From the time I joined the expeditionary force, he always carried the pouch with him. It’s a magical pouch that can hold any item without any spatial limitations.
He pulled out a sandwich from the pouch and handed it to me.
“Do you want some coffee?”
This time, he took out a kettle from the pouch. Steam was already rising from it, indicating that he had already boiled water. He poured coffee into a cup and handed it to me. Then, he proceeded to pour coffee into his cup and added ten cubes of sugar.
‘I have to stop that. He shouldn’t.’
I thought to myself. I knew Hierian had a sweet tooth, but seeing him go to such lengths even in his childlike form made me feel a pang of conscience as an adult. In the meantime, Hierian poured milk into his cup, creating a coffee-milk mixture.
In the end, I couldn’t help but speak up.
“Hierian, is it okay for you to eat so sweetly like a child?”
“Huh? But this is how my mind works.”
“Well, the work must be demanding,”
I commented as it was evident that maintaining the magical pillar was no easy task.
‘If you want to work, you have to eat well, right?’
I nodded in understanding, while Hierian picked up a second sandwich and ate it. I took a bite of his sandwich, too. The bread had sugar on it, too. It looked like it had been tongue-baked.
‘It seems like I’ve been eating sweets every day since I came here.’
Then, I suddenly became curious about the source of the food Hierian was bringing. The food I ate in the bedroom wasn’t this sweet, but was Hierian asking to sweeten it separately?
Curiosity got the better of me, and I finally asked,
“Hierian, who made this?”
Izaya, the violet-robed Archmage who served as Hierian’s secretary. It was clear that she was a busy person, and yet she went out of her way to make food for Hierian. It was evident that her care and affection went beyond mere formality.
“It seems like she likes you.”
At that moment, Hierian’s movements, with the cup in his hand, froze. After a moment of silence, he hesitated and replied,
“Do you think so?”
Hierian’s expression turned melancholic, and he silently finished his sandwich. His demeanor was no longer as cheerful as before.
‘What did I say wrong?’
Worried, I looked at Hierian, and tears welled up in his eyes. I was taken aback and approached him.
“Why? What did Izaya say to you?”
He bowed his head deeply. It was clear that something was bothering him.
I gently wiped away his tears with my index finger and said,
“Stop it. Why are you crying like this? It’s not like you.”
“…You talk as if we’ve known each other for a long time.”
My lips were sealed shut. Then, Hierian mumbled again.
“Isn’t it strange? You don’t feel unfamiliar to me either.”
“Ahaha, well, good things are good, right?”
“I guess so.”
Hierian tightly held onto the edge of my sleeve and cautiously asked me,
“What would you do if I betray you?”
“Yeah, like if I didn’t help you get out of here.”
“Why would you do that?”
“No, I mean…”
“But why are you asking me something like that?”
As the words trailed off, Hierian’s expression turned ominously gloomy, as if recalling such an experience.
Feeling a sense of unease, I deliberately spoke lightly,
“Did Izaya betray you?”
Upon hearing that, Hierian’s eyes widened in surprise, and then he slowly shook his head.
“No, it’s not that…”
“Just… I worry that you might betray me.”
“Worry that I might betray you? Why are you concerned about something like that? Have there been any signs?”
“Just… because I’m scared.”
With those words, Hierian stumbled over his speech.
After that, Hierian mentioned that he had something to take care of and left. I stayed quietly on the hill, gazing at the sky.
The sky was clear, and the clouds floated lazily. The more peaceful the world seemed, untouched by any events, the more anxious I became.
Is it okay to live like this? Can I escape from here? And…
“Now, what should I do?”
When I turned my head with a bored expression, I saw a magical pillar positioned right in the center. The magic emanating from the pillar seemed to stretch out like electric wires. It was fascinating to see at first, but now I felt no excitement as if I had become accustomed to it.
Lost in thought, I suddenly had the urge to approach the pillar. I stood up immediately.
However, as I stood in front of the resonating pillar, I hesitated to approach it directly. There were crackling sounds and sparks around the pillar.
“I suppose it would be dangerous to approach recklessly.”
As I resigned myself and tried to move away, the color of the pillar, which had been shimmering with purple light, suddenly changed, and the sparks ceased.
“What’s going on?”
In an unexpected turn of events, something abruptly sprang out from the pillar and pulled me towards it.
A large and smooth hand, emitting a dry and eerie scent that could only be described as heavy. A familiar sensation sent chills down my entire body.
“What, what is it?”
I tried to pull away again, but the force gripping me became even stronger. Eventually, my body leaned forward, and my head entered the pillar.
Strangely enough, the interior was an entirely different place.
“W-Where is this…?”
Before I could finish speaking, a familiar voice echoed.
“So, you’ve finally arrived.”
Before I could respond, a large, firm hand grabbed me by the nape of my neck, as if suppressing prey. At that moment, an image of someone who could perform such an act flashed in my mind. There was only one person I knew who would do something like this.
I raised my head with a creaking sound and looked ahead. As expected, Dianel stood before me, smoothly lifting the corners of his mouth into a smile.
“You remember my name, too.”
“It seems you’re done with Hierian, right?”
He lowered his gaze, examining my face one by one—my eyes, nose, mouth, and facial contours. The scrutinizing gaze along those features made me incredibly uncomfortable. Despite feeling so tense that cold sweat trickled down, I remembered that even if I were to enter a tiger’s den, I would survive as long as I kept my wits about me.
‘So, I meet Dianel immediately after moving through the magical pillar? There’s definitely some scheme at play here.’
Above all, it seemed as though Dianel knew I would come. He was already prepared for my arrival.
If that were the case, any futile action would be pointless. The first step was to make him less tense. Fortunately, half of my body was still inside the pillar, so I planned to remove myself as soon as Dianel let his guard down.
I played dumb, swiveling my head around.
“…But where exactly are we?”
“Are you pretending not to know or do you really not know?”
“I genuinely don’t know.”
As he stared at me, his eyes filled with suspicion, Dianel loosened his grip on my hand. He even took a step back.
In essence, he had released me. Although I found it strange that Dianel retreated so easily, I had no intention of revealing what I knew.
Seizing the moment, I quickly pulled my body out of the pillar. I glimpsed Dianel’s expression, calm as ever.
As if he had expected this to happen.
‘What is this?’
I frowned, twisting my stiff neck and grimacing.
In the meantime, the magical pillar once again emitted a purple light and the sparks that had stopped started again. Whatever the situation was, everything seemed to be resolved. I let out a deep sigh of relief and looked around. The surroundings were still a peaceful hill.
I lay down on the ground, letting out a sigh of relief.
“Well, that was a surprise.”
I didn’t know that the inside of the magical pillar is connected to a different place.
‘I wonder if it connects to other places as well.’
I mustered up the courage and approached the pillar once again. Then, the color of the pillar changed once again. I cautiously reached out my hand, but it didn’t touch anything. I could only feel a chilling sensation.
With a bit more courage, I pressed my face into the pillar. Then, a completely dark space revealed itself.
I couldn’t sense any presence around me. I waited quietly for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. As time passed, I could slightly make out the objects around me.
It was a dark and cold space. Moreover, it was completely enclosed by stone walls, making it impossible to discern where it was. Only the layered stone walls and a blocked doorway indicated that this place was a sealed location.
“…Some kind of burial chamber, perhaps.”
As I tried to understand the situation a bit more, I heard murmuring voices in front of the stone door. It was the sound of someone talking.
“Did you hear something just now?”
“What sound? This is a tomb.”
“Still, we should check it out.”
“It’s fine. Who would dare intrude on Astita’s burial site?”
Astita, that was the name of my family.
‘Could it be that I ended up in the Astita estate?’
My heart pounding with excitement. I kept my excitement in check and observed the situation quietly. Meanwhile, the two men continued to argue and approached the tomb.
“Well, there shouldn’t be anything here.”
“Still, we heard a sound, so we should check.”
Throughout the wait, my heart thumped in my chest. I couldn’t calm my mind due to the pounding heartbeat.
‘It feels like my heart is about to jump out of my throat.’
Would they recognize me? Everything was uncertain, which made me even more anxious. Unbeknownst to me, my body was gradually slipping out of the pillar.
By the time my body was halfway out, I suddenly heard a sobbing sound from outside.
“Hmppf… Did any of you see my child?”
I clamped my mouth shut.
The voice I heard was undoubtedly my mother’s.