I’ve been treating you as a child this whole time,
so you missed out on something important.
Hearing the sound of wooden boards being struck together, I woke up with a start.
It was the signal that something invaded the area near the village.
Likely having woken up at the same time as me, Nina dashed out of the small house neighboring mine.
“The enemy is to the south, just outside of the village.”
Running side by side with me, Nina found their exact position by listening to the trees’ voices.
Her words were interrupted as the forest’s trees were thrown down one after another.
Following that, the fence surrounding the village was burst open.
“… Just one.”
Looking at the beast that had appeared directly before her, Nina spoke with an irked expression.
It’s because her memories concerning this type of beast weren’t too good.
What invaded the village was an armored bear.
Moreover, its size was bigger than the one Nina and I had encountered when we met.
“Nina, I’ll leave the villagers’ safety to you.”
“Mm. You’ll probably be alright, but be careful…”
Leaving my back to Nina and taking a step forward, a bell-like voice held me back.
“Mentor. Could you leave it to me?”
It was Ai.
“… Alright. But don’t push yourself too much.”
Nodding happily, Ai moved in front of me.
Nina didn’t have much of an objection to it either.
Having stopped moving due to my glare, the armored bear was angered by seeing such a small human take the stage and rushed forward with a growl.
The usually cautious and humble Ai asking to do something like this was rare.
Me wanting to respect her request was the reason I didn’t stop her.
“My arms, like a bear’s; my legs, like a deer’s; my skin, like a rock; my strength—”
It was also simply because both Nina and I knew how strong she was.
“—like a dragon’s!”
Ai caught the armored bear’s paw with her bare hands. It was three or four times taller than her, but rather than being pushed back, Ai’s arms actually forced the armored bear backward.
Following her yell, the armored bear flew into the air. Hurled back several meters, it once against crashed into the fence.
“He who is clad in ice clothing, who sheds autumn’s leaves, and who melts in spring’s light, the spirit of both ice and snow, Jack Frost! Grasp it with your palm and dye it with your breath!”
Ai stuck out both her palms towards the armored bear and a fierce blizzard shot out, fully covering the armored bear in snow in the blink of an eye and causing it to freeze solid.
“Tomorrow, we’re having bear stew!”
Taking a few more seconds to make sure that the armored bear wasn’t going to start moving again, Ai looked back and did a triumphant pose.
“… I thought she was raised as a kind woman. Man, not even I can win against her anymore.”
“So slow. Why’re you so late?”
Nina complained at Darg, who’d said that with a slight tremble.
“It’s not like I had to do anything, right?”
He shrugged his shoulders, looking at Ai drag the frozen armored bear with a smile on her face.
He’d lowered himself after recognizing that he lost against me, but he’s been deliberately laudable recently after being urged forward by Ai’s development.
—It’s been five years since then.
And it’s been a bit over six years since I took Ai in.
There were a few conflicts, but in the end, Darg’s village and ours merged together.
Darg’s village was one formed entirely through his own charisma and strength.
As he went under me and became my follower, none of his people had much of a problem with it and we were able to merge without many issues at all.
I thought that Darg would be crude, quick-tempered, and egoistic, but he was actually unexpectedly amiable to the people in his group.
He might treat them as possessions, but it does also at least mean that he doesn’t hurt them, instead putting his own life on the line to protect them.
On the whole, he isn’t a bad guy to have around.
Darg’s village wasn’t the only one that merged with ours, either.
There was a village that wished to join us because they were unable to provide a sufficient amount of food for themselves.
There were also villages that considered us a foreign enemy and attacked.
Darg was most useful whenever that happened.
After all, they could tell that they were no match against him just by looking at him.
While I would do the same in that respect, him being of the same race as them was even better. They might fight to the bitter end thinking that I’d eat them since I’m a dragon, but since Darg was just barely human enough, they would surrender quickly.
… Well, the most effective thing to do was for both of us to threaten them together.
Like that, the population of our village increased steadily and rapidly, bringing us to over a thousand people. Taking the standard of this age into account, it’s probably fine to consider this as a top-class population level.
“You’re our security officer, do your job.”
Nina’s sermon continued as I was reminiscing over the past few years.
“C’mon. You didn’t have to make me the officer of anything.”
Darg shot Ai a quick glance.
“This village has four strong magus in it after all.”
Just on time, a youth ran over to the girl.
“Sis, are you alright!? Let me take it.”
Having completely overtaken Ai in height, the young Ken tried to take over the armored bear’s corpse from her.
“I’m fine. I can do it.”
However, Ai had easily warded his hand away with her weak-looking arms. Seeing as how she has the strength of a dragon right now, it’s no wonder.
“Mentor, you too. Don’t make her do something so dangerous.”
He aimed his verbal attack at me as I was thinking about that.
“Even if you say that, she herself said she wanted to do it and she more than has the ability to do so. You’re not a child anymore, so don’t disregard her feelings and unilaterally try to stop her.”
Ken stared at me discontentedly when I said that.
“Not a child…”
Muttering to himself, he ran off.
Still silent, Nina walked over to me and elbowed my side.
“Yeah, I know…”
Although our livelihood and the magic academy were going well, there were still things that caused me distress.
I was deeply aware of that fact.
＊ ＊ ＊
I, who was heading over to chase after Ai, stopped moving when I heard Ken’s voice.
Hearing Ai’s soft tone, I could picture her expression in my head.
I could hear her clear as day with my ears, but she was far beyond my visible range.
It was an exchange happening far in the distance.
I feel a bit uneasy about how this seems like eavesdropping though.
But I wasn’t exactly able to make an appearance, nor could I plug my ears and leave.
“… No matter what, I’ll help you.”
“Thanks, but if anyone other than me touches it, they’ll cling to it and freeze.”
She was probably talking about the armored bear she was dragging along. As a woman that could manipulate the cold at will, she herself also seemed to have formed a resistance to it. It’s similar to how I won’t get burned.
“Not just that! Everything… always. I want to help you.”
Ken spoke zealously and straight to the point, similarly to how he manipulated fire.
“I love you, Sis. Please, be my wife.”
His words went as I thought they would.
My legs freezing in place was also as I thought they would.
“Thank you. I’m very happy to hear your feelings, Ken.”
“But I’m sorry.”
… And Ai’s response was, again, what I thought it would be.
“Why… why, am I that useless…?”
His question sounded entirely like a lamentation, yet Ai was unable to respond.
Hearing Ken’s footsteps sound as though his strength had been drained, I took a deep breath.
＊ ＊ ＊
Outside of the village to the north was the cave that Guy and the others had once lived in.
This small cave that had been filled with just ten-odd people was now used as an ice room.
With the entrance sealed up with clay and only a small entrance inside, cold magic was regularly used inside it.
I’d previously used pots as a substitute for a freezer, but it was tough using magic on each one individually. They were also bulky and bad at insulating themselves from outside heat. Although turning the cave into an ice house solved all of those problems in one go, what made it possible was Ai’s earnest progress with her magic.
It appeared that magic has something similar to aptitude.
Just like how I couldn’t use cold magic at all and how Nina was exceptionally skilled with manipulating plants, each and every person had some kind of magic they were and weren’t suited to.
Darg and Guy were practically blank slates for anything that wasn’t magic that enhanced their own body, while Ken was good at fire magic. And Ai was our village’s best magus at using cold magic.
She was rather hard working, so wasn’t limited to only using cold magic and could use various kinds, but she was particularly skilled at it. Of everyone in our village, she’s the only one that could use magic to cool down the entire cave. Not even Nina could create the blizzards she’s able to.
Lifting up the hanging fur that was acting as the door, I found myself at a loss for words when I saw Ai come out of the ice house.
“Mentor. Is something wrong?”
Her clothes were adorned by many separate slivers of ice, each shining and glittering in the moon’s light and bringing about a mysterious goddess-like beauty.
Unable to say that I was awed by her appearance, I shook my head.
“It felt like you were charmed by me, though?”
My thoughts easily seen through, I coughed.
“Yeah. You’ve gotten beautiful.”
“Thank you. Even if it’s just a compliment, that makes me happy.”
Her smile as she said that truly was charming.
And it was troubling.
It had only been six years.
In that short amount of time, that young girl had matured into a beautiful woman.
The hair that she’d had in a quirky short cut now fell to her waist, lustrous.
Her body had changed from its flat, skin and bones look similar to that of a boy’s, to a curved, womanly appearance.
Her features still gave the feeling of innocence, as well a gentle allure.
“Ken is a good boy.”
Hearing what I said, her smile vanished, immediately to be replaced with a stern tone.
Exactly because she’s this attractive, she’d had to turn down not just Ken, but many other men.
The fact that she had turned them all down was something that I knew.
As well as what was likely her reason for doing so.
“I… I want you to be happy.”
Of course, just getting married and having a child is not happiness.
Yet even so, I want her to live and experience ordinary happiness as well.
At that moment, something white fell down on to Ai’s nose.
Seeing things floating down on us from above, we looked up into the sky.
“This… is snow? It’s the first time I’ve…”
The climate around here was warm, it hadn’t snowed here up till now at all, not even in the winter. I’d taken Ai to see snow that had accumulated on the top of a mountain so that she could understand what snow was, but this should be the first time she’s ever seen it falling.
“Hoh hoh hoh.”
A strange voice came from inside the ice room.
“Hoh hoh hoh.”
It lifted up the fur pelt at the entrance with sluggish movements, once again making that sound.
Ai muttered into the air.
As though to answer her, the fur froze over.