Stephen rocked back and forth, his forehead creased and his lips pursed in deep thought. Her words were still tinkling across his ears, as if she was whispering sweet nothings next to him. He had to concede it to Jadesin though, her idea did strike an ambitious chord in his heart. Was it the tantalizing thirst for the sweet juice of power that would come along with it? Or was it perhaps the thrill of a hazardous journey that would pave his way with gold and blood?
Not to mention, if he could draft Natasha and others in too, then the question of their overall safety would be answered for. That cave they were lodging in was an unknown variable that could one day knock at their door and bite them in the ass.
Additionally, this sudden deal was like an unexpected gift wrapped by the opportunity of growing stronger; now that was what attracted him the most.
But Stephen didn’t want to hand out his trust to the lamias yet. Nevertheless, he decided to entertain her and see for himself whether their cooperation was profitable or not, “One expedition.” he raised one finger, his eyes fixing their full attention onto her, “I will you give you a definite answer once we’re done with the Orcs. If it fails, consider our temporary partnership null.”
Jadesin slightly cocked her head to the side, her ebony-black orbs squaring him for a moment, before her soft and rosy lips curved upwards into a Cheshire grin, “We will have a blast, Stephen… and I assure you we’ll be successful too.” she tucked a dangling chock of hair behind her ear, “Thank you. I’m really glad you decided to at least give it a try.”
“Yeah, hope I won’t regret it…”
“Ohh nono, you won’t.” she beamed, “Everything will turn out alright and more.”
A thunder cracked out through the skies outside, putting a frown on Stephen’s face, “Can I take it there won’t be any surprises popping out even during a storm?” he leered at her.
Jadesin waved him off, “Nah, be at ease. Every faction worth fearing thinks our previous matriarch is still alive.” she cackled, “Until things start heating up, our area is generally safe aside stray unranked animals, but I’m sure they shouldn’t pose a problem to you. So yeah, no boogieman will be coming for you.”
Stephen deadpanned at her.
“What?” she rolled her eyes, “Do not make that face, I was just trying to be a tad bit humorous.”
“Yeah okay…” he rubbed his face with a drawn-out sigh, “I’m not in the mood for jokes.”
“I can see that duh.”
Soon the rain pelted down against the earth; the pleasant cacophony of mother nature’s orchestra padding the run-down room they were in. Jadesin wallowed in the silence, peacefully staring at him with a thousand-watt smile lighting up her face. She was all giddy at the prospects of their collaboration.
“So…” Stephen demurred.
“Your matriarch… was she that strong?”
Jadesin scoffed, “Of course. She was a whopping rank 7 Lamia, the backbone of our family.”
“Wow…” his mouth hung open, “How did she die?”
A mournful glean flashed by her eyes, “She was very old, Stephen… no matter how powerful she was, her age had already reached its last lap in the long run of her longevity. If she had managed to advance to the next rank, she could have lived a lot longer… but I guess the 7th rank was the cap of her talent.” she chuckled fondly, “She was our pride… we have a memorial of her outside.”
“I see…” his gaze drooped as he chewed on his lips, “It must have been hard on you.”
“Yeah… we lamias are not particularly gifted, which is why we always had to rummage around to survive.” she sidled up next to him, carefully coiling her tail under her as she leaned on the mattress, “That’s why she was quickly enthroned as the matriarch when she showed everyone what she was capable of. She was our pillar, and it is thanks to her efforts that we managed to secure ourselves a territory to call home.”
“You truly worship her huh.”
“Everyone does,” she turned her head to face him, “I was still little at the time; a lamialet. But I knew everything about her… everything about her exploits. Her death came as a huge loss for us, thankfully her reputation protected us from greedy monsters to this day. Our nest wouldn’t have been what it is now if not for her.”
Stephen basked in the silence that came afterward, until…
“Which is why I’m so glad you appeared… although you haven’t told me your race yet.” Jadesin huffed playfully, “Now that you accepted to give it a ‘try’… you’re ought to at least answer that.”
“Ugh… I guess I can…” after establishing a somewhat solid friendship between them – if based solely on profits – he didn’t feel the need to withhold inconsequential information from her. She showed herself up as more than welcoming towards him, and the fact that his strength gave him an edge too made him more confident with his choice.
With her curiosity shooting up to the stars, the lamia leaned closer, “Uh-huh?”
“I’m a Predator… I’m not sure if you’ve heard–“
“A what now!?”
Her unforeseen – and rather unladylike – screech nearly made him jump out of his skin. He wrinkled his nose and shot her a resentful glare, “What’s wrong with you!?” he yelled back.
“No no… I mean sorry, I mean… what?” she slurred, “I’m sorry… did you perhaps say you are a Predator? As in race, and not as an animal that preys on others, right?”
“Yeah, that would be correct.”
“…” there was a bout of silence as she quietly processed his words, and he could’ve sworn that for a moment his eyes clocked through her head where steampunk gears turned and churned with practical procedures, all of the pieces puzzling back together. She snapped her eyes back onto him, “Holy mother of–” she quickly clammed her mouth shut, right before she could jabber a string of crass curses.
Stephen regarded her with an amused look, “You okay?” he chuckled lightly when she nodded furiously, like a freziend chicken pecking on grains, “Shall I take it as you knowing something about my presumed race?”
“YES!! I mean…” Jadesin coughed in her hand, “… yes, I do indeed hold quite a bit of knowledge pertaining the Predators.” she drawled out, returning to her prim and proper behavior.
“Mind filling in the blanks for me? I’m quite ignorant about the knowhows of my race…”
With renewed vigor, she clambered back upright, “Don’t move, okay? I’ll be right back.” she cooed, as if through a series of unfortunate events he would have ebbed away if she didn’t come back fast enough to anchor him within her sight.
Arching an eyebrow up, Stephen gawked at her form skedaddling away; almost comically tumbling down from the haste. It was inexplicably cute seeing the goofy and flustered side of someone who carried herself with a majestic flair and spoke with raffinate elocution.
Fortunately, he didn’t have to wait too long. Jadesin scrambled back inside not long after her egress, a battered book securely held against her midsection, her arms encased around its leather cover, “Here!” the current lamia matriarch reclaimed her spot next to him with a euphoric bounce, “Just a minute!” she blabbed, flipping through the avalanche brittle pages whose age bespoke on its surface in yellowish blotches.
Stephen eyed curiously the blurry flux of pages shifting to their left in a flip book-like animation, until the captivating dance of sheets flopping upon another was put to an abrupt stop. Jadesin grinned, “Ah-ha! I knew it was here!” she curled her nose in anticipation, “Do you see this?” and then she proceeded to unclip a stack of papers out of the rim of the page.
“Yes, does it have anything to do with my question?”
“It has everything to do with it, my dear,” she waved them around for emphasis, “This here is a journal that dates back to hundreds of thousands of years ago. Only a few clans, factions or tribes can boast to have something akin to these old entries.”
He whistled in reply, genuinely surprised.
“They must be priceless.”
“Yeah, and this one here is special because it was inserted in the Records of Phantasmagoric Creatures. This book contains all of the most mystic and strongest races to have ever existed; sorted in no logical order.” Jadesin continued with a pleased smile, “Aaaaand, yours was found in here!” she tapped the pile of papers.
“What a surprise…” he commented with a hollow chuckle.
“That’s it? That’s your reaction?”
“Well yeah… after everything I’ve witnessed so far, I’d say it’s not that far-fetched for that to be the case.”
“Uhh…” feeling a bit stumped and at a loss of words, Jadesin cleared her throat a couple of times before resuming her previous delighted disposition, “Anyway! If your race is in here it means your bloodline is very ancient and precious! Not to mention your talent! Ohhh boy…” she started furiously fanning her face with her hand to get rid of the growing blush, as if she was in the presence of a bigwig, “Every single race listed on this book can easily go beyond the 9th Rank!! Do you know what that means?”
“That I’m badass?” he offered with a shrug, “What do these entries say? They’re bound to have more information.”
“Umh…” her brows scrunched up when she started leafing through the journal, “How weird…”
“What’s the problem?”
“Well, there’s only one page with anything scrawled in it… the others are completely blank.”
“Read it then.” he prompted.
Jadesin rearranged herself on the bed to get the most comfort out of her position, and then started reading aloud.