Cecelia and Melanie were rather quiet. Melanie especially. Though she said she was fine, Lyle knew that she had trouble looking at him now. He couldn't blame her.
When they got away they didn't go back to the Inn Cecelia and co. had found earlier, and neither did they find another Inn. No, a place like that would be too crowded with people, and they would be here for at least a week or more maybe. Winter was here and snow was starting to fall.
Soon the roads would be too dangerous to travel. They were lucky, very lucky, that few monsters and bandits had shown up while they made the journey here. It was an odd occurance but they were grateful for it.
He may even have to call his mother and inform her of him perhaps arriving home later than he thought he would.
Because of the existence known as Sera having been brought into the picutre, Lyle's plans had changed quite a bit.
Following this plan, he had Cecelia, Iris and Melanie change their look a bit.
Before they exited that hidden tunnel near the docks, he took out a change of clothes for them. He also had them change their hair styles.
Iris he especially paid attention to, making her put her hair in a topknot and leaving shortly to purchase boy's clothes for her. It pained him to make her wear them but if he could make others see her as a boy then he had to do it.
Sera would probably search for a man along with three women matching certain descriptions. This is why he did this. He'd make them all into "men" if he could do it, but...
While Cecelia might be able to pass as a man if she tightly bound her breasts, it'd still be a stretch...but there was no way to do the same for Melanie who was even more well-endowed and shapely than Cecelia...
So Iris was the only one who could pass as a boy in this case--albeit a rather pretty, feminine boy.
On another note he also changed clothes and opted to wear a simple hat before he left to procure Iris' own. It was a simple disguise but since he was the only one able to change his general aura and mannerisms, something like that was more than enough.
Needless to say while they changed he went further back into the tunnel and kept himself company for a moment.
Once everything was done he put on a cheerful, dandy-like expression before taking Melanie by the arm and walking out of the tunnel with the rest of their little gang.
To all those who noticed them they simply saw an energetic and playful-looking young man being accompanied by two beauties and a young boy who may have been the man's brother.
Lyle felt subtle envious stares being thrown his way that for some reason gave him a...very satisfied feeling. He wasn't sure why it was so.
Once he strolled along the streets for a time he sought out the local Adventurer's guild. It was a bit troublesome to find it, but a bit of asking around made it easier to locate.
The reason he went to the guild was because the Adventurer's guild was one of the largest and versatile guilds among them all.
They offered many different kinds of services, one of which dealt in real estate.
Because so many people became Adventurers, and because so many people went in and out of the various buildings associated with the guild, it was a smart idea for real estate agencies to have an office or two housed within one.
Many Adventurers needed to own their own home too, after all.
However it wasn't just homes from the real estate agencies that were put up for sale, but also the former homes of dead Adventurer guild members.
Because if there were no other kin to inherit an Adventurer's belongings, it would usually go to the guild to use or sell.
If an Adventurer owned a house and there was no one from his or her family to claim ownership, it wouldn't be put to waste. The guild would either rent it out to other Adventurers, or, in more rare cases, they'd allow the real estate agencies to sell it and they would recieve part of the profits.
Being part of a guild was a pretty serious commitment in some ways. Of course usually the guild didn't just take the belongings of a deceased member, that would be outrageous.
Only if they didn't have any other family to give the member's belongings to, or couldn't find them, would it become their's.
They were surprisingly fair in this aspect, which Lyle respected.
Lyle didn't immediately enter but instead told his entourage to wait outside for him, then he went to another building. Once he found a quiet spot without prying eyes by the back of the building he took out his Blackbox.
Thankfully no one decided to snoop. Not that they'd be able to do anything with the Blackbox anyway since it was spelled. Only those with his permission could really use it.
Once he made sure no one was nearby he took out a few bottles of liquid. Then a few large, inky-black berries.
Next he mixed the various potions together along with the juice from the berries, and out came an oily and black colored substance that smelled faintly sweet.
He didn't like this method since it was a bit crude and made his hair feel somewhat greasy after washing it off, but it'd serve his purposes.
Taking the oily substance in his hands, he worked it into his scalp. Once he was done, his hair became the same color of black as the liquid.
After taking out a miror and smiling arrogantly into it, he put the various vials and bottles away.
Now he was ready.
"You there, girl." He saw a pretty woman standing behind a large desk and greeted her without ceremony. "I'm looking to purchase a house. I require your assitance on the matter. Service me."
The words were quite overbearing, and he was sure the lady would be put off by it. Maybe even say something to him.
Yet reality was different. He only saw her stare at him a moment, blink, then make a perfect smile that must have been cultivated from years of experience.
It was a bit outside his expectations. So she wasn't new, at least. He was a bit in admiration of her, she must have been used to dealing with these sorts.
"Yessir, of course. We have a wide range of properties to choose from. To start off, may I know your price range?"
He waved the question off brusquely . "Don't bother with the price, I only need something matching my conditions."
The sales clerk felt her smile stiffen.
To say something like that he must be wealthy. And indeed his handsome, prideful looks and well-made attire seemed to also indicate this.
Though the clothing he wore wasn't anything too extravagent or expensive from her reckioning, it was a cut above the other people here since it was obvious crafted from good materials.
The young man before her gave off a very arrogant feel to him too, and the way he looked at her told that he was used to getting his way...In various ways...
The clerk felt her ears warm slightly as she thought this, but her face didn't slip.
"Alright, sir. Your condition, what would it be?"
"Something close to the Workshop. Secluded, preferably. Somewhere people won't be pestering me with noise. I'm going to be studying at the library for some time and need decent accommodations while I work on my research."
The clerk's eyes brightened. Since he need something close to that place it means he'll be there pretty frequently. He had to be quite an intelligent person then, not many had the qualifications to do such a thing. Although the library was open to the public, few really understood any of the knowledge inside.
Though maybe she shouldn't be surprised, the Workshop brought in many young scholars and geniuses from all over. It's just that most couldn't afford a property that matched the conditions this man listed off.
"I have a small estate just fifteen minutes away. It's already fully furnished, eight rooms total with a nice master bedroom that has a lovely view of the Cathedral. It's a bit old, but the house and gardens are kept in good condition. Also there's not many people who live nearby, so you can have all the privacy you need for your studies. And," She added with a twinkle in her eye, "A very large bathing area to relax in. Would you like to see a picture of the property?"
He has such pretty eyes...You could drown in them...
"No, it's fine." There was nothing warm or thankful in his voice at all. "How much?"
"That'll be 200 gold, sir." It wasn't a small sum.
A faint curl of the lip. "Is that all?" A small pouch was thrown on the desk. "You can pocket what's left over, I don't care."
Stunned, the clerk picked up the pouch. She was quite experience in this job and just from the weight of it she could tell it was clearly what you would expect from 200 coins worth of gold.
She looked inside and as expected, gold coins were all that could be seen.
...Wealthy indeed, to so casually toss out money like this....
She estimated 250 gold pieces.
"Thank you, sir." She bowed enthusiastically. Pocket the rest, he said...with money like that she'd be able to quite her job and live comfortably for some few years if she wanted.
"Just hurry on with it."
"Yessir. Please sign these." She handed him a small stack of papers and a pencil.
Lyle took them and went to work.
The woman watched silently.
His fingers are so long and slender...so elegant...he must be very good with them...
"I trust your agency values it's customer's right to confidentiality." As he slowly went through the stack, his voice suddenly rose up.
The clerk jolted upright in surprise, being broken from her thoughts.
"What?...Ah, yes. Of course." She coughed lightly, embarrassed. " Our company always places it's customer's privacy first before anything else. You can rest assured, Young Master." She smoothly changed the way she addressed him.
"Good." He took another several minutes before returning the papers.
While he signed, the clerk had already taken out a ring of keys, which he now took.
A slight hesitation."Well, no..."
"Fine. I'll be leaving then." He turned his back carelessly, clearly done with her.
The clerk felt a sudden sense of panic. She reached out and grabbed his hand from across the desk.
"Wait." She stopped him.
Lyle's gaze returned to her face.
"What is it now? Was there something else?"
The clerk paused for several moments. "No. No, not really. I was just going to say that if you have any questions about the property, or require other kinds of assistence, you may come and find me." She finally said.
She saw a look of understanding flash in his eyes.
"I see." A small smirk adorned his lips just then. "I'll take that to heart. Afterall since I've already paid... I may as well enjoy your services in full."
The clerk's cheeks went red at the implication the words held, and as she stared up at him she was acutely aware of how she reacted to the way his hand felt under her's.
How strong it felt, how...warm...hot...
Her mind went blank, and by the time she recovered he was already a few steps away.
He peered back at her, his brilliant, limpid blue eyes pinning her where she stood.
"Feel free to drop by some time, Miss."
Lyle was shaken.
He saw it there, plain as day, in that woman just now.
How she looked at him, how her eyes glazed over and gave a sharp inhilation of breath as she touched him.
It was a weird smell. Not unpleasant. He wasn't even certain how he picked it up.
But it was sickly-sweet and spicy, overpowering his senses.
He remembered how she held his hand. Not just touching, no...she was feeling him. It was in the way her thumb stroked his knuckle, a gentle carress.
In the way her mouth dropped ever-so-slightly as she stared up at him, how she licked her lips with her tongue and leaned forward.
As if trying to get closer to him.
His thoughts were a mess.
Why? What was with all this? It's like women went into heat whenever he was around them. First Val and her girls, then this clerk woman...
But why, how, were Cecelia and Melanie and Phaedra uneffected? They, at least, didn't look to have the same reaction to him as the other women did.
It was incomprehensible.
Why were some effected, but others weren't?
What was different?
He had no answer, so in the end he decided to stop worrying about it until he had more information.
He thought back to his plan, contemplating silently as he returned to that quiet spot and took out some water to wash the black off his hair.
...He wasted so much money...
Money itself didn't matter much to him, but that wasn't a small sum! It was wasteful! Too wasteful!
He comforted himself by reminding himself that it was necessary. And, well, he wouldn't lose any sleep over it either way.
Lyle had to put on a good act. He wasn't stupid, he didn't do all that for nothing.
When it came to wanting to hide from others, one of the best methods was to use a bit of misdirection.
Rather than trying to leave people with as little impression as possible, it was better to leave people with an even stronger impression!
An impression that was different from your usual self. Something they would never associate with you.
An impression that was strong and lasting.
And the arrogant young master type was exactly the kind of impression that would accomplish this. It was easy to do, and perfect. Perfect in how common it was.
He even used one of his other aliases when putting his signature on the paper. He only had one "real" persona that he actually used, but the amount of names and forged backgrounds he had were several.
Everything he did since leaving that Inn was to make it look like Bellamy Greyson had just up and disappeared.
He, Cecelia, Melanie and Iris, they all looked different. The house he purchased was an estate where few would venture by, if any, and was bought under a fake name.
And once he got settled, he'd change his hair and eye color again. Bellamy Greyson, at least during his stay here in Zeshar, would be no more.
No one in the city saw how they really looked, and if Sera searched she would find that no one matching any description she gave would pop up.
She'd never find him.
They arrived at the estate, the large, foreboding doors opening with a loud creak when they entered.
Sounded like the hinges would have to be oiled. He'd do that later.
"Smells dusty." Iris wrinkled her nose.
"It looks nice though." Melanie examined the interior with an expert eye, already thinking of how best to clean it up.
"So this is where we'll live for the time being." Cecelia walked towards the living room and ran a hand along the plush couch near the fireplace.
It'll just be the four of us here, She thought idly. "Could be worse."
"I like it," Lyle shrugged. "Seems cozy."
"I'll let in some air."
Melanie went to go open the windows, and a large gust enveloped them. The curtains billowed violently as the air rushed in before settling down.
" This..." She coughed lightly, dust having gotten in her throat, "Might take some work."
"The water works." Lyle went to inspect the kitchen to his left, satisfied when seeing the water gush forth from the sink.
That was fast. He didn't think they'd turn on the utilities that quick.
"I'm going to check the bathing room. I could go for a good soak." Cecelia hadn't had a real bath in quite some time now, and it bothered her.
Usually they cleaned themselves in nearby rivers if there was one, but more often than not they had to use a cloth to give themselves a good scrub.
Which was somewhat as effective as a shower or bath, but was much less relaxing and satisfying as one.
"For once we agree on something." Iris followed her through a hallway, leaving him and Melanie alone.
The girl didn't talk to him, instead she just gazed out the large window and stood motionless.
Lyle, feeling a tension in the atmosphere, couldn't stand it anymore.
He walked and placed himself beside her, watching the small garden below.
"Yes, Young Master?" She asked hollowly.
Back to that again, huh...
Lyle couldn't help being frustrated.
"Tomorrow, let's go on a date."
Out of the corner of his eye he saw her twitch, then look at him with a surprised expression.
Melanie, who was caught completely off guard, nearly didn't believe her ears.
"I'm sorry, what was that?"
She must have heard wrong, right?
"A date." He answered calmly.
No, she hadn't, he really did say that!
"Why so suddenly?" She cautiously inquired.
"I think it's time we have one. Not interested?"
"No! That's not it. It's just...don't you have things to do?" She didn't want to keep him from his business.
"It'll probably take a while to find what I need anyway, there's not really a need to rush it and stress myself. "
"But isn't it important?"
"It is. But so are you."
A date. A date, he said....Melanie had never been on one...
She felt excited about the idea, but quickly deflated.
"No thanks." She refused with a sad smile. " You should probably just go find Lady Seraphina and take her on one instead. " Her words were quiet and lonely and unmistakably bitter.
"I could do that." Melanie felt her heart break at this, flinching. "But I'd much rather go with you."
"Why? I'd probably not be much fun anyway..." She became depressed thinking of every single reason she'd not make good company.
"I'd be happy even if we could just take a walk together."
"I'm...I'm not really good at conversation either."
"As long as you're with me, we don't have to talk. We can just enjoy the scenery."
Melanie wrung her hands together nervously. "I'd probaby gawk at everything like a country bumpkin..."
"Who could blame you? It's a beautiful city."
"I'll just embarrass you..."
"I'd never be embarrassed by you."
"But...I..." Melanie felt her resolve weakening, but she was out of her comfort zone here.
She was sure that she'd mess everything up somehow, like she always did. That she'd do or say something and ruin the date, that he'd regret every taking her out.
She could picture it now. Her just stiffening up and following him mechanically as they walked through the city, too scared and anxious to speak up at all.
Then making the whole atmosphere awkward after an unsuccessful attempt at conversation that just leaves everyone confused.
She wanted to cry just thinking about it.
"Melanie, I like you. You know that, right?"
But it didn't help at all. She just got even more upset.
"You say that, but you wouldn't even look at me if you and Lady Sophia hadn't broken up." She mumbled. "And if you weren't guilty about...that." She sighed. "Young Master, you really...I don't see how you can like me all that much anyway. It's not like you don't have much better options."
Melanie thought about Sera and Cecelia, those two.
"Compared to them I'm not anything at all." She whispered. " I should give up and stay away. I'm just a maid. I don't belong here. Just extra baggage. Useless. I should just crawl into a hole and waste away..."
Her negativity had reached heights that even she didn't know she was capable of.
Seeing her vacant, forlorn gaze, Lyle got a mad and directly pinched her cheek.
Melanie cried out in pain. "H-hey, stop, that hur--Ow! Oh! W-Wait a minute, that really--"
"Do you know your wrong?" He asked, not caring about her pain at all.
Confusion. "But...I didn't do anythin--Ah! Stop it!" Another firm pinch from him cut her off.
"I'm not stopping until you understand."
Tears built along her eyes. "W-What did I do?"
"Melanie." Lyle was merciless, his tone hard and immovable.
The girl was very pitiable, her eyes downcast." Y-Young Master, I'm sorry, I under--" Another pained cry. "What was that for!" Once she was released she turned her back, squated down and held her reddened cheeks tenderly before giving him a wronged look.
"You know what." He was entirely unremorseful.
"You...You...Meanie!" Melanie continued rubbing her cheeks, sending him a glare. "Rogue! Scoundrel! D...doo-doo head!"
She stopped dead in her tracks when she realized what she'd said. She froze, then buried her face in her hands.
Lyle smiled in amusement. "Doo-doo head?" His mouth twitched, as if surpressing laughter. "That's...quite something. You really have a way with words."
Melanie was blushing fiercely. "Oh gods...kill me now..."
Laugh couldn't stop a soft chuckle from escaping his lips. "Melanie...I swear you're one of the most adorable creatures I've ever come across."
She began banging her head on the wall, mortified by his words.
Seeing her like this, he gradually calmed down.
Lyle was driven by an uncontrollable urge at that moment, kneeling beside her and bringing her into his arms without warning.
"Melanie." He felt like his voice may have been a bit gruff just then, but continued anyway. "I'm sorry. I'm really sorry. I made you watch something you shouldn't have, and I know that wasn't fair. I...I wronged you. I understand that."
"But what you said just now, I can't forgive it. I know what I did was bad, that I hurt you...but you shouldn't ever think you have to compare yourself to others. You'll always be perfect just the way you are, and I really hope you'll understand that yourself one day."
These words, he sincerly meant them. Melanie was great. She was kind, and caring, and helpful... She wasn't greedy and covetous, she wasn't prideful or full of spite.
She never wished anyone harm, and her ability to forgive was exemplarary. It wasn't an ability Lyle himself possessed.
"Young Master...." Melanie's muffled voice reached his ears.
"That date...I think I want to go after all..."
The night was dark and cloudy.
Lyle looked down at the small map in his hands, checking it twice.
This is the place alright, He thought.
The building was small, the customers few. Just a modest amout of light streaming out from the old wooden door. A very unasssuming place you'd not expect to see in a place of magnificent and large establishments like Zeshar.
It was a bar, a very worn out looking bar that seemed way past it's prime.
He entered confidently.
An old man with a sharp, pointy moustache was idly cleaning a glass behind a long desk.
Standing in front of him, Lyle produced an identical coin to the one he gave Phaedra some hours ago.
He placed the coin on the desk without a word, watching him carefully.
The man's eyes shined brightly, but otherwise he stayed expressionless.
"Come with me." Was all he said, beckoning with a finger.
Lyle followed him, relieved that it was the right place after all.
"Young Master Lyle...I'm surprised, I hadn't been informed you'd be coming."
Lyle was taken underneath the bar to a large room with a round table where a stack of maps and papers rested. The room was brightly lit, with bookshelves lining the walls.
The man who had spoken was not very tall, but he had an imposing presence and cunning eyes.
Brown hair, a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles, a scholarly sort of face you'd associate with a kindly uncle.
But he gave out a very...intimidating air regardless.
"And you are...?"
The man smiled politely. "Excuse my rudeness. My name is Isaac, and I am the overseer of the intelligence network stationed within the city of Zeshar. I am at your service, Young Master." He gave a deep, respectful bow.
"No need to stand on ceremony, Isaac. Raise your head." Lyle motioned for him to rise.
And he obediently heeded the command. "Yes, Young Master." He nodded calmly. "Now then...what is it you wish of me?"
Lyle moved forward and peered down at one of the maps on the table.
His finger tapped down on one section of a map in particular, causing the man to frown.
"I want to know the current situation of Princess Su'Mei of the Demon Continent. "