Led by Celes, we traveled north after that gruesome training.
“Come,” She called. “We’re almost there.”
“Where are we going anyway?” I asked curious of where she would lead me. “I hope it’s anything but ridiculous.”
“Oh, so you think of me that way?” She asked. “That’s harsh,” She moped. “Even though I was doing it for you…ahu hu hu…” She cried as she squatted, hiding her face with her fingers.
“Please stop the act…” I sighed.
“Oh, how did you know it’s an act?” She said surprised as she peeked from her fingers. “It seems like I can’t hide anything from you.”
“…” I responded with silence.
How did the proving turn out like this…
“A fu fu fu.” She giggled as she stood up. “I see. You’re worried about something so trivial.”
“Trivial?” I asked puzzled.
“By far, the one you’re experiencing is on a different level compared to those elves,” She said. “You should be even proud of it.”
“How can I be proud if I didn’t get to use most of what I learned for hunting?” I said in regret.
It takes you literally no time at all to hunt. Adding the fact that you hunt while the training is in progress… I thought as I recalled the previous events. Well, at least I get to skin them, but I never thought I’d be skinning beasts rather than animals…
“Because hunting is easy,” She said nonchalantly as she restarted walking towards north. “Especially for the current you. You can stack the horn’s effects with body reinforcement, that’ll make hunting way easier than you think. Besides, you don’t have problems hunting rabbits and boars, right?”
“No.” I shook my head in denial.
“Then there’s no problem at all.” She said.
“I guess…” I replied unsure whether to refute it or not.
After that, a period of silence ensued for a short time as we continued our travel.
“Amelia,” She broke the silence.
“Hm?” I responded.
“I’ll be frank,” She spoke in a tone far different from what she always use when around me. “The path that you chose would be nothing but harsh.”
“That’s not like you Celes,” I replied. “But I know that, though I don’t know if I’m prepared enough. But I’ll work it out once I get there. For now, I’ll do what I can.”
Then she stopped and turned around to face me. What I saw was not her usual bright and playful expression.
“That’s not what I mean Amelia,” she said as she shook her head. “Don’t you see it? You’ve been led to do this.”
“W-what do you mean?” I asked confused, while unsure of how to approach her. “Is there anything wrong with me? Did I do something wrong?”
“Haah…” For the first time, she sighed. “Then let me ask you.”
Quietly, I nodded.
“Do you have your own dream?” She asked as she started to walk slowly towards my direction.
“!” My eyes widened from her question. “I-I…”
“See? You do understand right?” She said. “You have stopped dreaming Amelia. What you are currently following is the dream of Randolf, your Grandfather.”
“…” I said nothing in return as I looked at the ground. “I don’t think I’m all-”
“You are allowed to, Amelia,” She spoke as she placed her hands on my cheeks and lifted them. “You are allowed to dream. Currently, you’re nothing but a doll following what your Grandfather has set for you.”
There, in silence, I stood as I peered directly into her clear and beautiful eyes.
“But I… Have responsibilities. As a princess, as a Royal, and as someone indebted,” I said blandly.
“Is that what you truly want?” She asked as she closed her forehead with mine.
“I… Don’t know…” I said with an empty mind, unable to think of what I truly want with my life.
“Then let’s have a deal,” She said as she released my face. “Right here, right now.”
Without any warning, I felt my body temperature quickly dropping while my body broke down with sweat. I fell on the ground as I lost control of my feet, followed by a cold and sharp chill. I looked up to Celes with my eyes and body quivering in fear. Subsequently, the birds nearby scurried to flee into the sky.
“W-wh…” I tried to speak, but what came out were broken words.
“It’s either you answer with a nod or with a shake of your head,” She said as she gradually lowered the pressure she’s emitting.
“Y-yes…” I nodded, breathing roughly.
“Sorry,” She said smiling as she reached a hand to me. “This is just to show how serious I am.”
“I-it’s ok,” I said as I calm my wildly beating heart and reached out for her hand.
After I stood, I dusted the dirt that stuck to my dress.
“Now then,” She said as a necklace fell onto the palm of her right hand.
That! I thought as I recognized the necklace.
“Yes, it’s the necklace from your Grandfather,” She said nonchalantly.
“Why did you get that?” I asked with disbelief as I faced her. I then reached for it with my right but she stepped backward and brought it closer to her chest.
“I’m not finished yet,” She said with a frown. “Don’t worry I’ll return it, but first, hear me out.”
“…” I silently nodded enduring the unease building up within me.
“First, I modified this necklace,” She declared.
“It is because that you keep it as a memento rather than use it for its original purpose,” She cut off. “Amelia, it’s a sacrificial crystal meant to save your life, yet you chose not to use it even at the cost of your life.”
“…” I looked down unable to refute her accusation.
“I removed it, that is, its purpose as a sacrificial crystal,” She said smiling as she approached and slid her arms at the side of my neck and locked the necklace. “There we go.” She continued as she slowly stepped backward. “Looks perfect.”
I reached for the crystal and held it with my fingers. I gazed at it warmly, accompanied by the feeling of delight.
“Celes, I’m sorry I doubted you,” I said earnestly. “And thank you for this gift,” I said with a bright smile.
“Not to worry,” She replied. “But in return I want you to comply with the deal.”
“Then what deal is it?” I said confidently. “I’ll accept it if it’s for this necklace.”
I’ve always wanted to wear it. And now. And now, I can, finally… I thought as I grasped the crystal.
“First, I want you to pass the last part of the training, which you would be doing later,” She said as she returned to her previous bright and playful attitude. “Lastly, I want you to speak to that necklace and call for my name at least once a week.”
I nodded. “I can do that.”
“Oh, is that so?” She smiled mischievously. “If you fail to deliver any of those conditions, I’ll lift the barrier in Alabaster.”
Barrier… Barrier… Is that the forest barrier?
I lifted my head towards her after I pondered for a while.
“Yes, the forest barrier,” She said. “I hope you know the consequences once the barrier vanishes. I wonder how long Aves would last?” She tilted her head from side to side as if unsure of the answer.
On the other hand, various thoughts flooded my head.
If the barrier lifted, the beasts would spread and eventually reach Aves. The mines would be forced to shut down, forcing Laurel’s main trade product to dwindle. The newly pioneered lands would be ravaged by beasts. The unprotected towns and villages would be forced to fend for themselves. Father might conscript the ordinary citizens and fight against the beasts. It's nothing but disaster…
“It seems you understand,” She said. “Well, it’s easy anyway, as long as you don’t forget.”
I looked at her and thought of it.
I think it’s easy enough, but that heavy consequence is not making it any easier…
“When does the deal end?” I asked.
“Until I deem you capable.” She said. “And oh, you need to bring out your horn to use it. And use it only when the moon is out.”
I nodded in response.
It’s fine, I just have to make it a routine. I thought to calm myself.
“Well then, let’s go.” She said as she moved forward while I followed behind closely.
“Ah, another thing,” She said turning around suddenly and reached out for the necklace. “It also works like this,” She continued as she fiddled with the necklace with mana. “There.”
“Hm?” I tilted my head to the side and wondered what happened until I felt a cold chill throughout my body. I looked below and stared for a few seconds before figuring out what happened.
“W-wha…” I stuttered. “What did you do?!” I shouted as I covered my chest and my bottom with my arms. “Where did my clothes vanished to?!”
“A fu fu fu,” She giggled. ”Don’t worry, no one’s here to see other than me,” She continued. “So you’re free to show off.”
“That’s not the case here!” I said as I squatted to further hide my body. “And I’m not into those kinds of things!”
“You have a nice figure you know? Why not be proud of it?” She said smiling brightly like the sun.
This level of teasing… is on a different level than Erina…
“This and that are different!” I responded. “Please bring it back!”
“You are able to do that by yourself though?”
“Then please tell me that beforehand!” I immediately replied.
“Fine,” She said. “Just bring out your horn.”
Immediately I poured mana into my horns. Slowly, the dress I received after waking up revealed itself from the crystal and weaved its way, covering up my body.
I stood and checked whether there is anything missing from the dress to the undergarments.
That’s convenient… I thought amazed of the unbelievable event.
“I wouldn’t advise manifesting that dress without your horns though,” She added. “It might suddenly vanish. Although if you really wished to create a scene like that the-”
“Like I said, I’m not into those kinds of things!” I cut off.
“A fu fu fu,” She laughed. “I guess you’re fine now.” She smiled.
“It’s nothing, come on, we should go.”
The travel continued until night. After I ate my meal, we continued for a little bit longer until we reached an opening, long enough to accommodate two-thirds of Tercel.
“And here we are,” She declared proudly. “Since this is part of your training I’ll let you use my mana like usual, but you’re on your own for vitality and stamina.”
“What would be the training?” I asked with my horns out as preparation.
“I won’t be the one conducting it this time,” She said. “I’ll be waiting on the other side in this case.”
“You’ll see soon,” She said as she looked to the opening. “But before I go, I have a simple hint for you.”
“He who’s unfortunate stood above the rest.” She said.
I expressed a puzzled expression.
“Well, then I’ll be going now. Good luck.”
And then she vanished like a mist dispersing.
What do I make of that… I wondered.
As I was pondering on what Celes meant by the hint, a blinding flash of light followed by a loud roar fell at the center of the open field. After the light vanished, a golden goat stood at the center of the field. Surrounding the goat were scattered dirt and burnt grass.
C-could it be?! I thought as my heartbeat started to race.
[It’s nice to see you child,] The goat said. [It is I, Amalthea, divine beast of Alabaster.]
Ah… Is there still hope for me? I thought as I recalled Mon’s warning. Mon said to avoid encountering Amalthea at all cost…
[I will be conducting your trial as per Celes’s request,] Amalthea said. [Please prepare yourself.]
Celes, you just gave me more trouble…