You Can Trust Me
Strictly speaking, Annelotte wasn't that close to Eirinn. In fact, they were practically strangers. They had only met a number of times and didn't speak much to each other.
But Annelotte understood how much Eirinn meant to Leguna, and something must have been serious enough to cause him to leave her unattended. Without him there, she felt she should take care of her in his stead.
When she entered, Eirinn was laid on the bed with a blank look. Her expression shifted when she saw Annelotte just like when she saw Christine. She shrunk back in fear and muttered, "No… don't come… don't hurt me… Miss Annie, I… I… won't leave Big Brother Leguna… I know you hate me, but…"
A look of grief appeared on her face as she said so. "But… Big Brother Leguna has left me… He no longer wants me…"
Bean-sized teardrops flowed out from her eyes.
Annelotte felt her heart wince at hearing that. She had heard of Eirinn's past from Leguna before and understood the reason why she was so soft and fearful. She didn't know what had happened to cause her to be in such a state, to say no more about why Leguna would leave her at a time like this. How could he leave such a poor girl on her own?! What was he thinking?!
Annelotte sighed helplessly. Even though she had rushed there, she had only done so for Leguna's sake. She didn't personally feel much for Eirinn.
The only reason for that was Eirinn was the first one to enter Leguna's heart. Even though he repeatedly said to the three girls that they were all important to him, Annelotte always felt she came up short when it came to the order. For someone as competitive as her, it was something deeply unnerving.
Though, it was only something she felt subconsciously. She consciously thought about it that way, and would never admit to being in competition with Eirinn and Innilis.
Even so, she couldn't bear to see Eirinn like that. While she wasn't someone as empathetic as Eirinn, behind her cold expression was a kind and gentle heart.
So, she temporary forgot the distance the two usually had and smiled warmly. "Don't be afraid, Eirinn. I won't hurt you."
"No… you…" She still refused to believe her and withdrew herself further. With a shaky voice, she said, "Miss Annie, you must think that I'm a huge pain by staying beside Big Brother Leguna, right? I'm sorry, I won't do this again. He no longer wants me, so spare me, please? I beg you…"
Annelotte saw that Eirinn's emotions were at full sway, so she had no choice but to use a sedative spell to calm her down.
When she was less disturbed, she said, "Alright, Eirinn. I won't hurt you, promise. Leguna had me come to protect you. He didn't abandon you."
"Really?" Some trace of hope returned to her eyes.
"Yes." Seeing that it was working, she continued to push on with that white lie. "Leguna had some urgent things to deal with, so he had to leave. He hasn't abandoned you. After all, he got me to come look after you because he was worried. You… you can trust me."
Saying something that sincere brought great distress to her, but she forced herself to do so for Eirinn's sake.
"I can… trust you?" She probingly poked her head forwards just like a stray she fed for the first time in Fort Kesta, filled with fear, suspicion and curiosity.
Annelotte slowly approached her, afraid that any sudden movement would startle her.
Even though they were only three meters apart, it took one whole minute for them to get close enough for a hug.
Eirinn eventually hugged Annelotte on the waist. Perhaps she had been spending quite a lot of time beside Leguna, so Annelotte smelled a little like him and Eirinn could pick up on it. It was Leguna's scent.
"Waaaah!" She broke out in tears at the nostalgic smile, venting all her fear, terror and troubled feelings.
Annelotte was initially startled by her strong reaction, but soon adjusted to the situation. Even though Eirinn was about the same age as her, she stroked her long hair as an elder sister would and consoled her like she did for Innilis back then.
"Alright, it's okay. It's going to be fine. Don't be afraid, I'll take care of you." She grimaced and wondered when she picked up that manner of speaking from Leguna. Did she really change after spending so much time with him?
Though Leguna had used those words so often that it was almost a cliche, they were still quite useful on Eirinn. She could truly relax after hearing Annelotte say those words.
Her crying got softer gradually with each stroke and eventually she fell into a deep sleep.
Annelotte laid her down lightly on the bed and tucked her in. She had planned on asking around in the camp about the situation, but the thought of Eirinn waking up to not see her around and freaking out again caused her to forget that notion.
She called for a guard outside the door and quietly asked them about the situation.
Coincidentally, that soldier was the one who helped deliver the parcel. He told her everything he knew, including how she escaped to arrive at the camp, Leguna's arrival, Lisana's departure and how the parcel caused Eirinn to break down.
"What's in that parcel? Where is it?" Annelotte asked.
"I don't know. Sir Leguna hid that parcel later and we don't know where it is. I heard two medics did see what was inside though."
"Then I'll have to trouble you to call them here."
"That's easily done. Please wait here a moment, Miss Annelotte." The guard sped away quickly with a blissful look on his face. Being able to serve someone of her stature was a great honor.
She eventually found out what the parcel contained and had a good guess why Leguna left. She couldn't help but some panic. While she hadn't met Saron before, she knew that a double gifted wouldn't be that easily dealt with! Leguna would almost certainly die from the encounter.
But no matter how anxious she was, it was useless. Eirinn was there, and she needed care far too much. Someone had to accompany her!
So, she had no choice but to write a letter to her father in hopes that he would rush to Fort Kesta to give it a look. But while he was a saint-ranked swordsman, he didn't know magic. It would take him a good few days to make his way to Fort Kesta.
Annelotte was worried that something bad would befall Leguna soon, but she believed him to be someone who knew his limits. Leguna did have the charm she gave him, after all, and he promised to use it if he was ever in any danger. Since she hadn't received any signal from the charm, that means he was probably safe.
So, no matter how anxious she felt, she forced it down and took care of Eirinn as she waited for his return.
Don't forget your promise, or I'll show you! she thought.
As for Leguna, it took him only two days to reach Fort Kesta since he was near to the camp in the first place. Even though he prepared himself mentally, he was still shocked to see the sorry state of the fort.
The ashes of war were still falling over the fort. Even though it wasn't a grand place to begin with, it now looked in far worse shape than before. Broken walls, buildings, rubble, and even corpse scraps left to rot on the ground like limbs and organs could be seen. They were so dirtied by then it was hard to tell what part they were.
It was the afternoon by the time he arrived. Fort Kesta had been converted into a full stronghold. Not a single civilian was left within, only Stokian troops.
There weren't that many left alive to begin with. On the day of the siege, the Stokians killed all the Hockian troops and more than half of the civilians. The remaining half were exiled after they cleaned up the battlefield. Whether they could survive was up to them.
Leguna could be considered a cold-blooded assassin, but he still felt the chills at the thought of half the civilians in the fort being massacred.
He didn't choose to infiltrate the fort immediately and instead chose to recover his stamina outside. He made sure he had everything ready and only made his move at midnight.
Saron, I'm here for you! he thought as he snuck into the Stokian-filled fort.
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