Cover by A. R. Shellnut
I’m getting this posted early this week. Hopefully that will make up for almost missing my deadline the past two weeks.
This chapter is a bit on the shorter side, but I enjoyed looking over it again and fixing it up. I hope you will enjoy it too.
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She slept for nine hours. Nine. She had not slept less than eight hours a night all week. She started keeping track as soon as she consistently found herself waking up utterly exhausted, thinking that she might be overextending herself with her current study schedule. She made sure she got at least eight hours of sleep a night now, and her energy levels remained consistently low.
Every day she woke up exhausted. The dark circles around her eyes grew worse every day. She was worried in part because she knew this was not healthy and partly because other people might start to notice something was wrong with her. That sort of attention and concern was the last thing she wanted or needed.
Her schedule allowed her about five whole minutes to worry each day. Unfortunately, that did not leave her enough time to do much more than see that she looked as exhausted as she felt. Worrying only made her feel worse so to a degree she was glad she was busy.
Something was wrong. She probably needed to see a doctor. That would take up even more time she did not have.
It might just be a cold. She resolved to take the time to get some cold medicine from the store before bed time tonight. That might end up taking as much time as seeing a doctor, but she did not think she could find the energy to make the effort to even make the call to get an appointment.
She wanted to believe she was exhausted from the start of a cold, but aside from having absolutely no energy regardless of how long she slept she did not have any of the symptoms she wold normally expect from a cold. Her nose was not stuffy. She did not have aches and pains she would normally associate with the start of an illness.
If this did not turn out to be a cold she was very concerned it might end up being the most dreaded of all teenage diseases: mono. Then she would not have much of a choice about going to see a doctor, but for now she wanted to avoid wasting her time by taking any extreme measures. A cold or some sort of long term exhaustion from her course load seemed likely rather than something more serious.
Unless her memory had started to fail her too she knew she could buy some over the counter cold medicine at the campus book store. They had a small pharmacy section that carried most items a typical college student might need to stock up on to take care of minor health concerns — adhesive bandages, Tylenol, and cold and allergy medicine. She could stop by the store and buy some without going too far out of her way today.
That fit into her schedule much better than the daunting hassle of getting an appointment penciled in with a doctor and then possibly having to get a ride from a friend to a pharmacy if the doctor decided she needed some sort of prescription. She had a feeling any doctor she spoke to would try to give her some sort of sleep aid since it was universally known that tired people need more sleep.
In her experience doctors had the same problem with selective hearing that plagued most adults more than a few years older than her. For some reason being young meant only half the words she said were worth hearing. She could imagine how it would play out: she would explain just how much sleep she had been getting lately and without even discussing other possible causes she would be handed a prescription for some sleep aid or another. Sleep aids were trendy after all. No one got enough sleep. Especially not college students with their wild parties four nights a week and what not. Never mind if the particular college student sitting on the examination table might be in bed every night by eleven or that the most wild thing she had done recently was kiss her boyfriend during a study date.
She knew her disdain for doctors might end up getting her in trouble or make her more sick than she might become otherwise, but she just could not see herself going to see one for just being tired for a while. Spending money to be told something that would do her no good would just be a waste.
If the cold medicine did not clear up whatever might be ailing her in a few days then she promised herself she would see a doctor. With no one else involved in the promise though she knew she could easily think up a way to get out of it. Eventually she knew she would think of something to try that would actually work.
The time had finally come for Yuzuki to wander further away from her new home. Souma had left her with some coins the last time he was home from his various quests for gainful employment. He asked her to buy some fabric and make them both some warmer clothing for the winter. She went along with the plan with only some trepidation. Her sewing skills were as underdeveloped as the rest of her abilities. Winter was still a long way off so she had hope that she could improve before warmer clothes were needed.
The garden hardly needed any attention from her at all. Souma used his powers to keep the crops happy and healthy. The tree house was almost fully furnished, and she felt silly rearranging everything over and over again. Wasting time in such an obvious manner seemed even more foolish once she finished her big personal project. She spent weeks gathering enough energy to enclose the entire tree in a pocket dimension. Now it was done and she had plenty of energy and very little to focus it on. In particular she needed something to keep herself busy while it was simply too rainy to venture outside. This clothing project would fit the bill nicely and keep her well occupied for a time. She wanted nothing more than to find a way to spend her time being useful.
She thought wandering out of sight of the tree house would be more alarming, but by now she was more than ready to see something new. The surrounding area had almost burned itself into her memory at this point and she could feel her mind growing bored with the monotony. She desperately needed a change of pace.
Walking through the woods she started to feel a little bit nervous dealing with unfamiliar territory, but she had a mission to complete and that was enough to keep her feet headed in the right direction. It was not a short walk by any means, but after walking for days on end to reach this place she considered almost any distance traversable. Even a walk of over an hour seemed like a stroll to her mind. Her feet were still of a different opinion.
Upon reaching the village she felt as though she already knew it. Souma had done such a good job describing it to her the dozens of times she had asked about it. He refused to tell her about most the places he went and the things that he saw and she could not help asking him to tell her over and over again of the things that he was willing to report to her. Thanks to this second hand knowledge she already felt comfortable walking down the wide lane that served as the village’s main street. She knew the buildings as soon as she saw them thanks to Souma’s descriptions.
As she passed the small tavern a sudden chill ran up and down her spine. The feeling was inexplicable but she knew in her gut she was being watched. It was an eerie sensation, and one that she was completely unused to experiencing after weeks in isolation. As much as she hated the flip flop feeling in her stomach, it was not so intolerable as to prevent her from completing the job she had walked all this way to do. She knew she would never go anywhere near a tavern so she hoped that feeling would not get any worse. Just as she hoped, the feeling started to fade as she passed the tavern by.
Just as had been described to her, the modest general store was almost in the very center of town. With hardly any money in her pocket she could not afford to be distracted. She knew the money was intended for fabric and it would not do to waste any of it on something frivolous.
Inside she had to resist the urge to look at the food they had for sale near the entrance. The garden provided them with plenty of food at home, but of course all of the special treats were presented in the forefront of the store. Avoiding it all by hurrying to the back of the store to inquire about the fabrics available for sale was the only way she could trust herself in the store. She missed sweets and even standing near them might prove to be too much of a temptation.
Her decisive way of handling the storekeeper surprised even her. She got the fabrics she needed in no time at all, and she even managed to knock the price down a little bit. All in all she considered the trip nothing less than a success, but once she stepped outside the store she found herself experiencing that feeling of being watched all over again. This time it gave her a sick feeling in her stomach.
She had no choice but to endure the feeling. The tavern stood between her and the way home. She clutched her bundle of supplies to her chest and gathered up all of her courage to walk calmly out of town. Walking by the tavern nauseated her, and even after she passed it by she still felt chills race up and down her spine.
There was no way to tell what caused her to feel this way. She certainly did not care to stick around to investigate further. Her gut told her someone was watching her with less than kind intentions. She could not explain how she knew it, but knowing was enough to keep her moving. The last time she felt this way was when her father was giving her his unnerving stare downs during the last few weeks before she ran away. No amount of curiosity could convince her that an investigation was merited in this case.
A wave of pure terror struck her as soon as she thought of her father. Her legs nearly gave out under her and she had to stop walking and steady herself. All of her thoughts latched onto the sudden, terrifying feeling that her father was here and watching her. Nothing could justify this feeling, but she still could not shake it.
She wanted to run. She wanted to hide. She knew that neither would save her if her father really was here and watching her right now.
After a few moments while her heart stopped racing and she brought her breathing back under control she decided the only course of action before her was to behave completely out of character. All she could think to do was emulate Souma and leave with a cool, calm demeanor that would belie her actual feelings.
The walk home did little to settle her nerves. She struggled to appear calm while her anxiety tore her up inside. For a whole hour she kept up the ruse of being cool, calm and collected while she walked the home. It was the most draining trip she ever made in her life.
Once she made it home, she climbed up into the tree, dropped her parcel on the floor and climbed right into bed.
Although emotionally drained, she was too frightened to fall asleep properly. Her nerves settled down, but her thoughts continued to focus on what she had felt back in the town. She spent the rest of the day hiding in bed and hoping against hope that her feeling had been completely and utterly wrong.