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“Goddammit, that geezer again and again says things that piss me off to no end!” Shyemul vented her frustration at Solon, obviously very upset about the earlier conversation, while following behind Souma.
“Now, now, calm down a bit, will you? Isn’t this the usual with him anyway?” Souma soothed her, but it only caused the brunt of her anger to be turned at him instead.
“Soma! You’re being taken lightly because of that soft-hearted attitude of yours!!” Shyemul roared at him, suddenly baring her fangs and sending her saliva flying all over.
In response, Souma reflexively cradled his head while covering his ears.
“B-But, people talking back to me like that are important!”
Not only this time, but even previously Solon had criticized Souma about everything he did, and at times he even harshly insulted Souma. People such as Shyemul had snapped at that each time it occurred, but Souma, the person affected, didn’t particularly care about being taken lightly by others since he had low self-esteem to begin with. Rather than that, he actually considered those giving him their frank opinion head-on like this as an asset.
In the first place, Solon was an old man who often was contrary and loved to act like the evil guy. But, in Souma’s eyes it looked like Solon was intentionally drawing all hatred on himself. Moreover he apparently attempted to unify the awareness and intentions of everyone by having Souma answer all kinds of issues and questions he exposed with his biting comments.
As Shyemul still didn’t look very convinced, Souma furthermore added, “Besides, if I punished people just because they defied me, no one would want to rally under me. Shyemul, are you telling me that you’d be fine with that?”
Even Shyemul was unable to retort anything.
While talking about this topic, the two arrived in front of Souma’s bedroom. By the way, Shyemul’s bedroom was situated next door so that she’d be able to immediately rush to Souma’s side in case of an emergency.
Usually they’d separate at this point, but this time Shyemul called Souma to a halt, “Hey, Soma!”
“Is something the matter, Shyemul?”
Once Souma looked back, he found Shyemul staring at him with something similar to a scowl. Shyemul brought her face close to Souma, who was slightly inclining his head in curiosity, and hummed with half-open eyes. Immediately following, she extended both hands, pinched Souma’s cheeks, and pulled them to the sides.
“Whash ish allo shudden?”
Ignoring Souma’s question as he darted his eyes around in bewilderment by the sudden development, Shyemul kept bending and pulling his cheeks. Seemingly satisfied after playing around with his cheeks for a while, Shyemul finally removed her hands. And after nodding several times as if having come to terms with something, she said, “As I thought, you’re pulling a weird face.”
This remark after she has thoroughly toyed around with someone’s face.
While rubbing his hurting cheeks, Souma protested, “That’s terrible of you. First you keep pulling my cheeks all of a sudden, and then you call my face weird.”
In response, Shyemul threw out her voluptuous chest and said with a triumphant look, “Listen, Soma, to this day I don’t understand the finer expressions of humans.”
That makes sense. Since the structures of our faces are fundamentally different, it’s only understandable.
But, just when Souma was about to complain why she was proudly bringing this up now after all this time, Shyemul forestalled him, and added, “But, despite that I still can at least tell when your expression is weird.”
Souma felt startled. He dodged the issue by asking, “Really?”, while continuing to stroke his cheeks.
Shyemul triumphantly snorted through her nose, “If it concerns my own 『Navel Master』, my eyes are quite reliable.”
Isn’t that weird in itself? was Souma about to retort in response, but――
“You dislike war, don’t you?”
――he choked on his words because of Shyemul’s curt question.
“Moreover, you hate hurting people more than you hate battle. You don’t want to see those you know getting hurt because of your commands. You’re asking yourself how you should react if they were to die in battle. And you absolutely detest having to imagine such possibilities, too. ――That’s the kind of expression you’re currently making.”
She had hit bull’s eye. It wasn’t as though the last five years since he had obtained Bolnis were always peaceful. The remnants of Holmea’s army, who had become bandits and brigands, frequently attacked the plains and circumferences of Bolnis, forcing Souma and his people to repeatedly head out to subjugate those criminals. But, the subjugation of such bandits and brigands was never exposed to danger of defeat for Souma who commanded several thousand soldiers, even if it did cause him a certain amount of trouble. When it came to veteran heroes like Garam, whom Souma trusted deeply, those battles never endangered Souma’s belief that those heroes would win without a single injury.
However, the upcoming battle would be different. Their opponent would be Holmea, a major powerhouse in the West. Their might wasn’t limited to just their troop strength either. Holmea excelled them in every single point such as materials, including provisions, and number of people working in supply.
Considering it normally, Holmea wasn’t an enemy they could beat.
Souma had come up with all kinds of plans over the last few years in order to overcome their disadvantages. But, all of those plans were ultimately theoretical. No one could promise him that any of them would actually work on the field. Furthermore, his trust towards his own plans had been shaken, now that he had learned of the failure of his plan to hinder Holmea’s movements by pitting Romania against Holmea, which he had actually considered to have succeeded. Accompanying that, the anxiety of them possibly suffering a crushing defeat against Holmea because his own plans failing, something he hadn’t tried to consider so far, budded inside Souma’s heart. And as these worries grew in his chest over time, continuously spreading their roots all over, they cast a dark shadow over his heart.
“Have you still not grown accustomed to going into battle?” Shyemul asked with a gentle tone.
Souma clearly replied, “No, I haven’t. And I don’t plan to grow accustomed to it either.”
A wish to avoid war altogether and the preciousness of life. Those two emotional aspects had been carved into Souma’s heart as someone who had grown up in peaceful, modern Japan. Even after coming to this world, where battle was glorified and killing many people on the battlefield counted as honor, these two attributes had remained unchanged in him.
“I hate fights.”
If I say something like this, Shyemul will probably get fed up with me again, he believed.
However, Shyemul nodded in satisfaction, “That is exactly what makes you my 『Navel Master』.” Shyemul sighed in resignation when she saw Souma being surprised by her unforeseen words, and thrust her index finger out at his chest, “Did you already forget, my 『Navel Master』? I didn’t acknowledge you as my 『Navel Master』 because you have the power to save us all or the smart to bring us prosperity.”
Shyemul grinned broadly, “I accepted you because you’re weak and gentle.”
Those were the words she had told him when he had asked Shyemul why she had taken him as 『Navel Master』. Recalling that, Souma was taken aback.
Shyemul raised the corners of her mouth and her index fingers, “If you started clamoring about things such as 『I’m the strongest! I love fighting! I’ll slaughter all my enemies!』 despite that, I’d regret having misjudged your character and head out to train myself in order to become a priestess at Lady Head Priestess or Grandmother’s place.”
Souma ended up reflexively bursting into laughter. What Shyemul had done seemed to be an imitation of Jahangil.
“And yet you’re always whining about me being pathetic whenever I mention that I don’t want to fight.”
When rebuked with a smile, Shyemul answered as if it was only normal, “That’s my maiden’s heart of wanting my 『Navel Master』 to act cool in front of others.”
That caused Souma to burst into laughter once more. On the other hand, Shyemul pouted because of his laughter.
“What’s with that reaction? It’s upsetting. I’m a genuine, fully-fledged maiden, okay!?” Shyemul said in the form of a joke, but suddenly her eyes became serious as she intensely stared at Souma. “Soma, if you really hate it, how about running away with me into the plains instead?”
Souma could only parrot, “To the plains?”, due to her unexpected suggestion.
“That’s right. You mentioned that you’re indebted to us for having saved you when you fell into this world. But, you’ve already repaid that debt more than plentifully by now. If you insist on hating it no matter what, there is nothing that will be able to tie you to us.” Shyemul drummed her chest in front of the dumbstruck Souma, “What, if it’s just you alone, I can easily provide for you. I shall swear on my honor that I will never let my 『Navel Master』 starve.”
Souma imagined the life Shyemul proposed to him. He would be living in an isolated tent on plains sprawling all the way beyond the horizon with Shyemul alone. They’d just do what was necessary without anyone forcing them to do something else. A daily life spent in a heart-warming atmosphere.
He felt like this would be a very lovely lifestyle.
“That’s only if you can agree with it, though.”
Souma returned a wry smile at Shyemul’s impish supplementation.
“Yep. ――That’s impossible.”
He had already embarked on this journey. On the night five years ago when he accepted to be the divine son of that wretched goddess. In that town of five years ago where he touted ideals he didn’t believe himself for the sake of victory. Acceptance and self-mockery revealed themselves on Souma’s lips.
“What is it, Soma?” She asked with her head tilted lightly.
After making a short pause, Souma said, “I think it won’t be the end even if win the fight against Holmea.”
Somehow he had such a hunch. That the battle against Holmea would be no more than the beginning. That they’d have to prevail through countless battles even afterwards.
‘Yep. Just like that mad goddess had spouted.
“From now on we’re going to pile up mountains of corpses. We’ll dye this land with deep crimson blood. And that won’t be just our enemies and allies, but even unrelated people will be dragged into it, resulting in us reaping countless lives. Many people might curse me for this, calling me a destroyer or slaughter――” At that point, Souma tightly clenched his fists. “――And I’m sure I’ll meet my end within a pool of blood on top of a mountain of corpses I created myself.”
Souma showed Shyemul a smile so fleeting that it would likely break apart upon touch.
“Are you going to follow me despite all of this?”
Shyemul didn’t answer immediately. She folded her arms in front of her big chest, furrowed her eyebrows and nose, and brooded. Souma felt unpleasant sweat trickle down his spine upon Shyemul’s unexpected reaction.
Just when he was about to hit the limit of his anxiety and impatience, Shyemul finally spoke up.
“Say, Soma,” Shyemul continued as Souma’s body slightly trembled with a start, “do your words contain anything that would keep me away from you?”
Souma was astonished.
In front of him, Shyemul said while counting down her fingers, “If it’s going to be that many battles, I’ll fight in your stead as I must protect you. If you say you’re going to be resented by many people, I must be resented together with you. If you’re going to die amidst a bloody mountain of corpses, I’ll die right next to you. ――Yep, I see no reason why I’d need to be apart from you.”
Shyemul pressed her hands against her hips, and lightly shook her head as if flabbergasted.
“Good grief, my dear 『Navel Master』, your forgetfulness is a real problem. I told you, didn’t I? I made you my 『Navel Master』 upon my decision to carry all the sins you might accumulate together with you and my wish to walk towards the future next to you.”
“I guess you’re right. ――Yep, you’re completely right.”
Shyemul poked Souma’s forehead as he mumbled this under his breath.
“Let me tell you in advance: it’s futile to try keeping me away from you. As you can see, I’m a stubborn girl. Now that I have approved of you as my 『Navel Master』, It’ll stick to you even after death.”
“That’s kinda scary.”
“Yep, indeed. Women are scary.”
The two kept laughing for a while.
Once Souma entered his bedroom after bidding farewell from Shyemul, he put on his nightwear, removed his headband, and got ready for sleep. And then he blew out the lamp he had lit earlier.
Thereupon, the room was overtaken by darkness which was colored by the pale moonlight. Souma tried to lie down on his bed while wrapped up in this blackness. But, his feet stopped all of a sudden.
Up until then, his feelings had lightened thanks to his conversation with Shyemul, and even a thin smile had still remained on his lips, but now Souma’s face froze. Once he looked up to the ceiling, he could see the pale moon shining in the night sky through a dormer hole.
It’s a beautiful moon. Yep. I always feel eyes on me during nights with such a beautiful moon. A gaze that seems to crawl across my skin like a slug. A gaze as if my body is being wound like a snake. That’s the kind of revolting stare I sense.
“…You’re there, aren’t you?” Souma murmur melted into the stillness of night and vanished. But, without paying any heed to that, Souma continued, “I know that you’re there. Show yourself.”
Thereupon a girl in a simple, white dress slipped out the darkness in a corner of Souma’s bedroom.
“What kind of business might you have with me, my beloved, beloved Souma?”
A seal with a bloody crimson light seeping out of it gleamed on the unblemished forehead of that girl.
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