The days passed quickly and the tournament's second phase began. Only the first groups would compete on the first day. Annelotte was in the second group, so her match would only begin on the second day.
Leguna didn't watch the first days' matches. He shut himself in his room instead. He had wanted to sleep through the last day before he would meet her again. His impatience had vexed him for several days already, turning each into a year. He knew the last day would be even worse, so he decided to sleep through it, but his raging emotions kept his eyes open.
A light knock echoed from the door.
"I'll have lunch later, you don't have to worry about me."
"I'm not here with lunch," Eirinn's voice crawled through the door, "Can I come in?"
Leguna hesitated a moment before opening the door.
Eirinn stepped in and found a place to sit down. Her weariness towards Leguna was no completely gone. Their relationship was almost identical to all those years ago.
"What's up?" asked Leguna as he poured a cup of coffee.
Eirinn smiled thankfully and took the cup with her left hand somewhat awkwardly. She used to be right-handed, but that hand now lacked three fingers, so she now did such things as holding cups with her left.
"You've been troubled for several days now."
Eirinn would usually ask it as a question, but today she spoke in statements. Her brother's irritation was written all over his face. Even Innilis, the usually oblivious child, had noticed his demeanor. Everyone knew, almost instinctually, what sat behind his melancholy -- or, more accurately, who -- but none knew how to address the matter. It was personal to Leguna, so neither Kurdak, nor Vera, nor Innilis dared bring it up.
Eirinn was different.
She was the boy's childhood friend. She'd spent the most time with him and knew him best. If the others were called 'sister' and 'brother' out of social convention, she was his true sister in all but blood.
"Yes," admitted Leguna.
"Tell me. You can't face her like this."
A moment of silence.
"...I like her."
Though the girl's expression was calm, a hint of surprise flashed across her eyes.
Leguna took in a deep breath and continued.
"I told you Annie trusted me a lot. She... she wanted to help me save Boss and Sis, she even tried dying..."
Eirinn recalled the story.
"But--" Leguna's face contorted into a visage of pain rarely shared with the world. "--I didn't trust her. Teacher told me that Annie was beautiful and headstrong, but she didn't let other people into her heart easily. She had no friends when I first met her. I was the first person she opened up to."
"She trusted you unreservedly... and you suspected her. She must be furious and severely hurt."
"That's why I want to apologize. I want her to forgive me. I'm afraid she won't want to trust me again, or anyone else. I'd die of shame and guilt if that happened. I don't care if she doesn't forgive me, but I don't want it to scar her for the rest of her life."
"That's what's troubling you?"
"Yes. As much as I miss her and want to see her again, I fear seeing that she's turned away from the world."
Eirinn smiled warmly.
"Big Brother's still the same, after all."
"You're brooding and over-thinking it. So much so that you don't have the courage to face it head-on. And that's you making the same mistake again."
"You still don't trust Sis Annie."
"Isn't that so? You're afraid of her losing her trust in everyone because of what you did. But do you think she's so weak? Will she really close herself to the world forever because of you? Is the person you like this much of a coward?"
Leguna sunk into silence. Eirinn's words reminded him of someone: Balor. He fit Eirinn's description exactly: pathetic and cowardly, denying the world because of a single hardship. Was Annelotte like Balor?
"No!" Leguna finally understood. "Annie's not like that. She's always been intelligent and courageous! She... she's the girl I fell for! She's definitely not weak!"
Eirinn smiled when she saw how pumped the boy was.
"There's that. You didn't have to fear anything. She's still angry with but, but she's not a coward."
"Of course not!"
With a few gleeful laughs, he planted a sudden kiss on her forehead before giving the half-elven girl a fierce bear hug.
"Thank you, Eirinn," said he as he let go of the girl, took a step back, and looked at the surprised girl.
Eirinn's face reddened as she stared at the kid with a mix of embarrassment and anger. Leguna had done exactly the same to Annelotte several times before, and, though her reaction was similar, it was much more violent. The half-elven girl's kind and gentle nature prevented her from doing something like slapping him.
She'd be a beautiful girl if she wasn't burned," thought Leguna with a painful wince in his heart.
"I will heal you. I don't know how, but I'll find a way. I vow on my life I'll find a way to heal your burns and give you back your fingers. By the time I'm done, your body will be just as beautiful as your heart."
"Don't joke around, Big Brother," Eirinn murmured. She wasn't excited to hear the vow. Her face saddened instead.
"I know I'm a monster. That'll never change."
"Why can't it change? The world has many mysterious powers. It shouldn't be impossible even to turn you into a man! Don't worry. Just leave it to me!"
"You're the man!" Eirinn yelped, but her words did nothing to Leguna.
"Of course I'm the man," Leguna shrugged.
"Hmph!" Eirinn pouted. "I'm leaving. I don't want to stay here and be messed with anymore."
"Hehe! I finally get a chance to tease you now that Sis Vera and Innie aren't here. This is how it should be! Haha!"
"Hmph!" Eirinn downed the last of her coffee and turned to leave.
His call stopped the half-elf girl at the door.
"You've never met Annie before, yes? Why are you so confident?"
"Because I trust you. You wouldn't fall for an average girl, good or bad. Besides, wasn't this whole conversation about trusting people?"
Leguna stared at Eirinn blankly.
"You're right. You've always cheered my up. Thanks. It's great you're back."
Eirinn smiled shyly and turned to leave.
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