"So you lifted the wagon off of Vaughn's father?"
Beryl asked, her eyes looking me over as if she was attempting to assess me whether this was just a ruse or not.
"I mean, most of the people here would probably point to me."
I said, shrugging.
"You-you seriously were the one that lifted that wagon?"
Beryl continued, slowly dropping her assessing gaze.
"Yes, I lifted the wagon."
I was pinching the bridge of my nose, slightly frustrated.
"My apologies, please understand; it's fairly difficult to believe that you were the one who helped. Considering your size, and you look nearly our age."
Beryl said, lowering her head slightly for a moment before looking back at Vaughn.
"Your Father, where is he now?"
"Just around the corner, Kiyomi's Ma is a Mage. She dragged Pa to the shade just a moment ago, still healing'em."
Vaughn and I both looked to the corner, Mother's tail still visible.
"His legs looked banged up pretty bad, but it shouldn't take much longer. We're just making sure no one really disturbs them."
Vaughn continued explaining.
"Seriously, Kiyomi, you two were here at the perfect time. When you first posted up against the wagon, I didn't think you'd actually be able to do anything. I'd be lying if I said I was confident in you at the time."
Well, uh, thanks? I think?
I responded with a nod before bringing my attention to Beryl.
"You said your mother was headed over here?"
I asked, wondering the exact relation between these two.
"Ah, I feel stupid for this. Apologies, again, I didn't really greet you."
Beryl faced me and attempted to mimic a curtsy, her long body coiling and giving herself a proper base to balance from.
"Beryl Halkias, Daughter of Cressida and Sophia Halkias. My mothers' were responsible for making sure the caravan arrived here as safely as possible."
Mothers? Scratch that, don't question it.
"Mother Cressida wanted to ensure Vaughn's father's health; he was a lead foreman for a lot of construction in our old town. If anything happened to him, we would all be without a good leader when rebuilding. So she's on her way here; she's going at a slow pace right now, as she is recovering from a wound herself."
Beryl finished the mouthful of information before sighing.
"Beryl's family is moving here too; they were considered the best guards as well at the time."
Vaughn added, motioning to the Lamia.
"Well, it's nice to meet you, Beryl...I don't really mind lifting the wagon being that unbelievable. It does kind of sound like a stretch."
I was scratching my neck below my jaw at this point, some slight twitch in my neck muscles drawing my attention.
"A stretch? More like a tall tale. Vaughn, you didn't tell her how much that cart actually weighed?"
Beryl asked Vaughn, who was now shrugging in confusion.
"Did that really matter?"
"Vaughn...Kiyomi, come here."
Beryl motioned for Vaughn and me to follow her, and she slithered around to the back of the wagon with us in tow. As we reached its rear, Beryl unlatched a gate. As it fell, what of the cargo still in the wagon when it fell came into view.
"Nearly a thousand kilograms of processed iron, Kiyomi. This is also why my mother wanted to see you; she wanted to get a look at whoever managed to lift some one-thousand and quarter kilograms."
The two of them proceeded to look at me, eyebrows raised.
"...What do you want me to say? I'm just...built this way?... Please stop staring...Oh hey, look! Mama's helping Vaughn's dad up!"
Vaughn turned around first, excited to see his father up and on two legs'. Beryl, however, continued to stare for a few seconds before closing the gate and following. She wore an expression of 'Uhuh? Likely story.'
True to my deflection, however, Vaughn's father was standing. Mother gave him a post to lean on as he appeared to be still limping slightly.
"He shouldn't feel anything past some soreness for a couple of days, just in case, you should make sure your father doesn't stand on the one that snapped."
Mother informed Vaughn.
"Thank you for healing my Pa, miss."
"Vaughn, thanks, boy. You pulled me when everyone else was gawking at the girl. Speaking of which, to whom do I owe the pleasure of thanking?"
Vaughn's father moved his sight around until it fell on me, pausing for a moment before speaking.
"What might your name be?"
Ah, hmm. Old manners, those should fit.
"Kiyomi, sir. I'm glad you're okay."
I tried my best to give and an innocent smile.
"Likewise, Kiyomi, thank you. Your mother sat there, praising you as she closed up my legs. If you'd been there, I'm sure I would've been directing some your way as well. I was almost a cripple."
The praise was beginning to make my face flush.
"Ah, Beryl, I see you've come to see to us as well?"
Thankfully, Vaughn's father directed his gaze to Beryl next, to which she nodded.
"Mother Cressida was behind me; I rushed here just in case things were super bad. Since I haven't returned yet, she's probably taking her time getting here."
Beryl answered, smiling at Vaughn's father.
"Wait, hold on a second. If I may ask, your name is Beryl?"
Mother asked with her ears at attention and her tail nearly straight up.
Wait, is she excited??
"Uhm, yes, miss. My name is Beryl, Beryl Halkias."
Beryl answered, unsure of mother's response.
"Your mother's name is Cressida?"
Beryl nodded, leaning close to me before whispering to me.
"Is...your mother okay?"
I looked back and forth between the two, then shrugged.
"Baby Beryl! It is you, oh gods', you were so small the last time I saw you! You weren't more than a hatchling at the time!"
Mother proceeded to light up, excited at recognizing the Lamia that was now inching her way behind me, as if looking for protection.
"Are you sure she's okay?"
Beryl asked me once more.
"I mean, yeah? She wasn't under the wagon, sooo..."
Honestly, I was just confused. Could you not make me your shield?
"Beryl, sorry, I knew your mother before I left Morus. You don't remember me, but your mother and I used to not live far from each other. We learned magic together."
Wait for real? Small world...Oh...small world...
For a moment, I was reminded why exactly Hatsumi left. That means this was possibly not Beryls first major move.
The next moment, Mother slowly helped Vaughn take on his father's weight. Closing the distance to get a better look at Beryl.
"Yep, definitely you. Same scales you were named for, albeit dulled in color some."
The next moment, another woman's voice pierced its way into the conversation. Looking back to the owner of said voice, we were all greeted by the sight of a rather imposing female Lamia. Her features were unmistakable, as it looked as if Beryl's own patterning was drawn directly from this woman, as well as a handful of other features.
Hatsumi questioned, almost frozen in place as she locked gazes with Beryl's mother, Cressida.
"Mother, you're here!"
Beryl smiled, slithering some towards the much larger lamia.
"Beryl, I see you've managed to confirm Gregor's condition. Good girl."
Cressida rested a hand on Beryl's head for a moment, addressing her daughter before looking back to Hatsumi.
"Hatsumi, it's good to see you in good health. I presume you are the healer that took care of Gregor?"
"Yes, we were passing as the wagon fell on him. We were fortunate enough that I had just the amount of mana needed to heal him."
"Gregor, don't worry about maintenance on any of the wagons. Just have some of the workers change the bearings; you need to rest. Vaughn, take your father to your own wagon for the time being. However, do be sure to join us for dinner as usual."
Cressida instructed Vaughn.
"Yes, ma'am, later, Kiyomi! See you at the Adventurers Guild sometime?"
With his father propped over his shoulder, Vaughn said his goodbye with the prospect of a visit in the future.
"Sure thing! Just ask the larger spider lady behind the carving counter for 'Kiki.' She'll give you directions from there."
I gave Vaughn a starting point to find me from and smiled at him as he left. As Vaughn helped his father, Gregor, hobble away, Cressida directed her attention back to my mother and me.
"With that out of the way, Hatsumi! How've you been? I'd heard you turned up in Brenton when everyone left, but I didn't think I'd see you this soon!"
Cressida chimed before hugging Hatsumi, who was now laughing.
"Hahaha, I'm fine, I'm fine! Our whole team ended up signing a 'stay-in' contract. We work directly for the guild right now."
Mother responded, parting the hug after a moment.
"Oh, moved up in the world, I see. Through with the old days of taking on the biggest thing any of you could, huh? And who is this one? This little demon seems to be sticking to you like glue. An apprentice?"
Cressida now directed her attention to me.
"This is Kiyomi. She's my daughter; I adopted her roughly a year ago now."
Cressida looked at me once more. Her renewed curiosity was evident.
"Mother, Kiyomi was the one who lifted the wagon."
Beryl made herself known once more, now standing to her mother's side.
Cressida looked to Beryl, then back to me, then back to Beryl.
"Uhm, Beryl? Are you sure?"
Cressida asked Beryl for confirmation as if she misheard what was said.
This again? I know it sounds weird, but c'mon.
"Beryl is telling the truth, Cressida. Kiyomi here is rather strong for her size."
Mother interrupted, saving Beryl from repeating herself.
"Is that so?"
Cressida looked down at me.
"Well, it seems I owe you a great deal of thanks! Much of our relocation efforts relied on Gregor. If not for the help of you or your mother, our progress would have been hindered greatly."
Cressida flashed a smile, her tone thankful in its meaning.
"Well, that only makes the next thing I was going to do that much more enjoyable."
Cressida proceeded to straighten her posture.
"Would the two of you perhaps care to join Beryl, myself, and my wife for dinner? Vaughn and Gregor may be there as well. I had already expected to give this invitation to whoever lifted the wagon; the fact that it was an old friend and her daughter only serves to sweeten the offer."
Oh? So this was the reward Beryl was talking about?
Mother proceeded to look up and shift her expression as if she were truly debating whether she wished to accept the offer. Cressida seemed to actually waver, her invitation not being excepted outright in response before mother proceeded to giggle and give an answer.
"Cressida, of course. It would do us both some good to catch up!"
Mother took a moment, catching her breath.
"And it looked like Kiyomi managed to get along well with Beryl and Vaughn. This may be an opportunity for them to mingle while we prattle on about what each of us has been up to."
Ohhh? Actually, that doesn't seem too bad. It would be nice actually to hold an extended conversation over better terms.
"Well, Beryl, I guess we'll be eating together?"
I said, trying to grab the reigns for the both of us.
"From what it seems, I look forward to seeing you then. There aren't any other girls around our age in the caravan, and Vaughn's the only boy, so you being there is a welcome change."
"I take it Vaughn's not much conversation?"
I asked, raising a brow.
"Oh, it's just that two of us alone, it was getting stale. That, and there was no one for me to really relate to. He's still a boy, you know?"
"Uhm, kinda, the only person I really converse with other than my Mama is two of her party members. Otherwise, I've been alone...since as far as I can remember."
I tried mouthing an excuse for my failure to empathize and was pitied suddenly as Beryl gave a face of shock.
"Wait, no friends? Ever? Like you don't know any other kids?"
"Uhhh, no? Not really...I mean, not until a while ago when Vaughn asked if I wanted to be friends."
"Did you say yes?"
Beryl was now lifting a brow, her arms crossed as she awaited my answer.
I can't follow this girl. Christ, what is she trying to get at?
"Well, there is your answer for me as well. Agreed?"
Now I was confused; wait, did she mean they were a package deal?
I was confused on how to answer for a moment before I felt Mother nudge my back some. Pressing me to try my best at a given opportunity.
"S-sure, ah, sorry if I'm not much more talkative than Vaughn as is. I haven't really had variety in my life. But I'll do my best."
Vaughn was easy to answer, if not a little embarrassing coming from my previous life. Beryl gave me more confidence, but with it, I felt I had a higher standard to meet now.
I felt a sudden, lowered presence next to my own that whispered into my ear.
"How does it feel to make your first friends?"
Looking to my right, Mother was leaning over. Adorning a cheshire smile.
.....I don't like that....please never make that face again...
I sighed. Of course, Mother would be like that. She just learned she no longer had any extra work on her off days anymore.
Cressida grabbed our attention.
"Now that we've gotten initial introductions out of the way, how about we send these two on their way to mingle? Hmm, Hatsumi, aside from the prattle, there is something else I'd like to discuss with you..."
Cressida spoke with a rather flat tone, considering how cheerful she was a moment earlier.
"Hm? Oh...of course. Kiyomi, go with Beryl."
I wondered about our trip home suddenly being toured straight to dinner rather than a freshen up. Looking up to Mother, I caught a glimpse of a rather dire expression that I'd never seen her wear. My urge to prod was interrupted by Beryl grabbing my hand, for better or worse, and dragging me along.
"If we're just going to be spending some time around, let's go see Vaughn and his father."
"I guess! Ah-Hold up, slow down! I'll trip on your tail!"
I guess I have friends now?!
Hatsumi watched as Beryl and Kiyomi disappeared around the corner. The true marker for their exit being the tip of Beryl's tail, slipping from sight. With that, she looked back up to match the gaze of Cressida, her friend whom she'd not seen in years.
"We're alone now; what happened?"
She asked, unsure of what may have prompted such a sudden shift in mood.
"A lot, more than I think I'd be able to tell you myself reliably."
Cressida proceeded to lean against the alley's wall, her entire body moving along the building's base as she did so.
"Want a seat? Wounded up here, but not down there."
Cressida motioned to her ribcage, then back to her tail.
"No thanks, I'll settle with leaning."
She moved next to Cressida, leaning backward as she allowed her weight to fall onto the side of the building just as the Lamia did.
"For what it counts before you start... It is truly a relief to see your and Beryl's faces again. Last I ever heard of you all; you were headed back into Va-ren."
Hatsumi said, recalling the last time she'd heard any news of her old friend.
"Hmmph, if only that were it."
Cressida looked to the wall opposite of them both with a bitter-sweet smile. Before sighing and looking to the ground.
"They're moving again... The church..."
Hatsumi clenched her jaw reflexively at its mention.
"What happened? Another raid? Va-ren must have been pretty far gone for you all to risk weaving along the border west of Morus."
Hatsumi asked, looking to the ground as well.
"You have no idea..."
Cressida took a moment to consider how she explained the events as best she could for now.
"Va-ren was currently struck with a 'noble war.' One of the leading clans was being targeted for their territory. As they bordered the frontier, they had the room to expand all the way to the furthest shore if they wished. I'm trying to remember their clan name, but it's illuding me for the time."
Hatsumi patiently nodded, following along with Cressida's words.
"Anywho, the church saw fit to back the primary opposing clan. With the backing of almost an entire nation, the opposing clan was rash enough to decide on action rather than your typical political in-fighting. They pushed with full force onto the clan's home city... And proceeded to raze it, as far as anyone knows, there were no survivors... "
Hatsumi had seen it before, her town, many others, and nearly Brenton, after her team had migrated there. She continued listening.
"That clan was influential enough, that their home city being wiped from the map; that was all it took for the other clans to roll over and submit. After the new clan was placed in power, they proceeded to divvy up territory as they pleased. Then they gave the church 'hunting rights' to the lands that were no longer 'protected. Tch."
Cressida clicked her tongue.
"We came from a city that was just within the previous border of Va-ren, noble whore-sons decided to let them slaughter us all like cattle before a feast."
Hatsumi flinched. To tell the truth, she had known why such a wagon train would have appeared. She just did not want to accept that those 'times' were starting again. When Kiyomi began ogling the wagons, Hatsumi thought to say they were 'traders' to try and avoid discussing the topic with her child.
*Sigh* "Anyway, we all managed to slip through Morus's army and the rising clan's army. We started this pilgrimage with nearly three thousand souls Hatsumi... "
The Lamia looked to her left at a wagon that looked as if it were stained mahogany. To anyone without an ounce of knowledge, it would look as such. But, to any adventurer, mercenary, or anything in between, the wood was stained deeply with blood; spurs in the wood still remaining, from the arrows that once pelted its side.
"... And now there's just barely a thousand of us... They only gave up at the border. Damus is too big a game for them to take, thankfully. I'm just glad that my own family is safe. Myself, Beryl, and Sophia."
Cressida finished recollecting, bringing her weight from the wall and righting her posture once more.
"So, as it stands, Hatsumi, It would be greatly appreciated... If you could help us settle in... as best as possible."
Hatsumi brought herself back to her previous stance with Cressida before their conversation began.
She hesitated, thinking through her next words.
"I'll do what I can..."
With that, the two women relaxed almost simultaneously—the tension released from their bodies.
"How about we catch up and prattle? Maybe go see Sophia?"
"Sure thing, you two drink your tea with yarrow?"