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    Upon waking, Yuichiro realized he was lying on a soft bed in a dimly lit room. Feeling the smoothness of the sheets under his hand, he sat up slowly. The room’s luxurious decor was barely visible in the darkness. Through the window with a lattice design, he could see a starlit sky, indicating it was already nighttime.

    He clutched his sore throat, sensing a tenderness in his flesh that likely hinted at a forming bruise. A soft cough escaped him, and a voice emanated from the room’s shadow.

    “Does it hurt?”

    Yuichiro tensed, and searching the direction of the voice, he recognized the silhouette of the gray-haired man he’d encountered in the Am East forest months prior. Edward had given this man a name.

    “Noroshi?”

    Recalling the name, the man, Noroshi, offered a subtle smile. As his lips parted, the previous intimidating presence gave way to a more genial demeanor.

    Moving unhurriedly, Noroshi fetched a pitcher from a side table, filled a glass with water, and extended it to Yuichiro.

    “Here’s some water.”

    Yuichiro automatically took the glass, but paused before drinking. Observing this hesitation, Noroshi reassured him, laughing softly, “It’s just water, nothing more.”

    His comforting tone reminded Yuichiro of one used to calm a skittish kitten, making him feel somewhat self-aware. After all, if Noroshi truly meant him harm, poison wouldn’t be the chosen method.

    Yuichiro drank, coughing lightly, but felt relief as the water soothed his parched throat.

    “It’s been a while, Goddess. Let me reintroduce myself. I am Noroshi.”

    Yuichiro’s eyes widened at being referred to as a goddess. He recalled Noroshi addressing him this way before.

    “You work for Edward?”

    “Yes.”

    “Where am I?”

    “You’re inside a room in Duke Gale’s mansion.”

    Noroshi’s response seemed transparent. Pondering over its truthfulness, Yuichiro posed another question.

    “Am I imprisoned here?”

    “No.”

    At that reply, Yuichiro slightly raised an eyebrow.

    “Am I free to escape?”

    “Yes, you’re free to do as you wish.”

    This answer, given as if it were obvious, only further confused him. While scratching the side of his head with one hand, Yuichiro squinted at Noroshi and asked another question.

    “Why did Edward bring me here?”

    “I don’t know. However, I can imagine.”

    “What is this imagination of yours?”

    “He likely hopes you’ll save him.”

    Stunned by this revelation, Yuichiro fell silent. Noroshi adjusted a chair to sit opposite him. With a pause, he began to share hesitantly.

    “I am a refugee from Goldar. With no place to call home in any country and after almost dying abandoned, it was Edward who took me in. Thanks to him, for the first time, I felt a sense of purpose in life.” Noroshi’s tone came off as gentle, like he’s recounting a fable. He blinked softly before continuing, “But Edward believes that he no longer has any reason to live. He’s been through too much, carrying burdens too great, and yet, he’s not allowed to stop or break down.”

    At this, Yuichiro cautiously inquired, “Do you know the reason?”

    Yuichiro was currently implicitly asking if Noroshi knew if Edward was fighting to carry out the words of a god.

    Instead, Noroshi stayed silent for a moment before shaking his head. “No, Edward-sama hasn’t disclosed anything. However, I know he’s not fighting because he wants to.”

    Hearing these words, Yuichiro felt an unexpected sense of solace, comforted that someone truly understood Edward. This thought almost moved him to tears.

    “When Edward knew that you had returned to this world, he said, ‘Ah, it can finally end.'” Noroshi clenched his teeth and continued with a growling voice, “It’s too much. He’s been suffering alone all this time, and yet, to have such an end is just too cruel. I can’t stand this.”

    With that, Noroshi abruptly stood up, knelt down on the floor, and bowed his head down in prostration.

    Seeing this sight, Yuichiro was taken aback.

    “Please, save Edward-sama.”

    Confused by Noroshi’s plea, Yuichiro remained bewildered. Nevertheless, Noroshi continued.

    “I can’t stop him. I know I’m asking for the impossible, but please, don’t let Edward-sama die.”

    His forehead still pressed against the floor, Noroshi spoke in a prayer-like plea. Unable to bear it any longer, Yuichiro too knelt down and grabbed Noroshi’s shoulder.

    “Hey, look up.”

    “Please, I beg you.”

    “Stop kneeling for now, will you?”

    Yuichiro’s abrupt voice finally made Noroshi lift his head.

    Yuichiro peered into Noroshi’s damp, gray eyes and asked tensely, “Is Edward planning to die?”

    Taken aback by the blunt question, Noroshi’s lips trembled before he quietly nodded in affirmation, saying definitively, “Yes, without a doubt.”

    At the conviction in Noroshi’s voice, a heavy sigh involuntarily escaped from Yuichiro’s lips.

    “Where’s Edward and Aoi?”

    On hearing this, Noroshi’s expression relaxed slightly.

    “Edward-sama is in the room on the top floor… Miss Aoi is in the room next door.” Yuichiro pats Noroshi’s shoulder and slowly stands up. “I don’t know what I can do, but I promise to do whatever is possible.” With that reply, Yuichiro begins to walk toward the door. Just as he’s about to leave, he hears Noroshi’s faint voice.

    “I’m sorry… and thank you.”

    In his raspy voice, there was a faint trace of tears that could be seen. Looking back over his own shoulder, Yuichiro was witnessing a man crouching on the floor like a child. 

    “I don’t fully understand, but what Edward truly needs is someone like you,” Yuichiro then spoke, and Noroshi smiled faintly. It was an expression caught somewhere between resignation and barely contained tears. 

    Later, the door to the next room is unlocked.

    When he opened it, the dimly lit room came into view. There was no light on, and the room was barely illuminated by the light of the stars coming in through the window. The room was a mess. Chairs and tables were overturned, and multiple dresses were scattered on the floor. Picking up a pink dress, he could see that it had been torn vertically from the chest. Not just this one; every dress was badly torn.

    “Don’t just barge in.”

    A cold voice was heard. Looking in its direction, there was a girl in a sailor suit lying on the bed with her back turned.

    “Aoi.”

    When he called her name, Aoi’s slender shoulders twitched slightly. However, she didn’t turn around. Hanging the dress he picked up on a fallen table, his feet moved towards the bed. Standing beside it, he awkwardly asked, “Are you okay?”

    The choice of words made him want to bang his head against the wall. After all, it was something a father, baffled by how to talk to his teenage daughter, would say. But considering their ages, it wouldn’t be weird if Aoi were Yuichiro’s daughter.

    In response, Aoi snorted and shook her shoulders. Nevertheless, she remained motionless on the bed.

    “Do I look okay to you, idiot?”

    “Shut up. I was stabbed in the stomach and pushed off a cliff; I’m not feeling great either,” he snapped back reflexively.

    Unfazed, Aoi retorted in her usual detached tone. “It’s beyond comprehension how you survived that fall off the cliff. Your resilience is almost repulsive. Why are you still alive? Can’t you just die properly.”

    Her words had the petulance of a child’s whining. Although Aoi’s hair mostly shielded her profile, her listlessly parted lips were in plain view.

    As he stared at her pale lips, Yuichiro hesitantly revealed, “After that, I went back to the original world.”

    Aoi’s shoulders twitched again. Watching her shiver, he quietly continued, “I also went to your school and home.”

    “Ew. You’re a stalker.”

    Aoi laughed, but her laughter sounded faintly tremulous.

    “You wanted to die, didn’t you?”  

    Upon Yuichiro’s question, Aoi’s laughter stopped abruptly. A long silence followed. Bathed in the quietude, Aoi’s faint voice was heard.

    “I still want to die. No matter where I am, no one needs me.” Aoi’s voice, simply stating facts, carried a subtle note of sadness. “I thought that if you disappeared, people would finally notice me. But nothing changed. I remain invisible, just like in the world we came from.”  

    Her tone mocked herself. After a forced chuckle, Aoi said dismissively, “Both worlds are utterly boring. I wish everything would just break apart.”  

    Her voice sounded like a lonely voice. Yuichiro noticed Aoi’s clenched fingers. His heart ached a little. Approaching the bed, he sat down, causing the bed to sink. Aoi expressed her displeasure.

    “Don’t sit down without asking. That’s sexual harassment, you know…”  

    Her scathing voice seemed feeble now, a far cry from her once feisty self.

    Yuichiro remained silent, then Aoi’s voice trembled slightly. 

    “I hate you so much. You should just die. …But even if you do, there’s no one who truly needs me…”  

    Her voice faint, Aoi curled up, fetal-like, as if trying to protect herself from a cruel world.

    “Your father apologized to you. He said, ‘Please come back.'”  

    Hearing this, Aoi shook her head like a restless child.  

    “Lies.”

    “It’s not a lie.”  

    “Liar. Everyone’s a liar. I hate you. I hate everyone. I wish you’d all just disappear…”  

    But at the end, one could hear her say, “I wish I would disappear…” Covering her face with her hands, Aoi’s body started to shake.

    Yuichiro reached out and stroked Aoi’s silky black hair.  

    “You think you’re comforting me? Don’t bother, it’s really creepy coming from an old man like you…”  

    Even as she said this, Aoi did not shake his hand off. Silence fell once again, and after a long pause, Aoi muttered, “Dad…”

    Right after, a sudden sobbing sound broke the silence. Aoi, clutching the sheets with both hands, cried like a small child. Her body contracted even smaller, as if she were a crumpled piece of paper. Yuichiro watched her and spoke softly.

    “You should go home.”

    Sniffling, Aoi shook her head from side to side. “…There’s no place for me to go back to.”

    “A place to belong isn’t something given by someone else. It’s where you decide you want to be.”

    At Yuichiro’s words, Aoi snorted derisively even as she cried. However, that scorn was swiftly consumed by her tears. After lightly patting her head with his palm, Yuichiro continued.

    “You’ve got the guts to push a guy off a cliff. I’m sure you can do anything once you get back to your old world.”

    Hearing this, Aoi cursed under her breath, “…You’re stupid,” but also let out a small laugh. This laughter didn’t sound scornful as usual.

    Just as Yuichiro began to speak, the door suddenly burst open. Startled, they could see Edward standing there.

    “What are you doing?”

    Caught off guard, Yuichiro struggled for words. Without waiting for a reply, Edward strode over to the bed.

    “Fine. You, go with Noroshi.”

    Edward grabbed Aoi’s arm and forcefully lifted her up. Perhaps his grip was too strong; Aoi grimaced, her face wet from tears.

    “Hey!”

    Yuichiro’s shout was met with Edward’s icy glare. After holding Yuichiro’s gaze, Edward finally let go of Aoi’s arm. He turned around without looking back.

    “Take this girl to the border, now. I’ve sent Rondo ahead. We’ll regroup and reorganize.”

    Noroshi’s eyes wavered, unsure if Edward was telling the truth or lying. In a voice tinged with unease, Noroshi said, “Edward-sama, will you…”

    “I will follow later. Now go.”

    Edward clearly had no intention of looking at Noroshi. Noroshi’s face looked like he could burst into tears at any moment. Edward spoke in a sharp tone.

    “Go now!”

    Despite Edward’s stern voice, Noroshi did not move. Without turning his head, Edward growled.

    “Follow my orders, Noroshi. Fulfill my wish.”

    For a moment, Noroshi wondered if this could be Edward’s “final wish.” Clenching his lower lip tightly, Noroshi drooped his shoulders.

    “…Understood. I will be waiting.”

    “Very well.”

    “I will be waiting for you to return.”

    With a prayer-like voice, Noroshi gently pushed Aoi’s back. Aoi glanced back once with a look of anxiety, but left the room silently with Noroshi.

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