Like introducing yourself in a forest.
–A metaphor for avoiding danger passed down through the Scarlet Clan
“Thank you, Jack Frost.”
“Hoh, hoh, hoh.”
The snow spirit faded away laughing once Ai patted its head lightly. Just then, the wooden weapons she’d had frozen in the air clanked down onto the ground.
The ice that covered the ground and trees also melted away.
The strong point of humans was their growth speed.
Not just in body, but in mentality, technology, and magic. It all improved and grew at a frighteningly rapid pace. This, of course, held true for Ai, who was able to control Jack Frost himself.
It had gotten to the level that I’d lose if we fought now and I didn’t take it seriously.
“We should be able to go back together now, right Nina?”
Ai looked over to Nina who had sank to the floor, crestfallen.
“… Oh well then. A deal’s a deal.”
Nina sighed in relief and turned away, but she answered clearly.
Yet even so, Eldest raised an objection.
“After something so ludicrous… why would I approve!?”
Despite knowing Japanese, he still didn’t understand Darg and Ai’s strength yet.
Us being able to take Nina back after winning the bout was never an established condition.
However, while that may be true, that was something I wouldn’t back down on.
“A promise is a promise. I will be taking Nina.”
When I approached the still-sitting Nina to take her hand, Eldest deliberately rose from his seat and stood in front of me.
“This will be the end.”
He scowled at me with a severe look to him, declaring haughtily.
“I will be your opponent.”
What was magic but a collection of meanings? Whether I use the incantation or not, it doesn’t change.
In other words, the longer you’ve been alive, the more you know of, the more it is strengthened.
There was no doubt that Eldest, an elf that had lived for unknown centuries, would be a powerful Magus.
“Although I say that…”
What sort of magic will he use?
Thinking that in vigilance, Eldest quietly held his hand up toward Ai.
“It won’t be a fight.”
Just then, Ai’s body fell to the ground.
“What did you do to Ai!?”
“Hmph… as expected of a dragon, I suppose. What? Don’t be so anxious. I just put her to sleep.”
Saying that, he then held his hand up toward Nina, causing her to slump to the ground in a similar manner.
What in the world is going on here!?
Finally, he put Darg to sleep, then turned toward me.
I don’t get what sort of magic he used at all.
He put them to sleep, so did he spread some gas or pollen with a sleeping effect?
But even those wouldn’t be able to cause the three of them to fall asleep that fast, unable to show even the smallest glimmer of resistance.
“You’ve produced four people, so that means I can fight now.”
“That’s quite alright, I don’t mind.”
Eldest nodded in a grand manner, reaching his hand out toward me.
I don’t understand what he did, but I should knock him down before he has the chance to do anything.
However, it feels like approaching him carelessly would be just as dangerous.
Eldest spoke in the moment I hesitated, I instinctively stopped moving.
“As expected, even a dragon stops moving if I speak?”
What… does he mean?
“You were too careless, too ignorant. No matter how strong the magic you can use is, you cannot defend yourself.”
I didn’t understand what Eldest was getting at.
“Now then, you nod off too.”
Eldest faced his palm out to me and my eyes slowly closed.
For now, I’ll give lightly biting his hand a shot.
Just as I did that, Eldest screamed and held his hand.
“How!? How can you move!?”
Even if you ask me why…
“It’s not like I stopped being able to move to begin with though?”
I stopped in spite of myself when he told me to, but it wasn’t as though I stopped being able to move.
When I tried out moving my tail, it moved as faithfully as ever.
“What idiocy… stop! Freeze! Mentor! Do not move from there!”
Oh, so that was it?
I finally recognized the type of magic he was using and was disappointed by my own stupidity.
Why didn’t I realize it until now?
Magic was driven by knowledge, one’s awareness of the world. That very awareness was shaped through names.
In that case, one must not expose one’s name to a Magus.
That’s probably the reason why the elves all refer to each other with the names of colors.
It may not be easy for anyone other than Eldest to do it, but there’s no harm in doing it.
“Sorry, Eldest. It looks like your magic doesn’t work on me.”
In truth, it’s just that my name isn’t Mentor, though.
I placed my claws against Eldest’s shoulder and spoke with flames rising back in my throat.
“Now then, will you accept defeat, or do you want to turn into a pile of ash? It’s one or the other.”
“… … … … I give up.”
This time, Eldest admitted his defeat.
＊ ＊ ＊
“Gaaah! Stupid! You idiot…!”
“Don’t be so angry, didn’t it turn out well?”
Nina had been in a bad mood ever since we left the elven village.
But I don’t know why she’s angry at all.
“We got Eldest to recognize an alliance between our village and his, we got a method on how to prolong life, and you could come home with us, what’s so bad about any of that?”
“Gah… that’s why I’m saying you’re an idiot!”
Nina punched my neck over and over from her position on my back.
“Nina, you didn’t want to turn into a tree, right?”
“What are you… wait. No way, you’re not telling me you took those words literally, right?”
“What do you mean?”
Hearing that, Nina pressed her hand against her forehead and sighed deeply.
“Becoming a tree… means that I will work as busily as a tree does in growing leaves, making flowers, and producing fruits as the seasons change.”
“Eh… b-but Ultramarine said that Eldest’s tree was too old so it needed to be changed to a new one?”
“That kind of tree is troublesome to take care of until it grows big. I hated doing it, so I had Ultramarine cooperate in me escaping the forest…”
Taking another glance at my face, Nina sighed again.
“Honestly, helping you is way more troubling. People don’t turn into trees…”
Nina spoke in a way that made it sound like she was amazed from the bottom of her heart. I’d normally agree with her, but there’s no way I’d know that, everything in this world goes against my common sense!
But really, being preoccupied with taking care of trees is just way too different. Just how carefree are those elves?
“Then why did Eldest dislike the idea of me taking you away so much?”
Hearing her explanation, I stopped feeling a sense of urgency like them being destroyed without Nina there. But still though, it felt like Eldest was awfully desperate.
“Well yeah… what do you think a parent would do after seeing their daughter run away from home and come back with a dragon?”
“Eldest is Nina’s father…?”
Thinking about it, isn’t that natural?
The elves were obviously a community built with its eldest member leading it.
In that case, Nina—the one they call their princess—would naturally be his daughter.
“Then… Nina, did you not want to return with us?”
Did I end up forcing her into something she didn’t want because of my misunderstanding?
In that case, Nina being angry would be natural.
Just as I started to think about that, Nina silently pulled on my horns with a jerk.
“Ouch, Nina, that hurts.”
“You did something unnecessary, that’s all. Even though I’d prepared myself for it…”
Nina spoke in a low, muttering voice.
“But… I want to stay with Ai… and you too, I, umm…”
“Yeah. I also want to be with you, Nina.”
Unable to hear what she said as her voice trailed off, I gave her a firm response. However, she gave my horns another strong tug.
“I said that hurts!”
Even so, I get that she did it to hide her embarrassment.
“Sis wanted to stay because of me too!”
“I don’t care about you.”
Darg spoke up to poke fun at her, but she instantly shot him down.
Darg smiled, shouting as though he didn’t actually mind as his voice echoed through the sky.
“Really, you’re so stupid—”
Nina spoke both astonished and somewhat amused.
“But Nina staying with us makes me very happy!”
Seeing Ai smile free from worry, Nina couldn’t stop herself from smiling back.
“Oh well, guess there’s nothing to it but to hang around a bit longer.”
An elf’s a bit might be a fairly long time.
Relieved at that hunch, we returned home.
—Those days were the happiest I’d ever been.
I had no idea how many times I would later think back on them.