Burning Edge

Sep 21st, 2015
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  1. Kenneth could barely take it anymore.
  3. He considered calling it the worse job he had ever taken; Send him to remove some bandits and he was fine, get him to transport goods and he was okay with it. Hell, you draft him to fight one of those `monsters` and his only concern was his pay and if he needed a backup to take it down.
  5. He could honestly say he was considering never taking another one of these escort jobs regardless of the coin it earned him. Escort a rich guy's daughter home - how hard could it be? Well for starters he had no idea that the daughter would be such a-
  7. “Hey, mercenary! My feet ache, didn't you say we were going to stop?” A posh woman's voice cut through his thoughts. Holding back a groan, he turned around to face the woman he was contracted to protect.
  9. “I didn't say that. I said we can get more distance before the sun sets, we don't have to stop so soon.” Kenneth told her.
  11. “But I'm tired now!” she moaned as she walked off to the side of the road of sat down. "I had told you this is the first time I had travelled this far on foot and we've been walking all day! I demand we stop here!”
  13. “We should keep moving; this area is known for bandits.” He tried to persuade her. “Remember the last time you did this?”
  15. “Then like last time, if we encounter them, you will do what my father paid you for, right?” she replied and refused to budge. Kenneth decided to avoid an oncoming headache and sat down next to her with a sigh while his client rested her feet.
  17. Lady Bellsworth was the daughter of a high-end nobleman and it definitely showed, from her well-groomed black hair and a pretty face with all her teeth intact to the fancy light blue dress that really was not fit for going on a journey. You would think that after two weeks or so of traveling that she would get used to it, that he would not have to hear any more of her complaints - But no, they had been on the road for months now and he had given up hope a week ago. It was quite easy to say that he was losing his patience with the upper-class woman.
  19. With nothing better to do, seeing as Bellsworth had essentially called an end to today's travel and the sky had started to redden, Kenneth split his attention between checking his bag supplies and keeping a look out in the area after making a camp fire. The food was apparently running low and he would have to hunt if they didn't get to the next town by tomorrow night.
  21. “Hey, mercenary,” Bellsworth called him out.
  23. “My name is Kenneth, Lady Bellsworth.” he said while taking out parts for the tents.
  25. “You are in my employ so, I will call you what I wish.” She said with a huff. “Regardless, how far is it till we reach our destination?”
  27. Kenneth pulled the map from his pack and unrolled it. After a brief silence, He replied “We still have at least another three weeks travel at the rate we are going.” he rolled the map back up and returned to set up the tents.
  29. “Really? You mean this long and horrible experience is almost over?” She asked him.
  31. “The same can be said for me,” he muttered to himself a little too loudly as he finished a tent.
  33. “What did you say, mercenary?”
  35. “It would not have been so long and horrible if you just followed what I had asked you,” Kenneth said, feeling a bit of relief from telling her the truth.
  37. “I told you before that you are not in a position to demand anything from me. The nerve of you, asking me to dress like you.” she huffed.
  39. “I had told you many times that if you wore less-flashy clothes, we would not have to worry about bandits targeting us.” Kenneth sighed with a frown. “With the way you dress and the jewelry, it paints a target on us for ambushes. You should have at least used a cloak.”
  41. “I am a member of the Bellsworth family and I shall dress as such. Besides, you dealt with everything we've encountered, I don't see the problem.”
  43. “I don't have eyes in the back of my head and you can't fight at all, anything can happen that can render me unable to help you when you need it. While I'm fighting off one bandit, another could take you away for whatever he has in mind - all this and more I have told you but you refused to listen!” Kenneth spoke with increasing anger. “We are merely lucky that the bandits and monsters have been manageable.”
  45. “You have some nerve, mercenary.” the noblewoman growled. “Neither my father or I will appreciate the way you're talking. I could end our agreement at this moment if I wish it.”
  47. To Bellsworth's surprise, Kenneth's response was to laugh - until he saw the look on her face. “Heavens, you're actually serious! Do you not realize what's wrong with what you said?”
  49. “How could I be joking? I could leave you here without pay and food and have my father make it so no noble will hire you again.”
  51. “We have been attacked by bandits at least every other day and you want to get rid of your only form of defense? You cannot be that foolish!” He almost shouted at her.
  53. “You have no right to talk to me like this you vile-”
  55. “No right? I'm the only thing around keeping you alive and safe at this point, and I've had it with your attitude and actions that have endangered the both of us - your constant moaning about how far we have to go and your belittlement of me!” he cut her off furiously.
  57. Bellsworth had silenced herself in shock; no one had talked to her like this, not even her parents at their angriest.
  59. Kenneth's rant continued. “I am trying to do my job and right now that job is protecting you! It's starting to drive me mental that my own damn contractor outright refuses to use my goddamn name, let alone is the one stopping me from doing my job right!”
  61. “How dare you! I have done no such thing!” Bellsworth said insulted.
  63. “Tell me, outside of sleeping and getting away from attacks, can you tell me one time you went along with anything I asked you to do without complaint?” He asked her.
  65. After a brief pause. Bellsworth stared him in the eye and said coldly “Your job is to protect me mercenary, nothing else matters. You've done your job in silence, continue to do so.”
  67. Kenneth just sighed, “Seriously, Lady Bellsworth, we have to be careful and you are not helping, bandits are not the only problem - there are the monsters as well. Maybe I could take most of them, but if one of the stronger ones finds us, we could be in trouble”
  69. Bellsworth looked unimpressed. “You cut down bandits with ease, how is one of those foul demons any different?”
  71. He was about to reply before laughter echoed throughout the clearing.
  73. “Now I know you humans don't like us, but I think calling us foul is an insult too far, don't you think?” a soft female voice made itself know in the darkness.
  75. It was then that Kenneth realized two things. Firstly he had augured with Lady Bellsworth long enough that he didn't notice it get dark and secondly, they were not alone. The mercenary drew his sword and started looking around frantically, his sword arm twitching due to being caught off guard.
  77. He received a giggle from the darkness for his actions that didn't help his nerves any. Then he heard a whisper in his ear, a whisper that chilled him as she spoke. “Where are you looking? I'm right here.”
  79. Kenneth jumped forward and spun around to meet the intruder as Bellsworth backed off to the side in fear. At first glance, she seemed to be just a beautiful woman in black clothing, but the light of the fire made it clear that she was not human. Black horns that grew from a head covered in snow white hair that fell to her back in a single, large braid, a white set of wings and tail coming from her back, and glowing blood-red eyes that shine like lights in the dark. Her clothes looked like an expensive version of his own black traveler's pants and sleeveless shirt combination, along with gloves like his own and, just like him, a sword rested on her hip.
  81. The mercenary could not stop the trembling in his hands. He had fought succubi before, but this one was different. She was way more alluring in his eyes...and felt way more dangerous too. Steeling himself and staring her down, he pointed his sword at the demon in front of him. “What do you want, succubus?” he asked with a frown.
  83. The inhuman woman returned a playful smile. “Not much, human. Your little lovers' spat had woken me and I wanted to see if I could help you with your problems.”
  85. Kenneth's frown deepened. “She is not my lover and we don't need any help, monster.”
  87. “Is that so? Very well then, seeing as I'm awake and you're pointing a sword at me...” She said as she pulled her sword from its sheath. If it wasn't for the odd red tint in the blade, it would look like an ordinary broadsword. “Would you care to entertain me?” The succubus gazed into his eyes, an act that made him feel unnaturally warm. Not wanting this feeling to continue, he jumped at the at the woman and made a slash, only to hit nothing as she seemed to melt into the air. Once more laughter from behind him rang out.
  89. “A little jumpy, are we?” she said with a grin as he turned to face her. Kenneth attempted again to strike, but she blocked it. “Fine amount of power you have, but it's not enough to move me.” She said with humor. Annoyed, Kenneth tried several more times, each time gaining the same result as before, either a dodge or a block that was beginning to frustrate him. As for his opponent, she struck with precision and could have easily dealt a crippling blow but she struck to light hits that were still annoying as hell due to the effects of demon silver went to work.
  91. “You fight quite well. Most people would have been taken down by now. Then again, most people are not me.” She said with a grin.
  93. Kenneth could only growl as the fight went on until one particular attack had left him without his sword. Turning to face her again, he saw his sword in her hand.
  95. “A fine blade, but nothing I can't handle.” she gave the sword a look over for a second before tossing it aside and slowly approaching him while sheathing her own. “I've had my fill,” she said. “Why don't you tell me what you're doing camping in the forest?”
  97. Man and monster locked eyes once more. The feeling of warmth returned to Kenneth along with along with nagging thoughts to agree with her and let his guard down. It was so intense he almost couldn't get his next words out. “As tempting as it sounds, I would rather you leave us alone.”
  99. The Intruder laughed. “Really now? One should be proud to gain the attention one of the Lilim.”
  101. Kenneth didn't respond and managed to keep a straight face, but his mind was racing and the worry from before was edging into terror. He had heard of Lilims, daughters of the demon lord capable of bringing entire armies to their knees with minimum effort. If the rumors were true, the chances of getting out of this at all were slim. Just being near this demon was doing something to him he didn't want right now.
  103. “I didn't ask for your attention. Monster princess” Kenneth spoke slowly to gather his thoughts.
  105. “If you must call me something, then my name is Selene. But if you don't want my attention, let's see if your companion wants it then.” The Lilim smiled before she vanished from his sight. He was about to release a sigh of relief that the uncomfortable feeling had left him before her words registered in his head and turning the sigh into a swear he looked around for Bellsworth.
  107. A scream brought his attention to his left. He turned to see Bellsworth running out the bushes in a panic and cowering behind Him while the demonic woman emerged from the bushes, following her with a slow swaying walk.
  109. “First him and now you, am I really all that scary?” Selene said with a smile.
  111. Seeing his client in danger, Kenneth put his fists up. “You will not harm her!”
  113. “Strange... you told me that you two were not lovers, yet you're willing to defend her from me?” She said curiously.
  115. “It is my job to protect her.” He replied simply. "And even if it wasn't, I will protect the defenseless."
  117. Selene's expression darkened with some form of realization as she looked at both humans. Then, with a flick of her wrist, Kenneth was sent crashing into a tree by some unknown force. Pain racked his body as he looked up and saw the demon princess approach a terrified Bellsworth.
  119. “Sorry, but I need her to speak for herself.” The monster apologized to Kenneth before turning to Bellsworth. “Is he serious? He is your guard?” The Lilim asked the slowly retreating noblewoman.
  121. “He is to protect me from all threats, something he's failing at right now.” Despite her fear, she managed to scowl at her bodyguard, who was slowly rising to his feet.
  123. The white haired demon's face gained a frown. “He's standing up for your safety and this is how you act?” She asked gesturing to Kenneth. Her eyes flashed ominously and before Bellsworth could retort, a hand clamped around her neck and lifted her off her feet. “I hate women like you, cowards that look down on others when they won't do a damn thing for themselves. Hell, I bet you've never even punched someone. So weak, so damn foolish!”
  125. “Mercenary! Help me!” Bellsworth managed to wheeze out in fear.
  127. “And now you beg for him to save you? Why should he when you even refuse to call him his name?” When she didn't get a reply, she loosened her grip enough to allow Bellsworth to breathe and growled. “Answer me!”
  129. “It is... what he's...paid for.” The noblewoman said between breaths.
  131. Selene's expression became downright sinister, “I think instead that a little attitude adjustment is in order.” A dark purple aura started to surround the Lilim's free hand, which made Bellsworth struggle frantically. “Now let's see, what should you become?”
  133. Kenneth, not wanting to know that aura did, threw himself at the Lilim, only to be smacked aside by the Monster's tail.
  135. “Do you mind? This woman needs to be taught how to do things for herself. I'll give her back as soon as I'm done.” Selene said to the fallen mercenary. Looking back at her captive she started mumbling, “Too much pride would not help... that one wouldn't actually work- ah!” Her face lit up with a grin. “I've got Just the thing!” The glow on her hand went from purple to a dull red as she placed on Bellsworth's stomach. The aura spread from her hand to completely envelop the woman, as Selene focused on whatever she was doing.
  137. Kenneth was once again on his feet. Thinking fast he picked up a rock and threw it at the Lilim, aiming for her head. His opponent simply used her tail to deflect it but wasn't expecting Kenneth to tackle her. She teleported away from him before he collided with her but he had done what he wanted. With nothing holding her up, Bellsworth fell to her knees, coughing as the aura surrounding her faded away.
  139. “I think that's enough excitement for one night.” Kenneth rose to one knee and looked around, but Selene was nowhere to be seen, only her voice. “I'll leave you for now, but I'll be watching you. I want to see how she enjoys my gift. And maybe more.”
  141. That line struck fear in Kenneth. He thought he stopped whatever she was doing to Bellsworth. “What gift? What did you do?” The only reply Kenneth got was slowly fading laughter.
  143. Kenneth went to Bellsworth's side. “Are you okay, Lady Bellsworth?”
  145. “I'm fine.” was all she said. She looked anything but fine.
  147. “But that monster said-”
  149. “I said I'm fine, mercenary. With that monster gone, I think I would just like to get some sleep. That monstrous woman has ruined my appetite,” she said quietly as she stood up and stumbled over to her tent.
  151. Thinking That he would get nowhere, Kenneth decided to return to putting up his tent for the night. He knew he wasn't going to sleep anytime soon as the encounter had shaken him deeply. He had just told Bellsworth that they could encounter a demon and look what happened!
  153. That Lilim had out-skilled him with ease, there was nothing at all he could do to stop her from what she wanted. There was also what she said about wanting to observe the `Gift` she had given. What did she mean by that? He knew that among monsters, the succubus is known for turning other women into their own kind, but the feeling Selene had given off was different, so he didn't know what to think.
  155. He resolved to talk to Bellsworth in the morning, regardless of her feelings on the matter. There has to be some clue to that `gift` business. Even then, he still had to escort her home. Kenneth was not one for breaking agreements.
  157. With that in mind, he closed his eyes and tried to catch what little sleep he could before sunrise.
  159. [Part 2]
  161. Luckily for the both of them, the night had passed without further incident.
  163. Silence reigned throughout the entire morning. Bellsworth was withdrawn all through the morning. When packing the tents and other morning duties, the most Kenneth was able to get out of her were nods and shakes, but when he tried to mention last night, she would just ignore him. He decided to bring up the problem before they set off.
  165. "Lady Bellsworth, for the last time, we need to talk about what happened last night," he said sternly as Bellsworth was seated on a stump combing her hair.
  167. "There is nothing to talk about, mercenary," Bellsworth said with a flat tone, refusing to look at him.
  169. "I need you to tell me if something abnormal is going on. I want to prepare if your body is acting up.”
  171. "I don't have to tell you anything." Bellsworth huffed. “All you need to know is that you will not be paid for your failure”
  173. “What?” He snarled with gritted teeth. After the previous night, he was in no mood for her antics.
  175. The noblewoman simply ignored him. “I'm fine, if that is what you need. Now let us depart before you fail at your job again,” she said as she brushed herself down and stood up, only for Kenneth to block her path.
  177. "Enough!" The mercenary all but roared at her. “I just experienced the trashing of my life and that Lilim made it quite clear you have been corrupted! I refuse to let you ignore this, you stupid woman!”
  179. She looked disgusted. “Who are you calling stupid, you brute? I will not be talked to li-”
  181. “You will shut up and listen! I refuse to be belittled for something that was both our fault!” Kenneth shouted.
  183. “How am I at fault for you failing to protect me?” She said with disbelief.
  185. “Bellsworth, I know stubbornness is one thing you've embraced wholeheartedly, but for once in your life, think about it. That was not some bandit group, that wasn't a werewolf, or an ogre, or even a regular succubus, that was a god-damn lilim! Do you even know what they are?” Kenneth asked.
  187. Bellsworth gained a look of confusion. “I...I had thought they were just another strong monster.”
  189. “Lilims are daughters of the demon lord. In battle, they are a one-woman army capable of wiping out armies, with little injury to tell the tale. A proud anti-monster city can become a demon realm overnight on their whims. The mere mention of the white devils being nearby is enough for people to reconsider any kind of action when monsters are involved.” Kenneth lectured as he started to pace.
  191. “That can't be true! She can't be that powerful!" Bellsworth said in protest.
  193. He just shrugged. “I've heard many stories about how powerful they are. But we can talk about that later, as I know what you're also thinking, `how does all this connect to it being my fault?`. Tell me, why did that Lilim attack us?” Kenneth stopped pacing and stared her in the eye.
  195. “Why else? she was after me and my money.” She said.
  197. Kenneth shook his head. “You couldn't be further from the truth. She was there because our argument woke her up. She fought me simply because she was curious about my sword skills. The only reason she went after you is that I rejected her offer to talk. That's where my fault lies. If I hadn't done that, things might have been different.”
  199. Bellsworth was about to say something in agreement, but the darkening expression killed the insulting remark before it even began.
  201. “She went after you because you verbally put me down, even when I was the only thing between you and whatever she could have done. She got angry at you because you expected me to be at your beck and call, even though you treat others like trash. What's worse, you only physically resisted when she decided to corrupt you and it was clear I couldn't stop her.”
  203. Kenneth was slowly approaching her, the anger in his voice becoming more known by the second. The noblewoman was trembling backward in fear. She had never seen him this angry.
  205. “I've learned not to fear to lose to the monsters or even dying, but this is the first time I couldn't see a way to beat my opponent. The sheer hopelessness of not being able to even put up a struggle, that scares me more than simple failure or death. Even now those eyes of hers shake me, and her laughter still rings in my ears.”
  207. Kenneth put himself right in front of her. His eyes smoldering with anger as he stared her down.
  209. “I now haft to live with that because you decided to be one of the worst people I've ever known or protected. And not only do you blame me for your actions, your concern with refusing me pay over the almost guaranteed loss of your own humanity, sickens me no end. I agree with Selene, you are a fool.”
  211. A tension-filled silence filled the area as both mercenary and client stared each other down. After a cold, long moment, Bellsworth took a deep breath and spoke, “Do you really think that low o-ngnh!” whatever response she was going to say died in her throat as she suddenly held her stomach.
  213. Kenneth took a step back and looked in concern. “Bellsworth?” the noblewoman didn't answer as she started to sway. He didn't know what was going on as she fell to her hands and knees and started to writhe around on the floor. Her moan didn't exactly sound like it was painful.
  215. “So hot, It's so hot... what's going on.... I can feel something, It doesn't hurt... but why?” Bellsworth rambled on. As she started to glow with red energy. Kenneth watched in amazement as her once-short black hair lengthened at an unnatural speed and her ears looked like they gained they gained a fin-like appearance. After that, the red aura slowly faded, but the new features she had looked like they were here to stay. Whatever had happened seemed to be too much for her, as she had fallen unconscious.
  217. Kenneth tried to take deep breaths to calm himself. This was Selene's `gift` doing its work.He had little to absolutely no idea how to stop it from happening. What made it worse was that he didn't know what she was turning into. Even the friendly states could be picky at times about which monsters they helped.
  219. Still, he had to think positively. This may be what he needed to get her to take the situation more seriously. He just hoped he found a way to fix it before they got back to her city. Her father, Duke Bellsworth was probably going to imprison him at best, and the worse case was obvious, but he couldn't just abandon it.
  221. “What happened?” came a pained groan.
  223. Kenneth was brought out of his thoughts by Bellsworth's question. She had risen to her knees and her eyes had no focus.
  225. “Whatever she did to you is starting to take effect,” Kenneth explained. “You had a fit on the floor and you glowed red. You passed out after the changes stopped.”
  227. “What do you mean, Nothing feels different.” she said as she got to her feet, brushing the dirt she could off her dress.
  229. “Feel your ears, Bellsworth,” Kenneth told her.
  231. Bellsworth was about to respond to him before she saw her own extended and wild hair. Eyes widening, she held up some strands in one hand while another hand reached, trembling, to an ear, feeling its new shape. It was then that he saw the long nails growing from her fingers, though she was likely too distracted to notice.
  233. Kenneth had no idea what was going through her mind now, but they needed to get to the town, so he tapped her on the shoulder. “I know this sudden but we need to get moving and now. There should be a church in the next town, so we should get there sometime in the afternoon. The sooner we get there, the sooner there might be a chance to fix this problem.
  235. Bellsworth was shaking but managed to nod. Kenneth removed a travelling cloak from the supply bag and handed it to her. A flash of disgust came across her face before she took it and put it on, putting up the hood to hide her abnormal ears.
  237. Without further words, they gathered the rest of the supplies and headed for the path.
  239. The sun had just started to go down by the time they had made it to the town. Being in civilization after walking the roads and forests for days was already soothing them, but it wasn't time to relax just yet.
  241. "We need to get to the inn and secure a room for tonight. After that, we should find the church and see what can be done. After that, we can call it a day. Can you hold out until then?” he asked Bellsworth. The noblewoman twitched and looked like she was about to protest before she sighed and nodded. Kenneth mentally questioned her reaction before shrugging and looked around for the inn.
  243. It didn't take long for them to find a quite large, three-floor building that the signs outside marked as an inn and bar. Entering it, they were met with the smell of alcohol and the noise of banter from the other patrons.
  245. “Urgh... I had forgotten how these places could be.” Bellsworth said in disgust.
  247. “This looks to be the only inn in town, let your standards take a back seat,” Kenneth said as he looked around.
  249. “I know mercenary, it's just... never mind.” She said with a sigh. “Shall we just get our rooms?”
  251. Kenneth nodded and approached the bar counter, the bartender eyed him while he cleaned a glass.
  253. “What can I do for you travellers?” He asked in a rehearsed yet pleasant tone.
  255. “We need a place for the night and the location of the town church,” Kenneth told him.
  257. “Three silvers a room. one silver a meal, five coppers for a drink” The bartender moved onto another glass as Kenneth took out his coin bag. “No can do about the church I'm afraid, the place shut down a year ago.”
  259. The mercenary sighed while Bellsworth started to curse under her breath. “Do you know any priests or monks nearby?” Kenneth asked.
  261. The bartender looked thoughtful before shaking his head. “Nothing like that around here. I've heard that the city in Acton in the east has its own chapel but that's three weeks away on foot. You might what to check the next town that's on the way there.”
  263. “Wonderful.” Bellsworth groaned and for once, Kenneth had to agree. Acton was their destination in the first place. “So we have to get home before we could fix this.”
  265. “It seems that way.” He muttered as he paid the man six silver coins. “One room, two meals, ale for me and wine for the lady.” He said, thumbing to his companion.
  267. The bartender collected the money and pulled a key from under the desk. “Room five on the second floor is yours, grab a table and I'll get one of the girls to get you the drinks as soon as I can.” With that said, Kenneth and Bellsworth sad down at their table with the noblewoman fixing her hair to cover her ears.
  269. “So we don't have to change course, we just need to get to the temple in Acton before we go to your father's manor,” Kenneth said as he glanced at a wall with a menu board on it.
  271. “I would have preferred it if we could have met a priest now. But the world seems to be set against me these last two days.” Bellsworth said as a barmaid set down their beer and wine. She then set off with their food orders.
  273. Both of them went silent as they savoured their drinks. Kenneth had the map out and was planning the next path to take until Bellsworth spoke. “Say, mercenary?” Kenneth looked up from the map to listen. “Do you think we'll see her again?”. she asked looking uneasy.
  275. “She wanted to hear how her `gift` turns out, there is no doubt we will see her again.” He knew he wasn't helping her mood, but there was no real need to lie.
  277. “I see...” she drifted off and took a swig of her wine. “But her words, `to learn how to do things for me`. What did she mean?”
  279. “I've got some ideas, but I don't know for sure.” He said, as his gaze returned to the map.
  281. There was a long pause before she laughed humourlessly. “How would me being turned into a demon help? I have what I want already.”
  283. “A wise man once said, 'Sometimes realization comes through forcing the blind to see what they don't want to',” Kenneth said.
  285. “I find little need to trust the sayings of old o-” She was cut-off by the main doors slamming open and a bunch of men walking in. They all mostly had the same look of rough clothing, crude weapons, and foul expressions. The entire bar when silent as what looked like their leader, a bloated man with a short black mohawk for hair, stepped forward.
  287. Kenneth mentally groaned. Tonight was not going to be peaceful.
  289. [Part 3]
  291. The comfortable mood was broken when most of the customers fell silent as all eyes in the bar focused on the leader of the group.
  293. “Nice place you've got here,” the leader said while stroking his chin and looking around the room, taking a few glances at several people. “People don't seem too bad, either.”
  295. “What do want?” The bartender asked with a strained smile.
  297. “Well you see, the boys and I have been on the road for ages now, and we've been through quite the rough patch. Isn't that right boys?” He turned and asked his men.
  299. “That's right.” one of them said.
  301. The leader nodded and turned back. “So the guys and I got to thinking, and we decided that we should enjoy some of your hospitality! Isn't that great?”
  303. The bartender's eyes narrowed and then begun slowly. “It's three silvers for a room, one for a-” He was cut-off by the laughter of the man and his followers.
  305. “It seems we have a problem. When was money involved?” He said with a grin.
  307. Everyone apart from those who were with the bandit was then put on edge while the bartender stiffened in anger. “Now see here! You can't demand that!” He shouted.
  309. The bandit leader was still amused and laughed as he pulled out his sword. The blade was of fine make, something that looked like it would be in the hands of a knight rather than a man of his appearance. “See, that's where you're wrong my bartender friend, I can call you my friend right? After all, we don't want to have to cause any trouble. We just need you to be a bit generous for a while; no harm in that, is there?” He then turned to the customers and shouted. “Listen up! Men are placed at every entrance of this Inn. If anyone of you idiots tries to get out to alert the guard, we'll know. All we ask is that you leave your coin bags on the table for us and keep your mouths shut. Am I clear?”
  311. Many of the patrons then started placing their bags on the table. Kenneth, on the other hand, refused to take out his, instead kept his hand on his sword. The leader, noticing no money on the table approached with an amused chuckle.
  313. “Well then, what do we have here?” He said, looking at Kenneth, before catching sight of Bellsworth, and taking on a sinister grin that the mercenary didn't like. “Now here's nobility if I've ever seen it. Tell me your name, sweetheart.”
  315. “I refuse.” She said flatly.
  317. “Don't want to be friendly? Come on girl, why don't I get some wine and we can enjoy the night? Let old Riley show you what a man is like, unlike your boyfriend.” he said thumbing to Kenneth.
  319. “He is not my boyfriend, he is my bodyguard,” Bellsworth said. “And the answer is still no.”
  321. Kenneth was thinking that something was wrong. Bellsworth was not trembling or trying to get his attention. Normally, by now she would be screaming `mercenary, help!` Or some other garbage. Even then, she would try and get out of trouble by using her family name, not realizing how pointless that was.
  323. The bandit leader, apparently named Riley, carried on. “No? Really? You see, many things happen when people tell me no. The last person that did lost his sword.” He said waving his weapon about. “and his hand. So why don't you do the right thing, Eh?” he was about to move closer to her before Kenneth rose to his feet.
  325. “Back off.” was all Kenneth said. Riley's smile didn't leave him as he looks at Kenneth. If anything It got wider.
  327. “I've got a good idea. Hey, guys! Watch the woman. I'm going to show her why some piece of dung guard won't stop me!” he shouted while he walked around the table. His men cheer in enticement, probably at the chance of seeing blood.
  329. Kenneth pulled out his sword and focused on the enemy. Without warning, the bandit attacked, but the swing was easily dodged. Annoyed that the fight wasn't decided with the first blow, Riley started attacking with wild swings. Kenneth kept dodging until he parried a slash and, with his free hand, punched him in the face, sending him over an empty table.
  331. That had not only had the bar customers running to the corner to get out of the way but it silenced the other bandits. Wasting no time, Kenneth moved around the table to slash at Riley but missed as the bandit rolled out the way.
  333. Backing himself towards where most of his men are. Riley pointed his sword at the mercenary and shouted: “Kill him!”.
  335. The bandits then rushed him, but Kenneth felt little fear as he ran at them. He worked fast and aimed every blow to take the enemy out in as few hits as possible, crippling or fatal. He didn't know just how many bandits were here and he could easily be overwhelmed, regardless of the skill of his opponents.
  337. The room became chaos as Kenneth brawled; tables and chairs were broken and thrown, as the bandits clearly had no shame in playing dirty. He almost laughed at that, as Kenneth saw himself a man of honour, but those who stuck to rules in a street fight were idiots.
  339. After cutting down what felt like the fifth bandit, the assaults slowed down, the bandits starting to get wary of the mercenary and his sword skills. Kenneth took a look around, counting the remaining bandits at about six. He was thinking fast about his next move when he heard Bellsworth scream, “Stay away from me”, followed by a very male shout of pain.
  341. The fighting stopped as everyone turned to see Riley stumbling about and grasping his face in agony. Bellsworth was up against the wall, taking deep breaths, with her face a mix of excitement and panic. What caught everyone's attention, however, was that she was surrounded by the red aura again.
  343. “What have you done to my face, you whore?” Riley roared, looking like he was about to leap at the incapacitated woman, when a new bandit entered the bar.
  345. “The town guard are on their way! we've got get out of here!” he said. As other bandits grabbed Riley and dragged him back with the leader in no state to protest.
  347. “Dammit! I won't forget this, you bitch. Mark my words, I'll have you screaming my name on top of that sword-asshole's corpse!” He shouted as he was pulled out the doors, cursing and screaming vulgar lines along the way.
  349. Kenneth gave all his attention to the panicking Bellsworth, who had once again passed out from whatever changes now befell her. It wasn't until the town guards actually came in and said that the bandits were gone that he allowed himself to relax.
  351. The patrons left the bar left quickly, but made sure to thank Kenneth for fighting off the bandits before heading out the door or upstairs to their rented rooms.
  353. The barmaids helped Kenneth carry Bellsworth her to their room, making her comfortable while he talked to the bartender and helped clean up the wreckage in the bar.
  355. “I take it whatever was going on with your lady friend is why you asked about the church,” the bartender asked as he swept up some broken wood. Kenneth nodded as he was gathering the smashed table parts. “Well then, you can stay here in the house – it's the least I could do for stopping those scum.”
  357. Kenneth nodded in thanks. “I'm grateful, but let me leave some gold to help you fix this place up. I did help trash it.”
  359. “Deal. I hated those tables, anyway. Now I can finally get some decent wood.” Both the bartender and the mercenary laughed. “Name's Rick by the way,” he said as he offered a hand.
  361. “I'm Kenneth, the woman upstairs is Lady Bellsworth, heir to Acton,” Kenneth said as he shook hands.
  363. Rick's eyes widened. “Bellsworth? As in Duke Bellsworth?” Kenneth nodded again. “Why is she travelling with one guard? Shouldn't you have several and a wagon or something?”
  365. Kenneth sighed as he continued to work. “Raiders ransacked several of the western towns, and her carriage was destroyed. I was hired by her father to get her home while he headed south first, for reasons he didn't tell. With him having the only carriage and the only other merc not to run away in the fight, I have to escort her on foot.”
  367. “And that's when whoever corrupted her attacked, right?” Rick asked. Before Kenneth could say anything. he continued. “I have no problem with most monsters. Hell, I've got an aunt-in-law that's a werewolf and my own sister became a succubus. I know what she's gone through just what Miss Bellsworth is now. As long as nothing happens to the bar girls, she's as free to stay here as you are.”
  369. “Thanks for that.” Kenneth let out a sigh of relief.
  371. “Still, what attacked her? There's something off about the way she's turning.”
  373. “A Lilim,” he answered. “The problem is that I don't actually know what she's changing into. The worst part is that whatever it may be, the Lilim wants to be around to see it.”
  375. Rick looked thoughtful for a seconded before he perked up with an idea. “You should check the town library before leaving. Might find something more about them.”
  377. “I'll look into that,” Kenneth said as he finished clearing the broken tables and chairs, with Rick offering him a free drink.
  379. “Might as well take that to your room, make sure she's okay,” Rick said. “It's been a long day and I'll get the girls to fix you something good and send it up.” Before Kenneth got to the stair, he spoke again. “Word of advice for you. As far as I know, going monster is a one-way road. It's best to tell her that soon, or it might break her hard.”
  381. Taking his mug of beer upstairs, he found his room. Entering it, he saw Bellsworth asleep in the main bed, and a cot prepared for him to sleep close to her. It was also furnished with chairs and tables.
  383. Kenneth sat down at the table and drank his beer while he thought to himself. Even if Bellsworth woke up to eat, it was best for the two of them to get their rest. This was the second day in a row this had happened and he hoped this wasn't how his days would go now.
  385. He lost his train of thought when he heard Bellsworth sit up. She looked around in confusion until he saw Kenneth at the table.
  387. “It happened again. Didn't it?”, she asked him softly. When she saw Kenneth nod she sighed. “What happened to the bandits?”
  389. “Fled the town or imprisoned by the guard. You really did a number on that guy. He was swearing vengeance on both of us on his way out.”
  391. Bellsworth looked a bit pained at his words. “I don't know what came over me. I felt this urge, this need to defy him... to fight him. When he got past you, while you were distracted, and he tried to take me, the urge got stronger. I wanted me to prove myself, instead of screaming for you to help... and I gained just the thing to do it.” She removed the blanket covering her and showed Kenneth her hand.
  393. At least it should have been her hand, but the enlarged fingers and clawed nails were telling Kenneth a different story. With all his focus on the aura, he had not seen the changes it had done.
  395. She carried on as he looked at her hand. "It felt so good and I wanted to fight more, but I thought that it was not me wanting these things. That's what made me freeze." She shook her head and looked and Kenneth. “I'm sorry, mercenary. After two days of this, I don't know what to think anymore.”
  397. “It's fine, Bellsworth. We will check the town library for information before we set out. I don't know if we can cure it, but I will help you manage.”
  399. Bellsworth stared at Kenneth before giving a small smile. “Thank you.”
  401. The mood had gotten so heavy that the both of them almost jumped when a barmaid knocked on the door. “Dinners here!” she said happily.
  403. Both the mercenary and noblewoman silently agreed to leave the conversation there and enjoy their food, for the morning was defiantly going to be interesting.
  405. (part 4)
  407. After being messed with by a Lilim and dealing with Bellsworth's corruption, along with fighting Riley and his goons the day after that, Kenneth was really wishing that he could have some form of relaxation. As such, reading books in the town library was a welcome break.
  409. Rick, the Inn owner, had said that a trader's wagon would come by midday and would set off in five days. Joining them would cut the travel time to a week and a half, so the best option was to catch a ride when it came by. This also gave him some time to check the old library for books regarding monsters.
  411. Bellsworth was also looking through books, trying to find information on becoming a monster. So far, neither of them had any luck regarding the subject, though Kenneth only wanted to confirm Ricks words about the change being irreversible.
  413. Sadly, every tome and scroll on the matter proved the bartender right. There was no known way to turn a monster back to the human she once was. Even the tales of men working to prove otherwise usually ended with the men disappearing.
  415. They spent days waiting for the traders, reading stories and research notes like that. Bellsworth seemed to get angry at everything she read. At one point he was sure he heard her gasp at something, but he could not get an answer out of her.
  417. It was early in the morning of the fourth day when Kenneth woke up to a scream. The mercenary shot out of bed and grabbed his sword from its position leaning on his bedpost. Looking around, he saw Bellsworth standing by her bed, panicking.
  419. Having just sprung up from sleep, it took him a second to register why she had screamed out in despair. The woman was now sporting a large, leathery lizard tail. The scales were dark red and the whole thing moved erratically like it had a life of its own.
  421. The both of them stared at the reptilian appendage in silence. Until Bellsworth reached out and held the tail in her hands. “It's a lizard tail,” she said calmly.
  423. “Bellsworth?”
  425. “...It's a lizard tail. An actual lizard tail. And it's mine... It's a part of me...hehe...hehehe” She started to giggle. “It's real! I can feel it, feel with it. It's real... it's really real. I've become a monster...” she fell into a bellowing laugh. The sight made Kenneth take a step back. “I, heir to the Bellsworth family have become a monster.”
  427. “Bellsworth, you need to calm down,” Kenneth said. But she ignored him.
  429. “Did you know that it was so easy to deny it, up until now?” she continued, staring at the tail. “That it was no big deal, that it was just some sickness I could get over when I get home, even with the claws and ears. But this proves it,” she said, holding the tail. “My life is over...” her laughter was still there, but she was starting to cry.
  431. “Look at this thing! Look at it! I'll have to cut holes in my dresses for it. I'm going to have to watch out for hitting things with it. And that's not even getting into my hands and feet! I hate it. I hate it so much. I should have stayed with my father. I should have just listened and stayed home like a good girl, then I would not have this sticking out of me!” The laughter was all gone now, only tears. “Mercenary, what do I do? I can't go around like this. What do I do?”
  433. “I don't know,” Kenneth told her honestly.
  435. “How could you not?” she screamed “You have to do something, somebody has to do something! I...I...” She broke down and started to cry into her hands, and all Kenneth could do is watch over her.
  437. ~x~ (next morning)
  439. It was a calm, quiet morning as Kenneth and Bellsworth ate their breakfast in comfortable silence. The only words out of either of them were thanks to the barmaids serving breakfast. Kenneth was a bit worried about how quiet was. Usually, she would be dragging him to the stores or ranting about what she wanted. Now, she was slowly stirring the porridge with her spoon. It was like yesterday's events had drained her of life. The fact that her arms, from her hands and on halfway up, had gained a reddish skin tone didn't help.
  441. “Mercenary... can I ask you something?”
  443. That got his attention. he asked. “What is it?”
  445. “You've seen places across the land, right?” She continued when he nodded. “Have you seen other women become monsters?”
  447. Kenneth stroked his chin in thought before he answered. “I haven't seen them become monsters or met any former humans. All my knowledge comes from traveller's tales and bar stories.” He said with a shrug.
  449. “I see...” She said before she took a deep breath. “Do you really think we can cure me?”
  451. Kenneth paused before he took another spoon of porridge. Rick's words from when they got to the village rang in his head and he sighed.
  453. “There is no going back, is there?” She said as she looked down. A tear rolled down her cheek.
  455. “It appears so.” he said.
  457. There was a long pause before She said anything. “Do you at least know what I am?...what I'm becoming?” she asked.
  459. “A lizardwoman, I think, that's if your feet and hands morph fully the way I think they will,” Kenneth said.
  461. “I see...” she said again. She swirled her porridge. “So what are you going to do?”
  463. Kenneth rose an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
  465. “I can't go home, not like this...” she said, looking at her clawed hand. “I don't know how my family will react. And even if they do accept me, they could blame you, and not being paid is the best case scenario on that end.”
  467. She was right. Anything could happen. But he still has a job to do. “We still have to get to Acton.”
  469. “What?” Bellsworth said shocked. “But what about-”
  471. “I know, but I was hired by your father. If you just disappear, your family could put a bounty on me, as I'm the last person known to be with you. I appreciate the thought, but I'm in more danger if we part ways.” He explained.
  473. “Then what do we do?” Bellsworth asked.
  475. “We need to inform your family of what's happened. Until we find a better way, that means we get you home.” Kenneth said. “Besides, I don't like leaving a job unfinished.” The noble woman flinched at his words. “What is it?”
  477. “...I...” she shook her head. “It's nothing, I think we should finish up and get ready for the convoy,” she said as he returned to her food.
  479. Kenneth decided to drop it. “I guess we have a plan, Bellsworth.” she froze before slowly looking up at him.
  481. “Don't call me that,” she said. “I... think we should start over. I can't call on that name if my family turns its back on me. Until I know for sure... I'm not a Bellsworth anymore” she said as she stood up and gestured for a handshake.
  483. Kenneth looked at her hand and then at her before he shook it. “Fine with me, My name is Kenneth.”
  485. “My name is Nadia.” The noble woman said with an unsure smile, it was clear she forced herself not to say her other name.
  487. “Nadia. A nice name,” Kenneth said as he went back to his porridge.
  489. “...thanks”
  491. ~x~
  493. Kenneth spent the morning making sure they had all the supplies for their journey while Nadia searched the market for new clothes (she couldn't bear to cut openings in her dresses and he had argued that she needed something to wear other than night clothes and a cloak). He had just finished packing the supplies outside the Inn when he heard someone walking up behind him.
  495. “So, you're one of the people we're taking to Acton?” Kenneth turned to see a tall, bald man with a long beard. “Rick told me about you. I'm the head of the trade convoy. You can call me Carl” he said, offering a handshake. He continued when Kenneth took it. “Rules are simple: don't be an asshole, bring your own tent, and be willing to share anything you hunt. Also, as a swordsman, you can help guard the convoy, that okay with you?”
  497. “It should be fine,” Kenneth said tying up his travel bags.
  499. “Good, I'll see you on the main road in the next ten minutes, I gotta check the other carriages and then we'll be on our way,” Carl said as he walked away.
  501. Nadia showed up not long afterwards. “Is everything ready?”
  503. “Should be, and you?” He asked as he looked her over, she was wearing her travel cloak to hide her tail but had it open so he could see the white blouse made out of fine cloth and black travellers trousers underneath. The had also wrapped her hands in bandages to hide her claws.
  505. “I should be fine.” she said as she took a bite out of something she had in her hands.
  507. “What are you eating?” He asked.
  509. “I had some leftover money from the clothes so I bought some beef jerky.” She said before munching on some more.
  511. “Jerky?” Last time he checked Nadia had hated the stuff, only eating it when fresh meat was not available.
  513. “I've had this craving for meat all week,” she explained as he handed her a bag and the two walked to the meeting point. “and this morning I passed the butchers and I couldn't resist the smell.”
  515. “Do you think it's part of your change?” Kenneth asked with concern.
  517. The noble woman paused and stared at the jerky left in her hand, but shook her head. “If it is, it's finally a change I can get along with,” she said as she munched more. “I just hope the other changes will be like this.”
  519. Kenneth was confused “Other changes?”
  521. Nadia's eyes appeared distant. “It won't end with this tail. I'm still changing, I can feel it flowing through me, and there's an itch in my arms and legs though I get the feeling that it's almost done.”
  523. Soon the two made it to the convoy just as the last of their stock was put on the carriages. Carl paused for a second to look at Nadia's bandages but didn't seem like he had a problem. It didn't take long before the convoy set off and left the town behind them.
  525. Kenneth and Nadia had managed to get a carriage for themselves as the load it had been carrying had been emptied at the town. For a while to two sat opposite each other in a comfortable silence, the only sound was the rumbling of the carts and the distant talking of the trade crew until Nadia spoke.
  527. “Mer... Kenneth.” She said aloud.
  529. Kenneth turned from his field watching to look at her. “Yes?”
  531. "What will happen to my mind when I become a monster?” She asked. “I had heard that monsters were mindless beasts, but when we encountered...her...” she shuddered before she continued. “What about the monsters you've seen?”
  533. Kenneth thought for a while before he responded. “They aren't mindless, I'd say monsters were... if I had to pick a word, focused. The monsters I've encountered were able to talk, even slimes, though the words were limited.” He put a hand to his chin in thought. “The more aggressive ones like the minotaur and manticore could be seen as that, but seeing as everybody runs for the hills when they see one and they tend to seclude themselves after claiming a man, few could tell otherwise.”
  535. Nadia accepted his answer with a nod. “That's reassuring I guess.”
  537. “How are you feeling?” He asked.
  539. “I...I don't know how to explain it. Everything feels so dull. There's an urge in me. I just feel so unsatisfied.” she said. “Every now and again my mind goes back to when I hit that bandit, and every time I do, there's been this one thought that I could have done more, that I should have done more.” She broke eye contact and looked at her bandaged hand. “It's a little scary, to be honest.”
  541. “There's nothing wrong with wanting to defend yourself,” Kenneth said. “I think it could be monster instincts kicking in or something like that.”
  543. Nadia looked like she withdrew into herself and looked out the carriage window. “... I guess so. But I can't help but think there is something more to it.”
  545. “Not much we can do about that until it rears its head.” Kenneth sighed as he took an apple out of his bag and took a bite.
  547. “You sound troubled Kenneth,” Nadia said.
  549. Kenneth glanced at her before looking out the window himself. “I'm just frustrated. Everything was straightforward less than two weeks ago. But with you turning monster, Riley and his group, and eventually meeting that Lilim again, now there are problems I have to play by the ear. I've never been a fan of these sort of things.” He said before he laughed. “Sorry Nadia, your problems are more important than mine right now. Priorities and all that.”
  551. Before she could say anything, the carriage came to a halt. Carl walked up to the window “We're stopping here for tonight, can you help my guys with the firewood?”
  553. “Sure,” he said as he stood up. “I guess we'll talk later. I'll probably be back with your meal,” he said as he got out the carriage. Leaving Nadia alone. The Noble-monster let her tail move back and in front of her.
  555. “Priorities...” she whispered to herself staring at her tail.
  557. [Part 5]
  558. (Tags: fighting, transformation, fire)
  560. It had been a week into the journey and everything was going well, Kenneth would help the convoy men with hunting and cooking along with setting up tents if they could. Nadia had helped now and again to stop herself going stir crazy, but kept it to a minimum to prevent her monster parts being discovered ( a hard thing to do when one of those parts is a lizard tail, but not impossible, given that she always wore her cloak).
  562. Speaking of monster parts, the next thing to change was her feet, the red-scaled clawed feet were too awkward for any shoes, so the noblewoman was `enjoying` the wonders of going almost barefoot. She now had bandages covered her feet as well as her arms now.
  564. What was more, her cravings for meat had grown, and while Kenneth had long since known Nadia to be impatient, she had become increasingly restless and agitated. He couldn't blame her - he had also had a growing sense of something being off - but for the life of him he could not figure it out.
  566. If the convoy noticed, they didn't show it, so onward they carried towards Acton.
  568. Currently, the convoy had stopped at a lakeside that had several traveller's rest-houses along it, so the convoy was staying here for the day. Kenneth was using the time to clean Nadia's bandages while she sat on a stump nearby, looking deep in thought.
  570. It was after the 4th sigh that Kenneth decided to break the silence. “Are you okay, Nadia?” he said as he carried on working
  572. Nadia's looked up a little, startled. “Hmm?”
  574. “I said, are you alright?” He repeated.
  576. “I can't say I am,” she said looking down at her own hands. “We're so close to home, the scenery is getting familiar and I can smell the local flowers, better than before. But I can't shake the feeling that something bad is going to happen.”
  578. “You mean meeting your father?” Kenneth asked.
  580. She shook her head. “No... I mean now, there's something in the air. I can feel it, I just... it's hard to explain.”
  582. Kenneth stopped cleaning the bandages and stood up. “If it means anything, I feel it too.” He said.
  584. “Am I being paranoid?” she asked.
  586. “After getting attacked out on the road, fighting bandits in a tavern, and the more interesting parts of your body coming out.” she glared when he pointed at her tail. “I think we have a right to be, especially after how far we've gotten without incident.”
  588. “I guess” Nadia paused. Then frowned. She then looked around, sniffing the air.
  590. Kenneth was about to ask what was wrong before he realised something. It was too quiet - even the birds had stopped.
  592. “I smell smoke,” Nadia said with worry creeping onto her face.
  594. `Smoke?` Kenneth thought to himself, it was the early afternoon, too early for meals. “dammit! Some things wrong!” he said as he got up, running through the trees to get back to the convoy, Nadia running after him.
  596. When he got back, Kenneth froze in shock. one of the carriages had been set on fire, and the workers were being attacked by various men. The convoy was being attacked by bandits!
  598. Kenneth snapped out of his shock when he saw Carl being fending off two bandits. Wasting no more time, Kenneth unsheathed his sword and charged forward. One good slash was all it took to take one bandit down, the other had no time to react before a punch to the face knocked him out. “You okay Carl?” Kenneth said as he looked around. The workers were doing their best to fight, but it was going badly.
  600. “I am now, thanks to you,” Carl said. “This damn ambush, there's too many of them!” He said as both men saw more bandits coming their way. “Forget the cargo! Focus on getting everyone out alive!” He shouted.
  602. `These men aren't warriors, This could be a slaughter.` Kenneth though. “Carl, head west and take Nadia and all you can with you. I'll hold them off!”
  604. Nadia gasped. “Are you insane! That's suicide!”
  606. “What's suicide is having the guys fighting rather than saving lives. I can fight, you and Carl and the other guards can save the workers and get out, I'll follow later,” Kenneth said.
  608. A look Kenneth could not read crossed her face: some mixture of frustration and something else but she nodded and ran off with Carl to gather the others.
  610. “Now then....” Kenneth said to himself as he stared down the approaching bandits. He knew he had to pace himself and cause enough damage to the enemy to be a distraction before losing them somehow. But that plan would have to come later. As he rushed forward to meet the bandits.
  612. It wasn't long before they started to gather around the mercenary as he hacked and slashed his way through the group, it wasn't perfect, having his focus spread amongst so many meant that he made mistakes, but he didn't take anything that stopped him from fighting at his best.
  614. He didn't know how long it was that he was fighting -cut one bandit here, stab another one there, kick yet another into several to knock some of them all down. Running and sliding under a spear to trip is wielder over and kick him in the face.
  616. It was when he had thrown a Bandit aside he had noticed people were backing off while circling him. High off the battle Kenneth yelled and launched himself at the nearest guy, only to be dropped to his knees as an enormous pressure fell on him.
  618. “What the hell?” He shouted. It felt like that his body weighed the same as a boulder. It was then that he noticed the faint glow his body was giving off. `restriction magic!` He shouted mentally as he struggled harder.
  620. “Nice to meet you again, Sword bastard.” Kenneth strained himself to look up into the sneering face of Riley. He was already what one would call `ugly`, but now he was sporting four claw-like scars other the right side of his face. Next to Riley was a man in dark blue robes, with a magic staff. “Not so tough now, are you?”
  622. “Riley....” Kenneth growled.
  624. “It's my lucky day today! I get a whole merchants convoy and I get my revenge!” he said as two bandits pulled a tied up Carl and Nadia forward, Nadia struggling as she was pushed forward. Kenneth's eyes widened as he gritted his teeth.
  626. “You know, it looking at her now, it makes sense that she would be able to get me like that.” Riley continued looking Nadia over with a sick grin. “Now I've put your guard out the way, what do you say I make good on that offer back at the bar? I know you monster freaks are up for a lot.” He asked her with a sickening grin.
  628. “Don't come near me you bast-!” Nadia started to shout before Riley punched her in the stomach, winding her.
  630. “Wrong answer, sweetheart,” Riley said as he picked her up and took her into one of the rest-houses while she kicked and screamed in his grasp. When he opened the door, he ordered his men. “Tie him up and bring him in here, he'll gets to see a real man at work.” He then took her inside.
  632. The bandits laughed as one of them got the rope to tie around Kenneth. “Okay, keep that spell on him while I do this, we don't need him getting fr-”
  634. He was cut off by a crashing sound. everyone turned to the rest house in time to see Riley get thrown out of the window.
  636. “Boss!” two of the men shouted and ran towards Riley when a loud scream came from the rest-house as smoke came out.
  638. Kenneth realised that the magician had broken his focus on the spell and got to his feet so fast he almost tripped over himself. He was about to run into the house to save Nadia, but before he moved the door blew off its hinges.
  640. Everyone was frozen in place as Nadia stumbled her way out of the building as fire consumed it from the inside, though if he was honest, if it wasn't for his travels with her and recognising her face among all the new features, Kenneth would be hard-pressed to call the woman... no, monster in front of him Nadia Bellsworth.
  642. Nadia looked to have gained a head in height, her already dark-red, clawed hands and lizard-like feet had grown some sort of armoured plating, like a mockery of arm and shin guards. Her ears were now morphed into what looked like fins one would see on a lizard or fish, her ripped clothing exposed muscles he was quite sure was not there before, and her hair now looked even wilder.
  644. There were two things that stood out the most: the first was that her tail was longer, thicker and was tailing across the floor. It was also ablaze with fire, though it didn't seem to give her any discomfort.
  646. The second was her eyes, what was once blue was now shared the same gold and slitted look that most reptiles have. And right now those eyes were looking frantically around like some sort of caged animal.
  648. The area stood in silence with the only sound being the fires burning away until one bandit lunged at her with his axe, yelling, only to be fall in pain from the swipe the new monster gave with her claws.
  650. As if that was the signal, all hell broke loose. The bandit's all converged on Nadia, who let loose a wild roar and moved faster than Kenneth had ever seen her before. Striking hard and fast, the bandits started to drop like flies, the more she fought the faster she got, and the more her face contorted into a look of excitement that sent shivers down his spine.
  652. Kenneth used the distraction to free Carl before some of the bandits decided to fight him instead of the rampaging lizard monster. He almost sighed in relief when he saw the merchant knock out the wizard that had got him earlier. With him gone and Nadia putting the bandits in a chaotic panic, he could really cut loose.
  654. He didn't even know how long he had been fighting for, how many bandits kept coming at him, he just kept going. The fire around them had become an out-of-control blaze that had made the area look hellish, the fact that he noticed Nadia's tail set the grass on fire didn't help things.
  656. It was when he had punched out the last bandit around him he looked about. Most of the enemy had been cut down or knocked out, the rest had fled. That Riley had also escaped in the chaos made him grit his teeth, he wanted to end the little bastard himself for what he had done.
  658. `Wait` he thought to himself. `Where is Nadi-`
  660. The sound of running towards him made him put up his sword just in time to block Nadia striking at his side with her one of her claws. Kenneth jumped back and had taken a couple more steps as the berserk Nadia gave two more swipes.
  662. Her eyes seemed to widen as her tail started to swing more excitedly, with its flame even burning greater than before. That grin that she had gained fighting the bandits never left her face.
  664. “Nadia snap out of it! it's me, Kenneth!” He tried to reason as she attacked again.
  666. Nadia paused and stared at Kenneth with a lost look on her face, the fire on her tail damped as she looked Kenneth in the eye. “Kenneth...” Kenneth would have been relieved, were it not that with whatever realization Nadia had come to made her grin and tail fire return with a vengeance. “Strong.”
  668. “What?” Kenneth asked in confusion.
  670. But Nadia said nothing else and went for another attack. Kenneth had to give his all to fend off her wild strikes, the unpredictability of it and the fact she seemed to shrug off some of the blows he was hitting her with was pushing him further than any fight he had in quite some time. Thankfully, Nadia's new-found power didn't come with skill and she was fighting with pure instinct, something Kenneth was able to counter.
  672. Finally, one of Nadia's strikes left an opening that let Kenneth tackle her into a tree, before he could do more she kneed him in the stomach and pushed him to the ground. He was about to get up Nadia knock his sword out of his hands and straddled him.
  674. The two locked eyes with each other as the monster sat there, her chest heaving with heavy breaths and her tail a raging inferno. Kenneth tried to think of something, anything to get out of the situation he was in. but all he could do was stare into the eyes of the woman holding him down.
  676. And then without any warning, Nadia leaned forward and kissed him, Kenneth's eyes widened as his brain shut down long enough that he barely noticed the loud clanging noise that made Nadia slump over unconscious.
  678. Snapping out of his daze, he looked up to see Carl holding one of the convoy's cooking pots. Kenneth could only nod as he moved from under the unconscious monster, the flames on her tail rippling like small embers.
  680. “You okay?” Carl asked.
  682. “In all honesty, no,” Kenneth said. “I feel like a horse danced on me.” He looked around to see most of the fire had died down. “What about you and the others, how bad is the damage?”
  684. Carl's face turned grim. “Two of the carriages have been destroyed and we've lost at least six men, this is damaging enough for me to put a DOA bounty in at the guild when we get to Acton. We still have a chunk of our cargo and I've got enough money to cover the losses, but this is a god damn mess. I'll still take you and your lady friend, It's thanks to you two that we salvaged as much as we can, even with her... problem.”
  686. Kenneth looked at the downed Nadia. “I thought she was turning into just another lizardwoman. I haven't heard anything about the fire tail, and then there's the fact that she had me pinned, I thought they only when for men that beat them in combat?”
  688. “I believe she is something else,” Carl said. “I had heard in my travels of odd lizardwomen, always with scales coloured like the shades of the sun and tails on fire. More ferocious and battle-hungry than their green-shaded cousins.”
  690. “What are they called?” Kenneth asked.
  692. “Quite a few names: fire lizard, red-scaled, flame-child,” Carl said in thought. “But the one everyone knows them by is Salamander.”
  694. Kenneth committed the name to memory and sighed. “We need to get everything in order, I'll take her to one of the unburnt rest houses, then I'll help with the salvaging.” Carl nodded and walked away as Kenneth lifted Nadia and carried her to the unburnt house.
  696. He thought to himself that once again he had all-but-failed in protecting Nadia, that once again she was unconscious and he was taking her to a bed, and once again his mind was filled with new questions due to her actions and condition.
  698. “This is getting old.” he muttered with a sigh as he went inside.
  700. [Part 6]
  701. tags, sallamander, lilim, talking chapter
  703. Kenneth was always an early riser, it came with his training as a warrior and his need to use as much daylight as he could as a travelling mercenary. Today was no exception as he sat down on a rock just outside the rest house, trying his best to relax in the dawn light.
  705. There was little else for him do anyway as it would be a few hours before the rest of the workers wake up, have breakfast and prepared to move on to Acton. He considered exercise to kill time but his body was still sore from all the fighting and yesterday and the work of fixing what the bandits had broken.
  707. There was also Nadia. Her actions yesterday had thrown him through a loop. Why had she attacked him after her rampage? Why did her aggression only increase when she recognised him? And why did she kiss him? Before her corruption, he was a necessity, a shield against the threats of the world while she made her way home nothing more.
  709. But now? Now he wasn't sure what to think? Did she genuinely feel something for him or was it just monster instincts kicking in?
  711. He groaned as he stood up and stretched. “Dammit, this is gonna annoy me all morning.” With a sigh he decided he was better off waiting inside the rest house, maybe he could talk to Nadia if she was awake and he could learn more about the monster she now was. He opened the door expecting to see Nadia still asleep.
  713. What he didn't expect was to see a familiar white-haired succubus leaning on the opposite wall.
  715. “You!” Kenneth growled out as went for his sword, only to realise he left it at Naida's bedside.
  717. “Good morning, Mercenary,” Selene said with a smile. “It hasn't been that long, has it? About a month if memory serves.”
  719. “Why are you even here?” He asked, still tense.
  721. “I'm here to check on her. I did say I would do that.” She said gesturing to the still sleeping Nadia. “Lilims have a faint connection to those we turn, I felt her energy go wild yesterday. So I came to see what going on.”
  723. “So you came to collect a new slave now that Nadia is a full monster?” He accused her.
  725. “Slave? She won't be any slave of mine. While it's true turned women have a sense of loyalty to the monster that changes them we can't truly force them to do anything. If she ends up serving me, it will be of her own will.” Selene explained while looking Nadia over. “Her heart will belong to her loved ones above all else, even me.”
  727. “How do I know you're not up to something?” Kenneth said, slowly inching himself towards the wall his sword was leaned up against.
  729. “Calm down Mercenary. If I wanted to fight I would have asked you to come outside with me. Besides, you will have your hands full when she wakes up anyway.”
  731. Kenneth stared the Lilim down before sitting down with a sigh. Even if she was hostile the Ambush yesterday had him in no condition to fight. “Fine, suit yourself.”
  733. Selene walked over to the bed and looked at the sleeping Nadia. “So her name is Nadia? She's become such a fine monster.”
  734. “I've been told she's a salamander, some sort of lizardwoman variant, am I right?” Kenneth asked.
  736. Selene nodded. “Yeah, most people don't know they exist. They're kinda rare, so we could always use a few more. What happened yesterday, Mercenary?”
  738. “If we're going to be civil, then my name is Kenneth. We were attacked by bandits, with the leader dragging her off to have his way with her. Next thing I know he's sent through a window and Nadia comes out looking like that.” He explained
  740. “And then I take it you fought off the bandits together?” Selene asked with intrigue.
  742. Kenneth nodded. “We did, but after that, she started to attack me, when I tried to get her to calm down and recognise me all it did was excite her more.”
  744. Selene grinned “That sounds about right, given how strong you are.”
  746. “What do you mean?” Kenneth asked with a frown.
  748. “You are more skilled than most as a mercenary and clearly stronger the most bandits and the average monster. Fighting prowess is what attracts monsters like salamanders. It's in their nature to love battles and fighting. Recognizing the man that has defended her for some time would be more than enough to set her off.” the lilim explained.
  750. “So she's just going to mindlessly attack me now?” Kenneth asked
  752. Selene laughed. “No, nothing like that, that bandit put her into a rage. It won't be the last time she attacks you, but the both of you will have more fun. Especially after the fight.”
  754. Before he could question what she meant, a groan made both Kenneth and Selene turn to the bed. Nadia slowly sat up and yawned. Before taking a lazy look around the room before her eyes widened at the sight of Selene. “You..”
  756. “Morning, Nadia,” Selene said. “I take it you remember me?”
  758. “You did this to me...” Nadia said, looking at her claws. “You're the one who made me what I am now,” she said that she got out of bed, reminding Kenneth that she had torn her clothes and had barely had rags for modesty.
  760. “And how do you feel?” Selene asked. The lilim and salamander stared at each over for some time and Kenneth though something might kickoff.
  762. “I feel... good.” Nadia broke the silence. “So good I almost can't stand it. Everything feels right for the first time in a month.” The flames on her tail started to grow.
  764. “Glad you like it,” Selene said with a smile. “I know he likes what he's seeing.” Kenneth snapped out of his staring at Nadia and looked embarrassed.
  766. Nadia, however, looked at him with a strange glint in her eye he couldn't describe before she looked down at her self and realised her state of clothing. “What happened to my clothes?”
  768. “They ripped when you finished turning into a salamander,” Kenneth said.
  770. “Salamander? I thought you said I was going to be a lizardwoman?” Nadia asked.
  772. “It's a different kind of lizard woman. I found out what you were yesterday and Selene here just confirmed it.” He said, gesturing with his head towards the lilim.
  774. “Right! yesterday, the bandits and... we fought!” Nadia's tail twitched. “That was amazing!”
  776. “Amazing isn't really what I'd call it yesterday.” Kenneth said.”
  778. “How was it not wonderful? the feel of taking down those bandits, blocking their swings to hit back” her tail fire was increasing at an alarming rate. “I always say it as something barbaric that only brutes could enjoy, but that feeling... that wondrous feeling of being in battle...” the tail was now waving around excitedly and burned like a fireplace as she was starting to take deep breaths as she looked a Kenneth.
  780. He reconsigned that gaze, it was the same look she gave him when she realised who he was yesterday. He tensed up and prepared to dodge an attack, but it turned out it was unnecessary as Selene walked over and put her hand on Nadia's shoulder. “Calm down down Nadia,” she said softly
  782. Nadia almost looked like she was struggling internally. “But I... He..”
  784. Selene leaned closer and whispered something her ear. Kenneth had no idea what she said but it did the job as Nadia's shoulders slacked. “Your right, now is not the time.” she sighed.
  786. “What did you tell her?” He asked.
  788. “That it would be more fun later,” Selene said, though the smile she had made him nervous. “Right now we need to fix you up,” she said looking back at Nadia.
  790. “Fix me up?” Nadia parroted.
  792. “I was the one who turned you, It's natural that I take care of you as well,” Selene said as a dark portal formed to her right. She put her hand in the portal, pulling out a wrapped package and handing it to Nadia“These should do nicely. Consider it a gift.”
  794. Nadia took the package and felt it in her hands. “Leather?”
  796. “The same I have for warriors under me,” Selene said. “I have one more thing for you, but you'll get it when you're dressed.” She turned to Kenneth. “Let's talk outside.” She walked out the door, clearly expecting him to follow.
  798. Looking at Nadia for a second. Kenneth decided to leave her to her new clothes. He exited the rest house, taking his sword with him just in case. The sun had risen some more and everything outside was clearer. “So... what now?” he asked Selene, who was waiting just outside the door.
  800. Selene smiled. “How did it feel fighting her?”She asked.
  802. Kenneth was confused “What?”
  804. “How did it feel, fighting someone that lost herself in the joy of battle?” Selene asked.
  806. “Why do you want to know? I thought you succubi where all about sex and romance?” Kenneth said.
  808. Selene laughed. “There is much more to us than that. Sure, love and romance are at the core of nearly everything we do and it's certainly what drives what I do, but we all have our own preferences. One sister of mine has a thing for ropes while another has a thing of engineering. I one other hand personally enjoy combat and creation, seeing people fight and struggle for what they desire, even if their desire is simply to be strong or to make sentimental things, I adore it.”
  810. “So you corrupted Nadia so she would have your way of thinking?” Kenneth growled.
  812. “Not fully, I don't turn every woman I see into warriors if that's what your thinking. I see women act like how Nadia was in that forest and I consider it a waste, there's so much she could be doing and instead throws it away by being a spiteful noble. No matter the reason, if I think I can improve their lives with what I can do, then I will do my work as my mother wishes.” Selene explained. “But enough about that, you didn't answer me.”
  814. Kenneth thought about yesterday. “The battle was one of the most intense fights that I've had been in or years, The ending duel with Naida even more so.” He said. Her instincts made her adapt to battle fast and it made him wonder what would have happened if neither of them was fatigued by fighting the bandits. A different ending? A longer fight? He didn't know, but the questions started to interest him the more he thought about it. “She's strong but unskilled for obvious reasons. Raw instinct is great but against me or anyone with skill and experience, it'll only get her so far. She just needs some training.”
  816. Selene grinned. “Sounds like I was right about you.”
  818. “Right about what?”
  820. Kenneth turned to see Nadia join them outside. The salamander was wearing leather plated armour, it looked nice and flexible and fit her like like it was meant to be. She looked like a warrior he would meet in a tavern over a nobleman's daughter. He started hat her for quite some time, she was already somewhat beautiful as a human, but now...
  822. “My! You look wonderful!” Selene said happily.
  824. “Huh, I would have thought her clothes were going to be a bit more open,” Kenneth said, and only realised he said that out loud when Selene had a teasing grin.
  826. “Oh? Were you interested in seeing more of her? I can provide that if you want.” She said as she giggled as Nadia looked away and blushed with a smile.
  828. “No, it's fine. She looks great as it is.” He said and Nadia's blush increased.
  830. “Is that so?” Selene said, “Well then, I'll just have to give her something else,” Selene said As she summoned another portal and reached in. Kenneth and Nadia watched as she pulled out a what looked like a short glaive, the blade was much larger then what he usually saw in polearms and looked and had red and gold inlays across the flats. “This is for you, a warrior needs a weapon after all,” she said giving the glaive to Nadia along with a strap to wear it on her back.
  832. “A weapon, for me?” She said. As he turned it in her hands and examined it.
  834. “I had this gathering dust in my armoury, so I thought it could see some use. It's made of demon silver, so don't worry about maiming anyone.” Selene said.
  836. “But I've never used a weapon,” Nadia said honestly.
  838. “Don't worry, he can teach you how to fight. I would do it myself but I can't stay here, the sun's up and I doubt the convoy would be happy with someone like me showing up right after a bandit attack.” She said as her she opened a third portal, this one big enough to walk through. She almost stepped in before she paused. “One last thing.” She said turning around Nadia.
  840. “Don't try and block the feelings you get, Nadia. And don't overthink them, just do what feels natural and everything will fit together like solving a puzzle.” Selene said with a caring tone. Before she turned her back and waved while stepping through the portal, leaving the two alone.
  842. Kenneth sighed, it would probably be some time before being truly used to Selene's presence.
  844. “So... when can we start training?” Nadia asked eagerly.
  846. Kenneth thought for a moment. “I'll talk to Carl and see what needs to be packed, after that I could start you on something.
  848. “Really?” Kenneth almost laughed at how excited she was. “Can we fight too?”
  850. “Learn the basics of the weapon first, then we can spar,” Kenneth assured her. “We've got a week before we make it to Acton, I'm sure you'll learn something by then. Until then, why not try to get used to the glaive?”
  852. Nadia looked down to to the weapon in her hand before giving it a clumsy swing. Kenneth left her to it and walked over to were the convoy was stationed. Carl was already there feeding the horses, if he had seen Selene, he didn't mention it.
  854. “Morning...” Kenneth said, gaining his attention.
  856. “Morning” Carl said back while feeding a carrot to a horse. “Well be good to go in three hours. Is she up?”
  858. “Yeah, I also got a few things for her off the bandits so she isn't running around in rags.” Kenneth said though with her being the way she is, I'm not sure how to proceed.”
  860. “Just keep looking after her,” Carl said with a shrug. “Not much else to it.”
  862. “I guess.” He said as Carl started to chuckle. “What?”
  864. “I'm thinking someone put a mist curse on you,” Carl said.
  866. “Oh, `may you live in interesting times`. If they did, then I want to know who I pissed off.” Kenneth said laughing.
  868. “We got out of yesterday mostly intact, so some beautiful angel has to be watching over us.” Carl laughed as he walked off to deal with the other carriages
  870. Selene flashed in Kenneth's mind. “Beautiful she may be. But she ain't no angel.”
  872. [Part 7]
  874. It was the last day before the convoy made it to Acton. The morning was alive with the sound of clashing steel and as teacher and student sparred.
  876. Well, there wasn't much `teaching` going on. With only a week or so before they reached Acton and Kenneth not really being any sort of weapon master himself, he decided that sparring with Nadia twice a day would jump-start her into fighting.
  878. It was so far, so good in his eyes. Nadia was a fast learner and by the fourth day the spars had been getting intense. With actual thought and a weapon in her hands, the new salamander was quickly becoming a dangerous opponent, more so than when she went berserk at the bandit raid. It also helped Kenneth get better too. Having an opponent that got faster and more tactical every sharpen his own skills and reactions.
  880. The fights they were haven soon became a spectator past time for the convoy, seeing as there was little for entertainment on the travelling roads. This combined with the bandit raid had inspired the guards to train and better themselves to not have a repeat.
  882. Currently, Kenneth was dodging and parrying Nadia's glaive trusts. Every now and again he would retaliate with a swing too fast for her current skill, and knock her away, a good warning if anything. Nadia like their previous spars fought growled, her tail fire blazed as she launched forward to attack with a downward strike, and Kenneth took it as a sign to end the fight. He planned to backstep out of the swing and counter, but it seemed Nadia had other plans as the blade of her weapon stabbed into the ground and she used it to swing sideways and kick him in the stomach.
  884. Kenned tumbled back and rolled to a stop, then had to roll again as Nadia tired plunge her glaive spear into his gut. Bringing his sword into an upward swing as he got up, he managed to get her to back off. The two then clashed again, the power of an experienced warrior being tested against the raw strength of a fresh monster. Before the two of them broke off and backed away, both of them staring down the opponent while catching their breath.
  886. “I think that should be it for today,” Kenneth said, lowering his sword.
  888. “Now? Why? Both of us can go for longer!” Nadia said.
  890. “We could, but then we wouldn't reach Acton by midday. And everyone is waiting for us.” Kenneth said as he gestured around himself.
  892. Looking around Nadia took notice of the convoy worker all surrounding the are that was watching the spar. Her face gained a look of frustration crossed her face before she sighed and lowered her glaive, the fire on her tail simmering down along with her shoulders slacking. “Fine,” she said as she did a small bow that the spar was over.
  894. The convoy workers cheered having enjoyed the spar before getting the last of the wagons ready to move out. Kenneth sheathed his sword before taking a drink from his flask and following them to finish packing up.
  896. Nadia was withdrawn and silent as the carriage they shared rumbled down the road, refusing to look at anything other than the road or her glaive. Before she sighed and sat up. “Kenneth.”
  898. Kenneth was turned away from the window to look at her. “Yeah?”
  900. “I guess this is could be the last time we ride together,” Nadia said.
  902. “I didn't notice.” Kenneth as he was about to turn back to view the scenery. How long had it been since he started travelling with her alone? He couldn't tell for some reason.
  904. “I'm sorry.” She said.
  906. Kenneth turned back and noticed the nervous look in her eye. “What do you mean?”
  908. “I'm sorry about the way I acted on this journey before we met that lilim.” Kenneth's eyes widened as she spoke. “So much could have been different if I didn't act that way.”
  910. “What brought this on?” Kenneth asked.
  912. “I keep thinking about our time together when I was human. I know it's not been much more than a month since we met Selene, but one of the greatest things that I remember was right after that night when you shouting at me. You were so angry, you called me `one of the worst people I had ever met`” she chuckled sadly at that. “And the more I think about it, the more I think you and her were right.”
  914. “I don't understand.” Kenneth scratched his chin in confusion.
  916. “The day we encountered Selene, you gave an example of what could happen to me if I was not careful, and then later with second time against the bandits.”
  918. “Kenneth's eyes widened. “Riley...”
  920. Nadia nodded. “He came for me when you were defending yourself from the mob. When he was about to...” she shivered. “Have his way... it all came to me.” She said as her tail moved in front of her and the flames moved to the tip. She absentmindedly put a hand through the fire, sighing in relaxation as she continued talking.
  922. “I was going to scream for your help, but then I realised you couldn't do anything. Selene's words about not doing anything for myself kept taunting me and I could only think of that time she had me and you couldn't do anything. I thought I was going to cry but instead, I got angry.” she said
  924. “Angry?” Kenneth parroted.
  926. “It made me think `why should this happen to me! I should help myself! Defend myself! I didn't want to lose to this scum!` after that, everything became a rush. Everything felt right, I had embraced the urge to fight our enemies, the joy increasing with every bandit I put down and then... I fought you...” she said with a smile the flames on her tail increased a little.
  928. “What makes me special? Kenneth asked.
  930. “When I realised who you were in that field, my mind went through the memories of all the times you defended me from bandits and wild creatures. And seeing you fight your hardest in that raid, I acknowledged you as strong. And then I thought to myself `just how strong is he? How strong am I?` I wanted to know.”
  932. Nadia's eyes started to glaze over. “It was so wonderful, no measly bandit that went down in one or two hits, this was a real challenge! That feeling I got when I fought you was like fire, magnificent fire hot enough to set the soul aflame! I wanted to bask in its heat for as longs as I could, I-”
  934. “Nadia!” Kenneth shouted. The salamander stopped her ran and realised that while she wasn't burning the wood her tail fire was looking to go out of control. Taking deep breaths her tail fire simmered down. And soon was back to the small ripples of fire it usually was.
  936. “I'm sorry!” Nadia said a little panicked. “I forgot it gets like that when I-”
  938. “No harm done, right? so don't worry about it.” Kenneth said. He then glanced out the window and grinned “Besides, look outside.”
  940. “Eh?” Nadia was confused but looked out of the window and gasped and lead her head fully out. “It's...It's...” What she saw was the walls of a city, she could see the road signs huts stationed around. She knew exactly what this place was.
  942. “Yeah... it's Acton.” Kenneth said.
  944. “I'm finally home,” Nadia said as the convoy approached the gates.
  946. ~X~ (sometime later, Acton merchants district)
  948. “My men will handle getting the cargo and wares to where they need to be, you don't need to help out,” Carl said as Kenneth and Nadia gathered their packs. Nadia was wearing her cloak hood up so no one would stumble upon who she was just yet. Acton may allow some monsters in, but she wanted to play it safe.
  950. “Thanks for taking us here,” Kenneth said as he shook hands with the leader.
  952. “Without you two, the bandits would have wiped us out, and we've got some of their weapons we can sell for scrap metal. I should be thanking the two off you! he said with a laugh.
  954. “But I... I wasn't-” Nadia started but Carl cut her off and put a hand on her shoulder
  956. “You may not have been in the right state of mind, but you defended my convoy, all the same, you deserve my thanks.” He said. Nadia shuffled under cloak as he let go and turned to Kenneth. “Before I forget, the guild will have the bounties of Riley and his group up as soon as I can sort it out, Take this note, if you personally take him out, I want to know as soon a possible,” he instructed as he handed Kenneth a note.
  958. Kenneth skimmed through the contents before storing the note away. “I'll keep it in mind.” He said.
  960. Carl Nodded “Good. Now, I best be off. Good luck you two. Let's hope its more peaceful when we next travel together.” and with that, he turned walked back to his convoy, laughing all the way.
  962. “A good man, that Carl,” Kenneth said.
  964. “Yeah, he's a lot less uptight than the merchants I've met,” Nadia said before she sighed.
  966. “What's wrong?” He asked.
  968. “...Were about to meet my parents and sister after so long, I'm just worried what's going to happen to us,” she said as they walked.
  970. Kenneth scratched his chin. “I had thought about this, worst case scenario is that we fight our way out. If that happens, we'll plan out next move together.”
  972. Nadia looked at the blade of her weapon before looking back at Kenneth. “Let's hope it doesn't come to that.” She said.
  974. Kenneth nodded. As confident he was in his and Nadia's (growing in Nadia's case) skills, It would be way more trouble than its worth. With an annoyed sigh, he walked onward, all he could do is be positive.
  976. They made it to the Bellsworth mansion, the building was just as grand as Kenneth remembered it. With its extravagant gardens and various maids and workers going about their jobs. Getting to the front gate, the guard's straightened up when they saw Kenneth and Nadia approach. “Name and purpose?” He asked.
  978. “Mercenary Kenneth, here to report mission details.” He said as he removed his hood. Nadia stood at his side silently.
  980. The guards looked at each other before the first guard went inside the mansion for a short time before coming back out. “Give me your weapons, you will get them back when you leave.”
  982. Kenneth removed Nadia's glaive for her and gave it to the guard along with his sword. Then they were led into the mansion to the lounge where Nadia's parents where seated. Duke Bellsworth was nowhere near a physically imposing man, but he was well known to use his influence to crush what he disliked.
  984. He didn't know the name of Lady Bellsworth but looked like a mature version of Nadia back when she was human, right down to the look of arrogance and superiority Nadia had before she gained her tail. First impressions alone of her made him laugh mentally, for Duke might actually be easier to deal with.
  986. “I'll be honest, I didn't expect you to be here, Mercenary.” Duke broke the silence. “I had assumed the worst, my daughter dead and you fled to parts unknown. Tell me, what are you here for?” He asked.
  988. “To tell you of your daughter, and of my mission's all but failure,” Kenneth said calmly.
  990. “So my daughter is indeed dead then,” Duke said sadly.
  992. “Not dead, Lord Bellsworth. Sometime after we were separated we encountered a Lilim, are you aware of what they are?” Kenneth asked him.
  994. Duke looked to be split between relief that his daughter was alive and racking his brain for info. “Yes I am, Lescatie became a merchant's black spot after it fell to the fourth princess along with its heroes getting...” His eye's widened before they narrowed on Kenneth, “What happened to my daughter, mercenary?”
  996. “I made my last mistake as a human,” Nadia spoke up. Duke's head snapped to Nadia while Lady Bellsworth choked on her tea. She lowered her hood, revealing her face to her parents.“Father, mother... I am home.” she greeted.
  998. “Nadia? Is that you?” Duke stuttered out as he got up on shaky legs. “Remove that cloak.” He ordered as he approached. Nadia did so, revealing her limbs and tail. All of the confidence in Nadia was gone, her tail was barely aflame and she refused to look anyone in the eye.
  1000. “What have you become?” Duke asked as he looked her over.
  1002. “I am a salamander, father,” Nadia answered still looking away. “It's a rare variant of the lizardwoman monster.”
  1004. “So I take it then that this flaming tail of yours is their unique trait? He said eyeing her tail as it moved back and forth slowly.
  1006. “Yes, father,” Nadia said nervously.
  1008. “And the gear? The guard said that the glaive belonged to you.” He asked.
  1010. Nadia was starting to look confused. “The lilim gave it to me, she said she looks after all she... changes. Kenneth has helped me train with it, but its only been a week.” She explained.
  1012. “I see, I see...” Duke said as he returned to his seat and took a long sip of his tea. “Have a seat, you two.”
  1014. “You're... not angry, father?” Nadia asked. Lady Bellsworth looked at her husband as if she was asking the same question. Kenneth sat down and continued to observe.
  1016. “I am angry my dear, but not at you or your guardian. If anything I should not have sent you back with just one guard but I thought the roads were safe enough. Obviously, It appears I was mistaken. Hell, I should have sent people out to find you once I had gotten back myself” Duke said, staring into his mug.
  1018. Nadia didn't understand. “But I'm no longer human! Look at me! I was so scared of you abandoning me I stopped calling myself Bells-” Nadia was cut off by her father hugging her.
  1020. “I have a well-deserved reputation for being ruthless, but that is as a businessman. You are my daughter, Nadia and you always will be.” He said. "I am suprised, shocked even. but I can't be angry at you when all I wanted is my daughter to be okay."
  1022. Nadia cried in her father's arms with a smile on her face. Kenneth leaned back and sighed in relief knowing that the escape plan wasn't needed. Still, Bellsworth seemed to be more of a family man than people gave him credit for.
  1024. Just then the door opened and in entered a teenage girl. She had short black hair and an expensive summer dress on. “Mother, could I have some silvers to buy...” she drifted off and stared at the back of Nadia, who had just stopped crying and hugging her father.
  1026. “Ah, Karen, good timing,” Duke said happily.
  1028. “What do you mean, father? What is this creature?” The girl asked.
  1030. “Creature? That's the first thing I hear from you when I get back?” Nadia said as she turned around and looked the newcomer in the eye.
  1032. “Get back? We've never met before,” The girl said with a dismissive snort. “How rude of you, thinking I would mingle with one such as you?”
  1034. “Mother and father recognised me the moment I let my hood down, yet you can't tell who I am?” Nadia started to laugh. “Come on now, surely I haven't changed that much, sister?”
  1036. Kenneth rose an eyebrow, Nadia hadn't mentioned a sister and like Lady Bellsworth, she wasn't around when he had set out with Duke and Nadia. Then again it didn't look like they were on the best of terms.
  1038. “Sis...!” Karen backed away with shock “It can't be! ...Nadia?” The salamander nodded.
  1040. “Your sister has gone through some changes, It will take some time to adjust I assure you,” Duke said as his youngest scowled.
  1042. “`Sometime to adjust`, you say? Look at her, we can't what do we say when people ask for her and see some brutish monster?” Karen questioned.
  1044. “I never asked for this! Things happened that were out of mine or anyone's control!” Nadia tried to defend herself.
  1046. “And look at that Garish armour! What sort of heir to the family abandons her standing to play warrior?” Karen continued.
  1048. “That brings up a good question.” Lady Bellsworth spoke for the first time. “Nadia, what happened to the Dresses you had when you set off?” she asked.
  1050. “Oh those, I kept them but I couldn't wear them, even without this tail I hit a growth spurt and they no longer fit me.” She said.
  1052. “So you were unable to keep up your appearances as a member of our house? I thought I raised you better than that.” Lady Bellsworth scoffed.
  1054. Nadia bristled she was about to say something but at this point, Duke had run out of patience. “Enough! I will not have my family at each other's throats!” he said. “All three of you, go to your rooms and calm down, and that includes you, Ana.”
  1056. Lady bellsworth looked like she wanted to protest, but instead, huffed and left the room, taking Karen with her. Nadia looked unsure but smiled at her father and nodded before also departing, leaving just Kenneth and Duke in the room.
  1058. “I need something with more kick,” Duke said as he walked over to a cupboard and took out what looked like a whiskey bottle and two glasses. Setting them down he pored a glass and held it out to Kenneth “guests first.” Kenneth took the glass and the two men sat on armchairs before Duke pored a glass for himself. “I'm sorry you had to see that,” Duke said.
  1060. “No problem Lord Bellsworth, I just see where Nadia got her... traits from,” Kenneth said.
  1062. Duke down his glass and gave a satisfied sigh. “None of that lord crap. You brought me back my daughter despite the both of you thinking that there was going to be hell to pay. You know my name Kenneth, use it.” he said as he poured himself another glass and sank back in his chair.
  1064. “Very well then, Duke,” Kenneth said as he downed his glass and whistled. “Strong stuff.”
  1066. “Down the first glass and the rest follows smoothly, or at least that's what my father told me,” Duke said as he swirled the whiskey in his glass. “Now then Kenneth, while I may have my daughter back and I am more than thankful for that, you could forgive me for not expecting her to be returning with a bunch of new accessories outside of clothes and jewellery.”
  1068. Kenneth nodded. “Nadia has been through a lot lately.”
  1070. “Don't play tough, Kenneth, you're as damaged as she is. If I was a betting man, I would bet a decent chunk of gold you wanted me to punish you for what happened to her.”
  1072. Kenneth remained silent.
  1074. “The sun is still up, We have a bottle of fine whisky here and I have nothing better to do for the next few days. You owe me the story of how my eldest turned into a salamander. This will stay with us men until my girls lighten up, so start where we split after the raid.” He said.
  1076. Kenneth sighed. “It doesn't get interesting until we were three weeks away from here on foot, Nadia and I managed to wake up a demon princess...”
  1078. [Part 8]
  1080. It was well into the evening when Kenneth was done. Duke Bellsworth went through a whirlwind of emotions, from the
  1082. “I see...” Duke said after Kenneth and finished telling his tale. “That's quite the story.”
  1084. Kenneth down half his glass. “It is what it is.” the two sat in comfortable silence with the nobleman clearly thinking about what he had just been told.
  1086. “So, what do you plan to do now?” Duke asked.
  1088. “Check the merchants guild for and jobs and be on my way,” Kenneth said. “One way or another, my job is done here. If at all possible, I will do Carl a favour and hunt down that bastard Riley.”
  1090. “That would be a good plan... If I didn't have another job for you.” Duke said.
  1092. Kenneth looked shocked “But I-”
  1094. “You're selling yourself short, Kenneth.” Duke cut him off. “A lesser man would have abandoned my daughter to the wilds at any point in your journey and its bad enough my daughter was thought I was going to disown her. No more moping, Kenneth. Most of what happened was out of your control and I will not have you blaming yourself long after all is said and done. I need to sort this mess out on my end and I need someone like you to help me.”
  1096. Kenneth looked at his glass for a second and sighed. Downing the rest of it he put the glass on the table and leaned forward. “What do you need, Duke?”
  1098. Duke smiled. “Right. I both cannot and will not hide Nadia's presence as a monster. Doing so would at push her into depression thinking her existence shames the family, and it won't help that there will be people trying to hurt or discourage my daughter. So we will make the best of this and work with what her new form gives us. With that in mind, I am going to hire you full time as Nadia's guard and trainer.”
  1100. “Trainer?” Kenneth parroted.
  1102. “I am no researcher, I have no idea how monsters work, but with your training, Nadia has something to focus on, It'll help in the long run,” Duke explained.
  1104. Kenneth thought about it, it would be the first time he actually settled down somewhere for a long time. But it would also be the first time he would have steady pay. Maybe it was time to take a break from travelling?
  1106. There was more to it than that. He wanted to make sure Nadia was okay. It had become natural to worry about her well-being over the last month, he admitted to himself that he had taken to liking it on some level. Also, the job wasn't that different from what he already did taking her home.
  1108. Finding no real reason to object. Kenneth nodded. “I accept Duke. Though wouldn't one of your servants be better?”
  1110. “No,” Duke said. “The servant's won't be able to cope as well. Nadia needs someone she's comfortable with, and at the moment that's you. I will be there for her, but my wife and youngest...” He looked saddened at that.
  1112. Kenneth nodded in agreement.
  1114. Duke stood up. “It's getting late and I must see to my wife, I think we will be eating privately tonight, but tomorrow we will have breakfast together as a family, I just hope everyone can stay civil.” He said putting the bottle away and ringing a bell.
  1116. Two maids show up he gave one of them the wine glasses. “Please take these, clean them and place them back in the cupboard, then return to your duties.”
  1118. “Yes, master.” The maid said with a bow before she left the room.
  1120. Duke, turned to the second maid. “Take this man to the east wing guest room, He is then to be served dinner there as we will be all be eating privately tonight. After that, you may return to your duties.”
  1122. “Yes master.” the second maid bowed before turning to Kenneth. If you would follow me please, sir.”
  1124. Kenneth followed the maid to the guest room. Looking inside he was impressed. The guest room was fitted with fine carpet and furniture, the overall quality of the room was better than any inn he had slept in, he imagined if he had to pay for a night it would be half a bag's worth of gold.
  1126. “Dinner would be served shortly, sir. Do you have any dislikes of note?” Kenneth shook his head. “Then please relax until then.” The maid said before leaving the room.
  1128. Before he could sit down on one of the chairs and relax, there was a female yelp outside the door, followed by a knock. Wondering who it could be Kenneth simply called out “Doors open.”
  1130. Nadia walked in wearing what looked like a bathrobe. At the look on Kenneth's face, she huffed “This is the only thing that still fits me, the underclothes you bought me need cleaning and I cant walk around the mansion in my armour.”
  1132. “What was that outside?” Kenneth asked.
  1134. “Ah... my new looks may have spooked the maid,” she said with a sheepish laugh. “It's happened a few times today with the servants, I don't think they've ever seen a monster up close before, or there shocked with who it is.” She explained.
  1136. Kenneth thought back to what Duke had said about the servants. “I guess it's just something they would have to get used to.” He said.
  1138. “Yeah...” Nadia agreed, but it was clear her heard wasn't in it.
  1140. “So, what did you want to talk about?” Kenneth asked trying to change the subject.
  1142. “I wanted to see you... you know, before you left the city,” she said with sadness, her tail limp on the floor.
  1144. “Oh, about that... After we talked about our journey Duke and I talked about my employment among other things.” Kenneth said.
  1146. “What?” Nadia perked up a bit.
  1148. “I was given the offer to become your full-time guard and trainer, and I accepted,” Kenneth said.
  1150. “Really?” Nadia's tail was starting to get more lively with the fires becoming larger. “You're going to stay here?” She said excitedly.
  1152. Kenneth was happy she was that excited for him to stay, but didn't show it. “In the long run, few things will change. We will have to get clothes for you to train so you won't need that armour, and I'll still be training you in the mornings. I also have to work out more stuff with your father as he does have the final say in things.”
  1154. Nadia nodded. “I see. This is great news, all of that training we could do without having to worry about travelling. We could go for on so much longer!” She was almost hoping at the news.
  1156. “Glad you're happy about it.” Kenneth grinned.
  1158. Naida calmed herself down but the spark in her eyes was clear. “Did my father mention anything else?”
  1160. “He wants everyone together for breakfast. So we will train after that.” Kenneth said.
  1162. Nadia's expression fell a bit. “I see...” She said before sighing. “I don't think that's going to go well. Mother can be a bit high strung, and I don't even know about Karen.”
  1164. Kenneth hummed in agreement. “Just keep calm, remember that I here to tell you if you're losing your patience.”
  1166. Nadia wasn't so sure. “I guess we just have to see what happens once more,” she said as she turned to the door. “I will see you in the morning then.”
  1168. “By the way, do you know where our weapons are?” Kenneth asked.
  1170. Nadia shrugged, “Possibly in one of the storage rooms, I'll ask the guards about it in the morning.” She exited the room, turning back with a smile. “Good night, Kenneth.”
  1172. “Good night Nadia,” Kenneth said back
  1174. And with that Nadia closed the door, Leaving Kenneth alone until the maid came around with his dinner. Kenneth looked as he ate, He would have to get used to this room if he was going to stay here.
  1176. ~X~ (next morning)
  1178. The air was stiff in the dining hall as the Bellsworth family and Kenneth sat down for breakfast, Nadia still having to use her robes for modesty. It was a simple affair, but it was clear that Duke and Nadia were the only ones at any form of ease. Karen had been spending her time staring at Nadia and looked torn between curiosity and disdain. Ana, on the other hand, had a clear distaste for both Nadia and Kenneth at the table.
  1180. Everyone ate in silence until Nadia called a maid over.
  1182. “Can you bring up more bacon? And spiced with chilli if you can” She asked. The maid bowed as she left to get Nadia's order.
  1184. “More Nadia? And bacon at that” Ana said with a disapproving tone.
  1186. “Took a liking to the different kinds of jerky we had during our travels, plus I the training I do evens out the amount I eat,” Nadia explained before she drank some Juice.
  1188. “Training?” Karen questioned curiously.
  1190. “I recently took up self-defence, Kenneth has been teaching me to fight,” Nadia said. “I plan to continue my morning lessons with him. But I do have errands to run, so we'll have to today's spar in the afternoon.”
  1192. “Why would you need that? Fighting is a job for bodyguards.” Karen scoffed.
  1194. Nadia's voice turned cold “You're right, it is their job but bodyguards are to be treated with respect, and I've been shown that people must take more care when traversing the land than I did. It helps that I enjoy sparring.”
  1196. Karen flinched at Nadia's tone. “I.. see...”
  1198. “Well your not travelling anymore, so those lessons are no longer needed,” Ana said. “A Bellsworth woman should carry herself the way society demands, monster or not.”
  1200. Duke and Kenneth frowned but neither said anything.
  1202. Nadia scowled. “Excuse me, mother?”
  1204. “All this eating and training, and then there are your table manners... what kind of things have you been learning since you've been gone?” Ana asked.
  1206. “Survival most of all, and pulling your own weight when people don't care for your you background.” Nadia was trying to be civil. But Kenneth noticed her tail twitching in agitation. He didn't say anything for now, but if he saw the fires growing, there would be a problem.
  1208. “Well then, I shall put an end to this foolishness. I shall see that you relearn your manners and where your place is, and rough-housing like some barbarian is certainly not it.” Ana said angrily.
  1210. “Actually.” Duke spoke up. “I've hired Kenneth to protect her full time, and I have also told him to continue training her.”
  1212. Ana looked enraged. “What? Why didn't you tell me this earlier?”
  1214. “I tried, had you not ignored me and slept out of anger, I would have told you last night,” Duke said with shrug.
  1216. “But surely you could of hired someone else to take care of her?” Ana protested.
  1218. “I felt that Nadia needed someone to help settle down he was the right man for the job, something you did not help with yesterday and you are not helping now.” The look on Duke's tone made it clear the conversation was over and Ana almost grumbled before continuing her meal. It was clear they would be having talks later
  1220. Duke then turned to Nadia “What errands do you have?”
  1222. “I need clothes, this robe is all that fits me and I can't wear my armor everywhere,” Nadia said.
  1224. “Ah, right. Come see me before you go and I'll provide the gold you need.” Duke said. “I also have the gardeners check for an open space for you to train when you get back.”
  1226. “And you will buy dresses suitable for gatherings.” Lady Bellsworth butted in. “You will still have to attend such things, you will be shown at your best.” she then turned to Kenneth “If you must stay here to teach our daughter, then you must get some new clothes as well.”
  1228. “It will be a little expensive on my end,” Nadia stated, when duke raised an eyebrow she explained further. “I have to get the tailor to custom fit them for my claws and tail like the last shirt and trousers I wore. They got destroyed with the last of my changes.”
  1230. “We need to sit down and talk about your end of the journey eventually. In the meantime, just don't go crazy spending gold on anything too fancy, you hear?” He laughed.
  1232. Nadia looked away with an embarrassed blush, Kenneth was surely missing some in-joke that he decided to ask about later and returned to the finishing of his meal.
  1234. ~X~ (Midday, inside the tailors)
  1236. Kenneth waited outside the fitting room as Nadia tried clothes and got fitted for others. He had already bought new clothes for himself; practical clothing that was higher in quality than what most would buy on a regular basis along with a formal suit that tended to be worn by high society.
  1238. The process had been a little... difficult. The tailors were shocked to see Nadia's new form had hadn't stopped shaking with nerves as they talked to her about clothes. He had to repress a laugh when Nadia got agitated and had to calm down as he had to the same for a salamander over the last few weeks.
  1240. Eventually, they got it sorted, and now, all he had to do was wait. He heard the women around the store gossiping about Nadia and thankfully not all of it was negative but it was gossip none the less. Soon enough the city s a whole will at least have some rumor of what Nadia had become.
  1242. The sound of the door to the fitting room opened up and Nadia came out wearing clothes that looked like an expensive version of his, but still fit for training.
  1244. “The tailors should have the rest of my clothes ready by the end of the week and they'll deliver it to the mansion, the bill will be sent to my father.” Nadia sad as the two of them departed the store and headed back.
  1246. “That was shorter than I thought it would be,” Kenneth said.
  1248. “Would have been shorter if they were not a nervous wreck about offending me or my parents. It makes me wish Selene had given me normal looking clothes to wear alongside the armor.” Nadia sighed.
  1250. “That bad?” Kenneth asked.
  1252. “I can see it in their eyes and how they talked. It only got better when they finally settled down.” She said as they walked. The Cityfolk had looks of shock and recognition as the went down the streets. “Have I really changed that much?”
  1254. “Well, you're a head taller, gained some muscle and gained the limbs of a lizard with the tail constantly on fire. It is intimidating to most people.” Kenneth explained. “Physically speaking, it's hard to associate you with the nobleman's daughter they've seen for years.
  1256. Nadia nodded in understanding. “Still, I feel like giving them a piece of my mind, but that would make things worse.” She said. Before a woman's voice made the two of them stop.
  1258. “So I did recognize the voice, and here I thought you had died out in the wilds.”
  1260. Nadia's face contorted to one of pure disgust that took Kenneth by surprise before she turned to the side and looked at the one talking to them with a forced blank face. Kenneth turned two to see a blond haired woman in a fancy white and blue dress. There was no doubt that she was pretty but her brown eyes shone with more arrogance than Nadia ever had before her change, and considered Nadia to be more beautiful.
  1262. She was also surrounded by men in suits which he assumed were her guards. They didn't really do or say anything and acted like mindless drones.
  1264. “Marigold.” Naida greeted. “It has been a while, almost a year, right?”
  1266. “Indeed it has Nadia, though I honestly didn't expect you brave enough to be here like this.” The now named woman said looking Nadia over. “If I had become like that, I wouldn't be able to go outside and show myself.”
  1268. “Well I'm not you, I have better things to do wonder saving face.” Nadia shrugged. “Things become much easier when you accept who you are.”
  1270. “Is that so? So you who you are is one of those crude monsters that attachers her self to the first commoner she sees?” she said as she gave Kenneth a glance.
  1272. Nadia scowled. “Kenneth is no mere commoner.”
  1274. “I never took you as a comedian, Nadia. A lowborn in decent clothing is still a lowborn or have you forgotten that after playing traveler for a year?”
  1276. The salamander growled as the fire on her tail grew “I would prefer you not put down my bodyguard.” she was trying to remain civil, but it was more than clear that unlike the irritation her mother and sister gave her, she hated Marigold had her corruption had nothing to do with it. “What do you want, Marigold? You must have a reason.”
  1278. “I had heard things during my walk that the Bellsworth heiress had returned has now become a monster and wanted to see for myself. And other than that, can't I just catch up with a friend?” she said in a sickly sweet tone.
  1280. “You and I aren't friends,” Nadia said coldly
  1282. Marigold dropped the act and huffed. “It appears it's no longer fun talking to you, you used to try and play this game so well and to see you fallen so far...”
  1284. “I was never good with words, and I've found recently that with them I've caused more trouble than it was worth. If you want to call it a game, then it's no longer the one I want to play.” Nadia said as she turned her back on her. “Now I have things to do, so good day, Marigold.”
  1286. Kenneth and Nadia walked past as marigold looked shocked at being dismissed so casually. After some distance, Nadia sighed “I can't stand that bitch.”
  1288. “Who was that?” Kenneth asked.
  1290. “Marigold brooks, Heiress to the Brooks fortune. Her father is also a landowner and owns a nearby mine, so his money rivals my fathers. She has always considered herself better than me and wants to either prove it or rub anything she deems superior in my face at any chance she gets. I guess she wanted to comment on my the loss of my humanity.” She explained.
  1292. “Sounds irritating,” Kenneth said. “That does make me wonder, do you have any friends?”
  1294. Nadia though to herself. “I'm not sure, most of the time mother would not let me associate with people for one reason or another and the rest I mainly considered associates... though I think there is one I would consider a friend, I'll visit her either today or tomorrow after our spars and see how she is.”
  1296. “Good, why don't you tell me about her?” Kenneth said as he tried to sweeten her mood as the got back to the mansion. But he couldn't help but feel that the meeting with Marigold had just booted a hornet's nest.
  1298. [part 9]
  1300. Duke had met Kenneth and Nadia at the gate to the mansion. Sending the clothing they bought off with the maids. they were currently walking to the gardens while discussing their next step.
  1302. "You want to see our duel? Kenneth asked as the trio walked to the garden.
  1304. "You said you've been training her for a week or so, right? I want to see what she's learned so far. Duke explained. if anything, he looked very eager to see it, almost more than Nadia who made it clear she was looking forward to it since meeting that Marigold woman.
  1306. "In that case, I need a wooden sword, I can't be using my swords sheathe forever." Kenneth said. "also, are the gardens clear?"
  1308. Duke nodded, "I had them cleared up while the two of you were out, we'll see down the line if I can have it fixed up for something more permanent, but it will have to do for now." He turned to his daughter. "I assume you need a wooden glaive, Nadia? Can't be cutting your instructor up every spar, right?"
  1310. Nadia blinked in confusion before she smiled "actually father, blades made of demon's sliver don't really `cut` but given our spars it would be better to get a wooden one for now. Kenneth wouldn't have to deal with the effects then."
  1312. "So, the blade can't actually kill?" Duke asked intrigued.
  1314. "Despite what gets told, monsters are against killing unless it's self-defense or hunting animals. these weapons are more for capturing than anything.” Kenneth said but internally he thought deeper about it. What monsters do with men was a shaky subject at best and one he hadn’t really talked to Nadia about. But he was quite certain what demon silver weapons were for beyond fighting humans. If that was the case why did Selene, who was invested in Nadia’s progress, give her just the glaive and not a training weapon on top of that? Unless...
  1316. “Kenneth? Is something wrong?” he blinked out of his thoughts and noticed both Nadia and Duke staring at him. “You looked like you were thinking about something.”
  1318. Kenneth sighed, it wasn’t that much point in thinking about it. “It’s nothing. Don't worry about it, if anything we could talk about it later.” he shrugged.
  1320. The trio walked out to the mansion gardens. Like Duke had told them, a section of it had been cleared out leaving a decent sized clearing for them to practice in. Given the look of the dead shrubbery and other weeds that had yet to be taken out, this part of the garden had gone neglected for some time.
  1322. Duke called one of the servants to get the wooden sword and Nadia’s glaive as the mercenary and salamander stretched and warmed up for the spar. By the time they were ready quite a few of the mansion staff were gathered outside to watch if Duke had a problem with it he didn’t say anything.
  1324. Just like their mornings with the caravan, the spar had no real starting call, one simply attacked when the other looked ready. As usual, Nadia attacked first but she took a while to get into the feel of things, which Kenneth assume was because she was conscious about her father watching. By now the normal routine was in effect. No real words were passed when they sparred but lessons were still given, Kenneth exploited every mistake Nadia made and punished any bad habits with a heavy strike.
  1326. The time spent with the caravan had thought Kenneth that salamanders, or at least Nadia, had a `sweet spot`, when it came to learning, too early into a fight and she wasn’t focused enough to take anything to heart, too late into the spar and she would give in to the battle high, the urge to win overtaking the urge to learn. The sweet spot was the right time for her to learn what to do when Kenneth attacked in certain ways and remember it when the high kicked in. It was perfect, but it was working so far.
  1328. It was now a good fifthteen minutes into the spar. Nadia’s breath was becoming ragged while the fire on her tail grew to the point it looked like she was carrying a fireplace. Seeing the change in her, Kenneth took a deep breath and braced himself. The high had just kicked in.
  1330. The difference was clear as Nadia's expression slowly melted into excitement as the fight continued, her movements became faster and her attacks became wilder, adding whipping her tail about and sometimes swiping her claws when a hand was free. To the onlooker, the fight was becoming more less of a spar and more like a street fight.
  1332. He wouldn’t let it go on for much longer, Kenneth had promised himself that after the fight with the bandits at the rest stop. Any further then this he was worried that she might slip into the berserker state she was in when they first fought. With that in mind, Kenneth shot forward to finish it.
  1334. Nadia parried the strike and stabbed forward with her glaive, Kenneth ducked under the blade and swept her legs. Her attempt to get back up was stopped with the wooden sword at her neck. “Yield” Kenneth ordered.
  1336. The salamander below him stared up panting, He tensed when he saw a twitch in her shoulder and a look of indecision in her eyes, but ultimately nodded and let Kenneth pull her up. There were no real formalities to the spars. Kenneth usually just let Nadia have some time to cool off.
  1338. “A splendid display!” Duke exclaimed as he approached the two. “I thought I was going to see something like a nervous whelp with his first sword, but nothing like this! It is amazing, for you to be this skilled with only a week’s training... Nadia?”
  1340. Kenneth glanced over to Nadia to see why she didn’t give an answer to find her staring at him intently and panting softly, as if trying to figure something out. Her tail was lazily swishing from side to side, the fire still blazing on her tail.
  1342. “Nadia?” Duke asked again.
  1344. The salamander blinked. “Oh, sorry. You said something, father?” she asked
  1346. “I was just complimenting your skills, Nadia.” He said as he frowned. “Are you okay?”
  1348. “I’m fine, the spar was just what I needed.” She said, but both men could tell she was distracted. “That being said, I never thought I’d be doing this kind of thing back home, ‘feels kind of weird... say...” she turned to Kenneth. “Can we go again?”
  1350. “Again?” Kenneth repeated. She had never asked for a second round before.
  1352. “I’m still raring to go, and unlike with the caravan, we have more time, don’t we? So come on! Why not have another round?” She said eagerly.
  1354. He honestly could fault her there. He had forgotten he wasn’t on a timeframe anymore and didn’t exactly have to cut things short. What better time to ask for a second round. Nadia looked like she was getting excited at him simply considering it. Glancing at Duke (who gave a shrug) he was about to agree when a throat clearing made them all turn.
  1356. “That would be enough brawling for today, thank you very much,” Ana said as she approached the trio, Karen trailing shortly behind her. After a short pause and looking over her daughter she continued “Nadia you are to have a bath and then meet me in the lounge, we need to talk.”
  1358. Nadia nodded. “Okay,” Nadia said. Ana simply turned around and went back into the mansion, Karen following, but not before a curious look past of her as she glanced at Nadia and Kenneth. “What could mother want?” Nadia asked her father.
  1360. “No idea, something must have come up,” Duke said and then sighed. “There’s no point in keeping her waiting. Go and have your bath. You'll be free to have another spar tomorrow.”
  1362. “Thank you, father.” Nadia said as she turned to Kenned “I’ll have a maid come get you when I’m done so we can go to the lounge together. I’ll see you then.” She then hurried off inside, leaving the two men in the garden.
  1364. They enjoyed a moment to comfortable silence before Duke started. “I don’t remember the last time I’ve seen her like that.”
  1366. “Seen here like what?” Kenneth asked.
  1368. “Eager, excited, invested, whatever you want to call it. Sure, she’s been happy, to the point we spoiled her, but I’ve not seen her this driven to do something. It makes me think I made the right choice.” He explained. “I’ll have to work up a schedule of some sort, maybe assign one of the maids to help start up a routine for the two of you. At the very least, getting the stuff to accommodate my daughter won’t be a problem. But enough seriousness for now.”
  1370. Kenneth agreed and the two made their way inside, talking about mundane things.
  1372. ~X~ (later)
  1374. Nadia had made it to the lounge and found her mother and sister already seated. she turned to the maid. “Can you please call Kenneth to the lounge?” the maid nodded and turned to leave.
  1376. “Stop. You will remain here, we do not need the mercenary for this talk.” Ana ordered. “Now Nadia, sit.”
  1378. Nadia didn’t show just how worried she was. Having Kenneth around when she talked to people had become so natural to her without her noticing that the idea made her nervous. She took a deep breath and sad town, the hard gaze of her mother doing little to calm her nerves.
  1380. “So... where do I begin?” Ana said. “What do you think you’re doing, Nadia? The food at breakfast, that rough-housing with the mercenary, in the name of `training`!” Ana ranted. “Your father may not mind but I do not approve of these changes, Nadia.”
  1382. “I needed to learn to defend myself mother. Like I said.” Nadia huffed crossing her arms. “The spars help me cope, whether it’s because of salamander instincts or just my own personal thing, I don’t know but I welcome it all the same.”
  1384. “What is the style he’s teaching you?” Karen asked, a lot less hostile than their mother. “It doesn’t look like anything I’ve seen from the guards or the travelers.”
  1386. “It doesn’t have a name, I came up with it myself. Kenneth said he was helping me `hammer out the kinks`. I don’t know if people can learn it as I'm working on attacking with my tail among other things.
  1388. Ana frowned “That is not the way a Bellsworth lady should act! You were to carry yourself as I have taught you. If I had known his trip outside would ruin years of hard work, I would not have let you leave with your father and that mercenary”
  1390. “Nothing is ruined, mother,” Nadia said her tail starting to twitch in irritation. “I still remember my lessons, I know how to dance and talk with the merchants and nobles. Nothing has changed about that. I have simply learned only to see it when needed. Also, His name is Kenneth Mother, Father and I use his name, why can’t you?” Nadia questioned annoyed.
  1392. “He is under our employ so I will call him what I want.” Ana scoffed. “Nevertheless. Regardless of your father’s words, you will be having etiquette lessons for the next week, maybe by then both of you will see the reason have that foolish mercenary removed, then everything can-”
  1394. A cracking sound started Ana out of her speech. She then noticed Nadia’s claws and sank into the arms of the chair she was in.
  1396. “Removed? You can’t remove him! I heed him for my sparring?” Nadia’s voice was starting to get panicky. Her claws were starting to carve marks in the chair
  1398. “And why not? He is the reason my daughter came back the way she is, doing things that should be below her!” Ana snapped.
  1400. Nadia snapped back. “You don’t understand! I told you yesterday that I made mistakes! The blame is not his alone!”
  1402. “Listen to you! Is the disrespect your showing something you needed to pick up in the wilderness as well? You need to remember it is my example that you should follow! She shouted.
  1404. Nadia shot up from her chair, with her tail a raging inferno. “It's your absolutely retarded example that led to me becoming this!” Nadia bellowed. “All those teachings, what to do, what to say, how to act. That is the reason Selene attacked me! Kenneth has helped me every way he could, I can’t think of what would’ve happened if he just abandoned me! And you... you want to remove that?”
  1406. “Nadia...”
  1408. “I can’t let you remove Kenneth.” She snarled. “I will not let you take him from me!”
  1410. “Nadia!”
  1412. Nadia snapped out of her rant and froze, eyes widening at the terrified looks on her mother and sisters faces. The fire on her tail went out like water was doused on it. “I-I-I-….I” she started to stutter as she stepped back in shock, Before rushing out the door.
  1414. “Nadia, please wait!” Ana shouted and Karen got out of her chair and ran to follow.
  1416. ~X~
  1418. Kenneth, having long since parted ways with Duke and thinking Nadia simply forget to call for him, was making his own way to the lounge. What he didn’t expect, was for Nadia to rush past him, sobbing. “Nadia? What happened?” he called. She stopped and looked back at him with a look of despair like the one she had when her tail emerged. She resumed crying and ran away faster and disappeared around the corner.
  1420. “Nadia!” Kenneth turned to see Karen running down the hallway, stopping when she saw Kenneth. “Did you see her go by?”
  1422. “What’s going on?” Kenneth asked.
  1424. Karen put her hand through her hair. “Nadia and mother got into an argument, and Nadia got really angry before she started to freak out. I have to talk to her. Please, do you mind getting my father? He should be in his office.” we need to sort things out.
  1426. Kenneth nodded and Karen bolted down the hall to track down her sister while Kenneth had to get hold of a maid to get directions to Duke's office. When he got there the maid, knocked on the door and leaned her head in. “Kenneth is here to see you, sir.”
  1428. “Let him in.” came from inside, but he was surprised to hear Ana’s voice. Entering, he saw the two seated in armchairs, Duke looking stressed and Ana visibly distraught. “Mercenary...” she began. “What happened with my daughter?”
  1430. “What do you mean?” Kenneth asked
  1432. “Nadia... we talked just now, I thought... I thought if I could just scold her as I normally would, she would see the right path... but she said that her upbringing was the reason she’s a monster, what did she mean by that? What happened to make her think that way?”
  1434. Kenneth took a seat on a stool. “Duke hasn’t told you yet, he? About that night.” She shook her head and he continued. “It was night time and I had let my patience with your daughters attitude run out. We argued and it caught the attention of a lilim, I’m sure you’ve heard of Lecastie’s fall from your husband, right?”
  1436. “Only that it fell to monsters and it became a demon realm,” Ana said.
  1438. “Lilims, are the daughters of the demon lord herself, nobody is quite sure what the upper limits of their power are, but they are among the strongest the land has, to the point that most monster guides and guild books mark them as `flee on site`. Druella, the fouth princess, was the one that brought down Lecastie. She didn’t do it alone, but she’s the one that led the forces.”
  1440. “And this monstrous woman attacked my daughter?” Ana asked.
  1442. Kenneth shook his head. “No, the one who heard her was one of her younger sisters, known as Selene. She decided out of boredom to fight me, and it was the most one-sided fight I’ve ever had if you could call it that. I lasted long enough for her to `have her fill` and then she went after Nadia.
  1444. Selene got angry over the fact that Nadia was treating me poorly despite being hired help, and relying on my till it was sure I couldn’t do anything. Selene implanted the energy into her and went on her way, while the changes happened over time. She still held on to her upbringing until about a week later, when she got her tail.”
  1446. Kenneth’s eyes glazed over in reminiscence. “She broke that day, spent it crying, begging me to cut it off, talking about how she couldn’t go home in disgrace, fearing disownment. The only reason I call her Nadia is that until yesterday when she cried in her father’s arms, she said she couldn’t consider herself a Bellsworth. It was one of the two things she feared.”
  1448. Ana looked blown away from the story. “And the other?” Ana asked, Duke, leaning in with interest, made him think he didn’t mention it to him.
  1450. “Going feral. While Selene herself told me it wasn’t going to happen, Nadia’s greatest fear is losing herself and becoming a mindless beast. Harming those she was close to and not even knowing it.
  1452. Realization flashed across Ana’s face before it quickly turned to horror. “Oh god... I didn’t... oh no...” she hung her head shamefully. “What have I done?”
  1454. “What did you do?” Duke asked sternly.
  1456. Ana went into explaining her plan and what happened with Nadia to the two men.
  1458. ~X~ (later)
  1460. It was late at night and Ana couldn’t sleep, the look on her daughters face and what Kenneth had told her would not let her rest. It had led her to question herself to a maddening degree. She decided that a stroll and maybe tea later would allow her to clear her thoughts. That was until she saw Karen trying to be discreet.
  1462. Wondering why she was up so late, Ana silently followed Karen, the girl not showing if she noticed she was being followed. She was so focused on simply following her that when she stopped Ana had to take a moment to register that they were outside Nadia’s room.
  1464. Karen knocked on the door and opened it. “Nadia... Nadia I'm coming in... I know you’re awake.” she said softly.
  1466. “Go away.” Ana could taste the defeat in Nadia’s voice.
  1468. “I can’t, we need to talk. This is the best time for it, no mother or father, no mer... Kenneth. Just you and me, sister”
  1470. “What do even want, do you want me to apologize for losing myself?” Nadia asked.
  1472. “No. I know you’re sorry. If anything, I should say I'm sorry.” Karen said.
  1474. “...what?” Nadia sounded shocked. “But I-”
  1476. “When was the last time we talked, Nadia? I realize that we’ve barely spoken to each other and you’ve been back for two days, fathers right in thinking we should be happy with you returning. But this... I don’t know what it is.”
  1478. Silence reigned between the two. Before Nadia sighed. “I almost didn’t come back.”
  1480. Karen looked struck. “what?”
  1482. “Come inside and sit, I’ll tell you.” Karen hurried in but didn’t fully close the door. With the corridor now clear, Ana moved to behind the door and peaked in on her children’s conversation.
  1484. “When I was... changing one of the later things was my tail.” Nadia waved the tip back and forth in front of her. “When It showed up I couldn’t take it, I cried all day thinking that my life was over and I had nowhere to go. I made a short-term plan to start wandering the land on my own.
  1486. Karens’s eyes widened as she caught on quickly. “You didn’t want to come home, but we’re your family!” She said.
  1488. Nadia laughed, And Ana hated it almost instantly, such a hollow laugh shouldn’t come from her daughter. “That’s not what I was thinking at the time, Karen. I was thinking of how mother and father would disown me, how me showing up as some deformed creature would bring shame to the family, how I was going to become some mindless beast better off dead in the wilderness with her family not knowing what truly happened.”
  1490. Karen’s gasp probably masked Ana’s own.
  1492. “If it wasn’t for Kenneth I wouldn’t have come back. He said he was in more danger letting me leave than just coming back with me the way I am. Even then, until yesterday, I refused to call myself a Bellsworth as I didn’t know how you all would feel.” Nadia continued. “So much happened in just a few weeks, between Selene and the bandits and fully becoming a salamander, everything feels like a whirlwind."
  1494. “Selene? Bandits?” Karen questioned.
  1496. “Ah right, Selene is the monster that turned me, as for the bandits...” Nadia when into an explanation, of the night Selene attacked and then talked about the attacks from the bandits. Kenneth had neglected to tell Ana anything about this Riley person and hearing what Nadia had to been through with the man tore her up inside.
  1498. “Why haven’t you told mother or father?” Karen asked, visibly shaken.
  1500. “Father probably already knows by talking to Kenneth, while Mother... I don’t think I could talk to her. She would blame Kenneth just like she did with facing Selene. All she sees is that I’m not following her footsteps anymore. And no matter what she says, I can’t do that, not now I know that the way we carry ourselves is wrong.”
  1502. Ana couldn’t take it anymore, she hurried herself to her personal study. Dropping into her chair, she tried to call the maid for tea, but she couldn’t stop her hands shaking, Her daughter had been through that? Almost though her mother thought she was better off dead? It clicked that just like Karen had said, her daughter had come back to her despite the change, despite how she felt... and all she had done to her beloved child was cause further pain instead of talking to her. She hadn't tried to talk to her about her feelings... she hadn't tried to talk to her as a mother at all.
  1504. Nobody in the mansion would ever know, but it would be the first time in years that Ana Bellsworth cried her heart out.
  1506. [part 10]
  1508. Ana found herself in front of Nadia's door in the morning. She had stood there for some time, long enough for maids going about their duty to ask her if she was alright as they went by.
  1510. She kept trying to knock on the door before hesitating. What was she supposed to say to her daughter? Saying she was sorry alone wouldn't cut it, she knew things couldn't be just paved over like that, and the thought of trying to placate her with a gift didn't help either as further spelt out to her how bad she was at handling issues without money and class to fall back on.
  1512. After what felt like an eternity of mental back and forth. Ana took a deep breath and called a passing maid. "I shall be inside Nadia's room, make tea for the both of us." the maid nodded and went on her way as Ana knocked on the door.
  1514. "It's open," Nadia called out. Ana walked in to see her daughter finish putting a robe around herself, and saw her daughter look at her surprised. She wouldn't blame her. she had barely slept since last night and had neglected morning routines to come to her daughter's room "Oh! mother I-"
  1516. "Settle down Nadia. A maid will be by with tea shortly." She said as she sat herself down on one of her bedroom chairs. Nadia shuffled awkwardly as Ana looked at her in silence before sighing. "Nadia... how old are you?"
  1518. "What?" Nadia asked confused.
  1520. "How old are you?" Ana repeated herself. Nadia had to take a second to accept how serious she was about the question. "Just answer the question for me."
  1522. "Twenty three, mother you know this," Nadia said.
  1524. "I know I do," Ana said. "Now... what is your favourite thing to eat?" She asked.
  1526. "Mother... what is the point of this?" Nadia started to look concerned. "what game are you playing?"
  1528. "Answer the question, please," Ana said sounding more like pleading than a request. She had been thinking about it all night and had a point to prove to herself.
  1530. "... Spiced meat, I've always liked it, but since the change, it's become a craving." Nadia answered, the questioning expression still remaining.
  1532. "What about colours? your favorite out of that?" Ana asked.
  1534. Realising her mother wasn't going to stop with these questions Nadia sighed. "It's blue."
  1536. "And when was the last time I did your hair?" Ana asked, her tone going softer. she had to keep going.
  1538. Nadia paused in thought. "I... don't know, maybe I was fifteen or something around then." She said. "Now will tell me what this is-"
  1540. "And the last time we had an outing together?" Ana asked ignoring Nadia's question. "Or sown together? Anything like that?"
  1542. Nadia stood up frustrated, her tail started waving back and forth as the fire on it grew "I don't know! why would I know these things? Why would you care?" she said, pacing angrily as she spoke.
  1544. Ana let a tear fall. "Your right... why would I care?"
  1546. "Mother?" Nadia stopped pacing.
  1548. "I can't believe how distant I am from you. I couldn't remember your favorite color, your favorite food, anything! And what about the fact we haven't done anything as mother and daughter in years?" She ranted with the occasional sob. "I hadn't noticed until yesterday just how bad it had gotten." Nadia stayed quiet as a Maid came and gave them both tea. Nadia watched on in shock as Ana slurped the tea without any grace she was known for like it was some kind of lifeline.
  1550. Ana then continued. "And then, why my daughter comes back to me, all I do is berate her for not holding our name up and carrying herself like a Bellsworth, it hurt to realize that you know? That I've been putting the family name in front of my own daughter's wellbeing. We haven't even talked since you have gotten back, or as it seems, for quite some time."
  1552. "What brought this, mother?" Nadia asked. "What made you come here?"
  1554. Ana looked at her daughter in the eye. "The mercenary... he told me about your journey, told me about what you wanted to do. I couldn't believe you were will to do such a thing, and only for our family reputation... I realized I could have lost you for a stupid reason, and with only myself to blame. and it only got worse."
  1556. "Worse? how could it get worse, if Kenneth told you everything?" Nadia said confused.
  1558. "He didn't Nadia... he left out what happened with the bandits." Ana shivered uncomfortably as Nadia realized how she knew. "I heard you talking to your sister last night, and there were things you said but the mercenary didn't." Ana looked on the verge of breaking down as a shaky hand brought her tea to her lips.
  1560. "Mother, I-" Nadia started but was cut off once more.
  1562. "You've been through so much, getting separated from your father, losing your humanity, fighting bandits all to get just back here, and here I am. thinking about how you shouldn't be wearing armor while you cry your eyes out in your fathers embrace. There I was, thinking more about dealing with the other nobles and merchants when I should be asking you about your travels and being there for you, I should just celebrate that you were back, I should of... dammit." Ana put down her cup and put her head in her hands, trembling with sorrow. "I'm sorry Nadia... I'm so sorry!" she wailed as tears poured down her face
  1564. Nadia wasn't sure what to do, She couldn't remember a time she saw her mother like this. With no better Idea to comfort her. Nadia simply got up and moved over to her mother, pulling her into a hug. the two just stayed like that for a while, simply enjoying the silence.
  1566. ~X~ [later in the morning]
  1568. As far was Kenneth and Duke knew. Breakfast was a lighter affair then they exected. it was clear that they Nadia and Ana had talked and had come to some agreement, but they didn't say anything to them and just ate breakfast in comfortable silence. Even Nadia once more calling for more meat didn't raise a response so that was nice, Kenneth guessed.
  1570. Eventually, Duke broke the silence. "With all that was going on yesterday, I never got to talk to you three. It was understandable given what happened." He then leaned back and sighed. "The mayor is holding a gathering and we were invited to attend."
  1572. Nadia looked concerned. "Are you sure I should be going to something like this so soon?" She asked.
  1574. "I'd say so, but you know how it is with my business partners are. It's the best place to meet them and talk shop. Annoying as it is." Duke said.
  1576. Nadia huffed, her tail could be heard slapping against the floor. "I would rather be training or doing something else. I don't see the worth of me going there, everyone would just have the same questions about my inhumanity, I could do without that right now."
  1578. "It won't be for a couple of weeks, so don't worry too much. hopefully, that'll be enough time for you to settle down. After all, you only just got back." He said. Nadia nodded but still looked uncertain, so he decided to change the subject "So, what are your plans for today?"
  1580. Ana spoke first. "The girls and I will be having some time together after Nadia's sparring. I've... taken notice of several things that are wrong, and want to correct them." Karen sent a questioning look at Nadia, who smiled and nodded.
  1582. Kenneth still wasn't sure what was going on, but it was clear things from yesterday were settled, so he didn't bring it up.
  1584. "That being said..." Ana said turning to Kenneth with a gleam he didn't like. "Have you ever attended a formal meeting, mer... Kenneth?" She asked.
  1586. "Uh... no?" Kenneth said, more questioning her use of his name.
  1588. "I've come to the realization if you are to attend these gatherings and parties, then you must know how to act like one as well. You will attend lessons with me and Nadia every day until I deem you fit. Are we clear?"
  1590. Kenneth rose an eyebrow and glanced at Duke, who clearly had nothing to do with this and shrugged. "Sure, I may not be one for high-class gatherings but how hard can it be?"
  1592. The nervous laughter from both the Bellsworth daughters didn't inspire hope.
  1594. ~X~ [A week later]
  1596. The week went by without incident. As promised, the women of the house were gathered once more in the lounge as they had every time after Nadia had finished. While things had started awkwardly, eventually over the next couple of days the three had become comfortable. Currently, Nadia was telling her mother and sister some of the lighter stories of the last few days.
  1598. "...And that's why the merchants wouldn't let him have alcohol again!" Nadia finished as her family laughed.
  1600. "This merchant crew sounds like quite the group," Ana said sipping on some wine.
  1602. Nadia smiled fondly, her tail moved in front of her and she held it gently. "It had just been a day after I had gained my tail when I had met them, they along with Kenneth help me get back on my feet."
  1604. "Kenneth must mean a lot to you, doesn't he?" Karen asked.
  1606. Ana caught on to the blatant questioning, but Nadia was too happy to notice. A small blush appeared on her cheeks as her tails fire became more lively. "He does... He the best thing about all this, he's kind... and strong, very strong.... but he's holding back."
  1608. "What do you mean? Isn't he meant to hold back during sparring?" Ana was sure she remembered that right.
  1610. "It's hazy, but the day I fully became a salamander, I attacked him." Nadia was getting caught up in memory lane. "I didn't even realize it was him, I was just focused on defending myself and taking down everyone around me... and then he called out to me... and I didn't see him as a threat... but a challenge." Nadia grinned. the tip of her tail started to wiggle.
  1612. "A challenge?" Karen parroted.
  1614. "I had recognized him, no doubt about that, but I also remembered all the times he fended off bandits and thieves during our journey. he was strong, I wanted to see for myself just how strong he strong I was. and it was the first time we fought." Nadia said with a laugh. "And it felt so good... giving it our all in that field, it was one of the greatest things I experienced. I want to fight him to that extent again. I want to see just how far we can go..." Nadia drifted off into whatever fantasy she was having as the other women in the room stared at her giggling and playing with her tail mindlessly.
  1616. "Mother?" Karen got Ana's attention.
  1618. "I don't think you ever had a chance of getting rid of Kenneth." She said quietly.
  1620. Ana nodded. "Then it's a good thing he agreed to my lessons." She said. "As I might have a few things to talk to your father about."
  1622. [Part 11]
  1624. (two weeks later)
  1626. Two weeks, two whole weeks of Etiquette training with Ana Bellsworth. While for Nadia her upbring it was more than a simple refresher, the only problems coming up to fit her monster parts. for Kenneth, it was a nightmare.
  1628. Still, the do's and don'ts of high society was drilled into him and he now knew how to carry himself, to some degree. Nadia did say that her mother's lessons were looser then what she knew, and the stories she had to tell about Ana made Kenneth shudder.
  1630. "Come on, Kenneth, Stop messing with your tie," Nadia said as they walked through the mayor's estate to his mansion with the rest of the Bellsworth family. Kenneth had to be dressed up for the occasion as his normal look was too `gritty` as Karen had put it. While he still had his sword, as was his right as a bodyguard to Nadia, the suit was restrictive and stiff. at the very least, it was clear that Nadia was feeling the same.
  1632. "Seriously, how did you wear fancy clothes on a daily basis?" Kenneth asked, still fiddling with the tie until Nadia slapped his hand down.
  1634. "Been wearing this stuff for years. to be honest, my summer dresses are the closest to what you would call `normal`. though..." she shuffled her clothes a bit and tugged on her tail a bit more. "I haven't worn anything like this since we started our journey."
  1636. "At least you look nice," Kenneth grumbled, not noticing Nadia going red. "I don't think I'll ever get used to this fancy dress stuff."
  1638. Duke laughed. "You remind me of my youth, I believe I said the exact same thing when I was younger than you. I had to start wearing this stuff when I was getting into the family business. man, that takes me back." He sighed happily.
  1640. Walking to the door of the mansion Kenneth turned to Nadia "Any last minute things to know before be we go in?" he asked the others.
  1642. "Respect others but stand your ground. These people can be grating, but we just need to keep a level head."
  1644. "We?" Kenneth questioned.
  1646. "W-well I wasn't good at keeping my temper in check, even before I became what I am," Nadia said fidgeting. "You know that." Kenneth thought back to when they met that Marigold woman and understood. that that all said. the group approached the butler standing in front.
  1648. "Welcome lord Bellsowrth, I shall inform the mayor that your arrival." He said with a bow and turn to open the door.
  1650. Entering the main hall and waiting to be greeted by the mayor. Kenneth watched as the nobles closest to the door take a passing glance at them only to pause and take a second look in either shock or curiosity at Nadia as the man who he assumed to be the mayor made his way over.
  1652. "Duke! It's great to see you!" The mayor greeted. The mayor looked to be a jolly man if a little too enthusiastic as he greeted the Besllworth family, Only pausing as he took a closer look at the salamander. "....Nadia, is that you?
  1654. Nadia nodded. "My trip brought a few... changes." She said, unsure about how to explain it.
  1655. The mayor laughed and patted her on the shoulder "And what a story it must be, you'll have to tell me about it sometime! For now, get yourselves settled, food shall be out later." he said as he left the Bellworth family to greet the next group.
  1657. From there Duke and Ana started talking to some other nobles, leaving Kenneth and Nadia to wander. The stares and whispers started to increase as they walked by. eventually, Nadia had enough and smacked the ground with her tail. "Do you all want to keep staring or does anyone actually want to talk to me?" she growled out. And with that, the crowd snapped back into whatever they were doing before.
  1659. "That... could have gone better," Kenneth said as he looked around.
  1661. Nadia huffed "It could of, but it didn't, besides. they were being rude. I know most of them haven't seen a monster, let alone recognizing who I am but I refuse to be stared at like some exotic art piece."
  1663. "I get it, hopefully, the whole day doesn't go as this" Kenneth said.
  1665. Fortunately, after the initial awkwardness, Nadia was able to have decent conversations with people, with only a few commenting negatively on Nadia being a monster. those that did, Nadia let her displeasure be known bluntly and usually left them muttering about how much she changed.
  1667. Eventually, dinner was served, and Nadia thought she could get through without a problem... that was until she found out just who she was seated opposite, as the Bellsworth family found themselves seated with the mayor and the Brooks family. Nadia and Kenneth were forced to listen to Marigold prattle on about new jewels her father had bought for her while her parents beamed in approval.
  1669. but what was really starting to get Kenneth agitated was that the man he assumed to be marigold's brother leering and Nadia whenever he thought nobody was looking. Judging by the light growling, Nadia was aware too. fortunately, the mayor's curiosity brought on a subject change
  1671. "Well then... your father tells me you have started taking up learning how to fight? " He asked Nadia as he poured out wine for himself.
  1673. "I have. most of my skill currently is in polearms but I might move into swords." Nadia said.
  1675. "I see, and I take it that Kenneth here is the man training you?" He turned to the mercenary. "I heard good things about you from the trading companies this city does work with, something about helping fend of a bandit raid? you must have some strength in you, my boy."
  1677. Kenneth nodded. "Bandits mostly run by intimidation, thugs with an actual degree of skill are few and far between. I will say this trip with Nadia opened my eyes to needing to learn a bit more."
  1679. "But if you say that you have still things to learn, how are you training Nadia?" Marigold's father asked.
  1681. "A wise man once said that perfection is trash, and there is always something to learn about whatever art you take," Duke said.
  1683. "Is that so? Well, Eliot here has trained under the swordmasters of the northwest. You've heard of Troia city's swordsmen right?" Lord Brooks said.
  1685. "Who are they?" Nadia asked.
  1687. Eliot was about to explain but was cut off my Kenneth. "A city in the northwest that took claim to have the greatest swordsmen after Lescatie fell," Kenneth explained as if he were bored.
  1689. Eliot scowled. "You don't sound impressed."
  1691. "Should I be?" Kenned asked. "Willamaria was said to be one of the strongest heroes of the generation, word through the guild has it that she hasn't lost any of that skill after what she has become. to have this school out of nowhere say they have people on her level if not better is suspicious at best." Kenneth said.
  1693. "Are where did you get your training from then? What school do you go to for skills?" Eliot challenged, feeling insulted.
  1695. "Small town in the west. most of what I know is self-taught along with training with the guild master there," Kenneth said.
  1697. "So a bumpkin like you actually knows nothing of what he says then, fine. Eliot says. Father, I'd like to make a wager!"
  1699. Lord brooks raised an eyebrow. "What is it?" at this point the hall had gone quiet as everyone tried to listen in.
  1701. "We shall have a duel, My bodyguards against miss Nadia's, we shall see who knows what they are talking about." He said with a grin. "If I win it shall prove that Nadia is wasting her time with this backwater mercenary."
  1703. Kenneth glanced at Ana, who nodded to let him continue. "If you're so sure about being better than I am, why not fight me myself?" Kenneth. "No man talks big and then hides behind another."
  1705. "My bodyguards are also Troia taught swordsmen. their skill only pales to my own." he boasted.
  1707. "Hold on! I didn't agree to any of this!" Duke shouted. "Galen, this is unneeded!"
  1709. "What's wrong, Duke? afraid to show everyone how you wasted you're gold?" Galen laughed as Duke growled in frustration. "maybe you should buy better bodyguards next time."
  1711. "Enough!" Nadia roars as she rises from her chair, tail raging with fire. "Who the hell are you to tell me that my time is wasted? You don't know a thing about Kenneth and all I've heard from you and your sister is insult after insult. I don't need this stupid wager. Bring your bodyguards outside, we shall settle this now!" she turned to the mayor. "Mayor, do you have anything I can use as a staff of some sort?"
  1713. Ana looked concerned. "Nadia, what are you planning?
  1715. "If he's so concerned about my skills, he shall see them for himself. I'll fight whoever he wants, I just want this over and done with." Nadia said.
  1717. Eliot's grin got wider when he heard that. "fine, I've heard that lizardfolk monsters value the strong, I will fight you if you beat one of my bodyguards." he said as he got out of his chair.
  1719. "Wait!" Nadia said and Eliot paused. "You and your warrior bring your best as I will not be holding back, I will have no excuses," Nadia said.
  1721. Eliot smugly smiled and walked out of the hall.
  1723. "Nadia you don't have to do this-" Kenneth said as Nadia held her hand up. with a smile.
  1725. "Kenneth... I think this is what Selene meant." She said as she moved around in her dress.
  1727. It to him a moment to catch on. "But even so"
  1729. "Just have faith in me, Kenneth. Besides, what good is our training if I can't hold my own against threats, this is the perfect time to put it to the test." Nadia declared. Seeing as she wasn't going to back down. Kenneth sighed.
  1731. "Just be careful, I don't know what will happen if you lose," Kenneth warned. "Your father might actually have my head this time." He joked.
  1733. Naida nodded and turned around to see her father with her glaive and her mother with her armor. "If this is what you want to do, Nadia, then we will not stop you," Duke said as he placed the glaive down.
  1735. "And what better way to show you're serious than to wear your armor? Ana said handing the clothes to Nadia.
  1737. Nadia looked at her armor and then at her mother. "... you just don't want to see the dress ruined," she said flatly. Ana blushed and looked away muttering something about it being a nice dress.
  1739. "The mayor is gathering everyone out into the gardens, we'll be outside too," Duke said as he, Ana and Kenneth all left to let Nadia get changed.
  1741. Outside, Kenneth's shoulders sagged. "Dammit. this s a mess."
  1743. "I'm sure you know how stubborn Nadia could be when she sets her mind to it." Duke tried to say it as a joke, but everyone just felt frustrated.
  1745. "I should be the one fighting him, the wager was against me, that scum is going after Nadia, and not just to disgrace the Bellsworths," Kenneth growled.
  1747. Duke hummed in agreement. "that boy has always had a thing for Nadia before we went on the trip. Now with this, he thinks he has a chance with my daughter he thinks he's owed."
  1749. "He doesn't deserve her, he will never deserve her, the look in his eyes is the same as Rileys." Kenneth said angrily."
  1751. The trio walked in silence until the got to the doors to the garden. "Kenneth" Ana got his attention. "What does my daughter mean to you?"
  1753. Kenneth froze and thought to himself. "I... don't know, I never thought that much on it, there was always the traveling or the training, I've never focused on... whatever we have."
  1755. Ana didn't say anything more. as they entered the garden.
  1757. The guests where wall talking in excitement as Kenneth approached the clearing, mostly just mindless talk about who was going to win and some were talking about having never seen a monster in combat before. Kenneth could see that the one Nadia is meant to be fighting already in the clearing.
  1759. The talk went quiet when Nadia, decked out in her armor and holding her glaive, entered the clearing in a confident stride. staring down her opponent. she said nothing as she assumed her stance.
  1761. "Straight to the fight huh? I like that." The bodyguard said as he ready his sword. the mayor ( chosen to ref the fight as a neutral party) called to fight. and the two circled each other.
  1763. Without warning, Nadia launched at her opponent and slash across his stomach. the guard felt the demon silver pass through his body as he sunk to the ground unconscious. Nadia stared down at the defeated guard as in confusion. "...Did I win? That's it?"
  1765. The crowd murmured at the sight of Nadia's sudden win, even Kenneth was shocked. This guy couldn't have just gone down in one hit, that was just absurd.
  1767. "...Well." The mayor said, just as confused as everyone else. "I think we are done he-"
  1769. "Wait!" Eliot said. "This won't do! We haven't seen any skill yet! You! Get in there!" He shouted at another of his bodyguards. Nadia looked around and shrugged before reassuming her stance.
  1771. The mayor started the match again. and this time the second guard swung at her with his sword. Nadia dodged a few blows before punching the guard with her free hand. Nadia looked annoyed this time. "Slow... too slow, Kenneth is much faster, I didn't have to think about dodging," she said more to herself, but everyone heard it.
  1773. Eliot growled and called over another bodyguard, this time one of his sister's "You! win and there's a hundred gold coins in it for you!" He told the man who now looked more than eager to fight with that kind of money on the table.
  1775. The third man didn't even wait for the mayor to attack. but it was not a real concern as Nadia kept dodging and parrying blows before a bunch to the gut put him down.
  1777. Nadia looked lost to her own thoughts "So sloppy... so... weak? Yes... weak, why are they so weak, didn't he say they were from an elite school? It can't be because I'm a monster, Kenneth was faster during our spars, I'd much rather be sparing with him. these people are not enough, just not enough." she muttered.
  1779. Soon the entire brooks entourage of bodyguards were sent against Nadia. and one by one they fell all to fast for the salamanders liking. Kenneth grew concerned as her frustration was slowly turning into anger while she kept taking down her opponents with minimal effort.
  1781. Eliot look furious, he pointed to another guard, this one looking more physically fit than the others, and it was also the last guard at his disposal. "I hope your ready girl, for I'm not like the others."Nadia didn't say anything and simply attacked, the last guard was barely able to hold his own before Nadia disarmed him with a parry and punched his face, knocking him out.
  1783. Nadia snarled and then shouted at Eliot "This is meant to be world-class? This is meant to outdo the heroes of lescatie? What kind of joke is this? Get over here and fight me! Come on! you said you were stronger than your guards, Prove it now! Come down here and finish this stupidity you started!"
  1785. Seeing no other choice, Eliot drew his sword and entered the clearing. the mayor called for the start of the fight and the two launched at each other. but by now all pretence of a duel was out the window as Nadia was clearly enraged. What started as a fight turned into a one-sided beatdown that by the end of it left Eliot cowering away to avoid further injury.
  1787. The sight of this made something snap inside Nadia. "Too slow, too weak, can't fight back, can't endure... can't do so anything. It's grating! where is it? where is that feeling, that rush? Where is it? Where is it? Where is it!" Nadia's tail started to thump as she looked around wildly until she saw Kenneth.
  1789. It was as if time had stopped when they locked eyes. Nadia's angry fave melted into a wild grin. "Kenneth..." She whispered. her breathing became ragged as her tail erupted in flames and her eyes had a feral look in them. "Kenneth...Kenneth!" Her whispers turned in to a shout. as she looked ready to attack at any moment.
  1791. "Nadia calm down!" Kenneth tried to reason with her, but his mind kept going back to that day on the riverside, flames all around them from the bandit raid, and Nadia acknowledging he was strong before attacking him.
  1793. "Kenneth! Fight me right now! Give me a real fight! Don't hold back, give me everything! I want it... I need it!" Nadia raged as she spun her glaive in her hand, her twitching tail a raging inferno, a sparkle in her eyes that was different from the berserker he had fought months ago. She had long since gone over the deep and it was clear she wasn't going to back down.
  1795. His mind made up, Kenneth stepped forward and prepared to fight.
  1797. [Part 12]
  1799. The was no call to start the fight, and no checking to see if either fighter was ready. the moment he had approached her was all the confirmation Nadia needed to attack.
  1801. Everyone attending the gathering stared in awed silence as salamander and mercenary waged all-out war in the mayors garden in a grand display of skill. Most had never seen such an intense fight up close, not expecting it to last as long given Nadia's fights against Eliot and his men.
  1803. Kenneth one more fought with his sword sheathed as he fought, for he knew that outside of not trying to kill her, he felt there was no holding back against Nadia this time. If she was going to give this fight her all, then he would do the same.
  1805. He met Nadia's attacks and almost buckled at the power she was throwing out, unrestrained by the limits of sparing. Nadia was using everything she had at her disposal; the techniques Kenneth had taught her, her wild instincts as a salamander had combined into something he never would have thought she capable of when he first met her.
  1807. More and more he was reminded of her time as the stuck up- noblewomen, the berserker during the raid and the warrior currently attacking him. He couldn't help but make the comparisons while they fought.
  1809. From what he could See, Nadia was having the time of her life, With each passing minute her flames got hotter and her smile got bigger, and the more excited she got the more relentless in her assault. Kenneth wasn't sure if he had ever seen her this happy before.
  1811. The two backed away from the fight to catch their breath; both of them staring the other down while checking their own injuries. Nadia was grinning from ear to ear as her tail lit up the night like a bonfire. the fire looked so interest is looked as if it was ready to consume her, but as far as Kenneth knew, he was her only concern at the moment.
  1813. Then Nadia started laughing, Kenneth almost lowed his guarded in confusion and her laugh became loud and bellowing full of joy. "I finally get it, Kenneth! I finally get what Selene meant" She said. I was overthinking about everything." Kenneth kept quiet, so she continued. "I was so wrapped up in thinking about everything when what I should have just embraced this urge... this flame... and run just like I was supposed to. and just like she said... it all makes sense now. I wasn't losing anything, I was gaining so much more!" She pointed her glaive at Kenneth. "No more second-guessing, no more distractions, no more bandits and no more idiot nobles that think they are better then they are. I know what I want, and what I want is you!"
  1815. Kenneth couldn't replay as Nadia went on the offensive again. Meanwhile, Nadia's family watched in awe just as much as the others. "Look at them go!" Karen cheered with excitement as the fight raged on. "This is nothing like their spars. I never would have thought Nadia could be this intense."
  1817. The mayor hummed in agreement "I say, Duke, usually, I'm the one providing entertainment. your daughter's skill truly is impressive, You say that this Kenneth is also the one that's been teaching her?"
  1819. Duke nodded. "From what he told me, this is the fruit of a months worth of training." He said with pride before he smugly turned to Lord Brooks. "This man can make her sweat while your son and his men bored her to frustration, still think I'm wasting my money, Galen?" He asked.
  1821. Galen kept to himself and grumbled curses. His son, however;
  1823. "She cheated!" The enraged noble shouted. "I demand a rematch, there is no way she could have learnt to fight like that in a month!" he was about to approach the fight with his sword drawn when he was stopped by Ana.
  1825. "You will do no such thing, you petulant child! You had your chance, a chance I never wanted to give you with the way you act towards my eldest, and you lost. now sit down boy!" She shouted.
  1827. "Eliot! enough!" Galen shouted. Father and son stared each other down before Eliot grumbled and took a seat.
  1829. Ana sighed as she turned back to the fight and watch the seemingly endless back and forth between her daughter and the Mercenary turned bodyguard. She was no expert in swordplay but she kept track of every moment as best she could. "They look so happy..."
  1831. Back at the fight. The two of them sported grins no matter what attack landed and sent the other staggering back. He had to admit that he wasn't expecting to be pushed this far by Nadia and had underestimated her. He had thought that with him being the one teaching her and the short time they spent together he would always have some for advantage. Now, the skill she was showing was close to his own. and he was enjoying every second of it.
  1833. He didn't want the fight to end, he was having too much fun clashing blades with Nadia. It didn't matter if they were in the gardens of the mayor's house, or that there were plenty of people watching the two. he wanted to keep going, truly see how far his beautiful student could go. Kenneth held in a chuckle with that thought, since when was he this battle crazed?
  1835. Looking over Nadia, If the inferno that was Nadia's tail and the look on her face anything to go by, Nadia felt the same as he did, this fight had taken all they had, what was meant to be a spar had turned into an all-out brawl and everything had been dished out in an attempt at victory. Unfortunately, both of them were riddled with scrapes and bruises and bother of them were getting sloppy. They could both feel the match coming to an end.
  1837. With a yell, the two of them charged at each other one last time. Nadia went for a heavy swing that Kenneth was ready as he parried the strike, Knocking Nadia's glaive out of her hand. The Salamander decided to follow the momentum and spin, slapping Kenneth's sword out of his hands with her tail. with the both of theme disarmed, bother them grinned while going for a punch.
  1839. With an echoing thud, both fists landed. Everyone watched as both man and salamander sank to their knees, breathing heavily. The match was done. "Well then... I guess the fight is a draw!" The mayor called out.
  1841. There was complete silence before the crowd clapped and cheered after being show such a display of skill. Kenneth, realising the fight was over, allowed himself to fall flat on his back and look up at the sky while he started to relax and collect himself. or he would of if Nadia hadn't appeared in his vision.
  1843. With how close her face was to him, she must have crawled over from where she was kneeling. the only sound between the two was heavy panting as Nadia pulled her self forward so she was straddling his waist. "Na-mmmp!?" was all he got out before Nadia kissed.
  1845. Kenneth's mind froze as the salamander leaned up, still straddling him. "Kenneth..." She said softly. "Kenneth my... Kenneth... I love you... I love you!" She got louder with every declaration. as her claws started to grope at Kenneth's chest. Kenneth thought it would be harder to come to a decision, but he was glad he was wrong. He leaned himself up and gave his answer with a deep kiss.
  1847. "Ahem!"
  1849. The two blinked, separated and looked around them, realizing they had completely forgotten about the fact they were currently in the mayors garden... meaning they had just given a show to a crowd of blushing onlookers And an increasingly livid Ana Bellsworth.
  1851. "Nadia Bellsworth! What in all that is holy are you doing!" Ana roared at the indecent display.
  1853. Kenneth thought it wise to keep his mouth shut as the two of them rose to their feet. Nadia, on the other hand, looked her mother dead in the eye and said happily. "I'm doing what I should have done too many times over, taking what's mine!"
  1855. With no more words. Nadia aggressively dragged Kenneth out of the mayors garden and all the way back to the Bellsworth mansion, the trip being faster with her eagerness. With a shouting order to not disturb them for any reason, it was only when the two were in Nadia's room that she stopped pulling him and hungrily resumed kissing him as the two tumbled towards the bed.
  1857. Neither of them had any experience of the bedroom, but in the heat of the moment, neither of them cared, so the long night was filled with discovery and passion. it was like yet another fight, the two competing to display who and more love for the other. One would think they would have run out of energy, given that they had just come from a wild fight and a trek across town, but it didn't stop them, the intensity of their love-making only matched by the fire of the salamanders tail.
  1859. ~X~ [morning]
  1861. Breakfast saw the family and Kenneth seated at the table. The new couple had been pretty hands-on even after waking up, we're still blissed out from the events of last night as they ate.
  1863. "Well then... I would have given you permission to pursue my daughter down the line... but I guess it's too late for that." Duke said with a laugh. Nadia blushed and looked away while Kenneth's laugh became more nervous with Ana's cold stare.
  1865. "To do such a thing in front of everyone! I can't believe you two! such things are not for the public to see!" Ana tried to scold them, but that just made duke laugh louder."
  1867. "Oh come on dear. they're young! You know how wild youths can get! Why I remember those days at the southern islands when we were like that." Ana spluttered on her drink as he went on. "Ah I remember it like it was yesterday, the southern beaches with a bottle of wine, and that time you had that-" Duke was cut off by Ana throwing a fork at his head.
  1869. "You best stop if you know what's good for you!" Ana shouted before he noticed her children and Kenneth staring at her in shock. Cheeks reddened, she sat down tried to regain her composure while her husband was shaking with laughter.
  1871. "Everone couldn't stop talking about the amazing fight you two had, you guys left quite the impression. also, the brooks have more or less been shamed with their actions." Karen said. "The mayor also wants to talk to you about your end of the bet, and he mentioned asking both of you to train the city guard."
  1873. "Both of us?" Nadia questioned.
  1875. "It makes sense, the bet originally was about my teaching ability, and that display yesterday more than proved what we were capable of. It kinda helps that you took out the Brooks entourage without breaking a sweat."
  1877. "I don't know, I don't think I've ever been offered a real job before," Nadia said in amazement. "What do you think, father?"
  1879. Duke scratched his beard in thought. "I'd say there's a lot you can do with your skills... just wait till after the wedding to sort it all out.
  1881. "I see... wait, what wedding?" Nadia asked in shock.
  1883. "Of course your getting married! There's so much we have to plan, the dress, the food, the guest lists and decorations, and we have to find a priest neutral to monsters..." Ana devolved into ranting to her self.
  1885. "Now the tie to run along before its too late. I see you later." Duke sent of his eldest and future son in law out the dining room before he roped into his wife's mad chatter.
  1887. ~X~
  1889. Kenneth and Nadia decided to spend the midday relaxing out on the garden bench.
  1891. "I see you two are finally together, took you long enough."The lovers turned to see Selene leaning on a nearby tree, giggling at their shock
  1893. Nadia sighed. "Selene... what are you doing here."
  1895. "Just wanted to see how you were doing, I'm not staying long. plus while I do like staying at home, sometimes it's nice to stretch the wings and take a bit of a tour," she said whiles she stretched out her wings. "Wonderful fight last night, by the way."
  1897. "You were watching?" Kenneth asked, shocked.
  1899. "Indeed I was, a succubus has her tricks after all." Selene's hair glimmered brown along with her eyes flashing blue. "it's a rare sight to see man and monster fight to suck extent, to push themselves to the limits, and then that declaration of love afterwards...." Selene smile then turned sly, "I didn't need to see what was going to happen next, I can easily sense the difference in energy."
  1901. "I see," Nadia said blushing. "Selene... I... want to thank you."
  1903. "Oh?" Selene questioned.
  1905. "It's thanks to becoming a salamander that Kenneth and I became closer, it's also part of how my family got closer again, one way or another it all leads back to that day in the forest. so I thank you, for giving me this."
  1907. Selene smiled. "Your welcome, anything for a woman in need, I'm glad things turned out better than expected mother knows my sisters and I aren't always on the same page. I will admit, our encounter could have gone better on my end too." She said. "Still, as much as I want to keep talking, I have things to sort out back home with the arena and all."
  1909. "You own an arena?" Kenneth asked.
  1911. "You haven't heard of my mansion yet?" Selene asked. both of them shook their heads. "Well, I don't think you should worry about that right now," she said as she opened her usual portal. "I'll keep in touch you two, don't worry about sending an invite to the wedding! I'll know!" She said laughing as she stepped through the portal, closing it and leaving the two alone again.
  1913. "I'm not sure I'll ever understand that lilim," Kenneth muttered. "Though I guess it could be worse." he shrugged.
  1915. Nadia had other thoughts "Wedding..." Nadia whispered. "I never expected I'd be having one."
  1917. "I could say the same thing, I didn't think I would ever fall in love," Kenneth said. and then...
  1919. "And then what?" Nadia asked.
  1921. "I saw Eliot. the way he acted, the way he wanted you, it pissed me off, It was then that I realized that you were everything I wanted in a woman... or at least, we have spent so much time together that I couldn't see myself away from that, not even to work as mercenary again. so right then, is when I realized I loved you."
  1923. Kenneth couldn't get any more out as Nadia threw her arms around Kenneth and kissed him passionately, the before the knew it, they were roaming each other's bodies with their hands. and soon enough the two were racing back to Nadia's room
  1925. they were not seen for the rest of the day.
  1927. [EPILOUGE]
  1929. "Boss, maybe we shouldn't do this" A bandit said as he and several others hid out in the trees by the main road.
  1931. "Year, something doesn't feel right about this one." another bandit said. before their leader growled.
  1933. "What do you mean? it's merchant season, and Acton is said to be the home of various landowners, this is our big break!" The boss, a pudgy man with a black mohawk and scars down his face, said as he kept a lookout.
  1935. "You've been saying that for years, and we've failed every time." the first bandit complained. "Also, I've heard rumours about this place."
  1937. "Rumors? what kind of rumours?" The second bandit asked.
  1939. "This town has a pair of top-class mercenaries protecting it, the to everything from small transport jobs to Beast slaying, also one of them is a monster people have taken to calling the bu-"
  1941. "I don't care if its the demon lord herself, I'm going to get a haul one way or another!" the boss snarled before he noticed the road. "Now shush! someones coming, stick to the plan!"
  1943. Two cloaked figures were walking down the road approaching Acton, they could tell the cloaks were high quality so they must have had some decent gold on them. "See boys? were going to be dining fine this month! on my signal... Now!"
  1945. On his order, the group of criminals all rushed out to surround the two while the travellers simply stopped and looked around at them.
  1947. "Let's keep this nice and simple, drop your gold and any fancy jewels you got, and there won't be any trouble." The boss said with a grin while showing off his sword.
  1949. One of the cloaked figured shifted like they examining the boss, only to break out in laughter. "I can't believe it, I didn't think it would be him, but it is" The voice belonged to an excited female.
  1951. "Indeed, its been years hasn't it? but I'd recognize that face anywhere." The other one, the voice of a male was just as whimsical.
  1953. "Dammit, boss! They're Bounty hunters!" a bandit groaned in anger.
  1955. "No..." The boss said, trying to fight down a chill. "It's more than that... How do you know me... who are you!" The boss shouted as he pointed his sword.
  1957. the woman of the two looked to me shaking with excitement. "I never expected to have this moment, I finally get to take you down for the crap you pulled all those years ago, Riley." The bosses eyes widened at the name drop. "as for who I am, maybe this would remind you?" she said pulling at her cloak or and tossing to her companion.
  1959. The small chill turned to terror as Riley locked eyes with a familiar face, the same one that belonged to a woman he tried to have his way with, the one who gave him his scar. "Y-Y-You!"
  1961. "The rumours where true, `Burning edge bellsworth!`" The bandits started to back off in fear. as the now revealed Nadia Ellsworth's tail ignited in flames. and her grin became predatory.
  1963. "How do you want to want to do this darling?" She asked her partner.
  1965. "Rileys all yours, I'll take the rest." Her lover said.
  1967. Nadia's laugh started "Oh, I'm going to enjoy this more than I should." Nadia said as she pulled her glaive from her back and charged at the bandits.
  1969. ~X~ (hours later, Acton guild)
  1971. Nadia huffed as a batted and broken Riley was taken away by the town guard.
  1973. "What's the problem?" Kenneth asked.
  1975. "I sure I remember him being more of a threat than that, you'd think after five years he would have been stronger, it felt anti-climatic." She sighed. "I had wondered so long what would happen if I saw him again, this just wasn't it."
  1977. "Did you really think he would be a threat will all the training and work we've done?" Kenneth questioned. "Still, I admit it did feel a bit stagnant. After visiting Selene's mansion we don't really get a good challenge anymore."
  1979. Nadia brushed up against her husband and started drawing circles on his chest with a finger. "Then I guess my dear husband will just have to work remind me how a real man fights," She said giggling to her self as they left the guild with the bounty money.
  1981. Reaching the gates and being let in by the guards, they headed up to the lounge. where they were told their parents were. "We're back," Nadia said happily as were back.
  1983. A small red blur shot forward and gripped on to Nadia's leg "Mum!" the small girl looked like a child version of Nadia, only with her scales a lighter tone of red and her hair short done into a low ponytail.
  1985. Nadia laughed and knelt down to hug her daughter. "Have you been a good girl, Jessica?"
  1987. The young Salamander nodded "Yep! grandma was telling me about you and dad's adventures, like that time with the realm beast boar, and the merchant festival dance, and the-"
  1989. "Hey, slow down there, we can't take it all in if you rush," Kenneth said.
  1991. "Sorry, dad, but there's hearing the stories are so cool, I can't wait to get my wooden sword! Jessica bounces up and down excitedly. "Say... mum?"
  1993. "hmm?"
  1995. "What's with people calling you `Burning edge Bellsworth`?" Jessica asked.
  1997. "Well, you see... you know when you get excited about sweets and your tail lights up with fire?" Nadia asked and her daughter nodded. "Well when your father and I work, I get excited during work, so it sort of became a nickname connected to the way I fight." She explained.
  1999. "Ah... I've seen your tail do that when you look at dad sometimes too, even when you're not practicing... so what's with that?"
  2001. Kenneth just patted his daughters head. "You'll understand in a few years, Jess." He said.
  2003. "Aww...." Jessica sighed, raking her claws through her hair. the adult in the room shared a chuckle at the poor girl's expense.
  2005. "Come on, why don't we go get those sweets you like and you can tell us all you've been doing while we were working?" Nadia suggested. before she could say anything else, the young salamander was out the door and probably in a mad dash towards her room. standing up with a sigh, Nadia said "I'll go make sure she doesn't cause trouble." and exited herself after kissing Kenneth's cheek.
  2007. Keneth simple sad down in a lounge chair, and sighed. it was hard to think that he was just a roaming sellsword a few years ago, and now he had found love with a woman he almost ended up despising for the rest of his days. He had a wife, a family and was one of the most renowned mercenaries around, equal only to his beloved salamander wife.
  2009. And to think it all started with a nighttime argument in a forest.
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