A little past the village, up a long road, down a lift which also served as shooting range to test a new rifle, down some stairs, back to a dirt road and near a pair of metal doors stood Leon, exchanging some pesetas for a few upgrades to his weapons.
"Come back anytime," said the Merchant with a light chuckle after the American was finished purchasing.
"Ashley?" He called.
The girl was not too far behind, on the highest area of the road, standing on her toes to try and get a peek at what could be on the other side of the metal doors that they had to continue through. She could probably only see the roof of the moderately big warehouse.
She heard her new bodyguard and looked back at him, noticing he was ready to go. She quickly caught up to him and advanced on, waiting patiently as Leon pushed one of the heavy doors open with some ease.
"It looks like a dead end…" she could be heard commenting as they disappeared into the next area.
To the merchant, who knew more or less what they'd been through, both seemed fearless enough at this point.
He had a slight idea of what was up ahead; he had heard and knew many things, but in this case, it was just the feeling that he got by approaching the place. If it weren't for that, he would've waited for the strangers in the warehouse, as it would surely be a good place for business that would allow him to display his items to his heart's content.
Now he wondered if the nameless male he had been dealing with would get that feeling too. Would he turn back and reappear soon, or would be never reappear at all? Would he dare enter accompanied by such a young girl?
The stranger already seemed too protective of her; she was unarmed and unprepared in every sense, from the scared look in her eyes to the unpractical clothes she wore.
Though, those things made her seem like a stranger of class, which intrigued him. Surely she could have enough on her to pay for a useful gun of her own, yes, and some upgrades to make it comfortable for someone like her.
But what could have brought a stranger of class to the village?
He had his own information, but it was scarce, and allowed him to know no more than that the first stranger was important to Lord Saddler.
Leon, as he'd heard the girl call the second stranger, never spoke much. He said he had a mission to do. Well, the merchant had plenty of time, and perhaps the female would be more willing to tell him about their story.
A stranger of class and a stranger with a mission; how he'd like to hear their tale.
"I've got a bad feeling about this…" Leon muttered, placing his hand on the door's handle but keeping it still.
Ashley nodded, taking a look around the area. "I'm sure I can hide somewhere here."
She took off, but was only able to take a few steps before Leon's voice stopped her.
A single villager scared her enough; to her, every area had that terrible foreboding feeling and this one was no different. If it seemed any more dangerous than the usual old cabins with herbs or documents in them, Ashley wouldn't notice.
She thought Leon should see these things much clearer, and for him to seem this decisive now, it had to be very serious.
"Go back," he said, not looking at her, "Stay at the other side of the door, alright?"
She nodded again and ran back to the previous area, having to lean all her weight on the doors to open them. The girl nervously looked back at Leon and saw him enter the warehouse before closing the door behind her.
He'll be ok, she reassured herself, still standing there.
She let herself slide down to the ground and sat quietly, resting her chin atop her knees. Again, she'd have to wait and worry, both about her own protection and about her bodyguard's safety. She wasn't sure of how long it had been already since she was freed from her cell at the Illuminados' church, but all the worrying she'd had since them had her tired.
Most of all, she was freezing and growing hungry, but she simply wouldn't complain about that to Leon. It would only give him more burdens to deal with.
She raised her head quickly. Ah, forgot about him.
Ashley stood up slowly, looking at the old merchant who was now sitting in a box of who-knows-what-kind-of-weapon.
"Stranger," he repeated, once he saw he had caught her attention, "Would you like to have a seat?"
He pulled close another box, making sure to place it closer to the warmth of the blue flames, then motioned the female towards it. The stranger of class seemed to hesitate for a moment (perhaps going through their past encounters and pondering how trustworthy he was?), but soon enough she seemed to look longingly at the fire and approached.
As she moves closer and sat, she seemed to smile a little and relax. "Thanks, I needed a rest."
He smiled as well, unnoticed under the cloth that covered his mouth and nose, and leaned back on his seat, leaning on the stone wall behind him.
"You and the other stranger have been here for a while," he commented, trying to decide whether he needed to make use of his practiced manners, "What brought ya here?"
The girl was looking away, staring at the blue fire with an indescribable expression as she put her hand closer then farther away from it. She paused and folded her hands neatly in her lap.
"I was kidnapped… for that Saddler man."
The merchant nodded, furrowing his brow slightly. Perhaps, it would be better to ask about that later. He pointed at the fire the girl had been examining. "…have you never seen something like this, stranger?"
"No… why is it blue?"
"So I'll be easier to find for those who are looking for me. If I used normal red fire, it would call for unwanted visits."
She didn't seem satisfied with this kind of answer; this made the merchant smile again. He preferred things this way.
"Um… it isn't as warm as normal fire," she commented, putting her hands close again.
It isn't? "But it burns worse. Careful, stranger."
She put her hands away quickly and tried to look at the man casually. "My name is Ashley."
"Ashley…" He repeated, his voice low and raspy as usual. "If you're still cold, I think I have something around here that I can offer you."
Ashley could have sworn she saw the merchant's eerie blue eyes give some kind of red glow as he turned and headed inside his tent, returning later with two cups. She already had many things she'd like to know about him (his name, to start with), but she didn't yet dare ask.
She smiled gratefully as he questioned what she'd like, "Just tea, please."
The older man poured perfectly clean hot water into the cups and added what seemed like no specific type of leaves; it smelled sort of like tea, and the colour looked like tea's as well.
"Thank you!" She said as he handed her one of the cups.
The merchant chuckled at her enthusiasm and sipped his drink – Ashley, on the other hand, gulped down a good quantity and soon felt her face twist into a look of disgust.
She shook her head, reminding herself it would be extremely impolite to react that way to a drink she'd been given, but she couldn't help looking down at the liquid oddly.
At this, the man gave a hearty laugh.
"Slow there, lady" He said, "It isn't precisely the best tea, but it's all I could get around here."
She laughed as well and tried taking a sip of it; indeed it warmed her up, and by drinking slowly and swallowing quickly the taste wasn't that bad.
"Ashley, you aren't from anywhere near here, are ya?"
"Nope," she answered, feeling more relaxed now that she wasn't freezing, though she was still hungry, "I'm from America. Actually… daughter of the president of the United States, if that explains anything."
The merchant nodded, beginning to understand now. "So, the other stranger…"
"Leon. He came to rescue me."
"You too are going through quite the adventure, eh."
He was even more intrigued now than before; so that was what the commotion had been all about. Perhaps, this was even the reason the virus that crazed everyone had been released upon the village.
But it was a good story, and it wasn't the girl's fault, so he was no one to make judgement.
"I guess," continued Ashley, smiling as she looked at her feet. "But it hasn't been that bad, Leon's done his best to protect me. Now we just have to get out of here."
"I have seen that, and some of the stranger's fights," he commented thoughtfully, deciding it was alright to tell the girl this, "That monster in the lake… and heard him kill the giant, too."
The monster in the lake was something Ashley hadn't heard of, but at this point nothing seemed too weird. She simply continued sipping her drink little by little, and let herself wonder for a while what could be keeping Leon in that warehouse for so long; death? Definitely not.
"Here," she heard the merchant say, pulling her out of her thoughts, "you must be hungry."
She reached for the packet of crackers he was offering her, and examined one carefully after taking it.
"Thanks again, "she said, taking a bite out of the extremely salty cracker; just how she liked them back home anyway. "I really needed to eat something and get warm, how can I repay you?"
"Sir, um… aren't you leaving too? Maybe you could come with us."
He paused, seeming to consider it for a while.
"No… not leaving yet."
"But…" Ashley muttered, disappointed. "Why do you stay in such a place? Why… are you even here?"
The merchant smiled yet again, amazed at how often he'd been doing that since he sat down, and answered simply. "I'm here because I might be needed here. I don't think I should leave just yet."
The president's daughter nodded, quickly glancing at the metal doors from which Leon should reappear.
"You sound fond of this place. Are you from here?" She asked boldly, setting her cup down beside the box she was sitting on.
Her company did the same. "Something like that."
"Why aren't you like them?"
"I didn't say I was part of this village."
"I… I think you are."
Suddenly, the creaking and screeching sounds upon the metal gates signalled the return of Leon, and both quickly turned their heads to him.
Ashley smiled widely and stood up, about to call his name and rush to him, when the mysterious man she'd been talking to grabbed her arm. She looked back questioningly, but he stayed silent and only held out the rest of the packet of crackers, which she took contently, giving a grateful nod.
He stood up as well and pulled his scarf back over his mouth and nose, back to his usual spot.
"Leon!" Ashley called, running to the young man.
"Hey," he answered, smiling at her seemingly renewed spirits. "Shall we get going?"
Ashley nodded and walked ahead of him, waving at the merchant as they went by, and soon they were back at the stairs.
Leon looked back and placed a hand on the girl's shoulder. "Anything happened while I was gone?"
"Nope," said the Graham girl. "You alright?"
"Eh… yeah, just wanting to get us back home soon," Leon said, shaking his head with a short laugh.
Ashley stepped back to walk by his side.
The American agent looked at her with eyebrow raised, glancing at the crackers that she offered, then back at her, and back to the food.
"Where did you-?"
Ashley put a cracker to his lips, silencing him. "Here you go."
She laughed and let him lead the way, glad that he didn't make anymore questions or comments other than a quiet "Salty huh".
Well, that was it, first story for this section. Comments, suggestions, requests, critic, thoughts, etc? Leave me a review!