Disclaimer: I do not own Mushoku Tensei and all rights to Mushoku Tensei belong to it's respective owners
Chapter 15: Fleeting Bonds
A girl was crying.
Sensei was crying.
In the grove amidst the summer green, Roxy was crying.
Just where had it all gone wrong, I wonder?
"Hey, hey, what have you been doing?"
"What do you mean?"
"That! That was Magic, wasn't it?"
Just a few days after I had started my classes with Roxy, Feldt asked me that question. It was also the very first time she had spoken to me of her own accord.
"Teach it to me!" she suddenly blurted out, seemingly unable to contain the bubble of excitement hidden just beneath her usual cool demeanor.
"Now, that was interesting," was the first thought crossing my mind then. After all, Feldt has always had this quiet air about her, almost like Lilia. But maybe she wasn't originally that way, after all?
"What are you thinking so hard for?" she asked, before jumping down the swing and then taking a seat beside me under the tree. "Teach it to me, please!" she begged, as she clasped my hands. "I also want to do that!"
She seemed really eager for it, huh?
Now, what should I do?
If I were to teach Feldt just as I had only started "learning" myself, what would Sensei say to that?
Would she take it well, the idea that her new student was already teaching someone else? Would she think that it was ridiculous? Would she resent not being the one asked to teach instead?
Roxy-sensei, no, Roxy...if I remember correctly, that girl often had the bad habit of selling herself short, constantly putting herself down, didn't she?
That was something which became clear to me especially after we were married. She was always keen to consider herself second in our house, and not in terms of the order I had married her, but as something like "second-rate" or "second-class". And no matter how many times I tried to assure her that it simply wasn't the case, I could never really convince her; and she'd continued to insist on occasions that she would be better off treated as a concubine, that it would be more fitting for me to think of her that way.
It was the part of her I found frustrating.
I knew that the cynical way in which she viewed herself must have had a deeper cause, yet while I could easily point to a hypothesis as to its origin, it was still one I could neither fully fathom nor convince her to abandon. It certainly extended well beyond just how she viewed my affection for her – which she had always regarded as inferior to my affection for Sylphy – and came to color her perception even when dealing with others around us, especially with the rest of our family.
It might have been that it was simply an integral part of her character, one so set in stone that there was no convincing her otherwise. Perhaps. Though, I would be remiss to not mention how much I had wanted to change that. Had I more time, maybe I could have convinced her to change bit by bit. Alas, with our married life ending up as short as it did, it was not to be; as even that small wish of mine came to nothing.
In any case, this meant that convincing her to allow me to teach Feldt may end up becoming tricky. It was possible that Roxy may hold such low self-esteem that she would be hurt by even the mention of it. She may take it to mean that I hold a low opinion of her abilities – a preposterous notion – and be left dismayed by it.
But if I was wrong on this, if that bleak personality of hers that I came to know most acutely hadn't come about simply due to the circumstances of her birthplace, if that self-loathing was something she had only gained long after we had first met, it might be possible for things to end up heading in the opposite direction – one where I might find a more receptive Roxy.
It could well be that, at this point in time, Roxy's character was more proud than the wife I remembered. Of course, her pride might still see her interpret my request negatively – as an insult to her intelligence, and that I consider her insufficient to teach another, thus leading to a convergence towards the very same result with Roxy ending up hurt.
Conversely, she could be a proud yet positive enough of a character that she would welcome my request with open arms, perhaps taking it as a testament that her instructions had produced a student already capable of teaching another novice. In that case, she would probably just say something along the lines of "You don't have to ask me for something like that," while coolly waving my concerns away. That would certainly be ideal, but...well, I don't know...it might still be a good idea to get her into a happy mood first before asking.
Yup, let's do that.
Still, asking Roxy to allow me to teach Feldt right now would just be weird.
In that case,
"Have you tried asking Sensei to teach you, Feldt-nee?"
"Eh?" she stared at me with a blank expression. "I-I can't ask for something like that," she said, flustered, her earlier high spirits seemingly dying a sudden death. "She's a tutor, right? I don't any money to pay her."
"Yes, you do, young lady!" was what I wanted to say. Although...I suppose that would be a moot point for now given that she still had no knowledge of it.
"Then, have you tried asking Father, Feldt-nee? He would probably agree to pay your tuition as well, if you ask."
For some reason she looked so sullen at the mention, that her index finger was now kept busy petting the blades of grass.
"Y-You think I can just..." her whispers dissipated under her breath.
"You think I can just ask for something like that?" is that what you wanted to say, Feldt?
Well, I suppose I couldn't fault her for thinking that way. As far as she was concerned, she was a freeloader in our house. Although it wasn't through any fault of her own, she had lost her father – the last living relative she had or at least knew of – and was taken in into the house of strangers.
An object of pity, living on the borrowed kindness of others, that might be how she saw herself.
She might have felt that she had no right to ask for anything more. In that case...
"I'm okay with it Feldt-nee, if you're okay with it."
"Ah, but, I just started learning very recently myself, so I don't think I'm qualified to teach just yet,"
"Quali— what? You're using some big words!"
"In any case, Feldt-nee will have to wait until I'm qualified to teach."
Well, this should buy me some time. I'd rack up "knowledge and experience" for a time first, then figure out how to ask Roxy for her permission. If I could show Roxy that I was capable of using Magic as well as understanding the principles and concepts behind them, I'm sure she'd be less worried about me being unqualified to teach. I would likely not be as good a teacher as Roxy, if a comparison were to be made – then again, no one could be – but, at the minimum, I needed to at least have her acknowledge me as capable enough for the task.
"...How long do I have to wait?"
"Hmm, I think it should be possible within a year."
"Mm, okay!" she nodded.
Now her eyes were gleaming with excitement again. Was waiting a year not too long for her, after all? If she's this excited for it, maybe I could push her to do one more thing? Well, it'd be better than having her be bored just watching my lessons without having anything to do herself. Plus...
"But, Feldt-nee might have trouble learning Magic, I think."
She's too close!
"Ah, even though Feldt-nee is a lot older than me, Feldt-nee is only a little taller. You will need some physical strength and endurance to be a proper Magician, I think."
I'm not sure how necessary it was as a minimum requirement, but, this was for a good cause. Rehabilitation was always necessary after recovering from an illness, after all. Plus, it never hurt to plug one of the main weaknesses of most Magicians.
"—Then, what do I need to do?!"
Her face was seriously too close! And why did she have to grab my arm so tightly?!
"Ah, make sure to eat your meat and veggies, and drink all your milk. Well, Feldt-nee needs to stop being a picky eater and clean her plate at every meal. Can you promise me that?"
It took her a few seconds, but she agreed to it! Then...
"It would be good if Feldt-nee gets some exercise as well. Why don't you try asking Father for swordsmanship lessons? It's the best way to build up a baseline of strength and stamina."
"Base— ah! But, asking uncle is..."
"Is it difficult?"
She nodded her head.
"Then, do you want me to ask Father for you?"
"You'll do that?" she excitedly asked. "Okay! Do that!" she excitedly agreed.
It was the tearful cry, the heart-wrenching sobs echoing its mournful, resonant note that had brought a certain young boy to the sight before him.
There, on the grass patch amidst the summer grove, was a girl. A pitiful sight she was, her small shoulders shaking as her hands desperately tried to hold back the tears. But the tears came like a flood unremitting, unabated by her plea to stop.
All that the young boy, Rudeus, could do was witness her in silence. He watched silently from a distance as Roxy's painful sobbing cries continued.
Just where did it all go wrong, he wondered.
She had suddenly bolted off, dashing out the door and out the yard, scampering all the way to this quiet grove just beyond the fields.
All that he had wanted was to honor her, to show her how much she meant to him, to give her the respect she was surely due. Having gained her approval to teach, he had felt confident that he could get her to accept this honor in return. After all, her acceptance had meant that she approved of his knowledge and skills, and thereby understood just how invaluable she had been in raising him into the capable person he had become.
Instead, her hysteric response had left him perplexed.
If she was this adamant in refusing the title he was certain was assuredly meant for her, then clearly, his assumptions about her must have been mistaken somewhere. That she had refused his wish with this much fervor as to be inconsolable meant that he had failed to understand her. He had failed her utterly. He might have never understood her, after all.
Had she felt insecure all this while? Had she carried those anxieties all this time? Did she turn out this way after having met him? Did she carry these feeling even then – back when they had first met a lifetime ago?
It was a complicated feeling, he had to admit, to even consider that he could have been the cause of that personality, that he had been the one behind her uncertainties, her shame and her doubts. He had once considered that Roxy became that way sometime between when they had first parted and when they finally met once again—, no, that was what he had wished for, for him to have taken no part in it, for him to have bore no responsibility for it.
But that ship had already sailed when she burst into tears at even the mention of being looked up to.
Now that he thought back on it, she might have held these feelings even a lifetime ago. He might have been the cause of it then too, though he wished it wasn't the case, though he refused to see it and refused to remember it.
Now that things have turned out like this, he might have no choice but to concede to her demand.
Even so...it would leave an awful taste in his mouth. It was something he found extremely disagreeable, to see the girl— no, this woman he had loved be denigrated in such a way, even if the one denigrating that woman was none other than she herself.
Despite her harrowing cries which continued to tear into the depths of his soul, this was something he would not readily give up on.
Oh, he certainly wanted to dry her tears – and how desperately he wished for it. But even more than that, even more than consoling the crying girl before him, he would want for her to learn to live proudly. Live proudly that she may never again have reason to cry.
To the boy, Roxy was an important existence, after all. And how he yearned for her to understand that!
Even so, the sobbing continued.
What must he do?
What could he do?
How could he calm her?
What would be needed of him to stop those tears?
These thoughts he considered, but in the end he elected to merely wait.
In between his own cowardice and his feelings towards that little girl, Rudeus realized it, that Roxy might have needed to cry all along.
It was something she did not do in his previous life, but perhaps it was exactly what she needed, for the tears to give form to all the uncertainties, the shame and the doubts she must have held deep in her heart. Perhaps therein her salvation lay.
As her sobbing had at last began to recede, the boy finally took the steps towards her.
Alerted by the approaching footsteps, the sniffling girl quickly turned to look in the direction of the sound.
Her eyes, bloodshot from the tears, looked despondent as they found the source of the footsteps. As though ashamed of the state she had been found in, even her usual monotone now sounded exceptionally crestfallen.
"Master..." the boy called.
"...Laugh at me all you want. I know that I'm a pathetic failure of a teacher," the girl lamented.
"That's not true, Master," the boy answered kindly.
"But, please..." the girl continued, ignoring the boy's assurance. "Please don't call me your Master," she desperately begged. "If Rudy has at least a shred of kindness left for me, don't call me that!"
Her disheartened plea reverberated in his ears, the echoes fading into silence as the serene breeze answered with its own summer sound, nudging the surrounding leaves and branches as they danced gently atop the trees, the grove ringing back in kind.
Letting the wind wash against his face, Rudeus closed his eyes as he reflected on his Master's words.
There was no denying it; this was his fault after all, wasn't it? Rudeus recalled the pained words she had uttered back then.
"You wouldn't want to call someone inferior to you 'Master', would you?"
Indeed, by this point in time, she may very well be less capable than he was in matters pertaining to Magic – less knowledgeable in theory and less skilled in practice. And even considering his severely-diminished Mana capacity, he could probably still put hers to shame. But, none of those mattered when it came to whether or not he considered Roxy his Master. None of them mattered!
"It's alright, Sensei. If Roxy-sensei doesn't wish for me to call her by that, then I will not do so," Rudeus relented. "But...in my heart of hearts, Sensei will always be my Master. Only Sensei alone! And that will never change."
"...Hic...See!" Roxy pointed out, threatening to burst into tears once more. "You're making fun of me again!" she exclaimed. "Rudy doesn't have to lie, I already know it. You don't actually need me to teach you, right? Rudy can already understand everything on his own. Rudy even knows many things that I don't. I know that I'm a failure of a teacher. Anyone else could have taught Rudy and nothing would have changed. I'm unneeded! Even so...even so, please don't make fun of me!"
What she had done for him...she was right that someone else might have been able to do so as well. But, the fact of the matter was that it was her, it was Roxy and no one else who did it. He wanted her to understand that. To understand that his respect for her has nothing to do with who was the superior and who was the inferior between them. Theirs was the relationship between the savior and the saved.
If nothing else, he owed her a debt of honor. And it was a great debt he could never hope to repay, not even long after he had died.
The very least he could do for her was to show her his utmost respect for as long as he lived.
Why couldn't she understand that?
How could he convince her?
It seemed that she had become adamant in her conviction that she was an unnecessary part of his education all along.
Admittedly, that might have been his fault. No, it must have certainly been his fault! But that was exactly why he must remind her of just how important she was.
Plucking his courage, Rudeus quickly closed in.
"I'm not!" the boy shouted, his arms wrapping tightly around the sobbing girl's azure locks, drawing her brow and moistened cheeks to rest against his chest. His firm grip and the suddenness of his unexpected act had stunned her into silence. "I'm not," he reiterated. "All this time, I've never once thought to belittle Sensei," he stated. "I've never made light of Sensei's achievements and I've never once made fun of Sensei's efforts. I'm sure Sensei must have gone through a lot to get to where Sensei is today. I have never laughed at them and I will never laugh at them," he insisted. "If I were laughing at Sensei, it might only be because I found Sensei cute and endearing. I've never made fun of Sensei with any ill-intent and I never will, not to this Sensei who had saved me so many times before."
"You're lying," Roxy weakly retorted. "You don't have to lie to cheer me up, Rudy."
Releasing Roxy from his embrace, Rudeus smiled as he looked her in the eye, the distance between them was such that they could feel each other's breaths.
"I'm not lying," the boy insisted. Then gently placing her ear to rest against his chest, the boy asked, "Can you hear it, Sensei? It's my heartbeat."
Roxy listened half-heartedly.
"See? I'm not lying about this. I won't lie about something like this," he repeated.
Indeed, Rudy's heart was beating regularly. So regular and so monotonous that it was bereft of any inflections. She had to admit that her student was at least truthful regarding this. But this only meant that either his words were free of all falsehoods or the boy before her was a most fearsome liar. She didn't know which would be worse.
If his words were true, then Rudy was most assuredly elevating her to an undeserved position out of honest conviction. While flattering, that would still be unbearably embarrassing for her. Yet to believe otherwise would be to accept that her student was the greatest of perjurers. A boy who, without any sense of guilt or hesitation, had maliciously manipulated her in order to laugh at her expense, elevating her to a position of respect much like a noble would elevate a man to the position of court jester, garden hermit or resident dwarf.
As for Rudeus himself, he realized how difficult it was to convince her to trust his honest goodwill given their past year together. He simply possessed no valid evidence to support such a claim. He could try to claim that he had actually found it hard to study before her arrival and that it was all because she was such an exceptionally good teacher – which she indeed was – that he was able to learn so quickly. Even so, his abnormal speed of learning would be the least of what he would have to explain.
In reality, there were many truths to her words.
If it was in this life, he could have probably just taught himself everything he needed. If it was in this life, any schmuck of a Magic instructor would have sufficed for his credentials. After all, Rudeus himself had lived the last years of his life standing at the very pinnacle of Magic. There were scarcely anyone in this world and in that time, with perhaps the exception of the Dragon God himself, who could best him in either the practice or the knowledge of Magic.
Needless to say, this meant that his study under Roxy's tutelage over the past year had really been an unnecessary farce all along. In hindsight, it would have been easy for her to figure that out even if he had not pushed himself with the intent of quickly becoming a suitable Magic teacher for Feldt.
That was why no amount of backtracking from henceforth would suffice to convince her of the objective value of her education towards him. Any attempt on his part to rationalize to her how he really was just an ignorant child who was especially indebted to her would surely sound like an outright lie – because in this life it was indeed an outright lie.
A tutor like Roxy, hired to teach an especially young child of his age, fulfilled the function of not just instructor but that of a governess as well. Her teachings and influence was expected to shape the moral foundation and personality of her charge.
Yet, in his eagerness to showcase his knowledge and ability to her and his nostalgia for a time when they once conversed as a pair of lovers, he had begun to treat her more as a peer and less as a respected Master. Instead of receiving her teachings with reverence, he would often point out her errors and turn her lessons into discussions, as though keen to teach far more than he was being taught, to show her that he was reliable and could be relied upon. Part of the reason might just be the boredom at having to go through something he already knew, but a part of him was certainly happy to be able to share his hard-won knowledge with her, and keen all the same to be seen by her as a capable person.
That said, he had gone too far on that!
And as for his morals and personality, it was clear that it had not changed one bit since they met the year before. The experiences of two lifetimes were enough to solidify his view of himself and his relation to the world that no year of verbal instructions would change. In other words, he had probably showed scarcely any evidence that Roxy's teachings had left a discernible mark on his person or his behavior.
His desire to be respectful towards – and eagerness to be recognized as capable by – the one person he respected the most had created a malignant contradiction. It was this contradiction – displayed clearly by his adherence to the rituals of learning from her, yet showcasing in substance his foreknowledge of the subjects – that had lead to Roxy's shattered sense of self-worth.
No wonder she grew uncertain of her usefulness and refused to be honored.
Though, that still begged the question of "Why?". Given the case, why hire Roxy at all? Did he truly need her in this life, after all?
In between rationalizing it as a way to confirm the similarities between his new reality and his previous life, and excusing it as a necessity to build up an acceptable credential of Magic education for plans yet unrealized, the honest truth was that he simply wanted to see her again.
As irrational as it may be given his oath and his mission, he felt that he must see her again.
He had always wanted to see her again, to feel her touch again, to rekindle the old bonds that had frayed and no longer existed. It was for this bond which they had once shared that he abandoned reason, that he brought her close to him and closer to mortal danger.
A man who was bound to challenge the divine should not expect to live unscathed, after all.
Yet, despite the demands of his rational mind to keep her away from such dangers, far away from the him who had become the target of a wrathful god, far away from the very tragedy that had robbed her of her life and her future once upon a time, he could not help himself but to want to see her again.
It made him happy to see her again.
Whether it be a mirage or reality no longer mattered to him at this point in time.
Truly, he had wished to rebuild that bond again. Their bond, after all, was not one forged merely a year ago when an aspiring Magic tutor arrived in a small village. Theirs was a bond which crossed a mortal lifetime, spanning across the improbabilities of chance and destiny. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity Rudeus felt he would sorely miss.
It may perhaps be in that bond that the answer to consoling this inconsolable girl before him could be found.
If reason would not suffice to convince her, then perhaps convincing her of his sincerity by reminding her of their bond would be the only way to put a stop to her tears.
"Sensei may not remember it, but..." Rudeus began. "...a long time ago, it was Sensei who healed me from a great trauma I was carrying," the boy recalled. "It was Sensei who saved me from being condemned to living like an invalid, unable to so much as leave the house," he explained. "I'm sure Sensei wasn't even aware of it at the time. Sensei must not have even realized that I was carrying a burden like that. But, even without knowing it, and even without intending to, even without trying to, Sensei saved me," he explained. "It was Sensei...It wasn't anyone else. It was Sensei who saved me! So, don't put yourself down, Sensei!"
The girl was stunned by the boy's words, which echoed like a heartrending cry from the soul. But...even so...Ridiculous.
"You're lying," the girl said meekly. "You're lying!" she yelled, shoving the boy away from her with enough force to send him tumbling down. "You're not making any sense! There's no way something like that happened!" she shouted. "Even if Rudy was really carrying such a trauma, there's no way I was the one to heal it! How can you lie to me like that?! Even if Rudy only wanted to cheer me up, there's a limit to lying, isn't there?!" her denouncement, vigorous in its forcefulness, then receded to a whimpering sob. "This...is just cruel. You're so cruel, Rudy!"
Roxy had started sobbing again, though she tried desperately to hold it back.
"...Was it that unbelievable, after all?" the boy whispered under his breath. "Why? Why do you always belittle yourself like that?"
Was it that unfathomable to her, for her to save someone? Was it so beyond her comprehension, this idea that she had indeed saved him? Would she have insisted the same if he had brought it up in his previous life, the boy wondered. That thought was starting to piss him off, so he stood back up and faced her.
"...You're the cruel one, Sensei."
His trembling words put a sudden stop to Roxy's sobbing. Her eyes looked at him as though in utter disbelief. Clenching his fists, his shoulders reverberated as he struggled to contain the rising tide of emotions.
"You're the cruel one, Sensei!" Rudeus shouted. "Why?! Why do you keep insulting the person I respect the most?!" he screamed. "What do you know of her?! What do you know of that girl?!" he demanded. "You know nothing of her! You know nothing of that little girl! It was only because of her that I was even able to step outside!" he insisted. "For the longest time, I had been afraid of it. My knees would shake and my heart would crumble if I were to even so much as imagine going out there. But she took me outside! She took me outside like it was the most natural thing in the world. She showed me that there was nothing I needed to fear. It was she who did that! Why can't you see that?!"
A flood of dark emotions came pouring out from every pore of his being, oozing their ugly, malfeasant form. Pent up cruelties which he had resolved to never utter gushed out like black blood from a gashing wound.
"When I made a mistake I couldn't take back, when I lost someone dear to me because of my blunder, when I could do nothing but give up all hope, she was the one who saved me! Her and no one else!" he screamed. "Even with that tiny body, even with those tiny shoulders, she still did her best and embraced me," he recalled. "She embraced this ugly me...It was only because of her warmth that I didn't fall into despair! It was only because of her that I could rise again. She was my lodestar, my guide in my darkest hours. So, don't you dare insult her!"
The boy's sudden wroth had stunned the girl into stupefaction. Even so...what was he saying? Just what was he saying?!
"...You're not making any sense...Rudy's not making any sense at all!" she screamed.
"I know that!" he shouted back. "I know that..." he lamented, collapsing to his knees as the tears too threatened to fall from his eyes.
"That's because you're not her...'Roxy'...You're someone else...'Roxy, why did you have to leave me?' As I thought, she's really gone, isn't she? 'Why did you have to die before me?' I knew it, she was the only one of her, after all...'Why did you have to disappear from me?' All this time, I was lying to myself, trying to convince myself that I could make amends, that I may have the chance to ask for her forgiveness...'I'm sorry.' I really wanted to believe that, 'I'm sorry.' even though I knew that the real her will never answer me again...'I'm sorry.' I-I'll never hear her voice again, 'You're gone after all, aren't you?' I'll never feel her touch again, 'Gone forever.' she'll never smile at me again...'You can never forgive me.' I'm sorry for using you, Sensei...'You will never forgive me.' I'm sorry for pushing my expectations on you! 'I will never hear your forgiveness,' I'm sorry. 'Even so, I'm sorry.' I'm sorry! 'I'm sorry!'
The tears he had desperately held back finally fell as the warm trickles came down to an unabated stream, washing away the mud under which he had buried his deepest regret. It all felt so raw now, this wound which had been forced open once again. The pain he had buried under decades of distractions was once again resurfacing.
The root of the problem, after all, had not lie with the Roxy before him.
It was him all along.
He was the one who had pushed unreasonable demands and expectations on her.
He was the one desperate to rekindle a bond which had never existed.
He was the one who had hoped to ask her forgiveness, for a crime he had not committed to the girl who had never suffered.
All this while, he had used his teacher merely as a proxy for the feelings and memories he held for another woman. But that woman was long gone from the world. And no matter how much he screamed and wished otherwise, the dead...would never answer him back.
The rustle of cloth coming closer, the warm touch of a hand on his cheek, her thumb scraping away his tears. Roxy's aqua-blue eyes somberly looked back towards his.
"...Some teacher I am. I've made my student cry this much," she lamented with a bitter smile. "I really am incompetent, it seems. I couldn't even understand my own student," she chastised herself. "...To be honest, I still don't understand anything of what Rudy had said...but...I know now that Rudy wasn't lying. I know now that Rudy was desperately telling the truth," she acknowledged. "Will you tell me, Rudy, what it is you're hiding? What burdens are you carrying? What is it that you're keeping from me?"
The boy looked back at her, wide-eyed and mouth agape. Her words had caused his tears to quickly cease to a trickle. He looked down to his knees, his eyes still as though he was thinking on it, considering her questions with the seriousness it demanded.
"...Sensei...wouldn't believe it," the boy then meekly said.
"I will believe you," the girl affirmed.
"Sensei wouldn't get it,"
"Then, Rudy should help me understand,"
For a while, the boy remained silent as he considered her words.
What was she demanding, exactly – for him to tell her of his true past? Should he tell her the truth, after all? Could he trust her with the truth?
A nagging, exasperated feeling was clawing at his stomach. Now that it had finally come to it, he found himself very afraid. Truly, he was fearful of it. Fearful that the moment he told her the truth would be the moment that those eyes which had looked at him with such kind concern would change into a look of disgust.
It would be understandable, it would be expected. After all, who in their right mind would accept the words of a person who claimed to have come from the future? To have known what would happen many years from now? It would sound like nothing but the insane ramblings of a fool and a liar. Were those eyes to lose all respect for him – even if he had already accepted that she was not the same girl that he used to know – Rudeus was not certain if he would have the strength left to go on.
"...It's...a long story..." the boy finally uttered.
He hoped that she would understand him, understand that this was not something he wished to speak of anymore!
As he thought that, he felt warm hands wrapping itself around his. He was familiar with these hands. They had looked so small to him so long ago. Yet now, they looked so big and so reassuring as they clasped his tiny hands firmly.
"It's alright, Rudy. I'll listen patiently."
"Is it alright, after all, to tell her the truth?"
A small smile crept up his lips. Seeing this, Roxy's grip on the boy's hand slowly loosened. The boy then rose to his feet, his steps becoming quick and purposeful as he approached the great old tree just several meters away. His hand then rested on the bark of its trunk, running fondly along its surface as he walked and circled around it in slow, deliberate motion.
Stopping at the very spot he had began, the boy then turned towards Roxy.
"Sensei," Rudeus called, beaming a forlorn smile on his face. "It must have been so long ago—"
And so Rudeus began recounting to her that day. He told of the days that had gone by, of the day he had met a certain young girl, the great Magician who was to be his tutor. He told her how she was a lovely girl with dreams and aspirations of her own. He told her of the time they had parted, and of the time they had reunited. He told her of the many times she had saved him and of his wish to make her happy.
Rudeus spoke to Roxy much of that woman, that woman who was his Master, his savior and his lover.
She was his wife.
He recalled fondly of the events leading to their matrimony, then of the blissful happiness he felt at having obtained her hand, of the inexplicable fear he felt when she fell gravely ill, of the unfathomable sadness and anger he felt when he failed to save her.
Rudeus did not tell his teacher everything, hoping to keep her from the dangers of knowing. Even so, he told her much that she deserved to know. He told her much of the bond he once shared with that girl named Roxy Migurdia.
On the grass beneath the shade of a great tree, two were seated apart. The girl was a teacher and the boy her student, their backs resting against the trunk standing imposingly between them as – like the two sides of the same coin – their eyes looked outwards to the fields beyond in muted contemplation.
"...You're right, Rudy, it really is an unbelievable tale," the girl – Roxy – acknowledged, breaking the long silence at last.
"As I thought..." the boy – Rudeus – bleakly agreed.
"Well, you don't have to worry about it," Roxy quickly assured. "Didn't I already say it? I'll believe in Rudy."
The boy's eyebrows, which had drooped to solemn rumination, twitched upright at her words.
"...Is...that okay?" the boy asked, hesitantly.
"Ah, I believe in Rudy."
Of the tale Rudeus had told Roxy, there were many things she found inexplicable still. Things he should not have known, things he could not have known. Yet, regarding his story as true would also explain to her the many things about the boy that had perplexed her since the day they first met. It would explain how he knew of the many things he should not have known, things she was yet to teach him, things she was yet to tell him. It would explain his otherworldly knowledge and skills that went so far beyond her comprehension and the common sense of the world.
And even before considering all that, she still has her pride to think about. Just what kind of teacher would she be if she couldn't believe in her own student even after he had poured his heart out like that? Could she still call herself his teacher if she refused to believe him now?
Still, even that wasn't the most important reason for her faith in him. All of those rational considerations weren't what crossed her mind in that instance, and it was in that instance – the moment she saw his tears fell so precariously as he broke down while berating her and himself – that she had decided to believe him.
She would believe in the tears she saw, which had fallen so earnestly for that girl he had spoken of so fondly.
"But really, just what kind of wife was this other me, to have made her husband suffer so much?" Roxy mockingly asked, closing her eyes to imagine the sight before her before looking up to the clouds beyond. "To think you have made Rudy cry this much for you. You were really loved, weren't you, Roxy?" she asked with a self-depreciating smile.
A moment of serene silence passed as the breeze grazed the two softly.
"I hadn't cried that much, Sensei," Rudeus apologetically said. "I had only mourned for her around the time of her passing. After that, long after that, no matter how much I thought of her, no matter how much I wanted to, my tears had already dried," he explained. "That is why...I'm sorry, I don't know if it's the influence of this young body that had made it so easy for me to lose myself and cry, but the truth was...I hadn't actually cried for her like this for the longest time." he confessed. "I couldn't cry for her anymore for a very long time."
As if in answer to his words, soft sounds of footsteps could be heard nearby, stopping short in front of him not long after. As Rudeus turned to look up, he felt a soft hand atop his head, caressing it gently.
"Rudy, you're still crying for her...even now," Roxy said.
The corners of her lips rose thinly to a forlorn smile.
"Just because your tears had dried doesn't mean that your heart had ceased to cry."
What was it, these words of hers? What powers they held that they reminded him once again of what he thought he had lost.
Indeed, the teardrops were falling again. They were falling once again.
Yet this time, however, they were different. Gone were the ugly feelings he felt for himself and his teacher. These were more honest tears, tears he shed solely for his love, the wife he had lost a lifetime ago. And they were just as bitter as he had felt it on the day he buried her.
"Rudy, you really did love her didn't you?"
Hiding his eyes behind his arm as the tears roll down once more, the boy struggled to squeeze out his answer.
"Yes, I loved her..." he acknowledged proudly. "Even though I couldn't cry for her anymore...Truly, I did love her..."
Roxy continued to caress his head, as the boy quietly bathed the mournful memories in the tears of his heart.
And when Rudeus' tears had finally at last begun to recede, Roxy knelt in front of him, making sure that the boy was looking at her eye to eye. Then gently caressing his head once again, she uttered these words to him, words he had not foreseen.
"Rudy, I forgive you."
The boy could only look at her in stunned silence.
"I forgive you."
An uncomfortably long moment followed, before...
"...Hahaha," the boy looked down after letting out a wry laugh. "What does that even mean? Sensei and that Roxy are two different people," he said.
"No, we're one and the same," Roxy insisted. "I may not have her memory and all of her experiences, but it's fine for Rudy to think that we're one and the same."
Her words caused Rudeus to shoot a sudden glare at her, before turning away just as quickly. The words he was about to utter were caught in his throat. "No good," Rudeus shook his head. He understood that Roxy was probably just trying to help him. It would not be good of him to throw abuses at her out of mere reflex. Even so, this is just...
"...What's with that? That's just self-serving, that kind of thing..."
"It's fine if its self-serving," she said. Her words caused Rudeus to turn to her once again in disbelief. "...It's fine if its self-serving."
Her hands wrapping around his, Roxy brought her face closer to his. It was close enough that their noses were almost touching.
"Rudy, I'm probably the only person in this world who can say this to you, so please listen," she called to him. "I don't think you should blame yourself over what happened," she said. "I'm sure that she would have hated to see you suffer for so long because of her," she insisted. "Besides, I'm sure she had already forgiven you a long time ago," she explained. "That is why now...Rudy must learn to forgive himself."
A still moment followed those words, with only the sounds of the summer cicada offering accompaniment. Rudeus opened his mouth to say something, yet no words escaped his lips. He closed them again, before attempting another. He closed his lips once again. He stayed silent for what felt like excruciating minutes, before his quivering lips spoke at last.
"...Is...Is that...alright?" he asked, trembling.
"Ah," she affirmed.
"...Can I...really be forgiven?"
"It's not a dream right? I'm not just dreaming right now, right?"
"But Sensei...and that Roxy..."
"We're one and the same, Rudy," Roxy said, as she brought his head to rest against her shoulder. "We're one and the same," she reiterated. "That is why I can forgive you. That is why you can forgive yourself."
How long had he waited to hear those words? How desperately he must have wanted to hear them.
She might not even understand it right now...just how much those words meant to him, how much they soothed him, how much they saved him. It was like his old life had came back all over again.
Just who was supposed to save who, he wondered. He had thought to be the one to console her, to heal the broken heart of this girl before him. But she never needed him, after all. Instead it was him. It was him all along. It was he whose fragile emotions needed to be soothed. It was he who needed his heart to be mended. Perhaps she always was the stronger one between them, the one truly made of sterner stuff, as even without realizing it, and perhaps without even intending to, she was saving him from his great burden all over again.
Burying his face into her tiny shoulders, his arms clung desperately to her, the teardrops which had yet to dry began to fall down his cheeks once again, before the boy at last let out a wailing cry.
And amidst his sobs, he called desperately the name of that woman he had lost so long ago. He called out to her many times over.
She had been taken from him long before her time, the days he had hoped to share in her affection cut short by the cruel twist of fate, by machinations he did not yet then understand. Long had he laid blame at the feet of that great deceiver. Longer still had he laid them at his own.
That unbearable sense of loss and the burden of his guilt had crushed him utterly, suffocating him until all desire for life had left him. Unable to accept his sin, he had sinned many more since, building tragedy upon tragedy until the day came where no one was left around him that he would care to lose.
Now, as his tears melted down the quagmire of guilt he had been drowning under, he felt that he could finally breath again.
For the first time since he had lost her, he felt that he could breath again. And with every drop he shed, the long-held sadness is slowly, but surely, being washed away.
Even if it was just a little, even if he could not forgive everything, even if his obligation to avenge her remained still, he felt like he could at last begin to accept her fate, one small step at a time. She was gone from the world and he has the rest of his life yet to live. This fact he must make peace with. All that he could do for her now was to honor her memory, to cherish those precious moments they had once shared for as long as he lived. But above all that, he must avenge her, for himself as much as it was for her, that he may finally lay her ghost to rest, that he may finally find peace.
The boy continued to cry for a time still, the tears falling like weights cast off. He continued to cry amidst that green grove. He continued to cry under that summer sky.
Months had passed by since that eventful day.
Looking at Rudy right now, eagerly training in the sword with his father, it all felt like that day had never happened at all, like that conversation had been all but a dream.
But I know that it wasn't a dream.
At that time, it may have been because I had already chosen to trust Rudy, but many things had also happened since then that made it easy to believe him. And many more peculiarities that I could finally make sense of now that I could look back on them in hindsight – all those moments since we first met – that convinced me that it was all real.
Our relationship had also changed, somewhat, and perhaps for the better too as Rudy had been more open with me ever since then.
He had begun to speak to me about many things, revealing much of his past life experiences. Granted, they were mostly related to the Magical discoveries he had made during his travels in his previous life. Maybe because of that, as I came to understand a little of the vastness of his experience and the effort it must have taken him to get to where he was, I no longer felt the same angst I did when I realized that I was the inferior one between us. Even so, Rudy continued to insist that I had nothing to be ashamed of, that I should be proud of myself instead, since I was the one who had taught him so long ago. I swear, that cheeky little...He knew I couldn't deny it now having already insisted that the Roxy he knew in his previous life and the me right now were one and the same person.
That was why I had no choice when he asked me again whether he could call me "Master". Although he insisted that we could forget about it if I were to insist, there was no way I could do something like that without sounding like a hypocrite.
To be quite honest, it still irked me to hear it, that title he used to refer to me. But if I were to consider the regard he held for that "other" me, if I were to think of the high esteem he must have held her in, and if I were to continue to insist to Rudy that I had the right to forgive him, then it would do no good if I were to fail to graciously accept it.
Still, for my own dignity's sake, I had also decided that I needed to grow as well, that I'd at least become someone strong enough not to bring shame to that name.
Thankfully, when it came to this, Rudy's stories and explanations as well as the practical applications of Magic he had demonstrated had been of great help. They had shown me a way forward, and many of them were paths I had not even considered. I had long thought that I had already reached the practical peak of Magic for myself. Yet, as it turned out, I may have only scratched the surface.
There were many heights that were probably too late for me to scale now given my journey thus far, yet many paths remained open still. That was why I intended to make my effort in those directions. This was now my only choice. I have to become stronger, strong enough that I would not have to hang my head in shame.
In retrospect, my experience teaching Rudy had been a humbling one. I could admit now that I had learned far more from him than I had taught. And above all else, I am thankful to him for teaching me that my journey of learning had really only just begun.
And on that note, I have to acknowledge that I had also felt embarrassed at continuing to receive my wages from Sir Paul despite not being able to teach Rudy anything useful. Rudy said it wasn't something to worry about. Even so, I couldn't help feeling embarrassed by it. Could he not understand how embarrassing it was for an adult to take money she didn't honestly work for? Though at this point, I may not need to worry too much anymore. This state of affairs should not last for too much longer.
"Still, another life, huh?"
Something about that still felt unreal, even now. I suppose it was only natural given how improbable it was. Although I had heard stories – rumors, really – that the Dragon Race was capable of reincarnation, this was the first time I had even heard of the concept being attached to a human. I admit that I did feel a little jealous after knowing that and seeing just what Rudy had been able to accomplish.
And speaking of Rudy's accomplishments, he had actually continued to go with Sir Paul to the City of Roa every other week since then too. Each time he returned, he would bring home a few trinkets and a bag of coins and the odd documents. Around a month-and-a-half after that eventful day, however, he and Sir Paul went to the city with an extra horse and returned with extra baggage in tow.
Of the baggage was a strange metal tube and many other odds and ends that I figured were part of a larger contraption. True enough, after Rudy had it installed with the help of some of Sir Paul's serfs, Rudy called out to everyone in the house and demonstrated the peculiar contraption to us.
It was an odd metal cylinder – of lacquered cast iron – sticking out of a now boarded up well, a faucet extending perpendicular from its height, with what looked like a crank attached to the cylinder and to a long and slender metal rod extending inside into the cylinder. What he showed us afterwards however, was most astonishing. As he moved the crank up and down, water started pouring out of the faucet.
"...I-Is that...a Magic tool?" I asked, trembling at the surprising sight.
"No, no Magic." Rudy blithely answered. "It's just a hand pump, its sucking water out through positive displacement."
"Anyway, this should make it easier to draw water now," he nonchalantly said, before turning towards Lilia and flashing a bright smile.
Truly, there must have been many fascinating things in that future Rudy spoke off, to think they even have a way to draw water from a well without a bucket or Magic.
Thinking back on it, has it been a year-and-a-half already since I met Rudy?
"Time really does fly..."
Tomorrow, Rudy would be 5 years old. There would be a birthday celebration. He probably already knew this given his previous life, but I intend to inform him that I would hold his graduation examination the day after. Of course, it was all just a formality at this point. Still, I felt that it was a formality I must go through to set my mind at ease. This way, I could leave having accepted my defeat.
After that, I guess I'd travel around to improve myself. And then...
To think that the other me would meet Rudy again many years after and...gotten married to him even.
"...to her own student, huh?"
Now that was unbelievable. From Rudy's recollection of things, it seemed that I was the one who pushed for it. I wonder what he must have looked like then, what kind of man had Rudy become by that time that I would be so insistent? I couldn't even imagine it right now, but...it's not an unpleasant thought.
Of course, growing up as a girl, I had heard and later even read a thing or two about romantic fairy tales. After all, books and bards regaled stories of them aplenty. So, despite everything, I did think I have quite the high standard. If I really fell head over heels, I wonder what adult Rudy must have looked like...
No! No, no. I have to shake those kinds of thoughts away.
Evil thoughts begone!
Rudy's still my student. I shouldn't look at him in that way!
It'll just be a temporary separation. If fate had any say, just like that other life, maybe we'll meet again someday. Then maybe...
"I hope we'll meet again someday."
That was my honest thought.
Just as it had been a lifetime ago, yesterday was my 5th birthday celebration.
In my previous life, my swordsmanship training would have started in earnest today, and I'd then have to look forward to about another month of learning under Roxy before her eventual departure. In this life however, my serious swordsmanship training had already started months ago.
And today...today would mark my graduation day.
Roxy had announced it after giving me the Magic wand meant as my birthday present yesterday. I knew this was coming. I couldn't blame her. The moment she found out that I wasn't going to learn anything new from her, her pride wouldn't allow her to just remain beside me as my teacher for much longer. She had most likely wanted to leave even earlier if she could help it. Had my 5th birthday not been mere months away from the day she found out about my past, she would have likely left just days after the fact.
This was probably as long as I could keep her beside me. In the first place, to want anything more than this would just be utter selfishness, the kind of egotistical wish that would do neither of us any good. And who am I to keep her anyway? Roxy is a girl with her own dreams and passions. And as for me...
As for me...
"Right...this is good enough."
Having already finished with my morning routine of light exercises around the yard before joining everyone else for breakfast, I now found myself waiting patiently for Roxy by the door outside.
It wasn't too long before the door creaked and turned as the little girl who was my Master exited the house, wearing her full set of travelling gear minus her luggage suitcase.
She smiled a lonely smile as she turned to look at me. I responded to her smile in kind. We both knew that this day would come, yet why did I feel this way?
I followed slowly behind her as she began walking towards Fabio, one of the two draft horses Dad owned. I could see that Lilia was waiting beside keeping a handle on it. She must have been the one who led it out of the stables. Normally, this would be Dad's job, but...I suppose it'd take him a bit more time to get out of the house.
A light breeze blew across the yard as I thought in passing, gently caressing my cheeks with its tender coolness. Inadvertently, I stopped to look towards the direction it had blown from. The sight of large tree standing at the yard beside the house, a swing hanging down from one of its sturdy branches, a few leaves resting upon its seat taking off with the wind, certainly this sight...it felt nostalgic, somewhat.
Now that I could look at it again, this yard, that tree, and the house, the ambience about them reminded me a lot of that place...the one place which was once my home in Sharia. Just why had I only noticed it now? Maybe I had been reluctant to see its obvious resemblance. Right...though it was certainly a place of many happy memories, it was also a place of many bitter ones as well.
"Sensei, do you really have to go?"
Roxy turned around to look towards me, her feet planted firmly to the ground, her facial expression clearly conveying her confusion.
Why did I even say that, I wonder?
Why did it feel so difficult for me to accept it?
"No, never mind. I'm sorry that I asked, Sensei."
You don't have to look so apologetic about it, Roxy. I was the one who blundered by asking the obvious. Look, I even gave you a smile as I told you not to mind it.
What followed afterwards was an awkward silence, though thankfully not for too much longer as both Mom and Dad came to the rescue. They both came out of the house just in the nick of time to see us off.
Once Roxy had lifted me onto the saddle, she mounted the horse herself, sitting just behind me before directing Fabio to trot out the gate.
I could hear Paul and Zenith shouting words of encouragement to me as we left.
And not long after, we had left the house far away enough behind us that the only things around me that I could see were the fields and the occasional houses a long distance away. The grain crops had mostly been harvested already by this time. Some farmers had even began tilling the soil on the fallow fields in preparation for planting the winter wheat.
Of course, the ever friendly Roxy was called out by them and called out to them in turn, exchanging friendly greetings wherever she passed.
It really spoke of her ability to have made herself this welcomed in a place which had not welcomed her with much warmth at all when she had first arrived. Roxy truly was an amazing person. And looking at her arms – holding well the horses' reins – right next to my own, the contrast couldn't be more stark. Compared to her, I was just a tiny child. And with this tiny body of mine, there were many things I couldn't do.
So it was only natural that she wouldn't see me as anything but a child. I could be nothing more to her than that, I could be nothing more to her than a student, if not a slightly weird one.
And that would be for the best.
Were she to see me as anything more, my heart may just waver from what my rational mind already knew I needed to do, what I had already decided that I ought to do.
If my goal truly was to save everyone I knew this time around...if my goal was indeed to exact vengeance on their behalf, then there was simply no room for hesitation, no room for doubt.
That was why this would be for the best.
Finally, we had arrived at the grassy plain laid among the gentle rolling hills more than two dozen kilometers away from the village. This must be the site of my graduation test, it was also the same site I remembered from my previous life. Having dismounted the horse, Roxy led Fabio to the nearby solitary tree, trying its reins to it before helping me down.
She then started walking away a bit before turning to look at me. It seemed that she wanted to say something. Maybe she was unsure of what to say?
Well, this was awkward. She was just staring at me.
I suppose it didn't help that I kept quiet throughout our ride. Maybe she thought I was still hung up about her leaving?
It was a given that Roxy would leave soon. There was nothing I could— no, there was nothing I should do to stop her. And that would certainly be for the best.
"Since this is my graduation exam from Sensei's class, I suppose Sensei wants me to cast the Saint-ranked Water spell, [Cumulonimbus], right?"
"Huh? How do you— ah! I suppose you would know, huh? Hm, hm," she nodded to herself.
"Does Sensei want to cast the spell first?"
"Ah, that's what I was just about to ask actually. Does Rudy need me to cast the spell first? Though I suppose not," she asked, before quickly interjecting herself. "Rudy already knows the spell right? So, you can begin whenever you're ready."
"No, no, since Sensei's already here, it would be a shame if Sensei wouldn't show off her most powerful spell."
"No, no, since Rudy already knows the spell, I don't think that would be necessary. It would be redundant anyway. Besides, i...w...ld...e e...b...r...sing a...w...y if m...n...nd...d u...l...ki...g s...m...c...w...st."
Her spirited dismissal petered out to half whispers I could barely make out towards the end. Even so, there would be no end to the back and forth if I were to simply ask her again. Something to convince her...
"But, I had wanted to see Sensei's [Cumulonimbus] spell again. That was what Sensei showed me a long time ago."
"Urgh, that's unfair...really unfair..." she complained. "But...okay...Don't laugh at it, okay?!"
Call it dirty all you want, but I did manage to get her to agree, after all.
Roxy slowly walked towards the expanse in front of the tree as I watched intently under its shade.
"Ah, and before I forget."
I materialized a long, yet thin earthen rod of metallic consistency and structure, planting it into the ground right by the tree with its tip extending outwards past the crown overhead. This should serve sufficiently enough as a lightning rod in case [Cumulonimbus] generated lightning that would otherwise struck nearby targets.
"Grand spirit of water and imperial prince of lightning who ascends the heavens, grant my wish and bring about a savage blessing. Display your might to this insignificant being. Strike awe with a blow of your divine hammer upon the anvil, and cover the land in water! Ah, rain, sweep all else away and expel everything! [Cumulonimbus]!"
Her conjuration summoned a thunderous rainstorm which engulfed everything in a heavy torrential downpour, whilst winds of around 80 kmh blew fiercely around her. Were it not for me planting my feet firmly to the ground with the aid of Gravity Magic, it might have been enough to sweep me off my feet as well.
Then, as predicted, a thunderous lightning struck the rod I had planted earlier, thankfully causing no collateral damage.
A minute later, Roxy ended her spellcasting and as a result her [Cumulonimbus] quickly dissipated as well, clearing the sky to what it once was.
"All right, Rudy. Go ahead and give it a try," she then told me.
"How strong should I make the [Cumulonimbus], Sensei?" I asked.
I felt that it was something I needed to set straight with her. If it was just to pass the test, then something similar to the level of her own spell would probably be sufficient. Even so, there weren't many chances for me to show her what I knew in practice, especially a spell of this magnitude which required a special place far away from civilization to show off safely, so this might be the once chance I had left to show it to her. If Roxy wanted to see a stronger variant, I'd happily oblige her.
"Eh? You just have to maintain it for say...an hour, and I'll consider that a pass," Roxy stated, looking somewhat perplexed by my question. "As for how strong...hmmm, obviously this is meant to test your limits, so just show me what you're made of!"
What I'm made of, what I'm capable of...
"That might be impossible," I told her frankly. "Though I suppose this is the last time..."
"Sensei should bring Fabio along and hide under an armored earthen dome or something. It might get a little windy outside," I told her, before walking towards the very spot where Roxy had cast her spell from earlier.
Materializing over 300 lightning rods, I had them planted to the ground, spread over an area covering more than 8 kilometers in diameter from where I stood.
"What are those?" Roxy asked.
Curious, are we?
"Just safety precaution, Sensei," I told her honestly. "Anyway, you can see its function later," I said as I signalled for her to start hiding herself.
Thankfully, she seemed to get the message of my hand signals quickly enough and had soon built an earthen dome under which she and Fabio hid.
My mind finally set at ease, I looked towards the rolling fields of grass around me, forward to the horizon before me, and up to the sky expanding its wings above me.
And then, I cast a double-layered Advanced-ranked [Anti-Physical Barriers] around myself and another around Roxy's earthen dome, just in case.
"My best is impossible, Master...but,"
I thought I could at least show her my strongest [Cumulonimbus] – one which didn't carry a variant's name – as a parting gift.
Inhaling, then exhaling deeply, I lifted my wand and pointed it at the ground before me.
I quickly introduced heat and brought up the temperature of the air on the ground to a higher and higher level. Then turning my wand upwards, I brought down the temperature of the air in the clouds high above it. As I progressively raised the temperature of the air above ground and reduce them in the sky above it, I also conjured vast amounts of water high up in the air, as I spun conjured wind round and around, and they sliced and tore through the water, breaking them into tiny droplets while the cold air turned the droplets into graupels and ice crystals.
As more and more water were introduced into the growing clouds, their density rapidly increased, turning the sky darker and darker as the clouds hung heavily, even as the area they covered expanded exponentially in all directions. Now, the temperature difference between the air above ground and the sky above it had become extreme enough to generate a rapid updraft, following the pattern of the conjured winds that had been spinning around in the zone between the two spaces.
The torrential downpour soon began as thumb-sized water droplets and hail fell every which way, their density blanketing the surroundings to such a degree that any man who could see may regard himself as blind. Winds in excess of 100 kmh tore through the air, lifting grass and soil, breaking branches off the solitary tree nearby as it threatened to even carry away the whole trunk from its roots. Meanwhile, amidst all these, thunderous lightning rumbled menacingly in the sky above, their sparks running massive arcs across the great dark clouds.
As I sensed that my spell had at last neared its climax, I doubled the level of heat for the air above ground while simultaneously halving the level of heat for the air in the sky above it, all the while also doubling the volume of water present in the clouds. The results were—
The sudden increase in precipitation came down in a tidal wave of water and ice, falling down violently sideways as they spun round and around, carried as they were by 200 kmh winds, which quickly uprooted the solitary tree and flung it into the sky, all the while the tumbling waves of water and hail and wind pressure tore the poor thing into shreds in a matter of seconds. The ground were also being overturned and carried off into the air all around, creating a gigantic muddy hurricane which was quickly forming from right above ground. And amidst all these, a thousand thunderous bolts of lightning struck against the many metallic rods on the ground every minute – those that had yet to be uprooted – whilst even more were blasting in large bright arcs across the darkened sky.
"Well, this level is just about right," I thought aloud.
Even with its weaknesses, it was still a city-killing spell, after all. It wouldn't be right if it was not at least at this level.
I should thank Roxy for this opportunity.
I didn't think I'd have a chance to test out a spell of this caliber so soon.
Looking at it, I guess it was working as intended, then?
I suppose that's one more mark on the checkbox.
"Sigh...Maybe it was my fault for not understanding what you meant, Rudy, but...this is just...haha."
As Roxy looked around at the devastation before her eyes, she let out a complaint with a complicated smile on her face. I could understand her a little, looking at the results myself. I admit, I might have gotten a little carried away.
"I suppose I did go a little overboard, Sensei," I acknowledged.
"A little overboard?" Roxy asked. "This isn't just going a little overboard! You've turned the grassland into a muddy swamp, Rudy!" she complained. "Really...can that spell even be called [Cumulonimbus] anymore?"
"Well, I'm sure you can. It worked on the same principle, after all."
Though, it might be more fitting to actually refer it as a supercell. Alas, I've already reserved that name for my full-power variant of [Cumulonimbus], so that's a no go.
"No way!" Roxy rebutted. "That was most definitely not a Saint-ranked spell!" she protested. "Sigh...Though I suppose I ought to count my blessings and thank you for seeing my desperate signals and ending the spell just a few minutes after you've started. It would be bad if that thing had continued. That, and also for conjuring these dry paths for us to travel back through. Thank you, Rudy."
"No, Sensei. I was actually the one in the wrong here, haha. I guess I got too excited and wanted to show off a little. I'm sorry."
"A little...Ahem, very well, you're forgiven," she responded firmly. "Rather, I also have something to apologize to you for, Rudy. Unfortunately, I don't have the qualifications to certify Rudy to a higher rank than myself." she admitted apologetically. "I'm sorry."
"No," I shook my head. "There's nothing you have to apologize for, Sensei."
Just then, her rain-showered figure looked at me brightly like the radiant morning sun, beaming a happy yet lonely smile on her face.
"Then, congra—" she looked down at her sleeve as her words were cut short.
"Sensei, can't you—"
No! I can't say that! I mustn't say that!
"...Ah, I'm sorry."
Why did I have to grab her sleeve now of all times?
What was I so afraid of? I have no right to keep her here any longer.
"Please continue, Sensei."
As I sheepishly turned to look at her, I saw her looking back at me. Her arm reached out to me, caressing my head with firm gentleness.
What was I so afraid of, I wonder? She was someone I have to protect, no matter what. And no matter how much I thought of it, there was ever only one way to make that happen. What I wanted wasn't what's important.
"Congratulations, Rudy," Roxy said to me. "You are now a Water Saint-ranked Magician."
She shone positively with radiance as she congratulated me, her thin smile gleamed brilliantly in all its rare beauty.
Roxy, you've often looked so uninterested; it was like you consider most things in life to be a chore to you.
Yet, here you were looking at me, the winds blowing gently against your rosy cheeks as you congratulated me with such vigor and life, just as you had when you had congratulated me so long ago. Despite your cool demeanor, the subtle changes of your tone, and the way your eyes widened ever so slightly told me of your joy.
I've never told you, have I, what I felt when I first met you?
When I met the you from then for the very first time – and when I met you for the very first time – my first thoughts were one and the same, "I want her to be my bride!"
I mean who wouldn't like a little kuudere? Loli, a scornful gaze and socially awkward, that right there was the trifecta of perfection!
It was the way you look, it was the way you carry yourself which first caught my eye.
Of course, that was only the start, it wasn't why I came to love the girl called Roxy.
It wasn't her petite size, it wasn't her scornful gaze or her unsociable tendencies which turned my passing interest into love. No, it was something else which hit me.
It was way she always threw herself with serious efforts into her pursuits. It was the way she always went the extra mile in everything she did. She was always doing her best, yet never keen to let anyone in on her endeavor with words of complaints or boasts of accomplishments. I mean, she was the girl who wrote by hand one of the only books of instructions on the Demon God Language, yet dismissed such a revolutionary accomplishment as something trivial, even daring to joke that I should not sell it off.
That was how my interest in her solidified over time into life-long respect.
And as for how that respect turned into love, yes...
It was the rarity with which she smiled, it was the subtlety with which she showed her warmth. She was a woman frugal with her shows of affection, yet that made her love worth so much more. A small smile painted on her lips, her slightly upturned eyes gazing intently, the light blush brushing her cheeks, these were enough to paint a whole world for me – to give meaningful colors to her passionate tenderness.
And here she was once again, shining with such dazzling brilliance, reminding me why I had fallen for her.
"Thank you, Sensei. These past year-and-a-half had been like a dream to me."
Yes, it was a most beautiful and serene dream, a dream which gave me a glimpse of peace.
And that was exactly why I must not repeat my mistakes. It was why I had resolved to never let her share my fate.
Even if this flesh of mine were to be tortured by the worst of torments, even if these bones were to be mangled by the most terrible contrivance, even if the Gods themselves were to rend my soul into oblivion, I shall suffer them on my own.
Once again, I found myself waiting under a tree, waiting patiently for Roxy to finally part from me.
We had arrived home some time ago and the sun was still high up in the sky.
In my previous life, Roxy would leave on the early morning after my graduation. That was when a horse-drawn wagon was scheduled to travel through the village. This time around, however, waiting for a wagon wouldn't be necessary. Given our current abundance of horses, Roxy would instead be riding to the nearest inn town along the highway. Paul, of course, had volunteered to see her there. That and bring back the horse she would be riding on to get there.
Of course, I wasn't worried at all. This might be Paul we were talking about, but I was not worried at all. Not at all!
Paul might be what he was, but he was still a Notos Greyrat, and I didn't think Roxy would qualify as any sort ideal within the Notos Greyrat's grading system. That was why I was not worried, not at all!
In the first place, I shouldn't be worrying about such things anymore. It wasn't going to matter, after all. Roxy has her life and I have mine.
"—Ah, I'm sorry, Sensei— no, Master."
"Urgh...Even though I had already agreed to it, it still feels prickly to hear it," Roxy said, her face grimacing at the mention. "Please keep it in moderation, Rudy."
"...Don't worry, Master. You won't be hearing too much of it."
"...Ah, I hope you're right," she acknowledged.
"Are you sure about this, Roxy?" my Mom asked. "You know you're more than welcome to stay. There are still plenty of recipes that I could teach you."
Dad approached from behind her while pulling on the reins of two horses beside him.
"Right, your role as a home tutor may be over but we're all in your debt," Dad concurred. "You've helped us a lot with the drought last year. I'm sure the villagers would love to have you around."
It seems that just as it had been in my previous life, Roxy was able to become good friends with my parents this time as well. She was also well-liked by the villagers.
I'm glad. It seems that wherever she went, she had managed to find herself in the good graces of the people there. And how could I forget, she had been living by herself for roughly 20 years now. She was really strong, after all. She was a fine adult, not a child I would need to worry about. So, it's fine.
"I'm grateful for the offer, but I plan to improve myself by travelling the world," Roxy replied. "Teaching your son had made realize how conceited I had been."
"I see. Well...I suppose it is what it is," Dad noted. "I'm sorry that our son caused you to lose confidence in yourself."
Well, I can't argue with that. I'm sorry as well.
"Oh no, I'm grateful for it." Roxy replied.
Roxy then put her luggage down and knelt in front of me.
"Rudy...it seems that this is goodbye," she said. "—Ah, that reminds me!"
She searched her robe and eventually produced a pendant laced with a leather cord which she then placed around my neck. The pendant's metallic surfaces gleamed a green luster, its shape formed of three interlocking spears. It was an emblem I was familiar with. It was a pendant I was familiar with.
"This is...the amulet of the Migurd Tribe,"
"Oh, you know of it?" Roxy asked, perplexed for a moment by my statement before quickly regaining her composure. "Well, I suppose Rudy would know. This is to commemorate your graduation. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough time to prepare a proper ceremony, so please make do with just this much, Rudy."
"You don't have to be apologetic, Master. I know how valuable this is. I'll make sure to take good care of it."
"Really? That would make me really happy," Roxy responded. "As for how you can use it...well, I suppose Rudy already knows that."
She stared into my eyes, looking at it intently with her soft yet keen eyes. Her facial expression too gradually softened to a thin smile.
It was about time that I let her go. It was time for this happy dream to end.
Why didn't I let her go?
She was just about to leave.
Why did I have to extend my hand to her cheek?
Was it that hard for me?
Let her go. Let her go! You have to let her go!
Why can't I let her go?
What was I so afraid of?
The sudden quiet of my mind allowed me to hear the sounds of autumn for the first time since my recent graduation. The crimson-yellow leaves swaying from atop the tree, the sounds of people working in the fields afar, even the flapping wings of the butterfly, all were accentuated by the serenity of the gentle breeze.
My eyes scanned the views around me, before finally resting on Roxy's.
Right, it was a different season then, but wasn't there a time like this before?
Do you remember it, Roxy, those summer days when you were in the middle of your pregnancy? We would just sit together under the tree in our yard. Unlike now, the sun shone very brightly then. I would have you just sit on my lap, the gentle warmth piercing through the leaves as you rested your head against my chest. Those were some of the happiest days of my life and you told me that they were the happiest days of yours as well.
Yet, I robbed you of your life and your future. I robbed you of those happy days. I failed you in the most spectacular way. A million apologies did not return you to me...
...You were cruelly taken from me, and I've lived everyday with the regret for letting it happen.
I continued to live believing that I had lost you, never to see you again.
And yet here you were before me, alive and well, nothing short of a miracle given form. What right do I have to deny you your life once again? What right do I have to squander your second chance? Tell me Roxy, did the man who have failed you even have the right to love you?
If the you from then had never met me, perhaps you would have found a better man, a man who would cherish you with his entire being, a man who would protect you and not let harm come upon you.
It was selfish of me, wasn't it, to even want to see you again?
A part of me wished that it had not been the case. Yet, now that it had finally come to this, my selfishness once again held me back from letting you go.
How could I have forgotten it? When you saved me, when you had forgiven me, hadn't I already decided what I needed to do?
So let this be the last of my selfishness.
It is enough, I think. These past year and a half was a long enough time for this selfish dream of mine. If I were to consider your happiness at all, it would have been far better had we remained strangers. I was the fool who could not protect you then, and I am the fool who would challenge a god now. Even so, I am happy to know that you are alive in this world, that you still smile and laugh and pout as you used to. That is enough for me.
And that is why, this time, this time for sure, I will save you from my curse. I won't repeat my mistake again. I won't hurt you again. I won't kill you again. I know I could never hope to repay you for all the good you've done for me, and for all the wrongs I've done to you. Even so, even once this body of mine have turned to dust and all my worldly bonds had ceased, you shall live safe and sound in this world. That, I swear to you.
So, I pray that you find happiness. I pray that someday you'll find a better man to love you, a better man who would protect you. A brave and gallant man who would ride to your rescue without a shred of hesitation, and save you from even the deepest abyss and the darkest of nights. A loyal man, an honorable man, a man who would uphold his vows to you and defend you. A man whose passionate love for you would set your heart afire. A man who could be to you all that I had failed to be.
So let our fleeting bonds in this life end here, that once you've departed we shall be strangers again.
My lips closed in on Roxy's forehead, planting upon it the complex well of emotions I felt for her.
You don't have to look so shocked, Master.
And with this, it is the end of us.
Letting go of her, I ran into the house as quickly as my feet would take me, slamming the door behind me before I fell to the floor below.
I will not wave her goodbye, I will not see her silhouette fade into the horizon. I will do none of those.
Just that...I'll remain here, basking in the embers of her touch and the bitter taste of tears.
[Author's Note: Howdy guys. Very sorry for taking so long (again T.T I'm so sick of repeating this). Anyway, Chapter 15.5.1 is already out on my WP, kaocakemanfictionalworld (you can google it). As usual, reminder to follow me over there. You get to read chapters earlier and in the future, chapters over there may feature images (maps, at the very least).
Anyway, I'm to rest right now. I'll append anything else later yada yada. Cya.]