Chapter 7: Falling Flowers, Flowing Water
Weeks before the capital was surrounded...
“Oh, why, Your Majesty!” Krahe Laval, the commander of the Empire’s main air force, the griffon squadrons, lamented.
With Fuuga’s forces on the verge of attacking, Krahe, who venerated Maria as a saint, had been in high spirits. He thought the time had finally come for him to fight invaders for his liege. However, Maria’s orders to him were to join the knights and nobles of the north to intercept Fuuga’s forces. The former vassals in the Kingdom of Meltonia and the Frakt Federation were being used to invade the Empire itself.
The Empire’s prediction was that the main force would attack from the Lunarian Orthodox Papal State and Mercenary State Zem, so the forces in the north were merely a diversion. This meant Krahe had been excluded from the decisive battle. He felt betrayed.
“Oh, Your Majesty! Why will you not let me fight for you?! General Gunther and half of our griffon squadrons are fighting in the decisive battle, and yet I am not granted the same honor?! I, who would throw my very life away for you without hesitation!”
Krahe shed tears as he repeatedly punched the table. He might have been hitting it too hard, because his knuckles were bleeding.
Someone silently approached Krahe from behind.
“Ah— Who’s there?!”
Krahe drew his rapier faster than the eye could see, leveling it at the person who was behind him. With the tip of his blade at the person’s throat, they calmly raised both hands.
“It’s me, Sir Krahe.”
“Madam Lumiere...? I apologize.”
After realizing who it was, Krahe sheathed his rapier. Before him was Lumiere, the Empire’s top bureaucrat. She had a domain in the north and was a former military officer, so she had joined Krahe’s forces with her personal troops.
Lumiere shook her head. “No, I shouldn’t have crept up on you. You seemed tormented by something, so I thought a little surprise might help you to loosen up...”
“Thank you for your concern...” Krahe thanked her then looked away.
“I understand how you must feel...” Lumiere whispered to him. “You’re afraid, aren’t you?”
“Ah! What are you talking about, Madam Lumiere?!” Krahe sounded wounded by the accusation. “I am the sword of Saint Maria! No matter what opponents I face, no matter how great their numbers, I will show no fear! I shall slay them and offer my victory to Lady Maria!”
“That’s just it,” Lumiere said in a quiet voice. “I’m sure that you fear no enemy. What you’re afraid of is something different. Something close to the root of your pride. In other words...” Lumiere pointed her index finger at Krahe. “Maria becoming an ordinary person.”
Krahe was speechless. He mulled over what Lumiere had meant, trying to come up with a response. But he came up empty-handed and said nothing.
Lumiere looked at Krahe as she continued.
“It’s true that you’re Her Majesty’s loyal knight. You would rise against any enemy for her, even cast your own life aside. However, that is because she is a saint, respected by the people, and you take pride in protecting that saint. In short, you need her to shine so that you can shine yourself. If something caused her to lose her radiance, you would have nothing to fight for. You’re afraid of that. Afraid of not being the saint’s knight anymore. Am I wrong?”
“Madam Lumiere. You...” Confused, Krahe thought, Why would you say that?
He felt like her assertion got to the core of his recent struggles. If she was right, it would explain all his tormented feelings up until now.
But why choose now to tell me?
As he wondered, Lumiere seemed to look off into the distance.
“I’ve felt the same thing, Sir Krahe.”
“I was originally seeking to become a military commander. In childhood, I talked with my friend Jeanne about how I wanted to join her and use our martial abilities to support her elder sister. However, a training mishap cut off that path for me, and I was forced to retrain to become a bureaucrat instead. That was fine. If Her Majesty would smile and say, ‘I’m counting on you,’ I was ready to do my best for her, even if I was taking a different path from Jeanne. And so I rose to the top of the bureaucracy.”
After saying all this, Lumiere shook her head, sensing she’d gotten too heated.
“However, Her Majesty has been too passive about everything recently. Our actions against the Demon Lord’s Domain are purely defensive, and even after Fuuga began making a name for himself by liberating those lands, we did nothing. The Maritime Alliance grows steadily stronger, but she doesn’t sense a threat—she even turns to them for support in times of crisis. Wasn’t she a saint who could lead people? I wanted some sense that I was serving the right ruler, even if it was as a bureaucrat.”
With all of that said, Lumiere looked straight into Krahe’s eyes.
“What about you, Sir Krahe?”
“What...do you mean?”
“Can you bear to see Her Majesty fall to nothing more than an ordinary human like this? Even if we manage to fend off Fuuga’s forces now, I doubt she’ll do anything like launching an offensive into the Great Tiger Kingdom. Rather than settle things, she’ll take a conciliatory path, trying not to make things any bigger than they already are. No different from how she has been.”
Krahe looked at her, unable to answer.
“Can you accept that? Even though it means losing her radiance?”
“Sir Krahe, here’s a thought for you. If Her Majesty is going to become an ordinary person...perhaps it’s her knight’s duty to end her while she’s still a saint.”
Lumiere’s words sent a shudder down Krahe’s spine.
Not of fear, however. No, of excitement.
He could end Maria while she was still a saint. Let the liege he’s wanted to shine end while she still did. These were sweet words to Krahe’s warped sense of loyalty. He was prepared to give his life for Saint Maria. No matter the shame it may bring him, he was prepared. He could become any sort of villain for Maria’s saintly radiance. He didn’t care if the people who loved Saint Maria hated and abhorred him. If Saint Maria could remain a beautiful legend, he would welcome being killed, his grave defiled, and his bones scattered in the field for wild beasts.
This is it! My duty!
Krahe felt like he’d received a sign from heaven.
Seeing the ominous light in Krahe’s eyes, Lumiere continued.
“Many in the north hold a grudge against the House of Euphoria. If you and I go to persuade them, it would be easy to make them switch sides. If we take that army to join up with Fuuga’s, we can encircle the capital. If even that’s not enough to awaken Her Majesty to her role as saint, well...”
“You would have us lower the curtain on her ourselves, yes?” Krahe said with a dignified expression. Anyone could see he’d totally lost it.
It may have seemed strange to say his loyalty hadn’t faltered in the slightest, but Krahe really was doing this for Maria. He would kill Maria for Maria. In his mind, this wasn’t a contradiction.
That went well...
Lumiere was relieved at his reaction. She was still clearheaded compared to Krahe. There was no lie in what she’d told him, but what Lumiere desired to serve wasn’t a passive empire, but a great power that was doing things. With the path of becoming an officer in the military closed to her, she had been afraid that if she couldn’t shine now, her whole life would be summed up as unfortunate.
That’s why, when Hashim sent her the plan, she immediately accepted. To give her life meaning.
I feel bad for Jeanne... But I’m going to follow my own path.
Even if that meant parting ways with her friend forever.
◇ ◇ ◇
And so, Krahe and Lumiere moved into action. They took only those who would go along with their plans to meet Fuuga’s forces in the northeast.
The north of the Empire was upset with Maria’s handling of the natural disasters, and many of the knights and nobles were unhappy with the House of Euphoria to begin with, so most joined the pair. Some houses wouldn’t join them in their scheme, but they ignored them and didn’t include them in their forces.
With that, an Imperial force composed only of those who agreed with them joined Fuuga’s forces in the northeast instead of blocking their path, and together they headed down the road to the Imperial capital.
This is how Valois came to be surrounded.
◇ ◇ ◇
Falling Flowers, Flowing Water
(1) Depicts the end of spring. The flowers fall and drift away in the water. By extension, refers to rot and decline.
(Four-Character Compound Dictionary, Gakken Educational Publishing)
In the violent currents of this era, a flower was about to fall...
The Imperial capital of Valois was surrounded by a combined force of 25,000 troops consisting of a detachment from Fuuga’s army and the forces of the anti-Euphoria faction from the lords of the north led by Lumiere. The Imperial defenders numbered only 3,000, so it was clear that they could not hold. The battle had been decided the moment Krahe, who had gone to intercept Fuuga’s detachment, switched sides.
Fuuga and Mutsumi were with the Great Tiger Kingdom’s forces, as was the venerable commander Gaifuku, who they had brought as a bodyguard. Their principal allies and elite warriors had gone to attack Jamona Fortress, but the three came with this group because they knew from the beginning that it was here that the war would be decided.
“I never thought we’d be attacking the capital so quickly...” Fuuga said, looking half impressed and half disappointed.
“Ga ha ha! I’ll bet!” Gaifuku replied with a big nod. “We were just a little country on the steppes in the Union of Eastern Nations, and now we’ve got a sword to the throat of the largest nation on the continent. The things you see when you live to my age... I wish I could have shown this to your father, Lord Raiga.”
“So do I... It’s a bit of a letdown for me though.”
Fuuga had been imagining tearing through the Imperial soldiers that blocked his way to the capital as his sharp blade approached the Empire’s throat. But the reality was that he passed through largely unobstructed, making it all the way here without so much as increasing the pace his troops were marching.
Mutsumi smiled wryly at his reaction. “It must be thanks to my brother finding Madam Lumiere. He focused his efforts on her, and she became essential to the plan.”
“You’ve got a point...” Fuuga grunted, crossing his arms. “She not only brought together the lords who were opposed to the House of Euphoria, but she’s also the top of the Imperial bureaucracy. That means she has experience managing a great nation, and many of the people she’s trained will be highly capable too. She’s exactly the person we needed to fix our shortage of administrators.”
Having said this, Fuuga gave an exasperated shrug.
“This expedition was already more than successful enough for us when we got our hands on her. Even if we take the capital now, it’s just an added bonus.”
“Hee hee, if you say something like, ‘I took the Imperial capital, but taking Lumiere was far more rewarding,’ they might put it down in a list of your famous quotes.”
“Ha ha ha! I like it! Have the chronicler write that down!” Fuuga said with a jolly laugh.
“You’re too kind,” said Lumiere, who had arrived with Krahe at just that moment.
They knelt before Fuuga, heads lowered, then Lumiere spoke up.
“I thank you for allowing us to serve under your banner and trusting us to persuade the lords of the north. From here on, I will risk my life in service to your great work, Lord Fuuga.”
“Hmm. That’s a good show of determination, but don’t you care about Maria?” Fuuga asked.
Lumiere raised her face and looked him in the eye. “I believe she was a good ruler, but...our views did not match. She had everything she required to take the whole of the continent, and yet she’s remained passive. I advised her on many occasions that she should be more proactive towards the Demon Lord’s Domain, but she rejected my advice and continued wasting time. I couldn’t bear to see the people’s burning passion for a world without the Demon Lord’s Domain dying, and see the flames of my own passion dying with it. That is why I chose to place my bets on you.”
He could see the fire in Lumiere’s eyes.
If Maria could have done anything about the Demon Lord’s Domain, she no doubt would have wanted to. But she and Lumiere had disagreed on the amount of time needed to solve the problem. Maria wanted to address it slowly, as the issue of the Demon Lord’s Domain was one that could destroy her country. She wanted to keep losses to a minimum and solve it in due time. She had been laying the groundwork so that even if it wasn’t resolved during her reign, it could be during the next one or the one after that.
Lumiere, meanwhile, thought they should act to solve the problem immediately.
If the refugees were suffering as they watched, and if there was an unknown threat to the north, they needed to do something right away. Even if that meant drastic action, the kind that would strain the nation, she wanted to do something with her own hands. There was a slight desire for personal fame in that wish, but that was something everyone had to one degree or another, and it wasn’t something to be faulted for.
This difference in opinion created an irreconcilable rift between the two of them. There was no way, at the present moment, to know who was right. In fact, even later generations wouldn’t be able to tell. It was all in the world of “what if,” and it could be that both were right or that both were wrong. Other than that, it was just a matter of personal preference. And Fuuga’s forces preferred the latter.
Fuuga snorted and turned up the corners of his lips. “It looks like I won’t need to warn you not to betray me. As long as you have that passion and keep your spirit burning, you’re never going to want to leave us.”
“Ha ha ha! I like you. You’re a good fit for my forces,” Fuuga said with a laugh, then turned to Krahe. “And can I assume you’re going to serve me too?”
“I don’t want to see Lady Maria fall and become a mere human. That is why I want to take her life now, while she can still remain a beautiful memory.”
“That’s some darkness in your eyes...”
Looking into Krahe’s eyes, Fuuga sensed the man was a mass of dark emotions, but spoke to a strong will. For that reason, he could be sure Krahe wouldn’t betray him. Although, once Maria was dead, that passion would be lost, and he might be left as no more than an empty husk...
Fuuga nodded to the two of them.
“Got it. Both of you work hard for me from here on.”
“All right, Lumiere. Hashim told me to ask you what happens next.”
“Right. After conferring with Sir Hashim, this is what I’ve prepared to do,” she replied, then raised her hand.
Seeing this, her men brought over a broadcast jewel to them.
“A jewel, huh?”
“Indeed. First, we will broadcast these images of us surrounding the capital to the entire Empire—which is the same as us having won a strategic victory. That includes the main army fighting at Jamona Fortress, of course. Sir Hashim will be gathering water mages and preparing to show them. I’m sure it will deal a heavy blow to Jeanne and the other defenders.”
Lumiere rose and extended her hand towards Valois.
“And we will call on Maria to surrender. If she agrees, we win. If she does not, we will destroy her. After seeing that, if Jeanne tries to return to the capital, Sir Hashim and your main forces will strike her from behind.”
“Layers upon layers of traps. Impressive...” Mutsumi said, and Fuuga nodded.
“If Souma has Hakuya and Julius, then I have Hashim and Lumiere.”
“Hee hee. That will go down as one of your famous quotes too.” Mutsumi laughed and shot him a mischievous smile.
◇ ◇ ◇
And that is how the image of the capital surrounded came to be broadcast at Jamona Fortress too.
The sight of it threw Jeanne into disarray. She punched the edge of the fortress wall repeatedly. Fighting the urge to question if it could even be real, she shook her head and resolved to do something.
“Damn it! I must go save Sister at once!”
“Calm yourself!” Gunther shouted, causing Jeanne and all the soldiers nearby to stop.
When the usually taciturn general raised his voice, everyone stopped and paid attention.
Gunther brought his hands down on Jeanne’s shoulders. “If you lose your presence of mind, our forces will collapse on the spot! The enemy before us won’t allow our forces to abandon the fortress and return to the capital! They would attack us from behind. Even if we arrive before the city falls, it will be impossible for us to save them if we’re bloodied from that sort of battle!”
Jeanne gasped. The feeling of Gunther’s grip on her shoulders brought her back to her senses.
“But if we don’t act, my sister is doomed... What can we do?”
Seeing that Jeanne had calmed down a little, and reassured that she wouldn’t run off all of a sudden, Gunther let go of her shoulders.
Then, looking at the image of the Imperial capital, he said, “Saving the capital will be impossible. We could never make it in time. If Her Imperial Majesty could just escape and come join us, we would have options...”
“She’d never! My sister couldn’t abandon the people of the capital...”
Jeanne pressed a hand to her forehead and hung her head. She couldn’t imagine Maria, with her saintly kindness, leaving the citizens of the capital behind when they were at the brink of facing the fires of war. If anything, Maria might willingly give up her own life to avoid getting the people caught up in the conflict. That was the kind of woman she was.
The soldiers began to raise a ruckus. Jeanne looked up and saw Fuuga’s image being projected.
“This is a message for Saint Maria of the Empire!” Fuuga’s image began. “The Imperial capital is already surrounded. Most of your forces are at Jamona Fortress and likely aren’t gonna make it back here in time. At the swing of my arm, my forces will storm the capital, reducing its historical townscape and citizenry to ash. That’s not what you want, Maria! Open the gates and bravely surrender! I swear on my own name, Fuuga Haan, that the unarmed people will go unharmed!”
This was an ultimatum from Fuuga.
“There’s no point in arguing who’s right and who’s wrong here. This war happened because we have two irreconcilable viewpoints. You want to protect the present, while I am trying to win us a future. And my side is about to win this fight! Many of your own people who couldn’t abide by your views are with me. My being here right now is their answer to you! They support us!”
The moment Fuuga said that, a great cheer erupted from the Great Tiger Kingdom’s forces in front of the fortress. They must have felt certain of their victory.
The Imperial soldiers in the fortress, on the other hand, were silent, as if the wind had been knocked out of them. They were beginning to feel that, struggle as they might, there was no turning this one around.
“I’m counting on you to make the smart choice—”
Just as Fuuga was finishing his ultimatum, his image vanished. The scenery changed, and a woman was projected instead. A beautiful woman in a dress standing on a balcony of some sort high up in the castle.
“Sister!” Jeanne cried out despite herself. It was indeed her, Empress Maria Euphoria.
“First, to General Jeanne, who I am sure is watching this... I have an order for you, and for the soldiers at Jamona Fortress. Please, put up a water ball so you can hear me clearly.”
The moment Jeanne heard this, she gave the order.
“Have our water mages prepare a water ball at once!”
This was likely in case Fuuga’s forces dispelled the water ball in their camp.
Sister is about to tell us something important... Jeanne sensed. The soldiers hurried to obey her command, and soon there was a water ball above the walls of Jamona Fortress as well. The ball raised by Fuuga’s forces and the ball raised by the Imperials both showed the image of Maria.
After a short delay, Maria continued.
“The Great Tiger Kingdom used the broadcast to send a message demanding surrender all across the Empire. That being the case, this message should reach everyone in the country too. I ask all people of the Empire, and of the Great Tiger Kingdom, to lend me your ears for a moment.”
Maria looked straight at them as she spoke.
“It is fair to say that I have been passive in my approach to the Demon Lord’s Domain. That is because of the great loss that was suffered by the combined forces of mankind more than a decade ago. It was my father, the former emperor, who led that force, and we were all so confident then that with so much power amassed we could crush any enemy. This resulted in the annihilation of our combined force. With our forces massively weakened, we were unable to resist the monsters that came south. Many countries were destroyed, creating refugees.”
Maria spoke quietly and eloquently, and the soldiers of the Empire, and even those of the Great Tiger Kingdom, listened without heckling. Then Maria brought her hands together in front of her chest in a gesture like she was praying.
“When inertia is on our side, we tend to feel like we can do anything. We think that with the winds at our backs, no enemy can stand in our way. The more powerful our country is, the stronger this tendency becomes. However, this creates a trap for us. We have no way of knowing how far that inertia will last. People can never know when the winds of the era will turn. Because we are not gods. Even so, if we assume everything will be fine, we are guaranteed to get tripped up at some point. Yes, just as the combined force did...”
Maria trailed off, allowing some time for those watching to absorb her words.
“That is why I did not actively attack the Demon Lord’s Domain... Instead, I focused on creating a framework for all of mankind to cooperate against it. I wanted to ensure no more countries were destroyed—no more refugees were created. It is true that my methods did not solve the fundamental problem. It may be right to call that negligence on my part.”
“No!” Jeanne shouted despite herself. “You tried to change the situation! You sought to find a path peacefully—cooperating with other countries—and to walk it steadily, step by step! You were not negligent!”
This was especially frustrating for Jeanne. Having held broadcast meetings with Prime Minister Hakuya of the Kingdom of Friedonia and taken responsibility for their diplomacy with the Kingdom, Jeanne knew everything Souma and Maria had done together. Now people who didn’t know any of that were calling Maria negligent, and she felt she couldn’t blame them for it.
Maria continued on, not addressing Jeanne’s feelings on the matter.
“I can see from here that Lumiere, who supported me by managing our nation domestically; Krahe, the commander of our griffon squadrons; and many lords and knights from the north of the Empire are all collaborating with the Great Tiger Kingdom.”
Maria’s words sent a worried murmur through the troops.
“No, not Lumiere...”
“Sir Krahe! I can’t believe he, of all people, would do this...”
Jeanne and Gunther were equally shocked. Jeanne had known Lumiere was ambitious, but still believed her to be a friend, and Gunther knew of Krahe’s insane love and respect for Maria, so neither could hide their surprise at these defections. And yet, at the same time, they understood. The capital was completely surrounded because those two, along with the knights and lords of the north, had all flocked to Fuuga’s banner. It was the same for people across the Empire watching the broadcast.
“Lady Maria! Oh...”
“Ah... This... This can’t be happening.”
“Somebody, anybody, save her!”
The people watching the broadcast wailed in despair.
There were those among the knights and nobles who did not look fondly on the House of Euphoria, but Maria was loved by the people. Everyone watched in confusion and panic, wondering how they might save her. But, unarmed as they were, there was nothing they could do. Nothing but cry.
Even so, Maria continued speaking with a brave face.
“You asked for concrete measures against the Demon Lord’s Domain, but I never nodded my head. No matter how vast the Empire’s domain is, we do not have the strength to do anything and everything. If we push ourselves to the limit, we will have no margin for failure—any unexpected occurrence could leave us paralyzed. That can happen at any time, like with the earthquake and volcanic eruption in the northern regions. That was what scared me. Not being able to extend a helping hand to those who needed it. That’s why, even if it was possible, I didn’t want to overextend by advancing into the Demon Lord’s Domain. That is what led the people now surrounding the capital to lose hope. If I was unable to keep them on my side, that is a failing on my part. It may be the will of Heaven saying that I am no longer necessary.”
“What are you saying, Sister?!”
As Jeanne watched, the image of Maria carried a nearby chair next to the railing. And then, unbelievably, she then climbed on the railing using the chair. Jeanne was speechless. If Maria leaned forward even a little, she would fall straight down.
Maria’s dress flapped in the wind, indicating how precarious her current situation was.
“This could be bad...” Hashim murmured to himself in the camp outside Jamona Fortress.
“Is something the matter, Sir Hashim?” Gaten, who overheard him, asked.
Frowning, Hashim replied, “Sir Gaten, and the rest of you. Prepare your forces to fight at once.”
“But why? The capital looks ready to fall at any moment.”
“Maria may be planning to die,” Hashim said, glaring at the image of her as she stood on the railing. “If Maria dies now, there is the risk that the Imperial forces in Jamona Fortress will turn into absolute fiends. They might come at us like martyrs, prepared to die in the name of avenging her... If we take them on directly, we’ll take considerable losses.”
Hashim’s prediction had been that, with the capital surrounded, Maria was sure to capitulate. He had been calculating that Maria, being the gentle soul that she was, could not bear to see the Imperial capital burn and its people be trampled. As a result, she would turn herself over instead.
However, if she killed herself on broadcast, with the whole nation watching, that changed things. Her supporters would all fight for vengeance. Not just the soldiers in Jamona Fortress, but each and every one of her people would come to hate Fuuga. The revolts would be ceaseless, and the land would be restive even after the war.
You’ve found the most effective way of harassing us, Maria Euphoria, Hashim thought.
“We...may not need an empress anymore. If this title—if my very existence—is what has brought this war upon us... Then...I will cast my life away.”
Hashim glared as Maria continued speaking.
“Is there no one there who can stop my sister?!” Jeanne shouted pleadingly as she realized that her sister meant to die. She prayed, Someone, anyone, pull her back from the edge!
And with a peaceful look on her face, Maria said, “I would give my life to keep the people who live in this empire from being hurt... I have always been ready to, and I still am. That is the kind of empress I am. Please, everyone, stay well...”
With that, Maria slowly leaned back. For Jeanne and the others, she seemed to move much more slowly than she did. Her body leaned, then was dragged down by gravity. As she vanished from view, Jeanne screamed.
◇ ◇ ◇
She was falling. The wind growled in her ears, and it felt as if it was pulling on her from inside her own body.
Oh... This feels more unpleasant than I expected, Maria thought, still seemingly clearheaded as she fell.
She had been through some hard times since becoming empress. There were nights she went to sleep absolutely spent. The pressure was almost crushing, and there were days when she threw up because the excessive praise and criticism made it hard to keep meals down. There were even times when she’d felt an urge to hurl herself from the balcony of her office.
That said, she’d never gone so far as acting on it before now, so she was learning for the first time how unpleasant the experience was.
In a few more moments, her body would slam into the ground below, splattering it with her red blood. And yet, Maria was thinking about it like she was watching someone else experience it. This was probably similar to the mental state Souma ended up in during the Amidonian War. She understood her role, and could no longer feel the weight of life. Even so, the weight of Maria’s life was rapidly getting closer to the ground below.
“Even if I failed...I did my part...” Maria murmured, closing her eyes.
“I won’t let that happen!”
Maria felt a sideways impact. She slowly opened her eyes, only to see the face of King Souma of Friedonia right before her. When their eyes met, there was momentary relief, which rapidly turned to anger, and he bashed his forehead into hers.
After that headbutt, Maria held her forehead as tears filled her eyes. That’s when she realized that she was cradled in Souma’s arms and they were riding on the back of a massive black creature. It was probably the queen she had heard of, Naden the ryuu. Maria grasped that Souma had used a headbutt because his hands were occupied with holding her.
“You jumping wasn’t in the script!” Souma said, giving her a look of anger and exasperation.
Maria looked at him in blank amazement. “Oh...! Um...I’m sorry.”
“Ah... Well, it all worked out in the end... Thank goodness.”
When Souma said that, relaxing as he did, Maria finally felt the fear of dying. It was strange that she felt it not when she jumped, nor when she was falling, but now that she had been saved from death.
Maria threw her arms around Souma’s neck and cried, “I-I was so scared!”
When her true feelings leaked out, Souma sighed.
“Of course you were... Naden, could you take us up?”
“Uh, sure. Roger that.”
After directing Naden to ascend, Souma gently told Maria, “That’s enough ad-libbing. I’ll take it from here, like we planned.”
“Yes... Please do.”
With tears in her eyes, Maria buried her face in his shoulder.
Souma hugged her tighter.
Falling Flowers, Flowing Water
(2) A man and woman in love. The man is the flower, and the woman is the water. If the man wished to entrust himself to the water’s current, the woman will want to keep the fallen flowers afloat.
(Four-Character Compound Dictionary, Gakken Educational Publishing)