The sun was at its peak. The wind sweeping across the eastern continent was rather dry.
With sparse, short grass growing on it, the land that could neither be called a field or a wasteland continued as far as their eyes could see.
At times there were mountains, forests or lakes on either side of their path but as if the nature itself was trying not to get in the way of that group, it was never on their path.
The group of demon lords who had gotten caught up in the torrential flow of the era.
While clinging onto a slight favorable wind in the middle of that counter-current, they were treading the path towards Lemuse.
Those people ended up encountering a 『certain being』 during the first morning after they had left the Duchy of Neuce Gauss.
Right before the morning was the dawn, right before the dawn was the night.
Before they had that encounter, their group first went through that night.
The first night was spent at the waterside.
They were at the edge of a lake which was in the middle of a river with a very gentle flow.
Having sucked in enough moisture, the land around that lake was abundant in vegetation.
If this had been in the middle of a desert, it would have definitely been known as an oasis.
It was located at a place slightly detached from the peddler’s highway that, from ancient times, had peddler’s crossing over it to ply their craft no matter whether they had to mix their sweat with their blood.
Since there were footprints of several people in that area, it couldn’t be called a completely wild land. However, when seen from the eyes of the demon lords who wanted a place that was neither too far from the main road nor too close so that they could hide themselves without seeming suspicious. For such demon lords, that place was quite convenient.
Several of them stood guard as the others slept off to clear the fatigue that had piled up over their long and fast escape.
「Merea, you properly awake?」
「Of course I’m awake. What’s the point of the lookout falling asleep, Salman?」
At that time, while the other demon lords were greedily catching up on their sleep, there were people who were still awake sitting around a small light.
There were two people.
One of them was sitting with his back to the tree while the other one was slowly walking towards that place.
――They were Merea and Salman.
「It was just a joke. ――At times like this, don’t you ever feel lost on how to call out to someone?」
The light ―― the fire was very slightly burning.
Incidentally, that wasn’t a normal flame.
『Living Fire』, 『Living Flame』.
In other words, it was the mysterious fire created by the〈Flame Emperor〉Lilium.
The light that was lighting up Merea’s face was a mass of fire that was slightly smaller than a fist, with no visible source for that fire, it just lay there next to Merea’s feet.
The flame brought forth by the〈Flame Emperor〉which had a life of its own, an exceedingly mysterious and extremely convenient flame.
Since it used her peculiar mana and source as the fuel, it did not require any firewood and could continue to burn.
Not to mention, if it felt any presences around, it would by itself throw itself into the lake and hide itself.
While it was flickering the small living flame grew arms and legs and quickly ran over to the water side. Although it did hesitate for a moment but then it did throw its body into the water. With a *shuuu* sound, flame quickly got put out.
Although it reacted to Salman approaching Merea but by the time Salman reached that place, the flame had already ended it’s fleeting life.
「Hey, isn’t that a little sad? Also, I feel extremely guilty」
「Stop it, don’t say any more. ...I’ll end up crying」
As such, the flame eventually completely died out and since the living flames were ones who put themselves out, underneath the bush nearby, there were more such living flames hiding in reserve which would then come out and take the earlier flame’s place.
Although the figure of those living flames giving out a feeling of waiting for their turn to come up were sort of cute but at the same time, it also gave the person watching an indescribable sense of sorrow.
「More like, isn’t it fine to just go back to that hole and hide there…?」
「They apparently choose the closest option… Also, if its a situation where their internal mana is decreasing, at the end as if to let a flower bloom for the last time, they choose the flashiest way to go」
「Are they a warrior or something?」
Salman pinched his brows with a gesture as if he were trying to suppress a headache.
Incidentally, Lilium herself, when she saw that living flame jump into the water,
「She was seriously laughing hard, wasn’t she」
「Lilium really looked like a demon to me」
She had been laughing while holding onto her stomach.
She herself had made those flames and she had ordered them to take those actions, that was something they both understood.
They also knew that those orders were more or less correct.
However, when they thought of Lilium having burst out laughing hysterically after seeing the flame run to the water and jump into it, Merea and Salman couldn’t help but feel a sense of fear towards her.
「I’ve decided never to go against Lilium」
「It’s possible that since she has been together with those flames since she was an infant, it might not be something strange for her… In fact, it might just be a form of entertainment like being able to manipulate your own techniques well...」
As Merea answered with a slight laugh, Salman reached them and similarly lowered himself onto the ground.
While greeting Salman, Merea noticed that a really nice fragrance grazed his nostrils.
Wondering what the fragrance was, Merea turned once again to Salman and noticed that he was gripping two golden cups.
The nice fragrance seemed to be wafting from inside those cups.
「Check these golden cups out. Extremely bad taste huh」
「That smell of gold mixed in with that nice fragrance is just drifting around now」
Saying so, Salman hands over one of the cups to Merea who takes it while bitterly smiling while he replies.
The living flames which were giving out a faint light while the curtain of night falls, that faint light was reflected on the golden cups.
The current situation had the feeling of a break during their journey and the atmosphere had quite the fantastical feeling to it but the impact was immediately reduced by half when he noticed that the living flame which had grown arms and legs had started to do bending exercises.
Merea looked into the cup that Salman had handed him and wondered exactly what was inside it.
「It smells sweet and sour」
「Ah, it’s called Camir Lemonade. It’s a drink that was the speciality of the town that I lived in for quite a long time. Basically you take the alcohol called camir that was the speciality of that town and mix it with commonly available lemonade――well, the sourness has to be on the higher side――and make a cocktail out of it, in the end we just add some spices」
「I see, I see」
「The Camir alcohol, as the name suggests is made from a the camir fruit but that in itself is extremely sweet. It’s fine to open a bottle and drink it as it is when it’s as a souvenir but it’s not something that can be had as a regular drink. That’s why the alcohol is mixed in with something that is very sour and mixed in with other flavors」
「Heee, you’re quite knowledgeable about it huh」
「Haha, told you I lived there quite long didn’t I. So then, when we stopped over at Neuce Gauss, I happened to notice it and decided to buy it with the leftover money. ――Keep it a secret from the money-grubber okay?」
With his sandy hair fluttering in the wind, Salman laughed and then he brought his own golden cup to his mouth and took a sip. Seeing that, Merea readied himself and brought his own cup to his lips and took a sip.
「Hahaha! I made yours considerably more sour」
「You’re not that different from Lilium!」
「The one who is negligent is at fault. ――Ah, that was just an imitation of the money-grubber. He hasn’t said it yet but seems like something he may say」
Salman slapped Merea’s shoulder with a mischievous grin.
Merea shut his mouth from the sheer sourness however, the camir lemonade had a strange deliciousness to it that made it hard to stop drinking so he, once again, brought the cup to his lips.
Sweetness and sourness.
The sweetness loosened all the fatigue in the body and cleared it up, the sourness helped carry the sweetness to every corner of the body along with a wonderful warmth.
A warm sigh naturally leaked out of him.
「How is it? Once you get used to it, it’s tasty right?」
「I won’t deny that」
「You’re really not very honest huh」
Salman, once again, laughed.
「What about the others?」
「They’re all fast asleep. They were all probably really sleepy」
Salman motioned towards the depth of the trees that were lined up around, with his chin.
The vegetation blocked their view so they couldn’t see it properly but it seemed that the rest of the demon lords were sleeping soundly on the other side.
If they strained their ears, they could probably hear the sounds of at least one sleeping person amongst the chorus of insects.
However, Merea believed Salman so he didn’t really bother to check up on them.
Instead he spoke to Salman.
「What about Salman?」
「I was able to sleep enough. Thanks to you being on lookout. That’s why, I’ll change with you so, go get some sleep」
「――I’m fine even if I don’t sleep. That’s how I’ve been made」
「Seems like it. The more I look at you, the more I think so」
At Merea’s nonchalant words, Salman smiled bitterly and didn’t try to deny it.
「But, it’s not like you can do with no sleep at all right?」
「Well――yeah. If it were on a daily basis then, as expected, the fatigue would be prominent」
「In that case, go reset that day counter of yours. There aren’t any pursuers as of now so it’s fine」
Merea looked at Salman, trying to figure out whether he had rested properly or not.
If he had even a little bit of fatigue remaining, he planned on continuing his lookout duty.
However, Salman didn’t look like he would give up easily.
It would probably be better to change according to their original plan.
Since Merea couldn’t see any fatigue in Salman, he decided to listen to him.
「Got it. I’ll go get some shut eye then」
「Yeah, go do that」
Merea handed over the golden cup, which he had drained in no time, along with a small twig that he had in his other hand to Salman.
It was a strange twig with leaves wrapped around one end in the shape of a dumpling.
「If you use that to play with the living flames, you won’t even notice the time going by. It’s your loss if the leaves burn」
「You’re like a genius who comes up with strange ways to play huh」
「If you’re too occupied with that you’ll get negligent with your lookout duty」
Like Salman did a while back, Merea also imitated Shaw’s merchant-like air and gave an exaggerated bow.
「That much huh. ――Ah, but this is quite fun huh. ――Nhnn, damn, they’re quite nimble」
With that Salman had a golden cup with camir lemonade in one hand and Merea’s specially made twig in the other hand and immediately started to play with the living flame near his feet.
When he brought the leaf dumplings near the living flame, it would grow arms and legs and jump around trying to burn it.
It was like using a foxtail to play with a cat.
「...However, even this guy will eventually throw himself into the waterside…」
「Stop making me sad right before I go to sleep」
「Oh, sorry about that」
Salman laughed lightly. At that moment, the leaf dumpling was burned by the living flames.
Seeing that, Merea couldn’t help but laugh happily.
「Well then, good night」
「Yeah, sleep tight」
He walked off into the depths where everyone was sleeping.
Salman watched Merea’s retreating figure as he put another leaf dumpling at the end of the twig.
However, at the moment that Merea’s figure could no longer be seen, Salman had a thoughtful expression on his face.
For but a moment, Salman felt that he saw a strange fragility in Merea’s figure.
Even though he was that overwhelming on the battlefield, at that point, he looked like he would just melt into his surroundings.
He did not know the reason for it.
However, he felt extremely anxious at that fact.
Finally, he could no longer see Merea’s figure and even his footsteps could no longer be heard.
He could only hear the chorus of insects from the depths of the bushes as well as the popping sounds from the living flame near his feet.
The veil of the night lifted and it welcomed the early morning.
It was still the time where the smell of the dawn was still drifting about.
One girl woke up before anyone else and trying her best not to wake anyone else up, she quietly stood up.
It was the girl who single-handedly supported them all and was the main reason they were able to reach the Duchy of Neuce Gauss, the red-haired〈Flame Emperor〉Lilium.
Seeing the sunlight shining through the trees, she quietly walked towards the waterside.
「Ah, you’re the first one huh」
Next to a big tree that was standing near the water’s edge, a man with sandy hair was sitting down.
He was a young man with handsome features.
「Well, the look in your eyes is bad though」
「That’s quite the horrible thing to say first thing in the morning」
「Don’t worry, I properly complemented you...internally」
「Say that out loud…」
While joking with each other they measured the distance between them.
Though, ever since they left the Duchy of Neuce Gauss, the distance between the demon lords had closed up quite a bit.
Lilium, while listening to the reply of Salman who sounded exasperated, saw that he was holding onto a strangely shaped twig in his hand.
「What is that?」
「Hm? ――Ah, that’s something Merea came up with in order to play with your living flames」
After having said that, Salman immediately showed her the way to play with the living flames.
Salman had also gotten quite used to the living flames and they continued with their retreating battle.
「Hmmm. ――I don’t quite get it but, 『He』 is almost out of mana so is going to disappear soon you know」
「Ahh!? Seriously!? ――O, oi!! This guy is my lifetime rival you know!? There were many others who would just jump into the water or some who would enthusiastically pile earth onto themselves and disappear so there were many problematic times you know!? However, this guy alone was able to keep up with my pace and while taking breaks in between, was able to duke it out with me!! He is a friend now! For someone like that to just disappear――」
「Ah, it’s finished」
With a sound much softer than when they jumped into the water, the living flame near Salman’s feet, faded away.
Being blown on by a slight breeze that came in from between the gaps of the trees, as they thought that it was fluttering, it completely disappeared.
In the next moment, Lilium noticed tears in Salman’s eyes.
「Eh, wait, hold on, that’s kinda scary」
She exaggeratedly pulled back.
「Y, you, you! That guy, even like that, was alive…!」
「Ahh…, Well, it’s not like I don’t understand your feelings but well, you get used to it」
For a moment, Salman looked at Lilium’s face and was lost for words.
As soon as she said, you get used to it, Lilium seemed to purposely keep her face impassive and emotionless.
Seeing that, Salman realised.
「Is that so...you were actually sad as well huh… You also had that period when you felt sad when you saw them kill themselves」
「Well not I find it to be rather amusing though」
「As I thought, you’re a demon!!」
「I get it, so just go back there. It will take some time for everyone to wake up and finish preparations so you’ll still be able to take a nap before we leave」
Lilium stretched her hand out to Salman and as soon as he took it, she pulled to lift him up and then with a, 「Shoo, shoo」 she drove him away.
「I’ll take over the lookout duty so, come on, go now」
「Parting with the living flames is hard!」
With that parting remark, Salman walked off towards everyone else.
Lilium, who was left behind, looked into the hole nearby and while gazing at the leftover living flames,
「Good job. See you later」
While speaking quietly, she watched the living flames disappear till the very end.
After Salman left, Lilium, who was left behind, went over to the waterside and lightly washed her face and washed the dirt out of her hair.
Although she couldn’t take a bath but this much was definitely okay.
The water itself was clear and beautiful which made her want to jump right in, however,
「If someone walks over then it’s a little…」
Even if the one walking over were an ally, if it were a man it would be the worst.
「Ahh, although unexpectedly, I might be fine if it were Merea who walked over」
She did not mean that she was happy being seen by him. Merea seemed to have a rather thin presence as a man compared to other men which made her feel that it might be fine if it were him.
She meant it in a way that she probably won’t be perturbed by being seen by him.
「Well, that really isn’t a compliment now is it?」
Let’s not tell him, so she thought.
For a while after that Lilium continued to wash her face and then having washed it all off, she finally raised her face.
Since her hair was long, if she washed her hair while standing up she would end up getting her clothes wet so she bent down and put her face close to the water’s surface and washed her face and hair.
Having finally finished washing, she raised her face.
With a satisfied sigh, she turned back.
A huge black lump was reflected in her eyes.
Lilium almost screamed.
She had no idea when it managed to get that close but, with a small waterside separating them, on the other side was a...