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Gateways to Casselonia chapter 8

A significant amount of time had gone by now.

Approximately an entire month since Sorata and Mizuki had drowned and emerged in the middle of a river, only to find themselves in a place that wasn’t there own. This new place, or better yet: this medieval world that went by the name of “Casselonia”, was more than just a mystery to them. What made it that way was the fact that it had completely replaced the surrounding forest, where Sorata and Mizuki had drowned in a lake, with a thriving medieval city of old school stone and half timbered structures in all directions. Not only that, but the lake had somehow transformed into a flowing river that came pouring from a giant waterfall next to an equally gigantic castle off in the distance. From then on, all the people they came into contact with hadn’t the slightest idea that they’d come from another world. They just assumed they belonged to a race known as “Aldgrundian”, because of their distinct black hair color. Though Sorata had mentioned he and Mizuki were from Japan to only three people, no suspicious eyebrows were ever raised as a reaction.

Sorata found out the hard way of what it meant to be an Aldgrundian living in Casselonia. The day he went along with Sir. Bowen to pick up supplies in the capitol was the day he learned that harsh reality. Purposefully ignored and publically humiliated by a shopkeeper, Sorata was forced to retreat back to Sir. Bowen’s side with his tail between his legs and left him on the edge of insanity.

After the incident, Sorata learned the sad truth behind the Aldgrundian race thanks to Sir. Bowen informing him on the topic as they decided to not continue doing business with the bigot shopkeeper. Only Mizuki had yet to know about any of this and Sorata knew he needed to tell her sooner or later before she learned it the hard way herself. But that was already a month in the past, and he still hadn’t told her anything. Many chances presented themselves throughout the course of those thirty days, but they never lasted long enough for Sorata to muster up the courage to disclose the information to her. Not only that but he himself was guilty of putting it off when they were left alone in their servant’s quarters at night.

Adding to the mystery of Casselonia was that it’s inhabitants weren’t Japanese, despite Sorata and Mizuki having drowned in a simple landlocked lake that wouldn’t allow them to drift off into another continent. Everyone resembled people of Caucasian and African descent, clad in renaissance style clothing and chatting away in what seemed to be the most flawless Japanese they had ever heard a non-Japanese native speak.

During this first month, Sorata and Mizuki also learned about the ongoing conflict between Casselonia and it's neighboring kingdom of Koringia. The two countries were on the brink of war once again as the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of its initiation was only two short days away now. And such events only fueled existing tensions. Sorata had concerns of his own regarding the war. Not anything concerning the reasons behind it or because he yearned for peace between the two nations. He knew that if he and Mizuki were still around by the time the next war broke out, somehow he would be dragged into the fighting without any say whatsoever. Sorata knew he would undoubtedly be drafted with "help" from Sir. Bowen or something like that. He lacked the guts to say no to people's selfish requests all the time, which he always ended up regretting at some point or another because everyone knew how easy he was to manipulate.

Right now the only thing that mattered to him was finding a way back to Japan before finding himself getting slashed to pieces in a war he had no business in.

Sorata and Mizuki’s cell phones had both made it safely to the other side with them. The differences between them were that Sorata’s phone’s battery was at near full but couldn’t get a signal. While on the other hand, Mizuki’s mobile phone’s battery was nearing it’s end because it wasn’t the first time she’d taken it out to fool around on while she was alone, and the other major difference appeared in the reception bar.

When she tried calling home was a different story though. The mystery behind the reception signal of her phone was never explained, and it would stay that way forever now because by this time the battery had been completely exhausted. Power outlets, phone charging stations and the like were literally nonexistent in this analog medieval world.

And finally, the latest relevant information to come out was about the child the Maxwell manor had lost long ago due in part by grudges left behind from the war. Thanks to Mizuki who accidentally wandered off into a dusty old room she thought needed cleaning, but turned out to be the room where the young child once slept in. There, after finding a rag doll on a bed, lady Endolyn discovered Mizuki inside the room. Though at first she was somewhat confused as to why she was there in the first place, she then figured out Mizuki hadn’t been informed properly on the status of the room by the other maids, and thus proceeded to tell her the history revolving the dusty space.

As for how they would go back to Japan and when, was still a blank page to Sorata and Mizuki. They never really discussed the topic amongst themselves either oddly enough, not even when alone in their bedroom every night. Yet during their month stay, Mizuki slowly opened up a little more to everyone in the village when it came to being social, including to Sorata.

It was enough to at least not shy away and stutter out of nervousness every time she engaged in a conversation with someone else. She’d even been caught smiling a few times here and there around Lola, the lord and lady of the manor, the manor staff, and the villagers, which always brought a huge sense of relief to Sorata whenever he got the opportunity to see it with his own eyes or hear about from someone else.

And so, after an entire month of living in Casselonia, Sorata and Mizuki -to an extent- felt a sense of belonging but without losing hope of someday returning home. Nothing else out of the new ordinary had taken place either. The one thing you could say they waited to pass for was the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary since the beginning of the war between Casselonia and Koringia. Fortunately though, tensions seemed to be on the decline on both sides. Instead of fueling the flame of war, both nations were calling for an extension of the current truce so they could take the time to commemorate and honor their war-dead on the day of the anniversary. For the time being, everything was playing out peacefully in the village, and that was enough for Sorata at the moment.

 

Whack, whack, whack, whack...

Sorata, Mr. Tybalt, and another male villager were hard at work just outside a small storage shack on the other end of the village near the river. The loud whacking sounds came from the tools they were using called flails to separate grains from their husks. A big enough mound of wheat was piled on top of a large sheet made of tightly knitted straw and then placed on the ground for whacking out the grains. Birds happily chirped in the background, and the sounds of livestock and the other villagers working hard created the familiar sounds of everyday rural life.

Separating the grains from the husks was a backbreaking task, and the amount of sweat dripping from Sorata's face was enough to prove that point.

The good thing was that thanks to the amount of physical labor he'd been doing during this past month, Sorata's stamina and body strength were a lot better compared to when he first began a few weeks ago. He still hadn't reached the dream body of any male fitness model. However, his condition had increased drastically, and he could take a lot more work now than before.

They were already reaching the end of the day's wheat threshing anyway, and one other good news was that today was only a half day thanks to the newly made up holiday of remembering all those who've died since the start of the century's war.

"You're good to go once all the grain's been separated Mr. Tybalt. My wife and I'll take care of gathering them in these here baskets in the shed so you can go get yourselves prepared for the festival tonight." The man said with a big smile as he was about to disappear behind the shed’s corner with a large iron basket full of grains in his manly arms.

Mr. Tybalt chuckled friendly at the freebie he was given before responding in a humble voice. "What are ye talkin' about Mr. Gorvenal? I can't  just leave here without finishin' my work can I?"

"Why not go back home to the misses for a bit then? My wife and I’ll finish things up here in no time."

"No can do. Not at the moment. Besides, I was the one who offered myself t' come and help thresh the wheat with ye. How d’ya think I’d look in front of Sorata here eh? Wouldn’t be setting a good example for the lad, isn’t that right Sorata? Hehehe.”

“If I may Mr. Tybalt? I wouldn’t mind if you went on ahead to help everyone out either. I can stay behind and help gather the grains in your stead if you’d like.” Sorata said in agreement with Mr. Gorvenal, still whacking away at the bundled wheat husks.

Stopping momentarily, Mr. Tybalt swept off the sweat on his forehead using his long shirt sleeve and directed himself to Sorata.

“I got a better idea actually. Why don’t we do this instead?” Sorata stopped his work abruptly and waited for what he was about to say. “How ‘bout ye go and get yourself ready for tonight? Ye can rest till then or help out with the preparations. Whatever ye wanna do is fine lad." Ending his sentence with a smile stretching from ear to ear, Mr. Tybalt gave Sorata permission to get a head start on preparing for the day’s festivities. Sorata was tempted to accept the attractive offer. He’d been outside working since 6:30 am, or so he calculated it that way because that was the time his body had become accustomed to waking up for school, and it felt no different here either. Also, if he accepted to it, he might be able to even spend some time with Mizuki before the festival, and if everything went right, they could even spend the event together as if they were lovers. The only question that remained was if Mizuki would agree to it or not.

They'd become a bit closer since their first days in Casselonia, but nothing was certain about the possibility of Mizuki harboring affectionate feelings toward Sorata yet. More than anything, when they had the chance to talk, it was more like seeing two well acquainted classmates of the opposite gender meeting in a hallway by chance. Things like flirting or physical contact didn't happen at all, only in Sorata's wildest dreams did something so typical of a teenage romantic comedy ever occur between the two. You couldn't bash him for that either, he'd been trying so hard for Mizuki to look at him with hearts in her eyes for the past month, and never in a million years did he ever think he'd see himself on a more casual basis with her like he was right now.

“But if I did… I mean, if I went off just for my sake and left you here finishing up… well… technically wouldn’t that be rude and selfish on my part?” Sorata half mumbled and murmured his words. He tried a little too hard to conceal the excitement inside him, while possible romantic scenarios played out in his wishful imagination between him and Mizuki. A stupid little smile unconsciously showed itself on his face as he talked, giving his real feelings away to Mr. Tybalt.

"I think it's good for ye lad. Yer still young and it'd be mighty troublesome if ye didn't take yer chances when the time was right."

"Uh, huh... Well, if you insist then I guess I have no choice, right?" Again, Sorata smiled unconsciously and mixed his talking with a bit of nervous laughter. He might as well just tell him straight up he wanted to go be with Mizuki for the entire day. "If you'll excuse me. I'll be on my way then." He said in a semi hurried voice going quickly inside the shed to put away the flail, and then coming back out. "Umm, if it's not too much to ask for. Could you tell Mr. Gorvenal to excuse me for leaving so early please?" Mr. Tybalt nodded, seeing Sorata trying his best to hide his excitement only brought a cheeky smile to his face. "Okay then... thank you for everything and good work today!" He began walking away in long strides to cover more ground, he didn't want to waste a second that could be used to be with Mizuki.

Mr. Tybalt nodded again and this time he playfully added, "Do yer best so she can notice ye Sorata!"

As if a bug had landed on the nape of his neck, Sorata turned around wildly and looked back at the man, his face bright red in embarrassment. “W-w-w… what are you talking about Mr. Tybalt?!”

“Oh! So it’s true then? Was I spot on? Hahaha!”

“I-I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about! Excuse me... I’ll be on my way now!” And just like that, Sorata dashed off into the street like a gazelle running away from a hungry lion.

Before heading straight to the manor, Sorata took a detour to see how preparations for the festival were going. The streets were bustling with the villagers and all kinds of livestock, including outsiders hired to partake in activities like juggling, singing, and acting were readying stalls, booths, and all kinds of festival related things. “Might as well have a look around now that I’m here. I have to say though, I was a bit shocked when I learned about this on-the-spot holiday they came up with. Kind of reminds me of how countries fighting on the battlefront during the second world war would sometimes lay their weapons down whenever christmas came along every year. This is the exact same thing they’re doing in my opinion. Yet, too bad it isn’t a definitive solution to stop the fighting.” As he walked by along the roads, some of the villagers who recognized Sorata greeted him by waving their hands in the air. He did the same.

“Needless to say, I don’t even know why there’s a war in the first place. No one in the manor has mentioned any of the reasons for it to begin with, not even lord Maxwell or Lola. I doubt Mizuki knows anything herself, or else she would’ve told me by now. But why else would two countries fight against one another in the first place? Considering this world highly mimics  the middle ages in a lot of aspects as much as it differs in all the rest, the first thing that comes to mind is a war for land… No, scratch that. Maybe it’s got something to do with their religion. Yeah, that’s gotta be it. Speaking of which…” Sorata stopped walking for a second and analyzed his surroundings. His eyes were immediately redirected toward the village chapel as soon as he knew what it was that intrigued him. "Many churches belonging to the christian faith that I've seen throughout my life have a small cross planted on the tallest part of the building. I think it's just a way to show who they are. Here in the village, the local chapel does the same but... in place of a cross, they have..." Sorata slowly squinted his eyes at the very top of the pointed structure on the chapel. And when the symbol atop the structure's summit became "high-definition" clear to his eyesight, he resumed the ongoing monologue in his brain.

"An 'X' near the top where the horizontal bar on the cross is supposed to be... It's the same thing I saw in that painting. The painting on the chapel's ceiling the first time we went in." He briefly recalled the images in his memory from the first time they entered the chapel for religious services. The image of someone who was most likely a saint holding that same symbol in one hand, flashed in his thoughts. "It's almost as if someone just came up with that design on the spot, or so it feels that way to me." After a moment's pause, he shook his head lightly and said, "Who knows. I'm probably giving it too much thought."

He began to lose interest, slowly turning his body in the manor's direction and began to walk.

 

About a half hour had passed since Sorata got back. He was sitting outside on the hilltop next to the manor looking over the village with a somewhat disappointed look on his face, the festival preparations were already near completion. "Out of all the time in the day, Mizuki chooses to be asleep right now when I go looking for her. I think even a drunk salaryman in a social mixer has better chances of getting a date than me..."

Sorata crunched his legs together against his chest as he felt the cold hands of loneliness approaching. When he'd come back after moping around in the village, he promptly asked anyone he could for Mizuki all over the manor. One of the maids told him that she was sleeping on a bed in one of the servant's quarters, but strongly advised him not to interrupt her rest.

Mizuki had been given the option of resting until it was time for the festival since the day was only a half day due to the war's anniversary. And as expected, she chose to sleep it off until then.

"I should've seen this coming when they told us it was gonna be a half work day in the morning. With Mizuki being a pampered girl all her life, there's no way she would've done anymore work that she didn't have to. Guess I'm the one to blame for having such high hopes."

Then coming out of nowhere.

A familiar voice.

"Yo Sorata! How's it goin'?"

"Uh... Oh, Sr. Bowen! What are you doing here?" The surprised proclamation came about as Sorata made eye contact with Sir. Bowen appearing seemingly out of nowhere to his right. He was suited up from head to toe in his usual guardsman attire, the one novelty was that he was carrying a pair of wooden swords, one in each hand.

"What do you mean 'what am I doing here'? I've been in the village this whole time." He responded in an equally surprised manner.

"But, I haven't seen you all day. Weren't you in the capital for training or something?"

"Hahaha! I could say the same thing to you. This is the first time I've seen you today. "He pointed the sword in his right hand at Sorata while the other rested on his left shoulder. "Didn't they tell you today was announced an international holiday? That means no training or military exercises on either side for a while."

"O-oh yeah... yeah, hahaha stupid me..." Feeling a little dumb after hearing the obvious, Sorata decided the best thing to do would be to keep his mouth shut to avoid unnecessary embarrassment.

"You taking a break or something? You look pretty lonely and depressed if you ask me. Seeing you bundled up like that and all. Is something bothering you Sorata?"

"Not really, I mean..." Unconsciously, Sorata released his legs from the tight grip of his arms, and sat in a position that didn't make him look like the kid who always got picked last in gym class anymore. "It's really nothing serious. Just thought I'd come and enjoy the view of the village from up here."

"Hmmm. And here I thought you and I could have a little friendly sparring match for the time being."

"Huh? Sparring... you mean with those wooden swords you have?"

"Of course I mean these. Unless, you want to go ahead with real swords. Your call Sorata." His tone then suddenly changed to a more challenging one, looking at Sorata with daring eyes, teasing him.

Being the kind of person to take jokes and sarcasm literally, Sorata eyed Sir. Bowen as if he was out of his mind. "Ummm, if it's a real sword, then I'll pass."

An arm rapidly came around Sorata's neck and pulled him into the knight's chest, forcing a wimpy "gah!" grunt sound out of his mouth. Not even a second earlier could he have foreseen it coming. "I'm joking kid. There's no way I'll take advantage of a rookie like you with a real sword. Those are best kept for the real competition."

"So you're saying I'm not even worth killing?" Seriously debating in his head if that was a good thing or not, Sorata couldn't exactly give voice to his honest thoughts in fear of getting proved wrong.

"Come on. Let's have a little fun of our own before the festival starts." Sr. Bowen handed Sorata one of the wooden swords he had, and before he knew it, Sorata was standing on his feet, wooden blade in hand, and facing Sr. Bowen in a silly amateurish defensive stance. "You ready Sorata?"

He nodded immediately, eyes locked on.

And that's when the knight charged at Sorata full speed in the blink of an eye, and before he knew it, Sr. Bowen had knocked away the wooden sword clean off of Sorata's grip. He stood in shock as everything was but an instant blur of flashing movements to his eyes.

"Hmmm... you've never trained with a sword in your life have you? Let alone pick one up." Sr. Bowen asked surprisingly disappointed, taking a step back to analyze Sorata's stance.

"How could I? I'm just an ordinary high schooler who's too chicken to even get in an after school fist fight." Is what he wanted to argue, but that wouldn't make any sense to someone who didn't know a life without war. He stood there in the same position with his empty hands out as if the sword had never been knocked off.

"Well, I've never found myself in a situation where I'd need to pick up a weapon."

"No wonder. Let me show you how to stand and hold a sword then." The knight walked over to Sorata, wooden sword in hand, and stopped at his right side. "First off, your stance was all wrong. Stand like I am. Feet should be shoulder width apart..." Sr. Bowen stood as he said and Sorata carefully followed. "And take one medium length step backward with your left or right foot, whichever one you're most comfortable with. And point it out at an angle." Sorata followed through, repositioning his right leg back while watching the knight's instructions. "Good. Bend your knees slightly and your left leg should be pointing straight ahead."

In a completely different position than before, Sorata himself could feel his body better adjusted than how he was before. The stance was simple, yet effective in balancing out his entire body. “You look much better now than a few seconds ago.”

“Yeah, it feels somewhat sturdier.” He gave a nod in agreement.

“As for gripping the sword… there are two ways you can do it. For starters, don’t grip it with one hand over the other. You won’t be able to move it swiftly enough, and your opponent will kill you in a heartbeat. Have one hand firmly gripping just below the guard like I’m doing.” Sorata followed along. “Your other hand can either hold onto the pommel, or just below your other hand. If you fight while holding the pommel, it allows for faster strikes in theory, due to your hands being farther apart from each other. But if you hold it just underneath the other hand, you can move it around faster.” Sr. Bowen demonstrated both gripping techniques and sampled out a few movements as he explained to his student for the day. “Try it out for yourself. I’m sure you’ll notice a difference once you take a swing.”

“O-okay… here goes then.” Nodding slightly, Sorata carefully gripped the wooden sword, one hand under the guard, the other just underneath.  If concentration had a face, his would surely fit the definition right now.

Swish! Swish! Slash!

"Hmmm, nice swing you got there."

"R-really? How good was it? Sorata asked excitingly, waiting to be praised some more.

But...

"It's good enough for your enemy to predict your movements and counter them easily." The knight flashed a big sarcastic but friendly smile at Sorata, to which Sorata forcefully smiled back while hiding a more serious face and responded.

"Thanks for being so straightforward about it, Sr. Bowen..."

Sr. Bowen began to laugh out loud and wrap his arms around his stomach. Totally opposite to Sorata, again just standing there in disbelief.

"Sorry sorry. I wasn't gonna say anything but I couldn't hold back." He wiped off a tear from the edge of his left eye, regaining his composure from the laughter. "Let me show you how to swing it properly and some moves as well so we can have a little fun."

 

Sounds of impact and heavy grunting filled the air around the hilltop. Sorata and Sr. Bowen were going at it with the practice swords for two full hours by now non-stop. Sorata had caught on quick with everything Sr. Bowen taught him in such a short time. Even Sorata was surprised to know how well he'd learned the movements and techniques, of course he wasn't able to land a hit on the knight yet, but he did have more than his fair share of "almosts".

"Never in  a million years did I think you'd get good enough to block some of my attacks." He dodged a strike and blocked the next.

"I could say the same about myself... I can't believe I've learned something like this so fast."

"But don't let it get to you. You still have a ways to go!"

As Sr. Bowen war cried the last word, he shifted aside to the left, completely dodging Sorata's strike once more and thrusted both his body and wooden blade forward until the edge came within a few centimeters of Sorata's throat.

"You're done again my friend."

“Uh… arghh…” Sorata had nothing  else to do but admit his defeat. His body frozen in place like an icicle, and slanted backwards at a slight angle. If only he could’ve fallen back a little faster…

Sr. Bowen withdrew the practice sword away, seeing he’d won again who knows how many times in a row. If there was a score being kept from the beginning, all the re-matches they played till that point would’ve been twenty four to zero. A perfect streak. But despite the baffling odds, Sorata didn’t feel any frustration towards his number of losses. This voluntary practice only gave him more confidence in himself because he now knew that he actually had the ability to stand against someone in a physical fight, not to mention someone as big and skilled as Sir. Bowen. He acknowledged the fact that he still needed to practice for weeks or even months before he could become skillful enough to land any necessary blows. It was also obvious the guardsman was holding back to an extent when practicing. Quite a few times did Sorata make a full swing with his sword and follow through on its wide circular trajectory to the point where his shoulders and upper back were fully exposed to attacks. On the bright side of things however, Sorata had good enough reflexes to block a number of attacks coming at him, thanks to his quick thinking when it came to videogames.

“Hey boys, having fun?” Looking over in the direction of the sweet sounding voice, Lola and Mizuki were walking over to Sr. Bowen and Sorata who had just finished sparring. “Or maybe you’re fighting over who can have both of us girls to themselves, Nyahaha!”

“Never would the thought of polygamy cross my mind even once if I have you by my side, my love.” Dozens of fluttering little hearts came and went all around Sr. Bowen’s head upon seeing his betrothed lady walking towards him in a simple yet beautiful green dress that complimented her glittering emerald eyes. She giggled softly, putting a hand over her pink lips in a very lady-like fashion.

“You keep talking to me that way Mereck, and I don’t know what I’m capable of doing.” She said in a lovely voice so arousing, even Mizuki might feel a number of goosebumps rushing down her spine like savage shockwaves.

“Maybe I want to find out exactly what you’re capable of.” He responded in a similar style. Only his was chock-full of masculinity enough to make Sorata develop an inferiority complex.

“Oh ho… Is that so? I don’t want to hear any complaining out of you when I’m in the middle of my work then.”

“Be aware that I’ll punish you if I feel the intensity decrease when-”

But in the nick of time before anymore provocative words could flow out of Sr. bowen’s mouth smoother than a romantic song, a cute sneeze like a squeaky hamster escaped Mizuki’s nose, cutting short the risky exchange between the hot couple. They immediately stopped at the sound of the sneeze and realized they were on the border of crossing the line in front of two teenagers not yet adults under Casselonian law. The interruption served well enough for them to snap out of their pink colored world. They had become completely drowned in their dreamy conversation that everything else around them faded out, causing their mouths to nearly enter the R-rated portion of their brains.

And in a split second they went from nearly embracing themselves, to turning around and coughing, clearing their throats pretending as if nothing had happened. Both Sorata and Mizuki couldn’t completely dismiss the idea of what would’ve gone down if they weren’t there. They didn’t say a word though, they simply stood there, faces boiling in red from the embarrassment, taking in the scene playing out in front of them like a romance film.

"Ehem... A-anyway. I was teaching Sorata how to fight with a sword. He’s actually a pretty fast learner for someone who’s never picked up a weapon in his life before. But he’s still got a ways to go if he ever wants to become a knight.” Sorata twitched a little at the sound of those last words involving “becoming a knight”. The implications put forth by Sr. Bowen meant that he had desires- to a certain extent- to see Sorata fight for Casselonia in the Century’s War sometime in the near future.

Again, this was exactly the opposite Sorata had in his future plans for him and Mizuki. Any ambition to fight in a war he had no business in was at zero percent, and he didn’t want to die before finding a possible way to go back home in one piece.

Lucky for him though, Lola didn’t drag the same subject on as she continued the newer, much more safe-for-work, conversation. “How long have you two been at it? I’ve been hearing noises for a while now. A lot of whacking and hitting.”

“Yeah, maybe for about two hours.”

“Gehh! Two hours?!” Lola jumped back a step with her hands frozen stiff in a weird position after hearing the ludicrous answer, astonished that their interest for practicing could last that long. Mizuki on the other hand, only widened her eyes somewhat without exaggerating her reaction like the maid diagonally in front of her.

Sorata and Sr. Bowen only let out a slightly embarrassed laugh, because even they knew it carried on longer than it should have.

“We just got into it a little too hard. Besides…” The knight went on to continue excusing himself and Sorata. “Thanks to those two hours, Sorata already knows many of the basics. And like I said earlier, he’s a fast learner.” Sorata felt within him a certain relief because now he had the essential skills to protect Mizuki if anything were to happen. Though he didn’t blurt it out, he countered with a humble reply to the knight’s compliment, looking at Lola but addressing Mizuki and Sr. Bowen as well.

“Thanks Sr. Bowen. I still need practice nonetheless.”

Mizuki looked intently at Sorata, expressing a barely noticeable smirk with her mouth. Sorata caught on as he felt her looking in his direction. She didn’t shift her gaze away shyly from him like she would have in the beginning, rather, she let their eyes meet for about a few seconds without interruption from Sr. Bowen and Lola who were talking away.

Sorata stood in a speechless awe looking straight into Mizuki’s spellbinding honey-colored eyes before being called back to reality. “I think it’s time we call it a day with this and go get ready for the festival. Sorata, I’ll let you take a bath first, just don’t take too long alright?” Sr. Bowen put a hand on Sorata’s shoulders. He shook his head a bit and looked back, trying to catch on after becoming mesmerized by Mizuki’s beautiful eyes.

“O-ok. I won’t take long then. Promise I’ll be out in no time.” His feet began walking towards the backside of the manor and his body shifting shortly after. As he left, he waved at Lola behind him, saying “See you at the festival Lola.” She nodded with a smile and waving back.

“Catch ya later!”

He then directed his eyes again to Mizuk as did she. For a split second he hesitated whether to wave goodbye to her or not. An awkward emptiness sunk into the deepest part of his stomach that made him feel heavier with each footstep taken. But unexpectedly, Mizuki waved her right hand at him without stretching it out or anything. She maintained it comfortably at her side, poking out slightly in front of her body for him to see. Sorata spun his head back in place after seeing Mizuki wave a cute goodbye at him. He blushed hard, his walking pace accelerated. Never had she waved goodbye or stared at him with such eyes capable of piercing souls. It's true that she already began to open up a bit to Sorata, including everyone around the manor.The difference was that she always nodded or bowed slightly when he had to go somewhere away from her, and she only gave friendly or forced smiles to him from time to time, nothing compared to her playful smirk just now. No wonder Sorata panicked and continued his walk, he had no idea what he should do in that kind of situation. Was Mizuki getting to like him now? Or was she only teasing him for fun?

Whatever the intention, Sorata made up his mind to not mention anything about it to her during the festival.

Already behind the manor, Sorata made his way onward to a set of external stairs going upward to the second floor. Before he could make the first step however, something caught his attention to the left in the distant vast plains and rolling hills behind the manor. The sun was almost setting, so visibility was becoming limited. His squinting eyes soon became wider and wider as the shape of a familiar figure from a few weeks ago began to fit perfectly like a puzzle piece in his memories. To his surprise, it looked like the same clad in black horseman that freaked him out the first time he worked on Mr. Tybalt's property.

Everything was the same about him. He sat dead motionless like a reptile on his equally black horse looking straight ahead into Sorata's direction. Many conflicting emotions ran rampant everywhere inside Sorata like a Wall Street market crash. He inhaled a quiet gasp. The slightest idea of what to do in this situation never came to his senses, standing in a confused fear was the only option.

"Him... again?..." He said these words but muttered them so badly, even he couldn't make them out. Finally, the horseman once again took his dead eyes away from him and pulled the harness on his horse to ride off the opposite direction. "Huh... he left..." He stayed in silence a bit longer, then resumed. "Was it the same guy I saw that one time about a month ago?... They look exactly alike, no doubt about it. What were they doing here again? I thought they were only lost."

This and many other questions he asked himself over and over. But Sorata came to the conclusion that it was a mere coincidence. His resolve included staying quiet because if he told anyone about what he saw, it might stir up fear and confusion in the village. So he continued over to the bathing room with a troubled conscious, convincing himself to forget what just happened.

 

The festival brought many fun moments to Sorata to allow him a breather from his awkward encounter a while ago. One of his most desired wishes had come to fruition as he'd hoped earlier in the day.

Mizuki stuck around him since the beginning of the party and they both took part in many activities and games as partners when the chance presented itself.

Mizuki smiled and laughed without a care in the world during each activity. It didn't matter whether she lost or won, she was enjoying herself to the fullest like she did at school festivals.

Sorata wasn't far behind because he too laughed and smiled endlessly. These moments of bliss served well to help them forget about anything troubling their minds. Loads of heavy stress were being lost thanks to the celebration.During a brief moment of rest, Sorata bought Mizuki an apple dipped in sweet caramel sauce with the money they'd earned from working. And out of nowhere, Mizuki offered to share it with him and wouldn't take no for an answer.

She became a tad more reserved everytime they weren't in the middle of playing games, a little like her old self when they first arrived. But Sorata was fine with that since he already got to do so much with her already. He could die happy now he thought.

So the night finally came upon the festive village and everyone now had calmed down a bit, making several large bonfires here and there with people sitting around, dancing, singing, or whatever they so pleased. Lord Maxwell was entertaining a group of people with his singing ability while holding a glass of wine in one hand along with a lute player providing the music for him. Lady Endolyn was amongst the spectators crowded around. She was lively as well, very talkative with those around her and occasionally singing along with her husband on the spotlight. Sorata and Mizuki were by themselves sitting on a spacious log around one of the large bonfires admiring the night and people watching in blissful peace. “This reminds me of the school festivals.”

“Huh?”

Mizuki whispered in a quiet tone looking at the fire, causing Sorata to glance over at her from the unexpected comment.

“Doesn’t this remind you of school festivals? At the end when they make a bonfire like this one, and everyone holds hands around it, and dance.” Sorata stared at Mizuki for three seconds while her nostalgic words made rounds in his head like a twister. Her eyes looked somewhat sad. Mizuki was bitter over the fact that she wouldn’t be able to attend her last high school festival as a senior because of mysteriously being transported here. “Everyone back in school is going to enjoy it. The festival and graduation ceremony… all my friends…” Voice turning slightly hoarse over realizing this, Mizuki’s eyes rapidly became glazed with saline. “It was our last year too…” Without noticing, she shed a tear from her left eye and Sorata watched on with a semi-worried face. His right hand suddenly moved involuntarily, reaching over to wipe the tear off Mizuki’s red cheek, Sorata almost unaware of what he was doing.

"So how have the two of you been this evening huh? Enjoying the festival to the fullest?"

But before any consolation could take place, Lola made an unexpected appearance behind them completely killing the mood. Sorata and Mizuki quickly regained their composure as a result.

"O-oh, Lola. What are you doing here? Where's Sr. Bowen?"

Sorata was quick to respond while Mizuki did everything she could to brush away her immediate sadness.

"Well, my darling had to go get himself ready for guard duty tonight."

"Really? But what about the holiday? Wasn't today supposed to be a half day because of it?"

"Yes, but until a few days ago, we received notice about traveling merchants being robbed of their supplies in many of the roads around here. Supposedly they only strike at unsuspecting victims at night, so that's why he's getting ready for duty. We were just advised to keep a close watch until they could capture them. But since they say they're only targeting merchants, it's unlikely they'll come into any of the villages here to commit crimes."

Hearing this made Sorata slightly uneasy inside, and his face couldn't hide it either. A few hours earlier he witnessed for the second time a stranger on horseback out in the fields who did nothing but make creepy eye contact with him for a few seconds and leave like it was nothing. Of course he couldn’t make out there face because more than anything, they wore nothing but dark clothing, and this time the sun was already setting which made it easier for them to conceal any features. He wondered if any of them were these thieves that the maid had just informed them about, and because of those doubts, he fiercely contemplated in his head if mentioning what he saw would be helpful or be taken as a false alarm. With his eyebrows slanting forward and looking at the ground, Lola noticed that he was deeply concerned about the news. So she tried a way to calm him down.

“If you’re worrying about what I said just now, don’t.” Sorata lifted his head back up to look at Lola, Mizuki likewise turned her attention to the maid but only listened. “Things like thievery and such have happened around here long before the two of you ever showed up. Normally the thieves only steal belongings and rarely kill anyone because the merchants prefer to give them what they want instead of fighting off multiple criminals at a time. And the thieves know this as well, so all they do is threaten them and take what they want. So don’t worry about it. Thieves don’t even dare set foot in a village like ours because they know lord Maxwell is the one in charge here.” She reassured herself looking at him with a warm smile.

With those smooth words coming out of Lola’s mouth, Sorata soon felt a huge load come off his chest like an olympic power lifter dropping a heavy bar after a successful lift. But he still couldn’t find an explanation for his weird encounter earlier. So instead of saying anything, he decided to keep it to himself considering they were on a very powerful lord’s property, so anyone coming in with ulterior motives would think twice before causing harm.

For the remainder of the night, Lola stuck around with Sorata and Mizuki until the very end of the festival. And like a traveling circus, those who came from outside the village to set up stalls and what-not packed everything they had into their wagons and left. They were already given warning about traveling at night because of the recent cases involving night-time thieving. Regardless, they went ahead with the moving, saying this like “They won’t attack if we’re in large numbers” and “We’ve already made prior commitment to neighboring villages that we’d be there the next morning” and so on.

Since the festival was already over by now, the village was almost empty of any people outside their homes engaging in friendly conversations. The few who were left, were already saying goodnight to one another with tired and sleepy faces.

At the doorstep of the manor, a small group of villagers including Sorata, Mizuki, Lola, and Sr. Bowen, were ending a short chit-chat they were having before everyone called it a day.

"See you guys tomorrow!" Sr. Bowen waved a hand in the air at Sorata and Mizuki who were on their way to their room, Lola at his side doing the same.

" G'night Sorata! G'night Mizuki! Rest well!"

"Good night Lola and Sr. Bowen! Good work today!" Sorata and Mizuki waved back at them, now just steps away from their room.

As Sorata dug for the noisy keys in his pocket and began to insert them into the door, Mizuki looked back at the maid and the knight who were also parting ways. Lola clung onto him like a fangirl at a private backstage concert with her favorite band. Sr. Bowen returned the favor by hugging her with the arm holding a long wooden spear with an iron blade at the end. Mizuki smiled faintly at the scene. She knew those two were definitely made for one another.

Now inside the external servant's quarters, Sorata and Mizuki sat in their own respective beds, already in pajamas, talking before going to sleep. "So, uhh... did you have fun today at the festival?"  Mizuki quietly nodded, looking at her cellphone.

"Mm, hmm. Today was a fun day. Haven't enjoyed myself this much in a long time." Her phone's screen displayed the last bar on the battery gauge twinkling on and off in a red color. A few blinks later, the screen went completely black. Her phone would never turn on again after that.

 

A few hours past midnight. Everyone in the village was now sound asleep, except for Sr. Bowen who stood guard outside the doors of lord Maxwell's manor house. The night was harmoniously quiet and the moon in the sky- three times bigger than the earth's moon with a thin ring around it- was shining down brightly on the village, illuminating with a bluish, grey light.

The gentle sound of crickets added a minimalist melody to the scene gentle enough to put a baby to sleep.

Then...

In a long but thin batch of trees bordering around the village, sounds of quick rustling and movements stirred within. Five dark figures were hustling from place to place in the dark shadows of the vegetation, as if arranging themselves in predetermined positions. And that's exactly what they were doing...

A black shadowy, human figure stood up slowly facing the manor, long curved instrument in one hand and in the other a long and thin pointed object. He joined them together and stretched the curved instrument with the pointed object behind it. A menacing long bow and arrow emerged from under the shadows and into the now ominous looking moonlight.

The stretching sound from the strings and the wooden bow crackled slightly from the immense force being put into it. The person stood rock solid in overwhelming concentration.

His target: Sr. Bowen.

The archer steadied his aim accordingly. He was at a great distance almost impossible to reach. But his terrifying eyes and concentration said otherwise.

As soon as he felt comfortable with his aim, he let out a long exhale and released the arrow.

Fwoosh! The missile-like arrow cut through the air with ease and at an alarming speed, which created a noise loud enough for Sr. Bowen to notice, making him turn his head slightly in the direction of the sound.

And that’s when the arrow plunged violently into his neck. His body stood there for a few motionless seconds, alarming amounts of blood pouring down his guard uniform, some of it even on the wall behind him. He dropped to his knees as he let go of the long spear in his right hand, and collapsed to the side. The ominous glow of the moon almost shone its brightest over him as if either mourning or welcoming him to an afterlife.

Not a scream or any sounds of pain were made the moment he was struck, only a faint grunt at the moment of impact. It was so fast, like lightening. He died instantly.

Three of the five criminals that had made their intentions clear by now, scurried to a window on the side of the manor and carefully removed it with sophisticated tools. Once inside, the three assailants stopped briefly in front of the majestic staircase lit up by candles that connected the two floors together. “ You two find whatever valuables you can find down here, and don’t split up. I’ll go upstairs and look for the wind blade regalia. After that… revenge." Whatever he meant by "revenge", it could only entail further chaos.

They split up into two groups and went by the plan put forth by the leader. Still not a soul in the village or the manor had any idea of what was going on while they slept. Sr. Bowen's lifeless body continued laying only steps away from the entrance of the estate.The intruders were so swift and smooth, they didn't even let their heartbeats make a sound.

The duo that had stayed on the first floor headed straight for the great hall. They chose it first so they could steal the banners, flags, and other valuables as trophies. One of the two was on a ladder untying the drapes and already had a few of them thrown into a collective pile on the ground.

"How much do you think we'll get for these?"

"Meh, who knows. Probably a couple hundred shield for each. What I wanna know is how much the wind blade regalia is worth."

"Aren't those things supposed to be priceless? They're handed down from the queen and only generals get to have those natural magic weapons."

"I know that dammit. I'm just curious as to how much they'd be worth if they were put up for sale. No doubt we'd be rich."

"Yeah, You can say that again."

While these two were chatting away in the great hall, lord Maxwell was getting up from his bed rubbing his weary eyes. "What happened Cedric?" Lady Endolyn asked him in a whisper, she was half asleep and neatly settled in bed.

"I think I may've forgotten to read and sign a document."

"Can't you just do that tomorrow? It's really late right now." She said while adjusting the blanket covering her.

"I won't be able to sleep if I know I left something without looking at it. Going to my office, I'll be right back." He put on a pair of slippers, a coat over his silk pajamas, lit a small candle and exited the room.

A few doors down the same hall in another room, the leader was hastingly searching for the so called "wind blade regalia". More than half of the books on a large shelf were scattered on the floor, papers and documents, and even a small mattress was turned over. At the moment, he was sitting in a desk looking inside shelves and anything he could to find a clue. "Shit... It's not in here either. This is the fifth room I've looked inside and nothing.” His right hand turned into a fist from the anger building inside him. “Don't tell me he keeps it in his room, because that might ruin the entire plan." Running out of ideas, he got up from the chair and decided the best thing was to move on to the next room. "I have to keep searching... I can't give up so fast."

As he walked towards the  door, the intruder accidentally bumped his hip on a large wooden table, sounding off a moderate thud loud enough for the half-asleep lady Endolyn to wake up. “Hmmm… Cedric, is that you?” Her tone very drowsy, but she began to wake up noticing that the noise had come from the opposite direction of lord Maxwell’s office. “It can’t be. Cedric went downstairs to his office and that noise came from down the hall. Is it one of the maids perhaps?” The mysterious noise troubled her, so she began to get out of bed.

Kerchak

Lord Maxwell closed the door on his office as he had now checked on the neglected documents. “Silly me. I did finish everything today. Must be because I’m getting old now-” A dim light coming from the great hall down the corridor suddenly caught his attention.

“What is?... Why would there be candles still lighting the great hall? The banners could catch fire if no one’s around to put it out. I’ll have to speak with Lola tomorrow first thing in the morning.”

Lord Maxwell walked towards the great hall, candlestick in hand lighting the way for him in the darkness of night. To his surprise though, his ears were picking up on hazy voices coming from the interior of the great hall with each step as he came closer to the door.

“Hurry up so we can get out of here, it’s been a half hour since we started this and we can’t afford to stay much longer.” The voice’s tone felt rushed and pressed for time. Already lord Maxwell suspected something unlawful was going on inside his manor, so when he got to the door, he opened it slightly and peeked inside to see what he was dealing with.

“Blow out the candle already or someone’ll see us.”

“Just give me a minute, I’m almost done here.”

Eyes fully widened and shaking with anger, lord Maxwell concluded that enough was enough, it was time to chase off these criminals!

He slammed the door open with all his might, emitting a roaring Bam that vibrated and echoed throughout the entire first floor of the manor. “Fools! Anyone unsoliciting in my manor will be cut down by me!!” The rage in his voice sunk deep into the intruders’ skin, paralyzing them on the spot with pure fear.

“Shit! Wasn’t lord Gragolon gonna take care of the geezer?!” The thief on top of the ladder asked out of reflex, not really expecting an answer in return.

“Gragolon you say?!” The name alone suddenly morphed confusion into lord Maxwell’s furious expression. It’s familiarity rang a discomfort in his ears. And then… “Endolyn… She’s all by herself.” He whispered under his breath with a hint of fear as if imagining his wife in danger.

The intruder on ground level instantly unsheathed the long sword at his left side, and kicked back at the ground, sprinting fiercely towards lord Maxwell. “In the name of lord Gragolon and the Koringian Empire! I will avenge our fallen heroes!!”

Lord Maxwell took one step back as the intruder charged in like a bullet, his face stretched and eyes wide open bracing his body.

Gershaw!

Splat… splat, splat, splat…

Dyeing the floor in deep crimson blotches, sword jutting out also drenched in red, only heavy wheezing and groaning were heard in the great hall. Teeth were being flashed angrily like a beast, eyes peeled open covered in veins and eyebrows slanting forward at extreme angles. Fists clenched and bodies trembling, the blade began to pull out slowly and then yanked out with force, sending the blood that was on the sword flying in mid air. "My... E-Endolyn... my, Thea... I'm sorry... I... I-I couldn't-" Lord Maxwell had his hands pressed up against his chest where massive amounts of blood were gushing out. He fell on his knees staring at the ground with teary eyes. "I protected an entire nation... for decades... but I couldn't protect... my own... family..." With longsword still in hand, the intruder raised it up high above his head before finally bringing it down with a full swing, severing the noble's head clean off his body.

"We've made enough ruckus. Set fire to this place and let's get out of here now."

On the second floor of the manor, lady Endolyn made haste putting on her slippers after hearing faint sounds of yelling coming from downstairs. “Those noises I heard. Did something happen to Cedric? I have to hurry.” Her inner voice showed signs of despair and anxiety from the adrenaline building up in her body. All signs pointed to something disastrous. She opened the door fast and it croaked annoyingly in the dark hallway only lit by two small enclosed candles outside the room. The lady of the manor only took four steps before a voice ordering a blunt “Halt!” behind her suddenly forced her to stop. Being under one of the lights, she turned her head the opposite way, remembering that only a few moments earlier she’d heard a strange noise in the same direction.

“Who… who are you?”

“Before I take your life, I want you to tell me something.”Towering over lady Endolyn almost two meters tall, a nasty vertical scar stretching from the edge of the mouth to the left eye socket void of it’s eye. Sporting dark garments and covered in a long black cloak, Lord Gragolon- leader of the intruders- stepped patiently into the light to show himself as he continued his murderous line.

“Where is the wind blade regalia?”

She swallowed a gasp from seeing the terrifying man coming out of the shadows like a demon.

“Where is it!!”

“Never!!!”

A slick shine flickered between them for a millisecond, as lord Gragolon promptly unsheathed a hidden dagger from underneath his cloak and charged full speed at lady Endolyn, thrusting it deep into her abdomen.

Both stayed in the same position for a few seconds until lady Endolyn dropped to her knees and lord Gragolon following her lead with the dagger still inside, her blood dripping everywhere. She then fell onto her back as she placed her hands over the weapon, trying to mutter words under the thick blood flowing from her mouth while making eye contact with her assailant.

“Awwwh… you went and made me do something I didn’t want to. Well, sooner or later I was going to do it anyway, but judging from the smoke traveling all the way over here, it seems my comrades have finished their business. There’s no way Cedric could compete with my highly skilled men, Hahahahaha! My mission was only half a success. I wasn’t able to take Cedric’s head like I planned, but at least I got his pretty little daughter, and now his wife…”

A last revelation said with arrogance in all it’s glory stabbed deeper into lady Endolyn’s abdomen than the dagger already inside. On top of her was the same man who had assassinated their daughter over twenty years ago in cold blood. Two relevant facts remained untold however. First, this was an independent raid carried out without the Koringian empire's knowledge. Second, that he had surveyed the village twice already during the last month from a distance before this day. Meaning, he was also the same person on horseback Sorata saw just a few days after arriving to Casselonia, and hours earlier before the festival.

Lady Endolyn's quivering hands gradually weakened until they gave way and dropped to the ground in a puddle of her own blood. Everything in her field of view was now so hazy and dark, not even the candlelight above shone bright enough to reveal lord Gragolon's sinister smile. Her world faded into darkness gradually. And finally... nothing.

Several loud voices emerged from all directions in the manor, the employees had woken up due to the commotion and knew something wasn't right. "I killed her without finding the wind blade regalia. Should really learn to control my anger." From his dark cloak, two small rounded objects appeared in his hands and he raised them to one of the wall candles, taking off the glass covering. They were bombs and he had just ignited them.

"At least I got my revenge... at least... But I also really wanted Cedric's regalia. And now, it's gonna be destroyed... Goddamn."

His complacent tone mixed with regret as he realized he would leave empty-handed. He walked around the lady's body, opened the nearest door, and casually tossed the explosives in opposite directions into the hallway before jumping out of the room's window.

BOOM!

BOOM!

"What the hell was that?!"

Almost jumping out off his bed, heart racing and excessive breathing, Sorata half screamed his question seconds after being scared awake by the explosions.

“Can you hear them?” A dreadful voice whispered.

“Huh?”

Sorata turned his head frantically over to his right, where he saw Mizuki sitting upright in her bed. She was looking up at the night sky from the open window of the room, letting herself bathe in the moonlight.

“The screaming voices outside… Can you hear them, Sorata?” Mizuki’s words sounded more arduous this time around repeating herself. Sorata sat in a short silence just staring at her heavenly looking figure in the light of the moon, his hands shaking and gripping the blanket for some form of stress relief.

Equally stunned and afraid, Mizuki’s eyes were as big as an owl’s while she continued to hear panicking screams coming from beyond the stone walls.

Fully dressed now, Sorata and Mizuki burst out of their servant’s quarters like escapees from a prison, only to tone down their running speed soon after to nearly zero as they saw Lola- the head maid of the manor and one of their closest friends- on the ground in front of the blazing estate, desperately hugging something while she cried the most painful weeps Sorata had ever heard in his life.

“Nooooooo!!! Why?! Why?! Mereck!!!...My Mereck!!” Sorata began to walk himself, almost unaware of his own actions, to Lola. His body swayed loosely from side to side a few centimeters with each step. Mizuki lost grip of his shirt in the process.

He arrived about two steps short in front of Lola, her face full of tears and yelling in emotional pain, and turned his attention to what it was she was holding on to. With his own eyes he saw a long bloody arrow lodged halfway through Sr. Bowen’s neck. Sorata’s body was immediately overtaken by a violent rush of fear that made him tremble without him even knowing it. For a second he saw nothing but Lola in pain holding onto Sr. Bowen’s dead body, heard nothing but Lola’s desperate cries, felt nothing but the painful beating of his heart against his chest. It was almost the same feeling he had in the streets of Casselonia, right after he was kicked out of the dealer’s shop. This strange reality… what was it really? Was he dreaming? Was all of this some kind of nasty joke? Who was pulling the strings behind the curtains and forcing him to live in this artificial hell?

“What did I do… to deserve this?”

A mammoth scream built up deep within his throat, ready to be unleashed like a roaring avalanche.

Then suddenly.

“Sorata! Sorata!!” Mizuki lunged her body at him from behind, hugging him tight. “Sorata! Everybody’s trying to put out the fire! Go help them out, please! I’ll stay here with Lola!”

Even though she screamed this, Mizuki’s voice still sounded so pure and beautiful. And it was all it took to instantly snap Sorata out of his mental breakdown. He looked over his shoulder and saw her face buried in his back. Something deep inside him clicked and soon he worked up enough courage to join the villagers in extinguishing the fire. Mizuki allowed herself to fall on her knees and then began her attempt in consoling Lola how ever she could.

 

Exterminating the fire became one of the most onerous tasks Sorata had to do in his entire life, and that was with the help of an entire village population too. The water sources used were the five wells and the small river on the edge of the village. Still, people had to walk back and forth from well to well, and river in order to transport the water. Some even came up with ideas to load a bunch of buckets in small wagon at the river and carry them by horse or whatever farm animal. The only issues it entailed was the sloping hill. Some animals became burdened with all the weight of the water on the carts, it prevented them from traveling uphill any further.

In total, extinguishing the fire took around four hours and a little help from scattered showers. The village could count themselves lucky for all they knew. And so when the blaze came to an end, most of the male villagers walked over the now charred manor house that was only piles of black wood, to see if they could find the bodies of the missing lord and lady, as well as any other live-in workers. Many of the maids and cooks perished during the explosions. Only Lola escaped with minor injuries and another maid with more severe burns. Lord and lady Maxwell were found in the end, but completely burned like charcoal. The only thing they weren’t able to find was lord Maxwell’s head, because most likely it had turned to ash after four long hours of being in the burning inferno.

Nonetheless, someone was able to find the doll pertaining to the long lost daughter of the Maxwell manor. The woman who found it also gave it to Mizuki shortly after, which incited her to drown in tears as she received it with only minor scrapes. A few of the village men, including Mr. Tybalt, took Sr. Bowen’s body and wrapped it in white sheets given to them by the chapel, and nearly every woman in the village went to console Lola for her loss. That’s how things had turned out after the disaster, and it was only four in the morning.

Slamming the door open nearly breaking the hinges off, Sorata walked clumsily into the bedroom once again feeling like his world was crashing down on him. Mizuki came in running soon after him, as if she had spotted Sorata going into the room from a distance and tried to catch up. Red bags under his eyes made his already bloodshot eyes look even redder. He was crying and sniffing to the extent that if you heard him, you’d probably think he was overdoing it. But at this point he could care less about everything.

Sorata kept on walking like a drunkard until he reached the wall at the far end of the room, where he stood looking aimlessly at it while his head rested against its cold and rough surface. Mizuki was behind him looking worried sick. Her hands were at chest level clasped together. At this point, she hesitated to say or ask anything in fear of disturbing Sorata, she couldn’t leave him alone either, or so her conscious kept telling her not to. At the very least, having some form of company close by could encourage him to calm down... is what she  thought.

“I wanna die. I wanna die dammit! I can’t take this anymore!” In the midst of Sorata’s breakdown, he began hitting the wall with his fists and cried even louder than before, adding in a few lines that sparked a flame inside Mizuki’s heart. She ran and embraced him from behind using all her strength to restrain the hopeless boy from falling deeper into his depression.

“Don’t say those things! Don’t say that you wanna die Sorata, because I know you don’t! If you’re gone then what will I do?! You have me right here… we’re both in this mess together!”

“Then what do you want me to do?! Pretend like this all fake?! Like it’s just another bad dream?!” His voice then died down to that of a quiet weep. “I can’t pretend to be as strong as you are… I… I don’t have the strength. I can’t do anyth-”

Cutting him off harshly, Mizuki argued, “Back then you said you’d protect me didn’t you? Or was that a lie? Did you lie to me just so I could feel safe in this place?” At the end of her sentence, Sorata’s breathing quickly turned back to normal. “That time… when you said you would protect me… I-I truly believed it, and I know you meant it because your voice was so pure and reliable. It still rings in my ears every time I feel like crying, and thanks to you I’ve been able to refrain from cutting myself again. Instead of dying I want to adapt and face this world with you!”

As she said, Mizuki’s wrist had already felt the cold edge of a razor. A few years ago when her parents didn’t let her go to their luxury townhouse condo in Seoul with her friends for new years, she starved herself for a couple days and then cut her wrist as a way to protest to her parents.

Sorata steadily dropped to his knees in silence, as did Mizuki who was sobbing all over his back and clinging on to him as if her life depended on it. They stayed in that familiar position for a while until Mizuki’s sobs were no more than quiet sniffles. Thereafter, everything seemed to have quieted down to how things used to be, even the noise level outside was toned down to that of a normal early morning in the village.

Feeling completely relaxed now, Mizuki had loosened her grip on Sorata considerably. But without speaking a word to each other, as if they both knew what they were thinking, Mizuki scooted herself back a bit and sat with her legs folded and out to the side somewhat. Then Sorata crawled over to her and laid his head on her lap, using it as a pillow as she softly caressed his hair with her gentle fingers. He continued shedding tears, but quietly and without whimpering. Being in this position would have enthralled the old Sorata to the point of passing out from the excitement. He was after all, in a very intimate position with Mizuki- the girl he liked- but despite that, he was as motionless as ever, letting her play with his hair slowly just as he always pictured himself with her in his imagination. That wasn’t to say he felt nothing at her touch. It was because of her caring that he was able to calm down to this extent.

 

The giant moon in the night sky with a ring decorating its exterior, gave way to the faint colors of a crisp twilight, bringing with it a new day after the fatal disaster that was only a few hours ago. Timewise, it was around five or six in the morning.

Sorata and Mizuki stayed awake in their current lap-pillow position throughout the night, with Mizuki stretching her right arm and leaning her head onto the bed.

It was pretty amazing that they actually held on for so long without sleep. One would think about the physical state of their eyes. All the crying they’d done in such a short amount of time was massive strain piling up on the eyelids, including the entire body. But because of the unfortunate incident, they really paid no attention to their own health, every ounce of strength was put into taking out the fire.

Knowing that Mizuki was still awake, Sorata slowly got up from her lap and faced her with his body on all fours. Seeing this, Mizuki slanted herself backward somewhat and began to crawl away from him little by little. He followed after her crawling like an infant, until her back met with the wall, denying any further advancement. This allowed both of them to get terribly close to each other. So close, they could feel breathing land on their bodies, hear their hearts beating ever louder together, planting a big one was only a ridiculously short stretch of the lips away.

Mizuki caressed Sorata's chin lovingly, then he pulled away both her sleeves, revealing her shoulders and a bit of cleavage. She didn't mind it at all, rather, she wanted him to do that. And that's when Sorata dove into her neck, collarbone, and shoulders, kissing them tenderly multiple times, causing Mizuki to breathe a little harder and moan quietly. Her left hand found it's way to his head again and the inviting fingers brushed Sorata's shiny hair reflecting the light seeping in through the open window.

Things had turned out quite hot, in both figurative terms and literal terms. Both were sweating because of close proximity, body temperatures came together and made the atmosphere around them hotter than it was.

But they didn't care at this moment. Sorata and Mizuki were so into themselves, nothing existed outside this intimate moment they were sharing. To put it in a different way, they were unconsciously using this as a way to relieve stress. Whether they knew this fact or not, was a different story, so it was possible that all this had no romantic meaning behind it.

The only one's who knew if it was true was Sorata and Mizuki.