Willem remembered absolutely nothing about the journey home. All he knew was that he boarded that Military Police airship on the 2nd Island and eventually arrived on the 68th. They might have taken a few detours to refuel or avoid flying debris, but they probably took the shortest and fastest route possible. But unfortunately, and obviously, Willem did not make it in time.
A blue haired girl lay on the bed, sleeping quietly. Or at least, that’s what it looked like. It seemed as if she might stir and open her eyes at any moment. But that never happened, and it never will.
“She kept her side of the promise, ya know?” Aiseia said in a quiet voice, standing in the doorway. “She survived and returned home. She made it back with barely any time left from a battle she should have never lived through, all because she wanted to meet you one more time.”
“Aiseia.” Nephren, also standing near the door, shook her head. “We can’t blame Willem. We were the ones who didn’t tell him about Kutori.”
“I know I know, I didn’t mean to blame him…”
“No, you’re right. I’m the one who didn’t keep my promise. I’m the one who should be blamed,” Willem murmured. “She did what I told her to, but I didn’t follow up. That’s all this is.”
To the fairy soldiers, death is always lurking nearby. They are aware of the fleeting nature of their own lives, and therefore tend to not grieve when a friend is lost. Their spirits are not diminished by death. That way, their effectiveness as weapons does not degrade.
“Hey hey, does anyone know where Naigrat went?” Lakish entered the playroom, looking around as she asked the other littles ones there.
“Haven’t seen her. Do you need something?” Colon asked as she practiced her joint locks on a teddy bear.
“I wanted to ask her about this weekend’s shopping. Blizzards might be coming soon, so I was wondering if we should stock up on extra supplies.”
“Ah, I see! You can’t fight on an empty stomach!”
“… if you’re looking for Naigrat, she’s probably in the mountains,” Panival answered as she kicked a ball against the wall. “Whenever someone doesn’t come home, she goes there.”
“Ah… okay.” Lakish nodded.
“Are you going to go look for her?”
After a moment’s thought, Lakish answered, “I don’t think so. If she went away on purpose, she probably doesn’t want to show her face to us now. If we try and see her anyways, she might eat us.”
“Definitely.” Collon nodded with a grave look.
“A wise judgement,” said Panival.
“… Tiat?” Lakish called out to the only one who still hadn’t joined in on their conversation.
“Eh? Ah, what? Sorry, I wasn’t listening.” Tiat, who was lying listlessly on the floor with all limbs spread out, jolted up at the mention of her name.
“Is something wrong, Tiat? Recently your mind seems to always be off somewhere else.”
“Nnnn.” Tiat was aware herself, but struggled to find an answer. “… I don’t really know. My head’s just like empty.”
“Is it because of Kutori?” Lakish asked
Tiat felt a sharp pain in her chest, but she couldn’t comprehend why. So she decided to ignore it.
“Maybe? I don’t know…” Tiat shrugged her shoulders and dodged the question.
Slowly, but surely, time passed. One day, then another, and another. The flow of time winded on and on, indifferent to the concepts of life and death.
No matter how hard he looked, Willem could see no irregularities in the magic flowing through Kutori. Trying to ignore the headache resulting from his use of spell vision, he took the girl’s small, pale, and cold hand. He gently massaged a few points on her palm near the base of her fingers.
“– A long time ago, there was a guy who passed out from a really bad case of Acute Venom Poisoning and never woke up. This technique finally got him out of his coma. It corrects the flow a little bit at a time, without over stimulating the body…”
Willem knew there was no point in doing this. Unlike the comrade he once saved, Kutori had no actual problems with the Venom in her body. There were no points where the flow needed to be corrected. The cause of her sleep was something much different.
No matter what techniques Willem tried, she showed no signs of improving. But he couldn’t help but keep trying. There might be some effect, even if it’s small. He clung to that faint hope which cannot even be called a possibility. In order to avert his eyes from the ugly truth, he needed to keep trying.
He never got to say ‘welcome back’.
He never got to hear ‘I’m home’.
He was driven on by the fantasy that there existed some method which could save him from drowning in his sea of regrets.
“Willem.” A voice called to him from behind.
“… hey, it feels like it’s been a while, Naigrat.”
“I guess so. Sorry, I’ve been out for a bit. Whenever someone dies, I feel like my heart’s going to break. Then I feel like I’m weird for being so sad, like I should be used to it by now, but I don’t want to think about it and my head just becomes a mess. So I usually head inland and take it out on some trees and bears.”
Willem felt sorry for those trees and bears.
“It’s weird, huh? When I get like this, my appetite disappears, even though such soft and delicious looking meat is sitting right in front of me…”
“Well I guess that means you’re no longer fit to be a troll.”
“Maybe. I wonder if I can turn into something else.” The troll wearing her usual apron dress smiled weakly. “I’m tired of crying and getting angry all by myself.” Traces of exhaustion visibly showed on her face. “I know it’s awful, but I’m a little happy now that you’re here to cry over her too. I’m not alone anymore.”
“It really is awful, but I feel the same way.” Willem felt somewhat saved by Nagirat’s appearance.
“– There are a few things I want to talk about. Will you follow me?”
“Something we can’t talk about here?”
“I don’t think I could do it. And I think it would be hard for you too.”
Willem understood what she meant. “Can I run away from this?”
“If you want to, I won’t stop you.”
Ahh, damn it. Now he couldn’t run away.
Naigrat’s room was dark.
Sitting there, Willem noticed a few things for the first time: it was night, and also raining outside.
“Sorry, this is the only lamp that still has oil in it,” Naigrat said as she placed a small reading lamp on the desk. A faint light illuminated the gloomy room. “Wine?”
“That’s odd, never seen anything but tea in this room.”
“We don’t have a fire to boil water, and besides…”
Willem could guess what she was trying to say without hearing the end of her sentence. A little alcohol would make it easier to talk about the subject at hand.
With a sigh, he asked, “So what did you want to talk about?”
“Ah–” Naigrat paused for a moment, as if struggling to find the right words to express something she didn’t want to say. “We need to start testing which sword is right for Tiat soon.”
“Ah…” Willem nodded. “Seniolis?”
“Mhm, how’d you know?”
“Whether or not that sword is being used makes a significant difference on the battlefield. Naturally, if its user becomes disabled you’d want to start looking for the next one right away. Well… the part of me that automatically thought of that as ‘natural’ makes me want to throw up though.”
“Well if you do throw up, I’ll at least pat you on the back while you do it. I feel the same way. But don’t forget that you’ll need to get used to it somewhat at least. This isn’t the first time this has happened, and it won’t be the last.”
“And each time it happens, the bears get a rude awakening from their hibernation.”
“Hey, at least I turn them into stew.”
That didn’t sound like a justification at all, but apparently Naigrat thought otherwise.
“Anyways, all this makes sense logically, but Seniolis is one god damn stubborn sword. It’s not gonna be like ‘okay, yes, please send in the next user’.”
“What do you mean?”
“In the first place, it’s one of the finest, if not the finest, holy sword ever made. It’s on a whole different level than other Kaliyons. And usually, the higher quality the sword, the pickier it is about choosing a user. Seniolis judges its candidates quite harshly.”
“You can’t do anything about that with your skills?”
“Of course not. If I could, I would have used that sword myself.” Willem chuckled, reminiscing about the past. “The first time I saw Seniolis, my master was using it. To be honest I hardly remember anything about that particular battle. Well, in the first place I hardly got to see anything. That’s how strong my master was with Seniolis.”
The two talked on and on throughout the night in that dimly lit room enveloped by shadow.
In order to accept the girl’s death.
To take the next step forward.
To prepare themselves for their new everyday lives without Kutori which now began.