49. Curiosity
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Part 1 –

They finally realised where the water from the first few floors drained to. To move that through hundreds, even thousands of kilometres underground was something that not even an ancient Demon like Uru could begin to fathom.

It was likely the same source that filled the previous floor’s lakes, oceans and rivers. The depths of the gaping hole where the water fell was like a weeping eclipse, and it remained in the background of the floor with a foreboding yet mesmerising presence.

When their falling came to a gradual stop, Exrite was the first to leave and she approached the colossal [Gear] – which resided at the centre of the inland ocean – with widened eyes. Now that they were on the ground, she realised just how massive these things were.

She paused at the grassy bank and stared at the ominous sight. The stillness of the sea combined by the scattered [Gears] both in the sky and buried within the land beared a striking resemblance to the Domain of Time.

Exrite stood there in silence, the voices of the others soon dampening as all she could hear was the soft breeze and her ticking heart.

A black and white crystallised heap that resembled the shape of a gear. Really... just what is going on here?

Exrite remembered the way Uru described her transformation. Her bones, blood, organs and whatever mass she possessed was rendered down to a liquid before becoming a gear-like crystallised mass.

Although she wondered why these ones were white, whereas she was both black and white. In addition, their scale was beyond massive compared to her.

Just the thought of it caused her to grind her jaws as a hand slowly cupped her stomach, which churned madly. The pain was ingrained into her being, and the sight of those things brought back the countless minutes of soul-crushing agony.

That aside – her thoughts were only thoughts. Reality had the potential to be whatever Gaia pleased. But a part of her was convinced that these gears did not have an artificial origin but were rather from creatures at some point in time.

But what exactly caused them to grow so large?

She did not know. With a curious face, she gently dipped her foot into the water to confirm whether she could walk across its surface. Just because it was still and similar to the one in the Domain of Time did not mean that it had the same properties.

And as expected, her foot sunk into it like any other body of water.

“The [Gears] are your priority for now Exrite. If you can’t pinpoint her ‘home’, then leave the scouting to Uru and I.” Black spoke with a slightly haughty tone. “The rest of you can either help or do whatever the fuck you want. This floor doesn’t appear as hostile as the others.”

Indeed. The animals of this floor did not seem as predatory as the previous floors. While they still hunted and consumed other creatures in packs, their hostility and prowess were considerably toned down.

There were also a few Swordbirds that flew close by, and a small pack of petal-faced bunnies which passed by them nonchalantly. They were being left alone for whatever reason, which roused curiosity in White.

“Think it’s because we’re recognised by the dungeon as a ‘completionist’, or something like that? We killed that dragon, so it’s a possibility.” White answered.

“Hmm~ Like a game huh?”

“Seems like it.”

“What part of this makes it seem like a game to you?” Frosty asked with a confused tone.

“We’re just rambling. Forget we said anything. Uru, let’s find her home already. We’ve been stuck down here long enough.”

“Precisely. But I would hate to leave this place so soon. This place encapsulates the existence of the Maiden of Time. Only a fool would leave without savouring her once known presence.”

Uru spoke like she was atop a pedestal as her gaze fell to the distant world. She could barely contain the swelling emotions in her heart. This place was certainly where the Maiden of Time once roamed, and to even breathe the same air was a privilege that she did not deserve.

It was a frightening display of obsession to the others, but to her, it was proof of her absolute loyalty and awe to the Maidens.

“… Do what you want then.” She sighed and shifted her gaze to the others. “I guess I’ll have to do it myself. Well, yell out my name or something if you need me –”

“Why don’t you take it easy for once, Black?”

As she took a few steps towards a distant forest, she suddenly froze upon hearing those words. Surprisingly, it was Khaos who asked with a humble and kind voice.

“We’ve already come so far. A small breather is always good from time to time.”

“Hmm. Are you worried about me~?” She laughed teasingly. “Joking aside – there’s no point in taking a breather in the face of efficiency. Like you said: we’ve already come so far, so let’s finish this already.”

Her tone was soft, softer than any of them were used to.

But contrary to her words; she didn’t move. Rather, she stared up into the cloudless ceiling and thought to herself for a moment.

However, I suppose this is a good time to ask Exrite a few… questions. By the time we leave this place, Exrite will be too busy trying to fix those Biomech. Hmhm~ Don’t mind me, Frosty. Exrite already agreed with our little exchange.”

She turned and began walking towards the bank where Exrite stood. As she passed Frosty, the woman quickly said:

“If you think you’re going to go alone, then think again. I’m coming with you.”

“Tch. I guess that was a condition. But I don’t need to remind you that if you so happen to interfere–” She held an invisible handgun to the woman’s head. “Then I may or may not give you another eye.”

“You wouldn’t even if you wanted to. Not yet, at least.” Frosty stood defiant, humouring Black as she sadistically grinned and walked past her.

“Hmhm. Correct~ We’ll leave this chat for another time then. If we don’t manage to find the Maiden of Time’s home first, that is.”

“Yet you’re still heading for Exrite?”

“You’re nosy. I just said that I’d leave it for a more appropriate time. I only want to make sure that she understands our situation. Her focus should be on those colossal [Gears] – or whatever the fuck they are. Cause who knows; maybe the goal is closer than we think.”

“There’s no better link than those [Gears], right.” Khaos slowly spoke.

“Precisely. In the event where nothing comes up, the [Gears] will most likely hold the answers we need. I’ll scour this floor, but not without indulging myself in the scenery. This is beyond a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I pity that you Otherworlders fail to realise this.” Uru haughtily spoke before she disappeared into the skies.

As her shadow cast over the lands below, the remaining three glanced at each other and wondered what to do now.

While rest should be a priority for Frosty, a strange fuzzy creature caught her eye. Suddenly, at the sight of a certain black and yellow pattern, her fatigue vanished as quickly as the words left her lips.

“There’re bees down here as well!?”

* * *

It had already been two hours since they first arrived. What felt like minutes passed in the blink of an eye. Their efforts were fruitless so far, however, Exrite found herself being oddly drawn to the [Gear] featured in the centre of the motionless ocean.

There was no ticking or a high-pitched rumble – there was just something about it that attracted her. The sight was equally as eerie as it was beautiful, because she knew that this thing was born from a creature of flesh and blood.

In addition to this [Gear]’s monumental size; how could she not pry her eyes away?

She spent the past two hours walking across the bank at her own pace. She could have easily approached it by creating a [Barrier] to walk across, but she imagined that Gaia must’ve left a path somewhere for her.

But her efforts were in vain. By now, she had reached the other side of the grand ocean without a single oddity noted.

She was mildly annoyed that there was no obvious answer in sight. But she kept her complaints tamed and was thankful that the [Gear] indeed seemed to be what they were after.

The overwhelming sense of attachment only grew with each step. It was a sensation similar to her own [Gears], except this was more like a…

Gravitational tug? A strange attraction?

Exrite could not describe it at all.

However –

Her eyes never left its pale surface. No distraction could pry her away from the looming [Gear]. Whether it was magic, or a phenomenon limited to herself – she could not understand why she was so intrigued by it.

Can a Gear Overload really do this to a creature? I only know from Uru, since I’ve only seen it liquify a monster… are there perhaps specific conditions for the transformation to take place? For example, do the concentration or quality of the gears influence whether a creature becomes a [Gear] or not?

With that thought in mind, her eyes fell onto the clear surface. There, she saw herself. She quietly muttered:

“No… if there was an extreme difference, then it would result in liquification, wouldn’t it? Just like the Swordbird… But even so… I don’t think any normal Geared can turn into a [Gear]. There has to be something else I’m missing.”

It was her gut suspicion. She herself turned into a [Gear] – or at least looked like one, while the Swordbird was reduced to a pale paste. In addition, there was no other Geared stronger than the Maiden of Time.

Maybe the gear quality only matters for the initial change. Then something afterwards must dictate whether it becomes a [Gear] or a liquid mess. I already know it might have something to do with me being the Maiden of Time, but what about those things? What could I possibly have in common with them?

An obvious, sarcastic response would be that they could breathe, eat, sleep and can feel pain. Other than these basic familiarities, the only thing she could piece together was that she and the Geared had gears coursing through them.

She pondered on the thought. No matter how hard she tried to reach a conclusion, she would be left with another fork of questions. She was left scratching her head, half-annoyed at the puzzling phenomenon.

As she strode across the bank deep in thought, the sound of scrunching grass approached her from behind.

“Hmm?” She hummed and was surprised to meet the gaze of a passing creature.

It was a strange creature that boasted the features of a bear and a spider. The beast walked on its hind legs as all six clawed arms were spread like the tail of a peacock. A single glance of the beast could chill the blood of experienced adventurers.

This was mostly because of its eight pitch-black eyes, which caused Exrite’s blood to momentarily chill. Instantly, her orbiting [Gears] flew in front of her and prepared to incinerate it.

What is that thing? Did it come to fight while my back was turned?

But it didn’t react at all. Normally, if a creature’s prey suddenly discovered its presence, it would immediately attack or retreat.

Instead, the bear-spider continued to approach her as its gaze fell somewhere past her shoulders.

Wait… could it be that it’s also attracted to the [Gear]!?

At this realisation, she noticed something strange as it walked by her with heaving thuds.

There are more of it there in the plains. Surely those creatures are also drawn to the [Gear]… are they not? I’ve never seen one leave a group like this. Every creature in this dungeon moves as a herd or a pack.

She drew her gaze away from the twenty or so bear-spiders in the distance and firmly planted them on the one approaching the [Gear]. Her eyes narrowed suspiciously as she studied every move it made.

So why did this one break away from its pack? It can’t be the only one attracted to the [Gear]…

Unfortunately, this was the case. Indeed, this bear-spider was the only one that ventured towards the shorelines of the ocean, whilst the others grazed and planted thick strings across the grass.

She needed to investigate this. The answer was right in front of her eyes.

Whatever sets it apart from the rest will tell me everything I need to know… But the question is – how?

She was tempted to cut the creature open and examine its innards. But if she truly wanted to measure its [Gears], then it needed to be alive. Consuming it was out of the question. She could not bear to eat a Geared again. Not after her mana overload.

In fact, she had not eaten anything save for their rationed goods this entire time. Her festering hunger was a pain unlike any other, but it was also something she could mostly disregard.

After all, a Maiden’s body did not require food or water to survive.

I guess touching it will have to do. It would be wise to compare it to those bear-spiders back there. Maybe when a Geared becomes strong enough, they’ll be attracted to the [Gears]… just like every other floor with the obelisks.

She realised that this must’ve been the case.

* * *

Part 2 –

Exrite easily stole a feel from the bear-spider’s pelt and felt the familiar ticking sensation. Compared to the bison on the <Tenth Floor>, this was far, far more powerful – as expected of a Geared many floors later.

It did not seem to mind her. Rather, it ignored her presence entirely. Whatever purpose it had was far more significant than a mere distraction.

With the sensation in mind, she moved onto the herd in the distance with translucent [Hybrid Barriers] at the ready. Her obvious approach was known to them, yet they continued their grazing and web-weaving.

While she knew that this floor was considerably less hostile than the previous, she could not afford to lower her guard.

She slowed her approach and chose a beast furthest from the pack. But as she drew near, it froze and quickly snapped its head to her.

“… hey... don’t be alarmed. I just want to feel your fur for a second.”

It looked with all eight eyes as it sensed her intent. She froze, wanting to show that she meant no harm. But at the same time, she had magic ready to bisect it the moment it dared to bare its fangs at her.

Thankfully, it turned away and showed her its mountainous back.

“… Maybe animals can understand Ecloma after all…” She joked and gently placed an open palm against its back.

Her eyes sharply narrowed.

Hmm? It’s… the same? There’s no difference at all…

She was puzzled to say the least.

Her hand fell to her side and she staggered back as the thoughts came gushing in like an open floodgate.

Then that makes no sense. This entire dungeon worked around a creature’s gear strength, which dictated whether they could sense an obelisk or not… but there’s nothing here. They’re the same!

She quickly moved to another bear-spider, ignoring their cautious gazes. At this point, her wariness was drowned by her urge to solve this puzzle.

Besides – there was nothing they could do to harm her.

“The same… they’re all the same!”

Her restlessness grew with each one she felt until she backed off, staggering in disbelief. She turned back to the bear-spider, which sat at the shoreline staring at its own reflection.

It froze like a statue. If it were breathing, then it did so through impressively shallow breaths.

“What makes it so different from the rest… but so similar to me…?”

There was no answer. She had nothing. If she fed it her blood, then she assumed that it would crystallise into a [Gear] like how she did, instead of turning into a liquid puddle.

Perhaps these anomalous creatures were the source of these giant [Gears].

The thought strangled her for countless of minutes as she slowly returned to the strange creature at the shoreline.

… is this their final form? A [Gear]…? That can’t be right, can it? I thought they would continue to change with each Geared the consume, to the point where they’d become sapient or something like that…

Then, Exrite’s heart sunk. Her gut wrenched, and every hair on her body rose.

Wait… Wait. WAIT! I have no proof! I can’t jump to a conclusion so soon!

She was grasping at straws, and she suddenly found a diamond in the haystack.

Her body betrayed her thoughts. She was already prepared to accept this as reality, no matter how absurd it seemed.

The creatures so far have been growing with each passing floor. Not just physically, but mentally as well. The Swordbirds were one example, where they knew which targets were too strong to fight – even if they were misjudged half of the time.

Then there were the rabbits of the <Fortieth Floor>, which were driven by rage and revenge after Black killed one of their pack members.

By this logic it would not be a surprise to come across a creature exhibiting sapience, or a sense of self, at the very least.

Actually, it would be odd if a creature couldn’t attain sapience here.

Suddenly, this place feels more… dreadful than before. There’s no need for Gaia to create strong monsters if she can just create the Biomech. Just what was this place built for…?

As she thought such things –

The bear-spider fell into the ocean.

* * *

Exrite dashed to the shoreline with unparalleled speed. The grass split in her wake and created a column behind her. By the time she arrived at the site, the surface of the water returned to an uncanny stillness.

“Where are you going!?” She yelled and without thinking, she dove after the creature.

Bubbles clouded her vision momentarily as she gave chase. However, the world beneath was a void darker than black. Not even the light could penetrate past these depths.

It felt like she was only a few metres beneath the surface judging by the pressure against her skin. But she couldn’t be more wrong. Because her skin was infinitely more powerful than her human body’s, she failed to realise that she was already more than fifty metres beneath the surface, chasing nothing but a shadow within the darkness.

Where the hell is it going!? The [Gear] was up there, wasn’t it!? Is it trying to kill itself!?

Perhaps that was so. Perhaps attaining sapience caused it to understand how meaningless its existence was as a Geared trapped within Gaia’s dungeon.

I’m too far down… anymore and I won’t know which way’s up… dammit...

She froze in place and threw a lone [Flare] into the depths to catch a final glimpse of the beast.

Normally, a [Flare] would not work under water. It was essentially [Fire] magic which was condensed into a continually burning ball. But Exrite encased it within a [Physical Barrier] and threw down into the depths.

And because fire required air – it only shone for a fraction of a second.

However, that was more than enough for her to see just what was at the bottom of this place.

An obelisk!?

Indeed. There was an obelisk at the seabed. But it was nothing quite like the previous ones. It was clad in a black armour and emitted no ticking or high-pitched noise.

The bizarre object slept in a barren field of sand, rock and dirt.

A hidden obelisk – no, that creature knew it was down there. It must’ve known. Nothing randomly decides to dive down so far under water.

As she raced back to the surface, she bit down her lip and growled.

This was not the end of the trial.

So now my question is – how the fuck did it know an obelisk was down there?

* * *

Part 3 –

Uru flew across the land in search for clues, her strides growing longer with each passing. Nothing out of the ordinary caught her eye so far in these past few hours.

It was mostly the same for Black, save she could only scour this floor on foot. The thick sprawls of vegetation and compact trees beneath various mountain ranges were her target, for Uru gaze could not pierce through their tangled barrier.

“Flying sure is convenient~” She hummed as her blade cleaved through the thick vines and branches. “Tch. Just like a jungle. Every fucking metre is overgrown with these annoying plants.”

Despite her complaints, her movements were entirely unhampered. By the time a branch would reach her, it would have already been cut down and reduced to a heap of chipped remains.

Black’s brows furrowed.

She suddenly arrived at a gentle clearing containing a garden of creatures. The small family froze in place, some in awkward poses. Their heads all stared at her nonchalantly, though their eyes were curious of her presence.

“Not here either…”

She left them as quickly as she arrived, and moment her back turned, they resumed with their playful behaviour.

She sighed, almost in defeat. This was because the clearing was now the twentieth.

It seemed like those creatures – which were called Bluestems due to their resemblance to a living forget-me-not flower – thrived in these parts.

Though they were not limited to blue. She had found Redstems earlier, and even a Whitestem. They all exhibited distinctive personalities, but in the end, they were no more than a mere herb in her eyes.

A sadistic side of her wanted to see what would happen if she carved her blade into them but seeing as many of the creature of this floor were strangely not hostile, she bitterly held back the urge.

“Still nothing on her home. I doubt it would be anywhere far. But why the fuck did she hide it in the first place?”

Black spoke scornfully.

Precisely. There was no need for Gaia to hide her home, unless this entire floor was her home. It would not be a farfetched answer, but because there was little to no indication of where to go, they were forced to investigate themselves.

The [Gears] were likely the answer, of course… And speaking of Exrite –

“She should have an answer by now. Or I can only hope she does.” She quietly spoke. “Tch. We can’t get out of here soon enough, can we? At least we have our Demi-Human crew stationed at Saicry…”

Her tone was strangely off, and there was a gentle light in her purple eyes.

As much as Black refused to admit it, she was… worried about them. Or perhaps the feeling was more akin to how a leader wanted to protect their loyal citizens.

But that was nothing more than her trying to deny the sensation she so dearly loathed.

That aside – she eventually left the thicket and made her way back to the group steadfastly. Following a path of rock, stone and soil; she finally arrived at the plain where they rested.

And the first thing she was Frosty, and White surrounded by a family of giant bees.

“… What am I looking at?”

She didn’t know what to make out of the situation. It looked as if they were about to be pounced by the bees all at once, but this was far from the case.

With an outstretched hand, Frosty eagerly patted the closest bee.

“S-soft!” She inadvertently squealed.

This startled the bee, and it retreated to the safety of its friends.

“– Ah! Wait, I didn’t mean to scare you!”

“Haha! Nice one Sis!” One could hear Khaos yell in the distance, near the shoreline of the motionless sea.

She suppressed a sudden urge to yell back at the top of her lungs. The bees sensed her agitation and slowly backed off, causing her to force a friendly smile.

“… You’re trying too hard for an insect…” White murmured.

Frosty’s smile cramped.

“B-but it’s cute. Don’t you also want to feel its fuzzy fur?”

“Not in the same way as you. It might make for good clothing, now that I think about it.”

“White… please don’t say that. Would you really be able to kill something this cute? You’re as cruel as I remember.”

“Depends. I’m not like Black, so I won’t kill it without a reason. But – if those barbs point my way, then I’ll point my sword back at it.”

Frosty pretended she heard nothing.

As Frosty continued to pet the giant bees, Black arrived with a small torrent of scrunches.

“Oh. You’re back already? Did you find anything?” White asked.

“You’d be surprised by how little there actually is on this floor. Apart from the creatures, only the [Gears] really stand out. Well, whatever the fuck those are anyway… and I’m not going to ask what the fuck you two have been doing for these last few hours.”

“Ignore us. Think of it as an experiment. None of the creatures on this floor seek to harm us.”

“I noticed…” Black tried hard to not get distracted by Frosty, who gleefully cuddled with the bees. “That aside – where’s Exrite?”

“With Khaos. At the shoreline.”

Indeed. Exrite was there with the man, both soaked from head to toe as they enjoyed the cool water like they were at a beach.

“She wanted to announce something later. She had that look in her eyes. You know, the one where you can see a fire in them?”

“Hmhm~ Those eyes, hmm. She must’ve found more than just the exit then.” Black grinned. “So, we’re just waiting for Uru I believe?”

“Correct. Call her down if you want, but I don’t think she’ll be coming anytime soon. I’ve already tried earlier. Not that I can blame her though. This is the Maiden of Time’s ‘home’ after all.”

Black stared at Exrite for some time. Whenever she caught a glimpse of her, she had to remind herself that this person was indeed the Maiden of Time and the Exrenity.

Exrite was far, far too weak to be either. While her decision-making was great despite being unconventional half the time, it could not make up for her inherent weakness as a human.

Physical weakness, emotion, pointless beliefs – these were all detriments to achieving one’s goal. If one truly sought after something, then they would have to disregard the world for it.

This was all derived from firsthand experience. Black knew all too well how easily beliefs can derail a person from their path, and how emotion can hideously transform the meaning of their goal.

With a loud click of her tongue, she stared up at a fleeting Uru with a foul grimace.

“She can’t come down any sooner, can she? How annoying… I can’t believe we’re on their pace now. Fuck.”

* * *

Uru did not return. Hours flew by and soon, the world shifted into an orange hue. The central light high above this floor dimmed, simulating a sunset as cool air calmly swept through the lands.

Frosty’s cheeriness lasted throughout the mystical sunset and well into the night. Her bright smile and ever-so swollen happiness were terribly infectious, and it spread like a plague to the others.

Contrary to Black’s irritation earlier, she could not help but to also embrace their well-deserved moment of respite.

Rest was a luxury they rarely had during this trial. They powered on for days at a time, with only a few hours of rest before moving through another few days of endless walking and one-sided battles.

A bonfire the size of a grand tree spat a blazing flame which attracted the attention of many creatures.

They weren’t used to seeing such a bright light, or such an immense warmth. The nights were cool down here on this floor, and the only light they had during the night were the thousands upon thousands of gemstones that glittered across the ceiling like stars.

It was a near-perfect replica of the night sky, save for the cosmic dust and the other bizarre colours that were common in the darkened skies of Six Point.

The group – and the creatures – found comfort underneath these artificial stars. Their eyes glistened with their light as a cosy fire crackled nearby. It took Exrite back to when she had to travel through the Katho Region as wanted targets.

Instead of a bonfire, they would gather around a tiny campfire made of stone, twigs and leaves to keep them warm during their restless nights, or to cook whatever meat they could get their hands on.

How far had they come now? It felt like it was only yesterday when she first saw the stars and felt the warmth of a fire. After losing track of the outside world Exrite couldn’t help but to drown in these thoughts as she absorbed the surrounding world with a gentle smile.

She lay beside the grassy bank, flattened and wide awake.

Most of the others were asleep at this point, save for the Colours and a missing Uru. She was most likely out exploring this world, or in her words, savouring it.

Frosty slept in the centre of twenty or so creatures. They ranged from the smallest critters to giant worm-like monstrosities. Surely, those ones must’ve snuck in while she was asleep, because there was no chance that Frosty would allow such a thing to get close.

Khaos was not too far either, although his posture was… unique, to say the least. He slept like a flattened rock; his face buried into the grass as muscular rabbits gathered around him like he was their pack-leader.

“… I never told them that this wasn’t the finale.” She softly spoke, a part of her ashamed for ruining the stagnant silence.

It was as she said: she never told anyone about the obelisk beneath the sea. She only mentioned the strange behaviour of the bear-spider and her theory of it attaining sapience, as well as her attraction to the giant half-submerged [Gear].

At this moment of time, her judgement told her to wait until Frosty and Khaos were well-rested. There was no telling what was beyond this floor, and if something were to happen to them, then she would not be able to forgive herself for trying to rush through.

Black is also an issue. If she realises that there’s potentially another set of forty-one floors after this, she’ll definitely fill every inch of this floor with bullets.

She wryly smiled.

But I can’t blame her. With the dragon and the missing ‘ticking’ on this floor, it all felt like the climax of her trial. I’d be pissed off as well if I weren’t so used to this kind of thing. There is no end to this, is there?

In truth, she was far from used to it. Reserved would be a better word to describe her. The mere thought strung her heart and wrenched her gut. Now that the Eye of Hope could no longer fight the delusions of her Eye of Despair, this was significantly exacerbated.

It took conviction and will to suppress her frustrations. If she was more unhinged like Black then she would undoubtably be worse.

And that was a future she feared to tread.

A sigh left her. It seemed like her pent-up frustrations followed. For a moment, she couldn’t remember why she became so worked up.

Don’t think about it.

Her blissful ignorance eased her into the silence of the night. But this was soon interrupted by an approach of soft scrunches.

Then, a pair of purple eyes started down at her.

“Hmhm~ Restless as always. Don’t mind me Exrite. You keep staring at the ceiling.”

She stood above her with sadistic eyes, probably carrying a similar intent. But her voice was calm, soothing even. There was no trace of ill that Exrite could sense as the woman eased herself down beside her, now laying flat against the grassy bed.

“Restless is one way to put it. I can’t sleep at all.”

“Finally growing accustomed to your sleepless body?”

“Not exactly. You see, I was never accustomed to sleeping in the first place. I guess the only times I could sleep naturally was during our stay in the Capital and… maybe a long time ago.”

“Just like me, huh. I can’t remember the last time I slept naturally. Between you and me, we’re the only ones who used to rely on rest out of everyone else. Or… well, I suppose you still need rest. You haven’t abandoned your human body after all.”

Black laughed and turned to Exrite. Her purple eyes were like that of a beautiful gem. Combined with the reflected stars, it was like looking into the night sky of another world.

“But enough about sleep. You know why I’m here, don’t you?

“I haven’t forgotten.” Exrite’s voice grew firm.

It was their promised exchange. With this, she hoped to gain an insight of Black’s personality, and in turn, perhaps her own future. This was because whenever Exrite compared herself to Black she could only find little differences between them.

They were frighteningly similar in many regards, save for their core ideals and motives. The main subject at hand was Black’s immense repulsion to humanity, and why this was so.

Why were the ideals encompassed within humanity such a detriment to achieving one’s goal?

She swallowed the air and heard Black speak.

“Good, good. And at a perfect time as well. Frosty’s asleep, so we won’t have anyone to intrude on us while we reveal our little secrets~”

“… I don’t need to remind you to hit me if I doze off, do I?”

“So you’ll start us off? Hmhm~ You’re only going to reveal a fraction of your past anyway. I just want to hear the details of your… suffering. And in turn, you’ll hear everything you need about me.”

Déjà vu swept over Exrite. She remembered a similar confession with Talia back in the Capital. At that time, Exrite entrusted Talia with her past in an effort to alleviate it from her chest.

Exrite fondly remembered crying herself to sleep in the company of an apple.

But compared to that time, Exrite was prepared to admit the details she could not in front of Talia. This was not for mere therapeutic purposes, but one out of necessity.

And now, whatever she suffered from in the past could not hold a candle to the soul-crushing agony of a mana overload. However, it was still something heavy and painful – and Exrite suddenly found herself reluctant to continue.

Rather than a physical wound – it was one of the mind and soul.

With pained eyes, Exrite turned to the sky and asked Black her only question:

“H-how much detail do you want?”

“All. Of. It. What you put in, is what I’ll give you in return. Just don’t break on me, Exrite. I was in your shoes once upon a time, after all~”

In the silence of the night, Exrite held her breath and mustered every ounce of strength to recollect the vivid memories of the hell she called home.