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On the dark night road, a lone boy, Heath, walked while looking up at the sky.
The moon was out. Cloudless, while drawing a true circle, it was a harvest moon without any complaints. In the moonlight which seemed to be gnawing, even the appearance of the surrounding stars darkened as if they were concealing themselves. Thanks to that, it was easy to walk even on a road devastated by gravel. In this area, there were only a few private houses.
Even though it was the king’s capital, outside the outer wall, there was scenery no different from a rural area. If one would turn to the opposite side, a vast forest could be seen spreading along the road. The main road spread out as if just to separate the forest and the residential area.
“I'm totally late...”
The time had already passed midnight. It wasn't the proper time for a boy who was still in his teens to be roaming around the main road. However, it was reasonable if one would consider the boy’s standpoint.
There was a big wrapping held in Heath’s arm. Though the contents were as cheap as sashimi with skin still attached, it was still armour. A long spear was held in the other arm. Even though it appeared that way, this was still following one’s duties as a soldier.
“I probably shouldn't have undertaken tomorrow’s duties.”
Heath put himself to work even though he was originally off-duty that morning. If he hadn't felt that the previous day seemed very slow, he wouldn't have taken the job...
Leaking a small sigh, Heath walked on alone.
Three months had passed since that event occurred...
Three months before; at the place of a certain ceremony, a knight, on top of that a knight leader, was killed and the riot occurred.
Though Heath was not present there, since the senior pupils and acquaintances were involved, it wasn't someone else’s problem. It was caused in the king’s presence and the incident hence still caused unrest amongst the citizens even now.
Presumably due to such confusion, the number of dangerous events occurring had increased.
Even today, there seemed to be some kind of uproar on the main street. The substitute did not show up even after the shift ended, and it was not possible to part from the possession intestines until he came.
—I wonder if Mana went to sleep already...
Thinking of his sister who remained at home, he paced up his speed.
“What...was that...?” While looking up at the moon aimlessly, Heath saw a strange shadow pass by.
It possessed wings like a bat and a long tail like that of a snake. If it was a bird that would fly in the middle of the night, then it should have been like an owl but the figure of the shadow seemed to vary a bit from a bird.
One’s eyesight usually darkened in the moonlight, the sense of distance was also not able to be grasped properly, but Heath was able to perceive a rough figure of the shadow.
Saika was the general term used for monsters which attacked humans. Amongst them, it was said that there were ones with wings too. Not a bird, but being able to flutter about in the sky. If one thought of such a thing, then the only thing that came to mind was a saika.
—I have to notify the Knight’s Order—
If you saw something that looked like a saika, then notifying a Knight - that was common sense that even children knew of.
Luckily, it seemed that the shadow didn't notice Heath. He started to descend to the forest immediately like that.
If it was from there, then rather than the Knights of the Royal Palace, the barracks where Heath worked at was nearer. While retracing his footsteps, Heath suddenly noticed.
Intertwined with the tail of the flying shadow, anther silver coloured profile could be seen. And then, there were also limbs that expanded loosely from there.
—Was he captured...?
Though the retreating Heath held on to the armour, the only thing that could be used as a weapon was the spear that he shouldered.
To make matters worse, if the one who was caught on its tail was a person, then the current shadow was somewhat like a small building. He should go call for help immediately, and bring as many powerful knights and soldiers as possible.
—That’s no good; I’ll lose sight of it!
A moment of hesitation, nevertheless, he still wavered for an instant.
Heath let go of the wrapped armour and started dashing while grasping only a spear, towards the forest where the shadow disappeared. Fifteen minutes had passed since he had stepped into the forest, and he let out a light groan.
—I can’t see anything...
The moonlight was being blocked by the branches of the surrounding trees. Even the ground could not be seen clearly. He walked carefully and advanced so as not to stumble on the root of a tree, but he had already lost sight of the area where the shadow descended.
—Calm down. That thing should have been large.
The surrounding trees had become overcrowded too. If that giant creature which was as big as a small building moved, it was likely to break some branches or step on some dry grass. It was impossible for it to not make any sound.
After clearing his ears and checking out the surroundings, he heard a large sound of water being splashed reverberating from the distance.
—Water...That’s it, a lake!
There should be a lake deeper inside the forest. It was said that a fairy dwelled in the lake connected to the Knights Of The Round Table which existed in the folklore.
He fastened his pace and advanced towards the direction which the sound came from. But while approaching nearer, an unpleasant sweat of perspiration ran along his forehead. His breathing also grew heavier and he couldn't help but close his mouth. His heartbeat seemed like an alarm bell that could be heard in the surroundings.
—The monster from before, it’s just beyond here...
What could he do now, after he threw away his armour? The possibility of the person who was captured being alive at the point of being captured might be very low. It could be that all he was doing was increasing the number of monster-feed by one.
But still, Heath did not retreat.
—If it was master, he would have never stepped back at a time like this.
While tightly gripping his spear, he started building up his courage.
Heath had a mentor who taught him how to handle a spear. Precisely because that technique was accepted, the 16 year old him was also accepted as a soldier. His mentor was an eccentric character, but he was not a man who would desert a dying human without trying to the best of his abilities to save him.
And exactly because he thought of that master as a protagonist from an epic tale, he took up apprenticeship and desperately piled up his training.
And advancing like that, the forest suddenly cleared up.
While feeling relieved after seeing light in the darkness, he also stiffened his body at the same time. The real danger starts from there. Surveying the surroundings while killing his breathing—
*Splash* Silver-coloured water droplets danced in mid-air.
There was a lone girl there.
Amidst the drops of water and moonlight, argent hair shook his iris like a miracle and he reeled it in.
The reason that the droplets looked silver was because of her hair, that’s what he indistinctly thought.
When she shook off the drops from her hair; thin, beautiful fingers could be seen, which she submerged into the lake's surface. After drawing up water in the palm of both hands to her tender lips, the overflowing water went along from her chin to her neck.
The girl who enriched her throat leaked a sigh that seemed to be satisfactory and watched the surface of the lake. There might have been some water striders. A ripple appeared and then disappeared, shaking the full moon’s reflection on the lake’s surface.
The girl was leaning on a small islet which was thrusting out from the lake.
And the pupils of the girl who was watching the lake were deep crimson in colour. Did she wash her face? Droplets of water were glittering on the long eyelashes covering her eyes.
The girl was beautiful enough for him to forget about what he came here to do.
Her clothes boldly exposed her shoulders. But rather than saying it looked mysterious, it would be more proper to say that it looked fairy-tale-like. On top of her lap, a richly coloured hat was placed.
While feeling fascinated, *snap* Heath accidentally stepped on a branch under his feet.
Even though it was a sharp, challenging voice, it had a sound echo like a falling bell.
“Ah, err, I am, well...?”
While answering in a confused tone, the girl’s presence in front of him was distancing fast.
He suddenly noticed that his body was floating in mid-air. But then his ascent stopped with a jerk.
There seemed to be a big shadow extending on the surface of the water. And it seemed that the thing which was struggling and wriggling at the end of the apex was his own shadow. Heath realised that he was lifted up by something gigantic.
—I shouldn't turn around I shouldn't turn around I shouldn't turn around!
Even though he understood that, Heath turned his head around while shivering.
A bright red pupil similar to the girl’s shook there.
The only precise difference would be that, those eyes were as big as the girl’s whole head. And the head those eyes were installed in were furthermore, bigger. A helmet such as a man's head would be crushed instantly in that mouth, where gigantic fangs were closely packed.
That wasn't a saika. It was a far more fearsome being...!
His face became pale.
The thing that stood there was a real dragon.
It had scales of beautiful black colour, as if dissolving into the darkness of the night.
The difference between a saika and a dragon was extremely simple.
Only that, the difference in their powers was on a hopeless level.
A saika could be slashed with an edged blade and even magic was effective against it. A person with enough strength could even fight it one-on-one.
In case of a dragon though, nothing could reach it without exception. Even the scales of a very young dragon could not be wounded with a sword forged from iron, and magic would become powerless and disappear before reaching it. There was only one sole thing that could reach, a sword that carried magic. And that might only range in the magics used by the <Knights of the Round Table>, which were called one of the secrets of magic. It was an existence which could possibly only be confronted by a person who had mastered both the sword and magic thoroughly.
Heath finally remembered that he had entered the forest when he was chasing after a monster.
While shaking, Heath put his gaze back on the girl. She, rather than being afraid, was glaring at Heath with her arms crossed as if she was pouting.
The silver girl and a black dragon—and then, that was a forest where fairies were said to live. Heath started to think that he lost himself in an illusion of a scene from a play.
The dragon, as if it were a pet presenting the prey to its master, lifted Heath up in front of the girl. With a splash, a sheet of water stood. Heath felt as if the height changed.
The girl then questioned him with a voice filled with vigilance.
“Who are you? What are you doing here?”
Heath, with a stiff face shouted “I came to save you.”
Being held in the jaws of a dragon, with his legs shaking to and fro in mid-air, and tears, about to overflow at any time, collected in his eyes. His voice was turning inside-out too. The only thing worth praising was that, even till the last moment, he did not release the spear from his hands.
No matter how you saw it, the line he should have been uttering was not, “I came to save you,” but rather, “Please save me.”
Despite all of that, seeing the Heath who bravely stated such a thing, the girl opened her mouth with a vacant expression. The previous sharp facial expression looked surprised enough to be called innocent. After that, as if she were desperately enduring her urges to laugh out, her mouth kept trembling all over. And yet, after smoothing over her voice in that kind of state, she asked another question.
“Save me? From what?”
Heath, while he was still shaking, straightened his back.
Dragon, monster, saika—whichever representation he used, it might have offended the dragon or the girl. Heath hesitantly answered thinking of that while still trembling.
The girl squatted down and remained in that position while putting her face on both palms. The dragon also lowered Heath to a position in which he could touch the surface of the lake.
The girl faced Heath with deep scarlet upturned eyes, and whispered with a teasing tone as if pleading for some sweets,
“I want to be saved~ How are you going to save me?” “We-Well, how about, using the dragon's blind spot, I'll grab your hand and escape...like that?”
Hearing an answer like that, the girl finally burst into laughter magnificently and started rolling on top of the small islet.
Well, it couldn't really be helped, could it? While talking about finding the dragon's blind spot but splendidly getting captured, it wasn't a matter of rescuing someone or not, since the dragon was completely the girl’s companion. Even Heath himself couldn't help but laugh.
After laughing for a while, the girl let out a long breath as if she had enjoyed herself fully and stood up before long.
“Ahaha, that was funny. You're not too bad, are you? Actually making me laugh this much.”
The girl who was wiping her tears seemed to have laughed enough to make more tears fall while wiping. She said in a tone as if she was troubled,
“About rescuing me, I see...when I was riding the dragon <Teifue>, I was seen by you. I really made a blunder.”
——What a failure
By 'Teifue', she probably meant the dragon.
Learning that she was troubled after being seen, Heath felt a cold chill run down his back.
“Umm, dragon, will I die?”
He didn't understand the relationship between the dragon and the girl, but in this situation, he wasn't able to think of any other fate that could befall him.
As if considering what to do with the trembling Heath, the girl brought her index finger up to her lips. “Hmm, what should I do...? It doesn't look like you have any evil intentions... Rather, for making me laugh this much, I can't do without giving you some kind of reward, can I?”
In that situation, without even thinking why the girl said such a thing, Heath inclined his neck.
The girl was fixedly inquiring about Heath’s state, but before long she flashed a gentle smile.
“I think it should be okay to overlook you.”
The lamp of hope returned to Heath’s pupils after the possibility of living had been shown to him.
“But, you will have to follow what I am about to tell you.”
“I’ll follow—I’ll listen to anything!”
“You didn’t meet me here, and you didn't see any flying dragons either.”
“Yes! I didn't see, nor hear any dragons.”
“That’s strange. Then, doesn't that mean that there wasn't any promise to keep in the first place?”
“E-eh? Well, that’s...erm...”
When Heath kept going in circles in front of her eyes, the girl again started laughing while embracing her stomach.
“Ahaha, you really are very amusing.”
After saying that, the girl looked up at the dragon and had it jerk its jaws.
“It’s alright now.”
After the girl muttered that, the dragon suddenly released Heath.
With a loud splash, Heath fell down into the lake while splashing up a grand spray of water. The depth of the lake wasn't much, so he hit his face with the bottom of the lake. Bringing his head up after struggling for some time, the dragon's figure had disappeared before he was even aware of it.
On the other hand, the girl was looking down at Heath with the same crimson eyes as the dragon. The girl quietly placed her foot on the water while smiling.
After seeing those pure white legs treading on top of the water’s surface rather than sinking, Heath leaked out an idiotic voice.
When she shook her argent hair, the girl interrupted greatly.
”My name is Estelle Norn Schutern. A clown.”
Now that he thought about it, certainly the girl’s mysterious clothing didn't look anything but that of a clown’s.
“To be able to make a clown laugh, I’ll at least spare your life~”
And then, pointing at Heath with a snap,
“But, if you tell someone about me, next time I really will eat you, okay?”
After giving a bright nod, Heath nervously said in an inquiring voice,
“Err, one thing, is it okay for me to ask about one thing?”
“What is it?”
“That dragon just now, what in the world was that? Was it magic? Surely it wasn't a real dragon, right?”
The girl’s pupils were not of a light purple colour. Thus, she surely couldn't be one of the Tenkoku Tsukai<Omen Talker>.
To the Heath who revealed a voice filled with bewilderment, she narrowed her scarlet-coloured eyes.
“Clown's antics you see, that was just a simple magic trick.”
Apparently, even the miracle of her standing on top of water was about to be written off as a simple magic trick. The girl seemed to be happily fluttering the palms of her hands.
“See you then, bye bye.”
After leaving those last words, her body began to disappear as if dissolving into the night wind.
By the time Heath shouted that, the girl's figure was nowhere to be seen.
The black dragon, and the silver-haired girl too disappeared as if they weren't there from the beginning. Even saying that he saw a strange dream would have a lot of persuasive power.
Only the silver moon alone did not change. It seemed to be floating in the sky and nodding as if saying that it was not a dream.
For a while, after staring off blankly in a daze, and shivering in the cold, Heath crawled up from the lake to ashore.
That was in fact, Heath and her—Estelle’s—first meeting.
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