The next morning, I was lounging on the living room sofa, reading the morning newspaper to try and get a feel for the city. We had just finished breakfast and, contented with food, Deimos was curled up next to me with her head on my lap. Her tail was lashing slowly and her ears lay flat against the side of her head as I gently massaged her scalp while reading.
Phobos was in her room, arranging it to her tastes since we would be staying here for quite a while. Well, her and Deimos’ room as it was the two of them who had used it yesterday while I had spent the night with Ceres – just hugging each other to sleep. This was a two-bedroom suite and we had yet to work out a proper sleeping arrangement.
Ceres was taking a bath. It was a peaceful moment.
A knock at the door interrupted me and I looked up from an article about yesterday’s duel. The article put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the ‘impetuous Pholidota heir’ and praised the four-tailed ‘daughter of the Empire’. I sighed internally. It seemed that Ceres’ analysis was correct yet again. This was clearly the nobles attempt at a reconciliation. They had probably learnt about Isabella’s presence on the ship.
Looking down at Deimos, I gently shook my thigh. “Oi. Get off. I need to get the door.”
Growling discontentedly, she buried her face into my lap and muttered. “Na… let Phi-Phi get it.”
I shook my thigh harder. “It’s probably the guide that was supposed to come, you lazy thing. Even if Phobos opens the door, she’ll be bringing him here. Do you want him to see you like this?”
Deimos’ ear stood upright at that and after a few reluctant twitches, she growled as she pushed herself off my lap and into a sitting position – running her fingers through her hair to fix it with half-closed eyes. “Can’t we just stay in for three days,” she grumbled sleepily.
Rolling my eyes, I was about to stand when Phobos exited her room and hurried towards the door. “I’ll get it,” she said.
Sitting back down, I waited as Deimos woke herself up.
I heard voices at the doorway before they approached us and Phobos returned with our guide in tow. My eyes widened slightly at the sight of her. She was quite petite – about Deimos’ height – with bob-cut blonde hair with orange highlights. Two pairs of black horns grew out of her temples. The upper pair was larger, curving backwards, following the contours of her head, while the lower pair were little more than stubs that pointed to the sides. Her hair framed a small, heart-shaped face that made her look very young. Cute was the word that popped into my mind.
Her eyes, that were the warm orange of a hearth, lit up as they landed on Deimos. Approaching her in swift steps that made her long, scarlet-scaled, reptilian tail swing behind her without touching the ground, she stopped in front of her and asked enthusiastically, “Can I hug you?”
“Yes?” responded Deimos, startled.
Taking her confused response for agreement, the woman swooped in and embraced her tightly. “You won’t believe how happy I am to meet someone my height! Everyone in my family is a stupid skyscraper and even this sister of yours towers over me. I thought I’d have to spend the next three days with my neck bent backwards.”
Inadvertently, my eyes went to her shoes. They had heels. Quite thick ones. I could sympathize with her. From her perspective, nearly everyone would be a giant.
Releasing the frozen girl, the woman leant back and caught both her hands in hers. “You must be Deimos Felidae,” she said with a bright smile. “Nice to meet you,”
Recovering her composure, “Nice to meet you too,” replied Deimos in a soft voice.
Despite the experiences of the last few months, Deimos was still a bit subdued around strangers, especially extroverted strangers like this guide of ours.
Releasing Deimos’ hands and turning her orange gaze to me, she extended her hand, “And you must be the famous Mars Felidae. I’ve heard so much about you.”
Standing up, I took it and air-kissed its back, noticing the reddish-orange scales that covered the back of her hand.
“I can’t seem to say the same about you.” I said politely.
“Aah!” she slapped her forehead. “I didn’t introduce myself, now did I? I’m Laravel. Laravel Salamandra. I’ll be your guide and liaison for the entire duration of your stay at the Capital… or at least until you don’t need me anymore. My friends call me Lara. You can too. In fact, I insist!”
Her enthusiasm was quite infectious and I found the corners of my lips rising. To my passive mana senses, she gave off a very warm feeling mixed with brightness. A combination of light and fire mana. Suddenly, my pupils shrank as I made the connection between her elemental affinity, her name and the information about the Capital’s noble families I had crammed into my head ferociously for the last few days.
“Salamandra? As in…”
Before I could finish my question, she answered it for me. “Yes. That Salamandra. I am related to the Sunlight Soldier… In fact, he’s my grandfather.”
The atmosphere solidified as the four of us stood there in silence. Lara’s bright smile never left her face.
“If there is something you have to say to us, we would appreciate if you did so now. We would like to have our tour of the Capital unsullied by politics.”
All of us turned to see Ceres emerging from her room while drying her short-hair with a towel. Hanging the towel around the back of her neck, she grabbed the ends and stared at the woman with the blood of the Solar Salamanders flowing through her veins.
Lara’s smile slipped slightly and her eyes narrowed. “You must be Ceres Felidae. There’s been a lot of talk about you in our clan.”
“Good things I hope?”
She nodded. “Most of them wanted to thank you for teaching little Reinhart a lesson. He was getting a bit too arrogant lately. That’s the reason I was assigned as your guide. The Salamandra want to stay on good terms with you.”
Ceres raised an eyebrow. “Most of you?”
“Oh, don’t worry.” Lara waved her hand dismissively. “It was only my foolish little sister Rhea who wanted to challenge you to a duel. She has a huge crush on Reinhart, you see?” She sighed. “Though how the fool expects to win with a Tier 1 cultivation base when you can beat Reinhart I will never know.” Shaking her head exasperatedly, “She should just stop delaying for the boy and promote already!” she exclaimed.
Relaxing her posture, Ceres smiled. “I was just lucky in my matchup against him. The circumstances and the rules of the duel gave me an unfair advantage as well. I consider myself a tactician and researcher first and warrior second.”
Lara chuckled. “Don’t let Reinhart hear you saying that.”
Seizing the gap in the conversation, “Take a seat.” I invited. “We can chat when we are more comfortable. I’ll go get some refreshments and we can get to planning the tour, hmm?”
Lara nodded with a smile. “That’s what I’m here for.”
To see the pic I based Lara off, check my discord. It’s pinned.