I’m getting used to life at the Magic Academy.
After receiving one of the assignments given to the students by the Magic Academy, Selina and I boarded a carriage and headed for Fraupa Village.
The assignment is to collect two hundred bundles of Frozia, a magical flower.
When these flowers are left immersed in a special chemical for three days, the Frozia’s pigment and magical power oozes into the chemical. After that, a very powerful nutrient capable of providing both immediate recovery from fatigue and supple nourishment can be created using the chemical as a reagent.
I’m driving a two-horse carriage, while Selina is hidden inside the hooded wagon.
Spring is almost over and ready to pass the baton over to summer. In the vast sea of greenery that can be seen to the left and right of the stone road, the spring flowers are changing into summer flowers.
The warm breeze of spring begins to turn into the hot winds of summer, and the sunlight that remains after the sun starts to go down has become more intense and dazzling.
Thanks to the soft cushions, my job as coachman has been rather smooth as my bottom does not feel sore, but since we’ve only made three stops so far, I want to reach Fraupa Village as soon as possible.
I cannot see or hear anyone else on this road, no carriages or pedestrians. I wonder if it’s safe for Selina to come to the front of the carriage now?
I didn’t say anything, but Selina’s face comes out of the back of the carriage almost as if she had read my mind.
「Hey Dran, I never got to meet with Fatima and the others. 」
Selina has secretly been wanting to meet both Fatima and Nell after hearing that both of them were in Fraupa Village for another request and that the village itself is a beautiful place.
I’ve taken up this request to come to Fraupa Village taking Selina’s motives into consideration.
「Hmm, that’s right. We’re about to arrive at Fraupa Village, but this is Fatima we’re talking about, so you might be able to get along with the villagers and stay the night as well. That girl has an amazing talent to befriend anyone.」
「Hehe, that’s right. With Fatima around, things are sure to get lively, no matter where we are. I don’t think she knows what feeling lonely is.」
I agree completely. Eventually, the stone road meanders and continues into a forest full of large trees.
The stone path disappears as soon as we enter the forest, and in its stead, a dirt path extends before us. Our gray path turns to a shade of brown, and the sides of the road are filled with abundantly thick grass, enveloping us in green.
This is a forest that has grown on the endless cycle of life and death of the countless living things that reside in it.
I knew that forestry was popular in Fraupa Village, but it seems that the villagers and this forest have wisely found a way to coexist so as to not harm the richness of the forest.
But I can sense that something happened in this forest. Mixed with the breath of countless living things, the forest seems to be filled with something unseen, a single but absolute thing.
It’s the thing that eventually comes to visit every living thing on this earth. “Death”.
The smell of death, the color of death, the sound of death, the presence of death. A smell that cannot be smelled by the human nose, a color that cannot be seen by the human eye, a sound that cannot be heard by the human ear, a presence that cannot be felt by humans. But this forest is full of living things that can feel it.
Selina’s face goes pale as she peeks out of the carriage.
「Dran, something has happened here. There are certainly many living things here, but I have this strange feeling that everything around here is dead. 」
「Hmm, I can feel the same. Selina, trust what your five senses and soul feel. This is definitely a place that has been stained by death. But rather than just dead, this place seems to be in a state of living death, a world of the living dead…」
「Dran, there’s a mist coming…」
Selina stretches out her arm and points forward. Suddenly a thick mist arises as the carriage advances. It gives off an ominous feeling.
The pure white mist does not only extend to the end of the stone road, but also the sides of this ground path covered by trees, and envelops our surroundings completely.
Before we know what’s going on, everything we can see aside from the carriage and a few inches around it is nothing but mist.
「A mist monster? But I’ve never heard of such a creature being able to create this much mist… 」
A mist monster is a creature that can turn itself into a thick mist, but as Selina points out, a mist monster of this magnitude is nothing but a rumor, as there are no precedents of such a powerful creature in the Magic Academy’s library.
「It’s as if the entire village was covered by a giant white cloth, is this a natural phenomenon of this region? Or has this mist been conjured by magic? 」
Almost as if getting ready for the moment the surrounding mist decided to bare its fangs and attack, magical power surges from Selina, so that she can prepare for battle by instantly casting spells.
It’s difficult to see this coming from Selina’s usual cheer, but she has the appearance of an experienced warrior. Back when she was living in Lamia Village, she took part in the battle against an invader force of goblins. That along with the battle in Ente Forest refined her skills as a warrior.
The horses have already stopped on their own, and I could feel their fear through the reins. I hand the reins over to Selina, take my long sword in my left hand, and get off the driver’s seat.
「It seems to be some sort of magical creature modeled after a mist monster. It might take us a little longer, but let’s move forward. 」
As soon as our carriage resumes its march, we are once again surrounded by the mist. Just as I thought, it is not a mist generated by a natural phenomenon. Rather, it’s something that acts on our five senses and our sense of direction, making us wander endlessly within the mist. However, it cannot trick my perception completely.
I know the path that goes into the forest even when submerged in this mist, and I keep the two horses following that exact same path.
Selina, who has now moved to sit right next to me, is ready to immediately activate her snake eyes to paralyze any incoming assailant.
Without a hint of the presence of any kidnappers, murderers, or wolves disguised as sheep coming to attack us, we manage to stay on the road and finally arrive at Fraupa Village.
Fraupa Village is surrounded by a fence made with countless strings and clappers hanging from them, in an effort to keep anyone who might want to try to steal the magical Frozia flowers.
My dragon eyes can see that this fence has not been made to withstand something like a raid, and it hasn’t been attacked by monsters or thieves too much, even though it’s relatively close to Galois.
The village is not enclosed by wooden or stone walls. Still, it is said that this village, which has a population of nearly a thousand people, thrives through the cultivation of their magical flowers and maritime trading using the nearby rivers.
Although it doesn’t seem to be focused on the town’s defense, a large masonry gate with wooden doors is installed on the main road that goes all the way to Galois.
As we advance through the mist and reach the masonry, a single arrow flies from the top of the gate and at one of the horse’s feet, making a sound as if it was cutting through the wind.
I pull the horses’ rains before they get too flustered, and after calming them down, I stand up at the coach’s seat and speak up.
At this distance, my voice can be heard even through the mist. Moreover, it seems that there is a magical barrier stretching around the village, as the mist seems to be blocked from entering the village after a certain point.
「I am Dran, a student at the Galois Magic Academy. I am here on a request from Professor Alpraire from the Pharmaceutical Department to collect Frozia flowers. Please open the gates! 」
「Don’t move an inch! How did you come through this mist!? We can’t have suspicious types like you coming into the village! 」
Suddenly, we see about ten young armed men holding bows and arrows at the gate.
Apparently, the creature responsible for this mist is already casting its dark shadow on this village.
One after another, the bow strings are pulled and their arrows are pointed at both Selina and I. On all of these young men I can see the dark horrors they must have experienced, their uneasiness and their tremendous fear. I feel deeply sorry for them.
One of the young men speaks up, yelling as his saliva flies violently out of his mouth, his bow and arrow trembling along with his arms.
「We have asked Galois for help many times! And yet not once has help come! And most of the people we’ve sent to ask for help have never returned!
The few ones who did come back did so barely escaping alive, saying they had been attacked by some sort of monster. How can you come out of this mist unharmed!? Not to mention that snake girl sitting next to you! Do you intend to trick us by coming here looking like a human? 」
I had asked Selina to join me at the coach’s seat since she would have to show herself either way eventually.
Far from never having experienced anything like this, it is expected that people will be suspicious of everything and everyone due to their fear of the unknown. Their harsh words against Selina cannot be ignored, but I can sympathize with these young men, given the immense fear that they have been put through.
Selina takes out the medal that proves she is a familiar, and stretching out the lower half of her body, begins pleading for her innocence.
「I am Dran’s familiar. I have been recognized as an approved familiar by the Magic Academy, so rest assured I mean you no harm. 」
「I don’t believe you! 」
Hmm, the fear of the young men on top of the gate is on the verge of exploding into hostility.
It seems that in the stalemate these people have been dragged to, their nervousness has clouded their judgment.
While the villagers discuss what to do with both Selina and I, someone makes their appearance at the top of the gate.
As soon as we see the face of this person, both Selina and I are filled with relief. The person who appeared at the gates before us is none other than Nell.
「 Nelneshia! I’m glad to see you’re safe! 」
Selina’s lively voice causes Nell’s mouth to bend into a faint smile, but she pulls herself together almost instantly.
Nell’s right hand is holding a magic staff as tall as her. It has not been provided to her by the Magic Academy, rather, this staff is one of Nell’s personal belongings.
Carved from the branches of an ancient spirit tree, it has a highly pure magical crystal as big as a clenched fist embedded at the tip, and it is decorated with engraved mithril rings that augment its magical power.
Even though it’s not as impressive as Christina’s Demon Sword “Espada”, I can see this is a very valuable article.
「I’m glad you too made it here safely. But there is something we need to verify first. Please show us your necks. Both sides. 」
Hearing what Nell wanted to confirm, I finally understand the true nature of the black curtain that has fallen upon Fraupa Village. A threat that calls for checking one’s neck is limited to a variety of demi-humans and monsters that live in this world.
If that’s the case, I can understand the villagers’ uneasiness. I look at Selina, and nod to each other. I unfasten my uniform’s collar, Selina unbuttons her blouse’s collar as well, and we show our necks to Nell as she requested.
「Oh, I’m glad. You haven’t been bitten.」
「Lady Apienia, are they trustworthy?」
「It’s fine. This boy, Dran, is a magic-user who’s as powerful as me, if not stronger. The lamia girl beside him is a fine, gentle girl.」
「Ah, he’s as strong as you, Lady Apienia…?」
「That’s right. It’s truly a good thing that they’re here now.」
Nell lets out a deep sigh of relief after seeing we are fine, and quickly turns to the surrounding villagers, instructing them to open the gates for us.
The wooden gates open to the left and right with a solemn sound. Nell waits at the other side of the gate with a smile on her face. We drive the carriage across the gate and stop next to her.
「Looks like something terrible has happened here, Nell.」
One could think that saying such a thing could even be taken as a joke, but given the current circumstances, there is no room for jokes.
「Yes. I never thought it could turn into something like this after leaving the Magic Academy. For now, please go see the village elder, and report what you have seen. 」
「Understood. Please, get on the carriage with us. That’ll be better than walking, right?」
「That makes sense.」
Nell agrees, climbs onto the driver’s seat and sits to my left. Most of Selina’s lower half is resting on the luggage tray, so there’s room for three people.
The other villagers stay behind at the gate. We proceed into Fraupa Village, guided by Nell, and finally free from that white mist.
「If it wasn’t for this situation, I’d like to go see the flower fields with Selina.」
「It can’t be helped. But there’s always next time.」
「Hmm, that’s right. Next time it is.」