|← Last||Next →|
Amber's bed shook, rocking her partly awake. "Come on, get up." A tiny voice urged. Amber rolled over, waving her hand to brush whoever it was away. "Wakey wakey, Amber." The bed shook again and she opened one eye to see Zeke jumping up and down on the bed beside her, chanting. "Get up, get up, get up." With each bounce.
She flicked the covers to stop him, then slowly sat up and rubbed her eyes. "What do you want?" After glancing across the room at Shelly, still sound asleep in her bed, a scowl formed on her face. "We're trying to sleep."
"Axel said to come and get you." He announced, hopping over to Shelly's bed and disappearing under the covers. He emerged a second later by her feet, flicking the blanket away and taking his tail in his hand. With a mischievous smile, he began brushing the end of his tail up and down Shelly's foot. "Tickle, tickle."
Shelly shuffled slightly, then suddenly kicked out and knocked Zeke off the bed. Amber barely had enough time to laugh before Shelly sat up in a daze. "What's going on...?" She still looked half asleep, and her hair and pajamas where a dishevelled mess. "What's so funny?"
Zeke slowly crawled back up on the bed, a large bump on his head. "You kicked me!"
"What?" Shelly rubbed the sleep out of her eyes, then glanced from the still snickering Amber to Zeke sitting at the foot of her bed. "Come on Zeke... It was a long day yesterday, I'll play with you late-."
"Shelly?!" They heard Axel's voice echo through the door to their room, having apparently heard the commotion. "Shelly, we have a problem!" The girls exchanged a glance, then hopped out of bed to investigate.
Shelly took a moment at the door to pat down her hair and straighten out her clothes, but soon they stepped into the hall to find Axel standing in front of the guy's room. Nothing really stood out, prompting Shelly to ask. "What is it?"
"Geno's sleeping in." He moaned. "He's having one of his, things, again."
Amber shook her head, still a little drowsy. "He's what?"
"How did that happen?" Shelly interrupted
"He said he was going out to practice last night." Axel glanced back into the room, and the girls did the same to investigate for themselves. "I fell asleep before he got back. But I guess he wore himself out yesterday with all the running around we did." The lights where off, but they could still make out Geno sleeping on the bed farthest from the door. In the silence, several heavy snores could be heard echoing from inside.
Amber backed away from the door slightly, still without a clue as to what was happening. "Wait, what's going on?"
"Geno is a really heavy sleeper." Shelly explained with a tired sigh. "He can go without sleep for days, but when he does we can't wake him up no matter how hard we try." She stepped back and leaned against the hallways opposite wall with her arms crossed. "Jaina called it narcolepsy, I think."
"Oh." She was still confused, but didn't think that a better explanation would be coming any time soon. "So what should we do?"
Shelly touched a finger to her lips to think for a moment. "Well, we've technically got the rooms for the day, and our clothes are still kind of damp. I guess we can just hang around in our pajamas for a little while." She glanced at Amber, and the few sizes too small pajamas she had been loaning her. "Well, most of us can..."
Amber glanced down at herself, then blushed when she realised the pajamas Shelly had packed for her displayed her figure in a way that she wasn't quite comfortable with in public. Just as she crossed her arms over her chest, Axel nudged her with his elbow. "To bad he's so big, or we could just carry him home same as I did for you." He mumbled, not paying any attention to the atmosphere.
A cold shiver shot up Amber's back, and she ran back down the hall and into the girl's room again. She tore the covers off her bed and curled into a ball under them, every worry she had flooding back in just a few short seconds. Shelly wandered in after her a moment later, also apparently unaware of Amber's troubles. "Axel and Zeke headed down to the restaurant, and I'm kind of hungry too. Want to come with?" Amber was too wrapped up in her own thoughts to answer, and Shelly pulled back the covers to find her face was still beat red. "Amber? What's wrong?"
"I-I just..." She couldn’t put it off any more, she had to know what happened between her and Axel. The problem was that she couldn't even think of facing him in what she was wearing now. "Do you remember what Jaina said when we got to the guild a few days ago?" She asked timidly. "The morning we were supposed to go shopping? Right before we went inside?"
"I heard her yell something, but I couldn't make out what it was." Amber was silent again, but it didn't take long for Shelly to figure out that it was related. "Why?"
Amber sat up and explained what happened, starting with how she and Axel had met in the mansion all the way up to the day they had headed out for their job. She left out the part about her visit from the council mage though, still not really sure how to deal with that. Shelly sat next to her on the bed, silently listening to every word. Once Amber finished her story, she let out a long sigh. "I can't ask him about it dressed like this..." She added. "I look, well... I'm half naked."
"Oh." Shelly had a firm look on her face, something Amber wasn't used to seeing from her. Suddenly, she disappeared into the bathroom and ran out with a housecoat draped over her shoulder a second later. "Here, put this on."
"Huh?" Amber caught the coat in her arms, though was still no less confused. "Why?"
"We're going to ask him right now." She said, pulling Amber to her feet.
"What?" Amber asked in disbelief. "No, I can't! Not like this!" She stopped dead, shaking her hand out of Shelly's with a single flick. "I tried asking him already, before when went into the swamp. I got so embarrassed that I couldn't think straight."
"I'll ask him then. I've known Axel for a while, so I'll know if he's lying too." Shelly said simply. "If this was on your mind for the past few days, you should have said something sooner." She slipped her feet into a pair of slippers at the door and spun back with a determined look on her face. "You're a part of our team now, so you want to know you can trust us, right?"
Amber wasn't sure what to think. She wanted to know what happened, but having Shelly ask about it seemed unfair somehow. After a moment of not being able to come up with a better solution, she simply nodded and slid the housecoat on. After stepping into her sandals and donning Armeria's belt, Shelly took her hand and led her out the door.
After winding down a long flight of stairs, the girls found themselves on the ground floor of the hotel. They had received a few odd looks for their attire, one in childlike cat paw print pajamas and the other in what looked like nothing but a housecoat and sandals, but Shelly ensured they moved too quickly for anyone to have time to comment. After a moment they arrived at the entrance to the restaurant, and could already hear Zeke's ecstatic voice echoing from within.
Shelly placed a hand on Amber's chest at the door, stopping her from following. "Wait here." She nodded silently, stepping back out of sight as Shelly entered the dining room. Finding Axel didn't take long, as Zeke was circling over his head with a large plate of food and making quite the ruckus. Shelly took a deep breath, then said. "Axel, come here."
He perked up, then eventually found Shelly leering at him amongst the other hotel guests. He glanced up at Zeke, then slowly wormed his way through the crowd towards her. "Uh, what's up?" Despite them using a hushed tone, Amber could still hear the two of them talking from where she hid.
"Is it true you met Amber in Jodine?" She asked flatly. Axel nodded, so Shelly added. "And when she got hurt you brought her back to Jaina?"
"Yeah..." Axel nodded dumbly again. Amber didn't catch it at first, but Shelly had the same stern look on her face as she did when she explained the situation to her, and apparently Axel wasn'1t used to seeing it much either.
"Did you d-do anything to her?" She seemed to stumble over her words, and Axel gained the same confused look her had when Amber had tried asking. Shelly's face grew red, and she glanced down at the floor. "Anything perverted?"
"What? No!" He said in disbelief. He appeared ready to say something else, but stopped abruptly and glanced in Amber's direction. She sunk back behind the dining room entrance, hoping against all odds that he hadn't seen her, then heard him ask. "Did she say I did?"
The flush from Shelly's face disappeared. "Did you?"
Axel sighed, apparently becoming annoyed with her accusations. "No Shelly! I didn't do anything."
Amber peaked back out of hiding to see Shelly smiling again, which somehow set her at ease. "You're sure?"
"Yeah I'm su-. Wait, you've been talking to Jaina, haven't you?!" He yelled. Shelly glanced back over her shoulder to Amber, then winked as Axel began pacing back and forth in front of her. "Dammit, this is her payback for the medicine thing. I know it."
Amber sunk back behind the door again, breathing a huge sigh of relief. After all the times she had tried lying to Shelly, having her confirm that Axel was telling the truth meant the world to her.
She slowly pushed off the wall and back to her feet, ignoring the strange looks she was getting from the hotel's other guests, and was about to step into the dining room herself when a gruff voice asked. "Excuse me miss." Amber spun around to see an older man with short scruffy hair and a thin goatee approaching her. He wore a rust colored button up shirt and a pair of triangular framed sunglasses, despite the fact that he was still indoors. "Couldn't help but notice that mark on your hand, so I figured you'd be able to help me with something."
Looking down at the backs of her hands, Amber found her orange guild mark staring back at her. "Who are you?"
"Shelly!" A blue haired boy rushed past Amber and into the dining room, catching Shelly by surprise when he threw his arms around her the second he got close enough.
"Leo? What are you doing here?" She pushed away from him, though despite the boy's slightly smaller stature Shelly was unable to get free. "Can you let go? Please?"
Leo stepped back, though this had apparently done little to calm his mood. "What were you thinking, running off with half your team on dangerous job like that?" Shelly puffed out her cheeks in annoyance, however Leo noticed the bandage on her forehead and added. "What happened to your head?"
"Nothing!" She spat, apparently not liking being fussed over. "I just got pecked by a bird. I'm fine."
"Easy dude, we did fine." Axel cut in. "We've already finished the job, so there's nothing to worry about, right?” Rift entered the dining room again to join them, and Axel nudged him with his elbow. "Some dark mage gave us a hell of a time too. You should've been there, man. It was awesome."
"Dark mage?" Leo asked in disbelief, spying a number of small injuries littered over both Axel and Shelly. "You led my sister into a fight with a dark mage, in one of the most dangerous landscapes in the country?"
"I had to fight a freakin' alligator, man." He shot back. "I was a little preoccupied at the moment."
Rift took Axel by the back of his shirt, while Shelly stepped in front of Leo in an attempt to stop a fight from breaking out. "It was just a bird Leo. Promise." She kept her head low, using her bangs to hide the bandage on her forehead. He seemed to calm down slightly, and Shelly pulled Amber out of hiding to explain. "It was Amber's first job, so I wanted to go with her. And we got a much bigger reward for it too."
Leo glanced in Amber's direction, and she took the time to look him over as well. He had scruffy blue hair and blue eyes that matched Shelly's, though his seemed different in a way Amber couldn't quite place. He wore a yellow hoody and blue shorts, and a green gym bag was slung over his shoulder. He sighed suddenly, becoming agitated by the constant arguing, and began scratching the back of his head. "Whatever, I'll be waiting by the entrance. Get me when you guys are done."
As Leo stormed off, Zeke returned from his table and saw Rift standing with the others. "Hey Rift!" He called, dropping what he was doing and flying over to his shoulder. "What are you doing here?"
"Hey little buddy." He scratched Zeke's ears, making him purr slightly. "Well, boss man got kind of pissed at Jaina for letting you all take this job. So he asked me to track you guys down soon as I walked in the door." Rift's attention focused on Shelly, who had apparently guessed where the conversation was heading next. "And when big bro got wind of it there wasn't much I could do to stop him."
"I'm not a little girl." She huffed impatiently. "Leo should know I can take care of myself."
"Don't think it's going to matter how old you are. As obvious as it may sound; you're always going to be his little sister." Rift said with a grin, flashing his jagged teeth again. Shelly sighed, but had a look on her face that said she understood. After a brief silence, save for the bustling of the hotel's guests, Rift took a quick headcount and asked. "The hell is Geno?"
"Sleeping." Shelly answered quickly, grateful for the change in subject. "We were really busy yesterday, so when we found out he was sleeping in we decided to just rest for a while before going home."
"Oh." Rift said in surprise. "Well, you guys have fun then. I'm goin' to go keep an eye on Leo, make sure he doesn't get too mopey 'n stuff." Shelly and Zeke both giggled as Rift turned to leave, but not before patting Amber on the shoulder as he passed bye. "Welcome to the team, by the way."
Amber was about to ask what he meant, but Axel cut her off first. "I-I'm going too... Check on Geno." He said sheepishly, drawing away from the girls. "Come on Zeke, let's go." He beckoned to him, circling around Amber to the entrance.
Her head still spinning from everything that had just happened, Amber felt Shelly lead her to a small booth in the corner of the room. She snapped out of it when Shelly returned with a big plate of food from the buffet for them to share, who then said. "See? Nothing to worry about."
"What?" Amber asked, not paying attention.
"You were worried that Axel might have done something to you." She spoke absentmindedly, scooping a stack of pancakes from the big plate onto a smaller one for herself. "He didn't"
"Oh, yeah..." Amber wasn't sure what to say. It still seemed unfair that she had Shelly ask for her, even now that all was said and done, but she was grateful it all the same. "Thanks for doing that. I can't imagine it was easy for you to suspect someone you knew."
"It's ok, it didn't sound like something he'd do in the first place." Shelly waved her off, taking a moment to eat a large mouthful of her pancakes. "He doesn't think things through a lot of the time, but he's a good guy."
Amber smiled slightly, feeling her stomach growl with the smell of the food Shelly had brought. The thought of eating cast away anything else on her mind, and she too took a plateful for herself. Everyone was so tired when they got back that they skipped dinner and headed straight to bed, and Amber intended to make up for that right now. Shelly ate with her, evidently just as hungry as she was, leaving no room for conversation. This carried on for a while, and soon the two of them where picking through the last of their breakfast.
"Hey Amber?" Amber looked up from her meal to find Shelly staring at her, fidgeting uncomfortably in her seat. "Can I ask you something?"
"Uh..." Amber wasn't sure how to respond. "Sure?"
"Why don't you want to talk about yourself?" She asked flatly.
A small bit of food caught in Amber's throat, causing her to choke in response to Shelly's question. She pounded her chest, then took a quick drink of water Shelly had handed her. "W-what do you mean?"
Shelly sank back in her chair and rested her hands on her lap. "You dodge around a lot of stuff every time I ask you something personal. Or sometimes you get all flustered and just don't answer at all." There was a slight pause, nether one knowing what to say to the other for a moment. "Do you just not want to tell us?"
Amber slumped her shoulders. This was a question she'd been fearing ever since she joined Blazing Soul, but knowing that hadn't make it any easier to answer it seemed. "I-I uh..." She tried to think of something to say, but nothing came to mind. She'd grown sick of lying to everyone, especially Shelly now that she'd gone out of her way to resolve her problem with Axel. "I guess I’m just not use to opening up to people. I've been on my own for a while, so I’ve never really had someone ask me so many questions."
"Oh." Shelly muttered in surprise. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to pry."
Amber waved Shelly's apology off. "You knew I was lying to you, didn't you?" She asked sheepishly, remembering all the times she'd felt like Shelly didn't believe something she'd said.
"Yeah, kind of." Shelly shrugged, trying not to look her friend in the eye.
Hearing her admit that seemed to only make Amber feel worse. Obviously she knew. If she didn't, they wouldn't be having this conversation now. "How could you tell?"
Shelly shrugged again. "Just had a feeling I had."
Amber was still left confused. A feeling? What did that mean? She mulled it over in her head a few times, but found herself no closer to an answer. One look across the table however made her realise that Shelly seemed to be just as uncomfortable asking these questions as she was answering them. Seeing this made her decide to end the conversation, but she had to be sure of something first. "I just don't like talking about my past, ok?"
Shelly's expression changed somewhat, something between curiosity and concern. "Is it bad?" Amber gazed downwards, feeling a churning in her stomach, and nodded slightly. "I see..." Amber almost smiled; this was the first time Shelly had said that without having to lie to her.
"Having a good time?" Amber nearly jumped out of her chair, spinning in place to find Rift standing just behind her. He still had his shades on, and chuckled slightly at her reaction. "Sorry, carpet in this place is stupidly quiet."
Shelly giggled a little, regaining her cheerful demeanor almost instantly. "Is Geno awake yet?"
"Yep, he's once again among the living." He glanced at the girls table, and the number of empty plates resting on top. "Your little bro wants to head home too. So if you two have had your fill, you might want to think about getting changed."
After a short sigh, Shelly nodded. "M'kay, we'll be out in a bit." Rift turned to leave and made a spinning motion with his finger, indicating for them to make it fast. Shelly hopped to her feet and stood next to Amber, watching the door Rift had left out of. "Well, we should get going. Leo's probably going to complain if we take too long."
She nodded silently again, and readied to get up when Shelly suddenly wrapped her arms around her stomach in a gentle hug. Amber went rigid as she rested her head on her shoulder, not sure what to think. The pair of them where still for a moment as Amber wondered what she was up to. "S-Shelly? What are you-?"
"Nothing." She said innocently, stepping away and clasping her hands behind her back. "Come on, our stuff should be dry by now. So I guess it's time to go home." She walked away without explaining, leaving Amber in somewhat of a daze. She shook her head clear after a moment and suddenly felt herself grow more at ease, pondering how it was that Shelly could make her problems disappear so easily. With a small smile she followed after her to their room.
It was just past noon when the girls arrived at the stone block that made up the train platform, just in time to see the train pull up. The others were already there waiting for them. Geno, Axel, and Rift where talking amongst themselves, while Leo had propped himself against a lamppost apart from the others. Zeke swooped down at them from the top of said lamppost the moment he saw the girls, and Shelly caught him against her chest. "Ready to go?" He asked excitedly.
"Yeah, nothing says excitement like sitting on a train for an entire day." Rift said sarcastically, half glancing over his shoulder at Leo. "Heard you guys made off with a small king's ransom though, so I'd say it's all worth it. Right little bro?"
Huffing impatiently, Leo pushed away from his perch and began pushing Shelly towards the train. "Let's get going already, Dad wants to see you."
"Alright, alright, I'm going." Zeke flew from her arms and hovered beside Amber as the siblings reached the train door. Just as they got out of sight, they heard Shelly's voice echo. "Stop pushing already!"
The others laughed as they followed after them, leaving Amber standing on the platform alone. Feeling Zeke land on her shoulder snapped her out of her apparent daze, and he brushed her hair over her ear. "Hey, you're going to get left behind." She giggled slightly, before boarding the train herself. After what felt like some of the longest few days of her life, her first job as a member of Blazing Soul was finally over.
Next Chapter – Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing