"He's waking up, I'll go get Jaime."
Lyle slowly opened his eyes, instantly alert.
He took only a second to take in his surroundings, then rolled off the bed and jumped towards the voice.
With the greatest of ease, in the midst of a pure instinct and rage, he pinned a lithe body to the wall by her neck.
"Bell, you asshole...what the fuck...stop...." Val gagged, struggling for breath.
Someone by his side stalked up and put a soft hand on his shoulder, and Lyle felt all his anger vanish as if it were sucked out of him.
"Put her down." And he did. "Val, leave us." Val fell to the floor, and throwing him a look of annoyance and injustice, she marched away in a huff while muttering curses at him.
Lyle's anger, upon seeing that, instantly came back.
He turned to Phaedra, snarling. "What was she doing here?"
"Watching after you." Before he exploded again, she quickly added, " Don't worry, she's back to normal now. And I was keeping an eye on her in case she wasn't."
"She poisoned me!" He was not appeased by the news at all. "She and the others, they--!"
He couldn't even say it without feeling as if a sickening bile rose in his throat.
"I know." Came the quiet reply " I'm sorry."
Lyle...had no words. He was stunned. Seeing how she folded her arms and looked away, her voice low, he couldn't form any sort of retort.
This was perhaps the first time he'd heard those words sincerely directed at him by her.
"They...they don't remember anything." She explained after an awkward silence. "...Are you alright?" Concern? From her?
"Why do you care?" He asked suspiciously.
His muscles went taut, ready for action.
"I don't." She replied flatly, her usual coldness coming back.
Only now did he calm down. "As it should be."
But something was weird. He, for a moment, saw her eyes flicker downward.
A slow awareness, now that he wasn't in attack-mode, dawned on him. He looked down at himself in rising horror.
...And discovered he was naked.
"Why am I...?" Another suspicious look came over him.
"Some of them lost control of their bladder. Right on top of you. And one on your side. It's fine though, Boris and Murphy cleaned you up. "
"I see." He was glad he passed out before that.
He smirked, "I suppose it's not all bad. At least we're even now." Lyle calmly walked to the bed and covered himself with the blanket.
His dignity was already unrecoverable at this point, so he didn't mind it.
Her eyes narrowed at him spitefully. "Erase that from your memory!"
"Not gonna." His smirk only grew more arrogant. "In fact I think I'll even draw a painting of it from memory and spread it across the continent."
"Shameless bastard, don't you dare!" A dagger mysteriously appeared in her hand, then flew towards his head and nearly clipped his ear. It sunk into the wall behind him beautifully.
"Alright." He agreed easily, unruffled by the attack. "I have no desire to relive that memory anyway."
"Please, you know it was the most amazing day in your pathetic life." She sneered. "Disgusting pig, you probably used up all the luck accumulated by your ancestors to be able to witness me bathing."
Lyle laughed. "You're seriously overestimating yourself. You're a beautiful woman, but not that beautiful. As if I'd care to even look at you twice. You're just not my type."
She stopped. "You think I'm beautiful?"
"Women really do hear what they want, don't they?" Lyle raised a brow. "Don't get ahead of yourself. You're only an average beauty, nothing to be proud of."
She prepared another dagger, but his next words stopped her in her tracks.
"Also...thank you, Fey."
The would-be murder weapon dropped to the floor. "I'm sorry, what?" She blinked.
" I said thank you. For helping me. If you hadn't, I...Well I'm not sure what would have happened." He didn't want to think about it.
"You're... welcome...I guess." She looked incredibly awkward just then, obviously not knowing what to do or say in response.
"So how'd you do that thing?" He looked around for some clothes in the small room. They had to be at an Inn.
"What thing?" She appeared to be calming down with the change in topic.
"I don't know. It was weird, like my emotions were going out of whack. Such a strange feeling...and then everyone just dropped. Was that some sort of blood magic?"
Phaedra was already shaking her head. "I didn't do anything."
"Liar. Come on, tell me. What--"
"I. Didn't. Do. Anything!" She glowered at him.
"Fine, keep your secrets." Lyle gave her a dirty look. "Petty woman. I truly dislike you."
"No, you don't." She spoke flatly.
"Oh?" He shot her a doubtful look. "And how, pray tell, can you be so sure of that?"
"I can feel it." It was such a simple answer.
"I wouldn't put to much stock in these feelings of yours." Lyle said.
"I never said they were mine. "
"Brother!" Before he could question her about that weird little statement the door sudden;y burst open and a golden streak leapt from the entrance, clearing five feet in an instant to nearly knock Lyle off his feet.
"Iris!" Lyle exclaimed, shocked. "Why're you here?"
"I felt as if brother was in danger, so I got here as soon as I could!" She explained shortly.
Lyle turned to Phaedra for a better explanation.
"She and the rest of your entourage tracked us down shortly after you left." The young woman said. "We tried to tell the girl to calm down but she just kicked Boris and Jaime in the shins and threatened to go to the city guards and tell them they touched her if they didn't go and help look." Came the monotoned reply. Phaedra showed a rare smile. "Little brat, I have to say I'm impressed. That brother of mine has probably never had someone be so rude to him before except our father. Really put him in his place! Boris too, I'd bet." She chuckled.
"Good thing she did though." Another person popped their head in through the door. Boris. "A few minutes later and who knows what would have happened? The kid might have been a father by now. "
Boris's face showed unease. The way the women acted was just...strange. He really wanted to know what was going on.
He regarded the young man in front of him cautiously. The guy was as strong as an ox, and now he somehow gained the ability to make the women go into a serious heat season.
Was he really human? This guy...
"I can't believe we didn't warn you. We knew the women were acting weird, how could we have forgotten it? Son of a bitch! What the hell was wrong with us?" Murphy and Nyk, ever a pair, walked in just as Boris was thinking these things and the kid had a face full of guilt.
"Are you alright?" Nyk's discerning gaze roamed up and down Lyle's body. Seeing as how he was naked under the blanket, he looked from Lyle to Phaedra with heavy suspicion--and perhaps relief?
"Sorry, are we interrupting something?" Murphy also noticed, but didn't have Nyk's tact. "We can come back if you two need to...sort out your issues together." His face was full of lewd suggestion.
"Don't be disgusting." For once Lyle and Phaedra were in perfect sync.
As expected, Iris locked onto Phaedra with an intense focus.
"Thank you for helping my brother." To everyone's complete astonishment, Iris bowed her head and sincerely thanked the woman.
Phaedra's mouth fell open. "Hold up shrimp, I thought you hated me?"
Iris nodded sagely. "You and I could never be anything but enemies, however, I found that you are the only trustworthy woman my brother is friends with." She told the hrt. "Were it not for your inability to see how kind and cool my brother is perhaps we could be friends. But I fear you might also become like every other no-good woman if that were ever the case," She went on."So I suppose this is the only way we can live together on this planet. With you and brother no longer fighing, I can tolerate you."
It was a rather sensible response, in a certain way.
"Thanks...?" Phaedra wasn't sure what was happening. It felt like she was being complimented, yet also not...
"Brother..." Iris hesitated, looking at her brother with worry. "Are you okay? I heard something about poison...."
"I'm fine, Iris." He rubber her head affectionately.
"But, brother, are you sure? This is a serious matter!" This time Iris was not to be placated so easily.
"If I wasn't fine, would I be so lively?"
"...Probably not..." But she still fussed, not entirely convinced when it came to something like this.
Boris tried to reassure her. "The poison was only meant to stun him for a while, didn't last long after we got him the antidote. Your brother was never in any danger, lass." At this, Iris seemed to become more relaxed. " Well, his purity may have been though."
Iris went wide-eyed when she heard this, obviously terrified at the thought.
But she swallowed it down. "That's...good." She forced out. "And thank you too, Mr.Boris. Also, I'm sorry about your shins..." Iris made an apologetic face.
Boris grinned. "No worries, your concerns were right on the mark. And besides, I like women with a bit of spunk. Means they're spicy, a nice flavor. Goes great with soup." His teeth looked exceedingly sharp in that moment, causing Iris to go pale.
"I'm shocked, big guy. I didn't know your tastes ran that young." Phaedra's cool comment made the smile disappear instantly.
Boris sent her a mean look. "Quiet, you. A bit of teasin's well within my rights. She nearly sullied my honor, you know?"
"What honor?" Lyle asked, as if genuinely curious. "You're a merc, not a knight."
"Yeah but we're gentleman mercs. " Murphy cut in, looking offended.
"I once saw you robbing the corpse of a merchant you killed, bury him, then piss on his grave." Phaedra said disdainfully.
"That fucker deserved it."
"You killed him two days after buying "magic cologne" he said would make women more attracted to you." Phaedra's eyes were full of disdain.
"And I smelled like horse shit for a week. I'm not sorry! People like that who cheat others deserve what they get!" He asserted firmly. It wasn't only him who got cheated!
The guy also sold meds...which were, of course, fake. So his conscience was clear.
"Gullible idiot." She shook her head.
"Iris, where are Cecelia and Melanie?" Lyle ignored them and began questioning his sister.
"Downstairs holding off that annoying woman. She followed us. I really don't like her." She pouted.
"Sera's here too? Damn." Of course, if Iris and the others were here it should be expected that she'd follow them to him. "Alright, where are my clothes?" Lyle raised his voice and asked.
"Here." Nyk threw a brown sack at him.
Lyle rose, then retreated to the small bathroom off to the side.
He came out a few moments later.
"Time to put on another act, I suppose."
As soon Lyle came down the stairs he was met with an enthusiastic greeting by a lovely young woman.
The girl was extremely similar to Iris, rushing foward and all but jumping at him.
A pair of slender arms wrapped around his body, trapping him.
"I was so worried!" She buried her face in his chest. "I saw them bringing you in and thought the worst! Are you alright? Are you hurt?"
Can't you go five minutes without touching me?
He stopped himself from becoming too annoyed, bearing with it.
"I'm fine." Lyle saw Melanie standing awkwardly to the side, staring at them.
Not even a week into our relationship and I'm making her watch another woman throw herself at me....Nice, Lyle, very nice.
Guilt gnawed at him but he could only force it down for now.
The sooner he got rid of this girl, the better.
After that he'd be able to focus on his own matters, and make all this up to Melanie.
He wondered how he'd do that...it wasn't a small thing, this. Allowing a girl other than her to do something like this.
It was his own idea but he didn't think the young Lady would be so aggressive and bold with her affections. In a way it was admirable that she was so honest and fierce with her "love", but in this situation it was just suffocating and bothersome.
"So what happened?" Cecelia gave Sera a subtle glance, dismissing her a moment later. It was almost pitying, that look.
"Nothing." He responded curtly.
This didn't satisfy her. "Bell, what happened?" She persisted forcefully.
Lyle clenched his jaw, gritting out a short, "I told you nothing happened."
Cecelia blinked, at a loss.
That cold tone of voice wasn't something she was used to hearing from him. At least not directed at her.
Seeing her reaction, Lyle went on casually, "So did you find a place to stay yet?"
"Yeah." She spoke slowly, peering up quietly at him for a moment before continuing. " It's not far. I already put the carriage in storage."
"Good." He saw several knights to his far right, on alert for any trouble.
"Sera, I'm really alright." He gently pried her off of him. "You wanted me to meet your father, right? Why don't you and your friends over then go wait outside for me, and we can leave in a bit? I have to talk with the others for a while, okay?"
The girl smiled, nodding happily. "Okay, I will." She agreed easily. Then she paused. "Bell..." She began but stopped, unsure.
Sera bit her lip nervously. "When you meet my father, can you...That is to say, I still haven't told you a few things about myself...and when you find out, I just want you to know that it doesn't have to change anything."
Lyle, of course, decided to placate her. "Of course it wouldn't." He laughed lightly. "And if you want we can just take things slow and sort things out at our own pace. No need to rush things."
She shook her head. "I've waited my whole life for you, I don't want to wait any more. That's why I want us to hurry and take our vows. Once we're wed, we can have the rest of our lives to sort things out."
"Wed?" At that exact moment Melanie, Cecelia and Iris spoke up as one.
Lyle's smile nearly faltered but he held it in place.
Sera grinned widely. "Me and Bell agreed to have my father marry us later. Maybe today or tomorrow...I want to get it over with as soon as possible."
Melanie and Cecelia went pale, as if the news drained the life out of them. Shock, rejection and disbelief struck them like lightning.
Iris' eyes went dark, a burning, murderous rage coming to life within them.
Lyle quickly talked before she could blow up.
"About that...Sera, like I said earlier, don't you think marriage is a bit too soon?"
"Not soon enough, rather." She replied without a trace of discontent. "I never even thought I'd be allowed to have this. But I know everything will work out, because this is something that was meant to be."
Melanie felt like the world was spinning.
After hearing something like that, she wasn't able to stay calm!
Iris and Cecelia were equally disturbed as well, neither able to make sense of how this came to be.
"Oh, but enough about that. I'll let you go and talk." Sera said. Then without any warning, she planted a kiss on Lyle's mouth.
GIt was a long, drawn-out sort of kiss that included her standing on the tips of her toes and bringing his head down to meet her's so that she could twin her hands in his hair.
Lyle felt her soft, warm tongue slip past his lips for several seconds before she let him go.
Afterwards she glanced at Cecelia, smiled, and sauntered away.
It was then that Lyle noticed something strange.
It was the looks she got from the people around her, the stares. It was weird, because this wasn't the looks people gave a beautiful woman. Rather it felt more like they were trying to figure something out about her but not quite able to figure it out.
When she was here everyone was silent, unlike how a bar filled with people should be. It was only after she left that they started talking again.
...The four were quiet for a moment, Lyle walking to the bar desk and ordering a drink to wash the taste of the girl's tongue out of his mouth. Iris was still fuming beside him.
Melanie and Cecelia, they brooded on their own, not saying a word.
"So am I invited to the wedding?" Cecelia was the one to break the silence.
Lyle took a drink, then answered. "You can even be her maid of honor. I'm sure she'd be willing."
Cecelia was disgusted. "How can you joke about something like this?"
Lyle shrugged. "The entire thing is a damn joke. What's the problem? We both know there'll never be a wedding."
"She thinks there will be." She asserted.
But he didn't care. "She can think what she wants, it doesn't have anything to do with me."
The girl gave barked out a short-lived laugh. "Oh no, nothing at all. You're just the one who's been actively seducing her all this time."
Lyle almost didn't believe what he'd just heard. He worked hard to take the anger out of his words but they still had a hint of it regardless.
A tic formed in his jaw. "I'm distracting her, not trying to fuck her." He all but growled. "You know damn well why--"
Cecelia slammed her hand on the desk, attracting the eyes of several people. "It's not the same and you know it!" She yelled, then quieted down after noticing how her actions brought unwanted attention. "I knew you'd lead her along, but marriage? Really? You let her believe that's what you wanted?"
"She's the one who got that idea in her head." Lyle downed his mug in one go, then ordered another...something stronger this time.
"You didn't seem to really put up much of a resistance though, did you?" She mocked. "I can understand you entertaining her, but this is just ridiculous."
"It is." Lyle agreed unexpectedly. "So why're you getting worked up?"
"Because there's a difference between distracting her and making her believe you actually love her." Cecelia folded her arms.
She seemed angry. Lyle couldn't fathom why.
"So you're going to blame me for something I have no control over? You do realize the situation we're in, right? You understand why we're in it in the first place, don't you?"
Cecelia faltered. "I do, but--"
He'd reached the end of his patience. Thinking about it, why did he even have to defend himself here?
But he did it anway, even if he didn't want to.
"You do realize she could have, at any time, ordered her lackeys to start trouble with us? Even Jaime and his group? Do you think they'd have the flak to go against a Noble's orders? We aren't known for being able to take no for an answer. Especially not when that Noble is a hormonal teen with severe delusions about a fated tale of love between herself and I."
He took another long swig of his newly-acquired beverage, feeling the alcohol burn his throat. "You know, I could have kept her at bay by just being polite. But no, you had to go and get yourself exposed, didn't you? Making her feel threatened."
Lyle wasn't very merciful, because things would have been much easier if the girl had just left well enough alone. He didn't mind that Jaime and Phaedra were close by, because the loud multi-voiced noise from the bar would block their conversation from their sharp ears.
"Threatened?" Cecelia grew uneasy. She didn't know where this was going.
"What, do I have to spell it out for you?"
His eyes pierced right through her, and she felt pinned down by them. Under that gaze she always went meek, unable to defend herself.
"...No." Because deep down, Cecelia already knew.
That woman, with her status, wouldn't be concerned about other women who were of a lower class than her.
But a Noble? That she would feel on guard against.
Noble Ladies could be very greedy. Sera was no exception.
Cecelia felt it, could see the hostility in her eyes when the other looked at her.
In that girl's mind, Lyle was her's.
Even the way she'd kissed him just a while ago was a very deliberate action.
She did that intentionally, for everyone to see. It wasn't just a show of affection, but a statement, a marking of territory.
She looked at Cecelia and smiled, but that smile wasn't kind or welcoming. No, it was almost a challenge, a dare. Then just walked off without a second glance.
It was a very subtle warning, one she didn't miss.
"So you understand then." It wasn't a question.
Cecelia swallowed har, her anger deflating and replaced by a pang of guilt once again
"...I provoked her..."
"Yes. Maybe not by anything you said, or did, but just by being who you are. And I had to clean up your mess."
It was fine before. Sera was more tame, more content. She felt she was safe. But Lyle knew that would have changed as soon as she learned about Cecelia.
Because now there was someone who didn't lose out to her, who was close to the person she favored. And she'd grow restless. And maybe a bit paranoid. Maybe she'd think they had something with each other.
Maybe she'd think the person she "loved" was already taken by another. And she wouldn't be able to stand for something like that.
This was how Nobles Ladies were. They could be territorial, quick to anger. Lyle had seen it enough times to know.
Hell, his own mother was like that with his father. When they met she wasn't much impressed and didn't care much about what he did or with who. But when they started a relationship she quickly took control and held him on a tight leash.
Sera might be even worse. Lyle didn't want to find out what would happen if she got so caught up in her own jealousy that she did something extreme.
It was a very real possibility, because when a Noble Lady had her eye on a man she didn't easily let go. And that was just assuming it was another Noble she fancied.
If it were a commoner then there were several obvious reasons why a prideful Noble Lady would be even more aggressive in her pursuit.
And why wouldn't they? There'd be little to protect the other person. Little reason to back off. Everyone would believe they'd been smiled upon by a goddess anyway, what would anyone say in their defence?
"Sorry." Cecelia honestly hadn't thought that deeply into it. She knew she was the cause of why he had to put up this act, but she didn't know there was another reason aside from keeping her from asking too many questions.
If he wanted to assure her Cecelia wasn't a threat, and keep her from doing anything too heavy-handed, he could only lay it on thick with the girl.
Still, none of them liked that marriage bit.
"It's fine. Let's just forget about it."
Lyle didn't want to be mean, but Sera was getting on his nerves. He didn't like how she treated him and didn't like how different she was from how they first met.
Was this Azamat's doing? Was that the reason for all this strangeness?
He had to be, right?
...Exactly how bad would it get?
What if Melanie or Cecelia started acting weird too? Rather, why haven't they already?
...Or what if Iris, too, started....
Lyle didn't finish the thought. It was a scenario he rejected with every fiber of his being.
No. She was his sister. She loved him, but not like that. Never like that. She wouldn't be effected. She was family. His family.
He didn't dwell on these thoughts.
"Are you going yet?"
Someone came up behind them and asked such a question.
"So eager to be rid of us?" He called over the waitress. "Get the woman a drink."
"I would like to not have to see you, yes. I also don't want that girl stirring up trouble with us. Oh, keep the drink for yourself. I don't take people's charity."
He waved off her concerns. "We'll leave in just a bit. Don't worry. Plus, it's not charity. It's just a thank you."
Her eyebrow twitched. Annoyance? Uneasy? Hard to tell. "You already said your thanks, there's no reason to get all mushy. And it wasn't just me who helped."
"True, but you were the first to arrive. And frankly? I'm not sure Jaime would be able to handle Val and her poison. Not even if he was actually willing to go up against numbers like that in such a small space in the first place. Even then that was assuming he'd fight them seriously, which is doubtful. Without you, he'd probably not have been any help at all."
Val wasn't weak. And Jaime wouldn't be able to handle them all if he pulled his punches. He might not be able to handle them even if he didn't, not with so many of them.
He wouldn't have room to fight. Val would probably hit him with that poison easily.
Lyle knew who the real deciding factor was.
"I didn't help you because I care about you." She said she asserted firmly. "You understand that, right?"
"Yes, I do." She didn't like him, it was a fact. "But for whatever reason, you helped. That, at least, can't be denied. So someday I'll repay you for it."
"And how exactly could you do that, hmm?"
Lyle was thinking he might regret what he was about to do, but that didn't stop him.
"For starters, this." He reached into one of the hidden pockets of his coat and pulled out a thick coin.
It was about two inches wide, a faint, icy blue. It bore the image of a wolf on both sides, one baring it's teeth in a show of ferocious might while the other was the very picture of calm regality.
"What is it?" Phaedra eyed the coin intently, liking the lustrous blue tinge and polished shine.
"Something good." He said vaguely. "Keep it on you. Maybe someday you'll run into a situation where it'd be of some help."
"Whatever you say." Phaedra shrugged, not putting much stock in either his words or the supposed usefulness of the coin. But at least it's pretty. Nice to look at if nothing else.
She used her thumb to flick it high into the hair before pocketing it carelessly.
Seeing how she treated it with such casual disregard, he almost wanted to take it back.
Just then Murphy showed up, saying, "We know the owner of the place. There's a hidden exit in the back, leads to the docks. Said you can use it if you want."
"Stay safe." Nyk offered his own short, somewhat premature good-bye
"Thanks." Lyle felt it was nice to have friends.
"So you ready?" Murphy asked.
Lyle looked at the others, then nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, we're ready."
And just like that, they quietly slipped out.
"Young Miss." Voorhis' weather-beaten face appeared next to her.
"He'll come." She wrung her hands together nervously.
"Young Miss, it's been nearly an hour." He reminded.
"He'll be here soon." Sera told him firmly.
"Miss..." Voorhis stopped. To him the situation was obvious, yet how could he tell her? Instead he just suggested something to her.
"Perhaps you should go and check up on him?"
Sera went quiet for some time.
Then she broke the silence once more.
"He'll come." She insisted. "He will."
Sera stood outside their recently acquired carriage till her feet grew numb. Stood until the sun began to fade away.
He never came.