"It's taking a pretty long detour."
The words that came out of her mouth had the same force as an overripe fruit that fell from the tree. Erica was sitting in the cargo bay of the Magatha flying to Arad. She glanced at Roy sitting on the opposite side.
His thoughts were still stuck on that day. The day when they confirmed Luke's death and decided to go back to the Tower of Despair. The day that Azalea finally returned, after missing for so long, but as a dead body. Roy hadn't moved on from that day he lost her. There was no chance of saving her now.
Yes, that day. Since then, the famous hands of the Burning Pen had stopped scribbling busily. Instead, they'd been laid next to Azalea's coffin, immobile as the coffin itself, yet ready to guard it against any threats at a moment's notice.
"...What if we can't persuade Soldoros?"
More complaints spilled out of Erica's lips. A look of recognition flashed across Roy's otherwise blank face at the mention of Soldoros's name.
"Gah, I'm being a wimp! Azalea asked us to do this before she died. We have to do it, no matter what. As the Grim Seekers, we'll make sure Soldoros—"
"The Grim Seekers killed Azalea."
"You said Soryun and her cronies did it."
"Yes, Soryun did, and she's the hardest of all the hardliners ready to kill the Apostles. She'll do anything if she thinks it'll stop the world's destruction. Now, can you guess why she killed Azalea?"
"She probably blames Azalea for Luke's death."
"That's just her excuse. Damn it—I should've stopped Azalea when I had the chance! It's only a matter of time before the others find out Soryun killed their leader and split into factions. Then, Soldoros..."
"That's exactly why we have to persuade him. I don't know what he thinks of Luke, but I've heard that he shares the same goal as Azalea. He'll make the right decision."
"Goal? What are you talking about? Stopping the end of the world, even though we're not sure it might not even happen?"
"You know what Azalea always said. 'The prophesy will—'"
Suddenly, the Magatha shook with a low rumbling noise, pushing Erica and Roy to one side and causing Azalea's coffin to rattle. Roy lowered his head with a pained look on his face. Even hearing her coffin was unbearable. Erica then broke the silence.
"I think we've landed."
It was late afternoon at the Harbor. The Grim Seekers who had received the news of Azalea's death were there, waiting for Roy and Erica. They decided not to create a scene in public on behalf of their late leader, but the sight of her coffin being carried out by Roy and Erica made the sadness in their hearts palpable.
The grim procession moved slowly, one step at a time. Following Azalea's coffin from behind, as it was being carried by the other members, Erica quietly sniffled. Roy's face was void of emotion. The people on the street looked at them curiously. The voice of the young Grim Seeker who rambled on to distract the others from their sadness echoed in her head like a eulogy.
"Azalea's sleeping capsule is ready. You know, the one she was sleeping in when she first arrived in Arad. You know that, right?"
"I don't think Azalea left us. I think she just went back to where she came from. And one day, she'll..."
The Tower of Despair could be seen in the distance, with a gloomy sky as its backdrop. The procession continued, and Roy and Erica followed it like its shadow.
They had no choice.
Azalea's coffin was temporarily stored in a tent made from black canvas until her funeral. Erica suggested keeping it in there since Azalea had stayed there before, but even she had to admit that the inside of the tent looked no better than a storage area. Still, Erica left Azalea in there, amidst the layers of dust that had gathered during her long absence, because of her will.
She must meet Soldoros. Everything else—from meeting the leaders of the Grim Seekers and relaying how Azalea died to preparing her funeral—was just a formality. On the day she was murdered at the Castle of the Dead, a light-footed Grim Seeker headed out for Arad before everyone else, and the leaders who heard the news from this Grim Seeker weren't patient enough to wait until Azalea returned. They had arranged her funeral long before she did, and they also found enough time to think about what to do with Soryun. They only barely showed discomfort when her name was mentioned.
Now, the problem was Soldoros. He knew Azalea died and returned to the Tower. He hadn't come out of the Tower to receive her. Also, since not all the Grim Seekers had access to the top floor, where he stayed, it was almost impossible to know what he was thinking.
"If it weren't for Azalea's will, we would never have come up this high in the Tower, would we?"
Erica only joked to relieve the rising tension. The Grim Seeker who guided them all the way up to the ninety-fifth floor had left, and now they were standing in front of the door to the ninety-sixth floor. Roy usually didn't like wasting time on nonsense, but even he looked as if he welcomed this little distraction. Eventually, Erica braced herself and reached out for the door knob. However, the door opened itself and revealed a face that she didn't expect to see.
"Soldoros is training, and he doesn't wish to be bothered."
"But, erm... We've brought Azalea's will. Can't you let us deliver it to him in person?"
"Then, could you at least talk to him? If he knows she's left a message for him, he'd probably change his—Yang Ull! Wait! Yang Ull!"
Without giving her a chance to finish, Yang Ull coldly turned his back and closed the door behind him. Erica stared at the door, not knowing how to feel about the situation. Roy, who had quietly watched their exchange from one step behind, had a glimpse at Soldoros, sitting cross-legged with his back turned to them, when Yang Ull opened the door.
Who is he waiting for?
The sun was setting and it started raining. Roy and Erica, having failed to deliver Azalea's will, let alone persuade Soldoros, walked quietly in the rain, side by side. They could see Azalea's tent in the distance, dark and gloomy, quietly waiting for them in the rain. What can I say to him to change his mind? Can I change his mind? Erica's head was filled with clamoring thoughts. As soon as they stepped into the tent, Roy made a beeline for Azalea's coffin. Erica turned away from him, busying herself with drying her wet hair, to give him—and herself—some private time.
After a while, she started hearing low, muffled noise through the sound of rain from the outside.
Erica stared at Roy's back. He wasn't moving, but the noise continued. She realized he was crying.
Slowly, Erica got close to him, placed her hand on his bony back, which trembled under her palm, and patted him gently. He buried his face in his hands, too embarrassed to show it, but he couldn't stop the tears that had started falling between his fingers.
"I'm just... I'm sorry... I'm sorry about everything..."
He was rambling, but he didn't know what else to do. Erica knelt next to him and brought her small forehead onto his shoulder.
"Maybe we should write a letter to the Adventurer. Maybe the Adventurer can make her last wish come true. Even Azalea would approve of the Adventurer."
Roy and Erica may have left their old lives behind and became loners for different reasons, but they had one thing in common. They both knew Azalea's kindness. Once again, Erica was choked by emotion, her eyes blurry with unshed tears.
Outside, the rain continued with no signs of stopping.