Chapter summary: Fayt is drawn to Albel. While sharing a hotel room, he gets a glimpse of humanity behind the smirking lips and scornful gaze.
"Angels to Some"
I can feel his glower at my back; suspicious prickling of the skin on the back of my neck warns me that if I glanc behind me, my eyes would find his scarlet gaze. My stomach churns with anxiety. I know if I did dare to look back, he'd hold my gaze unwaveringly. Calling him out on it just made him huffy or, worse, malicious in a way that might have been playful if we could be called friends.
Could Albel and I ever be friends?
He's so strange. Sometimes I feel like two people are struggling for dominance of his personality. Sometimes I can understand why Nel went white with fear when we first encountered him. Other times I feel as though he's just misunderstood, poorly socialized, and desperate for human contact.
Nonetheless I am drawn to him, and it is consuming me.
I have been reckless in my secret thoughts. Albel is dangerous and I am incapable of resisting this fascination. He is pulling me in, I know I shouldn't let him, but never in my life have I ever longed to know somebody this badly.
We're sharing a room in Peterny. Albel could have had a room to himself, considering the odd number of our party, but he claimed that he wanted to spar with me in the morning before we go off to face the Marquis. This way, all he'd have to do is roll out of bed and get me awake.
He is meticulous in laying out his space. His sword in its scabbard is hung on the bedpost, within reach, as thought he expected danger to strike at any moment. Albel strips off his clothing without shame and though I've seen plenty of skin revealed in locker room settings, this is far different from those innocent days. He's not a teammate to pat on the back and say, 'You played great out there, man.'
I can't help but stare. He's too thin for his height; he could stand to gain ten pounds, yet he's not skin and bones. Sinewy muscle beneath pale skin tempts me. For the moment I imagine what he would feel like under my hands, that sleek, pallid body shivering under my fingertips. A flush creeps up my throat. These thoughts are a bit new to me. I am no innocent, but I have never felt such lusty feelings before.
A part of me always kind of figured I'd end up with Sophia. I'm starting to wonder if things aren't so simple as that.
"How old are you, fool?" Albel asks suddenly.
"I'm nineteen, why do you ask?"
"You're blushing like a maiden, but surely you've seen another man's body before," Albel scoffs scornfully. "What's your problem?"
"Ah, nothing. Sorry. You know...you should eat more."
"What nonsense. I eat when I'm hungry. That's enough."
I snort softly, distracted from the latent eroticism of the situation by Albel's combative nature. "I rarely see you take in anything substantial. That's not healthy.
Albel is silent for a moment before replying. "That may be so, but meat is a luxury for my countrymen, and I won't indulge myself while Glyphians subsist on stale bread and shriveled vegetables."
I sit in stunned silence. Perhaps I had expected Albel to mock the indulgences of rich foods, like some kind of perverse warrior monk, but I certainly didn't expect him to imply that he was fasting out of respect for the people he was fighting for. He is a brutal man and most definitely a nationalist, and though hated and feared by most Aquarians, he is admired by many Glyphians. It is easy for me to forget about the war and even the grayer areas of said war. I'm starting to wonder if those old-timers are right about the evils of virtual reality twisting the minds of the young and impressionable.
"I'm sorry," I sigh softly.
"You're being foolish. Where there is a struggle for power, there is always suffering for those not directly involved," Albel explains dismissively. "Surely you understand. No matter where you come from, there's always war."
"There is," I admit, "but it's different where I'm from. Very few actually witness the wages of battle or even know how to use a weapon."
Albel glowers at me, his hand on his hip, a common gesture made oddly titillating due to his state of undress. "That's preposterous! What about you? You're not a soldier, yet you are quite formidable."
I flush faintly. How am I going to explain this? "It's...complicated."
Albel scoffs, "Whatever. I suppose that explains your exceedingly pacifistic demeanor."
I feel embarrassed, wishing I could understand the strife that I have been seeing since Cliff and I crashed on Elicoor. Yet I know it's simply not to be. Can this rift ever be overcome between us? When will I have seen or experienced enough brutality to understand Albel's world of dominance and power?
"Can I trust you not to talk?" Albel asks suddenly.
"What?" The question surprises me.
He stares at me blandly, and I'm thrown off guard. I quickly recoup. "Sure, why?"
Without another word he begins to remove his gauntlet. I have never seen him without it, nor has anyone else in the party. There were rumours, of course, but I didn't expect to see metal underneath. It dawns on me that I am looking at an archaic, but very functional prosthetic limb.
My jaw drops and Albel glowers. I can't help myself and I get up from the edge of my bed and go to him.
"That's amazing!" I keep my hands to my side though I badly want to touch it. The part of me that is still somewhat afraid of Albel stills my itchy, curious fingers.
Albel looks as surprised as I've ever seen him. He sits down on his bed and scowls. "Surely you're joking."
"Not at all!" I reply as I take the huge risk of sitting down next to him. "This is far beyond any technology your continent. Who made it?"
I can't help but study it, amazed by the seemingly seamless continuation of metal where the flesh stopped several inches above his elbow. Obviously the surgical procedure had been quite sophisticated.
Albel's gaze becomes guarded once more as he studies my face. He's looking for mockery or guile and not finding it. This seems to flummox him and it doesn't take a genius to figure out how much this is bothering him. I suppose he's used to more freaked out reactions, but how could anyone not be impressed after seeing how mobile the prosthetic was?
"A man from Greeton," Albel replies tersely.
I forget myself as curiousity wins out over good sense. My fingers lightly caress the cool metal, and I note the slightly rough texture of it. There is rune at the elbow, which I examine carefully. It vaguely reminds me an energy symbol, which can be used in many different ways. In this case, I have a feeling it's being used to connect to Albel's bioelectricity. It would also explain his ability to throw energy from it. Albel had just managed to learn how to turn it outward. How fascinating!
"This is truly incredible," I murmur. "You should not be ashamed. Not at all."
"Hmph," Albel scoffs, "I'd rather have the flesh than the metal."
"Well naturally," I reply, "but I'm sure you'd rather have the metal than nothing at all."
Albel makes a strange, annoyed sound in the back of his throat. "What exactly are you getting at, fool? No matter how you look at it, I'm a freak! End of discussion!"
I smile sadly at him. "You're not."
Looking at him, at this moment, I want to tell him he's beautiful. And he is. Albel Nox is the most savagely sensual man I've ever seen. I know it should freak me out, this strange attraction of mine, but it doesn't.
Albel lightly shakes the prosthetic arm out of my grip and turns away. "Whatever. Go to bed, maggot. We've got a lot to do tomorrow."
I sigh as I go back across the room to the bed I would be sleeping in tonight. I turn off the light on the bedside table and drift off into an uneasy dreamland of dragon lords and melancholy warriors.