As Merea was tying up the last of the luggage onto Noel’s back, he heard someone call out his name.
When he shifted his gaze to the direction in which he was called from, he could see Elma standing there with a red face and a rather daunting pose.
With both her hands on her hips and a straight posture, she showed a strong figure like that of a warrior but her slightly moist eyes and her face which was dyed red gave more of a feeling of being a girl rather than a warrior. Since Merea had to look down on her, her looking up with that expression just added to that impression even more.
「I, I need to talk to you!」
「Talk? ――Okay, I don’t mind, just wait for a bit」
She’s unnecessarily high tension huh, while thinking that Merea sped up his work of tying up the luggage.
At that time, they still had to care for the horse’s legs as well so they probably had some time to talk.
Maybe because they were used to travelling but there were a few demon lords who were used to taking care of the horses and they took care of it in those situations. ――Well, there was a rather pitiful reason that it would be better to leave everything to them than for amateurs to take care of it.
Which is why, in that period people would have time on their hands. Of course Merea had never taken care of horses. Not to mention, in the current situation, he couldn’t even ride on a horse. So the partner he was riding on now was,
「You’re sturdy enough not to even need care huh…」
For the time being, it didn’t seem like he needed any care. With his eyebrows drooping a little, Merea laughed and stroked Noels neck.
If he just wiped the dust off of the sturdy looking, smooth to touch black scales then they would start shining brightly.
Noel twisted his neck back and looked over at Merea with a questioning look as if to say, 「Are you done with packing the luggage?」.
Merea was slightly entranced by the Noel’s black scales but he soon remembered about Elma and quickly finished up tying all the luggage and then he lightly struck Noel’s back. Noel, who had been sitting still waiting for all the luggage to be loaded, started shaking his left and right as if to loosen his muscles.
The luggage on his back made a clattering noise as they struck his body but it didn’t seem like they would fall off that easily.
Seeing that, Merea nodded and then finally got off of Noel’s back.
Elma was standing with her back to one of the rocks in the surroundings.
With her head facing down, as if she was completely absorbed in her thoughts, she kept staring down at the ground.
As she lightly played around with a pebble near her toes, it seemed rather obvious that her mind was elsewhere.
「Sorry for the wait」
He lightly raised his hand spoke up. Elma suddenly raised her head causing her moist black hair to sway.
As if her mouth wasn’t able to keep up with her mind, she didn’t seem like she could speak immediately. As usual her face was a little red and her eyes were moist.
As soon as he noticed that, Merea’s consciousness was diverted to her entire body. Although it was a little late now but, when he once again looked at her,
He thought that.
Her appearance that he could see from the side, that cold beauty with her slender limbs made her look like she was some kind of an art sculpture.
A beautiful appearance.
Even then, within that gorgeousness there was a hint of innocence in her that made it her characteristic atmosphere.
If you could feel a strength in the fact that she trained herself in an unwomanly manner but when you see the refinement in her beauty and the innocence in her mannerism makes her unspeakably lovable.
Various words of praise floated up in Merea’s mind but when he thought it through then he could summarize it in one word.
――Yeah, she’s pretty.
Not just her appearance. He felt that one word encompassed her looks, air and her personality as well.
「Did you wait long?」
「Aa, ahh… ah, no, I, I didn’t wait long」
Her voice was shaking a little. It was as if she was nervous about something but what exactly she was nervous about was not something that Merea could understand.
「So, what did you want to talk about?」 「...」
Merea walked over to Elma’s side and like her leaned his back on the rock as he asked her. Elma didn’t reply immediately. He figured that she was probably thinking about how to start talking so Merea decided to wait for a while.
After a little while had passed, Elma finally opened her mouth. At just a glance it was obvious that her face was considerably redder than it had been till then.
――She bit her tongue. Without saying that out loud, Merea thought so in his mind. Elma made a 「Gohon」 sound and cleared her throat before she spoke up again.
In the first place, the very fact that she started talking to him like a stranger made it feel odd but Merea kept quiet so that he didn’t break her chain of thought.
Instead, he had an innocent look in his eyes as he asked her.
Elma on the other hand looked like she became even more nervous seeing his gaze.
「! Werr…, nnn, …well, that...A, are you doing well?」
After biting her tongue again, she pushed it back and in exchange asked a harmless question. The question was so harmless a question that it was instead incredibly out of place.
「I’m fine, I’m fine. Completely fine」
「Is that so…」
Elma had an expression that practically said, 「I finished the first job~」 with how relieved she looked. ――Not a single thing was resolved though. However, Elma didn’t plan on finishing up there so she made a stern expression and once again asked Merea a question.
「D, Do you have any desires?」
The contents of that question were a little too vague. Around three question marks floated up in Merea’s mind.
――Is she talking about the three major desires…?
Putting aside a wish or a dream, he ended up thinking that what she meant by desire would naturally be about that. Though, normally people wouldn’t ask about something that obvious that everyone has. So if he assumed that to be true then what she probably meant was whether he had a more personal, something like a dream or so he ended up interpreting on his own.
Which is why,
「I do though?」, He replied.
「!! I, is that so…, as expected Merea is a man as well huh… If you’re a man...there’s no helping it...more like, if you didn’t have it then it would probably be a little unhealthy huh…」
While trembling a little, Elma turned her moist eyes down to the ground. Merea no longer had any idea as to what was going on.
In any case, if the current situation time would just slip past them. To help her feel less nervous, he felt like if he asked her a question then the conversation would probably move forward. Thinking that, Merea spoke up again.
「What about Elma?」
「Wh, what? Me? Y, you really have a fearless way of asking such things to a woman huh」
Merea asked the same question back to Elma but her reply was a little strange.
「――I, I do. Obviously I do too」
「Heee, what kind of?」
「Wh, what kind?! You’re even going to ask me that?!」
「Ehh?! Is it wrong to ask that?!」
Elma looked like her head would burst open from the sheer heat of her embarrassment and had an extremely red face while she yelled at Merea with an astonished expression. At Elma’s words, Merea ended up staggering a little.
「――I, it’s not like it’s wrong to ask but…, you really don’t have much delicacy...I’m still a woman you know…」
「Yeah, I get that? Elma’s quite the beauty after all」
At Merea’s honest words Elma’s shoulders immediately reacted with a twitch.
In the next moment, as if she were trying to run from Merea’s gaze, Elma turned to the side. It was a gesture like she was trying to say, 「Something more」.
Though Merea tilted his head in confusion at her gesture but he somehow understood her meaning and spoke,
Merea saw that Elma made a gesture of putting her thumb up. It seemed like she was satisfied with his words.
With her face looking the other way, she covered her face with an arm in an embarrassed way and let her gaze swim around on the ground.
Although it was a slightly shameless request but that in itself also showed her innocence once more.
Elma still kept facing a different direction and tried desperately to cover her face with one arm but from the gaps a strange laughter could be heard.
Since, even though she felt that embarrassed she couldn’t stop her laughter from how happy she felt, Merea couldn’t help being drawn in and laugh as well.
「Haha, you’re cute. ――Yeah, I feel that even more strongly since you’re so honestly happy about it」
Elma covered her face with both her hands and trembled while even her ears had turned red.
「...Th, thank you」
Suddenly Elma replied with a high pitched voice.
Either she still couldn’t look at Merea in the eye or maybe she just glanced at him quickly but her words were clear.
At this pace Elma may not be able to raised her face anymore, Merea thought that and with his back still to the rock, he looked up at the sky.
After a little while, he could feel a warmth from his side. Somehow it seemed like she had calmed down.
He noticed from the corner of his eye that she was standing next to him and similarly looking up at the sky.
Somehow the distance seemed to have become closer, it could be her way of apologizing for the rudeness of having faced away from him for a while.
「S, sorry. I’m not very used to being called 『cute』 so, my desires ended up coming out suddenly…」
「Hee, that’s unexpected」
「I’m normally swinging a sword after all」
「Ahh――That’s how it is huh」
Definitely, if she was seen on the battlefield then cute wouldn’t be a word that would come out normally. Beauty or beautiful might come out but cute probably wouldn’t come out.
As he was thinking these things, suddenly Elma changed the topic.
「――I have a dream that has nothing to do with battlefields」
The tension from earlier seemed to have loosened up considerably and she started speaking smoothly. Her tone had turned quite serious as well. While continuing to stare at the sky, Merea nodded lightly and listened to her speak.
「Even like this, I’ve wanted to live like a normal woman. In other words...you know, I wanted...to have a family」
「That’s a nice dream」
In order not to get in the way for her thoughts, Merea replied shortly.
「But, it seems like I don’t really have the talents for such things. I keep failing, time and again. I’ve never managed to do anything that was like a normal woman. Ever since I became a mercenary, it was even more so」
「Since you’re such a beauty, wouldn’t you be really popular?」
「Since mercenaries are mainly men, if I said that I wasn’t popular one bit then that’d be a lie but, when they see me use the demon sword they all end up running away. Well, I doubt it’d be much different even without the demon sword though. In the end, it seems like they couldn’t handle a woman more skilled than themselves」
He just accepted it without affirming or negating her.
Although he could feel Elma stirring next to him, he didn’t look towards her.
「Well, I also had a 『dream belonging to a battlefield』 so I didn’t mind it much」
「Dream belonging to a battlefield?」
「――Like my ancestors, I wanted to become a hero as well. A hero who saved someone」
Merea felt his chest grow slightly heavy. She had the same wish as he did. At the same time, he suddenly felt like he realised something when he noticed that, that was a 『dream belonging to a battlefield』 for Elma.
「But, that alone would leave me haggard. ――There’s a saying that’s been passed down in the Elisa family」
「...what is it?」
「Along with a dream belonging to a battlefield, have a dream that has nothing to do with one. The dream outside the battlefield will lead you to return alive」
「――Those are some nice words」
「Yeah. ...In the end, if someone only has dreams that belong on a battlefield then they’ll end up not being able to return back to their daily life. They would end up unable to return from the battlefield and fall into ruin. Since those are words from my ancestors who, as mercenaries, ended up practically melting into battlefields, I think those words are most probably true. ...Most probably, one of my ancestors lost themselves in the battlefield so much that they ended up regretting it later. Which is probably why they left those words and went as far as to carve it into the grip of the demon sword」
Elma took the demon sword off with the scabbard and handed it over to Merea. Since Elma’s finger was pointed to the handle of the sword, he looked over at it. When he removed the thread wrapped around the handle, he saw that the words that Elma had just spoken were written in old-fashioned letters.
「It’s to the point where they carved it into the demon sword which is the very symbol of the battlefield. Most probably, these words were something they wanted all the future warriors to know more than anything else」
Merea continued to stare at the carving. He kept staring at it with a serious yet complicated expression.
Suddenly, Elma looked towards Merea and called out to him. Merea finally looked towards Elma. At that moment, their eyes met.
「Do you have a dream outside of the battlefield?」
He couldn’t reply.
Merea knew that he had a desire but, that desire was one that belonged on a battlefield. In the chain of events that led to it he ended up becoming a demon lord.
At that time he embraced a dream, a dream to save all the demon lords. To become the hero of the demon lords.
However, that was a dream that was centered around battle. In reality, he ended up with that sort of a desire simply because he saw those demon lords who ended up in front of him, being chased by various countries and hunted by them.
Though, that was all there was to it.
If he thought thoroughly about it, there was nothing 『after』 that.
Fight, resist, win――what after that?
He couldn’t suddenly come up with something.
What would be the right path, what should he do――winning shouldn’t be the end of everything.
Even though he understood that, he couldn’t come up with a major vision that would be compliant with the world.
It was as if he suddenly realised that he was given proof that he was not yet able to properly exist in this world.
He suddenly felt his body grow cold.
He felt like he alone was being abandoned by the world.
The backs of the comrades around him felt strangely far away.
They had lived their entire lives in this world.
They knew nothing except for this world.
In other words, they had no choice but to be compliant to this world.
As far as they were concerned, this world was their absolute foundation.
As long as they recognize the world, they could consider their own existence to be certain.
On the contrary, he had knowledge of the 『other side』 so he could look at this world in an objective view.
In a sense, he could be skeptical of this world’s providence.
After tracing the surface, he had the capability to think, 「something’s not right here」 and take a step back.
What everyone thinks to be the truth is something that he alone could doubt.
That thought was somehow terrifying.
Even for the ones who comply with the world, the battlefield was a sort of symbol of the unnatural and unreal, was what he understood from Elma’s speech.
Which is probably why she talked about a dream unrelated to the battlefield. In other words, he spoke grandly about a dream based on the certainty of the world.
――I’m clinging onto that battlefield with a lot of difficulty.
The only certain desire that he had recognized was an unreliable dream rooted in the uncertainty of the world.
Suddenly, he couldn’t even tell if he was standing on his own or not.
He felt like he was left alone in the gap between two worlds.
Did he have a dream unrelated to the battlefield that he could rely on?
...He didn’t know.
「...I don’t know」
「...is that so」
Merea replied honestly.
Elma didn’t look troubled or angry, she just gently smiled as she continued to watch Merea. Elma placed her hand on Merea’s face. It was almost like a mother tenderly being affectionate with her son. Or maybe even like a gallant woman who was consoling her lover.
「Then, 『let’s search for it from now on』. It’s fine, you’ll definitely find it. It hasn’t been long since you came out to the outside world right?」
「There will be tons of new things. While you’re watching all of that, you’ll definitely find something. If you like, you could even aim to become my husband you know? That’s definitely a dream unrelated to the battlefield. My dream would end up being fulfilled as well! Two birds with one stone!」
Elma moved her hand from Merea’s face and placed both her hands on her hips before she spoke proudly.
Those were joking words that she spoke to cheer Merea up.
Elma herself had no idea why she said such words but oddly, even though she spoke them unintentionally, she didn’t regret it at all.
Merea laughed lightly at Elma’s words and spoke.
「Haha, that’s not bad huh. I’ll keep it in mind」
「What the, you called me a beauty didn’t you? Give me an immediate answer, immediate」
「I was warned by various people that things would turn out pretty bad if I married someone just based on their appearance after all」
Merea nostalgically remembered the lessons that the heroic spirits had taught him on that mountain top.
「Ha, fine. Then go ahead and check out my personality as well. ――uhh, it suddenly feels like I’m saying some seriously amazing things…」
「Isn’t it fine not to think too deeply about it?」
「Mm, that’s true as well」
Feeling like she might end up blushing profusely once more, Merea said that in a partly joking way.
At that point, from where the other demon lords had gathered,
「Oka~y, let’s all get going now~」
They could hear Shaw’s shout.
「――so he says」
「Ah. In that case, let’s first look for a place that we can sleep with no worries. We first need to find a place were we can live that has nothing to do with a battlefield, otherwise there’s no way we could follow my ancestor’s words. While we’re in the battlefield, if I ask you to look for a dream unrelated to the battlefield then Merea would end up getting troubled by it after all」
Elma flashed a gorgeous smile at Merea and then jumped up and ran towards the other demon lords. Merea looked at her retreating back with a smile and spoke.
He gave a small nod.
「――I’ll definitely find the path to that point」
Merea still didn’t have much of a grasp on a dream unrelated to the battlefield. Unlike the earlier time, it wasn’t like another wish would just pop up. However, just because that was the case, it wasn’t like his dream belonging on a battlefield would just disappear.
Which is why he decided to first complete his current dream.
Although it would be a little vague if he tried to see what had actually changed but even then, Merea felt like the weight on his shoulders had gotten much lighter.
Over and above everything else, he felt like he would be much more desperate to come back alive from the battlefield.
――― ―― ―