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The following days were fairly uneventful. Brenn and Micah spent all of their time exploring the estate in their own ways. Given full reign of the place. Tythas as usual spent most of his time in the library, Brenn in the sword hall and training facilities – or the shrine to the eight pillars, and Micah in the kitchens. Though not for food, but rather to sweet talk the maids into spending time with him. Or at least he tried...

Always getting the same answer. That they were here to tend to the heir primus' needs, not his own. Only when they claimed that they were all Tyr's consorts, the boy finally relented. The prince did nothing to dispute the claim.

For the most part, the place was so big that they only met up for meals, and not with any real consistency, all lost in their own wonder. When a swimming pool was discovered in the place, that was their haunt of choice. The cool water soothing them from the scorching summer heat common in the region.

“You should rest. How many days has it been since you've slept.” Alex's haunt in particular seemed to be literally haunting Tyr himself. He couldn't get away from the woman. She had changed so much, and had somehow become even harder to talk to. Having honest, almost pleasant conversations with his 'wife' was something he was unaccustomed to.

“Four.” Tyr shrugged. “Actually... Five or six. I don't know, it's hard to keep track.”

“That's because you keep the room so dark.” She chided, throwing open the curtains to let some light into his bedchamber. Tyr hissed like a creature of the night, using the tome he had been reading under candlelight to shield him from the bright sun.

“Don't be so dramatic...” She chuckled, approaching him from behind, dragging a chair of her own to seat herself beside him. He flinched as she began to play with his hair. Working her fingers through it in a process of braiding it into pleats and humming gently. “Is this unpleasant.”

“Not really. But...” He explained to her how he felt regarding physical contact. Granted, it was just his hair, but he couldn't help but shy away from anyone, it wasn't just her. “It's not you. It's just me. I'll get better, with time, and I still don't understand why you're being so...”

“Kind to you? Bringing you food like some servant girl and not yelling at you anymore?” She exhaled through her nose. “Because you were right, and I was wrong. I don't want to be like you, but I was very unfair and I've said this a million times. It feels like we have this conversation daily, and it makes me wonder if you even listen. Perhaps because you and I have talked it out and I no longer see any merit in abusing her, perhaps you should be thanking me instead of constantly questioning me like I have some motive here.”

“It's fine.” All in all, Tyr enjoyed it. At first, it felt alien and uncomfortable, but the tugging of his hair began to lull him into a sense of relaxation he hadn't felt before. He could feel the warmth of her hands as he slumped toward the table with a grumbled apology, the words of the tome blurring until he could no longer make out one rune from another.

When he woke, it was night. Hard shadows stretched from every piece of furniture in the room, he lay against something soft and warm. Alex breathed gently, her legs splayed out and him between them, his back cradled by her chest. Like a baby. Considering they vast difference in size it must've looked a bit ridiculous. He blushed, waking her as he rose. “Um...”

“You fell asleep and then you started thrashing about like a madman. I figured you'd had a nightmare, so I sang you back to sleep like my mother used to do to me.” She was blushing, but a lot more calm than Tyr. All he felt was gratitude, but maybe something else, staring up at the moonlight catching her eyes until they seemed to glow. “You are a rough sleeper, by the way.” Alex yawned, stretching lazily. Thankfully, they were still clothed. She was still eligible for another marriage without forfeiture in the event of an annulment. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Take my hand.” He said flatly, and she did as he asked. Her digits were warm, rosy, and full of life compared to the chill that suffused him constantly. Something of the soul, not of the flesh. As if he'd been seeing in black and white his entire life, Tyr felt some color return to the world in waves. Everything was brighter, and it overwhelmed him for the briefest moment. Like he was seeing the world through a new pair of eyes.

“Are... Are you crying? Did I do something wrong? Are you unwell?” Tyr wasn't much for emotion unless it was anger or irritation. Otherwise, he was flat and gray and monotone. He was clutching her hand with enough force to make it painful, but she didn't complain.

“I don't... I'm going for a walk.” He released her and departed from his room, and then the estate entirely. Leaving Alex being, she tried to chase her but Tyr was faster than a man should be. Amistad, the city that never slept. What with the eccentricities of its denizens, kept awake by all hours, some races who stayed there just did better in the nighttime. Some might even say that it was busier in the dark than in the light of day.

Tyr headed for the only tavern in the city he was completely comfortable with, one that he knew would be serving at this hour. As soon as he stepped in, glaring eyes pointed at the door looked away. White hair, tall, young, followed by a magical beast that shrank to fit through the door. They had a name for that one...

“Ah, if it isn't our white wolf, with his actual – literal – white wolf. You know the rules, no magical beasts kid.” Rose pointed at the sign on the door. “Ah, forget it. Go ahead – he's cute enough. Better than that giant frog the other guy keeps trying to bring in here” She chuckled. “Haven't seen you in a while though, everything alright?”

“Pondering the greater mysteries of emotional attachment. You?” She had a sour look on her face, unsure of whether he was joking or not. Tyr was an odd fellow and often rubbed people the wrong way, but he was kind to Goroshi and that gave him a sort of relationship with Rose that few had.

“Got some nice contracts for you. And your promotion that you keep ignoring. Interested?”

“A drink is all I'm interested in. A cold one. Strong, if you like.” The smell of frying oil and pipe smoke battled for dominance against body odor and the strange black powder dwarves customarily chewed in their bottom lip. An unpleasant mix of, but to Tyr it smelled like a place he'd call home. He'd grown tired of the regimented academy and persistently sterilized interior. Everything smelled like cleaning solutions and he far preferred this.

“I've got normal beer. Varian wine. Saorsan amarula. Muskroot ale...”

“Any oakenshot?” Stalks of something akin to wheat or barley as thick as Valkan's fingers that he'd discovered in the academy. Some of the forge assistants were dwarves and he'd gotten a taste for it. Like liquid bread, it was quite pleasant though he preferred it cold whereas it was typically served frothy and just above room temperature. Thankfully, Tyr's improvement in magic had allowed him to chill beverages even if he couldn't use ice magic just yet.

“Eh?” Rose eyed him warily. “You an alcoholic? Stuffs not for men. Even my Goroshi can't handle it. Puts him right to sleep.”

“I'll be fine.” Tyr sighed. Despite her attempt to talk him out of it, all she did is shrug before shoving a flagon as thick as his bicep in his hands. “Where is your man, anyways?” Goroshi wasn't just a patron, he lived at the inn the same as Rose did. It was bizarre to not find him there.

“Somewhere near the republic. Took a contract there and wanted to visit family. It's orc season, don't you know? I'll be joining him soon enough and another receptionist will have to deal with this lot. Heard they actually wash the tables up there. Can't wait, truth be told.” She mused, staring pointedly in disgust at the crab-like maxxid who was excreting an acidic substance onto his haunch of meat before lifting the plate and letting the dissolved muck drop into his waiting gullet, making a rattling sound that must've been a belch.

Took all kinds to be an adventurer. Beastkin, dwarves, a few of the rare civilized half-orcs, and of course humans. Beyond there were a handful of the less common races. The horned shuukan and even a few kijin. The first Tyr had ever seen. Near identical to humans other than the two bony growths erupting from their foreheads. That, and the dots or stripes they often tattooed themselves with.

“Oh, right.” Tyr took the flagon. “If you've got a whole suckling, have it brought over to the table. Doesn't matter if its raw or coo--” Okami whined, and Tyr corrected himself. “Good idea. Honeyed and spiced, roasted until the skin is crispy. And a loaf of brown bread for me, maybe some chicken wings in hot sauce if you've got them. Surprise me, I guess.”

“Can you really speak to your wolf...?” Okami wasn't a familiar nor a beast, he was one of the 'magical' or 'guardian' variety. Few races could speak to animals, and humans weren't one of them. Not typically. But it was a real skill that was valued by the association.

“Of course.” Tyr seemed confused at the ridiculous question. “You can't?” Okami tilted his head in a manner similar to the tic of his bonded partner, panting and drooling at the thought of freshly roasted meat. Even if he'd just ate, his appetite perked up at the smell of the various carcasses being roasted over their spits. Goat, chicken, groxen, even what appeared to be troll flesh.

"As you can see..." Rose commented. "I do not have a wolf. I'll let you know if I ever find one that speaks, though."

...What a strange young man.

It took all kinds to be an adventurer. It took all types of flesh to feed them. The only thing illegal in the human kingdoms was the flesh of non-monster sentient beings. Some liked troll, some like arachne, which tasted fairly similar to lobster – that's what they said. Others were vegetarian, giving this establishment one of the widest selections Tyr had ever come across. Most humans would go elsewhere, as nearly every establishment was made for them. Whereas the other races, even some that weren't classically adventurers, would come here.

Tyr took a sip of the drink he held, overflowing with its customary fizzy head. Rose held her hand out for payment and he obliged her twice again as much as she was owed. Tyr was a good tipper, if not the best conversationalist. He'd noticed that money could buy a sort of peace of mind like nothing else, just give someone a few coins and they'd bark for you if you'd ask for it. The world revolved around currency, and he had a lot of it. More than he needed, truthfully.

He moved toward the back of the bar, to the place he normally sat. The academy was near universally human, not so diverse as this. Putting into perspective just how wide the world was. Man had conquered near every stretch of the world beside a few far-off nations. He didn't have much experience with anything but man, or humanoids – dwarves and beastkin weren't that much different after all. Neither were halflings or gnomes. Even Anu were of a similar shape, capable of common speech and similar enough to relate to.

Tyr observed them, but they did not observe him back. Most of the humanoid races were regulars here – and they remembered his face. He'd been around, after all, nearby if not in the act of fulfilling contracts. People talked, and if nothing else, Goroshi's reputation kept their eyes where they belongs.

The roast came and the night grew darker, Okami standing on the table and tearing chunks from its flank. That was for him, Tyr felt a bit out of sorts and couldn't stomach much more than buttered bread. Rose was a good person though, bringing him a selection of other affairs to choose from. Tyr drank every time he visited but he was careful, never caused any trouble, but tonight he looked a bit off to her. He was thankful for that. Of course she knew he'd probably drop her another insane tip, but that was just the way the world worked and that was okay.

“It's good?” Okami snorted in response, growing tired of picking at it before he enlarged his head just enough to swallow the whole pig. The bar grew quiet for a moment at the incredible sight until erupting into howls of laughter as Okami let loose with a passing of wind like that any human might make.

A few of the older and braver adventurers passed by, nodding respectfully or patting Okami. This was how his own reputation was born, people who got that kind of attention from the veterans were not to be trifled with. Truthfully, Tyr was not nearly as strong as three out of five in the inn. It took a kind of strength to do dirty work like that. His advantage came mostly from the fact he couldn't die, and his equipment – but there were no excuses in business. To be effective was to be effective, and it didn't matter how you do it. They exchanged brief greetings or raised their cups at him from the bar – but mostly left him to his own devices.

Becoming a gold ranked adventurer, the rank after silver and electrum, meant taking up gainful employment as some kind of pseudo traveling knight. Hence why Tyr refused it ever time, but it was well know that he was 'at that level', even though he doubted it. While it was nice for people to know his face, and therefore leave him alone, he had a feeling the guild manager was up to no good. Trying to take advantage of his assumed wealth or known position, maybe.

“What the hell are you looking at?” Some kind of commotion was breaking out near the entrance. Tyr understood now that his bizarre ability to translate was near universal. After experimenting with the dwarves working in the forges, he came to understand when something wasn't speaking common. The maxxid had risen from his table and was busy confronting someone at the door. Few could speak their language, and fewer maxxid could speak common. Thus, they were at an impasse with whoever had disturbed the 'crab'. Some would-be heroes tried to separate the two, with Tyr ignoring the brawl until he saw a shock of ebony black hair in the midst of it.

“I'm not a racist! I swear! One of my best friends is a halfling! Hells... I'm sorry, I can't understand you... Crab people...”

“Crab people!?”

Brawls were absurdly common in this place. Hence the rather cheap furnishings, but this was the first he'd involve himself in. Maxxid were resistant to most magic. Crablike things with six legs and a squat, ovoid torso. About the height of Tyr's sternum, their strength and resilience were well known to those worldly enough to have ever heard of them. As a form of arthropodal life, they were rarely seen in so landlocked a place as Amistad.

Insectoid beings and their derivative races were rare on the wider continent, but not unheard of. Tyr had met two and they had both been very kind. A strange but noble society obsessed with mannerisms and their own concept of honor. Holding grudges wasn't just for humanoid races either, it was important not to insult their pride.

He grabbed the maxxid by his shell with a gentle hand, clucking and growling at it as best he could in its own language.

“Noble brother. How fare thee? Not well under the yoke of young ladies disrespect to your great people, bargain I. At peace, be you must. Kind kind under the great sky rare here, know you? Not like insult, me self understand. You self lower down. Seat, chair here. Not want battle fight, breeder human confused, not know true way, but me do. You, noble brother, do favor me. Flesh offer, bargain?”

“Bargain. Your grammar is as ugly as you are, bean pole with two legs. Ah... It's enough that you speak the greatest tongue in all the lands. A great honor for me and mine, there is wisdom in learning the deep tongue. Forgive me, for my trespass. I will allow the breeder forgiveness, but do keep her on a short leash. I've no time nor love for warmbloods, but I call you brother. Bargain?” The arthropod adjusted his monocle with one claw while tipping the wide brimmed hat he wore with the other.

“Bargain.” Tyr clicked, mimicking him despite the lack of similar trappings. Their language was so inhuman that his attempts to speak it left his throat ragged and raw. He'd met one maxxid who spoke common via air magic, but this one did not possess a core powerful enough to denote it as a mage. It was no wonder so many of his kind would lose their lives upon treading human lands, a place where cultures would clash. It was strange to see him here at all, but he seemed to be a part of a party consisting of two humans, a beastkin, kijin, and himself.

 

He dragged Alex gently to his table, where she plopped down unconcerned and took his loaf of bread for herself. “What the hell was that?”

“The deep tongue, I think they call it. Evidently it sounds much better underwater. The language of maxxid's, mermaids, stuff like that. I've never seen a merman though, guess it makes sense considering where we are.”

“And you've learned the crab mans language... Where?”

“Imagine if someone called you 'gorilla lady'. As related to simian life as we might be, it's rude. He probably understands you just fine, but with his biological differences its hard to mimic our language. This is not a place for you.”

“You're not wrong, but you stormed off and I was worried that I'd offended you.” Alex looked a bit sad. Thinking they'd had a breakthrough in their relationship only to have him half sprint on his way out of the estate. She'd only found him by calling Astrid in a panic and making use of her ability to divine his location.

“Not offended.” Tyr sighed, leaning back before deciding otherwise and gulping down what remained of his drink. “I've never touched a woman before. Well...” He corrected himself. “I've never touched a woman like that. Not really. One time I slept with Astrid and I felt like--”

“You slept with Astrid!?” She raised her voice, the other patrons looked over mischievously, dropping her voice into a nervous hiss. Tyr didn't miss the winks and wiggling of eyebrows pointed in his direction. “Why didn't I hear of this?”

“Slept. Just slept. It just happened. I've not touched her otherwise, nor would I.”

“Why...?” She asked. “She is more fair than I. Sigi is handsome enough, true, but of all three – Astrid is the fairest. Do you like boys? Like Iscari?”

Tyr sighed. He hadn't known that they were aware of Iscari's preference for men. “I don't think so, I just...”

“I get it. I mean, I don't, but... I read a book on psychology, you know. Three of them!” She seemed proud of herself for some reason, extending three fingers to accentuate her point. “I'm here for you. If you ever want to talk... Or something.”

“Your abrupt change in character is rather disturbing. This is just lazy writing.”

“What?”

“Nothing. Why did you come here? It's late, you should be in bed.”

“What else was I going to do? Stay awake all night wondering where you are? I think not. I'd fry as many crabs as necessary to get to where you are and give you a piece of my mind.”

“And that would be...? Also, again, that's ignorant.” Tyr sighed. He did a lot of that these days. “That piece of your mind. I'd like to hear it.”

“First of all.” Alex cleared her throat. “Other men would act differently why they find themselves in bed with a woman. Back to my original question, why wouldn't you touch Astrid? Or me? You've never tried. Do you know how frustrating that is to Sigi, at least? She's liked you the whole time. I won't have your children, not yet, but the least you could do is try...”

“Because I expect an annulment. I've appealed my father. You should be free to do as you--”

“You are a cruel man. You've been blessed by the gods and blessed far beyond anyone I've ever met. If you mention it again, I really will leave you.” She hissed, face stony and full of outrage. “I accept our marriage now. Is that good enough for you?”

“One day.” Tyr said. “I will die. Either by my own hand or the hand of my father. I'm near nineteen years old and have yet to develop an aspect.”

“Because you're ignorant, arrogant, and just plain stupid. You're just a man. I can't speak for the others, but I've never expected anything more. You are... Were... My best friend. While that's changed and we've grown apart, I didn't follow you because you're a primus. How could you say that your father would do such a thing, no matter your relationship...? He would never.”

“Mmm.” Would have to serve as an acceptable answer. He was eaten up by his insecurities. Managing to get a grip on many, but there was so much more to do.

“Do you truly want me to leave?” Alex asked, perplexed. His constant doubt and mention of an annulment quite honestly hurt her feelings.

“No. No I do not.”

Just then, before more could be said on the matter, the room erupted into red light. Every mana crystal and torch in the place had turned the color of blood and the patrons had risen near uniformly to rush out of the door.

“...What's that?”

“Not anything good.” He didn't know how to properly answer her question.

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