That morning Eclipse woke to the smell of the kara flower.
There was a vaseful of them on his bedside table. Eclipse sat on the edge of the his bed and stared at them for awhile. The kara was about the most inoffensive plant on the planet. No part of it could be used in poisons, it had no thorns or sting, and it was so fragile it fell apart if handle at all roughly. Even so, getting it so far past the Castle wards and into his bedroom without alerting him was a clear demonstration of the giver's skill.
Which meant it was That Day again.
Eclipse sighed and got out of bed to face up to it. It was, he supposed, a small price to pay for peace the rest of the year.
"Just look at the blade on this thing!" Erutis crowed, waving a sword around.
"This is a heraldic sceptre of a high cleric!" Chris's voice was slightly muffled since he had tunnelled almost knee deep into the huge pile of expensive objects that had appeared in the garden of Raenef Castle overnight. "Look at the diamonds on this thing!"
"Diamonds?! Where?!" Erutis demanded excitedly.
"But I don't understand," Raenef said, confused. "Why are all these gifts here?"
"Honestly," a familiar voice commented in disgusted tones. "Can one truly be a demon Lord if one is so ignorant?"
The three whipped around and stared up at the figure lounging indolently on a patch of empty air.
"Krayon!" Raenef exclaimed.
"Here to fight again?" Chris growled, setting himself.
Krayon waved a languid hand. "Oh please. Settle down. I'm not going to play with the children today."
"Why not?" Erutis asked suspiciously.
"And who's a kid?!" Chris demanded behind her.
"Master Krayon." The elegant voice cut across the bickering, drawing everyone's attention to the tall, slender speaker.
"Eclipse!" Krayon suddenly looked very happy. A floridly wrapped parcel appeared in his hands and he held it out with a low bow. "I beg you, accept this small token of my unwavering esteem!"
Eclipse seemed to carefully restrain a sigh as he walked over to accept the gift. "My thanks," he said formally.
Krayon gestured dismissively. "I understand that you are commanded to serve this... child. But I would not want you to think my regard and desire for you have wavered over the time of your bondage."
"So why can't we beat him up?" Erutis demanded.
"Because it is Courting Day," Eclipse answered calmly. "He has immunity."
"C-courting?" Chris stuttered. He paused for a moment, then burst into brays of laughter.
There was a short thunderbolt.
Erutis ignored the twitching body of the future Head Cleric. "What does that actually mean, then? Courting?" To her credit she hardly stumbled over the word at all. Raenef, hiding slightly behind her, looked interested as well.
Eclipse seemed to sigh silently. "Courting Day is the day set aside during which Demons may attempt to draw another to their service by use of gifts, proof of the skill in magic, or promises."
Erutis looked confused. "Wait, don't the master demons object? Demons are meant to be really possessive buggers, aren't they? I can't imagine them tolerating other demon lords trying to steal their servants away. "
"Of course," Krayon said haughtily. "That's why there is this holiday - so that demon lord's can woo each others vassals, and those servants can consider those offers without fear of insult or reprisal. But as well, the gifts are a recognition of the value of the servant, and thus a recognition of the master's power and status, that he can command the service of one who is so coveted. I myself have in my bondage several who customarily receive many courting gifts on this day. Of course," and here he slanted an edged glance at Raenef, "none of them can compare to the sheer number and quality of what Eclipse receives.
"Huh?" Raenef blinked
Krayon's smile was sharp. "I told you before, didn't I?" He purred. "There are many who would desire the services of one such as Eclipse. Really," he sighed dismissively. "You have no idea of the value of what you posses. You're undeserving."
Raenef flinched and looked up at the other demon lord. "But Eclipse isn't..."
"Master Krayon," Eclipse stepped in smoothly. "I thank you once again for both your gift and your esteem."
"Aren't you going to open it?" Krayon demanded.
Eclipse sighed and began carefully opening the garish gold paper. Krayon was practically jiggling on his patch of air with impatient, and Raenef, Chris and Erutis were craning their necks to see.
Eclipse's eyes widened almost imperceptibly as the last of the paper fell away. "This is..." he murmured.
Chris squawked like a chicken being stepped on. "That's the Kor-kynal Codex!" he shouted disbelieving. "There were only three copies made, and all of them vanished over a century ago when the Kynal sect was destroyed!"
Krayon buffed the nails of one hand against his shirt. "Really?" He said airily. "I had not known."
"So it's a good book?" Raenef asked hesitantly.
"Good-?!" Chris's eyes bugged out. He opened and shut his mouth a few times, but no sound came out. He waved his arms about a lot.
"So?" Krayon asked Eclipse smugly, ignoring the antics of the humans. "My gift has a value almost beyond price, don't you think?"
Eclipse made an absent agreeing noise and flipped open the book.
Krayon looked very pleased with himself as he gazed down at Eclipse from his perch above all their heads.
Raenef bit his lip.
"Well!" Krayon exclaimed, clapping his hands together with a twist of his wrists that made his sleeves flare out. "I will take my leave of you. I trust, Eclipse, as you peruse my gift, that I and my eternal offer will not be far from your thoughts."
Eclipse managed to drag his eyes away from the book long enough to incline his head noncommittally
Still, Krayon was grinning when he vanished. Maybe he knew that the moment he left Eclipse would turn back to the book once again.
Erutis shook her head over this behaviour and looked around. She spotted Raenef up against the wall and almost around the corner, looking miserable. Rolling her eyes at herself, she sidled over to him.
"What's wrong?" she asked. As if she didn't know.
"Erutis," Raenef said quietly, "I didn't get him a present..."
Erutis blinked. Okay, maybe she didn't know. "You don't have to," she pointed out logically. This thing's just so Demons Lords can try to wheedle other demons into their service without being accused of poaching. You don't have to do that>"
"But I want to!" Raenef wailed. "I want to give Eclipse a present!"
"So give him one," Erutis said, a trifle impatiently.
Raenef drooped. "It's not that simple."
Erutis linked her hands behind her head. "I don't really see what the problem is. You've got loads of old and valuable stuff in this castle. Just give him something from that."
"But Eclipse already has all that stuff, really," Raenef said helplessly. "I should give him something new!"
Raenef wilted. "I don't know!"
"Okay, okay," Erutis said hurriedly, trying to stave off the threatening tears. "If you can't buy him something, why don't you make it? Gifts that are hand made are always more meaningful, you know."
"Really?" Raenef said doubtfully. "I thought it was just cheap."
Erutis winced. "Look, do you want my help or not?" she growled.
Raenef took a hurried step back. "Um, help?" he said meekly.
"Right, then," Erutis nodded, satisfied. "What do you want to make him?"
"I don't know," Raenef said sadly.
"Then we'll make him a cake.
"Cake?" said Raenef.
"Sure." Erutis grinned and waggled a finger. "You can never go wrong with cake!"
Erutis slammed the over door shut again as thick, black smoke came billowing out. Coughing furiously she waved a hand in front of her face to try to clear some air to breath.
"Erutis..." A timid voice came from behind her.
Snarling, she whipped around. "What?" she snapped.
Raenef gazed miserably back at her from his cake mixed besplattered face. "Maybe we can't make cakes, Erutis."
"Shut up," Erutis growled.
"But..." Raenef gestured hopelessly at their five failures laid out on the charred kitchen table.
"Shut up," Erutis repeated dangerously. "We are making. A cake."
"But Erutis..." Erutis snarled. Raenef shifted nervously. Eggshell crunched under his foot.
And the door slammed open. "There you are," Chris scowled in the doorway, arms folded across his chest. "Why didn't you tell... me..." His voice trailed off as he took in the disaster area the kitchen had become. His eyes widened. "What the hell have you done to the kitchen?!"
"That," a cold voice said from behind him. "I what I would like to know."
They all yelped. Erutis and Chris clutched at each other.
"E-Eclipse..." Raenef stuttered.
"Master Raenef." Raenef squeaked. Eclipse didn't even take his eyes off the other two to look at him. "I suggest you retire to your quarters and clean up."
"Yes, Eclipse!" Raenef exclaimed with great relief. He had never teleported faster than he did in that moment.
The betrayed wails of the two humans followed him.
It took a while to sort out that matter of the kitchen to his satisfaction. By the time he stepped into his master's quarters, Raenef had managed to get himself clean and was standing beside his bed, dressed in his nightclothes, and watching him apprehensively.
"Master Raenef," Eclipse said quietly. "Would you like to explain to me what you were doing?"
"Um..." Raenef twisted his fingers together nervously. "I wanted to bake you a cake..."
Eclipse resisted the urge to massage his forehead. "Why did you want to bake me cake, Master Raenef?"
"'Cause I wanted to give you something..."
"Why did you want to give me something?"
Raenef's chin dropped towards his chest. "Because it's Courting Day..."
Eclipse paused. "Master Raenef, you are my master. I am already your servant. There is no need for you to court me."
Raenef chewed on his bottom. "I know," he said quietly. "But... But I wanted to give you a present" He looked up at Eclipse, his face suddenly desperate. "Maybe I don't have to court you but I still want to give you something! I don't want you to think I'm not really really really really really glad you're with me, but I couldn't think of anything then Erutis said I should make a cake but then I couldn't and we destroyed the kitchen and I haven't got anything to give you!" Raenef had to stop to pant for breath.
Eclipse stared at him for a long, silent moment. Raenef continued to look even more flustered.
"Thank you," Eclipse said quietly.
"Uh?" Raenef looked adorable when he was confused. "What for?"
Eclipse smiled. "For my present."
Raenef looked even more confused. "But I didn't even give you - ah! Eclipse!"
"What is it?" Eclipse asked sharply.
This time Eclipse didn't resist the urge to massage his forehead. "May I suggest, Master Raenef, that it's time for you to go to bed."
Raenef drooped a little. "Oh. Okay." Eclipse waited as the young demon climbed into bed and settled himself down.
"Good night Master Raenef," Eclipse murmured, and turned to leave. A tug at his long robe made him pause and turn back. Raenef's face was turned away, determinedly not looking at him.
"Eclipse," his master mumbled shyly. "Would you mind staying a while?"
"As you wish," Eclipse said quietly, and settled down beside the bed.
"Eclipse?" Raenef mumbled sleepily. "I'm really sorry about the kitchen..."
"It's alright, Master Raenef," Eclipse soothed. "It is being cleaned as we speak."
In the kitchen...
"Why am I forced to suffer like this?!" Chris wailed. "I didn't even touch the stupid kitchen!" He raised his eyes to the ceiling, fist clenched over his heart. "Oh great Rased, witness this grave miscarriage of justice against your cleric!"
"Shut up and scrub," Erutis snapped.
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