It had barely been a month since Emi’s parents had come back to Balarand and they were leaving again.
The housekeepers were pulling double duty now, setting up for the big party that was just two days away, while simultaneously packing up bags in her parents’ bedroom and readying them to depart on another extended trip. They filled the bags with outfits and presents and alcohol, the exact same items they had unpacked just weeks earlier. Essentially, their entire bedroom was being disassembled, from the wardrobes and the cabinets to the covers on the pillows, making the room look more like an unused guest room. For how often they were gone, it sort of was one.
And of all places… they were going to Zahn again.
“And you can’t take me with you?” Emi asked. “You’re going to leave me behind again?”
Not that she wanted to go, especially not to the country where Lady Khara could show up at a moment’s notice. She was more offended that they hadn’t even had the nerve to warn her before they decided to go.
Her parents, thin and spry, youthful yet reserved, looked at her not like a daughter, but like a target for negotiations.
“We need someone to take care of the household, and you’re responsible enough to do it,” Father said. “You have earned your place in our family.”
Then why were they trying to marry her out of it…
“Though, you would certainly earn your place more solidly if you would ever clean up your room,” Mother added. “What are you building in there, a weapon?”
“I’m learning about mechanics,” Emi said.
“I’ll have Ms. Khami strike that off the curriculum,” Father said.
“It’s self study.” Neither of her parents faced her at this point, instead focusing their attentions on directing the servants who were packing either too many liquor bottles, or not enough. Neither deemed it necessary to respond to her, so she continued, asking, “And the party? You won’t even be here?”
This got Father’s attention, at least. He ran his hand through his slicked-back hair, as if pondering the appropriate response. “We tried to stay as long as we could,” he told her. “We wouldn’t be leaving before the Winter Ceremonies if it wasn’t important. You know how our work goes.”
“Do you at least know what it is, this time?”
“You know we can’t tell you that,” he said.
“And will you even be back in time to go to Mammoth Pass? Or is this another one of those months-long ordeals?”
“You know we don’t know that yet,” he said in the exact same tone.
“Yeah, alright. At least I’ll have Reo and Touma, I guess.”
Mother and Father looked at one another.
“Reo’s been called to the front lines for an engineering project. He couldn’t tell us more,” Father said. “He’ll be fine, I’m sure,” he added. “Nothing serious.”
Oh great, her brother was in grave danger, and she was expected to sit here like the calm and collected stoic she was apparently meant to be. Not fair at all.
“So I’ll have Touma, then. Great.” Touma and parties… Those two things mixed about as well as a greyback bear and a barrel of fish.
“We’ll make sure to get another letter from Lady Khara to deliver to you,” Mother told her. Another very important thing to add to make Emi feel better about herself. “That said, do you have your own letter to give to her?”
“Yes, I gave it to Ms. Khami,” Emi said.
She did write a letter responding to the flowery nothingness Lady Khara had first written her. It was a simple thank you note with as little emotion or opinion put into it as possible, and she explicitly made no mention of the impending wedding, as if to subtly discourage Lady Khara from going through with this foolish plan. This would eventually backfire when it turned out that Lady Khara had been utterly enthralled by Emi’s cutting curtness, but she had little way of knowing that just yet.
“Miss Khami!” Mother called out with that shrill voice she adopted when she yelled.
She entered the bedroom carrying a broom in hand. “Yes?”
“Emi’s letter, please.”
“Ah, here you go,” Ms. Khami said. “You are fortunate I did not mail the letter as I intended to later this afternoon.”
Mother took out her reading glasses and then unsealed the letter. Wait, why did she do that? That letter was not for prying– oh, whatever. She read the letter intently, making a “tch” every few seconds as she went through it. Finally, she looked up, put the letter back in its envelope, and shook her head. “I had thought your descriptive abilities were better than this,” she said. “This is not up to par.”
That was the point, but Emi was glad, in a perverse way, that Mother only saw it as weakness and not rebellion. It meant she wouldn’t have to actually explain herself. “I apologize, Mother. I will practice later.”
“If only we had the time to wait… Oh well. Lady Khara will soon get to know the real you.” She turned to Ms. Khami. “Please, teach our daughter better writing skills. No more of her mechanics, or whatever she’s studying.”
“Yes, of course,” Ms. Khami said, lowering her head slightly. “Emi, go to your room and I will hand you a new assignment soon.”
Oh, Gods, whatever.
She left the bedroom. The last thing she heard was her Father remark, “At least she seems like she’s in a better mood lately. I wonder what’s changed…”
Absolutely nothing, Father. Absolutely nothing.