After the light completely disappeared, Tiera’s face regained her normal expression. As Marino had said, she was spent: she would have collapsed if Shin hadn’t held her up. He then helped her slowly sit down on the ground.
“Thanks for lending us your powers.”
Tiera’s reply was rather weak too.
Tiera had interfered in the conversation once, so Shin knew that her conscience was aware throughout the possession. She had to have heard their conversation too.
“Hey, Shin, do you…………..no, forget it.”
Tiera started saying something, but stopped halfway. She sat, looking down, so Shin couldn’t see her expression. He could tell what she was going to ask, however.
“Let’s go back and take a rest. Can you walk?”
Shin did not answer Tiera’s half-spoken question and offered her a hand. Thanks to Marino, he felt more hopeful about the possibility of going back to the former world, which made him waver all the more.
“I’m sorry, I can’t stand on my own yet. Could you take me to my room, please?”
The night wind was cool enough that she would risk catching a cold if she stayed out too long. It would definitely be better for her to rest in her room, too.
Shin obliged to Tiera’s request and carried her to her room. Thanks to his stats, she was not a burden at all. Tiera was probably really exhausted, as she entrusted her body to Shin completely, and it adhered fairly closely to his back. Having just said farewell to Marino, Shin thought he could disregard the sensation.
Because of his weakened spirit, however, Shin noticed that, unlike his conscious mind, his body fully felt the warmth of Tiera’s body. He knew the reason why: he wanted to feel again the sensation of hugging Marino, which he had felt minutes ago.
“Shin, your back…”
After leaving the flower field with Marino’s grave at the center, Tiera abruptly broke their silence. Her breathing tickled Shin’s ears. Maybe because of the fatigue, her voice was like a whisper too.
Shin had been quietly resisting his urges, so Tiera’s sudden whisper made his heart skip a beat.
“My back? What about it?”
“I was just thinking, that it’s bigger than I imagined.”
“Really? I can’t tell myself…”
Shin replied as normally as he could, trying to hide his struggle and resisting the breath tickling his ears. Tiera continued, her head on Shin’s shoulder.
“Are all men’s backs like this? Or maybe yours is special?”
“What do you mean?”
“I feel so calm now…just by being here, I feel all my worries disappear. Or rather, I should say that I feel really comforted.”
Tiera’s voice was warm, serene. It was clear that she was expressing her true feelings.
“I end up thinking that…I’d like to stay like this forever.”
“That’d be troublesome, for both of us too.”
Shin tried a joke, but Tiera didn’t reply. That concerned him a little, but he could hear her breathe regularly, so she had probably fallen asleep.
“Crap, how am I going to open the door now?”
Shin arrived in front of the door to Tiera’s room and realized that he could not open it while carrying her, so he changed his posture a little and managed to nudge it open.
Tiera’s room was simple, like Shin’s: in a space about 13 square mel wide there was a bed and not much else.
“Hey, wake up, we’re in your room.”
Tiera was still drowsy, so her answer was a mumble.
“Hey, Shin, are you going back to your former world?”
“I don’t know, I can’t decide.”
“If you can go back, then you should.”
Shin’s question found no answer. She was sitting on her bed, rather unsteadily, so he couldn’t tell if she was really awake or not.
“Your father, your mother, are waiting, right? You were born there, right? If you have a place to go back to, you should.”
“And, if you don’t, I…”
“Tiera? Hey, Tie…she fell asleep…”
Tiera collapsed on the bed and fell soundly asleep before completing her rather intriguing sentence.
Shin wanted to know more, but didn’t feel like waking her up. He took her shoes off, put a blanket on her, then left the room. He headed to his room and found Schnee in front of the door, a gown over her pajamas.
She seemed to know that he wasn’t inside and had decided to wait for him outside his room.
“What’s wrong? It’s pretty late.”
“I was thinking that I’d like to talk a bit. I will come another time if you wish to sleep, however.”
It was pretty late at night, hardly the time to visit other people’s rooms. Shin had already noticed that Schnee was waiting, when he checked the map while carrying Tiera back to her room. She was probably waiting while Shin was talking to Marino too.
“Well, some stuff happened, but that’s okay. Come in.”
Shin opened the door to his room and let Schnee inside. He changed in to his tracksuit — his usual joke equipment — as well.
“It seems you were talking to Tiera, but did something happen? She looked different than usual when she left, so I was a bit concerned.”
“You probably forgot this too, but Tiera is a World Tree Priestess, a being quite rare in this world too. Thanks to her powers, she can recall the souls of the dead and let them possess her.”
“The souls of the dead? Which means that you were talking to someone other than Tiera?”
“Something like that. This time, it wasn’t just a simple possession.”
Shin’s assent turned Schnee’s expression sour.
“Who in the world were you talking to, then?”
“Marino. I told you about her, right? She was my lover.”
“Yes, I recall you mentioning her. I had a sudden headache then, I was really surprised.”
“Same here. Or rather, we were even more surprised.”
Schnee had clutched her head in pain the instant she heard the word lover. Shin too was shocked, wondering what had happened to her.
“So, what did you talk with that Marino?”
“Well, about…many things.”
Thinking about Schnee’s feelings, maybe it was better to hide it. Keeping things hidden, however, can sometimes happen at the worst of timings. In such cases, the situation turns even worse than expected.
Such things happen with terribly precise timing in fiction and would be catastrophic in reality.
“…after saying not to hide anything, I can’t be the one to do it, can I.”
When Schnee had kept quiet about the PK matter, Shin had told her not to keep secrets anymore. He thus thought that he shouldn’t keep secrets either, so he told her everything about his conversation with Marino, after mentally reorganizing it.
Marino was becoming one with Tiera.
Because of this, it was possible that Marino’s conscience disappeared.
Tiera had inherited Marino’s abilities.
There was a high chance that it was possible for Shin to return to his home world.
“Is, that so…”
After listening to Shin, Schnee looked down, a hand covering her mouth. It was very possible for her master to go away forever. It couldn’t be a pleasant prospect for her.
Shin didn’t know what to say. Schnee would probably be reassured if he told her he was going to stay in that world, but his heart wasn’t set. He couldn’t say anything lightly.
Still looking down, Schnee grabbed Shin’s tracksuit and buried her head in his chest.
“I want you to stay. For us….for me, there is no one but you.”
Schnee’s words could barely be heard. Her back was shaking slightly.
“I know it is a selfish thing to say. But even so, I want you to stay here, Shin.”
Shin was surprised.
A few days had passed since Schnee lost her memories. Her reaction now, however, was much too similar to her former self. Maybe it was because of the blessed tag, or the effects of the cursed tag were decreasing. It wasn’t clearly visible yet, but Schnee was going back to normal.
Shin simply waited, silently. Schnee let go of his tracksuit and looked up at him. Something was glowing in her eyes.
“…..I apologize. I lost control for a moment.”
“It’s my fault for not being able to find an answer yet. You don’t have to worry about it.”
“No, for a servant such as I to limit my lord’s actions is the height of arrogance.”
“You don’t need to go that far, okay? Oh, yeah, didn’t you have something to talk to me about?”
It would be pointless to tell her not to worry about it any more, so Shin decided to change the subject.
“I have reacted several times to words that the original me is supposed to care deeply about, haven’t I? When you used the blessed tag, I have recovered some memories, albeit very little, so I thought that if I talked with you I might remember more.”
She was probably referring to when she had experienced sudden headaches or felt abruptly sick.
“I see. How much you have remembered…is hard to put in words, I guess. For example, what kind of things did you remember?”
Shin tried to ask with different words.
“Mainly small things that happened before your return. But the things I remembered the most are my feelings towards you, my lord…no, Shin.”
“Your feelings for me?”
She was just like the former Schnee now. Shin was happy to know that she remembered about her thoughts for him.
“As I am now…there is the Schnee that is your servant and the Schnee that loves you, together in the same body, I should say. Just by being with you like this, I am filled with indescribable joy. Yet…”
Schnee’s words stopped mid sentence.
Silently, her hands stretched to touch Shin’s cheeks. Slowly, as if touching something dangerous, her fingers traced his cheeks, as if to make sure he was really there.
“A part of me thinks that if I really treasure you, I should let you go. A part that thinks that I should cast away this happiness.”
I am confused, conflicted. So continued Schnee.
“Just touching you like this is something like a miracle, but I find myself desiring more.”
“I find myself desiring to be loved.”
Schnee’s gown fell from her shoulders. Her semi-transparent nightgown, which Shin had never seen before, was revealed. The moonlight from the window was enough for Shin to see Schnee clearly. It had caught his interest since they were outside the room, but now that Schnee’s silhouette was so clearly before him, Shin couldn’t help but swallow his breath.
“Are you, excited?”
Schnee’s face was close. The voice he was supposed to be used to hearing now had a sensual tinge to it.
“What are you…”
“Are you saying that you do not understand?”
Schnee’s gaze clearly expressed how she would never believe that.
She put her arms around Shin and held her body against his. The confused Shin easily fell under her weight. Her face was close, he could feel her warm breath. Gravity pushed her glossy silver hair on Shin’s face, forcing him to see nothing but Schnee.
That was not everything, though: Schnee’s chest also pressed against Shin’s. That softness, coupled with the moan of glee Schnee emitted when they fell together, strongly attacked Shin’s capacity for rational thinking.
“Schnee, what’s going on with you, really-”
Shin managed not to be carried away by the mood and removed Schnee from him. After a brief opposition, her arms let go too.
Schnee was still on top of him, but the dangerous atmosphere was successfully repelled. Schnee’s change, however, was more of a concern for Shin.
“Schnee? Hey, what’s wrong?”
The instant after Shin was relieved of distancing her body from his, Schnee held her head with her hands, apparently in terrible pain. That was probably the reason why she stopped resisting: judging from her frown, it was something Schnee didn’t expect either.
“I’m okay, it will go away soon.”
“Could it be that, this happened without us knowing too?”
Shin had witnessed it just a few times. There was the possibility that Schnee hid it, in order not to worry them.
“I’m alright now.”
After less than 5 minutes, the pain in Schnee’s expression subdued. At the very least, she did not seem to be lying. In such a situation, however, she couldn’t just pick up from where they left off. Schnee seemed to still be in pain: Shin touched her cheek and found it very hot.
“You did something like that despite being sick?”
“There is no obstacle to my activity. The fever will go away soon as well. This is more important now.”
”That’s not good. Just go rest. I’m not….going anywhere soon. We can talk another time.”
After a bit of difficulty finding the right words, Shin sat up and put his arms behind Schnee’s back and knees. Maybe because of the fever, she barely resisted to being lifted like that.
“I am truly sorry. It appears I lacked proper judgment.”
“Well…yeah, that was way too proactive for the usual Schnee.”
“Thinking of using my body to snare you was simply too shallow. I understand how foolish it was now, but moments before it seemed like the only way.”
Weakly, Schnee added that she didn’t know why she did that.
“Maybe your half-returned memories are having weird effects on you. I’m sorry, just have a bit more patience. We’ll knock out that evil god in no time.”
Shin regretted a little having relied on a 50% chance and not hunting down the evil deity right away. It would have been difficult to do when Schnee just lost her memories, though.
If they hadn’t gone to Rashugum to look for ingredients for the blessed tag, they wouldn’t have obtained the assistance of Tzaobath or Sety, after all.
“Anyway, see you tomor–”
Shin had laid Schnee on her bed and was about to leave, when she called to him. He turned around and kneeled beside the bed. Schnee’s right hand poked out of her blankets.
“Could you please…hold my hand, until I fall asleep?”
Said Schnee, half her face buried in the blankets, her aggressiveness from moments ago completely gone somewhere, the ears poking from her hair blazing red.
“…okay, that’s an easy request.”
Shin’s hand covered Schnee’s. Maybe because of the fever, her hand felt hot till the fingertips.
“Am I being…childish?”
“Well, isn’t that fine? To act a little spoiled at times like these, I mean.”
“Right…when I turn back…can I…as…aga….?”
“Sure, I promise.”
Shin pieced together the fragments of Schnee’s question and promised. Schnee felt relieved, or was maybe too exhausted: she fell asleep almost immediately. Thinking it would be weird to just stay there staring at her, Shin left the room, with some regret.
“Even in a state like that, she thinks about me…”
To stay or to go. Knowing that both were possible, Shin was lost as never before. However, it was also true that Marino’s words tipped the scales.
He couldn’t answer Schnee’s question because he wasn’t ready to cut off either of the possibilities. Because he couldn’t be sure that Schnee’s feelings were true.
“But I guess that’s just an excuse.”
As Marino had firmly stated, thinking that Schnee’s feelings were due to the affection raising items would be akin to insulting her.
Shin could have been unconsciously looking for a reason to go back to his former world.
“Putting things into words is really hard…”
What happened until now, what will happen in the future. If he started thinking again there was no end to it. Eventually, Shin reached the conclusion that he thought would leave no regrets. Or rather he had reached it already.
When he said goodnight to Schnee, he stopped for a moment because he was thinking of saying it already, but ultimately couldn’t.
The words that would cut his connections died in his throat.
“I have to tell her properly once she turns back.”
When Shin thought what would be the decision that brought him less regrets, the first thing that appeared in his mind were Schnee’s words when they met again: “Welcome back”.
The feeling of “having returned home” he felt then. The answer had probably appeared then and there.
“I’m sorry, Schnee. Give me just one more night.”
So whispered Shin while looking in the direction of Schnee’s room.
He learned the next morning, however, that he did not have any such time left.