"Annie, have you been holding marriage meetings for this girl?" Leguna asked, stepping closer to her.
"Do you think Innie would agree?" She asked coldly, shoving him away.
"I suppose I should introduce you two properly," Annelotte said as she stepped next to Innilis, "This is Miss. Innilis, the herbalist association's youngest ever entrant, and the proprietor of the latest and most effective cold-resistance potion."
Leguna's eyes fell out of his skull. He stared at the little girl incredulously for two eternal seconds before his voice returned to him.
"Nice to meet you, Mister Leguna." Innilis curtsied nobly.
Her red face broke her aura somewhat, but she at least kept herself from laughing like a villain whose scheme had finally succeeded. Not that that wasn't entirely inaccurate. It had been five months, five months of non-stop work and toil to finally have this moment, this moment of Leguna completely blindsided. Her mouth bled sugar at the boy's expression. Her mind was now set, she would become the world's greatest herbalist. Leguna could definitely not turn her down when she demanded he become her man then!
If not for the kind of people present at this banquet, which required at least some show of respect on her part, she'd have stormed off to her room and gotten right back to work.
"You're saying... Innilis is a... magus?"
Potions fell under alchemy, which only magi could study, so for Innilis to be a member of the herbalist association, and for developing a potion, she had to be a magus, right?
"No," Annelotte shook her head, "Innie can only feel magic. She's only a magus apprentice right now."
Leguna looked her a question and Annelotte sighed. She stroked Innilis's head lightly as she explained to the twat.
"You don't even know how much work she's put into her studies these last five months."
"You..." Leguna stared at the little girl's red eyes.
"Innie told me she wanted to learn magic right after you left. I didn't want her to because I couldn't sense anything on her, she has almost no talent for magic, but she wouldn't listen and pestered me until I finally gave in and gave her a proper magic test."
"What did it say?" Leguna asked, his arms now around the little girl.
I'll let Innie have her way today... Annelotte sighed internally, "She has no talent for magic. She pestered me again to let her train as something else, a warrior or a ranger, while she kept trying to sense magic. But she didn't sense it even after a month, and she also can't use impetus."
"So what did you do?" Leguna asked, patting the shivering girl.
"I wanted her to give up at first, but she can be very stubborn. I was busy talking to her again to get her to give up, when I noticed some notes she'd been writing down and I realized she did have a talent."
"A talent for herbalism?"
"Not really herbalism per se, a talent for magi theory. Innie can't sense magic at all, but she has an intuitive understanding of the theories behind it. Her strongest intuitions lie in herbalism."
"Oh? So Innie's been working hard."
"Of course I did! I did it for you, you know!!" the girl dared.
"Umm..." Leguna was suddenly very awkward again.
It was one thing for the little thing to be daring when they were alone, troubling as that was already, but it was another entirely for her to do it in front of the girl he was actually pursuing. His mind was just racing when he felt a knife stab into his back. He turned around and saw Annelotte's father glaring daggers at him.
'What is going on here, brat? I'll have an explanation out of you today!' his eyes stabbed.
'Well...' Leguna had already learned Marolyt's eye-talk. 'It's hard to explain. I'll tell you later.'
'Hmph, don't think I'll accept it just because Annelotte hasn't already killed you. Don't think its okay just because she hasn't killed you yet, either. You know she doesn't act out.' Marolyt threatened.
'I know...' Leguna sighed.
He'd wanted to deal with Innilis for quite a while now, but he didn't know how, nor did he think it was going to be this difficult. It wasn't that he felt nothing about her, he just didn't have the energy to spare. He was already at his limit juggling Annelotte and Eirinn, and it was only worse now that Annelotte's father had gotten involved, whatever the old man might have said about not interfering. It wasn't that he didn't love the little girl, just that he didn't love her like he did the other two. And he didn't want to just accept her feelings because it meant he didn't have to deal with them because that would only make things more of a mess between him as his two other women. On the other hand, he didn't want to shut her down because it would hurt her, and he owed the little thing too much to feel he could do that to her as well.
He'd hoped her feelings were just a little girl's crush and that they'd go away with a few months to think about them clearly and let them cool down without seeing him every day. Unfortunately, it appeared that hadn't happened. Now that he knew she was serious, he also couldn't let this drag on any longer, as it would only make it harder to deal with once he finally had no other choice.
He took a deep breath, turned the little girl around to face him, and clasped her by the shoulders.
"I'm sorry, Innie. I'm a huge idiot."
"I've known how you felt for a long time, but I couldn't face your feelings so I kept avoiding having to deal with them. I told myself I did it because I didn't want to hurt you, but the truth is I just didn't want to have to deal with this because it was too difficult. I can't keep turning a blind eye, however. It's not right to just drag you along like this. I'm sorry, Innie. I can't ever make losing your brother and sister up to you, but I'll do everything I can to fix what little I can."
"Big Bro..." The little girl leapt into his arms and sobbed into his chest, "I don't blame you... really I don't... I never did… You don't have to feel guilty. I'll only be sadder if you do..."
Leguna just held her silently as she wet his chest.
"Big Bro..." she said finally, her sobs fading, "There is one thing you can do to make it up to me."
"What is it?"
"I--" The little girl's face was pure lava. "--I want to… to… to marry..." She blurted finally, but more as a breath than an actual word and she couldn't get the word after that out at all.
The three stood silently, frozen in a moment of the utmost awkwardness. Annelotte turned around and stared at the people chatting in clusters around the tables as if she wasn't interested, or hadn't heard what the girl had said, though everyone knew she'd heard her just fine. Innilis fidgeted with her dress after a few long, quiet seconds without an answer.
Leguna, to his own surprise, didn't panic. He'd expected this as certainly as he would expect an arrow flying towards him to hit.
He glanced at Annelotte's back for a long moment before he looked at the little girl again.
"I'm sorry, Innie..."
"I see..." the girl mumbled. Her eyes were pools of darkness.
"You're not even fourteen. You're too young."
"Is that the only problem?" she asked, tears slowly rolling out of her eyes.
She'd thought he had finally accepted her feelings, and had finally begun returning them, but it seemed she would never be anything more than a little sister.
"Yes, you're too young," Leguna said, grasping desperately at the excuse, despite knowing that he was once again just avoiding dealing with her properly, "but I'll wait until your older."
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