I eventually slipped into unconsciousness through my studies, so complete was the pull of the literature placed before me. Those dreams were fleeting and beautiful, my disembodied mind flew over cracked and barren landscapes and lush jungle. I stood toe to toe with giants and the stars themselves, my naked skin bathed in harsh light. But those enigmatic beauties were brief and stood in stark contrast with terrifying glimpses of burning cities and beasts of burden that I would never dare attempt to describe.

I awoke in a cold daze the next morning, alone in the tiny bed that I typically shared with Gerald and Hanz. Usually I was the first up and the last to sleep, but the most recent events were far from usual and routine. They were absent and the only thing the blankets shared with me was my own selfish warmth and the lovely stink of my boys.

I laid there for a long time clutching the edge of our blankets, thinking about the previous day and trying to resolve the events that took place. I couldn't explain the fragments of my studies or how I had been so absorbed by the book that laid suspiciously closed on our table. It had an air of achievement about it. The kind of feeling that floods one's sensibilities when a difficult task at hand has been finally dispatched.

My own body betrayed me and I rose from the bed, dreading the cold that embraced me. After I completed my morning ritual I sat there with it, sipping a cup of darjeeling.

I ran my fingers over its cracked leather cover. My skin shivered and grew goose bumps as if it was a lover on a first night. I grew excited and explored its pages once more, savoring the smell of its ancient paper and the noise of crumbling pages turning slowly and deliberately. I could feel a queer significance about it. It called to me. It felt familiar and right.

It stuck me like a thunderbolt. The strange excitement that flooded my veins and loins was that of my first night with Hanz and to a lesser extend his strange and masculine friend, my Gerald. It was sexual for sure, but there was more. There was a strange intellectual satisfaction to it. It hit all the right spots in my mind and I savored it.

Inhaling the sweet scent of my tea I closed the book, satisfied and once again deflowered by its dark magic.

I showered and dressed with the bathroom door ajar, hoping someone would join me. No one did and when I emerged the only thing that greeted me that strange, abused relic.

Abandoning our tiny dorm I strolled the early morning grounds. It was the Soldier's Day so I was blissfully isolated, my peers opting to take advantage of the extra sleep it offered. Frost still clung to shrubs and grass and patches of snow still held on defiantly in the shadows of the campus willows. It made it difficult to see the young man until I had nearly trampled his breakfast.

"Watch it," he warned briskly rescuing a nearly toppling cup of steaming coffee. He was mostly hidden beneath a lone birch.

Startled, I froze and apologized profusely. I bent down to help clean the mess I had made of his meal and surveyed him.

He was young with a sharp chin, wearing a polished breastplate with a neat serifed "Aeneas" emblazoned over his heart. A soldier from the garrison assigned to the library after the dreadful events the previous year, in all likelihood.

My shoe was busy crushing his bread.

"Eck." I offered, peeling it off. "Sorry, I didn't see you there. I thought I was the only one up. It's pretty early."

"Pretty late for me. I just finished duty. It's 'kay." He smiled with his eyes and sipped his coffee.

I could see him examine me as his sort usually did. His expression was largely innocent, but I ultimately judged that was deceiving. He likely thought the same of me as his expression hardened after a moment and his eyes were reduced to slits.

It didn't last long and he promptly returned to his breakfast of fruits, bread and coffee.

"Hungry?" He offered, looking off into the fog that clung to the grounds.

The man would have normally repulsed me. I never cared for soldiers. In my bed or in my company. There were normally a brutish, brash sort with little regard to civilian society. But his armor caught the early morning sun in all the wrong ways and that seemed to draw me nearer. I folded my legs beneath me and sampled.

"Aeolus." He offered, tipping his cup toward me.


"This is probably the best place I've been stationed for a long time. You have a nice quiet town, all sorts of things at your fingertips. Friendly folk, too.

I like quiet."

"I wouldn't have thought that. I've seen you people in the woods shouting and stomping around like madmen. I'd have thought you'd enjoy it."

"Woods?" He thought, then it dawned on him. "Oh, the drills." He offered a childish shrug and a dismissive throat noise. "You're talking about the sergeant. He's a man with a nice set of pipes, I'll give you that."

Our conversation drifted to my stay at the school and my studies. He asked a lot of questions about the courses in which I was enrolled and seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say about Progenitor Art and their take on faith. I demolished more than half of his breakfast during that time. But he didn't seem to mind. I hadn't realized how hungry I was. It was relatively meager by military standards, but the wares he provided were exotic and sweet to me and I relished in their strange tastes. He didn't seem to mind either.

When his breakfast was dispatched we sat in silence for a long time.

He dropped it like a brick.

"So. I know this nice little bistro in town. Great service. Good food, food I think you'd appreciate." He offered, coughing out of the sheer awkwardness of it.

Was he asking me on a date? I sat there for a moment in shock and stared at him in disbelief. He didn't dare offer eye contact. The man, Aeolus, suddenly had an air of uncertainty about him. It was disarming coming from a soldier in the Emperor's Army.

I could feel something wiggle in the back of my head. A niggling thought or desire. Something primal and alien. Something wrong.

Without forethought I answered.


And instantly a world of guilt materialized on my shoulders and I felt it crush me. A dread settled in my stomach and I thought of Hanz's beautiful voice and Gerald's strong arms and losing them forever.

But I bit my lower lip and held my emotions away from the contradiction of a man. I immediately wanted to recant and apologize. To flee and hide in our big, warm bed.

But his face erupted in joy and smiles.

"Great. Hey, maybe we can go dancing afterward? My treat."

I nodded, refusing to speak for fear of my voice betraying me. Yes, Aeolus. Let's go dancing. Let's wreck everything in abandon. I didn't even particularly like the man. Even the smell of him, gun oil and musk was slightly offensive.

We set a time and place, said our temporary goodbyes and I left him to finishing his coffee. He began to hum a little tune before I left earshot, clearly pleased with his courage. I started to return home, but my eyes welled up with hot, bitter tears. I abandoned the route and slinked away, opting to sort my confusion out without fear of discovery.

That was the moment that I stopped being wholly Wendy. The seed of something else had been planted and it was growing in my self induced misery, I could feel it.

It was greedy and devoured my self loathing like I had done to the stranger's meal. But through it all, through the tears and the wishing it felt good.


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