OmaeGotoki: Volume 2 002 - The Spider Spins His Web
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?”
“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.”
“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…”
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?”
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.
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.”
“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!”
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.”
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.
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.
“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.
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?”
“...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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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?”
“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.
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.”
“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 ---
[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.
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.
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