Today marks the fifth time that I’ve come to the impoverished village during the last two years.
And, actually, it’s the first time this year, since all four of my previous visits were right around the time that Alicia started living in that cabin.
My first time, I obviously came to explain Alicia’s situation to Gramps and Rebecca because they needed to know why she wouldn’t be visiting them for a while.
And, as expected, they were quite shocked by the news, though thankfully they came to understand and accept the situation decently quickly.
The next couple of times were like routine visits, but as I got absorbed into my studies, I slowly stopped coming.
And now, for the first time in over a year, I’ve come back once again.
Standing at the entrance, it’s just like how I remembered it: a huge layer of fog is creating a gargantuan barrier right in front of me.
And I know that swallowed within its depths lies the the impoverished village, what had been my own personal hell for all those years.
I must have let a hint of revulsion slip onto my face as I stare into that void, since after glancing at me, Alicia suddenly gives me two gentle, comforting pats on the head.
It’s an oddly gallant, gentlemanly gesture coming from her, but it helps me soothe my expression back into its indifferent mask.
Once I’ve composed myself, the two of us head straight into the fog.
As much as I hate seeing the squalid and decrepit state of the village, its disgusting glory comes into view much too soon.
Though, my first glimpse tells me that the conditions seem to be slightly better than they were when last I came.
Was that somehow Gramps’ and Rebecca’s doing
And almost as soon as we cross the barrier, there are a multitude of eyes on us.
Their gazes are sharp and on edge.
This is bad.
At this rate, Alicia’s going to be attacked….
I throw a worried glance her way.
But she looks undaunted by the stares.
She merely gazes straight back at the villagers with calm, clear eyes.
….Looks like I was worried for nothing.
Alicia’s always been like this: brave, unwavering, not easily cowed.
Of course this wouldn’t be enough to disturb her.
“What’s going on” a familiar voice demands from a distance away.
Immediately, a path opens up between the surrounding villagers.
And then some familiar faces are walking out into view.
I get the feeling that the one in the lead looks significantly taller than when I last saw her.
And when her light brown eyes alight upon Alicia and I, they widen in surprise.
Her long silver hair is pulled back from her face and her stance is tall and imposing as she stares hard at us.
“Ali…..cia” Rebecca calls out, hesitantly.
Standing right behind her is Gramps.
And although he’s not standing at the forefront, from the deferential looks I can see some of the other villagers throwing his way, I get the feeling that Gramps might be like their de facto leader now.
Just what the hell happened during that year since I’ve been here
Or maybe I should say two.
Since I only ever came at night, this change could very well have been in the works even while I had been visiting, but I didn’t realize since the villagers were all asleep.
What sort of transformations has this place undergone for the last two years
It’s good to see you,” Alicia says with a gentle smiling tugging at the corners of her mouth.
….As I thought, she really doesn’t seem very villainous anymore.
Why are her expressions so calm and tranquil today
At her words, all of the onlookers’ eyes instantly focus on Alicia.
And, from within the crowd, I don’t hear just one or two sharp intakes of breath as they are awed by her beauty.
Disregarding her personal intentions and speaking from the villagers’ standpoint, she must look like a divine saintess sent to deliver them from these inhumane conditions.
Though, even if you held a knife to my throat, I’d never admit that I think she looks more like a saintess than a villainess.
At least not while I value her good opinion of me.
Plus, knowing Alicia, she probably doesn’t even have any thoughts about wanting to save this village like a saintess would….
so I’d prefer to let sleeping dogs lie on this particular point.
“You’ve become so pretty,” Rebecca notes while openly staring at Alicia.
“Have I Why thank you,” Alicia says, straightforwardly accepting the compliment.
It’s rather rare to find a woman in this country who would react so honestly after being called pretty.
It is the custom to humbly decline or to skillfully change the subject else they run the risk of coming off as distastefully conceited or vane.
If it was the previous Alicia, I would have been convinced that this answer was calculated.
She’s explained to me on a number of occasions that a villainess mustn’t bother with undue modesty.
And that she must consciously acknowledge her own beauty and flaunt it, brandishing it like weapon, just like how a rose can charm you even as its thorns draw blood.
However, in her thanks just now, I could sense none of that intention.
Her demeanor held a steady dignity and her words nothing but an honest gratitude.
“Alicia,” Gramps greets, coming forward to stand next to Rebecca.
As always, his posture is straight and regal and he’s filled with a silent majesty that commands attention.
Although his hair is white, his face is unlined by wrinkles.
And even though his eyes are blank and pure white, with just one look you can tell that his features are strong, symmetrical… not bad looking for sure.
His kind wisdom also shines through clearly on his face.
“Grandpa Will!” Alicia joyfully calls out to him.
When she’s in front of Gramps, her expressions and mannerisms become just like those of an ordinary young girl.
Seeing her act like this, she must have really missed him.
“You look to be in high spirits,” Gramps remarks, a broad smile stretching across his face.
Without waiting a second longer, Alicia bounds over and flings her arms around him tightly.
For a moment, Gramps freezes, looking taken aback, but then his expression softens again and he brings his hand up to gently pat Alicia’s head.
…..Could it be that the reason Alicia hasn’t seemed like a villainess at all today is because she was too excited about being able to see Gramps again
The bond between the two of them seems so strong that I almost find myself feeling a bit jealous.
Even though I’m definitely the one who’s spent more time with him since we lived in the same house together, his relationship with Alicia still seems to run deeper.
But, even if he and Alicia are closer, I still know him quite well, or at least enough to know that Gramps is one of the most intelligent, collected people that I have ever met.
And so his reaction to what happens next….
surprises me a great deal.
“Grandpa Will, would you lean down a bit for me” Alicia requests, and Gramps complies, albeit with a curious expression on his face.
No one says a thing.
We all just stand there and watch in puzzled silence.
Without paying us any heed, Alicia draws closer to Gramps, bringing her mouth up near his eyes.
I’m starting to wonder what she’s trying to do when she begins chanting a spell.
The words sound silky and smooth, rolling off her tongue easily, but somehow I can’t understand them.
They’re words that I’ve never heard before.
And the way she chants them, drawing out the vowels and keeping to a slow, unhurried rhythm, makes it feel like she’s singing.
As she continues, a faint light starts glowing around the two of them.
….The more I listen, the more I’m convinced that she seems to be singing in the ancient language of the Duelkis Kingdom.
But I’m still only half certain, since even for the nobles that have managed to reach level 100 in magic, I didn’t think there was anyone capable of using those spells.
The people who would be able to understand this language should have long since left this world.
And even if there were some left, those who had passed the words down from ancestor to ancestor up until now, there shouldn’t be more than a handful of people.
And even they would likely not be able to decipher the characters anymore.
I know just how complex the ancient language can be, since I came across a book written in it once.
But, no matter how hard I tried, I could not understand a word of it.
I’ve heard it can take serious scholars decades to become proficient in it.
It must have been an extremely difficult skill to acquire, so why would she have bothered with it
…..Don’t tell me she learned it just so she’d have the chance to be able to use this kind of magic Even though it’s basically considered a lost art
Her clear voice rings out throughout the silent area.
And at the same time glittering white light slowly engulfs her and Gramps.
It’s so radiant I can hardly keep my eyes open.
As the light continues to grow brighter and larger, I’m forced to shut my eyes.
But even then the light still burns like a hot brand on my closed eyelids.
And just as I’m about to throw up my hands for extra protection, that blinding light vanishes completely.
Simultaneously, the surrounding area grows completely silent as Alicia stops chanting.
Slowly, I open my eyes again.
…..So it really was that sort of magic after all.
Although I had suspected as much, the realization still hits me hard, causing goosebumps to break out across my whole body.
The rest of the villagers also seem to be frozen in shock and amazement.
There are even a few whose mouths are hanging wide open as they stare.
Even Rebecca seems to be shaking, and there’s a crazy smile splitting her face.
“Woah…..” she whispers, while staring wide-eyed in wonder.
It certainly is an unbelievable sight.
Even I want to doubt my own eyes.
Right in front of me, something like black smoke is billowing out from Alicia’s left eye.
And, opposite her, Gramps’ own previously blank left eye now has a brilliant, golden iris shining out from the middle of it.