There’s no fair or unfair in battle.
“Well I must say, this stings more than I thought it would,”
Themesycia leaned a little forward, placing her glass of wine down on the concrete next to her. She turned her head to look over her shoulder, barely catching sight of the edge of her new marking, the branding hidden squarely on her back and partially from her bathing suit. The duchess of Bellum rolled her shoulders slightly, feeling the soreness that came from getting such a large, filled tattoo. Chuckling to herself in amusement at the actual concept of soreness, she kicked her legs a little in the warm water as she reached down for her wine. “And what about you, darling? I imagine any pain you had has faded away already.”
Vandrad was seated next to her only feet away, also wearing a bathing suit but without a top. Evident on his back and right shoulder was a new kind of scar; a black tattoo that wrapped around his shoulder blade, over his shoulder and down onto his bicep. Intricate curves that came to sharp points wound over his flesh, with the only significant mark being that of a trident-looking symbol that ran down and then opened into two rounded points. "The pain is gone,” he confirmed with a nod as he lifted his shoulder to look at. "I was surprised the man was able to get any kind of inking done with my healing capabilities.”
“Ah, never underestimate Paeyth. The man can work wonders.” Given the slight purr in her voice, the prince could only imagine that his mother didn’t just mean with tattooing.
It had been several days since his arrival and his training had come along better than expected. That was hardly a surprise -- his mother was always impressively capable of finding weak points in Vandrad’s magic and helping him strengthen them. While the Dark Brand, as Themesycia had taken to calling it, was a terrifying force to behold, Vandrad had already made far greater progress under her tutelage than he had by himself. He’d even managed to fight transformed earlier in the day without feeling strain, an advancement he believed much farther down the line. In celebration, his mother and Simon had insisted they go out and partake in the cuisine of the town. The conversation at dinner was informal but pleasant, the two older du Wolffs reliving their younger years in stories that Vandrad had heard time and time again. The night had continued on, with each of them chatting and drinking before Themesycia had suggested a wild idea. Vandrad’s body was littered with scars, dark reminders of the abuse he had suffered at the hands of his grandmother when he was a toddler. The duchess believed it was high time he put a new mark on himself, one that he could find pride in rather than dismay. The Dark Brand was hardly an acceptable answer to that.
Though normally he may have fought her on the topic, Vandrad surprisingly agreed. In truth, her pitch for the marking was not only sound but uplifting. The prince had spent the greater portion of his life training, educating himself, becoming stronger so he’d never be treated like a punching bag again. But the scars were always there and there was little doubt that the new magical mark was something foul. After everything he had gone through over the past year, even he felt he deserved some kind of reward for his efforts; a significant sign of his progress and achievement.
Well the older siblings were thrilled. They practically rushed him over to a small tattoo shop near the harbor. Themesycia insisted on providing him with an idea of what he should get, eagerly taking some paper from the aforementioned Paeyth to draw it out. Upon first look, Vandrad liked the look but didn’t understand the purpose of the mark inside. “It is the du Wolff family insignia,” she explained. “It is a brand that I’ve oft wanted to get myself but couldn’t find the time to come. Allow me this one bonding measure with my son and get a matching one with your dear old mother.” Well, it was hard to say no to that. Vandrad had the mark put on over his shoulder and his mother had it colored in on the top of her back. Simon agreed to a much smaller mark, so as to carry on the bonding exercise but not wanting to get it painted on in large detail.
As the night wound down, Simon found himself exhausted and excused himself to go to bed. The duchess insisted that Vandrad spend more time with her and offered the opportunity to go and sit by the pool’s edge. It was still a bit chilly outside but the warmth from the water and the liquor would suit them fine for a while. Themesycia looked over at him and then reached out, placing her hand flat on his arm, right over the mark. “It suits you well, darling. I’ve always thought that you could use a little ink. I imagine Mercury will be quite surprised when you return home. You might thank me for that later,” she said with a wry smirk.
"I imagine she’ll be more upset she didn’t get to watch it happen,” Vandrad said with a snort.
“Oh dear, then I may have created a monster. Now she’ll be demanding you get more,” Themesycia chuckled.
The two fell into a relatively peaceful silence for a time, the mother and son staring out at the night sky. With the limited lighting, the cool black blanket was lit up with stars, the tiny bulbs winking down at any would-be viewers. How interesting it was for Vandrad, to view them now and know that beings existed in several of them. First Beira and then Mercury, arguably the two most impactful women in his life, though the former had seemingly disappeared for the time being. Entities from space, descended down upon Earthland for their own motives, though Mercury’s still remained in shadow. For a simpler man, the knowledge would drive them mad and they’d be frothing at the mouth to have someone share in the insanity of it. But for Vandrad, it somehow made sense. After all, the chances of one planet being the only one teeming with life seemed far more unlikely than interstellar travelers?
And yet he knew thinking about such things was a distraction, at least in the moment. From the moment he’d returned, he had been building up to a conversation that had been long overdue. When he’d left Bellum for Fiore, he had said some rather nasty things to his mother. Angered at her deceptions, he had spat virulent toxicity at her and then simply left. Still, she had gotten him home and hadn’t hung it over his head, though perhaps treating him to an engagement ball might have been a slight form of punishment. After the few moments of silence, Vandrad cleared his throat, his eyes dropping from the planet’s ceiling to the water in front of him. "Mother, I…” he started, trying to form the words in his head. "I wish to apologize.”
“For what, love?” she asked, turning his gaze to him.
"For the way that I… left. When I went searching for Gren.” He couldn’t manage to bring his gaze to her. "I was angry; furious that I had been lied to. I said a very many things with the intent of trying to hurt you, of making you feel as bad as I felt. It took some time but I eventually understood why you had. With that much pressure from grandfather and… Beatrix, I imagine it made more sense to simply keep the truth than to unravel it.”
Themesycia sighed. “Unfortunately, it became easier to live with the lie than to reveal the truth. After a set amount of time, I felt you would hate me for not telling you earlier. I kept convincing myself that I would tell you, find the perfect moment and bear the consequences but… you were a lonesome boy. You grew to despise everything around you and truthfully, I feared you leaving and never returning. Selfish, I know…”
Vandrad shook his head softly. "After that day, I changed. I became hardened, I didn’t see much light in the world. All the positive things you and everyone represented, they just… felt wrong. So I pushed them away, pushed you away, even before I learned the truth.” Finally he managed to lift his head to look at her. "But I still owe you an apology. My manners were horrendous and I shouldn’t have said the things I did. I hope you can forgive me.”
“You needn’t even ask. I hardly blamed you for your anger and forgave you the moment you left,” Themesycia assured him, reaching over to cup his cheek in her hand. “The truth is, darling, there are very many secrets that I’ve kept from you for the sake of our family. Old promises that I’ve held onto, despite the bodies lying cold in the ground. Perhaps it was out of some commitment to a time gone by. Whatever the case, there are dark secrets the du Wolffs guard from the world, ones that I’ve protected you from so that you needn’t worry yourself. But I can also see that it may have been me simply trying to protect myself as well.” The duchess took a long sip from her wine glass, swallowing the liquid down until it was almost spent.
After she had consumed a fair portion, she set the glass down. “I suppose the easiest one to start with is the fact that your uncle, aunt and I are not related. I imagine that comes as a bit of a surprise.”
Vandrad shook his head. "Not really.”
Themesycia raised a brow. “Really?”
Vandrad snorted softly. "Truth be told, I overheard a conversation many years ago between you and Simon about it. I don’t quite remember the context but I recall him thanking several gods that you weren’t blood. And then I believe the two of you started… well… you know.” He didn’t quite have the stomach to say the explicit act that they had engaged in. "I knew our family was sexually inclined but incest didn’t seem quite without you or Simon’s wheelhouse so it made sense. I’ve merely been pretending to not hear the number of times you two ran off to bump uglies. But it never made him any less my uncle, nor Everance my aunt. Just because they are not my blood doesn’t mean they aren’t family as far as I’m concerned. Though I am curious… the fabrication about my discovery as a child. Does that hold any weight to how you were found?”
Themesycia smiled. “You were always quick to problem solve. Yes, in fact, the tale of your origin is actually my own. Bacchus found me when he was returning home, abandoned on the side of the road. Rather than leave me there, he saved me, much to Beatrix’s displeasure. I was adopted into the family and raised as one of their own, though I was always very much aware that I had merely been brought in rather than born into greatness, as your grandmother liked to put it. As we grew together, your aunt and uncle and I grew rather close. I don’t think father and mother ever knew for we were all very quiet but Simon was quite thankful I wasn’t related to him. As our hormones raged, we had an easy outlet.”
Vandrad raised a brow. "Everance as well?”
Themesycia shrugged. “Not until much later, after you had been born. She wasn’t sure if I swung that way, as one likes to put it. And even now, we only get together on rare occasions. Usually Dudley’s birthday,” she said with an impish smirk.
Well that was an image he didn’t need. "I knew that our family was liberal in its passion but this puts things in a whole new light,” Vandrad shook his head, amused despite the implications.
Themescyia nodded softly, though her features softened a bit in sadness and concern. “Yes well… speaking on that theme. I think it’s best we discuss Mercury…”
"And the fact that I’m in love with her?”
The night seemed to come to a complete standstill, Themesycia practically freezing in her spot. For the first time in a long time, the duchess looked completely and utterly stunned, her eyes wide as she looked at her son in bewilderment. “I’m… I’m sorry?” she stuttered out, her regal tone washed away.
"Yes, you heard me correctly. I don’t know if it’s the alcohol or just the winter air but I’m feeling painfully honest. It’s the first time I’ve allowed myself to say it outloud; I’ve merely been punching it back down inside my head. Some months ago, she and I went through a trial. Some things were revealed that weren’t ready to come to light and it caused an issue. But rather than hide herself away and put her walls back up, Mercury actually let me in. I discovered more about her than I ever thought I would and it broke through all the denial I had been piling on and on within. The sensations I feel when I’m around her, it’s love. Senseless, stupid love.”
“Oh Vandrad…” Themesycia started, her words caught in her throat. She had gotten emotional all of a sudden and before he could turn to question it, she had slid over and pulled him into a hug. She held him there, his face twisting in surprise and confusion until she finally released him. “Sorry, darling. I got a little caught up in the moment,” she apologized, wiping a stray tear from her eye. “Senseless as it may be, it seems you understand wholly what you are feeling. But do you understand what it means to be in love with Mercury?”
His brow furrowed. "What do you mean?”
“She is…” Themesycia tried to think of the best way to approach this with him. “There is a reason she got along with your family, Vandrad. She is very similar to us. In fact, she reminds me a lot of a younger version of myself. Now before that scares you away, may I remind you that it is perfectly understandable for most people to fall in love with others that resemble their family. But for you… well, to be frank, you’ve always seemed to dislike our lifestyle -- a lifestyle that Mercury certainly enjoys and would want to partake in, or so I believe. I am not trying to tell you that it wouldn’t work but… it is something to consider.”
"I have,” Vandrad replied rather quickly, nodding. "I think a large part of the reason that I developed feelings for her was because she was so effortlessly capable of blending in with the rest of you. I know it’s strange, considering how things have been all of my life but… I suppose this is an example of what they say love can do to a person. It changes them, makes them see the world in a different light. Can I say it will change my stance on the absurd amount of explicit activities you all partake in? Not at all. But I can safely say that…” he trailed off for a moment, an admission coming that was hard for him to say. "I only want her to be happy. Whatever form that takes is perfect by my standards. Even if it means you and Simon keep trying to woo her into bed.”
“That’s… actually what I was trying to get at. Your uncle and I have already had sex with Mercury…” Themesycia admitted gently, staring at Vandrad to gauge his response.
"You… what?” His brow furrowed in confusion as he turned to look at her.
“The night we met her. When you two joined us at the afterparty, there was a moment in time where your uncle was able to use his magic to get her alone. But Mercury refused to sleep with him unless I was involved, since we both had been trying to woo her all night. She was clearly trying to call our bluff but considering this wasn’t the first time we’ve partaken of an extra partner, she turned out to be the surprised one. Of course we explained to her the situation of us not truly being related, so as not to appall her and well… things progressed from there. I am truly sorry, darling.” She held his gaze for a long moment, unsure of how he would react. It was a vicious thing to reveal, especially after he had just admitted his feelings for her. But it was better to get the truth out there now and handle the consequences than to bury it longer.
Vandrad was silent for a long moment, simply staring at his mother. When he finally did speak, it was quiet. "Damn…” he muttered. Then, perhaps the most surprising, he sputtered out a laugh and shook his head. "And here I thought I had covered all angles. But I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, given the innumerable amount of men and women you two have seduced over the years.”
Themescyia blinked. “So you’re not… angry? You aren’t upset with myself or Simon for sleeping with her?”
Vandrad snorted. "If I were to get upset over either one of you sleeping with people, I would never get married at all.” The duchess was caught off guard by the light-hearted comment and snorted before bursting into laughter. "Though I suppose that would still leave that dreadful woman from Midi. Sabine, was it?” Themesycia made a face, one that seemed to be marked with guilt over knowledge. Vandrad looked at her and shook his head. "No…”
“Listen, your uncle was upset at the way that she treated you and Mercury. So he may have… slightly charmed her into believing that getting into his good graces would get her into your good graces.” Themesycia was trying to fight back a wicked grin.
"What did he do?”
“He may have gotten himself a blowjob from Miss Midian Ribbon. And he may have taken pictures of it and forwarded it to her father. She’d already proven herself a heinous witch and Simon was hell bent on ruining her life further.”
"That… is diabolical,” Vandrad said in awe, starting to laugh.
“No one treats my son and my Mercury like that. Simon felt the same way. In fact, you should have heard Ever’s suggestion,” the duchess joined him in laughing. The two continued to chuckle at the utter disrespect they had shown the Midian princess, far more amused than horrified by the actions of the lord of Bellum. After they had settled down, Themesycia set her gaze on Vandrad. “You’ve grown remarkably over this past year, Vandrad. And I am so very proud of you for coming to grips with your feelings. Tell me; do you think that Mercury feels the same way towards you?”
The prince shrugged. "I don’t know. In truth, I don’t believe any kind of formal relationship between us could work. There are aspects of her life that prevent it, I believe. Still, I am happy to love her from afar, for whatever time I have.”
Themesycia had no answer for that, though her gaze flitted between Vandrad’s seemingly lost eyes. In truth, she had more of an inkling that her son did, a mother’s instinct that was calling out to her loud and clear. But it was not her place to tell him anything more; it was his life and it was up to him to take charge and go after the things he wanted that weren’t just strength based or training. “Well I believe I’ve sufficiently frozen myself sitting by the pool. I believe it is time for bed, wouldn’t you agree?”
Vandrad nodded and both of them rose out of the pool. Before he could turn fully away, Themesycia took his face in her hands and gave him a soft, loving kiss on the cheek. The act caused him to blush, despite the fact that nobody was around. "W-What was that for?”
“A mother is allowed to kiss her son. Now come along. We’ve only a few more days to finish your training and I can’t have you sick in bed from the cold.”