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The Hogwarts Four: The Guild Wars by NTSDHogwartsFour
Chapter 8 : Chapter Six: Voices from the Past
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 1


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Chapter Six: Voices from the Past


Amon Medies was not used to being around comfort and splendor. Yes, the Grove was beautiful and luxurious but on the same token it was natural and rough.


Amon finally gained a formal introduction to Alexander Reth, Ra’s betrothed, when the fellow brunette had stolen a shirt from somewhere in the house and told him to wear it the next day after he was shown to a room.


Somehow, someway, he had gone from being drugged and threatened to being a guest in Ravenclaw Manor. The fact that his room was in the tower adjacent to Harley and Ra’s was something he found amusing. Apparently Selena and Glinda both stayed over at the manor frequently enough that they each had their own room in the East Tower, which was where he had been placed in.


And yet, here he was, sitting in Ra Ravenclaw’s personal library again with breakfast laid out on a coffee table, chatting with the two beautiful girls while he was wearing an oversized shirt that smelled very familiar and comforting as well as his favorite trousers, leaving his feet bare as he couldn’t stand wearing his boots this early in the morning if he wasn’t outside. His hair was still slightly sleep-mussed but he had thankfully been able to take the most comfortable bath in his life before sleeping in a bed that put his usual flowers and sleeping bag to shame.


“Good morning, Glinda, Selena…” a very sleepy voice spoke up from the doorway of the study and Amon looked up, blinking in surprise at the sight of his guardian. Blond hair was pulled into a messy plait at the back of his head, the tail of it coming down over his shoulder to splay over the soft fabric of the sleeveless black shirt that practically molded itself to each and every divot of muscle on his torso, disappearing down into loose grey lounging pants that played peek-a-boo with bare feet.


Seeing all of those muscles, even just the bared arms, this early in the morning almost short-circuited Amon’s brain and he could tell the girls could see his thought processes breaking down by their damnable giggling.


“Good morning, Harley-kins.” They chorused, Glinda gesturing for Amon to scoot over so that Harley could sit down in his usual spot, even though the girls had chosen a different couch today to sit on. The two minxes apparently wanted to surprise their friend with the appearance of his boytoy this early in the morning.


Doing as he was told, the brunette scooted over until Harley sat down and he waited while the blond drank down at least one cup of coffee after loading it with sugar and creamer almost to the point that Amon was certain it was no longer coffee. Once he began to wake up, the copper-haired older man shifted himself to sit in Harley’s lap, using the blond as an impromptu chair. “Morning, hun.” He murmured, pressing a kiss to Harley’s jaw as he watched those eyes try to catch up with what he was seeing.











“Amon? Wait...how...why…?” Golden eyes blinked rapidly, wondering how in the hell his date the night before was here.


“He can’t leave the city for a while so Ra is allowing him to stay in a guest room.” Glinda chirped, looking for all of Tyria like a simple redheaded girl at a slumber party in her comfortable day dress.


“Glindaaaa….” Harley groaned, burrowing his face down into the crook of Amon’s neck, making him thankful that it was that particular shoulder instead of the one Harley had left a rather distinctive mark on the day before. “Wait...is this my shirt?” He muttered, sitting up and looking Amon up and down, noting just how much larger the shirt was on the older man.


Amon just shrugged in unison with the girls. “Alexander gave it to me last night. Very comfy.”


Giggling, Selena watched Harley closely.  It was Glinda, however, who spoke up.  “It should be. Harley always whines if his clothes aren’t comfortable enough. Even if it is unattractive.”


“I do not whine, Glinda.”


“Oh, fibber, you do so!”


“Nuh-uh!”


“Uh-huh!”


“Nuh-uh!”


“Uh-huh!”


“Children!” Selena cut in, hands on her hips.


“You’re younger than us!” Harley and Glinda chorused, making Amon wonder what the hell he was thinking getting attached to someone with such crazy friends. Then again, he was somewhat crazy so he supposed that it fit. He couldn’t honestly imagine himself being with someone sane...far too boring.


“This is what I get for dating someone younger than me.” Amon muttered, shifting against Harley’s chest to get more comfortable, sipping on his cup of hot, plain tea.  


“Yes, that does put you in your place, doesn’t it, my little mockingbird,” said a regal voice from the door.  As the group turned to look, the servants jumped into action.  Ra Ravenclaw, dressed nicely in a white silk, frilled shirt, bronze vest buttoned over it, sapphire colored necktie, and black trousers, leather boots already on, sauntered into the room with Reth at his side.  


Harley immediately glanced out the window, trying to gauge what might be going on outside. “Okay, it doesn’t look like the world is ending.”


Amon turned away from Ra, focusing on the blond who was smirking at him and his other three friends that had very similar expressions on their faces. “Why would you be checking if the world is ending?”


“Because Ra is up, dressed and--” Harley’s grin widened as Glinda, Selena and Reth all chorused in on the  next part, “fabulous before ten am.”


The brunette Seraph Lieutenant was garbed in what appeared to be training armor, raising an eyebrow at his blond friend. “C’mon, Ley, we need to get to the training field. Logan actually said he’d owe us a favor after what we’re supposed to be doing to the trainees today.”


Harley hummed under his breath, wrapping his arms a bit more tightly around Amon’s waist so that he could continue cuddling the Ranger for a little while longer. “You want to join us on the field? I’m sure some of them could benefit from your experience…”


Amon wasn’t even able to open his mouth to say yes before Glinda cleared her throat. “Nope. Nuh-uh. You, my dear Amon, are going to be shopping with us today.”


“Glinda, why are you trying to torment him?” Harley asked, the barest hint of a whine in his voice, golden eyes staring at his redheaded friend from over the edge of Amon’s shoulder.


“Torment him? He’s tormenting me, Harley dear, looking like that. He’s dating you now, which means he has to dress to a certain standard.” Glinda corrected, reaching forward and grabbing Amon’s hand, dragging him up onto his feet and out of Harley’s arms. “I already have a few outfits in the guest room ready for him to try for us so it really shouldn’t be that long. You two boys have fun torturing the trainees and Ra, do not break the Ministry too badly today. I need some of them mentally intact.”


With that, the group dispersed for what could almost amount to a regular day.


Ra in the Ministry, ruining lives and furthering the Queen’s agenda when it aligned with his own.


Harley and Reth training with the Seraph, putting the trainees and hopefuls through the ringer as their acting CO’s for the day as Logan was stuck with Jennah in the Ministry.


Selena and Glinda were happily tormenting Amon, using the man as a human dress-up doll with clothes, shoes and Selena even calling someone in to fuss with the brunette’s hair a little bit. Against his better judgement, Amon found himself actually having fun as the girls quipped back and forth over his head, watching their smiles widen when he joined in. Apparently dating Harley meant you gained his friends as well...that explained why the boy was so hesitant to date people easily. If your boyfriend, girlfriend, whatever, was expected to become friends with your friends...dating became that much harder.


The two noble ladies both seemed relieved that their ‘boys’ had found men that were able to join the ranks as friends and, as of that evening, the NTSD.


He and Reth were both dressed in white leather jackets dotted with clear crystals over white button-up shirts and black trousers with matching dress shoes, talking quietly between themselves as they waited for the others to come back to the guest room so that they could find out what the hell was going on.


That afternoon, once everyone was finished with their personal plans, they regrouped.  Reth and Harley each took a moment to get cleaned up and changed while the rest waited in the main library downstairs, drinking their favorite teas.  There was a cry from upstairs, followed by Harley bellowing, “GLINDA!!!!”


Ra turned to Glinda, eyes narrowing in suspicion.  “What did you do?”


Glinda shrugged, unconcernedly.  “Oh, I just made some… adjustments… to his NTSD jacket.  Nothing much.”  


“Nothing mu- nothing much, you say?”  Harley cried, marching in, dressed in his gang outfit.  It consisted of a black sleeveless turtleneck shirt, black trousers, black leather boots, black leather gloves with the fingertips cut off, and a yellow and black leather jacket with a black coat of arms emblazoned on the chest and back, bearing a badger.  His last name arched over the crest on his back.  The jacket in question, which once had long sleeves that effectively hid his mass was now sleeveless, with the hem at the shoulders artfully frayed and torn.  “I look like a circus sideshow!  I’m showing my arms now!”


Glinda smirked.  “It looks better this way.  And now it looks unique, too.  Yours looked like a watered down version of Ra’s, but now you have your own unique style, so there!”  


Harley scowled.  “Be glad you’re cute, pixie girl.”  


Glinda beamed.  “Oh, I thank my mother for my beauty every single day, Harleykins.”


Harley wasn’t the only one to have a wardrobe change.  Soon after, Reth returned, sitting down next to Ra on one of the many comfy couches.  “Um, Glinda, what’s this for?” he asked, holding up a white leather jacket with clear studs, as Amon came in, holding one similar, looking like he was going to ask the exact same question.  


Glinda cocked an eyebrow, giving the two young men a look that said she was not amused.  “Those are your Sorting jackets.  You are being inducted into the NTSD.  Obviously.  They are white with clear studs because you aren’t yet Sorted into a House.  They will change to match your House once the Sorting Ceremony is complete tonight.  So don’t miss it or I will hunt you down.  The other recruits received their jackets and acceptance letter a week ago by post from all across Tyria.  We have a Charr from Ash Legion, a couple Sylvari saplings, a couple Norn from Raven Lodge, a young Baron from one of the vassal houses at Ebonhawke, three from Divinity’s Reach, one from Ascalon Settlement, and two from Claypool.  So you two won’t be alone.”  


Amon really shouldn’t have been surprised to hear that their gang had that far of a sphere of influence...but he was. Reth seemed pretty surprised himself and from what he was made to understand, he and Ra had been together for a while now.


Of course all of Amon’s concentration went out the window once he fully took in the image his boyfriend made in his gang attire. “Damn…Okay, you have to wear that more often.”


The blond blinked in surprise, shrugging his shoulders at the Ranger in confusion. “What are you talking about? I never wear this damn thing...Glinda always changes it and now the woman took away my sleeves. I feel exposed…”


Sharing a look and a wink with Glinda, who honestly looked about to zap Harley if he complained about the lack of sleeves again, Amon grasped either side of his face to tug the blond down into a heated kiss in hopes of both keeping him quiet about the sleeves and making him want to wear it more often because Amon asked him to.


Harley was pleasantly fuzzy in the brain when his brunette finally let him go, a murmured, “Yes, dear,” his only answer before the Ranger stepped back over to Glinda to see what exactly they were supposed to expect from this ceremony.


“So...how are we sorted? I mean...I assume you know more about Alexander than you do about me other than what’s on paper but I don’t think that’s how you guys do it…”


Glinda merely gave him a mischievous smile and winked.  “Oh, you'll find out tonight.  Daddy made some slight… adjustments to it, so it's stronger.  And smarter.”  She raised a finger, pointing at him menacingly, the tip of her nail less than an inch from his nose.  “So make sure you are in the Palace grounds at sunset, and if you value your ability to reproduce, do not be late!”


Somehow, that little pixie who was so bubbly, sweet, and cute made that look absolutely terrifying.  All Amon could do was nod vigorously and say, “Yes ma’am!”


~


Harley decided to surprise Amon by taking him out for lunch at his favorite Ascalonian restaurant in Lion’s Arch, wanting to make sure that they were back early enough before sunset so that Glinda would not emasculate the both of them.


Amon felt his heart decide to take up residence somewhere in his throat as he watched the sun make its slow descent out of view, Harley’s hand around his own leading him into the Palace Gardens where the ceremony was going to be taking place. The blond situated him within a group of people, giving him a kiss for luck before running off to find Glinda and get some instructions from her on exactly what she wanted him to be doing this time around. They hadn’t had a Sorting this large in a while.  


Amon made his way through the group of people and found Reth, who was chatting with the Charr in the batch.  Reth smiled at Amon as he approached.  “Amon, hey!  This is Regulus Bloodmist, from the Ash Legion!  He was Ra’s temporary bodyguard while he was in the Black Citadel on business for the Ministry last week, and Ra was impressed with him.”


Regulus had jet black fur, long, spiked horns that curved back along his feline neck, and shocking, electric blue eyes.  He wore the initiate’s outfit of the NTSD, which Glinda had adjusted to fit a Charr.  Regulus was lithe and smaller than most Charr Amon had met, and had the face of a jaguar.   He smiled, showing sharp, white fangs, and extended his hand to Amon, who took it.  “It is a pleasure to meet you, Amon,”  Regulus said in a deep bass.  “I’m honored to get to represent the Charr in the NTSD.  Tribune Brimstone always speaks highly of Lord Ravenclaw, and I was happy to assist him.”  


Amon was intrigued.  Just what skills could this Charr have that Ra Ravenclaw would have found useful or interesting enough to warrant an invite?  Before he could ask, however, the group of people grew silent, and Amon turned to see Glinda standing before them.  She looked stunning, wearing a very beautiful red leather jacket with elbow-length sleeves and golden studs, emblazoned with a golden crest bearing a lion.  She wore a black skirt that extended to just above her knees, and red high heeled boots and red gloves with the fingertips cut off.  She smiled around at the twelve people before her. “Welcome everyone, to the Sorting Ceremony of the NTSD.  Before we take you in and Sort you, it is tradition to give you a background of how this organization came to be.  So, let me begin!”


Amon and Reth both thought this would be some kind of boring lecture, but it was actually very fascinating.  


When the four friends had been around ten or eleven years old, they went through a rebellious phase where they didn’t want to be compared to their parents, so they created a gang, called Hogwarts (some word Glinda had made up on the fly), or the Sorting Hat, or most commonly, NTSD.  They went on to wreak havoc throughout Divinity’s Reach and Lion’s Arch.  They were quite a nuisance.  Until Princess Jennah joined the gang and convinced them they could use their abilities to help Kryta.  This was only further encouraged when Ra began working in the Ministry and put the gang (which had grown to include many children of Ministers, government officials, military officers, and other influential individuals) to use to give him the ability to manipulate the Ministry in his favor, which always aligned with Jennah’s will.  The way Ra was utilizing the gang caused the others to determine how better to apply their individual efforts and interests to help better Kryta.  


Glinda, leader of House Gryffindor, began to focus on recruiting individuals who were brave and strong, to help her with strengthening the Seraph.  This portion of the gang was heavily involved in crafting stratagem for the Seraph, Shining Blade, Ebon Vanguard, Fallen Angels, and Ministry Guard.  They even developed many of the tactics and training methods used by the Krytan Military Academy in Claypool, though no one was really aware of this.  


Ra took lead of the children of the Ministry and government officials of Kryta, and formed House Ravenclaw, which was designed to continue what he had initially used the whole gang for: manipulation and control of the Ministry.  Since this House was mostly made up of Shining Blade agents and the sons and daughters of Ministers and other influential ministers, merchants, and the like, it meant that Ra had eyes and ears in the lives of every key person in the Ministry, knowing all their secrets and plans, giving him the ability to control the direction the Ministry went in terms of policy and influence.  As Ra always said: knowledge was power.  


Selena, founder of House Slytherin, took a different approach to defending Kryta.  While Ra sought to influence policy and laws in the Ministry, and Glinda chose to direct the efforts of the military to defend the kingdom, Selena concerned herself with external threats.  She began planting her followers as spies throughout the people of Tyria.  She had fingers, eyes, ears, and voices in every facet of Hoelbrak, the Black Citadel, the Grove, Rata Sum, Lion’s Arch, the Orders of Tyria, and even was aware of every move, twist, and turn of the Inquest, different bandit organizations, the elusive White Mantle, the Flame Legion, and the Sons of Svanir.  She was working on finding a way into the Nightmare Court, as they spoke.  Selena was able to, with merely a word, assassinate the leaders of almost every criminal organization in Tyria, and as a result, could control them.  It was her House that was responsible for ensuring that the belief that NTSD was just “some childrens cult of troublemakers and hoodlums” was taken as 100% truth, with a bit of help from House Gryffindor’s pull over the Seraph.   


Harley, being the nice one, didn’t want to be so cloak and dagger, however.  He wanted to help others.  The members of the gang that had a sense of loyalty, or just didn’t fit into the other three’s agendas, were adopted into House Hufflepuff, which sought to provide service, support, comfort, friendship, and general help to the people of Kryta.  They went about seeking to find ways to help and serve, from the simplest task of helping an old lady across the street to repairing Shaemoor after the Centaur attack, while providing medicine, food, and water to the survivors of that ordeal.  


Jennah being the Queen and a member of the gang only made these things easier for them to accomplish.  Her official but largely unknown support and backing of the NTSD gave them resources and power to accomplish each of their own goals and dreams.  Jennah was recently named the “Headmistress” of the gang, their overall leader, and was a member of House Slytherin on top of that.  


Amon was truly impressed.  Not only had these four beautiful, smart, and talented young people shown leadership of a gang, but now literally had complete control of the fate of Kryta at their fingertips.  They were more powerful than some of the most influential lords, ministers, and priests to ever live, maybe (Melandru forgive him) even more powerful than the Six Gods.  And he and Reth were about to become part of this Krytan Order.  He couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride in that as Glinda turned and led them into the Seraph headquarters, down a spiral flight of stairs, and to a dead end of a large stone wall, on which hung a painting of Jennah’s father, the late King of Kryta.  To everyone’s shock, the king moved!  He looked down upon Glinda, smiled, and said in a deep, regal voice, “Password?”


Glinda smiled back, and said, confidently, “Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus.”


The King in the painting bowed respectfully to her, and the painting slowly swung inward, to reveal another spiral stairway.  Glinda lead the twelve initiates into the passage and down to a landing upon which were to great, wooden doors, ornately carved with an eagle, badger, serpent, and lion.  Glinda turned to face the group.  “Beyond these doors lie your future.  Beyond these doors, you will each be Sorted into your House, and will be given a purpose to help Kryta grow.  To help Tyria grow.  The Sorting will reveal one of four natures that is strongest in you: bravery, cunning, loyalty, or intelligence.  These traits will be used to determine your future in the NTSD, but never underestimate the power of personal choice.  The Sorting only tells you what you could be, not what you will be.  Are you all ready?”


“Yes, Lady Gryffindor,” chorused the twelve.  She beamed at them.  “Oh, good!  Then making all these jackets wasn’t a waste of time, and we don’t have to kill any of you.  Thank Balthazar.”  She continued beaming at them, though they looked shocked that she’d even considered such a thing.  “Please follow me.”


Glinda turned, and walked up to the large oak doors, placed her hands upon them, and pushed them wide open.  The twelve all couldn’t help but gasp in shock, including Amon and Reth.  The hall they had come into was immense!  A large, cathedral-like room with a vaulted ceiling that mimicked the sky outside!  Four large, long tables with rows of benches ran the length of the room, at which sat many members of the NTSD, all chatting and interacting with each other, but falling silent at the sight of the new arrivals.  Candles floated above their heads, providing light and warmth, as did the four great fireplaces that ran along the walls, each one engraved with one of the four animals of the gang.  At the head of the room was a raised stone platform, upon which sat another table, one far grander than the rest, at which sat Ra Ravenclaw, Selena Slytherin, Harley Hufflepuff, and Queen Jennah.  


Glinda led them up to the platform, and told them to wait,  She then ascended the stairs to stand before Jennah, curtseyed to her respectfully, and said, “Majesty, Heads of House, I present this year’s new initiates, all ready to be Sorted.”  


Jennah nodded, regally, and replied, “You may proceed, Lady Gryffindor.”  


Glinda rose from her curtsey, and snapped her fingers in the air.  Out of one of the side doors off the hall entered two of Glinda’s Sylvari handmaids, carrying a large, wooden trunk between them.  They were followed by a two more handmaids, who carried a wooden chair.  The two carrying the chair placed it on the ground before the initiates, and the two carrying the trunk, placed it down by the Head’s Table, gasping for breath.  Whatever was in there, Amon supposed, must be bloody heavy.  What, were they supposed to pull a sword out of a stone, or something?  What was this, a fairytale?  


Glinda walked over to to the trunk and pulled a large, golden key from her sleeve.  She placed the key in the lock and turned it, hearing it give a loud clunk as the tumblers turned.  Glinda smiled, returned the key to her sleeve, and opened the lid, pulling out-


-a hat.  Amon blinked, and looked questioningly at Alexander, who shrugged.  That was it?  All this pomp and circumstance for a wizard’s hat that looked about to fall apart at the seams?  It didn’t seem like it was Glinda’s style, especially as fashion-forward as the little pixie was.  So it must be deeply significant, whatever it was.  Glinda shut the lid of the trunk, waved her hand across the lock, and all heard it click, meaning it was sealed.  She then turned back to the initiates, and pulled out a scroll from her sleeve.  Grenth almighty, Amon thought, stunned, what all does she keep in there, and does that include the kitchen sink?  


Glinda spoke now, voice raised to be heard in the Great Hall.  “When I call your name, come, sit in the chair, and I will place the Sorting Hat on your head, and you will be Sorted.”   She let the scroll fall open, and she called out the first name:  “Bloodmist, Regulus!”


The Charr, gave Amon and Reth a nervous smile, and stepped forward, climbing the four stairs to the raised floor, and sat down on the chair, facing the room at large.  Glinda stepped forward, and placed the hat on top of the Charr’s head, taking a step back after doing so.  After a second, the room gasped.  The hat suddenly came alive!  Its folds turned into what looked like eyes and some sort of nose-thing, and the long rip near the brim opened, and it cried out, in a loud voice, “SLYTHERIN!”  


The group seated at the far right table covered with a satin green tablecloth with silver lining erupted into cheers, as Regulus stood, handing the hat back to Glinda.  She smiled, touched the crest on his jacket, and said, “Hearthus Revelio!”


His jacket changed, the leather turning a poisonous looking green, the studs becoming silver, and the crest on his chest and back turning into the coat of arms for Slytherin, bearing the silver serpent.  She then motioned for him to go take a seat at his table.  Once he was seated and the room died down, Glinda looked back at her list.  “Cranston, Angela!”


The Sorting continued, with the trio of girls from Divinity’s Reach, all sisters, going into House Hufflepuff and the boy from Claypool going to House Ravenclaw.  Then, the two Norn were also Sorted into House Ravenclaw and the two Sylvari went to House Gryffindor.  Then-


“Medies, Amon!”


Amon suddenly felt butterflies in his stomach, which shocked him.  Why was he nervous?  What was so scary about this?  All he had to do was put on a hat and go where he was told, not hard.  He caught Harley’s eye.  Harley winked at him, and gave him a warm smile and a thumbs up.  Seeing this made Amon feel a bit better.  He made his way up to the chair, and sat down.  The hat fell over his head.  What happened next, made him almost jump out of his skin.  


Mmmmmm… So many good choices…


“What the hell?”  he yelped, startled.  The hat had just talked in his head.  He heard Glinda giggle and Ra mutter a faint, “Lyssa, spare me…”


No need to be so startled.  Don’t make a scene.  Yes, I am the Hogwarts Sorting Hat.  I talk to you in your mind so I can discern where you belong, and no, Amon Medies, you are not going mad.  I belonged to Lady Gryffindor’s father, and his father before him.  Lord Gryffindor, Lady Ravenclaw, Lady Helga, and Lord Slytherin worked together to enchant me and bring me to life, giving me the power to place you and your fellows in your Houses.  Now, be quiet, little boy.  Let me work.  


Amon felt faint.  He had just been lectured and told off by a talking hat.  Melandru above, what was going to happen to him next?


I see a lot of cunning.  And yes, you have quite the thirst to prove yourself and get revenge for something.  But you are also quite intelligent and loyal.  Some might even say brave, but that might really be in the eye of the beholder.  Yes… yes, I know what to do with you.  Good luck, Amon Medies!  


“SLYTHERIN!”


Amon felt relief wash over him.  He was going somewhere!  He stood, and returned the hat to Glinda, and watched his coat turn acid green, the studs taking on a solid silver color.  He then went over the the cheering Slytherins, and took a seat beside the Charr, Regulus.  Then, he looked up at Harley.  Harley looked like he was trying to be happy, but failing.  Amon knew that, somewhere in Harley’s heart, he had really been hoping that his boyfriend would have been in his own House, and was disappointed that he hadn’t gotten that wish.  Well then, he’d just have to make sure not to ignore him.  


After a ginger-haired boy from Ascalon Settlement went to House Hufflepuff and boy with black, curly locks of hair from Ebonhawke was placed in House Ravenclaw, it was finally Reth’s turn.  Last, but not least.  He made his way up to the chair, took a seat, and was seated with the hat on his head for only about ten seconds before the hat cried, “Hufflepuff!”


Reth looked shocked but pleased.  After his jacket colors changed and he took his seat with his House, Glinda took the hat away, her handmaids carrying the trunk and chair behind her.  Once she returned, she took her seat next to Ra.  Then, Queen Jennah stood up and addressed the room at large, a smile on her face.  


“My dearest friends,” she said, warmly, spreading her arms to the room, “welcome!  Welcome back, our veterans, and for the first time, welcome, to our new initiates!  It is a great time to live here in Kryta.  It is a great time to be here in Divinity’s Reach!  We look forward to seeing you all blossom and grow, and serve the guild faithfully.  We have much work to do, and many things for us to accomplish.  Tyria is much need of our service.  We strive to better the world around us.  We have different means of doing so, but we all fight for the same end.  Remember that you represent not only yourself, but also your House, your Lord, and the Guild!  Now, let us enjoy the evening, and this great feast!  Let the feast begin!”  


Servants came flooding in, endless amounts of food and drink to the five tables.  Amon had never seen such a great spread of food.  Roast duck, pork, beef, potatoes, beans carrots, fruits of a greater variety than he’d ever seen, all the necessities to create a perfect salad, other meats and vegetables he didn’t know the name of, and desserts that looked more like art than food.  He didn’t even know where to begin!  He imagined Glinda had a hand in the preparation of the feast, so his waistline would be gone, according to Harley.  Slowly, he began to select items to eat, and started tasting all of these new and amazing things.  


Regulus was tearing into the leg of a roast duck, with great enjoyment.  Amon looked around.  Reth was enjoying a salad, chatting with one of the girls from Divinity’s Reach as he did so.  Up at the Head’s Table, Ra was conversing with the Queen as he used his knife and fork to cut up a slice of pork.  Glinda was eating a roll, nibbling on it like a mouse on cheese as she looked around the room.  Selena was on Jennah’s other side, and was also involved in the conversation with Ra and the Queen.  Harley was not at his seat, but had gone over to sit with his House, enjoying the feast with them.  Amon smiled as he saw Harley and the others near him laugh.  Always the jester, the Harlequin.  


As Amon looked around at the other tables, he caught sight of some familiar and famous faces.  Countess Anise, Master Exemplar of the Shining Blade, sat at the Ravenclaw table, enjoying a glass of wine.  Over at the Gryffindor table, stirring some cheese into a bowl of soup, was Logan Thackeray, Captain of the Seraph.  Clearly the influence of the guild was far greater than Amon had imagined, but at the same time, it didn’t surprise him.  With that, he returned to his food.  


~


The feast continued for several hours, but once all had finished eating, the food magically vanished, along with their goblets, plates, and utensils.  Then, the Heads of House each stood, and walked over to their individual House tables.  Selena came right over to them, and smiled.  “Welcome, my new agents.  We have much to discuss, but unlike my colleagues, I don’t discuss my plans openly.  I’d like to meet with each of my initiates separately, if you don’t mind.  I’ll begin with… Mr. Medies.  Is that alright?”  


Amon shrugged.  “I don’t mind, my lady.”  


“Very well then.  Follow me, please.”  


Amon stood and followed the green- and silver-clad noble through one of the side doors of the hall and into what was clearly an office.  She shut the door behind them, and took a seat at her ornate desk, motioning for him to do the same.  “Tea?” she offered, waving a hand dismissively at the kettle, which began to heat up.  Amon shrugged.  “Sure, thank you.”  


Selena pressed her index finger to her lips, thinking.  “I have a question to ask you before I tell you what you’ll be doing.  I need to be sure you can handle it.”  


She paused, thinking, taking the time to pour the now-hot water from the kettle into the teacups and handing one to Amon.  After a sip of her tea, she spoke again as she added honey to her tea.  “How badly were you estranged from the Nightmare Court when you left them?”


“Not terribly. From what I--” A knock at the door interrupted Amon's words, causing the new Slytherin to pause.


Selena offered him a small smile that did not reassure him at all. “My apologies for that. Come in.”


The wooden door opened on silent hinges to reveal a pink-haired Sylvari dressed in cultural armor that fluttered around her vine-wrapped legs like the branches of a willow tree. “Countess. Apologies for the interru--Oh no, it's you.”


Those large, red-shaded eyes stared Amon down, bringing the Ranger to his feet. “Iris. Good to see you survived the Duchess and Ember's tender care. Still following after Raithe Ashwood like a lost fern wolf?”


Iris Segolily pursed pink lips, turning purposefully towards Selena. “I assume you are sending...that into the Nightmare Court?”


“Wait, Pinky say what now?” Amon shifted on the balls of his feet, hands going to his hips. “Care to explain, My Lady?”


“You know how the Nightmare Court works. The group of Courtiers in Sparkfly Fen would allow for you to get back into the Court slowly so as to not gain unnecessary attention. Iris,” the green-haired Head of House gestured to the Sylvari, who was slowly but surely going more and more pale, “will be your only contact with us. She will meet you, get your Intel and give you whatever supplies you need to maintain your position.”


“I left the Nightmare Court, what makes you think they'll accept me back just like that?” Amon wasn’t going to admit out loud that he knew exactly what the Nightmare Court thought of his so-called ‘desertion’ and that if he had shown any particular interest in going back it would not take much...Bercilak had made certain of that.


“Oh Amon, don't pretend, you know that Duchess Faolain misses you dearly... especially in her bed. I've heard the Knight of Embers has been mewling without you as well.”


Oh Melandru above this was going to be a long talk...and he was certain he wasn’t going to enjoy any of it.


~


Harley stretched his arms, yawning as he walked out of the Palace and into the Gardens.  This had been a really good Sorting.  A good bunch, eager and ready to do their part for the good of Kryta, for Tyria as a whole.  Harley looked up to the stars, smiling as he stepped out towards the path back home, but-


“Harley Hufflepuff!”


The voice, harsh and angry, cut through the quiet air of the stone solarium, successfully bringing Harley up short.


A man, shorter than Harley by damn near a foot with dark blond hair and grey eyes like stone stood off to the side, watching the blond and holding something, a chain, with a pendant hanging from his hand. “Did you think you could ignore us? Or do you really not care to know about what happened to your parents?”


Keeping his back to a stone pillar, Harley was grateful for yet also detesting the fact he had been caught out in the open like this. He would need the space to move if this turned into a fight but it also meant that he didn’t have any ability to guess where the man’s reinforcements would be.


His NTSD leather couldn’t really count as armor, as he hadn’t been under the impression he would need it in the Palace Gardens...thankfully he did still have his hammer holstered at his back, his Guardian magic could pull up a shield if he really needed it but that wasn’t something he had practiced lately. “My parents are either dead or people that abandoned a baby to the streets of Divinity’s Reach, and if it’s the latter, then trust me, you don’t want to try introducing me to them. I can’t promise they’d make it out in one piece. What do you want with me?”


The man laughed, a harsh and cruel sound with no real humor in it. “Well that’s too bad, because you’ll be meeting them anyway when we reunite you--in the Mists!”


As if waiting for some cue, four men attacked Harley from behind the surrounding pillars. Throwing spells, arrows and bodily trying to hit the blond, attempting time after time to incapacitate him. Cursing himself down to Grenth and back, Harley did his best to keep himself out of their reach, dodging out of the way of spells and using his hammer as a bludgeon and battering ram to try and knock their weapons away. Even for him, five against one was a little much and none of the men trying to kill him were pushovers.


He was already getting tired, feeling the sting of wounds from the weapons and spells littering his skin and slowly wearing him down.


Before Harley could begin thinking that he just might be screwed in this situation, balls of crackling blue Mesmer magic began bouncing between assailants, stunning them and allowing Harley a moment to breath before it began to rain over his head, drizzling him in Elemental Water magic to heal the cuts and bruises that had been slowing him down.


Looking off to the side, he could see Ra and Selena weaving their magic in the air, playing a game of keep away with Ra’s mirages forcing his attackers to run into each other. Glinda’s lightning played along the ground, chasing from her staff with a vengeance and sometimes almost hitting Harley.


Lex and Amon were both shooting arrows down on the somewhat-hidden morons attacking the NTSD, Amon’s predilection for barbed arrows and poisoned tips killing more than he was able to incapacitate. To him, that didn’t matter...someone was trying to harm what was his and they would pay for such idiocy.


Once the area was pronounced clear, Harley noticed that a few members of the Shining Blade had joined the fray at some point. If his eyes didn’t mistake him, they were Exemplars Salia and Mehid, some of Anise’s best. The blond didn’t have the pleasure of knowing them personally but their reputation amongst the NTSD and Divinity’s Reach as a whole told him all he needed to know.


Mehid was over off to the side, looking over the ringleader that had begun the attack on Harley, untangling the chain from his hand. “Hufflepuff, this look familiar to you?”


Harley broke off from the prodding and interrogation from Salia, kneeling down next to the handsome Exemplar. Taking the pendant in hand, he looked it over. The pendant itself was broken, almost as if it had been purposefully chopped in half. Reaching under his NTSD turtleneck he tugged out the longer chain he wore at all times, holding the two pieces up to each other and watching as the dulled edges pieced together perfectly. “What…? Hey Ra, get over here…” Harley called, holding the two pieces in one hand and gesturing for his friend and Sworn Lord over to him.

 

Handing over the broken bits once Ra was close enough, the raven-haired youth looked them over in his hands. He wanted to say that they looked familiar but he couldn’t quite place it. “The Mantle had this on him?”


“He had half of it. The other half was around my neck.” Harley muttered, shaking his head at the image of the White Mantle bodies strewn around the gardens. He hoped that everyone else was still safe and back at the ceremony. They didn’t need to lose any new members this quickly after a Sorting.


Glinda ducked under Ra’s arm, taking a look at the evidence for herself. “Wait, this is the other half of the pendant you’ve had for...forever, right? The one you never take off?” With a nod as her answer from the rather shuttered-off blond, she took a closer look, removing it from Ra’s hands. “Ra. Isn’t this...this is Ascalonian, right? It looks like the badge your father wears from when your family came from Ascalon to Kryta and the King gave it to your family as a sign of favor.”


The necklace did look oddly similar to the amulet, although the carving along the edges was very different. Instead of the words Wit Beyond Measure is Man’s Greatest Treasure like on his father’s amulet, the family motto on this particular necklace was almost unsettlingly familiar. Honesty Faith Loyalty Diligence.


Selena’s heart fell down into her stomach, filling it with ice as she read over those words. She hadn’t seen or heard those words in years. “Ra...those words. That line. It...those are the words Harley always uses with his Hufflepuffs.” There, on the half Harley had always carried around his neck, she could see the worn words of ‘Loyalty’ and ‘Diligence’. The other half held the last two words...but Harley had always said all four words with his Hufflepuffs, even to himself, almost like a prayer to the Gods for strength or guidance.


Exemplar Mehid places his hand on Harley’s shoulder, helping the blond to his feet. “Are you alright? I know this must be a shock.”


“A shock?” Harley muttered, voice flat and completely devoid of the emotion that would normally be heard. “Exemplar, there are a million thoughts running through my head right now. The White Mantle had half of my pendant...the pendant I’ve had for as long as I can remember. So there are a million things that could mean right there. Were my parents White Mantle? Were they killed by White Mantle?”


“We do not know.” Anise spoke up, stepping away from where Salia had  been updating her on what had been happening and what all they had found. “But we will. There is a raid that we have  been planning on a White Mantle hideout. If you would like to join us, Harley, I am sure that the Exemplars would not object to your presence.” Her eyes travelled to Ra, nodding to him that she assumed they would all be following as well. Where one Head of House went, the others usually followed.


Mehid’s hand tightened on Harley’s shoulder, bringing at least part of the blond’s mind back into the situation at hand. “Thank you, Master Exemplar. Please keep me updated on when the raid is to happen.”


Anise took a moment to look around, grateful that her Shining Blade were already clearing away the evidence of the scuffle. She didn’t need the Seraph or Ministry Guard running out and trying to make a scene. They would try to detain Harley at the very least, which would slow the processes of what needed to happen exponentially.


This situation had the ability to become a political nightmare if whatever pieces of the puzzle floating around in Ra’s mind came to settle where he thought they would.


Harley sighed, getting to his feet and immediately making his way over to Amon, grabbing the brunette’s wrist and tugging him away from the group and back towards home as he had originally intended. The party for the Sorted would probably last until the early morning but Harley didn’t have the mental capacity to keep up with all of that right now.


Giving the leaders of the NTSD a mystery was rarely ever considered good or beneficial to the person waiting at the end of the investigation. Having someone threatening Harley, attacking him in plain sight...the rest of the guild as a whole was not going to allow this to stand uncontested.


~


The coming of the dawn found Harley in the basement of Ravenclaw Manor, making use of the training room that took up the entirety of the space just below the wine cellar. Training dummies, a weapons rack, simple devices meant to assist with strength, conditioning and focus were littered over the wall surrounding the mat-covered ground. Each corner was cordoned off to allow for those that wished to spar or drag over a training dummy and utilize that. Harley was in what the others had labelled as ‘his’ corner, taking out his frustrations on a thick brown punching bag hanging down from the ceiling.


If anyone else had been down there at the moment he was sure they would have been worried or would have already known what exactly had caused him to waste his morning exhausting himself as he punched, kicked, spun and did everything he could think of to just get out the slowly-burning fury in his gut, clouding his mind.


As if everything else that had been happening wasn’t enough...being attacked after the Sorting, finding half of his pendant in the White Mantle’s hands and being taunted with knowledge about his parents...no, apparently it had to get worse. As of now, he didn’t have a boyfriend. Well, he could...if he wanted to be kept a dirty little secret by a Nightmare Courtier. Amon and Harley both knew they couldn’t live like that and so they had enjoyed their last night as best they could, just laying together in Harley’s bed to soak in the closeness of having someone who cared about you close by. They talked about what might have been, laughed and Harley was not ashamed to admit that he cried. He cried because no matter how much he wanted to give something to Amon that could never be taken back, he couldn’t do it. No matter how much he cared about the brunette over their short period of time together...he couldn’t break his own rules.


“Ley?” Reth’s voice rang in his ears and the blond forced himself to cease his abuse of the punching bag, holding it with both hands to keep the monstrosity still.


The shorter male was dressed almost identically to him, black sleeveless shirt left untucked over soft grey pants with no shoes. Harley had already wrapped up his knuckles with bandages to keep from harming them too much but he knew once he took them off there would be marks left from the force of some of those hits. “Yea, Lex?”


Worry shone prominently in those eyes, staring at Harley even as the blond walked out of his corner, undoing the bandages wrapped from wrist to knuckle. “What are you doing down here? The sun’s barely up.”


“Couldn’t sleep any longer.” Harley took a swig of spring water from an available skin, dumping some of it into his hand to rub over his face, clearing away some of the sweat clinging to his brow before dabbing at his face with a towel as well. “About to run through some hand-to-hand. Care to join me?”


Reth raised a brow at his friend, recalling the last time the two of them had decided to spar a of hand to hand only. “You remember what happened last time?”


A deep chuckle escaped Harley, the closest to happy he had been since the attack last night. “What, scared?”


“You wish.” The knee-jerk reaction made Reth wish he’d kept his mouth shut.


An hour of indiscriminate grappling later found both men exhausted, sweaty and sore in the common room. Each of them were laid out on the sofas, trying to get their brains to realize that they weren’t dying and to let them breathe. Harley had a nice shiner growing on his cheek and there was a line of thick red agitation on Reth’s throat but those were the only signs of harm that could be easily seen. That was nothing compared to the bruises that were probably forming along their torso, legs…


The brunette got up from his place on the sofa, pouring out two glasses of chilled fruit juice and handing one to his friend. “I’m sorry about Amon.”


“Yea well…” Harley muttered, letting his arm out from under his head to grasp the offered goblet with a murmur of thanks. “At least it happened now instead of when we’d been together for a while. It’ll hurt less now...we talked and...neither one of us was willing to deal with only being able to see each other intermittently. Amon said that we both deserve better than that but that he hopes we’ll have a better chance once he’s able to leave.”


Both occupants of the common room knew that Amon was full of wishful thinking...the only way Selena would let him out of being her inside man would be if they finally managed to bring down Nightmare for good or Amon became compromised.  And they both knew that if he was compromised, the chances of him getting out alive were slim to none.  


Reth tossed Harley’s current book at his head, watching the hard leather land on the sweaty blond hair with an offended grunt and half-assed glare sent his way. The brunette plucked up his own book, curling back against his favorite squishy pillow on the sofa with the intent on just relaxing for a second after getting his ass handed to him for an hour. He contented himself with his glass of juice and the sound of Harley’s frustration over trying to learn Dwarvish. “It could be worse, you could have tried picking up Orrian.”


“Uh...yea, nope. I’ll learn it if I ever actually have to go there.” Harley muttered, chewing on the edge of his thumbnail as he read. Reading this was supposed to be a stress reliever but the damned language was more difficult than anything else he had tried to read before.


A few moments of quiet reading had barely passed before Harley sat up, glancing towards the door with a small smile. “Morning. Do I need to kill anyone?”


Leaning on the door frame as was his norm, arms crossed over his chest and one leg hooked behind the other, Ra raised one perfect eyebrow at his sworn shield. The angry, tense set to those shoulders told Harley everything he needed to know.


Tugging his betrothed over to the sofa, Reth arranged the other to lean back against the squishy pillow on the arm of the sofa before laying down to use Ra as his own personal pillow with one leg thrown over Ra’s own, hands immediately going into that perfectly maintained black hair and carding his fingers through the thick strands.


Harley got up from his own comfy spot, heading down to the kitchen only to be stopped halfway down and heading back into the common room with a tray of tea ready and set up for Ra. The older male went through the motions of fixing Ra’s usual tea, setting it on the small library table beside the occupied sofa and heading back to his room.


“Ley?” Reth’s voice brought him to a stop for the second time that day, glancing behind him at the two cuddled together on the sofa with the brunette doing what he could to calm his beloved down from what had obviously been a trying morning. “Aren’t you going to stay?”


The blond shook his head. “No. I’ll be in my room if either of you need me.” Harley made a quick retreat, sliding into the shared bathroom to get cleaned up. Laying back on his bed with a towel wrapped firmly around his waist, the emotionally and physically exhausted Guardian decided to finally try and get some of his reading done.


~


Harley woke with his book on his chest and Mehid in his bedroom, shocking the blond out of bed and onto the floor with a groan.


The dark-haired Exemplar merely raised an eyebrow before tossing some clothes in Harley’s direction. “Get dressed, the Master Exemplar needs us. It’s time.”


Deciding that if Mehid didn’t want to see anything he could turn around, the larger occupant of the room dressed quickly, tugging his hair back into a tight ponytail before he began pulling on his training armor at Mehid’s request. It didn’t protect as well as some of his nicer sets but it definitely gave him more freedom of movement. Sword and shield were strapped in their rightful places, as well as his favorite mace and his knapsack of healing items. “Alright, ready.”


“Come on.” Mehid led the way downstairs and out into the street where a few nondescript horses were waiting. “Try to keep up.”


Thankfully, the blond had no trouble keeping up with Mehid’s horse, although it didn’t take him long to notice that his current clothes would have identified him as a member of the Shining Blade for those who didn’t know better with the blue turtleneck bringing out far more of the blue in his Ravenclaw training armor than usual. Harley could only suppose that Mehid had done it on purpose, trying to distance any claim someone could make of House Ravenclaw going out and fighting criminal organizations.


Riding through Shaemoor to the designated hunting lodge took less time than Harley had thought it would and his heart hadn’t yet had time to get itself out of his throat as he and Mehid tied their horses to a tree a good ways away from the house he could see through the trees.


Salia knelt behind some tall shrubbery, keeping an eye on the house as she waited for the two of them. “Good to see you, Hufflepuff. Are you prepared to root out a White Mantle cell?”

“Absolutely. What’s the plan?” Harley knelt down in the grass, feeling more than seeing Mehid do the same.


~


Unfortunately, not all plans pan out as expected and it was a very bruised, bloody and emotionally exhausted trio that returned to Divinity’s Reach on horseback.


Harley felt as if his shoulders couldn’t keep his head upright, his thoughts swimming with everything that he was learning and what he found he was willing to do when faced with an impossible situation.


A hostage situation, books on bloodstones and a piece of parchment in his bag that felt heavier than a giant...he didn’t think he could remember which was right or left right now. Oh wait, that way was left. Okay so he proved himself wrong.


Setting their horses with the stablemaster, Mehid (“Call me Talon”) and Salia (“Might as well call me Cerise”) led Harley through the halls of the palace to Countess Anise’s office. Harley never took notice of the looks the trio received as they made their way around with purpose, even if all of their thoughts were elsewhere at the moment.


Inwardly grateful that the others weren’t here to see him like this, Harley shut the door of Anise’s office behind them so that the two Exemplars could give their report.


“Oh, Harley. You went off without adult supervision again, didn’t you?”


Glinda’s voice in the office made him stop and sigh, raising his head to actually take a good look around. Yep. All three of them were there. Five, if he counted the Gossipmongers, aka Anise and Logan.


Without a word, Harley pointed to the Exemplars with one hand, taking a seat after being gestured into one by Anise who looked far more concerned than he was used to.


“As beautiful and mature as one of them may be, they don’t count.” Huh so Glinda liked one of them, did she? He was willing to bet it was Talon. He was masculinely pretty enough to be her type and he was smart. Hell if he was sure the guy was more than just heteroflexible he would have probably gotten a crush on him.


Unfortunately for Harley, the sight of his wounds and damaged personage brought out something he normally didn’t enjoy being on the receiving end of...Mother Hen Selena. The dark-haired young woman took a seat beside him on one of the posh little couches that littered Anise’s office as she dug into his bag for Essence of Dittany and some poultices to help with the lesser wounds.


The blond continually tried to brush her off, saying that Talon and Cerise were far worse off than he was. He stopped when he felt a Look being aimed his way by not only Glinda but Ra and Logan as well.


“Harley, what did you three find in the lodge?” Anise asked, perching herself on the edge of her desk to watch Selena fuss over him.


Sharing a look with the two that had gone into the lodge with him, Harley nodded when he saw the looks of resignation in their eyes. None of them were terribly happy to be sharing this news. “Oh, nothing much.” The blond forcibly kept his voice flat, immediately telling the other three of his friends that nothing he was about to say was good. “Just a hostage situation that needed diffusing, books on bloodstones and soul magic...oh and a hit list of every powerful member of Kryta that supports Queen Jennah.” He and the other two were going to keep one or two things they had found close to their chest, there were far too many people here to share this kind of information with and he wanted to be there when Anise heard the news.


The parchment was withdrawn from Harley’s bag and handed to Anise as Selena continued to try and clear up the multiple wounds Harley had sustained from his scuffle with the White Mantle. Another Shining Blade was with Talon and Cerise in the corner, a petite blond, trying to get the both of them to stay still so that she could get them healed up.


Anise’s eyes widened almost imperceptibly as she looked over the rough-looking parchment. “You’re right Harley...a hit list of Queen Jennah’s supporters. Ra Ravenclaw, Duke of Ebonhawke. Selena Slytherin, Viscountess of Rurikton District. Glinda Gryffindor, Countess of Salma District. Harley Hufflepuff, Child of Helga. Captain Thackeray, myself…” The Master Exemplar took a moment to look over the list again, concentrating on the words that accompanied Harley’s name. “Child of Helga...Harley, do you recall your mother’s name?”


“Nope.” Harley muttered, not really wanting to pay attention to what was going on. He wanted to get down to business in cutting the White Mantle down to size for threatening the people he cared about. “Never knew, never cared. I made my own family...”


Everyone in the room was concerned that the group’s main focus seemed to be Jennah but at least three of them were wondering exactly why Harley’s name was on the list. If it had listed him as Sworn Shield of Ravenclaw then no one would have given it a second though. But no...child of Helga.


Talon escaped from the clutches of Exemplar Thaliv, taking a seat beside Harley as Selena finally deemed him healed.


Glinda’s eyes flickered between the blond and his apparent new friend, sighing deeply. “See, Harley, this just proves that you can’t go anywhere without adult supervision.”


“Oh ha-ha, very funny Glimmer.” The blond made a face at his friend, watching her turn her attention back to the others so that they could start talking about where to go from here. Harley nudged the dark-haired Exemplar at his side, smirking when the other man’s eyes met his. “Sooo….are you going to keep staring a hole in her head or are you going to ask her out?” The patched-up Guardian tried his best to keep his voice down, hoping to not gain Glinda’s ire over trying to play matchmaker.


“Be quiet, Harley.” The man’s words were spoken out of the corner of his mouth, although Harley could see a flush of pink along the tanned cheeks.


Poking his new friend in the side, golden eyebrows raised high over his eyes. “Seriously? You need to try better than that. Just ask her. The worst thing she can do is say no.”


Talon’s hazel-gold eyes focused on Harley like a hawk with a particularly elusive gecko. “I doubt that very highly. Now shut up and pay attention.”


“Harley, what do you think about our options?” Anise asked, voice inquisitive as she looked over the two men taking up one of her sofas. She did hope that Exemplar Mehid would get up the gumption to ask out Glinda, it would do them both a world of good.


“Huh?” Harley’s wide-eyed answer brought Ra’s fingers up to massage the bridge of his nose with a muttered, “Lyssa, spare me,” before Anise took pity on the poor blond amidst Glinda and Selena’s laughter.


Sometimes she swore that the boy acted like a moron just to lighten the mood. “We have two choices ahead of us, Harley. We can attack the White Mantle head on or put together an ambush. Captain Thackeray has offered himself up as bait for the ambush if that is what we decide…”


It took none of them by surprise when Harley didn’t immediately side himself with the full-frontal assault. “A head-on attack won’t work. They’re too numerous, too well-organized and...fanatical. Fanatics can’t be reasoned with.” His and the two Exemplars minds went back to the hostage situation they had dealt with earlier that day, sadness in their eyes before Harley forced his thoughts onto the present. “The only good thing we’ll have on our side is surprise and sheer power. Logan is frequently seen without escorts so using him as bait would probably be best as none of the rest of us are ever seen out on our own. Are there any particular places you’ve heard of that we can use as a good ambushing area?”


“Oooh, I love it when I get to see the brain under all those gorgeous muscles.” Anise couldn’t help but throw out her little flirtation, grinning at Harley as the blond flushed brightly. He was so easy sometimes. The redheaded Exemplar winked at Glinda and Selena, making them grin in realization that the flirty attitude was payback for Harley playing matchmaker with them. “But seriously, darling, when are you going to put my poor little self out of this miserable existence and take me seriously, hmmm?”


At this Harley couldn’t help but smile, ducking his head in embarrassment. He knew she was just messing with him but their banter was always fun. “As I always say, dear Countess, I wouldn’t  be able to keep up with you and so I must protect my fragile heart from the inevitable heartbreak you would bring to me.”


Talon’s shoulders were faintly shaking in repressed laughter, covering his mouth with a hand to disguise it behind a cough. Oh this group was going to be the death of him, he was certain of it.


Anise joined in on the joyous noise that started once Cerise snorted out her laughter, the dark-skinned Exemplar’s arm holding her stomach as she tried to keep herself upright at the dramatic flirtations between her Master Exemplar and the blond that had received a morningstar to the chest that day in her defense.  


Wiping away a tear of laughter, Logan took a few deep breaths to try and calm himself down. “Okay, I needed that. So, we will all meet where Anise says and when, right?” He felt pretty good about being able to play bait. Maybe now he could see how the Shining Blade handled such matters.


“Yea. Well, I don’t know about anyone else but I need a long bath and my book. I am going home if no one has any objections…” Harley glanced around the group, nudging Talon in the side meaningfully as he stood up. “Offer to walk her home, dumbass.”


Talon gave his pushy, golden-eyed friend a dirty look, getting to his feet with a groan held behind his teeth at the pain of his sore muscles. He could see Cerise grinning from where she had taken up residence behind the two girls seated with Ra on the sofa before the dark-skinned beauty offered Selena a smile. “Would you mind if I escort you home, Viscountess Slytherin? I know Harley normally does the escorting work but I hope you won’t find me a subpar replacement.”


That was it. Talon was finding new friends. Non-matchmaking, not-so-remarkably-nosey friends.


The dark-haired Exemplar cleared his throat, watching as Harley made his way over to his liege lord, Selena and Cerise disappearing through the door out of the corner of his eye. “Countess Gryffindor,” he offered his hand for the vibrant redhead to help her up from the comfortable couch, knowing that he held it just a little longer than was probably necessary. “Would you object to my offer of escorting you home? I fear Harley will be incapable of doing so this evening.”


Glinda offered the handsome Shining Blade Exemplar a coy smile, and took his offered hand.  “Well, since Harley is seeming lackluster today, and considering the pink tinge to your cheeks,” Ginda sighed, theatrically, “I suppose you’ll do.”  


She winked at him, cheekily, watching the flush on his face deepen slightly as she did so.  


Harley’s audible chortle, quickly covered up by a cough behind his hand, elicited another harsh look from the tanned man. Fortune favoring the bold and all that rot, Talon offered the redhead his arm, intent upon escorting her properly home and hoping that she would not tease him too terribly during the journey.


The blond man walked with his liege lord through the door, allowing Glinda and Talon a good few paces ahead of the two while Anise and Logan stayed behind to talk particulars and wishing them a good night. “So did you ask him?” Harley mused, glancing at his dark-eyed friend from the corner of his eye while they made their way through the palace gardens. He still didn’t feel particularly safe in here after only one attack but he doubted that with the grievous harm he and the others had done to the White Mantle today they would be trying another attack like this so soon.


“I have no idea what you are talking about, my shield.” Ra said in his absent-minded voice, looking over his fingernails as if they held the answers to the universe.


“No idea,” Harley mocked quietly, shaking his head. Seriously, did Ra think he was dumb or just stupid? “So that wasn’t Alexander Reth’s scream of ‘yes’ that I heard all the way from Lion’s Arch? Or...that wasn’t a ring box you were carrying in your pocket earlier today when you came back from the Ministry?” It wasn’t often that Harley showed the brain that was hiding underneath all of that fluffy blond hair but it always sucked when he did decide to let people know that it was there and in fine working order. Fortunately the people that were privy to this were limited to a very small group of people so there wasn’t anyone outside of the NTSD who knew just how much of a dick Harley could be.  It still surprised his nearest and dearest when it happened, sometimes with Reth or Selena reminding him that he was the ‘nice’ one. He didn’t enjoy being known as the ‘Nice One’ but neither did he enjoy being an outright dick so he had forced himself to find a happy medium at a young age.


“Well then, Mr. No Idea, I’m going to go and interrogate the person I am sure is now your fiancee.” Harley grinned before speeding up his step slightly, reaching up to rumple Ra’s hair only for the dark-haired mesmer to Blink a few feet away in an attempt to save his hair from Harley’s grasp.


The blond focused on the space of cobblestone just ahead of Ra’s feet, initiating a Shadow Step only to trip over his own two feet, catching himself on one of the wrought-iron links of the gate outside of Ravenclaw Manor. How did…? His Shadow Step had never not worked before… Shaking his head, the blond forced his thoughts away from it. He could worry about that later, he rarely ever used that ability anyway.


For now, he had some investigating to do and some Shining Blades to warn. Hopefully he hadn’t overdone it on the ‘happy-go-lucky’ act. There were some things Ra just didn’t need to know about and that was what he was here for. Hopefully he’d be able to have a conversation with Reth before they all went to sleep tonight. He needed answers.  


Hello readers!  We here at the NTSD are so glad that you are enjoying this tale so far, and hope you will continue to follow our four friends through their upcoming advenctures!  We would love to hear what you all think, so feel free to leave us any constructive criticism or feedback of any kind in a review.  Again, thanks for reading thus far, and we look forward to seeing you all in the next chapter! 

                                                -The NTSD


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