Chapter Sixty Four: All Contained in an Empty Chair
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I’d died.

Despite the time that had passed since mine and Plutia’s conversation, her words replay endlessly in my mind. After Hyla had left on her way to complete her remaining tasks in regards to my case, I’d spoken with Plutia for the what was left of the twilight hour.

Up above in the sky is only a sliver of moonlight peering down to the capital city of Empyrea. I’d been told that although I’d been dead for an entire day, I’d remained in an unconscious state for 2 more after I’d returned to life and had suddenly stabilized. Though it was brief, my time away had felt like it had been so much longer.

There in Stelaris with Fortino. Locked away within the glass boundaries of the Zodiac Prison. From all that I can recall, it feels as if I’d been gone for weeks. But therew as no way that could be possible, I’d only been unconscious for around 72 hours. Yet that would be the best way I could state it.

While I continue staring out to the heavens, I continue attempting to hold fast to those memories I’d gained while away. After so long of having seen the full moon shining through glass, it feels unreal to see the free, changeable moon once more. I keep my eyes fixed on it not only as I’m lost to my own thoughts, but to also bide my time until I can see the woman I’m waiting for.

I’m sorry, dear. You see, the reason I’d kept using the word if when speaking of Juna is because… well… she’s going through much right now. Hyla had already made it known to her that you wish to see her but it may take her a little more time to sort herself out.”

Plutia’s words on the matter.

While time had become an enigma to me, an hour had passed since Plutia had left and there were still no signs of Juna’s arrival.

I continue meditating over all that I’d been told to give myself relief from my constant wondering of everything I’d experienced while asleep.

Celine had called off from all of her classes in order to keep watch over Juna. She’d done her best to care for her while I was away.

Neptanie had picked her weary body up with the help of Mercy in order to visit the most prominent shrine in the city. There she had offered her prayers and had pushed herself even more to be there for the others.

Marcia kept claim of her place beside Venna the entire time, never letting her be alone with her depression. Venna herself was sedentary but had quickly regained her appetite when news had arrived that I’d pulled through by some form of a miracle.

Jupa’s means of managing her own sorrow had been to make herself even more busy with her work around the manor. She’d found herself cooking more than anyone could eat. By Celine’s idea, a good portion of the food was donated to local orphanages.

I’m sorry for troubling everyone, but I’d had no other choice. I could never live with myself if something happened to Juna.” I sigh while contemplating it all. “It’s enough that I have to deal with this scar, just what would everyone think if they’d heard me ramble about some world of glass?”

I’m pulled from introspection when I hear the sound of knocking at my door. Though timid to hold confidence that it would be Juna, I feel my heart pick up at the sound.

Please come in.”

And so they do.

Peeking through the slowly opening door is the sight of red. Red, soft bangs and matching red eyes. Clad in a pink, summer shirt and simple blue shorts, it’s her.

As she steps into the dim room, I can scarcely see the more subtle appearances of her face. I’m given to my first impulse to draw near to her.

Juna. I’m so grateful to see you, I-”

P-Please don’t come too close.” She interrupts my greeting with a wavering voice.

Why? I’m just grateful you’re here. I’ve been hoping to see you. More than anything. I’m glad to see you’re well, but…”

I take another step forward and give her a closer look. Her eyes are darkened and bloodshot while her skin is ghostly pale. A vapor of anxiety mist in my heart at the sight.

Hyla had told me that you’d made it through with little more than a concussion. I can’t even begin to describe how grateful I am But, is there something wrong? You’re looking so unwell.”

I’m fine… I’m fine and there’s nothing wrong with my body.”

There’s far more to your health than your body. What’s the matter, Juna? Will you let me know? And please don’t tire yourself out standing. Come, have a seat with me.” I gesture over to the chair that is set by the window and before mine.

Her movements are stiff, catching on each other with a blatant uncertainty. But she manages to shift herself into gear and joins me towards our meeting place by the faint moonlight. She takes her seat but becomes shy in herself. Gripping strongly to the legs of her shorts, she peers down to her hands which tightly grasp their fabric.

It’s a relief beyond reliefs you’re here. I was on edge the entire time thinking of what could have happened to you. Even if I was already told your condition, I really couldn’t rest until I’d seen you myself.”

I keep my eyes fixed on her no matter how she shrinks away beneath my gaze. With the watery look to her eyes, it seems as though tears are bordering to flow.

If you’re worried about me, I’m fine. I’m in such fine condition that the hospital had given me a change of casual clothes to rest about in. I’m certain that I’ll be back in the manor by tomorrow.”

And silence comes in return. She shakes lightly where she sits. No matter my intentions, it feels as if I’ve pushed the wrong button. I take a deep breath and give another attempt to help her to ease.

I take it that’s not the issue at hand here. Did something happen while I was asleep? Even just hearing the start of it would be nice.”

Her curled fists tighten into strangling force in her lap. The shaking in her body evolves into jerks and strained hiccups for air.

“…You weren’t asleep…” I see small tears begin to drop with a tiny glimmer of the dim moonlight. “…You were dead…”

“…I’d heard that yourself and everyone had received that news. But I’m not dead anymore. It feels funny that I get to say something so absurd.” I chuckle to myself, hoping to lighten the mood but it’s to no avail. “When I came back to life, all it really was at that point was sleep. So I’d slept for a bit and had a few dreams, but now I’m here without a scratch on me. It’s just about miraculous how well they’d taken care of me.”

“…You’d died… You were gone… and it was all my fault…”

It wasn’t. You shouldn’t kick yours-”

No!”

Her voice bursts out with a flame on her tongue. She snaps her face to front before mine. Two trails of icy tears run openly down her cheeks, her eyes are knit tight and overcome with a deep, heartrending pain. By a sight alone I’m cut deep to the core and the scar blazes its pain across my chest.

I’d watched you die! I’d watched your last breath! I’d seen you leave and it was all my fault! I know you’d died and I know that I’d taken your life! I can’t just give that a hand wace! I don’t deserve to be before you right now! I don’t deserve your kindness like this!”

The sharp breathing, the whimpering tones come out clearly with her impassioned words. I’m at once returned to the age an old memory. Under the summer rain where her heart was breaking before me but she was so distant, unwilling to come near.

Once more trapped in such a dire situation as an onlooker. I can feel my blood freezing. While listening to her breathing growing more erratic, her anger, self loathing and immense sorrow blasting out in her quivering body and her heated fists, I think as quickly as I can.

If I reach out to her, it’ll likely hurt her even more.

If I speak, she’ll only feel more guilty.

If I stand up and leave her for her own space, she’ll think of it as evidence showing her that she’s right.

If I told her the truth of how much I love her, it’d shatter her to pieces.

The image of her falling on her own sword replays in my mind and an intense feeling of despair lacerates me.

What can I do?”

But it’s all too late and all too short.

The sound of her chair clattering onto the floor remains after she has already launched into full sprint. Out the door, the sound of its slamming is my last company as she leaves me alone beneath the moon and the stars.

I only stare at the place she once was, wishing she was still there before me. Wishing I had taken the risk to catch her and pull her close. If I’d done something, maybe it could have played out differently this time.

I’m sorry to give you grave news at this time, but while you were gone, Pride had opened. We have done our best to quarantine the area and we did the best that we could. But try as we had, we couldn’t prevent all fatalities. Whether or not you’ve recovered, you’ll have need to move quickly.”

In my moment of despair, Plutia’s final words return to me while my mind is full of Juna.

† † †

Hello, hello! I come bearing news of things! This story is getting going and now comes another player in the game at a most important point of the story! 

To be unveiled next week in his first appearance is a man of dignity! 

Here is his silhouette shown until the time comes when he is revealed!

https://twitter.com/LovelykNightDL/status/1702780989418914015

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