The tavern was small but inviting, well lit and well maintained with oak tables that sat invitingly for patrons to sit and have a meal. The scent of food and spirits hung in the air, accented with the bold fragrance of spices that hung to dry from the rafters. Laughter rang out like a melody, calling the attention of those who had gathered for refreshment over to a table tucked away at the back. A young man with somewhat wild short brown hair and vibrant green eyes seemed rather giddy even as he tossed a hand of hopelessly mismatched cards onto the table.
"Looks like I lost again," Dyne said. "You're just too good at this, Ghaleon."
"Perhaps if you didn't broadcast your every thoughts, you might win a game once and a while," the man sitting across from Dyne said, a white haired Mazoku with pale white skin. His red eyes looked down at his own cards before moving to look at Dyne's. "You have a miserable poker face, Dyne."
Dyne rubbed his chin, unable to rid himself of his smile. "I guess I need more practice. Maybe you should give me some pointers. Your poker face is always so good it's like trying to read a statue."
"I'm afraid it's impossible to teach those without talent," Ghaleon said, his tone neutral so that it was difficult to tell if he was joking or serious. "We all have our talents, Dyne."
Dyne leaned back in his chair, tipping it back to two legs. "Oh yeah? So I'm hopeless then, am I?"
"Did I say that?" Ghaleon asked lightly as he gathered the cards and shuffled them again. "Hm, perhaps I did."
"Then I'll just have to work with my talents," Dyne said. He straightened up, the front chair legs returning to the floor with a slam. "I have a new bet for you - one that I'm sure to win."
"Oh?" Ghaleon arched an eyebrow as he regarded Dyne. "Is that so?"
Dyne pointed at Ghaleon. "I'm going to defeat that perfect poker face of yours."
Ghaleon blinked. "Pardon?"
Dyne's stance did not waver. "It's a simple challenge. I'm going to make you change your expression to show some emotion and you're going to be like you always are and pretend you don't have any."
Ghaleon's expression deadpanned. "Dyne, while I certainly admire your ambitious streak, you simply must learn to choose your battles more carefully."
Dyne's smile widened. "Now you're just making me more determined. Do you accept the wager?"
"I suppose," Ghaleon said. "When I win, you'd best be prepared to study. I've several new books that need your attention."
The smile disappeared from Dyne's face, replaced with wide-eyed horror for a long moment before he tried to hide his reaction. "O-okay, then, if I win you'll have to... have to..." His gaze went distant as he rubbed his upper lip, contemplating a suitable reward equal to the risk of being forced to endure countless hours of pouring over piles of boring books.
"If you can't think of anything, there's always the option of saving your demand for later," Ghaleon said. "Though it's a moot point."
"Okay," Dyne said, a wry smile beginning to tug on his lips. "As long as you're sure you want to leave it open like that."
"It doesn't matter to me." Ghaleon said. Considering the likelihood of Dyne winning such a ridiculous wager, there was no point in worrying about it.
Dyne leaned forward, propping himself up on his elbows. "Then let's start."
Ghaleon shuffled the cards once more, then began to deal. "Alright."
Dyne picked up the cards one by one as he puffed out his cheeks. He barely paid attention to his hand, more focused on his friend's expression and their wager.
Ghaleon hummed softly as he looked over his cards, fiddling with them idly. After a moment, he raised his eyes over the cards to look at Dyne.
Dyne knew this was the time to strike. He pulled back his lips with one hand, stuck out his tongue, and rolled his eyes back, tilting his head so that he could still watch Ghaleon to see if the other man's expression changed in the slightest.
Ghaleon arched an eyebrow, but otherwise his expression remained unchanged.
For the next several minutes, Dyne continued to make various faces at Ghaleon in the attempt to get some sort of reaction out of the stoic Mazoku. Rolling his eyes, wagging his tongue, and jutting out his jaw did nothing, as Ghaleon would only respond with a quirk of his eyebrow and then proceed to win the current hand of cards. At one point, Dyne even attempted to shove his fingers up his nostrils to make the most grotesque face he could.
"Be sure you wipe your fingers before you touch the cards." was all Ghaleon said in response.
Dyne tried every goofy expression he could think of, each more strange than the last, but Ghaleon did little more than blink. Finally he began to resort to making annoying noises, such as tapping his fingers against the table or floor. The best response he got was a slight twitch of the mage's ears.
After many more hands lost, the Dragon Master decided that his inattention to the game made playing pointless, so he left his latest hand on the table in front of him. "I think I've had enough cards for now. Let's go to the bar."
"If you insist," Ghaleon said as he set his own cards down. "Though if you plan on liquoring me up, I'll remind you that my alcohol tolerance is much higher than yours."
Dyne rose from the table, flashing his friend a crooked grin. "Well then I might get a smile from you when I'm falling over drunk."
"Show some restraint," Ghaleon said as he followed his friend to the bar counter. "I'll be the one to carry you back to the inn."
Dyne flagged down the bartender and gave his order before he cocked his head towards his companion. "I'll try not to throw up on your boots again this time."
"I'd greatly appreciate it." Ghaleon said before he told the barkeep his own order.
It did not take the barkeep long. Within moments, he had both the men's drinks poured and in front of them. Ghaleon gingerly picked up his mug, inspecting the glass, before he noticed Dyne turn to him. When Dyne lifted his own mug to Ghaleon and smiled, the Mazoku hesitated but a moment before returning the gesture, clinking his glass against his comrade's.
"Cheers," Dyne said with a smile before he took a deep gulp of his drink.
Ghaleon made a noncommittal noise before he sipped his own drink, daintily.
Dyne propped his elbow up against the bar. "You know, I missed this."
"Hmm?" Ghaleon glanced at Dyne out of the corner of his eye.
Dyne gestured with his mug of ale towards Ghaleon then to himself. "This, just us hanging out together." A quiet chuckle escaped him. "We haven't really had much of a chance to do it since Lemia and Mel came along."
"Indeed, it's quite strange. Mel is usually the one chewing at the bit to get here before either of us," Ghaleon said. "Which usually results in a scene that we have no choice but to be a part of."
"We have his lady friend to thank for that," Dyne said. He paused to take a swig of his drink then waggled his eyebrows. "Guess I'll have to be the one livening things up around here."
"Don't trouble yourself." Ghaleon said as he took another sip.
Dyne snickered then playfully elbowed Ghaleon in the ribs. "Well someone has to try and get you to loosen up, you old sourpuss."
"Hm," Ghaleon flicked his ears before returning to his ale. He had to admit that Dyne had a point. It was times like this that he enjoyed the most, when it was only Dyne and himself. He very rarely got the chance to anymore, with Lemia and Mel tagging along where ever they went. It wasn't as if Ghaleon disliked them, but his happiest moments were spent with Dyne alone.
Ghaleon could remember how he and Dyne first met, when the Mazoku journeyed through Burg during his aimless wandering. The teenage Dyne had been encouraged to travel by Ghaleon, though Ghaleon certainly hadn't intended to do any such thing. Forcing himself along, the Mazoku only agreed on the condition that Dyne not abandon his schooling and do his best to learn along the journey. It was something that Ghaleon still held the Dragonmaster to, despite being a grown man.
Though it was often quite easy to forget that Dyne was, in fact, a grown man.
"Hmph," Ghaleon smiled wryly, the corners of his mouth quirking up slightly. With the way Dyne acted, Ghaleon doubted the man'd ever truly grow up. But that was alright with the Mazoku, it was one of the qualities that made Dyne who he was - Dyne.
He really wouldn't have it any other way-
Ghaleon nearly dropped his drink when he felt Dyne's hands on his ears, eyes widening as the Dragon Master leaned in close enough that their noses were almost touching. He choked on the ale already in his mouth as his pale white skin turned cherry red in a matter of moments. "Pfft-!?"
Dyne laughed and leaned back, his eyes alight. "Victory is mine!"
Ghaleon wiped furiously at his mouth with the back of his hand, his ears canting back once free of the Dragonmaster's fingers. "D-Dyne-!?"
"I finally broke through that poker face of yours," Dyne said. "I told you I could do it."
Ghaleon sputtered for a moment, struggling to regain his composure. "D-does 'personal space' mean anything to you!?"
Dyne flashed his teeth in a wide grin. "It means that you lost and I won."
Ghaleon clenched his jaw as he glared at Dyne, failing utterly in his attempts to repair his shattered stoicism. "You'll use that prize at your own peril!"
Dyne chuckled and shook his head. "Now you're just being a poor sport about it."
Ghaleon scowled as he pulled out his handkerchief, wiping at his chin. "And you're a damned fool, as always!"
Dyne merely laughed in response. He would give Ghaleon ample time to calm down before he claimed his prize. There was no rush. After all, there was little more he could ask for than moments like this. Seeing Ghaleon shocked, flustered, and even angry was reward enough for him.
Those strong emotions were just a reminder that no matter how the Mazoku acted most of the time, they were both just as human.