Chapter 4:

Awakening [Part 4]

Chained Regalia

The sky was dyed an orange hue. I couldn’t see the sun itself setting beyond all of the hills, trees, and shrubbery, but it was clear nightfall was quickly approaching. Lucia hadn’t explicitly said anything about it, but I could tell she was beginning to worry about our pace.

She only looks a little tired, so it’s definitely me that’s slowing her down. Of course it is.

She had mentioned a little earlier that we had almost made it to the town, but given how dense this forest was, navigating without sunlight would prove very difficult. We needed to hurry, but my body was screaming at me. I must not have been much into exercise in my previous life.

I’m supposed to be a spirit now though, right? Why am I still getting tired? My soul made this fake body a little too realistic.

While I was pondering, we reached a small natural clearing. The ‘path’ continued straight through it, but Lucia stopped walking once she reached it. She turned to me and said, “Let’s take a short break here.”

“Huh? But it’s already getting dark.” Due to a combination of how packed together the vegetation was and the rapidly depleting level of sunlight, I could barely see past the trees surrounding the clearing.

“We are only ten minutes or so from the town. We can afford this.”

“Sorry,” I mumbled.

“You do not need to apologize. You’re still used to having a regular body. Although you cannot technically get physically tired as a Chain, you cannot stop yourself from thinking that you are, and that is enough to trick yourself into feeling exhaustion anyway. It’s a completely normal phenomenon for new Chains.”

Through light pants, I replied, “I see. That applies to other physical stuff too, I assume.”

“Precisely. You will still feel hunger if you haven’t eaten for long enough, for example, even though you no longer require food. Through gradual weaning, Chains can overcome these instinctual feelings. That is why we’re stopping to rest right now; it will be best for long-term development to take things slowly rather than force them.”

Long-term, huh? I already—

“I already told you. I can’t help you.”

I hadn’t meant to speak out loud. Or maybe I had. What I had been repressing for the past couple of hours bubbled to the surface once again.

“You don’t need to be thinking ‘long-term’. I’m worthless to you.” I had been looking at the ground, but I finally looked up at her. “Like I said before, just relea—”

“That again? Seriously?” she interrupted.

“Yes. It’s how I really—”

She cut me off again, clearly annoyed. “You have to realize how contradictory that line of logic is, right? You don’t want to fight because you’re sure you’ll die, so you would rather I release you? ‘Releasing’ you would be severing our connection, the very same connection that allows you to exist as a Chain. You’re willing to die now to avoid dying later? It’s nonsense.”

I was lightly shaking. I wasn’t sure if I was angry or just scared. “I… I understand that.” Given how weak my reply sounded, it was probably the latter. Even if it was the former, that anger was likely directed far more at myself than at her.

Her next declaration was soft yet impassioned. “You don’t need to worry so much. We may have the relationship of Chainbearer and Chain, but I will teach you, and, if you are willing to protect me, I will protect you in turn. I swear it.”

“You don’t understand…” My response was so quiet, she could probably barely hear it. “Saying something like that just makes me feel even worse.”

Then, I exploded. “Listen! I can’t do that! I can’t become what you need me to become!”

I want you to understand.

“I’m weak and worthless. You have a good reason to fight, but all I can do is hold you back. Keeping me around is just delaying the inevitable. To realize your dream, it makes more sense to replace me sooner rather than later.”

If I’m going to die either way, I’d rather take the path that benefits her the most. She doesn’t seem like a bad person, and her goal is noble. In a way, the most meaningful impact I could make in this world is…

“The only thing I can do to help you is to give up now.”

That was my honest opinion. Lucia was looking slightly down, and it dark enough I couldn’t make out her expression from that angle.

Then, before I could react, she moved. In a near instant, she closed the distance between us and seized the collar of my shirt. She forcefully pulled me towards her, drawing my face mere centimeters away from hers. She had given me glares and looks of annoyance before, but I hadn’t seen her as genuinely angry as she was in this moment.

“Don’t you dare say something like that!”

I had raised my voice earlier, but it was nothing in comparison to the full-on shout she had just let out.

“I cannot imagine what in your previous life led you to believe that, but it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter who you were or who you are.” Her gaze pierced me. “Your life is worth so much more than you think. I will not let you continue to believe otherwise.”

I was here because of my desire to live again; Lucia had reiterated that fact multiple times since my awakening. There was certainly truth to that; even in the state I was in now, I still wanted to live, yet, at the same time, I was also terrified of it.

I don’t know what my previous life was like, but anytime I try to recall it, all I feel is discontent. Yet here I am, granted another chance, and I’m too scared to take it. I’m nothing but a coward, aren’t I?

At my silence, Lucia released her grasp and backed away from me. “I will not abandon you. From now on, we are partners, whether you like it or not.” Inexplicably, she smiled at me kindly.

I wanted to believe her words; I wanted to believe that things could work out that way, but I didn’t trust myself. She may be telling the truth, but could I really say with certainty that I would have the courage to stand at her side when she needed me?

I had finally understood my own emotions at that moment. A vague yet critical memory clicked into place. “I don’t think I’m scared of dying, exactly. I think… I think I left someone behind in my past. I abandoned someone important to me out of fear.”

I couldn’t recall this person’s face, their voice, or even their name. The exact circumstances were equally blurry. All I knew for certain was that I had abandoned them when they needed me, and I had done it for purely selfish, cowardly reasons.

“You can’t trust me. In the end, when push comes to shove, you won’t be able to rely on me.”

Her gaze was filled was full of sympathy, but it also carried a sense of warmth with it.

Don’t look at me like that. Don’t pity me. I don’t deserve it. I’ll just end up betraying you too, even though I don’t want to.

“I was unaware you felt that way, and I’m sorry I took so long to understand. But ultimately, you don’t have a say in who I choose to trust.” Even now, she was still resolute and confident. I wasn’t sure if I had ever seen her otherwise.

“After all, your entire concern here… it is all for my sake, isn’t it? You are afraid of leaving behind someone who trusts you again, right? I do not know you well enough to have complete trust in you, but I cannot bring myself to believe that someone willing to sacrifice themselves for my sake is entirely untrustworthy, either.”


I was cut off. This time, it wasn’t her doing. It was something else, something unexpected.

It came from the darkness beyond the clearing. We must have been too absorbed in our argument to hear it coming.

Is that a dog? No, a wolf. No… what the hell is this monstrosity?

It was some form of malformed long-snouted quadruped. Its body was mangled, and the left side of its face had three mismatched eyes of differing sizes. Its entire body excreted a blackish-purple miasma, as if leaking toxic fumes.

Everything seemed to happen in slow motion. It had lunged at me, the razor-sharp claws of its front legs outstretched.

I wanted to move, but I was completely frozen in fear.

Am I going to die here? Already?

Maybe I did actually fear death. It had been arrogant of me to have ever claimed otherwise.

I suddenly lost my footing and toppled to the ground. Something, or, rather, someone, had pushed me. The claws that should have found me as their target dug instead into the stomach of my savior.

It’s already happened. I’ve already done it. I’ve only known her a few hours, but because of me… because she tried to protect me, she’s already—

Now aware of my surroundings, I could hear rustling in all directions within the darkness.

Before it had truly begun, it was already over.

This was the end.

Ryuji Yamada
Syed Al Wasee
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