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Finale - A Legacy Never to be Forgotten

I was swallowed by the light only to be spewed moments later onto a patch of hardened ground. The air was filled with the scent of sun-baked earth. Yet, for being the floor of some grandiose, heavenly estate inherited by those in the afterlife, it felt quite like the flagstones I had grown accustomed to in my past life.

Upon feeling around in my immediate surroundings, my searching hand found soft locks of disheveled hair. It seemed as though Sister Carnelia had come as well as I to meet our creator firsthand.

Gradually, as I lay there, I felt something warm swell within the pit of my stomach. Weary and spent I just let the feeling spread over me. It was at about this time that the sound of murmurous voices started to fill the air around us. Warm breath tickled across my nose and brow, letting me know that I was being stared at directly in the face.

As my eyes adjusted to the intensity of the light, I realized that I was looking into the face of a young girl who beamed back at me brightly with the widest of smiles. However, she seemed a bit young to hold the esteemed position of the Goddess.

The knell of a bell overhead rang out loud and clear. Strangely, it had sounded exactly like the cathedral's distinctive toll. Taking in this series of events to be rather odd, I picked myself up, and at last, awakened from the dream which had temporarily invaded my senses.

There it was, the familiar cityscape, the sounds, and even the scent of the breeze. I knew the place by heart. It was the public square of the Imperial city which unfolded before the great cathedral of the Septian Church.

I opened the fingers of my right hand and stared down at the metallic lump in its palm, entrusted to me by Micht. Golden filaments of light swirled across the surface of the artifact. I instantly recalled Sister Carnelia's words. 'It's alive,' she had said. And as I watched the ancient light gradually fade away before closing my hand around its surface once more, I believed it.

Supporting each other by wrapping our arms around one another's shoulders, Sister Carnelia and I hobbled and limped our way toward the magnificent cathedral as the awe-inspiring figure of the Goddess, Aidios, stood silently with unfurled wings, watching over us from the deep-hued stained-glass window above. And as for the events which followed, they were all settled in an orderly fashion.

The metallic lump which Sister Carnelia had so daringly risked her life for was turned over to His Eminence, the cardinal, who presided over the cathedral. He disappeared with it through the thick open door of a sacred vault.

The level of corruption which had spread like a plague among members of the Imperial court, influential aristocrats and even commissioned officers in the Imperial Army astonished even those mediators acting on behalf of the Bracer Guild.

I stayed close by Sister Carnelia as she was laid out on a pew within the chapel of the cathedral. The real sisters of the church delicately pulled off her coat and cut open her vest, now stuck to her body with dried blood. Upon doing so, they found an ornate shirt of chain mail just beneath the layer of her clothing, which for some strange reason seemed to bewilder them all.

The next day a certain aristocrat, who had hired the jaeger corps to carry out his selfish bidding, agreed to relinquish the artifacts in his possession in return for keeping his estate. Hence, his collection of forbidden antiques were brought under the safekeeping of the Septian Church.

Sworn to secrecy, I made immediate arrangements to take leave for the Calvard Republic. My destination: a high-class resort, which turned out to be an excellent way to recover physically and mentally, as well as forget about the series of events which had occurred over the past few days. Naturally, the bracers assigned to provide my escort were none other than Clayton and Pavel, who before we left, guided me without a word to where Sister Carnelia was resting.

I talked with Sister Carnelia, who had awoken for a short interval, but as I got up to leave she reached out her dainty hand and said to me, 'Before you go, I want to tell you my real name. It's Ein. Ein Selnate.' I took her unblemished hand in mine and gripped it firmly as I expressed my appreciation for what she had done.

And today, now three years later -- I stood staring at her name once again, but this time, printed on a page of the Imperial Chronicle.

'Ein Selnate.'

Below those printed characters ran the few lines of an unembellished article.

'Yesterday, a corpse was discovered in an urban area of the capital just before dawn. The body was found to be covered with multiple stab wounds. -- The departed, in life, had been involved in charitable work and brought salvation to many afflicted souls in various regions throughout the land.'

As I read the last line, I envisioned the deceased figure of Sister Carnelia lying motionless upon a darkened street. Yet, despite the blood-stained face I envisioned in my mind, I saw her as she rested in peace, a gentle smile crossing her face, and vindicated of any transgressions in life.

As I rolled up the copy of the magazine in hand, I brushed my hand lightly across the shining bracer emblem pinned on my chest. Almost two years had passed since I converted to my new line of work, which Sister Carnelia had so graciously recommended to me. And finally, I had even become used to using my real name.

'Toby,' came the whisper of Sister Carnelia as it resurrected in my ears.

Now only known as Toby, I pressed my forehead up against the cold, clouded window of the passenger car, the refulgent eyes of Sister Carnelia shining brightly like a carnelian stone, forever ingrained in my memory. In my mind's eye I watched as her coat sleeves trailed out behind her and she dashed away into the darkness of my memories.

Opening my eyes, I gazed out through the window glass. And there, I saw the bleeding rouge-colored illumination of the Imperial City, as it faded away beneath the heavy white fog.

(THE END)

最終回 《帝 国 時 報(インペリアル・クロニクル)》・Ⅱ

白い世界に飲み込まれた僕は、固い地面の上へと吐き出され、転げ落ちた。

陽の匂いのする温かな大地。天国の床は、まるで敷石のような手触りだ。手で周囲を探ると、ごわついた髪の毛が触れた。シスターも僕と一緒に「女神(エイドス)行き」になったらしい。腹の底から熱いものがこみ上げてきて、僕は大の字になり、体を休めた。

周囲がざわめき始めたのはそのときだ。誰かが僕の顔を覗き込んでいるようだった。目が慣れると、少女の顔だと分かる。にっこり微笑む女の子。女神(エイドス)にしては、いくらなんでも若すぎる。

と、頭上で鐘の音が鳴り響いた。それはまるで聖堂の時鐘のように聞こえた。不思議に思って僕は体を起こし、ようやく夢から覚めた。

ハトのように気ぜわしく辺りを見回す僕の上に、野次馬たちの視線が集まった。見慣れた町並み、物音、風の匂い。間違えようもない。そこは帝都の聖堂前広場だった。

僕は右手の指を開き、ミヒュトから預かったあの金属塊を見つめた。金色の光の筋が、《アーティファクト》の表面に渦巻いていた。シスターが言った「生きてる」という言葉を思い出し、次第に弱まっていくその古代の耀きを、また握り締めた。

肩を貸し合って聖堂へ向かう僕らのことを、色ガラスの翼を広げた女神(エイドス)が、黙って見つめていた。

その後の出来事は、整然と処理されていった。

シスターが血まみれになって守った金属塊は、聖堂で待ち構えていた枢機卿猊下(げいか)の手に渡り、分厚いドアの向こうへ消えた。皇室関係者に有力貴族の名代ら、そして帝国軍の将校が、延々と汚い駆け引きを繰り広げ、遊撃士協会(ブレイサーギルド)の調停役を呆れさせた。

僕はシスター・カーネリアのそばにいた。教会の長椅子に横たえられた彼女。本物のシスターたちがコートを剥ぎ取り、血で貼りついた上着を切り開く。するとその下からさらに鎖かたびらが現れて、彼女たちを困惑させる。

翌日、《猟兵団》を動かしていた某貴族は荘園を見返りに手を打つことに同意し、ようやく《アーティファクト》は教会の管理下に入った。そしてバッグ一杯の口封じを押し付けられた僕は、すぐに共和国へと旅立った。行き先は有名な高級保養地。体のいい厄介払いだった。護衛に付いてくれた遊撃士はあのパヴェルとクレイで、出発の直前、2人は何も言わず僕をシスターのところへ案内してくれた。

目を覚ましていたシスターと、少しだけ話した。別れ際、彼女は手を差し出した。

「アインよ。あたし、アインっていうの」僕は彼女の真っ白な、けがれのない手を握り締めた。

それから3年が過ぎた今日――

僕は《帝国時報》の誌上で、彼女の名を目にしている。「アイン・セルナート」――その活字の先には、きわめて簡潔な記事が、こう続いていた。

『昨日未明、帝都市街にて変死体として発見。遺体には複数の外傷――故人は生前、七耀教会の慈善事業に参加し、各地で多くの人々を救った。』

最後の1行を読んだとき、路上に横たわるシスターの姿が頭に浮かんだ。血に染まったその寝顔は、ひどく安らかで、笑みさえ浮かべている。

僕は雑誌を固く丸め、胸に光る遊撃士の紋章(エンブレム)にそっと触れた。シスターが薦めてくれたこの商売に乗り換えて、もうまもなく2年が経つ。ようやく本名を使うことにもなれてきた。

「トビー」耳元でシスターのささやきがよみがえる。もうトビーですらない僕は、冷たく曇った車窓に額をつける。記憶の中のシスターの瞳は煌く紅耀石(カーネリア)のようだ。コートの裾をなびかせ、闇の中へ駆け出す彼女。目を開き、僕は窓の外を眺める。帝都の灯りが紅くにじんで、白い霧の彼方へと、消えていった。 〈了〉