༺ Only the Light (2) ༻
I sometimes had nightmares.
As a child, I was afraid of the unknown. Ghosts under the bed, monsters in the dark forest. Those imagined fears manifested as nightmares, making me uneasy.
As I got a little older, I stopped having those nightmares. Instead, the past began to appear in my nightmares. The terrible experience that left an invisible wound deep in my heart would vividly come to mind, disturbing my sleep.
On the days I had such horrible dreams, I would throw myself at the ghosts and monsters I once feared, in an attempt to forget the dream. I was no longer afraid of what might be under the bed or in the dark forest.
However, there were times in my life when the nightmares disappeared.
It was when Charlotte was by my side.
Whenever I was tormented by nightmares, Charlotte would cast a soothing spell on me, and she would sing while my head rested on her lap.
The only songs she knew were hymns she learned at the orphanage, but on such nights, I could sleep comfortably without any nightmares.
Just like right now.
When I woke up in the morning, my mind was clear and refreshed.
The anger, hatred, sadness, and resentment that had been deeply embedded in my heart had quietly settled at the bottom of a deep lake.
They hadn’t disappeared but had settled below the surface of my consciousness. At the same time, they didn’t rise to the surface. If I wanted to, I could bring those emotions back up, but if not, they would simply remain deeply submerged out of sight.
But where am I?
Looking around, all four sides were a completely white room. I was lying in a bed, and the room was simply furnished with only essential items, with no trace of an owner to be found.
The room was neatly organized, but it felt somewhat empty.
I was sure that my dark mana had run rampant, and I remember seeing Charlotte … Did Charlotte bring me here?
Then I heard footsteps approaching the room. The owner of the footsteps seemed to hesitate at the door for a moment, then carefully opened the door and peered into the room.
And our eyes met.
It was Charlotte.
Upon making eye contact with me, Charlotte was startled and stepped back as if to run away. Before she could close the door and turn away, I spoke first.
“Wait a moment.”
I could feel that she had stopped in her tracks outside the door.
I let out a short sigh.
I called her reflexively, but having called her, I only became more worried about what to do. However, I couldn’t just leave her standing outside the door, so after a moment of hesitation, I opened my mouth.
“…Come in for now. Let’s talk, it’s been a while.”
From beyond the door, Charlotte cautiously poked her head in.
It was awkward.
It wasn’t just me. The expression on Charlotte’s face, as she sat on the chair next to the bed, was equally awkward.
She couldn’t meet my eyes and kept her head down, silently fiddling with her fingers. It was a habit she often showed when she was uncomfortable.
In the end, I was the one who broke the silence first.
We weren’t exactly on friendly terms to have a warm conversation, so I decided to ask what I was most curious about first.
“My dark mana was running wild. Did you calm me down?”
Charlotte nodded slightly.
“I thought so.”
It wasn’t a surprise since I had already anticipated it. To suppress dark mana of that magnitude, you would need an equivalent amount of sacred power.
The power of a war hero is solely focused on combat, so the only person who could wield that level of mana on her own would be Charlotte, known as the Saintess.
I expressed my gratitude honestly.
“Anyway… Thank you. I was able to calm down quickly because of you.”
I didn’t know how she found out and came to me, but if Charlotte hadn’t appeared there and then, I would have been leaking dark mana for quite some time. Even if I had managed to escape to a place where there were as few people as possible, there would still have been significant damage in the meantime.
It was just a natural expression of gratitude for the help I received, but Charlotte blinked rapidly with widened eyes, as if she had heard something completely unexpected.
And then she gave a faint smile. As if she had just done what she was supposed to do.
Charlotte hesitated as if contemplating something deeply, then carefully gathered sacred power at her fingertips. She then began to write words in the air for me to see.
[I have purified the area, so you don’t need to worry.]
Since Charlotte hadn’t spoken a single word since the conversation started, I finally had to ask the question that had been bothering me.
“I heard you have aphasia 1Aphasia is a language disorder caused by damage in a specific area of the brain that controls language expression and comprehension… Is that true?”
Charlotte’s complexion darkened for a moment.
She nodded her head very slightly. It was a clear affirmation.
After Charlotte left, news about her naturally reached me even though I didn’t wish to hear it. The actions of the Hero Party were of great interest to the numerous imperial citizens, after all.
But what I couldn’t understand most was the news that Charlotte had aphasia. There had been no issue until she left me, but at some point, the title ‘Priestess of Silence’ was attached to Charlotte.
There was a rumor that she had received the goddess’ grace by sacrificing her voice to defeat the Demon King, but in the end, I couldn’t know if that was the truth.
“What’s the reason?”
Charlotte slowly shook her head, as if she could not speak.
Looking at the deep, dark emotions in her downturned eyes, I intuitively knew that no matter what I said, she would not answer.
Eventually, I stopped asking about the aphasia.
Instead, I decided to bring up another question.
“Where is this? It doesn’t seem to be the Imperial Palace.”
[This is my room in the cathedral. It didn’t seem right to leave you in the Imperial Palace. I’m sorry for moving you without permission.]
“Don’t worry about it. But, this is your room…?”
The fact that Charlotte was living in this barren room, devoid of any personal belongings, was secondary. The real surprise was that the bed I had been lying on was Charlotte’s.
Charlotte also turned red and seemed flustered, quickly writing out letters.
[This is the only place that people wouldn’t easily come to. Although it’s called my room, I haven’t used it for years. I needed a place to stay when I arrived at the Empire and used it for a few days, but all the bedding is new so you don’t need to worry.]
“Ah, I see… got it.”
If Charlotte didn’t mind, I didn’t care much either. After all, there had been a time when it was natural for us to share the same bed.
And then an awkward silence filled the room.
I had asked everything I wanted to ask Charlotte, and from the beginning, Charlotte had the look of not knowing what to do with this situation of having a conversation with me.
Looking at Charlotte in this way evoked a curious feeling.
There was a time when I wanted to ask Charlotte why she had left me. Each time I thought of the hero who took her away, anger welled up in me, and each time I remembered her leaving me behind, I felt a pain as if my heart was being cut with a knife.
But now, in this moment of meeting and talking with her after 15 years… my heart was remarkably peaceful.
It wasn’t due to the tranquility of the meditation, nor was it because of Charlotte’s mana. It was simply because my yearning for Charlotte had faded and disappeared with the flow of time.
The wound had left a scar but had eventually healed, and my love for her had now become a memory that I recall thinking, ‘there was such a time’.
Since I had burned it all down during the past 15 years, only a cooled pile of ashes remained where even the embers had gone out.
So I decided to ask something else.
In a casual tone one uses when meeting an old acquaintance after a long time.
“Have you been well all this time?”
At my question, Charlotte made a sad face and neither affirmed nor denied it. It looked like she sincerely didn’t know how to respond.
“Weren’t you having a hard time, staying near the border even after the war ended?”
[I had to do it, of course. I had to purify the contaminated land.]
She replied that it was what she had to do, but even when including the Seven Heroes of the Continent and numerous soldiers who had already experienced the war had returned to their homes, Charlotte was still remaining in the Mainland.
I felt her action was due to her own guilt. As if she could not leave the battlefield because of the people she couldn’t protect.
“There’s no need for that.”
“What I mean is, there’s no need for you to sacrifice yourself anymore.”
There must have been many people that Charlotte couldn’t protect.
But just as the name ‘Battlefield’s Saintess’ suggests, there were also incredibly many people that she had saved.
The other hero parties, the Seven Heroes of the Continent, and even I, were all trying to step away from the battlefield and live our own lives. But it bothered me a little that only Charlotte was still unable to leave the war and remained there.
I wanted her to stop making that guilt-ridden expression.
Because if she could find her own happiness, I thought my heart would feel a little lighter.
“Forget everything and live your own life now.”
I said in a calm voice.
“Because that’s how I’m living.”
At my words, Charlotte’s expression froze for a moment.
She suddenly got up from her seat, turned her back in a hurry, and distanced herself from me.
Even at my call, Charlotte did not look back.
Leaving behind only a single trail of tears, she left the room and disappeared.
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- 1Aphasia is a language disorder caused by damage in a specific area of the brain that controls language expression and comprehension