He kissed her forehead. I believe in you, ma threa.
He kissed her lips. Make me proud.
She closed her eyes, knowing that he was already saying goodbye. Yes, Master.
When Zari opened her eyes, her Master was gone, like he had never been there at all.
Zari’s first school had been La Scala Legaturia, which in English translated to the School of Bonds. It had been a training ground for human pets, an ancient structure possessing a remarkable Gothic beauty. ANEX, on the other hand, was a surprising opposite, boasting of all the modern amenities of a five-star resort—-
As well as the most advanced defenses, she couldn’t help thinking, one would expect from Fort Knox.
With dawn just about to approach, the school grounds were completely quiet, with only a few people milling around, going about their business. There was a man trimming the bushes, a woman sweeping the pathway leading to one of the dormitories, and there was even someone dangling an incense burner in the air, murmuring incoherently under his breath.
Following her student’s gaze, Soleil explained, “It’s to strengthen the warding spells.”
“But we’re already in Chalys,” Zari ventured. “Isn’t this supposed to be the safest place for otherworlders?”
“From humans, yes,” Soleil agreed, “but from otherworldly attacks? We never rule out the possibility that the demons of Sulphur would one day break the truce and invade this place.”
Soleil didn’t answer, but the silence was enough.
For people like her, Zari realized.
When the tour around the campus ended, Soleil faced the quiet girl beside her. “Do you have any questions?”
“Please don’t worry about your safety, Lady Zari.”
Realizing that Soleil had misunderstood her disquiet, Zari said hastily, “I’m not worried about that. I know my Master—-”
Soleil cleared her throat. “About that…”
“I truly apologize for always being the bearer of bad news, but…while you are a student of ANEX, you do remember that all pre-existing non-filial relationships are temporarily suspended?”
She said warily, “Yes.”
“It also means you are discouraged from referring to Lord Alexandru as your Master.”
Oh. Zari’s fists clenched even as she tried to quell the resentment surging inside of her. Did she really want this? she asked herself numbly. Not only had she agreed to two years of not seeing the man she loved, but now she had to also agree to not think of him as her Master?
Swallowing, she told Soleil haltingly, “I understand. I hadn’t been aware of that, but…I’ll get used to it.” It wasn’t like she had a choice.
A twinge of pain pinched Soleil’s heart at the pain underlining the girl’s voice. “I’m sorry.” She hated that she was forced to keep saying the words. Curse it, but this was not the way a student’s life should start. She took her job seriously, and she considered it her personal failure that she had not foreseen the possibility her student would be in this much pain over her parting from her Master.
“The relationship between pets and their Masters is something unknown to me,” Soleil admitted carefully, “but it may not be as bad as you think. In fact, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that you would see Lord Alexandru from time to time, during school trips and field assignments—-”
“I’m afraid Lord Alexandru wouldn’t permit that.” Zari’s smile didn’t reach her eyes as she continued, “He may not seem like it, but he takes his duties very seriously, and he expects the same from—-” She caught herself in time, having almost referred to herself as her pet. But that was no longer allowed either.
Zari’s fingers dug into her palms.
“Lady Zari, if you wish it, I can arrange for one last meeting.” This time, Soleil knew she was consciously violating one of the school’s rules. But the look of devastation on her student’s face was unbearable.
Slowly, Zari shook her head. “Thank you for the offer, milady, but this is how it should be.
“I see.” But she didn’t really quite see at all. It behooved Soleil to admit it, but maybe she really was the secret romantic that Fleur often teased her of being.
For Soleil, if two people were truly in love, was it not important that they did everything to make sure they were always together?
As they ascended the stairs, Soleil tried to lighten the mood, saying, “If it is of any help, you may talk about him with me whenever you want. You may freely gush of the gentleman’s looks—-”
Zari couldn’t help snorting. “That’s guy no gentleman.”
“Perhaps,” Soleil allowed with a grin, “but in Chalys, we always refer to men as gentlemen – no matter how boorish they may act.”
“Oh. My bad.”
She shook her head. “Sorry.”
Zari was bemused. “Why are you apologizing?”
Soleil’s dimples flashed. “I’m not. I meant, you should say ‘sorry’ when apologizing. You should refrain using ‘my bad’ as well, or at least until you are used to switching between our way of speaking to your way of speaking, depending on who you’re speaking with.”