Translator: Kurehashi Aiko
CHAPTER 17: Dragon-san Is Trembling
The signs were all there.
It was something fleeting, a change so small that you might have missed it if you blinked even for a second.
(Lava, could you come here soon?)
Since Nectar didn’t want to disturb me at my work, he would sometimes send me messages via the scales, and today’s message was so unusual for him that for a moment I honestly did not know how should I react.
(I must say that’s rather unusual, something like this to come from you.)
(There is going to be a New Year’s Eve festival here in town. I thought that you’ve never been to one before, so why not come this year? We can even celebrate later at Kyle’s house.)
Of course, there was no need for me to think about the answer.
I agreed to go on the spot and on the promised day I arrived at Kyle’s house.
Since Kyle’s house was situated on the hill near the royal castle, if you were to go on its roof (or somewhere close to that), from that location you could see the entire castle town being illuminated in celebration.
Since I had to take care of some things related to that magical forum we were holding, I only arrived at the town somewhere around the evening. To kick this short vacation of mine off, I ate a New Year’s celebration feast together with Kyle, his wife and his children.
The children were growing big and strong, and Kyle wanted to have a toast to that, but I politely declined, since there were quite the few things that I wanted to do the following day. So I decided to call it a night quite early and went to the room that was prepared for me, but since I didn’t need to sleep at all, I had way too much time to spare.
I could have go for a walk around the town, but I was planning on doing that together with Nectar tomorrow. That way it could be more enjoyable.
That is why for today I was only planning to indulge myself in the city’s night scenery.
Even though it was nighttime, the streets were brightly lit thanks to the magical lanterns being lit.
Magical power was responding to people’s movements and emotions, and those things stimulated the leylines which in return were producing the sight that was now in front of my eyes.
Tomorrow was supposed to be the Festival’s eve, the lights were even brighter and you could feel the merry atmosphere in the air, but in reality it was still nothing, for vast majority of the city was for now in deep, good night’s slumber.
Nevertheless, I think this brightness was beautiful.
It was a sight to behold, light pouring out of the lamps and penetrating the earth, trying to make the night as bright as the day, but there was also a certain beauty to night’s darkness, one completely different from that of the day.
This world is dark at its very core. Humanity of this world notices that on the unconscious level and tries to dispel it, not respect it. Night is dark, and because of that accepts all of the emotions that you would normally keep hidden away.
I, for a change, was finding nighttime rather calming.
So much that some part of me was wishing for that state to never truly disappear.
「What on earth are you doing, Lava?」
Then, while I was enjoying the night’s breeze and was looking at the clear, starry sky, I heard a voice coming from down below.
When I looked down, I saw Kyle standing on the balcony of the room that I was staying in, holding a bottle of liquor in his hands.
「I was just watching the night scenery. And what about you? It’s rare to see you drinking.」
「I just felt like it. That’s all.」
Kyle came to the roof with ease, and then he handled me the glass and poured me some liquor.
Then, while sitting next to me, Kyle poured some of the amber liquid for himself, and as soon as we had a toast he drunk the contents of his glass all at once.
「Is it okay for you to be drinking like that? If memory serves me correctly you were never all that good with handling your liquor.」
「Don’t worry about me. It’s not like I can’t handle this much at all.」
Here it is, after drinking just one cup, Kyle’s face was already flushed red.
But still, I drunk my glass and Kyle almost immediately started to pour me another one, ready to have another toast.
It was fairly weak, but it was still an alcoholic beverage nonetheless.
「It’s been more than 20 years since that time.」
He was talking about that time when the magical disaster happened.
「Yes, it sure gone by in a flash.」
「There was so much going on at the time, but I can still remember how shocked I was. I was so surprised to see Nectar together with you, Lava. Well, even though he was alive and well I couldn’t believe my eyes, for he looked completely different from when he was still in the country. I never thought that he would find something that would absorb him so much aside from magic.」
Kyle looked at his empty glass and said something like that next:
「To be honest, I was a little envious of you.」
Hearing Kyle’s confession, I held my breath.
「When I met Nectar for the first time, it was around the time when I enrolled into the Academy. He was very young. But his eyes were cold and he was looking at everything and everyone with disinterest, to the point where even when he was laughing, there was no sign of joy on his face. He was exceptionally gifted at everything he set his mind towards, be it research or academics, so it small wonder that I somehow developed a sense of curiosity towards him. I admit that part of it was the need to vent out my frustrations onto somebody, since after enrolling into the Academy I rarely spoke to my family or other people. It’s not like I disliked him or anything, it was just that his expression rarely changed. In fact, the only time where he would show any kind of emotions, was when he was studying magic.」
I watched in silence as Kyle took a sip from his glass, as if to moisturize his lips.
「Before Nectar entered the Academy, it seems that he must have taken care of himself on his own, since thanks to his peculiar talents with magic no one wanted to take him in, at least not for long. And his talents with magic were his only selling point. I don’t entirely understand, but it looks like he was thinking that he could only be useful to someone through magic, and if not for that, he was thinking of himself as entirely useless. He was also totally unconcerned with his surroundings, paying more attention towards his research than anything else. Also, he was always trying to fulfill the requests of others, no matter how forcible or unreasonable they were. I couldn’t do anything to stop Nectar from killing himself after I joined the military service. I was still too green, too inexperienced. I thought it would only be a matter of time before he would actually go and kill himself. Until he met you.」
Kyle smiled a little.
「Hey, Lava-dono. When I first met him he was similar to a child, prone to throwing temper tantrums and going from one extreme to another instantly.」
「Well, not that you mention it, I think it really was something like that.」
I can think of at least a few cases of something like that, while Kyle laughs and looks into the distance.
「You seem to be trustworthy, so I don’t want you to think all that hard about it, but if you do not abandon him and stay by his side I think he might regain what he once couldn’t obtain during his childhood, and it took me almost three years of observing him to arrive at this conclusion.」
「I was jealous of you, but more than anything, I was happy. He changed upon meeting you, Lava-dono. It may sound strange, but he became more human. He also seemed to have calmed down. He can now put himself into somebody else’s shoes. What’s more, that once obnoxious brat is now a sage who is respected by the whole magical community. But still, he can act foolishly and can get himself into danger. Still, once he trusts someone, he is never going to betray them. No matter what this is, there must be a reason for this. Please, don’t leave him alone.」
「No matter how long I live, I am sure to die before Nectar. I know it. I was wondering what would he do after I pass away, but I am relieved now. I’m glad that he has found someone who he can trust even more than me. And I’m grateful that you are that person, Lava-dono. Well, now that’s taken care off, I ask that you keep on treating him well, can you do that?」
Kyle gulped down another cup, while I simply couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
「What are you saying? It sounded just like……」
It sounded just like a testament.
Even if I was to simply pretend that I didn’t hear it, Kyle was unable to force a smile back at his lips.
But as soon as I wanted to say something I realized that he fell asleep right where he was sitting, on the rooftop.
I frantically support his body to prevent him from rolling back and falling from the roof.
In the end, it seems that he drank more than he could possibly handle.
I look at Kyle’s sleeping face for a while, and then I gulp down the rest of his drink, the one that he poured for himself but never managed to finish.
I don’t think it’s like he wanted to thank me.
Certainly, the current Nectar managed to become someone who can behave fittingly to his own age.
I began to laugh softly. There was something unreasonable to my emotions right now.
But I didn’t do anything. I didn’t think about Nectar’s circumstances or Kyle’s feelings, I was simply having a good time being with them. That’s about it.
But, in the future I may have to re-think lots of things.
All people are destined to die someday.
After I took drunk Kyle back to his room, I continued to gaze at the stars until the light of dawn started to illuminate the city.
The next morning Kyle was suffering from a terrible headache as a result of hangover, but still he somehow managed to eat the breakfast that his wife prepared for us.
And although Kyle’s wife was simply astonished by how much he managed to drink last night, I kept silent about the reason for that.
When I finished eating, Nectar came to Kyle’s house to pick me up. I had a change of clothes and was ready waiting for him, one that Nectar had ordered from Ligurila’s shop.
I only glanced once at the price tag, and I tried to turn it down. but even after that I was somehow persuaded that since it was a special occasion it demanded special clothes. But still, the price was very much different from ordinary clothes. Like, by one or two zeroes at the end.
Although I was very persistent at refusing to accept it, it was a kind of a tradition that in this country, while celebrating New Year, one would wear new clothes that were bought for them by members of the family, friends, or loved ones.
Oh well, since apparently I had no choice in the matter, I changed into the clothes that I was given and then I went to the city together with Nectar.
As this country entered its new year, the winter came along and the air got noticeably colder. The snow was yet to begin to fall, but the streets were filled with lot more people than usual.
When I took hold of Nectar’s hand so that we wouldn’t get separated, I was honestly surprised of how cold his hand was.
「If we hold hands like this, we won’t get separated in this crowd. But still, Nectar, your hands are so cold.」
I can’t really feel temperature all that well, but it seems that Nectar was cold this whole time.
When you are cold, the places like your fingertips will ask for more heat to regulate heat, taking it from other parts of your body.
「Lava…… This is unfair, you know……」
Nectar’s cheeks turned bright red, so I guess he must have been okay.
And even though his mouth kept on moving, I couldn’t quite hear what he was saying, thanks to the firecracker that somebody nearby set off.
We’ve reached the city’s plaza, where lots of stalls were erected the other day and where people were dancing in huge circles.
The excitement reached its peak the moment when Nectar decided to fire of the magic fireworks from the tip of his staff, which was met with loud cheers.
Before we managed to forget all about it, we also went to a special venue where a play was being performed, with Kyle’s firstborn child playing the role of the Guardian Knight. His performance was also met with a storm of applause.
As we kept on enjoying ourselves like that, the time flew by fast and it was about time for us to go home.
With the cityscape dyed in vivid orange of the sunset, we walk the road leading to the castle, which only for today was opened for everyone.
I gently looked at Nectar’s profile, who’s been looking straight ahead.
Since Nectar’s magical power was immense, his ageing process was going rather slow, the only way to tell that it’s been years since our very first meeting being the length of his hair.
As a matter of fact, from time to time I kept on hearing stories about the daughters of nobles that claimed that they fell in love with Nectar at first sight, after first seeing him at some official party or other event like that.
Certainly, when you look at Nectar wearing a long-sleeved, silky robe embroidered with gold, which was the official attire of a Sage around these parts, walking with his staff made out of a branch of a Plant Spirit tree, even I could feel my heart skipping a beat or two.
Even so, since Kyle’s magical power capacity was smaller than that of Nectar’s, there were wrinkles that started to show up on Kyle’s face, a visible sign that he was ageing.
I am a dragon.
I had sharp claws and fangs. Massive body covered from head to toe with purplish-black scales. Red skin. Golden eyes with thin, vertical pupils. I am going to be the same now and in the future as well.
I really like myself as I am now, but lately I was beginning to feel really lonely on some occasions.
Asked Nectar, seeing that I was looking at him. I tried to say that it was nothing, but for some reason in return he patted me on my head.
「I really enjoy spending time in a casual way like this with you, Lava, but I do get worried when I see that you are troubled by something. I know this may sound stupid, but when you’re having a good time, you should be smiling instead of sulking.」
「…… You’re exaggerating.」
Suddenly being told something like that, I gently pushed Nectar away and looked back at him with a bitter smile.
It was true that compared to the past he was not showing as much emotions, but sometimes, just sometimes something inside of me was longing for the memory of the past.
It was rare for me to be at a loss or that I didn’t know what to do, but today I was really confused and puzzled at this strange kind of pain that kept emanating in my chest.
It is a sensation that I cannot bear to feel.
Unexpectedly, the thing that I was thinking until this morning popped back into my head, and I decided to bring that topic up as casually as I could.
「I am happy to hear that, but isn’t there any girl or woman that you’re interested in? You could, you know, start a family all of your own. Just let me hold your child in my arms once it is born.」
As Kyle’s child got bigger and saw the city change across the years, Kyle himself began to think that there is always a limit to human lives. He told as so himself just the other night when we went to see him.
Just because we are friends, it doesn’t mean that we are going to stay together forever.
Then, what if he had children?
His bloodline is going to continue. Even though Nectar might be gone someday, I can still watch over his child, and his child’s children and so on and so forth.
That was the conclusion that I managed to arrive at overnight.
And even though Nectar’s magical power was immense, he was still but a human.
Granted, if he’d find himself a loving wife, we would no longer be able to meet like this, but that does not give me the right to crush one’s right to be happy and have a normal life.
In a day, in a week, in a month, in a year, my dragon self was not going to change.
It’s a little bit lonely, but it is something that cannot really be helped. I try to put on a smile on my face and with that smile mask this stinging sensation that kept pricking on my heart.
While I was not looking, Nectar started to walk farther away from me.
Thinking about it now, at that moment he looked as though he wanted to say something, but ultimately decided not to do so.
「What’s wrong? Nectar.」
「What’s the matter?」
「Am I, am I still your friend?」
「Of course you are. Why would you think otherwise?」
The truth is, I lied to him just a little bit.
「………… I, I see.」
I got that strange feeling that even though Nectar was smiling, he was only a few steps away from crying.
A few months later, while I was restoring the leylines in the middle of some wilderness, Nectar spoke to me through the scale.
That sort of thing happened for the first time in like, ten years, so I was somewhat surprised.
With that, he forcefully broke our mental connection, as if it was something that he didn’t quite want to talk about.
A few month later, I received a message from Kyle via one of the communication scales which hasn’t been used in years.
About a year ago, soon after we parted ways, Nectar would often stay locked in his private laboratory, and it looks like one day he suddenly packed his things and went on a journey.
I knew that things like that were not all that uncommon for Nectar, for he would frequently invite me to join him in his escapades into the wilderness, but this time he did not made any prior contact to let me know, and when a month has passed and he was still yet to return, I realized that something must have happened and I asked Kyle to check his laboratory on my behalf.
The ever-cluttered interior was now neatly cleaned up, with the materials on both dragons and leylines orderly segregated on top of his desk.
He scanned the whole room in a hurry, and said that he’s managed to find the evidence that suggested that Nectar has left the country, and that he was most probably looking for something.
I also tried to lend a hand in looking for Nectar, using my magical powers to scan the land thoroughly, but after doing for some time with little to no results I finally had to give up.
I wasn’t able to track down Nectar’s magical energy, I was so confident that for as long as I was able to sense the magical energy of the scale that I gave him, that as long as that signal was still intact, he would be safe. The magical energy of the scale has completely disappeared from the world.
It sometimes happened that a scale would drain the body of its user dry of magical energy, but it would only happen in the time of a serious crisis.
Perhaps, that effect was activated?
I suddenly felt as if all strength has vanished from my legs.
I shouldn’t be able to feel anything like that, but right now my dragon body was trembling all over, as if a bucket of cold water was splashed on my head.
No way, but what if, what if Nectar has died?
What’s worse, somewhere unknown to me!?
If there indeed was a reason, then they would have to be hidden somewhere where magical energy was densely accumulated, so that the weak magical energy of the scales would not stick out like a sore thumb. But the only such places could be either at the bottom of the ocean, ground zeroes for natural cataclysms or the former battlefields where the place was completely destroyed and totally unhibitable.
For a brief moment Kyle kept silent, deep in thought.
Even though the scales were given as a guarantee of his safety, my thoughts must have been in such a disarray that I only managed to calm down a little bit after talking to Kyle for some more.
I knew I was being awkward here, but since Kyle was not here to see it, I guess it was fine.
Although it really hurt me a little bit, at the same time I was filled with this strange kind of excitement and restlessness.
Until the magic power in the leylines spread across the whole wilderness wasn’t completely restored, my possibilities were rather limited and the only reasonable thing I could do right about now was to sit and wait.
To live meant to meet new people, come to understand them or sometimes not being understood by them, and also to someday say goodbye to one another.
It only occurred to me that this sense of security that I felt everyday was in reality nothing but a fantasy and an illusion.
Being scared and unsure, to worry about what’s going to happen everyday, was becoming unfamiliar — since I became a dragon it was so long since I last felt any of those emotions.
How about tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow?
The search results that would periodically come through Kyle were not so bad at all.
One of them even confirmed that Nectar presumably boarded the ship that was heading for another country.
One year have passed, two years have passed, and eventually the country gave up on their search for him after three years.
For all those years, Nectar had to research magic all on his own.
Initially, I was afraid that Nectar leaving the country would have negative impact to other people who knew him, but since nothing like that happened I assumed that they wanted to keep the matter of his sudden disappearance strictly confidential and avoid letting the general public know.
Even though the investigation would be continued in the future, there would be no large-scale searches anymore.
Only once I dared to visit Kyle at his house to ask him about how the investigation was going, and before I could even have a chance to apologize to him he calmly said that everything was okay and that I had nothing to worry about.
And because I did not bother to look back, I couldn’t possibly know that both Kyle and his wife were looking at me with eyes filled with pain and sorrow.