It was already a couple of minutes after I left the princess' room, and I was once again simultaneously amazed and annoyed by the sheer size of the Dracis estate. As a matter of fact, I was even getting suspicious that the suddenly irritatingly polite chambermaid was leading me through the scenic route on purpose, but I didn't terribly mind, as it granted me ample time to gather my wits. As such, I let the backdrop of the samey corridors become a kind of visual white noise and I quietly retreated into my thoughts as my legs followed after Melinda.
So, I was about to meet with Elly's father. Considering all the crazy things I have seen and done as of late, that was not supposed to make me nervous, yet here I was, wracking my head over what to do. To be frank, the reasons for that were many and wide-branching, so let's start with the most mundane.
First and most obviously, I was steadily walking towards a trope. I didn't know the exact name of it, but I was pretty sure that the whole 'boyfriend's first meeting with dad' was something of a staple situation in romantic comedies designed to lead to the dreaded 'shenanigans' I always preferred to avoid. Now, granted, in retrospect I have already passed through a round of that due to Judy's father, with his oft-mentioned shotgun, but he was fairly insignificant in the grand scheme of things. The man I was about to meet, on the other hand, was one of the most influential people on the island, both in terms of the supernatural politics and how much he could affect my future prospects if I got on his bad side which, given the nature of the aforementioned trope, was a very distinct possibility.
Actually, scratch that. The biggest problem was not his reaction to me, but the other way around. Due to time restraints, I still didn't get around to test my hypothesis whether I was reacting badly to magical pressure, or if Judy's assumption of some sort of narrative influence was more on the nose. Not that it made a huge difference at the moment, as no matter the underlying reason, I was sure meeting with the head of the Dracis household would result in my nerves getting touched again, whether I liked it or not.
Because of all this, I had already begun mentally preparing myself for the meeting, and the best way to do it was to stay calm, steel my nerves, and make a game plan that would hopefully survive the encounter with the opponent. I took a deep breath, and did just that.
So, what were my goals? First, I had to make a good impression, or if that was impossible, I had to avoid making a bad one. There were two obstacles: the trope, and my unstable temper around powerful people. The latter I could do little about, other than fortifying my concentration and practicing my best diplomatic smile, but for the former, I had a few ideas.
First and foremost, I had to figure out how to get into the good graces of daddy Dracis. I didn't know much about his personality, but based on a few of Elly's stray comments and my observations, I could make a few inferences. For a start, he was a doting parent and a family man. He obviously spoiled the princess quite a bit; he went as far as to let her enroll in a public school just for the off-chance that she could woo a guy she met a few years before. He was also almost guaranteed to be at least as much, if not even more, hostile towards the knights with the unnecessarily long name as his daughter. That opened two avenues of approach: I could either flatter his family, or I could voice my eternal hatred towards the knights. In fact, there was nothing stopping me from doing both.
Once I had my foot in the door, I would have to improvise based on the situation and whatever archetype Elly's father slotted into. Normally I didn't like to consider the people around me on simplistic narrative terms like that, but succeeding in my first impressions here was quite crucial, so I decided to suspend my rule for the time being. My guess was that he would be some iteration of a stereotypical aristocrat, just like how the princess was most likely supposed to be an example of the haughty 'oujo' archetype until I kind of derailed her personality into a ditzy tsundere (for the better I would say, as I liked her clumsy antics a lot, but I might be biased in that regard). In that case, I should expect some political talks regarding the supernatural folk, plus maybe topics concerning wealth, influence and traditional values. I was pretty bad with the last one, but if it came to money and influence, I think I had at least some spare change to bring to the table.
All things considered, while I still wasn't one hundred percent satisfied with my mental preparations, I felt significantly less tense by the time Melinda stopped in front of a large, lavishly decorated dark wood double door.
"We have arrived, future young master," she stated with the utmost seriousness, and it made me roll my eyes in exasperation.
"I figured," I told her, though this time I had no brass plaque to cheekily point at.
The chambermaid knocked twice on the door and announced, "The guest has arrived."
After a moment of pause there was a muffled 'Enter.' coming from the other side, so she immediately opened the door without further ado. Very. Slowly. She probably did so for some kind of dramatic effect, but damn, she was so slow I wanted to help her push, but I restrained myself and waited for her to finish. At last she gave me a quick nod and walked in, so I followed right after her, and what I found on the other side was just a tiny bit unexpected.
Let's start with the description of the room, shall we? It was big, but not enormous; about one size larger than Elly's bedroom, but nowhere near as spacious as the parlor. Speaking of the parlor, the place was actually very similar in the broad strokes. It also had a large, cozy hearth in the back, which also served as the sole source of light in the room, dressing everything in a soft, orange glow.
In front of the fireplace stood four large, leather-bound black sofas arranged around a glass-topped wrought iron coffee table (which, incidentally, had the same elaborate dragon-shaped legs as the one in the previously mentioned parlor), and all of these were standing on a huge, extremely intricate (and presumably equally costly) Persian rug. I kind of wondered if it was even safe to have such a fancy carpet so close to the hearth, but I decided not to dwell on the fire-safety of the place for too long, as I had more pressing issues to worry about.
I glanced around, and noted that the walls were decorated with numerous plaques featuring stuffed animal heads and large antlers still attached to mounted skulls on one side, while the other had a series of racks featuring dozens of weapons, from elaborately ornamented cavalry sabers and simple winged spears to old muskets and fairly modern hunting rifles.
I didn't spend a lot of time admiring those either, as my attention was quickly drawn to the man in the process of rising from one of the sofas. He was big, but not enormous, with wide shoulders and a physique that was closer to 'heavy', like an aging bodybuilder that began to put on some weight but was still in good enough shape to make the average man jealous. He wore a fairly simple ensemble consisting of brown trousers, a white long-sleeved shirt, a brown waistcoat and one of those strings with a large green gem around his neck. I think it was called a 'bolo-tie' or something? If it wasn't abundantly clear already, I wasn't really good with fashion terminology.
His hair was of the same golden color as his daughter's, and he had tidily cropped yet prominent sideburns that gave him a slightly wild look. That, combined with his wide jaw and large, somewhat flat nose reminded me of a lion, an image probably invoked due to all the hunting trophies surrounding him. As for his actual age, based on his features I would have said somewhere in his early thirties, though considering that draconians could apparently live up to three hundred years, he could have been eighty years old for all I knew.
When our eyes met, his lips slowly parted in a… welcoming smile? I guess that was the intent behind it, but it was pretty strained. Speaking of strain, just by looking at the man I could feel the familiar irrational irritation bubbling up from the pit of my stomach like some noxious gas, but I took a deep breath and pushed it back down. Once I felt in control again, I returned his gesture with an ever so slightly guarded smile of my own.
For a few long, silent seconds we stood in place, smiling at each other like idiots, until Melinda lightly cleared her throat. It made the man flinch, but then he immediately collected himself and told me, "Oh, where did I leave my manners? Please, come in," in a surprisingly normal baritone voice.
I wanted to point out that technically I was already inside the room, but I decided not to, and instead I simply nodded and took a few steps towards him. He stepped forth as well, and once I got close enough, he extended his hand towards me.
"As you must have already figured out, I'm Abram Dracis, patriarch of the Dracis family."
I listened to his solemn introduction while I also reached out and shook his hand. We were about the same height, so I had no trouble maintaining eye contact while doing so.
"Leonard Dunning. It's a pleasure to meet you," I presented myself with a voice that was just a teensy bit flatter than I originally intended. He didn't seem to mind though, as after he let go of my hand he gestured towards the sofas.
"The pleasure is mine. Come, let's sit down. I believe we have many things to discuss," he told me in a wooden voice, as if he was reading from a script.
"Do we?" the question inadvertently slipped out of my mouth, which made him pause on his tracks for a moment.
"Don't we?" he asked back, seemingly uncertain for a moment.
"Future young master is making things more awkward than strictly necessary," the chambermaid chimed in from beside the door, and I was about to roll my eyes at her again when the man in front of me suddenly let out a surprised 'Ah!' noise, drawing my attention back to him.
"Right, that's what we were supposed to discuss!" he stated, loudly, with an expression that said he just discovered something profound, then he pointed towards the sofa again and declared, "We should sit and talk about family business!"
"Such as…!" he began with an enthusiastic voice, but then his brows slowly furrowed and he glanced at Melinda.
"Such as the relationship between future young master, milady, and miss Sennoma," the chambermaid provided the answer with a deferential bow.
"Yes, what she said!" papa Dracis nodded with a dopey grin, and for a moment I could only blink at him as the realization set in.
I came here expecting some kind of stuck up aristocrat, and instead I got… this? What further blew my mind was that this meant being an airhead was running in the family, so… maybe Elly wasn't supposed to be an oujo after all, and I didn't derail her character? Maybe she inherited her personality from her father, and it simply came to the surface over time? That… kind of threw all my preconceptions about character tropes on a loop, and if it wasn't for the large man urging me to sit down, I would have probably started taking notes on the spot. Instead I decided to file this new insight for later and sat down as instructed.
Papa Dracis followed suit, and after a short moment of silence he loosened his tie a little and said, "So, Leonard…" he began, only to pause and hastily ask, "Can I call you Leonard?"
"Sure, that's my name," I answered nonchalantly, and for some reason he gave me a thoughtful nod in response.
"Good! It's a good name! Leonard Dracis has a good ring to it too!" he nodded to himself repeatedly, then he suddenly gave me a thumb up and a toothy grin and declared, "I approve!" with an unnecessarily loud voice.
"Thank you…?" I answered cautiously, but before I could say anything else, Melinda cleared her throat by the door again.
"Sir, shouldn't you hold your approval until after the discussion was over?"
The head of the Dracis family visibly flinched, then exclaimed, "Oh, right!", then he asked, "Are you currently dating my daughter?" with the approximate bluntness of a sledgehammer to the face.
"Yes, as a matter of fact, I am," I answered, slightly whiplashed by the erratic pace of the conversation.
"Ah, so it's true!" he mused with a solemn nod. "You know, my daughter had told me a lot about you."
"Really?" I responded, suddenly feeling slightly bashful.
"Yes, yes!" he answered with another toothy grin. "I remember when she first mentioned you like it was yesterday! What did she call you back then? A 'handsome lecher' I think?"
"Heh," I snorted as I failed to stifle a chuckle. "That takes me back."
"I imagine!" papa Dracis chuckled as well, then said, "My Elly has some of her mother's temper, so when I first heard her complain on the phone, I immediately had my suspicions, and by the next time we talked, you were a 'good friend', and then before I knew it, she refused to even talk about you and called me a daddydiot for asking! It was around that time I figured out something was brewing between you two!"
"'Daddydiot'?" I repeated after him with my eyes open in surprise, an expression that quickly got replaced by a grin as I said, "Did she really say that?"
"Yes, she did!" Abram answered with a smile mirroring my own. "Is my daughter cute or what?"
"The cutest," I answered with mock solemnity, at which point the large man let out a hearty laugh and gave me another thumb up. I couldn't help but chuckle along as I was getting caught up in his enthusiasm, and with every passing second I felt more at ease.
"I will be honest with you," he spoke up after a short while, "When my daughter told me she wanted to come to Critias to meet with her childhood friend, I was a little skeptical, but she was really insistent. I really didn't want to let her attend your school at first, but teenage daughters have their ways, and no father is immune to them."
"She sulked, didn't she?" I ventured a guess, and he confirmed it with a sagely nod.
"For three days straight!" he exclaimed in a loud, boisterous voice once again, which made me wonder if maybe he just didn't have an indoor-voice. "She didn't talk to me, she refused to come out of her room, and she even refused to eat desserts!"
"That sounds… serious?" I said, my statement turning into a bewildered question by the end, which earned me another laugh from the man.
"Yes, it was! So you can imagine how shocked I was when I heard that, instead of her childhood sweetheart, my daughter started dating someone else!" he told me, apparently finding the situation incredibly amusing. "Not that I was worried! My daughter always had great eyes for people, so I was sure that if she picked someone else so suddenly, he must be exceptional!" He abruptly paused and rubbed his chin as he looked over me. "Speaking of eyes, I like yours! Determined! Focused! Green! I can't wait to see them on my grandchildren!"
"Sir, you are getting ahead of yourself again," Melinda chimed in from the side with a strategic comment, and for once I could only nod in agreement.
"Like father, like daughter," I said under my breath, but Papa Dracis obviously overheard it, as he immediately gave me a bashful grin.
"You think so?" he asked, followed by another hearty laugh, after which he somehow assumed a semblance of seriousness and he continued with, "My daughter wasn't the only one who talked about you. Can you guess who else?"
"… Was it Sebastian?" I reckoned after a moment of thinking, still wondering if it was a trick question.
"Yes, it was him!" Abram slapped his thigh as if he just recalled a fun memory. "He was so angry I could practically hear his blood boiling through the phone!"
"And that's a good thing?" I asked tentatively, ever so slightly confused by his expression.
"Good? Maybe not, but really impressive!" the patriarch stated with practically sparkling eyes. "Angering the old man is not hard; he had a hair trigger ever since I knew him, but I was truly impressed by the way you dared to do it over and over again! And then you even got away with it!" He let out another lively laugh, then he continued, with a slightly less boisterous voice, "I only really started to pay attention to you after Grandpa Seb told me he simultaneously wanted to strangle you and adopt you into the family!"
"Wait, he actually said that?" I uttered in shock, and for a moment the Dracis patriarch only gave me an impish smile that didn't fit his appearance at all.
"Of course he did! He was truly impressed, both by your courage, your wit, and especially your connections! Speaking of which!" Suddenly he paused and leaned closer to me before telling me, in a slightly more subdued but still loud voice, "I believe I never had the chance to thank you for the information you provided about the accursed knights. By sharing it with our 'allies', we not only managed to strike at several of their bases, but we put our 'friends' into our debt as well."
I had a feeling that he was sure I already knew who these 'friends' and 'allies' were, even though I had no idea what he was talking about. Still, being in the dark never stopped me from playing along, so I gave him a slight nod and made a mental note to check the Hub for any recent changes in the knights' situation.
"There's no need to thank me. It was part of a fair trade," I told him in the end, and papa Dracis immediately leaned back on his sofa with a thoughtful expression.
"True. If I recall, you requested to enter our local library, didn't you?" My poor ears were just about to start feeling comfortable, but then he suddenly raised his voice again, telling me quite loudly, "Now that you mention it, Sebastian has also been singing the praises of little miss Sennoma!"
"R-Really?" I stuttered for a moment due to being thrown off-balance by his sudden, upbeat shouting.
"Yes!" the patriarch replied with a huge grin. "I was told she rearranged and cataloged two hundred years' worth of records in just two weeks! She is an immensely talented young lady!"
"Yes, I am well aware of that," I answered, mentally preparing myself for the inevitable question, and unfortunately I didn't have to wait long.
"Speaking of which, you are also dating her, aren't you?" To my sincerest puzzlement, the man was looking at me with a mixture of expectation and… appreciation? Since I couldn't find the right words to say at the moment, I simply nodded with my most serious expression, at which point Daddy Dracis let out another, window-shaking laugh and then told me, "Marvelous! You sure know how to pick them!"
If I wasn't confused already, this would have been the moment I would have tried to do the whole single-eyebrow-raise thing, but at this point I was so past confusion I was slowly entering a state where my higher thought processes were shutting down to allow me to just go with the flow. Still, I swam against the tide of bafflement threatening to wash me away, gathered what was left of my wits, and tentatively asked, "Are you actually okay with that?"
"Why wouldn't I be?" Abram responded with a puzzled look of his own, then he let out a comparatively softer chuckle and told me, "You know about the marriage traditions of our household, right?"
"Of course?" My answer once again came out as a slightly uncertain question, but he still didn't seem to mind it.
"Then you should know that I have four mothers and I had seven grandmothers!" he told me like it was something to be proud of. Or… maybe he was proud of it?
Either way, at this point all I could do was mutter a somewhat flat, "That's a lot."
In the following minute or so, Papa Dracis kept prattling about his extended female family members, all through which I only occasionally nodded, too numbed by trying to wrap my head around the situation to respond in any other fashion. No, scratch that; it wasn't just the casual discussion of polygamy or the fact that the Dracis patriarch was apparently a fervent supporter of it (even though he was in a monogamous relationship, go figure), but the implications of this whole discussion.
Let's wind back the clock a little and consider my previous theories about this world. I always considered that it had a certain 'setting' or underlying 'genre' to it. At first I figured it was a school life romance narrative, then I thought it was a supernatural shounen battle narrative but, considering how accommodating this world seemed toward polygamy and polyamory...
Could it be that my jabs about Josh being a dense harem protagonist were more on the nose than I expected? Could it be that this was a straight up 'battle harem' narrative? If that was the case… shit, I might even have to apologize to Judy for not taking her anti-harem measures seriously enough!
No, wait. Technically the 'protagonist' was still Josh, so he was the one who was supposed to get his 'battle harem' of pretty, powerful action girls. Hell, even his unique powerup seemed to be tailor-made to get him into situations where he would exchange bodily fluids with multiple girls! But then why did I get into a threesome relationship while he was still single? Did I mess things up, or was this world this messed up from the beginning?
While I was silently pondering on this, the Dracis patriarch finally finished listing the last of his 'mothers' with, "… and so they all agreed to stay in touch, and they still play Canasta every Saturday, even twenty years after my father died! Speaking of which, my daughter and Miss Sennoma are also in agreement, right?"
"Um, what?" I muttered as I violently got thrown out of the window of my train of thought, and I had to rewind the last few seconds in my head to figure out what the hell he was asking about, but then I quickly told him, "Yes, yes we all agreed on it."
"Great!" he exclaimed once again. "Both of you will be amazing additions to the Dracis family!"
"A question, if I may?" I raised my hand to get the man's attention, and he gave me a gracious (and at the same time greatly amused) wave indicating that I could continue. "I was just wondering… if what I heard was correct, your family is very particular about maintaining your bloodline, right?"
"That is entirely correct!" he confirmed with an enthusiastic nod, for some reason.
"So why aren't you concerned about that?" He gave me an odd look, so I clarified, "I mean, shouldn't I be required to meet some kind of standard?"
"Oh, that?" The man let out a content chuckle. "We have already tested you!"
That comment earned him a furrowed brow from my end.
"While you were unconscious, obviously!" He declared while glancing towards the maid still silently standing by the door. "Melinda provided us with your blood sample!"
"Seriously?" I asked as I directed my frown at the chambermaid.
After a moment she lightly shrugged her shoulders and told me, "You were spilling it everywhere anyway, so I assumed you wouldn’t mind."
Before I could respond, the patriarch let out another boisterous laugh, which was getting a little grating, to be honest, and told me, "Leonard, you are a perfect match for my daughter! Your bloodline is more than compatible, you have talent, you come with a talented second wife, and you are a famed chimera slayer of our generation! I would be a fool if I didn't try to snatch you up before someone else does!" At this point he paused for a long moment, then he sheepishly added, "Oh, and you are already in love with each other. That's also important."
I gave the man skeptical look in my best impression of Josh, then flatly told him, "You are being a little overbearing, don't you think?" in my best impression of Judy, for an imitation one-two-punch.
Papa Dracis gave me an odd look for a moment, then he glanced at the maid in the corner and asked, "Hey, Melinda? Am I overbearing?"
"Yes sir, most certainly," she told him with a completely straight face. "Though I believe you can do even better."
"You are entirely correct!" the large man affirmed with a determined look and when he faced me again he declared, "From now on, you should call me dad!"
For a few long moments I could only blink at the man in incomprehension, but eventually I let out a defeated groan and muttered something along the lines of, "What-the-heck-ever."
The Dracis patriarch let out another hearty laugh, giving the impression that he was elated that he scored some kind of victory or something. I, on the other hand, was feeling quite exhausted by this discussion. I mean, it turned out that my misgivings about running headlong into a tropey situation were off the mark by quite a huge margin, but at the same time my self-appointed father-in-law turned out to be way more high-maintenance than expected. On the bright side, by this point the irrational irritation I felt at the beginning completely disappeared, only to be replaced by an entirely rational irritation. Yay?
Anyways, after my host stopped laughing to himself, there was a natural lull in the conversation, which I decided to quickly exploit to ask a question that had been bothering me ever since I entered this room.
"So, I gather you like hunting?" I asked the man on the other sofa, but he only gave me an uncomprehending look in return, so I gestured towards the plaques on the walls and added, "These are your trophies, aren't they?"
"What?" he asked as he uncertainly glanced around until his eyes suddenly glinted with recognition and he hurriedly said, "I mean, yes, of course! I just love hunting! It's a real man's hobby, don't you agree!?"
It was time for me to apply my most skeptical gaze again, which seemed to make the patriarch conspicuously avert his eyes. I was once again surprised and just a little bit disturbed by how similar his reactions were to my girlfriend's. I quickly shook off the impression and asked, "Do you really?"
Papa Dracis tried to pretend he didn't hear me, but after applying a few seconds of silent, unblinking gaze at his face, he finally slouched his shoulders and admitted, "No, I don't," in an almost sulky voice. "This is actually my late father's collection." He glanced up at me, and since I might have been showing the slightest smidgen of interest, he immediately raised his voice into a boisterous thunder, telling me, "My father hunted prey all across Africa! Braved the jungles of the Amazon! He even wrestled with a narwhal! Unfortunately, he strained his back in the process, so he had to retire from adventuring, but we still have its horn to show!"
"I see," I nodded as I glanced around, but I couldn't see a single narwhal horn anywhere. I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little disappointed, but I pushed on and asked, "Did you arrange the meeting here so that you could show off his collection?"
"Well, not exactly…" the grown man muttered as if he was a little kid with his hand caught in the cookie jar, but after a moment of sulking he bounced back again and he exclaimed, "Oh, to hell with it! We have already sealed the deal, so I might as well show you my vulnerable belly, am I right!?"
The last bit was probably aimed at Melinda, as she let out a small sigh and answered something along the lines of, "As milord sees fit."
Now, there were multiple questions I would have liked to ask here, such as what exactly he meant by 'sealing the deal', or if showing his 'vulnerable belly' was an idiom of some kind (I really, really hoped it was), but I didn't have the chance.
"I will now tell you!" Papa Dracis began as loudly as usual, but then he faltered for a moment and then he not only leaned forward a bit, he even gestured for me to do the same. I was a little suspicious at first, but I hoped he wasn't the type to yell into my ear for a cheap laugh, so I leaned in as well. "You see," he began with a somewhat uncomfortable expression, "I wanted to make a good first impression on my future son-in-law. I thought, since you were a famous chimera slayer and everything, meeting you here would… what is the idiom? Build skinship?"
"It's 'kinship'," I corrected him. "Also, please stop calling me that."
"Stop calling you what?"
"Chimera slayer. It's a dumb title, it's inaccurate, and it's embarrassing."
"You think so?" he asked while looking at me like I was a white raven or something. "So… you didn't kill a chimera?"
"I did, I just don't like it when people keep making a huge deal out of it," I admitted with a grumble.
"I see," Papa Dracis mumbled as he straightened his back, but after a few short moments of thinking he abruptly exclaimed, much to the lament of my poor ears, "Strong, handsome, resourceful AND humble! Haha! If I didn't know better, I would think you are some kind of sneaky infiltrator designed to appear as my perfect son-in-law!"
"You forgot that I am also very tolerant of loud people," I muttered with just a hint of biting snark, but it was like throwing water onto a duck's back, so I let it go and asked him, "Who would even try to infiltrate here?"
"Take your pick!" Abram told me with a shrug. "The celestials try to infiltrate everywhere on principle, the Magi also love to have informants planted around all our estates, and as for the accursed knights, the less said is the better."
"I can't really argue with that," I replied absent-mindedly while making another mental note about looking into and celestial infiltrators on the Hub. Just in case.
Meanwhile my self-appointed father-in-law's thoughts seemed to have returned to the previous conversation, as he added, "Actually, there was another reason why I wanted to meet you here. This is my favorite room in this mansion. When I was only a little older than you are now, my father and I always talked here, so I thought it would be a good place for us to talk as well. And bond. Build kinship. Those kinds of things," he finished with a grin, then he added in a whisper, "Not to mention, my study is currently full of records, so we couldn't have been able to sit comfortably."
"Records?" I inquired by reflex the moment I heard the word. "What kind of records?"
"Errr..." the patriarch gave me a classic deer-in-the-headlights look that once again reminded me of her daughter and he ultimately answered, "Mostly Dragon Prodigy, but there were a few boxes of El Drake, Jörmungandr, Wyrm Pride, plus a few dozen Níðhöggr albums—"
"Wait, hold on," I interrupted the man just as he began to count on his finger, an act that was infinitely cuter and less uncanny when performed by his daughter. "When you said 'records', you meant music records? As in, CDs?"
"Of course," Abram nodded like it was obvious. "I have no idea what's going on, but in the past couple of weeks, practically all music shops on the island reported that people stopped buying our products and keep asking about 'digital distribution' and 'streaming'! My top men are already looking into it, but for the time being a lot of the excess records are being stored in my office!"
"Hold on!" I raised my hand to stop him again. "You have a record company?"
"Well… yes! Yes, I do!" Papa Dracis declared with a mixture of pride and surprise. "You didn't know?"
"Can't say I did," I told him honestly.
"But you had access to our Library for weeks!"
"Yes, but Sebastian told us we weren't allowed to browse the parts that have current or confidential data that can compromise the security of the family," I told him matter-of-factly, and he once again looked at me like I was the last specimen of some species considered long-since extinct that just casually walked into his room.
"And you didn't look at them?"
"Of course not," I answered with a slightly irritated scoff. "First off, I have no interest in your finances. Secondly, Sebastian was always hovering around Judy when she came over, so of course she wouldn't try to read them even if we were interested. Thirdly, if god forbid something bad happened to any of you, I really didn't want to be put under suspicion or even held responsible."
"And that's why you didn't look at our finances or our holdings?"
"More or less," I answered brusquely. To be fair, the other reason was that we were way more focused on the old records in order to help us reconstruct the supernatural landscape of this world, plus I always had the Celestial Hub and its numerous informants to reach out to if I was really curious. Which I wasn't. Until now. "So, what is the name of your label again?" I asked as casually as I could manage.
"The family owns shares in all five major international music conglomerates, among many other industries, but I also personally own Dragonflame Records!" he declared, only to tone it back a little as he added, "Well, technically I don't personally own the company, as it would leave a money trail. It would be more accurate to say I am its secret owner. In the shadows! Like a dangerous mob boss, except less dangerous or illegal!"
"I get it," I muttered as I sneakily rubbed my temple. "So your record label is called Dragonflame, and all your artists are either named after dragons, or have the word in their name?"
"Yes!" the overly enthusiastic patriarch exclaimed with a grin. "Ironic, isn't it!?"
"Only if you mean it's ironic that you are trying to hide your involvement while broadcasting it to the world," I griped.
"You haven't realized it until now either, and you are just about to marry into the family!"
"I…" I wanted to refute his words, but in the end I decided to let it slide and only muttered a dispirited 'Touché…', which only prompted him to laugh again. I decided to cut him short this time, so I threw him a curveball by asking, "So, if I get this right, you literally own a slice of the music industry? How come you cannot set Elly up as a singer again?"
"Oh, she told you about that?" Abram smiled at me for a moment, but then his countenance abruptly changed for the grimmer. He let out a heavy sigh and told me, "Actually, the accursed knights are already aware of our involvement."
The patriarch nodded with the most solemnity I have seen in him so far, "Fortunately for us, so long as we are not directly involved, they cannot really do anything to our businesses. It has something to do with their Oaths."
"Oaths?" I repeated after him by reflex.
"One of their seven Oaths forbids them from hurting the innocent. 'Innocent' in this case essentially refers to people who are not aware of the existence of us, or the other Old Blooded Clans. If they break any of their Oaths, they lose a good chunk of their power, so they will always avoid doing so. So long as we keep our business partners at arm's length, they can't do anything to them, and by extension, us."
I was actually a little surprised by this new information. I was aware that the knights took Oaths, but since nothing in the celestial records indicated that they served any role other than chivalric roleplay, I completely skimmed over them. I didn't expect to learn something this significant today, especially from the flaky individual in front of me, but hey, don't look the gift knowledge in the source.
I made yet another mental note on this, but in the meantime I also asked, "What are the other Oaths?"
"We only learned of three through interrogation," the patriarch told me straightforwardly. "Don't hurt the innocent, don't run away from a fight, don't betray the other knights."
"Fairly simple rules," I mused.
"Yes, yet if they break all of them, they would lose their qualification as a knight and their powers with it. My late father actually used it against them a number of times, but since we never learned all their oaths, we could only exploit the first two."
"Food for thought," I muttered as I shelved yet another mental note, but then I remembered where the topic started and I said, "So what you are saying is that if Elly became a performer under your label, it would give the knights the excuse to attack your business?"
"Not only that, it would give them plenty of opportunities to attack my daughter!" he suddenly explained with an angry scowl. "Those accursed knights never rest! I would bet my left wing there is at least one of them skulking around on this island even as we speak, looking for a chink in our armor to strike! They still fear the authority of the Magi, so they should not dare to attack us in the open, but you have to be ever vigilant! You hear me, Leonard!?"
"Yes, yes, I hear you," I told the overly loud man before I let out a sigh. So it was just as I figured. So long as the knights were around, my girlfriend couldn't fulfill her dream. Oh well. I supposed with all my other crazy long term plans floating around, adding either 'getting rid of a centuries-old feud' or 'getting rid of one of the feuding sides altogether' wasn't going break the camel's back.
As such, I decided to focus on another part of the previous conversation, and asked, "You mentioned something about music records being sent back here?" Abram nodded, and while I wanted to inquire about how getting surplus merchandise delivered to his own study didn't contradict with him being a 'secret owner' of the business, but I didn't want to get bogged down in another side-topic, so instead I asked the main thing on my mind. "You said something about digital distribution, right?"
"Right!" he suddenly exclaimed with a vexed frown. "I don't even know what that means, but all the customers have been asking about it and none of them buy our records anymore!"
I nodded sagely, figuring it was yet another unforeseen consequence of the island's technology going through about two decades' worth of technological development in two months. Judy and I have already done a fair bit of research into the phenomenon, and it seemed to be an offshoot of the class of phenomena where the world interacts with observers and, in this case, their expectations. Through our experiments and repeated self-suggestion, we managed to bring technologies like social media and smart-watches into existence. The fact that just expecting something to exist was able to bring it into the world was a scary, if exhilarating thought, but it had its own issues.
To cut a long research entry short, apparently our careless meddling with the world's technological level created some unforeseen results, such as digital media rapidly displacing traditional physical media practically overnight. Now, while other people might have been horrified by this kind of careless, unconscious reality-warping, all I could feel at the moment was excitement over a sudden opportunity. If digital distribution didn't exist yet, but the placeholders were already clamoring for it, it meant I had a ginormous business opportunity on my hands, and the man who had the funds and manpower necessary to exploit it was sitting right in front of me.
I was just about to voice my proposal when we were suddenly and rudely interrupted by the sound of the doors of the chamber being kicked in, followed by a surprisingly high-pitched yelp coming from Melinda as she hastily jumped out of the way. Incidentally, we also both sprung to our feet, though without any added noises.
"There you are!" declared an unfamiliar voice, and as I glanced over to the doors… only to find myself staring at Elly's butt as she backed into the room. After I got over the first wave of bafflement, I finally noticed that she was pulling something, which turned out to be a surprisingly sturdy looking wheelchair.
As she finally got inside she hastily turned the chair around, so that both her and its occupant was facing us. The princess needed no introduction, and after just recently learning about her condition, the identity of the sitting woman didn't require too much brainpower to deduce either.
Elly's mother was sitting ramrod straight in her chair. She wore a thick green gown and had a red-green tartan blanket covering her lap. She had long, wavy brown hair that was very similar to the princess' when she let her hair down (for obvious reasons, I would say), and the face her locks framed showed some surprising signs of Asian heritage, most visible in her almond-shaped eyes.
Speaking of eyes, at the moment she was in the middle of staring daggers at her husband, and before he could have said anything, she asked him in an icy tone, "Dear? Care to explain why you told the twins to distract our daughter while you kidnapped her friend?"
"I didn't kidnap anyone!" the patriarch defended himself with a raised voice, but the apologetic tone immediately told me who was wearing the pants in this relationship. "I just thought that, as a father and a man, it was imperative I had a serious discussion with my future son-in-law just between the two of us!"
"Daaad!" Elly pouted from behind her mother's chair for some reason, probably out of embarrassment.
In the meantime the lady of the house raised a curious brow as she looked at me and repeated, "Son-in-law?"
"I guess he is talking about me," I spoke with just a hint of embarrassment and gave a nod to her. "I'm Leonard Dunning. I'm pleased to meet you."
"The pleasure is mine. Call me Emese," she told me in an almost robotic voice, then she turned back to her husband and continued with a considerably more natural (and chilling) tone, "Dear, don't you think discussing your daughter's future shouldn't be done behind closed doors? Without her around? Or without ME around?"
"I just wanted to…" He began, but then we were all startled by a series of knocks on the doorframe. As I glanced up and over the two in the way, I saw Sebastian entering the chamber with my assistant in tow.
The old butler looked over the people gathered in the room and said, "It seems everyone is present. Marvelous. Dinner is ready, so I would advise we head over to the dining hall and continue whatever discussion you might have already begun before the food gets cold."
"Good idea!" the Dracis patriarch immediately agreed and he skipped over to the wheelchair and all but yanked it out of Elly's hand before leaning down and whispering, in a still very audible voice, "Come on Emmy! You are embarrassing me in front of the kids!"
"Don't you 'Emmy' me right now, mister!" the lady in the chair countered in a hiss, and that was about as much as I could make out before Abram turned her around and they stormed out of the room.
As I hastily followed after them, my two girlfriends naturally fell in line with me, and the moment she did so, Judy immediately whispered, "Son-in-law?"
"Don't mind it," I whispered back with a roll of my eyes. "Elly's father is just being overbearing."
"I know, right? He is so cool!" Elly suddenly chimed in, earning some odd looks from both of us.
"Being overbearing is 'cool'?" Judy asked the question on the tip of my tongue, and the princess nodded with all the confidence in the world. My assistant blinked at her for a moment, then she glanced up at me and stated, "Chief, with these people around, I am worried about our future."
"So am I," I told her with a small groan, and then I immediately redoubled my effort to catch up with the bickering couple and the silent butler while mentally preparing myself for another trope, this time of the 'awkward family dinner' variety.
The dining hall of the Dracis mansion was, to my sincerest shock and disbelief, actually pretty cozy. After the flagrant displays of wealth so far, I expected to be lead into a gigantic, lavishly decorated hall with a huge crystal chandelier and one of those stereotypical, long-ass medieval dining tables under it, with maybe a throne-sized chair at the upper end where the head of the household would preside for good measure.
What I got instead was a comparatively plain chamber, about the size of my own living room, with a medium-sized oval table in the middle. Maybe it was due to the contrast with the rest of the mansion's unifying theme, but the lack of decorations made the place feel surprisingly comfortable and, dare I say, homely.
However, what the surroundings lacked in lavishness, the menu made up for in droves. Most of the dishes were placed in the middle, within everyone's reach, and we had everything ranging from 'simple' caviar to an honest to goodness turducken, and based on some of my host's stray comments, we still had a whole roasted suckling pig on the way.
Speaking of my hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Dracis, were sitting together along one long side of the oval table, while our little wholesome threesome was occupying the other side, with Judy mechanically eating her meal on my left (it was probably her way of dealing with the tense atmosphere), while the princess on my other side was blissfully munching on her own.
I was also trying to enjoy the gastronomic wonders in front of me, but my efforts were considerably dampened by a certain noble lady in a wheelchair giving me the stinkeye. I tried to ignore her to the best of my ability, though I would be lying if I said the awkward silence wasn't getting to me. On the other hand, I didn't seem to be the only one that thought so, as the uncomfortably fidgeting patriarch soon raised his voice in what I figured was his best attempt at small talk.
"So, Leonard! Have you tried the red sauce yet?"
I was taken a little aback by the sudden question, so I replied with a tentative, "You mean that one?" while pointing at the small jar between the fried goods and the cold cuts.
"Yes, that one!" he exclaimed with a grin.
"I second it!" the princess, well, seconded at my side. "It goes great with everything!"
"Really?" I muttered as I reached out and picked up the jar. I casually lifted the lid, and my nose was immediately tickled by a strong, spicy aroma that made me involuntarily salivate after a single whiff. "Well, it definitely smells great," I spoke with a small smile, only to get so startled a moment later that I almost dropped the whole jar.
"That's it!" Elly's mother exclaimed while simultaneously pointing at me.
"That's what?" I asked back reflexively, at which point she gave me a triumphant smile.
"You smell weird," she told me matter-of-factly, earning her an odd look from her husband.
"My dear, you are being rude to our guest," Abram chided her, after which he took a few overt sniffs towards my directions and added, "Not to mention, he smells perfectly fine!"
"No offense darling, but we both know that your nose is about as blunt as a wet sack of mice," Elly's mother retorted with a huff.
"That's a fun analogy," I stated absent-mindedly.
"Why, thank you," the lady suddenly gave me a demure smile, but then a moment later she realized who she was responding to, and so she quickly forced her expression into an eerily familiar glare and told me, "I meant to say, please be quiet, this doesn't concern you."
"Excuse me? Weren't you just talking about what I smell like? I think that concerns me plenty."
"He got you there, honey!" Papa Dracis exclaimed with a mirthful laugh before he reached out, gingerly picked up a tall wine glass, elegantly raised it up to his mouth, and then he proceeded to throw his head back and empty its contents in one go like it was a shot glass.
"You are supposed to take my side!" the lady of the household retorted with an equally familiar pout, completely disregarding her husband's weird drinking habit, but just a moment later she glanced at the giggling blonde at my side and snapped, "And you! Stop laughing and help explain things to your father!"
"Mooom!" Elly whined while sidling half a step towards me, with her chair in tow. "Stop bullying Leo!"
"But he smells weird!" Lady Emese doubled down while staring her daughter in the eye, at which she flippantly shrugged her shoulders.
"It doesn't matter! It gives him character, and complaining about it to his face is really rude!"
"I remember you doing that a lot in the past," I grumbled. "In fact, you are kind of confirming what she says even now."
"Hush Leo. I am defending you right now," the princess told me with a smug grin, then she proceeded to continue arguing with her mother.
I let out a small sigh, then I turned to my other girlfriend and quietly asked her, "Hey, Judy? Do I actually smell?"
"I don't know, I don't care," she answered me quite bluntly. "I just want to finish my meal, go home, and steer clear of these weird people."
"They are not that weird…" I attempted to protect them, but then I noticed that Elly's father kept downing one glass of wine after the other like they were spirits, while the women of the household were still arguing about my odor, so after a moment I sheepishly added, "Well, okay, maybe a little weird."
"It doesn't matter whether you like it or not!" Elly's mother burst out, drawing my attention back to her just as she pointed at me, "He is still two-timing!"
"We are not!" Elly argued back. "It's a one-turn threesome!"
"One true threesome," Judy corrected her wearily without even looking up from her food.
"Right, what she said!" the princess nodded so hard it sent her hair cascading around her face, but then it returned into its previous, well-maintained shape in a second. I had to wonder whether that was a draconian thing or a simulation thing, but I wasn't given much time to do so, as the lady of the house raised her voice again.
"What does that even mean?"
"It means that technically we are all in a single relationship," I tried to explain. "Or you can think of it as each one of us being in a relationship with the other two at the same time."
"Really?" Mama Dracis looked at me skeptically, and then glanced at Judy. "Does that mean that you are also in a relationship with my daughter?"
My assistant gave the lady a blank look, but then after I poked her in the thigh under the table, she briefly shuddered, following which she told her, "If we follow the definition we were just given, then… yes?"
For a while Elly's mother kept giving us weird glances, then she looked over at her husband, probably for support. Unfortunately Papa Dracis seemed to enjoy himself way too much, so he only grinned at her while a somewhat generic placeholder maid filled his wineglass once again. She let out a disgruntled groan and then faced me again.
"So let me see if I get this straight." She pointed at me, then at the princess. "You and you are dating." I nodded in the affirmative, so this time she pointed at me again and then Judy. "You and you are also dating." I nodded once again, so for the last round she pointed at the two girls in turn. "And you two are also dating."
After a moment of hesitation Elly adopted a determined expression and gave another big nod.
Her mother fell silent for a long moment, after which she asked, "How far have you gone?"
"Where?" I asked back while tilting my head to the side.
"Physically," she replied with a serious expression.
"Only kissing!" Elly hastily declared while going from determined to beet red in a split second.
"Same here," Judy said between two bites, and while she still tried to appear aloof, I could tell from the way she averted her eyes that she was more than a little uncomfortable as well.
"With him?" Mama Dracis asked for clarity, and my girlfriends nodded in unison. "What about each other?"
There was a very long pause there, and to my sincerest surprise it was the princess who hastily declared, "We didn't get to do it yet!"
"Yet?" Judy glanced up at once with a hint of alarm in her voice.
"Yes," Elly nodded with a bafflingly confident expression. "Father always said that physical contact is important for building skinship!"
"Hah! I knew it was skinship and not kinship! I told you, son!" Papa Dracis exclaimed with a ginormous grin on his face.
I wanted to point out that it was just proof that he also told it wrong to Elly in the past, but then it was his wife's turn to raise her voice, saying, "I knew it was you who planted all of these ideas in our daughter's head! And don't call him son!"
"Why? It's practically a done deal at this point!" the patriarch answered jovially, followed by yet another hearty laugh that made even the dishes on the table clatter.
Lady Emese opened and closed her mouth a couple of times, but in the end she let out an exhausted groan and faced her daughter again, asking, "Are you sure you are fine with this?"
"Yes mom. This is for the best," Elly replied to her with a determined look. They silently gazed at each other, no doubt engaging in some kind of esoteric eye-contact-based form of arm-wrestling until, to my sincerest surprise, the woman in the wheelchair let out a defeated sigh.
"Very well, I understand," she spoke, and Elly was just about to happily glomp me for some reason when she raised her voice again and said, "However, I want to ask the young man a few questions first!"
That stopped the princess on her tracks and she embarrassedly sat back down onto her chair. In the meantime her mother directed her piercing gaze at me again and asked, in a very straightforward manner, "Do you love my daughter?"
I didn't expect such a direct question, but after just a split-second I managed to squeeze out an adequately definite "Sure, I do." Now to be perfectly honest, those words didn't exactly come from the bottom of my heart, but I figured that saying 'Well, to be perfectly honest, I feel extremely deep affection towards your daughter, but I cannot truly ascertain whether my feelings would qualify under the traditional definition of love' would have been pretty counter-intuitive after all that had already been said.
Thankfully she didn't seem to pick up on my somewhat turbulent emotions, as she just gave me a nod and glanced over at the other girl by my side. "Do you also happen to love the young lady over there?"
"Yes," I answered, this time a little quicker due to no longer feeling like I was on the back foot.
"I see…" she nodded again, then she linked her fingers in her lap and asked me, "Which one of them do you love more?"
Aaaaand with that, I was back on the back foot again…
After a moment of entirely justified brain-freeze, I found myself involuntarily scowling at her, then, at last, I told her, "With all due respect, that is a pretty stupid question."
Mama Dracis' expression slackened for a moment, only to turn into annoyed a moment later when her husband let out another plate-ratting laugh.
"Fine, then let me ask you a hypothetical," she said after her pointed looks finally had an effect and Papa Dracis quieted down. She gave me a chilling look, then she began to speak with a voice that was dripping with forced gravitas. "Let's say both of your girlfriends are in mortal danger, and you can only save one of them. Who do you choose?"
"Both," I answered within the millisecond.
Lady Emese still had her mouth hanging open on the last syllable at this point, so she forcefully closed it with an audible click of teeth and her brows slowly knit together. "I think you misunderstood me. I said you can only save one of them."
"No, I heard you," I answered her without the slightest bit of pretense. "I just ignored that part because the question was silly."
"But… that was the point!" Mama Dracis exclaimed. "The whole point of this dilemma is that you can only save one of them!"
"Yes, and I'm telling you that it's stupid. If I can save one of them, I can save both. If I can save both, I will save both. End of moral dilemma."
"No, you still don't get it! The point is that, in this hypothetical scenario, you are not able to save both of them," Elly's mother explained with a voice bordering on desperation.
"No, you don't get it," I put my foot down and glared at the woman. "I know for a fact that if we ever encountered a life-or-death situation where both Judy and Elly were in danger, I can and will save them. You cannot dictate what I can and cannot do."
"Maybe, but the 'you' in this scenario cannot save both."
"If the person in your hypothetical scenario cannot save both, then it means I am not that person, therefore your hypothetical scenario is rubbish. End of discussion," I told her in no uncertain terms
The woman kept gaping at me for a moment, then she threw her arms into the air in frustration and told me, "Fine! We are getting nowhere at this rate, so how about this: both of your girlfriends are in mortal danger. Who do you save first?"
"Oh, that's an easy question," I answered with a smile. "It would be Judy."
"You would save her first?" Elly blurted out while giving me an odd look.
"Of course," I replied. "You are tough, so even if you were both in the same kind of mortal danger, it makes sense to get Judy out first, as you could probably hold out for a few seconds until I get you out too."
"Oh, right. That makes sense," the princess nodded with an enlightened look on her face, then suddenly she asked, "You think I'm tough?"
"Of course you are," I told her honestly. "I mean, you have all those scales, and your horns, plus your draconian physiology… you are the toughest person and/or thing I know this side of a chimera."
"Boo! Don't compare me to a chimera! Compare me to something cool!" Elly grumbled as she entered into pouting mode on a moment's notice.
"But I don't know any other tough things except for dragons, and comparing you to them would be redundant. Judy, do you have any ideas?"
"None chief," my assistant, who was incidentally also the only person at the table with a nearly empty place, answered me in the negative after wiping her mouth with a napkin.
"You see, even Judy doesn't know anything better."
"Boo!" Elly repeated while pointedly turning her face away from me, steadily entering into full-blown sulking mode.
"Okay, how about this?" I raised my voice after wracking my brains for a few seconds. "How about I say you are tougher than an 80s action star?"
"The ones that use machineguns with one hand and are too cool to look at explosions," the draconic girl asked with a strange sparkle in her eyes as she finally looked at me again.
"I can live with that!" she finally smiled one of her smug little grins at me, and I couldn't help but reflexively rub the crown of her head, which quickly turned awkward when I remembered that we were still in front of her parents. She didn't seem to mind, but I still decided to cut the headpat short, earning me another 'Boo!'
In the meantime I faced the slack-jawed lady of the house and, after lightly clearing my throat, I cautiously asked her, "So… what were we talking about?"
She gave me a critical look in return, but in the end she let out an enormous, resigned sigh, and told me, with just the slightest edge, "Never mind. Let's say that, for the time being, I tentatively approve of your… what did you call it again?"
"Oh, I know now! It was one true threesome!" Elly responded with a cheerful voice.
"Yes, that," Mama Dracis followed up with a considerably less cheerful one.
I was about to agree, but then we were once again interrupted by the hearty chuckles of the patriarch.
"Great job, son!" The only grown man at the table suddenly exclaimed with undisguised mirth. "You can go ahead and call her mom now!"
"Most definitely not!" Elly's mother burst out once again, sending a scathing glare at her husband. "He may at most refer to me as mother in law!" She huffed, but since Abram only laughed in return, she suddenly reached out and grabbed hold of the man's ear. "Don't just try to laugh this off, mister! This whole predicament is because of you and the stupid traditions of your side of the family!"
"Ow! Honey, not in front of the kids!" The patriarch of the family exclaimed in… well, probably not in pain, but more in embarrassment. I glanced over at Elly, but by this point she was happily munching on her food again, so I figured this must have been a fairly mundane occurrence to her. Eventually I decided to follow her example, but as I did so, my eyes skimmed over a particular jar and it made an old question pop right up in the back of my head, so I turned back to her again.
"Hm?" she grunted, then quickly swallowed the food in her mouth and then responded with a more intelligible, "Yes? What is it?"
"Since your parents seem to be busy, I decided to use the opportunity to ask this before I forget it again. Can you tell me about the whole 'smelling weird' business again?"
"Oh, that?" Elly muttered as he cheeks visibly reddened. "I told you, it's not bad, just strange."
"Yes, and that's what I want clarified," I repeated.
"I see," she whispered and raised a finger to her lips as she thought, then she finally explained, "Mom and I can kind of, how should I put it, smell mana, except not really. It's hard to explain. Not all draconians can do it, but most of my relatives on my mother's side can."
"So it's an extrasensory ability that is inherited in the maternal bloodline," Judy casually cut in between two bites, earning her a frown from the princess.
"I can use big words too, you know! There is no reason to flex your vocabulary just because you can," she grumbled.
My assistant, unfazed as usual, shrugged and told her, "I'm not flexing, I'm just being precise."
"It doesn't matter either way," I came between them this time and told Elly, "So, when you sniff me using that ability, I have a weird smell?"
"It's not the smell that's weird," Elly hastily denied. "How should I put it…? It's like, every person has their own scent? But, when it comes to you, you just don't. Imagine that you pick up a flower and you sniff it. The first time it smells like chamomile, then pine, the roses, then freshly cut grass. None of those are bad, but when the same thing keeps smelling differently, it feels really… creepy. Do you understand what I'm trying to say?"
"I think I do," I told her with a purposefully over-exaggerated downcast expression. "You are telling me I smell creepy. That makes me sad."
"That's not what I said!" the princess hastily denied on the brink of panic. "I told you I don't dislike it! In fact, I think I kind of like how you smell!"
That wasn't exactly the reaction I was expecting, but before I could say anything, Judy decided to throw some oil onto the fire by innocently asking, "Smell fetish?"
"No!" I exclaimed in mock despair. "Where do you even learn about things like that!?"
"The internet," she answered without any reservation.
"Oh no! My girlfriend is being corrupted!"
"What's a 'smell fetish'?" Elly inquired curiously over my shoulder.
"Oh no! My other girlfriend is also being corrupted!"
"Hush chief, you are being a nuisance," Judy chided me while reaching for a drink.
"I don't think we are bothering anyone. Those two seem to be completely lost in their own little world," I told her as I pointed at the bickering couple at the other end of the table, knee deep in an obvious lovers' quarrel.
"All the more reason we should quickly eat our dinner, thank them for their hospitality, and then leave before their weirdness rubs off on us."
"I think you are plenty weird already," Elly delivered a perfectly timed jab at my assistant, and before she could retort she poked me in the side and asked, "Hey, Leo? You still didn't tell me what a 'smell fetish' is? Is it some kind of magical catalyst?"
I gave my surprisingly innocent draconic girlfriend a flat look, then I told her, "I will tell you when you are older."
"Boo!" Came the expected answer from her, but after a few headpats I managed to placate her and we all returned to our neglected dishes.
I decided to sample everything, and while that might have been a little heavy on my stomach, I already had plans with Brang for the night, and I had a feeling that if I wanted to get everything done and sorted out by the time our weekend date would roll around, I needed all the energy I could stockpile. Also, for the record, it definitely had nothing to do with the red sauce being really, really good with everything. Overeating just because of that would have been silly, and we all know I never do silly things, right?