OmaeGotoki:Volume 2

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Novel Illustrations[edit]


Episode 3: The Spiral Children Who Spew Relentless Malice[edit]

Interlude - Of Black And White[edit]

At the northernmost tip of the Demon Realm lies the demon capital of Sereid.

Snow falls there all year round, and the stone buildings that line the streets are fashioned from Earth magic, giving it a very different feel from the Capital. Demons possess far more and far stronger magic than humans, so as such it is a far more crucial part of their society.

In the center of the cityscape is the Demon Lord’s Castle. Its central tower stretches far into the sky, and its eerily-carved black stone walls instill fear in all who look upon it. Its presence is massive, undeniable.

Its chief resident, however, isn’t the fiend that the castle’s appearance may suggest.

The candlesticks set up around the dining hall fill the room with a gentle light, and a crackling fireplace keeps the room comfortably warm. Sitting around the main table are three demons, knives and forks in hand.

One of them is Neigass “The Bloody Gale,” the Demon General who encountered Flum and Sara outside Enchide. Even in the frigid city of Sereid her dress shows no less skin than before.

Sitting directly across from her is Tsaion “The Flickering Inferno,” another one of the Three Demon Generals. His collar stands as straight as his spiky red hair.

Finally, sitting right beside him is a young girl who couldn’t be more than twelve years old by human standards --- Shietume, the Demon Lord. She looks almost doll-like clad in her white one-piece dress, and the chair she’s perched on is tall enough that her short low-heel-clad feet swing freely above the ground.

“Well then, Neigass, what did you find at that laboratory?”

Shietume resists the urge to force more into her mouth long enough to speak, a slightly put out expression on her face.

Today’s main dish happens to be a Big Goat saute in mushroom sauce. Though it certainly wouldn’t be out of place in a high-class restaurant, it was in fact made by one of the Three Demon Generals, Dieza “The Bottomless Quagmire.” Every bite of the tender meat sends sweet gravy bursting out to mingle with the slightly sour sauce, resulting in a flavour profile that’s simply irresistible.

Neigass had even skipped lunch in anticipation of this meal, and she isn’t disappointed in the slightest.

“There wasn’t anything from earlier than thirty years ago --- there wasn’t much of anything there, really, except the ‘thing’ that had that Core buried in it.”

The ‘thing,’ of course, is the ‘Spiral Ogre’ that Flum and Sara killed.

“As I thought, then. There isn’t anything left from before the Human War.”

The Human War --- or as the humans know it, the Demon War --- occurred thirty years ago when the humans tried to invade the Demon Realm. Of course, given how gifted the Demons are with magic and how low the morale of the invaders was, they easily repelled the humans no matter how many soldiers they sent and the war ended as quickly as it started.

“I think there’s a chance the humans might be planning on sending those ‘things’ the next time they try to invade.”

“You mean they’ll try to attack us again?”

“They were foolish enough to attack back when they clearly had no chance of winning, so I don’t see why they wouldn’t attack once they have actual power.”

“I don’t see why they’d even want to invade us in the first place, though...”

“Humans are greedy creatures by nature. If someone else has something, they’ll try to take it.”

“I just can’t understand what the Kingdom’s higher-ups are thinking.”

“Yes, especially after how bad the last War was. You think they’d learn.”

During the War the demons did their absolute best to not take any human lives, but the Kingdom used every underhanded tactic they could, even going so far as to send child soldiers to the front lines. At that point even the peaceful demons started to feel disgusted, and ignoring the children they redoubled their attention on the adults, forcing them to retreat en masse. Even back then, the kingdom was supposedly performing all manner of experimentation on its own citizens in search of ever-greater power.

“Mountains of warped corpses of humans and animals alike, spiral-faced monstrosities… The humans haven’t learned a thing over the past few decades.”

“Even though it’s clearly not something they could ever hope to control… But more importantly, I’d like to know where they got their hands on that power in the first place.”

“Maybe a certain someone’s not keeping a close enough eye on the seal, eh, Demon Lord-sama?”

Tsaion butts in, fanning the flames on their conversation. Shietume puffs out her cheeks and glares at him.

“That’s impossible! There’s been no change in the seal whatsoever since I’ve become shrine maiden! Dieza’s even been checking it with me!”

“Haha, don’t get all overheated now, Demon Lord-sama.”

“And what’s with that weird name, Niisan!?[1] Are you trying to get on my nerves!? Just call me Shietume like you always do!”

“You’re the one who made me one of those Three Demon Generals or whatever! I was just trying to play the part!”

“Wha… That’s not my fault! Everyone’s getting all worked up about the Hero invading us so I had to do something to keep the people’s hopes up!”

Even if the demons avoid conflict by nature, it’s hard to just sit by and do nothing when all their attempts to stop the Hero’s party have proven futile. The Three Demon Generals were formed to relieve some of the building stress --- even if they haven’t actually been doing much to stop the Hero and are pretty much just doing whatever they want.

“No, but do we really need to go outta our way to show off like that? ‘The Three Demon Generals’ sounds kinda tacky.”

“I don’t want to be told what’s tacky by someone who’s shirt collar is sticking straight up in the air!”

The two of them start arguing again, just as they always do. Neigass looks at the man standing behind Shietume’s chair and they exchange strained smiles.

The man is, of course, Dieza. Wearing a classy tailcoat and a monocle, he’s Shietume’s butler. He was taken in as an orphan by the Demon Lord two generations ago and started working at the castle one generation ago.

“What’d you say!? Are you calling my blazing-hot fashion sense tacky!?”

“Yes, I am! Why do you always have to turn up the collar on all your clothes!? I’m embarrassed just being seen with you! Your cool face and stuff is perfect aside from that, so why do you have to go and ruin it all!?”

“Okay, NOW I’m pissed! Let’s step outside and settle this once and for all! I’ll prove you can’t hold a candle to me!”

“Fine! If you think your pathetic little firecrackers can break through my shadows, then---”

Their argument quickly starts to heat up, glaring at each other so intensely they start to lean in at each other.

Dieza clears his throat.

All noise in the dining hall instantly dies.

“You still have not finished your meals. Please leave your arguing for later.”

“...Sorry.” “I’m sorry.”

Both of them apologize and sit back down, but sparks still fly between them as they both refuse to break eye contact.

Fearing that they’re about to start quarrelling again, Dieza gives Neigass a meaningful look. She nods, extending her hand out towards Shietume just as she’s about to steal something off Tsaion’s plate. Her small body rises into the air.

“Wah!? W-What are you doing, Neigass!?”

She struggles but can’t break free from Neigass’ spell. Neigass floats her over Tsaion and drops her straight into his lap.

Both Shietume and Tsaion turn bright red. Neigass chuckles.

“Oho, it looks like this is still enough to get you two to quiet down.”

“I am not sure whether I should be pleased or disappointed that this is more effective than me raising my voice.”

“S-Stop sounding so fed up, old man! This is half your fault!”

“Y-Yes! A-Anyone would quiet down after being put in such a humiliating position...”

Even though Tsaion and Shietume complain, she makes no move to leave his lap and he doesn’t try to move her.

“You two really haven’t changed a bit...”

Neigass watches them with a small smile.

“You haven’t changed, yourself!” Tsaion replies sulkily.

“By the way, Tsaion, I thought you were rather fond of that ‘Three Demon Generals’ name? Didn’t you shout something like ‘you’re the only one who can really turn up the heat on us Three Demon Generals’ the last time you fought the Hero?”

“Niisan… Did you really…?”

“Uh… No, I, uh, I started getting all hot-headed, and I guess I wasn’t watching my mouth… I sure didn’t mean to…”

He starts fumbling with his words, trying to hide the fact that he does in fact rather like the name.

He and Shietume are childhood friends, and it’s the worst-kept secret in the Castle that he’s actually very fond of her. Their arguments are just the result of their intimacy --- one could almost call their quarrels lover’s spats.

“Fufufu, you really haven’t changed at all.”

“S-Shut it.”

Tsaion looks away poutily, and seeing his reaction Neigass starts laughing even harder, finally continuing with a smile.

“I bet Hero’s party has no idea that the Three Demon Generals are really just a couple of childhood friends.”

“It’s not like I planned for it to turn out that way, it just so happens that we’re all strong. You’re producing results, so there’s no need to be picky about the details.”

“Results… I can’t say I’m too happy about destroying human villages…”

“If you don’t, I really won’t be able to keep our people under control anymore. You aren’t killing any humans, though, right?”

“Of course not.”

Neigass and Tsaion destroy a human town for every demon town the Hero’s Party destroys. Shietume never wanted to drag things out like this and would’ve preferred to stay out of the Human Realm entirely, but she couldn’t let things stand as Demons continue to lose their lives and homes.

After mulling over how to respond for a long time, with Dieza’s help she finally came to a conclusion and ordered the Demon Generals to start destroying towns under the strict condition that no humans be harmed. To that end they make sure to notify the townspeople ahead of time to allow them to evacuate, and even if there are stragglers they make sure to save them personally.

Their methods are awkward and heavy-handed at best, but they don’t have any better plans at the moment and they can’t afford to do nothing. Fortunately, the citizens of the Demon Realm seem to be plenty content with the current situation.

“Well, the Hero’s party has been making less and less progress as of late... I hope they’ve finally realized we don’t mean them any harm.”

The Hero’s party has indeed been moving more slowly and their numbers have been shrinking, but Neigass knows full well the real reason for the change.

Thinking back to her encounter with Flum, she remembers something else important --- the broken Core that she received in that cave.


◇◇◇


The Demons finish dinner and polish off the cake that Dieza baked for dessert. After cleaning up, Neigass pulls out the broken core and shows it to Shietume.

“This is…!”

“I received this from that Flum girl --- you know, the one who used to travel with the Hero.”

“It appears to be completely broken.”

Dieza nears his face to the little black crystal and inspects it curiously. Even Tsaion crosses his arms and furrows his brow in confusion.

“No matter how hard we tried to burn through one of those things we failed, but then a human pulls it off… Flum was the status-zero one who never did anything, right?”

“Exactly. The girl who was there without rhyme or reason. But you remember her Attribute, don’t you?”

“‘Reversal,’ huh.”

Since her Magic was zero back then they never saw her cast anything, but this is clear evidence that’s no longer the case.

“So she forced the flow of Origin’s spiral to ‘reverse,’ resulting in its destruction…” Dieza mutters.

“I think so, yes. That’s why she was able to destroy it while we’re all but helpless.”

When Flum was fighting the Spiral Ogre, she threw everything she had at it --- brute force, prana, and even though it wasn’t organized into any sort of spell, mana from ‘Reversal.’

“So do you think that Flum was chosen to be there because of ‘Reversal’?”

“I certainly don’t know. She was just a farm girl, so if they’d just left her be she probably would never have realized her own power.”

“‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer,’ huh… I think they’ve got to have had some burning reason for calling her out, though. Dammit, I never can tell what that thing --- er, they’re thinking.”

Tsaion lets out a deep sigh.

The room falls into silence.

Eventually, Shietume speaks up again.

“At any rate, we can’t let Flum or the Hero’s Party anywhere near the seal --- both for our sake and for the world’s.”

Resolve fills her every syllable.

“No matter what, we can’t let that wicked ‘god’ Origin do as it pleases.”


◇◇◇


Once again they fail to make it as far as they’d hoped. Face twisted with irritation, Jean casts Return and brings them back to the Capital, then storms out on them without a word. He’s not the only one upset, though. Now that their merry band of seven has been reduced to five, they’re rapidly approaching the breaking point.

Linus scratches his head as he leaves the Teleportation Room, doing his best to come up with some way to prevent the last of them from falling apart but coming up short. Maria follows after him, a worried expression on her face.

Moments later only Gadio and Cyrill are left. Cyrill is about to leave, shoulders slumped, when Gadio calls out to her to stop.

“What is it, Gadio?”

She stops and turns to face him. He’s a man of few words at the best of times, so being called out by him is a very rare occurrence. His words turn out to be dreadfully simple and straightforward.

“I want to make the next trip my last. I’m leaving the Party.”

“...I see. So you’re leaving me, too.”

She had the feeling he’d say that. He was rather attached to Flum and very close to Eterna, so now that they’re both gone and their journey is starting to look hopeless there’s no point in him staying. He has no interest in any of the fame or riches they were promised, either.

“I’m sorry to do this to you, but I don’t see any point to continuing this journey any further.”

“You mean you want to just let the Demon Lord run free?”

“We’ve been treating the Demon Lord as some sort of villain, but if you stop and think about it, they’re just the person who lords over the demons, nothing else.”

“But those demons have killed so many people… They even started the Demon War!”

Gadio sternly shakes his head.

“We started that war.”

“Eh? I learned in school that they invaded us…”

“The Kingdom rewrote the history books. From what I’ve heard, they started badmouthing the Demons about fifty years ago, and just twenty short years later they’d warped the public opinion to the point that they could justify a war.”

“T-There must’ve been a reason for it, though. The demons must’ve done something to deserve it.”

“Wrong. Before then the demons were only neighbours, even if they liked to keep to themselves as much as possible. They’ve never once started a fight with us.”

“So you’re trying to tell me that we’re the invaders? Then what are we even trying to defeat the Demon Lord for?”

“Supposedly, the Church of Origin decided the demons are evil, and to them it’s the truth, I’m sure. You can believe what you want, but…”

She might be better off not hearing any of this. As the Hero, the hopes of everyone in the Human Realm is resting on her shoulders; she’s the only one of them who can’t just walk out. Even if it’s just a burden on her mind, it’s precisely because everything lies with her that Gadio feels the need to tell her everything he can.

“...where there’s light, there’s bound to be shadow. Unless you watch for it and tread carefully it’ll swallow you whole someday.”

“...That’s too difficult for someone like me.”

“Don’t worry. Not even I can tell what’s right and wrong all the time. That’s why I keep my eyes and ears open no matter what people tell me. If nothing else, I can rely on what I see for myself.”

“What you see… for yourself…?”

She’s come as far as she has precisely because she’s focused only on blindly moving forwards. Maybe her party members leaving and her inability to fight effectively makes this the perfect chance to reconsider her position.

“There’s one last thing I need to tell you.”

He checks the entrance to the Teleportation Room to make sure they’re completely alone before continuing.

“Be careful around Maria.”

Before now Cyrill has never heard Gadio say a single bad thing about anyone.

“Why? What’s so bad about Maria?”

“She’s hiding something, and it can’t hurt to keep an eye on her since she’s got deep ties with the Church. I know I just told you to believe in only what you see and hear yourself, but keep it in mind.”

He turns and leaves the room.

Cyrill, remembering something important a moment later, calls out to him.

“Ah, wait a moment, Gadio!”

“What is it?”

“Um… Flum--- err, I-I was just wondering how her hometown was doing, I mean…”

A rare smile appears on Gadio’s face.

“I’m curious about how she’s doing, too. If I even end up heading there on a quest I’ll make sure to look in on her.”

“T-Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me. I was planning on doing that much anyhow.”

With a light wave, he starts walking once again.

She knows that she has no right to be worrying about Flum now, but she couldn’t help herself.

Since receiving Origin’s prophecy, since everyone started seeing the Hero instead of Cyrill Sweechka, Flum was the only friend she had.


◇◇◇


Linus and Maria leave the Royal Palace and walk through the streets of the Capital.

He technically has a room in the Palace, and thanks to all the servants there the maintenance on his weapons and even his meals would all be conveniently arranged without him so much as lifting a finger, but the pampered life only makes him feel cramped. He instead spends his nights at a hotel in the East Quarter.

“Maria-chan, are you sure you don’t have to check in at the Grand Cathedral?”

“Is it so wrong for me to be worried about you, Linus-san?”

“No… Actually, I’m kinda happy. Did I really look that bad?”

“I could feel the weight of your worries just watching you. As a saint I couldn’t just leave you alone.”

“...Sorry for troubling you like that.”

“It can’t be helped, given how the journey has been going recently.”

Ever since Flum and Eterna left they’ve made no real progress; Jean is irritable to say the least, Cyrill’s still in a slump, and Gadio’s probably considering leaving, too. There are more than enough reasons for Linus to worry.

“Hey, Maria-chan.”

“What is it?”

She cutely cocks her head to the side. Linus stops walking, his face clouding over.

“If… If I asked you to leave the Hero’s party and come live with me… what would you tell me?”

Maria’s eyes grow wide at Linus’ confession. She can hear her heart pounding in her ears.

Surprisingly, it’s not a bad feeling.

“...The Church would chase after me with everything at their disposal.”

“I’m good at running.”

“Where would you take me?”

“It wouldn’t be anywhere in particular, really, we’d just go wherever our feet carried us. It might be fun to show you some of my favourite sights.”

“That.. that sounds like it’d be wonderful.”

She closes her eyes and imagines it.

It sounds like fun, certainly far better than the journey they’re currently on.

Her expression darkens.

“Is there anything wrong with it? M-My plan, I mean.”

“I really don’t mind the idea of going on a journey with you, Linus. I’m glad you asked, and I think I’d be really happy living together with you, but…”

“...As long as the demons are still running around free you can’t think of your own happiness. I was afraid of that.”

“...So you know.”

Maria’s grudge follows her like a curse. So long as there’s even a single demon still alive it will never leave her. Falling in love with someone, living in peace together with someone --- even if she tries to find happiness that curse will always interfere.

“I, uh, did a little digging on your past a while ago. I’m sorry for invading your privacy like that.”

“If it’s you, Linus-san, I don’t mind. It just goes to show how much you care about me.”

“You really are a saint.”

“Oh, no, I wouldn’t be this lenient to just anyone. If it was anyone else I would never forgive them. But… if you looked into my past, I suppose that means you know about my home.”

“Yeah… Eight years ago, the demons…”

“They attacked without warning and leveled the entire town overnight… I was the sole survivor.”

There’s a faraway look in her eyes as she remembers that day, fresh in her mind as if it was only yesterday.

“Even now, I still remember how those monsters used their horrible magic to skewer, butcher, crush, and burn everyone and everything I ever loved.”

“...”

“That demon lied when it said that they don’t kill humans. They’re the kind of horrible creatures that laugh as they burn and defile, the kind of scum that doesn’t belong on this earth.”

She clutches her hands as she talks, her loathing audibly growing with every word.

There’s no way she’s lying --- and yet Linus sensed no sign of deception from the demon they ran into, either.

“Ah… I’m sorry for talking about such horrible things when we finally have the chance to be alone…”

“Nah, don’t worry about it. I was the one who brought it up.”

Linus’ love for Maria is so great that even now he still wants to support her, even including her great hate.

“But… In the end, I… I wonder if I should really let that take control of my life…”

She whispers so quietly Linus can’t hear a word she says.

In the end, the only person who can decide her path is Maria herself.

She faces the ground, a sorrowful expression on her face, and a gloomy mood forces itself between them.

“I know!” Linus says, putting his fist in his palm and clearing the air. “You know what this kind of mood calls for? Ice cream. C’mon, I know a great place near here.”

“Oh, yes, I love sweets! They never let me eat junk food at the Cathedral.”

The smile returns to her face.

A smile really suits her best after all... I swear I’ll support her until the day she can get the better of her hatred.

Linus silently, solemnly swears that to himself.


◇◇◇


Time passes, and dusk descends on the Capital.

The Royal Palace is enveloped in silence, save for the voice of one very angry man.

“What do you mean, S-Rank adventurer!? What do you mean, ‘Starcrushing Strongarm’!? You’re nothing more than a coward, dammit!!”

--- It’s Jean, of course.

He rages alone in his room, kicking his desk and punching the walls until his feet hurt and his knuckles glisten with blood. Books and papers are scattered across the floor, and the bookshelf looks ready to fall over.

There is, of course, a reason for his tantrum. Just a moment ago Gadio came by to announce that he'd be leaving the Party.

They were barely making any progress with him, so it might as well be impossible without Gadio there. Worse, Cyrill will only grow more depressed, making Jean’s chances of successfully wooing her even slimmer.

“Is he really not content with all that’s been promised to him!? If we can finally finish this damned Journey we’ll all have enough money to last the rest of our lives! We’d garner respect from every corner of the whole blasted Kingdom!! We’d each of us become influential enough to change the course of the country forever with a snap of our gold-dusted fingers!!! Aren’t adventurers supposed to be chomping at the bit for such a magnificent opportunity!? You should at least consider it the greatest of honours to be travelling with a genius like me, damn youuuu!!!”

After finally screaming out all his complaints he stands there in the middle of his ruined room, nails biting into his palms as his shoulders heave with every rage-fueled breath.

It’s still not enough to relieve his anger.

This shouldn’t be happening. The journey’s success should have been decided the instant he joined.

--- Up until now, Jean had never known failure in all of his twenty-eight years of life. Lesser intellects would frequently grow jealous of him and throw impossible problems at him just to watch him fail, but he showed them up every time with a cool, composed expression. Without relying on his inferiors even once, he has single-handedly proven theory after theory in the wake of the failures of entire research teams.

His self-confidence is by no means unfounded.

He’s simply hopelessly incompatible with the obstacle in front of him now.

“Hahh… Hahh…”

Managing to calm himself slightly, he sits down at his desk, quill in hand. He dips the tip in ink and starts to write on a piece of paper that happens to be lying on his desk, scrawling words that form a theory on magic, face pressed so close to the desk his cheek almost grazes the page, hand trembling with force as he tries to write calmly---

“DAMMIT!!!”

He explodes once again, crumpling the paper and chucking it across the room.

“Why doesn’t everyone just listen to me!? Why can’t I even make any decent progress with my research!!? I’m the only man alive who is capable of controlling four different elements, I’m the only one who can perfect this theorem!! I don’t need filth like Flum or trash like Eterna and Gadio, all I need is my own brilliant genius, so why can’t I do anything!!!?”

He scratches at his head like a man possessed.

At this point there’s probably no way for him to have a change of heart and admit he’s wrong.

Just then, as he lets out another strained cry of frustration --- someone knocks on his door.

“Leave me alone! I don’t care who you are, get out at once!!”

An open, even voice greets him from beyond the door.

“Jean-san, it’s me, Maria.”

Having finished her date with Linus, she should’ve returned to the Grand Cathedral by now.

Not even he can just turn away a saint so easily. Clicking his tongue with irritation, he stands up, slouches over to the door, and opens it to glare at Maria.

“What do you want?”

“It’s the job of the clergy to guide lost sheep.”

“...Hmph. There’s no way the likes of you could possibly know what I’m going through.”

“But you are lost and troubled, yes?”

Without even trying to hide his irritation, Jean clicks his tongue again.

“I think you’re the one who’s lost.”

“Whatever could you mean?”

“I can see right through you. I’ve always found that abhorrent fake smile of yours to be absolutely gut-wrenching, but you seem different now.”

He leans close into her face, studying her every feature. An ill-spirited smirk spreads across his face.

“Your hesitation is almost making you seem human, you black-hearted bitch.”

His cold gaze causes her wavering heart to start trembling even more strongly.

“Ahh, I see now. So just what did Linus do to you, hmm?”

“You leave Linus-san out of this!!”

“Ha, you’re even acting like a human now. What was that, an attempt at emotion? How unlike you.”

“Kh…”

“So just the name of the man you’re so fond of is enough to put you in the rut, is it? And you call yourself a woman of the cloth… or on second thought, maybe it isn’t so surprising after all. Bedsheets are cloth, too, after all! Kuhahahaha!!”

Maria was foolish enough to try to reason with him when he’s looking for targets to take his stress out on. He's enough of a genius to know how to hit Maria just where it’ll hurt most.

“Jean-san, you---!!”

She raises her hand.

She slaps him across the face, sending him reeling --- or at least, that’s how it would normally go.

Her arm trembles as she grits her teeth, determined to quell her own growing anger.

“Very admirable, but you can drop the saint act now.”

She doesn’t respond. She instead takes a deep breath in, then out, then lowers her hand.

“It’s the job of the clergy to guide lost sheep.”

“Stop repeating yourself, you sound idiotic. Hahh… well, you may as well hurry up tell me why you’re here. I’m a very busy man, you see.”

Finally, they’re both calm enough to carry out a proper conversation.

As Jean continues to loom over her, she reaches into her robes and pulls out a certain something.

A saintly smile spreading across her face, she holds a small black crystal out to him. Deep within the crystal an enormous energy spins and swirls.

“You seemed to be desiring strength, so I brought you a tool well-suited for your needs.”

“...Well, now, what do we have here?”

Jean stares deeply into the Core’s depths, completely entranced by its spiraling dance.


Chapter 1 - The Dastard Laughs[edit]

Several days have passed since Flum first acquainted herself with Milkit’s fully restored face, and the two have only continued to grow closer since.

Having just finished buying what they’ll need for supper, they walk shoulder to shoulder down the street, the setting sun lighting the path as they walk home. As always passersby look down on the two slaves with cold eyes, but they don’t pay it any mind anymore.

“...and then Marin looked down at Pyle at the bottom of the hole and said, ‘You said you wanted to crawl into a hole and die so congrats, you’re halfway there!’”

“Fufufufu, I’m sure Pyle must’ve been so embarrassed.”

“Well, yeah, but that was his own fault to begin with. Marin and I just couldn’t stop laughing…”

“It sounds like you were all very close, Master.”

“We’ve known each other for as long as I can remember, after all. I’d love to introduce them to you someday. I’m sure you’d get along great.”

“If you like them, Master, then I’m sure I’ll like them, too.”

Flum gives her a contented grin in return.

She was just telling Milkit all about her hometown of Patoria and all her happy memories there, so excited to share them that she’d barely given Milkit a chance to respond.

“Ah, I’m sorry, I’ve just been talking your ear off, haven’t I?”

“I really like listening to you talk, Master, so don’t feel the need to stop now.”

“Really?”

“Yes. I want to hear all about the sides of you I haven’t gotten to see yet!”

The sun’s gentle orange rays cause Milkit’s smile to glow. Even through her bandages her beauty comes out with full force, and Flum feels her face start to grow hot. She hurriedly looks away, causing Milkit to cock her head to the side in confusion.

“A-Anyways, I’m really looking forward to dinner!”

“Sara-san said she’d be dropping by to eat with us, so I’ve got to give it my all.”

“Your cooking’s delicious, though, so I’m sure even if you don’t put that much effort into it she’ll fall in love with whatever you make.”

Flum’s not just being polite, she really loves Milkit’s cooking.

Milkit smiles bashfully, receiving Flum’s message loud and clear.

The road from the Central Quarter to the West Quarter is peaceful and quiet, and they spend the time wrapped in warmth.

“No, let me go!!”

“Shut up, ya brat! Ya came from the Church, didn’t ya? Behave and we won’t hurt ya!”

If only they could spend their time together uninterrupted.

The sounds of a struggle come from an alleyway a little ways ahead of them. Flum lets out a long sigh.

It’d be really nice to not have to personally keep the peace around here, if only at times like these…

“Be right back.”

“I’ll be waiting right here for you.”

Putting down the bags in her arms, Flum runs towards the noise to find a little girl being cornered by two large men.

“Seriously, what’re two grown men doing picking on a little girl like that…”

The clearly ill-natured men are almost definitely the subordinates of the man who rules the West Quarter from the shadows, Dane Finneas.

“Alright, you two, how about you stop right there?”

Reaching into an extradimensional space, she pulls out a darkly gleaming sword almost as long as she is tall --- The Soul-Devouring Zweihander, an Epic-tier sword. It may be cursed, but thanks to Flum’s Reversal Attribute its curses become blessings in her hands.

“Geh… It’s Flum Apricot. What’re ya doing here? Didja come ta get in our way again!?”

“Haa? You’re the ones who always get in my way.”

Ever since she’s started working as an adventurer Dane’s men have been harassing her nonstop. Sometimes they kill the monster she’s been requested to deal with before she can get there, sometimes they set traps for her on the road, sometimes they bait high-rank monsters to her just when she’s least expecting it… She’s always managed to make do somehow, but if nothing else they can’t say she’s the one who’s always interfering.

“I guess as always there’s just no reasoning with you people. Let the kid go or I’ll make you let her go.”

“Kh… Fine, have it yer way.”

The man grabbing the girl’s arm lets go and they both run off somewhere.

“...That was easy.”

She’s never seen them just give up like that, but her top priority right now is making sure that the girl is safe.

“Are you okay?”

Flum crouches down to the girl’s level and holds out her hand.

It’s at that moment she realizes --- the girl has bandages wrapped around her eyes, sealing off her vision completely.

Yeah, that’s not normal.

No matter how bad a premonition she gets about the girl, however, she can’t just leave her like this.

“Thanks, oneesan.”

She reaches out blindly, finally feeling out Flum’s hand and grabbing onto it.

“The West Quarter’s too dangerous for you to be wandering around on your own like this.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Then why…? Er, I guess if your eyes are like that you can’t tell where you are, huh.”

The girl nods deeply.

Not wanting to keep the girl in the alleyway where she was just attacked any longer than necessary, she leads her back to where Milkit waits.

“Is that the girl who was being assaulted?”

“Yeah. Um… sorry, what’s your name?”

“Ink. Ink Rieskraft.”

Right after being introduced, Flum casts Scan on Ink. She’s learned that she can never be too careful after running into that ‘ogre’.

Ink Rieskraft
Attribute : Water
Strength  : 18
Magic     : 43
Stamina   : 28
Agility   : 23
Intuition : 49

The name Rieskraft certainly sounds like it’d belong to some noble family, so she might’ve come from a wealthy household somewhere.

“Mu. I get the feeling you’re looking at me really hard… Are you casting Scan on me?”

On top of that, she’s surprisingly perceptive. Not meaning to be rude, Flum earnestly apologizes.

“I’m sorry, I was a little curious is all.”

“Pervert.”

“Why!?”

Harsh words for only casting Scan on her. At first glance she looks like a sickly little girl, but she’s evidently something of a troublemaker.

“I think you probably heard Dane’s thugs just a minute ago, but my name’s Flum. This here is---”

“My name is Milkit. I’m currently working as Master’s slave.”

“Slave? Do you do pervy things for her?”

“No, definitely not!!”

“I wasn’t bought, Master took me in when I had nowhere else to go.”

“Oh… So Flum’s a nice lady.”

“Yes, she’s very nice!”

Flum blushes a little at such direct compliments.

Now that they’re all introduced, they’ve got to see that Ink gets back to where she belongs. She looks to be about the same age as Sara, and especially considering that she can’t see they can’t just leave her alone in the West Quarter at night.

“Do you remember where you live, Ink? If you can’t get back home on your own we can take you there.”

“...I dunno.”

“You’ve got to have some idea of where you live.”

“I have amnesia, so I don’t know.”

“Did you run away from home?”

“I told you, I have amnesia!”

“Your parents are probably worried sick about you.”

“I don’t have any.”

Flum freezes up a little at Ink’s response. A worried look appears on Milkit’s face.

“Were you at a relative’s house up until now? Maybe an orphanage…?”

Ink’s ponytail sways back and forth as she shakes her head.

“Where’d you come from, then?”

“I dunno. I have amnesia.”

What the heck!? Flum almost says aloud.

She doesn’t have any parents, but she wasn’t at a relative’s house or an orphanage --- she claims to have no idea where she came from.

She probably just doesn’t want to tell us.

“What if we take her home with us for now, Master? She looks quite tired to me.”

“...I guess we don’t have much choice, huh. Are you okay with that, Ink?”

“Yeah!”

She nods enthusiastically. She was probably waiting for them to offer.

Unsure how she feels about everything going according to Ink’s plans, Flum grabs her by the hand and the three of them walk home together.


◇◇◇


The first words out of Ink’s mouth as soon as they’re home are “I’m tired.” According to her she’s been wandering through the West Quarter since the day before and hasn’t had a wink of sleep the whole time.

“Welcome back. Who’s that?”

“We’re back, Eterna-san. We found her getting attacked by Dane’s goons on the way back from shopping.”

“Then take her home.”

“She doesn’t seem to know where ‘home’ is, so we took her back with us instead. Anyhow, she’s really tired so I’m going to go put her to bed in Milkit’s and my room.”

Flum starts to lead Ink up the stairs by the hand, the little girl so tired it looks like she could fall asleep at any moment.

“Wait. Give her some water first. She can sleep in my room.”

“In your bed, you mean?”

“I’m curious about something.”

“Okay, if you say so.”

Flum takes her up to Eterna’s room and sits her on the bed, and a little later Eterna arrives with a glass of water in hand. Ink gulps down the water, and not five minutes later she’s sound asleep.

“She must’ve been quite tired…” Milkit says, looking at her sleeping face.

They sit and watch her sleep for a while, but then Eterna reaches out for her eyes. Very carefully, she starts to unravel her bandages.

“Are you sure you should just take them off like that?”

“We saved her, so this much at least is within our rights... Flum. What do you make of this?”

Peeking over Eterna’s shoulder, Flum and Milkit look at Ink’s fully exposed face.

Ink’s eyes --- her eyes have been sewn tightly shut.

OmaeGotoki 02-Ch1 1.png

“W-What the…!?”

“That looks quite painful…”

Flum and Milkit are both at a loss for words.

Even if she was blind, there shouldn’t be any reason for her eyes to be sewn shut like this.

“She probably had her eyes removed.”

“Removed… As in, because she was sick or something?”

“Even so, there's no need for this. It might be someone’s sick hobby. Maybe some sort of ritual. In any case, this child isn’t normal.”

Flum had figured Ink had some unique circumstances, but she didn’t expect this.

“You don’t suppose the Church is involved at all, do you?” Milkit asks.

“I think so… I mean, creepy rituals seem right up their alley,” Flum agrees.

When Flum and the priestess Sara were in Enchide looking for medicinal herbs, they’d run across an ‘ogre’ with a spiral of raw flesh for a face. It was far stronger than a normal ogre and could command mysterious powers, but the greatest surprise was learning that it had been created by the Church of Origin. They still don’t know all the details, but the Capital is home to Church’s headquarters, so it wouldn’t be strange for them to be performing more experiments somewhere in the city.

Eterna shakes her head calmly and reprimands them.

“There’s no proof. For all we know she might’ve been held for ransom and blinded so she couldn’t tell anyone about the abductors. Nothing connects her to the Church.”

“I guess you have a point. Just to be safe, though, I think we should keep her here for now.”

“Fine. If she's from the Church you could get involved in something unpleasant again, though.”

“It’s too late for that. I got involved with them the moment their prophecy forced me to join the Hero’s Party.”

Flum laughs bitterly.

At first glance she seems to be perfectly calm, but anxiety has already started to spiral within her chest.


◇◇◇


“I’m here, su!”

That evening Sara arrives at their house for dinner, already in a good mood thanks to the smell of Milkit’s cooking wafting through the window.

A moment after she walks in the house, however, her smile freezes on her face.

“E-Eterna Rinebow, su!? What’re you doin’ here, su!?”

It’s only natural that Sara’s surprised to see such a celebrity there, but Flum is put out by her extreme reaction. Even if she has a slave mark now, Sara didn’t recognize her when they first met.

I didn’t realize there was such a difference between us...

“I live here,” Eterna replies matter-of-factly.

That’s probably the only response Eterna could possibly give.

She left the Hero’s party after they had something of a falling out, and she unilaterally decided to live in that house.

After Flum gives Sara that quick explanation, she still seems a bit confused but doesn’t ask any more questions.

Flum then quickly shows her to the sleeping Ink, hoping to determine if she has some connection to the Church, but Sara simply responds with “I’ve never seen her before, su.” Given how unusual Ink’s eyes are there’s no way that Sara could’ve forgotten if they’ve ever met before. Her one hope of finding an easy lead on the little girl’s identity crushed, Flum lets out a long sigh as she looks down at Ink’s sleeping face.


◇◇◇


While Flum and Sara were talking Milkit finished cooking and is laying out all the different dishes as they walk into the dining room.

The smell causes their stomachs to growl loudly, and exchanging embarrassed glances they take their seats. All four of them then put their hands together, and all as one they say “Itadakimasu!” before digging in.[2]

The first thing that Sara tries is a type of white cream stew made with vegetables indigenous to the region around the Capital known as harpuche. The vegetables have nicely absorbed the soft taste of the broth while still retaining a pleasant crunch.

“If taeffy, iffoffafeefeefweefyfeff, fu!”

What exactly Sara is attempting to say is a mystery, but the important thing seems to be that she likes it.

Flum, on the other hand, reaches for the main dish, a genofish saute. Cooked in an aromatic herb oil, it gives off a gentle steam that whets the appetite. Genofish are a type of D-Rank monster that can grow up to two meters long, and even though the one Flum and Milkit had bought was only half a meter long it has an impressive presence on the table. Cutting off a sizable piece of fishy flesh, Flum uses a knife and fork to move it onto her own plate before taking a large mouthful, lightly crisped skin and all.

“Mmm, faeffy! Fa finff fuff ferffeffyfooffanfefifinf!”

Mouth full of fish, her words are completely unintelligible.

“Thank you, Master!”

Milkit somehow understands exactly what she’s saying nonetheless.

The other dishes include fried mincemeat and veggies, a genofish-broth soup, freshly baked bread---

“...Tasty.”

Eterna normally wouldn’t go out of her way to give a compliment, but even she finds herself extremely satisfied with the spread.

Pleased that everyone seems to be enjoying her cooking, Milkit smiles cheerily to herself throughout the whole meal.

Flum notices her good mood and slides closer to her.

“Say ahh!”

She skewers a piece of genofish on her fork and holds it out to Milkit.

“D-Don’t worry, Master, I can eat by myself.”

“So you say, but it looks like you’re just sitting there watching us. C’mon, open wide!”

“A-Ahh…”

Unable to resist a direct order from her master, she opens her mouth and accepts the fish. It tastes incredibly sweet, even though the impact of Flum feeding her has temporarily killed her taste buds.

“They really get along well, su.”

“They’ve been like that a lot lately.”

“I’m kinda jealous, su. I heard Milkit was all better, though, so why’s she still wearin’ those bandages, su?”

“She only shows her face to Flum.”

“...They really, really get along well, su.”

“So well it's sickening.”

It’s only natural that Eterna would get a bit fed-up with them after watching them fawn over each other every day --- but at the same time she has to admit that it’s a relief to see a smile on Flum’s face instead of that gloomy expression she always seemed to have when she was in the Hero’s Party.


◇◇◇


After they finish eating, Flum and Sara start sharing what they’ve learned recently while Eterna listens in. Milkit puts on tea for them before starting on the dishes. They all offered to help her, of course, but she was determined to not give in.

“I can’t contribute at all to your discussion, so let me do this much at least.”

Hearing that, Flum couldn’t argue with her.

“I tried lookin’ into that research facility but I couldn’t find anythin’, su.”

Sara shrugs.

“There wasn’t anything in those notes on the Chiaraly?”

“I think the bishops in charge of the Central Quarter church must’ve left those notes out by accident back then, ‘cause when I went back to check on ‘em everythin’ was gone, su. I think I remember some of the writin’ that was on a map, though, su…”

They probably can’t just go and personally investigate everything on the map without attracting unwanted attention, however, even if Sara remembers that much.

“In other words, it’s probably only the bishops and above who know the truth.”

“Maybe, su. But even if I tried just tailin’ one of ‘em, I’m just a priestess so there’s a lotta places I’m not allowed in, and the Grand Cathedral’s completely outta the question, su. Since you’re one of the Chosen, Oneesan, they might let you in, su.”

“If I do that then they’ll be watching my every move for sure. What about, like, the churches in the West and East Quarters?”

“The West Quarter… I know a coupla paladins there, but I’m pretty sure there’s nothin’ there, su.”

“What makes you so sure?”

“There’s an orphanage there, su. The West Quarter’s got the slums an’ it’s really unsafe an’ everythin’, so there are a lotta orphans around, right, su? I visited ‘em once before and they were runnin’ around all over the place, su. I don’t think they could keep a secret lab there without any of the kids noticin’, su.”

There are times where a child’s curiosity can overcome an adult’s carefulness. Furthermore, not even the Church can just ‘erase’ children from an orphanage without anyone noticing, making a secret lab there more trouble than it’s probably worth.

“What about the East Quarter, then?”

“All the rich an’ powerful people live there so there’s no way the Church’d do anything that might upset ‘em or make ‘em suspicious, su. It might even be more impossible than in the West Quarter, su. I think they had a lab out in Enchide just so that they could avoid this kinda problem, su.”

“Yeah, there’s a fair chance we won’t find anything no matter how thoroughly we search the Capital. We don’t even have any proof that they’re still experimenting.”

The lab where they’d met that 'ogre' had been abandoned for at least ten years, so it’s very possible that they’ve either given up or succeeded in their research.

Eterna, however, steps in to correct Flum.

“The Kingdom has been experimenting for a long time. There’s almost definitely a lab around here somewhere.”

“Really, su?”

“They’ve at least been at it longer than I’ve been alive.”

Nobody knows exactly what that means, however. Eterna probably isn’t aware that they have no idea how old she is.

“Even if there aren’t any active labs there should be ruins. It’s worth checking inside the Capital first.”

“I’ll start by checkin’ out the churches in the West an’ East Quarters, su. I’ll ask about Ink at the orphanage while I’m at it, su.”

“In that case, I can start on the likely places that aren’t Church territory. Sorry again for dragging you into all this.”

“It’s fine, su. As a member of the Church it’s my duty to clean out any corruption, su.”

The Church of Origin has raised her since she was only two years old, so she really doesn’t want to doubt them. After seeing those monstrosities in Enchide and all those corpses, though, she can’t just turn a blind eye to their sins. The Church itself taught her that sins must be punished, after all.

“Flum-oneesan, how’re things goin’ with Dane, su? D’you think they’re holdin’ a grudge over what you did in Enchide, su?”

“...Yeah, you could say that.”

“I thought they would, su… Those creeps probably think they never even did anythin’ wrong, su.”

Dane’s not the type to just sit back and twiddle his thumbs after the deaths of two of his men. Even now Flum doesn’t regret killing them, but if nothing else Dane has numbers on his side. He’s not an easy enemy to deal with.

“Let me crush them already.”

“But Eterna-san, you’re keeping an eye on Milkit for me, aren’t you?”

“I never get to have any fun. All I do is sit at home all day…”

“That’s enough, really.”

Flum’s single greatest fear is that Dane will try to harm Milkit again. He’s surely aware of how important Milkit is to her, so Flum’s convinced that he could try to go after her at any time.

“I’ll help however I can, so if you need anythin’ just let me know, su.”

“Thanks again, Sara-chan.”

Finishing with the serious talk, the three of them start talking about much more normal things, and even Milkit joins them after finishing the dishes for some light girls’ talk. It’s fun enough that it seems as though they could keep at it forever, but Sara’s first yawn signals the end of their time together. Regardless of how capable she is she’s still only ten years old, after all, and Flum walks her back to the Central Quarter church.


◇◇◇


At that time, elsewhere in the Capital.

Dane and his men are drinking together at the adventurer guild’s attached bar, making as much of a ruckus as they please.

A sober-faced man takes the chair immediately across from a slightly drunk Dane.

“What’s the matter? Come on, drink, drink!”

The man holds out his glass. Dane fills it to the brim with cloudy booze.

“I’m sorry, Dane-san.”

“Nn? What’s with the sudden apology?”

“Earlier today I found a brat who looked like she had somethin’ to do with the Church, thinkin’ we could use her in that plan of yers. Before we could take her back, though, that Flum bitch showed up again, an’... we, uh, lost her.”

“I had no idea that’d even happened. I knew that woman was trouble the instant I laid eyes on her…”

The smile disappears from Dane’s face as he gulps down the contents of his glass all at once.

“Puahh…!”

He slams his glass down on the table, causing the man across from him to flinch.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. Don’t be so hard on yourself, it’s not like I ordered you to bring back that brat. A plus becoming a minus is one thing, but no decent person would be upset about an unexpected plus becoming a zero.”

“Dane-san…!”

If nothing else, Dane is relatively kind to his subordinates. If they produce results he rewards them, and if they have talent he welcomes them into his inner circle. He’s harsher on failures, yes, but all he does is force them to the bottom of the hierarchy; he never just cuts them loose. While he does in fact have a reputation as a liar and a coward who doesn’t hesitate to fight dirty, his techniques set an example for thugs and hoodlums everywhere.

At one point he was in fact nobility, the eldest son of the prestigious Finneas family. His comparatively elegant manner of speech is also likely thanks to his upbringing.[3] When he was still young the Finneas estate came to ruin, both his parents lost their lives, and Dane himself was forced into the slums. Between his parents’ failure and his new life in hell, he learned an invaluable lesson.

True strength isn’t being able to hold one’s own in a fight or having an abundance of wealth.

True strength is all about human connections.

He dominates those around him with violence or money, and on top of that strives to earn the ‘trust’ of as many people as he can. Efficiently and methodically, he built his strength until the point where the entire West Quarter has become his backyard. Over time he has gained a reputation as a truly terrifying man, but one who is invaluable as an ally.

“It’s high time I set about crushing that foolish girl in earnest. She’s killed two of my beloved men, so on my honor I can’t just allow her to run free.”

He has to properly get revenge for their deaths, but on top of that if he simply forgives and forgets his influence over the West Quarter may weaken along with his reputation.

“Are we gonna rush in all at once and bash her skull in?”

“That’s not a bad plan, but brute force is oh so dull. I think I’ll put on a little play.”

“A… play?”

Dane takes a bite of jerky, then starts swinging it around emphatically like a conductor’s baton.

“First I’ll crush her spirit, and right when she’s at her weakest… curtains, you see?”

He grins, malevolence apparent in his every feature.


Chapter 2 - The Spider Spins His Web[edit]

Ink wakes up the next morning at about the same time as the rest of them, showing up in the living room with Eterna. Her head bobs back and forth as she walks, evidently still half asleep. As soon as she sits at the table Milkit hands her a mug of hot milk, which she begins to slowly sip away at. After she’s gulped down about half of it she seems a lot more awake.

“Yummy! What is this stuff? I’ve never had it before!”

Hot milk shouldn’t be anything rare or revolutionary. The mysteries surrounding Ink only continue to grow, but they need to sate their appetites before their curiosities.

The five of them take their seats at the table and start to dig into the breakfast Milkit made for them. Since Ink can’t see anything Eterna has to help her eat at first, but once she gets an idea of where her plate is she’s able to eat on her own.

“You’re quite dextrous,” Milkit remarks.

“I’ve been like this ever since I was born, so I’m really good at this kinda thing. This stuff really is good, though! I’ve never had anything like it!”

All the food on her plate is typical fare in the Capital. Milkit is a good cook, granted, but Flum and Eterna now have even more questions for her.

They all finish eating at about the same time and start questioning Ink, but she keeps on avoiding the important questions with her ‘amnesia’ excuse.

“So, Ink, you said that the place you came from wasn’t a normal house or an orphanage, right?”

“I have amnesia so I don’t know much, but it really wasn’t an orphanage.”

“Were there any other kids there? How many?”

“I dunno.”

“Do you remember who took care of you?”

“Mother… I think.”

“So was Mother some sort of nanny?”

“I don’t really know, but something like that, maybe.”

“She wasn’t your real mom, then.”

“Yeah. I’ve never met my parents… I think.”

In other words, this Mother took her in when she didn’t have anyone else to rely on.

“Are you sure it wasn’t an orphanage?”

That’s the only thing that comes to Flum’s mind, but Ink shakes her head.

“I don’t think so. I don’t know anything about orphanages, but Mother hated that word.”

“Why?”

“I think Mother thought we were her real kids or something…”

The most likely conclusion, then, is that Ink was in fact at an orphanage, but that this Mother person avoided that specific wording.

While Flum arrives at that conclusion, Eterna narrows her eyes slightly and asks Ink a question.

“I want to confirm something. Do you have a heart condition?”

“No… I don’t think so, but…”

“But?”

“...Nothing.”

She’s clearly hiding something, but she refuses to tell them the truth no matter how many times they ask her.

“Were you at a hospital, maybe?”

Flum tries to approach the issue from a different angle, but Ink just shakes her head firmly.

Seriously, just where did she come from?

After that Flum and Eterna ask her all kinds of questions. Despite being a self-proclaimed amnesiac she responds to most of their questions readily, and they’re able to narrow down that she came from somewhere in the West Quarter; even though she spent an entire night wandering the Capital she apparently spent most of that time going around in circles and resting whenever she got tired, so she couldn’t have gone too far. They also confirm that Ink wasn’t alone, wherever she was; since Ink herself is determined to keep it secret, though, they only manage to glean that she wasn’t at someone’s house.

“Mu, can we stop now? My head’s getting all fuzzy with all these questions…”

“Sure. I’m really sorry to pester you with questions when you’re probably still really tired, but I have just one last thing I want to ask you.”

Hesitantly, Ink nods.

“From what you’ve told us you’ve been at that place for as long as you can remember, so why’d you run away?”

Her expression clouds over. It feels less like she doesn’t want to answer and more like she doesn’t know the answer herself.

“...I started feeling kinda weird, like there was something wrong. As soon as I noticed it I couldn’t not notice it, and I got more curious, and by the time I left I couldn’t trust anything at all.”

“Is it okay if I ask what you were feeling so uneasy about?”

“Family.”

Ink’s voice is low and dark.

“We were all raised there as family, and I thought that was a good thing, but… I got the feeling that Mother’s ‘family’ wasn’t the same as my ‘family.’”

It was only a matter of perception. If Ink had been only a little less perceptive she probably would still be happily living there, but as soon as she noticed it she couldn’t ignore it.

“Flum, she looks tired. I’ll put her to rest.”

Eterna helps Ink to her feet as she says so.

“Sorry, I won’t keep you any longer.”

Flum, left alone in the room, feels a bit guilty for badgering Ink with questions --- but on top of that she can't shake her unease.

She remembers the ‘ogre’ that she fought back in Enchide. It was absolutely grotesque, but more than that it was supernaturally powerful. The worst part, though, is that it was created more than ten years ago. If the Church is still keeping up their research, then they’ve surely produced something even stronger.

If Ink really is connected to the Church, then I’ll probably end up face-to-face with their latest ‘experiment’ sooner or later...

The thought weighing heavy on her heart, Flum plants both her elbows on the table in front of her, rubs her temples with her thumbs, and lets out a long sigh.

“...Master?”

Milkit reservedly grabs Flum’s sleeve.

“Um… I don’t really know how to put this, but… try not to wear yourself out too much.”

“Milkit…”

“What happened in that cave near Enchide, that Dane individual… I myself am likely only a weight on your mind… It must be tiring, having to carry so many burdens. Maybe you should leave things to others and rest every once in a while…?”

Milkit’s awkward attempts to cheer her up cause a warm feeling to fill her chest.

“Thanks. Just hearing you say that is a huge weight off my shoulders.”

Flum starts stroking Milkit’s silver hair, and her eyes narrow slightly with pleasure.

“Being pet like this really makes me feel warm and fluffy inside, but… it feels as though I’m the one being comforted…”

“That’s where you’re wrong. Just seeing you smile like that is enough to give me strength.”

“Even though you’re doing all the work…?”

“Ahaha, I really wouldn’t call this work. Actually, I wish I could just keep on doing this forever.”

“There’s really a way for us both to feel so warm…?”

“Of course there is. Just relax, let me pet you, and enjoy that warm fluffiness to your heart’s content.”

Happiness takes as many different forms as there are people who feel it.

Some people feel happiness by giving just as others feel happiness by receiving. ‘Giving’ and ‘receiving’ may seem like polar opposites, and that may be the truth, but there’s no saying that both can’t lead down the same road.

As soon as Flum has her fill of Milkit’s affection, she reluctantly leaves the house to start gathering information.


◇◇◇


Flum’s first stop is the closest church --- in other words, the West Quarter church. Sara had volunteered to check it out, but seeing as though it’s possible for Flum to drop by it on her way to the guild with only a slight detour, she decides to take a quick look.

Generally speaking the further one goes into the West Quarter the more garbage, suspicious stores, and strange people one sees, but the area around the church is the one exception. The weirdos all seem adverse to getting close and the priestesses and paladins clean the streets daily, giving it an atmosphere completely unlike the rest of the West Quarter in a good way. As Flum approaches she can see a few men in plate mail with brooms and dustpans sweeping the streets clean, resulting in a very surreal sight.

She starts off by taking a look all around the church’s exterior, but halfway through she spots a familiar face.

“Is that you, Sara-chan?”

Sara, broom in hand, is helping the paladins clean.

“Oh, Flum-oneesan, su! Anythin’ wrong, su?”

“No, I was just stopping by to take a quick look on the way to the adventurer’s guild, but…”

She has her work as a priestess to consider, so I wasn’t expecting her to be looking into things right away...

Sara’s dedication proves to be a lot stronger than Flum expected.

“I was plannin’ on droppin’ in here anyways, su. There’re a few guys here who’d get lonely without me, su.”

“Hey, who’re ya calling lonely?”

A blonde paladin behind Sara puts his hand on her head and starts mussing up her hair.

“Hey, you’re… Ed-san, right?”

“Oh? Hey, aren’t ya that girl from that bag snatching incident a while back…?”

“My name’s Flum.”

“She’s my friend, su!”

“Ohh…!”

Ed puts his hand to his chin and carefully studies Flum. His gaze passes over her slave mark, but he doesn’t stop on it for long and his expression doesn’t change.

“Dang it, Sara, ya finally made a friend outside of the Church! I’m so happy for ya~!!”

He grins, seeming genuinely pleased as he starts mussing her hair a little harder.

“S-t-o-p i-t, s-u---!”

She desperately tries to break free, but she can’t seem to overcome Ed’s height and reach.

“Stop messing with the poor girl already. She’s never liked that and you know it.”

Another paladin, cool, composed, and sporting blue hair, approaches them.

“Johnny-san, thanks for helping me out back then.”

Flum bows to him. They dealt with the criminals she caught who had stolen Reach’s bag, but they’ve never had the chance to formally introduce themselves.

“Please, it was thanks to you that we were able to catch them at all.”

“We still didn’t get paid, though…”

“Of course not, su! Nobody workin’ at the Church is lookin’ to be… aagh, stop it, you’re makin' my hair all frizzy, su!”

“Just looking at yer little head makea me want to touch it… It’s kinda like wanting to pet a cute little puppy, I guess. Ya get that feeling too, right, Johnny?”

“Don’t go dragging me into this.”

Johnny watches them with a cool expression as Ed continues to vigorously mess with Sara’s hair.

“You three really get along well, huh?”

“This isn’t gettin’ along well, this is me gettin’ turned into their plaything, su!”

Flum can’t keep herself from laughing despite Sara’s denial. They clearly get along great.

The three of them have been together since Sara was taken in by the Church eight years ago and they were raised as siblings, so it’s only natural that they’re very close.

Ignoring Ed and Sara, Johnny turns to Flum.

“What brings you here to our church, Flum-san? You don’t seem to be a parishioner, at least.”

“Yesterday I found a little girl who doesn’t seem to know where she came from. You haven’t heard anything from the orphanage here, have you?”

Since they’re Sara’s friends Flum can trust them, but because they’re Sara’s friends she can’t tell them too much without risking putting them in danger, so she gives them the general version.

“There aren’t any children missing from the orphanage here, at the very least.”

“Can’t say I’ve heard of anything like that from any of the other orphanages in the West Quarter.”

“I did some diggin’ at the Central Quarter church and I couldn’t find a thing, su… Really, let me go already, su!!”

All three of them tell her the same thing.

“I’m sure we can have the child you found put into the orphanage here if you’d like.”

“Uhh… There’s no need for that, really. She seems calm and everything.”

“I see…”

Under normal circumstances a specialized institution like an orphanage would no doubt be better at both caring for Ink and finding where she came from, but she can’t let them have Ink as long as there’s still a chance she escaped from one of the Church’s research facilities.

At any rate, it doesn’t look like she’ll find any leads there. Flum’s about to turn and leave when suddenly she feels someone’s gaze on her.

“...Hm?”

Far behind Johnny’s back, Flum spots a woman looking straight at her. Her red hair is tied into flowing twin drill curls, and she’s wearing a white military uniform. A saber dangles from her belt.

“Is that… Otilier-san?”

At Flum’s words the paladins and the priestess turn to face the woman. She takes long fast strides towards Flum, eventually stopping right in front of her to study her face.

“I was right, it is you, Otilier-san!”

“...Are you really her?”

“I don’t know if there are any fake mes running around, but I’m pretty sure I’m the one and only Flum Apricot.”

Otilier’s face twitches slightly, then she slumps her shoulders and lets out a long sigh.

“Hahh, what have they done to you?”

“Is there something wrong…?”

“Are you seriously asking me that!? Why are you here with that mark of all things on your face when you should be out defeating the Demon Lord!?”

“I have a bit of business here, so...”

Overwhelmed by her extreme vigour, Flum takes a step backwards.

They’d met not long after Flum was told she was to join the Hero’s party; Otilier was her escort sent from the Capital, and they’d spent three days together in the back of a carriage.

“Hey, what does the Military think they’re doing here?”

Ed, Johnny, and Sara all seem startled by Otilier’s sudden appearance.

“Sara, is Flum in cahoots with the Military or something?”

“I wouldn’t be surprised, su. Flum-oneesan was travellin’ with the Hero’s party for a while, su.”

“Wait, by ‘Flum’ ya meant THAT Flum? The one-and-only Flum Apricot!?”

Ed finally seems to put it all together.

“Flum, one of the Chosen… Why on earth would she be here, of all places, and with a slave mark?”

Johnny cocks his head to the side inquisitively, seeming to have the exact same questions as Otilier.

“More importantly, how goes the journey? And why do you have that horrible thing on your face!?” Otilier asks again.

“I was kicked out a while back. I guess you could say it was a parting gift.”

“Kicked out, you say!? Who would… no, never mind. There’s only one person who would do such a horrible thing.”

A look of disgust crosses her face.

“Jean Inteige.”

“So you’ve met him.”

Flum gives Otilier a strained smile. Evidently he hasn’t changed since his days conducting research for the kingdom.

“He sold me to a black market slave merchant, but I got away and I’m doing just fine now.”

“You say it as if it were all so easy...”

“More importantly, why’re you here in the West Quarter? The Military keeps you pretty busy, doesn’t it?”

Flum had heard all about Otilier’s situation on the way to the Capital.

[I’ve been so busy as of late I’ve barely been able to talk with Oneesama...]

[Oneesama told me to think of this as a vacation and enjoy myself, but as long as I’m away from her I can’t possibly rest in body or soul.]

Speaking of which, her ‘Oneesama’ is the top dog in the kingdom’s army, Her Excellency Major General Anriette. Supposedly Otilier is her childhood friend, and she joined the Military to become a soldier in her footsteps.

“I, well…”

Otilier casts a quick glance at Sara and the paladins.

“...I'm on a patrol for Oneesama's sake.”

She gives a thin excuse. Evidently she’s there on secret business.

“Military women have it rough, too, I guess.”

“It’s nothing compared to being a slave, I’m certain. Shouldn’t you be at your wit’s end by now?”

“I passed that phase a while ago.”

Flum’s nonchalant reply prompts Otilier to let out another long sigh.

“There’s still a great deal I wish to ask you, but I’d best be returning. Sometime soon, though, you’ll tell me all about what happened to you, understand?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“...On second thought, if we simply part like this I get the feeling we won’t see each other again. I’m typically stationed at the Palace, so be sure to come see me as soon as you can possibly manage. As soon as possible! Do I make myself clear!?”

“O-Okay, I’ll visit as soon as I can. Are you really sure you can spare time for me, though? I’m sure your job as Lieutenant General keeps you busy…”

“You place far too little importance on yourself. You do realize that the entire country was supporting you until just a short while ago and that your enslavement is a matter of national import, do you not? If any of the other members of that expedition had met that same fate there’d be absolute chaos!”

“I get the feeling you just told me I don’t stand out much…”

“Generally speaking, I mean. I intended no offence to you personally.”

The words sting, though it’s true that she didn’t have any amazing powers and is on the plain side. Thanks to that nobody recognizes her even after hearing her name.

“Make absolutely certain you pay me a proper visit. As the ones who brought you to the Capital in the first place, it’s the fault of not only myself but the entire Military that you ended up as you have.”

Leaving those words behind, Otilier strides off. According to her logic it would technically be the Church’s fault she became a slave because they were the ones who formed the Hero’s party, but she couldn’t just tell Flum that she had nothing to do with it at all.

As soon as Otilier passes out of sight, Ed, Johnny, and Sara all let out the breaths they were holding in.

“What’s wrong?”

Flum can understand their being nervous around a soldier, but not to such an extent. Ed is the first to reply.

“Whaddya mean, what’s wrong? Don’t ya know? We aren’t exactly on great terms with the Military.”

“No, I didn’t. Why?”

“Seriously? Well, y’know how the Military serves the royals? We serve the Church, but the ties between the Church and the royal family are tight enough it’s like the Kingdom has two national armies.”

The soldiers and the paladins serve roughly the same role within the kingdom, even if the paladins could be seen as being a little more all-purpose given the fact that many of them are also adept with healing magic.

Johnny and Sara follow up.

“On paper the Royal Army outranks us, but not in actuality.”

“They look like they get along just fine but I’ve heard they’re fightin’ for power all the time, su.”

“Even though you’re both supposed to be on the same side…”

That happens to be one of the truths of the Capital that Flum wasn’t aware of before. Even though the entire continent with the exception of the Demon Realm to the north has been unified under one banner, it seems as though people are bound and determined to fight each other… assuming, of course, that there’s no force other than human will at play.

Unfortunately, those power politics aren’t completely unrelated to her. Something or someone with deep connections to the Church is after her.

It looks like it’ll be awhile before I can finally just live here in peace…

Flum looks up at the sky, a weary look on her face.


◇◇◇


For a while after that, Flum searches around the church for any signs of a basement but comes up short. Giving up on her investigation, she returns home for lunch.

“I’m home!”

As soon as she calls out, Milkit frantically comes running out to see her, clutching a piece of paper in one hand.

“I’m so glad to see you safe, Master!”

“Yeah, nothing really happened… Is there something up with that letter?”

“Please take a look!”

Opening it up, the words written there are---

[YOU KILLED PAPA. NOW I’LL TAKE ONE OF YOURS.]

This reeks of Dane… so this is his next game, huh?

Milkit’s face is pale. She must’ve been beside herself with worry about what would happen to her --- no, her master.

In an effort to calm her down, Flum pulls Milkit close into an embrace and slowly strokes her hair.

“Master… It’s too dangerous outside so for today, at least, please don’t go anywhere…”

Flum was running around outside precisely so that she could get rid of that danger, and on top of that the letter suggests that she isn’t his only target.

“I’ll be fine. I’m pretty hard to kill, you know.”

“Yes, but…”

Milkit is still visibly anxious.

“...But I guess for today, at least, I can stay home. There’s nothing I really need to do right away.”

“Master…!”

Milkit’s face explodes into happiness.

“Yes, I think that’s for the best!”

Even through the bandages, Milkit’s smile proves to be contagious.


◇◇◇


“This doesn’t make sense.”

Eterna stares at the numbers in her notebook in confusion. Listed there are the results of Ink’s physical examination. While she was asleep Eterna used Water magic to investigate every nook and cranny of her body, but the only abnormality is in the values for her heart --- and those values are so strange it’s a mystery Ink is still alive.

“She seems fine, though. Maybe she had an operation to… But I can’t confirm that with what I have here. Wait, if I cut her open I can just sew her up again… or maybe I shouldn’t...”

“Eterna, what’re you mumbling about?”

“I’m thinking about you. I need to concentrate so be quiet.”

“But I’m really, really bored!”

How childish. She is a child, I guess.

Letting out a long sigh, Eterna closes her notes and decides to humour Ink a little. She moves one of the floating fishlike things --- a magic amplifying device --- just within Ink’s reach.

“Uwah, what’s this? It’s so cold~!”

It lets Ink hug it for a while, then suddenly slips out of her arms as if it had a will of its own.

“Huh? It disappeared.”

Still lying on the bed, Ink waves her arms around in an attempt to find it again. Every time she touches it the thing moves again, always remaining within her reach but never letting her catch it.

“Ahaha, I don’t know what this is but it’s amazing! Are you moving it, Eterna?”

“Maybe. It might be moving on its own. Who knows?”

“What’s with that answer? Hehehe!”

Ink seems to be quite bright and cheerful, despite being used as a guinea pig for who knows how long. There must’ve been other children at her facility.

“If the others are alive, they might be just like…” Eterna mutters to herself too quietly for Ink to hear.

Test animals rarely live long as the price of having their bodies altered and abused, whether they be actual guinea pigs or humans.

Eterna quickly shakes her head clear of such thoughts.

I shouldn’t think of Ink like that.

They still don’t know where she came from, after all.

“Ink. You seem plenty awake, so I have more questions.”

“Sure, but I can’t promise I can answer them. I have amnesia.”

“That’s a lie. I want to hear the truth.”

“W-What makes you say that…?”

“I’m surprised you thought that excuse would work. First, about the other children.”

“Did I say anything about them…?”

“Yes. And you confirmed it again just now. How many are there?”

“...Um, Eterna?”

“What?”

“If you meet them, will you stop talking to me? Will you kick me out and make me live with someone else?”

Anxiety fills Ink’s voice.

Eterna can’t promise anything, though. If they find her parents, then they’ll have to return her to them. Right now, however, Ink has lost her ‘family’ and with it the only place where she call home. She’s lost and alone. Eterna knows that feeling all too well.

Her response is filled with conviction.

“Never.”

If they do find Ink’s proper home then things will be different, but until then Eterna can’t just leave her alone. As someone with a highly abnormal body herself, she could never just abandon Ink.

“I won’t listen to just them. I won’t force you to go anywhere. I promise. I need to know what you know, though.”

Ink’s expression melts from shock into relief, then all the strength disappears from her face entirely.

Since she can’t see, her hearing is a lot better than most people’s. If Eterna was lying she’d be able to tell in a heartbeat, so those relaxed little cheeks of hers prove how much she trusts her.

“There were four other kids, all two years younger than me.”

“Fewer than I thought. What about adults?”

“Mother, and also I think Papa was around there somewhere.”

“Somewhere?”

“I’ve never met him so I don’t know.”

“Not because of your ‘amnesia,’ right?”

“No. He’s been there ever since I was born, but I’m the only one who never met him. He should be my Papa, too, so I don’t know why I was the only one left out…”

If what she says is the truth, then it almost sounds as though she was in isolation from the others.

“That’s why I never got what everyone was talking about. I even thought for a while Papa didn’t exist…”

“What do you mean?”

“Everyone was really mean to me, so I thought they made him up just to pick on me. Mother said that he really exists, but she also said she’s never seen his face… That’s impossible, right?”

It’s good to hear her finally start talking, but the more Eterna hears the more mysteries arise.

A mysterious ‘Papa’ whom she’s never met.

A guardian called not ‘Mama’ but ‘Mother’.

Four other children, all two years younger than her.

Ink herself, who treats even the most common of foods as rare delicacies.

Eterna doesn’t even know what question she should ask first, so much confusing information is spinning around in her head.

“Eterna-san! Ink-san! Lunchtime!”

Milkit’s voice from the first floor brings her to her senses.

“Eh, there’s food in the middle of the day, too!? Eterna, Eterna, c’mon, let’s go~~!”

“You don’t have to pull me.”

“I was just moving around a lot so I’m really hungry now!”

“You were just asleep…”

Eterna manipulates the fishlike thing out of her hands, leaving a slightly sad expression on Ink’s face, but she quickly finds Eterna’s outstretched hand and her smile returns. Hand in hand, they head down to the dining room where lunch awaits them.


◇◇◇


Flum spends the rest of the day relaxing at home with Milkit. As long as they’re clasping hands Milkit seems a lot calmer, and so by nightfall she’s completely back to her usual self.

In the end, the letter was nothing more than an empty threat.

The next morning, however, when Flum goes outside to check the mail ---

[MURDERER]

[IT’S YOUR FAULT]

[YOU KILLED PAPA]

[I’LL HAVE MY REVENGE]

[WATCH YOUR BACK]

[I’LL TAKE EVERYTHING FROM YOU]

--- dozens of letters just like the one Milkit found the day before are plastered all over the walls.

“What the…?”

Flum stands before that impossible sight for a long moment in shock before slowly starting to peel the papers off. Clearly, someone’s trying to harass her.

It’s Dane, no doubt.

It doesn’t look like this is for the deaths of those two men in Enchide but rather that he somehow sniffed out her first murder, the slave merchant who bought her from Jean, and is trying to pressure her with that, but --- that was a necessary sin. It was necessary for Flum to reclaim her lost dignity and start walking a new path with Milkit. It was necessary to punish that villain who had killed countless innocent people.

No matter how strong she tries to be, however, at heart Flum is still just a sixteen-year-old girl. Having that ‘sin’ forced in her face all over again, she can’t just laugh it off and move on.

Flum crumples up the letters as she pulls them down, biting her lip all the while.


Chapter 3 - The Slave Girl Has Nowhere To Run[edit]

Even if Dane is trying to threaten her, she has no intention of acting any differently. She boldly heads straight for the adventurer’s guild, fully aware that it’s Dane’s headquarters. She’ll check to see if there are any requests related to Ink there, then she’ll leave right away.

Dane and his men smirk at her as she walks in, seeming to enjoy her appearance as a nice complement to their booze. Since they’re not openly insulting her they must be in an unusually amicable mood.

Recently, the guild’s receptionist Ila has started to take pity on Flum, likely feeling sorry for her after watching her being one-sidedly toyed with day in and day out.

“Do you really have to keep coming back here? There are other guilds in the Capital, you know.”

Ila’s voice is low enough that Dane and his men can’t hear her. Flum doesn’t even look at her as she replies.

“I’m a masterless slave, so I don’t really have a choice.”

She might be able to make a living if she came out and admitted to being the one-and-only Flum Apricot. Not only would that lead to her butting heads with Jean again, though, but she can’t imagine the Church would just sit by and do nothing. If she has any intention of revealing the Church’s conspiracy at all she’ll have to keep on living in secret in the West Quarter.

To be honest, though, Ila has a point; Dane’s interference is a real problem. He’s vandalized her house and even killed innocent people to get to her, so there’s no way she can let him be.

Flum’s determined to settle the score with him sooner or later, even if she has no idea how she’ll manage that yet.

“I wouldn’t take on any more quests if I were you.”

“Why?”

“You just made D-Rank the other day, right?”

“Yeah, so?”

Even with all the interference from Dane she’s made it through brute force alone, finally managing to raise her rank and get access to even more requests.

“You really shouldn’t have done that. Up until now he’s just found out what request you’re taking on, but now he’s specifically mixed in fake requests just to screw you over.”

She shows Flum the request list as she speaks.

“I wish you’d stop following his orders instead of just warning me.”

“Why would I do that? You haven’t exactly been a pleasure to work with yourself, and I am a part of his little group, after all.”

“Inconsistent bitch.”

“Hey, do you want me to force the worst of the fakes on you right here and now?”

Ila has no obligation to help Flum whatsoever. All she did was notice that Flum is still going strong in spite of everything and decide to lend her a little hand.

“...Fine. I won’t accept any quests today.”

She didn’t have any intention of doing so in the first place.

Passing her eyes over the list, she doesn’t see anything there that looks related to Ink. It’s possible that the request is too high-ranked to be on the list or that Dane went ahead and moved all the ‘good’ quests out of her reach.

“There haven’t been any requests about finding a lost girl, have there?”

“A kid? Sorry. I don’t think the Central or East Quarter guilds has anything like that, either.”

Ila’s eyes aren’t lying.

“I see. Thanks anyway.”

Determining that she’s telling the truth, Flum turns and leaves the guild.

Dane watches her leave, reclining with his legs crossed out in front of him. As soon as she passes out of sight he gives the men closest to him a meaningful look, and all at once they stand up and put the plan in motion.


◇◇◇


“Hahh… I don’t know what to do now. I’m still not all that familiar with the Capital yet, so I guess all I can really do is run around and hope I find something…”

Since Flum didn’t find anything at the guild, she’s at a loss as to what her next move should be.

I wish I had someone I can rely on, but I can only think of people from back home. There’s nobody in the Capital that---

“That’s right, I forgot about Otilier-san!”

Since she has close ties with the Military, she probably has access to information that Flum doesn’t. It must be fate that they reunited and even arranged for Flum to go see her in the Palace sometime soon.

“If I just walk into the Palace there’ll probably be trouble… Maybe if I go straight to the Barracks they won’t notice me?”

The Royal Army is one thing, but the king has close ties with the Church. It’d be all too careless to just walk right in.

Flum starts making her way through the back alleys towards the North Quarter, doing her best not to be seen by anyone.

“Hey! Stop right there!!”

From the alleyway ahead of her comes a man’s rough voice. Following the source of the voice she spots a young slave boy carrying a large fabric-wrapped bundle being chased by a pair of men. Without even seeming to notice her the three of them run right past her.

Turning around, Flum watches the men chase the boy around a corner.

“Isn’t that alley a dead end…?”

She gets a bad feeling about all this. Right on cue, the raw sounds of a struggle reach her ears.

“Don’t think you can get away with that, you little slave brat!”

“Die! Die! Your stupid life is worthless, so hurry up and die! That's ours!”

“P-Please stop, that’s all I have left…! It doesn’t belong to you…!!”

In the West Quarter, there are some people who really mean it when they tell you to die and are more than willing to lend a hand to that end.

Flum doesn’t recognize either of the men from the guild so they likely have nothing to do with Dane, but that doesn’t mean she can just let them do as they please.

“...Time for a little detour.”

Flum really isn’t suited for life in the West Quarter. Scuffles like this are by no means rare; the West Quarter is so unsafe that finding lynched children or vagrants is practically a daily occurrence. The key to survival, as the locals put it, is to learn to turn a blind eye. Flum is still young and rash, but even if she wasn’t she probably still couldn’t bring herself to ignore those in need.

“Stop right there, you two!”

She stands in the only exit to the alley and addresses the two men as they kick at the boy.

“Huhn? Who do you think you are?”

“You tryin’ to pick a fight with us, brat?”

The men are more hot-headed than she’d expected; they crack their knuckles as they start closing in on her.

They’re unarmed, and it doesn’t look like they’re hiding any weapons. They must be stupid wandering around here like that, or maybe that just proves they were in a rush to catch the kid… Scan --- their stats are too low for them to be anything but common people. Looks like I won’t need a weapon, either.

After she finishes gauging their strength, she balls her fists. She’s a complete novice at hand-to-hand, but that shouldn’t matter.

The men snort with laughter as they watch her drop into a ready stance.

“If you don’t wanna get hurt, little lady, you should hurry up and get lost.”

“That’s my line.”

“Ha, looks like you’re too young to tell dreams from reality. Lemme wake you up real quick!!”

He flies at her with both arms swinging, but given the differences in not only their stats but their experiences it’s almost too easy for Flum to dodge him. After getting an idea of his reach, she bends back to avoid his punch and uses the momentum of returning to her base stance to deliver a powerful blow to his face.

“Bugueh!?”

Blood sprays from his shattered nose as he awkwardly falls backwards. She’d cut her knuckles on his front teeth, but it takes only a split second for her regeneration to kick in and seal up the wound.

“How dare you---!”

The second man charges at her swinging, but she easily backsteps out of the way. He follows up with a straightforward kick, which Flum grabs with both hands. To be honest, though, she didn’t think about what she’d do if she actually caught him, so she decides to just kick him back.

“Guahh!!”

She sends him crashing to the ground, and after rolling for a while he crashes into a wall and stops moving. At that moment the first man gets to his feet again, but the will to fight has already left his eyes.

“We won’t forget this…!”

He grabs his fallen comrade and helps him to his feet, and leaving that cliched line behind they flee the alley.

“They’re hot-headed, but at least they’re sensible thugs…”

By West Quarter standards they’re the quiet, obedient type.

Flum dusts herself off, then walks over to the boy. She crouches down and addresses him in a kind voice.

“You okay? You’re not hurt too bad, are you?”

He shakes his head.

“Good. Can you stand?”

She extends a hand to him. He timidly accepts it and stands up.

“There’s a good boy.”

The boy has a slave mark on his cheek just like Flum, but the colour is raw like fresh blood as if it hasn’t been there very long. Flum’s real interest, however, lies in the cloth bundle.

“Is that important to you?”

“...Yeah.”

“Did you just run away from a slave merchant with that?”

“I hated it there…”

“Hahaha, yeah, I can imagine. I hated it, too.”

If it’s possible to run, then running is the best thing to do. The chances that such a little kid became a slave through legal means is almost zero, after all.

Fortunately, if she can get him to an orphanage then the slave merchants shouldn’t be able to reach him.

“Do you have a home you can go back to?”

“No. My family’s all dead.”

“In that case, I’ll take you to the church, okay?”

She can’t take on any more children, and there’s no reason to not just let Ed and Johnny deal with him.

“I don’t know if you’ll end up in the orphanage there or not, but at least they’ll look after you for a while.”

Flum grabs his hand and starts walking, but he doesn’t budge.

It’s then that Flum finally notices the smell from the white bundle the boy is carrying.

A brown fluid seems to be slowly oozing out of it.

This smell… don’t tell me it’s---

She has a good idea what it is.

It’s an awful lot like that smell.

Ahh, I get it now. The reason why those weren’t Dane’s men was because they would’ve recognized this smell.

“Hey, so what’s in…?”

“Do you want to see?”

The boy pulls away the cloth to reveal the object’s true identity.

There before Flum’s eyes is the head of the slave merchant who had bought her.

It’s been split down the middle, of course, but the two halves have been forcibly stitched together. A rank, rotting brown fluid oozes from the suture.

“This is Dad. You murdered him.”

Following in the same vein as those posters covering her house, Dane must be looking down at her as a mere sixteen-year-old brat and trying to corner her mentally.

“I really wish you’d used your chance to just run.”

Now that she knows it’s all just part of Dane’s plot, nothing the boy says can bother her. Her agitation quickly subsides.

“Why’d you have to kill him? There wasn’t any reason to, was there?”

Instead, Flum’s heart is filled with a cold that would put a murderer to shame.

“If you want to blame me for what I’ve done, then blame away. No matter what you say, though, I won’t ever regret killing your ‘Dad’ or whatever you claim he is to you.”

“It’s because of you I’m a slave!”

“You can stop talking now. Make sure to tell Dane that these cheap, roundabout tricks won’t work on me.”

Flum turns around and starts walking away.

Just then---

“Kh… Uwaaaaaaaaaaahh!!”

The boy lets out a loud cry and charges at her back.

His employer would get angry if he didn’t at least try to kill me after failing, I guess.

She calmly turns around and kicks the knife out of the boy’s hand.

“Agh!?”

The glinting silver blade draws a luminous arc through the air before hitting the ground.

The boy looks up at her with a terrified expression as he falls backwards onto his butt.

“Jeez, I hate how underhanded he is… There’s no need to turn that, of all things, into a big deal…”

Flum spits out those words before leaving the alley.

Dane’s influence is a lot more expansive than she thinks. In fact, the reason why she and Milkit are forced to do all their shopping in the Central Quarter is thanks to his collusion with the local stores, ensuring that they get turned away at the door. Up until now, all of his enemies have eventually been cornered financially and mentally instead of just physically before he ends them once and for all.

“This is the first time he’s come at me so directly, though… I need to be even more careful from now on.”

He could come after her anywhere and at any time. As long as she’s in the Capital she can’t let her guard down.

Leaving the alleys and entering a main street, she slaps her cheeks to clear her mind and is about to start off towards the Palace again when she notices something.

That smell again, this time with the added scent of fresh blood.

“You’re kidding me...”

She slowly turns her head to the side like a tin soldier’s.

Lying there are the corpses of the two men from moments before, deep gashes in their backs.

I was wondering why Dane used thugs that weren’t his… Maybe it was so he could kill them like this?

It might be to get rid of any eyewitnesses in case the boy failed.

At any rate, this clearly isn’t Dane’s typical style. He wouldn’t just kill someone he hired like this --- in fact, he’d be far more likely to use their failure as leverage to blackmail them into a more permanent relationship with him.

As she stands there in confusion, three guardsmen run up to the scene, likely called by a passerby.

I don’t know what Dane’s thinking and I’m not going to find out just standing here, so I’d better just leave this to the guards.

Flum moves to leave the scene.

“Halt.”

One of the guards calls out to her.

“What is it? I’m just an innocent bystander. I just happened to be passing through…”

Without listening to a word she says, he draws his sword.

“W-Whoa, what’re you---”

“You’re wanted on suspicion of murder. You’re coming with us.”

“That’s nonsense, I just got here!”

“Be quiet! You’re clearly the one responsible for this heinous crime!”

His words really are nonsense.

“...Don’t tell me Dane’s made the Royal Army into his pawns, too?”

She’d heard that he was expanding his power base, but she didn’t expect him to start using the Military. Chances are that he only managed to blackmail or bribe a squad or two in the West Quarter into doing his bidding, but that alone is more than enough to accuse her of a crime or two. If they catch her there’s no telling what ‘evidence’ they’ll have against her.

The punishment for the murder of two men is execution. Worse, if she hurts a soldier on-duty the charges against her will only increase.

Since they won’t listen to her, her only option is to run.

“Kh!”

Flum breaks into a sudden sprint.

“Stop right there, murderer!”

The guards call out loudly and conspicuously before starting after her. She can feel the gazes of countless passersby on her as she runs. The soldiers continue shouts of “Murderer!” as they chase her, and increasingly more people turn to look at her.

Feeling almost like a real criminal, she runs through the Capital as the sun beats down on her overhead.


◇◇◇


A girl tends to stand out when she’s being chased by soldiers, especially if she has a slave mark on her face. It’s only natural that Flum sticks to thin alleyways that see little foot traffic.

It really feels like I’m getting driven further and further into a corner, though…

Her weapon is a greatsword, which means that she’s at a large disadvantage in close quarters even though she isn’t planning on trying to fight off her pursuers.

All she has to do is make it to the West Quarter Church, which is under the paladins’ jurisdiction not the Military’s, or back home, where Eterna is waiting. If both those fail, she’ll have to make it out to the North Quarter and get Otilier to cover for her.

“I won’t let you get away!”

Flum can run faster than the soldiers can. Noticing that, one of them sends a chunk of ice flying at her.

They’re throwing magic at me now!?

It isn’t very powerful, but it’s plenty precise. The half-meter-long arrow of ice hits the ground near her feet and shatters, sending razor-sharp shards of ice into her legs.

“Kh…!”

Her wounds heal right away, but it’s enough to slow her down. Worse, the path ahead of her splits into three.

Straight ahead is a dead end. The other two roads… where do they lead again?

She knows the West Quarter fairly well now, but not well enough to have memorized every alley.

Whatever, right it is!

Fortunately, Flum chooses the path that leads directly to the church.

Unfortunately, the bowman blocking the path in front of her is ready and waiting for her.

An ambush!?

She isn’t able to react to the enemy that suddenly appears in front of her in time. His arrow buries itself deep into her thigh.

“Guh…!”

He puts his next arrow to the string as the two soldiers following her start to close in.

T-This is nothing compared to what that ‘ogre’ could do…!

She yanks the arrow out of her leg with brute force.

“Gh, AAAAAGH!!”

Seeing her yank out the arrow and hearing her hoarse scream, the soldiers all hesitate for a moment, intimidated. Making use of that opening, Flum casts Scan on the bowman in front of her.

Niv Cranfeldt
Attribute : Air
Strength  : 450
Magic     : 112
Stamina   : 381
Agility   : 253
Intuition : 162

His stat total of 1,358 puts him at about C-Rank. Assuming he’s a typical soldier, the two behind her are probably about as strong.

On the other hand, Flum’s stats including her equipment are as follows.

Flum Apricot
Attribute : Reversal
Strength  : 670
Magic     : 538
Stamina   : 1,194
Agility   : 920
Intuition : 128

Her stat total is 3,450, putting her stat-wise at B-Rank.

In a one-on-one fight she wouldn't have any problems, but it’s not that simple. Not only are there three of them but she can’t afford to kill them, whereas the soldiers are clearly using lethal force; any normal person would’ve died of hemorrhagic shock after getting hit in the thigh like that unless they received immediate treatment. She’s not sure she can win against them with such a handicap.

Escaping without hurting them is probably impossible, so I’ll just crush the guy right in front of me and get out of here!

Watching for magic from behind, she charges at the soldier in front of her while they’re still recovering from the shock. He steps back and fires his next arrow, but she draws the Zweihander and deflects it. One of the soldiers behind her puts his hand to the ground, causing a frosty streak of ice to streak towards her feet.

Right before it hits her she jumps, and---

“HAAAAAAAAA!!”

---she swings down at the soldier in front of her. He holds up his bow to guard, but needless to say it isn’t enough to stop the blade as it rends his armour. It leaves a thick gash in his chest, but it won’t be enough to kill him.

“You’re the ones who started all this, so don’t hate me for it!”

As soon as she lands she starts running again.

The bow soldier joins the other two in chasing after her, despite losing his weapon.

“Really, why the hell are you all so determined to do what Dane says!?”

Even if he’s blackmailing them it’s just disgraceful.

Flum has no problem leaving the heavily-armoured soldiers behind as she runs, and just when she’s about to lose them completely --- a two-meter-tall barricade appears in front of her.

“You’ve got to be kidding me…!”

If nothing else, they’re extremely thorough for going so far to stop a mere slave. Either they knew she was going to be headed this way or all the other routes are barricaded the same way. It’s short enough that she shouldn’t have too much trouble climbing it, but if the soldiers chasing her don’t catch up to her in that time the soldiers surely waiting on the other side will.

She can’t just throw in the towel here, though.

Flum puts on an extra burst of speed as she runs at one of the walls of the alleyway. She jumps and kicks off the wall, and sailing through the air she kicks off the opposite wall and manages to barely fly right over top of it.

“Impossible, she just jumped it!?”

“There’s no way a normal slave could just do something like that!”

She lands neatly on the other side, noticing the soldiers in the corner of her eye as they stare at her wide-eyed. Sparing no time she immediately starts running again, quickly putting distance between herself and the barricade soldiers. One of them throws some Fire magic at her, but she leans out of the way to dodge as she runs.

I can do it! If I can only make it out onto the street the church should be right there!

Flum recognizes this alleyway; she can’t get lost from here. The exit to the street is right in front of her; as soon as she makes it there all she has to do is ask the paladins for help and she’ll be free of this mess.

As soon as she can she’ll head right back home; there’s a fair chance Eterna and Milkit are also under attack from Dane’s men.

I’ll start worrying about them as soon as I’m safe.

What awaits Flum on the street, however, isn’t hope but despair.

“Kh...”

The ten soldiers waiting there quickly surround her and train their bows on her, cutting off her escape. The soldiers from the barricade catch up a moment later.

“Your great escape ends here, Criminal Flum.”

“I take it you’re supposed to be in charge here?”

The man standing behind the wall of soldiers is wearing armour with a slightly different design from the others. Something about his facial features reminds Flum of Dane’s henchmen.

I guess like personalities lead to like expressions, huh.

“Do you really think you can get away with abusing your power like this!?”

“Of course. It’ll be especially easy to make this whole incident disappear, especially since you’re only a slave.”

In other words, they don’t realize that she was one of the Hero’s companions and are only chasing her under Dane’s orders.

“I’m sure the Major General would be in tears if she saw her men wagging their tails at scum like Dane.”

“Well, she doesn’t have to know, now, does she?”

“You won’t deny it, huh? I guess that means Dane has some dirt on you after all. Seriously, if you’re so desperate to save your own skins I can’t even imagine why you decided to become---”

“Fire!”

All at once the soldiers surrounding her loose their arrows, cutting her off. She swings the Zweihander and knocks away some of them, but she can’t defend herself from all directions at once. Arrows embed themselves in her shoulders, arms, abdomen, and legs.

“Gugh!... ugh, hah... uu…”

Even if she heals quickly, the pain doesn’t fade so easily. She breaks out in a cold sweat as her face twists with pain. Maybe thanks to her anger, her mind is still crystal clear, and she doesn’t even fall to her knees.

“Impressive, but there’s no way you can---”

“GAAAAAH!! Ah, ha, haah… AAAAAAGGHH!!”

She howls as she yanks out the arrows one by one with her bare hands.

“Haahh, hahh… gh, gah, OAAAAAGH!!”

Casting away the last of them she glares at the soldiers surrounding her. Most of them can’t handle her intimidation and take a few nervous steps back.

“D-Don’t falter! She’s only bluffing!”

Even the commander’s lip is trembling.

He’d heard that she was nothing more than a common slave. He wasn’t expecting her to be unfazed by more than ten of his men, let alone have the spine to stand against them. He’s probably at least as shaken as his men and even more confused.

“C-Calm down and fire again! Think of this as a training drill! That’s not a human, only a training dummy!”

“Don’t treat me like some thing! I’m not just going to give up and get killed here by trash like you!”

“There’s nowhere for you to run! If you kill any of my men only more soldiers will take their place, and by the time we finally catch you your death with be all the more painful!”

Give up and die, or resist and die.

She’s had to make that choice before, and she’ll make the same choice now.

“I’ll die either way, right?”

“Of course.”

“Then I don’t care if I die a criminal. I’ll live by my will and my will alone!!”

She runs straight for the commander.

“W-What!? S-Somebody stop her! Stay back, stay baaaack!!”

Flum doesn’t know why he’s so scared.

He probably thought he was safe because he’s a soldier.

He probably thought Flum was completely cornered and as good as harmless.

The second wave of arrows is a lot less organized than the first and most of them miss her. Only one manages to hit her, stabbing into her calf.

“Yes!”

One of the soldiers pumps his fist. He probably thinks that she’s going to lose her balance and fall from the pain, but he’s sorely mistaken.

Arrow still in her leg she reaches the soldier between her and the commander, and raising her sword she mercilessly brings it down on his head.

A low, deep, wet thud resounds.

The pitch-black blade crashes into his helmet, crushing it along with his skull, caving his head in instead of splitting it down the middle.

His brain is crushed. His death is instantaneous.

He was probably a respectable soldier who only followed the orders he was given --- his only flaw was putting his trust in the wrong man.

“Ee…!”

The commander falls backwards, desperately trying to flee from Flum even as he wets himself with fear.

Unease quickly spreads through their ranks as they start to break formation.

Flum can’t miss this chance.

This is my chance!

She suppresses the urge to stop and kill the commander; if she gets caught here there’s no point. Prioritizing her getaway, she sprints away without looking back once.


◇◇◇


“This way’s also blocked off…”

No matter what angle Flum tries to approach the West Quarter church from, she only runs into more barricades. At this rate it’d probably be best to assume that all routes to and from the church have been completely cut off. They’ll probably have some explaining to do to the paladins, but however forceful the plan is she can’t deny it’s effective. She can’t just break through with brute force; regardless of the power struggles going on between the two sides, beneath the surface they’re still technically working together. Not even Ed and Johnny would take her side if they saw her killing soldiers.

I’d love to meet up with Eterna-san and Milkit, but they probably won’t let me anywhere near the house. If I’d known this was going to happen I would’ve let Eterna-san help from the beginning… no, I guess I still wouldn’t have. If she’s not at the house then she can’t keep Milkit safe.

Milkit’s safety comes first and foremost, so since Eterna’s the stronger of them her role is clear.

I guess leaving the West Quarter’s also going to be difficult, but given all the routes in and out I get the feeling that’s where they’ll be spread thinnest… I should be able to find something.

She stops for a moment in the darkness of a nearby alley, leaning her body against the wall and letting out a sigh.

The wind blows a piece of paper into her feet as she stands there.

“...Hm? What’s this?”

She picks it up. Printed on it are the words [WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE: FLUM THE RIPPER] along with a realistic drawing of her making a cruel, merciless expression. At the bottom of the flyer is the Royal Army’s seal and a handsome bounty.

She clicks her tongue and balls it up.

“Those bastards… They even made wanted posters!?”

Dane must’ve figured out that she’d resort to killing soldiers eventually and planned accordingly. If that’s the case, then he probably already has a countermeasure in place for if she tries to leave the West Quarter.

“At this point I may as well just kill everyone I see and get it over with.”

She’d said it as a joke with a half-smile, but she’s surprised to hear murderous intent dripping from her voice.

“Oi, there she is! It’s Flum the Ripper!!”

Just then a thug finds her and calls out. The man isn’t a soldier but one of Dane’s men, and clutched in his hand is one of the wanted posters. Now that she’s paying attention she can spot similar posters stuck to the walls, even.

With this, Dane and his cronies have gained enough of a justification to kill her even in broad daylight. From now on she’ll have to deal with Dane’s men and bounty hunters in addition to the Royal Army --- but not just that, now that she has a ‘reputation’ even normal passersby will notice her and help with her capture by reporting her on sight.

“I don’t care how plain I am, at this point somebody had better recognize me!!”

If anyone recognizes her as one of the Hero’s companions, then someone will surely recognize this whole fiasco as a plot of some sort --- but putting her hope in that would be no better than leaving it all to luck.

All manner of thugs and ruffians start swarming towards her at the first thug’s call like low-level monsters.

“My only way out is…”

The alley she’s hiding in is a dead end, but the alley is narrow and the roof on her left side is fairly low.

“...Up!”

She runs down the alley, kicks off the right wall and barely manages to gain enough height to grab the eaves of the house to the left and pull herself up.

“She’s on the roof! After her!!”

[[YEAH!!!]]

Dane’s probably promised his men some sort of bonus if they catch her.

The overly-enthusiastic ruffians clamour up to the roof after her in hot pursuit.


Chapter 4 - What Goes Around Comes Around[edit]

The lethal game of tag refuses to end.

If she tries to run through the back alleys she quickly finds herself surrounded by soldiers; if she tries to run down the streets passersby point her out to her pursuers; if she tries to run through the slums countless thugs attack her for the bounty on her head.

The realization that enemies surround her utterly and completely proves far more damaging to her psyche than the posters covering her house or the words of that boy. The physical toll is also quite intense, as it’s been almost two hours since the ‘game’ started and she’s spent most of it running.

“Haahh… I’ll never… hahh… let them… catch me…!”

She’s lost all feeling in her legs and she’s running a lot more slowly than when she started, but she hasn’t given up. She’s already decided that there’s no way she’ll let that coward beat her. She’ll crush him and his plan and go back home. As long as she keeps that in mind she feels as though she could run forever.

“Hahh… fuu…”

She walks along an abandoned street to catch her breath.

“Now! Fire!”

A voice rings out from above her. She frantically looks up to find a small group of soldiers there, bows at the ready.

“This is it!”

“Like I’ll let you just hit me!”

She rolls out of the way to avoid them at the last moment. Standing up, she draws the Zweihander, spins around for a moment to gather momentum and releases it at the rooftop.

“HORYAAAAAAAAHH!!”

The soldiers panic and scatter at the sight of the massive blade flying at them, but one of them slips and isn’t able to avoid it. He takes the blade in the back of the head, sending the top half of his skull and everything in it flying.

Having finished its duty, the Epic-rank sword fades into motes of light and returns to the crest on the back of Flum’s hand.

“Another murder… How much do you have to kill before you’re satisfied, monster!?”

She’s honestly lost count of how many people it’s been.

After her first kill it stopped mattering whether she kills two, ten, or a hundred.

Trying to take a life means being ready to lose your own; she’s been so desperate to stay alive that she’s long since stopped worrying about trivial details like whose fault it is.

It’s not like their deaths are meaningless, though. Every time one of their comrades dies the survivors are forced to consider things more carefully and hopefully grow increasingly uncertain as they try to decide whether their orders --- more specifically, whether that despicable commander of theirs --- is worth the sacrifice.

In reality, the number of soldiers pursuing her seems to be shrinking all the time… she thinks. Maybe she’s just hoping it to be the truth, but it nonetheless makes her feel better about herself.

Leaving the soldiers with their dead comrade, she starts running again.

I’m getting closer to the Central Quarter, I can feel it!

Even as she loses herself in running, even as her mind seems to cloud over she never stops thinking, never stops searching for even the tiniest gaps in her enemy’s guard as she keeps moving forward.

When she finally arrives at the border between the West and Central Quarters, she spots a large group of people gathered there. She stops and ducks into the shadow to observe them for a while.

Some of the men appear to be members of Dane’s group, but the other one is a middle-aged man dressed like a merchant. Seeing him Flum can’t help but remember the slave merchant who bought her. Behind him are a number of children with expressionless faces and slave marks. Some are missing arms, some walk with a strange limp, some of them have their faces burned, but all of them are missing some part of their bodies.

“Ahh, I really can’t thank Dane-san enough for all this. Not only is he going to avenge our fallen comrade, but to think he’ll buy all this defective merchandise, too…! Make sure that you tell him how grateful I am for all he’s done for us.”

The merchant rubs his hands together as he talks.

‘Avenge our fallen comrade’... does that mean he’s connected to the merchant who bought me?

Dane truly is a shrewd man for not only making the Royal Army into his pawns but for using their grudge against Flum to even turn the slave traders in the Central Quarter into his allies.

“I’m sure these little pieces of trash will be simply overjoyed to hear their deaths will have meaning.”

“Those brats’ve got the devices all set up an’ everythin’, right?”

“Yes, of course. They’re ready to explode anywhere and at any time.”

Now that the merchant mentions it, she notices that tied around the children’s waists are small pouches embedded with little crystals.

Are those full of black powder? Even if they are slaves, turning those kids into living bombs… Just how despicable are these assholes!?

She’s filled with such anger she almost jumps down and cuts the men down then and there, but if she does that the children will probably just activate the bombs right there and she’ll be unable to save any of them.

At any rate, that exit has enough people guarding it that she won’t be able to break through. Giving up, she leaves to try a different route.


◇◇◇


No matter where Flum runs all she finds are more soldiers, more of Dane’s henchmen, and more slave children with explosives. No matter what route leading out of the West District she tries, all of them are blocked off completely.

It’s as though Dane is moving every pawn he has in a full display of his power.

“There she is! Kill her!!”

Again they find her, and again she starts running. Exhaustion starts to creep its way onto her face.

The desire to give in and give up sprouts up in her rebellious heart. She tries to dispel it with a shake of her head, but she’s too tired for that.

I don’t want to suffer anymore. I should just stop here.

Those thoughts start to drift through her head. As if responding to her flagging spirit, a dead end appears before her.

Dammit, I must’ve taken a wrong turn…!

She’s out of concentration. The walls around her are tall enough that even if she kicks off them she won’t be able to reach the rooftops. Worse, there are enough people right behind her that she probably can’t fight her way out, either.

“I daresay this is checkmate.”

With a cocky look on his face, the man behind it all emerges from the crowd of pursuers.

OmaeGotoki 02-Ch4 1.png

His timing is too perfect; it’s almost like he knew she was going to make a mistake here.

“I didn’t expect to run into you here, Dane.”

“I was quite certain that you’d be a corpse the next time I saw you, but you’re a lot more stubborn than I gave you credit for.”

“Are you sure you should just stroll out here like that? I’m pretty sure I could kill you from here if I felt like it.”

“Oh, how scary. Unfortunately for you, I’m an A-Rank adventurer. I don’t think I could lose to you.”

“Then why the hell did you bother with all this?”

“Well, I wanted to ensure that the Royal Army were effective pawns and I wanted to create a connection or two with the Central Quarter slave traders, but the main reason would be that I’ve been looking forward to watching you get cornered like this for quite some time now.”

Dane’s henchmen laugh and applaud his words, but the joke is somehow lost on Flum.

“I’ll bet you’re at your limit about now, aren’t you? A few of my men are already sick of this show, to be honest, and if you kill any more guards cleanup will be a real bother. How about we end this?”

“Fine by me.”

She draws the Zweihander and points it at Dane. Her final enemy right before her eyes, she squeezes out the last of her strength, her eyes burning with vigour.

“Ah, naivete is truly the worst part of youth.”

He runs a hand through his hair, casting Flum a dramatic look out of the corner of his eye.

“You make me want to crush you, warp you, and teach you all about reality.”

“I guess there really are some pitiful adults out there who’re convinced that ‘reality’ is only what’s most convenient for them.”

“What a childish reply. Are you going through a rebellious phase, maybe?”

“I think you’re the only child here. Most kids stop playing mafia at ten, y’know.”

“You really are an irritating little bitch, aren’t you? If you keep this up I won’t just let you die an easy death.”

“Good. I never planned on dying easily!”

Flum slashes at Dane, but stops short before her blade reaches him.

A young slave puts herself between Flum and Dane as if covering for him. She’s not a brave warrior but a little girl without a right arm who probably couldn’t be sold. A small bag of explosives is tied around her waist.

“You can’t help but want to save poor little girls like this, don’t you, Flum-chan?”

“...Kh.”

“I know, I know, you’re at that tender age where you get all obsessed with ‘justice’ and ‘punishing evil’ but never carry through and end up being a burden on everyone around you. You won’t even be able to protect that wench you’ve been flirting with such tepid resolve, you know.”

“What did you do to Milkit!?”

“Ah, yes, that was her name. The hideous little bandage monster. That thing’s already been raped and lynched and is lying in a ditch somewhere by now, I’m sure. It must’ve been so hard for her after you so thoughtlessly gave her hope. She was crying ‘why didn’t you protect me, Master!?’ the whole time, I hear.”

“Dane, you…!”

“Oh, scary, so scary. You’re all terrified too, aren’t you?”

The thugs behind him start sniggering and giving mocking calls of “Oh yeah, we’re tremblin’!” Ease and relaxation is thick in their voices. They’re probably thinking of all the ways to deal with her now that they’ve clearly won.

“Well then, if I play with my prey any longer you might find some way to escape, so I suppose I’ll have you killed now… by this brat here, that is.”

“What’re you planning?”

“I think I’ll call it ‘Back Alley Lovers’ Suicide,’ a heart-wrenching drama about two of society’s losers being drawn together, only to tragically kill themselves in the end!”[4]

The girl walks towards Flum with uneasy steps. Her face is expressionless, just like Milkit’s was when they first met --- but that means that if only someone were to show her kindness she’d recover just like Milkit has. Instead of a helping hand, though, all the girl’s received is a bomb at her belt and a lead role in a morbid comedy for a group of despicable men.

“Ah, you’re trying to think of some way to save her aren’t you?”

“...”

“I’ll take that as a yes. In that case, I’ll give you a chance to do just that since I’m so nice. If you take the bomb off her belt I’ll allow you to blow only yourself to pieces. I’m afraid I don’t know what’ll happen after that, though. There are an awful lot of healthy young bucks here, but there are probably only a select few who’d be willing to screw such a filthy slave… one, two, three, four… only five, I suppose? Ahh, this is a bother, she can’t entertain them all once!”

“Dane-san, I always say if there ain’t enough holes then ya just make a few more.”

“With that knife there, you mean? You’re quite the maniac, aren’t you! Ahahahaha!”

The men all laugh along with Dane.

Why do all the villains give their victims a choice in how they die?

Why are they so pleased with themselves at offering such awful choices?

Flum doesn’t falter for an instant. She kneels in front of the girl and takes off her bomb.

Even after being freed from death, the girl’s expression doesn’t change. She looks at Flum with empty eyes and cocks her head to the side slightly. She’s probably at a loss for what to do since she just had her job taken from her. She turns back to Dane.

“Aren’t you glad? That nice oneesan just saved you from the big, scary bomb. She instead decided to offer you up to these nice oniisans behind me and their lustful love sticks. It’ll be painful, oh so painful, far worse than death by explosion! Make sure you thank her, now.”

Flum honestly doesn’t want to believe that they’re even human. His words are nothing but endless noise, incomprehensible no matter how hard she tries. Her brain shuts him out.

“There’s a crystal attached to that bomb, see? Channel a little magic energy into it and it’ll go boom. There’s not enough black powder for a powerful blast, granted, but it’s enough to kill a person or two.”

The slave, Dane, and his men all step back.

Just as he said, there’s a crystal embedded on the bomb. If she activates it it’ll ignite, searing, scattering, gouging through her flesh and reducing her to a singed pulp. It’ll be more painful than getting hit with a hundred arrows.

Even if she does it, the girl won’t be saved. Dane probably isn’t joking; just as he claims his men will defile and kill her, not because of some grudge but simply because she means nothing to them. Even if she stayed with the slave merchant, the only fate awaiting her would be death in a cell after being turned into a plaything, just like what almost happened to Flum and Milkit.

How pointless, how worthless.

Neither option will leave them alive at the end --- if Flum was a normal person, that is.

“Suuu… hahh…”

Flum holds the bomb in her right hand, stretching it out as far away from her heart as she can manage. Dane doesn’t say anything, knowing that there’s no point to her actions. The thugs grin crudely as they watch her, waiting impatiently for her death.

She feels the crystal with her fingertips.

She closes her eyes and focuses.

As soon as she channels magic energy into the crystal she can feel her arm jerk.

Dane’s lips curl into a grin, the girl’s eyes widen --- BANG, the black powder ignites.

Brilliant white light fills Flum’s vision. The sheer force demolishes her arm up to the shoulder, reducing it to smithereens. The explosive flames gouge at her head and neck as her flesh starts melting from the sheer heat. The powerful wind created sends her body soaring limply through the air, even reaching Dane and his men and causing their hair to violently blow back.

“Hehe!”

Dane can’t help but let out a pleased snigger at the pleasant gust and the distinct smell of burning human flesh. The thugs let out a rousing cheer as her body finally hits the ground.

The horrible criminal who had killed their allies has finally received her just deserts.

Their joy overcomes them as some begin dancing, some stripping, some fighting over the slave girl.

“What an unruly bunch of hooligans.”

“You say that, Dane-san, but there’s a big ol’ smile on yer face.”

“I don’t mind such merriment every once in a while. If only I had a bit of wine to go along with the sight of Flum’s pitiful corpse it’d be perfect.”

“Got it. Be right back.”

Dane had meant that as a joke, but his subordinate runs off to the nearest tavern before he can stop him.

“Some people, I swear… Ah, well. A good drink does sound like the perfect way to celebrate, after all.”

A few of the celebrating thugs start to slowly approach Flum’s smouldering corpse. Kicking, punching, stabbing, slicing, taking pieces home --- there’s all sorts of fun to be had with a dead body, after all. Everyone with the nerve to stand against them has become their toy in just the same way. They start chatting about the best way to go about their fun this time.

As Dane watches over them, a man runs up to Dane.

“You… What’re you doing here, of all places? You were stationed elsewhere, I thought.”

Dane raises an eyebrow at him. The man there was a member of the squad set to attack Flum’s house.

“Finished early and came to join in the festivities? You’re just in time, then. Flum just---”

“S-Sorry, Dane-san!”

The man is pale and trembling.

“You look horrible. What happened to you?”

“The operation… I-It failed.”

Dane’s jubilant expression changes in a heartbeat.

“What!? You’re telling me you couldn’t deal with even a lonely, helpless little girl!?”

His angry voice reverberates loudly throughout the square, causing everyone to stop and look at him.

“I-It wasn’t our fault! All this water suddenly came outta nowhere, and before I realized it everyone else was gone an’ I didn’t even know where I was…”

“Do you really think that such non---”

Their conversation is suddenly cut short.

“GYAAAAAAAAHH!!”

A man suddenly bursts out screaming.

Everyone there turns to face the voice’s owner to find a deep gash in his neck, blood vigorously spurting out.

“What…!?”

None of the men understand what’s happening. In the midst of the chaos a blade flashes and a second man’s head is sent flying.

“That hurt.”

The one controlling the blade is Flum, regenerated and on her feet.

“That really hurt.”

Determined to claim as many of her foes’ lives as possible, her movements are perfectly efficient. Her swings are short, close, and always aim for the neck.

“You look at someone suffering like that and you have the nerve to laugh…?”

Plain and simple, taking heads.

“---Trash like you should just die.”

Head, head, head --- one swing decapitates three men at once. Flum pours all the frustration, pain, suffering, anger, and hatred into her blade as she releases it on the men in a frenzy.

“You bitch… You died, so how are you still…!?”

“Did you really think something that pitiful could kill me!?”

What would clearly be a fatal wound to a normal person is nothing more than ‘pitiful’ to Flum.

“This isn’t normal…It’s not supposed to be like this…!”

Up until then Dane’s face has been filled with laughter, but now his eyes are filled with fear.

Now it’s Flum’s turn to laugh. Her face twists into a mockery of a grin as hatred and murder fill her eyes and she devotes herself to slaughter.

“You monstrosity… No, could this be an enchantment!?”

All the thugs panic as they rush to put distance between them and her, but Dane instead casts Scan on her sword. The full column of curses and penalties fills his vision.

“What!? No normal human could possibly…!”

Every time she was at the guild they simply laughed at her and underestimated her as a slave. They never once bothered to Scan her equipment.

Their failure is entirely their own fault.

Dane knows that so well it hurts, but he’s not so stupid as to just sit there cursing his own negligence.

“Tch, everyone pull back! That thing’s too much of an unknown!”

He stays calm and gives them their orders, but his men are just common thugs, too absorbed with the concept of advantage of numbers to listen to him.

“We still outnumber ‘er, Dane-san! If we can kill ‘er here then our comrades’ deaths won't be --- GUAAARGH!?”

Flum doesn’t stop, keeping up her relentless assault while all her enemies are conveniently gathered in one place.

“S-Sto---”

“Like I’ll stop now! Dieeee!!”

No matter how they beg or try to flee, she kills every man she lays eyes on. The scent of blood grows thick in the air as the Zweihander’s black gleam turns crimson. As the death toll starts to climb into the double digits, the men finally grasp their own powerlessness and start to scatter and flee.

“I’m not done with you yeeeeeet!!”

Flum still doesn’t stop, laying into the fleeing men’s backs without hesitation.

What terrifying power… at this rate we’ll be overpowered completely, myself included! How in blazes does that cursed sword allow her to regenerate like that!? What with that talk of being washed away, nothing around here’s making sense anymore! Everything was going according to plan up until now… Damn, damn, damn it all!!

Dane’s side had such an overwhelming advantage it’s hard to believe they’ve been driven to flee so quickly and easily.

Judging by stats alone Dane should be able to kill her still, but his gut tells him to avoid fighting her at all costs. Clenching his teeth to repress his frustration, he focuses on escaping.

“It’s the army… The Royal Army’s sent reinforcements, Dane-san!!”

The thug beside Dane points at the alley’s entrance and cries out.

A squad of about ten soldiers approaches. With their help a comeback against Flum should be possible.

Something about them strikes Dane as off, however.

Their faces are pale, and it looks less like they’ve arrived to give aid and more like they’ve fled there seeking help.

“F-Forgive us, w-we were just following the commander’s--- gh, aaagghh!!”

“Eeee…!? Not like this, not like this…!”

“...The hell’s that?”

Things resembling snakes made of blood fly among the soldiers, punching right through their armour and into their flesh.

Flum is slowly but surely growing closer, but Dane and his men have no choice but to stop there.

From beyond the scattering soldiers a woman in a white military uniform comes into view.

“Who the hell are you, that bitch’s ally!? Don’t think you can get away with killing soldiers like that!”

The man at Dane’s side tries to intimidate her to no effect.

She chuckles before leveling her saber at them.

“Who am I? On the contrary, I wonder who you think you are, villain-san.”

OmaeGotoki 02-Ch4 2.png

“You…!”

Dane knows her --- anyone and everyone living in the Capital probably knows her.

“I am Lieutenant General Otilier. In the name of Oneesama, I‘ve arrived to help Flum ensure that the West Quarter’s villains receive the punishment they deserve.”

She is a master of the Genocide Arts sword style, number two in the Royal Army --- Lieutenant General Otilier Forcelpi.


◇◇◇


About half an hour earlier, Otilier visited Flum’s house and was very disappointed to hear from Milkit that she wasn’t there, though she nonetheless stopped in for tea.

“It would appear as though we’ve missed each other. Do you know when Flum should return?”

“I’m afraid I don’t, though most times she heads to the guild she doesn’t return until evening. Speaking of which, how did you know this is Master’s house?”

“Who do you think I am? Looking up something that trivial was child’s play.”

On the flipside, unless they’re specifically looking for her nobody would know that she lives there.

Otilier had come all that way specifically to meet Flum. It was only the day before that she’d told Flum to come see her in the Palace anytime, but when she stopped to think about it she realized that she doesn’t spend a lot of time there after all. On top of that, Flum’s difficult circumstances would make it difficult to show her face around there, so she decided to go meet Flum instead.

“...Drills.”

Eterna mumbled to herself from the stairs as she looked at Otilier’s hair.

“Y-You’re… Eterna Rinebow, are you not!?”

“Yeah. And?”

“Not ‘and?’, whatever happened to the Journey!?”

“It was a pain, so I left.”

“Just like that!?”

Receiving an even more casual response than she did from Flum, Otilier looked about ready to collapse.

“For not only Flum but you to leave, too… the Hero’s Party must be in tatters by now…”

“Gadio’ll probably leave soon, too.”

“You all are really far too disinterested in this whole affair, aren’t you?”

“We don’t owe the kingdom anything. Anyone would leave if they felt like it.”

Eterna took the seat opposite Otilier, and after Milkit poured her cup of tea she set it in front of her.

“Thanks, Milkit. So why are you here, Otilier?”

“I came to have a word with Flum. I must admit, though, I am rather relieved.”

“Hm?”

“Living alone in the West Quarter sounded absolutely abominable, but if she has two housemates, and if one of them is you, then… W-Well, I’m still a little worried for her well-being to be certain, but it’s certainly better than her being completely alone.”

“You paused after mentioning me.”

Otilier wasn’t sure she would trust Eterna to be on her own, let alone to look after others. In truth, her bad habits and sloppiness keep Flum and Milkit plenty busy.

“By the way, what relation does this strange bandaged girl have with Flum, precisely?”

“I don’t know. All I heard is that they met as slaves.”

“I wouldn’t say that we’re fellow slaves but rather that I became Master’s slave. That’s why Master’s my master.”

A slight redness was visible on Milkit’s cheeks from beyond her bandages. The expression clearly isn’t the kind that a slave would normally make towards their master.

“...I’m afraid I still don’t understand.”

“I’m glad I’m not the only one.”

“I suppose I’ll just have to ask for all the details from...”

Otilier’s voice trailed off and the look in her eyes suddenly changed.

“Eterna, what do you make of this situation?”

Eterna’s expression was also a little stiffer than usual.

“I came down because I was curious.”

“I had supposed that to be the case. I’m not nearly as adept at sensing the presence of others as you are, after all.”

“We’re surrounded.”

“There are quite a few of them, aren’t there?”

“Eh? Eh?”

Only Milkit was left with no idea as to what they’re talking about.

“I shall help you take them on.”

“No. Flum left protecting the house to me. I can handle this many on my own.”

“What do you propose I do, then?”

“I think they’re with a man named Dane. He’s after Flum. I can’t imagine he’d just attack here, so she’s probably in trouble. I want you to go help her.”

“I see. If that’s the case, then I shall find her post-haste.”

Otilier stood up as Milkit spoke up in a nervous voice.

“Um… Is something happening to Master right now?”

“She’ll be fine. She can’t just die with a body like that.”

“I’ll seek her out with all due haste, so please rest easy and wait for her return here.”

Milkit didn’t believe her words completely, but nonetheless bowed and thanked Otilier.

A few minutes later, all the thugs were gathered in front of the house, molotov cocktails in hand. Their leader made eye contact with the others, who nod, set the fuses alight, and threw them at the house. The mass of burning embers arced through the air towards the house.

As soon as the bottles hit they should quickly engulf the wooden structure in flames. If she burns to death that’s fine, but they were told that if she escaped they could have their way with her before killing her. Hoping for the latter the men waited, but they waited in vain.

“Water Wall.”

Still sitting at the dining room table, she extended her hand out toward the window and cast her spell. A wall of water sprung up higher than the walls of the house itself and caused the cocktails to bounce off harmlessly, setting alight the ground at their feet.

“Holy shit…!”

A few of them fled then and there.

“Uogh, hoooot!!”

A few of them tried to kick the bottles away but only hurt themselves.

“W-Water, I need water!!”

A foolish few tried to seek refuge in the wall of water, only to be spat out.

Eterna watched the scene unfolding out the window with only mild interest, teacup still in hand. Milkit, on the other hand, clutched her hand to her chest and looked out at the men restlessly.

“Is this magic!? Dammit, nobody said there was such a powerful mage here!”

Watching the thugs’ leader panic and complain, Eterna kept up her attack. Not even Milkit believed that the men deserved to be treated mercifully after they tried to attack a ‘helpless’ target.

Eterna turned her palm so that it faced the ceiling before curling her index finger, as if intimidating the men. The wall of water reshaped itself into a massive sphere and started rolling toward the crowd of thugs.

“What the…?”

The sphere then burst like a balloon, releasing all its water at the men and enveloping them completely before washing them away.

“Y-You’ve gotta be kiddin’ me… S-Stop--- gabo, gabobobobobo!!”

The water carried them down the street and to who-knows-where. As soon as they passed out of sight peace returned to the house once more.

“Where will those men end up?”

“I don’t know. Maybe the sewers, maybe they’ll be carried out of the Capital. If they’re unlucky they’ll die. Worried?”

“No… They did try to harm Master, after all.”

“Nn. Can I have more tea?”

“Of course, I’ll put on another pot now.”

Milkit returned to the kitchen, pot in hand.

With that, the house’s residents returned to their usual everyday life.


◇◇◇


“Ha… Haha… You’ve got to be joking! Lieutenant General Otilier, you say? Why would someone like her ever side with a mere slave!? Something’s clearly wrong here!!”

Dane is utterly mystified by the sudden appearance of such an important figure.

“I daresay that the only thing wrong here is with your head. I can’t begin to fathom how you decided you needed all this just for the sake of one girl. This all comes to an end here and now, however. Since I’m here I shan’t be letting you have your way!”

“Otilier-san!”

Flum finally notices her, eyes sparkling. Help finally appeared, and very reliable help at that. Now that she’s here there’s no way the soldiers will listen to a word Dane says.

“You seem to have caught the attention of a most strange man.”

“It’s seriously been the worst.”

“You think you’ve won just because there are two of you now!? I’m not giving up, damn it!”

“I suppose I shall have to force you to give up, then. Genocide Arts: Anguish!”

Otilier swings her saber and the blood oozing from the blade flies off in the form of a snake, lunging at Dane.

Her sword is of special make, modified to house a small vial known as a Blood Cartridge in the hilt that allows her to make use of her sword style. While similar to the Cavalier Arts that Gadio and Flum use, Genocide Arts makes use of the energy contained within her blood instead of prana.

“Dane-san!!”

The man beside Dane jumps forward to take the blow, becoming Anguish’s prey in his place. As soon as Otilier’s blood enters his body it quickly spreads through his veins and takes complete control of him.

That is the true power of Genocide Arts.

Unable to even voice his suffering, the man collapses, spasming faintly.

“You covered for me…? Shit, now I have to make a clean getaway!”

Dane raises the buckler on his arm towards the rooftops above, tugging on a wire by his hand with his index finger. The shield’s internal mechanism instantly kicks into action, firing a metal ball on a cable flying upwards. Hitting the rooftops the clump of metal blooms into a hook with a loud CLACK, lodging itself there. Pulling a second wire with his middle finger, a second mechanism starts swiftly reeling in the cable, pulling him into the air.

“What a truly impertinent man!”

“I won’t let you escape so easily!!”

Flum spins around and throws the Zweihander, and Otilier unleashes a second Anguish at him. Both their attacks graze him, but neither is enough to stop him completely.

Face twisted in pain, he continues soaring upwards before finally disappearing over the edge of the roof.

“Kh, he’s quite the slippery little fiend, isn’t he?”

“All he has in that head of his is evil plots and underhanded schemes, so I’m not surprised…”

Even if they defeated his men, Dane himself isn’t just clever but can evidently fend for himself.

“Anyway, thanks for coming to help me. How’d you know where I was?”

“I ran into a few soldiers on the way here that were kind enough to fill me in on your situation.”

Even the most rotten of soldiers would no doubt listen to a direct order from the Lieutenant General. After causing such a mess, though, they’ll likely be punished regardless.

“I really am so dreadfully sorry my men caused such a problem.”

Otilier bows deeply in apology. Normally Flum would laugh it off, but…

“I don’t really mind… is what I’d like to say, but that was a bit too much.”

She was put into such danger it wasn’t even funny. Unless something is done to prevent issues like this from happening again she’ll lose all faith in the Royal Army.

“Yes, I shall have to think of some way to make it up to you. At the very least, I promise I shall harshly punish the commander and his men. Is there anything else you’d like?”

“I’m sure there’s a thing or two I could ask, but for now…”

The only thing that comes to her mind is the smiling face of the one still waiting for her to come back.

“At the moment I just want to see Milkit as soon as possible.”

“...I see. That’s truly important, yes.”

At Flum’s words, Otilier gets a better idea of the relationship that Flum and Milkit have. It’s probably not unlike how she herself feels about her Oneesama.

“But before that, please accept this.”

“Eh?”

She takes off her white military jacket and drapes it around Flum’s shoulders.

“Your clothes are in a simply terrible state.”

Flum looks down at herself for the first time. Although all her important parts are still covered it’s hard to say that her clothes are still functioning as such. Countless arrows have left countless holes, and especially the area around her right shoulder and chest were left in a terrible state by the bomb.

“Ah… ahahaha, thanks.”

Letting out some slightly strained laughter, Flum quickly passes her arms through its sleeves and buttons it up.


Chapter 5 - The Squirming Spiral[edit]

Several hours after the end of the fighting, Flum finally returns home. Milkit is waiting there for her with a passionate welcome-home.

“Masteeer!”

As soon as she sees her master she hugs her and buries her face in her chest. Flum returns her embrace, gently stroking her hair.

“Sorry I made you worry and caused such a mess.”

“That’s… I don’t care, Master, so long as you’re safe!”

Milkit starts vehemently rubbing her cheeks against Flum. Even as Flum starts getting smothered, though, she has a broad smile on her face.

“They truly do get along well, don’t they?”

Otilier pokes her head out from behind Flum, a hint of jealousy in her voice. Eterna, peeking out from behind Milkit, nods in agreement.


◇◇◇


After that, the four of them sit around the dining room table to talk. Flum tells Milkit and Eterna all that had happened to her; about how she was framed for murder, chased by soldiers, made a wanted Flum and finally was nearly lynched by Dane and his men. Otilier has already dispatched soldiers from the Palace Barracks to deal with the cleanup so things should be back to normal soon, but that being said it’ll likely be impossible to fix the public opinion of her completely, so for a while at least she’ll have to tread lightly. Even though it’s unfair, it can’t be helped.

“I didn’t think he’d go that far. I wish you’d come to me sooner.”

“Sorry. I really didn’t this much, either…”

“It’s hardly every day that someone blackmails the guards into doing such awful things. I truly am sorry I let any of this happen.”

Specifically, the guard commander in the West Quarter and a few of his men bought a few child prostitutes without realizing they were connected to Dane --- a badger game, so to speak.

“I’m just glad you escaped with your life, Master.”

“You were waiting here for me the whole time, so I was determined to come back no matter what.”

“Master…”

Milkit’s cheeks redden faintly.

In truth, Flum would’ve given up long ago if not for Milkit.

“The Zweihander’s regeneration also really helped, though.”

“Ah, yes, you can… ‘reverse’ negative enchantments, I believe you said? To be honest this is the first time I’ve ever heard of a use for cursed equipment outside of torture.”

“I only realized it recently myself, so I’m not surprised.”

“I wish I’d noticed it during the journey. You wouldn’t have gotten sold then.”

“Recently I’ve started thinking that it turned out pretty well after all…”

Eterna gives Flum a stupefied look.

“Ah, I didn’t mean I’m glad I became a slave! Definitely not! I’ve just been thinking lately that Reversal is probably the reason I was there to begin with.”

“Nn. It was weird you were there, given your stats.”

“Perhaps the Church wanted to get ahold of your power? Though in that case I suppose it would be far more sensible to simply bring you to the Grand Cathedral directly.”

“There might be a specific reason they need me to go to the Demon Lord’s castle.”

It's still unclear what that reason could be, but it probably isn’t anything good.

“If I’d figured out how to use Reversal during the journey they might’ve limited my actions a lot more… I’m definitely not thanking Jean for ‘freeing’ me, though.”

Even now she’s harbouring a bit of a grudge against him. The next time they meet she plans on beating him to a pulp and hacking him into pieces at the very least.

“Speaking of which, you two...”

Otilier, who had been listening to them talk in silence, has a surprised look on her face.

“I don’t suppose this means you’re suspicious of the Church, are you?”

“...Ah. Umm… That’s…”

Even though the Church and the Military are at odds, the Lieutenant General would be quite close to the king, a fervent believer in the Church. Flum suddenly regrets not hiding their suspicion from her a little more.

“Ah, please don’t misunderstand, I harbour no pleasant feelings towards the Church either. I came to the West Quarter specifically to investigate them, after all.”

“So you’re the same as us, Otilier-san?”

“I’m sure you’re aware of how strained affairs are between us and the Church. Ever since the kingdom unified the continent we haven’t had any enemies save the demons, and following our quite miserable defeat during the Demon War the Military’s power has been constantly on the decline. Since His Majesty has started placing all his faith in the Church it would be by no means an overstatement to say they hold all the true power in the Kingdom now.”

“I hadn’t realized the Church controlled so much…”

Unease fills Milkit’s voice. Otilier replies “I’m afraid so” before continuing.

“As such, the Military is all but blind to the Church’s actions. Even Anriette-oneesama doesn’t have enough authority to stand against them. Despite all that, however, one thing has become very clear.”

Clenching her fists with frustration, she forces herself to keep speaking.

“The Church is conducting all manner of experiments in an attempt to grasp an immense power which they hope to unleash at the Demon Realm. The Hero’s Journey is but a part of that plot.”

Flum looks at the table in front of her and murmurs.

“The Journey too, huh…”

“I thought it was weird.”

The whole setup of ‘a party chosen by Origin’s prophecy’ was fishy to begin with.

“I believe that there must be some clue to the Church’s experimentation somewhere in the Capital. Oneesama is constantly fretting over not being able to expose the truth herself, so I’ve taken it upon myself to put her at ease!”

When Flum had encountered her at the West Quarter church yesterday she claimed that it was ‘for Oneesama.’ It was the truth after all.

Faced with her firm resolve, Flum makes eye contact with Eterna and Milkit, seeming to ask them whether or not she should tell Otilier about the events at Enchide. They both nod in response.

“Actually, Otilier-san, we had a run-in with a creature the Church made out near a town called Enchide.”

“You what!?”

Flum tells her all about what happened there. Otilier listens to her with more concentration than usual, hanging on her every word. As soon as she finishes her tale, Otilier slumps back in her chair and thinks hard for a long moment before speaking.

“I believe that what you found was but one of many facilities that the Church has in place, tended to by one of many research teams.”

“You mean they’ve got more…?”

Flum’s enemy this time is far bigger than she imagined. Otilier had been suspicious of the Church for quite some time now, but she didn’t expect them to have actually created such a monstrosity. Eterna sips at her tea with a contemplative expression. Milkit watches her master with worry.

Silence fills the room.

At that moment they hear the sound of Ink coming down the stairs. Now that she’s got a handle on the house’s layout she can make her way around to an extent.

“Eterna, Milkit. I can hear Flum’s voice and some other person’s, so does that mean she’s back?”

“I’m right here, Ink.”

“Welcome back! Who’s the other lady, then?”

Otilier looks at her, frozen. Anyone would probably give a similar reaction at the sight of her stitched-up eyes.

“T-That girl…”

“I found her being attacked by a couple of Dane’s thugs in an alley. She says she escaped from somewhere, but we don’t know anything more than that so we’re keeping her here for now.”

“Keeping me here~!”

She raises her hands with a joyous expression. In the few days she’s been there Ink has only continued to grow more and more energetic. Her new home must be so warm and novel that she just can’t help herself.

“Ink, over here.”

“...Uoh?”

Eterna walks up behind her, sticks her hands under her arms and starts carrying her back up the stairs.

“Uwah, I’m floating! Eh, I just came down so why’re you taking me back up already? I came down ‘cause I was thirsty!”

“I’ll give you as much water as you want.”

“You mean magic water, right? It feels like it’s coming out of you, so I don’t really wanna drink it…”

“Stop complaining. It’s perfectly pure.”

“It kinda tastes like you, though…”

“It doesn’t.”

They continue talking as they return up to the second floor. Just before she passes out of sight Eterna gives Flum a meaningful look, probably telling her to explain Ink to Otilier. Escorting Ink out of earshot of their conversation like that smacks a little of overprotectiveness, though.

“Flum, so that girl…”

“Her name’s Ink Rieskraft. According to her she’s an escapee of some kind.”

“Even if her eyes were diseased there was surely no need to sew them shut… Do you suppose she was abused?”

“It sure doesn’t sound like it.”

She hasn’t heard anything violent from Ink. The reason she fled was supposedly nothing more than that she a vague sense of dissonance.

“I heard from a friend in the Church that there haven’t been any kids missing from the orphanage, and there haven’t been any requests to find her from the guild.”

“You don’t suppose that she has some sort of connection with the Church’s experimentation, do you?”

Flum gives a short nod. Ink still hasn’t told them everything yet so they don’t know for certain, but looking at her eyes she can’t think of anything else.

“According to her there were also four kids two years younger than her there, as well as a guardian called ‘Mother’ and someone called ‘Papa’.”

“Mother and Papa, you say… They seem to be making an effort to conceal their identities, but I haven’t heard such aliases before.”

“I see…”

“I’m sorry I couldn’t be of greater assistance. At the very least, I can’t imagine Echidna or Daffyd using such names…”

“Echidna? Daffyd?”

“They’re researchers who spend a fair bit of time in and around the Palace and Grand Cathedral. It’s precisely because of those two that I suspect there are multiple research teams.”

“If you even know their names, then isn’t it possible that following them could lead to Mother?”

Otilier’s response is very calm and very cold.

“Anyone who attempts to follow them is erased.”

“Wha…!”

Flum is struck speechless. Her words aren’t a threat nor a joke; she can probably say that because someone has already disappeared.

“It’s not that simple, regrettably. If it’s possible I personally would like to follow after them, but if the king were to even hear me say such a thing I would surely be executed on the spot.”

“To think even the Lieutenant General…”

“The Kingdom is in such a state right now that such impossibilities are truths. That’s precisely why Oneesama’s at her wit’s end.”

If even the Major General is at her wit’s end, then the Church’s power must be truly great.

“Those two spend a large amount of time outside the Capital, however, so I believe the chances they have any connection to this particular incident are slim.”

“Then why were you looking around the West Quarter?”

“Process of elimination. If the Church is in fact conducting some manner of research within the Capital, the most likely place for it would be the West Quarter with its general state of disorder and plethora of hiding places. Considering their standing, I think it would be most difficult for them to have too many facilities outside the Capital that would require them to enter and leave frequently.”

There are too many people in the North and Central Quarters for a secret lab, and as Sara said if they upset the rich community in the East Quarter the function of the entire kingdom could be affected. If they’re going to hide something it’ll have to be in the West Quarter.

“At any rate, I must admit that finding comrades who similarly doubt the Church is a most pleasant miscalculation on my part. I plan on continuing to investigate the Church as much as I am able to, so might you be willing to continue exchanging information with me?”

“Of course! I’ll always welcome more allies, especially dependable people like you, Otilier-san.”

They exchange a handshake over the table.

Even if Flum has a Chosen like Eterna on her side, there’s still a very real limit to what the two of them can do alone. They might be able to count Sara as an ally, too, but she’s a member of the Church; they wouldn’t want to make her do anything that could get her kicked out or hurt.

Just knowing Otilier is willing to help is a huge weight off her shoulders.

Even though they’ve just formed their alliance, Otilier has a lot of work ahead of her given the recent guard scandal. Flum and Milkit see her to the door, and she’s just about to walk out the front gate when she stops.

“Ah, I almost forgot something.”

She strides back to Flum, and after making sure there’s nobody nearby to hear she addresses her in a low voice.

“It would appear as though there are others looking into the Church’s affairs as well.”

“Others? As in, not people from the Military?”

“So it would seem --- and not one but several such individuals. There’s no guarantee they’re allies, so I encourage you to exercise caution in your investigation.”

Otilier turns, letting her coat billow out behind her as she leaves.


◇◇◇


The sky is dyed orange by the setting sun.

Sara has once again come to visit, but today she’s taking a bath with Ink.

The trigger seems to have been her casually saying “Last time I came for dinner I was back at the church so late I almost missed the bath hours, su.” Ink, hearing that, said “Then you can just have a bath here!” and things naturally progressed from there.

Ink’s adaptability must be quite something for her to recognize the house as her home so quickly.

“H-Hey, that really tickles, su!”

“Sorry, I’m blind so I don’t know what I’m doing. Hehe.”

“Hyaan!? E-Even if you can’t see there’s no way your hands should be there, su!!”

OmaeGotoki 02-Ch5 1.png

Flum can hear the voices from the bath even from where she stands chopping things in the kitchen. She lets out a strained laugh.

“It sounds like those two are getting along just fine… I think.”

“Fufufu, when Sara’s here it really does get quite lively around here.”

Milkit, currently tending to the pot on the stove, seems to be in a good mood --- though the cause isn’t the sounds coming from the bathroom but rather the fact that she’s cooking together with Flum.

“The boar meat should be diced, right?”

“Yes, since we’ll be adding it to the stew. Feel free to make the pieces whatever size you’d like.”

“I think I’ll make them on the large side, then. It’s not everyday we get the chance to eat candy boar, so I want to make each mouthful really count.”

The candy boar is a large, boar-like C-Rank monster. Not only is it large and muscular but its Agility is surprisingly high. It can only charge in straight lines, but it covers its blind spots with wide area of effect Earth Attribute magic, making it a challenging opponent. The ‘candy’ part of its name comes from its tendency to run rampant in sugar cane fields, though it’s also been seen licking sweet sap from trees and knocking down beehives to get at the honey within. Its diet makes its flesh unusually sweet, making it one of the most highly-regarded types of boar meat.

“Wasn’t this really expensive, though? C-Rank monster meat isn’t cheap to begin with, but I heard there haven’t been any candy boars near the Capital for a while…”

“I was told it was near expiration so I was able to purchase it at half price, but it still wasn’t terribly cheap… Do you think it’s too much?”

“Nah, I don’t see anything wrong with it. If there was that much of a discount it was probably cheaper than goat or buffalo, and candy boar’s famous for a reason. Just looking at the raw meat like this is making me hungry.”

“You shouldn’t eat it raw, Master. It’s not healthy.”

“Ahaha, it doesn’t look that good uncooked.”

Their work proceeds pleasantly and peacefully.

As they work Ink and Sara finish their bath. Ink tries to leave the changing room while still sopping wet, but Eterna appears seemingly out of nowhere and catches her in a towel.

“You’re still wet.”

“Food’s calling my name!”

“It’s not ready yet. Sit still.”

Watching them is almost like watching a caring older sister and her feisty little sister… even if Eterna’s more than old enough to be Ink’s mother.

“I just felt an unbelievable amount of youth, su...”

Sara plods over to the table and slumps across it, visibly exhausted.

“If you start talking about youth like that, where does that leave us?”

“Rather than ‘youth’, I would think that Ink is simply a little hyper.”

Ink’s new life in that house has been filled with all manner of new things, each stimulating her curiosity further and leaving her with nothing but irrepressible energy.

“Ahh, it smells so good! I wanna eat!”

“Your hair’s still wet.”

“Can’t we just dry it later?”

“No. I’ll be done soon. Stop moving.”

“Okay!”

Eterna vigorously rubs the towel through Ink’s hair.

Flum’s surprised to see her looking after Ink as much as she has been, but thinking back on their time together in the Hero’s party Eterna looked out for her more than anyone else. Her blunt speech, selfish personality, and witchy appearance may be deceiving, but she seems to be genuinely a kind person at heart.


◇◇◇


Candy boar stew, salad, and baguettes line the table. Everyone sits down, puts their hands together and four people say “Itadakimasu!” at once. Ink follows suit a moment later, copying the others.

Compared to their last meal all together the spread is a lot simpler, but in terms of satisfaction there’s no point comparing the two meals. The stew especially is incredible; with every mouthful of thick broth and tender meat the fullness of the boar emerges to mingle with the sweet demi-glace. Just a little pressure is enough to cause the tender meat to break apart and the juice contained within to gush out and further enhance the flavour.

Mouth full of stew, Flum beams.

Next, she tries scooping a piece of baguette through it, capturing both broth and meat, and knowing full well it’s not the best of manners she opens her mouth wide and sticks it in. The stew bursts free of the bread with every bite and mingles with the slight saltiness of the baguette itself to create a new taste entirely.

“Nn. This is...”

“Iff taffty, fu!”

“I never knew anything could taste so good…!”

Not only Flum but Eterna, Sara, and Ink all dig into the food with relish, eyes (or lack thereof) sparkling. Milkit watches them all with a truly pleased look on her face, happier to see others enjoy her cooking than eat it herself.

Milkit and Flum’s eyes happen to meet.

“Are you enjoying it, Master?”

Flum sticks out a thumbs-up with gusto.

“It’s the best! You’ll be the best bride in the world someday, Milkit.”

“I’d much prefer to have you keep eating my cooking than become anyone’s bride.”

“Let’s compromise, then. From today forth you’ll be my wife!”

“Heh!? Y-You can’t just suddenly… auu…”

Milkit turns beet red.

Flum was joking, of course… mostly.

Chuckling, she carries another spoonful of stew to her lips.


◇◇◇


As everyone relaxes after dinner, Sara asks Flum and Eterna a question with a somewhat nervous expression on her face.

“By the way, you two were travellin’ with Maria-neesama, right, su?”

Maria-neesama --- in other words, Maria Affenjenz of the Hero’s party. As a fellow priestess in the Church, Sara has idolized her for a long time.

“Nn.”

“How was she, su? Was she doin’ okay, su?”

“I never really talked to her much so I don’t really know, myself.”

“She was hiding something.”

“...Secrets, huh, su.”

Sara doesn’t looks surprised, as if she’d known that much all along.

“Unlike me she’s pretty important, so she probably knows a lot about what’s goin’ on behind the scenes in the Church, su.”

“Maybe Maria-san even knew all about that thing we fought outside Enchide…”

“It’s possible. If everyone bishop-level and above knows then it’s certain.”

“Neesama knew about that…?”

A shadow falls over Sara’s face.

To her Maria was always warm and kind, the very picture of a saint, a role model for priestesses everywhere. She doesn’t want to think that she was involved in research that came at the cost of human lives --- she doesn’t want to believe the Church is behind it at all, in fact. On the surface they strive to save human lives, but in truth they only seem interested in gaining ever-greater strength.

“...The more I think about it the less I know who’s tellin’ the truth and who’s lyin’, su.”

“I don’t know, either, and that’s exactly why I’m going to find the truth with my own two hands.”

“The truth…”

The truth is probably even crueler than they imagine.

Nothing they find could possibly be good.

If they stay ignorant forever, though, eventually a day will come when they’ll regret it.

“There’s nothin' for it, su. I’ll just have to do whatever I can, su!”

“Don’t feel you need to. Ignorance can be bliss.”

“I can’t just accept that, su. I won’t be satisfied until I know everythin’, su.”

“I won’t stop you, then.”

“...Yeah, su. Tomorrow I’ll keep on diggin’, su!”

“Be careful, though, okay?”

“You be careful, too, su. I heard Dane’s still at large, su. He might try comin’ after you again with another of his plots, su.”

He was wounded, but nobody that stubborn would give up so easily. The West Quarter’s practically his backyard, after all, so he probably has more than enough places to hide and wait.

“Yeah. The worst part is, though, that even if the Military finds him and takes him in there’s a fair chance he still won’t answer for his crimes.”

“What? Why, su?”

“There’s no proof he’s ever killed anyone himself; he had his thugs do all his dirty work. Since there’s no evidence there’s no case. Otilier was complaining earlier that it’s the sign of someone who’s had a lot of practice.”

“He really leaves no openings, su.”

Flum and Sara both let out long sighs.

That craftiness is exactly what allowed him to expand his influence in the first place. That being said, though, he should’ve taken heavy damage this time. Not only are the guards looking out for him now but he probably has far fewer men under his command now.

Their only real fear is that he’ll do something truly dangerous after being pushed into a corner.


◇◇◇


“Hahh… Hahh… To think that I’d… to think I’d lose to that brat and be reduced to this…!”

One of many safehouses in the West Quarter.

Dane finds himself hiding out there alone.

Given his familiarity with the area it wasn’t difficult to make it that far, but the injuries he’d sustained when fleeing were a lot worse than they looked. Even if they’d only grazed him, the body-manipulating Genocide Arts and the massive spinning sword had enough power that even a ‘graze’ was an ordeal. Worse, they’d hit his thighs; his bleeding was heavy and he couldn’t just rely on the Church for healing magic. He’d managed to prevent the wounds from proving fatal through bandages and the use of illegal medicine, but he’s pale and drenched in a cold sweat. Judging from his headaches and swimming vision, it’ll be a while yet until he’s back at full health.

“Those assholes… I’ll never forgive them…!”

Even now, however, his fighting spirit burns in his eyes. He may have decided to crush Flum on a whim, but his resentment of her only continues to grow.

“I can’t use the Military anymore, but I still have more than enough pawns to crush a little girl or two…!”

Dane’s mind is already hard at work on his next plot --- not something altogether new but the continuation of something he’d set in motion a while ago.

Supporting himself on the wall, he stands up from where he’s lying and starts toward the door with uncertain steps.

This is no time to be resting. I need to muster my men and put my next plan in motion as soon as possible.

Just as he reaches for the doorknob someone on the other side turns it and opens the door. Standing there is one of his subordinates.

“So here you are, Dane-san. We were worried ‘bout you.”

“Ohh, you came to find me! That’ll make things a lot easier. We’ll be moving right away, so… uah..!”

Dane almost falls over, but the thug quickly steps in to lend him a shoulder.

“Sorry about this.”

“Nah, don’t worry ‘bout it. So what’s the plan, Dane-san?”

“We’ll gather all the strength we can muster and orchestrate a concentrated attack… no, before that we’ll bring them under my control.”

“I coulda sworn you said that it’d take some time before we could make a move on them.”

They slowly advance towards the safehouse’s exit as they talk.

“All the groundwork is already in place.”

A slightly mad smile plays across Dane’s lips. His breathing is ragged, and his wide eyes seem to glow with hatred of Flum.

“The Church. I’ll make them my pawns this time! This time for certain we’ll crush that detestable Flum Apricot!”

Dane raises his voice dramatically, but his subordinate’s reply is calm and quiet.

“It sounds great, Dane-san… I wish I could see it happen.”

“Huh?”

The thug opens the door leading outside.

Standing there are soldiers from the Central Quarter, the same soldiers that were tasked with cleaning up Dane and the mess he’d made.

“...Don’t tell me you…”

Dane only needs an instant to understand the situation.

“You sold me to the Military!?”

Dane’s former subordinate gives him a faint sneer.

“What’d ya expect, Dane-san, we’re punks at heart. We can’t live on ‘bonds’ or shit like that, we followed you ‘cause you gave us what we wanted. I hope you weren’t expectin’ loyalty or anythin’ like that.”

Not all of Dane’s men have betrayed him, of course. Some of them, especially those in his inner circle, are ardently seeking him out even now, but by now the traitors outnumber the loyal.

“Bullshit…”

“You should learn to face reality, Dane-san. Even you’ve gotta admit that anyone who’d lose to a brat’s worthless. It’s time to listen to the guards an’ live on the straight an’ narrow now.”

“You worthless asshole!!”

There’s no telling what a cornered animal might do to escape. Even though he’s injured, Dane swiftly draws a dagger and drives it into his former subordinate’s right eye.

“Wha---!? GYAAAAAAAAAHH!!”

The man lets out a horrible scream. The soldiers rush forward to restrain Dane, but before they can reach him he’s fired his grappling hook buckler at the rooftops and flies away, the adrenaline running through his veins muting his pain.

“Hahh… Hahh… fuu… I’ll make it… I’ll never let them catch me…! Just you wait, Flum Apricot!!”

His irrational hatred of Flum boils and seethes, fists clenched so hard he bleeds and bloodshot eyes darting around as he runs across the rooftops.

Little does he know that his determination will lead to greater ruin than he could ever imagine.


◇◇◇


The next morning is so peaceful it’s as though the chaos of the day before was nothing more than a dream.

Flum awakens to the sound of cooking down in the kitchen. Rubbing her eyes as she walks downstairs, an aproned Milkit greets her “Good morning!” with a broad smile. She checks the mail and lets out a sigh of relief when she doesn’t see any posters covering the walls.

A little later Eterna and Ink come downstairs. Last night Ink had told them “I’m ten years old now, so it’s way too embarrassing to still be sleeping with someone” and slept in a different room. Everyone there except her thought that her words were just what the average ten-year-old would say, but none of them voiced that thought.

After they eat breakfast, they do whatever they feel like.

Flum still feels sore all over, so the thought of going to the guild doesn’t so much as cross her mind. She sits with Milkit and they talk about trivial things for a long time.

Eterna locks herself up in her room claiming she has something to look up and Ink kills time with her, pestering her on and off.

After lunch Eterna and Ink head back upstairs, but Milkit and Flum head to the Central Quarter on a ‘shopping date,’ which ends without trouble. Nobody comes to visit, so after dinner the four of them get ready for bed.

Just like that, an entire day passes without anything happening, in every sense of the word.

I wish everyday could be this peaceful.

As Flum lies in bed, she finds herself making that simple wish from the bottom of her heart.


◇◇◇


Late that same night, long past the time the West Quarter’s inhabitants have fallen asleep, a man lets out a hoarse scream in a back alley.

“G-Go away… Stay baaaaaaack!!!”

He looks to be in his mid-twenties and is wearing a cloak and leather armour. It wouldn’t be a leap to say he’s an adventurer.

He pulls the handaxe off his back and grips it tightly as he faces his enemy, but he doesn’t have the faintest clue how to fight it.

If it was a person, or even a monster, there might be some way for him to resist it.

His opponent, however, is nothing more than eyeballs.

Not even eye-shaped monsters, his enemies are simply human eyes that roll ever closer to him.

The issue is their number.

Let alone covering the floor of the alleyway in front of him, the mass spans the full alley before him and stretches high above the rooftops. Every one of the dark irises is focused on him and him alone.

There’s nowhere to run.

“Ah, ahh… Aaaaaaaaaaaagh…!”

Feeling his back hit the wall and becoming certain of his death he hunkers down and starts wailing. He wets himself with fear, but his survival instincts haven’t completely given out yet as he starts blindly striking out with his axe.

SQUICK.

He crushes a few of them and sends their clear viscous contents flying, but his impact on the mass as a whole is like throwing a lit match into a bucket of water.

A wetness spreads over his body as the lukewarm eyes start to roll over him. They roll over his toes and up to his knees, pass his knees and roll up past his waist, and just as he thinks they’ll make their way up past his shoulders next --- with a hideous slithering sensation they bury themselves in his flesh.

He feels no pain at all.

“U, ueh, ugh… guh, eeeee…!”

At the strange, ticklish feeling of having the eyes enter his body he starts groaning and he feels like vomiting.

After one of the eyeballs disappears completely --- with a hideous slithering feeling, a new arm sprouts from that spot.

He can feel it. If he tries, he can move it.

It’s a part of him now.

“Ah… aggghhh…!!”

Nothing makes sense.

The man happens to be one of Dane’s most trusted retainers. Confident that he wouldn’t be betrayed, Dane had reached out to him shortly after arriving at a new safehouse. He’d then ordered the man to go intimidate someone with strong ties to the Church and gauge their reaction. The deed itself had gone without issue, and he was just returning to report when it happened.

The moment he found a lone eye lying in the street, however, his fate was decided.

He’d tried to flee as soon as it started to roll towards him, but before he realized it there were so many of them they filled the street. He tried to shake them off his tail, but it was only a matter of time before his luck ran out and he unthinkingly came face-to-face with a dead end. Trapped, he suddenly found himself completely surrounded, they entered his body --- and he grew a third arm.

From start to finish nothing makes sense.

No matter how frantically he searches his memory he can’t even figure out what he’s fighting, and all that time the eyes continue to roll up his body and sink into him one after the other.

The scariest part of it is that it doesn’t hurt.

If it hurt then he might be able to put his suffering into a scream and dispel it somewhat.

“Uah! Aagh! AAAAAAAAGH!!”

There are now two thumbs on his right hand.

Now he has three legs.

His gut seems to be bulging --- it must be because he has two intestinal tracts now.

His heart is beating out of control, and a moment later a second beating joins the first.

His total number of arms has now grown to five.

On top of that, one of the eyes slips into his neck, and ---

“UAAAAAAAAGH!!” “AAAAHH! AAAAAAAAAHHH!!”

He starts screaming in unison with himself. Another head with a face identical to his own sprouts out of his neck like a branch from a tree trunk. His mind starts to cloud, his movements dull, and he loses the coordination required to even crawl.

If this is his punishment for threatening the Church, he’s already paid for his sins in full.

“Stop it! Stop it!!” “Just kill me!” “No, I don’t wanna die!” “At least let me die a human!”

The eyes don’t stop. They continue to endlessly flood over him and sink deep into his flesh.

By the time he reached four heads he lost track of who he is, what he’s feeling --- in body and soul he’s changed into something entirely different from a human in every possible way.


◇◇◇


Dawn breaks, and Dane receives a report that his subordinate still hasn’t returned. Hearing that he sets out to look for the man personally, hoping that it’ll be a good change of pace. Since he was able to meet up with someone capable of casting healing magic his wounds have recovered to the point where he can at least walk without needing support.

“Still no sign of him… Did they erase him? No, they wouldn’t be so sloppy. If they erased him so soon after his visit it’d be akin to admitting their guilt in the matter…”

Phil, the man who went missing, was a rather hot-headed man. He most likely picked a fight, got beaten to a pulp and is lying passed out in an alley somewhere.

“Still, it would be rather interesting if the Church was responsible...”

He’s fully aware of the fact that the Church is corrupt --- that’s exactly why he’s convinced he can control them. Maybe he can foster an addiction in a few of their number to one of the drugs he dabbles in, or maybe he can use a woman to bring a paladin or priest over to his side --- he’ll stain the Church his own shade of black bit by bit until finally his reach extends all the way to the Grand Cathedral.

Even now he has a few members of the clergy under his thumb. Normally he’d take a step back and strengthen his ties to a business or two that deals in drugs or women before proceeding, but desperate times call for desperate measures. It’s because of that he’s skipped a few steps and sent Phil out to do his work.

“I suppose that was rather risky, wasn’t it?”

If the Church is as pure and good as they make themselves appear to the common clergy then there won’t be any way for him to get a foothold --- on the other hand, if they’re corrupt enough to kill a man so easily it should be easy to slip inside. If Phil’s dead then Dane will of course mourn him, but he’ll be able to say with pride that he was critical in laying the foundation of his new empire.

“...Ah. If I think of Phil as though he’s dead I don’t know how I’ll face him. Looks like I’ll have to search a little more seriously.”

Saying so with a laugh, Dane sticks his hands in his pockets and begins to stroll through the filthy streets.

The back alley is dusty enough that even without a breeze the air is thick with it; if a noble from the East Quarter were to come here it would only be a matter of time before their throat started burning. They say that a fish that’s grown used to filthy water will die in clean water, but in Dane’s case he has no intention of returning to ‘clean water’ whatsoever. If he has the time to spend worrying about his pride and maintaining his public image as the nobles do, he’d much rather be fooling around with his subordinates without a care in the world.

“...Hm?”

Not far from the West Quarter’s church Dane stops and sniffs the air.

Something reeks.

It’s not unlike the smell of a corpse, but there’s no scent of blood in the air. If he had to say it isn’t unlike the smell of raw garbage, but with human bodily fluids mixed in ---

Following his nose, he turns a corner into an alleyway and sees that.

“What on earth…?”

The thing at the end of the alley is odd enough that words escape his lips without his realizing.

Its skin and all its individual parts are unmistakably human --- it has hands that look like hands, feet like feet, and even faces.

None of the parts are where they should be, however, and their number is all wrong.

It resembles a meatball with dozens of arms, legs, and heads --- and it’s alive, squirming.

Dane covers his mouth with his hand. Looking at the disgusting mass, he finds the faces disturbingly familiar.

“Impossible… You, you’re Phil, aren’t you!?”

The faces are all of the missing man.

“Phil, it’s me, Dane! What happened to you!? Answer me, Phil!!”

He rushes forward and starts frantically interrogating one of the faces, but there’s no response.

Instead of a human head it’s more like a nose, weeping eyes, and a toothed crevice from which an incessant, meaningless moaning emanates as it drools.

All the other heads are the same, and not one of them replies to Dane.

“Here you are, Dane… san…?”

One of Dane’s men enters the alley but stops as soon as he lays eyes on the mass of flesh.

“Eeeee!? The hell’s that!?”

“I just got here myself. Come take a look at its faces.”

“Its faces? As in, this monster thing’s? Even if I look it’s not like… wha, Phil!? Is that Phil!?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea what happened to him, but the Church is clearly a lot more dangerous than I gave them credit for.”

“Y’mean the Church did this!?”

“It’s the only possible conclusion.”

They’re far worse than Dane had ever imagined.

Who would’ve thought they’d be capable of warping a human being like this…

Drawing a dagger from his belt, he pushes aside the forest of limbs and stabs into the creature’s gut.

“Dane-san!?”

His subordinate starts panicking, but he calmly continues to vivisect the creature and look at its insides. Pulling out the blade, blood and a wealth of organs and other body parts loosely spill out, quickly staining the ground with all manner of body fluids.

Fingers, feet, two throbbing hearts, and too many other parts to name or count fill his vision.

“Two hearts… Do you think something caused his body parts to suddenly start multiplying?”

Covering his nose with his hands and scrunching up his face, he calmly analyzes the thing’s contents. He reaches out to the hearts and casts Scan on them, but they both reveal only Phil’s stats. Ignoring them, he starts looking for something else.

What draws his attention the most are all the human eyes mixed in with the organs.

Sensing something unspeakably off-putting about the eyes, he takes a good step backwards before casting Scan.

punishment
Attribute : origin
Strength  : origin
Magic     : origin
Stamina   : origin
Agility   : origin
Intuition : origin

Dane furrows his brows in confusion at the words before his eyes.

“What the hell is this!? This is nonsense. Hey, you cast Scan on these eyes here, too.”

Asking his subordinate to cast Scan, he turns around --- only to find that he looks somehow strange. His head seems to be stuck on sideways at a ninety-degree angle to his neck.

“W-What are you doing? This isn’t the time to show off how flexible you are. If you have the time to be doing that then you should be doing as I say and casting Scan.”

“U-Uh, Dane-san, I… what’s going on? I can’t really move my head or my right hand… err, I can’t separate them.”

His hand is touching his head --- or rather, looking more closely it’s clear that his hand is embedded in his head up to the wrist.

He had tried to scratch his head when Dane was focused on ‘Phil,’ but his hand suddenly stopped moving and his head starting bending oddly towards the rest of his arm.

“Why’re you looking at me like that? C’mon, Dane-san, what’s happening to me!? What’s going on!? Agh! I-It hurts… it hurts all of a… gh, agh! H-Help me, Dane-san! Dane-saaaaaaaaaan!!”

As Dane watches him, too shocked to move, the man’s condition visibly worsens.

His head continues to absorb his arm up to the elbow, and with a slightly wet crunching sound his skull starts to warp and expand.

His head is bent at such an extreme angle it looks to be on the verge of breaking.

“Ihya, hyara, ghugh, gah, gaghah, dh… hreh, ogh, dhe… gh, guh… gheh!”

With a dull crack, the man’s neck finally breaks. Clear fluid spills from his eyes, ears, and mouth, staining his clothes as he slumps to the ground.

The ‘assimilation’ doesn’t stop there, however, and as Dane watches the man continues to horrifically fold in on himself and absorb his own limbs until finally that man, the subordinate with whom he’s overcome countless battlefields, is nothing more than a putrescent, warped head.

He finds himself frozen in place.

“...What is this? What the hell is going on here!? Are you trying to tell me that messing with the Church is some sort of horrible taboo!?”

By the time he notices the newcomer it’s too late to run.

SPLURT.

Hearing that gut-wrenching sound, Dane slowly turns to face forwards again.

Standing there is a young boy without a face.

A spiral of raw flesh is there in its place.

The spiral squirms and squelches, sending a spurt of something red and bloodlike to stain the front of his once-white shirt a yet deeper shade of crimson.

He stands there motionlessly as he looks at Dane.

“Ha… haha… hahahahaha!!”

Dane lets out a dry laugh, which echoes emptily throughout the alley.

Just looking at the monstrosity is enough to tell.

He has no chance of winning.

Faced with such an overwhelmingly powerful opponent, all he can do is embrace his powerlessness and laugh.

“Haha… In the face of something like this, allies, influence, money… nothing means anything…!”

The ‘boy’ calmly extends a single hand toward Dane.


Chapter 6 - A Red Wind Howls[edit]

Sara’s home, the Central Quarter church.

After morning prayers have finished, Sara waves goodbye at the other priestesses, says “I’ll be back later, su!” and runs off toward the West Quarter.

One of the priestesses who looks after Sara, Ellen Enjena, watches her with worry as she runs off.

“She’s been spending an awful lot of time away from the church recently...”

She mumbles to herself, and one of her colleagues happens to overhear.

“She probably found herself a lover.”

“Really, stop joking like that. She’s still only ten years old.”

“Kids these days are pretty precocious, y’know. What if Ed or Johnny…?”

“If that’s what’s going on here then I’ll have to go kick their asses myself.”

Ellen clenches her fist, murder burning in her eyes.

Until they became paladins, Ed and Johnny were raised at the Central Quarter’s orphanage and have always been just like brothers to Sara. Ellen has been looking after all three of them since they were all just kids, and even now she drops by the West Quarter church frequently to check in on them.

“If this means that girl has finally made some friends outside of the Church, however, then I’ll finally be able to rest easy.”

“You’re always talking about how living in a closed-off world makes you short-sighted, aren’t you, Ellen-san?”

“Yes… especially with the Church as it is now, we’re in desperate need of people who can see the big picture.”

All the priestesses know that the Church is corrupt. The pope, maybe one of the cardinals started to make grabs for money and power, dragging the rest of the Church through the mud along with them. They not only banned the use of medicine but started raising the cost of healing, and even started recruiting paladins like never before.

The strain on the common folk is clear and grows greater by the day, but all that the priestesses can do is hand out discounts on healing.

“I hope Sara grows up big and strong.”

Ellen keeps on watching Sara run until eventually she passes out of sight.


◇◇◇


“Wassup, su!”

Sara raises her hand and calls out a greeting to Ed and Johnny as they stand outside the church.

“What’re ya doing here again? Spend too much time wandering around and Ellen-san’s gonna get angry.”

“I’ll be fine, su. Unlike you I actually do all my work, su.”

“What’d you say!?”

Getting all stirred up, Ed starts vigorously ruffling Sara’s hair.

“Stop it, su! I didn’t come here to mess around, su!”

“I know, I know. Think of it as my way of saying hi.”

“Why do even your hellos have to be so annoyin’, su!? More importantly, what’s so important you had to send me a letter callin’ me out like that, su?”

Last night Ed had sent her a single sheet of paper with the ambiguous words [I found a thing, so come see me] written in his sloppy hand.

“Y’see, Johnny and I started looking into a few things, and…”

“Not here, Ed.”

“Ah… yer right. Let’s go somewhere a little more private, Sara.”

“Eh? Do we really gotta go that far, su?”

With a careful look at the church’s main building, the two of them usher her into the shadows nearby.

“The bishop doesn’t want any bad rumors to spread about this place, and he can be pretty scary when he’s mad.”

“There’s bad rumors ‘bout the Church around everywhere, su. I’m used to it, su.”

“This rumor is… a little different. It probably has nothing to do with that Ink girl you spoke of, but… well, think of it as an urban legend.”

“An urban legend, su?”

Generally speaking, an urban legend is formed when someone mistakes one thing for another or finds a fantastic explanation for the mundane and the tale of that misencounter is spread as a rumor. Especially in a world of monsters and magic, such rumors are quick to spread.

There can’t be smoke without fire, however --- at the root of the legend must lie a kernel of truth. Sara listens attentively to their every word.

“It’s basically just a ghost story. Supposedly they appear at night in the West Quarter… ‘round the church here, actually.”

Ed sticks out his hands and makes a ghosty gesture.

“Ghosts, su? What kind, su?”

“Children, supposedly. They’re said to be boys and girls younger than you are yourself.”

“D’you know how many, su?”

“Can’t say for sure. Supposedly they all have different hair colours, though --- one’s blonde, one’s white, one’s brown, one’s green, all sorts.”

“Those’re some colourful ghosts, su… What’ve they got to do with the church, su?”

Sara isn’t convinced of anything yet; it’s by no means rare for children to be wandering alone in the West Quarter at night.

Johnny puts his hands to his chin with a thoughtful look before continuing.

“That’s the oddest part of this whole business. Supposedly the kids are ‘victims of the Church’s human experimentation’ or something.”

“Where’d that come from, su?”

Sara of course knows that the Church is, in fact, performing such experiments and that such a thing is very possible, but it’s unusual to hear such an oddly specific rumor.

It’s almost as if somebody who knew the truth had purposefully leaked the information.

“Hell if we know. Supposedly the kids’re all supposed to have these weird, twisted intestines instead of faces.”

“That…!”

The first thing that comes to Sara’s mind is that ‘ogre’.

It can’t be just a coincidence.

What that means, though, is that in the more than ten years since the facility at Enchide was closed, the Church was able to give that same power to humans.

Seeing her face pale, Ed gives her a worried look.

“What’s up? Not good with that kinda gross horror stuff?”

He pats her on the head as he talks. She gives him a disapproving look at being treated like a kid again, but she doesn’t try to knock his hand away.

“Supposedly the children underwent some sort of experimentation beneath the church and became able to use some manner of mysterious power.”

“D’you know what kinda power, su?”

Johnny shakes his head.

Whoever started the rumor might’ve been erased before finding out that much.

“I dunno if it’s worth calling a clue, but the kids are supposedly called ‘Spiral Children’.”

“That’s a pretty straightforward name, su. Um… Ed, Johnny, thanks for lookin’ into this for me, su.”

“C’mon, now, you don’t hafta bow like that. Don’t go taking rumors like this so seriously.”

Ed grins, showing off a row of shiny white teeth.

Sara can’t accept that it’s ‘just a rumor’, however.

Whether or not Ink has anything to do with the Spiral Children, it’s now clear that experiments are being performed on children in the West Quarter.

“I-I know, su… But I don’t think you two should get involved in this mess any more than you already have, su.”

“It almost sounds as though you’re already involved.”

Sara recoils slightly at Johnny’s piercing words.

“Ya aren’t in any danger, are ya?”

“That’s…”

She’s a terrible liar, and she especially can’t just deceive her family so easily.

“That’s all the more reason to involve ourselves further, then.”

“We’re your brothers, aren’t we?”

“But… if you do that, then let alone bein’ unable to stay at the church, you might…”

“It’s no use trying to scare… hm?”

Stopping mid-sentence, Johnny extends a hand to the back of his head.

It felt like something just touched him, like tapping the back of his neck and slipping inside. Even now that squirming feeling remains.

“What’s up, Johnny? Did a bug land on you or something?”

“No, it just felt a little ticklish is all.” “I’m fine. Don’t mind me.”

Two replies come at the same time, both in Johnny’s voice but both different.

“Johnny…!?”

“What’s with that face, Sara?” “Are you afraid of something, Sara?”

Again, the same voice but different words.

Ed and Sara can both see it clear as day --- from the back of Johnny’s neck a second, identical head has sprouted.

“Huh? Something, something feels off.” “What’s gotten the two of you so scared?”

“I can’t seem to move all of a sudden…” “Is there something amiss with my body?”

As the two sit speechless in the face of such a horrific sight, a small white something falls behind Johnny.

An eyeball.

Without any sort of warning, eyeballs have started dripping from the eaves of the church.

One of them climbs up Johnny’s body from his heel and embeds itself into his neck, and a moment later a third head sprouts with a wet slither.

All three heads start talking in unison.

“W-W-W-What’s g-going on? o-on? H-How s-s-strange, stra, Sara? Sara strange?” “Don’tbescareddon’tbescared. Scared, I’m normal, I feel a bit weird but I’m normal but” “The Spiral Children. Ru, ru… this is, wro… ah, ahh, ahh, ahh”

At this point he can’t even think properly. Johnny continues to mutter broken words as he starts drooling and twitching.

“The hell is…!? We gotta go, Sara!”

“Eh? B-But Johnny, if we don’t save Johnny he’ll---”

“Leave him! Just look at him, d’ya seriously think ya can do anything about that!?”

“We can’t just give up, su! Johnny, Johnnyyyyy!!”

Sara tries to reach out to him but Ed grabs her hand and starts running.

He wants to save Johnny, too, of course, but he doesn’t have any idea how to do that. Even if Sara cast recovery magic on him there’s no guarantee he’ll return to normal.

Johnny’s dead.

Why, not even the man himself knows.

“R-Ru… ru… sa… ra, ed…! …ru… runru…” “Gah… ghgh… hh, as lo… ng… as… y-you… gah, gyuh...” “Ahh… ahh… sor… I-I… w-w-wan… bhe… w-w-w-with… y… ua… ahh, ahh!”

Tears spill from all six of his eyes.

Maybe there’s enough of him left to feel ‘sadness’. Maybe there’s no meaning behind that fluid that pours down his face.

Whatever the case may be, he cries, desperately trying to extend a hand toward their backs. Even if he can’t reason any more, he doesn’t need logic to mourn the loss of a future with his loved ones.

The eyes, which at some point had started falling from the rooftop with even greater zeal, mercilessly pour into his body.

Powerless to resist, he loses his form and becomes nothing more than a twisted thing.


◇◇◇


The absurdity chasing them drives ever closer to them. Not content with simply devouring Johnny, the eyes continue to proliferate and fill the road as they hunt their new prey.

“Johnny… this can’t be happenin’, su… Johnny…!”

Sara calms down enough to be able to keep on running forwards, but the sorrow continues to eat away at her core. The tears continue to spill down her face. She’ll probably never forget that horrific sight as long as she lives.

“Dammit, dammit, dammit!! The hell’s going on!? This doesn’t make sense!!”

Ed is struggling to face the truth just as much as she is.

Johnny was his family, his best friend. He was certain that they’d continue to polish their skills and continue to grow as paladins and as people, but that future and those dreams were crushed in an instant --- all because of those horrific eyes.

“Why… Why’re they comin’ after us, su!?”

“How should I know!? Was talking about that rumor really so bad!?”

If that was the case, though, the Capital would be knee-deep in corpses by now. The reason must be something else --- or maybe it was just a coincidence they were attacked just then. Regardless of what the reason may be, all they can do now is keep on running.

Running in full plate is incredibly wearisome. Ed throws off his gauntlets in an attempt to lessen his load even a little, but all it does is make him feel a little better.

The eyeballs continue to pour in from all directions, slowly sealing off their escape routes as they run.

“It’s my fault, su…”

“Haa!? What nonsense are ya spouting now!?”

“This is all because I asked you for help, su!”

“Stop with the crazy talk, Sara!! Stop pretending this is all yer fault and shouldering every else’s burdens like they’re yer own!”

Ed raises his voice at her angrily. This is probably the first time he’s ever seriously scolded her.

“Johnny wasn’t planning on dying today, but y’know what!? I bet that more than anything he was glad he was the one standing there instead of you!!”

“Uu… uuu! …B-But…!”

“Even after they did that to him, he was still trying to tell ya to run! He’s probably swelling his chest with pride, and... and being all proud of himself for protecting his lil’ sis until the very end!!”

Ed grits his teeth.

Terror and burning hatred are clashing in his chest, reason and emotion --- but because Sara’s there, because there’s someone there that he needs to protect at all costs, he comes to his conclusion.

He stops running.

“Ed!?”

“That’s why --- I gotta do what I can to protect ya, too.”

He’s made up his mind.

Drawing his sword, he turns to face the horde of eyes.

“Stop it, su… Please, don’t leave me alone, su! If I lose you, too, I don’t know what I’d do, su!”

Her voice is painful to his ears.

His resolve wavers, his chest grows tight, and he considers continuing to run with her.

“I don’t want this, either… I wanted to watch ya grow up, wanted to be there as yer family when ya get married… I was really looking forward to poking fun at ya on yer big day…!”

Even so, his decision remains the same.

Johnny died saving her, and at this rate he’ll end up dying with her after all --- unless he stops here and serves as a decoy for her.

“Haaa! Seryaaa, haaaaa!!”

He swings his sword at the mass, crushing dozens but leaving nothing more than an insignificant dent in their numbers. They reach his feet and start writhing up and into his body.

“Guh… kh, hahh… this feels awful…!”

“Ed…!”

He starts sprouting more legs. He can’t possibly run now.

“I wanted to see ya put on a dress and makeup, and then after ya become unbelievably cute I wanted to tell ya ‘It doesn’t suit ya at all!’ and ruffle up yer hair, get yelled at…”

He starts walking forward on his unnatural new legs, determined to buy her another minute, another second, even.

“But… ahh, I guess I can do that from the other side… I won’t be able to be right there with ya but I’ll be watching ya every step of the way…”

“Stop decidin’ everythin’ on your own, su!!”

“If someone doesn’t stop ‘em they’ll get us both!”

“Please, just come with me, su! I don’t care if they catch us both, su!”

“Not gonna happen. This ain’t the first time I’ve just done what I wanted, so deal with it! Get outta here, Sara. Just… just remember somewhere in that frizzy golden head of yers that ya had two unbelievably cool older brothers, ‘kay…?”

“U, uuuu…”

Sara bites her lip so hard she draws blood as the tears pour down her face.

She can’t accept this, no matter what.

“Please, get outta here.”

Hearing Ed say it in such a kind voice, however ---

“Ughuuuuu….!!”

No matter how sad she is, she can’t let his resolve go to waste.

This is the end.

Sensing that, she gives voice to her true feelings, yelling it at the top of her lungs so that he’ll hear her no matter what.

“I… I… Ed, Johnny, I love you guys, su! I don’t care how many years, decades pass… You’ll always be my family, su!!”

“...Hehe.”

Ed laughs a little, embarrassed.

Seeing that look on his face, she’s finally able to turn and keep running.

Did ya hear that, Johnny? She said she loves us. I never thought I’d hear that cocky little brat be so honest with herself…

Her feelings come across loud and clear, even without voicing them. Even if they’re not connected by blood, all three of them can feel their bond clear as day.

Hearing those words aloud, though, brings with it its own sort of happiness.

I still don’t get why any of this is happening, but… I guess it’ll be okay. As long as she’s okay I won’t have any regrets… no, that’s a lie. I have regrets. I have a whole shitload of regrets! Unlike Johnny, I don’t even have a girlfriend… I’m gonna die a virgin. I can’t even laugh at that.

Ed and Johnny are both still young. They have so many regrets they don’t know what to do with them all. Forget their hopes and dreams, they were even looking forward to the simple plans they had for tomorrow.

If by dying here she lives, though, I’ll hafta be content with that. If I’m not, then an end like this’ll be just too empty to bear.

He’ll have to let go.

He did the greatest good he could in the worst situation possible.

All that’s left is to go out fighting, to struggle even though he knows it’s pointless, and fight his fate to his dying breath.

“We love ya too, sisteeeeeeeeeerr!!”

He swings his sword around him like a man possessed.

Until the moment his body warps beyond recognition, until his last moments, Ed’s soul continues to burn.


◇◇◇


Sara desperately keeps on running, gritting her teeth to hold back her emotions, rubbing her eyes, and sniffling with every single step.

The streets in front of her are foreign, her destination unknown, but she doesn’t stop.

Her family died.

The people closest to her are dead.

No --- what they suffered was a fate worse than death.

“I… Why am I… the only one… ughu… Ed… Johnny…!”

No matter what they told her, the guilt still weighs heavily on her mind.

She has no proof. She wants to believe otherwise.

The timing was far too perfect for anything else, however.

When she first laid eyes on those eyes she’d felt that something about them was similar to the ‘ogre’ they fought near Enchide. They might be one of the fruits of the Church’s research --- it might well be the power of one of the Spiral Children. It might be that someone or something is trying to end anyone and everyone looking into the Church’s secret affairs.

If she’s going to put the life that Ed and Johnny gave her to use, she’s got to make it out of this mess alive and get that information to Flum no matter what.

“Hahh… kuh… fuu… w-which way, do I go now, su…?”

She has no idea where she’s headed, but she can faintly spot the top of the wall that encircles the entire Capital. If she can make it there, she’ll be in the slums.

If the Church sicced those things on her to keep her from talking, then she should be fine if she can only make it someplace with a lot of people.

Normally she’d never go anywhere somewhere so unsafe, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Once she makes it to those wider streets she should be able to just follow the wall along to the West Gate, and from there onto the road that stretches straight across the Capital from west to east. From there she knows how to reach Flum’s house.

Sara starts sprinting towards the wall.

TUNK, THUNKTUNK.

The eyes chasing her start to grow in number and continue to fall from the rooftops like rain.

Since Ed served as a decoy the numbers had thinned a little, but now their numbers have spiked again…

“Ed, thank you, su…”

He’s gone.

She doesn’t have the time to mourn him yet, though. Looking back, countless eyeballs cover the ground, the walls, even the rooftops, all of them fixated on her. No matter how many times she sees them it never becomes less terrifying.

“You stole them both from me… and it’s still not enough, su!?”

They can’t even understand her words of hatred. No, since they seemed to respond to their conversation about the rumor whatever’s controlling the eyes must be able to hear her. In that case, the fact that the eyes only continue to draw ever closer to her seems to be their answer.

Whoever’s controlling the eyes must be truly a twisted, merciless, unbelievably evil, despicably cruel, absolutely monstrous mass of pure malice.

Still sensing the presence of her countless pursuers, she runs with all her heart and soul. As her fatigue starts to build she catches her foot on the rough cobblestone beneath her and almost falls.

Slowing down means death.

She manages to keep moving her feet as her hands make brief contact with the ground and she keeps on running.

“Uuu, uaaaaaaaaaaaaagh!!”

As she runs she turns all her fear and anger into a cry and releases it.

The number of eyes pursuing her only continues to grow as they fall from rooftops, roll out of houses, even popping out from drainage channels, coming out of nowhere like maggots and filling the street to the brim.

She doesn’t look back. Even if she sees her pursuers it won’t change her hopeless situation. Ignoring her screaming legs, shutting her ears to the whimpering of her lungs, forcibly sewing up her heart on the verge of breaking, she frantically pumps her arms and keeps moving forward.

As she slowly but surely draws ever closer to the slums the air around her changes, replaced by the scent of raw garbage --- but that stench brings with it relief.

I’ve finally made it to where there’re people, su!

Sara doesn’t slow down even after she reaches that open street, making a wide turn to the right. She probably looks very out of place there in her clean white robes, but she ignores the gazes of all the passersby.

“I should… hahh… be safe here… su…”

She slows down a little and turns to look behind her.

“Hahh… ah… hahh… ah… eh?”

Shoulders heaving, she cocks her head to the side in confusion.

Her eyes fly open, her jaw hangs slack, and she bears witness to something so ghastly it may well be a vision of hell itself.

“This… I didn’t…!”

She didn’t hear any human voices as she ran. She figured that if she went somewhere that was heavily populated the eyes would give up the hunt.

She was naive.

Even now, the eyes continue to pursue her, burying innocent after innocent as they go.

“The hell’s this..? H-Hey, stay away… Don’t come any--- uwaaaaaaahh!!”

A man who happened to be passing by grows two arms, three, no, more. He stops where he stands in shock, and an instant later the eyes break over him like a tidal wave and he loses his humanity.

“Eeeeee!? O-Origin-sama, please protect me in my hour of need…! Please, I beg you, Origin-sa… ma… oghoh, u, buh… geh.”

One woman stops and kneels in the street, a holy symbol of Origin clasped in her hands as countless eyes sink into her torso. An instant later she inflates like a balloon. At first she had tried to cry out in terror, but as she loses even that freedom only foamy drool escapes her lips. As the eyes continue to pour into her, however, the drool is quickly replaced by wet pink internal organs as they start pouring out her mouth with nowhere else to go.

“No, stay awaaaaaaaay!! Don’t come any closer, a-at least spare my child…!”

“Mommy! Mo… megh.”

“Go away! Go awayyy!!”

“momy, hlep” “help… mommy, hel, he, hel…” “he, hehe, mogh, guh, hel”

“Eeeee!?”

A mother tries to pull her child out of the way in vain as eyes enter the boy’s neck and grant him two extra heads. She lets go of his arm for a moment in terror, but seeing the flood of eyes about to hit them in earnest she embraces him in an attempt to shield his body and they both get warped.

They show no mercy.

They show no desire to hide themselves.

Even if this is one of the Church’s secret projects, it’s far too violent, far too indiscriminate.

“I-I’m sorry, su… I’m sorry, su… I’m sorry, su…!”

They don’t care if they involve innocents, but their ultimate goal is still those who know too much. All they’ve been doing is eliminating obstacles interfering with their pursuit of Sara.

She turns another corner into a narrow alleyway. The screams of the eyes’ victims still reach her ears, but she’s powerless to save them. There’s the option of stopping running and letting them envelop her so that passersby can escape, but such excruciating self-sacrifice is too much to ask of a ten-year-old girl.

All she can do is dig her nails into the palms of her hands and fight back her tears as she runs.

Run, run, run ---

She runs at random, desperately looking for someplace, anyplace that doesn’t have people.

Sara doesn’t know how far she’s run already. She’s already well surpassed her physical limits --- her muscles are in agony and only her determination to keep on moving forward keeps her feet moving. Her chest hurts with every dry breath. It’s only a matter of time until she hits her true limit.

They have no limit, however. Every time she thinks she’s left them behind they seem to reappear out of nowhere once more. She’ll have to run even further, even faster --- assuming it’s even possible to lose them, that is.

Her fate was likely decided the instant she heard of the Church’s underground facility.

“Hahh… kahagh… a, ahh…”

A powerless voice escapes her lips. She continues to turn, turn, turn again, avoiding large streets and seeking narrower and narrower alleyways.

Finally, she arrives at a dead end.

She puts her hands to the cold stone walls around her and slumps to her knees.

A dead end.

She feels a faint pinprick of happiness at the thought of not having to run anymore.

“Ed, Johnny… you saved me, but this looks like the end, su. I’m sorry, su… Looks like I’ll be headin’ over to that side, too, su…”

She slumps to the ground, back to the wall, arms and legs stretched out. She gets her robes dirty, but they soon won’t be any use to anyone, so there’s no need to worry about it.

She watches the eyes slowly closing in, seeming to lick their nonexistent lips as they approach their prey. Even though there are more than enough of them, the mass only continues to grow, continuing to fall from the rooftops, roll up from the sides… they’re quite thorough, if nothing else.

“Ahh… I’d lived this long so I was really hopin’ I’d be able to get away, su…”

Images of her fellow priests and priestesses from the Central Quarter, Ed, Johnny, Flum and her friends, and even all the innocents who were engulfed flash through her head.

Thanking everyone who’s helped her up until now, she closes her eyes and turns her face to the heavens.

A gentle, clean breeze unfit for such a filthy alley caresses her cheek.

OmaeGotoki 02-Ch6 1.png


Chapter 7 - There's No Truth To Be Found[edit]

“Hahh… I’m sooooo boooored…”

Ila, receptionist of the West Quarter guild, plants her elbows on the counter in front of her and fiddles with a pen.

The bar, devoid of Dane’s presence, is so quiet it seems as though all the ruckus he and his men were making there just the other day was like a dream. A few of his subordinates are there, but they keep to themselves as they down their booze.

This is probably the first time in all her years working at the guild there that it’s been so quiet --- though that’s not to say she wishes Dane would come back. She never swore loyalty or anything to him, she just joined his group for the advantages she got. In fact, now that he’s not always telling her to mess with the requests she might even be better off now.

“U-Uh… I b-brought you some tea…”

Someone puts a mug of tea onto the desk from behind her.

“Thanks, Slowe-kun.”

“D-Don’t thank me… It’s my job, after all, so…”

The timid golden-haired fellow behind her is Slowe Uradness, age eighteen. He joined the guild as a clerk just recently, and he has almost no connection to Dane or the underworld at all. He and Flum haven’t met.

“Um, Ila-san, can I ask a quick question?”

“What?”

“I’m… I-I’m not going to get fired, am I?”

He trembles with anxiety as he talks, causing Ila to smile bitterly.

“Worried that the guild’ll go under now that Dane’s gone? Don’t worry, we get our money from the country. No matter how busy or quiet it is, in the end it won’t affect us.”

“Ah… I-I’m glad to hear that…”

Finally seeming to calm down a little, he heads back into the depths of the guild. To be honest she was hoping he’d stick around to chat a little, but it looks like she was wrong to hope he’d be that sociable.

She takes a sip of the tea, then plants her elbows back on the counter and stares at the wall.

“Too strong…”

It looks like she’ll have to keep on training him.

She continues sipping her tea until finally, someone walks in --- it’s Flum.

“Wow, did you finally get around to cleaning up all the filth in here? It’s so much cleaner now.”

She looks at the bar with a smile on her face.

“Whose fault is that, I wonder.”

“Not mine. I didn’t start the fight, I just finished it.”

She walks up to the counter and sits down on the chair there.

“Why’re you making yourself at home all of a sudden?”

“I thought our chat might run a little long.”

“Nothing I have to say to the likes of you could take that long.”

“Let me ask you something, then. Do you know where Dane is?”

“I don’t… is what I’d like to say, but I do, I suppose.”

Flum is surprised by her response. Even if she knew, she didn’t expect her to confess it so readily.

“You sure you should be so upfront with that kind of thing?”

“I sure don’t care anymore. I thought he had some good points even though he was a villain, but I must’ve misjudged him. I still can’t believe he just went and sold his soul to the Church like that…”

“Wait, the Church? As in, he joined the Church, not the other way around? What, the guild’s so empty because everyone’s out at morning prayers?”

“Yeah, that’s it.”

She’d meant it as a joke.

“Just a little while ago he came by with his buddies, said something like ‘We’ve all become devout believers’ and left.”

“He’s planning something, though, right?”

“How should I know? I guess this way he won’t be taken in by the Military… they can’t mess with Church affairs that easily.”

“If he’s acting like that, then I’d almost say he’s just trying to butter them up…”

Flum looks over at the sparse bar, brow furrowing.

If that’s the truth, then the men drinking there now must have been left behind by Dane. He’s always had an almost noble sense of aesthetics that caused him to see his followers as a valuable resource. He must be feeling pretty bad about how his plan to control the Military and drive her into a corner turned out, but abandoning his followers like this just isn’t like him.

“I gotta admit, he was kinda cool when he was saying all that stuff about taking over the Church… with so many defectors, though, I’m not all that surprised he’s lost control of his whole group.”

Dane didn’t betray them --- they betrayed Dane.

“Are you going over to the Church’s side too, Ila?”

“Ha, why would I have to do something like that? I don’t believe in anything I can’t see. The only things you can really trust are money and power.”

The words seem to fit her, but it’s nothing to be so proud about.

“And really, just picture this: a bunch of scruffy, burly men all earnestly getting together to pray. Doesn’t that kinda just creep you out?”

“Yeah, I guess I’d be walking the other way…”

For once the two agree on something --- that just goes to show how strange it would be. Even if Dane’s trying to get in the Church’s good graces, he probably doesn’t have to bring everyone along with him.

I hope Sara doesn’t get herself involved with him...

“What do I do now, though… Now that he’s with the Church I can’t just walk up to him and give him what he deserves.”

“I‘m pretty sure they can’t get stabby with you, either, thanks to their ‘faith’ or whatever.”

“I still don’t know what to think about all this, but at least it looks like things will be calm for a while at least.”

Their peace could be broken at any time, but still.

In the end, since she can’t tell what Dane’s thinking, she’ll have to be just as careful as she was before.

“By the way, there haven’t been any quests submitted for a missing girl, right?”

“Nope.”

“You didn’t even look at the files. How about you at least try to do your job?”

“Pass. I don’t feel like it.”

“No, I’m pretty sure the guild won’t let you do that.”

“Pfft. So long as there’s no guildmaster I can do whatever the hell I want.”

“...Wait, there’s no guildmaster?”

“There’s one on paper, sure, but I’ve never once laid eyes on him. Nobody wants to be the master of the West Quarter guild, so nobody is. They just force the title on some high-ranking adventurer who’s never even around.”

That would explain why Dane and Ila have been able to do whatever they want with the quests.

The ones in charge of appointing the guildmaster are probably the people at the adventurer guild’s main branch in the Central Quarter --- it’s certainly irresponsible, but it probably goes to show how little they care about the West Quarter.

“If you won’t let me take any requests then how am I supposed to make a living?”

“You’ve been taking a lot of requests lately so what’s a day or two of playing hooky? If you really want money, though, you could just go sell your body like a good little slave.”

“I got tired of that lame joke after the hundredth time I heard it, y’know.”

“Oh really? Sorry, but I’m going to keep saying it until you accept it. Quit adventuring and become a whore already.”

“I don’t want to be told that by a woman whose tits are practically hanging out of her shirt.”

“Haa!? Are you trying to tell me I look like a whore!?”

“Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m saying!”

Their argument continues to heat up, and with nobody around to step in and interrupt them they don’t stop.

“I bet that’s it, isn’t it? Night after night you open your legs to Dane and his goons, moaning and groaning---”

“Gods, you just don’t know when to shut up, do you!?”

Ila stands up, slams her hand onto the counter and glares at Flum. She may be just a receptionist, but she’s had to deal with thugs like Dane’s men for a long time now. She’s seen her share of battlefields, and those encounters are reflected in her glare.

Flum’s lived through hell far worse than that, though. She returns a casual smile.

“Wipe that smirk off your face… and stop thinking my body’s that cheap!”

“Really? I got the feeling it was half-off since it clearly wasn’t selling…”

“Haa!? This body’s top-class! I’ve never forgotten to look after it once!”

“Hehe.”

“Don’t just giggle! You seem to be getting the wrong idea, but I’d never sleep with any man I haven’t fallen for!”

“So only Dane, then? Haha, I don’t know if you’re a poor judge of character or just have terrible taste…”

“Definitely not Dane!”

“...Wait, you’re being serious?”

“Of course I am! I might’ve let him have his way with the guild, but there’s no way I’d let him have his way with me!”

Flum’s momentarily struck silent by that unexpected truth. She was certain that she had that sort of relationship with Dane and his men, but come to think of it she’s never seen any of Dane’s group even try to approach her in that way.

“...W-Why’re you looking at me like that?”

“Nah, I was just thinking you must be really lonely.”

“That’s none of your business!!”

Ila’s cheeks redden slightly as she yells at Flum. Bullseye, it would seem.

“Seriously, I didn’t think not having those guys around would throw me off this much… Here, it’s a list of all the requests received by every guild in the Capital.”

“Wow, you’re actually doing your job?”

“Even if there’s no guildmaster some adventurers file complaints. I don’t wanna deal with any more of those.”

“I wish you’d just shown me this from the beginning.”

“Shut up and take it already.”

Maybe she was just so bored that she thought an argument with Flum would make for a nice change of pace. Flum sighs, and feeling slightly fed-up with Ila she starts looking for any requests that look like they’re connected to Ink.

As she starts studying the list, an out-of-breath man bursts through the door and runs up to the counter.

“H-Hey Ila, where’s Dane-san? Where’d everyone go!?”

His face is deathly pale.

“They’re all at church, last I heard. Something wrong?”

“A shitload of those things suddenly showed up!”

“Yeah, okay, what’re you talking about?”

“Y’know, just like what happened to Phil! A buncha bloated, warped monstrosities just like Phil was when we found him this morning!”

“I never heard anything about that.”

“Anyhow, a buncha bodies just like that were found all over the slums!”

Flum twitches at the word ‘monstrosities’, immediately thinking of the Church.

The man’s likely one of Dane’s thugs, but she’d do a lot worse than rely on him if it means getting her hands on a clue.

“Could you tell me the full story?”

Naturally, the man only glares at her.

“C’mon, you can at least tell her that much. You were just complaining about how he left you out of the loop, so there’s no need to keep covering for him, right?”

Surprisingly, Ila steps in to vouch for her. Their gazes meet for a moment, but Ila snorts and looks away. It would seem as though she’s looking to get back at Dane, not trying to help Flum.

“I guess so, but…”

He looks at the two of them for a long moment, then finally clicks his tongue loudly enough that Flum can hear it.

“...Dane-san sent Phil to go intimidate the Church. Y’know, test the waters.”

“So he tried his usual methods first after all.”

“‘Course he did! He’s a strong, heroic man who wouldn’t chicken out even against the Church!”

Are we really talking about the same Dane here?

She’s honestly surprised and a little offended he can talk about Dane like that in front of the person he almost killed just a few days ago.

“But he failed and ended up joining them instead… he’s downright pitiful.”

Ila spits out the words with disgust.

“Look, I get how you feel, but you didn’t see Phil. You’d be singin’ a different tune if ya did.”

“What, you mean that ‘monstrosity’ or whatever?”

“Yeah. I didn’t see him myself, ‘course, but I heard that he had a ton a’ arms, legs, an’ heads an’ was all bloated --- and inside him they found all these creepy eyeballs.”

“A ton of eyes and multiplying limbs…”

It sounds completely different from the spiral-faced monstrosity from the research facility. That said, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to think that same research gave them a method of warping people like that.

“I thought the guy who told me about it was outta his mind, but then Dane-san started actin’ weird an’ now there’s more of ‘em in the slums… I guess I gotta believe it now.”

“So their lab’s somewhere in the Capital after all…”

“Stop the creepy monologue there, Flum. Wait, you don’t know anything about all this, do you?”

“Maybe. If you wanna hear about it I’ll tell you, but…”

“No thanks, leave me out of it.”

A smart move. Flum wishes she could’ve done the same.

“But if this Phil guy was found this morning, then why isn’t the whole Capital in an uproar by now?”

“The Church put a lid on it, I’ll bet.”

“It’s becoming a big deal this time, though. If they're in the slums then who knows how many people've seen it?”

The man shakes his head and lets out a long sigh.

“I sure as hell don’t know. There’s probably just too many casualties an’ too many witnesses since it happened in the middle of the street.”

“Yeah, but why’d they do it there, of all places? I don’t suppose you could show me where they are, could you?”

For the fruits of such secret labours it’s awfully haphazard. Unless she sees the scene of the incident she probably won’t be able to figure anything out.

He doesn’t seem eager to go there at first, but perhaps out of curiosity he agrees without too much of a fuss and all three of them decide to go together.

“You sure you don’t have to watch the guild?”

“It’s not like I’m the only person working here. Slowe-kun!”

Ila calls out, and a moment later a boy Flum’s never seen before comes out.

“This is Slowe-kun. He’s a clerk.”

“H-Hello. M-My name is Slowe Uradness!”

He bows deeply.

“Uhh… hi. He doesn’t strike me as really fitting in with the rest of the West Quarter.”

“You might be right there. Slowe-kun, I’m going out. Watch the counter, okay?”

“Eh? B-But I’ve never…!”

“It’ll be fine. See you later.”

She waves her hand dismissively as she walks out. Slowe’s evidently the type of person who can’t really assert himself to his senpais. She may be asking the impossible of him, but especially since Dane is gone there shouldn’t be any problems.

Leaving him with his panic, Flum, Ila, and the man leave the guild.


◇◇◇


The scene of the incident is in the very center of the slums. The site is already so crowded with rubbernecks that it takes them some time to make it a place with a good vantage point. As they push their way through the crowd, a strange stench hits their nostrils.

“Uehh, this reeks… This can’t be from Flum alone.”

Ila covers her mouth and nose with one hand and scrunches up her face shamelessly.

Arriving at the front line of the gathered crowd, the smell grows even stronger --- but even more unbearable is the sight before their eyes.

“Geh… the hell’s that…!?”

Ila draws back with disgust.

“Those things were really human…?”

“That’s what I heard, but this is unbelievable…”

Flum and the man are also repulsed.

Balls of flesh covered in all manner of limbs scatter the street, still squirming and flailing faintly as if alive.

The guards appear at a complete loss. As the three of them watch a few of them bring in a large tarp and cover a nearby body.

“Ugh… ph…!”

Ila presses her hand over her mouth, suddenly feeling very ill.

“Try not to barf on me.”

“...How can you stay so calm!?”

“I’m an adventurer, after all.”

Just as she says that the man beside her resists the urge to vomit. He’s also an adventurer, for the record.

“That’s not an excuse.”

Flum’s hardly normal, especially after her encounter with the ‘ogre’.

Ila looks to be about at her limit, however, so the three leave the crowd. Though each has their own reasons, all of their expressions are dark, and the lightless alley casts everything in an even deeper shadow.

“I just don’t know anymore. Even though Phil was warped an’ twisted around like that Dane-san still joined the Church… I don’t know if I wanna keep followin’ him anymore.”

Up until now Dane has focused on expanding his influence, bringing adventurers, the guild, merchants, and he almost even got total control over the guards. Instead of keeping all the benefits to himself, however, he was clever in that he split the benefits. Thanks to that many overlooked his evil deeds, but just one loss was enough to collapse his entire empire, just one wrong choice destroyed his momentum completely.

“Who knows, we might be next. Seein’ those things, I can get how Dane-san --- how anybody’d want to get on the Church’s good side. Though if a certain someone hadn’t forced his hand an’ made him go after the Church before he was ready things might be different.”

He casts Flum a sidelong glare.

“Even so, Dane-san still has us! If he lets this end him it’ll be the end of our dreams, too!”

“It’s over, so just accept it.”

Flum’s voice is cold and unsympathetic to the burning vigour in the man’s words.

“Dane and everyone who went with him valued their lives more than anything else, so they did what’s most likely to keep them alive. No matter how much he talked about dreams or the future or whatever, his own life was more important to him.”

Most people are the same way, but his men followed him because they were convinced he was different. No matter how cowardly he seemed his plans were always ambitious and clever, and that boldness was incredibly attractive. Even Flum has to admit he was good at what he did, even if at the end of the day she still doesn’t agree with him.

“If you’re unsure, though, I wouldn’t recommend walking around the West Quarter on your own. Who knows when those eye things will show up again?”

“Y-Yeah… I guess I’ll hide out for a while ‘til things’ve calmed down…”

“I’ll also be staying well away from Dane for a while. I don’t want to wind up like those guys did.”

The thug and Ila both decide to cut ties with him, which just goes to show how much of an impact seeing those things had on them. Flum might not like them, but she’s not cruel enough to keep pestering them after they’ve left Dane’s side.

She parts ways with them there, heading home instead of back to the guild.


◇◇◇


Flum opens the front door and calls out “I’m home!” and three calls of “Welcome back!” meet her ears. Judging from that it’d seem as though Eterna is in her room and Milkit and Ink are in the living room. Flum felt a little disappointed that Milkit didn’t come running to see her as always, but peeking into the living room she can see why. Ink is currently perched on her lap at the table.

“Welcome home, Master. I’m sorry I couldn’t greet you at the door.”

“It’s fine. So what’s that?”

She points at the oddly-shaped wooden blocks scattered across the table. In front of the two of them is a wooden frame that already has a number of blocks in it.

“It’s a puzzle~!”

Ink replies with an innocent grin. If it’s a wood block puzzle, then even someone without eyes like her can play with it --- though Flum is a little curious as to where the puzzle came from, since she’s never seen it before.

“Eterna-san found it for her. She said that even Ink would be able to enjoy it.”

“Huh. I didn’t know we had anything like that around.”

Flum takes the seat directly across from the two of them.

On the house’s second floor is an old storage room, filled with the possessions of the house’s last inhabitants. Everything was old and dusty and they haven’t had a chance to properly go through it yet, but apparently Eterna has already started looking through it.

“What’s that?”

Flum points to a metal ringed toy beside the puzzle.

“It’s a puzzle ring. She was playing with it up until a little while ago, but it would appear as though she got tired of it after trying to solve it for so long.”

“Milkit’s really amazing! I couldn’t figure it out no matter what but she solved it right away!”

“I didn’t know she was that good with her hands.”

“N-No, um, I’ve seen puzzles much like it before, and once you know the trick they’re rather easy…”

Even though she’s trying to be humble she really is quite dextrous. She’s very good with a kitchen knife, and on top of that everything she cooks tastes exquisite. Not only that, but when Flum was teaching her to read and write she was incredibly quick on the uptake.

She’s perfect inside and out and overflowing with talent --- when she thinks about all the abuse she must’ve suffered Flum feels absolutely indignant. No matter how angry she feels, however, so long as the ones responsible aren’t around the rage is nothing but a burden on her heart. She calms herself down a little and looks around the room.

“It looks like Sara hasn’t come by yet.”

“She might not arrive until dinnertime.”

They hadn’t made any sort of promise to meet or anything, but for some reason they’re all naturally convinced that she’ll be there again today.

“Isn’t it kind of hard on you to have to do all that extra cooking, though?”

“I know that you might be angry to hear this since I’m ultimately spending your money, Master, but… I’m always happy to cook a little extra.”

“Really? She’s been dropping by a lot recently, though…”

“I like watching people’s spirits rise after they eat my cooking, the more the better.”

Her response could’ve come out of a textbook for young housewives.

Flum can faintly make out a cute smile beneath her bandages.

I’m really glad I grabbed her by the hand back then and helped her make it this far.

“Milkit, Milkit, are you happy watching me eat, too?”

“Yes, of course I am.”

Milkit responds quickly and pleasantly. Ink grins at her, a bit of relief mixed into her expression. Anyone can see that she wants to stay at that house as long as she possibly can.

“...Say, Ink.”

That’s exactly why as long as she’s still hiding things from them Flum can’t just let her stay.

“Are you sure ‘Mother’ and ‘Papa’ and those other kids aren’t worried now that you’re gone?”

“Hmm… I dunno. I never talked to Papa and all the other kids kept on teasing me and calling me worthless. Mother was always nice to me, but now I think she thought I was useless, too…”

Hearing Ink’s words, Flum knits her eyebrows.

Worthless, useless --- what kind of standard were those kids being held to?

“I’ve had people tell me the exact same thing, so I can understand wanting to run away.”

“You too?”

“Yeah… though in my case I was kicked out before I could run away.”

Flum feels the slave mark on her face with a bitter smile.

“Master…”

“Don’t make that face. Thanks to a certain someone who told me I match her, I’ve pretty much gotten over it.”

Without the slave mark they never would’ve met. Flum would still be travelling with the Hero and ignorant of her true worth, and Milkit would’ve been devoured by the ghouls in that basement. Even though they were in the depths of hell, it’s because they had each other that they’re able to laugh and smile again --- though Flum still won’t ever forgive Jean.

“I’m kinda jealous… I wish I had someone like Milkit.”

“Yeah, it’s all thanks to her I was able to make it out of there at all.”

“...I wonder if I can make it out if everyone’s with me.”

Ink mumbles to herself almost inaudibly.

Flum knows how she feels so much it hurts, but since Ink was able to escape all on her own their positions are fundamentally different.

“If you really want, I don’t have a problem with you continuing to live here with us.”

“Really!?”

She pops up over the edge of the table, a blindingly bright smile on her face.

“But before that we need to know absolutely everything. You’re still hiding something, aren’t you?”

“I…”

“Eterna-san’s worried sick about you. If something bad happened to you she’d be devastated.”

Ink herself has grown rather close to Eterna. Flum feels bad for manipulating her feelings like that, but they need to know everything.

“The truth is… I had to take medicine. Every day at the same time.”

“For a sickness or something?”

Ink shakes her head.

“Mother said I’m not sick but I need to take it everyday.”

“Why didn’t you say anything before now if it’s so important?”

“It’s because it’s so important… Eterna knows a lot about medicine, right? I thought that if she knew she might make me go back…”

“If something happened to you, though, we wouldn’t be able to help you if we didn’t know. If you’re not sick, though, then why do you need medicine?”

“I dunno. The Second Generation kids don’t need it, so maybe it’s because I’m First Generation or something.”

“Generation…?”

“I don’t know what the difference is, but I’m the only First Generation kid. Maybe it’s because I’m older?”

There’s no doubt about it now. She escaped from one of the Church’s research facilities.

“Maybe that’s why I felt so fundamentally outta place, not just because we weren’t friends or family… maybe that’s why I felt something was wrong.”

“What do you mean, fundamentally?”

“We could talk and play together, but… I don’t know, it felt like we were different living things completely… I guess?”

Ink’s instincts are likely correct. If the procedure that the ‘ogre’ had undergone was performed on humans, then the result could only be described as inhuman. Assuming that the Second Generation is more advanced than the First Generation, then they’d be all the more inhuman.

If the mass-murder-by-eyes is the act of one of this ‘Second Generation’, then it might mean that they’re using the eyes to look for Ink. It might be far too indiscriminate and unrefined for an adult’s actions, but a child might be that messy.

Of course, Ink herself has a connection to eyes given that her own are sewn shut, but she hasn't left the house since arriving there. No matter what, it’s impossible for her to be killing people in the slums from here.

Aside from that, there’s another burning question that needs to be answered --- she’s worthless by their standards and hasn’t used any mysterious power like the ‘ogre’ did, and it’s not even clear if she even can. Flum learned firsthand from that underground facility near Enchide that they won’t hesitate to dispose of failures, so the question is why Ink is still even alive, and why they let her escape right out from under their nose.

“Flum?”

Flum is so deep in her thoughts that Ink’s voice comes as a surprise.

“Eh? Ah… what is it?”

“Are you doubting me?”

She doesn’t know why for certain, but Flum can’t say she isn’t.

“I… I am, a little. I guess I don’t fully trust you yet. I really want to, though.”

Flum doesn’t want to doubt her, and more than that she has nothing to gain from doing so.

“I’ve never been out of there before now. I lived my whole life there, in the same room… The air here, the food, getting to sit on someone’s lap, getting to meet new people, everything’s a first for me!”

She spreads her arms wide, a happy expression on her face.

Guilt grips Flum’s heart.

“Ah, I didn’t mean to sound like I was blaming you or anything. Feeling all this new stuff, though, I can kinda get why you’d doubt me.”

“Why’d you think that?”

“Everything that was common sense for me isn’t that way for everybody else. Every morning I wake up and it’s one new thing after another… I kinda get the feeling that what Mother was giving me wasn’t happiness after all…”

The measure of happiness is different for everyone. A person born unhappy might experience a small joy and be overcome with happiness, whereas someone at the pinnacle of happiness might experience the same thing and even be disappointed.

“I guess I just wanna say that I really don’t wanna hide anything from you. I don’t know what’s weird and what’s normal. So, Flum… ask me anything, okay? I’ll answer everything the best I can, so if you hear anything weird I wanna know!”

Ink isn’t even aware of that simple fact, given her overly-sheltered life.

“...Sorry, Ink.”

All Flum can do is apologize. She wasn’t thinking about Ink’s side of things at all.

“Awawa, don’t apologize to me like that! In fact, you can get angry if you want! You should be saying ‘How do you not even know that!?’ or ‘You should’ve done that from the start!’ or something…”

“Master is far too nice to say anything like that.”

“Muu, that’s why it’s so irritating… You can apologize or whatever, but make sure you ask me lotsa stuff, too! I won’t hide anything anymore, I promise!”


◇◇◇


After that, Ink answers every question they ask her, just as she said she would.

First, the details about how she escaped.

“I opened the door, climbed a staircase, and went outside. I ran a lot after that so I don’t really remember, but right outside there was a place without a lot of smells, like it was really clean.”

Likely she’s referring to the area right around the West Quarter church. That’s essentially the only place that’s frequently cleaned, which would explain why the smell wasn’t very strong.

Next, about her life at the facility.

“I told you that they treated me differently from everyone else, right? They wouldn’t take me outside, and whenever I was alone it was really boring… I’d just explore around or run around making up my own rules. Other than that I ate a lot of bland food, took my medicine everyday… that kinda thing.”

Then, about Mother.

“Mother’s Mother. I don’t know her real name, but if I had to say something… she’s waaaaaay taller than me. Whenever she gave me a hug my head would be about at her chest. Going by her voice she’s maybe… thirty? She was really nice, but I think she was nicer to the others. Actually, thinking back on it she wasn’t that nice at all…”

“What makes you say that?”

“You guys are a lot warmer and nicer… it’s kinda embarrassing to say it…”

She scratches her cheek. Flum turns a little red, and Milkit looks down at her on her lap bashfully.

Next, about the Second Generation children she was living with.

“There’s Nekt, who was kinda bratty and always full of himself, there’s Mute, who never talked much, there’s Rook, who was kinda a troublemaker and could be really scary but was always thinking about everyone else, and then there’s Fwiss, who was always with Mother. Even though I’m their big sister they never really treated me like it…”

“Did you feel any sort of difference between yourself and the Second Generation kids while you were living together?”

“I told Eterna about it a little while ago, but Papa treated them a lot differently.”

“You said you never met him, right? I guess you wouldn’t know his name, then.”

“His name… I don’t know for sure since nobody would tell me, but I listened in on Nekt one time and heard it. They got really angry at me after that, but…”

Putting that aside for a moment, she puffs out her chest with pride.

“Guess what? Papa’s name is ‘Origin’.”

Flum and Milkit both freeze.

The organization that Flum’s been looking into is the ‘Church of Origin’, after all. She was certain that the pope lead it all; she never even considered the possibility that their ‘god’ really existed. Even if it did exist, she didn’t once think that it would be directly controlling them.

Ink’s case is clearly different, though. The children she was living with heard its voice and called it ‘Papa’.

“H-Hey Ink. Are you absolutely positive they called him Origin?”

“Yeah. Do you know him?”

“Know him? I…!”

She’s about to answer with a raised voice when she stops.

Ink probably doesn’t realize that the ‘Church’ they’ve been talking about is the ‘Church of Origin.’ She probably doesn’t know what that means.

“Origin… is Origin, I guess.”

To be honest she knows almost nothing about Origin aside from its connection to the Church --- until a little while ago she didn’t think it even existed.

Wait, if it’s possible to hear Origin’s voice, then… does that mean the prophecy that forced me to join that party was…?

She’d thought that the pope or one of the cardinals just made it up to suit their needs, but when she stops to think about the spirals of twisted flesh for faces, the eyes that literally follow people, the multiplying body parts --- all the monstrosities Flum has seen so far are too twisted, too far separated from anything that a human would or could possibly create.

Just like the diary and seeing her name in the stats of the ‘ogre’ in the lab near Enchide, she can’t imagine that even the Church could create such things from scratch no matter how long they spend researching.

If Origin actually exists as some paranormal being well beyond mortal ken, then it makes sense.

The question still remains, however --- what does it want with her?

“Flum?”

“Master, you seem awfully pale…”

“...I’m fine, everything’s okay. Probably.”

Nothing’s certain yet.

Not yet, at least.

Even as she tries to calm herself, the unpleasant feeling lurking in the back of her mind doesn’t leave her, and her heart continues to beat at an uncomfortable rate.


Chapter 8 - Powerlessness Will Always Haunt Us[edit]

Sara didn’t show up at Flum’s house after all. She didn’t tell them she was going to come over so normally it wouldn’t be anything to fuss about.

The incident in the slums is still fresh in their minds, though.

Naturally, they’re all worried.

The next day Flum decides to pay a visit to the Central Quarter church where Sara lives. That being said they’re technically enemies, so she starts by just checking the state of things from the shadows outside.

“It doesn’t look like anything’s really wrong, but…”

The paladins at the front door have very serious expressions and the priestesses she can see through the open doors appear to be flustered --- though maybe it’s only her concern for Sara’s wellbeing that’s making her see them in that way.

Just as she’s wondering whether or not she should head in to ask, a woman in her thirties wearing the same white robes as Sara happens to pass right in front of her.

“Sister-san, do you mind if I ask you something?”

Flum calls out to her. The priestess stops and asks “Is there something I can help you with?” with a smile and a light shake of her light pink hair. Flum beckons to her to come closer, and after she approaches with a puzzled expression on her face Flum gets right to the heart of the matter.

“Do you know a girl named Sara?”

“You know her!?”

The priestess’ calm demeanor breaks down in an instant as she desperately grabs Flum’s shoulders.

Something happened to Sara, that much is clear.

“Ah… I’m sorry, everything’s happening so suddenly I don’t know what I was doing…”

“Something happened to Sara-chan, didn’t it?”

“Before that, do you mind if I ask what your relationship to her is?”

“My name’s Flum. Sara-chan and I---”

“Ahh, so you’re Flum! She’s told me all about you. She told me you’re the nice person who gives her all sorts of tasty food.”

It sounds like Sara’s told the priestess all about her, and it’s very much like her to put all the emphasis on the food.

“I haven’t introduced myself yet, have I? My name is Ellen. I’ve been looking after her and Ed and Johnny since they were little. Ah, Ed and Johnny…”

Flum remembers hearing from Sara that she has family at the Central Quarter church, too. Ellen must be one of them.

“I know them, too.”

“Really? That’ll speed things up a bit, then. A little while ago word came from the pope that Sara is to be excommunicated.”

“Excommunicated!? Why!?”

“According to the higher-ups it’s because she’s been worshiping demons… If they find her she’ll be sent to the Church Court.”

The Church Court is a different institution entirely from the kingdom’s court system, established to bestow just punishments on those who break the Church’s precepts --- or at least, it used to be. They imprison, sometimes torture, and even execute people in complete violation of the Kingdom’s laws, but the king has not only made no move to stop them but has even given them money to fund their efforts.

With the Kingdom in the state that it is, the Church Court has never once found anyone ‘not guilty.’

“No matter what they say, though, I simply can’t believe that Sara would do such a thing, and all of the priestesses who’ve been living with her would agree.”

They’re false charges to be certain. Flum bites her lip with irritation.

She’s supposed to be quite valuable to the Church, however. Whatever they’re trying to cover up must be important --- maybe Ink, or the truth behind the West Quarter church.

“Flum-san, do you have any idea where she’s been and what she’s been doing? What could she have done to deserve all this!?”

Ellen’s voice trembles, as if trying to repress the waves of emotion rising within her.

The whole reason Flum’s there, however, is to ask that same question.

“The truth is, I had her look into the Church’s orphanages a little for me.”

“The orphanages? Why?”

“I found a lost girl in the West Quarter and took her in, but I had no idea where she came from, and Sara offered to help look into it.”

“That’s why she left for the West Quarter so early…”

“She apparently also asked Ed-san and Johnny-san for help, but they all told me that there’s been no children reported missing from any of the orphanages.”

“...So Ed and Johnny were involved after all.”

“Yeah… did something happen to them?”

“As of today they’ve been stationed to a town out in the middle of nowhere. Paladins stationed in the Capital are never transferred like that unless they’ve caused a problem… I didn’t hear anything like that, of course, but when I asked around I heard that they’ve already left. There’s no way they’d just leave without even saying goodbye!”

Ellen’s words are quickened by her anxiety.

Flum fiddles with the hem of her shirt in irritation as she listens.

A great power is manipulating things from behind the scenes to keep something from getting out --- but the real question is why Sara is getting excommunicated when the others are just getting transferred. If their goal is to simply get Ed and Johnny out of the picture then they should just send them to the Church Court, too.

“Have you found any clues on your end, Ellen-san?”

“Only one thing… In the slums near the west wall of the Capital someone spotted a golden-haired little girl in priestess robes.”

“That’s… isn’t that where they found all those corpses…?”

Ellen nods wordlessly. Then, even though she doesn’t expect an answer from Flum, she asks her a question with a hint of desperation in her voice.

“Those bodies and Sara’s excommunication… do they have anything to do with each other?”

Flum isn’t positive, but given the timing, context, and how the Church has done things up until now she’s able to answer with some certainty.

“They’re both connected to the Church’s ‘dark side,’ I think.”

Ellen’s eyes fly open, but even through her shock some part of her knows it’s the truth. Anyone connected with the Church for as long as she has will have caught a glimpse of the darkness they’re concealing whether they want to know or not.

“I hate to say it, but… there’s a fair chance the reason Ed-san and Johnny-san were transferred was because they're dead.”

“What!?”

“It’s just a possibility, but it might be so that the Church won’t have to cover up their deaths.”

“I don’t believe it… But then, why is Sara getting banished?”

“I think she might still be running from something, so even if she manages to escape they’ll be able to catch her if she comes back.”

“What could the pope possibly want to hide so badly!?”

“That, I can’t tell you. You might end up the same as Sara-chan.”

“I don’t care! Sara, Ed, Johnny… We might not be related by blood but we’re still all family!”

“If she really is still on the run, then she probably hasn’t come back here specifically because she doesn’t want to get you all involved.”

“But still… still, doesn’t she realize how much she means to us…!?”

Ellen’s words are steeped with sorrow.

Flum is feeling much the same, even if she isn’t letting it show.

If they were only stronger, if they only had some way to fight back Sara might come back to rely on them. She’s probably still running because she knows that full well.

Both Ellen and Flum feel their powerlessness so strongly it hurts.

“What should I do now? If I go punch out the pope, will she come back to us?”

“I don’t think it’ll be that easy.”

“Yes, I suppose there’s no way we’re any match for the---”

“That’s not what I mean. The church itself… Well… ”

“What about it? Go ahead and tell me everything, I’m ready for whatever happens to me. Even the other priestesses and I can tell that the higher-ups are hiding something.”

Unlike those outside the Church, Ellen and her colleagues might be even more suspicious of the dark side of the organization. Feeling her resolve, Flum decides to tell her what she knows.

“...There’s a chance that this time the Church couldn’t control the ‘something’ responsible for what happened in the slums.”

“You’re telling me that whatever ‘it’ is was supposed to get rid of anyone who’s seen the Church’s secrets, but ‘it’ failed?”

“The Church has been dabbling in human experimentation for quite some time now, and just recently they succeeded in creating children with Origin’s power. That’s all I know for certain, but I think that one of the kids might be moving on their own now.”

“Origin’s power…? You mean the God of Creation Origin granted them power? Sara’s a candidate to become a saint, so why would Origin be after her!? She’s followed all his teachings more devotedly than anyone!”

“To the Church, that power might be a lot more valuable than saints or teachings.”

Ellen puts her head in her hands in shock. Even if Flum is an acquaintance of Sara’s, it’s strange for Ellen to accept Flum’s words so readily --- her doubt of the Church must be that strong.

“I can’t trust the Church at all anymore… Until just a little while ago everyone was just smiling and having fun together… I can’t believe I’ll never see those three again… This must all be a bad dream…”

“Sara-chan might still be alive. We might still be able to save her.”

“She’s being targeted and she’s missing! Even if she’s found she’ll just be executed by the Church Court…”

“Even so, if we just leave her alone those ‘eyes’ will kill her.”

“Eyes?”

“I heard that all the fatalities in the slum were from a wave of eyes that swept over them and warped their bodies. That power is probably Origin’s. The same things are probably chasing after Sara-chan still.”

“What do you mean? Eyes? Just eyes are attacking her?”

“I think so.”

“This is unbelievable… ”

“Sara-chan and I have already fought a monster unlike anything that could possibly be natural… It’s certainly possible.”

“You mean…!? Ahh, so that’s it. That’s why she…”

Ellen seems to come to some sort of realization.

“You mean when she was gone for a number of days, correct? I thought it was strange that she was so quiet about what happened then…”

“She probably didn’t want to get you involved in this whole mess.”

“But we’re family… ahh, but if it’s really as bad as you say it is and there really is something that terrible lurking in the Capital… I can’t believe that despite all our praying, all our dedication, Origin is something that would try to harm us instead of help us…”

Learning the truth behind Origin is likely taking its toll on her faith, especially since the Church not only knows that but is willingly trying to gain its powers, going so far as to erase a candidate for sainthood. Once they obtain the power they seek they’ll probably shed their benevolent facade and reveal the ugly truth. When that time comes, though, there are probably a great many people who will denounce their faith in Origin, so the Church likely believes it's better to ‘trim the fat’ from their end and save them the hassle of dealing with them later.

“Do you know why exactly those three are being targeted? None of them should be able to access any deep or crucial secrets… It’s strange that you’re just fine when you’ve seen one of their creatures firsthand.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know, but since Sara-chan decided to run someplace highly populated like the slums she must’ve found something.”

“What makes you say that?”

“If she was being attacked by a monstrosity, then knowing her she’d go someplace with as few people as possible in order to reduce the number of casualties, but she did the opposite, which would only make sense if she knew it was looking to erase her for knowing too much. If the Church was trying to hide something, then she probably thought that going someplace with a lot of people would cause it to leave her alone.”

“But it didn’t stop… ahh, that’s why you said the Church lost control of it.”

“Exactly. Instead of keeping things quiet those eyes only caused more problems. Both the eyes’ pursuit and how the Church is handling the situation seem kinda sloppy, so they must be in a bit of a panic.”

Her excommunication might be insurance in case she survives, but it also tells Flum that she is, in fact, still alive.

“If the Church is in a panic, it might mean that there’s an opening we can use to save her…”

“Yes, and that’s why we need to find her.”

“I suppose you’re right. It’s too early to give up now. I’ll gather everyone I think I can trust and we’ll start looking for her.”

“Be careful, though. They could send someone after you at any time.”

“If we’re being targeted, then that might mean we’ll find her sooner, though.”

Flum can’t bring herself to laugh at Ellen’s joke.

“Thanks for all you’ve told me.”

“No, I should be the one thanking you. If I find Sara then I’ll make sure to let you know.”

“Thanks. I’ll do the same.”

After telling Ellen her home address the two part ways.

Flum ended up getting a bit more information that she’d expected --- she looks up at the sky, feeling a lot brighter than the horribly gloomy sheet of clouds above.

“I hope you’re okay, Sara-chan…”

Just imagining that carefree young girl getting bloated and warped by those eyes is enough to make her feel like vomiting.

She has to find Sara and stop the child controlling those ‘eyes’ as soon as possible.

To that end, she can’t afford to just stop moving forward now.


◇◇◇


On the way home from the Central Quarter, Flum happens to make eye contact with a man heading in the opposite direction as her and they both stop in their tracks.

It’s Dane.

“Hey. How’s life treating you?”

He calls out to her, a disgusting smirk plastered across his face.

Behind him about twenty men stand perfectly erect in formation. She recognizes them, but their expressions have a lifelessness to them unlike anything she’s ever seen.

Almost as if they’re nothing but dolls.

The sight of them gives her goosebumps. She tries to ignore them and walk right on past, but---

“You’re probably awfully broken up about that little brat going missing, aren’t you?”

The words stop her. All twenty men behind Dane look at her expressionlessly, sending a shiver down her spine.

“For your sake, I certainly hope that ugly bandaged thing isn’t next…”

“Dane, you---!”

She takes his blatant threat head-on, closing in on him and roughly grabbing his shirt collar. He lets out a fearless laugh.

“Are you sure you want to do that? We’ve all of us become believers, you know. Devout little disciples of Origin-sama, his little dogs. If you hurt us He might get angry! Hyaha!”

“So you finally threw away that worthless pride of yours, is that it? Did getting abandoned by your ‘friends’ really scare you that much?”

“Hahaha, a glare from a little puppy isn’t scary in the slightest! The Church isn’t half bad, you know. Being under the protection of such absolute power is the most reassuring thing in the world!”

He knocks away her hand, stumbling backwards as if drunk as he continues his disconcerting laugh.

“Hehe… My client… or should I say superiors? At any rate, they ordered me not to lay a finger on you yet, and I suppose I’ll have to live with that for now. It’s a small price to pay for my life --- low risk, high return, you might say.”

“Sorry, I don’t follow.”

“You will soon enough. Soon enough… Let’s move, men.”

At his orders the men start walking forwards, movements precise as clockwork.

She now understands full well why Ila was so antipathetic towards the new Dane.

There’s no underground empire anymore, no ‘Dane and his thugs.’ All that’s left is Dane himself --- he valued his life so much that he literally threw away everything he’s worked so hard to gain, all in exchange for as much freedom as a caged bird. The pillar of pride and ambition around which everyone had gathered has completely crumbled.

The charismatic Dane Finneas who once ruled the West Quarter is dead.

That’s what makes him so terrifying now.

As he is now he wouldn’t hesitate to sacrifice his men for his goals; he’ll do whatever it takes in an altogether different sense.

It’d probably be for the best if Flum cuts him down from behind here and now.

Fostering the killing intent building inside her, she moves to draw the Zweihander --- but just then she feels a presence and glances to her right.

---An eyeball is watching her.

A lone eyeball sits there at the entrance to an alleyway, gaze fixed on her.

“...!”

She gulps.

“That thing is…!”

It’s likely the same ‘eye’ as the ones that warped and defiled all those people in the slums.

She forgets all about Dane and focuses on it instead, slowly drawing the Zweihander. Her hands tremble as she grips the hilt.

She remembers the corpses that she saw yesterday --- the bloated torsos, the countless limbs, the heads leaking all manner of fluids, the countless eyes within --- and the very thought that she could end up the same makes her mouth go dry.

I’ve got to crush it now.

There’s only one of them now. There were probably a lot more that caused all that death. Even now, it might be sending out some inaudible signal to the others, or it might start splitting and multiplying on its own.

No --- if she crushes it she might accidentally release some sort of pheromone that’ll summon the rest.

As soon as she thinks of that possibility she can’t possibly do anything to it.

Her hands grow sweaty, her breathing ragged.

Should I attack it? How? Should I start running now?

Countless ideas spin through her head but all she ends up doing is increasing her nervousness, but just then --- the eye rolls away from her, around a corner and out of sight.

She hurriedly tries to follow it, but by the time she turns the corner it’s gone without a trace.

“So it wasn’t after me? Then why was it here…?”

All it did was show itself. In the end all it did was distract her and prevent her from attacking Dane --- or maybe it appeared just to do that.

Utterly perplexed by its actions and unease swirling in her chest, she hurries back home.


◇◇◇


Flum opens the front door and Milkit comes running up to her. As if sensing her master’s feelings from her expression, her smile is even warmer than usual.

“Welcome home, Master. I just finished preparing lunch. Would you care to join us?”

Food always tastes better when eaten in a good mood, so Flum tables the subject of Sara as all four of them sit down to eat.

Everyone there seems to sense that Flum doesn’t have any good news for them, though.

After they finish eating and putting the dishes away, Flum tells them everything she gleaned from the conversation with Ellen.

Of all of them Ink takes the news the hardest, convinced that it’s her fault that Sara got involved. They all say whatever they can to reassure her that’s not the case, but it’s not enough. Shortly afterwards she heads up to her room directly opposite of Flum and Milkit’s and shuts herself in.

Eterna similarly returns to her room, claiming she has work to do.

Milkit opens her mouth countless times to try to cheer up Flum, but every time she closes her mouth without saying anything, unable to find the words. This is perhaps the first time that she’s ever wanted to do anything for someone else’s sake, so it’s not surprising she doesn’t know how to do it properly. She laments her own powerlessness.

Flum, noticing her strange actions, smiles warmly at her.

“Thanks.”

“...Eh?”

The unexpected words cause Milkit’s expression and mind to go blank.

“You’re always right there for me whenever I’m feeling down… I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“I-I-I really haven’t done anything, though…”

“No, you’ve done more than enough. Just knowing that you’re by my side and worrying about me is enough to give me strength. That’s why…”

Flum stands up, leaning across the table to put her hand over Milkit’s.

“You don’t need to say anything, and you really don’t need to feel so down. All I need is your smile.”

“E-Even if you say that… I want to do something to respond to your feelings…”

“Hehe, what’s that all about? I’m really happy to hear that, though. If that’s the case then I won’t stop you, but just remember that all your master wants is for you to be happy, okay?”

Flum separates her hand from Milkit’s, causing her to let out a small, lonely sigh. Flum heads towards the staircase, but perhaps hearing Milkit’s sigh she turns back for just a moment to lightly embrace her from behind and stroke her hair.

“Master…”

Left alone in the room, Milkit’s whisper is filled with a myriad of emotions. She touches her hand to her cheek and clutches at her bandages.

What skin is visible through the gaps is bright red.


◇◇◇


Flum knocks on the door of Eterna’s room, and a moment later a casual voice tells her to come in.

“So you did come.”

“How’d you know I’d come here?”

“Your face during lunch. It told me everything.”

Flum touches her face, trying to determine if she really was making a face like that.

“You can sit.”

Just as she was told, Flum grabs the chair in the corner of the room and sets it down beside Eterna. Eterna puts her pen down and shifts her own chair so that they’re facing each other.

The strange fishlike object floating over her desk slowly spins, and the top of the desk itself is covered with dried herbs, apothecary tools, and even a strange carving, making it as strange a space as always.

“What were you just working on, Eterna-san?”

“Something that won’t work on wounds or illnesses but will do wonders for your mood.”

“That’s not a bad sort of ‘medicine,’ is it…?”

If it’s not actually medicinal the Church might not notice, but if she starts peddling something like that she’ll attract attention from other, less savory places.

“It’s an herbal tea blend.”

“Ah, so that’s what you meant. That’s an awful lot for just yourself, though…”

“I want to sell it. I can’t just keep living here for free.”

It looks like even Eterna would feel bad about being a freeloader there forever --- though if Flum told her that such consideration was unlike her she’d probably get angry.

“So what about that carving?”

“That’s…”

Flum came here with a specific objective in mind, but it was strange enough that she just had to ask. It looks like a small wooden bust of someone --- Eterna hands it to her. After inspecting it up-close she realizes something.

“Hmm… it kinda looks like me, doesn’t it?”

“Milkit carved it to look like you.”

“Wait, it is me!? I didn’t think--- no, I guess she is pretty good with her hands…”

“She apparently killed a lot of time carving whatever she could find back when she was a slave.”

“Why’s it in your room, though?”

“She said it’d be embarrassing if you found it but couldn’t throw it away. I don’t need it, though. You can have it.”

She doesn’t even know what to do with a carving of herself --- and it’s just like Eterna to hand it to her right after saying that Milkit didn’t even want her to see it.

Flum politely declines, returning the figure to her desk.

Eterna pouts at her, evidently discontented with her response.

“Milkit’s trying everything she can to be useful to you.”

“So this carving is the result of that?”

“Nn. She loves you so much it makes me sick.”

“I wouldn’t call it ‘love’… I do think she’s kinda fond of me, though.”

“Braggart.”

“I’m not bragging!”

Flum half-rises out of her chair as she loudly denies her. Relieved that Flum seems a lot more normal than she did when she came home, Eterna smiles a little.

Flum sits back down, lets out a large sigh, then hardens her expression a little.

“So really, about why I’m here --- Eterna-san, could you teach me how to use magic?”

Flum’s still weak, far too weak. When Dane set his grand plan on her, she was all but powerless to oppose him on her own. If those ‘eyes’ start chasing her en masse, she won’t be able to get away. As she is now, even if she finds Sara she probably won’t be strong enough to save her.

Worse, thanks to Reversal she can’t raise her stats through hard work alone.

There’s still one path open to her, though --- strength that can’t be reflected through stats like Cavalier Arts, magic, even knowledge. Every day she practices drawing on both prana and mana, though she hasn’t yet been able to shape the mana into any sort of spell.

“I’m Water Attribute. I can’t teach a Rare Attribute much. I’m also not good at explaining things… I think I said that before.”

“Just the basics would be fine.”

“Nn… You can use prana, right? That’s harder. Why can’t you use magic?”

“Well, I can grab the mana, so to speak, I just can’t turn it into a spell or anything.”

“Try gathering it on your palm.”

“Okay.”

Flum narrows her eyes, grasps at the magic energy running throughout her body, wraps it in her consciousness, changes its shape, and finally forces it to flow into her palm. Just as Eterna said, it’s a lot easier to do with mana than prana.

“Amount, quality, and state are fine… but…”

Eterna touches Flum’s faintly glowing palm, feeling it as she mutters to herself.

“This peculiarity… I see.”

“D-Did you find anything?”

Flum asks with a bit of nervousness in her voice and Eterna suddenly stands up, taking a step back and gesturing at the chair she was sitting in.

“Touch it.”

“Okay…?”

Flum does as she’s told, touching the topmost part of it.

“Your problem’s in your head. Make sure you have a good idea of what you’re ‘reversing’ and how.”

“U-Um… So I should envision it and channel magic into the chair?”

“Exactly.”

Flum takes a moment to imagine it --- vertically or horizontally, inside-out or outside-in. It’s her first time trying it so she doesn’t have a good grasp of the exact sensation yet, but likely the hardest to achieve would be messing with the inside and outside, and at any rate it’d probably take a lot of energy to do anything that would destroy the chair. Since it’s her first time she’ll try something simple and just flip the chair upside-down.

As she envisions it words pop into her head, as if telling her she’s finally got it right.

“Reversal!”

In an instant the chair spins around, stopping exactly as the seat becomes the bottom.

Flum looks at it with shock, despite having just done it herself.

“...I did it.”

It’s a small thing that could easily be accomplished without magic, but it’s the fact that it worked at all that’s important. The thing that she’d never been able to do, the power that she was sure she’d never have, now rests in the palm of her hand.

“It was so easy… I actually cast magic…!”

“How do you feel? Tired? Feel depleted at all?”

“N-No, not at all!”

“Good. It’s an efficient Attribute. The question is what you’ll reverse and how.”

It would seem as though Flum’s guess was correct; as long as she doesn’t attempt something destructive like turning something inside-out she shouldn’t get too tired. She wouldn’t attempt something like that on something of Eterna’s, though, since that’d probably put her in a bad mood.

“But why can I suddenly use it now when I couldn’t before?”

“Simple.”

Eterna takes Flum’s hand and starts lightly massaging it.

“Your magic is extremely limited in range. You need to touch your target. You can’t use it at range like other Attributes.”

Come to think of it, whenever she tried to use magic she was trying to hit a faraway target. She was hoping for a long-range way to use her Attribute since she mainly uses a greatsword, but it looks like it’ll be useless except in close quarters.

“I was hoping for some way to fight without hurting myself…”

I am a girl, after all, she adds internally. Given all the times she’s regenerated she’s gained something of a tolerance for pain, but that doesn’t mean she likes it.

“Give up on that. There are some options, though. If you’re fighting on the same surface you might be able to flip it all over, though it’d be tiring.”

“So what if I, say, cast it on floorboards?”

“They’d flip over.”

In other words, in an area with long floorboards she’d be able to make her opponent lose their footing at the very least --- though she probably shouldn’t count on fighting in such convenient conditions.

“What about if I cast it on the ground? Like dirt or cobblestone, or even floors that aren’t boarded?”

“Depends on your control and how you envision it. You don’t have infinite energy, so you can’t just flip everything. If you really focus you might be able to affect a small area.”

She looks down at the room’s flooring. She tries to imagine it, but it doesn’t quite come to her. It looks like she has a lot of practice ahead of her.

Even if she can only affect what she can touch, though, there are all sorts of different possible uses for Reversal.

“Even if you can use magic now, don’t try to do the impossible alone. I keep telling you I can fight, too.”

“Yeah, but I’m not strong enough to protect Milkit.”

All her opponents seems to be monstrosities or scumbags, after all, and reason doesn’t work on either. Only force.

“You push yourself too hard. Just like in the Hero’s party.”

“That’s because I can’t do much of anything. I’ve got to put in the effort wherever I can.”

“Fighting recklessly when on your own is fine, but don’t do it around others. Milkit especially doesn’t want to see you hurt.”

“That’s… I know. I try to keep that in mind, at least.”

Flum wants Milkit to smile from the bottom of her heart and fights to protect her, but in the process gets hurt and makes her sad. In order to protect her, though, sacrifices must be made.

Even in the face of that paradox, however, Flum has no choice but to fight --- as long as she’s alive she can heal as much of Milkit’s sadness as she needs to, after all.


Chapter 9 - An Empty, Incomplete Peace[edit]

For a few hours after that Flum receives a lecture on magic from Eterna. By the time she leaves Eterna’s room the sun has already begun to set, dying the hallway orange.

She leaves to look for Sara, but without any leads she doesn’t make any progress. Just as the world around her turns completely dark, she heads back home for dinner. Ignoring Eterna’s warnings that she shouldn’t be out at night, she leaves to search for Sara again. By the time she returns empty-handed, everyone should long be asleep. Guilt and irritation spiral inside her chest, but she feels a little better seeing that Milkit is there to welcome her home with a smile.

Flum takes a bath, and as she climbs the stairs to the second floor Ink hears her footsteps and pokes her head out of her room. She’s wearing one of Flum’s nightgowns, and the light pink colour seems to fit Ink’s cute little body quite well --- even if it is far too big for her.

Her sewn-up eyes are as painful to look at as always, but seeing her smiling face so often has all but completely overwritten Flum’s negative first impression.

“‘Night, Flum!”

It seems as though she only wanted to say goodnight.

“G’night, Ink.”

Flum pets Ink’s head. She’s been doing it to Milkit so often that it’s become something of a habit, but fortunately Ink doesn’t seem to mind as she narrows her eyes with pleasure. After they finish saying goodnight they both head back to their rooms.

Milkit is sitting at the desk, a serious expression on her face, pen in hand, practicing her writing. She’s not dressed in her maid outfit but a light green nightgown that matches the design of Flum’s own.

Flum stealthily sneaks up behind her. She must be concentrating quite hard; she doesn’t seem to notice Flum at all. Even when Flum cranes her head around to stare into Milkit’s face she doesn’t react. Most of the time they're together she has a smile on her face, so it’s rare to see such a serious expression.

Her eyes really are pretty...

Her cheeks look so soft through those bandages…

All sorts of brazen thoughts run through her head, and unable to hold herself back any longer Flum pokes Milkit’s cheek through one of the gaps in the bandages.

“Hyan!?”

Milkit twitches, letting out a cute little sound in the process. Flum watches her reaction and laughs.

“Hehe, how’re you doing?”

“M-Master… If you’re there then please say something…”

“Since you hadn’t noticed me I couldn’t help but want to mess with you a little. You get what I mean, right?”

“Well, yes, but still…”

Milkit gives Flum a reproachful look.

Compared to when they’d first met she’s started to show a lot more emotion, and on top of that her once-spindly body has started to show some healthy bulges thanks to eating properly.

Seeing Milkit growing fuller in body and mind by her own will, Flum feels genuinely happy. Learning to read and write, too, will give her more opportunities and open an ever-increasing number of futures to her.

This happiness is unlike anything she felt on the journey, or even living in her hometown.

I want to give her more. I want to protect her more.

Those feelings fill her heart.

“...Master?”

Milkit’s voice pulls Flum out of her thoughts.

“Ahh, sorry, I got distracted for a moment there. How about we get started, then?”

As she speaks Flum sits on the bed, patting the spot beside her invitingly. Putting down the pen, Milkit takes a seat beside her so close their shoulders touch.

Flum wraps her arms around Milkit’s head, undoing the knot that keeps her bandages in place and revealing her soft, fair skin. A red blush already taints her cheeks.

Just like this, the two of them shut themselves in their room taking off Milkit’s bandages every night in a nightly ritual. At first they were both far too embarrassed to make any moves and ended up taking an unnecessarily long time, but they’ve since gotten so used to it that their movements are smooth and without hesitation.

Since she’s normally covered in those bandages, her skin is pale and untouched by the sun’s rays, unlike Flum’s own slightly rough skin gained from her adventurer’s life. Flum’s a little jealous, but more than that she feels a little conflicted about keeping something so beautiful all to herself.

Milkit wants it to be this way, however.

Flum has Milkit’s pure beauty and her pure heart all to herself.

She knows she’s contradicting herself. Even though she tells Milkit that she wants her to expand her options and live her own life, she keeps her all to herself. Every time such thoughts enter her head, though, she simply ignores them. Milkit means far too much to her to get caught up on trivialities.

Every night Flum can only sigh as she loses herself in Milkit’s beauty time and time again.

“I-Is simply looking at my face like this really that fun?”

Feeling a little conscious of Flum’s stare, Milkit averts her gaze bashfully.

“It’s the most fun I’ve had all day.”

Flum replies instantly.

Feeling even more embarrassed, Milkit turns to face the ground, completely unable to meet Flum’s gaze now.

They’ve repeated that same simple exchange countless times now. At this point even Milkit has stopped doubting her master’s words and is slowly starting to gain some self-confidence --- even if she’s convinced that Flum’s a strange person whose tastes just happen to align perfectly with her face.

She’s still determined to believe that she isn’t beautiful.

“You’re just as adorable as always, Milkit.”

A tint of playfulness in her voice, she reaches out to Milkit’s face and starts stroking her slave mark with her thumb.

Once the wall of suspicion separating them disappears, her words will surely seep into Milkit’s heart. It’s already melted, all that’s left is to fill that soft, plaint space with her own colours.

---Sink, words, ever deeper.

---Grow, feelings, until they can’t be suppressed any longer.

The fear of loss in Milkit’s heart has begun to slowly fade away --- from I’ll be abandoned eventually to It’ll probably be fine, and from there eventually, slowly, into Everything will definitely be okay.

She’ll never leave my side… Flum alone will never abandon me.

Through this simple nightly exchange, the roots of her feelings spread and deepen, and she grows increasingly certain.

Even after that, the two talk about trivial things, smile warmly at each other whenever their eyes happen to meet, fool around --- they spend pointless, happy time together.

During that time, however, Flum suddenly glances at the window and stands up. Milkit follows Flum’s gaze but spots nothing except the endless darkness of the night outside.

Until just a little while ago, however, Flum was outside, and as such her eyes are better adjusted to the dark. She walks up to the window, opens it, and with a small grunt of exertion she pulls something out of the window frame.

“Was there something stuck outside?”

“...It’s a dagger. It looks like there’s a letter wrapped around it.”

Somebody probably threw it at the window from the street below. Opening the paper, she sees the words [DON’T GO OUTSIDE] written in crooked, uneven letters.

“What’s this supposed to be, a threat? It’s a little late for games like this.”

“I wonder why they felt the need to tie it to a dagger. On top of that those letters look rather messy, or rather…”

“It looks like whoever wrote this and tied it to the dagger was in a hurry… It all looks rushed.”

Just as Milkit pointed out, the letters are sloppy and crooked as if they were written on an uneven surface. Flum wracks her brain for anyone who’d be so desperate to warn her like this, but comes up short.

“It’s probably just one of Dane’s goons’ pranks.”

Even after all she’s done to them they’re still determined to pick a fight.

“Hahh… I guess we should get some sleep.”

“Yes, tomorrow will be another busy day.”

Turning off the light, they lie down in their separate beds. A little later Flum can hear Milkit’s breathing grow slow and regular, but she can’t seem to get any sleep herself. A strange sense of unease wraps itself around her chest, preventing her from calming down.

Then---

Clatter. Clatter…

The window frame starts subtly rattling. Even though she’s finally been able to surrender herself to sleep, the noise reaches her ears loud and clear, but slowly dies away as she falls into a slumber.

By the time she wakes up the next morning, she’s forgotten all about it.


◇◇◇


The next morning, Milkit sees Flum off as she heads out.

She plans to start off by following the same path that Sara did as closely as possible, and so heads for the West Quarter church. The path there is so quiet it’s unsettling --- after what happened in the slums people are probably avoiding going outside if they can at all help it.

Arriving at the church, she starts by checking it out from a distance. Compared to the one in the Central Quarter, the main hall is small, old, and not as ornamented.

Two paladins she’s never seen before stand where Ed and Johnny once did. Their expressions are dark. They should’ve been Ed and Johnny’s colleagues --- even though they were probably told they were transferred, they’ve probably heard the rumors.

She walks up and hails them with a polite hello.

They both start a little when they see the slave mark on her face, but the Church makes an effort to not discriminate against slaves. Their expressions quickly change to smiles as they return her greeting. They evidently don’t realize that she’s Flum Apricot, the Chosen. In that case, this should go a little more smoothly.

“Um, do you happen to know the paladins Ed-san and Johnny-san?”

The two of them are visibly shaken.

“Those two were kind enough to lend me a hand a little while ago. It doesn’t look like they’re on duty today, but would I be able to meet them tomorrow?”

“...Sorry, they’re not here anymore. They were transferred outside the Capital.”

“Really? That seems awfully sudden…”

“Y-Yeah, I guess it is…”

He’s clearly attempting to hide something.

Flum takes a step closer before asking her next question.

“...Did something happen?”

The two paladins are at a loss for words.

“...They did get erased, didn’t they…” one of the men mumbles.

“W-What are you saying!? I’m so sorry, miss, he’s clearly feeling under the weather.”

“Don’t worry, I didn’t hear anything. I’ll come again another day.”

Speaking a little more formally than she perhaps needs to, she bows deeply and leaves.

“So it looks like it’s a rumour among the paladins after all, but they don’t know the truth…”

Just like Ellen in the Central Quarter, it would seem as though everyone connected to the Church is suspicious of the recent events, but ultimately unable to find any conclusive evidence they can only guess.

She approaches the church’s main building through a slightly roundabout path and manages to catch a glimpse inside through the fence.

Standing at the altar is a very uneasy looking priest in the middle of a sermon. The pews are filled with rough-looking men, all listening to the priest with rapt attention. In the very front row sits Dane himself.

“Yeah, this is kinda creepy… I think I understand now why Ila’s so opposed to all this.”

Since they’re calling themselves believers and listening to his sermons seriously, however, the priest has no choice but to answer their needs. He’s probably got it harder than any of them.

Just then, one of the men starts mechanically turning his head to face Flum’s direction.

“Crap!”

She quickly ducks out of sight and puts some distance between herself and the window.

This time she approaches the orphanage, peeking in from a safe distance. The small enclosed field space is filled with children innocently playing. It goes without saying that there are more than four of them.

“This looks pretty normal.”

Spreading out a map inside her head, she starts walking in the direction that Sara most likely took towards the slums. If she moves in a more or less straight line towards where the bodies were discovered she’ll be able to retrace her steps.

The further she gets from the church and the closer she gets to the slum, the more the people around her seem to change. At first the people around her have all manner of tattooed faces, countless piercings, empty eyes telling of all manner of addictions, and gazes not unlike a predator sizing up their prey --- even Dane’s men look good compared to them, but the further she walks the more homeless and the streets turn filthier. She notices that there’s quite a bit of foot traffic, though, meaning that the eyes probably didn’t come through that particular way, and so she turns back to try a different path.

“Sara must’ve been scared, running through these dark, narrow alleyways all alone…”

The thought pains her.

She eventually arrives in the part of the slums where the bodies were found, seeing no trace of any clues up until then.

Even if she is a slave, her clothes are far more respectable than those of any of the other slaves, and as such she attracts a lot of attention. Some look at her with jealousy, some with predatory eyes --- children try to dip their fingers into her pockets in an attempt to root out whatever coin they can as they pass.

She stays on her guard as she starts to explore the area. Maybe because the incident is still fresh in their minds the street feels somewhat empty; small shelters thrown together from all manner of materials line the street but many are unoccupied.

“Hey, you.”

A slouching middle-aged man wearing a shabby vest calls out to her.

“Ya ain’t lookin’ for a little lady who came runnin’ through here when those eye things came, are ya?”

“Do you know anything?”

She replies with a strong tone of voice to convey that she’s not someone he should underestimate. He probably knows something, but won’t talk unless she pays him.

If it’s information worth paying for, though, she doesn’t have a problem playing along.

“Yeah, I know a thing or two.”

“Mind if I ask you a few things, then? I can pay you for your troubles.”

“Hehe, ya got me. Lemme tell ya what I know, then. Yer lookin’ fer a blond girl, right? She ran through here with all them eyes followin’ her. She didn’t seem too happy about catchin’ people up in her mess, though, so she ran straight into an alley.”

“That alley?”

Flum points at the nearest alleyway, and the man nods.

“Got it. Thanks.”

She pushes a coin into the man’s hand. It wasn’t a great lead, but any lead is progress.

“Anytime, anytime.”

He gives her a content smile and goes back to his little roadside shack. If that’s enough to sate him then it’s a cheap price to pay.

Flum heads right into the alleyway.

Sara was probably determined to involve as few people as possible so she headed in here, but she likely had no idea where she was headed and didn’t have any time to look for a better alternative. As soon as she heads inside, though, she quickly loses herself among all the different branching paths.

“This is going to take a while…”

She’ll have to check every alley one by one.

After a while, she comes across a certain dead end. Countless gashes cover the floor and walls, as if hacked at with an incredibly sharp blade.

“It looks like there was a fight here.”

Flum runs a finger across a few of the scars, checking to see how they were made.

“They’re all of different depths and widths, so it doesn’t look like a single weapon did this… Did some sort of magic do it?”

She can’t even tell what Attribute the magic is, but it’s clear that whoever cast it wasn’t a novice.

“If nothing else, it’s clear that Sara’s mace didn’t do this. So who…?”

No matter how much she inspects the scars, though, she doesn’t find anything else. She doubles back and finishes exploring the other branches, but in the end she still doesn’t find any sign of Sara.

Shoulders slumped, she heads next to the North Quarter. She feels so fatigued she’d like to do nothing more than head right home, but there’s still something she has to check out.

Her destination is the Royal Palace.

Since Otilier’s also been looking into the Church’s affairs, she might’ve come across what happened to Sara in the process.


◇◇◇


Somehow, Flum manages to make it all the way to the North Quarter without anyone from the Church recognizing her. At one point she passed by a bishop, but judging from the look on his face, the only thing he saw was her slave mark. Maybe there’s no real need for her to be careful.

The real fight starts there, though.

Standing just outside the Palace Barracks are, of course, two soldiers. Even if she asks them politely to let her pass to see Otilier, they probably won’t just comply. They might let her in if she tells them she’s one of the Chosen, but if they don’t recognize her face then they probably won’t believe her.

“I guess I’ll just have to try it and see.”

Thinking positively, she walks right up to them with a confident attitude.

As soon as they spot her slave mark they glare at her.

“Whaddya want, slave?”

“My name is Flum Apricot. I’m here on business with Otilier-san.”

“Ha, I can’t believe a slave like you thinks she can pass as one of the Hero’s Party! If you’re going to lie you should at least try to make it believable!”

The expected response.

She can’t just turn back here, though. In order to get them to believe her she’s about to tell them about something that happened during one of their journeys when a man emerges from behind the guards.

He’s a giant of a man, so massive that he has to duck down just to pass through the doorway. Flum has to crane her head just to see eye-to-eye with Gadio, but the man in front of her is a full size larger.

“Herman Zavnyu…”

Just like Otilier, he’s one of the three Lieutenant Generals. Flum’s never actually met him face-to-face, but his incredible size is enough to ensure she doesn’t forget him. Even though he’s in casual clothing and doesn’t have his signature massive warhammer slung over his back, he still has an impressive presence.

He walks up behind the two guards and opens his mouth.

“...Let her in.”

His voice is quiet but low and seems to reach the guards’ very bones. Both the men gulp.

“B-But she’s a slave…”

“...It’s her.”

“Wait, you mean this seedy little slave really is Flum Apricot!?”

“Seedy…”

A stray bullet hits Flum.

Herman solemnly nods, his expression unchanging.

“...You’re being rude.”

“I-I’m sorry!”

“...It’s her. Let her in.”

“Of course, right away, sir! Hey, you, get… err, please, right this way.”

Unsure how to react to such contradicting treatment, she enters the Palace Barracks.

“Thank you very much!”

“...It’s nothing.”

He wordlessly leads her forward. Once they’re out of earshot of the guards he suddenly stops.

“Uwa!?”

She almost crashes into his back.

“...Who are you here to see?”

“Eh? Otilier-san.”

“...Otilier, huh.”

His brow furrows slightly. Seeing that, unease creeps into Flum’s expression.

His face and voice are scary enough that children would probably start crying at the sight of him. Judging from that exchange with the guards just moments ago he’s a nice person deep down, but---

“...This is troublesome.”

He could probably stand to gain from speaking a little less bluntly and not leaving so many unsettling pauses.

Since he is a Lieutenant General, though, maybe being a bit on the intimidating side is a good thing.

After thinking for a long moment with his hand on his chin, he wordlessly turns and keeps walking. Flum follows him.

Finally, the two of them arrive in front of a large, especially fine door on the third floor.

He knocks on the door with his massive fist.

“...I brought a visitor.”

He doesn’t even need to say his name.

“Herman, is it? Send them right in.”

A businesslike voice on the other side replies.

Herman opens the door.

Sitting at a desk there is the leader of the entire Military, Major General Anriette Vassenheim.

“H-Her Excellency Anriette!?”

Flum can’t hide her shock.

“Ah, and you’re Flum Apricot, are you not? Judging from your response, I’d say I wasn’t who you were expecting. Why’d you bring her here, Herman?”

“...She wants to see Otilier.”

“Otilier? Ahh, now I understand. Your judgement was indeed correct. Excellent work, Lieutenant General Herman. Please, Flum Apricot, take a seat.”

She stands up from her fancy chair behind her desk and takes a seat at a set of lush sofas, gesturing for Flum to do the same. Despite her confusion, Flum does as she’s told.

Herman bows before quickly leaving the room. Being alone with the Major General herself when they’ve barely even met before only makes Flum more uneasy.

“U-Um, Your Excellency---”

“Haha, don’t bother with that sort of thing. You can use ‘san’ with me just as you do with Otilier. We’re not all that different in standing, after all, considering your relationship with the Hero.”

Anriette speaks frankly in an attempt to calm Flum’s nerves.

“I’m really just an ordinary person, though.”

“By that same token, I’m the leader of an all-but-powerless military. I have no real authority.”

There’s a sense of loneliness in her voice, but a moment later her expression brightens.

“So I hear you’re looking for Otilier?”

“Y-Yes. Have you heard about that incident I got wrapped up in the other day?”

“Of course. We haven’t had such a PR disaster in quite some time. Thanks to that the pope and the king are both breathing down my neck, but it’s our own fault for not paying more attention to our men in the West Quarter.”

“It sounds like you have it pretty rough…”

“I should be telling you that. Though it appears to be a result of that incident that you were able to meet with Otilier again, am I wrong?”

“No… If not for her I don’t think I’d be here right now.”

“I wish I could hold some pride in that, but it was in part our fault to begin with. Ah, yes, I also heard that you were kicked out of the Hero’s Party and spent some time as a slave.”

That’d explain why neither she nor Herman was surprised to see her slave mark.

“It sounds as though Jean is as incorrigible as ever.”

“Ahaha… yeah.”

“If you ever find yourself in trouble please don’t hesitate to call on the Military. I’d be more than willing to lend a hand, as would Herman, I’m sure.”

“I didn’t come here for that, though.”

“Then what?”

“The truth is, when I last met Otilier-san she told me she’d look into the Church a little.”

“She did? Of all the reckless…”

“She said it was for Oneesama… she was talking about you, right?”

“Yes, that girl’s been following me around ever since we were children. She even had enough perseverance to learn the sword even though she had no talent for it and entered the Military after me. She’s not just a subordinate to me, she’s almost like a little sister.”

Anriette must be quite something herself to be able to talk about that much perseverance so lightly --- or maybe she’s just too oblivious to realize the true reason Otilier’s followed her all this way.

“So I take it you came here to hear what she’s found about the Church?”

“Yes. Just the other day a girl I know by the name of Sara Anvilen got excommunicated.”

“Ahh, one of the candidates to be the next saint after Maria Affenjenz. I heard about that and of the two paladins that got ‘transferred’ at about the same time.”

“In that case, have you heard about the commotion in the slums?”

“I’ve received reports, of course. Even I must admit there’s a fair chance of the Church’s involvement. They requisitioned all the bodies from that incident, after all.”

Flum’s impressed that she knows this much already --- but on second thought, she is the Major General so it’s not that much of a surprise.

“I think that Sara was involved with that incident somehow. I’ve been looking for her and I was hoping that Otilier found something about where she went.”

“...Unfortunately, Otilier isn’t here anymore, as you may have noticed.”

“She’s gone missing, hasn’t she?”

Anriette nods, her expression unreadable.

She disappeared after looking into the Church’s affairs, just like Sara.

Flum lets out a large sigh, covering her face with her hands as she suddenly feels dizzy.

So the Church would really go this far.

They wouldn’t just stop at erasing their own people, they’d really go so far as to erase someone as powerful as a Lieutenant General.

No matter how she looks at it, the wall in front of her is impossibly large, an enemy that simply can’t be beat.

“But Otilier-san’s a Lieutenant General! Why is nobody treating it like it’s a big deal!?”

Flum squeezes out the words.

Anriette bites her lip, irritation thick in her voice.

“A certain fool told us to keep quiet.”

“That’s how they’re keeping this from getting out, is it? Just who does this ‘fool’ think he is!?”

“King Dian Karoul.”

“Wha…!?”

Flum gulps hard, at a loss for words. Even Flum can understand the meaning behind the Military, supposed to be the sword and shield of the throne, explicitly calling the king a fool.

“His Highness doesn’t trust us in the slightest --- on the contrary, he’ll personally see to it that anyone who defies the Church is erased, even if they happen to be the Lieutenant General.”

“That’s...”

Flum remembers Otilier saying something very similar herself a little while back, but she didn’t think that it would ever actually happen.

“Otilier’s a good girl, now as before. She was likely only trying to be of use to me. She had to have known that I would’ve stopped her. I wish she would’ve put some thought into why I would’ve stopped her, though… ahh, even then. I suppose even then she would’ve been unable to keep herself from trying.”

Anriette narrows her eyes, thinking of Otilier and hoping she’s still alive out there somewhere. Even if they think in different ways, they’re both still thinking of each other.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to bring up such a gloomy topic. As I’m sure you’ve gathered, however, we don’t have any answers to your questions --- rather, I wish I knew where Otilier was, myself.”

“...Okay. I understand.”

They have nothing to gain from talking any longer.

Flum leaves Anriette’s office and the Barracks.


Chapter 10 - MORE[edit]

By the time Flum starts heading home the sun has already begun to set.

Flum tiredly opens the front door and calls out “I’m home…” with less energy than she ever has before.

Milkit runs to the front entrance hall with padding feet and a smile on her face.

“Welcome home, Master!”

Flum can’t help but smile at the sight of her. If nothing else, she truly is the one thing keeping Flum sane.

“I was just about to go shopping for ingredients for dinner. Would you care to join me?”

At her elbow is the wicker basket she always has whenever they go out shopping. She was probably waiting for Flum to get home before heading out.

“Maybe you’d prefer to rest for a while?”

Noticing that her master seems to be a bit off, she peers into Flum’s face curiously.

Today’s maid outfit has a lot of white and is well-accented by the red bow on her chest, giving her clothes a trendy-yet-cute look. She almost seems more like a waitress at some cafe than a proper maid.

By switching up which maid outfit she’s wearing everyday she manages to heal Flum’s soul every time she looks at her, but the shock Flum suffered today is a little too much to be healed so easily.

“...I think I’ll rest, then. Sorry.”

Milkit was probably looking forward to going out with her. No matter how much Flum’s heart wants to go for a stroll with her, though, her body can’t follow.

“I understand. In that case, Master, please make sure you get some rest. Eterna-san and I will be fine on our own.”

“We’ll be back.”

Eterna suddenly pops out of the living room.

Flum watches them leave in a bit of a riff on the usual pattern, and the moment she sits at the table she slumps forwards, draping herself over it.

“Welcome back, Flum.”

Ink, sitting across from her, is in the middle of another block puzzle.

“I’m home.”

“Did you figure out where Sara went?”

“I found nothing. No matter where I went there was no sign of her --- and worse, even Otilier-san’s missing now. Hahh… this whole people disappearing thing is getting on my nerves.”

“Oh… I’m sure you’ll find them both eventually, though!”

“I really hope so…”

If she doesn’t believe that she won’t be able to keep on going.

She closes her eyes, too exhausted to keep them open any longer.

A little worried about her, Ink stops playing and is lost in thought for a moment, trying to figure out how to be as quiet as possible for Flum’s sake. Rolling up her sleeves, she goes about the puzzle more carefully than before.


◇◇◇


“Done already?”

After finishing their shopping trip more quickly than usual, Eterna asks Milkit without really thinking about it first.

“Yes. I’d like to return to Master’s side as soon as possible.”

“She did seem kind of down.”

It’s probably more bad news.

“...Um, Eterna-san?”

“What?”

“Could you please let me carry that after all?”

Milkit’s voice is apologetic. The basket, filled with ingredients for dinner, is currently dangling from Eterna’s arm.

“Don’t worry about it.”

Even if just looking at their stats, Milkit’s Strength is only 11 whereas Eterna’s is 668. Her thin little arms may seem weak but she’s far stronger than the average person.

“I’m stronger than you.”

She flexes the muscles in her left arm, but there’s no visible difference, making Milkit even more uneasy.

“I noticed you bought all Flum’s favorites.”

“I’m sure if she eats it Master will be back to her usual self in no time.”

“...Lovebirds.”

“That’s not it at all. I just… I only want to return everything that Master has been kind enough to give me, even if only a little.”

“You’re too eager about it.”

“I am Master’s slave, after all.”

Milkit puts her hand to her chest, a happy look on her face.

“Good thing you two met, then. For both your sakes.”

“Yes, without a doubt!”

They happened to both survive that hell, and they just happened to take each other’s hands as each licked the other’s wounds.

Milkit didn’t choose a thing. She just followed the flow as she always has. In the end it happened to change her life for the better, proof that you never can tell what life has in store.

As she reflects back on the miracle that brought her together with Flum and the days that followed, she almost doesn’t notice the slender man that emerges from the alley to stand in front of them.

“Oh? What a rare pair. If you were alone you’d be a sitting duck, but this is a pickle, oh, yes, quite the pickle. I wonder why the great Eterna Rinebow would stoop so low as to walk with a weak little thing like yourself?”

The man spreads his arms wide like an actor performing on some great invisible stage. He’s tall and lanky but covered in lean muscle, and his hair is a light shade of brown. He’s clad in leather armor, a dagger about twenty centimeters long rests at his waist, on his back is a large crossbow, and on his arm is a wooden buckler.

The man is clearly not in his casual wear but ready for combat as an adventurer.

Milkit knows him.

“Dane Finneas…!”

Milkit lets a rare bit of anger slip into her voice as she glares at him. He’s her master’s enemy --- there’s no better reason to hate him.

“That’s him?”

Eterna doesn’t let her emotions show on her face, but she starts gathering mana into her palm. It can’t hurt to be prepared. There’s no telling what dirty tricks he has up his sleeves.

“Hold on there, meeting here like this is a coincidence, I assure you. I don’t want to fight. I’m strong enough to know when I’m completely outclassed.”

“Why did you come here, then?”

“All I want is to talk. I can assure you it’ll be worth your time.”

“No thank you, we’re not interested. Let’s go home, Eterna-san.”

Eterna nods.

They move to pass him without so much as looking at him again, but the corners of his mouth rise and he starts ‘acting’ once again.

“Ahh, what a pity! And here I thought you cared about that bratty little Sara Anvilen. Flum’s been running all over the place looking for her, hasn’t she? I bet your master would be awfully happy --- overcome with joy, even, if you were to tell her where she is and how she’s doing, but if you insist you aren’t interested…”

“Sara-san…!”

Milkit stops in her tracks.

“...Milkit. Keep walking.”

“But…!”

She had fun together with Sara. She wants to find her. She wants to talk with her, play with her, to cook for her again. But more than that --- Flum’s been running herself ragged looking for her.

If I have a chance to find out about her…

If I can be useful to Master, then…!

“Oh, I do rather like obedient little slaves. You’ve finally got some meat on your bones, and I daresay your face is healed, isn’t it? I bet I could sell you for a pretty penny.”

“Shut it, sleazebag.”

Eterna glares at him, and it’s enough that Dane’s expression freezes, despite his confidence only a moment earlier. She wasn’t chosen as one of the Hero’s companions for nothing.

The question is, though, how he got information on Milkit and Sara. It would appear that his information network is just as formidable as ever, even if it was on the verge of collapsing at one point.

“Uhehe, how very scary. Unfortunately, I know no fear now --- ahh, I had no idea being protected was so liberating. Up until now I’ve been the fool doing the protecting, after all.”

“I don’t care, please just tell us what you know about Sara!”

“Kuhehehe, don’t get impatient, now. I’ll tell you absolutely everything in due time.”

The smirk on Dane’s face goes past crude, twisted as if he’s lost his mind. It’s so undignified and disgraceful that Milkit scrunches up her own face in disgust.

“The day that the brat went missing, she’d gone to the West Quarter church as she always did. She was there for a very good reason, though --- she was curious about an insolent little urchin named Ink.”

He pauses for a moment to study their reactions --- that must be why he specifically brought her name up.

They can’t let anything show.

They can’t let him know Ink is living with them.

Eterna arrives at the conclusion logically, Milkit instinctively.

He must be looking for her; that’s why he’s trying to trick them into revealing what they know.

Evidently upset with his results, he clicks his tongue with irritation before continuing.

“There, she heard a certain rumor from a pair of paladins. Since it was a little too close to the truth, however, that innocent little rumor proved to be the trigger for a certain something.”

“Trigger? What are you talking about?”

“Maybe I should call it an automatic defense system? It’s a little too kind, however, a little too eager to protect us from them.”

His words are a little too abstract for them to understand, however.

“I suppose I should get a little more detailed, then,” he says with a brazen laugh.

At that moment, Eterna flicks her fingers.

“...?”

Milkit cocks her head to the side, a strange feeling occupying her ears.

Dane doesn’t seem to notice or care, however.

“It’s not a matter of those with the Church and those not. It’s a matter of the Children and everyone else. If anyone else hears the truth they’ll be chased, toyed with, and killed. I became the Children’s ally --- it was that or be killed. That’s why they’re so nice as to protect me now.”

“Children? The human experimentees?”

“Yes, them! Oh, so you know already… or no, I suppose not. If you knew you would’ve fulfilled the ‘requirements’ long ago. How should I put this… Whatever you’re thinking of must be the work of a different team entirely.”

“A different research team…”

“Yes, that about sums it up. The Spiral Children, instead of being born with hearts, were all born with a… Core, wasn’t it? A black crystal of some sort that makes them delightful little monsters. The fruits of but one branch of research, if you will, though I’ve heard that their results are some of the most favorable. The Children were created in a lab under the Capital, you see---”

Dane continues to casually let slip crucial information all on his own. Eterna had felt that something was off a while ago, but now that her fears have been confirmed she’s glad she took preventative measures.

“...Huh? What?”

Milkit cocks her head to the side in confusion again. It’s only natural --- she can’t hear a word he’s saying, after all. Eterna had created earplugs for her out of water.

The explanation for her actions is provided by Dane himself.

“...Well, I’m sure you’ve figured out that I have a good reason for telling you all this. I’m so clever that I just happened to come across a little discovery --- even if you aren’t looking for it, even if you happen to hear it by accident, even if I tell you all about the Spiral Children from my end without even asked, the ‘requirements’ are fulfilled.”

He taps his temple a few times with his index finger.

TUNK, THUNKTUNK --- a large number of somethings fall from a nearby rooftop.

The sight of them causes Eterna to recoil in disgust.

Eyeballs. Human eyeballs.

They start to roll towards her --- from the alleyways, the windows of nearby houses, even seemingly bubbling out of the ground itself.

“Hehe, hyahahahahaha!! Oh, my, there are so many of them already! You’d better get out of here. You don’t want to get warped and twisted like all those rank corpses, now, do you?”

He once again shows them his unhinged grin.

They heard all about the bodies found in the slums from Flum. If Dane’s telling the truth, then letting even a single eye touch them will condemn them to a rather unpleasant end.

“Eee…! E-Eterna-san, those are…!”

“You can’t have Milkit… Aqua Garm!”

A sphere of water forms in front of Eterna, then bends, twists, and finally becomes a dog several times the size of a human.

“E-Eh!? Kyaaaaa!!”

The dog reaches down and grabs a confused Milkit in its soft jaws, placing her on its back.

“Go!”

Eterna swings her arm in the direction of their house and the dog starts running straight there --- literally in a straight line, jumping up to the rooftops and dashing across the tops of buildings as it needs to.

“Hyahaha, it’s futile, all futile! They’ll catch her eventually!”

Eterna responds to Dane’s laughter calmly.

“It’s not futile.”

“Haa?”

“She didn’t hear you. I blocked her ears.”

“Kh… So you noticed, huh?”

“I’m clever. More so than you.”

“You uppity little bitch---!”

Overcome with rage, he trains his crossbow on her.

“What a temper. You must be at your wit’s end.”

“You’re the only one being forced into a corner here, Eterna Rinebow!!”

The eyes start to close in on her, and just as there’s nowhere left for her to run Dane pulls the trigger on his crossbow.

“Aqua Spear!”

At the same time she casts a spell, easily crushing and deflecting both the eyes and the crossbow bolt as they close in.

“Aqua Tentacles.”

Next, long, thin tentacles of water sprout from the ground, moving to entangle Dane.

“Whoa there!”

He jumps backwards, shooting the grappling hook from his buckler. The hook embeds itself in the eaves of a nearby house and a moment later he is pulled to safety. The thugs that were watching a short distance away quickly disperse, splitting up to flee.

“It really is a shame that little slave escaped, but this is the end of you. Just try to run, little witch! Hyahahahahahahaha!!”

Laughter echoing eerily through the street, he grapples again and flies away from the scene.

Eterna is about to cast another spell at him, but…

“It doesn’t look like these things will let me.”

The eyes only continue to multiply.

Even if they move slowly, there’s no end to their numbers and letting even one touch her means game over. She can’t let her guard down.

She concentrates mana into her legs, then stomps the ground with magic-infused soles.

“Aqua Shelter.”

Water springs up from the ground, enveloping her in a protective shell. It’s not as hard as ice, but what it lacks in raw durability it makes up for in elasticity. Cast by someone of her level, no number of normal adventurers would be enough to break through it.

The eyes continue to proliferate.

A single spell should be enough to wipe them all out at once, but there’s a limit on how much energy she has. She’d cast Aqua Shelter to buy enough time to gather all she could for that one definitive attack, but…

“They’re trying to pass through...”

The eyes are all moving straight at her, not caring about the wall between them.

Just as they slip into human bodies, they’re on the verge of slipping right through the wall of water.

“There’s no end to this.”

She gathers magic energy into her feet once more and kicks the ground.

“Splash.”

A geyser of water erupts at her feet, sending her up through the top of the Aqua Shelter and high into the air.

“Aqua Tentacles.”

From there she extends watery tentacles towards the nearest building, pulling herself towards it and onto the roof. As soon as her feet touch the tiles she casts it again, pulling herself to the next building and away from the eyes.

The eyeballs are always all around her, coming out of nowhere.

Just when she thinks she’s lost them, she finds herself surrounded again.

As she flees through the night, she finds herself more worried about Flum, Milkit, and Ink than herself.

Dane surely won’t just give up after failing once. On top of that, he’s likely not even the one controlling the eyes. There are more enemies than just him at large.

Hoping those three will be safe, the curtain opens on Eterna’s grand tale of daring escape.


◇◇◇


“Masteeer!”

Milkit runs into the house, and as soon as she lays eyes on her master she leaps into her arms. Her clothes are sopping wet and her shopping basket is missing.

“Milkit, is everything okay? Where’s Eterna-san!?”

“Eterna-san… J-Just like Sara-san, those eyes…!”

“Her too!? Why…!?”

Ink arrives a little late, but hearing their conversation she seems shocked.

“But they let you escape? All you did was go out shopping…!”

“Dane suddenly appeared in front of us, and while he was talking those eyes suddenly came out of nowhere.”

“That asshole again! Do you remember what he said?”

“I don’t know. I think Eterna-san prevented me from hearing with magic… I couldn’t hear anything, and then all of a sudden I found myself on the back of a magic dog which took me here.”

“She covered your ears…? Does that mean that if you hear something those eyes will chase after you?”

In other words, it’s not just a matter of looking into the Church, it’s coming across specific information.

If that’s the case, though, then the question is why the eyes weren’t attacking Dane.

“So he’s safe because he’s with the Church… no, since Sara was targeted, maybe it’s possible that he became a member of their research team…? That might explain why he and his thugs joined them…”

The other day Dane had mentioned that his superiors didn’t want him to lay a finger on her --- he was probably referring to the head of the research team.

If they don’t want to harm Flum, then there’s a chance they want to capture her, not kill her.

“In the end it’s all my fault, isn’t it…”

“No, it’s not, Master!”

“Milkit…”

There’s no basis behind Milkit’s words. She can’t say that for certain.

“Ah… We’d better get you out of those clothes or else you’ll catch a cold. We can think about this more after that.”

Even if they put it off, though, in the end there’s no way for Flum to win against an enemy that has sent even Eterna running.

Flum’s spirit feels on the verge of breaking.

Ink is facing the ground, a glum look on her face.

An oppressive mood fills the air.

Milkit’s still there, however. That alone is enough to give Flum strength.


◇◇◇


Flum grabs a change of clothes from their room and hands them to Milkit where she waits in the changing room. She was planning on waiting outside the room for her to finish changing, but the thought of being alone makes the both of them nervous, so Flum stays where she is.

Watching Milkit change is a little too much, though, so she faces the opposite direction.

“This really isn’t your fault, Master. It’s all his fault.”

Taking off her wet clothes, Milkit starts wiping herself off with a towel.

“Yeah, I know, but I was the one who started it.”

“From the beginning he had no real reason to target you. Please don’t think it’s your fault.”

“That’s… you’re right, I guess.”

Sara, Otilier, even Eterna got mixed up in this whole mess, but the Church’s true target is Flum.

I guess if I just give up it’d all end, huh…

Finishing with the towel, Milkit grabs her underwear. The room is silent for a moment except for the faint rustling of fabric.

“If nothing else, Dane’s my fault. I’ve got to deal with him with my own two hands.”

“He felt somewhat different from the first time we met him, though.”

“I thought so, too. He’s probably getting desperate after losing so much… that’s why he’s more frightening than ever, though.”

Milkit starts putting on a dry maid outfit, hands moving nimbly. They’re a lot harder to put on than normal street clothes, but wearing them every day has made it a lot easier.

That being said, though, she’s overjoyed to wear anything that Flum gave her, regardless of what it is.

“All done!”

Hearing her voice, Flum turns around.

--- Milkit isn’t there.

“...Huh?”

There’s nothing but air.

Just empty space.

Her wet clothing is still in the laundry basket --- it’s still warm to the touch.

Until just a moment ago she was right there.

“Eh… W-What’s going on…?”

She’s now gone.

“M-Milkit? Hey, Milkit! Where’d you go!? You’re just hiding somewhere, aren’t you!? This is a prank, isn’t it!?”

Flum breaks into a cold sweat and she gets goosebumps. Her breathing is shallow and ragged, her lungs refusing to take in any oxygen.

“C’mon, answer me! Milkit! Milkit!!”

Even if she shouts, there’s no reply.

Inside the bathroom, outside the window, the hallway, the kitchen, the second floor --- no matter where she goes she can’t seem to find her.

“What’s wrong, Flum?”

Ink, noticing something wrong, grabs onto the hem of Flum’s shirt.

“Ink… Milkit’s gone! She was just changing, I was right behind her, and she just disappeared!!”

“Calm down, Flum. What do you mean, she’s gone? Why’s she gone?”

“If I knew that I wouldn’t be running around like this!!”

Flum’s half lost her mind already.

Milkit was her only support when everyone was disappearing around her.

Now that she’s gone there’s nothing she can do but break down, give up.

Without Milkit she’s just a sixteen-year-old girl.

Milkit’s ‘magic’ hasn’t faded yet, though. For just a little longer, she can keep going --- even if she’s on the verge of losing her mind completely.

She has to find Milkit, as soon as possible, before the spell is broken.

“Milkit, Milkit, Milkit, Milkit, Milkit, Milkit, Milkiiiit!!!”

Flum howls her name. She looks outside the house, too, even crawling on all fours to check under the house.

She’s not there.

She’s not anywhere.

It’s as though she vanished into thin air.

One hour passes, two, three --- no matter where she runs, there’s not a single trace of her.

As the cool night breeze hits her face she’s able to cool off a little bit, and with unsteady feet she drags herself back home.

“Are you okay, Flum?”

Ink feels for Flum’s hand, finds it, and grips it tightly. The warmth of her body starts to seep into Flum’s already-cool heart.

Just then, Ink’s stomach growls. It’s long past time for dinner.

Normally they’d all be enjoying Milkit’s cooking --- all together, everyone.

There’s nobody at the table now. Milkit, Eterna, Sara, they’re all gone.

“Uu… uuuuuuuu…!”

Flum collapses to her knees, tearing at her hair as she moans.

What’d I do that was so wrong!?

All I did was try to defend myself! Was I supposed to just sit there and get beat on!?

If this is the will of the gods then they’re too cruel!

Did I stray off the proper path somewhere!?

Why is everyone I care about disappearing before my eyes!?

All we did was support each other! All we did was try to grasp happiness, even though the world was determined to beat us down! Is that so wrong!? Should we really be punished for that!?

“Aaagh, aaaaaaaaaahh…! Milkit… Was I not supposed to let you out of my sight…!? But, but that’s…!”

She was close enough that Flum could feel her warmth, but just blinking was enough to lose her.

She can’t win against an opponent that powerful, that unreasonably cruel.

I’m powerless, powerless, powerless…!

She’s just as powerless as she was when she was in the Hero’s party.

Powerless, useless, worthless trash.

“I’m… still in the depths of hell…”

She scratches at the slave mark on her cheek hard enough to draw blood. She feels the pain, the blood glistens on her fingertips, but the curse quickly seals the wound, leaving it the same as always.

“Even if I have this worthless power, I still couldn’t protect her…!”

“Flum…”

Ink doesn’t know what she should do, how she should talk to Flum now. She tries to comfort her but the words fail her. Vexed, she can only squeeze her hand.

As she does so, Flum stops whining and turns to face ahead of her.

“I’m going out again.”

“It’s dark and scary out there.”

“I’m going. Don’t leave the house no matter what, okay?”

“...Okay. I’ll wait here.”

The night is black, and running through the streets is hopelessly ineffective.

Unless Flum keeps moving, though, unless she convinces herself that she’s doing absolutely everything she can for Milkit, she knows she’ll go crazy.


◇◇◇


By the time Flum returns home the date is on the verge of changing.

She found nothing, of course.

Her powerlessness weighs heavily on her shoulders.

“...I’m home.”

Flum calls out in a thin, weak voice, but there’s no response. Ink must be asleep already. The light on the first floor must only be on to welcome Flum home.

Her body’s reached its limit. She doesn’t even think she can muster the strength to change; all she wants to do is collapse onto the bed and sleep like the dead, not caring even if she never wakes up.

Her heavy feet carry her up the stairs. The second floor is pitch black, so Ink really must be asleep. The door to her room is half-open, however, meaning that she was probably hoping to hear Flum coming home so she could say goodnight.

Just as Flum is about to pass by --- clatter. A sound comes from inside Ink’s room, not once but repeatedly.

“I guess she’s awake after all.”

She was probably planning on startling Flum. The sound seems to be coming from the window frame --- but Flum’s not out there anymore. She shouldn’t have any reason to open the window.

“Ink, I’m home.”

She pokes her head into Ink’s room and knocks softly on the door.

...No response.

The clattering of the window continues.

“Can I come in?”

She asks again. No reply.

“I’m coming in.”

She feels a little bad about just inviting herself in, but she steps inside anyway.

The first thing Flum spots in that dark room is Ink’s back. For some reason she’s half-hanging out the window, staring down at the alleyway below.

“What’re you doing? Are you looking for Mil---”

Flum talks as she walks up behind Ink, but something causes her to stop dead in her tracks.

--- SPLURURT. SPLURT.

She’s heard that same sound somewhere.

Her body refuses to move.

Her face stiffens.

She catches a whiff of blood and a chill runs down her spine.

“I-Ink…?”

It’s impossible. I must be imagining things.

She musters what courage she can and steps forward.

The sound grows only louder --- the raw sound of wet flesh writhing and spewing.

SPLURT… SPLUT… TUNK, THUNKTUNK.

What’s happening?

What’s Ink doing?

She doesn’t want to know.

She doesn’t want to see.

But --- she can’t just ignore it.

She takes another step forward.

The sound grows louder again.

She can feel the floorboards creak under her feet.

She swallows hard, her sticky saliva falling down her throat. Sweat wells up from her temples and runs down her jaw to drip to the floor. Her breathing is short and irregular, her mouth hanging open slightly as her lungs refuse to work properly as they spasm. Every sound, every sensation seems so vivid and fresh it makes her stomach churn and her vision swim before her eyes. She almost wishes she could just pass out.

She reaches out.

She grabs the baggy nightgown she lent Ink, taking a handful of loose fabric. Ink finally seems to notice as she turns around.

“SPLURT, SPLURURT… SPLURT.”

Before Flum’s eyes is a spiral of raw flesh.

Just like the ‘ogre’.

It twitches, spasms, spews blood --- but not just that.

Along with the blood comes a torrent of human eyes.

They ooze forth, wriggling through the gaps in the folds of flesh before plummeting to the ground wetly.

OmaeGotoki 02-Ch10 1.png

“Aa… aaaaaa…”

Did she make a mistake? Somewhere along the line, did she go astray?

Flum knows the answer now.

Blood stains the front of the nightgown as eyes spill onto the floor.

The sight in front of her taints and stains all her memories of Ink.

“Uu…. ua, aaaa… aaaaaahh!!”

Bile rising in her throat, she squeezes out a wail, sweat and tears pouring freely.

Even seeing Flum’s grief-filled face, though, Ink doesn’t react. She stares at Flum for a while, then turns back to the window to continue spewing eyes into the alleyway below.

“Aahh… ha, hya, a, AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!!”

Unable to stand it, Flum screams, bolting from the room and slamming the door behind her.

As if trying to erase what she just bore witness to.

She slams the door to her own room, collapsing her back to the door.

“Hahh, hahh, hahh, hahh…”

She holds her head in her arms, eyes wide, breathing shallow.

The truth can’t be erased that easily.

Squelching, falling, squirming, spewing --- the sounds still reach her ears. She tries to cover them but the sticky sweat covering her palms as they plaster her ears only serves to remind her of that squelching spiral.

Even then, even so, it’s far better than hearing that.

“Why… why… whyyyyyyy…!?”

She doesn’t care who, she just craves an answer. No matter what the answer is she’ll accept it.

But there’s nobody there.

Not Sara, not Otilier, not Milkit, not Eterna, not even Ink.

There’s nobody left in that house.

All that’s left is Flum and that thing that used to be Ink, the thing she believed to be Ink --- that monstrosity.

“Uu… ueh… ha, haaa… ughuh, guh… hagh, haaaahh…”

The sound still reaches her ears.

She’d thought she’d lived through the depths of despair. She thought she’d seen the worst.

But she’d barely scratched the surface.

Here.

This, here, is truly, undeniably, the depths of despair.

Sweat, tears, saliva, even the contents of her stomach flow freely.

Flum sits there, unmoving, hands pressed over her ears until the sound stops.


Chapter 11 - Break The Night[edit]

Flum has lost all sense of the passage of time. She doesn’t know how long she’s sat there against the door, head in her arms, not even blinking. It feels like an eternity, but it can’t have been more than a few hours.

The night is still black as pitch, the hallway still bathed in darkness.

The inside of her mouth is bone dry and she can’t even sweat anymore, nor does she have the willpower left to go to the kitchen for a drink of water.

Clatter --- the door behind her starts shaking as someone on the other side tries to push it open.

“H-Huh? Why won’t it open? I don’t think it’s locked…”

It’s Ink’s voice. Flum twitches.

Should I move?

If I move I’ll have to face her. Of course I’ll have to.

She’s a monstrosity, the same as that thing at the research lab.

In that case… Then…!

“Wah, it opened! ...Eh? Is someone there?”

Flum moves away from the door, and crouched down with her knee to the floor she draws the Zweihander. She strengthens her grip on the hilt, light faintly reflecting off the black blade to give it an otherworldly sheen.

“...Hah... hahh… haahh… ”

“I can hear you breathing… Is that you, Flum? Stop being so quiet and say something!”

Her face is --- normal, just like always.

Does it only change under certain conditions? Can she change it at will?

No, that doesn’t matter. I can’t trust her at all now.

The only thing that’s certain is that her face twisted into a spiral, spewing eyes like a horror from her darkest nightmares --- that’s the truth.

Sara’s gone.

Ed and Johnny are most likely dead.

Otilier’s missing.

Eterna still hasn’t come back, Milkit vanished.

Who knows how many other victims there’ve been.

Ink did it all. It’s all because of her…!

Flum stands up, grabbing the Zweihander in both hands and raising it into the air.

All she has to do is bring it down.

If she does --- Ink will die.

No, that probably won’t be enough. Just like that ‘ogre’, her wounds will probably spiral and twist in on themselves and harden. Unless she crushes the Core she won’t die. Is it in her heart? Somewhere else?

She’ll have to start by hacking her apart into smaller pieces---

Hack her… apart…

Flum’s hands start to tremble.

Kill it now, reason desperately screams.

Don’t do it, emotion tries to stop her.

She has no idea what she should do now.

“You’re right there, aren’t you? Welcome home, Flum! Sorry, it looks like I fell asleep… When I woke up I was back in my room, so I must’ve been half asleep at the time. I’ve been having that kinda problem for a long time. ‘You’re far too restless when you sleep,’ everyone used to yell at me, haha…”

“... Fuu…”

“Are you trying to prank me? My hearing is really good so I can hear your breathing. Since it’s this quiet I can even hear your heartbeat.”

Ink talks to her as if nothing is wrong.

Should I kill her? Can I kill her, even?

What Flum saw earlier might be something completely different from her, taking her place whenever she’s asleep. Maybe it showed itself to her just to spook her.

That’d make sense.

It’d make sense, but what good does that do her?

“Ink…”

She lets her name slip.

Ink’s expression is filled with relief for an instant, but immediately afterwards she puffs out her cheeks with anger.

“You finally answered me! I was really worried that it wasn’t you for a while there!”

Her expression is perfectly normal for a human her age.

She’s… human.

If she’s not then what is she?

If only she’d just stayed a monster this would be a lot easier… why’d she change back like this?

Maybe to pressure her, maybe to make her let down her guard --- but if that was her goal she should’ve killed Flum in her sleep.

Why didn’t she do it?

Why, why, why?

She doesn’t know anything. Thinking about it won’t give her answers.

I can’t accept this.

“It doesn’t feel like you found Milkit, huh. That’s kinda sad, but maybe she’ll come home on her own tomor---”

“Don’t you remember?”

That’s why she asks.

That’s why she sticks her hand into Pandora’s box.

Ink cocks her head to the side.

“Remember what?”

Flum swallows hard, forcing the words out of her dry throat.

“Spewing those eyes… being a monster.”

“...What do you mean? That’s not funny, Flum!”

“It’s not a joke! Just now, just a few minutes ago, you turned into a monster right in front of me! I saw it!”

Her voice echoes through the house, empty except for those two, even reaching past the walls to the outside.

“There’s no way I’d…”

“No, there’s no mistake. I heard it, smelled it, I even felt it! You aren’t human. You’re the monstrosity that’s been controlling those eyes!”

Ink can tell from Flum’s tone that she’s telling the truth. She shakes her head back and forth, muttering to herself.

“I’m a human…!”

“No. You’re not.”

Their words contradict each other.

Neither of them is lying.

It’s because they’re both so sure that they’re at odds.

“I’m humaaan...”

“Just like the Second Generation children at that laboratory, you were twisted and lost your humanity.”

“That didn’t happen… I don’t remember…”

“I finally know what that medicine was for. It was to suppress that ‘power.’”

“Nooo...!”

“Once you didn’t have that limiter, your ‘power’… you chased Sara-chan away!”

“N-No, I’d never hurt her… Sara, you… I love everyone! I wouldn’t do that!”

“How many people do you think you’ve killed!?”

Venom drips from Flum’s words.

Ink, faced with such hatred, such resent, doesn’t know what she should do --- but she doesn’t think for an instant that it’s uncalled for.

Maybe… Maybe she’s right…

Someplace deep in her heart, she knows it’s possible.

Her eyes are sewn shut.

Her body isn’t normal.

Monstrous eyes chasing people throughout the Capital.

Everything points to her being the culprit.

“I don’t know anything about that, really!”

“Then Milkit disappeared and Eterna-san still hasn’t come home yet! Sara-chan, Ed-san, Johnny-san, even Otilier-san are all still missing!”

“No, that wasn’t me…! Why won’t you believe me!?”

“I saw it with my own eyes!! Do you really think I could just believe you after seeing that thing!?”

Flum’s not saying these things because she wants to.

Ink was hoping that she’d be able to live with Flum and Milkit, that she’d be able to call the spot by their sides home.

Everything’s already broken --- completely, utterly, everything.

“I’m… I’m not a monster! I’m not a monster!!”

Ink runs down the stairs.

She trips and falls partway down and tumbles to the first floor. Her entire body stings, and tears start to leak from her sewn-up eyes. She wipes them away with her nightgown --- Flum’s nightgown, the one she lent her, the one that still faintly smells like her.

Memories of the past few days come to mind, making her even sadder.

The sadness fuels her and she runs down the corridor, colliding into walls all the way, finally arriving at the front door --- and out into the street barefoot.

The chill night air reminds her that she’s alone again.

Flum couldn’t bring herself to stop her.

She lets the Zweihander clatter to the ground, falls to her knees, and with closed eyes turns to face the sky.

She’s crying, just like Ink. She doesn’t know who she’s crying for, but all her grievances seem to ball up and spill from her eyes all at once.

“Uu… aaa… aaah, aaaaaaahh, aaaaaaaaaaahhh!!”

Turning all her pent-up emotions into a howl, she cries as if mad.

She grabs her head in her hands, scraping her forehead against the ground, repeating it until blood runs down her face, as if punishing herself.

Even then, with a hoarse voice, she continues to cry.



Ink, hearing Flum’s scream from within the house, stops and looks back.

I’m not the only one who’s sad.

I’m not the only one who’s suffering.

It’s not fake, not some figment of her imagination, the feelings pent up in that cry are real.

It’s not a lie, not a dream.

She really did see that, then…

“Uu… ghu, uu… uuuu…”

Biting her lip, shoulders trembling, she starts to weep.

She wants to believe it’s not true, but she knows full well that she grew up someplace far from normal. She doesn’t know what was going on there, why she was raised there, absolutely nothing.

She was useless and kept from the truth because of it.

That’s why she still doesn’t regret running away from there.

She would’ve loved to kept on living there in ignorant bliss. She might’ve never experienced normal, human happiness, but she wouldn’t know pain and hardship like this, either.

“Flu--- ngh!?”

She starts walking back towards the house when suddenly someone pins her arms behind her back and clamps a hand over her mouth.

No matter how much Ink struggles, she probably won’t be able to break free --- but just for a moment, she’s able to let out a scream.



“Lemme go---!”

Still collapsed on the floor, Ink’s cry reaches Flum’s ears.

It was just for a moment, but it was unmistakable.

She’s probably being attacked by someone.

I’ve got to save her, Flum thinks on impulse, standing up.

She doesn’t move from there, though.

“Save her… and then what?”

She was the one who treated Ink like a monster and chased her out.

“...Ahh.”

Her false sense of justice doesn’t learn from its mistakes, causing her to raise her head.

“...Even so.”

There’s no point in playing the hero now that Milkit’s gone. She’s just Flum Apricot now, she can’t do the impossible anymore.

That means that she can’t suppress the feeling rising in her chest.

“Even so… If I don’t save her now, I know I’m going to regret it later!!”

She casts reason aside. She can’t think about the consequences now.

There’ll be time for that after she’s done what needs to be done.

For now she’ll just focus on saving Ink --- when the time comes she can decide to let her live or kill her with her own hands, by her own will.

Flum bolts through into Ink’s room, leaping out the window. As she falls motes of light envelop her legs, manifesting in her Epic-tier Leather Boots. Slipping slightly as she lands, she touches a hand to the ground before running in the direction of Ink’s cry.

Ink is---

“There!”

Flum finds her being restrained by a certain familiar face.

“Ink!!”

“Nn! Nghgh!”

“Oh, so you came out to play after all.”

“You... Dane! Why’re you here!?”

“Why, to look for a certain escaped little guinea pig, of course! I got the feeling she might be here, and it looks like I wasn’t disappointed. I’m on the ball as always, it would seem.”

He puts a little more strength into his grip, causing Ink to flail in pain.

“Let her go!!”

“Now why would I do that? I have my own problems, you know. Moreover, judging from the way she came running out of the house I’d say the two of you just had a little fight. I know, oh I know, you called her a horrifying monster, didn’t you? Don’t be ashamed, it’s the truth! Hyahahaha!”

“You bastaaaaard!”

“How scary! Looks like I hit the nail on the head.”

His expression is nonplussed as always.

“Did you know this little brat is utterly useless, according to the lab? Do you know why?”

“I don’t know or care!”

“I’ll tell you anyway. It’s because she doesn’t even realize herself that she’s a murderous little monstrosity! Even though she’s the most unsightly of all the Children!!”

“Nnnh…!”

Monstrosity. Murderer.

Ink clamps her eyes ‘shut’ and shakes her head violently. She probably doesn’t want to believe it.

Ignoring her --- or maybe even taking pleasure in her discomfort, he continues to spill the truth.

“It’s all because of how difficult it is for her to manifest Origin’s power. She can only use her powers when she’s not under the effect of the inhibitor and in a deep sleep --- although ‘use’ isn’t quite the right word for it, really, it’s more like Origin’s power dominates her body completely as soon as she loses consciousness. I’ll bet that even when she was in that house of yours she’d spew those putrid eyeballs from her putrid face while you were all ignorantly sleeping away! Isn’t this all so hilariously ironic, Flum, that you of all people are the one to drive her out!? Ahahahahahahahahahaha!!”

He truly seems to be enjoying himself --- but his laughter feels hollow somehow.

“Do you know what happened to Milkit!?”

“Ahahahaha! Ahh, yes, I know. I know aaaaaaaall about it! She’s probably being warped into one of those hideous balls of flesh right now, far out of your reach!”

“…! I’ll kill you! I swear I’ll murder youuuu!!”

Drawing her sword, she dashes towards him.

“Sorry, my job is just to reclaim an escaped little monster. I’ll leave you to these nice fellows!”

Perfectly in sync with Dane’s words, a group of men start to emerge from the shadows around her. They’re the same thugs who were at the sermon with Dane, and every last one of them is expressionless, their eyes dead. They were likely ‘modified’ a little by the Church.

“How pitiful… Even after you lost everything they kept on believing in you, and this is how you repay their trust!?”

“All they wanted was to be of use to me. I’m simply granting their wish.”

“They can’t have wanted this, to be used like mindless tools!”

“Why’re you so worked up about this? They tried to kill you, don’t you remember? Still trying to play the hero, are you!? Your pleasantries make me sick!!”

Dane’s anger feels directionless, as if he’s only lashing out at her.

There’s no way the man that pulled out all the stops against her for killing just two of his men would stoop so low as this.

“I… I didn’t… no, I didn’t want… It wasn’t supposed to be like…!!”

He grits his teeth hard enough to break them, as if lamenting what he himself has become.

“Ha, haha… no, that doesn’t matter now. Yes, as long as I’m alive that’s what matters. I’ve made my decision…”

“Why bother living when you’ve thrown away everything but your cowardice!?”

“Kh… Shut the hell uuuup!!”

Unable to restrain his anger, he points his crossbow at Flum.

“What do you know about me!? You… You don’t know what I’ve lost!!”

“Go on, shoot me.”

“Gh…”

Dane grits his teeth, conflicted.

If he doesn’t shoot, there will be nothing left of the prideful man he once was.

--- Taking a deep breath, the anger disappears from his expression.

“My owner told me not to kill you.”

He gives her a thin, powerless smile.

“I really wish I could kill you here and now, but if I did that I’d just get myself killed. I… I don’t want to die. Nobody would want to die like that. Hehe, fuhehehe… I’ll give you one last warning, though.”

“Warning?”

“Yes, just because I’m so kind. Don’t lay a finger on these men. Run and try to escape if you want, but don’t even think about following me. All of them have already gone completely into their fold, after all.”

“I hope you’re not just begging for your life.”

“Haha, why would I do a thing like that? I’m only thinking of you, I assure you. You’re stupid enough to not know when to quit, after all. Well then, do all you can to stay alive, now.”

“Nghhhh!”

Carrying Ink, he flees into the night. She extends a hand toward Flum, as if asking for help.

“Ink!!”

Flum cries her name and tries to follow after them, but Dane’s thugs step in to cut her off.

About ten men surround her, wielding all manner of weapons from shortswords to spears to clubs. A number of men also stand watching from a distance or up on nearby rooftops, armed with bows, crossbows, and slings.

It’s more than enough to take a single girl.

Flum casts Scan on one of the nearby men. His stat total is 2,482; his Strength and Constitution are about 600 while his other stats are around 400. He’s at the upper bracket of C-Rank, and clearly a quite competent adventurer with no obvious shortcomings. Assuming that Dane himself is at about B-Rank, this man must be the squad leader.

Just to be sure she also casts Scan on another thugs --- and doubts her own eyes.

“They’re the same?”

His stat total is also 2,482. The exact values and his Attribute being the same are one thing --- but even his name is exactly identical to the first man’s.

She casts Scan on another man, then another, then another.

Flum then comes to realize the truth---

“All these men… their names, Attributes, even their stats are all the exact same!”

They look different from each other, but in all other respects they’re exact copies. Flum isn’t too surprised at such an irregularity, though.

“This is definitely the Church’s work…”

More specifically, Origin’s influence at play.

When Dane joined the Church and lost his influence he’d even sold out his subordinates… and as a result they became test subjects against their will.

Flum grits her teeth.

They tried to kill her, certainly, but they idolized Dane. For him to sell them out like this just to save his own skin…

“I’ll never, ever forgive him…!”

Turning her anger into strength, she charges at the men directly in front of her.

This is her first time fighting so many people at once. Given that their stats aren’t that different, she wouldn’t stand a chance against them normally, but if she uses her regeneration and Reversal magic to full effect, she might be able to make it out alive.

In order to turn things around, she’ll have to focus on thinning their numbers first.

FWOOSH!

She draws the Zweihander and swings it in a large arc, but all of the men in front of her step back in perfect sync.

One of the men on a nearby rooftop takes advantage of her opening to fire an arrow at her. Spotting it out of the corner of her eye, she gauges its destination, then gathers mana into her leg. Right as it’s about to hit her thigh---

“Reversal!”

She casts the spell. The arrow’s trajectory ‘reverses’ and it sails back to the rooftops to embed itself into the archer’s neck. Clutching at the shaft, he collapses and rolls off the roof.

“That’s one!”

Flum uses her first kill to psych herself up a little. She was only able to use Reversal because she knew the arrow’s destination, though, and especially since they’ve seen her cast it once they likely won’t fall for the same trick again.

Next to attack her is the group of men on the ground. One of the men right in front of her stabs at her with a spear, aiming for her torso.

SHLUCK --- she takes the spearhead in her shoulder.

Her opponent’s reach is far longer than her own, meaning that if she just plays it safe who knows how long the fight will drag on. In that case it’s far faster to let them rend her flesh and snap her bones, letting her regeneration keep her alive. Setting aside the fact that she’ll be taking a lot of damage in the process, it’s the most efficient way to fight.

Blood sprays from her wound as the intense pain of that clump of metal entering her shoulder assaults her senses. Her expression only twists with pain for a moment, however, and she wrenches the spear out of the thug’s hands, letting it drop to the ground.

The weaponless man quickly backs away, but in his place come two men with shortswords from in front of her and another spearman from behind.

She’ll have to break straight through.

Flum dodges the rain of blades to duck past the swordsmen in front of her, closing in on the weaponless thug. Sensing her behind him, he whips around, fists at the ready.

“It’s useless!”

She swings the Zweihander down at him --- but he deflects the blade with his gauntlets as if dancing, making it miss him completely. He then slips into her guard and drives his fist into her gut.

“Gahh…!?”

His moves are that of a professional brawler, despite his obvious skill with a spear just a moment ago. A master of spear and fist… there’s no way such a man would settle for being one of Dane’s henchmen. It’s not impossible, but incredibly unlikely.

A possible explanation pops into Flum’s head.

Don’t tell me… they share not only their Status but their skills, too…?

In other words, every one of these men is a master of all weapons.

As Flum staggers back from the punch, the second spearman stabs her in the back.

“Ghii…!”

He quickly pulls his weapon out, trained for a second lunge. At the same time a man leaps in from the side, swinging to take off her head.

“Guh…!”

She takes the impact of the blade with her right hand, feeling her wrist break through her gauntlets. On top of that, an arrow comes flying from somewhere in front of her, embedding itself in her shoulder. One of the men on a rooftop to her left casts a Fireball at her, exploding and tearing into her left leg. Unable to withstand the force of the blast she collapses to the side.

“Ugh… guh… agh…!”

The pain assaulting her body from all directions leaves her unable to move.

The difference in their strengths is all too clear.

Given their numbers it’d be suicidal to keep fighting in an open space --- she quickly looks around to find the nearest alleyway, but it’s too far for her as she is now.

Deciding to prioritize mobility for the time being, she sheathes the Zweihander. Rolling to dodge the arrows that rain down on her, she springs to her feet and takes the back of a swordsman. He’d evidently let his guard down, thinking she’d make a break for the alleyway.

“You’re mine!!”

Drawing the Zweihander from its interdimensional sheath, she swings for his neck.

WHOOSH!

Her blade meets only air --- without even turning around, the man ducks out of her way with perfect timing.

What!?

He moved as if he had eyes in the back of his head.

Maybe, just maybe, he has the next best thing.

All the thugs share abilities, skills --- maybe they also share senses. Otherwise there’s no way to explain how he dodged her attack without seeing it himself.

In response to Flum’s shock, another volley of magic and projectiles falls down at her from above. She ducks into cover, but even then she isn’t safe as thugs with melee weapons quickly close in on her from all directions.

Dane’s words come back to her.

[Don’t lay a finger on these men. Run and try to escape if you want, but don’t even think about following me.]

Like I can accept that!

Flum can’t just accept that his warning was sound advice. Crouched over, she makes for the closest alleyway. She still hurts all over, but not badly enough to slow her down.

The thugs behind her don’t let up their pursuit, and stones starts to join the endless barrage of projectiles falling down on her.

If she can only make it a little further she should be able to outrun them without a problem, and on top of that the narrow passages should hopefully prevent them from attacking her more than one at a time.

Just a little further… Just a little more…!

Or so she thinks.

A ball of fire flies past her, hitting the side of a house and exploding. Bricks and debris collapse into the alleyway, blocking the path in front of her.

It’s possible for her to climb it, but there’s a fair chance they’d catch up to her before she can make it all the way over. Panicking slightly, she turns around, and just then two arrows embed themselves in her thighs.

“Gh…!”

A split-second later more arrows fly at her, and while she’s busy ‘reversing’ them back to their source a man with a metal club closes in on her. She desperately swings at him, but her haphazard attack is easily avoided and the man raises his weapon, poised to crush her skull. He’s likely relying on his shared senses to give him enough warning to dodge any counterattack she attempts. It looks like she has no choice but to take the attack head-on…

Flum sniggers at him. He’s practically screaming that he’s wide open.

Concentrating her magic through her feet, she pours energy into the half-meter square area of cobblestone beneath him.

“Reversal!”

The chunk of stone flips over, pinning his legs under it with and breaking them with a dull CRACK in the process. He loses his balance and starts to fall.

He can’t possible dodge her now.

“Soryaaaaaa!!”

Flum swings the Zweihander down at him, cutting him cleanly in two from his right shoulder to left hip.

“That makes two!!”

The difference in numbers is still painfully clear, but now that they’ve lost two of their men she has a little room to breathe now. The remaining men seem completely unfazed by their comrades’ deaths, however.

Those things, consciousnesses all sewn together into a single indistinguishable mass, aren’t even human now. They’re nothing but puppets dancing on Dane’s strings. They may be pitiful, but their only release will be in death. She doesn’t have a single reason to hesitate.

“There’s still a lot of them left…”

They don’t let up the assault, pressing forward at her as she jumps to avoid a Fireball going off at her feet.

There’s no guarantee that anything she tries will work a second time.

Just as she’s trying to think of how she’ll kill the third --- TUNK, something hits the ground a short distance away from her.

She turns to face the sound.

“...Eh?”

An eyeball looks back at her.

It’d be fine if there was only one eye --- but moments later eyes start pouring from the nearby rooftops like rain and even flooding at her from the sides, behind, even the direction of the thugs pursuing her.

[Don’t lay a finger on these men.]

She remembers Dane’s words once again.

This is what he was referring to!?”

Don’t harm them, run and try to escape --- she finally realizes the true meaning behind those words.

Ink didn’t know that she had killed anyone, nor did she realize she herself was a monster. In other words, the eyes aren’t under her control but rather are moved by some other will.

An automatic defense system.

The true identity of the eyes is that of an uncontrollable, limitless power that works to protect those connected to the lab and ensure its secrets are kept.

They likely only didn’t activate when she killed the first man because he was killed by his own arrow.

“Just the thugs put me at my limit, but now the eyes, too…!?”

Flum’s seen what happens to those who’ve touched those eyes herself.

She reflexively jumps back and away from them --- but not quite quickly enough. One of the eyes rolls up onto her foot and slips straight through the Leather Boots and into her foot. There’s no pain, only a very distinct feeling that it’s very, very wrong.

“Hyugh…!”

Her body stiffens as the eye slides into her ankle, reaching the bone, and with a horrible slithering sensation the front of the Boots bulges unnaturally outwards with a second foot.

“This is… kh, uggh… gross…!”

Perhaps due to the added weight on her leg she can’t put all her strength into it or get decent footing. A man with a shortsword manages to catch up to her, unleashing a stab aimed straight for her heart.

SHLUCK!

She accepts it with the palm of her hand instead.

“Agh, guh…!”

The blade punches clean through her hand and out the outer side. He tries to pull it out and stab again, but she grips the hilt and stops the shortsword in place. They each try to wrest control of it from the other, and just as Flum’s about to lose it because of the pain in her hand --- she trips the man and lets go, sending him tumbling into the sea of eyes beside him.

The eyes quickly attempt to avoid their ally, scurrying out of the way like a swarm of baby spiders, but they’re not fast enough. The man lands on a few of them, and a moment later he sprouts a bouquet of limbs, his gut bloating. He nonetheless attempts to stand, but unable to control all his new appendages he succeeds only in flailing and writhing like a massive maggot.

“That makes three…!”

There are still many enemies left, however.

Her third foot slows her down, not to the point where she can’t avoid magic and other projectiles if she sees them coming but enough that they’ve begun to graze her.

Isn’t there someplace where I can put myself at an advantage!?

Flum turns her back on them and starts running, but her third foot only continues to slow her down.

Given this many opponents, the fight’s bound to drag out. This extra foot won’t heal from the Zweihander’s regeneration since it isn’t a ‘wound’. In that case---

---All she has to do is amputate it.

She plants the Zweihander into the ground, then kicks at it as hard as she can.

“Gh, gaaaaaaaagh…!”

SHLICK!

With a pained cry, she cuts her leg clean off. Then, using the Zweihander as a crutch, she keeps on moving forward.

If she stops she’ll fall prey to the eyes.

There’s a bit of a lag between losing her leg and regenerating it, but it’ll be a lot better in the long run to not have the extra foot. She manages to finish regenerating before her pursuers catch up to her, and with her body back in top shape she has no issues putting some distance between them.

Just as she starts to relax a little, she notices a group of six paladins in platemail approaching her from the front. They must’ve noticed something was off and come to investigate, but she can’t just let them get caught up in her mess.

“Um, it’s really dangerous back there, so you should… probably…”

As she raises her voice to warn them, all six paladins ready their weapons simultaneously. Clicking her tongue, she quickly casts Scan on a few of them.

Their stats are different from those of Dane’s men but identical to each other.

“Seriously, a pincer attack!?”

They’re being almost too thorough. Whether they plan to kill her or capture her, at the very least they have no intention of letting her go.

She strengthens her grip on the Zweihander as she looks back and forth between the enemies on either side of her.

Adventurers, paladins, eyes --- there are just too many of them.

She can’t possibly break through them alone. Her hands tremble, the tip of her sword wavering.

All her allies were chased by those eyes and disappeared, nobody’s coming to help her --- that sense of loneliness only adds to her fear.

Those who supported her, those who depended on her, even those whom she’d sworn to protect are all gone, weakening her will as the end closes in before her very eyes.

“I don’t wanna die… I don’t, wanna die…!”

She squeezes out the last of her courage. Just because she doesn’t want to die here doesn’t mean she has the time to mope about it.

She’ll have to break through either the paladins in front of her or the adventurers behind her, simple as that.

Flum faces the paladins, sword raised high into the air. Concentrating, she turns the power coursing through her veins into prana, channeling that pure, unsullied energy into her sword.

Prana Shaker.

If she uses it, then --- no, even if she manages to hit she probably won’t be able to kill them instantly, nor is she skilled enough to use it multiple times in succession.

Her palms start to sweat, and as if responding to her uncertainty the prana begins to dissipate.

No, I can’t be so negative. If I’m going to give up it’ll be after I’ve done everything I possibly can.

She doesn’t have much time left. In moments the adventurers will reach her, and with them the wave of eyes. Given the appearance of the paladins, if that happens then she won’t be able to fight back at all.

She’ll just have to put everything she has into one last strike and bank on a miracle---

“Flum, smash that prana into the ground!!”

---And just then, the voice of a certain Chosen rings out through the despair-filled Capital.

“HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!”

Without hesitating, she swings the Zweihander at the ground just as the voice told her to.

The prana explodes outwards, creating a storm of energy.

CRCK, WHHHOOOOOOOOOOOO!!

The gale of force blasts at the paladins. They try to block it, but the energy slips in through the cracks in their armour and rends their flesh.

Cavalier Arts: Prana Storm.

Instead of enhancing a blade the prana emulates the weapon, exploding outwards to cut into everything in a wide area. It requires a lot more prana than Prana Shaker, but Flum has already reached the point where such a skill is possible.

The voice’s owner falls from the rooftops above, splitting the cobblestone beneath his black-plated feet. He wastes no time in drawing his massive blade and swinging it at the eyes and adventurers behind Flum.

“Hrngh!”

WHOOO… GOGOGOGOGOOGOGO!!

He uses the same Prana Storm as Flum just did, but the force of his blow is enough to split the ground, rip into the nearby buildings, and utterly crush all life within its field.

The pursuers are, of course, no exception. While the eyes quickly fill the street again moments later, the surviving adventurers hesitate just outside the attack’s range.

“Gadio-san!”

She calls his name, a slight trembling in her voice.

“Don’t drop your guard. It’s not over yet.”

His deep, forceful, yet kind voice breaks through Flum’s solitude and raises her spirits. Just as he says, though, the fight isn’t over. They’ll have time to celebrate later.

“Okay!!”

Wiping away her tears, she faces the paladins in front of her head-on. At her back, Gadio readies his own black blade---

“Haaaaaa!!”

“Oaaaaaagh!”

They charge forward at their enemies in perfect sync.

OmaeGotoki 02-Ch11 1.png


Chapter 12 - Counterattack[edit]

In front of Flum stand six paladins. Just in terms of numbers she’s at an overwhelming disadvantage, but on top of that their stats are slightly higher than those of Dane’s men. At her current strength they’re difficult opponents indeed.

Yet for some reason, she doesn’t feel as though she could possibly lose.

CLANGGG!!

Her prana-infused blade crashes into the nearest paladin’s side, causing his armor to dent inwards and into his internal organs. Spewing blood from his mouth, he’s sent flying and crashes to the ground some distance away.

Immediately after she attacks, a spear is thrust at her head from the side. She quickly leans out of the way, the spearhead grazing her nose as it passes. Before she can regain her balance a second spear thrust comes from the opposite direction.

Got her --- all five paladins think the same thing as one, but she jumps into the air cartwheeling, nimbly dodging the attack. Such a movement would’ve been impossible without the use of prana.

Using the centrifugal force of her rotation, Flum smashes the ‘paladin’ who just attacked her with the Zweihander. The black blade makes full contact with his helmet, crushing it and his skull together. His brain is crushed, his death instant.

Evading the arrows that fly down at her from above, she lets out a long breath, recharging her prana.

Gadio, in the opposite direction, stabs his gigantic sword straight forwards at the mass of eyes and adventurers as they resume their attack.

FWOOOOOOMM!!

The mass of prana in his sword bursts forth, exterminating everything in front of him.

“A straightforward stab. Focus on a single point and pierce right through it!”

What he just did was likely an example. Flum, listening to his instruction, focuses her prana on the tip of her sword before thrusting it forwards.

--- Cavalier Arts: Prana Sting.

The needlepoint strike punches straight through the paladin’s platemail, punching a several-centimeter wide hole straight through him. Clutching at his wound, he slumps to the ground with a clatter.

Only three remain.

All as one the remaining ‘paladins’ hesitate, temporarily stopping outside her reach. Flum uses the opening to calm her breathing.

“Fuu… By the way, Gadio-san, why’re you here?”

“Because of them.”

He jerks his chin in the direction of the mass of eyes that only seems to grow larger by the minute.

“Y-You were being chased by those things, too?”

“That about sums it up.”

He snorts, a bit of self-derision in his tone.

Flum remembers hearing from Otilier about other people looking into the Church’s dark side; Gadio must be one of them.

His exhaustion is clear on his face. He’s probably been on the run for a few days now. The fact that he can keep on fighting despite that, though, just goes to show how strong he must be.

Deciding to hear the full story from him later, Flum refocuses her attention on the paladins.

From there, it would be more adept to call it ‘training’ rather than fighting.

Gadio smashes his sword into the ground to create a powerful wave of prana along the ground, and copying his movements Flum slays another ‘paladin.’ Following his motions she draws a cross in the air with her blade to create a wall of prana, blocking the magic of the remaining two ‘paladins.’ Hearing a trick to help draw out even more prana, she pours her renewed energies into the Zweihander and is able to cut one of the ‘paladins’ clean in half when before it was all she could do to send them flying.

“You’re the last!!”

Now that it’s down to one-on-one there’s no way she can lose.

Flum swings her pitch-black blade straight down at the last paladin, cutting him cleanly in half armor and all. The enchantment on her Leather Boots causes the blood and viscera that start to seep out freeze solid a moment later.

Swinging her blade clean of blood, she turns back to look at Gadio.

“HAAAAAAAAH!!”

His sheer force of will is enough to crush the eyes that get too close to him, and as the last of the adventurers recoil---

“Hrngh!”

---he reduces them to dust with a single, unbelievably powerful swing.

Flum had always knew Gadio was strong, but seeing him fight mere humans like this makes it even clearer. Despite that, though, he not only didn’t neglect her while they were in the Hero’s Party together but he even went out of his way to look after her ---- she can’t help but admire him.

“It looks like you’re done there.”

“Yeah, somehow. I really can’t thank you enough for saving me. If you hadn’t come when you did I don’t know what I would’ve done.”

“Hmph. It wasn’t just my strength, though.”

He smiles kindly.

“You’ve gotten strong, Flum.”

One of the Chosen --- Gadio --- has finally accepted her strength.

She’s so happy she almost feels like dancing, but she quickly brings herself back under control.

I’m still weak. I haven’t saved anyone yet.

“So much has happened since I last saw you… I’d love to catch up, but first---”

“We have work to do.”

Even now the eyes only continue to swarm them.

Flum and Gadio avoid them as they chase after Dane.


◇◇◇


The giant man in black armour and the much smaller girl make an interesting pair as they run through the night.

They still haven’t found any sign of Dane. They exchange what information they have as they continue their search.

“So this Ink girl is creating those eyes?”

“Yeah, that’s it.”

“One of the Spiral Children, huh…”

“Are those spy-whatevers what the Church has been working on?”

“If you know that much, then you must be looking into the Church after all. Yes, they’re the result of insane experiments where newborns’ hearts are replaced with Origin Cores.”

“An Origin Core for a heart…”

If Flum destroys Ink’s Core she’ll die --- but as long as that Core is still in her chest she’ll keep spewing those eyes.

“What sort of relationship do you have with this Ink?”

“I happened to rescue her a few days ago and we’ve been living together ever since.”

“You’d like to save her, then.”

“...Yes.”

Facing the ground, Flum nods.

If there’s any way to remove the Core, she wants to save her… though she realizes that itself is the problem.

“Sorry, but I can’t think of anything. We can’t leave her in Dane’s hands, though.”

As fellow adventurers, Gadio has likely at least heard of Dane before.

“He’s already sold his soul to the Church.”

“Hopeless… The fool even had the nerve to throw away the one thing he should’ve held dear.”

Gadio spits out his words with disgust.

Just then, a roaring wave of eyeballs falls from the rooftops on either side of them.

“Hrngh!!”

“Haaaaah!!”

Two great rifts are torn in the night sky itself, and without even touching the ground the powdered remains of the eyes are caught by the breeze and carried off.

“Come to think of it, were you the one who threw that dagger at my window last night?”

“I’d managed to figure out that you were living there, but I couldn’t just stop to talk to you face-to-face. Was it too hard to understand?”

“Of course it was! You didn’t even write your name, and it was so messy…”

“I didn’t have a lot of time, after all.”

He must’ve written the note as he was being chased by the eyes --- just figuring out where she lives must’ve been difficult.

“At first I was convinced that it was a prank from one of Dane’s men.”

“At any rate, it doesn’t look like you paid it any mind.”

“It was too late to just sit back and do nothing anyway. I’m their target.”

“Their target?”

“It seems like Origin wants me for something. If you think about it there wouldn’t be any other reason why someone weak like me would be on the Journey --- hup!”

Flum jumps to avoid a cluster of eyes that bubble out of the ground beneath her feet.

Without slowing down the two make a sharp left turn around the corner in front of them.

“I don’t know why yet, but there’s a chance it’s after my Attribute.”

“Reversal, huh.”

“Yeah. Those Origin Core things you mentioned are pretty much indestructible, right?”

Flum thinks back to how Neigass reacted back outside the lab near Enchide.

“Exactly. It’s possible to wear them down, yes, but not destroy them.”

Gadio’s likely come up with that much information through his own research.

“But I was able to break one.”

“So you’ve fought with them already.”

“Back then I was so desperate I poured magic, prana, everything I had at the Core.”

“You believe that your magic was the key, then?”

“If Origin really does get its power through those ‘spirals’, then I think that by ‘reversing’ it I was able to screw up the flow somehow.”

“I don’t follow how, but if you destroyed a Core then it must be true. If prana was the key then somebody would’ve figured it out long before now.”

“I’m the only one who can do it, so that’s why Ink---”

Flum looks down at her palm. Even if she can’t save her, she can at least prevent further tragedies.

Can I really bring myself to do that, though…?

“What!?”

Gadio suddenly shouts out.

“To the side, Flum! Now!!”

Unsure of what’s happening, Flum jumps to the side.

Immediately afterwards, two young boys who hadn’t been there before extend their hands and chant short incantations.

“Rotation!!”

“Distortion…!”

The air around them starts to warp and twist.

On one side, the air starts whipping around almost like a tornado. Blowing right past Flum, the raw energy drills a circular shape in the wall behind her.

On the other side, the air starts bending and billowing. When it hits the wall it starts twisting and deforming it without destroying it, leaving a deep spiral mark in the wall.

Both ‘powers’ look almost identical to what Flum witnessed at that research facility.

“Spiral Children!!”

“What, you know who we are? Dammit, ain’t that a major Church secret?”

“Mother’ll probably scold us when we get back…”

They sound just like young children --- but instead of proper faces they have hideously twitching spirals of flesh.

“The scary troublemaker Rook and the momma’s boy Fwiss…”

“Ink told ya about us? Damn, she’s worthless!”

“I-It’s fine… She’s only a First Generation, so she can’t have told them anything important…”

“Sorry, but we’re in a hurry! I’ve got somewhere I need to be!”

“That’s why we’re stopping you, dammit! Rotation!”

Rook throws his fist forward, launching more of that ‘rotation’ energy at Flum. She dodges to the side, slashing away the eyes that draw close to her.

“I guess we don’t have a choice…!”

Flum casts Scan on the two of them.

Fwiss Toole
Attribute : Air
Strength  : 2,341
Magic     : 3,923
Stamina   : 2,371
Agility   : 5,712
Intuition : 4,112
Rook Fulloop
Attribute : Earth
Strength  : 3,298
Magic     : 3,792
Stamina   : 3,512
Agility   : 3,148
Intuition : 4,215

Her jaw drops. Ink, a First Generation Spiral Child, had perfectly normal stats for her age --- this just proves that the Second Generation are different beings entirely.

“I’ll take them on here, Flum!”

“Gadio-san!? Not even you could take them both on alone!”

“Don’t worry about me, they’re only children. No matter how strong they are, I can make up for it with technique.”

His words are firm and without hesitation, as confident as if he’s already won.

“There’s no point in just looking at our Status! Papa’s power can’t be measured with those damn numbers!”

“Papa’s really amazing! We’re so strong with just a little bit of his blood! We won’t lose to you even if you are one of the Chosen!”

Rook and Fwiss seem confident they can’t lose.

Should I leave Gadio to fight them alone?

Maybe I should fight with him --- we’ll get there later but we’ll get there together.

Just as Flum is trying to figure out what she should do --- two voices ring out from the rooftops above, as if provoking the Children.

“Cocky little brats.”

“I daresay you shouldn’t be so confident until you’ve started living on your own at the very least!”

Flum looks up and spots the silhouettes of two women against the night sky.

“Eterna-san and Otilier-san!?”

As they leap down to the street below they attack Rook and Fwiss. An arrow of ice and a blade of blood hit the ground as the Children nimbly jump back to avoid them.

“You’re causing such a ruckus it was easy to find you. Oh, Gadio’s here, too.”

“I found Flum the same way.”

“The two of us can handle these Children just fine on our own. Please, leave this to us.”

Eterna and Otilier together shouldn’t have any problems, even against the Children.

“You damn hags are still alive!?”

“Who exactly do you suppose I am? Until the day Oneesama finally returns my affections not even the gods could possibly kill me!”

“It looks like Ink’s power alone really isn’t enough after all… We’ve gotta tell Mother about this...!”

“Not so fast. I’m all sweaty from that running and your ‘faces’ are creepy. I’ll have to relieve some stress with you first.”

There’s no time to celebrate reuniting --- the waves of eyes around them only continue to rise and roll.

“Let’s go, Flum.”

“Okay! Eterna-san, Otilier-san, don’t you dare lose to the likes of them!”

Leaving the Children to them, Flum and Gadio press onwards.


◇◇◇


Flum and Gadio still don’t see Dane, but judging from the direction he was headed they have a pretty good idea of his destination.

Eterna and Otilier are dealing with the Children, so Flum and Gadio alone should be enough to defeat Dane, save Ink and get Milkit to safety---

Milkit… I hope you’re okay.

All she can do is hope.

“Flum, I need to confirm something.”

“What is it?”

“You seem to have heard the names of the Children from Ink. Did you hear any names aside from those two?”

“Umm… I think there was also Nekt and Mute. Why do you ask?”

“It’s nothing... this presence must be one of those two is all.”

The cocky laugh of a young boy comes from the darkness behind them. He closes his fist, activating his ‘power.’

“Connection.”

Sensing something off, Gadio stops there.

“Gadio-san?”

“Don’t stop, Flum!”

Unsure of what’s going on, she sprints ahead.

GrRrRrRrRrRrRrRrRrRrRr… DON!!

With a tremendous roar, the walls on either side of them clamp together as if to crush them.

“Gh… hnnngh…!”

Gadio holds the two walls apart with raw strength alone. His arms tremble, veins popping out on his forehead… he can’t keep it up for long on physical strength alone.

Worse, the eyes are starting to close in on him.

He’d wanted to go with her and help her fight Dane, but --- as Flum makes it out of the alleyway, he lets go of the walls and slips out the opposite end towards the Spiral Child.

The two are completely cut off from each other.

“Why’d these walls suddenly…!?”

“The ability to bring two things together regardless of what they are or the space between them --- that’s my ‘power.’”

Flum can only hear the voice of a young boy, but Gadio can see him, clearly not even ten years old. He’s dressed in fine white clothes not unlike a hospital gown.

“I see. Those two Children from before --- you’re the one who teleported them to us.”

Gadio had only sensed their presence the moment before they attacked. It wasn’t because Rook and Fwiss concealed their presences but rather because they weren’t there until that moment.

“Teleportation…? Are you the one who took Milkit!?”

“Haha, as expected of the Chosen, you guys are sharp. Yeah, I did it all.”

“Is Milkit okay!?”

“Who knows? Dane’d probably know better than me. I only did as I was asked. I couldn’t care less about her now.”

Knowing Dane, he’d probably wait until Flum could see before killing Milkit. If that Child didn’t kill her, there’s a fair chance she’s still alive.

“You probably heard about me from Ink, but my name is Nekt Linkedge. You could say I’m the leader of the Children.”

“You even told us your name. How polite.”

“Wouldn’t it suck to be killed by someone you haven’t properly met?”

“Hmph. Just like a kid, trying to act all grown-up.”

Gadio snorts at him, and Nekt’s eyes narrow in indignation. Already their wills have begun to clash --- it’ll only be a few moments before they start fighting in earnest.

Gadio still has something he needs to tell Flum, though. He raises his voice loudly enough to pass over the wall.

“Flum, one last thing! Sara Anvilen is alive!”

“Sara-chan is...?”

Flum is shocked at first, but a moment later her vision starts to blur with tears. She wishes she could ask how he knows that but as the eyes have already started to close in on her again. She can’t afford to dawdle.

She’s reunited with Gadio, Otilier, and Eterna, and now she knows that Sara’s okay.

The light of hope in her heart that she was certain had been smothered by darkness starts to shine again.

“She’s alive… Haha, she’s okay…!”

She didn’t think Sara was dead, but she wasn’t able to wipe clear all her doubt until now.

“Thank you so much, Gadio-san!”

Raising her voice loud enough to reply, she starts running again. Weaving between the eyes, she runs faster now than she has all day.


◇◇◇


Gadio, turning his back on the wall, smiles a little at the sound of Flum’s thank-you.

“Do you really have the time to be laughing now, gramps?”

“Yeah, I do.”

Gadio’s rapid response puts Nekt into a foul mood. Pulling his hair back behind his ear, he glares at Gadio with cold eyes.

“You’re underestimating me, aren’t you? I can kill a geezer like you in a heartbeat, y’know.”

“Confidence can become strength, but get too cocky and you’ll hurt yourself.”

“There you go treating me like a kid again --- I hate adults like you.”

Nekt laughs coldly, stretching his hand out palm-up. A moment later his face starts warping into a red spiral of raw flesh.

Gadio readies his sword, prepared to attack at any time but not forgetting the eyes closing in from all around him.

“Hahhhhhhhhh…”

He lets out a long breath, generating a massive amount of prana. Any eyes that draw close to him are crushed by the sheer pressure of the energy coursing through him.

“Let’s get started, then.”

As soon as Nekt’s face has finished warping into something inhuman, he clenches his fist.

“Connection!”

Just as his voice comes from somewhere in his face, he vanishes, moving too quickly for even a Chosen’s eyes to track.

No --- such a thing can’t possibly exist. He didn’t move, he teleported.

Sensing a presence right behind him, Gadio whips around and swings.

“Whoops, looks like you’re pretty quick.”

The blade passes a hair’s width from Nekt’s face.

“You’re not good enough, though --- Connection!”

He vanishes again, appearing back where he started. Then, he clenches his fist again.

“And again, Connection!”

Words thick with power, the spiral on his face twitches and pulses as an incredible force comes to be. The walls on either side of Gadio ‘connect,’ moving as if to crush him.

“Do you really think that same trick will---”

“That’s where you’re wrong! Eat this! Connection!!”

The air above Gadio ‘connects’ with the cobblestone street somewhere, moving the mass of cobblestone right over top of him. It falls as if to crush him --- an attack from four directions, a powerful crushing technique that no human body could withstand.

“Ahaha, even a Chosen’s way too weak for me!”

Nekt is already certain of his victory --- but then.

“Cavalier Arts Expansion---”

Even in the face of certain death Gadio’s breathing is calm and collected as he prepares his own attack. He’s using more than just prana, however.

His Attribute is Earth.

Channeling magic through his arms and into his blade, rubble starts to gather around his blade. What was once only as long as he is tall doubles, triples, and continues to grow even larger. The sword is already far too large for him to lift without using prana, let alone swing.

Filling that towering blade with even more prana, he swings it down in front of him.

The technique is one he developed himself, a Cavalier Art for his exclusive use --- hence Cavalier Arts Expansion.

“---Titan Blade!”

WHOOOOOOOOOSH!

He swings the blade downwards, and for a split-second all sound dies as though time has stopped.

The next instant---

DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMM!!!

With a deafening blast, the walls closing in on him, the street above him, everything is crushed to dust.

Nekt’s finishing move was completely thwarted with a single swing. As the rubble rains from the sky around him, however, the ‘boy’ laughs.

“...Heh. I take it back, gramps, you aren’t half bad.”

“I don’t have to worry about Flum getting caught up in my attacks now. I’ll be going full-out on you now.”

“Yes, yes, that’s what I want to hear! That’s the only way I can really prove that we’re better than you mere humans!”


◇◇◇


From far away, Flum can faintly hear the sounds of immense powers clashing.

Gadio-san will be fine --- repressing the urge to go back and check on him, she keeps on moving forward.

Her destination is the West Quarter church.

The only place that would welcome Dane with open arms would be there --- and at this time of night everyone should be sleeping away peacefully, meaning it’s likely abandoned. Whether he’s trying to hide or meet up with someone, that’s the most likely place for him to be.

“Leave me alone already!”

Crushing the eyes in her path, she keeps moving forwards.

If she thinks about it she’s already quite tired. Looking for Milkit, the fight with Dane’s ‘men’, using so many Cavalier Arts and now all her running have begun to take their toll on her to the point where she’s surprised she’s able to keep on running.

If she hadn’t reunited with Gadio, Eterna, and Otilier --- if she hadn’t heard that Sara had survived the eyes and that Milkit was unharmed, she probably wouldn’t be able to do this.

She might’ve given up long ago.

But because she did meet them again, because she knows they’ll be okay, she’s full of energy and ready for her final fight with Dane.

Flum pushes open the huge wooden doors of the main hall without hesitation. The inside of the hall is dim, and the massive statue in the depths of the room said to represent Origin seems to glare at her.

Countless pews line the hall but only one is occupied --- the frontmost pew has a man sitting on it, his legs crossed arrogantly.

She closes the heavy doors behind her, hoping to buy even a little time from the eyes, then draws her weapon and approaches him.

Silencing her footsteps doesn’t even cross her mind.

Dane already knows she’s there.

When she’s made her way halfway up the carpet covering the central aisle, he starts talking without turning to face her.

“I knew you’d come here. I figured you’d be just persistent enough to make it all the way here --- call it learning from experience, if you will. I’ve been in the adventuring game long enough to know how to listen to my instincts.”

The tone in his voice is the same as it’s always been --- a voice that seems to rub her the wrong way with every word, a voice as deep and unpleasant as the depths of his soul.

Flum doesn’t feel like listening to him right now. As soon as she’s close enough she’ll remove his head right from his shoulders.

The eyes haven’t made it inside yet, but it’s surely only a matter of time. Before then she hopes to finish it all --- even if she knows it won’t be so easy.

Her opponent, after all, is “The (No Longer) Daring Dastard,” Dane Finneas.

“I must admit, though, I never expected you to arrive before my owner. That’s quite the failure on my part. Ahh, I could die from the embarrassment --- or maybe I was hoping it would turn out like this all along? I can’t tell anymore, ahaha, I really don’t know.”

Flum continues to approach wordlessly.

“Ah, yes. That Ink brat and the bandaged girl are further inside. Ink made some sort of arrangement with that damnable little vermin Nekt, so she’s unharmed, no worries there. There’s no telling when Ink will fall asleep and turn into that monster again, though --- isn’t that right, Flum-chan?”

In response, Flum swings the Zweihander at Dane’s neck.

“Whoa there!”

He avoids her obvious attack with a forwards somersault, finally turning to face her.

Flum’s eyes burn with bloodlust. Dane’s lips are twisted into a vulgar grin.

They’re worlds apart, the opposites of two extremes --- they’ll never be able to reconcile.

“There’s something different about you now. Did something good happen to you?”

“Sorry to say, but that’s exactly it. It turns out everyone’s alive. Since you just told me that even Ink and Milkit are fine, I’m full of energy and raring to go.”

“Hahh… That’s all good and well, but it hardly matters now.”

He pulls the crossbow off his back, pointing it at her.

“I’m afraid this is where you die, Flum.”

Flum isn’t the least bit intimidated by the razor-sharp tip of the crossbow bolt aimed at her.

“That’s my line, Dane!!”

Spitting caustic words at him, she lunges forwards at him.

Grin widening, Dane pulls the trigger.

The loosed bolt heads straight for her heart. She makes no move to guard, letting it close in before --- “Reversal!” --- sending it right back at him. He tilts his head to the side, avoiding it with ease. A thin red line appears on his cheek as it passes. Feeling the corporeality of his very life through the pain, Dane twists his lips into a disturbed grin.

Flum keeps moving forwards without slowing down, she swings at him powerfully from the right. He nimbly backsteps out of range.

“You’ve got to want it, Flum! Really try to kill me, now!!”

In response to his provocation she bares her teeth, glaring at him with unsuppressed hatred.

Right and wrong --- their gazes, two completely different temperatures, clash in the air between them.

Their fight has only just begun.


Chapter 13 - Feelings, A Single Dropful[edit]

Flum swings the Zweihander as hard as she can.

FWOOSH --- CRACK!!

Dane dodges the strike meant for his neck with a nimble step backwards. Her sword crashes into the wooden floor, sending splinters flying.

She missed this time, but his back is to the wall now. There’s nowhere left for him to run. Even if he tried to attack back, he doesn’t have the room to aim his crossbow. He’d have to throw away the crossbow and rely on the dagger at his waist, and she won’t give him the time for that.

This is the end! --- without even considering he might have some trick up his sleeve, she takes a large step forward.

Dane raises his buckler to the sky, pulling one of the various wires on the inside. A hook shoots out of the boss, and as its inner mechanism spins into action he’s carried swiftly through the air as if flying.

Clinging to the wall far above her, Dane pulls the trigger and fires a single bolt down at her.

“You think just one will be enough to---”

Flum raises her sword, ready to swat it out of the air.

There’s no way Dane would just fire an ordinary bolt, however.

“You’re too naive! Spread!!”

His magic activates --- the bolt explodes into flames in midair, bursting into countless balls of flame that rain down on her.

I can’t block this --- Flum jumps to the side, rolling as she hits the ground.

Dane continues to fire down at her.

“Spread, Spread, Spread! Hahahaha, I don’t care what sort of equipment you have, I’m stronger than you’ll ever be! There’s no way a dropout-Chosen-turned-slave could ever kill me!!”

Flum desperately runs throughout the hall as fireballs continue to rain down on her. A few graze her shoulders, singing her clothes and burning away her flesh. Her wounds heal themselves moments later, but the pain causes her face to twist in pain.

At that Dane’s attacks slow down slightly --- and she doesn’t miss her opening.

“Seyaaaaaaaa!!”

Without even bothering to cement her stance, she swings her sword and unleashes Cavalier Arts: Prana Shaker.

The crescent-shaped blade of energy sails straight at him. Pulling another wire, the hook disconnects itself from the wall and he drops toward the ground.

“I’m not about to stop at one shot, either!”

Eyes on his landing point, she uses Prana Shaker again.

“Kuhaha, you’re a conceited fool if you think you can beat me with raw strength!”

He fires a bolt at the wave of prana.

“Burst!”

Dane’s crossbow bolt explodes as they collide, each nullifying the other. White smoke billows out from the impact point.

Flum dashes straight through the smoke, swinging at Dane but only managing to graze him.

“Whoops, I’d rather not fight close-quarters!”

He fires the grappling hook from his buckler once more, soaring up and away. As he moves he turns to fire a spray of arrows back at her.

“Ahahahahahahahahahaha!! Eat this! Eat it, be blown apart, suffer and die!!”

“You never quit, do you!?”

As balls of fire continue to pound the ground around Flum the smoke and debris grow thicker in the air, making it harder and harder to see. Barely visible beyond the smokescreen, Dane fires a Burst bolt at her.

“...My turn.”

She’s been waiting for that. Reading its speed and trajectory, she raises her sword to block it.

Dane laughs --- Burst is far too strong to block with a sword.

“Yes, accept your fate like a good little slave!!”

The bolt explodes as soon as it hits Flum’s sword --- or at least, it would normally.

“Reversal!!”

It instead bounces off, flying straight back towards Dane.

“What!?”

He certainly wasn’t expecting her to be able to reflect a Burst bolt. Frantically, he disengages the hook, grappling again to a different wall before hitting the ground.

BOOM!!

The place where he was just a split second before explodes violently with enough force to punch a large hole clean through the wall to the outside.

“Oho, you’re not half bad. I see now. This is what a Rare Attribute --- what Reversal can do, is it?”

Flum ignores him as he stops to talk, instead casting Scan on him and his equipment.

Dane Finneas
Attribute : Fire
Strength  : 802
Magic     : 1,262
Stamina   : 710
Agility   : 1,454
Intuition : 741

His base stat total is 2,669, putting him at the lower end of B-Rank. Factoring in his equipment, however, his stat total is raised to 4,972, the upper end of B-Rank --- his Magic alone is increased by 1,000, explaining how his magic is so powerful.

Aside from his automatic-reload crossbow, all of his equipment is Legendary, the tier immediately below Epic. Some of Flum’s equipment is Epic, but it’s only because they’re cursed that she was able to get her hands on them. The Arrogant Leather Armour, The Buckler of Intelligence, The Ambitious Iron Dagger --- all of them have powerful enchantments on them. A normal A-Rank adventurer would be hard-pressed to gather equipment like this.

“You’re using Scan, aren’t you? I hope you realize that won’t change anything.”

“That equipment… is it really yours?”

“Of course! My comrades were kind enough to give them to me; they’re indisputably mine. You could say they’re proof of our bond.”

“Says the asshole who sold those bonds and even his soul to the Church.”

Dane snorts at her indignantly.

“You seem absolutely determined to make me out as some sort of irredeemable villain, but let me ask you this: Would you really value petty bonds over your own life? Are you really that naive? Could you look reality in the face and honestly say you would!? Not even you could take your fake heroism that far!!”

“If there are dozens of lives at stake then yeah, I’d choose my friends.”

Thinking of Milkit’s smiling face, there’s no hesitation in her voice. If by living she’d put her at risk, then Flum wouldn’t hesitate to end her own life.

“Like hell you would!! You’re lying, LYING!!!”

It’s because he can tell she’s telling the truth that he’s so irritated.

“In the end you’re just a stupid little brat who knows NOTHING about the real world! Haha, why do I have to put up with this…!?”

To Flum’s ears, Dane’s words are attacking nobody but himself. He joined the Church not because he wanted to but because he was powerless to resist. Even now he’s deriding himself, lashing out at himself.

“Just imagine it! Spending countless long years building yourself up, only to have it all taken away from you in an instant by an eight-year-old brat --- it’s laughable, isn’t it? You’d laugh, wouldn’t you!?”

He can’t stop talking about himself.

Maybe he wants someone to sympathize with him so badly he can’t stop himself.

Now that most of his subordinates have betrayed him and the rest of them are gone, he doesn’t even have anyone he can talk to now.

“I saw it all! Absolute power!! A power so strong that influence and money become useless and the very laws of nature are bent like twigs!!”

All of his former glory, everything he once had flashes before his eyes.

Now, however, he answers to an eight-year-old, told he’d be swallowed up eventually, and made the Church’s servant.

A mere pawn.

A loser.

There’s nothing left of his pride now.

“Hey Dane.”

“Ah?”

Flum responds with cold words to Dane as he grows drunk on his own tragedy.

“I hope you don’t think I care.”

“Ha…”

All emotion disappears from Dane’s face in an instant.

“Ha… haha… hahahaha…!”

He simply laughs with his voice alone, shoulders trembling.

“Ahahaha… AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!”

Emotion finally seems to return to his features. The blood vessel on his temples practically burst and his face turns bright red.

“Ha… hahaha… like I’d ever…. Like I’d ever accept pity from YOOOOOUU!!”

He howls, his grief echoing throughout the hall.

Flum understands now.

Dane started talking about himself regardless of the fact that she’s an enemy precisely because she’s a woman. In the face of all the unfairness he’s faced he wants someone, anyone, not to show him sympathy but empathy.

He wants someone to understand what he’s been through and comfort him.

He thought that Flum, having gone through something similar herself, might understand.

What an idiot.

There’s no way she’d participate in such a farce now, of all times.

“I don’t care about the Spiral Children, Origin, or the Church!! I didn’t want any of this!! Damn, damn, damn it alllllll!!!”

Dane prattles on as if mad.

There’s nothing left.

There’s no going back.

Unable to stand the loss, he keeps on screaming.

“I’m the king of the West Quarter!! The day I was thrown into the slums I swore I’d have my revenge on the world!! I climbed out of that hellhole with my own hands and own intellect, my own charisma!! You understand what that’s like, don’t you!? But now I don’t even have the strength left to kill you properly!!”

Eyes start to appear in the hole left by his Burst bolt. The sight of them all tumbling and slipping over each other, desperate to enter the building first causes a chill to run down her spine.

“What’re you trying to say?”

After quickly looking at the wall, she refocuses on Dane. The eyes have also started to slither through the walls of the building itself. Some of them have made it halfway through already, staring at her as though the building itself grew eyes.

It’s a harrowing sight, to say the least.

It’s only a matter of time now until the hall is filled with eyes.

What if that’s the real reason Dane’s telling me all this?

She dismisses the thought almost immediately.

There’s no way he’s faking that miserable expression.

If it’s an act, he must be one of the best actors in the world. He’d be able to not only live on that performance but would be famous across the kingdom, even if he wouldn’t be ‘king of the West Quarter.’

“What? I wish I knew…. Haha, hahaha, AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

His hoarse voice reverberates throughout the hall.

“Haha… ha, ahh… ah.”

His laughter quickly dies out, and slumping his shoulders his arms hang loosely by his sides.

“...Not even I know now. Ahh, I don’t know anything. What do I want? I lost to a brat, pleaded for my life, got betrayed, threw away everyone who didn’t betray me, and now I’ve got food, clothing, and a place to live from the Church to live proper, normal life… Haha, what’ve I become? This is boring! The last thing I ever wanted, the only ending I can’t accept! Ahh, so boring, my life from here on out’s going to be so, sooo, soooooo boooooring!!”

He’s only whining now. He doesn’t even know who he’s talking to now.

“Ahahahaha! Haha, aaaaaaaahh… aa…… Flum… Those guys I’ve always fooled around with… they’re dead, aren’t they?”

He’s probably asking about the adventurers that attacked Flum just a short while earlier.

She responds monotonously.

“I think you mean the guys you’ve been committing crimes with. Yeah, they’re all dead --- but they were like that before I even laid a hand on any of them.”

“I see… aha, I get it…”

Dane mutters weakly to himself, the light disappearing from his eyes and his expression dying.

“...No, wait a moment. You make it sound like they were already dead… Are you trying to say I killed them? You did that on purpose, didn’t you? Haha, do you really want to die that badly!?”

Mouth hardening into a firm line, he points his crossbow at Flum with a dead expression.

This is his worst ending.

Even if he’s alive, he’s practically dead.

He followed the path he was on to its conclusion --- maybe, just maybe if Gadio didn’t show up when he did Flum would’ve fallen to the same place, only a hair’s width apart.

Maybe she does have grounds to sympathize with him.

She can’t bring herself to understand him all the same. There’s still an insurmountable obstacle keeping the two apart.

“I think I said something similar before, Dane, but…”

“Ah?”

He can’t pull the trigger of his crossbow as he is now. His expression is rich with dependance, maybe even expectation.

She laughs at him.

“Stop trying to rely on me. You make me sick.”

He freezes up.

Not only an eight-year-old brat but now even a sixteen-year-old girl has managed to see right through him. She shattered his pride and had the nerve to stomp on the remains.

Everything that makes up Dane Finneas is now meaningless.

“Me… depend on you…? Ah… aah… n-no, no…”

He wants to deny it.

He can’t.

“Ahh… you’re right? T-That, that’s… aaaaaaah…. Aaaaahh, uwaaaaaaaaaaaahhh!!”

His identity fractures and breaks in that moment.

As if rejecting reality itself, he cries out, hair flying wildly, and pulls the trigger without hesitation.

The bolt doesn’t even have any magic infused in it. Without even needing to dodge it misses Flum by a large margin.

“I’ll kill you!”

He pulls the trigger. She doesn’t move. He doesn’t hit.

“I’ll kill you!!”

He still can’t hit.

“I’ll fucking kill you!!”

His hands are shaking so badly that he can’t fix his sights on her, his attacks still can’t reach her. Steadying his aim with his free hand, he fires a bolt aimed right for her forehead.

“Just die… Because of you, I… I…!!”

He lashes out with meaningless anger. Casually deflecting his attack, she starts to close in on him.

The threat to his life snapping him out of his trance somewhat, he hurriedly infuses his next bolt.

“S-Spread!”

As she runs Flum holds her blade low to the ground, and after saturating her blade with prana she slashes upwards, releasing Prana Storm.

WHOOOOOOOOSH!!

The mass of prana engulfs and neutralizes the Spread bolt and rips up floorboards as it closes in on him.

“Gh…!”

He raises his arm to shield his face from the prana and Flum speeds up. She brings the Zweihander crashing down on him.

KSSSSHH!!

Dane raises his crossbow to block the blow, but unable to take the blow completely it flies back and out of his hands. Giving up on it, he attempts to grapple away to safety.

Flum quickly draws out more prana.

“Haa, a…!”

Her breathing grows ragged. Using so many Cavalier Arts has really started to take its toll on her stamina, but she’s not so tired that she can’t squeeze out another attack or two.

“You’re not getting away this time!!”

She stabs her sword straight forward despite how heavy it feels in her hands. Her Prana Sting hits the cable supporting him, breaking it as it pulls him away.

“Uoooh!?”

Suddenly cut loose, he starts to fall back down to the ground. If he uses the Fire Attribute magic Exfloat he’ll be able to create a burst of hot air strong enough to break his fall --- no, if he does that he’ll slow down enough that he’ll be easy prey for the Zweihander. Instead he extends his hand towards Flum.

“Fireball!”

He casts some low-level magic to buy him some time first. Flum, however, has become so used to the speed of the crossbow bolts that the sphere of fire seems to be moving in slow motion.

She ducks down to avoid it, but while she’s distracted Dane lands without difficulty and turns his back on her to run for the church’s front doors.

He’s not trying to run, though --- the front of the church is already covered in eyes. They part to avoid him, focused only on her.

She’ll have to rely on Cavalier Arts again to get through them. She reaffirms her grip on the Zweihander, not slowing down. When she’s almost right on top of the eyes, she swings in a wide horizontal swipe, tearing a rift in the air itself.

FWOOOSH!

Her sword creates a small breeze as she swings it, but a moment later ---

VWOOOOOOOOOSH!!

A storm of prana copies her movements with violent force. The eyes all around her burst like tiny water balloons and countless fine blades hack at Dane as he tries to cover himself with his hands.

“Guhh…!”

He successfully blocks his vitals with his buckler, but he can’t protect everywhere. His face twists with pain.

Even after her attack Flum doesn’t stop --- if anything she speeds up, closing in on Dane enough that he’s within striking distance.

“Haaaaaaaaaahh!!”

“Dammit, not yet! I can’t die here!!”

He takes the blow with his buckler and attempts to deflect it, but unable to stifle the heavy blow completely he’s knocked awkwardly to the side.

Then, Flum’s ‘freezing’ enchantment activates.

His buckler quickly freezes over, sealing off all the wires and gimmicks within it.

“Shit----!”

The buckler had not only a grappling hook but a hidden catch for shooting a poison needle. Since he only has one shot he was saving it for an emergency, but now that the mechanism has frozen over he can’t use it at all.

Seeing that Dane is all but cornered, she keeps up the offensive.

“This is it!”

Her next strike shatters the ice and the rest of the buckler with it. Unable to guard any further, Dane tumbles out of the way of her follow-up attacks.

“I won’t let you get away! Right here and now! I’ll end you!!”

Her vigourous chain of attacks hits him in the shoulder, leg, and cheek.

“Firebaaaaall!!”

He desperately fires magic at her in response. She leans out of the way, but it keeps going until it hits the ceiling and explodes.

Then ---

DOOOOOOOON!!

A low, deep roar shakes the room.

“What the…!?”

She reflexively looks up to see countless chunks of rubble start to rain down from the ceiling. A large splinter of wood nearly misses her as she steps back.

“Heheheh, like it? I thought I should put the environment to slightly better use!”

“Learn when to give up, will you!?”

“This is how I’ve stayed alive as long as I have! No matter how pitiful I am, in the end I WILL survive!”

Saying so, he casts another Fireball at her feet. It hits, bursts --- and triggers a Fire Attribute magic trap hidden beneath the floor, causing a large explosion.

BOOOOMM!!

She tries to jump to the side, but her trailing leg is caught in the blast and she’s sent flying. When she lands, she looks up to find that her arm happened to fall onto an eye.

“Crap---!”

She tries to pull back and jump away, but she’s too late. With a horrible, invasive feeling it slips into her left arm. A new arm sprouts out of her old one, and she suddenly finds herself unable to control it effectively.

Dane, spotting an opening, casts another Fireball at her.

She can’t dodge it in time --- so instead she ‘catches’ it with her bare left arm. Her flesh explodes away and scatters, an intense burning pain assaulting her senses. This way, at least, she’ll be back to normal when she’s done regenerating.

“Tch, you impudent little…!”

“You’re the last person I want to hear that from!!”

She runs at him again, arm still tingling with pain as it regenerates.

Despite being covered in injuries himself he starts running --- towards where his crossbow fell to the ground some time earlier. Changing her trajectory, she runs for the same spot as him.

They leap for it at the same time --- the first one to touch it is Flum. She grabs it and throws it further away, out of his reach. Dane desperately springs at her instead.

“Kya!?”

“Hyaha, save such girly cries for off the battlefield!!”

He pins her down from above, grabbing both her wrists to prevent her from moving.

“Haa… Haa… Hehe, I’d never try to get YOU of all people to pity me…!”

“All I did was say it as it is.”

“Now that I think about it, it’s all you… Everything went sideways as soon as you showed up in the guild…! Everything is all YOUR fault…!!”

It’s at the very least not her fault that he picked a fight with the Church, but he couldn’t care less about logic now.

He’ll reject everything she is just like she has to him, and he’ll rather enjoy what happens next.

“Hehehe, look, all those cute little eyes are all around us now. Even if I don’t kill you now, they will…!”

Flum tries to break free, but Dane’s Strength is far higher than her own.

“Hahh…”

She lets out a long, controlled breath.

Mistaking it for a sigh of surrender, Dane’s face contorts into a mad grin, but---

“Reversal.”

Flum’s words change his expression in a heartbeat.

With a dull snap, Dane’s wrist ‘reverses’ its direction, twisting upwards at an unnatural angle.

“Gah… aaaaaaaaggghhh!?”

He springs up and off of her, screaming and clutching his hand. Free from his grip, Flum jumps to her feet, kicks him in the gut to knock him away and brings the Zweihander down on his head. He rolls away in an attempt to dodge her, but the blade bites into his shoulder as he flees.

“Gh… ghaaaaaaaagh!! You damn biiiiiiitch!!”

His anger dulls his movements and numbs his senses.

“Gyaaaaaaaaagh!!”

He presses his wrist against the wall, forcefully relocating it. His grip has weakened significantly now, but it’s not enough to stop him from drawing the dagger at his waist.

“Hagh… Flum… Fluuuum…!”

Dane lowers his stance and lunges at her like a wild animal. She prepares herself to accept his attack, but noticing the movements of the eyes near her feet she jumps backwards instead.

“The eyes are getting faster!?”

Dane slips through her guard while she’s distracted. She hurriedly tries to guard with the Zweihander, but he’s faster, the adrenaline pumping through his veins accelerating his every move.

“Gh, AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGHH!!”

He drives the blade into her abdomen, then twisting his hand he ruptures her internal organs.

“Kh, ugh…!”

“FLUUUUUUUUM…!!”

Now that he’s lost everything else, there’s no point in keeping his humanity --- he throws it away, determined to kill her no matter what.

Letting go of the Zweihander she grabs him, shoving him away and exposing his bloodstained silver blade to the open air.

It’s still not enough to stop him, however.

“GYAAAAAAAAA!!”

Unleashing a strangely bestial cry, he leaps at her again. She responds with a quick reverse-roundhouse kick to the gut.

“Guhe…!”

He clutches his gut in pain. Without letting up, she closes in on him, grabs a handful of his hair and forces his face down into her knee-kick. He tumbles to the ground, and as he attempts to stand again with trembling hands she kicks him again in the head.

His brain rattles in his skull, his consciousness thinning. As he fumbles to reclaim his bearings Flum draws the Zweihander once more.

“UGYAAAAAAAAAAAA!!”

He leaps at her from all fours, however, swinging at her and tearing open her shirt. He stabs again, but this time she catches the blade in her left forearm. With a raw scraping sensation the blade is embedded deep into her ulna.

At their feet, the eyes continue to draw closer.

I can’t let this go on much longer… I’ve got to end this somehow!!

Knife still embedded in her left arm, she slugs him in the face with her right.

It’s a critical hit; any normal human would be knocked backwards by the blow.

Dane’s already surpassed his physical and mental limits, however; he doesn’t even flinch, as though he didn’t even feel it. He glares at her, pulls the dagger out of her arm and stabs again, this time right at her heart.

“YOU’RE DEAD, FLUUUUUUUUUMM!!”

His cry of victory resounds.

They’re too close for Flum to swing the Zweihander. On top of that they’re surrounded by eyes and there’s no telling if he has more traps set somewhere. She’s at an overwhelming disadvantage.

That’s why, that precisely is why neither Dane nor Flum could possibly predict what happens then.

--- The white spheres roll forwards.

Two of them climb up to the shoulders, slip into the flesh and become two new arms.

“...Ah?”

Dane stops and stares down at his new arms in shock.

Why me!? They’re supposed to be on MY side!! Why aren’t they attacking HER!?

“Im… possible…”

He’s struck speechless.

“Ahhh… so that’s it…”

Flum, on the other hand, understands why.

The eyes are born from Origin’s power when it takes control of Ink’s body --- but in the end they’re still born from her.

When she’d encountered Dane and his men that day on her way back from the Central Quarter church, a single eye had been watching her. If Flum had attacked him then and there, she never would’ve lived to receive Gadio’s aid, let alone Eterna’s or Otilier’s.

It’s thanks to that Flum is alive now.

That warning back then saved her life --- and it goes without saying that Ink was the one who warned her.

This is her will.

A will strong enough to overpower even the gods, a desperate subconscious resistance to protect Flum --- no, the place Ink calls home.

“IMPOSSIBLE!!”

Dane’s arms multiply.

He can only look on in confusion.

Unable to properly control his arms now, the hand holding the dagger refuses to thrust at Flum’s chest.

“...!”

The next instant, Flum shoves him away, sending him stumbling backwards.

She raises the Zweihander, but her body’s at its limit --- she can barely put any strength into her arms now, and her hands are trembling uncontrollably.

That’s why she pours power into her blade --- just like she did with the Origin Core, she bundles all the strength she can muster into one, and ---

“HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!”

She swings.

The blade hits him square in the middle of his chest, but isn’t enough to cut him in half or even cut to the bone.

She doesn’t have even that much strength left in her.

All she can muster is a simple flesh wound.

“Ah… ah…?”

But magic --- she still has plenty of magic left.

“S-Stop… agh, gah, gh, aaaaaaaaaaagh!”

Starting from the wound his flesh starts to peel back. Just when his bones are visible even they start peeling back and away, exposing all his vital organs to the open air.

“Kill me, please, don’t leave me… augh, giiiiiigh…!!”

If she had to name the technique --- Cavalier Arts Expansion: Prana Shaker Reversal, a literal instant-kill move that turns the target’s body inside-out. That being said, it likely only worked so well because she weakened him first.

“Gyagh, agh… agyaaaaagh…!!”

As his neck starts to peel back and reverse, he loses the ability to even scream. His vocal cords, exposed, continue to vibrate desperately to no avail.

“...Do all you can to suffer, now, Dane.”

Spitting out those cold words a short distance away, she turns her back on the dying Dane and avoids the eyes as she heads further into the church where Milkit and Ink supposedly are being kept.

Dane, left alone in the hall, finally finishes his hideous transformation. His brain and organs are now exposed, but they’re still completely undamaged.

His heart continues to beat, his organs continuing to keep him alive for a while yet.

In the depths of suffering beyond human comprehension, Dane is denied even the freedom to die of his own will.


Chapter 14 - DAWN[edit]

Flum heads ever deeper into the church. Maybe because she’s finally killed Dane, her exhaustion seems to catch up to her all at once and her movements are slower and duller than they normally are. It’s about all she can do to drag herself forwards with a hand on the wall for support.

The eyes continue to pursue her. She’s not out of danger yet.

She finally makes it to the door in the deepest depths of the building. Opening it she finds a large room --- and in the center of it sit Ink and Milkit, huddled together.

Calling their names, Flum heads towards them.

“Milkit! Ink…?”

Her voice trails off halfway as she realizes they’re not alone.

Standing beside them is a large woman maybe 180 centimeters tall, wearing a one-piece dress and a wide-brimmed hat. Her red hair comes down to her jawline exactly. Something about her strikes Flum as slightly off, though --- her shoulders are broad, her arms and legs are toned with muscle, and her face is unmistakably that of a man’s.

“That voice… Flum? You came!?”

“Masteeer!!”

“My oh my, that man must’ve lost, then. He was so confident he could kill you, but he barely seems to have slowed you down.”

Her voice is deep and thick --- he must be a man after all.

“You’re Flum Apricot, aren’t you? It’s a pleasure to meet you. My name is Mother --- the warm, loving, gentle parent of the Spiral Children.”

“Get away from those two!”

Flum draws her sword and points it at him.

From what she’d heard from Ink, she was certain that Mother was a woman.

“Why would I have to leave the side of my own precious child? Aren’t you the one who called her a monster, hurt her feelings and kicked her out? She doesn’t even want to go back with you. Isn’t that right, Ink-chan?”

“I…”

Ink makes a conflicted expression as Mother brushes his hand along her cheek. She looks happy to see Flum, but she seems to realize that she can’t be honest about it.

Milkit, on the other hand, starts slowly edging away from them. Mother doesn’t seem to notice --- maybe they really aren’t interested in Milkit, just as Nekt said. After edging away enough, she breaks out into a run and leaps into Flum’s chest. Flum can’t keep herself from embracing Milkit tightly in return, despite knowing it isn’t the time or the place for that.

“Milkit!”

“Master… I’m so glad you’re safe. I thought I might never see you again…!”

“I missed you, too… I’m so, so glad you’re okay…!”

She can feel her warmth, smell her sweetness. Reaffirming each other’s presence with their bodies, they’re overjoyed to see that they’ve both made it out of their respective ordeals alive.

“Did they hurt you?”

“No, they didn’t do much of anything to me. All they did was prevent me from leaving.”

“I’m glad… when you suddenly disappeared like that I didn’t know what to think…”

Flum thought that even if Milkit was alive there was a chance they had hurt her somehow. She’s completely unscathed, though --- her greatest fear is alleviated.

All that’s left now is to deal with Mother.

“You two really get along quite well. I only wish you’d shown poor Ink the same kindness.”

“...Hey, ‘Mother’ or whatever.”

Separating herself from Milkit, Flum’s expression hardens as she faces Mother.

“If you call yourself Ink’s parent then you know about her ‘power,’ right?”

“Oh my, ignoring my request? Not that it matters now. Yes, I’m the one who replaced her heart with a Core.”

Mother replies frankly. Chances are, he’s the leader of the research team --- a high-level researcher working for the Church.

“That was the second time she was born, you know. It’s a little ritual that all my children have undergone to become mine. Ink-chan and the others are all my real children, and I their real mother.”

Mother is surprisingly talkative. He feels less like a fanatic believer of the church, however, and more like he’s drunk on her own fantasy and so determined to show off his ‘motherhood’ that he just can’t help himself.

“But… I just wanna be a normal human.”

“Human? Why? It’s true that you’re a First Generation failure, but you have something that my other kids don’t have --- the power to become a mother yourself. Take a look.”

Mother points behind Flum. In the open doorway a mass of eyeballs roll over each other as if playing. Maybe because their ‘master’ is in the room, however, they don’t enter.

“Your cute little children are watching, Ink-chan.”

“My kids…?”

“What you lost, what you want…”

He covers Ink’s eyelids with his large, rough hands.

“...Your desires are multiplied by Origin-sama’s powers so much they flow right out of you. Your children have been answering your will and protecting us all along.”

“No, I didn’t want this!”

“Don’t be embarrassed, now, you did nothing wrong. You’re a great mother, Ink-chan. I’m overjoyed that my own child has become such a wonderful parent… I’m almost jealous.”

So saying, Mother embraces Ink tightly.

The sight is terrifying in a completely different way from Origin’s power.

Flum can’t believe that the ‘love’ he speaks of actually exists.

“I know we’ve just met, ‘Mother,’ but…”

“What is it?”

“You’re really not cut out for parenthood.”

Flum knows she hasn’t seen enough to know for certain, but she’s confident she knows better than Mother at the very least.

Mother can’t conceal his irritation.

“How could you say such a thing!? You don’t know anything about me!”

“You’re ignoring how Ink feels, that’s why. You’re forcing what you want on her and warping her into what you want her to be… That’s not love!”

“I don’t think that either of us can really be the judge of that. You can feel my love, can’t you, Ink-chan?”

He grabs onto Ink even more tightly, proudly rubbing his cheek against Ink’s.

Ink doesn’t seem distressed at all, maybe because she’s used to it, but she doesn’t seem happy, either.

Hesitantly, she opens her mouth.

“I…”

“You want things to stay as they are, don’t you? You want to stay with me forever, don’t you?”

“Ink!!”

“Ink’s not going to listen to you after all you’ve said to her.”

“Maybe my words won’t reach her. I’m not just forcing my will on her, though! Ink has a mind of her own!”

Ink grows uncertain. It’d surely be easier to just do as Mother says.

If she does that, though, she won’t be human anymore --- her life will be that of a Child, of a monster.

“I… I wanna be human. I don’t wanna be a monster that hurts people!”

Those words likely mark the first time Ink has even spoken out against Mother.

All kids go through a rebellious phase; even children are human beings with their own free will. All families should work through such times together.

Hearing Ink’s words, however, the smile disappears from Mother’s face.

“...I see.”

He stands up, towering coldly in front of Ink.

“I don’t need rebellious children.”

Mother then kicks his own child in the face.

“Gyah!?”

“Wha…!”

“Ink-san!?”

Flum and Milkit are struck speechless by the sudden change in Mother’s attitude.

“A child who doesn’t listen to their mother is only trash. The only thing left is to dispose of you. Even though you were useless I never stopped showering you with love, and this is how you repay me?”

There’s not a speck of motherhood left in his voice.

Flum rushes forward, scooping Ink up in her arms.

“Are you okay, Ink?”

“Flum…”

Ink gives Flum a weak smile, calming her down somewhat.

She quickly turns to glare at Mother’s broad back.

“Mother!! Don’t think I’ll let you get away with this!”

He stops and turns around, a fed-up look on his face.

“How scary. I’m still rather bad with kids I haven’t raised myself.”

At that moment, four children appear at his back.

“That’s…!”

From the left, they’re Rook, Fwiss, Nekt --- and the last one is a white-haired little girl, likely Mute. She likely has the same ridiculous stats and unfathomable powers as the rest of them.

“Oh my, Nekt, you’re hurt!”

“I couldn’t take him down. I swear I’ll make that bastard pay someday…!”

He was supposed to be fighting Gadio, but it looks like he fled after taking a heavy blow to the ‘face'. Judging from the sounds of their battle that she’d heard, he must be quite strong.

On the other hand, Rook and Fwiss only seem to be lightly injured from their fight with Eterna and Otilier.

“Allow me to introduce you to my precious children, Flum. These are the Spiral---”

Mother spreads her arms wide with pride, but Flum cuts her off before she can continue.

“I know. The Spiral Children Rook, Fwiss, Nekt, and Mute, right? Ink told me all about them.”

“...You’re really nothing more than a burden, are you?”

Ink trembles slightly in Flum’s arms. Flum glares at him but he seems unfazed.

At any rate, this situation…

Four monsters, each strong enough to be able to take on the likes of the Chosen and a Lieutenant General, are lined up in front of her.

...is pretty hopeless.

The difference in their strengths is all too obvious. Flum’s the only one on their side who can fight --- all Mother has to do is say the word and the three of them are dead. It doesn’t seem like they have any desire to kill them now, but…

“Oh my, there’s no need to be so wary. According to my little ones, Origin-sama seems to have split opinions about what to do with you.”

“Origin’s… split opinions?”

He almost makes it sound as if Origin was not one entity but many.

Mother smiles cryptically.

“Fufufu, you’ll understand soon enough. At any rate, as long as I don’t know whether you should be killed or used my children won’t lay a finger on you.”

“C’mon, Mother, let’s go already!”

Fwiss grabs the hem of her dress and starts whining.

“We don’t have the time to waste here, dammit. You should’ve decided what to do with Ink a lot sooner.”

“I give all my children equal opportunity --- you know that’s my policy, Rook-chan.”

Mother admonishes Rook, who simply turns away muttering “Dammit.”

“Mother, I gotta pee.”

“Oh no, Mute-chan, we’d better get moving, then. Nekt-chan, could you please?”

“Got it, Mother.”

Nekt stretches out his hand, power swirling as it gathers above his palm.

“Ah, yes, about how to dispose of that.”

Stopping Nekt just before he teleports them, Mother calls out to Flum as if just remembering something.

“To be honest those eyes are nothing but a nuisance, so I’d appreciate it if you’d use your Reversal to break its Core and kill that thing.”

“Don’t you dare talk about Ink like that!”

“I’m just saying things as they are. In fact, aren’t you the unreasonable one here? It’s better for all of us if you don’t try to save it. Not only is it impossible, but even if it lives it’s blind, weak, and without merit. There really will be nothing but trash left.”

Flum grits her teeth.

There’s just no saving some people.

He’s just too self-centered, too unfair---!

“Is that what a true parent would say about their child!?”

“She’s not my child anymore. In fact, you have no right to be angry at me after she threw me away. Well then, Flum-chan --- until we meet again.”

Nekt clenches his fist, activating his ‘power.’

“You’re not getting off the hook that easily!”

Flum draws the Zweihander and unleashes a Prana Shaker at them --- but before it hits them they’re gone, leaving behind nothing but an empty room.

“Kh…”

Flum clenches her fists in frustration.

Ink looks up at her with worry.

Milkit watches them from a short distance away.

“...Sorry, Flum.”

“Why are you apologizing? It’s my fault, I’m the one who said all those awful things to you.”

“You were right, though. Every night I become a monster, spew out a buncha weird stuff… you’d be better off if I were dead.”

“That’s…!”

Flum can’t bring herself to say she’s wrong. If Ink lives, there’ll only be more victims. As long as those eyes are still around they probably won’t even be able to sleep at night. For a few days they might be fine --- but past that it’s like telling them all to die.

“It’s… okay.”

“What’s okay?”

“In the end I’m with Milkit, you saved me, we talked things out… I was pretty happy. You’ve done enough, though. Let’s end this, okay?”

“Don’t just give up!”

“I didn’t give up! I chose. I’d rather die as a human than live as a monster.”

“I didn’t… I didn’t save you for that…!”

“What’re you going to do, then? As long as I’m alive everyone’s only going to get hurt! You and Milkit, Eterna, even Sara! I don’t wanna live so badly I’d be okay with that. If I can’t live without hurting somebody, then it’d be better for everyone if I died here.”

No, you’re wrong, I’ll figure something out --- Flum wishes she could assert that.

She knows she’s powerless, though.

She knows there are some things that are possible and some that aren’t.

Sometimes, giving up is a valid option.

Ink sits with one knee drawn up, arms spread as wide as her smile.

“...Okay, go ahead.”

Like a spoiled child, Ink pleads for death.

Flum’s lips tremble, her jaw clenches, lets out a thin sob, and finally lets the tears spill down her cheeks.

OmaeGotoki 02-Ch14 1.png

Isn’t there anything I can do?

If I don’t break her Core, I can’t save everyone.

If I do break the Core, I can’t save her.

Even if there was some way to resolve this mess peacefully, Flum probably can’t do it all alone.

The only cards in her hand are the Zweihander, freezing, Reversal, and prana --- no matter how she plays them she can’t find a way to save Ink.

“If you’re the one who kills me, Flum, that’s pretty nice on its own. It’s kinda like… if you do it, then I feel like I’ll really be able to die a human.”

Her voice is bright, almost cheerful. Her words aren’t to convince Flum, though --- if anything, they’re to persuade Ink herself.

Flum doesn’t want to kill her. It’d be far too irresponsible of her to just walk away, though.

She fought so hard to get here just so she could choose whether or not to kill her. The choice has already been made by none other than Ink herself.

In that case, in the end, if there’s really nothing else she can do --- she’ll kill Ink.

“Uu… gh, ha… aa… aaahhh…”

Shoulders trembling, tears clouding her vision, Flum stumbles forward. The blurry world in front of her is dominated by Ink’s smile. It seems fake, almost painful.

Flum clamps her eyes shut, sending more tears down her cheeks as she presses forward. Even now her legs feel heavy, but she focuses on raising her left, then planting it in front of the other. She can feel her body grow heavier.

“Hahh…”

Putting her strength into her gut, she takes a deep breath, moving her right leg now. The Zweihander rattles as she drags it along the ground. Sweat and tears drench her entire body.

“Aa… uaaaaahh…!”

She’s close enough now.

Gripping the hilt with both hands, she touches the tip of the blade to Ink’s bosom.

She flinches slightly at the cold steel.

“Yeah, this is for the best… But make it quick, okay? I don’t want it to hurt…”

That’s all the strength she can possibly muster. It goes without saying --- she doesn’t want to die.

She might still find happiness somehow --- even now Ink must be thinking that.

Flum doesn’t want to accept a world where a ten-year-old girl has no choice but to die, but --- they’re not given a choice.

“M-Master!!”

Milkit shouts as she rushes forward, wrapping herself around Ink.

“As a slave, I know I have no right to tell my master what to do, but Ink’s the same as us! She’s trapped in a dark place, convinced nobody will be able to save her and she’s given up on everything, even on hope… but surely, somewhere deep down inside, she wants someone to save her! You pulled me by the hand and saved me from that same place, Master. You knew it was impossible but you saved me nonetheless! So, please, can’t you…”

“Milkit…”

“No, Milkit. If Flum stops here I’ll be too scared to ask later. You know there’s no way, Flum, so please, just let it end here. Just one little thing --- stab, done.”

Ink’s voice is still bright, but is trembling slightly now. If her eyes were open, tears would surely be gathering in them now.

“...Ink. You’re pushing yourself, aren’t you?”

“Am not.”

“Of course you are! It’d be strange if you weren’t! You’ll die! It’s only been a few days since you first left this place --- there’s bound to be a ton of things you don’t know, things you want to know! Don’t… don’t lie to me. Tell me how you really feel.”

“That wouldn’t change anything… If I told you, would it do anything except make you sad?”

Of course it wouldn’t --- but just as Ink is selfishly focused on her fake courage, Flum is focused on what is Ink’s true desire.

“Even so, I need to hear you say it.”

She doesn’t want Ink to leave things as they are --- as lies.

She wants Ink to be honest in her final moments --- such is Flum’s wish.

“...That’s not kindness, Flum, that’s cruelty.”

Ink painfully squeezes the words out.

“Don’t you know? It’s obvious. Anybody would want to live somewhere warm and happy.”

Her voice and body start trembling, revealing the weakness she was trying so hard to hide.

“I… I really… Of course I want to live!”

She’s not grown-up enough to hide everything to the end. Once her bluff has been broken once, she can’t possibly do it again.

Her wishes, her desires, her greed --- she selfishly lets it all spill like any kid her age would.

“I’m only ten! I’ve only lived ten years! It’s not right that I have to die already!”

“Yeah…”

“Why do I have to die? Why did they make me into a monster? Why can’t I just live a normal life!? I don’t want Origin’s power! All I want… all I ever wanted was to be normal…!”

“Ink-san…”

“No matter what I say now, though… I know it doesn’t matter now. That’s why I didn’t say it. If I have to die, I want it to be when I’m ready for it…!”

“...Yeah.”

“You’re terrible, Flum.”

“Sorry.”

“You’re terrible too, Milkit.”

“I’m sorry…”

They’re both fully aware, hanging their heads in shame.

Their responses are a little too quick --- Ink stifles a small laugh. She smiles, not a fake one but a real, genuine smile.

“But… thanks. I feel a bit better now.”

Getting a chance to voice her last regrets, her soul feels a little lighter. In exchange Flum’s burden got a little heavier, but it’s just what she asked for.

“Even if I feel a bit better, though, nothing’s really different now. You’re ready now, right? Actually do it this time.”

Flum’s eyelids droop and she lets out a long sigh.

No matter what, she always comes to the same conclusion.

Kill Ink.

Kill her and stop the eyes.

Necessity gives her a little courage.

All she has to do is plunge that blade into her chest where the Core rests and destroy it.

That’ll be the end.

Flum will never forget Ink, of course, shouldering the burden of her death for as long as she lives, determined never to let another Ink happen. She’ll use her death as fuel for continuing her fight with the Church. One day, she might even be able to tell the moving tale of Ink’s life and her death.

“Master… You’re not really going to do it, are you?”

It can’t be helped.

It really, truly, cannot be helped.

Even back when they’d first met Ink wasn’t a human but a Spiral Child, controlling powers beyond mortal ken. She never even had the chance to save her from the beginning.

The tale has already ended --- it’s not a matter of killing her or not, it’s a matter of who’ll do it. There’s no need to feel guilty, even.

Just as Ink says, Flum should release her from her hellish life as soon as possible and keep moving forward.

“...Keep moving, forward.”

--- Which way is forward again?

How do I know this is forwards?

Killing Ink and holding her death close to her heart is one route she can take, certainly.

“Masteeer…”

Is that really what Flum wants, though?

Maybe it’s wrong, just as Milkit says?

What the rest of the world may say is one thing, but it’s not the path that Flum Apricot should take --- that’s not what’s right to her.

She had the misfortune of meeting Ink, living with her, and in the end decided to save her regardless of the short time they’ve spent together.

That’s what ‘forwards’ is to her.

Common sense and logic don’t factor into it --- she’ll do what she feels to be right, just as she always has.

“This is wrong… I can’t do this.”

She can’t possibly kill someone she’s sworn to protect.

Could she kill Milkit if she was in Ink’s place?

No.

She’d never be able to forgive herself --- she’d be haunted by regret for the rest of her life.

Nothing lays at the end of that path but waste and rot.

It’d be the death of Flum Apricot.

She can’t bring herself to accept it.

She can’t accept it.

She can’t.

“Yeah, it’s wrong, this is all wrong. I---”

The sword drops from her hand.

“Master…!”

Milkit’s face is brimming with pride and hope, seeing the master she’s always known in Flum’s face once more.

The Zweihander turns into motes of light and disappears as it hits the ground.

“Flum… It’s okay.”

“No, it’s not. You want to live, don’t you? There are things you still want to do, right?”

“What do you want me to do, then!? Don’t get my hopes up if there’s no way out of this!”

Ink’s harsh voice echoes throughout the room.

“There’s got to be a way… There’s got to be…”

If they’re going to save her, there’s only a few things they’ll need.

They’ll need to break the Core, and they’ll need to find something to take its place in Ink’s chest.

Breaking the Core will be easy --- that’s the only thing Flum can do, really.

All they need is something to be Ink’s new heart.

“There’s got to be an answer. All we need is something to take the Core’s place.”

There probably isn’t anything lying around that could fill that vital role, however.

“Something that can keep you alive that’s not the Core…”

“Umm… Master, what if we replaced the Core with somebody’s heart?”

“Hahaha… C’mon, Milkit, that’s stupid. Who’d do that? Are you saying Flum can do that!?”

“...Eterna-san might be able to do it.”

“Yes, Eterna-san might…!”

“Stop being stupid! Not even Eterna could do that! Don’t think you can fool me just because I’m a kid… I know it’s impossible.”

“We don’t know that unless we ask her.”

“Even if she could, you’d need a heart. How’re you going to get a still-beating heart so quickly!?”

The living heart of someone --- someone they wouldn’t mind letting die.

Flum happens to know just the person.

“Dane’s heart… I think he should still be alive.”

All they have to do is transplant it into Ink’s chest.

Even as she says it, Flum almost laughs. Even if it’s possible, they’d have to find some way of keeping Ink alive during the procedure, some sort of power that could keep her alive even without a heart.

It’s ridiculous, but Flum thinks she might have a lead on that, too.

“Just kill me already! Please, don’t make me suffer anymore!”

Flum looks at the entrance to the room, waiting for Eterna, and Ink raises her voice again.

Just then ---

VWOOOOOOOSH!!

--- A powerful gust of energy blasts through the doorway. The eyes that were gathered there are blown away in an instant, and from the open corridor comes a familiar trio of voices.

“Flum, you’re alright!”

“We finally caught up. Glad you’re alive.”

“I must admit, though, it really is a shame they escaped on us. Those Spiral Children are even more weaselly than Werner.”

Gadio, Eterna, and Otilier are standing there.

“You’re all okay!”

“I wouldn’t be able to call myself one of the Chosen if I lost to a kid.”

Gadio gives her a confident smile.

“That’s one of the Spiral Children --- Ink, right?”

“Good to see she’s okay.”

“Judging from the mood, however, I’d wager that it’s a little too early for celebration.”

Milkit looks uneasy still, and both Ink and Flum are still wiping away their tears. It’s clear that the battle isn’t over yet.

Eterna walks over to Ink, leans down a little so that she’s looking Ink in the face, and gently wipes away her tears. No sooner than she’s done that, though, new tears spill down her face.

“Eternaaa…”

She half-whines Eterna’s name. Even if she can’t see, she can at least tell whose hands those are.

“What happened?”

“You know those eyes, right? ...I made them. I’m a monster, I spewed up all those eyes, and I killed a buncha people.”

“This little girl created those eyes…!?”

Otilier is the only one to be surprised. Since Eterna was closer to Ink than anyone, the thought must’ve at least crossed her mind.

“Sorry, Eterna. I didn’t mean to lie…”

“You didn’t know yourself. I know that much, so I don’t mind.”

“But… I can’t control the eyes. There’s probably no one who can. That’s why I tried to get Flum to kill me, but…”

“She couldn’t. That sounds just like her.”

Eterna finishes Ink’s sentence naturally, as if she’d expected as much.

“There might still be a way to save her, after all…”

“There isn’t one!!”

“I want to save you. I can’t if I don’t know what’s wrong, though. All I know is your heart isn’t normal.”

“That’s the problem.”

Gadio answers her.

“All the Children underwent a surgery not long after birth to replace their heart with a Core --- a little crystal that holds Origin’s power.”

“Thanks for the explanation. So if Flum breaks the Core Ink dies. It seems hopeless, doesn’t it.”

“That’s why Milkit and I---”

Even if it won’t work, Flum has to tell them her idea.

“We were wondering if it’d be possible to transplant Dane’s heart into Ink’s body.”

“You really do conceive the most bizarre plans, don’t you?”

“I keep telling her it’s impossible, but she won’t listen to me…”

“Ink-san… There’s still a chance that Eterna-san might be able to do it, though!”

“No! There’s no way even she could---”

Eterna interrupts her.

“I can do it.”

The room falls into silence for a moment.

They all think it must be some sort of joke --- none of them have ever heard of anything like that before.

“There used to be a way to do heart transplants. I think I can do it.”

Sensing that they’re doubting her, Eterna repeats herself.

It’s not just a bad joke.

It might be the truth.

She might be able to do it.

She just might be able to save her life.

“R-Really? You can actually save her, Eterna-san?”

“Nothing’s impossible.”

“Did you hear that, Ink? She can do it! There’s a way for you to live a normal life after all!”

“...Liar.”

Only Ink herself seems to doubt Eterna still. She’s barely able to convince herself that it’s a joke.

Eterna talks to her in the kindest, softest voice she can muster.

“I wouldn’t lie to you. You know that.”

“Eterna… You can really do it, then? You can save me?”

“I’ll do what I can. There’ll have to be a few more miracles, though.”

She can’t say for certain --- but Eterna is confident that under the right circumstances she can make her chances almost a hundred percent.

“Flum. That fleshy thing in the main hall upstairs is Dane, right?”

“Yeah. We’ll just use that!”

“It was still moving, so it’s possible. There’s a difference in weight between them, though, their blood types might be different, there’s a chance she’ll reject it… it could still go wrong. We’ll also need to keep her alive for a while without a heart.”

“That’s… it might sound kinda stupid, but…”

Her heart transplant idea worked --- so maybe she’ll be right again.

“Gadio-san, prana’s basically just life energy, right?”

“You could say that.”

“In that case, might it be possible to keep someone who should be dead alive for a while longer?”

If they can use prana to keep her alive a few hours --- no, even a few dozen minutes should be enough for Eterna to be able to finish the surgery.

Gadio thinks hard for a moment before replying.

“There’s a way to use Cavalier Arts to push the human body past its normal limits. I might be able to do it.”

“Then…!”

“I can’t guarantee it’ll be enough for her to survive until the end of the surgery, though. Just having a hole in her chest will eat away at her life, maybe more quickly than I can put it in her.”

“In that case, I suppose I shall have to lend a hand as well.”

Otilier steps forward.

“Genocide Arts is, at its core, about controlling one’s opponent’s bodily functions. In combat I typically use it to dull the enemy’s movements, but if I put my mind to it I can stop bleeding and numb pain as well. It’s surprisingly useful on the battlefield, as you might imagine.”

She seems even more reliable now than she did against Dane’s men.

“So if the two of you work together, you can keep Ink alive long enough for Eterna to work?”

“So it seems. I can’t imagine Anriette would be pleased if she heard about combining Cavalier Arts and Genocide Arts like that, though.”

“Please, Oneesama wouldn’t be that narrow-minded under these circumstances.”

It’d seem as though Gadio has a bit of a history with the Military from his time as an adventurer. Cavalier Arts and Genocide Arts are similar in many ways --- maybe Anriette, said to be the greatest living master of the latter, has some sort of rivalry with him.

“But a heart transplant, huh… I’ve never heard of such a thing. Is it from the age before healing magic became so widespread?”

“It’s technically an ancient surgery. Even now, there should be some people left who can do it.”

“And the Church simply sits back and ignores them, despite their fixation on healing magic?”

The Church aggressively discourages even medicinal treatments --- they’d likely destroy any and all documents on such a surgery immediately if they were to stumble across documentation on it in a ruin.

“Ink’s heart was replaced with a Core. They’ve even done it themselves.”

“...I suppose you raise a valid point. Evidently the Church assumes itself exempt from its own rules.”

“It wouldn’t be the first time.”

It’s common knowledge among the Capital-dwellers --- the Church as an organization is rotten beyond redemption.

“You’re right, of course, but there must be any number of lives they could’ve saved with this knowledge…”

“The Church doesn’t care about human life.”

Milkit, who had been listening wordlessly up until now, uncertainly talks to Eterna.

“Um… I’m aware that I could perhaps phrase this better, but…”

“What is it, Milkit?”

“If you know this much, Eterna-san, does this mean you have some sort of connection to the Church?”

Even Otilier doesn’t know as much as Eterna does, and she’s a Lieutenant General. It’s the natural conclusion.

Eterna sniggers a little.

“Not the Church. A different, older place.”

“I see… I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to sound as though I was suspecting you of anything. I was simply curious.”

“It can’t be helped. I’d ask the same thing in your shoes. ...I’ll tell you about it someday.”

Eterna may be harbouring a great many secrets, but they can trust her. None of them doubt that. What’s important now, though, is Ink’s impending surgery.

“Ink. Since I’ll have your life in my hands I’ll be frank. I can’t guarantee I’ll succeed. If I fail you’ll probably die.”

Her words sound threatening, but they’re the honest truth.

Ink seems unshaken.

“I thought I was gonna die for sure. There’s not a ‘chance I’ll die’, there’s a ‘chance I’ll live’ now.”

It’s miraculous enough just that she has another choice now, a way to change her fate. A first and last chance, born from Flum and Milkit’s refusal to give up and raised by Eterna’s, Gadio’s, and Otilier’s unnatural strengths.

“Did you really think I’d say anything other than yes?”

Her smile is bright, so bright nobody would think she’d be about to undergo a potentially fatal surgery.

Eterna returns her smile, gently stroking her hair.


◇◇◇


After that, it’s a race against time.

Eterna returns to the main hall, wrapping Dane’s body in water and carrying it back down to the room in the depths. The sight of him is grotesque enough that Milkit has to cover her eyes --- worse, it’s still twitching and pulsing. They should be grateful Dane’s still clinging onto life, though.

Flum and Gadio start preparing for their respective roles tensely, waiting on standby beside the prone Ink.

“I’ll match your timing. Whenever you’re ready.”

“Got it!”

In Flum’s hands isn’t the Zweihander but a shortsword they ‘borrowed’ from Dane. It’ll be more than enough to create an opening for Flum’s Reversal magic --- actually, it’s even better, since it’ll leave a far smaller scar.

She puts the tip of the blade to Ink’s chest.

“It’ll hurt, but try to relax, okay?”

Ink’s still awake --- they don’t have any anesthetic, after all. The best they have is the numbing from Otilier’s Genocide Arts.

“Um, Flum?”

Right before they begin, Ink raises her voice a little.

“What is it?”

“I’m sorry I yelled at you and Milkit. You were only trying to help, but I wasn’t being very nice…”

“I didn’t have any reason to be so sure, so let’s just call it even, okay?”

“No, I was wrong. After we get home I’ll make it up to you, okay?”

“...Got it. I’ll look forward to it.”

Ending their conversation, Flum closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and starts gathering magic.

She pictures a sphere of magic floating in her chest, then squeezes it, allowing the energy that spill out to flow through her veins and into her blade.

Her target is the Origin Core. She imagines the blade entering Ink’s chest, finding the Core, pouring magic into it and breaking it. She burns the sequence of events into her brain.

All she has to do is follow the path she’s set --- putting strength into her arms, the blade sinks into Ink’s chest.

“Ngh…”

“Reversal!”

CRACK!!

Pouring magic into the blade, the energies swirling within the Core start to reverse, and unable to handle the load it splits neatly in two.

Ink can feel something critical disappear from inside her.

“The eyes are wilting…”

The sea of eyeballs surrounding the church dry up, split, and crumble into ash. They’ll never kill anyone ever again.

“Haaaa!!”

Without even a moment’s delay, Otilier pours as much blood into her sword as she can before pressing the point into Ink. Putting the maximum amount of blood possible into the smallest wound possible, she puts Ink’s body under her total control. She numbs Ink’s senses as much as she possibly can --- perhaps as a result of that, her eyes lose their focus.

“Hngh!”

At the same time Gadio puts his hands onto her, pouring a huge amount of raw prana into her. Her body, which had been growing colder by the second, grows almost feverish as she jolts slightly.

“Ah… a, agh…”

Ink’s mouth opens halfway, eyes rolling back into her head as she starts twitching.

Her body must be under a massive amount of stress --- she won’t be able to last long, even under the ‘doping.’

“Hang in there, Ink…”

Flum mutters a faint prayer, and both Gadio and Otilier step away from them.

Finally, it’s Eterna’s turn.

“It’ll hurt even more now. But… I’ll try to make it hurt less.”

She waves her hand and all manner of watery blades big and small appear in the air beside her. A thin tendril of water sprouts from her back and grips one of them.

From there, the tendril’s movements are so quick and precise that Flum can’t follow them with her eyes.

The tentacle moves far more nimbly than Eterna’s own limbs, and as if dancing with the scalpel it cuts open Ink’s chest. After peeling open her thoracic cavity and carefully cutting free the Core from the myriad of veins and vessels connected to it, she connects the major veins and arteries to her new heart and even does the suturing on her own --- what would normally take an entire team of medical professionals is accomplished by Eterna and her small army of tentacles alone.

“Uu… ugh, agh… hah… hih…”

Ink is in such pain that her throat trembles and spasms, as if she’s gasping desperately for breath.

Even if the pain is numbed somewhat, it’s still far more than anything a person could normally handle. The only thing supporting her is the future she’s sure awaits her --- a peaceful life together with Flum, Milkit, and Eterna.

After receiving Eterna’s permission, Flum and Milkit each hold one of her hands, encouraging her to hold on just a little longer every step of the way.

“Fuu…”

Letting out a long breath, Eterna wipes away the sweat gathering on her forehead with a tentacle. Exhaustion is thick on her face.

After being chased by those eyes for hours on end --- this precise work.

She must be at her limit already, but she can’t lose focus for even an instant.

Eterna herself is motivated by the thought of living a normal life with the girl who had taken such a liking to her.

Dane’s heart starts beating within Ink’s chest.

Eterna closes the wound.

Finishing the surgery, she wipes away her sweat with her wrist this time.

“...Fuu. It’s out of my hands now.”

Saying that, Eterna sits down almost as if collapsing.

Ink appears to be at her limit; with a pained expression on her face she’s on the verge of passing out.

Her chest rises and falls slowly, her new heart pumping blood through her veins.

“She’ll be okay… I hope.”

“I’m sure she will be. Those horrible eyes are gone but she’s still with us.”

“I just hope it stays that way.”

Gadio, studying the ash-filled corridor outside the room, answers.

“Only time will tell.”

“Everyone, thank you so much for everything you’ve done for her.”

Flum bows deeply to the three of them.

“Don’t thank me. I want her to get better, too.”

“Same here. I’ve never met her before, but saving any life is a good thing. I’m proud to have been a part of it.”

“I may have only played a minor role in the grand scheme of things, but I too am rather pleased everything seems as though she’ll be okay.”

They all must be tired after the night they just had, but their expressions are refreshed, their smiles pleasant.

“I get the feeling that I was the only one who didn’t do anything…”

Milkit, on the other hand, seems somewhat down. She desperately wanted to save Ink --- that’s why she’s so frustrated.

Eterna gives her a knowing smirk.

“If you weren’t here Flum wouldn’t be able to do anything. She really needs you.”

Hearing that, Milkit seems to go into shock. Flum, suddenly finding herself under fire, blushes fiercely as she defends herself.

“You make it sound like I didn’t want to save Ink at all!”

“Well, meeting Milkit does seem to have completely changed you.”

“Et tu, Gadio-san…!?”

Flum hangs her head. Eterna, Gadio, even Otilier can’t keep themselves from laughing aloud. Milkit, cheeks reddening slightly, faces the ground and fidgets slightly. Seeing her blush, Flum wraps her arms around Milkit’s slim body.

“Kya!? M-Master!?”

“Fine, be that way! Just because I need Milkit doesn’t mean you have to make fun of me, though!”

Flum seems almost sulky.

It’s very true that without Milkit Flum wouldn’t be where she is today.

Without even trying to resist Flum, she turns to face her master, whispering in a voice that only they can hear.

“I need you, too, Master.”

Just being away from her for a little while is so hard she doesn’t know how she manages sometimes, anxiety grasping at her chest so hard even breathing is painful.

In that case --- she’ll just have to never be apart from Flum again.

Trying to convey her heartfelt wish, Milkit grasps the hem of Flum’s clothes.

“Uu… awah…”

Flum turns beet red.

OmaeGotoki 02-Ch14 2.png

Eterna smirks at them and Otilier mutters “If only I could do that with Oneesama…” with jealousy in her eyes. Gadio simply watches them, making Flum feel more than a little self-conscious.

“I-It’s not what you think! You’re wrong!”

Not even Flum herself knows what they’re ‘wrong’ about, but she can’t stop the words from coming out. All she succeeds in doing is pouring fuel on the fire, however, and Eterna’s smirk grows a little more implicit.

Flum can’t deny that with every passing day, Milkit takes up more and more of her heart. She’d learned over the past half day just how painful it is being separated from her just for a little while.

Even if they were reunited fairly quickly, it’s as they say --- distance makes the heart grow fonder. Just feeling the other’s touch is enough to put them at total ease, wrapping them in blissful euphoria.

Still red in the face, Flum takes Milkit’s hand from her clothes and wraps it in her own.

“Ah…”

If Eterna’s going to grin like that no matter what we do, then we may as well give her a good reason.

Milkit is startled at first, but a moment later she smiles, closing her eyes and losing herself in Flum’s warmth.

“I hope Ink wakes up soon.”

“...Yeah, I hope she does.”

They watch Ink’s peacefully sleeping face.

All five of them believe wholeheartedly that the transplant was a success, failure not even crossing their minds.

The rising sun peeks over the horizon, changing the black sky purple and finally a resplendent orange. Morning envelops the Capital, dispelling the darkness that has haunted its streets for what seems like forever.

All six of them present and accounted for, they greet the new day---


Chapter 15 - Inconvenient Truths[edit]

The sound of faint birdsong reaches Flum’s ears. Opening her eyes a crack, she can see a familiar wooden ceiling above her. A blinding ray of light slips through the curtains to land on her arm.

“...It’s morning, I guess.”

Her throat is dry, her voice a little hoarse.

She sits up, scratching at her bedhead as she looks around her. A side table, a desk, another bed, a few other pieces of furniture --- it’s her room, just the way she left it.

“So… last night I jumped into bed as soon as I got back, and then...”

...she fell asleep. That’s all she remembers after coming back home.

Since it was dawn by the time they left the church and it’s morning now…

“...I guess I must’ve slept a whole day away.”

It goes beyond simply ‘oversleeping’, but that just goes to show how tired she must’ve been after the whole ordeal. No matter how much her equipment raises her Stamina, running around fighting for a whole day pushed her body to the limit. At this point her muscles and joints hurt from so much sleep.

“Hnn… Fuaaaa… ahhh… ”

She stretches, letting out a large yawn. Her expression is spacey, proof that she’s still half-asleep. She shakes her head in an attempt to dispel her drowsiness, then stops, her gaze fixed on the bed beside her.

Sound asleep there is a cute, fair-skinned young girl --- Milkit, clad in her nightgown.

Now that she’s paying attention, Flum can tell that the other bed is empty. Maybe Milkit was unable to stand being alone, or maybe she was so worried about Flum she didn’t want to leave her side --- whatever the reason, she’d slipped under Flum’s covers at some point.

“She’s so cute when she’s asleep…”

A fluffy smile on her face, she lightly pokes Milkit’s soft cheeks and softly strokes her hair. Since she’s in her nightgown, she must’ve been awake for a while after returning home.

The question is, though, what happened to Eterna and Gadio --- but most of all, Ink.

Going downstairs would surely answer all of Flum’s questions, but instead she sits there in bed, head bobbing back and forth faintly, waiting for her body to finish waking up. Her idle hands entertain themselves by feeling Milkit’s hair, stroking her cheeks, and lightly tickling her ears. She doesn’t mean to annoy her, but judging from how high the sun is in the sky already it’s high time they were both awake.

“Nnyu… Mas, ter…”

“Hm? Are you awake?”

Flum peers into her face, but her eyes are still closed.

“Hehe, I wonder if she’s dreaming about me?”

“Master… don’t leave me…”

Her sleeptalking causes Flum’s heart to skip a beat, her body temperature rising.

Things being as they are it’d make sense that she’s a little uneasy, but…

“Sneak attacks like that aren’t fair! Uryaurya!”

She rubs her index finger into Milkit’s soft cheek. Finally she seems to wake up, looking up at her master with bleary eyes.

“Master?”

“Morning, Milkit!”

A smile spills naturally onto Flum’s face. Just seeing Milkit and hearing her voice fills her with such pleasant feelings.

“Ah… Good morning, Master.”

The very sight of Flum is enough to put a bright smile on Milkit’s face.

Their presences have grown large in each other’s hearts, far past what would be normal between master and slave, and they’re both plenty aware of that fact now.

“You startled me. I didn’t expect you to be sleeping beside me all of a sudden.”

“I’m very sorry… You were still asleep, and I was so worried about you… I thought you might never wake up...”

“Sorry for worrying you. I was apparently a lot more tired than I thought…”

“You had an awfully hard time, after all.”

“You didn’t exactly have it easy yourself.”

“Oh, no, I was only kidnapped. I really can’t thank you enough for all you’ve done, Master… It must’ve been awfully hard for you, but I believe that it’s all thanks to you that Ink is alright.”

“I couldn’t have done it alone, though.”

“Gadio-san and Eterna-san said that they wouldn’t have been able to do it without you.”

Being complimented by those two, Flum blushes a little from combined embarrassment and happiness.

I’m not worthless, I’m not useless, I’m strong enough that even the Chosen acknowledge me now --- well, she can’t go that far, of course, but she nonetheless takes Gadio and Eterna’s words to heart, feeling a little more self-confident now than before.

“Oh yeah, if Ink’s fine then that means she woke up, right?”

“Yes, she’s resting in Eterna-san’s room as we speak. Eterna-san said that the worst of it should be over, but her condition could suddenly worsen at any point in the next six months at the very least.”

“Six months, huh… It sounds like a long time but I guess it makes sense. I’d never even thought about moving organs from one person to another before.”

Eterna probably didn’t mention anything at the time so as to not dampen the mood when they’d finally caught a glimpse of hope.

“At the very least, she said that we shouldn’t see Ink until the wound has fully closed. She said that there was a risk of ‘infection’ or something along those lines.”

“Hmm… I wish I could go see her right away, but I guess for now it’s enough just knowing she’ll be okay.”

Armed with that knowledge, waiting shouldn’t be that difficult.

A load off Flum’s chest, she and Milkit get out of bed and get dressed.

The clothes she’s wearing were torn up quite badly from all the fighting, but thinking back on all the battles she’s lived through recently her wardrobe is quickly emptying. She’ll have to go out and buy more soon, but for now she just picks something at random.

Turning once in front of the mirror, she sits down to deal with her hair. Milkit, having finished putting on a new maid outfit and wrapping her face, stares at her from behind as she does so.

“What’s up?”

She seems somewhat nervous.

Today’s maid outfit consists of a navy blue one-piece dress, a simple white apron, and an orthodox hairband --- a very traditional style. It may be a little plain, but everything Milkit wears seems to fit her perfectly.

“Um… There’s something I’d like you to have, Master.”

So saying, she opens a drawer in the side table and pulls something about. She stands there for a moment, eyes closed with a somewhat conflicted expression.

Flum, having no idea what Milkit could be trying to give her, turns around in her chair to watch her.

After spending a few long seconds with her hand clutched in front of her chest, she mumbles “Okay!” to herself and walks over to Flum.

“H-Here it is.”

In Milkit’s open hand lies a small hairpin. The translucent pale blue flower on it glints as it catches the light.

“It’s so cute…! Are you really giving this to me?”

“Y-Yes. I’m sorry for only being able to give you something as simple as this, and I know it’s nothing compared to everything you’ve been so kind as to give me, and… I wanted to give it to you back when you were depressed about Sara-san’s disappearance. I couldn’t find the right timing then, so I’m afraid I’ve just held onto it all this time...”

“I’m happy with whatever you give me whenever you give it to me, Milkit.”

“Master… Thank you. I, um, actually made it myself…”

“You made this!? That’s amazing!”

Milkit nods, embarrassed and blushing.

Flum was ready to treasure it for the rest of her life as her first present from Milkit, but now it’s family-treasure tier.

She almost feels bad using it, but the best thing to do with a present is to put it to good use.

“Thanks! I’m really, reeeeeeaaally happy! I’ll be sure to treasure it!”

“I-It’s really not that important!”

“No, I’ll treasure it and that’s final! Can I put it on right away?”

“Of course!”

Parting her bangs to one side, Flum affixes the hairpin. Looking at her new hairstyle in the mirror, she breaks into a smile. Milkit, watching Flum use her present, smiles as well.

Through the mirror their eyes happen to meet, and finding it unexpectedly embarrassing they both look away, blushing.


◇◇◇


Descending the stairs, Flum and Milkit find Gadio gazing out the window. He’s in a smart longcoat, marking the first time Flum’s ever seen him wearing anything but his platemail. Despite the fact that he’s only looking out the window he appears quite picturesque.

“Good morning, Gadio-san.”

“Ah, Flum and… Milkit, was it?”

Having her name called, Milkit nervously bows. Even though she’s been spending some time with him since the day before, she’s still not used to his intimidating presence.

“I’m impressed you’re awake so soon after using up that much prana.”

“Sleeping for only a day is impressive…?”

The thought is sobering.

I’ll have to be a little more careful from now on…

“By the way, Gadio-san, is this how you dress normally?”

“Yeah. I suppose you never had a chance to see me like this, since I was always wearing armour on the Journey.”

His platemail isn’t Epic-tiered --- it’s currently in a storage room on the first floor. It wouldn’t be odd for an adventurer of his level to have Epic armour, but he surely has his reasons for sticking with that black plate.

Flum and Gadio sit down facing each other at the dining room table to chat as Milkit pads into the kitchen to start preparing breakfast.

“It may sound a little weird now, but I never would’ve imagined you coming to help me when you did.”

“I never imagined I’d run into you, either, but I was surprised by more than just that. Fighting with that large sword, that slave mark branded on your cheek… What exactly happened after you left us?”

He narrows his eyes slightly as he asks, the look in his eyes somewhat frightening.

As soon as he saw the slave mark he must’ve been able to guess what happened.

“Well, it all started…”

In chronological order, Flum starts explaining everything that happened to her since they parted --- being sold by Jean, finding Milkit and the Zweihander, the fight with the monstrosity in the abandoned research facility including that it was after her and about how she destroyed the Core --- and Gadio listens seriously, occasionally cutting in to ask for clarification. Finally, she finishes telling him about everything that’s happened up until then.

“...And that’s about it.”

Gadio crosses his arms in thought for a long moment.

“So Jean was responsible for it after all… I’d always thought him to be a little self-serving, but I never expected him to go so far. That pride of his is an illness.”

“I’ll never forgive him, but… in the end I think things have turned out okay.”

“Because you met her?”

He casts a glance at Milkit’s back as she works in the kitchen.

“That’s part of it.”

“Only part, huh. You have some other reason?”

“If I was in that party because the Church or Origin had something particular in mind for me… If I’d arrived at the Demon Lord’s castle just as planned, then their plans probably would’ve come to fruition.”

“In other words, Jean inadvertently foiled the Church’s plot.”

What he’s done is still unforgivable, though. The next time they meet, Flum knows the perfect way to kill him without letting him die.

“Come to think of it, you were looking into the Church too, right, Gadio-san?”

“Even before leaving the party they’ve seemed suspicious. Fortunately, an acquaintance of mine on the inside helped me sneak into the Grand Cathedral.”

“T-That’s pretty bold…”

“Hmph, maybe it was a little reckless.”

If even a warrior with his record remembers it with a smile, then it must’ve been quite difficult.

“It was the quickest way to get results, though. I was able to glean a fair bit of information on the Church’s secret history from their archives.”

“That’s why the eyes were chasing you, right?”

“They started coming after me after I started looking into the Children, so that must’ve been the trigger.”

“So if you looked into their history, then… You looked into the Demon War?”

“That was part of it. That and the ‘demon attacks’ that occurred eight and ten years ago.”

“What happened to Sara-chan and Maria-san’s hometowns, right?”

Flum remembers just then that she hasn’t yet heard about where Sara is now, but she decides to not interrupt him yet.

“If by Sara you mean Sara Anvilen, then yes. I don’t know about her, but Maria at least holds a strong grudge against the demons.”

“But if the Church is involved in those incidents, then… does that mean that the Church had some hand in them?”

“They were sloppy to begin with. It’s all too convenient for the Church that the only survivors were child prodigies in healing magic.”

“So paladins did it or something?”

“The records weren’t that precise, but I’m sure they weren’t that stupid.”

“The Church did fake it, though, right?”

“There’s a chance, but remember that Maria was eight years old at the time. She would’ve been able to tell humans from demons at the very least.”

“Come to think of it, you’re right… so did the demons do it after all?”

“That, or humans that somehow disguised themselves. Regardless of who did it, however, the fact is that the Church was involved.”

“Why are you so sure of that?”

“There were other survivors aside from just Sara and Maria.”

“Wait, there are more?”

Flum had never heard anything about that before. Even Sara herself seemed convinced that there was only one survivor per attack.

“All the other survivors were pregnant women --- a total of five between the two attacks were taken in by the Church.”

“Pregnant women…?”

“Have you noticed? The incidents were eight and ten years ago. In other words, their children would be eight or ten years old now.”

That must mean---

“Those kids… are the Spiral Children?”

“Exactly. The Church got their hands on not only two magic prodigies but five test subjects as well.”

“So that’s what the Church was after…”

“On top of all that, both of the villages attacked worshipped deities other than Origin --- that was likely a factor as well.”

“Three birds with one stone, huh…”

With everything that Gadio has told her up until now, however, there’s one thing that Flum still doesn’t quite understand.

“Why’d they pin it on the demons, though? It’d be a lot easier to just say a giant monster did it.”

It’s not common but certainly not unheard of for towns to get wiped out like that --- although there’s a fair chance that they have a reason for fostering hatred of demons. Granted, within fiction it’s common to make the demons the villains, but this is real life.

“I was able to find that reason in the Cathedral’s records.”

Just how far into the Cathedral did he go in order to get information that detailed? If he’d been found he likely would’ve been killed on the spot. Despite that, however, he talks about what he found almost too casually --- just like Eterna and how she was able to save Ink’s life, he's truly superhuman.

It’s enough to make her feel ashamed to be a Chosen alongside them.

“About fifty years ago now, the previous king became an adherent of the Church of Origin. At almost the same time, he started issuing edicts encouraging the villainization of the demons in fiction.”

“Fiction? Like fairy tales and plays? Why’d he do that?”

“I don’t know for sure. The truth is, though, that after twenty short years the demons were accepted as evil, resentment towards them grew, and the Demon War broke out. Even now, the king may well be attempting to start another war.”

“So that’s why the Church pushed the blame on them. But wait, doesn’t that mean the Demon War is our fault? I learned in school that the demons attacked us.”

“I’m not surprised. That version’s a lot more convenient for them.”

He replies matter-of-factly as Flum lets out a sigh.

“I didn’t think history could be twisted around like that so easily.”

“The Church on its own would be one thing, but they had the aid of the Kingdom in manipulating what reached the ears of the people. It can’t have been easy, but it clearly wasn’t impossible to make sure that a more convenient version of the ‘truth’ got passed down.”

Flum thinks back to what Neigass told her in that cave outside Enchide. It would seem to be true what she said back then, that the humans attacked the demons back then --- which means that she might've been telling the truth when she said they don’t kill humans.

She never would’ve expected the words of demons to be more trustworthy than the Church’s. She lets out a long sigh.

“There’s one more critical thing they’ve been hiding about the War, though.”

“There’s still more?”

“Enough that we could be here all day. The important thing, though, is this --- do you know what the demons asked of humanity after we lost to them?”

“Land… or maybe not. Money or resources?”

“Most victors in war would demand that much, but not the demons. All they asked was that we never start a war with them again --- in effect, a ceasefire.”

The unexpected gap between what she’d always thought of the demons and the truth is enough to make her dizzy.

It’s almost as if the humans are the villains here --- no, that’s surely the truth. Even after challenging the demons once and losing, they still won’t learn, hiding the truth from even themselves.

“Is that still in effect now?”

“It should be.”

“Then isn’t Cyrill-chan… or actually, aren’t all of us Chosen breaking that deal?”

Flum’s question is only natural. Gadio snorts, a fed-up look on his face.

“I have my theory on that, but it’s only a theory. I don’t have any proof to support it.”

“I’d still like to hear it.”

“In effect, that party is just a group of normal people. That’s why it’s so easy to leave.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

Their allegiances and origins are all over the map --- Gadio and Linus are adventurers, Jean’s a sage, and none of them have any idea where Eterna even came from.

“In other words, we’re at heart a group of random civilians with no connection to the Kingdom itself. There’s nobody to be held responsible for our actions, so we can do whatever we want in the Demon Realm without violating the terms of the ceasefire.”

“Wha… That barely even makes sense!”

“I’d imagine the demons aren’t fooled by it, either. As long as the Kingdom insists we have nothing to do with them, however, the demon’s can’t do much of anything. I suspect that’s why the Three Demon Generals were formed --- the demon counter to the Hero.”

Flum is left speechless.

In that case, the villages getting destroyed near the border are completely the kingdom’s own fault, and the demons’ insistence to not take human lives is almost too kind. There might not be many demons, but they are on average far stronger than humans --- if they felt like it they could probably raze the whole kingdom to the ground overnight.

They don’t want that, though.

They insist on not hurting anyone unless they absolutely need to.

That’s why even with the advance of the Hero’s party dead set on killing their ruler, they react as minimally and peaceably as possible.

The Kingdom is in return doing nothing but taking advantage of their kindness --- or possibly, their naivete. It’s clear who is at fault.

“...I wonder why the Kingdom hates the Demons so much.”

“It’s possible they’re only after their land, but that wouldn’t justify all the trouble they’ve gone through. The truth stands that this all started with the Church --- the only way we’ll get an answer is if we gut them and take a look for ourselves.”

In the end, it all comes back to the Church.

If they want to know the truth of the kingdom’s past, its future, and even the truth of Flum herself, they’ll have to accept the risks and unveil the truth themselves.

It won’t be easy --- not even the help of Gadio and Eterna will be enough to overcome the opponent in front of Flum. Unless she learns it all and crushes the Church’s plot, however, she’ll never be able to live a normal, peaceful life.

“There’s no point in overthinking things now, though. All we can do now is continue to gather what information we can on them.”

“It’s all so frustrating, though…”

“Remember that feeling. It’ll help you keep pressing forward.”

Just as their conversation starts to lighten, Milkit places the bread on the table, enough for four. Ink’s portion must be separate.

“It looks like it’s about time for breakfast. We can continue this talk later.”

“Wait just a moment, Gadio-san, there’s still one more thing I’ve got to ask you!”

“What?”

At the last moment, Flum remembers to ask him the thing she’s been most concerned about.

“Where’s Sara-chan?”

“...Ah, her.”

His brow furrows slightly.

He said she’s okay, so what’s wrong?

Flum herself starts to grow nervous.

“Is there someone with her right now?”

“You could say that.”

“Is she with a friend of yours?”

“I wouldn’t say that. I’ve talked with her before, but…”

Strangely enough, Gadio seems to be perplexed, his meaning unclear.

Maybe it’s just hard for him to say who it is…

Hardening her resolve, Flum decides to ask.

“No matter what sort of situation Sara-chan’s in, I promise I can accept it. Please, Gadio-san, just tell me.”

“She’s safe, no doubt about it. She’s not hurt, ill, or in any sort of danger. But the person with her is, well…”

“Who is it?”

Gadio folds his arms and sits in silence for a moment.

Finally, he sighs and opens his mouth to speak.

“Neigass of the Three Demon Generals.”

The last name she was expecting.

“...Huh? Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaat!?”

She shouts out loud in surprise.

Milkit twitches in surprise at the sudden noise, and out of the plate she’s holding spills a lone sausage.


Side Story - Eterna As Always[edit]

The same night as always.

Flum reveals Milkit’s face as always, compliments her half to death as always, and Milkit turns bright red as always. They lie on the bed in their matching nightgowns, talk about trivial things, and just plain enjoy each other’s company.

It’s the same ritual they perform every night --- one without any rhyme or reason save for the simple fact that they love spending time together.

That particular night, however, bears a particular change.

“I happened to find this while looking through the storeroom, Master.”

Milkit picks the tool off the desk. It’s a small wooden stick with a ball of cotton on one end --- an ear pick.

“Oh yeah, we hadn’t bought one yet, had we?”

“As your slave I’ve been wondering day in and day out how best to service you, Master, and…”

“You know you’re already perfect, right?”

“Oh no, not at all. Unless I make you even happier I can’t call myself the perfect slave.”

“Hmm… I really am happy just like this, though.”

Flum sits up, reaching over to Milkit where she sits on the edge of the bed and softly stroking her cheek. Her master’s warmth alone is enough to give her a small smile.

“...You’re far too soft on me, Master.”

“Eterna-san tells me that, too. But to be honest, I want to spoil you even more.”

“I feel the same way, and that’s why I want to service you as best I can. ...That’s where this comes in.”

“An ear pick.”

“Yes. I’d like to clean your ears. It’s one of the quintessential forms of service a slave can perform for her master, after all.”

“Where’d you hear that?”

“T-That’s just the impression I get, or rather…”

Milkit’s own words cause her to blush as she looks down at the bed between them.

In other words, she simply wants to clean Flum’s ears.

“It’s been a while since anyone’s cleaned my ears for me.”

“You have some experience already?”

“My mom did it back when I was a kid. I-If you’re going to be cleaning my ears, though, that means you’ll have to give me a lap pillow…”

“I’m ready whenever you are, Master.”

She pats her thighs invitingly. Flum lying down, putting her head right where Milkit indicated, but she can’t keep herself from blushing slightly.

This is kinda embarrassing…

If Eterna was here she’d probably retort that they do more embarrassing things on a daily basis, but since it’s their first time doing this specifically it’s only natural that she’s a little bashful.

Milkit can clearly see her master turning bright red. To be honest, it’s at least as embarrassing for her and she gets the feeling that this really isn’t typical slave service after all. Despite all that, however, the weight of Flum’s head in her lap and being able to look at her in a different way from the norm is simply so fun she doesn’t want to stop now.

“Can you see?”

“Yes. It’s very clean, Master.”

“Really? It’s been so long I was pretty sure I’d built up quite a bit…”

“Don’t worry, Master, I’ll make sure it all comes out.”

“Hehehe, let’s see what you’ve got, then.”

Milkit inserts the tip of the pick into Flum’s ear.

“Nhh…”

“Ah, Master, did that…”

THUNK!!

“...hurt?”

The sound of something heavy falling to the floor comes from another room as if to cut Milkit off.

“That was pretty loud… I think it came from Eterna-san’s room.”

“It sounded like it, yes.”

“Anyway, I was a little surprised is all. You can keep on going now.”

“I’ve never done this before, so I’m really not sure how deep I should…”

“You can go a lot deeper than that, at least.”

“O-Okay, I’ll go a little further in, then…”

Milkit’s movements are delicate and precise --- to Flum it feels more ticklish than anything else.

“Fufu, this is rather fun, isn’t it?”

“I’m enjoying it too, but it’s just kinda ticklish… you can go a lot harder than that.”

“I’m not sure I’m up to that yet…”

“I get how you feel, but nothing’s coming out at this rate.”

“Hmm… Figuring out just how hard is a little tricky, isn’t it…?”

Milkit’s nimble fingers, seeming to grasp the basics almost intuitively, start to gently scrape away at the sides. Flum narrows her eyes with pleasure.

“Ohh, that’s good…!”

“Am I doing it right? I can’t tell what you’re feeling, after all…”

“It feels really good, Milkit! Though I think it’d be even better if you went a little deeper…”

THUNK!!

Another loud sound comes from Eterna’s room. They both jump a little, but miraculously Flum’s ear is unharmed.

“Crap, that was close…!”

“Are you alright, Master!?”

“Yeah, somehow… I wonder what Eterna-san’s doing, making so much noise this late?”

“Should I go check on her?”

“Nah, it’s probably fine. She’s probably just conducting an experiment or something.”

“In the middle of the night with Ink-san sleeping beside her?”

“...It’s probably fine. If she needs help or something I’m sure she’ll let us know.”

Still puzzling over what the sounds coming from Eterna’s room could mean, they return to their ear cleaning. Flipping around the ear pick, Milkit approaches this time with the fluffy cotton end.

“I’ll clean with this end this time.”

“Heh, hehehe, that’s even more ticklish than before! Especially since I’m not doing it myself...”

“It looks like even you have your weak points, Master.”

“Haha, yeah, my friends used to tease me about my sensitive ears all the time.”

“I think I can understand how they feel… o-only a little, of course.”

“Is this the birth of a new, impish Milkit?”

“I-I’m not enjoying it, really!”

“You’re a little too straight-laced sometimes, Milkit. You can tease me every now and then if you feel like it.”

“I wooon’t…!”

“W-Wait, haha, stop, I get it! Hehe, nhe, that really tickles!”

Dexterously manipulating the ear pick, Milkit tickles the depths of Flum’s overly-ticklish ear. Those countless tiny attacks against her sensitive depths, puff after puff after puff, render her all but completely unable to speak.

“Hehe, heeee, y-you’re, hehehe, enjoying this, aren’t you!? This is, hahaha, on purpose!”

“I-I’m not trying to tickle you on purpose, Master, this is a necessary part of the process! I-I’m really not enjoying seeing you like this… not at all…!”

Even as she tries to defend herself Milkit’s face reddens, her breath grows uneven and a strange glint appears in her eyes. She knows full well that as a slave she has no right to have her way with her master like this --- and that’s precisely why she can’t hold herself back, her arousal quickly overpowering her common sense.

What finally brings her back to her senses---

THUNK!

“Owww…!”

---is a heavy falling sound followed by a short exclamation of pain.

Unable to ignore the sounds any longer Flum sits up. They both strain their ears for any more sounds, but when only silence meets their ears they exchange glances.

“That was Eterna-san’s voice just now, wasn’t it?”

“It sure sounded like it.”

“It sounded like something fell, and then she said ‘ow’, didn’t she?”

“Maybe I should go check and see if she’s okay.”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“...I’ll be right back.”

“No, I’ll come with you!”

“No, you don’t have your bandages on right now. I know Eterna-san’s seen you like this once before, but… I want to save you all for myself.”

“Master…”

Her master’s gentle words cause her to clench her hand in front of her chest. The way her heart just skipped a beat felt unlike anything that could be between master and servant --- she can clearly feel now more than before that there’s more to their relationship than that.

“In that case, I’ll wait here for you.”

Milkit sees Flum off with a smile.

Flum heads to Eterna’s room, stopping to listen outside the door. The room beyond is quiet, almost unnaturally so --- since Ink’s sleeping in there she should at least be able to hear her rhythmic breathing. Not only that, but if Eterna herself is awake then she should be able to hear some sign of her. It’s almost as if she’s purposefully trying to hide.

“Why’d she try to do something so stupid in her own room…?”

She’ll probably never know unless she asks.

Flum knocks on the door, softly calling out “Eterna-san?”

There’s no response, but she knows Eterna must be awake.

“I’m coming in!”

If she won’t respond, she has no choice but to just go on in.

Sitting on the bed is Eterna, a strained expression on her face. For some reason she has her hand clamped over Ink’s mouth.

“What’re you doing, Eterna-san?”

“That’s my line.”

Eterna blushes slightly.

“I know you two are really close, and I don’t have a problem with the deed itself, but you should think twice before doing it that loudly when Ink might be awake.”

“Nnn! Nn, nnngh!!”

Ink tries to say something through Eterna’s hands. Noticing that she seems uncomfortable, Eterna releases her.

“Fuah! I can breathe again… You can’t just cover my mouth or ears like that! Also, I was asleep until you started dropping books…”

“That’s… At any rate, I don’t want to hear you two doing that.”

“Huh…? What’re you talking about, Eterna-san?”

“That, um… The thing masters do with their slaves… You know, that.”

“That?”

All Flum and Milkit were doing was a bit of innocent ear cleaning. It’s a little weird for Eterna to be talking about it like that, though. No matter how she wracks her brain, however, she can’t figure out what Eterna could possibly be referring to.

“Sorry, I still don’t understand what you’re fussing about. Why don’t you just come out and tell me?”

“Tell---!? With Ink here!? You know I can’t!”

“So it’s something Ink shouldn’t hear, then?”

“She’s only ten. It’s too early for her.”

“I think it’s a pretty common thing to do with kids, though… My mom used to do it to me all the time.”

“Your mom!?”

“Why’re you so shocked?”

“...I didn’t know your morals were so twisted.”

“Morals have nothing to do with it! Milkit and I were only---”

Before she can finish, Eterna clamps her hands over Ink’s ears.

“You covered my ears again…”

Ink doesn’t resist, however, simply sitting there bewildered.

“It’s a little different for Milkit. She grew up in that sort of environment. I thought you had some common sense… Was it some sort of custom in your hometown?”

“No, I’m pretty sure everyone does it every now and then.”

“It’s necessary for humanity’s survival, I guess…”

“Okay, I’m pretty sure that’s an exaggeration.”

“Moderation is important, though. At your age… maybe, but Milkit’s too young.”

“I don’t know why you seem so fixated on age, but just to be clear Milkit was the one doing it to me.”

“Milkit’s the seme… and Flum’s the uke…!?”[5]

“She found a tool in the storeroom, so she asked me if I wanted to do it with her.”

“Wait, using a tool already!? I never knew something like that was in the storeroom…!”

“Seriously, what’re you talking about!?”

The more Flum tries to explain, the redder Eterna’s face seems to get.

“Eterna-san, are you sure we’re talking about the same thing here?”

“Definitely. I heard you clearly enough.”

“You could hear us from in here? Still, I don’t think we said anything that strange…”

Flum thinks back on her conversation with Milkit but comes up short. To begin with, she has no idea what Eterna could’ve possibly been imagining.

“First, Milkit looked at your… at it and called it clean.”

“I’m sure she was just being polite, though, since I haven’t had much time to maintain it recently. I used to do it all the time.”

“All the time!?”

“Is it really that shocking? I mean, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to do it less, but…”

“To think that your hometown… But I heard you say you’d ‘built up’ a lot, so I guess that means you did it a lot…”

“Do you do it, Eterna-san?”

“I don’t… have a partner.”

“You can do it on your own, y’know?”

“I-I guess…”

“Actually, I think you should probably do it with Ink every once in a while.”

“That’s criminal.”

“Seriously, what ARE you talking about!?”

For the first time since they’ve met, Eterna is genuinely afraid of Flum.

Flum’s hometown of Patoria lies far to the south of the Capital, not a distance frequently travelled.

They have some really twisted customs down there…

“After that Milkit said she’d never done it before all nervously, and you took the lead and told her to go deeper…”

“Yeah, I definitely think it’s harder to do it to someone else. Everyone has their own preferences for where and how hard, right?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never done it before.”

“In that case, how about you practice on me next time?”

“This is… sudden.”

“You’re really good with magic, so I’m sure you’d be a natural.”

“Not sure how I should take that.”

“Ah, actually, I bet you could use those water-tentacle things of yours to do it even faster.”

“Tentacles…!?”

Eterna looks blatantly turned-off as she shies away from Flum.

Flum, on the other hand, is at a loss.

That’s weird… I’m only talking about perfectly normal stuff, so why is she acting like this?

OmaeGotoki 02-SS 1.png

“At this point your only hope is a complete reset. As the only adult in the house I can’t overlook this. If I wipe your memory with drugs you can start over as a normal girl…!”

“Don’t even joke about that, Eterna-san! Really, what’s gotten into you!?”

“That’s my line. I don’t know what your hometown was like but you need help. I’ll teach you moderation, maybe about chastity---”

“Wait, chastity?”

Flum cocks her head to the side, completely baffled by Eterna’s words. Ink, whose impressive hearing let her pick up on every word they were saying even through Eterna’s hands, opens her mouth.

“I think you’re turning ear-cleaning into way too big a deal, Eterna.”

“...Ear cleaning?”

“Yeah. I dunno what chass-titty is, but I don’t think it’s got anything to do with ear cleaning.”

“Ear cleaning… Ear cleaning…”

Eterna, finally stumbling across the truth, mumbles it to herself a few more times.

“Ear cleaning… Come to think of it, if they were talking about ears… but that’s still lewd… no, it’s ear cleaning. It can’t be anything else. But then I…”

As she mumbles to herself, all emotion disappears from her face and her eyes go blank. Letting go of Ink, she unsteadily walks past Flum and slips into her bed.

“...Snooze…”

In an instant she’s ‘asleep’, as if trying to pretend their conversation never happened.

“Eterna-san?”

“Snore… snore…”

Her acting is so bad it’s almost painful. Flum peeks into her face and calls her name a few more times.

“Eterna-saaaan?”

“Snore… snooze…”

She’s determined to keep on feigning sleep.

“I don’t know what you thought I was talking about and I won’t ask, and we can just say I really don’t know even now… but let me just say this.”

Finally understanding Eterna’s half of the conversation, Flum turns beet red.

Mustering her embarrassment and all her other emotions as one, she has only one thing left to say.

“Milkit and I aren’t in that kind of relationship yet!!”

She then boldly strides out of the room without looking back.

Ink, likely still blissfully ignorant, yawns and crawls into Eterna’s bed. She was sleeping on her own for a while, but ever since the surgery they’ve gone back to sleeping together.

“Hey, Eterna?”

“...What?”

Eterna stops feigning sleep long enough to respond to her.

“I dunno what Flum meant by ‘that kind of relationship’, but she said ‘yet’... does that mean she’s planning on making it that kind of relationship?”

Her naive question happens to pierce right through to the heart of the matter.

“Whether or not she is, it’s a matter of time.”

“Huh… I wonder if someday I’ll finally get what you guys were talking about…”

It might be better if you never do --- and with that, Eterna closes her eyes.


Afterword[edit]

Thank you very much for picking up the second volume of “Omae Gotoki ga Maou ni Kateru to (etc)”.

My name is kiki, and I am the author.

With the second volume here, it’s full-throttle yuri and disturbing stuff right from the get-go. Let me say it again: The slow life has died. Even those of you who came into this volume knowing what was going to happen probably had your hearts almost stop when you saw one particular insert. Don’t worry, I was the same way.


So what’d you all think of what I refer to as the ‘Ink arc’? This time there were three chapters that underwent some pretty heavy modifications for the light novel version. To tell the truth, the web version has already ended at ten Episodes, but as I mentioned three chapters were changed enough that you’d be able to tell at a glance --- I really doubt the LN will follow the same path from here on. I’m hoping that even those of you who have already read the WN will be able to enjoy a somewhat different OmaeGotoki.

Oh, and by the way, as a little bonus there’s a little extra story that you can read if you answer the survey after the link at the end of the book. It touches a little more on the true identity of Origin than in the main novel, so if you read it you might be able to enjoy the main story a little more.


By the time this has come out, the comicalization has probably started. The mangaka in charge of it is a master of cool and cute drawings and an old acquaintance of mine, Minakata Sunao-sensei. We worked together many years ago now on a yuri manga for a certain magazine. I still can’t believe that Minakata-sensei of all people will be adapting this… I guess it just goes to show you really can’t tell what’ll happen in life. Kinta-sensei’s designs really managed to shine through quite nicely, I’m telling you. Every day I’m like:

“Is this really my novel?”

“Do I really deserve something this nice?”

“Does this mean I’m going to die tomorrow?”

“No, wait, maybe I’m already dead?”

“Don’t tell me I died and wandered into the mythical Land of Yuri!?”

...Okay, that last one was just a joke. I’m a man, so there’s no way they’d let me in there without at least chemically sterilizing me first.


So now I’m realizing all over again just how hard it is to write an afterword. I’ve spent a lot more time on this than on a passage the same size from the main novel… Looking it up, though, it turns out a lot of other authors are struggling with the same thing. I guess now that it’s come to this I’ll try the whole talk-with-the-characters shtick again.

Eterna “I’m Eterna Rinebow. I don’t know what I’m doing here.”

Ink “C’mon, doing an afterword sounds like a lot of fun! I’m Ink Rieskraft, by the way!”

Author “And I’m the author, ki

Yeah, no. Sorry. Not gonna work this time either. Just being able to write three characters together into a conversation is hard enough, so any author that can handle this level of mental strain is really something else. Maybe I’ll be able to do it in my next life.


Finally, I’d like to thank everyone who helped me with the making my story into a book.

Not only have you been kind enough to churn out more character designs, Kinta-sensei, and really I got chills down my spine when you sent me that one illustration. Really, I can’t thank you enough.

I know that I’ve been a bit of a problem child in somehow managing to make the second volume even longer than the first, editor I-sama, but I want you to know that I really appreciate all your work. I couldn’t have done it without you.

I’d also like to thank everyone else involved in the book-making process. It’s thanks to you that this book turned out as nicely as it did.


Finally, thank you readers for picking up this book. Really, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

I hope we can meet again when the story continues --- wherever it goes next.



Translator's Notes and References[edit]

  1. ‘Niisan,’ while literally meaning ‘big brother,’ can also be used to refer to an older guy to whom one is not familially related. Similarly, see also: Sara calling Flum and Milkit ‘Oneesan’, Sara calling Maria ‘Oneesama’.
  2. It’s basically saying grace, but without the religious context.
  3. Dane uses the first-person pronoun ‘boku’. While it sounds a little childish or pratty for an adventurer, it’s the golden standard for spoiled rich boys.
  4. The ‘shinjuu’(心中) or lovers’ suicide play is a plot archetype in classic kabuki(Japanese theater) and bunraku(Japanese puppet theater) plays. It’s no secret to anyone that in the end of the play the protagonists, unable to reconcile their societal roles and their emotions for each other, always kill themselves tragically.
  5. The terms ‘seme’(攻め) and ‘uke’(受け) can be used to convey someone who does something and someone who has something done to them, respectively. In the context of a homosexual relationship, however, it can take on the meaning of the ‘dominant’ and ‘submissive’ sexual partners, respectively.
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