Humans sure were a weird bunch.
This was Edna’s second time traveling with a Shepherd. Though she was only “visiting,” and thus hadn’t made any sort of Sub Lord pact with Lailah, even just a temporary time spent with another Shepherd’s group was... nostalgic.
Edna looked out the window of the Shepherd’s motorhome, twirling her long hair. How time flies. For one, technology had marched on at a breakneck pace in the centuries after Sorey’s journey. Now that every human was expected to get by using these kinds of horseless carriages, traveling was both easier (faster) and harder (more restrictive in when and where one could drive the vehicles).
So now instead of sitting inside of Sorey or Rose’s body all day as they trudged through fields, mountains, and mud, she had the option to sit across from Velvet in a booth table inside a rectangle on wheels. Edna took a sip of the black tea she had just brewed for the two of them. Spending time with her brother’s new wind seraph girlfriend was precisely how she chose to spend the afternoon that day.
Though she loathed to admit it, Edna quite enjoyed riding in the dorky contraption. Less walking yet faster movement, and all she had to do was stare out the window and watch the scenery go by. It wasn’t a half bad way to relax.
She stretched her arms upward, then relaxed them once more. Riding in a human vehicle was a nice change of pace, too. She could count on just one hand the times she’d hopped aboard modern human transportation. The same went for most seraphim, since as a species they tended to avoid it. Though convenient in theory, just the fact that humans ran the industry came with a lot of inherent drawbacks.
For private transportation, it was difficult for seraphim to safely drive cars and such without humans noticing the vehicle “driving itself,” and even if they just stowed away in someone’s car as an uninvited passenger they couldn’t guarantee the humans would end up where they said they would. Public transportation was way easier to use, but almost always only exclusively available in huge cities jam-packed with humans. AKA malevolence central. Hopping into those fuel powered sardine packs just wasn’t wise.
“This. Is. BORING.”
A childish groan sounded from the driver’s seat, prompting both Edna and Velvet to look up at her. The Shepherd had helmed the motorhome all by herself for several hours straight, and was only getting antsier.
“I want my squire back...” She slumped her shoulders, only reluctantly keeping her hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.
Velvet rolled her eyes. “Lailah, Eizen, have you kept her awake alright?”
“Just barely,” Eizen growled from within the Shepherd.
“Indeed,” Lailah sighed from the same vessel.
“Not surprised,” Velvet groaned. “We’re lucky we’re still on that one-way desert road.”
“I’d say the one-way road is why she keeps drifting off in the first place,” Edna said. “And I wouldn’t call being on a road in the middle of nowhere, where this thing could break down any minute, ‘lucky’ when she’s dragging a Reaper around.”
“Cut it out, I’m right here!” the Shepherd whined. “And I can still complain; it was nice having someone I could actually switch off with every hour or so.”
Lailah laughed. “A few weeks will go by before you know it, and then you’ll have your brother back.”
“Aye,” Eizen said. “And I’m hoping that accident of his taught you a valuable lesson about not baiting my curse.”
“Mmph. Yeah, sure. We got him out of your domain’s range a long time ago, so he’ll get better in no time. Let’s just get to the next dang town already.”
“Eizen,” Lailah inquired, “are you sure you don’t want me to take over her body and drive instead?”
“Oh, can you?!” the Shepherd piped up. “Please, please!”
Velvet smirked. “If that’s not baiting the curse too, then I don’t know what is. If the vessel falls asleep, both of the seraphim will probably follow.”
“And like I said, Shepherd,” Eizen added, “I am not going to keep spoiling you.”
Edna stifled a laugh. Yeah. Sure he wasn’t going to spoil her. She turned her attention back to the tea; any more time spent yapping and it would go cold.
“Enjoying our crew?”
Edna looked up upon hearing Velvet’s voice, still sipping the tea. Evidently, she was also done barking back and forth between the driver’s seat occupants.
“More or less,” she shrugged in response. “I’ve gotta say, this is a weird thing those humans came up with.”
Velvet cocked her head. “You think so?”
“Oh, right. You’re only half a year old, huh? Guess this sorta thing is normal to you. Must be hard for Eizen, having to raise an infant on top of that unruly teenage Shepherd.”
“Watch your mouth,” Velvet growled.
Edna smirked. “Talking back? Maybe you’re less an infant and more an unruly teenager yourself.”
Velvet rolled her eyes, huffed, and took a sip of her own tea while looking out the window. Edna’s smirk only widened; since she looked like a child despite her age, she always enjoyed the irony of teasing older looking, yet far younger seraphim about their age. Velvet was no Meebo, but even mild irritation sufficed for entertainment.
A few long moments of just Velvet looking out the window passed, and Edna assumed that she was done conversing for the time being. However, soon enough she spoke up again.
“So... You said you traveled with a Shepherd once yourself, didn’t you?”
“Yeah,” Edna replied. “It was a trade-off: I helped Sorey on his little journey, he tried to find a way to cure my brother. You have both that guy and his successor to thank for your boyfriend still being here for you.”
“And that was all?”
“Yeah,” she said again. “It’d been ages since a Shepherd last showed up, so it was as good an opportunity as any. ...Besides, even I need to get out and get fresh air once in a while.”
“I see,” Velvet mumbled. She and Edna retired to their comfortable silence. After a few minutes of just staring out the window again, twirling her golden locks, and occasionally sipping the rapidly cooling tea, Edna voiced a question that was lingering at the back of her mind.
“Well, Velvet? What do you think of humans?”
She shrugged, putting her own cup of tea down. “Can’t say I’ve seen much difference so far.”
“And that right there is why I say you’re like a child,” Edna said, turning back around and putting her hands down. “It’s a shame you were picked up by a human as soon as you were born. Your experiences with seraphim are still pretty limited, but you’ll see soon enough...”
“I’ll take your word for it.”
Edna smirked. Ignorance truly was bliss, wasn’t it. Though one factor she also had to consider was a certain biased seraph by Velvet’s side, no doubt feeding her tales of how amazing humans were. “You really are perfect for Eizen,” she observed aloud, a ‘happy that my brother’s happy’ sort of thought that surfaced gently from the back of her mind.
“Not having a problem with humans, for one,” Edna snarked. Her expression softened, and with her guard lowered she started to let more of those happy thoughts surface. “But also, the way you both live by your whims, the way you’re both stubborn enough to go through hell for what you want. Choosing your creeds and following them to the end. And lovebirds or not, you hardly look phased, stuck with the Reaper for months on end.”
Velvet shrugged. “You know what kind of life I lived as a hellion. I knew my way around hard times well enough. And even though most of my memories from those days are gone, all my instincts remain.”
“Is that so.” Edna smiled, then continued. “Well, I don’t care about the specifics, but I’m glad he finally found someone who can keep an eye on him 24/7.”
“I do what I can.” Velvet did not smile back, instead furrowing those thick, white eyebrows of hers in thought. She took one last long sip of her tea, finishing the drink off, and then spoke again. “Though, that reminds me,” she inquired. “Edna. Is the Reaper’s Curse really why you don’t live with your own brother?”
Warning bells sounded in Edna’s head. Taking the first opening she could find... what a ruthless woman Velvet was. “It’s not like we have to live together just because we’re siblings,” she replied. “Living as a family only means you grow up together. Some stay together, others separate but keep in touch. Once Eizen and I ‘grew up’, we found our own things we wanted to do with our lives.’”
Velvet glared at her. Edna sighed; she wanted to just tell the woman to stay out of her business, but something inside urged her to confide in her brother’s girlfriend. If Velvet was going to stay involved in her family life, Edna figured she at least deserved to know what Eizen wouldn’t tell her.
So after finishing off her own tea, she continued anyway. “But yes, that curse is the biggest thing keeping us apart.” She shrugged. “We still see each other often enough, so I’m fine with it. In the past, it was way worse.”
“For almost two thousand years, you never even saw him in person, right?”
“Yup. Like I said, way worse. Listen well, Velvet:” Edna folded her hands together on her lap. “People like you and the Shepherd who face the Reaper’s Curse head-on are scarce. Sometimes it’s only mild enough to make you drop your ice cream before you even get to lick it, but other times it summons earthquakes that level whole towns.” Velvet nodded as Edna spoke, her amber eyes focused and determined in spite of what Edna was telling her. “No matter how careful we are, o breezy one,” she continued, “no matter how much we love Eizen, we’re always taking a risk just staying by his side.”
“And I’m willing to take that risk.”
“But most of us aren’t.” Edna looked down, suddenly sorrowful. ”When Eizen left without even asking if I wanted him to stay anyway, I couldn’t even blame him. ‘I can handle it, it’s fine, just stay with me!’ is easy to say, but what if I couldn’t handle it? Then I’d die.”
“So even you have your fears, huh.” Velvet smiled. “Well, it’s not like I can blame you. Some of the stories he’s had to tell are pretty hair-raising.”
“It’s not even really about me in the end.” Edna looked Velvet in the eye. “If I died, Eizen would never forgive himself. Knowing that I’m safe was one of the only good things he had in his life.” She fidgeted with the brown flower trim on the hem of her white dress. “I couldn’t take that away from him, no matter what.”
“So you protected yourself for his sake.”
Edna nodded, her grave stare continuing to bore into Velvet. “And I still do. Just because he’s learned to live happily with his curse doesn’t mean my death would hurt him any less.” She shook her head, and relaxed her stare. “You really are a pain. Help my brother out even a little bit, and now I’m pouring my sob stories all over you.” She sighed, aloof expression returning. “Anyway, there’s your answer.”
“So what was it that encouraged you to go back to his side?”
Was she still not done? “After Rose saved Eizen,” Edna began once more, “everyone kept bugging me about him and I until we made a compromise. So now we live together sometimes, and steer our own ships other times. But it’s not because he’s trying to keep me away from him anymore. I can only keep up with his freaky explorer ways for so long at a time, so it happens naturally.”
Velvet laughed. “Well, I’m not gonna deny that he’s freaky.”’
“Aye. I may be a freaky explorer, but I’m your freaky explorer.”
The women jerked their heads in the direction of the new voice. It was Eizen. He smirked and sat down in the booth next to Velvet; it seemed he decided to use his break from the Shepherd to spend time with his sister and girlfriend.
Velvet chuckled and shook her head, but otherwise ignored him. “Is Lailah alright up there by herself?”
“She’s fine. If anything, she’s staying awake better than I was.” Eizen put an arm over Velvet’s shoulders, resting it lazily on the booth seat’s back directly behind them. “Thought I’d make sure you two were playing nice,” he teased.
Edna smirked this time. “Don’t worry, I like your girlfriend. It’s hard to come by people with my same sort of wicked mind.”
Eizen laughed. “Good. I was hoping you’d connect with her through that.” In response, Velvet smiled wryly and gently nudged him. Her nudge only inspired yet another smirk from her boyfriend.
“Though she’s not wrong, either,” Velvet said. She paused for a moment, appearing deep in thought. Eventually, she spoke up again. “In fact, I get along with her so well, that I say we turn your family outing into a journey. Why don’t you come with us, Edna?”
Both siblings gawked at her. “You... do know why we travel apart, right Velvet?” Eizen asked.
“You decided to join us right as she was finishing up the story,” Velvet answered. “Otherwise I wouldn’t have known, since a certain someone never wanted to talk about it.”
He scowled. “It’s not like you asked. I would have told you if you pushed the issue.”
She shrugged, and kissed his cheek. Eizen shook his head, but still smiled in response. He kissed her back on the lips, prompting Edna to comically retch at the lovers. “Well, even if it took me a good several months,” Velvet responded, “I did finally give into my curiosity. That’s all that matters.” She turned her attention to Edna. “But yes. It’s exactly because I know your story that I want you with us, Edna.”
That only got a sigh and exasperated frown out of her. “Like I told you,” she retorted, “it’s not entirely the curse’s fault. Sometimes we just don’t want to live together.”
“Is this really one of those times, though?”
“Huh?” The question shocked Edna, wiping the scowl right off her face.
“I saw that sparkle in your eyes when you first saw Eizen yesterday,” Velvet said. “And you agreed right away to Lailah asking if you wanted to visit. So why not make it permanent?”
“Well, I...” Edna’s words trailed off. As much as she wanted to argue further, Velvet had a point; it was nice visiting Eizen again after the last decade of only barely seeing him. Even when they kept each other company after Velvet’s death, they still only stayed together for a week then.
“If you’re worried about upsetting your brother, I have you covered,” she replied. “I’m too doting of a girlfriend to let anything happen to his little sister on my watch.” Velvet looked at the driver’s seat, then back to Edna. “And Lailah loves you too much to let anything happen to you either. I’ve only known her a short time, but I’ve known her long enough that I’m aware she’s incredibly reliable... despite her quirks.”
She then turned to Eizen. “What do you think, Eizen?” Velvet asked. “Are you willing to put your sister’s fate in my hands?”
“About time you ask for my opinion,” Eizen snarked in response, and with his arm still behind Velvet he laughed as he patted her shoulder. “But I want to hear Edna’s first.” He turned back to his sister, expression serious. “Edna. If Velvet swears you her protection, would you come with us?” He relaxed his free arm on top of the table. ”Remember: things aren’t how they used to be between us. I want to hear what you want to do, my opinion be damned.”
Edna’s eyes widened, and she paused. “I admit, traveling with you people doesn’t sound too bad,” she eventually said. “But are you sure you know what you’re getting me into here?”
Velvet nodded. “Yuyelasu Duwodusi,” she replied. “If you need extra reassurance, know that my true name means you can count on ‘Velvet the Devoted’ to protect you just fine.”
“Then I suppose I have no reason not to trust you,” Edna said. “You sure do give out your true name easily, though...”
“Not really. I know I can trust Eizen’s little sister even if we’ve barely spoken, and I need you to know how serious I am about protecting you.”
“In that case,” Eizen declared. “Sure. Come with us, Edna. I could use my sister as extra company among all these nutty women.”
“And you think Edna isn’t a ‘nutty woman’ herself?” Velvet teased, and then winced as Edna poked one of her legs with her parasol.
“Hey. If I’m your ‘freaky explorer’, then both of you are my nutty women.” He laughed, kissed Velvet’s cheek, and then turned to Edna. “And you’re sure that you’re okay coming along, Edna?”
Edna rolled her eyes at his shameless PDA with Velvet, and smirked. “If Sorey and Rose taught me anything, I know I can never be sure of anything around Shepherds.” The smirk faded to a soft smile. “But yeah. I want to be with both of you a while longer. I’ll tag along permanently... for now.”
“Permanently, or for now? You can only pick one,” Velvet pointed out. All three of the seraphim laughed.
Afterwards, Edna nodded. “Then consider Hephsin Yulind a part of your team.”
“Early-Bloomer Edna, huh...”
“It’s not relevant to anything. Just thought I’d give you my true name too.” This time, she smiled softly at Velvet instead. “In case you were curious.”