[Vol 1] Chapter 53
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I was floating. Submerged in deep water. It was a foreign space, yet somehow, it felt all too familiar at the same time. A contradiction in my consciousness, sealed in the timeless nature of this abyssal sea.

There was no noise here. It’s quiet, and empty, and distant.

Is this my subconscious? I thought fleetingly before it dispersed into a listless afterthought. 

That’s right, I don’t need to think. Nothing could hurt nor find me here after all. Residing in this idle seclusion, where I feel like myself.

...Huh, like myself? What am I? I found myself asking for some reason. An almost intrinsic curiosity, stemmed from what felt like a glitch in my autonomous mind.

If this sea was my subconscious, then what part of me did it represent? If there was nothing here at all, then what did my existence represent?

Some time passed, as I felt my weight drifting along the natural ebb and flow, mindlessly, aimlessly.

A brief memory surfaced again. And then I felt something faint. 

A faint desire. To see? 

An image flickered past my mind. And when I saw it for that split moment, my fingers twitched, almost as if on instinct. 

What was that? Who was that? I feel like I should remember that person, but… I...

No, why should I care. I don’t exist. I should remain in this place, and think of nothing else. 

Those thoughts began their periodic resurgence, and I found myself staring at the surface again. At least, what was supposed to happen when something changed within this mundanity. 

A resonance. Or possibly an echo. It billowed through the currents, and reached the ears. Once or twice at first, and then it became frequent. Until repetition intensified, that I began to pick up an unintelligible voice.

“U...ru…” Who… is speaking to me?

“U… Ru… ru…” In that hazy fog of broken speech, I began to hear it again. A name. Calling out to me, but barely. It was like hearing underwater; the guttural articulation of words caught through its web like a muffling filter. 

As I looked up at the surface from the depths with utter apathy, the voice began to condense and weave into a more coherent wavelength. And like blocks slowly fitting themselves in place, it began to conform and adhere to a proper shape.

Someone, or something, was speaking to me in the emptiness.

 

 

“Ruru.” It finally managed to convey a name to me.

Ruru. A girl’s name? Snow, and flowers. —A presence which seemed to carry all the sunshine in the world. However, that flower was weak. It withered at the slightest buffet, shrivelling its petals under the merciless cold. How pitiable. I thought blankly- Though my thoughts ended there, a soothing, honeyed voice continued.

“Ruru.” It called out to me again. A woman’s voice. I perceived. Yet somehow, her voice was sending waves deep into my core, rocking it till I was no longer able to ignore it.

My eyes somehow felt wet despite my body already being submerged. My body was reacting to it on a very intimate level.

That change frightened me. Change, always frightened me. I thought.

Yet it was impossible to shake away the discomfort.

 

Before I could reclude back into solace, I felt a tinge of ember at my fingertips. 

It began to spread throughout my body at a rapid pace, signalling the inevitable change that was happening to my subconscious.

 

I began to feel hot. 

 

Hotter, and hotter. Until my chest was burning with some kind of impassioned fire. Until the ocean evaporated completely, the seascape collapsed into breathable oxygen. Air filled my lungs immediately, and I gasped heavily, unused to the fresh, foreign feeling in my throat. My mind felt as if it was working again, albeit to an inhibitive extent.

And everything was still changing. I look around with widened eyes, as my surroundings were rapidly being replaced. The viscosity of that cold ocean no longer held my weight.

When I was finally freed from stasis, I began to free fall. My legs landed on solid ground, and I realized then, that the ocean, this world had been utterly transformed. 

I was right in the middle of what looked to be a burning village. It was an unfamiliar sight, clear that I held no semblance of memory with this place.

Smoldering in a massive blazing inferno, the night sky above was lit up by the conspicuous display of pyrotechnics, the flames roared angrily, threatening to swallow everything whole. All around me were people scattered about in widespread panic, like ants dancing on a heated wok. A villager staggered towards me, his heavy heaving seemingly blaring into my senses as I turned to look at him from a distance.

The man was wearing baggy tunics, riddled with clear signs of wear and char. But this person wasn’t a human. He had a humanoid appearance, but the ears atop his head, and that tail behind his back distinguished his identity. 

A… beast-kin? Was it? The beast-kin snuck a glance behind him, and I felt another compulsion to follow his line of sight.

—So he had company. Behind the beast-kin was an actual human. Dressed in a robe and clear signs of a magician’s ensemble, this other man was moving in a very relaxed pace, clearly contrasting the desperate footwork of the villager. The mage appeared to be oblivious to the fire, no, pleased by it? That wide grin he had hung on his crooked face, accompanied the staff he was holding in his hand, flickering with red embers.

“Still trying to run?” He snickered. 

“Where is the girl?”

The villager froze momentarily at his words, as he looked on in horror at the man. He began to pick up his pace even more, his visage becoming increasingly haggard, fearful. 

The villager’s eyes were dilated, bloodshot, as they darted to and fro, seeking possible means of eluding his pursuers. It was for naught, most likely, as it was all the same around him. Villagers were running from what seemed to be bandits, some of them had already fallen to the ground, motionless.

The smell of burning wood and corpses permeated into the suffocating smoke, making it hard to breathe. Yet that villager continued running forward without bothering for proper ventilation.

“Heeh, you’re still trying to resist?” The mage mocked with a bout of condescending laughter.

“It’s no use, it’s no use~ Your filthy little village is razed to the ground, there’s no more place to hide for you, or her~”

The gap was closing no matter how hard he tried to outrun the darkly-cloaked mage. He ran forward, and at this distance, I could finally make out some details. He was impaled by some sort of shrapnel, resulting in a soaked blotch of deep red on his left leg. The limping seemed to have been the reason the mage was still able to catch up even with his leisurely pace. 

“Even if you don’t tell me, we’ll find her eventually~ We’ll find all the females in this village you hear me~? I'll fuck that little pupper, oh I'll fuck her hard. And then... hihihi... when I'm done with that runt, I'll sell her as a sex slave with the rest.

...Oi oi, you're not even saying anything after all that, this won't be fun at all... Where did all the courage from earlier go? Weren't you the one who was shouting the loudest? Haaah?!"

...This man, reeked of darkness in his heart.

And witnessing the pathetic state the beast-kin was in, I was met with a strong inclination to help. At the very least, I could try to carry this man to escape his demented pursuer. But before I could try offering my hand, the villager phased through my body Seamlessly as if I was made of air. 

The mage sauntered through me in a similar fashion, compounding my confusion. He sighed while chapping his dried lips,

“Ah well, what a waste of time. I guess you’re done.” The pyromancer suddenly crackled, a devious grin forming on his face.

It can't be... He's going to-

—No! Stop it!! I tried to tackle forward but my hands caught the air. I phased through the pyromancer a second time.

“「Fireball」.” The staff began to light up in red again, a spell forming as he muttered under his breath. The spell was completed without interruption, and a ball of fire shot forward at a frightening speed!

My heart sank, and my worst expectations became a reality.

When the howling ball of fire came into contact with the villager, the impact scalded his rags and through his skin.

The beast-kin tumbled to the ground, screaming loudly in agony as the flames scalded deeper into his flesh.

“Ahhhh.... Such lovely sounds, I love my job so much, it's unbearable~” The mage laughed sadistically, euphoric.

The flames enveloped him, and soon, the villager was completely incinerated into ashes.

...No. No... I can't believe I just witnessed that.

“Now then, on to the next… oh?”

The mage caught sight of a little girl in the distance. With similar features like the rest of the villagers, she had a pair of fox ears, and a tail drooped behind her back. On her face, was a blank expression, as if she was disconnected from the world around her. 

...You can't mean...

No. No, don't touch her.

DON'T YOU DARE TOUCH HER.

The mage’s grin widened even more, and in turn, the sickening pit in my stomach grew worse.

No, no… NOOO!!!

My body boiled, yet turning cold at the same time.

"FUCK! FUCK, FUCKK!!! STOP, FUCKING STOP, I BEG YOU... ... please..."

I clawed at the mage desperately, only to have my hands pass through him again.

No, please… no more… I fell on my knees, and let out a silent scream. As I watched the mage grow further away from me, my breathing turned increasingly disordered.

It wasn’t long before I began to hyperventilate.

My heart pulsed dangerously, as the image of that girl remained stuck in my head.

It magnified, until I finally began to feel a connection.

Ruru.

That’s right. She’s... Ruru.

Ruru, my… my precious companion—

I... That's right... I need to save her. I need to save my Ruru!

The flames began to burn even more brighter, until my vision was completely lit up in bright blue, and I was finally ejected from this world completely.

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