“Your Highness, here's your tea,” said Erina as I flipped through the pages of the reports in front.
“Thanks,” I replied while inserting my finger into the handle of the cup. With the cup's tip touching my lips, I took a sip of the warm tea without removing my eyes from the paper I held. With a light clack, I returned the cup to its saucer and resumed my activity.
The clock ticked while I munched and crunched on the biscuits I ate. Then a sip after the other, my body felt heavy, my sight hazy, my breathing long, and my mind feeble
“E-erina,” I called to my side, “can you get me something? Something to wake me up,” I said while tapping my cheeks with the palm of my hands.
“Your Highness, it's time for you to sleep.”
“Huh, huh? Wait, you mixed in chamomile in the tea?” I asked groggily.
“See? You've been too focused on your task that you didn't notice it until now. Take a rest; it's already an hour past midnight.”
“Ah...” I muttered. Then my strained eyelids fell shut.
“Really,” Erina said as she caught Amelia, “you're a troublesome child.”
Quietly, Erina slid her arms at Amelia's back and under her thighs. Then with a pull, Erina carried Amelia. While Amelia's head leaned on Erina's shoulder, Erina expressed a smile and said, “Nothing good comes out if you'd keep on overworking yourself.”
With a ruffle of the flimsy sheets, Erina placed Amelia's body on her bed canopied with a blue cloth. Carefully arranging her sleeping posture, Erina moved to the wardrobe across the bed.
“Now then,” she said with a beaming smile, “I wonder what nightwear will be good this time.”
It felt heavy. My body felt heavy. Throwing my free arm to the side, I grabbed a pillow and buried my face in it. “Cold...”
I turned to the side and grabbed another pillow to shield myself from the cold. However, something was amiss. As light filtered through my eyes, a blurry image formed. Focusing my sight, I blinked a few times and banished the haze. It was still dark. And from the window, fog covered the sheets of glass.
Lazily, I propped myself on the bed and sat. In the process, I felt the unusual sensation a second time. “Brr...” I muttered, rubbing my arms with the palm of my hands. Wanting to warm myself, I curled my legs closer to my body. However, the unusual sensation struck me a third time. It was moist. It was damp. No, my thighs felt wet.
D-did I pee in bed?
Grabbing the end of the blanket, I slowly lifted it to the side with bated breath. While the dim light from the window gradually illuminated my white nightwear, a stain of red revealed itself.
Don't tell me.
Spurred by the racing beats of my heart, I threw the blanket to the side and found the bed dirtied by spots. Some still fresh in red, some dried to a reddish brown.
Why? When? There were no signs.
It wasn't a new occurrence. It wasn't foreign to me. It's just the usual cycle of a woman like me. However, something was amiss.
With trembling hands, I reached for the cloth underneath my chest and started crumpling it. While the ends of the skirt neared my fingers, my blood-soaked underwear revealed itself. Then locking the crumpled sloth in place, I used my left hand to put pressure on my lower abdomen.
Why? I thought, repeatedly pressuring different parts of my lower abdomen. There’s no pain.
“E-erina,” I called. Lifting my sight from my abdomen to my surroundings, “Erina?” I called. Then a light pang shot through my head. “Uugh...” I muttered with my right hand clutched on my head. After the pain vanished, I roamed my eyes to my surroundings.
The room was silent. It was dim. The light from the windows shone a streak of moonlight on the furniture on my left. To my right, the usual double door stood imposingly as it usually did. Leaving pleats on the surface of the bedcover, I moved to the right side of the bed. Planting my feet on the wooden floor, I slid my thumbs between my hips and the fabric of my underwear.
After a careful push on the fabric, I slid my underwear down to my feet. Balling it up with the stain hidden from the white, I stood from the bed and held the ball in-between my thighs. Towards the door, I walked with my left hand at my back, keeping the ball from falling while careful of not dropping another stain on the floor.
In front, of the door, I banged my fist against it and said, “P-please call for Erina. I need immediate assistance.”
Then a sudden clutter sounded from the other side of the door.
“Y-yes!” a voice of a man answered. Then hurried footsteps followed.
Ah, someone fell asleep on duty... I'll have to report this...
Turning my sight to the clock on my left, I thought, it's four-thirty-seven in the morning...
Towards the door further to the left, I sauntered. Upon reaching the door, I rotated the knob with a clack. With a push, I entered the dark room. Unmindful of the dark room, I manifested a ball of light as I made my way towards the toilet bowl on the left. After lifting the lid, I sat down the bowl and dropped my underwear into a tin pail beside me.
Quietly, I vacantly stared at the white tiles between my feet.
I should be happy, right? I questioned myself as a cold sweat ran down my back. There's no pain, but this, this feels weird... It doesn't feel right...
With a shiver down my body, I muttered a chant and manifested a fireball beside the ball of light. Silently, I mindlessly played with the balls of fire and light.
I wonder what's the result of fire and light combined?
From the door, a clack sounded as it opened. Immediately after, Erina rushed into the room and turned her head left and right. “Your Highness?” she called.
“Erina, I'm here,” I said, curling myself while seated.
With hurried steps, Erina entered the room with a lamp dangling on her right hand. “What's the matter?” she asked.
“It came...” I replied with a wry smile. “And the bed, I'm sorry. I've already stained it...”
“So it finally came.”
“Yes... and I only have three hours of sleep at that.”
“Wait here; I'll request another room.”
“Please do,” I said, canceling both the fireball and the light ball. As I looked at Erina’s fading back, I thought, I wonder where would I be without her?
It was rough, bumpy even. That's what I felt as my fingers brushed the leather cover of the familiar brown book. It was large, a width enough to fit between my elbow and shoulder. However, it doesn't have a title. But I knew it. It was the book that I've been reading with Kanna. It was the book regarding Mana Forging.
My finger slid to the book’s edge and lifted it open. As the cover fell to the side, the first few pages followed. But with my hand, I pressed the pages back in place. Using my fingers, I traced the contents to its starting point. At the upper left. While my finger pointed to an unusual character, I started reading it aloud. One after the other, as my finger traced from left to right, my lips pronounced the letters.
I didn't know what it meant, but I kept speaking. I kept pronouncing. Some words were familiar to me, but most were unknown. I had no way to find out what it meant. I didn't know if I pronounced it correctly. I was alone, in a dark room, with only a light ball to light the desk.
Upon reaching a page with roughly drawn figure, my finger stopped. The drawing was bad. It was all over the place. Smudges were here and there. Nevertheless, a smile erupted on my face. “This is surely Garfin’s,” I said. It was undeniable. However, it reminded me of my stay with the Tribe. “I'll have to make sure to return at the months of spring,” I said. “I want to explore more of Alabaster and know more about the chasm.”
With a sigh, I closed the book. But not soon after, my mind started to wander. It reminded me of the reason why I’m inside this small dark room. Tapping the palm of my hands on my cheeks, I shut down my thoughts and said, “Wake up. Wake up. This isn’t the time.”
But what am I to do… I thought as I slumped on the chair.
Refrained from doing any strenuous activities, Erina suggested me to rest in this room for a day.
“But really, I can’t get used to this underwear lined with peat moss and cotton...” I muttered while avoiding excessive movement.
Refusing to stand from the chair, I repeatedly opened and closed the book. “I’m going nowhere,” I said. “Ah, not good, I’m not used to doing nothing. Come on Amelia, think. There has to be something I can do in this room...”
“...” silence emanated inside the room. “It’s too quiet,” I muttered.
[Maize, are you there?] I asked using Wind Whisper.
[Is there anything new from the church girl?]
[… Then send another detachment of troops to investigate the Forest. This time, a bit deeper from the edge.]
“Haah...” I muttered, “I want biscuits… and I guess I’ll just rest...”
The day after a full rest in the indoor training ground...
With my right hand clasped on a wooden handle, and the other at my back, I leaned forward with a step. Then with a swing, a dry sound was emitted from the pell. Unsatisfied, I turned my hand and took another swing coming from my hip. Two. Three. It didn't matter how many hits I gave the pell. I kept swinging the wooden sword in my hand. Again, with rasped teeth, I kept at it. A step to the left, then followed by a swing. To the right, twist, then a swing. My eyes didn't waver. My sight focused on the pell despite me moving around it. Then for a moment, I swung the sword, horn manifested and aided by reinforcement. Followed by a loud snap, the end of the wooden sword shot beside my head.
Relaxing my stance, I exhaled and said, “I kept forgetting what I am now...”
Shifting my sight while calming my breathing, fibers of the wooden sword were visible. Then turning to the pell, an awkward smile emerged on my face. “It's beaten up pretty badly,” I said followed by a dry laugh.
The wooden pell claimed bruises on its body. Some focused on one spot, some at random places. “It'll be bad if someone finds out,” I said as I poured mana into the shard clasped in my left.
Beside the pell, three fireballs manifested. With a step backward, the fireballs closed in on the pell. A few seconds after, the fireballs vanished, but the pell remained burning.
Without a single thought in mind, I stood watching the pell burn. The flame flickered. Black marks encroached it. It was nothing special. But the longer I stared at it, the more I felt relaxed.
“I still wonder what creature burned that forest,” I muttered, reminiscing the ashen forest I came to five years back. “Ah,” recalling the wooden piece, I said.
With a step, I turned around and roamed my eyes. But what I found was a pair of black shoes standing on the dirt ground. Lifting my face, a figure of a blonde woman dressed in a black and white maid clothes came to view.
Recognizing the woman, “Oh, Erina,” I said. “What is it?”
In reply, she shook her head while reaching out the wooden piece and said, “It’s time to leave.”
“Ah, right. I forgot.”
Within the rattling carriage, I sat beside the window seat while Erina sat across from me.
“It’s still raining huh,” I muttered, gazing upon the droplets of rain that skimmed on the surface of the glass. Little by little, the droplets fused and snaked down the pane.
“It’s been raining for days now,” I said. “Do you think there's a storm brewing?” I asked, turning to Erina. Then with a heave of a sigh, “Really, it's quite a troublesome one for it to appear at this time.”
“True, it’ll delay us from reaching the borders and escorting his Highness Max.”
“Well, I guess it’s also a good time to continue reading the reports,” I said with a laugh.
“You shouldn’t overdo yourself, only a day has passed since it came.”
“You worry too much. It’s not a big deal now. Besides, I think I’m fine to do as I please, you know?”
“That’s what you think.”
Placing a hand over my lips, I giggled and said, “Erina.”
“What is it?” she asked, puzzled of my inappropriate call.
Then, expressing a natural smile, “Thank you,” I said. It was but a simple smile, yet it’s a smile that I’ve expressed in earnest. A smile filled with warmth. “Thank you so much for being with me until today. I might’ve been a different person if you weren’t around. I might've been a corpse or a child locked up in some room crying by now if you never took my side, so thank you. Thank you so much.”
“And what’s this for?” she asked, forming a light smile on her face.
Turning my gaze to the window, I said, “We’ve been together all this time; just you and me. Five years, we've traveled back and forth in a carriage like this. It sure has been a long time, but really, it took me this long to realize. To realize the burden I've been giving you. And to realize that we’ve been all alone all this time.”
“Amelia...” she replied. Then with a smile, she said, “and you’d still continue doing so, am I right?”
In response, I returned my sight to Erina and said, “Yes, I will. However, it won’t be just you, so I guess the burden will be less than usual.”
“Referring to Kanna as a weight off my shoulder? Are you sure that’s an appropriate judgment? More like, both of you will increase the burden on my shoulders instead.”
“True,” I said followed by a laugh. “Kanna might be another burden instead. In any case, things will be more bearable than it usually should. At least, with an addition of the lively yet foolish Kanna in our little circle.”
“Really,” Erina shrugged as she heaved a sigh, “More troublesome children to take care of.”
“You don’t have a choice,” I replied. “You’ve just adopted another child. But does Kanna count as a child? Sure she is childish, but she’s older you in fact.”
“Let’s just consider how mature she is.”
“In that case, she is a child.”
Then we both laughed like it was a long time since we did.
“Then Erina, can I read the reports now?”
“Did you say all those things just to ask that?”
“Of course not! But maybe-- I don’t know, but please, even a summary of it will be fine.”