The Second Route
I open my eyes but see nothing. I instantly realize that I am in the same cold darkness I have been in yesterday. And I have to listen to this guy’s annoying voice again.
“Oh, you are back, Bari,” the ominous voice speaks.
I try to find the source of the voice but still fail, “Oh, it’s you again, huh,” I close my eyes, “you never cease to annoy me.”
“I’m annoying?” the voice laughs, “oh, if you only realize the irony.” A picture appears in front of me like the last time. In the picture is a dark bedroom. I see Lina sitting at my bedside dozing off while I lay unconscious. “Look,” the picture draws closer to me, “she is waiting.”
I stare at the picture for a moment as my heart is warmed at the sight, “What do you want from me?” I ask the voice.
“I only need your goodwill.”
“Whatever. You are the most annoying yet mysterious person I have ever spoken to,” I reach out to touch the picture and my vision turns white.
I open my eyes to see a familiar ceiling of the inn’s room I have lodged in five times previously. I tilt my head to my right and see Lina peacefully napping at the bedside. I reach out my hand to stroke her hair, but I pull my hand back at the last moment. “I haven’t even properly said goodbye,” I mumble. Also, women’s hair is soft and silky. When was the last time I stroked a woman’s hair? I feel like I’ve just done that recently.
The door to the bedroom opens and Rina enters with a bowl and towel in her arms, “You are awake?” I slightly nod and Rina sets the bowl on the desk beside my head. She proceeds to dip the towel into the bowl full of water and folds it gently on my head providing me relief from my headache. Rina lightly places her hand on my neck, “You were having a fever when you collapsed,” Rina places a blanket over Lina, “jeez, you even made her worry too.”
“Sorry,” I weakly whisper as I make an effort to speak, but my voice is raspy. Then I took notice of the state of my body. Everything in my body feels like it is being pricked by needles. Goodness, it feels like a fraction of hell. I feel very cold, yet at the same time, burning hot. My body feels numb. My vision slightly spins every time I attempt to glance at something. My heart somehow feels painfully empty. I wanted to clutch it into my hands, but my arms are too heavy. I feel helpless and paralyzed. I’ve never felt this pain and exhaustion in a long time. When was the last time that I experienced that?
The days when I was struggling to set up my business. I have accidentally discovered a trend in the market, and I used that to my advantage. But that trend wasn’t a switch to success. I had to apply it into the market like one who kneads yeast into the dough. In turn, it gradually boosted the sales of my company. I may have struck it rich as it seemed to people, but I knew that this was only the beginning. That alone wasn’t the reason that placed my company to where it is now, but the effort that I gave into it is no small feat. I remember now, the last time I have been this tired.
I snap out of my reminiscing as Rina coldly gives thanks to me, “Thank you for saving the town,” Rina proceeds to leave the room, “and goodnight, Deliruu-kun.” The door closes behind her leaving the room in darkness illuminated only by the moonlight from the window. Still feeling fatigued, I doze off to sleep once again.
I open my eyes again after a fulfilling sleep. This time without having any weird black dream nor meeting with the obnoxious and ominous voice. I look out the window and see the sun about to break, and I look over to my bedside and see that Lina has left. Feeling the energy restored into me, I make my way to the inn’s lobby and see that the sisters haven’t woken up yet. I leave the inn to look at the town peacefully going through its routines as if nothing happened the day before. I see some of Tina’s horsemen patrolling around the town and incidentally bump into Tina, “Tina, good morning!” I say with a cheerful voice.
“Why did you—” her voice at first sounded impatient, but she faces who bumped into her and instantly changed her tone, “oh, it’s just you. Good morning, Deliruu-kun!”
“What were you about to say?” I bet she was about to say, ‘Why did you collide with me, you peasant!?’
Tina waves her hands around frantically, “No, no, it’s nothing!” She tries to dismiss it with a little laugh.
“That isn’t nothing,” I press Tina further, “what is it. Tell me, that’s an order,” straightening my posture, I decided to tease her further.
“W—well, you see,” Tina fidgets with her hands, “I thought you were a—”
“Deliruu-san! Good morning!” Unfortunately, she gets interrupted when Risho rushes to me and slightly pats my back.
Dang it, my fun is ruined. I turn to face her, “Good morning, Yamade-san.”
The two women stare at each other as awkward silence befalls the three of us. The atmosphere suddenly feels heavy. H—how could that be?
“Uh…” I quickly think of a question to break the silence, “right, Tina, I saw you collapsing yesterday. Are you alright?”
“Yes, I was fine. I was only casting magic,” Tina answers coldly without breaking her stare to Risho.
“Uhhh…” I scratch my head in defeat.
Finally, Risho turns to face me, and her cold expression changes into a friendly one, “So, how are you doing? I heard you collapsed when you visited the inn.”
Why are you suddenly concerned about me, Risho? “Doing fine, I suppose. I don’t have any more headaches or pain,” I move my body around and to let them verify, “and I feel more energetic than before.”
“But I don’t think you should get up yet,” Tina does the same as Risho, “you should get some more rest.”
“Oh,” Risho takes my arm, “did you wake up for breakfast? The mercenary guild is serving some!”
Why did you take my arm?
“Ahaha,” Tina takes my other arm, “I have some ready-to-eat meals at my camp. It would be better to eat those nutritious packs instead!”
“You have those packs? How cool!” I react in surprise. I didn’t know that Siterria’s soldiers are given such futuristic provisions, but I would still rather eat the quality meals in the inn.
But my thought is interrupted as they start to pull me to opposite directions. “No, he would be better off eating a mercenary's meal!” Risho pulls me strongly toward her.
“A soldier’s meal is more appropriate for a general!” Tina pulls me strongly toward her. They bicker for a while, and I become a little dizzy.
“H—hey now! Are you guys planning to pull me apart!?” I yell.
“Deliruu-kun, what are you doing out here?” Lina’s voice calls out from the inn’s door, and the two childish women pause their little tug-of-war, “I will prepare breakfast right away. So please come inside now.”
“Okay!” I shout to Lina and I face the two, “Tina-san, Yamade-san, I think I will eat breakfast in the inn. Would you like to join too?”
Tina and Risho freeze as they look at Lina.
“Lina, could you prepare breakfast for them too?” I ask.
“Sure, no problem!” Lina approaches me and quickly pulls me away from Risho and Tina’s grasp and leads me into the inn, “you should be resting Deliruu-kun,” she looks at me with a warm smile. Wait, those cold eyes look way different from your warm smile, Lina…. Who are you planning to eat for breakfast? Is it me!?
Tina and Risho follow suit, and we including Rina eat breakfast in the inn’s lobby. Why do I feel a prickly sensation at my back? Did I have an unseen wound?
After we finish eating, Tina looks at both Lina and Rina and asks, “Are you both… Lina and Rina?”
“Yes,” Lina and Rina simultaneously answer.
“Weren’t you the Queen’s ex-maids?”
“Yes,” is the sisters' answer.
“The Queen has told me a lot about you,” Tina leans forward to the two, “she wishes you to visit her soon.”
“That’s very thoughtful of her,” Lina answers respectfully, “we do wish to return in the Queen’s service, but there is a certain problem that we wish to avoid.”
“Is it General Pareyo?” Tina asks and Lina nods. “I have good news to tell you. He has been dismissed from service.”
Lina and Rina look at Tina in shock. There is a mix of joy and relief on their faces. “How did this come to be?” Rina asks.
“The Queen ordered his banishment from her presence,” Tina answers. Dang, is she used to lie?
“Then, who is the new general in his place?” Lina asks.
Tina glances at me and answers, “Bari Deliruu.”
Lina, Rina, and Risho look at me in shock as I avoid their gazes.
“Woah! How did you do this?” Lina asks in excitement.
“From mercenary to General? This is what you were doing all along?” Risho follows Lina’s excitement.
“Err… well,” I try to find an alibi as I squirm in place.
“The Queen saw his talent and appointed him general,” Tina calmly covers for me.
“Him?” the three shout in unison.
“Even you, Lina?” I look at Lina in shock. “I thought she saw my strength,” I mutter to myself and all the girls laugh, “I should have died.”
“Don’t you dare say that!” Rina interrupts and I look at her eyes and see tears forming.
“Huh?” is all I could muster.
“Whatever, idiot!” Rina runs upstairs to the inn.
“What’s up with that?” I ask the remaining three.
“No one wants you dead,” Tina says sharply.
“Yes, we all need you here,” Risho concurs.
“That was a…” I stop myself from finishing. “I’m sorry.”
“We wouldn’t want you dead after all the things you have done for us. We want to give you a proper thank you,” Lina faces Tina and Risho, “isn’t that right, girls?” The two nod in agreement. What’s with this sudden sentiment?
“Alright, I get it.” We maintain silence for a moment, and I begin to speak, “Lina, since you were maids to the Queen, and I am a general serving under the Queen, why not return to service?” Lina looks up at me, and I remember what she said about Lunis. I wave my hands in the air, “I didn’t mean it that way. If you only want to is all I am asking.”
Lina nods, “I and my sister will think about it. Thank you for the consideration,” Lina clears her throat, “General.”
I feel myself blush and I stand away from the table to look out the window. I see Lina’s reflection on it and a thought occurs to me, “Lina looks like someone I know. Yeah, Rina, but someone else.” I return to the table and peer into Lina’s face, “You look like someone…”
Lina leans backward away from my face, “Don’t you think you are too close?”
I realize that I am leaning over the table to her face and immediately return to the window and make an awkward laugh. I think my blush worsened.
“I do have another sister. She’s my triplet,” Lina states.
I return once again to my seat, “Is her name Sina?”
Lina nods and Tina joins the conversation, “Oh, that’s why you looked familiar too.”
“Pretty crazy that you guys are triplets,” Risho joins in the conversation as well.
All morning, we talk about random topics in this world. Mostly, Lina and Tina lead the conversation while I and Risho stay silent for most of the time, while Rina, after finishing her food, excuses herself and reclines on a couch.