"You aren't wearing that." Part command, part horrified inquiry, those four words, uttered by a vaguely incredulous older brother to his younger sibling, earned him a resigned sigh from the woman scratching out a page of painstaking notes at the enormous marble desk. A stranger would have marked the pair as kin instantly, for both shared the same strong, angular features and sun-warmed colouring. They also, at least in that moment, shared the same mildly contemptuous expression. The scratching of pen on paper stopped, and she lay the gold-chased stylus carefully aside. She'd thought about it, of course. Given the crowds of knife-wielding brigands and cutpurses who'd be out in force during the celebrations, sturdy leather clothing and a modicum of protective gear would be well-advised, if terribly unfashionable. Unfortunately, she wasn't here on her own business, and out of respect for her father- "I will not," Cathak Iros Avahl stated tersely, "allow you to embarrass our family or our House by trudging around in faded leather with a sword on your back! However much you despise the idea, sister, you are a woman, and it is well past time you star-" "I had already decided what to wear, Avvie, so don't bother with whatever comes next." She could practically hear the smoldering embers of his temper crackling to life as he bristled at the use of the childhood nickname, and it brought her no small measure of satisfaction. "Your lectures about my future never end well." "Your future," he ground out, "will not end well if you continue to ignore your obligations. This trip is one of them. We're here to represent Father, and I cannot emphasize enough the strength of my suggestion to at least pretend you're his daughter, and not his youngest son." With a withering glare, the handsome young officer in the Southern Legions turned sharply on his heel and stormed out, the heels of his polished boots echoing throughout the spacious halls. Scowling, she made a sudden, obscene gesture in the direction of his back, wishing she’d had something more substantial than a pen close at hand. At least they could fume in comfort; although fairly austere by the standards of the aristocracy, the Lookshy estate of General Cathak Vargas could never be called anything less than grand. From the imposing stone façade, bright banners bearing the crest of his House snapped in the breeze as serpentine dragons crawled in bas-relief across an enormous frieze. The exterior resembled a small fortress encircled by orderly paths of crushed volcanic stone and low, neatly-tended gardens, adorned wherever reasonable with the seals and sigils of the House and family. There were no columns, wide picture windows, untrimmed trees, deep hedges, or statuary which might present a clear tactical disadvantage in the unlikely event the estate was infiltrated or besieged; the general was nothing if not a practical man. Inside, however, looking imposing was less important than being comfortable. Honey-coloured marble sheathed the walls and floor, and beautiful hand-woven carpets made plush oases upon which clusters of furniture were arranged just so. It was in the study that her father's influence was most obvious, and for that reason Aeryn tended to gravitate there whenever she had reason to visit Lookshy. Bookcases lined the walls, with some rarer works encased in metal or polished stone, and the faint scent of aromatic tobacco lingered in the air; she was fairly sure one of the servants had burned it in anticipation of their arrival. One of his prized possessions- a complete unabridged copy of The Thousand Correct Actions of the Upright Soldier- lay open on the desk nearby. With a sigh, she hauled herself out of the chair, carefully closed the book, and replaced it in the small stone chest on the tome-laden shelves. Whether she liked it or not, her brother was at least partially right. It was well past time she got started. All those stupid dresses weren't going to try on themselves, and the maids had worked awfully hard to get them ready. Even if she didn't intend to actually wear any of them, she'd play along for their benefit.