Chapter 56: Hanging with the Boys

“…And that’s how it went,” Emi said. “I’ve failed at everything I’ve ever tried for.”

She finished the story of her despair as she sat on the floor, hugging a pillow and burying her head in it. This was the third time she told this tale in the past week, each time to the same audience. Said audience, Tia, rolled his eyes and confirmed to Emi that her story had not been as moving as she hoped.

“You see, the last time you told me this story, you put a lot more blame on Beatrice,” said Tia, who was wearing a short skirt and dress shirt, a summer outfit, even though they were sitting in his bedroom in the middle of the day, and it was still quite cold outside. His boyfriend was also there, his arm over Tia’s shoulder. “It seems to me like you are still not seeing the real situation because you have simply shifted the blame from her to yourself. Perhaps blaming people for what happened isn’t exactly going to work.”

“I… I just don’t know,” she said. Emi’s eyes were essentially dried-out at this point. Ever since she returned from Mammoth Pass, she had tried everything she could to forget about Beatrice, but that very quickly failed, so she tried thinking it out. That failed, too. It had been months, but she was still wracked by it. “But… Tia… I’m glad you’ve been here to listen to me. I went so long without talking to anyone that I was probably… driving myself insane.” She laughed a little bit, but it still sounded fake to her own ears.

Tia and his boyfriend had been trying to cheer Emi up and invited Emi over to the Knoll residence the other day for no other reason than to hang out. Well, that and the fact that Balarand was getting a little bit tense lately. By tense, she meant full-scale rioting, so heavy that Dannark soldiers were making arrests by the hour. Emi wanted to be out there helping those people rage against their oppressors. And yet for some reason she was out here, far away from it all, doing nothing more productive than hanging out with these two men. It was shameful, but she didn’t even think she had the mental capacity to help these days.

Actually, she had never caught Tia’s current boyfriend’s name. He was a tall, muscular man with broad shoulders and a sharp head of hair, certainly the type of young man that girls and boys would go crazy over, though he very rarely spoke, preferring to let his face communicate his thoughts. And Emi had a feeling it was far too late to ask for his name, since they had spent time together on several occasions now.

He was still nice, she guessed. Even if Emi hadn’t been cheered very much, the young man’s smile was heartening.

Ugh, her stomach gurgled. She had been eating so many salmon binds this month she had probably gained five pounds…

“Thank you guys for helping me out,” Emi said. “I think I’d rather be a slug than a human, though… Slugs don’t have to worry about marriage and relationships and family. They just crawl around and eat.”

“Slugs are sort of gross,” said Tia.

“I used to love finding slugs when I was a child. I ruined so many dresses…” Emi wasn’t sure why she was reminiscing about her childhood all of a sudden, but it was nice to be thinking about something warm.

Beatrice was very warm…

Emi refused to keep crying at this. No, she was going to think about something new and dedicate her life to a new cause. The cause of keeping slug populations fed and healthy so that they could become the dominant species in Tsubasa, because unlike humans, slugs were kind and generous and told their girlfriends about their secrets before it was too late to fix things.

“Emi… here is another handkerchief,” Tia said.

Oh, she was crying after all, despite her dried-out eyes. “Th… thanks.”

She knew she was getting better, slowly, but a normal person wouldn’t have gone into some manic fit of melancholy about something as stupid as heartbreak. Emi just felt like she was some permanently broken human. It was… lame.

“Say, what is that little thing you’re working on?” Tia asked. “You are always tinkering on your little toys, but this one…”

Emi looked down at the object in her hands. She hadn’t even been thinking about it while she was assembling it, since this was the fifth one she had designed. “Sorry. I keep building these stupid things because, uh, it makes me feel better. I think.”

“Oh, dear, do not ever feel bad about your wonderful work,” Tia said. “If anyone had half the talent you did, our world would be filled with these gearbox machines.”

“It’s nothing special, really.”

“Then what is this machine in your hands? Is it simply that unremarkable?”

The device was about done except for the small wheel she needed to attach. She put that on, tightened the screw, and set it on the floor. “It’s like a cart, the kind a seller would carry, but, uh, tiny. I’m trying to figure out the best way to make it so I can build a big one someday.” She fiddled with the control gears and wound them up. “So, what I want to do is program the path, and then let the thing go…” She gave it a push, and the tiny cart began moving forwards all on its own. Self-propelled. “And if it worked in big size, maybe it would be like a food cart that sellers could take around the city and you could get food out by inserting a coin. Or, older folk could take their groceries home without worrying about heavy bags.”

“Holy Bk’Man,” exclaimed Tia. “You are indeed a madwoman.”

“But it’s still broken. See?” The toy cart came to a stop.

“I don’t see.”

“Well, I want to make it turn. But… so far I haven’t figured it out.”

“Who cares? You have invented something that could change the world!”

“I doubt it,” Emi said. “I don’t think anyone would want to build a bigger one.”

Tia pointed at her, his finger so close it was nearly touching her neck. “You are a L’Hime, a member of one of the most influential families in the city, and a genius on a level that is downright magical. It is your imperative to make sure that your creations grace all of Tsubasa.”

Emi giggled. She was just trying to cope with heartbreak by building stupid toys. It wasn’t like she was doing anything special. And yet Tia Knoll here was acting like she was on the verge of inciting a new holy era, a mechanical revolution. She couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity. And, in some way, it made her feel a little bit better to do so.

“Maybe I–”

Suddenly, the bedroom door burst open.

Three tall men dressed in ragged uniforms and with swords at their hilts barged into the room. One of them screamed, “On the floor!”

They complied immediately.

Emi’s found herself being thrown on her back and handcuffed, all in one swift motion. She yelped in pain.

What was this? They were soldiers of some sort, but not in any uniform Emi recognized. Why were they here?

She found her answer immediately. “By order of the Elincian Freedom Campaign,” one of the soldiers said, “You three are under arrest as collaborators with the Dannark Empire and traitors. You’re coming with us.”

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  1. Oh no! This is a hell of a cliffhanger. 🙁

    My work computer blocked this page, but joke’s on them; they didn’t block RR and I can still read on my phone.

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