all to try and reason, and find the best approach.
Zardeth was ready to take the blame. Show his powers publicly and turn himself in. Pass off Jaune as having been some illusionary trick of his, or the guard having recollected wrong in the panic of Zardeth 'threatening Jaune'. Jaune couldn't accept that, however.
Zardeth's sacrifice was not something he felt like agreeing to, hypocritical as it was. And not just because he'd come to be involved in what led up to it. He didn't want this man, his teacher, to die.
He'd even still be observed for some time, most likely. Would he be able to meet with Pyrrha then, or help her in any way? He'd given her his word.
And he'd thought over how he could also endanger his family, Skizzix included. No, there was one way he could think of, and no one would've liked it, but it was all he had.
"I know it sounds crazy, but if you exile me and I leave, before they could even react since it'll take a bit of time since I'm an Arc, we could make it look like I defected. That way no one will be in danger."
"How can you say that?!" His mother disagreed. "Do you realize you'll not only be left on your own, but you'll also become a wanted man?"
"I mean, I'll be with Pyrrha, and it's not like I haven't thought of being an adventurer a lot of times, you know, haha," He awkwardly scratched the back of his head. "And I'd have had to have left since we'd be trying to find her home anyway, so it's practically the same. Sort of."
"Son," His father then spoke, tone steady. "Your humor is misplaced. Do you even realize what you're saying?" His father was emotional, easy to anger, so when he reached a point at which he went full circle and back to this calm demeanor, it felt far more terrifying than any rage he'd spoken out.
"I think you don't."
"No, Dad, Mom, I really do. I... I know that however I put it, this is... I can't even put it in words. But... We all know it, that Zardeth will be executed if something isn't done."
"And this is the thing that needs to be done?"
"I don't know, but it's all I can - could think of. I can feel the weight of this choice, and even then, you're probably right, I still can't comprehend how much heavier it is than I'm imagining. But..."
"You realize, this isn't just going to hurt you, right? Your teacher here and the other warlocks you get along with, and us, your family, do you not think of how we'd feel towards your pain?"
"I do... Believe me, I do. I... I thought it over and over, trying to find other ways, but this is all that comes to me."
"And what of if you went? if we put aside the loneliness and whether we'd even be able to see you again?" His mother, less emotion held back, said. "When people come to hunt you since you're considered a criminal, a dangerous convict?"
Jaune found it difficult to hold his gaze with his parents, but he couldn't relent here. "I understand, but I thought about that. If you were to openly exile me, but call in a favor. I know it sounds questionable, but they'd understand you just want one of the family to be safe so people won't think over it much. And considering we're held in high esteem, they might be willing to just allow me to be exiled and not chase after me anymore. I know I'd still not be allowed here anymore, but that would fix it-"
"Fix it how? You'll never be able to return to your home!"
The room remained silent after the outburst, suffocatingly so, before Jaune's mother continued. "Jaune, you realize, even if a lot of the Arcs down the line, even myself included, have gone adventuring as it's called, you're not just going out to become some freelancer. You're getting exiled. This... it's not right..."
"...I know... Mom, Dad, believe me, I know this isn't good, but it's the best I can manage."
"We all make our mistakes, Son, and have to live with them. Are you fine with it, with willingly making this one?"
"Dear, what are you saying? You can't tell me that you'll accept this."
"I don't like it either, darling, but I understand why he does it. It won't make it any less of a mistake, but those are what we grow from. Our eldest also grew from her own to become who she is now. I was happy Jaune tried to take after her as often as he did, I just wish he didn't go as far as her too."
His mother''s expression betrayed her discontent, but the steel behind her eyes was also easy to see. "Are you truly resolved with this choice, with this mistake you're going to intentionally make?"
"I-I'm sorry... Yes, I am."
"Then you will make one more promise too." Her tone became gentler as she said that. "That you will also find a way to fix this which you will do now. That you'll come back to us again, Jaune. Please."
"I promise," He felt tears sting the edge of his eyes. "I don't know how, but I promise, I'll come home again. Arc's word."
"Good," His mother had already come up to and wrapped her arms around him, neither being able hold back their tears anymore. "If any Arc promise is to never be broken, it's this one, you hear?"
She then looked him in the eyes. "And I promise you, we shall make it so that the kingdom won't dare raise an an arm against you as long as you show it no hostilities."
They both felt another embrace as Jaune's father joined them.
"Jaune, I don't know this demo-this girl, but since you trust her, I'll decide to do so too, but never stop watching your back."
"I promise, I'll take care of myself. After all, I said I'd return, right?"
"Don't try and be cheeky with me now." His mother wiped away a tear. "You'll ruin the moment. And also, always remember your flaws. The strong are such not because they don't have any, but because they know them and act against them. You'll effectively be a freelancer out there, and the world is no fairy tale, so don't ever drop your guard down or forget your limits, am I understood?"
"Yes." His answer was resolute, and he tried to give them the best smile he could.
Things carried on more lightheartedly from there. Even Skizzix tried to speak with Zardeth for what it was worth, despite his obvious nervousness. Speaking of, his parents would probably have a lot more words for Zardeth, though those would likely be held off for after Jaune left in the morning, but at least Zardeth'd be alive then.
It got more hectic once his sisters arrived and explanations began anew, but eventually, it had turned to them deciding to spend what time they had, despite the late hours of the night, for when next they'd be able to do so again, none of them could tell. The only pity was that not all of his sisters were there, sadly, his eldest having left from her visit a week prior.
Zardeth left earlier as well, having to gather the warlocks. Jaune was not sure if he'd be able to give them a proper farewell as well, so he'd asked Zardeth at least do so in his place.
Jaune had made his choice. He knew it was a wrong choice in several ways, but it was the right one for him, or at least the most right one he could find. After all, just because it's a wrong answer doesn't mean it can't be the right one.
The time of sunrise was nearing, and Jaune strode forward.
Sadly, there would be no time to say goodbye to all at the coven. Even now, as he gazed out the windows, he could see faint glimmers of light.
And as he walked down the corridors, he stopped before one familiar face.
"Hey." He said.
"Hey." Skizzix echoed.
"...Sorry. I should've told you about it earlier. I should've told them about you too. If I had, this all might've not happened. Instead, I'm here, leaving on such short notice. I guess... I couldn't keep my promise to you... I'm sorry..."
"...No. Here, thanks to you, I found something I never had. Never thought I would. You promised you'd help my find my home, Jaune, and thanks to you, I did. You gave me this. You gave me a home and a family. Thank you, for keeping that promise, for giving Skizzix a family. For being my family. Thank you."
"I know I'm weak. That's why you don't want me to come with you."
"N-No, you're no-"
"No, I am. We both know it. I can wield a weapon better than most imps, but that's hardly saying anything, and my magic is all but lacking. I... I'll still try to grow stronger, though. So Skizzix can properly greet you and stand proudly when you come back." He knelt down before him and bowed his head.
"Jaune, you are my truest friend, and know that to me, you bring pride to your family's name. You are the kindest person I've met, and I know you'll become strong one day. By that day, I promise you this, I'll be a vassal you can be proud of, that can follow you on your next journey."
Jaune felt a few tears trickle, and he'd thought he was done with those last night. "Arc's word?" He asked.
"Arc's word." Skizzix nodded proudly.
"Thank you too, Skizzix. I'm also glad to have met you, and await that day impatiently too."
"Then, as my final task for a while, I'll report an ambush waiting for you, your family won't let you get past the front door unnoticed." Jaune laughed at that. Expected it too.
They bid their goodbyes and just as he was informed, he was surrounded before he could take his last step. It seems there were some more tears of departure to be shed.
Getting past the gates didn't take too much effort. Most of it was on the rather large supply pack he carried at his back. Good thing he at least had some decent strength, if lack of skill to properly utilize it past being a pack mule. It was too early still, not in time of day but in time passed since the grand show he'd put on. For someone of his name, it'd take time to react against him.
And if all went well, he'd be an exile, not a convict. Not much better, and he'd probably be best staying his distance from the kingdom for now, but it was still the lesser of two evils. Some ways further into the forest he once again nervously checked over his things, worried he'd forgotten something important, but all was there, from supplies to all his warlock books, his copy of the grimoire, the partially deciphered one, and Zardeth's own personal one. They'd have to do, and if worst came to worst, they were already traveling, so they had to be able to find Pyrrha's home at some point, right?
Thinking of, he invoked the demon sensing spell, or just invoked Sense Demons as he'd decided to so creatively call it.
She was near, he could feel, now knowing where to go. He wasted no time.
After all, he'd made a number of quite large promises, and he most definitely intended to keep all of them.
Just on a small important note - why isn't this in crossovers? Well, to keep it short, this will make use of Warcraft's extensive world more as a tool. Some things such as concepts may be slightly bent to repurpose them, but as a whole it will be a tool before all else. While I could change the names and try and pass it on as a fantasy AU of my own design, I'd rather give it proper credit where it's due.
This will not require any knowledge of Warcraft's world, as non-RWBY concepts will be introduced as new, and the world will be bent to the point of being an AU of Wacraft's world as well, not just RWBY's. In short, it's a RWBY fantasy AU focused on RWBYverse characters, where I'll be using some foreign franchise help to patch up any holes in my world building.
That's bout it really.
These first five chapters will be the prologues, all happening at about the same time chronologically.
Well, this was Red and Yellow trailer, I guess? Care to presume which comes next? Er, not that you can't just check by moving on the the next chapter, of course... eh, I'm just babbling at this point, so off to the tidbits.
Skizzix - I based him on an imp who had become a barbarian from one of my favorite childhood games, Heroes of Might and Magic. Well, his character was vastly different, but the base inspiration is still from there.
Here's a fun drinking game, ctrl+F and take a swig every time you read 'Skizzix'. Seriously, his name was mentioned, like, 63 times in total.
Hope you enjoyed!