Chapter 2 – A Peaceful Sleep
It was the season where cold and warmth mixed.
The wind blowing over the plains still carried a hint of the smell of winter.
The first rays of the spring sun were warm, which only served to make the chill in the air all the more noticeable. The girl who was flying over the flowering weeds on her broom looked forward while occasionally rubbing her arms.
She was a witch, as well as a traveler.
She wore a black robe and a tricorne, and had a star-shaped brooch on her chest that was the proof of her being a witch.
The gray hair that peeked out from under her tricorne fluttered in the cold wind.
Her azure eyes were turned towards a small country that stood inconspicuously between the blue sky and the plains.
“So that’s the next country.”
Oh, and by the way.
Who was this girl who continued to travel as usual through this usual scenery?
That’s right, it’s me.
“Excuse me, is someone there?”
I raised my voice and said that after getting off my broom in front of the gate, but there was no reply.
The gate was wide open and looked like it was inviting travelers inside; however, the interior of the country was filled with a persistent silence, which was troubling.
What’s this? Can I just go ahead and enter without permission? I was expecting a guard to be at the gate, at least.
Well, if no one is going to come out, then it must mean that I can just go ahead and enter.
And so, I decided to step inside the country.
I was greeted by the sight of traditional-looking houses. They had brick walls of a subdued color and the roofs were tiled, and they stood in rows on either side of the street. The walls had small cracks running through them and were a little dirty, and although the dirt was conspicuous, it felt like part of the scenery of this city which had a sense of unity.
As if to emphasize the calm atmosphere, the interior of the city was wrapped in silence.
It felt like there was nobody in this country at all.
After walking through the city for a little while, I came upon a large plaza.
I came to a stop over there.
There was a large hole in the plaza, and the dirt that had been dug up from there was piled to the side like a mountain. Although the city was entirely devoid of people, I could see traces of people having been here.
When I looked into the hole, the reason why I didn’t see anybody in the country was made readily apparent.
People wrapped in scraps of cloth had been piled inside the hole. There was a massive number of them.
The reason why I didn’t see anybody in the country was because they were all gathered here.
“—Nnn. Who’s there?”
When I was dazedly staring into the hole, I heard a voice. It was a woman’s voice.
When I looked around, I saw a woman riding a broom and looking down at me while holding a staff in one hand. Her hair was made up in a single ponytail at the back of her head, but she was not wearing a robe or a tricorne.
However, it was obvious that she was a magician, and there were several people floating behind her broom. It looked like she was levitating them with magic.
She spoke while gently lowering them inside the hole.
“You’re not from this country, are you?”
I nodded and replied,
“I’m a traveler. I came across this place while I was riding on my broom.”
“I see… Did you perhaps intend on staying here for a while?”
“Yes, I did.”
Until I saw this disastrous scene, at least.
“You probably shouldn’t do that.”
“Yes, that appears to be the case.”
The woman nodded and gently landed in front of me. She was about one head taller than me, so I was looking up at her while she gazed down at me.
“You’ve seen what kind of state this country is in, and this place will be closed down by tomorrow.”
“……What happened here?”
It looks like everyone is dead…
As if she guessed my thoughts after seeing me look towards the hole, she also looked at the hole that she had just added more people to a moment ago and said,
“These people are all asleep.”
“They are in a sleep resembling death.”
Saying that, she lowered her gaze.
Apparently, there used to be a famous seer in this country.
From a young age, the seer worked for the sake of the country and predicted things like the weather, whether the harvest would be abundant or they would have a poor crop, the location of pets that had disappeared from their homes, what kind of fortune people would have on any given day, and even things like a person’s lifespan and the person they were fated to marry.
Although not all of his predictions were accurate, it appeared that there was a strange magic in the seer’s words as his predictions very rarely failed: most of them came true. Apparently, even if his prediction failed to come true, it would be settled with a convenient explanation like, “The prediction must have failed because we had already heard about what was going to happen.” It appeared that the people of this country were a superstitious bunch.
The people were intoxicated by the power of the seer, came to rely on his predictions, and ran to him for advice as soon as something happened. By the time the seer got on in age and his face became creased with wrinkles, he was apparently the most important person in the country.
The woman I met earlier—her name was Charlotte—was also apparently a believer of that seer.
However, even though he was called a seer and had the power to see the future, he could not resist when it was time for him to die.
About half a year ago, the seer passed away peacefully as if he was just going to sleep, while surrounded by a large number of people.
His death caused the people of the country to become terribly afraid.
It wasn’t because they had lost the seer.
On the verge of death, the seer had left behind a terrible prediction.
“This country will fall into ruin half an year from now,” he said.
Nobody knew the precise time after half a year when the country would be ruined, or even why it would be ruined.
However, due to the seer’s track record, his vague final words sowed an unbearable fear within the hearts of the people.
After that, most of the citizens abandoned the country before half a year came to pass. They must have been afraid of dying along with the country more than anything.
In the end, less than a hundred people remained in the country. They must have loved their country more than anything.
They lived quietly, even as they trembled in fear of their death, which might have visited itself upon them at any moment.
And then, four days ago.
Charlotte-san said that when she went to bed as usual, she saw a strange dream.
“Hey there. You’re Charlotte, aren’t you?”
She saw a demon in her dream.
The demon was strange. It looked just like her, but it had twisted horns growing out of its head and bat-like wings on its back.
“Who are you?”
“I’m the one who will fulfill your wish. You’re living in this country so that you can die here, right? I’ll fulfill your wish in your dream because I feel so sorry for you. It can be anything. Just tell me what your wish is. I will show you an ideal world.”
“Eeh, that seems really suspicious…”
“I’m a demon, after all.”
Although the logic was questionable, it was a dream after all, so she thought that such absurdity was only to be expected and ceased to pry too deeply into the matter.
“Now, what is your wish? I will give you three days in your ideal world.”
It was a dream after all, so she didn’t retort.
And so, she made her wish.
“In that case, I want to be a magician.”
She told me that the next three days in her dream were really perfect. She flew freely through the sky on her broom, levitated all sorts of things with magic, and lived while using magic however she wished.
The time she spent in that dream went by in a flash as one would expect from a dream, and at noon on the third day, the demon once again appeared before her.
“Well, how was it? Did you have fun? By the way, you can continue to stay in this dream if that is your wish. Even if you go back to the real world, there’s nothing to do there except wait for your death, right? In that case, wouldn’t it be more fun to keep living in this dream?”
That made sense. Even if she woke up from the dream, the only thing waiting for her was a sad life where she could only wait to die.
However, she did not consent to stay within that dream.
After hearing her story up to that point, I asked her that out of curiosity.
In reply, Charlotte-san said,
“Just think about it. True, continuing to live inside that dream sounded wonderful, and there was no need to wait for my death. But can you really call that living? No matter how pleasant it is, a dream has to end eventually, right? At some point, you have to return to your real life. Even if death is just around the corner, I think that shutting yourself away in an ideal dream world can’t really be called living.”
“……You may be right.”
“That’s why I rejected the demon’s offer.”
The demon looked at her shaking her head, and just said “I see,” as if it understood what was going through her mind. It was a really indifferent response.
“If you’re going back to the real world, I’ll give you a parting gift. Something to remember me by.”
Charlotte-san nodded while thinking that it really was a strange dream.
“You became a magician in your dream, right? So I’ll make you capable of using magic in the real world as well. When you wake up, you should be able to use magic, just like you did in your dream.”
Charlotte-san said “Thank you,” while thinking to herself that there was no way something like that could really happen. She appeared to be only mildly interested.
Perhaps she had given up on everything because she thought that it was only a dream, and once she returned to the real world, the only thing awaiting her was death.
“I’ve made enough of a profit from all the human lives I’ve taken here that I can afford to make you a magician—so this is a gift. Feel free to use it as you wish in the real world.”
In the end, the demon smiled. Charlotte-san told me that it was clearly a fake smile.
And so, she was released from her dream.
“Although it sounds incredible, I became capable of using magic, just like the demon told me in my dream. I can fly through the sky on a broom, and can levitate all manner of things using magic.”
Charlotte-san talked like she wasn’t really interested in the matter.
“I’m sure the others have also woken up from their dream and received something wonderful—or so I thought as I flew around the country.”
“The result is what you see here.”
“……None of them had woken up?”
She calmly nodded.
“They appear to have breathed their last inside their blissful dreams.”
By the time she had woken up, the other citizens had passed away while looking like they were still asleep. The reason for that was obvious.
Charlotte-san dug a hole for the citizens who had passed away, wrapped their soulless bodies in cloth, and threw them inside.
“By the way, the ones I put inside earlier were the last. I’m the only person left in this country.”
“What do you plan to do from now on?”
“Let’s see. For now, I plan to leave the country once I finish covering up this hole. To tell you the truth, I intended to die along with this country. I intended to accept the destruction that was sure to come. But instead, I obtained magic. It would be wasteful to just wait to die.”
“I’m going to leave this country.”
Saying so, she waved her staff.
A large amount of dirt covered the piled bodies, and eventually, all traces of the hole disappeared.
I decided to leave the country on the same day.
Although there was no one around and the country was basically done for, I didn’t want to stay for long in this country with a creepy atmosphere.
And so, after saying a brief goodbye to Charlotte-san, I went out of the gate and once again headed towards the plains.
In the end, that country would probably cease to exist by tomorrow.
As the Seer had predicted, every citizen of the country had disappeared in the six months after his death. If the Seer hadn’t said anything, perhaps the country would not have been ruined.
Or perhaps the ruin of this country was inevitable.
This conclusion was most likely brought about by the trusting hearts of the people who lived here, and the demon that took advantage of them.
No matter what the circumstances, if you only think about bad things, then you will end up seeing everything negatively. However if you only focus on the things that are convenient to you, you will be blind to the world and might lose your life before you know what went wrong. Just like the citizens who were trapped in their dreams and lost their lives.
I suppose that the moral of this story is that everything should be done in moderation, and if you allow your feelings to swing too much to either extreme, you’ll end up breaking.
I’ll leave aside the good and bad things for now.
I continue my unchanging, indifferent journey.