Because Aura's mother had moved one of the chairs to the table when she was done with the cleaning, we placed the laptop on the floor and were sitting in front of it cross-legged, continuing our game.
My and Aura's nations were working together. I was producing a lot of catapults and phalanxes while Aura was supplying our war efforts with archers. The only time when there had been a bit of a discord between us happened when I had plundered two tribal villages.
My bloodthirsty men clad in iron were unable to resist the temptation of an easy target right before their eyes and turned into killing and breeding machines. Simply put, the gold bonus for slaughtering the natives was one of the main targets in the early game stages.
Aura had claimed that her troops were already en route to those villages and that I had violated our agreement regarding the division of the territory. However, that spark was small enough to be easily forgotten after I had sent her some of the plundered gold.
"There's only one enemy left on our island. No point in using fancy tactics on that weakling, let's just blitzkrieg him together. I will start conquering from the left and you go from the right. Alright?"
"Roger that. Why don't you upgrade your units with gold? You should have pikemen already."
◢ Let's give that newbie a pointer or two.
"I'm waiting to get my hands on Leonardo's Workshop wonder. It automatically upgrades all your units for free."
"Nice, what technologies it requires?"
"Hmm… I think it was 'invention', should be available after you get 'literacy' and 'engineering'."
The game was turn-based and it took a lot of time for a player to complete a turn while waging war, as every unit had to be moved by hand and each of us had more than thirty of them.
An hour later the last of enemy cities on our island was captured, the spoils of war were used to fill our coffers and a new era of sea exploration had begun. There were at least two more enemy nations hiding behind the ocean.
"Aura play for me for a bit I will go and make us something to eat."
Aura nodded with a serious expression, busy establishing new caravan routes.
"Sit down and play with her Amato, I've already ordered a pizza."
It was a bit awkward, but nonetheless a nice gesture from Silvie.
"I will make us some tea in that case. Any preferences? There's mint, raspberry, and a normal one."
"Raspberry with a lot of sugar."
Ordered Aura among the sound of clicking. Silvie detached her attention from the documents she was reading on the table and gave me a small smile.
"A normal one for me, no sugar."
This whole situation felt strange, but nevertheless, I kind of liked it.
◢ Is this how a normal family evening looks like?
However, this thought had disappeared while I was waiting for the water to boil. The more I analyzed it, the more cracks and fractures in this momentary illusion were noticed. This had shattered the vague feeling of closeness and belonging which was slowly sprouting from the inside.
◢ Who am I kidding… Aura's playing with me only due to Rora and Silvie's here to keep an eye on her daughters. After the smoke girl goes back home it will probably never happen again.
That made me realize that instead of an uncertain and uncomfortable relation like this one, a simple, clear one of give and take was a lot more up to my liking. Ulterior motives were fine as long as both sides knew about them.
Something inside my brain was clogged, one part wanted to move forward while the other tried to go back. A disgusting sensation.
"Thank you, Amato."
◢ I really need to visit home tomorrow.
I placed the tea in front of Silvie and went back to Aura.
"And that's for you."
"Thanks, your turn."
"Ok, let's see how's my country… Aura."
"Why my capitol stopped building the workshop? And it's not on the available buildings list, that means someone has already completed it. Did you betray me?"
"I didn't. I simply sped up its construction in my own city with the help of caravans."
◢ This brat just declared a war on me.
I gave her a small smile and continued playing as if nothing ever happened.
"You're not mad?"
"Why should I? We're allies, right? You getting stronger works in my favor."
She was a bit surprised but seemed to accept my explanation without any questions. That was the time when I started working on the Operation Trinity, using her every single moment of inattention.
It was already 11 PM when we finished eating pizza. Silvie packed her belongings and moved to stand near us. She watched for a minute what we were doing and said:
"Let's go home Aura."
"Mom, can we stay here for the night? We can't leave Rora without anyone to protect her."
A bit hurt by the lack of trust she had in me I decided to cut in.
"She meant 'I want to play some more'."
"What about Amato coming to our place instead? He can bring the laptop."
Suggested Silvie, but it was immediately shot down by her daughter's upturned eyes and sweet voice.
"If Amato has nothing against it…"
◢ So weak!
This time it was my turn to be persuaded, but the method used by Aura was different. She held my sleeve tightly and gave me the defiant smile that could be loosely translated as 'your resistance is futile'.
"Well, it's not that I'm against it, but my flat is in a rather doorless state, not to mention that there's only one heater and one be-"
"Mom, he agreed."
"In that case, let me just quickly drive home and grab a few things, alright? I also want to check on Adam."
Aura's small head was patted by her mother gently. It was hard to believe that she and Vio were the same age.
"I will be back in an hour. Amato, watch her alright?"
"No problem, we will be playing anyway."
I was secretly relieved after hearing this as the possibility of repeating Viktoria's wake me up style was circling around in my head like a vulture, but there was no way I could tell them that I actually felt safer under the protection of a mother and daughter combo.
◢ If only 'it' could arrive faster.
"Mua-ha-ha! Nothing can stop me now! This is your last bastion of defense, your last chance to surrender. All hope is lost."
"No! No! No! You can't!"
"Don't move or I will proceed with the last step of the Operation Trinity!"
The situation had reached a temporary stalemate. I was standing on one side of the table, while Aura was sending her murderous intentions from the other, but she knew that I wasn't joking, which made her unable to move.
"This is a payback for stealing my workshop."
"You plundered my villages first!"
"How many of your units died, huh? I had to build mine all the time as you were using them as your meatshields!"
"You bribed my units with your diplomats!"
"You wanted me to let you build all the precious wonders and even prepared carriers with bombers near my capital in case I refused!"
"You started destroying every enemy city that was mine to capture."
"You lost the moment when you stacked all your tanks on one square, missing a chance to send them all to the scrapyard in one hit would be stupid."
"You navy was nonexistent, but you tried to establish yourself on three different continents? Good joke."
"Still I win! Bow before me!"
"Then watch your people burn in hell."
I held the laptop running on a battery in a way that made it easier for Aura to watch the explosion of her capital.
"You bastard, you actually did that!"
Enraged Aura dived under the table and tried to catch me, but one quick evasive maneuver later I ran to the bathroom, where I could lock the door from the inside.
Aura banged on the door.
"Come out! Let me touch you!"
"Aura? What's going on? Why are you so angry?"
◢ Silvie's back?
"Wha- Did he tried to do something to you?!"
I shouted with all my might to stop Silvie's from rolling down the wrong way.
"Then why is she clinging to me and crying?"
Aura's mother voice was cold, probably all kinds of worst-case scenarios were running through her head.
"Mooooom, he… he… he nuked every single one of my cities… he killed my people!"
◢ Thanks for saving my ass.
"Nuked your cities? Are you talking about that game? Don't scare me like that."
"I'm not. It's important."
While I was wondering if it was safe to come out I heard something really disturbing.
"Still, he made you cry. Do you want to punish Amato?"
"Leave it to your mom. Let's see… bring me the kitchen knife sweetie."
After a quick check, I turned pale, the lock on bathroom door was of the same kind as the one to the bedroom.
◢ Why is every door in this flat working against me.
Using the window to escape was a bad idea as we were on the 3rd floor and squeezing out through that small hole would be hard anyway. In theory, I could fight till the bitter end, using a combination of water, laundry bin, soap, and shampoo, but I knew that it was high time to show my mature side.
"Aura, I surrender. Let me come out and apologize, don't attack please."
"What do we do?"
"... let's hear him out."
After unlocking the door I saw an amused Silvie with a knife, tapping it lightly on the back of her hand as if to remind me of my guilt and an angry leader of the defeated nation holding her mother by the waist.
"Aura I'm sorry, I shouldn't have done that."
"Bow before me."
I did as she asked and showed my resolve by bending deeply, it was also to hide my satisfied smile that had appeared all by itself when I thought that all her people had been exterminated with my own hands.
"Are we ok now?"
I asked and shot a glance at them to evaluate the situation.
"I've got an idea. Let's take the heater and sleep in the bed, while Amato will freeze in the living room on the table. What about it?"
◢ Rora saves the day again, I may actually get used to having her inside.
"Alright, Amato, help me bri-, nevermind, I will do it myself. Just try not to fight with each other."
As soon as she was gone, Aura grasped my shirt.
"Come on, I bowed to you."
"That's not enough. At least my cities were destroyed by the enemies, your people will have to suffer from the betrayal of their own glorious leader."
"You don't mean..."
A sharp glint in her eyes and a small smile made chills run up my spine. The cost of regaining Aura's favor was enormous.
◢ The blood of my subjects will forever stain those hands of mine.
When Silvie was back, we started to prepare everything needed to sleep in the living room, because Aura refused to sleep in the bedroom due to different scents lingering there. Silvie was already expecting this and three sleeping bags were among the stuff she had brought from home.
"Sweetie let's go and change into pajamas."
"Why? Are you embarrassed? We will change in the bathroom."
Aura looked troubled in front of her mother, who was holding two greenish sets of pajamas.
"It… it may get cold at night?"
"So you want to sleep in clothes?"
Even though the front door was gone, we still had the combined power of central heating and small electric heater, not to mention that I was looking forward to the silver duo pajama edition. However, Silvie simply nodded and put them away, probably used to her daughter's random whims.
After locking the door to the room, just in case, we were about to block them with the desk.
Once again the silver princess raised her objection.
I asked ready to push the desk together with Silvie.
"I may need to go to the bathroom."
"Alright, not that it would be of much use anyway. Let's go to sleep."
In the middle of the night, I was woken up. I watched one horror movie too many to not be scared of the sight of the red-eyed girl on the dark background, squatting right next to my face, it nearly gave me a heart attack, but when I realized that it was Aura and tried to ask her what the hell was she doing I discovered that no words could leave my mouth.
She was holding my hand.
"Now, I order you to slowly and silently follow after me."
She whispered and I did as she said, urged by the waves of heat emanating from her. Disoriented I tried to look at Silvie for help, but she was deeply asleep in her sleeping bag.
Carefully we moved to the corridor.
"Now, I order you to put on your boots and after that grab your jacket."
Another order which I had to follow. It was tricky as our hands were connected and Aura was putting on her boots at the same time as I did.
She tried to reassure me, seeing the confused state I was in.
Her orders didn't cancel each other and all three of them were in effect till we had reached the parking lot outside the building. Aura was breathing heavily and I felt the heat emanating from her weaken.
She let me go and said in a tired tone:
"That was hard."
"Finally! Aura, what the hell are you doing?"
I didn't even try to hide the irritation in my voice.
"Rora saved you today, right? You're grateful to her for that, right?"
◢ I've got a horrible feeling about this, it's not 'that' right?
"I'm going back to sleep, come you too."
In this situation, a retreat was a wise option, but I couldn't simply leave her here.
"Don't ignore me or Rora will make you regret it later."
Aura's expression was serious and her voice emotionless. She wasn't treating me like an extension of Rora but was speaking to the original 'me'.
◢ Rora's already messing inside my brain, it may get bad if I refuse. Shit.
"Yeah, she kind of helped me, does it have anything to do with this?"
"Yes, she wanted me to convey one important message."
"... what message?"
◢ Please Rora, let it not be 'that'.
"'Hurry up and get that doll already, on the occasion capture the mana spot at the cemetery.'"
It was exactly the thing I wanted to avoid the most and a bonus stage.
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