A chill ran through my body as I walked through the hydro wall. However, I remained dry even when I was on the other side of the wall.
As I took one step forward, I felt the hardness of the stone path beneath my feet.
I expected this place to be in the wild but still, I was glad that had my shoes on.
Now, I was standing here, beneath the clear blue sky which seemed to reach out for miles.
Turning around, I saw the hydro wall and its surface swaying gently.
A field of colourful flowers that seemed to have been delicately taken care of surrounded the area.
Space was filled with magic, yet none of them seemed to be connected to the Leyline.
Which means, this place is in a different dimension from where we were before.
The place seemed to be very open, yet it also gave out an odd sensation of being boxed in.
Carla and Kyle, who could sense the strangeness of this space seemed to be on a high alert.
『So this is Taisha. The architecture is similar to the other shrines… However, the atmosphere here is exceptional.』
The emperor commented with an excited expression, but he did not let his guard down for even a second.
Personally, I saw this place as a garden which has been completely boxed in.
Anyway, in front of us stood a gorgeously decorated building. I’m guessing that must be the Honden. [1. TL Note: “Honden” is “a building within the shrine where the god which is celebrated by the shrine is believed to be resting”.]
『Kyle, I shall ask you to guard the gate just as we have planned. I hope our composure will help us guide our way through any problems we may face』
The emperor cut off suddenly and looked towards the end of the stone path.
There, we saw a familiar figure approaching us.
After all, we are in her territory. I was expecting her to spot us sooner or later.
『Well I did tell you fellows to come over. But I didn’t expect you guys would use such an outrageous method. I apologise, I completely underestimated you guys.』
Ten appeared with a bitter smile spread across her face. She wore her vivid outfit and her dark green hair flowed behind her.
Beside her was Makoto standing casually with white hair and white ears standing upright at the top of her head.
She wore the typical shrine maiden outfit with the white kimono and the red hakama. She looked over to us apologetically but Ten was the one who spoke.
「Lava, so those people are the…」
「That’s right, she’s the one who kidnapped Aru and one of the valued dragons.」
I replied when Kyle whispered the question to me. However, there was something odd about Ten who was standing in front of me. But before anyone could make any move, Carla-san stepped in front of us.
『The dragon of the storms, I ask for your understanding that none of my actions was against the contract.』
Carla-san, whose face was as white as a pill gave a small bow as she finished the sentence. To this, Ten nodded approvingly, but with her bitter smile still plastered on her face.
『I know. I understood that you haven’t taken any action against the contract. I noticed that your magic stem hasn’t shifted at all. This only means that the emperor was better than me.』
The emperor who was casually thrown into the conversation also bowed his head down.
『It is my honour to meet you, the god of Taisha. I am the emperor of the current era. I deeply apologise for our sudden visit.』
『You better be. I’ve never heard of someone who managed to walk through the Taisha’s gate along with one of the valued dragon with them.』
『I have always believed that I have been blessed with good-natured people and good luck. However, this time around I was exceptionally fortunate.』
Ten shrugged in dismay as the emperor, who replied casually suddenly sharpened his gaze.
『However, I am certain that she is the one who will fulfil the long-awaited promise.』
Ten’s eyes which were full of energy before widened at the emperor’s word. He continued as if to ignore her reaction.
『On the dawn when the emperor opens the gate of Taisha, he may make one wish to the god of Taisha. Is a saying that has been passed down over generations in my family.』
At those words, I finally understood why the emperor wasn’t afraid that Ten might kick us out of the shrine.
I’m guessing there was some sort of connection between the past emperor and Ten a long time ago.
『You’re right, we did make that promise. However, Are you making that wish upon understanding the true meaning behind that promise?』
The emperor did not even flinch at Ten’s chilling tone.
『Indeed, my wish is to put an end to the shrine maiden system.』
Ten’s eyes widened at the emperor’s words. Her expression twisted up into a sad smile with almost tearful eyes.
『I see, so you came here understanding the meaning of that promise. However, my response is…』
『No one else, speak. I have thought out a way to convince her. And Ten, I will have you listen to them.』
As the emperor gave a competitive smile, Ten smiled as she gave in.
『This is an irregular case but there’s no doubt that you managed to get here on your own. I guess I have no choice but to listen to you.』
She said it in such a kind and tender tone that it only intensified the suspicion I had towards her.
『However, I feel like a hole is being dug into my body right now. So, I will get Mako-chi to listen to them in my place. But don’t think of her as my replacement. After all, we’re practically two halves of one being.』
I felt a little irritated that the emperor poked fun at how I glared at Ten. Yet, I decided to ask an important question first.
『Are Aru and Mikoto safe?』
I have analysed her ability with Nectar before.
Now that I have some theories about Ten, I’m confident that I can win against her.
『Of course, I can hand them over to you right now. After all, you did make it all the way here. Is that all you wanted?』
I asked her with the will of not backing out even if the argument became physical. However, she agreed so casually as if she has read my mind. So, I stood there, unsure of what to do next.
As I struggled to find a word to say, the emperor spoke up as he looked straight into Makoto’s eyes, who was standing next to Ten.
『I have no reason to object as long as she is one of the current shrine maidens of the Taisha.』
『Then it has been decided. Anyway, welcome to my home. It is my pleasure to have you guys here.』
Said Ten with forced politeness as she spread her arm out as if to lure us further into the shrine.
However, at that moment I felt a familiar presence. I listened in without thinking and heard a set of light footsteps running along the stone path.
Not long after, I saw that the figure who came in running from behind Ten was Aru. His maroon hair with red streaks was being blown back as he ran as fast as he could.
I doubt that I will ever experience greater joy than this moment in my life.
I slipped past Ten and ran over to Aru. His face was lit with joy and I hugged him tightly the moment I reached my precious son.
『Well, well, he already noticed her presence. He sure is a child of a dragon.』
「Are you hurt anywhere? Were you scared? I’m so sorry it took us so long…」
「Mummy, I’m fine. All the shrine maidens have treated me so kindly.」
I didn’t even notice Ten’s troubled voice. I just patted Aru’s head as I scanned through his body.
The white kimono and the red hakama he was wearing was well tailored and he didn’t look pale or starved.
But most of all, I was relieved to see how happy he looked.
Then, Aru’s golden iris suddenly blurred with tears.
「I was so lonely! I’m happy that mummy and the others are safe…!」
I held him tighter as he started to cry, burying his face into my shoulder.
「I see, I see. It’ okay, now, you’re not alone anymore, mummy’ here.」
The last thing Aru saw before being taken away was us getting knocked out by Ten.
Just like we have been worried about him, he would have been worried about us as well.
The more I thought about it, the more regrets filled my mind. Why, just why couldn’t I reach the shrine sooner?
I wanted to apologise but if I said it out loud, he will probably hold back his tears and tell me it’s okay. After all, he’s such a clever child.
So, I would rather not say anything and let him cry.
『Ten, I hope you are reflecting on your actions a little.』
『… I am, more than I ever have.』
I heard such a conversation from behind me, as I continued to pat his head and his back to let him know that I was there with him.
When I glanced over to them, I saw Ten with her shoulder dropped down as Makoto stared up at her.
As Makoto sighed at Ten’s posture, she noticed my awkward gaze and dropped her tail apologetically.
『Ms Lava. I do not ask you forgive neither I or Ten. However, I would be grateful if you could at least listen to our side of the story.』
When Makoto finished speaking, she turned to look over at the emperor and bowed politely.
『Mr emperor, please, follow me. We have our own matter to discuss.』
Her posture was something of a strict shrine maiden.
The atmosphere which she possessed around her made me forget that she was only in her early twenties.
『Yes, I understand. Carla, we shall go.』
As the emperor saw Makoto’s gaze, he followed her to a different path. Although, he probably had something he wanted to ask us as well.
Now, only the four of us were left on the field. Aru continued to sob as I kept my arms wrapped around him. When I looked up, I saw Ten standing in front of me looking unsure.
『Um, so, … well, first of all, you can just leave the gate hanging like that. Well, I’m surprised by the spell that can leave the gate like that.』
『I have a lot of questions I want to ask you.』
Ten broke the silence uncertainly, but she seemed to be relieved once I’ve responded.
『I thought so. Let’s move to someplace quieter.』
I agreed with her. However, when I got up, Aru held onto my clothes tightly.
I almost changed my mind when Aru looked up at me with his eyes still filled with tears and his hiccup that didn’t seem to calm down. However, I patted his head gently and put my forehead against his.
「Nectar is waiting at the other side of the gate. So, can you go over to him and let him know everything is okay?」
「Seeing you happy really cheered me up. So I’m going to continue fighting a little longer.」
I showed a bright smile to calm him down. Then, when I got up, he calmly let go of his hand from my clothes.
He probably knew I forced that smile. It hurt to see how he looked back at me, holding back his urge.
I asked Kyle to look after Aru before anything else happened and he silently agreed with me.
『Miko-chan will eventually come too so take your time going back.』
As Ten said, Kyle shifted one of his eyebrows higher and showed his suspicion towards her.
I’m guessing this is what he is thinking right now. How can this dragon person act so casually?
Including that question, I wanted to ask everything from her.
『So, are you coming?』
『Of course, that is why I’m here.』
That’s why I accepted Ten’s invitation without showing the slightest hesitation.