Annelotte felt rather light-headed. Though her consciousness was still clear as ever, the floaty feeling of surrealism made her feel really, really weird. It was so weird that she didn't quite feel comfortable with the sensation. She guessed she was slightly drunk, but Leguna, who had drunk at least twice as much as she had, seemed completely normal. She couldn't tell whether she really was tipsy or not
While Leguna's face didn't show any of his emotions, he felt his heart beat as if there were a few huge men knocking on the inside of his chest. He was no fool, he had a rough idea why Vera had shoved him and Annelotte into the night together. He suspected it was because she wanted him to improve his relationship with Annelotte.
But Sis, thought he with a pained smile, all you did was make me more nervous...
While he had felt slightly awkward when he'd spent some time recovering at Annelotte's place, he'd slowly gotten used to seeing her expressionless face. However, thanks to Vera's 'help', he felt more awkward than he had ever before. He had to admit Annelotte's face and figure were top notch. Coupled with her status as a genius magus, most men would no doubt be attracted to her.
He didn't deny that he was one of them, but he knew better than anyone he was just a brat who'd climbed out of the slums' depths. He neither talented nor a person of high status. He wasn't rich either, and his looks... well, he thought he was rather fair, but his frame left much to be desired.
While Annelotte wasn't that tall herself, he didn't think a thin and short brat like him who only reached up to her eyebrows would catch her eye. If he were more honest, even he'd admit that he wouldn't find himself attractive if he were a woman. That was why he didn't expect much from their interactions. It was enough for him to catch glimpses of her stunning face as they take on missions together.
"Umm... Are you feeling okay?" asked he idly in an attempt to break the awkward silence.
"Do I seem odd?" asked Annelotte.
"No, but your steps are a little off balance, like the steps a drunk would make," observed Leguna.
"So, this is how it feels like to be drunk?"
Annelotte rubbed her temples with her fair, fine fingers.
"It doesn't feel as terrible as I've heard it is."
"That's because you haven't drunk enough. If you have more, you'll feel much, much worse," explained Leguna as he recalled how it felt after his drinking match with Kurdak one night.
Neither of them wanted to be the first to give up, so it ended with both kneeling over the toilet, vomiting for more than half an hour.
"Really?" asked Annelotte as she touched her slightly flushed face.
It had started to snow lightly at some point, but, due to her special constitution and the alcohol's stimulation, she didn't feel cold at all. In fact, the snow on her skin tingled refreshingly.
"Oh, it's snowing," commented Leguna as he gazed at the sky.
Winter had always been the most troublesome season for him. Melindor's winter was far colder than Starfall's. When winter came, orphans that lacked food and clothes shivered in the chilling winds as they stared at rich and well-dressed people enviously. But now, his impetus increased his resistance to the cold substantially. He no longer feared the cold and could for the first time appreciate the snow's beauty in spite of the chilling breeze that bothered him so much in the past.
"Do you like snow?" asked Annelotte as she looked at Leguna staring at the falling snowflake.
What was he thinking about?
Under normal circumstances, she would never bother to strike up small talk but the alcohol had loosened her lips.
"Not really. It's just that this is the first time I got to... well... enjoy the scene," smiled Leguna.
Annelotte didn't quite understand what he meant. She suddenly realized she was acting unusual and clammed up.
"Does Boss really have that little time left?" asked Leguna as he brushed some snow off his hair.
"There shouldn't be much time left," replied Annelotte.
When she had inspected Kurdak with her magic, she realized the man's body was regenerating at a staggering rate. The small blocks that made up his body were dying and regenerating non-stop. His body was a candle and it had burned from top to bottom. The flame that it carried was still burning brightly, but it couldn't last much longer.
"Is there anything we can do? Anything at all?"
Even though Vera had already asked her about it, Leguna felt she would come up with a way in the end, but she just shook her head.
She looked at him carefully.
"You'd do anything? Aren't you afraid of the danger?"
"I am afraid," Leguna replied without hesitating.
He paused for a moment.
"But Boss saved my life. No matter what, I don't want to watch as his life fades away. I... I'm partly responsible for his decision to consume Moonsink Cycle. So, I'll face the odds no matter how dangerous. I know Sis feels the same."
Though he didn't say it, he felt really apologetic towards his two companions. Had he not chickened out back then, he could've worked with Kurdak to come up with an effective plan to deal with the situation. Kurdak wouldn't have gotten so badly injured and wouldn't have needed to take Moonsink Cycle either.
"Is this what it means to be comrades?" asked Annelotte as she recalled Vera and Leguna's reactions when Kurdak was hurt by Orwen.
"I guess you could say so, yes. It wasn't easy for me to find comrades. I don't want to lose them no matter what," said Leguna seriously.
Annelotte fell silent. The emotion Leguna felt for the others was foreign to her. She had met quite a few people during her stay at Moonshadow, but their relationship had always been between a superior and a subordinate. She couldn't fathom the camaraderie between mercenaries.
"Do you learn from your teacher all day?" Leguna hurriedly changed the subject when he realized he probably said something wrong.
"Yes. I practice the gesturing and dictating for spells," replied Annelotte.
"Do you do it every day?"
Annelotte gave it some thought before she nodded. All her life, she had been helping Wayerliss out with work. Apart from that, her schedule was occupied with learning magic.
"Ooooh," mumbled Leguna as a lightbulb lit in his head.
He had wondered why Annelotte was so cold and distant all the time; now he finally understood why. If someone did nothing but eat, sleep, and study, and never interacted with others, they were bound to end up as she had.
"What about you? How have you lived until now?" asked Annelotte.
Actually, she was an orphan herself. Had she not been taken in by Moonshadow, she might've had to spend her life as Leguna had. She wondered what sort of experiences a fellow orphan like him had gone through.
"Me? Well, I've lived all my life in the slums. It's basically been 'find food, or starve'," explained Leguna with a stupid-looking smile.
Life in the slums was rife with hardships but he didn't want to bring Annelotte's mood down by talking about it. They had a pretty good thing going right now, it would be a shame to spoil it. Annelotte looked at him closely. While she had heard of how hard it was for an orphan to survive, she didn't expect him to gloss over his years of suffering by calling it 'finding food or starving' with that idiotic smile of his.
She suddenly realized she couldn't read Leguna's thoughts. The kid was a coward, but there were things for which he was willing to throw everything away. Even though he didn't have anything, he somehow still kept on losing; despite having had such a tough life, he still managed to reflect on his experiences with a smile.
The two fell into another period of silence. A little unaccustomed to the quietness, Leguna glanced nervously at Annelotte. The girl didn't look awkward at all.
Just as he was about to say something to break the ice again, Annelotte said, "I'm here. Thanks for walking me back."
Leguna turned around. He realized they had made it to her house. He had wanted to make a little more small-talk before returning, but he suddenly changed his mind and mimicked a noble bow a little stiffly.
"It was my honor to accompany such a beautiful lady," said he in the most refined voice he could muster.
A little stunned, Annelotte nodded before turning to leave.
After seeing the beautiful figure disappear behind the door, Leguna made his way back a little crestfallen.
He had made his bow and said his little shtick in the spur of the moment. He'd wanted to appear more refined so she wouldn't of him as a mere crude and dirty brat but he knew he'd failed after seeing her weirded-out expression.
"Don't nobles usually act like that? It should've been perfect," mumbled Leguna as he scratched his head.
Annelotte stood behind her door. Leguna's words drifted through it and into her ears. The corners of her mouth lifted into an alluring curve.
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