The Weight of Death

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The one who stood in our way when we infiltrated the ghost ship was Rei’s childhood friend, Louis.
Everything must have been set up by the Empire.
He, who had turned undead while alive, had been pierced by the countless swords that Rei strategically flooded the room with.
I did not know who tricked him, but how foolish of him to betray the one he held precious―yet just as that thought crossed my mind,

“… Thank you.
Ah… I never did get to return the money… I wonder if they’ll hold it against me…”

When he spoke his final words, I felt the temperature drop.

 ◆◇◆◇◆

“Are you really going to go, Claire-sama?”
“Of course I am.
If we’re not the ones to tell her, who else will?”

Rei was so reluctant that I was effectively dragging her along as we made our way to Louis’ home.
His sickly mother, the weakness that someone had taken advantage of to turn him into the Ghost Ship’s mastermind, should be waiting there.
I felt compelled to be the one to tell her of his final moments.

The actions that Louis had taken were of course mistaken.
Though he had been manipulated by the empire, his actions had directly resulted in so many casualties.
That being said, I did not believe that his actions went beyond redemption.
He wanted to save his mother―I could relate to those feelings, painfully so.
Back when my mother passed in that ill-fated accident, if I had the choice―if… by selling my soul to the empire, I could have saved her life―I was certain that I would’ve done the same.

“I’m sure someone will one day tell her that he passed.
I’ve heard that Louis’ mother is still quite sick, don’t you think it’d be best to wait a little?”
“It’s not good if ‘someone’ tells her.
We were the ones to witness it, the man’s last moments where he thought dearly of his mother and apologized to his friends.
If we aren’t the ones to pass that on, just who will?”

When I said that, for some reason Rei wore a bitter expression.

“… Claire-sama, you really are a noble, aren’t you.”
“? What do you mean by that?”
“No, if you don’t understand then it’s fine.”

It would be a while yet before I could fully grasp what Rei wanted to say at that moment.

Louis’ home was at the quiet outskirts of Euclid.
It was small and rundown, suggesting that Louis’ family wasn’t very well off, even by commoner standards.
Without anyone to care for it, the garden was a mess of overgrowth.

Looking past all of that, I knocked on the door.
When prompted, both Rei and I entered through the door.

“My, my, Rei-chan, it’s been so long.”

When she recognized Rei, Louis’ mother―Ophria-san―offered us a gentle smile.
As Rei said, it appeared she hadn’t fully recovered from her illness.
She was pale and her arms and legs were as thin as withered branches on a dying tree.

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In order not to frighten Ophria-san, we had left Relaire with Mel-san, who had gone to help a friend in the adventurers guild.
Relaire had made great contributions in the defense efforts the other day, garnering quite the popularity among the other adventurers.
Today, she had gone to join them in their celebration.

“I’m sorry that I need to greet you from my bed like this.
I haven’t been feeling very well, though it isn’t anything serious…”
“No need for concern, ma’am, you’re fine as you are.”

When Ophria-san began coughing violently, I rushed to her side to reassure her.
To bring even the slightest relief, I stroked her back.
I didn’t want her to force herself.

“My, and who might this lady be? Might you be Rei-chan’s friend?”
“No, she’s―”
“Yes, ma’am, I’m Rei’s friend Claire.
I was a friend of Louis’ as well.”

I lied.
If Ophria-san found out that I was a noble, she would have to take the difference in our statuses into consideration.
So, to help her to relax as much as she possibly could, I did my best to put on a gentle smile.

“Oh my, friends with Louis as well? I haven’t seen him since the last time he came to give me medicine.
Has he been well?”

The spark of joy that lit Ophria-san’s expression caused me to momentarily freeze up.
Because that’s all that it took for me to know… Just how much she loved and treasured Louis.
Even as she was bedridden, she worried more for him than for herself.

Even so, I had to tell her… About the kind, strong man had died following his own convictions.

“Louis-san… Has passed.”

I firmly spoke the words that I knew I must.

“No… It can’t be, that must be a lie…”

It appears Ophria-san initially thought I spoke in jest, responding with a bitter smile and denying my words.
But from my expression, she came to understand that I was telling the truth.
Silence filled the room.
In a strange way, the silence had felt both short and long, but it was certainly too short for a mother to come to terms with her son’s death.

“… My child… Why did he die…?”

With the voice of a person that could fade from this world at any moment, Ophria-san just barely voiced her question.

“Louis-san―”

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For just a moment, I thought it might be best to tell her the truth.
But then, seeing Ophria-san’s condition, I quickly decided against it.

“Louis-san died protecting his friends during a battle to repel a ghost ship threatening the town.”

I decided to tell her the cover story we had created to conceal the truth of this tragedy.
Rei had opposed the idea, but I forced my way.
The only ones who knew the truth were myself, Rei, and Misha.
Father appeared to have some suspicions, but when I reported the events to him, he simply acknowledged my report and did not press any further.

“Louis-san was very brave.
If it weren’t for him, this town certainly would’ve suffered large casualties.”

As I spoke, I held Ophria-san’s hand.
Her thin, frail hands were shaking.
I continued to pray that she could hold pride in her son’s life and death.

“Louis-san… is the hero who saved this town.”

Momentarily, Ophria-san gave a blank look as though she was in a daze.
I couldn’t read anything from her expression, but I could tell that she was thinking about something.

“I see… Is that so… That crybaby of a son… Did something so great…”

Ophria-san returned a smile.
With that I thought that Louis-san could move on without regrets.

But I was sorely mistaken.

“But… Even so… Even if he was still the crybaby he always was… I just wanted him to come home to me.”

With her true feelings out, Ophria-san stifled her cries as her tears continued to flow.

◆◇◆◇◆

“A commoner’s death is rather different from a noble’s death, isn’t it.”

A few days later on the road home from Louis’ memorial service, I let that whimper spill.

“What part of it would you say is different?”

Perhaps having picked up on feelings, Rei spoke really gently as she asked.

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“When a noble falls in battle, there is a grand memorial service where many mourn their departure.
However, Louis was only buried in a small grave in the field outside of his home, and given a tiny bouquet.
Isn’t that far too sad?”

Throughout the services, I couldn’t help but feel shocked that even the weight of death was different between nobles and commoners.

“Louis is lucky compared to most.
Just having his own grave is quite the luxury.
Commoners who are worse off, or those who die on the streets just get buried in a communal cemetery.”
“…”

Rei spoke of a harsh reality.
That would mean that they didn’t even get a memorial service.
They were simply dealt with, disposed of.

“I think that it is only a noble’s privilege that honor is found in their death.
I won’t say that it never happens for us commoners, but for the most part, death is just sad and pitiful.”
“…?”

For the first time I realized that rather than speaking to me, Rei was trying to convince herself.

“Rei, is something the matter? You seem rather down…”
“… No, not at all! I was just immersing myself in my fantasies about how I’d toy with you once we got home―”
“Stop.
I’m not letting you gloss over it like that this time.
We’ve spent a fair amount of time together by now, so I can tell when you mean something and when you don’t.”
“… I’m sorry.”

Breathing out a large sigh, Rei began speaking.

“I never really thought anything of Louis.
Even when he sought after me, or when we fought him, not even when I killed him.”
“And?”
“… But… That was the first time I killed another person.”
“…!”
“What Louis did isn’t something that can be forgiven… But the one who ended his life, the one who caused Ophria-san her suffering, was me.”

This was the first time in a while that Rei had exposed her weak side.
The last time would’ve been during her quarrels with Onee-sama.

“Rei…”
“Louis… Laughed at the very end.
I’m sure he had a lot of regrets.
Like his mother, or his friends, and about the future―but I put an end to all of that…!”

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“Rei.”

Unable to bear it any longer, I hugged her, pulling her close.
Her body was shaking.

“Rei, listen to me.”
“… Yes.”
“First, you did not kill Louis alone.
Misha and I are responsible as well.
That’s why you mustn’t bear everything alone either.”
“But―!”
“We simply delivered the coup de grâce, the stiletto, that’s all.”
“…Stiletto?”

The stiletto―a dagger with a thin blade said to be used to bring peace to those on the verge of death.

“As he had been abusing Cantarella, he would have lost his humanity sooner or later.
However, he spent his final moments thinking of his mother and friends.
He died still human.”

I did not intend to glorify murder, but I believe that we had been able to help him.

“… Do you really think so?”
“Yes, I do.
If, even then, you still find what you did to be unforgivable, then remember him.”
“Remember him?”
“That’s right.
That Louis, who held affections for you, loved his mother, and treasured his friends, once lived.
Remember him.”
“…”
“And remember, the fact that you took his life, that sin, is one that I will share with you.
Let us both atone for it, until we die.”
“… Claire-sama.”

Rei wasn’t crying.
However, even without showing her tears, I could tell that she greatly regretted Louis’ death.
As I held her, I finally realized that she too had a weak side to herself.

On this day, the two of us decided to share the weight of that one transgression.

Translator Note: Even though death is something that both nobles and commoners will have to experience and live through, the weight of death, and even how they process it is so different…

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