『I said not at all』
With that response, Ten finally realised that Makoto was acting strangely.
Her words alone rejected Ten’s apology, but her tone was too calm.
Ten looked up nervously. And there, she saw a soft expression with a gentle smile, delicately framed with snow-white hair.
『You’re, you’re not mad at me?』
『Of course I am. Did you really think I would be happy if you sacrificed yourself?』
Ten straightened her posture as Makoto’s vivid red eyes under her crisp white eyelashes sharpened.
『You know that the reason why I pray for the happiness of those who I care is that I despise the idea of seeing them leave my side. So, Ten please, do me a favour and realise that you are one of the people who I truly care.』
Ten knew very well that the reason behind Makoto’s composure is because she did not care about anything except for very few things which she held dear to her heart. And she was disgusted at the idea of any harm done to those few things.
In fact, the moment Makoto became the sacrificial maiden, she already had a plan of letting the few people who she cared, Senjirou and Mikoto to travel over to distant lands.
She saw that if Mikoto studied overseas, there definitely would be an increase in oversea stay to maintain an equal exchange.
She saw that the moment she is required to give up her body as the sacrificial maiden, that would be an indication that Towa was in great danger.
That idea of protecting their loved ones regardless of its consequences was something which Ten understood on a personal level.
So, she knew why Makoto has helped her through this incident.
Ten has adored Makoto as just as much Makoto has adored her. From Ten’s perspective, Makoto was the most precious thing to her. More than her own health.
It wasn’t that hard for her to imagine what Makoto really meant. After all, Ten herself has dragged on the consequence of her action for over five thousand years.
Ten knew that if she disappeared, Makoto will never let that day go for the rest of her life.
The calm and guiltless tone of Makoto’s voice made Ten weirdly better about what was about to come.
『That would be enough lecturing for today. Now, shall we be on our way?』
Makoto smiled than picked up her staff which was laying close by and walked out of the room.
Ten was surprised by Makoto’s unusually bold behaviour but followed her out of the room anyway.
『Where, where are you going? You need to rest!』
『I will be just fine.』
『You seem to be in a good mood?』
『Oh, my apologies』
Makoto covered her mouth with her hand in an attempt to hide her smile. But the attempt was unsuccessful and like that, the two continued to walk through the shrine.
On their way, the two came across a couple of people who were shocked to see Makoto walking around when she was supposed to be resting. However, Makoto did not care a single bit.
Not being able to get any clear answer, the two walked out of the shrine, travelled past the forest of Chinju, and they finally came to a stop at the shrine where the gluttonous has been sealed. [1. TL Note: “Chinju” is “a shrine which is believed to possess the god which protects the surrounding area”.]
Unlike the separate shrine over the shrine gate, this one had a Sazare Stone. [1. TL Note: “Sazare Stone” is “A large stone which is believed to have manifested a god”.]
Makoto, who has come to a stop in front of the Sazare Stone finally looked over to Ten.
『You have run out of spiritual power because you do not have a physical body. So, all we need is a competent vessel.』
『You’re not wrong but using「Drowsy Bell」across different universe is forbidden. So, without any powers, the bell with just absorb me.』
「Drowsy Bell」which Ten has used to travel out of Towa is a magical item which was invented to summon high-level spirits and magical beings.
Once something enters the bell, it will not take any damage from the outside force unless something pulls it out of the bell. Drowsy Bell is an indestructible crib.
Due to its ability, once it’s away from the separate shrine, it becomes harder for others to detect Ten’s identity. That is how she was able to travel outside of Towa when she was close to vanishing.
But that was when she still possessed some level of energy. Not only that, the bell wouldn’t have been the easiest thing to control even if she had all of her powers.
The bell would be impossible to use now that she has lost all of her powers.
Ten was aware of this. That there was no way for her to stay in this universe any longer.
She was about to tell this to Makoto. But Makoto didn’t give her the chance.
『There is a way. Right here.』
『What are you…』
Makoto lifted up her staff with an unfading smile and struck at the Sazare Stone with it.
To Makoto’s uncharacteristically violent behaviour, Ten was shocked to the point where she was rooted on the spot. But then, she realised that Makoto’s spirit power started to grow rapidly.
『I beg for an apology, as the protector of Towa, I ask for this thin core of the storm which draws up a spiral in the air. I, Amagi Makoto, the sacrificial maiden who has given up its own body, beg for an apology for this sin which I am about to commence. For this once, I ask you to appear in front of me.』
The words which the clear, silvery voice has sentenced out was the celebratory phrases for summoning gods.
Makoto’s spirit power which was known to be the strongest in this generation started to twist up. Then, it all gathered at the cap of the staff and the Sazare stone which was twice as big as Makoto cracked into pieces along with a loud sound.
What poured out from the stone was Ten’s original power.
However, it was now in a form of pure energy and was completely cut off from her consciousness.
When it came to the level of power, Ten was no different from an ordinary person with her current state. The dense energy which has just been released would easily knock her out.
On top of that, the god Summoning ritual usually causes some level of harm to the individual who has conducted the ritual.
The ritual would be life-risking for Makoto who has gone through everything which has happened yesterday.
『Makoto, stop! What are you…』
However, it was already too late. The violent swirl without any will rushed towards Makoto.
However, she stood on the spot indifferently and swung around her staff again.
『Now, we welcome you!』
Suddenly, the forest which has been shaded by the trees were lit up by the beam of light.
The dense energy became a violent wave and the surrounding trees started to shake hysterically.
Once the light has filled up the surrounding area, it faded away and the forest went back to its usual dimly lit woodland. When Ten opened up her eyes, she saw Makoto holding a glowing orb in her hands.
Her staff was thrown onto the ground carelessly.
Makoto kept her composure in her expression. But she was drenched in her own sweat her breathing was very shallow. Then, she turned around and moved her hand towards Ten.
『The energy which was in the stone in this isolated shrine must be a fragment of your original energy. That’s why I think this would be the perfect vessel.』
The orb which Makoto has retrieved was indeed a fragment of who Ten used to be. The orb was called the Dragon’s Marvel.
Although Ten has already told Makoto that the isolated shrine has already been blessed, she did not expect Makoto to break the Sazare Stone.
Either way, what Makoto said was true.
Now that there is no need to maintain the shield, retrieving dragon soul, which was mixed into the stone shouldn’t have caused any problems. On top of that, the object itself would satisfy the requirement to be her vessel.
Now that there wasn’t any need for the shield, there wouldn’t be any problem even if someone tried to retrieve it.
The marvel, which was about the size of a thumb flaring in a dark green colour from the reflection of the sunlight. And it was calmly sitting in Makoto’s slender hand.
If Ten uses this as the vessel, then she would be able to stay in this universe.
Ten looked at the orb that resonated with her nostalgically. However, she took one step backwards.
『Do you not like my plan?』
A shiver ran through Ten’s body as she was surprised to her Makoto question in her usual calm tone.
『The reason why you turn a blind eye to these simple solutions is that you are afraid of living any longer isn’t it?』
Ten froze on the spot. What Makoto said was true.
The first thing which was on Ten’s mind when everything was sorted and she knew that she was close to vanishing was a relief. Relief that everything will finally come to an end.
Everyone she has ever cared about has left her. They all died away, leaving her behind.
The parting with her loved ones was inevitable. And five thousand years of it was painful but Ten thought it was well deserved. Even if she didn’t, she wouldn’t have been able to escape her fate anyway.
The dragon desperately wanted to forget what it means to feel, even if it meant erasing her memories. But a part of her never wanted to forget what emotions are.
After all, she had made so many memories with the people who she has met over that five thousand years.
But every time she realised that her presence didn’t make that much difference to the world, that was it.
The thoughts which she had bottled up suddenly started to pour out.
『I’m sick of it… saying goodbye to the people I care… I just can’t take it anymore…』
The partings seemed to happen in such a meaningless fashion for Ten. Watching them return to their spirit form with a smile.
She was just tired of knowing that even if she came across their spirits in the future, they would not be the same.
So, the most she could do was to pray that their soul will end up in a better place.
For the first time in a very long time, she has let out a silent cry of regret, not a single tear rolling out from her eyes.
The up-welling emotions only burnt her body.
She covered her face, not knowing where to put this overwhelming feeling.
But then, Makoto took Ten’ hand.
『I shall be your at your side, until our death.』
Shooting up her head, Ten saw Makoto’s calm face.
Makoto stated casually.
『The day I die, no matter what others say, I shall break this dragon’s marvel. And the day you vanish from this world, I shall vanish with you.』
That’s wrong, thought Ten.
She wanted Makoto to live. After all, Makoto was a mortal being.
『Are you… sure?』
Ten couldn’t resist but to ask her that question.
Ten’s heart filled with joy as she heard Makoto’ words. She was rejoiced to know that Makoto wanted to save her even when Ten herself wanted to end everything. Those words brought comfort to her.
Makoto who was dressed in all white and red smiled as if to cling onto Ten.
『Of course, I shall promise you. After all, I am the sacrificial maiden. My purpose will not change even if my title comes to an end.』
Makoto’s timid yet reassuring nod gave Ten a tremendous amount of delight and comfort.
Makoto gently turned her eyes towards the hand which she firmly held onto Ten’s.
『On top of that, I doubt that you will go back to your original self even if you take over this marvel.』
『You’re right, majority of its power would have been consumed by the stone. The most I would be able to regain from the marvel would only be a fraction of what the power used to be.』
The marvel would not make Ten immortal. In fact, the most it would be able to do is extend Ten’s stay in this universe.
However, the smile on Makoto’s face did not change.
『Yes, in other word, you too will become a mortal being. I mean, how bad could it possibly be? This would be your last cycle.』
When Ten looked up to see Makoto, she thought that she saw a glimpse of something.
Well, at least I won’t have to say far well to her, thought Ten.
The moment she felt that way, she knew that she has failed her role as a dragon completely.
It was strange for her that such a small thing could clear her mind which she has been clouding it with all the things that have happened in the past.
『… Yeah, you’re right. You’re absolutely right.』
Ten, who has surrendered to a girl who has only lived for about twenty years tightened her grip on Makoto’s hand. She accepted the marvel which rolled into her hands and pressed it against her heart.
The reason why the marvel didn’t take over Ten’s mind is that she had no will of living any longer.
The Dragon’s Marvel melted into Ten’s body very smoothly.
Suddenly, the spirit power rushed through Ten’s body to the fingertips and she felt the weight come back to all four of her limbs.
However, the weight felt a little too heavy for Ten. Nervously, she opened her eyes. Surprisingly, the first thing that came into her view was Makoto’s vivid red sleeves.
Looking up, Ten saw Makoto towering over her, looking down at Ten with confused eyes.
『My, how adorable!』
Makoto’s face lit up as Ten blinked a couple of times. Then, she realised that she has grown shorter.
『Oops, I knew I was going to be the biggest size that the Dragon’s Marvel could make me. But I didn’t think I would shrink this much.』
Looking at her limbs, she guessed that her physical appearance would be of a child around 4 or 5 years old.
She didn’t have to worry about vanishing for a while but shrinking this much will bring some inconvenience.
She will grow back to her original size if she collects the rest of her fragments. However, some isolated shrines that still have the Gluttonous clinging onto them. So, she’s most likely going to spend some time in this small figure.
『I assume that you will grow back to your original size once we collect the rest of your fragments. We could call in the other shrine maidens for help. However, I do wish to adore this lovable appearance just a little longer.』
『I don’t really care to be honest. I look like this at the moment but if I gain more power, I should be able to mould my appearance.』
『Then, we hall start collecting the fragments right away.』
Ten forgot about all of her worries as she saw Makoto talk about the future plans excitedly. Suddenly, there was a sound of excited chatter marching towards them from the outskirt of the forest.
Neither of them was surprised by this. After all, the seal was suddenly broken and the large beam of light which was emitted after breaking the stone would have reached over to the shrine. They were expecting at least a few people to come over to see what was happening.
Makoto picked up her staff and looked over to Ten seriously.
『Ten, we must apologise to Lava-sama and the others once we get back. We must negotiate with them properly.』
『Yeah, you’re right.』
Even though Ten has extended her lifespan in this universe, she has lost the majority of her powers. So, she wouldn’t be able to help those girls’ whose fate was about to shift drastically.
Ten didn’t want to make Makoto apologise with her. So, she was thinking about apologising to them on her own. It was then, Makoto suddenly spoke.
『Oh, and also, there will be another punishment with Sawa-sama about your independent action.』
『What do you mean why? Were you not aware of what you were saying before? That was such unacceptable behaviour.』
『A, actually, it might be better if I just let myself vanish…』
『Nothing, I shall receive the rightful punishment!』
Makoto gave a satisfying smile and Ten dropped her shoulders in despair as she imagined herself getting lectured by all the shrine maidens.
Ten unenthusiastically made up her mind, knowing that there was no escaping from this. But then, something crossed her vision.
It was Makoto, who has crouched down and was now looking directly into Ten’s eyes.
『One more thing, it seems that there has been a misunderstanding so please allow me to clarify the matter.』
『Wha, what… !?』
Ten’s expression darkened as she imagined all the punishment she will be getting. Then suddenly, soft white hair wrapped around her.
The warm and soft sensation brushed against Ten’s cheeks.
『I have learnt this from Nectar-sama and Lava-sama but in nations over the sea, this is how they express their affection to one another.』
『Wait, what, huh?』
『Your existence means a lot to me. That’s what I’m trying to tell you.』
Ten thought Makoto misunderstood something she has said since she can be very naïve. However, that changed when Ten heard Makoto’s words.
In Towa, people rarely make any physical contact even if they were close.
Hand-holding would give other people a shock and kissing was something which they considered doing with someone very special.
Ten herself has experienced many forms of physical affection. However, she knew very well that this was the first time for Makoto.
Ten covered her cheeks with her small hands. She couldn’t do anything but to look up at Makoto who have gotten up as suddenly as she has leaned in.
『I have never addressed this to you since you have always prioritised the safety of Towa over everything else. And even if you didn’t, it would have only brought more burden to you. But from now on, please prepare yourself.』
Ten has received a countless number of affections before. However, looking up at Makoto’s bashful expression, she could not help it but to charmed by it.
This was when she realised why Makoto has been very joyful. It was because Ten was finally freed from Towa and could walk alongside her.
But most of all, she could finally confess her true feelings towards Ten.
Makoto must have found her bold action more embarrassing then she has expected it to be. She stood up and swiftly walked over to the crowd which was trooping towards them.
Ten looked at Makoto’s pure white tail sway side-to-side, she knelt down on the spot. She could not process the amount of surprise which she has felt in a short time.
Even though they shared one consciousness, Ten has never taken a hint.
One thing which she was certain is that their feelings were mutual.
Not that long ago, Ten only saw Makoto as an adorable child.
『Urghhh… I will never understand human beings!!』
Ten gave up. Her cheeks were burning and her heart was beating fast.
She screamed out her mixed feelings that was bottled up for over five thousand years.