Warm Days in a Cold Season
Recently, rumors have been going around that rain is leaking into the hallway on the second floor. A quick visit confirmed that some carpentry work was indeed necessary. Someone could be called in from town on a later day, but for now it could use some rough patching up–
“… hm?” Still looking up at the ceiling, Willem tilted his head in confusion.
“What’s wrong? Find something weird?” Kutori followed Willem’s gaze, but she couldn’t find anything other than the usual old, rotting wooden boards making up the ceiling.
“Oh, nothing. I just felt like this same thing happened before.”
“Really?” Kutori tried digging back in her memory, but came up empty. “The last thing I remember you repairing is the wall that Collon kicked down.”
“That’s not what I meant… never mind. If I can’t remember, it must not have been very important.” Willem cracked his neck. “I think there’s still enough boards and nails from last time… hey, do you know where the wooden hammer is?”
“Didn’t you ask that before? Have you already forgotten?”
Now that she mentioned it, maybe he did.
“My bad… so, where is it?”
“Wow, you really are bad at remembering things,” Kutori said with a laugh. She then opened her mouth again to say something. “– huh?”
The location of the wooden hammer. Kutori was certain she should know it. Yet for some reason, it wasn’t popping into her head.
“Sorry, I, um… it looks like I forgot too.”
“Oh come on, you too? Must be one stealthy wooden hammer.”
“Y-Yeah…” She nodded hesitantly, still perplexed at the situation. An ominous feeling crept up on her, but she tried to reassure herself that it was no big deal.
“Well, no worries. If we’ve both forgotten, we just have to find a third person now don’t we?”
Willem was a nice guy. At times he could be a bit awkward and clueless about girls, but when beside him Kutori could tell that he was always working his absolute hardest to care for them. His actions and words conveyed his kindness well. So of course, she wanted to be beside him as much as possible. To be closer to him. To be spoiled by him.
Kutori forced a smile. “Let’s go then. It’s probably in one of the storage rooms, either on the first or second floor.”
Willem turned around and started walking. Kutori stared at his empty left hand. If she ran up and grabbed it, would he be surprised? He probably wouldn’t resist… but would he think positively of it? Back on the 11th Island when Nephren clung onto his arm, he didn’t force her away, but he looked a little bothered. If she held his hand and got the same kind of expression in return, it would be… not very pleasant. With a debate raging in her mind, Kutori walked quietly half a step behind Willem.
“Ooooh.” Her head poking out from behind the hallway corner, Tiat seemed to be getting rather excited about something.
“Is this… adult romance?” Also peeking out from behind the corner was Lakish, whose cheeks were getting a little red for some reason.
“The half step behind… suddenly being all alone together, they don’t quite know how to close in the distance,” Aiseia said, snooping with the other two.
“I can hear you guys,” Kutori called out, and the three heads disappeared behind the wall.
Five days had passed since her reawakening.
At least for now, there were no visible problems with Kutori’s body.
She hadn’t really accepted Naigrat’s proposition, but she also didn’t really have anything else to do in particular, having lost the role of fairy soldier. All that time she used to spend on her own training could now be used for other activities. For the time being, leading the little ones in their training and helping out Naigrat kept her busy.
Kutori scooped up a little bit of soup and tested it. A slight tingling sensation covered the tip of her tongue. Not bad. But, considering the volume of lamb to be added later, it might be best to give it a more tangy flavor. She chopped up some herbs and tossed them into the pot.
“… meat with plenty of spices again? The favorite meal of a certain someone, huh?”
Aiseia came in and started teasing her, but Kutori soon kicked her out again, citing the well known rule that only the girl on meal duty is allowed in the kitchen. The rule applied to all the fairies, but not to Willem, Naigrat, or Kutori, who had been recently added to that list as Naigrat’s new assistant.
It might be a good idea to sweeten the vegetables a little too. Well, that would make them more popular with the little ones, but she didn’t have quite enough information to tell whether or not it would be well received by the important someone. Her options limited, Kutori decided to serve them as is for today and observe his reaction. Today, tomorrow, the day after. If she grew just a little every day, she would surely become the version of herself she aspired to be sooner or later.
“Keeping the kitchen all to yourself just to please the stomach of one person isn’t good, ya know?”
Kutori heard a voice coming from right outside the kitchen, so she threw a ladle to scare the pest off.
The little girls ran.
There was talk of many shooting stars visible in the northern sky. The weather was good and the air clear, but even if they weren’t, it would be a shame to miss a chance to see such beauty in the night sky.
The problem lied in finding a suitable place to view the spectacle. The large window in the cafeteria? Through the window in the little ones’ room? On the bench in front of the main entrance? In the end, though, the consensus was that viewing from such boring, ordinary places had its limits. They instead had a special VIP seating area waiting for them: the roof. The roof could normally be found filled with laundry fluttering in the wind, but on a clear night it would surely make for a great viewing platform.
The little girls ran restlessly, racing through the hallways to ensure that they could snatch the best seats for themselves.
“W-Wait!” Tiat yelled, chasing after them with a bath towel in hand. “Dry your hair after bathing! You’ll catch a cold!!”
A perfectly logical and reasonable demand. Unfortunately, the minds of young children tend to ignore logic and reason when occupied with something more exciting. This especially holds true for the young fairies, who don’t particularly care for their own health very much in the first place.
The little girls ran, their wet hair dripping behind them as they went.
“Wait up!!” Tiat finally succeeded in catching one and scrubbing her head all over with the towel, but during that time the others continued their escape. Chances of catching all of them were beginning to look very slim.
Tiat’s struggle could be heard even outside.
“She’s really doing a good job looking after them, huh?” Willem said as he gazed up at the night sky from his bench.
Tiat was still only ten years old, she was still very short, and her thoughts and actions were, as expected, still childish. Considering that, Tiat’s attempts to be the grown up one were a little unexpected to Kutori. However, she wasn’t exactly surprised.
“She’s probably trying to act like me.” Kutori laughed. “Just a little while ago, I was the one chasing them like that.”
“I see. That makes sense.” Still looking up, Willem smiled.
Admiring the same night sky, Kutori stole a brief glimpse at Willem’s face. He seemed rather calm. Sitting next to each other on the bench made Kutori’s heart accelerate, but apparently it did not have a similar effect on Willem. A part of her felt disappointed, but another part of her thought that things were fine as they were.
“Oh yeah, you were chasing something the time we first met too. Well, it wasn’t so long ago that we can reminisce about it yet, but…”
Countless marbles rolling.
“I don’t think I ever got to ask. Why were you on the 28th Island back then?”
“Moreover, Market Medlei? Not somewhere tourists usually go. Were you on your way home from a battle with the Beasts or something?”
“The buildings around there are a mess, and it’s not exactly the safest area. Stuff is always falling out of the sky. Usually it was kettles or oil cans… sometimes it was a chicken and you’d have your dinner for the day.”
“But that was the first time I saw a girl fall out of the sky. I was pretty surprised.”
… what is he talking about?
The events he described sounded so unfamiliar to Kutori. She felt like they were surely precious memories, but she had no recollection of them. She didn’t forget them. The memories weren’t exactly missing either. The Kutori that experienced those events was no longer alive.
“Kutori? What’s wrong?”
“Ah… um…” She didn’t know how to answer. She didn’t have the confidence to convey the strange realization that had just passed through her head. And more than anything, she was scared of disappointing Willem. She didn’t want him to notice that she was no longer the girl he once cared for so much. “Um…”
What was she doing? How could she think such things? Willem was worried for her. She needed to look up and tell him ‘I”m fine’. She needed to reassure him. This was no time to be acting suspiciously. She couldn’t let Willem notice anything wrong. She couldn’t let him know the truth. What is wrong? What is the truth? She didn’t know. She didn’t know, but they were important. They were things she could not afford to yield if she wanted to remain Kutori Nota Seniolis.
“Kutori?” Willem peered into Kutori’s face with a suspicious look.
— Suddenly, an ominous metallic sound rang out from above.
Instinctively, Kutori raised her head.
A metal railing ran around the perimeter of the fairy warehouse roof. However, it wasn’t exactly the sturdiest of railings, and on top of that it was beginning to deteriorate because of old age. At this point, it was unstable enough to break if someone were to lean on it. She had been thinking that it needed to be repaired for a while now, but everyone was always busy and it had continually been put off until later.
At a height of two stories in the air, Kutori spotted a small girl in freefall. Short even among the little ones at the warehouse, her lemon colored hair fluttered in the wind.
Now, she wasn’t actually that high up, but that also meant it wouldn’t be long until she hit the ground. Kutori would never make it in time by just running.
Willem dashed forward.
It didn’t look like that Nightingale something or whatever that technique was called. The distance was probably too far. Techniques developed to cover a short distance cannot, of course, be used to cover a distance any greater than that. But, like Kutori, he definitely wouldn’t be able to make it at his natural running speed.
Kutori activated her spell vision.
She saw the embers of magic starting to ignite inside Willem’s body.
She kicked off the ground.
Willem’s body was covered in old wounds, to the point where Naigrat considered it a miracle that he was even alive. Igniting Venom with that body was equivalent to suicide. And this man would undoubtedly carry out such an act without thinking twice in order to save his precious daughters.
So Kutori needed to beat him to it. She ignited her own Venom, spread her illusionary wings and glided through the air, leaving a trail of silvery blue light in her wake. She shot past Willem, held out her arms, and caught the girl just before she collided with the ground.
Then, tightly hugging the little one to her body, Kutori fell. Her remaining momentum did not dissipate so easily. She tumbled a few times before finally being stopped by the fairy warehouse’s wall.
It would be a lie to say that it didn’t hurt at all. However, the Venom protecting her body prevented any major injuries. The girl she held in her arms looked a little dazed, but seemed to be just fine.
“Kutori!?” Willem called desperately as he ran over.
“Don’t sound like such a crybaby… you’re an adult, aren’t you?” Kutori stood up and brushed the dirt off her clothes. “I’m fine. And look, so is Al… um…” She gave the girl in her arms a little shake. “She’s fine too. Just a little dirty.”
“That’s not the problem. Don’t be so reckless! Are you dizzy?! Can you feel your fingertips?! Nothing feels weird in your spine, right!?” Willem grabbed her shoulders and drew in closer.
“H-Hey! Too close! I’m glad, but not now not now!”
“Listen! Venom is the opposite of life. Igniting it means weakening your own body’s will to live. You can’t go around using it without something to stop you from actually killing yourself!”
Of course, Kutori already knew all that. It was fundamental knowledge for anyone that used magic.
“And Leprechauns already have a weak life force, so even without having to put much effort into controlling it they can conjure strong Venom,” Willem continued.
“But you’re not one anymore!” he yelled. “Besides, what was that reckless ignition!? Leprechaun or not, a person would usually instantly die if they did that!”
Now that Willem mentioned it, Kutori realized for the first time. Igniting Venom is like igniting a real flame. In order to create a blazing inferno, you first need to start with a little spark and build it up over time. Venom doesn’t work very well in sudden, on the fly situations. Of course doing something like what Kutori just did is very reckless and dangerous, but normally it would not even be possible in the first place.
“I… I thought I would lose you again.”
“Geez.” Kutori’s head had already been a mess before this, and now it was only getting worse. Countless thoughts clogged her mind, Willem’s face was close, seeing him up close she noticed his eyelashes were unexpectedly long…
“Calm down.” She lightly patted Willem on the cheek. She patted herself too while she was at it. Willem wasn’t the only one who needed to calm down. “First, I’ll return your words right back at you. If I didn’t do it, you would have, wouldn’t you? You would’ve recklessly conjured Venom to speed yourself up. I was watching. I saw.”
Willem fell silent.
“Besides, I’m fine. I don’t feel dizzy, my spine is normal… my fingertips are a bit numb but it’ll go away by itself soon.”
“You’re not just acting strong, are you?”
“Wow, I see I’m very trusted.” Kutori laughed and shrugged Willem’s arms off her shoulders.
Looking up at the roof, she saw that the railing was completely busted, as expected. By the edge, Tiat was on all fours and looking their way with a face that seemed as if it would burst into tears any moment.
“It’s okay! I caught her!” she yelled up, and Tiat’s mood improved immediately. “But it’s still dangerous, so no going on the roof for a while! Lead the other kids downstairs!”
“O-Okay! Got it!”
Tiat stood up and got to work rounding up the littles ones still on the roof. Kutori could trust Tiat to get them to safety.
“Well then I’m going to take this one to the bathtub. You should go help Tiat.”
“Ah…” Willem, still slightly dazed, nodded.
Luckily, there was still quite a lot of warm water left in the tub. There was no need to get more water from the river or to heat it up with Venom, so they could get right down to business. Kutori scrubbed the little girl’s bubble covered lemon hair. Her fluffy head had picked up a hefty amount of dirt while they were tumbling around on the ground. It would take a bit of effort for Kutori to get it all out.
“U-Um…” The little girl, holding her eyes shut tightly to keep the water out, cautiously began to speak. “S-Sorry.”
“If you’re going to apologize, say it to Tiat, not me. If you listened to her, you wouldn’t have ended up in such a dangerous situation.”
Is she even listening? Well, Kutori couldn’t expect much more. When kids of that age get scolded for doing something, they tend to not focus on what they actually did wrong. She probably didn’t even get slightly scared at almost falling to her death, so she most likely didn’t understand why Kutori was scolding her in the first place. Kutori was once again reminded how twisted the ‘lives’ of the Leprechaun were, lacking even the fundamental instinct to survive.
She looked up.
A large mirror sat in the bathing room of the fairy warehouse. It was put there by Naigrat around the time when Kutori first came here. According to Naigrat, all girls, weapons or not, needed to keep up their appearances. The mirror was just one of many things Naigrat added to the warehouse, but anyways…
Kutori sensed something strange in the image reflected in the mirror: red. Her hair was red. Just yesterday, or rather even just a few moments ago, only a few strands had been red. But now, the new color covered almost a third of her head.
What is going on?
She felt like her situation might be slightly different than those of the beast people that Naigrat described whose hair changes color with the seasons or with growth. Those species shed their hair before growing a new set of a different color. Their hair doesn’t suddenly change while still stuck to their heads. That meant what Kutori was experiencing had to be something else entirely.
A red eyed girl is looking this way.
— This feeling. The numerous nonsensical images running through her head. Kutori remembered. Her own body seeming like a total stranger’s. Strong, random feelings of hatred and loss. And also…
She remembered that name, and only that name. Everything else had escaped her memory.
“Huh? What was it…”
Her body began to shake. Her field of view wobbled back and forth.
“Kutori?” The bubble covered little girl turned around and looked up at her.
What is this girl’s name again? Kutori couldn’t remember. It was almost as if she never knew it. But why? There are only a little more than thirty residents in the fairy warehouse. All of them are precious family. Or they should be. So why?
“Are you cold?”
No. That’s not it. Something else had grabbed hold of her heart and frozen it. But she didn’t know what that something was. Kutori sat there, stunned, unable to put any of her haphazard thoughts into words.
She had wanted to hear ‘welcome back’.
She had wanted to say ‘I’m home’.
She had wanted to eat butter cake.
All of those wishes had come true. She had returned home to where she belonged, met the person she wanted to see one last time, and completed everything she wanted to do.
Their promise was fulfilled.
The end had caught up to the girl, and now silently laid a hand on her shoulder.