Galfort castle was located slightly north of Sunkwoll's capital city.
The old castle, located in an ancient city with easily over 1,300 years of history to its name, was also celebrated as the birthplace of the Sunkwoll royal family.
Sunkwoll's founding king was Joe Clemens Sunkwoll——who's rule would later come to be known as the result of an unparalleled friendship.
Any citizen of the kingdom knew of the rise of the Five Great Noble Houses that he led.
At the time, an Eastern clan had crossed the ocean and closed in on the ethnic group that lived in the region, who were comparatively fewer in number, resulting in a battle that ended with the ethnic minority driving back the invaders in spectacular fashion.
It was said that five outstanding adventurers had gathered and rallied the people, who had been preparing to flee.
The adventurers eventually ruled the land in peace after the fighting was over with the support of the surviving warriors.
It was only natural that the newly founded kingdom required a king. But it wasn't as if all five adventurers could fill the position together.
Fortunately, none of the friction that would have normally occurred in such a situation had arisen between them.
The five adventurers, who boasted of a bond closer than family, discussed amongst themselves and chose Joe to be their first king.
Since then, the head of House Sunkwoll stood at the top of the Five Great Noble Houses and reigned from Galfort castle even to this day. This tradition had not changed even now that the Five Great Houses had been reduced to Four.
There had been a few times that someone of a different name had reigned during the castle's long history, but they had all been irregular instances with short-lived administrations.
Galfort castle was the home of the head of House Sunkwoll——in other words, the home of the king, and all the people secretly acknowledged it as such.
And, Galfort's current master was——
Shelfa Iras Sunkwoll, who was rumored to be the youngest and loveliest monarch (Lord Princess) in the history of the royal family.
——When was it that the first rumors about a ghost had spread in such a renowned castle?
Now, even the civilians had heard the rumors and whispers about the ghost were an open secret inside the castle.
Ladies-in-waiting, maids, and, from time to time, even knights, whose job it was to fight, would be unable to walk the castle corridors at night.
For now……the majority laughed at these individuals and called them cowards, especially since Safir's revolt had only just been put down.
Not many took the rumors seriously.
They had much potential to prove to be more than simple rumors, however.
To begin with, all old castles had ghost stories associated with them, and Galfort castle was no exception to this rule.
Reports of a ghost sightings arose every time there was a major skirmish in the area, and it wasn't as though ghost rumors died away completely in times of peace either.
There was no end to such supposed sightings.
According to witness reports, there had been sightings of an enemy general who had been slaughtered in ages past roaming through the halls at night, a king from five generations past who had been assassinated at the end of his short reign standing alone in the middle of the great hall——
When the stories grew worse, they would become funny rumors, like when one report had said, "This is something that happened to the younger brother of an acquaintance's friend——but when he went to do his business in the dressing room (that was what the nobles called the bathroom) one night, he saw a princess from multiple generations ago in her negligee and spent the night in a fashion so wonderfully spectacular that words can't do it justice."
However, things had changed slightly over the past few years.
There had been a subtle change to the traditional ghost stories within the past ten or so years.
Fewer stories that were obviously meant to scare people had surfaced, and the stories where people claimed to have "seen" something had begun to share a few similarities.
This could be said——to be proof that the witnesses had met the same ghost.
Even then, however, it hadn't been a problem until recently.
Even if the tales of otherworldly encounters had gained a bit of authenticity, witness reports had been few and far between —only about one or two reports every year.
This year, the number of people who claimed to have met a ghost had increased sharply shortly after winter had settled in.
The rumors never lost their momentum and witness reports surged once again with ridiculous speed after the end of the war that would later be known as "Safir's Rebellion".
Multiple people had started to claim to have seen the ghost every night over the past few days.
At this point, there were a few who began to always look around their surroundings with a chilly look on their faces even among the brave knights who had laughed at the rumors at first.
'What if……it's real?'
they voicelessly thought.
Naturally, those who partially acknowledged the rumors never spoke their suspicions out loud, as they would have been condemned as cowards if they had.
……Still, it was a fact that there had been a sharp decline in the number of people who wandered through Galfort castle's halls at night. Even the soldiers on night patrol had begun to disdain their duties.
Even the upper-class knights who commanded them could do naught but scratch their heads at this point.
And so, Galfort castle's (secret) ghost uproar, which had been steadily growing in severity, finally reached a turning point.
It had been triggered by none other than Miran.
……Though Miran himself would surely disagree.
It was late on a night howling with the penetratingly cold north wind.
Miran was in charge of the guards on the ramparts that night and was patrolling on top of the ramparts with two of his men. He was exactly on time and hadn't shirked his duties in the slightest.
It wasn't that Miran was an exceptionally serious person.
He truly wasn't, but he was deeply inspired and grateful to his liege (Rain), who had pulled him up to a high social status in an unprecedented manner, more so than words could ever say.
He always wanted to live up to Rain's expectations.
And so, it followed that he never even considered skipping out on his duties just because a ghost was rumored to have been appearing on a nightly basis. Besides, it was just a rumor……or at least he hoped it was.
……He admitted that he was a little scared, but, well, his men were with him too.
Thinking as much, he forced himself to puff out his chest as he made rounds across the tall —very tall— ramparts.
He was there to patrol.
He could have pushed the duty to his subordinates and stayed in his room to drink black tea or something now that he was a squad leader, but Miran did his best to share the undesirable responsibilities along with his men.
Ghosts are scary……I really don't wanna meet one.
But that's exactly why I have to be here with them! Such were Miran's admirable thoughts.
Still, the tops of the ramparts were devoid of the presences of people this late at night. Though that was only natural.
Clouds were covering the moon tonight, and the darkness was horribly discouraging. The light from the lanterns weren't enough to chase the feeling away.
On top of that, his footsteps echoed ominously as they walked across the stone-paved passage.
It's making me really conscious of the darkness ahead of and behind us……
Miran called out to his two men behind him in an attempt to at least brighten the mood through conversation.
"Hey, are you guys planning on going anywhere on your next day off?"
When he turned around, Miran found two rank and file soldiers shivering like mice caught in the rain as they eyed their surroundings.
They weren't in any mental condition to engage in friendly banter.
Both soldiers were hunched over like old women, meaning that their legs had given out. They were rank and file soldiers who ranked lower than even squires, but it was still quite a pathetic state to be seen in.
They're a bit pitiful, aren't they?
Miran put his own fears aside and frowned heavily.
"Hey, stay sharp, won't you?! The General's iron fists will come flying for you if he catches you like this! I told you before, remember?
"You'd do best not to forget the story of "Pitiful M" who's practically a legend now!"
As he'd expected, the weight of Rain's name was more effective than that of the god of war's. The two soldiers promptly straightened up and stood at attention.
"P, please excuse us!"
Miran nodded upon seeing the change in their behavior and turned to face forward again. I can't count on them……I have to keep it together!
However, a he heard a sound that made him gulp coming from behind him as soon as he started walking again.
Then, a breath later, he heard a hoarse voice that felt as nasty as being embraced by a rotting zombie.
"Ca ca ca, Captaiiiiiiin!"
Their screams made a chill run up Miran's back.
"What's with you guys all of a sudden?! I'm only human, you know; you surprised me!"
He quickly turned around.
His two subordinates, garbed in their guard's uniforms, completely ignored his rebuke.
They were looking somewhere in the distance while trembling like vibrating rods. Their faces were drenched in sweat despite the cold weather.
"……Is something the matter?"
Miran tilted his head to the side and turned his eyes back to the front——to the end of his subordinates' gazes.
……Someone had appeared standing before them, about ten meters away, at some point. It was a woman——no, a girl, with a see-through dress and long hair.
Behind him, the noisy duo clamored,
"I can see it, I can see iiiiit!"
"Her clothes……they're see, see-through!"
"It's probably a nightdress? And I can see that her clothes are see-through too,"
Miran promptly replied. He continued,
"you guys are pretty perverted. It's knightly etiquette ignore stuff like that and look the other way!"
The more pressing problem was that someone other than the guards were up on the ramparts at two in the morning.
And that could only mean one thing.
"Are you an intruder?!"
Miran, ever the responsible one, swiftly drew his sword and cautiously approached the girl. Then, he said,
"you there, tell me your affiliation if you have one! And——"
First, state your name……was what he was about to say before he stopped in his tracks. He had noticed something peculiar now that he was finally able to take a proper look at her.
The clouds up above had drifted away and the full moon had peered through……and Miran was able to see better because of it.
It was Miran who gulped this time.
It's not the dress that's see-through……I was completely wrong.
It's not just her dress, her entire body's see-through. I can see the stone walls on the other side! Miran finally understood why his men had screamed.
Miran's men, who were losing their nerve, crashed into Miran, who was standing ramrod straight.
"Ca ca, Captaiiiin ahhh!"
"Y, you idiots! Don't push meeeeee!"
Miran desperately braced himself with the lantern in his left hand and his sword in his right. It was the greatest show of strength he had displayed in the last decade.
C, calm down, me!
How to fight a ghost, how to fight a ghost……wait, is it even possible?!
His sense of duty and his terror were coming into conflict.
Then, a whimsical laugh echoed around them.
Did the ghost……just laugh at me?
Miran stared blankly at the girl only to find her laughing cutely even still with a hand placed by her lips.
She was laughing like she was simply having fun, and not in a tone that suggested she was ridiculing him. He could see every minute rippling of her dazzling long hair.
He'd only noticed just now, but she had a kind countenance with large eyes. ……Though her body was still see-through.
Her laugher gradually subsided and the girl looked to Miran again. With a smile still lingering on her face, she called out to him,
"I'm sorry that my greetings are late. ……Good evening, Miran."
She knows my name!
Miran inadvertently raised his sword in an attempt to face off against the ghost.
He did it out of pure survival instinct, though, instead of fighting spirit.
The girl made no movements in response.
"Calm down, I don't mean to hurt you. Besides——"
Her expressions, while still serene, suddenly grew mischievous.
Her next words, however, was the furthest thing from peaceful.
"No human is a match for me."
A sudden pressure sent a shiver running up his back from the bottom of his feet.
He subconsciously took a step back.
He had been hit by an intangible wave of pressure from her gaze. This was surely the thing they called fighting spirit that could be felt on your bare skin.
The lantern slipped out of his fingers. He heard two thumps as his men fell on their behinds. But Miran didn't have the leisure to pay them any heed.
A chill had run up Miran's back for a different reason this time.
Even I can feel this wave of power…… Just what is this girl——
Even still, Miran mustered up his courage and never let his eyes off his opponent.
Despite everything, I'm still his retainer!
"As far as I'm concerned, there's only one person who's allowed to say things like that! Here I come!"
Miran raised his sword as he shouted and challenged the ghost.
However, the girl's figure quickly faded away and Miran's knockout blow simply ended up making a shallow scratch on the stone wall behind her.
Then, he heard a kind voice calling to him from somewhere far away.
"Good night, Miran. I'm happy I was able to talk to you……"
Miran instinctively looked around him.
"……I'll disappear soon……but please get along with……"
"Do what with who? Wa, wait a sec! Just what exactly do you mean?"
But he was too late.
The girl had already vanished completely.
Galfort's ghost stories swept over the castle like a surging wave a few days after that incredulous event and spread all the way to the capital city outside.
After all, someone had actually conversed with the ghost that had been making discrete appearances over the past decade or so.
All of the other witnesses up until then had only seen the ghost, and none of them had been able to actually talk to it.
Moreover, it had come to light within the castle——that it was Miran who had managed to talk to the ghost.
All of this had happened so suddenly despite that a gag order had been imposed on the castle. The contagious nature of rumors wasn't something to make light of.
In addition, the contents of the rumor had changed subtly with every repetition, and its transformation had progressed in the manner below:
"Miran had a brief conversation with the ghost (the truth)."
"Miran talked to the ghost…… She was apparently someone he knew (supposedly)."
"Miran's ex-girlfriend came to visit him as a ghost (no one had seen them in person but everyone was certain this was the case)."
And so the rumors developed little by little, until they finally coalesced into the following:
"Miran's childhood friend —a girl named Joanna— appeared before him as a ghost.
She was someone whom he had loved on a nightly basis until he readily cast her aside one day, and she threw herself off a cliff out of her resentment toward him.
Miran, on the other hand, is currently dating six girls, three of whom he's knocked up. No wonder she showed up as a ghost…… How terrifying! (And thus the story concludes.)"
Putting the matter of pregnancies and so forth aside——
Miran's age was inconsistent with the story, but there were still a lot of people who believed the rumors despite this.
Naturally, this greatly grieved Miran.
Not only did he grieve, but he was also angry. Just who was it that spread these baseless rumors?!
He was in the middle of venting to a group of people he knew in the mess hall.
These people were Yuri, Selphie, Rain, Leni……and (unusually enough) even Senoa had joined in.
Senoa had always chosen to have a maid bring her meals to her room until a short while ago, but she had apparently had a change of mind. Nowadays, she made an appearance at the mess hall from time to time.
In any event, Miran was complaining fervently to the people around him.
"You know, I've never even held a girl's hand properly, not to say anything about ever having a girlfriend! (Yuri shrieked.) So what the hell's up with that rumor?!"
He looked at the people sitting on the other side of the long table in turns and slammed down his porcelain cup.
In a louder voice still, he insisted,
"to begin with, who the hell is Joanna?! I've never even heard of this girl before!"
"Are you suure?"
Yuri instantly began picking a quarrel with him. She continued,
"it's not like you actually do know her and are just afraid to say so or anything, Captaiin?"
"I'm not the General, but the way you say "Captain" is really something, Yuri……"
Miran shook his head as deep wrinkles formed on his brow. He continued,
"there's no point in trying to dig deeper into it. I really don't know her. Why did the ghost know my name?"
"Well, just explain things in a bit more detail for now."
Rain interjected without teasing him for once.
He was seated at the very end of the table and was leaning against the wall as he lightly raised the glass of wine in his hand. This was apparently supposed to signal Miran to elucidate.
Miran first made sure to confirm that no outsiders were present in the spacious mess hall——and began his story.
He told them everything, from the very beginning to the very end.
All while standing up from his seat, too.
Unlike the creepy throng of women or Leni, who was as pale as a sheet, Rain listened in with essentially no expression on his face, but——
Just as Miran had quietly expected, Rain sat up straight right at the end of the story.
Rain fastened his sharp eyes on Miran.
"……Oh~? "No human is a match for me," she said?"
His black eyes narrowed and his voice deepened.
Miran almost looked away due to the significant pressure he suddenly received.
Beads of sweat promptly formed on the back of his neck.
The fighting spirit he could feel on his skin even more strongly than the ghost's made him want to step back even after knowing that it came from his liege.
Miran fell back into his seat as if something had pressed down at his chest while he had been standing.
"P, please don't glare so hard at me. It was the ghost who said that, not me."
"I know. She probably understands my personality pretty well."
Rain laughed brazenly and continued,
"looks like she was trying to set up a trap in advance. ……But she's a hundred years too early to trip me up."
The other five present, including Miran, inadvertently exchanged looks amongst themselves.
Though he wasn't necessarily trying to represent them, Leni looked up and said,
"so, so, so does that mean…?"
Evidently, the story had scared him.
Leni clapped lightly against his cheeks, as he was trembling so hard that it was causing him to stutter.
He continued only after taking a few deep breaths first.
"It, it's like you k, k, know who the ghost is, General."
"You're just imagining things. I don't have any particular interest in the ghost……I just thought that the last thing she said was ridiculous, that's all,"
Rain replied nonchalantly.
There was nothing unnatural about his expression, as far as Miran could tell. Though, Rain was someone who's inner thoughts couldn't be easily read to begin with.
"Besides, all these ghost rumors have finally reached the Princess' ears too. She's gonna ask me about it, so I need to gather details to give her a proper report."
Rain laughed cynically and shrugged. He continued,
"everyone's so extremely worked up about such pointless rumors."
"I, I see!"
Senoa exclaimed while looking relieved for some reason.
She had gulped on multiple occasions as they conversed, but her face had lit up after Rain had spoken.
"So you mean to say that the ghost was ultimately just an illusion, yes? The girl whom Miran saw was actually just some ordinary girl who had slipped into the castle somehow."
"How'd you reach that conclusion? I meant that the stuff about Miran was all just a pointless rumor,"
Rain countered in surprise. He continued,
"I may not be interested in it, but I won't deny that the ghost exists."
A strange voice escaped Senoa as if she had swallowed a frog whole.
"S, so……you mean to say that……the g, ghost actually……exists?"
"You really don't get it, do you?"
Rain sighed as if to press a point. He continued,
"this world is teeming with monsters like level 1 small-fry all the way to level 100 mythical beasts (dragons). To top it off, there are even daemons, who were said to have gone extinct, and even me, the strongest one of all. I'm sure there are plenty of ghosts around —enough that you could scoop them up with a draining basket."
"No, no way……"
Senoa's complexion paled at once.
"W, with a draining basket, you say……"
Even Miran felt like blanching.
But, putting the fact that he said, "even me, the strongest one of all," aside, isn't it kinda strange that he said "this world"?
Miran questioned it a little, but decided not to pester Rain with questions.
This was because everyone was already used to how Rain would occasionally say words or phrases that they'd never heard of before.
Recently, those strange sayings had spread inside the castle and had become standard phrases uttered by everyone (sometimes).
Well, he's someone who's travelled across the whole world, so he probably knows a lot……or so Miran thought.
Then, Yuri, Selphie, and the others shrieked a little after hearing Rain's thoughts on the matter.
"Noooo! You just made me want to go to the bathroom!"
Yuri was laughing, but Selphie looked like she was really scared.
No……it's not just her, but Leni and Senoa too.
Then, Rain followed-up with a comment while looking at Senoa in particular.
"Well, there's no need to freak out or anything. Our ghost here is probably harmless."
How can you guarantee that?
Miran wanted to ask Rain for his reasoning, but Senoa, who had grown sullen, got in his way.
"What are you saying?! Do you think that I, a member of House Estherhart, one of the pillars of the Five Houses, would be afraid of a mere ghost?! I'm not scared at all!!"
"I see, that's fine. It's nothing to get so excited about,"
Rain nonchalantly brushed her away and refilled his glass of wine.
Then, in a tone so casual he could have been gossiping, he continued,
"in any case. It'd be pretty bad if the ghost rumors spread any further. Even the Princess is worried about them now. Plus, soldiers who skip out on night rounds are cropping up here and there, so it's starting to affect morale too."
He looked at his very full glass and nodded.
Nonchalantly, he finished,
"so why don't we have the higher-ranking knights take the initiative for once and do the night rounds? Things have to start from up top, yeah?"
And the moment he said this——
Leni forcefully clenched his stomach and moaned, while Senoa finished her late-night snack at three times her normal speed and stood up from her seat.
"Gwah! I, I suddenly have a stomachache!"
"I, I, too, must go and write my poetry now…"
Rain slowly looked at the two of them and muttered,
"……you're not being honest."
His simple words truly made the difference between the two as clear as day and night.
Leni was candid and said, "then I'll be honest. I'm sorry, but I'd like to be excused from this because it's creepy."
But, as largely expected, Senoa, who had escaped all the way to the door, turned around with a grim look on her face.
"I'm not like Sir Leni! As I've stated multiple times now, —I'm not scared in the slightest!"
"……No, well, I wasn't ever asking if you were. But that's perfect if you're not."
Rain smiled in a refreshing manner. He continued,
"in that case, I'll leave it to you. You'll be making rounds late at night starting tomorrow, for the time being."
Wha wha wha! Senoa said as she was taken aback.
"——!! I am a brigadier —a general— of all things! Why must I take on that duty?!"
"It's a superior's job to understand how a soldier feels when they're made to take on a difficult task. Besides, it's precisely during times like this that superior officers have to take the initiative and set a good example for others."
"Th, that may be true……but we'll be returning to Coretecreas castle soon, will we not?"
Rain assumed an air of solemnity and spread his hands.
"Even still, we'll still be here for a few days."
It looked like she had finally run out of excuses to make.
Still standing ramrod straight, Senoa stiffened up while looking like she was about to cry.
And, the next night——
Unfortunately, there was someone who was far more afraid than even Leni or Senoa upon hearing the rumors about a ghost.
That someone was none other than Shelfa, the master of Galfort, who had had been restless every day since she accidentally heard a maid talking about Miran's testimony.
It was still fine during the day.
It was bright both inside and outside the castle, so she knew that she could relax in the knowledge that the ghost wouldn't appear.
It was nighttime that posed the problem.
Galfort castle boasted, albeit pointlessly, of its ages-old history.
The ancient castle's atmosphere, which was calm and gentle while the sun was out, had the complete opposite effect at night.
For example, the shadows created by her chest or even by the very bed she was currently laying on carried over some sort of ominous presence, as if some sort of otherworldly monsters were hidden within them.
Even the breeze that beat against the window or the faint creaking of the walls sounded like the gloating chuckles of a monster.
It needn't be said that all of this was simply due to her imagination, but, in her terror, Shelfa steadily grew unable to believe she was simply imagining things.
She had been sleep-deprived for the past several days because of the gossipy maids, and today she had finally become unable to sleep even a wink. She had slipped into her nightclothes and had crawled into bed for the time being, but, unlike usual, she hadn't been able to fall asleep no matter how hard she tried.
Finally, Shelfa opened her eyes wide and surveyed her bedroom from underneath the covers that she had completely wrapped herself in.
Brilliant candles lit up the spacious room, as the chandelier was not lit, and there were flickering flames burning even in the expansive fireplace, large enough that several people could have fit inside.
Her bedroom was one that was plenty warm and bright even in the winter, but it seemed like a dark place crawling with apparitions the moment she remembered the ghost stories.
Even the light from the fireplace reflecting off the walls looked like some manner of eerie otherworldly pattern when she looked at them with suspicion in her eyes.
Shelfa seriously scared herself silly as her imaginations ran wild and her delicate figure began to quiver.
Her sapphire eyes grew moist with tears as they naturally began searching for someone who wasn't present in her room.
In other words, she was searching for Rain.
Shelfa voiced her gloom out loud for once when she didn't find him for obvious reasons.
To begin with, it was already long past midnight, and most of the castle had gone to bed long ago——
the cornered Shelfa thought.
Rain apparently doesn't even sleep some nights, and even then, he isn't the type of person to go to bed early.
He should still be up right now.
And so……he might let me stay in his room if I'm honest with him and tell him what's going on.
This was quite the happy thought, and as proof of that happiness, the fear that had been haunting her heart faded away like it had never been there to begin with.
Shelfa was so happy that her glee redirected her thoughts.
If he lets me in his room and we end up having fun and talking lots, then, perhaps, he might even kiss me again.
Her imagination spread its wings and took flight as there wasn't anyone in the room to tell her otherwise in exasperation.
And if we spend so much time having fun together, then wouldn't it naturally(?) lead to me being able to share a bed with Rain when he decides to call it a night?
Though it was a simple fancy, it was the third-most wonderful thought that Shelfa had ever entertained in her life.
It led to her sitting up before she knew what she was doing.
She put a hand against her heated cheeks and let out a small sigh.
Shelfa was thinking about how she simply wanted to sleep in Rain's embrace——and her wishes were pure, naturally, rather than sexual. Moreover, she thought, "if that time comes, I want to cling to Rain like a body pillow…… I'm sure it'd be the happiest sleep I'll ever sleep."
Shelfa thought this —something that would have made someone like Ralphus stop her in tears— in all seriousness as she climbed down from her bed with a feverish look on her face.
As she'd expected, she was cold as soon as she emerged from her warm covers.
Despite there being a fireplace, her bedroom was large enough that it could fit at least several dozen more beds.
It was much too cold to wander about the room in only her thin nightclothes.
Just on cue, Shelfa sneezed and shivered.
She tottered over in front of the fireplace in a hurry.
She put on a thick gown on top of her bedclothes as she basked in the warmth of the fire and made sure to close up the front of her gown.
She then tied it carefully together with a string so that there was no chance that her skin underneath would show.
This wasn't due to the traditional vows that the noblewomen of the kingdom (occasionally) made. Those constraints weren't actually that strict.
It was simply that Shelfa was too sensitive to the gentlemen's gazes.
In any event, she finished arranging her clothes and finished up by slipping on a pair of shoes that she used within the castle.
And with this, her preparations were complete.
All that was left was to do was to sneak into Rain's room so that she didn't run into any other gentlemen, whom she disliked dealing with, along the way.
Shelfa, who was a girl in love before she was a monarch, was not aware of how bold her actions were at this point.
If she hadn't been a liege, she would have tilted her head to the side and said, "What's wrong with sleeping together with the person I love while holding tight to him?" if anyone advised her against the idea.
Furthermore, all of Shelfa's feelings of "being scared of ghosts" had been temporarily blasted away and she had long forgotten her original objective.
Anyway, I'm going to Rain's room.
Such was her only resolution.
After all, that was the first step in her plan to "Make Rain My Body Pillow".
The image of her sleeping while cuddled up against Rain with their limbs entwinned was already prevailing in her mind.
Ahh……I'm so happy just thinking about it.
You mustn't be so hasty!
But there was none present to caution her as such, and so Shelfa opened the door with a bright smile on her face.
Shelfa was abruptly impeded as soon as she took her first step.
Or more specifically, she had turned to climb down the stairs thinking, 'Now, off to where Rain is,' as soon as she'd entered into the dim corridor and someone else had climbed up and happened to see her just as she did.
It was a gentleman holding a lantern, and his gaze locked on to Shelfa's.
They stared at each other because there was still a decent amount of distance between the two.
It wasn't pitch black thanks to the candle stands, so Shelfa was able to discern who he was by face.
If I remember correctly, he's Rain's——
The gentleman spoke first while Shelfa was hesitating on whether or not she should address him by name.
He had been rather surprised at first, but he appeared to have figured out who Shelfa was quickly enough.
He walked over to her in large strides after a brief moment of hesitation.
Then, he bowed deeply.
"My deepest apologies for surprising you. I'm——no, I am Miran, a squad leader under General Rain's direct command."
"Yes, I know. ……We've met before in the audience chamber. And, you were there with Lord Leni when I first arrived at Cortecreas castle."
"I'm, I'm so very grateful that you remembered. Yes, that was me back then."
Miran was honest in his gratitude, evidently, and he lowered his head once again.
His bow continued for a little while longer before he diffidently looked back up.
"And……what business does Your Majesty have at this late hour?"
"Wh, what about you, Lord Miran?"
"I……I was thinking of trying to solve the ghost business from the other day,"
Miran said uneasily. He continued,
"I was making rounds in the castle alone because I thought that I might meet her again."
My…… But before Shelfa could express her admiration, Miran followed up and asked, "And Your Majesty?"
She tried to think up of an excuse on the spot.
However, there weren't many matters that would require her to leave her bedroom this late at night.
Miran, being as serious as ever, waited patiently for Shelfa to answer.
She didn't want to lie to him if at all possible.
As for why——
It was because Rain was exceptionally cautious when it came to Shelfa's surroundings. He had stopped sleeping in the hallway at Shelfa's request, but he'd put up an invisible barrier in the area instead.
Naturally, only a few people including Shelfa were allowed to pass through it.
The fact that Miran had made it up here so late at night, even if it was for making rounds, was proof that Rain trusted him considerably.
Or at the very least, this is what Shelfa determined.
It didn't change the fact that she disliked having to deal with him, but she was more relaxed with him than she would have been with any other gentleman because of his relation to Rain.
And so, she inadvertently ended up telling him a half-truth.
"There was something I wished to discuss with Rain……"
"At this time of night?"
"Y, yes. That's……I figured that Rain would still be awake, and I couldn't sleep all too well either……so I thought I might as well."
It wasn't a lie, at the very least.
She had simply omitted telling him of her plans to make Rain her body pillow.
And besides, it looked like Miran had something to say about the matter too.
He nodded with a terribly empathetic look on his face.
"There are rumors about a ghost going around too, so I understand how you feel……"
He bowed again and continued in a cheery tone,
"in that case, I'll escort you to the General's room."
Shelfa moaned, though only internally to herself.
Incidentally, Rain was not present in his room at this time.
He was walking around the castle like Miran had been.
Only, instead of walking around blindly, he had specifically chosen to traverse the most desolate areas of the castle or the darkest areas where there weren't enough candle stands.
Rain could see as well in the darkness as he could during the day, so, unlike the rank and file soldiers, he didn't carry a lantern with him. On top of that, he was in all black attire, so he hardly stood out. Thanks to this, he was able to give a few unfortunate soldiers, who were taking their patrol seriously, the fright of their lives.
They couldn't be blamed for overreacting when he came up to them from behind, tapped their shoulder, and said, "Good work," in a low voice. Some jumped up in shock, some screamed, and some suddenly started running—it was a mess.
It wasn't difficult for Rain to erase his presence, and he was great at walking without making any noise, so sneaking up to everyone from behind was a simple matter for him. Several groups of soldiers were patrolling the castle, but Rain's surprise attack had yet to fail in the past hour that he had been active.
The only person who didn't fall into the same pitiful pattern of action that the soldiers had was Ralphus, who abruptly turned around and drew his sword when Rain snuck up to him saying, "Hey. The moon's awfully pretty tonight," while patting him on the shoulder.
Or rather, he'd only drawn his sword halfway, and instead smiled wryly once he'd turned around.
"It's you. ……I can't say it's very admirable of you to approach so close after erasing your presence. I thought you were an intruder."
"Well, I'll admit that it's not the nicest hobby,"
Rain said as he ignored Ralphus' admonishment. He continued,
"but everyone's reactions were hilarious, so I just had to. ……But yours was different, as I'd expected of you. You'll still be able to make rounds just fine with your reaction."
Once his solemn words, which could hardly be perceived as praise, had left his mouth, Rain stared closely at his friend. Then, he said,
"so, what are you doing wandering around with your sword this late at night?"
"……I wanted to ask you that myself. In any case, you should show your elders some respect."
"Dude, we're the same age."
It was Ralphus who ignored Rain's admonishment this time around as he briefly responded,
"I thought……that all this ghost business might be someone's nefarious plot. And so I was walking around the castle on my own."
"I see. You think……that someone started this huge rumor in order to weaken the castle's defenses."
"Do you think otherwise?"
"A bit……well, a lot, actually,"
Rain replied readily after nodding. He continued,
"the ghost in question's probably the real deal. In a sense——at least."
Ralphus opened his eyes wide, but Rain moved on to a different topic without particularly reacting to him.
"But still… I found out during my little walk today that there are a few soldiers who're skipping out of their rounds. I'll have to make sure to discipline any bastard who has the guts to think they can run away on their own."
"No, putting that aside, what you said before about the…"
Ralphus attempted to ask again, but——
Rain had already begun walking away with a wave of his hand.
"Later. ……You should hurry up and go back to your room before you meet the real ghost.
"But anyway, it's still strange. It should've appeared by now if my predictions were correct."
Rain tilted his head to the side, pondering about why he hadn't run into the ghost yet, as he climbed the palace stairs.
I should still be able to meet her at around this time. Or maybe, she's still——
He stopped in his tracks as he contemplated.
When he stepped out into the corridor, he found that there was light leaking out from a single door that had been left open.
He was currently located in the palace, of all places, not the lodgings were the soldiers slept (the barracks). The rooms located on the upper floors were used by higher-ranking knights.
"……Wait, isn't that the room Senoa was assigned to?"
He had only remembered just now because he hardly ever came to visit her, and he had always stayed outside her door even when he did.
Besides, he and the others had spent far more time at Cortecreas castle than they had here.
Then, Rain recalled something else.
Now that I think about it, I ordered her to go patrolling tonight, though I haven't seen her yet. Did she forget to lock up after herself?
Senoa wasn't normally the type to forget something like that, but it was entirely possible that her nerves had gotten the better of her.
And so, Rain decided to check in just in case.
Well, I'm sure I won't find her inside, but I'll just make sure no one's snuck in.
"Hey, are you in, Seno——"
Rain called as he peeked inside.
Is this really her room?
How should I put this……it's pretty girly.
There was a fluffy pink carpet on the floor and the chest and desk were covered in girlish decorations.
He could see her bedroom further inside from where he stood as well.
The bed, sheets, and covers were all a uniform light blue and were rather florid.
There were several bisque dolls in cute fluffy dresses adorning the sideboard next to her bed that looked back at Rain with their rotund eyes.
Actually, there was an extremely girly doll on the chest and desk each as well.
If someone had told him that this room belonged to a shy and naïve young girl, Rain would have believed them without question.
His surprise was emphasized by the fact that he knew of how Senoa usually acted.
Rain scratched his chin.
I was starting to realize that she had this sort of side to her, but it's still pretty surprising to see proof of it like this with my own eyes.
Still, Rain had no intention of judging others for their hobbies and made to quietly leave the room.
She probably wouldn't like it much if she knew that I was in her room while she was out……
However, just before Rain closed the door, a gentle breeze slipped in and blew a stack of paper off the desk and scattered the sheets onto the floor.
Rain went back inside in a hurry and picked them up.
He couldn't help that he saw some of the writing that was on them. He had no intention of sneaking a peek, but he inadvertently ended up reading a few lines.
I'm lonely……so lonely……
I have no doubt that he hates me. I wish he'd at least speak kindly to me, even if my feelings won't ever reach him.
But with my attitude——
Rain vocalized again as he put the papers back in place. A part of him actually did want to keep reading, but he refrained from doing so.
Still, to think that she was actually writing poetry.
Maybe it's love poetry, or something like that.
Or, maybe there's a guy she likes.
"I guess she's at that age too……I'd love to give her advice, but she hates me."
Rain smiled wryly and left the room for good this time.
He saw something strange at the other end of the corridor as he did.
There was a figure holding something burning in each hand as they staggered forward.
There were candle stands located here and there within the palace, which secured the bare minimum of light necessary at all times.
It's not like they're out exploring a completely dark cave or anything, so who's the idiot making a scene out of themselves over there?
Even Rain, with his vision, couldn't immediately determine who it was.
This was because they were sliding sideways, like a crab, instead of walking straight.
The torch was right beside their face, meaning that Rain couldn't see them.
……But he still knew who they were by their presence.
Rain jumped up with an annoyed sigh. He clung to the corridor ceiling and waited for them to come closer.
After a little while——
"I, I-I-I think I heard something just now."
Rain jumped down when the "crab-walking girl" with the trembling voice was directly below him.
He had originally planned to evilly land right behind her and cover her mouth to scare her, but the crab-walking girl——in other words, Senoa, was already at her wit's end.
She suddenly started to scream, not because she had sensed his presence but because she had snapped at just the right time.
Not only that, but she was screaming in a raw, "girlish scream" that she would normally never have let out as she madly swung around the torches in her hands while half-crying.
Rain watched, dumbfounded, for a while——
But eventually, he grew shocked when the jacket of Senoa's uniform caught on fire.
"Idiot, you idiot, you're burning!"
She finally opened her eyes.
"Kyaaaaaaah——wait, eh, ehh?!"
Senoa was astounded when she looked down to see her clothes burning.
"It, it's hot!"
"Of course it is!"
Rain turned to Senoa, who had finally stopped moving around, and quickly drew his magic sword.
He swung it once diagonally upwards to her collarbone, flicked his wrist, and made two, three more slashes, leaving only trails of light behind each swing.
Both torches went out as they were cut in two from the base.
Additionally, Senoa's jacket (and only her jacket) was cleanly cut away and fell to the floor in pieces.
"Phew……well, at least you weren't burnt."
Senoa, who's beautiful visage had been blank until then, suddenly seemed to realize that she was standing in only her underwear——
Rain moved behind her and covered her mouth in a hurry when she opened it in a large O.
"Like I was saying, don't scream. Are you trying to wake everyone up this late at night?"
"——! Mmph mmph!"
"I don't know what you're saying. But anyway, quiet down. Besides, just tell me in private next time if you're scared. You were probably holding two torches and walking like a crab so you could see both behind and in front of you, but then you won't be able to draw your sword if something critical happens, you stupid idiot!"
Even Senoa couldn't quip back as Rain poured out his grievances without pause. She had gone remarkably quiet.
Rain uncovered her mouth when it looked like things were going to be okay.
Then, he proceeded to warn, not complain at, her.
"Also, make sure you remember to lock up next time. You left the door to your room open——"
Senoa, whom he was holding from behind, suddenly quivered. She forcefully turned around even as he was held her in place.
Her blue eyes were extremely agitated as they looked up at him. And it wasn't because of the ghost.
"D, did you……go in my room?"
"……Is that really what's worrying you right now? Anyway, I stepped in for a bit when I closed the door. But I didn't do anything bad."
Senoa flushed red in the time it took for her eyes to open wider.
Her blue eyes moistened just as Rain had begun thinking that she had calmed down.
"Did, did you see what was on my desk……by any perchance, sir?"
——By any perchance, sir?
Rain furrowed his brows and said,
"I don't go around looking through my subordinates' rooms."
He was about to say, I really don't, but I picked up your love poems 'cause they fell to the floor, but he missed his chance to speak because Senoa had immediately looked immensely relieved.
Well, maybe not telling her was the correct thing to do.
"Th, thank goodness……you're sure, yes?"
"I haven't really lied (as of yet),"
Rain replied in a hoarse voice and brushed his hand against her nicely-shaped bulging chest.
Senoa stiffened up again when his hand grazed her underclothes.
"I told you not to be so loud!"
Rain beat her to the punch and quickly hugged her.
He'd thought that hugging her would get her to stop since Senoa was apparently weak to being touched.
As always, the results were phenomenal.
Senoa had been frozen as stiff as if she had a stick jammed through the core of her body until that very moment due to a blend of fear and nervousness——
But she relaxed and became soft and pliable as soon as Rain hugged her.
A soft sigh escaped her lips as she leaned her weight against him.
"……Well, you didn't have to get that docile…"
Senoa looked down in the dimness with an expression that was very unlike her.
Perhaps she had thought that——Rain wouldn't be able to see her that well in the darkness.
"? For what?"
"I can say it now. ……I was actually really scared…… I just couldn't say it."
Rain pat her gently on her exposed back. He continued,
"son't worry about it. Selphie and Miran were scared too. Yuri was the only one who wasn't scared, but that's because she doesn't believe in ghosts to begin with."
"Putting that child aside——"
Senoa said with a smile in her voice. She continued,
"you aren't afraid either, General."
"I told you before, right? You guys are the ones who are reacting properly…… People who aren't afraid of something they should be afraid of——they're not heroes, they're fools. There's something fundamentally wrong with them as human beings. I've completely lost those emotions. It's pretty pathetic, really."
"But even still……I want to become strong, just like you."
I feel like someone said the same thing to be before, Rain thought.
It was……the Little one, if I recall correctly?
But I still feel like there was someone else, too——
"You're strong just as you are now, aren't you? You didn't run away from patrolling even though you were scared. There were a lot of soldiers who did."
Senoa chuckled again.
It was strangely refreshing, since she wasn't usually one to laugh like that.
"You're being rather kind tonight……Lord Rain."
Why are you addressing me the way Selphie does? When Rain inquired about it, Senoa, despite having actually been the one who called him that, drew in a deep breath and looked down again.
"My apologies, I usually don't say it out loud……but I just did."
"No, I understand even less now."
Rain placed a hand on the forehead that was pressed against his chest and gently pushed it up.
He stared fixedly down at Senoa, who's blue eyes were swimming around like a shy and flustered young girl.
"……You're being weirdly honest tonight. Do you happen to have a thing where you suddenly get real honest when you're only wearing your underwear or something?"
Senoa did not get as angry as she normally would have. She silently smiled instead.
She finally looked him in the eye.
For some reason, Rain felt——as if there was a haze in her eyes.
"……Who can say?"
"Wanna test it out by stripping down below too?"
Rain thought that he might have pushed a little too far with his teasing, but there truly was something different about Senoa tonight.
He felt her hold her breath for a moment, but then she began speaking with a tremble in her voice a short while later.
"If, if that's what you desire……"
She sounded like a bride on her wedding night.
Rain was starting to grow worried for her.
"You really are acting different from normal right now. And here I'd always thought you were prejudiced against me or something. I didn't think you'd say something like that even as a joke."
Well, not that I mind in particular——
But Senoa interjected him in shock before he could get out that last part.
"Why would you think that I was prejudiced against you?!"
A beat later, she took it down a notch and continued,
"you, you're the one who hates me, right, General? ……I know you do."
"Okay, so that's a error, or rather, a misunderstanding on your part. I've never hated you. We might bicker from time to time, but like hell I'd hate you over something like that."
Senoa stiffened up again in his arms. She opened her eyes wide with a look that suggested she had forgotten how to breathe.
It had been a while since he had last seen Senoa's face up close——
Looking at her like this made him realize that she had great features, what with the high bridge of her nose and her almond sapphire eyes. She didn't stand out much because of Shelfa's unfair levels of attractiveness, but Senoa had originally been famous for her beauty among the nobility.
Her beauty stood out even more tonight in particular because she wasn't wearing the tough expression she usually wore.
"You should always have that "nice expression" on your face. You'll have a fan club after you soon enough."
"Th, that aside, was what you said before true?"
"……If you mean all that talk about hating and not hating, then yeah, I meant it. Actually, I wanna ask why you thought I hated you."
"I, I actually have something to say regarding that…"
Senoa suddenly drew her face close. She continued,
"actually, for a while now, I——"
A familiar voice sounded from the other end of the corridor just then.
"I finally found you!!"
It was a voice overflowing with delight, as if its owner had just found paradise on earth.
"I had a feeling I'd find you he——"
The voice's owner cut off unnaturally.
When Rain looked over to where the presence was coming from, he found Shelfa standing in the corridor wearing a thick white gown.
She had completely frozen up (or so it looked like) while still pointing at his direction.
Behind her was Miran, who was, as expected, also frozen stiff while holding a lantern.
"The, the General is with a half-naked Captain Senoa…"
he whispered……but I don't give a crap about him right now.
What concerned Rain more was the shock that was slowly spreading across Shelfa's face……
Even Rain, who was extraordinarily slow when it came to matters of romance, felt a bit of the danger.
He was (technically) holding a young woman in a dim corridor in the middle of the night……and not only was she in her underwear, but their faces were only a few centimeters apart.
This……is kinda bad, isn't it?
In truth, it was actually very bad.
Shelfa suddenly staggered.
Then, she fell fla~t against the wall as if she had been hit by a suddenly bout of acute anemia.
She slid down the wall and plopped down with her knees together.
"Your, Your Majesty!"
A flustered Miran cried out.
Rain let out a sigh before he knew what he was doing.
Wow, what a classic reaction——no, now's not the time to get impressed by that.
Senoa had run off with her face in her hands, leaving Rain stranded and alone.
There was no way that he could simply say, "Welp, me too~," and just leave, either.
Left with little other choice, he pulled the dazed Shelfa and Miran along with him to a large balcony inside the palace.
There, he carefully explained the situation to them, lest they misunderstood and thought that something lewd had been going on.
"And that's how it is, Princess. I did that in order to calm her down after she burnt her clothes with the torch; we were not doing anything untoward."
"Yes……I see. That really does sound like something the Captain would do."
Evidently, Miran had been convinced by the mere fact that the truth was so ridiculous.
Besides, the remains of the torches and Senoa's clothes had been left at the corridor, so he could have had simply been convinced by the evidence too.
"Well, yeah. Besides, we would've used a room if we were gonna have a good time together, right? There's no point in going out of our way to do it out in the hallway……I mean."
He noticed Shelfa's gaze as he was speaking.
She was staaaaaaaring at Rain with upturned eyes.
The tears lining the bottom of her eyes were threatening to fall even now.
Rain cleared his throat and said,
"er, I was really telling the truth just now, Princess."
"Yes…… I don't believe you were lying, of course. But, my heart hurts for some reason…… It hurts very, very much. I'm sorry……for being jealous."
It was Rain who froze up this time.
Hey, watch what you're saying!
Shelfa did not see his look of caution, likely because she was too busy being downcast in her worries.
Then, she moved to embrace him, of all thing, as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
She gently closed her eyes and rubbed the side of her face against Rain's chest.
"I'm truly sorry,"
She eventually noticed the tension in the air, albeit belatedly.
Finally, she opened her eyes.
She saw Miran standing ramrod straight and blinked upon recognizing the trouble.
"No, don't just "oh my" me…"
Rain flashed a glance at Miran.
Miran was still standing in shock with his mouth wide open, so Rain smiled and said,
"I'm sure there's a lot going on in your mind right now, Miran."
"You already know what I want to say without me having to spell it out for you, right?"
Miran's eyes, which had been staring at a boundless void, finally regained their focus.
He nodded heavily after one deep breath.
"Silence in a virtue, and don't forget about what happened to poor old M……yes?"
Rain pried Shelfa off of him and pat Miran on the shoulder. He continued,
"your future's as good as promised, M!"
Miran broke out in a sweat as he laughed weakly and jerkily lowered his head.
"In, in any event. I'll be taking my leave now."
"Sure. Good work."
It was nothing at all, Miran replied as he walked away with his right hand and right leg moving in sync.
Then, Rain remembered something important and called out after him.
When his subordinate timidly turned back around, Rain said,
"I didn't ask you earlier on purpose, but… Do you happen to remember exactly what the ghost you met looked like?"
"Well, of course I do, since the experience had such a large impact on me——"
His words abruptly cut away mid-sentence.
His expression eventually clouded over as he pondered with a distant look in his eyes.
"……How strange. There's no way I would've forgotten something like that. But, it's like my memories are fading or something. I only remember that she was a woman……I wonder why?"
He began speaking to himself toward the end.
"I see. So you don't remember anything—not the color of her hair, her height, or what her voice sounded like?"
"No……sir. I'm pretty sure I remembered more even just last night, at least. But it's like my memories gradually faded away before I realized it."
Even Miran himself found it quite peculiar.
Miran furrowed his brows to express his discomfort.
"That so……? Well, don't worry about it too much, Miran. If you forgot, then you forgot. You'll probably forget everything entirely one day before you realize it. It's just as I predicted."
Miran tilted his head even further to the side, but Rain simply laughed and didn't disclose anything more.
"The question you asked Lord Miran earlier—was it because you had something in mind?"
Shelfa inquired after Miran had left with a puzzled look on his face.
"Pretty much. I have my own theories about the ghost——hey, what's up?"
He looked down at Shelfa, who had hugged him tight again.
His Princess-cum-liege was smiling like an angel.
"It's nothing. I simply thought that it would be all right to hug you now that we're alone together."
"……You really haven't reflected on your actions at all, have you? Besides, what did you need from me this late at night in the first place?"
"This is what I needed."
Rain could only smile wryly when she smiled without the slightest trace of malice.
Anyhow, he blamed himself a bit as well.
There was no way that the Little one wouldn't be afraid of the ghost rumors that had spread across the castle. The fact that he had failed to realize this meant that he had failed to pay proper attention to her.
"……Well, that's fine, I suppose."
He began to twirl her hair, pleasant to the touch as always, around his fingers.
Her blonde hair, which glistened magnificently even under the moonlight, was faintly aromatic. Evidently, her habit of taking two baths a day wasn't just for show.
"Actually, there's something I wanted to give you while you're here."
Once they had returned to Rain's chambers, Rain presented Shelfa with a 'katana' that he had prepared for her a while back.
It's probably ten years too early for you to use something like this——he remarked as he did, but Shelfa was surprisingly jubilant about it.
Rain could only surmise that she had misunderstood something as she held the katana, with its white hilt peeking out of its white sheath, to her chest and beamed.
She was like a little girl hugging her favorite doll to her chest.
"I'm so happy…… A katana from you, Rain…… Eheheh."
Her voice sounded so ecstatic that it bordered danger.
"Hey now. It's still a weapon, you know. It's not a doll that you can snuggle up with."
"I'm aware of that……but it's just that I haven't really experienced what it's like to receive gifts very often. Besides, it makes me all the happier because it's from you."
Rain smiled and placed the palm of his hand on Shelfa's head again.
Now that she'd mentioned it, he realized that, knowing how King Douglas had acted in life, the late king wouldn't have had been the type to give his daughter gifts.
"Technically, I'm supposed to get stuff like this from you. But I'll give you something more suitable for a girl sometime along the road."
"Thank you. But I'm already happy enough as long as you stay with me, Rain."
"C'mon, don't say that. You're supposed to accept it without reserve when someone gives you a present."
Rain cradled his liege's shoulders in a familiar manner and led her out into the corridor.
As they walked, he said,
"anyhow. Be careful when handling that katana. It has the full might of my magical power imbued in it. There aren't many swords that can compare to it, even on a modest estimate."
Shelfa did not question him on whether he was actually being modest or not.
Her sapphire eyes lit up in great delight instead.
"It's a magic sword?"
"'Course it is, since I'm the one giving it to you."
Rain nonchalantly brushed back his hair. He continued,
"I was planning on making easy money off of forging and selling magic swords in case this knight business didn't work out for me."
"……May I draw it?"
"Sure, but just be careful not to touch the blade. Its cutting edge isn't anything to scoff at. You could cut steel with it if you wanted to."
Shelfa nodded and stopped walking.
She held the katana horizontally in both hands, as if she was carrying something sacred, and swiftly pulled it out of its sheath.
And at that very moment——
A pale blue beam of light filled the dim corridor as the characteristic buzzing of a magic sword filled the air.
Shelfa held the katana at ready with the uncertain hands of an amateur as she stared at the blade, enchanted.
A sweet sigh escaped her lovely lips.
"This radiance……it feels like you for some reason, Rain."
"Well, yeah. That isn't really all that strange since I'm the one who imbued it with magic. Oh, and…"
——It's a bit dangerous over there, you know?
Rain said as he promptly regained his tension.
He placed a hand on his magic sword and frowned as he stared into the depths of the corridor.
They were in……a bit of an irregular situation.
"Fall back a bit, Little one. We have a guest."
He stepped in front of her as if to cover for her without even confirming her reaction.
Then, he turned to the glowing figure, who had appeared out of nowhere, and braced himself.
A small shriek sounded from behind him.
Shelfa had finally noticed 'her'.
"Good evening, Rain."
The ghost from the rumors smiled as she gave her truly peaceable greetings.
Rain stared down his opponent with a hand on the sword at his waist.
The ghost simply remained standing inconspicuously near the corridor wall instead of bracing herself for anything in particular.
She did not appear to be hostile, and wore a strange look on her face as if she was looking fondly back at some old memory.
Eventually, she swept aside her long silver hair and began to speak.
"That look on your face…… So even you manage to get things wrong sometimes?"
"Not necessarily. I'm not conceited enough to think that I know everything. I was a little surprised, but this is still within the range of my expectations."
Rain nodded in response when the ghost spoke in a voice that suggested she was having fun.
"It's true. And I also think that you're really pushing yourself right now."
"……I see, it looks like this really was within your expectations."
The ghost looked happy for some reason despite what her words suggested.
She looked at Rain with affection, not animosity, in her eyes.
"In that case……let us meet again later…… I'll be looking forward to it."
The ghost's body visibly faded out with those words until she vanished completely.
Shelfa finally spoke up with a feeble voice once she was gone.
"R, Rain……that person just now……?"
"Yep. That's the ghost everyone's talking about. Was this your first time seeing her?"
"Of, of course it was……"
Rain laughed a little when Shelfa looked up at him with an expression that suggested her heart was still pounding.
"Sorry for laughing. It'd be better for you to call it a night if you're worried about the ghost. I'll take you to your room."
"There's no way……that I'd be able to sleep all by myself in that room after witnessing what just happened."
Shelfa clung on to Rain as if she'd rather die than let go. The tips of her fingers began to turn white. She continued,
"I managed to stop at only being surprised because you were here with me, Rain."
"That so……? But that makes things a little difficult. I was planning to go and exorcise——well, I doubt things'll get that far, but I have something to discuss with the ghost."
"Then please let me go with you."
Rain peered into Shelfa's face.
"You sure? I thought you weren't good with ghosts."
"I think I would've fainted had I been alone, but I'll be all right if you're with me, Rain. I prefer this to being alone."
Then, she actually shook her head "no" like a small child. ……While still pulling at his sleeves.
Rain gave in to her persistence and wrapped an arm around Shelfa's waist.
"Alright. Then shall we fondly be off?"
"Yes! I'll accompany you!"
Rain flashed his white teeth in a grin again at Shelfa's profusely energetic response.
They moved to a separate wing of the palace and climbed up to the highest floor.
The wing had many rooms and saloons meant for official events that took place within the castle, and the one that Rain had chosen at random was one of the saloons that were used for the nobles' entertainment and relaxation.
"Hmmm, the chandelier's not lit, though that's only to be expected. In that case——Light!"
Four balls of light flew to each corner of the room and lit it up brightly once Rain had spoken his short command and waved his hand.
Rain smiled when Shelfa expressed her wonder and stared at the magical lights.
"Look. This way it won't get dark until I cancel my spell. It's not as scary when it's bright, yeah?"
There wasn't even a hint of fear in Shelfa's reply.
She didn't appear to be afraid of anything in the unnecessarily spacious room either, even though it was quiet enough to make your ears hurt.
She didn't even seem the slightest bit timid when they sat down next to each other on the sofa either.
Is she really afraid of ghosts?——Rain wondered while tilting his head to the side.
He inadvertently ended up looking back at her, but Shelfa didn't seem to know what was going on in his mind.
She clung to his arm with a distant look in her eyes.
"I used to always think——about how happy I had been back when Mother was still alive. But I stopped thinking about things like that ever since I met you, Rain……"
"Is that so……? So your mother was good to you, as she should've been. Blood relatives are supposed to be like that, originally."
Rain nonchalantly waved his left hand as he spoke.
"Yes…… Though she could never be as good as you……she was always a good mother……to me."
Shelfa's gowned figure slumped to the side as she spoke. She quickly straightened herself back up but ended up slumping over again soon after.
"……I wanted to talk with you more……but I guess I'm fairly tired……"
"Don't push yourself. Just go to sleep if you're feeling sleepy."
Shelfa shook her head a little but ultimately sighed in resignation.
"Then I'll just take a short rest. Please stay here with me……just like this…… And please let me know if you'll be taking more than three steps away from me……"
Shelfa's head dropped down after she had made her rather specific "request".
It didn't take much time until her breathing confirmed that she was asleep.
Rain gently laid Shelfa, who had been leaning against him, across the sofa and stood up.
In any event, he apologized.
"Sorry about that……but it looks like I'll have to talk to her privately."
Then, another thought popped into his head and he tried to borrow the katana that Shelfa was holding at her chest, but——
It was rather difficult to pry off her fingers, as she had quite a tight grip on it.
Eventually, she began to adorably protest, "Nooo," with her brow drawn in a gentle arc and shock her head to emphasize the point.
She was obviously talking in her sleep, since there was no way that she was awake, but it made Rain feel fairly conflicted.
You're making it seem like I'm the bad guy here!
Still, he ultimately managed to take the katana from her one way or another.
Then, he took off his jacket to cover her with it and also put a shield up around her just in case.
Well, it's important to be cautious.
Rain walked over to the windowsill when he was finished.
There, he recalled his liege's "request".
He turned around and firmly called out to her just as she'd wished.
"I'll be back soon! (Though she couldn't hear him)"
And with that, Rain jumped out of the window.
He boosted his magic and rose up into the night sky.
Then, he landed on a flat rooftop, which was a rare sighting in Galfort castle where the vast majority of roofs were slanted or shaped as spires.
There were towers with stairways at every corner of the rooftop, but the rooftop itself was properly leveled and it was possible not only to walk around on it, but it was also possible to fight on it should the circumstance arise.
Rain surveyed his surroundings and nodded.
"Well, I have no objections to how roomy it is. I guess all that there's left for me to do is wait."
Then, he sat himself down right where he stood and scratched his chin.
He crossed his arms and closed his eyes as he waited for the time to pass.
How long had he waited like that?
Suddenly, all the noise in his surroundings vanished and he felt an incredible wave of power in its stead.
Rain finally opened his eyes when the owner of that inexplicable pressure had drawn close.
"……You appeared, Joanna."
She replied in a pretty soprano that sounded exactly like someone else's.
"Who is Joanna?"
Rain stood up and turned around.
Right near the rooftop——
Was the ghost of rumors floating in the air with the glowing moon behind her.
It was as if an angel had descended down to the earth.
She wore a sheer silk nightdress that reached her ankles and a pair of pure white wings sprouted out from her back.
She stared at Rain with eyes the color of the ocean depths and had a very content look on her face.
……That nightdress is probably just an image she conjured up, but I think her wings are probably the real deal.
Before he knew what he was doing, Rain whispered,
"……those white wings of yours look like they'd be real useful for flying with. Does that mean that Leygur has them to?"
The ghost smiled gently. She continued,
"our wings are normally pitch black."
"……Then why's yours a different color?"
The ghost tilted her head to the side and whispered,
"well. It's because you said that white looks good on me, Rain. That's why I had them changed……did you forget?"
Her words took Rain by surprise.
"I remember. I really do think that she looks good in white dresses. But there was no need for you to go out of your way to adhere to what I said."
When the female daemon (shockingly) pouted, he added,
"wait, I'm not saying that it doesn't look good on you. I think that white looks good with your silver hair and pale skin. I was just a little surprised."
"Thank you……you've always been so kind, Rain."
The angel——no, the ghost grinned and flapped her wings.
She was so familiar with him that he could hardly believe that this was only their second encounter. Besides, her personality had completely changed since they'd last met.
Perhaps it was because they were alone together.
"——So? If "Joanna" was just a false rumor, then what's your real name? It's pretty inconvenient to call you "ghost" all the time."
"My name is Michelle. This is the first time I've been able to introduce myself to you, Rain——"
She placed a hand by her lips as she spoke. She continued,
"er, I suppose that's not entirely true. Teehee."
No, don't just "Teehee" me.
"Yes. That's my name……I'm so very glad I got to introduce myself to you properly, Rain."
She smiled gracefully.
If anyone who didn't know what was going on had walked in on them, they would have thought that she and Rain were lovers.
"Well, putting your name aside. I only noticed just recently. Parts of my memories from back when I travelled around are subtly missing. The holes were skillfully disguised, so I didn't even doubt them for the longest time."
He looked his opponent sharply in the eye. He continued,
"back then, after a certain period in time, I noticed that a girl with long hair was following me wherever I went. I even talked with you from time to time. But those memories are gone now……you erased my memories, didn't you?"
The ghost——Michelle grew slightly downcast.
"There were many reasons for it, and I was hesitant to do it until the very end. But the biggest reason was because I thought……that you might be wary of that child if you retained me in your memories, Rain. You're quite sharp, so you'd have quickly realized that we were one and the same."
Rain was slightly hesitant in his heart…… He wasn't sure if he wanted to know or not.
But even still, he couldn't help but ask.
"……Is the reason that she's so dependent on me because you incited her to feel that way?"
Michelle quickly looked up.
She looked so incredibly hurt that Rain regretted his words.
"No, never! That's not true, Rain!"
Then, she began to speak as if a dam had broken inside of her.
"Don't misunderstand. My current form is but the remains of my past self. The past me doesn't actually exist anymore. I'm not inside that child……her consciousness and mine are as one."
"So you mean that you aren't two separate people—is that what you're trying to say?"
Michelle nodded deeply.
"That child is me, and I am that child. I was wounded and at death's door when I used my powers as a daemon to assimilate with her while she was still in her mother's womb in order to escape death. Shelfa and I were as one ever since. Please understand this, Rain. She didn't fall in love with you at first sight for no reason whatsoever. The memories I have of travelling together with you are hers now. Everything you did, all the paths you've walked, the choices you made, the pain in your heart——Shelfa knows all of this too! She just doesn't remember it on the surface level because I sealed those memories away, but she remembers everything deep down in her heart and she understands you better than anyone else. So that's why, that's why——"
Michelle smiled as if she was talking about herself.
No, perhaps she actually was talking about herself.
"That's why Shelfa loves you. She couldn't help but fall in love with you. That child says that she can see the heart you're hiding from time to time, doesn't she? She's being honest when she says that. Please understand this."
……There wasn't anything Rain could say in response.
In any event, Rain beckoned Michelle over.
"Hey. Quit flying around up there and come down for a bit. ……Er, can I touch you right now?"
"Yes! For now, at least."
Michelle flew down just as he'd told her to.
Her wings vanished, leaving behind only a brief glitter, the very moment she did.
Rain paid it no heed and embraced her.
"You say some pretty cute things, huh. Let me hug you for a bit in the lieu of a proper greeting."
She, too, wrapped her arms proactively around him.
The sizes of their chests are pretty different and she looks more mature, but I see, she and the Little one really might just be one and the same.
Though, Michelle's real age while she had still existed was still unknown to him.
"But, as expected of you, Rain. You did well to remember me."
"I wasn't entirely convinced, and everything was just a guess. But something tingled at the deepest reaches of my memory when I came across you earlier. I'd been starting to questions it little by little too."
He stroked Michelle's hair as she listened on in silence. Rain continued,
"you became one with the Little one while she was still in her mother's womb……that's what you said, right?"
"I had no other choice because I was on the verge of death and hadn't a single moment to lose. You can consider Shelfa to be my reincarnation, or you can think that my soul merged together with her……in any case, the past me is now but a shadow and Shelfa is the real me now."
"Hmmm……I'm interested in why you were dying too……but I'll hold off on asking about that. I have an idea about it more or less anyway."
He looked to Michelle, who was visibly surprised, and shrugged. He continued,
"and besides. I don't know what's got you so worried, but you're planning on erasing our memories after this anyway, aren't you?"
"——Oof. So you noticed?"
"Pretty much. Well, putting aside the question of whether you'll actually be able to erase my memories anymore, there's something I wanted to ask you no matter what."
"……What is it?"
Michelle braced herself somewhat.
Rain had no doubt that she was anxious about what he would ask her.
"This is more of an interest of mine rather than an actual question. But I wanted to ask you why you got involved with me when I was a kid. Is there a reason you set your sights on me?"
"That's because of the 'talent' that budded within Shelfa."
When Rain wordlessly urged her to continue, she explained,
"did you know that Shelfa's mother was a mage?"
"Well, sort of. It was just a guess on my part, but I found out that I was right when I asked Ralphus about it."
"……Did you now? Anyway, Shelfa has a talent for magic, perhaps because she inherited her mother's blood. It's simply that no one has helped her develop her talents yet. And not only does she have the talent, but in Shelfa's case, she also gained a 'power' that's found only rarely in humans because she and I became as one. It's an ability that we daemons call "Vision"."
"The power to predict the future?"
"You're close, though she can't quite control it yet. She can see things that are happening far away and occasionally catch glimpses of the future in her dreams——she's still only that that level."
"I see. So she dreamt of me when she was a child? Now that you mention it, she was drawing a picture that looked exactly like me when we first met……"
"She was dreaming of you even before that. It's just that I erased her memories every time she did."
"She'd start crying because she missed you if I didn't."
Hey now, Rain thought, but Michelle, still in his arms, was still completely serious.
She sighed with a distant look in her eyes.
"I awoke from the deepest depths of Shelfa's consciousness just around the time you left your village and began traveling——and Shelfa gained the power of "Vision" when I did, though she was quite unskilled at using it. It was thanks to this that I was able to learn about you, Rain. I learned that you and Shelfa were destined to meet in the future!"
Michelle chuckled happily out loud. She continued,
"and that's why I flew to where you were as quickly as I could, Rain…… I didn't even hesitate."
"You'd need my power someday……is that what you thought?"
"No, it wasn't anything as devious as that,"
Michelle pouted. She continued,
"I simply wanted to see you, Rain."
This time, he said it out loud.
Still, Michelle ignored his reaction and continued with a slight blush on her face.
"Shelfa predicted her future meeting with you ever since her "Vision" ability awoke within her. She saw many small fragments of the future in her dreams……and of them, the dreams concerning you numbered the most, Rain. Isn't it only natural that I, who also saw those dreams with her, started to want to see you?"
"Even though you sealed away the Little one's memories?"
"It puts me in a tight spot when you point that out…"
Michelle regretfully hung down her head. She continued,
"but she would've cried for you all day long if I hadn't, I'm sure of it. ……She'd cry because she missed you."
Rain was about to ask, Seriously? but then he realized that it was entirely possible that the Little one would have done that.
"So what'll happen to her now? Will the powers she inherited from you suddenly awake one day and turn her into Super Shelfa or something?"
Michelle's shoulders quivered in Rain's arms.
Naturally, it was because she was trying and failing to hold in her laughter.
"Su, Super Shelfa! Ahaha!"
"……Hey, do you have something against my naming sense, huh?"
"Nope, it was just so very amusing."
Michelle laughed for some time before finally shaking her head.
"I don't know what'll happen in the future. As I'm sure you've more or less felt by now, I'll vanish completely soon. The consciousness of what was once the daemon Michelle will disappear. The shadowlike memories of my past life will fade away, and Shelfa and I will become as one in the truest sense."
She spoke quickly and looked up at Rain. She continued,
"personally, I don't think that my powers from when I was a daemon will manifest in Shelfa, who is human. But's she's already awoken to the powers of "Vision". It's clearly a result of having merged together with me. At this point, I really don't know what'll happen in the future."
Rain fell silent for a few seconds before finally replying, "That so?" in an indifferent manner.
He squeezed Michelle tighter instead of saying anything pointless.
"……I see, I get the gist of it. Well, there's actually a lot I still want to know, but that's enough for now. Like I said earlier, I'll figure things out on my own if the need arises."
Now then, Rain continued anew as he pulled Michelle off of him.
"All that's left——is my final request, I suppose?"
"You wish to fight me……is that what it is?"
"So you understand."
Rain nodded and continued,
"no human is a match for you——that's what you told Miran, right? That's something that I wanna thoroughly discuss with you. ……Without words, of course."
Michelle danced into the skies again upon receiving his obvious challenge.
The expression on her face had changed ever so slightly.
The adorableness in her had vanished and she looked down at Rain with a mystical look on her face.
"Are you serious, Rain? I know you better than anyone else. And not only that——
"I've visited this world many times since the distant past.
"A good number of humans worship me as a god even now. Without ever even realizing that I'm actually a daemon. Would you challenge me still even knowing this?"
Rain was not particularly surprised.
It was because he had already thought——that she would have at least that much power, based off the pressure Shelfa released from time to time.
"Oho~, that makes you one of the many gods that are worshipped in this polytheistic world. I'll hold off on asking which god you are. My interests lie somewhere else."
He showed her his characteristically brazen smile, which had made many of his past enemies grind their teeth in vexation.
"It's a rather simple problem, Michelle, regardless of whether my opponent's a god or a human or even a daemon. There are no exceptions! I've decided to aim to be the strongest……and you already know why, right? Sorry, but I'll have you play along with my selfishness. You understand if you know me well, right?"
Michelle smiled profoundly as Rain spoke gently——but clearly.
"To think that you'd challenge me even after hearing that I'm a god—and you believe it too. I think you're the first person to do that in this world of men."
"Well isn't that splendid? Man, it feels nice to hear that I'm the first."
"Though……I know that you're actually a very humble person, Rain."
Michelle opened her eyes wide and looked down at Rain.
Rain had already seen that look in her eyes from so many others (like his enemies) that he was starting to grow sick of it.
In short, she had the look of exasperation in her eyes.
"——Your feelings waver from time to time, I see."
"I'll take that as praise…… I prepared a katana for you; you gonna use it?"
Rain picked up the katana he had placed by his feet.
Michelle looked hesitant, but he threw it over to her regardless.
She caught it as if she had no other choice.
"……You're so pushy."
"I think I am too from time to time. ……Not that I'll change my mind, though. Anyway, are you gonna come back down? Well, not like it matters——"
I'll just go to you!!
Rain violently shouted out the last of his words and ferociously ran toward her.
However, Michelle had raised her slender hand just ever so slightly faster.
The whole of Galfort castle, which had been sinking into the darkness of night, lit up as if it was midday.
The flood of bluish-white light that resulted made the "Lightning" spell of rune masters seem like mere child's play. A moment after the surroundings had blacked out, a mass of lightning as thick as Rain was tall rushed the area.
The howling thunder stopped Rain in his tracks, pierced through the stones at his feet, and destroyed the far-off ramparts as if it was nothing.
Boooooom!! The explosion rent through the night's silence.
But it didn't reach Rain's body.
His reinforced anti-magic shield absorbed all the magic that hit it directly and rendered it ineffective.
Rain resumed his sprinting after brushing off the lightning with little trouble.
"Did you forget?! That won't work on me anymore!!"
"No. I remembered, Rain."
It was just as she'd said.
Naturally, there was no way that Michelle had forgotten.
Rain saw Michelle through the bolts of lightning that still ran across the field.
Her entire being was covered in a magical aura and emitted a platinum light.
A magic circle appeared at her feet and in front of her even as she remained in the air.
Rain saw through Michelle's intentions upon seeing this. Her flashy magic just now had only been meant to stall him, and her true aim was——
"Are you planning on using summoning magic?!"
He was right on the money.
The magic circle began flickering.
As a daemon, she was able to skip past the formal chant that she would have normally needed and completed her spell in but a moment.
Her soprano voice, so beautiful that it seemed divine, echoed through the darkness of night.
"Thou who governs over snow and ice; o high spirit that dwells in the spirit world and my faithful servant.
"I command thee in the name of the daemon Michelle. Answer my summons and fight my enemy——Crystalos!"
The surrounding temperature dropped in the blink of an eye at her words. The rooftop and the palace creaked as they began to freeze over completely.
Then, a large white spirit emerged from the magic circle.
But Rain hadn't simply been watching blankly as his opponent carried out her summoning ritual.
His black figure, which had stopped for but a moment, was instantly enveloped by a blue magical aura. Yet another magic circle appeared at his feet as Rain's voice rang out.
"O proud and aloof mythical beast that embodies destruction and rebirth; thou absolute one that governs over life and death.
I command thee in the name Rain to answer my summons and destroy my enemy!"
Michelle's blue eyes opened wide in surprise upon hearing Rain's summoning, despite that she was still in the middle of her own.
Naturally, it wasn't because——he had shortened his incantation like she had.
Michelle wouldn't have been surprised by something that simple.
Her surprise likely stemmed from the fact that she understood which mythical beast Rain was summoning.
The first crack had formed in Michelle's absolute confidence.
"Unbelievable……you may be a Dragon Slayer, but you're still human. I knew that you could use summoning magic……but when did you get strong enough to summon that?"
Rain laughed, disgruntled.
"The Little one wouldn't have been surprised by my power. You're still under the influence of the "common sense of a daemon" from your past, Michelle. Besides, it's not like you were always by my side. Putting the fact that you haven't told me some crucial information aside, you'd better not underestimate me!"
Michelle's surprise upon hearing his words was a sight to behold.
She completely ignored her own summoning and stared fixedly at Rain.
She was at a complete loss for words for a short while.
"Crucial information……don't tell me you've noticed, Rai——"
Rain completed his summoning before Michelle had a chance to finish her sentence.
"Obey my commands and show thyself——Phoenix!!"
A moment later, a proud and colossal cry that that seemed to shake the entirety of Galfort castle resounded.
It was said that, like a dragon, its cries would make most people and monsters tremble in awe and fear——and even Rain would have been hesitant to summon it if he had been under any other conditions.
In any event, even Rain had to use up a considerable amount of magic and willpower to employ this mythical beast.
Not that he let it show, of course.
The "legendary mythical beast" with pure-white wings stepped out of the magic circle and materialized. The flames of purification that covered it's entire being readily halted the erosion of snow and ice.
Not only that, but it also stopped the temperature from dropping further and instead warmed up the air rapidly. The snow and ice evaporated quickly and audibly.
In addition, the phoenix assaulted the chrystalos by stirring up whirlpools of bluish-white flames with a flap of its wings.
The reputed high spirit blocked the flames with its hands but was pushed back ever so slightly, having been unable to block the attack fully.
Then, the phoenix, which had climbed high into the heavens, swooped down upon it.
Rain watched the two giant powers clash out of the corner of his eye as he resumed sprinting.
Michelle finally drew her katana upon seeing the Siren's Blade held up above Rain's head and closing in on her.
She tried to escape him by fluttering her outstretched wings and climbing higher, but Rain was the faster of the two this time.
"It's too late for that!"
Tension ran across Michelle's gentle visage.
Crackle crackle crackle!
Michelle caught the magic sword, swung down over her head by Rain's herculean strength, with her katana and chose to fall to the rooftop below.
She could have held her ground against Rain's herculean strength if she had wished, but she had allowed herself to be blasted down regardless.
She landed on the rooftop with ridiculous speed and jumped to the side without looking back up at Rain.
Her speed and reflexes definitely exceeded the limits of humanity. Any normal person would have only seen her afterimages.
Rain, however, was not one to be toyed around with by her speed. His black eyes captured her movements perfectly and refused to let her escape his sight.
Immediately after Michelle had landed, Rain had followed suit, overlapping with her many fading afterimages, and had jumped in the same direction as she had.
The lag between their movements was so small that it was but an instant.
Michelle swiftly dispersed her wings and looked up above her at Rain (or to where he should have been) and exclaimed quietly in surprise when she saw that he had already leapt toward her.
Rain stepped into her stance again even as her voice still lingered in the air and simultaneously slashed at her.
The blade of his magic sword blurred.
Two magic swords danced, leaving behind bluish-white light in the dark curtain of night.
Michelle parried Rain's attacks, which came at irregular intervals between high and mid-stances, spectacularly.
She didn't lose to him in either power or speed despite her willowy frame.
They finally stopped moving when their swords were firmly locked together, and Michelle said,
"your swordsmanship focuses solely on the offense, just like when you were a boy——and your perfect understanding of the space around you surpasses even that of Hawke Walton's!
"You've grown stronger. ……Strong enough to cross blades with a daemon such as myself."
"Hawke isn't here anymore. There's no point in comparing me to him now that I can't fight him!"
Michelle did not fail to see the flash of grief that had crossed Rain's black eyes. But Rain quickly regained his composure and forced her back.
He had meant to cross blades with her again, but Michelle let herself be pushed away yet again and leapt backward.
The platinum aura enveloping her entire body grew brighter even as she was still in the air as she released a new magic.
Rain, who had moved to jump after Michelle without even a second's delay, found himself unable to leap and had his knee give out from under him instead.
A horrible creaking sound resounded throughout the rooftop——no, the entire palace at the same time. Cracks formed at Rain's feet and quickly grew into crevasses that spread out around him.
A massive field of destruction was spreading out with Rain at its center.
Rain only frowned somewhat and didn't let anything else show on his face otherwise.
Naturally, it wasn't that he was all right.
He was assaulted by a horrible pain, as if a giant that weighed several tons was stomping down on him.
The heavy gravity, which only kept growing heavier, bound Rain firmly in place.
All of the bones in his body creaked and he felt like each and every one of his muscles was tearing apart.
On the other hand, Michelle, who had cast the spell, looked tearful.
"See……you field won't work properly since this isn't a direct attack. ……Don't push yourself too hard, Rain."
"No, I can't do that, Michelle. This match isn't over yet!"
The crevasses running in all directions had reached a critical point even as he spoke.
The ground beneath him collapsed and caved-in like a funnel.
Rain further concentrated his magic even as he was about to fall down along with the rest of the rooftop.
He was trying to expand the field he had inherited from the dragon with his will alone.
The normally invisible field gave off a soft glow as it rose in a semi-spherical shape.
Eventually, the field enveloping Rain expanded as his magical power increased and swallowed Michelle up in the blink of an eye.
The power that had been pressing down against his entire being vanished instantly.
This was because the effects of the field had reached Michelle, who had been using the magic.
The crevasses running across the rooftop stopped in their tracks and the unpleasant creaking had ceased as well.
Silence rang around them once more.
Michelle gently spread out her hands.
It was as if she was trying to feel the wave of Rain's power that surrounded her with her entire being.
"……So you could even do something like this. Any rune master foolish enough to face you in the future should brace themselves for utter disaster. They won't even be a match for you unless they're already a very capable caster."
She smiled, entranced.
Rain had expanded his field with all his might, and he wasn't doing all that great staminwise because he'd used up so much magic in such a short amount of time.
Even still, he nimbly got up and looked up into the night sky in the lieu of a reply.
The chrystalos was retreating, unable to withstand the phoenix's offense any longer. It jumped into its magic circle to return to the spirit world.
While there was certainly a difference in strength between the phoenix and the chrystalos, the fact that Michelle hadn't been fully concentrating when she summoned the latter had also played a part.
Rain steadied his breathing as he waited for the phoenix to return.
"The battle in the skies is over……and now it's our turn!"
He broke out into a fierce dash.
His black figure made its way across the entire length of the rooftop to where Michelle was in but a moment.
His footsteps made no noise, and only the sound of his body cutting through the wind crossed into the night.
The short whistle of cutting wind closed in on Michelle.
——And in only a blink of an eye.
The black figure that drew closer to her with extreme speed and the afterimages behind him.
Michelle still wore a smile on her face despite having seen through all of it.
she whispered quietly before the expression on her face transitioned into a more serious one.
Then, Rain rushed in on her.
He simultaneously drew his magic sword without even being conscious of what he was doing. Michelle, too, raised her katana and slashed at him in similar fashion.
And right before the two magic swords clashed——
Both parties stopped in their tracks.
Michelle's katana had been caught between the five fingers of Rain's hand, while Rain's magic sword just barely brushed against her throat.
Michelle beamed, despite having suffered a complete defeat, and Rain let out a heavy sigh.
"……Don't "Yes?" me. Come at me like your life's on the line, damnit!"
"You're just imagining things. I wasn't going particularly easy on you."
"You say that, but I don't feel much pressure coming off of you. You had enough power to transport us to this closed space, but I couldn't feel any desperation from you just now."
Rain surveyed his surroundings as if to prove his point.
He had realized that were in another world that only looked like the castle they had originally been in since the beginning.
Otherwise, there would have been soldiers bustling about in droves.
After all, the ramparts had been blasted apart in spectacular fashion and the palace was in shambles.
"I can't help the fact……that I'm lacking in bloodlust. I mean, I can't see you as my enemy no matter what the situation is."
Oh, but——Michelle added when Rain pouted.
"I don't think I would've beaten you even if I fought like my life depended on it, Rain. I would've been able to put you through a considerable amount of pain……but that's about it. I'm serious."
Rain sighed and withdrew his magic sword.
He returned it to its sheath and rubbed his hand against Michelle's head in circles.
"It's hard for me to fight you too, if I'm being honest. I can't help it since you remind me of the Little one. You guys look alike, even if you're an illusion of the past from back when you were a daemon."
"You may be right……and we both fell in love with the same person too."
Michelle, who had likewise put away her katana, giggled.
Then, she spread out her arms and hugged Rain's chest like it was the most natural thing in the world.
They both fell silent for a while.
Time slowly passed until they finally touched upon the heart of the matter.
"……So you noticed?"
"Who can say?"
Rain shrugged with Michelle still in his arms. He continued,
"I know that you weren't just spouting random nonsense. But there were things that you purposefully left out and things that you were intentionally vague about——is that about right?"
Michelle nodded with her blue eyes closed.
"It's possible that nothing will happen and we'll be able to live in peace. I thought that would be for the best. Though I don't know how you found out about it."
"Who can say? It seemed to me that, based on what you said before, there were a few things that even you haven't realized yet. Plus a few things that you're mistaken about. Though this all just me guessing, for now."
Michelle looked up in surprise.
"Rain, just how much do you know?"
"Like I said, it's all just my speculation. And, in any case, it's not gonna have any effect on my fight with Leygur."
"……Do you really think so? I'm telling you, she's—"
Rain suddenly pulled at Michelle's cheeks.
"Wa, wat arr you doin~~"
"You worry too much. Just leave the rest to me. Besides, despite everything, you were planning to erase our memories, weren't you?"
"I'm treated as a god in the human world!"
"Hell if I care!"
Rain replied flatly. He continued,
"I don't have any respect for the gods to begin with."
He spat out his sacrilegious words and pulled even harder at her cheeks.
"Kay, I geddit, so let goo!"
Rain finally let go after she began to flap around her arms with tears in her eyes as she struggled.
Michelle rubbed her hands against her cheeks as she looked up at Rain.
"That was so mean……I can leave behind just the memories of what I taught you too, you know."
Rain chuckled and placed a hand back on Michelle's silver head.
Then, he spoke in a suddenly gentle tone.
"I think I'm pretty close to the truth even now, and I'll figure things out for myself regarding the parts I'm still missing. And I understand……why you teleported us to another dimension. You're planning to teach me the secret about daemons, aren't you?"
He felt her draw in a sharp breath.
Evidently, she hadn't thought that he'd already known.
"Shall I tell you what a daemon's greatest weakness is, Michelle?"
Rain spoke in a purposefully austere manner, as if he was some kind of idol. He continued,
"it's how they think they're special. It's naïve, they way they think is way too naïve! It's not only the daemons who uncovered the secret of the world."
Rain pointed at himself.
"As proof, I know it too."
Michelle watched him for a brief moment as he flashed a grin and let out a long, long sigh.
"You saw through my teleportation and you weren't even surprised. ……It's because you knew that we had that ability from the very beginning, didn't you?"
"Like I said. You weren't always with me. There are a lot of things you don't know. It's not only daemons who like exciting lives."
Michelle finally smiled in relief upon hearing Rain's matter-of-factly reply.
"All right……I'll leave everything to you, Rain. Please take care of Shelfa——of us."
"Yeah. Don't worry."
"And……you really do have to be careful of Leygur. I think he's the most dangerous man of all even among the daemons. So much so that I want to advise you not to fight him at all."
"Is he strong even among his own kind?"
"He's probably one of our strongest warriors. Even among the Top Four, I can only think of one who might be able to oppose him."
Michelle nodded with a look on her face that suggested——that she knew Rain would ask.
What's the Top For? Rain thought, but he figured that they were probably daemons that lead the other daemons or something similar.
Michelle looked terribly distressed, perhaps because she had a past with Leygur.
"The spirit world is a world ruled by power——. And right now, the Outsiders……the daemons who've left the daemon world and started acting independently on their own, are growing in power. Even the spirit world might not come out of it unscathed if the situation progresses and the power balance between the Top Four and the Outsiders gets reversed. And Leygur is at the center of all of this."
Michelle looked to Rain with worry again. She continued,
"but, even if I told you to run away with Shelfa……you wouldn't do it, would you?"
"Obviously not. What's the point in running away?!!"
His reply was immediate. Rain continued,
"I won't stop her or anything if the Little one wants to run away on her own. But as for me, I'll settle the score with him one day for sure. ……And depending on the circumstances, I might have to poke at this Top Four of yours too."
Incidentally, "poke at" was actually Rain's way of saying, "beat the crap out of."
"There's no way that I'd……no, that Shelfa would leave you behind. Or rather, that child would abandon her life of luxury and follow after you even if you fell into poverty and had to live under a bridge. She would choose to starve to death together with you without even a moment's hesitation."
"Don't purposefully write me into the most pitiful situation you can think of. I can always pull the "forge and sell magic swords" card. Like hell I'd ever be that poor."
Michelle readily brushed off Rain's protests. She continued,
"that child will be as good as dead too if you die! Don't you ever, ever forget that."
"……You just said something pretty unpleasant right there."
Rain frowned as hard as he could.
He had never worried too much over his own life, but things would get rather complicated if he was made responsible for another's. After all, he'd decided to live a life filled with fighting.
"Since you'll only keep getting more reckless……if I don't warn you……Rain……"
Michelle, still in Rain's arms, suddenly staggered as she was speaking.
Her legs were just about to give out from underneath her before Rain caught her.
"……Is it time?"
Rain crouched down before waiting for a response.
He laid Michelle on his lap.
The daemon Michelle, who had always watched over him, looked up at Rain with a somewhat see-through smile.
She truly looked divine at this moment.
"Yes, it looks like it's time…… The daemon Michelle will vanish, as will any past memories about her."
A brief moment of hesitation flashed across her pale visage, but Michelle still decisively continued,
"I'm just an illusion from the past, so I suppose it's time for me to exit the stage completely. ——Everything about the recent ghost encounters will disappear from everyone's memories by morning."
"……I might not forget, you know?"
"No, that's impossible. Even you've forgotten the memories from when you were a boy, right? This is farewell, Rain……"
Rain fell silent for a few dozen seconds before he whispered,
Then, he quickly and firmly caught her gaze. He continued,
"but this won't be our final farewell as long as the Little one is here."
"Yes……of course. That child is essentially my reincarnation. So please, do make sure to get along well with Shelfa. Hold her gently like this from time to time. She's my current self."
"It's like I'm being courted or something."
Rain laughed, and Michelle laughed with him.
"It's not just like you're being courted, I really am trying to court you! You seem to think that it's impossible for anyone to possibly love you for some reason, but you'd do best to correct that……. It'll come back to bite you if you don't."
Michelle's smile quietly faded away and she sighed with something akin to relief. She continued,
"I'm remembering a lot of things that happened in the past……
"Not from back when I was a daemon, but only of the things that have to do with you, Rain——
"The way you desperately held back your tears, the way you screamed in such a fit of rage that no one could reach out to you, the way you smiled so gently as you watched over your friend's final moments…… I remember all of these things about you as if they happened just yesterday. There are a lot of people who hate you and a lot of people who are tricked by your typical behavior, but I……and only I, know the real you."
Her blue eyes shone with pride as they lost their focus.
"Hey, Rain. Won't you kiss me as Michelle one last time? I've always wanted to……"
Instead of replying, Rain simply stooped over in silence.
Their bodies came together beneath the mysterious light of the moon.
——The next day.
Shelfa woke up in her bedroom like she always did.
The room was completely silent, and she had apparently woken up before the sun had risen.
Normally, she would have let out a small sigh and deplored, "When will I be able to sleep in the same bed as Rain?" but something felt a little off today.
She was lying sideways looking at the bedroom wall that she was so used to seeing. But she saw something else as well. Like another person.
Her cheeks were resting upon this person's chest instead of her sheets. Not only that, but their chest was far too sturdy to belong to a woman.
Her arms were wrapped passionately around them and her legs were twisted firmly around theirs! Like a body pillow!?
Shelfa was about to scream on reflex less than a few seconds later when she grasped the situation. She took in a deep breath in order to scream at the loudest volume possible.
But she realized just before she did.
That, for whatever reason, there wasn't even a shred of fear or disgust in her heart.
Or rather, she was feeling the second happiest she had ever been in her life. Her heart was pounding.
But she swiftly discerned who the other party was before the thought fully crossed her mind.
This fragrance…isn't it Rain!?
There's no way that I'd ever mistake Rain for anyone else, so it must be him. In that case, it's only natural that I'm so happy.
Shelfa energetically raised her head as she thought this.
As she expected, she had been right.
Rain's asleep! And he's sleeping in the same bed as me!?
There was only one course of action that a sheltered princess should have taken under the circumstances.
That is, she should have jumped out of the bed, screamed loudly enough to topple the castle over, and gathered as many guards to her as she possibly could.
Then, she should have made the uncouth man face his judgement, but——
The only thought that crossed Shelfa's mind at the moment was, 'I mustn't wake Rain!'
In this instance, should couldn't have cared less about why Rain was in her bed and what the circumstances had brought about this result had been.
It was but a trivial matter, after all.
She could always ask Rain about it later, and she didn't really care even if he didn't tell her. It was nothing but a happy trouble to worry about.
The problem, however——was that this happiness might end if Rain woke up. She was basking in the joy of having fulfilled her plans to make Rain her body pillow and she had to do whatever it took to extend this time of supreme bliss for as long as possible!
A small question finally arose in her mind when she thought this.
My plan to make Rain my body pillow? What is that……? Well, I understand what it means and I think it's a wonderful idea, but why did I think this out of the blue?
However, Shelfa didn't brood over this question too seriously and shook her head a little.
I can think about it later.
In any event, I just want to bask in the happiness of being held in Rain's arms right now.
But things didn't go the way Shelfa wanted.
Rain's eyelids twitched at Shelfa's slightest movements and he readily opened his eyes.
Anyone normal would have stared back blankly at Shelfa half-asleep, but, naturally, Rain did not show any such opening.
He met her gaze so precisely that she could have thought that he had been awake for quite some time. There wasn't even the slightest trace of sleepiness in him.
"Hey, Little one. ……Wait, why do you look so unhappy?"
Rain laughed, slightly distressed. He continued,
"sorry about using your bed without your permission. But I was pretty tired and it felt like a waste to go all the way back to my own room. ……I won't do it again, so don't be mad."
"That, that's not it!"
Shelfa raised her voice before she knew it. She continued,
"I was simply lonely……because you woke up so quickly."
She had completely barred her heart to him, but Rain failed to fully understand her and only tilted his head to the side a little.
"Hmm? Then why don't we sleep together again sometime? You're pretty comfortable to hold. That being said, you were the one hugging me."
"Oh, yes. Please sleep together with me from now on."
And, can we stay like this for a bit longer?——but Rain had already sat up before Shelfa could get the words out.
He looked at the morning sunlight leaking through the curtain and narrowed his eyes.
"……What's with the disappointment? Did you suddenly get cold or something?"
Rain smiled wryly and wrapped an arm around Shelfa, who had drawn closer to him.
She was considerably happy to feel the warmth of Rain's body, despite his misunderstanding. She beamed.
Then, a question fell down on her from above.
"……What were we doing last night?"
Shelfa innocently recalled everything that had happened the day prior and tilted her head to the side.
"I received a katana from you. Oh wait, my katana!"
She looked around at her surroundings in a panic.
She was considerably relieved when she found her katana leaning against the wall. She decided to keep it on her person as much as possible while she was awake.
Shelfa looked up as she thought this.
Her eyes met squarely with Rain's black ones.
"And what happened next?"
She rummaged through her memories for a bit, but she could not remember much about anything that had happened afterward.
Then, Rain looked down and stared deeply into Shelfa's eyes.
What do you remember?
Shelfa wanted to asked, but failed to put her question to words.
Her body had suddenly grown hot. She thought that she might have caught a cold or something, but that wasn't the case.
Rain's casual words echoed painfully in her heart, as if they had brushed upon something that was hidden in its deepest reaches.
"I'm not the person I used to be, you know?"
The words that had abruptly left Rain's mouth puzzled her.
He easily lifted her up and placed her on his lap.
Shelfa wanted to ask him a question but found herself captivated by his clear black eyes instead.
"I won't forget you this time. ……Even if everyone else in the castle forgets, I, and only I, will always remember."
His voice was so, so terribly gentle.
Shelfa didn't understand what he was talking about, but she started to cry before she realized it because his words had stabbed at her heart.
Her body was shivering……with inexplicable joy and heartache.
"I don't know why……I'm…"
"It's alright if you don't understand. This is just idle gossip. Don't worry about it."
Rain smiled quietly and held her tight.
Shelfa continued to cry in his arms for some time.
——The uproar about the ghost at Galfort castle died down completely from that day on.