Negotiations (2)

Once I has said everything I wanted to, a strange silence continued for a while.

… Did my words get through to her?

I was a little anxious.

The only thing between us was a single thin sheet of glass. Besides the small round excuses for holes made to let our voices get through, it didn’t have any other characteristics, and it was a glass so thin it looked as if it would break if I hit it.

But at present, this glass towered before me as a firm wall stronger than anything

From how her face looked down, it seemed like Claudia was thinking over what I had told her.

She simply stared fixatedly at the empty space on the table.

But eventually, she let out a light sigh, lifted her head, and looked straight at me.

Her wariness… was gone.

“I don’t have any choices, do I?”

“Yeah, you don’t.”

I answered bluntly. But that was the obvious response.

“Besides you, there isn’t anyone who will defend me, right?”

“There isn’t. Or could it be you have some relatives, or anyone you could rely on in this country?”

Claudia shook her head. “Until I was ten and three months, I lived with my father in the forest.”

I questioned how she remembered so well, but remembered at once.

… She had savant syndrome.

“I don’t know any humans besides my father.”

“I… see.”

I asked what I had wanted to for a while now. “Was your father the hero?”

Claudia shook her head. “The hero was my grandfather, apparently.”

“Apparently? You’ve never met him?”

“Never. By the time I gained awareness of my surroundings, I was living with father in the forest. So I don’t know my mother either.”

“I see. Did your father teach you how to read and write?”

“Only a little. It was mostly self-study.”

Somehow, unlike before, the current Claudia was talkative. If she didn’t say it here, she would never be able to say it again, she gave off that sort of cornered feel.

“So you were always alone.”

I said what was on my mind. Her field of vision dropped.
“Yes. I was alone.” She said softly.

“You did a good job living alone. There are loads of monsters in the Dark Forest, right?”

Monster. Fiend. Mythic. Spectre. There were many lifeforms living in this world. Even among all of them, monsters were treated as a separate case.

More ferocious and brutal than a wild animal, a single monster boasted the destructive power to wipe whole villages off the map.

They didn’t look like something the girl before my eyes could take on. But Claudia made a perplexed face.

“Are you scared of them? Monsters?”

For some reason, it felt as if she asked a terribly embarrassing question, but, “Yeah, monsters are scary. I’d never want to approach one,” I replied.

“I see… then I’m sure they were afraid of me, then. When I was inside the forest, I rarely ever encountered monsters.”

“Really? They never thought you looked like a tasty treat?”

… Pff, Claudia gave a smile, and said, “What’s with that?”

“Occasionally injured monsters, or mythics plagued with illness, I’ve seen a few of them before.”

… But they’d either die before long, or run away before I could save them.

“So I think they were afraid.”

“Hmmm. I see. Then what are you afraid of?”

“Me? I’m…”

… scared of there being no one, of me being alone, said Claudia, as she embraced the sword in both hands.

“No matter what words I let out, no one listens. Even if I read a book, the book never answers me. When I swing my sword, it only slices the air in vain. Even while I wrote my journals, it only looked as if I was lining up letters. As things kept on, it began to feel as if I was the only one in the world; it was really lonely… I felt like dying.”

… That’s why I’m scared of being alone, Claudia told me.

“Is that why you don’t want to let go of that?”

I pointed at the sword she clutched in both hands. There, she held it away from me as if to hide it.

“This is a memento of my father. This alone tells me that I exist here without a doubt. It’s my treasure. So precious, when it’s with me, I can calm down.”

… You missed the mark, Cate.
It’s not that she wanted a weapon. Claudia simply wanted the warmth of another human being, I thought in my heart where no one would hear.

And I thought. I’m sure something like that was a trivial matter. To all humans in the world apart from her.

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