Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 156

"I never imagined there would be such a beautiful white mansion here," Kefnie said, her face flushed and her sleeves were rolled up high, revealing her two fair and smooth arms. Her long, red-brown hair covered part of her forehead while some stains hid part of her face.

"Your villa's pretty great, too. No wonder you spend most of your time here," she continued, washing the vegetables.

Claude kneaded a couple chunks of beef on the table behind her. Both Kefnie and Welikro had been invited to dinner, as had the Sioris. Claude suspected Siori felt bad for not actually helping with the move, instead just fetching the furniture Claude had offered him, because he'd told his wife to help clean the villa.

Bloweyk forgot all his grief when he saw the massive mansion and it took Welikro and Siori half an hour to find him and the snowhound when it started getting dark.

"It's much quieter here. I don't really like the town's constant buzz," Claude answered.

"Yeah, I haven't seen you since graduation..." Kefnie paused, as if hesitating about whether she should say something, then took a quiet breath and spoke again. "--I thought I would see you on new year's eve, but you didn't come. I even bumped into you on the way back. I didn't think you would be in disguise. You even lied to hide your identity."

"What are you talking about?--" Claude began, his hands twitching involuntarily.

"I knew it was you, don't lie again," the girl giggled, "I could tell from your eyes, and then you spoke and I was certain."

"I also know it was you that night Blacksnake had caught us..." she whispered after another pause.

Claude's hand reached for the cleaver he'd used to cut the meat involuntarily, and stared at his reflection in the blade muddied by the fat smeared on it, wondering whether it would be safer to silence her permanently.

"Have you told anyone? Does anyone else know?"

"So you admit it was you?" Kefnie asked instead, "No, no one else knows. I won't blab either. I know you stormed into the house to save me. I was so worried, I could tell it was you from your eyes. I almost burst out laughing when you told Luke to rob Jerad. Jerad was so terrified he kept saying you were a magus and it was a miracle we'd encountered you."

Claude's grip tightened on the cleaver's handle, turning his knuckles white, and the blade whimpered, as if eager to taste human blood. Kefnie continued her gloat, not knowing by how thin a thread her life hung.

"Promise me, promise you won't breathe a word to another soul about anything you know," Claude said as sternly as he could, driving the murder out of his voice and eyes as best he could as he stared at her intently.

Kefnie's slight blush of excitement turned crimson and her small, gentle pink lips whimpered.

"Not a whisper. It'll be our secret."

Claude's knuckles returned to their usual fleshy colour. He'd seen many such expressions back on old Earth and knew only too well what it meant. He had little intent to lock her in, however. Enjoyable as such young love would be, nevermind pleasurable and intense, he had no interest in rebirthing old vices. His plans for the future had no place for a woman, especially not one who'd been all but forced upon him by his ex-friend.

She did not lack for looks, and he quite looked forward to seeing how her figure matured, though her partially developed one was more than enough to boil his blood already, but he could do that without getting involved. Kefnie was a hen from hair to bone; her greatest dream was scrubbing together a lovely little nest and laying eggs and hatching chicks for the rest of her life. That was not on Claude's agenda. He had no intention of scrubbing together a nest, and even less of hatching chicks. He was not a sedentary man, and never would be. He was an explorer.
He sighed softly and thought that all he could do was to trust that she would keep his secret as she promised. He would make do if there were any changes down the line. He wasn't a sicko who could take the life of an innocent girl just to keep a secret, especially one who liked him.

"People's lives depend on it, my family's first and foremost, you understand?"

Kefnie bit her flushing lower lip and nodded.

"Are they bothering you?" Claude asked, suddenly veering the conversation in a different direction.

"No. We're staying on Mermaid's second floor. Uncle Aleksim was a good friend of Father's and he's been good to us."

An amused smile crept onto her tomato face for a moment and her eyes narrowed in inappropriate joy.

"Butcher Bill thought he could just march into the docks and take everything because he was wearing that silly coat. He'd barely planted his flag when the navy kicked him out again."

Claude sighed.

"It's not the best idea to just keep hiding. Sir Fux and the mayor is backing Blacksnake, and with their leader now a bandsman, they've got a lot of influence in all the right places. And with no one left to keep the mayor in check, they're only going to keep getting stronger. If he wants to settle down in town, whether he does it with your sister or not, he'd best join a larger force himself. The navy should be a good place to begin."

Claude left his suspicion that the navy was also gearing up for one, perhaps several, major operations.

"If he sides with the right side now, he might just end up controlling all of town, not just the docks."

"You're a real schemer, aren't you?!" Kefnie blurted.

"I'm not a schemer. It's just easier to come up with plans when your a neutral observer. I'm sorry about the whole affair. My father was the chief actor behind the whole business.

"I know he still has his shares in the businesses in and around the docks, but he would do much better to join the navy. He won't have to worry about his background either, since the navy don't really care as long as you're able-bodied enough to do the work."

Claude had thought this through carefully, and helping Jerad out now seemed like a good move from every angle. He lost little by telling Kefnie this, and would lose even less if something stopped the move from being a success. If it worked, however, Jerad would be in his debt, and he would have soothed his guilt over what he'd done to the sisters.

"Sis and Jerad should agree. Jerad's actually been thinking about disbanding Shark altogether and settling down with my sister. Then Bidlir showed up..."

Kefnie teared up, but they only hung on her eyes as they fixed themselves on Claude. Claude scratched his nose awkwardly in return. He was so poor it drove him nuts, and now he had the guilt of robbing two girls, even if indirectly, on his shoulders. Even worse, one of them was now, unintentionally perhaps, though it didn't really matter one way or another, ramming the nail right into his back.

"Are you going to join the army?" Kefnie asked suddenly.

"I don't know... It's not really up to me to decide. I'm a physical course student, so I'm already halfway a soldier and first in line to be conscripted if a war ever breaks out. That's why I'm very hesitant to make any kinds of promises that I very possibly can't keep," Claude said pregnantly, but the message didn't hit home.

"Then I'll wait," the girl answered.

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