༺ Waiting ༻
Late night at the Opal Black dormitory lounge.
Ever since Eon left with an incomprehensible message, Titania had been waiting for him to return.
It was because she was very concerned about the meaning of his last words.
Titania spent her time in the lounge so that she would know right away when Eon returned.
Time had already passed well beyond the dormitory curfew. Normally, she should have returned to her room, but the instructor who should enforce it was not in the dormitory now.
Even if she stared endlessly out the window, the person she was waiting for did not come.
It was time to sleep, but sleep did not come. Sleep did not come due to her deep concerns about the situation she was in, and the night only grew deeper.
Titania felt someone approaching the lounge.
Somehow it was a light and familiar footstep sound. Who could it be at this hour?
The person who entered the lounge was her friend, Oznia.
Oznia had come into the lounge feeling someone’s presence but seemed slightly surprised to see it was Titania, not knowing it was her.
Of course, her expression was just emotionless on the surface. Titania had no idea that Oznia was surprised.
“Aren’t you sleeping?”
Titania lightly shook her head in response to her friend’s question.
“I can’t sleep for some reason. What are you doing at this hour, Oz?”
At those words, Oznia briefly glanced at the upper floor. To Titania, it felt like she was looking at Eon’s room.
“Discipline? Oh, are you talking about the patrol with Instructor Eon?”
Oznia nodded slightly and added an explanation.
“…He didn’t come.”
Now, a week into the semester, Titania was getting used to her friend’s way of speaking without any frills.
Titania knew firsthand that Oznia and Instructor Eon patrolled the dormitory area together at dawn to receive discipline.
So, Oznia’s words probably meant that the time for the scheduled patrol had passed, but Instructor Eon had not yet returned.
In the end, both of them couldn’t sleep while waiting for someone who wasn’t coming, albeit for different reasons.
Oznia silently sat down on the sofa across from Titania.
“Shall I make some tea?”
Oznia shook her head slightly.
“It makes me feel drowsy. Then I’d get sleepy.”
Perhaps she meant that she would decline the tea since she had to wait for Eon. Titania nodded, convinced.
So, the two spent their time in the lounge, silently waiting for the absent instructor.
Amid the strange silence, only the sound of crackling firewood from the fireplace filled the space.
Then, suddenly, Oznia spoke.
“Are you okay?”
Titania lifted her head, which she had unknowingly lowered, as if surprised.
Surprised by the rare instance of the usually quiet and uninitiated Oznia starting a conversation, Titania soon responded with a faint smile.
“If I said I was okay… that would be a lie.”
For the first time in her life, Titania had witnessed humans directly expressing hatred and anger towards elves.
To her, elves were beings who lived peacefully in the forest, so she couldn’t understand why humans hated elves so much.
Rather, Titania had grown up hearing negative stories about humans from the elves in the forest, so her knowledge was considerably biased.
However, after enough contemplation, Titania eventually accepted it. This, too, was one of the trials she had to endure for the harmony between elves and humans.
She was wise enough not to pretend she didn’t see the facts she had witnessed with her own eyes.
Nevertheless, if she thought that all humans might reject and hate elves like this… it was true that her heart felt a little broken.
Oznia remained silent for a while. Her lips moved alone, as if she was carefully choosing her words, unlike usual.
Then, she slowly opened her mouth.
“I… kind of like you.”
At this sudden and embarrassing remark, Titania’s cheeks turned slightly red.
With a flustered Titania not knowing what to do, Oznia maintained her composed appearance.
“And I think you’re amazing.”
“Uh, what? What is?”
“Your determination not to go back after going through such an ordeal.”
Oznia continued calmly.
“As there are people who dislike you, there are also people who like you.”
Oznia spoke while looking at the fireplace instead of meeting Titania’s eyes.
With the fireplace’s flame burning red, the light from the fire slightly reddened Oznia’s cheeks as well.
“Just… that’s how it is.”
At the sudden confession, Titania felt her heart tickled.
It must have been the best comfort Oznia could offer.
At the sight of Oznia clumsily trying to comfort her, Titania gave a faint smile. She was so grateful that she felt like she might shed a tear.
At the same time, Titania somehow thought of Eon as she looked at Oznia.
Although comforting wasn’t their forte, both of them did their best to console her.
Somehow, the awkwardness of the two seemed similar, and she couldn’t help but smile.
“Thank you, Oz.”
A faint smile appeared on Oznia’s lips as well.
Just as their bond was growing stronger, Oznia suddenly yawned widely.
“Oz, are you sleepy?”
Oznia tried to shake her head to deny it, but she couldn’t hide her drooping head. It was well past curfew, and the clock was about to strike midnight.
“Let’s go in. You can stay here.”
Unable to bear her overwhelming drowsiness, Oznia couldn’t refuse Titania’s suggestion and left the lounge with a staggering step.
Titania worried if Oznia would actually change her clothes and sleep, seeing her like that.
The lounge, now empty after Oznia’s departure.
Titania stared out the window aimlessly.
Looking out into the darkness, she couldn’t see anything, but somehow, it felt like the person she was waiting for would appear at any moment.
Will they really come? Maybe I should go in too.
As her thoughts deepened,
Late at night, she heard the sound of the dormitory’s front door opening.
Titania hastily got up from the sofa and rushed out of the lounge. She almost ran to the lobby.
As she expected, the person who returned to the dormitory was Instructor Eon.
He seemed surprised to see Titania in the lobby at this hour, slightly furrowing his brows.
“Have you arrived, Instructor?”
“What were you doing at this time? It’s well past curfew.”
Titania was embarrassed to admit that she had been waiting for him, so she awkwardly scratched her cheek and offered an excuse that wasn’t entirely a lie.
“I, I couldn’t sleep…”
“Hmm. I see.”
Though it was a situation that could be considered a violation of the school rules, Eon didn’t interrogate Titania.
He just nodded his head calmly.
Titania felt as if Eon’s gaze was piercing through her. Somehow, it seemed like he had already figured out the reason she was waiting here.
Feeling shy, Titania cautiously opened her mouth.
“Umm… Instructor. Did everything go well with the matter you went out for?”
Titania had a lot of questions she wanted to ask Eon.
What did it mean when he said that everything would be fine once the people targeting her disappeared, what had he been doing outside for so long, and whether he had encountered any danger?
Whether she really didn’t have to leave the academy.
Instead of answering such questions, Eon suddenly asked an incomprehensible question after a brief silence.
“Did you have an older brother?”
Titania couldn’t understand the intent behind the question.
However, she couldn’t ignore the instructor’s question, so she nodded and replied.
“Yes, I did.”
“What kind of person was he?”
The term “person” wasn’t exclusively applied to humans, but also used for other races like elves and dwarves, so it wasn’t an incorrect expression.
Titania pondered for a moment.
“Um, I’m not sure why you’re suddenly asking this, but…”
She smiled faintly, as if recalling fond memories.
“He was a really good person. He always took great care of me and protected me by his side. He was a bit overprotective, though. If my brother were still in the village, I wouldn’t have been able to come to the Empire.”
“Did he leave the village?”
“Yes, suddenly one day.”
Titania wore a bitter smile.
“The village elders don’t answer any questions about my brother, but… I guess he must have gone to do something important. I believe he’ll return safely someday.”
Titania said so, looking up at Eon.
And she was surprised. He was wearing an expression she hadn’t expected.
Eon’s expression was much stiffer than usual, and his eyes were dull.
Titania couldn’t understand the meaning behind his expression.
Eon gently stroked Titania’s leaf-like hair a few times, placing his hand above her head.
And he spoke in a calm voice.
“It’s been resolved. You won’t have to leave this place because of this issue anymore.”
In fact, Titania wanted to hear more details.
Somehow, when Eon stroked her head and said that, she felt as if everything had indeed been resolved.
So, she simply nodded in agreement without saying anything.
“Go in now. It’s getting late.”
As Eon said, it was already very late. Although she had told Oznia to go in first, Titania was also reaching her limit to stay awake.
Somehow, thinking that everything had been resolved made her relax, and she yawned.
Titania smiled towards Eon’s back as he went up first.
“Instructor, you kind of remind me of my brother.”
Her brother often stroked her head and assured her that everything would be alright.
As a child, Titania didn’t know anything but felt that everything would be fine just by hearing those words.
Titania’s words were meant to express gratitude to the instructor who had reminded her of her brother after a long time.
Eon paused for a moment but ultimately left without looking back.
What kind of expression he wore, Titania couldn’t tell.
* * *
The next day.
The news of the appearance of a monster stirred up the entire island.
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