With his hand clenched instinctively into a fist, Zephren stepped to the side. There was a burning acid in his chest and throat, anger making his brow twitch.
He didn’t look at Ryker as he walked past him and into the hallway, but he felt the brush of his shoulder. The anger was almost instant, Zephren using every ounce of willpower not to comment or start a fight that he was surely bound to lose.
It had been a long time since Zephren had been in a room with people. The confrontation, the tension, the anxiety… it all made him feel ill.
‘Don’t start anything,’ Zephren reminded himself. He needed these people to like him, if not, tolerate him. He was relying on their efforts for his life and he needed to be grateful.
Blade walked over to Zeph, smiling softly as he said, “I’m sorry about him. He never likes strangers.” His large orange eyes looked concerned. “We didn’t have a lot of time to talk last night, how are you feeling?”
Zephren shrugged a little, looking at his arm before his gaze carried to the black bags filled with supplies. “As I’m sure you know, things could be better,” he muttered, feeling guilt stab at him.
‘Everyone’s packing up their lives for you. For a stranger.’
Laughing nervously, Blade cleared his throat, as if feeling the awkward tension. “I uh, made you a sandwich. It’s just basic… I wasn’t really sure what you’d be able to…” he blinked at Zephren, forcing out the words, “keep down.”
Taking the wrapped bread that was filled with cheese and some kind of meat that Blade pulled from his rucksack, a heavy thought weighed on Zeph’s mind. Having only eaten gruel for the past years, would Zephren even be able to digest real food? He felt a twinge of embarrassment and shame filling his starving stomach. “Thank you, Blade. That’s very kind.”
Blade forced another smile. “Not to worry.”
There was a loud series of thuds as Star dragged down two large black bags, similar to the one Blade had thrown over his shoulder. “All packed!” she said, smiling shyly as she looked at Blade. “Ready to go?”
Blade, who seemed equally coy scratched his chin, fingertips scraping over stubble. “Yeah, ready.”
Zephren turned to Star, suddenly feeling caught in the middle. “Why do we need to bring all the rations if it’s only a few days?” he asked, raising a brow.
Star made an indignant noise, “Ugh. Last time we went on a mission we were stranded on an island off of Barielle for three weeks; Rose likes to be prepared,” she replied, nodding sternly.
Though Zephren had no idea where ‘Barielle’ was, or even what it really meant to be stranded on an island somewhere, her words did not inspire much confidence.
“Are you alright closing up?” Star asked Blade, her voice noticeably softer and more composed when she spoke to him.
“Don’t worry. I’ll see to it,” Blade muttered, walking away from them before he disappeared down the hall.
Star led Zephren to the front door, stopping to produce a dark cloak and a pair of black boots from where she’d had them folded under her arm. She placed the shoes in front of him, saying, “I don’t know if they’ll fit, but it was the best I could do.”
Zephren looked down at his feet, then, to the shoes placed before him. It was such a small and unimportant gesture to her. Barely a second thought.
Zephren had never worn shoes.
Wondering briefly if he’d have the sudden desire to sprint out the front door, Zeph placed his hand on the wall for balance. Star helped to slip his feet into them giving a nod of approval.
They were tight, but the soft leather felt almost like a thicker layer of skin going up to his ankles. “Thank you,” Zeph whispered, staring at his feet.
Star seemed slightly skeptical, looking down at Zephren’s feet with him. “Do they fit okay? You seem a little quiet.”
“They’re perfect, Star.” Zephren smiled at her, genuinely grateful.
“Good, I’m glad.” Star beamed as she threw the cloak over his shoulders, fastening it under his chin. “All set!” She opened the door and urged Zephren to follow her out onto the large, wooden front porch.
It was cold outside, a crisp breeze chilling the air. Drops of dew covered the grass in a thick barrier that glistened, even though it was still practically night outside. Zephren wrapped his arm around himself, feeling the wind whip his hair into his face as he walked towards the steps.
It was an odd sensation to have his boots clunked along the porch.
Brushing his white locks out of his view, Zephren sucked in a breath, still in awe of the world; half believing it was a dream. The wind sent small droplets flying and the grass rippled in an angry sea of tendrils. All Zephren could make out in the darkness was a thick forest, cloaked in fog beyond the front lawn. There wasn’t even a small road leading into the trees; it was just an expanse of greenery.
Everything seemed suddenly tense and eerie.
Jutting out amidst all the nature were three large black machines on the grass. Fused plates of black metal and silver piping were topped by a glass dome concealing a control panel and two leather seats, all balancing on two thick wheels. Just like Rosakai last night, they seemed out of place.
“Have you ever seen a dreloclaf bike?”
Star’s voice snapped Zephren back into reality as he let out a short breath of relief. “You startled me,” he whispered, shaking his head. “Sorry, what did you say?”
She pointed to the machines on the lawn. “Dreloclaf bikes. I asked if you’ve ever seen one. They’re the fastest type of motorcycle in Sanctus; it’s siren tech.”
There was a flash of memory in Zephren’s mind. Something intangible and without form. He felt the dread in his stomach as he murmured nervously, “I thought that kind of technology was illegal…”
“Outside of the government, it is.” Starlight gave him a look. It was the first time he had ever really seen her look so intense. “Zephren,” she said, glancing around to see if anyone was close by, “you know that everything we do is against the law. Rose told you that, right?”
Zephren felt a grim sensation wash over him. “By the sounds of it, even existing as a free siren.” He tried look sincere as he met Star’s bright blue eyes. “I think your cause is noble, Starlight. Thank you for helping me.”
She patted Zephren gently on the shoulder as his gaze returned to the machines. Staring at the sleek metal bikes, Zephren’s eyes finally landed on Rose.
Rosakai stood disgruntled as he looked over a map, Ryker leaning against the machine beside him. Ryker was arguing, pointing at the map angrily, their words inaudible from where Zephren stood.
Star inhaled, whispering, “Yikes.”
It prompted Zephren to mutter, rather nervously, “So, Blade said Ryker doesn’t like strangers… Are you sure it’s nothing against me? Personally, I mean.”
As if he could read the words on Zephren’s lips, Ryker glared up at him, narrowing his eyes.
Zephren could hear Star swallow, her voice sounding dry as she responded with an anxious, “If you really want an answer, I dare you to ask him.”