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In the depths of my body, there lay a burning helplessness.
It was as scorching as ice, as numbing as fire, as weightless as pressure, as frivolous as despair, as turbid as light, the only gleam in falling through the darkness.
“Ah, auh, it hurts…”
Clenched teeth, a body struggling to endure the overwhelming feeling.
If it were only a simple pain, crying or groaning would have helped. But this singular feeling, of oppressive excitement, of refreshing suffocation, of every feeling swirling in the center of my body, was a cross of normal and abnormal.
Even the doctor could do nothing. No one could understand this pain.
And everyone’s indifference to unprecedented things they could not understand was chilling. A pain that could not be imagined was a pain that couldn’t exist, and thus my family treated me as a burden.
This child was talented, incredibly talented. But his shortcomings were deadly. Everyone, no matter who, always said so.
The periodic pain struck regardless of time and place, whether during important ceremonies, commitments to other people, or dealing with family matters.
Once caught in this state, I would be thrown into a frenzy. There were very few people who would treat someone moaning and foaming at the mouth as an equal. At least, no one in my family afforded me this kindness.
Therefore, this pain could not be communicated to anyone, and I had to accept it as my own sin.
As the years passed and its intensity grew, I’d become accustomed hiding where no one could find me as soon as I felt it overcome me.
This time, I was fortunately in the vicinity of the my room, where I could stay for the next few hours. Although the pain itself would last for several days, I could act normally after a few hours. I just needed to wait, and –
???: “I see. To be able to suffer through this without going mad, you’re rather impressive.”
“Who, who are you!?”
Just before I locked the door and lay on my bed, a stranger flashed through my sight. She sat on the bed, watching me.
Facing her, I couldn’t calm my breathing down. This was more than surprise, this was ecstasy.
A woman, dressed in black, with hair the color of white snow. She narrowed her dark, exquisite eyes, gazing at me with impossible beauty. It was as if my suffering required a new stimulus, and gave me the illusion of unreal beauty.
However, as if to prove the she were no illusion, the beauty stood up, moving a white finger to my chest as I stood frozen. And,
???: “Not knowing how to properly disperse mana, this poor understanding really is pitiful.”
“Ah, ha … gu…”
Frowning, I didn’t understand why the dazzling woman had rendered me so speechless. Suddenly, I was unable to suppress the nausea churning in my stomach.
Then, my half dissolved lunch spilled over both my fine clothes and the arm of the woman touching my chest. An acrid smell filled the room, and shame burned red in my face.
Shame took priority over pain, not because I had vomited in front of someone, but because I had stained the woman in front of me. No matter how much shameful regret I had, this would not change.
Although I wanted to immediately apologize, even with all the etiquette I’d learned so far, I couldn’t find the words for an apology.
So, when the woman again moved, my blank mind had already given up on thinking.
She drew so close that I could feel her breath, and closer still, until even her breaths were stifled. That was a kiss.
The woman covered the mouth that I had just vomited from with her peach colored lips.
Like this, our breaths became entwined. All this happened so suddenly that I had no chance to react and defenselessly accepted her kiss. For the first time, I experienced the feeling of a warm, soft tongue probing past my teeth, invading my mouth. My brain completely short circuited, and any remaining rational thought burned away.
After a moment, or a few seconds, or even tens of seconds, our lips finally separated slowly. They remained connected by silken liquid threads, which the woman gently cut off with her fingers.
???: “How is it? Do you feel slightly more comfortable?”
Struck by her sudden inquiry, I had no idea how to reply. As I stood still, looking like a fool, the woman hummed as she once more placed her hand on my chest.
???: “Your heartbeat is still rather fast. But the excess mana should have been extracted directly by me, so…”
“You, what did you do to me! And as a woman, too…”
I grabbed hand on my chest, questioning her rash action. The woman seemed surprised, raising her eyebrows and alternating her gaze between her captured hand and the one who was holding it, before offering a reply.
???: “Only by regularly adjusting your mana can your body and soul maintain balance. Anything excessive only serves as poison. This is self-evident, and should be even more obvious for you.”
“Mana… which is… related to magic?”
???: “To have so shallow a degree of understanding… No, it would be better to say that knowing even this is unusual. Your death because of this is not something that I can accept.”
Slowly shaking her head left and right, the woman made no attempt to conceal her disappointment. I considered what she’d said before. If she hadn’t made any slip of the tongue, and if I hadn’t misheard her, then,
“Do you know the reason for my illness?”
???: “It’s not an illness per se, but something unfortunate that happens to select, talented people. That is, this [Mana Period].”
???: “It is incredibly rare, so rare that up until today, no one could understand you.”
And, those words pointed to a conclusion-
???: “This pain of yours in one that I can understand. When I was a child, my poor use of my mana gate resulted in an accumulation of excess magic. With it came a terrible pain that no one could understand.”
The moment I heard those words, my last line of defense fell, and tears began streaming down from my watering blue eyes. As I burst into sobs, my knees gave out and I landed on the floor, hands over my face. The woman knelt by me and tenderly stroked my shaking shoulders.
“Then… then, just who are you?”
???: “I am a witch. An evil which who is occasionally prone to charity. What about you?”
As the self-proclaimed witch questioned me, I drew a breath, hesitating to answer.
At home, I was considered a burden, and was said to be someone who did not belong here. I also gradually came to believe that this was the case, and even saying family name gave me a sense of guilt.
But in this moment, only at this very second, I felt as if I were not allowed even this shame.
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Roswaal: “- That was what happened first time I met Teacher.”
The blue haired youth gave an embarrassed smile, scratching his cheek with his fingers.
Listening to his story were a peach haired a girl and a girl who wore her hair in fancy drills- these two were Lewes and Beatrice.
The three of them were gathered in a laundry room in Kremaldy Forest’s Sanctuary.
Freshly washed clothing hung on ropes which stretched between trees, drying in the wind. In their free time, Roswaal had been questioned about his past.
The story had started when the curious Lewes casually asked, “How did Roswaal-sama come to know Echidna-sama?”
To answer this question, Roswaal began to explain, and Beatrice, who, in her own words, had been coincidentally passing by had also stopped to listen.
Really, Beatrice wasn’t honestly at all, decided Roswaal with a wry smile.
Lewes: “I… um… Roswaal-sama, I’m so sorry.”
Faced with the wrily smiling Roswaal, Lewes lowered her head in a panic. She continued,
Lewes: “Because I so casually asked about such a personal thing… I’m ashamed.”
Roswaal: “Not at all. If there was something that I really wanted to avoid talking about, I would have talked around it. That I didn’t do so was because I wanted to show off my memories with Teacher. It is because my immature past self was so shameful that my first meeting with Teacher became so special to me.”
Looking back on it, the possibility that he wouldn’t have met his teacher, Echidna, doused him in a cold sweat.
Without her words, Roswaal would not have noticed the particularity of his gate, and would have assumed that the pain he’d felt from mana was from an unknown illness. He would have been able to do nothing but continue a lonely struggle to fight it.
And perhaps he would have died a long time ago.
Roswaal: “That this didn’t happen, and that I successfully avenged my parents and brothers, and usurped the house of Mathers, all that was thanks to Teacher.”
Lewes: “So that’s how it is. That’s… wait, usurped…?”
Feeling disturbed, Lewes’s admiring gaze turned to one of confusion. Seeing her reacted, Roswaal eased his tense expression, and turned the the person next to Lewes.
There, crossing her short arms, turning her head away, and wearing an indifferent expression, was Beatrice. Maybe she was pretending that she couldn’t hear. At any rate,
Roswaal: “Betty, how do you like the story of me and Teacher?”
Beatrice: “What do you mean, how do I like it? I was absolutely, completely not listening at all. And I didn’t give you permission to call me Betty, so stop being so familiar with me. Also, I suppose Mother is far too casual with people who she’s just met.”
Roswaal: “It was just that one chance I had with her. But I do remember all of Teacher’s words from then.”
Giving him the words he’d needed to hear, granting him the salvation of empathy. No matter what, Echidna had certainly saved him. And she’d asked for nothing in return.
An act of charity, Echidna had said. And that had proved to be the right decision.
Beatrice: “So she’d asked for nothing, and here you are, trying to repay her. You’re really troubling Mother, in fact. And Betty as well, I suppose.”
Lewes: “Beatrice-sama, saying that is a bit… and I understand Roswaal-sama’s feelings too, since I am also someone who was saved by Echidna-sama.”
Beatrice, in response to being berated, gave a pout. Lewes, who had done the berating, touched her fingers to her long ears, the symbol of her half-human ethnicity.
For her, the ear represented something significant, just as the half-human blood running through her veins did. Even in her short life, Lewes had already suffered so much because of it.
That lament could not be erased, but being here had lessened its pain slightly.
In this vein of thought, Roswaal too would straighten his chest and proudly wear his status as Echidna’s student.
– And strive to one day do for her what she’d done for him.
Beatrice: “Ugh, what a shameless man. Looking for a “thank you” is just pathetic. At this rate, you’re still a hundred years from getting close to Mother, I suppose.”
Lewes: “But doesn’t Beatrice-sama often say “you should be filled with gratitude”?”
Beatrice: “Between Betty and Roswaal, just who is your friend!?”
As if she’d been programmed to do so, Lewes immediately rushed to Beatrice and started apologizing. Although it was just a curious question, the respectful Lewes had revealed her answer. In terms of their friendship, Roswaal had lost to Beatrice.
For the sake of Echidna, who’d rescued him, in order to lend her a hand, Roswaal had spend years trying to earn the place he was at today. Thanks to this, he’d mastered the family business, and gained a seat in the nobility, but his interpersonal relationships were lacking.
He’d left the parents, estranged himself from his brothers, and relied on not on likeability but on talent. As a result, he had many associations, even now but had no way to close any distance with them.
So looking at the relationship between Beatrice and Lewes, and Roswaal smiled inadvertently. His happiness for them took precedent over any envy he might have felt.
She had her mother, her friend, and her duty, so she felt no loneliness. If Roswaal himself could become one of her friends, he would be content.
Beatrice: “What is that strange gentle look you’re wearing. It’s annoying, I suppose.”
Beatrice launched an attack on Roswaal, who had been silently watching the exchange. Her cute face wore a pout as she point a short arm at him.
Beatrice: “If you have something to say, just say it, in fact! I’ll hear you out, I suppose.”
Roswaal: “I love you, Beatrice.”
Beatrice: “What kind of disgusting words are those, in fact!?”
Roswaal: “Yikes, I’m terrified already.”
Having been heard, he withdrew his words as Beatrice started causing a fuss.
Roswaal, finding himself in trouble, immediately leapt up and fled, and an angry Beatrice chased him in furious pursuit. Trailing after them was Lewes, who was trying to catch them while taking of the laundry.
Roswaal: “Haha, see if you can catch me!”
Beatrice: “You, how dare you play with me! I’ll catch you and make your regret it!”
Lewes: “Beatrice-sama! Roswaal-sama! Wait for me!”
The noisy three cast their job aside as they started playing with each other.
Looked at them from a distance, a single witch muttered quietly to herself,
“… that brother and sister can’t resolve arguments without causing a fuss. Honestly.”