46 – A Regret Before Sleep
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I wasn’t sure how long I walked, but my feet felt like they were beginning to blister as I trudged through the unsteady sand. Behind me, I could only see the last ten or so steps I had taken. Everything else was quickly buried by sand as it was whipped up by a whistling wind.

A couple times through the desert, I had seen giant monsters running across or flying through the sky. I was lucky to be so much smaller. Either they didn’t see me as a worthwhile meal or just didn’t see me at all. I hoped it was the latter.

By the time the last sun was setting, the sand had given way to rock, and I began to walk up the dead hillside of a mountain. There was no telling what had happened in this world, but other than the giants, I saw no signs of life. Even smaller monsters were absent, as far as I could tell. I doubt anything could live in this harsh environment. I wiped sweat from my brow, the world was far too hot, and I looked for some sign of an edible plant. I was probably immune to enough poisons, if my dream-memory was accurate, to eat something risky. Still, nothing stood out in the dead scene.

“I see a cave up ahead,” Azul chimed in. How the blue dragon could see so far away escaped me. There was no reason to argue at this point; I was nowhere close to finding any better options, so I marched ahead without objections. A desire to sit down, even for a minute, burned in me, which I didn’t know was possible. Perhaps the whole scenario was draining me more than I realized. Whatever the reason, I almost shouted with glee—I hardly had the energy to actually do it—when my eyes laid on the cave. My face still lit up at the sight until I noticed and corrected it, instead making a neutral expression.

I peered around the entrance edge. The hole was small, but the inside was about as large as my cabin in the world between worlds—the one I would never see again. I pushed through jagged rocks and quickly sat on the stone. Never in my life did rock feel so comfortable, at least for the parts I could remember.

“Well, we made it!” Azul said happily. I suppose even this world would take a toll on him, at least when he was in such a small form. The large dragon I had met in the temple likely could have eaten anything I had seen in this world.

“We’re here, but now what?” I asked.

“For now, you should rest.”

“But afterward? How do we get out of here?”

“That will come later. Rest assured, there are multiple ways to leave, and I can easily teach you a technique or two.” Azul said with confidence.

“Easily?” I asked while tilting my head.

“Well, easy for me. Perhaps you will have trouble, but we can cross that bridge when we get there. For now, rest and think.”

“Think about what?”

“Whatever is on your mind.”

I sighed. The serpentine dragon was hardly helpful.

Yet now that I had a moment to sit, my memory turned to the events that had just transpired. The clash between the monsters and the subsequent walk through the desert had taken too much of my attention. Now that I had a minute to breathe, I could think about what had gone wrong. The monster was vanquished, but I, along with it.

My fighting had been sloppy against the unknown foe, but where I went wrong had to have been the moment I saved the random girl. As soon as her arm grabbed me, I was thrown off.

“Do you think the girl is okay?” I asked.

“Hmm.” Was all Azul replied with. His silence was unnerving, and I felt the need to say something to fill the cave.

“I shouldn’t have tried to protect her. I shouldn’t have-” I stopped before I said too much. Unfortunately, Azul finished for me.

“You shouldn’t have saved her.”

His words stung, but I wasn’t sure if it was due to their intensity of them or due to how much I agreed with them. Given what I recalled, I was cold and ruthless. Was that just who I was? Would it have been more in line with myself to shake off her hand without another thought?

“Is that wrong?”

“There was a giant monster; you couldn’t possibly expect to be aware of everything in that sort of situation. Still, you did manage to vanquish the monster, so it might be best to leave well and good alone.”

I was hoping Azul would tell me I was wrong to regret my actions, but perhaps he had a point. That monster likely consumed many lives, but it was more important to kill it at that moment. Perhaps now that it was dead, it was best to call the whole thing water under the bridge. I took a deep breath and felt my posture relax. Sleepiness instantly washed over me like it had been dumped from a bucket. I yawned.

“I might need to get some sleep,” I said, almost surprised at the sudden change.

“Take as much time as you need. I will alert you of trouble,” the blue dragon reassured. I lay on my back and stared at the dark cave ceiling.

The glowing green sphere that had once been a frog had disappeared. Where it went was a mystery, but I didn’t care. My eyelids grew too heavy to stay up, and I drifted away.