The village was quiet that day, too. The weather wasn’t clear but conditions were fine enough to go hunting in. The children who stayed at home went out as if by mutual consent and all gathered before the Farseers’ Relic. Yanny’s brother Rigo and Natarle, a girl who was two years older than Noel and company, were also there.
The “mastermind” this time around had been Natarle in the first place. She was the one to propose to attempt to secretly activate the Oracle Drive.
The Oracle Drive that recorded the “visions” that the seeress had seen was considered sacred and it was a general rule that those aside from the seeress and her guardian were forbidden from touching it. There was no problem with letting Yeul touch it, but she didn’t yet know how to activate the Oracle Drive.
It seemed that at one point, the chief of the village or someone of a suitable stature would activate the Oracle Drive only as an invocation ritual, but that ceremony had long since been discontinued.
“Hey. This’ll be ok, right?”
Rigo said worriedly. “There’s no danger of the adults finding out, right?” was what he meant. If the projected image were to fill the sky, then the adults would find out about their plan. However, it was said that it is possible to make the projection stay small. Natarle nodded with full confidence.
“Cause I was taught how to do it by my sister. The adults didn’t find out about it then, either.”
The “sister” Natarle spoke of was actually her cousin. Like with Rigo, after her parents died she lived at Natarle’s home. Although, it had been a very brief period, for as if to follow her parents, she soon died of an illness.
“Ready? Watch this.”
Natarle placed her hand over the Oracle Drive. He was startled when the projection device shone brightly, though instead of in the sky, the image appeared right there on the spot, remaining small. Natarle triumphantly threw her chest out as if to say, what did I tell you?
“Yeul, these are flowers.”
Natarle pointed her finger at a part of the image. Yeul had been interested in “flowers” because what Natarle had been weaving into cloth had been a “floral pattern.” It had already become a world where flowers no longer bloomed, but the shapes of flowers still remained. They were within the interwoven cloths or embroidery made by the girls.
Yeul didn’t know of any flowers other than those that were in the patterns. Apparently there had been no flowers within any of the “visions” she had seen up until then. Natarle who had heard about that thought she would show Yeul flowers as her cousin had in the past, and proposed this endeavor.
“It’s so pretty!”
Yeul exclaimed in admiration. They didn’t know what era nor where it was of, but it had to have been from hundreds of years in the past. Because there were lots of flowers blooming.
It seemed to have been located on the roof of a structure. Below the bright rays of sunlight, flowers of many different colors were in full bloom. There was a girl standing there. As she had her back turned, her face couldn’t be seen, but he could tell that she was a seeress from what she was wearing. Judging by her height, she had probably been quite a bit older than the current Yeul.
As if undecided over which one she should pick, her hand travelled back and forth between the flowers. There were so many flowers so she should have just picked as many as she liked, thought Noel. However, she chose only one amongst the many flowers and reached out her hand. It was a white flower.
With flower in her hands, she turned around. But, from there on the image changed. This time, it was a more recent era. The landscape was in ruins and the skies were dark. A sight familiar to Noel and the others was being projected.
“That’s is the end of it.”
It was just as Natarle was about to turn off the Oracle Drive.
Noel grabbed Natarle’s hand. Yanny made a little sound, “ah.” Perhaps he had realized what was being projected.
The Guardian was fighting a monster. It was a gargantuan behemoth. One large enough to make the Strigoi from before seem nothing more than small fry.
“This isn’t just some behemoth, is it?”
It was Rigo who replied, “probably.” Rigo the eldest amongst them saw behemoth carcasses more than any of them. Of course there were no children who had seen live behemoths. Even the adults who would go hunting would probably only encounter them once or twice in a year. It would take the combined efforts of all the villagers to bring one down, so even when they did encounter one, they mostly just left them alone. It was rare for one’s remains to be hauled back to the village as a part of a kill.
“I’ve never seen a behemoth this big.”
There was just one man fighting the behemoth as his opponent. He was confident that this was the future. There was no way he could have survived fighting that kind of a monster.
“That guy is gonna get killed by the behemoth isn’t he?”
It was as Noel was about to express his agreement with what Yanny had said.
“He won’t die. It’s ok.”
It was Yeul who flatly denied. Noel and Yanny reflexively looked at each other. They knew how strong that man was more than anyone else. Even so, this beast was beyond comparison.
As if on cue with Yeul’s words, the greatsword dug deeply into the back of the behemoth’s head. The behemoth that had been standing upright collapsed, writhing. The greatsword slashed a second and third time. Shortly thereafter, the behemoth ceased to move.
“See? Everything went fine, didn’t it?”
The voice of a happy sounding Yeul graced his ears. So this is how strong the Guardian really is, thought Noel in utter amazement.
From the following day onward, Noel would go against the orders of the adults numerous times. It was in search of the Guardian.
He casually probed the topic, but his grandmother didn’t know the whereabouts of the Guardian. She only replied that he was likely currently somewhere not too far away from the village. He had to be able to come running immediately should the seeress’s life be in danger, she said.
He tried asking the adults in the village, but not one single person would answer him. Some adults even openly expressed their distaste by saying that children are better off not knowing about the Guardian. He finally begun to believe that the Guardian had indeed been hated by the villagers.
In the end, he had no choice but to wander about the village periphery. The Guardian immediately came running when they were attacked by the Strigoi. If it wasn’t that he just happened to be there, it had to have been as his grandmother had said; that he was somewhere not far from the village.
He kept the fact he was searching for the Guardian a secret from both Yeul and Yanny. He couldn’t possibly take Yeul out of the village, and if Yanny found out, he would surely say that he was going too. If both of them disappeared simultaneously, then Yeul would probably think something was up.
The problem at hand had been Yanny more so than Yeul. It would take quite an effort to deceive the sharp-sensed Yanny. There was high probability that he would be working with Yanny who was the same age. Whenever the adults were giving errands, they would always try to have them work together.
He could practice his swordplay after returning home, but searching for a person was something that had to be done whilst it was still day. And all the more since that meant going outside the village. He had no choice but to choose a time when monsters were even a little bit more docile.
Had the search been long then Noel might have given up part way. Fortunately, his search only lasted until the second day. It wasn’t Noel who found the Guardian, but the Guardian who had found Noel.
“What are you doing?”
Noel almost jumped out of his skin as he was called out to from behind.
“I believe you were taught that it is dangerous outside the village?”
It hadn’t been in an accusatory tone. Noel tightly gripped his hands and looked up at the Guardian. He planned on first thanking him for saving them and then continuing onto the main issue. Both his first and subsequent impression of him from their reunion were as bad as could be, but it was as his grandmother had said; this was someone with whom “there could be no failure.”
However, as he came under the impaling gaze of his pair of dark colored eyes, the original pan he had thought through was completely blown away. What popped out of his mouth were not words of gratitude.
“... teach me.”
His voice cracked. No, one more time. He breathed in and yelled.
“Teach me how to use a sword!”
The inside of his mouth became parched. He was prepared to get a mocking “those are some pretty big words for a kid,” or to be ignored, but he received neither of those in return.
“My swordsmanship is not something that would serve any purpose in hunting. The one who should become your teacher ought to be within the village.”
His tone was gentle. There wasn’t a single hint of ridicule for the fact that he was a child.
“I don’t mean for hunting, I mean for protecting Yeul! That’s why I’m asking you!”
His answer was silence. But it seemed there was room for negotiation. At the very least, he didn’t seem to be the kind to turn someone away, unsparingly.
“Plus, even if you claim it’s no good for hunting, you did kill a behemoth by yourself, right? Not a single person in the village can...”
He was about to say “do something like that”, but then he stopped himself mid-sentence. He couldn’t continue.
“How do you know that?”
His tone abruptly changed to a serious one. There was an air of intimidation powerful enough to send his feet moving involuntarily backwards. He didn’t remember what happened after. He probably ran from that very spot out of fear. When he came to his senses, he had been panting hard in the middle of the village. Like when they had encountered the Strigoi, his knees were shaking.
“You gave up?”
“No way. I did run away that day, but the next day, and the day after that, I went right back to where Caius was.”
He intended on journeying out there as many times as it took to be taken as an apprentice. He knew Caius was the real thing especially since he was frightening enough to make him run away.
“Eventually, seemingly giving into my persistence, it gradually became that he would instruct me on how to use a sword.”
No, it’s not so much he faltered at my persistence, Noel shook his head.
“Caius had known. That I’d be the last one remaining.”
The villagers died one after another. That meant those who shielded Yeul from danger would dwindle in ones and twos. The one shield that remained to the very end had to be sturdier than any other shield there had been until then.
“Because if the one who remained until the end was strong, then Yeul would be safe?”
“That’s how it was.”
In that village, Yeul was always “the smallest girl.” The ones next youngest after Yeul had been himself and Yanny. That being the case, there was a high chance that one of them would be her “last shield.”
“That’s probably why Caius accepted so quickly. When Yanny said that he wanted to learn the way of the sword together.”
“It wasn’t just you who was learning swordsmanship from Caius?”
“Yeah. Honestly, I wasn’t a big fan of that. I thought that Caius should have just refused him.”
“So that’s how it was. I didn’t know that. Since the one called Yanny didn’t appear in that dream.”
It wasn’t that Yanny didn’t appear because Noel hadn’t wanted for him to exist. That dream was in a world that proceeded Yanny’s death.