With a Love Sorceress I'll Make My Romance Last!
Soft. My head was resting against something soft. I almost didn’t want to wake up. Just a few more minutes…
I shot upright, audibly shouting, “Could it be?” Only to realize, no, it was not the lap-pillow that I had (only slightly) hoped for. It was just a regular cushion under my head.
I was on the couch in my cottage. The late evening sun filtered through the windows, casting long shadows across the dirt floor. Sparks of dust slowly drifted through the orange light. The house was quiet. No one was around. Slowly, I pushed myself upright.
In my dazed state, I fantasized for a moment about that lap-pillow. Wouldn’t it have been nice to wake up like that just once? With Claire smiling and laughing at my foolishness, telling me I needed to take better care of myself.
I shook my head. I must still be half-asleep. I meant Mia, of course. Mia.
“Mia,” I mumbled aloud, wondering how she was doing. Had she talked to her father at all? Was she okay being in that house with him, working the fields with him?
I tried to stand, only to immediately stumble and fall right back down on the couch. Clearly, I needed to worry about myself first. My stomach grumbled. When did I last eat?
As if on cue, I heard a knocking from the other room. Madam Claire’s hat poked around the corner, as she appeared from one of her invisible portals.
“Are you awake?” she asked, seeing me on the couch. She held up a bag. “I brought convenience store sushi and iced tea.”
I’d never been so happy to see a plastic shopping bag in my entire life. Rice! Sushi! Tea! I practically cried as I ate them down without reservation. I wondered what the villagers would think of me now, as this so-called ‘regal elf’ downed a 100-yen bottle of tea.
“Feeling better?” Madam Claire asked, as she took a bite of her own sushi set (with far more composure than myself.)
I pushed back my empty cartons, letting out a sigh. “I could fall back asleep happy now,” I nodded, feeling the after-food exhaustion. “Thank you, Claire, truly. For this, and for everything you’ve done for me so far.” I clapped my hands together and deeply bowed my head. “I cannot apologize enough for what I said the other day. I wasn’t thinking straight, and I forced you into a corner. That was entirely my fault. Punish me as you will!”
“It’s alright, Roki, really—”
“Punish me as you will!” I repeated, holding up my hands in ever-deeper apology.
With a raise of her eyebrow, Claire let out an evil smirk. She brought forth one of her polished fingernails to flick me on the forehead. I thought it would be a cute, playful flick. Instead, it hurt with a much deeper force than I expected. I let out a hiss of pain and held my forehead, seething.
“Ow!” I shouted.
“You asked for it.” Madam Claire grinned. “The situation was tense, Roki. I forgive you.” She pulled away, folding her arms together. “In all honesty, I wasn’t very calm either. It’s frightening not knowing what’s going to happen. Usually I can tell the future much more clearly...”
Slowly, I looked towards her.
Madam Claire sat on the far end of the couch: both close, yet distant. In this setting sunlight, her curls had so many delicate highlights. Her hazel eyes were so bright, almost green…
I’d spent so much time with her lately. But what did I really know about her?
“Madam Claire,” I started nervously. “How are you able to read the future? Or use spells that bring people across worlds? Because I’m...” I hesitated, “I’m pretty sure at this point that I haven’t seen anyone in Farelle with powers even close to yours. If anything, they seem afraid of magic.” I scratched the back of my head. “But the Painted Moon Festival honors mages, so maybe I’m just understanding things wrong? I’m wrong, aren’t I? Right?”
I wanted to be wrong. I really, really wanted to be wrong.
I wanted Claire to tell me her magic was normal for this world, and she was just some ultra-rare, crazy-powerful sorceress.
But instead, her expression fell. She brought her hands to sit neatly in her lap.
When she remained silent, I felt a chill. The sun was lowering, the sky turning purple in its dying rays.
“Claire,” I tried again, my voice wavering. “Have we...met before?”
I might have been an idiot, but even I couldn’t stop myself from wondering.
I gulped down a dry breath. “Is that why you’re doing this? Because you used to know a version of me in another world? That’s the only reason I can imagine you’re willing to go so far for me. I’m no one special.”
Claire took in a short breath. I noticed her hands were trembling.
“No, Jun, we have not met before,” she affirmed. I could tell that wasn’t the end of the story. “We’ve not met before, but…”
“But…?” I prompted, trying to finally understand my place in all this.
“But I once knew someone like you,” she finally said. “Similar in spirit, that’s all. Nothing more.”
Somehow, I wasn’t buying it. Being ‘similar in spirit’ wasn’t a strong enough reason to bring someone across literal worlds in search of their lost love. But how could I force Madam Claire to talk about it, when this topic made her so upset?
Still, I wasn’t ready to give up yet. I tried one more time.
“Does this have something to do with you not having any stars?” I asked the question, expecting only silence.
But slowly, ever so slowly, Madam Claire nodded in agreement.
She stood, waving her hands over the leftovers of our convenience-store dinner, making the trash disappear. Another example of her impossible magic. Madam Claire then drifted towards one of the cottage windows and pushed aside the shutters. She leaned into the summer breeze. Dusk light painted her silhouette, as she gazed at the first twinkling stars.
“Across the universes, there are an immeasurable number of souls,” she spoke somberly. “Some souls are born when fate shines brightest: when the stars align.” Madam Claire glanced back towards me with a sad smile on her face. “I think you might understand when I say these people could be considered the ‘Chosen Ones’ — the people who shape history, who revolutionize the world. We call them World Champions.”
She leaned her elbows against the windowpane, holding up her cheeks.
“So then, let’s say that these World Champions are heroes. In fantasy stories, the hero’s opposite is always the demon lord, right?” She chuckled and shook her head. “But that’s not how it goes. If there’s a demon lord, then in a way, he is also a World Champion. He is part of the expected history. His rule, his reign, and his defeat...they all shape the world, as the stars intended.”
Madam Claire reached out towards the constellations, tracing them with her fingers.
“No, there is another opposite: one less flashy, one less known.” She let out a small sigh. “If a World Champion is born when the stars align, then these are the souls born when the stars drift — people born under a weaker sky. Let’s call them Faint Stars. Usually, these folks pass through life just fine. They won’t quite follow fate as intended, but so long as they don’t stand out too much, they can still live a quiet, peaceful life.”
Madam Claire went silent. In a threatening tone, she added:
“As long as they don’t disrupt the order.”
The sun’s last light fell behind the horizon. Dusk faded to night. The cottage grew dark.
Madam Claire turned away from the window, and looked towards me. Even in the darkness, her gaze was piercing.
“If the hero and the demon lord are World Champions,” she murmured, “then the Faint Stars are the ones that aren’t a part of the show. They were never in the script. Instead, they have the power to destroy the script entirely, by simply turning off the television. They can ruin universes. And unlike the demon lord, no one would ever know what happened because the Faint Stars were never supposed to exist.”
With a quiet breath, Claire whispered, “But a Faint Star only fully loses their connection to the stars — and gains world-destroying power — when they disrupt the world’s order. When they prevent a World Champion from fulfilling their duty.”
She held a rueful smile.
“That’s what I am, Jun. The stopper of a World Champion: a World Breaker.”