Mimizuku to Yoru no Ou: Chapter 8
Chapter 8 - Deliverance II
That night, just as Claudius was about to fall asleep, he heard a noise amidst his slumber.
Opening his eyelids, Claudius quietly requested a confirmation of identity. He couldn't be careless. It was when he was careless that he was most vulnerable.
"Do you realize you're in the room of the prince? If you take another step into my quarters, you'll be put under a curse by this country's greatest magicians."
Even so, if the person had come this far prepared to throw away their life, they wouldn't have any problem harming the prince. As an alarm bell rang silently in Claudius's heart, Claudius strained his eyes in the pitch-blackness.
There was a small, human figure.
"Sorry for coming so late at night, Dia."
The slight voice was like a small, round bell being rolled gently across the floor.
"... Mii? Is that you, Mii?" Claudius asked, bewildered. He thought he felt her nod.
"Yeah. Sorry, during the day, they had me under watch, so I wasn't able to come until late at night."
"You were being watched...?"
"Sort of. They didn't say I couldn't go anywhere, though. The guy at the bottom of your tower let me through."
"I see..." Claudius responded in a complex mental state. Several different words said by various people ran about in his mind. "Mimizuku... I was waiting for you."
"I know. Thank you."
Mimizuku seemed to nod. She also seemed to be smiling, just a little.
"Andy and Orietta came here and told me about you. I thought you wouldn't be coming to see me anymore."
Hidden in the cloth of his bed's canopy overhang, Claudius couldn't see Mimizuku's face, and thus was unaware of just how much Mimizuku had changed since retrieving her memories.
He closed his eyes in the darkness. Nothing changed. Whether his eyes were open or closed, the world was still the same color.
"... The king came by today. He said that the last ceremony in the destruction of the King of Night is being held tomorrow, and that I have to come... He said I had to participate, as the next king."
Claudius had understood what the king meant.
The day before, Ann Duke had come and told him. He knew of the whole situation. Ann Duke told him of Mimizuku's situation, of the meaning of the seal on her forehead, and the reason why she had scars on her wrists and ankles.
And then, Ann Duke told him this: "You're going to be called for a ceremony two days from now, Claudius. Burn my actions that day into your memory. However... if you can, please don't tell Mimizuku about this."
Ann Duke had worn a sad smile as he said those words.
"I figured I'd become notorious and hated eventually, anyway. It can't be helped..."
Claudius had asked what he could do to help.
Ann Duke simply smiled. He smiled as if he was holding down what he truly wanted to say.
"Dia, you might be able to move your arms and legs soon."
"I don't care what happens to me," Claudius had said. Ann Duke patted him on the head.
"Don't say things like that. The king wants you to be able to move your arms and legs freely so that you'll have more confidence in yourself."
Confidence in himself
Moving his arms and legs would give him confidence? Could he become king just by moving his arms and legs?
"You know, Claudius," Mimizuku said in a trembling voice. Claudius opened his ears so as to not let any of her voice escape him. "You know..." Even in the dark, Mimizuku's silhouette was small.
Even though he was close to gaining free movement of his limbs, Claudius could only think of Mimizuku.
Is Mii crying? he thought.
Then, in a trembling voice like a whisper, Mimizuku spoke.
"What would you do... if I asked you to help me?"
Claudius smiled before he could say anything.
He knew what his answer would be long ago.
A tricolor bell rang with a pristine sound. As he heard it ring, Ann Duke thought of the dead queen's funeral.
That time, Ann Duke had not yet been chosen as the Holy Knight. He had watched the endless procession absentmindedly of people in black dress from the top of a tree in the garden in his mansion.
Even though he was high up, he couldn't see the inside of the coffin from among the procession. He was disappointed, as it had been said that the queen was a rare beauty.
Ann Duke raised his head, and gazed upon Fukurou, who seemed to create a throne of his own with his outstretched wings.
Two moons had passed since he had been captured. Since then, he was given nothing to eat or drink, simply hung as if to dry and wrung completely clean of magic power.
However... his figure, eyelids lowered, thin and withered, was still coldly beautiful.
Before such ghastly beauty, even the Holy Knight shivered.
"Holy Woman! Bring the sword here...!" King Dantes said in a low voice. Without any wasted effort, Orietta kneeled down beside Ann Duke. She closed her eyes, and offered the Holy Sword to her husband.
He didn't think she would come.
That was what Ann Duke had truly felt. Since he told her that he was to wield the sword on the last day of the demon king's suppression, she hadn't listened to a word he said.
However, Orietta could not say no in the end either.
"... Are you okay with this?" Ann Duke whispered the moment he grabbed hold of the sword.
Orietta sighed, her eyes still closed.
"I live as one with the sword..."
Hearing her answer, Ann Duke made a pained facial expression. If he could do anything about it, he didn't want Orietta to be forced to say such things.
He grasped the hilt of the sword, and unsheathed it in one swift movement.
Two magic lamps reflected the light of the full moon onto the Holy Sword, causing to give off a dim aura. The thing that shined the most brilliantly in the ceremony was the crystal surrounded by the magicians. It was a bit larger than a human head, and a burning blue flame flickered inside of it.
There was no magical power left in the King of Night at this point.
The crown said to be for the next king gave off an intimidating air.
"Bring me my prince...!"
At the order of the king, Claudius arrived on a sedan chair many times larger than his body held up by several men. Covered by a canopy even as he was taken underground, Claudius's lips were pursed. He looked first at the king, and then at Fukurou.
The magicians stepped forward. From here they would, using the magical power of the demon king, perform the largest magical undertaking in the history of their country.
Their aim was the complete resuscitation of Claudius's unrestrained use over his arms and legs, all the way to his fingertips.
It was right when the magicians took their stances with their rods.
Having not made a sound up to this point, Claudius broke the silence in the empty air with his high voice. Ann Duke unthinkingly turned to look at him.
"Your Highness," Claudius said clearly, meeting eyes with the gray-haired king. "I would like to see the demon king clearly with my own eyes."
"... What?" Dantes growled.
However, Claudius, unabashedly and buried in his chair, raised his voice again.
"Before he is stabbed by the Holy Sword of the Holy Knight Ann Duke, I wish to be allowed to burn the shape of this future symbol of our kingdom's magic power into my eyes..."
The gray-haired king glared fixedly at his son. However, Claudius did not lower his gaze. Dantes wondered when his son had become so courageous. He felt like Claudius was not the same son he had always had, who always looked up at him coweringly.
"... Alright." The king nodded. "Bring Claudius forward!"
The men brought the sedan chair holding the prince forward. They placed him gently on the straight, red carpet. The prince then stared carefully, though from a distance, at Fukurou. He stared at the body, the wings of which seemed to be held up by invisible threads. The figure had not lost its majesty.
He looked at it as though searing its shape into his mind.
Just as Dantes was about to continue on with the proceedings, Claudius suddenly shouted something.
Nobody there could deny the sound that entered their ears. They simply stood wide-eyed in amazement. The cloth at the bottom of Claudius's sedan chair had been ripped open.
Then, a shadow jumped out from inside.
"Mimizuku!!" Ann Duke yelled. Like the time when she was just skin and bones with one thin cloth over her, Mimizuku jumped out like a bullet and ran.
"Stop! Stop that girl!!" Dantes' voice boomed like cannon fire. Taken aback, the magicians took fighting stances. However, they were the same magicians who had already set up to perform the revitalization of Claudius's limbs. It would take time for them to cast another spell.
Ahead of everyone else, Ann Duke ran toward Mimizuku.
However, his arm was suddenly pulled on from behind.
He looked to his side. There, with a strong look in her eyes, was his wife.
"Let me go ahead, Andy."
"What are you going to do!?" Ann Duke said.
"I'll show you. Watch my back!"
Orietta's words were strong. Her grip on Ann Duke's wrists was tight, making it hard for him to refuse her.
Impelled by his impatience, Ann Duke looked at Mimizuku.
Mimizuku ran. Wholeheartedly, she ran. To Fukurou, the beautiful King of Night.
She called out his name with her whole heart.
She grasped a knife, holding its radiant silver hilt to her chest.
Orietta stood at the entrance in her full priestess uniform, looking at Mimizuku. She saw that she had exchanged her old clothes for a thin, white cloth.
"Orietta, I'm sorry," Mimizuku said. "I have to go."
"... Go ahead, Mimizuku," she said, smiling and crying at the same time.
Looking at Orietta's teary face, Mimizuku also felt like crying.
"You know..." Tears began to parcel out of Mimizuku's eyes. She didn't continue her words. Orietta embraced her compassionately.
"... If I had a daughter, I think this is how things would probably turn out, don't you?"
She had given up on having a child of her own. She had previously cried and apologized to Ann Duke for it. Ann Duke loved her, and she loved Ann Duke, so she apologized whenever she cried to him. Ann Duke didn't blame Orietta. He was fully aware of what she had been through.
They weren't able to take a child from the orphanage, as they were to consider the country their child.
"I'm sorry, Orietta."
"You don't need to apologize," Orietta said, wrapping her arms strongly around Mimizuku's back.
"You know, I... I... I was happy wearing the pretty clothes I got. Everyone's cooking was delicious. The bed was soft and fluffy, and everything made me really happy.
It wasn't a lie. Her feelings were definitely real.
"... That's right..." Orietta's affirmation seemed brimming with all the affection of the Holy Mother.
She's just like a real mother, Mimizuku thought.
I don't know, I don't understand, but it must be something like this, right? This is what having a mother is like...?
"But, even so... I want to go home." She had a place to return to. "I want to go back to Fukurou's forest... I must be an idiot..."
I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Even though you were so kind to me.
Even though everyone was kind to me.
At those words, Orietta tenderly swept her hand across Mimizuku's head.
"You know, us girls... we all become idiots when we fall in love," she said with a mischievous smile.
Mimizuku blinked at her words.
"Orietta... was an idiot too?" she asked, wiping her tears. Orietta looked at Mimizuku and let out a chuckle.
"If I wasn't... how could I become such a good-for-nothing wife?"
Mimizuku laughed involuntarily.
Orietta then pressed a knife into Mimizuku's hand. It had a simple beauty, and with one look, Mimizuku could tell it was valuable.
"Orietta, what's this?"
Mimizuku's shoulders shivered at the cold weight suddenly placed into her hand.
Orietta smiled at her affectionately.
"Take it. I'm lending it to you. It was given to me when I became the Maiden of the Holy sword. It's been passed down through the temple for generations. It was given shape from a broken off piece of the Holy Sword. If you want to cut the threads holding the King of Night down... you'll need this."
"Is it really okay for me to have it?" Mimizuku asked, assailed by mixed emotions.
Wasn't Orietta Ann Duke's wife? Wasn't she a priestess of this country?
Even so, Orietta continued to smile at her.
"I implore that you take it... my dear Mimizuku," she said.
So Mimizuku took the blade.
Pains from the open air seemed to slice through her body, and she began to feel nauseous.
However, she didn't lose her grip.
I will fight.
Up until now, she had always done as others said. She wanted to live for herself now, to give her life direction on her own.
I knew it, the moment we first met.
It had been the first choice Mimizuku had made in her life.
I'm going to take you back. That's why I'll fight.
Mimizuku prayed to God for the first time.
Mimizuku cut through the silky thread binding holding Fukurou's body.
"Fukurou, Fukurou, open your eyes...!!" she called out, crying. Fukurou's face was calmly beautiful, as if he had died, and Mimizuku's spine froze, not because of Fukurou's beauty, but because of the fear that he was lost to her.
There were a lot of things Mimizuku couldn't help being afraid of.
Then, slightly, faintly, Fukurou raised his eyelids. Soft moonlight leaked from his eyes.
With his newfound freedom of movement, Fukurou's first action was to grab onto Mimizuku's wrist.
The wrist was slightly discolored, and holding a knife.
Fukurou's thin fingers had lost much of their vigor, but his grip was still surprisingly strong, causing Mimizuku to drop her knife.
"Mimizuku!!" Ann Duke called out desperately.
Orietta swallowed her breath.
With a dull sound, the knife hit the ground.
However, Fukurou stared at Mimizuku.
"I thought you said... that you hated knives..." he said.
It was the same voice, not changed in the slightest, that Fukurou had spoken with when they had first met.
To his words, Mimizuku smiled.
It was a powerful smile, unlike any one Mimizuku had made before. It radiated from her face, disregarding the single teardrop that had fallen from Mimizuku's eye.
"It's not that important..."
Mimizuku then jumped at Fukurou's neck.
She hugged him tightly. Her delicate, slender arms wrapped around him, as if they were crafted only to embrace him.
Fukurou then narrowed his eyes slightly.
He embraced Mimizuku's body as tightly as he could.
Much time had passed since their chance meeting on that moonlit night. The two finally received each other, arm in arm.
"Andy!!" Dantes called out. Blood vessels were visible on his forehead.
"Holy Knight Ann Duke! Cut down the demon king! The king's life depends on it...!!"
The magicians were also preparing a new spell. Dantes raised his voice, demanding that the Holy Sword be stabbed into Fukurou's heart.
"I don't care if you have to kill Mimizuku as well...!!"
At his mighty tone of voice, Ann Duke shook off his wife's hands from his wrists.
Orietta screamed from behind him.
However, Ann Duke did not turn around. He raised the Holy Sword, higher and higher.
Mimizuku closed her eyes tightly.
She didn't care if she died like this, in Fukurou's embrace.
Repeating the same words in her head over and over, even though a contradiction in them stood before her, she continued to repeat them.
Claudius was the one who called out the name.
The sword fell.
A distinct sound, like shattering glass, arose.
A whirlwind seemed to blow through, and everyone in the room lost control over their senses for an instant.
"Ann Duke, what are you...!!"
A sound like a flowing waterfall could be heard, and the air began to stir.
For a moment, Mimizuku couldn't tell which way was up or down, however her vision eventually began to focus. It had all ended. All that was left in the underground room was Ann Duke, Fukurou, and Mimizuku, still in Fukurou's arms.
Ann Duke had not aimed the blade at Fukurou's heart.
Fukurou's wings, as if taking a deep breath, spread out. He had regained his magic power.
Ann Duke had sliced through the blue burning crystal that held Fukurou's magic power.
The king, who had regained his posture as the magicians at his side supported him, called out the name in a voice brimming with rage.
However, Ann Duke shrugged his shoulders as he always did.
"Sorry, king, but if my wife runs from me, I'll be in trouble," he said indifferently.
His tone was as if he was speaking to an old friend.
"Fukurou, Fukurou, are you okay?" After the sudden discord, Mimizuku had watched Fukurou, worried.
Fukurou did not ignore her; he lowered his gaze to meet Mimizuku's sanpaku eyes.
"Why did you come?" he asked in a low voice.
Mimizuku made a frown that was like a mixture of laughter and crying.
"Why wouldn't I come?"
"Because you finally obtained happiness."
"I did, huh? Warm food, good clothes, soft towels, and a plushy bed. But..." Mimizuku faced the pair of moons. "You weren't there," she said.
Fukurou narrowed his moon eyes.
"You are truly a fool."
Tears began to drip from Mimizuku's eyes.
"Don't say something so difficult to understand at a time like this. Now that everything's fine, why don't we go home? Let's go home to the forest...!"
Fukurou wiped the tears from Mimizuku's cheek with his clawed, slender fingertips.
"I thought you said you never cried."
"I remembered how." She raised her cheek up. "I remembered how to laugh, too. Do you hate me for becoming so human?"
"No..." Fukurou then combed aside Mimizuku's hair with his finger, so that the symbol on her forehead could be seen. "You... are Mimizuku. And I--... am Fukurou."
That was his answer.
Fukurou flapped his outstretched wings, sending a flurry of magic power and wind into the underground room. The gray-haired king raised his voice against the King of Night holding the small girl.
"What are you doing? Magicians! Riveil! Quickly, quickly, do something...!!"
However, the magicians were unable to cast any further spells.
With the full moon out, the king of monsters brimmed with power befitting of his name, and, feeling the pressure of his magic power, the magicians could not stop shivering.
"What are you doing!? Quickly, the demon king...!!"
"Please, stop this!!" Claudius said to Dantes as he attempted in vain to rouse the magicians. "Please stop, father. No more...!"
Held closely by Fukurou's right arm, Mimizuku looked at Claudius.
He had smiled when she asked him for help.
"I'll do whatever you ask, Mii."
She looked at Claudius, the same boy who had said those words to her.
Claudius's face crunched together, as if he was about to cry, still repeating his plea to his father.
"No more, father...! I'm fine, so please, stop all of this!"
"Claudius..." Dantes said, taken aback. He looked at Claudius. "Claudius... what are you thinking...!?"
"Mii is my friend!" A tear streamed across Claudius's cheek. It was the first time since the death of the queen that Dantes had seen Claudius's tears. "Mimizuku is my friend! If I have to make a friend cry, then it's not worth getting my arms and legs back!"
"Dia..." Mimizuku called out from Fukurou's arms.
However, Claudius turned to face Dantes.
"If you say I can't become king with a body like this, then go find another successor! I don't care! But still, father, still... even though I have this body... I'm still your son...!!" he shouted.
He called out for his father, crying. Ann Duke and Orietta stood looking upon the scene before them.
"Claudius..." Dantes called uncertainly.
"Dia!" Mimizuku shouted out from between Fukurou's arms. "Hey, Dia...!"
Tears running down his face, Claudius looked back at Mimizuku. Then, he looked up at Fukurou.
"Dia, I'm sorry... I'm sorry." She knew it was a meaningless apology, and that she had relied on him to do something very difficult. But even so, she was happy that he listened to her. "Sorry... and thank you...!"
"It's fine, Mii." Claudius smiled, his face still damp with tears. "I received many things from you. I learned from you. So it's fine. Don't worry about it." He gave her a warm smile.
It was a smile that resembled the dead queen's.
Suddenly, a low voice was heard.
"... Young prince."
Whose voice was it? After a split second of confusion, Claudius swallowed his breath, and turned to look up at the owner of the voice.
"King... of Night..."
Fukurou looked down at Claudius with his golden eyes.
"Human prince who wears his limbs as decoration. You may still be able to take the throne with that body."
Mimizuku, surprised at Fukurou's words, looked up at him. Claudius tightened his lips and nodded.
"If my father allows it... No, if I find myself to be suitable for the position, then even with these useless limbs, I will become king of this country."
To the prince's resolute answer, Fukurou flapped his wings several times. He landed in front of Claudius.
"Demon king! What are you doing!?" The king pushed past his magicians, lunging forward. "Don't touch him! What are you doing to my son...!?"
Ann Duke raised his sword slightly. Fukurou put Mimizuku down, and gently ran the claws of his long fingers across Claudius's arms and legs.
Claudius gasped. Strange patterns began to run across his arms and legs, and then a faint light began to shine.
When the light dispersed, something strange happened in Claudius's body.
He shook weakly, and felt weak and cold.
However, he slowly lifted up his right arm.
Dantes stood up straight, looking wide-eyed at Claudius. Ann Duke stood in a daze, and Orietta covered her mouth as tears began to fall from her eyes.
The magicians were also speechless.
Then, shaking like a newborn fawn, Claudius slowly lifted his legs, and stood up, walking down from his chair.
"K-king of Night, this is, I...!"
Claudius, standing, looked up at Fukurou in blank amazement.
Even though he had once thought the King of Night to be fearsome, he had forgotten his fears.
"As a cursed prince, you may have been despised," Fukurou said in a dull, low voice.
"If you are willing to live even with limbs cursed by the demon king, then you should live, human prince."
Claudius opened and closed his fists several times.
Like a dream, he could move.
The brilliant patterns on him could certainly send one who looked upon them into a state of shock.
With her eyes sparkling, Mimizuku extended both of her arms out to Claudius and hugged him. "Those patterns... they're so pretty!" Mimizuku giggled. "They're all so pretty!"
"Thank you, Mimizuku." Claudius also smiled from the bottom of his heart. With his newly freed arms, he hugged Mimizuku back. "Thank you as well, King of Night..."
However, Fukurou didn't seem to hear him. Turning away as if having lost interest, he flew up into the sky. Back to the forest from whence he came.
"Oh! Oooh! Fukurou!" In a panic, Mimizuku tried to grab onto Fukurou. "I'm going too! I'm going back home with you!"
Not making a sound, Fukurou glared down at Mimizuku.
"If you're going back, then take me too! You can't just leave me here; even if you do, I'll just follow you! The forest isn't far from here, so don't try to run away!" Mimizuku said, putting her hands on her hips.
Fukurou breathed a small sigh, and then turned around, grabbing Mimizuku's arm.
Mimizuku shrieked with delight.
"Mimizuku!" Ann Duke called out.
"Oh... Andy, Orietta...!" She leaned forward from her position in Fukurou's arm. "Hey, hey, hey...!"
She felt like there were many things she had to say. Thank you. I'm sorry. Thank you.
Would just those words be enough? Mimizuku thought.
Even thought they had taught her to use them at times like this.
The more she thought about it, the more she felt that they wouldn't be enough.
Tears spread across her face. Why? Why was she so sad? Why was she so regretful? Mimizuku couldn't understand.
Orietta looked at Mimizuku and smiled.
"... You're welcome back anytime," Orietta said, disregarding the tears in her eyes. "I'll be waiting." She smiled compassionately, as she always did.
Beside her, Ann Duke also smiled.
"If life in the forest doesn't suit you, then come right back! We'll go to the market together again!"
Mimizuku made a strained facial expression and nodded rapidly.
There was a comfortable lifestyle, and kind people. But still, she could only make one choice.
To her, the choice was clear.
"... King of Night." The next one to speak was Dantes, standing behind Claudius. The gray-haired king wrinkled his brow as he always did, and made a stern face. "I won't ask you to forgive me, King of Night," he said slowly. "But still..." Dantes took a deep breath. "I thank you, from the bottom of my heart," he declared.
Claudius looked up at his father and gasped.
Fukurou didn't seem interested in responding. He outstretched his wings wide, and turned to disappear into the darkness, but suddenly turned around and faced Dantes.
"... If you are a king who chooses his country, then try to build a wonderful country with your own hands."
At that moment, Mimizuku remembered something.
Oh, that's right, Fukurou as well...
Fukurou might have become a human king as well at one time.
Thinking of this, Mimizuku remembered a feeling she couldn't put into words, and clung tightly to Fukurou's neck.
Whenever she couldn't express herself, that was the best thing to do.
Just like Orietta had done for her. Mimizuku felt like she finally understood how to use her own limbs.
Fukurou made an annoyed face at Mimizuku coiling about him, but breathing softly, he gently moved his arms so as to caress Mimizuku's head.
Seeing this, Ann Duke and Orietta looked at each other and laughed.
And then, Mimizuku and Fukurou melted away into the darkness.
A gust blew through, and the next moment, the two had disappeared without leaving a trace.
It was as if a storm had passed through the castle's basement.
Ann Duke sighed.
"Oh well," Orietta smiled, holding out the scabbard of the Holy Sword to Ann Duke.
With a beautiful movement, Ann Duke returned the Holy Sword to its scabbard and gave it to Orietta.
"Well then, we've got a lot of cleaning up to do, don't we?"
"Indeed," Ann Duke simply said.
"You're taking responsibility. Get to work at once, Andy," the gray-haired king said, returning to his usual gloomy tone of voice.
"Huh!? Hey, wait a second! What about you, the king!? Why me!?"
"It's to be expected. Why don't you try working for once? Damned homestay."
Ann Duke drooped his shoulders, and Orietta chuckled beside him.
"... Your Majesty..." Claudius said, looking up timidly at the king. "Um..."
He knew he had to be punished, as he had disobeyed the king.
"Y-yes!?" Claudius answered, his shoulders shaking. His father's gray eyes looked at him. He had a stern face, and an austere light in his eyes. However, Claudius did not look away. He did not cast his eyes down as he had always done before. Pursing his lips tightly, he faced forward, looking straight at Dantes, his father.
He planned to take his punishment gracefully. He had no regrets. Even so, he didn't think he would be hated by his father for it. He simply did what he had to do, for both his own sake, and for the sake of the country.
Dantes looked down at Claudius, and opened his mouth to speak, but he closed it and narrowed his eyes.
He then took a step forward, and tightly embraced Claudius's body.
At his father's sudden action, Claudius's emerald eyes flew wide open.
Dantes did not say anything. He simply hugged his son, his eyes closed tight, and his shoulders slightly quivering.
It was a strong embrace, and it hurt Claudius. He was a hapless old man who didn't know how to be gentle.
However, Claudius closed his eyes.
He had always wanted this.
The hug was instantaneous. The moment that Dantes let go of Claudius, his face turned to that of the stern king.
"... From here on, I will teach you many things. If you have the spirit required to be king, then follow me, even if you cough up blood!"
At those words, Claudius's eyes sparkled.
"... Yes, father!!"
He was the prince that would one day be called "The Ornate Sealed King."
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