"Why are you so interested in him, Boss?" Leguna asked.
He knew a little about Alfreid. He was the empire's premier and Ribahns, the magus that took second place in the tournament, was one of his personal employees. That was as far as Leguna's knowledge of him stretched, however. From what little he knew of the man, he could see no reason why his boss ought to be so interested in him.
Kurdak chuckled in a deep voice, "I won't forget him even if I forget everyone else."
"Are you alright?" Leguna asked as he saw a trace of hatred flash across his boss' eyes.
Kurdak stared at Alfreid silently for two more seconds before he spoke again.
"I'll explain later. Just pretend nothing happened."
"Okay." Leguna nodded.
So we finally find each other again, huh? Kurdak thought.
"Citizens of Melindor!" Geoffrey announced in a booming voice, "Today, we proudly welcome the empire's hero! Few things make me prouder than to be able to say I am his older brother. He is already a legend at the tender age of nineteen, what more will he achieve by the time he's thirty? Let all rejoice in the return of the imperial family's greatest pride!"
The city shook as a raucous cheer stormed through its streets in waves. The women's eyes burned like a fire as they jumped on tip-toes, trying to get even just a glance at their definitely-certainly-god-wills-it future husband. The men's eyes burned no les brightly, though for less marital reasons, to them, he was a legend, the pinnacle of manhood to which all others compared themselves.
Geoffrey waited patiently until the cheers died down on their own before he continued.
"We also welcome the by now famous team that appeared after the tournament! Kurdak, Vera, and the mysterious assassin that eliminated Bloodhand and enemy's spymaster Haden... Dark Requiem, Leguna!"
Another cheers, somewhat less raucous this time tone though, reverberated up and down the city streets. The people deeply respected anyone and everyone that fought for their sake against the empire's enemies. It didn't hurt that, apart from the middle-aged man, the group for whom they were cheering had a decently facaded, if somewhat flimsy-framed, youth and a fiery young woman.
"Hey! This isn't fair! Why did Geoffrey spend so much more energy introducing you? What scheme did you hatch with that man? Huh?" Leguna barely recognized the words over the cheers as Vera tugged on his ears.
"Aaaahh... How would I know? Annie, Innie, don't laugh! Help me!" Leguna cried in vain as his shouts vanished into the crowd's continuing cheer.
"Sis Vera! Tug my share too!" Innilis shouted into her ear.
"If you like I can frees his ears so they'll pop right off," Annelotte suggested coldly.
The girls tortured Leguna for everyone to see, but had at least enough restraint to stop as the crowd's cheers died down somewhat awkwardly. The two imperial brothers had a bout of pointless conversation for the crowd's benefit as well. It was mostly Geoffrey flattening himself under his gratitude for Alissanda's work and joy at his return.
The bout lasted half an hour. Leguna was just dozing off on his feet when they finally got done with it and started off for the palace.
They found a banquet waiting for them. Primarily to give Alissanda up to speed with what was going on in the noble circles through socializing with the many people who attended. It wasn't a very large banquet, with only several dozen people in attendance.
Most of the empire's various ministers and masters were in attendance. All garbed in jewelried clothing fitting of their lofty egos and flitting gracefully between conversation clusters. Their aura's of expanse unnerved Kurdak more than anything else, but the group put in an admirable, if largely unsuccessful, effort to mimic them.
Innilis and Annelotte were in attendance as well, and Eibron attended as Alissanda's guest. His efforts at cementing a relationship with the prince seemed to have been going rather well.
Leguna was most surprised by Innilis's demeanor during the party. He could see nothing of her humble village origins. Marolyt, almost as surprisingly, fitted in perfectly with his noble attaches. Even his hair was neatly combed. Leguna finally had a perfect example of 'a wolf in sheep's clothing'.
"Hey, Innie..." he said, dragging the little girl to a corner of the hall.
"What is it, Mister Leguna?" Innilis asked reservedly, as if he were any other stranger with which she was only barely acquainted.
"This isn't funny..." Leguna said lowly, beads of sweat formed on his forehead, "Where did you learn all this? And... where did you get this revealing nightgown? Aren't you cold? Weren't you wearing thick cotton clothes just half an hour ago?"
"I always keep two sets of dresses in my dimensional pocket. We can finally put them to good use," Annelotte's voice froze into his ears from behind.
She'd only been out of his sight for fifteen minutes, but she looked like a completely different person. Her long hair was tied into an elegant ponytail with a red ribbon, a handful of hair left to frame her face. She wore a snow white summer dress that hung by one of her shoulders, leaving the other bare. It hung down to her knees and left her alluring legs bare.
Her small feet were nuzzled in a pear of silver leather heels.
Leguna gulped loudly like a starving man seeing food, forgetting all notions of propriety and decency. He'd been in her company for two years, but he'd never had occasion to see her dressed properly. His brain stopped working completely the moment his eyes met her figure, and they never settled, constantly darting around her body hungrily.
Innilis frowned when she saw the boy's reaction and humphed twice, but Leguna didn't react. She stared at him, almost as dumbstruck as he at his behavior, then stretched out a small hand and slammed her nails into his arm with jealous viciousness.
"Ow! Why'd you do that?" Leguna shouted, jumping around and looking at her with all the accusation of an innocent man condemned.
"Hmph! You would have fainted if I didn't!" the little girl pouted.
"Of course I would. This is the first time I've ever seen Annie dressed up," Leguna admitted shamelessly, though his cheeks and ears burned.
"Tch! Its my first time too. Sis, why are you suddenly dressing up? You never dressed up for these banquets before. Is it because Big Brother is here now?" Innilis asked, shooting her a schadenfreude smile.
"You're imagining things," Annelotte shot back as if talking about the weather, "I've had these dressed for a while but none of the other occasions seemed worthy of wearing them. We're welcoming back the second prince after such a long time, so I thought this would be a good time to wear them."
"Right... Of course that's it, it has nothing to do with the fact that--" Innilis's words were cut off mud sentence win a stab of cold pain shot into her head and she quickly changed the direction of her little speech. "--haha… Of course you'll wear it for such a grand occasion."
"Of course." Annelotte nodded.
"Huh? Why does it sound like you attend parties all the time?" the little boy watching the two asked.
"We do. One or more a week," Innilis said, tapping a finger on her lips coyly.
"Wow, Annie is popular..." Leguna smiled bitterly.
It wasn't surprising, he supposed, she was one of the city's foremost beauties, after all.
"Wrong!" Innilis said, smiling mischievously, "We don't attend the parties people through for Sis Annie specifically."
"Oh? Which ones do you attend?"
"Take a guess."
"Stop messing around--" Leguna said as he pinched the little girl's nose. "--Don't tell me they're inviting you apart from Annie."
"Yup. We only attended the ones held for Innilis." Annelotte said, her voice a little warmer as she smiled at the little girl.
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