Diana startled awake, immediately noticing the fireballs exploding in the black sky like supernovas blessing the world. She instinctively reached for a weapon only to accidentally pat James who sat awake on the blanket they shared, his head craned toward the display. Seeing him with his distinct lack of fear made her realize that this was a show, not an attack. She relaxed as she scooted to his side.
“Awake, are we now?” Diana nodded as she lay her head on his shoulder.
“Are you opposed to us getting married?”
Diana jerked her head, surprised by the question. “Wh-what do you mean by that?”
James scratched his chin, avoiding her gaze. He took a second to grasp for an answer. “Well, now we that know each other a little, I need a wife, and your family wants you to find a husband from the sound of it. I’m just saying that when we get you home, we should talk about it again. But, I think you should probably bring it up next time. I don’t want to feel like I’m forcing you into this. Every time things approach being, well, personal, you get all red-faced.” Diana angrily punched him in the arm while pouting. He only smiled at her while rubbing his arm, silently thanking that she’d refrained from using one of her Skills.
She paused. “You’re coming with us to Howderwhit?” A pang of eager anticipation rose within her.
James looked at her in confusion. “Why, of course. I needed to sell some stuff either way, and Howard did ask me to accompany him either way.”
Diana cheekily smiled. “But you’re really coming from me.”
Chuckling, James brushed a strand of stray hair away from her forehead.
Diana paused, mulling over what he had said. “Did you watch me while I slept? You didn’t do anything, ungentlemanly did you? This isn’t some terrible, misguided attempt to take responsibility, is it?”
James shook his head. “What type of person do you think I am? I closed my eyes for a few seconds and found you asleep, so I’ve been sitting here all day. Just saying, if you were this tired, you could’ve just stayed at home.”
Diana blushed as she leaned back onto his shoulder, spectating as more fireballs exploded in the sky like brilliant, dying flashes of light. She whispered, “They’re beautiful.”
James smiled as her hand grabbed his. Wrapping his large hand around hers, he pulled her head to his chest.
Someone pounced them from behind. “Here you are! I’ve been looking for you all day!” Diana felt Kira’s huge breasts on her back and shifted to the side to force the catgirl to slide off. However, this did not faze her much because she went to all fours and crawled into James’s lap. “Master, thank you for being so good to me.”
Diana looked at her, ruffled for a moment before seeing the sincerity in the catgirl’s eyes. At that moment, she realized that there was nothing Kira would not try to do for James. Diana felt a pang in her chest: this catgirl truly deserved to have James unlike her who was just a naive [Knight] trying to make her way through the world. He put a gentle hand behind Kira’s ear and scratched gently, causing her to purr.
Diana interjected, “She really cares for you, doesn’t she?”
James chuckled, watching Kira’s contented expression. “I guess she does. She’s seen the others of her species. Even compared to those living in the town… I think everyone deserves better than life as a slave.” James then smiled at Diana who smiled as well. They looked into each other’s eyes.
His face suddenly soured, his cheeks reddening as a slurping sound was heard emanating from James lap. He coughed. “I think we should get back.”
Diana quickly stood, embarrassed, and hurried to board the wagon.
Diana set the horses for the night and led a few pigs into Jeffry’s pen before entering James’s home. Normally, she’d just offer the wyvern one, but he’d been getting hungrier in recent days, his mournful eyes sending forlorn looks her way that would follow her back into the house if she didn’t give him at least three. Shutting the door behind her, she paused, recalling the catgirl licking James’s groin back by the lake and shook her head, trying to clear the memory from her head. Meanwhile, upon discovering the catgirl asleep in the back of the wagon, James had decided to carry Kira upstairs.
She had barely managed to control the rampant memory when James came back downstairs. He quietly said, “Sorry things got strange.”
Diana blushed and looked away, the memories quickly flooding back. “It’s fine. I appreciate you taking this trip with me and my grandfather. I’d hate to be ungrateful…”
Diana started to move her dress strap off her shoulder. She snuck a glance toward where James was before and found him looking away.
James spoke toward a corner of the room, “I have respect for you, you know. How do you think this makes me feel?”
Diana looked sad, and she remained painfully motionless. “All I have to give freely is my body. A [Knight] repays kindness received.”
Turning around to face her, James sighed. “If you think this is how I want to be repaid, then you do not know me as well as I had thought.”
Diana shed a tear upon hearing that. She hurriedly put the strap back on her shoulder, running a hand over her dress to appear presentable. Without saying anything else, James headed back upstairs. Diana watched, feeling rejected.
“So you’ve noticed?”
Diana jumped, startled by her grandfather speaking behind her with a sword in his hand.
“Grandfather, how long have you been there?”
Pausing, she scolded. “And what are you doing around here, sneaking around like some [Rogue].”
Howard shook his head. “Long enough. You should have known that he would not.”
Diana turned and took a seat. Howard strode to the table as well and sat down.
Holding back her tears, she choked, “I am changing, Grandfather. No one ever told me how to handle these changes or how to deal with them.”
Howard sighed and leaned his sword against the table. “After he saved my life, I offered James my sword.” Howard tapped it as he examined it.
“Although I insulted him through the action, he was still grateful. He took my sword and said that when he gave it back, it would be a sword befitting a true [Knight]. Then he told me that he needed my help to protect his property.”
Howard pushed the sword toward Diana. “Bear this role for me. You’ve already tried your hand at guarding his shop, but there’s more to being a real protector than that. That is how you can begin paying your debt to him and pay mine while you’re at it. I didn’t get that sword back… until today. James asked me to do with it as I saw fit.” Howard left unsaid that James had obviously meant it to be a gift for Diana.
Diana felt her lips twitch upon hearing that. She grasped her grandfather’s sword and pulled it out of its sheath. She immediately felt the heat radiating off the blade. “A flameburg? To make a sword out of intensely fire-attributed mana… Or is it enchanted?”
Howard shook his head. “Well, this was a family heirloom I’d been meaning to give you once you surpassed the first stage of the [Knight] Class at Level 20. It was originally a Plat sword, made of good reinforced dwarven steel with a minor Durability Enchantment but nothing else. Now, it’s this. |Imbue Debuffs| does not work on it. |Mana Fade| and |Magic-Item Break| have no effect either. It’s as if James fused the power of fire right into the blade.”
“Wouldn’t that be… the sheer utility of such a thing…”
Howard sighed. “I’ve seen amazing things in this house. From the showers you used to the inventions strewn about to the base… well, nevermind. James was telling me about how he made it actually, something about a recent discovery involving liquified fire essence and purified blood…”
Diana examined the blade before covering it back up. “I have much to be thankful for and much to repay. Grandfather, thank you.”
Howard nodded happily as he stood up. He rested a gentle hand on Diana’s shoulder before leaving toward his room. Despite having slept much of the festival, she felt she needed to rest in private and started heading upstairs behind him. Halfway up, she found James sitting there. He looked bored from waiting. “Sorry, you two were talking, and I didn’t want to interrupt. I’m going to sleep in the shop. Kira is in a mood.” With a creak in the stairs, he rose and walked past her. It was almost as if he had forgotten what had happened earlier.