Leguna awoke a few days later. Though he had used only one further stage of Host of Darkness, the side effects were far more severe. Previously, he would wake up with sore muscles. This time, however, his body was wracked with pain and it felt like his head would explode given the slightest prick.
He looked around painedly. He was in an inn, a cheap one. Luckily, it was clean. He should be in the human realm, based on the room's decorations.
"Boss.. Ann--" His mouth shut mid-sentence. Of course, Annie left him. "Sis! Innie!"
Footstep rushed into the room. Innilis was in front.
"Big Bro!" The girl leapt into his arms, almost winding him. Still, she was much gentler than the last time this happened.
"Alright, enough. Don't cry every time. Don't you want to be a grown-up lady? If you do, you have to become stronger," said Leguna as he patted the little girl gently.
"You're still callous, I see. If it hadn't been for Innilis's care, you would've starved to death." Vera walked into the room with a tray with bread and a stick of butter. "We don't have a lot of money, so this is all you get."
"I'm just glad to have something to eat!" Leguna grabbed the bread and wolfed it down greedily.
The two women watched him silently for a few moments before Vera told him what happened while he was out. The three had brought him back to human territory. They weren't anywhere near Starfall though. They had gone southwest and found a small time. They hadn't encountered the eye yet, thankfully. The two adults in the group had been doing small odd jobs to earn enough money to cover their daily expenses. Kurdak was currently away on one of these jobs.
The group had fallen from being Starfall elites to groveling over a few stray coppers.
"It's been tough," Leguna apologized.
"Sigh, it's all those Eye bastards' fault. It's got nothing to do with you," Vera countered.
"How long was I out?"
"Ten days?" Vera stroked her lips thoughtfully, "Sounds about right."
"Much longer than I thought. Host of Darkness' seventh stage really takes a toll." Leguna furrowed his brow. The side effects were far greater than he'd anticipated.
"You and Balor..." Vera hesitated.
A smile crept onto Leguna's face.
"Don't worry, Sis. Balor isn't dead. I defeated him that's all. I gave him a harsh lesson though. I don't know if he'll listen, but he should have learned something. Maybe he'll have a change of heart and come look for you!"
The tension left Vera's body like water rushing out of a pressed waterskin. She was relieved Leguna won, but couldn't stop worrying about her brother. Leguna was unconscious and so her worries could not be calmed until now. This was the best possible result.
"Of course!" Leguna cracked a confident smile. "I promised to get him back for you, didn't I?"
"Thank you, Ley!" Gratitude overwhelmed her arrogance, and she lept over and gave the little angel a kiss on his forehead..
"AAAGH!!! My eyes!!!" Innilis hurriedly covered her eyes with her hands.
"Sis, are you trying to make Boss kill me?" Leguna joked.
"Hmph! You think you're a big shot just because I praised you once? You dare mock me, huh?" Vera pulled Leguna up by the ear.
The three messed around for a while in Leguna's room before Vera dragged Innilis out so the boy could rest. Kurdak returned that evening. He bought food with all his money when he heard Leguna was awake and they all feasted irresponsibly.
"We're going to Chino soon, right?" asked Leguna. Though the continent was filled with unpleasant memories, he was drawn to it inexorably. The most important person in his life, and the girl that was his obsession as of late were both there.
"Yup. We can't stay here anymore. The Eye appears to have given up for now, but they won't let us be forever. Best leave as soon as possible," Kurdak nodded, "There's just one problem..."
"Money. We don't have any money. It costs several dozen gold to sail over to Chino, and then there's food and drink, etc. We need at least 200 gold."
"What about you, Innie?" Leguna probed.
"Huh?" Innilis rubbed her pepper-stained mouth.
"Still want to go to Chino? It's really far away. Why don't you stay here?" Leguna was still uncomfortable with taking the little girl on such a long and uncertain journey. His deal with Daver still stood, she had a certain life here.
Innilis didn't tear up like the last few times Leguna brought this up. Her head drooped as she muttered quietly.
"Does Big Bro really hate me that much?"
"Huh? What nonsense are you talking? How could I hate you? You're so obedient and cute. I like you a lot."
"Then why?" Innilis suddenly lifted her head; her red eyes stared at Leguna like two tiny candle flames, "Why do you want to go to Sis Annie's side with Uncle and Big Sis, and want to find Sis Eirinn, but don't want me with you?"
The girl's sudden allegations blindsided Leguna.
"So you do hate me..." the little girl mumbled when Leguna didn't answer right away.
Someone else might have stormed out furious or in tears, but Innilis just sat quietly in her chair. She felt hurt, but didn't blame her big bro. She just felt inadequate. She nibbled on her food half-heartedly in silence while tears dripped onto her plate.
"There are debts one cannot not pay back, kid. You have no choice in this matter." Kurdak couldn't bear to stand by silently any longer. His pact with the little girl compelled him to action.
"You're not a complete idiot; you know how she feels about you. You have no right to hurt the little angel, do you?" the burly man whispered.
"But… I... I can't take care of her..."
"Damnit, Leguna! Are you this spineless? Is this the kid I've lived with for three years?--" A hard slap landed on the back of Leguna's head. "--What on earth do you mean you can't take care of her? Is hurting her like this taking care of her, then? How is this taking care of her?"
"But..." Words failed Leguna. He did not have the vocabulary to express his thoughts and feelings. "Annie..."
"Bullshit!--" Another slap. "--Innie just wants to stay with you. When did she say she wanted you to choose between her and Annie? Besides, nothing's been solved between you and Annie. For all you know she won't even let you see her, much less talk things out! You're a brat pretending to be a gentleman! Do you really think every girl not yet in her grave will fall for you just because you look their way? You should be happy you're lucky enough to have even just one girl who doesn't run away the first chance she gets! Just give yourself a whiff!"
Silence ruled Leguna. He had no comeback. He stunk like a skunk. But he knew that wasn't what Kurdak was talking about.
"Maybe Innie is only smitten because she doesn't know any better, she's still too young to have her priorities straight."
"Doesn't know any better? Doesn't have her priorities straight? Do you really think I'm that worthless, that bad of a person, Boss?"
"Don't put words in my mouth. She might just be naïve, or she may really be in love. Regardless, you have no right to deny her either way. It's your responsibility to take care of her now because you're the one that put her in this state. She trusts you the most in the world, just like Annelotte did. Are you going to do the same thing to her you did to Annelotte?"
Leguna couldn't answer. Kurdak was right. She had no one left in this world. Leguna was the last anchor for her in this world. Maybe that was why she thought she was in love with him. A Stockholm Syndrome of some kind. How could he leave her behind? How could he, for all intents and purposes, abandon her? He couldn't.
He stood up slowly, walked around the table, and hugged the little girl from behind.
"I'm sorry, Innie. I was wrong. I thought it would be safer for you to not come along, but I was just pushing my responsibility on someone else. I didn't think about how this would make you feel. I'm sorry. Your big bro is an idiot."
"No. I am sorry for making you dislike me."
"That's not true. I like you the most. You're just as important to me as Annie, Boss, Vera, and Eirinn. I promise, as long as you don't bring it up, I won't mention leaving you behind ever again. Okay?"
Innilis didn't know what exactly Leguna meant, but it was much better than being alone, so she hummed silently.
"Okay." Leguna stroked her little head, "Why don't you come to Chino with me?"
The little girl's eyes lit up with happiness and disbelief. She stared up at the boy's face. When she saw him nod, she smiled brightly.
"Big Bro is the best!"
"You little brat... I worked hard to convince him, but you won't even give me a smile? How heartless!"
"Uncle is great too! Everyone is! Hehe!"
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