“R-Robert?” Iora stammered.
He had a mask on but the profound moment they had once shared was enough for Iora to instantly distinguish him through his guise.
“Good evening,” greeted Robert.
She pointed a finger at him. “Why are you dressed like that?”
Robert offered only a smile.
“W-why did they suddenly attacked us and, w-why are you unhurt?” No matter where her eyes went, she could not found any indication that Robert suffered any injuries.
“You’re no simpleton, Iora. Guess,” he challenged.
But Iora already knew. She was only denying the reality presented before her eyes. As Robert said, she was neither foolish nor gullible. The sight of his attire and imposing stance along with the dead bodies remained clear to the right interpretation which Iora had arrive upon.
Her brows creased as she swallowed the truth.
Robert’s inquiring gaze turned to Suri. “And my, a Demon as your maidservant. Curious.”
“What of it?” Iora shot back. She couldn’t wrap her head around the whole contrivance but the fact that it would be nothing benign was plain as day.
“This city may not be a zealous one but they don’t take too kindly to any kin of Mordreo.” His smile stretched at that statement.
Iora shivered. The gentle and compassionate Robert she knew was nowhere to be seen. In front of her, there was only a man who she could describe as nothing less of a fiend even Demons would find frightening.
Her chest hurt. Her heart felt like it was crush between two overwhelming force. It was more devastating than the time when she first experienced the death of her wet nurse whom she was close with.
“You have a foot in the other side of this city. You know the tension brewing among the dozens of factions. Just imagine, the sudden news of there being a Demon in this city— the development will be tumultuous, wouldn’t you agree, my dear Iora?”
Anguished surfaced onto her face. “Who are you…?” she asked the one question she did not wanted to, but she needed to, for certitude and acceptance.
“Robert Ross, the man you so foolishly and recklessly open your legs to and let him have the first taste of you.” Adding to the effect, Robert licked his lips. “You were delectable.”
Iora’s skin paled and her face twisted in dread. There was no fury, however. She didn’t feel upset. Only disenchantment swirled and swirled in her mind.
Before Robert conferred any of his true nature further, a line of deep crevice was briskly drawn before his feet.
“You.” Twirling her scythe, Suri glared. “Explain yourself.”
“Suri, was it?” Robert gestured at the sliced-up corpses. “I don’t think I’m the one that needs to explain his actions here.”
“What are you implying?”
“Look around you.”
“Don’t avert the question.”
“The death of these sons of nobles— at the hands of a Demon. Well, the scythe of a Demon, in this case. What do you think I’m implying?”
Robert nodded to her question that need not to be asked.
“You damnable bastard!” Suri roared and charged with her scythe wound up.
The scythe stopped short of gouging out Robert’s throat.
“Milady, why?” Suri glimpsed back at her mistress.
“Yes, Iora. Tell her why she shouldn’t just sink her scythe into my flesh and tear out whatever is within me.”
Allaying her mind to her best efforts, Iora spoke with a quivering voice, “Lady Soraes has his back. Killing him would not solve anything and would possibly incurred her wrath.”
When the realization seeped in, Suri dispersed her scythe into black particles and red smoke. She retreated slowly with grudging steps back to her mistress’ side.
“Robert,” Iora called out, carrying a tone which was reasonably calmer than a few seconds ago.
“Is this an extortion?”
Robert thought for a moment. “Perhaps.”
“Suri is a maid.”
“Oh really? I thought she was your mother,” Robert wanted to retort as such but refrained from such puerile response. “And?” he asked.
“Maid doesn’t earn much money. You won’t get much extorting from her.”
“She’s also your best friend, Iora,” Robert cut in. “Maids don’t call their mistress by their names, even as a slip-up. It only happens if the maid and the mistress have a… hidden and intimate relationship. And no, I’m not extorting her.”
“Then why are you implicating her?” Iora locked him in her eyes. “Is it purely because she’s a Demon?”
“Yes, but not purely.”
Suri muttered a silent and regrettable apology to Iora.
“You knew we were coming,” said Iora.
“I do,” Robert affirmed.
She turned silent.
Seeing the silent desperation to discern his methods, Robert explained, “you have a good heart, Iora. You aren’t kind out of obligation as a noble. You’re just kind as a person. It was most evident when you laid bare your desire to be acquainted with the black sheep of your clan, that is your cousin, Valena.”
Her eyes widened. “That incident at the garden… with Asten… you planned it.”
“To some degree, yes.” Robert took a breath before continuing. “You have shown so much compassion for a cousin you haven’t even met, what does that say of the man who deflowered you at your assent?”
Iora stared with quaking anticipation while her maid glowered.
“I knew you would come running the moment you found out I was in trouble, especially when I showed you how… helpless and inept I was.”
Hearing how much her mistress was deceive, Suri gritted her teeth and drew blood from her clenched fist.
A wave of silence passed.
“What’s your intention?” asked Iora. “To denounce Suri as a Demon?”
“I do not know of what you had gone through to make you so prejudicial against Demons. I won’t bother convincing you of how different Suri is from the other Demons. You may be able to reveal her true race but,” Iora glanced at the corpses of the four, which were withering away into ashes, “you can’t implicate her for crimes no one would know and no evidence to support.”
Robert chuckled. “Truly an amazing woman,” he voiced his thoughts out loud.
Suri was venting Aura from her swelling spleen. Under normal circumstances, she would have disregarded her mistress’ wishes and took Robert’s head.
“But you are wrong in a few regards,” Robert said.
“Pray tell,” Iora questioned.
“In such dire times, especially to the ones who know what this city is coming to, do you think they care about evidence? Do you think they care about the truth?” Robert continued, “you’re not stranger to how these things work. One thing people cares more about the truth, is convenience.”
“Damn it,” Iora cursed under her breath. She was well-aware of how easy her argument can be repressed but cursed herself even more for underestimating a person acknowledged by Lady Soraes.
“As long as I have a probable cause and a convenient setting, they will wolfed it down much more wholeheartedly than the truth, particularly if the truth is something disagreeable by the masses.”
Only now, rage surged into Iora’s body and spirit. By the decree of fate, her mind was still able to hold on to whatever was left of her patience and reasons. “Why are you doing this? What had the Demons ever done to you to garner so much of your ire!?”
“It is ill-advised for you to keep questioning me.” Robert stared.
“I see… I’m just another one of your trophies of women you have bedded. You have truly disappointed me, Robert,” Iora said, shaking her head. “Unfortunately for you, Suri has me.”
“I am a witness.”
“I will vouch for her innocence.” She stomp her feet. “Lest you have forgotten, I may be another one of your trophies but I am still the young—”
“Young lady of Clan Devetra, yes, I remember. Lest you have forgotten, we have a very intimate moment of familiarizing each other. And your vouch is nugatory. The court system made sure of that.”
Iora gulped. She had truly sold short of Robert’s capacity, she admitted bitterly.
“The vouch of an individual of an intimate relationship with the accused shall be null as to avoid the possibility of partial judgement.”
Iora had always abhor the monarchy system. She disliked the way the word of a single individual was the one single truth and maxim. Due to that, she had been an advocate for the court system but right now, she damned its very existence.
Robert matched his gaze with hers. “Although, everything I have said are all still just one single big possibility.”
“You want me to buy your silence?”
“So, you’re just trying to extort me through a friend of mine. Was your resent for the Demons one fat lie?”
“I never said I hated the Demons, though.”
Iora sighed. Her heartache wasn’t lessening. The more he talked, the more it hurt and the angrier she became. ”I thought you to be a person different from those low life thugs. You’re just as bad, or maybe even worse.” Iora gulped back down her surfacing fury. “Fine. How much do you want?”
“I do not want your money nor any of your fancy state-of-the-art jewelries.”
“Then what do you want?”
“Your brother’s betrothed, The Fourth Wing of Aeryo, Azaela.”
Iora stretched her eyes as wide as her face allowed. Her mouth left agape from the realization that dawned upon her. She had minor involvements in Midas Valley’s underworld and its politics. She knew about the concurrent issue faced by the many factions who held interests towards the anomalies.
“It can’t be…”
Half of the interested factions suspected of an existence which was unbeknownst to all others and this existence had been active with the anomalies’ investigation as of late. Some even believed that this existence knew more about the anomalies than all the other factions. They also believed this existence was responsible for the failed joint expeditions of the Caeleon Faith and Dusk Trading.
An even bigger uproar arose when the Caeleon Faith was reveal to have a Dragon Artifact in their hands and the possibility of there being more in the city; which prompted the aggressive movements of the Aeryeon Faith. Part of the consensus of the Aeryeon Faith was that the unknown existence was in possession of the artifact which the Caeleon Faith had lost.
As Iora recounted the information whirling in her mind, she realized she might had underestimated her “minor” role in the whole conundrum. But that was not the paramount importance as of this moment.
Before Iora could respond to the twilight of her understanding, Suri pulled out a concealed dagger and thrust before her own neck.
“Suri!?” she exclaimed. “What are you doing?”
“Getting rid of an inconvenience, milady.”
“Suri, I order you to cease your jokes.”
“It’s not a joke, Milady. I am just dragging your feet. I was suppose to serve and protect you. Now, I’m no better than a dead weight. Because of me and my rash actions, I’m forcing you to betray your clan, even if indirectly.”
In the middle of the emotional exchange, Robert spoke out, “Iora.”
She turned to the spiteful voice.
“I recalled you mentioned that you were not much of a fighter.”
Iora held her lips. She trembled for a moment.
“So, enlightened your maid cum best friend on why she shouldn’t kill herself.”
Iora sighed in vanity. “Suri, put the dagger down.”
“Suri, what do you think would happen to me if you’re dead?!” Iora shouted. “If you killed yourself, he would have no way to threaten me and I will be of no use to him at that very second. What do you think will happen to me, then?”
Realization struck for Suri. Thrust not with her own dagger but by her own hypocrisy1hypocrisy being Suri rebuking Iora's rash actions, Suri dropped the knife. “Forgive me, milady. That was… extremely heedless of me.”
“I don’t blame you, Suri.” Iora glared at Robert as she said so. “Suri was right2referring to 008, after all,” Iora admitted with much regret as she remembered the words her maid warned her with. She also blamed herself for her own impetuousness.
Iora looked at Robert. “It was you, wasn’t it? You’re the one the Dragon Knights are looking for.”
The sound of Robert’s claps ricocheted within the alley, creating an eerie repetition.
No one spoke a word for that brief moment. They were all just exchanging glances.
Robert’s sigh broke the silence. He pulled down his hood and cast off his mask.
The sight of his bare face despaired Iora at the fading chances of it all being nothing more than just a bad dream. Seeing the face she admittedly fell in love with on their first meeting, a drop of a tear trickled down her cheeks as it glinted in the dying lights of dusk.
She was fond of him, that was plain undeniable but to call it love, she had some demurs of that notion.
But now, she could ratify her own feelings. She loved him. Otherwise, her heart would not have felt so heavy and hurt so much if she was only fond of him. Maybe she was just new to the idea of a romantic love, she thought. Maybe she was grasping on to who ever had her innocence. Although, it didn’t deny the fact that she had fallen, in love and for him.
Robert seemed to have murmured something but her own faint weeps were the only thing she heard.
“You could have just asked,” Iora said. “I would have told you!” It turned into a shout.
“I know.” There was no hesitation in his reply.
Iora felt her ears twitched at his words. “Then why?”
“You’re a smart lass, you’ll figure it out.”
She looked at him.
There were more to his words than just the plain bared intentions he laced them with, she hoped— no, she believed. They sought after each others warmth and touch, they sought for their own enlightenment with every peak of their bliss, but they also exchanged remarks and opinions of one another and just about anything else. They bantered and bickered, and they laughed.
Iora remembered all of that.
She remembered how curious she was with the way Robert chose his words. He had been assertive and at times, swaying. She remembered how he had only affirmed answers which was favorable to her but for answers which had the inclination of being unpleasant or detestable, he outwitted them by giving her equivocal responses.
Robert didn’t change, Iora realized. He was still the same. She was merely offered a glimpse of his true nature from a different perspective.
“Did Robert really betrayed my trust?” she asked herself.
An insight struck her mind.
And her heart felt lighter and the pain lifted off. Now, she felt like laughing at her own silliness.
“Alright,” she said. “I will give you what you want. In return, you will give your word that Suri will not be denounced.”
Sensing the shift of her frame of mind, Robert smiled. “Good choice. You really are an amazing woman.”
“And you do well not to forget that.”
“Milady?” Suri stared, perplex at her mistress’ decisions.
“Everything will be fine, Suri.” Iora took the hands of her best friend. “I will make sure of it.”
“Of course, milady,” Suri bowed with a nod of her head. Perhaps also sensing the change of her air, Suri decided to trust in her mistress’ decision.
Iora spared Robert one final glance, “Mirona’s Den. Tiwun3Tiwun = Wednesday. After school.” And she left the way she came from.
“That was awfully and disturbingly kind of you,” Seven said.
“It has its merits,” Robert retorted. It hadn’t been his first choice but if the Dragon Knights were every bit as good as Creed and the books claimed, he needed all the edge he could get.
“Fifty Ris say she saw through your despicable scheme.”
“Fine, consider our previous bet even.”
Seven chuckled. “You really are the enemy of women.”
“Vile wretched scum who toys with the frail hearts of maiden.”
“Frail?” Robert scoffed. “You think she’s frail?”
“Women— no, humans in general are frail creatures. Their emotions and sentiments may have driven them to surge in the food chain but it is also every bit destructive as it is constructive.”
“Fancy words those are.”
“I had plenty of past acquaintances with the most sophisticated individuals.” A questioning glance superseded Seven’s complacent expression. “Those are fancy words but you know them too, what does that say about you?”
“My my, what a pompous twat.”
“Except that I don’t have a twat.”
“I am more than happy to help with making that a fact.”
Robert sighed. “You’re angry.”
“Understatement there, dear Ross.”
Robert had the urge to ask if Seven was ever acquainted with Lily, given their analogous temperament.
“I am not merely upset, Rosie.”
“Pardon my language, then.” Seven cleared her throat, if she actually had a throat. “You try that kind of scheme on my mistress, I will fucking turn you inside out. I will fucking feed you your own bloody organs and flesh. I will carve out your shit-stained eyes, paste in on your oh-so-proud cock, and have hounds maul over it as they struggle over each other for that piece of meat. Then, I will kill you and toss your corpse into a swamp. Do we have an understanding, Robert Ross?”
“Excellent.” Seven smiled, Robert felt it. “Now, I gather that marks the end of our excursion, no?”
“No.” Robert tilted his head. “It appears I still have some business. You can go back to your mistress now.”
After a short pause, Seven said, “my mistress has expressed her desire to accompany you further.”
“I need to do this alone.”
“Valena, please.” Robert heckled. “Fall back.”
Seven looked at Robert’s unfaltering gaze in kind. She knew those eyes and she knew what it denoted “I understand,” Seven conceded.
“Keep your shadow traversals to the minimum and avoid using the usual route back.” Robert donned back his mask and pulled up his hood. “Be careful for any tails.”
“On behalf of my mistress, I bid you farewell and do note, while I wish dearly for your demise, my mistress will be sad if you complied with my wishes. Come back safely,” Seven said and dove into the dark corner of the alley.
Robert quickly left the alley and plunged deeper into the slums. Passing by beggars that were thin to the bones, he arrived before a deep crevice with a rushing river at the very bottom. There was a bridge leading to the other half of the slums. The bridge was surprisingly sturdy for something belonging in the slums.
After crossing the bridge, Robert made his way towards the tallest building within Ragged Bottom. An inn which was once the prized landmark in Midas Valley and that was around fifty years ago, or so the books claimed. Robert was skeptical at the age of the dilapidated inn as he scaled the building without any parts of the building giving out to his weight, not that his feather weight was enough to make anything give out. There were large chunks of walls and floors missing but it only made his ascension easier.
Reaching the broad roof the inn, Robert drew out the finest sword he had in his Storage Ring. He took what little time he had left to replenish any Magic he had expended.
Robert did not have much window before the faint presence from before caught up to him. It was swift and even with his hyper-cognition, he could not see the figure of the presence clearly until it made its stop right before him.
The pursuing individual was clad in a flaring Aura of dark blue hue. Even so, Robert could only barely sense its presence.
The daunting Aura faded, revealing a woman underneath it. She didn’t look much older than Iora but her gaze and bearing cast an older visage, much like Robert’s circumstances. She wore a cloak that went past her knees. It covered every parts of her body safe for head, revealing an intriguing beauty.
Her dark bluish hair complemented her violets eyes which were just as daunting as her Aura, Robert thought.
However, what caught Robert’s attention wasn’t the pursuer’s gender nor her intriguing beauty but the insignia she bore to clasp her dark cloak together.
It was the insignia which caused most of his worries.
“This is already the slums. Flee any further and you might just end up at the borders of the valley.” Her voice was full of thorns and oozing out feminine charm but her visage gave a contrasting impression. And her next line of words confirmed Robert’s fears.
“On the adjudication of the Aeryeon Faith, you are under arrest.”
“Well, this can’t be good.”
Guess who? (P.S. Her hair should be of a darker blue but this is the darkest blue PitzMaker had.)