“Why won’t she listen?!” An exasperated cry echoed through the stable of the encampment. Brown mud littered with dirt all around flew up into the air while a young man continued to rampage about with his two feet. It was an odd sight. A handsome stud that was playing in the mud, uncaring about how many stains he got on his luxurious robes. Peering eyes of stablemen glanced over the walls surrounding the youth, but they were met with a piercing gaze from a silver-haired Eflin.
Isadore watched the spectators back away and made sure that their location was secure. With that, his shoulders dropped, and his eyes dimmed. Grabbing hold of his angered friend, Isadore handed over a flask of iced tea that he had prepared just for this moment.
“Here, have a drink. It’ll cool you down.” Isadore said.
“Hah…” Shin snatched the flask out of his good friend’s hand. After all that talking, his throat really was starting to dry. Placing the vial vertically from his throat, Shin downed the entire iced tea within seconds, quenching his thirst. Lost for words, the young man fell on a nearby haystack with a soft thud and threw his head back.
“Isadore, you’d known Kanari the longest. Is there a way to change her mind?” Clinging onto his last straws, Shin sought help from his silver-haired friend.
“Yes, there is.” Not changing his expression one bit, Isadore flattened his tone and replied like a robot. “It’s a surefire method that would return her to the Himmel Empire in a heartbeat.”
“Really?! Spit it out!”
“You promise to marry her if she listens to your request.”
“Pffttt!!!” Almost regurgitating the iced tea that Isadore had offered him, Shin’s head snapped forward with a crack, and his eyes bulged out of their sockets. He was appalled that Isadore had even suggested such a deed. Sending a death scowl, the young man rubbed the sides of his ears and retaliated. “Don’t ever joke about that Isadore! You know how serious this matter is!”
“I wasn’t entirely joking, though?” Not fazed by Shin’s glare, Isadore’s neck bent slightly, giving him an angle to stare back at his friend. He could now see the twitching right eye that Shin had hidden. It was an obvious tell and Shin knew that. A flying palm emerged and slapped Shin right on the cheeks to prevent Isadore from reading his expressions anymore.
“I don’t really understand it… Kanari likes you, and it’s quite obvious that your feelings for her aren’t that platonic. Especially after that kiss that the two of you shared. You know, Shin. We-…”
“H-Hold on one minute!” The young man raised his hands to stop Isadore from continuing. “H-How, did you know that we kissed?! I didn’t tell you that!”
For the first time in years, Isadore shot Shin the look that he was talking to an idiot. Cheekbones raised and lips pursed, the young elf-man squinted his eyes and shook his head as if he was watching a dog attempt to clean up after itself.
“People talk, Shin. Everyone among us knows. Even the two Moon Mercenaries that you brought along knows of that hot kiss you shared with Kanari under the precious moon.”
“W-What?!” It had only been two days since that emotional night, and its happenings had already become common knowledge? There were only two parties present during that kiss and Shin was sure that he didn’t reveal anything to his friends. Which meant that the leak could have only come from one person…
‘Damn it, Kanari! Why did you have to go and tell everyone else?!’
It was no secret that the girls in their team were much more into gossip than the guys. If Shin wanted to tell everyone something, he would often use Elrin as a loudspeaker to convey his message. So, Kanari was definitely not wise in telling the girls about the details of their tryst. Well, not that it matters now.
“Forget that! It’s not important for now!”
“You’re the one that brought it up…” Isadore mumbled, only to be met by Shin’s death glare once more. Exhaling deeply, the young man shrugged his shoulders and watched as Shin attempted to wipe clean the conversation using his crude tactics.
“What’s more important is for us to figure out a way to return Kanari to the Himmel Empire so that she can advance into the Spirit Spectre realm safely. The problem is, she won’t return if I stay. And I can’t leave since I need to be here to apprehend Junius.” It really was a conundrum that tore Shin apart internally. On the one hand, he could save a friend and a partner from risks that she didn’t have to take. However, if he obliged and left the Estrella Region, his one and only chance to bring Junius to justice, which was one of his two goals, would just evaporate into nothingness.
“Isadore, we have to think of a solution!”
“This seems like a love problem, and honestly, I don’t think that I’m that qualified to give you advice.” Leaning his back against the stable walls, Isadore positioned his head, downwards towards the young man. Though he had lived twenty-odd years, Isadore has never been in a loving relationship. He didn’t understand why there were so many complexities in the issue.
If one looked at the situation in a logical manner, all Kanari needed to do was to bury her stubbornness and return to the Himmel Empire. That way, Shin gets to stay, and Kanari wouldn’t have to take any risks. A win-win situation for all. But, love didn’t care about rationality. It made sensible people turn foolish and prodigies, stupid. Kanari was examining her advancement with rose-coloured lenses, and her mind didn’t want to consider any other options.
“Arghhh, what should I do?!” Not getting the answer that he wanted, Shin brought both his hands up to his temple and rubbed them rapidly. A wry smile crept up Isadore’s face when he watched the young man so torn on what he should do. His amusement wasn’t left unnoticed. Shin’s fingers crept down onto his chin and supported his toned head up once more.
“What’s so funny?”
“No… It’s just rare to see you in this state. You must like Kanari much more than I thought you did.” Isadore chuckled. “Well, I may not be a love expert, but I do know someone in our age group that have much more experience in relationships compared to you and I. Fortunately, he’s right here in this encampment.”
“Really? Who is he?” For a moment there, Shin’s eyes sparkled into life. A stark contrast to his earlier wavering expressions.
“He should be here any moment now… I called him over just a few minutes ago… Ah, there he is!” Isadore stepped out of the remote corner and looked into the crowd. In preparation for Shin’s consultation, the budding information agent turned to the only people that could give ample advice on love affairs. Finding his face from the densely packed assembly, Isadore flailed his arms wildly to attract their attention.
‘Danroy and Suji?’ Shin’s brows were raised when the two familiar faces presented themselves. One was as round as an enlarged ball while the other was so muscular that veteran soldiers were stealing gazes at the guns he hid beneath his thin robes. They were two contrasting specimens of men, but Shin was always under the impression that neither of them had any relationships. Thus, he was stunned that Isadore had even suggested that they gave him advice.
“Isadore? Are you sure about this?”
“Of course I am!” The elf-like man smiled, his face beaming with a noble light. “He may not look like it, but Danroy is quite the heartthrob. Ever since he came into the academy, Danroy has had a grand total of eleven girlfriends and has been on dates with dozens of women.”
“Wait, what?!” It really was hard to believe. Shin had never seen the young man with any girls, and he had never heard of any rumours of Danroy being attached.
“That’s right. It’s quite unknown since Danroy doesn’t date any of the academy’s girls. He always goes for single noble ladies in High Society, and they normally keep their liaisons secret, to prevent any spread of scandals. High Society relationships normally would become newsworthy events, after all.”
Most relationships that Danroy started were always kept under wraps with a tight lid. Since if word got out that the Frithron family heir was dating a noble young lady, articles would be written about a possible betrothal and their families would be forced to respond. Yet, Isadore seemed to have gained vital information even with the added protection that Danroy had enforced.
‘Sometimes I forget that Isadore’s a freak when it comes to information gathering…’ During times like this, Shin always wondered how much dirt does Isadore really have on him. Well, it wasn’t as if there was much for Shin to hide, but he couldn’t help but feel curious. However, that was a question to be answered at another time.
“Yo, Shin!” Danroy started off with a friendly greeting, while Suji stayed quiet with his arms akimbo. “What’s the urgent help that you need?”
They were told that Shin was in a bind, and their insightful knowledge was vital in breaking his problem. Being the amiable man that he was, Danroy immediately accepted Isadore’s plea and dragged Suji along in the hopes of bettering the two’s relationship.
“Shin was just having love troubles and needs your advice.” Their answer came from an unexpected place. Isadore unleashed the impish smile that he had learnt from Elrin as he readied himself to watch the show. It was a shame that popcorn wasn’t readily available in this land.
“Oh, scandalous!” No matter how highborn they were, gossip would always tantalise the souls of young men and women. Danroy rubbed his palms together with his knuckles like a maître d’ and leaned in with a smile. On the other hand, Suji was less than amused.
“You called us out here into these manure filled stables just to discuss love matters?” The muscle man sneered and dropped both his arms. He had better ways to spend his time, and he wasn’t about to waste precious time in the middle of a war to tend to another man’s relationship problems.
“Come on, Suji! It’ll just take a few minutes!” Danroy knew that Suji’s opinion of Shin was far from cordial, but he still wanted the two to get along. “You can just stand there and listen! You don’t even have to give your opinion!”
“Hmph! Whatever! Just make it quick, Dan. We need to train.” The Son of War turned his back to the wall and rested there with his eyes closed. He had plans with Danroy so he couldn’t really leave outright. Danroy chuckled and turned back to Shin with a playful grin. His eyebrows wiggled up and down as he asked the first question on his mind:
“So… Who is the lucky girl?”
“Let’s… Just call her Girl A.”
“Eh, what’s the fun in that?!” Danroy protested for a while before silencing himself. He was about to get Shin into uncharted territory. Danroy didn’t want to scare Shin away before he spilt the beans. Furthermore, he had his guesses on who Shin could possibly be referring to.
And so, the four young men stood alone in the narrow paths of the stable, all while Shin poured out his emotions. To save his embarrassment, Shin omitted specific details that would have exposed Kanari’s identity to Danroy and Suji. Nonetheless, he continued to explain the gist of the situation.
“I see… You want her to think for herself and to not put her own needs above your own, but she’s adamant of pushing forward, even though it might harm her in the long run.” Danroy stroked the smooth rounded chin of his and puckered his lips like a fish.
“That’s right… And I can’t just abandon my goal just because of her obstinacy. I had been chasing this goal all of my adult life. I’m so close… If she thought about this logically, everything would be fine! But she’s too unyielding!” Shin was this close to screaming. It was so frustrating. If everyone had a sound mind, it made sense for Kanari to leave while Shin stayed. Alas, feelings almost always clouded judgement.
“Wow, it sounds like you have yourself a devoted one,” Danroy remarked.
“So… What do you think I should do? Continue to convince her?”
“I doubt it would work. Whenever girls start to believe in something, they tend to stick to it for a long time.” Speaking from experience, the love guru continually shook his head. “I say you wait it out and come back to the situation again when things have died down and the heat of the moment is gone.”
“I can’t do that!” Shin cried. “T-There’s some sort of time-limit to it. I don’t have the luxury to wait until things cool off.”
“Ah, now that’s a problem…” Going back to the drawing board, Danroy thought of the best methods he used to deal with troublesome women. “Maybe try and talk things out with her female friends? Use them as a tool to help your cause. Normally, her friends’ words would have a much stronger pull as compared to yours.”
“That’s… impossible.” Once again, Shin shook his head. Kanari’s friends were his as well. Elrin had thrown her support straight behind Kanari while the twins were caught on the fence. Shin also didn’t want to complicate their relationship and didn’t wish for the seven friends to have a falling out over a matter shared between Kanari and himself.
“Can’t do that again? Hah…” Danroy sighed.
“I think that you’re looking at it the wrong way.” Before the pudgy youth could make another suggestion, a towering voice boomed from the side, drawing Shin’s eyes away from Danroy and to his stationary friend who had his eyes closed.
“Suji! What would you suggest?!” Danroy released an excited cry. Finally, the sinewy young man seemed interested in helping Shin.
“From what I understand, the girl won’t change her mind. She aims to help you achieve that goal that you had been chasing, and she would never let herself come in between that. Even if you chose to abandon your goal, she’d most likely persuade you otherwise.” Suji spoke from his heart. “Just give it up. There’s nothing you can do in times like this.”
“But… I can’t just let her risk herself!”
“Oh, grow a pair, would you?!” Scratching his tanned skin, the young man walked forward and stared Shin in his eyes. “If you think that she’s taking a risk, be there for her! Become the man that she loves and comfort her! Do everything that you possibly can to make sure that the risk is mitigated. She’s sacrificing something for you, so you should reciprocate the feelings! Be a man!”
“T-That…” Shin choked on his words. Kanari has done so much for him, but what has he done for her? Essentially nothing.
“Hmph!” Suji scoffed and stormed off the other way. He had said his piece, there was no point in staying. Caught in the middle of all this, Danroy let out a dry cough before turning to chase Suji down. However, before he left, the young man did leave Shin with one word of encouragement.
“You know, you should listen to Suji’s advice. He knows better than me. After all, Suji has been engaged for almost fifteen years.”
“What?!” It was the first time Shin had heard that Suji was betrothed. He had always assumed that they were all bachelors since no women were surrounding them.
“Yeah, Suji’s quite experienced in these matters and his wife-to-be is a real firecracker. So he’s probably faced this problem before.” Danroy chuckled. “Anyway, it was a pleasure to be of use to you. I hope you work things out with Kanari soon!”
“Thanks… WAIT!!! How did you…!”
“Ah, I got to go! See you later!”
With that, Danroy waved his hand and sped far away to chase after the speeding Suji. Stunned by those last words that the fat man had left him, Shin’s outreached hand fell in horror. Throughout their entire conversation, Shin hadn’t mentioned Kanari even once. He had even tried so desperately to keep her identity a secret. But it was all for nothing. Turning to his bosom friend for help, all that Shin could see were shrugged shoulders and a slanted gaze.
“Like I said… People talk.”