Chapter 20: The Receptionist’s Past

 

Helen Reen, receptionist to the Adventurer’s Guild, followed by the example which she had given yesterday and allowed herself one more day of rest.

While it would say on paper that she had been impelled to do so by a lapse in her constitution, the truth of the matter was that there was nothing wrong with her personal health. It was her mind, rather, which had undergone a toll so great in proportion that it was enough to get in the way of her work.

There was no way she could even muster a simple, professional smile; a crippling blow to anyone who ran a business that dipped into the spheres of hospitality.

‘They already asked me the day before yesterday, but… would it have been better if I’d given an honest answer…?’

Those were the thoughts that dominated her thinking as she began to look back to the past.

Helen Reen was a simple village girl, born and raised in the village of Honol. She’d been quite prone to tears in her younger days, perhaps due to the way her parents so lovingly spoiled her, but by the time she turned three, she came to know that her mother was with child again.

While she had no way of knowing that the unborn child would be a boy, she had become aware that she would wind up as a big sister to the child. She had to pull herself together, she thought, and become a true role model.

As time went on, she began to offer her parents a helping hand more and more, all so that she could beam with pride when the newcomer would come to call her his big sister.

Then, finally, the child was due.

Though the process was an arduous one, a healthy, baby boy was born into this world. The minute her eyes gazed upon his face, she thought to herself, ‘I’m going to protect this child.’

She grew even more helpful around the house when that happened, and finally extended her willingness to assist to the others in the village.

Laik was the name her younger brother received, and not many years had passed since his birth before his sister, small though she was, had a firm grasp of right and wrong, and would sternly reprimand all those who did some bad thing or another, regardless if they were older than she was.

By that time, not the slightest vestige of her past as a spoiled little crybaby remained to be seen. She had her own things she wanted to do, of course, but she was a big sister first and foremost.

Besides, whenever a villager or one of her parents gave her their thanks, or better yet, if Laik did the same, she would become ecstatic. She would always smile, then, with complete genuineness.

One day, several years into this lifestyle, her parents had been working the fields when Laik let her know that he would be going out to play with the other boys of the village.

Laik had seemingly lost his childlike naivete at that point, and now spoke in a manner that was rather precocious for someone his age.

Not long ago, he had always asked her, ‘What’s wrong, big sis?’ Even that had now changed to a, ‘Did something happen, Sis?’

He would go on and on about becoming a first-class knight while he tried his hand at swordplay, something that those around him told him to stop and warned him that it was too dangerous, but he barely appeared to take what they said to heart.

“Haah… What do I do now…? I know! I’ll try warning him again when he comes back home! I’ve gotta do my best to make sure he doesn’t get himself caught up in trouble! I’ll protect him, just you see!”

Just as she’d gathered her willpower, the very boy who had been on her mind swung the door open with vigour.

“Sis!”

“Lai, there’s something I need to tell you–”

“We really don’t have time for this! We have to run, Sis!”

“What? What?!”

Laik grabbed the girl’s arm, though she had yet to fully wrap her mind around what was transpiring around her, and dragged her outside with him.

“What’s going… on…”

The first thing she saw when she stepped foot outside the main entrance was the black dragon that turned to face the house closest to the village gates, dousing it with its breath.

“What… is that…?”

“I don’t know! It doesn’t matter, we just have to run!”

Heading towards the village gates would inevitably lead to them being discovered, and so the two hid to the side of a house that was closer to the village border.

Laik had already entertained the idea of climbing over the village fence and leaving, but it was much too high to allow that. He was sure that he could make it over if he tried, but had also come to the conclusion that his sister would not be as lucky if she did. This, however, he kept to himself.

“…Damn it all, what do we do now…?”

Trapped in a situation where a black dragon was demolishing the village, one might think, wasn’t the best environment to breed time during which to plan, but the dragon seemed to be taking its time.

“It’s almost like… like it’s enjoying all of this destruction…”

It would take some time, but the dragon was bound to reach them eventually. If they couldn’t manage to construe some sort of plan to counter their demise, then death was assured.

However, no matter how long they tried to crack an idea out of their skulls, they came up blank.

“Lai, run.”

“What?”

“That fence, Lai. You can probably to climb over it, right?”

“What?! Are you even listening to yourself, Sis?! Don’t you remember how you told me to never go  over that thing again?!”

“But… If it means that at least you’ll survive, then…”

“Then what was the point of me training in just about everything I could, down to the way I talk?! I want to support you too, Sis – watch out!”

Helen was sent back with a heavy shove from Laik. The strength, which he’d claimed to have trained so well, was indeed more than ought to be expected from him, and Helen found herself sprawled all the way behind the building.

“Lai…”

When Helen finally managed to raise her face from the floor, what filled her entire field of vision wasn’t her brother. Instead, it was the arm of the black dragon.

“Ah… Aah… Aaah…!”

“I see that only you remain. And here I was so close to letting my own carelessness fell you. I owe the young boy my thanks.”

The dragon swept its arm to the side, completely burying the spot where Laik’s body had been.

“With this, he should find some rest in his eternal slumber. Though, as it stands, he shouldn’t even be capable of turning to a spectre, much less ascend to the heavens. Now then…”

The dragon swivelled to face Helen. Helen, already drowning in her despair, could not even feel the touch of fear.

“You ought to be thankful, for I do not plan to see you die here. But know that I will, one day, appear again, be it before you or your next of kin. Till that day comes, spend your days wallowing in fear.”

Those were the dragon’s last words before it flew away and left her behind. The girl, however, was of no capacity to register what it had said.

The one she had so strived to protect had protected her, in the end, and the utter despair that now overcame the lone survivor was deeper than anyone could begin to imagine.

Several days later, the girl was placed in the care of the knights which come to investigate. But when they came, she could no longer speak.

As reviled as she was by the idea that she alone had survived, she had no plans of beleaguering those around her any longer, and found the strength to make a full recovery.

Needless to say, it wasn’t an easy thing to do for her. Any forced laughter she squeezed out only made her better at feigning joy, and little else.

This feigned laughter was not without merit, however, as she was soon deemed to be sound of mind and was set to take part in a hearing. Once that had been put behind her, she managed to find some room to grow despite all the twists and turns that presented themselves in her path, and at some point, she was even able to land a job as a receptionist.

But even when she worked, all she had to offer was a plastered business smile. She offered nothing but these false smiles, and nothing had come along to change that.

“…Am I ever going to laugh again? Really laugh…?”

She sat on her bed, arms wrapped around her legs and face against her knees, muttering to herself questions that no one would answer.

“You have no need to fret. Today, all your worries will end.”

“…What?”

The very next second, the roof of her home was blown away.

“Why, you might ask? Because I have come to relieve you of your life!”

She couldn’t have forgotten if she tried. Not the true catalyst for her despair that was right there.

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