“I’m going to go look for her!” Fleur stood up. “Anne was just worried about me…”
The look in Anne’s eyes worried her, and Fleur thought that if she left Anne like that, she might not come back. Besides, Anne had never raised her voice with her before, which only made her more worried. Who knew what kind of monster lurked in these forests, ready to prey on a lone girl. What if Anne fell and twisted something?
“Wait, do you know where to find her?” Camilla asked.
Fleur paused. “She went that way,” she said, pointing in the direction that Anne had disappeared in. As far as she knew, Anne didn’t really have a reason to go anywhere else but straight, but Camilla shook her head.
“It doesn’t take much to get lost in a forest even if you’re trying to go straight. Can you guarantee that you’re heading in a straight line when you’re trying to, much less when you’re out of it?” she said.
Her words made sense. In a forest, there were always trees in the way. If she just walked around it without thinking about what she did, she was likely to slightly deviate from her original path when she resumed course. And all those trees and little deviations added up.
Even when she and Anne went to fetch the water and berries, they had to follow the path a short distance before reaching the campsite, after a moment of worrying.
“So…what should I do?” Fleur asked. The forest was huge, and Anne had been gone for a long time. She didn’t know if Anne would even answer her if she called, and for all she knew, Anne might even hide from her. She looked at Camilla, hoping for a hint of some sort.
If what Camilla said was just something meant to deter her from going, then she was going to go anyway. “I have to go after her. Can you come with me?”
Camilla shook her head. “If I went, it’ll just make matters worse. The stew is almost done anyway, and I have to make sure it doesn’t burn.”
Her old uncle Carmen had also been rather happy-go-lucky and now Fleur saw that when he became aunt Camilla, she didn’t really change at all. She was still worrying about the food at a time like this.
“What about the straight line?”
She didn’t want to get lost as well and pass Anne because she went off course.
Camilla pointed at the sun. “Use the sun as a reference, or the shadow you cast because of it. Although the sun isn’t truly still, it's not very far so you don’t have to worry about it moving too far. Keep the shadows in the same direction relative to where you’re going.”
So that’s how. Fleur took Camilla’s instructions to heart and looked in the direction that Anne had gone, noting the direction her shadow and the trees’ shadows were pointing.
When she had everything committed to memory, she stepped into the forest.
“If you take too long, I’ll come after the two of you,” Camilla called from behind her, “after everything’s done, you'll have something warm to eat.”
With Camilla’s reassurance, Fleur’s steps grew bolder. Although the forest canopy covered much of the forest floor in shadows, enough sunlight filtered through the leaves to dapple the ground in bright spots of yellow and white, and more importantly, allowed her to see her shadow on the ground.
How far had Anne gone?
Keeping in a straight line, Fleur looked around her. The trees were sparse enough that she could see a decent distance away between the trunks, but she didn’t know if it would be far enough to find Anne.
The forest was a lot scarier now that she was alone compared to when she was with Anne.
Should she call, or should she not? Will Anne be happy to see that she came looking?
Fleur wasn’t sure, so she kept silent. Her eyes swept the forest around her, but her eyes always came back to her shadow on the ground so she didn’t change course. Anne couldn’t have gone too far off course…assuming she didn’t intentionally wander off.
Still, she didn’t understand what exactly Anne was so angry about. Even if the loss of her arm did partially involve Camilla, it shouldn’t have drawn such an overblown reaction from Anne. After all it was her arm and not Anne’s.
As she walked in the forest, she lost track of the time that she had been walking. All she knew was that she had been walking for less time than Anne. At this rate, who knew how long it would be until she caught up to her? Fleur picked up her pace until she was jogging through the trees. Luckily she wasn’t wearing her acolyte’s robes anymore or she’d be kicking them every time she took a step. Instead, she had on pants that were more suitable for traveling.
Although she wanted to keep silent on the off chance that Anne was avoiding her, on second thought, Fleur decided to call for her friend instead. There was no downside to doing it since Camilla was going to come for them in a little while, and if Anne turned out to be receptive to her, it will help her find Anne quicker.
She trusted Anne, trusted in their friendship. Anne will definitely answer her.
Anne was a big help for her in the time that she was in the outpost, and even now she was always by her. Fleur owed her a lot.
When she was sent to the outpost, it would have been the first time she went anywhere without at least one person she knew. Even when she first joined the novices back at the cathedral in Moltrost, she at least had her Father Arvel to go back to every night until she became more familiar with anyone.
That wasn’t the case for the Amaranthine Point outposts.
It was new everything there—new faces, new food, new schedule, and a new bed. It was as if her world had turned upside down in an instant, and there would be no one to help her adjust. Even worse, she had to go there when she hadn’t even gotten used to living without an arm yet. Will the people despise her for the trouble she’ll cause, for not pulling her weight?
Fleur had thought that living there would be like hell, but that first night when she was struggling to change out of her acolyte robes into her nightgown, a girl around her age barged into the room.
The two of them had stared at each other, each surprised at the other person’s presence.
They didn’t even know each other, but instead of ignoring her and going to bed like Fleur expected to, the girl had sent a beaming smile her way—so friendly, in fact, that Fleur was given the impression that there had been someone standing behind her. But the girl was actually smiling at her.
Even though Fleur hadn’t asked for help, the girl came over and helped her anyway. When she told the girl that she was fine, the girl had said that it was no trouble, so Fleur accepted the help.
The girl’s movements had been gentle as a feather’s touch, and only when they were laying on their beds—with Fleur taking the top after refusing to take the girl’s bottom bunk—did she learn that the girl’s name was Anne, an acolyte from Moltrost just like her but a year older.
Compared to the horrible time that she envisioned having at the outpost, the next few days were almost heavenly.
Anne was excused from her usual duties for a day and tasked by the captain of the outpost to show Fleur around the outpost. In that one day, Anne introduced her to the jobs she might be expected to do, like cleaning the halls of the outpost, helping out in the kitchens, and whatever else needed doing at the moment, since in a place like the outpost, there could be no idle hands.
Even when Fleur messed up again and again because of how clumsy her left hand still was, Anne never blamed her or mocked her.
At first, Fleur had thought that Anne was someone that was naturally friendly and outgoing, but after spending a day with her, Fleur realized that Anne was alone with no one she talked to on a regular basis.
So then, why would Anne be so eager to help someone she just met, and be tolerant of the trouble that Fleur caused her?
Fleur didn’t remember anyone like Anne at Moltrost, and Anne always evaded the question when Fleur did ask. After a few days, they both just naturally avoided the topic even if Fleur was still a bit, Anne made it clear she didn’t want to talk.
“Anne, where are you?”
“Can you hear me?”
She called for Anne over and over again, but the forest seemed to absorb her voice. Her calling scared away all the animals too, making the place seem much deader and quieter than normal. She was starting to think that maybe she had gone too far and that Anne was behind her, since she was beginning to hear the stream.
Would Anne go as far as to cross the stream?
“Anne! Please answer me!”
Bushes rattled behind her. Anne turned around to see a familiar figure pushed through it.
She ran over and jumped at the figure, wrapping her arm around the person’s shoulders. “Anne, why did you run away like that? I was so worried for you. If you have something on my mind, you can just tell me; don’t keep it to yourself.”
“But if I tell you, you might hate me, since I’m such a nuisance.” Anne shook her head. “Everyone says I’m a nuisance.”
Fleur heard the way Anne’s voice seemed to be catching in her throat and looked at her face more closely. The skin around her friend’s eyes were swollen and she could still see thin red veins stretching from the edges of her eyes. “Were you crying? Don’t cry,” she said.
The sight was unusual. Usually, Anne was the one to comfort her, but suddenly, the roles changed…
Anne was acting especially strange today, holding some kind of animosity for Camilla, even before Camilla had revealed that she was an undead. What exactly was the matter?
“I wasn’t crying.”
Fleur doubted that considering all the evidence against that claim. She sat on the ground and pulled the girl into her embrace, which Anne’s height made kind of awkward. “You definitely were. Camilla is coming to get us—” Anne stiffened at the mention of Camilla’s name, but Fleur went on, “—soon, so if you have anything you want to tell me, it’s going to have to be now…
“You can say anything you want and nobody but me will know,” she said.
Since the reason why Anne was so agitated was because of Camilla, then perhaps if the person in question wasn’t there, she’d be more willing to talk, especially under time pressure?
She wouldn’t have guessed that instead of talking or just sitting tight and saying nothing that Anne would shake her head even harder and pull away, reminiscent of how she had slapped her hand earlier.
“It’s you that I can’t tell, because if I tell you, everything will change!”
Anne’s response left her bewildered.
Why was she the only one who couldn’t know—what was Anne hiding that everyone, including Camilla that she hated for some reason, could know except her? “I don’t understand. We’re friends, right? Why can’t you tell me?”
“Ahhh! You’re always like this,” Anne raised her head and suddenly shouted. “You’re so oblivious to everything!”