Episode 13 – Hot Pot
By the time Kiel came up to the attic, Elaru had already unlocked the room and entered. The sturdy doors to the room were enchanted to open only with the right magic key. Kiel didn’t expect a small tavern to have such an enchantment.
And it wasn’t just the door that was enchanted. As his mind probed the surroundings, he noticed that the walls had a sound isolating magic array formation set up. It would make sure no sound entered or exited the room, giving them utmost privacy.
The night had just fallen, and there was not much light coming through the windows, however, the room was bathed in a warm light coming from many yellow crystals embedded in the ceiling.
Not bad, not bad at all.
It was probably safe enough to leave their belongings here while they ate dinner. And Kiel could also relax knowing no one would be able to hear him being an ass.
As he entered the room, he was still busy contemplating how he would solve this issue of a single bedchamber. Elaru was too impulsive and didn’t care for etiquette and social norms.
His thoughts paused when he saw the insides of the room. The room was filled with wooden furniture and had a very warm and pleasant feel to it. Just like the rest of Hot Pot. But that wasn’t what surprised him. What surprised him was that the room was filled with mementos, books, and personal items. It didn’t look like a room one would expect to find in an inn.
Well, Kiel had never been in an inn before, but still, this was not what he expected the room to look like.
The room was…special, too personal. It looked like a room of a teenage girl.
“What is going on? Who is that woman to you? Is this your room?” Kiel’s eyes narrowed as he looked at Elaru.
She gave him a bitter smile. “This room is not for rent. It used to belong to Mira’s daughter. But now, this is the place I stay at when I am in Ashar.”
Kiel raised his eyebrow, urging her to elaborate. Her face showed a tinge of sadness.
“A few years back, a sudden battle broke out between mages that took the lives of a few innocent bystanders. Mira’s daughter had been in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“Oh.” He didn’t know what to say. He wasn’t good at comforting people. “Did you know her?”
Elaru shook her head. “Not really. She worked as a waitress in Hot Pot, so I did exchange a few words with her, but I didn’t really know her. After the accident, in the resulting chaos, the perpetrators slipped away and covered their tracks. The peacekeepers couldn’t find them, and since those that lost their lives had no social status, peacekeepers in charge of the investigation weren’t granted enough funds to hire a tracker. Mira and her husband couldn’t rest until those responsible for it were punished so they put up a quest asking for someone to find the culprits.”
Kiel’s eyes brightened in realization. Of course! Elaru was a tracker. It was right up her alley.
“However, they couldn’t pay a fee high enough to hire a tracker skilled enough to complete it.” She paused. “I was staying at Hot Pot at the time, so I found out about the situation.”
Elaru paused, and picked up a red glittering stone from the night table. She brought it up to her eye level and watched the light flicker on it with a sad look. “I like it here, Mira and her husband are good people.”
She sighed and put the stone back down. “I offered to help out, but since they couldn’t pay a high enough fee, we settled on an alternative payment. The deal was that I get to enjoy the services of Hot Pot for free in the future, and they would let me permanently “rent out” this room.”
Kiel glanced around at the frilly curtains and small ceramic animals placed on shelves. “Why do I get the feeling you ripped them off?”
Elaru smirked. “Because you have no idea how high of a fee trackers of my caliber usually charge.”
He shrugged. True. But he could guess that her value as a tracker was on the top of the ladder. And the number of people qualified to sit on the top was too little to satisfy the high demand for their services.
Kiel picked up a ceramic doll wearing a lacy dress and looked it over. “So all this stuff isn’t yours.” He smirked. “That makes sense. This room doesn’t suit you.”
Elaru chuckled and jumped on the bed. “And what kind of room would suit me?” She stuck out her tongue at Kiel cutely. “Chains and skeletons everywhere?”
He smirked. She was clearly teasing him about how he made her out to be evil. He was about to respond when his expression froze. It was only when Elaru sprawled on the bed that he noticed a serious problem.
“What do you mean it’s big enough?! No matter how you look at it, it is a one-person bed!”
Elaru rolled her eyes. “Well, in comparison to the king size bed you have in your room, yeah, it must look quite small.”
Kiel gritted his teeth. “It doesn’t look small, it is small! It is a standard single person bed!”
She shrugged nonchalantly. “We are both slim, we’ll fit.”
He glared at her. “What is wrong with you? It is inappropriate to share a room with a male which isn’t your lover, let alone a single bed. Did you stop to consider how this would look to other people?! This is socially unacceptable!”
“Well what do you suggest we do? There are no other available rooms.”
“Let’s go find another inn.”
“Do you think it is a coincidence that there are no available rooms?” Elaru looked at Kiel like he was an idiot, before elaborating. “Muni exams start in three days, and thousands upon thousands of people are congregating here for the exams. This weekend and next week are the liveliest times of the year. That’s why all of the good inns are full. We could spend the whole night searching for a single room, let alone two.”
Kiel pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. He hated to admit it, but she was right.
He had to endure and hope no one finds out about this in the future.
He glanced at the bed again. Who’ll take the bed? He didn’t want to sleep on the floor, but forcing a female to sleep on the ground would be considered rude.
Wait, why was he worrying about etiquette in a scenario where no one would find out what he did? He had already shed all pretense of nicety with her. There was no reason for him to sleep on the floor. It was her fault that this happened anyway, she should take responsibility.
“Get off. The bed is mine.” Kiel declared, his tone of voice leaving no room for arguments.
Elaru chuckled with amusement. “You can have the left side, I’ll sleep on the right.”
Kiel’s face darkened. “You still intend for us to share?!”
She looked at him with confusion “Of course, there is just one bed in here. What can we do but share?”
“Floor is an option.” He snarled.
Elaru pouted. “No way. A bed, no matter how small, is still better than the hard ground. Why are you making such a big deal out of this?” She continued in a teasing tone. “Are you afraid of getting cooties?”
Kiel’s hands twitched, he had a sudden urge to strangle her. After a few seconds, he restrained himself and let out a long sigh.
What was it about her that caused him to lose his cool so easily?
Kiel reverted back to his standard response pattern – when teased, tease back.
“It depends; do you share your bed with men often?” He gave her a lopsided smile.
Elaru didn’t seem to pick up on his teasing tone. “Not really. I don’t remember the last time I slept next to a male.” She stopped to think about it.
“Hmm, I think the last time was 3 years ago when I was out with papa and Wade.”
Papa? So she was a daddy’s girl, was she? Only little kids called their fathers “papa”.
“So with which one did you share your bed with?” He couldn’t help but wonder.
“Neither.” She laughed. “Papa tosses around like crazy and Wade latches onto my boobs while asleep like a leech.”
Kiel steeled his expression, suppressing a gape that threatened to emerge. Wait, what?! Is Wade a little kid with a mother complex?
“Watch your language.” He squeezed out, but she completely ignored him.
“I slept on the floor and had them share the bed. But papa kicked Wade out of the bed in the middle of the night, and he joined me on the floor. And then I had to leave the room and sleep on the roof because Wade kept accidentally touching my boobs all night.” She laughed merrily. “He is such a twit. That’s the last time I let him sleep anywhere near me.”
What kind of a childhood did she have to talk about such things so casually? And what kind of a father let his own daughter sleep on the floor?
And who the heck is Wade?!
He didn’t even notice he voiced that last part out loud until Elaru responded. “Wade is a distant cousin of mine, but we grew up together so he is like a brother to me.”
“Ah, I assume it is normal for brothers to grope their sisters’ in your family?” Kiel’s eyebrow twitched.
Elaru opened her mouth to say ‘no’ but in the middle of voicing it out, she actually reconsidered her answer. After thinking about it for a few seconds, she smiled sheepishly and shrugged.
What is that supposed to mean? Kiel smacked his hand over his face in frustration. Should I blame her father for her poor upbringing?
He sighed and removed his hand. I’ll just have to teach her some mann..what the heck are you doing?!” His thoughts were interrupted by the sight in front of him.
Elaru was stripping her clothes off. She stretched like a feline, as if flaunting her perfect body.
“What does it look like I am doing?” She rolled her eyes.
“I am standing right here!” Kiel motioned towards himself.
“Exactly. Why aren’t you taking off your baggage?”
That’s when he noticed that she was just taking off her accessories – her scarf, goggles, gloves, bags and a few weapons.
He sighed in relief. So she wasn’t that stupid. But just to avoid any future trouble he responded with: “Warn me before doing something like that in the future.”
Elaru smirked. “I thought you were aware. Didn’t you cover your eyes a second ago?”
Kiel was dumbfounded. What was he supposed to reply to that? Tell her that it wasn’t out of consideration for her privacy but him face-palming himself because of her stupidity?
Arrgh! This woman will be the end of me!
He face-palmed himself again.
“Next time, don’t peek.” She added teasingly.
Kiel got the urge to face-palm himself again, but unfortunately, he couldn’t, because he was already doing it.
After a while, he sighed in resignation and followed her suit. If you can’t beat them, join them. He took off his sword and bags. He started taking off his arm protectors when Elaru stopped him.