The time when I awoke was around the afternoon.
The Temple was out of the question today as well.
Two consecutive days of absence.
Charlotte had already made up an excuse for my absence, so she told me not to worry.
She had also deleted my entry records.
Rather than being happy about her safety and the fact that the force trying to swallow her had subsided, Charlotte immediately thought about what she had to do next and proceeded with those tasks.
Abandoning everything, only to resume immediately as the situation changed.
It was quite a peculiar experience.
The people of the Spring Palace were tight-lipped, so my visit here would not be known to the outside world. That being said, I did not wander around the palace.
I remained solely in Charlotte's bedroom.
I nodded when Charlotte said it was fine to return and that she would go back to the Temple tomorrow.
"Still, I should keep an eye on you for one more day."
Charlotte stared at me intently.
"You mean, you'll stay in my bedroom for another day?"
"Reinhardt, I'm really grateful to you, and I acknowledge that you're a very precious person to me. But isn't this too brazen?"
Did you think this was your room just because you slept here for a day?
Charlotte seemed flabbergasted.
"Ah, it's unavoidable for the safety of your noble body."
"Why are you the one saying that!"
I confidently declared that I would sleep in her room and leave.
Even though it was for an important reason, it felt somewhat rascally.
But even if I went back to the Temple today, classes would have already ended. I wanted to watch over Charlotte's condition for another day.
If nothing happened today, it should be safe to assume everything would be fine for the time being.
Charlotte, realizing that my words made sense, did not kick me out. However, it was one thing when I had been injured and had no choice but to lie down in her bedroom, but now that I was being brazen, she found it unbelievable.
"...Fine. I'll sleep in the guest room, then."
"What do you mean by that?"
At Charlotte's words, I shook my head.
What is she trying to say?
"I'm staying here for another day to watch over your condition, but what's the point if I'm sleeping outside? I should sleep in here."
At my words, Charlotte's lips quivered. Her face was gradually turning pale.
"A-are... Are you saying that you'll sleep with me?"
Why would it come to that!
"Do we really have to put it like that? I just need to make sure there's nothing wrong with you while you're asleep!"
"I-I... I understand that, but..."
Charlotte seemed to be trembling, as if she had never imagined she would be faced with such a request.
"What am I doing wrong? I'm just watching, right?"
"Why are you watching someone sleep without sleeping yourself!"
"So if I sleep, it's a problem, and if I don't, it's still a problem? What do you want me to do? You're a funny one, aren't you?"
Charlotte seemed to be mentally shaken by my blunt remarks.
Why do I have to hear this?
This reaction proves that both Harriet and Charlotte are of high quality. In fact, Charlotte must have grown up receiving even more venerable treatment.
Above all, Harriet had grown accustomed to the situation, and thus, she would usually let things slide. But Charlotte still lacked immunity, so her reactions were quite raw.
"Hey, that thing... give it back. You're scary."
Charlotte seemed to want the brooch she had given me back.
Perhaps she was worried that I might sneak in while she slept, check if she was alright, and then leave, doing something strange like that.
"Taking back what you've given is the worst thing to do, and do you think I would let you take it back?"
"No, don't! Give it back! Give it back! Ugh, I shouldn't have given it to you!"
Charlotte and I played tag in the spacious bedroom for quite some time.
Eventually, Charlotte grew tired and collapsed.
"Pant... gasp... pant... I-I... shouldn't have... exercised... and improved... my stamina..."
Exhausted, Charlotte glared at me as she sat down on the bedroom floor.
"Well, you should exercise too, then."
"You're the worst, really!"
Charlotte screamed as if she was truly annoyed.
To think there's someone who can provoke the princess.
Aside from Berthus, I might be the only one in the world.
In the end, I decided to stay another day, remaining in Charlotte's bedroom.
Charlotte seemed restless.
Well, even so, I would sleep on the sofa; did she really need to be so tense?
Indeed, having grown up in luxury, she must have never experienced a situation like this before.
Of course, the circumstances in the Demon King's Castle must have been much more horrifying, but that was different from this.
Servants brought our meals, and, naturally, I remained hidden. Charlotte told them she didn't need any assistance and asked for more food.
I had thought that after starving for a whole day, I could eat a lot, but instead, I ate less because of the hunger.
Charlotte looked at the remaining food and stared at me.
"Is it okay if I don't eat more?"
"You can't eat much when you're starving."
Charlotte must have known that, too.
The luxurious feast at the Allied Forces' command post after a long period of starvation.
Charlotte's expression became slightly wistful and sad as she seemed to recall that time.
Since I had only been in the bedroom, the night came without much to do.
Charlotte fidgeted like a puppy that needed to relieve itself. She seemed to want to do something, trying to stand up but then hesitating and sitting back down.
Why is she like this?
Eventually, Charlotte seemed to make up her mind and stood up.
"Um, I'm going to step out for a bit."
"To another room..."
"I told you to sleep here, didn't I? Do you think I'll be here all the time? I just want to check on you today, okay?"
At my words, Charlotte glared at me.
"That's not it, I mean... I need to take a bath!"
Is she feeling conscious because she wants to bathe in the bedroom and I'm watching?
"Why do you need to go to another room to take a bath?"
"You... you'll hear the sound of the water..."
Charlotte's face turned red.
What's going on?
How should I describe this sensitivity?
Is it really not okay for someone to hear the sound of her bathing?
Is that what a girl her age feels like? I don't really know.
Anyway, at a time when there are people who attend to one's bath, doesn't it not matter?
Was it natural for her to be so concerned?
I... I don't know...
I have no idea what's right or wrong in this case!
"…Well, I suppose it's not my place to tell you what to do. Figure it out on your own."
"I shouldn't be told what to do in the first place! Ugh!"
Annoyed, Charlotte stormed out of the bedroom.
As Charlotte went to bathe, I took the opportunity to wash myself in the en-suite bathroom.
It was quite spacious, but I didn't bother entering the tub.
After washing up, I realized something.
I had no change of clothes.
My school uniform, which was bloodstained and torn, had been discarded, and I was wearing something akin to pajamas that had been procured from somewhere.
Unable to leave the bathroom, I wondered what to do when, after a while, Charlotte returned.
Perhaps hearing the water, Charlotte's voice reached me from beyond the bathroom door.
"Are you, you're bathing in my bathroom?"
"Shouldn't I wash up?"
"Ugh, uh... um..."
Charlotte seemed to be stomping her feet, unsure if she was annoyed or something else.
Why can't I use it? I can't even leave your bedroom, after all.
"Anyway, I don't have a change of clothes."
"Bring me some clothes."
Charlotte seemed to have never imagined she would hear such a request, and for a while, there was no response.
Even so, isn't it a bit too much to ask the princess to fetch me clothes?
It's not even about her being a princess; it's just trashy to ask someone for clothes while using their bathroom.
As I was pondering this,
"...I've put them by the door."
Charlotte spoke in a voice that conveyed a mixture of complicated emotions.
The palace was not just full of women's clothing.
Initially, when I had collapsed, Sabiolin Tana had managed to gather clothes for me to wear from somewhere.
After a bit of commotion,
Both Charlotte and I were dressed in our sleepwear.
...If anyone found out about this, it would be a huge scandal on its own. Regardless of the circumstances, it's a princess and a pauper sharing a room.
However, this was happening due to our unique situation.
I sat in a rocking chair in Charlotte's bedroom, while she lay on the bed.
"…Do you plan to sleep like that?"
"Then, in... in the bed?"
Charlotte's voice was clearly flustered.
She seemed as if she would reluctantly give up her place if I insisted on sleeping in the bed.
"What's the big deal? Just the other day, we slept in the same bed and didn't even touch."
"That, that was just a figure of speech! It wasn't actually like that!"
Charlotte shouted, flustered.
But is it okay for her to be making so much noise?
The soundproofing is quite reliable. If it hadn't been for my supernatural abilities, I wouldn't have been able to eavesdrop on the conversations in the room.
The Charlotte of the day before had seemed to let go of everything.
That's why she talked to me about various things, shared important secrets, and even made off-the-cuff remarks.
Yet now free from danger, Charlotte began to feel embarrassed.
Perhaps it was because she could once again consider the notion of living.
That inexplicably warmed my heart.
"What's with that odd expression...?"
Charlotte, her face flushed, pulled the blanket up to cover half her face.
"Ah, anyway! Are you really going to sleep in the bed?"
Is it because she is of noble birth? She seems to be quite concerned about such things.
"I won't sleep."
"I'm here to make sure you're okay; how can I sleep? Don't worry. I won't stare at your face or do anything like that."
Sitting in a rocking chair with my arms crossed, I gazed blankly at the ceiling of Charlotte's room.
What other intentions could I possibly have?
I just need to make sure you're safe.
I just need to know if nothing will happen from now on.
"...Aren't you tired?"
"I've consumed the treasure among treasures, the Elixir. It would be stranger if I weren't alright. Don't worry about it. Staying awake for a day is nothing."
I said this, hoping to make her feel a little less guilty by talking weirdly.
"Well, just... if you want to... you could sleep at the other end..."
"If I'm going to sleep, I'll sleep on the sofa, so don't worry about it."
For a while, Charlotte was silent.
However, perhaps to make room for me, she slid from the center of the bed to the very edge, leaving enough space for me to lie down on the opposite end.
By moving to the edge, she also moved closer to me, who was sitting quite a distance away in the rocking chair.
The chair was positioned not facing Charlotte, but rather, parallel to her.
I was sitting, and Charlotte was lying down.
We were side by side.
I was sitting next to Charlotte.
"…I don't understand. Why are you doing all this for me?"
"Nobility should be treated with respect. It's only natural, right?"
"You're not doing this just because I'm a princess."
There were many people who would give their lives for Charlotte simply because she was a princess.
But no matter how one looked at it, I didn't seem to be one of those people.
I wasn't trying to save her by risking my life just because of her status.
Charlotte seemed curious.
"Just think of it as something like that."
Unable to explain the inexplicable, I had no choice but to say that.
I wasn't looking at Charlotte's face.
It seemed like she was looking at me.
As if making a decision, Charlotte cautiously opened her mouth.
"The Demon King... he did something to me."
"…Is that so?"
It must have been a long-held secret.
The moment such a thing was revealed, all she had would vanish, which was why she had kept it a secret until now. She wouldn't have been able to tell anyone.
Charlotte spoke of what I had only guessed at.
"I don't know what it was... but it was incredibly painful and terrifying. It felt as if not my body, but my soul was in agony."
Unable to simply empathize with Charlotte's words, I just listened for the moment.
“I cannot fathom what it was. Even now… I do not fully understand what has befallen me. However… after that, I was imprisoned in the dungeon-like depths of the Demon King's castle. Kidnapped… along with other people.”
Charlotte's voice quivered increasingly. It seemed as though she was attempting to disclose something she was afraid to discuss.
“May I… hold your hand?”
I extended my hand, and Charlotte took hold of it.
Her palm was drenched in cold sweat.
Was it so agonizing to speak of it? What could have happened?
While grasping my hand, Charlotte took a breath and spoke.
“We starved for too long.”
“All of us there, for such a long time, we had to endure on scarce amounts of food and drink. And when the war escalated, they provided us with nothing.”
“People… for so long… had nothing to eat.”
I looked intently at Charlotte.
Her eyes were already brimming with tears.
“If it is difficult to speak, you do not have to force yourself.”
“Actually, do not speak of it.”
“Stop. It is too painful for you.”
I could already understand what had happened from the mere mention of it.
From Charlotte's fear and horror, guilt-ridden voice, one could surmise the dreadful circumstances.
Those who were shattered to pieces by something formless.
Because I remembered that horrific scene.
I knew that now, Charlotte was trying to speak not of her cannibalism but of the events that transpired afterward.
As I told her not to speak, she burst into tears.
“Had it not been for me… if it were not me… everyone could have lived. All of them. If it were not for me. If I were not there… it was all because of me… my, mo… mother…”
Charlotte had never spoken them to anyone before.
Even though everyone knew that she had suffered at the hands of the Demon King.
I felt that she was telling me this story for the first time.
Otherwise, she would not have confessed her guilt so sorrowfully, weeping as she told her story.
I did not offer any words of comfort, sympathy, or justification.
I merely held Charlotte's hand tightly.
“Hic! Sob! Sniff! Hic….”
Charlotte also tightly gripped my hand as she cried.
For a very long time.
After calming down, Charlotte shared with me everything that had transpired.
There were two groups of people who knew about Charlotte's abilities.
Firstly, those who knew of her supernatural power to manipulate shadows.
Secondly, those who knew that her abilities were the result of the Demon King's torment.
The latter group consisted only of Dyrus, Sabiolin Tana, the Spring Palace Chamberlain, and the Emperor himself.
“What about Berthus?”
“I hope he doesn't know… but I think he does. It is likely that he has only recently discovered it.”
The power to control shadows is already sinister and eerie in itself. Thus, it can be easily twisted into something negative if one wishes.
Charlotte had been searching for a way to control or eliminate her power. That was why she sought out a seal master.
However, all her efforts were in vain, and as Charlotte's power grew, it began to consume her.
At some point, Charlotte started to find herself in strange places in the middle of the night.
"Could it be... that time?"
Only then did I recall the sight of Charlotte walking barefoot in the mansion's hallway during a group mission at midnight.
"That was the first time."
Charlotte's appearance had indeed seemed odd back then.
She said that there had been no incidents for a while after that.
But then, in the temple dormitory, Charlotte experienced another episode.
After the incident at the temple dormitory, Charlotte sensed that this was not an ordinary problem and started living in the Spring Palace.
The sleepwalking continued and became more frequent.
Eventually, she was said to have roamed the palace, engulfed in her powers and shrouded in darkness. Even then, it seemed alright.
Though she lost consciousness and couldn't remember anything, she didn't attack anyone, and when Dyrus and the chamberlain led her back to her bedroom, she didn't resist.
But at some point, she began to appear and disappear throughout the palace without ever opening any doors.
Then, one day, she attacked and killed a maid.
Charlotte could not remember anything.
But she felt that it was too late, and that everything had come to an end.
She asked the Emperor to just kill her.
But the Emperor refused.
Instead, he sent Sabiolin Tana to the Spring Palace and minimized the number of people in the palace.
Until they found a way to deal with the situation.
The royal family could not find a solution.
Although it's not certain, I believe that if I hadn't been there, Charlotte would not have returned after the day before yesterday. That day was the last moment.
Had it been after that day, Sabiolin Tana would have died, and Charlotte would have ultimately faced death by the Emperor's command.
In the end, if it hadn't been for me, Charlotte would have died just like that.
"Sleeping scared me."
"I can imagine."
"But even if I didn't sleep, I'd still lose consciousness. I knew that sleep wasn't the problem, but... I was just scared."
Charlotte's hand no longer conveyed the fear originating from cold sweat.
Only her warm body temperature was transmitted.
"I think I can sleep properly for the first time in a long while."
With that, Charlotte closed her eyes.
All I could do was say those words.
"Can you tell me that nothing will happen?"
I look at Charlotte intently.
With the power of my declaration.
"Nothing will happen."
With her eyes closed, Charlotte nods her head.
"I'll believe that."
With a faint smile on her face, Charlotte gradually falls asleep.
I quietly listened to the steady sound of Charlotte's breathing.
I silently watched Charlotte's peaceful face as she slept.
[Special Achievement Unlocked - Turning Point in History]
[A major character who shouldn't exist in the original world line (Charlotte de Gradias) has survived.]
[The future has changed significantly.]
[You have gained 1,000 achievement points.]
The message appeared, exactly the same as it had during the prologue.
It seemed a bit late, but why was this message appearing now?
Shouldn't this message have appeared after the battle the night before last?
I gazed at the sleeping Charlotte's face. Holding my hand tightly, she slept with a serene expression.
It seemed there was some significance to me standing guard here until Charlotte could safely fall asleep.
Although I couldn't understand the meaning.
As long as nothing happened, I decided not to be curious about what could have occurred.
Nothing will happen.
You will be safe.
I will make sure of it.
With the power of self-suggestion.
With the power of my declaration.
In my heart, I continued.
I believed and declared countless times.