I clearly remember calling out his name. Everything after that is a blur, since I moved to protect him, receiving the monster’s flames on my back.
Dumbfounded and astonished, his magic swirled into a whirlpool around him, swallowing anything and everything. In the midst of that, I just repeated, 「It’s okay.」 It’s okay. It’s okay, it’s going to be okay.
I passed out after that; the next time I woke up, I was on my bed in my room. My father was there. My mother was there. My brother was there. My wet nurse was there. It seemed I’d been asleep for the same amount of time as I was during the epidemic when I was three — a week. My throbbing back was proof that monster wasn’t a dream.
My father let out a sigh in relief, my mother and wet nurse burst into tears, and my little brother clung to me, saying, 「Sis, sis!」 over and over. The first thing I said was, of course, about that boy.
All my family members told me not to worry about him, but that was ridiculous. It’s not like I was angry. It’s not like I wanted him to apologize. I was just worried about his well-being — that’s all. It was precisely because of that that you could say I had no choice but to worry too much.
My father realized I had no intention of giving up, and with his usual smile gone from his face, told me that he had been accepted into the Academy of Magic.
Academy of Magic. Like the name suggests, it’s a boarding school for studying magic. All those with a talent for magic gathered there. Since he’d gotten in, he had done nothing but stay holed up in his room at the Lancent Estate, not even eating anything. That’s what my father said.
I remember feeling irritated at that, thinking, what even was that? He was finally getting some meat on his bones, and now he decides to be foolish and end up returning back to his skinny state? No, wait, wasn’t it so cold of him to not even discuss a decision as important as entering in the Academy of Magic with me, his companion?
I immediately decided to make an attack visit to the Lancent Estate to deal with my irritation.
And well, of course, I was stopped. Even Uncle Lancent, made to visit to apologize, stopped me, but there was no way I could agree to that.
If I received scars from the flaming beast, scars that would remain engraved into my back even if I used healing magic, like mentioned earlier, how would I feel towards that boy? Anger, for example? But I wasn’t angry. I was irritated, yes, but that was at myself and not at him. No matter how nicely we’d been living, I meant to remember that he was just a responsibility I had to bear, we had nothing in common except our age. But this time, I was made to understand that although I truly 『meant』 to remember that, I didn’t.
I’m repeating myself, but the scars carved into my back aren’t just his fault, but mine too. But I could easily tell he would never accept that, instead endlessly blaming himself. Even though I didn’t want to make him feel like that by protecting him.
I didn’t have any particularly cool thoughts like ‘There’s no way I’m letting him be burdened with so much by himself!’ It’s best to let such troublesome things be done by some 『protagonist』 that actually chooses to go through all that trouble by himself.
What should I have said? There was no choice but to accept that I had been negligent at supervising him, and my father had pointed that out clearly to me already. Well, my father went even further and regretted being so careless with his magical books too.
Was it because of my sense of responsibility at being 「older」? Or was it for the friendship I’d cultivated until now? Or was there some other reason behind it I can’t think of? Why indeed did I push myself to do the impossible in my condition and head out towards the Lancent Estate? I still don’t know the answer to that. I don’t remember in detail, so maybe it wasn’t that important after all. I feel like the exceedingly simple reason that I just couldn’t leave him alone is the closest to getting it right.
Anyway, my physical condition calmed down fast, so I headed towards the Lancent Estate, standing alone in front of the door behind which he had holed himself up.
I didn’t want to bother anyone, so I pushed myself to my limits, fighting the battle alone.
My parents who I’d left home along with my wet nurse all kept telling me not to overwork myself, and Uncle Lancent who took me there said the same, but that was ridiculous when just standing was already pushing my limits then.
「How do you do, Sir Agedilus? I, Filmina Veer Adina, have hurried out of my sickbed just to visit you.」
I’ll accept that I made a disagreeable-sounding greeting. But if I hadn’t used those forced, unnatural phrases, I might have been unable to stay conscious. I didn’t have any energy left, so I hope you’ll overlook that.
There was no response from the room. Something fell to the floor with a thud inside, in place of a response. I couldn’t see for sure, but I felt like he was holding his breath and peeking outside.
「……Edi. Are you able to hear me? Please do open the door.」
Three knocks. There was no response to my second call either. There wasn’t even the slightest response if I pulled or pushed at the door.
So was this the Gate of the Celestial Rock Cave? If so, was he the goddess Amaterasu? Which is to say, was my duty to dance outside naked then? It was a joke I couldn’t even laugh at.
No matter how many painkillers I smeared on my back, no matter how much medicine I gulped down, and no matter how much tranquilizing healing magic I had done on me by Uncle Lancent, the burns on my back wouldn’t stop paining with just that. The doctor clearly said that the pain would continue for now.
And yes, it was painful. It hurt it hurt it hurt it hurt it hurt, it hurt enough to make me sweat, it hurt so much I couldn’t bear it.
The pain, coupled with no response from him, set alight my fighting spirit.
「I am kindly telling you to just open the door! ~~~Ouch!」
The moment I struck my hand against the door with a thud, everything turned pure white in front of me. Sparks flew in front of my eyes, and I felt like I could hear the sound of my back burning. I instinctively ended up sitting down.
Ah, yes, even looking back on it, it really did hurt. My hand hurt from being banged on the door too, and my back hurt even more. I felt my face twist from the pain as if it was someone else’s face. Ouch, ouch, ouch. That was all that went through my head.
A small white hand was held out to me then.
It was his hand, he who was supposed to have been in the room. Even through my warped vision, blurred with the pain, he looked beautiful as always.
How little had he been sleeping? There were eyebags under his eyes that didn’t suit his young yet beautiful features at all. He looked to be in much more pain than I was, his face looking heartbreaking and about to cry.
With a desperate face, he carried me as my body felt close to crumbling, even though he was smaller than me.
「Filmina, are you okay?!?!」
「……I’ve caught you.」
I grabbed his thin finger and smiled at him, and he looked even closer to tears. His sunrise-colored eyes trembled. That boy, who usually never showed any expression besides being unmoved, was now laid bare. Even though there was no way I wanted to see him make that face.
「It’s been a while, hasn’t it?」
I didn’t want him to apologize, that was no joke. After all, I was the one who had to apologize, right?
「I’m sorry, Edi. Would you still play with me again, I wonder?」
His voice trembled. Why was he asking that? His eyes asked the question even more than his voice. I don’t know what 「why」 that 「why」 was about, but I’d already decided my response.
「Why, it doesn’t matter. I like you.」
If I hadn’t said that, there’s no way things would have led to this. There’s no way we would have spent two years together.
Two years. It was two years. That wasn’t a particularly long time, but on the other hand, it wasn’t short either. In that two years, I’d come to realize that boy was not an angel or a fairy in personality like his looks suggested.
At the beginning of course, his emotions were undeveloped or something; with his blank face, I couldn’t tell at all what he was thinking.
But slowly, very slowly but surely, his expressions began to change. Then, he started revealing his smile sometimes.
It was a smile as slight as the morning dew that falls from green leaves, but it was still a smile. He had begun to smile in front of me. Yes, for example if I made a mistake while reading a magical book. Or if I got the hem of my dress stuck somewhere and tripped.
——Aah, he wasn’t cute. In fact, looking back on it, he wasn’t cute at all.
Damn it, just what is funny about people making mistakes? I don’t know if it’s because of him not being brought up properly, or if it’s just the way he is naturally, but the truth is his personality was not cute in the slightest.
Now that I think about it, that’s right. Since then there were only snapshots of the man he was. There was nothing childlike about him, he was growing up.
…….No, he wasn’t 『growing』 up. He was already a grown up. At just the age of 9, he had definitely always been more grown up than me.
He would never say anything that would reveal his real motives to anyone, let alone complain or be selfish like a child. He was that kind of child. And even that child was so… So desperate now. That was the biggest reason I said that.
「Filmina, is this okay with you?」
「It’s okay. Hey, Edi, would you play with me again?」
I smiled. With all my stubbornness and my willpower, I smiled. Smiling while bearing that much pain is unbecoming, but I still smiled.
And then as I lost consciousness, the last thing I saw was his face, definitely about to cry, lips forming the words 「Of course.」
I passed out at the Lancent Estate, and woke up once again on my bed in my room in the Adina Estate.
My parents and wet nurse scolded me a lot, saying they’d told me not to overwork myself. Even my usually quiet mother narrowed her droopy eyes, saying, 「Shall I tie you to this bed?」 like a queen in some movie.
A week passed in bed like that, and I was finally allowed to get out of bed. It was the day that boy was going to the Academy of Magic.
In the end, him going to the Academy of Magic was an already settled decision that was going to be made whether he discussed it with me or not. He just got in a little earlier than expected, that’s all. So my attack at the Lancent Estate was just jumping to conclusions, but in any case, I wanted to make it all alright in the end. Because the Gate of the Celestial Rock Cave had opened, and out came not the sun goddess but a night fairy.
I went to the Lancent Estate with my parents and brother to see him off. He looked right at me with his sunset-colored eyes and said, 「Filmina.」
「What is it?」
「Would you wait for me?」
「Yes, of course.」
At that time, I believed he would come back to the Lancent Estate on vacation. So he would only be gone for some months — a long time for a 9-year-old, but I was around 40 on the inside. It wasn’t a long time so it wasn’t like I’d forget him, and I nodded.
Uncle Lancent looked happy, nodding as he stood beside him. My father looked like the world was about to end, and my mother consoled him, and my brother made sleeping noises holding onto my mother’s arm.
And then he left for the Academy of Magic. I was told he got the highest marks and was the youngest student there.
Well then, you must have understood by now. I myself didn’t realize it, but at that time, I had just gotten engaged to that boy — that man.
I had absolutely no intention of that when I nodded. There was no way I would have said that line to him, a 9-year-old, with that intention. But I should have realized the double-meaning even before having to think about it. If I’d understood what he meant then, I would never have nodded. I was mistaken here once again.
In noble society, it’s not unusual for children younger than 10 to be engaged. Political marriages for the sake of convenience are the norm. And even before I was 9, I understood that our Adina family, being special in holding the position of Governor of Magical Books, decided on partners early.
To put it clearly, the Adina family had a superior rank. An aristocratic family that wasn’t too showy, didn’t do any reckless things to put itself in ruin, didn’t directly influence politics but instead promised a steady position.
I was the firstborn daughter of that family. Of course, a very valuable item. That was why the children of noble families would visit, the boys randomly clinging to me and the girls to my brother.
But now, it was judged that the burn marks on my back would never be improved by medical technology or healing magic — and in fact, I still have them. In this country where magic is greatly used and is made a part of real life, this country that considers spirits very important, receiving burns from a spirit is generally frowned upon. It might have been okay if it was a low-ranking spirit that left a wound that could be healed, but it was all the more worse for me who had wounds from a grand spirit with its own name. There was no one whimsical enough to like me by choice and want to take me as their bride.
My popular life ended there, full stop. Instead of that, that boy with beauty like a night fairy became my fiance.
Although I bore scars on my back that would never go away, I had at the same time placed a heavy cross of responsibility on that boy’s back too.
- TL Note: The Gate of the Celestial Rock Cave is a myth in Japanese folklore. The sun goddess Amaterasu was driven into a cave, spreading darkness over the land. The other gods had a party outside to lure her out; one of the goddesses danced naked, eliciting laughter from the other gods, which made Amaterasu finally come out to see what was happening. ↩