「There’s no time to waste, Dias!」, shouted Aruna cheerfully with a smile.
The men present, who she had asked to take care of Francis and Co., watched her actions with amazement. Enraptured, they also cast jealous glances at me.
『I’ve never seen Aruna acting like this before!』
『Why is she like this to you, out of all people?』
『To think that an outsider like you…』
『What have you done to my Aruna?』
Though they stayed silent, their piercing gaze made their thoughts crystal clear. I understood where they were coming from, as Aruna did look prettier like this. Still, I thought to myself, just standing there and being jealous wasn’t going to help their case. As for Aruna, her attention was focused on me alone. She paid no heed to the men around her.
I made a mental note to watch my back in case someone tried to stab me in the middle of the night.
I washed up and prepared myself for battle while the men continued to stare at me. When we were ready, Aruna and I headed north (where monsters could supposedly be found), leaving the yurt behind. I was told that monsters appeared on a daily basis where we were headed, as there was probably a dungeon there. She also estimated that a few would be enough to get me a well and an outhouse.
「I’m not only good at housework, but casting spells as well! Once we get there, I’ll cast a spell that will find us some monsters!」
Not really sure how to respond to her, I made do with a simple 「That’s awesome」. Upon hearing that, she was immediately all smiles and began to walk with a spring in her step. Was she trying to present herself as a good wife? Or was she simply trying to show off? Given that she had dolled up for this occasion, I decided that the former was much likelier.
I had more important things to do than getting married, though…
What to do?
After walking for some time, Aruna stopped and scanned the surroundings for monsters. There was a large, rocky mountain nearby from which a chilling gale blew. It probably made the environment less hospitable for grass to grow, which explained why this area was relatively barren compared to the lush grassland.
The grass was short and grew in little patches. I also saw boulders rolling here and there.
It’s a place in which one would expect to find monsters, I thought.
We walked a little further, but found no monsters. It was then that Aruna, with a glint in her eye, exclaimed that it was time for her to work her magic.
「I’ll leave it to you」, I said, which produced a huge grin on her face.
Putting some distance between us, she closed her eyes and began to utter an incantation. The first thing that responded was her horn, which glowed white instead of the usual blue. The light appeared as if it was blending in with the surroundings. Glowing in a similar fashion, the jewels stuck to the ends of her braided hair lifted themselves, raising the braids too. After glowing for a while, the light produced undulated in a manner reminiscent of a wave and a part of it turned red.
The rest of the light clustered around this red spot until the entire structure resembled a spear. Aruna, placing one hand on the glowing spear, opened her eyes and stopped chanting.
「Found one」, she said. 「Quite a big one, too. This fella might have something to do with the fact that I couldn’t detect anything else.」
Her spear pointed at the base of the mountain. I wondered if the size of the monster meant that it could endanger Aruna’s life…
「It might be dangerous, so I’ll scout the area first」, I told her. 「You should find a hiding place and wait for –」
「No, I’ll follow. It’s safer that way — I have concealment magic, remember? If necessary, I’ll use it and it’ll allow us to escape.」
Concealment magic… right. I remember now.
Since she had said that there was nothing to fear, I nodded. Blushing slightly, she nodded in response and we walked in the direction of the mountain. I readied my battleaxe and watched the surroundings in case a monster suddenly appeared.
Slowly but surely, we approached the foot of the mountain.
And lo and behold, there really was a monster.
We were still a good distance away from it, but there was no mistaking its size. It had four legs and a long neck. Its back was covered by a tough, jagged carapace.
「Is that… a tortoise-monster?」, I asked, for I had never seen a monster like this before.
Aruna looked rather worried.
「That’s an Earth Dragon」, she replied, her voice trembling. 「W-What’s a dragon doing in a place like this…?」
A dragon? Isn’t a dragon a creature with red wings that flies in the sky and spits fire? No matter how I looked at the monster in front of us, it was clearly a tortoise. It was also brown in colour — the polar opposite of what I knew a dragon to be.
Looking at Aruna, though, her expression didn’t look like that of someone who was lying.
Maybe this is what the monsterfolk call a dragon?
「Alright」, I said, clutching my battleaxe. 「Let’s give it a go. If we truly have no chance of winning, then we’ll run. Please protect us with your concealment magic.」
「H-Hey, cut it out!」, she yelled as I started to walk away. 「That’s a dragon! There’s no way you can –」
Oh c’mon, I thought. That’s a tortoise — I have nothing to fear. Tortoises are slow on their feet, and running from it will be a piece of cake. I turned around and told the panicked Aruna to calm down.
Then, I broke into a sprint.
Will my battleaxe go through that hard-looking shell? There’s only one way to find out…!