Chapter 17:

Apparel of lace and hyacinth

Faded Scales of a Hyacinth

The Tailor’s shop was regal in appearance, with red-satin carpet and gold trim that glowed underneath the lamplight. Bright curtains had been hung by the windows, which poured beaming sunlight in to illuminate the racks and shelves that had been lined up in uniform.

Aelem and Omen stepped quietly through the walkways, her more a tag-along, and the Knight the lead of the journey.

It’ll be cold.’ He had spoken towards her in a gentle tone. ‘So we should get you out of that outfit.

She had tried to desperately protest it by saying that the cold of the winter was not something that affected nor bothered her, but he was blind to her pleas. Aelem began to wonder if that was his intention, or because he had pitied her dress which had torn and been sewn up countless times, to the point that it resembled rags more than regalia.

Time and time again she had sought to confirm it, and in each instance, the Butterfly Knight proved that his actions were filled with kindness. He was like a doll in his mannerisms, that only knew how to smile blankly to please those around him, and she had grown with all of her belief to think he could do no more than that. But as she had travelled alongside him, Aelem began to recognise that his heart was made of flesh instead of ceramic.

Is this something a ‘Protector’ does too?

“Is there anything you see that you like?” Omen asked her, his gaze not present in the moment.

She grabbed hold of his sleeve and shook him back to reality, looking down towards her with a gentle smile.

“I’m not quite sure what it is that I like… I would rather you choose for me.” Aelem spoke in turn, shaking her head slightly.

He thought for a moment, before looking towards a pairing of shelves on the far wall of the shop.

“Then, I’m sure we’ll find you something.” He said calmly, leading her by the hand through the Tailor’s shop.

The mornings of the mechanical city were peaceful, at least to Aelem. In the bustle of the city, where crowds were always present, no one seemed to pay her mind. Even in the Tailor’s shop, there was a calm stillness. Holding his hand felt warmer in that enclosed space, where his breaths echoed against its walls. Her face reddened, and she couldn’t help but smile bright.

As Omen was about to ask why her expression had turned in such a way, Aelem stopped completely, letting go of his hand as her eyes widened. There was a sparkle in her eyes as she stared at the display in the inner window of the Tailor’s shop, as if it had caught her attention like a trap and refused her escape.

Omen stepped back beside her and looked down towards her enamoured expression.

“Is this something you want?” He smiled softly, a gentle and pleased look crossing his face.

She looked back up towards him, and with the brightness of her heart spilling out, nodded enthusiastically in response.

Aelem later stood in the dressing room of the Tailor’s shop, the red satin curtain pulled tightly shut as she stared at herself in the mirror. Her bare skin embraced the chilled air, the bite of the obsidian-black scales crawling up her neck numbed by the golden-glowing mark on her shoulder.

Staring at the dress her heart had picked out hanging up on the wall, she wondered if she was fit to wear such a thing. She wondered, in essence, if it was too beautiful for her to grace.

So, grabbing the wrist of the man waiting outside through the curtains, she pulled him into the dressing room to gather his opinion. Surprised as he stared at her form, he quickly turned his gaze away.

“You’re not wearing any clothes.” He noted ruefully, his eyebrows furrowing as he refused to glance further.

“It’s a dressing room. Don’t I have to undress to then dress? It would be strange to wear this over my normal clothes, I think.”

“No, that’s not really what I mean… why did you pull me in here, Ms. La’arte?”

“Do you think my looks suit this dress?” She asked furtively. “My heart has grown to adore it, but I wonder if I would be unable to do it justice…”

His eyes widened, but he didn’t look back toward her as he smiled softly.

“You’re wonderfully beautiful, my dear vassal,” Omen spoke gently, staring harshly at the wall before him. “A dress from a Tailor’s shop is a simple embellishment when you are the main draw of everyone’s gazes.”

“Then, if that’s the case, why won’t you look at me?”

His face couldn’t grow any more flushed, and he chose not to respond as he stared intently at the wall.

“I don’t understand why you’re acting so strange, Mr. Veilfourte,” Aelem shook her head in confusion.

“Well- it’s just…” He spoke with an exasperated tone of voice. “You haven’t been socially conditioned, have you…? Usually, one would be hesitant to reveal themselves like this… to anyone at all.”

He looked back towards her with worried thoughts passing through his mind, but he dismissed them all and let out a sigh.

“Strangely, you’ll hang onto ancient marriage dynamics, but you’ll fail to act the part when it comes to things like this.” He noted with softened eyes.

To that thought, he shook his head.

“Well, it’s not as if it’s any of my business how you carry yourself.” He smiled.

Suddenly, she grabbed him by the shirt cuff, pulling him close to her with soft intent.

“My business can be your business, Mr. Protector.’ She spoke brightly as if it was a matter of fact.

He could only blush in turn. Omen immediately dismissed himself, pulling the curtain shut, and let out a heavy sigh. Despite his blushing face, he tried desperately to hold himself back from a fit of laughter.

Worrying about her looks… isn’t that the hallmark of womanhood?

Soon after, Aelem had dressed herself, and stepped out from behind the curtain Omen had forcefully pulled shut. As he looked towards the vermilion woman, his eyes lit up, and he couldn’t help but smile at her beguiling beauty.

She wore a lacy white dress with golden lining and a bright red charmeuse skirt that had been hemmed high. Her hair had been tied up in a neat high bun, and a knitted scarf wrapped around her neck covering both the gleaming seal of the dragon and the scales that crawled up her skin.

Aelem immediately looked towards the man in a bright white cloak beside her for affirmation. With a smile, he spoke softly.

“You’re beautiful, Aelem.”

Her face suddenly lit up a bright red, and her shoulders shrunk back as she stared up at the man before her.

He used my name…?

While Aelem was caught up in her overheated thoughts, Omen refused to ponder on the matter as if it were a simple fact and spoke once more.

“I suppose you’re all ready, then.”

Later, he led her by the hand as they stepped up fantastically polished wooden steps. She was sure she could have seen her reflection in them, but she was too busy staring at the Butterfly Knight to find out for sure. Through the glimmering iron bars that acted as windows, the bright morning sunshine bathed itself against his golden hair, which seemed to wave like grass in the gentle breeze that filled the atmosphere.

They eventually came to a door with a marble aesthetic, and grasping its iron-wrought handle, he pulled it open to reveal the brightness of the peach-coloured sky. Stepping out onto the white-marble rooftop of the clock tower, they looked out at the sun-strewn mechanical city with euphoria grasping at their hearts.

Like the ocean, the city was a sight that captivated the strawberry-haired woman. She wanted to see the vastness of the world, but also desperately wanted to live within its confines like any other person would.

"There's an archipelago painted beautiful emerald colours past the mountains." Omen smiled softly. "There, one could live a bountiful life on the sweet fruits and fresh herbs on the cliffs overlooking the sea..."

"Why are you telling me this?" Aelem asked of him.

His gaze was tentative and gentle, overlooking the architecture of the city.

"Do you want to go there with me, Aelem? Forgetting my binding duty, and forgetting the world that demeans you, why don't we run there as fast as we can, and only stop when there's silence?"

Her expression was surprised, and he continued speaking, turning to walk closer to her.

"We could find the name of the Dragon, cease its spite, and then live in peace, couldn't we?"

Aelem took a step back, unable to speak in response as she fell back against a wall. He stood tall, leaning over her form as she blushed.

"I don't want a life away from everyone, Mr. Knight," Aelem spoke suddenly, her stammering sentences strung together by expertly summoned willpower. "I want a life in the city- as if I was no more than a normal girl…”

She tried to meet his gaze, but he turned it away just as quickly.

“Is that really something you want?” Aelem asked of him. “Do you want to rid yourself of the city… or is it something else?”

Omen’s expression quivered slightly, and he turned back towards Aelem with a gentle smile.

“Never mind that, forget I ever said anything.” He spoke softly.

The Butterfly Knight turned away to walk back down the flight of stairs, but Aelem grabbed him by the shirt cuff and nearly pulled him towards the ground.

“Hey… your problems matter to me too, Omen,” Aelem spoke in a serious tone of voice.

His eyes widened in shock, and he bit at his quivering lip as he shook his head.

“All the more reason why I can’t trouble you with them.”