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Chapter 9: On the Boundary Between Humans and Monsters (2)

I stood transfixed, taking in the scene unfolding before my eyes.

White hair, black pupils. A girl with an unearthly beauty soared freely through the sky.

And then, in an instant, a large prey was cleaved in two.

So cleanly. With just a single stroke of her blade.

Yet, what truly unsettled me wasn't such an overwhelming display of force.

I saw that girl sobbing. A girl crying sorrowfully all alone.

Why would she be crying? After skillfully hunting down her prey. One would think she'd be overjoyed, yet here she was, engulfed in sadness.

I couldn't understand.

But if there was one thing I could be sure of:

'...Lien?'

This girl, she's the reason I came here.

Just like with Siel before. In such circumstances, to encounter a girl of such a unique appearance, crying and suffering alone, it couldn't possibly be a coincidence.

It wasn't chance, but fate. A meeting that was meant to be.

But the problem was.

'...What should I do?'

I knew there had to be a story behind that appearance and her tears.

But I lacked the eloquence of a protagonist. I had no experience in consoling a crying child.

In the original story, the protagonist would have somehow comforted her, healed her trauma, and resolved the issues she harbored.

But I was at a loss. Even up to the moment I revealed myself to the girl, I had no clue how I should act.

Yet,

"Don't come any closer... I told you not to come..."

I knew the crying child's plea was a lie. She wanted someone by her side. It was unmistakable.

Therefore, I slowly approached the girl.

Step by step, gently.

And then,

"What on earth do you think you're doing?"

I embraced her.

She questioned me in return.

But contrary to her words, she made no attempt to leave my embrace.

It was as if she was searching for something to cling to.

As if she desperately needed someone to lean on, her hands trembled as she weakly grasped onto me.

I was not accustomed to such situations. It was to be expected. How many could truly say they've been in such a position?

Yet, despite it all, I couldn't bring myself to let go of those small, trembling hands that clung to me so precariously.

So, I hugged her over and over again as she shed tears.

Telling her it would be okay, that crying would make it better, spouting such clumsy reassurances.

Time simply flowed on endlessly like this.

Gradually, the girl's sorrow began to fade.

It's amazing.

Just the mere presence of someone, just letting them know you're there, can heal a person's sorrow like this.

I found myself gazing up at the sky, lost in thought.

For a moment, I remembered my mother who had once done the same for me.

Not that I particularly wanted to return to my original world to reunite with the family I left behind.

After all, it's been over a decade since both my mother and father passed away. Their faces are now a blur.

It's just, perhaps the night sky was so beautiful, and I got lost in its beauty.

Feeling just a little, a very slight sense of longing.

*****

The Might of the emperor suppresses the energy of ■ flesh demon ■.


Such an incomprehensible message flashed briefly before my eyes. 

It disappears almost instantaneously, barely giving me a moment to read, let alone understand it.

Curious if this meant my status window had been restored, I tried various things, but to no avail. Only a message about resetting some pathway appeared, leaving me with no response.

Eventually, I shifted my focus away from the status window to more pressing matters.

"Yo-you. Who exactly are you? Why did you do this all of a sudden?"

The girl rambled on in a fluster.

Thinking about it, her reaction was entirely justified.

Overwhelmed by the moment, and perhaps reminded of a childhood memory, I had impulsively embraced her. Reflecting on it, it was indeed madness.

For a stranger to force his way towards a woman screaming for him to stay away and to embrace her without consent.

This is downright criminal.

It must have been an impulsive act driven by the vitality of a healthy body.

This characteristic viciously manipulated me, a person with common sense and a strong sense of ethics, and led me to engage in such strange behavior.

"Wh-Who are you, exactly? You didn't cast some kind of seduction spell on me, did you? Are you a warlock or something?"

But what's done is done and cannot be undone.

Nor is it a situation where I can simply apologize.

To do so would be to publicly declare that there was a foul intention behind that embrace.

As someone who had to gain the girl's trust, there was nothing worse than that.

Thus, I pointed boldly to the sky.

"Do I look like a grand sorcerer to you, capable of casting a seduction spell lasting over 3 hours without a wand?"

What rose in the sky was the sun.

A beautiful sunrise that made one ponder whether it should be captured in a photograph.

In other words, this girl had been clinging to me for hours on end.

Considering all she had vented while crying, it seemed understandable that she had so much to let out. But this was admittedly a bit too much.

"...That, that's..."

Another sun seemed to rise in the sky.

Of course, there's only one sun in this world, so the other must be someone's face, blushing as if it might burst at any moment.

She must have realized the absurdity of complaining now, after she had spent 3 hours, or perhaps even longer, pouring out her troubles to me.

I concluded by pointing to my clothes.

The girl could no longer meet my gaze.

Her face flushed, she focused on something seemingly fascinating on the ground.

It was perhaps inevitable.

My clothes were as if I had been meditating under a waterfall.

They were wrinkled and tattered here and there from her strong grip, and the shoulder area was completely soaked with tears.

"......Sorry."

Lien spoke in a barely audible voice.

Her face swollen, her eyes red and unable to look me directly in the eye due to shame. The way she offered her apology was endearingly awkward.

"Don't worry about it too much. It's natural to feel overwhelmed sometimes. I'm not particularly bothered."

Somehow, the situation was resolved.

And then......

A slightly awkward exchange of glances followed.

I had a pretty good idea why Lien was hesitating and diverting her gaze from mine.

It was only natural.

Objectively speaking, I must seem incredibly suspicious.

An outsider who suddenly appears in a place where one is hiding. Someone who approaches with an unsettling familiarity.

To any observer, I'd look like the hidden mastermind.

The very embodiment of a villain with ulterior motives.

Yet, the girl's silence likely stems from gratitude for what transpired earlier.

She's just ordinarily honest and inherently kind.

I felt a resurgence of sympathy for her.

"If there's anything you want to ask, go ahead."

With that, I took the initiative to speak to Lien.

After some hesitation, Lien posed her question.

"Why did you come to this remote mountain?"

"I just happened to pass by. Is this a place I'm not allowed to enter?"

"Not exactly, but..."

It's clear she remains unconvinced.

And understandably so. I wouldn't buy such an excuse either.

But that's okay.

I have the perfect alibi.

"Besides, if I had any ill intentions, I wouldn't have spent hours holding you. There would be no reason for me to initiate a conversation with you."

Lien's face, which had just calmed down, flushed again. She averted her gaze from mine and nodded, her face still red.

It seems she's somewhat convinced.

"Now, isn't it my turn to ask?"

"......Huh?"

"So, you can ask anything you want, but I'm not allowed to ask anything? Well, if that's the case, there's nothing I can do."

Suddenly, the girl became visibly flustered, rambling off excuses.

That wasn't her intention, she said. That I could ask anything I wanted. That she wasn't trying to interrogate me, and if it came across that way, she was sorry.

This transparency was different from Siel's in its own unique way.

She's straightforward in nature, unable to hide anything, with every emotion plainly visible on her face.

If Siel spoke exactly what was on her mind, this one seemed like she'd give away everything with just her expressions, even if she tried to lie.

She's amusing to tease, with such vivid reactions.

But now wasn't the time to be concerned with such things.

"What you said earlier, what does it all mean?"

The situation this girl was in turned out to be more serious than I had thought.

I had assumed Lien was forcibly taken by the people of some cult village, a misunderstanding due to the sparse information in the spoiler post.

But from her tearful complaints, it turns out she was born a member of this village.

Moreover, it appears that Lien's stepfather is the one trying to kill her.

"Why would your dad want to kill you?"

"Because... I was born wrong."

An incomprehensible explanation.

Seeing my puzzled expression, the girl seemed to realize I hadn't fully grasped the situation and continued her explanation in her own way.

Hmm...

It is quite extreme. I can somewhat understand why her fanatical father would deem her a 'Star of Heavenly Slaughter.'

But... is that really such a problem?

I understand possessing a talent for killing and sometimes losing consciousness in a frenzy of bloodlust.

But still.

"Is that really such a grave issue?"

I had a hunch about why the girl exhibited such symptoms.

It's simple.

Considering the characteristics of my healthy body, one could deduce the reason.

The 'Weakness Insight' trait always includes the text about easily identifying others' weaknesses.

When the game became reality, it might have led to a side effect where meeting people always triggered a perception of their vulnerabilities.

Given her straightforward nature, it's plausible for a protagonist's ally character like her to have a low-grade 'Frenzy' passive.

The text indicating excitement in combat could lead to being swayed by such influences.

"But... I almost killed you."

"But you didn't, did you?"

"A slight mistake, and I could have."

"But you didn't kill me. That's what matters."

Lien still wore a look of incomprehension.

So, I continued, locking eyes with her.

"People can't choose the traits they're born with."

It's a simple truth.

No one chooses the circumstances of their birth.

Just because Lien has a dangerous disposition doesn't mean it justifies her father's wish to end her life.

"That's why what really matters is how you choose to live your life. You chose not to kill me. Isn't that enough?"

"......But still."

Yet, Lien seemed unconvinced.

So, I said with a playful smile, "If you ever lose control again, just like before, I'll be there to hold you. Don't worry."

Her face turned bright red.

Indeed, she's amusing to tease.

Such a lively reaction.

As I smiled at her response, I suddenly frowned.

"Lien."

Before us unfolded an unusual scene, naturally bringing an ominous premonition.

"That's not some traditional ritual of your village, is it?"

She turned to look at my indication.

Instantly, Lien's complexion turned ashen.

Rising smoke.

The village ablaze.

The terrible screams of people could be heard if one listened closely.

The situation was clear.

The Empire had found this place.

Today, they intended to erase a tribe from the face of the world.

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