OmaeGotoki: Volume 1 Interlude 1 - That Tiny Missing Cog

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Two days have passed since Flum was sold into slavery.

Obviously, she doesn’t show up in the Palace basement’s Teleportation Room at their agreed meeting time. As soon as they're all gathered, the sage Jean opens his mouth to speak.

“Flum went back home. She won’t be accompanying us any longer.”

“Eh?”

Surprisingly, Cyrill gives an immediate reaction, eyes wide with shock as she stares at Jean.

The other four only give subdued responses; the witch Eterna furrows her eyebrows, the warrior Gadio seems lost in thought, the saint Maria looks at the ground and bites her lip, and the archer Linus mutters "Maybe that’s for the best..."

“How do you know that, Jean?”

Cyrill asks, her voice trembling slightly, and for a split second Jean makes an expression like biting down on an insect. He was convinced that once that irritating little dung beetle left the party that it’d be like she never existed, but evidently he was mistaken. Flum had apparently burrowed deeper into Cyrill's heart than he’d thought.

Even now, she’s still getting in his way.

“I was able to convince her that leaving was for the best. I told her that it was impossible for us to continue travelling together, you see. Believe me, she looked quite troubled by the whole affair, but I didn’t force her. She went home of her own accord.”

“Her own… accord…”

“Yes, that’s right. Honestly, we should all just forget about her now. We all know she was only getting in our way --- I thought you would’ve agreed to that much at least, Cyrill?”

“Y-Yeah…”

Jean knows that he is the perfect match for Cyrill. Since he’s twenty-eight and she’s only sixteen some people might complain that he’s too old for her, but the important thing isn’t age but genius. If he’s going to pass on his genes, it has to be with someone as great as him or greater --- he’s thought so since long before he left on the Journey.

And then he met her: Cyrill Sweechka, the perfect ‘material.’

Instead of falling for him as she was supposed to, however, the first person she’d gotten close to in the party was that talentless, worthless piece of trash Flum. Apparently the advantage she had for being the same sex, the same age, and having the same country roots was more significant than he'd thought.

He was indignant, simply too prideful to accept it. It was only natural for superior humans to be attracted to each other, so why did she choose Flum, of all people, over him?

That’s why, in order to set things right, he got right to work.

Hard work happens to be Jean’s specialty. He achieved the position of sage not through his natural talent alone but with an incredible amount of sheer effort on top of that.

Driving a wedge between the two and chasing out Flum was child’s play in comparison.

“In that case, you shouldn’t be so reluctant to let her go, now, should you?”

Jean draws closer to her and puts his hand on her shoulder reassuringly.

“...Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

She gives a short nod.

Everything up until now was to get her to accept that Flum couldn’t do anything at all.

Nothing stands in his way now.

Now that she’s a slave, they should never see her again.

He has no reason to be concerned even if Cyrill remembers her. All he has to do now is lead her heart to where it should be, carefully and thoroughly tainting her image of Flum until he scrapes her out completely.

Other than Cyrill herself, none of their party members seem to have any doubts about the situation.

Casting Return, the room is bathed in light, and the remaining party of six are taken back to their last Continue Point.

Jean is as giddy as a gradeschooler the night before a field trip at the very thought of a journey without any unnecessary burdens.


◇◇◇


“Hey! Cyrill, Jean, wait up!”

Linus’ irritated voice echoes loudly across the Demon Realm. He's lost count of how many times he's had to call out to them already.

“...Ah, sorry.”

Cyrill stops, turns to face him and apologizes, visibly depressed. Jean kindly pats her on the back and reassures her.

“There’s no need to apologize, Cyrill. Flum isn’t here anymore, Linus. There’s no need to proceed so slowly, is there?”

“Hahh… Look, I already told you, we weren’t going so slowly because Flum was with us. This is enemy territory. We need to be careful!”

“We’re strong enough that we don’t need to be so careful!!”

His confidence isn’t unfounded. Even if a monster or the average demon attacks them, it’d be almost too easy to defeat them.

“Oh yeah? What if one of those Three Demon General guys attacks us again? With monsters like them around we can’t be too careful.”

At the mention of the Three Demon Generals, Jean loses his nerve.

Of all the Demons that serve the Demon Lord, those three are the strongest. So far, their party has encountered Neigass “The Bloody Gale” and Tsaion “The Flickering Inferno.” Both of them were strong enough to go head-to-head with the Hero, and on top of that their magic had enough raw power that even Jean recognized them as a genuine threat.

“If you get it, then slow the hell down.”

“Gh…!”

Backed into a corner, Jean has no choice but to do as Linus says. He was only walking faster because he was convinced they'd finally be able to make some real progress now.

Cyrill, on the other hand, is so preoccupied that she isn’t paying attention to anything around her. The person on her mind is, of course, Flum.

I said so many awful things...

I must’ve really hurt her...

And then to be separated from her without even being able to apologize --- maybe they weren’t friends, but Flum was undeniably a treasured companion. If not for bright, cheerful Flum, innocent and ignorant, Cyrill probably would’ve cracked from the pressure of being the Hero long ago.

But even so---

“...I never actually thanked her, did I?”

No matter how much she worries, Flum isn’t coming back. The only thing she can do is defeat the Demon Lord and save the world for her.

There’s no way her companions don’t notice her mood, of course. Linus, turning back to walk with Maria after yelling at Jean, lets out a sigh.

“I’ve still got a lot to learn, huh.”

“What’s wrong, Linus-san? What happened to your usual confidence?”

“It’s the mood, I guess. Honestly, I said some pretty rough things to her, too. I’m just kinda shocked everything’s so different now that she’s gone.”

The party was so much more relaxed before. Even back then Jean was always angry at something, but that really seems to be more of a personality trait of his than a product of the mood.

“Hmm… Now that you mention it, Cyrill-san’s clearly feeling down, Jean-san’s stomping around more than he normally does, Eterna-san’s in an unusually bad mood, and Gadio-san hasn’t said a word since then.”

Flum’s determination to be helpful must’ve been lifting all their spirits without any of them even realizing it. It’s not surprising Linus didn’t notice until now if Flum herself didn’t.

“How’re you holding up, Maria-chan?”

“...I’m...”

She hesitates. Linus peers into her face.

“At a loss?”

“...Maybe, yes.”

“That’s kinda surprising. I thought you were like me and didn’t really talk to her much.”

“I talked about her a lot with Cyrill-san. When we first set out, Flum-san was all she talked about.”

She always looked so happy talking about Flum, like she was really having fun. Just listening to her talk was enough to put a smile on Maria’s face.

“I guess if Cyrill-chan’s feeling down then the mood of the whole party tanks, huh…”

Even though she’s only sixteen years old, she’s undeniably the driving force behind the party. Without her the Three Demon Generals would be almost impossible to beat, let alone the Demon Lord.

“I feel a little weird saying this to a priestess of the Church of Origin like yourself, but...”

“I don’t mind if you say something rude. You’re always a little blunt, so nothing you say now will offend me.”

“I guess, yeah. Well, here goes. When I heard that someone with stats of zero was going to be joining our party, I was convinced Origin had lost it.”

Listening to his cautious confession, Maria gives him a broad, warm smile.

“Origin-sama never makes mistakes, and he definitely hasn’t ‘lost it.’”

Holy crap, she’s cute!’ Linus thinks as she smiles at him.

Blond hair, porcelain skin, pure in both speech and personality --- she's exactly his type.

“O-Of course he doesn’t. She did end up playing a pretty big role, after all. But that being said, it’s not like we can afford to just stop now that she’s gone.”

They can’t go back and get her now. Not only would Jean be furious, but they can’t drag her back into such a dangerous journey in good conscience.

Even without Flum, they have to keep going.

“That’s exactly right, Linus-san. We have the noble role of annihilating the demons. No matter what, failure isn't an option---”

Her voice is filled with strong resolve.

Linus has his doubts.

Does she really have saving the world as her top priority deep down, or does she have some darker emotion lurking at the bottom of her pure-as-glass heart...?

If I ever find out, that’ll be the end.

Linus, getting that strange feeling, decides not to cross that line just yet.


◇◇◇


Since Flum used to cook all their meals, they now have to take turns cooking. On the first day Gadio cooks for them, since as an S-Rank adventurer he’s used to camping out.

“I can’t guarantee it’ll taste any good.”

As far as meals made from monster meat go it’s quite tasty, if a lot rougher than what Flum used to make. Almost everyone there is content with the meal, but Jean scrunches up his face in disgust.

With very few exceptions, all monster meat has a very unique stench and taste to it. The foulness is dulled down a lot by herbs and the like, but enough remains that anyone who doesn’t like it would still notice.

“Gadio, can’t you do something about this meat? None of the meals before now have had this stench.”

“Don’t expect so much from me.”

“You’re seriously telling me that Flum could do what an S-Rank adventurer can’t?”

He tries to get a rise out of Gadio, but the warrior’s expression is unchanged. Eterna, sitting beside him, narrows her eyes at him in irritation.

That’s not to say Gadio is unoffended, however.

“That’s because of all the extra effort she put in for a certain someone who can’t stand bitter things.”

Gadio isn’t being sarcastic; all he does is tell Jean the truth.

“Ha, haha, she really used to waste a lot of time on pointless endeavors, didn’t she?”

Visibly perturbed, Jean sticks a chunk of the meat into his mouth in a show of defiance. With a pained expression he chews, trying to withstand the bitter taste spreading throughout his mouth.

Snorting, Gadio returns to his own meal.

After that none of them say a word, simply eating as they sit around the campfire.

When Flum was still with them she used to try to start up a conversation whenever the mood got like this, but there’s nobody left to do that now.


◇◇◇


Since they don’t travel at night unless they have a reason to, the time between the end of dinner and bed is free time. Cyrill, Gadio and Linus perform the necessary maintenance on their weapons, Maria offers prayers to Origin, and Eterna spends the time meditating.

Jean typically spends his evening with a cup of sweet-smelling herbal tea while he reads books on magic, but since Flum isn’t there anymore, the tea doesn’t automatically appear in his hand.

Left with no other option, he rummages through his things, finds the necessary tools, and tries to make it himself. He hasn’t made his own tea since before his time in the Royal Magic Research Laboratory, used to being catered to as a genius.

At a loss as to what to do with all the little implements, he fiddles with them until Linus finally notices.

“Looks like there are some things impossible for even The Lone Sage.”

“Be quiet. I normally leave trivial matters like this to a servant is all.”

“Life at the top sure is nice, huh? Look, I’ll make it for you. Give it here.”

Jean himself is surprised at just how humiliating it is. As the man praised as the most talented mage in the kingdom, to be unable to do something that the likes of Flum could do is the greatest insult.

He folds his arms and kicks idly at the ground until Linus is finished.

“Here, it’s done.”

Jean takes the steaming teacup, takes a sip, and---

“...Bleh.”

He immediately spits it out.

“What’s this supposed to be? It’s horrid.”

“Is that any way to say thank you!? I made it just like normal.”

“I said it’s horrid, so it’s horrid. This bitterness is simply the worst. How on earth did you manage to turn those leaves into something so disgusting!?”

He releases all the frustration that’s been building inside him since the incident at dinner at Linus.

Linus was only trying to give Jean a hand, and he certainly wasn't expected to be treated like that. He knows full well that Jean's a little too prideful for his own good but despite that tried to be his friend --- no matter how he looks at it, he's gone too far this time.

“There’s just no satisfying that pretty-boy mouth of yours, is there!?”

The next words prove to be lethal --- just as the furious Linus reaches for Jean’s collar, Eterna, who happens to be passing by, speaks with the same casual expression as always.

“Maybe Flum made it so that a certain big baby wouldn’t throw a hissy fit?”

Having said her piece, she leaves with a skip in her step.

This time, it’s Jean’s turn to boil over.

“Flum this, Flum that… Why on earth won’t you all shut up about that insect!?”

Kshh!

His teacup hits the ground, the fine porcelain scatters all over and the hot tea splashes all over Linus’ feet.

Instead of apologizing, Jean simply turns and storms away.

“What the hell, Jean!?”

Linus studies one of the many shards he picked up and grumbles. After collecting as much of the shattered porcelain as he can, he starts drying off the ankles of his pants by the campfire.

Spacing out as he watches the flickering flames, he starts to feel a little down.

He may be only twenty-four, but he’s an S-Rank adventurer just like Gadio. Having grown up in a dog-eat-dog world, he’s been through a lot more than other people his age.

Right now, his intuition is blaring warning sirens in his ears.

“This isn’t good... This is the kind of mood that comes right before a bad break-up.”

The single biggest cause for adventuring parties to break up isn’t monsters or money or anything insignificant like that.

It’s the bonds between companions getting tangled and broken that does it.

“I hope nothing too bad happens before we reach the Demon Lord’s castle.”

Even though he hopes for their journey to continue without difficulty, his experience tells him something very different.

They’re already as good as lost.

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