OmaeGotoki: Volume 2 009 - An Empty, Incomplete Peace
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.
It seems as though she only wanted to say goodnight.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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…”
“Wait, you mean this seedy little slave really is Flum Apricot!?”
A stray bullet hits Flum.
Herman solemnly nods, his expression unchanging.
“...You’re being rude.”
“...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!”
He wordlessly leads her forward. Once they’re out of earshot of the guards he suddenly stops.
She almost crashes into his back.
“...Who are you here to see?”
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
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.
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