Chapter 27 can be read below the cut.
Veitlen was fine with the lack of sleep at first, but it quickly started affecting him. He was drowsy all through his classes, spent most of his lunch trying not to fall asleep, and had an exceptionally difficult time walking to his swordfighting class without falling over.
It didn’t get any better during the class, where he was rudely startled into complete awakeness by Juno hitting him in the face with a wooden practice sword.
“What the hell are you zoning out for?” Juno demanded.
Veitlen looked down at his practice sword on the ground, rubbing his face. “Why the fuck did you do that?” he demanded.
“Answer me first!” said Juno. She set a hand on her hip.
“I’m tired. I didn’t get much sleep last night,” said Veitlen. He frowned at her. “That’s seriously it.”
Juno narrowed her eyes at him. “You’ve been tired before and never been this out of it,” she said. “I don’t believe that excuse. That’s not something I’ve ever seen from you before. Is it that you’re distracted by whatever shit it is you Avatars think about?”
“What,” said Veitlen flatly.
“What do you even have to think about?” Juno asked. “It’s not like you’re doing anything important. Avatar Chanda hasn’t, like, appointed you to some government position in secret, has she?”
“No! I wouldn’t agree to something like that,” said Veitlen. “I’m just bothered by…other things.”
Juno made a disgusted expression. “Bothered by other things,” she repeated.
“Don’t say it like that!” Veitlen protested. “It’s not something I can talk about with you. Or anyone else.”
“So it is Avatar shit, isn’t it?” said Juno.
“It doesn’t matter what it is! I don’t want to talk about it!” said Veitlen.
“Of course it doesn’t fucking matter what it is! It matters that you aren’t paying any attention to what’s going on around you!” Juno shot back.
“Could you two do this outside or something?” Ariana asked. Veitlen and Ariana both looked over at her. “People are starting to stare at you.”
Swordfighting practice was over twenty minutes later. Veitlen and Juno had managed to stay quiet the whole time except for exchanging a few necessary words. Ariana (and some of the other students) seemed to be relieved by that, which made Veitlen wonder just how distracting his and Juno’s regular arguing was.
“Why’d you decided to come back to the Academy?” Juno asked as they were putting their equipment away.
Veitlen eyed her suspiciously. “What are you trying to accomplish by asking that?” he said.
“What the hell do you mean by that!?” Juno asked. She looked offended. “I’m asking a question. I want you to give me an answer!”
“Coming from you, I don’t particularly trust that,” said Veitlen. “I’m sure you have some kind of ulterior motive.”
“Just answer my fucking question!” Juno hissed.
Veitlen pulled his gym bag out of the locker. “Well, what else am I going to do with my time?” he said. “Sit in my room and twiddle my thumbs all day, thinking about ‘Avatar things’?” He dropped the bag onto a bench. “I don’t even know which god I’m an Avatar of. And I’m not working in the government like Chanda. I can’t do anything she does.”
He looked back at Juno to see an incredulous expression on her face. “You don’t even know which one you are?” said Juno. “I thought it wasn’t in the paper because you were keeping it secret.”
“No, we seriously have no idea at the moment,” said Veitlen. “Hold on, why are you even asking this? The other gods don’t even have names in Rennukat.”
“That doesn’t mean they don’t exist,” said Juno.
Ariana cleared her throat and pointed toward the rest of the room with her hand. Veitlen and Juno both looked to see that there was no one left. Even the instructor had stepped into her office.
“We should probably leave now,” she said. “Y’know, since everyone else is gone and Nessa probably wants to leave soon.”
The three of them left hurriedly after that. Juno and Ariana exchanged some inconsequential chit-chat, and Veitlen walked in silence behind them, staring up at the sky.
“Thanks for being your normal self, Juno,” he said absently.
“Excuse me?” asked Juno. She looked genuinely confused.
Ariana muttered something under her breath. Veitlen thought he heard “not again”, but he wasn’t entirely sure.
“Seriously, what do you mean by that?” Juno said again when Veitlen didn’t answer. She still looked confused.
Veitlen grinned. Juno recoiled, grimacing. “What the fuck? What is this? What the hell are you doing? Are you having some kind of weird Avatar realization?” she demanded.
Veitlen looked away, still smiling. “I’m feeling better now. Thanks, Juno,” he said.
“Did I hit you too hard?” Juno questioned. “Do you have brain damage now?”
She didn’t say anything else, and lagged behind Veitlen and Ariana as they walked down the street. The three of them walked in silence for a couple of minutes before Ariana broke the silence. “Veitlen,” she said quietly. “Can I ask you something?”
“Hm?” said Veitlen.
Ariana frowned. “Why did you decide to come back to the Academy? I understand why Nym did it since she wants to work with the archaeologists here, but you don’t have any kind of goal or plan like that. It doesn’t make much sense to me,” she said.
Veitlen stared back at her, an incredulous expression on his face. “Wow. Thanks so much, Ari. That makes me feel so good about myself.” He rolled his eyes and leaned in closer to her, speaking more quietly. “In all seriousness…I literally do not have anything else to do with my life. I mean, I could go and work full time as a cook at my job, but that isn’t particularly appealing.”
He shook his head. “I still have no idea what I want to do with my life. Learning that I’m an Avatar hasn’t changed that at all. I don’t think it will in the future, either. So, here I am,” he said.
Ariana didn’t look convinced. “So you’re just going to keep hunting with us?” she said. “You’re not even going to consider anything else?”
“Yeah,” said Veitlen.
Ariana raised an eyebrow. “Is it even okay for an Avatar to kill demons? That seems…not allowed.”
“It’s not like I’ve been punished so far for doing it,” Veitlen scoffed. “Maybe I can use this to my advantage and figure out why demons are attracted to witches.”
Ariana frowned at him, but didn’t say anything else. Juno split off from them to walk home a couple of minutes later. At that point, Ariana turned to Veitlen like she was going to ask him a question. She even got as far as opening her mouth before shaking her head and turning away again.
“I’ll see you later, Veitlen,” said Ariana before they went their separate ways.
As the months passed, Veitlen’s life slowly returned to how it had been before. People eventually stopped staring at him when he went out. He went to his classes at the Academy, kept going to swordfighting classes with Ariana and Juno, and went on a couple of hunts with the other dark-aligned students.
He met up with Nymue a couple of times, who was still engrossed in her research. She was still trying to rope Rahka into helping her, which Rahka noted with increasing annoyance every time Veitlen went to visit him.
“That’s what I’m going to do,” said Veitlen. He sat cross-legged on the ground in front of Rahka. The glass separator was pushed aside and he’d left the door to the hallway open.
“Huh,” said Rahka. He rubbed his chin. “I’m not gonna say that you’re making a bad decision, but it sure is a weird one. No one’s ever done this before. Don’t come complaining to me when you inevitably regret it.”
“I don’t think I will,” said Veitlen.
Rahka looked skeptical. He tilted his head back. “I don’t believe that,” he said.
“Come on!” said Veitlen. “I’ve thought this over for literal months!”
Rahka looked away, and Veitlen’s hopes rose. “Hm,” said Rahka. He looked back at Veitlen and pointed at him. “Nope. I don’t believe you.”
“Seriously?” said Veitlen irritably. “It’s not like I can make things worse for myself than they already are.”
“I suppose that’s true,” said Rahka, “though I’d honestly rather not find out for myself.”
Veitlen stood up. “I need to go tell Chanda,” he said.
“Seriously? Why?” Rahka asked.
Veitlen gave him a quizzical look. “I won’t be working for her any longer, obviously,” he said. “Although I haven’t actually been doing any work for her for the past year.”
“You still haven’t found the last witch?” Rahka asked.
“Nope,” said Veitlen. “There isn’t a single person alive who’s been documented to have a red coral spirit weapon. If they even exist, they’re either too young or they live in the middle of nowhere. Just like Morgaine.”
Veitlen said his goodbyes to Rahka and made his way over to the Palace. He’d told Chanda in advance that he would be talking to her today, but hadn’t given her a time frame. Thankfully, she was in the lobby when he arrived.
After explaining his decision to her, she raised an eyebrow. “You haven’t done a single thing since last August, and you want to stop working for me?” she said. “Veitlen, you haven’t been working. There’s nothing for you to stop doing.”
Veitlen raised his hands. “I know. But I really won’t be working for you now,” he said.
Chanda tapped her chin. “Are you sure you want to do this? It’s never been done before,” she said.
“Rahka said the same thing,” said Veitlen. He gestured with one of his hands. “But I should be able to get away with it, right? It’s not like there’s anything physically preventing me from doing anything.”
Chanda looked skeptical. “You’ll probably be able to convince the populace that you’re doing the right thing, but you’ll be paying for every single murder in hell,” she said.
“I know. I was prepared to do that when I was first conscripted. That’s why I didn’t refuse it,” said Veitlen. “Everyone from my home village kills demons their whole lives. If I’d ended up living there longer, I wouldn’t be doing anything different.”
Chanda smiled slightly. “Well, you’ve certainly thought this out more than I thought you would,” she said.
Veitlen’s face twitched. “Um…bit of a backhanded compliment there.”
Chanda brightened up, ignoring Veitlen’s comment entirely. “I wish you the best of luck with your endeavors, Avatar Veitlen,” she said. Her smile widened.
Veitlen suddenly started feeling uncomfortable. “Yeah, thanks,” he said. The words came out a bit too quickly, and Chanda raised an eyebrow at him.
Veitlen shook his head. “I’m fine,” he said.
Juno, Ariana, and Veitlen stood in the hall in front of Daidlis’s office. Ariana and Juno both looked dumbfounded.
“Is that allowed?” Juno asked.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” said Ariana. “Are you sure you’ve thought about it enough?”
Veitlen sighed. “Yes, Ari, I’ve thought about it enough.”
“I-” Juno started.
“You-” said Ariana at the same time.
“No, no, no!” Veitlen interrupted. “I’ve been thinking about this since the beginning of the year! Don’t lecture me! I know this is best for-”
The door opened, bumping Ariana in the back. She skittered out of the way. Nymue stood there with a letter in her hand, looking rather surprised to see all of them standing there.
“Veitlen, Ariana, Juno? What are the three of you doing here?” Nymue asked.
“We’re here for moral support! For Ari!” Veitlen said excitedly. He punched the air.
“No, we’re not,” said Juno flatly.
Ariana pointed to the letter in Nymue’s hand. “I’m here to pick mine up,” she said.
“Oh, thats great!” said Nymue, smiling at Ariana.
Daidlis appeared in the doorway behind Nymue, frowning in confusion at the four of them. He slowly held out a letter toward Ariana. “Ariana Rhodynn, here’s your official acceptance letter into the archeology program,” he said.
“Ooh!” said Ariana. She took the letter with both hands and stared down at it reverently.
“Wow, look at that. Congrats,” said Juno.
“So…are you all going to stand here? Or are you going to leave?” Daidlis asked, still standing in the doorway.
The four of them moved down the stairs and into the labyrinth of hallways on the ground floor. “Juno and I need to talk to Professor Rhodynn. I guess we’ll meet up with you later,” said Veitlen.
The door to Riskiara’s office was open. “Professor Rhodynn! Are you here?” Veitlen called.
Riskiara sat behind her desk, looking bemused. “I wouldn’t leave my door open if I wasn’t,” she said. “And yes, I do have your acceptance letters.”
She held the letters out to the two of them in one hand. Veitlen reached out for his, while Juno kept her hands by her sides.
“When does hunting season start?” Juno asked.
“A couple of weeks, but neither of you will be starting out on hunts,” said Riskiara. Veitlen took his letter from her and started opening it.
“What? Why not?” Juno asked. She seemed to realize she sounded too demanding, and continued in a calmer tone. “What are we going to be doing?”
“Typical guard work. Everyone starts out there,” said Riskiara.
Juno looked offended for a moment, then settled into a more normal-looking frown. Riskiara was still holding the letter out for her. “But we’ve already been going on hunts for a year and a half,” she said.
“No one hunts 24/7. Guard work is an important part of your military duties,” said Riskiara. “Torressa, please take the letter and find out where you’re going to be assigned.”
Veitlen looked up from his letter. “Torrennu Markki is my capitan? I think I know zem,” he said.
“Yes, you’re both on Capital Markki’s squad,” said Riskiara.
Juno finally took the letter from Riskiara and looked down at it, frowning. “Is this just an acceptance letter, or are we supposed to go somewhere?” she asked.
“It’s just a letter,” said Veitlen.
“You’ll receive further instructions through the mail in the next few days,” said Riskiara.
Juno looked disappointed. “So I don’t get to do anything for a while,” she said.
“These things take a while, Torressa,” said Riskiara, looking baffled. “You need to be patient.”
Juno was silently fuming the whole time she and Veitlen walked away from Riskiara’s office. Veitlen looked at her warily as they exited the Academy. “Why are you so upset about this? Are you really that eager to get back to hunting?” he asked.
Juno looked at him like she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “Yes,” she said through clenched teeth.
“Um, Juno,” said Veitlen. “You know…that kind of bloodthirsty mentality is, uh, not great for your soul.”
“Don’t start this shit with me, Veitlen!” said Juno. She pointed at him. “You can’t lecture me now that you’re an Avatar!”
“It’s kinda what I’m supposed to do, though,” said Veitlen. “I think,” he added in a quieter voice.
“Ugh,” said Juno. “Is this how it’s gonna fucking be from now on? You’re gonna be all preachy?”
“Only if you’re going to say that kind of concerning thing,” said Veitlen.
Veitlen sat at the dinner table, poking at his food with a fork. Asha was working late tonight, so it was just him and Ellis. He stared off into space, wide-eyed, wondering just when and why he’d decided it was a good idea to give out advice.
“Veitlen, are you feeling okay?” Ellis asked.
“I’m…I’m not sure what sort of Avatar I want to be in public,” said Veitlen.
Ellis looked confused. “I don’t think I can help you with that,” he said. He started frowning. “Shouldn’t you be thinking about what sort of person you want to be instead? Being an Avatar is secondary to being a human. You don’t need to be like Avatar Chanda and offer advice to people. You should live your own life and carry out whatever Avatar duties you have when it seems necessary.”
“About that,” Veitlen started. He held up the envelope. “This is going to be part of that. It’s my acceptance letter into the military. I’ll be hunting demons professionally.”
Ellis stared at the letter, frowning. “Is that the best idea?” he asked.
Veitlen nodded. “Demons can’t die on their own. If I kill them, they’ll finally have a chance at liberation. It’s been hundreds of years. That’s more than enough of a punishment.”
Ellis scratched his chin. He looked a little surprised at Veitlen’s words. “You’ve put more thought into that than I typically expect of you,” he said.
Veitlen instantly felt a pang of distress. “Why does everyone keep saying that?” he said.
Ellis laughed. “You do have a tendency to make decisions without thinking them through. You’ve been doing that your whole life. It’s just what I expect from you by default.”
“Okay,” said Veitlen flatly.
He and Ellis ended up talking for another hour. At the end of it, Ellis didn’t seem quite convinced that Veitlen was doing the right thing by joining the military, but he didn’t question Veitlen any further. At the very least, Veitlen felt a little more confident in his own decision.