The air was sticky from humidity, giving it a strange thickness. A few sprinkles of rain flew from the overcast sky, landing on the unwary heads of anyone on deck. Above it all, Gangrel stood in the crow's nest, gripping the wooden handrails so hard his knuckles were white and hurting.
Of all the jobs on this accursed boat, the one he most hated was lookout. The crow's nest was over 70 feet above the water, and Gangrel detested heights of any sort. It was an act of extreme willpower for him to complete an entire watch without panicking or getting violently sick. For now he was fine. He just had to keep from looking down. The temptation was particularly fierce today: Nisha was on deck and he wanted to keep an eye on her. But that wasn't worth being ill for.
Fourty-five agonizing minutes later, he was finally down.
Thank the gods, he thought as he unobtrusively wiped away a bead of sweat resting on the back of his neck. He should have known better than to show even the tiniest sign of weakness in front of Stahl; the man could spot a behavior discrepancy faster than an extra serving of dinner.
"Something wrong?" the green-clad paladin asked, drawing Nisha's attention. Gangrel scowled and crossed his arms, glaring at the two Ylisseans.
"If there was, why should you care?" he snapped, keeping his eyes on Stahl in an attempt to avoid the tactician entering the conversation. Stahl tilted his head to the side slightly, looking a tad confused.
"You're a Shepherd now," he replied, though it sounded like a question. "We all look out for each other."
The former king snorted derisively, and the paladin's frown deepened. He looked ready to say more, but to Gangrel's dismay, Nisha intervened.
"Stahl," she said clearly, touching his arm to get his attention, "why don't you go and get something to eat. Cherche should be done with lunch by now, and she promised to get you an extra large plate, remember?"
At the mention of food, Stahl immediately brightened up and left without another word, despite Gangrel unspoken pleadings for him to stay; he didn't want to be alone with Nisha: the very thought was worse than taking another watch shift. But his silent desires were unheard and ignored, and he was with the tactician, defenseless. When she spoke his name, it took all his willpower not to break eye contact and turn away.
"Gangrel? You're certain you're alright?"
"If anything was wrong, I wouldn't tell any of you blasted Ylisseans, now would I?" he sneered, covering his rather pathetic weakness as best he could. She frowned and folded her arms in disapproval.
"Was it your acrophobia?" she asked. "The height of the crow's nest might have been tall enough..."
"Acrophobia? Where would you get an idea like that?"
"It was in the roster. That book I keep in the barracks? I've been trying to figure out how it works ever since I found it. It magically fills with information on every member of the army, even you. The roster has titled you 'the most hopeless acrophobe' from your entry. And since acrophobia is the fear of heights—a phrase you wouldn't have known unless you suffered from it..."
Blast it all. She knew.
"I'll survive," he snapped, cutting off her deductions. Nisha's brow furrowed and she took a step closer, opening her arms in an almost pleading gesture.
"As tactician, it's my job to make sure the needs of everyone are accommodated. If you can't handle heights, I can find other assignments for you to do."
"I'll survive," Gangrel repeated, turning away to leave. "I've done it before, and I'll do it again."
Nisha's slim but strong fingers gripped his wrist firmly, halting him in his tracks. Not releasing him, the young woman stood before the former king, her eyes steely and determined.
"I don't know how else to say this," she said firmly, "so I'll just say it: You are a member of this army. It does not matter who you were before. You are valuable, and it is my job watch over you just as much as any of the others here. I would never betray any confidence you might place in me. You can tell me anything, and I'd never tell another soul."
Gangrel didn't want to trust her. He didn't want her anywhere near him. He didn't need her "help". She was Ylissean, treacherous to the core, just like they all were. He didn't reply as he wrenched his arm free and stalked belowdecks. Her footsteps followed him to the doorway and he heard her call out something that made him pause.
"I haven't told Chrom, you know!"
The red-haired man peered at Nisha, not fully understanding. She took a deep breath and continued, her voice softer.
"That thing I found? He doesn't know it exists. And he never will." She smiled, raising her arm and tapping the back of her right hand, where the six-eyed purple mark shone against her pale skin. "I swear it on the eyes of Grima. You're little...secret is safe with me."
Gangrel's lips curled first into a snarl, then into a bitter smirk.
"You think I'll trust you? Just because you can claim nobility? Hah!" he spat. "Keep your so called 'kindness' to yourself. Its never done me any good."
Nisha's smiled faded, replaced by a ponderous look. Gangrel's scowl returned and he disappeared down into the depths of the ship, desperate to get away from her.
He knew she had to be lying. No Ylissean would ever relinquish any advantage they had over their enemies; it was their way, witnessed by the very blood of numberless Plegians. Gangrel could not allow himself the privilege of weakness anymore: the moment he had no use, they would cast him out to rot. He was forever alone, cursed by the blood running through his veins and the crown on his brow.
Gangrel was content to be the Mad King of Plegia, unseen and unheard. He was just another sword to add to this Ylissean cause, a cause he didn't believe in. Nothing he did mattered, so the tactician needn't bother with false friendliness. Only alone he could remain unharmed.