The word ‘friend’ might seem quite insignificant. But Innilis didn’t think so, because it wouldn’t be appropriate to call Lisana a friend without the qualifier ‘female’.
The girl knew Leguna didn’t have many female acquaintances, to say nothing of friends. The issue was that, apart from Vera, almost all the women Leguna interacted with had a questionable relationship with him.
Innilis thus had every reason imaginable, to her, at least, to be extremely wary of the current situation. It was one thing for Leguna to be with Eirinn and Annelotte, but she wouldn’t allow Lisana to join as well!
Lisana gazed at Leguna, puzzlement written in her eyes. Leguna, for his part, was completely occupied with fighting of Innilis’s knuckles as they bore into his skull. The little girl pulled his ears, yanked his hair, and bit his shoulders. She looked small and petite, but when she was angry, she was a terrifying monster, like a furious mouse. As cute as the thing might be, when it decided to bite, it could do a lot of damage. Lisana felt the respect and admiration she had for the young boy flow out of her like birds taking flight out of a tree, frightened by a stalking cat.
It took several minutes for Leguna to finally calm the little devil down. Most of the time he was yelping explanation between shouts of pain and humilitous regret, he, at one point, even begged Lisana to help him like a child begging an adult to save them in the midst of a particularly intense thrashing. Innilis only stopped once it was very clearly explained to her what Leguna’s relationship with Lisana was.
“You’re not lying?” Innilis asked, her jealous eyes spearing him as she wiped some of his spittle from a hand.
“Of course I’m not, don’t you know me at all?” Leguna said obediently.
“Don’t worry,” Lisana contributed, “I’ve only known him for a few days. We’ll only ever be friends.”
She certainly had no interest in getting involved in that kind of way with someone who had Innilis as a watchdog.
“Alright, I’ve wrongfully doubted you. Sorry, Miss Lisana,” Innilis said softly, directing the entirety of her apology at Lisana.
“Eh? Why are you apologizing to her? I’m the one you assaulted for no reason!” Leguna moaned.
Marolyt and his daughter appeared to have finished their discussion as well when the group returned to the camp. Surprisingly, Annelotte hadn’t touched a hair on his head.
“You look completely unscathed. Did she…” Leguna asked.
Marolyt smiled painedly.
“She’s simply ignored me. She barely even said a word before leaving.”
“That so…” Leguna half-whispered.
Annelotte’s continued apathy towards her father meant she had no intention of acknowledging him as such. It might not be salvageable at all.
“I have no choice but to rely on you, and that hurts more to say than you know,” Marolyt sighed, his shoulder drooping.
“Don’t worry. I’ll do my best,” Leguna said, ignoring the second half of the old man’s comment.
He didn’t know why Marolyt let Wayerliss raise his daughter, but he could tell he loved her a lot. Even if his daughter disliked him, she should at least acknowledge that he was indeed her father.
“Go and talk to her,” the old man said, the corners of his mouth turning up hopefully.
“You going to be alright?”
“Don’t worry, I thought she’d be warmer because we haven’t seen each other for months. I’m just a little disappointed. I’ll be fine.”
Kurdak was finishing his introduction of Annelotte to Alissanda and Eibron as Leguna approached. The two men were quite shocked by her beauty, but they weren’t deeply moved. They had both seen her before, and knew the cold stone that hid beneath the facade, so they could put her beauty into better perspective than Leguna, she was captivated by her beauty before he had a chance to see what lay beneath.
Leguna did his part and introduced Annelotte to Lisana, making sure to point out that she was Marolyt’s disciple. Annelotte only sniffed slightly in acknowledgement, not even looking at him.
Leguna knew he was in trouble again, not that he’d ever not been in trouble with Annelotte. And this time it wasn’t something he could clear up quickly. And, for all his enthusiasm for Annelotte, he didn’t have the energy to deal with this at the moment, so he decided to just let it be for now.
“Come to think of it,” he said, trying to change the subject, “How’d you know we’d be here?”
“I discovered a crystal in our luggage when I was packing and decided to contact Annie this morning.”
“I could sense the crystaI’s location. I had no interest in coming but Innilis insisted and I couldn’t just let her come alone,” Annelotte humphed from the side.
“Don’t lie, Sis Annie. You never told me you didn’t want to come,” Innilis said, lying without any hesitation.
Annelotte didn’t answer here, she just gave her a cold glance and the little girl immediately turned into a sheet of ice.
“I’m sorry, I lied!” Innilis shouted as she darted behind Leguna, half-frozen sweat rolling down her back and face.
“You’re really something, Annie, for even Innilis to be terrified of you…” Leguna half-chided.
If human relations were a food chain, which, Leguna suspected, was exactly how Annelotte and Vera saw them, those two vixens would be the apex predators, they didn’t have friends of family, they only had victims.
Annelotte ignored both her latest victims.
“I didn’t want to come, but since I’m here i might as well let you know the emperor sent someone to come greet you. They’ll be along shortly.”
“A reception?–” Leguna turned to Alissanda. “–Looks like the emperor is happy you’ve returned. He’s even welcoming you.”
“I doubt it’s that simple,” Alissanda replied, scratching his head.
“Indeed,” Annelotte nodded, “You are one of the reasons this reception is on its way, but only one of the reasons. This brat is another–” she flicked her chin at Leguna coldly, “–as are Boss and Vera.”
“Why?” Vera wondered.
“Do you even need to ask?” Kurdak asked, puffing his chest, “We’re famous now.”
“That’s the gist of it. You didn’t do too bad at the fort. The emperor’s taken notice. He–” she flicked a finger at in Leguna’s direction without looking, “–is here because he killed Haden and forced Saron to retreat. People have been gossiping about it constantly since. His work under that name — what was it again? — Dark Requiem has also attracted attention. The emperor has decided to give all of you commendations.”
“So that’s why… Hahahaha…” Leguna laughed dryly.
He was indeed the one that killed Haden, but he didn’t like claiming credit for Saron’s defeat since it had absolutely nothing to do with him. Then again, Gahrona did use his body. She’d also been out of commission since. He would have been seriously worried if he couldn’t still sense her presence, weak as it was, in the sword.
The group decided to wait where they were for the reception, no point meeting them on the road. They sat idly for a few hours as they waited for the emperor’s men to arrive.
They changed to new horses and went on their way. By the time they finally reached the city gates, the sky was darkening.
Melindor was lit brightly. The reception wasn’t grand, but it didn’t smack of stinginess either. Q decent crowd lines the streets, lanterns in hand, as the group passed. Alissanda was a young man, still only in his second decade, but his achievements outstripped most old codger’s entire life.
The empire’s people were very patriotic, and ecstatic that the imperial family had produced such a talented young man.
“Welcome back, Your Highness!”
“Look at me, Your Highness! My heart belongs to you!”
“The prince is finally back!”
“You look so handsome! Please let me give you my first time!”
Geoffrey was the reception’s host, but every shout was directed at his younger brother instead. Alissanda wasn’t the only one to be dogged, however, Annelotte had her fair share of calls. Even when she wasn’t one of the guests of honor, she still stole the limelight.
Leguna and his companions didn’t get any of the crowd’s attention, the men were focused on Annelotte, and the women on the prince. If anything, they were just filler so the two real stars didn’t feel too lonely on the stage.
“Long time no see, Brother. I didn’t think you’d grow so tall,” Geoffrey said, no smile gracing his lips. He would not have been here had his father not insisted he be the one to lead Alissanda’s welcoming procession. He would much rather have welcomed his brother’s corpse at the head of his funeral procession.
“Long time no see, Brother.” Alissanda’s greeting came coldly as well.
“Alfreid Rolin greets Your Highness,” a short, grey-haired, middle-aged man said, bowing.
Alissanda nodded in an abbreviated bow and turned to his companions.
“I am honored by this reception. Now, allow be to introduce my companions. Kurdak, Vera, and–” Alissanda named his companions as he pointed at each of them in turn.
“–And Mister Dark Requiem,” Alfreid interjected, smiling, “I’ve heard much about you… and your companions, of course.”
Alfreid’s gaze was a mix of thoughts, foremost amongst them evaluation, as he gazed at Leguna; caution, suspicion, and mild surprise was mixed in as well.
“You better keep a careful eye on him,” Kurdak said, nudging Leguna from behind, ” I heard he has ties with Simralsin’s governor. His ‘friend’ seems to have had ties, in turn, with Bloodhand.”