The anticipation was killing him. Long has it been since He has entered his store. And though he believed he has done all he can to tempt Him of his wares, he still couldn't help but feel that he could have done better.
The Merchant sits, on a ragged carpet in a crumbling building, his thumbs twiddling in an anxious manner. Perspiration dripping from the pores of his forehead.
He has returned. Has seen him. His ghostly form slowly materializing from the Bonfire until He was physical. He watched from his window as the Pretty Woman unsheathed a wand by Her side. Then watched as He bow before Her.
This they have done on more than one occasion. After His returned from the Forest and as He entered the Tower of Flames were the earliest he remembered. The Merchant knew from watching this, that after this strange ritual, He would leisurely walk to each of the residents location. First it'd be the Blacksmith, now grateful for the return of his key. Then to the newly arrived, Merchant Melentia, who he outright disapprove of. Before making His way to his stall, then to two others he'd yet to know the names of, the Cartographer in the Mansion and the Feline in the house.
This was the reason for his eccentric behavior lately. Why he would take a glance out the doorway every three minutes, why he would rehearse a tempting offer to an empty helmet, and why he would so frequently need assurance from the Woman that eventually he would be able to finally sell his wares. For no matter how good he thought his weapons are, how sturdy his armor is and how useful his items would be. The Merchant had only, for the remainder of the time He's been here, piqued His interest once.
So now, he sits, the trepidation as he hears the crunching of grass grow louder, closer to his stall, was threatening to have his heart pop right out of his chest. He considered hiding behind the stone counter a few meters away from him, perhaps He'd might go away if He saw no one home. But before he could erase that idea from his buzzing head, a Man entered past the doorway, His shadow casting over him, a blank stare on His face. The Merchant stared back, having lost his voice in his panic state.
The Merchant took a second to take in the sight in front of Him. In His right hand he holds a sword, imbued with the power of lighting, the other, a shield, depicting an image of a blossoming flower. It seems He had discarded his previous sword and shield after his latest venture. And much like His weapons, and much to the Merchant's dismay, the armor He had bought from him too has been replaced by another.
"Oh." He said, doing his best to sound as if he wasn't bothered by anything or had been expecting Him at all. "H-Hello again. I hope you find something of use."
The Man blinked then gave a slight nod, and he showed Him his wares.
It seemed like an eternity before He did anything. The Merchant watched His face closely, hoping, wanting for a sign that shows interest, a spark in his eyes or a twitch on his eyebrows but none came. The Man stared at him, gave a slight bow and walked away without so much of a backward glance, the same expressionless look on His face.
"Always open for business..." He muttered, disappointed and annoyed.
Had He been expecting anymore? After all, the Man had only ever bought one set from him, and never again.
Before this, his mind was drowning in euphoria, having finally sold something in this forsaken land. He remembered sitting back down, still ecstatic over the purchase, while his mind wanders over to dreams unreachable.
He imagined himself sitting upon a throne, admiring the interior of his palace upon a hill, surrounded by his many admirers and served by his rivals back in Volgen. The Pretty Woman even made an appearance by his side, Her eyes glowing with admiration as Her face inch closer to his.
Back then, that dream seemed not so far fetched after all, possible even, to accomplish. But now, that dream has returned to the land of make believe.
"I see business is prospering, as usual."
He looked up to see a Knight, his face smiling in amusement, with his back leaning against the entrance.
"L-Leave me be." He said, his patience wearing thin.
But the Knight did not leave. Instead he walked over to the counter and took a sit upon it, his eyes focus on the Merchant's crestfallen look.
"I wish. But our Fair Maiden is worried for your well-being. Naturally, seeing Her turn towards your stall at every waking moment, I felt compelled to check up on you... for Her sake at least.
The Merchant gave a reproachful look, then got up and stared out the window.
"W-Why couldn't She have a-asked me Herself?" He said, watching Her figure at rest on one of the rocks.
"She feared you may disapprove of Her visiting. After all, She was the one to convince you stay, and of course, She noticed how restless you've become knowing that the Undead had little use for you. Considering this, She might find it- what's the word... awkward to visit you."
The Merchant stared at him.
"Now, this is all just speculation, I haven't asked Her myself but one can simply guess by Her behavior." He concluded, shrugging his arms.
"T-That doesn't explain why you're here."
At this, The Knight's small smile quickly vanished and seemed to have turn to grim. The Merchant seemed to have sense the change of atmosphere and turned to face him.
"I'm here to ease all our worries." He said, leaning his face onto his now clasped hands. "You won't go Hollow now, will you?"
There it was. The word that strikes fear into the hearts of many Undead. The word that destroyed his shelter and kingdom as he fled, his stock the only thing he salvaged from the ruins. The word that would make an unwelcoming appearance in his thoughts, slowly creeping its way at the back of his mind.
"E-Excuse me?" He said harsher than he had intended it to be.
"You might be fine before, but now is the time to worry. As I had witness it, and so have many others, I know you occasionally wander about the place. A faraway gaze, a lifeless walk. I doubt you even remember doing this, or if you had, why you did it."
He did that? Occasionally? A sinking feeling slowly appeared in his stomach, he swallowed but his mouth had run dry. He tried to recall anything he did that resembled what The Knight had told him. But as he was told, he found no memory of it.
"Now's not the time to be in denial, Maughlin. We all know the signs of Hollowing and you seem to be well versed in imitating a Hollow."
He knew it as well, how the Undead behave. He had seen it firsthand, coped up in his makeshift shelter, countless hours spent surreptitiously staring out the holes in the walls, spotting the residents wandering about with a daze look before returning home with no memory of having doing so. Now it seems, he too is being consumed by the Curse, slow as it may be.
"A purpose can delay this inevitable fate. And I know you have one. Only..."
The Merchant looked into his eyes, those lonely tired eyes and wonders how he copes with the everlasting suffering inflicted on the both of them.
"It seems it won't be fulfilled if you are to stay here. I'm sorry, but I think it better if you were to move elsewhere, for your sake."
He felt his heart grow heavy. What The Knight said was true, try as he might to think of an argument. He'd only go Hollow seeing his wares go unsold and himself soulless.
His mind went back to The Man. He remembered how nervous he was presenting his items to Him, it felt as if his chest might burst open any minute. When he had finally sold a set, how he could of jumped for joy there and then. Even back in Volgen, people were not customers but merely passersby, favoring the more popular and trusted stall in the areas.
Now, seeing the armor he had sold, armor he had spent long weeks, forging, crafting with his own hands, unsatisfied until it was to the highest quality possible being nonchalantly thrown away as if it were nothing, in favor of one pillaged in one adventure. Why, it's surprising he hadn't thought of leaving yet.
"I-I understand." He said, averting his eyes to the hard stone floor. "I'll just... pack up my things, I'll go soon."
The Knight stood up from the counter, went towards him and placed a consoling hand onto his shoulder.
"It's for the best. I'm sure you know that." He said.
The Merchant nodded his head in response, unable to think of a response.
"I suggest waiting till She wakes, I'm sure She'd like to say Her farewells to you."
He looked up and found The Knight vanished through the doorway. He watched through the window as his figure grew further and further away until it was once again sitting atop the Monument.
For a second, it seemed everything was back to normal, only for a moment, until the realization of the situation struck him again, his heart growing even more heavy. It was going to be hard to leave, all this time, he thought of this crumbling decrepit house as home of sorts, never having one all his life. It had been given to him by Her, that was the only time in his life where he felt as if he was needed and welcomed. Now... even She won't come to visit, now He's been asked to leave.
He knows it's necessary if he wanted to preserve his sanity, he doesn't want to hurt anybody if he were to turn Hollow. But the thought of leaving, becoming a wandering nomad once again... There was no choice, his purpose for being here has gone.
One by one he packed his things, which wasn't much at all, but he made sure he did it as slow as possible, savoring every second spent in the house for the final time. He rolled up his rugged floor mat, counted his supplies once, twice and maybe three times before he finally allowed himself to move on to other things, only to realize that was all there to it. There was nothing left to do besides saying his farewells.
Will The Man even realize he had gone? Notice a resident missing from the place? Would he even care to begin with?
He sunk down to the ground, many more thoughts each more unpleasant than the last embedding itself in his thoughts, lowering his spirits even more. Maybe he should have given up his dream a long time ago. As he sits there, in deep silent contemplation, he thought that maybe Hollowing wouldn't be so bad after all... To live a soulless empty life, it isn't that much different than what he is doing now anyway.
A voice snapped him out of his melancholic trance. His body went rigid and stiff, not expecting any visitors, especially during his last hours in this place. His tongue let loose by instinct as he looked up, welcoming whoever it was that stood at his doorway.
"G-Greetings! Come and take a look at my w-wares! I'm sure you'd find something that... may... be of..."
His voice trailed off, his lips parted open in mid-sentence, his gaze permanently affixed upon the individual that stand at his door.
"Erm... I'm afraid I'll have to decline, I haven't got much to begin with... But I'd be more than happy to talk if you'd like that."
Her voice... Like a lovely melody floating through the air. Just by the sight of her, all his problems, all his worries seemed to ebb away. Seeing her standing there, her long raven black hair blowing gracefully from the wind of the outside, he felt a serenity he never knew even existed.
"Did I... come at a bad time?" She spoke nervously, mistaking his silence for agitation.
"N-No no! Not at all! Please, make yourself at h-home."
He had been so entranced by the sight of her, it took a while before he realized something was amiss. His eyes grew wide with surprise and confusion by her clothing, that had not been something he thought he'd ever see again.
"Where did you get that?" He asked, pointing at her attire.
There was no mistaking it. He had spent days crafting those leather gauntlets to perfection, weeks on those boots and months on that hard leather chestplate.
"This?" She looked down and did a quick turn with her arms outstretched, sending his heart to a flutter.
"It was given to me by a traveler who saved me. Not long ago, I was petrified, my body turned to stone. I was trying to escape these monsters, you see. But it appeared that I was a little bit too late."
She gave a small smile at her blunder, and he felt his cheeks redden.
"But then this traveler came by and unfroze me. He was very kind, although he did not speak a word. I feared maybe he didn't understand me! But when I asked for a change of clothes, as my own were torn and tattered, he gladly gave me this set without a word."
But he was hardly listening, his attention entirely focused on her enchanting face. She was far from the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, but there was something about her, something magical. Perhaps it was her eyes, so bright so full of joy, or maybe it was her smile, so kind and very much endearing.
"May I just add, that whoever made this armor was clearly a master of their craft. So comfortable yet so sturdy, the way it clings tightly to the skin and yet leaves just enough room for mobility. Why, I feel bad just taking away such a magnificent piece of craftsmanship from him."
Her words took a while to register, his ears refusing to believe he had heard right. But seeing the girl toss and turn around just to prove her point said otherwise.
"I-Is that so?" He asked, still slightly adamant.
"Hmm?" She stopped mid-turn and was now looking at him, her expression stating she hadn't heard him well.
"I-I meant... was what y-you said - like...umm." He struggled to find the words, and he was reduced to nothing more than short mumbles and soft whispers. He felt like an idiot and stared at the ground in embarrassment.
His heart pounded, sweating profusely. He feared his blundering and stuttering might have bewildered her, or worse, scared her off. Yet he couldn't think of what to do, his mind a total blank. The silent wasn't helping, wishing The Knight would drop by, dearly hoping for his interruption and yet at the same time, also wanting to remain with her alone.
"I was here quite sometime ago with my teacher. I haven't caught sight of you then, are you a new arrival?" She asked.
He instantly looked up again, grateful for the change of subject and nodded his head, albeit, rather excessively.
"Yes! Yes I-I am. My name's Maughlin. I'm a merchant by trade, would you be interested in some- I mean it's a p-pleasure to meet you!"
His hand was outstretched before he knew it, and instantly regretted it. It was too late to pull back now, he only hoped his hand wasn't shaking as much as he thought it was.
She took his hand, bending forward, and shook. A smile on her face.
"Likewise. My name's Rosabeth and I look forward to getting to know you."
Her hand felt slender, warm and strong in his own and not because of the leather gloves she had on. And before he could think of other ways to describe her touch, they broke apart.
"There seems to be more residents than I remember. Newcomers as well?" She asked, looking out the window and seeing a plump, balding old man exiting a building with a blanket in hand and placed it onto a sleeping figure by the Fire.
"Yeah... Ever since t-that traveler of yours came, many more started appearing into this p-place."
"Well, I suppose I should go introduce myself then." She said, turning back and giving a bow. Afterwards, she turned towards the doorway and began making her exit.
Dismayed by this, The Merchant began thinking of reasons for her to stay and talk. Perhaps if he showed her his wares? Or ask her of her province, maybe?
Her head appeared out of the doorway, a hand right below it touching the wall at the side.
"If you're free, I wouldn't mind talking to you again. I'll be by the Bonfire near the Tower. Only if you're not busy, of course. I wouldn't want to derive you from your business after all." She said.
A lump appeared in his throat, struggling to get the words out, his stomach felt jittery as if in free fall.
"Y-Yes yes! I would love t-tha- I mean that will be n-nice."
"Great! I'll look forward to it!" She said, smiling brightly at him and waved goodbye.
He got up from the floor and walked towards the doorway, then began watching her slowly walk towards the Blacksmith's building, giving a small wave of her hand and another smile. Unknowingly, his own lips too, formed into a smile.
He turn back towards his stall. The rolled up mat leaning against the wall, and beside it, a rucksack filled with his supplies. He stared at it for awhile. Then turned to look at her again.
After a moment, and with a mind empty of worries and a heart no longer heavy, he made his way towards the supplies and slowly, he started to unpack.
Author's Note: Sorry for the long delay once again. I got sidetracked once or twice, mainly because I went ahead and replayed Dark Souls 2 to get a good sense of the characters. Anyway, I hope you guys enjoy this chapter and tell me what you think with a review. Hopefully the next chapter won't be as long awaited as the previous ones.
Update: Corrected some grammatical errors because I'm good at English like that.