Unfortunately, neither Esfir nor Ryner seemed enthused by Nova’s idea.
Instead, once the two’s work day was over, they all gathered in front of a giant TV screen and watched movies together while picking slices from a few large pizzas they’d ordered at a ridiculously overblown price.
Nova suggested they watch a horror movie. While she disliked them – she just didn’t see the appeal in scaring herself – it would have provided her with an excuse to cling onto Esfir’s arm in fright. Unfortunately again, this woman was as sharp as ever. Her glare told Nova that her plan had been seen through, and they ended up watching some fantasy thingy that reminded her of the Lord of the Rings.
Ryner and Esfir’s penthouse apartment was luxurious. All its outer walls were made of large panes of glass, whose tint and opacity could be controlled from small, transparent panels set into the glass itself. They gave a rather stunning view over the city of Altera and the shimmering lake on whose shore it was built; even Nova had to admit it was all pretty cool.
“So?” Ryner asked then, as an elf on the screen tried to shoot an arrow in an orc’s ugly face and missed, allowing his human comrade to be lethally stabbed in the spleen in a moment of tear-jerking drama. “What have you planned, now that you’re not working in Viper Nest anymore? Are you going to return to Dad’s lab?”
Nova shook her head.
‘Rest a while. Then, don’t know.’
“Do you want to come work here? I can teach you how to do business. You’ve never done that before, right? Maybe that could catch your fancy.”
Nova shook her head again. Running a company was certainly something she’d never done before, but she just couldn’t muster up any motivation or interest for the subject. It was basically just making money for the sake of making money. What was the point of that?
Would the trials test my business sense? I just can’t imagine it. That seems way too specific a subject. Why would they ever want to test that? God-thing didn’t seem like the materialistic kind to me, either.
It still didn’t answer the question, though.
What should she do, once she was done resting?
Should I travel around the world? That might be fun. Go from city to city and scour their libraries of their contents. Or enroll in university? Students there are a bit more mature than in lower education, so it wouldn’t be as painful. And it would allow me to spend more time with Lynn…
Or maybe she could exile herself to a rundown temple in the mountains and meditate like a monk in order to reach enlightenment.
Gaaah! Let’s stop thinking about the future for now. I’ve already decided to relax. I’ll consider it later.
“Well, you’ve got all the time in the world. You don’t need to rush from one thing to the next. Just take your time.”
Nova nodded and yawned. This movie was having some trouble keeping her interest. After a few seconds of wondering if she should force herself to watch it until the end, she rose up from the warm and comfy sofa, where she’d been sitting close to Esfir. She stretched like a cat, then looked at the other two.
‘Tired. Sleep now..’
Ryner nodded. “Right. You have a concert tomorrow. You need to be at your best. Good night, then.”
“Sweet dreams, Nova.”
Nova waved her hand over her shoulder at Ryner and Esfir as she headed for her room, stiffling another yawn.
# # #
“Wait, so… it wasn’t a joke?”
Ryner shook his head. “Mother told me herself. She wouldn’t joke about this sort of thing. You should have at least some notion of how protective of Nova she is.”
“I do, but… I mean…” Esfir hesitated. “Nova told me she’d… killed someone, and Marian had given her some ‘vacation’. But I thought she was teasing me.”
“Well, she wasn’t. Mother called me to make sure I would take care of her while she stayed in the capital. Which… was kind of an obvious thing to say, really. It’s not like I’m going to let my little sister sleep in the streets or anything.”
Esfir let out a long breath, her interest in the movie they’d been watching well and truly dead. She shook her head. “Do you think she’s all right?” she asked Ryner. “I thought she looked fine, but maybe I was wrong. As her brother, surely, you can tell what she’s thinking, right? You’ve known her for more than 15 years, after all.”
Ryner smiled a wry smile. “No one can tell what Nova’s thinking at any given time. Though I personally believe that she is fine. She’s not acting any differently than usual, at the very least.”
“Ryner, you’re talking about a 15-year-old girl who’s just taken someone’s life. Even if it doesn’t show on her face, it must have affected her.”
Esfir was quite worried, now, but Ryner still didn’t show much reaction. “Meh. she’s not a fragile flower who’s going to wilt at the slightest gust of wind. If she wants my help and my comfort, I’ll give it to her in a heartbeat, but I don’t think she does, so… I’ll act as usual, just like her, and see how she deals with it on her own.”
“Aren’t you taking this too lightly?” Esfir asked.
Ryner only smirked. “You’re the one who’s taking Nova too lightly.”
“Well, I’m sorry if I have trouble taking her as anything more than a lewd teenager.” Esfir sighed. “I know she’s worked with Marian for the past 2 years, but… I don’t know. It doesn’t exactly fit my image of her.”
Ryner laughed aloud. “I know what you mean. We were all quite surprised she took so well to being a soldier. But you’re wrong on one thing.” Ryner’s smile became teasing. “She’s only lewd when she’s with you.”
“Should I feel flattered?” Esfir asked in a dry voice.
But the annoying thing was that she did feel a little flattered. And it wasn’t as if Nova’s teasing was all that bad. Since she never took it too far, it was more like a game than anything else, a contest the two of them held against each other on who would have the last word.
But the point was, for Esfir to picture that playful girl shooting people dead while accompanying a troop of elite soldiers in a military operation was impossible.
Esfir couldn’t help but worry and was unable to just let the matter go that easily. She abruptly stood up from her place on the sofa. “I’m going to go check up on her.”
Ryner nodded. “Feel free.”
Esfir headed toward Nova’s room without further ado. In any case, talking about it wouldn’t do any wrong to anybody.
She opened the bedroom’s door slowly, just in case Nova was already asleep. And indeed, the girl must have been more tired than she looked, because her eyes were already closed, and her breathing was low and regular.
Esfir approached carefully to make sure she wasn’t faking it. Didn’t look like it, though. Esfir wondered for a moment if she should actually awaken Nova in order to talk to her, until her attention fell on a small slip of folded paper resting on Nova’s chest. The name ‘Esfir’ had been written on it in smooth, flowing handwriting.
What is this?
Esfir took the piece of paper, gently enough that Nova wouldn’t notice, and unfolded it.
When you come to check if I’m all right, do feel free to do shameful things to my body while I’m asleep. It would be great if you could film it and provide me with a copy of the video afterward for later perusal.
Thank you very much.
The more she read, the more the corners of Esfir’s mouth started twitching, and her brows creased into an angry scowl. Once again, her genuine concern had been toyed with.
# # #
It was a few hours later that Nova woke up, the early-morning sun slipping through the cracks between the curtains.
She lifted her hands up to rub her eyes and rolled onto her back, waiting until her consciousness became a little less muddy with sleep. When her senses all got back on track, a minute later, Nova slowly sat up in her bed and looked around at the room. The apartment was still silent; Ryner and Esfir were probably still asleep.
Oh, I wonder if Esfir found the message I left for her.
Nova looked around, trying to find if her note had lost itself in the sheets while she moved in her sleep. It seemed to be gone, however.
Good. But it looks like she didn’t give in to temptation.
Nova glanced down at herself. She’d unzipped the front of her hoodie – she’d changed into more comfortable clothing than what she’d worn before, for the night – to display enough cleavage to tempt Esfir to action, but it seemed even that ploy had failed to work.
As Nova shook her head, her gaze landed on the full-length mirror embedded into the wall next to her bed. She blinked. There seemed to be something on her face…
Nova stood up and lit the lamp on her bedside table, before walking up to the mirror.
Pfft, hahaha. Is that Esfir’s answer? What an artist.
Nova’s face was covered in black doodles. One formed a curly mustache above her lips. Another linked her eyebrows together over the bridge of her nose. Another gave her a monocle. In the center of her forehead was written the word ‘Pervert’. There was a little spiral drawn on each of her cheeks.
At least, she didn’t draw anything on my breasts…
Nova appreciated the picture for a minute – she snapped a shot of herself with her bracer’s camera, to show Lynn later – before letting her trait clean up her face. She usually deactivated most of the trait’s powers when she was asleep or unconscious, to avoid drawing attention to herself by cleaning something too visibly, but now that she was awake, even if it was permanent marker, there was no way these doodles would be able to resist god-thing’s unfathomable magic.
Nova watched as the black lines slowly faded. A few minutes later, the skin of her face was spotless as ever.
Esfir is really cruel, though. The doodles had already dried. Without my trait, it would have taken quite some effort to erase them. And I have a concert in the evening, too… How merciless…
Sometimes, Nova couldn’t help but think it was a shame that Esfir was already Ryner’s fiancée. If she weren’t, Nova herself might have had a chance.
Of course, now that the matter was set, Nova wasn’t going to get in the way of their romance. She’d limit herself to a bit of overt flirting, more as teasing than anything wholehearted, which she would immediately stop if she ever got the feeling that Esfir or Ryner started getting more uncomfortable than amused by it.
Otherwise, she’d be no better than Jimmy the Two-faced Weasel.
Nova didn’t think she was a very good person, all in all, but she definitely wasn’t some kind of psychopathic sitcom villain, either, pettily scheming left and right to get her way. Neither was she an adolescent blinded by her first love. Nova was already pretty old, mentally; she knew people didn’t always get what – or who – they wanted. She could take a step back. She wasn’t going to cling on for dear life like a child throwing a tantrum.
Still, getting a rise out of Esfir was always enough to put her in a good mood.
Grinning inwardly, Nova returned to her bed, flicked off the lamp, and closed her eyes again. She was on vacation. She could afford to sleep in.