「The open-field exercise was cancelled due to a Rank 5 monster attack.」
The person who interrupted Nell’s confession of a lifetime delivers an emergency report that Nell has to admit is important enough to interrupt it.
The light, happy feeling that filled Nell’s head until just moments earlier, similar to the drunkenness she once experienced after accidentally drinking alcohol, has already vanished like mist.
Even so, she is still obstinately snuggling against Kurono’s right arm.
「What do you mean?」
「Full details are written here.」
Of course, from her current position, Nell is able to read the quest form that was handed to Kurono as he reads it himself.
「As you can see, Iskia Fortress is currently in a state of crisis. Prince Wilhart has royally requested that you accept this emergency quest, Kurono-sama.」
This shocking information is more than enough to surprise Nell.
Nell’s head is clear enough to realize that a request for aid has probably already been formally made to the Knights’ Order and Adventurers’ Guild as well.
If this information is accurate, the enemy is a Rank 5 monster leading an army of countless monsters.
Even if Wing Road is there, it is not a situation that they can overcome with just the four of them.
Even if this Greed-Gore were only as powerful as the Wrath-Pun that they defeated before, with other monsters assisting it, it would probably be impossible to defeat it even if Nell returned to reform the full party.
No, it is much simpler than that.
(Even Wing Road, even Onii-sama can’t defeat it...)
Nell is aware of just how much of a problematic situation this is.
However, what she should have felt right after this realization, the worry for her older brother, her best friend, her party members –
「It is an unofficial quest that has not yet been approved by the guild, but may I ask you to accept it?」
「Of course! I’m heading there right now, so you better be alive and waiting for me, Will, Simon!」
Her own feelings are washed away by the torrent of emotions transmitted from Kurono via her telepathy.
Nell was born with telepathy, but she cannot read a person’s emotion well without direct contact. Her telepathy’s effectiveness pales in comparison to the Characteristic Ability of Fairies and such.
However, Kurono’s arm is currently in her firm grasp. He is experiencing great emotions, and Nell is able to see the large amount of information that comes with it.
Not only is she able to feel his emotions, but she sees clear pictures that allow her to catch a glimpse of the memories related to it.
In other words, Nell sees that.
It is too vivid and too violent; all of Nell’s consciousness is drawn to it, making her forget about her other concerns.
(– Kurono-kun’s trauma.)
This is perhaps some rural village.
There are lines of wooden houses, and among them is a three-story building that stands out. This building seems to be the Adventurers’ Guild serving this desolate place.
If there were people walking about beneath clear blue skies with farming tools in their hands, this would be a peaceful, quiet scene that could be witnessed anywhere on the continent of Pandora.
However, Nell’s vision is filled with the red color of raging flames.
The village is burning.
「Shit... Damn it...」
She can hear Kurono’s voice.
But she cannot see him. This is Kurono’s memory, so the image that she sees is from his point of view. Unless there is a mirror somewhere, she would not be able to see him.
Nell is looking upon this scene through Kurono’s eyes.
「I couldn’t protect this village, I couldn’t protect my friends...」
Could this village that is being consumed by the blazing, merciless flames be Kurono’s home?
In front of his eyes are crosses upon which people have been crucified. Just how serious are the crimes that these people have committed?
There is not just one, but many of them, lined up like gravestones.
As if being offered as sacrifices to an evil god by a terrible witch, the crucified people are engulfed in roaring flames.
The figures of the crucified people are hidden behind the crimson fire, but the one at the very front, a young, female cat-person*, is visible.
She and the others that are burning on the crosses behind her are surely Kurono’s friends.
(Th-this is terrible... S-such a thing...)
Though Nell is a princess, she is also a Rank 5 adventurer; she is used to seeing people die.
While gruesome corpses that have been partially eaten by monsters are not pleasant to see, she can look at them directly without having to avert her eyes.
However, this scene is not some disaster that has been caused by a monster’s behavioral instincts.
This complete massacre and destruction is the work of humans, a result of their evil intent.
Cruel, atrocious, tragic – there are countless words to describe the scene. For the first time in her life, Nell is witnessing the absolute worst of what humans are capable of doing to each other, though she is doing so through someone else’s eyes.
At the same time, she understands that this is the reason that Kurono harbors a desire for revenge in the depths of his heart.
However, this is only half-correct.
「This... this is too much... Everyone’s dead...」
As Kurono weeps and murmurs these grim words, the surrounding flames suddenly billow upwards as if in a storm, forcing him to close his eyes.
But before Nell can feel the heat, her vision clears up.
The scene has changed, and now she is standing on a highway somewhere.
The outlines of mountains in the distance are the Galahad mountain range, perhaps.
If that is the case, this is unlikely to be some foreign land far from Spada.
The sun is setting, and the sky’s surface is a bright red.
The ground beneath her feet, as if mirroring the sky, is also a deep crimson color.
(Eh, that’s, this is –)
「Shit! Damn it! Was I not able to protect anyone this time, either...?」
The freshly spilled blood dying the road red is a sign of the horrible manner in which the bodies have been destroyed.
There is not a single intact corpse.
Three headless female archers are lying side-by-side.
There are bodies whose skeletons have been pulverized, leaving only their black robes in one piece.
The cracked red orbs rolling around on the ground are likely to be Slime cores.
And in front of Kurono’s eyes, there is a large Wolf-man with a large sword piercing his chest who has been crucified against the ground’s surface.
As Kurono stands amidst this carnage, he whispers, as if coming to a realization.
「I see, it’s my fault... that everyone is dead.」
The feeling of despair that Kurono felt that day pierces Nell’s heart.
(It’s not your fault, Kurono-kun! You did nothing wrong, nothing wrong at all!)
As Kurono’s feelings flow into her, Nell’s shouts go unheard in this memory of his that she is seeing.
Since she is seeing only a tiny part of his memory, she does not know the circumstances that led to Kurono arriving at the scene of this bloodbath.
Even so, she cannot hold herself back from shouting, from denying his own words to himself.
How could Kurono, who has been thrown to the very bottom of a pit of despair, look upon this sight in silence?
Whether it is out of compassion, pity or hypocrisy, it does not matter. It does not matter at all; she needs to help Kurono, she needs to console him – she feels a maddening urge to do so.
(Ah, stop, please stop, please don’t blame yourself like that... You did your best after all, didn’t you, Kurono-kun? I haven’t seen it, but I know you have. You’ve done your best, you fought the enemies desperately, didn’t you? Isn’t that enough? You don’t have to suffer so much. It’s not your fault, Kurono-kun, Kurono-kun is –)
「How can you tell yourself that? 」
As if in response to her thoughts, Kurono denies them.
Is it a coincidence? No, there is no doubt that Kurono had the exact same thoughts back then.
He had those thoughts, but in the end, he spat out words to deny them.
(No, you can’t... You can’t do that... If you do that, you’ll suffer, you’ll be hurt... That’s just too much!)
But it is a memory after all; there is no way that Nell’s feelings will affect events that have already happened at some unknown time in the past.
Even though she knows this, she cannot help but to pray for him.
To pray for the wretched, defeated Kurono to be saved.
「I couldn’t... protect anyone.」
「That’s not true. You saved me, didn’t you?」
And sure enough, words of salvation are spoken to Kurono.
Before Nell realizes it, the scenery has changed once more.
It is still evening, but the sky that is visible from here is thin and narrow.
It seems that this place is a dark, dirty, small alleyway in a slum.
And the one extending a hand to save Kurono, who appears as if he might be crushed by his despair at any moment, is –
(Eh, who is that child?)
There is a child with the black hair and red eyes that should only be possessed by those with the blood of the old Demon King, Mia Elroad.
In the present day, the only person who should have these features is her older brother, Nero.
But it can be said with complete certainty that the child before Kurono’s eyes is not Nero.
Even if Nero somehow regressed his age to that of this child, his features would not resemble the child’s at all. Nell has spent her childhood with him, and when she compares the child with the image of Nero from her memories, she is completely sure that this is the case.
This young child, whose neutral features make it impossible to tell whether they are a boy or a girl, smiles gently and continues to speak.
「But you know, you came to save me, a complete stranger that you had never met before, without even thinking of abandoning me. You did the right thing; nobody can deny that, so you won’t lose your way anymore. This time, you should be able to save everyone.」
Nell does not know what kind of history there is between Kurono and this strange child.
But she knows from the single word that Kurono spoke that he was able to escape from the depths of despair that day.
And so, Kurono became the Kurono that he is today.
The Kurono who looks forward and earnestly pushes onward, showing no signs of his tragic past.
As Nell comes to this understanding –
「Well then, I will give you my divine protection – but before that, fufu. To be peeking at other people’s memories, my descendants do some bad things, don’t they?」
In the middle of this memory, the mysterious child speaks these words.
The child is gazing directly at Kurono with his shining, deep crimson eyes.
Yes, in this memory, the child is supposed to be looking at the Kurono of the past.
(Eh, that’s, this can’t be... This child can see me?!)
Nell feels a chill of fear.
This is strange, impossible, there is no way this can happen. This is nothing more than a reconstructed memory.
The telepathy user watching it is like a visitor at an art gallery, looking at a painting on display.
Just how has the artist become aware of a person who will come to view his art in the future?
Theoretically, this is an unquestionably impossible, incomprehensible, bizarre phenomenon. There is no way this can be happening.
「Nell Julius Elroad, I’ll have to ask you to forget the part that you saw here.」
But it seems that this is, beyond a doubt, reality.
(Who are you?! Why are you inside Kurono-kun’s –)
The deep crimson eyes of the mysterious - no, ominous child before Kurono begin to flicker.
「It is too early for you to know. Goodbye.」
Nell’s consciousness is forcefully suppressed –
「– Nell, get a hold of yourself.」
「Ah, yes, Kurono-kun?」
As Nell comes to her senses, she realizes that she has returned from the swirl of memories, back to reality.
Just a moment earlier, she saw red –
(Red... what was it again?)
In front of her now is Kurono’s face, which possesses eyes with strangely different colors, one black and one red.
She was in a dreamy state of mind because of the telepathy, but she now realizes that she is still clinging to Kurono’s right arm.
Not that she has any intention of letting go now that she has become aware of it.
「My arm is fine already, so you can let go of it now.」
Though disappointed, Nell loosens her fingers.
Slowly but surely, Kurono’s arm is released from Nell’s grip.
Nell is reluctant to let go, but as Kurono separates his arm from her of his own will, she has no choice.
And there are other things she should be worrying about.
As Kurono stands up from the bed, Nell pulls on the still-intact left sleeve of his black coat to stop him.
「You’re going out to help them, aren’t you?」
Where he is going, who he wants to save, how he is going to do it – none of this needs to be said. Kurono gives her a simple answer backed by his strong will.
「I will go with you.」
Nell’s words have the same determination.
(I will become your strength, Kurono-kun. We’re going to be partners from now on, after all... Ufufu.)
Nell is not going to the battlefront for the sake of her brother, her best friend, her party members and certain not for the three hundred other academy students whose names she does not even know.
She will fight for only one person, for Kurono.
(I won’t let Kurono-kun be alone anymore, I will be with him, forever by his side.)
Though it was brief, Nell saw Kurono’s tragic past with her own eyes.
Are the feelings in her heart simply those of compassion?
Even she does not know the answer to that. But she knows for certain that she cannot leave Kurono alone, not after he has lost two close friends. Not after he has lost his companions.
Through inadvertently witnessing Kurono’s trauma, her understanding of him and her feelings towards him have deepened.
They have, without a doubt, reached the point of no return.
(Kurono is someone who is going to push himself too far if he’s alone, so I’ll take care of him. Fufu, no matter how hard you push himself, I’ll definitely heal you back up, Kurono-kun~)
The black Nightmare Berserker, standing atop a mountain of countless bloodied monster corpses, with a white-winged princess close to his side – Nell imagines such a world where there are only the two of them.
「I will go with you.」
Nell, who has grabbed a hold of the left sleeve of Diablo’s Embrace, says this with a brave look, as if she’s come to a firm decision.
「No way, it’s too dangerous.」
I reply immediately. It’s only natural; even if Nell is a Rank 5 adventurer, I can’t drag her into danger with me so carelessly.
Well, she’s an amazing user of healing magic, so it would be reassuring if she came with me. But that would be too selfish for me to ask of her.
So I clearly rejected her, but.
「No, I will definitely be going with you. Just as you are going to save your friends, there is someone I must save as well.」
And now I realize just how foolish I am.
「Is Wing Road there?」
This is a foolish question.
Nell nods in response.
Her older brother and her best friend. I once heard from Will that she has been best friends with Charlotte-chan since they were young. In short, people who are this important to her are in a desperate situation, trapped inside Iskia Fortress.
I’m not the only one who is impatient to get there and save them as soon as possible.
There’s no way that the kind Nell would sit quietly and wait while her family member and friends are in danger.
She has her own strength. If she were the type who’d sit and do nothing just because it’ll be dangerous to fight, she wouldn’t be an adventurer. On top of that, she’s Rank 5, something that I can’t even be compared to.
How could I even think of telling Nell to stay here in Spada and wait?
「Sorry, Nell, please come with me – I mean, will you please lend me your strength?」
Yes, this is the request that I should be making.
I don’t want to lose my precious friends ever again.
Just as Mia told me in the dark alleyway in Spada that day, I’ll save my friends this time.
I will do so using any means necessary.
As if she doesn’t know about my egoistic thoughts – no, as if she knows but accepts them – Nell answers with her usual angelic smile.
In the end, I feel like I’m being spoiled by her kindness. I wonder if I’m a bad person after all.
Seria is watching our conversation silently, but her gaze seems a little cold somehow. I wonder if it’s just my imagination…