Almaria caught a cold.
“… I have to get dinner ready.” She stood up, determined to do housework.
“Sleep.” Willem urged her back into bed. “Nanette’s in the kitchen preparing dinner right now, so don’t worry about that.”
“She can’t do it alone.”
“She’s always helping you, isn’t she? She’ll be fine. Ren’s with her too, so you don’t need to worry about Nanette touching fire or hurting herself with a knife.” You might need to worry about the flavor though, Willem thought, but he kept that to himself.
“You need to rest once in awhile. Your body has never really been that strong, right?”
“Well… that’s true…” Almaria still didn’t look fully convinced, but she stopped arguing and lay her head back down on her pillow. “This is kind of nostalgic.”
“Me being sick, and you staying beside me.”
Willem thought back. If he remembered correctly, such a situation hadn’t happened in a long, long time.
“Hey… do you mind spoiling me once in awhile?” Almaria asked.
“If I say ‘don’t go’ again, would you grip my hand like you did before?”
This is unusual, Willem thought. Almaria was strong. She never complained, never showed off her hard work, and never let others see her in moments of weakness. For her to be saying something like that…
“Do you want me to hold it?”
“Nn. I’m kind of in the mood for that right now.” Almaria’s hand crawled out from under the rustling blankets.
With a light sigh, Willem wrapped his hand around hers. “We can’t let the others see this.”
“Ahaha. Falco might try to imitate me.”
“That boy… he needs to hurry up and decide whether he wants to act strong or be spoiled.”
“He has his own problems to struggle with. Did you know? When you’re not around, he’s working hard to become a Brave.”
The Braves in storybooks stood bravely on glorious battlefields, cut down their wicked foes, and married beautiful princesses. Any boy, or even some girls, would admire that life. Willem thought that such admiration was important, but also, he believed that admiration needed to stay as mere admiration, not as a motivator to actually chase those idols. Willem, once an ordinary boy like all the others, also admired the Braves from a young age and aspired after them. Only after he actually grasped that dream did he realize this.
“Are you scared to sleep?”
“Just a little,” Almaria said with a nervous smile. Willem could feel her hand shaking slightly. “I feel like I might not be able to wake up ever again.”
In the past few days, the rumors of the ashen dream had grown more widespread, little by little. The rumors had grown more frightening too. Apparently, those who repeatedly had the dream eventually became sucked into it, never to awake again.
“Well there’s no point in worrying about it so much that you can’t sleep and get yourself sick.”
“That’s true, but still, it’s easier said than done.”
“You’re thinking about it too much. Forget it and sleep.”
“Oookayy.” Almaria smiled. “Hey, father.”
“What is it?”
“Since you came home, everyday has been super fun.”
“Nephren’s cute too. She’s a good kid.”
“But things can’t stay like this forever, can they?”
… of course not. Willem and Nephren couldn’t stay in this world forever. They needed to escape before the Beasts appeared and slaughtered them. And, needless to say, when that time came, they would need to leave the residents of this dream behind. Almaria. Ted. Lucie. Falco. Nanette. Wendel. Marlies. Meanae. Dettloff. Horace. Close friends. Strangers. They would have to abandon everyone.
“We’re going to need to go somewhere far away again soon.” Willem tightened his grip on Almaria’s hand. “But we’ll come home again. I promise.” What a liar. “I’ll bring back some more comrades next time. I know a few that you’d get along with.” Another lie. “So don’t worry. I’ve never broken a promise, have I?”
Of course, this last one was the biggest, most blatant lie of them all. It almost made him want to laugh. He never came home after departing to eliminate the Visitors. The history of this world might have been rewritten, but Willem clearly remembered the reality: he never fulfilled that promise.
“… no you haven’t.” Almaria looked at Willem with a gentle smile, like a saint forgiving a sinner.
“So don’t worry about weird rumors and get to sleep.”
“Nn.” She nodded and closed her eyes.
Slowly, Willem let go of that warm hand.
“What is it?”
“See you tomorrow.”
“– Yeah. Good night.”
Willem left the room and shut the door behind him.
Surprisingly, a delicious smell wafted throughout the kitchen. A tasty looking soup simmered gently within a pot.
“We settled for something simple,” Nanette, standing on a stepping stool, said with a hint of dissatisfaction.
Well, it’s good that she’s honest with herself, Willem thought and gave her a pat on the head.
Nephren, who was skillfully cutting up a chunk of mutton beside Nanette, turned around. “How’s Almaria?”
“She doesn’t look too bad, but I made her sleep some more just in case.”
“Of course I am.”
“Even if this is just a dream?”
“Even if this is just a dream,” Willem answered without hesitation.
“I see.” Nephren turned back around towards the chunk of meat. “I think that’s for the best. It wouldn’t be fitting for you to search for a reason not to help her. But…”
“If I troubled you, then I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be silly.” With a slight wave of his hand, Willem left the kitchen.
“A lover’s quarrel?” he heard Nanette ask. Who taught you that word…
“When you finish, bring some to Aly. She’s probably hungry.”
“Oookay!” Nanette responded enthusiastically in her high pitched voice.
By the time the soup was ready, Almaria still didn’t wake up. She seemed to be sleeping peacefully, so they left her alone.
The next morning, at breakfast time, Almaria still didn’t wake up.
No matter how much they called to her.
Or shook her.
Or slapped her cheeks.
Or yelled her name.
She showed no signs of opening her eyes.