Lienna didn’t pay much attention to where she went after she stormed out. She didn’t want to hole up in her dorm, where she felt less and less truly alone by the day, and neither did she have the patience for the cathedral, even though it might have been the only place on campus she had any hope of being left alone. She just wanted away
, turning this way and that, through courtyards and alleys, until she was in a part of the monastery she no longer recognized, and thoroughly turned around. No matter; let whatever snake her fiancé hired weave his way through the buildings too. He probably needed some exercise anyway.
Any hope that the walk might calm her down was dashed as every step remained just as hateful as the last, Derec’s stupid words echoing in her head over and over again. Our problem is that we’ve only ever had to think of ourselves.
Where on earth did he get the idea that they were even remotely
the same? And where did he get off calling her selfish?! Selfish! Years of freezing, working her fingers to the bone, sleeping in shifts to keep the ghost of her grandmother from haunting the rest of Hima, years of villagers conveniently looking the other way, years of missing meals so Oma could eat, only to have her throw the food on the fire to kill an imaginary demon or some other of a million stupid imaginary Saints-damned things—but oh, she was selfish. She had to think of herself, obviously – no one else did – but to dare say that was her only
concern until the highborn saviours of the Rose Unit came down with flights of angels to lift her out of her torment, to give her someone to rely on
– give her a break! If anything, hadn’t she earned a little selfishness by now? Hadn’t she paid her dues? She did her duty, and then some; she owed absolutely nothing to anybody. She, Lienna Orhneaht, she alone dragged herself out of Hima, she
crafted a new life for herself, no one else. No one ever bothered to help her before, and she didn’t need some naive idealistic “fellow peasant” to tell her she needed anybody now.
But no matter how many times she repeated it, no matter how many times she reminded herself that she’d earned this long-awaited chance to put herself first, Lienna didn’t feel any better. In the moments when the anger ebbed away, and all those quiet moments when she was left alone to her thoughts, all she could think of was the painful set of her Oma’s dying expression; her hands, thin and delicate as icicles, clutching the blanket with all her frail might; how her grandmother’s final, ragged breath was the sound of her own salvation. It was twisted and wrong, she knew it; deep down she knew it. But she still pushed it away, saying there was no crime in moving on, even if she never really believed it.
But there was no going back.
~ /// ~
The grounds were virtually empty at this time, as most people had either gathered in the cafeteria for food or were visiting Lady Arianthe at the Cathedral. There were a few people simply hanging around and the occasional guard on their patrol, but almost everyone couldn’t help but notice the fuming Lienna. None dared approach her, simply casting curious glances before returning to their business.
The only exception to this was one pegasus trotting his way through the grounds with his rider holding his reins. The blue haired woman openly stared at Lienna, albeit she wasn’t nearly as cowardly as the rest. Smiling to herself, she jumped onto the pegasus, kicking its sides with her heels and leaning back as said winged beast took to the sky. She flew in a few circles, observing her, though eventually she would land right behind her, letting out a whistle to catch her attention.“The Rose Unit is supposed to have class at the training grounds,”
Chionne stated, her statement contrasting her expression of amusement. “Is there any particular reason you aren’t there, young lady?”
Lienna jumped at the whistle, realizing too late that her cheeks were damp with tears. She didn’t turn toward the voice behind her, instead hastily wiping her face before straightening up. She didn’t recognize the voice; whoever was talking to her wasn’t one of her professors, which made her care a lot less about a bit of chastisement. How did she even know who she was or where she was supposed to be, anyway?
Whatever; it didn’t matter. Lienna didn’t give the stranger the time of day, simply folding her hands and resuming her walk as if she didn’t hear her.
Clucking her tongue in mock disappointment, Chionne brought the pegasus forward to properly block Lienna’s path. Looking the girl up and down, her gaze lingered on her head for a moment before she met her eyes. “You’ll end up receiving disciplinary action if you choose to avoid your classes,”
She informed her, though her voice was more informative than anything else. “Why aren’t you at the arena?”
Lienna jumped when a white beast materialized in front of her, stopping in her tracks and stumbling back a few steps from the flurry of fur and feathers. The thing was a horse with wings, and it seemed just as startled as she was, making noises and pulling at its reins at the sight of the white-haired girl before it.
It took a second of her heart thundering in her ears for Lienna to remember that this was probably a pegasus; she vaguely remembered folk tales about the pegasus knights of the Holy Army, but of course she’d never seen one of the beasts in person. Apparently they were just as big and flighty as normal horses, if not more so; she took a few extra steps away from the monstrous thing as it grew ever more uneasy, wary that it might trample her if it decided to bolt.
Whatever thin thread of patience she had for being badgered (and not to mention, startled) quickly snapped, and she glared sharply at the woman. “Do you even know my name?”
she spat, turning on her heel to walk in the other direction. The nerve of this woman; Lienna didn’t care if she was a teacher or a guard or what, how did she even know she was ordering around the right person? She’d never seen this flying menace in her life.
Chionne had to prioritize calming down the poor pegasus first and foremost—for whatever reason, it didn’t like this girl at all. She ended up having to get off, stroking its mane and shushing it. While it wasn’t nearly as fidgety as before, it was still highly wary of Lienna, going so far as to take several steps away. Letting out a sigh, she figured she could leave it be for the moment, deciding one problem was a little more important than the other.
It took a few long strides, but once again, she placed herself in front of the girl. “I don’t think you carry enough clout to pull that line,”
Chionne couldn’t help but point out. “Even if you’re the Queen herself, when you’re here at Garreg Mach, everyone’s treated the same. It’s the entire point of the Church—’we’re all equal under Her love’ or whatever they spew at the Cathedral every Sunday.”
Deciding to try another approach, Chionne placed her hands on her hips. “You don’t look too happy, so I’m going to assume something happened. Was it Michail?” She asked. “He’s an idiot, but he usually means well. Though I can’t say I agree with his teaching methods. The whole ‘throw them into the lake to teach them how to swim’ thing sometimes backfires.”
Lienna rolled her eyes. Was everyone around here so far up the nobles’ asses that they couldn’t imagine anything outside of a highborn pissing contest? “If you know my name, then use it; I’m not your servant,”
she spat condescendingly, resenting having to explain such a simple childhood concept to someone who dripped in smug self-assuredness, “and if you don’t know my name, then this is definitely none of your Saints-damned business. Goodbye.”
She turned once again and tried to leave, much less than disinterested in the woman’s attempt at “relating” to her. “Well, that’s what I get for trying to be amicable,”
Chionne quietly chastised herself. Letting out a sigh, she returned to her steed, giving it a soothing pat. “What has you so bothered all of a sudden?”
She asked him, narrowing her eyes.
The pegasus remained steady. She was a little surprised, though she supposed he wouldn’t be easy until he was far away from the student. Before she would leave, however, she figured she may as well offer a token warning. “I don’t recommend walking around alone, there's been something strange happening. People feel like they’re being watched and then suddenly go missing. We’re looking into it, but if you care about your own well being, you should head back to class or at least stay in your room.”
While resolute to end their conversation there, that last remark stopped Lienna in her tracks. “What?”
she gasped, not much louder than a whisper. Fear, stronger than it had any right to be, seized her heart; every moment she felt eyes on her since arriving smashed back to the forefront of her mind, and although she insisted to herself that it was only paranoia from the knowledge of her fiancé’s chaperone, the icy hand around her heart never loosened its grip.
She slowly turned back to the pegasus woman, although she kept her distance, wary of the pegasus and the ominous warning both. “That’s impossible,”
she insisted, more to herself than anyone. Her brow furrowed with unease, and her fingers wound themselves tightly in the hem of her sash, unnoticed by Lienna. “How could that happen?”
Chionne stopped stroking the pegasus’ mane and turned to her, frowning at the sudden change. “Has word not gotten out yet?”
She wondered out loud, though she figured it was too late to take back. “Granted, no one from the academy has gone missing yet, but it’s been happening in town, so it’s not a stretch to think that people here could be in danger.”
Lienna searched a pillar nearby for answers, and coming up with none, she crossed her arms resolutely, shaking her head. “No, Garreg Mach must be better protected than that,”
she insisted, although she didn't feel too sure in her words. That one lunatic had made it all the way into the middle of the monastery before being caught, hadn't he? But surely
they'd increased security since then – the entire Knights of Seiros couldn't all
be morons. Monastery or not, with all the valuables doubtlessly hidden in the cathedral and elsewhere, Garreg Mach must have been a fortress. Unless… “When did that start? Maybe we brought back someone bad from Luin,”
she reasoned. If they deserved the credit they got, then anyone wanting to do harm to the monastery or anyone in it surely couldn't get past the Knights; they would have to be welcomed inside. Right?“That would’ve been convenient,”
Chionne couldn’t help but lament. “Then the targets and motive would be clear. I believe the first person went missing on the first day—she was a milk maid that had come to work at the cafeteria. When she didn’t show up, we discovered that she had last been seen confiding in a bishop that she felt she had been watched. Four more have disappeared since then, from different professions, but all from town.”
Shaking her head, she let out a sigh. “The Officers Academy is likely the safest place considering the importance of their attendees and how close it is to the church. But again, it’s better to err on the side of caution,”
She reiterated her warning.
Lienna felt the blood drain from her face as her flimsy, desperate theory was disproved, and she couldn't help but look around, searching the shadows for any sign of life. That horrible feeling of eyes on her clawed at the back of her psyche, but she forced herself not to panic; it was nerves, nothing more. Still, she felt distinctly uneasy, especially as she noticed how exposed the courtyard was – and how many alleys, doorways, and corridors lined its edges.
Suddenly much keener on following the pegasus woman’s advice, Lienna scoured the courtyard again, then the tips of the buildings beyond it, trying to find her bearings. Fortunately, the cathedral rose high above everything else, and its spires were always visible to the north. If she got there, she could find her way back to the Officers’ Academy again. “Thanks,”
she muttered absently, though her focus never left her destination; forgetting the woman, she only made a wide berth around the pegasus as she set a course for the cathedral.“Do you want an escort?”
Lienna slowed, considering the woman’s offer, but that foreboding sense of unease wasn’t quick to leave her at the idea. On a flying beast that was eerily quiet, a bird’s eye view of the monastery… it would be pretty easy to snatch people and fly off into the darkness, wouldn’t it?“I’m fine,”
she murmured, not quite turning around. She left it at that, taking up a quick pace toward the cathedral – wherever possible, with her back to the walls.
That was the first time this year that Lienna felt relieved at the sight of the cathedral, though she used it only as her landmark to get back to the arena; if she got too close, the dizzying heights would give her something entirely new to worry about. Her anger was long gone, but she would have preferred it over its replacement: A nagging uneasiness that picked at the edges of her mind like fingers at a scab. She felt like a teenager in Hima again, jumping at birds, seeing shapes in shadows and figures in the trees; Oma’s turn for the worse had brought with it a whole host of new fears and anxieties of its own, and Lienna was disturbed that the feelings she thought she’d discarded so long ago were crashing back into her life.
She didn’t go back to her dorm; the thought of being alone there was a little too daunting for the moment. Fortunately, it wasn’t far from the cathedral back to the arena, though when she arrived, she found only the nurse woman, Kaira, who pointed her toward the “sauna”. After Lienna’s brief look of confusion, Kaira explained that it was a public bath and steam house of sorts. The description reminded Lienna of a sheltered hot spring; there were none in Hima, but a day’s walk to the west had one frequented by the elderly for its rumoured healing properties. She had no idea if that was true, but the few times she’d gone, she remembered enjoying it; for a young girl raised in near-perpetual winter, the almost overwhelming heat of the hot spring had been a luxury she treasured for years after, revisiting the memory anytime she needed to banish the cold from her mind.
With how she was feeling, the comfort of a small, warm, sheltered place sounded like just the reprieve she needed. With some difficulty she found the place and slipped gratefully inside, more than happy for the close walls and the dense, wet heat that started working at her tension before she even saw the water. The place smelled nothing like a hot spring – no, this was pleasant
– and the scent was somehow cool in her lungs, however that worked. She changed and showered quickly, noticing for the first time how dusty she was just from practicing magic in the sand, and wrapped a towel around herself to pass into the next area.
She heard snippets of conversation through the wood slat walls, and turned the corner to find the bathing room sparsely populated. However, it was lush with plants she’d never seen before, the air heady with steam and pleasant, unfamiliar scents. Lienna slipped into the bath as far from the other occupants as she could manage – noting with distaste that the Princess was there, although Clarissa seemed to have engaged her already. But they were far from her concern as the water slipped over her skin, wrapping her in sweet smells and almost unbearable warmth. It almost burned, but she soaked up the heat voraciously, as if she could store it away for the inevitable cold times ahead.
She sunk down to her chin and closed her eyes, senses momentarily overtaken by the bliss of it all. This was even nicer than the warm baths she could take at Count Francis’ castle, and at the time she thought that was the pinnacle of luxury. If not for the promise of home and fortune back in Gautier, she wasn’t sure she’d ever leave.
But her peace didn’t last too long, and irritatingly soon, those unwelcome fears crept back into Lienna’s mind. Uneasy once again, she pulled her knees up to her chest, just barely cresting the water, and opened her eyes to scan the room. The steam and scents almost stung this close to the water, but she was suddenly acutely aware that any frond of any of the room’s foreign plants could conceal something, that there was only one way in and out of the sauna and that there’d be no escaping if someone came and blocked the exit—Dammit,
Lienna caught herself, glaring daggers at her reflection in the water. Come on, you’re not a child anymore.