Seething with anger, Merle was pacing in front of her mother’s office with a frantic stride.
The fact that she was unable to hear what was being said on the other side of the closed door was driving her mad. She couldn’t wrap her head around the fact that her parents had still not thrown out the rabid dog they had carelessly welcomed in their home.
She was on her way back from her daily training when she heard Ormidillio’s gut-wrenching scream, and in the next instant, she saw her father fly above her head after jumping from the top of the hill and land next to the temple in a thunderous crash. As she ran, her first thoughts had been that Genoneva’s men had returned and caught everybody by surprise. However, the truth had been much more simple and aggravating.
He had already been taken to her mother’s office when she arrived, but from the clues Merle had gathered, there was no doubt that he was the one responsible for Ormidillio’s horrifying injury.
People were still wiping blood from the floor when she reached the temple’s infirmary. Several healers were surrounding a single bed, even though only two of them were busy applying an emergency treatment. The others were just there to keep the crying and flailing Ormidillio still so that he would not hurt himself even more.
The small glimpses of his arm Merle managed to catch before being escorted out convinced her that she had been right to be wary of the new boy. No human should be able to deal that much damage to a beastkin.
… Unless he took him by surprise, maybe? She thought with disgust. He was a human after all, what did they know about honor? All they do is grovel for mana. This is probably payback for what we did the day he arrived.
The pieces fit perfectly in her mind as she tried to understand the aggressor’s thought process. Aware that he would not be able to catch either Damian or herself off guard, Edward had been laying in wait for an opportunity to use Ormillio as a way to pass on a message.
He had probably assumed that his incredibly “odd” camaraderie with Merle’s father would save him from harsh repercussions, but Merle was dead set on proving him wrong.
So there she was, pacing in front of the door under the eyes of most of the temple’s kids. Gossiping at a respectable distance from her, they were also waiting for her mother’s verdict.
“The blood! It was everywhere!” she heard one of them say.
“That’s nothing,” said another. “You saw him? He’ll be lucky if he keeps his arm.”
“Turk, you were on the roof right? Did you see what happened?”
“I… I did.”
What is there to ask? It’s obvious that the idiot got into a trap somehow.
Then again, they were forsaken. Their ignorance was sad, but to be expected.
“I went upstairs with the others when we heard the noise. There were screams and something made the roof shake.”
That sequence of events did not fit Merle’s scenario and made her slow down. Ormidillio wouldn’t have been able to fight after receiving his injuries.
“It was… It was insane. When I got on the roof, Edward had thrown Ormid in the airs.”
“It’s the truth!” a girl chimed in. “I saw it, I was there too! Ormidillio had even used Mark of the Giant!”
Merle didn’t even realize she had stopped her back and forth until she noticed that they were staring at her.
“That’s impossible,” she said. “The new kid is a human newbie. Even without his aura, Ormidillio’s Mark should be enough to take care of him.”
Mark of the Giant was one of the common skills that people with the Brute class would receive. Its effect was nothing special, as it simply increased the existing physical attributes upon activation, but Ormidillio knew how to make the most out of it.
“Hum… actually… Ormid was also using his aura,” the girl said. “Saw it with my own two eyes. But Edward still smashed him to the ground and… and broke his arm.”
“…Sounded like snapping a dry stick.”
“… Dude. Come on.”
“What? He’s a dick anyway, I don’t care.”
“How can you say that?” Merle said with shock. “This stranger came and threatened the growth of one of our brothers, you should all be as angry as I am.”
They looked at her as if she had said the strangest thing, but said nothing back. Assuming they probably were embarrassed by her mentioning their brotherhood, she asked the one thing she was really curious about.
“How did Edward break his arm if it was protected by aura?” she said. “Were we wrong to assume he was just human? Unless he used some sort of trickery?”
“Nope. After making Ormidillio fall, Edward put his arm in a strange position, like thisbetween his legs,” a boy said as he tried to awkwardly replicate the strange technique. “I don’t know his class, but I think that it was a skill, because I have never seen anyone fight that way.”
“Magic!” Someone exclaimed.
“No, I didn’t see anything that looked… magical? I don’t know, I think it was the way Ormid’s arm was positioned.”
If Edward was able to overpower Ormidillio that easily, then he had been an accomplished fighter for a long time before even setting foot in the temple. He had tricked them all.
Maybe Damian’s initial worries had not been so crazy after all. Maybe Merle and her family really had been found out after all these years.
What… what can we do? She wondered as the fear started swelling in her stomach.We can’t leave the shard, and even if we could… Abandoning the temple isn’t an option.
She felt cold sweats and went to bang on the office’s door again. After a few minutes of knocking, her father opened the door.
Before he could close it behind him, she saw the boy defiantly standing in front of her mother and tapping her desk with a finger as he spoke.
“… and that was nothing more than a symptom of something you and Ardos have allowed to develop between these kids! What do you think could have happened if-”
Her father closed the door and she looked at him with disbelief, “Are you hearing this? You see how he talks to mom and you guys haven’t taught him respect already? If it had been me-”
“Yes,” Her father cut her off. “Let’s talk about you. Did Ormidillio and you really question Edward about his attributes on the day he arrived?”
She was slightly taken aback by how sudden the question came, but she had expected the crafty bastard to use that angle for sympathy points.
“Yes, we have,” she said in a neutral tone. “But it was before you and I talked. We did not know where he came from and just wanted to make sure he was not a danger… which he turned out to be! Did you see Ormidillio’s arm? You cannot possibly leave him among the other kids!”
“Do not change the subject Merle,” her father said. She could tell he was angry, but she didn’t understand why his anger seemed to be directed at her. “Since when have you been doing such things? Tormenting the forsaken children of the temple?”
“Wh- what?” she stuttered. “Is that what he told you? Father, they are my family, I would never-”
“Stop saying that,” someone said from behind. She turned around to see that it was one of the boys who had been retelling Edward’s feat. “What do you mean, ‘family’, ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’? Have you even ever spoken to one of us before today?”
She stared at the group, at a loss for word.
“Have I ever hurt one of you?” she managed to let out after a while.
“… Not that I’m aware of, miss. But you and the others always make sure we know our place, don’t you? You don’t even know our names, don’t act like we’re close now.”
What is going on?
How was she supposed to be any closer to them than she already was? The fact that they belonged to different worlds was an indisputable fact. She and the other warriors faced dangers they could not imagine, to help the temple’s finances and keep them fed… and this is how they were repaid? With resentment?
“Putting that issue aside,” she heard her father say,” why did you think that it was yourresponsibility to assess Edward’s trustworthiness? You didn’t have enough faith in your mother’s and I judgment?”
“It was-” but she stopped herself. Damian’s intuition was the only reason they had reacted that way to the new kid’s arrival, but she couldn’t bring herself to tell her father. The relationship between the two of them was already severely strained, and that information could be the final nail in its coffin.
Especially when the reveal of Edward’s abilities made her think that Damian’s intuition might have been correct.
“Nothing to say?” her father prodded. “You seemed to be willing to talk a few minutes ago. Why were you knocking on the door?”
“He is clearly dangerous,” she heard herself say. “The skills he showed during his spar with you were not nearly enough for him to do what he did. You know that. He is not at all an inexperienced warrior like we thought, and I just wanted to make sure that-”
“Merle. I was aware of his experience and that should have been enough. What you think of the children does not give you the authority to police them. Edward could have been a great addition to your group. Why didn’t you talk to me instead of antagonizing him?”
“Would you have listened?” she said before lowering her eyes.
“I am listening now. But you still refuse to explain yourself.”
She just stared at her feet, keeping her mouth shut and her fists clenched.
“Very well,” he said. “We shall have a talk later. Tamie?”
“Y-yes, sir?” Merle heard the young girl say with surprisingly more composure than she would have expected. Not even a yelp.
“I understand that you might not feel at your best and you can tell me if answering this question makes you uncomfortable,” Merle’s father started. “However, since you were apparently present for the whole thing, can you tell me what you believe was the cause of the confrontation between the two students?”
“Um… Well, Edward accompanied me to the roof, since it isn’t… easy for me to get there by myself. Several of the young warriors later arrived with alcohol. Ormidillio was clearly drunk and… he told us that Edward had to leave but that I to stay so that I could… pay for bothering his sleep. Edward refused to do as he was told and… defended me.”
There were gasps and curses for the onlookers, but Merle’s father kept a neutral expression.
“Did he, Ormidillio, ever clarify what he meant by that?”
“… No. No he did not.”
There was a silence, during which Merle heard someone mutter “brothers and sisters”, which was followed by a snort.
“I understand,” the Chief Instructor said softly. “You should have some rest. Everybody disperse, dinner should be ready soon.”
“Dad, I didn’t-”
“Don’t,” he said with hard eyes. “Unless you mean to say that you can somehow take responsibility for this, just go to your room.”
He closed the door and left her there, confused and angry, among the shuffling crowd. He had made his disappointment in his daughter clear, once again.
She glanced around and saw that Tamie, the huntress Lima and her two forsaken friends had ignored her father’s order, probably waiting for their friend to leave the office.
I really don’t even know their names, she thought to herself with a sad suckle. But was that something she could realistically do? How many people had come and left through the years? Was she supposed to remember all of them?
I doubt even mom does.
Her eyes met Tamie’s and for a fraction of a second she thought of talking to her, to tell her that she was sorry for what had happened… but it had been years since their last conversation. Not only did she probably share the now obvious resentment against her, they had become strangers to each other. It would be nothing but awkward.
Preceded by the smell of cheap alcohol, she heard the sound of familiar footsteps on the wooden floorboard. The steps of a friend she used to admire, but who now only made her feel great sadness.
Damian was entering the temple with unsure steps, unkempt hair, and just a generally neglected appearance. Suddenly, Merle felt incredibly grateful for the fact that her father was too distracted to see him. Because this sight would break her parents’ hearts.
Not even mentioning that his behavior might have influenced the likes of Ormidillio, the fact that he allowed himself to be drunk when he could easily cleanse the alcohol from his body with his aura would make them think that he was trying to numb his pain. Which she knew was the case.
“Hey Merly,” he said as he walked past her. “Something going on?”
“Lower your voice!” she hissed as she pointed at the office’s door, before adding, “Edward broke Ormidillio’s arm.”
He stopped and glanced back at her.
“I’m assuming he ignored what I told him,” he said after a burp. “Did he deserve it?”
She glanced at Tamie and met her eyes staring in her direction.
“I… I think he did,” Merle said.
“Good, good then,” Damian said, before resuming his climb of the stairs. “That does… only make the boy more suspicious, though.”
“…I know,” she whispered.
She watched him leave, wondering for the hundredth time whether she would have ended up like him if she had been able to still remember their birthplace. Because Merle knew that, above all else, it was memories of things lost forever that were causing Damian the most pain.