Hunters of the Grassland
Just give up. Continuing to chase after their target
anywhere and everywhere is in their blood, they’ll never stop.
“Oh, big brother, is that a behemoth?”
Yuuki pointed at an animal lumbering its giant body across the huge grassland and raised her voice.
“It is, and it’s the first time I’ve seen one in a long time… we used to eat them a lot a while back.”
“Are they tasty?”
I started to nod as I answered her, but stopped myself in the nick of time and just responded verbally. Right now, I’m in my dragon form with Yuuki sitting on my head. My back would be preferable over my head as far as stability is concerned, but that’s just too far away for us to have a comfortable conversation.
“… They got so small.”
I muttered to myself. Even considering the distance between us, the behemoth Yuuki pointed out looked rather small. It wasn’t as though they’d all actually gotten smaller, though.
I’d simply gotten bigger.
I’d say my body’s around close to ten meters long right now. I’m still smaller than the behemoth, but it’s not to the extent of the huge gap in body size there used to be. I’m confident that I could even take it in a head-on fight now.
“Going to hunt it?”
“No, even if I did, we wouldn’t be able to bring it home with just the two of us… and there aren’t many of them left.”
Behemoths were large and strong. But they weren’t invincible. A master hunter from Scarlet would be able to take one down with just a few people. However, as one might imagine from their massive builds, their birth rate was abysmally small and it took a long time for them to come of age. If we’d continued to hunt them whenever we wanted, they would have been wiped out quickly.
“Come now, let’s go down. They’re waiting.”
Calling out to Yuuki, who responded in a slightly dissatisfied manner, I descended toward our destination and turned into my human form..
“Big brother, where are we?”
Yuuki asked me a question as she saw the unfamiliar buildings and looked around here and there. We were at a small village in the middle of the grassland.
Yuuki’s and everyone else’s houses were built out of wood, but all the buildings we saw in this village were tents and pavilions constructed out of animal pelts and hide. With their framework made from behemoth bones, they were portable and easily deconstructed.
“This is the lykos’ village. There’s supposed to be a child here that’ll be an exchange student, but…”
“Then… where are the lykos?”
That’s odd. I don’t sense anyone in the village. Even looking into one of their tents, I don’t see anyone. There’s still a fire lit in the fire pit, so there should have been people here until just a moment ago. Even if they went somewhere, not even seeing any children is strange.
“Big brother, over here!”
Yuuki pointed to the ground and shouted urgently.
She was pointing to a good number of footprints. Given the sharp claws they showed, they were from some kind of carnivore.
“They were attacked just a bit ago.”
Her face serious, Yuuki traced a footprint. The footprints were all made in loose soil and would be quick to disappear. In other words, the tracks’ owners could still be nearby—
By the time I felt their presence, I’d already been pushed down by the beasts.
They had four legs, sharp claws, silver fur, and appeared to assert just how ferocious they were. With their long, thick legs placing more emphasis on stamina than explosive strength, they would chase their prey for as long as it took with their sharp sense of smell. Their bodies were similar to a wolf’s… save for one particular point.
The group of them pinned my body down, biting down my shoulders and arms as growls resounded from their throats.
I cried out on reflex, but the wolves didn’t cease their attack.
Crap. They might get injured if I don’t…!
“Hey—stop it! You’re troubling Mentor!”
Just as I was about to return to my dragon form out of my sense of impending crisis, a young girl called out. Immediately after, the children that were piled on me stopped what they were doing and Yuuki lowered the hand she was about to use to unsheathe her sword.
“Thanks Luka, you saved me there.”
Relieved, I thanks the girl who spoke up for me. Her reaction was delayed since she didn’t feel any bloodthirst coming from the children, but any longer and she might have cut them down.
“You could have pushed them away if you wanted to, right Mentor?”
The girl—Luka spoke to me half in amazement, holding her hand out to me.
“They might have gotten hurt if I did that though. Besides, it doesn’t hurt even when these children bite me, it feels more ticklish than anything, actually.”
“It’s just that Mentor is so kind, everyone got excited.”
When I took Luka’s hand and stood up, Luka puffed out her cheeks adorably. She was no different from a human girl.
… Other than her lower half being a wolf’s, that is.
Judging by human looks, I’d say she’s around fifteen or sixteen years old. Truthfully, they have longer lifespans than humans, but races with longer lifespans tend to also grow into adulthood slower.
Triangular ears popped up from under her similarly silver head of hair. Everything below her waist was like a wolf, including her currently wagging tail.
“These kids are… lykos?
“Yes. Half human, half wolf.”
I looked around to the children who all looked similar to Luka and nodded in response to Yuuki’s question.
To put it simply, these girls were all the wolf version of centaurs. Their human-like upper body was situated exactly where a wolf’s neck would have been. They live in small packs, similar to actual wolves.
Luka’s brothers and sisters always jump at me whenever they see me, play-biting out of playfulness. They weren’t actually hurting me. They were completely different from ferocious wolves in the first place, they were all calm and friendly. If anything, they were more like dogs than wolves.
We’d talked to them and have exchanged things for a while now, so the first group I thought of when I came up with having exchange students was them.
“So Mentor, what business do you have here today?”
Still handling her younger siblings that were still playing around with each other, Luka cleared her throat and spoke.
“Well… I came wondering if you would like to be one of my pupils, Luka.”
Come to think of it, I didn’t think of a way to ease into the subject, did I…?
But Luka’s eyes all but sparkled the moment I mentioned pupil.
“Mentor, ever since I first heard about what you do, I’ve always wanted to go to your school!”
Her tail wagging back and forth energetically, Luka clenched her hands together against her chest and spoke enthusiastically.
However, her tail quickly fell limp, followed by the two ears on her head laying flat.
“But… I’m sorry, Mentor. I can’t go.”
“Eeeh? Why not?”
Yuuki spoke in dissatisfaction as she looked at Luka cast her eyes down.
“Because I need to look after the children.”
Sad, Luka spoke as she patted the heads of her younger siblings.
“… No way, your parents…?”
Understanding what I hesitated to say, Luka nodded her head. Female lykoscentaur live in packs of around a dozen, forming communities that don’t infringe upon another group’s territory. The village’s elders would care for its youths while they learned to hunt, the youths eventually forming a new pack of their own.
Normally, Luka would also be part of the group still being looked after…
Lykoscentaur are considerably strong within their ecosystem. They have both the strength of wolves and the wisdom of humans and are by no means weak. There are creatures even stronger than them in this world such as dragons or giants of course, but having both parents die at the same time was very uncommon.
“It’s gotten hard to find recently, so…”
“They left you all?”
“Yes. They went somewhere far away…”
Hearing her excessively tragic story, I frowned.
“Then have you all been able to get enough to eat?”
Luka shook her head no.
A young girl pressed down on her stomach and grumbled how hungry she was—it was heartbreaking.
I nodded, determined. I’m not sure what I should tell Nina when I get back home though.
“I’ll be everyone’s—”
“I’m back, Luka!”
—parent. Just as I was about to finish my sentence, I heard a deep voice call out from behind me.
“Welcome home, father! Mother!”
Luka’s face glowed as she saw her parents return carrying a large amount of prey.
Oh. So when she said somewhere far away… she meant physically…
“By the way, Mentor, what were you about to say?”
Luka tilted her head to the side very adorably.
“Nothing, nothing at all.”