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248 A Simple Man

    The greatest decision, your sister! What type of wife would make her husband go bankrupt for some massage?!

    This addiction was more costly than that of drugs!

    No sane man should ever agree with such costly demands of his wife!

    Morales and Baird cursed for a long time after which they calmed down. They were aggrieved beyond words by the rates. After all, their wives have made wish to have a massage there.

    They earned good from their jobs as adventurists but not so good to spend it on a massage! Yet how were they supposed to refuse their wives after listening to all these praises and experiencing the virtual tour?!

    As married men, they knew it better than anyone else on the way women cling to such matters. After all, it was similar to how a man becomes fascinated and envious after seeing a male friend having a high-speed car. For a woman, this advertisement of massage was no less enticing than a cloth or jewelry store.

    The female host in the holographic projection truly knew how to get the job done.

    "Damn!" Morales and Baird gritted their teeth and tried hard to think of excuses to refute their wives' request.

    Jane and Anya looked at their husbands, waiting for their response. Their recent outburst shocked them.

    "Jane, the price..." Morales trailed off in between.

    "I have a 100% discount," Jane clarified since she understood her husband's worry.

    "What?!" Morales was stunned.

    "Ashlyn was the one gave me the card and the discount," Jane said a white lie since she couldn't use Kiba's name. "Her friend owns the massage center so..."

    "Ah!" Morales nodded in understanding. Some time ago, Jane has left the group to catch Kiba and Ashlyn to express her gratitude. Morales didn't think she would get such a gift in return.

    "The god of luck is on my side!" Morales was delighted. "Thank you, Ashlyn!"

    The corners of his lips stretched from ears to ears in a happy smile. He felt Ashlyn was a reincarnation of a saintess.

    Baird, on the other hand, felt depressed. How was he supposed to reject his wife if Morales has agreed?! At least, Morales wouldn't have to pay!

    Baird thought his luck was very bad. Earlier, he got his jewels shattered by Ashlyn, and now he was put in the present dilemma by Ashlyn again.

    Why did she have to give such a discount to Jane?! Was it done purposely to incite Anya against him?!

    "That nutcracking demoness is too evil!" Baird cursed her nonstop in his heart.

    Anya was looking at Baird. She didn't want to be left out of this massage service. The virtual tour only made her excited but the testimonies made her envy! And the rate pretty much settled it for her!

    She believed a high rate definitely meant a very good service! After all, why would a woman spend so much money unless the masseur was legendary?!

    "Anya...I..." Baird didn't know what to say. He didn't want to disappoint her but the rates were far too high. It was not like he could ask her to get only the cheapest massage when Jane would get the costliest one!

    "Just what should I do?! If not for that bitch, I won't be in this problem!" Baird wished he could strangle Ashlyn.

    "She must not be satisfied by kicking me in the balls so she wants to make my heart bleed! That demoness is truly sinister!" Baird was more sure of his theory.

    Anya sighed in disappointment. She didn't know just what to think of her husband any longer. Earlier he was happy with what 'took place' between her and Kiba behind closed now. She was obviously shocked and now this.

    She started to regret her decision of marrying him.

    "Anya, don't worry," Jane's voice entered her ears. Surprised, Anya turned towards her friend. She was sporting a cheerful smile much to her amazement.

    Is she showing off?!

    But her thought was short lived when Jane opened her mouth and said, "You would be getting a 100% discount as well!"

    "WHAT?!" Anya was pleasantly surprised but then she calmed herself and continued. "You are not kidding, right?"

    "I'm serious," Jane stepped ahead and placed a hand on her shoulder. "After two months, we both would leave for Delta City to experience this famed massage service."

    Anya was exhilarated. She opened her arms and hugged Jane tightly.

    "You are truly the best!" Anya expressed her delight.

    Baird looked at them with eyes wide open.

    That demoness gave a discount to Anya as well?!

    Anya broke the hug and said, "Why did Ashlyn give me this discount?"

    They were not close and giving such service for free would reduce the company's profit.

    "She didn't give the discount, not yet anyway," Jane explained with a smile. "But I'm sure you would be given special care when you visit Mistress' Massage Center."

    Anya and others looked at her in confusion. How could she be so confident in her claims?!

    "Are you truly sure?" Anya asked again. She didn't want to be embarrassed at the final moment.

    "Trust me," Jane assured her best friend. And then with an enigmatic smile, she continued, "I have a feeling the owner wouldn't mind giving you a lifetime of free massages."

    --------

    Meanwhile, a few miles away.

    Birds flit through the massive tree crowns as the intense sunlight swept through the faint gaps between interlocking leaves. Large snakes coiled on the tree branches while beasts lurked in green bushes.

    Kiba and Ashlyn walked under such towering trees. Kiba looked around and enjoyed the sight of the myriad colors. He listened to the chirpings of birds and breathed in air filled with the fragrance of flowers.

    "The greenery has its own charm just like the snow."

    Kiba and Ashlyn have left the land of snow and ice some twenty minutes ago after parting with Jane. While Kiba found snow breathtaking and pleasing to senses, he lost interest after the nightmare he had. The greenery, on the other hand, was something he could get used to.

    He knew his trip to the forest was short and he would have to return to the city eventually. The city has everything and also nothing due to the price it paid for development. There were skyscrapers, houses, industries, and so on., but places filled with trees and flowers were limited. Such places were something only the rich and powerful could afford to live in.  Of course, Kiba was also one of those people. His house was built on a waterfall surrounded by evergreen scenary. Yet, it paled compared to the beauty of this forest.

    Kiba leaped towards a branch of an evolved coconut tree. He plucked five coconuts before returning to the ground. He waved his hand and a gale of air swept through the nearby grass, freeing it from dust and insects. Satisfied, he sat down while resting his back against a tree. Ashlyn followed and sat across him.

    Kiba sliced the top shell of coconut by his palm and handed it to Ashlyn. She nodded in gratitude before taking the coconut. The fresh sweet scent of the coconut water greeted her nostrils, rejuvenating her body. She drank the water through the opening while few drops streamed down from the corners of her mouth. The drops sparkled on her fair skin before they dripped down from her chin.

    Kiba found the scene mesmerizing but he didn't dare stare at her for long. A few hours ago, before he started sharing his warmth with Anya, he has sensed what Ashlyn did to Anya's poor husband. He felt she was getting perfect in the art of nutcracking and it wouldn't be long before she advanced to the next level.

    He cleared his thoughts and enjoyed the coconut water. It was a perfect relief from the scathing sun.

    A few minutes later, they emptied the five coconuts. Ashlyn placed down the coconut beside her before bringing her eyes on Kiba.

    "What's wrong?" Kiba sensed her gaze so he raised his head and looked at her.

    "Nothing," Ashlyn said in her usual cold tone. She said this, but she continued to stare at him.

    "...." Kiba checked his face to see if there was something wrong with him. He found nothing odd so he said, "Then why are you staring at me?"

    "I'm just observing," Ashlyn answered.

    "Observing what?!" Kiba felt a headache.

    Why is she acting so strangely?! Did coconut water contained some drugs or something?!

    "Observing the savior of humanity," Ashlyn answered.

    "....................."

    Kiba suddenly felt the warm sun and the soothing greenery losing its charm. He wished he could open a hole and hide in it.

    How could he not understand she was taking a shot at him? Her expression was still cold and poker-like but he was sure she was definitely teasing him for his conduct during the Iceblood Flower episode when he saved Jane and others.

    When Jane asked him why he was helping them despite not being acquainted, he has answered - with a righteous expression- that it was because he was a human. He then gave a short speech on what it meant to be a human and the importance of unity between humans in times of struggles.

    Jane was understandably awe-struck by his heroic spirit. Back then, Ashlyn has witnessed everything and she felt an urge to facepalm.

    She didn't know much about him but she was more than sure he was no savior! At least, not the savior of humanity.

    She has seen him toying with opponents when he didn't have to.

    No, for the time being, she was even ready to forget his sadistic personality.

    But then just what type of savior first burn a house and then step in to save those insides?!

    That's how Ashlyn saw Kiba's actions. He has put Jane and others in danger by teleporting the bees, and in turn, making them a target of Iceblood Flower's wrath.

    Then at the final moment, he entered the scene like a knight in shining armor to save the day. She felt his actions has long overstepped that of a sadist and villain!

    She no longer knew what term she should use to describe him.

    "Cough."

    Kiba let out a sound of dry coughs.  He was slightly embarrassed.

    "Why did you do it?" Ashlyn asked. She was rarely talkative much less curious, but today, she couldn't help herself.

    She has also witnessed how he subtly manipulated Jane to convince everyone to send him and Anya in the cottage to share body heat.

    No matter how she thought, she couldn't understand his motives. Due to the lie Jane spoke, she obviously didn't know what truly trespassed between Kiba and Anya.

    Kiba observed her for a moment before shaking his head.

    "The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend. The bias in our hearts stops our mind from grasping the truth and this applies to you as well," Kiba said with a sigh. "So even if I explain, you wouldn't understand."

    "Isn't it wrong of you to judge me without even trying to explain?" Ashlyn asked in a sweet, calm, and cold tone.

    "I guess you are right on that," Kiba said with a smile. "Well then, ask what you want to know."

    "Was sharing warmth with Anya a part of your plan?" Ashlyn asked the first question.

    "Not really," Kiba answered honestly. "The circumstances resulted in Anya being sick with cold...so I just made some changes."

    "Why?" Ashlyn blinked in confusion.

    Kiba didn't know whether to laugh or cry at her reaction. She was truly naive in such matters despite her being an expert in nutcracking.

    "I was starved," Kiba truthfully answered. "So to feed myself, I manipulated some minor events."

    "Starved?" Ashlyn was having a hard time understanding him. She recalled they had plenty of breakfast before the Iceblood Flower episode so why was he starved? Obviously, she failed to grasp the innuendo in his words.

    "I'm a man with a large appetite," Kiba explained with a faint smile. "And having no alternative, I did what I could to get myself feed."

    "I don't understand," Ashlyn couldn't keep a track of the subject. Even she realized she was suddenly speaking too much, but he was making her bewildered so she has no choice to but to continue. "Why would you scheme to get feed?"

    "Haah~" Kiba let out a heavy sigh. "This world is a funny place where people have a strange sense of morality."

    "?" Ashlyn continued to stare at him in confusion.

    "Imagine a scenario," Kiba raised a finger before continuing. "You haven't had any food in days. Now, you see a feast ongoing at some wedding party. What would you do?"

    "Request for food," Ashlyn answered without thinking.

    She didn't think of stealing or using her power since the setting obviously referred to a civil society where the rules of government were supreme. In civil society, abuse of power or stealing would result in severe punishment.

    "Aren't you a bit too naive for someone who is in this forest?" Kiba asked with a smile.

    "....." Ashlyn didn't reply.

    "How many people in a wedding or any party would accept a beggar or a starved man's request?" Kiba knew she wouldn't answer so he continued. "The most likely outcome is that you would not be allowed inside the party by the guards. They would throw you out."

    "...." Ashlyn nodded in understanding. She hasn't attended any parties in her life so her knowledge was severely limited in this topic.

    "What would you do?" Ashlyn asked after some time. She has witnessed his skills in conspiring to get what he wanted.

    "Well, firstly, I would give myself a makeover so that I don't appear to be a beggar or a starved man," Kiba answered. "But suppose I lack the means, then I would just prepare some additional details for my story."

    "Story?!"

    "Obviously, a story," Kiba continued. "To enter inside and ensure I can have a meal, I would need an invitation. If I lack the invitation, then I would need to fictionalize a role for myself where I'm some relative or friend. But how to do that when I'm not acquainted? That's when the story comes in picture. I need to create a background and a convincing tale that an invoke both pity and sentiments of an unknown acquaintance."

    Ashlyn understood what he wanted to say.

    "Now, I'm inside the party and I can have the food," Kiba said with a smile. "But there are some special dishes reserved only for the groom's table. As a man with a large appetite, I want to have those tasty dishes and yet my status doesn't allow me to... So what should I do?"

    Ashlyn again failed to notice the innuendo. She thought for some time and said, "Fictionalise more details to get a seat on the groom's table. Basically, you will need to hatch a plot to get your hands on those dishes."

    "Now you are understanding," Kiba said in an appreciative tone. "Now, suppose, an outsider knows the truth but doesn't know I'm starved. What would he/she think of my actions?"

    "Immoral and wrong," Ashlyn answered.

    "Just like you," Kiba remarked before continuing. "And what if the outsider knows I'm starved?"

    "Ah!" Ashlyn gaped in surprise as she comprehended everything at last.

    In the scenario, Jane and others were the organizers of the party while Kiba was the uninvited guest. If he told the organzers he wanted their special dish, most likely they would refuse. So to get his hands on their food, he orchestrated the entire event.

    Regardless, the actions of the starved man were wrong whether he was hungry or not. After all, he has lied and connived. But, from a neutral person's perspective, the wrong was no longer wrong since he was ravenous.

    The inner sentiments and the culturing of the society can make one even root for the wrong!

    "You were judging me before knowing my side of the story," Kiba sighed loudly before continuing. "But I don't blame you."

    He jumped on his feet and stepped forward. Ashlyn also followed suit.

    "I did what I did because I was hungry," Kiba's voice was heavy. "But regardless, I don't mind what type of opinion you hold about me."

    Ashlyn was startled by his aura.

    His demeanor was of a man who has been judged wrongly by society, and yet he continued to walk with strong determination. He stepped forward with his back straight despite the pressure of the world on his young shoulders.

    A strong wind swept through the area while the bright sky was slowly replaced by the orange sky as the time for sunset arrived.

    "I would do everything in my power to get my hands on the best dishes!"

    His words contained determination which could even shatter the dome of heavens. He lived for food and he would go to the end of the world to satisfy his hunger. In the end, he was just a simple man with a strong appetite...

    Swoosh~!

    His long hairs floated in the wind while the setting sun cast flickering orange light on him.
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