Rayla jerked her brow at the Skywing elf's introduction. He was around her age, a bit taller than her by an inch, with an ash blue skin littered with white henna markings and rune tattoos she found familiar on his bare arms. His midnight hair has framed his chiseled beard-free face really well, with uneven bangs failing to hide the nervousness on his forest green eyes.
He was wingless it seems, given how he slung his knapsack nonchalantly on his smooth back. The knee-length cloak he was wearing showed no protrusion below his spine that might have covered his paired forelimbs.
"That's a pretty weird name for an elf." the Moonshadow said as she eyed his four-fingered hand that he withdrew automatically when she declined his handshake.
"Ah, eh, m -my elven parents are very unconventional." he stammered, scratching his nape incessantly like it was his nervous tick. "S-so that's why I got Jofus. Yeah, my name. Jofus."
Rayla can smell his fishy lies easily from a distance.
"Stop giving this poor boy your murderous glares," their other companion bellowed as he slapped Jofus' back jokingly, causing the Skywing to stumble from his chair. "You can't blame him for cowering in fear at the Grim Reaper's presence."
The Moonshadow elf let out a snort when Jofus looked at her with green eyes like saucers.
She didn't know how exactly she earned the moniker Grim Reaper.
When she first heard the rumors, she had no idea that it was actually about her until someone screamed their lungs out of fear and fainted in her presence.
A recluse, powerful Moonshadow who brings death to anyone they meet and wears a scarf soaked with the blood of her enemies? She wanted to laugh at the absurdity of the claims.
"Let's cut to the chase, shall we?" Rayla leaned forward with folded hands and elbows resting on the table. "Why do we have a mage involved in this meeting, Bogoda?"
Bogoda, an Earthblood elf who happened to be the owner of the tavern that they were in, muttered, "Well, Jofus here knows the key that Viren was looking for - or has an idea where to find it."
Rayla averted her steely gaze towards the Skywing elf who nodded hastily.
He gulped audibly. "I'm sorry but I was instructed by Queen Zubeia - "
" Where ?"
The Moonshadow elf almost balked at Jofus' sudden shift of demeanor, his forest green eyes voided with shyness. "In one of the caves in the Far Reaches, just the south of the Ruins of Elarion."
"And how did you know that the key is in there?"
"It's…" the Skywing shifted his gaze solemnly to the ground. "It's classified information."
Rayla stood up. "You're only wasting my time."
"W-Wait!" Jofus chased her towards the exit. "I - I know you don't believe me - "
"I don't," she interposed as she briskly walked away from the premise to head towards the woods where she fastened her Moonstrider, but the Skywing elf outpaced her.
"- but Prince Azymondias requested specifically that I must seek your assistance as his Dragonguard!"
She halted her steps at the mention of Zym's name, then lashed her head towards the elf who immediately blocked her way. "What did you just say?"
"Wait," Jofus wheezed as he raised a finger on her face, "Let me just...catch...my breath. You're too fast… Okay… I'm good." He began to clear his throat. "The Dragon Prince wants me to lead you to the key that Viren seeks."
Rayla crossed her arms. "Why do I have to follow you if you can just give me the exact location so I can get it myself?"
"Because the key is surrounded with magical traps that only a mage like me can unlock without setting the bombs off."
"And why do I have to believe you?"
The Skywing took a deep sigh before he opened his overcoat and pulled a rolled parchment sealed with a royal stamp. "You're not trusting, are you?"
"I don't trust anyone that I meet for the first time, that's all." she yanked the letter from his hand and tore the seal off nonchalantly to read the contents. "Huh. You're not joking."
"You think it was a joke?"
"You're not the only person who tried to con me for Viren's information." She rerolled the parchment and handed it back to Jofus. "Queen Zubeia presented a very interesting offer, but I'm afraid I have to reject it."
"Why? Is it the monetary allowance?"
Rayla shook her head. "I only work solo. I'm not good with groups, and I'm sure you have heard about the rumors of people who crossed my path."
They call her the Grim Reaper for a reason.
"Does that mean the scarf that you are wearing is really dyed with blood?"
The Moonshadow pursed a grin as she touched her scarf instinctively, her calloused fingers traced the edge where the Katolis towers were once etched in bright gold. "I can neither confirm nor deny that."
"Now that's mean," he was frowning but his green eyes were twinkling with mirth. "Will you reconsider our offer if I tell you that I'm proficient with more than one arcanum?"
Mages who forged multiple arcanum are rare but not completely unheard of.
"I can give you a few demonstrations as proof if you like."
"No need," she quipped. Jofus might be a strange elf, but she can sense his powerful aura based on how he carries himself. "Do you have a ride?"
Jofus stretched both of his lithe arms on the side to reveal his rune markings. "I can fly."
"Fair enough," she said. "I have one last condition before I can accept your offer."
" Really ?!" he exclaimed giddily, only to fake a cough to hide his embarrassment. "Tha - that sounds good. S-so, what is the condition?"
"You have to stop staring at me like that."
His brows furrowed. "Staring like what?"
"Like that ." Rayla scowled at his expression. "Like you're in love with me."
The Skywing choked on his spit as his face changed from beet red to sickly white in mere seconds. "W-what?"
"I'm sorry if I'm brutally honest, but I don't want to lead you on to something that will never happen," she explained, remembering how the elf gave her an enamored look when she first entered the tavern. There was also longingness on his green eyes when he thought she wasn't paying attention, and the sight unnerved her greatly. "I don't know who you are, and I don't have any plans of knowing you either. I'm already taken, and very much committed to - "
She stopped when Jofus burst out laughing, "I'm sorry! I didn't - I didn't mean to make you feel uncomfortable! Oh gosh, this is so funny...uh, how can I explain this. Erm, I'm also taken? And very much faithful to my girlfriend?"
Now it was Rayla who went flustered with mortification. "I-I thought you were -"
"Your assumptions are valid!" he gesticulated as if trying to save themselves from awkwardness. "I apologize for my inappropriate behavior, and I swear it will never happen again! I-It's not my intention to make you feel that way! It's just that you reminded me of her - AND I'M NOT USING YOU AS A REPLACEMENT - and you're both Moonshadow who are strong, and brave, and kind, and beautiful, and Ireallyneedtoshutmymouthnow ."
After a few beats of awkward silence, Rayla decided to break the tension by muttering, "Let's forget that we had this kind of conversation."
"Y-yeah," the Skywing stuttered with a nod. "N-nothing happened. Nope!"
"Good," she extended her right hand towards him for a handshake. "Let's start over again. I'm Rayla, a regular Moonshadow assassin."
He accepted hers with a smile. "Jofus, a regular Skywing mage at your service."
She tried not to put any malice when Jofus' hand lingered a bit longer on hers to be considered as a handshake between strangers, or the familiar spark she felt when his skin touched hers.
'He has a lover, dummy,' Rayla scolded herself as she walked towards her Moonstrider, ignoring how her heart clenched at the sight of her companion's back.
If Jofus wasn't a pure-blooded Skywing elf, she might think that the man standing before her was Callum.