I wake up to see that Yuuri is already awake, propped up on his elbow staring down at me, his lips upturned. Instantly, heat rises in my face.
"Good morning," he greets.
"Morning," I manage to say.
He continues to smile at me.
"What?" I ask.
"Just happy to see you." He replies, lying down on his side. "Happy to be with you."
I know I should be happy that he finally seems to be returning my feelings after so long. But I'm cautious. That caution has been embedded in me after all these years of neglect and rejection. I can't be rid of it so easily.
"What are you thinking?" He asks, softly, a serious expression crossing his face.
"That this doesn't seem real. I mean, it wasn't too long ago that you were looking elsewhere for someone." His frown deepens. "I'm just wondering what changed to make you look at me."
"I changed." He replies. "I've grown less oblivious to what's happening around me, and…my ignorance towards liking someone of the same gender is gone. It took a while, but it's finally gone, and my eyes have opened. I know more about myself now and what I want and I want you."
He runs a hand over my exposed arm and conjures a path of goose bumps. Then he takes a gentle hold of my wrist, and lifts it up so that our palms are touching. He prods at my fingers as if asking permission to thread them together. Without hesitation, I do so.
"I know that this may be asking for a lot, considering the circumstances, but please be patient with me. This is all new to me, and I know that I'll make more mistakes, not like I'm going to do it on purpose. I mean, nobody's perfect, and I'm definitely not, and…"
I squeeze his hand and stop him mid-rant. "I think I can wait a bit longer."
He beams at me, and strokes my hand with his thumb. "You're the best."
This is odd. After years of unrequited feelings, Yuuri has finally returned them. To what amount, I'm uncertain, but it's still something. Or at least that's what I keep telling myself to combat the doubt lingering in my heart.
His change of heart might've been abrupt for me, but for him, it could've taken a while. Perhaps he struggled with his emotions like I have in the past. After all, when I fist met him, I loathed him, and then all of these feelings bubbled up inside the more time I spent with him, and I tried my best to deny it. But, in the end, I was unable to stop myself from falling for him.
On the other hand, perhaps he had no struggle at all. Perhaps he's just confused or maybe he's decided to acquiesce to the engagement to stop me from nagging him. Although I know that that's ridiculous. Yuuri isn't the kind to do that. If he didn't like me, he would've ended the engagement already. Then again, in the four years that I've known him, he hasn't even bothered to dissolve the engagement.
I rub at my temples, my internal struggle conjuring up quite the headache.
Then I remember my promise to stay by Yuuri's side, no matter what. So, regardless of my doubt, I want to be there for him, and support him in any way possible.
With that in mind, I take my clothes from my room, and move them back into Yuuri's room.
The next day, Yuuri and His Eminence announce that they're going back to Earth at breakfast. It's disheartening to hear, even though I already knew they were leaving; I just didn't expect it to be so soon. Now that he's returning to Earth, I can't help but be reminded of what happened after we defeated Soushu. Yuuri hasn't returned for nearly a year after that, and the pain from my life without him comes rushing up, like a cut that's been cut open.
"I'll be back before you know it." Yuuri says before the fountain in the Tomb of the Great One.
I cross my arms. "You better pass these examinations. I won't tolerate having you fail them."
"I don't plan on it. Geez, Wolf, have a little faith in me, will you?" He groans.
For some reason, that strikes a cord with me, and I grow silent, averting my gaze from Yuuri. Even without looking, I feel him staring at me, questioningly. I shift from one leg to the other, swallowing in an attempt to rid of my suddenly parched throat.
"See you all soon. Take care." His Eminence says.
Once I hear the sloshing of water, I look to see Yuuri and His Eminence sink, and it seems as if my heart is drowning with them. They're returning to their world, the place where they were born, where they grew up, where their hopes and dreams grew along with them.
It's where they belong.
And I'm sure that Yuuri, being the way that he is, has made many friends there. He's probably even done some courting in the years that have past. I'm not certain that he's done this, but I'm pretty sure that he's had people on the side. Even now, he could, and he'll be happy to return to them.
To think that I could be some leftover; it makes me sick to my stomach.
"Lord von Bielefeld," Ulrike addresses me, softly. I turn and peer down at her. "The Great One wishes to speak with you. Come this way."
Conrart gives me a look; one of pity, and I shrug it off as I follow Ulrike inside the Tomb of the Great One. He knows that I fear the Great One. I mean, who doesn't? He's the founder of this land, and his power is legendary; looked up to and feared by the people he watches over, myself included. In addition to that, Mother has told me stories of those who deceived the Great One, and were punished for doing so.
Just thinking about it is enough to make me break out in shiver.
That fear worsens once Ulrike leaves the room, and closes the door behind her.
I gasp and whirl around at the sound of the door clicking shut. "Ulrike!" I call, my voice wavering.
"Fear not, my beloved descendant." The Great One speaks, startling me, causing me to about-face. "My intention is not to bring you harm. Only to help you grow and prosper."
"What do you mean?" I ask, overwhelmed to see him in his true form.
"I see that King Yuuri has finally realized what has been in front of him this whole time, a love that he was too blind to see in his younger years." I flinch at the word love. There's no doubt that King Shinou noticed because he says. "I knew this would happen. King Yuuri's love has always been there, a speck that has gradually become bigger with the time that has passed. When that love was a speck, you were able to see it, but now that it's bigger, you have lost sight of it. Or perhaps you're afraid of it. So you refuse to acknowledge it in fear of being let down once more."
My eyes widen.
"Don't get me wrong. I don't blame you for your feelings. In fact, I understand them quite well. You love him yet you don't trust him."
"That's not true."
"It's not entirely untrue now, is it? Yes, you trust him to run this country. You trust him to be a just king, and to love his people, whether they are demons or not. However, you don't trust him with your heart." He points to my chest.
I bring a hand up to my chest, feeling a tug at my heart, and I realize that he's right. That's the uneasiness that I've been experiencing. Despite the fact that Yuuri has confessed his feelings, I don't believe him. Furthermore, I don't trust him not to go behind my back and find someone new to fool around with. I even believe that he's cheating on me now.
My love has never been enough for him. So why would it be enough now?
"In turn, you fail to see your worth." King Shinou continues. "Not only to King Yuuri, but too this entire kingdom as well. With that said, I must ask. Do you wish to become stronger?"
"Yes," I reply, confused as to where he was going with this.
He smiles. "I suspected such. Now, listen closely for I wish not to repeat myself."
I have come across a most powerful sword, indeed. It's called The Embers of Eileen. A swordsman by the name of Catterick wields it, and today he has challenged me to a duel. It's sad to admit that I have lost; my skills in swordsmanship still need improving, after all.
I was angry at first. It was humiliating to have lost, and I felt as if I have disgraced the name of the Bielefelds. However, I won't give up on my pursuit for this most valuable sword.
Father, I think in awe of his resolution. I hadn't known about this, although it was right here under my nose this entire time. I used to read Father's journal religiously, almost like my own bed time story when Mother stopped singing to me. Somewhere along the way, I stopped reading his journal.
Father kept a hefty journal full of his thoughts from childhood up to the day of his death. He didn't write in it everyday. Sometimes his entries were separated by months, even years.
I was enchanted at the access I had gained to my Father's head. Also, it certainly did keep his memory alive.
I continue to read.
Once again, I was defeated by Catterick. It's frustrating. Absolutely frustrating. I have no time to be chasing down a wanderer for a sword that clearly isn't destined to be mine.
For now, I'll return to the Bielefeld lands, and resume my post. Perhaps Waltarana can train me more in the ways of the sword.
Like many of his entries, these two were succinct. That is, unlike the next one.
Those damned humans are at it again, foolishly trying to conquer our land. Why don't they understand? We demons are the superior beings. As such, they should obey us, not fight a losing battle.
However, if they wish to perish by the hand of demons, they shall be granted their wish in galloons of blood. In fact, they already have, yet they continue to fight us, thinking they'll be strong enough to rid the world of all of the demons. Truly foolish. I shall put them out of their misery.
Mother calls me foolish for thinking this. I can't believe her. Has she forgotten what has happened to Father? Her own husband? He has been brutally murdered by a human and had done nothing to deserve it. He trusted that human and he stabbed him in the back, quite literally. Father had befriended him, but he turned out to be a spy.
That makes me wonder if Mother loved him at all. If she did, wouldn't she be as mad with this spy as I am? Wouldn't she want to avenge his death just as I want to? I fail to understand.
Damn all those wretched humans to hell.
I know that Father loathed humans, but not to this extent. When I was younger, he'd tell me that humans were the weaker species, and that they needed to be owned and trained like dogs. I believed him, and took on these beliefs as my own because it's what I grew up knowing. It's because of these beliefs that Conrart and I grew apart. I thought he was a demon, like me, but then I found out that he was half human. It was a betrayal I held onto until four years ago when Yuuri came, and turned everything upside down. I changed because of him.
I have to wonder. If Yuuri hadn't come, would I have stayed the same as I was before; slowly being consumed by my hatred and bitterness towards humans?
Would I have been like you, Father? I think.
Now I know why King Shinou told me to read Father's journal. He wanted me to see Father's mistakes, and recognize that I have already learned from them. To encourage me to continue walking down the path I'm on, and become that much stronger.
"Briefly, he mentions a sword in his journal." King Shinou had said. "It's called the Embers of Eileen. It's a sword that has been the prize of duels for generations. Now, I'm not quite sure where the sword is located as of late. However, last I checked, a person in the west has claimed it for their own. If you wish for strength, the Embers of Eileen will help you greatly in obtaining it."
I loved Father, and I still do, but I don't want to be as strong as he was.
I want to become stronger.
"Are you sure about this, Wolfie?" Mother asks me, worriedly.
"I'm positive," I reply, determined, readjusting the satchel of food the maids made for me.
"Be careful, Wolfram." Conrart says, looking grim.
"Do you want me to send a carrier pigeon to Lord von Kleist to inform him that you'll be in the area?" Gwendal asks, seriously.
"No," I say. I understand that Gwendal is worried. He wants to make sure that I'm safe and secure. He can be very protective of me at times, but now I don't want that.
This is something that I have to do on my own.
"I can manage on my own." I add after a moment.
Conrart's lips tug upwards at that. Gwendal's does just the opposite, and I can tell that Mother is conflicted. These mixed reactions make sense. This is the first time that I'm traveling by myself, after all.
Conrart has always believed in my abilities. I can tell by his smile that he believes that I can do this by myself. He might be concerned, but he's keeping that feeling hidden in order to support me.
Gwendal won't admit it, but I know that he feels uneasy about letting me travel unsupervised. I'm sure that Mother feels the same way, except she's actually being open and vocal about it.
"If you run into trouble, please go to Lord von Kleist." Mother begs, taking my free hand. "He'll be sure to help you, and provide you with shelter. He can even assist you in your search for the Embers of Eileen."
I give her hand a squeeze before slipping my hand out of hers. "Mother, trust me. I'll be okay. This is what I need to do."
"Our prayers will be with you." Conrart says, gently taking Mother by her shoulders.
I give him an appreciative smile before I take off.
By sunset, I reach the von Kleist territory. I'm about to set up a place in the woods for me to sleep when I hear a terrified scream.
"Somebody, help!" It's a woman.
I take my sword and head towards the direction of the scream. It doesn't take long for me to reach the source. When I do, I see a woman lying on the ground, propped up on an elbow, a cloaked figure standing before her.
Instantly, I take action, slicing at the attacker. He takes a leap back. Suddenly, my body feels heavy, and weak, and I know this feeling. The cloaked person confirms my suspicion when he pulls out a scepter covered in several esoteric stones.
I grit my teeth, and try my best to stay standing, but even that has become a challenge. My whole body is shaking, weighed down by the power of the esoteric stones. It doesn't take long for that power to bring me to my knees.
"That's right, demon." The human man snarls. "Lie down and die."
"Like hell," I mutter.
"All particles that dwell in flame, I summon you."
I hold my hand out, successfully hitting him with a blast of fire. He flies back, roughly hitting the trunk of a nearby tree. He doesn't fall, however. He merely sags against the tree, and breaks out into laughter.
"It appears as though I've underestimated you, demon." Slowly, he straightens, and holds up his staff. "I won't make that mistake again." Then he fades inside of the tree.
Once he's gone, my body feels much lighter. I turn to see that the woman is feeling the same as she steadily rises to her feet.
"Are you okay?" I ask.
"Yes, I think so." She says, taking a step. But then she yelps in pain and falls onto her rear.
I rush to kneel in front of her. "What hurts?"
"My leg," She winces, pulling up her skirt to reveal a nasty gash.
I grimace at the sight, images of Corporal Grimm's body flashing in my mind.
"…Are you all right?" She ask, snapping me out of it. "You look pale all of a sudden."
"It's nothing to worry about." I quickly assure her. "Now, let me tend to your wound. I don't have the best healing magic, but I think it should be enough to stop the bleeding."
She nods. "Okay."
With that, I hold my hands up, and focus my energy on the wound. Behind closed lids, I see a green light, and I continue to focus until the light shines at it's brightest. Then I open my eyes to see that the bleeding has stopped.
"Oh, thank you so much." She smiles. "My leg feels so much better."
I stand out, and hold out my hand. "Can you stand?"
Once more, she gets to her feet, and wobbles, wincing as she grabs my arm for support. "I'm afraid not. It hurts when I put pressure on it."
"I see." I say. I should've expected this. My magic can close the wound, and dull the pain a bit. But it's nothing compared to Gisela's healing powers. If I let this woman walk, her wound will most likely open.
I lower myself down on one knee, holding my hands out in the back of me. "Here, get on my back. I'll carry you back to your residence."
"…Okay." She says, carefully settling herself on my back, looping her arms about my neck. I lock my arms under her knees, and pull her up as I get back on my feet. She's a little heavy, but it's nothing that I can't handle.
It doesn't take that long for us to reach her cabin.
"Clareta!" She calls.
Immediately, the door opens to reveal Clareta, who's smaller than the woman on my back. She has red hair, and sky blue eyes as opposed to the other woman's brown hair and eyes.
"Arietta!" She gasps. "Who's this? What happened?"
"I was attacked. This young man here saved me."
"My goodness! Come in, come in."
She ushers us inside, frantically, and leads me over to the couch where I set down Arietta. There, I tend to her again. Afterwards, she peers up at me with a grateful smile. "Thank you so much…uh…"
"Wolfram," I reply.
"Wolfram, is it?" Clareta asks, and I nod. "Oh, I can't thank you enough for saving my wife. I don't know how to repay you."
"You don't have to."
"Do you have any place to stay the night? If not, you're more than welcome to stay here."
I hesitate. I don't know these people, and they seem nice, but I still don't really trust them. After all, I did trust someone once, and that ended in betrayal.
Then again, I do have the means to defend myself if I do get in a pinch.
Yuuri's disapproving face flashes in my mind. I can just imagine what he'd say now. "You should give people the benefit of the doubt."
"Are you sure?" I ask.
"I wouldn't ask if I wasn't sure." Clareta replies.
With Yuuri's words in mind, I take her up on her offer.
Arietta and Clareta prove to be very hospitable and accommodating. They serve a delicious meal. They make sure I'm comfortable in the guest room. Also, I've noticed what a lovely couple they are. They're so at ease with each other, sometimes exchanging loving looks with red dusting their cheeks and sweet chaste kisses.
Lying in bed, I have to wonder…Will Yuuri and I ever be that at peace with one another? I squeeze at the sheets as doubt fills me. I don't know what's going on with Yuuri right now. He seems to be interested in me, and I know that I should be glad. But it's so surreal.
It's like a dream. Something that I remember. Something that's merely fantasy.
I want to believe in it, but I'm unable. After everything that's happened between us, how can I possibly believe it?
"One day," I whisper to myself. "I'll wake up, and it won't be a dream anymore."