A Longing Dream I'd Even Burn The World For
Gaspard’s food was the best she’d ever had. It wasn’t a hard bar to reach seeing as all she’d ever eaten before was other people’s scraps or whatever she found on the floor, but the tender meat mixed with the spices he sprinkled on had to be good food in everyone’s eyes, right?
She jabbed her fork into the meat and brought it to her mouth. Biting down on it, the juiciness spread across her tongue, the complex flavor covering every crevice of her pallet. A tinge of spiciness hit the back of her throat as she swallowed.
“Is it?” Gaspard laughed. “Good to see my skills haven’t deteriorated.” He proudly shoved a large piece of meat into his mouth.
To Ze’Seki’s left, Eleanor was harshly inspecting the piece of meat on her fork. Turning it from different angles before eventually sighing and scarfing it down. “I still don’t get how you make it like this. Every time I try it ends up all…weird.”
“It’s not weird. I’d say it’s pretty good. You haven’t been practicing as long as I have, that’s all,” Gaspard reassured her. “Although, I can confidently say that if it wasn’t for Lia’s phenomenal hunting skills, the meat wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as it is. She just has an eye for the juicy boars.”
Za’Lia smiled at the shower of praise.
From the moment they’d decided to stay with Gaspard, both of them felt like they wanted to do something to help out instead of just freeloading. Even after Gaspard reassured the girls it was fine and that he could handle everything, they ignored him and each chose something they could do.
While Eleanor chose to do more of the housekeeping, mostly because she didn’t trust Gaspard with their stuff, Za’Lia chose to be the hunter. Every so often she’d go out and hunt any nearby animals, usually boars, but could also be rabbits, or deer.
“You make that sound weird,” Eleanor scoffed.
“But it’s true, isn’t it? The quality of the meat is really good. At this point, we could probably make an entire business out of selling meat to the town’s people.”
“I think we sell enough to them already.”
“It doesn’t hurt to get more money, does it?”
After some hesitation, Eleanor sighed, “Yeah, maybe. I don’t think the merchant will be too happy about that though.”
Their financial situation wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t the greatest either. Food was practically the only resource they had an abundance of, or at least they could if they really tried. The people usually tried handing them free stuff, but Gaspard didn’t want to just go and take the town’s resources, so he usually declined.
“Eh, that merchant's an asshole anyway.”
“Hey, no swearing in front of Lia!”
“Really? Come on, she hears it all the time,” he scratched his head. “Anyway, what about it, Lia? Want to go hunting a bit longer tomorrow so we can sell some?”
Za’Lia nodded excitedly.
“Nice. Alright, it's been decided then!” he pumped his fist and Za’Lia did the same.
“What am I going to do with you two,” Eleanor murmured as she stuffed more meat into her mouth.
The dinner was as good as it’d always been. Their regular schedule went along for the rest of the day until it was time to sleep.
Eleanor closed the window behind the head of the big bed and locked it. “Huh, this lock is a little loose…I’ll tell Gaspard in the morning.” She turned to Za’Lia with a smile. “You ready?”
After undoing the bandages around her eyes, she placed them on the nightstand next to the bed and laid down. Eleanor hopped on the other side of the bed, covering both of them tightly.
Za’Lia much preferred to sleep alone, but Eleanor had insisted that this worked out for the best. This way, they didn’t force Gaspard to spend more money or resources on another bed, so she had said. But Za’Lia wasn’t dumb enough to eat up that story. She knew without a shadow of a doubt that the only reason she was doing that was to have an excuse to sleep in the same bed.
Eleanor was being overprotective as she’d been since they met.
If she had to be honest, she didn’t mind Eleanor sleeping next to her that much anymore. Having someone there for her wasn’t something she could ever take for granted. It was a luxury for most of Za’Lia’s life to have anyone even care for her.
“Goodnight, Lia,” Eleanor whispered.
And so, with those thoughts in mind, she began to drift away into unconsciousness.
Even in sleep, a certain prickling in the back of her mind that she’d been feeling ever since they came back from town continued to assault her. Her mind was kept fixated on that feeling from back in town. The glare that Town Master shot her. A glare she couldn’t see—but could feel.
An old familiar feeling.
One she despised.
Since birth, Ze’Seki had been shunned by both outsiders and her own people alike. It was something hard to run away from. Anywhere she went, someone would look down at her. Apart from her race, her name in itself was a testament to that—Za’Lia.
The name meant little to anyone who wasn’t part of Terranyx culture, but for her, and her people, it was a name that meant she’d be looked down upon. The reason for that? Nothing more than unluckily being born in the “wrong” place to the “wrong” family.
Terranyx culture had a naming convention that was simple, but destructive in nature. Those born in the upper echelon had their names beginning the “Az’”. Names like Az’Ro, Az’Uri, and Az’Aron were all names she recognized from her childhood that met that mark. At the very bottom of that totem pole was the reverse. Names beginning with “Za”. Names like Za’Rina, Za’Dona—Za’Lia.
Of course, names varied between those two extremes, but Za’Lia was a clear example of the latter.
The kids in her hometown bullied her. The adults scoffed at her. She was nothing more than some pest to even those not that far from her own societal ranking.
Her entire life she was made to feel like she didn’t belong, and at some point, she thought maybe there was some truth behind it.
A scream snapped Za’Lia out of her sleep.
Under any normal circumstances, hearing a scream in the middle of the night would be troubling. Especially with everything that went down the day before. However, that scream was one Za’Lia recognized and was used to by now. Eleanor was as well seeing as she didn’t even wake up from it anymore.
She sat up and tossed herself out of bed. Her bare feet felt the sharp cold of the wooden floor. The creaking as she walked was quiet enough to not wake Eleanor, and Za’Lia made sure to open the door to the bedroom slowly as she exited.
Now outside, she looked over the railing across from her room. Here she could oversee the living room and the front door at the far back. After making sure there weren’t any obstacles on the ground below her, Za’Lia grabbed the railing with both hands and jumped. She fell a few meters before masterfully landing with minimal sound.
She let out the breath she’d been holding in.
Behind her was a door. It was the entrance to Gaspard’s room. As a general rule, the girls weren’t allowed in his room without knocking, and neither was he allowed in theirs without doing the same.
Ignoring that rule, Za’Lia creaked the door open. Inside, like the rest of the house, was dark, pitch dark. But a single thing could be seen frantically moving at the far end.
Za’Lia tiptoed into the room after quietly closing the door. She sneaked around the bed and peeked her head over the mattress.
Laying there was Gaspard, as one would expect. But although his eyes were clearly closed, his face was scrunched up and he was shaking his head from side to side. His breathing was fast and ragged. He repeatedly murmured the words, “no” and “I don’t want to” almost incoherently.
Seeing this, Za’Lia craned her head sideways. She’d seen this happen before, but she never understood why it happened. He seemed distressed about something, but whatever it was, Gaspard never revealed it to them.
Eleanor and Za’Lia hadn’t revealed much to him about themselves either, so she didn’t blame him, but it was obviously hurting him.
With a nod, Za’Lia hopped in the bed. She crawled next to him, avoiding his sudden movements before plopping down and hugging him. Almost as if by magic, Gaspard froze, and his mumbling stopped. Za’Lia put her forehead against his arm and simply laid there, warmly embracing him. She slowly felt the tension in his muscles fade away.
Gaspard let out a low shaky breath before his shoulders relaxed and his breathing became steady.
She had hugged him once like this before simply out of concern. Seeing Gaspard, one of the few people who not only didn’t see her as below them but even cared for her, in such distress had driven her to desperately do something, anything. And the only thing that came to mind was hugging him.
Somehow, that’d worked.
Now, anytime she hears Gaspard having nightmares, or at least that’s what she suspected it was, she would go down there and hug him for a while. It worked every time.
She didn’t know why Gaspard didn’t treat her like everyone else did, but the reason why didn’t matter to her as much as the fact he cared. That’s all she wanted. That’s exactly what he gave her.
This was enough, she thought.
This was her family. Gaspard and Eleanor. The world didn’t have to care about her as long as they did…or so she told herself.
Rubbing her forehead into his shoulder, she whispered, “Thank you.” After that, she carefully got out of his bed and headed back to her room.
The morning sun shined brightly over the horizon, beautifully reflecting off the ocean’s tides. In the distance you could catch a glimpse of some of the massive creatures that dwelled in the waters, breaching out of the surface when catching fish or any other meals.
At least, that’s what Za’Lia imagined it was like from Gaspard’s descriptions. She could hear it happening, but she’d never actually seen any of those creatures.
Although she did wish to see them, right now, her mind got rid of anything relating to that. She was hunting. She had to focus.
Shrubs gently shook as a creature passed by them, brushing against the leaves and dropping some of the berries that hung off them.
The creature snorted, marking its exact position for Za’Lia to—
“Raa!” she screamed as she jumped out of some bushes and swiped her nails against the creature’s throat.
“Ree!” the creature squealed before collapsing on the ground with a loud thud.
Za’Lia rolled once on the floor before jumping to her feet. It was a swift kill. About as good as she usually did.
“Nice job, Lia!” Gaspard pat her back. “With that, I think we have more than enough.” He turned to the piles of boars they had stacked up in a cart. Even taking into account the few they’d be taking for themselves, they had enough boars to make a decent amount of money.
“kay,” she said with a smile.
“Hm…” Gaspard held his chin as he looked her over. “You might want to change clothes before we get to town. You got them all bloody again,” he said before walking over to the cart.
Za’Lia lightly nodded as she followed.
After changing behind the cart, they beelined for the town, following the gravel path that led up to the gates. The guards at either side saluted at them as they passed by, more accurately, saluted at Gaspard while glancing at Za’Lia for a moment.
The cart was about two-thirds the size it was before, but it still looked like the stacked boars could fall at any moment. The wooden wheels creaked as the ground changed from gravel to concrete. Thankfully, the place they would be dropping by was only a few houses away.
Even with everything that’d happened the day before, the town looked more or less back to how it originally did. A few people still worked on repairs, but overall it would’ve been hard for anyone to know a battle had gone down here.
“Oh, need help with that?” Gaspard said as he put down the massive cart and jogged over to a guy holding up a piece of wood. The long piece was seemingly part of his house, the last remnants of the battle.
The man glanced back, gritting his teeth as he tried pushing the large piece of wood against the house. “Y-Yeah,” he managed to squeak out.
Gaspard put a single hand against it and pushed it until it leaned against the house. The man simply stared in silence, eyes bulging from his head.
“You’re…you’re really strong,” he folded his arms. “Guess being a warrior has its perks, huh.”
“Among other things,” he nodded, “You’re the baker, right?”
The man bowed, “One and only.”
His outfit was standard among the town’s people, a simple tunic and pants, but his brown hair was covered in white flower. It was hard to miss what his profession was even without the massive sign on the building.
“Hm, I’ve been wanting to get into baking, but I guess I shouldn’t—wouldn’t want to be stronger and steal your job, you know?” he smiled.
“Heh, as if an amateur can measure up to me,” The baker laughed. “Oh, actually, wait here.” He ran back inside and came back a minute later with a small loaf of bread. “Here, try this. Tell me what you think.”
Gaspard took it and ripped it in half, “Za’Lia, come here.”
Za’Lia’s pointy ears perked up upon hearing him call for her and she ran from the cart she’d been standing next to towards where Gaspard was. Although she couldn’t see it, it was like she could practically feel the baker’s mood change the moment she came into the picture.
Not that she was surprised.
After taking a bite from one half of the bread, Gaspard handed her that one and said, “Here.” Then he proceeded to eat the untouched bread.
It might’ve seemed like a weird action, but it wouldn’t have been the first time someone tried poisoning Za’Lia by handing them free food. Gaspard had a better tolerance for poison, so he was fine with it affecting him.
Za’Lia, after taking the bread in both hands, bit down on the crusty exterior, cutting through the softness of the inside before fully ripping off the piece. She chewed a few times, taking in the flavor as much as she could.
“Your, um, its…her palette might be a little different than ours, so I don’t know if—”
“Tasty,” Za’Lia cut him off.
The baker froze. His mouth hung open as he let out a “Huh?”
After finishing his own piece, Gaspard added, “Yeah, have to agree with Lia. This bread is pretty good. You’ve really outdone yourself,” he patted the baker on the shoulder. Although the baker probably didn’t notice, Za’Lia was well aware Gaspard was trying to hold in his anger.
It didn’t slip past him how the baker was addressing Za’Lia.
“I-Is it?” the man stuttered, taking a few glances at her.
“Of course! Weren’t you boasting your skill earlier?” He smiled. “In fact, I think I’ll take a few of those loaves off your hands. I think they’ll go well with tonight’s dinner.”
“I see—I’ll get you some right away,” the baker ran inside in a panic.
Za’Lia finished the piece of bread and licked her lips. “Yummy.”
Gaspard smiled and patted her head, ruffling her white hair. “It really is. Much better than the merchant’s at least. We really should’ve come here sooner,” he sighed.
In about a minute, the baker came out with a paper bag filled to the brim with loaves of bread. He handed it to Gaspard as he said, “Here, you can have it on the house—as thanks for helping.” He gave a forced smile.
Gaspard took the bread and shook his head, “I can’t just take it like that. We’ll pay you right after we sell them boars, alright?”
As he spoke to the baker, a few people walked into the town after getting off a carriage. Their outfits made it clear they were adventurers. They had armored tunics, coats, and weapons at their hips. The guy at the front, seemingly the leader, had a massive battle axe on his back. His short prickly hair was shaven off the sides and his glare was fixated into the distance.
The group was about to pass by Za’Lia and Gaspard when—
“Get the hell out of the way, pest!” The leader slammed the back of his fist against Za’Lia’s arm, dropping her to the ground in an instant.
“…!” Za’Lia was too distracted by how good the bread she’d just eaten was that she didn’t have time to dodge, or even react to what happened. She simply sat on the floor, a sharp sting on her arm, and a wave of pain flooding throughout her body.
And so Gaspard snapped.
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