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Alton got off of his horse and stretched his arms. The trip back was much shorter than the trip there. They even succeeded in avoiding the distractions of Mareth, but they had to. There was barely any time left before classes were beginning, and they were cutting it close by returning so late. He assisted with Chickadee getting off of his mule, then called over to Zaniyah.

“Will you take Bibi and the others back to the stables? I’ll go make our report.”

Zaniyah nodded and took the reigns of Bibi, leading her through the door. She suddenly stopped, going wide eyed at the sight of someone in front of her. Alton turned his head to see what she was staring at. It was a flame-haired man standing by the forge, and something about him was similar to Zaniyah. He was shorter, and his clothing was normal and modest, which was a word that Zaniyah might not know the definition of, but something there was similar.

He was talking to a pretty young girl in a dress. It was copper and gray, and corset gave her waist a nice shape. She also had a ribbon pinning back her short hair, and her shoulders shuddered whenever she giggled. Her pose was also feminine, with a slight smile on her face and her hands twisting together behind her as the pair talked.

Alton recognized that look. Classic young school girl in love. A scowl appeared on his face as he thought about how he’d never get the chance to see a girl look at him like that again. Even if it did happen, he wouldn’t be able to enjoy it. He was technically a taken man. Or was was he a hostage? He hadn’t decided yet.

“No way…” Zaniyah let out a screech and dropped the reins of the animals. “Zyris!”

She charged forward and did a flying leap at her brother. He didn’t have a chance to react, becoming surrounded in a waft of dust as they fell together in the dirt below. Zyris let out a wheeze as his sister squeezed him tightly and squealed with delight.

Alton fumbled to grab onto the reins before the animals panicked and dashed away. He gave a long sigh and started to walk to the stables himself. This was troublesome, as there was news he was eager to get. Sybil’s mission had either succeeded or failed at this point, and he needed to find out as soon as possible. He suddenly gave a pause, wondering why “Zyris” sounded like a familiar name. Other than the brother thing, there was something else about it...

“He’s gotten so handsome,” Lydia remarked, floating next to Alton. “If I were a younger woman, hmm… He’d probably be in trouble.” She laugh at the thought. “I did always like craftsmen.”

“You perverted old-” Alton’s face became washed with panic as he looked between his ghostly stalker and the girl that had been talking to Zyris. His jaw tensed up as he recognized her. “Sybil?” He whispered her name, not knowing what to make of the situation in front of him.

“It doesn’t look like your plan of making her heart grow fonder during your absence has worked.” Lydia floated closer to Sybil, who was now facepalming at Zaniyah’s behavior. “Though her heart does seem to have a sort of pitter patter about it, wouldn’t you say? It’s rather adorable.”

“I still have an advantage,” Alton growled through clenched teeth. Now that he had seen the man, he knew himself to be more handsome. He was also a squire here. That had to at least give him two points.

“Oh?” Lydia floated back. She spoke in a tone that reeked of pity. “I’m sure you do, sweetie. You certainly have an advantage over someone she’s already loved once before. It’s not like the last impression you left on her had her reeling in disgust and running away. Not at all, Alton. You are doing quite well.”

He tossed his hair to the side with a flick of his head. “Watch this.” Alton swaggered over slowly, leading the animals behind him in a commanding manner. “My lady.” He bowed towards Sybil, who stiffened up at the sight of him.

“Ah, Toval... It’s you. Hi.” She was obviously made uncomfortable by his presence. Also, she used his last name, confirming his suspicions that she was still wanting to keep her distance from him. “I actually… That is to say, t-there’s something I have to say to you.” She brushed some of her hair behind her ear with her fingers. Even that looked cute and feminine, which made Alton feel conflicted. “May we talk in private? Not now, I mean after you’ve unpacked. There isn’t a need to rush.”

“Zan. Get the animals,” Alton stated quickly. He looked down and nudged Zaniyah with his foot. She was going off in an elaborate explanation of everything that had happened to her brother. “Zan… Zan!”

Zaniyah looked up. “You’re still here?” Alton glared at her, and she scoffed. “Zyris, this is Alton. He’s been helping us out.” She put a hand next to her mouth and whispered loudly. “I think him and Chi have a ‘thing’ going on. It’s actually pretty adorable. They don’t let me watch though, which is kind of disappointing.”

“There is not a ‘thing’ going on between us!” He looked behind him at Chickadee, seeking help in the matter.

Chickadee looked off to the side. He made an effort to pull his scarves further up his cheeks. “Tee hee.” He let out a fake sounding girlish giggle. Was he making a joke?! Chickadee was capable of making jokes this entire time?!

“Zan, I need to talk to Twist. It’s important. There’s business I need to discuss with her before I make my report to Lady Till about our trip. Please take Bibi and Squash and help Chi with his mule. All you need to do is take them to the stables, and the stable master will handle the rest.” Alton spoke to her slowly, as though she were a child. “Please.”

“What?” Zaniyah frowned at the way Alton was glaring at her. “Bleh, fine. Zyris, I should also tell you that Alton is very rude. All the time. Very rude. You’re just going to have to get used to it.” She took the reins into her hands and tossed her nose into the air.

Before Zyris could respond to anything or even stand up, Alton had already grasped onto Sybil’s hand. He started to walk quickly to their dorm building. Despite the ghost that was following behind him, he was going to seek out a place where he and Sybil could attempt to be alone.

They walked into the first year classroom and he shut the door behind them. No one should be using this room yet. In theory, no one would walk in on them. As much as he had grown fond of both Chickadee and Zaniyah, he was glad to not be in their company for a few minutes. The friendly attitudes and family affections had grown grating over the past few weeks.

Sybil watched him as he let out a sigh and relaxed. She remained stiff and nervous. Alton attempted to change the grip on her hand, but she pulled it free. It’s not like she wouldn’t have followed him if he had asked. He didn’t need to yank her in here.

“It’s alright,” he said gently. “You wanted to talk, and I want to listen.” He walked over to one of the tables and sat down on the edge of it. Casually, he brushed some hair behind his ear, but he also made an attempt to wave away Lydia while he was at it.

“Yes.” Sybil sat down next to him and smoothed out her skirt. Her hand found his again, twisting their fingers together. Even though it was sort of being affectionate, her hand felt cold from the nervous sweat that had built up on it. “Toval... This isn’t something that’s easy for me to say.”

Alton gave a nod as ne leaned towards her. His free hand cupped her cheek and turned her face towards his. “Whatever you need to say, I’m here for you.”

Lydia laughed. “I’m here for you,” said the ghost in a mocking manner. Alton chose to ignore her.

Sybil grasped onto his other hand, pulling it away from her cheek. She kept a hold of it, but remained tense. “Look,” she said that, but her gaze fell away from him. “At some point, I might ask something of you that’s going to be weird or maybe difficult. Sometime in the future, that is. Hopefully sometime far in the future or even better, not at all. It’s not going to be something you’ll be comfortable with, but I need a guarantee that you’ll do exactly what I ask. No matter what.”

She was referring to Veximarl. Alton was the biggest worry out of anyone she could think of. If he was going to keep hitting on her, which it seemed like he was intent on doing, he would be around often. Not to mention that it seemed like he had made friends with Chickadee and Zaniyah, which gave him another excuse to hang around her. He was the one who stood the biggest chance to find out Veximarl’s secret, and then the necromancer would then be sentanced to death.

Alton didn’t realize this. He was only happy to have her within the palm of his hands. Everything was going to plan. Just as he had predicted.

“You can ask me now. It’s okay to trust me, because I won’t judge you.” His words came out in a husky tone, attempting to sound as seductive as possible. Again he ignored Lydia, who had covered her mouth with her hand to stifle her laughter.

Trusting him didn’t seem like an option. Sybil grimaced at the thought. The way he was speaking was also making the hairs on her neck stand on end. It was so creepy. She wouldn’t be doing this at all if she knew she could trust him.

“No, not yet, but I am willing to compromise. Since I’m asking for this mystery favor, I’ll do something for you. It can be something big, or something that I’m not comfortable with. Go ahead and think of it carefully. Very carefully. Please don’t be gross about it.”

“I do you one favor and you do whatever it is I ask of you?” He asked, and she nodded. Alton grinned widely at the implications.

Sybil didn’t like that smile. “You can think of it that way, yes. One favor for one favor. Don’t treat it any differently than that.”

“Cancel your marriage contract to Zyris Krogastein,” he replied in a flat tone. Alton needed to get rid of his rivals while he still could.

“We were only dating. We never had a contract set up.” Sybil sighed in relief. She was worried he would ask for something worse. “I’m too young for one anyways.” She then mentally kicked herself for saying the truth instead of a simple yes.

“What is the minimum age for a marriage contract in the core?”

“They can be written up and signed as early as eighteen, but you can’t marry until you’re twenty-two years old,” Sybil replied. She gave a pause and then her eyes widened in fear for what he might ask.

Alton nodded. His grip on her hands tightened. “When we’re both eighteen, make a marriage contract with me.”

“No?” Sybil tilted her head. She was worried he would ask for something perverted, but this was by far much worse. “You said you couldn’t get married or… S-sleep with people because of your family issues. You also hinted that you have done some horrifically depraved actions before, but you appeared firm about no marriage.”

Alton nodded with pity towards his own problems. “True, but I don’t think marrying you would hurt that. You know my secrets already, and I trust you with them. Plus, I only said I had to hide my scales. There is a lot of activities you can do with a woman without removing your shirt.”

“I don’t need to hear this, Toval.”

“From behind, for example.”

“I really don’t need to hear this, Toval!” Sybil felt like gagging. She tried to pull her hands away from him, but Alton tightened his grip on them.

He laughed and his fingers played with hers as he spoke, “So this favor... Is it that important?” She nodded. “Is it important enough that you’ll promise to be mine forever in five years time? That is enough time for you to change your mind, but you won’t get that favor out of me in return. Once I do what you ask me to, you can’t back out.”

If Alton never found out about Veximarl, she won’t have to go through with it. She’ll have to spend three years hiding the secret and everything would be fine. Surely it wouldn’t be that difficult. “It’s that important,” she whispered.

“I’m warning you, you agree to this, I belong to you.” Alton inhaled nervously and looked her in the eye. “And you belong to me. I won’t ask you to love me, but this is one of those lifelong commitments. Eventually sex is going to happen. I won’t ever force it on you, but I don’t think you’ll turn me down forever... That came out wrong. What I meant to say is, maybe in the future you’ll be open to the idea of loving me, but it’s alright if that never happens.”

Sybil’s face contorted into something horrid, like her skeleton was about to crawl out of her skin and walk away from this situation in pure disgust.

“... You don’t have to make that face,” he whispered.

“I can’t stop myself.” She gagged and pulled a hand free so she could grasp at her own throat.

Alton pursed his lips. “Now I have a secondary demand. This one isn’t that bad.” He wrapped his arms about her waist so he could pull her closer and placed his head against her shoulder. She let out a surprised wheeze and stiffened up. “Let me hold you like this every once in awhile. I don’t care if I haven’t done anything for you yet, I want to be able to hold you.”

“... Does it have to be like this?”

“Sometimes. Maybe sometimes I’ll want to hold you closer than this, but I won’t ever force you into it.” He let out a sigh and relaxed against her. “If it becomes to uncomfortable, I’ll always stop and pull away.”

A pause was given, and her arm loosely looped around his back. “... If I agree to do this, I’m not agreeing to be in your harem. I refuse to take part of anything involving that.”

Alton tilted her head and sniffed at her neck. She smelled of dust. No, that wasn’t correct. She smelled of fog. Of the ocean’s mist when it was at its heaviest. There was something oddly comforting about it. “I belong to you, and only you, Sybil Twist, for as long as I live. You’ll be an entity outside of my usual harem.”

“Don’t even joke about that.”

“Well, since you insist, you’ll be the last girl I’ll ever be with.” He sat up and smiled at her. Her cheeks were red and she was looking off to the side. The sight of it made his heart feel conflicted again. “I belong to you, and you belong to me.”

“Yes, fine. Whatever.”

“Say it.”

She gave him a quick sideways glance. “... I belong to you, Alton Toval, and you belong to me.” It was rushed, and she immediately glanced away again.

“Is what you’re hiding really worth this? You don’t… I don’t think you want to do this at all.” She nodded. Whether if it was because it was worth it, or because she didn’t want to do this, he didn’t know. He also didn’t care. “Then this is happening. I’ll agree to these terms. How do you want to seal the deal?”

Her fingers reached up and gently brushed against his cheek. They still felt cold to the touch as they reached back just behind his ear. She coaxed him towards herself as he closed his eyes. Their lips softly touched. His tongue flicked out and he liked that she tasted like cider.

He pulled away just enough to rub the side of his nose against hers before pressing in for another kiss. Rougher this time, with his hands moving down the side of her waist as he pulled her into his lap. She let out the faintest of sighs as she settled into it. It nearly sounded like a whimper.

Alton shook his head and lifted his hands away from her. His eyes shut tightly because he couldn’t bring himself to look at her in that moment. A quick series of curses left his lips before he was able to speak normally again. “You should go. You need to go.”

“... What?” Her hands moved away from his as well.

“Ah, well… Uhm.” Alton shook his head and put a hand to his temple. “You see, I love- I would love to… Because- Damn, why is it so loud?” He stammered for a few seconds as she pondered if he was having some sort of seizure.

“... What?” Both Lydia and Sybil asked at once.

Alton gently moved Sybil off of his lap and put her back on the table. “I am having a me problem. It’s nothing you need to worry about. I have… I-I have a lot on my mind at the moment? Just came back from a trip? You know how it is...”

“No? Are you okay?” She rested her hand against his shoulder. “Toval?” He looked away from her. “... Alton?” His cheeks flushed red and he put one of his hands against his ear.

His eyes then snapped to hers. “Do you want to take this to a bed?” He snarled it like it was a threat. She gave a shake of her head and moved away from him. “Then you should leave.”

Quickly, she scurried to a stand and rushed out of the room while Alton covered his mouth with the palm of his hand. She had meant to go outside, but ran into Veximarl at the entrance. He was on his way back from from his afternoon jog and heading towards the showers. A friendly wave was given as he slowed down to greet her.

“Hello t-there.” He was sweating and out of breath. “Zani and Chi are back. I saw them enter during my run. Have you-” He paused and looked her over. “Is something the matter? Your face is unusually flushed. If you could hold still for a moment, and I can use my magic to diagno-” Sybil raised her hand and slapped Veximarl across the face as hard as she could. His mouth dropped open from shock. “S-Sybil?! I’m sorry. If I somehow offended you-”

“I don’t want to talk about it!” She ran past him, leaving him behind to rub his cheek in confusion.

Lydia hovered in the air just outside of the building, keeping an eye on Sybil for a little while longer. She then floated back through the walls and over to Alton, who was feeling displeased with himself. He had moved to a chair and was now thunking his forehead repeatedly against the table while his arms were sprawled out in front of him. The ghost appeared bemused by the events that had unfolded.

“I didn’t think you’d be able to find new ways to press her buttons. I knew this wouldn’t be a boring venture, but you have a way of making it so much more entertaining.”

Alton sat up and looked down at his hand, studying it in the sunlight that was spilling through the window. “It’s your fault.” His nails darkened and grew into claws. He then fought off his urges with a shake of his head, snapping off the claws one by one and stashing them into his pocket for later disposal.

“I never told you to seduce the poor girl.” Lydia shook a finger in a scolding manner. “My only request was for you to protect her.”

“Call this revenge then,” scoffed Alton. “From the moment I saw her at that stupid temple, I belonged to her. My future was lost because of her existence and your meddling. It’s only fair I get her fate as payment.”

“Because it’s ‘loud’ when you see her?” Alton’s eyes widened as he looked up her. “Oh, I certainly don’t know what you mean by that. Care to share with the class?” She made wide gesture to the empty room.

“Shut up and go creep around someone else for awhile. I want to be alone.” She started to float backwards, and soon vanished into a wall. The last he saw of her was her ever grinning face, as though she were mocking him.

Alton detached his harp from his belt and begun to unfold it. He was going to enjoy this opportunity for solitude while it lasted. His own thoughts were the only company he could bare at the moment. After all, nothing was going to hold him back. Not some ghost, not some core kid, and certainly not his own personal issues. He was always going to do what he wanted, and nothing else.

After a second or two he paused, staring at the wall ahead of him. “... Dammit.” He exhaled through his teeth and folded the instrument back up again. This was an overabundance of effort with very little payoff. He hooked the harp back onto his hip and hurried out the door. Alton had to fix a certain problem and he had very little time to do it.

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About the author

Adelaide West

Bio: Author of the Grimstone Series and Duck and Wolf.

I have a Twitter. I check it often, so I guess tag me anytime you want. I just don't post very often. @AdelaideGWest

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