The red tea in the cup had lost its warmth.
Marlene placed the teacup on the table and gazed through the window. Although it was past noon, it was already dusk. Even the other mercenaries were still not used to this odd time difference. However, they were fortunate that Rhode had thought of this when he was building the Fortress. He built a clock tower for timekeeping and it would ring once every morning, noon, and night. With this clock tower, everyone was able to adjust to the drastic time difference gradually.
Gazing at the scenery, Marlene rubbed her forehead gently. The operations of the Fortress had normalized and the only problem she had was when Marfa delivered the piece of paper informing her that Anne had escaped. However, Marlene wasn't too surprised as she knew Anne's character inside out. Marlene made adjustments swiftly, knowing that Marfa was honest and reliable, so she didn't worry too much about it.
However, this didn't mean that Marlene was clear of troubles... Although the operations were going well for the Fortress and there weren't any problems in the entire Paphield which required their assistance, Marlene was troubled over her personal issues, which were related to Canary.
Before Rhode left the Fortress, he wanted Canary and Marlene to manage the Fortress together. If it was in the past, Marlene would have been delighted. After all, she worked with Canary well and both of them were close to one another. Furthermore, Canary was knowledgeable and experienced in casting techniques, so she could even be considered Marlene's mentor.
However, after bumping into the 'act' of Canary and Rhode that fine day, Marlene felt embarrassed whenever she met Canary... Although she didn't consider herself Rhode's girlfriend, the thought of her man having the same relationship with another woman made her feel awkward. She didn't know how to face Canary and she thought that Rhode would clarify the situation to Canary or her. But, it seemed that Rhode had no intentions of doing so. As for Canary, Marlene sensed that she might have noticed that something was off too. However, Canary's attitude towards Marlene remained the same.
Could it be that because she isn't a living human, she is somewhat worried about this?
Marlene didn't feel that Canary would have such thoughts. However, she was worried because Rhode was no longer around to settle this issue and she had to act normally whenever she was alone with Canary. This troubled Marlene a lot and she didn't know if she should open up to Canary. But what should she even say?
"Sigh..." Marlene lowered her head and let out a long sigh. At this moment, someone knocked on the door. The young lady turned around and tidied the documents on her desk hurriedly. "Please come in."
The door opened and Canary stepped in with her usual, gentle smile. "Am I disturbing you, Miss Marlene?"
"Ah, no, I'm coming to an end," Marlene felt her body stiffened as soon as she witnessed Canary's smile. She forced out a smile in return and lowered her head, pretending to sort her documents. "What's the matter?"
"It's like this..." Canary gazed at Marlene and narrowed her eyes with a cheeky smile. She approached Marlene and handed over a stack of paper. "Rhode previously mentioned that he wants the mercenaries to practice battles at the distorted points. I've come up with a plan. Let me know if there is anything that you wish to amend."
"Alright, I will have a look later." Marlene took over the papers hurriedly and flipped over a few pages before leaving them at the side. However, Canary didn't leave instantly as Marlene expected. Instead, Canary smiled at her which left the young lady feeling ill at ease. "I-Is there anything else, Miss Canary?"
"It's nothing important... But..." Canary extended a finger and supported her chin. "I feel that Miss Marlene is acting rather strangely... So, I'm just curious... You stopped finding me for tea and also stopped discussing the problems of your casting techniques with me... Could it be that I didn't teach you well enough?"
"Ah, it's not like that." Marlene lifted her head and gestured in panic hurriedly. As a matter of fact, Canary's lectures in casting techniques were extremely practical and simple to understand. To put it bluntly, Marlene felt that the ten days she spent learning from Canary were much more useful than the two years of lessons she had received in the magic school. Marlene was finally able to confirm that Canary was indeed a wild Mage. Canary was clear and logical when it came to casting techniques for actual battles. However, Canary knew nothing regarding the nature of the power source and the special driving forces of these spells.
Marlene was astonished as she learned in the magic school that a Mage needed to first understand the power itself before one had the right to learn how to cast or grasp it. Canary's presence totally smashed the truth that Marlene had learned because she had no knowledge of the most basic foundation and core. She treated spells as spells and powers as powers separately, but she was so successful. If it were others, perhaps Marlene would have regarded that person as lucky. However, Canary was in the Legendary stage and luck itself couldn't bring anyone there. Marlene felt incredible that Canary's knowledge of magic powers stopped at the most basic of elemental attributes and power manifestations. Canary had zero knowledge of more profound knowledge, so how was she so skillful at spellcasting skills?
Marlene had questioned Canary but her response was "You may know how to fly a plane, but it is not necessary for you to know how to make a plane." Marlene was unable to comprehend such a statement. However, although she didn't know what a plane was, she more or less understood what Canary meant.
"So then, what's the reason?" Canary sat opposite Marlene, resting her elbows on the desk while pushing her hands against her cheeks, smiling cheekily. Marlene became flustered and her gaze wavered. In the end, Marlene took in a deep, long breath. She was an intelligent woman and she knew that Canary was here to discuss this problem with her. Marlene knew the stakes in raising this concern, so she had been hesitant in speaking up. Now that Canary had taken the initiative to speak to her, there was no need for Marlene to be so reserved anymore.
Marlene poured a cup of tea for Canary and herself before nodding at her. "It's about..."
"Rhode, right?" Canary continued Marlene's sentence cheekily, which caught the young lady by surprise. Marlene nodded in acknowledgment while Canary winked wittily and asked. "So then, Miss Marlene. What do you think of my relationship with Rhode?"
"Eh?" Marlene was baffled by her question because she didn't consider it before. Canary and Rhode's relationship? Based on what Marlene had seen, even if both of them weren't a couple, they must have been dating at the very least. However, even though both of them were close, there wasn't any intimate contact between them during normal interactions. Marlene's situation was somewhat unique as it wasn't only because she fancied Rhode, but because she also thought that it was her 'obligation' and 'responsibility'. In other words, even if Marlene didn't fancy Rhode, her own fate had decided that she needed to. Without a doubt, it was much better to be with a man that she liked and admired rather than a man she disliked.
However, Canary acted differently from Marlene. Canary didn't seem to be emotionally attached to Rhode but both of them seemed closer than normal friends. Yet they didn't seem to be couples either. At this moment, a term flashed in Marlene's mind. "That... I'm not too sure. But, Miss Gillian once told me that... you and Rhode are 'friends with benefits'..."
"Miss Foxy?" Canary widened her eyes in surprise, but she recovered her usual smile quickly. "Do you know what 'friends with benefits' is, Miss Marlene?"
Marlene shook her head as she had no idea what that term meant. Canary smiled cheekily at her reaction and leaned backwards. She folded her hands together and gazed at Marlene. For unknown reasons, Marlene was reminded of Rhode instantly as she noticed Canary's action. Although Canary and Rhode weren't alike, the feeling was surprisingly similar. Rhode always had an expression that was unchanging while Canary always had a beautiful smile. It was as though there wasn't anything in this world that was worth her anger or pain.
"Friends with benefits are... actually rather simple. Miss Marlene, when you have a friend you like, you look forward to chatting and enjoying tea time with the person, right?" Marlene nodded while Canary revealed a finger. "Rhode and I have a similar relationship, okay? But, whenever I want to be with him, I want to have something happier and more comfortable, just like what Miss Marlene saw that day."
"Ah..." Marlene blushed in embarrassment as she wasn't aware that Canary knew of her presence that day. But come to think of it, she possessed strength in the Legendary stage so it should be easy for her to detect Marlene... But...
"But this isn't what normal friends should do, right?" Marlene's tone harshened. As the daughter of a great noble family, she had heard of plenty hideous matters. Many noble ladies had graceful, ladylike appearances, but they were indulged in debauchery. This was especially so when they were at the age of yearning for love. Some of them with bad upbringing would find any noble male and engage in shameless activities. Some not only looked for men at noble gatherings; they even targeted the housekeepers in their own homes. Furthermore, some underclass nobles would even turn to their families. These people didn't do it for love; instead, they just felt comfortable doing so and didn't care what man they turned to. Marlene looked down on these people as they had no self-respect. Marlene always had a favorable impression of Canary and after listening to her explanation, her attitude stiffened as she felt this wasn't right.
"Of course not." Canary was aware of Marlene's views on this. However, she smiled gently, picked up the teacup on the table, and gazed at the red tea. "I was exhausted of my life. My family, friends, and many others held high expectations of me. But I wasn't able to resist. I can only work hard to achieve what everyone wants of me. This way, they would be happy and since they're happy, I'm happy too... But that isn't me at all."
Marlene was slightly astonished as she realized she could understand what Canary had gone through. After all, as the heir of her family, she was in a similar situation and at this point, she wasn't living for herself anymore.
"My relationship with Rhode was an accident and a coincidence. However, I gradually came to love this relationship. I love that comfortable sensation and being indulged in this happiness, forgetting about every trouble I have. Furthermore, it is only in times like this when I throw away the mask on me and face everything with my own feelings and thoughts. I don't have to act like the obedient girl my parents and others portrayed me to be and I can do whatever I want. Rhode has never seen me as a promiscuous woman without any morals. He has always respected and protected me, so I have no qualms being my most truthful self in front of him. I feel like this kind of relationship is great. But I have no intention of taking it to the next step because this is good enough. This relationship we have is the best for both me and Rhode." Canary explained further.
"Why?" Marlene asked curiously as she found it hard to understand. Canary seemed to like Rhode a lot so shouldn't they take it to a deeper stage? Although, strictly speaking, Canary wasn't a living human now, Marlene couldn't understand why would Canary make such a decision.
Canary extended her finger and placed it by her soft, pinkish lips. "Because there's no need to."
"No need to?" Marlene tilted her head as she couldn't understand what Canary meant.
But at this moment, Canary stood up. "I don't wish to explain too much, Miss Marlene. After all, this is my personal desire. I would like to maintain this relationship with Rhode and not take it further, because I know that I can't be the person that Rhode loves the most... Or perhaps, no one can become that person."
"But why?" Marlene questioned curiously.
Canary approached the door and placed her hand on the door handle. She turned around and gazed at Marlene. "Because you can never take over the position from someone who has left forever."
Once again, the gentle, graceful smile emerged on Canary's face. She exited and closed the door, leaving Marlene entranced and full of questions as she gazed at the closed door.