Somebody had once told him, 'Expect the unexpected.'
He couldn't remember exactly who that had been, maybe some no-name grunt, maybe some smart guy with a bunch of medals stuck to the front of his jacket. He had never been particularly good with names and faces—not like it mattered way back when everybody was dropping like flies, and not like he could be bothered after, with all the morons asking for love or beauty or power, or with the spineless sycophants simpering and worshipping the ground he walked on.
It wasn't like it was important who said it, but back then, Verg had thought that the saying had something about it, a certain... nescio quid, his mind supplied readily, Razel's fondness of that language be damned—and he might have been worried about how much the old flame-thrower was rubbing off on him if he did not have bigger fish to fry at the moment.
Because although he had made a point of expecting the unexpected, it was a bit hard to expect earthquakes in a place that, by definition, had no earth.
"Shitfuckdammit," Verg swore, clambering to his feet and shaking the dust out of his hair and clothes. Of course, it figured that the old bastard would be completely unfazed by this, impervious on his ridiculous chair as if it were a freaking throne, not a hair out of place. If anything, he seemed amused by Verg's outburst.
"Since when does this place have earthquakes?!" Verg demanded, fully aware that he was giving Razel an opportunity to be cryptic, since he so enjoyed being the only one in the know.
Razel did not disappoint him.
"It doesn't," he said simply, brushing off his clothes in an affected manner, despite his apparent ability to repel the very atoms of dirt.
Verg hated being made to ask for it, hated being forced to admit inferiority in such a manner. He knew that was why Razel was doing it, though, knew that he lived for these little rituals; for all his pomp and politeness, Razel was really just a sadist at heart.
"Then what's that supposed to mean, huh?"
Rising from his seat, Razel gave him a frustratingly mysterious smile. "It means things are about to get interesting."
Then, the red flame enveloped him, and he was gone.
"Fuck you," Verg cursed at the empty room. Portaling out with a crackle of electricity, he derived a small bit of satisfaction from the thought that Razel would have to deal with a singed carpet upon his return.
He materialized in the void with a thunderclap, and was disappointed when Razel paid him no heed. Instead, he was staring at a pale figure slumped on the ground, panting harshly and clutching at his chest.
Verg felt perfectly justified in not expecting that bit of unexpectedness, either.
After all, it had only been him and Razel for time beyond measure, fucking and fighting and playing mind games, only interrupted by the occasional mortal idiot. The thought that that world could produce devils, as well, had never even occurred to him. And now that he was considering it, it was nothing less than an insult, that one of the fucking magical furries should have access to the same power, the same station, as him.
His little internal rant was effectively derailed when the new arrival drew in a shuddering breath, and lifted his head.
Some distant part of Verg wondered whether it was some kind of cosmic red-letter day where the universe had decided to make a fool out of him and his policy. The rest of him was somewhere between incredulity and pure, unadulterated delight.
Yellow eyes were staring at them.
Familiar yellow eyes, though the last time he had seen them, they had been ablaze with anger and determination, hopeless mortal determination—
"Do you think you can save her?"
A flash of yellow fury, before their owner took off running, running to his doom...
—not glazed and hazy with confusion. They had never been confused.
He would never have forgotten the owner of those eyes; just another weak little kitten that should have been a puppet, should have been kneeling at his feet and begging for his favor, but he never did. He never did, even when Verg forced him, with threat and pain and every trick in the book, and through it all had been those defiant eyes, no matter how thick the scent of fear had hung in the air, their stare unwavering, their message clear...
You're no master of mine.
Ignoring Razel's surprised glance, he strode forward, grabbing the disoriented ex-kitten by the arm and bodily hauling him off the ground. Such a pity that he couldn't see him bristling anymore, ears pressed flat to the top of his head, pupils slitting—that had been part of the fun, seeing the kitten's body betray his fear, when his face had been all anger, as Verg had forced him to show his reverence... which he never had.
"Well, well, what do we have here?"
Grinning maliciously, he waited for the kitten to register what was happening, to understand in whose presence he was.
Hazy yellow eyes blinked sluggishly, struggling to focus, and Verg squeezed the arm he was gripping a little tighter, hearing the bones grind, gratified to catch the soft sound of pain that escaped his prey—
The impact of the palm on his cheek was stunning in its force and swiftness, sharp claws tearing into his skin and leaving deep, burning gashes.
Verg yowled, rocking back and letting go of the other, who immediately backed up, clutching his arm and hissing furiously.
For a moment, Verg could do nothing but stare at the kitten, so baffled by his sheer gall that he even forgot to heal the side of his face.
"You fucking little—"
Razel's sharp, quiet tone stopped him from advancing on the foolish kitten and teaching him a lesson he would never forget. That wasn't fair. Razel never used his name for trivial things like that, had never interfered—
In front of him, the kitten's eyes suddenly rolled back into his head and he crumpled to the ground like a rag doll, and a split second later, Verg was forced to take a step back, instinctively throwing up a shield as he was blinded by the brilliant blue flare.
The flame died as abruptly as it had appeared, leaving only black nothingness.
Verg blinked at the spot where the kitten had been, before comprehending that he had been goaded into shielding against what had merely been the other's portal opening and closing.
"Fuck!" he barked, terminating the shield with an explosive crackle, and reached up to rub at the bloody mess his right cheek had become.
"Most fascinating," Razel said, nodding at the spot where the blue portal had vanished. His tone was that of a scientist observing a very bizarre and alien scene, but Verg knew it was all for show. Behind that calmly interested facade, the old bastard was laughing at him.
"Well, I expect this will take a while," Razel continued, turning back to his own portal, oblivious to his dirty look. "More than enough time to finish the tea, and your story." He paused and glanced at Verg, his eyes gleaming. "Though... it would seem we have just seen the ending to that, haven't we?"
He knew. Of course he knew, the perceptive old bastard, and Verg felt wholly justified in his heartfelt response. "Go fuck yourself."
Razel smirked. "I expect you to be in a more tolerable mood when you set foot in my chambers again. And do clean up your face—you look like a schoolyard brawler."
The red flame enveloped him, leaving Verg's very vocal expression of his thoughts to echo through the infinite darkness.
One thing that had always intrigued him was the fact that even when Razel locked the entrance to his space, he could still tell where it was. Razel had explained his theories about their realms at great length, but by the fourth time of being told that the term "space" was technically incorrect because it did not have an expansion, and arguing back that it couldn't not have an expansion since it was there, he had given up on understanding it.
Kaltz shacking up in the void left a portion of it feeling forbidding and cold, which was appropriate because if there was one thing the kitten had had talent for, it was being a frigid bitch.
The portal always remained closed, too, even when he was out in the void, honing his skills. It was amusing to no end—the kitten might have become a devil, but inside he was still the same, a weak creature perpetually afraid of anyone stronger than him.
Verg spent time observing him, cloaked in a veil of darkness, although he had no illusions about concealing his presence. The kitten was ridiculously adept at picking up magical nuances, just like the rest of his litter of half-breeds; he knew Verg was there. He knew Verg was there, but chose not acknowledge him, attempting to put on a front of indifference. It would have worked, too, except Verg had spent years of his former life in an environment where the tiniest hint at another person's intentions could make the difference between survival and getting your head blown off your shoulders, and kittens were notoriously bad at hiding their feelings.
But just like their four-legged ancestors, they chose to disguise their weakness by making themselves appear larger than life, a pathetic act put on by a pathetic pet.
"Why don't you just crawl back into your kitty basket, if you're that scared, huh?"
Kaltz paused for a split second, his back to him, before extending his palm, a bright blue glow kindling in the air above.
And the kitten is arching his back even higher.
"Why do you hide yourself, if you are so convinced of your superiority?"
The voice caught him off guard, its tone quiet and cool, betraying nothing of the mockery in its words.
"Psh. Don't confuse my methods with the habits of your kind, kitten."
Kaltz merely glanced back at him over his shoulder with the kind of lenience one usually gave a passing annoyance.
Verg grit his teeth. Your rebelliousness is becoming a bit annoying, kitty-cat.
The shadows dissipated at a thought, revealing him floating in mid-air, one leg crossed over his thigh. He smirked. "It's got such a nice effect on you furballs—trembling at the monsters out to eat you. It's so much worse when you can't see them, isn't it? You never know when one might pounce."
Kaltz gave a barely perceptible shrug, reaching up to tuck a strand of hair behind his ear. Such a shame about those—it had been so funny when every insult and threat had made them twitch against their owner's will, betraying his every thought.
Animals are easy to read.
The blue glow was expanding, revealing an unfamiliar object. Kaltz retracted his hand, allowing the object to sink to the ground, growing brighter still, a tiny blue stem unfurling a set of leaves, straining upwards.
Verg blinked. Of all things, the kitten was using his magic to grow flowers? It was like adding injury to insult—of all the things he could do with it, Kaltz chose to desperately cling to his primitive former existence and his kind's love for greenery. He might have known.
Fucking fuzzballs and their fucking tree-hugging instincts. Never doing anything productive. You give them power, and that's all they can think of using it for.
Scowling, Verg floated to the ground.
"It's a bit hard to be afraid of the thing in the dark when the thing is so predictable," Kaltz murmured.
In front of him, the icy plant was still growing, ever more delicate branches emerging from existing ones, translucent leaves budding at their tips.
"Are you calling me predictable, kitten?" Verg asked, narrowing his eyes. Kaltz had never been so... deliberately provocative before, talking back to him like that, and had certainly never sounded so unconcerned. It was bothersome if the kitten was thinking that their shared fate made them into equals.
Kaltz did not respond, didn't even twitch when Verg stepped closer.
"I suggest you stop giving me lip if you know what's good for you, pet. You've probably forgotten who you're talking to, but I'll be glad to help you remember."
With those words, his hand closed around the other's throat, a threatening crackle of lightning running down his arm. "You haven't forgotten this, have you. You know what I can do."
To his surprise, Kaltz stayed perfectly still.
Well, well, that was definitely new. They had been in this situation plenty of times, whenever the kitten had needed a reminder that Verg would not tolerate anything but absolute obedience. It had never really worked, not like he wanted it to, but it had been worth it to have the kitten struggling in his grasp, the scent of his fear thick enough to taste.
Again, the tone was devoid of any sort of emotion, the words almost airy in their simplicity. This uncaring attitude was truly growing into a problem—Verg didn't like being disregarded, especially not by someone who should consider himself lucky he hadn't met his end much sooner.
"Then you should know your place. Look at you, all you can think of is growing vegetables. And you think you can compete with me? Don't be ridiculous."
"I've got no desire to be a part in your power games." The faintest hint of irritation crept into the kitten's voice, but he still did not move within Verg's grip.
"Bullshit," Verg growled, his irritation rising by the minute. If there was one thing he hated, it was liars. Kaltz was no pacifist, which was at least one thing he could appreciate about that pathetic race—they were all fighters, no matter how weak. "Everyone wants power. It's a devil's desire."
"I'll settle for being left in peace. I've got no intention of playing the part of your chew toy."
"And what makes you think that's for you to decide, hm? I'll leave you alone whenever I feel like it." He paused, leaning in close to Kaltz's ear, pleased at his involuntary twitch. "Though I might be persuaded to let you go if you ask nicely. Say, 'Please, master.'"
Kaltz gave a little huff, his eyes still fixed on his creation. "...Do you know," he said quietly, "how much it takes to create something like this?"
Verg blinked. This was not at all the response he had been expecting, but before could voice his opinion, he became aware of a stinging pain in his arm. "What the—?!"
He tried to twitch it, but the muscles wouldn't respond, locked in position by an invisible force. Kaltz calmly reached up, removing his unresponsive fingers from his throat one by one. Too late, Verg became aware of the sudden drop in temperature, the very air burning icily in his lungs as he inhaled.
A fine sheen of crystals was forming on his skin and clothes, creeping forward with increasing speed, up his arm, past his shoulder, down his torso, and into his legs, numbing his muscles and making his lungs falter. "You little—"
Lightning connected solidly with a transparent shield, ripples spreading on its surface at the impact.
Kaltz stepped away and turned to face him, the ghost of a smile flitting across his lips, which were turning blue from the cold. "It takes much more... than to do something like this."
His legs weren't cooperating. "You—"
The word was little more than a cough. Kaltz regarded him for another moment. "If you think I will bend to your whims, you're sorely mistaken. I suggest you do not underestimate me again."
He turned away, his steps echoing through the nothingness. A blue flame flared into existence.
Kaltz reached out to touch it, before looking back once again. "Oh, and one more thing. I have a name. I expect you to use it."
The flame consumed him.
- FIN -