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Gateways to Casselonia chapter 3

The hand that was supposed to burst from below the surface of the lake, was immobilized in the blink of an eye only a centimeter away from reaching its goal.

Sorata had put himself in danger in order to save Mizuki from drowning, but ultimately the inexperience of deep diving caught up with Sorata, and he and Mizuki paid for it in the end.

Blub blub, blub blub.

The faint sound of rising bubbles underwater made their way into Sorata’s ears. His body was slowly emerging from a deep, dark abyss of murky water and clouds of sand.

Then suddenly, like being woken up by the sound of a loud alarm clock, his eyes opened and his entire body regained mobility. He started moving almost on instinct to the surface, limbs and torso moving everywhere hastingly like before. It was his last breath he had, and the surface was within reaching distance again. Sorata was closer than ever to breathing air again, as he neared ever closer with increasing speed like a torpedo, the bubbles created from slicing through the water made a violent sounding rumble all around him. The light of the sun sunk so deep and shone so much brighter than before into the water, making it look like a heavenly omen calling out.

"Guhaaaaa!" Heavy gasps came out of Sorata's mouth, his head out of the water after a long, torturous ordeal  without air.

There were waves in the water and Sorata could feel his body being tossed around a bit which was strange since the lake was calm at the time when he dove in. Occasionally his head became buried under passing waves and it made it that much harder to focus his eyesight.

In the distance, Sorata faintly made out an enormous towering shape and pillars of light encircling around near the top of it. A loud roaring sound of water coming from the same direction, but everything was still much a hazy blur with water pouring down from his hair and crashing waves.

"I'm alive, I'm actually alive right now..." He couldn't believe he had just survived drowning. It was safe to assume though from the last thing Sorata saw that he was without a doubt moments away from dying under water.

"Mizuki! Where's Mizuki!"

Right now, whatever was in the distance could wait for later, if Sorata was on the surface that meant Mizuki could too. Left and right he turned his head, desperately looking for some sign of her. A few meters away hiding behind passing waves, Mizuki's body was spotted by Sorata floating unconsciously face up. The sight of the girl made Sorata's heart pound fast, the blood in his veins running faster, and his eyes locked on to her direction. "Mizuki!" Hopefully she was still alive and only unconscious, Sorata thought as he swam with all his might but there was a chance that she may be floating lifeless by now.

 

Sorata tried to not think of anything demoralizing, the idea of only him surviving and the girl he liked passing away tugged at his heart mercilessly.

"Please be alive, please be alive, please be alive, please be alive."

The same phrase replayed in his head as Sorata finally arrived beside Mizuki. He took hold of her in his arms and put his left ear over her heart to hear any possible sign of life.

“I can’t hear anything…” Murmuring under his breath, a few seconds passed and Sorata's hopes of Mizuki surviving along with him weren’t looking so good.

Badump… badump…

Sorata breathed in a load of air into his mouth as he came to hear the quiet sounds of Mizuki’s heart pumping underneath her chest. It was pumping very slowly which meant her heart rate was low and could be detrimental to her body just as much as if it were high. He went up to her face to see if she was breathing, and she was but ever slowly and then put his hand on her stomach to see if it moved, and it did. She was alive, and the fact alone made Sorata smile although painfully because he had just gone through what seemed to be escaping from hell.

Mizuki was in Sorata’s arms like a newborn almost, and in full body contact with him. Her lips were surprisingly full of natural pink color, and her beautiful ‘sleeping’ face only made his heart race. This was the first time Sorata had been in so close proximity to the opposite sex, not to mention he was holding her in his arms for a bit of time now and could feel the heat of her body seeping into him. He was still tired and heart still racing, although his heart rate might stay up as long as he had Mizuki wrapped in his arms, he was still in love with her and now more than ever for what they had just gone through together. Sorata forgave Mizuki a thousand times in his head for the other day which now meant nothing to him.

The waves died down for a bit and the water was becoming calm, this made it easier to stay afloat even while holding someone else, and now that he had time, Sorata decided to examine his surroundings.

“!!... What the… what happened to the trees?..."

The thick forest that surrounded the lake on all sides had vanished completely, and in it’s place were what seemed to Sorata’s eyes to be houses made of stone and half-timbered buildings to his right and left. The lake was now a large river with steep, stone levees. The river was flowing from a cascading waterfall similar in size to Niagara Falls that was at a distance, which explained the roaring sound of water he heard earlier. In that same direction up ahead, was the towering structure that he could barely see moments ago. Sorata’s jaw dropped dramatically and his eyes widened from disbelief at what he saw.

Surrounding mist from the waterfall diminished and a flock of birds soaring high above passed the towering structure before him. It was an enormous castle so high, the tip of it seemed to take on the color of the blue sky behind and almost disappear into it. Circling the tip were three layers of levitating whitish-yellow light pillars stacked on top of one another with each layer beneath expanding further from the center like a funnel. The castle itself was situated beside the waterfall, and a long stone bridge connected it to the other side of land separated by the waterfall, which also had many house-like structures and buildings of masonry and timber. Sorata couldn’t speak a word due to the shear size and volume of the castle that was similar to others found in many fantasy style rpg video games he had played before. It’s presence alone was so powerful and dominant, maybe even intimidating if you could call it that, but it didn’t show itself as an evil castle, but more of a castle that protected a fine princess or housed a charitable king. Despite that, a bit of fear spread throughout Sorata’s body and goosebumps manifested themselves all over his skin. A rainbow came about the waterfall as humidity and mist rose up. The rainbow decorated the castle and it’s surroundings, the scenery became much more that of a fairy tale than before now.

“ Am I dreaming?... Perhaps, we really did drown and die… and this-- this is… I-- I don’t know what this is…”

The sound of voices and chattering began to resound all over. Sorata hadn't noticed but, there were people starting to crowd around the edges of the steep levees to the right and left. "Uhh... ummm..." Sorata wanted call out to the spectators watching them but he didn't know what to say exactly, he was so lost and so confused about where he and Mizuki were, that he was speechless. Also, the fact that any of what Sorata was seeing was in fact real and not some sort of bizarre near death experience or hallucination, was up for debate. The people crowding around had old fashioned clothing from what Sorata could make out, and by old fashioned it meant the clothes were maybe old enough to be put on display in a history museum. But the thing that stuck out the most to him was that nobody had any Japanese facial features, everyone looked like foreigners of caucasian and african descent.

“ What are all these foreigners doing? How come no one is offering to help us out? They’re looking right in our direction so how come…” Sorata hugged Mizuki’s unconscious body more firmly as he was becoming nervous.

Suddenly, a shadow covered over Sorata and Mizuki from behind.

“ Young lad, are you hurt anywhere?!”

“What?”

“Come on! That girl needs help doesn’t she?”

“Uhh, y-yeah she does, umm…”

“Hurry up and turn around so I can bring the both of you aboard. The more we wait the less time we’ll have to help her out. You can understand what I’m saying right?”

“Y--yes! I understand!”

An old man in his mid sixties came up to Sorata and Mizuki on a small, wooden fishing boat extending one of his arms outward offering his aide.

“Up we go little lady hehehe--!” The old man took hold of Mizuki, putting his round plump hands under her armpits and lifted her onto the small boat. Then Sorata grabbed onto the man’s hand and was lifted onboard as well. His clothes dripping wet, the wooden texture on the boat felt real, and the old man’s hand was warm when he grabbed on. This place and the people in it felt as real as he did, as did the air, and the water.

“Phew! I’m glad that’s over right young lad? Hehehe!”

“Aha--haha…” Sorata laughed along as a way to respond, his laugh was a bit weak and with a confused tone to it.

“What were two young’uns like yourselves doing swimming in the Grand River like that huh? It’s not a place you can go and have fun, it’s dangerous if you’re not on a boat. Young’uns like yourselves should be in the fields helping out with crops and harvesting this time of year. But with this I hope the both of you will understand eh?”

Sorata had no idea what the man was talking about, he was also surprised that he understood every word that was being said from someone who looked like they’ve never been to Japan. The question was, if the language the man was speaking was Japanese or, somehow Sorata had learned how to speak another language. Nothing was making sense, but nothing else could be done but to go along with whatever happened, at least no language barrier seemed to exist and maybe he could get some answers as to where they were.

“ Oh! Could this garment belong to the young lady?

The old man had in his arms Mizuki’s blazer that was part of her school uniform. Sorata then gasped for a second as seeing that Mizuki’s blazer had somehow also made it through whatever brought them to this place. He then nodded, meaning it did belong to Mizuki, and the old man proceeded to hand it over to him. Sorata looked at the blazer uniform now in his hands, then over to Mizuki sleeping on the floor of the small boat, and then again at the blazer.

“Good thing I was out fishing here at this time of day.” He gave a big smile to Sorata and he smiled right back, still confused.

“It looks to me like you young’uns might not be from around here. You seem like you’re lost and you want to say something but you can’t find the correct words for it. Am I right?”

“Uh, yes… I uh…”

“Woah! I almost forgot. We need to get to the pier and give the young lassie a bed to rest! Silly me getting carried away haha, I'm not old for nothing I guess."

The old man's voice dropped into the background as Sorata tried getting his mind straight. Mizuki was still unresponsive but her heart was pumping and she was breathing only slightly. Sorata looked back at the castle in the distance and it became blurry again suddenly. His head felt light and his entire body was losing strength out of nowhere, the adrenaline that had kept him alert and awake was now dying down to let him rest.

"Hey young lad, what's wrong? You're not looking so good and you're shaking." Sorata mumbled something but even he didn't know what he told the old man in response. Closing his eyes slowly, the world went black and Sorata fell unconscious next to Mizuki.

"Hey lad! Get a hold of yourself! Lad!!"

The man's words were pointless now because everything he said, Sorata couldn't hear a word of it.

 

The unimaginable had happened, first they were dying and now they were alive, rescued from a lake --turned into a river-- with the help of a fisherman. The scenery was different and the people were foreign, it all felt like a dream but it felt real. The sound, the taste, the scenery, the smell, the texture, all five senses sent their signals to the brain evaluating, processing, and confirming the new information coming into contact. It was different, it was similar, it was fantasy, and it was real. Something was wrong where something used to be right, how could things have changed so dramatically from their former state?  It wasn't going to be easy to figure everything out, and just like before, the only thing that could be done at the moment was to go along with everything that came to them. That was the course of action that he would go by, starting now.

 

"Mizuki... Mizuki... Mizuki..."

"MIZUKI!"

"Guhaaaa!... hah, hah, hah, ha-..."

An echoing, ominous voice called out to Mizuki that made her suddenly wake up gasping and breathing heavily like she just had a nightmare. In fact she did, although in her dream, everything was pitch back, she could only hear her name being called and gradually becoming louder each time. The echoing voice felt as though it was getting closer to her as well. She wondered who could have been calling her in the dream, it was a girl's voice and it sounded familiar to her but she couldn't match it to anyone she knew.

Then, Mizuki remembered she was washing her uniform in the pier of the lake, and falling into the water while in the process. "Was all that a dream?" That's how it all looked to her, she could have sworn she was drowning as well but whatever the case, right now she was safe.

"I guess, it was a dream after all..."

Squinting her eyes, she thought about it for a few seconds intending to comprehend how the drowning incident could have been a dream.

"But I was well awake when I went over to do so. It was around two o'clock that I was at the pier I know that. I was trying to get the stains off of my uniform... and then I fell in. I tried to stay afloat but in the end I couldn't... my wrist hurt whenever I tried to use it and--"

"My wrist!!"

Mizuki suddenly remembered about the injury on her wrist and quickly checked on it.

"I-I-I... it's gone?... No wonder, I wasn't feeling any pain... But how?..."

Her eyes were wide open in disbelief while she moved and rotated her wrist freely. Then she took notice of her surroundings. She was sitting in an upright position on a bed and half her body was covered in a white bed sheet. The bed was against a wall in a corner with a window above it that let inside a warm sunshine into the room. The room had an old fashioned European aura about it, the walls were made of half-timber, there was a small desk with two wax candles on top and a chair, and about two meters behind it a medieval-esque wooden door with iron strap hinges. A big, heavy wooden dresser was next to her bed to the right. The dresser looked very plain and just being made out of wood didn't make it look any more decorative.

Mizuki scanned the room curiously, she didn't know why she was inside such a simple compartment and sleeping on the bed that was in it.

" This is so strange... this room."

Finally, Mizuki noticed something that stretched onto her bed. It was Sorata soundly sleeping on a chair under a small blanket with his upper body on the bed she was on. He was so quiet and almost without presence, surprisingly he wasn't the first thing Mizuki noticed when she woke up. She looked at him not knowing if to call out. Stretching out her right arm slowly, Mizuki decided to wake up Sorata and hopefully get some answers from him.

Her voice trembling softly she whispered "What are you doing here, and what is this place... Sorata Honda?" Mizuki poked his shoulder with her index finger and nothing, he was very busy sleeping and showed little to no reaction. Then in an instant, without knocking or prior notification, the door opened. "Goodness you're awake now!" Gasping with excitement, a hearty woman in her early 40's came barging in the room carrying a big tray filled to the brim with freshly prepared food. "What good news! At first, we didn't think you were gonna wake up, but then the boy here said you were definitely alive and he proved to us you still had a heartbeat. You should've seen his face hahaha, he was so worried about you and as you can see he never left your side for a moment."

Mizuki stared at the woman talking away, she was dumbfounded because she understood everything being said. This foreigner, rather, this caucasian woman who dressed for a renaissance festival was speaking the most fluent Japanese Mizuki had ever heard a westerner speak in her entire life. Or at least that's what she thought it was.

"Honestly though, Mr. Risenmarc and I tried everything we could to convince him to take a bath last night, but he said 'No no, she could wake up any minute and I won't be there to calm her down'. My my the youth of this day and age are definitely something else hehe."

Still completely silent, Mizuki couldn't help but stare at the woman dressed in medieval clothing and speaking 'perfect Japanese' to her. This was such a rare sight that it made her feel a bit scared and insecure, she wanted to say something back in the little English she knew, but how was that supposed to work out if she was being talked to in her native language?

The woman placed the tray of food on the desk and said in a hospitable manner "I'll leave your breakfast here for now sweetheart, you haven't eaten a thing since you were brought here yesterday so you just take your time alright?"

"Speak of the devil, look who's waking up now."

Sorata began to move in a way that suggested he was waking up. He was grunting a bit from being tired and stretched out his arms onto Mizuki's legs. Half awake and half asleep, Sorata raised his head forward looking at the wall and blinked twice, then turned his head to the left over to Mizuki. She jolted slightly from the direct eye contact she was receiving from the half awake Sorata, it made her more uncomfortable than she already was with the Japanese speaking foreigner conversing with her. But she noticed that his eyes were red and puffy, clear signs of a lack of sleep, she realized then that he indeed had been looking out for her, what the woman said about him was all true. After blinking twice at her as if adjusting his eyesight, Sorata said to her in a sleepy voice " Good morning Mizuki, I knew you would wake up," he yawned and then continued " How are you?"

Before she could respond, the woman interrupted "Well well well, good morning to you Sorata. You're quite the caregiver for this girl aren't cha?"

"Oh, Mrs. Finlogg...good morning to you too. Sorry about not taking a bath yesterday, I really wanted to be here in case she woke up, so..."

"Don't cha worry about that kind' a thing Sorata, we just didn't want you catching a cold or anything like that. By the way, you were right all along when you said she was alive."

"Ehehehe..." he laughed it off quietly, a bit of embarrassment resounding in his voice.

The door of the room still open, the old fisherman- Mr. Risenmarc- from yesterday stepped inside.

"My my, I'm so glad to see you two young'uns are awake and energetic this morning."

"I'm sorry if I left you waiting downstairs for too long Mr. Risenmarc, the girl was awake and then Sorata woke up shortly after. I felt compelled to give them a good morning."

The old fisherman shaking his hand, denied he was left waiting too long, "Don't worry yourself over it Mrs. Finlogg, if you do you'll be as old as I am before you even know it."

"Hahaha! Jokingly as ever aren't we Mr. Risenmarc?"

"As soon as you entered the room, I could hear you from downstairs talking away. So I said to myself ' Better go up there before she drives the young'uns mad' heheheh, but I see the exact opposite now that I'm here."

Sorata greeted the old fisherman, now more awake than before, "Good morning Mr. Risenmarc, sorry if we've caused you any inconvenience for yesterday. Mizuki and I are both very grateful for your kindness to us." Mizuki was still completely silent, all she did was sit on the bed and watch as how Sorata spoke to the old man and the woman dressed in antiquated garments.

She never saw any hesitation from Sorata as he talked in Japanese or whatever language it was. The fact was that she and Sorata could understand and be understood without any difficulty. But she did sense a bit of uneasiness in his tone, she didn't know him personally or anything, more or less only when he collided with her and bruised her wrist did they ever come into contact of any sort. She could tell that Sorata was just as lost as she was at the moment about where they were and why. This only made things harder for Mizuki, she felt a growing knot in her throat, the confusion and randomness she had made her want to spill out liters of tears. Nothing came out of her, in the end she let Sorata do the talking for her, seeing he was more mentally stable at the moment. “So then, Sorata, Mizuki,” Mr. Risenmarc called attention to himself, “Seeing as the both of you aren’t from around here and don’t have a place to stay, I was thinking it might be a most fantastic idea if I took the both of you over to work at my lord’s manor. His residence is out in the countryside and I’ve known for a while that the manor has been a bit shorthanded on live-in workers.”

“I was planning on heading over there anyhow since he is one of my business clients and an old friend for that matter.”

“A business client and an old friend?”

“Yes, he gets all his seafood from me, I was on a fishing boat when I rescued the two of you remember?”

“O-Oh, yeah I do remember.”

The old man continued "Don't worry about a thing, My lord is a very good lord, he's known to many as one of the most compassionate nobleman in the kingdom for paying his workers and serfs better than other nobleman. The manor itself is big, spacious, and beautiful, and situated on a small hill. Honestly, I think he will welcome the both of you with a big smile and open arms heheheh, no doubt."

Sorata looked a bit uncomfortable but he smiled as to not make it seem the offer bothered him, which it didn't in fact. He was more at ease now and at the same time also forcefully taking every bit of new information being fead to him.

"A-are you sure we won't become more of a nuisance?"

"What do you mean by that young lad?"

"What I mean is... Mr. Risenmarc, you helped Mizuki and I yesterday when we were on the river and surely that got in the way of your work."

"The river... doesn't he mean lake?" This was news to Mizuki since at that time she was unconscious.

" And then I also past out and you had a lot of people on the street help you out with carrying us all the way here. Not to mention you provided us with new clothes and I'm sure all of this was--"

Before he could finish, Mrs. Finlogg interrupted him abruptly, "I'm going to have to stop you there Sorata."

"Huh..."

"Saving someone's life and caring for them always takes top priority over anything else. Mr. Risenmarc and I both decided to take care of you two of our own free will because we wanted to. Not because we were forced to or anything silly like that. Yesterday too, after waking up you were apologizing for the most minimal things we did for your and Mizuki's benefit."

"Ehehe..." Sorata laughed embarrassingly at what she said because it was all true. He apologized for the food he was given last night, also for getting a change of clothes and having his uniform let to dry, he apologized for the blanket and the chair they gave him.

"Do people apologize for everything they do where you're from Sorata?" The question from Mrs. Finlogg bit deep into Sorata, it made him remember his home country Japan, which who knows what happened to it. He didn't want to lash back at her because she took care of him and it was obvious she had no clue about Japan, it wasn't her fault.

"Well, we do sort of... tend to apologize more than others, I suppose..." He said scratching his head.

Mrs. Finlogg gave a sigh of relief "My my, well whatever the case you both are going to have to adjust to new customs." She smiled at Sorata and Mizuki " But with that said, I too think it would be a good idea if you two went to work at the manor with Mr. Risenmarc's lord. You'll need to earn a living and   a place to stay."

"Y-yes you're right."

Sorata turned his attention to Mr. Risenmarc and bowed while still on his chair. "It would be a pleasure to work for Mr. Risenmarc's lord." Not a single word came out of Mizuki's mouth as she sat upright on the bed looking at everything play out. By this time, the woman and the old fisherman might've thought Mizuki was mute or deaf for the lack of any verbal communication she had since waking up. She just didn't know what to say at all and that was the truth. In her defense, she was in a completely different world after drowning in a lake for what it looked like.

"Well, that settles it then." Mr. Risenmarc was delighted to hear Sorata accept his offer, he grinned his teeth and winked at Sorata and Mizuki, "I'll be downstairs waiting for the two of you to get ready. The manor is a long ways away from here in Casselonia, we'll arrive there after sunset." He turned around and exited the room.

Mrs. Finlogg took over and said " The tray I left on the desk is breakfast for the both of you, take your time and enjoy it okay you two?"

"Thank you Mrs. Finlogg." Sorata bowed slightly as he thanked her.

"Oh and Mizuki," Mizuki twitched a little at the sound of her name and looked at Mrs. Finlogg. "I put the clothes you had on when you came here in that big dresser along with other clothes for you. They're clean now, and folded inside of a bag."

She smiled as she closed the door of the room and said in a melodic tone "See you when you're ready."

Kerchak!

And the door closed.
Riding in the back of a wagon filled with hay and wearing new- or antiquated- clothes, Sorata and Mizuki accompanied Mr. Risenmarc over to the manor house out in the countryside where they would be working as live-in servants for a wealthy nobleman. The sky was painted a clean blue and a few clouds here and there to go along with it. The road they were on was nothing more than visible bare earth carved out of the rolling hills and vast, lush grasslands that seemed to stretch from one end of the horizon to the other from who knows how many years of continued usage. Heavy patches of trees and bushes were abundant everywhere, not letting the 

grass take all the scenic glory. Mr. Risenmarc was driving the wagon using two big, brown horses at the front and everything so far was quiet and peaceful.

With her right arm wrapped tightly around Sorata’s left arm, Mizuki sat in utter silence leaning her body against him and resting her head on his shoulder. Her head was lowered to where the front bangs of her hair covered her eyes completely and had been that way ever since they set out for the manor.

" Why's Mizuki holding on to my arm so tight? This is so strange, I thought she hated my guts and here she is so close to me, clinging on to me as if we were lovers or something!”

Sorata’s inner voice trembled out of excitement for Mizuki’s special ‘service’ for him but that was far from what it actually was. If anyone had seen them cuddled up so close to each other like that, surely they’d be mistaken for a couple  but he slowly came to realize it wasn’t out of feelings of affection. She was still confused and scared about everything, and Sorata was the only thing familiar to her in this strange new world they were in. She sought protection as she held on to his arm. Seeing the once proud and talkative vice-president of Adachi Ward Public High School in a cowering state was conflicting and in a way, painful to watch. Though Sorata really didn't mind at all being in this position with Mizuki, rather, he was enjoying every moment of it.

Sorata's heart was racing and without a doubt Mizuki could sense it, but she obviously didn't care at the moment, she was too busy holding on to his arm to even care about anything. As long as she felt protected while doing so, nothing else mattered. Still, Sorata decided to look at the beautiful scenery around him to try to slow down his heart beat. "So, young lad."

"Huh? Y-yes Mr. Risenmarc?"

With the perfect timing, Mr. Risenmarc started a conversation with Sorata. A good way to keep his mind from thinking about Mizuki.

"You never told me from what kingdom you are and where it's located. I am a bit curious to know after all."

"Oh umm, y-yeah my kingdom, my kingdom is..." For the second time in one day, Sorata was forced to remember his home country Japan. Images of his friends, his high school, his house and room, and his family quickly came to mind. It caused him to space out briefly from the sudden homesickness that dropped in his stomach. It felt as though he could easily close his eyes and open them up again and see himself outside the front gate of his house. Knowing he was just there a mere 24 hours ago and now in some medieval fantasy world was painful to acknowledge. Then he remembered about Mr. Risenmarc's question.

"It's an island nation called Japan, and- and it's a bit small."

"Hmmm, Japan eh?... I've never heard of such a kingdom in my life. Where is it located exactly?"

"Well Japan is, in the east... I think." Sorata didn't know if he gave a good answer or not. They could very well be in the east in this world for all he knew.

" I see, so it's an island kingdom in the east you say. I guess it figures that I know nothing about it, taking into account I've never traveled outside the borders of Casselonia in my life. Well I've been to the Sovereign Kingdom of Koringia to the south and stayed there for some extended period of time, so I guess that counts as going abroad right? Hehehehe!"

Sorata smiled and laughed along with the old fisherman. He might as well settle down for now and think about how to solve his and Mizuki's problems later on.

"So the city we were at recently... it's name is Casselonia, right?"

"Right, the capital of this kingdom's name is Casselonia, same goes for the entire kingdom itself too. It's the largest kingdom on the continent, but the capital is only the third largest after Koringia and Drascony’s capitals. I don’t know if you were able to notice, but the river you two were on- the Grand River- runs through the capital from a giant waterfall, and then connects to the Moon Crest harbor in the Western Ocean only a stone’s throw away from where I rescued you two.”

“Since Casselonia has easy access to the ocean, there is an abundance of trade and commerce everywhere with other port cities and kingdoms. You can find almost anything you want in Casselonia with minimum efforts.”

“That’s pretty pretty amazing isn’t it?”

“Yes, and that’s one of the many reasons why I’m proud to be a Casselonian myself, hehehehe!”

Sorata smiled in agreement and then turned his attention back to the scenery.

A cool and gentle breeze brushed the grasslands and rolling hills of the countryside. Sorata inhaled the fresh air and let it out through his mouth, his mood seemed to change to a more positive one, the conversation he had with Mr. Risenmarc definitely took his mind off of Mizuki wrapped around his arm. It didn’t take long though, Sorata looked down at Mizuki to see how she was doing and as he thought, she continued to be in the same position as before. Her grip hadn’t lost any strength and her head was still down, she was still awake he thought. Just as Sorata was looking down at her, he noticed that the neckline of the dress she wore, gave him a most generous view of Mizuki’s cleavage. Sorata suddenly gasped at his marvelous find but quickly shut his mouth and looked away. He blushed uncontrollably and a drop of sweat made it’s way across his left cheek.

“Mizuki… You- y- your guard is down, your guard is down!! Maybe she is asleep and doesn’t notice how much she’s showing. Oh man, I need to calm down… she could also not be sleeping, and worst case scenario, if I get carried away… she’ll catch a glimpse of what happens when a man becomes... happy.”

Sorata was still a growing boy and like all 18 year olds his age, sometimes there were things he couldn’t control due to the out of control hormones hard at work in his body. He opened one of his eyes momentarily and glanced once again down at Mizuki’s cleavage, only this time he gazed for quite a bit longer. His heart rate skyrocketed and the longer he stared, the more he could hear his own heartbeat in his ears getting louder and louder. Finally, Sorata somehow managed to look away again, thinking that if he kept it up, he would ultimately suffer a heart attack and die as a way of atonement for taking advantage of the situation.

“I am without a doubt the worst person ever!”

Shaking his head slowly and shutting his eyes as tight as he could, Sorata tried to clear his conscious of any thoughts that could demean his image of Mizuki as being a pure maiden. He knew that just the other day when he knocked her over in the school entrance, the image he had of Mizuki up to that point had changed somewhat but since then, he had forgiven her in his head for how she behaved. He never stopped liking her even after being told off so bad, despite that, he still had to make an effort to talk to her about everything. Mizuki had just woken up a few hours ago alive and well to some foreign place that wasn’t Japan after thinking she was a goner, she 

deserved to know what she had missed out on and it was her right to know everything Sorata knew.

 

A few hours had gone passed by now, and the scenery wasn’t at all different from when they entered the city limits of Casselonia in the morning. Sorata guessed it might be around four o’clock or so, seeing as how similar it looked and felt to the same time when he was back in Japan. They had passed three very small farming villages so far, they stopped at one along the way to rest for a while and eat something and refuel the horses with food and water. Mr. Risenmarc had even traded some fish for salt to a family of peasants in the village. When they had stopped to rest though, Mizuki still didn’t speak a word to anyone even when they all got off to stretch. And as soon as they got back onto the wagon, she sat next to Sorata again, wrapped her arm around his arm tightly, rested her head on his shoulder, and lowered her head enough so that her bangs would cover her eyes under their shadow. She was acting like a child, not talking to anyone and behaving the way she was. This didn’t surprise Sorata in the least, he knew exactly what she was thinking and feeling, and also that back in Japan she lived a luxurious life of a wealthy, spoiled girl who was also the granddaughter of a mayor. Now out of her comfort zone, she looked like any ordinary human being and a little less intimidating since showing off her weak side.

It was a matter that couldn’t be helped either way. Sorata and Mizuki had to go along with their current situation, nobody had the slightest idea that they had come from another world, or possibly another time. They did know however, that Sorata and Mizuki were not native to Casselonia, and they couldn’t fake it even if they wanted to, since every Casselonian they saw was either caucasian or black in physical appearance, no one else had any asian features except for them.

They continued on their way to the manor where they would be living and working for the time being. By now, the sun was disappearing into the horizon behind grasslands as far as the eye could see. The sky was a perfectly blended gradient of different shades of blue, orange, and yellow, dazzling the heavens in natural harmony. There were clouds as well that reflected the light of the sunset underneath them, making the view much more awe inspiring. The view could be described as a view fit for a loving couple, it was the perfect sky to be under with a loved one, is what Sorata thought since he was next to the girl he liked but unfortunately, his circumstances were a little more complicated than they appeared and Mizuki right now was fast asleep. Sorata figured by now that they were getting closer to the manor, he remembered Mr. Risenmarc saying in the morning they would be there by sunset so it was now only a matter of time. Sorata felt a little nervous about living and working in a manor for a wealthy nobleman. He wanted to be there already because it would be where him and Mizuki would be able to have a roof over their heads, have food to eat, and earn money for themselves but he also didn’t feel like going any further. He felt the further they went along with things and the more involved they became in this country named Casselonia, their chances of returning home to Japan would diminish and eventually disappear. To be honest, Sorata hadn’t the slightest idea of how they even got to Casselonia in the first place, so devising a way to go back was virtually impossible to begin with. The only thing Sorata and Mizuki could do was to take on whatever lied ahead in their future for their own good.

The sun was nearly gone by now and the sky was gradually becoming a little more darker. Sorata had fallen asleep quick, resting his head on Mizuki’s head. They had finally reached the village in which the manor was located in and continued on toward an ascending hill at the very end of the village. As the wagon rode down the path, Mr. Risenmarc waved at a few of the villagers who were still outside just finishing the day’s work, and they waved back greeting in loud enough voices for him to hear. Mr. Risenmarc only waved and smiled, knowing he could wake up Sorata and Mizuki with his voice at a high level and at close proximity. He was well known in the village for being a good friend of the lord who resided in the manor. He had taken many trips to the same village for years now, doing business not just with the lord but also with the villagers and the monks at the local monastery.

Now at the top of the hill, Mr. Risenmarc stopped the wagon and called over to Sorata and Mizuki, "Wake up lad and lassie, we're finally here."

"Hmmm... we're here, you say?"

Sorata opened his eyes, his vision still a little blurry, and saw Mr. Risenmarc getting off the wagon.

Mr. Risenmarc made his way over to the large wooden doors of the manor house and used the iron knocker to announce his arrival. He waited with his arms crossed and after a few seconds the door slowly opened in front of him, making a quiet screeching sound as it opened.

“Well, if it isn’t Mr. Risenmarc! How have you been?”

“It certainly has been quite a while Lola, approximately twelve weeks I’d say, Hehehe.”

The person who had opened the door was Lola: the head maid of the manor. She was taller than Mr. Risenmarc, about thirty centimeters taller to be precise. She had on a black and white maid uniform with a small, white maid cap on her head. Her skin was black, her green eyes shined like emeralds , and her long, whitish-grey hair was in a ponytail with large bangs extending over the eyebrows. She was in her mid to late 20’s, a little young to be a head maid but she had proven herself to be more than apt.

“Hehehe indeed it has. So, I take that you came to deliver the seafood requested by lord Maxwell if I’m not mistaken?”

“Sorry, I couldn’t respond to the letter he sent a few weeks ago, I was kind of in a mess back then, but it is as you say Lola.”

“Very well then, I think lord Maxwell is in the study room so please wait patiently while I go retrieve him--”

“That won’t be necessary Lola.” The one who had interrupted Lola was none other than the lord of the manor: lord Maxwell.

“Oh, lord Maxwell.” Lola stepped aside from the door to let him meet with Mr. Risenmarc. “Old friend how have you been? It’s been so long now!” Lord Maxwell said in a cheerful voice as he stepped out of the manor, with both arms wide open preparing to embrace his friend Mr. Risenmarc.

“I’ve been in good health as you can see, and I was just telling Lola here that it’s been twelve long weeks since the last time we met.”

Lord Maxwell was as old as Mr. Risenmarc in his mid 70’s with hair short and grey, and a full beard. He had a bedazzled walking stick although he didn’t limp and was still strong enough to walk, a cap made of velvet on his head befitting someone of his status with a red feather sticking 

out. He wore a white robe and a blood red surcoat made out of fine material over it, tightened at the waist by a silver belt embedded in the coat of arms of the Maxwell Manor. His stockings were of an earthy green color with brown pointed shoes to go along, a purplish-red cloak with white fur resting on his shoulders, and lastly, gold rings on his fingers topped with jewels of all colors. Lord Maxwell fit the image perfectly of a nobleman.

“I also wish to apologize for not responding to your letter, I was in a bit of a bind at the time and was making business on the other side of the kingdom. But as you can see, I am here and I brought plenty of beautiful sea creatures for your enjoyment my lord. ”

“Oh stop it, we’re friends after all aren’t we? So no need to be so formal and apologetic now. Besides, I understand that being a traveling merchant can be tough at times.”

“Yes, I couldn’t have said it better myself hehehe.” Mr. Risenmarc scratched his cheek with his index finger as he let out a half embarrassed laugh.

"Well now that it's this late, why don't you spend the night for today? There's plenty of rooms in this big manor of mine after all.”

Giggling mischievously, Mr. Risenmarc said "If you would be so kind that would be a pleasure my lord."

Putting both hands on his waist, lord Maxwell turned his upper body ninety degrees to the side and gave an order to Lola behind him, "Lola."

"Yes my lord."

"Prepare some tea for us would you, and get a room and some sleeping clothes for Mr. Risenmarc please." And finished with a sparkling wink.

"Right away my lord." Lola said smiling with a bow and then left to prepare the tea, her heeled shoes echoing down the corridor as she walked.

Lord Maxwell turned his attention back to Mr Risenmarc and placed one of his hands on his shoulder firmly and said, "Don't worry about the horses, I'll get someone to put them in the stable for you, now let’s go inside old friend."

With the same hand he had placed on Mr. Risenmarc's shoulder, lord Maxwell moved it over to his back and gently pushed him in the direction of the doors. At that moment, Mr. Risenmarc stopped himself from going any further and with a mixed tone of guilt in his voice he said to the lord, “ Actually my lord… before we go in, there is something else I need to bring to your attention.”

“Hmmm? What is it?”

“If I recall correctly,” Mr. Risenmarc put a hand over his mouth to clear his throat for a second, and continued, “Last time I was here, I heard you were shorthanded on live-in staff members for the manor and you were open to anyone willing to work for you, am I correct my lord?”

Lord Maxwell had a blank expression on his face, almost as if he had forgotten something important and was now being remembered by someone else.

“Oh, yes… yes you’re right I did mention that last time didn’t I? Hmmm, we still are shorthanded at the moment here actually. Only have seven maids doing the actual housework and five that attend the kitchen. Sometimes they have to alternate to help out in the kitchen, and laundry, and the cleaning, so they do get pretty tired at times my poor maids. Why do you ask?”

“Well you see, one of the reasons why I was a day late in coming here was because yesterday, I uh... I rescued two young’uns from drowning in the Grand River while I was fishing, a boy and a girl. They seemed lost and scared, and I knew they weren’t from around here so I took them to an inn that was nearby so they could rest and have something to eat for the day.”

“Hmmm, I see.” Lord Maxwell said as he listened carefully.

“So then I thought, ‘Hey! My lord is in need of staff at his manor. Maybe he could take these two in and they can help out.’ So I brought them with me today. Let me call them over here.”

Mr. Risenmarc turned around and cupped one hand next to his mouth, calling both Sorata and Mizuki, “Come on over young lad, bring the little lady with you so you can both meet my lord!”

Sorata was helping Mizuki off the wagon as they were being called, “ We’ll be right there Mr. Risenmarc!” Sorata replied with haste as he helped the drowsy Mizuki carefully get off the wagon. She had slept for a while now, close to four hours in total. Sorata couldn’t tell if she was feeling any better after the nap because of the drowsy look on her face. It might not have been a good idea to talk to her yet since she still hadn’t spoken a word to Sorata, even after he told her they had arrived to the manor already.

She could be in a bad mood for being woken up for all he knew, and so, he decided to not talk to Mizuki, thinking it might upset her for the moment.

Lord Maxwell looked over Mr. Risenmarc to catch a glimpse of the young voice’s owner.

“That boy and that girl… do you know where they’re from? They definitely aren't Casselonian, and there aren't many like them with hair that black either.”

“Yes, uh… Sorata: the lad, he said that they were from an island kingdom to the east. Ummm… what was it called again?...” Mr. Risenmarc shut his small eyes tight in hopes of not being distracted from anything while attempting to remember the name. It was at the tip of his tongue, and you could see how much the agony of forgetting actually made him tighten his entire face even more.

“Hmmm I can’t remember the darn name. It sounded weird too, so that’s why. I’ll just have them tell you once they introduce themselves my lord.”

Sorata and Mizuki finally made their way to the front doors of the manor. Mizuki with a somber expression, only looked down at the ground.

“S-sorry we’re late, t-the heel on Mizuki’s shoe… it sort of got stuck in between two boards so it took me some time to get it free...” He was clearly nervous when he spoke, and who wouldn’t? There he and Mizuki were, before a nobleman in fancy, medieval attire. This was Sorata’s first time to ever meet someone of such status, he could barely speak without stuttering and he tried avoiding eye contact as to not offend him. He didn’t know if Mizuki had ever met anyone who was royalty, she was a rich girl back in Japan after all, so she could have had a chance of easily meeting at least someone who was famous or of high social status through her connections.

That’s what Sorata thought though. Mizuki wasn’t showing any signs of being nervous or impressed by the fact. More than anything, the aura around her was more of being annoyed and bothered to be there, like when children are forced to go visit relatives. That, and the dismal look she had on, worried Sorata to a degree. Fearing the Nobleman might take it as a sign of disrespect and not take them in.

In order to make a first good impression, Sorata immediately took the lead by bowing a full ninety degrees to the front.

“M-my name is Sorata Honda. I am from Japan and I am 18 years old.” Nervous and sweating bullets, Sorata wondered if he had spoken too fast or too loud. Then, he remembered not seeing Mizuki bow at the same time as him. This could make things worse for them one way or another.

“Dammit! I didn’t see Mizuki follow my lead as soon as I bowed!! I should’ve introduced her myself, or put my hand on her head and forced her to bow with me!! But at this point, there’s no way I can do it, and that could piss her off and make her hate me for touching her that way… Damn! We’re screwed, we are definitely screwed!!”

The subtle sound of rustling fabric next to him made Sorata slowly open his left eye, and to his surprise, Mizuki had taken a full ninety degree bow just as he had done.

"My name is Mizuki Amamiya, I am also from Japan and I am 18 years old. It is a great honor to meet you my lord."

“...M- Mizuki…”

Whispering as soft as he could, the feeling of walking on a thin tightrope suddenly vanished like magic from Sorata’s system. He gazed at Mizuki with the eyes of a rescued damsel.  

Mizuki said it like a pro. It might as well have been considered a routine line repeated throughout her entire life. No hesitation and flawless execution of a  perfect formal greeting Sorata never saw coming.

“Hahahaha! Relax boy, you’re stiffer than a board right now.” Lord Maxwell patted Sorata amicably on the back to loosen him up a little. He didn’t want the status of nobility to make those around him so tense.

“Huh?”

Sorata couldn’t believe how informal the lord was acting. He knew the lord was said to be a kind man from what Mr. Risenmarc had told him, but not so much as to almost discard all formalities between them. Lord Maxwell and Mr. Risenmarc laughed it off as nothing more than inexperience from Sorata. He joined them as well, though his laugh tried to cover the fact that he still felt somewhat tense, and now a little embarrassed too.

Coughing slightly to clear his throat, Lord Maxwell put one hand on Sorata’s shoulder, then looked at him in the eyes, “Alright then, I’ll take the both of you in to work for me. How does that sound?”

A bit of excitement caused Sorata to become speechless after hearing they would be hired to work in the manor. It had to be something to rejoice about, or maybe this was just another step into not being able to go back home. He didn’t know exactly what to feel or what to say. The hospitality that they were given deserved words of gratitude at the very least.

Sorata began expressing his gratefulness with a bow.

“Ah!… T- t- thank you so much. We promise you that... we will not disappoint or make you regret your decision. Mizuki and I look forward to working for you from here on out. Thank you so much again my lord, we are forever in your debt.”

Lord Maxwell felt trustworthiness in Sorata’s words so instead of chuckling or laughing at how hard he was trying to be courteous, a manly pat on the shoulder was used as a replacement to acknowledge his efforts. “ Now that that’s settled, let’s go on inside and get to know each other 

better. It’s nearly dark outside after all.” With a neutral but welcoming tone, Lord Maxwell said as he looked at Sorata and Mizuki inviting them inside the manor.

 

About two solid hours had gone by since meeting Lord Maxwell for the first time. Everyone sat in a large and spacious chamber room with candles shining dimly on the walls accompanied by an iron chandelier overhead. The dim lights shone bright enough to expose hanging heraldic banners, fine craftsmanship on wooden framework for walls and the ceiling, two large paintings, a marble bust, and other furniture.

   Socializing over a few glasses of cardinal wine, it was Mr Risenmarc and lord Maxwell who were the most talkative during the entire session. They discussed topics such as current news and politics, the economy of Casselonia and how it compared to that of neighboring kingdoms. Such subjects weren’t of any interest to Sorata and Mizuki who were sitting quietly next to Mr. Risenmarc on a lengthy sofa. Most of the time the only real involvement they had was Sorata expressing himself through nods and short responses to any small questions directed to him. Mizuki’s presence was almost undetectable to say the least. She sat in pure silence through the entirety of the conversation, only looking down at the simple leather shoes she wore that Mrs. Finlogg had given her that same morning. Poor Mizuki was bored of course, Sorata could sympathize with her since he wasn’t really interested in politics or economics the way these two old geezers were.

Their wine glasses were now empty. Lord Maxwell and Mr. Risenmarc were looking a little tipsy after they each had five- six full glasses in that one sitting. These two geezers could really hold their alcohol though, Sorata didn’t know of anyone who had the same stamina to take in that much without making a fool of themselves or passing out on the spot. It seemed that all topics of interest had been exhausted now to a point where the two of them had nothing more to say. Lord Maxwell stood up from his couch and stretched a little with a sleepy yawn that could only be described as contagious. “I guess it’s time we all call it a day.”

“Hehehe you’re right my lord. Today’s been a long day to be honest and my lower back is killing me despite all the wine I drank to make myself feel better hehehe.”

"Speaking of which," lord Maxwell gently caressed his beard while looking at Sorata "I have a spare room outside the manor that you and Mizuki can use. It's small but there's two beds, a small dresser, and a desk inside that you're more than welcome to use while the both of you work for me."

"O-okay, thank you so much my lord." Sorata leaned forward to bow still seated on the couch.

" Alright then. Everyone follow me."

 

Outside of the manor was a narrow pathway with wooden planks dug into the ground acting as a fence on both sides. The makeshift path lead to a small stone shack with a roof made out of hay. It was only a short walk away from the manor. Lord Maxwell lead everyone through the darkness of the night with a burning torch in his hand, Sorata carrying both his bag of clothes and Mizuki’s with him on the way there.

He noticed as they walked to the shack, the familiar chirping of crickets all around them. Whatever this world was, the creatures living in it were very much like the ones back on earth.

Maybe this place was earth in the first place, but it had taken a different route from the one him and Mizuki had come from and never left the medieval era.

“That shack over there is the room I was talking about earlier.” Lord Maxwell looked back at Sorata and Mizuki behind him, “ Like I said, it’s not very impressive but it’s in fact a servant’s quarters.”

“That’s fine enough. Mizuki and I are just grateful to have a place to stay at all.”

“Hmmm, I like that humility of yours boy. You’re already proving that my decision to hire you both was indeed a good investment.”

Laughing with a hint of embarrassment seemed to be the only way Sorata could respond to being praised by the nobleman. He then felt a firm hand on his shoulder and turned his head slightly.

“Isn’t that great Sorata? I know you and Mizuki will get used to how things work around here soon enough.” Mr. Risenmarc smiled proudly at him, showing that he was off to a good start. He smiled back. The hospitality he was feeling made things not seem as bad as they were for the moment, it was reassuring too, because Sorata knew they would not be out on the streets with nowhere to go.

“We’re here now.” The sound of rattling keys jingled while lord Maxwell examined them under the light of the torch. He stuck one into the keyhole of the door and a few seconds after twisting and turning them, the door opened with a creaking noise coming from it's old iron hinges.

Thankfully they had a torch because inside the shack was pitch black. As they entered, the light of the torch revealed a short, narrow tunnel that connected to the room. The tunnel walls were almost three meters high but were only wide enough for two people to stand next to one another crammed shoulder to shoulder.

At the end of the tunnel to the right and left were two beds with their own blankets, sheets, and pillows to go along. One of the beds was actually just a long enough wooden box on the ground filled with hay covered in blankets. A desk and chair all made of wood stood at the end of it facing the stone wall. The other bed at the corner had more of a proper platform lifting it off the ground and the mattress was a little more sophisticated than it’s counterpart on the ground. There was a small window on the wall next to the elevated bed, another door was at the far right hand side corner of the room and in front of it a small dresser. This would be the room Sorata and Mizuki would be sharing mutually from now on.

“You kids must be tired now after what you’ve gone through today, right?”

“Yes, It has been quite a day for us both…”

“The good thing about it is that you’re both alive and well. Honestly I look forward to having the two of you lending a hand around here. Hopefully with time we can get to know each other better as well. We can’t have Mizuki here shy forever now can we? Hehehe.”

Mizuki blushed and lowered her head a little since attention about her silence was brought up in a teasing manner. It was teasing of course, but not in a way to make her feel bullied. The nobleman really did think she needed to open up a bit more in order to get along with the rest of the staff maintaining the manor.

“Anyhow, starting tomorrow, the both of you will start working. I’ll have Lola- the head maid- come wake you two up in the morning, and she’ll guide you from there. She’s a very nice person too, so no need to tense up around her alright?”

“Understood my lord.” Sorata and Mizuki were in the narrow space separating the beds and looking over in the direction of the tunnel where lord Maxwell and Mr. Risenmarc were standing.

“See you two tomorrow then.”

“Good night young’uns. I’ll be gone by morning so we won’t see each other until the next time I come around here. But don’t worry, I’ll stay in contact.”

Lord Maxwell and Mr. Risenmarc turned around and walked down the narrow tunnel. Lord Maxwell stopped halfway in for a moment, and hung the torch he had in his hand in a torch holder hanging from the walls.

“I’ll leave this one here for you two. Good night now.”

“Yes my lord.”

The door slowly closed behind lord Maxwell, then a clicking sound in the keyhole being locked echoed softly in the firelit hallway made of stone. The room became eerily quiet after that. Sorata and Mizuki still stood in the same place just staring at the door. Sorata’s eyes were motionless, his mind was blank. You could say he was a standing corpse almost. He had absolutely no idea what had just happened or what to do next, or even if he should stay the night in that shack.

To continue harassing his mental state, the same questions kept repeating themselves over and over again like an intense interrogation. Everything seemed like a sinister prank that was meant to torment him and Mizuki in some inhumane way.

Sorata suddenly felt his body being squeezed tightly from behind. He looked over his shoulder and there she was. Mizuki had her face buried in his back, embracing him with all the strength in her arms. The sounds of her sobbing were somewhat quiet, it seemed she didn’t want to do it in a loud volume, maybe that was why she placed her face on Sorata’s back. Beyond any doubt, Mizuki was at her limit.

Her quiet sobbing forced it’s strong influence into Sorata’s heart where he was also suppressing desires to let out his emotions. It didn’t take long, a thin layer of tears glazed over his eyes sparkling from the light of the torch in the hallway. Those tears bundled up together and the force of gravity took over, guiding them down his cheeks and some into his mouth where his teeth were biting into his bottom lip fiercely. The way they were feeling towards one another right now was that of bringing along objects that had some sort of significant sentimental value with you to live in a foreign country, sure they had their school uniforms with them but that couldn’t compare to having someone who you could relate to or talk about specific topics that only someone of your country knew about.

Sorata and Mizuki had to be strong from now on, they didn’t know what to expect after the day transitioned to the next. Sorata clenched his fist hard, he knew he would have to turn this despair into something else if he wanted to survive. He raised his head up high, tears still spilling from his eyes, and conveyed his inner thoughts to Mizuki in a soft whisper, “I will protect you.”