This chapter is somewhat short, but it also gets pretty confusing at parts, so I think the balance is best this way.
He could never remember any of his dreams when he woke up, but, when not influenced by the two demigoddesses that watched over him, 'Haruhiro's' dreams were empty.
Not in the sense that he didn't dream at all, in fact his dreams were always lucid, but that there was nothing there in his dreamworld.
A featureless white for the floor, and an endless expanse of black for the sky.
A two-tone world with nothing else to distinguish it.
It made perfect sense, now that he thought about it.
All his dreams had been borrowed from someone else.
His past, his wishes, his hopes and regrets.
None of them were his.
It was why he couldn't remember a single thing about Choko beyond her name- all those memories had belonged to the real Haruhiro, just tenuous little bits left behind, like a shell that hadn't quite been cleaned up enough to truly call it empty.
With that in mind, he actually kind of liked this two-toned world of his. You couldn't doubt anything when there wasn't anything, so it was relaxing somehow.
Because while there was nothing real, there was nothing fake either.
It was why he could move around without any issues despite not actually having a body, why he could scratch his head but not see his hands.
Try as he might, though, even a hollow dream had an end.
… And they clicked their tongues and cursed aloud, because once again, they hadn't managed to find him before he woke up.
Perhaps if they didn't know Haruhiro well, they would have believed that nothing was wrong with him when he woke up the next day.
It was an earnest but clumsy performance- he did everything he would usually do in the morning, just a step slower to a degree that could be written off as fatigue.
He rose when they rose, dressed when they dressed, ate when they ate, and smiled when they smiled. Almost desperate to keep the silence at bay, there was constant chatter at the table, and he listened attentively and responded when necessary.
But all throughout the morning, he never did anything first, merely followed along with what others were doing though now again he would trail off to a halt, seemingly drawn towards the sound of the summer rain that had begun to fall heavily just before dawn.
And though the party hovered over him like worried, puzzled mother hens…
When a peal of thunder smashed through the tense atmosphere and made everyone jump in their seats, Haruhiro was gone in an instant, with nothing but a door left slightly ajar to mark his passage.
Nothing good would come from the storm, of that Sayaka was convinced. She sat in the main room of the shrine sipping her tea, the shogi door open and allowing her to gaze out into a storm she could perceive clearly with every sense but sight.
The night and morning had been rather hot, and remained as such, yet the wind and rain bit coldly to the point where her body could not decide if it was hot or cold, and she found herself plucking uncomfortably at the collar on her kimono.
Confident no one would be braving the storm, she had just loosened her collar enough to let her not-inconsiderable cleavage breathe, when suddenly she was simply just there, eliciting a quiet little shriek of surprise from Sayaka.
But the surface of that river with a woman's shape were churning restlessly upon the porch, giving Sayaka no time to feel embarrassment as she took everything in.
"... Did he come this way?" She asked as a swiftly recovering Sayaka bowed low in greeting.
"He arrived in quite the hurry, and fled the moment our 'eyes' met," Sayaka confirmed with a soft smile. "And to think, he's usually so polite."
A soft sigh that drifted past the hammering of the rain was heard.
"... Do you know where he went?"
"No, but you won't need my help to find him, I imagine."
There was a shifting of coils, and a moment of silence.
"No, no I don't believe I will."
The river receded like the low tide, but only so far before she turned once more.
"Sayaka," Iormu asked slowly. "It changed, didn't it? Your vision of him."
Long after Iormu was gone from her Sight, the joyful laughter Sayaka's answer had prompted lingered still.
… It was quite an unseemly thought, but Sayaka had felt thoroughly grateful for the distraction that came with a distraught Jormungand on the veranda, even if the happy feeling of being able to alleviate that distress had been a much stronger one.
She had told 'him' exactly what she had Seen, when he had asked her in that breathless voice, but had managed to conceal that she herself…
Didn't know how to 'look' at him!
He was… Haru was…
Nothing more and nothing less than Human.
Naturally, she had told him as much, and her heart ached when she witnessed the pure shock across his face, but… she had failed to fully share the details.
Haruhiro did not just 'appear' Human, the way other Humans did when she 'looked' their way. She imagined that only she was seeing the third eye, or the bloody red aura, but otherwise…
Sayaka could 'see' Haruhiro as if looking at him with mundane eyes that had long since lost their sight.
Sayaka could see Haruhiro as if she wasn't blind.
… And none of this at all explained the 'lub lub, lub lub' sound her heart was making, nor did it explain why she suddenly felt his absence so keenly!
Sayaka had never found herself wishing that she was more blind than she already was, but for a moment, she found herself thinking something very close to it.
Though Sayaka could not understand it, the truth was actually very simple. There was exactly one boy in all the world that Sayaka could see as if she wasn't blind, and it turned out, that boy was exactly her type.
Sayaka was wise beyond her years, but a first crush could make a fool out of anyone, and that was precisely why she had missed that no small share of Iormu's joy had been on her behalf.
'They' led her to a clearing in the woods, where her wayward Demon knelt motionless with his face to the sky and his eyes shut, hands out to the side and palms upturned.
Despite his posture, she was well aware that he wasn't engaging in any sort of prayer. She would not have needed assistance to find him if that were the case.
In silence, her coils encircled him, and she tilted her head back and closed her eyes in turn, mimicking his posture as she savored the sensation of the cool rain trickling its way down skin and scale, washing away her fears and uncertainties before they were ever given voice.
"Sayaka said I looked Human," he smiled and spoke after a while, without opening his eyes. "I didn't really believe her, but now that I'm all wet, and probably about to catch a cold, I believe her just a little."
"I can't recall ever hearing someone so eager to fall ill," Iormu lightly replied, as she leaned over him to block the rain with her body. "No, don't open your eyes just yet."
Though his curiosity was blatant, he obeyed her instructions, though he tilted his head lightly away as her wavy locks brushed his cheeks. It must have surely seemed redundant then, that she gently covered his eyes with one smoothly scaled palm.
He twitched ever so slightly as a 'current' washed over him to drive away the rain's chill, and then she withdrew her hand.
"You may open your eyes, now."
Gradually, he did just that, blood-and-brown eyes peering up at her as she loomed overhead, glossy lips curled into the hint of a smirk.
"Flattering though the attention may be, I'm not the one you should be looking at," his bemused expression was met with a meaningful jerk of her head, and slowly, his gaze left hers.
His eyes widened as he looked around the clearing, and her smile widened in turn as she watched him stagger to his feet, while she herself settled back onto her coils.
With each gaze returned, his attempts to take in everything at once grew more and more erratic, and his body began to shiver in a way that had nothing to do with cold.
For while it was just the two of them within the clearing, they were far from alone.
Surrounding them within the ring of trees was a crowd of misty figures.
… At least, misty to her eyes, only glimpses of proper features to be seen here or there.
It was not so for him.
"... I-I-I… I…" the Demon stuttered, still glancing wildly to and fro. "I… know you." He swallowed, thickly, and rasped out "I know… all of you."
He couldn't seem to tell if he wished to feel awed, or simply unnerved, but awe, tinged with reverence, seemed to be slowly but surely winning.
"... You're all… me… or… I'm all you…?" He trailed off.
Ah, and there it was, the guilt.
"... I'm what was stolen from all of you… aren't I?'
The silent dead remained silent, yet even indistinct as it was, their body language made their mirth abundantly clear.
His bewilderment only grew, but what seemed to be the beginnings of a shout died in his throat with an awkward lurch of his body.
Their words were cryptic and stilted, as prophecies often were.
Only so much they could say, when the words afforded to all of them were no more and no less than thirteen.
"You are the miracle we made together."
"And your smile is our revenge."
He fell to his knees as they vanished on the wind, leaving them alone once more beneath a sky that had only just remembered how to rain.
"... Ahaha… what the hell, you bastards," he scrubbed at his eyes, laughing bitterly. "All that for a riddle? What am I supposed to do when you make all my worries sound stupid?"
They hadn't given him luck or fortune, bequeathed to him neither destiny nor future.
But he would be just fine without any of that, because words meaningless to near anyone else had triggered a memory.
A memory he knew beyond all doubt had belonged to him and him alone.
He was a Demon born of the scraps and scars left behind of those betrayed and discarded by Grimgar itself.
But to those discarded dead, he was a chance to give meaning to their misfortune.
A wish both selfless and selfish, that his happiness would prove their worth.
And that was why the true name of the Demon had always been…
He… actually didn't know when it had happened, but he was sitting upon coils instead of kneeling in the mud, her arms wrapped lightly around his waist, and the soft and luxurious warmth of her embrace asserting itself through the thin shirt on his back.
After a while, he found his voice again.
"I think I know why they wanted me to keep his name," he said softly. "'Haruhiro' can be written to mean both 'spring' and 'new beginnings'. They… never wanted to bind me. I didn't steal anything from anyone… it was all just… given to me. How am I ever supposed to pay them back?"
"The same way any child repays their parents' love, I imagine," was Iormu's gentle reply. "Live well and live long."
"... Are they not? Every mortal has a parent, and you, my dear Haruhiro, are very much a Human."
"... Eh? Iormu… what do you mean I'm Human? I'm a Demon. You know it, I know, they… I bet they all knew it too."
"That is true as well."
"... This is one of those moments where I don't get a plain answer, huh?"
Iormu's coils rustled as she laughed aloud.
The end of her tail wrapped around Haruhiro's waist, gently lifting and turning him so that they were seated face to face upon the great length of her coils.
"I would be a poor example of a Demigoddess if I spoke plainly all the time," Iormu teased, "but it is not without purpose, so humor me for just a little while longer."
Guiding someone towards the answer rather than simply giving them the answer always helped the lesson to better stick, as many a teacher could attest.
But in some capacity, every Demigod was a teacher of mortals, and Iormu was no exception.
"It ties into why I was not immediately aware of your nature as a Demon," she began. "A soul may be incapable of lying, but that does not mean its truth cannot be concealed. And your soul is most certainly Human… outwardly, that is."
"Am I Human on the outside and Demon on the inside?" Haruhiro guessed. "I belong in a horror movie, don't I?"
Iormu blinked at the unfamiliar phrase filing it aside to have him explain in detail later.
"It would be more accurate to say that the Demon within hid beneath the Human within," Iormu said. "As you said yourself, you are formed from 'pieces' of others, correct?"
"And that is true of your soul as well," Iormu continued. "So ask yourself this- what is holding those pieces together?"
She could pinpoint the exact moment when the realization struck Haruhiro, and the wave of giddy mirth that struck her was nearly impossible to contain.
"The complete soul of a Demon, forming the mortar that allows the soul of a Human to become complete in turn. The soul of a Human, granting a purpose for that soul of a Demon to exist." As if her near laughing fit had never happened at all, Iormu's words slowly gained an air of indescribable yet undeniable weight to them.
Gone was the lesson, and now, the Jormungand spoke her decree.
"If one cannot exist without the other, then the weight of both, the truth of both, surely must be equal in turn," Iormu declared.
Haruhiro hadn't moved, or seemingly even breathed as her words seemed to encircle him just as surely as her coils, but the blood in his veins still flowed…
… Straight to his cheeks, which had turned a rather vivid shade of red as Iormu graced him with a smile radiating acceptance and affection.
"And thus, my dear Haruhiro, know this; neither Haruhiro the Demon nor Haruhiro the Human is a lie." She concluded gently. "You are as real as real can be."
Somehow, it was what tipped the balance.
Each and every syllable spoken by all of them, the day before, was something precious and irreplaceable to Haruhiro, even if all he remembered were sounds and smiles.
Where the problem came in was that it had never truly been them that he doubted.
Centorea, Yukio, Tio, Iormu, Rachnera, even Shu'ni even though she hadn't initially been present.
All of them were real. Rather than calling it undeniable, it was more accurate to say that they were the only things he couldn't doubt.
Conversely, he himself was the only thing he couldn't bring himself to accept. It was undeniable that he was not who he thought he was, and never truly had been.
But Iormu had seen right through that, and rather than deny the need for his internal struggle, had gone and invalidated the need for that internal struggle entirely. The coils of the Jormungand had constricted tighter and tighter until they'd crushed his doubts into an almost unrecognizable form.
… So now, of course, it was time to return the favor a little, right?
"Okay, so I think I get it," Haruhiro began slowly after a while. "I'm not one or the other, I'm both, right? Does that make me a complete Demon and a complete Human at the same time?"
"Indeed, that is correct," Iormu replied with no small amount of surprise. Mortals often got hung up on truths that didn't seem to quite fit common logic, it was why miracles often puzzled them.
"Right then, Iormu," suddenly, she wasn't the one leading the discussion anymore, "so what is it about me being a Demon that makes you so sad?"
Iormu coughed as the breath she'd been holding got caught in her throat.
She had… failed to hide it, and the knowledge added one more regret to a long list.
"Demons are… born of suffering," Iormu admitted in a hoarse tone, aware that being vague was futile at this point. "A Demon is a victim of the world, a victim of Grimgar itself. It is… surely why Sayaka's [Eyes of the Oracle] once struggled to perceive you, as one who was a creation of Grimgar, yet abandoned wholly by it. Offered neither the destiny nor fortune that every living thing is owed. Even the Undead receive some manner of fortune, for good or for ill."
"Huh, I never thought of it that way," Haruhiro replied mildly. "I guess I'm actually a local in a way, since I wouldn't have been born at all if Grimgar didn't exist."
Iormu was forced to concede that the point was fair, but recognized it for the evasion (she thought) it was.
"Guess I'm not a very good Demon then, huh?" Haruhiro shrugged.
It was rare to hear Iormu stutter, but the contrast between her usual eloquence was honestly pretty cute.
"Well, maybe I did get screwed over by Grimgar," Haruhiro replied, scratching his head before innocently sharing his honest thoughts.. "But I don't really feel like a victim of anything when I have all of you."
Now, Iormu was many things, and modest was not one of them.
"Hahaha~!" the laughter rolled richly from her forked tongue, making her massive bust jiggle assertively. "Indeed, indeed, I too would struggle to feel wronged in such good company!"
Haruhiro remained quiet, agreeing entirely but also finding himself mildly captivated by how Iormu's cheeks seemed to redden more and more with every bold word that came out of her mouth.
It was only a matter of time before she noticed the way he was looking at her, and when she did, Iormu went silent at the same time her blush turned violent.
"Cease your staring, fool," Iormu murmured, hiding her face behind the tip of her tail. "I am not some callow maiden you need seduce with honeyed words."
"I'm just being honest, though?"
"T-that does not make it better!"
What Haruhiro did not understand was that one of the perks afforded to every Demigoddess was that Iormu was always aware when a lie was being spoken in her presence.
Which also meant that when words were completely devoid of even the barest hint of falsehood, she was also aware.
In short, Iormu had let her guard down, and thus failed in spectacular fashion to conceal her weakness to earnest people.
… They found him with Iormu, making their way out of the woods with Iormu trailing behind, a mysteriously disgruntled look on her mature features.
Truthfully though, even the most observant of them hardly took notice of that, focussed as they were on him.
Half-lidded, deep brown eyes, and that small but persistent smile he wore more often than not when around them. That fond and subtle curiosity that quietly proclaimed that their mere presence alone could endlessly keep his interest.
Until that moment, none of them, save Iormu, had truly understood how precious 'the usual' could be, but after that, they would never forget it again.
In the end, they never did push to reach the heart of the matter, to find out what troubled their daughter and her companions so.
It would have made perfect sense that facing the monstrous… what did they call it, a Nuckelavee? That facing the Nuckelavee would have been a harrowing enough ordeal to have their mind and spirit as thoroughly exhausted as their bodies, but Yukio could not fool her parents so easily.
Something was deeply wrong, and it was no surprise it centered in some way around poor Haru.
… So when the first thing to cross the property line was their laughter, Yukine and Gorou shared a deep, relieved sigh and decided that whatever it was that had been bothering them clearly didn't matter anymore.
And so the proprietor of the Yuki no Yado greeted them at the door with a smile, and whatever unpleasantness may have followed them home was left on the porch when the door slid shut.
After a late dinner had ended, the party and their maid sat together in the common room that had ever so slightly begun to grow dim as the light outside faded away.
No one was quite sure how to begin a conversation that they all thought they needed to have, but in spite of that, the silence was comfortable.
Too comfortable, in fact, and a previously unfelt exhaustion was sweeping through the room in relentless fashion. And among their number, only one was spared.
"Hey, no rush, alright?" He said with a soft smile. "I'll be right here when you open your eyes, promise."
And so he sat there quietly in the fading light, long after the rest had surrendered as one to the exhaustion creeping in.
… Despite having received Iormu's heartfelt gratitude and assurances the earliest her fellow Demigoddess could manage, Lala found herself… not quite anxious, as Dullahan were above such mortal frailties such as mere 'nerves' but… somewhat curious.
Understandably curious to see with her own eyes the fruits of her labors.
Keeping the restless dead on task long enough to send their spirits briefly across the Veil was a rather trying task, so wasn't it only natural to take some small manner of interest in the result?
Truly, there was nothing at all unusual about that.
"Yeah, seems fair to me."
Lala let out what was most certainly not a shriek as her startled body launched her startled head out of her lap, and high into the air.
But the hands that caught her descending head were not her own.
The dizzy gaze of the Dullahan met the warmly smiling face of the Demon, and a realm far beyond the rays of the sun became that much brighter.
Inexplicably, in her brief airborne voyage Lala discovered that her body had found its way (and glued itself to) Haru's side, but Lala swiftly decided to forgive its neglect of her head in deference to its admirable display of initiative.
Admittedly, it was somewhat of a (delightful) shock that he had willfully traipsed into her Domain unannounced, but one could not expect a born transgressor of boundaries to not transgress upon boundaries.
Comfortable though the position was, necessity had always guided her steps, and so Lala reclaimed her head, and set it upon her neck once more.
Cold and soft blue hands cupped mortal cheeks as black and gold eyes stared deeply into a gaze colored blood and brown.
"You have… accepted your truth, haven't you?"
"Sure have," Haruhiro smiled back. "I might be a real flesh and blood Human, but I'm also a Demon made of scraps and scars."
"Just scraps and scars?" Lala's eyes narrowed, and the press of her slender fingers tightened subtly.
"Well, more hopes and dreams than scraps and scars, but I'm trying not to stroke my own ego too much," Haruhiro deadpanned. And it wasn't like he minded the 'scraps and scars'- he wasn't ashamed at all of what had made him.
"And so how does it feel, my dear Demon?" Lala whispered softly. "Beholden to nothing, truly free to act as thou wilt?"
"Pretty good," the Demon smirked. "I'm trying not to let all the things I can get away with go to my head."
Lala's smile was genuine as she lowered her hands, the warmth in a cold heart having easily crushed the enigmatic act she had forgotten to maintain.
And then that placid immortal heart ceased its accelerated rhythm entirely, lurching to a halt within her breast.
… The warmth in her heart was in no way equal to the warmth of mortal arms encircling her waist.
"W-what do you think you're doing?" A flustered Lala 'demanded' to know.
"Where I'm from, we call this a 'hug'." Mischief danced along the playful words of the Demon.
"I am well aware, but why are you doing it?" Warm warm warm so warm-
Haruhiro shifted his grip so that they were eye to eye, but made no move to release her narrow waist.
"A lot of things are different now," Haruhiro admitted. "And among those things that are different, I can remember just how long you've been watching over me," his smile turned rueful, "without needing to have a near death experience. The dream-visits too, the ones I couldn't remember no matter where I was."
Lala's squirming stopped, her expression carefully blank.
"I also know about all the work you and Iormu put in to keep my identity from crumbling too fast, and I know that the ghosts that made me only found me with your help," he continued on. "How can I not be grateful now that I'm starting to figure out how much you've done for me?"
With how close they were (Lala's arms had slowly wrapped around him in turn), Haruhiro could clearly feel that Lala's heart wasn't beating.
Her blood was still flowing though, somehow.
… Straight to her cheeks.
"Y'know, I don't think I say this nearly enough, but you're really cute, aren't you?"
"C-cute!?" Lala's voice managed to crack without getting louder. " I am not cute, I am dreadful-"
"C-cease your mockery at once!"
"Hey, just because I'm teasing you doesn't mean I'm lying."
"A-as if that makes it better, wretch!"
Haru could have sworn he'd had a conversation like that not all too long ago.
… Lala too, was a Demigoddess, with all the perks and pitfalls that entailed.
It was still dark when she opened her eyes, pointed ears flicking as a low, but pleasant murmur caught her attention.
With a quiet yawn, Centorea lifted her upper body and stretched herself out, giving a little moan as her back gave a satisfying pop.
In response to the presence at her side, whose lap she had been using as a headrest, Centorea leaned over and kissed him on the lips, which they both could agree was a pretty good answer.
"Did you manage to sleep at all, Haru?"
"Shu'ni says she and I only slept for two hours, but I'm pretty much ready to go," Haruhiro shrugged.
Belatedly, Centorea leaned to meet the moon-like eyes of the otherworldly maid, who nodded slightly.
"Master Haru's physical form has become very efficient, it seems."
Blinking at the odd phrasing, Centorea considered the words a moment, but Haru spoke up before she could give her thoughts a voice.
"Easier to keep you two company during the night, so I'm not complaining." Centaurs only needed a few hours of deep sleep, whereas for a Shoggoth like Shu'ni, sleep was mostly an efficient way to take a quick break.
And for Haru… as Lala had told him, now that it had been properly 'unleashed, the Demon within would repay the favor by alleviating the daily rigors of mortal life'.
Which probably meant…
"For all the scary stories tied to it, so far being a Demon is just making it easier to be Human," Haruhiro concluded, much less dramatically than the emissary of death.
"A bizarre but not unwelcome thought," Centorea replied with a bemused smile, before casually reaching out.
Clasping his cheeks with both hands, Centorea gently but firmly turned Haru's face her way, in order to look at him fully in both eyes.
Haru clearly expected words of some kind, but all he received was intense scrutiny from clear blue eyes, followed by a dazzling smile and a quick kiss on the lips.
Pleased that certain vital aspects remained intact, a mysteriously smiling Centorea released the blushing Haru and settled in contentedly at his side.
The comfortable silence was welcomed back in, and no more words were shared until the morning light.
"So… one person with two souls," Tio said. "Okay, I get it now!"
"... Simple?" Yukio murmured, tilting her head and giving the nodding Ogress a puzzled look.
"Well, maybe not so much if you weren't raised in a temple," Tio giggled. "And most people only have one soul, but… Demons are rule-breakers by nature, or so the stories go, and… Haru's fine so it's fine, right?"
Yukio nodded back, convinced. Truthfully, she cared very little for who Haru was, as long as he was happy, and she could remain by his side.
"Yeah, I don't really care about the nitty gritty details to begin with," Rachnera shrugged. "So unless you're suddenly going to end up with some weird fairytale allergy to salt or something, I'm not gonna worry."
Haruhiro blinked as he considered that. He did vaguely remember a borrowed memory about salt being used to chase away evil spirits, but to think they had the same concept in Grimgar.
"Demons being unable to cross lines of salt is a myth," Iormu chuckled when all eyes inevitably turned her way. "Sea salt does deter incorporeal Undead though."
"Oh, but what if they're Sea Ghosts?" Tio held up her hand and asked.
"Salt water becomes evocative of their traumas, so the effect is greater rather than lesser, in comparison to their land born counterparts."
"Good to know, but Ghosts are spooky so I'm still hiding behind you," Tio said quite seriously.
"Feel free," Iormu laughed.
It was a remarkably lackadaisical conversation, given that it had begun with Haruhiro explaining what he knew about what he was, but it was to be expected.
At the end of the day, Haruhiro wasn't even the only mythical being in the party, and most of their worries about his identity had stemmed from the damage those revelations had done to his psyche.
Tio truly had spoken for all of them when she said that 'if Haru is fine, it's fine'.
But there was another question that needed asking, and it was no surprise to anyone that Centorea gave it voice.
"Haru," she began, "does the plan to travel to the Lonesome Field Outpost remain the same? I'm not one to shy away from adventure, but our journey began from a lack of direction, more than anything else."
At first, they'd had nowhere else to go, and needed a new 'workplace' so-to-speak, as members of the oft-forgotten Crimson Moon Volunteer Army.
That was before they'd held the keys to the Twilight Manor, and before Centorea and Yukio had reconnected with the homes they'd left behind.
No one was opposed to continuing their original journey, but countless things had changed during the time they'd set off.
It wasn't the first time they'd had this very same conversation, either, but the last time they'd had that conversation, Yukio had been a Yuki-Onna, and Haru had only been Human.
And everyone understood that the real question was not only that.
No one could be certain how Haruhiro's goals and desires may have changed, not even Haruhiro himself.
"Actually, I have more reason than ever to want to go there," Haru broke the silence with a sudden, rueful laugh. "So it might sound strange given what I just said, but I kind of don't care about the destination, other than thinking it'd be a little weird to quit now after all we've gone through on the way."
There was a moment of silence as everyone took a moment to truly consider just how much that simple journey had grown.
"Huh, yeah, it kinda feels like we'd lose somehow if we never finished the trip," Tio said what they were all thinking.
"Hah, yeah, and I actually kind of figured out… I dunno if calling it a goal really fits, but…" Haruhiro's words trailed off as he found himself a little taken aback by how intently he was being looked at by every single person in the room.
"... My… 'parents', really, none of them really made it all that far from Altana," Haruhiro explained softly. "In fact, I've already traveled farther than any of them. Already seen more of the world than any of them." Some of them had made it as far as Thousand Valley, but none of them had even known the Hidden Village had existed, in spite of how the village had never really been hidden at all.
"But I'm not ready to stop," Haruhiro said with more strength in his voice. "I want to see more of the world… no, honestly, I want to see it all. The people before me had their hands full just trying to survive Grimgar, but I want to beat Grimgar, and I can't think of a better way to beat a world than going wherever the hell we please in it."
Haruhiro's excited expression vanished as he scratched his head sheepishly. "Actually, that kind of sounds petty now that I say it out loud-"
"Haha, I love it!" Centorea laughed, eyes bright. "I'd never imagined challenging the world itself, but a Knight who aims low is no Knight at all!"
"A Quest?" Tio chimed in excitedly. "Did we just find a Quest!?"
"... Eh, travel sounds fun I guess," Rachnera shrugged.
Iormu and Yukio remained silent, but their smiles were answer enough.
"That, and we have options that no one else has, with how the Manor works," Haruhiro gave a nod in Shu'ni's direction. "We'll always have an escape route, and more importantly I don't want to leave Shu'ni behind."
"... Thank you very much, Master Haru," Shu'ni dipped her head demurely, honestly touched to be included. "The more places you travel to and open up doorways to the Manor in, the more you will strengthen its connection to Grimgar, and the more your options will expand. In fact, it shan't be long before you can connect the Manor to places you've opened doorways to in the past."
"That's handy," Haruhiro said. "Does that mean you're going to be able to go outside properly, soon?"
"... Yes?" Shu'ni answered somewhat hesitantly, "in fact, I think making the trek to this Lonesome Field Outpost may be enough to…"
"Oh, so you'll be able to walk around the place properly when we get there?"
"I believe so."
'It's a date then."
Blushing, Shu'ni reflexively averted her gaze, but seemed to stop herself, and instead offered a warm smile.
"I shall eagerly await, my Master."
Haruhiro had more goals connected to that, but he decided to wait on sharing them, one goal, for the reason he was still getting things straight in his head, and the other, because talking about another woman didn't feel appropriate at the moment.
But if the Twilight Manor became able to reach more and more places, then…
One day, maybe, he could open up a door that would lead to the edge of the Pale Shore, and make one of its lonely guardians a little less lonely.
And if that wasn't strictly possible, well, it just so happened that breaking rules was a job for a Demon.
It might seem strange that something that could be a 'main quest' is showing up at this point, but bear with me. It's actually setup for our last arc of the story.
So, I imagine Haru's nature as a Demon might be a little confusing, so let's lay this out as simply as I can-
Haru isn't half-Demon, half-Human, he's full Demon and full Human. Demons don't give a fuck about rules or logic, and that includes math, so this is quite literally a case of 1+1=1.
A Demon soul and a Human soul coexisting to create a Haru soul.
As for why Sayaka can see him 'normally', well… I'll let you guys guess at that one, and your hint is that Sayaka is seeing him normally in multiple senses of the term.
And as far as our final arc of the story goes, it'll be a long one, and it'll include getting to the place they've been trying to get to for over twenty chapters, and not long after that, we'll finally get around to meeting the rest of the main characters.