“Yes,” Elaine answered with a bright smile. “I have officially received your response, Hero Meiko. I’m sure Sister could find a way.”
Mola, in the entire time, was tense and quiet. She never expected Elaine to receive Meiko’s reply in Amelia’s stead. Since, in the first place, she was never informed. It all came to her as a surprise.
“Heh.” Kanna grinned. “Lia’s little sister huh?”
“Stop there, Kanna.” Mola immediately raised her hand, stopping Kanna from approaching Elaine. “Unlike Her Highness Amelia, you aren’t that acquainted with Her Highness Elaine.”
“Eh? But I was just going to greet Lia’s little sister?” Kanna tilted her head. Her orange hair tied in a ponytail followed. “Is something bad about it?”
“… No, nothing.” Mola shook her head. “Don’t mind it.”
“Then, hello little sis!” Kana cheerfully waved at Elaine. To which Elaine returned a gentle wave of her hand. “The name’s Kanna!”
Mola, on the other hand, covered his face with the palm of her hand. “Dimwit.”
“It’s okay Mola.” For her age, Elaine is quite mature in receiving Kanna’s response. “Lady Kanna—”
“Just Kanna is fine. Lia calls me that too.”
“Then Kanna, please tell me more about Sister’s exploits in the Tribe.” Just as she was curious with Meiko, she was curious about the events that happened in the Tribe. Though she heard a few from his brother, Argent, she found it lacking.
“Then let’s share information about Lia!” Kanna pumped her fist, seemingly assured of her victory.
“Yes, let us.” Elaine nodded. She thought it was a fair trade, and an opportunity to get close to Amelia’s friend. A friend unbounded by social hierarchy. As a matter of fact, Kanna was Amelia’s first friend when disregarding the difference in their social positions. However, as a different persona, as Mia, it was different.
“Uhm...” Meiko was at a loss for words. She prepared herself for something grand, or maybe a speech of some sort coming from Elaine, but her expectations were betrayed. “What should I do now?”
Elaine brought a finger to her lips. “Actually, I don’t know either.”
“What?” Mola’s eyes shot wide. “There weren’t any orders from Her Highness?”
“...” Meiko knitted her brows in silence.
Elaine shook her head. “None. In truth, Mother was the one who told me to receive Hero Meiko’s response in Sister’s stead. But Mother received Sister’s permission so here I am. Other than that…” Elaine tilted her head from side to side, recalling the specifics of what Lara told her. “Other than that, there’s no news other than Sister getting ill.”
“Lia got sick?!” Kanna asked, but she restrained herself from approaching Elaine.
“Mother said it was just a slight fever, so it’s okay.” Elaine flashed a smile. “Sister has gone through more than just a fever, so she’ll be fine.”
Kanna sighed in relief. “Then where is Lia now?”
“Sister is...” Elaine glanced at Meiko. She was somewhat hesitant to continue.
“Is there… something wrong? Maybe, I’m not supposed to hear it?”
“No, I guess it’s fine.” Elaine bowed her head lightly to Meiko. “I think it’s best not to hide anything from you, Hero Meiko. But please understand what I am to say. Please try to put yourself in Sister’s position before you think anything bad of her.”
“… I-I’ll try.” Meiko scratched her cheeks. She was caught unguarded by Elaine’s determined eyes.
“You see, Sister is currently in Piraeus, a port city. She’ll soon pass through other towns and cities along the coast of Formos.” Elaine shifted her sight to the window behind Meiko. “Sister needed to hear out the guilty Nobles and punish them for their actions. But at the least, the head of the Noble houses will surely roll.”
“Death penalty...” Meiko muttered.
“Yes, an execution.” Though Elaine was not that well-versed in politics, she understood the penalties for the Nobles that breached the law. “Right now, as per the law’s original punishment, two generations of the noble’s family should be brought to execution. But Sister is there to show leniency to the public. But she probably won’t show that to every guilty Noble.”
“Leniency… Is there no way to just, you know? Arrest them instead and put them in jail? And I think two generations is too much.”
“Right. Just as Mother said, a Heroes ethical and moral sense is different from ours...” Elaine frowned and looked at the floor. “But you know? Things can’t go unpunished. More so for people who were entrusted with the power to rule.”
Then she lifted her head. Her eyes wore the same determined flare. It was the same eyes that chased after the fading shadow of her sister.
“We need to punish the guilty and to quell the people’s desire for revenge. Someone needs to take the public’s hatred. And someone to direct that. Hence, the order for execution from the ones above—from us Royals.”
“It’s not wrong, Hero Meiko.” Elaine shook her head. “It might be wrong from the world, the time, or the generation you came from, but this world is different. We don’t have the same custom as yours. We aren’t in the same age as the world you lived in. We don’t share the same history as your world.” For a moment, Elaine paused. “Hero Meiko, this is a different world. Please remember you were summoned.”
For a girl this young to easily accept death penalty… Meiko thought. But then again, she was reminded that this wasn’t the world she was used to. Though she tried to hammer it down inside her mind, she still clung to that tiny piece of rock while hanging from a cliff leading down to the truth.
“Although you have a point, we can’t immediately follow what you’ve said. There’s a need for proper steps, phases; a transition. But, right now, it’s impossible.”
Meiko recalled her escape from Libet.
Despite the warning from the black-haired man, Meiko continued in trying to inform the others.
After a few more days of using Clairvoyance to find the shortest route to the southern wall of Issenheim, Meiko trained on using her Blessing. Or more accurately, the magic she ought to use for her escape. During those times, she tried convincing the other Heroes—who thought everything is just a mere game—that they were in danger.
She tried drawing figures, but the result was the same to writing. She also tried charades, but the other three only laughed at her weird and unique movements. Lastly, she tried Telepathy and Wind Whisper, but the messages she sent did not arrive. In the end, it was futile.
On the 12th day of her stay in Issenheim’s castle, Meiko started her escape. The reason was the black-haired man. The man was directly looking at Meiko through Clairvoyance. And his figure, vanishing and reappearing, had gradually approached Meiko’s chamber.
The moment she realized it, she trembled. She had already been enduring the creepy man’s grin on a day to day basis. Yet now, it came to approach her.
She panicked. She tumbled. She rose from her bed, and as fast as she could, she opened the windows. The moment she opened the window, a breeze of the cold and dark night brushed her long black hair. On her back was a leather bag. It contained her treasured kimono and her wooden sandals.
Biting her lips, she scaled the window and stood at its edge. Then with tears peeking from the side of her tightly closed eyes and quivering legs, she jumped. The window was located at about four stories high, so she was afraid of her legs breaking and bones rupturing out of her skin. However, just as she prepared herself from the days that passed, she chanted a spell before she reached the ground.
Manifest, Air Cushion!
A gust of wind howled. Gradually, her descent slowed, and her feet reached the ground without problems. But her heart was pounding. It was palpitating.
“Ahaha. I’m alive.” Meiko released a strained laugh. Numerous beads of sweat peered from her pores. She thought it was the end for her if she failed to finish the chant before she reached the ground. Or maybe, she would end up as a disabled.
[Want to play? Hide and Seek it is.] A somewhat childish voice of a boy rang inside her mind.
Meiko, reminded of her pursuer, urged her stiff legs.
Come on! Come on! Move!
Rather than taking the next step, she fell on the ground. She couldn’t help it. It felt she was on a suicide job just from jumping from the window. Nevertheless, she crawled. She grasped the weeds growing in the garden she ended up falling onto.
Reach it! Reach the wall!
Gradually, her stiff legs loosened, and as immediate as she could, she stood up to a sprint. Almost falling back to the ground, she adjusted her center of gravity. Upon turning left to the hedge she passed by, her bare feet touched the cold pavement. Following the path, she soon turned to the south.
In her mind, she memorized it. The layout of the castle, and Issenheim’s gate to the south.
Approaching the first wall, Meiko began chanting. When her fingers tapped on the stone slab of the wall, her lips parted.
Manifest, Short Transfer!
In the blink of an eye, Meiko vanished. Her figure reappeared about five meters away from the eight-meter wide moat surrounding the castle. She chose to use transfer rather than scaling the walls due to the active Guards roaming the wall’s ramparts. In addition, it would be hard to get permission to pass through the gates. After all, she was escaping.
Slightly dizzy from the sudden change of her surroundings, Meiko held her head in place. “Ugh...”
[—Five. Four. Three.]
The young voiced echoed in her ears. It made Meiko snap from her dizziness. With her chest heaving due to her deep breaths, she resumed her escape. She ran through the quiet, lamp-lit streets as fast as she could. However, she didn’t use any magic to increase her speed.
Don’t. Don’t. Don’t.
She convinced herself not to use any.
A few minutes. I need to recover more mana in a few minutes!
Based on what she saw during her scouting, it was too hard to climb the second wall. In addition, the wall was thicker than the first she passed through. And to get through it, she decided to use another Short Transfer. And to be able to do so, she needed to recover a few more mana. After all, it was the easiest and surest way of passing through the wall.
[—One. Here I come.]
Meiko held her breath. She urged her searing legs to move faster than her limit. “No, no, no!”
Weaving through the few residents awake at that time of the day, Meiko ran. Her throat began to dry, yet she ran. Her lungs longed for rest, but she ignored it. Her heartbeat was about two-three times faster than her cycle of steps.
[Peek-a-boo!] The man, or now a boy, peeked from the hands covering the sides of his fair skin. He stood in the path Meiko was about to take.
“…!” Meiko squeezed out her voice, but nothing came out. However, since she couldn’t reduce her speed too suddenly, she tried to tackle the boy. Fortunately for her, the boy took a step to the side and let her pass.
In the eyes of the witnesses, it was only Meiko running through the streets. Or in this case, a black-haired girl. The figure of the boy that stepped aside and gave a path to Meiko was never seen.
It was only Meiko and Meiko alone that saw and heard the boy. An illusion only known to Meiko.
After a few more minutes of running, Meiko eventually reached the second wall. Without hesitation, she used Short Transfer and was able to escape Issenheim. Nonetheless, she kept running, or more likely, walked in a hurried pace.
“Hhaaah… Hhaaah...” She was exhausted. The cold air of the night felt like the cool sensation of mint as it passed through her lungs. No sooner than later, her cheeks embraced the moist grass. Then gradually, her consciousness faded.
A few seconds later, a clap came from nowhere. In the next moment, a limited Dimension Lock began to cover her body. In an instant, Meiko vanished from sight. Her scent, her presence, and the depression she left on the grass were all gone.
Meiko never knew that the man, or boy, had nothing to do with Libet. But she never questioned it. She couldn’t due to fear and the lack of information.
The church and the Angels never thought of driving Meiko away. To them, it was but a fool’s errand. A folly. Even though they knew that Meiko had a hint of the truth behind the Blessing and the summoning, they did not care. For they knew, it was impossible to pass the truth behind the Blessing. And if they able to, they could silence the Hero from within their stronghold.
But someone passed underneath their noses. Someone interrupted their plans and drove Meiko away. But at the same time, the Angels were pleased. Meiko kept on using her Blessing. And if she kept on using it to escape, to save herself, and to find her way home, it won’t be too long before it happened. For a God to take root in the vessel called Meiko.
By the time Meiko woke up, she was surprised that she was unharmed. But rather than bothering on knowing how it happened, she continued her escape. Down south, she continued to travel, but now, wearing the wooden sandals she kept inside her bag.
During her escape, she often manifested a ball of water to quench her thirst. And with an illusion to change her appearance, she bought food from stalls in the towns and villages she passed by. She made use of the coins she kept. It was the coins given to them as Heroes. Twenty large coppers, five silvers, and two gold coins.
Although she was able to escape from Issenheim, Meiko was unhappy. She was burdened even. She was alone. Without a person to talk to or to lean to, she naturally cried herself to sleep at night. At times, she recited the names of her father and grandmother. Included among those were her close friends. She feared she might forget them the longer she stayed in Origin.
During her travels to the border of Libet and Brent, she found it odd that a lot of children were working at an early age. In Meiko’s eyes, they were more capable of being a Hero than her. They could take the harsh lash of life and stand firm.
Compared to me… I’m too weak…
Meiko accepted that as a fact. She was weak. Her will is not strong enough to be a Hero. To be someone who should shoulder a great amount of responsibility.
What is a Hero? The thought ran through her mind over and over, but no answer came.
By the time she crossed the border between Brent and Libet with the easy-to-use Short Transfer, things got heated up. Rumors ran through every town and villages she passed by. The rumors indicated that a Hero was working in incognito. Of course, Meiko immediately understood. They were hiding the fact she escaped.
I wonder how the others are doing…
Not long before that, the guards from the towns and villages became active. At times, paladins joined the gate guards in inspecting the people entering and leaving through the gates.
Too fast… Meiko started to worry. Or maybe I was just too slow…
Although Meiko was able to scout a portion of Issenheim, she knew nothing beyond the walls. And even with the help of Clairvoyance, she needed a day to scout ahead before deciding her path. She tried to complement her memorization with a map she bought from merchants, but the map was inaccurate.
From then on, day by day, she ran. She was chased by paladins, by knights, and sometimes, by adventurers. She had no one to help her. Even the merchants are out there to swindle a few coins or sell information about her. Everyone was her enemy.
Soon, she found a group of refugees traveling to the border of Brent and Laurel. And from what she heard, the church had almost no influence in the kingdom of Laurel. It was her respite. Her hope. The last light in the dark clouds that loomed over her day.
And so, without hesitation, she disguised herself as one of the refugees. It was then she was caught in a trap. A trap that gradually tried to break down her sanity.
The trap was simple. Poison the refugees and make Meiko treat them. Rinse and repeat. Meiko—being an ordinary girl she is—naturally treated the refugees. She couldn’t bear seeing the refugees who already lost their home and family to suffer even more. And lastly, knowing that she was the only one capable of treating them as of the moment, she borrowed strength from the title unfitting of her. The title of a Hero.
To Beatrice’s side, the plan was flawless. Though it was a vague order to make Meiko use as much as magic as possible, she followed.
It was then the unpredictable happened. A Princess rescuing a Hero.
[Hero Meiko, I don’t know what Blessing you have, but think. There should be a magic to dispel a slave collar.] While Amelia was muttering harsh words to Meiko, she subsequently used Wind Whisper. It was Amelia’s gamble in predicting the Blessing Meiko had.
Meiko, trembling from the dagger pressed against her neck, did not know what Amelia meant.
A slave collar? Why? She thought, forgetting to reply with Wind Whisper.
[If you can’t, control your mana. Compress it around your neck. Avoid letting your mana touch the slave collar. If that’s too much for you, try making a string of mana. It doesn’t matter where the magic circle is located. Just lash the string around the collar. If you’re lucky, you might be able to scratch the magic circle and deactivate it.]
Amelia knew it was extremely hard to string mana around the neck for ordinary humans. Especially without the help of a high purity mana stabilizer. But she hoped. She wished that Meiko could do it. If not, she’s good as dead.
By the time Amelia left, Meiko slumped herself on the ground. Her mind was blank, but she no longer had an option for herself. And so she asked Beatrice to return her to Libet.
Beatrice, wary of Amelia’s actions, and knowing that she no longer had the time to dilly-dally around the settlement, agreed.
Before the next day came, she realized what Amelia meant. It was none other than the black collar Beatrice latched around her neck. And when Beatrice locked it in place, she began following Beatrice’s order like a doll.
It was unbelievable for her at first, but she endured the pain that tried to rob her of her consciousness. Along the way, while she was rocked by the horse’s movements, Meiko concentrated on her mana.
After Kanna and Birby cleaned up Beatrice’s Observers, Meiko was successful in stringing her mana and deactivating the collar. Although there was a specific magic to deactivate the collar, Meiko couldn’t speak, much less chant.
From then on, Meiko began to recover. But the series of events left a deep impression on her mind. She could not stand up and declare that everything was fine.
However, upon hearing Kanna’s story about Amelia, Meiko recalled the face of the girl that brought a dagger to her neck. By any means, she was saved by her, but the first impression she got was not pleasant.
Other than that, Young. She’s younger than me and she was already able to do this much…
Meiko was overwhelmed. Amelia was younger than Meiko by three years, but Amelia already had numerous achievements that dizzied her.
Just how? Meiko knew a tad about magic. Her knowledge came from her instructor. And she knew. She knew how hard it was to maintain an illusion. Even harder if it was utterly close to reality. Other than that, having the knowledge about the element it required, she understood that Amelia’s mana capacity was far from the norm.
Her handling of the dagger. Her movements… it’s too far removed for a Princess.
As Kanna continued to boast about Amelia, Meiko gradually realized that it took Amelia a full five years to attain what she had. Of course, it was complimented with the use of her authority and connections.
At the age of nine… Too young…
Those same words came to mind when she faced Elaine.
Although she’s a bit late, Elaine is… trying to catch up?
It was obvious at a glance. Elaine’s eyes. It contained the shadow of Amelia.
“That aside, I think it’d be best if you go with Mola to Academia. Sister would be heading there anyway.” Then Elaine returned to her innocent smile. “But before that, can you tell me about the other Heroes?”