Chapter 22 – O
Day 1 after splitting up with Viola’s group…
It is night time at a traveler’s inn yet my eyes still won’t let me sleep. There are a lot of things going on in my head right now and most of them are related to Ophiucus. I would be lying if I said that I was never concerned about the relationship between my Connection Pendant and Ophiucus’s power. In fact, ever since Viola’s report about Fiore, it has been the only thing on my mind, along with the Ophiucus servants’ mysterious words
You do not understand my master.
I’m glad a number of us decide to follow me on this journey to find the truth. But I still do not feel good letting Viola and the others charge on ahead while we waltz around like this. In a way, I feel like I am running away from the actual battle in front of me.
“Ugh! Screw this. I’m gonna go take a walk!” I grumbled and get down from the bed. Maybe my mind would be a little more at ease if I get some cool fresh night air.
The rooms in this traveler’s inn are very small; the room has a single bed and that’s it. There isn’t even a private bathroom in each room, and the public bath costs you to enter. All in all, this inn is a very cheap place, intended only for travelers to take a night rest. Due to low room rates, mom got us six rooms – one for each of us. Lin and Len insisted on sharing the same room. Mom said she could get a separate room for both of them, but they said:
“We feel safer when the two of us are together!”
“If anything happens, the two of us can handle it right away!”
I guess having two bodies isn’t really that great. The two of them feel extremely insecure when separated from one another.
In any case, I walk out of my room and head for the guest lobby, only to be surprised to see someone else already sitting on a couch there before me.
The caramel haired girl gave a slight jump and turned around to me when I called her.
“Oh… Sophia?” she replied with a surprised look.
How should I start talking to her?
Does she still want to be alone?
Would it be a bad time to talk to her now?
Last night at the campfire, she said she wanted to be alone and chased everyone who tried to talk to her away – even Orica couldn’t talk to her. Then again, I can’t blame her for feeling depressed right now.
“You couldn’t sleep either?”
Before I could say anything, she took the initiative and asked me first.
“Uh… Yeah. Sort of. I just thought I’d come to get some fresh air,” I said, scratching my cheek, “…… Say… Would it be okay if I sit with you?”
She tilts her head in surprise at my question. Maybe she’s wondering why I’m asking for a permission from her?
“Uh… Well, if you still have something to think about, then it’s okay. I won’t bother you…”
“Oh…? No no no! It’s fine. Please, have a seat,” she said, tapping the couch to invite me to sit.
“Okay. Thanks.” I smile and sit next to her.
After that, there is an awkward silence between us. I really don’t know how to start talking to her.
Is she really in the mood for a random talk right now?
What should I say that wouldn’t make her depressed?
… Heck, why am I thinking this hard?
She took the initiative again.
“What are you going to do after this battle is over?”
“Over as in the Nebula Corp stops hunting for us and Ophiucus stops wanting to destroy Athenia?” I asked back. Well, I need the scope of her question.
She giggles. “Yeah. When you get back your old life as a university student back, what are you going to do?”
“Eh… I dunno. First of all, I’ll probably go pick up my little kitten that I left with my neighbor. I left the house with mom in such a hurry, so I didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye to him.”
I really miss Roro actually. He normally sleeps on his personal cushion in the living room down stairs. But there are a few nights where he’ll scratch my bedroom door, asking to get inside and sleep on the pillow next to mine.
“I see. That’s so sad,” she replied with a sad face, “Well, what about after that?”
“Hmmm… Maybe I’ll join the Dummy Company project,” I said.
“Oh. That famous student project… If I remember correctly, you’re from Galaxia, right?”
“Yeah. You’ve probably watched that drama series before, right? I really want to join that project someday,” I said.
“That really sounds interesting. But from what I saw in the drama, the work seems pretty tough?”
“Well, yeah. You have to work with a bunch of people with different background after all.” I shrug. “But I like meeting with lots of new people. Oh. Oh. Oh!! And this time, I’ll probably stop being picky and get a cute boyfrien—-!?”
I quickly cup my mouth with both of my hands.
Oh my god, I’m so stupid!! I’m so stupid!! I’m so stupid!!
Why do I have to bring up the forbidden topic!?
“…So, you don’t have a boyfriend yet?” she asked and giggled, “That’s a surprise. I thought you’re pretty cute.”
… Oh… She’s… not sensitive about this topic anymore?
“Uh… Well, I haven’t really met a great guy yet,” I replied.
…Actually, on a second thought, I probably should change the topic. If I were Auria, I really wouldn’t want to talk about things like this right now.
Come on, Sophia! Use your brain! Think of a new topic! Think of a new topic!
… But about what!? Ophiucus? The Nebula Corp!?
Why discuss a serious topic!?!?!?
Brain!!! Cooperate with me please!!!!!
“So, what’s your type?” she asked.
She’s… not gonna change a topic?
“Huh? Uh… Well… He has to be kind and gentle and he has to love me.”
…Ugh… I’m supposed to change a topic…
I can’t help but cry inside right now.
“…Perhaps a little imaginative would be good? You know? Those romantic dreamy types?” I said.
“Hm… Sounds like a writer or a poet to me?” she said.
“Hmmm…? A writer, huh?”
Well, when she put it that way, I do think writers are pretty awesome after all…
… Wait. Why am I still going along with her?
“Well, if he creates a story with me as the heroine, that’ll be pretty romantic, don’t you think?” I asked.
“Yeah. I thought so too.” Auria nodded and giggled.
Maybe this is just another random topic for her?
I guess I’ll just go along with the flow for now…
“……What about your type, Auria?”
… Ugh. That must have been a bad idea…
“Well… Dreamy writers really sound nice,” she said and looked up at the sky, “But with my current life, I really prefer someone who can understand me and accept me for who I am… Also he has to be someone who can support me when I need him… I don’t really want to be dependent on a guy. But I just want to know that there’ll always be someone behind my back to help me when I’m in trouble…”
“… So Lynus… is that kind of guy?”
I’m so pathetic.
What am I asking her?
“He was always there for me ever since my parents died in a car accident,” she explained. Somehow, I could see tears building up in her eyes again. “He arranged for the funerals. He sent Orica and me off to the university every morning and pick us up every evening. He even offered to pay my rent for me…”
…Wow… He really sounds like an incredible guy. And he’s not asking his parents for the money to support his girl either… unlike someone I know at the university…
“… I still can’t believe that he betrayed us,” Auria continued.
Well, after she told me all of that, how would one expect her to buy into that?
He’s a very good guy after all…
“But everything was so clear… There’s no denying that fact… I just don’t want to accept the truth… Miki was right…”
She’s… finally succumbing to Miki’s comments?
…No. I can’t let her do that…!
“… Well then, trust in him!” I said.
“Huh…?” Auria gave a slight jump.
“If you really love him, then believe in him! Believe that he didn’t betray you!” I said.
“It’s okay, Sophia… There’s no point lying to myself anymore.” She shakes her head and wipes her teary eyes.
“No no no!!! You can’t do that!” I cried, “There’s no way a good person like that would lie to the girl he’s been supporting this whole time! After all, you didn’t see him come out and said ‘hahaha I don’t love you anymore!! Imma sell you to Nebula Corp!! L-O-L’ right?”
The caramel haired girl giggled at the way I said it. “Y… Yeah… But…”
“…You know, when I was a little girl, I prayed to the stars every night to become a Zodiac Angel,” I said, looking up at the sky, “Before I went to sleep, I would look outside of my bedroom’s window to the starry sky and told the stars, ‘I wish to be a Zodiac Angel.’ every night.”
“Oh? Really? Why did you want to be a Zodiac Angel?” she tilted her head curiously.
“That’s a secret!” I giggled. “But my point is if you keep on believing and praying, then the stars will definitely answer your call! …Well, although in my case, it wasn’t a very beautiful scenario when I discovered that I’m an angel, but all that matters are the end results, right? I still get to be a Zodiac Angel!”
… Even though I’m being hunted down by the world’s filthiest organization…
Yeah. It was probably a good idea I left that last part out…
“… Well, I guess you have a point.” She curls her hair with a thoughtful look.
“Come on! Give it a try!”
“Pray to the stars! Pray with all your heart that you will get to be with him again, and it’ll surely happen! Trust me!” I said, “But you’ll have to pray REALLY hard though! Or it won’t come true!”
“…Okay, I’ll try,” she said with a smile. After that, Auria closes her eyes and folds her hands together. She sits there quietly and prays. Although she’s not whispering out her prayers, I could tell that she is pouring all of her heart into it. Her prayer lasts a couple of minutes before she opens her eyes again.
“You think it’ll work?” She turns to ask me with a doubtful voice.
“No no no! If you doubt the stars, then it won’t come true!” I said, “Believe in it. Believe in the stars… Believe in Lynus…”
Auria remains quiet for a while. But after that, she smiles again and looks up at the sky. “Yeah… I trust him… and the stars…”
“Good! Then you’ll definitely get to see him… again…?”
All of the sudden, the caramel haired girl quietly leans onto my right shoulder before I could finish talking to her.
“Hey… Can you sit with me for a little while longer?” she asked.
“H… Huh? Why?”
“Just… let me lean on to you for a while,” she pleaded and leans on my shoulder, hiding her face from me. Her arms hug on to my right arm even tighter than before…
After that, we didn’t say anything to each other for a while.
But I don’t mind…
If I can emotionally support her just by simply being with her, then I’m more than happy to do so…
Day 3 after splitting up with Viola’s group…
The trek was long, but all of us finally ended up at the Arian Village – where mom and I first met Lin and Len – again. This village was really a detour. If we head straight to the Marfik Village, there would be no more check points for us to take a break and we’ll have to sleep in the open. As a result, we decide to take it easy and drop by this village again.
We paid a visit to the Wu Residence right after we got to the village. Lin and Len sure miss their parents because the two of them ran into them the moment they reunited.
Such a heartwarming scene…
“I’m glad you all paid us a visit,” Professor Huan spoke to us after we settled down in his living room. All of us are present in the room, except for Lin and Len who went to help Professor Qing make some tea.
“We won’t be here for long though. The Nebula Corp will definitely come here if we stay for too long. After we get a rest tonight, we’ll continue our way to the Marfik Village,” mom explained to Professor Huan.
“I see. Things have really been rough. To be honest, I came to accept that anything could happen to Lin and Len the moment I found out that they are Zodiac Angels. I’m really glad I left them in your care, Myria, Sophia,” said Professor Huan.
“Oh, it’s really the other way around. They’ve been a huge help to us,” I said, “Because of them, we were able to take down one of the Star Generals without casualties.”
“… The two of them fought a Star General!?” Professor Huan cried with his jaws dropped down to the ground.
“Yes, they did. Although they didn’t defeat the general, the two of them weakened him down enough for us to defeat him in a hit,” mom replied.
“Is that so? Well, maybe that was to be expected? They’re Zodiac Angels, and they trained under you after all?” Professor Huan mumbled thoughtfully then chuckled.
He seems to respect mom a lot. Then again, I also think mom is extremely skilled.
“Tea is ready.” Professor Qing brings in a tray with several cups of hot tea, then Lin and Len serve it to everyone in the room.
“Thank you.” I accept a cup from Lin.
“…So, I heard that you all are going to the Marfik Village?” Professor Qing asked after she settled down.
“Yes. The Ophiucus servants told us to go to where we got this pendant so we can learn more about Ophiucus,” I replied.
“Haha… It’s funny to hear that. ‘Learn about Ophiucus’, huh?” Professor Huan muttered.
“Yes. I know it’s ridiculous, but I just thought that there might be something more than what we know about Ophiucus from the Tales of Star Ocean. If we can understand her, then perhaps we might have more chance at ending this struggle,” I replied.
“Just like Myria said… You really haven’t changed from when you were a little girl, Sophia.” Professor Qing giggles.
I made a puzzled look.
…What does she mean by that?
“Well, Sophia. I told them that back when you were young, you prayed to the stars every night that you want to become a Zodiac Angel and go play with Ophiucus who is sealed in the Celestial Hall,” mom explained and looks at everyone else, “Back then, she only understood that Ophiucus was grounded in the ‘Celly Hall’ and no one wanted to be with her though.”
“W… Why would you tell them something that embarrassing!?” I cover my cheeks with both of my hands.
“Wow, really, Sophia? So that’s why you wanted to be a Zodiac Angel?” Auria asked, giggling, “You’re so cute.”
Aw, come on, Auria! Don’t laugh!!
“Ah haha! I agree with sis!” Orica added.
“I thought so too,” said Lauress.
“Sis Sophia is so adorable!”
Lin and Len agreed.
“A… Aaah! Stop teasing me!!!”
Oh my, I don’t want to look at a mirror right now… My cheeks feel so hot…
“… By the way, Huan. Qing. Do you know anything about the Marfik Village? Anything at all?” mom asked the two professors.
“Hm… Well, not much, actually,” Professor Huan replied, “I do know that the folks in the villages of this region are extreme worshipers of Zodiac Angels. There are even some records that claim that the ‘Tales of Star Ocean’ originated around here.”
“For real?!” Orica cried.
“Nothing solid though. After all, the version that was accepted internationally was Angelo Dehl Falka’s version because he was a man obsessed with Zodiac Angels even though he doesn’t have any proof that they existed,” Professor Huan replied.
“… Hm… If that is the case, then maybe we really should look into these older folklores. Perhaps we’ll find more interesting information?” mom muttered.
“Don’t expect much though… Some of these folklores are plain baseless,” Professor Huan said.
“It’s okay. The most important thing now is getting to the Marfik Village. We have to dig into the truth behind this pendant first,” I said.
“In that case, please get a good night rest. You still have a long way after this,” Professor Qing suggested.
We continue chatting together for a while. After that, all of us split up with each other and went to relax.
“Sis Sophia?” Len called to me while I was looking outside the window of the living room. Lin is also standing right next to her.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“Can you tell us more about when you were younger?” Lin asked.
“…… Huh? Why?”
… Are they still thinking about my nightly prayers?
“Why did you want to play with Ophiucus?” Lin asked.
I knew it…
“Well, it’s just a kiddy thought.” I laugh nervously. “Just don’t laugh, okay?”
“Okay!” The two of them replied with a cheeky smile.
… I really wonder…
“You see… there was one time mom grounded me inside my room for the whole week.”
Oh, this is a different time from the fight I had with mom about the pendant though. That one happened when I was a little older.
“I had nothing to do and I was bored out of my mind. That was when I realize how bad it feels to be alone without someone to talk to,” I explained, “So later on when mom told me that bedtime story, she said that being ‘sealed’ is similar to being ‘grounded’. That’s why I felt bad for Ophiucus because she has to be alone in her room for so many years… I mean, think about it, I was already bored out of my mind for just a week. More than a year is simply a torture.”
“I see!” Lin said giggling.
“I thought I told you not to laugh.” I narrow my eyes at her.
“Sorry, sis! You’re just so adorable!” Len said.
Ugh… I can’t believe them.
“……There’s another reason though,” I said.
“Oh?” The twins tilt their head at the same time.
“You see, Ophiucus wanted to destroy the world because no one understood her, right?” I asked, “So I thought that if I can befriend with her, then maybe she will be happy and don’t want to destroy the world anymore…”
“Wow. Sis, you’re amazing!” Len said.
“Really?” I scratch my cheek in embarrassment.
“Yeah! If you get to tell that to Ophiucus Angel, then maybe she will really understand!” Lin said.
“Yeah! If it’s you, she’ll surely understand!” Len added.
Haha… Well, it’s been a while since I had these ‘childish’ thoughts. Maybe that’s just how the society is.
Little by little, we forgot about our innocent younger selves…
But perhaps… These optimistic ‘childish’ feelings might just be what we really need right now…
Day 5 after splitting up with Viola’s group…
The distance from the Arian Village and the Marfik Village is farther than we expected. In the end, we still had to sleep in the open for one night.
But I guess it’s better than two nights?
Anyway, the Marfik Village is a small village hidden in the valley further to the west. There is really no legitimate road for cars here, but that doesn’t matter since we don’t have cars with us anyway. Thinking about the landmark, you can say that it’s right across the Plain of Pride where Miss Frey was sleeping. However, the Plain of Pride is on a high plateau, so we can’t just cut through it to get there; we have to take a detour in the lower land pass marshes and swamps. After that, it’s a simple straight path through the thick forest.
After the trek, we finally came across the village in the valley. Although it’s called a ‘village’, it looks a lot more like a nomadic settlement. There is not even a single permanent shelter there. Most of the residences are leather tents and poorly constructed shacks, made from branches and animal skin. There is a well with a pulley located in the center of the settlement, but it seems to have been dried up for ages now. The folks also seem to raise cattle and other livestock in the pasture behind the settlement as well.
“… Is this really the place, mom?” I asked just to be sure.
“Yeah… Last time I came here from the other side,” mom explained, pointing to the other side of the village, “I still remember the entrance…”
The moment we step into the settlement area, the villagers’ attentions are quickly drawn to us. All of them make a surprised look and move away when we get into their territory.
“I feel unwelcomed…,” Orica muttered.
“They were like this last time I was here too,” mom said, “Until today, I still don’t understand why…”
“Well… They seem like a tribe that lives quietly in the mountains. They are probably frightened or anxious to see outsiders like us,” Auria said.
Auria’s use of the word ‘outsider’ suddenly made me feel super unwelcomed for some reason…
“Welcome to the Marfik Village…”
Suddenly, a frail voice spoke up from our right. Turning towards the owner of the voice, we see an elderly man in a white cloak standing no more than 10 steps away from us.
“My name is Shikoba. I am the chief of this village. We’ve been expecting you all, your highnesses – Zodiac Angels.”
Who is he!?
How did he know that we’re Zodiac Angels!?