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This chapter is updated by Wuxia.Blog
Most people don’t start screaming as soon they wake up.
But today, I had the valuable experience of learning exactly how it felt like firsthand.
I was rather impressed at how loud I screamed for someone who’d just woken up. I hadn’t been able to form proper words, though.
“——What’s going on?”
Someone rushed in from the other side of the bedroom door upon hearing the tremendous scream I had let out. But I didn’t have the leisure to care about that. As for why—
“My, my ears……, that scream could destroy even a god’s ears……”
“W, w, who are you————!? Why are we sleeping in the same bed————!?
“My poor ears, they’re breaking……!”
In other words——I had apparently been sleeping in the embrace of a shockingly beautiful, but suspicious, man with brilliant blue hair.
A few minutes later.
I had crawled away to a corner of the spacious bedroom and placed myself far as I possibly could from the two mysterious individuals.
The blue-haired man was still writhing in pain with his hands over his ears on the semi-circle shaped bed. The other man with vivid, flame-like red hair was leaning against the edge of the nightstand as he looked at the former with pity.
——Wha, what’s going on!? Where am I? And seriously, who are they!?
Everything was so wrapped up in mystery that my head couldn’t keep up with my questions. For the time being, I held on to a conveniently close porcelain water jug so I could hit them with it with all my might if they did anything strange.
——Is this……the ryokan?
I looked around only to grow more puzzled. The room was somewhat old-fashioned and floridly decorated.
But, the difference between this room and the room I had rented with Uncle Miharu was like that of heaven and earth. It felt a little similar, but it was probably better to assume that I was in a completely different building altogether. Each and every decoration, and even the brick walls, gave off a solemn impression that spoke of its age. Also, the room was pretty large and its ceiling was really high up.
Next, I secretly observed the two suspicious individuals. They were dressed just like Fortune had been. They were wearing gorgeous antique clothing, much like the interior décor of the room——and having thought through all of this, I finally looked one in the eyes.
“Where is Fortune!? And what about the wounded man? And the little monkeys!?”
“Calm down, child.”
The red-haired man smiled wryly at my confusion.
“Y, you’re asking for the impossible here……, and what happened to Uncle Miharu!?”
The red-haired man swiftly got up and stopped me from running out of the room. Instinctively, I gasped.
He was huge. He was probably taller than even the man with the gigantic sword. His eyes were a vivid red, the same color as his hair. Upon a closer look, I noticed that he was wearing three swords at his waist.
“You’ll understand better if you see your situation with your own eyes, instead of having me explain it to you, no? Come,”
the man said and left the bedroom first, leaving me as I remained guarded. I hesitated a bit and followed after him after a quick glance at the blue-haired man who was still writhing in pain.
Separated from the bedroom by just one door was a spacious hall that was larger than the room I had just left.
——I guess this really isn’t the ryokan. Is this some kind of palace?
No, it felt more like a temple than a palace. On the walls were illustrations of angels embedded with stones of every color. There were decorated pillars along the side of the hall with the terrace. There was even a beautiful mural painted on the domed ceiling.
The red-haired man, who had left the bedroom before me, cut across the hall and headed toward the line of pillars. There were no windows in the room. Instead, there was a wide stone terrace with handrails on the other side of the pillars. It allowed for a sweeping view of the scenery outside.
I stared blankly as I staggered toward the handrail. What I saw before me was——.
“Do you understand now? Though an afterimage it may be, this is clearly not the <World> in which you lived. This is the holy precinct of the world of Evelier——in other words, <Heaven>.”
The clouds shone with the luster of pearls. Or, perhaps it would be better to call it fog?
The dense growth of trees was multicolored like a rainbow. I gulped audibly. Evidently, this building was built on top of a hill……a cliff. The landscape of something that looked like a town spread out below my eyes.
The circular townscape was enveloped by the abundant forest. It resembled the town of Sarumi from the side. Except, its beauty was in a completely different league from that of the town I knew.
Without a word, I sank down onto the cold stone floor.
“Are you alright?”
A few minutes later. The red-haired man was kneeling on one knee in front of me with a troubled smile.
“I’d like to let you rest for a while longer, but we probably don’t have a lot of time. And there are a few things that you want to know, right?”
“This really isn’t……”
Sarumi…… This isn’t my world. The blue-haired man had appeared by the time that I had finished whispering the rest of that sentence blankly in my heart. He smiled and waved excitedly when our eyes met.
“Wow, your scream back there was magnificent. I’d seriously thought that my ears would break,”
the blue-haired man said lightly with a cheery smile.
“Let me say this before you start misunderstanding something, but he didn’t crawl into your bed to do something bad to you. He was healing you……or at least he was supposed to be.”
The end of the red-haired man’s sentence trailed off suspiciously. The blue-haired man, who had been called out on, simply smiled as he nodded.
“Well, I did consider laying my hands on you, just a little. All young and adorable maidens are like my brides.”
“Cut it out, Silvai. She’ll take you seriously,”
the red-haired man growled. I stared at the two of them blankly in turns.
Apparently, the blue-haired man who had just said something inappropriate was called Silvai.
His looks were so well-proportioned that it truly rendered me speechless. His blue hair shined as if it had been inlaid with shattered gems. His eyes were of the same color as his hair. His light aqua eyelashes were so long that I was actually envious of them. Plus, he was weirdly coquettish. He gave me the impression of a bewitching sapphire flower with glamorously large petals. It was the first time I’d ever seen someone as beautiful as him, regardless of gender.
“But Olin, it’s not like I can do much to help it, is there? The ladies implore me to lay my hands on them regardless of my wishes, do they not? My own beauty and charm scare me……”
The red-haired man named Olin looked impressively tired as he watched Silvai lament.
Olin had very defined features and was beautiful in a different sense than Silvai was. Silvai looked rather androgynous, while Olin was masculine. Olin had looks that would draw him the envy of all the world’s men.
There was no way anyone could stand before them and remain sane. They were obviously not normal.
I wondered if my senses had dulled because too many inexplicable things had happened to me at once. I felt myself slowly return to my usual self as I spaced out. It was likely because my feelings had shattered to the point that I knew that I had no choice but to just accept whatever was happening.
I fired myself up and aggressively decided to observe the two men. Olin……was he the one who embraced and protected me from behind when the little monkeys were about to kill me?
And, the bright and cheerful Silvai had treated my wounds, or so I’d been told. While I didn’t know why that required him to sleep in the same bed as me——for the time being I knew that my body didn’t hurt anymore.
Speaking of which, and about time too, I noticed that I’d been changed into garments that were similar to theirs. I was wearing a long sakura-pink robe with expensive-looking accessories.
“Stand up, young lady.”
Silvai reached out a hand to me as I stared down at myself.
I timidly grasped his fingers and pulled myself up. The illusionary townscape on the other side of the handrail. It wouldn’t change into the town of Sarumi no matter how many timed I blinked. I returned my gaze to the two men, dejected.
“Um……thank you so much for saving me. And for healing me and for the change of clothes too.”
The two standing before me had probably vanished the little monkeys and helped me escape the creepy forest that had become the ‘interworld’. They seemed friendly, unlike Fortune. I wanted to keep them in a good mood if at all possible. I wanted to ask them what was going on in detail and I also wanted to guarantee my safety.
“How delightful. The dazzling maiden goddesses are likeable too, but a pure child like this one is quite lovely as well……”
Silvai nodded repeatedly to himself and continued,
“all right. Let’s get married.”
What should I do? —he’s quite the regrettable person.
“Silvai, just shut up. Please.”
Olin sighed deeply and leaned against the handrail as he hung down his head. He continued,
“you’re always, always so…… This isn’t the time to be fooling around. We have to decide on what to do with this child.”
My shoulders stiffened. I looked to Olin carefully as to not lose my composure.
——I have to keep calm. I have to ask them how to get back home.
“……Do the two of you know Fortune?”
A bitter expression immediately appeared on their faces. Their reaction told me that the answer was yes.
“I’m sorry. You were caught up in Fortune’s whims,”
Olin apologized gloomily as he righted himself. I hurriedly shook my head.
“Um, it’s not something that you need to apologize for……Olin, and besides, you saved me too.”
I didn’t know if I could just call him by his name without a title, but he didn’t seem to have minded.
“It’s better to let him apologize to you. The origin of this situation started in the kingdom that Olin created,”
Silvai cut in, suddenly looking serious. He continued,
“and I want you to keep this well in your mind——”
His pure beauty suddenly became grave. I caught my breath as I took the full brunt of Silvai’s gaze as he continued,
“I am of a higher rank than this needlessly large man. I am one of the Five Noble Gods, and my beauty is so great that you can find no faults in it, yes?
So feel free to become my wife whenever you’d like.”
What should I do? —he’s really, really a regrettable person.
“Forget what he said just now, child,”
Olin interjected at once. Silvai looked down at me sorrowfully, since I’d just been about to agree to his proposal without thinking. He recovered soon after and smiled sweetly.
“Olin, there’s no need to keep addressing her as a child…… What is your name?”
“It’s Hibiki. Hibiki Mishima.”
“Hibiki? I see, it’s a name that shares camaraderie with the atmosphere. Which means that it is affiliated with me,”1
Silvai said happily as he patted my forehead.
“Who are you people?”
“I’m Silvai. I’m the primordial god who governs over the wind and atmosphere. I’m also a guardian deity who governs over <Silence> and <Wisdom>. And let me tell you more while I’m at it. You’ll soon know of how great and majestic I am. My red-headed fellow over here is a god of war. He’s a god who exists for the people. He’s also a newer god who governs over <Victory> and <Prayer>. As a god of war, he was once human. Thus, his rank is low. At least here in heaven it is.”
“Am I supposed to thank you for your exaggerated introduction?”
Olin mumbled, exasperated.
“It’s important to give thanks where it’s due. After all, the other gods ostracize you and say rude things about you, like how you’re a savage or that you reek of blood. I’m the only god capricious enough to be your friend because I want to, you know?”
“They just don’t like my origins, that’s all.”
“I don’t dislike humanity. They’re so full of truly amusing contradictions. Oh dear, I might fall in love with my own generosity……. Olin, you should cherish me more.”
“U, um, wait a minute!”
I hurriedly cut in before the topic digressed too far. I continued,
“what do you mean by……gods?”
I couldn’t keep up with this conversation that I couldn’t comprehend. Olin was bewildered by my confusion. Silvai, on the other hand, looked at me enchantingly as if I was an adorable pet.
“Hibiki, do you not know what gods are?”
Olin asked with an indescribably complicated expression on his face. I wasn’t entirely sure how I was supposed to interpret that question.
“Erm, are you talking about……like, actual gods? Oh, or is it some kind of code name for something else?”
“……Well, I suppose you are from another dimension, child.”
Olin sighed in exasperation. I turned my gaze to Silvai instead, troubled.
“You can’t blame her for being confused. Different worlds will have different gods. We are gods who protect the entire world of Evelier.”
Silvai smiled tenderly as he stroked my hair.
“You said something about this Evelier before, and Fortune mentioned it to…… But I’m still not sure what you mean by it?”
“It refers to the land beneath this place —heaven. Your world and this one are two sides of the same coin. If your world is on one side of a mirror, this one exists on the other.”
Evelier —a world other than my own. It was hard to believe, but just as hard to refute. I’d already seen a natural disaster happen before my eyes. I’d also experienced frightening things. And I still was.
——Why is this happening to me?
“To begin with, all of this started with Fortune’s lament,”
Silvai said with such good timing that he could have read my mind. He explained,
“Fortune, like Olin, was originally human. But, by an unlawful twist of destiny that resulted from a loophole in reason, he was entrusted with an array of powers even as a human. And so, we prepared to welcome an eleventh god into our midst. Given to him were the powers of <Infinity> and <Fate>. But Fortune refused to join the ranks of the gods. And it wasn’t because of some lukewarm reason like he too awed and afraid of the gods’ presence. Some of the gods took this as an act of betrayal.”
Silvai shifted his gaze and followed after Olin as he continued,
“originally……it was an unwritten rule even among the gods that we must never determine the future. The god who governs over <Chaos>, the eldest of the gods, had decided that we must never lay our hands upon that realm. However, there were also those among the gods who were discontent with the ever wavering and unclear nature of creation. They desired an ‘eye’ with which to ascertain the future. Fortune is a noble existence who was born from that drop of divine greed.”
I secretly took deep breathes so that Olin and Silvai wouldn’t notice how terribly bewildered I was. Just what were they talking about; were they really talking about gods like Zeus and Poseidon from greek myths?
Were they really gods as well?
My head began to hurt. The sci-fi-ness of ‘alternate worlds’ was still within the limits of my comprehension. But it was too much for me to accept all of this about ‘gods’ too. I’d never been good at dealing with fantasy-like topics to begin with.
I drew up Fortune’s figure in my mind. The mysterious person wearing a mask.
“The gods loved Fortune more than was wise. They spared no powers to grant him and even made a covenant of inviolability with him.”
“Watch your mouth, Olin. One of the fools who graced that noble one with too many blessings stands right here before you.”
Surprised, I looked up to find a bitter-looking Silvai. He looked back at me for a moment before abruptly looking away.
“It’s almost like……”
I know that I have a bad habit of saying whatever I’m thinking out loud. But I just couldn’t find it in myself to keep quiet this time. I finished,
“all of you were trying to manipulate Fortune’s heart for yourselves?”
Olin and Silvai pursed their lips and looked to me. I was fully aware that I had probably spoken out of turn.
Silvai, who had been extremely friendly up until now, started to look displeased. It was scary when a beautiful person suddenly stopped smiling gently and looked threatening instead.
“Fortune was happy for our affections at first,”
Silvai whispered in a low voice with a hint of scorn as he gazed down at the townscape below the handrails.
——That sounds like an excuse.
I think I might have made what I was thinking too obvious. Silvai’s refreshing presence suddenly grew heavy. It was too late by the time that I noticed that something was wrong. Silvai had already left with an empty look on his face.
I was almost certainly the cause behind Silvai’s sudden change of mood. I should probably apologize to him ASAP. Olin stopped me, though, as I tried to chase after Silvai, worried.
“You have quite the nerve for someone who looks so innocent.”
“I’m sorry. Silvai…… He’s upset, isn’t he?”
Olin looked to the direction that Silvai had left and made a mischievous expression.
“You’re quite the girl to have driven Silvai away, even if you didn’t know the circumstances well.”
By ‘circumstances,’ did he mean that it had something to do with the ‘gods’ that they were talking about?
“I don’t really mind what you say to me, but Silvai’s still an ancient god no matter how easy it feels to talk to him. He’s whimsical and generally self-centered. Not only that, but he’s also fickle and will tire of things he’s bored with regardless of the consequences. His personal pleasure is more important to him than the opinions of others. I don’t know if I’d call him great, but on the inside, he’s like an extremely young and arrogant child. All the gods are generally like that.”
I soon forgot about reflecting on my actions as Olin talked to me so casually and ended up spilling out what I was really thinking again.
“That’s really immature of them……”
“Don’t say stuff like that to anyone else but me. It wouldn’t have been strange if Silvai had pulverized you into dust back then, you know?”
Olin laughed in good spirits. He cast a sideways glance at me as I got flustered and then he leaned against the handrail.
His physical appearance aside, he felt very much like ‘a normal person.’ That was probably why it felt so reassuring to be with him.
“That being said, Silvai is one of the milder gods who has strong morals. Don’t press him too far. What you pointed out struck painfully close to home for me too. After all, I, too, am one of the gods who poured their powers into Fortune.”
I was at a loss for words for a moment.
“So……you really are, well, gods and all…”
“Is it hard for you to believe that gods exist? Then think of it this way. We gods are ‘troublesome rulers who have a few more special powers than humans.’”
His frank explanation did much to melt away my stubbornness regarding the subject.
I still didn’t believe him completely, but I decided to accept his explanation for the time being.
“I see, so I’m talking to a god right now, huh……”
My serious whisper apparently had a huge impact on Olin. He was laughing for quite a long time.
“As Silvai said before, I used to be human too. The people of Evelier may worship me as a god, but deep down, I’ve never once considered myself to be some kind of supreme being. Actually, I feel like all of the restrictions the gods live by have clipped my wings.”
I wanted to know what kind of world ‘Evelier’ was specifically, but Olin’s tone of voice bothered me too.
“Do you not like being called a god?”
“I suppose not. It’s not a compliment. At least not for me.”
“I see. That sounds rough in a lot of different ways.”
Olin finally began laughing without pause again. I felt like being able to be open and honest with him like this was the hard-won fruit of my labor. If I made even Olin mad at me, then I’d have no way to go back home to Uncle Miharu. I hid away these chilling thoughts and searched for out next topic of conversation.
“Your red hair is really pretty.”
I really meant it. It was a color more magnificent than that of flames and more vivid than that of roses. It was longer than even my own.
“You’ve really been saying the most unexpected things today.”
Olin, who had finally stopped laughing, pulled at a tuft of my hair. He continued,
“this hair color of mine is one of the reasons that the gods ostracize me.”
“Why? It’s really cool.”
“Both my hair and my eyes are red. And I’m called a god of war. Now then, can you guess what my red colors mean?”
“You’re sharp. That’s right. I was a bloodstained human who fought all his life. I’ve never been defeated in battle. In other words, that means that I’ve been showered in the blood of a lot of people. And so, my hair and eyes became the color of freshly spilt blood. It’s no wonder the gods don’t like me.”
I tilted my head to the side. Olin wore a complicated expression of self-deprecation on his countenance.
“Was it a different color when you were human?”
“Indeed. It was blond. My eyes were green. I used to be called the king of earth back down below.”
It looked like he still wanted to be called that instead.
“But blood wasn’t what I thought of when I first saw you.”
I turned back to Olin, who looked surprised, and looked at his dazzling and gorgeous hair.
“I thought that your hair looked like flames. And that your eyes were as red as roses. Don’t red roses represent passion and love or something like that? Both your hair and your eyes are really pretty, and I like them.”
Olin stared at me for a little while. There was genuine surprise in his red eyes. Even if he told me he was a god and not a normal person, he still looked like an adult man and a really cool one to boot. Having someone like him staring at me made me embarrassed as uncomfortable.
Olin finally laughed gently as I curled myself up to endure his gaze. I knew that he had mellowed out. I, too, let out a sigh.
“Hey, Olin. Fighting is scary, isn’t it?”
I recalled what had happened in the forest and furrowed my brows. The man who had wielded the large sword and defeated the beasts. Was he safe?
I shifted my gaze from Olin to the town surrounded by the pearl-colored clouds. The townscape was as beautiful as a dream.
“This scenery looks so much like Sarumi……”
“——It’s only natural that it appears as something that your eyes are used to seeing. This is heaven, a sacred realm where normal people are not supposed to be able to set foot in. It’s ‘a place that cannot be reflected in the eyes.’ And so, the land camouflages itself. But, in your case, you’re probably seeing a small sliver of heaven’s form because Silvai intentionally brought you out of the interworld?”
Evidently, it only looked like Sarumi because my eyes were playing tricks on me. I got a little depressed on the inside. Then, I guess I won’t be able to find the key back to my world even if I searched the town.
“But even this blessed land of plenty will eventually be reduced to scorched earth.”
“……Scorched earth? Is there something wrong with the land?”
“Not wrong per se. It’s because of the infighting between the gods.”
“Infighting…… Do gods have wars too?”
“It’s because we’re gods that our fighting ends up becoming all the more severe.”
“Do gods fight because they’re greedy for the spotlight or for authority too?”
It was all so sudden that it was hard for me to believe. The image that I had of gods was that of beings brimming with merciful love and holiness, like Christ.
“I’m begging you, so please don’t let Silvai hear how frank you can be sometimes.”
I kinda found the way Olin was pleading to be somewhat cute. He continued,
“if the gods don’t carry greed, then neither will man awaken to it, no?”
Olin said as if he was stating the obvious. Is that really how it works?
“Then, does that mean that people have feelings like anger and joy because gods do?”
“Indeed. That goes for greed and other emotions as well. You’re a clever girl.”
Olin nodded with an impressed look on his face.
I vaguely remember that something similar was written in Genesis of the Bible. Something about humans being made in the image of their creator, was it? Maybe that’s why our hearts are similar too.
“Do you want authority too, Olin?”
I felt a little dissatisfied because he sounded like he was trying to dodge the question. He continued,
“but seriously, Hibiki, you really know how to hit where it hurts.”
I decided to change the topic because Olin looked obviously troubled. I wonder if it’s alright for me to get to the main topic now. I carefully thought out my words as I opened my mouth.
“This place looks a lot like a place I’m familiar with, but……what happened the actual thing?”
I was worried the most about my uncle and Mr. Kenji’s welfare. I earnestly held in my feelings so that they wouldn’t explode, but in actuality, I wanted to run to them if I could even now.
“……I am sorry.”
My chest tightened when I saw the dark look on Olin’s face. He continued,
“the gods made a foolish vow, myself included.”
I tightly grabbed Olin’s arm as he let out his words of regret. The bad feeling I had wouldn’t go away.
“Are you talking about the covenant of inviolability about Fortune? Hey, what’s happening to my world?”
“……It’s probably experiencing some distortion because the two worlds are connected. This world and yours are like the front and back of the same coin. If one side distorts, then so will the other.”
“Are my uncle and Mr. Kenji……and everyone around that forest safe?”
“Are you speaking of your family and close acquaintances?”
“Yeah. I was on a trip with my uncle, and then I saw a clown and a bunch of children in the forest……”
——What should I do?
My breathing became ragged from anxiety. Are Uncle Miharu and the others okay?
“Will I——be able to go back?”
I implored Olin, breaking away from my fears. I mean, Olin was a god. He should be stronger than Fortune. Shouldn’t it be easy for him to return me to my original world?
Or so I had hoped, but Olin’s visage was still as dark as it was before.
“Gods have tremendous power, and they mustn’t meddle with human affairs becauseof it. Blessings and punishments aside. We cannot do anything else but watch over you otherwise.”
All of that sounded incredibly selfish to me.
“But Fortune chose successors and connected the worlds through the forest!”
“And that was where the gods erred. We loved him too much. We gave him so much affection and power that his human psyche could not bear it.”
Olin looked away in contemplation for a moment. I didn’t feel like taking the time to leisurely look at the elegant scenery anymore. Nothing would change even if I pressed Olin for answers here and now. I had to calm down.
“……What is Fortune trying to accomplish by choosing a successor?”
“Silvai said this before too, but he was more docile at first. But, eventually, he began to doubt his role as a puppet of the gods and resisted his fate. He seems to have wanted to fulfil the wish he had back from when he was still human.”
“Well, only Fortune would know what that entails. ……But he can’t return to the world of man anymore. He now has the face of one that has deviated from that of humanity’s. The people of this world rejected him. And so, Fortune wielded his power and punished them. He turned all of the people into living corpses.”
I wondered what that meant. The first things that came into my mind were ghouls and zombies. ……No way.
“Fortune is immortal. He will suffer from neither age nor disease. But people age with the passing of seasons. Or rather, they walk alongside time. He rewrote that logic. He transfigured the people of Evelier into……to put it in terms from your world, into beings similar to evil spirits.”
“Ghosts that can only live in a world of night. The kind that only harbor negative feelings, such as hate and antipathy. Those that have lost their ego and turned into revenants will wander in the darkness for all eternity. And so, the world of Evelier tread down the path of ruin.”
“Wa, wait a minute, I can’t keep up……but, if that’s true, don’t you have to hurry and save the people!?”
I suddenly realized as Olin smiled bitterly. The gods were restricted in that they weren’t allowed to interfere with people more than it was necessary, was it?
“Man must be the ones to save mankind. That is what the reason of all creation dictates. The species of beasts that humans meddle excessively with eventually decline, do they not? Likewise, if we gods grant humans unmerited charity, your species will eventually meet its downfall as well.”
“But can’t you make this an exceptional circumstance?”
“Even if we made an exception, it would lead to your kind being weeded out by natural selection anyway.”
Olin glared into open space as if he was in pain. A sweet smelling breeze passed through the space between us. Olin continued,
“……then, Fortune planned to renounce his power. He planned to have another succeed his power as a means of retaliation against the gods who wanted ascertain the future. However, he could only pass his power to a <Vessel> who was compatible with it.”
“You’re talking about me and the other person, right?”
Olin affirmed with a serious expression on his face. I tightly hugged my chest. I was the one who had rejected Fortune’s power. But now I had clearly begun to regret my decision.
“Since you’ve chosen not to obtain it, his powers will be succeeded by the other chosen one.”
The other candidate. Fortune had said that he was the complete opposite of me. I wonder who he is.
“Fortune, who was no longer fond of the gods, came to hate humanity next, and eventually, he despaired in himself. His sorrow was so deep that it could no longer be healed. It was to the extent that it led to destruction.”
“It means that ultimately, he chose the path of destroying himself.”
“Hey, Olin. Fortune asked me a question. He asked me whether I would become a glorious ruler or if I would create a new world.”
“It probably means that the chosen one would have be entrusted with a choice——between whether you would return the revenants back to their human forms and allow this world to continue as it had been before, or whether you would extinguish this world without leaving even a trace of it behind and build a new one in its place.”
I stared at Olin in surprise.
“Wait a minute. These zombies……the people who were turned into revenants can be turned back?”
“With Fortune’s power, yes.”
“So, what’s the person who inherited Fortune’s power planning to do?”
This was an important issue not only to the people of Evelier, but to me as well. I mean, if this world continued to exist, then wouldn’t the distortions that happened to my world as an aftereffect of what happened here heal as well?
“But, it seems that the successor——wished for destruction and chose the path of becoming the god of a new world.”
My vision went dark all of a sudden. So, does that mean…
“What’s going to happen to my world? You said that this world and mine were two sides of the same coin……, but nothing too horrible will happen to it, right?”
“It will most likely slowly tread the path of destruction.”
My mind went black as Olin gave me his bleak answer without even a pause to preface it.
“……N, no, that can’t happen!!”
Olin gave me a sorrowful look. He silently stared down as I grew furious and caressed my head.
I suddenly grew irritated and violently shook off Olin’s large and hefty hand.
“If you’re a god……, why won’t you help us?! You used to be called the king of earth; doesn’t that mean that you used to be a leader of the world? So why……!”
“It is because I’m a god that I can’t interfere. I can’t, no matter what.”
My anger instantly died down upon hearing his strained voice. I had just heard the same thing earlier. He continued,
“that is why I give you my thanks.”
“Your thanks……? Why?”
“You were one of the children who were chosen by Fortune’s power, no?”
“It, it looks that way, but when I was asked if I wanted to become the successor in the forest, it was all so sudden and I didn’t believe in any of it. That’s why……I refused.”
“And you were supposed to have returned to being a regular person with that choice. But you saved a man while you were escaping the forest, did you not? He was the last citizen of Evelier.”
“The last citizen?”
“There were only two people left in my kingdom. ……Oh, back when I was a human in the world of Evelier, I was the founding king. I was the first person to establish a <Kingdom> in the world. Both Fortune and the man you saved are descendants of my kingdom.”
“Hold on, you just said that there were two people left. Then why did you say that the man in the forest was Evelier’s last citizen?”
“I told you that the one who inherited Fortune’s power wished for a new world, remember? The ‘relics of the past’ need to be destroyed for that to happen. That goes for both infrastructure and the people——and unluckily, just as you met the man in the interworld forest, the successor also encountered the other person.”
——Does that mean they were killed by the successor?
I was at a loss for words. I felt like my heart was beating right beside my ears.
“And so, Hibiki,”
Olin called my name in a soft tone. He continued,
“calamity shall not befall you if you remain by my side.”
Did he mean that he would guarantee my safety if I stayed here?
“I want to go home; I’m worried about Uncle Miharu……and the rest of my family!”
I was suddenly filled with doubt after shouting without meaning to.
——He couldn’t interfere with people other than through stuff like blessings because he’s a god, right?
That was probably why he was so tantalized that he couldn’t save the man with the giant sword or the person who had been killed by the successor because of his restrictions.
“Then, what about me?”
“Weren’t you not supposed to be allowed to save me either?”
“Indeed, gods are only supposed to be beings that watch over people. If we’re reckless, our divine authority might cause more distortions in the world. But, we couldn’t let you, a weak child from another world, to simply die. Both Silvai and I could not help but finally extend our hands——to the child who saved a citizen of Evelier in our stead.”
My heart skipped a beat. Evidently, Olin and Silvai had been moved by the fact that I had helped the man in the forest. Now that I thought about it, I felt like Fortune had asked someone something along the lines of, “you would interfere? For Hibiki’s sake?” at the time.
“It was Silvai who cut open the dimensions. I drew you over to this side. Silvai’s the one who has to pay a large price——no, it shouldn’t have constituted as breaking the covenant. After all, you aren’t originally from our world.”
Olin looked like he was chewing on his words as he whispered.
Certainly, I wasn’t from Evelier. I suppose it was something similar to how you couldn’t judge someone from another country by the laws of your own. But I was still uneasy.
——Is it really that convenient……? What would happen to Silvai if he was determined to have broken the covenant?
Olin avoided my gaze and looked into the distance. Shouldn’t I be asking him for more details? A part of my heart told me that I should, but I decided not to lend my ears to its plea because I was too flustered.
“Hey, there’s something I want to know. My world and Evelier are connected, right? That’s why my world is also being distorted because of the influence from this one……, so, if this world was restored, wouldn’t my world naturally be restored as well? You said that it was possible to save the people who were turned into revenants with Fortune’s power just earlier.”
“Ah, you really know how to hit where it hurts.”
Olin smiled sadly as I stared at him.
“I’m in heaven right now, but wouldn’t it be okay for me to go down to Evelier because I’m not a god? If I helped restore the world……as a way of thanking you for saving me in the forest and because it would be for my benefit too, I think it would be like killing two birds with one stone. Would it be really difficult?”
“You really are……a troublesome child. Why was the person who crossed over into this world such a young child like you? If it had been some brawny man, I wouldn’t have had to feel sympathy for him.”
Olin furrowed his brows as if he was angry, but then he suddenly hugged me close while I was standing before him bewildered. I let out a strange sounding scream and struggled. I couldn’t tell if it was because it hurt or if it was because my heart was pounding so hard! Getting hugged by someone else was completely different than clinging onto someone yourself. Olin continued,
“if only you were a little more foolish.”
“Uh, um, Olin?!”
I fell into a state of panic. The arms that he had wrapped around my back were strong and wouldn’t even budge. The scarlet necklace that decorated his wall-like chest waved before my eyes. I could hear Olin’s heartbeat.
“Please let go of me……!”
His arms finally loosened after I shouted. I was looking down out of embarrassment, but Olin purposefully placed a hand below my face and lifted it up.
“If you swear an oath with a god, you’ll be held to it forever until it’s fulfilled, do you understand? Fortune is a good example of this. You shouldn’t say things like that so hastily.”
“Then how about we list out what we need one by one so that it’s fair?”
Olin blinked at my suggestion. I continued,
“you can’t interfere with the world, but you can watch it, right? I want you to see if my uncle and Mr. Kenji are okay. In return, I’ll return the people of your world back to normal, Olin.”
“You fool. Weren’t you listening to what I just said? I’m a god too. If you swear an oath with me, I won’t be able to interfere on your behalf anymore.”
“Oaths are meant to protect something, you know?”
“You’re so carefree about this! You haven’t even thought about how much hardship this will bring you, have you? Saving Evelier means that you’ll inevitably have to confront Fortune’s successor one day. Stopping his plans and saving the people won’t be an easy task. You’ll be hated by the successor and the revenants will attack you. You don’t have to take on such painful toils.”
“But do you have anyone else you can ask? I doubt that too many people come here to begin with.”
“Look here, you……”
“Besides, I won’t be able to go back to my world if things stand as they are, right?”
“——It’s possible for you to go to Evelier, but your world……, no, it’s not impossible; it’s possible if you wrenched open the interworld that Fortune created, probably.”
“It would rip a large hole between the dimensions and a lot of my people who were turned into revenants would flood into your world at once. If that were to happen, the two worlds would travel further down the path of chaos.”
“Then I can’t go back until this world returns to normal after all.”
I had expected that this would be the case, but I still got depressed as I learned about this cruel truth. I continued,
“am I useless? Is it because I look weak? But if nothing happens, both you and I will be troubled, Olin. My uncle and Mr. Kenji won’t be saved, and the people of this world won’t return to being human.”
I checked on Olin’s reaction as I spoke. I continued,
“the successor wants to destroy the world of Evelier and become the god of a new one, right? Wouldn’t that spell trouble for the other gods too? But the gods can’t stop him even if they wanted to, the only thing they can do is look on, because the covenant of inviolability is getting in their way. The successor has Fortune’s power, after all.”
“You got me.”
Olin roughly ran his fingers through his hair in defeat. He continued,
“it’s just as you’ve said. Even the gods can’t welcome Fortune’s actions with open arms. It’s because it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that we gods exist because of the genuine faith of the people of Evelier. We would lose both our support and the place where we belong if a new world and a new god were to be born. We can’t overlook this, but we’re also obstructed by our foolish oath.”
Did he mean that gods were kept alive by the people’s faith? Would they die if they were forgotten? I wanted to ask him for more details but I felt like I shouldn’t. I peeked at Olin in his melancholy from the side of my as I reorganized the contents of our conversation in my head.
The people of Evelier were passionate about their faith, and it was probably an important part of their daily lives. Kind of like how Japanese people visit Shinto shrines on New Year’s.
But, if all of the people who cherished the gods and offered prayers to them died off, the new god——Fortune’s successor——would purge the original world’s culture, religion, and daily habits and then create a new world, and if that happened, Olin and the other gods would become meaningless. I mean, the people living in the new world would almost certainly worship the successor as their god.
I felt like it was kind of like the religious wars of the Middle Ages. A confrontation between the old gods and the new. When one side was defeated, they would be denounced as heretics and heathens and forced under severe oppression until they died out.
——Though, all of this is based off of what I heard Uncle say as he watched foreign news channels.
I shook away the thoughts in my head and put my resolution into words.
“I’ll do it. I can still go down to Evelier, right?”
Olin looked distressed and gave out a large sigh as soon as I said that.
“Do you really understand how dangerous that is?”
“Yeah, I do.”
Olin looked on at me in distress as I nodded. Then, overcome with emotion, he embraced me again.
It actually didn’t hurt that much, but I was so embarrassed that I couldn’t help myself.
Olin released me from his hold in a panic.
“So, what do I need to do?”
I let out a deep sigh in order to cool down my burning cheeks. Olin became flustered, perhaps because he mistakenly thought that I was disgruntled when I turned away from him, and gently pulled me in by the shoulder. And just then.
“——You two have grown considerably close, haven’t you?”
Both Olin and I turned around as we heard a sullen voice echo from nearby.
Silvai was looking at us coldly as he leaned against one of the pillars with his arms crossed.
I hadn’t noticed him; just how long was he standing there for?
“Have you two been having fun scorning the gods together?”
Olin smiled wryly at Silvai’s thorny words.
“Don’t sulk like that.”
Silvai furrowed his brows and turned away in irritation. He kind of really was like a selfish child.
“Silvai, I’m sorry about before.”
Silvai brushed back his fine hair and threw a glance at me, still looking discontent. Oh, it looks like he’s still upset. His beauty really amplified the impact of his displeasure.
“What’s this with getting more attached to someone who only has his physique going for him than me?”
Silvai murmured in aggravation.
Olin and I both froze up for a moment. Wasn’t that the wrong thing to be upset about?
Besides, it was really mean……to say that Olin only had his physique going for him. I felt a little sorry for him.
Olin seemed to have taken offense at that, since the edges of his lips twisted and he looked to Silvai in protest. As if in response, Silvai said,
“humans are creatures who don’t know how to measure real worth. Bigger isn’t always better, you know?”
Olin quivered for a moment. What should I do, I felt like the air had grown cold all of a sudden and the mood had started to become dangerous. It wasn’t as if I could agree with Silvai’s sarcastic words, but then again, his mood would grow worse if I denied them. Silvai continued,
“I have superior rank, power, and looks.”
Wow, Silvai, you’re really saying everything that you shouldn’t be right there.
“——That’s why you’ll receive my blessing first, yes?”
Olin’s anger evaporated as he called out in sharp panic.
“Hush, you, I’m allowed to do whatever I want, no?”
Silvai laughed unkindly and threw his gaze over at Olin, who was trembling.
“You mustn’t bless that child.”
Silvai snorted as if he was making fun of Olin as he grimaced.
I could do nothing but stand there in shock because I didn’t know what they meant by ‘blessing’. Why was Olin panicking so much?
“But you plan on sending Hibiki down to earth, are you not?”
“——Were you eavesdropping?”
Olin growled, looking like he would click his tongue any minute. Apparently, they were talking about something that had to do with me.
Silvai pulled me close by an arm when I timidly tried to cut in and smiled at me gently.
“She’s a young and pure child who was born in a peaceful nation and doesn’t know the first thing about either sword or sorcery. And yet, you would send her down to a world ravaged by darkness all alone without granting her even a single blessing? That would be no different than sending her off to die. It’s a sinful thing to do, even for a god.”
Sinful……? And, sorcery?
I looked up at Silvai in confusion. His long, aqua eyelashes slowly moved up and down. A somewhat heartbreaking color alighted his two jewel-like eyes.
“Hibiki, you unfortunately don’t know how to fight, right?”
I wasn’t some kind of savior overflowing with talent who had been chosen by the gods. Instead, hadn’t I been abandoned by Fortune after I made a mistake because I didn’t think things through when I couldn’t accept the reality of the situation? I had readily declared to Olin that I’d do it, but in actuality I didn’t have even the slightest clue about what I had to do.
“In order to turn the revenants back human——you have to kill them once.”
“Huh? I have to what……?”
“Do you really think you can bear to do something so cruel?”
“What do you mean……?”
“Ordinary magic or sorcery won’t stand a chance against the large-scale spell that Fortune cast on the people——the world of Evelier. Well, it is just barely possible to annihilate a revenant with regular sorcery or magic, or if you cut through it with a sword, but that would mean destroying even the soul, the core that makes up a ‘person’. But they won’t just stand there and wait for you to destroy them. They will try to devour any living human they capture. If you can’t fight back, they’ll swallow you and you will turn into a revenant as well.”
“Then, are you saying that it’s impossible for me to save everyone……?”
I felt like all the strength was leaving my body. Am I useless?
Silvai gave me a playful smile as I fell despondent.
“But, I’ve grown quite fond of you, miss.”
“By the way, regarding the one you call your uncle…”
I yelled without thinking and clung tightly to Silvai.
Silvai happily picked me up with both arms for some reason.
“Hmm. The strain cause by the interworld spread in your world and caused some flooding. A water vein was greatly disrupted. It probably has something to do with the fact that Evelier is currently suffering a drought. The two worlds influence one another, after all.”
“What about my uncle? Are he and Mr. Kenji safe? And——my parents!?”
“They’re all safe. Well, the one called Kenji was wounded slightly from the vibrations of the earth, but it shouldn’t be a serious matter.”
I felt like my chest was burning as my joy and relief melded together.
I couldn’t find any other word to say. I’m so happy I don’t know what to do.
I can bear anything as long as Uncle Miharu and my parents are alive. Thank goodness, I’m so glad they’re okay.
Silvai pat me slowly on the back while laughing gently as I trembled with emotion.
Even though I’d said something horrible to him earlier.
——He isn’t self-centered at all; he’s warm and caring.
He was a kind god. He had saved me instead of leaving me to die. And on top of that, he had let me know that my loved ones were safe.
——Then, it’s my turn this time. I’ll repay him for his kindness.
“It’s all right. Fortune’s error can be traced back to us. It’s too selfish of us to ask you to shoulder the gods’ atonement. You will be allowed to stay in heaven on the virtue of having saved a citizen of Evelier.”
“I like both you and Olin. That’s why I want to make you a promise. I’ll do my best to turn everyone back to normal so Evelier can be revived.”
I felt Silvai sigh as he tightened his arms around me.
“While I don’t like the fact that you put me on the same level as Olin……”
Hey, I heard Olin say in exasperation.
“I won’t forget the two of you even if I turn into a revenant or something.”
Silvai smiled mischievously right as I finished making my promise. He drew his face closer in what I could really only call a surprise attack.
I felt something soft on my forehead before I could say anything.
Olin yelled in shock.
“Wha, what was that!?”
I let out a pathetic scream a little after. I stumbled back a few steps and pressed down on my forehead as I blushed furiously. Silvai, who had just done something outrageously indecent, was laughing in good sport at our reactions.
“Silvai! What are you doing all of a……”
Ah! My forehead began burning out of nowhere. The heat swirled with my forehead at its center and it hurt so much that I shivered for a moment.
I felt like something had split open my forehead and awakened. What’s going on?!
I stiffened up at this sudden change and pressed down hard against my forehead.
The world spun violently around me. A mass of flames danced in ecstasy like a living being within my body.
“I’ve taken a liking to this child. And——as I’d thought, it seems that the oath of inviolability won’t overlook what I’ve done. If I’m to be judged anyway, I might as well grant this young lady the greatest blessing I can.”
I felt like Silvai’s voice had grown far away. He continued,
“I’ll leave the rest to you.”
Silvai swiftly pushed me into Olin’s arms while I was still unable to look up from the pain.
I endured severe vertigo as I looked for Silvai’s figure. At first, I mistakenly thought that Silvai looked hazy because my head was still spinning so much. But then, I realized that I was wrong.
“What, a thousand years of sleep will pass in but a moment. I suppose sleeping beauty is now a god instead of a princess……? I’m sure I’m beautiful even with my eyes closed. The first thing I want to see when I wake up is a cute maiden.”
A sharp, geometrical cage of silver appeared in Silvai’s vicinity as he bragged about himself with a faint smile on his face. The strange cage moved swiftly as if it was forming a circle with Silvai at its center. It expanded into a large elliptical shape for a moment until it suddenly shrunk around Silvai, who was standing inside of it, as if it was trying to strangle him to death.
The malicious cage cut Silvai apart at the same time that Olin’s heartbreaking scream echoed around us. In the next moment, Silvai disappeared like falling petals.
The silence returned soon. I couldn’t see either Silvai or the silver cage anywhere. It had all been so abrupt that it was almost like Silvai had only been an illusion to begin with.
I became anxious and subconsciously grasped tightly onto Olin’s robes.
Something horribly bad had happened. Calamity had befallen Silvai.
“Olin, where’s Silvai?”
Had this happened because of the kiss?
“Doing something so stupid on your own……!”
Olin harshly spat out after having stood in silence while holding me in a daze for a little while. He turned his vexed, and terribly pained, gaze at where Silvai had existed until just a moment ago and loudly clicked his tongue.
“What do you mean? Where did Silvai disappear to?”
The curious heat on my forehead had already subsided, and I understood that something much more serious had just happened.
Olin bit down on his lips as if he was trying to endure physical pain. He looked down at me. His vivid red eyes were fixed on top of my forehead. Pulled by his gaze, I reflexively pressed down my hand against my forehead.
I was shocked to feel something that I didn’t expect to be there.
“Huh? What is this?”
Something small and hard was stuck on my forehead. It was cold on the surface, but I could feel something similar to warmth coming from my fingertips.
——No, it’s not stuck there, it came from inside of my head…?
“You’re cannot possibly beat Fortune’s power when you don’t know any spells or skills with the sword. And so, Silvai granted you the power to rival the successor’s, granted to him by Fortune. He broke the covenant.”
“You mean the covenant of inviolability……?”
“That’s not all. He infringed upon one of the commandments established by the gods as well. A god may only silently bestow blessings and love upon man. Unlike Fortune, you haven’t earned the right to cross the heavenly gate. Silvai wasn’t supposed to directly pour power into you based on his own decision.”
“Heavenly gate……? So what happened to Silvai?”
“All who defile reason are judged. Silvai was stripped of his status as a god for a thousand years. Offenders are punished in accordance to their crimes.”
I wasn’t confidant that I understood everything that Olin had said. But I still sensed that the situation was grave. I looked desperately at the place where Silvai had been and grasped Olin’s robes tighter.
“So is Silvai locked up in some kind of prison……? Or did something even worse happen to him?”
Olin shook his head and wouldn’t tell me what happened to Silvai no matter how much I badgered him for an answer. Did that mean that Silvai was going through so much pain and humiliation that he wouldn’t tell me?
“Oh, the other gods caught on to us.”
Olin’s face paled and he continued,
“we don’t have time.”
“Olin. When you say that we don’t have time……you said that from the begin……”
“Sorry. I don’t think I’ll have enough time to explain things properly. Now that all of this has happened, I’m afraid that the other gods will likely reject your existence.”
I gulped and looked at Olin’s stern profile as he looked out into the distance. He continued,
“Silvai’s such a troublesome fellow. And here I’d thought that I’d be the one to go first. Did he think that it was a competition or something?”
Olin’s visage softened as he gave a small wry smile. He pat me lightly on the back as if to calm me because I had lost my composure from anxiety and swiftly took out the shortest of the three swords that he wore at his waist.
I say that it was the shortest, but it was still plenty long enough from my perspective. The sword had a complicated pattern drawn on one portion of its black hilt. There were twin red jewels embedded on both the tip of the scabbard and the top of the hilt.
“Cut down the revenants with this sword, you hear me? This is a sword that’s excellent for exorcisms. It can’t cut through people, but it’ll destroy anything else. Monsters included, of course. This sword is capable of opposing anything that’s demonic in nature.”
Olin thrust the sword in my hands as I looked back in panic and confusion and then turned his gaze behind us.
The space before my eyes suddenly wavered as he called out.
A white mist formed and swirled around. A large beast with steel-colored fur appeared at its center. It held something that I was familiar with in its mouth.
The beast narrowed his eyes at the noise and turned to Olin to lower his head as if he was showing off his obedience. Olin nodded and collected my bag from the beast’s mouth and offered it to me. Things that looked like travel necessities were fastened to the beast already, though I didn’t know who had prepared them.
“This is my favorite sacred beast. Get on him and go. I’ve also packed some things that you might need once you arrive.”
“By packed, you mean……”
Why are you suddenly in such a hurry?
Olin knelt down in front of me as I hesitated in my inability to digest the situation.
Olin pursed his lips and looked up to the sky. I looked up with him. I saw a scattered clump of black spots in the white sky, which reminded me of snow. The black spots gradually grew larger and closer.
Are those shadows other gods?
“Silvai granted you power first. But I can help lessen your burden too.”
“It, it’s fine! You’ve already done enough……!”
Olin, you might lose your status as a god too!
I tried to step back in a panic, but Olin was faster. He grabbed me with his long arms and looked at me with serious eyes.
“Never forget. Both Silvai and I have blessed you. That means that, even as a human, you’ve become a part of both Silvai’s and my households. May light and happiness be ever with our maiden.”
After saying all of that with a dignified voice, Olin swiftly pressed his lips against the back of my hand. It was just like how a knight would kiss someone’s hand to swear fealty to them. The back of my hand grew hot just like what had happened when Silvai had done it.
It was like a small flame had began to burn at that exact spot.
I looked down at my left hand at a loss for words. My forehead aside, the back of my left hand had no visible changes.
Olin looked up at me as I stood frozen and his cheeks loosened in embarrassment for a moment.
“Now then. It’s no fun if I’m always behind Silvai on everything.”
Olin pulled me closer with great strength as I awkwardly looked back at him. By the time I had noticed, his red eyes, more beautiful than roses, were close enough to touch.
A sigh escaped with his words. I felt something soft covering my lips. ——Is this……a kiss?
My mind went blank from the kiss that was so gentle that I felt like I would melt.
“It’s too bad. If you’d said that you wanted to stay in heaven, I would have welcomed you as my wife.”
I broke out of my trance at Olin’s jesting.
I don’t believe this, I don’t believe this! Silvai was one thing, but to think that Olin would do something inappropriate as well. I quivered as I opened and closed my mouth repeatedly. It was too much, I hadn’t even given him my consent!
“I told you to forgive me.”
“……For, forgive you!?”
I suddenly found myself floating in the air when I finally got my voice to work again.
No. Olin had picked me up with one arm.
——He’s carrying me like luggage!
Olin jumped on the back of the beast named Eru while holding me. Immediately afterward, Eru promptly crossed over the handrail and leapt——to the illusionary town that looked a little like Sarumi way down below.
My hair fluttered and the sleeves of my robes flapped audibly. I felt the strange sensation of floating in my chest. It was hard to breathe. Intense vibrations rippled throughout my body the moment I closed my eyes. We had apparently landed safely.
I was too scared to open my eyes. The beast began to run across the earth like the wind.
I didn’t know how long I had endured it, but I suddenly realized that the wind had stopped.
“Is this as far as I go?”
I heard Olin whisper. I opened my eyes in a panic to find that he had dismounted alone while leaving me on Eru’s back. A thick and gloomy forest was all around us. A glimmering fog drifted by.
“Eru, take this child with you. Protect her. Love and obey Hibiki as you would me.”
“Olin, what are you talking……”
Olin abruptly looked up as I raised my voice in protest.
A silver cage that looked just like the one that had caused Silvai to disappear had appeared. The cage of judgement that bound the gods. Olin didn’t falter even until the very end. He swiftly drew the swords at his waist and vigorously rent the earth.
The silver cage paused for a brief moment at the ferocity of Olin’s swords, but it soon expanded into an elliptical shape anyway.
“Never forget. We are your protectors.”
“Olin! Wait, I haven’t……!”
Eru circled around Olin with me still on his back in one fluid movement and howled.
Then, he forcefully jumped into the rent earth.
I looked up at Olin as the darkness swallowed Eru and me up.
Olin cast a potent gaze back at me and smiled like a truly dignified king.
My consciousness faded immediately after his indomitable figure was captured in the cage and disappeared.
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