In the end, I only met up with Lili and decided to go to bed early, of course not before taking a thorough bath. I spent a lot of time soaking, thinking about everything that happened today and just wondering what would should I do with myself.
After wishing Lili a good night I collapsed onto the bed and tried the slow breathing technique again, it turned out to be really useful for falling asleep, this time I didn't have any dreams, at least I didn't remember having any.
The creaking of the hinges and a quiet slam was what woke me up, it must have been really late because Lili was already sleeping, Eina's bed was empty though, the moonlight seeping through the curtains was exceptionally bright that night. Half asleep, I swept my hair behind my ears and groggily scanned the room, a chilly breeze reached me from where the balcony doors were.
Shaking my head to wake up, I crawled off the bed and put on my slippers, after doing this and wiping my eyes; I wrapped myself in the blanket and quietly sneaked towards the balcony. The doors creaked a little bit when I opened them, after making sure that it didn't wake Lili up, I snuck out and closed them up from the outside.
The cold night air jolted me awake, Eina was leaning against the railing, gazing at the moon, I couldn't help but wince when I saw that she was barefoot on the freezing tiles.
"You'll get a cold!" I whispered to her.
Coming to her senses, she looked at me over her shoulder and whispered, "It's not that cold."
Maybe I would have believed her if not for the fact that she was trembling and for the clattering of her teeth, shaking my head I walked up and wrapped the blanket around the both of us. Eina stiffened but didn't try to break free, she smelled nice, especially her hair.
"Get on my slippers, don't stand on the cold floor," I whispered to her, nudging her to stand in front of me.
Eina pursed her lips and awkwardly stood on my feet, she wasn't too heavy so I didn't mind it, yawning, I snuggled up to keep us warm.
She looked at me and asked, "Are you teasing me again?"
"I am trying to save you from getting sick," I replied, looking up straight into her azure eyes.
Gritting her teeth, she asked me another question, "You are doing this to make me feel weird, right?"
Frowning, I replied, "I am not. Sorry for showing some affection."
"Affection?" Eina asked me, frowning, "Why would you do that?"
Raising my eyebrows, I replied, "I like you, that's all." I snuggled up to her stiff body and asked, "Are you having problems with sleeping?"
I could feel her breathing quicken, she relaxed a bit and softly replied, "Yes."
"A bad dream?"
"No," She replied but then shook her head and said, "Yes."
"Do you want to talk about it?" I seriously asked her, looking up at her troubled face.
She bit her lip and shook her head so I didn't pressure her, I understood better than anyone else that it wasn't easy to talk about things like these, it required a lot of trust in the other party too.
Eina looked at the moon and asked me, "Are you just teasing me for fun?"
My heart revving up, I glanced over my shoulder to make sure that Lili wasn't eavesdropping and only then whispered to Eina, "A little bit, but not only."
Her body quivered, she licked her lips and asked, "Not only?"
Taking a quick breath, I replied, "I wanted to see how you react."
"I see," She whispered, getting out of my embrace, "I am going to sleep, goodnight."
It happened too fast, I couldn't see her face only her back as she hurriedly got back inside. The feeling of disappointment washed over me, I should have known that my preference for women was an outlier, something that wasn't easy to find. Sighing to myself, I decided to treat Eina like I did Lili, she gave me a clear answer, at least that's how I interpreted her recent actions.
I gently smacked my cheeks and forced myself to think about something else, there was plenty of fish in the sea, Eina could still be my friend, even if nothing more. Yes, that was fine, I wouldn't just stop liking her for such a selfish reason.
Sighing, I decided that I didn't want to sleep anymore and went back inside to quietly get dressed, I stole a last glance at Eina's, she was lying motionlessly, probably pretending to be asleep. Rolling my eyes, I got a hold of myself and picked sleeping Chopsticks up, his eyes lit up when I hugged him but he didn't make any noise, realizing it was late.
Together, we went to the main dormitory room where I sat in front of an empty fireplace, there were some other girls but we only exchanged cursory glances, a quick peek at the clock revealed that it was a few minutes after three am. Melting into the fluffy seat, I allowed Chopsticks to snuggle up under my jacket and then pulled out a history book.
My current topic was the intercontinental war started by Aural Empire that also involved Imperium of Larn, Kingdom of Espain and Republic of Lespa which turned out to be the place referred to as the land of heroes, they forced a treaty by displaying a new type of magical weapon, capable of erasing mountains from the face of the earth.
There were less than twenty countries in this world and most of them were under the rule of the great five which included the four I mentioned above as well as the Smines Theocracy, only Republic of Lespa didn't rule over another country. There was a total of nine continents in this world and only two were considered 'wild' and did not have any proper governing.
The Republic of Lespa didn't control a single one, instead, they controlled an extremely large archipelago of interconnected islands so their territory wasn't any smaller, it also had naval and magical superiority over every other country in the world. I really wasn't sure what country from my world could be a good parallel to it.
The Kingdom of Espain controlled only over a single continent, bigger than Australia and the biggest landmass in the world. Technically, they didn't control the entire continent because there were two smaller countries sandwiching it, both of them being proxies of respectively Larn and Aural Empire. If I were to compare them to a country I knew, it could be similar to United Europe in both size and the fact that it was technically made up of many smaller nations bundled under a single ruler, the only difference was that it was, well, a kingdom.
Imperium of Larn was basically a mix of Asian countries on steroids, at least if I were generalizing, they controlled three continents but their actual territory was smaller than the other three superpowers, excluding Lespa. It was a matriarchal society ruled by the Heavenly Empress, they did not have Emperors, the Empress had royal consorts instead. There were Kings that served as the governors over large chunks of lands, similarly, there were also Queens, their female counterparts.
Aural Empire had a single Emperor and a dozen or so Lords under his rule, it was an extremely authoritarian place ruled by the powerful, usually magically. They controlled the three continents with an iron grip and were known for deifying their ruling caste, presenting them as gods to the masses. This didn't sit well with the Smines Theocracy that believed in a single god, the Heavens above us.
Smines wasn't exactly interesting, they controlled a single continent. It was ruled by priests and appeared to be a pretty friendly country as long as you worshipped their religion, if you didn't, well, they would gladly convert you. The main reason why they ever went to war was due to crusades that their zealots sometimes started, it didn't matter that they were the instigators and if someone retaliated, their Grand Priest would just mobilize the entire country.
It was pretty much full of indoctrinated nutjobs and I would rather not visit that place at all.
Yawning, I stretched and glanced outside, it was already very early in the morning and the sky was purple, slowly becoming brighter with every passing moment, a quick glance at the clock made me realize I was reading for more than three hours.
Scratching the sleeping Chopsticks, I whispered to him, "Get up prince, the day is starting."
His eyes lit up and he begrudgingly crawled out of the soft spot he was resting in, pouncing on my shoulder and clicking his beak. I couldn't get enough of the fact that he was entirely made of metal and some magical gems, he behaved like a normal but highly intelligent crow would, he was the best pet I ever had, if I could even call him that.
After waking up the girls, I took Lili and we went to our lessons, Eina went to her own, she gave me a deep look as if she wanted to say something but decided against it and just left the room.
"You had an argument?" Lili worriedly asked me on our way to Spellcasting Theory.
"Not really," I replied and said, "Let's go, Teacher Terroso will lock us out if we are late."
"True!" Lili said, pulling me along.
The rest of the day passed quickly, as it usually did with having lessons the entire day, there were also the two hours I had to spend in detention; Eina avoided me completely during that time, it didn't feel great at all.
Finally, after eating and grabbing Lili, I said to her, "Let's go to the garden, I would go alone but there is a weird guy waiting for me there.'
"Weird? Is he any handsome?" Lili asked, getting excited and grabbing my arm.
Pouting, I replied, "He is pretty but I wouldn't really call him handsome."
"Pretty?" She shot me a confused glance.
"You will understand when you meet him, it's quite weird," I said to her and added, "Don't make comments about that, he flips out like a child."
"How old is he?" Lili asked, frowning.
"He has four stripes so at least seventeen, might be older," I replied, shrugging.
"Oh! I am a bit afraid of older guys too, they always look at me in a weird way," Lili whispered, making sure that no one other than me could hear her.
Sighing, I said, "That's men for you, they probably thought you are cute."
Gasping, Lili looked around and whispered, "You think so?"
"Yep. Anyway, we are almost here," I said, pointing at the last corner we had to take. "Remember what I told you."
"Okay!" Lili replied, intensely staring at the corner. The first thing she noticed when we made it to the garden was the charred tree. "What happened there?"
Stiffening, I awkwardly replied, "Lightning bolt must have hit it during the last storm, yeah that's what happened."
Frowning, Lili muttered, "I thought there are enchantments on the spires that attract lighting, how mysterious."
A silvery voice commented, "Truly a mystery."
I shot Valus a sharp glance and said, "Indeed. How are you?"
"Not bad," He replied and then looked at Lili and extended his hand, "I believe we haven't met before, I am Valus, pleasure is mine."
Realizing that she was gawking at him, Lili clenched her teeth and nervously shook his dainty hand. "Lili, nice to meet you," She squeezed out.
"Oh right, how old are you even?" I asked him.
"Eighteen this year, why?" He replied, raising his eyebrows.
Nodding to myself, I muttered, "Just calculating something, I am fifteen."
He pressed his eyebrows together and shot me a weird look before quizzically glanced at Lili who shrugged to him, giving me a similar weird look.
Chopsticks chirped and asked, "What's with the gazes?"
Valus innocently raised his hands and said, "Nothing, mister crow."
"His name is Chopsticks, he is very nice," Lili said scratching his little beak.
Shaking my head, I said, "Whatever, I need more time."
"Time?" Valus mumbled to himself and in the end, also shook his head. He sat down on a bench and asked me, "You came to study or do that other thing again?"
Shrugging, I was about to reply when a different voice called out from behind.
"Marie, Lili!" It was Aren, waving to us. He stopped next to us and glanced at Valus, "If it isn't the shemale."
"That's me indeed. How was being retarded for a year, Vuolo?" Valus asked with a venomous voice, "I can make you retarded for another one if you want."
Annoyed, I smacked Aren in the head and said, "Apologize or get lost!"
Lili took a step back, shooting me an unsure glance while Valus raised his eyebrows, his gaze alternating between me and Aren who was currently looking at me as if I did him an injustice. He begrudgingly looked at Valus and mumbled a half-assed apology.
"How did you even find us there?" I asked Aren. When he didn't reply and dodged my eyes, I clenched my teeth and hissed out, "You followed us. Again."
He took a step forward and blurted, "Why are you evading me all the time? I just want to get closer to you."
Shaking my head in disbelief I asked, "That's why you are stalking me?"
"Should I get rid of him?" Valus asked, amused.
"No!" Lili squeezed out but quickly covered her mouth, shyly taking a step behind me.
Aren shot her a cursory glance before fixing his eyes on me and saying, "Yes. That's the reason."
Taking a deep breath, I fought against the urge to kick his ass and said, "Listen, take the hint. I am not interested."
"You didn't even give me a chance!" Aren shouted out but quickly regretted it when I stared daggers at him, he took a step back and said, "Sorry for shouting."
Sighing, I waved my hand at him and said, "Just... Just get lost."
A trace of panic surfaced in Aren's icy blue eyes, he tried to grab my hand but I took a step back. Shakily, he said, "I beg you, Marie, just give me a chance."
Finally, Chopsticks had enough, he screeched and said, "Listen, either get lost or I will complain to her father! You will be thrown out of the academy without a second thought!"
Gritting my teeth, I said, "I told you multiple times, stop wasting time. If you want to be friends, no problem. Just stop being a creep."
Taking all of her courage, Lili jumped from behind me and grabbed Aren's hand, she squeezed out "Please, calm down!"
He looked at her for a moment, pursing his lips and then yanking his hand out of hers. He shot me last longing glance and said, "Sorry." Then, he stormed out of the garden.
Groaning in annoyance, I shot a glance at Valus, he looked amused and said to me, "You are pretty ruthless."
"He didn't even look at me," Lili muttered, quivering.
Realizing what was happening, I pulled her into a hug and said, "I told you already, you should just forget about his stupid ass!"
She nodded her head and returned the hug, without replying.
"This is pretty interesting," Valus commented from the side, resting his chin on his crossed fingers.
"What is?" I asked him.
"Aren Vuolo was a, well, playboy. It's interesting that he is fixated on you, his past self would just move on after a failure." Valus revealed casually.
"Was what?" I asked in disbelief, furrowing my eyebrows.
Valus shrugged and said, "Ask some three or two stripe girls, he was known for playing with the maiden's hearts. I know he never got too far, only some emotional damage."
"Is that true?" Lili suddenly asked, dangerous tremble in her voice.
Valus put his hand over his heart and said, "I swear! You can ask anyone that knows him, except Brack and his girlfriend maybe, I think they are friends."
"So you are saying he is trying to do something to Marie?" Lili asked again, I could feel her fists tighten.
"I don't know," Valus said after a moment of thought, "There were rumors that his accident wasn't one."
I finally spoke and asked, "Revenge?"
"It's just a rumor, I was already in the advanced alchemy group at that time so we didn't have lessons together," Valus said, tracing his chin.
Taking a deep breath, I plopped onto a bench and Lili sat next to me, worriedly holding my hand. I chuckled in a self-deprecating manner and said, "And I was the one who healed him, how ironic is that?"
Lili sighed and said, "Too bad he is like this, I need to find someone else now."
"For what?" I asked, squinting my eyes and looking at her.
She nervously shuffled in her seat and cast a glance at Valus before replying, "There is a ball in the main hall every two months, I wanted to finally go to one. It's next week!"
Enlightened I exclaimed, "That's soon!" and then muttered, "I actually took dancing lessons, this would be a good time to show off."
Surprised, Lili asked me, "Can you teach me?"
Getting a hold of myself, I replied, "Of course!"
She excitedly kicked her legs, and said, "That's a promise!"
Valus sighed and said, "This is why I am hiding, I hope that idiot won't tell anyone that I am here."
Frowning, I asked him, "The ball is the reason?"
"Tell me, what do you think the desperate guys who can't find a partner do when they see me?" Valus asked, shuddering in fear, "They think I will dress like a girl and go out with them, it's insanity!"
"Just ask a girl out then," I said to him, doing my best to not laugh at the image I had in my mind.
Squinting he asked me, "Will you go with me then?"
"I don't think so," I replied, there was someone else I had to ask first.
"Alright," He glanced at Lili and asked her, "What about you? I won't wear a dress though!"
Lili stiffened up, she thought for a moment and replied, "You are pretty and all but..."
"But you don't want people to think that you like girls, sure I get it," Valus said, sighing. "I will just skip it like I usually do."
"Actually," Lili blushed and blurted out, "You are just too short for me."
Snorting a laugh, I slapped my thigh, "Amazing!"
"Oh, you are one of these girls," Valus said with a grin. He shrugged and said with a sigh, "Even the first years don't want me, mother would be disappointed."
Chopsticks clicked with his beak and asked, "Didn't you say that you have a lot of admirers? Just take one of them."
Valus grimaced and said to him, "They are too weird and there is no way that I would go out with a man." He asked us, "Do you have any friends? Normal ones?"
"What about Eina?" Lili asked me.
Startled, I hurriedly replied, "That won't happen."
"Eina Argent? She is quite a babe," Valus commented, pinching his chin. "She is pretty tall, right? I like that."
Gritting my teeth, I said, "I believe she is already taken by someone."
"Really?" Both Lili and Valus asked me, the latter sounding disappointed.
Coughing awkwardly, I replied, "Really."