Wiping away the sweat gathering on his forehead, Jude stared at the city known as Façade in amazement. Initially he and Dist (his floating grimoire companion; yes he is a book) were concerned about entering the city until Velvet stepped up and greeted the guards. Surprisingly the guards recognized the warrior in ragged clothing and enthusiastically opened the gates for them. The reason for their friendliness, as Velvet explained with a grunt, was that she saved one of their people from a pack of wolves. After that, they welcomed her in with open arms.
Despite that, the swordswoman remained aloof as usual.
“You’re not coming into the city, Velvet?” Jude asks at the entrance.
Leaning against the wall, Velvet spared the young man a glance before shrugging, “I’ll stay here. I’m not fond of crowds.”
“Ah, your tendency to remain anti-social never ceases to amaze me.” Dist said dryly.
Shaking his head slightly at the grimoire and Velvet banters, Jude entered the city with Dist following behind. They couldn’t force Velvet to come into a city if she didn’t want to. Jude knew that the first time he tried to convince her to come to his village instead of waiting outside in the wilds. At the end, Velvet was adamant in staying outside much to Jude disappointment. He had hoped for Velvet to meet his younger sister, Elize.
Elize, his adorable little sister stricken with an incurable illness known as the Black Scrawl, and death was inevitable to those that had such a disease.
Jude took a moment to pause by the mailbox, close his eyes, and try to relax. He didn’t understand why it had to be Elize. She was too young to die, and had much live to for; to look forward in life. In their run-down home, the young man feared waking up every morning to find Elize motionless in the bed. That’s why he was going to do all he can to find a cure for his sister.
Grimoire Dist was his best lead in curing Elize. He needed to gather all the Sealed Verses, and then Elize can be healed!
Thankfully, the villager Heads, or the twins, Milla and Mira helped him more than Jude could ever repay with. They looked after Elize whenever he was out doing various jobs provided by Mira in the taverns, and making enough gold to buy medicine, food, or even cloths. With Grimoire Dist appearance, Milla did her best in finding leads of the Sealed Verses, and help him out without a cost. Jude would find a way to repay the twins for their help this entire time.
However, it didn’t mean he should ignore any other leads on curing the Black Scrawl. Velvet mentioned that the King of Façade was trying to find a cure himself since he too was afflicted with the fatal illness. Thought it was a rumor, Jude thought it wouldn’t hurt to look into it hence here they were.
“Why do you idle?” Dist asks, clearly annoyed Jude stopped. “The faster we stroll around the city, the sooner we’ll accomplish our task.”
“Oh- Right, sorry about that.”
“The language they use here is uncommon, so good luck with that.” Velvet informed them, and added quickly, “Don’t go looking for me to help; I don’t know how to speak their crazy language.”
As Velvet had stated, the people of Façade spoke in a unique language compared to what Jude and Dist were familiar with. There was little choice but to find their way toward the King manor by walking up on stairs and jumping around to avoid the quicksand underneath them. While the pair had arrived at their destination, they were not allowed entry at all.
“I wish I could understand their language. It would make things a lot easier.” Jude commented on their long way back to the entrance.
“Hmph. Even if we understand their language, we still need to understand their culture.” Dist reminded.
The pair pauses at the top of the staircase in time to watch one of the masked people trip and fall on their face. Dist inwardly commented to himself that at least they had some form of protection else their faces would be scrapped by the ruthless stones. Golden eyes caught the pristine white bowl clattered on the ground. The fruit rolling off and came to a stop not too far from the person. Out of goodwill, Jude walked over to help the clumsy person out by grabbing the bowl and collecting the fruits. Noticing the masked person slowly rising, the black haired fighter held his hand out to help them. The masked person stared at his hand before taking it and stood up.
Jude veiled his surprise in discovering that the masked person was taller than him by a few inches. Not only that, but he noticed the toned arms and broad hands covered in scars indicated that this person was a man. Dist noticed as well, or already knew at the start. It was a thought that they didn’t think very long since the masked man began to make hand gestures.
Sign language, Jude recognizes, but his understanding of sign language was a little rusty.
On the other hand, the amazing Grimoire Weiss realized something else and floated up and down.
“This one lacks the power of speech. Perhaps he can only communicate through gestures…Let’s see…”
“He’s saying, “Thank…you”…I think. You’re welcome?”
“Oh ho! To think you actually had some form of intelligence despite your ignorant demeanor.”
“…Well, excuse me, COOKBOOK.” Jude grumbled at the subtle insult to his intelligence.
Fortunately, Dist ignored the cookbook comment to focus on the silent masked man hand signs. Else, their bantering would trail out longer than any of them would like in this blistering heat. Though the masked man seemed to chuckle underneath the mask, but stopped seeing the warning look Jude sent his way. Crossing his arms, Jude sigh heavily and let the floating grimoire take over the rest.
“I…am Ludger.” Dist translated slowly, pausing to see Ludger continuing his hand gestures, and added, “Are…you…in…trouble?”
Debating whether to answer or not, Jude knew that Ludger was their best lead so far in this strange city. Everyone else neither he nor Dist could understand. Uncrossing his arms to only bring a hand to rub the back of his neck sheepishly, he spoke up.
“No, we just needed to ask your leader something.” Jude answered, “But we can’t do that unless I can understand them.”
Ludger made no motions at first, but the masked man nodded in understanding. Raising his hands to make several motions, Dist attempted to translate them for Jude. Inwardly, Jude could already make out what Ludger was trying to say.
“Guide us? Oh, he’ll act as our guide!” Dist exclaimed excitedly, floating up and down once again. “What a stroke of luck, Jude!”
“Wait, he’s saying something else.”
(“But…First...I must…explain…this town.”) Ludger pause there to see Jude and Dist response.
Jude first thought was that Ludger believed he and Dist were here as tourists. Shaking his head at that, the black haired fighter tried to smile politely, and respond in turn.
“We’re not here for a tour though, Ludger.” Jude tried to say, but blink in confusion when the masked man shook his head furiously and made several more hand gestures.
(“No...There are rules to follow…”) Ludger conveyed.
“…Rules?” Jude and Dist ask dumbly at the same time.
It was then that the pair discovered the many rules that were basically the foundation of the city of Façade. Many rules that was troublesome, downright annoying, and at the same time part of the Masked People culture- Dist liked to differ greatly when hearing the useless rules like maintaining water temperature. Jude in hand while following their guide responded that it was how the Masked People lived and that the rules weren’t too horrible.
Recovering from the shock of discovering that Velvet had been the one to save Ludger a few years back, another problem has occurred among the soldiers of their missing prince. Not surprising since the prince is now a king after his father passed away from the Black Scrawl not too long ago; people were bound to worry if the prince went missing now. The prince was the Masked People only hope for guidance and protection.
Listening to the masked soldiers argue back and forth about the rules was becoming tiring. While their guide stated otherwise that rules were put in place in order to perceive their freedom, Jude would differ greatly.
“Dist, I’m sorry.”
“That the rules weren’t horrendous enough to be considered stifling.”
“You are completely forgiven, peasant. They certainly are trifling, but as you stated earlier: it is their way of living. As outsiders, we have no right to interfere.”
“…Did you just call me a peasant?”
“Come, we should be going.” Dist said quickly, ignoring his companion bewildered expression.
Jude bit his lower-lip as the grimoire floated toward the large gate. He glances over to the soldiers that were obviously troubled and in need of a solution to find their missing prince. Shifting his eyes over to the silent Velvet giving them all a bored look, a timid and anxious Ludger, and Jude sigh once again of what he was about to do. Or more accurately, what he was about to say.
“Fine, I’ll go find the Prince.” Jude declared, earning many shocked reactions.
Even Velvet eyes widened considerably hearing Jude statement and that was saying a lot for the unusually aloof swordswoman.
(“But…why?”) Ludger asked making a few hand gestures.
“There’s no rule saying an outsider can’t help out, is there?” Jude question, making out that the silent man was confused. Ludger was raising hands as if about to convey his words, but pause every time.
“Not only that, but we have a do-gooder that cannot stop meddling into the affairs of others.” Dist, returning immediately once he noticed no one followed him, spat out dryly.
(“Impossible. We could never ask such a thing.”) One of the soldiers argues.
Velvet chose the moment to break her silence, “I’ll do it.”
“And look, we have another do-gooder! Surprising since it came from the hussy herself!” The floating grimoire exclaimed.
“Shut up, COOKBOOK.” Velvet hissed, giving Dist a warning look.
“Why I never-“
“Ludger told me about Rule 1,024. You know that one, right?” The swordswoman continued, watching the soldiers nod. “Say it then.”
Like a snap of fingers, the soldier straightened up, and said smoothly, (“Rule 1,024: You must honor the request of any outsiders owed a debt.”)
“…And that’s how it goes. Isn’t that right, Ludger?” Velvet directed her attention to the silent man that dumbly nodded.
Dist sigh heavily and drop down slightly, “Why did I ever agree to travel with a pack of do-gooders?”
“Come on, Cookbook.” Jude rolled his eyes at the grimoire dramatics.
“I am NOT a cookbook!”
“Now, I’ll have you see here-!”
Ignoring Dist rants of how he was the amazing Grimoire Dist that instilled fear into everyone with his very name, the group head their way out to the merciless desert once again. Their destination was the Barren Temple that lies hidden from the merciless sandstorm.
Barely outside, the group saw Ludger run out and stopped in front of them to explain in sign language why he was here.
(“I want to help find the prince too. You’ll need my guidance to get through the sandstorms.”)
“Ah, so you wished to save the prince as well.” Dist commented. He saw Ludger shake his head “No” and the grimoire had to ask, “Oh? Did I misinterpret your intentions?”
Ludger raise his hands and moved them, (“The prince doesn’t need any saving; he’s the strongest warrior in all of Façade. But we do need to find him since he went into the Barren Temple without telling anyone. We do not know what he intends to do there so soon after his father died.”)
Jude and Dist stared blankly at the silent man whilst Velvet raises a brow. Did they hear that right?
“If I am to understand, you are basically stating that our assistance may or may not be necessary in assist the prince if he is in danger. Instead, the people of Façade wish for their prince to be found since they do not know what to do and wants someone to be his minder…Correct?” Dist summarized what went through the masked people minds. Jude and Velvet didn’t miss the strain the grimoire voice with every syllable.
“OF ALL THE-“
Calming down Dist wasn’t a walk in the park since Velvet made some snide comments in between and Ludger flustered attempts weren’t helping. Eventually, Jude was able to calm the floating grimoire down and continue their quest with Ludger as their guide through the desert.
Later, the swordswoman would ask why Jude would state such a thing when it was obviously not his problem. Jude only answer was that he was a do-gooder that couldn’t ignore others in need. An acceptable answer for anyone that knew the black haired fighter well-enough to know it was his nature to assist others.
Velvet knew he was too kind and scolded him for it. Dist knew he was too meddlesome and subtly chided him in a form of insults. Elize knew he always worked too hard and worried about his health every day. Milla and Mira knew that he tended to overwork himself and fussed over him like their little brother.
Jude knew the fact very well he couldn’t ignore others in need yet that day however a mysterious feeling came over him.
He couldn’t describe the urge to head to the Barren Temple nor explain the reason for it. Was there something at the temple? Or did it have to do with the Façade Prince?
One way or another, Jude would find his answer.
What was Jude first impression of the Prince of Façade?
Intimidating yet he had a certain allure that attracted him in a heartbeat.
Whilst cursing how many tall people appeared in his life, the black haired fighter could make out the muscles underneath those thick cloths. Unlike the citizens and soldiers, the prince didn’t wear a mask at all so his face was clear as day to anyone that witnesses it. Sharp facial features framed by feather-like black hair barely reaching the base of his neck. Ruby red eyes that could easily force an adult male to whimper and beg for his life if he narrowed them slightly; Jude was mesmerized by the unique shade of red. The prince tan and callous hands gripped the hilt of his sword with expertise that far surpass what Jude knew anything about swords.
The Prince of the Façade was fearless against this monstrous foe at the end of the temple. Though troublesome it was with very brief introductions in between and Velvet appearing in the middle of it, they were all able to slay the giant down.
And what luck to find another Sealed Verse here too!
Also, it would seem that the Prince of Façade has his own reasons to be here too. If the barely concealed happiness seeing that wooden mask in his hands was any indication. It was well-drawn and had a different feel compared to the masks Jude saw in the city.
“Ludger was certainly correct to say about the prince.” Dist commented, floating beside the black haired fighter. “The Prince had no need for us to protect him. I’m quite glad that he isn’t our foe.”
“…Yeah.” Jude said, not really listening to his floating companion, and instead kept staring at the Prince.
Velvet, after kicking one of the now unmoving boxes as revenge for spiriting her away earlier in one of the trial rooms, approached the pair. She was in a better mood now hence her cheeky grin before saying, “You’re staring, kid.”
“You’re staring at the prince.” Velvet repeated, blinking seeing red covering Jude face.
Dist took the opportunity to add in another comment, “Ah, yes. I did begin to notice earlier that you were…mesmerized by him.”
“That’s not…That’s not-!” Jude tried to deny, but his blushing face told differently.
“Do you have a crush on him, Jude? I would advise against it since you’re just a peasant.” Dist baited, jumping back when his companion finally snapped.
“I. DO. NOT. HAVE. A. CRUSH!” The black haired fighter shouted loudly to the point his words echo throughout the wide room.
The swordswoman covered her ears to protect her poor ear-drums from the sheer volume of Jude screaming. Frankly, she was surprised that the normally reserve young man could shout so loudly. Unfortunately for the grimoire, Dist staggered a few times before falling down with a THUD. Velvet mentally counted how long it would take for the book to recover. She was barely at three when Dist shot straight up and looked indignant.
“FOR ALL THAT IS HOLY, DO YOU HAVE TO SCREAM SO LOUD?!” The grimoire screeched.
“You’re screaming too, Dist!” Jude retorted, not backing down so easily.
“Um, you two idiots screaming over there-“
“WHAT?!” Jude and Dist yelled at the same time. They were annoyed that Velvet interrupted them.
“-He’s staring in this direction.” Velvet ended, gesturing to the Prince that was watching them ever since Jude yelled the first time.
“…Oh, pardon me.” Dist mumbled, clearly embarrassed that he lost it like that.
Velvet decided to add an afterthought, “I think he’s staring at you, Jude.”
Jude was about to deny the swordswoman claim if not for the fact she was actually right for once. The prince may have been staring at them at a first glance, but his eyes were focused on Jude. The black haired fighter swore there was intensity in those ruby red eyes poring through him. It was as if the prince was taking in every single detail and picking through what he couldn’t see. He suddenly felt conscious of his appearance right now; ragged cloths, covered in dirt and some blood, and not looking his best basically.
Then the prince walked over to them, stopping in front of Jude, and glance at his companions. While he gave Velvet an acknowledging glance (since she did save one of his people a few years back), the prince was intrigue with Dist, but said nothing in it. He focused his attention on Jude once again, and the black haired fighter felt so small compared to him.
“Um…Hello.” Jude greeted lamely, smiling politely at the prince.
Initially thinking the prince might’ve not understood his words, the taller man nodded. The black haired fighter sighs in relief that the prince knew his language to some extent. However, Jude blinked in confusion when the mask was shoved into his hands. He tilted his head up to look up at the prince, who gesture to his own head, and Jude immediately knew what the taller man wanted.
“It would seem that the Prince requests you to place the mask on his head.” Dist translated despite the fact Jude already knew that.
“…Can you bend down a little, Your Majesty?” Jude asked politely as possible.
The prince said nothing, but no less did as Jude asked. Quickly skimming at the mask in his hands, he spotted the straps holding the mask together. Jude leaned closer to the prince to put the mask on him. While doing his utmost best to ignore the intense stare the prince was giving him, Jude couldn’t help flush at the attention. When he was certain that the straps would hold and the mask wouldn’t be falling off of the prince head anytime soon, Jude immediately pulled away and took a few steps back.
Jude sweat-drop seeing the prince perpetual frown sank down by a centimeter. The taller man made no comment, and instead straightened himself up. Testing the mask to find it secure, the prince nodded in approval.
Oh God, Jude swore his heart stopped seeing the prince smile at him. It was faint, but still a smile!
“Breath, Jude. You’re better than this!” Jude mentally scolded himself.
(“…Thank you.”) The prince spoke for the first time; a deep voice that sends shivers down to anyone spine.
“Y-You’re welcome, Your Majesty…” The black haired fighter stuttered, seeing the prince frown once again.
(“No need for the formalities. You can call me Erston.”) The prince, Erston, introduces himself, and crossed his arms.
Ignoring the sudden heat rising to his cheeks, Jude nodded and smiled, “Then, Erston it is! You can call me Jude.”
Erston smiles a little more this time showing that he was pleased by Jude response. Our black haired fighter on the other-hand was simply a red mess and trying to identify this warm feeling in his chest.
At the sidelines, Velvet and Dist gave the pair a blank look, and let out an exasperated sigh.
“…The mood is so…weird.” Velvet commented, unsure how else to word it.
“Indeed. I wonder what kind of star Jude was born under to earn the interest of a prince…and the said prince earning his interest in return.” Dist agreed.
The swordswoman looked at Erston and Jude talking with those strangely warm smiles, and shrugged one last time. It wasn’t her business if the pipsqueak falls in love, but she had to wonder…
If Jude was forced to choose between Erston and Elize, who would he choose in the end?
Extra: Signs of Affection
(“So His Majesty let you put the Royal Mask on him?!”) Ludger exclaim through a series of rapid signs languages.
“S-Slow down, Ludger!” Jude begged, barely understanding what the silent man is saying.
Thankfully Ludger did slow down, repeating what he said at a normal pace. Jude raises a brow at the clear shock Ludger had. Was it so important that he put Erston mask on him?
“Is that a problem…?” The black haired fighter asks slowly.
The silent man shook and made a few gestures, (“No, no. Our masks are more precious to us than our lives, Jude. If we let someone else touch our masks, it is a sign of trust. If we let them put them on for us, then it’s a sign of affection.”)
“And you’re saying that His Majesty has shown some…romantic interest in the peasant?” Dist interjected.
The floating book may seem curious, but Jude knew better. Fucking Grimoire Dist was searching for any kind of dirt on him to blackmail him in the future. Dist was still offended by the cookbook comments apparently. Unfortunately, Ludger didn’t seem to notice Dist intentions and gave a small nod.
(“I believe so from what Jude is telling me.”) Ludger answered, blinking underneath the mask to find Jude so red.
Dist was cackling as he recorded this moment for future blackmail on Jude if the peasant thought he could get away ordering him all the time.
As for our black haired fighter, Jude was contemplating if this feeling was either a crush or something more.
But seriously, he knew Façade had ridiculous amount of rules. He never expected that there was strange traditions’ regarding the masks too.