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Chapter 6 - Things I Want To Protect

'Memories are strange things.'

I heard you speaking to me from far away.

'We make memories, both good and bad, and then without realizing it, we forget them.'

I said nothing.

'But it seems like the angry, sad, and bitter memories are the ones that stick around the longest.'

I remained silent.

'If that's true, then I want you to be by my side for every clumsy mistake and awful day I have.Because I want to remember every moment I spend with you...'

'...Edgar?'

The voice struck my mind like ripples on a still lake, and my consciousness slowly returned to me. I was walking through the canyon. Clementine was at my side.

We had just finished delivering food to the bracers' training facility and were on our way back to town.

'Oh, sorry. I was just lost in thought,' I said, rubbing my temples.

Clementine put her hand to my forehead to check my temperature.

'Well, it seems like you don't have a fever or anything, but if you're not feeling well, you should rest.'

She grinned at me and continued walking ahead.

Watching her, I wished this moment would never end.

Why did you ask me to come with you that day?

The vision I had of you speaking to me...

Was it real, or just a wishful daydream?

'Hey, Edgar. What's your favorite food?'

Clementine turned to look at me as we reached the highway.

'Umm...' I thought about it. 'Anything you make for me.'

'That's such an Edgar answer,' she giggled. 'Okay, then. I'll make you something once we get back.'

'Really? That sounds great,' I said, 'I'm looking forward to it.'

'Is there anything you don't like?' she asked.

'Not really,' I said, thinking it over, 'I'll eat pretty much anything.'

'That must be nice,' she said, smiling.

'Do you like tomatoes, too, then?'

'Yep. Tomatoes, too.' I nodded.

The word brought back a faint memory. Like a tickle at the back of my mind.

'I just can't stand them, myself,' she said, shaking her head.

After all, you don't like tomatoes.

'When I was little, my father tried to feed me a tomato...' she told me.

You spat it out.

'...and I just spat it right back out at him.'

The scene suddenly bubbled up in my mind again.

'Edgar?'

'And you have no idea why, but you just can't eat them, right?' I asked.

'What?' She let out a small gasp. 'Yes, that's right, but how did you know?'

'Just a guess,' I said, looking away.

I remembered the scene I saw back in the restaurant.

Her words just now were the same as back then.

'I think I understand now,' I mumbled to myself.

It had been installed into my mind.

'Understand what? What are you talking about, Edgar?' she asked, concern creeping across her face. She grabbed my arm and looked up at me.

'I...'

Before I could say anything, several figures rushed at us from the grass off the side of the highway.

'Monsters!' Clementine yelled.

Three feline monsters stood before us, blocking the road into town and hissing angrily.

'Edgar...' Clementine whispered my name. She was trembling.

I calmly moved her behind me.

'If they're on the highway,' I said, 'that means the nearby orbment lights must be broken.'

'What do we do?' she clutched my arm tighter.

'We can't get into town, so let's go back the way we came,' I said.

Clementine looked like she was about to cry. I grasped her hand and held it tight.

'The bracers will be able to help,' I told her.

'We need to go back there, okay?'

She nodded. Together, we turned and started running as fast as we could.

We ran for what felt like forever. I lost track of how far we'd gone. Clementine was running out of breath. The sun was nearly done setting and what little light remained in the dusky sky couldn't reach down into the canyon.

We stopped for a moment, and Clementine steadied herself against the canyon wall to catch her breath.

'I'm sorry I'm slowing you down,' she gasped.

'No, I'm the one who should apologize,' I said, 'I thought we would have found the bracers by now.'

At that point, I didn't even know which direction their training facility was anymore.

Panic from the constant sound of pursuing footsteps had muddled my sense of direction.

'If we just rest for a minute, I can--'

Clementine's thought was interrupted by the sight of one of the monsters leaping at her.

She screamed.

I grabbed a nearby branch and swung at it as hard as I could. I knocked it out of the air right before it reached her.

However, while I was preoccupied with the first one, two more circled around behind us.

I felt several sharp claws dig into me. One of the monsters was on my back and the other, on my leg. I turned and swung the branch again, knocking them away. They leapt at me once more, however, going after my head and shoulder next.

The world became a blur. I swung the branch, hitting one directly in the head. It flew off a short ways and stopped moving.

Clementine stood to the side, watching in fear, her hands pressed tightly over her mouth. One of the monsters started to approach her, and I kicked it away. While I did, however, the one behind me leapt at the back of my head, tearing into me.

Everything grew dim. I fell to my knees. My ears were filled with the monsters' piercing screeches mixed with the sound of Clementine desperately calling my name.

The last thing I heard before the world went dark was the sound of boots and loud, commanding voices.

第6巻  「守りたいもの」 「人の記憶って不器用だよね」              
 遠くから、君の声がする。               
「嬉しいことも嫌なこともぼんやりと覚えていて、     
 年を取りながら気づかないうちに順番に忘れていく」   
「……」                        
「でも、苦い思い出の方が頭に残ってることが多いのは、  
 神様からの戒めなのかな」               
「……」                        
「それなら、不器用なりにその瞬間と瞬間を、       
 あなたと共有したいと思う。思い出すことも忘れることも、
 ずっとあなたとできたらいいなって思うの――」     
                            
「――エドガーさん?」                 
 水面の波紋が広がるように、ゆっくりと意識が戻ってきた。
今、ぼくの隣にはクレムがいて、一緒に渓谷を歩いている。 
 弁当の配達で遊撃士の訓練場へ向かった、その帰り道だった。
「ごめん。考え事を……」                
 クレムはぼくの額に手を当てた。            
「熱は無いですね。でも、あまり頑張りすぎちゃダメですよ」
 にっこり笑って、クレムは先に歩き始めた。       
 ああ、こんな時がいつまでも続くようにと願ってしまう。 
今回の付き添いにぼくを選んでくれたのはどうして?    
さっき聞こえた君の声は、ぼくの願望を映したのだろうか。 
                            
「エドガーさんは、好きな食べ物は何ですか?」      
 ようやく街道まで出たところで、彼女は言った。     
「うーん、クレムさんが作るものかな」          
「ふふ。エドガーさんって、そういうこと言うんですね。  
 じゃあ今度、リクエストしてくれたら作りますよ」    
「本当に!? やった、楽しみが増えました」        
「嫌いな食べ物はありますか?」             
「無いです。何でも食べます」              
「羨ましいなぁ。それなら、トマトも平気?」       
「はい、トマトも」                   
 “トマト”という単語に、ぼくの中で何かが引っかかった。
                            
「私はどうしても苦手なんです。生は特にダメで」     
 生トマトを嫌っている君。               
「子どもの頃に、食べようとして吐き出しちゃったんです。 
 せっかくお父さんが食べさせてくれたのに」       
 理由は、自分でも分からない。             
「どうしてなのか、自分でも分からないんですけどね」   
 沸々と、あのシーンが思い浮かんだ。          
「エドガーさん?」                   
「飲みこむのも嫌なんて、ひどいですよね。って思った?」 
「――! そ、そうです。でも、どうして」        
「……いや」                      
 以前、食堂で思い浮かんだイメージ。あの時と、今の台詞。
「知っている、かもしれないから」            
「え?」                        
 脳内にあるこれは、もしかして。            
「エドガーさん、どういうことなんですか」        
 クレムがぼくの腕を掴んで揺さぶる。          
「ぼくは――」                     
 その時だった。                    
 荒々しく草を掻きわける音と共に、数体の影が躍り出た。 
「ま、魔獣!?」                    
 猫型の魔獣・トビネコが3匹。町へ続く方角を塞ぎ、ぼくら
を威嚇している。                    
「エドガーさんッ」                   
 冷静に、怯えたクレムを背後へ隠す。          
「街道まで出てきたってことは、             
 近くの導力灯が故障しているのかもしれない」      
「ど、どうしよう」                   
「町へ行くのは無理そうだ。来た道を戻ろう」       
 すでに泣きそうなクレムの手を、固く握る。       
「遊撃士の助けを呼べればなんとかなる。そこまで行くよ?」
 うんうん、と何度も頷く彼女と共に、ぼくは走りだした。 
「ハァ……ハァ……」                  
 どのくらい走ったのだろう。彼女の息が切れてきた。代わり
映えしない景色の中、薄暗くなったせいで視界は悪い。   
 足を止めると、クレムはしゃがみこんだ。        
「ごめんなさい。私が、足手まといで……」        
「謝るのはぼくの方だ。すぐ彼らに会えるはずだったのに」 
 協会支部の位置も、見当がつかなくなってしまった。   
 バタバタと鬼気迫る足音は、方向感覚をも鈍らせた。   
「もう少し休めばまた――きゃッ!」           
 1匹のトビネコがクレムめがけて飛び出してきた。間一髪、
落ちていた大枝で殴りかかりそれを跳ね返す。しかしその隙に、
他の2匹が背後から襲いかかった。            
 硬い爪で裂かれる感触がした。1匹は背中、もう1匹は足。
振り向きざまに枝を振り下ろすが素早い動きでかわされ、今度
は肩と頭を狙われた。にわかに視界が揺らぐ。もう一度枝を振
り回すと1匹に命中し、動かなくなった。         
 クレムは口を覆って立ちすくんでいる。         
 彼女に近寄る1匹を殴り飛ばした。しかし瀕死にはならず、
ぼくの後頭部は抉るように爪で突かれた。         
 その瞬間、膝から崩れ落ち、クレムの悲鳴が聞こえた。魔獣
の金切り声と彼女のぼくの名を呼ぶ声。          
 意識に蓋をされるその間際、最後に耳に入ってきたのは、人
の足音と男性のかけ声だった。              
                            
 

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