༺ Sunrise Primrose ༻
“Even in my dreams, I wanted to ask you to forgive me, but you never appeared. So I thought I would never be forgiven or even get the chance to apologize…”
“Clana, just calm down.”
I frantically tried to calm Clana down, who began to mumble nonsensically with a crestfallen expression. Luckily enough, when she noticed that I was trying to speak to her she immediately shut her mouth.
“Sigh… Well, whatever. This is only an ordeal anyway, and once it’s over, everything should go back to normal already…”
I began to feel depressed at the sight of Clana, who used to always wear a majestic aura, now looking so broken as a result of the trauma induced by my passing. In an attempt to calm her down, I ended up mumbling something unnecessary underneath my breath.
“H-huh? What did you just say?”
I got scared for a second that she overheard my mumbling, but it seems like the system put a restriction on what I’m allowed to say within the ordeal.
“Oh, it’s nothing. By the way…”
Despite my worries, I decided to ignore that anomaly for now and instead focus on trying to prevent Clana from causing herself any more harm.
“…How did your hand become like that?”
It seems that my question caused her trauma to resurface as she slipped into another breakdown.
“T-The… the time when I desecrated your corpse… when I stabbed your heart with that knife… the feeling of Serena slowly losing her warmth as she died in my arms… it just won’t go away…”
“Hiii, hiii! I was wrong… I was wrong.”
I tried to reach out to Clana in an attempt to calm her down, it actually worsened her condition as she interpreted it as a sign of contempt and curled into a fetal position.
“Sob… I’m sorry, I’m so sorry…”
As Clana lowered her head towards me over and over, begging for my forgiveness, a crack started to form in my heart. I quickly took this opportunity to grasp her hands, preventing her from mutilating them any further.
Clana suddenly flinched in shock when she noticed my warm touch clasped onto her hands. Once she finally regained at least some composure, I began to try explaining what I could to her.
“Well, even though I still can’t touch you directly… my stellar mana still works somehow, so I can still offer you at least this much.”
“So, have you finally calmed down a bit? Princess?”
“You really are… Frey…”
It wasn’t until Clana realized that she could feel his stellar mana, something that only Aria should be able to use, that she was finally able to recognize the figure in front of her as the real Frey, rather than a pain-induced hallucination.
“Uh, how did you come back…? Did you get resurrected…? Was it some form of ancient magic…? Or are you a ghost…?”
“…I can’t tell you that. Believe me, I really want to tell you, but I can’t.”
I dodged Clana’s question that was impossible for me to answer, and then quickly moved on to my main point. My serious expression must have convinced her, since she quickly began listening intently to what I had to say.
“However, it is certain that I am the real Frey Raon Starlight… and I can only be here for a limited amount of time.”
Clana couldn’t say anything in response when she heard how little time she had left with him…
“Recently, some of the others have been saying the same thing… that you appeared in their imagination or dream for a short time…”
“I explained it that way to most of them, but I thought that lying to a guilt ridden person like you would have a bad effect.”
Her suspicions now confirmed, Clana’s eyes began to tremble.
“You mean… you’re going to disappear again soon?”
She asked him desperately, but Frey just continued to silently stare at her.
“Frey… I… I…”
Even though she asked that, Clana already knew the answer to her own question.
Clana was finally able to give Frey the apology that she had always longed and dreamed for, however…
Whenever she tried to speak, only the sound of her grieved moans lingered.
She has no idea how or why this happened in the first place, but all that she cared about was that this was her last and only chance to apologize to the real Frey, not the hallucination she always dreamt of in her nightmares.
…On top of that, it was her last chance to ever receive his “forgiveness”.
Did she even have the right to apologize after what she had done? The intense guilt that she felt after having caused the apocalypse as well as everything else she did to Frey was preventing her from doing so.
Despite her guilty conscience, if she doesn’t take the opportunity to apologize to him right now, she’ll never get that chance again. Even if she were to wait for the afterlife, there was no way she, who believed herself to be a sinner, would ever be able to meet Frey in heaven.
So in the end Clana forced herself to apologize to Frey with tears running down her cheeks, but……
“…it’s not your fault.”
His kind words, warmer than his stellar mana around her hands, enveloped her.
“That’s what you told me back when you found me lost and in tears in the middle of the woods, and that’s what I wrote to you in my will.”
“But looking at what you’re doing now, it seems that you’ve long forgotten those words.”
As he said that, Frey raised the output of his stellar mana and calmed Clana’s hand down, which had already begun to twitch again.
Clana, wearing a blank expression on her face for a moment at Frey’s declaration, denied what he said and shook her head.
“This is my fault, not anyone else’s… It’s all my fault… I was the one who killed you… Serena also ended up dying because of me. “
“Princess, from this point forward, listen carefully to what I have to say to you, alright?”
As Clana began panicking once again, Frey cut her off and began speaking in a gentle tone.
“It was me who had killed you in the previous timeline, it was me who had destroyed the world back then, and it was me who had deceived you in this life as well.”
“It’s not that you are a sinner, this world is just that unreasonable.. That’s why…”
“…When you died, a lot happened.”
When Clana interrupted my speech and started saying something, I stopped speaking and began to listen to what she wanted to tell me.
Based on my experiences so far, I knew that the best thing to do in this situation is to just listen quietly.
“The Demon King’s ridicule and declaration of war were broadcasted across the entire Empire through loudspeaker magic. As a result, only a few days later, all of the people of the Empire learned the truth.”
According to what she told me, the entire Empire was in shock for a while.
It was because they realized that the villainous Frey, whom they always hated so much, was actually the Hero meant to protect the world, and that he was sacrificing himself from the shadows the entire time.
The Demon King, who had just been heartlessly mocking Frey as an idiotic fool, had even given the Empire a month to prepare as some form of humiliation.
However, the Sunrise Empire was actually grateful for that kind of humiliation.
It was much more of an opportunity for them because of the three remaining people that still had their memories from the previous timeline, so they believed that if they could prepare enough, they might actually be able to win.
Additionally, all of the corrupt leading members of the royal family who had been deceived by the Demon King had already died the moment her power was fully awakened, making it much easier for Clana, the new Empress, to prepare for war.
However, in reality things weren’t that easy.
“We were able to get a few victories in the beginning…… Of course that was only because of how Kania, Irina, and I had already experienced the Demon King’s tactics before regressing..”
“But… once the sun suddenly disappeared out of the sky, everything started to turn for the worse.”
When the sun, which they assumed would always shine brightly in the sky as a matter of course, faded helplessly like it was nothing, that was the moment when true despair started to kick in.
To add insult to injury, even the moonlight and starlight that people thought would at least be able to comfort them when night came was also taken away from them.
Even if they could accept the moon disappearing since its light comes from the sun, they at least thought the stars would still be able to keep shining upon them.
However, just like the late Hero of the Stars, no matter how many prayers they made the stars would never be able to be revived, thus sending the Empire into darkness.
“As a result of the missing sun, the continent was hit by an everlasting winter. As the weapons began freezing over, the people began to wear out as well.”
“I finally realized it the day my solar mana disappeared: The Age of the Empire is over.”
When Clana’s solar mana, one of the greatest symbols of the Empire, vanished for good, it was seen as a sign of impending doom.
As a result, the trust that the Imperial family was still able to hold on had drastically decreased, to the point that even their military had given up.
“By then, the Demon King successfully led her army straight into the Imperial Capital, and I gave up on protecting the Empire. Right now, the only thing that our citizens are worrying about is when the next ship will arrive at the port, rather than protecting the lost cause that is this country.”
After taking a moment to catch her breath, Clana began apologizing once again with tears in her eyes.
“I’m sorry, Frey.”
“Like I said, there’s no need to apologize…”
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
I was about to tell her that there was no need for her to apologize for something that wasn’t her fault, but when I heard the clear sorrow and sincerity in Clana’s voice, I closed my eyes, deciding to wait until she had finished.
“This whole time… When the mocking voice of the Demon King resounded throughout the empire for days on end… When the sun vanished without a trace… Even when the Demon King’s army came knocking on the Capital’s doorstep, there was something that I desperately wished to tell you..”
“What did you want to tell me?”
“I’m sorry for being so clueless. I’m so sorry for never noticing any of the sacrifices you made for our sakes, being forced to commit so many evil deeds despite your pure heart…”
Clana felt deeply grateful for this chance to finally give Frey the apology she could only ever dream of, sobbing all the while.
“When morning comes… I, alongside the few Imperial Knights that remain, will go to the frontlines to stall the Demon King’s Army.”
“There are still many of the Empire’s citizens waiting at the port. It is our duty to hold on as long as we can until they can escape, whether it’s only a few more hours or even just a few more minutes.”
Upon hearing that, Frey heaved a deep sigh.
“We have somewhere we need to go.”
After throwing his robe over Clana’s shoulders, Frey slowly stood up.
“Uh, where are we going…?”
“Just follow me.”
“I-I still need to regroup with the army. If we go too far…”
“We’ll get there quickly, just hurry up and follow me”
Hearing Frey’s firm tone, Clana had a bewildered expression as she began repeatedly bowing her head.
“I understand. Whatever you ask me to do… I’ll do anything.”
As she spoke, Clana’s hand began to tremble irregularly.
“When did you start experiencing seizures?”
“Ever since that day… the day when I learned the truth…”
My heart broke when I saw Clana’s hand trembling like that, so the moment she began showing signs of another seizure I urgently reached out and grabbed her hand.
Suddenly, the stellar mana she felt earlier became even stronger than before, seeping deeply into her sensitive hand, stopping the tremors and causing Clana to involuntarily release a small moan.
“…I’ll hold your hand on the way there, alright?”
Frey, saddened by Clana’s pitiful state, gently grasped her hand with his own.
Of course, due to currently being a spirit, it was impossible for their hands to make physical contact.
However, due to Frey enveloping her hand with stellar mana, which he could still use despite the Ordeal, Clana was able to feel the warmth of his grasp.
“I’m holding hands with you right now, so please don’t start freaking out like earlier..”
After finally agreeing to follow him, Clana cautiously got up from her seat as well.
“Please, stay safe.”
Before she left the disheveled bar, Clana stopped for a moment to thank the barkeeper for allowing her to stay.
It might seem pointless knowing that, just like her, the barkeeper would end up losing his life sooner or later, no matter how peacefully he slept now in his second floor bedroom.
Even then, Clana decided to leave behind a gold coin on the table as payment before saying goodbye.
Thus Clana, while taking one final glance at the bar suddenly noticed something behind the counter, causing her to turn around and leave feeling more depressed than before.
It was a photo of what was once a happy family, now shattered beyond repair.
Once she finally stepped outside, Clana shivered as she was immediately assaulted by the cold breeze passing by.
“Are you alright?”
“Y-Yes… I’m fine.”
However, Clana’s teeth continued to clatter despite her words as she tried to keep moving.
Frey immediately saw through her facade and silently began wrapping Clana with more stellar mana, causing her to feel a warm energy surrounding her.
“How is it? Does it make you feel better?”
Clana felt a bit puzzled at Frey’s sudden actions, but then realized his intentions when he asked how she felt while wearing a gentle smile.
That one question from Frey, showing how worried he was for her, began to quickly reawaken Clana’s guilt that had been laid to rest only minutes prior.
“You… you can’t even feel any cold or warmth. But…”
At that, Frey began to grin as he gently placed his hand on Clana’s head and said…
“But you can, right?”
With that said, Frey began using his stellar mana once more as flashes of warm constellations began swirling around her.
“W-Why are you doing this…?”
Feeling so much warmth in her body and heart, Clana pitifully lowered her gaze and asked him what has been on her mind this whole time.
“Why are you being so nice to me?”
Whether it was behind her back or not, Clana had already gotten used to all of the cold and resentful gazes everybody sent her way.
That’s why she couldn’t understand why Frey, the person she had wronged the most, was treating her with so much warmth and kindness.
“Stop talking nonsense and just focus on following me. We’re almost there.”
Frey didn’t stop moving as he smiled at Clana, pulling her alongside him.
At that moment, Clana finally realized where he had been leading her and opened her mouth with a trembling gaze.
“Here… this is…”
“Yes, it’s the woods where I got lost while searching for the Starlight primroses you asked for when we were kids.”
Frey smiled as he softly reaffirmed Clana’s suspicions, leading her deeper into the woods.
“Hey, did you know? This is the place where my ancestor, the Hero from a millennium ago, swore an oath alongside that era’s Princess and the daughter of the Moonlight family.”
“Yes, the covenant that has bound the three families together for the past thousand years.”
As Frey continued speaking, he created a small sphere in his hand with stellar mana.
“And from that day on, special flowers began blooming once every year within this woods.”
A moment later, a sphere made up of twinkling Starlight Primrose from his palm, and Frey lightly blew into it with a smile, making it float away from him.
“You already know what kind of flowers I’m talking about.”
“The Moonlight Primrose… the Starlight Primrose… and…”
“…The Sunrise Primrose.”
The spot that the sphere of starlight had landed began to shine, revealing a Sunrise Primrose blooming through the thick snow.
“H-How is that…”
“It’s a present. A gift for you, the one who gave me the Starlight Primrose and gave Serena the Moonlight Primrose.”
It didn’t matter how they had somehow arrived in the woods only a few minutes after leaving the bar.
It didn’t matter how it was possible that the primrose flower, which is said to only be able to bloom after seeing the bright sun, had bloomed through the thick snow.
Clana just continued to shed tears as she observed the beauty of the Sunrise Primrose that had miraculously bloomed right before her eyes.
“Legends state that these flowers that were created under the influence of the oath made by the three legendary families possess special powers.”
Frey stared directly into her eyes as he began leading Clana towards the flower while continuing to speak softly on the way.
“So many people have searched for these flowers, but there was a reason why not a single one was able to use their power.”
At that point, Frey stopped his footsteps while Clana subconsciously began to reach out towards the Sunrise Primrose with a blank expression.
“That reason being that these flowers are the insurance that our ancestors left for us, their successors.”
Suddenly, the moment her hand came in contact with the primrose flower, she became surrounded with a dazzling light.
It was the same sunlight that Clana had been longing for this entire time.
Clana began to put strength into her hand with overwhelming intensity, and then burst into tears without even realizing it as the solar mana began overflowing from her hand once more.
“The effects will only last for about a day, but even that will be helpful when you’re fighting against the Demon King.”
“T-Thank you… Thank you… sob…”
Clana could no longer think rationally.
It was the result of all of the sorrow, anguish, guilt and despair she had buried deep within her heart over the past few years mixed together and burst out all at once.
“Thank you… Really, really thank you… Thank you…”
She didn’t care if she looked unsightly.
She didn’t even try to calm her mind.
All of the emotions that she had been hiding for years continued flowing out in wave after wave, speaking to Frey with everything laid bare.
“I need you… Frey… I-I… I need you so much…”
“It was only when you disappeared… That I finally realized that what the Empire needed was you and Serena, not someone as useless as me!”
Clana began to mourn while bursting into more tears than she had ever shed before.
“Is there really no way… to bring you back to life…? Please… I’ll give my life… I’ll even sell my soul to the devil if I have to… I’d be content being tormented in hell for the rest of my life if it means that you could come back, so if such a method exists, please tell me how I can do it…
However, even with all that, all Frey could do is just continue to stare at Clana silently.
“……Thank you, Frey.”
It was only after crying for a while longer that Clana could finally stop her tears and begin speaking again.
“For giving me the gift that I needed more than anything else at a time like this.”
At this point, she must have realized…
“With this power you have given me, I swear that I will dedicate myself to saving as many lives as I can, even if it’s only one more person.”
Clana continued while staring at the disappearing form of Frey, who even now wore a happy smile on his face.
As soon as she uttered those final words, Frey’s visage scattered away in myriad fragments of star.
Clana, who had instinctively reached out to touch a fragment of a star that he had left behind at the spot where he had been smiling at her this whole time…
…However, soon she realized that she was lying in bed.
“F-Frey…! Where’s Frey?”
Then, after realizing that the warm sunlight she thought no longer existed was shining through the window next to her, Clana began urgently screaming Frey’s name.
“What’s going on, Your Highness?”
“Frey…! Frey is…!”
Clana, who had just woken up in her pajamas with a pale, tired face, tried saying something to the bewildered attendant…
Seeing the attendant’s clear confusion, Clana blankly tilted her head.
“Did you have a nightmare?”
“Huh… I think so.”
As she answered the question of the anxious servant while quietly nodding her head, Clana questioned herself in her mind…
‘…Did I just have a nightmare about Frey?’
The warm light of the morning sun was shining upon her.