Howa, Howa, Fuwa, Fuwa.
Surely, if there were sounds to describe the current situation, it ought to be those words. Among the seven great labyrinths, there was a labyrinth called the ice and snow cave. And inside that labyrinth was a gigantic maze in which there was a sealed door before which laid a tent. The mood inside the tent had become a pink space.
“… Hajime. Aaa…n.”
“Nn. Aaa…n… Mmn. It’s good. As expected, the best thing to eat while using a kotatsu is stew.”
“Hajime-san, have some of mine too. Aaa…n.”
“Aaa…n… Mmn. Anyway, Shia, your cooking skills are improving every day, you will make a great wife.”
“Je-Jeez, Hajime-san! Such a thing! To say that I’m extremely cute, and on top of that, I would make a lovely wife from whom you wouldn’t want to be away for even a moment! You’re making me blush-!”
“Hajime, what about me?”
“Nn? Isn’t that obvious? You will become the best wife in the world.”
“Nn… I will also do my best to learn how to cook.”
“Fufufu, Yue-san, let’s study together and make Hajime’s favorite dishes.”
While “Aaa…n” feeding Hajime, Yue and Shia, who were sitting on both sides of Hajime, were having a conversation from which no one could imagine they were inside one of the world’s great labyrinths.
There was stew on top of the kotatsu. That was seafood stew prepared by Shia, the smell of which tickled every nose in the vicinity. The ingredients had been acquired at the maritime town Erisen, frozen and stored inside the treasure warehouse.
Shia, with splendid knife-handling skills, had prepared the seafood along with various vegetables and seasoned the whole mix exquisitely. The sauce which looked like Ponzu (Note: citrus-based sauce, source wiki) was also neatly done and truly wonderful. Because her housework was also perfect, Hajime’s praise of Shia being a great wife was no overstatement.
Nevertheless, Shia was over interpreting. Hajime who had become tolerant towards Shia’s attitude didn’t particularly mind nor snap her out of it.
Then, as Yue was lightly tugging at his sleeve while asking ‘Will I become a good wife?’ with the expression of a lover, Hajime could of course not disagree, especially when she wore a gentle smile and displayed such a willingness to train hard to learn homemaking.
“Ne, Nee, Hajime-kun? What about me? Housework and cooking are also two of my strong points you know? I’ll make plenty of delicious dishes for my husband and properly welcome him every day, you know?”
“Goshujin-sama, Mistress also thinks she will become a good wife, you know? As you know, Mistress is a ‘devoted wife’. She guarantees she will make Goshujin-sama feel satisfied every day! Right? So, please also give this mistress some words of praise.”
Hajime, Yue and Shia’s pink space was interrupted by Kaori and Tio’s impatience. Clinging to Hajime from behind, they were begging with a sweet tone for the same words he said to Yue and Shia.
“… Maa, since originally Kaori was always monopolizing the first place of the ‘I want to date her’ and ‘I want to marry her’ category rankings at school, isn’t she already a charming wife?”
“Mouu! Not that. I’m not asking about the general opinion, but Hajime-san’s!”
“… Kaori. Why are you hurting yourself?”
“Yu-Yue!? What do you mean!?”
“… You’ve already come to understand. You’re still five, no, six years too soon.”
“Concrete numbers, huh! Uu, the path might be rugged, but I won’t lose!”
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Yue answered in place of the evasive Hajime. With teary eyes, Kaori clenched her fists and renewed her determination. In truth, seeing how Kaori was not discouraged, Hajime’s heart softened, but he kept it secret for now.
Tio, with tearful eyes, was pressing for an answer. Two splendid watermelons were heavily riding on Hajime’s head, stroking him. She was obviously doing it on purpose.
“… You said ‘As you know’. But let’s see you state concretely the contents of the ‘devotion’ you speak of.”
“Mu? Isn’t that obvious? Of course, every day, be it morning, day or night, I will do ‘this-‘ and ‘that-‘ to Goshujin-sama, and then I will do ‘that-‘ and ‘this-‘ again. Then, Goshujin-sama will do “this-” to reward me right? That’s why I will return the favor by doing “that-“. Ah, I feel relieved. Doing “this-” and “that-” properly, then “that—————” Ababababababababa-!?”
“… You worthless dragon. You will be the only one I leave behind in this world.”
“Tio-san, restrain yourself a little…”
In response to Tio who was shamelessly continuing her indecent talk thoroughly, an ‘Abababa’ sound caused by Hajime’s ‘Lightning Clad’ interrupted Tio’s speech.
With a ‘PikuPiku’ sound, Tio kept convulsing without getting up. The lightning seemed really effective. Even Shia was stunned at the appearance of such a Tio.
However, since ‘I will leave you behind’ was meant as threatening words, it could be quite naturally assumed he was planning on taking her along as well.
The fact that Tio was standing close to Hajime was obviously the proof she was spontaneously asking Hajime’s permission to be by his side.
Kouki and the others were sitting on a kotatsu on the opposite side, silently pecking at their stew while trying their best to ignore the ongoing scene. However, barely able to put up with the irresponsible and irritating scene, their chopsticks were continuously shaking in frustration.
“Kouki… even though I thought I had gotten used to this kind of commotion…”
“Don’t talk about that, Ryuutaro, my mind can’t take it anymore…”
“Isn’t it a good thing? Objectively seeing how we used to be?”
“Used to be? Could it be you are actually angry at…? No, forget it.”
Kouki was glancing at Hajime and Kaori with an extremely complicated expression and speaking in a low voice with Ryuutaro whose face showed deep annoyance. Strangely, the usually sarcastic Shizuku remained quiet, roughly snatching fish from the stew. She would gaze at Hajime from time to time, obviously irritated. Suzu, who had brought up the topic, shrank back spontaneously each time she was remembered of the fuss.
And, at that moment, Hajime set down his chopsticks (which he was barely using because of being ‘Aaa…n’ed all the time) and took out a shiny gray metal plate from his pocket. It had an uneven sharp tip and a magic square engraved on it. It was a ‘gate key’ which connected space.
Hajime suddenly turned back and projected the key. It was connected to the cross bits he had sent looking for the key to open the sealed door that prevented them from proceeding further. At the center of the plate which had stuck into space, a gate opened. On the other side of the gate was a gem-like object emitting yellow light from a pedestal in a room surrounded by ice walls.
Furthermore, there was one more thing.
From the other side of the gem, there was also the form of a five-meter tall furious-looking frost ogre approaching.
Kouki and the others who were seated at the kotatsu and pecking at their stew all simultaneously spewed it out. At any rate, their meal was interrupted by a war cry and they were suddenly being approached by an ogre clearly on a different level than the ogres they had confronted so far. It was pointless to tell them not to panic.
However, Hajime didn’t particularly panic and extended his hand through the gate, picked up the yellow gem. In exchange, he simply extracted a metal ball about twice as big as a basketball from his treasure warehouse. A ‘Bachi’ sound resounded as he instantly poured electricity inside, after which he casually threw the ball through the gate as if throwing trash away.
Then, he immediately turned the key, closing the gate, and retrieving it.
From a distant place, the sound of a ridiculously powerful explosion reverberated as the air started vibrating.
Hajime sat down and picked up his chopsticks as if nothing had particularly happened. The gem clad in yellow light on top of the table was proof that this series of unbelievable events took place in their reality.
“… Hajime. Aaa~n.”
“Hajime-san, Aaa~n desu.”
And, as expected, Yue and Shia also resumed the ‘Aaa~n’ as if nothing had happened. Kouki and the others who had been dripping cold sweat snapped back to reality and simultaneously opened their mouths.
“No, no, no, no, there’s definitely something not right, right!?!?” X4
Hajime, whose mouth was being stuffed with fresh seafood by Kaori and Tio who entered the feeding competition, tilted his head as if to say ‘what’s wrong?’.
With an expression not hiding his irritation towards Hajime’s behavior, Kouki inquired.
“Nagumo. What was that earlier?”
“Earlier you say… But you were looking, weren’t you?”
“I was! But not that! I’m talking about what you did!”
“What I did… you ask strange things. It’s just as you saw, right?”
Hajime gave Kouki a gaze questioning his sanity after Kouki raised his voice. Not having obtained the response he was seeking, Kouki looked ready to flip the table over in anger at any moment.
Shizuku came to the emotionally unstable Kouki while rubbing her forehead as if putting up with a headache and tried to explain the ‘as you saw’ part to Kouki.
“In short, Nagumo-kun found this yellow gem you can see with his cross bits, and retrieved it using ‘gate’. It’s likely that the moment the cross bits intruded the place where the gem used to be, some monster supposed to be its guardian or something reacted angrily, before being killed by the bomb Nagumo-kun tossed away through the gate… or so I guess.”
“Ah. It’s completely as you say. Just like what you saw, right?”
“That’s what I’m saying! Isn’t there something wrong with this! You normally don’t just go around directly confronting a guardian keeping the dungeon’s treasure, defeating it, and retrieving the prize like that!”
Kouki was honestly saying something trivial.
“No, isn’t it better to collect them easily like this? It would be a bother to be busy chasing after each one of the four keys ourselves, right?”
“Th-That may be so. But if we don’t follow the rules, will our progress be acknowledged by the labyrinth…”
“Once or twice should be alright. We did take a considerable shortcut at the Great Volcano, and our capture was acknowledged with no problem after all. It should be fine if Yue’s group and Amanogawa’s group respectively defeat the guardians of the two remaining keys and retrieve them. I’ll map a route for you.”
“Uu… Is the difficulty alright? It’s the capture of a great labyrinth after all?”
“Kouki… Stop thinking too deeply about Nagumo. You don’t want stomach pain at that age.”
Kouki was holding his head between his hands. Ryuutaro patted his shoulders with an expression of sympathy.
“That’s right. Nagumo-kun is the walking embodiment of irrationality. There’s nothing to be surprised about.”
“Shizu, Shizu…… When Suzu thinks about Guardian-san, she becomes excessively sad for some reason. If another Guardian-san is dragged out by Nagumo-kun, I think things will definitely look bad. So let’s work hard to preserve our sanity?”
Ryuutaro approved the advice a sad-looking Suzu had given Shizuku as Suzu was gulping down fish and turned to her in turn.
“It seems it would also be difficult for me to have the ‘common sense’ I have conceived so far be damaged any further by Hajime. I have to agree with Suzu’s suggestion.”
Kouki and his group had satisfied their hunger and were pecking at the last remnants of their food when the sound of a second explosion reverberated through the great labyrinth.
“I wonder if Shizuku-chan and the others are fine…”
Kaori’s worried voice echoed.
They were before the two sealed doors.
Three gems had already been put into the door’s corresponding sockets. Of the three, aside from two gems Hajime had obtained effortlessly, the other had been brought by Yue’s team, who had easily defeated the gem’s guardian and seized its key, which was to be expected given their ability.
Only one key was remaining, the last gem. It was the gem Kouki’s team headed to while being guided by one of Hajime’s Cross bits. As a result of splitting into two groups, Kaori had grown anxious, wondering if Kouki’s team would be able to defeat the last gem’s guardian safely.
“Looks like there’s no problem. They had a hard fight, but it looks like they managed to bring it down. They don’t have any severe injuries. At some point, it did seem like Ryuutaro had frostbite but it was immediately healed.”
Kaori breathed a sigh of relief after hearing the information conveyed through the cross bits.
Hajime moved the cross bit standing before Kouki’s team who were finished with their battle and had retrieved the last key. At the same time, using ‘gate key’, Hajime connected the space between their location and the cross bit. Space softly distorted, and the appearance of Kouki and the others who had a strangely refreshed expression could be seen on the other side.
“Somehow, you guys look happy…”
“Umu. They are most likely relieved to have been able to properly pass the maze’s trial.”
Shia was tilting her head pondering the reason for their happy faces when Tio answered her question with a seemingly pleasant expression. She was right on the mark.
Kouki, who was holding the gem in his hand, passed through the gate, went past Shia’s group and headed towards the sealed doors. There, he inserted the gem into the last socket.
Immediately after, the thorny shrub on the door was covered in light. The gems started to shine brightly in all their splendor. Then, the gate’s impressive doors began opening on their own.
At a glance, the passage starting from the entrance of the gate looked no different from the labyrinth’s passages so far. If anything was different, it seemed to be the bright reflection of the ice walls. Hajime and the others’ figures were vividly reflected.
“Well then, let’s go.”
Following Hajime’s order, everyone simultaneously stepped through the door. The sight before them, sure enough, gave off the feeling of a mirror house. The ice acted just like mirrors. The bright light was reflected endlessly. Indeed, the ice walls on both sides of the passage acted like opposite mirrors, and Hajime’s party was reflected a countless number of times.
Aside from the ceiling hidden by a spray of snow, it looked really like an endless corridor. The intense reflectivity of the ice made it clear it was no simple ice. If not for the chilling cold it radiated, it could maybe even be mistaken for a mirror.
A ‘Kotsu, Kotsu’ sound echoed along with the footsteps of Hajime’s party as they proceeded. Not only light, sounds also seemed to reverberate.
“… Somehow it feels like we’ve been sucked into something.”
Yue muttered while walking by Hajime’s side and looking at their reflections in the walls.
The worlds piled up inside the ice walls repeated endlessly, the deepest parts being shrouded in darkness. Yue’s words were truly right on the mark.
Hajime gently grasped Yue’s hand.
“I won’t let go of you so it’s alright.”
“You guys, can you not stop flirting at every occasion?”
Shizuku’s reproachful eyes dug into Hajime and Yue who were exchanging smiles. However, their love had already far exceeded the maximum theoretical threshold. Such a remark didn’t make them flinch.
Giving a sidelong glance to Shizuku who sighed, the group continued advancing.
They had not encountered the sign of any traps or monsters in a while and the compass was indicating that they were on the right way when Kouki suddenly halted and started looking around restlessly.
Shizuku, representing the group who grew suspicious of his behavior, inquired.
“Kouki? What’s the matter?”
“Ah, no well, didn’t you hear something just now? Something like someone’s voice. Rather, a whisper like this…”
“Wa-Wait a minute Kouki-kun, Stop. We already had our fill of this at Merujiine’s Undersea Ruin.”
It seemed Kouki could hear someone’s whisper. Since she didn’t think it possible for anyone else to actually be there beside them, Kaori whose tolerance of horror was weak tightly hugged herself with both arms while raising a voice of protest.
“Isn’t there anyone else who heard something? Shia?”
Hajime quietly narrowed his eyes and looked around to confirm.
“No. I didn’t hear anything. And I sense no sign of anyone else here besides us.”
Shia who had closed her eyes and focused her rabbit ears answered while shaking her head negatively. The other members who also seemed not to have heard anything, in particular, all shook their heads in negation.
“… Surely, I thought I heard something…”
“Are you sure you’re not overthinking this?”
“… Maybe I am.”
Understanding he was the only one who heard it, Kouki wondered if it was his imagination as he showed a bewildered expression. A concerned Ryuutaro who displayed a face lacking his usual self-confidence also agreed.
While everyone was thinking it was Kouki’s imagination, only Hajime, with a look reminding them to be careful, passed on his thought to Shia who could be relied on to search for the enemy in such circumstances. Shia also thought it was only Kouki’s imagination, but since she was given a request by Hajime, she obediently nodded her head in approval. Her rabbit ears shook.
Then, they kept advancing without any problems, crossing several junctions without getting lost, until Kouki halted one more time.
This time, he shouted.
“Ah, again! It wasn’t my imagination after all! I heard it again!”
Shizuki and the others turned a bewildered look to Kouki who was frantically searching for the owner of the voice.
From the gazes turned to him, Kouki guessed no one besides him had heard the voice this time as well, and raised a chaotic voice.
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“It’s true! This time, I heard it clearly! It said: ‘Is it fine like this?’!”
“No, Kouki. I didn’t hear anything?”
“Sheet! Who are you! Where are you! How about showing your face without sneaking around!”
“Kouki, calm down.”
Anxious to be the only one to hear, Kouki had turned around and let out these harsh words at the empty space. Shizuku and the others moved to try to calm him down.
“No, me neither. I really didn’t hear anything…”
Hajime checked with Shia for confirmation, but it seems Shia’s rabbit ears did not grasp the sound of any voice this time either.
“… Hajime. Any magical response?”
“None. It was the same with the zombies back then, it would seem the ice walls most likely have some kind of ability which conceals any magical response. The demon eye stone can’t really be relied on here.”
“Fumu. There’s also the possibility of having lost to the great labyrinth’s pressure and our minds having been confused… But still, this is too sudden. It would be more reasonable to assume we are receiving some kind of interference.”
“But Shia’s ears can’t hear anything, and on top of that Hajime can’t sense anything. There is nothing we can do to stop it.”
While Hajime and the others were discussing, Kouki was desperately trying to find the owner of the voice to prove he had not gone insane. At this point, Hajime spoke to him.
“Amenogawa, for now, calm down.”
“… Nagumo, it’s true. I’m sure I heard it… …”
“I know. I don’t intend to dismiss this issue saying it’s your imagination.”
Having gotten used to receiving harsh treatment from Hajime, Kouki’s eyes started going in circles after he heard these words which seemed to indicate he believed him.
“We should assume we are receiving some kind of interference. If it’s one of the trials of the labyrinth, then the possibility of not only you but everyone here receiving the interference is high. Currently, I can’t think of a way to counter this. Everyone, be on your guard.”
Hajime turned a serious gaze towards the others. They exchanged glances once and nodded.
Indeed, instead of rejecting the fault on Kouki’s imagination, to deny the existence of an unexplainable phenomenon, it was better to word it as the labyrinth’s ‘interference’. He believed Kouki’s words. It wouldn’t be strange for such a phenomenon to happen since they were challenging a great labyrinth after all.
Kouki was showing a very complicated expression, but he seemed to have calmed down for now. He was silently following behind Hajime who had resumed walking while having ominous thoughts about their images reflected in the ice walls.
- You did not believe
A whisper smoothly entered Kouki’s ear one more time. But since he had given some thought to Hajime’s words about a possible interference from the great labyrinth and readied himself, he was not thrown into confusion this time.
It was hard to say if he was calm deep down, but he was now able to try to look for the origin of the voice calmly. Then, Kouki suddenly realized something.
“…… Have I already heard this voice?”
Somehow he had a feeling he had already heard this voice. Shizuku and the others turned a worried look to Kouki who had tilted his head and was searching his memory.
“Kouki. Are you okay?”
“Ah, Yes. I’m fine. I was just thinking, I may have already heard that voice somewhere……”
“… There were monsters with the ability to mimic people’s appearance and voice at the Haltina Sea of Trees. Maybe they’re imitating someone we know. Don’t be deceived. If something happens, say it immediately.”
“Thank you, Shizuku. You be careful too. If Hajime is right, you might hear a voice too sooner or later.”
“Got it. I’ll be careful.”
Kouki sensed his disordered mind had calmed down and was able to show some composure to Shizuku who was smiling faintly. He returned a smile to his childhood friend who always encouraged and supported him.
- You have realized, right?
However, his face immediately stiffened at the voice which once again resounded. He got unpleasant goosebumps after being unable to brush away the uneasiness dwelling in his heart born from the whispers he heard.
Kouki unintentionally turned his head towards Shizuku who was walking by his side with a face seeming to request help.
However, the look of concern he was expecting to see on his childhood friend’s face was nowhere to be seen. Instead, she displayed an expression about as stiffened as the reflection of his own face in the ice walls.
“……Yeah. I just heard it too. It was a woman’s voice. I have also heard it somewhere before. ‘Averting your eyes again?’ is what it said.”
“… Mine was a male voice saying ‘You have realized, right?’. It looks like the words change according to the person who hears the voice.”
Kouki and Shizuku were looking at each other with complicated expressions, and next, ‘Hyaaa!’. Suzu slightly jumped with a shriek. It seems Suzu could hear it as well now.
Furthermore, Ryuutaro, who also seemed to have heard it, became confused and started looking around.
“What did it say to you guys?”
Hajime asked them about the content while looking over his shoulder.
Once he had heard everyone’s description of what they heard, he was planning on putting them together to figure out the aim of the great labyrinth.
“Um, Suzu heard something like Kouki. (Note: She’s talking in the third person). ‘You had really realized, right?’ is what it said.”
“Ah, mine was ‘What is there the need to hesitate for?’ .”
Both were making a seemingly displeased expression. A discomfort revealed itself on their faces, the kind of feeling of someone’s heart being tread upon by muddy feet.
“… That’s too abstract. I feel it’s too indirect to be able to seduce anyone…”
Hajime tilted his head. These were no words such as ‘Do this and that’ or ‘Go here and there’ which could immediately lead people astray from their goal.
“You two. Had you heard that voice before?”
“Un. Now that you mention it, I feel like I had heard it somewhere… maybe.”
“I also have the feeling I had already heard it.”
They nodded to Tio in confirmation. The words whispered varied but in the end, they were all whispered by a familiar voice or so it seemed.
“… Anyway, we have to move forward.”
“Maa, that’s right.”
They had a bad feeling, but stopping and worrying would do no good. Once they got out of the maze, maybe the whispering would stop. So, as Yue said, they should move forward for now.
After deciding to proceed forward, they came across multiple forks and kept going without getting lost. According to the information given by the compass, there were three kilometers left in a straight line until the exit. Because they wouldn’t get lost, even if they ran into traps or monsters, they could get there in not even half a day.
They hurried forward while doing their best to ignore the whisper which would be heard intermittently.
However, as time passed, the frequency of the whispers increased, and before they knew it, Hajime and his group started hearing it too.
—— You will be betrayed again
Yue heard. Those were toxic words which caused her to remember that she had once placed her trust in her uncle, family, and fellow retainers. ‘Again’. Yue could very well guess the meaning of these words.
—— You will lose them again by your own fault, you know?
The voice made Shia’s rabbit ears tremble. The origin of the tragedy which took away the lives of countless of her family members was indeed Shia’s own birth. It had taken root deep inside Shia’s heart and caused her to have countless nightmares. The voice was constantly reminding her of their death cries. Now, she had plenty of ‘important ones’ close to her she absolutely didn’t want to lose.
—— There is no such thing as your being accepted by others
Tio heard the voice which had invaded her mind whisper to her smoothly.
Long ago, when she was inexperienced and couldn’t control her power, and her family was facing persecution… Fire surged, the sound of an explosion shook the atmosphere, a scream and an angry roar reverberated. While she was kicking at the gathered remains of her compatriot, the surrounding eyes were staring at her with extreme fear and contempt…
—— You’re jealous to the point you want to kill, isn’t that right?
Whispered a voice which had invaded Kaori’s inner heart. Kaori unconsciously turned towards the girlfriend who was showing an air of composure and stood at a place Kaori couldn’t reach even after swapping bodies and obtaining power. Something black gushed out and started spreading out like black ink spilling on a white sheet of paper.
“Ah. I get it. This is my own voice.”
Everyone who was having their consciousnesses torn apart by the whispers were taken aback by Hajime’s sudden declaration.
Hajime answered Yue’s inquiring gaze while not particularly looking bothered by the whispers.
“Everyone, you said you had already heard the voice whispering to you right? Same goes for me, but the voice whispering to me is my own voice. Back when I was helping my father make games, I had the opportunity to listen to my own voice many times when doing voice tests. Since if you listen to your own voice, you are bound to feel some sense of discomfort. It’s hard to realize, but I can assure you after having listened to my own voice countless times that the voice whispering to me is my own voice.”
‘Ah now that you mention it…’ was the expression starting to form on everyone’s face. Your own voice you hear when you speak in everyday life tends to unexpectedly differ from your recorded voice which you listen to. Therefore, they had been unable to recognize their own voice.
“But, if that’s true, then what the voice is saying…”
“… It could be a voice coming from deep within your heart… maybe. Reviving various unpleasant memories.”
“… Right. It feels as if our mind is being invaded and trampled by muddy shoes. It’s extremely unpleasant.”
Tio, making a guess, stated what a frowning Kaori was hesitating to say. Shia agreed. The others uniformly showed dark, grim faces.
Overall, the atmosphere could be said to be still. Shizuku, who realized this, raised her voice in an attempt to change the mood and spoke to Hajime and Yue who were looking calm and composed for some reason.
“Nagumo-kun and Yue don’t seem to be affected very much, is that correct? Do you have some kind of countermeasure?”
Hajime and Yue exchanged glances. Then, Hajime wore a composed expression, while Yue showed a somewhat bewitching smile.
“What if I say I am just not paying particular attention to it?”
“… What did you hear?”
“Ah ~ something like ‘Do you think a murderer could live such a thing as a normal life?’ or ‘There is no place where a monster belongs, right?’ or things along those lines, repeatedly. I don’t think there’s anything really different.”
“That’s… referring to when we return to Japan?”
“Ah, that’s right. Maa, it’s also hard to say if I’m human after all. Maybe I’m wondering deep down if I will be able to get used to my former life again.”
To Hajime who was making a self-analysis quite indifferently, Kouki whose gloomy face showed more and more anguish as time passed managed to squeeze out a voice.
“Then, how do you manage to remain calm? You who are ready to forsake this world’s inhabitants and want to return home, after being told multiple times that even if you managed to make it back, you’d have no place where you belong, how the hell can you stay so calm!”
Kouki demanded an explanation. He was no longer able to hold back his irritation at the end of his sentence and his voice roughened. It looks like the voice he was hearing from his heart was considerably shaking his mind.
Hajime simply shrugged his shoulders and answered.
“Don’t lose your temper. Actually, even though I won’t know the answer until I try going back, worrying about it now is pointless, right?”
“How can you be convinced so easily? It’s something you can’t ignore, something which enters your mind and you can’t throw out, something there is nothing you can do about!”
Just what kind of voice did you hear? Kouki was almost yelling those words at Hajime while hiding his fury caused by hatred somewhere within him.
Hajime faced the emotionally unstable Kouki with a somewhat serious look.
“First, from wishing things to ‘be your way’, greed will be born. Next, to appease that greed, your heart will take a decision. Then, all that needs to be done is to carry out this decision to the end. You shouldn’t be worrying about things like: ‘Will I be able to do it or not?’ but rather: ‘What should I do to carry out this decision?’… I have already decided. I will return to my hometown and live a normal life with Yue and the others. I will show them lots of splendid things and introduce them to my parents. I will put my life on the line for that. There is no time to worry about something as trivial as the anxiety that rose from the decision I made.”
“… That’s absurd. Such a thing…”
“It’s not like I’m asking you to understand. Maybe my way of thinking isn’t very human-like.”
Hajime wouldn’t waver no matter what he was told, no matter what was done to him. Kouki felt he saw the main points of Hajime’s unwavering mind and didn’t think he could understand them. However, he averted his gaze as he seemed to realize something.
Inside the delicate atmosphere, Shia’s face, which was irritated due to the uneasiness caused by the whispers, was replaced with a friendly smile as she started looking for Yue.
It seems that Shia was also able to easily slip away from the abusive thoughts caused by the unpleasant whispers. Her mood quickly turned from the gloomy one caused by this place to her usual innocent one.
Despite also being seized in anguish originally, Shizuku, who had been able to guess what was going on to some extent and had been speaking to Hajime, was now completely silent, reflecting on Hajime’s previous words as if she had realized something.
“I get it that Hajime-san is not being affected thanks to his shamelessness, but why does Yue-san look fine? Rather, what is Yue-san being whispered?”
Hajime’s temple suddenly reacted to Shia’s way of speaking of him, but it seems he read the mood and decided to let her off with it for now. Of course, the night after the capture of the great labyrinth, she will be made to cry in lots of different ways.
Yue who aroused Shia’s interest answered with no particular hesitation.
“… It’s repeatedly telling me I will be betrayed some way or another.”
“Betrayed… If I’m not mistaken, like in your past…”
“… Nn. So things like ‘Hajime and Shia will also betray you’.”
Upon hearing these words, Hajime and Shia exchanged glances. If those whispers really stem from one’s unconscious, it means Yue is fearing betrayal from the bottom of her heart.
Indeed, Yue had been betrayed by the family and retainers she put her trust in and had been locked up in darkness for three hundred years. That’s more than reason enough for it to become a trauma, and it wouldn’t be strange if she felt ill to the point of not ever trusting anyone else anymore.
Actually, putting aside Hajime and Shia, her interaction with others could be said to be fairly cold sometimes. Fundamentally, earning Yue’s trust was quite difficult. Luckily, her encounter with Hajime made her believe that putting her trust in others was still possible… But maybe the uneasiness of being betrayed again still dwelled within her heart, even if just a little.
Even more, than her memories of her severe betrayal, this was something that couldn’t be helped. She was not actually suspecting that she’d be betrayed again. Rather, this was something carved deep within her unconscious.
However, naturally, there was trust in Hajime and Shia that easily surpassed such a trauma. A fantastic encounter and the things she saw on the journey that followed had appeased her heart. Which is why she was calm.
Sensing her feelings, Shia gave her a soft smile and spoke.
“Ne, Fufu, if you let your guard down, I might betray you-”
“… Bad girl. Punishment is needed for lying rabbits.”
With Yue and Shia resuming their frivolous talk, the atmosphere seemed to slightly return to normal.
“Maa, certainly, there is no way I am letting go of Yue…”
“Indeed. It would be much more likely to be told that the world is getting destroyed tomorrow than Goshujin-sama betraying Yue.”
A triumphant look settled on Hajime and Tio’s face. Indeed, Hajime and Yue’s atmosphere was so sweet that it felt like a mix of Calpis (Note: Japanese milk-based soft drink) with sugar, syrup, and honey. If you were told one would betray the other, you could only reply ‘Ha?’.
“… Nn. It’s impossible. But even if I was betrayed, it would be of no concern.”
Yue agreed with Hajime and Tio’s words, but as if she had thought of something along the way, she made an assumption as her pupils sparkled with mischief.
“What do you…?”
With an air of composure, Yue responded to Hajime and the others who tilted their heads.
“Because regardless of Hajime’s feelings, I am not letting go of him.”
While everyone fell strangely silent, Yue, who was licking her thin pink lips with her tongue, suddenly narrowed her eyes. No one was able to take their eyes from her wet lips which frightfully stood out. Simultaneously, she began emitting a charm that sent shivers down everyone’s spine, male or female indiscriminately and made their abdomens feel hot.
Then, with a hot, long breath.
“… Fufu, you can’t run away from the vampire princess.”
She declared such a thing.
Hajime, who was caught in the overly bewitching atmosphere and her hot gaze, had his arms suddenly held behind his back by Shia who showed a splendid reaction time.
If not for her, there’s no mistaking Hajime would probably already be on top of Yue. No matter how you looked at him, he was no longer thinking straight. He was looking at Yue like a beast.
For a little while, the unproductive argument continued between Shia and the others who were trying to prevent a love affair in the middle of the capture of a great labyrinth and Hajime who was wishing for nothing but Yue.
At any rate, for the time being, it seems the oppressive atmosphere caused by the whispers was gone.
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