After that tiny unexpected blimp, our journey began anew.
Now however, it wasn't just the two of us…
The new unwelcome addition to our party was in the midst of hugging my arms like a beloved toy, all the while clinging as tightly to my body as possible.
In her own words, "I'm the Master's property, in order to avoid damaging the Master's property, this is a necessary precaution."
If I had to make a comparison, Poppy's hug felt more like an alluring invitation, Lotus's however, didn't require me to do anything at all.
As my arm sank deeply into the crevice of her chest, I could clearly feel the bouncy goodness even through that layer of coarse fabric.
While walking, my arm would continuously rub against her in a vertical motion, getting to the point where it felt numb, like a rifle basking in the afterglow of firing a bullet.
…or at least it should have been like that, except for the fact that my body coldly shut out any such sensations.
Nine Heaven: It's been a while since we encountered any refugees from the other side, I suggest we take the forest route and travel parallel to this road instead, in case we bump into any accidents.
Di Qi Ju:…alright.
—her presence constantly reminded me of Poppy.
The more I thought about Poppy, the more pain I felt.
I would constantly ask myself "If that had been me instead…perhaps the person accompanying me right now would be Poppy." and etc.
Lotus: Master what's the matter? Are you feeling sick? Is it heat exhaustion?
Nine Heaven: I bet that Master of yours won't even get a heatstroke after jumping into the Burning Mountain, just leave him be.
Lotus: But but…I belong to the Master, I have to take note of every single detail about him.
Di Qi Ju:…I never wanted to be your master, you don't have to take note of me.
Di Qi Ju:I told you before, giving you that money was nothing but a misunderstanding. If it's alright with you, how about letting go of me now?
Lotus: —No! If I do that, Master will just abandon me! I've already been chased away once, for all I know, they might just chase me away again after I visit my foster mother!
Lotus: I have nowhere else to go but follow you, Master!
Di Qi Ju: So you just want a place to belong, right? How about taking Nine Heaven as your master then?
Lotus: Ehhh—I hate guys with long hair.
Nine Heaven: Hmph, well I should be thankful that you hate me instead.
Di Qi Ju: If it wasn't me who gave you the money then but Nine Heaven, you would recognize him as your master, right?
Lotus threw Nine Heaven the evaluating look that could've only come from a woman, for a long time no less.
Lotus: I bet he's the kind man who toys with women and then tosses them away. If it was him that I ended up meeting, I would simply have to accept my fate and return to the flower district to work after being abandoned.
Nine Heaven: You got that right. There's no woman I've ever slept with more than twice.
Di Qi Ju: Is that even true…
Lotus: —but Master is totally different, no matter when it is, Master is always serious. Whether it was the first time we met or right now as he's rejecting me with all his might.
Lotus: As long you accept me, I'll definitely serve you for the rest of my life and listen to your every command.
Di Qi Ju: Impossible, I will never accept you.
Lotus: Why not?
Nine Heaven: —I swear, do you even know the reason why the both of us are heading north?
Lotus: No idea…Master why are we heading north?
Di Qi Ju:…
Di Qi Ju:……
The feeling of that mark…it still resonated from the distant northeast.
I could feel it. It finally came to a stop after a long, long journey.
There was no way Coagan would've thrown away "Starfall", he must've still had that mark on him that I could sense.
"Let's see you try and come here then." —that was the vibe I was getting off it.
Di Qi Ju: We're going to Cold Iron to exact—
Nine Heaven: —to murder a person.
Di Qi Ju: ……
Nine Heaven: Your master and me plan on heading to the old territory of the Blutgerinn to kill a person, that's all.
Nine Heaven: By staying next to Di Qi Ju, you'll end up as an accomplice to murder sooner or later, you understand?
Lotus: If that's what the Master wishes, I'll prepare myself mentally. Wherever the Master goes, I'll go.
A forceful rejection; a forceful threat and an equally forceful unwillingness to retreat.
Throughout the journey, the relationship between the three of us maintained just such a precarious balance.
To me, I couldn't understand her insistence at all.
Was that little show of kindness back then, so important to her?
Leaving us was clearly the better option, she wouldn't have to suffer our tempers at all then.
Was she just too stupid to realize that or was I just being too paranoid…somehow, she felt like a trap.
If only Breman was here right now, he would've given me an answer right away.
However, the moment I left without saying a word, I lost all contact with him.
The most recent contact I had with my old life was with someone I wasn't particularly close with at the start: Bailey Estrange.
Before setting off with Nine Heaven, It occurred to me that I still had an outstanding promise to settle with her. Thus, I made a wish and transferred 1000 wish points to her.
For this matter alone, I had Nine Heaven specially send her a letter stating my reasons.
Not only was this a matter of fulfilling a promise, it was also about making a statement that I had severed all connections with Hilda Karlyle.
Even if the reason for that deal of ours was now null and void, it was only proper of me to still fulfill the contract.
As for Halfmoon and the others, their opinions would probably have to be put on the backburner till my journey for revenge was over.
At the very least however, I vowed that I wouldn't implicate any innocents during the crossfire.
That feeling of being implicated was one that I had experienced very deeply when I first arrived here.
From the bottom of my heart, I hoped that they would forgive once this whole mess was over.
The moment I decided to step onto this road of revenge, I knew I had to bear everything by myself. This burden of mine wasn't so simple that it could be recounted in a few sentences like Lotus's.
…long story short, the me right now couldn't understand her feelings and most likely, she wasn't able to understand my pain either.
However, since she was still of use to us ,then enduring the pain she brought me was a form of penance for using her. It had to said though, that should another tragedy happen in the meantime, I simply didn't have it in me to care about such matters anymore.
*drip*—Suddenly, an unknown fluid dripped onto the bridge of my nose.
Di Qi Ju:…ah? It's raining.
Nine Heaven: Looks like it's only going to get heavier too. Let's find a place to rest for now, that's all the walking we can do today.
Night came and the skies darkened around us, even more so in this dense forest where the nights felt even darker than usual.
Echoing all around us, the pitter and patter of the rainwater seemed to form a low humming song as they continued to pelt the leaves and soil.
We decided to take up shelter here, using the branches, leaves and vines to build a makeshift hut slightly off the main road.
It was a deserted location with no one to be seen for miles. In fact, there were barely any signs of life nearby at all.
By now, we were starting to become numb to the rhythmic pelting of the rain. With that, the world seemed to quieten down as well.
Building a shelter in the wilderness like this, it almost felt like I was back in that nightmarish scenario right after the earthquake.
Di Qi Ju: …this will have to do, I guess.
A simple shelter from the rain, just enough to prevent any leakage and just enough to fit one person.
Lotus: Master, is this really enough for you?
Di Qi Ju: It's sufficient. This was how we travelled all this while.
Lotus: Let's see then…
Lotus: Master and I will squeeze together and sleep, and then Nine Heaven will take watch?
Nine Heaven: Hah, aren't you just the best at divvying up the work…
Lotus: Hmph, don't think you can fool me, I can tell exactly what's going on here. Even though you might pretend to be of a higher status than the Master in front of others, but whenever you converse with the Master, you will always lower yourself."
Lotus: That means Master is the one that's truly in charge here.
…this woman, she wasn't dumb at all.
Nine Heaven: Even though I really want to say that you are completely right, the fact of the matter is that I'm actually the one sleeping in the shelter while your Master camps outside.
Truth be told, I didn't need to sleep nor did I feel tired…thanks to my wish ability, eating and sleeping were merely relics of my bodily instincts.
Lotus: Master…that man actually dares to treat you like that, how about we leave him behind and we just go on by ourselves, hmm?
Di Qi Ju:……
Nine Heaven:—you little ingrate, did you forget who was the one suggested that you stay behind??
Lotus: But but…you're so in the way.
Nine Heaven: Di Qi Ju!
Di Qi Ju:I know I know, go take a rest, I'll just lie down somewhere.
Nine Heaven: Hmph.
Lotus: …eh?? Master—
As I laid there curled up within the grass, my body refused to sleep no matter how much time had passed. Rather, it would be more accurate to say that, ever since I lost Poppy, I hadn't gotten a single wink of sleep.
All of a sudden, entering into the dreamworld had become a terrifying thing for me. I was afraid of dreaming about that frightening scene, of dreaming about the person I wanted to see.
At the same time however, I wasn't able to forget at all.
I reached out for my chest and fingered the tiny bottle hanging near it that held the remnants of whatever fluid I could recover from that site.
Di Qi Ju:…
Hah…why did I have to take such an unnecessary action then?
Since reviving her was impossible, wasn't this object just useless then…
Thinking that, tears began to flow down my cheeks uncontrollably, mixing with the rainwater as it seeped into the soil.
My hands instinctively reached for that bottle and once more, I had to try my hardest to restrain my own strength, to prevent it from destroying that bottle in a squeeze.
The pain, it was a like slowly melting piece of ice, completely unable to find speedy relief.
Thus, I had no choice but to slowly accustom myself to that feeling of crying alone in the dead of night…
Finally, the rain stopped.
Amidst the crevices of the canopy, my eyes caught sight of a rather strange glint of light. However, I wasn't in the mood to admire the night scenery so I turned my thoughts to a more practical problem.
Di Qi Ju: (Being drenched like this feels so bad…we still have to continue rushing tomorrow too.)
Di Qi Ju: (I wonder if it's still possible to start a fire now…)
Di Qi Ju: (Either way, I should take off my wet clothes first and then find some firewood.)
I slowly undid my clothes and began fumbling about in the dark for what I wanted.
Di Qi Ju: …!?
Di Qi Ju: What's that…
My right hand, which I used to support my upright body just moments ago, had come into contact with some unknown object that was completely different from the wet and loose feeling of soil that I was expecting.
That sinking sensation combined with its softness, it was as if I had stuck my hand into the most exquisite silk cushion in the word.
The kind which made you swore off those cheap knockoff products with just a single use.
Di Qi Ju:(Speaking of which, when did Nine Heaven and I loot such an object from the bandits?)
Di Qi Ju:(Don't tell me that's a piece of jerky swollen with rainwater—)
Di Qi Ju:……
It was a seductively soft moan, a moan that sounded so sweet on the ears, it was as if it was some kind of fancy cake that had just left the oven and was emitting a sweet fragrance into the air.
Looking down, what I saw was the milky white skin of Lotus.
Di Qi Ju:(This girl…when did she start sleeping beside me? I never noticed it at all…)
Lying amidst this dimly lit forest, the light reflected off her skin seemed to give it a sense of freshness and beauty not normally seen on her.
It was almost like she was the only source of this beautiful light in a world of darkness.
My right hand was currently resting on the peaks of such a beauty.
Those sensitive peaks seemed to have triggered an unexpected tremble from both of us.
Lotus seductively sucked on her finger and gave me a welcoming, almost expecting look.
Lotus: Master…are you finally interested in me?
Di Qi Ju:…
Di Qi Ju:……
Di Qi Ju: (Either way, I should withdraw my hand and gaze first.)
Di Qi Ju: You, you aren't some kind of nudist, are you?
Bathed in what dim light there was available, her thighs closed up like a mimosa (TL: A plant that closes up when you touch it.)
Lotus: I'm not entirely naked…Master can't see it because he isn't looking carefully.
Lotus: I'm still wearing this…
A string of metallic jingling echoed soon after as if some sort of iron collar was being fiddled with.
It was a deep yet soft sound. If such a sound wasn't made on purpose, it would've probably escaped my notice.
Lotus: This is the proof that I belong to you, Master.
I vaguely remembered seeing such a collar on those other slaves as well during our breakfast. Was she wearing that as well?
Di Qi Ju: How is that any different from being completely naked?
Lotus: Even if I'm completely naked, there's nothing weird about it at all. After all, isn't Master naked as well?
Di Qi Ju:That's because my clothes are too wet and uncomfortable.
Lotus: Me too. Even when it's raining, I can't really get used to the heat of this forest since I grew up in the frigid temperatures of Cold Iron…
Di Qi Ju:I don't remember you complaining about the heat before this.
Lotus: That's because Master is beside me…
Di Qi Ju: Huh…am I some kind of air cold producer?
The rustling of the grass indicated that she sat up.
Just like this morning, she wrapped herself around my arm and leaned in.
However, the sensation of naked contact was completely different than that of clothed contact.
Her moist, cold body seemed to be in the midst of melding with my own as the heat within her started to surface.
Soon, I began to feel a little scared.
Such intimate contact was a first for me.
A certain power known as the female mystique wrapped itself around me and caused me to pause for a second, preventing me from pushing her away immediately.
Lotus: Master, you're so cold…
Lotus: I bet there are scars in your heart I cannot even begin to fathom.
Di Qi Ju:…
Lotus: That pain, if you wish to share it with me, inflict it on me, or vent it on me, is completely alright with me.
Di Qi Ju:…
Di Qi Ju:……
Lotus: Is this still…not enough?
Lotus: Is it because you can't bear to harm me? If that's the case, should I be happy about that?
Lotus: How about I lessen Master's pain then?
Lotus: Techniques to soothe the heart…those, I learnt a lot about in the flower district…
Lotus: Even an intimate kiss will make one feel a lot better.
Lotus: Master, haven't you already recognized me? Didn't you say that I was the most beautiful girl you've ever seen?
Lotus: How about giving me a chance, Master?
Lotus: I want to be Master's woman, to share a…kiss.
Lotus:And if that lessens Master's pain, how about we proceed with more comfortable activities?
Lotus leaned in even closer.
The pressure from her chest seemed to lure me into them as if they were giving off some kind of thirsty desire.
Di Qi Ju:…
Di Qi Ju:Lotus.
Lotus: Yes, Master.
Di Qi Ju:I'm going to Cold Iron to kill a person, because he's the one who killed the most precious person in my life.
Di Qi Ju: If a mere session of venting is able to alleviate my pain, that just means my love for her isn't strong enough.
Di Qi Ju:Accepting you would be the biggest denial of myself.
Di Qi Ju:If you really see me as your master, do you wish for me to become such a human trash?
Di Qi Ju:I don't want to be such a person at all.
Di Qi Ju:…so will you please spare the effort. Put on your clothes, I'm going to start a fire and go to sleep.
An unusual light flashed across the maze of trees.
Di Qi Ju:…hmm?
One flash, two flash, even more flashes.
The high speed flashes seemed to be approaching us in a fan-like formation that threatened to surround us.
Lotus: Master, what's going on…
Di Qi Ju:—quiet.
There were people, lots of them; people wielding torches while rushing at us.
During our journey, we met a number of such visitors. They often patrolled the towns and set up checkpoints along the road. At times, they would clean the roads of bandits and suspicious people…
…they were the soldiers of Molten Steel.
Di Qi Ju:(What were they doing here? There's no one other than us nearby, right?)
Di Qi Ju:(Their aim…is us?)
Di Qi Ju: Shhhh…
After throwing a piece of clothing on her, I hurriedly clasped my hand around Lotus's mouth.
??: Come out—I know you're here!
??: My men spotted you in the previous town already, we've been tracking you ever since!
??: —Nine Heaven of Cold Iron!!
Di Qi Ju:…??