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Runaways

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Dewdrop had received a private message from Sister Imperator the night before; he should show up to her office before dawn and couldn’t mention the meeting to anyone. He found himself confused when he read the note since it didn’t specify the matter, but he knew it’d be better to not ignore such a message from the Sister - she was known for being a very strict person who would do anything to keep the clergy running as expected, even if it meant to kill its previous leaders, for instance.

The ghoul obeyed the order and stood in front of her office at the requested time. He knocked at the door twice before turning the knob, announcing his arrival. He peeked inside the room and found five nameless ghouls and Sister Imperator herself looking at him silently demanding him to enter the office once and for all.

The guitarist closed the door behind himself and approached the others, waiting for any pronouncement from the woman in front of them. She examined the ghouls one by one with her eyes and Dewdrop couldn’t help feeling even more confused about the whole situation.

Sadly he only recognized one of the ghouls, and not by a fond memory; on the contrary, a few years ago they’ve had a violent quarrel that resulted in several wounds for the other ghoul. Dewdrop sensed that said ghoul was eyeing him, which made him uncomfortable enough to hope that the meeting wouldn’t last for too long.

Fortunately Sister Imperator soon began to speak, “Now that you are all here I must warn you that you are forbidden to tell anyone else about what we’re going to discuss now, otherwise I will make sure to punish you myself.” She threatened the ghouls, who tensed up in fear. They’d heard enough rumours to know that she wasn’t kidding. “Understood?”

“Yes, Sister.” They promptly replied in unison.

“Good. So, I’m certain that you are aware of the rebellious ghouls that escaped the clergy a few years ago.” Dewdrop remembered when that happened. He had just joined the church and was growing closer to an earth ghoul that later became one of the deserters. There was so much tension around that time.

“Well, the thing is that they’ve been bothering us a lot lately. A lot .” She emphasized. “At first we thought they were just runaways longing for some sort of acceptance among human beings, or whatever bullshit.” She snorted and shook her head in disapproval. “But they’ve actually tried to boycott our actions many times already.” Sister massaged her temples, visibly annoyed. “I need your help to put an end to this situation.”

The ghouls exchanged confused glances.

“And by ‘end’ I mean chasing and killing them. It’s the most effective way to clean this mess.” Imperator had her eyes locked on the ghouls as if she was waiting for a response from them.

Dewdrop had no idea why the hell she would choose him for a mission like that, he was a band ghoul after all. Band ghouls didn’t get involved in matters like that, only those regarding the band itself. He thought that maybe she had made a mistake. Pretty unlikely though. But the ghoul decided to stay quiet and listen to what the Sister had to say.

She took a few papers that were on the left side of her desk, “We have clues of their whereabouts, so you need to head to this place,” she circled a spot on a map, “and confirm if it’s the right one so we can proceed with our plan later. Am I being clear?” Her tone was harsh, but the ghouls nodded. “Good. Make sure to meet me in the dungeons at midnight. I will give you more details there. You can go now and don’t forget to keep your filthy mouths shut, I’m sure you want to keep your tongues in place.”

She waved them off and collected her papers while the ghouls left the office. Except for Dewdrop, who stood in the same spot. Sister Imperator looked up from her desk and raised an eyebrow. “Do you need something, ghoul?”

“Sister, may I ask why you assigned me to this mission?” He tried his best to keep a polite tone.

“Hm, do you know the other ghouls who were here today?”

“Only one of them.”

“I see. And what can you tell me about him?”

Dewdrop tilted his head in confusion, not sure what kind of answer the Sister was expecting from him.

“Just describe his behaviour to me. Be honest.” She said.

“He’s a jerk and I hate him.”

“Why?” Imperator placed both her elbows on the desk and rested her chin on her intertwined fingers, leaning forward, curious to listen more.

“We almost killed each other once. He’s so stupid and has no brain, he’s always picking purposeless fights with other ghouls. I still don’t understand what use that idiot has for the clergy, he should’ve stayed in hell. ” Dewdrop bluntly answered.

“I’m aware of everything you pointed out.” She smirked. “I must say that the other ghouls act basically in the same way. You could say that they still are wild ghouls being guided by their primal instincts. Do you see the pattern now?”

“I’m afraid I don’t.” He fidgeted in his spot, already too anxious to understand why he was part of the mission. Dewdrop was too impatient and preferred objective answers. He hated runarounds.

“Why do you think you were called here?”

“I don’t know!” The ghoul contained the urge to raise his voice and took a deep breath before continuing. “That’s why I’m asking you, Sister.” He gritted his teeth and the woman chuckled.

“I know you’ve been trying really hard to blend with the rest of the clergy ghouls, but you know they fear you, don’t you?” She asked and Dewdrop tilted his head again, confused blue eyes looking in the direction of the Sister. “You can’t deny your nature, ghoul. You’re still too aggressive to be walking safely around the others. Not only that, you are also disobedient towards the clergy’s wishes, you don’t take us seriously and are often ignoring orders and doing things your way.”

The Sister’s words hit home and Dewdrop bit his tongue. It was true that other ghouls were afraid of him, even his bandmates took quite some time to get used to his presence and start to accept him. It was also true that he was not one to follow rules and orders, he’d been called out on his misbehaviour many times now.

“While I can’t deny your remark, I’m no murderer, Sister.” At least not anymore , he thought to himself.

Since he joined the clergy, and especially after meeting Aether, Dewdrop decided to put an end to his savage days. No more cannibalism, laceration, purposeless violence or any other lethal behaviour. Aether was crucial in helping him realize the path he should follow from now on. Sure, there were a few unfortunate incidents during Dewdrop’s first years living on the surface, but he has changed so much since then.

And Aether had been so proud of him those days.

He didn’t want to screw everything now because of a stupid mission that didn’t concern him in the first place. “I’m sorry, but I must decline, Sister.”

“Well, it’s not like you can actually accept or refuse an order, ghoul.” Imperator sighed and leaned back in her chair, already tired of the long talk. “You’re going and that’s it.”

“Is there anything I could do to not go?” He huffed irritated.

“Sure, you can go back to hell.”

“What?”

“Who do you think you are, ghoul? Why would you have any say in this? What makes you think you can question my command?”

“I-”

“Silence.” She uttered. “This only proves how unworthy you are of holding privileges like the ones you have for being in the band.”

Dewdrop could feel the blood rushing up to his head and he was not even sure what exactly was holding him back from making a scene.

“If you think you’re special for being the lead guitarist I’m afraid I have bad news to you. You’re replaceable, my dear. You may be good in what you do, but it’s no use if you keep misbehaving. I’m sure you don’t want to go back nor leave the side of your beloved ghoul, am I right?”

The ghoul froze in his spot. Was she threatening him? He squinted and felt a drop of sweat running down his forehead under the mask. Dewdrop rarely felt afraid of anything, but Sister Imperator was as impish as the ghouls reigning down below.

And she was damn right again. He didn’t know what he’d do if he were to be sent back to hell and never saw Aether again. He’d feel desolated again, but worse now that there would be a huge hole in his heart.

Dewdrop would never survive in a scenario like that.

At the same time he didn’t want to disappoint Aether, he didn’t want to kill anyone. Shit, he was doing so well, why would he take many steps back when he’d evolved so much?

But the Sister demanded secrecy, the mission should not be acknowledged by anyone else. Aether would never find out Dewdrop was a murderer. Maybe Aether would never find out that the deserters were chased down and killed.

Only Dewdrop would hate to lie to Aether. They’ve been sincere with each other since the beginning. The guitarist felt himself at home when he was with his partner, it’d kill him from the inside if he were to lie to Aether about such a thing.

To lie or to be sent back to hell?

It was such a hard decision and Dewdrop wasn’t ready to choose his path yet. He could only agree with the mission for the time being.

Maybe he’d find a way out of this mess later. He would have to.

“Okay. I will go.” The ghoul answered between gritted teeth.

“As if you had an option, ghoul.” She gave him a fake smile before frowning and dismissing him motioning towards the door. “See you later.”

And Dewdrop left her office.

***

The fire ghoul wandered aimlessly through the church’s aisles. His first thought was to seek consolation in Aether, but Dewdrop knew it’d not be the best decision at the moment, he didn’t want to appear that there was something wrong and he knew that Aether would quickly realize that. At the same time, the ghoul was aware that he couldn’t, nor did he want to, avoid his partner forever. He just needed some time to put his thoughts in place.

Before he could realize, Dewdrop stood in front of the entrance to Earth’s greenhouse, the earthy and green smell entering his nostrils. He decided to enter the place, his eyes scanning the vines attached to huge, blurry glass windows from where the sunlight comes through. The greenhouse was roomy enough to accommodate several plants, such as flowers of different colours and shapes, countless herbs and a few vegetables and fruits too. Although Dewdrop found the planting kind of charming and interesting, he honestly couldn’t recognize more than four or five species.

The ghoul spotted Earth further in the back watering some pretty yellow flowers. “Dewdrop?” Earth glanced at the fire ghoul, surprised by his visit. Dewdrop didn’t have the habit of going there. “Do you need anything?”

“Uh, no. I was just passing by.” It wasn’t actually a lie, but he scratched his nape, looking at his feet, clearly anxious, which the Earth ghoul soon noticed.

“Would you like some tea?”

“Tea?” Dewdrop looked up at him and Earth nodded.

“Yeah, I just finished taking care of these chrysanthemums and I was going to take a break. Will you join me?”

The fire ghoul pondered for a few seconds. “Why not?” He shrugged. Despite his nonchalant behaviour, Dewdrop knew he was just trying to mask his unease.

Earth guided him out of the greenhouse and they headed to the common kitchen. The tall drummer kindly asked the fire ghoul to boil some water while he reached the top cabinet, without any difficulty, and took a glass container with a tag ‘Earth’s - DO NOT TOUCH’. He placed the container onto the kitchen counter and Dewdrop noticed tiny dried flowers inside the glass.

“What are those?” he asked.

“Chamomile. It’ll help you relax.”

“I don’t need to relax,” the smaller ghoul retorted and Earth rolled his eyes.

“That’s exactly something that someone who needs to relax would say.”

“Whatever.” Annoyed, Dewdrop crossed his arms and leaned against the counter while he watched the other ghoul preparing the tea, which didn’t take too long. Soon enough, both ghouls had their cups of tea in hands.

The guitarist absentmindedly blew the hot liquid before taking a sip. He was trying his best to not think about the mission at that exact moment because he was afraid that Earth would flood him with questions.

But that was not the case. The drummer, who was beside Dewdrop, kept silent during their little time. The fire ghoul wasn’t sure whether Earth actually noticed anything out of the ordinary, but even if he did, Dewdrop was thankful for the other’s discretion. It was true that both of them hadn’t engaged in many conversations since they met, but to be fair, Earth was not one to talk much.

The tall ghoul could be found most of the time in his greenhouse, taking care of his plants - his dear companions - but Dewdrop has always faced that fact as Earth’s choice. He was quiet and thoughtful (not to mention sleepy too); probably just the kind of ghoul he was, and his bandmates respected him nonetheless.

Now that Dewdrop took his time to think about it, he was actually enjoying the interaction with Earth, even if they had not exchanged a single word; the presence of the other was soothing on its own.

Maybe they should hang out more often. Who knows?

“How was it?” Earth broke the silence and Dewdrop looked up at him in confusion, moving away from his thoughts. “The tea. Did you like it?”

“Oh.” The fire ghoul glanced down at the cup in his hands and noticed it empty. “Yes, it tasted good. Thank you.”

“Ah, so the rumours that you are able to thank others are true!”

“Hey, fuck off!” Dewdrop nudged Earth, who chuckled in response and patted the smallest one on the back before taking both their cups to the sink.

***

“There you are!” A familiar voice came from behind him, but before Dewdrop could spin on his heels to confirm who it was, he was wrapped in a tight hug, clunking their masks in the process.

“Aether!” The fire ghoul said breathlessly.

“I was looking for you the whole morning! Where have you been?” He finally loosened the embrace and turned Dewdrop so they could face each other.

“Uh, I woke up with an annoying headache, sorry. I wasn’t feeling really well.” He quickly made up an excuse.

“Oh, I see. How do you feel now?” The other asked, worried.

Dewdrop couldn’t help a smile forming on his face, he loved Aether so much that just the presence of the ghoul was enough to make him forget his problems for the time being. “I’m fine.” He gripped Aether’s collar and tiptoed to peck on his lips.

“Good to know. So, you ready for rehearsal?”

Right, the ghouls were supposed to rehearse that afternoon and Dewdrop had briefly forgotten about it. “Sure! I was born ready.”

Aether noticed the fire ghoul smugly winking through the eye holes of the mask and smiled back at him, patting him on the butt before they both headed towards the rehearsal place.

When they arrived there, both air ghoulettes and Earth were already preparing their instruments. “Hey, guys!” Blizzard, the tall ghoulette, waved at them. “Have you seen Multi or Water?”

“Hm, no. I haven’t seen them since last night.” Aether replied and Dewdrop shook his head too while walking towards his white guitar, promptly beginning to tune it, Aether soon doing the same.

“Weird, no one has seen them this morning.” The ghoulette scratched her chin and Breeze, the short ghoulette, muffled a giggle. “What?”

“I bet they are fucking.” She affirmed.

“Oh…!”

“Wait, Multi and Water?!” Earth suddenly joined the conversation.

“You didn’t know?” Breeze asked. “It’s been a while now.”

“I’m afraid I’m not aware of my bandmates’ love lives.” He said in a playful tone before resuming his preparations for the rehearsal, but Dewdrop, who was hearing the conversation, felt that his comment might have sounded bittersweet.

Half an hour had passed since everyone finished getting ready to start the rehearsal and no sign of Multi and Water. “You know what? Maybe we should start without them.” Blizzard proposed, already too tired of waiting.

Before anyone could utter their agreements or disagreements the door was opened with some caution, but the smell of pheromones that followed caught everyone’s attention anyways. Then a horned ghoul mask emerged through the crack, peering inside the room.

“Hm, excuse us...” The water ghoul shyly announced and finally entered the place, quickly heading in the direction of his bass without looking at any of his companions. Multi came in next, but his behaviour was more relaxed, stretching out and greeting the others.

“You were right.” Blizzard whispered into the other ghoulette’s ear and they fought the urge to giggle.

“So,” Multi spoke. “Shall we begin?”

“Bold of you to be late and act like you have not kept us waiting for a fucking long time.” Dewdrop snarkily remarked, crossing his arms.

Water flinched in his spot, looking down at his feet. Even though Dewdrop’s comment was directed at Multi, the bassist felt just as guilty.

“I suppose I lost track of time.” Multi replied, nonchalantly.

“Why?”

“Dew, enough.” Aether sighed and tugged on the fire ghoul’s sleeve. “It’s no use.”

The short ghoul snorted and looked away from Multi. The atmosphere was suddenly uncomfortable and everyone got silent until Blizzard finally said something. “Let’s not waste any more time.”

They all agreed and finally started the rehearsal.

But something was off. The ghouls had to soundcheck the same parts of a song multiple times because Dewdrop got many notes wrong, which was actually very rare to happen. Every time he made a mistake he’d tsk in annoyance and shake his head.

“Are you okay?” Aether asked quietly and Dewdrop nodded, but the big ghoul knew better. Maybe they should talk after the rehearsal.

Truth is that the lead guitarist couldn’t concentrate at the moment. He tried his best to avoid the intrusive thoughts throughout the day, but he couldn’t be successful the whole time. He believed that his mind would be at ease during the practice session, but he was so wrong. All he could think was that in a few hours he’d be sent somewhere by Imperator herself.

Dewdrop didn’t want to acknowledge that he was afraid of what lies ahead.

They finished practicing for the day and were now organizing their instruments. That was when Multi approached the fire ghoul, placed a hand on his shoulder and whispered into his ear. “Bold of you to complain about me when you were the one screwing up the rehearsal.”

As if that was the last straw, Dewdrop spun on his heels and tightly tugged on Multi’s collar, pulling him down to look him in the eyes. Dewdrop’s furious wide blue eyes apparently were not intimidating enough to make the smirk on Multi’s face vanish.

“Multi!” Water called him, worried about the confrontation.

Exposing his split tongue, the tall ghoul licked his thumb and cleaned a smudge on the lead guitarist’s mask, clearly taunting him. And that action had an instant effect on Dewdrop, who shoved Multi against the nearest wall.

“Stop now!” Aether stepped between the ghouls on the verge of fighting, pulling Dewdrop by his wrist, but the fire ghoul’s eyes wouldn’t break away from Multi’s.

“He gets on my nerves.” Dewdrop said through gritted teeth while watching Water check on Multi, who still had a sly grin on his face.

“What the fuck is wrong with you today? That was so uncalled for.” Aether sounded disappointed and realization finally sunk in when they left the place.

“You saw him teasing me!”

“It’s not like you didn’t start it earlier, Dew.” He sighed, tired of that mess.

Multi and Dewdrop fought often, both being dominant fire ghouls, so it was expected, however Aether and Water were afraid that their partners could get too physical someday. Sure Dewdrop has learnt a lot how to control his most violent instincts, and he never actually hurt Multi for real, they just had many arguments and sometimes pushed one another, but it’d be better if they didn’t take things too far.

Nevertheless it was not like the two of them only fought. They were able to get along well most of the time and had even revealed their faces to one another. Well, they even had been intimate too.

One thing was certain: fire ghouls were the worst to deal with.

Soon Aether and Dewdrop arrived at the dorms and, without even noticing Aether stopping before the door of his room, the small ghoul kept walking.

“Dew?” Aether called him and the ghoul looked over his shoulder. “You’re not coming?”

“Uh, sorry… I think my headache is worse, maybe I should go to bed earlier.”

“You sure?” Aether approached Dewdrop, cupping his face with both hands and kissing him briefly. “We could take a hot shower and I could give you a massage, how does it sound?” he asked, lips brushing against Dewdrop’s at every word that he said.

Of course the fire ghoul would love to spend the night with his partner, he could even feel his body starting to heat up at the thought of what they could do together, but he couldn’t risk skipping Imperator’s orders. And he knew it’d be too difficult and suspicious if he were to leave during the night. What would he say to Aether? It’d be better if he just went to his room and waited for the agreed hour without having to lie about where he was going.

Dewdrop wrapped his arms around Aether’s neck and gave him a deep kiss, the other ghoul sliding his hands down Dewdrop’s back until he stepped back and looked at him with sad eyes. “As much as I’d love to stay, I can’t tonight.”

Aether nodded, shoving his hands inside his front pockets. He tried to look casual, but Dewdrop noticed his cheerless manner. “It’s fine.”

“Sorry… I love you.”

“I love you too.” Aether gave him a smile before hugging Dewdrop and picking him up off the ground, what made the fire ghoul gasp in surprise.

“Hey!”

Aether chuckled and put him back on the floor. “Sorry. Now you can go.”

“You’re so silly.” Dewdrop snorted and shook his head while trying to refrain from smiling.

“See you tomorrow?”

“Of course.”

And then Dewdrop went to his own room.

***

He waited restlessly for the next few hours, his eyes barely ever looking away from the clock on his wall. Dewdrop had no idea what would come across his way and he actually wished they wouldn’t be able to find any clues as to the fugitives’ whereabouts.

When it was ten to midnight, Dewdrop hurried to the dungeons being careful enough to not be seen by anyone. Soon he was there and met up with four other nameless ghouls who would join him in the mission. They only exchanged glances without uttering a word and waited for Imperator. Dewdrop noticed the absence of the ghoul with whom he didn’t get along,and wondered what had happened to him.

The woman arrived at midnight and just motioned for them to follow her through the stone corridors. It was getting darker and colder as they stepped inside the dungeon and all they could hear was the echo of their shoes tapping the floor and the clank of the iron keys hanging on Imperator’s hips.

They finally arrived at a wooden door with a single torch near it and the old woman took the bunch of keys, found the correct one to open the door and pushed it, revealing a stone room, lit by five big candles on the floor. She asked the ghouls to enter and then locked the door again behind her.

Dewdrop cautiously observed the place; he’d never been there, but he saw a familiar symbol drawn with white material on the floor. It was the sigil of Baphomet and each candle was placed at the end of each point of the pentagram. The first time he saw one of these was when he was summoned by the clergy. Would they forcedly summon the rebellious ghouls? He didn’t know that was a manageable move and he didn’t dare to ask questions now.

“Ghouls,” Sister called their attention. “Each of you should step inside a point according to your element. Pay attention to the symbols on the floor.”

And so they did. Dewdrop soon found the point with the alchemical symbol of fire drawn inside it. When all five ghouls were in their spots, Imperator clasped her hands together and said, “Well, a pentacle exactly like this one is ready in another place far away from here and you’re are going to be invoked there. Now I’m going to perform a ritual that serves as a bridge to the other pentacle.” She explained.

The only thing Dewdrop was sure of was that there were many things going on in the clergy that he had no knowledge about, even things regarding ghouls, his own species.

Soon enough the woman began uttering words in an ancient yet familiar language. The fire of the candles flickered and Dewdrop felt his throat dry and his limbs tingling. His eyes scanned the room, but the shimmer made it difficult for him to meet the other ghouls’s eyes through their mask holes, so he wasn’t sure if he was the only one feeling ill and dizzy.

There was something wrong with the ritual, he felt like he was about to spill his guts and had to fight the urge to do so just as he saw two of the ghouls falling to their knees and emitting a pained sound.

The flames were more agitated now and Dewdrop couldn’t hold it anymore, he collapsed on the floor and vomited bile before he lost consciousness.

***