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We took a light nap after we finished treating his wounds.
Then, we entered the forest again and headed for the village of Urs in the afternoon.
The depressing atmosphere never changed. Everything was bleak and dreary and the air felt like a dying whisper.
“——Let’s stop here for today.”
Louie, who had hardly spoke along the road, proposed when evening was upon us.
“We still have some time until night though?”
“The trees grow thick around here. They’ll be useful for hiding from the beasts. And——I’d like to rest early today.”
“……Sorry, your wounds hurt, don’t they?”
“That’s not what I meant. I want to head out before dawn tomorrow. ……Because I want us to arrive at Urs when there aren’t any Reims.”
Louie eyed a large tree that looked like it was opening its arms out wide and pointed to it. He continued,
“that looks like a good place to stay. It has a think trunk, so we’ll be able to hide ourselves.”
“Hey, Louie, you said that there’re Reims in the village of Urs, right? Wouldn’t it be better to change even one or two people back human?”
“……No, let’s find the princes first.”
Louie stubbornly refused to nod in agreement.
I was dejected. I couldn’t say that I was reliable even if I lied, but Louie wasn’t even including me in the headcount. He was putting all the emphasis on the resurrection of the princes who could also use divine swords.
My dejection soon turned into feelings of alienation. To turn Reims back human and prevent the destruction of the kingdom. I was the one who had come here with the duty to make that happen.
“……We’re making a fire, right? I’ll go get some branches!”
“Hibiki, you shouldn’t go off alo——”
“It’s okay, I won’t go far!”
I jumped off of Eru’s back when we arrived by the base of the large tree.
I argued down Louie, who was bewildered, and went off on my own to find branches we could use for a fire. I wanted to show him that I could be at least a little useful.
Eru growled anxiously and moved to accompany me. He waved his tail in a wide arc when I shot him a glare and sat back down in a lonely manner.
I was a little disgruntled by how Louie and Eru looked at me like they were worried guardians watching their child do something dangerous. I really didn’t plan on going far.
I quietly furrowed my brows and rolled up the long sleeves of my robes as I began to walk away.
I’ll walk around the large tree where Louie and Eru are and pick up branches there, I guess. I’ll need dead leaves too. Plain wood doesn’t catch fire that easily.
I found a strange shrub while I was looking for branches that looked like they would burn well.
Its trunk was shaped like a jug and its rind was rough, as if it was made out of a countless number of hard scales.
There was a hollow in the thickest part of the trunk that looked large enough to hide a small child.
“I wonder what’s up with this hollow. Was it made by people?”
I timidly looked into it and was promptly surprised.
There was a pool of water in the hollow.
“Nice, we might be able to drink this!”
My heart was bursting with anticipation. I probably wouldn’t have thought to drink this if I was still in Japan.
But water was precious in this world. The whole land was parched, and even its springs and streams had all dried up. It didn’t seem like it’d rain anytime soon even though it was cloudy.
This was a huge find, because I was getting worried about how we’d secure more water once we’d used up the water in our luggage.
I placed the branches I was carrying on the ground and scooped up some of the water in the hollow with my hands.
“……It looks okay. It’s not clouded, and it doesn’t smell weird either.”
The water was smooth and clear. It didn’t even have any dirt in it.
“I’ll ask Louie if we can drink this.”
No matter how reckless I was, I knew enough not to drink the water based off of my own judgement. I lightly shook the water off my hands and stepped away from the hollowed shrub.
I heard a strange noise from behind when I turned around and had taken a step back to where Louie and Eru were.
It’s not the sound of beasts. It sounds like a bunch of flapping wings?
I stiffened up from the bad feeling I got. A black shadow covered over me as I turned back around.
——No, it’s not a shadow!
It was a cloud of insects.
A cloud of the countless insects that had been hiding within the hollow.
A wave-like buzzing echoed before my eyes. A countless number of tiny, elliptical insects swarmed me at once and latched on.
I shuddered in a different way from when we were attacked by beasts. My breathing grew ragged as revulsion overshadowed my fear.
I mean, a cloud of bugs had just swarmed me——.
I couldn’t move as my mind blanked out.
My petrification finally became undone as Louie’s voice reached my ears.
This is disgusting……!!
I screamed and vigorously waved around my arms to hit at the bugs that were crawling and writhing on my arms, shoulders, neck, head, thighs, chest……all over my body.
“T, they won’t come off!”
The blood drained from my face. The speedy insects were crawling all over the surface of my body as they pleased. I was repulsed by the brush-like feeling of their legs and antennae on my skin as they ridiculed me.
I screamed like an idiot and ran about. The bugs crawled inside of my clothes. Down from my collar, and up into my sleeves.
From time to time, I felt a prickling pain from somewhere on my body like I’d been bitten by an ant.
I didn’t even have the time or leisure to get embarrassed about the shrill screams I was letting out.
“No, I hate this!”
Louie paled and came running, but I wasn’t in any state to answer him. I desperately flapped around my arms and legs to get rid of the insects. But even if they flew away at first, they would come back for me like magnets and cling on to me again.
The bugs, the bugs won’t fall off!
The insects squirmed around my body like snakes. They were small and beetle-like, and exceptionally shiny. The buzzing of their wings echoed from my ears. I couldn’t get rid of the chills I got from the feeling of their thin legs and antennae on me. I can’t do this, I really can’t, I feel like my heart’s gonna explode!
I’d long since stopped caring about appearances. I felt so disgusted that I thought my consciousness would fade away.
The insects began to burrow into my hair too. They tenaciously clung to me and noisily crawled about my skin no matter how much I shook them off and shook them off.
I can’t take this anymore. I resolved myself to strip off my robes.
“Don’t move, Hibiki!”
I saw Louie through my blurry vision as I came close to losing my mind.
He had caught a bug that was significantly larger than the others. Unlike the insects swarming me, his looked a like a bee with a beautiful, aquamarine body that looked like a jewel. Louie put it in his mouth for some reason.
He swiftly drew closer to me. Then, he bit down on the bug’s body with a crunch and let its bodily fluids pool into his mouth. After that, he started blowing on the insects swarming around me.
The bug’s fluids, which was a red-purplish color that strangely didn’t look like blood at all, stuck to my robes.
Just then, the insects buzzed and flew away like a receding wave just as I smelled the fluid’s strong odor.
The insects had flown away almost all too easily. As if they were afraid of the fluid that Louie had blown at them.
Louie let the creepily colored fluid pool in his mouth again and walked around me to blow it on my back.
The insects crawled audibly as every last one of them went back into the hollow.
I was frozen stiff as I stared blankly at Louie.
Louie spat out the rest of the fluid in his mouth before looking back to me and signaling me to take off my outer robe with his finger.
I did as I was instructed and, after undoing my sash in a hurry, took off my long outer robe. Then, Louie warned me not to touch the fluid by pointing at the red-purple stains on the surface of my clothes and waving his finger. Of course, I didn’t want to touch it either.
I was wearing another robe of a similar color underneath the long one, so I didn’t resist taking it off.
Then, I hugged Eru, who had drawn close to me, to seek comfort from him. I was finally able to feel relieved after feeling his fluffy fur.
I wasn’t as scared as I was disgusted, and I thought I was gonna pass out…….
The tips of my fingers were still quivering. I’d never thought in my wildest imaginations that there’s be a large swarm of insects inside the hollow.
That clear water was probably bait for catching prey. They probably used numbers to take down bigger prey.
——Wait, what about Louie?!
He’d let the fluid of the boss-like bug pool into his mouth in order to help me.
“You have to hurry and rinse out your mouth!”
Louie smiled as if to say he was okay and then took me gently by the arm to guide me to where the luggage was.
The ever-intelligent Eru guessed our next move and picked up the luggage, which had been placed in the branches of the tree, in his mouth. Oh, I see, it’s probably better to move away from here.
Louie gently picked me up, as I was still moving awkwardly from the fear and chills I’d just experienced, and placed me on Eru’s back.
Then, Eru led the way to search for another place to stay.
We decided to camp at the base of another tree after walking around for ten and a few minutes.
“Louie, you have to rinse out your mouth.”
I offered Louie the water bottle as soon as I’d unfastened the luggage from Eru.
The water bottle still about one-thirds filled with water. We’d been drinking frugally in order to save it.
Louie nodded lightly, poured out a little bit of water into his hand, and rinsed. Eru stared at him as he did for some reason.
Something felt unnatural. Louie turned around, as if to avoid talking to me, pulled out a new long robe from the luggage, and placed it on my shoulders.
“Um, Louie. I’m sorry for being so rash.”
He shook his head as if to say that he didn’t mind. Then, he left to find branches for a fire after a brief survey of our surroundings.
I watched Louie as he worked, a little perplexed. What was it? Perhaps he was giving me the cold shoulder because he’d finally gotten tired of my stupidity.
I knew that I shouldn’t think this way. But even still, there was a small part of me that was accusing Louie of being cold. I wanted him to ask me if I was alright, even just once. I still felt helpless because I could still feel the bugs crawling all over my body.
“I’m acting too spoiled, aren’t I……”
Just how much of a burden did I plan on being to Louie? My chest tightened as my mood dropped like bricks. I wanted to be useful; it hurt to be thought of as a large burden.
Not only had I gone off and declared that I’d find branches on my own and caused an unnecessary uproar, but in the end, I’d even caused trouble as well. I had no right to criticize Louie for being cold.
I began to hate myself so much that I couldn’t stand it.
Eru pushed me lightly on the arm with the tip of his nose just as I let out a sigh and hung down my head.
Eru pushed his nose into my hand and stared at me as if he wanted to tell me something. Then, he slowly turned to Louie, who had returned with the branches, and narrowed his round eyes.
I walked up to Louie, feeling uneasy from Eru’s inexplicable behavior.
Louie looked away ever so slightly and smiled as if he was troubled.
He slipped right past me and swiftly started a fire with the branches he had brought over.
I starting to get my gears rolling. Eru was looking at Louie while moving his whiskers up and down in a meaningful manner. He was trying to tell me something.
I plopped down right in front of Louie, who was taking out the tasteless food we always ate from the luggage.
Louie looked a bit bewildered as he stopped moving for a second and looked to me. But in the end, he still didn’t say anything.
The fire wavered and dimly lit up the forest, which had begun to grow dark. Louie’s profile, lit up orange by the flames, looked stubborn, as if he was trying to cut off my gaze.
I called out to him and grasped lightly onto his sleeve. He smiled back at me in response, but his moon-colored eyes were still facing downward. His behavior confirmed for me that there was definitely something wrong.
“Look at me?”
I resolutely reached out for his cheek only for him to obviously avoid me.
My head hurt right to its core. Multiple thoughts surfaced across my mind and each one asserted that it was the correct answer in rapid turns.
When Louie had rinsed his mouth, he’d poured the water into his hand first instead of bringing the bottle directly to his mouth. Why had he taken the trouble to do that?
I recalled the pungent smell of the aquamarine bug’s bodily fluid.
Louie had let that fluid pool up in his mouth and blew it out to get rid of the insects that were swarming me……but now that I thought about it, he’d only blown it onto my robe so that it wouldn’t touch my skin. Then, he’d signaled to me with his hands to take it off.
The poisonous-looking color of the fluid had smelled so strongly that I teared up. The other insects had fled at full speed. Was that aquamarine bug some kind of queen, like how a queen bee controls the worker bees?
And what if the queen had such a powerful poison in its body that even the other bugs were afraid of it——?
And Louie wasn’t talking at all!
My heart jumped uneasily. A numbing sense of anxiety spread throughout my body and the back of my neck grew cold.
I tried to cling to Louie to dispel my ominous feelings, but he looked away for some odd reason and gently pushed me back. Blood rushed into my head.
“Don’t run away!”
I forcefully climbed on top on Louie’s knees and clasped my hands on both sides of his face.
Louie didn’t seem to have expected me to do something like this and he placed his hands behind his back and pulled slightly away in mute amazement.
“Louie, open your mouth for a bit.”
Louie looked down and smiled wryly at the strong tone of my voice. Then, he glared kindly at me as if to question my behavior.
He simply shook his head to pretend that nothing was up no matter I much I pressed him. His lightly-colored hair, tied up behind him, was a little disheveled. One lock of hair that he must have missed stuck to my hand as I kept it wrapped around his cheek.
The crackling sounds of the fire melted into the silent forest.
“If you don’t open up, I’ll pry your mouth open with my fingers.”
Louie looked bewildered and pushed against my shoulders as I desperately badgered him and tried to move me off of his knees. At this rate, I’d be forced off of him. I desperately and stubbornly clung on to Louie’s waist like I was hugging him.
I’ll really pry your mouth open with my fingers if you don’t listen!
Louie panicked a little upon seeing how keen I was about it. He pushed more strongly than he did before and tried hard to push me off. I tried to resist him, but Louie was obviously stronger than me. I needed backup.
Eru, my loyal guard, drew closer and surprised Louie by pushing the latter down by pressing his forehead against Louie’s chest.
Then, he anchored Louie down by mercilessly stepping over Louie’s arms with his front legs.
Eru looked down at Louie, who was dumbfounded, and snorted as if to show off his victory.
I, too, sat back down on Louie’s abdomen to weigh him down. Louie’s eyes opened wide in astonishment.
Louie looked horribly flustered as he turned away and tried his best to get up. He probably could have managed it easily if he only had to deal with my body weight. But I had a strong supporter with me.
“Eru, Louie won’t listen to me!”
Immediately, Eru let out a low growl that surprised even me to threaten Louie, who was still persistently trying to get away. Then, Eru changed positions and laid down by Louie’s side and took the latter’s arm in his mouth.
Eru was only trying to keep Louie from moving, of course, so he didn’t actually bite him.
Still, Eru, with Louie’s arm in his mouth, bared his fangs as if to threaten Louie that he’d seriously bite if the Louie moved.
Louie’s face stiffened upon seeing Eru’s threat. Still, he looked unhappy when I, still sitting on his abdomen, tried to pry open his mouth.
“Geez, just give it up already!”
Louie gave up and relaxed his body after a short struggle. I jumped on that chance to use my fingers to open up Louie’s mouth.
My vision grew dark and the feeling that my heart would get crushed spread throughout my body.
The inside of Louie’s mouth had festered reddish-black as if it had been burnt.
Even his tongue had turned pitch-black, as if it had necrotized. His saliva was a strange color and the skin behind his lips was melting off.
No wonder he couldn’t talk. Not with this kind of pain.
“What should I do……!”
My temples began to throb painfully.
It was my fault. I’d let Louie pay for my rash actions.
He’d warned me so many times not be reckless.
But all I did was rebel for no reason and I didn’t even try to listen to Louie, who was used to travelling and was familiar with its dangers.
On top of that, I’d even been uncooperative because I’d selfishly decided that he was being “cold”. Just how much of an ungrateful idiot was I?
I abruptly recalled what Fortune had said. He’d said that I put aside my own powerlessness and blamed others when reality didn’t go my way——and he was right.
My body began to grow cold, as if someone had poured freezing water on me. What do I do?
“Medicine, Eru, get the medicine!”
Louie gently shook his head when I shouted. He looked at me with his moon-colored eyes that were as kind as ever and didn’t have even the slightest tinge of blame in them.
This wasn’t something that an apology could solve.
What do I do, Olin? I came to this world to help its people. And yet.
——I might end up killing Louie.
I was aghast. Why was I taking it so easy and being protected, when I was supposed to be the one doing the protecting?
There was someone who would get hurt for me. Someone who would wear away his own body to take my pain and suffering away.
“I’m an idiot.”
Louie hesitantly touched my shoulders in consideration for me as I lost the words to say. I learned of my own hypocrisy in his unclouded gaze. I’d disgustingly condemned myself for my helplessness and now I was trying to use that to buy his pity.
Eru, who had let go of Louie’s arm, rubbed his face against me in worry.
“Will the medicine……not work?”
I didn’t understand anything unless I asked. This fact, too, pierced my heart.
Louie smiled reservedly and shook his head. I guess the medicine used for external wounds didn’t have the ability to detoxify poisons.
I tried but ultimately failed to apologize again and ended up pressing my forehead against Louie’s wide chest. Louie slowly sat up and gently pat me on the back as I clung to him.
What can I do, Olin?
I stiffed up and covered my mouth with my hands. Rinsing his mouth probably hadn’t done anything.
But wouldn’t the poison eventually pass through Louie’s entire body if this was left untreated? It was his mouth, of all places. More toxins would end up entering his body every time he swallowed his saliva.
I closed my eyes tightly shut. The gentle hand patting my back actually hurt me instead.
Is there really no way to heal him?
I desperately rummaged through my memories. There could be a clue to save him somewhere. Anything would do.
My brows started to hurt, probably because I’d been thinking too hard. I subconsciously placed my hand over my forehead, and then I felt something hard. The stone of my forehead.
——The crystallization of the power the gods gave me.
But what kind of power was it? Would it let me use magic?
This world was filled with wonders. Mages and sorcerers existed here. Which meant that I might be able to use magic too. But I didn’t know a single spell.
I focused my consciousness at the darkness that spread out before my closed eyes.
I could tell that Louie was worried.
Why won’t be blame me? He should just curse me out loud. Then, I realized that I had been the one who had stolen way his ability to talk and it hurt so much that I thought my heart was shredding to pieces.
“What can I……”
Louie gently placed his fingers on my chin when I bit down strongly on my lips and lifted my head up. He looked peaceful. His moon-colored eyes narrowed as if they were whispering to me that I didn’t need to worry.
I don’t know the spell.
I don’t know how to heal you.
But, I know for certain that the gods gave me power.
That’s what makes me a part of their……household.
So, if I don’t know the spell…
I’ll bless you, as someone of the “gods’ household”.
After taking a deep breath to solidify my resolve, I slowly reached out and grabbed onto the hair that had fallen on Louie’s cheeks. His eyes, which looked back at me in a slightly puzzled manner, were beautiful.
——A blessing to heal. Will it work?
Gods were supposed to have pure presences. In theory, I should be able to share that purity with others as someone of the gods’ household…… I want to believe I can.
I didn’t want to get thrown off, so I readjusted myself by wrapping my arms around Louie’s neck. I quickly grew nervous, and I felt like my heart would jump out of my throat even now.
Louie opened his eyes wide in surprise.
I quickly crashed my lips against his.
Louie immediately stiffened up. It felt like he had been taken aback because he couldn’t understand what I’d done.
On the other hand, I was recalling what had happened when Olin had kissed me and was desperately trying to do the same thing. I felt something surprisingly soft on my lips.
Er, wait, what was it supposed to feel like again? I don’t remember.
I need to adjust my angle, and…
I have to open his mouth, or I can’t take out the poison!
Louie promptly placed his hand on my shoulder as I squirmed. He seemed extremely shaken, but I was just as confused as he was.
I awkwardly put my lips to his and timidly drew Louie’s head in closer.
Ahh, I don’t know what to do. What do I do, Olin! It’s hard to breathe, and my heart’s beating so hard it hurts.
Louie stopped breathing as he trembled slightly.
I don’t know anymore, I think I failed. Louie wrapped his arm around my back as my heart lamented.
His sturdy arm wrapped snugly around me. After pushing out a small breath, he skillfully changed his angle and deepened our kiss.
I screamed inside of my heart. A shock of electricity ran through me as our mouths opened and our tongues entwined. It traveled down my throat, passed deeply through my body, and heated up as it dispersed.
This——was similar to what happened when Silvai had blessed me. I felt the heat swirl as I felt chills.
Our tongues entwined even more strongly as I thought idly to myself.
I almost scowled when I tasted the sharp bitter taste of the bug’s bodily fluid.
But, it was something else that made my consciousness feel like it was going to fly away. Something gently traced along the inside of my mouth, intensified, and entwined again. Louie groaned once with his lips still over mine. He soon kissed me back strongly and my consciousness blurred for a moment. It felt like we were kissing like two lovers would, and it was intoxicating.
And then I realized.
It was probably all right now. The sharp bitterness and numbness that I’d tasted from his mouth had disappeared.
I tried to pull away in relief.
I pulled a little at Louie’s hair in a panic. Y, you can let go of me now!
He placed a hand on my chin while I was in confusion and pressed his lips against mine once again. In any case, I could clearly feel the softness and his warm body heat. A heat, different from that of a blessing’s, ran through me as I was indulged in this sweetness over and over again. What was I supposed to call this contradictory sensation? Love? It was kind and intense despite it’s unreliability. Plus, I couldn’t breathe.
I was incredibly flustered. Wait, ahh!
And just when am I supposed to breathe!?
All the strength suddenly left my body. I was going to suffocate. I was breaking down in more ways than one.
I indirectly felt a strange impact when I finally thought that I was going to die. Or, should I say that it was more like a crash?
Grr, I heard Eru growl in irritation.
Louie’s arm relaxed as he gently took his lips off of mine. Uwaa, I don’t really know what else to say, but uwaa.
I could finally breathe. I felt relieved even as I breathed raggedly. My cheeks burned brightly on their own.
When I secretly peeked up, I saw that the edges of Louie’s eyes were somewhat red and that his slightly parted lips looked surprisingly suggestive.
There was charming expression on his face that he would have normally never let show. I was captivated before I knew it.
For a short while, his moon-colored eyes, which held an intense burning heat within them, reflected only me.
And then, there was another strange crash.
Eru had headbutted Louie’s back…….
Louie blinked a few times and slowly turned around. He stared blankly at Eru, who was looking back at him with a grim gaze.
Grrrrr, Eru growled, his growl sounding more like an angry threat than mere intimidation, while scrunching up his nose.
Eru……that’s quite a face you’ve got there.
Eru came to my side as I recovered from my absentmindedness and pawed against the ground maliciously. He slipped under Louie’s hand, which was still on my chin, and pushed his face through the space in between us. Then, he pressed his forehead against my chest and tried to push me away from Louie.
Louie came back to his senses and stirred. He looked back and forth between Eru and me in surprise.
Eru, who had evidently grown more vexed, forcefully put me on his back as my eyes wandered around. He skillfully pushed Louie away as he did.
Louie blankly watched it happen without any resistance. When his gaze met mine after Eru had moved me a bit away, he froze up like time had stopped.
That reaction kinda hurts…….
Eru, my acting guardian, wrapped his tail around me as I watched Louie fully regain his senses.
“Um, is your mouth better now?”
Louie was caught off-guard and stared at me for a while. He came back to when Eru growled in ill humor and awkwardly covered his mouth.
“Can you speak?”
Louie slid his long fingers down to his throat and took a deep breath.
“……Yeah, the pain and the numbness have disappeared.”
He sounded a little hoarse, but it evidently wasn’t much of a problem.
Fatigue and relief came down over me at once. It’d been an all-or-nothing gamble, so I was really glad that it worked.
“I’m sorry, Louie.”
Louie looked at me with a mystified light in his gaze with his hand still on his throat when I apologized to him one last time.
Afterward, Louie took watch while still acting extremely awkwardly.
As for me, I had a horrible headache that hurt so much I couldn’t stand up, perhaps because I’d used the <Power> I was given without fully understanding how I was supposed to use it.
Eru eagerly came over and hit my arm with his long tail as if to tell me to lie on him. My lips naturally curled into a smile as I felt his concern for me.
I gratefully leaned against his steel-colored abdomen and buried my face in his fur. The fur on Eru’s back and mane was a little stiff, but the fur on his stomach area was very soft and fluffy —the absolutely best kind of texture. It was like being covered in a down quilt.
Eru’s warmth spread across every nook and cranny of my body as I felt Eru’s steady heartbeat and I grew incredibly sleepy.
Oh no, I’m about to make Louie be the only lookout again. But even as I thought that in one corner of my heart, I couldn’t resist sleep’s call as my consciousness sank deep into darkness.
A cloudy morning. I woke up to a reserved voice calling out my name.
A quiet but deeply anxious voice quickly brought my consciousness back up from the clutches of sleep.
I sluggishly got up. I rubbed my eyes and looked up at Louie, who was nervously peering back at me.
“Mm……, sorry, was I asleep this whole time?”
My body felt heavy and slightly numb, maybe because I’d been frozen in deep sleep for too long.
Louie, who’d been observing me seriously as I was still in the process of waking up, let out a short sigh of relief. He massaged his brow with one hand as if he had suddenly remembered how tired he was.
Both Louie and Eru, who was sitting in a docile manner, looked extremely distressed for some strange reason.
“You kept sleeping, even after an entire day had passed,”
Louie whispered hoarsely as he looked up.
I stared back at him blankly as I pondered over his words for a bit. Then, I looked around in confusion.
The scene before me had hardly changed since the time I’d gone to sleep. ……It was strange.
“How are you feeling?”
Louie watched me keenly, so that he wouldn’t miss even the slightest movement.
“Um, was I really asleep for an entire day?”
I couldn’t believe it. Did that mean that today wasn’t the day after the evening I’d been attacked by the swarm of gross insects, but two days after that?
It was like I’d been robbed of a day’s worth of time without even realizing it.
After a brief moment of absentmindedness, I suddenly realized several things at once and panicked.
“Louie, Eru, I’m so sorry. For sleeping so soundly all by myself. Er, have both of you been making sure to eat?”
Louie and Eru both seemed like they would have seriously put caring for themselves second to keeping watch over me.
My palms started to sweat as I panicked. Sleeping for an entire day was much too sloppy and careless of me no matter how you looked at it.
Louie covered his eyes again and looked down as I was in a fluster.
“Louie, get a little rest. I’ll keep watch.”
I hid how shaken I was as I pulled a little at Louie’s arm. I could easily tell by how tired he was acting that he hadn’t gotten any proper sleep.
Louie roughly brushed back his hair with both hands. His lightly colored hair fell from between his fingers. I grew a little scared at how stern he looked.
“……Um, I’m sorry.”
I’d slept through an entire day. Louie might be so irritated at me that he was letting it show.
I’d grown ashamed of the sheer number of times I’ve held us back due to my own carelessness and formed a fist on top of my knees when I felt Louie stir.
“You wouldn’t wake up no matter how many times I called. ……I thought that you might never open your eyes again.”
After hearing his somewhat hoarse voice, I understood that Louie had been more afraid than I had been worried.
Eru also cried out in a heartrending manner and restlessly pushed his nose against my shoulder.
I’d slept like the dead, hadn’t I?
Had I really slept that deeply……? I was exasperated by my own sleeping habits.
No wonder why my body felt so stiff. My arms and legs were so sluggish. But, my mood had cleared up completely. And my refreshed state of mind also pierced through my heart.
“I’d never thought that I’d offer up another prayer to the gods again——”
Louie tried to smile wryly but gave up part-way through and looked off to the side.
“This is my fault. You fell into such a deep slumber because you healed the insect’s poison that was running through my body.”
I thought that it’d be too obvious if I lied and said it wasn’t and was subsequently lost about how I should respond.
Right, I’d tried giving Louie a, er, blessing in an all-or-nothing gamble and it’d miraculously worked. Right after that, I had a horrible headache and suddenly became incredibly sleepy. I doubt that they weren’t connected.
My body had probably stopped working temporarily as a side effect of forcing myself to use the power Olin and Silvai had given me without knowing its characteristics or how to use it.
It might be that my power wasn’t suited for detoxification.
I see, I can make figuring out my power another task to take on as we travel. Olin’s a god of war and Silvai’s a primordial god who governs over the wind and atmosphere, was it?
I was pretty sure that Silvai had explained to me that my name, Hibiki, shared camaraderie with the atmosphere when I told him what my name was. Different gods ruled over different powers.
“And here I was supposed to be protecting you,”
Louie whispered painfully with his voice colored by regret.
You know, Louie. I didn’t come to this world just to be protected.
For some reason, I couldn’t get the words out of my mouth when I saw Louie refusing to soften up his harsh gaze.
We headed out for the village of Urs after we finished getting ready.
When we finally got out of the creepy forest, we were met with the ever-unchanging gloomy wasteland.
I felt like my heart would dry up and crack just by looking at it. I felt cold not with my skin, but with my senses.
Louie said that he wanted us to reach the village in the afternoon and leave before the sun set as we traveled along the wasteland without another person in sight.
He said that we absolutely mustn’t spend the night in the village because Reims appeared at night.
I had yet to see a Reim……a person who had turned into a revenant, for myself, so it didn’t really hit me no matter how many times I was told that they were dangerous. Because of this, I couldn’t abandon my initial opinion that it was better to turn as many Reims back human as possible.
But Louie seemed to be strongly bound in guilt over the fact that he felt that it was his fault that I had slept for an entire day. He was being even more cautious than he was before.
I pat Eru’s fur as I grew impatient on the inside.
Eru, as I’d expected, still refused to let anyone else but me ride him.
He would let Louie on in emergency situations, though. I had Eru carry only me on his back for the time being, even though I felt guilty about it.
Louie, who was walking next to us, absolutely refused to look our way. The fact that our eyes never met while we were so close to each other made it all the more unnatural.
“Erm, I’m sorry that I wasted so much time……and about everything else.”
I apologized for more things than just the fact that I’d slept for so long. Like the incident with the bugs, for one. And also about how I, well, did that to him without his consent even if it was only to cleanse him from the poison. It was inappropriate of me.
Blood rushed to my face as I remembered what I had done. I felt like I could faint from the shame alone.
I feel like I’ve done something bad to Louie, too. I’d feel really bad toward his wife, if he’s a married man……and then I got strangely depressed. It was a feeling that I couldn’t quite explain.
But I didn’t think that Louie considered me as a person of the opposite gender. He’d gotten my age wrong too.
“——Hibiki. I have a favor to ask of you.”
“……What is it?”
“There’s a high probability that we’ll arrive at the village later than we planned at this rate.”
“Is it too dangerous to go?”
“You wanted to see a map, right?”
Louie looked like he was deep in thought for a bit.
“I’ll go to the village and get a map. Can I ask you to stay on standby outside of the village with the sacred beast while I do?”
I cleared away the conflicting thoughts in my head, switched gears, and glared a little at Louie.
“A map isn’t the only thing I want to see.”
My voice sounded horribly stiff in the midst of Eru’s and Louie’s footsteps, the only other thing I could hear.
“What else would you like?”
I found it difficult to answer. There were a great many number of things that I wanted to see.
Like the atmosphere and smells that you couldn’t touch with your hands —all of it. I wanted to learn more about this world with all of my five senses.
Like the houses, stores, public facilities, and fields that were likely to be found in the village. I wanted to see the foundation of people’s daily lives here and see how much it differed from my own world with my own eyes. It was something important I’d have to learn for my mission.
It was a bit too much to tell me to wait outside without entering the village.
At that rate, I would lose sight of why I’d come to this world in the first place.
“I’ll bring back everything that you want to see.”
No, you’re wrong!
I don’t only want to see things that have a definite shape.
I hung my head down low. I felt like the vague apprehensions that I’d had before we departed had proven to be true.
The promise that I’d forced Louie to swear to me. That he wouldn’t sacrifice himself to save me. I’d been afraid that he’d break that promise one day, and I felt like that day was creepy closer to reality.
“Louie, can we talk about something important for a bit?”
I took a deep breath and turned around while still on top of Eru. Eru hardly moved up or down as he walked, so I wouldn’t fall off even if I sat sideways.
“Hibiki, it’s better for you to sit facing the front…”
“Our conversation comes first.”
Louie had evidently realized that things were about to go unfavorably for him. I looked at Louie as he tried to change the topic and cut him off with in slightly harsh tone.
“I’m going to the village with you. I won’t back down on that one.”
Louie finally looked me in the eye, probably because he had little other choice. Even still, it relieved me more than I had expected. Even though he did look sullen.
“You can’t go off somewhere dangerous by yourself!”
“——And what if something were to happen? I, at the very least, know how to protect myself. But you…”
“No! I won’t listen.”
I didn’t know how to use a sword and it was doubtful that I’d be able to fend for myself. There was nothing I could say if Louie pointed that out.
“I want you to understand that I’m not trying to make light of you. I just don’t want you to get hurt.”
Louie abruptly looked away again. His profile was filled with an emotion that was a dark as fear.
“I feel the same way too, you know.”
I wanted him to understand. It hurt so much to be alone in the leisure of safety that it made me want to cry.
“I wouldn’t be able to bear it, Hibiki——I don’t care if my tongue burns off or if I’m robbed of my vision. As long as you’re safe, that’s all I…”
You’re being serious, aren’t you, Louie?
You don’t care about your own life at all.
“I won’t be safe.”
I cut Louie off because I couldn’t bear it either.
“My body might be safe, but what about my heart? Louie, you’re only worried about my body. Does my heart not matter at all?”
Louie furrowed his brows a little as resistance alighted his face. I continued,
“Louie, you’re protecting me by sacrificing yourself for me. My body might not get physically wounded when you do, but my heart hurts a lot. I keep asking ‘why, why?’ and it really hurts, like I’d been cut multiple times.”
I grew irritated. I couldn’t express my feelings in words without sounding like an immature child.
But Louie, it might sound like what a child would say, but it’s how I really feel.
“It obviously hurts when I get physically wounded too, but I still want to stay with you and be useful.”
“No. You can’t.”
Louie made his refusal all to clear and turned his sharp gaze to me.
“——I couldn’t bear it if you fell asleep like that again. As long as I can still hear your voice, that’s all I…”
“I think they’re the same. The reason why you’re so worried about me, Louie, is probably the same thing that makes it so painful for me.”
“Then do you expect me to not feel anything when I watch you get injured?”
“But it’s not okay for you to be the only one to get hurt, Louie.”
“You don’t understand how cruel it is to survive in this country.”
The color of reproach appeared in Louie’s moon-colored eyes. It felt like he was close to losing his temper and was questioning what I could possibly know about how cruel it was.
“But, Louie. I promised Olin and Silvai. That I’d turn everyone back human. The gods sacrificed themselves to send me here. But then, if I let you sacrifice yourself for me too, then just what——does that make me?”
Eru suddenly looked back as if in consideration for me. I continued,
“I definitely don’t want you to ultimately be the only one getting hurt, Louie, just because I wasn’t using the power they gave me as much as I could.”
Louie bit down on his lip and glared at me intensely. ……He was exceptionally intimidating and was quite scary. If I’d met him looking at me like that in any normal situation, I’d definitely run away screaming. I began again,
“there’s so many things that I don’t know about this world that I want you to teach me about, Louie. I want to see a lot of different things, gain a lot of different experiences, and slowly learn things little by little so that I won’t mess up, so that I won’t accidentally do something stupid again and cause you more trouble.”
“I’ll teach you whatever it is that you want to know.”
Louie was obstinate. Was I the one who had made him like this? I didn’t know what else I could say.
——I had to prove myself with my actions, not my words.
And I had failed. The fact that I had fallen asleep for an entire day had made Louie all the more uneasy. He was someone who feared loss above all else.
How do I reassure him that I won’t disappear anymore?
We proceeded in silence for a little while after that. The brutal landscape was so unchanging that I began to hate it. All it did was to spur on this gloomy atmosphere.
“……? Louie, there’s something over there.”
Something blackish protruded out here and there from the discolored surface.
“Oh, those are probably stone monuments…… Sorcerers cast a spell to try to prevent the earth from drying up when the kingdom began to fall into ruin. They’re probably the remains of the spell,”
Louie explained indifferently. I had Eru walk toward them after a brief moment of hesitation.
I guess they really were stone monuments. They were somewhat whitish, like granite. There was something that looked like words carved into their surfaces, but they were so cracked and dirty that I couldn’t make any sense out of them.
“There’s quite a lot of them.”
I got off of Eru and meticulously checked out each one.
“——These stone monuments are strange. They’ve been carved out on purpose. Why is that?”
My breath caught when I turned around to ask Louie.
I trembled. Louie, who should have been right behind me, was nowhere in sight.
My voice was colored with fear. Neither Louie nor Eru were here. I hurried around a corner of monuments as I searched for them. ……Nothing had even happened, I had simply been unable to see them from the other side of the monuments.
I was exasperated by how much I’d panicked as I ran toward Louie, who was standing around just a little farther away.
It was strange, Louie’s gaze right now——I should be in his line of sight, but he wasn’t reacting. I recalled how it had been when I’d first met him in the interworld. He didn’t notice my presence and was looking right through me.
“He does not see you.”
Someone’s voice suddenly echoed by my ear. A hand reached out covered my mouth from behind before I could turn around to see who it was.
“This is the place where we bet our lives on our spell. Ahh, but there still isn’t enough power for it. The land will not turn back. The kingdom is falling to ruin……”
I broke out in goosebumps. I heard weeping in every direction. Strange human-like “hazes” stood by the stone monuments.
I looked down at the hand covering my mouth even as I trembled. For a moment, I was reminded of the chair of small monkeys that Fortune had set up. My hands and feet had been bound, and my voice had been sealed off……but this wasn’t like the monkeys at all. It was a skinny, branch-like hand with a faint silhouette. It was like it belonged to a ghost, and not a person——.
Louie had said something about sorcerers earlier. Could these possibly be their residual thoughts?
I shook off the hand in a hurry. Then, I heard voices of regret reverberating around me.
Voices that cursed their fate, voices of lament, voices of hatred——and the voices of those who wept while thinking of their families.
My heart jumped.
The images of my parents, who I’d been trying not to think about because I had a mission here, suddenly came into my mind. The human-like hazes who wept while thinking of their loved ones blocked the way before me the very moment I stopped breathing.
I was in a daze. In those translucent hazes……in the shimmer of space they created, I saw that a faint image of something completely different was overlapping with the scenery here. That something was a scene that I couldn’t believe was real.
I desperately took a closer look. There was no doubting that I was seeing my parents facing each other at the dinner table.
How was I seeing a scene with my parents here? I somehow managed to keep myself from crumbling down by tensing up my hands and legs.
It shouldn’t have been possible. This must be an illusion, just something that was created by my desires……and I had a flash of inspiration as I thought. This was a place where the remains of sorcery lingered. In other words, were the two worlds being connected together, like how they had been in the interworld forest, by the residual thoughts and power that had piled up and mixed together here?
And if I was right, did that mean that this haze had become a gateway connecting to my world?
——……Can I go back home?
My body refused to budge even though my heart was being drawn forward. The dinner table was cold. My parents weren’t talking to each other, as usual. Nothing had changed, regardless of whether I was there or not. Nothing at all!
I grew angry and bit down on my lips so hard it began to bleed when my eyes suddenly caught sight of the dishes on the dinner table.
There were three people’s shares of food. Mom’s, Dad’s, and——mine?
Something pierced deep through my heart. I felt like it’d burst open.
I want to go home……I want to go home!! My wish resounded throughout my entire body. If I reached out and leapt with all my might, would I be able to return to that scene?
And if I did, wouldn’t they surely hold me in their arms even if they were bewildered?
I should have told them how I really felt without putting up a brave front and without being stubborn! Even if it meant that my parents would chose to take different paths from each other, I could have made the bonds between us more certain.
I had simply been running away because I didn’t want to face the fact that I was hurting.
I wanted to do it all over. I knew I could open up my heart to them now. And tell them about everything I’d yearned for but couldn’t say out loud.
If I looked away a little, I could also see the figure of a single lonely knight standing in shock. Louie. It looked like he, too, was seeing something inside of the peculiar haze.
I looked back and forth between my family and Louie.
What should I do?
Which should I choose?
The warm world were my parents, whom I truly loved, were? Or the warped, hopeless world filled only with despair?
“Even if you tell me to choose……”
I made a fist and raised up my head.
“——I’ve already decided. I won’t run away. I’ve made a promise.”
I turned away and ran. To where I wished to be——to him.
Louie, who had been frozen until then, suddenly began to move before I reached him.
He grasped the hilt of the large sword at his back and slid it out of its sheathe. His relentless eyes were colored by grim resolve.
I gulped as the silver blade flew. It flashed as if to cut me in half in one blow as I drew closer.
No, he was cutting the “haze” that shimmering next to me. Louie, too, had chosen this lonely and painful reality over the undoubtably heartrending scene he had seen in the haze!
His sword had beaten away the last remaining traces of the powers that the sorcerers had left behind here.
Multiple fierce screams gushed out and circled the area. Voices that cursed their fate, voices of lament, voices of hatred……they call circled around like a muddy stream.
The space around us wavered. The whirlpool of voices made the sleeves of my robes flutter one last time before flowing up into the sky and disappearing.
Silence returned to the area. I saw a panicked Eru drawing closer from the corner of my eye.
His moon-colored eyes finally saw me when I shouted. His large sword fell from his hands in his surprise and clattered to the ground.
His arms wrapped around in more in confusion than to pull me closer.
Louie wasn’t a part of my family and was someone from a different world.
But even still, we’d met and taken each other’s hands. Our fates had connected.
I won’t get it wrong this time. I wanted to move forward while accepting all of the things I’d been ignoring until now without looking away.
So please, I want to see the same scenery as you, okay?
“I——want to be with you, Louie.”
I could tell that Louie had forgotten to breathe for a moment. There were so many things I wanted to say to him, who was always surrounded by such loneliness.
“Louie, you regret the fact that you’re the only survivor a lot. That’s why you feel like it’s only natural for you to get hurt. It even looks like you don’t care if you die. But I don’t want that! Even if you don’t care about your life, Louie, it’s extremely precious and important to me. If you ever throw your life away, I’ll be sure to go and take it right back.”
I couldn’t get the right words out. It was because hadn’t really ever put my true feelings to words up until now.
“I don’t want you to shoulder things alone even if only painful things happen from now on, Louie, and as long as we can both shoulder it together and say that it’s okay even if it hurts, then that’s……”
Argh, everything I’m saying is a total mess and completely off-topic, isn’t it? Why is it so hard to be honest about your feelings?
“Er, I can’t do anything useful at all, and I’m always making you angry, Louie, and I’m really, you know…”
What’s “you know” even supposed to mean?! I asked myself. Geez, even my words are coming out weird!
“So I’m really glad I met you, Louie. I want to stay by your side. Even when it’s dangerous. Especially when it’s dangerous, actually. So, let’s get hurt together, okay?! Let’s worry about and be worried over by each other since we can’t do that unless we’re both there…… wait, we should still make it our first priority to be careful and not get hurt in the first place!”
I started to go in circles the more flustered I became.
But, couldn’t we? I felt like I was about to be scorned for being too naïve, for not understanding anything. I was hoping that he would chalk it up to our difference in age and tolerate my words with an open mind.
“I want to see the same scenery as you and I want to learn a lot about everything from you, or something like that.”
I could go home with my head held high if I gave it my all here. I could proudly tell my family that I was helpful to someone.
Then, my parents might even smile again like they used to a long time ago.
“So let’s keep spending more time together like this and———ehh?”
I made a strange sound in the middle of my sentence.
Louie had tightened the arms he had wrapped around me. I was pulled up to my tip-toes.
I could hear his heart beating right next to me. It was beating fast.
This was the sound of life. I calmed myself down and listened closer.
This world was endlessly broken. But even so, there was still someone who’s heart was beating so vibrantly right by my side.
“——I wouldn’t be able to go on. Not if I lost you.”
“I’ll protect you. No matter what I have to give up in return.”
His arms trembled a little around my back.
I felt like my heart had begun to beat louder, perhaps because it was copying Louie’s.
“Oh, Louie——look over there.”
I cast my gaze upward. To the gloomy, frozen sky.
And to the singly ray of light that shone through it.
Louie let go of me as if he was surprised and turned to face the light.
It was a thin and unreliable ray of light. It looked like it would be covered up again by the clouds at any moment. But that shining light looked like a ray of hope to me. I’m sure that Louie felt the same.
It was like the sky was pouring its blessings down on the earth, on my oath, and on Louie’s choice.
I grew happy and grasped Louie’s hand tightly. Eru, who had been loitering around the area, pushed the tip of his nose against my other arm and fawned over me.
I pat Eru’s face and looked up to the light in the sky again.
——It’s not broken. This world hasn’t fallen yet!
It’d only just begun. I looked forward with my sword grasped tightly in my hand.
Now, let us take a stand against fate.
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