Zegard was always the type of man to think things through before he acted. Indeed, it was not by chance that the Hume had given him the name Skeptical Owl.
“It isn’t like her to just suddenly head out for the Kamihr Drifts...”
The magical transportation devices known as waypoints required that the user had at least touched the object at their destination once before they were able to use it. Zegard knew for a fact that Famlienne had never been any farther than Yorcia Weald...
“That means...” Zegard murmured to himself as he tried to gather his thoughts.
He surmised that after she arrived at the Yorcia Weald waypoint, she must have taken the underground passage known as the Woh Gates to arrive at the Kamihr Drifts. Zegard decided that would be the path he would take to go in search of her.
Of course, he knew she would have taken care to hide her tracks along the way, meaning she must have had copious amounts of prism powder and silent oil. Indeed, Famlienne came from a rather wealthy family and had money for such things, much to her own detriment in situations such as these.
With a picture of Famlienne’s probable route firmly in his mind, Zegard set out after his reckless friend.
First, he took the waypoint and headed to Yorcia Weald... Instantly, Zegard found himself at a frontier bivouac lying before the Woh Gates. Before moving on, he made sure to give a brief recap of his business to the bivouac’s caretaker, just in case something were to happen to him along the way. However, Fam was nowhere to be seen in the bivouac; he would have to hurry.
“I walk together with the light, yet never become one with it.”
Zegard knew his place, and was fine with being the darkness.
“However, I do not plan on allowing myself to be left behind!”
Desperate to reach his destination, he forwent the use of spells such as Invisible and Sneak in order to get there as quickly as possible. Fortunately, he arrived at the cave without having to fight a single monster. As he stood there, Zegard stared into the jet-black entrance of the cave as it opened into darkness. He knew that if Famlienne showed even the slightest amount of caution, she would not dare go any farther, due to her fear of the creatures known as the umbril that lay within the cave’s depths.
However, she was nowhere to be seen in front of the cave...
Darkness was rapidly setting in and it would be night before long. Whether he stayed there, or ventured into the cave, he would be soon engulfed by the same dark void. Such being his options, there was little point in debating the matter, so Zegard descended into the cave in hopes of finding Famlienne. Immediately after entering the cave, he heard a loud scream pierce the eerie silence. It was a voice that he knew all too well.
It was Famlienne!
Zegard ran down the winding passage deep into the cave until he came it. Standing before him was something that appeared to be in the shape of a person, but with its lower body seemingly swallowed up by the ground. Meanwhile, its upper body appeared soft, like some kind of jelly, and it was contorting itself as it crawled forward. It was an umbril. Although they were said to be a type of elemental, it simply looked like some kind of hideous monster. And standing before the umbril with a sword held shakily in her hand, was the source of the scream...
“S-Stay away from me, you foul beast! If you come any closer, I’ll be forced to hurt you really bad!”
“Fam! What are you doing!?”
Zegard raised the staff he carried on his back and began clearing his mind in order to cast a healing spell. He would have preferred to leap forward and stand between the monster and Fam, but as a white mage, he had a better way of getting its attention. Upon finishing his spell, he waved his staff once more and a white healing light bathed the knight as it reflected off the walls of the dimly lit cave.
“The wounds you have inflicted shall be wiped from your victim!” bellowed Zegard as the light of his white magic engulfed Famlienne. She immediately rose up to her knees, and strength flowed back into her sword hand, as did her courage as the look of fear slowly drained from her eyes. As he watched the effects of his spell take hold...
Her firm tone snapped Zegard back to reality. It was the first time that he had ever heard her raise her voice in such a manner. The spell Zegard cast was a high-powered healing magic that called upon the power of the Dawn Goddess herself, and it had clearly brought Fam back into the fight.
The umbril gave out a monstrous roar as it leapt towards Zegard, with a murderous pale light flashing deep within the hollow sunken sockets that held the beast’s eyes.
“H-Hey! Over here, you big brute!”
Famlienne rushed up from behind the umbril and slashed at it multiple times, but it refused to stop flailing at Zegard with the filthy talons that grew out of its arms. Zegard was left with few options to defend himself, as he always used both hands for his staff and never carried a shield. And of course, there were limits to how many times he could heal himself as the umbril continued to rain savage blows down upon him.
“Your blows aren’t having any effect against it! Hurry up and finish it off already!”
The words seemed to get through to Fam.
“Urk! I won’t let it hurt you any longer!”
After getting a safe distance away, Famlienne began casting a spell. Due to their soft bodies, bladed weapons did little damage to the umbril. However, certain types of magic were a different matter entirely. Famlienne remembered a previous time she had faced an umbril, along with the help of a young exorcist girl. The spell had worked then, so maybe it would this time as well...
When Famlienne finished her spell, she waved both of her hands at the umbril, causing two bright balls of light to suddenly appear. They began circling around the monster, and the orbits of both balls gradually closed in until they exploded right over its head. Even before she cast the spell, Zegard knew that it was powerful holy magic.
The umbril let out a cry of pain. At that moment, Zegard finished casting the exact same spell as Famlienne did.
“Go back to the hole from whence you came!”
His spell called upon the strength of the Dawn Goddess to burn the creature of darkness in a shower of holy light. The monster’s cries echoed off of the walls of the cavern until they had faded into the distance, while its body crumpled to the ground and all that remained was a pool of a jelly-like substance at their feet, which immediately seeped into the ground and disappeared from sight.
Once Zegard had confirmed the umbril was dead, he immediately plopped down onto the ground in order to take a much-needed rest.
“Whew! Are you okay!?”
“I just need to catch my breath. So, that was rather reckless, even for you I must say. I thought you said you weren’t going to chase after this story...”
“No, I don’t think I ever said anything of the sort.”
“I believe I said, ‘I wouldn’t stop you if you decided to go.’”
Zegard thought back to what she had actually said and found himself perplexed. She was definitely cunning, he had to give her that. Indeed, she had not made any move to stop Zegard from coming here. She knew she would not be able to, so she simply gone on without him instead.
“Th-That’s not what I meant!”
“How about we save the lecture for later? If we hang around here much longer, we’re likely to run into some more of those things.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
Once they had returned to the cave’s entrance, they finally stopped to catch their breath. It was Famlienne who spoke first.
Her eyes seemed to be filled with sorrow. Zegard had never seen her look like this before.
“I think there might’ve been a few holes in my theory.”
“So you noticed it too... I have been thinking about it all this time. The curse of the forest entered the city. In the beginning, I felt that was what must have happened.”
“So the one behind the curse must have lured Lord Melvien to the Kamihr Drifts.”
Zegard could only nod. However, going from there to the conclusion seemed like a bit of a leap to his skeptical mind.
“I believe the line written in Melvien’s diary was, ‘I must return, in both body and mind.’”
“What if the one behind the curse was merely a double of Lord Melvien? If you think about it, Lord Melvien himself is a part of that curse. It is hard to say if it was always like that though.”
“If he is still up and about even after he died, then he must still be straddling the line between life and death,” he said in a purposefully detached manner.
“I walk together with the light, yet never become one with it.”
This time, it was Famlienne who repeated the words of the old man.
“The answer to the riddle is ‘shadow...’ Hey, Zegard.”
“What is it?”
“The Kamihr Drifts are the last place that the first king of Adoulin visited. He was slain deep within that land, never to return... I just have a strange feeling that there is a darkness residing there.”
“Yes, or maybe it would make more sense if I called it a shadow. In the mountain depths, it lies there together with the king of light, yet is never able to become one with him... I feel it is still there.”
As she spoke, she pointed to a spot on the wall, even though they were still inside the cave and had no way of knowing which direction they were facing. They would later come to find out that she had been pointing right in the direction of the Kamihr Drifts.
“It is that darkness that gave rise to this sleeping sickness. It is together with the light, yet never able to become one with it nor separate from it. It is there. I know it.”
Zegard felt a sudden chill come over him. There was no reason for it, but he knew what Famlienne said was true.
It is there. The king of darkness...
“However, at the same time, I understand it. The ominous presence that awaits us... It pains me to say so, but I do not think I am strong enough to continue on,” Famlienne said as she lowered her eyes.
Zegard could barely believe what he had just heard. Was she really giving up in her quest to press forward?
“Honestly, I would not have even made it through here if you hadn’t shown up.”
She allowed a small smile to escape her lips. Seeing her face, Zegard felt his cheeks go flush. He was grateful that the only light in the cave was that of the glowing moss lining its walls. It would prevent her from seeing his embarrassment.
“Th-That reminds me! What were you thinking, coming here all by yourself!?”
“If you had only waited for me at the bivouac, you never would’ve gotten into such trouble.”
“I did wait for you.”
“I am not stupid you know. I waited for you for quite some time. Over by the waypoint.”
“Impossible! I never saw you there...” he said in a loud voice. Suddenly, Famlienne thrust something right up to the tip of his nose.
He could make out a quantity of prism powder and silent oil.
“See, I was there waiting for you. You just didn’t notice me is all.”
“You what? I was certain you had gone on ahead without me...”
“Surely you knew that I had never been any further than Yorcia Weald? So I would like to thank you for showing me the way to the Woh Gates entrance.”
“I-Impossible... You were behind me all this time?”
“Of course. I was right behind you the whole way.”
Zegard held his head in his hands and groaned.
“So that whole time, I was... Wait a moment! That isn’t right! I came running down in here when I heard you scream!”
“Well, I couldn’t just stand there all day waiting for you to work up the courage to enter the cave, now could I? I just thought I’d go on ahead and take a peek around... And as soon as I did, I wound up face to face with that monster.”
He felt that he had been extremely fortunate to be there in time to hear her scream, but as it turned out, she had been there with him pretty much the whole time.
“You don’t know how much I worried about you... If you were there, why didn’t you show yourself at the frontier bivouac!?”
“Because you didn’t...” Famlienne stopped herself abruptly mid-sentence.
“Huh? What was that?”
“Zegard, when you arrived at the bivouac, you immediately headed for the Woh Gates, did you not? In that time, you never even called out my name once.”
“I did not think you were there looking for me!”
As she spoke, she teasingly stuck out her tongue at Zegard.
“I was so disappointed in you.”
Zegard bowed his head. If only he had called out her name, then this entire misunderstanding might have been avoided.
“I was really quite annoyed.”
“That you thought I wasn’t waiting for you.”
“I walk together with the light, yet never become one with it.”
If she only knew that he never wanted to leave her side. Zegard had never considered that the light might be the one to stick to the shadow, and not the other way around.
Zegard felt a warmth radiating throughout his body.
“I guess I didn’t have enough faith in you. I’m sorry, Famlienne.”
“Hey, if you keep talking like that, I’ll have to start calling you Skeptical Owl.”
Zegard reflexively lifted his head and noticed her small white face was illuminated by the pale glow from the cavern’s walls. He could see that her eyes were glittering with hope. Zegard took a small deep breath and whispered, “I’m sorry, Fam.”
They were in a place where the sun did not reach, yet they were not in the dark either.
For one brief moment, as they stood in the faint glow of the cave’s walls, light and darkness became united as one.
Story: Miyabi Hasegawa
Illustration : Mitsuhiro Arita