Words of the future from a time long past.
Sixty-nine years have passed since I met Ai.
Both Darg and Ken… as well as all of those that had lived in the cave Ai came from have already died.
Living amongst their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, Ai was the last one left.
“—… The owner of many names, the flow of time, death itself… Remove yourself from this body of mine, vanish.”
Finished reciting the very, very long incantation, Ai breathed out a sigh and laid down on the bed.
It was a specially made felt from the wool of a sheep I’d captured from another continent.
It couldn’t hold a candle to what modern Earth was capable of, but Ai smiled nonetheless, saying it was remarkably better than sleeping on straw on the ground.
“Ai, are you feeling alright…? Don’t push yourself, it’s okay.”
“I’m fine, it’s… like my daily routine, now.”
Ai spoke slowly, her tone unsteady.
The extravagantly lengthy incantation to prolong life took somewhere around ten minutes to recite. She’d been reciting it each and every day, even when I wasn’t there. She practically couldn’t even stand anymore, but she still continued with the custom.
I thought that the magic might have had no effect, but seeing as how Ai has had such a long life, it looks like it may have unexpectedly worked somewhat.
But even so, it was just to the level of being mere consolation.
“Besides… either way, I won’t have… much longer.”
Unable to respond to her, I just combed her bangs.
Nina had told me the same thing.
Ai had just a few more days to live.
I couldn’t imagine a world without her in it.
Meanwhile, on that thought, I could feel a sense of resignation spreading through my chest.
She, as a human of this era, had lived long beyond her time.
Her aged body had grown weak, no longer able to run through the fields, unable to talk cheerfully, unable to hear much of anything.
Watching over her like that was painful for me.
Ai gazed at me intently.
“Could I ask you… one last thing?”
“What? I’ll answer anything.”
Please don’t let this be the last, the end.
Desperately pinning that feeling down as it threatened to overwhelm me, I just barely managed to force a smile on my face.
“I want—to know… Mentor’s name.”
Dragons don’t live together, not even with their own children for very long.
They held an incredible amount of knowledge, so they were probably also knew how to seize beings by understanding their name.
Which might be why they don’t bestow names.
It felt strange to give myself a name, so I’d told Ai to just call me Mentor. That alias had spread to the people in the village, only two people didn’t call me that. Those two were Nina and Darg.
“Didn’t I explain it before? Dragons don’t have names. That’s why I said for you all to call me Mentor, it’s my name.”
“What I want to know… is Mentor’s name, as a human.”
Her words caused me to suddenly remember it.
Right. I used to be a human.
I didn’t forget about it, of course.
But I’d almost lived as long as a dragon as I did as a human.
I’d grown accustomed to living as a dragon, enough so that my awareness of having been something else previously began to dim.
“So… you noticed?”
I’d never told anyone that I was formerly a human.
It wouldn’t particularly be a problem if they did know, but I thought that no one would believe me either way.
“I know everything… about you, Mentor.”
Ai spoke with a slight smile on her face.
She wasn’t exaggerating, it was probably true.
Her ears were failing, but for some reason, she never stopped being able to hear me.
“I… yeah. I was a human. I wasn’t a human of this world, though. I was a human that lived in an entirely different world.”
Ai, not appearing to doubt me in the least, nodded as she listened.
“That world didn’t have magic… no, I suppose I should say it only had one. That magic… was my reincarnation into this world as a dragon.”
Ai played with the word, ruminating on it.
“Ryouji. My name from when I was a human is Ryouji Sekiguchi. Written like this.”
Saying that, I wrote the characters for my name in the air.
“… Ryouji… san…”
The instant Ai muttered that, my entire body felt as though it were burning.
Be it when I soaked in hot water or when I accidentally set some trees that had been surrounding me on fire—not even the time I bathed in magma—I had never felt a heat this hot.
This was the first tense I felt hot since I was born as a dragon.
My belly burned, my arms twisted, and my vision blurred.
However, the mysteriously, it wasn’t painful.
The feeling passed just as abruptly as it began.
“Ryouji… is that…?”
Blinking several times upon seeing Ai look strangely close to me, I realized—
“… It appears so.”
—that my appearance had changed into that of a human.
“This… is you?”
“Probably… I think.”
Her eyes opened wide, Ai stared at me fixedly.
I stretched out a trembling arm and gently placed my hand against her cheek.
And then embraced her closely.
Not even something like this.
Not even something like this… could I do until now.
Embracing the body of the woman I loved so dearly for the first time, she felt small and delicate, like she might break if I put even the smallest amount of strength into my embrace.
Ai’s arms reaching around my back, she let out a content voice.
Her moistened eyes glittering like starlight, she looked at me in earnest.
Honest, earnest… her eyes, looking straight into me, wouldn’t change no matter how much time passed.
She’d come to me as a sacrifice—young and innocent, our spring.
She grew up to be lovely, like new leaves sprouting on a tree—the girl I’d yearned, our summer.
Beautiful as a vividly colored flower—when she confessed her love, our autumn.
Countless wrinkles biting into her skin—the woman that supported me as my wife, our winter.
Through the years, her eyes had only ever seen me.
“I was happy.”
Even though I had to say it, my mouth didn’t move.
“That I could meet you… and stay with you…”
Don’t go, please.
It was all I could do to keep myself from spouting my own selfishness.
“I was really, really… happy.”
Even if my form had turned into a human’s, a portion of my senses appeared to remain as a dragon’s.
For the first time since I was reborn, I cursed that I was born as a fire dragon.
The magic that had turned me into a human seemed to be running out of power.
Steadily, the warmth drained from her lips, her eyes, her fingers…
That she was gradually dying was frightfully clear to me.
How easy would it be for me to beg, to scream, for her to not leave me alone?
I’d pondered whether I should end my life with hers many times.
I didn’t want to imagine living for hundreds, thousands of years in a world that didn’t have her in it.
“Yeah… meeting you made me… really, really happy, too…”
Enduring the agony assaulting me, I finally managed to squeeze out my voice.
I had to tell her.
To tell her that she had given me just as much happiness, that her smile was the sun that lit my world.
“Mentor, you’re… so gentle. I love you.”
But Ai smiled in response, seemingly able to see through all of my thoughts.
“So, again… I’ll—”
Mustering the rest of her strength, Ai mouthed her words.
She was so weak that she couldn’t even cause the air to vibrate.
It was her final breath.
＊ ＊ ＊
“… It’s over?”
After nodding back to Nina’s quiet question, I suddenly noticed.
“Not going to react?”
“There’s nothing different though? Same gold eyes, same red head.”
Even though my appearance was completely different than when I’m a dragon, she had no reaction at all and responded as much.
“Well, if forced…”
She looked up at me and continued.
“I thought you’d look more like a kid.”
“I really am as a dragon though.”
I can’t be sure since there’s no mirror in sight, but judging by my arms and legs, my form is around that of a twenty-year-old human. I can’t say how long a dragon’s lifespan is, but that should at the very least be considered young for a dragon.
“… You’re less depressed than I thought you’d be.”
“No, I’m staggeringly depressed.”
If Nina weren’t here right now, I’d be crying my eyes out.
“Nina. Let’s make a magic academy.”
I spoke the same words to her that I’d used long ago.
“…? Didn’t you make it?”
Ai really was a wonderful wife.
She thought of me to the very end.
“A bigger, better school.”
Dragon’s ears truly are sharp.
Sharp to the extent that they could hear Ai’s last words, words that didn’t even make it past her mouth.
Therefore, I’ll believe in the words she left me and look forward.
“Let’s make such a wonderful academy that everything in the world knows about it.”
Because someday, she will return.