The Man Named Willem
The scarlet setting sun shining through the lace curtains lightly illuminated the cramped room. Inside was only a young couple.
“Ah… ah…” On top of the disarrayed sheets, a young Turturel woman breathed rapidly. “That felt… really good…” Lightly patting her flushed cheeks, she sat up and readjusted her disheveled clothes. “Wherever your fingers touch heats up like a fire’s lit. It’s like I lose control of my body.”
“Good to hear.” Sitting on the edge of that bed, Willem looked away in the opposite direction.
He still couldn’t remember much about himself, but, at the very least, it was clear that he was a young, healthy man. As for the Turturel, excluding the powerful light gray wings on her back, her outward appearance closely resembled that of a markless. Her skin was soft, warm, and smooth to the touch, and when she let out weird noises, well, he couldn’t stop his thoughts from going off into weird directions.
“Your muscles were tightened up in strange ways in a few places, so I loosened them all.” He took a deep breath, desperately trying to calm his excited heart to hide his body’s response. “If you don’t put excess strain on your body for a bit, the inflammation won’t get worse. You should take a hot bath and sleep early today.”
“What’s wrong? You seem so distant now that it’s over.”
‘Liar. Your ears are bright red.”
“If you’ve noticed then don’t say anything!” Willem shot back, still facing away. In the heat of the moment, the patch covering his right eye shifted slightly out of position. He fixed it in a hurry. Still not used to wearing it, the feeling of the patch being there still hadn’t fully sunken into his body.
“Ah, sorry. I feel like I might’ve let out those kinds of noises while you were doing your thing. Was it too stimulating?”
“No. I’m not a kid. I don’t react to everything like that.”
“Adults react to stuff like that, not kids, you know?”
“I don’t need you correcting me!” he grumbled again, still facing away.
“Haha, how cute,” the woman said with a childlike laugh. “Willem, was it? You seem to be acting all grown up and all, but you’re pretty young, right? How old are you?”
“I don’t remember.” He told the truth.
“You just started working at Astaltus’ inn recently, right? What were you doing before? Studying medicine in Collinadiluche or something?”
“Like I said, I don’t remember.” Again, the truth.
According to what Willem had heard, Collinadiluche was a large city a little ways away which boasted a large population and the longest history on Regul Aire. Of course, many well known medical academies were located there. Naturally, there were probably many who studied medicine in those schools. However, he somehow got the feeling that he wasn’t one of them. Whatever he studied, it most likely wasn’t medicine or anything like that. He didn’t study pleasant massage theory, but something else, something more covered in blood and dirt. He couldn’t explain the feeling very well.
“Ahh, my body’s so light! I think I’ll be able to fly around tomorrow!” The woman stood up and stretched.
“You were pretty stiff. Is your work that exhausting?”
“I deliver for the post office. Some days I carry pretty heavy things. Really unfortunate that I have to gain this muscle…” she said as she rotated her shoulder around.
“Don’t strain yourself. What I did is no more than emergency treatment. One wrong move and you could end up falling again tomorrow.”
“That wouldn’t be nice… wait, you’re going home already?”
“Why such a hurry? How about a cup of tea at least.”
“No thanks. Someone’s waiting for me.”
“… ah, the little kid from earlier?” the Turturel woman giggled. “I’m disappointed that I failed to entice you, but I guess we can’t leave that girl all alone. How unfortunate.”
“Glad to see you understand. Well then, I’m off.”
“Okaay. Say hi to Astaltus and your little companion for me.”
Who am I? The young man thought. His name was Willem, apparently. He only knew because others told him. He couldn’t actually remember his name, or anything else about himself.
Every time he tried to remember his past, searing pain tore through his head. Whenever he tried to endure that pain, for some reason, Elq, another survivor of the same airship crash, seemed to get pain of her own. As a result, he didn’t want to test that any further.
What’s gone is gone. I need to focus on what’s in front of me, not get lost in the past and lose sight of the present. With that, the young man set out to live a new life.
Stars filled the cloudless sky to the brim, looking as if they would spill down at any moment. The clear, chilly air felt refreshing on the young man’s skin, heated from a day’s hard work.
“Ah… I’m exhausted.”
He was an employee at an inn, so, of course, his traveling massage gigs weren’t exactly part of his work. Despite his head not being able to recall a thing, his fingers seemed to remember a lot. At first, it just started as an additional service to the inn’s regular customers, but, somehow, word started to go around, and now people from all over were calling for him directly.
Almost all of his customers were middle aged beast men. Because of their large amount of innate muscle, decay from age or lack of exercise affected them particularly hard. They also tended to think of themselves as still young, which led them to overestimate the amount of strain their muscles could handle. However, once in a while, like today, he got calls from young women.
“… Willem, too promiscuous.” And every such occasion put Elq into a grumpy mood on the way home. “You get so weak against any slightly pretty adult.”
“No I don’t,” he groaned back.
“Am not. I can’t even cheat because I’m not in a relationship… oh, wait.”
Thinking about it, he realized that, with his memories gone, he had no idea about his past self’s relationships with women. It was certainly possible that he had a girlfriend, or even a wife.
… nah. He quickly dismissed the idea. He just couldn’t imagine himself whispering words of love to a girl, so it was hard to think that he’d ever enter a special relationship with one. Surely, he had been single and didn’t deserve any accusations of cheating.
Elq tripped on a stone, probably as a result of her looking up at the stars while walking down a dark road at night. Just as she was about to fall forward, he grabbed her by the back of her neck.
“Be careful. The road here is a bit bumpy.”
“Should we hold hands?”
“Eh? Uh… but…”
She seemed hesitant, but, not minding, he grabbed her hand anyway. Cold. Then, he noticed: their heights were too far apart to walk like this.
“L-Let go, it’s embarrassing,” Elq protested.
“Why’d you turn into a teenage girl all of a sudden.”
“I told you, I’m not a kidafgh!?”
They couldn’t walk while holding their hands, but Elq couldn’t walk safely by herself. It was a tricky problem indeed, but a solution existed. He lifted up the girl’s small body entirely off the ground and placed her on his shoulders. A piggyback ride.
“Be careful, it’ll be more than just painful if you fall.”
“Wow, I’m so high up! I can see so much!” She didn’t seem to be listening. “The stars! It’s like I can reach them!”
Elq stretched out her hand to the sky with all her might. Of course, there was no way she would ever reach the stars. But still, she got the feeling that she could. So she kept stretching, and stretching. He understood that feeling very well. He didn’t know why, but he did.
“Hold onto something, okay? Hair or whatever, doesn’t matter.”
Despite receiving perhaps the most childlike treatment possible, Elq didn’t seem to complain.
“Hey, Elq. You knew me before I lost my memory, right?”
He felt the presence on his shoulders shake. “… I don’t know.”
“Really? But…” She seemed rather knowledgeable about Willem. He first heard the name ‘Willem’ when she called him by it. Also… “You seem to be really comfortable around me, if we were total strangers before. Well, that’s been a big help, but…”
“That’s, um… just how things turned out, yeah.” Elq’s answer seemed rather uncertain. It was obvious that she was hiding something. Well, Willem figured he didn’t need to pursue. “Carma went off somewhere, and, well, I’m an adult, but it’s my first time living my own life, so I didn’t want to be alone.”
“She took care of me ever since I was born. Along with Ebo and Jay.”
A bunch of names came out of her mouth. Willem figured they were her family’s servants or something. In that case, she must have been from a fairly prominent family. Is it okay for her to be leisurely spending her days out with me? I wonder if her household is in a big panic right now…
“Is it okay for you to not go back home?”
“Yeah. I don’t have one anymore,” Elq responded casually. “If I wait, I’m sure Carma will eventually find me. When that happens, we’ll look for Ebo together.”
“Hm.” Looking around for her scattered old servants, huh? I don’t really get it, but I hope it goes well.
“So that’s why being with you right now is just how things turned out. I’m sure it’ll end soon. It’s just a… c-casual relationship?”
Elq seemed to be using words without really knowing their meaning. “Using more adult words I see.”
“I know, right?” Willem heard a proud hmph from above. “– Also, just a little addition to our conversation from before.”
“Kutori is me. But I am not Kutori.”
An unfamiliar name. A name he didn’t remember. A name that tugged at his heartstrings.
“So that’s why I’m not going to fall for you. I feel like that would be really unfair — Willem?” Noticing his odd behavior, Elq grabbed his hair. “What’s wrong? Not feeling well?”
“… I’m fine,” he responded, forcing the surging impulse to puke back down inside him. “It’s nothing. Just lost balance a little. Guess I haven’t been exercising enough.”
“Really.” His body seemed to be used to acting strong in front of children. Apparently, it was good at telling lies as well. Still suppressing a headache and nausea, Willem managed a natural smile. “Alright, let’s run the rest of the way home. Running is the best for fixing a lack of exercise.”
“Eh? W-Wait, then I’ll get off.”
“I won’t let you down! Grab on so you don’t fall off!”
“Eh? Eh, eh, eh?”
Willem ignored the voices of confusion for the time being, then, as he promised, broke out running down the night road.
“Ah, ah, ahhh!!”
As expected, on top of his shoulders, Elq violently rocked about. Her small hands held on to Willem’s black hair for dear life. It hurt just a little. But, he welcomed that kind of pain. It warmed his heart, unlike some random headache.
“No talking, you’ll bite your tongue–”
“L-Let me down! Aaaahhh!”
Guess it’s no use. “… hey, Elq.”
“I love you.”
“…….” A long silence. “You’re treating me like a child again,” Elq complained.
“Haha, how’d you know.”
He felt a strong embrace around the back of his head.
“There’s no way you would say that seriously. I know because Kutori, and maybe Leila too, suffered from that.”
A sharp pain struck his head again. And this time, his chest too, for some reason.
Elq Harksten was dead, apparently. She was originally an undying being, but a label saying ‘this is a corpse’ had been pasted onto her. Both the world and the Visitor’s body itself believed the label. The world treated her as a corpse, and her body acted as if it were one. And if everyone thinks something is a corpse… then it’s a corpse. In that way, the label overwrote reality.
However, just a few days earlier, Nils made a small wound in that label, causing it to lose a small amount of persuasiveness. Then, that in turn caused the corpse to become not a corpse just a little. Elq transformed from a complete corpse to a confusing thing with just a tiny bit of undying flesh mixed in.
Willem didn’t really understand the logic, and he probably didn’t need to either. What’s important was that the girl’s current body was unmistakably almost a corpse. On top of that, though, even if it was just a tiny bit, she was living. She was enjoying each day to its fullest, acting all grown up yet still behaving like a child at the same time.
And lastly, unlike him, who had lost his past, she had somewhere to go. She had someone to meet. Things she needed to do. Yet she was hiding all those things and staying at the inn with him. He knew the reason: she was worried that she couldn’t leave him alone in his current state.
Inside the pot, boar meat boiled noisily. Enticed by the delicious smell, his hands threatened to lash out on their own, but a look from Astaltus stopped them. Willem knew very well that if one wants to eat the most delicious meat, one must not go against a Troll’s directions. As always, though, he had no idea why he knew that very well. My past sure is mysterious, he thought casually.
Astaltus, the owner of the inn, was a Troll. A species of Ogre, they had the disturbing custom of entertaining guests only to eat them afterwards. However, with the killing of intelligent life forms banned by the law, Astaltus couldn’t carry on that custom. Trying to at least fulfill the instinct to entertain guests, he opened up his inn… apparently.
“There are many Trolls who choose this lifestyle. We do have our own villages, but only about half of us live in those. The rest are in various places living a life similar to mine,” Astaltus explained as he stared at the meat in the pot with a rather gentle gaze. “I have a daughter, but she moved out to some island to take care of small children. I know it might not mean much coming from her father, but she really is a nice girl, so I think the job is perfect for her.”
“I see…” Willem replied, then a sudden thought hit him. “So if your daughter’s all grown up… by the way, how old are you?”
“I passed fifty just a little while ago.”
“… you don’t look that age,” Willem muttered, then took another look at Astaltus’ face.
His facial features alone didn’t reveal his age. Although he had plenty of white hair and wrinkles on his cheeks, Willem didn’t get an aged impression at all. That being said, he didn’t exactly look young either. No matter what age he said, it probably wouldn’t have sounded right to Willem at first.
“That’s just how Trolls are. It’s not like we don’t age, but it’s not very noticeable. Ah, looks like the meat’s ready.”
“I’m jealous,” Willem replied casually as he took meat out of the pot and stuffed his face. “… delicious.”
“Hehe, right?” Astaltus smiled happily.
Meanwhile, Elq seemed to be having some trouble, so Willem handed her water. “Don’t force it if you can’t handle hot food.”
“I thought it would be fine,” Elq pouted with tears in her eyes.
Willem understood that she was trying to grow up, but clearly she wasn’t being honest with herself at all.
“By the way, have you gotten used to living here?” Astaltus asked suddenly. “Collinadiluche’s close by, and we’re next to the highway. People of all races are coming and going. Well, even with you guys being markless, I don’t believe that should cause too much trouble.”
“Oh no, no trouble at all,” Willem answered. “I’m thankful for what you’ve done. It’s too comfortable, I feel like I’ve been here all along.”
“Well that’s good to hear. At first it was just supposed to be until Nils gets back, but, if you’d like, you can stay after that too.”
“… ah, how do I put this…”
“What is it?”
“In stories with an amnesiac, isn’t it usually a young woman living by herself who says that line?”
“Haha, well then I can ask, why aren’t you, who wandered into the home of a guy living by himself, a young lady?”
I see. That’s true, we both broke the trope.
“I feel like I’m being ignored,” a girl, much too young to count as a young woman, complained.
“Well, putting fiction aside, I guess I’ll take you up on your kind offer for a bit,” Willem said as he put part of a carrot on Elq’s plate. She made a face. “Don’t be picky with your food. You won’t be able to grow.”
After he finished talking, he remembered that she was somehow (he didn’t understand the reasoning) supposed to pretty much be a corpse. In that case, no matter what or how much she ate, a future of growth did not await her. In the first place, why was she even eating?
With tears in her eyes, Elq threw the lump of carrot into her mouth. After a bit of chewing, she swallowed it down. Apparently something must have gotten stuck in her throat, because she immediately reached for the water and gulped it down, then pounded her chest. After a short pause, she smiled proudly. Seeing the lack of a response, she moved closer to Willem’s face, then smiled proudly again.
“Ah, good girl good girl.” He threw some praise her way.
“Yup!” she said enthusiastically.
And she told me to not treat her like a kid…
Willem closed his eyes and wished that these peaceful days, these days so gentle that they felt almost artificial, would continue for at least a little longer.