“If you wish to know more, then why don’t you just stroll around? You might make yourself an idea about how our kingdom differs from the others.” → Bonny
After saying such, she got up and wanted to leave, only to turn around and say:
“Also, Tara, think well before you ask Mister Khalid of your three wishes, yes~? Don’t forget he said he’ll do a-ny-thing~.” → Bonny
Bonny said with a naughty voice while looking at Khalid. Afterward, she left and returned to the tower together with Ryu.
Khalid had no reaction at Bonny’s teasing. He was still suspicious about this kingdom but he knew that the bet was solely placed for this one conversation. The king only asked for him to help the kingdom to advance technologically, but barely talked about weaponry. Even more, he tried to evade the subject, making him lose the bet.
Whatever. A promise is a promise. → Khalid
“Y-yes.” → Tara
Tara bowed her head and smiled brightly.
H-have I won the bet? Now… Can I ask for anything I want…? → Tara
Tara looked with shining eyes at Khalid.
“Ask away.” → Khalid
Khalid said with indifference in his voice.
“Then… Can you be my friend?” → Tara
Tara asked sheepishly.
“…What?” → Khalid
He felt a little bit conflicted. He never in his life has he made a promise with anyone. Let alone one in which he said he’ll do anything. Seeing how someone wasn’t forcing him to create or craft a weapon for themselves made Khalid stare at Tara in confusion.
“It’s this a no?” → Tara
Tara asked saddened.
“…As you wish.” → Khalid
Khalid said directly, quite indifferently.
“T-thank you!” → Tara
“Next.” → Khalid
“What?” → Tara
“I said next. You have two more wishes.” → Khalid
“L-let’s not rush this, okay? Uhm… Ah! Now that we’re friends, why don’t we go and eat something together? Like this, I could also show you around. What do you think? First, we could go to the cafeteria, then we could walk around until we reach the training hall, then…” → Tara
Tara felt elated for finally having a friend and started ranting non-stop about what she wished to do. She started to make a plan on showing Khalid around the fortress on her own. But while doing so, he started to feel annoyed and opened his mouth with a stern voice.
“Is this another wish?” → Khalid
“Eh? Uhm, no…” → Tara
“Then I’m not going.” → Khalid
“B-but aren’t we-” → Tara
“Even if we’re friends, that doesn’t mean I have to keep up with your every word.” → Khalid
He walked outside the little house then looked behind with cold eyes at her.
“I need no guide. I’ll look around on my own.” → Khalid
Then he closed the door and left on his own. Tara remained dazed inside the room, not knowing what to do. In the end, she looked downwards and sat on her bed, waiting for his return.
So I really am hated… → Tara
While walking around, he decided from the very beginning to go toward the western wall because everyone was either heavily injured or had to do reparations after the destructive war, nobody was near these parts where nothing really happened.
He climbed the stairs and reached the top of the walls. Even though they weren’t as tall as the ones from the other cities he was in, they were filled with claw marks and destroyed here and there. Even so, the walls gave off a feeling of sturdiness and resistance.
To his surprise, one old dragoon was on top of the wall, looking with empty eyes at the sunset. The dragoon was Gerome and his always smiling face was nowhere to be seen, now replaced by the face of an old and defenseless man. After Tama died, his strong and unyielding aura of a general, turned into that of a weak and miserable old man, with not the slightest vitality left in him.
“You must be sir Khalid. Nice to meet you.” → Gerome
Gerome bowed his back in a form of respect then turned back at the sunset.
“…Hello.” → Khalid
For the formalities-sake, he did the same and simply gazed at the sunset. While doing so, he started to remember his only friends that actually gave their lives for him. While doing so, he felt his frozen heart starting to shake and sting. He bit his lips until blood came out, so he won’t start crying from the painful memories which resurfaced.
For what reason… would you go so far? → Gerome
He remembered the face of a young beautiful lady that would always push him from the back whenever he felt down. She always was there for him, even when his own family betrayed his trust and sent him away, she was always there.
You died for nothing… If only you waited- no… if you would have just given up on me, just like how everyone else did… Now you all are dead, while I’m still alive… for no reason… → Gerome
Khalid clenched his fists and blood dripped out. He remembered how he would normally gaze at the sunset inside the game with his friends after doing some of the harder quests. But now, he was all alone.
“Has your heart died?” → Gerome
Gerome’s grave voice resounded from 10 meters beside him.
“…Why you’re asking?” → Khalid
Khalid asked back plainly while still gazing at the sunset.
“Because you’re still too young for this.” → Gerome
“What does age has to do with this?” → Khalid
Gerome sighed then looked at Khalid with the eyes of a tired, saddened old man.
Inside Khalid’s heart, a strong sense of sadness and grief stirred for the old Gerome. His cold and indifferent eyes softened and looked at him with confusion and curiosity.
“Mister Khalid… are you willing to listen to this old fool’s story? I promise it won’t take long.” → Gerome
Gerome smiled sadly and bowed his head humbly. There was no trace of a general’s might or a warriors strength in him, making Khalid only see him for an old man which awaited his death.
“…Sure.” → Khalid
“I thank you for that.” → Gerome
Gerome made a small smile when he turned around, gazing at the sunset.
“…Everything started when I was around your age when I moved to the capital of the Vestria Empire. I was a young and talented warrior at the Military Academy. Everyone said I had a great future in front. That I’ll be able to live a dream-like life, filled with riches and power. Inside that academy, I also met my wife. She was a human with black long hair and black eyes. Everyone called her The Night’s Beauty for obvious reasons. Every girl wished to look like her, while every boy wished to steal at least one glance from her. But she wasn’t just a beauty, she was also extremely strong; if anyone tried to approach her with ulterior motives, she would send them flying right inside the infirmary. She really had a fierce character. She was a Magic Swordsman and not even the teachers could stand in her way.” → Gerome
Gerome narrated while gazing in front with unfocused eyes, slightly smiling as the sky.
“We met at a training session. We had a spar to see who’s stronger. The girls’ Super Woman? Or the boys’ Super Man? The fight was destructive enough to blow up the entire arena. I remember how sometimes the teachers had to stop us or we would’ve destroyed the entire place, haha…” → Gerome
He laughed while remembering the exasperated faces of his teachers at that time.
“And who won?” → Khalid
Khalid became absorbed by Gerome’s story and asked curiously.
“She won. Her attacks were more concentrated from a distance. Until I was able to reach her, I would’ve turned black and blue long ago.” → Gerome
He said with a wry smile. He remembered how he never won against her.
“A tough woman” → Khalid
Khalid commented with a small smile. It was the first time in a long time that he actually felt like smiling.
“Indeed. After that spar, I kept on asking for rematches. But while fighting, I started to know her better. I was able to see her charming smile, to know her story, to hear her melodic voice while laughing and to see her in different kinds of moments, be them by mistake or intentionally.”
Gerome made a naughty smile while Khalid looked at him dumbfounded.
Those “moments” he was able to see… I bet he must’ve gotten his share of troubles after tasting Heaven. → Khalid
“After knowing each other better, we slowly fell in love and started going out. In the end, I clenched my teeth and asked her to be my wife.” → Gerome
His eyes shone with happiness after remembering the old times.
“When she heard my clumsy proposal and saw the little gold ring in my hands… I could say that I never, in my entire life, have I seen such a beautiful smile before. Right after I asked for her hand, a month later we started the wedding. The entire event took place in the central palace and lasted for one whole week. It was a grandiose moment and even now I could remember how much fun I had together with my one and only love.” → Gerome
“You still haven’t told me her name.” → Khalid
“Oh? I didn’t? Ohohoho~ please excuse this old one. She was called Rubian Honoka. Because she was adopted, her first name differed from her last one.” → Gerome
“Wait. Was? I wanted to ask you for a while now, but why are you talking as if she’s… I’m sorry.” → Khalid
Khalid bowed his head and couldn’t handle to see the gaze in Gerome’s eyes. He understood a little bit too late about what truly happened with Gerome’s wife.
“Please don’t mind it… And yes, she is dead since a long time ago…” → Gerome
He felt how his old heart couldn’t endure the pain so he made a little pause to calm himself.
“One time, we were ordered to go and defend a fort from the inner defensive lines of Vestria. I tried to talk reason with my seniors, asking them to spare my wife from going, knowing she had to take care of our one-year-old child. But however much I tried, they wouldn’t even listen. I was confused as for why they would show such indifference over this matter. Normally, women that had a child to grow which was younger than 16 years, had to remain home and take care of their growth, while the husband had to work two times harder for both of them. In the end, Honoka stopped me and insisted on participating…” → Gerome
Gerome couldn’t handle the pain anymore and supported his head on the stone parapets of the wall, clenching his head with trembling arms.
“We were made to go and protect a fortress that was already on the brinks of destruction. There was no hope, but we were still sent out… After we arrived, we fought for one week, night and day without stopping. We were tired and injured everywhere. The commander told us to hold the lines for only five days until the reinforcements arrived, but we already resisted for seven days and no trace of reinforcements. We continued fighting and I tried my best to protect Honoka, when at one time… because of an excuse called tiredness, I slipped and wasn’t able to block a sword coming my way. I tried to change my position so at least my heart won’t get stabbed but… who would’ve had thought that… Honoka… with her tired and injured body, would jump right between me and the deadly sword… ugh!” → Gerome
Gerome clenched his teeth while grabbing his chest. He felt a deadly pain inside his heart and groaned for a moment.
“Old man?” → Khalid
Khalid asked worried, seeing how Gerome frowned in pain.
“I’m alright…” → Gerome
He calmed his breath then looked back up at the already set sun, gazing at the traces of light still visible on the reddish sky. His face was straight but with empty eyes. His posture was firm while his arms were shaking.