We continued our training.
In the past, I had thought that my usual routine was quite boring, but over time, I felt like it was relaxing. Ellen, in particular, gradually managed to return to her usual self after always being on edge, doubting everything around her when we were in the Darklands. She was like a cat with its fur raised.
When I thought about it, it almost seemed that Ellen was hissing at everything.
As I imagined that scene…
I thought that it might have been rather cute, actually.
Of course, Ellen technically seemed more cool than cute when we were in the Darklands.
She was very charismatic. Unlike how she usually was, she had talked a lot. However, every word she had said was nothing but the truth.
Anyway, although she acted a bit different from before, she was mostly back to how she originally was.
Ellen’s vulnerable appearance I had seen in the Darklands was a stark contrast to her usual self.
After returning to Temple’s safe environment, Ellen was also returning to her original self.
Of course, we weren’t able to have a proper conversation as usual. We only trained together in the morning and at the gym. However, it felt more like we were simply working with each other.
—It wasn’t because we were awkward with each other.
We just had no idea what we could say to each other, so we only had some short word exchanges. Originally, we had conversations with me joking or arguing where Ellen would respond with sarcasm, sometimes even going along with my words.
The words just weren’t coming out.
Even when we went to eat at night, I just made it myself, and Ellen just quietly ate it.
It wasn’t like we suddenly became uncomfortable around each other; it was quite the opposite, that girl definitely became a lot more comfortable with me.
However, only the topics I didn’t want to bring up kept spinning in my head, so no words left my mouth.
At the time we usually had lunch…
There were only three students of Year One Class A remaining at Temple around that time.
—Ellen, Adelia, and I.
Adelia seemed to have been so worried about us that she almost started to cry when we came back. Of course, I was still suffering quite a bit, and so was Ellen.
We didn’t tell her what happened in the Darklands, though.
All we could tell her was that the protection bracelet she made for us was a great help. Actually, the first time, when we managed to cut off Snoton’s hands, Ellen activated its enchantment, blocked the sword, and so on.
I hadn’t used mine yet, so I was still wearing it.
“Uhm… Are you really not going to tell me what happened?”
Seeing Adelia pose such a question, it was apparent that she didn’t believe us when we told her that nothing much had happened.
“I said nothing happened though?”
“Ye-yeah! I-I’m sorry! I-I shouldn’t have asked…”
She was startled and almost speechless at my rather sharp response.
No, I wasn’t angry. Why did she always treat me like I was angry all the time?
I was really getting mad, you know?
That was why.
Of course, Ellen just sat there eating her food quietly, her eyes underlined with dark circles.
She probably didn’t get any proper sleep.
* * *
I jumped back and rolled over the gym’s floor a few times before I finally spoke up.
“Hey… Do you want to kill me?” “…I made a mistake. Sorry.”
Regardless of what happened to us, we were still sparing in the training room like we used to.
That girl. She was a lot rougher than usual.
Ellen took her training sword and pointed it at me.
“Let’s do it one more time.”
Ellen ran towards me and struck my sword. Rather than fully blocking the sword, I tried to avoid it by turning sideways and aiming at the nape of her neck.
However, as soon as I side-stepped, she kicked my leg as if she had already expected it.
I eventually lost my balance and fell, followed by her pointing her sword at me on the ground.
“So… Were you trying to break them…?”
She didn’t just simply trip me; she actually full-on kicked my ankles. It was quite hard to even get up properly like that.
Ellen looked down at me before grabbing my hand to lift me up.
My skill level couldn’t even be compared to before. However, even after using my supernatural powers to strengthen my body, I still couldn’t reach Ellen at all, even if she didn’t use magic body strengthening.
While I got stronger, that girl also kept on getting stronger. The more I took steps to close the gap between us, the further ahead she walked—maybe to an even greater extent.
I just kept on getting beaten up by her, but as I kept getting beat up like that, I actually started improving a lot without even realizing it.
Ellen raised her sword again and stabbed it towards me.
However, that time, she didn’t push my sword away but just hit the blade of my sword as she was stabbing forward.
I didn’t let go of my weapon like I had used to do. However, the sword got pushed aside quite easily, leaving my chest wide open. Ellen knocked away my sword while simultaneously stabbing her training sword into my stomach.
The blunt tip of the training sword was strongly stabbed into my abdomen, so I was forced to sit down on the floor.
I had tried to stop that blow, but I couldn’t.
“Are you okay? I’m sorry…”
Ellen sat down in front of me, not hesitating to check on my condition. She seemed a little flustered.
“Hey… Can it be that you… Have trouble controlling your power…?”
She looked extremely tired with big circles under her eyes.
If someone was so exhausted and tired, they should be easier to defeat, but Ellen was actually just fighting a lot rougher than usual because she couldn’t focus on controlling her strength at all.
If we went on like that, she might have accidentally ended up beating me to death.
“Let’s call it a day.”
“…Yes. Sorry. It’s my fault.”
“Don’t say that. Stuff like this happens.”
I slowly got up while staggering. Usually, I would just take a short break, but that day I would have to go see the priest on duty. ‘At this rate, I might get permanently hospitalized.’
* * *
Ellen stared blankly at the training room door through which Reinhardt left.
She couldn’t sleep well, so she would sleep five to six times a day.
Ellen had a good memory. Every time before she went to sleep, she thought of the faces of the people she had killed. She also remembered the horrifying appearance of the zombies and the way guts and flesh splattered around as she slaughtered them.
Once she was affected by those terrible memories, those horrific images would appear in her dreams as well if she just went to sleep like that.
She couldn’t sleep well at all.
The faces of the people she killed, the horrifying zombies that rose from the dead—when those things appeared in her dreams, she would always wake up covered in sweat.
It should be the same for Reinhardt as well.
She didn’t want to keep having those nightmares.
She didn’t want to fall asleep to those horrifying images haunting her.
It wasn’t like that when she was in the Darklands. In fact, she didn’t have any nightmares while she was there.
Ellen knew that she hadn’t been able to have any long conversations with Reinhardt recently.
Their conversations were more like a question-and-answer game than an actual conversation.
They only had short exchanges of words that immediately ended—those weren’t conversations. She just wanted to say something, but she couldn’t even ask him what he was worried about because she didn’t want to talk about those things herself.
However, even before that…
Ellen became aware of a more fundamental problem.
It wasn’t because she had changed that their conversations had let up.
Reinhardt, who always took the initiative in striking up conversations, also talked less.
Ellen had always been silent—she was like that before as well. No matter if her mind was in disorder or not, she had always been silent.
The reason why there were no conversations between them anymore at the moment was because Reinhardt was unable to start proper conversations with her.
‘He… He… had always been the one to start our conversations.’
Reinhardt was always the one to strike up conversations with her. Everything between them started with Reinhardt’s words.
Her own answers had always been curt: yes or no. However, Reinhardt would continue their conversation despite her blunt answers. No matter what she said, the conversation would carry on. Reinhardt had continued to talk to her even if she didn’t respond to his words.
Strange stories, rude words—he just said whatever.
Reinhardt would always continue the conversation. It was as if he was still waiting for her to answer him while persistently talking about this and that.
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Reinhardt had grown silent, so their conversations had let up as well.
Ellen realized for the first time how passive she had been all that time. She then stood up from the training room floor after pondering for quite a while.
Ellen locked herself in her room and didn’t come out. However, even without Ellen, I continued with my training on my own. I practiced my stance and swordsmanship while I was hitting a scarecrow—I had become quite accustomed to that already.
I had originally done my physical training alone in the first place.
After my evening training, I made some food for myself, even without Ellen around, and went to bed.
However, right when I planned on sleeping, someone knocked on my door. ‘Just who could it be?’ They didn’t usually have something like a roll call in the dormitory, and since we had vacations at that moment, there shouldn’t have been any patrols either.
‘Is it Sarkegaar?’ I thought that he might be able to pull off something like that because he had actually come to my room once while disguised as a maid.
However, when I opened the door, I found someone completely unexpected.
“…What are you doing here in the middle of the night?”
Ellen, wearing her pajamas, was standing right in front of me. Of course, we were told not to visit each other’s rooms at night. However, we had vacations at the moment, so the supervisors were a bit looser.
We were advised against it, but it wasn’t anything noticeable.
Ellen didn’t even ask if she could come in and just strode into my room.
My room held nothing to be ashamed of, so I didn’t really care whether she came in or not.
However, what she did next was something I didn’t expect at all.
She lay down in my bed.
“…What are you doing?”
“I want to sleep here.”
My brain shut down for a second.
What was she saying? Did she lose her mind as an aftereffect of our Darklands travels?
Ellen glanced at me.
“I keep having nightmares these days.” “…So?”
I could guess that she couldn’t sleep well because she had such dark circles under her eyes. I was the same.
But what did having nightmares have to do with sleeping in my room with me?
“I didn’t have nightmares when I was with you.”
—So she wanted to sleep with me.
That seemed to be the conclusion she reached.
“…Even if the teachers don’t patrol around much because we have vacations, that doesn’t mean they don’t do it, you know? What if we get caught?”
Ellen shook her head as she lay down on my pillow.
I didn’t tell her that she couldn’t do it, so I thought things were a little off as soon as I asked her what would happen if we’d get caught.
If we were to get caught, then we’d just get caught. So what? Yeah, the chances of us getting caught by a teacher were very low, but the chance was still there.
“And why didn’t you ask me first?”
“…We already did this once.”
We’d already slept together before, so why shouldn’t we do it one more time? Even if I tried to force her to leave, it was pretty obvious that things wouldn’t go my way.
No, I knew she became more comfortable with me and less hesitant, but that went too far! How could she just casually walk into a guy’s room and tell him she was going to sleep there?!
“…If someone catches us, I’ll just say you forced your way in and wouldn’t leave.”
As if things had been settled, Ellen covered herself with a blanket and prepared to go to sleep.
Just what the hell was going on there?! Did those things we were half-forced to do in the Darklands give Ellen some kind of immunity or something?!
We couldn’t just do the things we did in the Darklands at Temple.
Did her thought process change that much?
“Turn the lights off.”
Anyway, I turned off the lights, pushed Ellen towards the wall with my foot, and lay down. There wasn’t just one pillow, so that didn’t really matter, but there was only one blanket.
Ellen turned and stared at me.
Dim moonlight shone on her face.
Why was she looking at me?! What did that mean?!
“Do you… get nightmares?”
Although at that moment I felt like I’d be better off actually getting some nightmares.
Ellen looked at me quietly and then suddenly spoke up.
“Why are you sorry about it all of a sudden?”
“Because I took you to a place… like that…”
She was gazing at me with sad eyes. All those terrible memories were terrorizing the both of us in the form of nightmares. Just going to the Darklands seemed like one bad memory, so she was sorry.
It’d already been a while since we came back. However, only in that strange situation was I able to bring up those things.
“It was me who wanted to go.”
Ellen told me I shouldn’t go there after I told her I wanted to go there. Rather, it was me who encouraged and dragged her along.
“If I hadn’t talked about my plans before… You wouldn’t have thought of going there either.”
However, she seemed to think that it was her fault I ended up going because she brought going to the Darklands up first.
“…Then let’s just say that we are both at fault here.”
I had gone there ready to take on whatever was awaiting me, and so had Ellen. What happened there was beyond our expectations, but we didn’t go there expecting rainbows and sunshine anyway.
I had decided to go through it and experienced such things, so the only thing left to do was overcome our trauma.
“I… I’ve been thinking.”
Ellen still seemed to have something to say.
“About what?” “We’re… not really talking with each other these days.”
It seemed that Ellen was also concerned about the fact that we weren’t able to hold proper conversations.
“It’s been hard since you didn’t say anything. I wanted to talk. I wanted to sort this out somehow, but you didn’t say anything, I didn’t… That’s what I was thinking… So I realized something.”
There was guilt in Ellen’s eyes.
“It’s… It has always been you who talked to me first.”
When I thought about it, I guess I always had. I always spoke to Ellen first. Whether it was about going to eat, train, argue or simply chat, I was always the one who spoke first.
Not every conversation we had was like that, but most of the time, it was me who started them. Even if Ellen only gave me short answers, I would continue to talk, no matter what.
Ellen was a quiet person to begin with, and she wasn’t someone to strike up a conversation on her own. So the answers she gave were always curt, even before it was quite difficult to continue a conversation with her for long.
Ellen was thinking about the fact that I wasn’t talking to her as much anymore. That was when she realized that she always waited for someone else to start a conversation without her even trying to put any effort into it.
Ellen held my hand, still covered with the blanket.
“I’m sorry. Reinhardt. Up until now… I haven’t even tried to do anything.”
So Ellen came to visit me in the middle of the night.
She wanted to be the one who started talking to me first that time, quite unlike her.
“…What do you have to be sorry for? I like to talk, and you didn’t react to every little thing I did, so it felt really comfortable.
I wasn’t trying to act cool—that was the truth. Ellen didn’t care about those rumors regarding me that were floating around our class. She didn’t care about my shitty reputation at all. Those things didn’t interest her, after all.
No matter what I said, her reaction was always quite dull, so it was easy to be around her.
Ellen had always been passive, so I didn’t have to put much effort into anything either. I usually spouted a lot of stupid bullshit, after all.
—A silent person and someone who was always talking about something.
Our personalities just happened to complement each other quite well.
Ellen smiled at my words.
It was quite painful seeing Ellen smile like that under the moonlight.
It was keeping me from sleeping. Ellen just slowly closed her eyes while holding my hand.
I didn’t think I would have any nightmares that night.
I had to worry whether I would be able to sleep like that first.
* * *
The next day.
I woke up because of a sudden pain in my head.
When I woke up, I saw Ellen, whose hair was completely disheveled, looking at me with half-closed, cold eyes.
“What the fuck are you doing?! Why the fuck are you hitting the head of a sleeping person all of a sudden?!”
“…Don’t touch weird places.”
“Whwhat did I touch?!”
“…Want me to tell you?”
I couldn’t respond properly under Ellen’s infinitely cold gaze.
I, once again, had no other choice but to shut up because if I said anything wrong, I would be beaten black and blue.