Chapter 17 – Meeting
“So, can you hear them? What are they saying? Don’t stay so silent, I also want to know!”
“Shut up, Harri. How am I supposed to concentrate if you keep talking?”
It’s been a few minutes since the Creator left, after being summoned by the Lord of this place. Since we had nothing better to do, we decided to follow her –more or less. Technically, we’re still in the courtyard. However, we moved to the other side of the mansion, where the lord’s office was situated.
Standing just below the window, Yoko was leaning against the wall, her eyes closed and her arms crossed. She was focusing, eavesdropping on the conversation. I have no idea how she does that, considering how thick the exterior walls were, but I’m guessing it has something to do with her fox ears.
“Hey, say something. I’m bored.”
“Shut up already.”
Ah… The Creator should have given me some superior ears too. For how long am I supposed to stand still? Yoko’s not even commentating anything; she’s just listening, leaving me in the dark.
So I’m waiting. I just observe her, trying to guess the situation. From time to times, her eyelids would twitch and a wry smile appeared on her face. But otherwise, she stays impassible. However, the violent sways of her tail were speaking for herself: she was annoyed. Whatever she’s hearing, it clearly doesn’t please her.
“And this is why humans are so stupid…” Yoko eventually muttered, breaking the silence. “They never learn their place, do they?”
Yup. She’s pissed. What did she hear? Biting her lips, she acted out her frustration silently for a few minutes, before her lips curled into an evil grin as her tails started to sway even more violently in her back. Wait, her tails? One, two, three, four, five…
“Yoko,” I called her out. “Why are your nine tails out? Aren’t you supposed to hide them?”
Turning her gaze to me, she narrowed her eyes before giving a quick glance in her back. She didn’t even notice?
“Oops~! My bad, my bad!” She exclaimed as she made her tails disappear. “I got a little excited thinking about something, I forgot about self-control!”
“What did you hear?” I asked.
Without answering anything, a broad smile stretched on her face, slowly revealing all her teeth.
“Hey, Harri, want some action?”
I narrowed my eyes. “You know we can’t fight, right?”
“Oh, come on! Not everything is about fighting!” She answered with a wry smile. “Let’s have a truce! I found something much more interesting to do!”
“A truce? Of all people, to think you would be the one to call for a truce… What are you thinking of doing?”
“Just doing a little favor to the Creator!”
A wicked grin appeared on her face, stretching from one side to the other, showing every single tooth. I know this smile. It doesn’t bode well for anyone. It’s the same smile she always make when she’s about to do one of her nasty pranks.
“Whatever you’re thinking of doing, are you sure you’re doing this for the Creator and not for yourself?” I asked, clearly showing my mistrust. “To me, it looks like you’re quite enjoying the situation.”
“Eh~! Come on, I haven’t told you anything yet! How can you be judging so fast?” Her voice didn’t match her expressions. There was a slight hint of concern in her tone, but the grin on her face suggested that her confidence didn’t falter.
“Well, do tell. I’m listening.” I said as I cross my arms. “I’m curious to hear what you deemed interesting enough to call for a truce. However, know that if you don’t manage to convince me, I will not cooperate and immediately spill the beans. So, what did you hear?”
As her smile kept stretching wider and wider, she started to explain everything to me.
One hour. It’s the time it took for us to set the terms and the conditions of the deal. I knew that my uncle was probably up to something, but at least, this way, he won’t be able to manipulate the terms of the agreement to his advantage.
Still, no matter how much I thought about it, I just couldn’t think of any catch. I’m pretty sure there is some kind of trap, but it’s still worth the risk.
I always thought that everything would be solved once brother reached the legal adult age. Even if he chose not to renounce to his legacy, as a proper adult, my uncle would no longer have absolute control over him. He would probably have found a way to protect mother too. But technically, mother is already free. However, I know that she won’t leave this mansion as long as we’re here. And waiting for me to also reach the age of majority is not an option. My uncle pretty much stated that he won’t wait until then to carry out whatever his evil plans are. And even if I manage to break off the engagement, even if I manage to reach adulthood without any problems, to be honest, unlike brother, as a female, I’m not sure my wishes will be worth anything against the will of the head of the house.
So it’s a dead-end. As long as he is still alive, according to the law, my uncle will always have some control over mother and me. And fleeing or killing him aren’t an option either. I can’t see how having to deal with the authorities can end up in a good way. So in the end, the only way to get rid of him without causing any commotion is to have him grant me my freedom on his own will.
Well, I’m saying ‘granting freedom’, but actually, it’s just him disowning me. Even if I’m the previous Marquis’ daughter, since father is no longer here, he does have this power. This way, he’s cutting all ties with me and mother and won’t be able to control our lives any longer. And to make sure he wouldn’t take advantage of the future difference between our statuses, I made him swear not to use his authority against us.
I took precautions in defining all the conditions of the deal, which is why it took so long for him to complete his [Oath], but at least, now I’m sure he won’t go back on his word. Since it’s a sacred promise, an Oath can’t be broken easily. To be honest, no one really knows what happens when an Oath is broken since there was no one to tell -anyone having broken an Oath before having either disappeared or completely lost their sanity. However, there were enough rumors to dissuade anyone to break one again.
Still, my side of the deal was so simple while his side had so many conditions. The fact that the deal seemed so one-sided only made me feel even more ill-at-ease. My uncle seemed so relax about all this that it made it clear that he was up to something.
If I could force him to talk, things would be much easier. But for some reasons, the [World System] won’t let me use Mind Magic. I guess I could torture him but… Well, not only it’s way too drastic, and I’m not so barbaric that I would torture someone without any substantial proof, but any confessions obtained under torture must be taken with a grain of salt. So I guess I’ll just play along. For now, everything is at my advantage. If Uncle Jack tries to do something, I’ll just have to deal with it… probably.
Right now, I need to inform Yoko and Harri about the situation. Thinking about it, it’s been over an hour that I left them alone. I hope they didn’t do anything. They were still fighting when I left, and none of them are patient enough to stay still for over an hour. I guess I can expect some mess… However, surprisingly, when I arrived, I didn’t see any damages. No broken dishes, no chair upside down, nothing. They were just sitting there, under the sunshade, around a cup of tea.
“Finally, you’re back!” Harri greeted me with a broad smile. “What took you so long?”
“Sorry,” I apologized as I joined them, a bit confused. “You guys seem… alright. What did you do while I wasn’t here?”
“Nothing much, really!” Yoko happily answered. “We were just tired about fighting all the time, so we negotiated a truce.”
I narrowed my eyes and slightly tilted my head to the side, not sure of what I just heard. A truce? Them? What’s next? Turning my gaze to Harri, I saw him nodding approvingly at Yoko’s words. So it wasn’t a joke. What’s wrong with them, are they sick? It just doesn’t make any sense. Not that I complain. If I’m going to leave them alone for six months without surveillance, I’d rather have them getting along. Now how do I bring up the main topic?
“Uhm, ok…” I muttered. “Guys, you know, I’ll be leaving for a while.”
“Sure,” they both answered at the same time.
“When I say a while, I mean for a few months, not just a few days.” I pointed out.
“Yeah, no problem. Go ahead.” Yoko replied with a smile.
…Huh? Is that it? What’s with that lack of reaction, do they not care? That hurts me a bit…
“I was hoping that you would stay here while I’m not here. You know, protecting my mother and monitor my uncle and my aunt, in case they try to do something weird.”
“As you wish!” Yoko once again answered with a wide smile.
That easily? Something isn’t right. I knew I could count on Harri, considering his gentleman personality, but I didn’t expect Yoko to accept so fast. I’m basically asking her to stay in the company of both humans and Harri, whom she dislikes. I was ready to bribe her with some kind of reward, maybe giving her back her territory once I would leave, but it seems that it wasn’t even necessary.
“Even if I’m not here, you can’t fight, you know?” I said, unsure of what was going on in her mind.
“Don’t worry about that!” She exclaimed. “Truce, remember? We’ll take a very good care of your family, so you can go with a light heart!”
“She’s right.” Harri added, resting his arm on her shoulder. “See? We’re already best buddies. We’ll be cooperating, so don’t worry and go. We’ll take care of the rest!”
Right. As if. Best buddies? Them? No one would buy this. Still, they obviously came to some agreement. I’m already busy enough trying to figure out what my uncle is thinking, I don’t have the time to deal with them. I don’t think I should push it any further, they might change their minds. They’re Gods, anyway. They’re old enough to take care of their own problems –or not, but they won’t go against me. I don’t think they will ever betray me, so everything should be fine.
“Ok, then… You will need to follow some rules, though.”
As I said this, I heard the two Gods in front of me sighing loudly, rolling their eyes.
“Seriously? Again? Don’t you think you’re overdoing with all your rules?” Yoko complained.
“There will never be enough rules for you, guys.” I muttered. “Anyway… First! Obviously, you need to avoid using your powers. Unless the situation really requires it, you can’t display any form of magic or any proof of divinity.”
“When is it when a situation really requires it?” Yoko asked, squinting.
“Well, if the enemy becomes openly hostile, I guess.” I answered after hesitating for a while. “If my uncle, my aunt, Yao, or anyone else tries something weird, suddenly start to attack you or threaten my mother in any way, obviously, don’t just stand there and watch. Fight back. Remember: you need to keep a low profile and not attract anyone’s attention. However, if you have to choose, then my mother’s safety comes first. Nothing else really matters.”
Yoko and Harri exchanged a meaningful glance, before a grin drew on their face.
“So basically, you’re saying that as long as we don’t strike first, it’s ok to fight back?” Yoko said, as her smile kept stretching wider. “Well, that makes things easier…”
Huh? She whispered that last sentence, but I definitely heard her. “What is that supposed to mean?”
She shrugged. “Never mind that, I was just thinking out loud. What’s the rest?”
“… ...Secondly. Keep an eye on my uncle. No, actually, keep an eye on everyone. Especially if someone tries to contact people outside the house. There must be someone who can use soul magic, or who knows someone else who can. We need to find who it is.”
“Easy task. Anything else?”
Umh… I think that’s about it. I said the essential. As long as they follow those two rules, everything should be fine… or not. I have to take their personality in account, especially if I’m letting them with my mother.
“Special rule for you, Yoko.” I said, pointing at her with my finger. “I’d appreciate if you didn’t seduce anyone in this house while I’m not here. I really don’t need you to worsen the situation. Besides, even if you find it funny, it’ll only make things awkward for the rest of us. Think about your cover.”
Looking away, she simply answered with a bored ‘Sure, whatever’. Would it have been anyone else, I wouldn’t have been convinced. But it’s Yoko, she doesn’t lie so I didn’t insist any further. I turned my attention to Harri, who didn’t seem concerned.
“As for you, Harri,” I added. “You are absolutely not allowed to hit on my mother!”
He blinked several times, as he displayed a confused smile, feigning ignorance. “I would never dare!”
I grabbed his shoulders. “I’m serious, Harri. Don’t over do it with the compliments and with your ‘gentleman’ attitude. She’ll misunderstand. My mother is a shy person, she’s no good with attention and you’ll only make her uncomfortable.”
“Uhm, understood… I guess?”
That’s worrying. Up until now, I somehow managed to avoid those two meeting mother. I’d rather not have them getting too close to her. I know they would never harm her purposely, but it’s their passive-aggressive behavior that I’m worried about. I don’t want their silliness to corrupt her… Mother is socially awkward enough like that, I don’t need Yoko and Harri to worsen things. But well, there is no point in delaying their meeting any longer, especially if they are going to stay together for the six next months.
It’s been two weeks since I first introduced Yoko and Harri, so mother already heard about them. Since it was the first time I brought people home, of course she’d be curious. But whenever they came, she would just stay quietly in her room, and only ask me about them once they left. I’m worried she may have developed agoraphobia over the past years… She never goes out and avoids meeting strangers. She also probably got worried about the racial prejudices and hides herself, not wanting to ‘surprise’ my friends. They already know about her being an elf, though.
On the other hand, Yoko and Harri have been wanting to meet her since day one, curious to see what kind of woman gave birth to me. However, their curiosity quickly subsided as I explained them that she was just a normal elf –sort of. Besides, since most of the time, they were too busy fighting, they forgot about it soon enough.
So I need to make sure their first meeting goes well. The first impressions are always the most important. For this, I need to draw the line.
“One last rule. And that goes for both of you,” I added. “No skinship with my mother allowed.”
Yup, if I’m going to let two weirdoes with my mother, this is a given.
Yoko and Harri both furrowed their forehead, clearly not understanding the necessity of this last rule. However, they don’t seem to contest my decision.
“Fine but, shouldn’t I inspect her mana core first?” Yoko asked.
…She has a point. With an unknown mage targeting the family, the least I can do is to inspect mother’s mana core. I may have blessed her, but I’m not sure how this ‘Divine protection’ works. However, letting Yoko kiss mother is a bit… Ew.
“I don’t need to kiss her, if this is what’s bothering you.” Yoko bluntly said, as she probably guessed what I was thinking. “I just need a physical contact. The more intimate, the better though.”
“Umh… Fine. One hug. Do it naturally.”
Having finished establishing the rules, all there is left to do is for them to meet. So I guided my guests to mother’s room, as I started to grow nervous. Except for special occasions or when she is out to see me, she never leaves her room so she should be here. Her room was at the opposite of mine. My uncle decided so, in an attempt to separate the young child I was from my mother and decrease my moral, making me more vulnerable. Unfortunately for him, I wasn’t quite a normal child, so it was useless. Besides, ever since I was allowed out, I only need to cross the corridor to see mother.
When we finally arrived in front of her room, I turned to the two Gods following me.
“Stay here and don’t make a sound. I will talk to her first, then, when you get my signal, you can come in. Understood?”
With a small grin, they both silently answered raising their hand, as they connected their index finger to their thumb into a circle, forming an OK sign.
Knocking at the door, I didn’t need to wait a long time before I heard a small voice asking me to enter. Taking a deep breath, I entered the room, giving one last glance behind me, before closing the door. I immediately noticed mother sitting in a chair beside the window. As she saw me, she gently smiled at me.
“What brings you here, Lyni?” She asked. “Did your guests already leave?”
I shook my head. “No, they’re still here.”
“Is that so? Then you shouldn’t leave them alone, you know?”
As I fell silent, mother stood from her chair, before walking to the bed. She sat on it and patted the blanket, inviting me to come. Obeying, I stepped forward and stopped at the foot of the bed, taking a seat next to her.
“What’s wrong, Lyni?” She asked, as she brought her hand to my cheek, seemingly worried. “What’s on your mind? Is there something you want to ask?”
Maternal instinct on point. I heard that mothers could tell when their children were troubled by something, I guess it’s true.
“Mom,” I muttered. “Have you ever thought about leaving this place?”
For her few seconds, she widened her eyes, as she clearly not expected me to ask her something like this. “Did something happen? Did somebody mistreat you? Is there something you’re unhappy about?” She asked, her eyes tight and worried.
I shook my head, reassuring her. “No, I was just wondering… if we were to leave, where would you want to go?”
Mother slightly tilted her head to the side, seemingly surprised by my sudden question. “Lyni, we can’t leave. Your father was the head of this house. You and your brother belong to this family.”
“I know, but if you could leave, is there anywhere you want to go?”
She stayed silent for a while, before a weak smile played on her lips. Since I was insisting, she didn’t push the matter any further and simply responded. “Anywhere is fine. As long as we’re together, nothing else matters. We’ll always manage to overcome any hardship.”
Oh… I expected something like this. Coming from her, such a philosophic answer isn’t surprising, but it’s still a little disappointing. That’s too vague. I know that mother is a selfless person and barely thinks of her own happiness, but she should have at least a few wishes. A place where she wants to go, a place where she wants to return. A home.
Mother is really secretive, so I don’t know much about her past. She never talks about it and since it’s obviously filled with painful memories, I never really dared to ask. She never even told me anything about my father. Everything I know about him, I learned it from the servants. Even Aoban doesn’t remember much about him, and I can’t expect to get anything from my uncle or my aunt, since the daddy topic seems to be a taboo subject. Still, just because she doesn’t talk about it, it doesn’t mean mother doesn’t have a past. How and with who did she live before she got captured?
“Mom… Don’t you have a family?” I eventually asked, after hesitating a bit.
For a slit of a second, mother froze, clearly taken aback by my sudden question. She stared blankly at me for a few seconds before she relaxed her expression. A kind smile appeared on her face.
“You are my family, you and your brother.”
…That’s a no? But obviously, she’s only thinking about me and Aoban, so even if it’s only for a few months, leaving her behind is making me feel guilty. I feel like betraying her. When Aoban had to leave, she felt really down. He sent a lot of letters and came back every semester, but as a mother, I guess it’s still hard to be separated from your children. Still, she managed to endure her loneliness because I was here. But if I were to leave too…
Hearing a sudden chortle, I looked up at mother, who was seemingly amused by my silent dilemma.
“You don’t have to worry about me, you know?” She said, still chuckling. “I can take care of myself, so you can go.”
Huh? She probably saw the confusion on my face before I could hide it, as she continued.
“You’re leaving, right? Isn’t it why you came here? I already heard from your uncle that you’ll be joining your brother. So if you’re worried about me, don’t. You have to think about yourself first. It’s a good opportunity for your future, besides, didn’t you always regret not being able to go with your brother? Don’t throw away this chance because of me. I’m the one supposed to take care of you, not the other way around Lyni.” She said with a teasing smile.
Oh… Maternal instinct sure is a terrifying thing. But, she said that she already heard it from Uncle Jack? So he warned mother about my future departure even before consulting me about it. This bastard… He knew I wasn’t going to refuse, didn’t he? Still, it seems that he didn’t tell her everything, since mother clearly doesn’t know about our deal. Well, I guess it’s better this way. I don’t like deceiving her, but if she knew, she would get unnecessarily worried, knowing that I’m obviously taking part of my uncle’s schemes.
“Sorry, I’ll go…” I responded with a small voice.
As a sweet smile drew on her face, she gently took me in her arms.
“There is nothing for you to be afraid of, Lyni.” She said, patting my hair. “Your brother will be there with you. If anything happens, talk to him. He will protect you. And I’m not going anywhere; I’ll always wait for you. So you don’t have to be worried.”
That’s not what I’m worried about, although because of my asocial personality, mother is probably thinking of me as a shy and insecure young girl. But I’m just awkward with people, and not really good at expressing myself or understanding others. I don’t want to be the one who needs to be protected again.
“You too, mom.” I muttered. “You don’t have to worry, since you won’t be alone either.”
Slowly releasing me from her embrace, mother looked at me with her squinted eyes, probably trying to comprehend what I meant by that.
“What are you talking about?” She asked.
“Well, you see-“
Before I could start explaining myself, a huge ‘Bang!’ echoed in the room, as the door slammed open. Two figures entered the chamber.
“Hello! Nice to meet you!” Yoko exclaimed with a broad smile.
… Stupid fox. That wasn’t the signal.
“Good afternoon.” Harri greeted in his turn, as he let his gaze wander around the area, trying to avoid any eye contact.
Startled by the sudden intruders, mother froze, without uttering a word, as she blankly stared at them, her eyes wide opened. Since no one was saying anything, I spoke up, trying to dispel the confusion.
“Uhm, mom? This is Yoko, and this is Harri. They’re my guests.”
Mother slowly turned her gaze back on me, with a hint of disbelief in them. She had already heard about them –they were a hot topic among the servants after all- but hearing and seeing are two different things. Knowing they were my friends, she was probably expecting to see people of my age. Instead she saw an incredibly good looking couple, and the fact that they both had golden eyes didn’t help in subsiding her shock. She became really tense.
The other side wasn’t any better. Knowing Harri’s personality, I forbid him to overdo it with the compliments and the skinship. But since it was contradicting his character, he started to act really awkwardly, forcing his expressions. On the other hand, Yoko just stood there, smiling. However, given the tense atmosphere, her bright smile only made mother even more uncomfortable.
Well, this is what I call an awkward meeting.
Eventually, getting a grip on herself, mother broke the silence. “Nice to meet you. I am called Azariah. I’m Lynett’s mother.”
“Yes, we’ve heard a lot about you!” Yoko exclaimed.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Harri added with an awkward smile, clearly struggling keeping my rules. Who would have thought that not flattering someone was so difficult?
“They have their own circumstances, so they will be staying here for a while,” I explained. “They’re a bit special, but they’re not mean. Uhm… I guess they will keep you company while I’m not here.” I explained.
Mother listened to me silently, but I could tell she was just as confused as before. I didn’t exactly give her the time to digest the situation that I’m imposing her. However, since they were my guests and probably didn’t want to be rude to them, she didn’t say anything and simply gave off a weak smile.
“We will be in you care –or more like the opposite but it doesn’t matter.” Yoko said, as she stepped forward.
Not even giving mother a chance to react, Yoko suddenly pulled her to her side and put her arms around her back. That’s not what I would call a ‘natural’ hug, but well… I guess this is the best she could do. Startled by her sudden action, mother didn’t even think to react and just froze in place. She tensed up, receiving the surprise hug. Behind her back, I tried giving Yoko some signals, asking her to hurry, but she closed her eyes. I’m not sure if she was focusing on analyzing mother’s mana core or if she was purposely ignoring me.
As I thought, it did last for a while. When mother finally realized the situation she was in, she tried to free herself, but Yoko showed no signs of letting her go. Since she didn’t want to be rude and force the way out, she tried calling her out. However, Yoko turned a deaf ear.
The awkward situation lasted for a few minutes, before Yoko finally released mother from her embrace. As if nothing happened, she simply gave off a bright smile, turning to Harri.
“Well, let’s go, honey! Let’s give some time to our friend and her mother!” She said, heading to the door.
“Sure... Excuse us.” Harri responded, as he followed her.
Just like that, those two exited the room, leaving me and my confused mother behind. Giving a quick glance to her, she really looked like a lost child, still unsure of what happened. After staring into the distance for a while, mother turned her gaze in my direction, looking at me with dubitative eyes, clearly expecting me to say something.
“Uhm, well… I told you they were a little special.” I tried to explain, as I looked away. “Because she’s from the beastkin, Yoko’s a bit tactile, don’t mind her actions.”
She didn’t answer anything. Instead, she simply kept looking at me, with the same skeptical and worried eyes. Probably not what she was expecting from my first friends. Well, if my child, who stayed a loner for years, one day suddenly came home with an eccentric couple as friends, I guess I would get worried too and start asking questions.
Trying to ease her mind, I slightly tilted my head, adopted a child-like expression and displayed a candid smile. Mother sighed.
Yup. She’s definitely thinking that I’m choosing wrong my friends and that I’m hanging with the wrong crowd. But well… Unlike the meeting with my uncle and my aunt, it went pretty fine. Actually, considering Yoko and Harri’s excessiveness, I guess it couldn’t have been better. I hope this awkwardness will quickly subside though. Otherwise, the next months are going to be a pain for those three.