I walked into the guest room, where the first things that caught my eye were the neat stacks of papers on the desk and a girl by the window, dressed in a casual, blue blouse and matching skirt. Her clothing seemed odd only to me, as my memories found it rare to see her in anything but armor, which was currently tucked in the wardrobe, untouched, since she arrived here.
She stared outside with a vacant gaze, reflecting upon the changing times. Walking casually over, I picked up one of the sheets off the top and skimmed through it.
Paperwork, and plenty of it. There were various requests and proposals handed to the Chancellor for review and approval. After the war with Purnesia and the scuffles with demons ended, a giant backlog of tasks remained. This kingdom was still upon stilts, propped up by various people filling in to get it back on track.
“You know… you didn’t have to do all of this, but that’s one less thing I have to deal with, so thanks,” I said with a thin smile. Eryn had completed it all in my absence.
“What else am I supposed to do? It’s not like I can go outside yet.”
Her breath fogged up the windowpane in front of her. I could tell that she was itching to head outside, having been cooped up here since that day. Since she still carried the distinct feel of a demon within her core, there was no doubt that people would be wary of her presence. To avoid all that, she went into hiding. Not everyone was as accepting of her new self as Cornelius, Katalina, and I, so we decided to limit those that knew what happened. It would be a pretty tall tale to say that we ended up ‘slaying a God’ in order to save Eryn anyways.
In some places, such an action would even be blasphemy to consider one of the divine beings having ill intentions to us and to the world. Few knew about the full circumstances, our close friends that we could trust. Lady Kaguya and Chrys were able to feel Eryn’s presence from the very beginning, so we couldn’t hide it from them. Ludmila found out days after, sniffing the air before asking me why traces of Eryn still lingered around my aura. And Saki… I had no idea how she was able to tell, but she just randomly asked me about Eryn one day.
When I asked Eryn why she didn’t care to notify any others, like Pietro and Carina, she simply shook her head with a forlorn expression.
“I don’t know if I can face them now. Not with all the memories still within me. Not while my heart still wavers between two different lives that were experienced.”
Despite returning to us, the existence of her current and other selves had combined into someone new. The relationships that overlapped created friction, making her constantly worry about how she should behave from this point on. Combining this inner turmoil with traces of an outward demonic appearance, It was certainly a lot to digest, so I could only be patient. Time was needed to become comfortable in her own skin.
I shook my head and placed a hand on her shoulder, giving her a determined smile. It would be fine. She had all of us behind her.
“Well, your days holed up here end soon, right? According to Katalina and Lady Kaguya, this should be the last treatment.”
Part of the reason Eryn was cooped up in this room was the hope that her miasma would eventually disappear with prolonged treatment. At the beginning, Eryn’s core continuously leaked out miasma, despite the god being vanquished. It had been distorted so much that only the power of a deity had kept it running.
The divine power that I weaved into Eryn’s core had only been a temporary fix, flushing out the bad for as long as the energies persisted. She needed to be continuously recharged like a battery. But we quickly noticed that the miasma came back slower and slower with each cycle. The effects of the divine power, while gradual, were slowly reversing the damage done by Eryn’s descent into darkness.
Eryn pushed herself away from the window, walking over to the bed before plopping backward onto it, face up. She rolled up the hem of her blouse, baring her midsection. I barely thought anything of it before placing a palm over where her core resided. The area that I touched glowed intensely white as I repeated the procedure that I had done numerous times already, injecting her core with divine energy to flush out miasma and keep it running smoothly once again.
All during that time, Eryn lightly squirmed on top of the bed, breathing heavily as the energies clashed within her. She once told me that the feeling was akin to a brush prodding her from the inside, with occasional moments of warmth bursting forth, sending pulses up her spine. I gave her quite the look after that comment, and she likely only realized it herself after the fact because her face instantly went red.
“Look what you made me say! Perv!”
‘Oh, how I missed our banter…,’ I thought briefly before focusing on the task at hand again. Several minutes passed before it felt like all traces of the miasma had been swept away, the core humming smoothly with the supplied energy. Unlike the first few treatments, her mana had a strong flow now, rather than merely chugging along. Feeling the white glow recede, Eryn’s eyes popped open.
“You took longer this time. Anything wrong?”
I waved off her concern. “Nope, just making extra sure that there’s nothing left. Now, all we need to do is wait. Let’s head down for dinner in the meantime.”
Eryn nodded, before taking my outstretched hand to help her off the bed. Together, we went down for our evening meal.
Peaceful evenings full of typical mundane activities. Momentary recollections of the past. Random banter of prospects for the future. I could feel the weariness of the day’s activities melt from my body as I relaxed to such conversation. After wading in such normality for nearly a month now, I could safely say that I didn’t miss the conflict and tense atmosphere that followed me on the battlefield.
We could take our time once again, and figure everything out for ourselves at our own pace.
With dinner ending and us retiring to our quarters, I returned to Eryn’s room later to scan her mana signature once again with my eyes. As predicted, there was still no trace of miasma within her core after several hours. Just yesterday, the faintest ember of purple dotted its center after dinner.
“Phew, looks like we are finally in the clear. You’re miasma-free for now. At least, any traces left behind by that god.”
“I see… Then, shall we execute the plan tomorrow?” Eryn said with a look of half-anticipation and half-resignation.
“So soon? …I guess we could… I had promised you that date after you were completely cured of it.”
I scratched my cheek, hesitant to fully commit. But it was probably fine. I would be there the whole time, in case anything happened. And more than anything, it would be good for Eryn to get used to being outside again.
The next day came too soon. Fortunately, Dengel found ways to free up my schedule, saying that I deserve a break anyways. There went my excuse for delaying the inevitable…
Instead of my usual hybrid Chancellor/chef uniform, I put on something special. Roberto brought out an entire wardrobe full of ‘suitable’ clothing for nobility, many of which I had to roll my eyes at. Most of what he tried to thrust upon me held vibrant colors or flair that made my eyes hurt. I immediately discarded anything that looked puffy or gaudy, opting for something muted and form fitting. I merely had to look at Roberto’s silent expression of disappointment to see that I had chosen something ‘boring’.
Even with that, the white regal shirt, black vest, and dark blue pants that I sported felt stiff and itchy. But I could bear with it for a while. Perhaps, I just had to give them a chance, instead of balking at first impressions. It was a special occasion, after all.
Heading outside the mansion, I found Eryn outside already, staring up at the sky. She was wearing a quaint, pink dress that paired well with her pale skin. With a pair of silk gloves over her hands and a hooded shawl to cover her shoulders and face, the ensemble was just enough to fool the eyes that her skin wasn’t ‘too pale’.
Noticing me, Eryn commented on my appearance, the only thing I could see was the movement of her lips under that hood.
“I expected you to dress up, but don’t you think that’s… a bit plain?”
“Hey, I find this level of extravagance to be barely tolerable. I’m not Corny, you know. My standards for male attire are nowhere that flagrant!” I retorted, claiming that Eryn’s perception had been polluted by someone who wasn’t even male to begin with, but still relished in dressing herself like a peacock. Unfortunately, she had never laid eyes on such a bird. “Anyways… it’s probably best not to stand out. We wouldn’t want to call attention to ourselves.”
Holding my arm out, I beckoned Eryn to take it. We walked to the carriage that was already called up, letting the footman usher us inside. Our planned date was nothing special, simply spending time around the capital to get a better feel for the city that we built. It was one thing to see an area in development as its lord, and another being a normal person enjoying the sights. We both stared at the buildings as we rode by, as if committing them to memory.
After that short ride, we found ourselves at a fancy marketplace. For once, Eryn acted like a normal noblewoman, not gazing at the various products with an eye for profit but merely enjoying it at face value. Even after holding up various pieces of attire and jewelry against her to test them out, she ended up buying nothing. Even with me offering to pay for them, she shook her head.
“They would just get in the way,” she said.
We moved on and decided to grab some lunch. Rather than some fancy restaurant, our feet moved straight to ‘A Certain Slice’, a favorite place of ours. Luckily, the staff was mostly unfamiliar faces at this point. Certainly, Alice could no longer wait on tables as a proper lady of the house; Dengel wouldn’t allow for it anymore. We ordered our favorites and dined while watching the busy restaurant thrive during lunch rush. Biggington and Wedgeworth popped in and out occasionally, busy as bees. It was good to see that the shaky reputation of a greenhorn Chancellor didn’t cause the customers’ palates to suffer. But by now, I hardly found the time to involve myself in much more than a whimsical menu addition on occasion.
After lunch, Eryn and I absentmindedly wandered the streets, blending in with a crowd that barely regarded us as much more than some noble couple. They would never have guessed that the marchioness of this city and Chancellor of Sistina were walking casually among them. It seemed that our normal attire and peculiar character define ourselves much more than our faces. Eventually, we made our way to a park and rested on a bench there.
“This city… has changed so much. Far faster than I can even fathom. If I hadn’t penned some of the decisions, then it would have all raced past me.”
Eryn’s words held a somber tone, like she had missed so much since her absence. The state of the world was progressing fast, bolstered by all the inventions created in recent times.
“And it’ll keep on changing, with or without us. Don’t you think? Even us, we have changed so much as well, but all we can do is pay attention to what we can, do the things we can, and enjoy what life brings us.”
Eryn looked toward me and pulled back her hood. Her red eyes carried a sense of worry within them.
“Is this really okay? To simply overwrite everything with new experiences and forget about the past? After everything that ‘she’ has done… what ‘I’ have done, can I just go back to being simply Eryn again?”
“If it’s important to you, then don’t forget. Carry it with you and let it become a part of you. As for everything else, let it go.”
I stood up from the bench, balling my fist before making a tossing motion of discarding something far away.
“The hesitant me!” I pitched again. “The ruthless me!” And again. “The aspirations that I could never become!” And once more. Then, I turned back to Eryn.
“Everything that’s happened shaped me into who I am now. That’s undeniable. But those things alone won’t define me, not anymore. They are a part of me, so I’ll use them for my own purpose. But they don’t get to control what I want to do from now on.”
I knelt before Eryn and took her hands.
“That is why you must also choose for yourself. What you wish to do, what you’ve decided to do, I’ll back you up however I can. I care for you, Eryn. Regardless of how I got to that point, that fact is true. My desire to protect you won’t waver, even if it started out as a selfish act.”
Eryn eyed me for several moments before she broke the silence.
“Very well, then let us proceed.”
I nodded before standing up, Eryn rising as well. We made our way to the final stop of the day – the royal castle. Getting there shortly after the day’s official business ended, I called up Katalina for one more audience.
We passed right by the posted guards, letting me pass when I flashed the Chancellor’s pin. They hardly batted an eye to who was accompanying me. Walking straight to the throne room, we found Queen Katalina waiting for us there. She was eager to know about Eryn’s condition as well.
“From what I gather, it seems like the treatment has been complete?”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” I replied, beckoning to the other guards to leave the room. After they exited and closed the door, Katalina continued.
“Miss Faulkner, given the circumstances of this kingdom, I’m sure you know what I plan to ask of you. Are you prepared?”
“Yes, Your Majesty.” Eryn pulled back her hood and bowed her head once. “I will leave the Kingdom of Sistina as of tomorrow.”