Chapter 100 – I’ll Light Your Way
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It didn’t take them long to reach Helfried.

Thanks to the Revelo duchy’s well-kept roads and the lack of forested areas surrounding them, the group managed to make good progress even during the night. Though light was still scarce for the coachman, the presence of two knights by his side helped reduce that difficulty.

“It’s a good thing Viviane and I packed lightly,” Medrauta remarked, watching the sun rise in the distance as they approached the outskirts of Helfried. “We’ve been running the horses ragged these past few days.”

Riku nodded. “I’m surprised you had that much food and water for the horses stored away in the back of the carriage. No wonder the interior is so cramped.”

The carriage slowed and stopped just outside of the city’s walls. They weren’t anywhere near as tall or majestic as the duchy’s border walls, but they were still quite large and respectable. The gates were closed as expected, but interestingly enough, there were no guards to be seen anywhere.

Medrauta and Riku disembarked, the latter doing so in an almost hurried fashion before escorting their respective ladies out of the carriage while the coachman moved the vehicle to a less obtrusive position off to the side of the main gate. It didn’t look like they were going to be afforded entry into the city anytime soon.

“Looks like Bastiche is locking down the entire duchy,” Medrauta mused. “Shouldn’t be a problem for us, though.”

Viviane nodded. “We won’t have to enter the city for the ingredients we need, but... We won’t have access to the equipment needed for making the antidote in that case.”

“W-What!?” Riku exclaimed, his voice shriller than he’d intended thanks to the anxiety that gripped his heart upon hearing Viviane’s words.

“Relax, Riku.” Medrauta said. “We’ve got a bunch of medical supplies and cooking implements. I’m sure we can jury-rig something if we need to. For now, focus on obtaining the ingredients needed.”

Riku nodded, taking a deep breath to calm his nerves. Sakura’s condition wasn’t exactly improving, but it had at least stabilized now that she was surrounded by greenery and capable of replenishing her ki reserves. “Where must I go to find them?”

This time, it was Viviane who responded. The noblewoman walked closer to the foreign knight, holding out a folded leaflet toward him. “I’ve drawn a small map of the surrounding area and taken note of the most common areas where each herb appears along with illustrations of them. Due to their unique appearance, you shouldn’t make any mistakes when gathering.”

“Thank you, Lady Viviane.” Riku bowed, expressing his gratitude. Unfolding the piece of paper, he inspected it thoroughly before looking off toward the nearby treeline where a majority of the marked areas were located. His keen eyes scanned the gaps through the foliage, planning a rudimentary route before starting off toward his destination.

“I shall endeavor to return before noon. Please take care of Lady Sakura in my absence.”

With that, Riku dashed off toward the forest, determined to relieve his lady of her suffering as soon as possible. Though this quest would allow him to regain his honor, that was the last thing on his mind as he hurried through the foliage. All he could think of was Sakura’s smile when she finally recovered from the poison that ailed her.

“Look at him go,” Medrauta let out a low whistle. “Can’t really blame him, though. He could barely sit still when we were on the way here.”

“I’m surprised he managed to remain seated at all,” Sakura smiled weakly as she leaned against Viviane for support, the two noblewomen heading toward a nearby boulder that looked flat enough to act as a seat.

Medrauta was about to reply until she realized something was amiss, causing her brow to crease into a frown. “More importantly, why’d he bring you out here? Shouldn’t you remain inside the carriage in case the guards return and you’re spotted? As far as I know, Bastiche has been putting out a duchy-wide search for you and your knight.”

“I’m aware,” Sakura nodded. “But... It’s been a while since I’ve been outside. It’ll be a good opportunity to gather my strength once more for the coming storm. Lady Viviane too. I’m sure you’ll be a lot more relaxed once she regains her former strength.”

Medrauta raised an eyebrow, glancing at Viviane. She wasn’t sure what the two of them had spoken about inside the carriage, but they seemed a lot closer now. She pressed her lips into a thin line as she suppressed the pang of jealousy piercing through her heart.

“Hm? Is something the matter, Medrauta?” Viviane asked.

“...No.” Medrauta shook her head, remaining awkwardly silent for a moment. “I’ll, uh, leave the two of you to it, then.”

“I... Huh? Aren’t you going to watch over us while we meditate?” Viviane frowned. She wasn’t sure why her beloved knight was acting so strangely, but she certainly wasn’t going to ignore it. “We’re quite vulnerable while doing so.”

“Is that so...?” Medrauta murmured. “In that case, I shall stand guard as usual, Viviane.”

Viviane’s frown only deepened at Medrauta’s uncharacteristically formal reply. The moment she finished helping Sakura seat herself on the boulder, Viviane marched straight toward Medrauta and reached her hands out.

“V-Vivi!? What are you—Mnngh!” Medrauta winced in surprise rather than pain as Viviane grabbed the knight’s cheeks and squeezed as hard as she could.

“Medrauta, you idiot!” Viviane puffed out her cheeks in annoyance. “If you don’t tell me what’s going on in your head, how am I supposed to figure it out!?”

“I-It’s really nothing, Viviane! I was just...” Medrauta averted her eyes, feeling undeserving of meeting Viviane’s gaze due to the jealousy that scorched her heart.

Medrauta knew that her lady had missed Sakura terribly, and she understood Viviane had been deathly worried about the foreign lady’s condition even before they found Sakura and discovered that she’d been poisoned. The knight was fully aware that the envy she felt was wrong, and though the ugly emotion disgusted her, she simply couldn’t stop it from spreading through her chest.

Medrauta bit her lip, not wanting to voice the bitter emotions bubbling within herself. Logically speaking, she knew full well that Viviane’s attention toward Sakura was merely out of worry and friendship, but the reins of her heart were not hers to hold. Against her will, they drove her mind toward the dark emotions she thought she’d locked up long ago.

...I can’t be doing this to her, Medrauta thought as she began backing away from Viviane. Lady Sakura’s been poisoned and she’s suffering... Of course Viviane would be worried about her friend. Yet here I am, thinking about—

“Medrauta!” Viviane shouted, pinching her knight’s cheeks with her full, enhanced strength as she absorbed a burst of life energy from the surrounding foliage. 

Medrauta flinched and her cheeks reddened, but Viviane had succeeded in breaking her free from the undesirable thoughts that plagued her mind. Knowing full well that her attempts to retreat would fail spectacularly, Medrauta heaved a sigh of resignation and surrendered herself to Viviane’s will.

“You were just what, Medrauta?” Viviane pressed, still holding onto the knight’s cheeks tightly and refusing to let her escape. “I’m not going to stop pestering you until you answer.”

“I... I was just...” Medrauta hesitated. She didn’t want to voice that thought. She didn’t want to breathe life into the grotesque emotion festering within herself. She didn’t want Viviane to see such an ugly side of herself. “...I was just jealous, Viviane.”

Medrauta wrenched her eyes shut, turning her head away. She knew full well that it was wrong and selfish of her to even express such an emotion when Sakura was not only Viviane’s dear friend, but also suffering from the poison that coursed through her body with each passing moment.

More than that, it was unbecoming of a knight to express such feelings when someone was ailing. Even if Sakura was not her noblewoman, Medrauta still had a duty to ensure her safety, especially after promising Riku that she would watch over the foreign noblewoman.

However, instead of issuing a stern reprimand or a rebuke, Viviane simply laughed. The bright and cheery sound caused the tension in the air to evaporate almost instantaneously as Viviane allowed her hands to fall from Medrauta’s cheeks and around the knight’s wrists.

“Was that all?” Viviane smiled, pulling Medrauta closer toward herself. “I was worried it would be something more serious, but I’m glad that’s it.”

“I... Nevertheless, it wasn’t something I—”

Viviane shushed her knight by firmly planting her lips against Medrauta’s. “I’ll admit that it’s very immature of you, but it’s not something I despise, you know? I told you, Medrauta. You’re the only one in my heart.”

“...Even so, I... I didn’t want to show you such an ugly side of myself...”

“Ugly or not, it doesn’t matter, Medrauta. If I only love you when you show me the beautiful sides of yourself, then I can’t really say I love you at all, can I? That’s why the next time you’re wrestling with your thoughts, please confide in me. Besides, I promised you, didn’t I?”

“...Ah. That’s right...” Medrauta’s features softened, recalling the promise that they had made before they left the academy. 

What a fool I was... I should’ve just been honest with her from the beginning. Medrauta thought as she gradually lost herself in the depths of Viviane’s resplendent golden eyes. They sparkled brightly like twin suns that refused to set so long as they gazed back into the sky of Medrauta’s blue.

“No matter how dark your thoughts become, I’ll be there to light your way. So next time, don’t hold back.”

“...I love you, Vivi.”