Last Embryo Volume 1 Chapter 5 Part 7
Underwood Stage Area, Hippocampus Pastures was a beautiful terrain filled with aquatic fields where the droplets of water – shining like diamonds in the light of the sun – fell down below from the leaves and branches of the Great Tree. The livestock animals were allowed to run freely, because even when there was no one watching them, none of them seem to think about running away. Such behavior could have been expected from thoroughly domesticated ones like cows or pigs because they couldn’t swim, but even the ones that were able to do so, like sheep or goats didn’t seem too eager to try it, being too focused on tending to their young and keeping them from getting into the deeper parts of the water.
Observing this peaceful scenery as it was flashing past them, Homura, Suzuka and Ayato focused their sights on what was directly in front of Shirayuki-hime. Seeing something she deemed to be quite unusual, Suzuka turned to the other two and said:
「H-Homura, A-Aya, l-look! That carriage over there… it’s fricking running on top of the water! You see it too, right? I’m not the only one who sees this, right?!」
She grabbed Homura by the shoulders and pointed towards the carriage some distance away from them while shaking him back and forth. To be honest, rather than a carriage it looked more like a cart or a small ship, but the rest of Suzuka’s description was generally correct: it really looked as if it was gliding on the water’s surface. However, the strangest thing about it was the fact that in order to keep gliding forward it didn’t require a sail pushed by the wind or a boatman with a long oar to slowly paddle it ahead. Instead, it was being pulled by an enormous half-horse half-fish hybrid fins attached to the sides of its hooves, a Hippocampus, a friendly demonic seahorse spirit.
「So Bro, how would you rate this thing? I would say that it’s pretty amazing, considering even its hull looks kinda pretty, and if I say so then it has to mean something, right?」
「Hmm, overall, I think it’s not half bad.」
「Hey now, don’t give me that half-hearted response! C’mon Bro, tell me what you really think! Give me a detailed analysis like you always do!」
Suzuka said while smacking Homura on the back with a wide smile on her face.
Giggling with her hand covering her mouth, Kuro Usagi turned towards Ayato.
「Mr. Homura sure is a stubborn person, isn’t he?」
「Normally he is much more honest with his feelings, but he tends to act in this reserved way when he doesn’t want others to see his more childish side.」
「Houhou? So, what you’re saying is that he is a childish person and only acts mature around others to hide it from them? If that is truly the case, fufufu, then he really is a lot like Izayoi.」
「Hey, news flash for my lovely kouhai and the cute rabbit loli over there: I can hear you!」
Changing his expression in the blink of an eye, Homura quickly became sullen as he knit his eyebrows and hid his hands inside his pockets. Ayato and Kuro Usagi just brushed his pouting off with another giggle, Suzuka, however, smiled wryly towards him.
「Now now, give him some slack, will you? Despite his occasional shenanigans, he is the eldest kid in the entire orphanage, so he kinda turned the way he did after acting like a role model for the rest of the children.」
「Orphanage? Eh? Ehhh?!!! But I thought that Mr. Homura and Izayoi are brothers, so why…」
「Oh, they are not blood related, you see. It’s just that they have been living in the same orphanage.」
「Eh? B-But… Whaaaaa….?!!!」
Kuro Usagi looked between Homura, Suzuka and Ayato with her ears twisting independently from her. She desperately wanted to imply about this matter further, but at that time their ride had came to an end because they have apparently arrived at their destination.
「We’re going to stop here for a while.」
Saying so, Shirayuki-hime bend her head towards one of the patches of the land. When all of her passengers left her back and got on land, she dove back into the water, and jumped back out in her beautiful human form.
「Now, as all of you can probably see, this is a livestock-feeding area, and this is where we will conduct our Gift Game. You all saw the Hippocampus on the way here right?」
「The one we just passed, pulling that carriage-cart-ship thingy? Sure enough, we saw it.」
「Ah, yes, we did went past it. It was so small that I had barely seen it. Ah well, one of the downsides of having a big body I guess. Anyway, the game I had in mind was the one involving riding the water carts. What do you say? Have anything against it?」
Homura and Suzuka raised their impressed voices. They didn’t even consider the possibility of her setting up such an interesting game. They just assumed that they would simply have to fight her. Ayato was the only one who remained calm the entire time, but right now, even her stoic expression turned into a slight smile.
「No, we have nothing against it at all. So what, are we going to do water racing or something along those lines?」
「No, we don’t have enough contestants to do a full-fledged race right now. What we are going to do instead, is a special little kind of competition knows as 『The Hippocampus Rider』. It is a type of race that is periodically being held on these water pastures, and it should be a simple enough challenge to introduce the novices like yourselves to the world of Gift Games.」
「YES, that’s right! This Gift Game was first introduced 3 years ago and since then it gained so much popularity that it has become a staple game of this region that is being held in regular intervals. I guess you could call it another one of Underwood’s festivals. There are times when I am even invited to them as an honorary Judge!」
「Oh really? Is there going to be one in the near future, or…?」
「Do not worry, it won’t. It is being held once a month and it just so happens that the last one happened 3 days ago, so there is plenty of time before the next one.」
Shirayuki-hime explained, making both Suzuka and Ayato feel slightly let down as a result, and they hung their heads dejectedly. Because she was not all that good at reading the emotions of others she failed to realized how big of a screw-up she just made, but Kuro Usagi rushed to the rescue, following up from Shirayuki-hime’s statement.
「B-But we’re going to be doing a similar game now, so there’s no need to feel down, alright? So come on, raise those heads and cheer up!」
「Umu, the Honorable Kuro Usagi is right you know? The only difference between our game and the one held during the festival is that instead of a normal race I thought of making it an obstacle course through the Underwood’s downtown waterway.」
「Wow, this is slowly turning into something rather big, isn’t it? Is it really okay to use the public space for private endeavor’s like that?」
「Do not worry. Fortunately for you. I am a vital element for maintaining the stability and prosperity of this 『Water City Underwood』, so my influence allows me to have some leeway in such matters, so even if we end up causing trouble or, let’s say, destroying a thing or ten, no one will be angry at us as long as I fix it afterwards. Now then, before we begin, I want all of you to read this carefully.」
Shirayuki-hime clapped her hands, making a single sheet of paper appear seemingly out of nowhere.
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