Once the banquet drew to a close, the main guests -Shin and his group- went to their assigned rooms inside the guildhouse. They had one room each, but as expected Yuzuha slipped into Shin’s room.
“I guess I got a little tipsy.”
Yuzuha had curled up into a ball on the bed as soon as they entered the room, and Shin left to take a walk in the guildhouse to sober up.
Shin knew Kuchinashi and her guild from before, so he was also familiar with the structure of the guildhouse to a degree. Given his familiarity combined with the map, he wouldn’t lose his way.
Even if he bumped into other guild members, his name and face were already well known, so as long as he avoided any places where only guild members were allowed, there wouldn’t be any problems.
“Hm? This presence is…”
Following the presence displayed on the map, Shin arrived in a part of the guildhouse resembling a garden.
The square-shaped garden was about 20 mels wide. The walls hid it from the rest of the building, so it was well suited to practicing with weapons and techniques.
It was already well into the night; the moon and stars were shining gently on the garden’s grass and flowers.
“So it was really you, Tiera.”
He had felt her presence already, but as the map showed, there was already someone in the garden.
The moonlight was shining on Tiera’s silhouette, alone in the darkness of the night. She was looking at the sky, still clad in the priestess clothes she wore at the banquet.
“Oh, you didn’t change yet? …..Tiera?”
Shin called to Tiera, who was still looking up to the sky, a distant look in her eyes, but received no response.
Shin felt something was off, and called her again; Tiera then finally moved.
Slowly, she raised her arms, then opened them wide. As she did this, she lightly spun on her feet.
Afterward, without stopping, she continued dancing, as if she was playing with some invisible creature.
“Is this Kagura…the dance offered to the gods?”
Priestess robes, a silhouette bathed in the moonlight that felt almost otherworldly, movements apparently lacking any regularity.
Looking at Tiera’s flowing black hair, Shin was reminded of the Kagura, a dance offered to the gods of Shinto shrines, which he had seen on TV in the past.
That Kagura dance was very slow-paced, but he felt that Tiera’s dance shared a similar atmosphere. Her expression also suggested that she had fallen into a sort of trance.
Without realizing it, Shin had lost track of time, absorbed in Tiera’s dance.
How much time had passed? As if repeating the first movements in reverse, Tiera lowered her arms while spinning, then stopped completely.
She was looking at the sky again, just like she did when Shin had arrived. Her position and posture were also identical; if Shin had not seen her dance, he would think she had just continued looking at the sky all the while.
If something had changed, it was the moonlight, which seemed to shine on Tiera more brightly than before.
“The stars are really beautiful.”
“Hm? Oh…yeah, that’s true.”
When had she noticed him? Tiera turned towards Shin and talked to him.
Tiera’s faint smile gave her an almost mystical aura. As if the person Shin was now looking at was someone else.
“Shin, did you come to look at the stars too?”
“No, I just wanted to feel the night breeze a bit. And…I didn’t mean to peek, but I saw your dance. I’m not going to ask what it was, nor will I talk to anyone about it, so rest easy.”
He was a little undecided first, but Shin then opted to tell her the honest truth.
Shin had decided to wait until she said the word before he talked about her circumstances. Thus he told her that he had no intention of inquiring any further.
“I see. But, I think that it’s alright if it’s you, Shin. It could even be that I called for you.”
Tiera walked towards Shin, smiling to tell him that there was nothing to worry about. At the same time, she said something cryptic.
“You were calling? Can I ask what that means?”
“Wait just a little more, please. Or I can’t explain well enough.”
Tiera extended a hand towards Shin’s cheeks while speaking. She touched him gently, as if handling something broken.
“Tiera…no, you are…”
The feeling Shin had of something being off grew larger and larger. What he thought was just his imagination became reality.
With eyes that seemed lost into space, she looked straight towards Shin. He returned the look, trying to grasp what was hidden deep within her eyes.
Her eyes were golden, but also contained hues different from the color yellow. What her slightly transparent pupils reflected was the black-haired man he always saw in the mirror…? Not this time.
Not him, someone wrapped in mist, was looking back at him. As he tried to uncover the identity of that mysterious figure, something soft and warm touched Shin’s lips.
What had touched Shin’s lips was Tiera’s. All his focus was concentrated on her eyes, and he hadn’t noticed her coming closer and closer.
Her hands, which had been gently caressing his cheeks, were now holding them firmly. A passionate kiss, unthinkable for the usual Tiera, united the two together.
A single teardrop escaped Tiera’s eyes as they were kissing. Her expression, differently from before, was both earnest and charming.
The sudden event had stopped Shin’s thought process, but after a few seconds it started again.
Thinking that this could not be allowed to continue, he put his hands on Tiera’s shoulders and tried to break free.
Fortunately, his hands touched Tiera’s shoulders just as she had pulled back slightly to breathe. That moment, the light of reason returned to Tiera’s eyes.
She seemed to be completely unaware of what was happening and just stood there, frozen. Before her eyes, however, was a long thread uniting Shin and Tiera’s lips.
The thread shining in the moonlight was a product of Shin’s, or Tiera’s, or both of their saliva.
Tiera seemed absolutely confused and would just repeat “why?” over and over.
If this was daytime, her violently blushing face would be clearly visible.
“I-I…did I really…Shin…?”
She didn’t say what she did. Or rather, she couldn’t.
Her hands, holding Shin’s face.
A distance so close they could feel each other breathing.
The thread hanging between their lips.
Adding all of these elements, it was more than clear what had just happened.
“Tiera, first of all, hear me ou…”
Upon reaching the apex of confusion, Tiera could not hear Shin’s words and ran away as fast as she could. Just like a veteran ninja, she deftly slipped away from Shin and ran off, totally oblivious of her priestess robes.
Her screams echoing through the guildhouse, Tiera ran through the corridors at a speed that would make the average Chosen One grow pale. In just a few seconds she had turned the corner and disappeared.
“What in the…”
Considering what happened, Shin couldn’t just go after her and just stayed behind; for a while, all he could do was just stand there, dumbfounded.
The next morning, Shin took Yuzuha to the breakfast hall, rubbing his still half-closed eyes.
Still sleepy, Yuzuha held onto Shin’s hand, almost dozing off while they walked.
In the guildhouse, breakfast was served at a specific time; Shin’s group would eat it alongside the other members.
As he was heading towards the hall, Shin met Filma and Tiera. Filma greeted him as usual, but Tiera turned violently red as soon as she saw Shin and hurried on towards the hall.
“….hey, Shin. Something happened to Tiera yesterday, right?”
Filma could not fail to notice Tiera’s crystal clear reaction. She could not let it go either, so she pressed Shin, smiling.
“Something happened, yeah you can say that. But I can’t wrap my mind around it either. I wanted to ask her about it yesterday, but she ran off before I could.”
“You did something to make her run away, right? Something so embarrassing that she turned red like that.”
“Don’t say it like I’m the bad guy! I don’t get what’s going on either!”
Filma’s face was coming closer and closer, but Shin pushed her away.
As it wasn’t possible to ask Tiera about what happened, Shin could think of only one person to ask for help. But in that case, he had to explain what happened the night before.
“I can’t just let this go, though…I’d really rather not, but I’ll go talk with someone who might know what happened. I’ll leave Yuzuha to you.”
Shin entrusted Yuzuha to Filma and headed to Schnee’s room. When he passed in front of the room assigned to Schnee, he had felt her presence inside.
When Shin knocked on the door, Schnee came out right away; she was about to go out too.
“Shin? I don’t see Yuzuha with you, did something happen?”
“There’s something I want to ask you about Tiera. There’s still some time until breakfast, will you hear me out?”
“Something happened, I suppose. Do come in.”
Shin followed Schnee inside. The room’s interior was very similar to Shin’s room, with just the furniture’s placement being a little different.
Shin sat on a cushion and told what happened the night before.
About Tiera’s dance, about her looking like a different person, about the person looking at him from within her eyes. Finally, about the kiss.
“…so that’s what happened…”
“She regained her senses halfway through, though. Looked like she didn’t remember what happened, and because of that she ran off before I could ask her anything. I thought you might know something, so…”
Shin talked while avoiding to look straight in Schnee’s eyes.
Schnee’s intimidating aura had vanished on their way back from the dungeon, but her mood didn’t seem to have improved much.
“I see, I understood the situation. I cannot talk in detail about this if Tiera isn’t here too, but I can say that at the very least it isn’t something bad. You could say it’s related to Tiera’s unique nature.”
“Well, just by looking at her you can tell that she’s not a normal Elf. I imagined she came from a special lineage, or something.”
“That’s not a wrong way to see it. Let us let Tiera talk about it herself. Of course, the decision to do so or not rests upon her.”
“That’s all right. I’m just relieved that it isn’t something dangerous.”
Shin drew a sigh of relief. It doesn’t look like Tiera was possessed by something, at least.
Together with the relief, Shin felt his stomach rumble, in perfect time for breakfast.
“Shall we go get breakfast, then?”
“Yes…but, before that…”
“Eh? Eh? What?”
Shin had turned around to exit the room, but Schnee grabbed his hand and made him turn back towards her.
Shin looked timidly at Schnee, fearing that the time for the explosion of her accumulated stress had come. But Schnee’s expression seemed to contain something completely different from his predictions.
“I can’t just let this go without saying anything…do you think that I wouldn’t feel anything after what you just told me?”
“Aah, er, well…I don’t, that’s why it was a bit difficult to tell…”
Even if he knew what he had to do, actually doing it was a different matter altogether.
Curiously enough, Shin clearly understood that Schnee was pouting, from her expressions and her gestures.
“Considering what happened with Kotone too…Shin, you have too many ‘openings’.”
“I, I’m sorry…”
Shin could not say anything back, except apologies. Schnee never came off so strongly in front of others.
“If you really feel sorry………p-please hug me.”
After a few moments of silence, Schnee opened her arms and spoke.
“Ehm…is that, enough?”
“I don’t like to be always left out.”
Schnee moved her arms up and down a little while talking. That movement was remarkably similar to Yuzuha’s ears during the banquet, urging Shin to hurry and pet her.
Feeling embarrassed after making such a clear request, Schnee closed her eyes, but her cheeks had turned bright red.
Shin finally embraced her gently.
The instant he hugged her, Schnee’s body twitched. Then, with some hesitation, she wrapped her hands around Shin’s torso.
The embrace had probably taken away her nervousness, because she started hugging Shin tightly.
A faint, sweet scent reached Shin’s nostrils. At the same time, a warm, soft sensation spread on his arms and chest.
“It’s so strange…I feel so peaceful now.”
“Well, that’s…that’s good.”
Looking at Schnee’s serene expression, Shin breathed a sigh of relief.
The “incident” wasn’t over yet, however.
“Please, hold me tighter.”
Schnee looked peaceful at first, but after some time she expressed her desire for Shin to embrace her with more strength.
Shin wasn’t sure about how to control his strength, so he hugged her just a little tighter. With Shin’s current muscle strength, even a little difference should have let her feel a significant difference.
It wasn’t nearly enough for Schnee, though. The tighter he held her, the more she pleaded him to.
Schnee wasn’t an average elf either, so using more strength wouldn’t hurt her. But it wasn’t possible for nothing to have changed.
Because of their tight embrace, the two soft mounds on Schnee’s chest changed shape, the sensation pressing even more clearly on Shin’s chest.
In addition, looking at Schnee rubbing her face on his shoulders was robbing Shin of his capacity of rational thinking at alarming speed.
Shin couldn’t look at Schnee’s face. The words she sultrily whispered to his ears sounded almost like pillow talk.
A warning saying “It’ll be bad to go any farther than this here!” resounded in Shin’s head. But despite his thoughts, his body wouldn’t move.
Shin’s feelings overcame his reason.
Shin’s hands caressed Schnee’s back, and her body responded by trembling slightly, and then—-
“(You guys, meal time is ending!!)”
—-Filma’s voice resounded in their heads.
The sudden call caused both Shin and Schnee to leap away from each other.
Shin, who had his back to the door, suffered a spectacularly clean hit on the back of his head. He didn’t receive any actual damage, but was struck by a certain self-loathing, wondering what he was even doing.
“I’m sorry. I got a little, carried away…”
“No, I was the same, I couldn’t bring myself to stop…”
Their mood had gotten over both of them. Shin and Schnee apologized to each other and headed directly to the hall, after telling Filma that they would be there soon.
“Ehm, Ms. Schnee? May I ask why we are holding arms?”
“Let me linger, just a little bit. I’ll have to say it because you don’t seem to realize it…but there are too many beautiful women around you, Shin. For me, it means never being able to relax, you know?”
“It’s not like I’m gathering them or anything…”
“Keep more distance from them then.”
Probably because they were alone walking through the corridors, Schnee protested towards Shin while holding his arm.
Thinking that it was pretty daring behavior for Schnee, Shin searched the nearby presences, but found out that, miraculously, there was no one in the path ahead. Schnee had probably verified this before Shin.
Shin could, of course, forcefully break free of her hold. The soft sensation pressed on his arm, however, won over him.
“Am, I, clear?”
Shin cowered before Schnee’s pressure. He understood what Schnee was feeling, so he had nothing to object.
Satisfied of Shin’s answer and nod, Schnee released her hold and walked on. Shin followed her as he wiped his cold sweat.
The breakfast hall was next to the previous night’s banquet hall.
When they arrived, they found that the other party members had all already started eating. More than half of their plates’ contents had already disappeared.
“Oh, that was fast—I see Schnee’s in a pretty good mood, did something happen?”
Filma talked as they took their seats. The second part was spoken in a whisper to Shin, so that Schnee, sitting on the other side of the table, wouldn’t hear.
“Well, I asked what I had to. Tiera.”
“Ah! Yes! W-what is it…?”
Shin stopped Tiera, who had stood up with food remaining on her plate, before she could slip away.
No matter if she wanted to talk or not, he wanted to tell her about what happened the night before.
“I’m going to explain clearly about what happened yesterday. Please wait in your room.”
“Ehm, er, yes, ok, I got it.”
Shin watched as Tiera awkwardly left the room, then ate his breakfast.
Filma and the others, who did not know what happened, were puzzled by this exchange, but did not say anything. Tiera’s behavior was clear proof that something must have happened.