Kyouka sighed as she brought in the new job requests. So many had been coming in recently that she wondered if the humans weren’t accidentally going extinct. So many monsters and bandits and other things to be dealt with. Of course, Tartaros was more than capable of dealing with all of the threats, but it just seemed strange how many had cropped up recently. As she hung them on the board, though, one in particular caught her eye.
“Bodyguard duty?” she murmured curiously.
Apparently, Princess Hisui E. Fiore’s most trusted knight and bodyguard had fallen ill. He wouldn’t be well enough to resume duty until the following day. Kyouka tilted her head. The job called for two people, preferably two who knew one another personally and were on amicable grounds, to watch after the princess and her consort for the day.
“Whatcha got there, Kyouka?” Ezel asked, shuffling in and lounging at the Etherious table.
“It seems the princess needs to be protected for the day,” she replied as she held up the job.
Ezel reached a hand over to check the details and hummed. “Maybe ya could take Seilah,” he suggested, handing it back. “It looks like it pays good money. She could use some new writing supplies.”
Kyouka looked over the job again. It did come with a hefty reward, and Seilah would appreciate being able to restock her supplies. With a shrug, Kyouka touched the mate mark on her shoulder. Sending a small pulse of energy, she waited for Seilah to respond.
Franmalth and Torafuzar waved as they made their way in. “Good morning, you two,” Tora murmured, settling near Ezel. “Anything interesting come in?”
“Kyouka might be takin’ Seilah ta go protect the princess,” Ezel responded.
“The princess?” Franmalth perked up excitedly. “That’s gotta be payin’ big! Lemme come along, Kyouka, come on, please?”
Kyouka shook her head. “It only requires two people, Franmalth.”
“I could always go instead of Seilah,” Franmalth tried. Ezel and Torafuzar flinched at the slip as Kyouka’s eyes narrowed and darkened slightly.
“Are you insinuating that you are better at something than Seilah?” Kyouka demanded in a deadly calm voice.
Franmalth seemed to have caught his slip and hurried to backtrack. “Of course not!” he chuckled nervously. “It’s just that, you know, maybe she has some work she wants to catch up on? I would hate for her to be stuck guarding some prissy human all day, ya know?”
Tension filled the air as all three of the younger demons waited to see what Kyouka’s response would be. For Franmalth’s sake, they hoped she was in a forgiving mood. Kyouka never took slights against Seilah well.
After a few heavy moments, Kyouka shook her head. “Ultimately, it’s her decision,” she said, causing the boys to sigh in relief.
The sound of soft footsteps alerted the group to the youngest two of their number coming in. “Mornin’ all,” Jackal gruffed, settling beside Torafuzar and cuddling against Tora’s side.
“Good morning, M’Lady,” Seilah greeted Kyouka. “Good morning to the rest of you.”
The others shot greetings back as Seilah turned her full attention to Kyouka. “M’Lady, you sent for me?”
“Yes.” Kyouka handed the job flyer to Seilah and explained, “There’s a job I wanted your opinion on. It needs two people.”
Seilah read over the job description carefully and nodded slowly. “Shall we head there after breakfast?”
“That sounds like a plan,” Kyouka agreed, extending her hand. Seilah gladly took it and Kyouka guided her to the table with the others. Keyes and Tempesta joined them shortly after and the group exchanged pleasantries and relaxed conversation as they ate.
Hisui tapped her fingers against her throne with a soft sigh. She had just needed to send away another pair of ‘bodyguards’. They were too new to being wizards to be suitable for the task. She didn’t want to be picky, but she knew Arcadios would want to meet the two responsible for her safety today once he was better. He would never let her out of his sight again if he deemed them incapable of protecting her adequately.
Lucy reached down to rub Hisui’s shoulder. “Don’t worry,” she whispered gently. “I’m sure there’s got to be at least somebody in Fiore we can count on to protect you. And if we can’t find anyone to fill the job, then I’ll do it myself.”
Hisui gave a soft laugh and placed her hand over Lucy’s. “That’s really sweet of you, love, but I don’t think Arcadios would want you to exhaust yourself like that on our day out.”
Lucy shrugged and was about to respond in any manner of way that reassured Hisui that she would be worth the exhaustion. However, a commotion from outside of the throne room stopped her. Lucy reached to her belt, withdrawing Taurus’ key as a precaution. She didn’t want to take any chances, not with Arcadios bedridden.
Several guards rushed into the room, saluting the princess as they led two cloaked figures in. Hisui sat up straighter, alert for any kind of trouble. “What is the meaning of this?” she asked carefully.
“We apologize, Your Majesty,” one of the guards whimpered. “They… insisted they come see you.”
“Isn’t it supposed to be your job to stop anyone suspicious from coming into the castle?” Lucy grumbled. She didn’t put away Taurus’ key, still not at ease.
The guards shared shameful glances. One of the figures stepped forward, out of the protective circle the guards had made. They bowed politely to the princess before speaking. “Forgive the commotion, Your Highness,” she called. “My associate and I apologize, but we preferred to see you personally.”
“And you’re here because?” Hisui tilted her head in confusion. It wasn’t often anyone just walked into the palace with little to no resistance.
“We saw the job posting for a couple of bodyguards for the day.” The figure held up the flyer. “We hope we aren’t too late to apply for the position?”
“You don’t apply if we don’t know your face,” Lucy snarled lowly. She didn’t like this. Why all the secrecy if they weren’t going to try hurting Hisui? Lucy wasn’t letting a single hair on Hisui’s head be harmed while she was around.
The other figure cleared her throat. “Leave the room,” she ordered the guards. To Hisui and Lucy’s shock, the guards actually heeded the order, casting worried glances back to their ruler as they shut the door behind them.
“Are you serious?” Lucy whispered incredulously.
“Please don’t blame them,” the second figure murmured, stepping up beside her companion. “They had no choice but to obey. That is the nature of my power.”
Honestly, neither Lucy nor Hisui were particularly reassured by that information. In fact, it sounded like at least one of these women practiced forbidden magic. They weren’t sure they liked that.
“I believe we should properly introduce ourselves,” the taller of the mysterious figures sighed. Reaching up to her hood, she let it fall. Piercing blue eyes greeted them as she lifted her hand—her claw—to the clasp of the cloak. “I am Lady Kyouka of the Tartaros Guild, Your Highness.”
Hisui stiffened. She recognized that name. However, she stopped herself from responding as she glanced to the other figure. The first thing they noticed when she dropped her hood were the prominent golden horns atop her head. When her cloak dropped, she seemed perfectly normal, apart from the lizard’s tail swaying behind her.
“Lady Seilah of the Tartaros Guild, Your Majesty,” she introduced herself with a slight curtsy.
Silence weighed after the introductions. Lucy had heard of the Tartaros Guild, when Mira was explaining the Balam Alliance. She didn’t know how dangerous they were because there wasn’t a lot of information about them. What did they want with Hisui?
Hisui knew she had to tread carefully. She hadn’t heard too much about the Tartaros Guild, but she didn’t want to let her guard down if these two women turned hostile. With a deep breath, she nodded.
“So… you two are here for the bodyguard position?”
Half an interrogation and a few demonstrations of each guard’s power later, Hisui took another deep breath. Well, that makes things a little clearer at least. Instead of returning Taurus’ key to her hip, Lucy clipped it around her necklace. She didn’t want to take any chances, so she needed it where she could easily access it. These women had reiterated that they were only here to do the job and claim the reward, but motives could change. Kyouka and Seilah, for their part, waited for the verdict.
Hisui shot a glance out the window. The sun was still pretty high in the sky. Perfect. She stood and grinned at Lucy. “Well, now that we’ve got our guards, Arcadios can rest easy. Shall we head out?”
Brown eyes flicked to her before Lucy took a deep breath. They weren’t a threat yet, so there was no use remaining tense. “Yeah! I can’t wait to get started.”
She extended her hand and Hisui took it, a slight blush dusting her cheeks. Kyouka blinked for a moment. That’s the same gesture she used with Seilah. Only with Seilah.
The princess and her consort… I see.
As Lucy guided Hisui from the throne room, Kyouka and Seilah slipped back into their cloaks. Lifting her hand to her shoulder, Kyouka released a small pulse of Curse energy. She was rewarded with Seilah stepping closer to her and her mate’s hand wrapping around her claw. They strode after their wards.
Crocus was alight with color today. Bright pinks, reds, and whites decorated the streets and shops. Hearts were practically tattooed to every surface, from balloons, to cookies, to shirts. Kyouka and Seilah stared around in utter bafflement, wondering what kind of celebration this was.
“Do you think someone important has died recently?” Seilah mused, swiping a cookie in passing.
“I’m not sure whose death could possibly be important enough for all of this,” Kyouka muttered. “Except maybe the person we’re protecting.”
Lucy lifted an eyebrow as she turned to the two of them. “Wait, you two have never heard of Hearts Day before?” she asked in confusion. “I thought you said you were four hundred years old?”
“We also mentioned that the whims of humans are beneath our care,” Kyouka pointed out. “What is this strange holiday? You called it Hearts Day, and yet, no one is ripping hearts out. There isn’t a single drop of blood to be seen.”
Despite herself, Hisui couldn’t help a laugh. “No, no, no! Hearts Day is a holiday celebrating love. Platonic, familial, romantic, and all the kinds in-between! It’s a day to spend with the person or people you love and express to them how much you love and care about them.”
Now the demons were even more confused. “You only do that one day a year?” Kyouka’s eyebrows furrowed together and she glanced to Seilah. “I couldn’t imagine going even a day without holding Seilah close. Does it take a year for you to build the affection so you can let it all out at once?”
“It’s nothing that complicated,” Lucy told them. “Every other day, we know we love each other, but today is a day that celebrates it. It doesn’t mean the affection is any less meaningful any other day.”
Before more questions could be asked, Hisui gasped. “Lucy! Pictures!” She pointed excitedly to a booth where a photographer was taking pictures of families and couples. “Come on, let’s get a few!”
She tugged Lucy over and the two of them dug in the costume props box. Hisui emerged with a pair of heart-shaped sunglasses and a gaudy red-beaded necklace. Lucy picked out an oversized straw hat and a bright pink feather boa. Hisui glanced back at their guards and waved them over. “Come on, you two!” she chirped. “Everybody’s gotta get a picture.”
Kyouka and Seilah glanced to one another. “Are you… sure?” Kyouka asked.
“Of course I’m sure!” Hisui picked up a random prop and tossed it to them.
It stopped midair before landing and Seilah lifted a hand. It was a red domino mask. Her eyes widened and she turned to Kyouka excitedly. “Would you like to be my phantom today, M’Lady?” she asked with the smallest squeal.
Kyouka gave a soft chuckle as she pulled her hood down. She slipped the mask over her face and Seilah sifted through the rest of the props, coming up with a bright pink fedora and a red chain necklace with a fake heart-shaped padlock on it. Kyouka watched her mate’s eyes light up and she couldn’t stifle another chuckle. Stepping up near Lucy and Hisui, Kyouka swiped up the oversized key to the padlock.
They all took a few pictures, some together, and some separately. Seilah and Kyouka almost forgot where they were for a few minutes, getting into the spirit of the photos. Hisui paid the photographer as the pictures printed. She handed copies to everyone. “They look amazing!” she squealed, holding the first one of them all together up to see better. “You two are absolutely adorable together!”
Once again, the two demons eyed her curiously. They had never met a human who found out their nature and could be so relaxed around them. She had even invited them in for pictures. Why didn’t she quake in fear in their presence?
Lucy noticed their bemused expressions and laughed. While Hisui walked a little ahead, she fell back to whisper to them, “She’s not really one to judge,” she explained quietly. “She hasn’t seen too much, but after an accident with the Games and some dragons and stuff…” Lucy shrugged. “You haven’t tried to hurt her, so you’re no different than me and Arcadios in her eyes. Doesn’t matter that you’re demons, you’ve proven affable, so she considers you her citizens.”
“And what about you?” Seilah inquired. “You seemed on edge, but not completely terrified either. Has your story brought you to other demons before?”
“Yup!” Lucy laughed. “One of the very first jobs I went on took me to Galuna Island. There were a bunch of friendly demons who lived there. Even though I know someone whose family was killed by a demon, seeing all of those island demons kinda… put stuff into perspective for me. You haven’t tried to hurt her, so you’re not a threat.”
Kyouka stiffened in offense. “We are the most powerful demons to ever be created by Lord Zeref,” she huffed. “We are very much a threat.”
“I didn’t mean it that way,” Lucy explained. “I mean… you’re powerful, you’re dangerous, you’re people to be feared, but you also haven’t hurt her. You’re not a threat to her. You just wanna do your job. I can respect that. You’re demons, but you don’t attack mindlessly like that one that killed my friend’s family.”
Seilah watched her closely, unable to detect any false emotions. “How interesting. Humans have certainly grown in the last fifty years…”
“Come on, you three!” Hisui called. She stopped in front of a sweets stand. Even from this distance, they could practically see the stars dancing in her eyes. “I’m famished.”
“Perhaps we should get her some actual food first,” Kyouka murmured, though more out of amusement than anything else. “Would be a shame to ruin dinner.”
“What makes you think she won’t just have something sweet for dinner, too?” Lucy chuckled.
Before they could catch up, though, an explosion sounded nearby. Seilah noted that Hisui didn’t even seem surprised by it. The princess rolled her eyes and her shoulders slumped in resignation. Did this happen often?
“Heya there, Princess!” a voice snickered. A muscular man strode from the smoke of the explosion, hefting a massive axe on his shoulder. “Heard ya bodyguard came down sick.”
Without even waiting, Lucy released her Taurus Star Dress. “This creep again?” she grumbled. “How many times do I have to kick your ass for you to get the hint, Mandrogan?”
“You got lucky!” Mandrogan snapped, though some of the people around snickered. Apparently, this did happen often if some of the citizens knew of the event. “I’m gonna knock your teeth in this time, Heartfilia. Prove I'm the better suitor!”
Hisui had stopped paying attention to the conversation, turning back to the sweets salesman. “Could I get a set of macarons, please?” she asked calmly, handing over the money. The vendor, for his part, gathered several macarons together and handed them over with a smile.
Mandrogan dropped the axe slightly with a whine. “Aw, come on, Princess,” he pouted. “At least watch me beat your girl toy into the ground…”
“Hungry,” Hisui shrugged, settling on a nearby chair to watch. “Lucy, make this quick, please? I heard there’s a vendor selling red velvet cake a little way down.”
“You got it, Princess.” Lucy smirked at Mandrogan, using his petname against him.
Mandrogan hefted his axe with a growl and ran toward her. Lucy spun her whip, readying to deliver another beatdown to this idiot. Before she could even swing, though, Mandrogan stopped in his tracks, axe raised in a strike.
“Pardon me,” Seilah said as she stepped in front of Lucy. “But I believe the job flyer said bodyguards were needed to watch after the princess and her consort. Words are law.”
“But I was gonna-.” Lucy stopped when Kyouka put a hand on her shoulder.
“Words are law,” she explained. “If it is written, Seilah will adhere to it to the letter. This means that, despite your obvious skill, we cannot allow you to fight this oaf.”
Seilah released Mandrogan from her hold and waited for his axe to swing. As it came down, she lifted a hand and stopped it with her thumb and forefinger. Mandrogan squeaked.
“How rude,” Seilah sighed as she flicked the axe backward, making Mandrogan stumble with it. “Your story is a repeat of pain and humiliation. Will you never move on to the next chapter?”
“What are you even talking about?” Mandrogan muttered, lifting his axe for another strike. “This isn’t a book, lady. Get your head outta the clouds.”
Seilah’s shoulders slumped at that, which made both Lucy and Hisui stiffen in concern. Lucy felt a rush of power from behind her and turned in time to see a green blur stride past. Mandrogan had enough time to realize someone else was coming before a punch sent him flying over the rooftops. Kyouka glared after him and huffed, “He’s lucky I didn’t rip his tongue out for saying such things.”
She turned back to Seilah and rubbed between her horns, getting a soft purr from the younger demon. “Don’t listen to him, Seilah,” she cooed gently. “The world is your story.”
Hisui finished off the macarons and hopped up. “Good work!” she chirped, walking over. “That’s the fastest he’s ever been dealt with.”
“Does he make those kinds of advances often?” Kyouka asked, keeping an arm around Seilah.
Lucy waved her hand. “More or less. Keeps me and Arcadios on our toes.”
“I think we should get some red velvet to celebrate,” Hisui hummed, continuing on her way down the street.
“Red velvet?” Seilah inquired. “Is that not a type of fabric?”
Lucy bounced after Hisui, the sparkle in her eye matching her girlfriend’s. “Oh, you’re going to love this! Let’s go!”
For the rest of the day, Lucy and Hisui took time to introduce Kyouka and Seilah to all of the different things they weren’t knowledgeable about. From Hearts Day cards (of which Seilah bought fifteen) to decorated cookies (that Hisui had to ask for a check of so she could send it to the Royal Treasury; demons sure could eat a lot) to probably their favorite thing, fireworks.
When the fireworks started, Kyouka kept Seilah close, in case they were a form of attack. But when no attacks came, they looked up in awe. They had never seen anything so pretty before, the shapes and colors flashing through the sky. Truly, it must have been a gift from Zeref himself that they had the opportunity to see something this ethereal. They stared at the fireworks in silence through the show, not wanting to miss a single detail.
“You’ve really never seen fireworks before?” Lucy asked in utter bafflement once the show was over. “Ever?”
“They usually happen while we’re not around,” Kyouka explained. Truth be told, they usually happen below Cube, so none of the demons ever get a chance to see them from their home.
“I’m glad you got a chance to experience them today, then,” Hisui said. “Maybe you’ll be able to see them again sometime.”
The demons would certainly try, that was for certain. As they all made their way back to Mercurius, Hisui stretched and cracked her neck. “It’s always so nice to get out of the castle,” she breathed, the cracks sounding down her back as she popped her spine.
Lucy looked to their guards with a smile. “Before you leave, we should probably introduce you to Arcadios. Who knows, he might recruit you for the Royal Guard.”
“We each have the capability to take out an army, so that is not too odd a notion,” Kyouka murmured.
They slipped into Arcadios’ room and he glanced up. Before he could stand to salute, Hisui waved him down. “You are on bedrest. Don’t you dare get up.” Arcadios smiled sheepishly under her stern gaze. “We just came to introduce you to our guards for the day.”
Arcadios blinked in recognition when he caught sight of Kyouka. “Haven’t I seen you before?” he asked. “You had a job near Hargeon, right? Something about mercenaries?”
“That’s correct,” Kyouka affirmed in confusion.
“You saved the lives of my men that day,” Arcadios smiled, holding out his hand for a shake. “I only caught a brief glimpse of you, but I never got to thank you for your work.”
Kyouka shrugged as she shook his hand. “It was my job. Tartaros guarantees nothing but the best.”
Arcadios nodded. “I’m glad it was you looking after her today. Mandrogan probably didn’t stand a chance.”
“You’ve no idea,” Lucy laughed. “We’ll tell you all about it tomorrow, okay?”
“It’s a deal.”
As they left, two castle guards stepped forward. They held out two large bags of money to Kyouka, who took them easily. “Thanks so much for coming today,” Hisui told them. “We might call on you again if ever Arcadios falls sick again.”
“It will be our pleasure,” Seilah responded as she followed Kyouka to the door.
Reality warped around them for a moment before they found themselves back on Cube. They strode through the halls and dropped the Jewel off at the vault before heading for the common room. Ezel perked up at their entrance and swallowed the leg he was chowing on. “How’d it go!” he called.
A grin spread over his sisters’ faces. “We brought presents!” they cheered.