The Self Proclaimed Daughter and Self Proclaimed Pet
Almaria Duffner had a dream.
She stood upon a vast but empty gray land which stretched out in all directions forever and ever. Occasionally, unfamiliar beasts would sluggishly lumber by somewhere off in the corner of her field of view. The wind left a strange melody in her ears as it blew past.
The sight before her eyes should have seemed odd and foreign. However, she felt surprisingly calm. Not only that, but a sense of nostalgia welled up from inside her chest.
Ahh, that’s right. This is where we belong. This is what we were meant to be.
A voice somewhere deep, deep within continued to whisper those words.
Almaria woke up.
Her heart was pounding violently against her ribcage.
She had the dream again. The same one which had haunted her time and time again since her childhood. Well, it wasn’t exactly a nightmare. The scene was eerie, but it wasn’t a bloodbath or anything. She just simply saw unexplainable things and felt unexplainable feelings. But that sensation… that sense of tranquility she felt inside the dream scared her more than anything. She felt like she became a completely different person, and yet felt no discomfort about it. That part frightened her every time.
That was her first time having the dream in a while. Long ago, when Almaria still lived in her parents’ home, it occurred about once every half year. After losing her father and moving to the orphanage, it backed down to once a year. In recent years, its frequency had dropped even further, so this time it took her by surprise.
“A curse that puts you to sleep forever, huh…”
The rumors that Ted and Navrutri mentioned only amplified Almaria’s worries. They did reassure her that having the dream didn’t guarantee you were cursed, and that the relationship between the two phenomena still hadn’t been proved definitively, but her fear refused to go away.
I have to wake up early again tomorrow, so I need to get back to sleep, she thought. However, her rampant heart showed no signs of quieting down. Overcome by the thought of seeing that eerie landscape again if she fell back asleep, Almaria couldn’t even bring herself to shut her eyelids.
It was no use. Continuing to stir about restlessly in bed wouldn’t solve anything. Deciding to get some water and refresh her mood, she got out of bed and put on a cardigan. A small shiver ran throughout her body.
Upon reaching the living room, Almaria found a girl asleep on the sofa. Apparently, drowsiness had bested her as she was reading a book. The blanket on top of her, which looked like it had been put there by someone else, was beginning to slip down.
As far as Almaria had heard, the girl was a Quasi Brave and one of Willem’s junior comrades. When she first arrived, she had been unfamiliar with the language of the empire, due to her being born in a faraway country. But she took her studies seriously, and in a mere few days she already learned how to make basic conversation. Nephren herself used the excuse that it was easy because the grammar closely resembled that of her native tongue, but, still, her progress seemed way too rapid. Maybe all Braves were like that.
Nevertheless, seeing her curled up on the sofa, fast asleep with a book in her arms, Almaria couldn’t see Nephren as anything more than a young child. She lightly patted Nephren’s gray hair. It was soft and warm. The hair of a child. She moved her finger down and was about to poke her squishy looking cheeks, when–
“No no.” Almaria faltered. “That’s right, the blanket. I have to fix the blanket or else she’ll catch a cold,” she told herself.
Just as Almaria was about to lay her hands on the blanket, Nephren opened her eyes. “… Almaria.”
“A-Ah. Did I wake you up?”
“Nnn…” Nephren looked around with sleepy eyes. “Was I asleep?”
“Sorry, I was just going to fix your blanket.” Almaria told a little lie. “Since you’re awake, you should go sleep in a proper bed. It’s pretty chilly tonight, so you’ll catch a cold out here.”
“Nn.” Nephren nodded, but didn’t stand up. Apparently, she was still half asleep.
“… I think I’m going to have some tea. Do you want some too?”
“Nn.” She nodded again, in the same drowsy manner.
She’s kind of like a puppy, Almaria thought.
And just like that, a peculiar little midnight tea party started. Almaria prepared a herbal tea which apparently had a soothing effect. She only bought the tea because someone recommended it to her, and she still didn’t know the name of the leaf within, but it was just right for the two of them. For a snack, Almaria got out the special stash of cookies which she kept hidden deep within the cupboard. Nephren, apparently weak to hot drinks, blew repeatedly on her tea.
“Nephren, what relation do you have with our father?” Almaria asked suddenly. After the words left her mouth, she realized they sounded a little unfriendly. “… sorry, I could have phrased that better. I’m not accusing you of having that sort of relationship, it’s just… how do I put it…” She had a difficult time finding the right words. “I heard you’re his junior comrade as a Brave, but it feels like there’s more than that.”
Ever since she first laid eyes on her, Almaria could tell that Nephren was treated very importantly by Willem. Nephren also seemed to treat Willem very importantly in return. Watching from the side, their mutual attitude of caring for each other seemed extremely natural, but it also didn’t seem like a romantic relationship in any way.
“Nn…” Nephren thought for a bit. “Pet.”
Pet. Upon hearing that unexpected word, Almaria’s vague smile deformed into a dead serious expression. It looked like she had a little questioning to do with father about this situation.
“Willem looks like he would break if left alone, so it’s my duty to stay beside him to prevent that. Recently, I’ve learned to maintain a distance just close enough that I might be considered a nuisance,” Nephren elaborated.
“Ah… that’s what you meant.”
Almaria had imagined a slightly more radical situation after hearing the word pet, but apparently Nephren simply used it to mean an intimate friend. Relieved, her face relaxed into its previous smile. It was easy to forget since they were having a normal conversation, but Nephren’s skill with the Emnetwyte language was still very much at an elementary level. Almaria took that as an explanation for Nephren’s odd word choice.
“But…” A faint, yet melancholy smile spread across Nephren’s face. “Here, Willem is different. It doesn’t look like he’s going to break.”
“… really?” Almaria, who had never seen Willem outside of the orphanage, had no way to compare his behavior.
“There probably isn’t any need for me to stay by his side anymore.”
“… do you really think so?” Almaria, who knew Willem in the orphanage very well, felt something wrong about Nephren’s statement. “Knowing father, he’ll probably leave and go off somewhere again soon enough. I can’t go with him, and maybe, just like you said, he’ll look like he’s about to break again.” Almaria poured herself another cup of herbal tea. “When that time comes, I’ll have no choice but to entrust him to you. Only you’ll be able to take care of our pitiful, broken down father.”
“… Almaria.” Nephren seemed a little surprised. Even Almaria herself found the words coming out of her own mouth unexpected. “Nn. When that time comes, you can count on me.” Faintly, yet strongly, Nephren nodded.
After their little tea party, Almaria cleaned up the dishes and returned to her room.
Just like always, Willem’s surrounded by wonderful girls, she thought.
Now in a cheerful mood, she climbed into bed. Not much longer remained until daybreak, but she felt like this time, she would be able to sleep peacefully.