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“There is a small mass growing within your elbow,” explained Veximarl. “It’s nothing to worry about. You’ve overworked your arm and a cyst has formed on your tendon. We are going to have a surgeon drain it. You will have full use of your arm again in a few days. Give it some rest this time. Take it easy. These sorts of injuries will be appearing more often with age.”

Veximarl bowed as the patient left him and both he and Luca went back to their station. The two of them had just finished clinic duty. Mostly it entailed Veximarl wandering about from room to room and using his magic to diagnose patients. Luca would then step in and treat them right away if it was possible or they would refer the patient to someone else if further treatment was necessary.

He began to fill out the paperwork at the counter while Luca fetched their jackets. This was different than the times he had spent as a traveling witch doctor. Normally he would do everything. Not surgery or magical healing, what with being a necromancer and all, but he could prescribe whatever medicine was available.

A hospital was vastly different than working in a smaller clinic. His only tasks were to do diagnostics and to advise on miasma sickness, however, the monotony of his job didn’t bore him. He was helping people. No one had complaints about his work. He was even occasionally praised for it. It gave him a glimpse of what he could be doing with his life if he wasn’t working towards becoming a teacher.

Or what life could be like if necromancers weren’t persecuted. Thoughts like that had been heavy on his mind as of late. Everything would be for the better if there was just an opportunity for his kind to be among society, but...

“Mister Tuton.” His automatic reaction to someone calling his name was to look over with a friendly smile. They were healers here. Even in times of hardship, they needed to smile.

Gwyn frowned at the professionalism he was showing her. Ivy had traveled with her as well. The two had been coming by the hospital every other day to check on the status of the medicinal herb nursery. Unlike other plants, they needed to be grown carefully to ensure maximum potency.

“Afternoon, Miss Hewitt.” He brushed away the hair that had fallen in front of his face and awkwardly leaned against the counter. “It is a pleasure to see you again.” His voice cracked slightly as he spoke.

Gwyn didn’t pay attention to his obvious awkwardness. “It’s only a quick visit today to see how they are progressing. I’ll be ready to harvest them the next time. Please make sure no one touches them before then.”

An appreciative bow was given by Luca. “No need to fret, Miss Gwyndolyn. I have personally been making sure no one touches anything.” He looked between her and Ivy with an ever-growing smile. “I’ll be busy after work that day, but both of us are done with today’s shift. Should we celebrate early?”

“Like a double date?” Ivy put a finger innocently to her cheek. “I like the thought of that. Oh no, but I’m not wearing anything nice! What do you think, darling? Do I look pretty just as I am or is there something you would improve?” Her eyes fluttered at Veximarl.

Veximarl had no idea why Ivy had started to act this way, but it made him feel nervous. It had been like this ever since they arrived at Carapace. The only solace he had was the fact that she rarely bothered to message him by letter.

He cleared his throat and looked her over. Ivy normally dressed rather masculine, but she had made some changes this time around. Alton had provided both her and Gwyn with dresses to help promote his businesses, and Ivy was wearing a pink skirt with a white, frilly coat. It looked like she had put in a considerable amount of effort to make herself look feminine.

“Your appearance is… I can confirm that those are certainly clothes you are wearing. Woven Silk does admirable work,” muttered Veximarl.

“Would it be better if I wasn’t wearing them at all?” She tilted her head and smiled childishly.

“No. This is a hospital. That would be unsanitary.” Veximarl’s face scrunched up at the idea. His heart fell as Gwyn put her hand to her mouth to hide the fact that she was laughing at him. He wasn’t trying to make a joke. It was the truth.

But her own amusement was ended as Luca began to stand a little to close for her comfort. “There’s a new art exhibit at the nearby museum. They have relics on display from when the harpy tribes lived in these mountains. We could go as a group or we can do something else.”

“I’m not done with work yet,” said Gwyn with a sigh. “Mister Tuton has asked for some specialty items to be grown for him and I’m not certain what they’re supposed to look like as they mature. I need him to confirm that they’re developing properly before I leave.”

“Good!” Ivy looped her arm with Veximarl’s and began to drag him with her. “We’ll all go together! After all, just because we’re away from the barracks, doesn’t mean we should stop learning. That’s what Remi always says, anyways.” Luca nodded eagerly at this idea as he put an arm around Gwyn’s shoulders.

Gwyn slipped out from Luca’s grasp. “Let him go, Ivy. He can’t think straight when you’re rubbing against him like that and I can’t work with Mister Atwater while his thoughts remain impure. Would you two mind waiting here? I won’t be long.”

Dismayed but happy at the same time, Luca bobbed his head up and down. “That’s not a problem! If you don’t like the museum, we can go to a park. None of them are busy in winter. We’d have the place to ourselves.”

“The museum is better,” replied Gwyn. “I didn’t bring gloves because I wasn’t expecting to be outdoors for very long.” She glanced to Veximarl. “Please don’t waste my time with a medical lecture this time. I do not wish to give our friends a reason to feel disgruntled with us.”

Veximarl fretted as she walked ahead. “Of course, Miss Hewitt.” He hastened to catch up with her. “We will be finished quickly. Please have patience!”

He continued to follow after her as they wove through the halls of the hospital, becoming somewhat worried as she headed towards the exit. Especially so as she walked through it. Not that he was going to question her if she wanted to leave. Veximarl wasn’t wanting to go on a double date either but he didn’t know where they were supposed to be going.

They walked in silence next to each other until Gwyn made a left turn into a park. Luca was right. It was abandoned. The bushes which held flowers at other times of the year were now barren and covered in snow. Trees were clothed in nothing but icicles and the pond had a thick layer of ice over it.

Gwyn continued on until she spotted a bench. She dusted the snow off of it and took a seat. She then stared up at Veximarl. He gave her a nod and followed her gestures, taking a seat next to her. The two stared ahead at the pond.

Everything about this place had an eerie sort of silence to it. Even the slightest rustle of clothing seemed deafening.

Continuing to stare ahead, Veximarl was perplexed as to why Gwyn led him here. She wasn’t looking at him, simply looking on with a vacant expression on her face. Her hands were pale and she wrung them together in an effort to keep them warm. Veximarl pulled out his gloves out from his pocket and held them out for her to take.

“Here.” He whispered as quietly as he could. “They’re lined with rabbit fur… I won’t need them myself. My hands will be warm enough in my pockets.”

She looked at them for a moment before taking them. Slipping them on, she then wiggled her fingers about. Her hands were dwarfed by their size and she smirked to herself as she opened and closed her fingers.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

Veximarl glanced at her and then away again. “How are you handling your schedule? Have you had any challenging events coming up?”

“There’s an event at city hall soon. Duke Rubire is expecting a grandchild soon, and they want to throw a lavish baby shower. I’m supposed to have red bouquets blossom across the room at a certain hour to indicate that they’ll be having a boy.”

The thought left her dismayed. Plant magic was a rarity and she had been finding herself in high demand. It would be nicer if her primary job wasn’t always growing flowers. At least she was getting paid and most of that money was going towards charity. The Toval family had put her in contact with one of them. She was fine with donating most of her earnings to a good cause, but casting on a daily basis was leaving her feeling drained.

“Variety is nice. I will no doubt be at the hospital. Like I am every day.” He attempted to focus on the pond again. “But I enjoy my work. I feel pride in what I have been able to accomplish.”

Gwyn let out a sigh, which caught him off guard. “You’re the only person who I’ve done anything useful for. Everyone else wants out of season fruits for their dinner parties, or flowers for this, or flowers for that. I’ve had to set up an indoor garden at the Highland estate to regrow my seed supply, and Lady Magdalena keeps bringing people over to show off her fancy new garden.”

“Flowers are beautiful things, are they not? They give people a unique sense of happiness. With the horrors that are threatening this city, I believe that the joy that someone can have simply by seeing a flower is an invaluable gift. I am working towards repairing those who have been broken, Miss Hewitt, but you are giving them calm in a time of terror. No matter how mundane your task may seem, I consider it to be quite important.”

She stared at him for a moment. “... Thank you. That almost makes me feel better.” Gwyn took another moment to fumble with his gloves. “Do you have next Satyrday off? I want you to go with me to that stupid event.”

Gulping, Veximarl nodded. “Of c-course. I would be h-happy to escort you that evening.”

“Oh no, don’t be gross.” Gwyn’s nose wrinkled. “It’s because there is going to be an abundance of alcohol and dancing. Everyone will be talking about love and completing a family and…

I must be blunt with you. The man whom I’ve had relations with is going to be there, and I don’t want to risk a single moment of being alone with him. I have a feeling that I will let myself be taken advantage of if that happens.”

Veximarl’s previous excitement had been replaced with dismay. “You are in need of someone to keep an eye on you and you worry that Ivy will encourage you to take risks for your own awards. Won’t Vincent be there as well? Is he not able to help?”

“He’s become a big baby since his mother demanded Zaniyah leave,” Gwyn muttered. “Vincent is planning on visiting her that night. Anais somehow has a date and I know Ivy will push me towards being with someone that night.”

He let out a long, drawn-out sigh. “I will go on the condition that you keep Ivy away from me. She has been making me rather uncomfortable as of late.”

“I know that there are those at Braytons who speak about us behind our backs. They say that we’re the same as any other Fogbloom girl. We are simply there to find a husband or to secure a title that will give us more opportunities to find a husband.

That might be my situation but Ivy isn’t like that. She likes to act the part because she’s embarrassed that she’s there for the same reasons Miss Krogastein is. All she wants to do is to run around and beat up baddies with a big sword. That feminine act she does is how she chases away men who are attempting to court me because she knows how much I hate it.

She desires to join the army once we graduate and work towards becoming a general. I may have several reasons for attending Braytons but the biggest one was that she was scared to do this alone. I suppose she also wanted to do this for my sake, but… I’m here for her.”

“That’s surprisingly admirable,” replied Veximarl.

“Ivy can be admirable at times. That cannot be said about me.” Gwyn closed her eyes and braced herself against a cold breeze. “I really am here to get a husband and because I want the chance to buy back my life.

That man I mentioned? He’s perfect. I could end up if everything I wanted if I had acted rationally, but instead I… I let him have me… L-like I was a whore. No, that isn’t right. I am a whore. I begged him to do it and I’d do it again in an instant if only to taste that sweet hint of freedom again.”

She put her hands to her face and Veximarl became alarmed. Was she going to cry? If he told her she wasn’t a whore, would she just get mad and argue with him? He slowly lifted up his hand and awkwardly patted her shoulder.

“I am unsure of what to do for you,” he quickly removed his hand when she looked towards him. “I suppose, considering this scene and this moment of shared seclusion, am I supposed to, uhm… D-do I kiss you? Would that make it better?”

“No! I told you not to be gross!” Gwyn tightened her arms about herself. “I need you to ensure that I don’t go near the gentleman. That’s the only request I have for you.”

Veximarl’s cheeks went hot as he looked away out of embarrassment. “Of course! I am quite capable of doing that. Though I worry about what would happen if Ivy were to distract me.”

The other day, she had attempted to drag him into a supply closet at the hospital. It must have been awkward for others to see him run down the hospital halls after darting out of a small room, but his sanity was at risk. He was growing tired of these women throwing themselves at him.

“Tell her you’re my boyfriend and she’ll drop the issue,” she muttered quietly.

“I cannot lie like that. Everyone knows that lying is one of my biggest weaknesses,” he replied in a flustered manner. It also conflicted with her requests to not be gross. Being her boyfriend was an impossibility.

“Then what are you going to do about Ivy?” Gwyn frowned. “Or Tish when we get back? I need someone to make sure I stop acting like a stupid whore. I don’t need you to put any effort into courting me, but I’m desperate to have someone that will pull me aside once in a while and talk some sense into me. Someone I know who actually has my best interests in mind and doesn’t have underlying motivations.”

But Veximarl did have underlying motivations. Gwyn was a foreign concept to him, and he wanted to… He had trouble phrasing exactly what he wanted to do with her in words or thoughts he could comprehend. It wasn’t a physical want, nor romantic. At least, he didn’t believe it was romantic. He was absolutely certain it wasn’t sexual.

“I am going to escort you back to the Highland residence. You are obviously under a lot of stress and are not thinking clearly.” He went to stand but stopped when he saw her face. It looked like she was in pain. “... Please hold still.”

He reached over and slid his hand along the side of her bare neck. “What are you doing?!” She recoiled from his touch. His fingers were freezing.

“It only works if I have skin on skin contact. Hold still, please.” Veximarl kept his hand held out and Gwyn tensed up. She closed her eyes and gave a nod.

His hand touched at her neck again and he closed his eyes. The best way he could hope to understand her was through his magic. Plenty of injuries left little bits of evidence here or there... Her arm had been broken as a child, several scars that could easily be attributed to housework... Nothing appeared out of the ordinary. He let out a long sigh.

“What is it?” Gwyn whispered worriedly.

“You’re not pregnant.” She yanked herself away and slapped his wrist. “I was concerned that you were acting unusual because you had been inseminated during your encounter and were perhaps looking for someone to blame. I was admittedly befuddled if there was something wrong with you or if we were somehow friends now.”

“If I was pregnant, I wouldn’t want to get away from the man! I would already own him by his manhood!” She shouted back.

Veximarl was taken aback by her language. “What a vulgar thing to say.”

“Why would I even want you to take responsibility for my pregnancy?” Gwyn let out an exasperated whine. “You’re so creepy and gross... I don’t want to think about it.”

He had a thought to himself at that moment. This was exactly how Sybil acted towards Alton most of the time but he was certain that Sybil also cared about him a great deal. Was it possible that Gwyn was similar in her approach? On the other hand, he didn’t think that their relationship was all that healthy. He shouldn’t use Alton and Sybil as a benchmark for how he viewed romance.

“Should I escort you home?” He asked while feeling dismayed that she was dry heaving at the thought of kissing him.

“No. I don’t want to go there yet.” She folded her arms and tossed her head to the side defiantly.

Veximarl scrunched his eyebrows as he sought to think of a solution. “Would you care to throw snowballs at each other?” He fretted between making her uncomfortable and the fact that he wanted to spend more time with her.

“... Yes.” She stood up. “We should do that. I would like that very much.”

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About the author

Adelaide West

Bio: Author of the Grimstone Series and Duck and Wolf.

I have a Twitter. I check it often, so I guess tag me anytime you want. I just don't post very often. @AdelaideGWest

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