Chapter 153: A Game Of Hearts

“Sir Ashura…?” → Bernard
“S-sis?!” → Fiora

At that moment, Bernard and Fiora walked together toward the same school with more materials in their hands. Bernard carrying huge boxes made of clay stacked on top of another, while Fiora carried two filled bags the same as Freia’s. Both of them were now completely stunned after they saw Ashura and Freia on the ground, one on top of the other with Ashura grabbing at her tails with a mean smile on while Freia gasping and moaning seemingly excited. And of course, they weren’t the only ones, the bystanders who carried items toward the school, or simply strolled around those roads, were now completely stunned as they stared at the two with deep red faces, some with wide grins while some of the younger ones trying to hide their faces, peeking through their fingers. Many adults nodded with a Not Bad face on, while some women shook their heads revolted at such actions in broad daylight. Fiora also had a deep blush on her face, her tails completely furred from the embarrassment, while Bernard had an expression of interest, nodding in approval at Ashura.

A true man must show dominance. However, he must also find the perfect place and time for that. → Bernard

“All in all, I can’t agree with your actions, young Ashura. And you’d rather wait for at least another two years, or until you’re married. The less you’ll do a mistake you might feel sorry for.” → Bernard
“H-hold on! What are you talking about?!” → Fiora

Fiora asked Bernard stupefied then she turned at the two who just understood what they were doing, their faces turning bright red.

“And both of you! Get up from the ground, now!” → Fiora

A few moments later, both of them were dragged by Fiora inside an empty classroom and scolded thoroughly for showing such indecency in public. Bernard was also there, looking with plain eyes at the blushing Fiora who was severely scolding the two. For some reason, he was also dragged there, feeling like he was wasting time when he could’ve now continued his work on fortifying this new kingdom created by Sylvia.

“-and you were doing such things on school-ground no less! How would I answer as a teacher if a child suddenly asked me: teacher, were those two trying to mate just now? Seriously… Think about your surroundings as well!” → Fiora

Ashura and Freia both sat down on chairs, with their heads lowered, avoiding eye contact for as much as possible. Freia was hugging her tails with a  deep blush on, her ears lowered from embarrassment, while Ashura tried to forget what happened by staring at the window, his deep blush making everyone aware of his thoughts even if his face was expressionless.

“…”

They both said nothing, but not because they were thinking of the wrong they did, but mostly because they were unable to even hear of what Fiora was telling them for 10 minutes already. And the one who talked till now was well aware of that. Seeing how the two of them gave her no mind, Fiora’s irritation simply evaporated like smoke, making for her furred tails and raised ears to suddenly drop, feeling completely helpless.

This also happened with the children in my class… Even though they are studying properly, they would always have to chat and play in class, making me unable to properly keep my classes… → Fiora

Haaaah~…. Nevermind then, you two are free to go. Just please refrain from doing such things again.” → Fiora
“Yes…”

They both answered together with burning red faces, then left the classroom, Freia through the door while Ashura through the window, both wishing to go and cool down their heads.

With a defeated air around her, Fiora fell back on her chair as only her and Bernard remained inside the classroom. Bernard stared at her, already sleepy from all that scolding she had to give the two, then wanted to ask if he could leave as well until he saw her saddened expression. Unsure of what he should do, he still asked her the question he would normally say when he saw one of his comrades as sad or spiritless.

“So, uhm… Wanna grab a drink?” → Bernard

He felt somewhat awkward for asking a woman to go and drink with him, especially one over which he also had feelings for but tried to hide it.

Fiora then looked his way somewhat confused.

S-should I have not invited her to a drink-…? ah. W-wait. She’s not thinking that I wish to get her drunk and then take advantage of it, is she? I need to correct my words, fast. → Bernard

“B-by drink, I meant just some juice…? Er… while at it, maybe we could eat something as well? It is time for the cafeteria to open as well, so…” → Bernard

Then silence befell both of them once again. With his ears flopped and sweat dripping from his forehead, Bernard felt even more awkward as he didn’t know what else to say.

T-there must be a problem with me today. I embraced many women in my life but never had I such difficulty in socializing with any of them, not even when I did it the first time. → Bernard

“I-I’ll better go and continue working. Sorry for the bother.” → Bernard

He turned around and with his head lowered Bernard wished to leave, the less he made a fool out of himself. Just as he made the first step, Fiora’s soft voice resounded from the back.

“Are you… trying to cheer me up?” → Fiora
“Uhm… Wasn’t I obvious enough?” → Bernard

At first surprised, after hearing her question Bernard felt like laughing and despairing at the same time. Right before he could turn around, two white and slender arms warped around his waist and held strongly onto him, making for Bernard to feel a warm and soft little body press on his tall and wide back.

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“Hm?” → Bernard

Taken by surprise, Bernard remained still and waited for her to explain herself, not trying to get out from her embrace but neither wanting to respond, still unaware of the reason why she did such.

Fiora then finally opened her mouth, seemingly relieved for some reason.

“You know? I thought that you started hating me for a moment…” → Fiora
“Err what?” → Bernard

The words she said left Bernard momentarily confused. He was unable to understand why she would think this way. However, before asking, Fiora continued.

“Since the time we started building this kingdom you began to distance yourself from me… Whenever I wished to converse with you, you would give out only short answers and rush to get away from me. Even back when the war finished…” → Fiora

You didn’t even look my way… → Fiora

She knew well just how selfish she was by telling Bernard all of this, but she was simply too frustrated as to why he was so cold with her. It wasn’t that he was antisocial, because Bernard would always talk normally with any other person, be them male or female from inside the kingdom, only with her seeming somewhat cold and distant.

Fiora’s worries were reasonable. Since the moment they arrived in this place and started building the kingdom, Bernard evaded her and when she tried to get closer to him, he would simply shorten the conversations to a bare minimum, always a plain expression on his face and sleepy eyes. At first, Fiora thought that he might have been fed up with her teasing, later to ask him and hear from him that he wasn’t mad at her or anything like that. At first, confused, Fiora became even frustrated at one point, unable to understand why Bernard was evading her if he wasn’t mad. Now that he tried to cheer her up, Fiora finally found an opening and tried to use everything she had on finding out the main cause.

“Why Bernard… Just why were you so cold to me all this time? Are you sure you’re not mad at me?” → Fiora

Momentarily silent, with a heavy voice Bernard asked:

“But why do you mind me so much?” → Bernard
“Eh?” → Fiora

Fiora froze for a moment and let him go. She made a step back and with wide-open eyes, she stared at the floor.

Why… I mind him that much…? → Fiora

Fiora stared at the ground, completely dazed, then Bernard turned around and both looked at one another. His eyes shone with conflicted feelings as if he tried his best to keep himself in check, while her eyes shone with confusion and even curiosity. She then asked back, her confusion the same.

“Then… Why did you try to soothe me? You could’ve ignored me the same as always.” → Fiora

Her question made Bernard open his eyes in surprise but then he tried to evade eye contact.

“Let’s just say that it’s from a change of heart.” → Bernard
“Change of heart? Why?” → Fiora
“I asked one of your questions. Now, it’s your turn.”  → Bernard
“Buu~…” → Fiora

Bernard crossed his arms, his lips sealed while Fiora pouted unpleased. However, she still tried to think of a reason as to why she cared that much about Bernard’s thoughts of her. Seeing her completely silent and deep in thought, Bernard then asked something else.

“When King Ryu asked us if we’re together, why did you get so embarrassed when he was only joking?” → Bernard
“Eh? U-uhm~ anyone would get embarrassed once asked if they’re l-lovers… right?” → Fiora

At first, she was surprised by the sudden question but Fiora still answered obediently. She then straightened her posture and asked back

“N-now is your turn! Why the change of heart?” → Fiora
“I had a conversation with Sir Gerome… About my past and the mistakes I did… Together with the mistakes I’m still doing in thinking that I’m making a service to the ones around me when in truth I’m making no one happy.” → Bernard
“Eh? W-what do you mean?” → Fiora
“That was one answer. Now, it’s your turn.” → Bernard
“Uuuh~! Fine! Ask away!” → Fiora

Fiora stepped hard as her tails waved from frustration and curiosity, while Bernard couldn’t help but smile. They unintentionally started a game of question and answer through which they can show their thoughts and feelings to one another. Bernard then asked with a calm expression.

“I see, so it was normal to be embarrassed that one time? Then, if it was Jack by your side that one time. Would you have felt just as embarrassed?” → Bernard
“W-what question is that? Hmm…” → Fiora

She thought for a moment and a complicated expression resurfaced on her face.

“I… I don’t think so…? I think I would’ve taken it as a joke from the very beginning.” → Fiora
“I see.” → Bernard

Bernard smiled slightly and stared downwards. He felt sorry for Jack who loved Fiora since a while now, but he couldn’t help his own heart for feeling the same as him. Fiora observed his expression and took a step forward, staring into his eyes out of curiosity while unconsciously, her heart-beat started to rush.

“N-now… What mistakes were you talking about? Just what is this change of heart that seems to affect only your relation with me…?” → Fiora

She asked while a little blush appeared on her face. Seeing her sparkling blue eyes stare at him so intently made Bernard lose himself in her gaze for a second, remaining momentarily dazed. He then closed his eyes and turned his head.

“The reason why it affects only you… Is because you’re the main reason for my worries. And the mistakes I made… let’s say that I did things that would only embarrass the person by my side. My honor has long since been stained, while my pride… I have no right to talk about it.” → Bernard
“I-I’m the main reason…? And…” → Fiora

Just what did you do in your past? → Fiora

Fiora was unable to ask as she felt like Bernard was hiding things from her that he tried his best to bury inside his heart. Things that he’ll never be able to accept with a straight back and whole heart.

“Yes… Now, one question each. For mine, you don’t really need to answer.” → Bernard

“Eh?” → Fiora

With a rare mild smile, Bernard gazed at Fiora’s surprised face once again, this time making her stare in a daze at him. Bernard then continued, now with more courage than the last times.

“I heard you refused everyone who asked for your hand, the number reaching to almost half the male population of the entire kingdom. I knew your beauty could start wars, but I’m starting to worry if it would even start a civil one.” → Bernard
“P-please don’t tease me!…” → Fiora

Bernard felt like laughing while Fiora’s cheeks reddened as her ears dropped from the embarrassment. She then heard Bernard’s question which made her look at him in complete shock.

“If I were to ask for your hand as well, would I have a chance?” → Bernard
“…What…?” → Fiora

Fiora froze in place as she stared at Bernard’s mild but firm expression. She never saw him with such a soft yet serious expression on. For a second Fiora was unsure of what to do, feeling like Bernard in front of her was someone else entirely. This didn’t mean that she now found him repulsive, it was simply that, after being so distant and cold towards her, suddenly showing warmth and kindness, was something she was unable to accept in such a short moment. Bernard then asked with a wide smile, trying to get rid of the pressure Fiora felt at the moment.

“Did you just ask a question? Should I take that as your last one?” → Bernard
“Huh? Eh?! N-no! Wait! Alright! I’ll ask my question now! U-uhm~ W-what was your past- N-no! Wait, not that! Err~… “ → Fiora

Flustered by Bernard’s sudden confession, Fiora’s thoughts twisted and swirled. She then asked without thinking too much about it:

“Y-you said I’m the main reason for your worries, r-right? What were you talking about?” → Fiora
“…”

At her rushed question, Bernard simply crossed his arms to his chest, closed his eyes then opened his mouth, speaking aloud his thoughts.

“You are indeed the reason for my worries. You’re of age and you didn’t choose a man yet, even though almost every unmarried warrior of Antara asked for your hand. You’re thinking so much about others that you’re forgetting about yourself. I really wonder when was the last time you did something for yourself? Even the spells you learned so far were only so you could have material to teach the children, am I right? Also, on our constant battles against the beasts, especially against Thanatos’ army, just how many times did you had to rush in between a beast’s attack and a defenseless person to save them? You really know how to make one worry. Let’s also not forget that one-moment when-…” → Bernard

As Bernard continued on with his nagging, Fiora stared at him baffled, feeling like he was scolding her with a straight face. He then stopped and opened his eyes, a glint of conflicted feelings visible in his eyes.

“You’re just like a holy mother for most, and like a pure maiden for every man… And exactly such a divine beauty has to get her heart set aflutter by a worthless man like me. How else can I feel if not worried for you and your future?” → Bernard
“A-aflutter?” → Fiora

She reddened again and thought for a moment, her confusion seeming to clear. Bernard then asked again the very first question he asked.

“Now I’ll ask again: Why do you mind me so much?” → Bernard
“…Ugh…” → Fiora

After the little play of ask and answer, Fiora’s disordered feelings finally reached a conclusion. Hearing his question, she glanced his way only to feel her heart beat faster. She finally understood what she was feeling.

“Like…” → Fiora

Her little lips parted as a hushed word evaded her mouth. Bernard’s ears twitched but were unable to get what she just said.

“Excuse me?” → Bernard

He asked again then she raised her head with a firm expression. An expression that was just as foreign to Bernard as it was his to Fiora a while back. She emanated a mature aura while her serious eyes shone with resolution and understanding.

“I like you- no. I love you, Bernard. That’s why I can’t handle it when you’re ignoring and avoiding me…” → Fiora

Her ears dropped again as she instinctively started to hug her own tails. Even so, her eyes still shone with an unwavering resolution, trying to explain her own feelings in full.

“I feel weird but calm every time you’re by my side. I wish to talk with you, to walk with you, to touch your hands! I don’t know why you’re saying of yourself as being worthless when you’re one of the pillars of this kingdom, someone that almost everyone inside Antara looks up to and respects, me as well! Bernard, I think you’re the only one who looks down on yourself. So please stop saying you’re worthless…” → Fiora

Seeing her like this, Bernard’s eyes shone with conflicted feelings, then sighed out, a mild smile on his face.

“Yeah… I know. And I also love you, Fiora. Don’t stop doing what you like. Don’t stop being a teacher because everyone loves you. But with confidence I can say that I do the most.” → Bernard

In the end, he tried to forget about his worries and try to step over his own past, over his own mistakes. Bernard then gazed at his own hands and thought to himself.

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Old Gerome, if you were able to get over your tragic past, then why should I weaver with mine? You said it: the past is unchanging, but the future can always be built the way we wish. → Bernard

Suddenly Bernard observed how two slender pair of fingers closed in and held onto his two burly and rough hands, lightly tapping onto his palms, as if trying to massage and calm the tense nerves. Right after, Fiora’s calm and melodic voice resounded in Bernard’s ears.

“You’re overthinking again, right?” → Fiora

He looked upwards and saw a brilliant smile with two smiling eyes staring at him in affection.

“You always had to think and think and worry and think again. Then stress over a solution and search for the best option, always jumping from one plan to another until you find the best and most efficient one, only to think and over think again and to see if it really was the best option and if there couldn’t be a better plan, better than the best.” → Fiora

It was Fiora’s turn to laugh at Bernard’s shortcomings and make him feel baffled. Even so, her hands still held him firmly as she then closed on to him with a step, both looking at each other with warm gazes.

“This time I’ll ask of you to stop thinking, and do as your heart speaks…” → Fiora

She then looked upwards and closed her eyes as Bernard felt his heart pulsating strongly, his mind cloudy. He already knew what to do and what she wished for. He lightly held her by the shoulders and closed in. Feeling his gentle yet firm arms holding her, Fiora’s eyelashes started to tremble as her ears dropped, slightly afraid of the unknown. Her tails in her hug, seemingly like a restless child waiting either for a reward, or for her punishment.

“…Fiora.” → Bernard
“Hm~?…!?!”

Bernard called out her name and Fiora opened one of her eyes. Right then Bernard lightly kissed her on the forehead then patted her head in affection.

“Bernard…?” → Fiora

With a bright blush, Fiora looked up at him, somewhat confused by the child-like treatment. With a calm expression, Bernard answered back in a serious manner.

“I understand your confusion. But Fiora, if I wish to truly treasure you then I better don’t take rough steps from the start. As someone said to me before: Stone by stone the mountains grow. I wish for our… err… feelings to remain the same even after thousands of years in the future. Slowly but surely, to cultivate our feelings for each other as we have all the time we wish.” → Bernard
“Feelings…? You mean love?” → Fiora
Ahem, yes.” → Bernard

Slightly embarrassed, Bernard turned around and prepared to leave.

“Well, I helped out with what you asked me to do. If there’s nothing else to do then I’ll return to my work.” → Bernard

Not even after one step and Fiora rushed right in front of him, blocking his way with a revolted and blushing face on. At her sudden moves, Bernard stared at her confused, then asked calmly.

“… So… May I help you with something else?” → Bernard
“…You just invited me to eat something. Are you going to forget about it just like that?” → Fiora
“Ah.” → Bernard

He truly forgot while Fiora pouted in indignation at his forgetfulness. Seeing her cute reactions, Bernard was unable to control himself as he immediately took a hold of her and raised her in a princess carry.

“Up we go!” → Bernard
“Kya?!” → Fiora

Fiora shouted surprised as Bernard raised her then jumped outside the window, just the same as Ashura did. Even though it was the third floor, such a small distance was nothing for a Grandmaster like Bernard. He then placed her down and asked for her hand.

“Now, shall we?” → Bernard
“… You’re surprisingly energetic.” → Fiora
“You’ll see even Mingzhi jumping and whistling once in a good mood, even though he’s the oldest inside this entire kingdom.” → Bernard

Both of them chatted in high spirit while walking toward the cafeteria, going around the stone city and walking beside the wood manufactures. Right on the way, Jack saw them and the planks in his arms all fell together, attracting the attention of everyone around.

“Jack? Is there a problem?” → Shishu

Shishu asked confused after seeing his normally always lively face, now with a few shades paler and with unfocused eyes while clumsily trying to take back all the planks he dropped.

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