The Sixth Student
It was the world’s earliest example of shadowing a class.
Hurriedly beating my wings and gazing upon Scarlet, I was at a loss for words.
What I saw before me was an inky black spot within the village.
… No way, those are all mice!?
As I was caught up in the sight, a flame rose like a firework from the center of the village, the area that had become the village’s public plaza. It was probably meant to be a signal after seeing me soaring in the sky. There’s only one person who could do that.
“Nina, are you alright!?”
“You took way too long, idiot!”
Oh good, she looks alright.
Listening to her complaints, I descended to the plaza still in my dragon form.
Just as I landed, I swept away the rats that were rushing toward us from all directions with my tail. My strong tail was able to handle them easily, but it didn’t feel like I’d dented their numbers at all. It was like dealing with a carpet of blackness.
“Yuuki, do not get off my back, no matter what!”
Not even Yuuki would be able to do anything with how many of them there were around us. There were countless mice attacking me from all directions, but their gnawing couldn’t do anything to my scales.
“Nina, what the heck’s going on!?”
“Like I’d know!? They just started attacking out of nowhere!”
Judging by the countless corpses piled up around her and how the mice weren’t giving up their assault, she’d probably been defending this spot solo the whole time.
“Stop it! You all should be able to understand us right!? Why are you doing this!?”
Even when I tried calling out to them, the mice didn’t react at all. Seeing that, I reluctantly began to fight back against the mice with flames. Can they really understand me?
How long did this go on? I couldn’t see their numbers decreasing, but the rats seemed to notice their attacks were showing no progress and began to lax with their assault.
“How are the villagers?”
Finally having the chance to speak, I asked Nina the question that was burning on my mind?
“We had them evacuate to the ice house. Amata’s protecting them.”
“They should be alright then… probably isn’t something I can say right now, is it?”
Yuuki would be there as well, but the Swordsaints’ fighting style was based on the concept of fighting a small number of mighty opponents. Consequently, they weren’t too skilled in magical attacks that affected wide swaths of the battlefield at once. That being the case, Nina likely chose to remain in the central plaza to take care of a large number of mice at once. They would have had to pass through here to make it to the ice house, after all.
Just then, something clapped me on the head with a light bang.
I spread my wings to protect Yuuki on reflex. Pebbles poured down on us like rain.
“They’re throwing stones…!?”
Tiny, tiny stones—pebbles. So small that I practically couldn’t feel them even as they fell upon us. Still, I wasn’t able to hide my surprise.
I mean, mice… throwing stones?
Nina screamed. A thin stream of blood snaked its way down the front of her beautiful face.
Following an angry shout, all sorts of trees started sprouting from the ground. Turning into innumerable weapons, they floated in the air. However, countless bubbles shrouded her vision before she had a chance to launch any of them.
Swinging her arm, Nina stirred up a fierce wind. However, all the wind did to the wall of bubbles was cause it to shake and warp, the wind disappearing before the bubbles blew away. A large number of rats jumped into the wall from its other side.
Abandoning the thought of aiming, Nina launched her wooden weapons like arrows. Cutting down each of the rats on the innumerable bubbles, the wall vanishes… but.
“Nina, watch out!”
I shouted out to her in warning. No matter how strong Nina’s magic was, their corpses wouldn’t just vanish without a trace. They were made with magic, like moving shadows.
Just then, Nina screamed. Tons of rats were clinging to her body.
“Big sis, don’t move!”
Brandishing her scarlite sword, Yuuki jumped down from my back. Making sure to not hit Nina, she cut away the mice clinging to her body.
“Hurry up, get on my back you two…!”
Just as I started to say that, I felt a sharp pain.
“… No way.”
Turning to the pain, I let out a groan. A small mouse was holding an appropriately sized scarlite sword for its body and had thrust it into my leg.
“Shit… Nina, use fire!”
When I shouted that, Nina immediately guessed my intent and launched a huge flame straight at me. Although it was merely a pleasant wind as far as I was concerned, its heat was deadly to the mice that had started running up my body. Once I got them all off me, I grasped Nina and Yuuki in my forelegs and took to the sky at a dash. Here, at least, they shouldn’t be able to follow us.
“What the… no really, what…?”
With a voice tinged in both irritation and fear, Nina spoke.
“Big brother, that magic…”
“It was ours.”
Stones. Bubbles. Shadows. That sword. They were all things we devised and practiced in our classroom. I doubt it was a coincidence.
The mice had been listening in on us, hidden, for a very long time.
“Still, for them to even make a sword… ouch—”
Renewed pain running through my leg as I spoke about the sword, I flinched.
“Yuuki, sorry, but could you pull out the sword stuck in my leg?”
Although the mouse that had been holding it was incinerated by Nina’s flames, its sword remained stuck in my leg. Bringing Yuuki closer to my hind leg, she reached out and pulled the sword out of me.
“… Big brother, this isn’t a sword.”
Pulling it out and staring at it, Yuuki spoke.
“It’s a nail, one of the ones we used to reinforce the fence.”
I see. They probably destroyed the fence and took it out. It’s true that nails would be about the right size for them to use as swords. I guess it really would be a bit much for them to be forging swords of their own.
“… This is bad.”
As for why, this wasn’t the only scarlite nail. There were hundreds of them.
“I’m worried for Amata. I’m going to hurry up, hold on.”
Putting Yuuki and Nina on my back, I flapped my wings even harder.
＊ ＊ ＊
There was an ice house outside of the village to the north. This was the the first house in which Ai’s family used to live, a small cave in a certain hill. The usually-closed entrance was flung open with a wall of ice standing as though to surround it.
That was good. Using the cold air inside the ice house to create a wall of ice, the mice should be unable to make it inside.
And Amata stood at the entrance like a gatekeeper, his entire body dyed red as he called out to me. A tremendous number of mouse corpses were strewn about at his feet, telling just how hard the fight had been.
“Amata, are you alright!?”
“Yes, don’t worry about me. None of this is my blood.”
Amata answered casually when I landed and inquired about his safety. His shoulders were heaving up and down, showing just how out of breath he actually was.
There were practically no buildings near the ice house and all of the forest that used to surround it had long since been cut away. With that, we should be able to use fire without having to worry about it affecting the village.
It was just as I inhaled to deal with the group of mice that it happened.
A white mouse appeared from among the black mass.
“Why did you do this, Al?”
“There are three reasons.”
Hearing my angered words, Al answered with his usual flat tone.
“The first: your strength was at its weakest. To be exact, while you, the strongest combatant, were gone, it was necessary to reduce the humans’ strength to some extent. The second: to secure food. The amount you offered was no longer sufficient. Therefore, we moved to plunder. The third: to decrease the food demand. There were too many creatures to feed with the food. Therefore, we thinned them out.”
With no evil in his tone nor any pride or ridicule, he spoke as if to simply notify us of the facts. He emotionlessly gave his report. Hearing that, I asked a question in response with a certain feeling in my gut.
“By creatures… are you referring to humans, or mice?”
I had the hunch that I just couldn’t understand Al’s way of thinking.
We were using the same words. We understood their meaning.
However, we weren’t communicating.
Perhaps… to Al, this was neither a matter of malice, nor of ill will. He held no thoughts concerning cheating or violating agreements. He could, so he did—that was all.
“Al… Algernon. Leave, now. Never return to this village.”
Calling out Al’s name with strength filling it, I gave him an order.
It was his true name. There were cases where a name given by others was effective, as well as cases where it wasn’t. Although I didn’t understand the exact mechanism behind it, there was one thing I did know. If a creature recognized something as its name, that became its true name.
That’s why I decided to go out of my way to call him Al as a pet name. That way, he would see his other name, Algernon, as his true name. That, at least, shouldn’t be different between humans and mice.
“You have been calling me Al for a while now, but—”
However, Al… the white mouse—it just cutely tilted its head and responded.
“—that individual has already died.”