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After that, the Keseran rode the winds, and left the forest. And then, when the Keseran had left, the Adaman Land ponderously stood, and left the lake too.
"The Adaman Land was definitely waiting for the Keseran to leave, right?"
"I'm sure it was! The Adaman Land was definitely happy that the Keseran came near him!"
Alessa spoke excitedly about their recent experience on the way back. She was much more open when compared to her tense disposition when she arrived.
And in contrast to her, Ruri didn't add a single word to the conversation.
"…Umm, Shinra, what's wrong with Ruri?" Alessa noticed that she hadn't given a single word of acknowledgement, and whispered to Shinra. "I thought she's always finding things to pick at you with…"
"'Always' is a bit…"
It seemed that in the half a day she had interacted with them, Alessa had come to that conclusion.
Shinra had a wry smile as he thought.
She's certainly not wrong.
"Ah, I didn't mean in a bad way! Just that it shows how much she trusts you, that's it!"
"Understood, that's what you meant."
"I-it is! …But what's wrong with Ruri?"
"…I think I kinda get it."
"Eh! You do!?"
Shinra turned his eyes to Ruri, who was walking a step ahead, not even looking over her shoulder.
"It's probably because of earlier."
Alessa tilted her head in question when she heard that.
"…Ah! I'm she's angry about you knocking her over, right?"
"Nnn, not quite! Probably."
Drakey made a noise of question from Alessa's arms.
"Then… what caused it?"
"It was… yeah, now's probably about the right time."
Shinra clapped Alessa on the shoulder and then sped up until he was walking alongside Ruri. She glanced at him, but gave no other reaction. He didn't pay any attention to her attitude.
"Don't worry about it, everyone makes mistakes."
And tossed those words at her.
Ruri then glared sharply at him.
However, she didn't do anything else. Just raised her eyes and eyebrows and glared at Shinra, not saying anything.
The action Shinra took in response was to stroke her head covered by the fox-eared hat.
Seeing that rude action, it wasn't Ruri, but Alessa that shouted out in shock.
However, Ruri herself wasn't angry. She silently let him do so.
And what's more, she apologised.
"R-Ruri, what are you…"
"I already said not to worry about it, right?"
Ruri was worrying about being knocked over by Shinra. But she wasn't angry at Shinra for doing so. She was saddened at her own 'judgement' that the Adaman Land should be eliminated.
She had 'power' above the norm. If she freely used that power, she could eliminate obstacles without difficulty. But on the contrary, she could also easily eliminate anything.
"Even though you're always saying to use my strength after thinking properly, I…"
"Your strength is a special, treasured thing. So I want you to use it like it is."
"…Right. I'm sorry."
"It's fine. It looks like you've already reflected on it plenty yourself."
"Shinra…" With those words, she hugged him, and he quietly let her. "Shinra… Hug me tightly like you always do."
She murmured naturally with her face buried in his chest.
However, the moment she did, her body went stiff, and she immediately turned her head to look behind them. And there was Alessa, who had seen the entire thing.
"You get on really well with each other."
Alessa smiled at Ruri slightly shyly.
"Ah, um, t-this is, umm… Uuuuu… it's not!"
As she shouted, she pushed away Shinra, who she had even then been clinging to.
"I-it's not like he always does it! I just thought I'd like a hug when I was a bit lonely or something, but, but, so I just said it accidentally, and…"
Ruri rambled something that might have been a justification to Alessa. Where she stopped it dead with a.
"I think you have a wonderful relationship!"
Ruri couldn't answer with anything else at Alessa's completely supportive gaze.
Ruri's face went a bright red as she stood there silently. And then, as if she couldn't stand it anymore, she suddenly turned away.
And with such force that her hat fell off.
After a moment of silence, Alessa spoke in a puzzled tone. Her eyes didn't leave Ruri. On top of Ruri's now hatless head, peaking out from her hair, were animal ears.
"…Are those ears, possibly…?"
The meaning of the ears remaining on her head without the hat… was lost upon Alessa for a moment.
Ruri frantically tried to cover her ears with her hands, but it was already too late.
"Ruri's ears aren't part of her hat's design!?" Excited at what she'd discovered, Alessa asked Ruri. "Those ear… are real, right! Are they connected to your strength by any chance?"
Ruri didn't answer. Or rather, she seemed to not know how to answer.
"Alessa, Ruri's a demi-human."
Shinra answered concisely in place of Ruri, who was still silent.
"It's okay, it's not something to hide from her, there's no need to."
"Yeah. There are lots of races called demi-humans, but hers is particularly scarce even amongst them… were particularly scarce, she's a survivor of the Ogrestol race."
"Demi-human races… the Ogrestol."
"You're so widely read, I'm sure you'll have heard of them, right?"
"Y-yes, I have!" Alessa's voice was a touch louder, as if she had been caught in her database. "Demi-humans are people that have characteristic appearances and abilities, right? And the Ogrestol are demi-humans that have animal-like ears and tails, and conceal amazing physical strength… Ah!" As she spoke, she noticed how those characteristics applied to Ruri. "So, that's why Ruri can swing that huge hammer around so lightly and could just jump up to the Adaman Land's back… I see!"
"So those ears and that tail really are the real thing! That's amazing! But why did you try and hide them, Ruri?"
Alessa's words were purely questioning. Ruri couldn't look her in the eyes.
"If… if everyone knew they were real, they'd-"
"Ruri's ears stand out too much, so it ended up being a habit to make them look like they weren't real."
Shinra interrupted Ruri and explained instead.
It probably wasn't written in the books that Alessa read, but demi-humans and humans had a long and troubled history. And it hadn't become history recorded in the books, but the Ogrestol were eradicated, leaving her behind.
Showing off the characteristic ears of her race wasn't something desirable for Ruri.
"I see… a habit."
It seemed that Alessa more or less accepted Shinra's explanation, not knowing the history herself.
"But… I think that's a waste!"
"What's a waste about it?"
"Well…!" Alessa stared fixedly at Ruri, and then shouted as if to say she couldn't bear it. "She's so cute!"
Ruri's eyes went wide at Alessa's words. But Alessa didn't mind her reaction and looked her over from all angles, going.
"W-w-wha… this… is cute?"
"It is! It's not like your hat doesn't suit you, you know? But I don't think there's any need to hide them at all!"
Perhaps she was sensitive to such enthusiastic praise, as Ruri's ears started twitching back and forth.
"Um, um… um, Ruri."
"C-could I touch them!?"
"Ah, o-of course I can't. I said something really rude, didn't I? I'm sorry, I just saw them and kinda wanted to touch them… so…"
Thinking she'd asked for too much, Alessa withdrew.
However, even as Ruri turned away, she gave Alessa the okay.
"Eh! I-I can!?"
"If you want to touch them that badly, I don't really mind."
Ruri gave a nod to Alessa, who barely seemed to believe it. Even Shinra was surprised at her answer.
"T-thank you very much!"
Alessa gave a deep bow and fluttered over, then passed over Drakey to Shinra, though he wasn't sure she even saw his face.
"Shinra, would you watch over him for a minute please?"
She then once more faced Ruri and reached her hand out, saying "Excuse me!"
Alessa's delicate finder tips touched Ruri's ear.
Perhaps Ruri was nervous too, as she let out a sigh when they were touched.
"W-wah… They're really really real."
"They're really real."
"Uwah, they're even softer and fluffier than I thought… they feel really nice."
"D-do they?… Ngh!"
"Ah! D-did that hurt?"
"It… didn't hurt. It's okay."
"T-thank goodness… B-but I'll be careful and gentle, Ruri."
Alessa's gentle fingers caressed her ears, and after a while, widened their range.
"Ruri, your hair is really pretty too. And the gloss is a little different from your ears… See, it's really wonderful."
"A-Alessa, not there… ngh!"
Alessa was simultaneously stroking her ears and hair, playing with them. She combed Ruri's hairs with her fingers as she combed back over her head. And then she added yet another target.
"U-umm, is your tail okay too? It is, right? Ah, the fur lies kinda differently… it's so nice!"
Even as Alessa's hands bothered her, Ruri didn't pull away.
"Man… Alessa really is amazing."
Shinra murmured, as he watched their exchange.
Of course, he wasn't talking about her actions, but that she'd melted through Ruri's complex in a single instant.
For Ruri, who had been discriminated against because of being a demi-human, her own ears weren't something she was at all fond of.
It was always disdain, fear, and hostility that her appearance garnered. However, Alessa had shown that they were powerfully charming. With that emotion that she had not yet been faced with, it seemed that Ruri was lost. However, she had accepted Alessa. It was probably because of Alessa's enthusiasm and honesty. It seemed even Ruri couldn't ignore such pure kindness.
She's amazingly knowledgeable, and doesn't have any prejudice, huh. Maybe it was because Cecilia decided that it was something I definitely needed that she brought her—
"Shinra, have you ever touched Ruri's ears?"
Shinra was suddenly broken from his reverie by Alessa's question.
"Now that I think of it… I guess not."
Thinking back, he often stroked her head, but not her ears. It was a delicate thing for her, so he might have unconsciously avoided it.
Maybe I was too careful because I know her awful past.
While reflecting on that, he came to their side.
"You can't, Shinra."
He was flatly refused before he could even ask.
"…Eh, He can't?"
Shinra was lost for words, he didn't think she'd say no.
Ruri turned away, hiding her face as she mumbled.
"It would be embarrassing for you to touch them… so you can't."
Because of the thing with her ears, Ruri and Alessa had completely opened up to each other. When they returned home, Ruri had taken the initiative to divide off somewhere for Alessa and Drakey to live.
"Shinra's unreliable, so if you need anything, you can ask me."
Ruri was acting like an elder sister, even though she should be younger, and Alessa answered obediently with a "Right!"
Shinra watched over the harmonious, sibling-like relationship with a smile.
The next day.
"Shinra, good morning!"
"Oh, morning, Alessa." Alessa was in high spirits that morning, with Drakey in her arms. "Huh, where's Ruri?"
The two had slept in the same room because of how few there were, so he asked Alessa.
"Ruri is still asleep, shall I wake her?"
"Nah, it's okay. She's always up before me, so it's kinda rare."
"Yeah, I guess she was a little too energetic yesterday, acting as your older sister." In the end, they'd gone through the entire house, reorganising it, making a space for Alessa to live. And then one that worked the most, including manual labour, was none other than Ruri. "I guess we'll wake her when breakfast is done. Can you wait a bit until then?"
"I can! Ah, then can I go outside for a bit?"
"Of course. Are you going to do something?"
"I want to exercise Drakey, and give him some rehabilitation."
"Got it. I'll call you when breakfast is done then, so you can walk around the area."
"Right! Let's go, Drakey!"
The girl dashed off with a smile, to do just that.
"Let's start cooking, then," Shinra mumbled to himself, looking through the cupboards of food next to the counter. It was Alessa's first breakfast since arriving, so he was a little fired up. "Bread and soup as a base… and that smoked meat I guess. Maybe I'll slice it and put it in a salad."
Shinra noticed they were running low on food as he drew up the menu. Taking into account that there were now three of them, he was a little uneasy, and just as he thought they should go shopping —
He suddenly heard a scream from outside.
Instantly noticing whose voice it was, Shinra rushed outside.
He immediately cast his gaze around for Alessa, and soon found her. She was right next to the house, she was holding Drakey and had fallen onto her backside. He saw why she had screamed as well. He didn't have to look for it, 'it' was right in front of her.
She didn't move from where she was, perhaps out of fear. That was probably unavoidable too.
Right in front of her was a huge beast, a wolf. The wolf was far bigger than usual, several times larger than Alessa, and its mouth was big enough to easily swallow her.
If you were glared at by such a beast, of course you wouldn't be able to move out of fear. But Shinra was just relieved that she was okay.
"S-Shinra-san!? D-don't come here! I'm… okay!"
As he went to approach her, she shouted. He could tell it was a bluff.
"Relax, Alessa. I'm fine. And so are you."
Alessa blankly saw him stand before her out of the corner of her eye, and move between her and the wolf.
It was an extraordinarily large beast. And the impact from its uncommon size meant that those that saw it would naturally be afraid. But if they were to look — they would see that it wasn't hostile, and that it wasn't a simple wild animal, it was a 'monster'.
Shinra reached his hand out to the monster.
"S-Shinra, what on earth-"
"I told you yesterday, didn't I? Monsters don't pointlessly attack people."
Pof. Pof pof pof.
"Eh, ah… really, what are you…?"
Shinra had put his hand on the wolf's head, and was giving it large strokes.
Stroking the glossy off-white fur that covered its head with a 'pof pof pof'.
It seemed like a presumptuous, reckless act, but the big wolf allowed it. Actually, it let out a happy whine as it was spoilt.
"Y… You're amazing, Shinra."
He heard Alessa as he tickled the wolf's throat. She had stood at some point, and was watching him fuss the wolf.
"It might be an everyday kind of thing for you. But I think that being able to touch a monster like this… is amazing."
"It's nothing special. You touch Drakey, right?"
"Ah… Yes, but I…" Alessa murmured sadly as she looked at Drakey. "That wolf didn't attack me, but I was surprised and scared. I should have seen with the thing at the lake yesterday, but…"
"When faced with the unknown, it's only natural to be afraid."
"The important thing is to learn, and honesty."
"To learn… and honesty."
"Right. To not let your emotions twist the truth, to accept the truth, and to learn and use it next time."
With his eyes, he indicated the wolf to her.
"Well then? If you look at him again, is he scary?"
After she stared carefully at the wolf, she shook her head.
"…I'm not scared anymore."
"Is that the truth, not a bluff?"
"It is! He looks so kind… I'm not scared at all anymore."
The girl's smile was natural. But for an instant, there was a lonely expression reflected in that smile, and Shinra didn't miss it.
"Alessa, is something wrong?"
"Ah, no… I was just remembering about him." As she said that, she looked at Drakey, held to her chest. "That there wasn't anyone that looked properly at Drakey. If they'd just looked properly, they'd have known they wouldn't need to be scared… they could have gotten along."
It was easy to say 'look at the truth', but so much harder to actually do.
It's been fifteen years since then… people's prejudice and hatred toward monsters are still deep.
Realising that again, Shinra sighed mentally. But he soon shook his head, and looked at Alessa in front of him.
There's a girl like her, even in a world like this… there is help.
Noticing his gaze, Alessa tilted her head in question.
"Is something wrong? D-did I say something strange?"
"No, I was just thinking that you're a good girl."
"I-I… don't really get it, but um, ah, thank y-"
The wolf suddenly howled, cutting across Alessa.
Oi, oi, Ash, what's up all of a sudden? You scared Alessa."
"Ash…? Is that his name?"
"Yeah, Ash the Ragna Wolf. Oi, don't pull on my sleeve."
"Ash, is it? Fufu, maybe Ash is jealous that you're only talking to me?"
Him carefully using his big mouth to pull on his sleeve didn't look like anything other than playfulness.
"It's nothing that admirable."
"But you two are friends."
"Mm? Yeah, whether we're friends or comrades… we've known each other for a long time regardless. He doesn't live in this forest, but sometimes comes along like this."
"He comes out of his way to see you? You're really good friends!"
"Nah… Ash doesn't come here for me."
"I get it, I get it. I'll take you." Shinra turned his palm to Ash as he howled, and calmed him. "But after I've made breakfast, or Ruri will yell at me." He stroked Ash, who was now quiet, and faced Alessa. "As you can see, I'll be going out for a bit. I'll make breakfast, so wake Ruri up later and eat with her."
"R-right, got it! But, um, where will you be going?"
"To the hot springs."
"The hot… springs…?"
Because she didn't expect the word, Alessa took several seconds, even though she knew the meaning.
The hot springs were in the forest, covered in a haze of steam.
"A Ragna Wolf that likes hot springs, you're plenty strange too."
"I get it, I get it, I'll do it." At Ash's insistence from where he was already within the water, Shinra stepped in as well, and then started scrubbing at Ash's fur with the brush he held. "Honestly, bringing me here just to do this, you're…"
He used a wooden bucket to scoop up water, and then thoroughly stroked through his fur with the brush, while letting the water pour over it. Ash's body seemed to shiver in pleasure.
Ash liked being washed like this, so he came all the way to Shinra's house to pester him to come with him. Finally, his entire body had been washed.
"Right, now you're all clean."
He clapped Ash's flank as a signal.
Ash then slowly walked out, and sat where the depth was right. Leaving just his head out, he soaked in the water, looking completely satisfied.
"Haah… That was hard work."
As he said that, he looked down. The clothes he was wearing were soaked with sweat and water from the springs. Thinking he might as well soak himself too, Shinra stripped off his clothes.
"I should bring Alessa next time."
There were essentially no people that visited, but this was more or less one of the famous places in the forest. So Shinra felt he should show Alessa, who had come to live here.
"I know, I'll bring Ruri later a-"
The person he was thinking of, Ruri, suddenly called out to him.
Next, he heard an apologetic Alessa. Shinra turned around and the two of them were standing near the hot springs.
"Why are you two here?"
"We ate properly!"
"No… that's not what I asked."
"Alessa told me!"
"Um, I'm sorry. I told Ruri that you'd gone to the hot springs with Ash and she said 'let's go, let's go'… Even though we were supposed to be watching the house."
"Nah, it's nothing to apologise for."
"That's right, Alessa. And I didn't do anything wrong! I came to help wash Ash!"
Ruri was throwing out her non-existent chest with a cough, and Alessa was looking ashamed.
"I see, I get why you came out here. I get it, but… unfortunately, I already finished, see."
In the direction he gestured, Ash was soaking in the water.
"What, there's no 'why' abo…"
"Why, why, why!!?"
Apparently, she had been really looking forward to something, as she threw a full-scale tantrum.
"Oi, oi, what's wrong? You're always waiting in the house, right?"
Shinra was completely puzzled by Ruri's tantrum, and Alessa whispered into his ear.
"I might be wrong, but maybe Ruru wanted to be useful to you?"
"Yes! Remember, yesterday…"
Shinra remembered yesterday with the Adaman Land at being told.
"I'm sure Ruri want's to be 'helpful'!"
"So that's what it is… Even though I told her not to worry about it."
"I sort of get how she's feeling. It's like she wants to do something, for you!"
"Hmm, so that's what it is."
He kind of got what Ruri was being so stubborn about thanks to Alessa. But was then stuck on 'but there's nothing to do'.
Even now, Ruri was crying 'why, why'. Ash was relaxing, and didn't seem like he would be washed again. He couldn't decide what to do… when he thought of it.
"Alessa, would you go into the hot springs together?"
Ruri wanted to do 'something' for Shinra. In that case, it didn't have to be helping to wash Ash. He just had to ask her to do 'something'.
So he thought of asking her to go into the hot springs with Alessa as an 'elder sister'.
Alessa would enjoy the famous hot springs at the same time. Shinra congratulated himself mentally on the good idea. However, he immediately noticed Alessa had had a strange reaction.
"…? Alessa, what's wrong?"
"Eh! Ah, O-o-okay!"
"Umm… what's okay?"
He looked at her, without understanding her reaction. As he did, her cheeks reddened, and she looked away.
"It's okay! Um, ah… I'll come in with you. Shinra."
Him, half-naked in wet clothes.
The phrase "into the hot springs together'.
The pieces came together into a misunderstanding, Shinra realised.
"Ummm, Alessa? Uh… that's a misunderstanding."
"…Eh? A misunderstanding?"
"Yeah. Or rather, I wasn't clear enough. My bad."
Shinra lowered his head to her.
"Don't apologise, Shinra! I-it's not that I don't want to!"
"Eh… Uh, U-umm, i-is it really a misunderstanding? You didn't see my reaction and change your mind or something?"
"Not at all."
"I-it would be fun with us all in the hot springs, and if it was you… I wouldn't mind. So if you want to, you can say, you know…?"
"If I want to…"
Her pure words sounded alluring. And Shinra himself thought he'd misunderstand.
He shook his head and switched his feelings.
"Right… Ruri! I need a favour!"
"Sure! What is it!? What do you want me to do?"
"Since she came all the way here, I'd like Alessa to enjoy the hot springs. I'm going on ahead, so would you stay with her?"
"Yeah, got it! Leave it to me."
Ruri agreed readily, as if to say she was waiting for it.
Just as Shinra was relieved, the surface of the water shook.
It was Ash standing up.
Ash's expression was satisfied, like he'd warmed himself to the bone. But the instant he saw his expression, Shinra felt a foreboding.
And in the next instant, it was fulfilled. Ash shook himself vigorously, making sheets of water spray all around.
His sheer size made the spray like heavy rain. There was no escape, they were all soaked in an instant.
"No mercy or restraint… Alessa, Ruri, are you oka…y?"
"Y-yes, what about yo…u?"
Their eyes met, and their voices stopped.
Shinra was sopping wet, so were Ruri and Alessa. And of course, their soaked clothes clung tightly to their skin, and had gone transparent. Alessa's body was exposed by the thin cloth. The beautiful ornament on her necklace was visible, and Shinra was captivated by the sight for an instant.
"A-awawawawa! S-Shinra, um ah!"
"Ah… Uh, sorry, Alessa."
Alessa noticed his gaze and panicked in embarrassment. Shinra feigned calm and turned his back on her.
At which point, he heard a splash in the water. It was probably the sound of Alessa getting into the water to hide herself.
"What's wrong with the two of you?"
Ruri hadn't noticed anything, on the contrary, she had gone around and examined Shinra's expression.
"…Nothing. Anyway, I'll leave the rest to you, Ruri."
"Right, leave Alessa to me!"
"Enjoy yourselves. And while you're at it, I'd like to leave the clothes out to dry. I'm counting on you, big sis."
Shinra patted an excited Ruri on the head.
"Sorry there was such a commotion, but I hope you enjoy the hot springs."
As he said that, he caught another glance of her before he left, and she nodded jerkily.
"Haah… I'm surprisingly tired."
Opening the door, Shinra walking into his home. Ash, who had come with him, was already basking in the sun outside. Contrary to Shinra, who was exhausted from the mess at the hot springs, Ash was sleeping with a comfortable expression on his face.
"So carefree, huh… Hm?"
He heard a voice that was as carefree as can be. He looked inside, and for some reason, there was Cecilia.
"…What are you doing, Cecilia."
"Shouldn't that be obvious? Here, tea."
His old friend, Cecilia Ingress, elegantly poured a cup of tea. At that excessively grandiose act, Shinra felt a moment of doubt as to whose house it was.
"I'll ask again, just what are you doing at someone's table, having just entered their house?"
"Tea." She lifted a teacup, showing it to him. At that, Shinra gave a forced sigh. "Why are you taking such an attitude!? That's our relationship, isn't it?"
"And what kind of relationship would that be?"
"Hmmm, more than friends, more than best friends?"
"Really, what kind of relationship is that?"
"That'd be, hmm… the relationship that together saved the world, wouldn't it?"
With an unnatural tilt to her head, she smiled teasingly. It was a top-class smile from her pure beauty. But Shinra wasn't at all thankful for that smile, if anything, he warded it off with a wince.
"It's pointless whatever I say, I get it."
"Good, good, that's good. Incidentally, are you still looking for him? Even though it's been fifteen years."
"Of course I am. Do you know something?"
"Well, I don't."
"…What brought this up so suddenly?"
He noticed that Cecilia was looking at him exasperatedly.
"Nothing, I just thought that you haven't changed."
"What's that mean?"
"Just what I said. Oh, that's right, the breakfast you left here was tasty."
"…That was my portion."
"Thank you for the food! I cleaned my plate properly."
Cecilia was delighted, Shinra said nothing, having had his breakfast taken, and changed his wet clothes.
Because he changed in another room, Cecilia brewed him a cup of tea when he returned.
"Here, it's tasty!"
"…That's my tea, right?"
"Tea brewed by a beauty is tasty. Savour it well."
Cecilia returned a careless wink at his scolding.
I can never win against Cecilia, huh…
He took a sip as he thought that.
"…It certainly is tasty."
"Right, right? It's because I'm a beauty."
She bragged. He hated to admit it, but she could brew tea well.
"Hey, hey… where's Alessa?"
"She's at the hot springs."
"The hot springs!?"
It was an answer that even Cecilia hadn't expected. Shinra explained that she and Ruri were at the hot springs now.
"Oohh, you sure got along fast."
"And yet you just left her here yesterday…"
"That's because it's with you. You're a person I can trust upside down!"
"It really is nice. Ah, forget that! Alessa, Alessa!"
"…What about her?"
"She's a good girl, right?"
"Yeah…? She is, but what of it?"
"Right~~ Right, right?" Cecilia prodded stubbornly, leaning forward. Shinra had grown tired of trying to divine her plans, and she whispered in his ear, even though they were alone. "So, I hoped you'd make her your apprentice, fufufu."
His apprentice as a monster tamer.
"Ah, she really was driven away from where she lived. I didn't force her, so this chance is just a coincidence, a coincidence." As she said that, she smiled boldly. "But… I thought she had some really good qualities. Though I think you'll have noticed already."
"Well… I won't deny it. In the first place, that dragon hatchling she picked up likes her."
"Right, right! Plus, she has an interesting talent~"
"A talent, huh."
"Ah, from that expression, I guess you already know?"
"Yeah, she knows too much." As he spoke, Shinra remembered all of the knowledge she had demonstrated so far. "It's past the level of being well read. It's like she has a complete encyclopaedia or museum in her head."
"Complete is an oddly fitting word for it."
"That's why I was sure she had some unusual talent."
"It's a rare skill~ I'm sure it'll be useful as a monster tamer!"
"Yeah, it would. But, even if she didn't have it… she's amazing."
They had only spent a short time together, but when he remembered it, he thought so again. She had the 'honesty' to be able to understand and be understood by different monster species.
It wasn't a special talent or strength. Anyone could have it, but it was a rare quality.
It was the most important thing to a monster tamer, and she had it.
"You think so too, right? She's an amazingly good girl. I'm sure she's suited to being a monster tamer."
Even though Alessa herself wasn't there, Cecilia had a proud expression. Faced with her, Shinra was pinned by the urge to nod, but he actually shook his head.
"Like I said earlier, I won't deny it, but whether or not she wants to is up to her."
"Ehh~? That's a matter of course, if you make her your apprentice…"
"Hold on a minute…"
He glared at her, and she gave an exaggerated shiver.
"Geez! It was just a jooooke~… Anyway, Shinra, aren't you already acting like her guardian and master?"
"I'm not… I shouldn't be."
"Hey, hey~ What, what? Is she already just like your apprentice?"
"Hahh… More importantly, I had something to ask you."
"Who is she in the first place?"
It was partially to change the subject, but it was a real question.
"What do you mean, who is she?"
"You can tell from her behaviour. She isn't a commoner, she was probably born to some famous family."
"Hmm, that's you all over, you've got a good eye." Cecilia admired his judgement. "But so what? If she was a noblewoman, or a princess, would it change your behaviour? Or would you turn her away?"
"That's not really what I mean."
"That's what it sounds like though, you know? You knoooow~?"
"Her parentage doesn't matter. What I want to know is if she has a place to return to." Faced with Cecilia's condemnation, he replied back, straightforwardly. "I'll reword it. Can she be here? …Is there someone waiting for her to come home?"
He and Ruri both didn't have a single relative, this house was their only place to be. But Alessa might not necessarily be the same. If someone wanted her to return, would her staying here really be good for her? That was what Shinra left unsaid, but heard. And as if she guessed his aim, Cecilia had an out of character, serious expression.
Then, after a moment of silence, she opened her mouth.
"Shinra, I'll say the same thing you did earlier."
"The one to tell you her circumstances, who she is, where and how she was born… is her herself, right?" Cecilia pronounced, pointing a finger rigidly at him. Shinra didn't say anything in return… just gave a pained smile. "I think she'll tell you about her home and about herself before too long, so just wait until then."
"…Yeah, I'll do that."
And, with the sign that the topic was over, they both broke into smiles.
"We're hooome! Come on, you say it too, Alessa."
At that exact moment, Ruri and Alessa's voices came from the entrance.
"Ohh~ welcome back, both of you."
The two soon noticed her.
So saying, Cecilia stood from her chair, approached a surprised Alessa, and took her into a tight hug.
"Are you okay, Alessa? Shinra didn't do anything strange to you?"
"What are you on about?"
"Shinra has been very kind. There were a lot of surprises, but… I'm okay!"
"That's good then. Life might be a little intense here, but enjoy it since you're here. And you look as healthy as always, Ruri."
"Mm, I am."
After her greeting, Cecilia hugged her as a matter of course.
"Cecilia, stop it."
"You're so cute, but always so harsh… Hmm?" As she was hugging Ruri, Cecilia noticed her change. "Huh, what happened to that hat you're always wearing?"
"It's not nothing, you're always wearing that hat, twenty-four seven, even in the house-"
"Did you know, Cecilia!?"
Alessa suddenly butted into the middle of the conversation.
"She's cute without the hat, isn't she? She's cute, right? Of course, she's cute even with it, but I said that she was cuter like this, and she stayed like it~!"
Alessa was smiling broadly, and Ruri looked away, perhaps in embarrassment.
Seeing the two of them, Cecilia seemed like she had guessed what had happened.
She looked at Shinra with a smirk.
"Yup, everyone seems to be getting on well."
With a laugh, Cecilia addressed Alessa.
"Hey hey hey, Alessa. Are you interested in being a 'monster tamer', like Shinra?"
"Oi… have you already forgotten our conversation?"
"Just asking is fine, right? Hey, what about it, Alessa?"
Shinra helplessly fell into silence at Cecilia's lack of shame.
Alessa herself, after a moment of puzzlement, replied with a decisive.
"Ohh~! See, see, Shinra! There's no good girls like her in this fay and age, is there? If you don't get your hands on her soon…"
Poking her with his elbow, Shinra reigned her in with a girl.
"Right right, you treat me so harshly, Shinra~. Anyway, Alessa, are you really interested in Shinra?"
"Eh? Y-yes! Of course." Alessa nodded at Cecilia's slightly cold questioning. "I may not have said a word when I brought you here, but I'm sure the time you spend here will be a wonderful learning experience for you."
"I don't know what choices you'll make, or how you'll live, but I'm sure you'll see sights you hadn't been able to see in the world until now."
"But I'm a little worried leaving you with just Shinra, make sure to look after her too, Ruri."
Ruri stuck out her fist with her thumb stuck up at that.
"Just what is 'with just Shinra' supposed to mean, Cecilia?"
"Hm? Well, you're a bit of an oddball."
"You're treating me like an oddball?"
"An oddball, or outside the norm? Outside of common sense? Whichever, they're words of praise from me."
"They don't sound it at all…"
"They don't? But they are. Ah, more importantly, Shinra, it's time for lunch soon, isn't it? I'd be terribly happy if you'd do something for me. I'm sure Ruri and Alessa are hungry too?"
In the end, after completely demolishing her dinner, Cecilia once more left the house.
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