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The barrier had been put up in a reference room that only high officials of the temple had been allowed to enter.
A portion of the built-in bookshelf had been made into a revolving hidden door with a narrow passageway on the other side. We quickly came across a dark brown door when we traversed the passageway in a straight line.
The boy had said that the barrier couldn’t be maintained for long because it was a simplified one, but it looked like we would be able to make it through the night without having to move as long as we didn’t stir up a ruckus.
“I think we should be able to hide here until tomorrow?”
“Yes……you’re right. And I believe the Reims will be hard pressed to find us here as well,”
The boy concurred as his expression softened.
Since he knew about this hidden room in the temple, did that mean he really was of a high social standing?
……He’s not a prince, is he?
The boy awkwardly stopped me when I grabbed the doorknob as I worried.
“Please take my hand. You’ll be repelled by the barrier if you don’t.”
And so, we all took turns going into the hidden room while holding the boy’s hand. I was the last to enter.
“The barrier’s pretty large.”
The room looked like it was about 30 tatami. It was also a lot cleaner than I’d imagined it would be. There should be sixteen people in here, including me.
“Valuable goods, such as clothes, emergency rations, and alcohol, were stored in the closet beneath the floor for times of disaster.”
There were books, medical supplies, and blankets resting against the wall. There were also plenty of candles, and the room was bright enough that I could make out everyone’s faces.
I was briefly at a loss for words.
There were people here. And supplies and light. It all felt so much like a dream that it actually made me more anxious instead. It felt like it was something fleeting that could vanish in a blink of an eye……and I didn’t know if it was okay for me to be a part of it.
“Is something the matter?”
The boy looked at me quizzically. He continued,
“please, come inside.”
My gaze dropped to my hand. I was still holding onto the boy’s. He noticed this too and quickly let go.
“My, my apologies.”
He didn’t seem to have disliked it, but it made me sort of embarrassed too because his reaction had been so pure. The knight-like woman began approaching us, likely because she found it suspicious that we were standing at the entrance for so long. The boy looked relieved and walked up to her.
“Dilcarette, prepare some clothes and alcohol for him.”
At the boy’s command, Dilcarette ——the knight-like woman—— quickly prepared a set of robes and some restorative alcohol. I watched her work in a blank daze.
I didn’t know what I should be doing here. I hesitated for a bit, but I eventually sat down near the door, thinking that I’d at least keep watch for the time being, and observed the room.
The people whom I had first resurrected, who had regained their full senses, were plainly conscious of my presence. The glances they’d cast at me from time to time hurt a bit.
“It would’ve been nice if Louie and Eru were here too……”
I whispered to myself so no one else could hear. I grew lonely from my sudden sense of alienation.
The fact that I’d met Louie was incredibly precious to me. I realized this anew.
You probably didn’t meet people like him, who wouldn’t abandon you even if he felt afraid of and repulsed by you, very often.
I shook my head a little and chided myself.
“Stop thinking bad thoughts.”
It was wrong to compare the people in front of me to Louie just because I felt like a line had been drawn between them and me. It was rude to both them and to Louie. The biggest problem was whether or not I was someone worthy of their trust. I got nervous because I didn’t have confidence in myself and paid too much attention to what other people thought.
Only, there were a few looks mixed in that I couldn’t ignore.
I could clearly feel their suspicion and rejection. I could tell that they saw me as something foreign and wanted to chase me out of the room.
It was pretty difficult to keep from making eye contact with anyone without looking down altogether to preserve the peace.
I didn’t want anyone to speak to me, but it still hurt all the same to keep being ignored——it was the boy who lead the others who broke through the tension. His embarrassment from earlier had vanished and he was acting all formal.
“May I have a bit of your time?”
He drew closer while looking me straight in the eye and knelt down on one knee with fluid movements. His conduct felt more like something that he had absorbed naturally from his environment rather than learned elegance.
I think he was a little younger than me, but he was quite mature.
“I neglected to express my gratitude earlier. Thank you for saving me.”
Am I supposed to say something polite in return in times like this?
I was overwhelmed by the boy’s attitude. I felt like I would end up saying something completely weird.
I shook my head in an attempt to convey, “Don’t worry about it.” But I might have been a little too curt. Hmmm, what should I do?
The boy closed him mouth and moved his gaze up a little. Location-wise, it looked like he was staring at the divine stone on my forehead.
“Is the stone you have on your ear a divine stone too?”
I was planning to start by talking about something we shared in common to dispel the awkwardness.
But when I asked, the boy opened his eyes a little wider in surprise and touch his ear.
“Is what you have on your forehead a divine stone?”
He ended up asking me a question in response. How am I supposed to respond?
Louie had said that it was a divine stone, and there was no doubt that I’d technically received it from a god.
I affirmed, in any case, and the boy fell deep into thought and didn’t move for a little while.
When I called out to him, unable to withstand the silence, the boy moved the knee that he was kneeling on and came even closer.
“I know that this may be insolent of me, but may I touch it?”
Hmmm, is all this stiff and formal talk still gonna continue?
I nodded while looking like nothing was wrong, though I was starting to lose my nerve on the inside. The boy reached out and cautiously placed his fingers on the divine stone on my forehead. He pulled his fingers back immediately afterward with exaggerated movements like he had touched something hot.
“It’s real. It’s a genuine divine stone,”
the boy whispered in wonder as he stared at his own fingers. Was it really something he could determine just by touching it? He then continued,
“what I have is not a divine stone. It’s a magic stone.”
How was that any different from a divine stone?
I was pretty bad with fantasy stuff to begin with. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what it was, so I simply nodded instead.
“Are you someone who belongs to this temple?”
His rank was a mystery to me too.
He answered, “Yes,” but then he corrected himself and added,
“I am the 111th Rittei.”1
The boy had apparently given me his title in order to see how I reacted to it. I understood what he was trying to do, but I didn’t know what ‘Rittei,’ the all-important word in question, meant. He looked a bit puzzled by my lack of response.
“……Though my reign hasn’t been very long.”
……Er, is he really related to the royal family?
He had an air of elegance and dignity to him, but I felt as though he wasn’t quite a member of the royal family.
Hmmm, was it okay for me to ask what kind of rank a Rittei was?
But for some reason, it felt like this was something that people should normally just know about. I thought that it would be better for the future if I learned what it meant instead of being ambiguous about it.
Just when I’d made up my mind to ask and opened my mouth. A cold voice interrupted me.
“What is it that you’re trying to glean from the Rittei? Isn’t it only proper that you state your own title first?”
I froze up upon hearing the strict voice.
The woman with reddish black hair was glaring at me while leaning against the shelf with the blankets and stuff with her arms crossed. The tone of her voice was too cold for even a pretense of friendliness.
If I recalled correctly, the Rittei had called her Dilcarette earlier.
“Why aren’t you answering?”
Because I don’t have a title.
But I felt that she’d only get more suspicious if I was honest and said that. Louie had reacted that way too.
“Are you even listening? Or is it because you need to hide your identity?”
“That’s not it!”
Why was she directing this piercing enmity at me? My bewilderment only grew stronger because I couldn’t figure out why.
“Fall back, Dilcarette,”
The Rittei quietly stopped Dilcarette when she tried to come up to me with the strict look still on her face.
“You mustn’t be rude. She isn’t a threat to us.”
“Please don’t let your guard down. It isn’t normal to keep a monster in one’s body.”
I felt the blood drain from my face. I forced down my chaotic emotions by gripping tightly to the divine sword.
I was right—she had seen the monstrosity that my arm had turned into. That was why she was treating me with such enmity and caution.
It made sense, since even I had found it creepy. It was only natural for her to be worried that I might hurt everybody if given the chance.
“But it’s also true that the girl saved us.”
The person who abruptly cut in was the last person I’d killed outside the temple……the man in his mid-thirties whom the face had acknowledged as being of a high rank. He looked like a moody scholar and was quite skinny. He had technically covered for me, but there was no kindness in his eyes and his tone and expression were also cold.
“It’s just as Sir Ilfai said. Rather than a title, the divine stone she bears is proof of her identity. She holds a holy aura.”
Dilcarette reluctantly backed down at the Rittei’s words. That being said, it wasn’t as if her suspicions of me had died down. The Rittei seemed to have noticed this too. He cast a quick glance at me with his intelligent eyes and opened his mouth.
“She most likely cannot be adequately described by human titles. But if you must insist on one——her rank should be higher than mine, and incomparably so.”
The Rittei’s explanation created a stir. What should I do?—it felt like he’d started an incredible misunderstanding. Besides, I still didn’t know what the title ‘Rittei’ was supposed to mean.
“You aren’t from this kingdom, are you, Miss? What an utter mystery.”
Ilfai, the man who looked like a scholar, twisted his thin lips like he was making fun of me. He peered deep into me as if he was looking at an experimental specimen.
Seriously, what am I supposed to do?! It was upsetting how slow and dull-witted I was sometimes.
“Who are you?”
Even if you ask me that…!
I gulped. I hadn’t known until now that people’s gazes could make your skin prickle.
“I’m——I came to this land because of a vow I made with the lost gods.”
I couldn’t decide on whether I should speak politely or normally and ended up being weirdly blunt instead. Whoa, that sounded a bit cheeky and self-righteous, didn’t it?
Ilfai furrowed his brows. The moroseness of his expression kind of suited him.
“I came here to resurrect the people.”
My throat was dry and I felt like I was going to cough. ……Plus, I also felt like they’d figure out how dumb I really was if I kept talking.
And so, I shut my mouth.
The voice in my heart, which had been silent until now, suddenly rose up again.
I looked to the back of my hand in a hurry, but I didn’t see anything different about it in particular. I’d thought that the face would appear again. But there was definitely a voice in my heart that wasn’t mine.
——The sacred beast calls for you.
The voice told me this extremely grudgingly. This was the face……the divine sword, right?
Eru’s calling for me?
Is he nearby?
“Eru! I’m right here!”
I shouted and stood up before I knew it. Everyone else drew back in surprise. It must have been strange, as I’d suddenly yelled and started moving without any context.
“What is it all of a sudden?”
Ilfai asked quizzically. I shook my head in mild irritation. Most of my consciousness was focused on my conversation with the divine sword and on Eru.
“Eru, over here!”
Is Eru really here? I don’t feel anything at all!
——The barrier is concealing your presence, gir……Master.
It felt like the sword was about to call me “girl” again, but now wasn’t the time to care about that.
The Rittei looked surprised when I vigorously called out to him.
“Can you cancel the effects of the barrier for just a second?”
“The barrier would collapse if I did, since it’s a simplified one.”
Someone snorted when the Rittei carefully spelled out his words. Was that Ilfai just now?
“Isn’t the barrier something that wasn’t supposed to be maintained for long periods of time anyway, Rittei? Or is it too difficult for you to make it again?”
Was Ilfai maybe, just maybe, sarcastic and narrow-minded?
“It takes time to construct a barrier with magic.”
“Oh, so basically you can’t do it.”
“I don’t see why I need to be insulted by you, who can’t even perform your sorcery without a grimoire.”2
Umm, Rittei, it’s kinda scary when you speak without any inflection in your voice like that.
Anyway, what was a grimoire? Judging by the flow of the conversation, it sounded like some sort of holy writings or a book of magic.
“Now you’ve said it.”
Ilfai snorted again like he was looking down on the Rittei.
Did these two have bad blood between them?
“But just who was it that was being protected by this incompetent sorcerer, I wonder?”
Umm, there’s a chilly and restless air forming around the two of you right now…
“You’re a sorcerer, Ilfai?”
Ilfai frowned sullenly when I gingerly cut in. What kind of reaction is that supposed to be?
“……Aren’t you going too far with your words, Sir Ilfai?”
The Rittei returned the conversation to its original topic with narrowed eyes. Ilfai, too, looked back at him with a cold look on his face.
“But it’s true, isn’t it? And all this despite how much you generally look down on sorcery……”
“You believe that it’s even worth looking down on?”
Rittei! That kind of aggression doesn’t suit your face!
His response had even pierced through my heart, and I didn’t even know what was going on!
Ilfai took a deep breath and laughed from the deep within his throat. His gaze was like ice.
“It’s hard to believe that I’m hearing this from someone who’s supposed to be the leader of the ritsushi,3 the apostles who harbor magic. Does everyone other than your own look like servants to you?”
Ritsushi? Is that different from a sorcerer? Then, Ilfai continued,
“good grief, the previous Ritteis must be rolling in their graves.”
You guys are about to start a battle!
I tried to interject again but was spectacularly ignored.
Both of their eyes were completely dyed with fury.
“Your words sound nice, but you know as well as I, Rittei, that your actions aren’t anything to be proud of.”
“What do you mean?”
“To think that you, the pillar of the ritsushi and their supreme leader, would abandon your many apostles and plan only for your own safety. And there aren’t any apostles here to rebuke you, either. After all, they all turned into monsters.”
“How dare you……!”
“Uh, umm, you guys…?”
“Were you really planning on criticizing me? You, the person who was supposed to be the first to lead everyone into battle when calamity hit, sacrificed the so-called incompetent sorcerers and, of all things, fled for your life. But, well, it looks like there wasn’t even any point in fleeing, seeing that we’re talking together like this.”
“You’re running your mouth without even knowing the truth.”
“Hey, hold on a sec, can you just hear me out……”
“Who cares about the truth when you’re about to make the same mistake again? You only have an eye for the peril befalling upon yourself, and, by your own admission, you don’t want to make another barrier.”
“Shut up, you maniac of magic. If you’re going to make light of my power, then you can test it out for yours—”
They looked like they’d start a fight at any moment, so I forced myself between them and raised my voice.
They both closed their mouths shut and looked down at me in anger.
“What can you gain from arguing? I don’t mind if you continue, but that’s only if it’s an argument that you absolutely need to have right now.”
I was a little pissed off. The divine sword had told me that Eru was calling for me, but I might not be able to see him again if I wasted too much time here.
There was probably some sort of bitterness between them that no one else could get in between. But I couldn’t have them definitively break away from each other either.
“There are a lot of things that I don’t understand, and a mountain of things that I have to explain. I know that, but I don’t have the time right now. ——My friend is calling for me.”
The indignation vanished from their eyes as surprise took its place. I continued,
“I wanted to know if the barrier can be dispelled temporarily because I want to go to where my friend is. There are a lot of Reims outside. Night’s only just begun, and my friend might be in trouble somewhere where there are a lot of Reims. I can’t just abandon him!”
Eru had always stayed by my side without abandoning me even when I didn’t comprehend the severity of the situation. I didn’t want to be pulled away from him like this.
“Rittei, if it isn’t possible to dispel the barrier temporarily, then is it at least possible to let me outside?”
The Rittei’s eyes began to wander. So it’s possible. I’d taken his hand while entering the barrier. It should be possible to leave the barrier by holding his hand too?
“I’m going outside.”
I held my hand out to the Rittei.
I peered into the Rittei’s bewildered eyes.
“You’re asking him for the impossible.”
Ilfai criticized the Rittei again when the latter stiffened up. He continued,
“our Rittei over here only likes to keep himself safe. The only reason that this hastily made barrier is effective is because of the holy aura you’re emitting, Miss. The barrier would grow weak again without you. That’s probably why he brought you here in the first place. ——Having a magic stone on his body calls monsters other than Reims to him.”
“Just how far must you mock me? I would offer my assistance without hesitation if mylife was the only one at stake here. But there are other people here whom I need to protect!”
The Rittei shouted wildly, casting aside his initial composure.
I was surprised. I had a holy aura? I couldn’t tell if this was true or not.
What do I do, what should I do?!
——Master, the sacred beast is getting farther away.
The divine sword’s voice, echoing through my heart, pierced through my chest.
Eru, Louie. I might never see them again if I didn’t reach out for them right now.
Night had only just begun. It was a long and terrifying age of darkness. A minute felt like an hour. An hour felt like a day——.
The Rittei looked to me with his mouth closed tightly when I called out to him. He was only just a little shorter than me. Our eyes were almost level when we looked at each other like this.
“I only need a moment. I’ll come back inside the barrier soon.”
“This barrier was clumsily made, as Sir Ilfai pointed out. The only reason it’s still effective despite being incomplete is because your holy presence is supporting it. Because it’s so incomplete, it might collapse from the recoil if you leave.”
The Rittei looked down like he was in pain and pressed his fingers strongly against his brow. He continued,
“as I am right now, I don’t have the power to construct another barrier that can protect this many people.”
I see……they’d only just been resurrected. They probably weren’t in the best shape.
“Sir Ilfai is one of the Senior Grand Tutors of the sorcerers. But…”
“A spell made only from an <equation> isn’t enough to erect a barrier strong enough to hold everyone inside. You’d need to supplement it with ritual tools.”
Ilfai ruffled up his already unkempt hair even further with his hands as he added to the Rittei’s explanation.
“……Hey, Rittei, can you tell that I have a holy aura?”
Was that how it worked? People with magic could tell? Or, maybe I started emitted something like a holy aura after magic the circle worked and the divine sword awakened and my body started adapting to the powers I’d received from Silvai and Olin?
“Then take my hand.”
“Yeah. I’ll only take one step outside the barrier while still holding hands with you. Would that work?”
Eru might notice as long as I put even just a part of my body outside of the barrier.
“It’s likely possible.”
The Rittei carefully and hesitantly acknowledged that it was possible. And so, I promptly grabbed his hand.
I went up to the light that seemed to be the edge of the barrier——in front of the faint polygonal lines floating on the floor with the Rittei and took a step outside without letting go of his hand. As I did, I also pushed open the door to the room with the sheathed divine sword.
The color of darkness abruptly rushed in around me. I heard the cries of the Reims from somewhere far away.
“Come here, Eru!”
Yeah, I can get things done when I really put my mind to it!
I mean, I’ve technically even gotten to speaking terms with the divine sword.
Eru was clever, so I was sure that our hearts would connect.
I hope my voice reaches him. My aura and prayers too.
“Eru, I’m over here!”
——The pillar of fire.
I heard the divine sword speak. It was being pretty curt, but it was probably trying to tell me something important, I think.
——The sacred beast probably saw the pillar of fire you burned us with, Master, and drew nearer.
Apparently, the pillar of fire had acted like an emergency signal to tell Eru where I was.
It put a lot of emphasis on the fact that I’d burned it. I guess it was still angry about that.
Sorry, I’ll apologize properly later. I’ll polish your sheath clean too.
——Hmph……. Its presence is too far away. Master, why don’t you try shedding your blood?
There was so much sarcasm in its voice. It felt like it had proposed this not out of kindness, but because it wanted to see me agonize in worry.
But, the proposal itself wasn’t a lie?
“I wonder if blood has a really strong aura.”
I had to try anything I could. I made up my mind and, just as had done at Urs, stuck my pointer finger in my mouth. All a girl needed were fangs.
Oww! I screamed in my heart.
A drop of blood was resting on the tip of my finger when I pulled my finger out. The Rittei, who was standing at the very edge of the barrier, was taken aback by my actions.
H, how’s this?
——How simple you are.
I heard someone sound really exasperated just now!
“Don’t tell me you were just harassing me and this won’t actually work……”
“I beg your pardon? Harassing?”
“It, it’s nothing.”
I raised my hand into the air even as I grew anxious.
“Eru, I’m over here.”
I really want to see you. And just when I offered up this prayer…
I suddenly felt like someone had called my name.
The divine sword’s voice sounded like bubbles frothing up from my heart, but this voice felt like it was falling into my body from the sky. It was almost like a falling star, as strange as it might sound.
I whispered as I blinked.
Then, a giant lump of wet came crashing through the door——and, just as I’d processed this, came crashing directing into me. I didn’t even have the time to brace myself.
The people inside the barrier looked at me and began calling out one after another.
The big lump vigorously, well, snuggled up to me like it was trying lean against me.
“You’re heavy……and besides, you just crashed into my chest……!”
A desperate coo responded back. I found the gap between his lovely, kitten-like behavior and his fierce and scary appearance pretty funny.
The lump of wet growled in response and pressed its head against my chest like its life depended on it. I’m really happy, and you’re really cute, and of course, I really wanted to see you, but I almost let go of the Rittei’s hand just now, you know, Eru? I somehow managed to avoid falling over, but I felt like my spine would break from the impact of Eru’s crash.
“You were okay!”
It’s really Eru! Thank goodness it doesn’t look like he’s hurt or anything……, yeah, I know that pushing his head into my chest is his way of fawning over me, but it’s seriously wearing me out because of the difference in our sizes and strength. I’m kinda being pushed backward here.
Oh, I’m already mostly back inside the barrier!
“Wait, there’s a barrier here!”
Eru stopped snuggling up to me when I said this in a panic and began to wag his tail so energetically that I was afraid it might rip off.
“Rittei, this is the friend I was talking about. His name’s Eru.”
I turned around, thinking that I’d do some explaining, only to be taken aback instead.
The Rittei had frozen up with the blood drained from his face. Ilfai, Dilcarette, and the other men were glaring at Eru like they were being met face-to-face with death while taking up battle positions.
No, wait, Eru’s not a monster, even if he might look scarier than your usual wild beast!
“He’s a sacred beast. Relax. He’s not dangerous.”
Nobody believed me! Eru looked even more like a monster right now because he was covered in a strangely colored liquid. I only realized with a start when I tried to wipe the gross liquid off his fur.
Are these Reim body fluids?
“Eru……were you fighting Reims?”
I was shaken. I was so stupid—there was something that I hadn’t questioned even once all this time.
Eru and Louie would be together. I’d thought that if Eru was on his way here, then Louie would naturally be coming with him. I’d believed that Eru would let Louie ride him in an emergency.
“——Where is Louie?”
Eru quickly dropped his tail and looked dispirited.
I felt the blood drain from my face.
Are you still all alone right now——?
Anyway, I had Eru enter the barrier for starters. I had the Rittei touch him.
The people inside the barrier looked at Eru, dyed in the bodily fluids, with fear in their eyes and fell back to the wall without ever drawing closer. Only Ilfai regained his composure and observed Eru with his curiosity piqued. Well, Eru was one thing, but he also looked more interested in the luggage tied to Eru’s back.
I had to probably explain to these people about Eru and myself, as well as all of our other circumstances.
But there was a more pressing problem I had to address first.
Somewhere in my heart, I’d baselessly trusted that “everything will be okay as long as I see Eru again” because I’d believed that Louie and Eru would be together. I’d never thought even in my wildest dreams that something like this could happen.
“You weren’t with Louie, Eru?”
I asked in a whisper.
A fear that was of a different variety from what I’d felt up until now crawled up my back.
He had loathed being left behind so much. What was he feeling now?
“No, my biggest concern should be how he’ll survive the night alone——”
Eru looked to me with a strange light in his eyes as I spaced out. It felt like he was trying to convey an apology through his eyes or something. Then, he suddenly began to fidget and started pawing the ground. Like he was panicking.
I was perplexed. Is he trying to tell me something?
“Do you know where Louie is?”
Eru nodded vigorously and moved as if to tell me to get on. I was pretty sure he understood what I was saying. And that he was telling me to get on because he did.
Does that mean that Eru and Louie were acting together for a while?
Going off of that assumption——why did Eru come here alone? He knew that Louie was important to me, so I doubt that he had left Louie behind just to be mean.
Then, did that mean that the situation was so dangerous that he had to come and find me even if it meant leaving Louie behind?
Eru was extremely shy. He wouldn’t act on Louie’s behalf unless the situation was really urgent……like that time at Urs.
I looked back at Eru’s round eyes for a short while. I decided what I had to do and quickly climbed on his back.
“I’m sorry. ——I have to go,”
I said as I turned to the Rittei and the others from Eru’s back.
“What do you mean?”
the Rittei asked with his eyes open wide as agitation colored his voice.
“There’s someone I have to go find.”
The Rittei moved his gaze to Eru, who was dirty with the bodily fluids. He quickly looked away to empty space.
“……Hold on a sec. What’ll happen to the barrier?”
one of the men whom I resurrected on our way to the hidden room cut in with a tremble in his voice. After he broke the ice, another man’s face tensed up as he asked,
“wont the barrier break if you leave?”
I stopped breathing for a moment, suppressed my feelings of wanting to hurry, and met his gaze.
They probably didn’t really believe that I was their ally.
They were simply clinging onto the Rittei’s, who had determined that I had a holy aura, words, but they probably thought I was creepy if they had to be honest.
“I’ll work with the Rittei when I leave so that it doesn’t.”
“Even if it doesn’t break, didn’t he say that it wouldn’t last for long without your aura?”
The man who’s spoken first looked around at everyone as he shouted. I could tell that his anxiety was beginning to spread to the others.
“Even so, I still have to go,”
I replied quietly. My aura, which I still couldn’t fully comprehend, was supporting the simplified barrier. It wouldn’t be strange if the barrier gave out without warning if I wasn’t here.
If it did, there’d be nothing left to deceive the Reims’ and monsters’ eyes.
“Hey, how are we supposed to protect ourselves?”
This might put everyone in danger. ……Should I stay here, or…? I hesitated for a slight second before sealing away the conflict in my heart.
I’m going. I’ll definitely go and look for Louie. I won’t let him be alone.
The man who had spoken widened his eyes upon realizing that I wasn’t about to change my mind. He raised his voice and, in a tone of censure, said,
“that’s……you’d leave us behind in this temple surrounded by monsters?!”
“My friend is alone somewhere too. He’s fighting all by himself.”
It was hard to leave them behind. They were people of this world whom I’d finally resurrected—there was no way I’d want to leave them. I wanted to talk with them more, to undo any misunderstandings between us, and I seriously wanted to stay with them.
“Just for one person?”
I could understand why they were so nervous. I wouldn’t be able to help but blame me either, if I’d been in their shoes. I’d be so afraid, so helpless, that I wouldn’t have the composure to be understanding of anyone else’s circumstances. They weren’t being selfish. There were times when anyone could become so terrified that they couldn’t stand it.
Not to mention that they had only just awoken and were probably more confused than normal.
But Louie was all alone right now. It was highly likely that he was in more danger than the people here.
“I sympathize for your friend, but we have more people here! Are you saying that you’ll sacrifice all of us just for one person? That’s wrong!”
His words pierced deeply into my heart. I couldn’t express it well——but there seemed to be a very realistic force that I couldn’t oppose hidden within them.
“You need to make decisions after looking carefully at the situation first! We finally found a place where we can rest. I’d like it if you didn’t do anything that’d put us all in danger.”
Earning everyone else’s wordless approval, the man continued more forcefully,
“it’s not that we want to twiddle our thumbs and let your friend die, either. But, while it might be your moral duty to go and save them, you’d be putting yourself in danger too if you left the barrier just to help this one person, right? You’d only be sacrificing more people for no real reason. So please just change your mind.”
I couldn’t find the words to refute him with. I was sure his arguments were correct.
My actions had the potential to cause everyone to suffer again. Argh, I’m so stupid. It wasn’t a problem of being scared or having some leeway. I had been wrong to make an emotional argument to begin with.
“Now then! Come back.”
Going to find Louie might be the worst possible option for me to choose right now.
Just like the Rittei’s before, the man’s argument weighed on the fact that he wasn’t speaking only for his own safety, but for everyone’s.
The situation was so severe that we had to abandon the few even if it meant killing our hearts.
“……I understand that. But…”
I grit my teeth and closed my eyes shut tight. Louie beautiful eyes, his gentle tone of voice, and his warm smile all reflected in the back of my eyelids. He was someone whose body and heart had been hurt so many times it was impossible to count. He was someone who was always wishing for repose. Could I really cast him away right now?
I was feeling so hurried. To the point where it felt like they were only wasting my time trying to stop me.
“I vowed that I wouldn’t leave him alone.”
“——Don’t tell me you…”
Ilfai met my gaze with an arched eyebrow when I cut the man off and forcefully called out his name. I continued,
“there might be useful ritual tools in my luggage.”
Ilfai put the luggage that had been fastened on Eru’s back on the floor without any hint of hesitation and swiftly checked through them.
“Hmm. I don’t see anything that could supplement the barrier, but there are a few ritual tools that can be used to hinder monsters. Oh, this……isn’t this an ice cannon?4I’ve used one quite often in the past. It’s a tool used to keep monsters and the like from getting too close. Wow, and there’s all-water too. This is good stuff,”
Ilfai mutter quickly to himself as he laid out each and every ritual tool on the floor.
These ritual tools were things that Louie and I had carried out from the merchant’s house that we’d visited on our way to Lavann. I didn’t know how to use them, but Louie had picked them out so most of them were probably pretty valuable.
“But the barrier will collapse quickly even if you give us these ritual tools. Then there’s no point.”
I turned to the man who was trying to stop me. I put my decision to words even as I felt so tense and pained that I felt like I’d start quivering all over.
“I’m sorry, but I’m going. I’ll return as soon as I find him.”
“How selfish of you……, then what about those of us that you’re leaving behind!”
“He’s —Louie’s— someone who’s saved me multiple times. ——He’s also the first person I met after coming to this world.”
Ilfai, who had been cheerfully examining the ritual tools, looked up and narrowed his eyes and he turned to me.
“Louie’s also the only person who survived in this kingdom called Gallè. That makes him your beacon of hope!”
That’s right, this kingdom had escaped demise because he and he alone had managed to survive. It had been devastated and had gone insane, but the kingdom was still able to draw tiny, tiny breaths of life.
“Saving him means saving the hope of this kingdom. I’m going.”
I was in such a hurry that I didn’t even know what I was saying anymore. The desire to go to him had billowed up in my heart and was going wild.
“Louie……, are you referring to the Moon General?”
The person who’d asked was the man who had swords for arms when he had been a Reim. He was sprouting a stubble, but he looked fairly young.
What was he talking about? I wasn’t familiar with knightly ranks or titles.
“He’s a knight with moon-colored eyes. We were travelling here to the capital together.”
The stubbled man smiled like he was holding back pain when I answered.
“So he was alive……”
A hot clump of joy and surprise rose up my throat. This person knows Louie. There’s a connection within the few people I’d resurrected.
Wasn’t the chance of that happening basically miraculous?
“Does he still yet live?”
The stubbled man took one step toward me. ——He’s alive, that’s what I believe.
“I won’t let him die. …… I promised that I’d definitely go get Louie’s life back even if he throws it away himself.”
His smile deepened at my reply. He quickly straightened out his expression again, then he kissed his own fingers and placed his hand at his chest. It felt as though he’d entrusted me with something precious. And so, I was filled with a feeling of solemnity.
The man who had been against rescuing Louie looked to him in surprise and disappointment.
I took my eyes off of them and focused myself for a breath. Then, I looked up and reached out to Ilfai and the Rittei.
The Rittei straightened out his posture and looked up at me on Eru’s back. Ilfai, too, let go of the ritual tools in his hands and stood up to turn to me.
“I’ll definitely return here without fail. So, please maintain the barrier until I do.”
They stared deep into me. I added to my words and offered up a prayer.
“Protect the people of your kingdom.”
The Rittei tried to say something, but ultimately closed his mouth without uttering a single word.
“I know you can do this. You can protect them.”
My words were directly more at myself than at them.
“I believe in you. Hope isn’t lost yet. You and me, we’re capable of overcoming the night.”
Ilfai smiled wryly and took one of my hands.
The Rittei, too, seemed to have made up his mine and, like Ilfai, placed his fingers in my other hand.
I squeezed their hands in mine.
“It’ll be okay. We won’t die.”
I’m sure Louie’s still okay too—I’ll make it in time. I want to see again. No, I’ll see him again and again no matter how many times it takes.
I wanted to hear him say, “Good morning,” again whenever I woke up. I’d greet him with all my heart every day. It was another reason why I had to pull him closer by the hand.
And so, I would pierce through this darkness without letting my will fade away.
The Rittei gently pulled his fingers out of my hand and turned to the people.
“Listen to me, everyone. We had no choice but to fall before the great calamity that ravaged the world. The people lost their hearts, and the kingdom was thrown into the darkness of chaos. We were controlled by our wasted hearts of bewilderment —of fear—, and everything was eventually colored by despair. I, too, am one of the powerless people who was swallowed by the darkness, unable to save this kingdom. But I won’t repeat the same mistake twice.”
He spoke as if to carve each and every word into everyone’s hearts. He continued,
“——the kingdom is in a state of distress and exhaustion even now. But this is exactly why we must stand tall and stand together. I am sure that tears will be shed during the countless trials that are to come. There will probably be times when our hearts and bodies are crushed and destroyed. But we must never turn away. Our hands exist not to cover our eyes, but to light the path before those who weep. Let us shine together. So that no one —not those who walk with us, not those who walk behind us, and nor those who trip and fall— will be left behind.”
We will take hold of the torch of this oath and protect it together, the Rittei said. He continued, and so, I ask that everyone protects those who are reflected in your eyes. So that they, too, can protect you in turn.
Dilcarette silently bent her knee.
The other people, too, looked to the people sitting around them as if they’d finally returned to their senses. And then, they all firmly took each other’s hands.
The Rittei turned back around and, albeit awkwardly, smiled a little and said with dignity,
“please go, Holy One. Please grant salvation to one from my kingdom.”
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