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This chapter is updated by Wuxia.Blog
Six days had passed since we began traveling to Lavann. We were a good deal behind schedule, but neither Louie nor I touched upon this fact.
An invisible curtain had been hung between Louie and me ever since that day we first came across the Reims. There was a brief moment of hesitation whenever we spoke to each other.
It was lonely, as if our hearts were far away despite the fact that we were walking side by side.
It was a subtle change, but it was unbearably painful once I’d noticed it.
I dropped my gaze to the discolored earth while stroking Eru around his neck.
The land in this area had a particular trait to it. Countless white and scarlet-striped rocks stuck out of the ground. I was only interested in the vivid and colorful stripes at first. My eyes eventually started to hurt from looking at them, which was troubling.
Incidentally, they were also weirdly shaped. Their heights were all over the place, and the only uniform thing about them was that they were all oblong. They gave more of the impression that they were naturally formed stone statues rather than just rocks.
“They look like really tall strawberry jam Baumkuchen……”
“It’s nothing, don’t worry about it.”
I shook my head in a hurry when Louie looked at me quizzically.
The view was beautiful enough that it wouldn’t have been strange to find it painted in a fantasy painting if only the sky was brighter and the atmosphere wasn’t so gloomy.
I took another careful look at the rocks blocking our path that stuck up from the ground in random intervals.
When there was a particularly large number of rocks in one area and the rocks’ surface looked exceptionally rugged, there was always a tree that looked like a Japanese yew at the center of the cluster. All of the berries that hung down from the tree’s branches had shriveled up and turned black because all of their moisture had evaporated.
I sighed when I thought about how unfortunate it was.
“We could’ve eaten them if they really were yew berries…”
I’d been really parched for a while now, to be completely honest. The air in this region was a lot dryer than the forests we had been traveling through just a few days ago, perhaps because there were a lot of rocks here.
But Louie and Eru were probably just as parched as I was. I shouldn’t be selfish.
“…….Orange juice. Cider. Pocari1……”
Though I know I’m not supposed to think about stuff like that at times like this!
“……Please bear with it for just a little longer. I’ll procure more water from somewhere,”
Louie suddenly said as if to cheer me up.
“Huh? N, no, that’s not it! I was just saying things without meaning anything!”
How had he figured out that I was listing off drinks?
Had I been giving off an air of wanting something to drink that badly?
“I’m really okay, since I’ve gotten used to this kind of stuff by now.”
I absolutely couldn’t allow myself to complain. After all, I was the only one who was riding Eru.
“Oh——Please wait here.”
Louie walked up to a steep and tall rock that I almost mistook for a cliff. It was so tall that it seemed to pierce the heavens.
“Are we taking a break here?”
“No. I have a feeling that I’ll find something good.”
Louie took off his outer robe, stepped on the rugged surface of the rock wall, and nimbly began to climb it. Was I supposed to climb this wall too? I grew a little nervous at the thought.
“Come back down, that’s dangerous!”
Louie, who had climbed up to about the height of the third story of a building, was using his hand to skillfully carve away at the wall. Crumbling chucks of rock fell off one after the other.
I fretted for a little while as I waited for Louie to come back down.
It looked like Louie had carved something round out of the wall. It was an uneven but otherwise spherical object about the size of a palm. He put it under his arm as he climbed back down to where I was waiting, perplexed.
“What’s that ball-shaped rock used for?”
But more importantly, were the rocks actually so brittle that you could carve away at them with your bare hands?
“Louie, shouldn’t we move away from here……? Isn’t there a chance that the rock will collapse on us?”
He smiled gently when I asked him with the blood draining from my face.
“These rocks were once living rocks.”
“Living rocks……? You’re not talking about fossils, are you?”
“They would soak up water from the earth and store them in stone membranes inside them.”
“So they’re easy to carve out because there’s water in them?”
Louie nodded, sat me down on top of a leveled rock nearby that seemed to have collapsed long ago, and made an incision into the ball-shaped unevenly spherical rock in his hand with a dagger.
The ball of rock made a dull sound, like that of hard rubber, when he did. Then, pretty red water poured out of the slit as he tilted it gently toward the ground. It was a slightly deeper red than an acerola cherry.
“Whoa! What is that?!”
I opened my eyes wide in surprise and looked back at Louie.
“I took on a bit of a detour on the chance that there’d be water here……thank goodness I was right,”
Louie whispered as relief colored his voice. Then he said,
“it’s richer in nutrients than normal water. It’s not poisonous, so please try some.”
“I can? Thanks!”
I poured the red water into my empty plastic water bottle. There was enough to fill the bottle about half-way. Because of its color, I was expecting that the water would taste just as sour and sweet as an acerola cherry.
I think anyone would reasonably expect it to taste good, and not just me!
“I wanna give some to Eru too.”
But Eru turned away in clear distaste when I offered him the bottle.
“……Eru’s reaction kinda makes me feel like something bad’s gonna happen…”
I timidly brought the bottle up to my mouth and took a mouthful of the red water.
“!? Gro, it’s gross……!!”
The only reason I didn’t instinctively spit it out was because Louie was right there in front of me. If I was alone, I’m sure that I would’ve spat it out and rinsed my mouth.
“Are you sure this is drinkable?!”
It tasted strongly of rust, was faintly lukewarm, and its aftertaste reminded me of vegetable juice with zero sugar or sweeteners added. There was an indescribable sensation at the back of my head and felt my pores open all at once.
“Louie, this is a bit too much taste-wise…”
I ignored the ominous taste that was spreading around my throat by blinking rapidly as I looked up at Louie.
I was probably looked incredibly pitiful. Louie almost starting laughing for a second before he managed to quickly regain his composure.
“Did you forget to tell me what it tastes like on purpose……? That’s so mean.”
“I wasn’t being mean to you. Please bear with drinking this water, at least until we arrive at Lavann.”
I shouldn’t be selfish, I know I shouldn’t……, but I couldn’t help the fact that my answer had been delayed and gloomy.
“Are you gonna drink it too, Louie?”
I would firmly refuse if he said that I was the only one who would drink it.
“This water is a precious substance known as all-water. You can survive on just this alone for long periods of time.”
My voice sounded hoarse when I expressed how amazing that sounded.
“Please, I want you to drink this.”
Louie voice sounded a little hard, kind of like a teacher’s.
He was pretty formidable at times like this.
“You were feeding most of the fruits of Canaan to the sacred beast, were you not?”
I jumped a little.
“Are the fruits of Canaan the raisin-like things that I’ve been feeding Eru?”
“Yes. Nothing you’ve eaten for yourself is very high in nutritional value. You always give the foods that help store up strength in the body to the sacred beast. You tire easily, do you not?”
To be completely honest, the emergency rations in this world were way too salty. Everything except for the bread-like food tasted so bad that it brought tears to my eyes and readily made me thirsty.
Apparently, I shouldn’t have looked away as I pondered about how I could talk my way out of this.
Louie suddenly knelt with one knee on the ground and began looking more and more like a strict school teacher. Still, his moon-colored eyes were brimming with sorrow.
“This water is rich in nutrients, even if it’s taste is not to your liking. Please make sure to drink it.”
Before I knew it, I’d given him an unfair answer that purposely sounded like something in between a confirmation and a denial.
I felt like I couldn’t consent even though I knew I should. Louie ended up seeing through me when I tried to get out of this by being vague. He glared at me with scary eyes.
“That packs quite the punch, Louie……”
His intimidating gaze lasted only for a brief second.
Then, he bowed his head low to the ground as if he was prostrating himself.
Argh, that’s kinda mean!
I didn’t want to see him bow down like that.
“O, okay, I’ll drink it. Get up already.”
Then, I resigned myself to fate and promised with my head hanging low,
“there’s only one mouthful left. I can drink half the bottle in one go. I think!”
And so, I made my half-hearted resolve, but I soon found out that I had been way too naïve about this.
Louie carved out three more uneven balls of the membrane-covered red water from the surface of the rock to use as our emergency water.
“This is practically torture. ……You’ll drink some too, right, Eru?”
I didn’t want to be the only victim here.
Eru quickly turned the other way when I tried to get him to join me in my suffering.
“For some reason, Eru, I feel like you act like you can’t understand me when it’s convenient for you not to.”
I sighed. I’d decided what I was going to write about in my journal during our next break.
I would write about how hopelessly disgusting all-water was.
“Hey, Louie, is it just me or is the air cleaner here?”
I’d noticed that it had gotten easier to breathe as we traveled through the Baumkuchen region. There was hardly any dust in the air. I wonder why?
I furrowed my brows. What kind of calamity did this herald? Before I knew it, I had come to understand that change was not something to be hopeful for.
“Like, did we accidentally wander into a demonbeast’s layer or something?”
“I don’t believe so. Wouldn’t the sacred beast, which has the sharpest senses out of all of us, have been the first to notice if we had?”
Eru, whom I was riding on, twitched his ears and turned back to me at Louie’s conjecture.
“I don’t think Eru senses any danger.”
“……It is possible that we might have entered into an illusionary realm.”
“An illusionary realm?”
Louie looked around at our surrounding, more perplexed than cautious.
“Do you recall the time that I told you about demonbeasts and cryptids?”
“You said that they lived in different regions.”
“Yes, this illusionary realm here is somewhat close to one of those regions.”
I surveyed my surroundings, startled, and quickly climbed off of Eru.
“You mean we walked into a demonbeast’s lair? Isn’t that really bad?”
Louie gently stopped me before I could take hold of my sword.
“Oh, that’s not it. There are no demonbeasts here. The air is too clear for that. I believe that we likely wandered into a village of faeries. “
I didn’t know how to respond to that, since I wasn’t familiar with the fantasy genre.
Was he talking about the winged humanoid creatures that appeared in picture books?
“Like demonbeasts, faeries exist in a slightly different timespace than do people. And, normally, adults aren’t able to wander into their village; it’s usually only children who do.”
“Oh, like a spiriting away?”
“Yes. Some of the children who are taken by the faeries never return. But many of the children who do make it back are granted special powers. This is why it is difficult to say that faeries are unconditionally evil creatures.”
“Um, Louie? We wandered into an illusionary realm, right? ……Will we be able to make it back out?”
Louie glanced down at me and looked around at our surroundings again.
“I’ve met faeries before a long time ago.”
“In my case, I returned only a few days after I was taken. I wasn’t granted any special powers either.”
He laughed wryly as I gaped at him. Then, he motioned with his hand to keep walking, so I did.
“I don’t remember much of my experiences in the illusionary realm. I believe that the faeries muddled my memories in order to protect their village. I still retain some things, however, so they haven’t erased all of them. Faeries are prideful, so there is no way they would have overlooked the fact that we’ve wandered in…”
I didn’t know what I should be surprised at. It looked like Louie had quite the dramatic past behind him.
“I don’t feel the presence of the faeries.”
As far as I could tell by watching Louie, it didn’t seem like I needed to be too nervous.
I saw them soon after I turned to face forward again. I jumped up in surprise.
Before my very eyes was a giant creature that was so tall that it hurt my neck to look up at it.
What are these called again?! Trolls? They look like Moai statues with bodies.
“It’s a faerie. ……It’s been petrified.”
Louie opened his eyes wide and approached the giant statue.
Upon a closer inspection, I found that over half of the steep rocks around us were actually faerie statues.
“I heard that there are some faeries that turn to stone during the day, but there’s no way that all of them would turn like this……”
I abruptly made a realization as Louie muttered quizzically to himself.
Does this mean that the faeries are under the influence of Fortune’s power too? Or…
“Did they turn into stone instead of Reims because they aren’t human?”
“It’s possible that they did it to protect themselves. Their lives are said to be so long that they are immortal in comparison to humankind.”
Louie ran his fingers lightly over the stone as he explained with a tint of loneliness. I watched his fingers, brimming with sympathy, move for a short while.
Then, I copied him and carefully stroked the statue myself. It was rough and coarse. It was also warm, as though it had been bathing in the sun. Maybe it was the faerie’s body heat?
“I’m sorry we entered into your village without permission. We’ll be quiet so we don’t wake you up. Please wait a little longer until I bring the world back to normal.”
Louie, who had noticed what I was doing, smiled gently.
“The kindness of your heart makes you lovable. I am sure that the faeries will accept your consolation.”
“……Louie, you’re a bad person without realizing it, aren’t you?”
Louie looked like he had no idea why I’d suddenly furrowed my brows.
Did he really think that there existed a girl out there who wouldn’t blush when he said she was lovable?
He might have seduced a lot of girls like this in the past.
“Now that I think about it, you’re allowed to have multiple wives in the Kingdom of Gallè…”
I recalled something stupid and pointlessly made myself more irritated.
“Hibiki? What does that have to do with me?”
I don’t have any right to judge Louie if his private life was more colorful than I thought it was, and I don’t have the leisure to have feelings like that to begin with anyway.
All of these thoughts ran through my head before I returned to my senses.
“……Feelings like that?”
My heart skipped a beat. Had I——starting to see Louie as a new family member before I’d realized it?
Maybe that was why I was feeling so depressed?
“Are you angry at me?”
“Then why did you say I was a bad person? I don’t wish to displease you. So please, tell me.”
Louie, you are so…!
He was certainly quite the devil if he had calculated all of this. Eru, too, was glaring at Louie with his round eyes narrowed into slits.
I looked away from Louie, who was visibly troubled. Then, I saw something peculiar.
“Is that a real cliff, and not a stone statue? ……Oh, there are cocoons on it!”
I was surprised. An inexhaustible supply of vines the thickness of a person’s arm was wrapped around the cliff’s steps and there were multiple strange spheres hanging from them. They were large.
“What are those? They look less like cocoons and more like lily of the valleys?”
Louie and I ran over to it and looked around at the things I’d spotted.
I was taken aback. They looked like lily of the valley buds that were facing upward, instead of hanging downward. And, evidently, everything was faerie-sized around here.
“I wonder if they’re actually flowers. ……There won’t be bugs or monsters inside them, will there?”
Eru and I were on guard as we gazed suspiciously at the lily of the valley lookalikes.
“Should we throw a pebble at it and see if it responds?”
“Oh, there’s no need to worry. I remember these. They’re something you will probably enjoy.”
Louie smiled in a lighthearted manner, the first time he’d done so in a while, and took me by the hand to climb the steps of the cliff. Eru nimbly climbed up after us.
We approached one of the lily of the valley lookalikes. It looked harmless at a first glance, but I couldn’t be too sure.
“Should we be careful, just in case……?”
“It’s all right. Evil creatures cannot enter faerie villages to begin with.”
I finally relaxed a bit at his words. Then, my curiosity started to get the better of me.
“Is it okay if I touch it?”
I gingerly brushed my fingers against a lily of the valley lookalike.
It felt more like the smooth elasticity of rubber than flower petals. It was quite plump and was pleasant to the touch. It was thicker and tougher than I’d thought it would be.
It was too large for me to wrap my arms around. I could easily fit inside it if I curled up into a ball.
Louie pried open the bud portion of the lookalike.
“Yes. These are the faeries’ source of water. The bud absorbs water from the ground and stores it inside the petals. ……It is quite the fortunate discovery. Perhaps the will of the faeries have guided you here.”
I was perplexed by the fact that Louie seemed to want to credit this discovery to me.
I avoided answering him by looking into the bud again.
It was filled with clear water. There was nothing foreign floating around in it.
“Can we drink this?”
“Yes. And I was thinking that you’d want to bathe in it as well?”
“We can do that!?”
He laughed a little at my overreaction. Then, he lightly tapped at the white petal with his fingertips.
“It looks like there’s more than enough water for it. See how it’s still shaped like a bud instead of opening up all the way? It’s proof that there is water stored inside.”
I was so happy I could jump for joy.
Louie leisurely scooped up some water with one hand and offered it to me while I was still paralyzed in delight. I brought up my hands in a hurry. Then, with a gentle smile, he slowly poured the water into my hands. I felt like my skin was rejuvenating at the pleasant coldness.
“That water, it’s so clear!”
“Yes, it is, Hibiki.”
How many days had passed since I’d come to this world? I hadn’t realized that it was so hard to go without bathing for so long. Nor that it was so painful to not be able to drink water whenever you wanted it.
“I was thinking that we would have to find a place to stay the night soon. We still have some time until sunset……but let’s rest here for today instead of pushing ourselves.”
“Thank you so much, Louie!”
I was sure that deep down, he actually wanted to get as close to Lavann as possible, even just a little. But I think he decided to call it a day instead after seeing how I was doing.
I was probably at my limit.
I hadn’t slept properly in the past six days. As soon as I fell asleep, I’d remember that terrifying mountain of corpses and their voices of resent.
I found it difficult to swallow down food, too. The vivid memories of their hatred pressed down on me even after many days had passed and I’d calmed down.
I’d been wanting to wash myself for a while now somewhere in the recess of my mind.
It was in part because I hadn’t bathed in days, but it was more because I could still feel the……the blackened skin of the people of Urs clinging to the palm of my hands, and I couldn’t stand it.
“Can we wash our robes too? I wanna wash everything that we can while we’re here.”
I made an effort to sound bright and cheerful so he wouldn’t notice the dark thoughts my heart had sunken into.
Louie stopped me in a hurry as I undid my obi belt to take off my outer robe.
Eru also moved to stand in front of me in a panic. It was like he was trying to ensure that Louie couldn’t get close to me.
“Could I ask you to wait a little, Hibiki? Let us return to the surface and put down our luggage first.”
I realized that I had been about to strip in front of Louie and broke out into a cold sweat. It was important to have a sense of shame.
We climbed back down to the surface for the time being and looked for a shaded place that looked nice to lie down in. A place where we could easily hide in the one-in-a-million chance that a monster found its way into the village.
“I’ll enjoy my bath when it gets dark……”
Even if there was no one else here except for Louie, we were still outdoors. I was a little hesitant to strip naked while it was still light out. ……Though I’d been about to take off my robes like it was nothing earlier.
First, we got ready to eat.
Then, I starting writing in my journal —something that had become a part of my daily routine. I’d made a lot of discoveries today, so I had a lot to write about. I couldn’t forget Louie’s Japanese lessons, either.
A faint darkness began to settle in as I busied myself with this and that. It secretly made me anxious.
The thing that I feared the most right now was sunset.
I clung to Eru’s, who was lying down, flank and strained my ears for the Reims’ cries.
“I think we’re okay.”
“Yes, I believe that the faeries’ village still retains its protections.”
I was deeply relieved on the inside. We’ll safely survive today too. Today too, I alone will…….
I switched gears and told Louie to wash up first. I was sure that he was eager to wash himself too.
We ended up doing a bit of a verbal tug-of-war because of this.
“I don’t mind waiting a little. You may go first.”
“No. I’m going to take a long time. I have things I wanna wash too.”
I grew impatient at his diffidence and tried to take off his clothes by force before he finally relented. It was hard work trying to tell a grown-up what to do.
I had Louie wash up first while Eru and I took watch.
I heard the sound of water running from the other side of a cluster of thick hanging vines.
I climbed on top of a vine that looked just thick enough to be comfortable to sit on, placed down the cloth that I’d brought with me, and knelt on it. Louie hadn’t brought anything with him to use to dry himself with like a bath towel, only his change of clothes.
I tugged gently at Eru’s whiskers as he sat down next to me with his giant body curled up in a ball. He moved his whiskers up and down and flattened his ears as if it tickled. I laughed and scratched him around the neck.
“The sound of water is really nice.”
It was a sound that I’d heard so often in my old world.
“So is the sound of rain, and the sound of bathroom water—I used to take it all for granted.”
Both of these things were a luxury to me now. I had apparently dozed off at some point as I leaned my ear in toward the sound of water. It was short, but it was the first sleep that I’d gotten in a while now that wasn’t accompanied by nightmares.
I woke up again as the water stopped.
I stood up in a hurry and carefully peeked in through the vines with my cloth in tow. I kept my eyes tightly shut.
I heard Louie, who was apparently in the middle of changing, call out in surprise.
“It’s okay, my eyes are shut and I can’t see anything.”
“……No, it’s all right, so please open your eyes. You’ll fall if you slip.”
Is he already done changing?
I thought as I opened my eyes half-way to see that, while he had pants on, he was still naked from waist up. I panicked and closed my eyes down again. I’d treated Louie’s wounds before. He had been half-naked back then, too, so why was it extra awkward now?
I mean, it wasn’t like I’d waited here just to spy on him changing or anything.
I said as I spread out my cloth.
I nodded with my eyes still closed when Louie quizzically parroted back.
“There was something that I’d thought of when I first met you.”
“What was it?”
“You were covered in blood and wounded, Louie. Your hair was all clumped up because of the blood and gore from the beasts. Back then, I thought that your hair would be so soft and beautiful if you washed it properly and brushed it well. Then, I promised myself to “find somewhere to wash your hair tomorrow,” but then there wasn’t really much of a chance for that “tomorrow” to happen.”
This was a world where we had to do our best just to secure enough water to drink. There was no way we’d find enough water to bathe in.
“If we ever had the chance to wash our hair and bodies. I wanted to dry your hair for you if that chance ever came. That’s what I thought. And “tomorrow” is finally here. Our wishes will come true one day, even if it takes some time, as long as we keep them in our hearts. This let me believe that.”
I waited for him to react, but it seemed like he hadn’t even moved.
“Louie, will you let me dry your hair?”
I didn’t know what kind of face Louie was making because my eyes were still closed.
I felt like I’d been made to wait for a while. Was he trying to figure out how to refuse? I finally felt Louie move after I’d started to grow nervous. Is he kneeling?
His large hands gently brushed against my arms. Then, he moved them awkwardly.
I broke out into a smile before I could stop myself. I felt the dampness on my fingers.
“Despite how I might look, I’m an expert at drying hair, you know?”
His hair was as soft as I’d thought it would be.
I headed for my turn at the bath after telling Louie and Eru to go to sleep first.
It was hard to move around without light, so I placed a small torch that Louie’d given me in a small crevasse in the cliff.
I cut a slit in one of the vines above my head with a dagger I borrowed from Louie and let the water trickle down from it.
“It’s like a simple shower.”
Louie had said that the vines sucked up water from the ground. The power of nature is really mysterious and amazing.
I quickly took off my clothes and put them in a crevasse along the cliff and stood under the falling water.
I immediately shivered from the cold.
“I should’ve known it wouldn’t be hot……”
Being naked made me feel even more disheartened. I crossed my arms in front of my chest as if I was hugging myself. The water trickled down from my head, past my brows, and flowed down the sides of my nose.
I closed my eyes and enjoyed how the cold water felt for a while.
It’d be so nice if this water could clean everything, and not just my body.
I took a deep breath. Slowly, I opened my eyes and carefully washed my body and hair. Then, a large white bud happened to catch my eye just as I was about to wash my clothes.
“This lily of the valley lookalike looks a lot like a bathtub.”
I was sorely tempted to put my observation to the test. I didn’t think that I’d have the chance to soak in a bathtub for a long while.
“I’ll try stepping in.”
I made sure to test how sturdy the white petals were first because I absolutely wanted to avoid the disaster of falling off the cliff buck naked.
“It should be okay if I’m careful not to lean against the petals, right?”
I stepped up on a vine and, while being careful not to open the petals too far, stuck my toes in the water.
“It’s so cold!”
I slowly sank down into the bud and checked to see if the petals had broken.
……Some water had splashed out, but there didn’t seem to be any problems otherwise. The water was pretty cold, and I broke out in goosebumps. But even still, I felt this sense of liberation. I felt like every nook and cranny of my body was turning clear; as if I was melting gently away.
“I really wish we could carry this lily of the valley lookalike with us as we travel.”
I brought my knees together, curled up into an egg-like shape, and submerged myself until even the top of my head was underwater.
The silence above the water felt different from the silence under it. It was somehow almost heavier in the water.
I felt like I had become a single leaf drifting through the waves of the night.
The water, too, was swaying. Like a heat haze.
——Like the residual resentment of the dead.
My eyes shot open when I heard a low voice that I could hardly believe was my own echoing through my heart.
I tried to cry out, forgetting that I’d submerged myself completely underwater. I ended up swallowing a bunch of water and the back of my nose stung.
It was pitch black and I couldn’t see anything. I struggled and thrashed about my limbs, but I couldn’t grab hold of anything.
The voices of resent clung to my naked skin. Don’t you dare think you can wash yourself clean all by yourself; don’t you dare think that you can wash away our regrets——.
——You’re wrong, I won’t forget you, I won’t leave you behind……!
My consciousness blurred because I couldn’t breathe and my body starting convulsing.
I saw Louie and Eru’s faces in my mind before my consciousness abruptly cut away.
Someone was calling me.
“Are you all right, Hibiki?”
Whose voice is this? I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I feel like I’ve heard this voice before.
“Hmmm, does this mean——that you won’t be able to get up unless I sleep with you?”
“What a troublesome maiden you are, to seduce me in such an indirect manner. I am thoroughly enjoying this.”
W, who? Seriously, who is it!? I only know one person who’d say something as regrettable as——.
“All right. Then, I will happily accept your invitation.”
Suddenly feeling like I was in danger, I did my best to pry open my eyes and clear away my drowsiness.
The first thing I saw——was the shining blue of someone’s hair.
“Good morning, my new bride!”
A lively greeting. The blood drained from my face.
Someone was lying propped up on one elbow next to me. They were close enough that our noses almost touched. I was stunned silent. The unparalleled beauty, like that of a personification of a jewel, and the jovial smile. The florid robes and ornamentations.
I frantically looked around in a dizzying manner. I was in a nostalgic extravagant bedroom that reminded me a bit of the room we stayed in at the ryokan in Sarumi. To top it off, I also felt some major déjà vu at this shady situation.
After freezing up for a few seconds, I screamed out from my body and soul.
“Th, they’ll break, your scream could break a god’s ears……”
I took Silvai’s arm as he rolled around the bed while pressing down on his ears and shook him in my confusion.
“W, why are you here, Silvai!? Weren’t you condemned for a thousand years? And where’s Olin? And Louie? And Eru?”
“Calm yourself, dear maiden.”
I peered back at Silvai as he drew closer and shook him something fierce again.
“How am I supposed to calm down; what’s going on here?!”
“Wait, you’re shaking me too much……”
“Are you really Silvai!? Am I dreaming or something!?”
Silvai, who was about to pass out due to my screaming, suddenly began to blush for some reason. He was the holder of the ultimate beauty, but his reactions were so regrettable that there was no helping him.
“You’re surprisingly bold, Hibiki. To think that you’d assault me so assertively like this……not that I dislike your self-confident posture of dominance, of course. Now, come to me.”
“What are you talking about?!”
I realized as soon as the words left my mouth. That Silvai was lying on his back and I was boldly straddling him.
I regained some of my composure when he opened his arms wide with a bright smile on his face. I climbed off of him in a hurry.
“W, why aren’t you jumping into my arms?”
I was astounded, but what was more astonishing was the fact that he thought that I’d actually do it.
I pulled him up by the arm after I’d stared at him for a bit. I was considerably baffled by this strange situation where I found myself sitting with him on top of a bed. I had no idea what was going on.
“Are you still feeling unwell?”
Silvai suddenly asked with worry.
“You collapsed after learning that this was heaven?”
“……Is that what happened? We’re inside a building in heaven?”
“My, it looks like your memory’s a little confused.”
I gawked at Silvai, who was smiling at me. Confused. Is that what I was? I couldn’t tell how much time had passed.
“Do you still feel bad? I don’t mind if you rest a while longer.”
“No, I’m fine. ……I’m fine, but I don’t know what’s going on. If this is heaven…”
I pressed down on my temple with my hands.
Weird, it looks like my memory’s a mess like Silvai said it was.
I collapsed after learning that this was heaven?
“Wait……, just “when” is this——?”
I was only supposed to have been in heaven for a short amount of time. But if I was still here…
“Then, does that mean that I haven’t started anything yet?”
“What do you mean you haven’t started anything?”
I was at a loss for words when my question was met with yet another question.
“If I remember correctly, I’d just met you and Olin……yeah, this is just after you took me out of the interworld forest.”
Then, I arrived at one surreal conclusion that I could hardly believe.
“Was there a time slip……did time turn back!?”
I jerked my head up and stared at Silvai, who looked amused.
“No way, then, then what about the village of Urs?!!”
I’d done something absolutely unforgivable, something unthinkable there——.
What did I do again?
I swore that I wouldn’t forget, that I wouldn’t leave them behind…… It’s no use, I can’t get my thoughts in order!
“In, in any case, I have to hurry back!”
I broke out into a panic and tried to climb off the bed.
“Hey now, maiden. I only just finished telling you to calm yourself.”
I shook my head vigorously when Silvai gently stopped me with a wry smile.
“I can’t, I can’t be taking my time here! I have to hurry back!”
I opened my eyes wide at his quiet inquiry.
“Where to……, I don’t know. But I did something stupid. Something I can’t ever undo……that’s right, I hurt a lot of people!”
Something came back to me as I spoke. But it wasn’t something bright that filled me with hope. It was something pitch black, twisted, and purely terrifying.
“Something incredibly painful happened. Something so horrible that I thought my heart would break!”
“And yet you would return?”
Silvai leaned forward with a smile on his face. He continued,
“you are allowed to stay here in heaven. “Nothing will happen” if you remain here, no?”
“Will you go back, even knowing that your heart will break?”
I couldn’t give him an immediate answer. My heart wouldn’t shut up.
I had to hurry up and remember everything, but the sound of my beating heart got in my way.
“There’s no need for you to go through something so painful. Listen to me, Hibiki. If you fly out of our —the gods’— hands, your heart will be dropped into pools of blood and endlessly writhe in agony all over again.”
I felt like my breathing would grow ragged. I already know that. I’ve already long since known that would happen.
“Will you go and commit the same “mistake” again? Your “mistake” will happen without fail if you go. That is a path you cannot avoid should you chose it. It is a fate that cannot be changed.”
“W, why not?”
“Because this is also a kind of war, Hibiki. If you go, you’ll never be able to turn back.”
“——But I still have to go.”
“Why is that?”
I looked into his gentle eyes and thought up a reason.
No, I didn’t even need to.
“I promised him that I wouldn’t leave him by himself. That we’d be together.”
Silvai’s smile deepened. His solemn gaze was brimming with affection. I continued,
“we’ll each carry half the pain and half the hardships. He’ll have to carry everything all alone if I don’t go back. I’m sorry, Silvai. I finally got to see you again. You used divine power to give me this chance, didn’t you? So that I could start over one more time from here.”
“Indeed. The land you’re headed toward is Lavann. It is a town of wind that once enshrined “me”. I have deep connections to it. The last winds that blew across the holy land whispered to the faeries to ask for their assistance.”
“The faeries guided you and me to this “rift”. The choice is yours—will you make this space real, or will you let it end as a mere dream?”
I don’t want this to end. That was the first thought that popped up in my mind. My memories were still all jumbled up. I hadn’t understood everything that Silvai had said just now either. But I had this feeling that I would never see him again if we parted here. And I had this premonition that this peace would fade away. But even still…
I wanted to go, no matter what.
I’d make the same choice no matter how many times I came here.
I’d probably chose the path that lead to me making an unforgivable “mistake” every time.
Restless, I left the bed and took off running.
“Thank you, young lady.”
I turned around in surprise when I heard words of gratitude.
“And, I must also apologize. All of this was a result of the gods’ sins—our sins. We must continue to cause you endless suffering.”
The area around Silvai had started to darken for some reason, so I could see his expression.
I hesitated and reached out a hand toward him. I thought that I had to tell him something.
“You’re wrong, Silvai. I just don’t want to run away ever again. I don’t want to throw away the pain or the hardships even if they’ll make me lose heart! It’s okay if my “tomorrows” aren’t always fun or even if nothing good ever happens. A peaceful “tomorrow” that I gain by doing everything over won’t be real to me. The person I want to cherish never lost sight of his kindness even while he was in agony. That’s why I’ll be okay, I’m sure I will be! I want to bring the sound of my footsteps closer to his!!”
The ground shook the moment I made my oath.
The space around us began to collapse audibly.
The blue-haired god was saying something. But his voice didn’t reach me.
Even though I wanted to hear —had to hear— what he was saying——.
I thrust my head above the water with a splash.
I heard the sound of a lot of water gushing out. The petals of the lily of the valley lookalike had apparently broken because I had been trashing about so much. I rolled onto the steps of the cliff along with the water.
I put on one of the robes by my feet in a hurry and looked around.
I’m pretty sure that Silvai was just here!
My surroundings had returned to normal……to the village of faeries that was filled with darkness at some point.
“Silvai!! Where are you!?”
I was about to break out running, but someone vigorously held me back from behind. I bit back a scream and turned around.
“What were you planning to do? Were you going to jump!?”
I was startled when Louie yelled at me. That’s right, I’m on the steps of a cliff right now. I’d be more than just hurt if I fell down from here.
Louie violently pushed me against a vine-covered wall by the shoulder. Then, he surrounded me with his arms as if to keep me from running away.
We were close enough that I could feel his breathing and the heat of his body, but he didn’t touch me in the slightest.
“Why would you do something so dangerous?! Did you decide to kill yourself on impulse? Is this land that unbearable for you? I thought I told you that your sins didn’t belong only to you. Their deaths——the death of Urs is my sin as well!”
Louie was mistakenly thinking that I had spontaneously decided to kill myself.
“You are cruel—were you going to disappear again after granting me peace?”
“No, Louie. I came back here.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I want to be with you, Louie. I want to apologize to the people of Urs someday.”
His anger abruptly evaporated as he looked down at me. The light from the torch lit his eyes into a beautiful crimson color from afar.
“I think I was given a choice. One of my options was to choose a peaceful “tomorrow” where I could pretend that none of this ever happened.”
“……And the other option?”
I nodded as he furrowed his brows. He might be thinking that I was blurting out nonsense in a state of agitation. But even still, I was okay with it for now. I wanted to tell him that I wanted to be with him first.
“I caused that large of a tragedy at Urs. I can’t sleep well because I always have nightmares, I’m so scared that I can’t help myself, and sometimes I feel like my heart will shatter. But despite all that, I want to stay here no matter what. I want to keep moving forward with you and Eru, Louie. I want to keep looking forward to “tomorrows” like today.”
I could tell that his hands, next to my head, were tensed up into fists. I bore into Louie’s head with my eyes as I felt the anxiety radiating off of him.
“Please say that one more time.”
“Louie? ……What do you want me to say?”
“That you want to be with me.”
“……I want to be with you, Louie.”
He tilted his head slowly until his gaze was level with mine.
I felt like he was wordlessly requesting that I say it again.
I subconsciously fidgeted with the front of my robes.
I could tell that my cheeks were flushed. I wondered why that was, since Louie hadn’t even put a single finger on my body. And yet, an inexplicable tingling vigorously ran up from the soles of my feet and assaulted me with shyness.
“Louie, I want to be with you,”
I repeated even as I was flustered by my own feelings.
Louie’s hair, which had fallen on my shoulders, shined red, not unlike his eyes, under the same light from the torch.
“I as well, Hibiki,”
he said as he stared deeply into me like beast. He continued,
“I, too, choose the path that leads to meeting you. It’s the only path I choose.”
I was startled. In the depths of his eyes was an intense will that betrayed the politeness of his voice.
“I have no need of any other repose. I will surely always submit myself to you.”
Then, he drew his lips closer to me in my surprise and whispered,
“Hibiki, may I also dry you off?”
When I nodded, desperately holding down my bewilderment, he closed his eyes and smiled as if to hide the intensity in his eyes.
The next day, we left the faeries’ village after stocking up on plenty of water.
An even stranger rocky region awaited us across the wasteland.
The many rocks scattered about in this region had patterns like the Baumkuchen-like rocks from before had. Only, the pattern on these tree-like rocks looked like pillows instead of like strawberry jam as they reached up from the earth.
Maybe it was more accurate to say that there were grey rocks camouflaged as trees sticking up from ground?
“These rocks look strange. They are rocks, right?”
“This area is called the Hidden Earthsea.”2
Louie, who was walking beside me, explained as he looked around. He continued,
“this region had always been known for its strong winds. The rocks here in the Hidden Earthsea are fragile and are easily susceptible to weathering. It’s said that the winds eventually carve them into this shape after many years.”
“The rocks from the Hidden Earthsea are good for manufacturing purposes. Their hardness changes depending on how they’re tempered, so people shave off pieces of it from time to time for the stonemasons to use.”
“And that’s why they gradually ended up looking like trees?”
“Yes. I’m told that the upper portions of the rock are worth more than the base. These rocks also have marrows, like do human bones. The rocks ended up looking like trees when people shaved off the pieces around the marrow.”
Louie then pointed at our surroundings.
“Please take a look at the geography of the land. It slopes gently toward the center, no?”
I hadn’t noticed it while we were walking, but this entire was apparently shaped like a bowl.
The wind was apparently stronger when it blew upwards out of the bowl than when it blew across the plains, which meant that it blew more strongly on the rocks as well. We were apparently heading toward the center of the bowl.
“So this interesting scenery is the result of a lot of different causes.”
I suddenly found something strange after I had expressed my admiration.
“If stonemasons come here, then……”
“Yes. Lavann is located deeper inside this region.”
Evidently, Lavann was a town that was enveloped inside the Hidden Earthsea.
“Then, do these stones kind of act like natural fortification?”
“Yes. They protect the temple from outsiders. The people of Lavann consider the winds that blow around the Hidden Earthsea as the divine breath that protects them. I hear that they’re very devout to their worship of the holy wind, though I suppose it’s only natural since the town is said to house a god.”
“They worship the holy wind?”
“They revered the winds of the Hidden Earthsea and called it the <Saluido>.”
That’s kinda cool, I thought.
I guess it was a little weird for me to get impressed only now after all this time since I was physically here and Louie was here right beside me. Even still, I could definitely feel the weight of life in each and every word he said.
People really did carry out their normal lives in this world.
“I see……. A lot of people live here, just like in my world, despite the differences in language and what’s perceived to be common sense.”
“No, it’s nothing. ——A religion centered around the wind, huh.”
“Oh, if I recall correctly, you were a member of the wind god’s household.”
Louie looked surprised yet again as he looked at me.
That’s right, the god of wind equals Silvai! That means that Lavann worships Silvai. I furrowed my brows because I felt like I’d heard this story before.
But that wasn’t possible. There was no one here to tell me about Lavann other than Louie.
The first temple I visited was associated with Silvai. I couldn’t help but think that there was something suggestive, or even fateful, about this. It weighed heavily on my heart. This was a town supported by people of deep faith.
Silvai had been overjoyed that my name was “Hibiki”, which shared camaraderie with the atmosphere.
But I haven’t been able to save the people at all——.
“Have I been to blasphemous?”
I was bewildered because I didn’t understand where that had come from, not because I didn’t hear him. I looked up to see Louie holding down the corners of his mouth in an anxious expression that reminded me of our exchange from yesterday.
I started to get flustered to after seeing him. I was more shaken than usual, maybe because he was normally so austere and courteous. Eru, whom I was riding on, turned around to cast a quizzical glance at me.
“You deign yourself to interact with me up close with no distance between us. Do all those close to the gods possess as much compassion and benevolence as you, or is that the result of your own personal nature?”
I had no idea what he was talking about. Was he saying that my words and actions were too naïve for someone of the gods’ household and that they wouldn’t get through to this world? I began to grow nervous. He continued,
“have I infringed too far upon your lightheartedness? Have I mistakenly used your lack of censure as a shield with which to forgive myself and drew too near to you?”
Louie shook his head a little. Eru was looking at both of us now.
“I’ve suddenly come to be convinced of this. That you were originally one who was meant to slumber lightly from a place on high. Yet from time to time I forget my place due to your tranquility and wonder if I’ve become indolent.”
“Um……Louie, are you trying to say that I should be keeping my distance because I’m from another world?”
I couldn’t help but wonder if, after stripping his words down to the core, what was left was his rejection of “me” as someone different.
My mood plummeted upon reaching that conclusion. I was different, but that was all there was to it. I was abandoned by Fortune, who had given me the chance to become a part of this world, and brought forth a tragedy that I could never make right because of my rash actions. Silvai and Olin had given me special powers, and yet I couldn’t use them at all.
Now that I thought about it, no one had ever said, “You can do it,” or “We expect great things from you,” to me. Olin was even opposed to leaving things to me at first to begin with.
——Besides, Louie’s afraid of me for a different reason than me being related to the gods.
“Louie, um, do you not want to be with me anymore?”
Was our conversation from last night actually a roundabout way for him saying that he wanted us to act separately from now on?
I grew even more depressed by how pathetic I was.
I was I so easily swayed? This wasn’t the time to be so weakhearted.
“What if I wasn’t me, but someone a lot stronger? Some who’s smart, reliable, and capable of protecting everyone.”
Louie wouldn’t have had to carry so heavy a burden, wouldn’t have had to go through such pain, if it was Silvai or Olin who was here.
I knew that I wasn’t thinking about anything good, but I couldn’t stop myself.
I felt wretched in a different way from regret.
But even still, this…, a part of me countered.
“Hibiki, why do you perceive yourself in this way? That isn’t what I wanted to say.”
“Won’t you wait a little for me? I know that I’m still completely useless……but I want to change myself. I’ll change myself to be able to resurrect Reims even if I’m by myself.”
I have to become stronger so that I don’t sacrifice anyone else.
“No, that’s not it,”
Louie whispered impatiently. Still, I guess he was still hesitant about something because he ultimately fell back into silence.
“You don’t have to if you don’t want to, but can you say my name again?”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought!”
“Your pronunciation got really good at some point.”
That’s right. I’d only just noticed, but Louie’s pronunciation of my name had been slightly off until now. But now, it had changed to the properly clean Japanese pronunciation.
“I’m so glad. I don’t know how to express it well, but I feel like, yeah, this is my name, I’m being called by my name.”
Louie opened his eyes wide and was at a loss for words.
I was relieved, or perhaps I should say that I was impressed by the little things.
It sounds like someone is calling for a completely different person just because of a slight change in the pronunciation of your name.
“I actually didn’t like my name that much. But now I like being called by it. A lot.”
“I think it’s a beautiful name.”
Louie looked at me and smiled. It was a gentle smile filled with intimacy that I hadn’t seen in a long while.
The extra tension left my shoulders and a sense of warmth steadily spread throughout me.
“The glyph looked like a painting. I think it is beautiful.”
“Oh, you mean how the character looks like when it’s written?”
Wait, I think we’re both missing each other’s point?
“Umm, I was talking about how it makes me happy when you call my name, Louie?”
“……Oh, yes. It’s a wonderful sound.”
“……? I was talking about your pronunciation?”
We stared blankly at each other for a short while.
Louie first to look away. He was strangely agitated.
I’m happy because he’s able to pronounce Japanese correctly? ……It’s certainly true that I am, but I feel like that’s also quite not it. I wonder why?
Eru, who had been quiet until now, let out a growl while I was worrying.
“Eru, did you call my name too?”
He responded with an energetic grrr. It only really sounded like he was threatening me, but for some strange reason…
“Eru, you’re such a cute little good boy!”
“……I suppose all is fine if you cannot help but love the sacred beast, Hibiki.”
Louie, who was at the end of Eru’s stern gaze, looked like he had mixed feelings about it.
I laughed at pat Eru by the ears.
Lavann, which we arrived at a little before noon, was a blue town.
It looked like a very magical town in my eyes.
↑ Pocari Sweat: A popular sports drink brand in Japan.
↑ The original Japanese, 密海地 (mitsukaichi) is not a real word. It is comprised of characters that mean “secret/hidden”, “sea”, and “land”.
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