I clutched the railings of the balcony and took a deep breath.
“I HATE THIIIIIIIIIIIIIISS!” Once, twice, thrice, I shouted at the top of my lungs. “Haah… I hate this...”
Celes was supposed to answer my question, but instead, she returned a question.
[Let me confirm one thing first, Amelia,] she said through Wind Whisper. [What do you intend to do with Hero Meiko?]
It was an easy and simple question, but the moment my lips parted, I froze. It felt like I was trapped. And thus, I replied, “I’m sorry, but I have no answer with me right now.”
From then on, I excused myself from the table and found myself on one of the mansion’s balcony.
As much as possible, I don’t intend to rely on her. Her full capabilities are unknown. Her goal is to return home. She’s too afraid to take action. More than that, I have yet to confirm if she’s willing to throw herself in life-threatening situations in order to find an answer to her question.
That should have been my answer. However, I made a pitfall for myself.
Whatever the means, I’ll use it in order to reduce the lives that would perish.
The more days that passed, the more I realized it was not enough. No matter how strong I could get before the promised date, I’m still a single person. I could not be anywhere and everywhere. I was not Celes.
And so, naturally, what came to mind is pit Meiko against the Angels alongside me. My plan was to try to find a hint in Academia’s library, or maybe the labyrinth, to provide her with a clue on how to return home. In short, I intended to make up the evidence and provide it to her as a hint.
It was not entirely a lie. However, the answer was easier than expected to acquire. All I had to do was ask Celes.
True, it was a disgusting method. But what could I do? Who else would be willing to help me fight against the Angels? Maybe I could try to meet the other Heroes and seduce them into my bidding, but that is not me. That aside, Mother and Father would never want me near Libet’s lackeys.
There is Fenrir, but his situation is unknown. There’s Amalthea, but she could not leave Alabaster due to her maintaining some sort of Barrier in the ocean down south. Lastly, there’s Celes. But Celes, even though I knew her more than the other two, remains a mystery.
There’s also the fact that I asked Celes how to collect souls. It was a careless question. I was blinded in accelerating my growth that I forgot what exactly I am.
I was Celes’s Kin. A being who collects the souls of Heroes.
I have no idea why she was collecting the souls of Heroes. But there must be a reason. A reason why Celes, as much as possible, only collect fragments of Gods.
Heroes received their blessings from Gods. And the source of those fragments does not rely on what race the Hero came from. It was entirely random. At least in our eyes.
As Celes explained, Heroes are summoned by creating a tunnel into the Realm of the Gods, and into the world where the Heroes came from. That world depends on the race that used the summoning ritual.
Basically, the one who modifies the soul of the Hero would depend on who was willing to place their fragments into them.
Celes had various theories as to why Gods, without rest, keep inserting their fragments or seed into the Heroes.
That point aside—if ever I learned how to collect souls, and if ever we win against the Angels—most likely, I would need to end Meiko with my own hands. That is what I thought Celes would have me do in exchange of learning that devious ability.
It was ironic. The one who saved her life would end up taking it from her. Ironic, a pathetic ending.
And should that happen, I would not know how I would face Kanna. Even if I hide it from her, I did not know if I can keep it from her for as long as she lived.
Was it a mistake that I made Kanna get closer Meiko? I did not know. However, I regretted it.
“I’m tired...” I pressed my forehead against the railings.
I had so much to think about. So many to consider. There was a mountain of tasks waiting beyond the hill I have yet to finish digging through. And yet, at the worst possible scenario, I was stuck.
“I don’t know anymore...”
My problems kept on piling, and yet, I have yet to resolve a single one.
“Amelia, there’s no need to rush.” Celes’s voice came from the side. “I know you’re short of time, and even if I wanted to extend the time frame I’ve given you, I can’t.”
“I know. That Archangel, Raziel, would descend by then, right?”
“Yes. And by that time, I won’t be able to put up the charade that the Angel you eliminated is still alive.”
“Thank you so much.” I slumped on the floor and curled myself. “I wonder how chaotic it would be without you. Really, Celes, I don’t know how to thank you anymore.”
“Me telling you not to worry about it is—”
“Not good,” I continued.
“Right.” Celes chuckled. “Then as thanks, live, Amelia. It may take your whole human lifetime before you are entirely freed, but keep on holding. You’ll be able to rest.”
“My human lifetime huh.” A dry laugh escaped my lips. “So you ended with the same conclusion. Or… you read my mind?”
“No, I have not. It’s just that what you wanted—diversity—is not something that could entirely be accomplished within one human’s lifetime. It is something that is passed from one generation and to the next. And so, following that pattern, you have to vanish.”
“Yes… it’s the only ending for me. I have to fake my death and live in the shadows. Maybe I could make up a story that I found an Elixir and made myself immortal. But that would sprout countless issues.”
“Right. But for now, stop sulking.” Celes patted my back.
“I’m not sulking. I’m just… stressed.”
Celes ignored my mutters. “You should realize by now that forcing yourself to find an answer would lead you to a dead end. Take your time. Don’t be overwhelmed by the time you have to spare.”
“Are you okay?” Kanna asked with a frown. “I heard you shouting but… I thought you needed to let it out so I didn’t approach.”
“I’m not… fine. I guess.” A wry smile emerged on my face. “Anyway, Kanna, let’s stay for the night.”
I led Kanna into a guest room that I asked from Celes. And before I entered the bed, I said, “Kanna, would you—”
“Sleep with me?! Of course, I would!” Kanna dove under the sheets and prompted me to get in. “Come now, my dear,” she said with a smile that seemed heavenly. “We have a long night ahead.”
“...” I turned around and approached the opposite bed. “Then I’ll sleep here.” I tucked myself and said, “Goodnight.”
A moment of silence followed. Afterward, the petrified Kanna moved. “EHHH? WHY?!” Kanna’s feet thumped against the wooden floor. “Don’t you need someone to cry on right now?! I can be that person! A-NY-TIME!”
“You’re noisy. Go back to your bed.” I waved my hand in dismissal and turned my back on Kanna. “Shoo, shoo.”
“That’s it! I’ll do it without permission!”
“Declaring that doesn’t do you any good?” I faced Kanna and readied my arms to intercept.
“It’s do-or-die!” Kanna threw the sheets up into the air and dove. “Li—brrgh!”
Immediately as she dove, I thrust my palm into her face. “It’s do-AND-die.”
Next, I pulled her arm and made her fall to the other side of the bed.
“Uuu… Lia’s love is physically painful.” Kanna rolled on the floor while pouting. “I just want to sleep together.”
“Your motives are clear as day, Kanna.” I sighed. “But thanks.” Hesitantly, I offered my hand. “You really know how to distract my mind like always.”
“Hehe, I can’t be your lover if I don’t know this much.” Kanna reached out her hand to mine.
“…” I retracted my hand before Kanna was able to grasp it and threw the sheets over her. “Goodnight.”
“L-lia?! Did I say something wrong?!”
The day after, Kanna and I bid our goodbye to Celes. And before we left, Celes left me with words to ponder.
[Amelia, try to resolve yourself. What you hoped to learn is not easy. At least, as a start, you’ll need someone who is willing to offer their life for you to learn. And if ever you are ready.] Celes tapped her finger a little above her chest. [Call my name.]
It was towering decision to make. Though I had an idea as to who, like Kanna and Maxwell, it was something too bitter for me to swallow. And so I kept it at the corner of my mind.
It did not take long before we found a suitable place for Birby to land. And doing so, we returned to the Tribe while bearing Amalthea’s request. However, unfortunately, the Dwarf Chiefs, Sylvar, and Kan have yet to return.
It took another day before Sylvar and Kan returned. Then another before the Dwarf Chiefs arrived.
[Heard you need me for something?] Garfin asked with a pick lugged on his shoulder.
[Yes,] I answered.
[Hoh, you prioritized our language.] Garfin chuckled. [That’s a pretty nice choice.]
[Maybe, maybe not,] I refuted his words using the language of the Elves.
[Color me surprised.]
“I only know quite a few words so I still can’t handle a full conversation. But greetings are fine.”
[As long as you’re progressing, it’s fine.]
“Anyway, Garfin can we—.” I glanced around the lodge.
[This place is no good huh.]
“Sorry for being selfish, Grandpa Fin.”
[Is my workshop fine?]
“I can’t ask for anywhere better.”
As soon as we arrived in the workshop, Garfin made the Dwarf Helpers leave. Afterward, he pulled two chairs for us to sit.
“You see, Garfin I...” I took out a small pouch and passed it over to him.
Garfin took out a blackened piece of metal shaped like a viscous liquid poured into a plate.
“I broke it. Your gift.” I placed my hands on my knees and bowed deeply. “Even though I told you I’ll treasure it, it wasn’t able to last even a year. I’m really, really sorry.”
[Hrmm…] Garfin kept on turning around the metal piece. [Was it destroyed with the intent to or not?]
While still bowing, I answered, “I didn’t have a choice.”
[I see.] Then a clucking sound followed. Probably, Garfin threw the piece of metal somewhere.
Garfin placed his hand on my chin and lifted my head. Then unconsciously, I closed my eyes. What followed was a short pain in my nose.
“Uuu… that kinda hurts.” I lightly tapped on my nose, checking if it was swollen or anything.
His fingers were large, and the strength he gave that pinch was obviously more than what an average human could muster.
Garfin chuckled. [Randolf used to pinch your nose whenever you did some mischief, didn’t he?]
“I’m not a child anymore.”
[Ha! Fourteen is practically a child for us Dwarfs.] Garfin expressed a wide grin. [Now, sit properly, I need to give you a thorough lecture.]
After I fixed my posture and faced Garfin, I waited.
[Now, where should I start.] Garfin grumbled with his arms crossed. Soon, he started nodding. [First, YOU FOOL!]
Garfin’s sudden burst made me flinch. And doing so, I started looking down on my knees and prepared myself.
[What were you even doing?! Did something like last time happened again?! Where you volunteered to take the hardest part to chew?! Treasure your life more! Stop being too selfless! Or more like, be more selfish like you used to!]
[No buts! And look at you! Are you looking down at my creations?]
[You are! That sword isn’t something for display! It’s a weapon, right?! It’s supposed to break after some time!]
“But it broke too soon...”
[And?! What do you know about the feelings of its craftsman?!]
“I… don’t know.” A little at a time I started to lean closer to my knees.
[Tch, Randolf, you should be here to scold your Granddaughter.]
[Amelia, lend me your hand.]
“Huh?” Puzzled by the sudden change, I lifted my head and tried to confirm his intention. “You’re not… angry anymore?”
[Figured I’ll give Randolf the rest of your lecture. Now, your hand.]
I stared at him blankly. I could not understand why his sudden outburst fell too short. However, as I was lost in thought, Garfin grabbed my right hand and traced his fingers on my palm.
[I did not get the chance to do this last time,] he muttered. He cupped a feel on my fingers and made it grip a few pieces of wooden handles. [That’s good enough.]
“Garfin?” I called out to him as he stood from his seat and walked towards the back of the workshop.
A short moment afterward, he returned with a familiar rapier in his hands.
[It’s a spare of the one you used last time.]
I took the rapier into my hands and unsheathed a part of its blade. “It feels like its exactly the same...”
[Like I said, it’s a spare. I made two just in case the first one broke. Though it happened sooner than expected, use that in the meantime.]
“Meantime?” Again, I did not understand his intentions.
Garfin took a seat. [How did the rapier felt last time? Was it too light? Is the blade length long enough? Was the crystal exposed too much? Was it hard to hold when wet?]
One after the other, Garfin asked a question regarding the rapier. I kept answering as accurate as I could, but there were a few things I could vaguely answer.
“What do you intend to do?” I asked. Though I had an idea, I wanted a confirmation.
[I gave you that sword as a gift without meeting you for five years straight. So you could say that that sword was experimental. It wasn’t a sword fully customized for your convenience.]
“Hence the spare?”
[Yes, since it will take some time to forge one that would fit your needs, I prepared a spare a long time ago.]
I gripped the rapier lying on my lap and muttered, “That was… experimental?” It felt ridiculous. The quality of that rapier would easily make it to the list of the best weapons in Laurel. I was not even doubtful if it would end up in the first place.
[Amelia, if I can’t forge a weapon of that quality, I won’t be considered as the best Weapon Smith in the Tribe.] Garfin wore a wide smile. [That aside, do you have any request for the real gift?]
“Ah! Right!” I took out another pouch and presented it to Garfin. “Can you use this?”
It took Garfin a few seconds a silence before he burst into laughter. [This much?! I wonder how large a storm it would brew!]
I patiently waited for him to finish. As to why he was laughing so much, I had no idea.
“So… can you use it?”
[I’ll use half of what you gave me. More than that, I won’t know how it will turn out.] He combed his beard with his fingers while placing a part of the shedding into a plate. [But you’re willing to let me use half of the original amount huh. Seems like you’re in more of a tight spot than I thought.]
I could not help but express a wry smile from his mutters.
“How long do you think it would take?” I asked, receiving the pouch of excess shedding from Garfin.
[Maybe a month or two. Would that be fine?]
Garfin stood from his seat. [Good. Now, let’s have a drink!]
I thought you think of me as a child...