Three days had passed since Hajime and his party left Ul.
Although there were vexing problems; such as how to dispose of the corpses of the demonic beasts, and how to repair the roughened ground, the townspeople were unhurt. A result that could only be considered nothing but a miracle. The good news was immediately spread to the people who took shelter, peripheral towns, and even the Imperial Capital. The returning townspeople met their lovers and families. Some were hugging their close friends, and the joy of their safeties wrapped Ul in a festival-like clamor.
The protective wall Hajime left behind was surrounded the town as is, and the people who were talking about the details of the fight were gesturing how it exceed the common sense similar to how storytellers talked about a myth as they looked at the roughened ground outside of the protective wall.
The people who took shelter, especially the children, had sparkling eyes when they heard the story. Without losing this opportunity, the merchants were already calculating on how to make money by turning Hajime’s protective wall into the town’s new specialty.
Thus, the townspeople who didn’t know anything about Hajime and Aiko believed Hajime and his party were dispatched by the “Goddess of Good Harvest,” and Hajime’s wall was named “Goddess’s Shield” to honor it. Furthermore, the white-haired, eye-patched boy; Hajime, was called “Goddess’s Sword” and “Goddess’s Knight” in respect. However, it was a different story when David and the other Knights, or rather the real bodyguard Knights, recalled what was said about Aiko and Hajime. They would rampage while shouting, “As expected, I hate that guy!!!” In the future, Hajime would writhe in agony whenever he hears his name, but that’s another story.
It was somewhat a miscalculation that resulted in earning himself some embarrassing nicknames, but just as Hajime thought, Aiko’s fame and popularity were through the roof. When she walked into town, all the people would turn around and focus their gazes on her. Among them, there were also some who began to worship her while saying things such as “Bless us~.” In this town Aiko, who saved the people, was certainly seen as nothing less than a “Goddess.” The rumor had also already spread to the surrounding towns. At the very least, it might be correct to say that Aiko’s words carried more weight than the Church of Saints’ bishop, in the town of Ul.
The rumored Aiko was… safely supporting the town leaders in the town’s reconstruction, but although she acted cheerful around people close to her, her mind wasn’t there. The cause was the various impacts of the shocking truths Hajime had revealed before the fight. But above all, it was how Hajime killed Shimizu. The scene of that moment consumed her mind and gnawed at her heart.
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Even today, after they finished their day duty and it was time for dinner, the students and bodyguard Knights were dining at “Water Fairy Inn,” Aiko just mechanically carried the food into her mouth and blankly looked some place else without registering the conversation of the others in her mind, only answering with the same reply.
“Ai-chan sensei… Ai-chan sensei’s magic is amazing after all! Even those roughened ground recovered quickly… Looks like it’ll return to normal in just a week!”
“… I see… that’s good.”
Sonobe Yuka, who noticed Aiko’s mind was somewhere else, intentionally talked to her cheerfully. She tried to somehow encourage Aiko, since she knew the source of her abnormal state. However, even Sonobe’s cheerful words only received an indifferent answer in return, like pre-typed-like words. Sonobe drooped her shoulders as she said “Still won’t do, huh~.”
“Aiko… did the mayor or the bishop said anything today? If you’re really troubled by it, I won’t forgive them for troubling Aiko, even if it’s the bishop. I am Aiko’s Knight after all. No matter when, only I will be Aiko’s ally.”
“… I see… that’s good.”
It was unknown whether David said those words to encourage Aiko or to seduce her. The remark on how he was willing to go up against the bishop was considerably dangerous as a Templar Knight, although it might not be important to David; the warrior of love. The “I” part was emphasized. In regards to going against anyone… it was also considered by the surrounding Knights, as they agreed with him while they directed sharp glares at their commander who casually made his advance.
However David’s casual appeal was easily tossed aside like the words coming from a certain long running TV program during daytime. It was doubtful as to whether or not she heard him. The expression on the student’s faces were saying “Serves you right~” to David who drooped his shoulders. The same expression was on the other Knights’ faces.
Without taking any notice of the students and the Knights, Aiko indifferently continued to eat without responding.
(…If, if only I had talked to Shimizu-kun more… If only I had noticed his feelings earlier… If I did, then something like that wouldn’t have happened… If, if he relied on his classmates… If, if I didn’t get taken as a hostage… If only… I died… then he wouldn’t have found it necessary to kill Shimizu-kun…
Why did he kill him… Even though they were classmates… Was it simply because he was an enemy?… Could killing someone be so simple because of such a reason? Was it so simple to kill a person?… How could it be done so naturally?…
That’s strange… Humans aren’t demonic beasts. To be able to kill without any hesitation… He,… was he someone who could easily kill a human?… If I left him alone, would he have been a danger to the other children?… Will the other children be safe since he’s gone?… As long as he’s not… Kh?!? What did I just think of!?… Stop. It’s not good to think about this any further!)
Presently, regret and self-condemnation repeated themselves in Aiko’s mind… Thus, if she thought of it unconsciously, the buds of fear and grudges towards Hajime would appear, she would deny them in a panic, and she would once again return to her first thoughts, repeating the process. There was too much she wanted to think about, and there were also a lot things she didn’t want to think of. Aiko’s mind was similar to a library where the bookshelves had crumbled and unorganized information were scattered around in a chaotic manner.
Suddenly, a calm and warmth voice reached Aiko. “Aiko-sama. About today’s dish, is it not up to your taste?”
It was Foss Selo, the owner of “Water Fairy Inn.” His voice was far from loud, it was actually said in a rather small voice. However, there was no one inside the inn who missed Foss’s words. His calm and deep voice would reach anyone without fail. Even now, Aiko whose mind was caught in whirpool of thought easily heard his words, and it made her senses return to reality.
When she noticed she had cried out in a rather strange and loud voice, Aiko’s cheeks flushed slightly as she turned towards the smiling Foss.
“U-Umm, what was it? I’m sorry, I was daydreaming for a moment.”
“No, no, don’t worry about it. I just thought the dish was not to your taste because you didn’t raise your face. If so, I thought of sending out another dish…”
“N-No need! The food is really delicious. I was just thinking about something…”
Although Aiko said the food was very delicious, she herself couldn’t remember what it tasted like. When she looked at her surroundings, her students and the Knights were looking at her with a somewhat anxious expression. She noticed what was on their minds, and she thought she mustn’t continue the way she has been acting as she pulled herself together and continued on with her meal. However, she coughed in a panic when food entered her lungs.
Because Aiko was coughing with teary eyes, the students and the Knights were panicked. Seeing the situation, Foss casually prepared napkin and water.
“I-I am sorry. To trouble yo-…”
“It is not a trouble at all.”
Although Foss saw Aiko’s blunder, he kept a calm smile which made Aiko feel grateful and relieved. Seeing Aiko’s current state, Foss narrowed his eyes and thought of something. He spoke with a small and still calm voice.
“Umm. Aiko-sama. Though it might be presumptuous, may I ask one thing?”
“Eh? Ah, yes. What is it?”
“Why can’t Aiko-sama believe what you want to believe?”
Unable to understand Foss’s words, Aiko tilted her head as a question mark floated above her head. Because of that, Foss continued with a wry smile, “Looks like those words were too lacking.”
“Apparently, Aiko-sama’s mind is currently in serious confusion. There are too many things you want to think about, there are also things you don’t want to think of, and you don’t know what should you do. What’s best is to do what you want, even if you’re not sure of what you want yet. There are many things you don’t understand, which only increases your impatience, and become the impetus towards the vicious circle of confusion. Am I wrong?”
Because he had correctly guessed what she was thinking of, Aiko instantly became speechless. Seeing her reaction, Foss calmly explained with a smile, “I’ve seen a lot of guests, after all.”
“During such times, it’s better to just ‘believe in what you want to believe in’ for now. But then again, people will overlook things if they only want to believe what they want, those words also came with such warning. That saying is correct. However, in my opinion, people only act in what they believe in. That’s why, I feel that during times when one ‘can’t move on,’ it isn’t a bad thing to ‘believe in what you want to believe in’.”
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“… To believe in what I want to believe in.”
Aiko contemplated in Foss’s words. Aiko’s mind was currently filled with regret and guilt which became a bud of doubt in Hajime as the hatred swirled around. Hajime was certainly Aiko’s important student, but Shimizu who was also a similarly an important student to her was murdered. The moment she understood he was an existence who, according to situation, would deprive the other students of their lives. She recognized Hajime as a threat who would deprive her of her important people. Even so, Hajime was also her student, she couldn’t simply cast him away. It was the same reason why she couldn’t just abandon Shimizu, who tried to commit mass murder. That’s why she was confused since because didn’t know what to do. Though Aiko herself thought she had a difficult personality, she couldn’t help it. Hatayama Aiko was a ‘teacher,’ after all.
Foss didn’t know what happened to Aiko. He didn’t know she was, in a certain sense, believing too much in what she wanted to believe in. Even so, he could see she had committed a large blunder since she couldn’t move on after what she believed in had collapsed.
While he was lost in thought, Aiko’s hands had stopped from partaking of her meal and began to get absorbed in her thoughts.
(To believe in what I want to believe in. I wonder… what is it that I want to believe in? One of the things is that I want all of the students to return to Japan. However, it’s something that can no longer be fulfilled. Now what I want to believe in is for it to be possible to return home without any more losses…
His story. His story where a classmate tried to kill him. I do not want to believe it… he even said he will kill us if we were to become a hindrance to him. Towards a human who unhesitatingly murdered a person… Towards the enemy who threatened the students…
Even so, I do not want to believe it. Nevertheless, he actually killed him… killed Shimizu-kun without any hint of hesitation. That’s why he’s already… no, I must believe in what I want to believe in.)
Aiko closed her eyes as she tried to hold down the resurfaced dark feelings. The surrounding people were anxiously looking at her as she moved slightly while thinking of something.
(‘Because he’s an enemy’ is what he said, and ‘I have no time for that’. He also feared Shimizu-kun will once again attack him and his important people if he let him live. That was something anyone would have thought of.
In reality, Yue-san and Shia-san wouldn’t put so much trust in him if he was a cruel man. He only wanted to cut off the source of anxiety for the future of those children… It was why he couldn’t let him live. In other words, he thought I wouldn’t be able to do anything about Shimizu-kun…
To let Shimizu-kun live would mean I should have at least showed him I could reform Shimizu-kun, in which I didn’t… In the end, I was powerless… Shimizu-kun was… Even so, to be killed in that manner… It meant Shimizu-kun was already weakene—… Kh.)
There was a clear reason why Hajime shot Shimizu dead. He was not a broken human who would think nothing of murder. He was not a monster who couldn’t be understood. He wasn’t an enemy who blindly harm the students. Aiko decided to believe in him because he was a ‘student’, and her words could still reach him. With such thinking process, she recalled the shocking scene where a student shot another student to death, and she tried to search for the reason behind it.
(That’s right. I had forgotten it until now. To begin with, I was the one who asked him to help the dying Shimizu-kun, and that was the result. Shimizu-kun would have died even if he didn’t do anything. It was completely unnecessary for him to purposely shoot him! So why?! Why did he do that?! To make sure he dies? No, there’s no need for him to do such a thing. That child only had a few minutes left to live, it was why I asked him for his help, but there’s nothing more left to be done. After all, there was nothing I could do… Shimizu-kun was shot because of me— Kh!?)
Aiko opened her eyes widel She was aghast by the truth she had just noticed.
(… That’s right. Shimizu-kun received the wound from the attack aimed at me. If nothing was done during that time, I would have surely died. It was my fault he had to die! But everyone was convinced Shimizu-kun was killed by him! He was the one who convinced us of it!)
It was her fault, it was her who killed her own student. Just like Hajime feared, Aiko finally realized the truth and paled in an instant. The existence of her students were Aiko’s supporting pillars. The fact that she was the cause of one of her student’s death broke Aiko’s mind. The impact of the fact made her mind unintentionally turn on its defensive mechanism, and Aiko’s mind blanked out. With her outlook wrapped in darkness, she thought of giving herself to the darkness. However, the words Hajime left behind revived her mind.
“If possible, please don’t get demoralized.”
At that time, her mind didn’t understand it because of consecutive impacts. Even though it was troublesome to think well of the meaning behind those words, they were simple words if she thought hard enough.
(If, if he said those words because he had predicted my situation… Wasn’t he worrying about me?… I, he noticed I would break down because I realized I was the cause of Shimizu-kun’s death. That was the reason why… he unnecessarily shot him… to convince us it was he who killed him… so I wouldn’t be crushed by guilt… to keep being a teacher…)
Aiko understood Hajime’s sense of values. Therefore, she didn’t think it was done entirely for her sake. Even so, there’s no denying Hajime had rushed into action because he thought of Aiko. The closing of the door in Aiko’s mind was immediately stopped right before it completely shut, and it began to slowly open once again. Her narrowed view once again broadened. Though there was still the cold feeling like one of the coldest season inside her mind, but at the same time, there certainly was a small fire present.
(Looks like I was being protected by him… No, not only him, but a lot of people have protected me. The children by my side are protecting me even now. I only thought of protecting him, but I didn’t realize I was also being protected… How immature of me. That’s now’s not the right time for me to keep trying to be independent…)
Aiko wore a resolute expression. However, her thoughts involving Shimizu-kun and the fact that she was the reason he was killed wouldn’t disappear for the rest of her life. Even so, she couldn’t just stand still because there were students who adored and relied on her as their teacher; she didn’t want to. Aiko renewed her vow to do the things she could do as a ‘teacher’, even if the world had changed. In addition, she also engraved in her mind to not let her current ideals be shaken. There is already, without a doubt, fear or grudge against Hajime.
(He’s a clumsy one… He understood I might hold a grudge against him, or I might even become his enemy… Now that I think about it, he received my words and it looked like he thought it over seriously… Could this possibly be his way of returning a favor?
When I think back, I’ve only been saved by him. He told me the truth, and in the end, he even saved this town. Moreover, during the battle, he fulfilled his promise and brought Shimizu-kun back. If I reconsidered those things, I’ve only been unreasonable. I only talked of my ideals… and I’ve pressured him with that… How truly immature of me. Even so, he saved us… even though his way of thinking is cold… Looks like parts of his previous self still remained… No, at the very least, he regained some of them, right? Could it be because of those girls?)
Once again, Aiko smiled wryly as she thought of becoming indebted to him. Even though her immaturity was shameful as teacher, she smiled as remembered the Hajime who had sluggish status in the beginning, transforming into a truly dependable man. Thus, even though Hajime had completely changed, she felt happy when she caught a glimpse of his previous self.
But at the moment, she guessed the reasons were Yue and Shia, the girls who were always close to Hajime’s side. Aiko somehow felt a pain in her heart. Aiko inclined her neck, but she immediately thought of it as nothing but her imagination.
(Incidentally, I still haven’t said my thanks to Shia-san who protected me. Even though she is someone I owe my life to… Next time, I must properly make sure to thank her… In addition, I also owe my life to him…)
About the poison and the raging development, Aiko reflected. She had not thanked Shia, and the other benefactor of her life, Hajime. It was only now that she recalled something sealed in the corner of her memory, and she blushed as though fire came out of her face.
(Th-That’s just an artificial respiration! A lifesaving measure! There’s absolutely nothing more than that! I-It’s not like such an intense thing was my first time. I never thought of it as pleasant! Yup, I absolutely never thought of it like that!)
When she thought of the reason behind her flushed face, Aiko suddenly began to beat the table. She repeated her excuse to no one in particular.
In addition, even though Aiko was an adult, she didn’t have any experience in love. Even so, it was true that with her lovely looks, speech, and behavior changed, becoming like someone who was seriously in love. After all, in Japan, there were only ‘gentlemen,’ who treated her seriously because of her teenage-like appearance. Aiko knew there were a lot of men who thought of her appearance as good, but most of them ended up as good friends because none of them wanted to experience shame in being labeled as something beginning with ‘Lo’.
Since it was not unusual for people in their earlier teens to marry in this world, no one was bothered by Aiko’s short height and childish face; the so-called a little girl’s appearance. So even though David and the other Knights were serious,… her small experience in love and her small stature made her believe no man would be interested in her, since she didn’t even notice the love call clearly sent by men from this different world.
Thus, the mouth to mouth life-saving measure Hajime had quite the impact on Aiko. She calmed her mind, and once again recalled the things that wouldn’t get out of her head.
(… To begin with, he already has girlfriends named Yue and Shia… There were already two, so it doesn’t matter if it increases by one. Just what I am saying?! I am a teacher! He’s a student! Wait, that’s not the problem! It’s not like he thinks of me like that! Besides, he somehow managed to casually two-time! Illicit sexual relationships are forbidden! That’s insincere! Love should only be one way!… To have two at the same time… Kh, how shameless! I won’t allow such immoral relationships! Hmph, I won’t allow it!)
The sound of her beating the table became louder.
(… But his feelings towards Yue-san is quite special. Though her style isn’t so different from me… Could it be that h-he likes child-like women? F-For example, like me? No, no, no, what am I thinking! So what if I know his tastes! To begin with, he is eight years younger… Now that I think about it, aren’t people from the Vampire race like Yue-san have a long lifespan? In other words, he likes child-like older woman? Wait, so what if I knew that! Return to your senses, Hatayama Aiko! You are a teacher! He is a student! You are disqualified as a teacher if a little kiss makes you confused!)
Maybe because she was done beating the table, she held her face with both hands, began shaking her head while saying ‘No, no’, once again she beat the table, continued with another ‘No, no’, and finally she shouted “I am a teacher—!!,” as she began to pound the table with her forehead.
As expected, even the students and bodyguard Knights; the group who loves Aiko, was taken aback by her eccentric behavior. When Foss noticed Aiko, who started a one-man show, he said, “Oh my, looks like you’ve cheered up,” with his unchanging calm smile. What a big person.
Afterwards, Aiko was able to come to terms with her feelings towards Hajime about this and that, and self-concluded that was only a temporary hesitation caused by unstable emotion. Thus, there’s no change, Hajime was her student. While it was necessary to deliver information about Hajime to the top management in Church of the Saint and the Kingdom, she also needed to be prepared to protect Hajime from them in case of emergency, since she was determined to return to the Kingdom.
Aiko didn’t notice it. The thing about Hajime wasn’t concluded, it was just put on hold. While she called the students in her mind as “that child,” only Hajime was called “he.”
Thus the feeling began to bud. The time when Aiko finally took notice of it would be a little bit more in the future…
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