CHAPTER 16 - Lycanthropy (1)
“Fuck, that’s tasty…”
Alex set down the flagon of mead with a pleased sigh as several empty plates sat in front of him on the wooden table. The trio had found a rustic fantasy-style inn and tavern. The women eyed him suspiciously, their own singular plates half-finished. Treya was the first to voice the question on both their minds.
“Do you have a void for a stomach?”
“Huh? No, I just haven’t eaten in three days. I was famished!”
“Th- Three days?! What kind of monster are you?!”
Alex frowned at the comment and fell silent. Celia answered in his stead, pinching Treya’s arm.
“Be nice. If you knew, you’d shut up.”
He looked at the princess, and a puzzled but worried expression overtook him.
“Fucking hell. Just how much did you see?”
Celia looked away, and her tone sounded sad like she was worried about him.
“Honestly? More than enough. It’s why I won’t ask.”
“… I’m sorry, Alex.” Treya’s expression was now one of worry.
He sighed as both of the women acted like he just got told he had cancer. He waved his hand as if brushing their worries aside and stood.
“Alright, enough of this heavy atmosphere. Life is for living and being happy. Let’s nab some rooms and hit the hay.”
Without waiting for their answers, he left some coins on the table for the meal. The weighty coin purse made him feel uneasy, but the king had refused to let him wander off with his daughter without having a staggering amount of money. Both women rose up and ran after him as he approached the counter. A gruff bear of a man stood behind it, but the warm smile he offered as they approached stood in stark contrast to his physique.
“Oi, ’ow can I help ya?”
“Three rooms, please. Single beds.”
“Oooh, sorry, lad. Only got two left.”
Alex frowned. Seriously, when were these ‘developments’ going to give it a rest? On cue, Celia interjected as she grabbed his arm.
“That’s fine. I’ll just bunk with Alex!”
He brushed her off and set some coins on the counter. If this kept up, he was going to get a major headache.
“Two rooms then. The ladies will take one each. I’ll sleep outside.”
‘HA! Take that!’
‘You are an absolute dunce. I hope you freeze in the night.’ ALICE sounded far less pleased than he had.
The man raised an eyebrow, and Celia pouted. He took the coins and slid a key to each woman. As Celia was about to complain, Alex cut her off.
“What? Oh… Oh, you ARE a meanie, Master Jaeger!”
It was Treya who caught him by surprise this time as she grabbed his sleeve and gave it a tug. When he looked over at her, she was avoiding his gaze.
“I can sleep on the floor. You shouldn’t suffer just because of our quarreling.”
Alex wasn’t sure whether he should feel touched or annoyed. Were these two ever going to listen to him?
“Who said I was going to suffer? I’m a soldier. The great outdoors is where I prefer to spend my time. Back home, I have a tent set up in my backyard because I prefer it to my bed.”
‘You lying little shit.’
‘Hey, you got a better idea?!’
Celia and Treya looked at him, and he seriously thought they were both about to argue. He prepared to cut them off again before they nodded. Treya gave his arm a gentle squeeze, and Celia pecked him on the cheek before they both ran off. As if they were entirely different people, he heard giggling from the stairs they had begun to ascend. He just shook his head.
“Mate… Not sure if’n I should hate ya, or feel for ya.”
“Yeah, you and me, both. So, cool if I just crash out behind the building?”
“Aye, I’ll make sure no one bothers ya.”
Without another word, Alex turned and walked outside. The weather was beautiful as the last of the color left the sky, and the stars came out. Alex half-expected to see several moons, but only one half-full could be seen in the sky. As if comforted by this revelation, he made his way behind the building and removed his pack.
Sitting against the wall, he took out a can of special mana-retention polish from the bag and slid ALICE into his lap. He dipped a cloth in the polish and began to apply it to ALICE’s exterior with long, slow, trained motions.
‘Ahhhhh, that feels good. Right there, Fenrir!’
‘Can you not? Please?’
‘Awww, but I want to tease “Master Jaeger,” too!’
‘ALICE, you and I both know that that is not your personality in the slightest.’
‘You’re right. If anything, you should be calling ME Master.’
‘I will leave you in the dirt overnight.’
‘You wouldn’t dare!’
‘Wanna try me?’
‘… You owe me half a can.’
Alex laughed despite himself and nodded, continuing to apply the coating. He passed the time in silence, setting the can back in the bag and fetching a blanket once he was done.
Just as he was about to drift off to sleep, he heard the sound of footsteps.
They didn’t match any gait he knew.