SETP Vol. 4 Chapter 3

 

Chapter 3 – The Price of a Reading

 

“…the empire’s information management has gotten pretty sloppy, hasn’t it.”

Cohen sighed and looked down at the ground, where my shadow drew a faint silhouette.

“If my ears didn’t fail me…you said “Abominations”. Is that right?”

Cohen raised his face again. His gaze, tinged with a sort of pressure, pierced me.

“It’s true that I know of certain beasts incapable of even speech. But even if they are the “Abominations” you speak of…what obligation do I have to answer your questions?”

“You don’t have any obligation to…but.”

I paused on purpose, then continued.

“You have plenty of reasons.”

Cohen referred to himself as an “archaeologist” during his conversation with Elena.

The reason why he was here in the “Forest of Nightfall” was likely related to the ancient ruins, the same as Elena. The ruins that contained the past engraved by Rudolf. Cohen is probably here because he can’t decipher it.

“I can decipher what’s inside the ruins here.”

I have barely ever studied in my life. It’s impossible for me to find a pattern in those characters and read them. But if these ruins were left by Rudolf, I should be able to tell what he wanted to leave here, as I lived in the same era as him. I was completely sure of it.

“…you can’t possibly think that nonsense is the reason why I’d answer your questions?”

“Unfortunately, I have no way to prove it now.”

I thought Cohen might understand if I said it like that.

It wasn’t because I had a plan or was speaking from experience. I just felt he might.

I had the feeling that he could understand everything.

“…looks like you aren’t lying.”

“Oh?”

Cohen’s eyes narrowed on me. When he did, I felt a very similar sensation to when Rinchelle’s third princess — Lychaine May Rinchelle looked inside my mind.

He looked or maybe read, inside me.

I arrived at this conclusion and subconsciously voiced my surprise and admiration.

If he really could read inside me, this would explain many things.

If he could extract something from me, he must be really intrigued by my shadow. It was a difficult feeling to put into words, but I found his eyes wandering over to my shadow more than once. A perfectly reasonable behavior.

“But that’s it. You aren’t lying. I don’t have time to play word games with you. Get out of my sight right— ”

“…why…?”

Before Cohen could finish spewing his rejection, his words were interrupted by Elena’s feeble voice. It sounded like her dry throat barely managed to let her speak.

“Why…do you know about those…?”

“…those?”

“Those monsters, what else…why, why do you…know them?”

Elena slowly walked over to me, the light in her eyes dimmer and weaker than before. During our first encounter, I had an impression of bright innocence. That Elena, however, was nowhere to be seen now.

She had changed utterly and completely.

“ANSWER ME, NOW!!!!”

The sudden shout assaulted my eardrums.

Her bloodshot eyes were filled with killing intent. I felt countless needles pricking my skin.

“Why do I know them…”

I could talk about it until the sun went down. I couldn’t help but find it strange, though.

Why was I so fixated on the “Abominations” in the first place?

Because I knew how dangerous they were? Because it was imprinted in my very soul?

Yes, that was definitely one of the reasons.

Because I had to exact revenge on those monsters?

Yes, that was another reason.

I had too many reasons to count.

I looked over at Cohen and had the impression he was interested in hearing what I said. He probably wanted to use it to verify the truth of the words I said before.

As I delved deeper into my thoughts, Elena’s “why do you know?” changed to “why are you so obsessed?”

“Yes, right, you’re right…I’ve been listening in on your conversation, so it’s unfair if I don’t say anything, right.”

I looked up to the sky. The sun, which was burning bright until moments before, was beginning to be covered by clouds.

Black, heavy clouds projected their shadows on the ground.

“That probably is…”

I had no reasons to hide it.

So I pulled up the edges of my mouth.

The gesture I always did when I forced myself to smile. Even without a mirror, I was sure that I was showing a horrible smile at that moment.

“This is the reason.”

A self-deprecating laugh.

Elena did not know — that I smiled only when I swung my sword.

“I know them because I have to kill them. I keep seeking them because I cannot allow them to exist.”

In the end, I just wanted to smile as I passed on.

If I could uphold what I believed in till the end, that was enough.

The promises I made were more important to me than anything else.

“I promised I’d kill every last one of them. And I can’t fail that promise.”

As long as I breathed, no matter in what situation I was, I wasn’t going to allow the “Abominations” to exist. I couldn’t pretend I didn’t know or care.

“…………”

I heard the sound of swallowing breath.

Was she satisfied with my answer?

If she at least understood that I wasn’t on the “Abominations”’ side, it was worth talking.

I turned away from the stupefied Elena. The seething rage that pervaded her was gone.

“Quite deep.”

I heard Cohen’s voice. There was less rejection in him now, replaced by curiosity.

“That really is some deep darkness. You’re just like a bottomless swamp.”

I found his metaphor pretty bizarre. Cohen’s expression twisted slightly, as if he could peer into those feelings as well.

“The more *I read*, the deeper the darkness goes. What could I compare it to, if not to a bottomless swamp?”

It felt like he read my mind. No, not *like*. He must have really read it. If so — let him read as much as he wanted. He was free to look inside me, my mind, my heart, as he pleased.

That way he would understand my relationship with the “Abominations”, to a sickening degree.

Once he started reading inside me, he couldn’t reject my words as untrue anymore.

It was a chance to ask questions, to earn the trust of a person highly likely to have the answers I sought. It wasn’t a bad prospect at all.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think of myself as a bottomless swamp at all. I’m not sure why, though.”

I thought fondly about the past.

Happiness, pain, sadness, joy.

I longed for the past, filled with all of my emotions, realized it was never going to come back, and my body trembled with infinite solitude.

“I see why you’d use words like darkness or swamp. If you say that, I guess it really is darkness. Every person sees things their own way, so just think what you will. I’m not going to deny it.”

A flood of memories in my brain. I continued talking, a tinge of discomfort on my face as the memories cut and carved into my ability of rational thought.

“I’m not going to reject you reading into my mind either. I wouldn’t ever talk about it myself, but if someone wants to look, they’re free to. That’s how I see it.”

That’s why I showed no signs of irritation when Lychaine May Rinchelle looked.

“Your name is Cohen, right? Please, look as much as you want, in the heart you called a swamp.”

I didn’t have a proper reason, but my gut instinct told me this man knew. I thought that he might know who created the “Abominations”. That was maybe the reason why I was boasting like that. If I could obtain that information, my past was a meager price to pay.

“It makes me sick to my stomach, but I’ll endure it this one time.”

When people think about the past, they tend to focus only on pleasant memories. No one enjoys dwelling on unpleasant memories.

I was the same too.

I wasn’t going to feel any nostalgia or sweet melancholy for memories centered around the “Abominations”.

“Go on, look more. You’ll find the reason why I can decipher the ruins too in there.”

I forced more memories to the surface.

Dull, colorless memories I kept sealed tight. Memories of despair drowned in blood. And all the feelings of oppression accompanying them.

I felt as if something invisible was squeezing my heart and trembled.

The next instant, my mind went completely blank.

A complete whiteout.

A feeling of surrender, utter loneliness took over my whole being. The people whose existence was so brutally, so clearly engraved in my heart were no more. My heart howled, cried all of its tears, then started grinding again.

I saw a path dripping with blood.

The road I walked on and painted in red— 

A mountain of corpses. Skeletons and bones, stepped on, trampled. Blood flowing, life vanishing. Hands that couldn’t reach, hearts twisted. Things disappearing. Crushed under inhuman cruelty. Swords bathed in blood. My “Spada”. Emotions breaking down. An existence fading away. Regret. Resignation. Self-loathing. Self-deprecation. Shame. I was burned, swallowed, broken, crushed, trampled, overwhelmed. Someone’s death. Merciless deaths, one after the other. Hope, light, everything dies. Killed. Everyone is killed, brutally. Everyday life, our very existence, dreams, everything was killed. Lost, lost, lost. Taken away. Even so, I lived, kept looking for an answer. I sought, clung. Found despair, cried in solitude. Wailed. Killed myself. Took my sword again, killed. Killed. Killed. Lived. Lost. Killed again. Lost my own self. Lived without emotion. Dreamed. Cried. Regretted. Relived my happiness. Despaired at the hell before me. Realized there was no hope. No salvation. Realized I could do nothing but kill. Smiled. Laughed. LAUGHED. Stood on a hill of gravestones. A scenery of emptiness, of death. Of blood. A dull, gray world. Only death, death all over. I scattered death all around me, like a demon from hell. I killed, killed, killed, massacred. Knew true emptiness, cried. Turned my blade towards myself — vanished.

“Haah….”

It only lasted an instant.

I sighed a little, letting out my breath and my pounding heartbeat.

I looked at Cohen, while still ravaged by my endless regrets.

After reading that flood of information, massive to the point of cruelty, he swallowed his breath. He was standing there, his eyes wide open, not even breathing. As if he was frozen, completely still. Like time stopped for him.

“You…said your name was Shizuki.”

Cohen spoke slowly, carefully choosing his words. His tone suggested he couldn’t believe what he saw, contained a sort of helplessness.

In contrast to that, however, his lips were curved into a smile. The feelings rising from deep inside his heart spread through his face. 

Those feelings were of— 

“ —Haha. Haha, HAHAHA!!! HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!”

Joy.

Cohen laughed maniacally, a crazed light in his eyes.

“What is this!? What are you!?!? How can you be alive!? How can you oppose them!? How could you!?”

An explosion of joy that showed no signs of stopping.

“You, you, you…!!! How can you be here!?!”

“I told you. I have to kill every last one of them.”

A seeker of the unknown. That was probably the ideal way to describe an archaeologist. From Cohen’s standpoint, my heart was something more valuable than gold.

“You can kill those things? You? No…*you killed them*, didn’t you.”

Cohen sighed, trying to suppress his erratic heartbeat.

“You…who can kill those things…what do you have to ask me?”

Cohen’s tone implied that he was going to field my questions.

“I want to know who created the “Abominations”.”

“What will you do once you know?”

“Kill.”

I uttered the word coldly, emotionless. Cohen’s body trembled slightly.

“A simple answer. I like it, but your goal is to kill every last one of them, right? I don’t think killing the one behind it will change anything at this point.”

“Even so, I will.”

“I see, you’re quite the stubborn one.”

Cohen probably realized my mind was set and expected I was going to answer like that, as he smiled.

“I can answer your question, but I won’t do it for free. You understand, yes?”

I immediately understood what Cohen meant. I had already shown what I offered in exchange for his information, after all.

“I’m going to take you inside the ruins, now.”

Three distinct gasps.

Elena, who had been listening to our conversation in a dazed state, reacted with surprise.

“W-why!?”

“I just accepted his offer. I don’t think there’s anything strange about it.”

“But— ”

“Oh, right. It’s a good chance, you can come along too.”

A sudden turn of events.

Cohen, who had opposed Elena going into the ruins so firmly before, now casually invited her to come.

“The history here might be a lot more stimulating than I expected, though. Personally speaking, I’m pretty sure it’d be better for you to go back.”


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