Calm Before the Storm
In the southwest of Hocke within the infirmary of Fort Kesta, Eirinn wiped the sweat off her forehead.
"Alright, the divine treatments for today are done. Please have the medics change your medicines for you later."
"Thank you so much, Miss Eirinn," the injured soldier whispered.
"No need for thanks. It's my job."
She nodded all smiles. Her burnt face was positively horrifying, but the man couldn't help but return her smile. But not long after, the patient winced from the wound on his face and took a cold breath.
In the beginning, quite a few soldiers had a lot to say about the terrifying monster working in the infirmary. They said things about how her terrifying looks hampered their recovery or made their injuries worse.
Eirinn had endured it all with the same quiet smile she always wore. There were all too many people calling her ugly, and she was too used to it. That didn't mean she was completely indifferent towards it. But she wouldn't take it out on those who insulted her. Instead, she strove to be more and more useful in hopes that others would change their views on her.
And now, she had managed to do it. Almost every soldier in Fort Kesta called her their little angel. While the half elf had the face of the devil, her heart was pure as an angel. That was the part of her beauty that shone through.
Nowadays, if any soldier dared to insult her behind her back, the others would not hesitate to beat them up. It was no exaggeration; there were quite a number of brawls just like that during the past few months in the camps. It all started with an insult that escalated into an all-out fight.
Whenever she heard about those fights, she would feel all the more guilty. Fortunately, Nancy was there to console her and stop her from wallowing in grief. In time, everyone changed their opinion of her and she was no longer insulted.
The change in their attitudes was something Eirinn was really glad about. She loved the feeling of being able to help others, being respected. She loved everything about Fort Kesta. Sometimes it occurred to her that she wouldn't mind continuing to live like this, if not for Leguna's sake. Her life there was fulfilling and satisfying.
This day was just like any other. After her morning prayers, she began working herself away She used her divine Breath to accelerate the healing of five injured and by the time she was done, it was already noon. During the afternoon, she used medicine techniques to treat others as her Breath was spent. She used all she knew to help out others.
After a full day's work, she bought some rough bread from the bakery after getting dinner and paced about in Fort Kesta.
While the alley looked dark and dangerous, she wasn't the slightest bit worried. There were few men who would turn their sights on her given her face, and if they wanted money, she didn't mind giving away the few silver pieces she carried on her.
More importantly, Eirinn was the darling of everyone in the fort, military or civilian alike. They liked their little angel so much so that anyone that wished her ill will would no longer be welcome in the fort.
She skipped to the corner of an alley and carefully crushed a piece of bread into several smaller pieces. Then, she called out in her bell-like voice, "Everyone, it's meal time!"
Within a minute, the stray cats and dogs within the fort came out.
She smiled as she watched those animals and scattered the bread across the ground. It didn't take long before the little fellas scrambled for the food.
"I'm sorry I came a little late today. Don't fight, everyone gets only one piece."
She continued to observe them and mouthed them off like the mothers of the animals. She didn't care whether they understood her or not.
"Meow… meow…" The tomcat that came first approached her feet and licked them with its rough little tongue. From time to time, it would rub its fur on her.
"Tommy, you're so fat now!" The nudging of the cat tickled a giggle into her.
She had found the strays inadvertently. After Leguna left, she would often feel down and lose the motivation to study during the night. She happened to encounter those animals during one of those night time walks.
Half a year since then, she would always buy some bread to feed these little fellas, regardless of the weather.
"Umm…" An awkward male voice sounded behind her.
Eirinn turned around and saw Alpacino with a sack of bread just like her, standing there like he was taken aback. He didn't know whether he ought to leave or greet her.
"Big Brother Alpacino!" She was glad to see him there.
"Hi, Eirinn. Long time no see…" He nodded awkwardly.
"Hmm?" She tilted her head in confusion.
The man had been avoiding her ever since that night before Leguna had left. She'd run into him only a couple times since and he'd made a quick getaway each time. He appeared to be doing the same today.
She wasn't mad, however, instead she smiled.
"Here to feed the animals?" she asked.
Alpacino didn't answer for a moment, then smiled reservedly.
"Yes, I have a half-day break, so I decided to come around and feed them."
"You're so kind!"
"I'm only learning from you," Alpacino said as he shook his head meekly. He meant what he said. Ever since he made his promise to Leguna, he would observe her from the shadows and learn her habits.
Whether it was due to his love for her or his admiration for her kindness, he would secretly come to feed the animals. But since he had been rejected before, and Leguna was putting pressure on him, he tried to avoid meeting her.
Eirinn had stayed there for the whole hour today, so Alpacino happened to run into her.
It's not like I've done anything bad. Why am I avoiding her? he asked himself on numerous occasions. And now, he finally encountered her.
'You guys have an extra serving today, but don't expect the same every day!" Eirinn said to the animals.
"You never feed them until they're full?" Alpacino asked.
"Because they can't rely on me forever. Perhaps I will be going away with Big Brother Leguna sometime in the future. If they're used to relying on me, what would they do after I leave? They can't count on me forever, just like how I can't count on him forever."
"Are you leaving soon?" he asked, his expression gloomy.
"I don't know--" She stroked the head of a dog without the slightest care for how dirty it was before hugging it. "--but I have a feeling he'll be coming for me soon. Maybe I just miss him."
The man looked at her and noticed that whenever she brought Leguna up, she was filled with bliss and blind trust. That only served to worsen how he felt. He thought that there was no way he could compete with Leguna.
"I think he definitely misses you too." He tried to fake his calm.
"Really?" She seemed a little surprised to hear that from him. The innocent half elf easily trusted what others said, so she took it as fact.
"Of course…" He weakly smiled and didn't understand how the girl could remain so naïve and pure despite experiencing all that hardship.
He was filled with even more self-loathing upon happening on that thought. Like Leguna said, he was far too weak. He couldn't defend the girl's innocence. She was too kind, so he fell in love with her. But if he wasn't powerful enough to protect her, what right did he have to be with her? Surely he wouldn't want the object of his affections to crumble away bit by bit, would he?
Alpacino thought it'd be better for him to observe from a distance instead. That way, the object of his affection would remain preserved forever.
I guess it's about time I gave up, Looking at her ugly face, he thought, today will be the last night I like her. Let's talk a little bit more.
"Have you thought of the future? I mean, after the war. Do you have anything you want to do?"
"Yes. After the war, when Big Brother Leguna is willing to leave Melindor, I want to go with him and the others to a quiet village. I want to cook for them every day!"
He's the head of the bureau. How could he be willing to spend a life of mediocrity with you? Alpacino thought as his heart ached. But to not hurt her feelings, he smiled. "I bet he would love to live life like that as well."
Just like that, the two talked on as they fed the strays. He didn't know this would be the brightest and one of the last bright moments of his life
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