It was dim all around.
As Kei gazed vacantly at the fabric supported by a wooden pole, he suddenly noticed that he was awake.
He blinked a few times, then yawned lightly, before getting up in their tent.
Pale, cold daylight spilled in through the gaps in the entrance flap. Most likely, it was so early that even the sun had not shown its face yet. The circulating air felt slightly chilly, and beyond the flap, he could hear birds chirping.
He shook his head to get rid of the sleepiness, but then, his gaze suddenly fell on the place right next to him. Aileen laid on the mat on the other side of the pole. Her head rested on an impromptu rolled-jacket-pillow, her golden hair untied, freely fanning out.
She was curled up, perhaps feeling slightly cold. Assuming so, Kei removed his own blanket and put it gently on her.
She started to stir and lightly shifted her position. Kei tensed up for a moment, thinking he had woken her, but Aileen merely hauled his blanket in and buried her face in it, continuing to sleep with a happy expression.
A laugh spilled from his lips without thinking. He felt like staring at her face forever if only he could. However, realizing that it was not very proper of him to use the opportunity and peek at a maiden’s sleeping face, he reconsidered and tore his gaze off her with an iron will. Otherwise, various urges would start to endlessly torment him. Like brushing away the hair near her eyes with his fingers, or touching her porcelain-white cheeks.
Thus, grabbing the scabbard of his sword at the bedside, he rushed out of the tent.
A chilly wind laden with moisture grazed his cheeks. The bright sky, the trailing cirrus — as Kei glanced at the colors of sunrise encroaching upon the starry sky with his superior sight, he muttered, “Yet another clear day, huh?”
He took a deep breath. The cold air flooded his lungs. He held it for a moment, and then let it go, now adapted to his body temperature.
With his body full of fortitude down to the last corner, he overflowed with power. It reminded him of the fitting term circulation.
Attaching the sword to his waist belt, he lightly moved his body. He then headed for the dry beach of the Morla, greeting the caravan members who had woken up along the way.
At present, the campsite was situated downstream, but the Morla still looked as shockingly beautiful as ever. He scooped up some water and washed his face, ridding himself of the final vestiges of sleepiness. Inside the crystal-clear water, an impossible sight on modern Earth, he even spotted small fish racing about.
This cleanliness was probably owed to big towns located upstream like Satyna thoroughly maintaining their sewers and dealing with the waste so as to not allow filthy water back into the river.
Fundamentally, this world had developed various technologies. For some strange twist of fate, gunpowder did not exist here, so their weapons were still on the level of swords and bows, but in terms of metallurgy and hygiene, medieval Europe could not compare in the slightest.
Particularly agriculture, engineering and construction, and drug-making had already implemented most things that might have been improvable through what was called a modern knowledge cheat. It was the result achieved through natural technological progress, restrained neither by religion nor politics.
“…Would be even better if there were some simple spells around too.”
Washing his face was good and all, but he realized that he had forgotten to bring a towel and frowned as the water dripped from his cheeks. If he could easily summon wind or fire to dry himself, it would have really perfected that fantasy feeling — but actually attempting this would cost a precious emerald.
Nevertheless, it was Kei himself who had chosen this kind of world, this kind of game called【DEMONDAL】. Given that this was the result brought about by his own choice, he could not help but accept it.
That said, had he known that he would get transported to another world after playing it for some time, he would have gone with a lighter game…
What would have happened had they played a different game? Why had they come to this world? He had countless questions, but there would be no end if he kept brooding over it, nor would there be any benefit in doing so.
Wiping his face with his shirt, he pulled himself together and drew his sword.
These past few days, Kei hadn’t had any chance to experience actual combat.
Their journey had been so peaceful that he did not even perceive it as an escorting job. Naturally, peace was all but welcome, as unlike the game, this world put their lives at stake. Having said that, it would be bad if his skills dulled in the process. Peaceful times were also described as time to prepare for the next battles to come…
He thrust his sword at the empty air in front of him. It was a defensive stance that used the blade as a shield.
Along the misty morning river, the atmosphere gradually grew sharper. His black eyes envisioned someone he had fought in days long past. A few steps ahead, that hostile entity had lost its focus.
After a momentary stillness, Kei moved into action.
He was imagining the other party possibly holding a spear. His sword tip swayed, as if he had parried a thrust of a long weapon. His sword drew an arc, as if swallowing, warding it off. His sword buzzed as he covered the distance to follow up with an attack. His downward slash cut their leg muscle, and swinging the sword back up, it touched their neck.
Then he took a few steps back while leaving a trailing sound behind. Once again, he thrust his sword out, adopting his defensive stance. The image he had been challenging dispersed, melting with the morning mist.
Without a break, he moved on to the next one. This time, the opponent seemed to have a longsword. With nimble footwork he used his sword to ward off their upper, mid, and lower attacks.
His mind was clear. Exceedingly silent and serene.
He moved as if tracing martial arts movements. The mist around him swirled, even splitting apart. He jerked his sword upwards, flicking the opponent’s weapon away using the principle of leverage. And without a moment’s delay, a compact thrust followed. It did not seem to hold much power, but on a closer look, it landed right around the central part of a body. It was a fatal strike that gouged out the heart. And just like flowing water which would pull back, he once again switched to the perfect defensive stance.
Kei continued moving his body dizzyingly, envisioning different situations. It lasted no longer than ten minutes. It seemed long yet short, but nevertheless, dense; he continued cutting down the imaginary opponents in such condensed space. The place was filled with a strange harmony of being rough yet sharp at the same time.
But as he approached the end…
A faint bloodlust, like the plucking of a violin, disrupted the atmosphere.
Immediately, Kei, guided by his senses, turned around and swung his blade sideways.
With a snap, a branch that had been thrown his way got bisected.
As Kei knitted his brows, wondering what was going on, a languid sound of clapping reached his ears.
“Oh man, that was wonderful.”
As Kei raised his face, a blond youth with a faint smile entered his sight.
“…What’s the meaning of this?”
Kei asked in displeasure as he sheathed his sword. Anyone would be unhappy if someone threw something at them without a warning.
“Sorry, sorry. Your swordplay looked so dazzling… I felt like taking a stab at it. You see, I’m the type that ends up toppling a tower of cards whenever I find one.”
Alexei responded jokingly, feeling no guilt over his actions whatsoever. But before Kei could answer anything, he continued.
“Still, your sword was no mere decoration, huh? That was remarkable swordsmanship. Your master should have been someone extraordinary. I’m jealous.”
“…Thanks, I guess.”
“It’s rational, and had some parts that proved helpful to me too… But you know, that’s not something you should easily show to others, okay?”
“You came to watch uninvited.”
“Well, yeah. I’m just telling you to be careful. This world is filled with many people who aren’t as kind as I am. And they might steal from you without you realizing, you know…?”
He said with a smile, looking somehow provocative. Kei’s discomfort grew in intensity.
“…You have my thanks for the warning. So? If you have nothing else to say, I’d like to get going.”
“Ah, you’re no fun.”
Seeing Kei draw a clear line, Alexei just laughed in a foolishly manner, but his eyes remained serious.
“…I’d like to ask one thing.”
No longer laughing, he asked with a raised finger.
“I’ll be clear. I’ve fallen for Aileen. So what I want to know is what kind of relationship you two share. I’ll be direct: Is she your woman?”
His straight-to-the-point question stumped Kei.
“…That was indeed quite direct.”
“I guess. But I’m quite serious about her. If she’s your woman, well, there are manners and etiquette to go about it in a different way.”
He said with an unprecedented earnest attitude. His straight, honest look cleared Kei of his malice, instead waking a certain kind of sincerity in him. Slightly troubled, he avoided his gaze, and answered.
“Aileen is my… close friend. But whether we are in a romantic relationship is… difficult to answer.”
“Like, from my perspective you don’t exactly look like lovers. Rather, your relationship is like… Right, like that of a princess and her guardian knight.”
“That was a fairly apt simile even if I say so myself,” nodded Alexei repeatedly by himself. Kei, on the other hand, had a bitter expression.
“…Huh. Wait, are you actually a princess and a knight?”
“Huh? As if. Which part of me looks like a knight to you?”
“My eyes for people aren’t good enough to judge people based on their appearance. In the first place, I haven’t met that many knights, and I’ve almost never even seen a princess… Still, you two are quite mysterious. That’s why I can’t really get a read on you.”
Alexei returned back to laughing in a silly manner, and this time, his eyes turned inquisitive.
“Earlier Aileen said, I miss my hometown.”
Kei swallowed his breath hearing those words. Keeping his inquisitive gaze on him, Alexei continued.
“So I suggested, Why won’t you return for some time then? But she sadly answered, I may never be able to. She does not speak much about her home, but she does not seem to be from any of the clans that I’m aware of. It seems to me that the two of you came from quite a distant place.”
Alexei’s question sounded leading, as if trying to get Kei to reveal something, but Kei was slightly shocked about something else.
Aileen said something like that…?
About her hometown — Kei almost knew nothing about Aileen. All he knew was her being a Russian coming from Siberia. Just these two.
She misses her home… She never acted like that in front of me… She never…
—said she wanted to return.
“W-Well, if it’s something you can’t talk about, nevermind me.”
Seeing Kei suddenly turn serious, Alexei became a little flustered, believing he had stepped on a landmine.
“No… It’s fine…”
“Anyway, if she is not your woman, then I won’t hold back.”
With Kei’s vague nod, Alexei waved and left the place as if fleeing.
Kei silently sat down on a fallen tree at the dry riverside.
He pondered as he stared at the water’s surface. Sensing something akin to loneliness in his heart.
…So in the end, Aileen is also just a human.
She held onto her very own thoughts and acted as it suited her own style. Unless she had an urgent situation like Kei, who had only a few years left to live in the other world, it was only natural for her to long for her hometown.
Kei had no attachments to that world. It was regrettable that he would not see his parents’ faces anymore, but they hadn’t met in the real world for years, and their exchange was only limited to Emails every few days. And since he had been bedridden since his childhood, his sentiments towards his hometown or culture were rather faint. Now, his delight over obtaining a healthy body was greater than the sadness over parting with his old world.
It was sad that he could no longer contact his other friends, but — reaching the thought, Aileen, who I’ve been closest with, is with me, so it’s fine, he came to a realization.
Aileen’s existence was acting as a big support for his heart.
It took him so long to realize that simple fact.
…If she hadn’t been with me when I came to this world…
Just what would have happened to him? Kei tried to imagine it.
He thought he would have managed one way or the other. He was not like Mandel from Tahfu, but as long as he had his skill with the bow, he could have made a living through mercenary work or hunting.
However, ultimately, would that have been an enjoyable life? Could he have come to enjoy and look forward to this world as he had now?
…No, I’m sure I couldn’t have.
If he was alone, he would have been in constant unease. Why was he here? What should he do from now on? Even now he had many of such worries. Despite being afflicted by the circumstances, he managed to stay optimistic because he had Aileen, who was in the same situation as him, as partner to consult. Her optimism and sense of humor had been a beacon of light for him.
He was sure that he would be trembling during the dark nights, had she not been with hi.m
On the other hand…what about me?
Conversely, he started looking at his own position.
What kind of existence was Nogawa Keiichi in Aileen’s eyes…
As he pondered about it, he was assaulted with a sensation as if the ground below him was about to give way.
Ever since their stay at the inn in Satyna, where she had grumbled about failing to find a boat that would take them, Aileen had never shown any uncertainty.
She always acted bright, and Kei had never questioned it, not even for a moment. But now that he did, it looked unnatural.
There is no way Aileen wouldn’t be anxious…
Aileen had said she did not know what to do. She also said she did not know what she wanted to do.
But — it could not be only that. What happened to her family? Was there a time delay between the two worlds? What happened to her body in the former world? Or could they go back to their former world in the first place?
Was it not that her I don’t know what to do had simply expressed how lost she felt in front of all the anxieties? I would have kept her company, if she had just talked to me — such a thought crossed Kei’s mind, but then, he reached a dreadful hypothesis.
Possibly the man called Nogawa Keiichi…
…was no longer worthy to be confided about her worries, from Aileen’s point of view.
Thinking back, there was that incident in Satyna. The evening when Lily was kidnapped and he opposed Aileen after weighing the pros and cons of rescuing her.
Of course, it was not as though Kei did not want to save her, but taking the risk of injury and death into account, he was against charging right in. In the end, Aileen went ahead and easily saved her, but looking at it now, his past self appeared to be extremely pathetic.
He knew it was just a hindsight-based opinion. He still did not believe that considering the risks and acting carefully was a mistake.
However — back then, Aileen declared that abandoning her was something only a monster would do…
Was she disappointed in me? Kei started to fear. Maybe that was the reason she had chosen to consult Alexei instead of him? Maybe Aileen was only pretending to be happy while actually scorning him?
He did not believe so, but just the idea made shivers run down his spine.
His tightened heart was screaming that it did not want to be hated by her. Everyone, just not her.
“…What should I do.”
The words he muttered in Japanese reached no one’s ears. A gloomy sigh escaped his lips.
Last night, he tried to get back at Alexei by using Esperanto, but looking back at it now, it seemed so empty to him. Between Alexei and him, she would naturally choose a native. His heart was in a mess, with him not even knowing whether he wanted her to do so or not.
“Just what is it that I want…”
It was a fact that he did not want to be hated by her, but…
As he kept brooding, he heard bustling voices from the campsite.
Without realizing it, the sun had already risen beyond the horizon. He had spent more time here than he had expected. With another sigh, Kei stood up reluctantly.
…I don’t even know how I should face her.
Lately — no, ever since they came to this world, Kei had been having a hard time estimating the distance between himself and Aileen. But today, this had actually reached a new low.
The river’s surface glistered brightly as it reflected the morning sun’s rays, but it was nothing but a dull dazzling light.
Kei did not have enough composure to appreciate its beauty now.
When he returned to the campsite, Aileen had already woken up and greeted him with a “Good morning, Kei!”, as cheerful as ever.
Her usual attitude gave him a faint peace of mind, but it was not enough to completely rid him of his anxiety, resulting in him merely managing to respond with an awkward “Hello.” Thanks to Alexei showing up, he somehow succeeded to move on from that awkwardness.
After a light breakfast, the caravan set off once more.
According to Holland, they were planning to quickly pass through the next village and reach Laketown Yulia by the end of the day.
As for Kei, he was riding Sasuke next to Pierre’s carriage, just like the day before. Ahead of him rode Aileen on Suzuka with Alexei talking to her from the side.
Kei just watched them, silently.
They reached the next village roughly two hours after departing.
At this point, half of the morning had already passed. They planned to stay for around an hour to trade with the villagers, but according to Pierre, this place had no appealing customers for them. Stopping by was more of a philanthropic work to distribute some goods, and they would immediately leave after finishing.
Naturally, while they were in the village, their escorts were on break — but Kei received Dagmar’s permission and headed over to a nearby empty field with Dragon Stinger.
“Kei, where are you going?”
“…Well, I was thinking of hunting a bit for lunch. My skills are going to grow dull, if I don’t use my bow every now and then.”
Aileen stopped him as he was about to get on Sasuke, but he limited it to a curt reply, trying his best to hide his trembling from her, and quickly left the village.
It would not be good if he took too long, so after hunting three wild rabbits and one large pigeon-like bird, he quickly drained their blood and headed back.
Kei assumed Aileen would be talking with Alexei, but it turned out that she was simply taking a nap under a tree. Alexei was eating a fruit that looked like a loquat, which he had bought in the village, watching the riverside with a bored look.
He felt relieved to see that, despite being the one who had run off earlier.
Thus, he went to pass the hunted game to Heidemarie.
“…What’s the matter, Kei? You’re looking so depressed.”
As he stood absentmindedly next to Sasuke, having nothing else to do, Dagmar addressed him cheerfully with a flushed face. In his hand was a smallish jar, and as he approached, Kei could smell alcohol from Dagmar. Apparently he was drinking the wine directly out of the jar, without using a cup or anything like that.
“It’s not even noon yet and you’re already drinking?”
“Meeh, don’t worry ’bout it. We’ll be over at Yulia soon anyway. Besides, thieves and animals won’t show up from here on.”
“…If you fall off the horse, you’d have yourself to blame.”
“I ain’t planning to get so wasted.”
Gahaha, he followed up with a loud laugh. Though he said that, he seemed to be quite drunk at this point. Perhaps he was weak to alcohol.
Drunkards are such a pain…
Having said that, he had nothing else to do, so Kei decided to keep him company.
“So, Kei. Are you gonna buy one go when we get to Yulia?”
“…What do you mean?”
“What I mean? …The you-know-what.”
Dagmar responded with a sleazy laugh. But Kei kept blankly staring back at him without figuring out what he was talking about, causing Dagmar to look up to the sky in exasperation.
“The hell? You really don’t know? A lot of tough seamen and mercenaries gather in Yulia. And where men gather, so do women… In other words, it’s got a red-light district, you know, red-light district!”
Then, Kei finally realized what he meant by buying.
“…Why would you even mention this now?”
Despite responding calmly, it was not like he had zero interest in the matter, which made him feel even worse.
“It ain’t as if I’m randomly talkin’ ’bout it, everyone’s lookin’ forward to it, you know? You seem to be enduring it quite a bit, so I was just bein’ considerate as your elder.”
Gehehehe… He looked at the place where Aileen was sleeping, and laughed sleazily again.
“…No, I’m good. I appreciate your concern though.”
Thinking it over calmly, it’d be scary to get some disease — He did not voice this thought, but still politely rejected the offer.
“I know a nice inn full of beauties…”
“I don’t need it. Don’t worry about me.”
Slanting his wine jar, his eyes were suddenly full of pity as he looked at Kei.
“Well, I thought you’d lack the backbone anyway. So, are you impotent, after all?”
Following that, Kei continued quarreling with Dagmar until the departure.
For a few hours after departing the village, the caravan continued heading for Yulia while taking a lunch break on the way.
As they advanced north, the undulations of the terrain gradually grew in number. The grasslands turned into plains, and the plains into hills. And even the Morla had started to zigzag.
Dagmar turned out to be weak to alcohol, after all, seeing how swayed around atop his horse. However, just as he had claimed, he did not hinder their journey in any way. When the sun had passed its zenith, they finally arrived in Laketown Yulia.
If one were to talk about Yulia’s peculiar features, it had to be Lake Synapeia that was adjacent to it. The town was an important junction where the Morla, the river flowing from Satyna, and the Aria, the river flowing from Urvan, joined. It was also a place where many merchants with their goods stopped for a time, and it housed a pleasure quarter, catering towards sailors and merchants.
As for the characteristics of the town, it did not have a solid fortress or anything similar, and was fairly liberal when compared to Satyna. On the other hand, most of the town was occupied by its pleasure quarters, and because of the scant guards, public order seemed to be bad.
That said, the lord’s castle was on a cliff near the lake, and was filled with Yulia’s knights and mercenaries, so they were well-prepared to deal with emergencies.
“Now then, we’ll meet up here before the bell rings twelve on the day after tomorrow. Break up!” Holland announced on the square just outside of the town, resulting in all mercenaries scattering.
The caravan was scheduled to remain in Yulia for two days. This time, they would be staying in inns, so they had to pay for their own lodgings.
“Okay, then, Kei. We should go as well.”
Kei got dragged away by Aileen, heading to one part of the business district. Naturally, Sasuke and Suzuka were with them too.
“Now then, a reasonable inn with stables…”
Aileen looked around as she walked. Given that this business district teemed with inns, a lot of INN sign boards could be seen all over the place, but there were so many options that she did not know which to choose.
“I have no idea. Maybe we should have asked Sir Holland before leaving.”
Maybe I was a bit hasty, Aileen frowned at Kei’s words.
In the end, they decided to go with a neat and flashily-ornamented inn with a goose signboard, fully realizing that it would be expensive.
“Welcome to the GoldenGoose. Are you together?”
As they entered the relatively hygienic hall with a built-in pub, a woman that looked like a hostess addressed them with a perfect customer smile.
“Yeah, we also have two horses with us.”
Leaving the horses to the maids, they decided to quickly reserve the rooms.
“So, what kind of rooms are available?”
In response to Aileen’s question, the hostess looked at the register. Unease spread on Kei’s face.
“…Let me see. We have one double room, one large room, and two single rooms.”
Kei screamed “YES!” in his mind as he listened to her.
“Okay, we’ll go with—”
He cut in before Aileen managed to finish it. Looking at both of their expressions, the hostess asked in doubt.
“Um, a double room would be cheaper, if I may suggest so?”
“It’s fine, we want the singles… You’re fine with that, right, Aileen?”
Kei looked at Aileen seeking confirmation.
She slightly knitted her brows, grunting, “…Yeah. Sure…”
“It’s settled then.”
Somewhat relieved, Kei dropped two days’ worth of coins on the counter with a clang.
With this, I’ll finally be alone…
Not to use Dagmar’s words, but Kei was really pent up. Or to be blunt, he had to jack off.
A double room under these circumstance would have been pretty tough…
It would also be quite dangerous for him to stay in the same room as Aileen. They had shared a room in Satyna, and likewise slept in the same tent these past few days, so Kei’s reason was about to reach its limit. With the stress from Alexei on top of it, he might have succumbed to a sudden impulse, if he had continued to worry without any end in sight.
And if this had caused their friendly relationship to fall apart…
He did not even want to imagine it.
In the first place, we chose a double room back then because there were no single ones… I have a duty to protect Aileen from the beast within me…
As Kei considered such things while not paying attention to Aileen’s rather unhappy expression…
Looking back, they spotted Alexei with luggage in hand and a smile on the face.
“What a coincidence! I’m also staying at this inn.”
“O-Oh wow. Well, later.”
Grabbing their luggage, the two quickly rushed upstairs. “Hey, wait!” Alexei called out to her, but they ignored him and fled into one of the rooms.
“…Why’s that guy here…”
Aileen muttered dejectedly while sitting on the bed.
“…Is he troubling you?”
“U-Uhh. How should I put it, he’s a bit annoying.”
Hearing her blunt response, Kei responded with a “Really?” while remaining as calm as he could.
“But haven’t you two been talking a lot lately?”
“It wasn’t anything important.”
Aileen weakly shrugged at Kei’s inquisitive question.
“That aside, Kei, let’s go around the town for a bit! I saw a stall that was selling something delicious.”
Kei also thought it was a good idea since he was feeling peckish, so they decided to head outside. They encountered Alexei in the hall, but Aileen made up some excuse, refusing him to tag along.
“This way! I smell something great.”
“We have enough money. Guess we can go ballistic on the food.” Kei commented with light amusement while playing around with the purse in his pocket.
Since they were inside the city, he didn’t have a weapon with him, but he still had his disassembled Dragon Stinger, along with various jewels, inside the case on his back.
Yulia’s scale was smaller compared to Satyna, but the population’s density was high, resulting in the road being full of people. And many passersby were always accompanied by many pickpockets as it was a festival of easy marks for them. As Kei excelled in Passive Sense, some wannabe thief could never pickpocket him, but it was possible for something unexpected to happen. The ironclad rule to “keep your valuables apart” when going abroad remained true even in this case.
“So, where’s the stall you spoke of?”
“Uhh, I think it was over there…”
As the two wandered through the business district, they heard lively music from the roadside. Looking in the direction, they found a small crowd on a plaza with a small well.
“Let’s go and check it out!”
Aileen dragged Kei by the hand and charged through the crowd. Kei would have preferred avoiding a crowded place that could be full of pickpockets, but there was no helping it.
As they kept pushing aside the onlookers and arrived at the center…
Aileen muttered to herself.
At the plaza, there were performers wearing gaudy outfits while playing various instruments such as flutes and drums.
In the center was a dancer moving her body rhythmically to the beat of the lively music. While shaking her hip, the girl cast bewitching glances at her audience.
Her getup was lascivious to the point that it went beyond being half-naked to practically being naked. Though she hid her nether region with a loincloth, her well-developed upper body was only covered by a pitifully thin cloth and her flax-colored hair, and even the parts that were hidden were quite transparent. Moreover, they also swayed to the beat. Or rather, she was making them sway.
The crowd kept tossing copper coins on the flat dish in front of the danseuse. Whenever she heard vulgar jeers, she faced the origin and provocatively flashed her astonishing beauty, giving rise to heated yells by the men. Practically every single man on the plaza was ogling her.
And unfortunately, Kei was a man too.
Well, after enduring it for days, no one could blame him for having his eyes fixed on such a beauty.
But, even so, if there was one blunder he made, it was…
The fact that he had completely forgotten about Aileen, who stood next to him with a sulky face.
“…Hm? Huh? Aileen?”
By the time he came to his senses…
Aileen was no longer there.
“What the hell!”
Aileen walked with squared shoulders, fuming.
She returned to GoldenGoose with a displeased expression, snatched the key to her room from the hostess with the insincere smile, and entered her room.
It was a small, single-room, where she had messily left her luggage.
Charging the small bed with a verve, she flopped down on it with a thud, and started to punch the pillow.
“…What the hell.”
After tormenting the pillow for a while, she ran out of strength and just stayed face down, grinding her face into the sheet.
—Kei has been strangely cold as of late.
He did not open up even when they talked, and was no longer frank with her like he was during the game. He even seemed to be hiding something from her, and lately, he even went as far as apparently avoiding eye contact whenever they talked.
He seemed depressed so I took him out, and yet…!
Not only did he not seem to enjoy it, but the only time he smiled was during that. It simply caused her to feel terribly awful.
Besides — what pissed her off above all else was the matter with Alexei.
Why won’t you stop him? Why won’t you say anything?
Aileen was a bilingual English speaker, but she still felt more at home with Russian. Because of that, she actively conversed with Alexei lately, planning to gather information — but recently he had become too annoying. Thus, she wanted to talk with Kei, but he seemed to be avoiding her. Not just that, whenever Alexei came along, he would quietly leave the place with a calm face.
What the hell…!? Do you find talking with me so boring…!?
She started banging the pillow with her dejected face.
When did our relationship start becoming awkward? Aileen started to think. It began after that trouble in Satyna — as expected, it was after they joined this caravan.
Trouble in Satyna — when she thought about it, the anger seething inside her started to abate.
Back then — when she had confronted Kei who was weighing the pros and cons of saving Lily.
Aileen still regretted uttering monster at that time. Judging from his expression, she could tell that she had hurt Kei. And the fact that he was hurt by it meant that he had previously chosen to abandon someone without Aileen knowing about it.
Why? When? Where? She did not know as she had never asked.
But she could make a guess.
The only times Aileen wasn’t aware of was the period when she fainted from the arrow, and when Kei fought against the Grassland people they encountered without her direct participation. It was either related to Tahfu or those Grassland people, she did not know. Either way, she did not intend to blame him this late in the game.
She knew very well that Kei was not the type to abandon people by choice.
Whatever decision he had made back then, he probably made it while bearing overwhelming sorrow. In the meantime, she had either been fleeing or remained unconscious.
Being called a monster by someone like that, what would he think…
…Could it be that he started to hate me?
She shuddered at that idea.
In reality, everything would make sense if she considered it like that.
Why Kei was cold as of late. As well as the awkward mood between them.
Her small mutter vanished in vain.
In this narrow and small…
…yet exceedingly vast room.