Behind the gates was a great circular space with a wide road running down the middle that led to the Plaza area, several smaller roads to either side of it that also led to different areas.
"I guess this is where we part ways." Jaime looked at him.
"I suppose it is." Lyle agreed.
Boris shifted his gaze to a few feet away, where Lyle's carriage resided. Off to the side a bit was a girl surrounded by four mean-looking, burly knights.
"Be careful with that one, kid. Nobles taking an interest in regular folk isn't a good thing. Handle her well, you don't need that kind of trouble. I don't think we could help you if you did." His eyes flashed with worry.
"I know." Lyle replied seriously. Nobles really could be a handful.
"I don't know how long you'll be here, but at the very least we're going to be staying for a week or more. It's a big city, but if you find the local Merc Hall feel free to visit. Father should be here as well. Maybe if things go south with that girl, you can lay low with us for a while." Jaime offered without hesitation.
Lyle was moved, because it was always a real possibility that they'd be in a lot of trouble for hiding a person a Noble wanted found.
"Thanks. If it comes to that, I will."
"Once you're settled, go to the Golden Stag. We'll get plastered and you can help me seduce a pretty lush!" Murphy, walking up from behind him, clapped him on the back cheerfully.
Next to him was Nyk, who offered Lyle a nod but otherwise stayed silent.
"I'll see if I can make it." Was all Lyle said, knowing he couldn't. Too open, he wouldn't be able to go without being seen and if Sera really sent someone after him it'd be hard to hide when in a place full of so many people.
"Before you go, you never made up with Fey I take it?" Jaime suddenly asked.
"That would imply we have a relationship that can be made up. We don't. Why?" Lyle didn't want to talk to that girl if he can help it.
"She's been acting up." Murphy cut in irritably. "Even more than usual. You know, you two had a good thing going. She tried to kill you, you tried to kill her, both of you unleash your inner sadists against each other while possibly fighting a faint hint of sexual tension that's hidden beneath a very real dislike for the other's existence...it worked. Now she's directing all that repressed anger and aggression upon us poor little lambs. The fuck happened? "
"I can't control what she does." Lyle shrugged.
"Before you go, you can't just argue with her first?" He begged. "One little insult, a few sword thrusts, then you two can kiss and make up and we can all be one big, happy, dysfunctional family again?"
"Don't disgust me." Lyle wanted to gag. "The very thought of that disturbes me on levels you cannot even begin to comprehend. No, I think those days are over. That woman's irrational hatred for my very being isn't something I want to entertain any longer."
It would be fine if she had a reason, but she didn't. She just straight-up didn't like him. No explanation given.
"After today the next time we see each other I'll just pretend I don't even know her."
Jaime idly wondered how Fey would take that, but concluded it'd end with her completely raging out and trying to kill him. Which would make him defend himself, and the two might be back to normal.
"Anyway, I should go." Lyle looked at Iris's face, which stared at him through the carriage's side window.
"Wait, my little Bell~! Forgetting something?" A high-spirited voice interrupted them.
Val popped out from the ether, winding her arms around one of his own in an apparent attempt to keep him from going.
Just as she did so he felt a small prick at his neck. He clapped his hand over the spot but found nothing. Weird. A mosquito? Damn thing.
"I don't think so." Lyle replied, feeling uncomfortable with the way she touched him.
"My com~pen~sa~tion, you know~?" She sang. "You can't leave without payment for my service."
"You literally did nothing useful for me!" Lyle shook his head in exasperation.
"I'm paid for my time, not effort or action." She grinned shamelessly.
"Oh gods, fine, how much do you want?"
"Bell, please, I'm your friend." She said smoothly. "I can't take your money." There was a very greasy-looking smile that found itself on her face just then.
Yup. He was about to be robbed for all he was worth. He felt his coffers running dry already, a premonition of the poverty to come.
"You'll see." She put a finger to his lips and stopped him. "Come here, pretty boy, mama knows just what she wants." In the next minute she began dragging him away to parts unknown.
The others looked on strangely. "Hm...somehow it feels like there was something important we had to tell him."
Boris raised a brow. "Yeah? What?"
"I...I...don't know..." He touched his head. "I can't really remember, honestly. Bossman, do you?"
Jaime shook his head. "Nothing that I can recall, no."
Another head shake. "Must not be all too important then." He said reasonably.
But as they watched Val pull the young man away, they couldn't help feeling distinctly ill at easy.
Before he got too far away, he told Cecelia to go on ahead and find someplace to rest for the day.
Without her being able to ask how he'd find them, he was dragged further
His eyes caught Spirit following after them, much to his regret.
Originally he planned to tell Cecelia to take the others and find accomodations somewhere far from here, then take Sera for a walk and ditch her when her back was turned.
Now it looks like he'd have to change plans a little.
He looked at Val. "So where are we going?"
"Oh, there's someplace I wanted to take you. Don't worry it shouldn't be far." She waved him off casually.
They wound their way through boisterous crowds people, sweeping past the merchants intent on selling them this thing or that.
Lyle took in the sights. He'd been here a time or two to attend a banquet thrown by some Noble or another but never had the time to just explore.
He smiled bitterly, thinking he wouldn't be able to do it much this time either.
Eventually they found that the crowd became thinner as time went on and up ahead Lyle saw what might have been a garden area.
"You know, my great-great-great-great grandfather was part of the city's defense force." Val spoke up just then, without warning.
"Yeah?" Lyle hadn't heard that before.
"Yup. He was an archer." She grinned. "Runs in the family. Always get a keen eye and steady hand." A chuckle. "He died in battle, but because of him the enemy leader got a arrow in the gut and had to be rushed out. Died an hour later, poisoned. Grandpa had a penchant for the stuff. Well, not just him. We all do."
A iron-wrought gate lay open before them.
Lyle vaguely felt as if he heard a story like this before. He never would have thought she had come from such a line though.
"And I'm guessing this place is...?" He saw a few momuments here and there, but not many.
"A graveyard. Yeah." She nodded. "Very few bodies are buried here, only the ones who did a great service to the city."
They entered a large field of green grass, saw several small buildings that looked well taken care of.
"For his merits in battle they gave him a cozy little mausoleum when he later got a arrow in the knee and died of blood loss."
They saw another small building, nestled quietly away from the other sparse graves, all by it's lonesome near a man-made lake.
"How morbid." Lyle muttered. Not a topic for casual conversation. "Val, why are we here?"
He was starting to grow anxious.
"I told you, I wanted you to see something."
Yeah, she'd already made that clear. But come on, she was taking him to her however-many-greats-grandfather's grave? The hell was that about?
"What about your compensation?" He asked carefully.
The eyes flashed with a mysterious light. "Oh, we'll get to that. Just be patient."
Lyle accepted the fact that he wouldn't be able to get this over with quickly and just stayed silent.
They reached the structure and Val took out a key. "I don't come here often, you know." She went to work on the lock to the gate surrounding the bulding. "I wasn't even thinking of coming at all." The lock opened.
"And honestly, I was just thinking about having you get me something pretty. Then I thought of something better you can do for me, much better."
"Like what?" How much is this going to cost me? Actually what the hell does she want me to do, bringing me here? Is grave-robbing a new pastime of her's these days?
"Val, come on, tell me why I'm here already." He was really starting to get annoyed by all the theatrics.
He was ignored.
"But I knew we couldn't do that with everyone watching. We would have to sneak out, you know? Your sister, Cecelia, that Melanie chick, Lady Seraphina, who knew what they'd do if they found out? Not to mention those little girllies of mine."
"I'm sorry, what?" Lyle had absolutely no clue as to what the woman was talking about.
"So I had to think of an excuse to get you away. And I've been thinking about what to do for a while now, thinking of what where we were gonna go. Then I remembered this place!" Her eyes brightened. "I used to hang out here all the time as a kid, hide from my aunt Josie."
She pulled him inside, closing the door behind her.
It was dark. "Ok, Val, you're creeping me out. Are you going to kill and rob me or something? Hide my body and run?" His voice grew stern, no longer wanting to humor her. "Seriously, tell me what I'm going to be doing here, or I'm leaving."
"Going to be doing?" She started to light the torches, illuminating the aged room. A smirk. "Well, isn't that....Me?"
And she pounced.
Before he could even question what she meant, he felt a pair of lips close over his own. Two slender legs wrapped around his waist, arms holding onto his neck for support...
He was so shocked that he just froze, struck dumb.
A moment later and Val let go of him, her legs still tightly clinging to his waist, and had her shirt on the floor in two seconds flat. Then she resumed her forceful kisses, pressing her naked breasts against him.
Lyle, feeling the surprise weight, unconsciously stiffened his back to hold them upright.
It was only when she started to tangle her hands in his hair that he came back to his senses and pushed her face away.
"What the hell are doing!" He hissed.
"Recieving my compensation." She panted. "Bell, don't worry. No one has to know."
"Compensation!" He exclaimed, incredulous. "What the hell kind of compensation is this? Get off me!"
She started unbuttoning his shirt. "Don't bother. I know you want this too, I know how you look at me. You want this to happen just as much as I do!"
Lyle was momentarily speechless. "No, I don't." He said with force. "A friend, Val! I think of you as a friend. Now quit this idiocy and get down!"
"You don't want that." She cooed. "I can tell when a man is lying. This thing gives you away."
She shifted her hips, grinding against him seductively, and hit something hard.
Lyle's voice was a bit strained. "That's just the pommel of my sword. " He said stiffly.
"Don't you mean the tip?" Val bit into his ear, sending shivers down his spine.
Now he knew what Sera must have felt that time.
"Val, I'm serious." He made himself calm down and be rational despite really wanting to just tear her the rest of her clothes and give in to need. "We can leave now and pretend this didn't happen, alright? I'm not playing around. Get off, or--"
He felt something cold digging of his neck, hard enough to have surely drawn blood.
"Sorry, the first one didn't work so I had to use something stronger." She explained, as if that meant something to him.
Without caring about his lack of understanding she just smiled at him. The look was disturbing with the way the torchs' fires cast shadows over her face.
"Now...ask me what I want."
Feeling that cold knife bite into his flesh he had no choice but to comply.
"What do you want, Val?"
She whispered huskily into his ear. "I want you to fuck me."
"...So this is where you two got off to..."
"Your Eminence, we've received word that your daughter, Her Holiness Lady Seraphina, has arrived."
Atop a high balcony, looking down at the sprawling city beneath, stood a man. His long white robes, elegantly adorned with silver inlay, billowed in the wind. Despite that, he had a serene countenance.
Around his neck hung a large golden jewel, reminiscent of an eye.
The man had a shock of white hair that formed a halo around his head, but his face was ageless.
As if stuck in time, you couldn't tell if he was but in his thirties or well into his sixties, a face that could look like either and neither at once.
Faintly handsome, with sharp ice-blue eyes that spoke of fierce intelligience.
"I see." A smooth, slightly deep voice which bespoke a calm and scholarly temperment. "How was her journey?"
"She was met with a group of manticores. The Aes'fal were about to act, but someone else interfered and so it wasn't needed."
"Well, best not to reveal them unless she's in danger of dying, so it's good she was saved before then."
"Indeed. But Sir..." There was a large man behind him, weaing a full plate of armor and a royal blue cape. He was a square-face man, hard. The air warped around him, a strong aura of power radiating from his every pore.
"Yes, Paladin Vael?"
"We've reports that your daughter, the ones who rescued her group, were the Haddocks. She traveled with them here."
"You're worried why they've come? They must be investigating the disappearances. It won't lead anywhere, so don't fret. Is there anything else?"
"Yes. A young man was seen riding with her as they got within range of the southern gate. Riding behind her atop Spirit, my Lord. "
The man didn't even turn back, nether did he appear concerned at all.
"My daughter has brought a young man with her. Interesting." A dry laugh."Who is he?"
"We don't know, Your Grace. However, it was he who truly saved your daughter Her Holiness."
"How so, exactly?"
"Her Holiness was being chased by manticores. He killed two, but they were forced off a cliff by the leader. Landed in the river below."
The other man's hands tightened. "She was in no danger of dying." A forceful statement, one that dared to be contradicted.
"Of course not. But the height was such that, if the Aes'fal were not there to ensure her safety, the outcome would have been death given her weak flesh."
"You said they didn't have to act." The older man stated.
"They didn't." The other replied evenly. "The boy who fell with her...his body was extraordinarily strong. Despite falling from a height like that, and shielding Her Holiness' body with his own upon contact with the water, he was still able to get up and walk after. From the report, he also saved her from drowning in the cold waters, then dragged her to land. After that he gave her a dry coat and found her some shelter. Her injuries were likely treated by him as well."
"Then they were found." Vael lied. What events truly happened after, he dared not say.
"Very well. Bring them both to me. I wish to meet the man who has fate with that daughter of mine."
"Yessir, Your Eminence." The Paladin rose, leaving to carry out his orders.
"Oh, and Sir Vael."
The knight halted.
"Yes, Your Eminence?"
"Do you have any word about the fire?"
"No, Your Grace. None."
"And the letter?"
"We believe it was destroyed along with the Manor."
"A pity." The robed man sighed, musing. "He was the last to be sent, his report on the effectiveness of the drug after the continuous days of exposure would have been quite valuable. Malphas will be quite displeased." Another sigh. "Although it's of no real consequence that he passed. His daughter is a true believer, after all, and has agreed readily to support the cause. " The man seemed to just be thinking aloud rather than talking to the other person.
" However..." Paladin Vael hesitated.
"Yes? What is it?"
"We searched, and found that the manor's valuables were, for the most part, stolen. some may have been ruined along with the report, and other stolen by thieves...but something doesn't seem right."
"You think there was foul play?"
"I think that the timing of this is a bit too coincidental." Came the shrewd reply. "Not to mention the weird phenomenon which happened at the Alderton estate some days ago."
"There was an incident, I take it. So be it. What happened?"
"The entire staff, including our informant, along with Lady Alderton herself, appeared to be unable to account for nearly half an hour of time."
"Strange." There was a long, considering pause. Like he was lost in deep thought. A moment later he nodded to himself."Okay. You're free to go."
"Mira?" Lyle's eyes slowly adjusted to the bright light of the outside as it came rushing in through the open door.
"What do you think you're doing to him, Val?" Mira only glanced at Lyle, then directly sent Val a question.
The dagger in Val's hand was as clear as day.
"Oh, just a little rough play. Not something a prude like you would understand." Val's smile was coy. Then right in front of her she continued to rub herself on Lyle and suck at his neck.
With that knife of her's threatening him he didn't dare resist.
If he had just a few inches to work with he thought he could get away. But with it pressed so firmly against him right now, and his knowledge of Val's speed, he didn't try anything.
And yet, even now, he couldn't help but notice how firm and tight her legs were...how good she smelled...
"I think you'd be surprised." Mira, a woman Lyle had come to identify as the big sister of the group for her maturity and level-headedness, did something he never would have imagined her capable of.
With her eyes focused on him she slowly, carefully, lifted her shirt over her head. He saw her face become clouded in desire, the same as Val's own. .
What that hell is wrong with them...
They were his friends. His comrades. People he trusted. Why would they do this? What was the point? ...Was this actually happening?
"Mira!" Val laughed. "Who'd have thought you of all people would be so eager. It's unbelievable. Fine, I guess one more wouldn't hurt." Val said magnanimously.
"Please. You say that, but didn't you just want him for yourself? That's not nice Val, you know the rest of us wanted him too but you didn't even think to share."
"Yeah, who said you were the only one who could have fun?"
"We're like sisters, aren't we? Sisters share eveything, you can't be so stingy!"
One by one other familiar faces started to come through.
Lyle paled. He felt a cold dread coil around his heart.
"Bitches. You followed us?" Val asked. Without waiting for their reply, she went on. " And really, everything? Don't be ridiculous." She frowned severely. "Even if I did feel that generous, there's only one of him!" Val's face was full of livid ferocity. Baring her canines she looked ready to kill.
It was at this time that one of the women, Lissandra, a pretty blonde Lyle had more than once fought side by side with, brushed her hand along Lyle's arm. A look of rapture came to life on her face.
"Just let us touch him...we can wait...we can take turns...please..." Her words came through shallow breaths.
Lyle felt that flames in his chest wildly flicker and burn, sending him shockwaves of pleasure as Lissandra touched him.
No...were these...really his emotions?
Or were they...her's...?
The flames licked at his skin, and Lyle's control was being assaulted by a need for the fires to be extinguished.
"Bell...our Bell..." The other women, crowding the space within, started calling out to him. Touching, groping, pulling at everything they could.
His coat was being taken off as Val seemingly accepted their deal. Lyle was just frozen there, still denying the reality of the situation. Then he saw Mira go to her knees to work on his belt.
He couldn't take it. He felt sickened, disgusted by their actions.
They were supposed to be his friends, yet they so easily turned on him like this? Why? Was he supposed to just lay here and allow them to do as they pleased? Was he seriously expected to have his dignity stepped on like this?
This wasn't right. He didn't accept it. He wouldn't accept it!
It was in that moment that he pushed Mira away, reached for his sword and readying to fight them off by force. Dagger? So what? Let her use it! Better he die than allow them to take him in such a way!
But someone stopped his hand and kicked at the back of his knee.
Amazingly, Lyle fell.
...But how? He'd never been taken down so easily before!
"See, you barely put up a fight at all." One of them said. "You shouldn't lie to yourself...you want this..."
"Just lay down, and let us work. "
"We'll make you feel so good...why struggle?"
"And after this we can leave. You and us, traveling together. Enjoying each other. Doesn't that sound wonderful?"
"We can do things like this every day, all day, forever."
"Because we all...really...love you..."
As their words grew more and more insane so did Lyle himself start to feel weak.
For some reason he thought back to his conversation with Val just a while ago.
"...Grandpa had a penchant for the stuff. Well, we all do."
"Sorry, the first one didn't work so I had to use something stronger."
The prick on his neck. Was that really a mosquito? And then he remembered the dagger. Val almost never used daggers. She didn't bother to just threaten him, she pierced his skin the first chance she got.
Poison, He realized. Val poisoned me.
It was just a threat. She'd never intended to actually kill him. She just needed to wait until he couldn't fight back.
"Let go of him!"
A wild scream tore through the room like a banshe's wail, and a second later Lyle felt an influx of foreign emotions blast through his body.
Waves of pain, anger, sadness and other dark, negative feelings he couldn't give name to forced it's way into every aspect of his being.
He felt like he'd been hit with so much life that his own was under threat of being snuffed out.
Like he was drowning and floating all at once.
The souls of uncountable numbers of men and women seemed pass through his body, each bringing with them their own regrets and personalities.
He gasped for air.
And just like that every single woman surrounding him crumpled to the floor.
His head was spinning. He found consciousness difficult to keep hold of.
"Bell...Bellamy? Bastards, what did they think they were going to do..." Again, a surge of anger that wasn't his own. "It's so weak, why is it weak? It's never like that!" Was that relief, though? He couldn't tell. Weak...he wondered what that meant...
Who was it? The voice seemed familiar, but the concern he heard within it was so alien that he thought he must be wrong.
"Hey, stay with me." Someone snapped their fingers at him. "Dammit, Val must've poisoned him."
"Fey, how on earth did you even...?" A deep, masculine voice this time.
"Shut up!" The first one--Phaedra--angrily yelled. "Leave me alone."
Jaime held up his hands innocently. "Alright, fine. I won't ask any questions. Come on, we should get him out of here first. Help me--"
"Don't fucking touch him!" She snarled.
When the hell did she get so defensive about the young man?
He saw a fierce look in his sister's eyes, hinting at danger. She was serious. Why?
"...Sorry. " She calmed down a moment later. "He just...doesn't like it. Come on, help me lift him and let's go... "