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Gateways to Casselonia chapter 10

Demoralized was the village governed by the recently slain nobleman Sr. Maxwell who lived in a splendid manor house, now burnt to ashes, atop a small hill looking over his people. Demoralizing was also that nobody knew why this had happened in the first place, or whose idea was to infiltrate the estate to assassinate not only the lord and the lady, but as many people as possible with the two explosions taking place at the very end.

Different conclusions on who the identity of the culprit behind this horrendous plot, was on everybody's lips ever since the fire died down and gave time for detective work. Some villagers suggested it was an accident and the explosions were caused by all the alcohol in the wine cellar. This theory was ruled out because it didn’t explain the lord’s beheading and the arrow lodged in the guard’s neck. Once more, the explosions had occurred on the second floor of the building and not the wine cellar located underground.

Another approach was proposed, stating that the lord and lady were mad individuals all along, and decided to take their own lives and burn down the house along with them, making it look like an accident. Those who mentioned this idea were met with an angry backlash from the rest of the villagers hurting from the mental and emotional wounds of having their gentle ruler and his wife die by such tragic means.

In the end, the village came to a final conclusion. Stating the cause to be that of the recent incidents involving bandits attacking unsuspecting merchants at night. They might’ve set their sights on the manor knowing well they’d be underestimated due to it belonging to a powerful lord. And what better time to do it during a holiday when things are generally more relaxed. That way of thinking became a double edged sword.

Everyone in the village felt a heavy burden of shame weighing down on their shoulders after arriving to this conclusion. Regrets of not taking any more safety measures when it came to safeguarding the village only made the atmosphere gloomier than before. Relying solely on lord Maxwell’s reputation as a means for protection proved to be a fatal mistake.

Be that as it may, one suggestion that everyone in the village agreed on with no objections, kept going around like wildfire. Many didn't want to accept it, but the choices were few and less promising than the one at hand. The idea alone was convincing enough to give birth to a second one, which involved deserting the village forever in search for a new place to call home. This included the entire population that worked for the Maxwell manor, including the priest and nuns in the chapel. No one was to stay behind, the village's fate had been decided then and there.

But like any other statement, this one wasn't without a fine print. When they concluded that everyone should leave, they were excluding Sorata and Mizuki, ruling them as the exception.

The reason for this opaque verdict? Recalling an unforgettable but horrible experience a month's time ago that nearly drove Sorata to the brink of insanity, would later lend him a hand as to why.

 

"Am I dreaming...?" His calm, inner voice asked himself these same words a month ago while gawking at the gigantic castle shortly after arriving in Casselonia. No second thoughts were needed to answer that question. It was obvious that we wasn’t dreaming any of it. Recalling the castle, he remembered when his and her world suddenly changed into a fantasy in the blink of an eye. He could replay that moment easily in his mind like a video on the net.

"Is this really happening...? I'm so close to her, kissing her smooth skin and yet...she’s letting me." Sorata couldn't believe his own senses. The softness his lips were pressing on, that flower-like smell captivating every fiber of his being, those irresistible, soft moans she made every time he kissed her.

Sorata had never kissed a girl so passionately before, not even as a young boy when kids sometimes playfully peck one another on the face because of curiosity. You could say this was his first ever hands-on experience of such high degree with someone of the opposite sex.

Despite it being the first time, he didn’t lose composure, rather, he’d never felt so calm in his entire life. Mizuki was just as tranquil, if not, more due to not freaking out about having someone who wasn’t even a boyfriend kissing her neck. As far as intimate encounters went with the opposite gender, Mizuki was light years ahead of Sorata in those regards. She had already dated two other guys by the time she became a senior in high school, though both were actually no more than forced relationships brought on by her parents looking to broaden their power with other CEO’s who had male heirs to their companies. The most recent one she’d only dumped because he always got a little too carried away with her when they were alone, and due to the fact that he was even more spoiled than she was.

Out of nowhere, Mizuki placed both her hands on each of Sorata’s cheeks and brought his attention to her eyes. Not a word was spoken. He became a little confused as to why she stopped him, but the look in her gorgeous, honey colored eyes told him everything the instant. Mizuki neared her face closer to his, shortening the distance slowly but ironically fast in speed, making it feel almost like a suspenseful countdown. This was it. Sorata realized he was seconds away from savouring her pink lips, a wish coming true like he imagined since the first time he laid eyes on her figure at the start of his high school life.

Mizuki’s lips suddenly began moving slightly, voicing her inner thoughts to him in her usual sweet tone in a gentle whisper that could only be described as music to the ears.

“So-ra-t…”

Knock knock knock

“Sorata... Mizuki… Are ye there? There’s somethin’ important I gotta tell ye.”

Coming in at the worst possible timing ever, Mr. Tybalt arrived knocking at the doorstep of the servant's quarters where Sorata and Mizuki were taking the time to "heal" their wounds, a worn out leather hat pressed on the chest with his left hand. His tired voice seemed almost forced out of his throat from the all nighter putting out the fire, enough to ruin a romantic mood at least.

Instantly, Sorata got up and frantically brushed away any dirt on his clothes, straightening the collar of his shirt and adjusting the belt. "B-Be right there!" He half shouted half panicked the sentence, prompting Mr. Tybalt to raise an eyebrow in speculation as to why the hasty tone.

Likewise, Mizuki did the same thing, desperately adjusting and straightening anything on her person (including her hair) that could give away any wanton actions.

He opened the front door, a quick squeak let out from the hinges short on oil, and just like the unmotivated voice heard a few seconds ago, Sorata came face-to-face with a melancholic, puffy eyed Mr. Tybalt lightly slouching forward due to fatigue. The weary man forced a smile on his lips and greeted Sorata with a hoarse “Good morning”.

“M-Mr. Tybalt, sorry for making you wait. Good morning.” Sorata’s voice wasn’t so much different in tone from his visitor’s. All the tears shed and wailing took a toll on his now rasp throat.

“Don’cha worry lad. I know you’ve had it just as rough as all of us here.” He waved his right hand lazily in an arched trajectory, dismissing the fact he waited long. “It’d be mighty cruel of me to expect more out of ye when not even this old ragged body o’ mine can take everythin’ that’s just happened in these last few hours. I should be the one t’ apologize. Prob’ly interrupted yer sleep, huh?”

“No, not at all. Or uhh… well, I wasn’t really doing anything particularly productive so to speak. More like resting, and trying to make sense of all that’s happened today...”

Sorata lowered both his head and voice slightly as he explained, tugging a little at his left sleeve to fit it properly, and continued.

“Just thinking what we’re gonna do from now on. I mean, since lord Maxwell and lady Endolyn not being around anymore... But surely we can rebuild the village if we all work together, right? We still have each other to rely on, so I know things can go back to the way they used to be. It’ll be hard,I know, but it’s not impossible to make this the same place it was before.” Mizuki was sitting on the edge of her bed in the cover of darkness, untouched by the vague morning light entering through the open door. From the looks of it, she knew something was amiss with the farmer at their doorstep, there was no mirror on the wall in front to reflect his expression to provide better judgement, but her woman's intuition hinted unsympathy sprawling out of the man. She curled her hands into fists.

“No matter what happens I’ll be here to help out with whatever needs to be done, you can take my word for it-” As if to uphold Mizuki’s hunch, Mr. Tybalt interrupted Sorata's optimistic speech from reaching its conclusion, his impression conveying some annoyance.

"I'm sorry lad, but, this place won't be seeing those flowery moments you just described anytime soon. Those days are long gone by now." Completely polar opposite attitude sprang forward almost at random, catching Sorata by surprise with a stiff face. He'd never heard Mr. Tybalt speak with so much irritation like he was now, in a sense, it reminded him of when parents scold their children for bad behavior although no such relation existed between the two, they were more like friends with a wide age gap.

Sorata stood frozen silent in place briefly, conflicting emotions running wildly in his heart. A half smile spread across his face, not because of happiness or anything of that nature, instead it resulted from the confusion of his mental state, forcing an involuntary smirk as a defense mechanism.

The man took a deep breath and sighed before continuing.“What I really want to say is, every one of us here in the village came together for a meeting a few hours ago. We heavily discussed the options at hand for a while and debated on the future of these lands here. The task wasn’t easy, but it’s a necessary step so that we may all move on with our lives peacefully after what happened. Honestly, it hurts to know that ye and Mizuki only got here a month ago looking for work. Mr. Risenmarc saw the both of ye in need of a place to stay and all. But like I said before, those days are long gone by now. Clearly ye understand what that means, right.?"

What Mr. Tybalt was trying to get at with relaying this, was that the village would be no more. A population of zero, abandoned, a ghost town, not a soul was to stay behind. Every family was going their separate way. But his choice of words lacked any directness and that's what troubled Sorata since being interrupted. Something bothered him just by looking at Sorata. Nonetheless, he started catching on to the meaning behind those oblique words, though it hurt his chest to admit it.

"So, what you're  saying is... we're going to move away from here forever, huh?" Pain came to every muscle in his mouth to transmit this question. A familiar knot appeared once more in his throat.

An answer wouldn't come for another 5 seconds.

Although by this time, Sorata decided a response wasn't even necessary. Mr. Tybalt's body language and silence spelled it out for him.

Only did a slow nod confirm the inquiry, a deep frown covered in distress followed.

Still without understanding the entire picture, Sorata reached out again. "Then, if that's the case, we'll go with y-"

Mr. Tybalt cut him off a second time, only now he rushed in faster than before as he turned around, putting his hat on in the process.

"My family is waiting for me lad. I have to go now." And began walking down the hill back to the village. At that moment, light beams from the break of dawn climbed over the horizon from the southern mountains to the left and stretched over the sky majestically, illuminating the clouds along with the landscape below. An strong gust of wind accompanied shortly after. Sorata opened his mouth on the verge of calling him back, but the only sound he could produce was a short stammer tainted with confusion, most likely swept away by the wind. Even if Mr. Tybalt did get to hear him, he already made it clear he had no intention of staying any longer.

That’s when it struck him. The reason behind Mr. Tybalt’s sudden change of character.

“Don’t tell me he… he actually thinks Mizuki and I are both cursed?”

Cursed? Why would Sorata assume such a preposterous explanation? Maybe he was just shocked speechless from the way he got turned down.

Or was it?...

“That’s gotta be it. Just like Sr. Bowen told me on that day we went to the capital…” He immediately recalled a specific part in the conversation he had with the knight on that day explaining the stand owner’s xenophobic behavior in further detail.

“People like him think the Aldgrundian race are full of disease and only bring about bad luck to the places they go. Considering them lower than second-class citizens I should say. Unfortunately, even though we already have laws against discrimination, some continue to spread hate on the Aldgrundians because of their different hair and eye color, as well as their immigrant history to Casselonia hundreds of years ago.”

Sr. Bowen’s voice faded off after that segment and a bleak sentiment poured over Sorata. His answer was right in front of him, slapping him in the face like an insult. Mr. Tybalt didn’t want anything to do with Sorata and Mizuki anymore because he thought they were Aldgrundians. Tagging them with prejudices like “diseased” and “cursed”. There was no way he could come to terms with this kind of realization that easy. This was a man that treated them on equal terms since day one, always in a good mood, always first to strike up a conversation, and more than glad to have someone like Sorata work alongside him, be it in the fields, a shed, or letting him casually play around with his own kids during off-days. Having such enjoyable memories with Mr. Tybalt and his family, and now being shunned away like some sort of pest overnight, only stabbed at his heart like no other situation before it.

But the reality of things had to sink in. He had to accept the fact that the entire village probably held a grudge against them by now, because to them, Sorata and Mizuki's existence was what brought upon this hellish day onto the village, deaths of over a dozen people in one night. It didn’t matter if they weren’t the ones who committed the atrocities directly, rather their presence alone carried a burden sufficient to bring about ruin wherever they settled.

Or so the superstition states.

Still sitting quietly on the bed, Mizuki had her head downward in grief as a result of being abandoned by the very people that took them in with open arms a month ago. Her gut feeling was right from the start, and this was the outcome.

Sorata stepped back into the dark room, his head low bearing the weight of abandonment. He rotated his vision over to the left where Mizuki was sitting in silence, she looked at him too, her saddened eyes communicating her feelings. Instead of letting the somber circumstances get the best of him, Sorata took it upon himself to offer a reassuring smile to Mizuki.

“Don’t worry, I’ll come up with some kind of a plan, so don’t let it get to you, okay?”

She stared at his smile wondering if he was being genuine or just trying to hide anguish. Nothing could deny that Sorata might be the one hurting the most because of all this, but Mizuki needed to place faith in his words, she had to be with him during the best and worst of times, acting as his major pillar of support. In this world they only had each other.

“Mhmm, I know you will.” She also smiled faintly and nodded as she spoke in a comforting manner.

 

Sorata and Mizuki were in the middle of packing their personal belongings in three big potato sack-like bags. They had decided to head out in search for a new place to work and call home, no use living in a deserted village anyway.

About a half hour had passed since Mr. Tybalt parted ways with Sorata and Mizuki, and the lingering thought of “what if” stuck with them in the room like an awful stench while they got ready. Things were more or less quiet during the packing. Minor noises from down in the village could be ambiguously heard through the open window. Everybody else was leaving just as previously mentioned.

Around three quarters of the entire village population had already left, and none other than Mr. Tybalt had even considered saying a final goodbye. Why would they anyway? They all thought of them as a contagion out to get them, a plague if you will, simply there to spread around bad luck to others. Their destinations were unknown to Sorata and Mizuki too, but that was a trivial matter to ponder over now that they had their own problems to take care of. And because desperate times call for desperate measures, what else to do but fend for themselves the same way.

During their packing, images of what him and Mizuki were doing not too long ago popped into Sorata’s brain one after the other, causing his face to blush in deep red. He shook his head in hopes of those images falling out via his ears so he could concentrate on the task at hand. Those efforts weren’t quite enough. In the end, Sorata couldn’t help but think back on it like some bad memory, although in his situation maybe it could be considered a good one depending on how you saw it.

“I know that Mizuki and I were one step closer to first base back there, but I can’t afford to lose my mind over that right now. We’re in a desperate situation here.” He glanced discreetly at her for a moment, over on her bed folding clothes given to them by Mrs. Finlogg when they stayed at her inn, as well as other clothes they received from the villagers. The calm expression on her face lead him to believe she felt at ease by now, which was a good thing, but his eyes soon began to wander about over her figure. Sorata took his time examining her lips, reminding himself he was only millimeters away from greeting them with his own. “Dammit, she makes my head spin out of control every time I look at her. Could she have come to like me? Now that she let me kiss her neck, shoulders, upper chest…”

His eyes inadvertently scoped out those three body parts, admiring them as he mentioned each like an item on a grocery shopping list. Then, a few long strands of pure jet black hair suddenly glided into Mizuki’s field of vision, so she took her left hand and pulled them back behind her ear in a manner that could only be described as both beautiful and delicate, while breathing out a gentle sigh. She had essentially taken away Sorata’s breath with one simple everyday action capable of driving all men crazy without even noticing. The level on Mizuki's "attractive meter" blew sky high according to Sorata.

He turned away quickly wide eyed, expanding his chest excessively from heavy breathing. "I can't believe it. This girl is gonna drive me insane with her beauty before this place does. And to know that I was all over her... her, Mizuki Taniguchi... the most popular, most beautiful girl in Adachi Ward Public High. And on top of that, the student council's vice president! She's been my delirious crush for so long and to see myself doing this and that without her pushing me away and calling me a pervert."

"I need to calm down. I'm starting to hear my own heart beat already."

Naturally, this was a first for Sorata, hence his extremely excited behaviour. Being an eighteen year old with no prior romantic experience of any kind with girls until now, would obviously make him overreact in such fashion. You could only expect so much. But who could blame him? This was the girl of his dreams he was talking about, not a blind date or a one night stand sort of scenario where honesty and lies go one-on-one inside your conscience.

As a change of pace, once again, knocking came from the front door of the room. Sorata and Mizuki looked at each other and then at the door, wondering who it could possibly be.

"Sorata, Mizuki. It's me. We need to talk." The voice coming from the other side was probably the most familiar one to their ears. Maybe they already knew who it belonged to. It sounded somewhat teary-eyed with a lot of sniffling as an added bonus, but it compelled them to answer the calling.

Opening the door, and what came after was but a surprise to Sorata and Mizuki. Lola was at their doorstep, her beautiful green eyes red from crying after losing her would-be husband, but pressing on a smile. She dressed in a beige cloak and underneath it “casual medieval” clothing, a white, coif bonnet cap over her long whitish/gray hair. On the ground on each side were two large bags, most likely filled with her belongings which meant even she planned to leave here soon. Sorata noticed her still wearing the engagement ring Sr. Bowen had bought for her about a month ago when he accompanied him to the capital. Seeing that almost made him drop down to his knees in tears, but right now wasn’t the time for that. Lola had come over to speak with them about something important, and who knows, maybe she would offer herself to help them out since no one else would. If that was the case, then lucky for them to catch a break.

“Lola.” They almost shouted her name from the surprise of seeing her there.

“Hi you guys, how are you?” Her composure wasn’t all that perfect since her nose still sniffled a bit.

“We’re doing fine I guess… but, more importantly…”

Sorata held back on completing the sentence. Obviously knowing she was hurting on the inside despite putting on a different face.

“Oh, don’t you two worry about a thing now. What we had was a very beautiful thing between us. To tell you the truth, I am sad about what happened to Mereck and all, However, I know he wouldn’t forgive me if I lived the rest of my life crying over that. He used to tell me things like that ever since we began dating. He is, or rather, he was a soldier, and dying was just part of the job, and he fulfilled it… So instead of being sad because it's over, I should be glad that it happened in the first place. To know that the man I loved, loved me as much as I did to him.” What the maid said left both of them speechless, they stared at her with reverence gleaming in their eyes. Her voice was a little exhausted as well, seeing as she’d been crying for hours. Compared to Mr. Tybalt though, Lola’s body language showed no signs of fear or resentment towards Sorata and Mizuki who stood less than a meter apart from her.

All signs pointed to the most available reaction they could give at the moment: a consoling hug. That's when Mizuki took it upon herself. She stepped forward one step and then began to open her arms up slightly as to embrace Lola. Seeing this, instead of going in for the hug, Lola unexpectedly retracted the left side of her body without stepping back, as if not wanting to be touched.

"Ah-"

A faint sound of surprise exited Mizuki's mouth.

It was then that she made her point clear, everyone in the village thought of Sorata and Mizuki as a cursed breed, and Lola was no exception either.

The maid giggled nervously out of embarrassment, trying to divert attention away from avoiding Mizuki. "S-sorry guys but... I-I... I must go now. I can't stay here any longer. Please, forgive me!" She dashed off suddenly with her head lowered avoiding all eye contact, the tears left behind glimmered  in mid air from the morning sunlight as they fell to the ground.

Mizuki was left again speechless. Her face was ready to burst into tears, but her legs gave way before she could. She collapsed and fell on her knees, and finally, warm tears began to gush out of her eyes by the liters. Her cries probably making it across the village from the sheer volume.

Immediately, Sorata dropped to his knees too, but not because he intended to discharge heavy emotions. He went after Mizuki.

"Mizuki! Mizuki! Hey Mizuki, get a hold of yourself! Remember, I'm right here. I won't abandon you no matter what."

Sorata grabbed her, then embraced her fully in his arms, placing her head on his chest.

"Why Lola... why her?... I don't understand… she’s the one we were closest to. I don’t get why everyone is suddenly starting to hate us."

"Neither do I. But it's something we have no control over. They have their own ways of thinking, so we should just let them be." He did know why in fact, but now wasn’t the right time to tell Mizuki about the Aldgrundian’s long and painful history of migrating to Casselonia. Not much after that did Sorata begin to shed tears himself, though not as heavy as Mizuki, but he shared his pain.

 

According to the digital clock at the top, right hand corner of Sorata’s cellphone, the time of day was eight twenty five in the morning.

By now, the entire village had cleared out it’s population and the only living creatures making any sound were birds singing their songs to the light of the new day in place of people, farm animals, and tools. Making it look and feel like a true ghost town. Walking along the main road, Sorata and Mizuki made their way out of the village they called home for a month.

They both had on a new set of clothes.

Sorata wore a green fitted doublet with long sleeves given to him by lord Maxwell as a hand-me-down. A dark brown belt sitting on his waist and sporting black tights along with a pair of dark colored boots. He carried on his left shoulder two of the bags containing their belongings, tied together by the strings.

Mizuki on the other hand, was draped in a brown hooded cloak extending all the way to her ankles. Underneath it, she had a simple crimson colored kirtle corset dress, and in her right hand was one of the three bags full of their own clothing.

“You’re lucky.” Mizuki quietly pouted at Sorata.

“Huh? What do you mean?" The screen on his phone faded to black as he anchored his thumb on the on/off button.

"What I mean is, your phone still has battery, even after all this time without a charger."

"Like I told you the first time, I seldom use it even when I really want to. And when I do, it's only to know what time it is." That, and take a quick peek at his secret stash of Mizuki pictures hidden deep within his phone. But there was no way ever that he would dare to tell her about his sacred treasures, much less describe in full detail how he planned out every shot. Sorata would rather swallow one thousand needles than run the risk of having Mizuki hate him all over again because of those pictures. No doubt she would start feeling sick to her stomach being around him, or worse case scenario, leave him and go off on her own.

He'd put in too much time and effort into growing this bond between them to have something mundane like a picture mow it down in a few seconds. "That's why I've managed to save it up for so long, and I'll continue to do so until the battery completely drains. We're the only ones with this kind of advanced technology in this primitive world. So in my opinion, I think it's crucial to use what we have from our world in moderation, like our cell phones, because you never know if a time will come announced where you find yourself needing it."

"....." Mizuki glanced at him momentarily from the corner of her left eye, expressing curiosity.

"So... what was it that you were aiming to become?"

"Huh?" The question being off topic, almost made Sorata believe he misheard something.

"You know... about the future. Was there a particular career that interested you? Like becoming a doctor, a lawyer, or maybe an entrepreneur, that sort of thing."

"Uh, well... I know it wasn't something that would take me over four years of study to complete ..." His tone was quick to dismiss the examples in a similar way that reflected his affinity towards politics: nonexistent.

"What was it then? Your future goals."

"Hmmm, I never really gave it that much thought, or I should say, there wasn't something in particular that made me want to do for the rest of my life. But If I had to choose, I'd be a male nurse."

"Really?"

"Uh, y-yeah. Why are you so surprised?"

"Because, I'd never thought you'd be interested in a job that's more sought out by women than men. You also don't really look the type to work in the medical field. Or maybe it doesn't suit you."

"A little too honest today aren't we?" Sorata replied, his indirect words also showing a drop in morale. But Mizuki wasted no time in trying to clarify her views.

"N-no I didn't mean it that way. It's just that, seeing you at a glance doesn't really bring up the impression of a nurse. But getting to know you as time passes," Her tone took a sudden decline in volume, becoming a little shy, "I can see why you want to be a nurse. You're gentle when you handle others and you're caring..."

She claimed this out of experience after they had that intimate moment a few hours ago.

Sorata caught on in no time without the help of any hints, jolting his body like he'd been given a small shock, the only thing he could think of was to stay in silence due to her response leaving him semi awkwardly inarticulate.

Reconsidering that decision though, he thanked Mizuki so she wouldn't feel like her compliment wasn't appreciated, on the contrary, it gave Sorata a much needed boost of confidence.

"Thank you." He turned his head to her and smiled warmly. "But you're right. I don't really look like someone aiming to be a nurse after all. To begin with, there isn’t a thing I know about medicine, not even one of the most crucial and most basic life saving maneuvers like CPR. But something about it attracts me, knowing that I’d be able to help people when they’re sick and making them feel better. If I had become one, I'd be the first in my family to have such a job. So it's a given."

Mizuki smiled back faintly, only looking at him by the corner of her eyes, not turning her head completely. That's when a new question came to Sorata's mind, asking it with a real sense of intrigue. "Speaking of which, why did you change the subject all of a sudden like that?"

"Oh sorry about that. It's because you gave such a thorough answer to what I said earlier, about your phone and all. And I wasn’t expecting it to turn out so detailed.”

“Then, I guess it’s my fault then?”

They laughed in unison at Sorata’s jokingly remark, then turned around slightly to see the village one last time before finally leaving it behind for good.

While on their long walk, Sorata and Mizuki came across a smaller village where they stopped shortly for breakfast at a small bakery and then continued onward. The bakery owner didn’t seem to mind their presence all that much, he did keep staring at them a little though, but nothing over the top.

Sorata and Mizuki decided it would be best to find a place to live that wasn't too close to the village. That was the rule they absolutely had to follow. Staying anywhere near their former home could possibly spell disaster for them one way or another.

Anytime now, neighboring villages should be getting word of what happened to the Maxwell manor. Not to mention that two people who lived there purportedly belonged to the Aldgrundian race, meaning they were partially to blame for the disaster. Certainly some other nasty rumors would be attached to the accusations just to make things worse for them. No matter what, they had to keep moving forward, never losing sight of the path in front. Of course, being Aldgrundian wasn't against the law in Casselonia or anything irrational like that. Fortunately there were mandates prohibiting and protecting Aldgrundians and other racial minorities from being persecuted because of their race, religion, and culture. Though sometimes what some xenophobic Casselonians did in order to satisfy their lust for bigotry was to hire Aldgrundians and make them work in poor and unstable conditions with little pay. Or they could simply use the free speech rights to verbally abuse them as they pleased on the streets or wherever. The law only protected them against physical abuse, verbal insults and the like were virtually legal since taking someone to court over name calling didn't seem all that mature for a grown up to do. Sorata remembered all of this from what Sr. Bowen had told him the day he experienced his first discriminate act. Luckily it served as valuable information to how he should act in order to avoid unnecessary conflicts. And to how he should go about around others who weren't Aldgrundians.

Nevertheless, Sorata couldn’t yet go around telling everybody who labeled him as such they were wrong, and that in reality he belonged to an absolutely different race from another world. A month hadn’t been sufficient time to learn everything about how people in this world viewed the idea of different universes existing at the same time. This world that went by the name of Casselonia seemed to him too ignorant to even consider the possibility. But Sorata knew well that even in earth’s timeline, ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Chinese, and most of the entire world had there own visions of alternative worlds like Olympus, Valhalla, Heaven, and Hell. Or he could be entirely wrong for that matter, since there was a predominant religion in Casselonia, perhaps it had similar concepts.

Either way, claiming to be from another world that didn’t go according to this one’s beliefs could more than likely incarcerate you or torture you to death or whatever punishment they bestowed upon heretics. Guess there was something worse than being an Aldgrundian in the end.

Coincidentally, Sorata and Mizuki got lucky as they both walked down an empty road and a merchant offered them a ride on the back of his wagon. The ride brought them a load of nostalgia, since this was how the old fisherman- Mr. Risenmarc- had taken them with him over to work at the manor house a month ago. This time was a bit different for Sorata. Mizuki wasn’t clinging on to his arm in fear of her surroundings like back then. They sat on opposite sides of the wagon, left and right, facing each other. In no way did it mean a fight had occurred between the two at some point earlier, it just meant they were looking for a bit of leg and arm room to stretch out since they’d been walking for nearly two and a half hours non stop since leaving their village.

Conversations sprang up here and there from time to time with each other and the wagon’s driver; a slightly younger man than Mr. Risenmarc, took a genuine liking to Sorata and Mizuki. The traveling merchant had a wife and three daughters who were ten years older in age compared to his young hitchhikers, and enjoyed fishing quite often himself. When asked about if the name Risenmarc sounded familiar to him, the merchant mulled over the question for a while, going so far as to ask himself directly like there were two of him, which made Mizuki giggle considering it a rather cute. To be fair, the traveling merchant was a senior citizen, and older people do tend to be adorable at times on purpose or unintentionally.

His company served well to ease the majority of tensions to lower levels dragging on like dead weight to Sorata and Mizuki. The three bags full of clothing were already heavy enough for a long journey on foot, and the fact that they were on a small wagon pulled by two horses wasn’t an excuse for unnecessary worries to tag along for the ride. “Life is better enjoyed when not depressing over past matters you can’t change”, is what Sorata kept repeating in his head, seeing how such a simple sentence could make a world of difference to the soul.

Halfway during the migration, Mizuki casually shifted to Sorata’s side of the wagon, sitting with her legs out to the side and leaning her head on his right shoulder comfortably. This time ended up differently from the first time riding in a wagon. Mizuki remained calm while Sorata came to be the nervous one. Naturally, she forced a vigorous blush on the boy’s face without fail, then held on to his nervously shaky arm, relaxing it with the gentleness of her arms wrapped in caring warmth. A cute sigh of relief capable of captivating all five senses of a man, seeped into Sorata’s skin through his pores and then all the way into his bones where the soothing sigh landed soft like a feather, causing him to melt in deeper love.

Sorata soon calmed down, seeing how peaceful she treated him meant that Mizuki undeniably had a change of heart towards him, and she really believed him to be someone who could protect her in any situation. One thing still remained unclear, and that was whether she held any mutual romantic feelings similar in nature.

But Sorata wouldn’t allow the question to linger aimlessly in his head to cause a hassle, because for now, he felt at peace with himself and his surroundings, and Mizuki only made things that much easier for him to bear. She was there to support him, as was Sorata.

Somewhere along the way, Sorata and Mizuki got off the wagon and continued to advance on their own two feet.

Puzzled momentarily, Mizuki directed a question to Sorata that should’ve been asked a long time ago. “I was wondering…”

“Huh? What is it?” Judging by her tone, Sorata could already guess he needed to answer something. Hopefully nothing too difficult.

“Where exactly are we headed anyway? I’ve merely been following you and the question only popped into my head until now actually… so I have no idea where you’re taking us.”

Stopping as if even he hadn’t thought about their destination and only been traveling haphazardly, Sorata stayed frozen in place, spiking a bit a suspicion in Mizuki.

“Um, Sorata? Don’t tell me we’re going to have to sleep without a roof over our heads tonight. I thought you had a plan already in mind of where we were going.” She asked almost a step away from panicking, but Sorata would show her there was no need to fear.

Giggling quietly, he proceeded with a firm declaration.

“I thought you’d never ask. Follow me. Just a short climb over that hill and we’re almost there.” He started walking in the direction of the hill, Mizuki following his footsteps.

“I-I absolutely won’t forgive you if we have to sleep under a tree, or inside a dirty cave filled with insects tonight.”

“Rest assured. We’ll more than likely be able to sleep comfortably at night, and the next night, and the next. I have approximately seven thousand shield. You should have about the same amount right?”

“Yes.” She nodded reflexively.

“Good. Then that means all together we have fourteen thousand shield from working at the manor. That’ll give us sufficient time and rent while we find another source of income.” Those last words peaked Mizuki’s interest, leading her eyes to expand with wonder.

“You mean-”

Taking a final step on top of the hill and looking over, Sorata turned his head back at Mizuki who was no more than a meter behind. “Yes. From today onward, we’ll be living in the capital city of Casselonia.”

Now at the summit, Mizuki had the exact same view as Sorata. About two kilometers away, the third largest city on the continent known as Casselonia, lay vastly spread out in front of them like a modern city, protected by an extensive wall around it. Long smoke clouds appeared from dozens of chimneys on buildings (most likely restaurants and stuff), could be seen rising to the sky and then disappearing after a certain distance. People walking about the streets could be made out only barely, considering Sorata and Mizuki were watching from atop a hill two kilometers away. Soaring watchtowers were placed within the city strategically and at a great distance from one another to watch for enemy invasions.

The Grand River zigzagged its way into the walled city and under a long stretching stone bridge, where it became a gigantic waterfall, and then a into river again, extending all the way to the bustling Moon Crest harbor and finally emptying itself into the Western Ocean.

And last but not least, the frosting on the cake, the granddaddy of everything else that stood out about Casselonia, it’s most mind-blowing, most breathtaking landmark and symbol of governing power. The massive sky-piercing castle with floating pillars of whitish-yellow light circling the very tip in a funnel formation, stood like an dominant mountain over the medieval metropolis, radiating with authority. All in all, the city was one big fantasy rpg-style game setting with many real world characteristics mixed in with a digital artist’s touch.

Mizuki could only gawk at it in disbelief, staying completely motionless examining every nook and cranny possible. This was her first time actually seeing the city in it’s entirety, not even a small glimpse before. When she was first here with Sorata a month ago, she didn’t have the opportunity of seeing the city because she laid passed out for an entire day, and even when they left with Mr. Risenmarc, Mizuki always had her head down and stayed close to Sorata like how a scared child clings to it’s mother.

“This… this is, Casselonia? “

“Yes. And that river is where we came out of and where Mr. Risenmarc helped us onto his boat.” A breeze came in suddenly, brushing the grassy fields separating the two from the capital. “We’ve come a long way to end up here again.” Sorata said taking on a philosophical tone.

The streets were busy and people walked, scurried, skipped, ran all over to get their business done, just another day for the citizens of Casselonia. Sorata and Mizuki walked the crowded streets amidst a surprisingly low number of people staring at them. Everyone, and literally everyone populating the cobblestone grounds looked of European and African descent to Sorata and Mizuki. Not one civilian had black hair or brown eyes but them, only gray, red, brown, white, orange, and blonde hair dominated the heads of Casselonians, eye colors were just as extravagant.

Mizuki walked a step behind Sorata weary of her surroundings like she was when they first arrived, but also a bit curious to see so many non Japanese people around her. You’d think by now she’d gotten used to the fact that only her and Sorata were the only Japanese in that world since they lived in a village exclusively with Casselonians for a month, but it would prove to not be that easy for her. Noticing Mizuki tucking herself away behind him, Sorata asked, “What’s wrong? Are you not feeling well?”

She nodded in disagreement. “No. it’s just that… since it’s my first time walking around here, I feel curious but out of place at the same time.”

“I know what you mean. I felt the same way when I came here with Sr. Bowen a month ago. This city’s big and crowded like Tokyo, but it’s totally different when you consider the infrastructure and nothing that we’re familiar with exists here. It all looks like a fantasy game. Only people, food, and clothing are the most familiar, and yet they aren’t because nothing resembles our own culture in any way.”

Looking off to his far left for no particular reason, Sorata caught sight of something he’d wish he never saw. A butcher in a tented stand made direct eye contact with him as they walked along. His clothes tainted in the blood of the animal meats he was selling, a few missing teeth, an eyepatch, poorly groomed facial hair, bald, and a scary butcher knife in his right hand dripping in fresh blood with the sharp edge circling around his neck repeatedly.

Yes, he was glaring intently at Sorata with the eyes of a murderer and smiling sinisterly to boot. Sorata quickly became frightened and began sweating bullets from all his pores at the chilling sight before him.

The man’s lips moved but no sound came out at the same time. Surprisingly he didn’t stop walking from the shock or have a nervous breakdown, instead he quickly repositioned his head forward again, changing his expression from fearful to serious after closing and opening his eyes and regaining control over his emotions. This time was going to be different, even more because he had someone worth protecting by his side who also provided motivation and strength to him.

Sorata then looked down to his right side and found Mizuki’s left hand free of any cargo. He grabbed her hand instantly and gently with his, causing her to pop her eyes in surprise.

“Come on Mizuki, let’s find ourselves a place to stay.”

She looked at him with awe, a twinkle of motivation sparkled in her beautiful eyes as she did. Blushing with a half smile and then giving a final nod, she said.

“Yeah.”

END OF VOLUME 1

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