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A new regime had been established for the Baroness of the Keep, after the dreaded disasters over a month ago, she had been advised that she should begin training so if something else were to happen, she'd be more likely to defend herself against invaders. This ruffled her, she was in no way powerless, but without the constant effort of staying alive and fighting like she had in Sigil she had no doubt declined in her capabilities. The day was wonderful, the winter air was receding so while the sun was high in the blue sky, there was a warmth in the air. Instead of the crisp chill where everyone needed to bundle themselves in layers of fabric, Red was wearing a regular t-shirt without any further layers.

The blonde held a wooden practice sword in her hand, a loose grip while she picked her steps carefully around one of the lieutenants standing not five feet away. Of course the man was nervous, he had professed as much when he had been chosen to be the one to swing swords with the woman. "I don't wanna hurt ye, ma'am." He'd stated simply, which was replied with a heavy sigh and a quick lower jab towards his stomach using the wooden sword. That was a few minutes ago, Red had been prowling around him, studying his stance, watching while he finally relaxed and pulled on a mask of indifference towards the situation. 

The soldier wasn't the only one around, of course one of the healers was sitting close by on a bench, spectating and watching carefully in case either of the two needed medical attention. The Baroness had assured them she would be fine, that she also wouldn't hurt the soldier enough to require attention. These decisions were out of even her hands though, if not by the sake of her safety. One of her advisors had decided to take it upon themselves to seek out someone that could aid in the effort towards her safety, reaching out beyond the Keeps territory in order to try to secure someone able enough to enroll as a personal guard. That was weeks ago, and whomever they had reached out towards hadn't sent any word back, so while the hunt continued for someone suitable, Red was prompted to train.

The man faltered after the woman had taken a quick step towards him suddenly, pulling the sword up in a high guard to block what he would come to realize was a feint, the blunt edge of her sword swinging in fiercely to smack hard against his unguarded side. She heard a grunt, knowing very well how hard she had swung the sword would leave a nice sized bruise where struck. This excited her, without any indication or warning her foot pivoted, twirling her around to his opposite side where the sword came around to strike the opposite side, only this time more along the back so it caused him to stumble a step.

With another quick step in, the woman was inside of his guard where he wouldn't be able to properly use the weapon against her. Her elbow lifted and crooked, jabbing dead center of his chest while she pivoted a tight circle inside of his guard, ending the twirl with her free hand reaching up to clamp hard on the front of his throat. A guttural sputter fled from his lips, his grey eyes wide as the events leading up to her small hand pressing into his throat had been a span of only a couple of seconds.

That was something the soldiers had issues combating when it came to the woman, she was fast. Typically they were in half gear, which meant they were weighted down much more then she was in a simple t-shirt and jeans. With a slender figure and noticeably strengthened thighs, Red couldn't be beat in a foot race. The hardly noticeable artificial crimson eyes of hers bore into the man, her lips pressed into a tight line as she held onto him. Nobody moved for the span of a few heartbeats, the tension high in the air, almost tangible around them. Finally a noisy breath expelled through her nose, and with a shove she forced the soldier back a few steps, watching as his own free hand came up to tenderly rub where her fingers had dug in. He gasped and spat, grunting obscene words beneath his breath.

She didn't offer him another moment of her time then, turning her angered gaze to the general standing close by, the man that had organized this annoyance. "Your men need to be faster, General. If I can get inside of their guard that quickly, they will be torn apart next time someone comes knocking at our door." She nearly hissed the words, clearly unhappy over the short victory she held. "This is useless, I can't beat any of these men in a simple sword fight, but I can beat any one of them if they allow me so close. Fix it. Train them harder. I won't be 'training' anymore until you've proven that your men can disrupt my feet." This was why none of her soldiers was allowed to be a guard for her personally, they were not untrained in the least, but they were not terribly fast. That was a problem.

@The Hound

 

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For the first time in months Leandros found himself in his office, sitting in his cozy second-hand chair and frowning steadily down at a neat pile of envelopes and problems. He had been called away nearly a year ago, on a mission that was supposed to be nothing more than a simple exorcism.

 

...But of course, simple and easy went against everything that a wizard’s life was supposed to be. What he had projected to be a simple month excursion ended up with him facing the Wyldfae, vampires, a particularly vengeful ex-lover and some of the damnedest mud golems he had ever seen.

 

And in the end of it all, as his luck would have it, the “simple” job he had been called to do was a trap neatly set by an incubus with a grudge. In the course of those months he had traveled through Terrenus, helped multiple people, thwarted an incubus from completing a dark ritual, and nearly emptied his money reserves. . .

 

Yup, the glamorous life of a vagrant wizard.

 

So of course, the first thing he had seen as he walked into his office with a nostalgic, homesick smile was a dreaded pile of red envelopes that no amount of magic could cure. He went through them, and the smile that had been lighting his face moments before disappeared. Rent. Rent. Overdue rent. Paycheck from the Council (That would barely cover rent), this month’s rent, and… something that he had not been expecting. Hidden beneath the salvo of notices that loftily informed him that he was broke beyond broke was an expensive-looking envelope with flowing calligraphy. Setting it to the side with a furrow of his brow, the wizard decided that it could wait until he was feeling human again. Saving the world and protecting people never seemed to be good enough. At the end of the day, there was always one great enemy he could not vanquish: His need for money.

 

Grumbling to himself the wizard decided that enough was enough, and he lifted his aching body from the heavenly comfort of his old chair and hobbled out into the hallway. A good night’s sleep, some semblance of food, and Odin-willing a shower, and he’d feel almost human enough to slay the mountain of bills he had accrued over his absence. As he limped his way across the hall, the wizard caught a glimpse of hinself in the mirror and groaned. He was never going to get all of the mud golem’s goo out of his hair.

 

Stepping toward his apartment’s aged, oaken door the wizard caught himself smiling once more and shook his head. All of the problems aside it was good to be home and if there was a God (who did not listen to his prayers with all of the loving warmth of a komodo dragon), he would have a few days off to recover from his journey. Hell, a few weeks would be nice. Leandros lifted his staff, knocked on the door twice and spoke the words needed to disarm his ward. Finally he opened the door and let himself in, admiring the neat state that his apartment had been left in. At least the cleaning service had been consistent while he was gone.

 

“Lichten.” The wizard grumbled, and suddenly every candle in the immediate vicinity sprung to life, lightening his surrounding as he dropped his staff into his umbrella case and carelessly undressed himself to his underpants, tossing his weather-beaten clothing into his granite fireplace with a look of distaste on his face. He knew he would not be able to remove the goo from his clothing, but he would definitely miss his Odin’s Rave shirt. Mumbling to himself, the wizard dropped his backpack on the floor and practically raced his way to the shower.

 

. . .

 

After standing beneath the cold, unrelenting rivulets of water for nearly an hour, Leandros almost felt like a human being again. Almost. Toweling himself off, the wizard took a moment to stare at the tall, muscular stranger before him on the mirror. As always his scar seemed more pronounced after the shower, a pallid line against his flushed skin and a constant reminder of what evil magic could cause. Over the months he had been gone, he had lost some of the roundness on his cheeks, resulting in gaunt, almost lupine features. His hair, usually kept to his shoulder fell to the middle of his back. After 11 months on the run, Leandros looked almost like a different man . . . And he was not sure he minded it.

 

Following into his small bedroom the wizard sunk himself into the softness of his bed, taking a second to appreciate the loveliness of being back, of being alive and enjoying a space that was completely and utterly his own. He had earned his break, dammit. And for a sweet, blissful second, Leandros thought he would get it. Closing his eyes, the wizard attempted to give himself to the sweet, blissful escape of sleep.

 

For.

 

The.

 

Next.


Five.

 

Hours.

 

Being a wizard, Leandros decided, sometimes blew gigantic flying monkey wang. Tossing and turning as he agonized over the things he had seen and curious about the envelope he had set aside. Damn his curiosity. Irritably, the wizard tried to jerk himself into a sitting position, but found it far, far too difficult. With what amounted to a herculean effort at the moment, the wizard raised his hand in the air and called his magic to himself. He hated doing magic without his tools, but when needs must…Picturing the letter in his mind, the wizard focused the magical forces into his hand. “Locomo.” He called out in a groggy, irritable voice and released the energies, calling forward the picture of the envelope in his mind. Not long after that, the envelop floated toward him, and landed in his hand and he smirked, feeling pleased with himself as he tore open the letter’s seal.

 

Magic couldn’t solve all your issues, but damn was it handy.

 

Pulling the paper from its’ envelope, the wizard pulled out the note that had been placed inside and began to read it. His face flitted from disbelief to confusion to surprise, before settling into a vast amounts of skepticism. Some man, attempting to write on the behalf of the bitty who claimed to be the new regent from Predator’s Keep, Red Yusuke, had bidden him to come and visit in order to discuss a business proposition. Scanning the letter with his curious purple eyes, the wizard sighed and looked toward the window longingly. Dawn was breaking, and he wasn’t getting sleep anyway. For a moment, the wizard considered just burning the letter and staying in bed, looked at the letter again, and pinched the bridge of his nose.

 

Fighting against every protest of his aching bones and lifting his weary-laden muscles from bed, the wizard stood and headed toward his rustic-looking dresser and dug out a black pair of jeans that fit him snugly, a black shirt with red lettering that said “The Council is Watching You.”, and a pair of black leather shoes. He then made his happy way into the living room, where he had dropped his backpack, and overturned it. First, the wizard fit himself with the four energy storing rings on his left hand. Second, he slapped Asmodeus’ bracelet onto the same hand, and fit his right hand with the spell-woven leather gauntlet he wore to all of the parties.

 

Then, the wizard reached into his bag and pulled out the one accessory no wizard should have to contend without: A gun. He checked the chambers for rounds, left one out so he did not accidentally shoot himself, and placed the gun on the floor beside the bag. Digging into the deepest parts of the bag, Leandros pulled out a small emerald amulet and enclosed his hand around it. He summoned his energy and spoke the Word of Power that activated the necklace, causing the runes carved in his doorframe to light up in emerald green. He felt the emerald gem in the necklace dissolved, and sighed to himself.

 

Three months spent crafting this little jewel in case he had to escape somewhere, and now he was going to have to use it because he lacked funds for travel arrangements. Picking up his gun and tucking it at the back of his pants, the wizard made his way toward the emerald light that now came from his doorway, picking up his trusty staff from the umbrella holder he kept by his door. Feeling a wrenching tug at his gut, the wizard disappeared with a flash of blinking light and and a rather unceremonious snort.

 

First time I walk into the light willingly. He thought to himself a moment before his cozy nest disappeared, and he found himself faced with a warm day, a lovely garden, and the unforgettable sound of training weapons clashing. Curious, but not eager to face something that could’ve ended up biting him in the ass without proper protection, the wizard summoned forth his magic and focused it on his right hand’s leather gauntlet in case of aggression before he began to walk. He followed the sound of clashing blades, narrowing his eyes as his ears picked up the distinct grunts of both females and males. Snorting to himself, the wizard pressed on.

 

“Either I’m about to walk into something I’m not wearing nearly enough leather to participate in, or… I may have found the chick.” He muttered to himself with an amused half-smile on his face. Standing just at the edge of the sparring circle he spotted a traditional looking hum-drum soldier, blade locked with… A completely fierce looking blonde babe.

 

With red eyes.

 

A completely fierce looking blond babe with red eyes and a lot of combat experience, although not with a blade. Narrowing his lavender eyes, the wizard crossed his arms and leaned against one of the cool marble pillars as he fell back into the military training he had received so long ago. The wizard focused on her leg’s movement, and he felt a small smile playing at the corner of his lips as she struck the man twice, and then finally took her victory. He winced in sympathy as she explicitly expressed her displeasure toward the general. Pushing himself off the wall, the wizard walked toward her with (what he thought) was a charming half-smile.

 

“Beg your pardon, hotstuff. Now that you’re done beating on that guy, I was wondering if you could help me out.” The wizard said, scratching his head gently as his lavender eyes scanned the area around him with a clearly amused expression. “D’you know where I can find Red Yusuke’s secretary? I may be a little late. You know, a month or 5…. But they sent me a letter expressing interest in discussing some sort of business.”

 

Pulling off the thick leather gauntlet off of his right hand he offered her yet another smile and extended his hand out toward her.


“Sorry. Forgot to mention. My name is Leandros Kostikos.”

Edited by The Hound

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Anger sometimes felt like a tangible thing, how if one person seemed so heated, the air around the scene grew tense and stagnant, people holding their breaths as they waited for the next outburst. It wasn't usually normal for the Baroness to get to the point of visible, tangible anger. The way the soldier had performed had pressed it out of her, how pitiful one of the men trained to protect and fight for her fought. She was fuming, not simply angry. Her narrowed gaze still bore into the General, the flicker of movement catching her attention enough to break the concentration she held on him, causing some of the hot air in her head to release. A heavy sigh fled between lips, her foot stepping to turn her away from the practice arena to return back to the Keep to deal with matters of actual importance until the wizards voice caught her attention.

She paused, a single blonde brow raising in question at the slew of words directed towards her. Hotstuff? This brought her attention around completely, the blonde turning to face him with an amused yet daunting expression while he explained himself. Her arms lifted to cross just below her chest, even going so far as to lean her weight on one foot and cause her hip to protrude out as if she was simply full of attitude and wanted the world to know it. No, the Baroness wasn't full of herself, but his intrusion on a moment of straight anger had given the anger a new place to focus. Him.

Red didn't interrupt, watching him remove the gauntlet from his hand before extending it out in an introductory fashion. This movement caused the General to take a loud step forward, but Red shot him down with the flick of her crimson eyes. She had zero patience in the men around her, if it hadn't been obvious. The man shot his gaze to the ground in compliance, taking the same width of step backwards in a semblance of submission, knowing well enough he didn't want her scorn anymore then he had already gained. ' '

Shifting the same gaze back to Leandros, Red let the silence and his hand hover for the span of a few heartbeats, taking in his measure and picking her words. "Red Yusuke's secretary is not available at the moment. " She told him plainly without much indication of her thoughts, letting another few moments of quiet overtake the conversation. "But, if you would like to speak with Red yourself, right now would be the best opportunity." She let that part trail off, giving him time to think of her words while she didn't hide the fact that she was openly staring at him, no aversion to her gaze whatsoever. Red took a short step towards the wizard, outstretching her hand an grasping his own.

His name seemed awfully familiar, as if she had heard of it before. Likely she had, her secretary wasn't shy about telling the Baroness the business they were producting, and something as personal as a bodyguard that would be toted around on nearly all of her business and personal like errands was something hardly kept secret. It was highly probable she had been told the names of the prospects, but that was near a month ago after the woman had returned for the first time after her kidnapping and vacation spent in Patia. Her head hadn't been in the right state, so names had easily slipped her conscious thought.

"Whatever business you may have with my secretary, you can address to me."

Red's hand released his own and her hand fell back to her side, the silence giving him opportunity to further the discussion over his business in her city.

@The Hound
 

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Several things seemed to happen as the wizard stretched his hand out toward the blonde woman. First, the man who had been cowed into silence by her chiding decided to try and step forward only to be stopped by the red-eyed woman’s contemptuous stare. That meant one of two things: Either she was his superior in the military hierarchy, which he would have found hard to believe… Or she was one of the top dogs around Predator’s keep. Judging by the lack of armor and the way she handled a sword, he was willing to eat his staff if it wasn’t the latter rather than the former. Judging by the soldier’s reaction to his loss she was fairly new to these bouts, and her clear dissatisfaction at her win she wasn’t new to fighting altogether.

 

“You know, my man… In certain parts of the world putting my hand out toward her isn’t a sign of aggression. I even hear that it can be used as a greeting.” He said slowly in a saccharine tone as if he had been teaching a child about foreign customs. He couldn’t help himself but smile as as he winked at her general. “And more to the point, buddy… If I’m to judge by the major whooping she just laid down on your friend, I’d say that she may have a better likability of handling threat than either of you. But not to worry, lads. Performance issues aren’t anything to be worried about at your ages.”

 

He watched the men sputter in satisfied silence, his shoulders shaking in with barely contained laughter. Who said he couldn’t be diplomatic.

 

Turning his attention back toward the woman at hand, his brain kicked off its’ rust as it resumed his train of thought. Second, the woman herself was an interesting study: Built delicately and almost as if she had been sculpted out of marble, she was by no means what one would classify as a soft woman. His eyes traveled up and down her body for a moment, and he noted that she may be tiny, but that hadn’t made her any less deadly. Tall for a woman and built with the strong legs of a runner, he was sure that no matter her rank she had seen days of combat.

 

"But, if you would like to speak with Red yourself, right now would be the best opportunity."

 

It took him a moment to comprehend the implications of her words, eyes widening the moment they dawned on him who he had been speaking with. Shaking his head, Leandros laughed a rich, full bellied cackle of pure joy as she wrapped her hand around hiss in a firm handshake. Soft skinned and without callouses, her hand was that of a lady who took care of running an army, instead of fighting in the front-lines. The moment that their hands touched he felt the small undercurrent of magical energies that ran through her body, as with every practitioner of the mystical arts.

 

“Well, I’m pleased to make acquaintances with the head lady then. I got a letter from someone in your keep saying that you had an employment opportunity and well… Wizards who are only a few steps above a hobo and owe several months of backlogged rent.” He said with an easy smile at his lips, bowing his head slightly in an impertinent greeting. “Sorry about the hotstuff business. Not that I said it, because it’s pretty true. But I hadn’t realized I was talking to Red herself. You’re not half-bad with that blade there.”

 

Digging into the pockets of his dark jeans, he let go of her hand and pressed the letter that had been sent to him in her hand as he leaned against his staff and batted his eyes toward the General and his lackey with the same saccharine smile as before.

 

“If you want proof of my abilities of guarding your body, I’d be more than glad to spar your two friends here.” The wizard said easily, his lavender eyes glinting at the prospect. It had been many, many years since he had been been a soldier but he still knew his way around the battlefield. Being a wizard, he had found, was not a cure-all when it came to the rough and tough tumbles. Being able to melt someone’s face off was handy, but when someone was close enough to stab your eye socket, knowing how to throw a punch mattered more.


“Just to clarify, don’t ask me to pull a rabbit out of my hat. Contrary to popular beliefs, a good wizard doesn’t sport a long beard, We’re also not scrawny enough that a good hard wind can lift us into flight, and I don’t do the whole silly ‘Abra Kadabra’ thing while waving a wand around” He rolled his eyes. “Also don’t do the whole robe thing. Closest thing I have to what fairy tale books paint us as is the fuzzy pink bathrobe I wear out of the shower.”

Edited by The Hound

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It was interesting to watch certain expressions and reactions upon the faces of strangers. The moment Leandros had realized who he was talking to, the pure surprise evident on his expression nearly caused her to lose her sown steady expression. She'd wanted to laugh, to momentarily be just Red instead of Baroness Red. She didn't though, so as their hands met and he shook her own, the blonde simply offered him a gentle, pleased smile that didn't look to touch her eyes in any way. These were formalities, things that she had learned and practiced over time while handling strangers in diplomatic situations. It was her duty to show interest but not seem overly happy or excited, to not look too soft lest people walk all over her and her position. Red hadn't gotten any off vibes from him, and his sarcastic, straightforward way with words seemed to her harmless enough.

She did recall her secretary sending out letters, Red herself had interviewed a couple of people already but none had felt a good choice for the position. Red needed to be able to click with a guard, to feel comfortable enough knowing that this person would likely be by her side more often then a lover or best friend. A bond needed to be formed, and so far she hadn't found that person just yet. The woman waited until he had let go of her hand and started digging in his pocket, knowing he must be retrieving something that would validate his claim of being asked to meet her secretary about the open employment opportunity. When he produced the letter and placed it in her hand, Red recognized it rather quickly. The parchment was her own, the envelope bordered with reds and golds signifying it was an official letter from the higher ups within the Keep. The biggest sign that it was from her office was the wax seal that had been broken when the wizard had opened the letter. Thick red wax stamped with a ring from her own finger, a proud gryphon sitting in front of a shield with two swords crossed behind. It was a legitimate letter, so Red only skimmed the writing within before offering it back to the man.

Still quiet as he continued on, her gaze flicked over to the man she had just defeated in the spar and the general he was referring to. Her head shook, blonde locks swaying with the easy movement until she stopped, the longer hairs settling to frame her face once more. The grip on her wooden practice sword renewed, hefting the weapon up so the tip was no longer dragging the ground, rather held so it was lazily pointing in his direction. "No no, that won't do." Red told Leandros simply just before he continued on to clarify that he wasn't a mage of no talent or fairy-tale status. This caused a bit of laughter to bubble up her throat, the soft whimsical sound interrupting him towards the end of his speech.

"Fairy tales are real, Sir Leandros. We will in a world of them. I understand what you mean though, as I hope you would know already, Terrenus is full of real wizards like yourself. I wouldn't try to insult your claim by comparing you to those fairy-tales. Not until I could see what you can actually do, at least."

She left it open for interpretation, whether or not she was subtly mocking his claim or even speaking the truth. Really it was the latter of the two, Red knew well enough not to mock someone who claims to have magical abilities, the world was too dangerous to hurt feelings and whatnot. "No, I won't give these men the satisfaction of fighting on my behalf in this. You will fight me." She stated this plainly with no subtlety, her eyes watching his expression for anything that may speak cowardice towards fighting not only a woman, but the leader of the city he was currently standing in. She took a couple of small steps backwards, holding the sword with a more stable grip.

"If you can beat me, I will grant you this job of guarding my body. With that I will personally pay your debts and any fees required to cut a contract with your living quarters. You'll get your own rooms here in the Keep close to my own, I can't have a personal guard living so far away, that just won't do. You will be paid finely, and live here." Red left it open for him to speak then, although her tone didn't sound like she would be allowing any negotiations of the deal. The woman stood at the ready, showing him she was serious about him fighting her instead of the men standing awkwardly around them. The rest would be up to him, she was hoping the offer to pay his debts would sway him more easily.

@The Hound

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The wizard’s pale lavender eyes narrowed slightly as he watched her smile. There was something empty about the gesture. It was too… Controlled. For a moment he had caught a glimmer of what appeared to be real mirth, only to be swiftly smothered by the regal smile of a woman who was trying to project a front. Question was what was she hiding? What was actually going in in her head? Well, this job just got a lot more interesting… The wizard thought to himself as he watched her open the envelope, scanning through the contents of the letter with faint disinterest, flitting through the contents of it with the telltale velocity of someone who had seen the document before.

 

It told him one of two things: Either she had written this personally, which was unlikely… Or he was not the only one who had gotten the invite for a job interview. He took the letter back into his hand, carefully slipping it into his back pocket as he watched her soldier and General squirm at his offer of a fight, only to slump with relief as she refused. He flashed a toothy smile toward the “hardened military men” that she had so thoroughly gelded. He got ready to make some comment to those effects, when a sound startled him so entirely that he nearly jumped out of his skin. Turning his eyes toward the golden-haired woman, he arched an eyebrow in delighted surprise.

 

Red had laughed!

 

“By the Gods… I wasn’t sure if that was possible! You laugh! Man, for a moment I had to contemplate the very real possibility that my friends were right and I’m just not that funny!” He said in an honestly surprised tone as he focused once again, flashing his trademark crooked half-smile as he listened to her speak of fairy tales. “Well said there, Red. Although I have to say… If you’d consider the things we’re surrounded by fairy tales I’d like to read the horror stories you were raised with!”

 

He offered her a slight nod of his head as he was met by what some would mistake as (sometimes quite rightfully earned) skepticism. He looked down at himself and shook his head. He looked far more like a farmer then he looked a wizard. Tanned, broad shouldered, and built with muscle and calloused hands, the wizard had never forgotten his roots as a soldier even as he trained as a wizard. During his younger days as an apprentice, he had pulled a lot of double shifts between time studying sorcery, and martial training. For the better part of his 20’s, life was a never ending cycle of magic, coffee, more magic, learning to fight with sticks, coffee, and sometimes if he was particularly lucky the sweet release of sleep.  

 

Man, early twenties weren’t kind to most people…

 

"No, I won't give these men the satisfaction of fighting on my behalf in this. You will fight me."

 

The wizard’s eyebrows shot up as she declared her intent to fight him, and his mind raced for a moment before he thought to answer. He was being tested as a bodyguard by… Attacking the body he was supposed to guard? Laughter bubbled at the wizard’s throat, and he shook his head for a moment as he attempted to compose himself. His eyes widened into neat, saucer shaped circles as the woman continued to talk, his laughter slowly withering away into a chuckle. Wiping a tear from the corner of his eye, he took a deep breath and stood to his full height.

 

“So… Let me get this straight, you bloody insane woman: You want me to fight you in order to prove that I can fight to protect you, unlike the rest of these limp noodles you call soldiers?” He asked in a disbelieving tone, before he broke out in a large, sunny smile. “I really like you, Red. Your thought process is out of this world.” He said earnestly, no hints of guile in his warm lavender eyes, his mind made up even before she continued to lay out a deal that seemed almost too good to be true. Narrowing his eyes, the wizard shook his head and made a show of looking her up and down with a rather vulpine smile as he listened to her words.

 

“If you can beat me, I will grant you this job of guarding my body.”

 

“Guarding your body, hm? Now that’s a duty I could get behind, hotstuff.” The wizard said in a husky tone, wagging his eyebrows appreciatively at her before he cackled once more. “With a bonus of free housing, not being chased by every debt collector from here to Genesaris, and a steady paycheck? I’d do the can can naked for you if that got me the job.”

 

Taking a step back the wizard placed his gauntlet on the ground, followed by removing the rings on his left hand, and finally his gun. He hesitated for a moment, and pulled his shirt off, revealing a surprisingly toned, weather-beaten chest fraught with burns, scars, teeth marks, and a pattern of wounds and fresh bruises that spoke better of his experiences than any resume he could’ve brought for her. Feeling the warm breeze beat against his chest, the wizard felt almost a peace for a moment. Serenely, he reached into his left pocket, and brought out a small leather strip, tying his long black hair into a loose ponytail. Slowly at first the wizard began to twirl the solid length of his oak staff, increasing in speed and intricacy of movements as his muscle memory kicked in. With a flourishing twirl, the wizard placed the bottom of his staff against the ground and offered the Baroness a smile.

 

“Now boys.” He said, turning his eyes toward the general and soldier with an arched eyebrow. “No touchy the wizard’s toys. You could accidentally melt your own respective faces off.” He said quietly, with an enigmatic smirk on his face that made it particularly difficult to tell whether he was bluffing or not. Turning his lavender eyes back toward Red, the man bowed his head gallantly and spread his legs, raising his staff to touch the tip of her wooden blade.


“Ready when you are, dollface.”

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Leandros had gone ignored after exclaiming her ability to laugh was surprising, knowing it was a slip in professional behavior yet secretly glad he had cracked a joke. It broke some of the tension in the air, at least for a brief moment, and one that she needed. He was met with silence again while he exclaimed about the fairytales she had grown with, relating those fairy-tales to how her life had actually gone up until that point. Not pleasant. Horror story-worthy. It was when he had commented on her clear mockery of his choice of words, choosing to add to the obvious tease that had caused the woman to fumble her words and feel rather flustered.

When he had stepped back it had given her a moment to gather herself, the creeping blush that had started to warm her cheeks quickly receded, turning her cheeks a pale color that was natural for the fair skinned woman. She watched with a less than pleased expression, lids slightly lowered to show the smallest of glares his way, and her pink lips pursed in annoyance. She watched in silence as he began to ready himself, gauntlets being placed on the ground along with the rings, and surprisingly a gun. This gave her a moment to ponder something other than the words he had suggestively teased her with prior, a gun being a marvel to see in this world.

Red hadn't seen a firearm owned by a civilian since she had lived in Sigil, and since her move to Valucre, only military personal used them as far as she could tell. It was a more magical world, and still stuck in the old ways of swords and bows such as she carried normally. Her bow was close by, leaned up against a post closest to her. The thing was a beauty, crimson and designed in a way it would hardly be replicated. Out of everything besides those she loved, that weapon she had missed the most dear while being away. Something odd caught her attention and pulled her back to the present, the slight glaze over her eyes clearing as she focused on the Wizard. She blinked. Not once, but twice as she found herself staring at the naked chest of the man in front of her. This didn't bring a blush as it may some women, but she was taken aback enough to be obvious.

Her mouth parted to say something, but Leandros had picked his staff up and began to twirl it about in at first a more clumsy manner, soon he found his stride and the weapon was twirled with an efficiency she could marvel at if she had allowed herself to. His voice caught her out of the momentary trance, again bringing her focus back to the present. Silently she cursed herself for being allowed to loose focus so quickly, it was a sad habit that not only she had noticed since before the invasion of the Keep. Red wasn't quite herself, but she had came leaps and bounds since her return. Red stole a glance at her men as he spoke to them, watching as they graciously took a respective step away from him and his 'toys' after the mild warning. She'd have to commit that to memory if she decided he was the right man to take up the opportunity to be her guard, but for now his gaze slid back to her which confirmed he was ready, followed by vocal confirmation.

The woman stood still a moment, still in a lax stance with her weapon pointed lazily in his direction. Now typically she avoided trying to strike first, but this wasn't a bout to the death, nor even one meant to cause pain. She weighed her options for a moment, watching his calculating gaze and his stance, pulling anything she had learned in sword fighting to the front of her mind. With a tight lipped frown, the blonde tossed out those thoughts and decided on a simple approach.

Being quick, Red leapt into action without pause and took a few hearty steps in the span of only a few heartbeats, launching in close enough to execute the most plain of attacks; a straight shot jab towards his midsection, outreaching with her right hand that held the sword and leaning in as if she were fencing instead of fighting with a wooden practice sword.

@The Hound

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“Like what you see? The looky-loos are free with your hiring me, doll.” The wizard purred as he caught her staring, looking down at himself for a moment and flashing her a small but entirely inappropriate grin. He had caught her blush with a raise of his eyebrows, doing his best to stifle a chuckle at what it told him. Despite the polish she had put on as a baroness, there was still a girl trapped underneath the layers of decorum and enforced etiquette that a life among royalty forced upon people. And what more, it was a girl with a sense of humor. Wrinkling his nose, the wizard winked at her two servants as they took a step back from his gear. He had been bluffing, but there was no need for any of them to know that.

 

Closing his eyes, the wizard forced the near-constant chatter that went on in his mind into silence. He imagined a little flame at the center of his mind, and he fed everything into it. His emotions, his aches and pains, his weariness. All that was left was the staff, the woman, and the task at hand. Slowly, Leandros’ expression became devoid of friendliness and feeling, leaving behind a thin, expressionless mask and the odd silver scar that adorned his wolf-like features, running from his right eyebrow to his jaw. He could feel the light breeze, swaying against his body and he for a moment understood his surroundings. With a laser like focus, he faced the woman again and let out a long, gusty breath.

 

With a low humming sound, the wizard opened his eyes and felt like he really saw his opponent for the first time. Tall, lithely built, and with sculpted legs, she wasn’t meant for prolonged physical combat. Like a hummingbird, she approached, struck, and would back away. With that being said, he would have to close the gap in order to have a chance to strike her… Which would mean he would have to be within range of being struck. Furrowing his brows slightly, Leandros awaited for a moment that felt like an eternity as both fighters measured each other.

 

She stood languidly before him, entirely too relaxed as their fight began. That pulled a small, surprisingly muted smile to his lips. Unlike most warriors of pleasure rather than practice, she carried herself with the easy confidence of someone who had seen her way through a battlefield, and that was… Promising.


Finally, it happened. Sinuous as a coiled snake, the golden-haired woman stepped forward toward him with what appeared to be a fencer’s lunge aiming toward his mid-section. For a split second his body hesitated, but the man stepped forward into the blow, turning to his side slightly as he felt the wooden blade impact him right side, eliciting a grunt of acknowledgement, rather than pain from the man. The pain would come later, but right now all that existed to him was the dance. Even as the blade struck his side, the man swung the staff forward, shifting his grip higher as he aimed a solid blow against the side of her left knee. He could not hope to match her speed, just as she could not match his size and build… But he could certainly attempt to even the playing field.

Edited by The Hound

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Again, the Wizard went ignored with his banter. By the time he had spoke, she was already mentally preparing herself for the spar about to happen. Breath. Breath. Slow. Breath. She focused on the words echoing in her mind, watching him while he watched her. It was cat and mouse, but who would be the cat, and who would be the mouse?

Then she struck and the wooden practice sword hit it's mark, albeit the step forward had gave the man more of a solid ground to work with. For a second she silently commended him, instead of retreating away from her sudden invasion of his personal space, he stepped into it and essentially left her with less room than she had anticipated on. This was going to be tricky, something Red would need to think quick in order to attempt to beat him. Already he was strides ahead of her own soldiers, at least with the thinking on his feet department. Her soldiers weren't terrible, they just had slower minds, reacted with hesitation, she sure as well wouldn't want to be caught within their reach when they had gained their own strides.

Time felt to slow for a brief moment, right as her weapon had struck her mind caught on to the shift in his torso when he began to lift his staff. One perk about using her Sight in a combat instance, she was able to quickly process movements based off of the vibrations running from the ground, and they were quick as she. Being trained the most in this skill, for specific unrelated reasons, Red saw the shift and was aware that he was going to be striking with the staff at a lower point on her body. Not exactly where, a simple shift in muscles wasn't always that accurate. With the forward momentum she had been exerting moving back while stretched towards him wasn't an easy solution, nor was sliding her right leg forward to square her center mass or trying to move away with the same motion.

So, the woman did the only logical, probably cheating thing she could think of within a split second. Her left, free hand move down so her palm was facing out towards where his staff would be approaching, or rather barely intercepting before the weapon smacked harshly against the side of her knee. The impact stung and jolted her, a flash of hot pain fleeing up to her elbow causing her to grit her teeth and furrow her brows. Her fingers closed around the weapon so long as he didn't move it right at impact, her arm and wrist rotating up in an attempt to twist the staff around in front of both of their torsos to loosen his grip. The practice blade retreated as she brought her right foot up to finally square herself and reclaim her balance.

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Frowning to himself as the woman ignored his jokes again, the wizard couldn’t help but to find himself slightly impressed with her focus. That alone lent to his theory that she had been a warrior first, and a stuffed shirt second. For a moment the wizard was startled at how much that simple fact alone had pleased him, despite the fact that he could already feel the throbbing at his side. Raising an eyebrow as she caught the staff’s blow in her hand, Leandros found himself puzzled as to why. He had not held much back in the hit, so catching the staff in her hand seemed rather counter intui-

 

Leandros’ eyes widened as she wrapped her slender hand around the other side of his staff, pulling it upwards in an attempt to jerk it out of his hands. For a split second he felt as if time around them slowed down, and the neutral expression that had been plastered in his face wavered. He had a couple of choices, and neither seemed pleasant: He could attempt to wrest his staff free from her hand, which would potentially unbalance him and cost his solid footing. In doing so, he would be an easy target for her attacks. Or…

 

Or he could do something slightly more risky than that and potentially not lose the battle.


With a tight smile on his face Leandros let go of his staff, registering as it flew backwards with a swift shift of the wind. This was it. His opening. With a deep breath, the wizard went over his plan and internally shook his head. He had done some incredibly foolish things in his lifetime… So what was one more. With a swift stride forward, the wizard attempted to move himself closer to the Baroness of Predator’s Keep, twisting his hips as he threw his right elbow in an attempt to hit the left side of her head.

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He was just as bold as she was, that was to say Red had thought herself crafty in the way she had tried to rip the staff from his hands to send him off balance. She was, but he had taken her own craftiness and used it against her in such a way there was no time for her to counter- At least not without using her abilities. She wouldn't, knowing once powers were released a simple spar could very easily end up in a destruction match, and people were liable to get hurt. The resistance of his grip on the staff completely disappeared, causing her balance to tilt enough that the woman had to take a quick step out in order to keep herself standing. Her eyes flicked up in time to see his step forward, a quick step that brought the Wizard nearly on top of her, suddenly there was an elbow-

Crack!

The world spun for a second, a flash of pain causing her vision to turn white, and then there was the hard cobblestone ground beneath her bum. It was a dangerous thing when a psion was struck in the head, if the person wasn't trained well enough it was liable horrible magics could be released into the world. The brain was the center of their magic, trauma to the brain often led to concentration being lost. Luckily for Leandros, Red was well trained and in this instance she was able to keep a solid grip on her powers. Still, it took her a moment of intense focus to bring herself back to reality, where she realized she was still holding onto the staff he'd let go of. Blinking, she found her bearings and lifted her free hand to wave Lee off. "I think its safe to say, that's enough of that."

Slightly shaken by the hit, the Baroness pushed herself to her feet and gingerly touched the side of her head. There was going to be an awesome bruise, at least there were witnesses to attest it was a spar that left the woman discolored. Typically Red wouldn't have ended a spar after one decent strike, but only being a month or so out of being fully recovered, she knew better than to push herself. "Congrats, you've earned yourself a job." She wasn't going to go on about the other people that had came by for the opportunity, but she wouldn't have hired him so quickly if any of the others had been worth a damn. She held the staff back out to the half naked man, a smile curling her lips as a sign of her being pleased by his performance.

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Along the sidelines of the small spar between the Baroness of the Keep and some strange, shirtless man, a woman stood with her arms crossed below her chest. She'd manage to sneak by some of the guards that were keeping watch over the gardens, the perimeter had been rather well guarded, but she was an extravagant sneak. The woman was short, standing just behind one of the closest soldiers the top of her head barely rose to his shoulder. Lightly tanned skin framed by wavy dark brown hair, bangs pulled back and pinned giving her a small stylish hair bump. Her eyes were focused on the duel, green as the forest surrounding with vibrant golden flecks around the pupil. They were intense, but she also looked to hold an air of carelessness shrouded around her. She was wearing a thick brown mantle with some sort of fur along the cowl, if one were to inspect it more closely they would probably come to the conclusion that it was of a wolf pelt, dark greys and some browns accentuating the lighter colors. The mantle was loosely framing the woman, tied about her neck with the front open to allow sight of the garb beneath.

She was dressed as an adventurer would be, even though this mysterious woman was often found by the side of the Baroness during official business regarding the city they currently were inhabiting. She was a prodigy of sorts, learning and doing as Red Yusuke did so one day she would be fit enough to sit on her own throne beneath the Scarlet Region. For now she was only a silent shadow, and a silent shadow that had been mildly curious about the rumor that Red was trying to help train her soldiers. Today she was wearing a dark brown loose blouse, embroidered in dark greens along the low neckline and half sleeve cuffs. Her pants were made of leather, easily seen as the type travelers wore that fit comfortably yet were thick enough to save from cuts from foliage. The pants were tucked into a pair of boots, also a dark brown with laces up the front. A necklace hung around her neck, a loose chain dangling a small green pendant within the low cut of her blouse.

When the Wizard had managed to strike Red with his elbow, she nearly jumped out of her skin and ran to the woman's side, but being she wasn't even allowed to even be here, she stood rooted in place just behind the soldier that offered amazing cover for her. She was idly chewing on her lower lip, her hands dropping from being crossed below her chest to being shoved into the front pockets of her pants. Shifting her weight from one foot to another a few times, she listened to Red speak with the stranger, offering him a job. This piqued her interest, finally letting her eyes settle on him while the blonde got to her feet. There was a sudden flush of heat on her cheeks as her eyes wandered, glancing over the bare torso and the scars that seemed to riddle him.

"Lyra?"

A voice cut through her momentary wandering, a deep male voice that belonged to the solider that she had been standing behind. He had turned around to take a quick sweep of the area and of course had noticed her hovering just behind. The woman nearly jumped out of her skin and dropped her eyes to furiously study the ground at her feet, hiding the pink tint of her cheeks from the man.

"Bard, hi. I know I'm not supposed to be here, but uh-"

His hand waved a dismissal of her sudden scramble for words, before waving her closer.

"No apologizing, dear. You're welcome wherever Baroness Red is, and it seems she has just hired a personal guard. It would be good for you guys to meet, since it's likely you will be seeing a lot of each other."

After the tint had receded from her cheeks, Lyra turned her eyes back up in a questioning manner, looking for the sincerity that Bard wasn't just yanking her chain over her being allowed in the gardens while Red was sparring. There it was, his eyes were soft and his smile small, pushing the rugged nature of his usual expression to the back-burner. He was actually a handsome man, although he was older in the sense of his appearance. Probably early 40's, grey wisps of hair poking through the red beard that claimed his face in scruff. Bard placed a gauntlet hand on her shoulder and steered her in front of him, giving her a gentle push to send her walking towards Leandros and Red. Mildly embarrassed that she was suddenly intruding, she resumed chewing on her bottom lip.

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Breathing raggedly the wizard readied himself for his opponent’s next move with his eyes narrowed. Regaining his footing, the wizard pulled his fists back and assumed a neutral boxer stance as his mind went awhirl to the possibilities. The psion now held both staff and sword in hand, and he was woefully unarmed… But he had faced odds like that before. Just like he was woefully unarmed in any of his relationships. Or completely disarmed to pay rent. His body tightened reflexively as he saw the blur of motion from her hand, readying himself for whatever blow she had coming. Even on her ass, he knew that the Baroness wasn’t someone to make light of. Readying himself to throw another punch, he found that his brain had caught up with his instincts and he stopped himself mid motion.

"I think it’s safe to say, that's enough of that."

“Well, hotstuff, if you say so I’m only happy enough to oblige.” He said in his easy-going tone as he placed a hand on her elbow to help her get up and steady herself. Taking a step back, the wizard nodded at her with a crooked half-grin as he inspected the side of her head with a grimace. “Oh by Odin’s saggy sack, people are going to think that you hired me to beat on you when they see the bruise on your head. I knew I should’ve pulled the blow, but you ain’t no fragile little thing are you?”

Taking the staff into his hand, his grin widened by a couple of molars as he was told that he was now gainfully employed. Deep down, a dark part of himself snorted with glee at the prospect of having his debts paid and… Not being chased by every debt collector from Tellus Mater to Terrenus. Nodding his head toward her, the wizard went toward the pile of things he had gathered and slowly began to arm himself again, placing the rings back in each of their fingers and tightening the gauntlet on his right hand. Flexing his fingers, he saw the poison-green glyphs etched in the thick leather glow for a moment, and nodded to himself satisfiedly. Placing the gun snugly at the back of his pants, the wizard pondered upon the t-shirt for a moment, and looked at himself with a grimace.

“Hope it doesn’t offend your ladylike sensibilities, Red, but I will keep the shirt off for now.” He said lightly, tying his t-shirt around his staff and leaning forward as he struggled to catch his breath. With his shoulders and torso glistening with sweat, he offered her an apologetic smile and sighed. “I didn’t think to bring a change of clothes and my office is kind of far from here… Besides, I’d be loath of depriving you of all of this eye candy.” He winked at her and smiled wolfishly, gesturing his muscular physique with his hand and wagging his eyebrows at her. He looked at the soldier and his commanding officer, nodding at both of them as he moved to stand closer to Red.

“Think we could discuss this sitting down? And maybe eat? I haven’t had a proper meal since…” His voice trailed off as his eyes widened into neat little saucers and he looked behind his new boss-to-be and…

Well damn.


As petite as he was tall and as slight as he was bulky, the wizard saw the woman that had been gently pushed toward them and he began to feel dizzy. And then he remembered that breathing was a thing. Trying to gather his wits about him, the wizard tilted his head and forced himself to catalogue the details about her. Dark haired, fair skinned, and with eyes unlike any he had seen before. They shone like emeralds, peppered with little flecks of gold that stood out against the green scenery of her irises. He arched an eyebrow at the thick, fur-lined cloak and wondered how she could stand wearing so much in such heat. Shaking his head, the wizard noted the graceful gait the woman seemed to take as they approached them and he felt his mouth dry up once more before.

The hell is wrong with me? It’s like puberty hit again, but worse.

Forcing a smile that looked like little more than a grimace into his face, the wizard looked at the approaching woman and nodded his head gently even as a bright red blush suffused his lightly tanned face. He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing save for a squeaking sound came out. He cursed himself inwardly. Out of all the times his mouth shot off, and how much trouble it had gotten him because he never shut up, his brain WOULD shut down when a pretty woman was involved. Thoughts ran rampant in his mind as he planned something that would be witty, charming and flirty to say. 

“Um… Hi.” He choked out, the blush on his face burning brighter as he crossed his arms over his chest in an attempt to appear at least a bit modest.

Master of witty dialogue, he was.

Edited by The Hound

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Her slender hand fell away from tenderly inspecting the side of her face, a slight smile curling her lips in a rather strained manner as she struggled through the beginning stages of a brain scrambling headache. He was strong, quick on his feet, and had managed to very quickly decide what to do in regards to her rather cheap move in their brawl. That was good quality in a guard, momentarily she even thought of possibly allowing him to help train the newer recruits for the Keep. The thought wasn't a long one though as he seemed rather put off by the coloration beginning on the side of her face. Luckily though he was soon distracted by the idea that he was now officially employed, things Red couldn't even imagine fleeting across his widened grin as the idea settled.

Red gave a wave of her hand similar to the one prior after she had called off the fight, shaking her head with another smile, although this one wasn't quite so strained. It seemed she was able to ignore the headache, although she was going to search out Kalmuli as soon as she had a moment to herself. The herbalist/fortune teller would be able to help her mask this bruise and ease the pain, she was sure.

"I don't mind, it'll be good to be noticed so people can start to familiarize themselves with your..."

Her eyes flicked from his face to his chest momentarily before she regained her composure and focused back on his eyes.

"Face.- But anyways. I can send someone for your things, clear out your apartment, have the caravan bring everything back here. Until then I can give you a bit of an advance to find some clothes and anything you may need around the city. There are shops for just about everything, it'll be good to memorize the city pretty soon as well."

She didn't want to overload the man with new information just yet, she figured with the size of the city and it's population, he would be better off wandering on his own after they had finished paperwork and settled his employment. Red didn't have much time to think about food before his sudden break in conversation, her eyes followed his to where Lyra was approaching. She smiled a more fond one then she had given him thus far, noticing how she looked rather embarrassed with her eyes flicking from the ground up to them.

Out of the corner of her eyes she noticed a slight discoloration, which prompted her to take a glance at Leandros. Both of her brows rose at the same time, a look of shock plaguing her features as she watched him struggle for words, turning as pink as she had earlier in their meeting. Without pausing, Red forced herself to turn around, planting her fists on her hips and pursing her lips to keep from laughing at the change in the man. From quirky and flirtatious, one look at the petite elven woman and he couldn't even find words. Lyra was a pretty little thing, there was no doubt about it, but Red couldn't help but find it hilarious how he reacted upon only just seeing her. It would take her a minute to regain her composure again, which she knew Lyra would end up introducing herself or she would turn tail and flee.

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If there hadn't been a reason so feel embarrassed before, now was definitely that time. The woman had bee listening to the conversation as she approached, hearing as her Baroness was offering this stranger without a shirt a job. The moment that this man had noticed her, what quirk to his demeanor fled like water pouring out of a dam that had just burst open. His jaw slacked, the smooth words ceased from falling from his silver tongue, and most of all a bright red color began to creep from his neck to blossom across his already labor colored cheeks. Lyra bit down a bit too harshly on the lip she had been habitually chewing, the sudden sting nearly caused her to miss a step in her glide up to the two of them. Her eyes fled to the ground and she stopped near five feet away just as Red seemed to catch on to Lee's awkwardness and had to turn away herself.

The croak of his voice caught her attention enough to shyly avert her eyes from the ground and up towards him, more looking at him from beneath her brows than straight on. That awkward moment allowed her to actually get a decent look at this man, noticeably how much taller he was to her and how awfully rugged he looked with his shirt cast away, brandishing the many scars that riddled his chest. Green eyes speckled with gold seemed to linger on those marks, silver in color showing age and pink alike showing new. This brought questions to mind, but all of those questions Lyra forcibly stowed away to another time, maybe...If she could gather the nerve to ever have a conversation with this remarkably attractive man.

For now she was kicking herself in the arse for the amount of time it was taken her to talk, all of which that time had been spent peering beneath her brows at his chest.

Thump.

Thump.

Thumpthumpthump...

Nearly jolting out of the daze, she realized she had been holding her breath, causing her heart to race even more so than it already was. The jolt was accompanied by a deep breath through her nose and a rather embarrassed fidget, one of her hands reaching up to brush stray strands of dark hair from her face only to hook them behind- A very pointed ear.

She was an elf! An Elven woman that seemed to get sidetracked and lost in her thoughts more than any fairytale version people may have heard. She cleared her throat as quietly as she could, her hand that had previously brushed away her hair went to extend towards him to shake, but she seemed to second guess herself and pulled it away. Then she took a quick step towards him and extended the hand one more time, this time though she had made a rather pitiful attempt at looking a bit more regal than her embarrassed self.

"H-hello!"

Sounded a bit too enthusiastic, the elven woman cleared her throat and tried again, this time her voice flowing much more smooth and controlled.

"I'm Lysandra Adiel, or Lyra for short. I'm Baroness Reds assistant...Of sorts."

Her lips held firm to a smile, eyes finally flicking up to meet his own.

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