I made my way back to the Radiant City for my own safety. And the last thing I wanted to do was cause a commotion, making things that much more difficult between Mellissa and me. When I entered through the south gates, the bustle of the city was immediate.
Kids running around, playing without a care in the world. The streets were full of people chatting, bargaining, and just living their lives. There were a lot of people.
(“First things first, I should go to Mellissa’s dorm room and try to figure out more about her. Or maybe I can discover who her three friends are.”)
I followed the same path from the other way when Terra escorted Mellissa back home.
“Look who it is!”
I jumped, not expecting to be called out. When I turned around, Eve approached me alongside Yuuna and that Janova spirit.
"Oh hey, Eve, Yuuna."
Yuuna looked miserable as she stood behind Eve.
Yuuna didn't waste her breath on me; even Janova turned her nose differently. These two didn't like me and had no restraint to make me believe they did.
“Alright, settle down!”
Eve screamed before kicking a pot, breaking it into many pieces. Yuuna screamed.
“What the fuck is your problem?!”
Janova shouted at Eve, but she didn't hear her. The psycho cackled as she looked back at the pink-haired coward.
“Relax, I’m not going to hurt you.”
I shook my head.
“Anyway, what are you doing with Eve, Yuuna?”
Eve put her finger up.
"I'm training her on how to properly patrol the city. Orders from Jade; she doesn't want Yuuna slacking."
Janova lit up and kicked about in the sky.
“Yuu Yuu is not slacking! She's working hard for mother! You idiots, don't know what she does!"
"Well, Jade says otherwise. Anyway… what are you doing back in town so early, Feodora? Aren't you a hermit who'd like to stay away from this place?"
I scratched my cheek.
"I’m not a hermit. And, well… I have a situation, and I'm trying to find an answer."
Eve put both hands on her hips.
“Oh? Can we help you somehow?”
I thought about it. Eve has been here longer than I have. It might be possible that she would know a few things about Mellissa.
"Eve, my home was attacked by Countess Mellissa last night."
“You mean that devil went to kill you?!”
"Yeah. Mellissa planted bombs around my home, and I would be dead if I didn't fend her off…."
Eve put one finger to her lip.
“Hmm… that is a situation. Did you report it to the knights?”
"Yeah, I gave my report to Terra, but until Jade returns, I likely won't be able to get into the Cafree manor to discuss this situation."
Eve leaned up against a nearby wall.
“What a predicament. And you know Countess won’t just stop there. When she has her sights on you… she’ll come and get you.”
“Ehh… what a mess. I can’t stand that woman.”
Janova shook her head.
"I thought you two were dating…."
I looked at the spirit.
“No, that was never the case.”
Eve looked at me, then towards the sky, trying to figure out who I was talking with.
"Did you knock your head during that fight or something?"
I was too tired to explain, so I just continued on.
“Anyway, I’m trying to understand Mellissa Ann Cafree better. I want to meet with her school friends. But I don't know anything about her other than her dorm room. Would you know where I can start?"
The psycho hit her head with the butt of her gun a few times.
“Here, let's get some food at the Radiant City Brewery. There we can talk, and I'll fill you in on a few things about Mellissa Ann Cafree."
I nodded and followed the two or… three to the brewery.
The last time I was here was when Vivian got sucker punched by Ol’ Man Yorks. And to my surprise, that old man was still here, shooting gin by the shot glass.
“Stay humble, Yorks!”
We passed the old man and went inside. After taking our seats, Eve ordered a plate of steak bites and fries.
"Do you want anything special, Yuuna? You've been doing really good today."
Janova floated around us in a frenzy.
“Don’t listen to her, Yuu Yuu! She’s just trying to buy your loyalty!”
Yuuna clammed up, trying her best to only nibble at her steak bites.
"Waiter, can I get a bowl of ice cream for my little apprentice? This redhead and I will have two screwdrivers."
The server took note, and within a few minutes, I had an alcoholic beverage in front of me.
I didn't see a screwdriver anywhere. I've read about them in books, and for some reason, I expected a screwdriver somewhere around.
“What’s wrong, Feodora?”
“I’m… looking for the screwdriver?”
Eve burst out laughing. Though Yuuna and I didn't seem to get what was so funny. Instead, she tasted ice cream. With a spoon to her mouth, the pink bunny's face lit up.
“Oh… this is good.”
Yuuna smiled brightly at Eve.
“Thank you… Eve.”
The psycho cackled as she sipped her drink.
"Anyway, back to our conversation from earlier. Mellissa shares her classes with at least one of her school friends. I remember Jade explaining that to me. She has three of them."
I recalled the three girls who had come to pick up Mellissa before. Terra dropped her off at them, and they helped clean her up. Seeing her flip around, trying to understand everything, was cute.
"Yeah, I remember seeing them. I didn't get their names, though."
Eve further explained.
"Yeah, those three are paid to keep her in check. Her school friends aren't really her friends per se… mainly paid actors there to keep her happy."
I tilted my head.
"Yeah. Mellissa wanted to go to college and not study from home. So, to make that happen, Jade and Mellissa's parents made this arrangement."
The whole thing felt so disingenuous. I tapped the side of my drinks glass.
“Does Mellissa know?”
"I have no idea about that. But Mellissa's a smart girl…."
The psycho leaned back.
"Mellissa may sometimes act clueless, but she has the brains of a merchant. When she gets bargaining, nobody can swindle her. I'm sure she's realized that her fake friends are getting paid."
My stomach tensed up.
“What are they supposed to do?”
Annoyed, I asked.
"They can't keep that devil in line. All they can do is report when Countess Mellissa comes out and try to sway her to go to the city's gates."
I sipped my drink. It tastes like sweet orange juice with bitterness.
"Yeah, the Radiants use Countess to help guard the city's gates from the beast. She's their beast killer specialist, if you will."
I crossed my arms.
"So, she doesn't have friends in school… and the Radiants use her other side as a tool to dispose of pests?"
I closed my eyes and thought about that pained face when I rejected her.
“Eve… that’s sad.”
The psycho shrugged.
“From what I hear around town, everyone tries to respect her… because they fear her. Even if she doesn’t know what she does when she’s a demon… she’s still a demon.”
I couldn't finish my drink. So, instead, I put down a bit of money.
"Well, thanks for everything. Since Mellissa's friends share her classes, I can catch one of them before it ends. Would you happen to know her schedule?"
Eve grabbed my drink and took it for herself.
"If you break into her dorm room, I'm sure you can find a schedule there. Don't worry, I won't tell the knights that you're doing illegal shit."
Yuuna looked at her mentor.
“But… aren’t we supposed to be knights right now?”
“Me, a knight? Fuck that. I work for Jade right now, not the cruddy knights.”
Eve put her finger on the pink bunny’s nose.
“And you work for me, not those knights too. Now finish your bowl of ice cream so I can show you the next place to screw off while on duty.”
Yuuna giggled and sipped at her ice cream. Janova even smirked. Something told me giving Yuuna food opened her up a little more.
“Well, I’m off. Thanks for the meal, Eve.”
“Wait… I have one more thing to tell you, Feodora.”
I looked back at Eve.
"Mellissa talked a lot about you. I'm not sure why… but I think you might be one of the few people she grew attached to. I'm not sure why… but that's just what happened."
After taking a gulp of my drink, she set it down and gazed back at me.
"I know her Countess side can be a lot, and after the ordeal you faced with her, this might come off as a bit crass of me to say. Honestly, I've never seen anyone as interested in her as you."
I crossed my arms.
“What do you mean?”
"Most run… far, far away from her. But after what you said happened to her, you are willing to find out more about her. I dunno, maybe you might be a little more than curious about her.”
I scratched my cheek, trying to settle my embarrassment.
"I hurt her, Eve. That's the reason why Countess came to attack me. And that's the reason why I want to apologize to her."
I lifted my jacket and adjusted my blade.
"And after hearing what you told me… how she doesn't have any real friends…."
I closed my eyes and thought about that crying girl in the orphanage. The one they called banshee… and she didn’t even know why.
"I feel like Mellissa and I are the same in ways, Eve. That's why I'm interested in her."
The psycho smiled.
"Fair enough. Don't get killed; I like you."
With that, I waved them goodbye, walked out of the brewery, and made my way to the Radiant City Academy.
When I reached the Academy, it was quiet. I assumed many students were in classes, so I rushed to Mellissa's dorm. When I reached the door, that strange sensation captured me.
"Ah, that's right. The spell that's on Mellissa's doorway."
I got down and looked into the keyhole. Using my darkness, I shadow-walked through and appeared in the shadow of Mellissa's room. A trick I learned in my training with Maxwell.
"Alright, I have to look for her schedule…."
As I looked around her room, the smell reminded me of when Mellissa would tend to my wounds. The overly nice and a tad flirty human I hurt. As it turned out, her friends in school weren't even her friends. She's caged up like a wild dog and treated like a monster in Radiant City.
“I should try to compromise with Countess Mellissa somehow. That way… I don’t treat her like a monster.”
How I rejected her reminded me too much of how the orphanage children did in the past. Yes, she's dangerous, but… Mellissa didn't know why. She brought me into this room to show me her soft, sweet side.
“She made such a beautiful song with her instrument too.”
I whispered as I looked around.
“Oh, here’s something.”
On the wall was a daily schedule for classes. One of Mellissa's classes was scheduled to be out in ten minutes. With this new information, I exited her room and walked through the school.
Once I reached the classroom, the bell rang, and students flooded out.
There were people everywhere, and I hated every second of it. In the distance, I spotted that girl with short blue hair from a few days ago.
“H-Hey! Hold on!”
I waded through the sea of people, trying to catch up with the single fish in a sea of other fishes.
(“I hate this! I hate this!”)
There were too many people, and it was making me sick. But thankfully, I caught up with the girl and touched her shoulder.
We stumbled out of the doorway into the outside. Luckily, I caught my footing as we used each other to stabilize ourselves.
“Ah, do I know you?”
The two of us stepped to the side to avoid the flood of people coming through the doorway.
"My name is Feodora Cicer, and I wanted to ask you a few things about your friend, Mellissa Cafree."
Her eyes went wide.
“Oh… don’t tell me she’s coming back to classes already.”
I crossed my arms.
“No, it’s nothing like that.”
With a sigh of relief, her mood lightened a bit.
"Thank goodness. I'm too emotionally exhausted to deal with that devil right now. Well, what do you want?"
I could feel the apprehension in her voice. As if the very mention of Mellissa was causing her discomfort.
“I know you get paid to be her friend, so you don’t have to mince words with me.”
The student lowered her shoulders.
"Oh, good. Well, my name is Starla. The Cafree’s and Jade approached me and asked me to be Mellissa's class friend. That way, she'd feel like she fit in here, you know?"
Like an open book, Starla flooded me with what happened.
"I don't mind the human. I think Mellissa is a sweet girl, but… dealing with her Countess side is scary. It… makes Mellissa scary too, you know?"
"Yeah, I get that. Have you ever been to Mellissa's place?"
“The Cafree manor? Yeah, plenty of times. She even introduced me to her mother and father… even though I knew them before.”
Awkwardly she giggled.
“It’s like being reintroduced to your boss. A bit awkward, know you?”
"Hmm… anyway, I want to speak with Mellissa but don't have a way to get into the manor…."
Starla glanced at me.
"You want to get into the manor? That's like trying to break into Atom's Tower. They have so many mercenaries there that you'd be killed when you're found."
She scratched her cheek and waved her other hand as if it was all nonsense to her.
“It’s important that I get inside. Is there anything you know that can help me? I think your friend would appreciate it.”
"Listen, I really don't care about helping Mellissa. If you're trying to rob the place or something stupid, not my problem. How about this, you give me some money, and I'll draw you a rough sketch of the layout. You do what you will with it, deal?"
I wasn't expecting this kind of information, but this woman clearly didn't care much about Mellissa. It only added to the fact that she was… alone. I looked into my pocket and found my money back.
“Inside is a fair amount. It’s all I have.”
Surprised, she took the money and felt the weight.
“Geez, are you sure? It feels like a lot.”
I just got paid by Jade earlier, so the money bag was full. But that didn't matter to me. My only goal was to get inside. She took a piece of paper from her purse and sat at a nearby table. I stood next to her and watched as she drew out the layout.
"That girl was a mess the day she took her to leave. She was trying so hard not to cry. Whatever happened, it really messed with her, Feodora."
As she drew out the map, Starla explained.
"Mellissa, was that upset?"
"Yep. All of Mellissa's friends tried to calm her down. You know, we get paid extra if she's happy. A big bonus if we got her to cheer up."
It all felt gross, hearing this from her. When I was small… I would have given anything to have a friend. But this entire situation was making me hate people more and more.
"All done. Listen, this place is broken up into three manors. A west, north, and east manor. Mellissa's room is in the north manor, the third floor at the far end."
After handing me the paper, Starla paused and turned back to me.
"There are two other girls here that do the same as me. Get off your high horse if you're judging me for making money, Feodora."
I shook my head.
"No, I get it, Starla. You're not Mellissa's real friend. You're not anything remotely close to a friend, either. The moment the money leaves, so will you."
I took the map and turned away.
“I have one more question before I go.”
“Are you scared of Mellissa?”
Starla closed her eyes and nodded.
"Terrified. Because I know if I say the wrong thing and it upsets Mellissa, I won't hear it from her… I'll hear it from Countess. Wouldn't anyone with a brain be afraid of her?"
“Even if… Mellissa doesn’t control that?”
“If a psycho killer has a split personality, would you be friends with the side that doesn’t strangle everyone to death? Of course, not! The psycho is still a murderer.”
I nodded and walked away. Starla was right, Mellissa and Countess were two different people, but the fact was that they shared the same body. It would be irrational to try and be friends with someone like that.
“You must feel so lonely, Mellissa.”
I thought back to the look in her eye when I rejected her dinner date. She even mentioned that… things always turned out that way. The corner of my eyes started to itch as I made my way to the south gates.
“No matter how kind you are… how many people you help or give money to… you’re still a monster.”
I clenched my fist. I needed to apologize and figure out how to fix everything between us. Countess is a different problem to deal with… but I can't deny that I want to stop Mellissa from being lonely.
I waited around, and there were still no calls from Terra or Jade. So, as soon as the moon rose, I returned to the Cafree manner. I hid in the trees above when I traveled closer to the manor.
Mercenaries or not, likely, many of them haven't dealt with a dark vessel. With that in mind, I danced my way through the trees, avoiding the trail. When I reached the manor, I could see a tall silver fence with trident tops basking around the entire premise.
A few were using torches and other lights to illuminate the night. Two were standing guard outside of the gates.
Before I could shadow-walk inside, a group of mercenaries approached from behind me.
“All clear, Mr. Cafree.”
The group parted, allowing a man to step through. He was tall with a short grey beard. Dressed in a business suit that probably cost more than I'd ever make in a lifetime, slick black and dark blue tie. He was slimmer but seemed healthy.
“It’s good to be home. Will my daughter be joining me for dinner?”
His voice was a tad fragile and sounded endearing, speaking about Mellissa. One of the butlers waiting at the gate shook his head.
"Sorry, sir, the miss isn’t feeling too well. She had a headache earlier and asked to be left alone for the day.”
The father nodded.
“I see. Well, that’s to be expected. I’ll get redressed and make my way to the dining room.”
The two men spoke more as they entered the manor gates.
“Mellissa isn’t feeling well?”
I looked over the manor and the map that Starla gave me. I could see the west, north, and east manors from this vantage point.
(“I hope I can work things out with her. I… don’t want her to cry like that again.”)
It was clear… I was going far outside of the creed Maxwell laid out for me. This wasn’t something I was doing to make my life easier anymore. I genuinely wanted to help her. I wanted to try and rid Mellissa of her loneliness.
With this determination pushing me, I shadow-walked into enemy territory. Thanks to the map I was given, I had a rough idea of where to sneak into. I streamlined my infiltration and made my way to the north manor. It was easy, getting through undetected. The night was my playing field, and the moon cast the perfect shadows for me to reach my destination.
There was an open window on the ground floor that I snuck into. Inside, the place was full of mercenaries, idly chatting, and the like. Skillfully, I avoid them by melting into barely lit rooms and sections of the manor. Once I made my way up to the third floor, I found the room that made my heart throb.
(“Alright… here I go. Don’t screw this up.”)
I took a deep breath, exhaled, and melted into Mellissa's room.