Owari no Chronicle:Volume2 Chapter 20

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Chapter 20: Heart of Realization[edit]

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Do you realize it because you know nothing?

Do you not realize it because you know everything?

There are some people who do neither


Even though it was the beginning of the afternoon, the Kinugasa Library was dark.

The fluorescent lights on the ceiling were on, but that roof was high and the many bookshelves created shadows.

Three people could be seen within that slightly dark and pale library.

One was Siegfried who was speaking on the phone behind the counter.

One was Ooshiro Itaru who sat in a chair in the center of the stepped floor. His metal cane was leaning against the table.

The last was Sf who was observing a bookshelf in the back.

Ooshiro glanced over at the tall back standing behind the counter.

Siegfried had been on the phone for a while now and he showed no sign of finishing soon.

Itaru sank down a bit in his chair and crossed his legs. He shook the guest slipper around on the end of his sock.

“Itaru-sama.”

He turned toward that voice and found Sf standing expressionlessly with something in her hand.

“Oh, you found one of the blots on the record of my life.”

“Testament. It is your graduation album. But despite being called an album, it is a simple printed book.”

“Now here’s a surprise. A lecture on English from a German-made automaton. I thought that was your enemy’s language.”

“No, my true enemy is the Soviet Union. British and American ones have thin armor, so they are not a threat.”

“…What in the world are you talking about?”

“Tes. I am talking about automatons. …What is that look in your eyes? This is common knowledge in the industry. Is there a problem?”

“According to my ‘common knowledge’, the Soviet Union was gone before you were created. Perhaps I am just imagining things.”

“Tes. You are exactly right. However, the Soviet Union lives on in your heart, Itaru-sama.”

“Oh? Another surprise. A doll is speaking about the human heart. And does that mean my heart is your enemy?”

“No, but I have determined it is Soviet-made. Its armor is thick and its attacks are guaranteed to kill, but it has little individuality. It is also worth mentioning that the armor is tilted diagonally. The mass-produced ones are different, though.”

“You can also add that it is quite cold.”

“I have no heart, so I cannot determine that for myself.”

Sf gave an expressionless bow. She held out the musty blue album.

Itaru silently took the velvet-covered album.

He opened it, flipped through the pages, and sighed as he looked through the class photos. Sf then spoke from behind him.

“I see a lot of faces that show there are no thoughts going through their heads.”

“Don’t steal my lines.”

“It is my duty to save you whatever effort I can.”

“What about the effort of throwing you away when you break?”

“Do not worry. I am set to cease functioning at the same time that you are destroyed. There will be no-…”

Itaru closed his eyes and cut Sf off.

“Don’t say it. I’ve heard it so many times already,” he said expressionlessly.

“Testament,” replied Sf.

Sf fell silent and Itaru continued flipping through the album. He arrived at the graduation writings.

“Here it is. Read this ridiculous writing.”

“Tes. Should I read it out loud?”

“Yes.”

“Tes. You have not asked me to read you something in a long time. Not since five days after I arrived in Japan. I have checked my memory to a depth level of 5, so there is no mistaking it.”

“Yes, I remember. As a prank, I handed you a pornographic manga I had confiscated from a worker, but you suddenly began reading it quite loudly. Are your ethical standards set to overseas levels?”

“You never told me to throw it away and reading writings to one’s master is an important job of a maid or butler. However, my lack of emotion leaves me ill-suited for a text with so much shouting and so many sound effects.”

Itaru fell silent. He turned toward Sf with his eyes half-closed and held the album out toward her.

She took it and read, “Title: Stimulant.”

“No, The one right below that one.”

“Tes. Title: Untitled.

Just as we thought the long awaited time had come

A time came where we once more could only wait

We were taught nothing more than the accumulation of time

And new time was not what waited beyond our dreams

What we learned here was how to skillfully exploit time

And an understanding that nothingness is the time of salvation.”

As Sf finished reading the writing, Itaru held his right hand against his face.

“That is so much better when read by someone who works for me. I love this feeling of my hair standing on end.”

“I have determined this was written by you, Itaru-sama.”

“Yes, it was. You could tell?”

“Tes. I could see an intentional effort to make each line 10 words long. Also, I can find nothing more than harassment in the meaning of the text.”

“Hah. You really are an excellent machine. I really mean that, so rejoice and express that joy in your actions.”

“Tes.” Sf expressionlessly raised her arms above her hand and lowered them. “Did that satisfy your demand? If you wish for a more vigorous expression of joy, I can do it three times in a row.”

“The Germans really know how to make a high-performance machine.”

“Testament. Their support is excellent as well. Feel free to use me as you see fit.”

Instead of nodding, Itaru gestured further into the library with his chin. Sf turned in that direction with the album in hand.

“…”

The light blue slipper on the end of Itaru’s folded leg almost fell off, so she first put it back on properly.

She then walked off expressionlessly.

As she did, a small noise came from the counter behind her. It was the sound of a phone receiver being set down.

Itaru turned around and found Siegfried looking at him.

Itaru raised his sunglasses and said, “Men shouldn’t spend so long on the phone.”

“I had not spoken with this old comrade for 10 years. Now, Ooshiro Itaru, what do you need?”

“As Team Leviathan’s supervisor, I came to check on a few things related to the transportation of the holy sword Gram. After all, Mr. Zonburg, you were the most closely involved in the destruction of 1st-Gear.”


The white mechanical dragon Fafnir Custom slept in the base of 1st-Gear’s City faction that existed underground below a gym.

Wind blew through the darkness.

The wind had color. That color was black. The black wind blew back and forth above Fafnir Custom’s body as if dancing and then blew up toward the ceiling. A single small bell with writing carved into it hung there.

The wind struck the bell and the bell rang.

The bell emitted a high pitched noise and the wind suddenly formed a body.

It was a black cat. Specifically, the cat Brunhild owned.

“There we go.”

The black cat twisted in midair and landed on Fafnir Custom’s back. It pressed the inside of its legs against the slanted armor rather than trying to use its claws. It slowly lay down.

“Venerable Hagen,” said the cat.

“I am here.” A palely glowing old man appeared next to the black cat. He yawned and said, “Is this your periodic report?”

“Yes, it is. I have no news like yesterday, so I am just making an appearance.”

“We have nothing new here either. You can go find something to eat outside until the sound of the bell fades away. Nein will not notice.”

Hagen yawned again and the cat looked up at the side of the old man’s face.

“Do you have dreams too, Venerable Hagen?”

“Ah?” Hagen looked down at the black cat and finally formed a smile. “Yes, I do. I was just dreaming of when Brunhild asked for help while crying.”

“Was that when you joined with Fafnir Custom? …Why did you decide to do that as a member of the royal family?”

“I was the only one there with enough social status to lead everyone. And when we moved to this world, it was necessary to release the concepts inside it to create a concept space the people of 1st-Gear could live in. That meant someone had to join with Fafnir Custom.” He placed his chin in his hands and let out a meaningless sigh. “I did something inexcusable to Brunhild…no, to Nein. How is she doing with Siegfried?”

The black cat remained silent. It looked away from Hagen and took three breaths before finally responding.

“Sh-she is observing him. …And she is keeping her distance to…yes, to make sure she is not found out.”

“I see,” said Hagen with a nod.

He had a smile on his face, but the ends of his eyebrows had lowered a small bit.

“I see,” he muttered again. “Hey.”

“Wh-what is it?” asked the black cat.

Hagen nodded once, looked forward, and then looked down.

“What we must do for our respective positions can be a lot of trouble. But…”

“But?”

“At the very least, I want you to remain her ally.”

The black cat listened to what Hagen said and nodded in understanding within the dim darkness.

In the next moment, a knock came at the door to the room and a woman in a simple white outfit entered.

She was in a hurry. Her pace was quick as she entered and impatience could be heard in her voice.

“The investigation… The investigation is complete. It was exactly as you said, Lord Hagen.” The woman took a breath and continued speaking once her breathing was regulated. “A transport plane is preparing for takeoff at IAI headquarters. Most likely, the holy sword Gram will pass by over our heads tonight as it is transported!”


Siegfried’s words reverberated through the Kinugasa Library.

“So Gram will be transported tonight. 1st-Gear’s Leviathan Road will finally begin in earnest.”

Siegfried stood behind the counter while Itaru remained seated.

“My father must be going senile to leave this all to some kid. The provisional negotiations supposedly ended fine, but from what I hear, those negotiations were a sham.”

“You certainly are harsh.”

“I’m kind to myself. And that is what saves the smart ones. They run away from me.”

“Do you hope Sayama Mikoto and the others will withdraw from the Leviathan Road?”

“Only kids make decisions based on what they hope for.” Itaru pushed his sunglasses back up his nose. “But once Gram is stored in UCAT HQ, the real negotiations with 1st-Gear will begin.”

“And that will be the true beginning of the Leviathan Road?”

“Yes. If he is still involved then, he will be unable to back out. Gram’s arrival is the time limit for Sayama Mikoto. He must decide for himself by then.”

Itaru reached to the end of his crossed leg and returned the slipper Sf had fixed to its half-removed state.

He shook the light blue slipper with the tips of his toes and asked a question.

“Who were you on the phone with?”

“I told you it was old comrade, didn’t I? He was delighted that Sayama Mikoto has begun to take action. He said Sayama Mikoto will likely learn all sorts of things while not knowing what direction he is headed, just like we did long ago.”

“And about one in a hundred of the things he does will be successes?”

“Yes. One only arrives at the truth after many failures and doubts.” A small smile appeared on Siegfried’s lips. “I remember when we first learned of the Concept War in the National Defense Department days. Yes, that was when it was found out that I was only pretending to cooperate with the National Defense Department and that I had come to destroy the ley line modification facility for the German region.” His smile grew bitter. “I had yet to destroy the facility and yet it was destroyed. My comrades thought I had done it, so they pursued me and a battle began. It was then that it happened.”

“I’ve heard about this. The sky suddenly split open and a mechanical dragon and god of war dropped down.”

“It was a battle between 1st-Gear and 3rd-Gear. From that point on, we knew that the National Defense Department’s job extended beyond just our world,” said Siegfried. “So much was learned and so much was lost. And not all by us. If Sayama Mikoto accepts the Leviathan Road and charges ahead, will he see it all?”

“Who can say? He might run away or die before that happens. Do you remember what his grandfather would always say?”

“The surname Sayama indicates a villain?”

Itaru nodded and grinned.

“Will Sayama Mikoto be able to hold pride in the evil he commits? I am not talking about a skirmish with a small radical group or provisional negotiations against someone who is going easy on him. When faced with a true opponent, will he be able to settle things by using evil as righteousness? …And before that, will he be able to choose to step onto the battlefield? I do not know the answer to any of these questions.”

As Ooshiro spoke, Siegfried closed his eyes.

“Ooshiro Itaru, you are very particular about the surname Sayama. I heard the reason why from Diana.”

“Then you should understand why I hate that kid. I don’t even want to see him. The surname Sayama that I know is nothing like him. It does not refer to some ignorant kid who is protected by everything.”

“Itaru-sama.”

Itaru’s body relaxed when Sf called out from behind him.

He turned around just as Sf crouched down.

Sf once more silently fixed his slipper.

Itaru stood up, but his right leg trembled and almost gave out.

Sf reached out from the side and silently supported him.

“Here,” she said after grabbing his metal cane.

Itaru supported himself with the cane.

He straightened his back and nodded toward Siegfried.

“But… If the Leviathan Road continues forward, will my comrades take action?”

“Yes, Diana, the survivors of the National Defense Department, and the survivors of the original UCAT will take action. Mr. Zonburg, your friend is still alive.”

“I was just told as much over the phone. You mean Thunderson, right?” Siegfried frowned. “It is a shame that Yankee is still alive. He should be coming here with his great-grandchild within the year, though.”

Siegfried’s comment deepened the grin on Itaru’s face.

Itaru pushed his sunglasses back up to cover his eyes and bowed, all while standing at the bottom of the valley created by the bookshelves of Kinugasa Library.

“View it like a class reunion you think is a mistake, Mr. Zonburg.”

Seeing his actions and hearing his words, Sf belatedly bowed as well. Itaru slowly gave one last comment.

“That is one way to look at our Leviathan Road.”


Shinjou and Sayama sipped at drinks in Okutama Station as the sun set.

The wooden station building had a cement floor. They were sitting on a wooden bench by the wall at the entrance.

To get this far, they had taken a UCAT bus out to the front of IAI and then another bus from there. Sayama had to wait 20 minutes for his train, so they had plenty of time to talk.

It was the afternoon, but the entrance was almost deserted due to school not being in session. Shinjou listened to the sounds of cars and busses in the distance as she looked at the drink can in her hand.

She had never had melon soda before. She thought its flavor had less individuality than the sodas at UCAT.

She took a breath and looked at Sayama next to her. He was giving mineral water to Baku who sat on his shoulder even though he had just finished entering some numbers into the cell phone he had received at UCAT.

Is he the type of person who can’t relax without doing something?

Shinjou’s own question brought a bitter smile to her lips. She searched for something to say.

“Um, what do you think about what we were told earlier? About the holy sword Gram being suddenly transported today.”

Sayama looked away from Baku.

“Well.” He nodded and placed Baku and the bottle next to him. “It is indeed sudden. Word arrived just as we were leaving UCAT, but I suppose it starts when it starts.”

“What will you do, Sayama-kun? Will you take part in the Leviathan Road?”

“You will, won’t you? You want to pursue this Shinjou from the National Defense Department that Fasolt mentioned.”

“Yes. But I am talking about you, Sayama-kun, not me.”

“I see,” began Sayama quietly. “Currently, I think I am leaning toward not taking part.”

“Really?”

She tilted her head and Sayama nodded.

“Yes, really. In the end, I have not found an answer for myself. And now the time has come. It would be like going in for a test without studying properly. The problem is that I would rather back out than get a bad grade on this test.”

“When you say you haven’t found an answer for yourself, do you mean in relation to the surname Sayama indicating a villain?”

Sayama looked a bit surprised to hear that. He quickly composed himself and nodded slowly.

“Being hated is a difficult thing. And…both the knight’s group yesterday and Fasolt today took action while prepared for that. I achieved decent results both times, but I was no match for them where it really counts.” He took a breath. “Take Fasolt for example. He wishes for continued peace. That requires compromise and actions that can be seen as betrayals. But he is willing to go through with it regardless. Why is that?”

“Because it’s the right thing to do. Do you think the radical factions can really gain anything by fighting?”

“I do,” said Sayama. “If they win and their opponent is gone, they will gain a world of peace all for themselves. And even if they do not lose, as long as they can show off their power, they can force their fearful enemy to compromise.”

“That’s solving everything with strength…”

“Strength is a rudimentary form of language, Shinjou-kun. If you agree, you shake hands. If you disagree, you punch them. Even without words, that will convey your meaning. Even now, there are tribes living on the earth that use strength in their standard customs. Let me ask this instead: why must everything be resolved with words? Words are an aspect of civilization that humans did not initially have. They are a replacement for strength. Why is it necessary to resolve everything with them?”

“B-because they don’t harm you or your opponent,” she said while subconsciously clenching her hands.

Green fizz spilled from the drink can in her hands.

“Ah,” said Shinjou as she frantically pulled a handkerchief from her pocket.

As she wiped off her hands, her thoughts were centered on her worry that Sayama did not even understand this simple concept.

This is important. It has to be.

She nodded in her heart and thought on what she should say to Sayama. Strength entered the inside of her eyebrows and she folded up her handkerchief.

“U-um, Sayama-kun…”

She stopped before she could continue speaking.

She saw Sayama looking toward her with a powerless smile on his face.

It was a simple smile and nothing else. However…

Why is he looking at me like that when I’m angry?

His reply came soon thereafter.

He nodded and said, “That is your answer, Shinjou-kun. You have the right to take the test. You are much more qualified than I am.”

His last sentence sent a chill down Shinjou’s back.

“N-no. I…I…”

“Do you want to say you could not speak with Fasolt and his absurd arguments today, with that group from yesterday, or with the werewolf the day before yesterday? Do you want to say that you cannot fight them either?”

Shinjou nodded.

“Why is it they refuse to talk things out?” asked Sayama.

“B-because…um…they have grudges that cannot be settled with words?”

“Yes. And so they refuse to sit at the negotiating table to talk things out. In other words, those who wish for peace can only speak with others who wish for a peaceful conclusion. However...”

“However?”

“Even those who do not wish for peace lose things in war. In fact… They are the ones who cannot forgive those losses, so they may be the ones who truly hate war.”

“…”

“In that case, what does it mean to make up for our crimes? Is it enough to make it up only to those who already assume a peaceful resolution? Is it really best to not even touch on those who wish for our deaths?”

“B-but if we stand before them, they might kill us, Sayama-kun.”

“That is why the Leviathan Road has given us power,” said Sayama. “I think I understand the meaning behind the initial conditions my grandfather gave the Leviathan Road. I think I understand why he has given us no information and has allowed us to fight.”


Sayama folded his arms and leaned back in the wooden bench. He could feel the chill of the rough wooden planks that sat at uneven heights.

“There are those in the ten Gears who hope for our deaths or defeat. Why do they wish for death? We have not been given any information on the past so that we can truly understand that and make use of that reason.”

“You mean knowledge we are given without searching it out has no value?”

“Yes. Knowledge only becomes wisdom if you have the will to learn. If we are given prepackaged knowledge and try to use it as a shield, the other races will not feel any sincerity in us.”

Sayama picked up Baku. The beast had been sticking its head in the clear bottle to peer at the water within, but he now flailed his limbs as he hung down. Once his gaze met Sayama’s he calmed down.

Sayama lowered Baku and tipped the bottle on its side. Baku stuck his head in the bottle’s opening and drank the water.

Shinjou smiled bitterly at the small animal’s behavior. Sayama made a similar smile.

“We are using Baku here in our investigation so we can view the past with no glorification or distortion. We must decide for ourselves based on that. And…”

“We must negotiate using strength, words, and every other means available to us?”

“Yes. This is why my grandfather left the Leviathan Road to me. The surname Sayama indicates a villain, so he wanted me to take that knowledge and wisdom and make what decisions I had to.”

Sayama closed his eyes.

He did not look at Shinjou or anything else around him.

“But,” he began. “Just because I have that knowledge and wisdom does not mean my evil is needed. After all, my grandfather did not always use that method.”

Sayama sensed Shinjou stiffening next to him. Eventually, she spoke.

“You probably should rethink this. This may indeed be a good role for you, Sayama-kun. But it’s wrong. It isn’t right to end everything by making someone the villain. Even if it’s important to you, I think it’s wrong.”

“But I am interested in the Leviathan Road. …If possible, I would like to take part.”

“But… can you trust yourself when you get serious?”

Sayama sighed.

He opened his eyes. The ends of Shinjou’s eyebrows were lowered as she stared at him.

She is a welcome person to have around, he thought.

He looked her in the eye and several seconds of silence followed.

Finally, Shinjou looked down and spoke as if checking on something.

“Sayama-kun, do you really want to take part in the Leviathan Road?”

Sayama thought on her question. He thought back over everything and found only one answer.

“Yes.”

“I see. Then…think up some way of resolving this. Think up a way you can get serious and remain confident.” Shinjou lightly embraced her own body while still looking down. “If only there was some standard you could use when conflicted over whether your actions are a necessary evil or not. …I don’t know how you could know that, though.”

“A standard for necessary evil…? In other words, a villain’s requirement,” muttered Sayama.

He looked down at his feet and thought.

A standard to know for sure what I am doing is wrong, hm?

When he thought about it, it was a simple matter. To know whether he was wrong or not…

I just need someone by my side who is right.

He needed someone who was the opposite of himself. When he realized that, his pulse began to race.

“…”

He needed someone who could be a standard for him. He needed someone who would allow him to meet the proper requirements. And someone like that was already by his side.

He could easily know whether he was wrong or not if he looked at that person.

But Sayama had tried to keep that person out of his mind.

After all, if he took part in the Leviathan Road, it would mean that person would be standing in the same place as him. That person would be standing at the receiving end of grudges and could be killed. He had wanted to avoid that.

“…”

He silently began to sweat. His pulse grew even faster.

What is this? he thought. This is not like me.

He just had to tell that person he needed them. He had to ask that person to stand with him on the battlefield and sit with him at the negotiating table. He had to ask that person to accept enmity and death alongside him.

It was selfish.

Being hated as a villain was an issue for him alone, but this would be dragging another person down along with him.

However, that person’s voice reached his ears. It was a gentle and quiet voice.

It said, “I hope you can find a standard for yourself, Sayama-kun.”

Sayama stood up.

With the rustling of his suit, he looked at her. He looked at the opposite of himself who could act as his standard.

He looked at the girl named Shinjou.


Shinjou backed away slightly with her drink can in her hands.

Before her eyes, Sayama had stood up after letting his head droop down for a while. He was looking at her. He was wrinkling his brow and seemed to want to say something. That was why Shinjou had pulled back.

“Wh-what is it?”

Her question caused Sayama to jump as if he had suddenly realized something.

All strength suddenly left his expression. His usual expression quickly returned. This expression was almost a lack of expression. However, Shinjou thought his slightly downward-cast face appeared conflicted.

Is something the matter?

Shinjou tilted her head.

“Did something happen? Is it about the Leviathan Road or your standard?”

As she spoke, Shinjou wondered what it was she was worried about.

She had said the Leviathan Road was dangerous, but once he had said he wanted to take part, she had given him self-important advice and was trying to help him again.

I must truly want… she began silently.

She wanted him to take part in the Leviathan Road.

She did not want him to die or be hated, but he could do things she could not. She wanted that.

She recalled when they had first met. She remembered when she had let him rest on her lap in that forest. He had admitted that she was right. She had always thought she was wrong, but he had said she was right.

And on the way back that night, she had apologized for forcing her thoughts onto him, but he had smiled and said she had done nothing of the sort.

She wondered if it was strange to be happy about having her thoughts denied.

To me, he is right and is a welcome person to have around.

Shinjou nodded in her heart.

I wonder if there is anything I can do to help him.

After the negotiations with Fasolt when he had been depressed over being unable to get serious, she had not been able to say anything.

She decided she needed to say something now. She opened her mouth to speak. The first time, only her lips moved. The second time, she produced a voice.

“Is there anything I can do for you?”

Sayama turned back toward her. He lowered his head once more, looked up, and…

“…”

The train created a loud noise as it entered the station. The wheels caused the track to creak and Sayama turned around.

The sounds of the train slowed and finally stopped.

When Sayama turned back toward her, his expression was back to normal. However, this brought no relief to Shinjou. He always acted the way he did because he wanted to be strong.

Sayama looked at her as they listened to the footsteps of the people walking from the platform to the entrance.

“Shinjou-kun, one quick thing.”

His voice was back to its normal tone when he spoke.

The words he had been about to speak with that shaken expression would not be coming. Shinjou felt a disappointed emptiness in her chest, but still tilted her head. If he had any complaints, she would listen.

“What? What is it?”

In her slightly titled vision, she saw Sayama pull the digital recorder from his pocket and hold it up.

The area was filled with the footsteps and other noises of the people on the platform.

Sayama ignored them and spoke with a serious expression.

“I forgot to ask about the continuation from before. You said you jumped when you thought I was going to touch your butt, but what happened then? Please tell me in great detail.”

As her vision twitched with thoughts similar to “you’re one stubborn bastard”, she saw Sayama check the watch on his left wrist.

“I have no time, but I am terribly curious. Come on. There is nothing to fear. Tell me forcefully and intensely!”

After that final comment, Shinjou forcefully and intensely slapped Sayama.


The art room curtain began to grow dyed in crimson.

Brunhild stood petrified as the black cat stood on the floor in front of her. Her right hand held the blue stone used to return the wind to the form of a cat. The small bird sat on her shoulder and she spoke in a slightly trembling voice.

“The holy sword Gram is…what?”

The black cat was catching its breath with its limbs sprawled out on the floor.

“It seems IAI HQ is sending Gram by air to the IAI Tokyo branch. He said…” The cat took a breath. “They will be shooting it down.”

“So a battle cannot be avoided now.”

“Fafner said you should return right away. He said he would leave taking care of Siegfried to you.”

“Eh?”

A movement came over Brunhild’s expressionless face. This movement was produced by strength.

When the black cat saw that expression, it turned away.

“If Gram is retrieved, its master, Siegfried, is sure to take action. Fafner said he would be left to you. Brunhild,” called the black cat. “Everyone is expecting to see the cries of resentment contained in the scythe of the underworld.”

Brunhild shook her head and stopped moving.

The small bird on her shoulder chirped.

Brunhild did not move when she heard it.

All expression had left her face. There was not even enough there to call it expressionless. It was as if all color had been lost from her face.

“…”

Brunhild remained silent, hung her head, and closed her eyes.

She bit her lower lip and knitted her brow.

A slight breath leaked from deep in her throat.

The black cat looked up at her. When it realized she had her eyes closed, the cat partially closed its own eyes, hung its head down, and gave a small nod.

“Okay,” mouthed the cat before looking up. “Brunhild?”

Brunhild opened her eyes. By the time their gazes met, the cat was looking at its owner the same as ever.

“Brunhild,” called the cat once more. “I am doing my best to be your ally.”


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