Standing in silence, I watch as Lili offers a prayer to the unnamed grave. She finishes with a wave of her sceptre, and allows Sen and Norf to begin unearthing the resident below. Sen’s pace slows with every scoop, but eventually the tightly covered body is revealed to the light once more. In this world, the dead are bound in layers of cloth instead of a coffin. Once buried, it is a crime to unwrap a corpse… unless you’re a member of the clergy. Taking great care to move the body, Norf lays the bundle on the surface where Lili begins unravelling the cloth with evident experience. No one can blame Sen and Minna for looking away, the pain of seeing someone they once knew reduced to such a state. For a horrifying instant, I’m reminded of the bloodied wrappings that covered Yuki, and quickly shake my head of those memories.
“Sen, Minna… is this the body of Eric Pinn?”
“I-I’m… I’m not sure. I-it’s been so many years.”
“T-the hair and the height l-look the same, b-but… his face is too…”
“Wait, l-look at his hand, Minna. T-that’s…”
Noticing the bracelet around his wrist, they ask Lili to pass it to them for a closer look. It seems they recognise the simple accessory, but the name on the inner rim dispels all doubt. Crestfallen, they look back his body with renewed despair and undisguised anguish.
“T-this is Eric’s coming of age gift. H-he was given it… just before he left t-to become an a-adventurer. Oh Eric…”
“W-why…? O-our reunion w-wasn’t supposed be like this…”
“Enbos, would you mind burning these old rags? I’m going to rewrap his body with fresh cloth, and then we can give a proper burial.”
Although his soul has already departed, I’ve always believed a funeral is for the sake of the living rather than the dead. If it alleviates even a fraction of their grief, it would justify their entire journey to reach here. I don’t want them to live with the same emptiness that haunts my every waking moment…
“… may your body return to the earth and your soul to the World Stream. God watches over us eternally. Trust in His guidance and know that one day we shall all be reborn in Eden. Rest in peace, Eric Pinn.”
Following her prayer, we each offer some parting words before making our way back to the sleepy village. The air around us is heavy and the weather is seemingly matching our mood. Soon enough, a light drizzle befalls us and hastens our retreat to the inn. We return to the Whistling Willow and scatter ourselves around several tables on the ground floor. Nobody is saying a word, not even the overlooking innkeeper. Between the downcast atmosphere, the dreary rain and the near vacant streets, it’s hard not to catch the same brand of misery. Watching Sen, I notice he’s fidgeting with the bracelet he procured from his friend’s body.
“… Are you taking that to a guild to verify his death?”
“Huh? Ah, no I’m not. The guild has already received his adventurer crest from the villagers. I… I plan on returning home to inform his family.”
“I see. It’s going to be rough, but I wish you all the best.”
“Thank you, Enbos. Also, I’m sorry for not telling you guys earlier. I didn’t want to damper our association over the past five days.”
“I don’t blame you. You had no reason to divulge your private affairs. Besides, I don’t think any of us could have handled the mood if you had told us in the middle of the Vivian Forest.”
“Heh, how true. If Eric saw us now, he’d laugh at how we almost got ourselves killed getting here just to mope.”
“Was he a former party member?” asks Hachirou.
“N-no, but I always wished that one day we would. Eric was my old childhood friend, and including Minna, we grew up together and pledged to become adventurers. He left the village ahead of us, and ever since, me and Minna have been trying to catch up.”
“I-I see. You must have really looked up to him.”
“Yeah, he was like a brother to me. I really wish he was still here, e-even if we never meet.”
“… Would you like some time to yourself?” I ask.
“N-no, I’m fine. It may not look like it, but I feel better now than when I first heard of his death. I couldn’t believe my ears when they told me he suddenly died of illness, but I think I can finally come to terms with the truth.”
“I’m glad. Some people don’t move on so smoothly.”
“Well, I did have three weeks to sort out my emotions. To be honest, it’s not like I never considered the possibility. Ever since Minna and I became adventurers, I had to acknowledge every quest could be our last. I’m sure Eric felt the same when he took this “cursed quest”.”
“That’s really admirable.”
“What are you saying, Enbos? You’re an adventurer too, right?”
“I’m a mage first and an adventurer second. I’d rather research magic in a room than risk my life on every job.”
“So says the guy who charged right at a Treant with nothing but a sword.”
For a moment, a smile returns to Sen’s face, but it quickly evaporates given everyone’s frame of mind. Disheartened by his current demeanour, I turn to the others for conversation but find unexpected encouragement from Lili.
“Sen, you’re probably telling yourself it’s wrong to feel any joy now, but there’s never a right time for melancholy. If you want to cherish his memory, it’s best to do so with a smile.”
“… Yeah, you’re absolutely right… O-okay then! It might be early, but let’s have a round of drinks in Eric’s memory! I’ll be shouting!”
“Or so you say, but I’m the one holding our money bags.”
“Oh, come on Minna!”
“*Giggle* I’m only joking. Let’s all enjoy a drink together.”
“I’m sorry dear guests, but my staff are currently on break. I’m afraid I will have to ask for your assistance to deliver the drinks.”
“Well, since I was the one who made the order, I’ll go.”
“Let me help too.”
“I’m interested in what you have in stock. Please allow me to assist.”
While Sen and Hachirou follow the innkeeper to his cellar, Lili departs to her room to change into casual wear. As for Norf and Minna… where did Norf go!? How did such a hulking bear of a man evade my notice!? Sigh, in any case, I’m relieved some cheer has returned to the group. The death of their childhood friend must have weighed on their minds for a long time.
… I wonder, if I had attended Helena’s funeral, would I have enjoyed the company of her brother like this? W-would my emptiness at the time have abated even the slightest? Would I still be-
“Huh!? Y-yes Minna?”
“You were stroking your mask while staring into empty space. What were you thinking?”
“It’s nothing. I’m just being sentimental.”
“I can clearly see that, and… you really treasure that mask, don’t you? Was it a gift?”
“… It’s a parting gift, from the most important woman in my life. She taught me, accepted me and brought light into my world.”
“You sound like lovers.”
“Yeah, we are, and when I’m done with my journey, I’m going to marry her.”
“I-I see,” replies Minna in an awkward voice.
It seems she wasn’t expecting such an honest and passionate response. Honestly, I’m surprised myself that I’m sharing something so personal. I guess all the emotion today is getting to me.
“Is there a reason she gave you a deer mask?”
“It showed what she thought of me. She said it represented my kindness, spirituality and freedom. I guess she wanted me to remember her with this.”
That’s why I will never let it go. No matter how questionable I may appear, I will always carry her feelings and wishes wherever I go.
“… Unbelievable. You dullard, that’s not the only reason she gave you that mask.”
“Sigh, if you loved each other so much, why did she use a design that symbolised your qualities rather than your bond?”
“W-what do you mean?”
“Can’t you see? She’s not telling you what she thinks of you, she’s telling others of what you really are. I’m guessing she wanted people to see past your shell and get to know the real you.”
“T-that’s… Oh my god.”
Even after her death, s-she’s still looking out for me. She’s been trying her best to help me all along.
“Heh… Haha… It’s just like you said, Helena. I really am a numbskull.”
“Sigh, seriously, why must all men be so dense. Unless it’s spelt out in gold, they never realise what’s right in front of them…”
“Like how Sen is oblivious of your feelings towards him?”
Hrm, she seems to be taking my statement quite well… Nope, I take that back. Her face is turning as red as her hair. It’s kind of adorable watching her get flustered, although it’s a side to her Sen will have yet to see.
“Well that was delayed.”
“H-h-ho-how d-did you…”
“I may be thick-skulled, but I don’t have holes for eyes.”
“D-d-don’t… Don’t say anything to him, or anybody else for the matter!”
“I will for as long as you do the same, but for your own sake, I hope you tell Sen yourself.”
“There’s no way that I can!’
“Huh? What is it you can’t do?
As if arriving on cue, Sen, Hachiroiu and the proprietor return with seven large mugs of lukewarm brew. Minna immediately falls silent, but her face is still beet-red.
“So, what were you two talking about while we were gone?”
“Nothing important at all.”
“You look a bit flushed, Minna. Are you okay?”
“I-I’m fine. It’s just getting a bit stuffy with the rain, that’s all!”
“I see. By the way, where’s Lili and Norf?”
“L-lili left to change out of her ceremonial attire. As for Norf, I think he’s preparing his instrument.”
“Ah, I see. Let’s wait for them to come down and before we drink. Here are your mugs of ale, Enbos.”
“Why are you giving me two?”
“Eh? Hachirou ordered three between the two of you, so I thought…”
Unravelling his misunderstanding, I turn to Hachirou who quietly takes the extra mug. He’s sure become an avid drinker. While there is no legal drinking age in Aren, there are limits. I have a feeling I’m going to receive a lecture on childcare in the near future.
Anyway, after receiving an earful from Minna, we’re soon joined by Lili who is now wearing a long, green tunic. Watching Sen praise her appearance, I feel a shot of sympathy for Minna as she silently grumbles. Immediately after, Norf arrives with a small, stringed instrument reminiscent to a…
“Is that a ukulele?”
“Huh? No, it’s called a qualute. Norf has been itching to play it since the Vivian Forest, but we never found a good time until now. But first…
In memory of Eric! A great man, a great adventurer… and an even greater friend. L-let us toast to the life he led a-and wish him all the best in his next! Cheers!”
We all raise our mugs and bump them with our closest partner. I time drinking while Lili isn’t looking, but it seems she’s already noticed traces of my mana. Hachirou is happily gulping down his ale, much to the concern of Minna who shoots a harsh gaze in my direction. Meanwhile, Sen begins recounting fond memories of his friend for everyone to hear.
As this is all going on, Norf finishes his cup and sits upon a lone chair. His large frame contrasts comically with his small instrument, and after some last-minute tuning, he finally begins to play.
“It’s so beautiful.”
“T-this tune… Well, I suppose it’s a fitting choice.”
“May you, Sen?”
“Thank you, Minna. Ahem…
With a sword at my hip, and a map in my hand,
I wander town to town across this sprawling land.”
“Step by step, I shall head towards a bold future,
And leave a hundred tales of my grand adventure.”
“A tale of close battles, and great discovery,
A tale of sore stumbles, and long recovery.”
It seems everybody except me and Hachirou know about this song. Since we always work alone, we never had the chance to hear it from other adventurers. It greatly exaggerates the joys of adventuring, but I guess it’s fine for this kind of event. It’s nice to see everyone joining in rather than drowning in their sorrows.
“While it is fun to wander to each of the world’s ends,
I look around and smile at my band of close friends.”
“Thick and thin, let’s enjoy every step of the way,
And liven every night like our very last day…”
“… jus’ promise ta take care of each other. After all, ya jus’ neva know wat ya last words to dem may be.”
“M-master, is something wrong?”
“N-no, it’s nothing. I think the a-alcohol is kicking in. I-I just need some fresh air.”
“Take it easy.”
Leaning on Hachirou, we make our way to the veranda outside the inn. As the rain drums on the wooden shade, I slump against the wall and take a few moments to collect my thoughts.
Damn it, why did I have to remember Mr Kell’s words. You don’t have to worry about them, they can take care of themselves. You don’t even plan on seeing them again…
“… he was like a brother to me. I really wish he was still here, e-even if we never meet…”
“…I pr-promise, Big Bro Enbos, Big Bro Hachi! I-I’ll grow bigger a-and stronger. Next time w-we meet, I’ll be… be ready!”
Damn it, damn it, DAMN IT!
“… Hachirou, after we complete this quest, let’s never work with another party again.”
“Eh? What do you… Did you say after this quest!?”
“Is that alright?”
“O-of course, but what brought about this change of mind.”
“Sigh, let’s just say… I was never cut out to be Enbos the Black.”