“Are you awake now?”
Eugene detected familiar features of the young man she had glimpsed in her earlier vision of the future on the face of the approaching man. He bore a resemblance to him – her son, and his son too.
The information she had gleaned from those glimpses remained limited, yet a sensation lingered, as if she had witnessed the conclusion of a lengthy and intricate tale. It was the kind of ending where all tribulations reached their cessation, and the words “And they all lived happily ever after” would be aptly placed.
While Alber regarded the act of “foreseeing the future” as a canvas of potentialities, Eugene aspired to transmute that vision into an irrevocable reality. She believed she could enact it. Extending her arms toward Kasser, he appeared perplexed yet oddly content as he drew her into an embrace.
“Feel free to rest a while longer,” Kasser said. “We’ll traverse the border after the sun has fully risen.”
“Is it okay for me to be this at ease?” Eugene asked.
“You managed to approach the border in your slumber. If the knights had been tailing us, they would have caught up by now.”
Kasser had carried the slumbering Eugene for a considerable stretch last night. As their plan involved entering the Dicus Kingdom after daybreak, there was no need to hurry. While crossing the border at night was feasible, the scrutiny was likely to be intense.
He dispatched Abu to scout for any potential pursuers during their leisurely stroll, yet there were no signs to suggest that her escape had drawn any attention – her getaway appeared to have unfurled triumphantly.
“Kasser, the glimpse of the future I glimpsed… that narrative wherein I mistakenly believed I had crossed into the novel upon my return to this realm.”
Following Eugene’s realization that her novel was more than a mere work of fiction, potentially unveiling an impending reality, she bared her soul to Kasser.
“A lot has changed, but one similarity is that you’re traveling to a different kingdom. Originally, you would never have set foot in lands beyond the Sloan Kingdom.”
“The version of me that appears in the future you saw isn’t me. I’m not that kind of ruthless general,” Kasser said, wearing a contemplative expression.
“You’re quite different from him. I don’t think of you as the same person,” Eugene agreed, feeling that he didn’t wish for her to like the version of himself cast in the future’s shadows. Yet, within herself, she detected a glimmer of his stubbornness present within that future incarnation of Kasser.
Human beings harbor multitudinous aspects within their being. Often, their true essence remains veiled, concealed even from themselves. A variety of influences can usher in change, and only under the duress of extreme circumstances might their authentic nature be unmasked.
Perhaps within the panorama of the future Eugene envisioned, certain occurrences acted as triggers, impelling this metamorphosis within him. She conjectured that there existed events capable of stoking an intense fury and desperation – events extending beyond the suffering and afflictions of the common people, encompassing those of greater importance, like Marianne’s.
Eugene came to witness a new facet of Kasser, observing how swiftly he acknowledged his long-lost biological brother, a revelation that had recently come to light. That moment unveiled a depth of sentiment he held for his loved ones. Despite projecting an exterior of icy reserve, he possessed a remarkably tender disposition. This hinted at the profound sorrow he might endure should he lose someone dear, a loss that could potentially reshape his very identity.
This realization fueled Eugene’s desire to remain by his side and maintain their happiness together. The thought of being tragically separated from him and witnessing the transformation he might undergo was distressing. The image of a future Kasser, bearing a desolate and arid demeanor like a barren desert, weighed heavily on her heart.
“Do you often dwell on the future you saw?” Kasser inquired.
“I used to, but lately, I hardly think about it now,” Eugene responded.
Observing his somewhat distant countenance, Eugene realized that even from the start, Kasser’s reaction to her future narrative had been evasive. She reassured him, “I’m not trying to draw a comparison between your future self and who you are now.”
Kasser merely offered a silent nod in reply.
Eugene surmised that Kasser might harbor some dislike for the personality she saw in his future self. With this in mind, she resolved to avoid bringing up the future story whenever possible.
However, she couldn’t comprehend the root of Kasser’s discomfort. The presence of another man in her memories—albeit his future self—seemed to unsettle him. Silently grappling with these emotions, he wrestled with an unexpected jealousy towards his own future self.
Gazing up at the gradually brightening sky, he shifted the topic of conversation. “Why don’t we have a quick meal and then get going?” Kasser sifted through his bag, retrieving some jerky. Eugene accepted it, but her immediate reaction was to expel it from her mouth, her expression twisted in distaste. “This tastes really odd.”
“Odd?” Kasser plucked a piece of jerky from her hand and sampled it himself. The thinly processed, expertly smoked jerky of superior quality differed significantly from the kind usually carried by travelers. It was even refined enough for the discerning tastes of noblewomen, who occasionally enjoyed it as a snack. “This one seems perfectly fine.”
Extending a piece of his jerky toward her, he offered it to Eugene. Tentatively, she placed it in her mouth, only to hastily spit it out again. The pungent aroma of the jerky was overwhelmingly unappealing. “I think my taste buds are still off-kilter. The motion sickness might not have completely subsided yet…”
“If you’ve been struggling with severe motion sickness, that could definitely be affecting your sense of taste. Let me find something other than jerky for you.”
Kasser scooped up a handful of nuts and dried fruits, letting them spill into her palm. While he might have settled for just jerky if he were alone, he had considered Eugene’s presence and packed emergency provisions with her preferences in mind. Eugene placed one of the dried fruits in her mouth and gave an approving nod. The taste didn’t trigger any repulsion from her. Kasser watched as she consumed the food with a gentle gaze.
“This isn’t a heavy meal, so it should digest quickly. Once we’ve crossed the border, we can enjoy a proper meal,” he suggested.
With their simple repast finished, they embarked on their journey. Both of them carefully pulled their hoods over their heads, ensuring that their true identities remained concealed. The smaller companion perched on Eugene’s shoulder while Abu nestled within the bag slung over Kasser’s shoulder.
Initially, Abu had attempted to find a spot on Eugene’s other shoulder. Yet, no matter how much he compacted his form, he couldn’t match the size of the smaller companion. Eugene offered to carry him even if he couldn’t perch on her shoulder, but Kasser declined with a shake of his head. “Carrying him throughout our long journey? You’d tire out too quickly.”
Abu expressed his displeasure with a disgruntled cry as Kasser gently lifted him and settled him into the bag.