Section 6: Silent Reunion
Even when it reaches that time of year for winter to fade away and for spring to roll on in, temperatures around Solretta can still fall to frigid levels when night falls. If we’re up in a snowy mountain, then temperatures can fall even further to mid-winter levels.
However, this place was different.
“….w-what in the world is this….”
“This……is where the altar is?”
There was a spacious room just as the map had shown. But I would have never been able to imagine this scene based off a few lines on a piece of paper. Even trying would’ve been a disservice.
“……there are, trees growing……”
Deep inside the hall was a pile of rubble which was most likely what remained of the altar. And then beyond even that, were several large trees.
Solretta. The tree the city was named after stood tall with white leaves that usually only sprout in the spring, red flowers that usually only bloom in the summer, and yellow fruits that usually only ripen in the autumn. Their branches reached upwards, stretching out and covering the entire dome-like ceiling with their leaves and budded flowers.
Taking a look down, I noticed there were green plants growing at my feet as well. It almost felt like we’d taken a wrong turn and found ourselves deep inside a forest rather than the middle of a mine.
“Hello and welcome, wayward souls.”
And then sitting atop the rubble, lighting up the rest of the room as brightly as if the sun were out, was the carbuncle who welcomed us in.
The oldest spirit in the world, surviving a thousand years as a relic from the Primordial World. A reaper who governs over death from within its red gem.
I knew in advance from Toslin’s description that its physical body took the form of a rabbit. However its appearance was hazy, as if I were looking at it through a frosted piece of glass, and its body was several times larger than that of a normal rabbit. It was crouched over on top of the rubble, its eyes focused squarely on us.
“I’ve already had enough of your tedious talk. Return our friends.”
Toslin drew her longsword from her back while still mounted on Goldmund.
There were two people collapsed on top of the thickly grown grass between the carbuncle and us. One was a werewolf girl, and the other, a hyurian priestess. Needless to say, it was Carol and Rose-san.
“Return? Return? You say some strange things. How can I return something I have not taken?”
Carbuncle stuck out one of its legs off the rubble and started some cat-like stretches.
“I am merely, saving them. I only wish to free their souls from the pain and suffering of this world.”
“And I’m telling you we don’t need that kind of help!”
Saluena reached out and grabbed Toslin’s shoulder who looked like she was about to charge forward with Goldmund at any moment.
Saluena and I were both riding Unicorn who was quietly waiting for orders right next to Goldmund.
“……it’s a waste of time saying anything to it. It works on a sense of values that are completely incompatible with ordinary people.”
“…..yeah, I know. It’s just……there’s nothing more annoying than insane good intentions.”
As Toslin clicked her tongue, the red gem embedded in the carbuncle’s forehead lit up like a flame. When it did, Carol’s motionless body began moving in an unnatural way and soon stood up.
Carol had risen to her feet, but her arms hung limply at her side. The expression on her face morphed, showing not a single fragment of emotion.
“……that girl….. Don’t tell me she’s already, dead……”
“Of course not!! There’s no way that’s true!!”
Toslin immediately cut down Lapris’s words.
“She……isn’t dead. She’s, still alive. She’s alive, and that’s that!!”
“Y-Yeah……sure……. You’re right……..”
Carol’s arms lifted up in time with our prayers as if to betray that hope. And she drew her dagger from her waist.
“Share your salvation with those who would disturb your peaceful slumber.”
Carol’s body sprang forward in time with the carbuncle’s words. And then turning towards me…….she attacked.
That’s when I noticed. There was no light in her opened eyes.
“……..just what, DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING!!”
Toslin’s voice echoed across the room as she leapt off Goldmund’s back. Aiming herself right for Carol, she swung her foot down.
Carol’s body paused in place for an instant before jumping backwards to avoid the attack.
“……oi, Carol. You, what are you doing? Do you even understand……what you yourself are doing right now?”
Toslin pointed the end of her longsword right at Carol.
“You’re turning a blade against your friends. You’re turning a blade……against me. Do you really want to carve me up, just like back then?”
But, there was no response from Carol. She only stood there, wobbling in place with dagger in hand, not meeting our gazes.
“I’m sorry, but……can you leave her to me?”
Toslin turned her back to us and spoke with a muffled voice. Her sword was still pointed at Carol, but the tip was shaking ever so slightly.
“……if she can’t hear what I’m saying even after I hit her a couple times, then…..I’ll…..”
“O-Oi, wait. Then…….you’ll……”
Lapris called out to Toslin’s back to try and force an answer, but Toslin didn’t look back.
Sword at the ready, she instead ran straight for Carol.
“Hold out for just a bit, please.”
For maybe the first time in my life, I can feel a fury towards someone else bubbling in the bottom of my heart, and instead of clearing it away, I’m letting it boil over.
“Unicorn. Shield us from malice.”
Unicorn neighed in response to my prayer, and so, the battle against the carbuncle began.