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A'daire had actually gotten home a short minute ago, but heard his disciple and wife talking. He hovered near the hallway leading to the living room, hiding his presence. Usually his wife knew when he came back, but apparently she was so engrossed in talking to he brat that she had surprisingly not noticed

When he heard that boy's comment about his wife, and then moved to see the oh-so-slight blush creep onto her face in response, he couldn't help feeling a sense of injustice in his heart.

This brat already had that maid girl, Melanie, along with the calm and cool Cecelia. His own sister, too, adored him with an overbearing affection.

He didn't simply have a flower on each arm, but one on the front too! This upstart, did he even try? What, just cause he's a bit good-looking women automatically like him? No, that wasn't all.

He was, in reality, the sort of smooth talker that made one want to hide their sisters and daughters! Whether this was something the boy did deliberately or not, he didn't know, but the lad too despicable!

A'daire's wife was a little bit of a tigress, you know? She was usually so hard to deal with! Why was it that whenever she talked to himself, she was cold and harsh, but when talking to this boy she was as amiable and polite as can be?

Isn't this too much? This boy had natural luck with women?! To unfair, simply too unfair! The gods were being too biased, weren't they? He wanted to throttle the boy. Such were his current desires. But of course, this was understandable. A'daire himself was never so lucky as this annoying upstart. What man wouldn't envy and hate him?

But Lyle himself knew none of the older man's thoughts. He sniffed in disdain.

"Hey, old man, who're you calling a homewrecker?"

"Is there anyone else who can qualify other than you?" The man shot back.

"Nonsense. I was simply talking to my good friend Meer."

"Such a intimate way you're addressing my wife. Since when were you so close?" A'daire glowered at him.

"She told me to call her that though? But that aside, old man, what trickery did you pull to coerce a top-quality woman like her into having your child and then marrying you?"

A'daire spluttered, greatly offended. "Trickery!" He exclaimed, appalled, narrowing his eyes. "Bah, this guy, listen to him! Making such wild accusations! Slander, slander I say!"

"Damn baldy, how can a woman such as her be with someone like you? It's obvious that something is wrong with this picture! If a woman such as her liked you, a no-good old man, is there any justice in the world?" Lyle said with great emotion, seemingly anguished.

"Go to hell!" A'daire was throwing daggers at Lyle with his eyes.

A sudden laugh made the two pause, clear as a bell and full of amusement. They looked at Meer, who said, "You two seem to get along so well..." The corner of her mouth drifted upwards, shaking her head.

Both of them replied in unison, "What thing could get along with that guy?" As if genuinely curious. Meer arched a brow at that.

They frowned. Or A'daire did. Lyle simply shrugged and moved on.

Meer asked, "Well, are you two done? Good. Now, dear husband...As for your words earlier...I resent that. How can I even be blamed? This young man is quite a smooth talker, you understand. Which woman doesn't like to be complimented? What, do you have such little faith in me? I'm hurt, dearest. But I'll let it slide, this time. I'll consider it even."

"Even? For what?" He asked, confused, having a bad premonition.

"Oh come now. You can't really think I don't know how often you talk to that old blacksmith's pretty young daughter, right?" She smiled darkly.

Right now, A'daire inexplicably felt as if he were caught in the eyes of a ferocious dragon...

" Old man..." Lyle cast a disapproving eye at him, full of reproach. " Doing such things when you have a wife as beautiful as this...Are you stupid? You're stupid, aren't you? Of course, you're stupid. Completely shameless and foolish. She's wasted on you, ah!" He sighed, shaking his head as if lamenting the woman's fate.

"Old man, is it?" Meer saw how fiercely her husband frowned at each use of the words and suddenly let out a terrible smile. "How quaint. Perhaps I should start using them too!"

A'daire's cheek twitched, feeling as if his chance had finally come. "Heh, if i'm an old man, then wouldn't that make you an old woman?\" But as soon as the words left his mouth he instantly regretted them.

Fuck!

The boy was right! I am stupid!

He had these thoughts run across his mind in that moment, wishing desperately he could take his sentence back.

Meer, Lyle saw, went completely void-eyed.

"Hou?" She smiled once more, kindly, like the face of death, a gloomy aura suddenly permeating the room. "Old woman, you say...My my, how courageous you've become, dearest. Tell me, how would you like to die today? I'm fond of flaying, but I think you should be the one to choose. Ah, Young Master Lyle, it seems I'm about to become a widow!" She sighed mournfully, suddenly red-eyed. "Perhaps you would like to comfort me, this lonely old lady, in her time of misery? As a man, you have to do so..." Meer peeked at him, showing a desolate look like that of a sad puppy.

(Author note: The words "young master" are supposed to actually be spelled as Young Maaster. You know, with two caps. But im lazy, so you may not see it like this too often....)

Lyle, catching on quick, showed a gentlemanly air and composure, looking at the woman warmly. "What old woman? If big sister would have me, I will of course do all in my power to ...comfort you." He raked her body with a liscentious look, giving a smile of his own.

"Oh, what a sweet boy. If only my husband, may the gods bless his soul, was as kind and compassionate as you...." She then hugged him, her tiny shoulders quivering. She looked so pitiful that if Lyle didn't know any better he would have really thought she was actually crying.

Lyle was a tad distressed, not thinking she would do something such as this. But he didn't let any sign of discomfort show. Besides, with a beauty like this deigning to hold him like so, how could he, as a man, dislike it? Thinking as much, he simply allowed it and patted her back gently, softly whispering, "There, there..."

And all while deliberately letting out a wolf-like smirk he knew would be seen by the third person in the room.

A'daire was struck dumb, his mind blank, feeling like he truly might drop dead. The woman was already treating him as if he were dead!

Little wife of mine, you're too cruel!

He saw that the two had seemingly entered their own little world and felt as if he was kicked in the stomach, extremely depresssed.

"E...Enough, I know my sins. I was wrong..."

Meer and Lyle looked at each other. "Dear boy, did you hear something just now?" The woman asked hesitantly .

Lyle shook his head. "It's probably just the wind, pay it no mind. Come now, let's get you in bed, you're freezing. Best let me help you warm up..." He had no idea exactly where the bedroom was at, but motioned for her to lead the way while he held onto her in support.

"So thoughtful....Okay, let's go. This old lady is so lucky to have a such a kind, strapping young man like you to take care of me at a time like this. However can I repay you?"

"I'm sure you'll think of something." He smiled one final time, his eyes gliding with a heated gaze over her graceful figure. After several short moments he finally retracted his look and instead rested his eyes on the woman's tender-looking lips.

A'daire couldn't stand it anymore. "Okay, okay, I get it! Fuck, you two, you're both heartless!" These two, he knew, were simply puttting on a show. But shit, they did it too well!

A'daire couldn't describe how pained he felt seeing scene this unfold, ah! That Shitty Young Master, daring to look at his own wife like that, he should just... just die!

Meer laughed at him, her eyes seeming to gloat as if in victory, as if she had won some grand prize. Then in the very next instant the two, she and Lyle, broke away.

Lyle, especially, had an incomparably amused expression when he saw the distress of A'daire, that old man who tormented him those short years ago. He had promised he

would get him back for all the pain, and he felt that now, today, he had done so several times over! He was very pleased with himself.

Who knew that a bit of acting could be such fun? Also, behind his entertained face, if one were too look deeper into things...Lyle felt a resentment that he wouldn't let show, which was a part of why he had went along with this.

The reason for this resent was simple: Although it was his father who gave the order at that time, this man was still involved. Lyle didn't dislike A'daire, not really...But if he didn't own the man so much...if he were anyone else...Lyle would have made them suffer for putting his sister in danger.

In fact, Lyle wanted to thrash the man right now. But for now he ignored all that and simply took a rather sadistic pleasure in seeing the effect of their little act.

" Oh come now, don't look so disheartened." Meer walked to him, giving him a quick kiss on the cheek. " This is simply a bit of payback. I'm quite a petty woman, you know." She chuckled softly. " Ah, and fear not. Even if I were to give my body to another, my heart would remain yours!"

"That doesn't make me feel better at all!" A'daire frowned.

"Oh, you wanted to feel better, did you? Sorry. That wasn't my intention." She replied. "Hm, whatever. I will not punish you further since we have a guest over. And a fine one at that." She glanced at Lyle, nodding her head. " Indeed, you've done a exceptional job at scultping him, dear. Yes, I did feel the power in his arms as we held each other. It was quite something. You, dear husband, have truly shown your worth!"

Meer was extremely wicked, not able to help but poke at him one last time, therefore making such comments.

Hmph. Calling her an old woman. Such insolence. This was simply divine punishment for his transgressions!

"...."

A'daire sighed heavily, thinking, it seems I don't have to worry about this wife of mine if I ever kick the bucket. I practically made a backup husband for her!

His thoughts were increasingly gloomy, going, If I ever do get offed somehow in the future, looks like that daughter of mine might even get a new daddy who's her junior! What the hell you you call that? And fuck, these two cold-blooded people, they're practically two peas in a pod! Truly too evil! Damn, I swear, they're perfect for each other, both so cruel and heartless and unforgiving! Bah, they deserve each other, hmph! This daddy, the fuck did he do to deserve such treatment? In my previous life I must have been an unscrupulous bureaucrat who betrayed his country to have such misfortune!

He got more depressed as he went on, cursing his past selves, his ancestors, his neighors and even the dog who bit him when he was a kid. But of course, he did understand why this young man would conspire with his wife like he did. He was no fool. He could sense the small tension the boy let out and understood well why he was so agitated. He knew that he would earn his hate.

At that time, though, he rationalized that the girl would be safe and sound...He knew the girl was not like other Greybornes, certainly not like Lyle and his father, but how was he supposed to know she wouldn't be fine? Her own father thought she would be safe!

He didn't understand how she could be so unlike them. Being able to seal Devils and other dark entities inside themselve were something that he was told nearly all Greybornes had the power to do! So he didn't believe she would be put in so much danger...

But then he thought of something just then: When faced with such things...how did she escape? Those corpses, how could that boy have survived after going inside? And those tendrils that entered him, just what..

Yet strangely, these sudden thoughts were gone as soon as they entered his mind...

"Okay, well, I won't keep you. I know that Young Master** Lyle must have some things to discuss with you. Yes?" She looked askance at Lyle, who nodded.

"Eh, fine. I was wondering what you, this annoying and depraved Young Master, would want with me. Even going so far as to come to my home to look for me...You know, before taking advantage of my absence to try and seduce this lovely wife of mine. Let's walk and talk, then, homewrecking Young Master."

Lyle snorted softle in indignation, but said nothing at the man's slanderous words as he moved to follow him outside.

"Good day to you, Lady Meer, I hope we have an oppotunity to talk again in the future." He bade farewell to the fairy-like beauty.

"...Yes, good-bye..."

What he didn't notice, however, was the worried look the woman sent his way as he turned to leave, her gaze flicking first to his back and then moments later to the space slightly above his shoulders. Her eyes saw nothing unusual, but she couldn't help but feel uneasy as he watched him go.

" Stay safe, dear boy. I wish you well, though it might not be of much help...Afterall, I don't have the right to interfere." The woman muttered.

She really did hope they would get the chance to speak once more someday...

*********

They walked a short distance away, the streets of Varric a bit more sparse since the rain and slowly coming back to life. The clouds dark, the air smelling of ozone, faint flashes of lightning in the distance.

Lyle both hated and loved the rain. Loved the smells, water and coollness, hated the damn mud and humidity that came with it afterwards.

"So, what'd you want to talk about?"

Lyle turned to him, watching his face closely. He said one thing. "Nos'Thragnea." The city's name. That place.

Just then, he saw a shift come into the man's eyes. A lack of life, his irises becoming dull and hazy for but an instant.

"So, what'd you want to talk about?" The man repeated suddenly."About the other day. Do you remember what happened?" Again, Lyle watched him, asking the question with deliberate vagueness.

"Other day? Hm? Oh...Right. We went to that place...I meant to ask about something too. You should be dead, you know? However, no, that doesn't seem right? You two, at that time, should have... just how are you both still...? Ah...somehow, my head seems a bit fuzzy..." A'daire shook his head, looking distraught, his fingers gently massaging his temples.

His eyes clouded, seemingly hard at work trying to remember something.

As if lost, the man's large body stopped walking, stepping onto a puddle on the ground. He stared at Lyle in confusion, seeming troubled, his mouth opening to speak. But the words didn't come, bewilderment coloring his expression.Finally, again, his eyes went lifeless. It only lasted a fraction of a second, almost unnoticable.

"So, what'd you want to talk about?" He suddenly asked, repeating himself yet again.

"...Nothing important." Lyle smiled lightly, shaking his head. " I simply wanted to tell you to keep an eye on mother for me while i'm gone. Just check up on her every now and then."

But inwardly his thoughts were on something else entirely

So it appears that those things did something to him. Merely mentioning that place gave a reaction like that. Although trying to lead him on worked a little better, ultimately, it was useless...I know he didn't forget about it, but...

Lyle couldn't help but sigh. He thought this would happen. Or at least he suspected it.

A'daire, this guy...He's been tampered with. But to what extent, and in what way, exactly?

Lyle knew from the man's posture that he was a bit on guard. He treated Lyle different, as if expecting something. He had never done so before. It was only now that the man looked at him with regret and apology lurking behind his eyes.

Lyle could tell he didn't forget what happened that day from how the man was now treating him. And from his reaction when Lyle asked more vaguely the second time, he of course knew about everything that happened. Or appeared to. Yet his exact memory of everything may be clouded.

Certain things about that day may have been hidden from his mind. Lyle wanted to see if he was any different today, and so came to see him. A'daire would have told father and mother what happened. Father also saw those tendrils enter Lyle, he knew. But not one of them ever bothered to ask about it. A'daire and father would definetely come to check on him, ask him how he and Iris survived that experience. But nothing. It was as if it slipped their minds.

Lyle felt it strange, and he was right. He could only conclude that while they might have some memories of what happened, at the very least some of the details were unclear. And it was almost like it didn't even happen. A'daire might not have much to do with it anymore, but why wouldn't his father at least come to talk to him regarding that day? He would not simply leave...

So while they retained some memories, It looked like they treated it as if it didn't happen? No, well, he couldn't be sure of that. At least when it came to asking Lyle questions about that time they seemed to avoid the topic and treat everything normally. His father must be anxious knowing the Mage-Kings were not where they were supposed to be.

Yet other than having that knowledge and planning with it in mind, he seemed uninterested in trying to discuss with Lyle what implications this could have.

Obviously Lyle would find their behaviour odd and came to confirm his suspicions. He wasn't sure exactly what had been done to them, but those three were undoubtedly the cause.

"Oh? Planning a trip somewhere?" A'daire resumed walking, posing a question.

"Yes, Zeshar. I'm taking Iris and Cecelia with me, but due to the unrest within the continent mother will be staying with us for some time. I assume that father and Alec have already sent forces here to guard mother while she's staying over, but i'd feel a bit better if you can also be there occasionally."

"No problem, boy, i'll keep my eyes open. But it must be pretty bad since he sent your mother here. Wouldn't the Greyborne Estate be much better protected?"

"It would, but it's also very well known. Although that's not the problem, I can guess. Mother more likely feels a bit lonely in that place all by herself."

The Greyborne Estate, their ancestral home which have been in the family for generations, was very glorious to behold. But it was also a bit impersonal. Or maybe, imposing? Since father was going to be busy investigating this group, he would of course be moving about. And Lyle and Iris were no longer there with her in recent times.

He did feel guilty now that he thought of it. Father sent mother here not because it was a lot safer than their own home, but because he didn't want her to be alone. He wanted her to be with family. But now Lyle and Iris were both going away. His mother may be feeling a bit down with them leaving almost as soon as she arrived.

" Besides, my place isn't half bad."

Yes. While it was not much safer, while it was not more well-guarded than the Greyborne Estate...it also wasn't much worse.

Lyle made his home in a building that father had long since secured, having various wards put in place to protect it. As for the forces he spoke of...Well, how could a family like their's not have a few elites on their payroll?

Plus, Lyle's place was near Varric, Drann Kingdom's heart, where the Royal family was located. No army with ill intent would come close, unlike with how they may treat the Greyborne Estate which was, in comparison, more secluded.

Smaller groups might attack, but they would be easily dealt with.

Of course this was all assuming that someone actually did want to try harming their family directly like that. Unless they were unafraid of provoking the army within Varric city they would keep any movement against them small, maybe sending a few dozen people, if that, to deal with them. And for something of only that level, those forces sent to protect mother while she was here would quickly put a stop to it.

"I see. Hm. Anyway, I don't know why you're going to a place like that. And i've a feeling you wouldn't tell me even if I asked. But...Are you sure you want to take your sister with you?" His face grew serious.

"I'm sure. Her presence is needed. At least things will go much quicker with her with me. But don't worry. If we run into any trouble, if any danger attempts to make it's way towards Iris...I'll eliminate it."

At that, even A'daire felt a shiver. Really, this guy, when it comes to that young girl he was more protective and fierce than probably anyone or anything he had met. And he's seen a mother Wyvern when it's children were threatened. In comparison, this boy was worse? And maybe by several degrees.

He felt stupid for asking. If anyone tried harming that girl, this young man here would make them suffer before killing them. A fast, merciful death it would be not.

He only held back when facing women, being the sort of guy he was, but try hurting his sister and he would do all he could to destroy you no matter who or what you were!

Even A'daire was nowhere near as protective when it came to his own sister. Though maybe that was because he's seen his own sister make proud kings and wild beasts into subservient dogs with little more than a look...Now that was a fearsome woman...

...Ah, no, don't think about it. Not gonna open those scars again, heh.

"I should go. Iris and Cecelia are waiting for me." Lyle announced. "Ah, right. Lovely wife you have there, old man."

A'daire grinned. "What, jealous, runt?"

"Very much so." He chuckled. "A beauty like that, who wouldn't be?" He asked with a small grin. Then, sobering, he mused."She seems...Like quite an interesting woman..." Lyle remembered the woman's words and couldn't help but say so.

The other man nodded, understanding perfectly. "Well, she's a bit special..." Came the vague reply. He paused. "...Did she say something to you?"

"Yes." Lyle admitted readily.

" Hm." A'daire grunted. "I can guess that is wasn't simply light conversation. I don't know what she said to you, but you would do well to remember it. No words of her's are ever meaningless. Boy, listen here: The fact she told you anything at all is, in itself, nothing good."

Lyle brushed off a few drops of rain from the light drizzle that started up. "Nothing good, huh..." He muttered."Yes, I thought as much. Tell me, what do you know about that Aede?" Lyle asked suddenly, recalling the strange word she used.

As soon as the name was issued A'daire stopped in his tracks abruptly, glaring meanly at Lyle

" Fuck, boy, do you want to get us killed?!" He asked, his voice a low hiss. "Don't ever speak of or go near that thing!" His voice turned sharp, his eyes gaining an almost wild glint them."It's not something that should belong in this world, this plane. Anyone who has ever had anything to do with it has either been driven insane or worse."

Lyle was startled, never having heard the man say anything so vehemently, so hatefully. This Aede...exactly what was this thing, to cause such a large reaction from the man?

"What, is it really so dreadful?" He asked, frowning.

"It is!" An instant reply, leaving no room for argument. " This thing isn't something to mess around with! You best not even think about looking for that thing! Fuck, that woman, I can't believe she would even tell you of it's name. Exactly what was she thinking...?"

"To be fair, she did warn me to stay away as well."

"That's not the point, kid. Her even mentioning that thing to you is bad. It's not her fault. Old habits die hard. And she warned you, yeah, but shit, she shouldn't even have done that! It just draws it's attention even more! It finds you. It seeks out a time when you're vulnerable, when you want something, when you're desperate enough to forsake your life and the lives of the world to get what you desire... and then it strikes. It'll offer you what you want, but even if it hold up it's end of the deal your soul itself will bear it's mark.

Everything I understand about it isn't from first-hand experience, thank the gods, but from things i've learned from my own family's history books and people whose job it is to know."

Great, Lyle thought, Things are sounding worse and worse for me as time goes on. I wonder, does this have something to do with those three as well? It wouldn't surprise me. Whatever this thing is, it seems to use a person's desires against them.

Though the three don't look as adept at manipulation, they're likely very weak right now and so not able to display their powers to see through the hearts of others. Even if not, would they even be able to provide what a person wants? Not at the current state they're in, most likely.

Maybe.

And not to mention the fact that i'm in a unique position where I truly want for nothing at the moment, which means i'm the perfect counter to them for now. Now that Iris is safely by my side again, they have nothing that I need them for..

Indeed. Lyle could already have anything he wants. He has talent so personal power is easy for him to acquire. He never had formal training in magecraft, despite his mother's urging, but if he ever went to the Bathory clan like she wanted him to he would easily be able to become a fine mage under their tutelage

And his family is wealthy to absurd degrees. He's not even a greedy person anyway. To others it can be a matter of life and death, but to him, money means nothing.

Lastly, even without his looks and simply relying on his status he can still have pretty much any woman he wanted if he truly so desired.

So the conventional means of coercion that swayed most people--strength, money, carnal pleasure--would not work against him. And neither did this thing they were speaking of.

There were, admittedly, more abstract desires that can offer much better motivation to people. Like revenge, or even love. But Lyle truly had nothing like that as he currently was, and they must know that.

Only Iris being put in a situation where he can't help her, like that day, is capable of causing him to feel the sort of all-encompassing desire that would make him give up his freedom in exhange.

Not that any of this really concerned him. He only cared about evicting those leeches from his and Iris' bodies and then continuing his life in peace. In the next year he planned to attend Wolfsheim Academy and become a true Knight like his father before him.

To live his life quietly the way it was supposed to be was his greatest desire right now, and one he would use his own power to accomplish. He would likely be wasting his talent by wanting such things, but that didn't matter to him. He would do as he wished.

And even if not himself, at least he would make damn sure that Iris was cured.

Whatever sort of entity was making Iris it's host was truly arrogant to the extreme. It thought it could mess with his sister and get away with it? Foolish. Much too foolish.

If he could, he would torture the thing a thousand different ways for daring latch onto his sister.

" I think you've given me sufficient reason to avoid it, then. Fear not, I have no interest in getting myself into any trouble. Alright, I think i'm done here. Remember to keep mother safe. If not, I'll hang your hide over my fireplace."

" As if anything could happen to that woman with me keepin' an eye on her. Just shut and go, damn Shitty Young Master."

Lyle of course would not lower himself and respond to such vulgarity. He simply ignored the man and went on his merry way.

********

The two men had just left the building when Nakir, Etain and Azamat conversed with each other, hovering as orbs to conserve energy.

"That woman sensed us." Etaine commented, surprised, her eye flashing dangerously.

Nakir agreed. "Yes, she did. But that blue hair...that Name, her eyes...Can she be a descendant of Avrora?"

"Definitely. That bloodline is very powerful, mysterious too. Avrora's sanity may have become weakened after the Mage-Kings killed her daughter, but she could have mothered other children if she lived through that day. Even if not, I would bet her sister was still alive back then. We never did see her body ourselves, she may have faked her death. Her mate, Emrys, probably still lived too. That man, he was always one of the most troublesome individuals back then..

"That aside...Yes. Avroroa's line, hmm? This Meer girl, she truly does have their scent, their look. And likely som of her ancestors' powers. Too bad, though. She's a married woman, obviously no virgin. If this boy took her when she was, he would have goten a lot of benefits. Not to mention that the power I would recover would have been equal to that of twenty virgin females." Azamat's voice seemed to betray a bit of disappointment.

"I'm sure that she said she had a daughter, maybe the boy will have luck there. " Etaine said. She knew well that they would all benefit from this, not simply him.

"Yes, maybe. I won't hold out much hope, however. From the boy's memories, the daughter was mentioned previously and is quite a few years older than him. It's doubtful she is still pure. But i'm more concerned about something else that was said..."

Azamat's orb glowed darkly. They all knew what he was talking about.

As the boy and man began talking, the three of them moved onto another, more important topic. It was Etaine who broke the silence first. "...So the Aede is still alive..."

"Shit, I thought we got rid of it." Nakir sounded extremely displeased

"That unsightly thing still being in existence means Aine and her ilk are still free to do as they please. As one of the things that connect this plane to that realm, I did think it too easy to destroy it that time. Apparently, unfortunately, I was right. " Azamat wanted to frown.

" Wait. If it's still alive and well, doesn't that mean the Ansari are as well? I would have thought they would be weakened, at least, but if the Aede is still standing then we must not have done as good a job as we thought."

"I wouldn't be too sure of that, Nakir. From the start, we were only responsible for this world. If the Na'moor and the others didn't hold up their end of things then of course the Ansari would not be too affected. We came into existence to sow chaos, but chaos with a goal. And it isn't like the pantheons in that realm are ever united in any case. We just have to make it worse... "Etaine's voice was soft and indifferent, showing disdain.

(Author Note: Yeah, I'll explain a bit about who these groups are later on in the story. Maybe not a full explanation, but some hints or the like every now and then. Just keep them at the back of your head for now)

"I fail to see the point in all this anymore" Nakir grunted. "It's been countless years already. Why can't we simply let the Ansari destroy themselves? I tire of it all. It never ends. I love battle, but this war has become boring and pointless. Neither side is good or righteous, and that's fine, I don't give two shits about such things. But all this pettiness...that psychotic bitch Aine... Noir, Malak, Havannah... Beirut, Kalen, Vayle...these are the main ones but all the others don't even know what they fight for anymore. They're worse than the mortals, each one unwilling to let go of past grievances that they can probably barely remember. Doing whatever they want and therefore tearing up this plane in the process of achieving their revenge.

Order, Chaos, when did everything become so twisted? Even us, seperated from our other halves, are the same. I wish to merely battle and rage and kill, living the way I please. Not stuck repeating the same pattern over and over until the end of time. It hasn't been long at all since the current us were formed, since we bore the punishment of forcing our way into this plane. But even so, I remember a time before this cycle began. And I yearn for it once more.

Had he a body with which to do so, he would have spat in disgust. In his mind, all the things that he experienced was like a fight between children. Those people who call themselves gods, those kings and queens of devils, the pantheons that they ruled...all of them childish, petty, narrow-minded, unforgiving, willful and malicious.

No better than mortals, no, even worse.

And as for the mortals themselves...They're slaves. Not one of them are truly free. It's just that the gods they believe in don't care about them most days. When they do, however, they treat them as playthings.

Everything didn't used to be like that. But the forces that are supposed to protect this realm are instead slowly destroying it with their carelessness. He didn't know exactly when it started, but it did. Without them, everything will likely fall apart. With them, it's happening anway.

It was all so damn annoying and complicated. Nakir truly hated all of it. Yet he had little choice but to follow along. For now. He had hoped it would end, that there would be a tipping point. He thought they accomplished something in the time they we free. But no.

Nothing changed, it seemed.

This world and many others were dyed in red, yet even still nothing happened.

They should have tried harder. They should have never been so kind and weak and merciful. The Mage-kings were a great help, as insane as they were, even as they thirsted for power and hunted Nakir along with the others.

This was fine, because they were still doing as they were meant to in order to break this cycle. They didn't need to do anything but sow more discord and grief. But even they, with all their power, with all the aid Nakir, Livia, Azamat, Etaine and the others gave them...were useless in the end.

Order was apparently restored, chaos beaten back. This was not what was supposed to happen.

No, they wanted destruction in it's purest form. They wanted people to die and scream and suffer and bleed and go mad.

The delicate balance, they wanted to thoroughly break it. To take it down and build anew. The end of the thoughtless gods and devils and other Powers That Be can only be accomplished when the mortal plane screamed and raged and despaired and was filled with the blood of the innocent....

What went wrong? They aided the side which they believed would cause the most suffering, but why didn't it work? Everything...was meaning. In the end...nothing they did mattered...

"Do you think you're the only one who tires of it? If you were, then everything up to now wouldn't have happened. But don't be disheartened. We're closer now. And whichever one of us gets the body of this boy...with him as their host...with his latent abilities... He's perfect. A Greyborne, a true Greyborne that seems to have inherited his ancestors' strength.

Whichever one of us gets hold of him, whichever one of us is able to bind ourselves to him...with this new "him" as the head, given what we can all sense lying within him untapped, do you think we can't accomplish what we set out to do all those years ago?"

Azamat had a voice full of evil intent, low and sinister to the metaphorical ears of his compatriots.

And he wasn't wrong.

This boy...

He was exceptional. They had never met with someone like him. He has the blood of two great families running strong in his veins. Yes, he was stubborn for now. But he would reach his limit soon enough.

Under everything that will come raining down upon him, he will most assuredly become half-mad.

Just like the Mage-Kings before him. Oh, he would resist. Just like now. He has a strong spirit, they could tell, stronger than most. He was unyielding. He took back his body when Azamat was influencing him.

How many mortals could do that? Perhaps not even one in a million. And he had no business having such a powerful will. Just what secrets did he hide inside him? The three of them were eager to find out.

He faced little true harships in his life. At least, nothing that would cultivate the strength to resist any amount of influence by them. It was truly an abnormality, a mysterious phenomena that baffled them. How could he have such a powerful resistance to their influence? Perhaps it was that woman's doing. They assumed so, at least.

But... something so hard would break before it would bend. This boy had an unwavering confidence in himself, they knew, a arrogance that made him believe he was above their control.

The coming trials will take that confidence of his, that pride, his very dignity...and tear it to shreds. It was only a matter of how long he could handle such things before he gave in.

And when he did...They will be there to "guide" him, to pick up his pieces and reform him into their own image.

At that time, he will be theirs to do with as they please.

*********

Alyssa withdrew her hand from Melanie's chest a bit shakily.

The young girl resting on the couch had a heavy blush to her cheeks and a hazy look in her eyes. She was awake during the entire thing, so she lived all of it again...Which led to her current state.

She was so embarrassed she could die. Melanie wanted to dig herself a hole and bury herself in it.

As for Alyssa...She, too, had a healthy shade of red to her cheeks.

She let out a cold breath. " Hmph. That kid, so shameless! Doing such things...How bold!"

At her muttered words Melanie once more recalled the memory and her blush amazingly deepened.

Alyssa was feeling quite awkward as well. Whenever she did this, she more often than not experienced the memories in first-person. She didn't just see everything they saw, she also felt all the emotions and sensations of everything a person had lived through in whatever memory she chose to glimpse with crystal-clear clarity.

Which meant...Well, it was obvious.

Ah, that son of her's was truly...

...No, she wouldn't say. Although the words "a handful" did come to mind, among other things. She wondered idly exactly how far he had gotten with that Sophia girl...

Alyssa coughed lightly, choosing not to think too deeply about it. "...Melanie..." She called out.

"Yes, my Lady?" Melanie asked back faintly, still reliving the memory and feeling distinctly...warm and uncomfortable...

"...I apologize."

"No, my Lady, it's...fine. It's all fine..." Melanie trailed off.

"No, not for that. I mean, I don't know why Lyle did that to you in the first place, but I know he wasn't exactly himself."

"I know, my Lady. He of course wouldn't have done such things with me if he were in his right mind..." The girl's voice was small, sighing, forced to admit the truth.

Alyssa laughed shortly, coldly saying, "Don't be a fool. Men would love to have you beneath them, dear girl." Her words were blunt to the extreme!

"You're a very attractive woman." She nodded, as if it were a matter of fact. She went on. "Look. My son...he doesn't have many close female friends aside form you and Cecelia as far as I know. Before, it was just Sophia and Cecelia. Sophia is now out of the picture, so I thought it would be a matter of course that Cecelia would eventually marry him--with a bit of help from me.

Yet now, with this sudden situation, he has allowed you start a relationship with him if that is what you want to do. He does this because he feels it might mke this mess right. So now it's you or Cecelia who he is most likely to choose a wife from simply because he as of yet has no other significant women in his life other than family like me and his sister.

So that means once of you two may become the next Lady Greyborne in te future. Nobles marry early, and probably he will as well."

Alyssa stared at the girl.

Melanie paused, unsure of what she was getting at. "My Lady, what do you--?"

" Melanie, I know that you respect and admire my son. Maybe, deep down, you even harbor something more. Who knows. But you think I won't support you two starting a relationship because or your common background. Right?"

The girl wasn't able to say she was wrong. " Well...That's of course. Me, a servant, with him...I don't see how you could ever approve of...especially with Lady Cecelia present in his life...Obviously I can't compare, so... " She felt her self-esteem drop just thinking of it, but it was the truth. She wasn't able to measure up to Lady Cecelia, she was not able to be a match for Young Master Lyle, how could Lady Greyborne accept her(Melanie)?

"Hah. Don't pull that shit with me." Alyssa's tone and words were even more blunt than they were previously. "You and Sophia have an inferiority complex when it comes to Lyle, but don't let that blind you. You should know that I don't care about your common birth. Girl, the only thing I want to ask in regards to you starting something with my son is this: Do you honestly think you can support him?"

Her eye bore into the young woman with a fierce intensity, her voice hard.

Melanie's heart leapt up into her throat as she was hit by the force behind Lady Greyborne's eyes She looked down, ashamed, not daring to speak...

...Of course she knew what she was implying.

Lady Greyborne was thinking that the woman most likely to be chosen as her son's wife were either Melanie or Lady Cecelia. Before it was only Cecelia, but now with the recent incident she thought that Melanie may be chosen instead. That is, if you assume she and the Young Master entered a relationship at all.

So she wanted to know: Could Melanie stand by her son not merely as a wife, but as the next Lady Greyborne? Could she support him, and not simply recieve his support?

But Melanie...was not able to say she could. As much as she hated it, she knew that she didn't have that qualification. She wasn't good enough. She couldn't share the Young Master's future burdens. She could help relieve his stress, but she wasn't able to get rid of it. Wasn't able to help him with his problems.

She could wait at home for him like a good little wife, could even mother his children, but that wasn't enough. The Lady of the Greyborne family had to be more.

And Melanie knew...that she wasn't up to the task. It wasn't that she would be unwilling. It was that she lacked the ability. This fact, made Melanie feel like she was useless. Even if she and the Young Master were to fall in love...she simply had nothing to offer him. She would end up recieving his good will yet again.

This wouldn't be like before. Before, when he helped Melanie and her mother out ofthat situation they faced, she could repay him to some small degree by being his maid, by making his life a bit easier in general. Yet if she was his wife, she would be unable to help him at all with his duties. She wouldn't be a servant She would be a wife. Yet as servant she would be of some use to him at least.

Melanie ccould cook and clean and sew and raise his children if it came to it. But as a wife, what could she do for him, other than making him some heirs? How utterly useless would she be then? Like a ornament. Maybe nice to look at, but that was all.

As his wife, Melanie would only add to his burden...And she understood that.

Knowing all this...how could she do that to him...?

Alyssa watched the changes in the girl's emotions impassively. She already had her answer. She knew it before she even asked the question.

But...In the end...She didn't even care much. Her son, Lyle, was the type to handle everything himself anyway. He would run himself ragged, yet he would never bend, and would refuse to break. He knew his duties well and would probably be unwilling to place them on anyone else's shoulders if he was asked. He was damn stubborn.

So she wanted a strong woman by his side to aid him. When it came to what he felt was his own personal responsibility, he would not call for help. Which is why he needed someone able to force help on him, do something he couldn't refuse.

However...she had to admit. If Melanie brought him comfort then that was fine as well. She might not be a good Lady of the Greyborne family, but strictly as a wife she may have a healing effect on him. Cecelia was a bit stiffer, which was good, but she was probably not the warm and welcoming type. Melanie was.

This was a damn annoying situation. Alyssa saw the good points of both girls. She liked them both.

Dammit, if that son of her's would simply accept both of them then this wouldn't be such a big problem! Keeping Melanie as a mistress would be ideal, but she knew her son would not do something like that. And he would not accept two wives, either.

Her son was uptight in this regard. Other Nobles kept mistresses, some from foreign lands even kept multiple wives. Who said her son could not? Given the power of the Greyborne family, he could have a hundred damn wives if he wanted.

Yet he wouldn't even think of having more than one, the simple concept was alien to him. Alyssa wanted to pound her head against a wall, she was so annoyed.

She already said she would support Cecelia, and did like her more if she was honest, but Melanie was the type of person that had something like a restorative effect on others. She was soft and mellow, albeit a bit shy and lacking confidence, making people feel at ease. Like a small animal.

Her son, Lyle, would probably be happy with that type of woman and dote on her endlessly. Whereas Cecelia was, conversly, more firm and strong-willed.

The kind who can keep her son on his toes and help him with things he needed help on. If he agreed to have both then Alyssa would think it would be a good thing for him. Besides, what mother didn't want her child to be loved? The more people who cared for her son, the better.

"Ugh, to hell with it all. I'll just leave it to them." She muttered. Then, louder, "Well, girl, come along then." Alyssa suddenly stood up. "I already gave my piece. Now whatever happens from here on out is entirely up to you. Whether you simply pass up this chance he has allowed you or take it and see where it can lead, that is for you to decide. But you can't do it here, now can you? And I'm tired of thinking more about this. If he would just accept you both, my brain wouldn't hurt so much. Alright. Melanie, go pack some things and put something casual on. I'll wait ten minutes, so hurry up. Let's go."

Melanie stood up hastily. "Go where, my Lady?"

The woman didn't even look back as she asked. "Isn't it obvious?"

*********

As they left Varric, one of Lyle's arms had a small golden-haired girl attatched to it who hummed happily for the past ten minutes straight and showing no signs of stopping anytime soon. It was, of course, Iris.

"Brother." She called.

"Yes?" He sighed, knowing what was coming.

"...I knew you felt the same. Nn. You kept saying weird things, but all this time you...!" She choked back sudden tears, glancing up at him with bright, watery eyes.

Lyle sighed once more.

"Brother."

"...Yes?"

"When we get home, let's move in together."

"...We're already living together though?" Lyle didn't understand her word.

"No, I mean let's sleep in the same room from now on. Since I now know how much you, big brother, truly care for me, of course I will want to increase our intimacy as siblings. Think of it, from now onwards we can be the first thing we see in the morning! We can play together all the time, you can pat my head whenever you want, I can snuggle with you every night and sleep peacefully...Isn't the idea amazing?" She got all starry-eyed with anticipation, grinning and laughing with a peculiar tone which made Lyle have to surpress a shiver.

" Iris, your unhealthy fascination with Lyle really has become quite frightening. Don't you think you're taking advantage of your brother's tolerance and kindness?" Cecelia watched the young girl with a strange gaze, her usually composed face showing faint disdain.

One of Iris' eyes twitched in irritation. "Hmph. You're just jealous. I know you're simply burning with the emotion right now, but it really is pointless. Big brother is my brother, i'm the closest person to him, only I can enjoy such treatment. You, an outsider, can only watch on enviously. So continue to merely sit back and pout in your seat. Me and my brother are conversing, interupting us would be tantamount to sacrilege. "

...Cecelia couldn't even say anything to that. She was speecheless.

Really, that girl, was she not being too overbearing? Cecelia felt like she got even more possessive of her brother than usual.

"Iris..." Lyle gave her a hard stare.

"But, brother, she--"

"..."

"...I'm sorry, it was my wrong. " She bowed her head to the other girl, unwillingness writeen all over her face. She was truly not sorry at all. This was her fault, not Iris'. Who told her to come along and ruin her and her brother's trip together?

"Now, going back a bit, the answer is no. Iris, really, Cecelia is right. I'm not going to let you sleep in my room. You have your own, stay there."

"I like yours better."

"Do you? Fine. You can have it. I'll move my things to a different room and sleep there."

"If you slept in some other room then what would be the point?"

"So you mean the room itself doesn't matter to you. I see. But I'm not going to sleep with you. Give up."

"Brother, recently you have become so mean to me. Do you like to bully me like this? Has your sadistic side made it's way towards me now? Do you find enjoyment at hurting me like this?" iris looked very pitiful at that moment, like a wounded kitten.

"It does bring me a sick sort of pleasure, yes." Lyle nodded easily as he kept hold of the reins.

"...Hm. If brother likes it, then I would of course be accepting. But isn't this her doing, brother? This woman, has she been putting weird thoughts in your head? Is that why you no longer want to treat me like how you used to?"

Cecelia sighed. Everything came back to her, did it? It never occured to the girl that maybe normal siblings were not as obsessive as she was towards this brother of her's?

Iris rounded on her. "I don't care about other siblings. Shut it." She snorted coldly.

Cecelia blinked.

This girl, how...?

"Hah, as if I wouldn't know what you're thinking!" Iris cheekily stuck her tongue out at the other girl, showing a bit of anger while she did it.

" Iris, could you please just be nicer to Cecelia? Otherwise this will be a long trip..." Lyle shook his head and felt a headache coming on.

"I wouldn't be opposed to an extended trip with you, big brother, if this woman was not here as well. But I do understand where you are coming from. However, I can't help it? This girl, she only has evil intentions. Why, if I were not here, she may have already pushed you down and stolen your innocence!" Iris shuddered in revulsion.

"Doubtful. Also, isn't that supposed to be the other way around?" Lyle's lips formed a small smile, laughing softly.

"Perhaps." Iris was doubtful. She of course knew some of the matters between men and women, but as for the exact details of what they did...she was unsure. "But brother, you wouldn't do that anyway, right? It's this wicked woman who has impure thoughts. You, brother, don't see her in that way. Even if you are attacted to her, you wouldn't push her down. Of course. But you don't like her in that way. If you did, wouldn't you have already pushed her down?"

"Iris, I really don't think you know entirely what you're talking about. And i'm glad for that, but you seem to misunderstand me? And her? I don't think either one of us would do that in any case."

Cecelia was a beautiful woman, and Lyle was a healthy young man, he also couldn't say he didn't have such desires towards the opposite sex. But he wasn't that loose as to simply want to get with any pretty woman he sees. That would be a bit much. He didn't think he was the sort of person to have flings anyway, and as a Noble it would cause problems if he accidentally got a woman pregnant.

So he wouldn't want to take the chance. Unless the woman was someone he was in arelationship with, he would not want to have such intimacy with them. Like with Melanie. Had he not stopped himself and actually has sex with her--Something he would never forgive himself for since it would have been forced upon her by himself no matter which way you cut it-- he wouldn't be able to leave anything uncertain.

Even if she didn't get pregnant...he would probably marry her. Keeping her as a mistress was something he didn't feel like he would ever do. He didn't like the idea of keeping women on the side like that. Like they were things.

Getting back to this topic, though, he didn't feel either of them(He and Cecelia) had any of the "impure thoughts" which Iris seemed to speak of. No, well, at the very least they would never act on them, given that they were merely good friends and nothing more. Honestly, he and Cecelia had something like a familial relatinship?

Not quite, but still close enough.

" Quite. I don't know about your brother, Iris, but I for one have no such thoughts." Cecelia stated mildly.

Iris stared at her, slowly saying, "...You and me both know that isn't true."

"Is that so?" Cecelia cocked a brow at her, unaffected.

"It is. You can lie to me, you can even lie to my brother, but deep down, you understand that you can't lie to yourself. " She paused, marrowing her eyes at Cecelia, leaning forward. "Don't think I am unaware of your actions. Big brother trusts you, so maybe he won't question your words even if he may suspect something, but I know just how vile of a person you can be!" She hissed, her voice low enough so that only sha and the other girl can here.

"An unfilial person like you is unsightly. You coveted that which didn't belong to you. You wanted to take from your own flesh and blood, but don't you understand? From the start, what you wanted was neither yours nor her's, but Ours!"

Cecelia's heart felt like it was being constricted, making her unable to breath. Every word stabbed into her and she had a hard time settling down.

And maybe it was just a trick of the light, but just now, for a split second, Iris's eyes seemed to flash.

A bright green with flecks of red, bearing down on her like a snake eyeing it's prey.

But that wasn't improtant right now. Because this girl's words, they were...

"Iris, you..." Her voice was a mere whisper, her throat seeming to force the words out with difficulty.

But she was interupted.

"Hmm? What's that?" Lyle, having not paid any attention at all to the short, hushed exchange between the two, let out a surprised voice.

From the distance the three of them spotted an ever-growing black dot coming towards them in the cobbled road.

Within minutes the thing came within sight andthey were able to discern what it was.

It was a carriage.

Not simply that, it was a carriage that looked familiar to them.

Some time later, as Lyle continued driving their own vehicle, the other carriage stopped not far from them.

The door to the carriage opened and two figures stepped out, the driver waiting patiently.

"Mother?" Lyle and Iris couldn't help but say aloud.

"Melanie too, it seems. " Cecelia observed. And she was right. By their mother's side was the brown-haired girl whom they had come to know wearing a sun dress. Which pretty much completely went against what should be worn in this sort of weather. Looked nice, though, it had to be said.

"Oh don't worry, dears, I just came to drop her off." Mother jerked her thumb to the flustered woman to her side. " Lyle, come here for a bit and let's talk. Melanie, you take your things and get inside, will you?"

"Y-yes, my Lady." Melanie murmured, not looking at Lyle in the eye. She hurried to follow the instructions.

When Lyle got off the seat, he followed his mother. When they were a bit away from the rest, he asked, "Mother, why--?"

"Tell me, how did she taste?"

"I--What--?" Lyle couldn't make heads or tales as to what she meant.

"Come now, don't be shy. Melanie, that girl, must have been quite delectable, no? I would imagine that you have already burned the smell and feel and taste of her body onto your mind by now, is that not so? Liscentous little son of mine. " Her tone was very mild, her words spoken with a casual air.

But they completely caught Lyle off-guard.

"...So. She told you." He stated, sure of it.

"In a way, yes."

"I see." He stopped. "You don't approve, do you?"

"Of allowing her to possibly choose to start a relationship with you, my son, the only heir of the Greyborne family? No, I can't say i'm thrilled. She may not start anything with you, but still, this decision isn't to be made lightly."

"She will most likely just pick to give me some sort of punishment, nothing to worry about. Or ignore it." Lyle shrugged.

"Naïve." Alyssa said. " Any girl would grasp this opportunity with everything she had. Who wouldn't, given the power you will someday hold?"

"Melanie isn't like that, though."

"No, she isn't. But even the obvious benefits aside, you and I both know she would never come up with any sort of punishment for you. She can't, because she can't imagine punishing you. You are her benefactor, she respects and admires you. Even if she did punish you, it would be something weak and not at all something that would alleviate your guilt."

"Then she'll ignore it."

"Maybe. It's either that or starting a relationship with you. Those two choices are the only ones she is probably thinking of. "

"And you're worried she'll choose the latter." It was the most obvious of conclusions. " But I don't see how you would mind me starting something with her. It's nothing major, really."

"When it comes to you, it is. You have many options available to you but the only women close to you, as far as i'm aware, are mainly Melanie and Cecelia. They are the two you are closest with. And you are not interested in women who are only after you for your status or talents. Such shallow reasons are things you disdain. So in all liklihood, you'll marry one of those two."

Lyle looked at her blankly. " Melanie, maybe, but Cecelia and I are not like that. But you know that, so I'm not sure why you brought her up. Also, I do, as a matter of fact, have other female friends."

"Cecelia aside, yes, but those women don't see you as often as these two. Now, let's move on. Listen, son, I don't think Melanie is a good fit for you. But do what you want. She may make a good mother, but remember that she won't make a good Lady of the Greyborne family due to her personality."

"Whatever happens between me and her is our business. And nothing may happen at all, so all this talk is pointless for now. But assuming we do marry...in that hypothetical scenario, you know that it wouldn't matter to me. I can handle things myself, I'm not a child who needs the support of others to stand on my own two feet."

"Yes, I know." Alyssa sighed sadly. " That's the problem. You're so capable, and you know you can handle anything yourself. But not everything, my dear. You can't handle everything life throws at you, not because you are not up to the task, but becasue it will wear you down. You are able to do anything required of you, but how can you be expected to shoulder so many burdens alone? The Greyborne family head is a position with so many responsibilities that it isn't even funny. You may be able to do anything yourself, but eventually you'll work yourself to death simply because of the sheer number of things you will have to deal with.

It's the wife's duty to help shoulder her husband's burden. And Melanie can't do that, son. She doesn't have the ability of skills to help you in any way that matters. As a servent she is useful. As a mistress she is still acceptable, but as a wife...I can't say she will be a good match for that position at all. I've already told all this to Melanie, and now I'm teling you."

"I've said this before, I think, but I won't be taking any mistresses in the future." Lyle

" If you would, then I wouldn't need to come here and talk so damn much, now would I? You are only interested in long relationship, something casual isn't something that would attract your attention. Some Noble women dream of finding their true love. You are the opposite, in a way. You care not for some meaningless fling, but a person who can be your partner in life.

You don't need to find your soul mate. As long as the person is to your liking and you can get along with her well enough, you think you can build something like love as things go on even if perhaps you don't exactly love her at that point in time. And maybe you could. It can be said, too, that you only really think this way because you feel the need to father an heir as early as possible so that the family line can be assured to continue. Maybe you feel that if you don't, some accident may happen to you before then."

Well. Her words were not wrong, Lyle mused.

He knew that his father and mother were young and still more than able to have another child if they wanted should anything happen to Lyle himself. But he wasn't dead yet, he was considered and adult in the eyes of some kingdoms including this one. So he did feel it was his responsibility to create an heir for himself even though he was still not yet the family head.

" And the reason you brought Melanie here was..." He had already guesed, but...

"Obviously so this mess can be resolved as quickly as it is able. Nothing will be settled if she stayed behind with me, would it? So you have to bring her with you. I won't get in the way of you two, but I wish to let my thoughts be known that I do not think her able to help you the way I want you to be. You two can go at it like animals in the bedroom all day should you marry one another, but that would really just not solve any of the problems you will have to face.

Hm, so, have her hurry up and decide what she wants to do. If she will ignore it then fine. I still think you could take her on as a mistress, though I know you won't, since she is a fine young woman who is devoted to you. If she doesn't wish to leave things ambiguous like this and choose to have an actual relationship you can agree with, then i'm going to have to try and fix her."

She had a weary, almost evil glint in her eye at that last part. Lyle wondered exactly how she would "fix" the young woman. It was probably best not to think of it.

"She doesn't need fixing, really. She isn't broken. But I know what you mean. Yet you keep on mentioning that, don't you? Why do you seem so hung up on me accepting a mistress? Father has none."

"I want you to be loved, dear, that's all. And, well, I know that being able to release carnal desires can have a positive effect. As I mentioned before, she can be fine at relieving your built-up stress even if she cannot help you with the things that cause it in the first place. I do like her, you know, so if she were to hold that position I would not say anything about it. It's her being your wife i'm worried about.

As for your father...I'm very possessive. He isn't stupid enough to take on a mistress. Other's having one is all well and good, but my own husband? No, never. Not allowed. Ever."

"I...I see." Lyle hesitated. "So, are we done, then?"

"Yes. I've repeated myself so many times already, it's tiring. You should get back to them, Iris looks like she is getting impatient."

"Great. Oh, by the way. Even if you want this problem solved as fast as it can be, you do realize this trip can be dangerous. Why send her here instead of waiting for my return."

"I do know it's dangerous, but so are you. I would not even let you go on this journey if I thought you couldn't protect yourself and Iris. You, too, are confident in protecting her, so why should I worry about it overmuch. Besides, Cecelia is a capable fighter. Even if she wasn't, you wouldn't let anything happen to those three. Plus, you said you were going to get some help, right? So everything is fine."

"Good to know you have such trust in my capabilities. Hey, right, that thing you wanted to tell me earlier...what was it?"

Lyle remembered she had something to say, but they were interupted by Cecelia's coming.

"Huh. Actually, I can't remember..." Alyssa's eyes held a odd light just then. But she shrugged right after. "Oh well. Must not have been too important. I think Gideon is on the case, though, so I wouldn't worry about it?" She did recall sending him off to do something. As for what that something was, she couldn't remember.

It was probably a trivial thing, then.

"Gideon was here?" Lyle raised his voice in surprise. "Damn. I must have missed him. He has to be long gone by now..."

"Was there something you needed him for?"

"Yeah. If he's busy then it doesn't matter, but I could have used his help on something. Honestly, that guy, he doesn't even stop to say hello?" He shook his head.

"Gideon has had his hands full recently, so cut him some slack. Alec has him running all over the place these days. He isn't free very often."

"Yes, yes, I understand. Still would have liked to see him before he left, though."

"You'll get the chance eventually."

They made such small talk as they made their way back to the others.

Iris was sitting on her seat when they got back, but she jumped off and ran up to her mother when she saw them coming. She peered up at the woman with a bit of anger on her little face.

"Mother, what's the meaning of this?" She asked shortly, stiffly.

"What, dear?" Alyssa made another smile as she rubbed her daughter's head full of golden locks.

"You know what! First that Cecelia brat, now her? I do like Melanie more than this other girl, but even so, even so...!"

"Iris, love, calm down. I'm sure that you'll all have fun together. You four will get along splendidly."

"...How?" Iris sighed, wilting.

"You'll find out eventually."

"You dodge questions you can't answer, huh. Fine" She pouted. "...Say, mother, why did you bring her here anyway?" Iris glanced at the older woman suspiciously as she raised the question.

"Blame your brother, dear. HIs philandering ways have tied my hands here." She replied dryly.

Lyle snorted, indignant, feeling wronged by that last comment.

Iris put all her attention to her brother, then looked at Melanie, her eyes darkening.

"I see." She muttered. "So that's what's happening. This..." Iris walked away from them abruptly, whispering to herself. "Maybe she was right..."

Seeing her small frame ignoring them and heading back to the carriage, the mother and son were left bewildered by her off behabiour. Then, after a moment, they followed her.

" Well I'll be going now. Cecelia, Lyle, watch after Melanie. I hope you two do the same for him as well. As for Iris...Best leave her to him..." Alyssa told the four as she got within earshot of them all.

"...." Cecelia gave the woman a curious look, wondering what her intention was in going ot of her way to be bringing Melanie.

"Yes, my Lady." Melanie said respectfully. She had already put her few things inside and stood by the vehicle. She had only a few minutes to prepare before the woman got impatient.

"Take care, mother." Lyle spoke as he got back to his original seat. He motioned for Melanie to get inside, opening the small window for her in case she wanted to talk to them along the way.

"Bye." Iris escaped from a sudden, fierce hug compliments of her mother before returning to her brother's side.

"Lyle, honey, you keep them all well and good too. Although I know you don't need reminding. Oh, and Cecelia?"

"Yes?" She asked.

"Here, take this." Alyssa passed the girl a letter.

The other's watched the exchange curiously but asked nothing.

Cecelia accepted it with a complex look, wondering what it was about. She moved to open it, but was stopped."

"Not now, you can open it later." Alyssa smiled at her warmly.

The girl nodded in understanding.

"Okay, well, off you four go then."

There was nothing more to do, and so Lyle spurred the horses onwards.

Alyssa watched them leave, feling a bit saddened. She had only just arrived and her only two children leave for some far-off place for who knew what reason. And her husband, though she felt like stripping the skin from his hide the other day in response to his idiodic blunder, was still missed.

She had no other family. At least not any that she cared to interact with. So her children and husband were the only ones she was truly close to.

What's more, for some reason, as the carriage of their's grew small and smaller, she could sense a feeling of gloom, uneasy and dread trickle it's way down to the pit of her stomache.

She was full of an unexplainable worrry and simply didn't understand why.

Alyssa had never felt like this before, at least, not in such a vague and penetrating way. She hated to admit it, but perhaps it was time to send them to that place.

********

The journey was fairly long and quiet. Cecelia had long since lapsed into a deep silence, her face a mask that couldn't be seen through. Melanie listened to Lyle as he told her some of the key information she had to know about his assumed identity and it's history.

She wasn't able to be told everything, but and large blunders should probably be avoided now.

The girl listened intently and didn't interupt at all.

As for Iris, she was still a touch cranky. But she made no further trouble. Since her brother wanted her to behave herself, how could she so blatantly refuse? She did't wsnt to make things too difficult for him, despite being unhappy over the third and fouth wheels that had tagged along.

In all, everything was rather uneventful. It did get a bit colder, though, and Lyle told Cecelia that she could go inside to warm up with a blanket if she needed to. The girl followed his urging with little resistance, as it was truly getting a bit chilly.

He told Iris to as well, but she stayed by his side and he was forced to take out a blanket for her. He didn't mind the cold, he rather found it refreshing. Iris, on the other hand, had her teeth clicking together and snuggled up to him for warmth.

Lyle really did find thsis odd. The weather seemed strange today. It simply wasn't...normal. It made him on edge.

But finally, after some time, they had reached Ustrax.

***

The Merc Hall was a four story building. It had two main constructs. One was a giant bar-like building, the other was a long hall where the larger mercenary companies met with prospective clients.

If one needed some extra arms immediately then you could post a sign on the large wooden board near the entrance. Sure enough, within an hour, you would have some help.

But if you needed a larger number of mercenaries, maybe to escort a caravan, then you had to come here and set up a meeting with the representatives of a company. They needed time to prepare, so if you came the same day you had to leave there were few companies who would be willing to take you on as a client.

Proper preparation was a matter of life or death. Without it, you were just asking to die.

Lyle had just walked into the Merc Hall when a large man came and walked to the exit in an angry manner.

When he went past Lyle, his shoulder bumped into Lyle's own.

"Move the fuck out of my way." The man growled.

Iris, hearing him, blew up. Although she wasn't good around strangers, when someone talk bad towards her brother like this how could she not get angry?!

"Hey!" She glared at the man. "Don't talk to my big brother so disrespectfully, damn fatty!"

She made no move to hide the venom in her words at all.

The man looked back, as if he couldn't believe his ears.

"What the fuck did you call me, bitch?" The big man glowered at her.

Iris was completely unafraid. She scrunched up he nose, as if she smelled something foul. "Shut up, damn fatty. Being so disrespectful to my brother, then spouting profanities at me. Did your parents teach you no manners at all? Though from the smell of it you were probably raised by pigs, no? In that case, I apologise, I expected too much from an animal such as yourself."

How was it even possible for words to get so sharp and full of despise?

"You...!"

The man narrowed his eyes, suddenly enraged.

"Fucking brat. Do you think I won't hurt you just because you're a child?"

The man was in no mood for any sass from a pre-pubescent little snot like this. He had a terrible day. Nothing seemed to be going right today and now a little girl was talking down to him?

His hand raised to give the girl a smack.

But as the man's hand fell, it was abruptly stopped.

"Touch her and you die." Lyle didn't bother mincing words, simply saying the sentence in a very matter-of-fact way.

"Boy, let me go, now." The man's eyes darkened dangerously. "If you don't, I'll make sure both you and that little bitch--"

" I should tear out your tongue, but luckily for you I'm in no mood to play with you today." He couldn't be bothered to deal with him anymore. After applying a little pressure in his fingers, he easily broke the man's writst.

A sharp exhalation of breath was heard, the man letting out a small groan of pain.

"Cecelia, take Iris and Melanie. I'll be back in a second or two." The girl nodded. Melanie asked if leaving it like this was fine, but Cecelia shrugged and said nothing. It was clear she was not concerned at all.

After thinking about it for a bit, Melanie realized she wasn't either.

Lyle really did feel that Iris' attitude needed something to be desired.

But shit, trying to hit a little girl...

No matter how bad an attitude one had, wasn't that a bit much for a situation of only this level? It was a bit of veral abuse, nothing outrageous.

You can't just go around hitting a kid just cause they're being a bit bratty. Or rather, if it's Iris, then no matter what she said to you, if you try hitting her, you deserve death?

...Although even when thinking such things he sstill regretfully decided to hold back.

Iris and Cecelia may be fine with it, but Melanie...And besides, he didn't want to show Iris such a sight anyway. Even though she may not think him wrong to do so, something like that wasn't good to show little kids.

So instead he merely grabbed the guy by the collar of his shirt, dragged him forcefully to the entrance, and threw him out onto the street as he was being choked by his own clothing. The doors closed as he was shown to be gasping for breath, holding his injured wrist while clenching his teeth.

The few people who had noticed the entire thing was going to step in when the young girl was about to be struck, but soon realized it was not needed.

They then were rather surprised by the young lad's strength, but what's more, they were pretty amazed when he chose to throw the man outside. He truly didn't think anything of it, either, they saw. That was a bit too overbearing, wasn't it?

Still, they wouldn't say anything about it. That guy was a prick anyway, no one liked him very much.

Apart from these people, there were a few others who recognized the young man and were surprised for a different reason.

It just seemed that he was being a bit too merciful compared to how he usually would have handled that situation?

Lyle ignored the looks.

He had just reached Cecelia, Melanie and Iris again when a voice stopped him.

"Huh. You know, I was expecting you to kill and/or castrate the guy. I wonder who those two girls are to make you hold back like you did?"

A tall, black-haired young man appeared in Lyle's view when he turned his back. He wore a deep green overcoat, his athletic frame exuding a quiet confidence and friendly air.

With a handsome face, a sharp smirk and an even sharper pair of short sworts holstered to his sides, Jaime Haddock was not one people often messed with. Good to his friends, terrible to his enemies, this was a man that was not to be underestimated.

Mainly because those who did all ended up dead.

To those who didn't know him, however, the two most distinct features of the young man were his deep red eyes and slightly pointed ears...

Lyly smiled upon seeing him. "Iris, Melanie, come here." He called them.

"Meet Jaime. Jaime, my sister, Iris." He introduced them. "And the other girl is Melanie, a friend."

"Sister?" Jaime cast a very doubtful eye as he looked between them. Bell, with his blonde hair, matched the young girl to his side. But his face...Okay, well, it was a stretch, but you could say they did faintly resemble one another...

He decided not to comment on it.

"Nice to meet you, then, Bell's sister." He offered a friendly smile. Almost against his will, he found himself raising a hand to pat her on the head. He had no idea why he did so either, but the girl was pretty adorable, so maybe that was why.

Hm, truly, she could only be described as doll-like.

But all throughout, from the very first time she saw him, a trace of fear could be seen in her eyes. And as he reached out, she quickly hid behind her brother.

A soft murmur, almost unnoticeable, escaped her lips.

"...Blood elf..."

Jaime froze, his entire body going taut, rigid.

"Iris!" Lyle hissed low, reprimanding the girl. He turned to Jaime apologetically. "Jaime, I'm sorry, she doesn't...Iris, she..."

Jaime stopped him. "It's fine." He said. "It's just as to be expected, right?"

Melanie, having heard the exchange, tilted her head in confusion. She didn't know what they were talking about.

She looked to Cecelia.

"...Blood elves are a rare race that are not often seen in recent years, natives to the darker corners of the Elvhenan Empire. Very powerful, very dangerous. They have a bad reputation."

She gave a few hushed sentences and said nothing more. Melanie looked at the man and understood.

It seemed that Lady Iris had a fear of these so-called blood elves...

"So...Melanie, is it?" Jaime continued on as if nothing happened. " I'm a bit disappointed. Oh, not by you, don't misunderstand. But it's just that when I saw you I thought you were Bell's girlfriend, Sophia. I had always wanted to meet the girl since he talks of her so much. I saw you with him and I kind of thought you two looked good together, you know, close, so I had assumed..." He trailed off, his meaning clear.

"Ah...No, please, it's fine. Don't worry about it. But, um, what do you mean by good to--?"

"Fuck." Lyle's eyes widened as he realized something. "Jaime, if you're here, then doesn't that mean--?!"

Lyle then felt a tingling sensation at the back of his neck, causing him to stop.

He had only a tiny second to get out of the way.

His moved to the side in a hurry and instantly a dagger came flying past the spot where his head just was.

It traveled with great speed and force, burying itself into the hat of a man behind Lyle before continuing it's path. It finally stopped when it hit the reinforced wall, the blade shattering upon impact.

The man who had his had lifted off stood with his mouth agap, looking very confused and frightened.

As for Lyle...

"What a pity..." He heard a feminine voice say. "If only you had stayed put..." A sigh.

"...Phaedra..."

The name slid itself out of his mouth like a curse.

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