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???: [Hey, Taritta. I was chosen to be a Stargazer, and I have a commandment to fulfill.]
The one to confide in Taritta, was another of the People of Shudraq, Mariuli.
All Shudraqians were born and raised in the Buddheim Jungle, and that, was where their lives would come to an end.
Hence, all the fellow villagers in the settlement were like family, and Mariuli was no exception to that.
For Taritta, however, Mariuli was a special and close friend. The reason for this was that she and Taritta had been born on the same day; soul sisters who had raised their birth cry in the same place.
――A belief of the Shudraq, was that the souls of children born on the same day were connected.
The connection was considered stronger than the one between one’s mother and sisters, they were treated as the very half of themselves.
It was an ancient Shudraq custom that soul sisters were connected by a deep and profound bond; Kuna and Holly were likewise soul sisters, having been born on the same day.
When thinking of the friendship between those two, the existence of a bond that transcended that of blood could be keenly understood.
The beautiful Shudraq, the woman named Mariuli, her black hair dyed a pink color at the ends, was Taritta’s soul sister.
She was gentle and calm, someone with good chemistry with Taritta, the latter someone anxious and shy.
Taritta also consulted her soul sister about her real sister often. She would ask her to listen to her anxieties and her lack of confidence in her ability to support her older sister, who would eventually take over as Chieftain of the tribe.
Any conflicts or embarrassing insecurities she had, she could naturally confide in Mariuli.
So when Mariuli told her she had a secret to disclose, Taritta was happy to be asked for advice, feeling compelled to repay her trust.
And so, she spoke.
――She had been chosen as a Stargazer, bestowed with a commandment to fulfill.
Mariuli: [To fulfill the commandment is a Stargazer’s important role. It’s a great honor, Taritta.]
Taritta: [Well, I don’t understand… What are the heavens telling you, Mariuli?]
Mariuli: [It’s not the heavens, Taritta. It’s the stars who tell us. The stars assign us a role to play. A very, very important role… In fact, I wasn’t going to tell anyone, but…]
Mariuli: [You, are my soul sister.]
Looking over to the smiling Mariuli and her trust, Taritta was unable to say anything.
It was merely a topic that her soul sister, Mariuli, had confided in Taritta, trusting her. The thought of revealing it to anyone but herself was not one that Taritta possessed.
Besides, that sort of thing which seemed like an obsession, could quickly be forgotten as a passing delusion.
It was truly a passing delusion that really did not need to be taken seriously. By believing this, Taritta averted her eyes from the matter of Mariuli.
But changes manifested themselves, slowly but surely becoming anomalies.
And then, one day.
When Taritta and Mizelda returned from hunting, Mariuli, who was taking care of the village children, was singing an unfamiliar song. ――That was bizarre.
The People of Shudraq, in the village, could be split into two roles.
One of those, was the role of the hunter, those who left the settlement and made it their profession to hunt prey; Mizelda, Taritta, and many other Shudraqians belonged to this group.
The role of the others, was that of a guardian who would stay in the village, raising the children, and defending the settlement.
Mariuli, she belonged to those with the role of guardian.
Her hunting skills never improved; her ability was so ruinous that should she draw the bow she would miss all shots out of one hundred. However, she was an excellent cook and seamstress, and her strong points were in singing songs and telling stories of the past to the children.
Henceforth, it was not surprising that Mariuli was singing.
Mariuli was an excellent singer, and at feasts, everyone would beg her to sing.
Taritta on the other hand, was useless at most of a guardian’s duties, and was not very good at singing either. Truly, the two were halves of one person, or else they would not be able to fulfill one whole individual’s worth of work.
Mizelda: [――I can’t remember hearing Mariuli’s song before.]
Mizelda: [But, it’s a good song. Pleasant.]
Stopping to listen to the same song, Mizelda paid no mind to the abnormality.
The same went for the others, Kuna and Holly. They all noticed that Mariuli was singing a song they did not recognize, but they did not think twice as to its significance.
Only Taritta was fearful and apprehensive about the source of the song.
It was Mariuli who had spoken of the stars having informed her of the role she should perform, such as the commandment.
Surely, she would not say that even that song had been taught by the stars――.
Mariuli: [No, Taritta. That’s a misunderstanding. I didn’t learn it from the stars, I just sang a song I already knew.]
Taritta: [You know, the song?]
Mariuli: [Yes, I know the song… Not me though, it’s another Stargazer…]
Taritta: [――Hk, I don’t understand what that means!]
It was not the answer Taritta had feared.
In a way, however, Mariuli’s answer had gone beyond what Taritta had feared.
This Stargazer remark was proof that she had not forgotten the tall tale that had come out of her mouth. It was proof that the fantasy still perdured. ――No, it was proof that it was getting worse.
However, due to Taritta not understanding anything of what she spoke on the subject of Stargazers, Mariuli made a lonely face.
Because it had seemingly betrayed her trust, Taritta agonized due to something impossible for her to understand.
――After that, the honeymoon period with Mariuli’s Stargazer continued.
She would spend her days demonstrating unfamiliar knowledge, singing unfamiliar songs, telling unfamiliar stories, and fulfilling an unfamiliar commandment.
It was a Mariuli that Taritta did not know.
Always, she would discuss everything with Mariuli.
There had never been a time in her life when Taritta did not seek Mariuli’s advice on a decision. The same was true for Mariuli, even regarding her daughter’s name.
Yet Mariuli’s attention was always on the sky.
Seemingly prioritizing something other than the People of Shudraq, something aside from Taritta and her daughter, her life slowly and gradually became trapped by the stars, bound by the commandment.
Someone, someone who was not a star, was placing wisdom in her.
Suspecting this, Taritta had even attempted to indirectly pry around her surroundings. However, with her role as guardian she never left the village. There was no opportunity for her to gain knowledge of the outside world.
It was really as if the stars were whispering to her.
Taritta: [Are you the one who’s misleading Mariuli?]
Looking up at the night sky, she inquired to the stars that could be seen through the gaps in the treetops.
The stars that spoke to Mariuli, however, did not speak to Taritta, to whom she was connected by soul.
Unfamiliar knowledge, the songs no one had ever heard, a commandment one must fulfill――.
Taritta: [――Give me my soul sister back.]
Drawing her bowstring with force, Taritta took aim at the brightest star in the night sky.
As soon as she released the string, a sharp arrow roared up into the night sky―― And naturally, it fell down aimlessly, not hitting anything.
The stars, refused to acknowledge even Taritta’s rebellious will.
The stars did not speak; they did not hand down commandments.
Then, what exactly had changed Mariuli? She could not understand it.
She did not even know who she should let hear this lament.
All the troubles and sufferings that she could not express had been heard by Mariuli. Then, who should she turn to, to listen to her worries and sufferings caused by Mariuli?
She was certain that her older sister would not comprehend. Her older sister was strong and composed.
That she could dwell on anything or stand still was inconceivable. Besides, the horror of confiding in her older sister was larger than that of just not being understood.
The current Mariuli was antithetical to the teachings and to the way of life of the People of Shudraq.
Would Mizelda, now the Chieftain of the tribe, approve of that? Or was it possible that she would banish Mariuli from the village because of her dangerous ideas?
Some had been driven away from the tribe in the past, unable to return to the Jungle ever again.
She did not want to lose sight of Mariuli.
Even if now, Mariuli had changed from the one whose soul Taritta’s own had been connected with.
Therefore, Taritta kept her anguish bottled up within her chest for a long time.
Mariuli: [――What should I do, Taritta? I’m a Stargazer, and yet…]
――And then the incident of that day, the same as the nightmares she saw every night, truly began.
Sensing the change in the state of the battle, everyone on the battlefield began acting in their own way.
As the situation was irreversible, no one was falling behind, their faces alert as a result of their nerves being on edge.
The Great Disaster raged on, the rampaging shadows engulfing and consuming the surroundings, chipping away, magnifying demise.
However, none of those who had steeled their hearts to resist the Disaster faltered. That was the hard-earned reward of those who had overcome the very first obstacle.
There was a condition for mounting a challenge on the Great Disaster.
They had to be warriors. ――That meant that they must possess the strength to fight. Simultaneously, it also meant that they must possess a heart able to oppose it.
If either strength or heart were lacking, one could not stand on the battlefield as a warrior.
Conversely, as long as one could prove that they held both of those, there would be no other obstacles in their path to challenge the Great Disaster.
Raising a soundless voice, with clenched teeth Louis continued evading the shadow’s onslaught.
She had neither any attachment nor a connection to Chaosflame, no stake in whether the city would be destroyed or not. If the city were to disappear, it would not bother her in the slightest.
Albeit she appeared young and frail, she was endeavoring her utmost to survive the Great Disaster, but for other reasons.
If that conferred Louis with strength, with heart, no one had the right to hold her back.
And that was not limited to only Louis.
Medium, wielding a barbarian sword with her small frame; Al, holding the Blue Dragon Sword against his own neck; Kafma, mobilizing all the power of the “insects” within his body; and the residents of Demon City, one of their eyes ablaze; all those held a determination to not retreat against the Great Disaster equal to that of Louis.
Each of them had their own, different reasons for taking on the Great Disaster that was destroying the Demon City.
For those that had made it past this first hurdle, the Great Disaster behaved in a simple manner and, despite its danger, it was not too complicated to deal with.
――The Great Disaster was not a living thing. That, was the greatest factor.
The Great Disaster was no longer a disaster of that nature; instead, it could be said that it was a phenomenon of destruction itself.
Shadows that chipped away at everything they came in contact with; an amorphous figure, bubbling and writhing, that did not allow one to be sure an attack had been successful. ――However, that was all there was to it.
Al: [It doesn’t even have the brains to respond to our attacks or to change the way it acts.]
Running across the battlefield using debris as footing, Al stared intensely at the Great Disaster while issuing directions to those around him.
Although there was no way to erase the panic leaking from the core of his body, via a show of bravado and with his grasp on the situation, he was able to give his mind some respite. Respite, for Al to think.
The behavior of the Great Disaster was, to put it simply, predictable.
It would shake off or absorb anything that drew near, and would wriggle and engulf its surroundings to cause further damage, were it to go undisturbed.
However, the defensive forces, Al included, would not permit the Great Disaster to proliferate further.
By driving attacks in, or by dispelling its attention from the goal of the overflowing shadows through becoming bait themselves, they would generate a pause on its engorgement, wasting its time. Repeatedly.
Had the Great Disaster been a living being, it would have learned, taken in how to react and change the tide of the battle.
Or else, it could have brought forth a change of its behavior because of emotional aggravation, which certainly should have generated a change in the course of the battle. But because that did not come to pass, even this fighting force was able to hold it back, albeit barely.
Yorna: [――All of you, get ready to move back.]
With a single stomp the earth shattered, and the billowing shockwave split the Great Disaster’s gargantuan body in twain.
Of course, not long after that the Great Disaster squirmed, quickly reverting to its original state, but it was the absolute suppressive ability of the Demon City’s Mistress that allowed her to inflict a discernible level of damage.
The one who had performed that deed, Yorna Mishigure, her thick-soled geta producing loud sounds, blocked the shadows which came surging forth like waves of the rough seas, as if to sweep the earth and everything on it away.
Yorna: [Stand down! Though it is frustrating, We’ll do as that man says.]
Medium: [You mean Abel-chin?]
As they conversed amidst the storm, Yorna’s slender jaw went up and down in a nod in response to Medium’s question. Her almond eyes regarded a handsome man wearing an oni mask, standing atop a hill overlooking the battlefield.
Even if he did not have the ability to join the fight, he was not running away, still present, perhaps because of some pride.
In any case, the plan he had elaborated via the perceptions circling in his mind had been conveyed to Yorna, and she had adopted it as her plan of action.
Yorna: [――I’ll allow this city to be swallowed up, and then I’ll blow it up from within. Aside from this, there’s no other way to nip the buds of that Disaster causing this debauchery.]
Kafma: [Can you do it?]
Yorna: [If one castle isn’t enough, then it’s just a matter of using one city. But if that’s not enough, then I’ll have to be made Empress and use the country.]
Kafma: [As one of his retainers, I must admonish you firmly for such a thing!]
Having heard Yorna’s plan, Kafma yelled at her, red-faced due to her unnecessary comment. Still, the honest warrior of the Insect Cage Tribe changed his expression at once and nodded his head in assent with an “Understood”.
That was probably because he had realized that Yorna’s decision to abandon her city was a choice that brought pain akin to cutting her own body.
Kafma’s short answer falling upon her ears, Yorna’s eyes were cast downwards slightly, followed by a charming, delicate smile.
Yorna: [There’s no need for your concern. With me and those who love me, a city like this can be established. ――Me and them both have that solace.]
Yorna, putting her hand on her chest and stating as much, had no objection.
In fact, just how much power the ace up Yorna’s sleeve would demonstrate was unclear, but he fully understood that, aside from it, there was nothing else that could tip the scales against the Great Disaster, right now.
Medium: [――We’re all gonna have to fight our way back together! As fast as we can!]
Those brief words asserted by Medium were the cue for the final gambit in the battle of the Demon City to be carried out.
――The nightmares she had every night started on one chilly night, under a moon pale and freezing cold.
After professing to be a Stargazer, Mariuli had gotten to the point where she was revealing unknown knowledge.
Her brethren did not care where this knowledge came from, but Taritta’s fears grew day-by-day. However, she could not disclose the anguish she carried to anyone.
Mariuli had never told anyone aside from Taritta that she had become a Stargazer. Not because of self-interest, but rather because of the simple bonds between the two.
There were vows and secrets, which were only exchanged between fellow soul sisters.
Kuna and Holly, who both had a strong sense of belonging to the Shudraq, certainly also had their own secrets, which they had not told their other brethren.
In Mariuli’s case, that would be her role as a Stargazer, which she had confided to Taritta. Plus, it was nigh unthinkable that a soul sister would let slip a faithfully-confided secret to others.
And thus, Taritta’s anguish continued to gnaw at her heart, unable to share it with anyone else.
However, those days would come to an abrupt end, in a way she had not conceived.
That would be――,
Mariuli: [――What should I do, Taritta? I’m a Stargazer, and yet…]
Mariuli’s words came as a shock to Taritta, who became so stunned that she was unable to move.
Because, what had come out of her mouth were not merely her frail laments, but also fresh, red blood, which drenched the front of her chest.
Her body had not been healthy to begin with.
The reason she had toiled as a guardian, instead of a hunter, was not just down to her inexperience in hunting skills, but also the frailness of her body.
Back when she was a kid, she would often be bedridden due to illness. But as she got older and those bouts grew less common, everyone must have let their guards down, assuming everything with her would certainly be alright.
And despite that, the demon of ill health had been slowly gnawing into her very core, to a point of no return.
Mariuli kept puking up blood over and over again, her face white as a sheet. Anyone could clearly see that her body was growing more haggard by the day, and that the light of her life was starting to flicker out.
???: [The rest depends on Mariuli’s willpower, Taritta.]
Taritta: [Big… Sister…]
???: [Spend some time with Mariuli. Until her last. That’s the duty of a soul sister.]
Making her drink an infusion, Mizelda left those words behind, which weighed on Taritta.
The duty of a soul sister, that felt just like a commandment.
A commandment spoken to her by her big sister, no different to that of the heavens, saying that she must carry it out.
Other Shudraqians who had known Mariuli for a while, such as Kuna and Holly, each exchanged some words with her. They then took their leave, leaving behind a few words for Taritta.
Everyone understood that this was their last chance to talk to Mariuli.
And, the one who would see Mariuli’s end with her own eyes, would be none other than Taritta. Her soul sister, who had been born on the same day as her, but would die on a different one.
Mariuli’s young daughter, who still could not comprehend what was going on, clutched her mother’s hand and softly rubbed her own cheek against hers.
Prompted by their surroundings, mother and child finished their last farewell without a semblance of understanding. A farewell between an innocent daughter, who held no doubts in her belief that she would see her again tomorrow, and her mother who lay on her deathbed.
Mariuli finished giving her farewells to her waving child, as well as to her brethren who had spoken to her in turn; now faced with her own death, was something special.
There was no doubt that Mariuli, who Taritta believed in and loved, was strong at her core.
Mariuli: [What should I do, Taritta. I still haven’t fulfilled my commandment, and yet…]
Mariuli: [I still haven’t finished it… Why… Me…]
As soon as she was left alone with Taritta, the tension broke audibly.
Mariuli’s face turned even paler than it had been. What she was worried about was not death looming before her, nor the future of her child, but rather something incomprehensible like the whispers of the stars.
Mariuli’s eyes were filled with tears as she despaired, wondering why.
But Taritta was the one who despaired first, even before her tears and expression.
Taritta: [Y-you’re still going on about that…!]
Taritta: [There’s no thing such as commandments or whatever. Absolutely not! You’re Mariuli of Shudraq! There’s nothing more to it than that, what more do you want than that!]
Live as a Shudraqian, die as a Shudraqian.
That should have been the most important thing, the biggest priority.
So, what needed to be done in order for Mariuli, one of the Shudraqs, to die as one, was――,
Mariuli: [――Meaning for having been born.]
Taritta: […Mea… ning?]
Mariuli: [That’s what I want.]
Mariuli’s words, which even at a time like this, saw worth in the commandment, pierced through Taritta.
Born like a Shudraqian, live like a Shudraqian, die like a Shudraqian.
Upon being asked what could she desire further, she replied by telling her she desired the meaning of being born.
――She had a daughter. She had Taritta. She had the Shudraq. And yet, she said she desired meaning.
In that very instant, she, Mariuli, had renounced the blood flowing through her, dismissing it as meaningless.
She had betrayed her blood, and declared that she found worth in the whispers of the stars, which were nothing but a sham, of all things.
This kind of betrayal was one very difficult to forgive, as far as Taritta was concerned.
So for that reason――,
Taritta: [――Enough already.]
Taritta: [I’m, your soul sister… How can you even speak about the meaning of being born in front of me.]
As if she were saying she couldn’t bear to hear anymore of this, Taritta displayed her intentions using her cold blade.
She had drawn out a dagger, its tip quietly pointed against Mariuli’s pale throat. Taritta hoped Mariuli would be brought back to her senses, making her withdraw her words with how sharp and frigid the blade was.
Naturally, it could be that these threats would not get through to Mariuli, given she was on death’s doorstep.
However, Taritta could not conceive of any other way. Henceforth, only this method remained.
Even so, that was the greatest mistake Taritta had made in her life.
Mariuli: [Right, Taritta. ――I had you.]
Her face white as a sheet, Mariuli focused on Taritta.
The hue of her eyes seemed different from what Taritta had ever known of Mariuli, and that made her body tense up.
That very instant proved to be a fatal one. ――For Mariuli.
Mariuli’s thin hand pressed firmly over Taritta’s, pushing down the blade pointed at herself.
Taritta immediately tried to resist, but was prevented from doing so due to her momentary confusion and by how atypically strong Mariuli felt.
The blade was one that opposed the thick pelts of beasts.
With how sharp it was honed, the blade sliced through Mariuli’s body like it was water, shedding blood. There came a sickening sound along with a sickening sensation; there she knew that the tip of her dagger had fatally torn into Mariuli’s chest.
Taritta: [We need to…! We need to get you patched up immediately…!]
Mariuli: [No, Taritta! You have a role to play…]
Taritta: [Please stop saying these foolish things! This isn’t the time for that…]
Mariuli: [LISTEN TO ME!]
She uttered a scream that felt like she was spewing up blood―― No, she literally was spewing up blood.
Her chest had been torn into by the dagger, the light of her life growing ever dimmer by the moment; however, Mariuli’s arm would not let Taritta go. As blood foamed from the corner of her mouth, her eyes bored into Taritta.
Clinging to her life, which she was about to lose at any moment, she spoke while forcibly digging her nails into her,
Mariuli: [After… a thousand nights have passed… I’ll… You’ll… Come across a traveler…]
Mariuli: [This traveler, is an ally of the Great Disaster that’ll bring this land to ruin… So, you must, kill them…]
Mariuli: [Must… kill them…]
Taritta: [Mariuli…? Mariuli!]
Her voice, filled with anguish and mixed with the coughing of blood, robbed Taritta’s arms of their strength.
But before she even knew it, Mariuli’s unbelievable strength fizzled out. That was when she should have stood up and called for someone. ――No, it was too late to do that. It was too late for everything.
The grim reaper had already placed its fingers around Mariuli’s soul, and it was about to be taken away.
Delaying that for even a second was mere wishful thinking.
Mariuli: [A traveler, with dark hair, and dark eyes… Kill them.]
Mariuli: [Stop the Great Disaster, Taritta… That’s my duty… I can’t fulfill it anymore… So, please… Taritta… My, soul sister…]
Taritta: [Y-you’re still saying tha…]
As she shed blood, Mariuli used the last of her strength for this entreaty; and for that, for the very first time, Taritta hated her.
All this time, Taritta had been desperately trying to keep her in check, due to how they were connected in soul. And yet, she had ignored this altogether and brought that up in her very last moments.
It was so despicable; those words struck Taritta in her very heart.
Hearing Taritta’s tearful voice, Mariuli’s eyes flickered slightly.
And just like that, strength ebbed away from Mariuli’s body, and her head slowly slumped down,
Mariuli: […U… ta…]
At the very end, a weak, hoarse breath escaped from her, and that was her last.
There lay Mariuli’s body, limp and with no pulse, a dagger still stuck in her chest. Taritta remained stunned for a few seconds, then quickly ran out from the cabin, in an attempt to call her big sister and the others.
Taritta threw open the cabin door, and tried to run off outside, however she stopped in her tracks.
Sitting there, was a small silhouette that should not have been there.
Perhaps she had been worried about her bedridden mother, or perhaps she had felt a bad hunch as a child would.
Whichever one it was, the young girl, who had what it took to become an excellent hunter, had shown her qualities on a night in which she should never have done so, slipping past the eyes of the adults.
The young girl, Utakata, was staring at Taritta, who was soaked in her mother’s blood, shedding tears upon tears.
The shadow of the Great Disaster rampaged on, and a cataclysmic earthquake fractured the Demon City from the inside out.
Yorna’s decision reached all residents of the Demon City, for each and every one of them to abandon the land that had become their home.
A bitter decision had been made. For them, this was the very final place that had welcomed those with no other place to go, that had permitted them the freedom of not having to run and hide.
The loss of all of this, how could one not lament it?
Yorna: [If there’s life, I’ll save it. For the sake of witnessing a new Demon City with our own eyes, we must be quick, without delay.]
Since the Mistress of the Demon City, the last stronghold of the helpless, had announced it, the people believed that they could rally and rebuild their home; they started running, turning their backs to their land, the home they were accustomed to living in.
Ruin engulfed, pulverized the Demon City; the responsibility for that lay within the Great Disaster, its scale ever-enlarging.
The shadows it wielded grew in density, the wriggling jet-black mass swelling exponentially before their eyes.
The increase in both its size and the number of shadows utilized going unchecked, signified that the Great Disaster posed increased danger.
As the area covered by the wave of destruction widened, the earth itself and the cityscape being gouged out, Yorna was astounded by the great efforts a certain meritorious person was undertaking to keep the human casualties at a minimum―― Al.
Al: [Lil’ Miss Medium! Back off! That’s enough! You won’t make it if you stay there any longer as you are right now, Lil’ Miss! Time to go!]
Medium: [Uh~! So frustrating! But, thank you!]
Trusting the judgment of Al, shouting so, Medium, carrying the barbarian sword, fled at once.
A barrage of shadows shot out in pursuit of the young girl’s back, which were blocked by a wall of thorns of vine that sprang out from the side, allowing the girl, whose petite body had played the perilous role of a decoy, to escape.
Al: [Thanks for the save, Antenna-bro! But it’s about time you…]
Kafma: [About time? Are you going to tell me to retreat? If so, then I, Kafma Irulux, will not listen to such talk!]
Al: [No, y’know, I do consider you a character who’d say that, but I really mean it.]
Kafma: [What are you trying to say!?]
Shrugging his shoulders, Al shook his head loosely at Kafma’s angry bellow.
As a result of going without Kafma’s support, the battle against the Great Disaster would have been much more precarious. Although Al was grateful for his assistance, his hot-headed disposition was annoying.
Yorna: [I’m not pleased with the way you’re calling me, but I understand.]
At the voice Al had cast her way, Yorna nodded in assent.
From the center of the city to the outer gardens, the operation to withdraw from the Great Disaster had reached its climax. Yorna’s decision to abandon the Demon City had been made known, and the evacuation of a significant portion of the population had been completed.
Just as they had decided, they would then let that which had swallowed the Demon City, the Great Disaster, feel its retribution. ――If only there were some mistake about it, and there was no necessity for that…
Yorna: [Is there perhaps, a lingering attachment…]
The Great Disaster suddenly reaching its limit, collapsing, and vanishing beginning from its edges, or a weak point being suddenly exposed, allowing an attack just on that one spot; such convenient miracles would not happen.
They understood it without a hitch. ――The Great Disaster, was a calamity that would continue on inexhaustibly.
Were it to go unstopped, it would not cease with the Demon City alone; much, much more would be caught up in its destruction.
To prevent this, they must sacrifice their precious Demon City.
Closing her eyes, for nary a moment, she hesitated, regrets flashing through her mind.
Even in the history of the ability called the Soul Marriage Technique, Yorna’s own was unique.
In essence, the mass of souls that an individual was able to carry made no difference whatsoever, no matter how big the difference between them was. However, Yorna, because of certain circumstances, was in possession of a soul thousands of times more voluminous than others.
It was not a power she desired. If she were up-front about it, she even wished to relinquish it.
It had been useful in getting the position she was currently in, but she had not anticipated that an opportunity in which she was required to make use of it would come knocking. ――No, rather, it should be stated that she had avoided thinking about it.
Hence why it had taken her so long to make a decision when the time came.
Yorna: [――That man.]
Having been seen through by him, Yorna looked over her shoulder at the figure of a man wearing an oni mask, watching on in the distance.
Standing in the outer gardens of the Demon City, a place that could no longer escape destruction, the man with his arms crossed did not waver in the slightest. Perhaps his emotionless gaze was because he regarded the sacrifices necessary to halt the Great Disaster as a foregone conclusion?
Even so, the fact that he had stayed there, unmoving, to see the conclusion with his very eyes was perhaps the way of the man to display humanity to Yorna, urging her to make a decision.
Al: [――Hk, that idiot!]
A moment later, as she resolved to give her all to her opponent, the Great Disaster, Yorna’s eardrums were struck by the sound of cursing.
Turning towards its origin, then seeing that it had been Al, and following the gaze from behind his mask directed to the Great Disaster, Yorna understood what he was swearing at.
A small body kept bouncing all around the Great Disaster, kicking debris and keeping it in check―― Louis’s.
Her golden hair dancing, her white attire stained with dirt and dust, her shoulders heaving up and down heavily, her whole body drenched in sweat, the girl continued mounting an assault against the Great Disaster.
Louis’s goal was merely one. To find the black-haired boy who had been right where the Great Disaster had sprung――.
Yorna: [That child.]
Because she had not found the means to rescue him, Yorna had agonized while coming to this conclusion.
It was equally as painful as abandoning the Demon City, or perhaps even more, bringing pain akin to cutting her body.
Once this plan came to fruition, what would happen to what the Great Disaster had absorbed? Perhaps if that were returned, the black-haired boy would be included.
But Yorna knew that had a pup’s chance to happen.
For that reason, she also knew that Louis’s dogged struggle would end in futility.
Kafma: [We have to bring that girl back!]
Al: [You gotta be joking! Leave the brat alone! In the first place, she’s…]
Kafma: [What about that girl!?]
Al: [She’s a… Hk.]
Shouting at the sight of Louis bouncing about, Kafma glared at Al. Showered by Kafma’s sharp glare, the latter choked on his words, seemingly holding some thoughts on Louis.
Yorna wanted to save Louis. ――As long as Louis’s desire could not be fulfilled, Yorna wanted to at least save her life.
Perhaps, she would be happier if they died together.
That was what Louis possibly desired from the boy absorbed by the darkness.
Al: [Shit, shitshitshit, for fuck’s sake! Why do I gotta worry myself stupid ‘cause of her? I’m gonna resent you, bro!]
Shouting this wildly, Al started running with vigor that did not betray the tone of his voice.
At his destination was Louis, constantly leaping from side-to-side against the Great Disaster. Louis was agile enough to not let that jet-black monster set its sights on herself, however――,
Al: [I can see through you!]
Dodging the rain of debris, the aftermath of the shadow’s actions, pouring down on him, Al wrapped around Louis as if he knew how she would move, then snatched the girl’s body in an underarm carry.
With the two as they were, still grappling with each other, the pair narrowly avoided a storm of shadows aimed at them. Al had unbelievably protected the two in a close-cut, just barely escaping the range of the attack.
Louis: [Uu! Uau! Aau!]
Al: [――Go to sleep!]
All the while, Louis struggled about in Al’s arm, trying desperately to reach out in the direction of the Great Disaster. However, Al drove a callous blow with the hilt of the Blue Dragon Sword, and Louis’s head fell, limp.
And with that, Al lifted Louis’s small body, then initiated a sprint, turning his back to the Great Disaster.
Kafma: [It’s Kafma Irulux!]
In response to his urgent call, Kafma’s vines unfolded an escape route for the fleeing Al. The Great Disaster intensely pursued Al, attempting to corner him, as he dashed towards the thorny shrubs’ path.
However, while they produced a path for Al, the vines also created barriers to the Great Disaster.
Al, carrying Louis, ran across the battlefield in a tremendous combination of offensive and defensive cover fire, then――,
Abel: [――Do it, Yorna Mishigure!!]
In a final move, a shout urging for decisive action was raised from behind, and Yorna thrust her hands out in front of herself.
The gesture itself was meaningless. Very much like when the Castle was swallowed. It was merely a gesture for Yorna to make known how much she was willing to sacrifice in order to achieve this.
Yorna: [I, do not love you.]
With those few words, unto the Great Disaster that had swallowed the majority of the Demon City of Chaosflame, Yorna’s soul exploded. Its potency was certainly as if the very city had crashed down――,
The impact of the explosion produced something akin to a blast wave, and a tremendous gale blew the Demon City up.
Rocked by the shockwave, all that composed the Demon City was broken, crushed, obliterated. Amidst all this, the Great Disaster at the nexus of the shockwave was engulfed by the destruction, and was certainly likewise destroyed.
With that, by a single blow unleashed in exchange for the city itself, the Great Disaster was negated――,
Abel: [――Was it not enough.]
Amidst the unrelenting tempest and the lingering plumes of smoke, the voice of a quiet man echoed.
Realizing that this was the voice of a man who never turned away, even in a situation where nobody could help but face down, Yorna, her body losing strength, held her breath
It had suffered a blow into which she put her utmost, yet nevertheless, the presence of wriggling darkness remained on the opposite side of the columns of smoke.
It had connected. But it was not sufficient. This end result made her grind her molars.
Before she resolved to take action to paint over her disappointment, Yorna’s voice escaped her.
The reason was simple. ――Something had acted faster than she did.
However, the inextinguishable embers of the Great Disaster were not that something.
Had been the small figure of a deergirl leaping out of the blown-up inn’s basement.
Utakata: [Uu saw it. Maa stabbed herself, with Taa’s hands.]
The testimony of Utakata, Mariuli’s daughter, the young child who had witnessed the whole affair, was the deciding factor.
Mariuli’s body had been pierced by Taritta’s dagger, the latter did not even make any attempts to wipe off the blood she was drenched in. To anyone’s eyes, this horrifying spectacle would appear as if Taritta had murdered Mariuli.
However, Mariuli’s daughter, of all people, disproved this view, annulling Taritta’s disgrace.
一一Killing their own kin disgraced their soul, forbidding them to return to the same soil as the spirits of their ancestors.
That was which the Shudraq abhorred above all else, the “Disgrace of the Shudraq”.
Utakata’s testimony denied this suspicion. Additionally一一
Mizelda: [The way she was stabbed. If Taritta had stabbed her, she would’ve aimed for a spot that wouldn’t have brought suffering. It wasn’t my sister’s doing.]
The way the blade had pierced the body and, even more importantly, the location of the wound.
With just one glance, Mizelda was able to determine that Mariuli had stabbed herself.
The same thing was also noticed by other, more-perceptive-than-average Shudraqians, those among the most perceptive; those who were not, were convinced by Mizelda’s verdict.
They did not conclude that the Chieftain, Mizelda, was trying to cover for her biological younger sister, Taritta.
Rather, it was the opposite.一一 Only Mizelda had never attempted to defend Taritta. Not because of a lack of sisterly affection, but because Mizelda was a Shudraqian among Shudraqians.
Their strong Shudraq blood was the basis for Mizelda’s judgement.
It was decided that Taritta was not at fault, and that Mariuli, having taken the dagger from the former, had committed suicide using it.
Perhaps in an attempt to escape the agony of her illness, or perhaps to leave her death in her own hands, rather than the demon of ill health’s hand. From the Shudraq’s point of view, the latter option would have been seen in a better light.
Taritta: [I, let Mariuli die……]
It was none other than Taritta herself who did not see it that way.
Taritta had drawn her dagger to shut Mariuli’s mouth. To prevent her from speaking words she wished not to hear, to prevent her from leaving any more curses behind.
Without Taritta’s imprudence then, Mariuli would not have died in such a manner.
And above all一一,
Taritta: [一一A commandment.]
On the verge of death, Mariuli made Taritta listen to the commandment bestowed upon herself.
Until then, Mariuli had never explained the slightest thing about the contents of the commandment to Taritta, although she had told the latter it had been handed down to her. Only on her deathbed did she let Taritta hear it for the first time.
Taritta: [一一Great Disaster.]
The commandment was to avoid destruction, and that destruction was the Great Disaster, so had Mariuli explained.
The implementation of countermeasures to prevent it, was Mariuli’s commandment.
Taritta: [一一A traveler, with dark hair, and dark eyes.]
Would there truly be a thing such as a traveler who would appear a thousand nights from the present?
How could the death of the traveler stave off destruction large enough to even be called a Great Disaster?
But until the very end, Mariuli had believed in the commandment, in a Stargazer’s duty.
Going without fulfilling it wholly made her feel as far as her life had been meaningless.
Taritta: [That it was meaningless…]
That it was absurd, was something Taritta could assert without doubt.
How many times had Mariuli’s words, Mariuli’s kindness, been salvation to her?
Due to her existence, Taritta had been spared from being crushed by the inferiority complex she held towards her own elder sister, worthy of bearing the name Shudraq. Devoid of her support, Taritta would not exist as she did this day.
This too, was Mariuli’s achievement. Taritta would not permit anyone to state that it had been meaningless.
Above all, Mariuli had Utakata, the child she gave birth to after a painful pregnancy.
Taritta: [I won’t let anyone say that all of it was meaningless…]
Biting her teeth with force, she raised her eyes to the night sky.
The sky replete of heavenly stars had not changed. They did not confer Taritta with any of their teachings.
Of course not. The stars spoke naught. Mariuli’s mind was trapped within a delusion.
Even so, even if she had sought salvation in that delusion, even if she had sworn a vow.
Taritta: [These stars or whatever, I wish they would shatter…!]
Simultaneously with directing her hatred towards the night sky, however, Taritta beseeched this.
As Mariuli had whispered, a traveler would come to the forest.
Mariuli’s soul, ruled by despair and regret, would continue to wander, unable to finally join with their ancestor’s spirits.
Without severing that despair and regret, her soul sister would not meet redemption.
What had happened in those final moments, was a secret that the still-young Utakata could not know.
It was a secret that even blood relatives should not meddle with, only soul sisters should.
Taritta: [Surely, my arrow一一]
Would shoot the traveler dead, severing Mariuli from her lingering attachments.
For that end, she waited and waited and waited without end for the traveler’s visit, and finally一一,
一一One day, Taritta drew her bow at the sight of her much-awaited traveler.
The shot set loose from the bow drawn tight missed its target, and the dark-haired, dark-eyed traveler leapt to the protection of the girl at his side.
Having fixed her aim towards his heart, Taritta’s heart sprung mightily, as she clenched her molars.
After a thousand nights, a black-haired traveler had made their appearance in the forest.
Struck by a shock akin to her heart being frozen over, Taritta nocked an arrow to her bow, and became a hunter.
Calmly, coolly, the tip of the arrow was steadied, aimed at its target.
But her soul was bellowing in fiery applause. Bellowing. Bellowing.
Bellowing, it was bellowing.
――The moment the deergirl jumped out, all sound vanished from the world.
The tremendous shockwave just before that, with the Great Disaster at its center, caused the world to literally shake; the force blowing the very city itself away in a violent explosion holding the energy to stamp out the Great Disaster.
Their entire bodies were engulfed in the violent winds of the shock, it was enough for them to hold the conviction that any existence engulfed in a shockwave thousands, tens of thousands of times more powerful than this one, would be shattered into pieces.
However, overpowering even that conviction, the Great Disaster survived this destruction.
Though it could not be said that to be alive and well, Taritta, having become a bystander, aware that she was shaking as she knelt on one knee, sensed the presence of the Great Disaster having escaped annihilation from beyond the plume of smoke.
Louis, Medium, Al, the people of the city, they were watching this desperate resistance.
Unable to decide how she should be, unable to confront the commandment she had continuously been controlled by, and recollecting Mariuli’s face stained with the color of blood, Taritta was unable to move in the face of the Great Disaster.
Everyone carried out their own role, leaving the worthless Taritta behind.
Just as Yorna Mishigure, the ruler of the city, struck a blow at the expense of her beloved city.
Just as the deergirl, seeing that the blow was insufficient, jumped out of her hiding place.
Running fiercely, her right eye alight, was the girl in a kimono, the messenger who had made her appearance at the inn.
At the destination of the girl who had introduced herself as Tanza, was the Great Disaster on the other side of the fluttering plume of smoke. Taritta did not understand just what in the world she was going to do.
Reprimanding her shaking legs, Taritta understood Tanza’s aim and resolve by chance upon hearing Yorna’s reaction, screaming towards the back of the girl running past.
Tanza was risking her own life, to challenge the Great Disaster by means of some technique.
Yorna, with a guess as to what she was doing, and because of her love for the girl, tried to stop her.
But to stop the young girl would mean missing a golden opportunity to destroy the Great Disaster, whose movements had been arrested by a single blow with the Demon City as a sacrifice.
Or perhaps, if Yorna, one of the Nine Divine Generals, was so inclined, she may be able to perform the clincher against the Great Disaster, and drive it away in some other way.
――But was that really true?
Cursing herself for trying to harbor such wishful thinking, Taritta gasped quietly.
Casting her sight to her surroundings, Taritta longed for the means to change the situation, for a chance to make a move. She even hoped that someone other than herself would take action.
However, the wreckage of the blown debris, and the people who were tossed and scattered by those, had no strength left to deal with this situation. ――Only Taritta did.
Only Taritta, who had hesitated to participate in the frantic offensive, trying to weather the passing of the storm, was in possession of options at this point.
Taritta turned her gaze at the faint call, and saw the figure of a man standing up on a hill.
Abel. Blood flowing from within his oni mask, his dark eyes looked fixedly at Taritta. Rather than utilizing language, he silently pointed his finger towards the heavens.
To look to the sky, was not what he was conveying.
Abel indicated the heavens, or rather, the stars. ――Namely, the commandment.
Being told to choose, Taritta was forced to make a decision.
The bloodstained Mariuli’s final moments, and the commandment to kill the dark-haired, dark-eyed traveler were resurrected within her mind.
Were she to execute it, they would escape the Great Disaster. Mariuli’s soul would be freed from its shackles.
Taritta quietly, and without hesitation, drew an arrow from her quiver and, putting it on her bow, took aim.
It was a hunting procedure she had repeated thousands upon thousands of times; it transformed Taritta from a frightened, bewildered, and foolish girl who was unable do her job, into a hunter.
If she were told something as high and mighty as to choose a method to save the world with, this would be how she would elect to do it.
All along, Taritta’s answer to the proposition of the heavens, to the whispers of the stars, had long since been decided.
In other words――,
Taritta: [――I don’t even know what sort of thing a commandment is.]
The bowstring was released, and the nocked arrow flew furiously through the air, cutting through the wind.
And it did not miss its mark; as it pierced the leg of a tall woman who was about to get up and break into a run.
With a startled cry, the woman fell forward and stumbled over.
Impatience and surprise etched on her white face, the woman reached out her hand in grief, raising her voice.
Even in a world where all sound had vanished, Taritta understood very well that this voice was calling out the name of the girl pushing onwards towards the Great Disaster.
Even so, she had made her choice.
――Disobeying the commandment entrusted to her soul sister, she allowed the young girl to achieve her greatest wish, pushing on to stake her life.
Kicking off the ground, just before she burst into the opposite side of the cloud of smoke, the girl’s lips invoked that name with loving devotion.
And then, her petite body was swallowed up by the Great Disaster that awaited her beyond the wisp of smoke――,
――A monumental second shock, an extreme explosion comparable to the Demon City’s own, blew the Great Disaster away this time.