Author's Note: This story has nothing to do with the Monster Rancher Anime, but focuses more on the aspects of Monster Rancher 2, the game. Although I did get the general idea for this after reading Richard Ryley's The Experiment, it should not mimic his story in any direct way (It is the first-person account of a female stable hand named Dani, not a monster). Any comments, or constructive criticism J, of this story would be greatly appreciated.
Dark Orchid (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The sun was just rising over the bronze peaks to the east while I made my way to the stables to do my chores. I had never been forced to get up that early in my youth, but after the few months of working at the monster ranch on the edge of town, I had gotten to like the quiet mornings in the barn with the monsters. The other stable hands did not usually join me in cleaning the stalls until the sun was much higher in the sky, so for a few hours I had time to ponder all the things that teenage girls think about.
As I entered the first barn, I heard hushed whispers from a few of the stalls. This was the Baby barn, for young monsters that were under six months old and just beginning their training. Often when I tiptoed in a few would be awake, talking excitedly, but quietly, to each other about what drills they would be assigned to that day or whether or not they might be lucky enough to be sent on an errantry soon.
I ignored the whispers as I passed the occupied stalls and entered the storage room. The usual shovel, pitchfork, and wheelbarrow awaited me there, calling me to my duty. I would wake the little ones and let them out before I began cleaning.
The owners of the ranch, Mr. and Mrs. Giginham, had warned me when I had started to not play favorites with the monsters, especially the babies, but it was difficult not to. The ranch was a small commercial operation, with probably one hundred or so monsters on the premises. There was almost every type of monster residing and training there, more than I had seen in my entire seventeen years.
When I was younger, I had lived on a small farm with my parents, my sister Delphine, and three monsters: a Mustardy (Zuum/Suezo) named Sunny, a Leaf Hare (Hare/Plant) named Daisy, and a Worm (Worm/Worm) named Crawler. Sunny was young, indifferent and noisy, an acquisition that my parents had made without checking out the monster's nature and statistics first. I had always been a little afraid of him, and because of that he was chained in the barn like a dog at night. My father used him to pull the cart into town. Daisy was quite the opposite of Sunny. She was older, more mature, and helped my mother around the house. She had been a playmate for my sister and I when we were little. Crawler was always out in the fields with my father, and he was an excellent worker, never tiring despite the fact that he was very old, older than most monsters around. My parents had gotten him from a ranch similar to the one I was on that very morning, and he had been treated well enough to live his life span to the fullest.
And so, having grown up without the exposure to the different monster types that the others on the ranch had had, I was fascinated with all the varieties. They housed monsters according to their ages at the ranch, so in each barn there was an assortment of types. I had yet to see, however, any Ghosts, Undines, Jells, Mocks, Plants, Monols, or Apes. For some reason the ranch did not raise, or ever intend to raise, any of these breeds. From what I had heard, none were fast, powerful, or intelligent enough by the owner's standards to make the ranch money, and that's what everything on the ranch was about: money.
Opening one of the stall doors, I spotted a baby ColorPandora (ColorPandora/ColorPandora) curled up in a pile of hay.
"Come on, get up sleepyhead," I said, laughing as I did. The ColorPandora opened one eye and glared at me sleepily.
"Oh please let us sleep a little longer Dani, it's just barely light out," he moaned in his sweet little voice, still eyeing me hopefully.
"I'm sorry Caterpillar, but the whole barn needs to get up. I need to clean your stalls."
"How come you can't clean the older monster's stalls first?" asked a small voice from behind me. I turned to see a baby Edgehog (Naga/Hare) in the doorway along with a half-grown Oscerot (Dragon/Kato).
"Because, darlings, the elder monsters need to rest. They have nowhere near the energy that you guys have!" I chuckled, "Now, go ahead." I motioned for them to head outside.
"Can I help you?" rasped the Oscerot, who's voice was becoming the deep snarl of an adult dragon.
"Of course, you can Teeka, I'm sure you'll be a lot of help."
"Don't forget me!" squealed the Edgehog, doing a flip not uncommon to his breed and slithering over.
"Okay Hithi, why don't you help get everyone up." I smiled at them, and they immediately got to work.
In no time all the baby monsters were playing outside on the dew covered grass in front of the stable, and I and my two helpers had the entire stable clean. I thanked them and moved on to the next barn.
The barn to the left was referred to as the Metamorphosis Barn. For monsters from six months to a year old, it was where most of the monsters lived while they went through puberty. I noted in my head to warn Mr. Giginham of Teeka's voice change so she could be moved to the proper barn as I entered to find the majority of the monsters already up.
Most of them greeted me in remembrance from their days in the Baby barn, but some didn't even give me a passing glance. In this stage, they were considered teenagers, and some of them, especially the young Pixies and Suezos, were very moody. I returned any greetings I received, but did not attempt to make conversation as I pushed the wheelbarrow into the first stall. I flung up all the old hay into the wheelbarrow and laid down some clean cedar shavings to make the odor better before I moved on to the next.
I was almost to the end of the barn when the breakfast bell rang out. It was 6:30 sharp, the time when all the monsters were fed in large corrals according to age. I peeked out the window and could see monsters appearing from the six other barns in hopes for a good breakfast. How disappointed they would be, I thought, as I moved into the last stall. This month everyone would get Tablets for breakfast and lunch, no substitutions permitted, except for the little ones. They got Milk or Fish for every meal until they moved onto the next barn, and then they had to eat what everyone else did.
I was listening to my own stomach growling when I noticed that there was still an occupant in the stall. It was a Pixie I had not seen before, who was white in the face and was clutching her stomach. She looked to be about a year old, and from her appearance she was a Jilt (Pixie/Wracky). Her pants were torn, however, and her top hat lay on the ground seemingly squashed.
"Are you alright?" I asked, concerned that she had been beaten up by another monster. My answer came in a convulsive gag, and the remains of some unrecognizable type of food spewing from her mouth to land in the dirty hay that lined the floor.
Instinctively I backed up, my eyebrows raised, in case her stomach turned again. Breathing hard, she clutched her chest and closed her eyes.
"I guess not," I muttered, walking over to her and kneeling at her side. "What have you been eating?"
"Berries, from the garden…" she started, then her face paled again. I dodged away quickly, expecting her to throw up again, but she gulped down some more air and her color returned.
"I'm sorry," she murmured, swallowing hard and wiping the sweat from her brow, "I made a bigger mess…I'll help you clean it up." She started to stand, but her eyes rolled back in her head before she stood erect and she fell back to a sitting position.
"No, I need to get you to the doctor. I don't know what you ate, but I'm guessing whatever it was wasn't very healthy." I threw her arm around my shoulder and helped her up. Smiling slightly, she walked slowly alongside me, my weight supporting hers, out of the barn. As she walked, I noticed she limped slightly, and wondered if she had really gotten sick because of some bad berries.
Turning the corner, around the barn, we headed towards the infirmary. It was a white building in front of the five windmills on the property, and the upstairs was where the male stable hands had their living quarters. Being the only female worker, Mrs. Giginham had insisted that I have my room away from the men, so my place was in the loft above the Eight Years Plus stable. With only one monster there, an old Hare Hound (Tiger/Hare) named Tyun, it was much undisturbed.
I opened the door and the Jilt walked in on her own, right over to the examining table. She pushed her self up to sit on it with her hands, and looked around familiarly.
"I take it this has happened before…" I said warily, curious whether or not my assumption about a brawl was correct.
"Oh yes…I'm kind of accident prone," she shrugged, smiling sheepishly.
"And forgetful," came a familiar voice from the doorway, "I told you Kadi, those berries are there in case one of you swallows something dangerous and we need you to get it out of your system! Not to munch on as an after breakfast snack." It was the resident monster specialist, a good-looking young man of about 25 that the Giginhams had hired only a few months before.
"And hello to you too, Dr. Jeff," growled the Pixie sub-breed, rolling her eyes.
"Ah Dani, thank you for bringing her in," he said, acknowledging my presence while ignoring Kadi's comment, "She's a newcomer like me, and sometimes we newcomers need to try things a few times before we can get it through our heads that it's wrong, hmmm?" he asked, turning to the Jilt, who was trying to look innocent.
"But they looked so good," she moaned, rubbing her bare stomach. Her tone, however, was not as playful as it had been a second before.
"I bet they didn't taste too good," Jeff laughed. He smiled as he moved the Pixie's hand away from her stomach, but the smile quickly turned into a frown. He knelt down and pulled up the edge of her white belly shirt a little bit to reveal a long scratch, just starting to scab over.
"What is this?" he asked, looking from her to me, and back to Kadi again.
"Well, it was just… well, it was Carma. I got in his way last night and he scratched me…I guess I deserved it."
I perked up my ears at this. Carma was a Tainted Cat (Kato/Joker), and judging from the gossip I had acquired from the other workers, he had been trouble since the day he was brought back from the shrine. His history included injuring several monsters on the ranch intentionally, and even burning down a barn with a few older monsters still inside in a fit of rage. The only reason I assumed that they kept him on the ranch was his excellent battle record: he had never lost a fight, and he was only three years old. His current rank was B, but I had heard talk of entering him in the Official A Class Tournament at the end of the month and surprising everyone. I had seen his stat sheet before, and it was amazing. Nevertheless, his attitude was way out of line, and I could never see myself putting up with a monster like him if I ever owned my own ranch.
"Again!" swore Jeff, slamming his fist down on the examining table, "What did you do to deserve it?"
"I…I bumped into Slasher, on the way to my stall." Slasher was a purebred Kato, and Carma's little stooge that obeyed his every whim. "He hit me and knocked me down, and Carma scratched me hard on my stomach and my leg. They even ruined my hat, after I apologized and everything! I ate the berries after, thinking it would take the pain away, but I forgot they were the bad kind…" Kadi was on the verge of tears.
"It's okay. You didn't deserve this Kadi, no one deserves to be treated like that," I said, putting my gloved hand on her shoulder.
"Thanks. And thanks for helping me," she smiled. Her eyes were still watering, but she looked better.
"You're welcome. I'll leave this to you Jeff…unless you think I should report this to Mr. and Mrs. Giginham…" I watched him apply antiseptic to the wound, and awaited a reply.
"It won't do any good," he said finally, "All they care about is the money that pain in the ass is making them."
"Alright, if you're sure…"
"I'm sure. If anything is going to be done about it, Mr. Giginham will have to do it himself." Jeff turned back to tending Kadi's scratches, and I turned to the door and exited the infirmary more educated than I had been a few minutes ago. I finished the Metamorphosis Barn easily and moved on to the One to Two Years Barn. There you could find most of the E and D class monsters, and three more of my favorites. Three Pixies shared a stall there, and they had been my friends since I had arrived a few months before.
Kitha was an Allure (Pixie/Naga), entirely purple with a jealous streak and a temper to match. Her Naga blood, however, did not prevail in a way to make her violent and battle loving. She preferred to help the other Pixies with their training and thought of herself at a fitness fanatic.
Sooki was a Snowy (Pixie/Jill), and she was kind, caring, and gentle. She spent most of her time with the little ones, helping them with their training and in the Metamorphosis barn, listening to all the adolescent monster's problems.
Misha was a Janne (Pixie/Durahan), a true fighter and an excellent swordsman. She loved battle and preferred power techniques to intelligence ones, and despite her small size, she was almost ready to enter the Official C Class Tournament and win. Her upbeat attitude always cheered me up, and at that time, I needed some cheering up.
"There you are Dani!" shrieked Misha, flapping effortlessly over when I entered the large box stall the three of them shared. Her silver armor glinted in the sunlight from the single window, and she had a familiar twinkle in her eye that meant she and the others had stumbled onto some gossip.
"We've been waiting all night and all morning to spill the beans, come and sit down!" cried Kitha, moving over slightly and making a spot in their triangle for one more.
"Yes…this is something I think you'll be interested in…" said Sooki quietly, glancing up quickly from the book she was reading.
"Oh dear. Do I really want to know?" I asked jokingly, knowing whether I wanted to hear it or not the trio would tell me anyways.
"Oh believe me," said Misha mischievously, "You have got to hear this."
"Okay, go ahead," I said, sitting down and discarding my work gloves for a few minutes.
"Tuesday nights, as you know, after the last drill session at 6:00, we and the other Pixies of the ranch always get together and talk about the latest news and happenings, etc.," started Kitha.
"And we haven't associated with that group from the Two to Three Years barn since Dolly moved over there six months ago," continued Misha.
"Well, last night they came over to us while we were talking with Leilia and the newbie, that Jilt…hmmm…I forget her name…Macy or something like that…" pondered Sooki, joining in the story. Leilia was the friendly Night Flyer that lived in the Three to Four Years Barn, and by the Jilt, Sooki had to have meant the same one that I had encountered that morning.
"Kadi?" I asked, and received nods from all three.
"Yes, that was it!" exclaimed Misha, clapping her hands. "Oh, anyways, we were going on about the Official Tournaments at the end of the month and suddenly Swift Jewel's name came up."
I shuddered. Swift Jewel was a Metal Glory (Durahan/Metalner) that lived in the Two to Three Years Barn. His armor was extremely handsome, but his personality was awful. He and his buddies, three more Durahan sub-breeds: a purebred, a Garuda (Durahan/Phoenix), and a Ruby Knight (Durahan/???); all hung out with Carma and Slasher, and a few more of the more corrupted monsters on the ranch. Whenever I cleaned the stalls, he and the other Durahans always seemed to be around, watching me, lurking in the shadows. They all made me extremely nervous.
"Are you alright? Dani?" Sooki's question jolted me out of my thoughts, and I nodded and motioned them to continue.
"He's an A class monster, you know, and he's only 3, and well, Dolly and the others have been trying to snag him for awhile…" Kitha's eyes were flittering with excitement.
"Snag him?" I questioned, wondering if they were talking about what I thought.
"You know. Snag him. Hook up with him. Have him as a lover." Misha looked at me quizzically, her blue eyes piercing my face as if she wondered if I was only making myself sound stupid to protect my innocence. I knew very well what she had meant. I just wasn't ready to admit it.
"Uh huh. Yeah. Well that's great. Good luck to them. What does any of this have to do with me?"
"They were all in a tizzy!" giggled Kitha. "They were complaining to us that they overheard the Durahans talking amongst themselves. They assured us it was purely accidental, but they were probably eavesdropping, the little witches!"
"What did they hear?" I asked, afraid to know, but scared not to find out.
"Only that they could never have a chance with the likes of him. He's got his eye on someone else, someone better than any of them anyways," said Sooki.
"Is it one of you?"
"No silly, though it would have been nice," laughed Misha, "The lady he's pining away for darling, is you!"
My stomach must have turned over about a million times in the next few seconds. I started to sweat nervously, and my heart began to race. A monster- infatuated with me! I wanted to laugh, cry, and scream all at the same time, but I didn't have a chance.
"They said that he said that he thinks you are a very beautiful creature, and being human makes you even more attractive. Isn't that wonderful!" Misha smiled, obviously hoping I was happy with their news. I smiled back; secretly feeling how I knew Kadi had looked that morning when I had found her.
"I have to go," I muttered, causing all three to frown simultaneously, "I'm going to get in trouble if I don't have the first five barns done before noon." Slipping my gloves back on, I got up and moved to the door. I could see Kitha looking concernedly at Misha out of the corner of my eye as I stepped to the door, and I felt Sooki's gentle touch as she laid her hand softly on my shoulder.
"Are you alright Dani?" she asked in a whisper, "Did we say something to upset you?"
"No. Not at all. I…I'm just late. I have to keep cleaning. I'll come back and get your stall when I'm done the rest of the barn."
"Okay," she said, but I could tell that she knew it was not okay. I grabbed the wheelbarrow and my other equipment, and moved on to the next empty stall.
It took me about an hour to finish the One to Two Years barn, and by the time I doubled back to Misha, Kitha, and Sooki's stall, they were out in the training area for their first drill sessions. Then I moved on to the Two to Three Year Barn. I could feel myself trembling as I entered the first stall. I knew that the Durahans, Carma, and Slasher were most likely off in the training ring as they were some of the most prized monsters on the ranch, but my nerves kept me shaking for the hour and a half it took me to finish the barn. When I finally started on the Three to Four Years barn, it was already almost noon. Luckily, this age group had only seven occupants, four of which doubled up on sleeping quarters. The five stalls took me only a ten minutes to clean, as Exaltus, the old Shell Saurian (Zuum/Worm), was a neat freak and always did half my work for me anyways.
"With this luck I can be done all my mucking before noon and I can relax for the rest of the day," I thought to myself as I made my way to the last three barns. These were all smaller than the rest, and together, from ages four and up, these three barns held only 10 monsters. I didn't have to worry about Tyun's stall in the barn I shared with her, because she always cleaned it herself with a Blizzard, blowing all the contents into a neat pile for me to pick up on my way through.
I stopped in the Four to Five Years barn to chat with Caltrax, the Ragnoroks (Dragon/Monol) that had befriended me almost immediately upon my arrival, but he was out training. He was older than most of the Dragons on the ranch, but still in prime condition. The Dragon had beaten the Major 4 and Most, and was currently training to go through the Major Four again this year for the second time. He was a good money maker, and so held a place in the hearts of the Giginhams.
By 12:30 I was all done, and the other ranch hands had started to show up. They had already eaten their lunches, and now it was their turn to do some cleaning. Mostly all of the men did the corral cleanup and yard work, but some were certified to work with the monsters in the training area. I had not yet earned my assistant's certificate, so I could only stand and watch, and sometimes help with the mechanisms of the drill, as the monsters leapt, dove, flew, and crawled through the obstacle courses.
I strolled up to the main house. Mr. and Mrs. Giginham had a fine mansion, and always invited all the handlers in for lunch everyday. They had plenty of help in the kitchen and around the house, mostly Hares and Hoppers, that gladly did the chores for them to get out of training.
The dining room was usually clean and elegant at lunch, but I could tell by the disheveled tablecloth and dirty dishes covering it that I would have to go into the kitchen to get my food.
"Oh hello Dani, we've saved a dish for yah," greeted a cute little Pink Hopper (Hopper/Mocchi), whose name was Jumper.
"Thanks Jumper, I think I'll take it back to my room."
"Okey dokey!" he said, handing me a plate of buttered mash potatoes, which were something of a staple at the ranch, a few nice slices of ham, a steaming biscuit, and a glass of milk. I thanked him and walked back to my quarters.
My loft above the stable was roomy, but very cozy. I had a small bed, a chest of drawers, and a nice kerosene lamp on a nightstand, a little table with two chairs, and a potbellied stove in the corner for those cold winter nights. There were three large windows that let in plenty of light and fresh air, and I could close the door and drown out all the noise from the ranch.
When I had first come to the Giginhams, after my parents had died, the noise had kept me up at night and given me severe headaches. There was so much going on, so much more than where I had grown up. There were trainers shouting at monsters, monsters making all kinds of noises and talking besides, and machinery churning nonstop. I had hated the noise, dreaded it as if it would end me because I thought every day that if I had to deal with it one more day, I would go insane. Eventually, though, I got over it and learned to cherish the time I had in my room to myself and the early morning silence in the stables with the sleeping monsters.
I was in the middle of swallowing the last swig of milk from my glass when there was a knock at my door. I finished swallowing, then got up and went to the door. Opening it revealed George, one of the older ranch hands.
"Staff meeting, in the day room, at 1:00," he stated simply, then turned to go. I smiled to myself as I watched him go down the ladder and out the barn. George had never managed to say much to me, and I wondered to myself if he ever said much to anybody.
The meeting was probably to review the list of monsters going to the Official Tournaments at the end of the month. I picked up my dishes, planning to return them on my way, and set off.
When I arrived in the day room, a large room made of mostly windows where the Giginhams held socials and staff meetings, everyone was already seated. After a few minutes of mindless chitchat with my neighbor about the chores that morning, Mr. and Mrs. Giginham appeared. They were both middle-aged, with graying hair, and slightly overweight. Mrs. Giginham was always fluttering an old oriental fan around when she talked, even during the winter, and Mr. Giginham snorted horrifically when he laughed at his own jokes. They did, however, know a lot about raising monsters, and I had to respect them for that.
"Ahem. Shall we begin?" asked Mr. Giginham from his place at the front of the room, in the hoighty-toighty voice that he always used to address people below himself.
"The first thing on the agenda is this: the list of monsters attending the Tournament at the end of the month. Feed these monsters Tablet every day for breakfast, dinner, and supper, and feed them Mint Leafs every night before they retire. From E Class…"
I wasn't surprised as he rattled off the names to hear Teeka's and Hithi's in the E ranks. Both were progressing incredibly fast in their growth and training, and would most likely have a good showing. In D, I heard Kadi's, the Jilt, and in C, I heard all three Pixies. For B, Slasher was the only familiar name, and I wasn't surprised when I heard the A entries that Carma and three of the Durahans were among them. Swift Jewel, of course, was entered in S.
"Moving on to the next matter," continued Mr. Giginham, smiling, "I have a little joke I don't think I've told you…" Groans came from all over the room but he proceeded, snorting all the way. I could help but giggle as he let out a final snort and became suddenly all serious again.
"Okay. Next, we have a mystery disc shipment that needs to be brought to town and unlocked tomorrow. I need three men for the job, as there are approximately fifty discs." I heard the emphasis on the word men, but I raised my hand anyways when he asked for volunteers.
"Ah yes, George, ummm…I think that Dr. Jeff should go… and oh Dani, I see you would like to go…" he said, eyeing me suspiciously.
"Yes, I would sir, I haven't been to town in awhile." I stated calmly.
"Alright, if you think you can handle it. That's that. Next order of business. Tomorrow I need six trainers for the S class monster scrimmage in the arena ring…"
I only half tuned in to the rest of the orders. They were only about feeding the monsters properly anyways, and I wasn't one of the dieticians. Finally, he dismissed everyone, except for George, Jeff, and I.
"Now, I have a list for you here of what I want kept out of the monsters you unlock tomorrow." He handed it to George, who in turn, after skimming it, handed it to Jeff.
"I expect all the extra monsters to be separated from the keepers and sold at the marketplace- it shouldn't take long if there aren't that many. Then you will come back here and situate the keepers with older stallmates to show them the ropes. Is this clear?"
"Yes, sir. May I suggest something?" I said, remembering Teeka.
"The young Oscerot, Teeka, has a changing voice. I assume she is around six months old, so I think you should have her moved to the Metamorphosis Barn."
"Very well. It will be done in the morning. That is all. Good day." Mr. Giginham nodded and watched as the three of us left the room and the house.
George immediately parted and headed for the stables. Jeff lingered beside me and handed me the list. I read it carefully.
"As usual, no Mocks, Plants, Ghosts, Monols, Undines, Jells, or Apes. But what about no Pixies and Tigers? Or Zuums?"
"He told me the other day that there are currently 10 Pixies, 8 Tigers, and 7 Zuums on the ranch. He said he preferred that there be more variety, and to keep only 5 of one monster at a time." Jeff shrugged his shoulders. "I don't see what the problem is. Pixies, Tigers, and Zuums are three of the most easily trained monsters in my opinion, and they are all pretty powerful. I think he has been hoping to get something more with Joker blood, like Carma. More money that way, you know."
"Was Kadi all right?" I asked concernedly, remembering her name in the D class entries to the Official Tournament.
"Oh yeah. The scratches weren't deep, and I found another hat for her to wear. She's actually quite a contender, according to her stat sheet. I think she's just too passive."
"Isn't that uncommon for Pixies?" I asked, then laughed, "Oh yeah, I forgot about Sooki."
"Yeah, it isn't too uncommon for Pixies, but it is really uncommon for Jilts. I'm just wondering whether she was abused at the ranch we got her from." Jeff frowned, then turned to go.
"I'll leave the list with you. I trust you with it." He gave a quick half smile, and headed off to the infirmary.
The rest of my day was spent helping in the training arena and feeding the monsters supper, and I had little time to relax. I tried to avoid Swift Jewel and the Durahans as much as I could, but as I walked through the barns in the dark feeding the assigned monsters mint leaves, I had to enter the two stalls that belonged to he and his posse.
The purebred and the Garuda were dueling with their swords over in one corner, making a racket, while the Ruby Knight lounged nearby reading. Swift Jewel was pacing the floor when I walked in, but my presence caused the duelers stop and stare at me menacingly. The Ruby Knight looked up and cocked his head to the side curiously, and the Metal Glory smiled a charming smile.
"I've come to give you your mint leaves." I said quietly, looking to the floor. I couldn't take the pressure of them all watching me so intently. Carefully holding out the herb bag, I offered it to them.
The Garuda and the Durahan came over and each grabbed one, shoving it in their mouths, and swallowing without chewing, went back to their duel. The Ruby Knight slowly rose and took one, then handed the bag to Swift Jewel.
"Dani, isn't it?" he asked, take one slowly from the bag and taking a bite, but not handing the sack back so I could continue with my rounds.
"Yes," I answered meekly, my hands starting to tremble once again. I could feel my whole form shaking, and he could see it. Smiling wickedly, he handed the bag back, his metal gloved fingers grazing my skin. The silver was freezing, and I shivered at his touch.
"Thank you Dani," he said, without expression, and he waved his hand for me to go. I flew through the doorway and down the corridor as if I was on fire. Finally slowing as I got to the storage room in my stable, I decided to put the mint leaves back in the morning. Peeking in at a sleeping Tyun, who looked very peaceful, I was about to climb the ladder to my room when I heard footsteps behind me. Panicking, I sunk into the shadows, praying that it was not Swift Jewel. Someone was walking very slowly towards me, and my heart was in my throat.
As he got closer, I could see the bright glint of his red and silver suit in the moonlight. The Ruby Knight was looking all around, presumably for me. I tried not to breathe or move, but his eyes were better in the dark than mine. They fixed upon me and stayed on me as I moved into the light.
"Are you afraid of me Dani?" he asked, in a voice unexpected of a Durahan, soft and tame much unlike the gruff, overbearing voice that the others had. He moved towards me, and I immediately shrank back against the ladder, breathing hard. I could not help myself from reacting in such a manner, and he frowned and stopped a foot or so from me.
"You are," he said, sounding hurt and disappointed. He reached out his hand towards my face. I could not help but quiver in fear. His hand moved closer and closer until suddenly, but gently, his fingers brushed my cheek.
I let out a gasp of surprise as he stroked my cheek, his touch relaxing me. His hand was warm despite the metal gauntlets he wore. I moved my head slightly out of his reach, but it didn't stop him. He carefully stepped closer, and continued, sometimes sifting his fingers through my loose hair. I could feel the heat radiating off his armor, and it warmed my soul. I felt myself stop shaking, and my breathing slowed, smoothed, and shallowed, until I sounded normal again. I closed my eyes, the caress of his fingers soothing my jitters for the moment. And slowly, he drew his hand back to his side.
"I'm sorry," I whispered, "I don't mean to be afraid." I looked at him sincerely, and I could see his green eyes shining in the dark.
"I know why you are, and you have a reason to be frightened of him. But never feel threatened around me Dani," he sighed, "I would never harm such a beautiful creature." The darkness had gotten thicker, but I could almost feel his quiet smile through it. And then he was gone.
I ascended the ladder slowly, and changing into my nightclothes, I crawled gratefully into bed. It had been a long tiring day, but I was used to it. I tried to sleep, but I could not get over what the Ruby Knight had said to me.
Was I beautiful? I had never thought of myself in that way, because my sister had always been the one sought after by the young men in our village. My eyes were blue, my hair was brown, I was thin, and I was tall. There was nothing particularly dazzling about me. His words lingered, however, despite my lowly vision of myself. A beautiful creature. I decided, before finally drifting off to dreamland, that if I was beautiful, it was more on the inside that the out, and I was sure that was what the Ruby Knight had meant. And although Swift Jewel's comment had been so similar, it was in an entirely different context. There was no doubt that he was referring only to my appearance. My Inner Light meant nothing to him, and because of that, I was terrified.