3 – 14
The sun sat at its apex.
The dense miasma had cleared away and the sky was awash with a brilliant shade of blue.
A cool yet pleasant wind blew, wispy clouds trailed overhead, and the land was basked in light.
After Camilla crawled out of the underground and into the town square, she felt her legs give out from under her as she sat down, exhausted.
Spread out in front of her were the broken town and ruined streets of Einst. Over half of the houses she saw had collapsed in on themselves and those once orderly paved streets were peppered with cracks. In some places, it had been rent apart entirely. Although it wasn’t billowing out with any real vigour, miasma still wafted from those wounds in the earth.
A lot of people were in the square and on those streets, sifting through the rubble in a desperate search for trapped survivors. Busy shouts and parties of people rushing to and fro filled the square with noise. The people that had escaped from the underground along with her were still here as well. When they saw Camilla emerge as the last person to escape that underground hell, they yelled and cheered.
“Camilla, are you okay?”
Alois rushed over to Camilla as she sat down, trying to catch her breath. He had already handed the injured Frida over to a doctor on-site. Camilla could see Frida laid up a little ways away, surrounded by people.
“I… I’m okay.”
As she said that, she tried to push herself onto her feet with her hands, but she couldn’t find any power in her muscles anymore. Camilla could only laugh hoarsely as Alois looked on anxiously.
“It… It’s a pathetic thing to admit, but I think my waist gave out in relief.”
“There’s nothing pathetic about you at all.”
Alois held out his hand to Camilla who couldn’t stand under her own power, a warm smile on his face.
“You really showed off just how amazing and brave you are today.”
As he praised her so directly like that, Camilla didn’t know what to say. She felt awkward, not to mention embarrassed. Yet still, she felt a little bit happy with the compliment. But much to her chagrin, she could sense those feelings mixing with her overwhelming sense of relief and something began to well up behind her eyes.
Camilla quickly looked down, blinking away that twinkle in her eye furiously.
“What’s wrong, Camilla?” Alois asked cluelessly, only making her all the more frustrated for some reason.
“Nothing whatsoever. I just felt a bout of fatigue, that is all.”
Camilla said that, reaching out to grasp Alois’ hand that he still held out to her.
Raising her head, she looked at Alois’ own pockmarked and froggy face. Because of the strong miasma, his skin condition had gotten worse, with his puffy skin forcing his eyelids to narrow, half-hiding his red eyes.
– So frustrating.
It was frustrating, but she was left with little choice but to accept it now.
When the earthquakes had started, she had followed his words when she tried to have people on the main street evacuate to the forest.
When they were caught underground, she decided to have Nicole chase after Alois’ magical power without any hesitation.
And when she saw Alois at her lowest moment, she had almost been overcome with relief.
Before she realized it, Camilla had come to trust Alois.
– …But, he is still just a toadish man! It’s far too soon to even think about being able to kiss me!
As Alois pulled Camilla to her feet, she tried to chase away those thoughts in her heart. Alois was still far from the kind of man to suit Camilla’s tastes. Camilla wanted a man who was beautiful, slender yet muscular, and also someone she could rely on. Alois was still a long way away from being close to handsome in her eyes; what’s more, he didn’t give a whit for styling his hair or picking clothes. His arms and chest weren’t muscled, just loose with useless flab.
But as she stood in front of him, Camilla noticed something strange.
Those broad shoulders rounding off his tall frame. He was still much bigger than the average man. But for some reason, she could see just a little more of the scenery behind Alois than she could before. It was as if the blue sky stretching behind him was more in view than usual.
“…Lord Alois, by any chance, have you actually lost a little weight?”
Camilla blinked in surprise as she said that, as Alois looked equally confused. He looked at Camilla with a bewildered expression in silence for a while, then sighed half in exasperation, half in relief.
“Have you really only just noticed?”
That comment too was oh so frustrating.
After Camilla found her feet, someone approached her, hobbling along.
As Camilla looked ahead to who it was, she saw that it was Martha, who had been at the end of the rope once she exited the underground in much the same way as Camilla had.
She was one of the town’s most influential people, so it made sense that she had been well looked after. Surrounded by worried townspeople, she had been given water and had the sweat and dirt washed off her. After regaining her breath, she was supposed to be moved to someplace safer.
But pushing her helpers aside, Martha approached Camilla on her own power, wobbling on her cane as she did.
Stopping directly in front of her, she looked up at Camilla’s face.
Confronted with that strong gaze, Camilla snarled as she glared back. Camilla was ready to argue again if she still had any complaints.
But Martha only looked at her. After staring hard into her eyes for a little while, the old woman collapsed to the ground as if she had completely run out of energy. Camilla stepped back, startled, as she tossed her cane aside and sunk to her knees.
“W-What is it-!?”
As Martha spoke hoarsely, Camilla could only respond with abject surprise. Camilla definitely hadn’t misheard her. She heard those words clearly.
“Today, I learned about who you really are.”
Martha’s voice trembled as she continued to look down. The people nearby watched Martha in shock. The eyes of everyone in the plaza turned to look at the scene and Camilla who stood at the centre of it.
“You didn’t just save me, but many other folks from this town. There is no reason why this town should ever turn their back on you.”
These weren’t the usual indifferent sounding words that came from Martha’s lips. It was as if long stifled feelings were finally making their way to the surface with one deep gasp. She couldn’t tell if the old woman spoke with misery or joy, but she obviously spoke with passion.
“Please forgive our horrible disrespect up until now. With what you have done, you are unmistakably our saviour.”
Among the people who watched on were a number of people who had travelled the underground with Camilla. There was Irma, the manservants, and even some of the townswomen with their children. Crying. Laughing. Living. Rejoicing. Others had lost a loved one and were deep in sorrow.
In that ruined town, now in the light of day, she finally saw raw emotion shine through on the faces of the people she once saw as masks.
This town was severe and rigorous, valuing modesty and uniformity above all.
But even then, these people still had feelings. They had a huge amount of pride and passion to boot.
Camilla took a deep breath. For a moment, she couldn’t find the words to say.
Of course, not everyone who looked at Camilla then had their eyes lit up with admiration, but every single person there now recognized her in some way.
The light of the sun sitting in that pristine sky bathed the town square in a warm glow. As the wind blew through the streets, Camilla hands moved to her hips.
Taking one more deep breath, Camilla puffed out her chest and smiled proudly as she shouted out, her voice ringing through the crowd like a bell.
“So be it, you are forgiven. Since I brought you back home alive, it is only appropriate that you shower me with your utmost gratitude!!”
Camilla is so best girl.
Edited by ApoPie