Okay, here it is, the promised action chapter! I worked so hard for this, I hope you enjoy it!
“Do you want to forget your time as a soldier?” Vert never straight out said if she worked in the army as a soldier, but she left enough hints to deduce.
Vert closes her eyes to allow me cleaning her eyelids. “More than that. I want to forget I am a soldier. I can’t stop wondering if my friends are alright.”
Apprehension dawns upon me. I often catch Vert looking towards the nearby base when we can hear the sounds of battle. It must be torturing her conscience—her enjoying an easy life while her friends are betting their lives out there, close by, every day. If I were her I’d want to forget too.
Vert doesn’t disagree with me like usual. She keeps silent and still as I finish cleaning up her face. Gradually, a calm and peaceful atmosphere settles between us. Vert seems to enjoy the feeling of rags wiped on her face, eyes closed like a cat being groomed, while I find the simple task of cleaning surprisingly soothing. I can’t help but chuckle at the thought. Dad is right. It takes a little to be happy.
But how much longer can we enjoy this peace?
My interest to the paintings escalates to obsession and it shows physically. The mansion is now littered with paint buckets and brushes, particularly in the main hall, as it contains the most grand painting in the mansion. However, since the painting is located on three story high ceiling, I have to use ropes and pulleys to reach it.
It works fine for a while, but when I start working on layers, climbing up and down starts to become a hassle.
“Brother, what are you doing?” Vert asks with an ‘are you starting a trouble’ tone. I suppose everyone will be suspicious when they see so many ropes and pulleys hanging on the ceiling like ivies in a jungle, especially when there was only three before.
“Making a rope system,” I answer as I tie the last knot. “This way I don’t need to climb down and climb up again to reach the other parts of the ceiling. Like this.” I kick myself from the wall and let the pulley bring me to the center of the ceiling with arms stretched like a bird’s wings. “See? Practical, isn’t it?”
“Ah, yes, it is,” Vert answers, tone forced. I tear my gaze away from the ropes and look at her. She is, as usual, covered in dirts from collecting the herbs and weeding the garden. But her mien doesn’t look good.
“What’s wrong? You look pale.”
“Nothing. Just tired. I’ll be fine with a nap.”
I can tell she was lying, so I push for it.
“Do you want me to take it off?”
Vert, who is in the middle of walking towards the kitchen, tenses like a doll pulled too taught.
“Why should you?” she asks, feigning ignorance.
“You seem to be very bothered with these ropes. Like…” I pause for a moment to form the right words, “…like you’re expecting me to attack.”
Vert looks like she has been slapped.
“No, I’m not. I mean, I’m not bothered with you hanging around the ropes or—oh hell, who am I fooling?“ Vert facepalmed and sighs before she continues, “Alright. To be honest, I don’t like seeing this much ropes hanging on the ceiling. It reminds me of something unpleasant.”
“I see. Sorry about that. I will take these off then—”
“No! You don’t have to, but can you please reduce the number? I think, it’ll be easier.”
I nod. “No problem. I won’t use most of these later anyway. I’m just setting all up before I begin.”
I hear Vert sighing in relief as I turn my body to take off the unneeded ropes.
“Is it fun?”
I almost drop my scissors. I thought she already left!
“What is fun?” I ask back as I turn to face Vert once again.
“Painting. You look so happy working on this.”
“Do I?” I ask, bringing my hand to my face. I didn’t pay much attention to my own feelings since the work requires concentration. However, now that I think about it, she’s right. I’m enjoying this. It has been so long since I feel it, so I don’t recognize it right away.
I can’t help but smile. Regaining my love to painting is a small victory above a huge loss, but a victory nonetheless.
Meanwhile, Vert continues talking.
“Of course you are. Or you’ll stop doing this two months ago.”
What, it’s already two months? Time really flies. “Will you teach me painting after you finished? Or some of that useful make-up skills?”
My jaw goes slack.
Vert, requesting me to teach her how to apply make up??
I didn’t hear it wrong, did I?
“Wait Vert. Can you repeat what you just said?”
“I said, can you teach me painting or make-up?”
So I didn’t misheard then.
Vert. That tomboy, more-macho-than-me girl, who’s allergic to anything feminine, is asking me, her big brother, to teach her make-up. Has this world finally come to an end and I can go home?
Pfft. Of course not. She was intrigued when I told her about mom’s magic-like make-up. She also mentioned useful in her first question. She must wants to use it for disguising purposes, just like she said before.
However, as a good big brother, I can’t miss the chance to tease her.
“Why? You want to appear more feminine? Or perhaps masculine?” I ask with my best ‘seriously in business’ tone because it’s more effective than any teasing tone.
“Wha—NO! I didn’t even know you can do that!” Then her face goes pink as she adds the next line. “I just think it won’t hurt to know. I mean, I always disguise myself whenever I go to town and I think it’s not so good. Also, I would be able to meet people that can help us without endangering them. In other words, my reasons are purely practical!”
So she says, but her body language betrays her true thought. I’m no expert in reading people, but that blush and the way Vert looks to the side as she fidgets with her feet are more than enough hints.
Holy God of Paintings, patrons of starving artists, Vert is in love—no—Vert has a lover! When did this happen?? How could I miss it??
Okay Argent. Calm down. If I didn’t know it then it must be because this has been going on before she met me. That also means Vert can’t contact her lover because she’s a fugitive. So if she can disguise herself well…
I see. I see it now.
“Oh ho. My cute little sister has someone she wants to have secret rendezvouz with and impress, huh? (“No, I’m not! Are you even LISTENING??”) Very well! Forget about waiting me to finish. We should start your lessons ASAP!”
Vert cocks her head to the side, anger suspended for confusion.
“As Soon As Possible. Before that, we need to procure some make up tools like foundations, concealer, brushes, mascaras…wait. Does this place have the same make up tools as my hometown?”
Vert seems to forget her protests and chuckles at my panicked voice.
“You know what, Rosalys and I are planning to have an out-day tomorrow, after delivering this month’s last batch to the herb store. We can get the tools we need, or…” Vert hesitates, but soldiers on in the end, “…you can come with us and look for the tools.”
“Me, coming to the town with you two? Is it safe?”
“Yes. I’ve figured out the soldiers’ activity pattern. Besides, we need to prevent you from turning to a caveman.” Vert lets out an exasperated sigh. ”Three months we have come here and the grand total times of you going out is two.”
“Isn’t that the point of hiding?”
Vert gives me another exasperated sigh. “Just say no if you don’t want to come.”
I give it a thought. So far, my desire to go out has been quenched by going into the garden, which is as big as a city park. I didn’t go far or long both times, because I’m still scared of being outside. Going into the town would be like getting into a jet-coaster; no stopping or escaping in the middle no matter how scary it is.
But at the same time, it would be thrilling and fun.
“I will go.”
Just like that, Vert transforms from a veteran to the little sister I am more used to.
“Yes! We will go find the tools right after the delivery, then we can eat at Halcyon Inn. They have the best roast beef! After that we can walk around as we eat ice cream—oh right! Your dark spectacles is supposed to be done today! I’ll take it now, so you can use it tomorrow!”
Vert makes a dash to the stables, but then skids and runs to the opposite direction.
“Rosalys! Come with me and show me the way to the Four-Eyes!”
And just like that, she’s gone.
I snort, then laugh out loud. That is the first time Vert behaved exactly like Ver. So they are not so different after all.
Or maybe, they are not so different in the first place. Her time as a soldier must have jaded her, and only now—after weeks of ‘retirement’ and picking herself up—that she begins to go back to her old self.
“Listen, son. It takes a little to be happy. But it takes even littler to be upset. You notice it’s very easy to lose happiness, but very hard to get rid of whatever is upsetting you, right?”
“That is why it requires so much work to become happy sometimes, especially to the you now.”
“Don’t worry. You will get there.”
I look at the ropes, then the painting.
“Hmm. Maybe I should paint as much as I can before taking them off.”
“Just keep trying.”
I nod to myself. “Yes, let’s do that.”
* * *
Approximately an hour after Vert left, there’s a knock on the door.
“Excuse me. Is anyone home?” a gruff voice, muffled by the doors, asks.
I raise an eyebrow. This is the first time someone knocking directly on the door. Anyone visiting the mansion rings the bell on the gate first and then wait for Rosalys to answer. Should I answer or pretend no one is home?
The door opens before I can decide. Curse Vert for forgetting to lock it.
“Excuse me—oh, there is someone.”
The visitor is a big guy, two heads taller than normal people and one and a half times as wide. He’s wearing a robe, the one that reminds me of magicians in games with a sash tied in the middle. However, despite the loose clothing, I can make out the linings of well developed muscles underneath it.
Better be careful then.
“Do you always barge into people’s house like that?” I ask, pretending to be offended by this guy’s rudeness.
“Sorry. I thought I wasn’t loud enough, so I just invite myself in,” the guy says sheepishly, scratching his bushy brown beard.
“Normally, you wait longer before you do that. I thought you were a burglar.”
“And what if I am a burglar?” the man challenges humorously. My pretend annoyance turns to real annoyance.
“Then I’ll just stay here and kick you down if you try to climb up.”
He laughs at my answer, clearly not taking my threat seriously. That laugh snaps something inside me and I hurl a fist sized paint bucket towards the man before I can stop myself. Fortunately, it goes past his head and produce a loud thump upon hitting the pavement outside.
“I’m sorry. I won’t do that again,” the man says quickly before I can apologize.
I nod in approval. “Good. So what brings you here?” I ask as I start lowering myself down, keeping the speed low in case I need to climb back up again.
“Ah, right. Let me introduce myself first. I’m Brunatre, a captain from the base at the east of this mansion.”
I put a sudden brake at my descent.
I glance towards the guy’s robe and spot his coat of arms right away. The stitched image is a songbird; facing up with mouth wide open and circled with a wraith of Vair flower—the lily-like flower that’s the symbol of this country. Double shit.
“Remember this mark carefully,” Vert said, tapping on the picture forcefully as if it could make her point across better. It did. “This one is chanter corps’ coat of arms. They are the army’s most destructive corps so do not try to fight them. Just run as fast as you can.”
“And why does an army man like you come barging into my house uninvited?” I ask, just in case he doesn’t realize who I am yet. He could be just looking for herbs, like some visitors before him—oh, who am I fooling? He doesn’t look like he comes here for shopping.
I start weighing my options. Escaping this hall is achievable, but out of this mansion is another story. It’s close to noon and the weather is perfect. I am as good as blind.
I suppress a shiver.
Do they know about my eye condition?
“For a visit, of course.” Brunatre’s answer almost escapes me. He speaks with a tone which, if I am a normal civilian, will ward suspicions off. As expected of a military man. He knows what he’s doing. “I heard the owner of this mansion sold good quality herbs. Why don’t you come down and tell me about it?”
I take my words back. If this Brunatre guy is supposed to fool me, he’s doing an abysmal job on that.
My flat out refusal catches him off guard.
“No way?” he repeats, not believing what he had just heard.
“No way,” I say it again for confirmation. “You are too suspicious. I don’t trust you.”
“I’m not,” Brunatre denies before realizing how petty that sounds. “Look. I’m one of the most respected captain in the army. Which part of me is suspicious? Is it this ridiculous robe I’m wearing? But it’s my official uniform, I can’t do anything about it. You can come down and examine it if you don’t believe me.”
I fight the urge to slap my hand on my face. This is the man they send to capture me? I am mentally fourteen and he’s even more childish than I am.
“Your uniform suits you fine.” Damn, why do I need to placate his ego? “It’s not your looks anyway.“
I stare at him and he stares back in return. I feel like facing a big bear that is doing its best to look harmless. Yeah, he certainly looks unthreatening from afar, but I’m not that naive. One, he’s big and bulky—his robe does a good job accentuating that despite covering all his muscles—and two, he’s definitely not all muscle. I can sense an immense power and it’s not physical.
Brunatre laughs the moment the word leaves my mouth. His laughter sounds very loud in the empty hall, reminding me that I’m alone facing this dangerous guy.
“What a coincidence. My instinct also tells me to be careful with you—despite you looking like a harmless bunny.”
“That’s because I am harmless. I don’t think I can win a fight against you, a trained soldier.”
I’m not lying to make him lower his guard. It’s an honest to god fact. The last time I got into a fight was with Illey and he wiped the floor with my face despite being smaller than me. Vert taught me some self-defense technique, but I’m not confident I can hold my ground against someone who’s specially sent to capture me, childish or not.
“That’s good to hear. Now, why don’t you come down and make my job easier?”
I shake my head.
“No. I might not be able to win against you, but—“
My hand reach for the nest of ropes hanging on the ceiling. Brunatre’s eyes catch the movement, but he won’t be able to stop me on time.
“—I can run away.”
I grab thinnest rope among all and pull it as fast as I can. The blinds on the windows close all together at once, making the room pitch black—to other people’s eyes that is. For me it’s the perfect condition to see. Thank goodness for my laziness to get down and close the windows one by one.
“Interesting. But you won’t escape!”
Brunatre slams his palms together and I finally understand why he kept asking me to go down. The floor is covered with transparent, vein-like lines that comes from Brunatre’s feet, which will no doubt hinder my movement if I touch it. Those lines grow exponentially like tree branches when he slams his palm, spreading with an astonishing speed, climbing up the walls like thin pillars of water squirting from a fountain. I kick the wall to avoid them and swing towards Brunatre, half in panic. I have no idea what those dark lines can do—just a gut feeling that tells me it’s dangerous and I have to stop Brunatre before the lines reach me.
I throw the other paint bucket I’ve been holding to Brunatre. It hit him squarely in the face, but to my surprise and dismay, his concentration is not broken. Heck, his nose is bleeding and he’s smirking.
“Ha! You need more than that to distract me, lad!” Brunatre taunts arrogantly, pressing his palms with even more force to increase the speed of his vein-like lines.
“Bloody stone bear,” I curse in response. Then I spot a cluster of paint buckets hanging on a rope and a brilliant idea comes up.
I kick the wall again, careful to avoid the lines as I do, and grab the cluster of buckets by the rope they’re hanging on. I pick the biggest one off and throw it to Brunatre after opening the lid. The bucket hit Brunatre’s head again and spill green ink on the man. Brunatre laughs at my attempt, but I pay no attention to him. The lines have reached the ceiling; I need to be quick if I want to avoid capture.
I take out a paint-dirtied rag from my pants pocket, tie it to a knot, and set it aflame. Brunatre’s eyes immediately zeroed on the room’s only source of light, eyes widening while his mouth is still smiling wide open from the laugh. I feel like I’m holding a gun in front of a lion who knows a gun.
“That’s alcoholic ink,” I gave him a fair warning before throwing the blazing rag to him.
Brunatre’s smile is wiped out in an instant.
“Little shit,” he curses before starting to chant rapidly.
“Under the name of Brunatre, let the winds be the spears that pierce my foes—Wind Lances!”
I look back in the middle of swinging and can’t help but watch in fascination as invisible spikes pierce the rag into pieces, creating a rain of burning ashes around Brunatre. Those ashes illuminates his face momentarily before its fire dies and fall harmlessly upon him. He glares straight at me—and I know what’s coming next.
I quickly grab another rope to hang unto. At the same moment, I feel a swish of wind above my head, cutting the rope I am moving from. There’s more coming, forcing me away from my escape door. Two swings, and I’m back to starting position.
“Told you, you won’t escape,” Brunatre says smugly, but strangely stops his attacks. Is it because his attack doesn’t reach? No. He’s able to send his lines across the hall and beyond, so range should be no problem.
“What’s wrong? Cat got your tongue?” Brunatre taunts. I get it now. He doesn’t know my exact position. He might kill me if he attacks carelessly, so he’s hesitating.
“Fine. If you won’t reveal yourself, then I will find you!”
I wonder how he’s going to pull that off, then I see the lines heading to the windows. Shit, he’s going to pull the blinds off!
I swing towards Brunatre as fast as I can and grab more paint buckets. I can’t lose the advantage of darkness—he’d finish me in an instant if I do!
Brunatre, hearing my movement, sends more wind lances towards my direction. I manage to avoid them by swinging wild curves and mentally make a note about two new discoveries. One, he doesn’t need to chant again to reuse his attacks and two, I notice the lines stop moving when he attacks me. That means I have to let him continue attacking me to keep the lines off the windows.
I throw more paint buckets, three at once. Like the rags, they meet their demise on the air. Brunatre isn’t going to let me pour more alcohol on him, that’s for sure. I need to—
I make the mistake of not seeing where I’m going and is forced to kick the wall. Brunatre comes breathing down on me like a hungry hound chasing meat.
“There you are!” he shouts, sending the lances to my approximate position. They all hit the wall I was on and make deep cuts on it. Is he not afraid to kill me anymore? No, that’s not correct. He’s probably getting confident in his attacks because he knows I can avoid it.
More wind lances are sent to me. He just sends everything to my general direction now, making it more difficult to dodge. If this keeps up, he’d cut the rope or me sooner or later. But I can’t afford to stop moving; he’d go after the window blinds! What to do?
I throw more paint buckets and like their predecessors, they’re all cut into pieces with the wind lance. But something feels wrong this time.
“I told you, it’ll take more than that to distract me!” Brunatre shouts. I ignore his yapping and refocus on throwing more paint buckets—making more careful aim this time to reserve my ammo. One manage to get close to Brunatre’s head again and he knocks it off with his attack. He still get some paint splattered on his face though.
The sense of wrongness comes back to me. Strange. Why didn’t he just step aside to dodge it?
I look down to his feet again. Aha. So that’s how it is. He needs to keep his feet on the spot to maintain the lines. So if I can make him move, the lines will be gone. He looks heavy, but a swing-kick should be able to move him.
I switch to the longest rope and swing from the farthest point of the hall for maximum force. Brunatre is somehow able to see me coming and smirks.
“Time to return the favor!” he exclaims before withdrawing his palms and pulling the lines back into his feet. My eyes widen, seeing the trap that’s about to unveil and yet powerless to stop it.
“Under the name of Brunatre, surge forward flames of Gaia, and create a path for us to advance! Blaze Lances!”
The room brightens up as a ball of fire, as big as a hot air balloon, appears above Brunatre. The ball then split to three smaller versions, which then twist themselves horizontally into three fire twisters. The twisters then surge forward towards me, forming a deadly train of fire by twisting rapidly around each other as if they’re competing to be the first one to reach me.
I’ll die if that hit me.
I can’t think of anything else and just let go of the rope. I fall on the floor gracelessly, rolling forward from the momentum, and shield my head with my arms once I stop rolling. The moving flames create a surge of hot wind inside the hall, blowing everything away like an explosion.