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A note from Luc666-_-

Yeah this one got long too.

I'm going a little slow here because I want things to be just the way I want. I don't want to gloss over too many things.

As you may be able to tell, things are starting to grow a little... Well, you'll see.

I'll edit out any mistakes I find later. 

 

Remember to rate, review and comment on whatever you wish.

For a few seconds the two of them were not even aware that anyone had entered.

Iris could see in vivid detail that way they leaned into each other... the way the girl stood on the tips of her toes to match her brother's height... the way her brother hugged her waist and supported her while she did. 

It was only until Melanie abruptly stiffened that her brother truly understood that something was amiss.

So when he broke their contact and turned his head to look behind him, he was surprised to see his sister standing by the entrance in shock.

"Iris?" Lyle called out, his mind a little slow as a small fire continously burned inside his chest.

He felt a strange sense of annoyance at the interruption, but forced it down.

"Brother...I..." She stammered, something very unlike the usual Iris.

Suddenly another voice jained in, irritation dripping from every word. "Iris, you can't just run off like...that..." Cecelia walked in, her words pausing as the scene inside opened up to her. "Apologies. Are we interrupting something?" Her tone was carefully neutral, taking in everything that was happening. Noticing every detail.

Her brother noticed Melanie almost trying to retreat back into herself, wanting to hide. Iris knew the girl was mortified, ashamed. Like she'd done something wrong, like she'd intruded upon something she had no right to.

But her brother didn't falter at all, turning to the two newcomers in a casual and unhurried manner. She saw his hand touching the small of Melanie's back. A clear show of reassurance. A move that said, "Everything will be fine."

"Not at all." He told them casually.  

But neither did he bother to explain.

"I see." Cecelia nodded easily, not a hair out of place, her tone lacking any inflection to tell what she thought about the matter one way or the other.

...This was all wrong...

Iris wanted to run. Run far away from here. 

She thought she had more time. It wasn't supposed to be like this, not again, not so soon. 

She--

"Cecelia. " Her brother called. "Would you mind giving us a moment of privacy?"

"Not at all."  She repeated his previous words.

Iris watched her go, but before she left she gave Iris a vague smile. But to Iris, it was full of meaning.

"So...which do you really prefer?" That smiled seemed to ask. "The maid, or...?" 

Iris hated it. That smugness. That condescension.... 

And so the three of them stood, alone, a silence hanging over the entire room.

"Iris." 

"Yes, brother?"

" I love you."

...Iris knew what was coming. She knew it. 

"But you won't be the only one I love throughout my life."

The tears fell.

"Someday I'll love someone else, too."

"Brother...don't..."

"I'll even start a family of my own."

"Stop... "

"And I won't be capable of spending all my time with you anymore."

"Please..."

"Iris...you and me, we'll always be brother and sister, alright? Whatever happens in the future, that'll never change."

"I know that. I know that, so...!"

"When I was with Sophia you refused to see her as anything more than a nuisance. If we held hands, or kissed, or acted intimate in any other way, you'd turn you head and pretend you didn't see. But you can't do that anymore." 

"That's...I..."

"You never thought anyone was "good enough" for me, did you? You never will, either. But that's fine, you don't need to. All I'm asking is that you accept what is, Iris. This is the reality of the situation. Iris...eventually you and me, we won't...someday, the both of us... we'll move on."

Iris didn't want to hear it. "That's not true!" She snarled. " You're wrong! You said...big brother, you said! We'll always be together, right? Right? You can't go back on your words!"  

He hugged her. He knelt down and took her in his arms, tightly, as she cried. 

"Iris, I meant it. We'll always be "together". But I told you, didn't I? We can't be by each other's side every second of every day. You'll always be my precious sister. We'll always have that bond between us. And I'll never push you away.

But we're not the same person. We'll lead different lives. I'll fall in love with someone eventually, Iris, if not Melanie then someone else later down the line. And so will you. You, too, will find someone to love and cherish. Maybe...maybe even more than you do me. At that time, we'll naturally drift apart. Not for long, not not forever. But our paths will, for a time, diverge. That's what siblings do."

Iris shook her head. Why, why didn't he stop? Why was he saying all this? He was being too cruel....he....

"You're wrong!" Iris shouted at him. "I won't do that. I won't love anyone else! Big brother, I love you so much that there's already no room for other people! There isn't! I...I don't want there to be, either. We don't have to drift apart. Never! Not even for a little while. Brother, it's okay. I can follow you. I won't...I won't get in your way anymore."

Her vision had long since turned blurry, and her throat was raw. Her words came fast, her voice breaking. "We can live together, always. I won't trouble you at all! I won't say anything about any...about any other women in your life. I can do that! So...big brother, even if you marry someone, let me be with you! I can even help you raise your children, okay? So, don't say that...Let me stay with you, please... 

 I can be a good aunty....I...I can be a good girl...."

**********

"Young Master...about Lady Iris...."

Lyle didn't even look up at the young woman, instead he just continued to rub his sister's slumbering head.

She'd cried herself sleep. She just held onto him cried, until the tears no longer came. 

"She'll be fine, Melanie." He told her softly. " She just just needs time to adjust. This girl...she's always been so attached to me. But it has to stop eventually, you know? She's got to grow up more, stop fixating on me. She needs to accept the way things are. Times change, Melanie, they never stay exactly the same. Like me, someday she'll also find someone  to fall in love with. Someone she can cherish and hold dear, maybe even more than me."

...Lyle hated saying the words. They tasted like ash in his mouth. 

He'd always wanted Iris to be not so dependant upon him, but it was different now. Now something was using him against her. Preying on her fears. On her affection for him.

He didn't have time to ease her out of her comfort zone. 

If her reliance upon him is what's being used to hurt her, then he needs to make it stop. He has to make her stop obsessing over him. Maybe with this, it'll be a step towards that...

...He didn't want to be the one being used to make her suffer...

Melanie looked down at the young girl, wondering if it was really going to turn out like he wanted it to. Lady Iris...was not a stable girl....

She turned away from those sort of thoughts, sadly saying. "She'll probably hate me. Her and Lady Cecelia, they both...after this, I think that..."

"No, they won't. Cecelia, I don't see why she would care too much about it. Our relationship had never been like that, and she's not so petty. As for Iris, if anything she'll start hating me. But even if they did, I'd support you. You wouldn't be in it alone. It may take some getting used to, but they'll come around."

"Oh.."

"Speaking of you and me..." He began. "I don't recall you trying to push me away. Does that mean...?"

Her cheeks became a rosy, and she nodded her head shyly. "I...I should think that...it speaks for itself, right?"

"Indeed." He chuckled. "But what made you change your mind? You were so hesitant before. " He glanced at her curiously.

Melanie didn't try to hide anything.

"I changed my mind, because I was scared."

Lyle paused. "Scared?" 

"Of losing you. Before, I'd always taken your presence for granted. I became so used to having you around that I never considered what it'd be like if you weren't. And after this...I was forced to."  

"I've been facing danger for quite some time already, Melanie. Why only so concerned now?" He asked.

"Because it's only now that I'm understanding that...that you're human. That you can be hurt."

His lips curved upwards, amused."And what did you think I was before, then?" 

" I don't know." She admitted. "Something...more? Young Master, that's what most people think about you. Even among other Nobles, you've always...you've always just looked more..substantial." She struggled to explain. "Like you could handle anything thrown your way. Like you couldn't be hurt. "

She'd been with him long enough to see it. The way people looked at him. The way they seemed to put him on some pedastal. In recent times, that'd grown more prominent. For various reasons.

The gap between Nobles and common folk was already wide. In fact, to some, they were akin to gods. That's how wide the gap truly was. Nobles were rulers of the world. They kept the peace, kept them safe, kept them fed and clothed...

There were exceptions. But as a whole, they were a positive force. Without them, without their power...then where would they be, in a world full of monsters and beasts and other horrors that could never be anything but the stuff of nightmares? They and mages, they were intregal to this world. 

They were the most intelligent, the most influential, perhaps not the strongest but still a force to be reckoned with in their own right. And the Knights? Those monstrously powerful beings? They were even more so. 

Nobles were the elites of the world.

And even among other Nobles, the Young Master shined. Maybe he wasn't much now. Maybe he'd not done anything truly great yet. But it was a given that this would change. It was a given that he'd grow into a leader of men. He'd control the fate of hundreds of thousands of people. 

He'd already trained his body. He'd already once shown that he could compete with the best and brightest of his generation, and still hadn't even gone through real Knight training. Once he did, he'd be a person to be feared and admired in equal measure.

And once he trained his other talents, exactly how far could he go? A person who could be a Grand Knight, and an Archmage at the same time, if he'd put in enough effort? Or maybe...even stronger? 

What heights could a person like him reach, if her were only given the time to mature and polish himself more? That's what all people who looked at him thought. 

That among the best the world had to offer, he'd be better still. 

"And I knew why you were doing that, but like everyone else, I started to believe it. That you weren't like the rest of us, that you, inherently...were just...more perfect than most. But then this happened, and I started remembering how you beat that man from before. I started remembering that, like me, you're human. That you can really lose youself to emotion, that you can make mistakes. 

"And that scared me, because it also meant you could get hurt. It meant that you were out there, in the cold, in the wild, and that there was a chance you'd not come back. 

"I hated that. The thought made me sick. I understood just how important you'd somehow become to me. I know that I'm...that I'm not a strong woman." The words were hard to say, but she couldn't deny them. "I'm not like Lady Cecelia. But even I...wanted to go. Wanted to look for you. I don't know if...if that's...love. But being with you, it makes me happy. I like being with you. Not being with you, not being able to talk to you, or look at you again...not being subject to your teasing, even... For some reason, I think that would be painful. I can't imagine where I'd be, if not by your side..." 

Melanie  was glad that the tent was a little dark. She didn't think she would be able to say all this to him if it wasn't. 

Several long seconds passed by, but he'd said nothing. 

"Melanie. I don't love you..." He said after a minute.

Melanie looked away."No, that's...that's okay. It's...I mean I didn't expect you to--" 

"...yet."

She froze."...I'm sorry, what?"

"I don't love you "yet", I said."

"And...that means..."

"It means that I like you. And I would also like to see where a relationship between us leads.  Wouldn't you?"

She looked at him stupidly for a second, then burst into a blooming smiled. "...Yes. Yes, I think I would like that very much."

***********

"Mr.Greyson, the Lady Seraphine wishes to speak to you. Come with me, if you please."

After some time a tall knight with a small, beady eyes, a pointed beard and a goatee came stopped outside the tent and called for him.

The words were respectful, yet distant. Despite the nature of the words Lyle knew that this was not a request, but a demand.

Of course, would he let someone simply command him like this? 

"Wait a moment." He told him." I'll need some time. I'm sure you can understand why, yes?"

Lyle couldn't tell, but he felt that the man probably nodded in approval. 

"Indeed I do. Very good. It wouldn't be acceptable to make the Young Miss suffer looking upon someone with a dishelved apearance. By all means, make yourself presentable. But be quick about it, keeping the Young Miss waiting is also not a good thing." 

"I shall make haste, rest assured." He then looked at Melanie. " Keep an eye on her, will you?"

Melanie hesitated, because if Lady Iris woke up she knew the young girl would hate Mellanie being the first thing she saw. And them being alone together, now of all times, it wasn't...

But she nodded easily. "Of course, Young Ma--"

"Don't." He cut her off gently. "I think we can drop the formalities, right? From now on I'd like you to call me by my name. At least in private, until we aren't with the Haddocks anymore."

"But..."

"But what? Didn't you agree to be my lover from now onwards? That, to my eyes, makes us equal. Titles shouldn't be used between us anymore." In fact he disliked formalities like that, so he'd tried getting her to stop using them with him numerous times. To no avail. "Or was I mistaken then?"

"L-lover..." He'd used such a bold word! "That...that sounds a little..."

"Would you prefer to be called my girlfriend instead? Although given how this all started, I think that'd be somewhat innacurate."

"You...!" She blushed fiercely, narrowing her eyes. "How can you bring that up again!"

...But she couldn't say he was wrong...him doing those kinds of things to her, it already went past what a normal boyfriend and girlfriend would do....right?

Certainly, they wouldn't have such a...a sexual relationship, at least at the beginning...probably....Not that they had any actual intercourse, but even so...

Wait. For that matter, she wondered to what extent he and Lady Sophia had went? Although they may not have done that....maybe they did other things? 

"Oh? Did you dislike it that much? I can't really blame you though, I did get a bit too out of hand back then." 

"I-I didn't..exactly say that" Her voice turned small. "...I just... it was unexpected...and, um, I-I just hadn't ever...you know...kissed anyone before then, so...so...I wasn't really used to it..." She looked down.

Lyle couldn't help thinking how cute her reaction was. Really, she was such a shy person. Even just talking about things like that was difficult for her. 

His eyes flashed brightly, she saw, a sure sign of something bad. "Then we should get you used to it, you're saying? Ah, well, if I must..."  

"I-I didn't mean it like that! H-hey!"

**********

The knight had waited patiently for a few moments, a bit aways. But when he saw that the younth emerged with a slightly flushed face hair, he couldn't help snorting coldly.

But of course, Lyle didn't mind him.

He didn't really do much to be embarrassed about either. Despite his current appearance, he only teased Melanie a bit. 

A few kisses here and there, nothing more.

Lyle couldn't say that he minded such things. As long as it didn't progress into more innapporpriate grounds, just kissing wasn't something to be worried about. They were shows of affection, weren't they? 

And he felt that Melanie might still have felt like things were too ambiguous, so letting her how things were going to be in as clear a manner as possible was a good thing. 

He did burn with an intense desire to rip off her clothes and ravish her, but he understood those thoughts weren't entirely his own. And he'd not give into them. 

There was a time and place for such things, after all. He wasn't so bold as to demand something like that so soon into their new-found relationship either. 

....Really, if he didn't have such good self-control, who knows what could have happened? Maybe he'd already have made a move on both Melanie and Cecelia! It was a unpleasant thought. 

"I thought you said you were going to freshen up?" He looked Lyle up and down, not liking what he saw at all.

"I never said that. Aren't you assuming too much? Please don't put words in my mouth, good Sir. it's unbecoming of someone who serves a Noble Lady to be such an unreasonable person."

The knight spluttered, his face going red. What an...an arrogant little shit! Someone like him, a no-name sell-sword, dares to speak so callously towards a knight such as himself? 

He held in his anger, however.

This was the person who saved the Young Miss from certain death. He respected the boy for that, if nothing else. 

And besides...."You're right. My apologies. I'll be sure to be more careful in the future, so as to not bring shame to the Young Miss." He couldn't deny that his words held truth. 

"Lead on then."

"Or course. Follow me."

Without another word, the knight turned smartly and strode forward. 

Lyle matched his pace without difficulty.

A few mercenaries looked over in interest, but quickly went back to what they were doing.

As they walked, Lyle caught sight of Murphy sitting by a campfire with Mira and Thatch.

Murphy noticed him, grinned, and then wiggled his brows suggestively. He of course knew where the young man was heading, and his past experience told him that things were going to be getting interesting.

As for Thatch, the big man only have a nod towards his direction.

But Mira...she looked at him strangely. Very much so. Almost like...No. Lyle wasn't quite sure what sort of gaze that was or even why she gave it to him, nor did he really think much of it. It was just something that he had picked up, which was quickly forgotten. 

It didn't take them long to navigate through the camp, and soon enough they reached their destination.

They stopped at an enormous tent, brightly-lit, large enough to fit at least ten people inside with ease. 

Another knight stood in front, blocking their way.

After a few quick words, they were let inside.

Lyle was assaulted with a subtle yet stirring scent, soft and mellow. It faintly reminded him of cinnamon, but with a less strong flavor to it.

There was also other smells, food. When he entered, he saw a table off to the side, a long one that could seat quite a number of people. 

Strange, did they assemble it just a while ago, or did they take it out from a Blackbox? Maybe some other similar storage device?

Inside the tent were several people, which he recognized.

Jaime, Phaedra, Nyk, and Boris.

There were also two more people: Sera, and the older man who Lyle knew to be Captain Voorhis. He rested on a seat, wrapped in bandages, but most definitely alive. His wounds were not truly severe, but he would have bled out if they hadn't been treated. Him being up and about was not exactly too strange, but neither was it something one would expect.

Maybe...Sera had healed him? She can't control her powers much, so perhaps it wasn't a full healing.

"You're looking well, Captain." Lyle made no pleasantries, simply greeting the man as he would any other. 

The knight at his side shot him a glare, but stayed silent.

Voorhis raised a brow, surprised.

"Yes, it's a large step up from death's door, isn't it? I hear I have you to thank for that."

Lyle refuted. "Please, It was all Nyk's efforts, as I'm sure you know."

"I do." The Captain nodded towards Nyk gratefully. "But if you hadn't made the call, if you hadn't chosen to leave him to care for me and face all the danger on you own, then I know I wouldn't be here. So I must express my thanks."

"If that's how you see it, then I can only accept them. Is that all? I don't mean to be rude, but I don't think that you should have any further business with me, yes?" 

"Bell." Jaime spoke up, a hint of warning in his voice. Not angered, but concered for his well-being. These were not people he could act so casually towards. 

Voorhis frowned. "It's fine, Lord Jaime." The young man was not ordinary, he had a fair bit of background behind him. Calling him Lord was not wrong. "But please, don't be in such a rush to go."

"I'm sorry, but if all you called me here for was to express your thanks, then I would like to return. It's been a long day."

"Of course, but...The Young Miss, you see..."

It was only then that Lyle turned to look directly at Sera.

Sera gazed back at him in dissatisfaction. "What, are you truly so eager to leave me?" She asked without preamble, making everyone feel something was amiss.

Lyle felt something wrong with her wording, as he did before, but didn't bother to think much about it right now. "Of course not, Lady Seraphina. I--"

"Since when do you address me as "Lady"?"

"Since we're in the company of people who'd like to gut me with a sword if I didn't follow proper protocol." Lyle replied evenly.

"Are you afraid of them doing so? Do they frighten you?" She challenged, narrowing her eyes at him.

Lyle's smiled turned sharp. "Not at all."

"Then why?"

"I don't wish to create a bloodbath. It's a lovely tent, this. It would be a shame if some knight of yours, due to being angered at my lack of respect, were to attack me and force me to raise my hand in self-defense. You must know, I don't have much experience in holding back. And blood is so hard to get out... "

Everyone in the tent, aside from them, stirred. Jaime and his group couldn't say that he didn't have the ability to back up his words, but everyone still thought his words were walking a dangerous line here.

Sera laughed, as if she liked the idea. " So fierce! Yes, those kind of words suit you much more, I think. But don't mind such trivial things. You will address me as Sera." 

"I've no problems with doing so." He shrugged.

He really didn't. If she said it was fine, who was he to argue? He truly did just want to avoid any violence from happening. 

Voorhis said nothing. From what he'd heard of the young man, from Sera and from Lord Jaime, the boy did have some ability. No, that was obvious in how he dealt with those manticores. So fearlessly, confidently. 

Probably none of the many knights here would be able to match him in a fight.

Which Voorhis was a bit impressed by. A young man having that level of prowess at that age was indeed worthy of being called talented. Maybe...he had a litte Noble Blood within him? From an ancestor, perhaps? 

He'd heard of the Haddocks, and they appeared to have many young talents in their ranks. But they weren't at the level of dealing with three manticores alone.

Luck wouldn't factor in much, they would die. Regardless of if he holds a bit of Noble Blood or not to explain his outstanding abilities, this young man being before him today was a testament to his skill in Voorhis' eye. Even if he was healed by the Young Miss after, he still survived a high drop from a waterfall in addition to surviving that confrontation with the three manticores .

Surviving the latter is amazing enough, but surviving the former too...

Also, having a mind that can still understand the need to quickly find shelter even when under heavy injuries, and being able to treat the Young Miss' wounds...

This Bellamy had a great resiliance to damage, skill in combat, sound judgement and even held a bit of knowledge on how to make concoctions to treat injuries, 

He wasn't simple at all. 

The Young Miss, she had a good eye...

"If it's a young man like this, then what the Young Miss wants to do... I have no qualms with it." He muttered sofly to himself.

Lyle's sharp ears caught the words, being extremely attentive from the start of all this. "And what, exactly, is it that she wants to do?"

Another glare from the knight beside him.

Sera happily stood up from her seat, walked towards him, and clasped his hands in her's.

She looked him straight in the eye, looking excited. 

"I want you to join us!" 

She said enthusiastically.

Lyle stopped, confused. "Join... what?"

Sera calmed down, saying, "My knights. I want you to be one of my personal bodyguards."

And that was the cruz of the matter, the thing they were all called to discuss, in part.

Voorhis had his eye on the young man called Nyk, impressed by both his medical knowledge and his apparent skill with a sword--something that he'd seen first-hand after the manticre leader had come back and caused some trouble.

The young man protected a semi-lucid Voorhis for five minutes before Lady Phaedra and Lord Jaime, along with a few others, had arrived to provide backup in order to slay the beast.

So he wanted to offer the man a place among them. He took a liking to him.

This is why he called the others here. Lord Jaime was his current employer, and the others were also rather high up in the command chain.

He wanted to tell them all his intentions, so as to not cause and dispute, and fairly offer the man a postition with them.

As for this Bellamy person....the Young Miss is the one who wanted him. And Voorhis had no real complaints. He did a fine job of protecting the Young Miss. What they failed to do, he accomplished by himself.

Sadly the young Nyk already refused just before Bellamy arrived. Voorhis let the matter go. 

But everyone continued to stay, wanting to hear what Bell would say.

"I'm flattered" Lyle said, suddenly ill at ease with the direction this had went. "But I don't--"

"Wait." She stopped him. "You smell a little weird..."

Her words drew amused looks from nearly all those present.

"Sorry? I didn't really have time to bathe, although I don't think I should smell too badly. That river should have made for a fine, if freezing and unbearable, bath. But I suppose--"

"No, not that." She cut him off again. "It's just you smell like another woman. It's unpleasant."  Sera wrinkled her nose, rather cutely.

Again, that wording bothered him. "I see. But you must be mistaken."

He said that calmly, but inwardly he was a little amazed.

Women had a strong sense of smell, it seems? First Iris mentioned it, now Sera, and all in the same day!

"Maybe." She didn't sound like she believed it.

But Voorhis and the rest were frowning to themselves.

Somehow their interactions seemed to be not as one would expect. Phaedra and her brother knew it, but how could she know it too? It was a very subtle fragrance, so how did a young girl like that catch it?

Was she actively sniffing him or something? 

Voorhis though this too, but threw the idea out. The Young Miss was sometimes a bit eccentric, as was to be expected from a Noble. So this didn't mean much. 

"Anyway, aren't you excited?" She asked, once more going cheerful.

She still hadn't let go of his hands.

Lyle extracted them from her grip, shaking his head, "I'm sorry, but I can't do that."

Her face instantly fell. 

"I'm sorry...what?"

"I can't accept. I have things to do."

"I see. I can wait, it's not problem."

"No, even after that, I have no intention of joining your knights."

She acted as if he hadn't said anything. "Ah, and don't worry about the formalities. With you skill you can skip the training required. I can have you knighted within a few weeks, easily. All you would have to do is have a few duels with qualified instructors to show your ability in combat. Then we can be done with it. The actual paperwork can be taken care of behind the scenes, my father can make sure that you will be dealt with fairly despite the unusual circumstance."

Didn't she hear what she said? Did he stutter? 

"Sera, again, I have no intention of joining. I'm off to Zeshar on importance personal business. I can't go with you, and even if I could I still don't wish to j--"

"Zeshar?" She asked. "Oh!" Her eyes brightened. "This must be fate. We're heading to Zeshar as well. Actually...why don't we take you to meet my father? He's the one we're going to see. He can have you knighted personally. I should have thought of that before, silly me." 

...Of course they're going the same way. 

Lyle kicked himself for not realizing it sooner. There were multiple roads to Zeshar, and the one they were taking was one of them. The general direction they were all heading in only had Zeshar in it.

And Zeshar was a hub of activity. It wouldn't be weird for a Noble Lady to visit.

...But who was her father, to have that power, bestowing a knightship in such a way?

He almost asked, but that wasn't important right now. 

"That's all well and good." Lyle began. "Maybe we can all even travel together for a time. But Sera, I don't want to join anything at the moment."

Voorhis looked at the young man with a hint of disdain. Did he think he really had much of a choice?

What Young Miss wanted, she would get. She's a Noble, and her father is a powerful man.

The Cardinal isn't a person one wished to offend.

So se could take anyone she wanted. No one could say anything about it.

Voorhis didn't have the authority to say she couldn't, and neither did he wish to step in and try to stop her. 

This would bring him and his entire family much honor. He didn't see why he would want to refuse.

He liked the lad, was thankful towards him, but he couldn't help him in this. 

Since the Young Miss wants him as part of her knights, she'll have him. That was just the way it would be.

Sera looked incredibly shocked at his words, her eyes reddening. "That's no good. You saved me, didn't you? A man must take responsibility for his actions."

Lyle was at a loss for words. 

"I already saved you, and I did take responsiblity. You're safe and sound, my part is done. Sera, I'm sorry, but our paths will diverge. If not now, then after we reach Zeshar."

She peered at him, thoughtful. 

"...No matter. You might think this, but you're wrong. Our paths won't diverge at all. You'll change your mind. In the meantime...Lord Jaime, I trust it's fine that we ride to Zeshar together?"

The young man spoke very politely, showing respect. "I've no problems with that at all, Lady Seraphina. By all means, please do."

Jaime hadn't the ability to refuse a Noble. He and his family had pull, but that was nothing in the face of this girl's background. 

A Noble, a truly troublesome existence....

Jaime had seen a pattern similar to this before with Bell. None of the other's were like this girl, though. They weren't Nobles. That made all the difference.

Bell...likely wouldn't get out of this one... 

But it should be fine right? Afterall, the girl's very pretty. He shouldn't have many complaints?

Asfor the person in question, Lyle felt that this was all rather ridiculous. From the look on everyone's faces, they were all telling him that he should be resigned to his fate.

Boris, he even sneakily gave him a thumbs up. They really thought this girl would either win him over, or just take him! 

And they probably wouldn't even help him! 

He felt betrayed. Hmph. Bastards.   

Well...not that they could really do anything. Nobles were such people, they can power their way through things like this. 

And he supposed that the mentality was much different since Sera was a woman. For example, if a Nobleman did this to a woman then it would be looked down upon heavily.

Noblemen couldn't just go out and pick up any cute woman who catches their eyes. There were rules against such things.

But Noblewomen? That was a whole different story. If a Noblewoman went and picked up a man, no one would bat an eye.

They would probably even envy the man!

There were very few ugly Noblewomen, most were at least fairly pretty. Same with Noblemen, not many were truly ugly. They weren't ultra-good-looking as a whole, but not ugly either. Good genes and whatnot.

So a Noblewoman taking a man was just not really something people usually thought of as bad.

It wasn't something that happened often since young and unmarried Noblewomen were expected to be more refined and chaste, more "Lady-like". But when it did happen, most would just think the man very lucky to have earned the attention.

Lyle didn't want to be here anymore.

"Yes, well...if that's everything, then I'll take my--"

Again, he was cut off, much to his annoyance."Oh, no, do stay. I wish to invite you and everyone else here to dine with me tonight."

"I'm not hungry."

"Yes, you must be."

"You forget, but I ate with you already."

"In a dark cave, hardly a place for a good talk. Besides, you're a vigorous young man, you must be able to eat quite a lot. Surely the small meal from that time didn't satisfy you."

"I have a small appetite, actually."

"Lies. I'm pretty sure about this, Bell. But regardless, shouldn't you at least stay so that we can talk more? Do you want truly find my company so unbearable?" She had a hurt look about her that couldn't be concealed.

Seeing her like that made the knight by Lyle's side let out a menacing, "You'd better do what she says" aura. From the looks he got from everyone else, they also thought he should give in to the request.

Traitors.

However Lyle wasn't sure he should trust it, the girl didn't seem simple.

"Of course not. I'm just not hungry."

"Again, just stay for a bit. You don't have to eat. I just want the opportunity to speak more with you."

"I'm a very boring man, even if I did stay there wouldn't be much for you to talk about with me."

"Even if that is truly the case, which I doubt, I still would appreciate it if my saviour took the time to at least have a real conversation with me. Please?"

Lyle definitely felt that something was very wrong here. Where was that shy girl from before? Who was this overbearing "Princess" who replaced her? Was this how she normally was when she wasn't in a life-and-death situation?

Didn't she recover much too fast? Most people would be traumatized for life after an experience like that! Especially a sheltered girl like her!

What he didn't know what that even Voorhis thought the girl's behavious was rather unlike the normal her. But he didn't give it too much thought, currently.

Lyle was distressed.

"...Alright. I suppose I have the time to chat."

There was no justifiable reason to refuse.

She gave out a dazzlingly bright smile that could melt a thousand layers of ice, saying, "Thank you. Come, that table's already set. You can sit by me, so we can talk more conveniently." She grabbed his hand, dragging him along.

**********

What followed after was a rather strange scene.

The atmosphere was a little tense to the other participants, but there were two among them that had seemed to have entered their own little rose-colored world.

Namely, Bell and Sera.

Jaime could only smile helplessly at Bell when he'd came looking to him for help.

Everyone had all seen the same exact pattern before.

Since they befriended the young man, more and more situations like the one they currently faced had presented itself.

He'd save some pretty girl, she'd become infatuated with him, then she'd start pestering him incessantly...trying to get close to him...some even outright confessed...

It was really tiresome at this point.

Not that they didn't understand the poor girls' plight. Being saved by some good-looking, reliable, prince-like person...it had an effect. Bell was always very polite, and he was pretty kind to the girls, a few times he'd even tease them. He was that sort of person, Bell.

But despite his penchant for teasing people, causing a little mischief, he would not show the slightest real interest and it was always clear to everyone that he was doing his best to let them down easy.

They just never listened. Or cared.

He was a man who, they all understood, would probably have a lot of trouble with women.

Bell was just...he felt like the main character in some sort of romance novel sometimes. Or harem novel. Either way. Not that he tried to be, but he was just the type that women liked to flock to.

It was a strange phenomenon.

In any case, the two went on talking pleasantly with one another. Or rather, Sera did. Bell mainly responded.

Voorhis saw this and really couldn't make heads nor tails of it.

He suspected that maybe the Young Miss was sick.

This was all just too strange now, he couldn't ignore it anymore. Because the usually shy and gentle Young Miss was now bright and outgoing, full of energy. He couldn't hear what they said, but that was the feel that got just from watching her.

And the way she kept looking at the young man...the corners of her eyes softening just a bit, looking comfortable in his presence, talking to him as if it was the most natual thing in the world and looking so happy while doing it...

Was she...did she... No, had she actually fallen for the young man?

If so, that would explain many things.

Voorhis was not sure what to do. He didn't have the authority to tell the Young Miss what to do. And as a person who had watched over her for many years and had grown a fondness for her...he was put in a hard position.

If she really like him, and he had such a positive influence on her personality, then he didn't see the harm in letting fate take it's course.

But on the other hand, she was a Noble. Falling for a commoner, no matter how talented he was, would be looked down upon. Her father, he didn't know how he'd react. Or if he'd even care.

He could report it, and maybe his duty said he should. But he almost didn't want to. Again, as a person who spent many years caring for her, he thought that perhaps she could grow due to this.

And he had proven himself reliable, if nothing else. He also seemed polite enough, with a little bit of a wild side if his previous words were any indication. At least he wasn't some useless, spineless fop.

He was really distressed...

Phaedra also watched all this going on impassively, her face cold.

Finally she couldn't hold it in anymore and learned over to the annoying bastard.

"So you went out and found another pretty piece to add to your collection, did you? You must be feeling so ecstatic, to have found such a high-quality item."

She'd whispered the words into his ear.

Lyle responded back indifferently, "You sound jealous, Fey. That's no good, I dislike troublesome women. But I suppose that if you behave I can add you, too, to my "collection". There, satisfied?"

Phaedra bared her teeth. "Do you always have to be such an unpleasant, perverted beast?"

"Do you always have to try and get a rise out of me? Don't bother, Phaedra. I don't want to fight you anymore. I don't want to look at you anymore. I don't want to talk to you anymore."

"I hate you." A glare.

"whereas I don't even care about you."

"Liar. Come on. Draw your sword and attack me. I know you want to, why stop yourself?"

"Believe what you want. I'm done with you. Whatever your problem is with me, you can deal with it yourself."

Phaedra hated him. He should get mad. He should hate her as much as she did him.

But nothing. She couldn't feel anything from him, not like usual.

He hid his emotions so deep that even she couldn't sense them. He was just blocking her out. Or maybe he really didn't care anymore...

She was hungry.

When was the last time she fed properly?

But she didn't touch her food. It wasn't what she wanted. It was tasteless and dead.

Her hands trembled, but she gripped tightly and forced them to stop.

....So hungry...

***

It wasn't long after that when Lyle felt he was cleared to leave. He'd spent a fair amount of time here and he wanted to go back to check on Iris.

"Sera, I think it's time I left. It's getting late."

He announced.

Sera shook her head."It's fine. Please, you must stay a little longer."

"No, I should really go."

"Why don't you want to stay with me?"

"Why do you want me to stay?" He shot back.

"But...your place is by my side." Her eyebrows furrowed, as if this should be obvious. " Don't you know that? As my knight, this is as to be expected."

"I'm not your knight."

This was getting really out of hand. How many times did he have to say it? Did she not know the meaning of "No"?

How stubborn can one be?

...Why was she so different from before...?

What changed?

"But you will be." She said sweetly, her entire posture saying that she held an unshakable belief in the words.

"I wonder how you can be so sure of that?" He inquired.

"Ellie told me." She answered simply.

"And Ellie is...?"

"A friend. She's a fortune teller."

"A...fortune teller...." Lyle couldn't surpress the disbelief in his voice.

He obviously didn't put much stock into such people.

"Indeed." She nodded, as if she hadn't noticed his doubt.

"And what did she say? This...Ellie."

"She said that this journey would be a terrible ordeal. In fact even she said, "Tu rel dak deim roh ma'n kestel." Which translates to--"

"A lotta shit's about to go down." He answered, his cheek twitching.

This Ellie seems like a colorful person, at least.

Her eyes flashed with interest, as if she had just caught some piece of valuable knowledge. "You know how to speak Elvhenen?"

Lyle realized his slip, but didn't mess up a second time. He shook his head, laughing a bit as if in amusement. "No, but I've had...well, friend, shall we say...who was an Elf. He was an odd one, for sure, always cussing. Needless to say, I picked up on a few things."

Which wasn't entirely a lie. He did meet an Elf. But he'd not talked him, not much anyway. He was an old friend of Boris' and had met him in by coincidence when he walked into the right bar and saw the two talking.

Lyle wasn't sure what an Elf was doing in those parts of the world. It wasn't unusual, but not common either. Still, he didn't ask, it wasn't his business.

"Oh." She nodded again.

"Getting back on topic, it seems that this Ellie person was right, wasn't she?"

But he didn't believe she was a actual seer.

Anyone can tell you that it'd be dangerous traveling at this time of year. You didn't need to be a fortune teller to know that.

Well, encountering a pack of manticores is strange, though... A coincidence?

She sighed. "Yes. She was." She recovered quickly. "But she was right about the other thing too. The thing that included you."

"Oh really? And what, pray tell, did she say?"

She turned smiled again, softer this time, as she looked at him.

"She said that I'd meet a person who'd change me. A person that I would be forever tied to..,"

Lyle raised a brow at that, but didn't comment overmuch about it.

"Is that so? Well good for you. I'm sure that person will be very happy."

She blushed, her eyes widening as she stared at him. "Are...are you really? Happy, that is?"

"Oh? Whatever do you mean?" He feigned ignorance.

She huffed. "Acting like you don't know. Obviously the person can only be you, right?"

Ah, so that's how this one's going to play it, eh? At least it's a little more original than the others, Lyle thought.

"Preposterous." He denied. "I'm not such a person at all."

"You're lying. You know you are~" She sang.

"No. I'm not." He said flatly. It was time to be blunt. "I know you might believe otherwise, but I assure you that I'm not the person you want me to be."

"That's not true at all." She said. Her words were light, but firm. "This was fate. You saved me when none of the others could. You succeeded where they failed. You took so many injuries, all for my sake. From start to finish, you'd taken care of me in a way no one had before. I owe you a debt I can never repay, so my life is yours to do with as you will. But that's fine, because I know you're the one who was meant to have it. I know that you'll take responsibility, I know that you're my...my Fated Beloved...."

Stars came to life in her eyes, which unnerved him. Lyle didn't back down. At all. He responded to this in the most direct way he knew how: "That's nonsense. Firstly, I treated you the same way I would have any other. Sera, don't be like this. I currently have a good impression of you, don't make me have to revise that assessment. Secondly, you owe me nothing. You healed me. Any debt you may have had was settled with that one act.

"There's nothing tying us together. Sera, you might long for this "Fated Beloved" character of yours, to have some passionate romance with a handsome "saviour". To find your "soul mate". But that's like something out of a fairytale, which this is not.

"Our paths, like I've found myself saying alot in the past few hours, will diverge. Eventually we'll go our seperate ways and it's unlikely that we'll ever see each other again. Please accept this."

Their entire conversation was low, hushed, so that none of the others could hear--that is, except for Jaime and Phaedra whose ears were sharper than your average human's

But they didn't intervene, merely sitting in their respective seats. Growing increasingly shocked with each word that spewed from the girl's mouth.

"You're wrong!" She hissed, becoming immediately angry. "You're wrong about everything. Why don't you see that? You'll change your mind. You'll be my knight, and you'll always protect me and keep me safe--

"Sera, stop."

But she didn't.

"--You'll always be by my side, never leaving me--"

"Sera, this has gone on far enough."

She didn't think so.

"--and we'll marry and have children and--"

"Sera, I said enough!" Lyle's voice was low, quiet, but full of warning.

It was useless.

"--we'll be so happy together. That's why you have to stop being so stubborn. You have to come with me. It's your f--"

"It's nothing." He cut her off coldly. "This isn't funny, Sera. I'll give you one chance to take everything back, to say it was a joke, that you were merely kidding. Take it."

"No." She refused, unwilling to listen. "Even if you don't want to accept reality, even if you don't accept responsibility for saving me, you still have to take responsibility for that other thing!"

He felt like he was going to get a headache.

"What other thing?!" He ground out through clenched teeth, almost at his last straw.

He'd not let his face show it, but he was frustrated, nearly losing his cool. Never had he met anyone like this...

Her eyes misted up, the whites reddening, turning puffy. "You know very well what!" She whisperered to him fiercely, as if she were being wronged. "You can't pretend that you don't! Those things we did...both of us, together...in that place...the way you held me, branded me...the way you kissed me, made love to me... you have to take responsibility for all those things, if nothing else. I won't let you walk way from it! You're already mine...why don't you understand that? We belong to each other!"

Jaime and Phaedra's faces changed as their ears caught the words, a flash of something dark passing over them. An understanding. A hint of fear and surprise and disbelief.

In that instant, for one brief second, Lyle's mask broke. And the face he showed was one of deep disturbance...

...She's insane, He thought. She's...she's well and truly insane...

He stood up abruptly, startling all those present.

"I'm leaving."

Without another word, left his seat and strode towards the exit, disappearing.

Sera could only watch on helplessly as he walked away...

She felt empty. Like someone had taken away the sun from her life. Like a piece of her was missing, as if someone gouged out some important part of her being. Leaving a dark void in her heart...

"Captain, escort our guests out, please. I...I wish to be alone for a while." She said numbly.

"...Yes, of course, My Lady. I'll prepare a bed for you. When you want the table taken away so you can rest, simply give a call."

She didn't answer.

Soon everyone had disappeared, slinking away and leaving the table empty.

Not a single person stayed within the tent. Not even Voorhis.

The tears didn't stop until well into the night.

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A note from Luc666-_-

Originally I wanted to tell of her identity in this chapter. But that revelation, it kind of clashed with the overall tone here. I'll do it in the next chapter then. Maybe. Still not sure. Might leave it till later, when he gets to Zeshar

 

 

 

You probably can probably tell what she is though, or what group she's a part of, due to the hint I gave about her father. should be obvious, hm? 


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Luc666-_-

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