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I had no idea the world outside the temple had become so corrupted.

The thought had crossed Philia’s mind before, and so when the words slipped out of her mouth they came too naturally, as though she’d rehearsed them all along.

Leon groused, Rutee muffled an amused smile behind her wrist, and to her peripheral left Stahn scratched the back of his neck, laughing sheepishly.

It was a sound she’d heard often enough, and like the nimble weight of Clemente between both hands and the crisp coolness of wind against her hair, Philia found she didn’t dislike it.

It was quite the contrary, rather, like so much of the mundane trivialities of the outside world that not long ago had been so wholly foreign to her, and it was that fact which spurred her to tuck her face behind her braids, shielding the incoming heat to her cheeks. Catching herself again and again, and this for one was a familiar act, to remind herself of proprieties, the incremental nature of temptation.  

“Funny you say that, Philia! I grew up in the mountainside, so I think I understand what you mean.”

He was smiling his usual smile, the very same one she’d seen him turn towards Rutee and Mary and even Leon sometimes, on one of the better days where he’d attempt a well-meaning overture to pry open the young swordsman’s sullen demeanor.

And if her breath had skipped, if she’d struggled to keep the color away from her face… Stahn couldn’t have noticed. He wouldn’t.

It was her nature to overthink things, not his. Not Stahn; cheerful and straightforward and seemingly untouched by the crooked shadow that crept across the world, the very same that had twisted Greybaum, swallowed Batista whole and spat him back unrecognizable from the man she thought she’d known.

She was naive. That much was true. Naive and sheltered and weak, and she’d known too little of the world to ever want anything from it.

But the fluttering in her chest, the invisible string inside her tugging tighter and tighter with every passing day—

What other conclusion could she draw?

“I don’t think that’s quite what she meant,” Rutee spoke up, bringing her back to reality.

Philia fumbled something in response, and Leon kept grumbling under his breath, and all the while she kept her face turned away from Stahn, because staring had been her first mistake, the first time they’d met, and she knew herself well enough not to pretend it would be her last.