That night Iris slept curled up next to him while Lyle held her head, gently rubbing it.
He could feel her weight on his arm, the steady rhythm of her breath. Could almost see the beads of moisture at the corner of her eyes...
If he had to say, he was angry. It was the sort of slow-burning anger that sat at the pit of your stomache, the kind that you knew wouldn't go away and just continued to eat at you.
There was a vile, queasy feeling that made his heart pound. He was angry at many things. His father, for bringing them to that place. Himself, for allowing this to happen. Those three that were doing this to them.
But he felt sad, too. Not for himself, but for Iris. Sad that all this time she was having these worries, these fears, which were being used against her. That she was in pain, and he was part of the cause. That he hadn't noticed how bad things were before now.
If Iris wasn't so attached to him then she wouldn't have been so scared that he'd leave her someday. That thing inside her wouldn't be able to use that fear of abandonment to prey on her.
But she was, and it did.
Love could be a great weakness just as well as it could be a source of great strength. Obviously that being that laid within her small body knew this all too well.
Lyle wasn't able to do anything but hold her like this and try to reassure her. To tell her that her worries were baseless.
Because they were, weren't they? And even if he ever left her side, as was bound to happen, it wouldn't be for long. He would come back, always.
He'd never just abandon her. He'd never just leave and not return. Even if she didn't want him by her side someday, even if one day she grew to hate him, he'd be here for her whenever she needed him to. That's what older brothers did.
He loved her. Iris was his sister, of course he loved her.
So since he couldn't yet rid her of that thing inside her, since he couldn't stop it from whispering hurtful things into her ear...
...He'd just have to do his best to comfort her.
As long as he could stop her from crying like this, as long as he could stop her from becoming sad, that would be enough for now.
"Hey...Don't you think that those two've gotten a bit... too close with each other lately?"
Murphy glanced at Mira, a tall, fair-haired woman who was part of Val's small squad of archers. At 26 she was much older than Murphy and, if truth be told, acted as a sisterly figure to the boy.
He took a gander at the direction Mira was looking at.
"Well it's just some normal show of sibling love and affection...right?"
"Is it? I'm not sure if that's the case..." She displayed some doubts.
"Bullshit. I've got siblings and none of us are as attached to the hip as those two've been lately." Cut in a large, broad-shoulder man with a mane of thick, dark hair and bulging muscles.
A stout man, he uses a heavy broadsword to fight and has a very nastly-looking long scar across his cheek that was slightly hidden by his stubble. Murphy had many times asked how he got it but the man told several different stories each time.
One of the more crass members of their little band, he'd been a mercenary for 13 years. Not someone afraid to speak his mind.
"Okay, fine. What're you gettin' at then?"
"I don't know." He grunted. "All I'm saying is that for the past few days them two have been a bit too close. Kinda... abnormally so."
"Agreed. Heh, actually, I wouldn't be surprised if the two've had more than yer average 'sibling love and affection' for one another!"
This came from a snickering, thick-faced man whose bulky build made him closer to animal than human. He was a newer member, someone who was stationed at one of the Haddock Mercenaries' outer territories. A man who was hardened in harsh combat before being bumped up to his current station due to exemplary merits on the battlefield.
His specialty was pissing people off. Not a very likable sort, but someone who had the skill and balls to say what he wanted and get away with it on most occasions.
Now wasn't one of those times.
"Shut your whore mouth." Murphy hissed, instantly angered.
"What, we're all thinkin' it." The man shrugged. "Maybe the guy gets his kicks from finger-blastin' his sister at night. I won't judge. If I had a sis as cute as that, maybe I'd wanna do it too, heh! Hm, though my tastes don't run that young. Maybe after another ten or so years when she'd be a tad more ripe, but that's jus' me. To each their own." He paused, spitting phlegm to the side of the dirt road. "Sister-kisser or not, doesn't matter much to me. I'll bet my left nut he is though, and that she likes it. I wonder if they and that Melanie bitch ever got a bit adventurous?"
As the last sentence fell, everyone in the caravan shifted uncomfortably. They never questioned it directly but that particular subject, the identity and position of the young woman in relation to the boy, was one that they had wondered over too.
However to have it said like this, in this kind of context, with even that little girl included in such a vulgar way....
It didn't sit well with them.
"You should take more care with your words. If he heard you, do you think he wouldn't torture you to death?" Nyk, having heard all this, opened his mouth and said so. His eyes darkened in warning.
Because he never talked much, him doing so now spoke volumes.
If Bell, that guy, really wanted to then the only one who could stop him even among these tried and true elites would be the enigmatic Captain of this small band, Jaime. And he may not even choose to step in at all.
Penn, the man who had just spoken, made a cocky laugh. "Please. That boy did well against those bandits, and even I got a bit of a cold sweat watchin' him tear through them, but I doubt he'd be able to beat me. I ain't no weak-ass bandit."
"No, you aren't, but you'll be a dead fool soon if you don't shut the fuck up." Came a caustic reply.
Val was the one who said this, from the driver's seat.
She never liked Penn very much. He was loyal, a good fighter, and would stick up for any of them. He'd be the first to a fight and the last to leave. In all, he wasn't a "bad" person.
His mouth just stank to high heaven. Meaning he talked shit to just about anyone. And so depite his better qualities, she could never get over his attitude. He was simply the type to rile people up.
It was a god-give gift, that shit-talk. And he used it to full effect. It was, Val thought, his single greatest talent.
"Alright, fine. Maybe they ain't havin' a battle between the bedsheets every night, but you gotta admit that it's weird. I mean I even saw the little girl sniffin' him on the sly the other day! Fuck me if that shit ain't creepy!"
Mira and Thatch aside, even Murphy and Val couldn't entirely deny what the man was saying.
Like Thatch said, for the past few days Bell and that sister of his--when he wasn't helping to fight back the bandits who sometimes came-- had been "attached to the hip".
Bell seemed to dote on the young girl now, which he hadn't done before. At least, not like this.
The look he gave the girl was different, too. They couldn't tell how, exactly. But it was as if when he looked at her, everyone else ceased to exist.
And this was bad enough.
But it got worse, because the girl took full advantage of it. Sometimes she would lay on his lap while the brother drove the carriage on the road, and even more rarely she even sat on his leg and leaned back, falling asleep in his embrace.
Other times when they reached a town she would be walking and trip on a part of the uneaven ground. Then she would have her brother hold her in a princess-carry for the rest of the day, and none of them were sure if the girl planned it like that or not.
Either way, the fact he did something like that...that he allowed it...it was strange. The girl was spoiled rotten, it looked like. And if she were young then they would dismiss it, maybe even find it cute.
But that girl was, what, 13, 14? Certainly no younger than 12. And normal girls just didn't do those kind of things anymore, not at that age.
Mira shared to the others that she saw the girl with a sketchbook the other day. Interested, Mira peered over her shoulder and noticed several drawing of the girl's brother.
Mira asked her if she could look at it, to which the girl reluctantly agreed.
A third of the book were comprised of drawings of her brother. Some of the earlier drawing were a tad different, the hair being darker and shaded in. Almost giving a hint of...red?
Obiviously the skill of the girl was great, to use shades of black and grey to give the illusion of color.
To side-track for a bit, the earlier drawings gave Mira a vaguely familiar feeling. They reminded her of someone, someone who wasn't Bell, but she couldn't recall who it was they reminded her of...
Getting back, Mira--and the rest of the mercs--was a tad wierded-out at this.
Bell, that guy, didn't seem to mind the girl's clinginess at all though.
And for all intents and purposes, even with her age making it odd, it really did all looked kinda sweet...
...Until you notice that the girl does indeed have a habit of sniffing the young man.
And that they don't really look much alike at all.
Nearly the entire mercenary group talked about them these days. Whispering to themselves, wondering what was going on between the two. This was very hush-hush, obviously, but it was still talked of by quite a few people.
Now, not all thought the same as Penn. They just didn't know what to think. This topic was not all, however, some also wondered where that brown-haired girl, Melanie, fit into the picture.
The mercs, on that front, were fairly sure she wasn't merely a friend of Bell's. If they had to say, it was because of the atmosphere that came when the two man and woman conversed.
The only ones who didn't talk about either of these two things were the ones who had seen or met the brother personally before.
These were the ones who had been there during the time the boy had rode a flaming carriage into the wooden gates of an enemy stronghold, blowing it to smithereens before charging inside.
These were the ones who saw him create a nightmarish scene just moments later, becoming dyed in blood and guts like some sort of monster in human skin, killing 15 men in probably as many seconds before the rest of the mercenaries even made it inside...
His sword had broken and so they saw him having to tear a man apart with his bear hands....heard terrible screams which made them shudder...there were body parts lying everywhere, but he paid it no mind and just continued killing.
He was very young back then, yet his mercilessness, his ferocity, was something that they had never seen the like of before. It made them want to piss themselves even now, truly a awful experience.
Only a few of the mercenaries knew about that time, of which many things happened even after that which they dared not remember, and it was those few who refused to comment overmuch about this strangely intimate relationship the brother and sister seemed to suddenly have.
Even if they really had that sort of relationship...not one of them would dare speak anything about it.
They witnessed many horrors, too many, from the boy that day to do something so foolish. They thought the others, those who didn't know or see him in person, were simply suicidal idiots.
...So what if the two actually did something like "that". If they had, it would be something most Drann Kingdom--probably even their own parents-- would shun them for.
But who would say anything about it to their faces, or even behind their backs, and risk the young man overhearing them?
They didn't have a death wish...
Only Murphy, Nyk, Val, Boris and Jaime didn't think much of it. They didn't believe Bell was that sort of person. Though, honestly, it didn't seem entirely impossible if you looked at them right now.
They just got worried. What was it that caused Bell to spoil her so much these days?
They didn't know, but whatever it was it seemed like it made Bell extra protective.
It was later that day, the sun just about gone, only a thin pink line in the sky being all that was left.
Penn was tending to the fire, cursing.
"Fuck, who the hell brought the wood? Bastards are a damn bitch to light."
Penn turned, and saw a certain gold-haired young man walk up next to him, standing near the large log the Penn had chopped down as a make-shift seat.
The young man was smiling politely, his refreshing, handsome face extremely likable. The boy's appearance, the way he carried himself, gave off the impression of a carefree youth.
Penn narrowed his eyes.
"Yeah? The fuck you want?" It wasn't a nice tone.
"To talk." The young man replied coolly. " Nice to meet you. I don't believe we've officially met, you see. Let's remedy that.I'm B--" He extended a hand in greeting as he talked, but he was cut off.
The other person ignored the outstretched hand, raising his voice over the young man's own almost immediately.
"Greyson, yeah, I know." He poked the fire with a stick. "Name's Penn. There. We've met. Now fuck off for a bit, I'm too busy to talk to you right now."
Now the tone was even less nice.
Bellamy, that guy, was not at all put off by it.
He replied cheerfully, his next words coming out smooth and clear.
"But not too busy to talk about me, right?"
Penn's eyes went flat.
"Whaddaya mean by that, kid?" A thinly veiled threat hid between each word.
" Exactly that." Bell's smile grew a fraction of an inch. " I heard from a certain friend that you like gossiping about things you know nothing about. Which, he let slip out, today included my and my sister. That true?"
"What if it is?" Penn asked, sneering.
Ignoring the question, he gave out one of his own."Hey, aren't you feeling a bit cold? It's chilly these days, you know, why don't you get a bit closer to the fire? Know what, here, let me help!"
The next thing Penn knew he felt a vice-like grip at the back of his neck, a grip that was currently forcing his head down.
He felt a small amount of heat by his ear which grew more intense by the second.
Not long after he could feel a great stinging sensation.
"What the fuck! Let go!" Penn screamed in panic.
He struggled, but amazingly found that it was useless, the arm holding him down didn't budge.
He could feel the flames lick at his ear ever-so-slightly. The smell of his hair starting to burn clogging up his nostrils.
"Let go?" Bellamy looked bewildered. "Why? I'm doing this to help!" There was a sadistic light in his eyes just then, a flash of something hard and immovable.
Penn was able to clearly feel the blood in his face start to boil. Or at least that was what it seemed like.
"Fucking! Let! Go!" Penn nearly shrieked and was starting to get wild. His hair, it was, was it on fire?
Hot! It was hot!
It hurt. Was that his flesh that he was smelling now? Fuck!
He could fight well, but who the hell could react to something like this? In desperatio, he strained his muscles and sent a fast, powerful elbow strike towards the young man's side.
But it was futile.
Bellamy stopped the movement easily, his hand painfully digging into the offending elbow.
Even if it didn't break, it'd either fracture or be bruised badly.
"Oh, right!" Bellamy said. "You must be getting a bit hot now. I get it. I'll help with that, too. The ground's pretty cold, that'd work, right? Or maybe...that rock?"
After saying so, he stood. Dragging the struggling, curse-flinging man a few feet away, he then took his head and smashed it down onto a large, hard stone!
Penn only saw a white flash before pain began to blossom across his face. He felt his nose break with the force of the impact, blood spraying out.
"You...you bitch. I'll fuckin' KILL--!!"
Another wave of whiteness, followed instantly by another burst of pain.
The pain came again.
And again. And again. And again.
Finally, once Penn's face was thoroughly battered and swollen, Bellamy stopped. His face was twisted in a grimace, as if he was looking at something unsightly.
And it was understandable. The man truly was a sorry sight. Long cuts along his cheeks, lips and forehead, his skin slightly burnt, parts of his hair now gone, smouldering as his face--begining to swell in truth--was turning a dark shade of purple..
Bellamy's previous smile was gone.
"If I hear you utter another word about me, Melanie or my sister, I won't be as nice as I am now."
His words had a sharpnesss to them, a viciousness, that was unmistakable.
Bellamy could be seen looking around, sudenly noticing the weird gazes of those around him.
Some turned away. Others looked like they wanted to step in, but didn't. But there were quite a few, his friends and acquaintances, who just shrugged and were silently relieved it ended with only this.
Lyle, calming down, stared back.
A few of the people were those whom he knew fairly well.
But even so...
If they talked like that about him and Iris, he absolutely wouldn't be merciful.
He had to let it slide when those Nobles did it, he couldn't openly do anything. But here it wasn't like that.
He wouldn't stand for letting some punk who didn't know anything talk about them, he and Iris, in that way.
In fact, he wanted to kill the guy. That was how much he hated it. He could pretend otherwise, he could ignore it if he had to, but right now, he didn't have to.
Lyle started walking away.
"He won't be getting up anytime soon. Someone throw a blanket over him so he doesn't freeze to death."
But it was clear to everyone.
Whether Penn died or not, he didn't care.
"Quite a show you put on."
It was sometime later when Cecelia and Melanie walked up as he and Iris sat by a fire he had made. It was stationed a bit away from everyone else, as usual, because Iris would start to stiffen everytime she went too close to the rough mercs--especially Jaime.
There wasn't as many trees about now, mainly wide open plains with a lot of grass and bushes. Still quite a few trees around, but a lot less than what they've seen in days previous.
"Yeah. He took a severe beating, though I'm thinking it's his pride that hurts more than anything else."
Lyle listened, but didn't say much.
" I see." A short, emotionless reply.
"Um...Young master...?" Melanie tentatively called out, unsure of whether she should go on or not.
"Yes, Melanie?" His voice held no inflection whatsoever. Not quiet, but just....unruffled. As if he hadn't just beaten a man half to death.
"Don't you....Don't you think that you went a bit..." Her throat suddenly tightened and she had to force the words out. "...a bit far?" She asked.
Melanie had never seen him use such brutality. On anyone. Had never seen him, with her own eyes, just take someone and all but torture them. It....scared her.
He had always gave off a more restained feeling. She'd look at him and think that he was always so calm, so mature, so in control of himself. It was in the way he moved, the way he spoke, his every action and word.
But just now? He seemed much more savage. Wild. Just so...so utterly different from the person she knew. And Melanie didn't understand how she should react to it.
"No." He smiled. It was a very kind smile. Meant to put her at ease. And it did. It always did, always had, somehow. It was a smile that told you everything would be alright. It was the same smile he'd given her the first time they met.
But his next words made that smile seem infinitely colder.
"He deserved it. And much worse. Don't feel sorry for him." He paused. " I like your niceness, Melanie. I like it a lot. It's a quality that's pure and true, one that not many people have. But I think sometimes your kind nature is directed towards those unworthy of it."
Melanie squirmed uncomfortably. "Actually, it isn't him I'm worried about..." She said softly.
For some reason she felt that he was changing. She couldn't quite put her finger on how, exactly. But still...
Or maybe it was just that she was getting to know sides of him he hadn't shown her before. That should make her happy, she supposed, but it didn't. She felt that maybe she didn't know him as well as she thought....
She wasn't sure which was right. And she didn't like either of them. One caused her endless worry while the other made her somewhat sad.
Cecelia, in her case, had different opinions on the matter. She didn't care if that man lived or not. But, well...
"I'm actually surprised you let him live." She spoke honestly, standing by his side. "I heard what was said from Murphy just now. He was regretful that he let it slip in the first place, but no use hiding it now. The tihngs that man said were awful, just utterly despicable. So seeing him only beaten up..."
"He won't get another chance. I spared him only because he's one of Jaime's men. No other reason. I respect Jaime. I'll let a few ignorant words from one of his own pass by me. Just this once." He emphasized
Lyle felt he was being very merciful. But his mercy went only so far. He could handle taunts or other bad words thrown his own way. He could react to them or not depending on his mood or the severity of the things they said. But if there was one thing that set him off it was people directing those words at his family.
Especially where Iris was involved.
His mother and father rarely came up. But Iris was different. Every time they attended a banquet or a ball--or went to some other public event--the girl was always by his side. As children of the Greyborne family they obviously went to many, many parties during the past years. Even as young children, before their "official" debut, this was true. Just not nearly as often as after the fact.
And the Nobles soon took notice of Iris' attachment to him. In recent years they would whisper behind their backs, making rumours fly. The abnormal closeness between the Greyborne siblings was a hot topic among both young and old Nobles alike.
Those despicable rumours by the ignorant and spiteful masses, coupled with the fact that he and his sister didn't look much alike at all, created a sore spot in Lyle's heart.
It was bad enough that he looked like an outsider in his own damn family. But then it becomes common gossip that he and Iris....that something unnatural was going on between them?
...How is he supposed to live with that? How can he not be angered? Even now, here, was he expected to just let some bastard he didn't even know talk about he and his sister like that?! Especially when the man included Melanie in it?
Was he expected to not react, to let it go without doing anything when he didn't even have to?!
The very thought filled him with rage.
No. That man got a mere fraction of what he deserved. if it was up to Lyle, then not just that man, but everyone who spoke those kinds of things would be--!
Seeming to sense a sudden shift in her brother's mood, Iris laid a hand on his arm.
Lyle snapped out of his reverie instantly.
All this time, without him knowing, his face darkened and grew more frightening. Or, no. Not his face. His face was still as reined in as ever.
But to Cecelia and Melanie his overall aura became dreadful. They, too, at least to a lesser degree, could feel that something seriously set him off. It wasn't hard to figure out what. They knew without it being said.
"Big brother, are you alright?" Iris asked.
Lyle's muscles, which had tensed noticeably, relaxed as soon as she touched him. Sometimes she had that affect. He couldn't stay mad with her around. With just her presence alone he was more controlled than he would be otherwise.
It couldn't be helped. He didn't want to show her his darker sides. His image in her mind was pristine, unblemished.
He wouldn't risk ruining that.
"I'm fine." He lied easily. No, nothing was fine, these days. He decided to change subjects. "Come on, eat."
He handed her a kebab comprised of sweet potatoes and steak that he had been roasting.
Her eyes sparkled, eager to try some. It can be said to be the first time she ate a thing such as this.
She blew on it gently, taking a small, cautious bite...
Lyle made it clear the previous conversation was at an end. Both of the other girls were kind enough--and wise enough--to let it die.
"Lyle...." Cecelia, from the inside of the carriage, spoke through the window. "Have you noticed?"
Lyle glanced around, nodding.
"Yeah. It's been too quiet."
"We've been traveling for a good few days now, and yet we've come across nothing but the odd group of bandits, sometimes only a few, if that." A serious tone.
"Something's not right." He agreed. "Not a single monster to be found. Usually we'd find at least a pack of Ironbacks. It's already beginning to snow, the winter's really starting up now. Normally there'd be all kinds of things searchign for food, but...."
It was cold to the point where they could see their own breath, where the morning dew became ice-like. Cecelia was forced to change from her armor to something warmer despite claiming she felt naked without the protective steel.
There's no reason for them to not have been attacked by some inhuman entity by now.
Yet there was nothing.
" Hm?" Melanie stopped, having until then been in the middle of kniting. "Is this really that odd?"
Actually, she was grateful for it. Hearing those god-awful sounds of fighting terrified her. If they were to run across any mosters, she'd die of fright before anything else.
"It's not just odd." Lyle responded. "It's downright unnatural."
"Exactly." Cecelia said. "Something's off about this whole thing."
"I-Is it something to worry about?" Melanie's heart went right up towards her throat, instantly on edge. She could handle a lot of things, but she was just a normal girl. A potentially dangerous developement may be occuring, how would she be calm?
"Not sure. But I don't like it." Cecelia shifted in her seat, uncomfortable.
"I wouldn't worry, though." Lyle knew Melanie would become scared if she saw the two of them look too wary of the situation, so he quickly tried to stop that from happening.
Melanie nodded, much more at east. She spoke out again, as if to reinforce the idea to herself." Yeah, I guess it's nothing to fret over. And we're only two days or so away from Zeshar." She smiled. "We may have taken longer if we were met with any monsters, since most around here travel in groups. So this could even be considered a bless--"
"Brother, what're you looking at?" Iris, wrapped in a blanket by Lyle's side, noticed something amiss with her brother.
His tone was even as he replied.
"Smoke." His head was turned towards his left, his eyes locked onto a thick black cloud rising up from some few miles away.
Jaime was in the midst of deep thought when he heard Bell's shout. Normally he'd be in a better mood, but he wasn't happy to hear from Bell right now, the event with Penn making Jaime extremely irritated by the guy's actions.
He really lacked restraint at times.
Were it just that, however, Jaime wouldn't mind it. What really made Jaime suffer was the loud demands from Penn to have the boy strung up by his feet and fed to whatever creature passes by. Demands which happened at regular intervals.
Jaime wouldn't do any of that. The ,an earned what he got from what Jaime had heard. Making such comments, Jaime couldn't stop Bell from dishing out some punishment. Not after the contributions he and Cecelia made to their company.
As a friend and a person who had recieved their help on an occassion or two, he promptly let the matter die... If only Penn did so as well, everything would be great.
This wasn't what he was thinking about when he heard the shout, though, hearing Bell's voice is just what triggered them.
Turning his head, Jaime asked, "What is it?"
Bell pointed towards the sky. "Look there."
He had everyone's attention from the start and therefore every person in the group looked up, noticing what was going on.
Boris, on his end, stared at the rising smoke with a wary eye.
"A fire? Maybe a mile or two away. There hasn't been any lightning so I doubt that smoke was caused naturally. Kid, that direction is...?"
Jaime, riding a horse beside him, instantly knew what the man was thinking.
"There's another road not far from here, that smoke should be about where it's located. You think?"
"I do." Boris agreed. "Someone's likely in trouble. No monster has been spotted in the last few days, and even if it wasn't so there's still none in the area that are able to cause fires. Not that I know of, at least. So it's bandits, probably. Should we...?"
"Hmm...." Jaime's eyes betrayed nothing. Finally, after several moments, he shook his head. " No, it's got nothing to do with us."
Jaime was not uncaring, but this was the truth. They didn't know anything about how many bandits there were. Not that it mattered to him unless they were in the triple digits, but even so, rushing in to help wasn't something they had to do.
They're mercanaries, nothing more, nothing less.
Phaedra, who had been riding a few steps behind, announced. She didn't even look at them as she said this.
He came beside her and held her shoulder, stopping the woman. "Fey, don't be stupid. You can't just--"
"Hurry up." Without another word, she tore her arm away and urged her horse towards the rising smoke.
Jaime let out a annoyed grunt.
"Dammit. Nosy woman...Fine. No helping it, then. Can't just leave her go by herself. Fuck." He clenched his jaw in irritation. Really, that girl, every time it was like this....
Louder, he called, "Val, take some of your women and let's go!" He looked at Boris. " I'm going ahead. You pick out some people as well, then you and Val can come after us."
They couldn't leave the caravans unguarded, they had to divide themselves. In truth, he wasn't worried. Every person here was capable enough to handle a few bandits. Still, it was good to be cautious, hence the reason he was having Val bring her girls along too instead of just taking a few men.
Jaime, after giving out these instructions, turned his horse and followed after his sister's fleeting back.