OmaeGotoki: Volume 3 008 - Drowning

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“You’re crushing me, Ga-kun!”

Tia, wrapped in Gadio’s broad, muscular arms, smiles.

“...Tia…”

Voice filled with countless emotions, he calls her name.

“Nn, you don’t have to sound so lonely. I’m right here.”

Responding to his overflowing love, she wraps her arms around his back.

“Tia…!”

“Nhehe, I never thought I’d get a hug like this from my shy little Ga-kun…”

He can feel her body there, in his arms.

It can’t be an illusion. She’s really there, really alive.

“But really… I don’t think I can hold on any longer… give, give!”

Tia starts thumping him on the back. Finally returning to his senses, he relaxes his grip, and this time she grabs his shoulders and looks him in the face.

“You’ve gotten so strong… I couldn’t believe it when they told me it’s been six years, but looking at you I can believe it.”

“You haven’t changed a bit, Tia.”

He brings a hand up to her slightly reddened cheeks.

His fingers tremble, as if he were about to touch a sand sculpture, afraid she’ll collapse at his touch. Her cheek is warm, however, and smooth like silk.

He still can’t believe it, but she’s not dead, she’s standing there right in front of him.

“You’re still just as warm as always.”

She puts her hand on top of his, her small hand overlapping with his large one.

Her eyes narrow blissfully, as if confirming that Gadio is really right there in front of her.

The air around them seems to thicken, leaving them in a world of their own.

Kereina watches them a short distance away, a complex look on her face.

After a little while Tia finally pulls away with a tinge of regret.

“I have a lot to tell you. Why don’t we go inside?”

Spinning around, she turns to address Kereina.

“What happened to my room?”

“Ah, uhh… Just as you left it. I’ve been keeping it clean.”

“Thanks, Kereina. How about we talk there, then, Ga-kun?”

She leads him by the hand into the house.

Kereina can’t do anything but watch them leave.

She can’t bring herself to believe it.

Knowing nothing of the truth behind the Church and unable to even guess how Tia returned, all she can do is watch them leave, alone.


◇◇◇


Long ago, in a distant corner of the world, there grew a great tree, boughs laden with beautiful fruits. The fruits were poisonous, however, and anyone who ate them would slowly waste away. Everyone who lived in that land knew better than to eat the tree’s fruit.

One day, however, a youth was dared by his friend to eat one of the fruits. Determined to prove he wasn’t a coward, the youth did as he was dared. Having proven himself the youth should’ve been content --- but every day from that day forth, the youth would return to the tree for more fruit.

His friends and family told him to stop or else he’d die, but the youth ignored them. Finally, he began to cough blood and he perished soon after.

Why couldn’t the youth stop eating the fruit?

It’s simple.

The fruit was so fantastically delicious that he couldn’t live without it.

Gadio remembers hearing the story of the youth and the fruit from Rowe. At the time he’d laughed and called the youth a fool --- but he hardly has the right to laugh now.

“You’ve gotten a bit more rugged since last I saw you, Ga-kun.”

Tia’s room.

Gadio sits on the sofa there and Tia sits in his lap, touching his face all over.

They always used to sit like that whenever he spoiled her, though to be fair they’d only gotten so close one short year before her death.

“I liked how thin and modest you were back then, but I like the new Ga-kun, too. You have the same face as back then, but you’ve become a man I can feel safe behind… That’s my husband!”

“Really?”

“Mm, no doubt about it. I think so, at least.”

She snuggles into his broad chest. He naturally wraps his arms around her.

“It was just a month ago to me, but it really has been six years, hasn’t it…?”

“The mansion’s just like it was back then.”

“Yes… I was honestly shocked to see how little my room changed. But the Capital’s buildings, the people living in them, everything’s different. Kereina changed, too, and… Hallom-chan, right? It’s hard to believe Souma’s little girl is so big now…”

There’s a tone of loneliness in her voice. She’ll never get back those six years she lost.

Looking at her expression, Gadio’s guard begins to slip a little.

She has feelings, warmth.

If she’s not really Tia, then what could she be?

“I think I’ve changed, too…”

“You said you came back to life. What happened?”

He doesn’t want to ask, but the impossible has happened. There’s an undeniably high chance that the Church is responsible.

He can’t just leave things as they are.

At worst, he might have to kill her with his own hands.

“I don’t know much, but they told me they brought me back by putting an Origin Core into my body.”

He had the feeling that was the case, but she says the words he wants to hear least. Clenching his fists, he squeezes out a reply.

“So… it’s as I feared.”

“It sounds like you know about it already. I’ll keep it short, then. They took that weird power and limited it, weakened it, and after tuning it so that I wouldn’t become a monster they finally let me come out.”

Gadio never expected to hear the explanation from her own mouth. If it really is a trap set by the Church, then they probably would’ve kept the details hidden.

No, maybe by being so frank they’re trying to lull him into a false sense of security.

Unable to read their true intentions, Gadio furrows his brow. Staring up at those wrinkles, Tia eventually reaches up and prods at them with her finger.

“There you go making that difficult expression again. Can’t you smile a little more?”

“I can’t. The Origin Cores are dangerous. Didn’t they tell you it was a monster with one of those Cores that wiped out our whole party?”

“Yes, Daffyd-san mentioned that. He said they still couldn’t control the Cores at the time. I wasn’t happy to hear that, but I couldn’t complain since the same thing brought me back to life.”

“Daffyd Sharmas… So Necromancy’s responsible for this.”

“You know him, too? He’s a lanky man with glasses who’s always wearing a labcoat. He said he was doing all this to bring back his own wife.”

She readily tells him more than he asks for, even. If he asks where their facility is she might really answer.

“You don’t have to look at me like that. There’s no reason for me to keep any secrets from you, Ga-kun. Daffyd-san even told me I didn’t have to hide anything.”

“I don’t get it. What’re they planning… Why would they bring you back and have you come here like this!?”

Gadio starts to grow frustrated, but Tia simply smiles at him in response.

“I don’t know anything about the other teams, but all Necromancy wants to do is bring back the dead. That’s it. They only want to save people who’re suffering because they’ve lost a loved one. Daffyd-san’s been through the same thing, after all, so I think that’s really it.”

Tia certainly doesn’t seem to be lying. If nothing else, Gadio can tell that.

If they can, in fact, control the Origin Cores, then there’s no telling what miracles they could bring about. If one of those miracles has brought her back to him---

“...No. I can’t believe this.”

Gadio shakes his head.

Tia’s expression saddens for only a moment, quickly returning to a smile.

“Daffyd-san said you’d have a hard time taking it all in. To you and Kereina it’s been six whole years, after all. Of course you’re a little confused.”

“Sorry… I want to be happy. I really do.”

“Don’t be sorry. You’ll come see me, though, won’t you?”

“Come? Where are you going?”

“They told me my body still needs tuning. They said that Origin might take over my body if I’m not careful. That’s why I have to go back to the lab in a few hours.”

“Back to the lab…”

Gadio feels regretful that they’ll be parting again so soon, no matter how sure he is that it’s just another of the Church’s plots. He can’t suppress his joy at reuniting with her so easily.

“I love it when you look that lonely, too. They told me that we’ll be able to live together again soon, though, so just try to hold on until then. Ah, but we can stay like this until I have to go, can’t we?”

“I can’t say no to that.”

“Fufu, that’s good to hear. You’re just as kind as you’ve always been.”

Delicate, pleasant time passes, as if they were wrapped in a dream.

The unease spiralling in Gadio’s chest doesn’t disappear, but the more he feels her warmth the more it fades, slowly but surely.

The risk is great --- but the reward is simply too much to pass up.

The deeper he sinks, the less Gadio finds he wants to escape that mire of happiness.


◇◇◇


Kereina opens the box Gadio brought back in the kitchen.

Inside is cake for two.

Of course he didn’t buy any for himself. It goes without saying who those cakes are meant for.

She bites her lip. She doesn’t know herself whether she’s frustrated or sad.

“Mama, who was that blue-haired lady?”

Hallom seems to suddenly appear beside her.

“She’s Gadio’s wife.”

“Papa’s wife? Isn’t Mama gonna be Papa’s wife?”

She’d never said anything like that. There was only a feeling that it’d turn out that way --- not just Hallom but even Kereina had felt it, and she’d been expecting it, almost certain of it.

I knew it was impossible right away, but in a year… no, two years I was sure we’d be together…

“Now that his real wife’s back, there’s no room for me.”

“Real wife? Mama’s a fake?”

“...!”

Hallom didn’t mean to hurt her, but her words pierce Kereina’s heart.

She should’ve chosen her words better. Those sorts of feelings can’t be expressed in terms of ‘real’ or ‘fake’.

Kereina’s feelings aren’t any more or less real --- but she’s the second, number two.

They were only in such a relationship to lick each other’s wounds, nothing more.

“So if that lady’s here then Hallom’s Papa won’t be Hallom’s Papa? Hallom doesn’t want her, then!”

“Hey, you can’t just---”

“She’s scary! Mama’s waaaaay better!”

“Ahh, really, if you say that I can’t get mad at you!”

Kereina crouches down to ruffle Hallom’s hair.

“Tia’s a good person, though. I’m sure you’ll like her if you give her a chance.”

“No.”

“You don’t know that for sure. You can’t just decide---”

“No, Mama. Hallom doesn’t think she’s scary ‘cause Hallom doesn’t like her.”

Hallom’s expression is resentful --- but more than that it’s uneasy.

Kereina had felt something weird about Tia herself, and she can’t bring herself to say Hallom’s wrong from the outset.

“That lady’s empty.”

Kereina cocks her head to the side.

“Empty?”

“She’s smiling but she’s not smiling, and she looks like she’s having fun but she’s not.”

“Hm? I’m sorry, Hallom, could you put it so I can understand it?”

“...Hallom can’t. Hallom doesn’t know how, either. Hallom just knows!”

Adults can never really understand how children see things.

She probably just doesn’t trust her yet. I’m sure they just need a little time together.

Tia’s always been good with kids, and if anything they seem to find Kereina the scary one.

Without giving any more thought to Hallom’s words, she ruffles her hair again with a smile.

“Would you like some of the cake Gadio brought back for us?”

Hallom pouts for a moment, but unable to resist her hunger she gives Kereina a firm little nod.


◇◇◇


After parting ways with Nekt, Flum runs through the Capital with Milkit in her arms. Without paying any heed to the curious looks of passersby, she focuses only on reaching her destination as soon as possible.

Finally arriving back home, she throws the door open without slowing down and calls out in a loud voice.

“Eterna-san, are you okay!?”

“...What?”

She lets out a sigh of relief when she sees Eterna relaxing at the dining room table.

“Hahh… what a relief. Nekt showed up just a little while ago, and he told us you were in trouble… I’m so glad you’re okay…!”

Flum collapses where she stands. Even if her Stamina is a lot higher now, running like that while carrying someone is still exhausting.

Milkit brings her a towel to wipe off her sweat with from the bathroom.

“The Children? Why?”

“He told us he wanted our help crushing Necromancy. Apparently they’re not on good terms with the other teams. I turned them down, of course, but… hahh, good thing Nekt was lying.”

Taking a quick look around, there’s no sign of any sort of fight. Nekt was probably just trying to get under her skin.

“Where’d you meet?”

“Right by Satils’ mansion in the East Quarter.”

“Why there? I thought you and Milkit were on a date.”

“I-It really wasn’t a date, I assure you…”

Milkit timidly denies it with a red face.

“We ran into Satils again by Main Street! I’m pretty sure that Necromancy project Gadio-san mentioned did it.”

“Necromancy… So they brought Satils back…”

Eterna averts her eyes, a somewhat depressed look on her face.

Not expecting that reaction, Flum cocks her head to the side.

“Uhh… I came back here because I thought I should talk things over with you before I did anything. So what do you think? I considered just following her, but I think the Church is probably expecting that. It’d be pretty risky.”

“Maybe…”

At Eterna’s vague response, even Milkit cocks her head to the side in confusion.

“...”

After a moment of silence, she suddenly stands up.

“Eterna-san?”

“I need to think. I’ll be back.”

“Eh? Uhh… Okay. See you later.”

Eterna walks out of the house with a dark look on her face. Hearing the door shut behind her, Flum and Milkit exchange glances, then cock their heads to the side at the same time.

“Eterna-san was acting strangely, wasn’t she?”

“Yeah… Maybe hearing about Nekt and Satils was just that much of a shock. Or maybe… something happened while we were gone.”

“To be honest, I’m a little curious about a few of the glasses on the shelf having moved.”

Flum turns to look at the shelf, but the change is fine enough that she doesn’t notice anything odd herself.

“Doesn’t that just mean Ink and Eterna-san had something to drink?”

“Three cups have moved, so that doesn’t explain everything.”

“Hmm… Maybe somebody came by and Eterna made them some tea? Let’s go ask Ink. She probably heard everything.”

They head upstairs.

Ink still can’t leave her room, so they’ll have to be content with talking through the door.

Flum knocks on the door, and from inside they can hear her reply with a bleary “Hnn…?”

“We’re back, Ink.”

“We’ve returned.”

“Welcome back! Was your date fun?”

Hearing Ink repeat Eterna’s words from earlier, Flum slumps her shoulders with a sigh.

“Really, it wasn’t a date…!”

“Ahaha, really?”

Even though she’s supposedly still recovering from the surgery, Ink’s voice is perky and cheerful. It sounds like she’s doing just fine.

“More importantly, I have a question for you.”

“Is it about those people who came by? I dunno who they were.”

Hearing that, Milkit lets out a disappointed little sigh.

“I guess it can’t be helped. You could probably only hear people moving around from up here…”

“No, I could hear them talking. I’ve got really good ears. I was asleep for most of it, though, so I only heard them as they were leaving.”

“So… do you know how many of them there were or anything like that?”

“There was a man and a really old couple.”

“Three people, huh…?”

“That matches the number of glasses.”

“The old people were being really nice to Eterna…”

Ink’s voice has a distinctly lonely ring to it.

Flum has never heard anything about Eterna’s friends in the Capital --- or, for that matter, why she came to the Capital in the first place or who she really is. She looks about Flum’s age but acts like she’s much older, and her skill with magic and what she knows definitely aren’t those of a girl in her teens. On top of that, she knows enough about ‘lost’ medicines and practices to put professional scholars to shame.

“If you’re here, that means she didn’t tell you, huh?”

“She didn’t tell you anything either, Ink-san?”

“She tried to hide it but she was acting really weird. She’s a really bad liar.”

Just like when she talked to Flum a little while ago.

If she’s conflicted, though, that must mean that something big must’ve happened, something she’s not sure she wants to share.

“Maybe we should go ask her ourselves…”

“No, she decided she doesn’t want to tell us. She’ll tell us when she’s ready.”

“You’re really nice, huh, Flum?”

“I just know Eterna-san’s a lot smarter than I am is all. Whatever she decides, she’s probably right.”

“I think that’s really nice of you, though…”

“I agree.”

“C-Complimenting me isn't going to get you anywhere…”

What she says might be true, but for Milkit, just looking at Flum’s embarrassment is enough to know there’s nowhere else she’d rather be.


◇◇◇


Eterna walks the alleys of the East Quarter.

[They say that overcoming the death of a loved one makes one grow stronger --- but personally, I would rather they didn’t die in the first place.]

She remembers what that man had told her just a little while ago.

He --- Daffyd Sharmas --- had brought Eterna’s ‘parents’ Kinder and Claudia with him.

Just as she’d told Ink, they were supposed to be dead, and she’d even seen their graves with her own eyes.

In other words, he brought them back, just like he brought back Satils.

[Once, I had a childhood friend named Suzie. I was introverted and a bit of a shut-in, but she was energetic, cheerful, outgoing… it must’ve been a miracle that brought us together. We promised that we’d get married when we were children, and over the years we naturally fell in love with each other. Even when we were adults nothing changed, and we decided that once we’d both settled into our jobs we’d officially tie the knot. At the time, we were convinced that we had only a bright future ahead of us.]

Everyone lives with uncertainty to some extent or another. There’s a difference in degree, of course, but humans aren’t simple enough to be more carefree the happier they are. In fact, in many cases, being happier means having to fight with ever-increasing fear of losing that happiness.

By the time they regret becoming so happy in the first place, it’s far too late.

As Daffyd talked, Claudia sat beside Eterna and stroked her hair as a mother would her child, and Kinder watched over the two with a smile. That nostalgic feeling uncovered scars Eterna never even knew she had. The happier she became, the more scared she became that she’d lose them again.

[Suzie was an adventurer, you see. She had a real talent with a spear, and before long she’d become A-Rank. There were a great many people who were jealous of her, I’m sure. To me she was just my beloved wife, but unfortunately there were some people who grew jealous because of that.]

Daffyd’s face darkened as he remembered, fixing his gaze on the band on his left ring finger.

[One day she left with a few fellow adventurers on a quest… and she returned in a truly terrible state. Her own comrades, of all people, betrayed her, raped her, and her body… if a passing adventurer hadn’t found her in a ditch by the side of the road she would’ve never come home to me.]

Her face, twisted in pain.

Her hand, clutching that pendant so hard it left a mark in her palm.

Her body, rotting, decaying, reeking.

To him, even the smell of that rot was wonderful.

[Trapped in the depths of despair, her body and I lived together for a time, if you could even call that living. What finally gave me hope again was the teachings of the Church of Origin. After losing everything else, I lost myself in worship, and by the time I’d realized it they were offering me a chance to study the Origin Cores.]

Daffyd had seemed extremely suspicious to Eterna then, but despite the fact that he was her enemy she could tell that he wasn’t lying. His voice, his expressions, his story itself --- everything about him bore the shuddering weight of reality.

[During my studies, I came across a certain realization. I found out that it might be possible to use the Cores’ power to bring my Suzie back to life. I wrote a paper on my findings and presented them to the cardinals, and the next thing I knew I was the head of a project of the same scale as the Children and Chimaera. That was the start of my team and Necromancy. Our goal was simply to return the dead to as they were in life. It might sound a little strange after all my dedication and worship, but after that point I stopped caring about Origin and the Church altogether. All I wanted was my Suzie back.]

Maybe all that made her think that, however, was the fact that some part of Daffyd’s mind was clearly broken. Being enveloped in her parents’ warmth made so much of it feel unreal --- the temptation to just surrender herself to that feeling was that sweet, that soft, that dangerous.

[There are surely countless people out there just like me. I want to save them. From the bottom of my heart, I want to ease their suffering. That’s why I reached out to you and the other enemies of the Church… I realize that was a bit of a lengthy introduction, but I want you to understand what I’m really after and to make you an offer.]

---Eterna isn’t wandering the East Quarter aimlessly. She has a very concrete destination in mind.

Leaving the alleyways, she enters a street just wide enough for a single carriage to pass through. The street is devoid of businesses, and many of the houses in the area are old and weathered with age. An abandoned residential street.

There aren’t any people in sight. It’s the ideal place to board a carriage without anyone knowing.

[Tomorrow morning, I’ll send a carriage to the place marked on this map. I’d love for you to see our research facility with your own eyes. You’ll find that we’ve already saved a number of people and that they’re living there quite contentedly. I hope that by seeing them you’ll realize the value of our work.]

Daffyd spoke of his dream with great zeal. It’d be almost too easy to write him off as a delusional fanatic --- but Kinder and Claudia proved his words right, giving Eterna the same warmth they did in life.

That’s why his words were so convincing and are causing her to falter.

“Tomorrow morning… I…”

Standing at the rendezvous point, Eterna closes her eyes.

If she takes him up on his offer then she’ll be betraying not only Ink but Flum and Milkit as well.

She’ll get to meet them again, though. This time for sure, they’ll be able to live a normal life. She’s been dreaming of that for more than fifty years. Not only that, but if she boards that carriage she’ll be taken straight to Daffyd’s lab. If she decides that it’s dangerous, she can just destroy his research then and there.

That would be protecting Ink. I wouldn’t be betraying---

“...That’s just an excuse.”

She shakes her head firmly.

“I need to choose one or the other. I’ll decide… and I’ll take responsibility.”

Not because of anyone or for anyone’s sake.

She continues to question herself until the sky runs purple with dusk.


◇◇◇


When the sun is just about to set completely, the carriage arrives at Gadio’s house.

It’s time for Tia to return to the lab.

She tells Kereina “I’ll be back, I promise” as she leaves the house. Gadio, fully intending to stay with her until the last possible moment, walks her to the gate hand-in-hand.

There, he meets Daffyd for the first time.

“Hello there, Gadio-san. My name is---”

“So you’re Daffyd Sharmas.”

“Eterna-san also knew my name. I suppose you Chosen really are that impressive, aren’t you? As you say, my name is Daffyd, and I’m the man in charge of Necromancy. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

He extends his hand to Gadio, hoping for a handshake. Gadio is tempted to ignore him, but since Tia is right there beside him he reluctantly takes Daffyd’s hand.

“I’m sorry for suddenly reaching out to you like this, but I wanted to make contact with you as quickly as possible.”

“Why?”

“To be frank, the Church’s higher-ups are in a bit of a hurry since you’ve made… aggressive contact with the Children. They want to turn my Necromancy into a weapon, of all things. I need to show them positive results.”

It makes sense --- though his motivations are so innocent and harmless that Gadio feels all the more wary. Because of Tia, however, his doubts aren’t that strong.

The sweet poison is slowly but surely opening holes in Gadio’s guard and heart.

“I’ll be blunt: Is this some sort of trap?”

“No, of course not. All I want is for you to understand me as a fellow widower. Surely you realize that the only way to save someone from the pain of loss is to bring their loved one back, yes?”

Especially after having Tia return to him, the words reverberate strongly within Gadio’s heart. At the same time, though, he starts to loathe his own weakness.

After hating the Church so much, after swearing vengeance, all it takes is Tia’s smile to break my resolve!?

The root of those feelings is Tia herself, however. It’s only natural.

“I understand that you see the Church as an enemy right now. To be fair, the Children and Chimaera are nothing but living weapons with Origin Cores, and sooner or later the Church is bound to abuse that power, but…”

“You want me to spare you because you’re different, is that it?”

“Yes. If you do that, then you and Tia-san will be able to continue your life together right where you left off.”

“So you’re holding her hostage.”

“I don’t mind if you take me as a coward. I truly believe I can save lives with this work, and that I myself have been saved through my new life with Suzie.”

In the end, all he wants is Suzie --- and that gives his words a powerful weight.

If nothing else, Daffyd himself is serious. Talking to him face-to-face makes that alone abundantly clear.

“Today my only objective was to introduce myself to you, Gadio-san, but I hope that you’ll come take a look at my laboratory and draw your conclusions soon.”

“You’re taking me back to your home base?”

“I won’t force you, of course. I’ll come here again tomorrow morning with Tia-san, so please have an answer prepared by then.”

After saying that, Daffyd and Tia move toward the carriage.

“Tomorrow?”

“See you then, Ga-kun!”

“Stop, Tia, this is too sudden!”

He reaches out for her hand, but she denies him.

“It’s already late… I don’t want you to see me when I’m not myself.”

She gives him a sad smile.

Necromancy isn’t perfect yet. She’s not completely normal yet.

Gadio doesn’t want to see her face twisted into one of those horrific spirals. Gritting his teeth, he lowers his hand.

“Even I wish that you two could be together longer. That’s why I’m inviting you. I hope you’ll answer wisely.”

Daffyd and Tia board the carriage.

Gadio can do nothing but watch powerlessly as they disappear into the distance.

“Answer wisely!? Like I could…!”

Giving Gadio a choice despite knowing full well what his answer will be --- Daffyd doesn’t play fair.

“Dammit!!”

He drives his fist into the fence.

He can’t possibly decline if Tia will be there --- but on the other hand, he’s devoted the past six years of his life to vengeance against the organization Daffyd is working for. Love and hatred spiral out of control in his chest.

Returning to the mansion with a bitter expression, he opens the door to find Kereina waiting there.

“Tia left, didn’t she?”

“She’ll be back tomorrow.”

“I see… That’s good news, isn’t it, Gadio?”

She makes the best smile she can --- but hidden beneath that smile is a feeling of jealousy that just won’t go away and joy at her friend’s return, each struggling against the other.


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