I spin round and round, yet never pass through the same place twice.
I am all around you, yet cannot be grasped.
What am I?
“I’m here! Bring out the food!”
“You’re back again?”
Nina was amazed by Ultramarine immediately saying some very bandit-like words first thing upon arriving.
“You have a lot of free time, don’t you?”
She said that, but she still started defrosting the frozen behemoth meat. I took a jar of oil from the shelf and carefully heated it with my fire so that it wouldn’t ignite. All things said and done, those two are close friends.
“Hmph. You know, you don’t seem to like being called Dropout at all for some reason!”
“I told you to call me Nina. Dropout means [Dunce] in the humans’ language, it feels horrible getting called that.”
When Nina put the behemoth’s meat into the hot oil, it started bubbling with a crisp sound as a savory fragrance spread through the room. I’d like to use wheat flour as well if I could, but, unfortunately, let alone the millstone that would be needed, I haven’t even found anything similar enough to wheat yet. Ah well, frying it alone ends up being delicious anyway.
“Mm, it does, huh… but are you fine having such a simple name?”
“I’m fine with it. Besides, anything’s fine for a nickname.”
There were two general ways to avoid being affected by magic that uses one’s name to dominate them.
First, hide your true name and only give others a sort of nickname. Even simple true names like Nina’s can be used to great effect. You have to know that it is definitely their true name, though, you couldn’t just guess to try and find it out—that wouldn’t work.
The other way was the exact opposite. Rename yourself and fully embrace it, keeping it to yourself. Ai and Darg seemed to have done so, I don’t know the names they thought up either.
Ai said that she’d tell me her’s, but I refused her. I’ll never manipulate her like Eldest did back then and at least this way, there’s no chance of it being overheard. I want to eliminate as many loose ends as possible.
“Alright, it’s done. Don’t burn yourself.”
The best part about being a red dragon is that I don’t get burned even if hot oil splashes out of the pan at me. Actually, I’m fine even sticking my fingers straight into the pan. Putting the sliced, deep-fried behemoth onto plant leaves Nina created, I handed it over to Ultramarine.
“Aaah! Haah! Hooot!!”
Ignoring the advice I gave her since it was just deep-fried, Ultramarine stuck it straight into her mouth and was suffering as a result.
“You should listen to what people tell you…”
“No, it tastes better if you eat it like this!”
Ultramarine held fast to her reasoning as Nina watched her in astonishment, all the while pouring more water into her cup. I can’t sympathize with her anymore—even if I tried by eating magma—but I understand her feelings on it.
“There really is a ton of delicious things out of the forest.”
Still smacking her lips, Ultramarine raised her hand for seconds.
Food was abundant inside the forest as well, but gargantuan creatures like the behemoth could only be found in the grasslands. Contrary to how you might think something that big would taste bland, it actually had a rather enriched flavor throughout all of its elastic, chewy meat. I could also understand at least a bit of why Ultramarine wanted to leave her forest to come here and eat.
“Ooh, smells like you’re eating something good here. Mind if I join in?”
I heard a certain person’s deep voice calling in from outside the window, he was probably lured over by the smell.
“Peeping through windows is bad manners.”
“Heheh, sorry Sis.”
Nina’s nonchalant criticisms caused the large man to bend forward as he walked in through the entrance.
Seeing that, Ultramarine knit her brows gracefully and frowned.
“Bearmonkey, did you shrink?”
“Who’s this self-entitled longears?”
Dargo pointed a finger at Ultramarine while stuffing an entire strip of fried behemoth into his mouth.
“Don’t talk with food in your mouth. Don’t point at people.”
Dargo’s shoulders froze, similar to how Darg’s used to.
“Ultramarine, he’s Dargo. Darg’s—the person you call Bearmonkey’s—son.”
“Oh, you know my old man?”
Reaching for seconds, Dargo nodded as he figured out who she was.
“His son…? Humans really do grow up fast. Maybe not to the point of Bearmonkey, but he looks pretty strong. Evergreen was talking about wanting to have a rematch, but both him and his kid might end up losing to the two of you again.”
Ultramarine had spoke casually as she licked her fingertips, but Nina and I both sunk into silence.
“Hm? What’s wrong?”
“Well, my old man can’t really do that anymore.”
“Can’t do what?”
When Dargo responded, Ultramarine stopped eating and her mouth fell open as a vacant response slipped from her lips.
“What? He can’t fight? Did he lose his arms?”
“No, he’s just getting old. He practically hasn’t even went out to go hunting since he hurt his lower back year before last. He was like a rock when I was a runt, but nowadays he’s gotten more like a withered tree.”
Ultramarine had trouble processing what Dargo said, her eyes blinking in succession.
“Wait… what? Did I make a mistake somewhere in learning your language? I don’t get what you’re saying!”
“Bearmonkey’s the number one warrior among everyone I know! He even swept the floor with the biggest elf, Evergreen—not even Violet can get a hit in on him, and she’s the strongest! That man… a withered tree?”
Nina’s chiding voice not quite reaching her, Ultramarine had continued to speak out in confusion.
“Oh, Ultramarine, you came over?”
Then, at a time like that, it happened.
Ai appeared from the back room.
“Long time no see. You haven’t changed at all, have you?”
Ultramarine’s eyes slowly opened wide.
“Who… are you…?”
I clenched my jaw, my teeth grinding against one another.
“I’m Ai. The last time we met was… somewhere over ten years ago, I think. I’ve turned into an old lady since then, you probably don’t recognize me by now, do you?”
Ai hadn’t changed at all, she was still beautiful… but now there were deep wrinkles lining her smiling face.
“Ultramarine. Come on, go home already.”
“Eh!? But I just got here!?”
Nina probably felt the same as me. Semi-forcibly, she drove Ultramarine away.
Having the reality of slowly growing old thrust in front of you like that was painful.
In the end, be it stopping Ai’s aging or even just extending her life, nothing we did worked.
The second method of prolonging life that the elves’ Eldest taught us was to turn into a monster that lived off of drinking blood and was unable to exist in the sunlight forever through a ceremony of the shadow people that lived in the desert.
The third method was to petrify her through the use of a venom from a type of two-headed lizard that lived on a continent on the other side of the ocean.
The fourth method was to eat a certain fruit that could be found at the edge of the world. The fruit didn’t exist.
There was no way I could ever make Ai become an immortal through those methods, so I flew all over the world looking for another way. Literally, all over the world.
I fought with the lizardmen of the east to gain their recognition through force, but they were a simplistic tribe that only relied on their bodies to survive and were unable to use magic.
I spent a number of years on visiting the merfolk of the south to gain their trust and was eventually able to differentiate between them, along with learn magic for curing wounds. Unfortunately, it didn’t allow for perpetual youth like what could be found in Earth’s fables.
I met with mountain giants. With centaurs. I even met with other dragons.
Some welcomed me amicably, others escaped thinking that I was their enemy.
However, not one of them knew of a method for achieving eternal life.
I spent years, decades even, searching, searching, and searching—and then, on a certain day, Ai spoke to me.
She said that rather than being separated as I looked for a one in a million possibility, she wanted to live with me as long as she could.
Ai’s first—and possibly last—act of selfishness.
I ceded to her.
“… I’m sorry.”
Her body curled into a small ball in despondence, the way she acted since back when she was ten years old hadn’t changed at all.
“There’s nothing to apologize for.”
I stroked Ai’s now white-tinged hair.
Even magic had things that it couldn’t do.
I realized that fact in the worst possible way.