The group had been flying for hours, temporarily lost trying to find the Absorption Gate; while it was a strain on everyone, it was particularly hard for poor Noelle. The party unanimously voted to fly back to the nearest city and rest for a while at the inn.
When they finally broke out of the clouds, Noelle breathed a sigh of relief.
"We're much too far east, but we're only about half an hour away from Grand Chokmah," she said. "I'm sure they wouldn't mind if we landed there."
"That would be nice," Guy said. "I can check on some things while we're there."
"And Tear, Natalia, and I can go shopping!" Anise squealed. "Anyone else need a new capacity core?"
Everyone began chattering about what they'd do in Grand Chokmah once they landed, everyone except for Jade, who remained strangely silent.
"Sorry, no vacancies," the innkeeper said to the dismayed group. "You might have better luck finding a room at the palace, what with you being friends with the Emperor."
"No choice then," Luke sighed. "I guess we'll have to head over to the palace and see if Emperor Peony can put us up for the night."
"Well, if we must," Natalia frowned, "but I certainly won't enjoy having to sleep knowing he could get into my room so easily."
"Natalia," began Tear, but Jade cut her off.
"You're absolutely right, Natalia; we should avoid staying with His Majesty. Given the current state of Auldrant, we should do our best not to disturb him."
Everyone stared at Jade.
"You mean…you're not going out of your way to annoy someone?" Luke asked incredulously.
"Why, Luke, I'm surprised at you!" Jade responded, pretending to be hurt. "I never go out of my way to annoy people; I do it only when it's convenient for me."
"That's so like you, Colonel," Anise said dryly. "But come on! I bet Emperor Peony would love to see us!"
They began heading west towards the palace, but Jade hung back; once they'd passed far enough, he slipped down a side alley and vanished into the streets of the city.
Peony was ridiculously excited to see the gang arrive at the palace and immediately invited them to stay as long as they liked, but after his initial rejoicing wore off, he frowned and said, "So Jade ditched you so he could be alone again this year, huh?"
With a start, the others realized Jade was no longer with them. Before they could panic, Peony cleared his throat and told them he'd probably just gone home for the night.
"But why would Jade leave?" Guy asked.
"Did we do something to upset him?" Ion asked.
"Nah, there's a really obvious reason he's avoiding me today," Peony said with a grin. "But you know, I think we should all surprise him at home…I'll explain along the way."
Jade's front door was locked; the servants had probably gone home for the rest of the week. Vaguely wondering how often he was actually home when the servants were, Jade pulled the emergency key from the hidden compartment and unlocked the door. There was a pile of boxes and packages in the doorway; slightly frustrated, Jade kicked them out of the way. None of the lamps in the foyer were lit, but faint light was coming from upstairs. He climbed the stairs and walked into his bedroom only to discover someone was already in it.
"J-jade!" a very surprised Dist said. "Um…happy birthday!" He was holding a small wrapped present, which he nervously thrust towards Jade.
Jade took one look at the God General in his room and drew his spear.
Meanwhile, on the streets of Grand Chokmah, the rest of the party were swiftly making their way to the Curtiss mansion.
"Why didn't he tell us it was his birthday?" Luke agonized for the third time. "We could have thrown him a party or something!"
"Ha! Jade never celebrates his birthday!" Peony scoffed. "Even when we were kids, we had to force him to his own parties."
"What horrible thing happened to the colonel that he doesn't even want to celebrate his birthday?" Tear wondered.
Peony broke into a splendid guffaw. "Nothing! Jade's just so emotionally backwards that he never wants to celebrate his own birthday! It's just Jade being Jade!"
"Well, something bad might happen this year," a scowling Anise said. "Because this year, I just might kill him. I'll kill him for being such a meanie!"
Dist dodged the spear and dove for Jade's bed, sprawling onto the quilts. Jade turned smoothly and began to throw the spear when Dist tossed a pillow at him. The spear pierced the pillow and fell; feathers flew everywhere and floated gracefully to the floor.
Dist stared wide-eyed at the mess.
"Oh, no," he whispered. "I'm dead."
"I'll say you are," Jade quipped as he reformed his spear in his hand.
Dist screamed as Jade leaped. Flying over the discarded pillow, he landed on the bed tackling Dist and holding the spear point to his neck.
"Now," he smiled. "Explain what you were doing in my room."
"Gya~! Don't kill me!"
"As if I could, you cockroach…" But Jade moved the blade a fraction of an inch away from Dist's throat. "Now, please explain yourself."
"I…I-I just wanted to give you a birthday present," Dist sputtered.
"What a lovely, yet disturbing gesture," Jade said. "Well, since you're so eager to celebrate my existence…" He put the present in Dist's hands. "Why don't you open this for me?"
Dist balked, but Jade's leering smile told him "no" was not an acceptable answer. Hesitantly, he worked at the wrapping paper, dreading the inevitable.
The box opened without any explosion, and Dist breathed a deep sigh of relief, which was a huge mistake because the knock-out gas seeping out of the box went straight up his nostrils.
"Jade…no…" he slurred as his head sagged onto the remaining pillow.
Working quickly, Jade bent over Dist and began fumbling with the lid of the gas canister to reclose it. His fingers caught on something…he couldn't hold his breath much longer.
He felt the click of the canister shutting, and, with a blast of third fonons to clean the air, collapsed on top of Dist, panting and gasping for breath.
Jade froze, then turned slowly to see Luke, Mieu, Tear, Guy, Noelle, Anise, Ion, Natalia, and Peony all staring at him. He looked around the room, seeing the destroyed pillow, the feathers, Dist's prone body on the bed, then felt his own flushed, sweaty face.
Natalia covered Ion's eyes while Anise shouted, "Colonel! You sick old man!"
Peony looked like he was about to vomit. "If I'd known…this…was how you wanted to spend your birthday…"
"I swear…it's not what it—" Jade began, but Natalia cut him off.
"You should be ashamed of yourself."
They all turned to leave.
Jade watched them go, then lay his head back down on Dist.
"This is a nightmare," he said to no one in particular and squeezed his eyes shut. "Happy birthday to me."
Author's Notes: Sorry you had such a horrible birthday, Jade! This story was written and typed up and published within a few hours, so if there are any horrible mistakes, please let me know.