When she came to, the girl found herself standing amidst shadowy ruins.
The small corpse of a child lay on the ground before her. The cause of death appeared to be the large, gaping sword wound in her chest. The blood flowing out of it dyed her entire body in a dark, muddy red.
As the girl stared at the corpse, it suddenly began to waver. Then, a half transparent version of the child rose up and stood on top of her own corpse which still had not budged from the ground.
The ghostly child stared back at the girl.
After a moment, the child held out her hand.
— Ah. Does she want me to hold it? The girl reached out and clasped the child’s hand with both of her own.
The child laughed.
The girl also laughed, as if it had spread over to her.
The child then began running all around, dragging the girl along.
The ruins were vast, with more than enough to explore on their little adventure. Every time they went around a corner or stepped over a broken gate, they discovered something new. An oddly shaped stuffed animal, a battered and bruised picture book, a complicated looking recording crystal. But the girl paid no attention to any of those curious objects and instead kept running and running through the ruins.
Maybe she’s looking for something, the girl thought. She decided to ask, and the child responded with a firm nod.
The girl didn’t quite understand what the child was talking about, but she looked excited and happy, so it must have been something she really liked. The girl tried asking if whatever she was looking for was within the ruins, but her question was met with a quizzical look. Maybe it was too complicated. The girl decided to ask something simpler, something she probably should have asked first: the child’s name.
Ah, Elq. That’s a cute name, the girl responded, trying to be polite. The child then pointed at the girl and tilted her head. Oh, are you asking for my name?
The child nodded eagerly. She was right. It’s proper manners to give your own name when asking for someone else’s.
My name is…
Confused, the girl paused. She couldn’t remember. Not just her name, but who she was. Why she was here. What these ruins were.
Elq gave her another quizzical look.
I… oh, that’s right. I had something I needed to do. Someone I needed to meet. I don’t have time to be wandering around here. So… so…
“…?” Another questioning look from Elq.
I need to go home, the girl told the child. There are people waiting for me. I need to go to where I belong.
“You need to?”
Yes. I need to.
“Even though there’ll be a lot of sad things?”
I know, but that doesn’t matter. There’s someone I want to meet. There’s a reason I need to live.
“Aw, okay.” Elq drooped her head with a lonely look in her eyes. After a short silence, she released the girl’s hand. “See you later then, Kutori.”
Kutori woke up. Slowly, she tried raising her body. A heavy fatigue enveloped her entire body, as if she had overslept after staying up too late. She pressed her hand against her forehead, suppressing a light headache.
It felt like she had seen a long dream. She couldn’t clearly remember what it was about, but it somehow felt warm and frightening at the same time. Quite the weird dream.
Wait, before that, there was something she needed to check first. She patted her body all over. It was unmistakably the body of Kutori Nota Seniolis.
Her head felt unusually clear, with no trace of that violent torrent of strange images anywhere in sight. What was going on?
A loud and rather un-ladylike rumbling sounded from her body. Kutori realized that she was starving. As she stepped out into the hallway to get something from the kitchen, she realized something else: it was night, and also raining outside. Because of that, the entire warehouse seemed to be shrouded in a quiet darkness–
She spotted a faint light leaking out from one of the rooms. Naigrat’s room.
She sneakily tip toed up to the door.
“I wanted to make Kutori happy.”
— Eek! Her heart jumped.
“There’s too much tragedy and unhappiness around Seniolis. There was a time when I wanted to do something about that, but of course I couldn’t do anything. I was always too weak. I couldn’t be useful to anyone. I worked my ass off and managed to get decent at fighting, but I had nothing left.”
What were these people talking about?
“– I thought I knew that, but in the end I couldn’t leave her alone. But still, what could she possibly like about such a good for nothing guy?” Willem asked in a completely bewildered voice.
Whaat? You can’t even figure out such a simple thing? Kutori teased him in her mind. You showed me a lot of firsts. You were the first to save me, back in the Briki Shopping District. You were the first to bring me up to a high viewing platform in the middle of a city. You were the first to show me so many different faces. You were the first to bring out so many different emotions in me. You were the first person that let me rely on them. You were the first to try to help me, and the first to actually do so. You were the first opponent I lost to… the list goes on and on!
And so of course, you were the first person I fell in love with.
“– You should at least know that much, dummy,” Kutori whispered with a smile.
“Ahhhhh!?” A sudden scream rang throughout the quiet hallway.
Looking to her side, she spotted a wide eyed Tiat standing frozen, pointing at Kutori.
“K-K-K-Kutori!? A ghost!??” She finally managed to blurt out after a good amount of stuttering.
No I’m alive I’m not a ghost so be quiet they’ll hear you! Of course, Kutori couldn’t shout that out, so she instead wildly waved her hands about, trying to signal Tiat to stop.
But, she didn’t. “Kutori!!!” Tiat leaped onto her and hugged her tightly. “A-A ghost, but still Kutori!!”
Tiat’s arms remained fastened around Kutori’s waist as she spouted some nonsense. It looked like there was no escape. Well, Kutori didn’t necessarily want to run away from Tiat, but she didn’t want the two in the room behind her to notice.
Apparently, however, it was too late.
She heard a murmur of disbelief. Slowly, Kutori turned around. And of course, he stood there.
Willem was standing there frozen, at an utter loss for words. She couldn’t tell if he was sad, happy, angry, or something completely different. His face showed a sloppy menagerie of emotions, and, knowing that they were all because of her, Kutori also turned speechless.
“… what a day.” Naigrat was the first to recover from the confused stupor that the situation had put the four of them in. “Well? You don’t need to find the perfect words. You have something to say first, don’t you?”
“Ah… ah, you’re right.” Willem finally recovered as well and took a step towards Kutori. “Welcome back, Kutori.”
At that moment, every part of Kutori’s body seemed to suddenly abandon its duty. Tears welled up in her eyes and obscured her vision, her chest tightened and her breathing stopped, her legs buckled and became unable to walk, her head turned blank and all attempts at thinking ended in failure, her throat quivered and struggled to produce a voice.
I’m home. No matter how hard she tried, Kutori couldn’t get her body to speak those words. Even though she had been wanting to say them for so long. She had been preparing herself to say them for so long. Even though she had made up her mind to go all out once they met again, in front of him now she had lost all control over her body.
Her legs, having lost all the strength in them, finally slipped… probably. Kutori’s five senses had descended into a state of chaos, unable to produce any reliable information. Her sense of balance, however, remained intact. For a moment, a floating sensation enveloped her body. Then, right as she recognized that she was falling, something warm embraced her entire body.
“Welcome home.” That warm something gave her warm words as well.
Those words completely destroyed Kutori. She couldn’t see anything. Couldn’t hear anything. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t walk, couldn’t think, couldn’t speak. Driven by an impulse which welled up from somewhere even deeper inside of her than her heart, she simply cried.
Soon enough, sleepy little fairies rubbing their sleepy little eyes began popping out into the hallway, trying to see what all the commotion was about.
Meanwhile, Kutori continued to sob loudly like a baby.
“… a miracle of love?” Nephren titled her head.
“Well putting aside the love part for now, I think we can all agree it’s a miracle. Although it may be one of those that comes with a price…” Aiseia said, still with a smile despite being on the verge of tears. “Knowing this kid, she probably paid it without thinking about it.”
Eventually, Kutori’s loud sobbing diminished until it became no more than barely audible weeping. And then, the rumbling of a stomach echoed loudly throughout the dimly lit hallway.