Anne looked at Carmen as if she was stupid.
“What are you talking about? How could the undead rebel?” Anne asked. “They’re controlled by the control gem, aren’t they?”
“Normally, yes, but that’s merely a temporary measure. In the end, they still break free from the control and must be destroyed. What if something happened and that gem breaks? What will happen to the undead then?”
Although it wasn’t crucial, Carmen wanted to convert Anne to her cause as well, or at least have her question the Church. That way, she’ll have another piece to play that wasn’t Fleur.
Even if she did end up asking Fleur to help her investigate the Church, Carmen still felt that it was too heavy a burden for Fleur to shoulder alone.
Now, what will Anne’s reply be?
To the red haired girl’s credit, she was actually thinking.
“The gem breaks? South…undead…Fleur…”
Anne raised her head. “Is this about the incident mentioned in Fleur’s letter from her teacher?” she demanded. “That’s our real goal, right? We’re to head south and help Father Arvel solve that undead problem—you used to be friends with him, and he’s Fleur’s teacher.”
“Correct. Do you have any questions?”
Anne basically ignored her question in favor of following her own train of thought, so Carmen didn’t really know how to follow up on her words. Compared to Fleur, Anne was a lot more irritating to communicate with since she didn’t listen.
Anne wasn’t done yet, though.
Her eyes remained fixed on Carmen, especially her face and her hair—made golden again with her illusion magic. After studying Carmen for a while longer, she opened her mouth, confident but still not as sure as she had been before.
“You’re that zombie girl Fleur ran into in the mines, aren’t you…”
While Carmen was trying to misdirect Anne, Anne had been singlemindedly trying to figure out what exactly her subconscious self had been trying to tell her about the woman before her.
That Camilla was actually an undead wasn’t truly what bothered her. Neither did the fact the woman was once Carmen, the famed Cloud commander, somehow turned into a knight-class zombie.
Anne had spent a long time staring at her, trying to figure out what exactly that strange feeling of anger that appeared whenever she looked at Camilla was. It wasn’t the usual jealousy.
The final piece of the puzzle came when Camilla reminded her of the mines that Fleur had been stationed at last, and all the pieces fell together when combined with the description that Fleur had often used when describing a certain zombie girl.
Golden hair with a color richer than the precious metal itself.
Eyes like pools of honey that glowed when the sun struck it at just the right angle.
“You’re the bitch that caused Fleur to lose her arm!”
Although Fleur didn’t feel any enmity toward that zombie girl anymore, Anne will never forget how Fleur had lost her arm in that brief battle beneath the mines, forced to push the gem of control beyond its limits.
How dare Camilla show herself before them now, acting like she was in charge, acting like nothing had happened?
Although if Fleur hadn’t gotten hurt, she wouldn’t be beside her right now, Anne would rather Fleur be safe than have the opportunity to meet Fleur again.
“Give it back to her!”
Camilla stared expressionlessly at her. “I can’t,” she said simply. There wasn’t a hunt of regret or even apology in her voice. Anne looked beside her, at Fleur, trying to get some support.
But far from backing her up, her friend looked bewildered, frightened by Anne’s gaze, shrinking back.
With a start, Anne realized that the one that repulsed Fleur right now wasn’t Camilla at all. It was her.
“No way…Fleur, are you not angry at all? She…” Anne tried to explain, but Fleur didn’t seem to care as her friend stared at her with conflicted eyes. “Why?”
She was in the right.
This woman had hurt Fleur, so why was Fleur siding with her? Was it because they knew each other already? Because that woman was Carmen?
Fleur raised her hand and reached toward her and Anne flinched at the motion, but held still, waiting for Fleur’s touch. But Fleur opened her mouth and what came out were more words for Camilla.
“Calm down, Anne. I don’t really mind, since it was actually my fault. I wanted to kill Camilla at the time, and she was just defending herself.”
Yet more words to protect Camilla.
She pushed away Fleur’s hand. “Don’t touch me…”
Anne stood up and backed away. She didn’t want to be here anymore—Fleur didn’t need her anymore. She was just a nuisance now, like she always had been. She turned and ran into the forest.
As she entered the trees, she looked back once more and saw Fleur standing there beside the logs. Camilla stood behind her, a hand on Fleur’s shoulder to hold her still. The two of them stared at each other without saying anything.
Although Fleur’s eyebrows were scrunched, she made no move to follow. Although Anne did tell Fleur to not touched her, it was just something she said in the heat of the moment, not something she wanted Fleur to take seriously…
Looking at the way the two of them stood, Anne had to admit they looked like a natural pair that fitted together. Fleur looked so at ease, and despite Camilla’s small stature, she looked strong.
Anne remembered the times she had gone looking for Fleur, only to find her sitting in a tall man’s lap, laughing without a care in the world while the man’s mouth moved, forming words that Anne was too far to hear, but that made Fleur laugh harder. The sight had torn her heart to shreds.
If Carmen was who she was competing against, then she never had a chance in the first place.
She had no place by Fleur’s side.
A branch snapped beneath her feet as she took a step backwards, reminding her where she was, a forest. She turned away from the two that stood together side by side and headed deeper into the forest step by step.
As she walked, her head cleared.
“Once again, I ruined everything,” Anne said to herself and the forest around her. “You’re so stupid. Idiot.”
In the orphanage at the Church, no one liked her. It was all for the same reason, too, but she couldn’t help it. Ever since the woman that should have adopted her passed away in an accident, the heart that she had opened up refused to close and she constantly searched for a replacement.
But every time she tried to get close to someone, they would push her away one way or another, calling her a nuisance. Even if they didn’t say it to her face directly, she sometimes overheard them talking about her, about how she was a pain and tiring to be around.
They weren’t wrong either, since Anne wasn’t blind to what she did. However, she couldn’t help it.
All her relationships followed a pattern. Whenever she liked someone, she’d tried to spend all her time with them. But with her presence, that person will grow distant from their already existing friends, since she couldn’t stand it when that person looked at anyone except her.
Then, inevitably, that person would cut her from them, refusing to talk to her.
Clingy. A nuisance.
That was why when Anne left the orphanage and joined the Church as a novice, she welcomed all the work she had to do. By overwhelming herself with work and studies, by memorizing the scriptures and practicing spells, she could forget about anything else.
She wouldn’t need anyone else.
For a year after becoming a novice, she was by herself. Even if she felt lonely, it was better than being hurt or hurting again. She was just a nuisance after all.
If all things went according to the plans she set for herself, she would have become an acolyte, and then a priestess, all by herself.
However, after that one year, a girl who had been adopted by one of the priests joined the ranks of the novices. That girl wanted to be friendly with everyone. To Anne, it seemed like that girl saw every friend as a conquest.
Most people simply accepted that girl’s advances, but she hadn’t because of her circumstances.
Despite that, the girl was quite persistent, saying hello to her whenever she passed by. Every few days, the girl would try to eat with her, or go over what they learned that day together, or practice magic together. Even though Anne wouldn’t even tell the girl her name, the girl didn’t stop.
While Anne constantly told herself that the girl was simply doing the same thing for everyone, her open heart that had been empty for so long finally found something to latch onto.
Finally, after almost a year, she decided to open herself up to that girl. Perhaps if it was that girl, everything will work out. But her decision coincided with the turn of the year and the time when new novices joined the Church.
With more people to be friendly with, that girl, Fleur, stopped coming.
“Why does this always happen?” Anne sobbed. She stopped walking and went to sit by a tree. “Even though I had decided to be alone. Why did she have to do that?”
She remembered how for days, she waited where she used to study with Fleur in the library for her to come, only to see Fleur with the new novices.
The familiar burning pain and jealousy which she had not felt for over two years once against flared up in her chest, but she managed to suppress it. She satisfied herself with only interacting with Fleur rarely, once every few days like they had done before, since she was hardly the only person to do so.
To Fleur, she was just one of the many novices aspiring to become acolytes.
Fleur never declined spending time together, and it was during those times that Anne learned everything about Fleur. About how Fleur adored Carmen, how whenever she had a chance, she’d talk about her uncle Carmen.
Where others felt envy and awe toward Fleur’s relationship with the famed Cloud commander, she felt only hate and jealousy, but she kept it to herself.
As she grew older, growing ever closer to becoming an acolyte, her feelings for Fleur only grew. On the day before she was to become an acolyte, she broke three of the most expensive vases in the bishop’s room while cleaning, and shortly after was sent to the outpost as punishment.
Separated from Fleur by such distances and living a busy life almost like a soldier, she almost managed to forget about that girl that had taken root in her heart. Perhaps if she had gone a few more years at the outpost, everything would have been fine, but one day she went to bed to find the girl that she done everything to avoid standing alone in the bedroom, looking lost and vulnerable.
The girl did not remember her, because why would she?
In the outpost with no existing relationships to ruin, Anne thought that she could finally indulge in her feelings that she had suppressed for so long, but in the end it was not to be. Not anymore.
Once again, she had become a nuisance to the person she liked.
Anne buried her head into her knees and sat there in the forest.