More than anything, loss proves something’s existence while simultaneously reminding you it’s gone forever.
“I demand a revision to the payment amount.”
My voice shook in amazement in response to Al’s statement in his usual formal tone.
“Didn’t you increase it just last month?”
“Our group’s size is increasing. The currently supplied amount is no longer enough.”
Al, on the other hand, was indifferent. He felt no shame, merely stating the facts.
“And you guys only demanding more is troubling. What happened to the promise of helping out? Haven’t you guys done basically nothing?”
“We have done nothing.”
Having been laying on the bed up until that point, Nina sat up upon hearing that.
“You said you understood back when we made the agreement.”
Al nodded in response to Nina.
“The dragon said that he would like us to help around the village. We agreed to that.”
“There was nothing in that agreement which requires us to help.”
Declaring that, Al had stumped both Nina and I in dumbfounded silence.
Still though, getting this far was actually refreshing. Recently, I’ve been growing more aware of Al’s personality. He—or maybe she, I’m not sure—as a mouse, is a complete utilitarian. He only considers things using rational judgment. To put it bluntly, me saying would like instead of something more concrete was a blunder on my end.
“I see, that’s true. How about we do it like this, then? If you do not help with the work, we will not increase the supplied amount of food.”
“Describe the contents of the work.”
Now that I’d spoken concretely, he instantly responded as such.
The rats might possibly be even smarter than me.
“It’s about time for us to sow the seeds. You just need to help us with that. Right… if you help us with ten fields, we will increase the number of bags provided by one per month.”
Nodding, Al departed. I let out a deep sigh upon seeing him off.
“I feel tired…”
It wasn’t just the mental fatigue of having to deal with the small mouse. I’ve been mentally and physically drained these days. The main reason being that our manpower shorted cropped back up.
In the end, Shig had never returned. Moreover, as she said she would, Violet helped us finish harvesting the wheat and returned to the forest. And while Luka wasn’t wanting to leave us with things being so rough, she asked for a favor in being able to go back home midway through.
With half of our exchange students gone, Rin and Yuuki also felt a bit down about it.
“Maybe we should look for more exchange students?”
“Sounds annoying. Go have a look about if you want.”
Even with everything around us changing, one of us had managed to stay the same—Nina. I smiled.
Just as I felt my mood improving, the door flung open and Rin burst inside.
I wonder if she’s starting to feel a bit better?
My optimistic thought far off the mark, Rin clung to my arm and cried out in a teary voice.
＊ ＊ ＊
With me in my dragon form and with Rin and Yuuki–as well as the merfolk who’d come to inform us of the urgent news–on my back, I hurried to the sea where Utai lived. Even with my wings, it was a distance that wold take thirty minutes to cross. The merfolk had used the river that went to the sea, swimming upstream the whole way. It must have taken a considerable amount of time.
I flew with a feeling close to praying—could I make it in time?
… Finally reaching the coastline, I spotted Utai sitting leisurely on a reef in the sunlight.
“Utai! Are you alright?”
“Oh my… Mentor. You came all the way to see me?”
This was the first time I’d seen Utai in nearly thirteen years, but she was as beautiful as ever.
She even responded to me with a tone that sounded very unlike she was on her deathbed.
… However, the graceful waist fins she’d always had around her hips that looked closer to a wedding dress had shrunk considerably.
Rin lept from my back, landing in the sea and shooting back out of it like a flying fish before clinging to Utai.
“How was it? Being on land, that is.”
“It was so much fun! There are so many things, Mentor is so kind, the food’s great, Shig is amusing, Yuuki is strong, Luka gets scary sometimes but oh well, Violet is just wow, Nina is fun to learn from, and, and…!”
Rin spoke of all the experiences she had up on land while Utai stroked her hair and listened to everything with her eyes closed.
Seeing that, I realized that she truly didn’t have too long left.
“But why… are you sick?”
Utai’s mouth tensed as she answered.
“I’m already a granny with great-grandchildren. I’ve lived a long life.”
It was as she said, but I could only see her as a woman in her thirties.
However, the hands she used to stroke Rin’s hair gave the feeling of withered trees.
“But for me to see Rin with such a beautiful smile and body in the end… I’m so blessed.”
Her hand made its way to Rin’s large waist fins.
“Yep! I made them bigger with magic! I can already walk on my own! I could even walk with you now, Utai!”
Utai nodded with a delighted smile.
But it was obvious that the withered fins at her waist were already too small for her to walk with anymore.
“Listen to me carefully, Rin.”
Utai placed her hands on Rin’s cheeks, looking into her eyes as she spoke.
“After this, two things will visit you. One very wonderful, another very painful. These will happen at the same time.”
“The same time…?”
Rin repeated back Utai’s mysterious warning in wonder.
“Yes. At that time, you will need to do whatever your heart tells you, so listen to it well… Please.”
Yeah, she definitely will. Even I wound up nodding.
I’ve never seen a child as free and honest to herself as Rin.
“That’s good. I’m sure you’ll be fine then, my great-granddaughter–my pride.”
Utai smiled lovingly at Rin.
“… Hey, Mentor?”
Taking her hand from Rin’s head, she slowly turned to face me.
“Would it be alright for you to come by at the end…?”
“… I will.”
Having Yuuki and the merfolk get off, I changed back to my human form and stepped into the ocean.
A floating sensation surrounded me and my vision was filled with water and froth. Either due to me being a dragon or due to Utai using some sort of magic on me, I didn’t feel stifled at all.
With that, Utai pulled on my arm and we drifted under into the ocean.
Pulled by a strength stronger than I thought she could muster, she placed her palms on my cheeks. A moment later, I felt a soft sensation press against my lips.
“I’m sorry for being a granny like this.”
“It’s not as though I’ve changed with age, either.”
I shrugged in response to Utai’s jest. She really had done something to me. Even though we were both underwater, I could both hear her perfectly as well as respond.
“Besides, it’s the first time I’ve admitted this… but honestly, I like them older.”
Overlapping Utai’s face as she laughed, I could see Rin’s face.
No—I could see Utai’s face from long ago, when I first met her. The face of the younger Utai.
“My thanks. That made me happy… you… you were my first love.”
Saying that, Utai left my arms.
“… Even if you look at me like that, I won’t die just yet.”
You won’t turn to foam and disappear?
Seeing me look at her, Utai spoke in an amazed tone as I had to hold back my thoughts.
“Now, Mentor, you should head back.”
But then, as though to crush my relief—
[Hurry back—the mice, they’re attacking.]
Nina messaged me, her voice impatient.