It was 3 weeks past his birthday and his parents had left long since. The Nobles that had come to meet him gradually dwindled, but those who still came to see him brought along a few pretty girls whom he assumed they hoped would catch his eye.
But it was odd. He didnt recognize any of them. And the girls, too, didn't seems familiar to him. They didn't even act like high-born Noble ladies.
Their dresses were cut either too low or too high, sometimes both, and they moved with a wicked saunter that made their hips sway enticingly.
Their perfume was rich and intoxicating to the senses.
Their eyes peered at him with heated gazes which made him feel distinctly uncomfortable, though he made certain to not let it show on his face.
He knew exactly what they intended and what the Nobles' intentions were in bringing them.
The visits were a welcome distraction though, Lyle not wanting to think about his little misunderstanding with Sophia longer than he had to. She didnt want to see him anymore, and he respected that wish as because Lyle thought the days of their companionship was now at an end.
Though perhaps they would remain friends once things truly calmed down he knew that it was unlikely that they would ever become what they used to be. He didnt like that she simply assumed the worst of him, and if she would not come to try and get a real explanation from him then he felt he should not have to be the one to seek her out.
After all, he had done no wrong.
Cecelia still came over, nearly everyday now. They talked more than they used to instead of simply training. Though Iris still grew grumpy everytime she came over, she relented after some pampering from Lyle. That girl could be troublesome but to Lyle she had no real resistance.
Cecelia had once mentioned what her favorite flower was during the talks that they held and she seemed surprised that he knew what it was already. To which he reminded her of their first meeting, how she pretended to be Sofia and said casully how her favorite flower was orchids.
Lyle laughed as she expressed shock that he would remember something like that after so long.
He enjoyed having her over more often but her presence was, in a way, hard to bear. Though he could never mistake her for her sister, he could not deny that those two were nearly identical in terms of looks.
He often wondered why she would be here with him instead of showing solidarity with her sister, but she replied once that Sophia being her sister had nothing to do with them. He agreed. Cecelia was a good friend to him for a long time now and he didnt want to give that up.
He still found it odd, but she said that everything was fine and so he didnt question her further.
He noticed that she smiled more now, brighter too. He had asked if something good happened, but stopped as he discovered that she showed a complex expression.
In any case Cecelia was important to him even now, an irreplacable friend that he trusted with his life. She had never done him wrong before and he valued her too much to let the situation between him and Sophia come between them.
One day, when he was walking idly with Cecelia after another training session, he recieved a call from father via the long range magic device used for communication. It was a mirror-like object that was enchanted so that two people could talk face to face.
After bidding farewell to Cecelia he talked with his father whose face was showing signs of unrest and tiredness.
The call was concerning.
"Son, there's trouble brewing in the demon continent and I have to take care of some things. I'll have to be away for a while. I dont want to leave your mother alone so she'll be on her way to your place shortly." He rubbed the bridge of his nose, a sign of him being both exhausted and a fair bit stressed out.
" What sort of trouble?" He asked.
His father sighed. " There's a group of extremists causing trouble between the demon and human continents. At least that is what is believed. The powers that be want to confirm their existence and crush it before things get too out of hand. And so as you can figure out, I'm the one who was called in to help with the matter personally. Not much discovered yet but, worryingly enough, there's even been signs that there may be Devils involved." He said grimly, his blue eyes darkening.
Lyle grew serious.
Demons were mainly humanoid beings with horns, skilled in magic arts. Though they used to fight with the human race, things were peaceful for a long time now between the two.
Only the Church of the Five Saints still held hostility with demons in general. Well, that wasn't entirely true. Many humans still hated and feared demons but they were a bunch who disliked them only because of misconceptions.
But it was the Devils who were the true problem. There were two types: The first group were mages that lost control of their magic power, growing both insane and more powerful.
Then there was the second group: Those even more mysterious creatures that spawned from a mysterious realm assigned the codename Hell.
Hell was thought, once upon a time, to be a purely fictional place. But due to advances in science and magic causing the veil between Here and There to become much thinner, it allowed us to peek into that strange, archaic realm. It was now known to be a very real place, with very real dangers.
What's more it's denizens love to feed off of life energies....among others, though this was their favorite. They carried numerous tools of frightening destruction. All of which made them natural enemies of basically all creatures alive.
Lyle read that Devils from Hell are also masters of Sin, curse magic capable of giving incredible might at great price. It was a special sort of magic once the subject of much research. However they were now considered taboo amongst most mages.
Not all curse magic was exactly so frowned upon, but the Sin Series was a case where the dangers they presented were too extreme for them to not be so thoroughly shunned by society. The problem was that some few people still practiced it.
The reason for the Sin Series being judged so harshly was something that was common knowledge.
Anyway the reason why demons were hated by other humans was because the general populace thought demons were Devils. Wrong, but that was how things were.
On the subject of demons, though demons were not as strong as Devils, they were still a force to be reckoned with.
If a war broke out between the two continents the number of human deaths would probably be much higher than demon deaths. And if a Devil was involved then no matter which of the branch it fell under it would be a damn pain to deal with.
His father continued. "Apparently there was an assassination attempt on Imperial Princess Su'Mei'rou. An attack said to have been orchestrated by human hands. Which has caused discontent between us and the demon race. My sources tell me that this group likely has human allies. Ironic, considering what we believe their goal to be."
Lyle recognized the name instantly.
Su'Mei' rou, a young lady of 16 who has always been known to openly support healthy relations between the demon race and the other races of the world. A person very likely to be beloved by anyone she meets despite her penchant for being quite the handful. She's even said to be a gifted mage, and that's by demon standards. Something Lyle knew to be true. The girl certainly was exceptional.
As for the way he knew this, it was because she had once visited the human continent in order to attend a festival held by the four major races of the human continent. It was something that the girl "Absolutely had to see!"
And as luck would have it his father was the one tasked with escorting her through the continent for the duration of her stay.
He had been 11 at the time, his father taking him, his mother and the 9 year old Iris along with him to see the grand festival which only happened once a year. He met the princess during that time, on numerous occasions. She was 12-- one year his senior--and the two got along fine, laughing and playing together often.
She'd displayed her talents many times back then, always astounding Lyle.
Lyle smiled in reminiscence as he thought back to those days.
Though they had not talked much for a few years now he was still concerned for the kind and cool girl he had once known.
He looked at his father. "Is Mei alright?"
"Yes, she's fine. She was able to protect herself through some cleverly designed magic. That girl hasn't changed." Father faintly smiled.
"And how long will you be away?"
"I don't know. " He pause. "Lyle, listen. There's something I have to show you and Iris. Something concerning the Grayborne family. I have some time before I have to meet with the Council concerning these extremists. Expect me there in a few days. Also, stay away from the Alderton estate for a while. I can't tell you why, but just do it. "
Lyle smiled bitterly. " Father, I neglected to tell you this but Sophia and I are no longer together. I have not been to her place in a while. "
"You. . .You already broke up?" Father looked at him oddly. " I don't know whether that's a good thing or bad. The Marquis, I wonder what he'll do. What he wanted. . .probably won't happen now. This. . .He wouldn't do something drastic right. . .?" He muttered softly. It was so quiet that Lyle didnt pick up the words.
His father suddenly came back to his senses. " No, don't worry. Just. . .If you see the Marquis, be cautious. He had a lot riding on you and Sofia marrying. And it wasn't a matter of money or connections. . ." His father gave a vague warning.
With that, the connection broke and he was left feeling a disturbing chill under the bright rays of the sun.
3 hours later.
"Hehe, big brother~!" Iris pestered him.
He ignored her.
"Big brother, don't do that. Why are you so cold to me recently? Is it that Cecelia-bitc--Ah, I mean, is this to do with that Cecelia? That isn't fair, why don't you spend time with me anymore?" Iris looked up at him with tears in her eyes.
Lyle smiled down at her ". . .Iris, my dear sister, how can you say that when you haven't let go of my arm for the past three hours? Its probably lost blood circulation, you know."
It was true. As soon as she saw that Cecelia had left she instantly ran down and threw herself at him.
Previously to that Lyle had been walking up the stairs of the foyer after his talk with father, heading up to the second level of the house towards his room in order to rest.
This was the moment when Iris appeared, jubilantly shouting, "Big brother~!"
She then proceded to throw herself down the stairs so that he would catch her. Which he did, his arms hurrying to reach out so that she wouldn't get injured.
It was both annoyingly adorable and concerning at the same time. Iris was 13 now, after all. She shouldn't be doing such things.
Iris looked at him as if he had just said something ridiculous. "Big brother, if I dont do this then you wont hold me at all! This is unfair!" She cried. "You used to always hold me, but now you barely seem to do so at all! Now instead of having some quality family time with your lonely sister, you're always either training with that brute or talking with that girl!
"Or if it isnt that then you're out teasing Melanie! And if you are not doing any of those things then you're entertaining those pesky guest of yours... all of whom are always bringing even more girls for you to talk with! Do you notice a pattern here? When do you make time for me anymore? I need my vitamin B!"
Lyle looked at her curiously with an arched brow. "Vitamin B?"
She nodded seriously. " B for Brother. You." She then giggled, smiling daintily.
Since when did I become a vitamin, Lyle thought, shaking his head in wonder.
She continued. " Why do you seem to now suddenly have an aversion to be spending time with your cute, adorable, and oh-so-loving sister who has always done her best to support you with all her little heart?" She asked, emphasizing her good points shamelessly.
He tried to stand up off the sofa that she had brought them to, but she restrained him. Seriously, how strong was she?
He sighed "Look, Iris, don't you think all this is a bit weird now?"
She tilted her blonde head cutely, bewilderment clouding her lovely emerald eyes. "What's weird?" she asked.
He used his other arm to make a vague gesture encompassing them. " This. Us. Normal siblings don't hold onto each other for hours, you know." He tried making her understand.
She clicked her tongue in disappointment. " I wish. If only big brother did hold onto me for hours on end. If that was so then everything would be fine. But even now it's me doing the holding. See?" She squeezed her little arms, rubbing her face on his shoulder as she did. All while sighing contentedly.
"Yeah, that is what I'm talking about. Iris, it was cute before, but if anyone sees this then there will be a lot of misunderstandings. Troublesome ones. Get it?"
There already were, actually. Many rumours floated about between them. Which made Lyle want to lsh out angrily at those who spread them, not wanting his family and Iris to be the subject of such talk. No, especially Iris...
He didn't want her to included in such vulgar conversations.
Iris, however, seemed not to care.
"Yes. But so what?" She narrowed her eyes. "Let people talk, I won't be shy regarding my feelings for you, big brother. And see, I couldn't do this before because mother and father would definitely have said something. But since we moved here together it's much easier to do this out in the open without having to worry about mother and father speaking against it. In fact I thought that was the reason you came here, so that we could truly bond as brother and sister!
"But alas, you only had training and that Sophia woman on your mind. And then that Cecelia came. And then you two went on missions together, sometimes staying out for days! Days! Even weeks or longer! Both of you, together! The injustice! " She said as if she had been greatly wronged. "Even I, your sister, have not spent as much time with you as she has since we got here."
She seemed to wilt. becoming extremely depressed.
To explain, it was mainly him and Iris living on the estate now. The reason for him living here being because A'daire made his home inside Varric with his wife.
So to continue with training he had to stay here. As Lyle had dozens of sevants, Miss Belle and A'daire to keep watch, he was allowed to stay here full-time by the time he was 14. Though Iris followed him.
Still, his parents often visited. His mother especially.
"Forget all that. Point is, we can't do this anymore. it will be seen as unhealthy. I myself don't have many problems with it but I do know that this isn't proper. I feel like if this continues we may someday enter a dangerous road the likes of which we will be unable to come back from. And pardon me, but I've no intention of doing so. "
"So you dont really have a problem with it? Then why say anything? Dont care what others think, big brother. The boundless love we have for each other as siblings cannot be comprehended by mere monkeys." Iris smiled serenely.
She leaned her head against his arm and closed her eyes. " As long as big brother is here then I don't really care about other people. Mother and father the only exceptions, of course. What's wrong with this? How can any of this ever lead to a so-called dangerous road? Even if it did, how can it be considered a bad thing... "
Her voice went softer with each word, her consciousness slowly drifting away.
Lyle looked at her helplessly. This girl, she probably didn't even know what that meant. So, it was fine. Nn, everything was fine. Because the serious implications of those words were lost on her.
This is what he firmly told himself in his mind, refusing to believe otherwise.
....After some time his thoughts began to wander and he started thinking of Cecelia.
Sometimes he caught her looking at him with a difficult to describe expression, as if she had something to say that was on the tip of her tongue.
Other times she would casually touch him, her hand lingering for just a hair too long.
He thought that perhaps the relationship, or lack thereof, between him and Sophia had made her a bit unhappy.
Perhaps those lingering touched were a sort of reassurance. For a long time she thought that they would become in-laws someday and now that they had become this close the past year or so she...well, she likely felt cheated.
So maybe the touches were because she was seeking some way to be certain that he was still there. He could also take it to mean she held some sort of special feeling for him, but their relationship had never been like that at all.
And if it was true that she worried about such a thing then she needn't worry.
She was one of the people he trusted most in the world, one who always had his back.
Whatever happens between him and her sister, at the very least she would remain a constant in his life.
That was what he decided.