Chapter 38:

Home is Where the Heart is

Afflicted by Snow

     By morning Haetia found himself somewhat unexpectedly in bed alone. As disheartened as he was, he knew that some unknown forces compelled his retainer to always busy himself which was further backed up by the fact that whatever mess he’d accumulated from the previous night was wiped completely clean.

On one of the nightstands sat his breakfast: eggs and more vegetables, which he again only had a few bites of.

On the other sat a set of clean clothing that at first glance didn’t seem all too different from what he used to wear but after unraveling it and throwing it on realized that the fairies had made some changes.

They left his crop-top and sleeves as is but swapped his shorts for dark blue pants and his previously minx-like heels for a pair of flat thigh-high boots. However, they included a friendly addition of a long hooded robe that he imagined was for him to be able to hide his appearance while they were traveling, considering he’d long since lost the last one.

Afterwards he left to locate his friends and quickly found Myrin overlooking the centermost oak with Linias beside it, talking to Willowsbeak as he was the previous day.

Myrin glanced back and waved. “Got a makeover? I’m glad, I don’t think I was gonna get used to your gruff side any sooner. The only thing they gave me though was this bottomless bag of food and knick-knacks.”

Haetia chose to ignore the snide remark.

“They’re still at it?”

“Yep, and Linias looks even more upset if you can believe it. I think it’s about yesterday maybe.”

“WHAT!?” He lowered his instinctive shout, “I mean-What?!!”

“What? I’m talking about them arguing over the same thing as yesterday, what’re you talking about? Wait a second…did you..?”

“No, nothing.”

“No no you have to tell me what happened now. I was wondering why you were looking a shy teen, you guys fucked didn’t you?”

Haetia’s building blush didn’t help deny the accusation and neither did his subsequent yelp.


“I could care less if you fucked, I’m more curious how it happened considering you were saying you wanted to be friendly with him first.”

“Yes I wanted to be friendly with him but not for that reason! Ugh–If you have to know he was the one who initiated it, not me.”

“Oh? A pleasant surprise for you I bet.”

“Can we just focus on their conversation for now?”

“Suuure, but since you’re doing better than expected, I’ll at least say that you should make him worry about you less since he focuses way too much on you to even try to think about himself. Show you can take care of yourself kind of thing.”

“I already figured that out and I’m already trying to do that. Willowsbeak?”

“Fine, we can talk about more boring things. I was trying to lip read the other day and it seems like it’s about you which I don’t think is a surprise. Something something you’re suspicious something related to Heisyn something something Drosera somehow? And yes I’m substituting because you try to lip read from this distance let alone read a tree’s mouth.”

“Then I’m guessing he’s trying to advise him against being with me or something along those lines.”

“Wouldn’t be the first–Ah–”

Linias suddenly looked up at them and waved, though it felt slightly geared towards Haetia more.

“Looks like it’s time to go.”

The pair headed down the array of branch pathways and to the oak. Judging by Willowsbeak’s near refusal to meet eyes with Haetia, Myrin’s faint inference was probably correct. On the other hand, once Linias met eyes with his master he donned a seemingly welcoming expression, at the least as welcoming as Linias could appear.

“I bid you farewell then,” Willowsbeak almost grumbled, “and, do remember my words.”

Linias replied with a hesitant frown but a frown nonetheless.

     Only after they had made their way well out of the Forest Mist did either of them find it fit to ask the specifics. They looked between each other, debating with silenced words who would ask until unexpectedly Linias volunteered.

“You can just ask me.”

“Well-” Myrin started.

“We didn’t know if–” Haetia continued.

“It’s not that personal, I would’ve brought it up eventually.” He sighed. “In short he only let us stay because I was with you. Drosera and hers had reached the Forest as well and she tried to ask for passage with the reasoning of everything about you, which to Willowsbeak is further corroborated because he claims that there’s something off about you although he refused her passage because of our–my–arrival. So, he gave me the offer to stay in the Forest Mist as long as it was without you and he tried to convince me of that.”

“And I’m guessing you said no..?” His master hesitated to ask.

“I did, but…Ugh. I’d..rather not talk about it.”

Linias’s mood progressively soured as he spoke, making it brush off on Haetia in the form of quiet concern.

“We can talk about something else then? Like…What’s your favorite food..?”

He looked to Myrin for reassurance who simultaneously shook his head and begrudgingly shrugged.

“My favorite food?”

“Sure, yep!” Myrin painfully solidified.

“Um. I never thought about it before. Maybe bitter foods? Nothing in particular really.”

Myrin jerked Haetia by his arm, sternly whispered a chastise, “I said his interests! When have you seen him eat more than three bites of anything?!

I panicked okay!” Haetia cleared his throat and tried again. “How about your favorite flower?”

“Azaleas.” Linias answered instantly. “They’re simple but really beautiful and easy to maintain. They come in all sorts of colors and each one means something different, but generally they symbolize passion, self-restraint, and homesickness. Their balance of affection and melancholy is what really draws me to them since flowers tend to mean one or the other.”

“Those are the ones on your hands right?”

“Yes, actually I’m..surprised you noticed. If we went based off of what you told me recently, representing people as flowers, then I think Myrin would be-a black bat flower.”

Myrin scoffed, “I have no clue what that is. Should I thank you?”

“No, they’re quite ugly so it was a joke. Or at least my attempt at one.”

Myrin and Haetia dropped agape, then his master immediately rushed to rectify their reaction once Linias started to become dejected. “It was funny it was funny! I just..didn’t know you were joking, or that you made jokes.”

“I thought I would try, but I’ll need to improve my delivery then. You’d be a bird of paradise by the way, Myrin. They’re unique in their appearance compared to the average flower.” He then looked to Haetia. “And…you’d be a lily, Master.” Linias briefly smiled, yet still long enough for him to catch sight of it.

Blush flooded and reddened Haetia’s cheeks so he immediately broke then stuttered eye contact. In the midst of his flustered antics his retainer suddenly became on guard, gesturing for them to stop walking as he drew his staff.

With a thunderous slam a large body crashed to the ground before them and Haetia quickly recognized it as the pale white manticore he believed dead like the other Shells by now.

Linias moved to attack it but Haetia quickly seized his jacket to halt him.

“No no no wait it’s fine! It won’t hurt us, remember? I told you that it helped me.”

Linias didn’t restrain his glare towards the beast, nor his subsequent click of his tongue. “You’re sure?”

Haetia pursed his lips before commanding the beast, “Sit.”

The manticore sat.

“See? It still listens.”

Linias’s scowl didn’t fade but instead he sighed and begrudgingly sheathed his weapon, though he still remained on edge.

“Isn’t the more important question how it’s even still alive? I thought the Shells were super fragile.” Myrin noted.

“They are but I think that’s dependent on how much blood they have.”

Haetia stepped closer to the manticore and for a moment Linias flinched. He peered closer at its mane and jaws, taking note of some faded streaks of red.

“I’d imagine it ate recently from the looks of it.”

“It still feels a little dangerous, not in itself I mean indirectly since it could be infectious–At least for me since you’re both immune, or I’d at least imagine Haetia is.”

“Only if its body starts to break down, which is also based on what I said so I think it should last at least another two days from my experience. We could keep it with us for now since it could be helpful, but only if you both want to.”

“Suuuuure.” The siren seemed just as skeptical but overall willing.

“...Fine.” Linias bitterly muttered. “But please…keep it away from me.”

Haetia almost decided for his retainer and sent the manticore off on its way, but Linias appeared more resentful of its existence more than traumatic so he had it follow them and maintain a sizable distance as he asked.


     They ended up switching sides, making the manticore walk several feet in front of them instead since Linias preferred to keep his eyes on it at all times. However, once they reached what allegedly was a town they had it move to the back again which didn’t matter in the end.

Even as they approached it, they could tell that it was no longer occupied. It stood out from the rest of its surroundings as it was blanketed in what one would mistakenly believe to be snow. However, they didn’t need to do any investigation to know what it really was. Shells. Deteriorated until this was all that was left.

Linias grimaced while Myrin shuffled through the bag the fae gave him, pulling out a cloth and tying it around his face.

“We can just walk around it.” Haetia suggested.

“What if the wind picks up while we do that? Better safe than sorry.”

It was a small enough abode that it was no time out of their way to circle around, yet not long after they had put the snow-touched town behind them did they come across a short reptilian and goblin-like creature lying flat on the ground.

Haetia was right about to advise caution when his retainer quickly knelt by it and checked its pulse.

Breathing, so maybe asleep?

“AH!” It sprung from the grass with a yelp before pausing to catch its surroundings, immediately announcing its fear for the manticore with its very obvious timid stare.

“Don’t worry, it won’t hurt you.” Linias withheld his own opinions to reassure the creature.

“Y-Y-Y-Y-Yousss a d-d-d-dryad!!!!!” It instantly forgot about the manticore and shouted, then lowered its voice. “S-Sorry I just never met one of youss befo!”

“It’s fine. You’re a kobold, correct?”

The creature nodded.

“Did you live in that village?”

The kobold answers with its despondent visage before its words. “Iss did. But youss can seess what happened…”

With his curiosity getting the better of him, Myrin interjects, “No offense but it seems like it’s been awhile since then so why are you still here? It’s dangerous to be so close to that stuff.”

“It’ss hard to let go ya know? Uss kobolds alwayss make more messes than we fixess but they neva seemed to care. I’ll leave eventually but I unno where. It’ss hard to findss humanss now, and we don’t fit in much plasse else. Maybe them forest folk nearby but…” The kobold shrugs. “It’ss a problem for me when I figuress things out eventually. But what’ss youss doing hea? Goen to tha forest folk?”

“The Forest Mist you mean?” Linias asked.

“Nah nah, there’ss one of those forest plasses more nothwest of hea. With tha sylphs an otha stuff. I was goen to go an ask if they’vess sylphs got an ideas for where Iss should go, since they real smart.”

Linias looks back to his posse for their opinions, who give gestures of approval.

“Then we’ll go over there, so why don’t you come with us then?”

“Likes I say I wanna stay for a bitss longa. Maybe sssomethin will come to me or I’ll happen upon a nice groups like youss again.” The kobold beams. “Now if youss don’t mine, I’m goen back to sleep. Don’t know how I fell outta tha tree in tha first plasse.”

In a flash it leaps up, scaling the closest tree until it faded into its towering branches, leaving them to look between each other in near confusion.

“It wasn’t lying about the sylphs, they’re a pretty valuable source of information and would give us more than Mitsuyo would ever be willing to.”

Haetia glowers at the very mention of her name.

“There feels like there’s a but to this.” Myrin leads in as a question.

“Yes and no. It depends. Like Willowsbeak, a lot of forest kind are hesitant when it comes to outsiders due to the dryads’ experiences, but I doubt they’ll attack unless there’s centaurs, who’re much more protective.”

“They’ll attack even you?”

“No. At the worst it’d be another case of being captured but I highly doubt that as well if we don’t appear threatening.”

With little risk to be had and the sanctuary not far out of their way either, their decision was unanimous. Although, at his heart Haetia still remained concerned about his presence. If Willowsbeak displayed such aversion towards him, he didn’t doubt that others of similar standing would act the same. He didn’t mind so much the glares themselves, it was more the fact that Linias would be negatively impacted just by association, and being the retainer he was would defend him again.

Head spinning, Haetia calmed himself with a sigh, again telling himself to handle things as they come.


      They stopped once the night fell and rain came with it. Luckily Linias was with them since all he had to do was grow a shelter out of roots to protect them from the rain, and it was a good thing he did as the showers worsened over time though they didn’t reach a heavy nor storm degree.

In the middle of the night Haetia awoke to find Linias missing. Initially he waited a few minutes to see if he’d return, then out of concern eventually left to search for him. His search came to a swift end however as he was standing against a tree not too far away, albeit he was a little hard to make out between the rain and how dark it was.

Cautiously he approached, wondering if he should announce his presence or not but Linias heard him before he could decide.

“Oh. Master. Why aren’t you in bed?”

Haetia ceased his tip-toeing once caught and closed the distance with a more casual walk instead while a large leaf emerged over him to shield him from the downpour, though he didn’t see Linias do so at all.

He tried to speak casually through his rapidly beating heart which even he didn’t know why he was as nervous as he was.

“I could ask you the same thing.”

“I…” Linias paused. “You said I could talk to you, right? Am I allowed to speak plainly?”

“Of course, always.” Haetia swiftly reassured.

“Then…” He paused again, followed by an extensive sigh. “I..can’t get it out of my head the fact that you could’ve died because of my mistake with Drosera, and I recognize that you believe it’s yours but I’m just as much to blame as well for not stopping you more firmly like I should have. At the time I had too many voices in my ear that I didn’t know what to think and even now I feel that way and-...I want to ask you. Should I–...Should I stay with you? I can’t shake this feeling that I’m doing something egregiously wrong doing so, but one of the only reasons I feel that way is because I’ve been told time and time again that it is and I can see to some degree why that’s been said but I also don’t see it to the same extent that they do, so I don’t know if I’m wrong or they are.”

Surprisingly, Haetia didn’t find himself all too astonished by the sudden sentiment and if anything felt it was something that if his retainer didn’t address eventually, that he’d do so himself when the time was right, and now was the time.

“That’s something you should decide for yourself.” Haetia gently answered. “Forget about whatever Dharax or my father or anyone else told you about staying with me or not staying with me. You’re not bound to me in any way shape or form and you’re free to either leave or stay if you want. So, what do you want Linias?”

The answer he so desperately desired in the hopes that it would put things to rest only served to complicate the matter even more, making him stand in silence for a moment, letting the mild rain occupy the sound between them.

“I…I don’t know.” Linias finally murmured.

“Well, what would you do if you weren’t with me?”

“I..don’t know either. Maybe see what I can do to help the dryads but…”

“Is that something you actually want to do?”

After another brief deliberation, his retainer nodded. “I do.”

“And how do you actually feel about me? Everything. From protecting me to generally serving me, to me as a person.”

Linias’s silver eyes drifted towards the seemingly endless stretch of rapidly beating drops. The moonlight shone only a sprinkle at a time, giving the illusion that the shower was much lighter than it was in actuality. Most of the forest life had hidden away themselves, making it appear altogether lifeless minus the foliage itself.

Haetia wasn’t sure how long he’d been waiting for a response, but it was long enough for him to notice the lack of one in the first place.

Linias stretched out his previously folded arm, letting the water fall to the back of his hand and barely the hem of his coat. The azalea tattoo simultaneously illuminated and blurred under the moisture, with a few streaks tracing the scar that laid beneath.

He pulled his hand back and observed the remaining dots of dew and smeared splashes before wiping them off with his other hand rather than his clothing.

The next time he made eye contact with Haetia his leer was desolate and…aggrieved.

And finally, he responded, taking a long oral inhale before he spoke.

“I despise you. Not you as a person, but everything you represent. I lost my home and my family because of people trying to satisfy you. I lost what life I would’ve had because of people trying to satisfy you. I didn’t get to experience anything remotely normal for a child, teen, or adult because of people trying to satisfy you. I was made for you. And no matter what I do to cover that fact it’ll always be there in the broken slices that feel like permanent stains I can’t shake. Despite all of that, I can’t find it within me to hate you. I might’ve disliked your mannerisms at a time, but never you. I hated the–our–circumstances more than anything else. Just as I was raised to be a servant to your every whim, you were raised to be the master that abused it all. That doesn’t completely absolve your actions but at the least for me it makes it harder to blame you in the first place, and if anything, I’m just as to blame for how you were, and at the same time I’ve suffered for every mistake you’ve made, and looking back on it now it feels like a sick, ironic cycle that I’m sure Dharax would laugh at if he knew how to.”

Linias scoffed, then deeply sighed.

“I recognize that I am, or at least can be capable of more than protecting you, but I’m less concerned about the act of protecting you and more the repercussions of doing so. If I die, then it feels like every dryad that died trying to live a peaceful life will scorn me for being so reckless with mine. But leaving you doesn’t feel right either because I know that I’ll always be constantly worried about you, and not for fear of failing you, but because in a twisted way you’re the only person I have left. I didn’t feel free when you were gone, it was honestly the opposite. I felt more tormented than ever and you could say that I only feel that way because of how engraved it was in my head to keep you safe, but I do genuinely want to care for you because I actually want to because I know you can’t care for yourself, and I mean that in the nicest way possible. But it feels like I have to choose one or the other and that’s why I feel so utterly lost. And I understand, you’re right, I should figure it out for myself or else I’ll never be satisfied and I’ll continue to run around in circles like this unsure about where I stand, but I feel like I’m wasting time the longer it takes for me to decide what I want.”

From the moment he began to speak until the end, Haetia’s expression didn’t change in the slightest. He remained attentive, mindful, and most of all neutral. And only when Linias looked to him for an answer did he change face to that of consolation.

“You’re not under a time constraint. Neither you nor me will be dying anytime soon unless the Seronites learned telepathy and flight. You said it yourself that the worst thing at this point that can happen is a very escapable capture, and even you doubt that’ll happen. So, take your time, Linias. However long it takes, I’ll always be here no matter what you choose. You’re free to leave if you want to leave, and you’re free to stay if you want to stay, but I’ll say those aren’t the only options that you have, but no matter what I’ll support whatever decision you make no matter how long it takes. And you’re free to feel however you want to feel about me, and I don’t blame you either. I wish to some extent that you would hate me for me, but if that’s really how you feel then that’s fine. And if it helps ease you at all, I’ll be able to handle myself. If I survived on my own for as long as I did, I’m sure I’ll be fine.” Haetia ended with a relaxed smile and a nonchalant shrug. “Try and get some sleep, Linias. I know more than anyone else how much you need it.”

Everything that Haetia uttered to him went against his expectations in every way. He’d known him long enough to know how he’d react to anything, and the natural response would’ve been a flurry of curses and something along the lines of ‘why are you asking me?’ or whatever other equivalent of ‘fuck off’ that he could come up with. He thought that whatever sympathy and remorse that he’d shown when he initially saved him would’ve died off by now, but it didn’t. Haetia…actually listened. To every word and every emotion behind them. And from the reflection of his smile in his dyed eyes he knew every part of it was genuine.

Linias stammered to speak, but ultimately found himself at a loss for words that resulted in nothing but shut lips and a ruminative gaze in the end, so, he merely watched as Haetia returned to the small shelter, hands hesitating to stop him but remaining just as still as his voice. The ivory figure didn’t eclipse in the rain, nor the dark night that accompanied it. Only becoming overshadowed once he safely returned.

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