The First Brush With Calamity
Following Rion’s exploits, the Empire’s army lost all semblance of order and was in no condition to fight back once Gran Flamm’s forces sallied out of Camargue. The result was a complete rout, further compounded by the lack of an effective command chain – the majority of the Great Alexandros officers had already fled.
After all, it was widely known that the imperial rank-and-file was treated as entirely disposable. It didn’t require a huge leap of logic for the officers to suspect that they might not be highly valued either.
Initially, the low morale of the army seemed to work in the Empire’s favor, causing the opposing soldiers to scatter in all directions. But instead, this dampened the Empire’s efficacy in pursuing them.
In the end, none of that mattered. Bandeaux was geographically nestled amongst the steep mountain chains which limited the number of potential escape routes. Over the following weeks, most of the fleeing imperials gave up on their escape attempts and surrendered. Considering their potential reception back “home,” it was fortunate that they chose to surrender.
The 10,000 strong imperial army that had lain in wait at the western border withdrew as soon as they received words of defeat from the frontline. They judged that it would have been a poor decision to keep going on the offensive after the previous loss, so the army of Great Alexandros were forced to revise their strategies according to Rion’s appearance in the field.
In conclusion, the Empire’s war operation to wipe Gran Flamm from the map ended in utter failure.
After the battle was confirmed over, the key figures of Gran Flamm returned to Camargue for the scheduled general council. It was the first one following the conclusion of the fight, but those attending sported stiff expressions in their anxiety.
A single figure made their entrance into the room amidst the suffocating tension.
“Here’s Alice, from the Wonderland Mercenary Group. I’ve come to fetch our reward money.”
Again, it was Alice.
“…Where is Rion?”
Every single person present in that room had expected for Rion to appear, and they were visibly disappointed when their reality betrayed them.
“Why do all of you look so disappointed? Just for the record, I’m the leader.”
Alice perceived the mood from their reactions.
“I am aware that you are, but I want to have a meeting with Rion.”
“…Who do you mean?”
She tilted her head slightly in reply to Arnold’s question.
“Don’t play dumb. The man you were with in the battlefield was none other than Rion, himself.”
“You mean, White? Heh, so his name is Rion? I never knew.”
No matter what they said to her, she would play the fool. Such an attitude did little to appease their anger— it only worsened it.
“Whatever, bring him here.”
Those angered included Arnold who stopped choosing his words as he spoke.
“Even if I did bring him here, he doesn’t remember anything from the past. He won’t know a single thing about you guys.”
Alice was not the type to falter at the change in attitude, and the words she uttered in her feigned ignorance left them dumbfounded.
“I said, he has no memories. He doesn’t even remember his own name. ‘White’ was the name I gave him.”
“…Do you think I will believe that?”
When told out of the blue, no one could swallow that Rion suffered from amnesia. Alice was definitely lying, but she did not spin that lie for the sake of it.
The Kingdom of Gran Flamm deemed Rion a royal prince. Under that assumption, they must have believed that Rion fought to preserve their kingdom.
However, all of that would go against Rion’s wishes. He found it bothersome to be forced to both participate in the war as well as to refuse it. Though on the other hand, the meeting’s attendants would not be able to press the matter if he claimed to have amnesia. For that reason, Alice acted as she did.
“Before you continue with your grumblings, mind giving me that promised reward?”
“…Let me see him first. He may recall some memories when we talk.”
“Sorry, but that’s not part of the deal. Also, I shouldn’t need to remind you that the lack of a payment on your end would breach our contract.”
“We will pay in due course. However, I want to see him first.”
“You realize that we uphold our contracts to the letter, and we don’t appreciate those who won’t do the same. Don’t you agree, Mr. Client?”
It was not Arnold who commissioned them but Alexander. By directing the conversation to the latter, Alice effectively expressed her intent to ignore Arnold.
“Well, you see…”
On the contrary, the prince found himself taking the brunt of the conversation, perplexed at the sudden turn of events.
“Could it be? You can’t actually pay it? Hmm~ so the Prince of Orcus intends to breach the contract?”
“N-no, not in the least. Of course, I will pay, but it’s just that I don’t carry that much with me at the moment.”
“Very well. This is a clear act of violation. Since it is so, the Kingdom of Orcus now is listed under those that cannot adhere to written contracts.”
Usually, payment could be steadily received in installments, and the mercenary group had done so a few times before. But this time, Alice nipped back at Alexander for tricking her in the previous negotiation.
There was no one present he could rely on other than Arnold. After all, Gran Flamm promised to pay for the full sum, so Arnold could not bear to ignore his cousin’s plea in this situation.
“…I understand. Lambard.”
The sum was ready in hand, and Lambard stepped forward to hand Alice a bag filled with gold coins, exactly as she had hoped.
“Okay, thankies. With this, you’ve fulfilled the contract.”
She declared the contract’s conclusion, heedless to check whether the pouch contained the correct sum or not. Lambard, who was tasked with handling the transaction, started worrying needlessly. Arnold peered at Alice.
“…You aren’t going to confirm the contents?”
“Did you swindle some?”
“We always start a contract by checking our client’s good faith. Those who would swindle the reward money are simply inconceivable and are characters we wouldn’t want to meet a second time.”
“As I said, I did not swindle you.”
“That goes without saying, so that’s why we don’t bother to confirm the amount. If you put in the wrong amount though, we won’t tell you either.”
In other words, they did not allow for negligence. The Wonderland Mercenaries were strict even toward their clients, but that doesn’t mean that their attitude remained the same for every client. For example, they would allow some tolerance for those truly lacking in economic ability. Though, even then, they would still ignore urgent requests from those they don’t like. Basically put, the group acted according to their whims.
“I want to discuss our next commission.”
Arnold brought up another job offer when predicting that Alice would bolt from the room at that instant. He couldn’t afford to let her leave without keeping a link or two intact.
“…What will it be this time?”
“The restoration of Gran Flamm Kingdom.”
The request he uttered was more of a dream than a simple request.
“That cannot be done. What was lost cannot be recovered.”
She quickly shot it down. For them, such an achievement was not impossible, but the nature of the request was too vague for them to settle within a contract.
“How about… the defeat of Great Alexandros?”
“Regretfully, we don’t really accept jobs that will consume a lot of time.”
Which was actually one of the group’s policies that Alice truthfully disclosed.
“…Recapturing the royal capital.”
“Hmm, that should also take a long time. Although, if we consider our next battles… Can I hold off the answer for now?”
“Then when can I expect an answer?”
“That’s much sooner than expected. Are you staying at an inn in Camargue?”
Arnold discreetly pried into their whereabouts. If Rion had entered Camargue, there should have been a huge commotion since those of Bandeaux view him as the hero who repelled the demon god. However, no such news had surfaced.
“We aren’t staying in the city. And also, I guess I should tell you this… the Wonderland Mercenary Group have many other members besides me and White.”
“Then in camps?”
“Who knows? I don’t need to tell you that. Alright, I’ve finished my business here today. See you tomorrow.”
Alice forcibly closed the conversation and left the council room, as though to escape the further questioning. Naturally, she was being tailed as she departed. However, where she went would never reach Arnold’s ears.
To begin with, the shadow tailing her belonged to Clan Black. They had long known of Rion’s whereabouts, but they didn’t divulge that knowledge to anyone.
Rion’s group currently resided within a deserted village. A past monster raid had left it abandoned as such situations similarly happened in other locations within Bandeaux. Manpower would be required to resurrect those villages.
“Hey, how come you guys haven’t gone to visit your families?”
Rion asked Mercury and company. Just like Rion, this was the first time they’ve stepped back onto their homeland ever since they left Bandeaux.
“It’s just that after leaving Bandeaux during its peril, we were unsure if we should meet them again.”
“…I don’t think they would mind that, not that I would know for sure, though.”
In Rion’s past world, he lost his parents when he was only a child. It had caused him to feel disconnected when he tried to imagine how their families would feel about their return home.
“We should ask you the same, Rion. Is it fine for you not to meet Ariel?”
“…Not now. I’m not ready yet.”
“But when will you be? She should be aware that you are here in Bandeaux right now. What if she starts falling out of love because you will not meet her?”
They didn’t understand why Rion refused to see Ariel.
“I wouldn’t worry about that.”
“Aren’t you thinking too highly of yourself? Truthfully speaking, I’m surprised she’s still waiting for you even after all this time.”
The group devoted themselves to Rion, but they held the same amount of respect toward Ariel. They couldn’t help but pursue the matter.
“I’m not being conceited. It’s just a fact that I’m the only one who can handle her. She has a cute face, but she can be ruthless at times. I bet none of you have ever been whipped at full power, have you?”
“No, I don’t believe anyone here has.”
“Well, I have. How about getting your hands and feet bound and thrown into the fountain?”
“…No, we never experienced that, either.”
“You can pry the earth open, search the whole continent, and you still won’t be able to find anyone who can endure her bullying. Doubtlessly, they’ll expire after a few days with her. She snaps from minor things, and it’s very difficult to improve her mood once it sours.”
Rion only intended to explain himself at Mercury’s persistence, but somewhere along the line, he started to prattle idle complaints. It had been a while since he had the opportunity to talk about Ariel, and once he started, he had difficulty stopping.
In that moment, the men began signaling him with their eyes, as though trying to tell him something. Realizing their intentions, Rion glanced at the door.
“…Aah, so you’re back. How did the negotiations go?”
Thinking that Alice had returned, Rion abruptly halted his talk of Ariel in a panic. If Alice’s mood were to sour, she would be another troublesome case to handle.
“Rion, pray tell, whom are you mistaking me for?”
The voice that sounded wasn’t Alice’s. It was a voice that belonged to another that he knew too well.
Hearing that voice for the first time after so long, Rion fearfully turned his back and saw her— Ariel stood right before him.
“…How did you find me?”
“I had Ruphy lead the way.”
By borrowing the power of the spirits, she was able to find Rion. It was a feat only she would be capable of.
“So such a method exists.”
“Spare me your praise. I need an explanation. Why didn’t you contact me despite having returned?”
“…’hat, ‘hat hur’s.”
She had both of his cheeks pinched…or rather, she had his mouth wrenched open with both her thumbs.
“Let me ask you again. Why?”
“Aih, Aih am sworry.”
“Come now? Why did you leave me for years without news nor contact? Rion, say, can you give me an explanation so adequate that even I will have no choice but to accept?”
“I don’t understand what you’re saying!!”
So long as Ariel refused to remove her hands from his mouth, she wouldn’t be able to receive the answers she sought. Though that didn’t stop her from continuing to do so.
“…Say that you’re sorry.”
“Aih am sworry.”
“Say that you love me.”
“Say. That. You. Love. Me.”
“…I wuv yu.”
“Repeat that until tomorrow morning. Now, begin!”
Ariel was a woman true to her words. Although in most cases, Rion would be the one who executed her ideas.
“Aih, aih cwant. Mai mauth…”
“…I wuv yu.”
“I. Love. You.”
“I wove you.”
“…Say it properly, will you?”
Ariel pouted, her cheeks puffing out like a child, a slightly mismatched innocence of hers that Rion fondly adored. He took her hands off his mouth and used a handkerchief to neatly wipe her fingers.
She simply watched him in silence.
“I’m sorry for leaving you for so long. You know, I’ve never forgotten about you even for a moment.”
“…That goes without saying. But, why did you leave me? Where did you go?”
“Didn’t Sol tell you anything?”
“No, his lips are tightly sealed.”
“I didn’t expect him to keep his promise after all this time. Well, I don’t think he understood what occurred at that time, either.”
‘A great calamity will befall if you tell anyone,’ Sol had taken Alice’s warnings to heart and never spoke of it to a soul. Despite some doubts, he believed that it if things spiraled out of control, it would be due to his carelessness.
“What do you mean?”
“The reason I left Bandeaux was—”
“Because he found a new woman he loved!”
A voice interjected the conversation, a voice owned by none other than Alice. Those present paled upon witnessing the fated meeting between the two women. Wordlessly, the men, including Mercury, took haste and retreated from the area of impact.
“H-hey, are you guys trying to leave me here alone with them?”
Rion may have been a womanizer, but this was actually the first time he could behold a scene that exemplifies hell. The majority of those he dated were those who kept a low profile, and the rest lacked any intention to monopolize him from the start.
This scene, a situation all two-timing men feared, had manifested right before Rion’s very eyes for the first time in his two lives.
“What’s this? Is there any issue with them leaving the room?”
Ariel asked him in a tone dripping with sarcasm.
“…Not at all, Ma’am.”
“Also, I forgot to ask you earlier. Who is this woman?”
“I’m his wife.”
Alice answered her, full of provocative intentions.
“…I’m asking Rion, not you.”
“I went out of my way to answer your query. Shouldn’t you thank me instead?”
Alice continued to incite her.
“Alice, stop aggravating the situation. We aren’t married, are we?”
“Ah, how cruel~ Are you saying that you’re in it only for my body?”
“…No, that’s not what I meant.”
A bad feeling washed over him as he rejected her accusation.
“I knew it. You did it because you love me! I’m so happy!”
As he had feared, Alice desired to disclose what he wanted to keep secret. He was greatly disadvantaged in this battle. On the other hand, he reaped what he sowed.
“You must have your head high in the clouds if you believe that sleeping with him grants you the honor of being his wife.”
Ariel began her counterattack.
“What did you say?”
“Rion has always been a philanderer. It’s his incurable disease. I’m sorry, but it seems that you have been misunderstanding his actions.”
Arguments had always been one of Ariel’s talents. Her role as a villainess was not simply decorative.
“…Aren’t you the one who’s misunderstanding here? How long are you going to act like you’re still his wife?”
“Until the very end of time. After all, only I am capable of satiating Rion’s desires.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Yes, I do. Rion is incapable of forgetting about me. Both his mind and body.”
“…E-even his body?”
Alice caught the bizarre shift in topic.
“Did you know that Rion—”
“H-hold it right there!”
Rion hurried to stop the rest from spilling out. He almost failed to realize what Ariel had intended to say before the damage was done. Alas, he made it in time.
“Is there a problem?”
“You were going to reveal something weird.”
“It’s not weird. I was only going to tell her about your sexual disposition.”
“…That’s what I meant by a weird thing.”
“So, do you know anything about him at all? Perhaps, it’s Rion who loves you, while you don’t love him back at all.”
Ariel queried, while ignoring Rion entirely. Her question contained more meanings than one.
“…I do! I love him much, much more than you.”
“In that case, why is he suffering like this? Did you not fulfill his wishes?”
Although Ariel didn’t know about their situation, her words stabbed Alice where it hurt the most. The latter had coercively kept Rion to herself, and that weighed heavily on her conscience.
“…I hate you! Don’t take Rion away from me!”
Alice’s resentment erupted from her as she screamed and bolted out of the room. In the spur of the moment, Rion hastily got up to run after her.
“Ah… um, I do resent her for pulling us apart, but there is something about her that draws out my sympathy.”
“…Sorry, but I can’t tell you. I’m not supposed to tell anyone of it.”
“I see… Then, in that case, I’ll just ask her directly.”
“There is another person that you need to apologize to. You should talk to her.”
“…Could it be that you brought Fleur with you?”
The only one who came to mind was Fleur, his own daughter.
“Close. It’s the one who raised our child. Talk with her, alright?”
Ariel pulled Charlotte in from outside of the room. Charlotte’s eyes were watery, as though tears threatened to spill from them. She had waited so long for this reunion all this time, and yet, when she saw him, everything she wanted to say left her.
She only managed to squeeze out his name.
“Um… It’s been a long time.”
Face to face with a teary-eyed woman, Rion was bewildered. Her eyes betrayed an emotion that showed more than the delight of a long due meeting with a dear friend. What exactly those eyes relayed to him, he did not know.
“Time and time again, I almost gave up hope. No longer able to leave the castle, I thought that I would never again… But, Fleur…”
“Ah, yes. I am very grateful that you were raising Fleur in my stead.”
“That’s not it. I could only bear so long thanks to her. Becoming the mother of Rion’s child gave me the strength to go on.”
At long last, Rion noticed something was amiss.
“I’m glad. Meeting you again has put meaning to all of the events that transpired thus far.”
“…Um, would you mind if I ask you a rather sensitive question?”
“What is it?”
“Charlotte, aren’t you in love with King Arnold?”
He long believed that it was Charlotte’s wish to wed Arnold. Then, Alice took the opportunity to entrust Ariel and Fleur in their care.
“… Ah, that’s… um…”
Charlotte again remembered the fact that Rion and her shared nothing but their bond of close friendship. Red tinged her cheeks as her head wilted in shame.
“Could it be that you and the king were a false couple?”
“…Yes, that is the agreement between us.”
She married Arnold for Rion’s sake, and for years they remained husband and wife only in form. Following this world’s logic, Charlotte had passed the marriageable age for women, and all that precious time she had, she sacrificed to help Rion. Color drained from his expression when the truth dawned on him.
“I brought it upon myself, so please don’t give it too much mind.”
“Even if you say that…”
‘Thank you for everything you’ve done. So, farewell,’ Rion was not a man so callous to say those lines.
Rion pondered in silence, searching for the right words to say.
Going back in time, before Rion found himself in this baffling situation, Ariel and Alice were glaring at each other.
“I believe that I have a right to know.”
Ariel wanted answers as to why Alice took Rion from her as well as the reasons why he agreed to abide to it. However, the latter did not yield.
“This is between me and Rion. It’s none of your business.”
“…Who are you, anyway? When did you associate with him?”
“I’m Rion’s wife.”
“You can drop that already. I’m asking you who you are.”
Ariel heaved a dramatic sigh. Alice intended to hide everything, including her own lineage, which started to gnaw at Alice’s patience.
“Rion loves me.”
“That, I know.”
Alice didn’t expect to hear those words uttered from Ariel’s mouth.
“He was worried when you rushed out of the room earlier. And, he tried to cover for you, saying that you had your reasons.”
“… He’s too kind for his own good.”
She had coerced him into leaving Ariel’s side, so it would only be natural if he hated her. She knew, and it was for that reason that she allowed him to return to Bandeaux.
“Rion isn’t helplessly kind to just anyone. He felt something toward you of some kind. Otherwise, there would be no reason for him to remain by your side.”
“I guess here’s another person who’s also too kind for her own good.”
“No, I am anything but. I don’t have a choice other than to forgive you. Rion only had a few people to confide in… Well, though the number had increased considerably, every one of you is important to him.”
“It’s all thanks to you, both you and Vincent. You saved him.”
Rion trusted no one outside of Ariel and Vincent in the beginning. It began changing when he acted for their sakes and started to rely on others around him.
“… Did you hear about it from him?”
“No, I had watched you during all those times.”
“I was part of the World. That was how I had watched you, always.”
“… So, it was you who had caused him to suffer.”
Because of this irrational world, Rion had gone through so much turmoil. Thus, he continuously defied the World.
“I won’t deny that. At that time, I still didn’t have my conscience.”
But she had the ability to talk back then. She was able to say that she loved Rion. That meant that her will existed, which contradicted with her previous statement.
“I pulled away from the World because I disliked it. I didn’t think that it was possible, but it happened anyway.”
“… Just what are you?”
“I’m nobody. I am no longer anybody. I simply exist. But, even that, my existence is going to cease soon.”
“…You’re going to die?”
“I don’t know. I’m the first one of my kind. I was never permitted to separate myself from the World like that. I’m not allowed to exist, but Rion gave me ‘time’. It was possible for me to live as I wanted until the end because he made it possible.”
“I see… Does he know anything of this?”
Despite knowing the answer to her own question, she asked anyway. Rion must have sympathized with her because he was aware of circumstances.
“He knows. That’s why he stays by my side even when he could have escaped me at anytime to his fancy. He’s just… too kind.”
“How much time do you have left?”
“I don’t know… I have no idea how I would end. I’m scared.”
“So, even a divine being knows to fear to death.”
“That’s not it. What I fear is the possibility of my existence disappearing entirely. I’m fine with being erased, for my existence isn’t permitted by the World. But… I don’t want Rion to forget me… Not him…”
Large tears continuously dropped from Alice’s eyes. Her visage didn’t resemble what one would imagine a portion of the World to be. What Ariel saw was nothing but a girl, a maiden in love.
“… Rion will never forget about you. What he had been fighting against this whole time he would never forget.”
“… I guess so.”
“I won’t forget about you, either. After all, I would never wash away the bitter memory of you for taking Rion from me.”
“… Thank you.”
“It’s nothing for you to thank me over. Needless to say, I hate you.
“Yeah… You’re my rival, after all.”
Not enemies but rivals. Alice’s view had undergone a change. She came to believe that it was the right choice to let Rion return. In the end, she was able to see how he looked when he was truly happy.
translated on 19th January 2020
Translation by Hikkinomori Translations
with the kind permission of the author
All rights to Ayato-sensei