“To think that I’d come here again.”
The sun had set and the moon had risen in the sky. Shin, alone, stood in front of Marino’s grave. The others were probably already asleep.
From the clear, cloudless sky, the moon quietly shone on the grave, the flowers surrounding it, and Shin.
“Hey, Marino. Is Tiera somehow connected to you?”
Shin naturally did not expect to hear an answer, but he could not help but ask. The skills Tiera had learned were ones Shin knew well. He had seen them often, since they were Marino’s skills.
She had consulted with him many times before learning some of them. It would be a different situation if the skills Tiera knew were one or two…but as far as he could remember, Tiera had all of them. It was too much to be labelled as a mere coincidence.
“….correct. I am inside that girl.”
Shin turned around, shocked. Even if it was in his private area, it should have been impossible for anyone to sneak up on the current Shin unnoticed.
“Yep. It’s been a while.”
Shin’s eyes saw Marino’s silhouette overlap Tiera’s. Tiera, or rather, her host body was looking in the distance with a hollow gaze.
“Don’t worry, I’ve explained everything to her.”
Marino understood that Shin must have been worried about Tiera and reassured him.
“Is Tiera your reincarnation?”
“I wonder? I am just inside her. I was only able to fully comprehend it after we kissed, though.”
She was probably referring to what happened in Hinomoto. Shin thought that Tiera had invoked Marino’s soul, but that had apparently triggered the awakening of Marino’s soul inside her.
Until then her conscience had been blurry, as if she was dreaming. That too had started when Tiera became a World Tree priestess.
“This girl seems to be able to communicate with many things. She can create connections with things that cannot be reached normally. That might be the reason why I ended up inside her.”
“That’s why she became the World Tree priestess…or was made one, maybe?”
“Yes. But it was just a coincidence that she was born like this. Same goes for the curse. That can’t be said for her meeting with you, though.”
Marino talked while looking straight at Shin.
“After her exile, she was found by Schnee because I called for her. I thought that she could be safe in your Tsuki no Hokora. My conscience was still hazy then, so it was really lucky that my voice reached her.”
Marino said that since her conscience was still blurred, she could not give more concrete assistance then. Marino was the reason why Tiera had been saved, however. Shin told her that she should be proud of that.
“Thank you. But I helped her because I had my reasons too.”
Being inside Tiera, Marino would die too if Tiera did. Tiera’s expression, however, showed that Marino meant to say something else.
“It’s true that I wanted to help her. But I thought that, with her powers, I could maybe talk with you again. I could tell you what I couldn’t before, the feelings lingering in me.”
Her sad expression reminded Shin of Marino’s last words. Marino had died saying “Let’s go back”. Shin could not tell what her “lingering feelings” might be.
“The words I said that time…are tying you down. Watching you from inside her, I thought that I left you with the wrong words.”
Shin wanted to protest, but Marino sealed his lips with a finger.
“That time, I was only thinking of myself. I didn’t even think for a moment that my words could tie you down. That’s why I want to say something again, now.”
Faint but gentle, such was Marino’s smile as she talked.
“You don’t have to work so hard anymore. You kept your promise. You saved everyone. So, don’t let my words tie you down anymore. Just do what you wish.”
Marino, using Tiera’s body, quietly embraced Shin and told him her feelings. Even as the person hugging him was Tiera, he felt a very nostalgic sensation.
“….to tell the whole truth, I don’t think I have much time left.”
After a few minutes, Marino stated this all too casually. Shin could not just let it go, however.
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“How can I say it…I’m like the remains of a dead conscience, now. I am fully aware now, and remember most of the time we spent together. I can exist here thanks to Tiera, but I feel that my memories are gradually getting hazy. I don’t think I’ll be able to maintain this state for more than 10 minutes.”
Her own existence was gradually vanishing, or so Marino concluded, calmly. She had probably already accepted it: having dispelled her last regrets, there was no trace of sadness in her.
“You mean you’ll…disappear?”
“It’s probably more correct to say that I’ll fuse with her. Tiera, originally, could have been the Chosen One meant to inherit my strength…but since I remained, she couldn’t inherit my stats and abilities, turning out as a normal person with no special powers, except the Priestess job.”
Marino added that if she had been gone from the start, maybe Tiera wouldn’t have been exiled from her village.
“Who knows, maybe it’s all as you said. But thinking about it in game terms, had Tiera been stronger, she would have just been attacked by stronger monsters. There would have been even more damage, don’t you think?”
The monsters summoned by 【Cursed Gift】 depended on the stats of the cursed target. While there was an upper limit, the stronger the target was, the stronger the monsters would become.
Marino’s avatar did not have exceptionally high stats, but they were still much higher than this world’s average citizen. The monsters summoned in such a case would be far superior to the level 200 beasts Tiera mentioned. In Tiera’s village too, there probably were those who made fighting their profession. Thanks to the absence of Marino’s stats, however, the village was likely spared extensive destruction.
“Is, that so??”
“That’s where you say ‘definitely’, you know.”
“I can’t be certain, but I don’t think it’s wrong.”
“As always, you become a realist in the weirdest moments…”
Marino sighed at Shin’s unconvincing answer. Her expression then turned completely serious.
“Hey, Shin. Do you want to go back to the former world?”
“I wonder. Honestly speaking, right now, half of me wants to, while the other half wants to stay.”
“I would have expected it to be more unbalanced. This world should be much easier for you to live in, after all.”
“In the beginning, I wanted to go back a lot more. But, I guess after living here for a while…I can’t just abandon everything so easily now.”
A world that lets you live freely. That was very attractive, of course. What was important for Shin, however, was not that.
“Friends, family, love. Important people, a place to back to, it’s all important. Now I have those things in both worlds.”
Both world contained things and people important to Shin. Choosing either had become increasingly difficult.
“Your love in the real world is no more, though.”
“Even so. I promised to go meet her, didn’t I?”
“….ah, for heaven’s sake.”
Marino’s serious expression crumbled, making way for a mixture of annoyance and happiness.
“If you keep that up, Schnee and Tie-mghmgh”
After saying Schnee’s name, Marino suddenly started talking gibberish. Tiera’s formerly expressionless face seemed to blush a little.
“I got attacked by Tiera…anyway. Schnee loves you that much, so you might as well respond to her feelings, no?”
Marino tried to act as if Tiera’s interruption just now had never happened and proceed with the conversation. Her expression was serious again.
“Schnee is a support character I created with the settings I wanted. Since you were inside Tiera, maybe you know already, but I used items to increase her affection level towards me. In a way, it’s like I brainwashed her.”
Shin didn’t think that it was all because of the items he used, but every now and then he would be reminded of their influence.
“Aah…why are men like this? No, I suppose it’s just you, Shin.”
“Eh…? Did I say something dumb now?”
“Looking back on Schnee, I wouldn’t have expected you to start talking about brainwashing of all things. Those are her true feelings, get a clue already.”
“But she might be affected, no?”
“No. One hundred percent impossible. You should understand at least that.”
“That doesn’t make sense…”
Being a woman, she could tell, or so she surmised. Shin had no idea why Marino could say that with such confidence.
“I want you to be happy, Shin. I don’t know which is best for you, between staying here or going back, but I’ll tell you everything I know.”
“Everything you know?”
“After all, you were flung into this world all of a sudden. Before you said that half of you wanted to go back to the former world, but you think there’s a low probability of being able to, right?”
“Well yeah, I had no idea what happened, and I still don’t.”
The death game was supposed to end, so what happened next was completely unexpected. Even if he wanted to go back, what was he supposed to do? He didn’t have any actual clues.
The existence of the Boundary Guardian monster and the Sacred Places, and other unknown elements, could be key in going back. Especially the Boundary Guardian, which was very different from other monsters.
“About that, there probably is a way to go back.”
“It mainly depends on Tiera’s powers, though. As you are now, it’s like you have two containers. One is your body in this world, in game terms the avatar, and the other…”
“…is my actual living body.”
“Exactly. That’s the result of me and my knowledge of the former world bonding with Tiera and her powers. I think there’s a way to go back, maybe your soul, or spirit…if we can separate it, you should be able to return.”
According to Marino, Shin’s material body in the real world was probably pulling on Shin’s spirit with more strength.
“Does it mean that I’d go back to the former world if I died here?”
“It’s possible, but don’t even think of trying, okay? If it failed, you’d just make everyone sad.”
“I was just thinking out loud, no way I’m going to try.”
It was hardly the situation to gamble on something like that. Shin’s equipment had also the ability of resurrecting its wearer once: he wouldn’t test it, however, so he was not sure that it would activate.
“Anyway, what I meant to say is that you don’t have to feel pessimistic about the chances of going back to the real world.”
“Actually, having more possibilities is just more troublesome. If it wasn’t possible, it’d be easier to give up.”
“I could have just not said anything.”
“Are you maybe enjoying seeing me conflicted?”
“Of course not. But it wouldn’t be fair, right? There are people waiting for you over there, after all.”
Shin glared at Marino, half-jokingly, but she replied with a gentle yet strict tone. His parents, siblings, and friends were there.
Shin was important to Schnee and his other comrades in this world, but so was he to the people waiting for his return in the other world.
They were probably worried, hoping he would wake up soon. How could he ever say that they were less important than Schnee and the others?
“In the end, whether I go or stay, it all depends on me.”
“Well, yes. With this, I said all I had to. Now you just have to choose whatever would leave you with the least regrets.”
“You should say ‘no regrets’ there, no?”
“Any choice would leave you with some regrets. That’s why you’re so conflicted.”
Marino could see through Shin’s thoughts.
“Okay, it’s about time for me to disappear. Just being here like this is taxing for Tiera, after all.”
“Hey, you’re not going to vanish just like that, right?”
Shin’s question was very serious: he could tell Marino’s expression had a tinge of sadness in it.
“…you found out.”
Marino probably meant to hide it: she laughed, sheepishly.
“When you came here, Tiera had learned skills she didn’t know before, right? Just as you guessed, those are my skills.”
That was proof that Marino was about to become one with Tiera, apparently. Her very existence was vague and unstable from the start, so she could have vanished anytime.
“So…this is goodbye?”
“Honestly speaking, I don’t know. But I can’t be sure that we’ll ever meet again. So I’ll say it now…goodbye.”
Marino’s smile was too bright for Shin. She had accepted that she would disappear, so Shin had no way to keep her.
Don’t go. Don’t disappear.
Shin’s words stopped in his throat, then vanished in thin air before Marino’s smile. He stretched his hands, but could only touch Tiera’s body. No matter what he did, he couldn’t hold Marino in this world. Even a High Human was powerless now.
He had to say something, but nothing would come out.
It wasn’t set in stone that this was the last time.
Or maybe it could be.
Shin’s chest tightened. Hurt.
“Goodbye, then. My beloved.”
With these last words, Marino’s silhouette overlapped Tiera’s and started shining.
The light was gradually absorbed by Tiera’s chest, on the side of her heart.
Marino did not answer, simply smiling serenely. Just before she disappeared, Shin managed to wring out a feeble “goodbye”.