Alice and Ine scarfed down the nuts and berries they had gathered as Blaise and Emilia looked on in awe. Neither of them were in the mood to eat after last night's events, but they helped with the preparation by starting a fire and catching a large rabbit. Apparently, that wasn't enough.
"How the hell do you two eat so much and not get fat?" Emilia asked, dumbfounded.
"Alice burns it off. Literally," replied Ine.
"Ine runs her mouth for both her legs combined."
They both burst out laughing and continued sending jabs at each other. It got to the point that Blaise and Emilia joined in, though they didn't appreciate it when both girls suddenly turned on them and slaughtered their trashtalk.
The sun hung in the morning sky, heating up the ground and turning the air muggy and humid. Emilia recognized where they were: the pavilion was an old temple of Eish'tal in the Sundry Forest several miles north of Poldark. In fact, they were further from Poldark up here than Ferrock was. Hopefully, the baron wouldn't give too much trouble to everyone back in Ferrock when he inevitably sent his men out on a man hunt. Emilia assured her that was unlikely, for their current position was mere miles from the border between Corth and Lomany.
"If I'd run anywhere, it'd be there."
They took an extra thirty minutes for a break. Ine practiced her aim at a tree dozens of yards away. Alice rehearsed some of the more complicated techniques from the Order, followed by a brief meditation. Upon coming out of it, she found Blaise and Emilia conversing quietly several paces away. They looked serious. She wanted to eavesdrop on them again but decided last night had been more than enough. After all Emilia had let it slide once. Would she do it again?
"Now what?" asked Ine. She had hit her bullseye 22 out of 23 times from forty paces. Two week rehabilitation? Ha! Alice thought for a moment. "Not sure. Emilia and Blaise are welcome to come along, but I don't think they want us."
Ine's reaction was a mixture of relief and sadness.
"You just wanted it to be the two us, I bet."
Ine smiled sheepishly.
"Don't worry. It's us versus the world. Until you find another cute guy to bat your eyes at." Instead of bowing up, Ine snorted in laughter. "And then we'll fight over him, bitch at each other, make up, and then kick him to the curb, right?"
Emilia and Blaise nodded to each other and then approached the girls. They were all ears. Emilia thumbed Blaise. "This idiot is going to take the long route back to Azara."
"What?!" shouted the sisters.
"It's my only option," he responded finally.
"How about hiding out here?" suggested Ine. The thought of returning to Azara was ludicrous. He shook his head. "I'm just as wanted as Emilia, and they know both of our faces."
"What about us?" asked Alice.
"Emilia is the Alchemist, the strongest mage who ever lived and rightful ruler of Etuskani. I am Blaise Durant, royal envoy to Andraste. You two are nobodies."
Ine glowered at Blaise, but calmed herself when Alice placed a hand on her shoulder. While 'Firebird' had notoriety in the South and 'Scout' nevertheless possessed some infamy with her time serving Lezennes and Blade, he was right. What would Andraste care about two mercenaries? And the baron hadn't actually known either of their names, just Blaise and Emilia, so who would he and the king of Corth search for? Compared to Emilia and Blaise, they were nobodies.
"But still," said Alice, "why not go into hiding?"
"We've talked about it…" answered Emilia
"…and decided to give Andraste what she wants: a traitor who helped the Alchemist."
"How does that accomplish anything?" said Alice.
Emilia smirked. "I've given Blaise a present for Andraste. If I've gambled correctly, everything will fall into place."
"And if you haven't?" asked Ine.
"She has," Blaise replied in a firm voice. "It won't fail because the Alchemist never truly gambles. He always plays by his rules. Once I've delivered what Andraste wants, I'll take my leave and flee up north. She'll be too busy to chase me or Emilia by then."
"Too busy doing what?" asked Alice.
Emilia stepped forward and offered her hand to shake. "This is my way of seeing that your people have a fighting chance against Andraste. You don't have to tell them anything. Soon, Andraste will be made vulnerable for all to see."
"So you do get your revenge in end," said Alice.
A sickening smile crept over Emilia's face. Alice didn't want to think of what her friend was fantasizing about right now. "As I said last night, I'll be heading to the Outlands through Lomany. Since Blaise is heading east by southeast, he'll be skirting the border of the Holt and get to Azara by the northern mountain gate. Where will you two go?"
Ine shrugged. "Eh, not sure. As long as it's not here. I'm tired of Corth."
"Well then, this will be goodbye." Emilia hugged Alice and Ine, making sure to keep her hug with Alice cordial. Her hug with Blaise did not have as much restriction. She whispered something in his ear, and he nodded solemnly. She waved goodbye and headed north. Dark clouds huddled in the distance; the storm from last night was not over.
Blaise, Alice, and Ine stood still, watching their friend go north until she disappeared behind a hill. He sighed and said his own goodbyes. "To be quite honest, I took a liking to both of you as soon as I met you. Your relationship is what I wish I could have had…"
"With Ferron. I don't know what I'll do now, knowing what I know about him."
Ine kicked a rock. "He made you feel special, right? Like there was no one else like you, and you could only get better?"
"…yes. That's a good way of putting it."
"Then just keep the lessons and forget the lies. He let you down, but you're still you."
Blaise nodded gratefully and went in the opposite direction of Emilia. Again, Alice and Ine too still watched Blaise until he rounded a corner and disappeared. Tall, white clouds hung in the distance. His storm wouldn't start for several days, but it would be worse than before.
"Looks like it's our turn," said Alice. "Wanna flip a coin for which direction?"
Ine shook her head. "Actually, I know exactly where I want to go."
"I wanna go home. To my parents' old farm in Fairheights."
Alice tousled Ine's hair. "West it is."
Well, that's it for the second part! I hope you've enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it. Chapter 9 was very difficult for me. Not to write but to edit. It just wouldn't work no matter how much time I set aside to brainstorm, so I eventually did what I do when things aren't working out: start over. It wasn't from scratch, but I went through everything and started prioritizing each element of the chapter. I quickly found out my problem: it was an exposition dump that no one honestly cared about. You see, I already have the past lore in my head and have had it in my head fully fleshed out for a long, long time without writing it down. It's a bunch of different stories with different characters. I decided to try something interesting and set this written work after the fact and try to tease lore into it for world building purposes. That worked well for the previous story, but The Alchemist is its own story for the most part and shoving Emilia to the side wasn't on my priority until I saw that it meant nothing. I cut roughly 40% of the original chapter 9 because it was all dialogue between Emilia and Blaise. While I think it was interesting, Alice and Ine were absent for virtually all of the chapter. That wouldn't do.
This is not Emilia's story. This is the story of Alice and Ine interacting with Emilia. It was sad to not share that particular bit of story with the reader, but it was ultimately inappropriate for the situation. Making this decision has helped me stay on track when introducing previous characters in the future and I hope it will make the story of our two heroines (plus one hero very soon ;)) more focused and therefore more enjoyable. That doesn't mean Emilia's gone forever or that she won't affect things in the background; I just won't focus on it until it affects Alice and Ine. I fully expect to be bringing back old characters down the ways, but ultimately this series is supposed to be about two sisters simply journeying through life, learning not to take much with them except their experiences.
As a teaser, I'm fully committed to making the third arc 120% steamier than the first arc with more focus on interpersonal drama instead of battles like arcs 1 and 2. Gotta put that romance tag back in there somehow!