Jadesin stood in front of the dilapidated veil, a basket with neatly folded clothes within carefully held against her midriff. Dawn had come, its golden streaks trying to daub the gloomy blanket of the sky with a more colorful touch. That was not to be. The sun was almost like a prisoner behind that dreary screen of clouds, and no lights found entry through the stormy clot. But none of that was important to her. Today was the day, and nothing would have balked her plans; most certainly not the weather.
And she needed his help, because inside that ambitious gaze hid a nervous woman who dreamed of something more than walls around her nest.
With a reassuring sigh, she slowly called out, “Stephen? Are you awake?” with her status, courtesy would have been the last of her worries, but her guest was special, and she was keen on respecting his privacy, hence why she didn’t barge in like a banshee.
Stephen’s answer wafted back with the energy she had been expecting – and hoping – it would have after she made him drink one of her prized healing potions, “I’m up! But I can’t go out like this…” he blurred the end of his sentence with a more sheepish undertone.
“Pfftt…” she slightly tilted her head to the side and covered her mouth with a hand. Of course she knew what he was talking about.
“I heard you.”
Quenching down the last twitches of amusement, she cleared her throat, “I have a set of clothes for you here. Not sure if they’ll fit you or not.”
“I’m very picky about my apparel, Jadesin…”
“Well…” she crooned with a mischievous growl, “… I’m sure nobody would complain if you were to battle the Orcs completely naked.”
“Exhibitionism is not among my kinks. Do come in and let me see the stuff.”
“Good. Ohh…” her voice lowered an octave, “…you better cover yourself with something, the big bad Lamia is slithering in, and she won’t mind stealing a peek or two.”
Jadesin brushed the veils aside and stepped in. Her eyesight did a cursory scan of the room before locking onto a silhouette partially covered by the shadows, a lone blanket tied around his waist as he turned around and, prompted by an invisible force, her chin sloped upward. Her eyes leaped right into his bordeaux pools.
Those glowing rings around his pupils almost hitched her breath.
“You’re tired…” she muttered at last, finally taking note of the dark bags under his eyes. The smile he graced her remark was one that contained something she was all too familiar with. She wetted her lips in the preparation of a long string of questions that was cut short right before it could even start.
“I’m fine.” the finality in his voice closed off any doors on the matter. Jadesin found herself wondering if it was because of something she had said yesterday, “Sooo… can I see the clothes?” he pressed on with a different topic, not giving her enough time to dig out the answer of his quandary for herself. He knew she would have squeezed the juice of his problem if given enough time and clues to do so.
“Uh… ah… yes, sure.” caught off-guard, she blinked a couple of times before proffering the basket to him when it suddenly clicked on her, “Wait! You asshole! Don’t switch topics! You play a key role in our quest of today, so if you’re suffering from anything you’re ought to tell me!”
“My apologies.” it was a wonder how he could keep so stoic despite the storm of emotions seething in his heart, “I just need to digest yesterday’s… food.”
“Jadesin… you’re very cute when you’re puzzled.”
She started raking her scalp out of sheer frustration, “Stephen… you’re not making any goddamn sense!”
His cheeks puffed up before he doubled over and burst out in a hearty laugh, “I’m just messing with you, you silly little snake.” he leaned over the edge of a desk to catch his breath, “Ah, I needed that. Oh right, the clothes…”
Jadesin stood there like a gaping fish as he rummaged through the garments, periodically throwing them one by one upon the ever so growing disheveled pile of discarded garbs behind him. He tutted with a disappointed shake of his head.
“Is that all you have?”
Her lips thinned into an embittered line. He blabbered on, “I’ll take that expression as a yes. Nevermind.” he stared at the leather – and rather manhandled – shirt in his hand. It looked like it was designed to contain potatoes instead of covering human skin. The rough texture sent a prickling sting throughout his body. At least his underwear had been spared from that beam, he mused whilst looking at the last article inside the basket.
“Stop whining and wear it, we’re already losing precious time as it is.”
“Heh, they’re not going anywhere, why the hurry?”
“I’d like to depart before the weather gets worse, it’ll take us a couple of hours to get there… so we’d better be out of here within the next 30 minutes. And you’re not helping me.”
“Get over it, you know… not all of us have to wear only a twine of leaves to cover our modesty.” he wisecracked with a half-masked chuckle, that soon warped into a stifled smile when her ‘I dare you to say that again’ glare riddled him.
He ushered all of his limbs through the holes in the shirt before pulling up the hem of his trousers.
Stephen buckled the belt around his waist and stepped out, the weakest hints of a frown crumpling up his face. The only good news he was provided with that offset his new wardrobe content was…
“Here’s the sword.” Red Virtue presented him his weapon of choice with a respectful bow. There was a well-arranged formation of lamias behind her, all of them adorning some kind of protective gears while gripping on a trident. But none that was of importance to him.
“Oh yes! Finally!” he almost started bouncing around like a sugar-driven kid in front of a cake, “This is truly a bliss!” his fingers wrapped tightly around the hilt as his other hand moved up to graze the underside of the blade. It was nothing grandiose, nothing fiction-like fancy, and for sure nothing masterfully crafted to dust away on a cushion inside a museum. Its purpose bespoke for itself.
And he had been missing his favorite tool to defend himself with since he was bogged down by the untimely outset of his Predatory Fever. Things weren’t looking up, but it didn’t matter because he survived! He was still standing!
Shapeshifters? Golems? Orcs? Just food. His father? Screw him! It was time to march on.
He cracked a knot in his neck, a dogged shimmer flashing through his eyes for the briefest of moments. Strength surged across his muscles, his Encore Power agreeing with his intentions as they ever so stealthily flared up and down.
Jadesin interlocked her arms under her bust, “It seems you have taken a liking for your new toy.” her words were almost drowned out by the waves of his euphoria, but his ears still twitched at their amused flavor.
“You have no idea…” she couldn’t possibly feel all of his Lv.9 sword experience playing tag around his fingers…
His knuckles slowly whitened from the pressure.
… or the smoky threads of his buried anger, unearthed and brought to life. It was time to enact his plans, not only Jadesin’s ones. He would get back to them all, and he would do it with a full stomach.
For now, he had to quell his hunger.