“Um… I guess you wouldn’t have any.”
Still hugging her knees, Sera vacantly stared at Riley’s face from the side while he did not answer.
“I have them.”
Sera steadily gazed at the bonfire and mumbled.
“I have quite a few of them.”
The piled-up firewood fell to the side of the fire and flew up sparks.
“Not just about dogs, but many other things. So, I always try to be careful, but… when it comes to dogs, I am still not very good at it.”
While listening to Sera, Riley thought about her cold eyes toward the pickpockets that came at them when they were at Solia last spring.
“Is Lower Solia one of them?”
Riley agonized over it for a while, thinking it might be a question that didn’t need to be asked. Unable to stand the curiosity, he asked anyway. Sera had a bitter smile on her face. She picked up a wood stick laying around her.
She used it to poke and move around the firewood inside the bonfire which were burned completely. She nodded and asked,
“Not completely. During last spring, at Solia… I saw your eyes turning scary cold. So, I thought it might be related.”
Sera smiled awkwardly and turned back to bitter smile.
“You saw that.”
It seemed the smell of firewood was bothering Sera. She touched her nose as she said,
“The reason why my sense of smell is a little better than others… Have I told you before?”
Riley’s ability to recall things had deteriorated severely lately. He shook his head as if he was not sure. Sera said,
“It’s a little embarrassing to tell you this because it was from a long time ago. I used to live at the Lower Solia for a time. I am not sure how long I was there, so I am not sure if I should call that place my second home. Still, it was for quite a long time.”
Riley thought Sera came from the Left Solia. With a surprised look on his face, Riley looked at Sera’s face.
“For a time? You mean?”
“When I was a kid. When a was very little… It’s a memory I do not wish to remember. I am not sure how old I was, but I think I was around 10 years old.”
She said she lost her parents through an accident. She poked at the bonfire with the stick and continued.
“Struggling here and there, begging to people here and there… At the Lower Solia, calling it desperate would not be enough. I lived with grit, clinging to life like that.”
Sera brought up absolutely horrifying things that were difficult to mention. She glanced at Riley who was keeping silent as she continued.
“Anyway, my nose became good while living there. It’s because one cannot survive there without good sense of smell. Others who didn’t develop their sense of smell were eaten by other people or survived by using their sense of hearing.”
She then continued the stories about the Lower Solia. When the stick she held broke, she added that her sense of smell was not the only thing she got from there.
“When a man’s hand is coming toward me, the sound of steps on a puddle, echo at a dark, wet place, sealed off places… Although there are a few other things.”
Folding her fingers, she told Riley about her traumas. Sera eventually buried her face on top of her knees.
“Well, I know you are not going to change your attitude just because I told you these things, but… Now I’m embarrassed to having told you these things. I feel like I’m becoming sentimental.”
Riley looked at Sera with respect.
He was being honest.
Riley always thought it was impossible to tell one’s own trauma to people who were close.
Riley called Sera in serious tone. Sera lightly lifted her face from her knees and looked at Riley.
“Sera, by any chance… did you overcome those traumas?”
His voice sounded more serious than ever. Sera placed her forehead at her knees and shook her head.
Her answer was, ‘I did not overcome them.’
“You saw earlier, right? The dogs earlier… I mean the wolves. I was shaking just from looking.”
There was not even an ounce of confidence in her voice. Riley also had a bitter look on his face.
“Is that so?”
Could it be that Sera realized his bitter voice? Sera looked at Riley again and said,
“I’m living well.”
Riley vacantly looked at her.
“Everyone has weaknesses, right? The Six Circles mage sleeping next you… no… is her Circles higher now? Anyway, our grand mage girl has several weaknesses, you know?”
Sera proudly looked at Nainiae’s face which still had scars. Sera directed her gaze back to Riley and said,
“Young Master, although you said you don’t have any… Honestly, when carefully looked at… Oddly enough, you have many weaknesses?”
Riley furrowed his eyebrows, wondering if he was found out. Sera snickered and started to talk about Riley’s weaknesses she thought about.
“You hate bothersome things. You take naps a lot. You will do anything when it comes to Lady Iris. You cannot say no to Mr. Ian when he pesters you… Ah, perhaps these are not weaknesses. Maybe they are your good points?”
“I don’t think they are bad. Living with weaknesses. The thing is…”
The bonfire was growing weaker. Sera carefully lifted a firewood and placed it inside the fire as she spoke. It was as if the bonfire cried for help toward Sera and she helped out in response.
“It’s not bad because I can ask for help?”
Sera smiled lightly.
“A person without any weakness won’t be able to get help from others easily even if the person extended the hand and reached for help. However… a person with weakness can get help. That’s why.”
She shuffled the firewood and grew the fire. She said,
“I’ll handle the fire, so please get some sleep.”
* * *
Next day morning…
The wolves they met yesterday woke up first, and Nainiae got up next.
“I… I am sorry. I am so ashamed. To think I would fall asleep first…”
Nainiae continued to apologize through the breakfast and until they started to be on their way again.
“I got it. I got it. Please, it is all right to stop apologizing now. I figured you must’ve gotten tired from using that… Teleport? Magic.”
Sera smiled as if she thought Nainiae could not be helped. She explained to Nainiae that she didn’t need to apologize anymore and calmed her down. Nainiae sighed.
“If you are that sorry, please tell the wolves this for me. Please tell them to don’t come close to me.”
“Um? You don’t need to worry so much… Ah… If it is all right with you, would you like to try becoming close with them? They won’t bite even if you pat them!”
Sera became pale and walked back. Riley, who was watching this from the back, pulled Nainiae’s ear.
Thinking she was saved by Riley, Sera sighed in relief. Nainiae realized her mistake and made amends.
“I… I’ll definitely tell them.”
Riley scolded Nainiae several times, and Nainiae tumbled. She withdrew the wolves that were trying to get close to Sera.
It seemed she was feeling very guilty about falling asleep first last night. Nainiae looked gloomy again, and Sera noticed this.
Still, it seemed befriending wolves was going to be difficult for Sera. She lightly moved away and put distance between her and the wolves.
“By the way, these wolves had those black stains on them, right?”
Sera was blushing and widening the distance with the wolves, and Riley smiled in secret as he watched. Nainiae was having a conversation with the wolves, and Riley asked her about the stains.
“Where did they say they came from?”
As if she understood the request, Nainiae, who was watching the wolves that put distance from Sera, carefully said,
“Ah, about that… They are from pretty far.”
“Both of them?”
“Yes. They are from at least two mountains away from here. Unfortunately… it seems their kinds all died from the epidemic”.
“They are only survivors?”
Nainiae added that not just the wolves, but the forest that they used to live also rotted and died. She carefully asked,
“Are you… going to that direction?”
Having heard the question, Riley diligently rolled his brain. Riley looked toward the direction beyond the mountain where the wolves said they used to live. Riley asked Nainiae,
“What about the direction that Heliona said?”
“It’s different. If the wolves’ former habitat is beyond that mountain, the place I’m supposed to go to is straight this way.”
“Make a left turn or go straight… So that’s the question.”
Riley nodded after hearing the explanation. It seemed he was deep in thoughts for a moment. He looked to the front and said,
“Let’s go forward.”
Forward… It meant Riley was saying they should handle Nainiae’s matter first. Nainiae didn’t ask why. She just nodded.
“… Excuse me, both of you? What are you talking about in secret? Can you let me in on it too?”
Sera was weary of the wolves on the front, but she felt excluded as she watched Riley and Nainiae whispering to each other. She asked, hoping to know what they were talking about.
“It’s nothing. We were just talking about which direction to go.”
“Yes. We decided to go straight.”
Nainiae raised her palm to the front and created fire.
<Um. What is it? Where is this place?>
Sera didn’t understand why Nainiae suddenly put forth her palm. When the flame on her palm spoke, Sera flinched her shoulders.
‘W… What is this now?!’
* * *
“Uuuu….. That arrogant little bastard… that arrogant little bastard…”
Kabal the mercenary was a mess. His hammer had turned completely black, and over half of it melted away. He tossed it without care and spat out phlegm.
“How could a little bastard like him become the Left Leg. I really cannot understand why. Chopping his head off after killing him won’t be enough to quench my anger.”
Kabal confirmed that the phlegm that he spat to the ground was pitch black. As if he was disgusted, he stepped hard on it with his left foot and complained.
“God damn it. If it wasn’t for that blind bitch meddling on it!”
From left and right, snow wind was blowing. Sitting there, Kabal let out his frustration. From his back, sparks started to fly along with ‘zizizizik’ sound.
Kabal casually turned his head back to look. Wondering what that was about, he glared at the area.
<… Heed my words, Right Leg.>
Ominous voice could be heard from the place where sparks flied. Kabal, who was sitting at a boulder, quickly got up and lowered his head toward the direction of the voice.
“Right Leg is listening to your voice.”
Kabal called himself the Right Leg. Kabal’s body was shaking before he noticed.
Some may have assumed he was shivering from cold. He was at top of a snow-covered mountain after all. However… He wasn’t shaking from cold.
It was the voice.
<We lost the Left Hand.>
Having heard the words, Kabal, who had his head down, opened his eyes big.
‘Hurial died? That is not possible? Rebethra would have retrieved that guy’s corpse?’
The voice continued.
<Right Leg, go with the Head and find someone who could take the Left Hand’s place. This is my order.>
Kabal lifted his head and looked toward the place where the voice was coming from.
From the space where lightning was pouring out, something that looked like a hole appeared. From the hole, an orb, size of someone’s fist, suddenly popped out and dropped to the snowfield.
It was black. Inside, there were purple gas like thing swarming around. Looking at the orb, Kabal’s eyes became red.
‘Really… Hurial… That bastard is?’
<There is a wound on the Heart. From now on, treat the Heart with care.>
Kabal had his two hands on the snow field. Having heard the words, he tightened his fists.
The words meant that… Not only Hurial, his comrade, but Rebethra was also attacked.
Soon, the sparking sound started to subside. The hole disappeared, and the frightening voice could no longer be heard either. Kabal lifted his head.
“Who! I’ll tear you apart to pieces!”
Kabal opened his eyes big. The gleam on his eyes had purple light lingering there. The light was as frightening as the voice earlier.