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Still frozen in her tracks, Amber thought back on what could have transpired when Axel brought her back from Johdine. And from what she had just heard echoing through the guild's door, it wasn't good. The old councilwoman's warnings sounded off in her head like alarm bells; but they had all been so nice to her that it couldn't be true, could it?
"Don't worry." Shelly reassured. "Jaina can be kind of loud sometimes." She placed a hand on Amber's shoulder and began gently pushing her through the door. "No need to be anxious."
"N-no, Shelly wait. That's not-." Amber stuttered in protest, but stopped once she was inside the guild so as to not draw attention to herself. There were a few more people present today, and many of them where now looking at her. "H-hi." She said sheepishly. "We're here."
Jaina sat atop the table where Axel and Zeke where sitting. A fourth person WAS slumped down next to them, though Amber couldn't make out who they were because they had their face resting in their arms and wore a large cap on their head. An older man wearing a black trench coat with a large scar on his cheek sat at the bar, and he turned his head to reveal an eye patch covering his right eye. He brushed a grey and black ponytail off his shoulder, and spun in his seat to grin at Amber. "Damn. Pale as a ghost, ain't ya'?" He narrowed his single yellow eye at her. "What? You a shut-in or somthin'?"
Amber felt Shelly push her again, when she heard a gruff voice next to them speak. "Oi, Jaina. You were right." Amber spun to find a massive man leering over her and Shelly. He was much older than they were, with incredibly broad shoulders and a large pot belly. But the sinister look and wide grin in his face was what really set Amber on edge. "She really is a cutie."
She backed away, stumbling over Shelly's feet and landing on her butt. "Dammit Elligr, ya' scared her." Jaina shouted across the room, quickly moving to Amber's side to help her to her feet. "The hell's with you?"
"Hehehe, sorry lass." Elligr rubbed the back of his head in embarrassment, however Amber didn't dare take her eyes off him. "I jus' got one of them faces."
"Yeah, well take your dumb face and go away." Jaina snapped at him, before turning to the other man at the bar. "You too, Peltin. Butt out." Elligr chuckled but did as he was told and Peltin spun back to face the bar again. Amber still didn't take her eyes off them, even as Elligr's massive frame disappear through the entrance. Payla's warnings where still fresh in her head. Where they some of the thugs she had been warned about? They both certainly looked the part, but Amber didn't have time to think on it before she felt Jaina patting her on the shoulder. "So what're you doing here? Thought you two were going shopping or something?"
Amber pulled away slightly, just out of Jaina's reach. "Y-yeah well, I changed my mind."
"She wants to take a job first." Shelly piped up.
Amber sunk back a little more, knowing full well that her story sounded suspicious, and it began to bug her that she seemed to be unable to hide things from the people around here. To her surprise however, Jaina began to laugh. "Don't like being indebted to someone, eh? I can respect that."
Jaina walked back to the table with the others, and Shelly followed after her leading Amber by the hand. "What are you guys talking about?" She asked as they all sat down.
"Nothin' much." Jaina shrugged, nodding her head in Axel's direction. "Just having some fun with sparky here." Axel grumbled something and Shelly began to giggle, though Amber kept her eyes on the fourth person at the table. Seeing this, Jaina glanced at them as well and shot up to her feet. "Oh yeah, got someone special for ya' to meet, new girl." She said, placing a hand on the person's shoulder. "This is-."
"Uh, Jaina?" Shelly interrupted, pointing at the person in question. "I think she's asleep."
"She's been asleep this whole time." Zeke announced, gently pushing on the person's head with his paw.
"Ugh... Come on, rise and shine." Jaina muttered in a somewhat annoyed tone. She began gently rubbing their back to wake them up, which grew into a rough shake when that proved futile. "Get up already!"
Apparently this worked, as whoever it was began to stir. They didn't get up quite yet, but their head shifted and Amber saw a silver lock of hair fall from under their cap. "Mnm... Five more minuets..." A feminine voice mumbled.
"You said five more minuets three hours ago." Jaina complained, lifting her hat away to reveal a head of smooth silver hair. "You said you wanted to meet the new girl, Isa. So here she is. Hop to it." Amber's blood ran cold. Did she just call this person Isa? The one Payla explicitly warned her about? Whoever it was slowly tilted their head up, and Amber held her breath.
Her eyes slowly opened and Amber found herself taken in by another pair of deep red eyes that day, just like she had when they ran into Raven. There was something different about these ones though. While Raven's where bright and seemingly full of contempt, these where dull and underlined with dark grey bags. There was no doubt about it though, this was the person from the picture Payla had shown her. This was Isa Wondril.
Still resting her head on her arms, Isa tilted her head to the side and smiled. "Hi..." She sounded like she was in a daze, but Amber wasn't about to let her guard down just yet. "I'm Isa..."
Jaina sighed and rolled her eyes, dropping Isa's cap back on her head. "Come on, you do this every time we get a new arrival." Isa muttered something into her arms; Amber couldn't make out what it was but apparently Jaina could. "You do so! You get all excited about meeting 'em and tire yourself out for the whole damn day."
The two of them continued to argue back and forth, but Amber was too caught up in her own thoughts to hear much of what else was going on around her. Despite Isa having done almost nothing, Amber was scared stiff. Moreover, the massive brute of a man at the door and hearing what might have happened to her while Axel carried her here weren't helping things. She wanted to leave; take a job, go outside, even change tables. Anywhere but here would have been better, but she dared not move under the gaze of Isa's half open eyes.
Having left the group beforehand, Shelly had taken to looking over the guild's job board just as Isa had begun to stir. She made her way back to the others with a paper in hand as Jaina and Isa had begun to argue and laid it down for everyone present to see. "Hey Jaina? Could we take this job if Amber comes with us?"
Jaina stopped arguing to quickly look the page over. "Flyer said five people."
"With Amber there would be five of us." Shelly said defensively.
"With Amber there'd be four of you and a flying cat." Jaina retorted. "The guy you usually take with you can kind of make up for that."
Shelly took a look at the job poster again, then looked up at Jaina with a confident look on her face. "It's not dangerous. We'll just be looking for something in Telmire Swamp. It'll just go faster with five people."
Thinking it over a little more, Jaina shrugged with a vaguely amused look on his face. "Well? Want to go on an adventure Amber?"
Still lost in her own thoughts, Amber wasn't paying attention to anything until she heard her name at the end. "Yes?" She blurted quickly.
"Alright good." Jaina said with a grin, standing up with the paper in hand and taking it to the bar next to Peltin. Amber slowly turned her head to watch what she was doing, only now just realising that she had apparently agreed to something without knowing it. "There, you're all set." She turned back to look at them all again, displaying the job flyer with a large stamp on the corner.
"W-wait, what's going on?" Amber asked confused.
"Sounds like you're going on a job." Isa muttered, drawing Amber's attention. She thought about backing out but seeing Isa's dull red eyes again made Amber decide to go along with it, if only to get away from their gaze. "Have fun." She said with half a smile. "Don't get hurt."
"Make sure not to piss your pants." Peltin called with a laugh, before Jaina threw the stamp at the back of his head to shut him up.
Amber sunk down in her chair again, until she felt Shelly grab hold of her arm. "Come on, we have to get packed." Amber stumbled a little as Shelly pulled her to the door, stopping momentarily to look back at the others. "Hey Axel, go get Geno and meet us at the train station later. Ok?"
"Not a train..." Axel complained, but Amber didn't hear anything else as Shelly hurried them both out of the courtyard and back down the path towards Merow City.
After a bit of running around the city, Amber now found herself standing in a crowded train station on the opposite end of town from the guild. Everything had happened so fast that it left her head spinning, but she tried to put it all together as she waited for the others.
Shelly had dragged them back to her house to the trip, though Amber had decided to wait in the foyer for her upon arrival. Save for the clothes on her back she didn't have anything to bring, but found that to be a blessing in disguise when she saw the people at the train station lugging a number of heavy looking bag's around. After that, they had stopped to get something to eat. Shelly insisted on buying her something, and Amber was too hungry by that point to argue. They arrived at the station a little after finishing what would have been lunch at that point, and Shelly left Amber to guard her bags while she got tickets.
As she sat alone, Amber reflected on everything that had happened that morning. Payla had said that she would be in danger around them; and Raven and the sinister men at the guild certainly seemed to back that point up. And Isa; Payla had singled her out specifically but she didn’t look that dangerous. And then there was Axel. She wanted to know what went on when she was left unconscious in his hands, but a part of her also thought that she might be better off if she never found out. The more she thought about it the more uncomfortable she felt, and the more it made her head ache.
"You her?" A gruff voice asked, drawing Amber's attention away from her troubles.
Amber hopped to her feet, seeing a man with no shirt, black pants, and a red headband keeping his hair back standing next to her. A large tattoo covered his chest, which was covered in scars, and he had a small sack hung over his shoulder. "I'm sorry, who-..." As she spoke, Amber began to recognise him from her first day at the guild. He was one of the ones battling in the arena when she had arrived. "Wait, are you from Blazing Soul?"
"Yep, the name's Geno Azteck." He said with a grin, offering a hand to shake. Amber timidly reached out to accept, seeing the Blazing Soul mark in the palm of his hand. "Think I remember ya'. You're that girl who was with Axel a few days ago. Ya' took off when the arena's bell broke."
Amber blushed slightly. "You know about that?"
"Got to know what's going on around ya'." He said proudly. "Even-."
"Even in a fight." Amber interrupted, getting a strange sense of déjà vu. "I've heard."
Geno nodded in response, but everyone's attention was quickly drawn to a commotion drawing closer by the second. "Come on Shelly, walking's not so bad." Amber recognised it as Axel's voice, confirmed when she spotted Zeke floating over the crowd a little farther away. "We don't have to take a train, really. We could save the money and just go on foot."
The crowd parted and Shelly matched though with an annoyed look on her face. "It'll take days to get there on foot, Axel." She groaned, glancing over her shoulder at him. "It's just a few hours, you'll be fine."
"A few hours of hell..." Axel muttered under his breath.
Shelly chose to ignore him this time, and her usual smile returned to her face as she held out a ticket for Amber. "Thanks for watching my stuff." Amber nodded silently as she took the ticket, keeping her eyes on Axel to make sure he didn't do anything funny. "Ready to go?"
"Yeah, should be about boarding time." Geno said, looking down the platform. "Let's head out."
Shelly followed, and Amber decided to help with her bags seeing as how she had none of her own to bring. Their train wasn't very far away, however apparently they were still running behind as steam was already billowing from the engine's smoke stack. Geno boarded first, being the first to arrive, and Shelly followed after him. She stopped before Amber could get on, turning around and grabbing at the bag Amber had carried for her. "I can get it, thanks."
Amber nodded and let go of the bag, taking half a step up from the platform when the train's whistle sounded off. Amber's eyes went wide and her hands shot over her ears, causing her to fall off balance and stumble back on the train's steps. She fell back, expecting to hit the ground, but landed on something soft instead. The whistle abruptly ended, and Amber slowly lowered her hands away from her ears. "You alright?" A familiar voice from behind her made Amber's face turn red, even more so when she looked back to find Axel had caught her.
"I-I'm..." She stuttered, abruptly pushing him away. "I'm fine!"
Axel stumbled back, a little confused by her actions, when Zeke flew over Amber's head and into the train car. "You should be careful, these steps are kind of steep."
"Come on guys." Shelly called from inside. "We're leaving."
Amber slowly backed onto the train, keeping an eye on the still confused Axel until she was onboard and began down the train's corridor. She followed Zeke as he flew into one of the cabins, arriving just in time to see Shelly finish packing her bag away. She sat across from Geno in the window seat, and Shelly quickly sat down next to her with Zeke on her lap. Axel was the last to arrive, apparently still annoyed by Amber's actions, and took the last seat next to Geno.
The train lurched unexpectedly, and Axel's arms crossed over his stomach as they pulled out of the station. "Oh man, here we go..." He complained, gaining a nauseated look in his face.
They all began to snicker at his predicament as the train whistle blew again. It was muffled now, thanks to them being inside, but it was still enough to make Amber tense up. She slowly drew her legs up to the seat, tucking into a ball for comfort and watching the scenery go by beyond the window of their cabin. "So what's your full name?" Amber glanced back to find Shelly watching her curiously. "I don't think you ever told us."
Amber thought about it for a moment, trying to find a way to end the conversation quickly. Oddly enough, the truth seemed like the fastest option. "My last name is Rymoon..."
"Amber Rymoon." Shelly repeated. "That's a pretty name." Amber blushed slightly, though it became apparent that Shelly's curiosity hadn't been fulfilled just yet. "What kind of magic do you use?"
"Familiar Spirit Magic." She answered shortly. Shelly looked confused, so Amber lowered her legs back to the ground and touched her belt. "Armeria, come on out." Her belt broke into pieces almost instantly, reshaping into her small imp like companion on Amber's lap. Zeke and Geno looked impressed, though Shelly seemed more taken in by her appearance again. "She can turn into different weapons for me to fight with, and listens to everything I say." Amber said with a smile on her face.
"Wow..." Zeke said in amazement, flying over to Amber's lap to inspect Armeria. "She looks so real."
"I am real." She said flatly, making Zeke jump away in surprise.
Amber began to chuckle at Zeke's reaction until she heard the door to their cabin open and saw Axel run out. She thought about asking what he was doing, but heard Geno speak before she got a chance. "Sounds kind of like my Blood Seal Magic. But a lot less messy."
"You're what?" Amber asked confused.
"I can summon weapons from my blood." He explained. "I can kill a monster, then absorb it and summon it back as a weapon." Geno leaned back in his seat and chuckled to himself. "Long as you're not squeamish, it's pretty badass."
"Sounds safe, doesn't it?" Shelly said sarcastically.
"Not exactly." Geno corrected, talking as if Amber had made the comment herself. "These things don't die when I take them in, so I got to fight 'em a bit to keep my head. It gets harder to doo each time, so I don't want to push my luck anymore." Amber pondered what he meant by that, which Geno mistook for a look of confusion. "It's kind of hard to explain, but it sounds a bit like what your familiar thing can do."
"Stop calling her a thing." Amber snapped. "Armeria's not a thing, she's a she."
"Uh..." Geno seemed taken aback by her reaction. "My mistake..." He mumbled apologetically. Amber continued to glair at him, which apparently became a little unsettling because he got up to his feet a moment later. "Well, I'm goin' to see how Axel is doing. Be back in a bit."
With just the two of them in the cabin now, Shelly began going through her book bag and retrieved a sketchpad after a moment. Wondering what she was doing, Amber began watching her as she flipped through the pages and found that each one had an elaborate picture sketched on it. Some were of landscapes, others of people, some of objects, but Amber had to admit that they all looked fairly impressive. After finally finding a blank page, Shelly took Armeria and Zeke and sat them together in the now empty seat across from her.
Amber leaned over to watch as Shelly began sketching an outline on the paper. "What are you doing?"
"I like to draw when I'm bored.” She said quickly, just finishing the outline of what Amber guessed was Zeke’s ears. "I use Pict Magic too. So it's good practise." She stopped for a moment to think, then added. "I can also use Solid Script. But I'm still not very good at fighting."
Amber quickly looked her over, agreeing that she didn't look as battle ready as Geno or Axel. Taking note of her wardrobe however brought a thought to mind. "So, you fight in a skirt?" Shelly nodded silently. "Aren't you worried that it'll...? You know..."
"I wear shorts underneath." She said with a simple pride. "Dad made me promise to."
"I can use Aera!" Zeke barked, apparently feeling a little bit left out. He jumped to his feet and sprouted wings from his back. "It's how I can do this all the time. Pretty cool, right?"
"Hey Zeke, quit moving around." Shelly complained. Zeke moaned and sat down next to Armeria once more, though Shelly piped up again. "Wait, leave your wings out for a second." Zeke did as he was told and a minute later Shelly flipped her sketch book around for them to see. "So? What do you think?" Zeke looked on with amazement and Shelly turned to Amber for her opinion.
Amber was also amazed. Despite lacking any color it was incredibly detailed, though Amber began picking out small differences in Armeria's portrait. She looked even more like a toy in the drawing, with the points of her helmet being softer and her eyes appearing more cartoonish. Overall though it looked very impressive considering that she had only been working on it for a few minutes. "It looks great."
"Thanks." She smiled, apparently glad that she liked it. Just as she began packing her sketchbook away, Shelly added. "Maybe after we finish our job, I can draw you some time." She finished packing and looked up at Amber hopefully. "If you wanted."
"Yeah, sure." The thought made Amber smile, however she soon realised that she was getting comfortable around them all. After everything that had happened that morning she promised herself not to let her guard down, yet here she was on a train ride with three people she barely knew.
She was torn; Payla had said they were dangerous but everyone was so welcoming that Amber began having her doubts. She didn't know what to do, but Shelly had always been friendly and Axel and Geno being absent presented the perfect opportunity to voice her concerns. "H-hey, Shelly?"
"Hmm?" She didn't look at her to answer, still admiring Armeria from across the cabin.
"I can trust everyone, right?" She didn't know exactly how to word what was on her mind but at least this way she wouldn't sound paranoid, she hoped. "They're all good people, right?"
"Axel and Geno?" She asked curiously.
Amber nodded. "Them to. But I meant everybody back at the guild."
Shelly looked up at her with a big smile. "Of course! We..." She stopped suddenly, apparently remembering what had happened that morning. "Well, Raven's sort of a jerk sometimes. And a few people on his team are kind of mean. But almost everyone else is nice." Hearing that kind of helped, though it still left a number of questions on Amber's mind. Was Isa a part of Raven's team then? Or the two other men she had met today? Where they the outlaws Payla mentioned? Even if they were that still left Axel, and Amber was more determined now than ever to find out what happened. As she rested back in her seat Shelly asked. "Why do you ask?"
"Just... Wondering, I guess." It wasn't necessarily a lie, but in thinking about it Amber began to feel bad about all the times she had lied since arriving at Blazing Soul.
"I see." Shelly said, also leaning back in her seat to relax. Amber considered explaining the situation to her, but unfortunately the opportunity passed by as the door open and Geno dragged Axel back by the arm.
"Least you made it to a window this time." Geno quipped with a chuckle, dropping Axel over the two seats across from the girls. "Compared to list time, I'd call that am improvement."
"Go... to hell..." Axel muttered in a nauseated tone.
Shelly giggled as Geno sat down on the floor with his back against the cabin door, though Amber was too preoccupied with Axel's condition to notice. He had his hat pulled down over his eyes, though it did nothing to hide the green tint of his skin. "What's wrong with him?" She whispered to Shelly.
"Don't mind him, he just gets motion sick whenever we go somewhere." She said with a sigh of exasperation. Amber still didn't really understand, but Shelly turned to her with a smile and winked. "Trust me." Amber smiled weakly and nodded, but a feeling of uneasiness came over her as she looked out the window again.
A light touch on her leg drew her attention away from her thoughts and down to Armeria standing at her feet. Seemingly able to read her mind, she held her arms up like an infant wanting to be held. Amber picked her up under the arms, holding her tight against her chest for a moment. Doing this had always calmed her mind in the past, and this time was no different. She looked out the window again, still without answers, but decided to just focus on get through today. She looked back at Axel to find him in the process of throwing up into a bucket on the far end of the cabin. She couldn't help but giggle, thinking she would at least be able to handle him for the moment.
Next Chapter – City in the Trees