Clara was crying . She was not raising her voice, but there were so many tears spilling down from her cheeks through the gaps between her fingers as she covered her face with her hands, that even the ground became wet . She could pretty much be said to be sobbing .
That confused Harold .
Certainly, considering he had saved Clara and her daughter Colette’s life, crying from gratitude was an understandable reaction from her .
However, Harold was not guilt-free regarding the chain of incidents that had befallen the two of them . He had not done it on purpose, but that situation was only due to his own carelessness, coupled with the Stokes couple’s false accusations . Clara was not at fault in the slightest, and yet, she and her daughter were forced to move from where they used to live . Given those details, rather than her being thankful to him to the point of crying, he felt like he should be the one seriously apologizing to her .
In addition, it had been about eight years since he had taken Harold’s body . In that time, most people he had met with would only show him two feelings, fear or hatred . It had been a long time since he had grown accustomed to those circumstances .
This was why he was stumped on how to interact with such frontal feelings of gratitude . However, he knew that the current situation looked bad from an objective point of view . A man was making a widow cry at her front door in the dark of the night; such a scene would probably immediately be reported to the authorities .
For the time being, Harold had to make Clara settle down and show him inside the house .
【”Are you freaking done yet? I recall saying that I have questions to ask . ”】
【”M-my apologies . Sorry if the house doesn’t look too good, but please do come inside . ”】
As she said that, Clara made way for Harold towards the wooden bungalow . A lamp was on with its light illuminating the house’s interior that was certainly modest when compared to Harold’s living environment . However, even though it was small, it was a neat living space which was not displeasing in the slightest from the point of view of Harold, who still couldn’t let go of his common man’s way of thinking, no matter how much time had passed .
Rather than such things, the problem he had at present was with the person who was looking his way, peeking at him from the shadows; that girl who shared the same characteristic blond hair as her mother was no other than Colette .
【”Colette, Harold-sama is here . Come greet him . ”】
【”I-it’s been a long time, Harold-sama… . ”】
Colette talked nervously and bowed her head . It was his first meeting with her in five years, but as expected, she had grown to be so lovely that one could not help but call her a beauty . She had the same appearance that Harold knew from the game .
The last time Harold met her was at Delfit’s fighting tournament . At the time, wanting Colette to become stronger, Harold riddled her with some slightly severe words, and it seemed like she was somewhat scared because of that .
【”Colette, huh? You come here, too . ”】
He made Colette sit down without giving her any chance to protest . The Ameller parent and child were now sitting at a small table, facing Harold . While trying the tea that Clara had given him with a “I don’t know if it will suit your taste, but… . ”, Harold once again started exposing the circumstances of the current matter .
【”I heard that some thieves broke into the neighboring house last night, correct?”】
【”Yes . ”】
【”How many were they?”】
【”I heard they were two . ”】
【”Did anyone see them?”】
【” The Griffiths couple, who live in the house where the burglary happened, and their son, Liner-kun . As far as I know, only the three of them saw the burglars, and the rumors say that they were concealing themselves with black robes . ”】
【”But your neighbors aren’t here . ”】
【”The parents were attacked by the criminals and are in the hospital . As for Liner-kun, he went to chase after the burglars this afternoon and left the village… . . ”】
Harold compared all the facts that Clara knew with the information he had . It seemed like there was no big inconsistency . But naturally, she didn’t know about the criminals’ objective yet .
While feeling relieved, Harold turned his gaze towards Colette, who had been silent for quite some time .
【”That Liner guy who chased after them, is he the one with the red hair?”】
【”Y-yes . ”】
Having understood who Harold was referring to once he spoke of “red hair”, Colette nodded her head, although her response showed she was still somewhat scared .
Thinking that was no good, Harold spoke words aimed at purposely making her anxious .
【”If my expectations are right, then that guy is going to die . ”】
Colette and Clara got their breaths taken away from them . As Harold expected, saying that so bluntly gave them a big shock .
However, this was not a harmless threat . If Liner were to take action by himself and to end up fighting against Ventus and Lilium, he would suffer a heavy defeat . Moreover, in this world, a defeat was most often equal to death, unlike the game where it just brought a “continue” .
In order to avoid that, Harold had ordered Ventus and Lilium not to kill, but even so, what if some unforeseen accident were to occur during the combat? Therefore, if possible, Harold wanted Colette to quickly follow after Liner right now .
Hence, that’s why he chose to urge Colette to move .
【”Based on the eye-witnesses’ reports, it is very likely that the criminals responsible for the robbery are the members of a thief group which has been making a fuss around the royal capital lately, 『Trinity』 . The problematic part is that those guys tend to have high fighting abilities, and even if they’re caught on the crime scene, they’ll just force their way through and escape . “】
Of course, that was a downright lie . There was no such thief group . Harold just halfheartedly came up with that name and setting on the spot . Even in the game, that trio had no title, so Harold had to think of one himself .
However, since they had no way to know about that, Colette and Clara’s faces turned pale . Thanks to this, they did not even think of questioning Harold about why he was chasing after such dangerous people . If he could get them to keep ignoring that part, it would really help him .
【”That’s… . ”】
As she thought of the possibility that she would lose Liner, Colette felt sad . She was regretting the fact that she did not force him to stop, and that feeling was clearly transmitted through the tone of her voice .
However, Harold disregarded the pain in her heart and questioned her mother, Clara, once again .
【”So, where did those guys escape to?”】
【”They went to the next town, towards the west… . ”】
【”Humph, then I guess I should go back to the royal capital for now and set things up . ”】
【”A-aren’t you going after them?”】
Just as planned, Colette was pulled by Harold’s words .
Colette likely wanted Harold to run after Liner and help him . Harold knew she did, but, after all, if he did that, Colette would end up not following Liner . On the other hand, taking Colette along with him would leave him with an extremely narrow timing to withdraw .
Not doing it well could expose him as being the head of the criminal group .
【”Not right now . Some preparations are needed to capture trinity . ”】
【”But, then, what about Liner?!”】
【”You want me to put myself in danger to rescue that guy? Is that what you want to fricking say?”】
Harold’s harsh words daringly crushed Colette’s alternative of letting others deal with the problem .
【”That’s not what I… . ”】
【”Oh, I see, then what did you actually mean?”】
Colette hanged her head in shame while biting her lip . It seemed like she had nothing to answer back with .
Moreover, in order to persuade her, Harold kept on talking .
【”Those guys kill people just to steal from them, it’s also guaranteed that their fighting power is the real deal, and you’re telling me to go chase after them for your own damn convenience?”】
【”But… . still, you’re strong so… . . ”】
【”Yeah, certainly, I could win against them . ”】
【”I told you, didn’t I? They’re a group . It’s meaningless to capture one of them if the others manage to escape . In short, I’ll need some more people backing me up if I’m to capture Trinity myself . And how could I guarantee those people’s lives? If you can bear all the responsibilities for this, I’ll go chase after the criminals right away . ”】
“Giving a sound argument is not always the right thing to do” Harold was pretty sure someone somewhere had once said something along those lines, and he felt that it certainly applied to the current situation . Even if Harold’s arguments were 100% correct, could crushing the wishes of an innocent young girl really be said to be the right choice?
No, to begin with, there was no sound argument that could justify his unreasonable behavior . But while he did think that, Harold still did not change his conduct .
【”Stop acting like a spoiled child, Colette . Depending on someone and relying on them is not the same thing . ”】
【”Huh… . ?”】
【”『I thought you had experienced for yourself how helpless it feels to be weak . But if you’re still going to choose a weakling’s way of life despite that, then suit yourself . 』”】
Harold repeated the words he had said to Colette five years prior .
Relying on people was good in itself . Family and friends’s relationships are structured around mutual reliance and support .
However, Colette was dependent on her surroundings . Not doing anything herself and just relying on her surroundings one-sidedly was completely wrong of her . For the past eight years, she had kept holding onto her worries and her fear of death without being able to speak of it to anyone, and yet, Harold, or rather, Kazuki Hirasawa, wanted to tell her to hang in there some more, like he did as he struggled through this world .
Well, that’s awfully selfish of me, but still . He thought .
【”I don’t know if you remember those words, but is this the result you came to from being saved and surviving? Pathetic . ”】
The noise of a moving chair resounded . Unable to bear with Harold’s rash remarks, Colette had shaken herself off from Clara, who tried to stop her, and ran out of the house . Harold wondered if the slight reflection of light within the dark came from her tears .
Silence fell in between Harold and Clara .
(…… Maybe I said too much . )
Harold’s mouth already had an established reputation for always going too far . The current situation was what would happen when Harold, who had to put a stopper on himself by nature, got too passionate .
While drinking his black tea that had started to cool down, he was having cold sweat thinking about what to do . He had no more spare time to try anything .
Even though he had asked Elu for a horse, if he didn’t get out of Bloche village soon, he would be unable to arrive at the neighboring town before the break of dawn; in which case, Liner would get to the fog valley all by himself . Harold intended to stealthily follow behind him for safety’s sake, so he could not just linger here .
【”Clara . ”】
【”… . . Yes?”】
【”If Colette tells you she’s going to run after Liner, don’t stop her . ”】
【”… Why? If the situation is as you described it, then as Colette’s mother, it’s impossible for me not to stop her, Harold-sama . “】
That was only natural .
However, Harold could not just nod and agree here . If his persuasion failed, he would have no choice but to get Elu to incite Colette to follow Liner, but even then, Clara would be the one to become a barrier to Harold’s plans .
Hence, that’s why he said that to her .
【”Humph, like mother like daughter, huh? You both haven’t changed at all . ”】
【”What are you talking ab-… . . ”】
【”I’m talking about how you always stupidly get caught in absolutely pointless worries . ”】
【”Don’t tell me you… does that mean you intended to help that child from the beginning, Harold-sama… . ?”】
He did not plan to say that much, but in order to keep things on the same track as the game’s story, he intended to offer as much support as he possibly could from the shadows . Perhaps this was Colette’s highest chance for survival .
If Justus’ plans were to succeed, most people would die, therefore, being a part of the protagonist’s party that spared no efforts to obstruct those plans, Colette would surely be able to find a way to escape from the jaws of death .
【”Our talk ends here . You already know this, but, you better not tell anyone that I came here . ”】
With those parting words, Harold left the house .
There were three hours remaining until the break of dawn .
Even though spring had passed and the weather had gotten warmer, the night wind still pierced the skin a little . It was too much for Colette, who had promptly rushed out in light clothes .
However, she did not feel like going back to her house at all .
『Depending on someone and relying on them is not the same thing . 』
『I thought you had experienced for yourself how helpless it feels to be weak . But if you’re still going to choose a weakling’s way of life despite that, then suit yourself . 』
Harold’s biting words were still echoing in her mind .
His way of speaking made her feel angry . The fact that she could not answer back to him made her feel vexed . But, the feeling that overtook the rest was shame, for she had not grown up at all . She had been so satisfied with the status quo that she had not paid attention to Harold’s advice . She regretted all those days she had wasted doing nothing .
As she wondered why things had turned out this way, Colette endured the tears that were welling up in her eyes while looking up at the starry sky .
Until the previous day, she had a modest life, however she was happy . She was with her dear mother, and with her close childhood friend, and she had no dissatisfaction or anxiety .
In the blink of an eye, that daily life had crumbled to pieces . All she was left with was her helpless self, and her regret from not being able to do anything . Maybe this was what Harold was concerned about five years before .
Powerless and aimless, Colette was just wandering about, walking totteringly . The memories of the times she spent with Liner were flooding her from everywhere . So far, they had been common and ordinary to her, but it was not until this situation came to be that Colette understood how important those memories really were .
【”Oh? Is that Colette?”】
Suddenly, the night wind carried a voice to Colette’s ears . From the sound’s direction appeared Elu, with the exact same smile that he had during the day .
Colette came to herself, and realized that she had walked all the way to the west gate of the village . She did not remember how she got there .
【”What brings you here so late at night? And why are you so lightly dressed?”】(Elu)
Colette could not possibly say that she had run away due to her own foolishness being pointed out .
Since she didn’t want to answer, she questioned Elu in return .
【”Lots of things happened . What about you, Elu? What are you taking a horse for? Is something the matter”】
【”No, it’s jut that some scary man came and woke me up earlier . He told me to sell him a new horse ’cause he had ridden his own horse to its death . ”】
【”A scary man?”】
【”Yeah . He was a man with red eyes, about as old as you are . He had a sharp glint in his eyes, and I just immediately sold him the horse without thinking . ”】
From Elu’s description of the “scary man”‘s features, Colette knew who he was referring to . It was definitely Harold . And judging from his words and actions, it seemed like he had come to this village in a great hurry .
Now, he was heading to the royal capital and… .
At that point, Colette noticed something odd . Why did Elu, who had sold the horse to Harold, not come from the east gate, which led to the royal capital, but came from the west gate, which led to the neighboring town?
Colette couldn’t help but ask a question to Elu, who seemed puzzled .
【”Say, Elu . Which way did the person you sold that horse to head to?”】
【”He went towards the west . Seemed like he was going to the neighboring town in a hurry . Maybe he had an emergency?”】
But, why? That was the question and sentiment that swirled within Colette’s mind .
Harold had said that he would be returning to the royal capital . He had said that chasing after Trinity would be dangerous, and that he would not be able to get any results from it .
So why did he head towards the neighboring town, that was in the complete opposite direction from the royal capital? Moreover, he was in such a hurry that he had woken up a peddler, who was sojourning in the village, in the middle of the night .
(Don’t tell me, to help Liner he…?)
A convenient thought occurred to Colette . She believed there was no way that it was true since Harold had told her explicitly that he would not run after Liner .
But Colette did not have enough elements in hand to actually deny that thought of hers .
Moreover, at the same time, she recalled something . It was the story about the time Harold saved her and her mother, which Colette had heard many times from Clara .
He had lied to his parents, had sheltered Clara in the dungeon, and at the same time, he arranged a meticulous plan .
He also asked his father for a sword, and therefore received a large sum of money to go buy it, but he gave it to Clara and Colette instead, free of charge .
Then, when his coachman told him that he would not be able to buy his sword without the money, Harold decisively said “Are you an idiot? Just choose whatever cheap sword you can find and buy it” .
As a result of all this, he was despised as a murder, but he accepted it and sacrificed himself so that people wouldn’t know that Colette and her mother had survived .
【”…I am really an idiot . ”】
Colette knew that his kindness was not upfront .
She knew that his severity was just the inside out of his kindness .
She knew from her own experience that he was an extraordinarily gentle person .
She was supposed to know that when he lied, it was to save others, even if it hurt him, and yet…
Hadn’t he said that he would not chase after Liner? Then, why was he galloping his horse towards the opposite direction from the royal capital right now?
Even the bad rumors about him were probably yet another thing that he just carried on his shoulders, because he was a man who would sully himself to help out someone else .
When Colette thought back upon it, even that one time was the same .
『I thought you had experienced for yourself how helpless it feels to be weak . But if you’re still going to choose a weakling’s way of life despite that, then suit yourself . 』
There was a continuation to those words . After saying that, Harold had added『I don’t care, really . 』 . Colette had memorized that part word for word .
And now, she was realizing that it was not true .
(“I don’t care, really”? That’s a lie . Harold-sama has been caring for us for a long time… . )
Although Harold had never personally visited her, Colette knew that a coachman would occasionally come to the village to examine the state of affairs there . It did not happen just once or twice, it was a regular occurrence .
That man was most likely in charge of reporting to Harold about Colette and her mother’s lifestyle .
Perhaps Harold had a bad feeling about their situation and was therefore worried . Maybe that was why he spoke such harsh words after meeting them again .
Colette was not able to notice that . On the contrary, although it was for just a moment, she had even felt angry at Harold for not helping Liner .
Colette was submerged by shame, embarrassment, and regret that were incomparable to what she had felt earlier .
While Harold was pushing himself so far, what was she doing? Getting depressed and cowering was pointless .
She had to help Liner, and to live up to Harold’s expectations .
【”―― I’m going after him . ”】
Colette retraced her steps to the house so as to pick up some items she was going to need .
At that moment, her back was struck by Elu’s voice .
【”You want to chase after that scary man?”】
【”Yes . ”】
【”Isn’t it kind of impossible to catch up to someone ridding a horse by running on foot?”】
That was a very pragmatic and correct judgment .
But it was nothing more than that . Even if she was being absurd and unreasonable, Colette no longer had a reason within her to stop her feet . She felt that, if she were to give up here, it would be the true end of something important .
【”Even so, I’m going . ”】
【”Is that so? By the way, I’m just speaking to myself here, but that scary person was in too much of a hurry and gave me some extra money by mistake . Specifically, he gave me two horses’ worth . So I pointlessly prepared one horse too many for him . ”】
【”However, if I just go back as is with that amount of money on me, uncle might suspect that I’ve deceived a customer, so I’m keeping the remaining horse here . Somebody might end up taking it, but it can’t be helped . Anyway, I made a good amount of money selling two of them so…”】
Yes, yes, it can’t be helped, it just can’t be helped .
While repeating such words in a monotone way, Elu left towards the direction of the inn he was staying at . Colette, who was still in her pajamas, was left there all alone with a fast horse that was tied to a gatepost .
Colette lowered her head towards Elu who was in the process of leaving .
【”Thank you, Elu . ”】
【”I don’t have the slightest idea what you’re thanking me for, but I will still gratefully accept your words, I guess . ”】
Seeing Elu shrug his shoulders in an excessively unnatural way, Colette unintentionally let a giggle escape from her . The tied horse also let air out from his nostrils, as if it had understood the exchange between the two of them .
There were two hours remaining until dawn .