Section 4: A Friend of a Friend is…
Once I finished explaining everything, Toslin released a long sigh,
“Honestly though, I really am sorry I worried you.”
and apologized again with a remorseful face.
“No. I was worried, but……that’s not Toslin’s fault.”
Although my tears still hadn’t completely dried, I could clearly make out Toslin’s face.
“Forget about that. Where did you come from? What happened to Rose? And where’s that noisy pipsqueak?”
Lapris started restlessly looking around us from her seat on top of my head. I’ve been looking for them myself since a short while ago because I was worried, but I couldn’t find them anywhere.
Perhaps they’re acting on there own? Why though? And in that case, where are they now?
“…..yeah. It’s my turn spin a yarn. But first, do you have any water?”
“Ah, yeah, here.”
I took out a canteen from my bag and handed it over to Toslin. She drank nearly half of it in one go before wiping off her mouth with the back of her hand and handing it back to me with a thanks.
And then once again, she took a deep breath. It was like she was doing her best to exhale something that was stuck in her throat.
“Starting at the end, right now Rose and Carol are in the innermost area of the ruins.”
My hands froze as I was fitting my canteen back in my bag, and not understanding what Toslin meant, I raised my face.
“……what, do you mean?”
Toslin frowned, having to squeeze out her voice in order to answer Saluena’s question.
“It’s just as it sounds. Right now those two are walking on death’s edge, possessed by a spirit that can screw with your head called a carbuncle.”
“Oi oi oi oi, are you serious with this carbuncle? You’re really saying it possessed them both? What the hell kind of story is that?”
Toslin looked towards the night sky where the Water Dragon’s Tail still lingers. Travelers like Toslin are able to tell time based on the positioning of the moon and the stars.
“…..three days ago. No, has it already been four? The night we left you, we once again made our way from the city with the plan to focus our investigation on the ruins themselves.”
Toslin’s face was an unreadable mask as she remembered that time.
“Investigating the ruins themselves wasn’t that difficult. We had the map, and Rose took care of navigating. We made our way down the tunnels easily without ever losing our way, and eventually the mine opened up into a large, open space.”
“Was……there something like an altar?”
“Ah, that’s right……thinking about it now, that would’ve been an altar. But the structure we saw there was crumbling, and we had no clue what it was. Anyway, there was a mountain of rubble at the far back of the room, and that was where that thing came out from.”
“A carbunculus possessing a red gem.”
“Yeah. It took the appearance of a big rabbit, and there was a red gemstone embedded in its forehead. Carol collapsed shortly after it showed up.”
Toslin looked unconcerned as she thought about back then. There’s still no emotion coming across her beautiful face, but inside, she’s probably tearing herself apart.
“A carbunculus that inhabits a crimson gem governs over life itself. But since our enemy is a being of the primordial world, its power takes the inverted position. That is to say…..death.”
“Yes, it told us the same thing. Of course we tried to kill it, but that thing……it took control of all the animals and monsters inside the ruins.”
“All of them……which means that place is swarming with more of these things?”
Lapris pointed towards the snow wolves lying dead in the snow.
“I wouldn’t say it’s swarming with them anymore. Rose, Goldmund, and I managed to thin out their numbers considerably. But as you know, these guys aren’t actually undead. After destroying their original hosts, the shadow spirits crawled out in search of a new body to take over.”
“S-So then…….what happened next?”
“We did our best to protect Carol since she was still passed out, but Rose ended up being possessed by a shadow spirit. I immediately drove it from her body, but honestly there were too many for us to handle.”
“……..Rosa…….is she dead?”
Saluena’s voice was little more than a whisper, yet it made Toslin go quiet for a short while.
“I don’t know. Rose told me to run away. And then…..I’m not really sure what happened exactly, but it looked like Rose used a miracle to put up some kind of barrier around her and Carol. After that she told Goldmund and me to escape on our own again, and………”
Toslin escaped from the hall with the altar in it to get help from Saluena and the church, but she got lost in the vast labyrinth of tunnels that make up the ruins while constantly being chased by the monsters still controlled by shadow spirits.
“…….a barrier? Priestesses have the ability to make use of various different miracles, and among their number is one referred to as the ‘Serene Seal’ which is capable of preventing interference from the wicked. It engraves the user with the power to protect both their body and mind………”
“That power……..how long can it last?”
“It would all depend on Rosa’s strength of will………but can one person continue praying for four days straight without any sleep?”
Saluena phrased her words as if they were a question, but that question had clear implications.
So, then Rose and Carol are…….already……..
My voice sank, and I could feel my face darkened.
But then Unicorn loudly, boisterously neighed.
And then rubbed her nose against my cheek.
“O-Oh……I see. Okay then……”
Unicorn is here to grant Saluena’s wish and my own. It’s not too late…….Unicorn licking my face to encourage me is proof of that fact.
“It’s still, it’s still okay. Rose-san and Carol are probably still……..alive.”
“I’ve been wondering this since a moment ago, but is this…….a real unicorn?”
Toslin slowly reached out her hand as if to make sure the horn on Unicorn’s head wasn’t glued on. And in response, Unicorn turned and started licking Toslin’s cheek instead.
“Ah, wai-……..c’mon, stop……that tickles!!”
“Whatsit, Unicorn’s taken to you pretty quick. You a virgin then?”
“Huh!? You……just what are you asking all of the sudden!?”
“You’re a violent guy who spits on people and tosses around golems, so I just figured you were a slutty bitch.”
Lapris was riding on top of Unicorn’s head, looking down on Toslin. She then crossed her arms to look self-important and got cocky.
“So? We’re just about to go in there, find that damn stupid carbuncle, and knock it down a peg……..what are you going to do?”
“…….obviously I’m coming with you.”
“Heh? Despite how easily you abandoned me, you surprisingly think about your comrades.”
“…….are you trying to pick a fight with me?”
“L-Lapris!? Toslin too, let’s all calm down for a bit, and please don’t fight.”
Things looked like they were about to explode at any second, so I quickly tried to break things up between them.
But, that wasn’t necessary.
“Here. One of my feathers. Fairy feathers have the power to stave off death, so keep it on you. Got it?”
Lapris plucked out a feather from one of her wings and presented it in front of Toslin’s face.
Toslin stared at it with a surprised look in her eye for a moment before gingerly accepting it.
“Hmph. There’s still all sorts of things I want to say to you and that pipsqueak, but you’re one of Iris’s friends. And that……makes you my friend too.”
“Yes, yes!! A friend of a friend is also a friend! Now let’s all go together and show that carbuncle what for!!”
Overjoyed that everyone was getting along, I clenched my fist and pumped it into the air.
But, nobody else followed along……..
“E-Eh!? Why is everyone just silently staring at me!? Isn’t this the kind of time where we should all come together and shout, ‘Ohhhh!’ as loud as we can!?”
“Sorry Iris. That’s kind of embarrassing.”
“I’m sorry too.”
Just a moment ago they looked ready to fight like a cat and dog, yet their opinions were suddenly able to match up. No, this is still better than them starting a fight right?
I clung to Saluena looking for help, but she silently picked me up and set me back on Unicorn’s back.
“Sorry for being late in helping you. You’re so lovely I’m sure you will drive me insane someday. Honestly, I am so glad you’re safe.”
You’re saying some really cool lines and look cool while doing it. But, that’s definitely not what I’m asking for right now.
“Haa, it’s fine already. Unicorn, you’ll go with me right? The others can just follow us from behind when they feel like it.”
So bending forward, I fully mounted Unicorn and the two of us began our way into the ruins.