“Noel, where are you going?”
It was just as Noel was about to secretly leave the village. The one who called to him from out of nowhere had been Yanny. Noel cursed his own carelessness.
It was nap time for the young Yeul and his grandmother was teaching Natarle some sort of complicated embroidery. Rigo had just been put in charge of maintaining the tools used for hunting and had been busy sharpening swords and oiling traps since morning. He had thought that with this, nobody would notice he had left. Who would have thought that he himself wouldn’t realize Yanny hadn’t been accounted for.
“You’re going to where the Guardian is, aren’t you?”
“No,” answered Noel as he turned away from Yanny. He didn’t want his inner turmoil to be discerned.
“You went out of the village yesterday too, didn’t you? And on the previous day, as well as the day before that.”
Yanny circled to the front of Noel and gave him a meaningful smile.
“You’ve been tailing me?”
“C’mon, don’t put it so harshly. I was worried about you.”
“When did you start following me?”
Without answering, Yanny casually placed his arm around Noel’s shoulder.
“Hey, I wanna learn how use a sword too. It’s okay if I go with ya, right?”
Noel realized that it wasn’t just yesterday when Yanny had started tailing him. He had probably been following since the start. Both Noel and Yanny had probably been thinking the same thing when they saw what was inside the Oracle Drive. That’s why Yanny was easily able to guess what Noel would do after.
Noel went to great lengths to slip through the sights of the adults, but Yanny didn’t have to go through such trouble. He just had to follow Noel’s lead. Because Noel would have secured a safe route.
So, Yanny had probably seen the whole thing. From when Noel was searching for Caius, to when he started being taught how to use a sword. Then, he sought out an opportunity to jump on the bandwagon.
It had always been like that. Yanny had always watched and waited until midway through. Until Noel had finished taking care of the problematic and difficult proceedings. Yanny wouldn’t meddle in things until preparations were mostly complete. Then he’d shrewdly say it was “something the two of them had orchestrated.” Certainly, it wasn’t a lie. It had been something the two of them had orchestrated. But, everything else had been left to Noel alone, so it wasn’t so much something the “two” of them had done.
Even when they were told by the adults to work on something together, Noel would always be assigned the more troublesome tasks. Whenever Yanny cut corners or slacked off, they would both be scolded, so he would end up doing Yanny’s part as well. There wasn’t anything more infuriating than this.
“It’s fine, right? In exchange, I’ll refrain from telling anyone about you leaving the village, you see.”
In other words, he was saying if Noel declined then he would tattle on him to the adults. He had no choice. Noel wondered if he couldn’t at least have Caius decline for him, but unfortunately, things didn’t turn out that way. As usual, Caius who was of little words, answered neither affirmatively or negatively.
“We’re always together with Yeul. That’s why it’d be better if it wasn’t just me who could use a sword, I mean Yeul would be safer that way, I guess...”
Suddenly, the role of convincing Caius had fallen to none other than Noel. It wasn’t that he hadn’t thought “why me,” but he had convinced himself that it was for Yeul.
If they were going to protect Yeul then two was better than one. He was a child so it wasn’t that he could become strong right away. Until his strength had become comparable to that of the Guardian, it was better if he had worked together with someone to protect Yeul. Even if that someone had been a guy he didn’t much like, it was better than being alone. The fact that he didn’t have to worry about deceiving Yanny meant more than he thought. Besides, they could exchange blows with each other during their playtime.
Whether it was because it had been advantageous to have an opponent of similar ability to practice fighting with, or because Caius had been an exceptional teacher, he felt he had been getting stronger every day. As his swordsmanship improved, Noel made a large discovery.
It was the fact that Caius had been much stronger than he had thought. Before, when he didn’t know anything about fighting, he simply thought he was “strong.” Now, he could faintly see how much stronger he was compared to himself, and how much he had to temper himself to stand equal to Caius.
He had hoped to become stronger for the sole purpose of protecting Yeul. However, now he had one more aspiration. That wish was to become stronger than Caius. It was probably natural for an apprentice to want to become stronger than the teacher he revered.
Before he realized, the impression he held of him being a “bad guy” from when they first met had disappeared without a trace. How much effort it would take to acquire that strength. How steep that path would be. When he understood those things, a sense of respect had been born. It wasn’t towards the title of Guardian or his social position, but towards the strength that Caius possessed that he felt a sense of respect. He thought that one day he wanted to be in the same position, and to stand toe to toe with him.
He didn’t know how Yanny felt about Caius. However, Yanny too had become strong. Since they would be trained the same way and exchanged blows with one another, when he became stronger, so too did Yanny. That had been self-evident.
Before long, Noel and Yanny had been allowed to accompany hunts a year earlier than the other children. The adults at the village had long since realized. That the two had gone against the teachings, left the village and learned swordsmanship under Caius.
They hadn’t simply turned a blind eye out of kindness. Around this time, the population of the village had visibly been declining. The bad weather continued and number of those struck down by illness had increased. It wasn’t just the humans, but natural selection amongst monsters had also driven the easily hunted, smaller monsters to extinction.
As a result, the only game left to hunt were the vicious monsters, and one after another, people suffered grievous injuries.
Therefore it was no time to be concerned about age and such. They would take anyone who wouldn’t be a hinderance to the hunting grounds. If not, they would have lost the ability to acquire enough food to support everyone in the village.
Caius had said that “My swordsmanship is not something that would serve any purpose in hunting,” but in reality, that wasn’t necessarily the case either. It was easy to switch from wielding swords to spears, and it didn’t take long for Noel and Yanny to advance from being “helpers” to “contributors.”
What wasn’t amusing was how Yanny was taking his job seriously. There was nothing along the lines of cutting corners or outright leaving things to others like when he was with Noel.
Of course, it wasn’t very well possible to cut corners or anything when they were hunting dangerous monsters. He had known that, but it was a fact that Yanny would make no attempt to do what he could have when it was just the two of them. It seemed like he had been taken advantage of, or perhaps gotten toyed with so this was aggravating to Noel.
On top of that, it seemed to the adults that Noel was single-sidedly hating Yanny. If he was lectured on how such an attitude was bad, then he could probably have justified it, too. However, the adults thought of it as “something that happens when you’re kids” without making it an issue, and Noel too lost his opportunity to get it off his chest.
If the two of them hadn’t been the same age, if they were even just different genders, or if Noel himself had been more cunning. If even one of these were true, then the outcome would probably have been completely different. However, the two of them the same age, the same gender and their personalities clashed, too. That was what brought about tragedy.
“Wanna go hunting with just the two of us, tomorrow? Before the others wake up.”
It was the day before Yeul’s birthday when Yanny brought this up. They would gather the supplies necessary for Yeul’s birthday party.
“Since we’re talking about us, it’d be fine if we just go with the two of us, right? Let’s surprise everyone. Yeul would be happy too.”
Again, he thought. Was he trying to use me again, that is. He’d do all of the hard work and their accomplishments would be split evenly into two. Give me a break, he thought.
“I’m not going. Ask some other guy.”
“Why not? There’s no point if it’s not you, is there?”
What Yanny was probably trying to say then, was that it’s always been the two of them with Yeul. However, to Noel’s ears, it meant something completely different. It wouldn’t be a sinch unless it was you, since there’s nobody easier to use than you...
“Quit getting carried away about using people!”
Yanny made a confused face. His unawareness fanned the flames.
“If you want to go so badly then go by yourself! Don’t drag me into it just because you can’t do anything by yourself!”
Perhaps the words, you can’t do anything by yourself, had hit a nerve. Yanny’s made an offended expression and turned his back with an “I got it.”
In reality, it wasn’t that he couldn’t do anything, so that was clearly out of line. But, Noel didn’t think to apologize for that. He thought he wouldn’t have to pay for saying that much. On top of that, it wasn’t an exaggeration when it came to hunting. It was impossible to hunt a monster by yourself.
However, the next morning, Yanny had disappeared. He went hunting alone, and never came back again.
Not a single person in the village tried to blame Noel. Because he did something as unreasonable as going out to hunt alone, the blame rested on Yanny himself, everyone said.
Even Yanny’s elder cousin, Rigo hadn’t spoken a single word of complaint. That in effect made it painful for Noel. Why hadn’t he gone with him, why hadn’t he stopped him, it’s your fault that Yanny died; if he had been reviled in such a manner, it might have altogether been much more of a relief.
“Grandma, what should I do?”
He hesitated to his bedridden grandmother on the matter, but it was too heavy for him to bear alone.
“It’s my fault he died. It’s because I said something like that. Because I said he couldn’t do anything by himself that... he... got so reckless...”
If this was how it was going to be, then it was better to be used. Even if was only detrimental to himself, it would have been much better than to be the cause of someone’s death. Furthermore, even though Yanny had shrewdly taken advantage of him, he hadn’t tried to steal the limelight. He thought himself unforgivable for getting angry at something of that scale.
“If that is what you think, then that may be precisely the case.”
Noel’s grandmother who had heard his words, opened her mouth quietly.
“But, even if it was someone’s fault, he’s already dead so there’s nothing that can be done. Even if you talk about whose responsibility it was, or what the reason was, the one who died will not return. The reason why the villagers don’t blame you is because they know that it is meaningless.”
Noel’s grandmother extended just her hand and caressed his cheek. These past few days, his grandmother’s health had been failing.
“We are powerless against this thing called death. If death should come calling, then you simply accept it in silence.”
“I couldn’t take it. Something like that...”
As if regressing back to childhood, Noel clasped his grandmother’s hand and shook his head.
“I suppose so. Well, there is just one way to defy it.
“A way to defy it?”
“To live. It’s obvious, but that is the one thing that we can do.”
The one sole way for humans to defy something as unfeeling as death is to live. Noel repeated those words inside him. It was likely because he had just lost a companion that those words reverberated with shocking intensity.
“The two of you were wrong in that you didn’t choose the path of living on. If you are to regret, then regret only that. You must not regret things like what was said, and what wasn’t said.”
What he should have regretted wasn’t what Yanny had said, but the fact that he hadn’t gone with Yanny. He, who had always been together with him knew better than anyone else that Yanny wasn’t the type of person who would have listened to someone telling him not to go. If it was pointless to stop him, then one choice was left. Going with Yanny and then coming back together safely. That was the path with the highest chance for survival. He should have chosen that path.
He never wanted to regret something like this again. That’s why he thought he’d go on never forgetting. Forgetting about living, and the result brought on by a trivial decision made in that regard.
“It was shortly after that when grandma died. Everyone died. Rigo, too.”
“Yes. He was killed by an adamantoise. He said he was going to stop it and ran ahead.”
They had encountered the adamantoise by chance. In the midst of hunting, a sudden thick fog appeared, obstructing visibility, causing them to enter the adamantoise’s path.
“Doesn’t it remind you of somebody?”
Serah’s mouth turned into the shape of an “o.” She probably recalled the incident at Sunleth Waterscape.
“There were probably other aspects in which they were similar, as well. Like, how they would act before thinking. Or like, how they wouldn’t listen to a single thing that others had to say. Or how they were excessively hot-headed.”
Their faces were completely different, but their words were completely the same. That’s why the words he threw at Snow at that time were also words he had wanted to throw at Rigo.
“I knew he didn’t mean any harm, but I was just completely fed up. Yet,,”
“I wanted him to live.”
He had begun to think that things like not being able to get along, or downright disliking someone were so trivial. It they would continue living, then it was good enough. That’s how much the population of the village had declined.
Before, children whose parents had died would be taken in by a relative’s family, but now it was usual for them to “stick together with the neighbor’s family.” It was because people with living blood relatives were now of the minority.
That’s why, after his grandmother died, Noel had lived with Natarle’s family. Yeul was there as well. Yeul’s mother had passed away long before Noel’s grandmother.
“In terms of what we had to look for back then, there was being trained by Caius in swordsmanship.”
“But Caius must have been strict, right?”
“Well of course he didn’t go easy on us. It felt like being brutalized.”
It was really because he didn’t go easy that it was worth it. It was difficult to replace the realization that one was actually becoming stronger with anything else.
“Plus, you could really feel safe. Because, while the adults in the village were dying one after the other, Caius was the only one who remained completely the same.”
He hadn’t known that Caius possessed an immortal body, but strangely, Noel was completely convinced of it. He believed that only Caius wouldn’t die.
“Even after all of the adults in the village died, then Natarle too got sick and died, and it had become just Yeul and I… I thought that everything was ok because Caius was around.”
Looking back now, even he was surprised at how much he had relied on Caius.
“That’s why I couldn’t forgive him.”
It was because he had believed in him. Caius’s actions after that was nothing but betrayal.