“Nothing in life is free.” Jaycee sighed, wiping sweat from his forehead. Instead of the biting cold he expected, the cave was humid, the air thick. Sweat continuously poured down his back, causing his shirt to adhere to his skin.
“Hard work makes for a more meaningful reward,” Alec hummed. He ducked under a rock, carefully avoiding a puddle next to him. The echo of water droplets slicing through the reservoir below was pleasing to his ears.
Well, that was easy for him to say. As usual, nothing fazed the man before him.
“That’s priceless, coming from you.”
“I see your actual personality has quite a mouth.”
Jaycee bit his tongue, refusing to comment. Even if Alec spoke the truth, admitting it meant accepting his shortcomings. He refused to, at least out loud.
The blacksmith sent them to recover a rare ore from deep inside the nearby mines. Unable to traverse them herself, she assigned them in her stead. Why she couldn’t go alone, Jaycee wasn’t sure.
Maybe she didn’t want to get her hands dirty, or there was another reason that was kept from them.
“How far in do you think we have to go?” asked Jaycee. It became harder to breathe. The deeper in they proceeded, the more he struggled. "My legs feel like they’re going to fall off.”
“You’re unusual. I have never met anyone in your line of work who avoids manual labor as much as you do.”
Jaycee nearly tripped on a large stone that jutted out from the ground, narrowly avoiding an untimely demise. God, he hoped Alec didn’t notice that. “Even in my golden days, everyone knew how much I liked my naps.”
“I wonder if my impression of you would have changed if I discovered that side of you,” Alec mumbled.
Jaycee paused, trying to find the right words, but none came. It’s not like his companion would give him the answers he craved, so was there a point in questioning him at all? Instead, something else that bugged him came to mind.
“You seem to be close to Tia.” No matter where they traveled, Alec always seemed to have friends and acquaintance. Men and women alike flocked to his side, even though it didn’t seem like any of them truly knew him. Although Tia differed from the others and looked like a person he trusted. She invited them into her home with no questions asked, as if she had already learned what was going on.
“Does it look that way to you?”
The narrow cave opened up before them, leading them into a massive, glowing area. The minerals on the cavern walls sparkled as the fire from the torches lining the cave danced wildly. Jaycee followed closely behind Alec as they approached the center.
“She helped me out when I was in a rough spot. I wasn’t always this handsome, strong, and intelligent.” There was a hint of disgust in his own words, as if he despised himself. “We all have a side of ourselves we don’t want others to see.”
Jaycee was about to question him but closed his mouth when Alec abruptly halted.
Further in, standing in the midst of the cavern, was a face Jaycee had only seen in his nightmares.