Mimizuku to Yoru no Ou: Chapter 7

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Chapter 7 - Knight and Maiden[edit]

It happened soon after the Holy Woman of the Sword had been inaugurated, at the end of the queen's funeral.

It was on a path through a grassy field leading to the castle. The sky was clear and blue, just like the old pastoral songs would describe.

"Do you want to be free?"

A boy grabbed the arm of a beautiful girl in a broken carriage.

"Right now, you're stuck in a cage. Do you want to be free?" the boy asked.

The girl laughed. She twisted her lips as if to ridicule the boy's naïveté and lack of restraint. It was an unbecoming laugh for the Maiden of the Holy Sword.

"If I could be free, I would have done so long ago."

Ann Duke was at first taken aback by her response. But then he smiled and nodded.

It was just a single chance meeting.

In that moment, his kindness gazed upon the future, and her strength pulled it closer.


In the stone hallway connecting the castle and the temple, a shadow proceeded straight through.

"Get out of the way!!"

With this single exclamation, the soldiers on duty stood down and opened the door. The shadow continued into the dark room, lit only by a magic square, without hesitation.

"Lady Orietta...!"

"What is the meaning of this!?" she shouted loudly amongst the magicians making a stir. Her hair was a mess due to lack of sleep. Her face was deep with the color of fatigue. However, the light in her eyes was strong.

"Explain this! Who started this disgusting activity!?"

"It was the on the orders of the king."

Riveil was the one who spoke up.

"Sir Riveil! Are you telling me that even you supported this!?"

"We were simply acting on the king's orders."

"Forget about him, then! Stop this horrible undertaking immediately!"

Orietta entered the center of the magic square. Several of the magicians could be seen shivering. The Holy Knight Ann Duke and the Maiden of the Holy Sword Orietta were given special privileges due to their social status. They were occasionally given more authority in certain matters than the king's closest retainers.

The only one amongst the magicians who could speak to Orietta as an equal was Riveil.

"Please stop, Lady Orietta! The magical technique is still being executed. If we stop the procedure, then some unfortunate reaction might occur in Lady Mimizuku's body due to the roughness of our knowledge regarding the matter," Riveil said in a reserved tone, though hoarsely enough to make one feel that it was dignified.

Orietta's index finger stopped.

She was seemed to be running it across the reflective surface of the magic square.

"Lady Orietta... please understand! We, as the ones who carried this out, will take responsibility of..."

"Would you not complain if someone stepped across your memories?" Orietta asked. Her obsidian eyes had tears floating in them.

"... Please understand. This too was for the country's sake..."

Riveil lowered his head deeply.

"Get out."

With her long, slender finger, Orietta pointed at the door.

"I will deal with you later. If you don't want to incite the rage of my husband, get out of this room immediately!"

The magicians could not oppose those words. Everyone bowed to Orietta, and then left the room.

Only Orietta remained in the room. She stared at the shining surface of the magic square as if clinging to it.

Orietta remembered her reason for coming here. When Mimizuku had suddenly lashed out, there was a faint presence of magical power in her. Orietta had been a top grade student of magic arts at the temple, and her genius in magic allowed her to sense the slight fluctuations of magic around Mimizuku.

Someone, somewhere, was reading Mimizuku's memories.

Mimizuku's memory itself was like a kaleidoscope, changing the scenery several times.

Orietta pursed her lips and made certain of what she was seeing.

Whatever was going on, she would put a stop to it.

If she loved Mimizuku, then that was what she needed to do.


After hearing that Mimizuku's memories had returned, Ann Duke ran back to the castle again.

When he opened the door, the first thing that leapt out at him was Mimizuku, screaming bloody murder.

"Where's Fukurou!?" Mimizuku yelled, grabbing at the attendants around her.

"Fukurou! Where's Fukurou!? What are they doing to him!?"

Ann Duke stopped without thinking upon seeing her menacing look. With her eyes wide open and her hair spinning wildly about in her corybantic rampage, she looked like a feral beast.

"No! Give him back! Give Fukurou back!!"

Mimizuku didn't seem to take any notice of what was around her. She simply called out for someone named "Fukurou" and thrashed about.

" The Mimizuku whose memories have returned may be a completely different person from the Mimizuku we know now..."

Ann Duke remembered his own words.

He thought that her mind might have slipped off into some far off emptiness, but still...

"Mimizuku!!"

Ann Duke raised his voice.

Even though Mimizuku had not been here for long, the days they had spent together were definite. In those few days, Mimizuku had smiled and felt happiness, and nothing could take that away.

Riding on a sliver of hope, Ann Duke called her name out.

Her motions stopped all at once. The attendants, worn out from being bitten and scratched, gazed at Ann Duke as though they received salvation.

"Mimizuku, it's alright. There's nothing to be afraid of," Ann Duke said in the quietest voice he could muster, slowly walking toward Mimizuku as if pacifying an injured beast.

Mimizuku, in a daze, stared at Ann Duke. She slowly blinked two or three times.

There was a sudden sparkle. Her expression had gone through innumerable changes. It was a mix of sadness, happiness, and pain. She then made a disjointed, disfigured face, as though she were making an impossible decision.

"An... dy..."

"Yes, what is it?"

Ann Duke then slowly ran his hand through Mimizuku's hair, drawing in close. It was at that moment.

In a more subdued action than her rampaging, Mimizuku flung off Ann Duke's hand.

Ann Duke, taken aback, closed his eyes dejectedly.

Mimizuku looked up at Ann Duke, glaring with her whole eye from the brow down. In her eyes was an unmistakable will. It wasn't hate. It was an amalgam of regret and misery.

"Leave," Mimizuku declared clearly. "Leave, Ann Duke."

"Mimizuku..."

"Get the hell out! I don't want you, or anyone else in here! Just leave me alone!"

The face of the one who said those words was not someone that Ann Duke knew. The Mimizuku that Ann Duke once knew was in a fleeting dream, with her innocent smile and her docile surprise.

He never thought she could have made as strong a face as she was making now.

"Mimizuku... should I leave you alone?" he asked, still unsure. Mimizuku pouted her lips and rolled her hands into fists.

"Please, leave me alone."

"I understand... I'll go."

Upon gently saying these words, Ann Duke made the attendants bow and leave. Ann Duke looked behind him one more time and spoke to Mimizuku, who was standing starkly in the center of the room.

"Mimizuku, please don't forget one thing."

No matter what kind of memories Mimizuku had, no matter what kind of world she lived in.

"We love you."

Don't forget it.

Hearing those words, Mimizuku cupped her face in her hands and turned away. She turned as if trying to shake off the memories of Ann Duke and the others.

Making a dull, quiet sound, the door closed behind her.

With that sound, Mimizuku collapsed onto the floor and gave a tiny, tiny sigh.

"... I love you too... Andy..."

Ooh...

These warm drops were tears.

"But I can't forgive you."

I love you, but I won't forgive you.

"I will absolutely never forgive you for burning Fukurou's painting..."

Where are you?

Sighing to herself, Mimizuku cried, thinking only of Fukurou.


That night, Mimizuku turned on the lamp at her bedside and sat down in her bed. There had been food delivered to her, but she didn't feel like eating, so she just drank water.

Mimizuku thought. She got lost in thought. Mimizuku hadn't used her brain often throughout her life, but for the sake of Fukurou, and for her own sake, she thought. She thought of what she had to do.

On top of her bed, she sat down neatly on her knees. She wiped her tears. She didn't want to be seen with such a pathetic face.

She then clearly spoke.

"Come out, Kuro."

She waited for several seconds. There was no response.

However, Mimizuku did not have any doubts.

"Kuro...!!"

She simply called out his name.

Poof!

Kuro's small form, quivering before her eyes like a flame, appeared with a small sound.

His form was different from how Mimizuku had always seen him in the forest, as his body was translucent and his existence could only be felt faintly. However, the way he scratched his cheek with his upper right hand and the crunching sound it made confirmed him to be Kuro.

"... It's been a while," Mimizuku said, still with slightly teary eyes.

"... I did not think that we would meet again. Mimizuku."

The way his voice rattled her eardrums, that was definitely Kuro.

"Why?" Mimizuku asked tremblingly.

"It is up to the world in which we live," Kuro responded indifferently.

"Is it because I lost my memories?"

"You could say that."

"Don't mess with me, Kuro."

Mimizuku's voice was low, and her words were heavy with accusation.

Then, as if opening a dam, Mimizuku leaned toward Kuro and let loose her thoughts.

"Ugh!! Why did Fukurou do something so idiotic!? I can't, I just can't believe it!! Was I really that much of a bother to him!? I know I was annoying! I know it, I know, I know, but... to go that far...!"

Small pools of tears began to form in Mimizuku's eyes.

"Am I really... that... unwanted? Was I... really... that much trouble...?"

Mimizuku had known how impudent and brazen the things she did that day in the forest were. Mimizuku had known a lot ever since long before, since before she had even come to the forest.

She had felt as thought the pain would rip her in half.

She felt that if she remembered the past for even a moment, her mind and body would be torn apart by the pain.

However, she couldn't fall. She couldn't shed off the world she lived in, now matter how much she wanted to.

Because she had to see Fukurou again.

Kuro didn't answer Mimizuku's question. He simply stared up at her with those eyes whose expression was impossible to read.

"... You know, Kuro," Mimizuku said weakly as she wiped her tears.

"Fukurou's been captured. What should I do? Fukurou's been taken away from me..."

"I have indeed heard that the king has been captured by human hands."

"Yeah, that's right. Aren't the other monsters going to help him?"

"They cannot do that."

"Why?"

"Look at this body, Mimizuku."

Kuro then spread his four arms out wide. His body was dim and quivering, and Mimizuku could see through it.

"Right now, a strong spiritual barrier has been erected around this country. In the castle as well. Around the underground area where the king is held as well. I have managed to slip in through a hole in the web, but I cannot remain here for long."

"... So the monsters can't come here?"

"Aye." Kuro nodded. "However, that is not the immediate reason."

"What do you mean?" Mimizuku responded.

Kuro opened his pomegranate-like mouth.

"You humans underestimate the power of the Lord of Moonlight!" he said as if shouting. He shook his bat-like wings, but they did not make their usual flapping sound.

"Even if he is captured on the night of the new moon, when his power is weak for a short period of time! Who do you think he is!? The king of the Ieri, the King of Night! When the full moon appears, even if he is held down, he could burn this town, this entire country, to the ground!"

There, Kuro suddenly stopped moving.

"... However, the Lord of Moonlight did not do that."

"Y... yeah..."

Even Mimizuku understood what Kuro meant. From the very beginning, she had mulled over the fact that if Kuro wouldn't eat her, what monster would?

"This country being here right now. That in itself is the will of the Lord of Moonlight, and no matter what the Ieri wish, they cannot bend that will..."

"Then they've abandoned the King of Night!?" Mimizuku yelled without thinking.

Kuro lowered his head as if to escape Mimizuku's vision.

"... The King of Night is indestructible."

"But...!"

"Even if the current king is killed, allow time to pass, and magic power will gather in the earth, bringing about the birth of another king. That is how it is arranged."

"Then you are abandoning Fukurou!"

Kuro didn't answer.

As the flame in the lamp flickered, a fitting silence spread through the dark night. The moon from outside the window was large to the point of imbalance, but beautiful.

Finally, Kuro spoke.

"... There is nothing that I can do."

Mimizuku bit her lip at his response.

Well then, she thought.

What can I do?

From the start it was wished that she would do something. Wished for by her own self, who had had her memories erased. Even if she thought and acted for Fukurou, she would just be neglected again, right?

Neglected...

Mimizuku finally understood what the word meant. Curling her hands into fists against her knees, she bared her teeth and thought.

The old Mimizuku in the forest would have never thought like this. She would live without thinking of the contents of others' hearts, and simply did what she wanted, which was to be told to do things by others. Mimizuku, who had come to know what it was like to be loved, was now afraid of not being loved, and she had come to know herself better because of this.

Understanding so much... it's sad...

Even so, she didn't think to go back. She didn't want to go back to that time, when the only thing she understood was pain.

She wanted to rescue Fukurou.

She wished to go back, but with all her knowledge of happiness and sadness and tears. She wished to go back to the forest together with Fukurou.

Even so... she thought.

Even so, her memories ran about her. The ones of the forest, the ones of that village, and--the ones of this country.

Ann Duke caressed her kindly.

Orietta embraced her gently.

Claudius became her friend.

In this lifestyle, everyone was kind to her. Who would it help for her to turn around and kick sand in the faces of all these people?

Even Fukurou might not wish to be saved. She might be rejected again, even if she went and saved him.

If Fukurou rejected her again like he had in the forest, would her current self really be able to handle it?

Living here, eating the delicious food, being treated kindly, being happy.

"... That's right, Mimizuku," Kuro said, gently interrupting Mimizuku's thoughts. Startled, Mimizuku looked up.

"One moon ago, on the orders of the Lord of Moonlight, went to retrieve this. Hold out your hand. Mimizuku."

"Huh?"

A single strand of hair fell into Mimizuku's outstretched hand. It was somewhat dull, red hair.

"What's this...?"

She felt like she had seen it somewhere before. But where?

"I confirmed it on the orders of the Lord of Moonlight. This is proof. The man whose stomach you stabbed... still lives.

"Huh...?"

Mimizuku opened her eyes wide with surprise.

What does he mean?

Mimizuku looked at the strand of hair in her hand. This color was definitely it. That's right. The man inscribed on the last page of her bloodstained memories of the village.

He lived.

She hadn't known if it was true or not. If she were to doubt it, she would have had no proof, and if she had lied to herself, then she could have brandished a weapon as much as she liked. However, Kuro had confirmed that the man was alive for her.

Mimizuku hadn't killed anyone.

And Fukurou had made the order.

"Ah..."

Mimizuku tightened her grip on the hair, rolling her hand into a first around it, and placed it against her forehead.

How difficult to comprehend. How easily defeated were her notions, how unskilled.

And yet...

He had always treated me kindly.

Mimizuku understood.

He had always, as much as he could, treated me kindly.

She understood it now.

Warm drops of water began to fall. She wasn't sad, but they still fell.

"I must go. Mimizuku."

"Oh... Kuro...!"

Mimizuku looked up and saw that Kuro's figure was quivering unstably.

"I am sorry, but there was a limit from the start. If I use any further magic power, I may be detected."

And then, Kuro hesitated for just a moment. Mimizuku thought she saw him smile.

"Now, Mimizuku. If fate allow it... let us meet again.

"Wait! Wait, Kuro! Please, just tell me one thing!"

She told herself not to cry, but the tears wouldn't stop fast enough.

I wish I could burn Kuro's shape into my eyes more clearly, more strongly...

"Just tell me one thing! Kuro... is Fukurou important to you!? Or... or is he just important to you because he's your king, and not because he's Fukurou...!?"

Kuro's form was already paler than the morning mist, but he still answered Mimizuku clearly.

"That is right."

Mimizuku's face twisted.

"It is just as you say, Mimizuku."

That was how Kuro answered. However, Kuro's form had already disappeared, and his true last words remained in Mimizuku's ears.

"However... the paintings drawn by the king... are incomparably beautiful. That is what I think."

Those were Kuro's last words.

Alone, remaining in silence with only the light of the lamp, Mimizuku sat quietly, and finally wiped her tears with the back of her hand. She looked up out of the window at the moon.

It was as beautiful as Fukurou's eyes.


That day, Ann Duke went to the king's office. As he entered, the king did not stop his hand or look up from his documents.

Ann Duke slammed his palms down on the king's well-made, lacquered desk. It made a low thump.

His eyes burned blue, and his face had lost some color.

"Release the King of Night this instant!" Ann Duke said in a deep voice.

"I can't do that."

The king didn't look up, and his response showed that he knew everything that had happened.

"Why!? You've known the whole time, haven't you! You've been receiving reports from your magicians, right!?"

Overcome with impatience, Ann Duke grabbed the king's collar.

"... Let go of me."

The king's voice was also deep, and cold.

"Try raising a hand against me in this place. I have something that I cannot let go of as well. If you take your wife and leave this country, I will round up your remaining family and have them all beheaded and put on display as a warning. Are you prepared for that?"

Ann Duke felt a lump in his throat, and make a sound. He knew that the king was serious, and not merely tossing an empty threat.

He slowly removed his hand. The king still did not look up.

"... What reason could you possibly have for imprisoning that monster when he's done nothing to hurt us?"

"Monsters are monsters, and thus evil. That in itself is the reason."

"You can't be serious!!" Ann Duke shouted.

His wife had returned home late the night before and told him everything without wiping her tears. There was no way he could have stood by without doing anything.

The path Mimizuku had walked up to this point was nothing short of heroic.

"Between the degenerate humans who hurt her, and the King of Night who cared for her, tell me, which one is really evil!?"

"You are the one who carried out the subjugation of the demon king, Sir Ann Duke.

Ann Duke nodded. He was ready to accept his sin.

"That's right. That's why I'm the one telling you now, let the King of Night go free!"

However, the king did not give in.

"I cannot do that."

"Why?"

"Too much time has already passed. At the next full moon, in just a few days, the mummification of the King of Night will be complete. If we released him now, he wouldn't live long."

"Then shouldn't you give him back his magic power!?"

"Are you sane, Ann Duke?" The gray-haired king lowered his eyelids and shook his head. "Try it. If the demon king gets his power back, he will bring all of his monsters to this country and attack."

"... The King of Night isn't just an ordinary monster. If you speak with him, maybe you'll understand..."

"What a naïve thing to say. Ann Duke, with that kind of thinking, you'll expose this country and all of its citizens to danger."

Being bored through by the light of the king's sharp eyes, it was Ann Duke's turn to lower his eyelids.

"I'll protect them," he said, gritting his teeth.

He dropped the palms of his hands onto the desk, hanging his head.

"I'll protect all the citizens... and this country..." he sputtered out, although with a strong tone of voice.

The king thought it would be overdoing it to reject those words. He looked straight down at Ann Duke.

Since long before, the MacValen name had been famous in this country. When the youngest brother pulled the Holy Sword from the scabbard, his elder brother immediately complained to the king. "'My younger brother is too kind to hold that sword!'" he had said. The oldest, who was head of the MacValen household at the time, had declared that "'My younger brother is too rigid to hold that sword!'"

The king now knew that neither of them was wrong. He was both too kind, and at the same time too rigid, when wielding the sword.

His sword was a sword that did not balk at the act of murder, and he himself was not one to let his heart go out to the life that he had cast away.

Even so, the Holy Knight was able to become a "symbol" of this country, because he found something that he must protect. The wife he loved, his family, and his country.

So the king placed his hand firmly on Ann Duke's shoulder.

"... The king of this country... is me," the king declared, as if pressing for an answer.

"Let us recognize that there was a misunderstanding. Even so, there is no way to undo what has already been done. The subjugation of the demon king is something that we have been seeking for a very long time. In order to bring about prosperity for this country, we must make clear our magic power, and for that, we need a large amount of magic. All of this is for the sake of the country."

Ann Duke ground his teeth together. The king's words were not without meaning. The king was a man who placed the country before everything else. That was why he was king, and why the country was where it was.

"... With the King of Night's magic power..." Ann Duke said in an accusing tone, "Do you plan to heal Dia's arms and legs?"

He had always known. But he couldn't say it. He knew though, that if the king were to obtain such a large amount of magic power, Claudius would be his utmost priority.

"It's for the sake... of the country." Immediately after speaking, the king shifted his gaze. "I do not plan to give up the throne to anyone but Dia. However, if I died, I'm afraid with that body of his... he wouldn't be able to protect the whole country. If I can do anything at all, then I will do it. I've developed an army, and pushed for agricultural and commercial growth. However, with that body... with his arms and legs, I don't know if he can stand the pressure of the throne."

Ann Duke could not criticize the hapless king any further.

The king could not help but love his own son. Even Ann Duke, who had no children of his own, understood how painful it was.

"... What will become of Mimizuku?" Even so, he could not give in. "Even now, that girl is still crying, looking for the King of Night. What will become of her?"

What would become of Mimizuku, who cried out in pain just remembering the King of Night?

The king let out a single sigh.

"... Ann Duke. You're telling me that if the King of Night was to be freed, and he went back to that forest with her, Mimizuku would be happy? If Mimizuku returned to that forest, she'd be happy? Is that really what you're losing your patience over?" At those words, Ann Duke's face became dim. "Do you really think that that monster would want a single little human girl to be happy?"

"But...! Even so..."

The king turned his back to Ann Duke, who would still not give in.

The king looked down at the town from his office window.

"You raise her, Ann Duke. If you do that, then that girl will have no more troubles in her life. Give her happiness by your hand," the king said in a somewhat gentler tone.

Because the king's back was turned to him, Ann Duke wasn't able to see what kind of face the king had when he said those words.

"..."

"A person's happiness lies in other people, Ann Duke," the king, who had one child of his own, said.

Ann Duke bit his lip. He closed his eyes tightly.

He wanted to bring Mimizuku happiness. If he could, he would do it by his own hand. She had been reborn before Ann Duke as a nameless girl with pure-hearted eyes. Maybe it was fate. Maybe she appeared for the sake of his love and affection.

He thought that he would teach that poor, small girl of a brilliance many times greater than merely living. He thought that it would be wonderful if he could save this girl, who didn't even know the meaning of tears.

But who would understand?

Why are others able to limit the happiness of a single human being?

"... You will be attending the ceremony on the next night of the full moon, Holy Knight Ann Duke," the king said in a voice teeming with severity. "The one to finally stab the demon king's heart... will be you."

Ann Duke closed his eyes tightly upon hearing those words. He curled his hands into fists just as tightly.

"... As you wish..." he answered in a cracked voice, as if he were spewing blood. "... My king, Dantes."

That was the seldom spoken name of the king.

"I wanted to be a friend to you... Ann Duke."

Ann Duke then turned his own back to the king.

He never turned back.


The one who brought Mimizuku her lukewarm soup that day was not the usual attendant.

"Mimizuku, how are you feeling?"

Mimizuku kept her back turned to any guests, but she reflexively turned around upon hearing that familiar, gentle voice.

"... Orietta..."

It was Orietta, who was smiling and holding a tray.

"Why are you making that face? Do you want to get even thinner?"

"..."

Mimizuku looked down without answering. Interposing the large, canopy-affixed bed, she turned away.

Orietta smiled as if sighing, and placed tray with the soup bowl on it at the side of the bed.

She then turned around and sat down on the bed. Mimizuku had her back turned to Orietta, but she could still feel the vibration.

"Hey, Mimizuku," Orietta said in the gentlest voice she could muster, as she always did. "Would you like to become our daughter?"

Mimizuku blinked several times at Orietta's words.

"You know, I don't have a daughter, let alone one as big as you," Orietta said, giggling. She then lowered her eyelids a little. "My body can't have children."

Suddenly, Mimizuku's heart rang out.

It hurts, she thought. Something inside of her hurt badly.

Orietta slowly began to speak, as if she were telling a small child a fairy tale.

"It can't be helped, but that's how it is. I'm the "Maiden of the Sword." I, along with the sword, am offered to the chosen hero--nothing more."

While listening to her words, Mimizuku thought of Orietta.

Orietta's indigo eyes resembled the night sky. Mimizuku found them very nostalgic.

They were the same color as Fukurou's hair.

Orietta continued to speak, as if singing.

"Whether I live or die is up to the hero. I'm no different than a slave!"

Mimizuku shivered at the mention of the word "slave." A cold sweat ran across her back. Now, she thought. Why now?

Orietta chuckled. It seemed like she did, at least.

"But Ann Duke told me that... he told me, all the fortunes that he received from being chosen by the Holy Sword as the Holy Knight... he would give them all to me."

For some reason, Mimizuku's world began to waver incessantly.

Before Mimizuku's eyes expanded a scene of some happening long ago. Specks of flame. Two moons in the night sky.

"'Go wherever you like. You're free now,' he said."

"Go. Girl who names beasts. There is no reason for you to be here anymore."

It was him.

He was the reason she had been there from the start.


"You're free."

"Why?" Orietta said, gazing at Ann Duke. She acted brave, straightening her back.

It was the second time the two had spoken. It had only been a few days since the incident with the carriage.

Ann Duke was still young, and Orietta was still small.

"I'm yours."

That was how she had been raised. Born as an infant, raised in an orphanage, and handed over to the temple after her genius with magic had been discovered, she underwent rigorous studies in the magic arts in order to become the priestess to defend the Holy Sword. In the process, she lost the ability to have children, but she thought little of it.

"If so, then go beyond the horizon. I won't do anything about it."

"Why?"

Orietta's face grew twisted.

She didn't know what kind of face to make.

"Why are you telling me something like this?"

"You told me before. 'If I could be free, I would have done so long ago.' Since I can, I'm releasing you from your birdcage."

"But you don't gain anything from it..."

Ann Duke shrugged his shoulders.

"I don't lose anything either. I'm the good-for-nothing son of a knight family. --Actually, there is one thing I'm losing. By letting you go, I'm missing my chance with a beautiful girl... But even so, I want you to smile. So that's that."

And then, Ann Duke looked deeply into Orietta's eyes.

"If it forces one woman to become a sacrifice, then the Holy Sword is not so holy anymore, is it?"

At those words, Orietta's shoulders slumped straight down.

Oh, I see...

This was without a doubt the man "chosen" by the Holy Sword.

"Where should I go?"

"Eh, as if I knew."

"I see. Well then, where do you live?"

"Huh?"

Ann Duke left his mouth hanging half-open. To that miserable look, Orietta struck a daunting pose.

"I asked you where your house is. I've always wanted to cook and clean on my own. If it's alright with you, please hire me."

"... Are you serious?"

"Completely. Of course, only if your mansion is fairly comfortable."

Then, Orietta gave a hearty smile.

"I don't care if you hire me or give me up."


"Orietta..."

Mimizuku gasped.

"Even though you were free, why didn't you go anywhere?"

Orietta turned around and faced Mimizuku's small, rolled up back.

"Well," she said, "even if I choose not to go anywhere, isn't that a choice I made freely?"

Mimizuku covered her face with her hands. Tears began to drip from her eyes.

She thought of Orietta.

She thought of Fukurou.

She thought of what Orietta said, about how not going anywhere was a choice you can make freely as well.

Fukurou.

She called out his name.

Hey, Fukurou.

Where did you tell me to go?

That time, I would have chosen to stay by your side.

Is it alright for me to stay by your side?

No, that's not right. She didn't need permission from anyone. Hadn't she made the decision that day? Among the rustling of the Forest of Night.

Even if you don't allow me, I'll be by your side. Eat me, King of Night.

She knew what crying was. She had been taught. She remembered.

"... Uuu... uuu..."

For some reason, her chest felt tight.

Her throat felt like it was burning, and she couldn't breathe. Suddenly, gently, she smelled a serene scent.

She was being embraced softly from behind by Orietta. She gently caressed her head, and she understood that Orietta too was crying.

Mimizuku wanted to shake her off. She had to shake her off. However, Orietta, quivering, spoke.

"... You've done so well..."

Orietta's arms were warm.

"You've done so well... to live up to this point..."

Those words broke the dam. Mimizuku cried, and cried.

"It wasn't that bad..." she said, sobbing uncontrollably. She had never thought it had been so tough.

Even though she lived the life she did, she never thought it was difficult. And then, every day she had spent since coming to the Forest of Night had been enjoyable.

"Hey... hey, Orietta..."

"... Yes?"

"Can I ask you something?"

"What is it?" Orietta asked, patting Mimizuku on the back.

"When I received all those pretty clothes, and all those good things to eat, and when everyone was nice to me, what was I supposed to say to all that?"

Orietta smiled at Mimizuku's question.

"At times like that, you're supposed to say 'thank you.'"

"Thank... you..."

That's right, there was a word for that. Mimizuku held on to Orietta's hand and said it.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you Orietta."

She cried as she spoke. She had to say it. She had to say it.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you...

Her thoughts overflowed. Her words overflowed.

"Mimizuku...?"

"Uuu... ugh...! Th-th-thank... y-you... Kuro... Fuku... rou... thank you...!"

Mimizuku then collapsed, and wailed as if lost in a dream.

"Thank you! Thank you...!!"

She was happy.

She was incredibly happy.

Even though you didn't do anything for me...

You listened to my story.

With his cold eyes, beautiful like moons, he looked at Mimizuku.

I existed in those eyes.

It was the first time she knew she was alive.

Thank you.

"I... I miss yoooooouuu...!"

There's something I have to tell you.

Orietta, as though she had made a decision, embraced Mimizuku more tightly.


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