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" Dammit, the hell do you think you're doing! You could've killed me!" Lyle yelled.

Lyle turned his gaze to somewhere behind Jaime, sneering hatefully at the person who was walking towards them.

Coming out from the throngs of people was a girl just a bit shorter than Lyle. Her hair was an inky-black much like Jaime's own, reaching down to her waist with a long lock being tied into a braid. She also happened to share the same slender eyebrows and pale, high-colored skin as he brother.

The main difference was that her own eyes were a very deep cerulean blue, a nice compliment to her dark-colored hair. If one looked more closely they would see the tiny bits of ruby red in the depths of her eyes, but other than that they were normal.

The red in them, if you noticed, only made the pair of eyes more unique and interesting to look at.

Although you couldn't see them with her hair in the way, Lyle knew her ears would bear the slightly pointed style of Jaime's, albeit to a somewhat lesser degree.

With a slim waist and tall frame, she was much appreciated by the people surrounding her. Even the light metal armor and assortment of blades strapped to her legs didn't deter them.

Though the sight of those knives and the appearance of the rapier by her side, to those who knew her reputation, did cause some cold sweats among the males.

But her beauty aside, she let out a very mean and caustic aura. Every part of her being right now, as she stared at Lyle, was completely full of scorn.

Her pretty face held the same sort of sneer as Lyle's, obviously letting people know there was no love lost between these two.

" I don't see why you're so angry. If you really had died then you wouldn't care, now would you? The reason you feel like this is due to your own actions." The young woman shrugged, as if it had little to do with her.

" But tell me." She went on. " For what reason are you polluting my air with your filthy presence?"

Her tone was cold, indifferent, without the slightest bit of warmth.

" And what do you mean by that?" Lyle narrowed his eyes at her.

"I mean that foul stench that is wafting off you. It truly is unpleasant."

"Oh, sorry, you must be misunderstanding something. That sickening odor is just your breath blowing back in your face." Came the barbed reply.

"Worthless bastard."

"Insane bitch."

Sparks flew as they eyed each other...and not the good kind.

"Such vulgar language you're using there. To talk that way towards a lady such as myself, it looks like you truly are a petty man of no worth or even common decency." Phaedra's smile was cutting.

" You've long since failed to earn being treated with decency by me. You don't deserve my decency. And I see no lady here, just a vile woman with a black heart."

"Your doggy eyes are obvious severely impaired, then. But that's just as well, I wouldn't want to be racked with those sickening leers you would be throwing my way."

"What reason would there be for me to leer? An undesirable, hot-tempered woman like you shouldn't think so highly of yourself. Do you think any man could want such a vicious and violent woman? Don't delude yourslf. To say I would leer at you, little girl, is giving yourself too much credit. Unlike your unpleasant self I have standards."

"You...!" Phaedra snarled at him, an aura of aggression seeping out from every pore, seemingly wanting to rip him apart.

"What are you holding back for?" Lyle goaded. "Come at me, woman, see if I don't teach you some discipline today!" Lyle let out a snarl of his own. Both of them were nearly mad with rage, ready to throw down at a moment's notice . This may be a bit out of character for Lyle, but dammit that woman nearly carved a hole into his skull!

Melanie almost thought she was dreaming. Watching the two of them go back and forth like cats and dogs gave her a very...surreal feeling.

Never before had she seen Lyle so worked up, so displeased and resentful. Especially towards a woman. Just what was going on?

Iris, too, was mystified. And fuming.

This woman talked so badly towards her brother, just what was with her attitude?

Meanwhile, Lyle and Phaedra were about about to tear each other's throats off.

"Now hold up you two, settle down." Jaime's calm voice, completely unperturbed at their behavious, as if used to it, tried to get the two under control.

"Another word and you die."

Jaime arched a brow at her words.

Sighing, he looked at the others.

"Hm, let's go get a room and talk, shall we? I don't think these two are going to listen to reason."

Cecelia nodded, knowing what was about to happen as well as Jaime did.

She dragged an unwilling Iris away, motioning for Melanie to follow them. Which the girl did, after throwing a worried glance at Lyle.

"Um, s-should we...I don't know...Stop them?" They looked about ready to kill each other. And a few of the others in the room were hurridly clearing out for some reason.

"If you go in now, you'll die." Cecelia told her, not explaining further.

*********

"Brother!" Iris cried out as the youth entered the large room.

Melanie stood up abruptly at the sight of him. "W-what happened to you?" She walked over and fussed over his currently dishelved appearance. She did what she could to help him, but there wasn't much she could do besides fix his hair a bit...

A bit behind him entered the girl, Phaedra, looking just as bad. They both sported new cuts and bruises, looking like a complete mess. Even their clothes were all torn here and there. It was like they were both mauled by a pack of very pissed-off wolves.

They spoke not a single word to each other as they entered, not even looking the other's way, as if the other person didn't exist.

Iris glared hatefully at Phaedra. "You, woman, what did you do to my brother!"

"Young M--Bell, are you okay?" Melanie asked quietly.

Lyle gave her a small smile. "I'm fine. Thanks for the concern."

"No, but, you look..." Melanie wanted to do something for him, but couldn't figure out what to do, exactly. Hearing him say those words just made her feel even more awkward. It was literally her job to take take care of him, and yet...

"Don't worry about it. It's how they show their affection." Jaime's tone was bone-dry.

He and Cecelia let out wry smiles. They both understood that any level of 'affection' those two shared could only be in the negatives.

But in Cecelia's case, she also felt a bit resentful. Phaedra and Lyle never got along. Ever. They had hated each other since nearly the first day they met and she didn't think either of them even remembered how it started.

Whatever the case, every time they met, they would always come to blows sooner or later. And she disliked how the young woman treated him. If she simply left him alone then he would do the same.

As for the two themselves, neither of them acknowledged the little comment Jaime made just now.

"So, Cecelia informed me about this journey you wanted to make. Zeshar, huh? A trip there will be fairly dangerous this time of year, yeah. I assume you came here to get an extra pair of swords?"

Jaime asked.

"That was the plan, yes, but I didn't expect to see you here."

Lyle knew that their company would have some members stationed here, but Jaime and that vile woman being here as well came as quite a surprise.

"We're just passing through on some minor business. Any later and you would have missed us. Actually, that business happens to be in Zeshar. Fate? Perhaps. Anyway, if you would like to tag along it wouldn't be a problem at all. Boris and some of the others are with us and we have a camp set up near here. Since, you know, there's quite a few of us and the local Inns are a bit over capacity at the moment."

Lyle instantly brightened. Since Jaime and Phaedra were not just common members, they would be traveling with some of the best mercs they have.

The two of them were the son and daughter of the company's leader, Dyson Haddock. As for the Haddock Mercenary Company itself, it's power and influence were pretty widespread. It wasn't the strongest company around, but it was no pushover at all.

Jaime and his sister, that woman, were not to be underestimated either...

Cecelia, however, hesitated.

...Lyle and Phaedra...Could they make a journey like this together without killing each other?

"Sounds fine. But actually..." Lyle began. "I think that may not be a good idea." He shifted his gaze to the sister, not hiding his enmity at all.

She bared her teeth at him. "Well I think it's a great one." The girl would oppose him in any way she could, even this.

Lyle smiled sharply at her."What, could it be that you actually missed me, girl?"

"Yeah, I missed my punching bag." She sneered in return. It was an expression that she seemed to reserve for him alone.

Jaime and Cecelia quickly stepped in before they once again came to blows. Cecelia gently clutching onto his forearm, Jaime holding the girl's shoulder and making her step back.

That didn't stop the two from trying to burn a hole in the other with their eyes, but at least the room was temporarily relieved of the choking pressure the two created just now.

You could always tell when they were about to try ripping the other to shreds because there would be a voice at the back of your mind screaming of danger to come.

"Are you two done?" Jaime asked them. Then, lower, he whispered into his sister's ear. "Honestly, what is it between you two?"

Phaedra coldly answered back. "As long as one lives the other cannot." A quiet hiss.

Jaime shook his head, suddenly tired. Great.

The two...they really were like water and vinegar. Or maybe more like fire and gunpowder...

"Alright, yes, we're done. I mean it's not like this crazy dragon-lady tried to put a dagger in my head or anything." The sarcasm in his voice was so think you could cut into it with a knife.

"Maybe I should have aimed for you other head instead." She spat out.

Before Lyle could open his mouth to retort, Cecelia stepped in.

" I think we should move things along, right?" She looked at Melanie, wanting a vote of approval.

"Yeah, I like that idea." She smiled in relief and nodded, happy that things would not escalate further. She was very worried that Lyle and this young woman would attack each other again.

She hadn't see their fight, but a few of the sounds she heard caused her endless fright. And seeing how he looked currently, with his hair in a disarray and clothes torn here and there....Well, she was very much hoping they would not repeat themselves.

She didn't have any good impressions of this Phaedra person, and it seemed neither did Young Master Lyle. Melanie only wished for him to not have to ogo through anymore needless pain.

So she was glad that Cecelia offered a way out to them.

But this short bit of happiness was then smashed a moment later.

"Although you two might not care, can we just take a moment to acknowledge the fact that this woman tried to kill big brother!" Iris had had enough, nealy screaming the words, practically hysterical. She was...furious!

Those two, couldn't they see the state her brother was in? How could they simply let that go? Those two traitorous wretches, they don't give any thought to her brother's well-being at all!

Iris expected Melanie, who had recieved big brother's kindess these few years, to have brought this up herself. How could she know that this girl had not an ounce of gratitude for the help her brother had given her and her mother!

And this Cecelia, although she claimed to be a close friend of her brother's, was the same!

They both pretended to care about him, yet they said nothing about that evil, no-good woman's attempted murder of her brother!

She hated them both. Big brother couldn't see how vile they were, but she, the Iris of right now, could!

...That woman is right yet again, it seems no one is able to care about her brother like they do...They were the only ones who were looking out for him...

"Don't fret, sister of mine." Lyle held a hand to her shoulder in comfort. "She doesn't have the ability to kill me. Besides, didn't I promise to never leave you?"

He gave a small smile.

Iris wasn't swayed. "Brother, that isn't the point. Of course you wouldn't be beat by a low-class woman like her, but she hurt you! She tried to kill you! This...Such a thing...How can I be calm when someone threatened your life like that! Every time I remember it, I just want to...to..."

She couldn't even think of a punishment horrible enough for her!

Phaedra actually seemed curious as she asked, "Want to what, shrimp?"

Iris' eye locked onto the other person's figure dangerously.

...Jaime watched her and suddenly felt that she was indeed Bell's sister. These two siblings seemed to place one another on some sort of pedastal or something.

Jaime loved his own sister dearly, yeah. And they cared for each other deeply, it was true. But they weren't like these two. At all.

Or was this how normal sibling were supposed to be? Jaime didn't think so, but then again he hadn't really ever met another pair of siblings before, at least not like this.

Jaime once more tried to get a handle of the situation. This had gone on long enough, and they were wasting daylight.

"Alright, so, are you guys coming or what? Because we leave within an hour."

Lyle looked askance at Melanie and Cecelia.

Cecelia shrugged while Melanie looked away from him. Which he assumed meant that she was fine with anything he decided.

Although he really hated to, he knew that right course of action.

"Okay, yeah, we'll go..."

Traveling with them would be a lot more reassuring than traveling with regular mercenaries. Boris, Jaime, Phaedra, the few that they chose to go with them, all of them were pretty capable.

Had it just been he and Cecelia, however, he may not have ever agreed to go. He liked Jaime, he was a friend, it's just that Lyle wanted to take the man's sister and give her a thorough session of discipline.

Something that her father had obviously never did to her as a child, as evidence by her unruly behaviour.

"Good to hear. "Jaime walked to the room's door. " Come along then, we'll go meet up with the others. I'm sure they'll be happy to see you two again, not to mention the pair of young beauties you two brought along." He grinned.

**********

"Bell, Cece, good to see ya again!" A tall, muscular man approached Lyle.

They had long since departed the Merc Hall once Lyle met up with Jaime. Lyle had no other reason to be there now. He only wanted to hire some help, and knew the Haddocks would have some of their members stationed there.

As he was acquainted with their company, Lyle wanted to hire them. He hadn't expected Jaime to be there, thought since he was higher up on the food chain in terms of the company's leadership positions. A pleasant surprise. As for Phaedra...He didn't want to think about her.

They had now made their way to a small campsite near Ustrax, being met with a dozen or so mercenaries.

"Likewise." Lyle chuckled as the man got nearer.

"Fuck, I can swear you got taller! The hell have you been eating, boy? Gonna catch up to me pretty soon!" As he released them from a hug, he turned to Lyle and said such things.

Boris, a mountain of a man at 6'4, was one of the tallest men Lyle knew. Two hundred and ten pounds of pure muscle and capable of wielding a greatsword like it were a stick.

Not a person one wanted to provoke.

With his long, dark beard and good-natured attitude, Boris was like a bear in human form. He was well respected within the Haddock mercenary company, having been a member for little over twenty years now. Quite a feat in that line of work.

"And Cecelia, you've gotten even more lovely, I see!"

The big man laughed roarously, patting her on the back with all the force of a bear's paw.

His keen eyes picked up on something. He pointed. "Oh? What's that on your wrist there?"

Cecelia's lips curved into a soft, affectionate smile. Her eyes, almost imperceptibly, lit up as she casually raised her hand.

"An early birthday present courtesy of Bell." She ran a finger around the charm bracelet, enjoying the feel of it's warm metalic texture and gentle golden glow.

Boris let out a low, drawn-out whistle. " Nice, very nice. Loving the ornaments. Stylish. Nn. Looks well-made too. Must have been pretty pricey..."

Boris' eye flicked towards the boy, not sure if he was touched by the sentiment he showed the girl or not. This thing, it couldn't have been cheap at all! He had a cousin who, coincidentally enough, worked as a small-time jeweler. So he picked up on some things.

As such, he could tell that this bracelet was a pretty great item.

Bell must have saved up quite a bit to be able to buy it. And it was obvious the bracelet was cutsom-made, which would further raise the price. Those charms had to represent something to the two of them as well.

Mercenaries usually wouldn't be able to buy something like that. They weren't poor, but it's just that he knew this bracelet must have cost at least a small fortune.

This damn brat...

How can he afford to purchase such a luxurious thing, and for a woman? Hell, this might even give the poor thing the wrong idea...

Such a thoughtful gift, how can a woman's heart not flutter, hm?

Boris showed a sly expression. "Hehehe. Well now, gettin' quite serious with each other, aren'tcha? Next you'll be shopping for a wedding band!" He teased.

Cecelia instantly froze, suddenly very conscious about the ring hanging around her neck. She had to force herself not to reach out and touch it. Luckily it was hidden by her clothes.

Hearing this, how could Lyle resist?

He nodded. "What a marvelous idea. I truly think you're onto something there!" Lyle said empathetically. "Eh, so what do you think, Dearest? Marry me?" He spoke calmly to Cecelia, a hint of mischieviousness in his eyes.

Cecelia had honestly never thought she would hear those words from him...

Even though she knew he was joking, it still made her feel...strange. She found that she couldn't think of a reply at all. She was ridiculing herself mentally. Cursing. It would be weird if she didn't say anything, but that didn't seem to matter much all since her traitorous brain drew a blank line just then.

Really? It picked this moment to die on her? Great. Just what she needed. Lyle was definitely know something was wrong...And he would think she was weird. Probably he'd think she lacked a sense of humor and was some kind of prude.

But thankfully someone saved her from making a fool of herself.

Because just then, a masuline voice came out from behind the two young adults.

However the person's words, as soon as they were spoken, seemed to condemn her. "Ahem." It coughed lightly. " So, will I be invited to the wedding?"

It was Jaime, appearing almost out of thin air to help Cecelia dig an even bigger hole for herself as she would inevitably be unable to muster up any sort of witty retort.

Again, another voice went up. "Married? What, did you two finally get together? Knew it would just be a matter of time. Heh, Nyk owes me a gold piece now. Doubting the great me, the love guru, he's a thousand years too early to be so arrogant." A snicker. "But fuck, tying the knot already! I've lost my best wingman now. Such a shame...Oh well. I assume Bell dropped that other girl then?"

From behind Boris, a youth--that was younger than both Lyle and Cecelia at around fourteen--all but sauntered up to them with a very arrogant and self-important gait, as if he were the cock of the walk.

"Murphy?" Lyle eyed the youth.

"The one and only, my dear Bell. Alright, so, bachelor party anyone? We have to celebrate this momentous occasion. Bell, you have no right to refuse, we're getting you fucked up." The boy, tall and lanky with a head full of curly brown hair, seemed to take great pleasure in the thought.

"So, did you get my and Nyk's present?" He asked suddenly. His dark eyes flashed with anticipation, looking very eager to hear the answer.

"Yeah. Just got it, actually. Solace took good care of it. Seems like good stuff, haven't had a chance to test it yet though. An odd design, but if it's able to not break so easily then I think I'm going to love it."

"Great to hear, old chap. Fucking old man, he was damn stubborn. I thought me and Nyk would freeze our asses off at his doorstep!...I know he's gotta be asking you for something, but hey, least you got a suitable weapon now." For a moment, Murphy showed a vulnerable expression. Sincere. Betraying a hidden worry.

Lyle understood perfectly. This wasn't just some random gift. It was more than that. It meant something, similar to how Lyle giving the bracelet to Cecelia meant something. Even a bit similar to how he gave her that ring instead of just returning it.

They all thought that Lyle, that "Bell", was a mere sellsword. And to people like them, a good weapon was essential. It was their life.

And Lyle's great strength meant that he put too much strain on his weapons, so they broke quickly if he wasn't careful. In battle, a weakness like that was a matter of life and death.

He may be stronger than most, and his body may be more durable, but Lyle would get cut as easily as anyone else. He could take more punishment, that was all.

They knew all this. They knew that if Lyle kept up like this then he would live a short life.

To Lyle this was all little more than a method to get a better control over himself, to better himself. He wasn't truly a mercenary at all. But to them, he was. To them, he could very well die if he didn't have a reliable weapon on hand.

And they didn't want that.

They considered him a friend. Lyle didn't have all too many of those.

So in the face of their care and concern, he was touched.

That sword was sort of like a representation of their good-will towards him. It could very well protect his life someday. It was in this way that the situation wass similar to Lyle giving Cecelia that ring.

It was not just some casual choice on his part. That ring was intended to protect Sophia should the need arise and it had certain wards in place to do just that.

Lyle, like them, wanted to protect her life. So although it seemed a on-the-fly idea, he had actually thought of it fairly deeply at the time.

That sword and that ring...they held a great importance to the people involved.

"Thank you..."

What else could he say?

Murphy coughed, turning awkward. "Yeah, yeah...I hear ya, don't get all mushy on me now."

He glanced away for a brief second.

"So, anyways, back to the party. Don't worry bro, this wedding of yours and Cecelia's, just leave it all to this handsome devil." He went back to the original topic.

Hearing this, Lyle thought that maybe he actually thought that this little bit of fun was true. Unlike Jaime and Boris, who both held a small bit of amusement on their faces at the boy's misunderstanding, Murphy apparently took it seriously.

He looked to Cecelia and noticed she was seemingly lost in her own thoughts. Lyle didn't know that she was just unable to say anything when it came to this specific topic.

Seeing how she wasn't correcting any of this, as he thought she might now that it had been taken this far, Lyle was about to fill him in on things when a decidly unpleasant voice made him stop.

"Wedding?" Phaedra raised a brow. "With him? Disgusting..."

Yet another person spoke up. "Denied. This has to be a joke, but regardless, brother is too good for a person like her. That backstabber is unfit for him. Also, girl, watch how you speak about my big brother..."

"...."

Melanie was the only one who stayed quiet. She didn't understand what was going on. What was this talk about a wedding? Between them? That...

Lyle, though he had fun with the ruse, felt it time to stop. Melanie was probably feeling very confused--she was someone who believed in things like this pretty easily. A bit gullible, something that needed working on--and this went on long enough.

" Yeah, sadly Cecelia and I are not getting married. It was just a joke of sorts, you're right. Pay it no mind."

Murphy cursed. "A joke? Fuckin' A, man, you got me all hyped for nothing..."

"S'your fault for being an idiot, boy." Boris commented mildly. He looked at the newcomers. They had come with to the camp with Bell and the others, he now noticed, but they had stayed back for some reason.

In Phaedra's case she simply didn't want to be near that bastard of a man, Bellamy.

As for Iris and Melanie...Well, they both just thought it would be nice to let Lyle and Cecelia catch up to their old friends. Iris was only thinking of her brother, however, and didn't bother with Cecelia. She even thought that letting him talk privately with them for a time would make him appreciate her prudence a little.

Knowing a good time to let her brother appreciate his sister's thoughtfulness was something that Iris was an expert at, at least when it really mattered.

Simply put, Iris was looking to earn some brownie points.

....Melanie was the only one whose intentions were not that biased and calculating.

Anyway, as they stayed behind for their own reasons, Iris took the time to question Phaedra. She didn't believe this woman could actually hate her brother and thought that it was all a ploy to maybe get his interest.

So she, with Melanie watching on, began a short conversation with the older girl. Only a few sentences were exchanged, but by the end of it Iris and Melanie were both left speechless.

Iris had muttered, "I have met the enemy of my fate..."

Fast forwarding, Pheadra got tired of this little girl's death glares. She also knew that since she and that person would be traveling together, it would be foolish to keep away.

She refused to let his presence affect her. She would ignore him. Or at least, that's what she thought. But it was impossible, really. She flared up whenever she came into contact with him.

Her earlier words were crystal clear inside her mind. As long as one lived, the other cannot. She didn't hate him, exactly. It's just that she firmly believed that he, that insufferable man, was the enemy of her fate.

Her "hating"--which even now she would not admit to feeling because it would imply she cared enough about the man to hate him. Something she would die before admitting--him was just a by-product of that. Among other things.

It was as she was thinking these words that she overheard the conversation they were having.

Boris took a gander at Melanie, whom he had taken an interest to since she appeared just now.

"Hm...So I assume you're Bell's lover I had heard about?"

Not that he knew any real details, since that matter didn't concern him. Actually, he had only just now remembered it when Murphy made that question a while ago.

The boy did, he had remembered, talk about her once or twice when Boris was around. Looks like Cecelia, this girl, was out of luck. Even if she did pick up on some mixed signals from the boy, it appeared there was little she could do about it unless she wanted to be a homewrecker.

But he didn't think she would do that since it seemed like they knew each other. That may be a matter of course, now that he thought of it, since she and Bell were close. They must be friends at least, yeah?

And Cecelia wasn't the type to do that to a friend, Boris believed. Coveting that which wasn't her's, in this case, just wasn't in the girl from what he had seen. Heh, would take a more petty woman than she to try and steal someone else's man.

Still, it was a shame. Boris thought the two complimented each other nicely.

Oh well, it didn't have anything to do with him.

That aside, Bell had a few girl friends, Boris knew, but that boy didn't talk about women much. So it was not surprising Boris came to this conclusion. A girl like this, with such a pretty visage, appearing with Bell, how could it be that he wouldn't think of this?

He grew interested in getting to know this young woman in front of him. To have caught the attention of a person like Bell, she couldn't be ordinary right?

Though she looked like a small kitten to his eyes, who knew, she may have some fire in her.

Yet his expectations were completely off the mark.

"Hmm? What? Is that true? Bell, this girl, is really..." Murphy felt guilty about that question/comment he made earlier about him dropping her. Shit, what if she overheard?! It wouldn't make for a good first impression, that. It's not like he meant to be mean or anything...

The girl stammered, surprised. "M-me? No, no, I'm not...Me and him, we're not like that. Lover, you say..." She blushed. That word, somehow it was really...lewd? "Something like that, we aren't...Um, that is to say, I'm not... I mean Lady Sophia and me aren't comparable at all..." This was an irrefutable truth. "I'm just his--"

"Friend." Lyle had to cut in. It was only then that he noticed something odd in Melanie's words...

"Lady Sophia?" Boris asked, blinking. "What the...Bell, that girl of yours, could she be a Noble?"

...Well. Fuck.

Lyle cursed in his heart.

Usually only Nobles or other higher-class individuals could be called a Lord or Lady.

Boris narrowed his eyes. He caught nothing off in Bell's face, that guy was always hard to see through. And Boris didn't think that there were many Lady Sophias around these parts.

Boris felt that if true, this brat was pretty capable. Having the ability to catch the eyes of a Noble, even if she was a minor one, was not something to scoff at.

In other places, the fourth sons and daughters of Nobles had much more freedom to do what they wanted.

Only the first through third generation of children had any real importance. It would be expected that the kids of the fourth and later generations would become government officials or something, some even became mercenaries or adventurers for a living.

But that was only in other places.

Getting more to the point, in Drann kingdom the gap between any Noble and a common citizen was pretty wide. Although there were laws in place against Nobles mistreating commoners, you would likely never find a Noble interacting very friendily with someone of low birth.

Certainly you wouldn't often see the daughter of a Noble dating a mere mercenary, even if he were part of a Noble family from some other kingdom.

So this was fairly strange. Bell had to have quite some ability to be in a relationship with a Noble.

But Boris' assumptions were quickly refuted.

"Sophia's not a Noble." Lyle laughed. "She's the daughter of some people that my father is friends with. They're an upper mid-class merchant family. And Melanie was helped out by them when Sophia stepped in as she and her mother were being accosted by loan sharks. The mother and daughter had some troubles, you see, because of a debt her father accumulated before his passing. Sophia paid the debts off for them since it was a small sum to her anyway.

When Sophia asked about the situation and learned of their circumstance, she told her family. They were kind enough to take them in and offer them some honest work. Melanie became Sophia's maid, and so since she is her benefactor, respectfully calls her Lady" He came up with a plausible explanation on the fly, using his own history with Melanie and replacing himself with Sophia.

He had not been planning to explain all too much about Melanie being here, though he did have one in mind for a while now. But he couldn't really use that one now that Melanie let something slip. He didn't blame her for the mistake though, not mad at all.

Melanie, on the other hand, was. She knew she messed up just now. She even thought that he was inwardly mad at her, and that might scold her later for it.

Suh a obvious slip, she should have not made it in the first place! She was an idiot. Really, how could she just blurt out something like that...

And he covered it up so well...He shouldn't have had to do that, however, and felt guilty about forcing him to.

The only thing was that she had some minor reservations about his story.

Because that event was an important turning point in her life, and he was the one to help her that time, not Lady Sophia. He replaced himself with her, which Melanie found she disliked.

He was her benefactor that time, and now she would have to pretend it was someone else. Somehow, that felt like it was a small betrayal on her part.

But there was nothing she could do, she caused it herself. Since he yet again helped her out, she could only play along. If she had not made the mistake in the first place, she would not have to do this, and neither would he have to let someone else take credit for his own actions.

"Is that so?"

Boris, Murphy, Jaime and even Paedra thought that was kinda touching. Who knew how many people got thrown into hellish lives trying to pay off those damn heartless leeches.

And not many people would go out of their way to help someone out like that. At most, they would help them out one time and then leave. Maybe they would chase the bastards away, but not pay off the debts for the two.

Even if they did that, they would not do much else. Plus, though the debts were paid off, it would still be difficult for a small family like that to support themselves.

The only way to do so before was probably to work their asses off, and any funds used for themselves to live on, instead of sending it to pay off their debts, would just be added to what they already had to pay back. A damn despicable and unfair system to be sure.

With the debts clear it would be easier, but they would still have to do some back-breaking work. Who knew when they would be able to truly get back on their feet?

So that family going that far to help out strangers they didn't know at all...it was commendable. The four praised the young girl, Sophia, especially for making sure her effort in helping the two out was not wasted.

People should help out in full if they were going to do so at all, something that girl must have understood.

Phaedra personally thought the girl's taste in men must be abysmal to settle for a man like that guy, but that what a different matter.

Melanie nodded and smiled. " Lady Sophia and her family has helped me and my mother out immensly."

As this was wrapping up, Boris once more shifted his gaze. This time towards the cute young girl by Bell's side.

" And this stunning beauty is...?" He prodded.

Murphy also commented. " Yeah, who is? Such a pretty young thing, I was just wondering what level of heaven a little angel like her could have come from. Come now, Bell, introduce us already. A distant relative, perhaps? Or are you going about collecting lolies* now?"

(Author note: So had some doubts about using this word, and i may use it again in the future. It just feels right, doesn't it? It does to me at least.)

"As if I would partake in such a thing." Lyle snorted. "And she's my sister, Iris."

"Bullshit." They both said in unison. They had almost the same reaction Jaime inwardly had when he heard this. He was just tactful enough not to say anything about it.

He was glad he was not the only one who found it strange that these two were related like that. He, Bell, insisted they were blood siblings, and Jaime wouldn't doubt that. But he did think that theirs was a pretty unique gene pool to have them both look so different from one another.

The blonde hair was similar, yeah, but the faces were not much alike at all. As such, anyone would be surprised, right?

Besides, blonde hair wasn't uncommon..

The main reason he didn't comment on this was that he thought it would be very rude. Also, he knew better than to do so. Because Bell really liked his sister, he understood, and the boy talked about her with not a small amount of pride when he did so.

He must be the protective sort. Like Jaime kind of was. So saying something about it was unwise.

" What, have something to say?" Lyle asked with a smile.

"Ah, no, it's nothing..." Boris and Murphy knew the boy's temperment, and the amount of affection he had for that sister they heard him talking about all those times before.

They weren't stupid. Why would they ask for a beating?

Or, okay, he wouldn't beat them. But he could if he was set off, and they thought that this may be one of his triggers.

Because Murphy thought that maybe Bell couldn't beat Boris, but he could certainly beat him if he wanted to. Murphy was not weak, he had been raised as a merc, and he was skilled with daggers. But that wouldn't help much against this freak of nature.

If he was angry over this, Bell would take it out on him if anything. As for Boris, he wasn't like Murphy. He wasn't scared of Bell, exactly. But fuck, that boy was a beast. Boris was a big, strong man. But would that be any help against that monster?

Even hardened steel broke because of his strength. His physique was really only able to be described as heaven-sent. Probably his physical power was comparable to those Earth Knights.

Boris was not willing to invite in that sort of headache.

These were irrational fears since Lyle wouldn't be beating them without good reason. He would consider it if they got out of hand with their crudeness and made Iris feel bad, but as long as they didn't do that then they were all good.

"Ahem, yes, well, I'm glad to finally be meeting you, little girl. Your brother talks so much about you."

Boris laughed merrily, like a veritable lion's roar.

His large frame dwarfed Iris, his shadow looming over her. Iris' eyes went wide at the sight of him just then, finally noticing how menacing the guy was. The thick hair of his, his beefy arms and fingers, that angry red scar on his near the side of his face, everything made people want to take a step back in fright.

That wasn't all. With all eyes on her, Iris seemed to wilt. She was terrible with strangers. Usually would appear to get past that when she was mad, like how when that girl attacked her brother.

However, in regards to the pressure of so many eyes on her at once, she had no resistance. Especially when that thing (refering to Jaime) which Iris was well and truly terrified of was around.

"Back off, big guy, you're scaring her." Murphy made a pointed glance towards Boris, who felt very put-off due to the fact. He wasn't that scary...

Murphy smiled radiantly at the girl as he turned to her. " A pleasure to meet you, my dear, I'm Murphy. Do not be fooled by my compatriot here, he's really just a giant fluffy teddy bear deep down inside."

"..."

Iris didn't like him. She thought he looked like a very frivolous person. A good-for-nothing.

Murphy, if he knew her thoughts, could only be able to shrug in response. His biggest aspiration in life was to be a true good-for-nothing.

Strike it rich by finding some wealthy, pretty thing. Marrying her, having a debaucherous lifestyle where he would laze around all day...

Not having to get all dirty and shit making a living like this.

Yup. That sounded good. There was nothing else he hoped for more.

Iris, seeing his face, was even more sure that she was right.

"Alright, now that all this is over, let's go and meet with the others. They're just up ahead a bit, already waiting by the road. By the way, although it's a nice surprise, you must have a reason for coming?" Boris asked.

Lyle nodded. "Yeah, come on, we can talk about it on the way."

*********

They had taken Lyle's carriage, with Boris, Murphy and Lyle in the front seats while the reast stayed in the back.

Iris pouted when her seat was taken, but amazingly didn't complain abot it.

"Zeshar, wow, what a coincidence." Boris and Murphy said as they heard this, since they themselves were about to head to those parts.

"Yeah, we have some business there." Lyle said simply.

"Oh? And you're bringing your sister along for the ride when you know bandit are pretty active around this time?" Murphy asked in concern.

"That's what I wanted to come to Ustrax for, to get some extra insurance. Didn't think I would run into you guys."

Boris shrugged. " I doubt a few bandits would faze you anyway." He had great confidence in the boy's fighting ability. Only a really larfe group of bandits would be able to take him down. Or if they were really skilled small group of bandits.

He remembered how Nyk saved him from the Blood Raven's Elites a while back. Those people were damn strong and not to be trifled with.

After Nyk got taken down, wounded, the boy was able to fight them off though.

Still, Boris knew why Bell would ask for help. In battle, things were very chaotic. He and Cecelia could take care of themselves, but the other two couldn't

Yes, Bell must have had confidence that he could protect them, but he wasn't stupid. He most likely would not take the chance that something would happen to either of the yuong girls, especially that beloved sister of his.

" Okay, fair enough." Murphy said in response to all this. "But what about that Melanie?" He jerked a thumb behind them to indicate the inside of the vehicle where the girl and everyone else currently resided.

Murphy went on, " I mean why would she be with you?"

It was a valid question. She was a maid going on a trip with her mistress' boyfriend and his young sister. How could Murphy not wonder what was up?

Lyle waved him off. "None of your business." Murphy, blinking, let the topic die as he knew that he would get nothing more out of him.

To be honest, Lyle just didn't know how to answer on the spot like that. He could tell them how Sophia thought he was seeing Melanie behind her back, and that so now he was taking care of the girl. A edited version of what actually happened, so to speak, like what he did before. But that would still raise some questions.

Like how he could afford to just casually take in a fully grown young woman and provide for her, why he would take her along on a trip to a far-off place when it was better for her to stay behind. Things like that. He may be able to explain the first, but the second...that would be harder.

And any explanation he gave for those doubts would still appear weak. Since it was like that, he just opted to not give to much of a reason for her being here. And he knew that they would not ask to many question.

Mercenaries lived pretty much day to day, they wouldn't think too much about small matters like this.

They continued on in silence.

It wasn't long until they got to their destination.

There were small roads everywhere, and the place that they had made camp at was located near on of those roads. As that particular road led into the forest area and in between some mountains, it was the perfect place for an ambush.

Still, it was lesser known and rarely traveled. Meaning not many bandit would think to look there. It was not a direct road to Zeshar so they would have to make several changes in directions, but that shouldn't affect the travel time overmuch.

When that arrived, there were two large caravans being loaded with various items and at least a dozen or more people starting to climb inside.

There were some people stationed in the front and back of the caravans as guards, watching for any sign of trouble. If anything went wrong, they would signal the others for a fight.

As soon as someone saw them coming, everyone went on full alert.

They were far enough away that the people couldn't see their faces.

"Alright, bastards, hold it right there! You have about ten seconds to state who the fuckin' hell you are or i'm going to have my men here kill and then rape your fuckin' whore-spawned corpses!"

A crass, very mean-sounding female voice rose up within the mercenaries' ranks.

"Son of a bitch. Val, you damn woman, knock it off with that crap! You're giving us a bad name!"

Boris went red with anger, scolding the voice.

A short, tan-skinned woman in about her mid to late twenties pushed herself towards the front. Val.

"Eh, sorry boss. It's all just for the sake of appearing threatening, though. I mean come on. We're mercs, if we look like easy pickings then who knows what would happen? What if you were, like, bandits in disguise, hmm? Shit, with my luck you know I'd be the first to get offed. I value my life, thank you very much. This level of menace is fine, don't sweat it."

Returning the drawn bow to her back, she spoke such words.

"Woah, woah, woah, is that Bell?! Oi, Nyk, everyone, looks who's here!" The woman had a very bubbly aura, grinning merrily as she saw who was with them. quinting at him, she said, " Damn, Bell, you look like you've been playing with a pack of Scrylings. Wait. I can already tell. You met with Phaedra, didn't you?"

Her tone implied that this could be the only explanation.

Just then another person came over, a muscular square-jawed youth with a head full of dark hair.

Nyk.

"Bell?" He asked.

"Hey." Lyle greeted.

"Good to see you." He said simply.

Lyle nodded.

Nyk was a man of few words but when he said something, he meant it.

Lyle knocked on the window and it opened immediately for him. "We're here." He told them.

Getting down, he went to say hello to everyone else.

Cecelia, along with Melanie, Iris, Jaime and Phaedra, opened the door to follow him

Not everyone present had known of Lyle and Cecelia, but thay had heard of them before at least.

Due to some circumstances, the two ended up helping their company on more than one occasion and there weer some battles where they contributed a lot.

So everyone, even if they didn't know the two, they still respected them. For those who did actually know them personally, like Val, Nyk, Murphy, Boris, Jaime and some of the others, they were happy to see they were here.

Cheerful greetings and a few back-breaking hugs were exchanged. Particularly by Val who's small stature belied the power in her arms which one her size simply shouldn't have.

Her years of working with the long bow at her back did wonders for her physical strength...

As they took a break in order to say their hellos, Murphy rounded up everyone and poured them a drink to celebrate. Cups were raised and downed in an instant. Then raised again. And again. And again.

Over the period of half an hour, once Lyle had introduced Iris(Who grew annoyed when they expressed shock or disbelief at learning her identity) and Melanie to everyone, they partook in a short but boisterous party of sorts. Just a little reprieve from the work in order to welcome the two.

Iris and Melanie felt out of place among all this, however, and were not sure how to deal with it. So many strange, unfamilliar people...

And they were very crude, cussing with every other word. Not very articulate at all. Iris even doubted some of them could read by the way they talked. It wasn't something they were used to.

Even Melanie had never come into this close contact with mercenaries, not to mention the sheltered Iris. The language didn't bother Melanie too much, but it was sort of strange for her.

Ever since going into the employ of the Greybornes, she had only ever interacted with people who had a very good education or well-mannered personality.

Young Master Lyle and the Young Miss, Iris, were both especially like this. They didn't speak like commoners, but rather spoke with a very...well, a very Noble air.

So coming back and noticing the difference between those born of a good background and other people who were just normal civilians like her...it was a bit odd.

Again, it just wasn't what she was used to. At least not anymore. And these mercenaries were worse than a vast majority of people she had met. They really didn't see afraid to say their mind at all. Straightforward and blunt to the extreme.

For Iris, it was a lot worse. When she compared other Noble children to her brother she already thought they were like monkeys. These people, now, seemed lower than monkeys.

It isn't like she had bad feelings towards them or anything, it's simply that she would not ever choose to even speak with people like them if not for the fact they were her brother's friends or comrades or whatever they were to him.

As such, they, Melanie and Iris, tried to stay a bit apart from the rest. Lyle noticed this and did his best to make them more at ease, calming everyone down and getting to business.

He took some time to explain everything again, telling Val and the others that he and his sister--Along with Melanie and Cecelia, of course--were coming along with them to Zeshar for matters of their own.

Again, excitement. Their friends were eager to catch up and fight with the two again, while the rest of those present wanted to know if the young man and woman were as good as they heard.

After everything came to a close, they began packing up once again and departed for Zeshar in truth.

********

Five hours later

"Give us everything you have, leave those four pretty young bitches with us, and get the fuck out of here."

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Luc666-_-

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