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2-3 Iris

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Author: EnroItzal Original Source: Scribble Hub

A tent of the finest material gold could ever buy was pitched in the approximate center of the town’s plaza, amidst the heart of the impromptu market. It may have been only a tent but just from a single glance of the twenty feet tall tent, even a fool could tell it held more monetary and artistic value than the whole town itself. The tent’s appearance wasn’t merely a spectacle to be adored. The fabric used was fire resistant and could withstand cuts from almost all kinds of blades. It would take at least an intermediate level of attack spell to even inflict a scratch on the fabric. This grandiose tent was the temporary residence of the Umbrum, Iris, a merchant whose name and reputation sent shivers down the spines of even the royalties.

The interior of the tent was as opulent as its exterior. The space was no larger than a room in Emerald Inn but the furnishings within humbled the ones in the rooms of Emerald Inn.

Erin found herself exuding sighs of admiration and amazement. She had thought the Guild Master’s office was the definition of luxury but this tent shifted her opinion by a huge margin.

“Welcome to my humble abode,” Iris greeted as she sat slovenly on a floor cushion. There were two extra floor cushions prepared just in front of her which she gestured for Nivia and Erin to take a seat.

Erin glanced sideways at Nivia. The Elf nodded in response.

Nivia accepted Iris’ offer with a small mutter of her gratitude before taking a seat on the right. Erin followed suit a little after, sitting on the left. With the two seated, Iris clapped her hands and an elderly woman, in what seemed to be a maid attire, came into the tent shortly after. The elderly woman poured all of them some red tea accompanied with square-shaped biscuits on the side that were too sweet for Erin’s taste. After serving all four of them, the elderly promptly took her leave after giving Iris a quick bow.

Erin looked over to Aedan who had made himself home in Iris’ abode before even the host herself had adjusted herself to her seat. Aedan was sitting with both of his knees on a floor cushion. At first glance, Aedan’s sitting posture seemed like a man in penance, but upon a closer glance of his impassive expression, Erin was convinced Aedan was just being odd as usual. He was nibbling the biscuits away without a care to the heavy mood drowning the room. Much like always, Erin just couldn’t figure out what was going through his head.

“What will happen to Kane?” Nivia asked, breaking the silence between them.

Only then, Erin shifted her mind back to the matter of Kane, who was dragged off by Iris’ personal guards after his attempts at assaulting her. Although Erin herself wasn’t too fond of the ruffian, the outcome was simply too pitiful even for the likes of Kane. He had wronged a person who in likely hood wielded as much power as a king of a nation. His misdeeds would now spread far and wide. His name would forever be in the mud. A quick death would be considered as a blessing for him at this point.

Iris chuckled at the Elf’s question, taking a sip of her red tea. After letting out a sigh of delight, she answered, “he will be let off with a stern warning that a second chance will not be given.”

“Second chance, my foot,” Erin remarked silently.

“How unexpectedly generous of you,” Nivia uttered with a firm glare on the grinning Umbrum. “After all the tales I have heard of you, a second chance is the least I expected from you.”

“I did let your friend over there off from appraising me without my consent, didn’t I?” Iris retorted with her grin still painted on her face.

Erin refrained herself from grimacing.

“Yes, I heard.” Nivia nodded. Her gaze then turned to Aedan who was sipping away his tea without minding the conversation happening in front of him. Nivia could tell he had no intentions to be here but since he was here, Nivia wasn’t about to ignore an edge she could use in this exchange. “I’m guessing he’s the reason for your pardoning of Erin’s misguided conduct?”

“Misguided conduct?” Iris tittered without bothering to cover her mouth. “What she did is certainly rude but considering she isn’t aware of the ethics behind it, I won’t be so harsh on her. However, you are right in one matter. Aedan did have a hand in the cause of my lenience. In fact, it was more than just a hand.” A licentious smile touched her lips.

Aedan murmured wordlessly with the same passive expression but obviously annoyed from the aura he exuded.

Seeing the Umbrum’s suggestive gestures, the image of Aedan and Iris entangled in a heated embrace surfaced in Erin’s mind. The picture in her head hit her harder than any punch she had ever received. She was extremely appalled and restrained herself from flinching. She quickly banished that line of thought. She had always hated people who were casual about relationships but with everything that happened recently, she began to find herself unqualified to label others as such. Normally, she would, without hesitation, stop associating herself with these manner of individuals. Still, she gazed at the disguised Dragon-kin with a soured expression, unable to pry her furrowed gaze from him.

“So the rumors are true then,” said Nivia.

“Rumors, huh,” Iris mused. “Nothing new to me. I am familiar with thousands of those. You have to be more specific than that in order for me to affirm or deny these rumors you speak of.”

“You take just about any men to bed as long as they have uses.”

Iris laughed. It wasn’t a chuckle. It was a laugh without any attempts to restrain it.

Erin eyed Aedan for his response but as usual, he was indifferent but she never took him for a man of few words. He was lacking his snarky remarks. Not that Erin could say it out loud considering she was also being uncharacteristically silent.

“Maybe he’s trying to avoid getting roped into a problem that isn’t his,” Erin guessed the reason in her heart. She remembered Aedan did try to excuse himself away at first but locking his arm with her own, Iris dragged him into the tent as she invited Erin herself and Nivia to her tent under the proposition to discuss business. Even now, Erin had no idea why Iris insisted on Aedan joining them.

“Forgive me, milady but did you find my words humorous?” Nivia asked.

“Not exactly your words but more of your gullibility. I expected better from a Fae.”

“You’re saying the rumors are false?”

“Rumors are often just exaggerated truths or fabrications by the envious ones. I do take men to bed and sometimes they take me to theirs but then again, I’m threefold of your age, Lady Nivia, and I’m no Fae. It’s not strange for me to have a few past lovers. As libertine as it sounds, I do have standards and preferences in choosing my partner. Does that clear up your misconception of me?”

“Not all of it,” Nivia muttered dryly as she finally took a sip from her tea. “I find it hard to believe that you would take a Dwarrow of all people to bed.”

“Ah yes, I understand now.” Iris displayed a grin briefly at Erin. “It’s one of those widely known rumors, ain’t it? Faerie-kin and the Dwarrows don’t see eye to eye, or something like that. I’m guessing that’s more than just rumors.”

Nivia offered no words but a mere glare that stabbed deep into Iris’ facade and intentions.

Erin said nothing in response. During her lessons with Nivia, she was reminded again and again how the Fae and Dwarrows had a cold relationship with one another since the time of their ancestors. Despite the rough friction between the two, it never escalated to the extent of physical conflict. The quarrels never went beyond bouts of wits.

“While I can understand your sentiment about Dwarrows, albeit not fully,” Iris sneaked a glance at Aedan before continuing, “Aedan and I have known each other for a long time. And it appears that we are compatible with our body, mind, and spirit.”

Nivia’s expression froze on the spot whereas Erin widened her gaze at Aedan. The Dragon-kin himself rolled his eyes and then glared at the Umbrum with indignance.

Iris chuckled at Aedan’s piercing gaze. “If only you also showed this kind of eyes in bed.”

Aedan sighed in exasperation with his head down, shaking in defeat.

“Oh my,” Iris muttered, putting her finger to her mouth but intentionally failed to hide her grin. “You didn’t tell them?”

Nivia stared fixedly at Aedan. “Does your father know?”

“He doesn’t,” Aedan answered plainly. “But I think he does now. As you can see, Iris here doesn’t exactly have any intention of hiding it.”

“So you have a relationship with an Umbrum and it’s that kind of relationship.” Nivia scoffed. “How vulgar. Didn’t know you were this low.”

“Keep your Elven ethics to yourself. Even if I slept with every woman in this town, it’s still not your problem or issue to take offense to.” Aedan turned his glare to Iris. “You brought them here for business purposes. I assume you are going to start talking about that at some point?”

“Hmm… I guess I had my fun.” Iris giggled. “Now, for the boring part.”

Erin hated Iris even more now. She never had a good feeling about her ever since they first met and this just further justified her unfounded dislike towards the Umbrum. But another kind of dark feeling was blooming in her heart, one that she had yet to be aware of and would never acknowledge it even if she did.

“You Umbrums are as unsavory as they all say,” Nivia remarked.

“I guess we are but we’re not going to put our personal feelings into business, are we?”

“I’ll be the judge of that. For now, speak your mind.”

“Very well.” Iris cleared her throat. “I would like to hire the two of you as my guards.”

“No,” came the quick answer from Nivia.

“I figured you’d say that but what if I say the rewards will be something that benefit your kind greatly?”

Nivia narrowed her eyes. “What kind of reward could you possibly give that would benefit the Faerie-kin?”

“As humans always say, knowledge is power. That is my reward.”

“Information?” Nivia questioned. “Information of what?”

“I have heard that recently, a band of Elves from your home forest had disappeared during their hunt. Your people suspect this to be the doing of slave traders.”

Erin felt a shiver down her spine but it was no fear that made her skin crawl. It was anger. Slave was a sanctioned practice back in her former world but in this world, she learned from Lyra and Nivia that slavery was prohibited in almost every nation safe for the southern nations. Even so, Erin was never an advocate for slavery. In fact, she was on the complete opposite of advocacy.

“And I will tell you this as a gift, your people’s guess is indeed correct, and I know who took them and where did they take them to.”

“These are Elven lives you’re playing with.” Nivia narrowed her gaze. “You think I’ll just stand by and let you use them as bartering chips?”

“Don’t patronize me,” Iris retorted ruefully. “I’m a businesswoman and this has always been a cold and harsh world. I did not get here by being nice and fair, and I certainly won’t’ get any further if I start being nice and fair now.”

Erin could feel Nivia’s rage brimming but the Elf herself still wore a flat expression.

“I’m sure you’re no stranger to information trading, Lady Nivia.” Iris took a bite of a biscuit before continuing. “You can drop your pretense and cease your pointless efforts in intimidating me. Let’s hear your answer, shall we?”

“You’re willing to give us such valuable information in exchange for a simple escort service?”

“Simple?” Iris chuckled, her gaze turning to Erin. “Tell me, my foxy friend, would you call your experience of your last quest simple?”

“H-how did you—” Erin stuttered.

Aedan rolled his eyes but still stayed silent.

“Oh my, I’m being underestimated. How remiss of a Fae.” An expected titter followed.

Nivia bore a response similar to Erin’s. Nivia had already been told about Erin’s excursion to the village. Erin recalled how Nivia was close to drawing her swords at the Guild Master at that time for putting Erin into such a danger and not informing her about it, but Erin herself was able to calm the Elf down before anything was blown out of proportions.

“The Guild kept it a secret. The only ones who knew of this were—” The Elf’s gaze drew to Aedan.

“Don’t look at him like that. He hadn’t told me a single thing about it. Your suspicions are misplaced and so are your expectations.”

Nivia’s gaze turned cold. “Care to elaborate your words?”

“I will applaud the Guild for their efforts in trying to keep this all a secret but it’s foolish of them if they think they could hide such important information completely from everyone. What would ever happen if this information leaked to the town, I wonder.”

“Is this a veiled threat?” Erin spoke up with a flaring tone. She could no longer keep her silent. Her hands weren’t near her swords but everyone in the room could tell she was ready to draw at any moment.

Nivia subtly tugged on Erin’s sleeve, whispering for her to stand down. Even Aedan began to eye Erin cautiously.

“Heavens no,” Iris denied. “I have no such intentions. I’m merely being truthful with the two of you here but that’s besides the point. These are dangerous times and it’s my miscalculation that I didn’t prepare for this. Now, I seek to amend that mistake.”

“Why us?” Erin questioned further.

“Who else besides you two? Nivia is the highest level adventurer in town and you my foxy friend, I can tell the swords by your hips are no ornaments. And your eyes; no novices have those kinds of eyes filled with so much anger and yet, so still. A composed rage, you’re an absolute delight the more I get to know you. But enough about you, what say the two of you? Do you accept my offer?”

“Hmm…” Erin mused. She turned to Nivia, who was equally musing on the offer, gauging for her answer.

“We’ll have to think about it,” Nivia answered.

“You best be quick then. The caravan’s leaving in two days.” Iris’ grin widened. “If you think the reward is insufficient, I might throw in something extra. Gold, metals, Monster Cores, or even women, if that’s what you prefer.” Her last words were directed at Erin.

Nivia twisted her brows as she glared. “We have no personal need for those extra items which will invite nothing but curious eyes and wicked hands.”

“Ah, there it is. The infamous selflessness of a Fae. Your kind’s self-righteousness is always thrilling to behold.”

Nivia stood up abruptly and stared down at Iris. “If that’s all you have to say, then I shall take my leave. As for your offer, we will consider it. Good day, Lady Iris. Come on, Erin. Let’s not waste a second more in this awful abode.” She said and left the tent without a glance back at the hostess.

Erin quickly gave her departure greeting and followed after Nivia in a hurry.

It was a few minutes after Nivia and Erin’s departure. Iris was still sitting slovenly on the floor cushion but her expression had changed. Gone was her smug with a contemplating face that oozes off professionalism replacing its place.

“Sorry for dragging you into this,” Iris said, lowering head towards Aedan.

“Hmm,” the Dragon-kin responded with a faint murmur.

“The Elf… she’s cunning. She’s not as impulsive and high-strung as she supposedly unintentionally let on.”

“She’s an Elf. Believing an Elf to be naive is in itself, ironically, naive.” Aedan was still nibbling away on the biscuits without sparing Iris a glance.

“And the fox; she’s reckless but… she learns quite fast and most of all, astutely observant. How unexpected of her, for one who used her Appraisal skill without much thought. And also, she hates you. The others merely found you disagreeable but she really hates your guts.”

“Thanks to you,” Aedan retorted dryly. “We were actually warming up to each other.”

“Oh my… were the two of you—”

“No, we’re not,” Aedan refuted firmly. “Before you ask, I have neither f̲u̲c̲k̲e̲d̲ her. She doesn’t even like men.”

Iris chuckled. “Since when has that ever stopped you from bringing a woman to bed?”

“Since decades ago. And that was just one time and the girl was curious about the touch of a man.”

“Well, if that’s your claim, who am I to refute?” Her chuckles continued. “Anyways, I’m really surprised that you haven’t bedded both of them or even one of them. What’s more surprising is that you have left your old ways. You have really changed.”

“Yeah, time does that to people.”

“So…” Iris stammered on her next sentence, contemplating on her choice of words. “Do they know?”

“The Fox-kin does,” Aedan answered. “…And I think the Elf has some suspicions.”

“The fox does? You told her?”

“I didn’t,” Aedan shook his head. “She found it on her own with her Appraisal skill.”

“She did? How’s that possible?” Iris focused her gaze on Aedan. “Not even I can see your stats.”

“I don’t think she can see everything. Just bits of it.”

“Still, even bits of it is quite impressive. Intriguing, wouldn’t you say?”

“Intriguing it may be, I’m still not interested enough to bother myself with it,” Aedan said and was about to stand up but Iris had approached him and kept his rear rooted on his seat. Apparently, she had crawled towards him on all fours, eyeing him seductively.

“Say… can’t you stay for a bit longer?” Iris pleaded with a deep alluring gaze. “It has been a long time since we last met.”

“We went at it hard every night since I came back. You’re still not satisfied?”

“I am satisfied,” she said as she snuggled close to him. “But thinking that I could only feel this warmth for two more days, I want to enjoy it now as much as possible. Unless of course, you changed your mind and wish to come with me?”

“You know that’s not going to happen.”

“Why not?” Iris blinked. “Aside from the occasional aberrant happenings, isn’t it too mundane in Green Scar for most times?”

“I like the peace and quiet. I had enough conflict. I don’t mind it if it’s once in a long while but on a constant basis, no thanks.”

Iris sighed. “Well, nothing more I can say now, can I? Then allow me to savor what little time I have with you left.” She pulled him close to her face with her fingers locked behind his neck.

“It’s almost noon. I have work to attend to.”

“Ah right, you’re a smith now, aren’t you?”

“I just watch the shop.”

“But you do know your ways around the forge, don’t you?”

“Doesn’t matter.” He pushed her away. “I have to go now.”

“Ugh… fine.” Iris let her hands off, reluctantly. “But be prepared for tonight.”

Aedan merely murmured a vague response as he put on his clothes before taking his leave, leaving Iris to her own device.

“To think someone else could grip his attention this much… Erin you’re really interesting…” Iris muttered to herself as she licked her lips. “Extremely so.”

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