Six

“Miss Yun, you sure do buy a lot of food.” Adelaide looked at her traveling companion, stacked boxes of steaming hot food being held aloft in disposable bags. The two had some time to kill as the train they were taking had to make a pit stop here in Roselake for maintenance. 

“Guilty as charged. Hope you’re hungry.” She sat down in the park, opening up the first box. A layer of rice was topped with savory, saucy ground pork. Each bite was a joy, tender meat coating individual grains of perfectly plump rice, a sweet, incredibly inviting sauce binding everything together. 

The rest of the boxes were opened up one by one and the smell had even invited Adelaide to sit down and start eating. Steamed dumplings with paper-thin skin and filled to the bursting with clear, invigorating soup. Chicken fried in a deep vat of oil until crisp, coated in a sweet, garlicky sauce. Dry noodles coated with an incredibly fortifying black bean sauce. 

“I-… I don’t remember the last time I ate that well.” Adelaide burped.

“Leave it to me if you want a recommendation for anywhere from here to the Forgotten Valley.” Yun said, puffing out her chest. 

Adelaide laughed. “I’ll leave it up to you, then.” It was only when she was talking about food that Miss Yun appeared to open up, otherwise she was almost frustratingly obtuse. It was clear that she had a lot of traveling experience, but nothing else about her personal history had become clear in the now week they had been journeying together. She had noticed her flipping through a very-well-worn journal from time to time, but was polite enough not to pry about the matter. She had the distinct feeling it was complicated, well beyond her depth. 

“How much was the food, Miss Yun?”

She shook her head. “Consider it thanks for entertaining my hobby.”

“Well… alright. If you let me buy you a drink later.”

Yun’s ears perked right up. She had wanted to preserve some sense of seniority as an adventurer, at least enough to show Adelaide the ropes, but she supposed such things were archaic in the first place. It was just… 

“Certainly.” Yun said.

“ROSELAKE. WHAT A SIGHT TO SEE IT STILL STANDING.” Sykora said. 

“What was it like in your time?” Adelaide asked.

“BEAUTIFUL. A CAPITAL CITY THAT WOULD TRULY MAKE ANY AND ALL JEALOUS TO SEE IT. THE HEART OF THE KNIGHT KINGDOM OF FOLVALE.” 

The city was still beautiful, bearing the remnants of hundreds of years of architecture, much of it still in tact. The city itself sat upon a massive lake, meaning canals ran everywhere as transit for cargo and passengers. It’s waterlocked position made it especially strong against enemy invasions, a fact that was still clear from the two primary entrances being large moat-gates. 

Even this park was littered with statues of heroic knights past, the most recently erected ones being of the expedition party that ended the last cycle of demonic invasion, for good this time. Seven figures standing gallantly, preserved for the rest of time. Yun had to admit she felt wistful looking at them; the glory didn’t matter to her, but she missed the adventure itself, even if it was full of hardships. Even if it was full of things no one should ever have to see. They were able to stay standing because of each other. So how did it end up like this?

“HERO NARI HAN WAS IT?” Sykora spoke up. “CURIOUS. IT SAYS SHE WAS A CASTER, BUT SHE IS CLEARLY DEPICTED IN A WARRIOR’S STANCE.”

“She was skilled in both. They called her the Unerring Blade.”

“HO. AND WHERE IS THIS HERO NOW?”

“Dead. She was killed in the battle against Demon Lord Gou.”

“HM HM. I SEE.” Yun felt Sykora nodding, if that were possible for a spirit contained in an orb. 

Yun and Adelaide sat in a dimly lit hall, drinking from tall, wooden mugs. On the table in front of them, haphazardly arranged were the proper fixings of a night out: heaping plates of grilled, fried, and fermented foods. Crispy potatoes seasoned with a secret blend, the salted innards of a sea creature so ugly even a well-traveled adventurer might hesitate to eat it, and piping hot steam coming off skewers of grilled poultry alternated with aromatic vegetables. All accompanied by beer kept freezing cold by concerningly well-engineered kegs engraved with alchemical symbols. It’s said that beer predates civilization itself, and that humankind is just a winding path towards perfecting it.

“I must admit, I didn’t exactly take you for the type to enjoy this kind of place, Miss Yun.”

“Why not?” 

“You just seem so… prestigious. In temperament.”

Yun wasn’t sure whether to take that as a compliment or not. 

“Are you calling me stuffy?” She puffed her cheeks out. 

“No, no, of course not. You just have the aura of an important person, I think.”

Yun laughed. 

“Really? I’m no one important, Adelaide. I can say that much with certainty.” Yun took a big drink from her mug, letting the cold, bitter beer wash away her worries, leaving only the malty aftertaste behind. She considered that for a second before going for another. 

“Kuuuuuuuuhhh that’s good.” Yun let out a sharp sigh of relief. 

“Miss Yun,” Adelaide laughed, “you sound like such an old man when you do that.” 

“I already have a leg in the crypt anyway.”

“You’re not that old.” 

“I feel that old.”

“Sometimes you do talk like you’re that old.”

“I’m sure I do.” She smiled. 

Adelaide held up her mug in a toasting gesture, quickly clinked close by Yun. The two drank and ate their fill, whittling away the cold hours of the night in company, something neither of them had had for a long, long time. 

The bright lights of the train car almost felt too vibrant after wandering around in the lamplight of the streets of Roselake. Adelaide eased Yun off her shoulder and onto the bed, where she burbled happily. 

“HOW WAS YOUR NIGHT OUT, YOUNG ONES?” Sykora spoke up from their place on the table. 

“It was lovely, Mx. Sykora,” Adelaide responded. “Miss Yun is quite sweet when she opens up.” 

“No youuuu,” Yun said, her tone wavering like the lilt of a happy song played on a well-worn stringed instrument. 

“I SEE THE THREADBEARER HAS ENJOYED A DRINK OR TWO.”

“Try six. I don’t know where it all goes.” She paused. “Threadbearer?”

“THAT IS WHAT WE CALLED THOSE OF HER TALENTS IN OUR TIME.”

A faint snoring came from the bed as both Sykora and Adelaide looked over. 

“I’d never heard of it before meeting MIss Yun. I suppose the world is quite big.”

“IT WAS AN OBSCURE ABILITY THEN. IT SEEMS TO STILL BE SO.”

“Is there a reason?”

“FRANKLY, IT IS NOT BROADLY USEFUL.” 

“Broadly?”

“LUCK IS A FICKLE THING. ONLY VIABLE WHEN SEEKING RARE MATERIALS OR WHEN ALL ELSE HAS ALREADY FAILED.”

“Like entrusting your survival to fate.” She furrowed her brow.

“INDEED. IT IS PREFERABLE TO NEVER REACH THAT POINT IN THE FIRST PLACE. IF YOU ARE SMART.”

“Even a plea of faith seems more reliable.”

“OF COURSE. EVEN THE GODS ANSWER CRIES FOR HELP. LUCK IS A COLD AND HEARTLESS CONCEPT, DERIVED FROM THE CHAOS OF THE WORLD ITSELF. MANY DESPISE IT, CURSE IT FROM THE BOTTOM OF THEIR HEARTS.”

Adelaide looked over her sleeping companion, noticing for the first time how slight her shoulders were, how unprepared to carry the burdens of others she seemed. 

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