The first time, it was the length of a fallen big tree, then the length of a smaller tree, and finally the distance of one finger.
As the initially distant gap closed, it soon reached Kalion’s palm, where they even shared snacks.
Why does that squirrel look like Gia? It seemed cute on the outside, but there was also a feeling of similarity.
While keeping a guard and hiding his feelings, he shows genuine emotions without hesitation. Looking down at the round forehead, Kalion felt an irresistible desire to pet it, as cute as the squirrel. Gia’s warmth, who held Kalion’s wrist, brought him back to reality.
‘What am I thinking right now?’
Not a moment to be leisurely. Kalion, with bitten lips, looked at the darkening sky.
The winter made the sun disappear quickly, reducing the travel distance significantly. With a slow pace due to an ankle injury, the season didn’t help.
The others went to find a camping spot, leaving only the two of them.
“What should I say to Rey if he sees us….”
In Gia’s slightly lowered voice, Kalion could sense how much she was struggling. Kalion, who hadn’t thought about it, shifted his gaze from Gia’s long and lush eyelashes, reflecting the sunset, to her eyes.
“What are you talking about?”
“I wanted to save Rey’s parents… Rey must have had high expectations.”
As if blaming herself, Kalion stopped walking.
“It’s enough, Gia. You did your best, but the result is like this. Rey will understand.”
“Do you think so?”
There was deep concern on the face he met. How should Kalion speak so that Gia doesn’t blame herself? Kalion grabbed Gia’s shoulder, who was standing close beside him, and turned her to face him.
“You did your best.”
Gia’s cheek, facing Kalion’s intense red eyes, turned even redder than before.
“It happened, and it’s neither your nor my fault. We did our best, right?”
Looking at Kalion’s face, which seemed almost within reach, Gia stretched her neck back. Ignoring her stumbling words, Kalion brought his face closer.
“Is that so? Ahaha.”
With an awkward laugh, Gia felt the strength in her shoulders as she avoided the serious gaze of Kalion.
“We did our best. Both you and I. And the surviving members and those who couldn’t make it.”
A finger’s distance away, the serious gaze met Gia’s attempts to avoid the awkwardness, immediately straightening her posture.
Finally, Gia realized why Kalion was saying such things. He was trying hard to comfort her somehow. Once she grasped his sincerity, it felt as if her soul was deeply tied to the profound pupils.
“So don’t blame yourself. Gia, you did your best. We all know that, including the other members. We know how much effort you put in.”
As the sunset passed behind Kalion, Gia’s face became increasingly flushed. Whether it was because of the setting sun or Kalion, her face was filled with a reddish hue. Gia, trying to calm her inexplicable feelings of confusion, nodded her head weakly.
Raising her gaze slowly while still casting her eyes down in embarrassment, Gia’s shy face was reflected in Kalion’s warm and affectionate eyes.
“I w-won’t blame myself….”
“And if Rey, in his ignorance, shows disappointment in you without understanding your efforts, I won’t stand by.”
“W-What are you saying?”
Why scold a seven-year-old for not understanding? Even if an orphan pours resentment onto her, Gia is willing to endure and accept it. She thought it was natural for a young child. However, Kalion sternly solidified his face, as if Rey was right in front of him.
“Even if he’s just a seven-year-old, he has to be scolded if he deserves it.”
“We haven’t even met Rey yet.”
“Ahem, anyway, if Rey behaves rudely towards you, I won’t just stand by.”
Whether to say it was reassuring, Gia, feeling the weight of Kalion on her shoulders, awkwardly uttered her thanks.
As Kalion gathered his thick eyebrows between his eyes and spoke more seriously than anyone else, Gia’s lips opened wide, and a pleasant laugh flowed out from within.
“Why are you laughing?”
Even though he was sincere, Kalion asked with wide-eyed surprise at the deflated laughter.
“Oh, no… hehe.”
Kalion was reliable, but at the same time, he seemed to be contemplating a serious confrontation with a seven-year-old, of all things. As Gia contemplates the situation, her lips curl up at the end, and wrinkles form on her nose as she tries to hold back laughter.
No matter who the opponent is, preparing wholeheartedly seems to be very Kalion-like. Even if the opponent is just a seven-year-old.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to laugh. Hm.”
Gia’s eyes, tightly closed as if trying to suppress her bursting laughter, had charming wrinkles around them.
He still doesn’t know why she’s laughing, but that laughter breaking during the sunset unsettled the heart. Kalion just silently observed Gia, who was happily laughing.
The chill in his lungs and the orange hue of the setting sun added to the colors.
Gia’s clear laughter, the beautifully folded eye corners, and the lips with a drawing of a bow were all unforgettable, even though he just stared. Despite the confusion, he couldn’t look away.
Hands still on Gia’s shoulders, he could only fix his gaze without lowering it.
“Oh, I laughed too much. Sorry.”
Even the voice apologizing still had a frozen laughter.
She turned her eyes, and only then did Kalion lift his head.
If someone laughs at you for no reason, it’s only right to consider it a provocation. Laughing heartily, bending over, and laughing loudly? If the target was a man, he would have thrown down a glove and challenged to a duel, and if it was a woman, she would have given a cold glance or turned away without looking back.
Surely that’s how it would have been.
Gia, who stole a glance at Kalion with her eyes covered with her hand, still seemed unable to get over it, so she placed her palm on her reddened face.
Even seeing Gia like that, Kalion was not angry; instead, he felt even better, which was the problem.
“Sorry. I laughed too much. Are you mad?”
When Gia examined Kalion’s face, he dumbly shook his head.
“But why does it look like you’re angry? Huh?”
It was the opposite. It was a problem that he wasn’t angry. Trying to keep the face that wanted to relax, Kalion forced tension into his muscles. In response, Gia raised her eyes, full of laughter, and looked up at him.
“It looks good when you smile.”
Unexpectedly, words praising the sight came out of Kalion’s mouth, who was expected to express anger and tell her to stop laughing.
Unspoken words lingered in the air, beyond his expectations. Just as Gia’s lost eyes began to shake, and the air in the place where she stood became awkward, a familiar voice was heard.
Whether they found a suitable campsite or not, the voice of a comrade reached from a distance, and Gia, now alert, moved away from Kalion with a rustle.
The warmth that had separated from her embrace was particularly poignant.
Kalion’s face twisted strangely.
* * *
Oscar, Lord of Moretta and renowned for his politeness, raised his voice to the point where it could be heard outside the office. Spencer’s delivery of the dragon’s heart made Oscar, even after seeing it with his own eyes, sit down in disbelief.
“It’s the heart of a dragon.”
Tap, tap. The warmth from the fireplace on one side of Oscar’s office was felt.
Gregory, uttering a low moan-like phrase, stared intently at the heart placed on the table.
“Really… the heart of a dragon.”
Even Gregory, repeating the same words several times, held trembling hands and stared at the pulsating heart as if enchanted.
The joy didn’t last long. There was only one person who returned alive. This fact deeply saddened Oscar.
The image of the young disciple holding a sword in his hand flashed like a mirage. Oscar closed his lips, suppressing the bitter taste rising. Oscar’s voice, unable to inquire about the disciple’s life and death until the end, trembled weakly.
Spencer’s eyes narrowed as he glanced at the beating dragon’s heart.
Oscar grabbed his forehead in agony at Spencer’s ambiguous answer, not knowing whether he was alive or dead.
Spencer, beginning to unravel the lengthy story, was also in pain. He briefly recounted the encounter with Morrison in the place where Kalion had predicted the presence of the dragon’s rare.
Morrison is stronger than expected, and the sacrifices of many members to capture the dragon.
As Spencer conveyed the story, his lips trembled like bamboo leaves in the wind.
The cries of the deceased members echoed in Spencer’s ears like a ringing. The faces of the members who might still be alive flashed before his eyes. To steady his trembling hands, Spencer clasped them together.
Spencer hesitated as he recounted the story of how, under the commander’s orders, he could only come down with the heart, unable to assist.
‘Should I… talk about the cow?’
Anyone hearing this absurd story might label him as insane.
Who would believe that he descended from the mountain in just two days with the help of something unknown, possibly a monster? After a moment of contemplation, Spencer decided to save the story about the creature for later.
‘I can talk about that later.’