The dinner bell resounded through camp, calling the army in to eat. Gangrel almost dropped his practice blade in relief: Frederick was a hard trainer and practice partner, and the throbbing spots on the Mad King's body would turn to painful bruises come morning. But he maintained his casual stance, as if he didn't mind a little exercise.
Like most of the other soldiers, he stopped by the water barrel before returning to camp. Unlike the others, however, he did not splash water onto his face to clean away the sweat and cool his feverish skin. Instead he drank several mouthfuls, not letting a single precious drop escape. There would be water in the mess tent, he knew, but as a Plegian, Gangrel had gotten into the habit of ensuring that he was always hydrated; he hated watching the imbecile Ylisseans waste such a precious resource for something as frivolous as washing away dirt that would only be back in a matter of hours.
When his thirst was quenched, he strolled into camp, ducking inside of the mess tent when he came to it. A line had already formed, and the trickster reluctantly stood in the back, peering over the others' heads to see who was serving the food.
"Thank the gods," he muttered, seeing that it was Libra's turn to cook, meaning the former king probably wouldn't keel over from food poisoning later. "Finally, someone competent. Maybe I can finally forget last night's—”
Gangrel turned to see that Panne had entered the tent. The taguel had folded her arms as she studied him with disapproval.
"I believe you were about to make a comment about my cooking skill, man-spawn," Panne said bluntly, her dark eyes narrow.
"If you can call it that," Gangrel whispered vindictively, knowing full well that she could hear him with those sensitive ears. Panne's eyes narrowed even further, threatening, but he continued, unperturbed. "Pickled turnips over wild rice is not dinner, it is disgusting."
In truth, it probably wasn't Panne's fault at all: supplies were running low and good meals were becoming a game of chance as the daily cooks had to get a little creative. But—at fault or not—Gangrel loved the chance to annoy the Ylisseans; it was almost as fun as fighting them.
As the taguel was about to snap back, Gangrel made a quick escape, seizing his food and seating himself at one of the long tables spread across the tent. As usual, he sat alone, waiting for the table to fill around him. As he picked halfheartedly at his bread, Nisha walked into the tent, Stahl trailing after her. Tactician and paladin joined the Mad King where he sat, to both his surprise and annoyance.
"I hope there's seconds," Stahl commented as he tore into his food with eager haste. Nisha rolled her eyes and pulled out a tactics book from under her cloak, flipping through its pages before she found her place. As her eyes darted over the words, Stahl began to chatter to her. Gangrel ignored him for the most part, but after several minutes, the other man's cheerful disposition only proved to further irritate the red-haired trickster, who stood up to leave.
"Where are you going?" Nisha asked, not even glancing from her book. Stahl paused in his eating to look up at Gangrel, silently pressing him to answer. The Plegian shrugged and tried to walk away, but was halted as the tactician seized the back of his cloak without turning her head.
"Sit back down," she ordered, closing her tactics book with a heavy thump. Gangrel scowled, but she did not let go, twisting to face him, her dark eyes serious. The battle of wills lasted for another long moment before Gangrel gave in, sitting back down with a huff.
"You're lonely enough without seeking solitude," Nisha sighed. "I can't see why you do this to yourself."
"Did you ever think that I'd just like to be left alone, tactician?" Gangrel snapped. "Gods, if you don't get insufferable sometimes..."
"Being insufferable is my job," Nisha replied, the quaver her voice betraying her desire to laugh. Stahl was not nearly so successful at hiding it and chuckled once. Gangrel immediately siezed the opportunity to attack.
"Did I just hear a bear choking?" he asked sarcastically, making a show of looking around the room. This was too much for the young paladin, who promptly dissolved into laughter, contrary to Mad King's wish and intensifying his bitter mood. Nisha bit her lip, her shoulders shaking until she could not resist any longer and joined in the humor. At the sound, Gangrel felt his begin mood lifting and bit the inside of his cheek to suppress a grin.
Strange, he thought, once the initial desire to smile faded. Stahl's laugh was irritating enough to goad the Mad King into dismembering him, but hers...
"Oh man," Stahl gasped, struggling to end his laugh attack. "Sorry, but--" he was lost to another wave of laughter. "Oh man!"
Nisha giggled once, placing her hand on the paladin's armored shoulder to steady him as he nearly fell from his seat.
"Maybe you should go get some water and calm down," she suggested. Unable to answer properly, Stahl stood up and left, his half-contained merriment still sounding clearly among the chatter of the other Shepherds. Nisha chuckled to herself again, turning back to her half-finished supper.
Gangrel scowled to himself as his emotions took a negative turn once more. Why did she pay attention to that Ylissean when he was right here? She had insisted he stay, so he had. But as soon as Stahl—that young klutz, that boy—left, she was absorbed by the menial task of eating. His logical side—arguably the smallest portion of his being—dared suggest that she had been in the Shepherd's friendly company far longer than his own, and was only to be expected. It didn't subdue the stab of hatred towards the paladin in question, however; it was almost as if a beast had awakened inside him, angry and ready to devour Stahl whole.
"Well, that was refreshing," Nisha said, turning to smile at him.
"Is there a single muscle on my face that betrays happiness?" Gangrel deadpanned. Nisha studied him seriously. Too seriously. This time, he couldn't resist grinning. Nisha laughed once and smacked her palm against the table in triumph.
"There!" she declared. She smiled again, cocking her head to the side. But of course, Gangrel just had to get the last word in.
"Your flawless stratagem succeeds once again. I bow to your superior wisdom," he said, giving a overdramatic bow. Nisha snickered and accepted his words with equal verve. Neither of them noticed Stahl standing against the tent wall, watching it all with wide eyes.