Read at Watashi wa Sugoi Desu!
Warning: Cruelty and violence are slightly depicted in this chapter.
Chapter 2: A Blaze of Memory1
Leorino was dreaming.
The flames that had charged relentlessly towards him left burn wounds on his body; immense heat and pain could be felt all over his back. The weight of the sword in his hand, the scorching hot air that burnt his hair, and the prickling pain of his wounds… everything just felt so real.
Ahh, this is a dream of that day…
In that dream, he mustered up the last bits of his strength and desperately tried to shove something with all his might.
There’s no time to spare. I must hurry and close the gates or else the plains… our country will burn.
The outer layer of the double reinforced retaining wall that protected the border had been breached. Enemies who had taken over the outer wall had been wreaking havoc, setting all things inside of the border ablaze.
Their attack, which was carried out in the dead of night, caught Leorino’s soldiers completely off guard. With the remaining survivors forced to retreat to the inner wall and with most of them injured, their numbers were greatly decreased and put them at a grave disadvantage.
The winter air was dry. With the inside of the outer retaining wall already burning, it won’t take long before the fire reached the castle of Brungwurth. If the enemies attacked using fire, even with the count and his troops on standby at the castle ready to face anything, it would still be too much of a stretch for them to win.
If Brungwurth, the strongest defense along the border, were to fall, their country would face its demise.
Surely, this country that he wished to protect so dearly will perish.
In front of Leorino was a huge stone purposely placed at the gate to prevent the inner wall from being closed off to the outside. If Leorino shut the gates, they might be able to prevent the fire from spreading further into their country. And with the aid of walls five times taller than the height of a man protecting the country, it would be impossible for the fire to get beyond its borders. So long as the others continued to defend the inner wall, they could wait for the fire on the plains to grow fiercer before skillfully seizing the outer retaining wall from the enemies again. They still had a chance at winning, they wouldn’t be so easily defeated.
This is the only way I can keep him safe, Leorino told himself.
For now, what needed to be done was to close the gate to stall for a little more time until that person woke up. Though he might seem to be in a coma right now, caused by the depletion of his mana, when he woke up, he would surely lead the army sent from Brungwurth back to the battlefield and reclaim the outer wall once more. Leorino truly believed that he was the only one who had the power to do so.
I will protect him. That is why I have this power. Leorino had made up his mind.
Despite his body being severely injured from the prolonged fighting and contrary to the heat that burned him, the chilling sensation in the pit of his stomach made it clear that he had little strength left. All of it made him bitterly aware of the fact that what he was planning to do would cost him a chance to return to the other side of the gate again.
Leorino gathered his remaining mana and crushed the huge stone that blocked the gates with his bare hands. As he broke the boulder into smaller pieces, he shouted to those who were on the other side of the wall, telling them to “Close the gate! Close the gate!”
Gradually, the gate began to shut.
It made him feel a little more at ease knowing that his voice was heard.
A stone that was once thought impossible to be removed had been destroyed by a mere human’s strength. Because of that, the enemy’s soldiers quickly became impatient and charged towards the gate.
Fret not, you still have some strength left. You can still fight!2 Leorino said to convince himself.
With the closing gates at their backs, they turned to face the oncoming stream of enemy soldiers head on. It is then that Leorino heard someone shout from behind.
“Ionia!!! Stop it! Come back!”
That’s his voice! Leorino turned in the direction of the voice he longed to hear.
There, he, the one who was the most important person to Leorino, even more so than his own family or anyone else in the entirety of the twenty two years of his life, had awoken and was reaching for him with a look of despair deeply engraved on his face.
He charged forward, raging like a beast, screaming Leorino’s name, but was hauled back by several of his companions.
He was too late. The gate was closing. With such a small gap remaining between the gateway as it shut, there was no way for Leorino to return now. He painfully watched Leorino as he struggled to lift his ashen face, one that was visibly drained of all its strength. 3
“Ionia! Io! I’m asking you, please! Get back here, Io!”5
Leorino received a blow to his abdomen and back. Was he cut by a sword or was he shot with an arrow, he neither knew nor cared to know.
Worry not, you can still fight… Just smile confidently like you always do. In his right hand was his beloved sword to which he tightened his grip on even with his arms wholly engulfed in flames.6
Just a little bit more, the gate will be closed soon. Leorino urged himself on as he tried to hold out a little longer.
Stop. Don’t cry. Don’t cry for me—he wanted to watch him a little bit longer. He wanted to see more of those beautiful indigo eyes shed tears of anguish and despair just for him, at least up until the very end.
I was able to protect him. That thought filled Leorino’s heart.
Ahh, the gates have finally closed. Now we will not be defeated. Leorino was sure of it.
He didn’t feel pain any longer. With the world dyed in red and the stench of blood as it filled the air, he could hear someone’s faint laughter echoing in the distance. Gradually, it became clear to him whose voice it was.
It was his own.
Right. I was able to protect him. I did—I did it. Leorino, up until his last dying breath, was deeply satisfied. He would die with nothing to regret.
No, maybe there was one regret.
I’ve always loved you.
I’d always meant to tell you that.
These thoughts that were left unsaid, remaining buried in the depths of his heart forevermore.
The next morning, Leorino awoke with tears on his cheeks, mourning the unspoken love and death of a man he used to be, all of it lost in secret.7