"Big Brother..." Eirinn looked over worriedly.
"Don't worry, Eirinn. I'm okay," Alpacino replied.
"If she likes you, I won't force her to stay with me," the demon continued, "But she doesn't."
"Really..." Alpacino had stopped paying attention.
"Do you know why I'm angry?"
"Because I'm courting Eirinn?"
"Of course! Who wouldn't be angry when someone goes after their woman behind their backs? But more than that, I'm angry because you put Eirinn in danger."
Alpacino didn't reply.
"Eirinn came here because she trusted you," the demon hissed, "As for you, you didn't make sure it was safe. If I hadn't followed her, she'd have died just now."
The poor man still didn't reply.
"I'll let you off this time because Eirinn doesn't want me to hurt you, but hear me, I forbid you from having anything to do with her. If anything like this happens again, I will kill you with my bare hands. Get me?"
"Yes," Alpacino spat through clenched teeth.
"Good. Eirinn will treat you now."
"You're not going to leave me here like this?"
"If I don't let her treat you, she'll never stop nagging me. I worry for my sleep," the devil spat dismissively, "Be quick, Eirinn!"
Alpacino glanced at the boy.
"I think I have an idea why Eirinn likes you."
"It's obviously because I'm much more handsome than you."
"But I don't know why she doesn't hate you..."
Alpacino looked worse than he was. His liver was the worst for wear, having torn somewhat, but it was hardly an unusual wound for a brawl, so Leguna didn't care much about it. Eirinn, on the other hand, was nearly in tears. She only calmed down after three healing chants and his bruises were showing visible signs of healing.
"Satisfied?" Leguna asked.
"More or less…" Eirinn mumbled, though still visibly troubled.
"Oh, come on! He's tough, he'll be fine!" Leguna spat and grabbed onto Eirinn, preparing to leave, "Come on, I'm hungry after all this exercise. Let's go back and have something to eat!"
"You'll grow fat if you keep this up!" Eirinn snapped, "And not yet, I want to talk to big brother first."
"Sheesh, just wait over there!"
"Aren't you worried I'll get jealous?" Leguna joked as he walked away.
"Bleh!" Eirinn stuck out her tongue.
"Fine, fine. I'll wait for you over there," Leguna caved helplessly.
Eirinn turned to Alpacino once she was certain Leguna was out of earshot. She had lots to say to him, but when it actually came time to speak, she was too shy.
"I'm really sorry... I was too pathetic," Alpacino murmured remorsefully.
"No, it's... it's not your fault," Eirinn shook her head, "Actually, I should apologize. I'm sorry, Big Brother. I didn't realize your feelings because I was too slow."
Alpacino stayed quiet.
"And..." Eirinn's face reddened. "And I..."
"You don't have to say it," Alpacino smiled tearfully, "I understand. Leguna is much stronger than me."
"No, it's not about how strong he is. He's always been the only one who walked with me despite my looks, the only one who was willing to do anything for me."
"So you two've been through a lot, huh?" Alpacino's eyes grew redder.
"Yes. I'm sorry, Big Brother... I... I can't accept your feelings."
Eirinn could only bluntly cast her first admirer away. She had no experience in romance or in matters of the heart, so she new no way to turn someone down other than to simply tell them no to their face.
Alpacino had prepared himself for such an outcome, but Eirinn's bluntness cracked his heart nevertheless. Tears finally fell out of his eyes despite his forced smile.
"I understand. I should have known better."
Eirinn didn't know how to respond.
Alpacino said goodbye in his usual polite way, though this time he was markedly more distant from Eirinn, nodded clenchedly at Leguna, and turned and left.
Eirinn stared apologetically at his back, her eyes slightly red as well.
"Let's go," Leguna said uninterestedly.
Eirinn's heart pinched as the two walked back.
"What's with the sudden apology?"
"I..." Eirinn didn't know what to say.
She didn't know why she wanted to apologize.
"It's fine. It's not your fault, no need to apologize."
"Aren't... aren't you mad?"
"Why would I? So what if someone else has his eyes on my woman? Just look at how many men are in love with Annie. But I know only I will get her, so why be angry? If I had to be angry about every man who wanted one of you two, I'd be furious every day from the moment I wake up till the moment I go to sleep."
Eirinn disliked hearing the girl's name. She disliked being reminded of her. She felt like only half a woman whenever that girl was brought up. Annelotte was an angel, and Eirinn a wench by comparison.
She didn't dare ask Leguna which he liked more, though. It wasn't just a meaningless question that would put Leguna in a difficult spot, but she was deathly afraid of the answer.
"`If anything, it only proves that you're a very attractive girl. Why would I be mad for being proven right?"
Eirinn gazed at her big brother quietly.
"Be more confident, Eirinn," he said, stroking her head, "You're an amazing girl."
"No, I'm just an ugly woman..." Eirinn murmured, touching her face.
"I will fix it, don't you worry. Annie's promised to look for a way already. Trust her! She never agrees to something she isn't sure she can do."
Leguna dragged Eirinn to the dining area when they returned for another meal. The four feasted merrily and Kurdak announced their decision to take a break in a few days.
Leguna and Vera agreed readily, but Eirinn insisted on staying.
"I still have much to learn and many to heal. I'm not going anywhere." she said.
The three tried to talk her out of it, but she wouldn't budge. They were eventually forced to give up. The fort was relatively safe anyway and the second prince was there. How could it be dangerous?
Their plans were ruined just before they got away, however. The two were busy packing up when Tamro summoned them.
"I'm sorry, general, but we aren't taking anymore missions right now. We've decided to rest for a while to recover our energy," Kurdak said as he walked into the office.
"You can't! This is a crucial mission! We need you!" Tamro begged in his usual way.
"And that's your problem, not mine. The empire promised us the freedom to choose what we do and how we do it, but we've not been given the chance to get even a simple rest since we arrived. You shove the next mission down our throats as we walk through the fort gate after finishing the last one!"
"Just one more time, please. This is the most important mission since your arrival. We cannot do it without you--" Alissanda interjected.
"--Why does Your Highness have to convince them? They're nothing but a bunch of money-grubbing mercenaries. Your words won't work on them," Jast cut in, "Just give them a couple of gold coins and they'll come along like good dogs. They're not worth much anyway, a few coins is more than enough to buy their lives."
"What did you say?!" Kurdak shouted, his hand clasping his blade.
Jast's had been nothing but mean, dismissive, and insulting since they met. Kurdak had tolerated it because he didn't want to make a big deal out of it in front of the prince, but the man had gone too far this time.
"Am I wrong? The empire needs you but you'd rather go off and play hokey! Hmph!" Jast spat.
"I don't owe you, or the empire a thing. And if everyone is like you, then I have no reason to put in any effort for them either. You've done nothing but insult and provoke us since we've met, do you really think we can be pushed around so easily?"
"So what? You're a bunch of savages. Don't think you're a big deal just because you're a bit better than the other savages!"
"Fight me if you think you're so amazing! Do you dare?"
"Why wouldn't I? But fighting a monkey like you is worth nothing to me."
"So what, then?"
"If you lose, you have to help do this mission."
"So that's your angle…" Kurdak fumed in the prince's direction, "And when you lose?"
"Then you're free to do with me as you please!" Jast answered without hesitation.
"Alright. If you lose, you have to kneel and kowtow in apology for your ignorance!"
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