Chapter 22 – The Reunion
Ruri parted ways with Lydia, left Chelsie’s house, and returned, at last, to Castle Nadasha. She waited for nightfall since it would be less conspicuous than walking around in the day, changed into cat form, and snuck inside via the castle walls.
Soldiers were stationed everywhere, but as a cat and shrouded in darkness, none of them paid Ruri any mind, allowing her to casually stroll through the castle’s garden. Due to the people of this nation possessing low mana, they didn’t seem able to see the spirits hanging around Ruri either.
Once she’d climbed a tree and hid herself, she employed a wind spirit to help search for Asahi’s room. Deciding that, even in cat form, it would be too hard for her to get into the room from the inside with the combination of soldiers and random people going to and fro around the interior of the castle, she jumped onto the balcony and used that as her entry point instead. After making it underneath the room, she used wind magic to fly all the way up to the balcony.
Ruri took a quick look around to make sure the coast was clear before getting the spirits to take off her bracelet and reverting to human form.
Slightly nervous, she opened the balcony door and brushed back the curtains to find Asahi’s eyes filled with fear and tension clashing with her own. It seemed as though she was freaked out over the intruder suddenly in her room, but as soon as she saw it was Ruri, her eyes opened wide in disbelief. Her fear was eliminated, replaced with shock.
“Ruri-chan!” Asahi stretched out her arms to glomp Ruri, overcome with joy—which Ruri quickly slid to the side to avoid. She hadn’t come here to have a touching reunion. In fact, Ruri was only here out of absolute necessity…
That dodge left Asahi looking rather disappointed, but the joy from Ruri being in her room quickly filled her heart and a smile stretched across her face.
“Ruri-chan, I’m so glad! When I heard you got abducted, I was worried sick!” Although Asahi seemed to be genuinely happy, she suddenly felt the difference in enthusiasm levels upon taking a look at Ruri’s face compared to hers.
“That’s what I came here to talk about,” Ruri stated, doing a quick scan of the room and putting up a quick barrier so that their voices wouldn’t attract unwanted attention. After confirming that the barrier was set firmly in place, she turned back to Asahi a little more at ease. She didn’t intend on sticking around long and got straight to the point.
“I don’t know what these people have been feeding you, but I wasn’t abducted.”
“Huh? But the King said that…”
“That was a lie. Them bringing us to this world was the abduction, so these aren’t the type of
people whose words you should be taking at face value.”
“But none of the people here would ever do anything dishonest…”
“They would and they have!” exclaimed Ruri, her tone naturally getting forceful remembering the time the Prince and her former classmates framed her for attempted murder.
“The Prince and those four who were summoned to this world along with us? Well, they kicked me out by pinning a crime on me. And the King and the Head Priest knew, blaming it on the Nation of the Dragon King instead! They tricked you into believing them.”
“That can’t be…”
“So, yeah, there’s no need to go to war with the Nation of the Dragon King. They didn’t abduct me, and you should step down from this Priestess Princess thing, too.”
However, telling her to step down as Priestess Princess meant that she wouldn’t be able to stay in Nadasha. She could easily imagine the King and the Head Priest disposing of whatever or whoever they deemed useless to their schemes.
In that case, she needed to consider where she would put Asahi up, which would be another job for Joshua. She would have him look for a place where she could be a live-in worker. However, as she planned all of this in her head, she remembered something important.
The King and the Head Priest had talked about eliminating Asahi in the midst of the war and summoning the next Priestess Princess. So if Asahi were to leave this place now, they would just summon up the next sacrificial lamb to take her place. And if she suggested they stop the war, then Asahi would be in danger before the war even started…
(Crap, I should have talked that over with Chelsie-san when I had the chance.) Ruri had accomplished telling Asahi that she hadn’t been abducted, but she now realized that she hadn’t made any plans on how to handle Asahi after that deed was done.
(Maybe I should head back for now and reassess my options with Chelsie-san.) Ruri was just about to turn around in order to come back later, but that was when she heard Asahi deliver a chipper comment that betrayed her expectations.
“Oh, Ruri-chan, if you got into a little fight, you should have just told me.”
“I… excuse me?” Ruri was dumbfounded by Asahi’s seemingly nonsensical comment. “If you had just told me, I could have helped you patch things up.”
Ruri looked at Asahi like some sort of unidentified lifeform speaking gibberish.
“But it’s okay. The Prince and everyone else are so nice that I’m sure you can patch things up if you just talk everything out.”
Ruri finally deciphered what it was the girl was trying to say and her shoulders slumped, crestfallen.
She thought she’d relayed the message, but she realized that it hadn’t been received at all. It reminded her of something similar that happened back in middle school when she was still classmates with the four others.
In middle school, Asahi would dote over Ruri, but Ruri had started to get bullied by Asahi’s followers far past simple insults. Of course, she wasn’t the type to take that sort of treatment lying down and gave her bullies the appropriate comeuppance, but it was still a lousy experience to go through. Fed up, Ruri told Asahi, the root cause of the entire ordeal, to put a stop to her followers’ actions, thinking that Asahi delivering the message personally would be the most effective way to deal with them. After hearing her suggestion, however, Asahi smiled and brushed it aside, saying, “You guys are really hitting it off, huh?”
It seemed as though Asahi could only perceive the sight of her followers bullying Ruri as some kind of playful roughhousing with one another. This obviously made Ruri upset, and despite her repeatedly insisting that it was bullying and not horseplay, Ruri’s pleas never got through to Asahi. The idea of the followers, who treated her so kindly, ever bullying or harassing someone was simply inconceivable.
This total breakdown in communication left Ruri floored and served as a harsh reminder of why Ruri stopped trying to have any meaningful conversations with Asahi. It seemed as though nothing had changed.
She’d assumed that Asahi had grown a bit after two years of living in an unfamiliar world, but her difficulty picking up on context clues—or rather, her complete lack of basic comprehension—remained completely unchanged.
Asahi was exactly as she had always been.
“Were you listening to what I just said?! At what point in all of that did you get the idea that we got into a ‘little fight’?!”
“Ruri-chan, why are you getting angry?” Asahi asked in blank surprise, stirring the sense of resignation within Ruri once more.
(No, I blame myself for being stupid enough to expect anything more from Asahi. This is the same girl that was duped so easily, after all…) Even if you discounted the two years that they weren’t together, she had stopped trying to speak with Asahi a long time ago, so to try again after such a long time was making Ruri feel weary. Even so, it was essential that she hammer this point home to her.
“Listen, I’m going to tell you one more time, so clean out your ears. I have not been abducted by the Nation of the Dragon King. You don’t need to try to extract me from there, so you don’t need to take part in this war either.”
“But… I already said that I would. They said that if I take part as the Priestess Princess, it will elevate everyone’s fighting spirit. I’m the Priestess Princess, so I have to work toward the prosperity of the land.”
“The Priestess Princess itself is a lie concocted by the King and the Priest! Do you even understand what taking part in a war actually means?! War means bloodshed between two factions. There’s no way that you’re capable of something like that! Well, are you?!”
“It’ll be alright. I’ll just watch from the sidelines, and the Prince and the soldiers promised they’ll protect me.”
How in the world could one person be so blindly optimistic? It was possibly a result of never being in a lick of danger since coming to this world that allowed her to so casually say that things would be all right.
As Ruri saw Asahi assure her nothing would go wrong with a big grin on her face, she realized that Asahi’s sense of impending crisis was nonexistent. She should try getting abandoned in the forest sometime to see how that feels; that would be sure to bring her vigilance levels to new heights.
“Your look on war is naive! This isn’t playtime, and this isn’t like facing someone in a video game. People take up real weapons and inflict real pain on one another. You aren’t capable of doing something like that, are you, Asahi? You’re not going to be able to just watch!” Ruri had never witnessed war unfold either, but she could perceive the danger just off of imagination alone, which made Asahi’s carefree display all the more baffling.
In Ruri’s case, she had seen the ruined towns of Nadasha along the way here, instilling her with an overwhelming sense of crisis. Children sat hungry and without food on the ragged streets with all able-bodied men being taken away under the fear of execution. This nation’s conduct was ruthless.
If she could bring Asahi to that town, then she would be just as shocked as Ruri by the unreal and tragic sight of it all. Ruri felt that doing that might actually sow the seeds of distrust toward the King, the cause of the townspeople’s distress. It wasn’t just one town either—all of them looked like that. Since she had seen the lively scenery of the Nation of the Dragon King, the terrible shape of Nadasha pained her heart even more.
Despite the two nations both having kings, a king as highly trusted by his people as Jade would never allow for such a town to exist. A bad king having that much influence over the citizen’s lives was eye opening, filling Ruri with resentment toward Nadasha’s ruler.
If Asahi was going to go ahead with starting a war after being tricked by the King and Priest, then it was safe to say that those two were equally guilty. Ruri felt a strong desire to stop this in any way she could build within her.
“Don’t trust the King and the Priest. The majority of what they’re telling you are lies. They’re just going to manipulate you and get you killed. They plan on using you until they fulfill their goals and then killing you along with the Prince and everyone else. I overheard them talking about it myself!”
Ruri wasn’t sure if Asahi was really listening to what she was saying. She didn’t seem to get it going by the look on her face, but Ruri continued on, determined.
“Think about it carefully. Our world might be safe, but the rules in this world are different. You need to protect yourself. I don’t think you can ever be too careful, especially you, Asahi. If you don’t want to die, don’t participate in this war.” Asahi might’ve been confused. Her Bewitch powers assured her that she lived surrounded by people who loved her, so she probably never even thought about someone trying to inflict harm on her.
Not even Ruri herself ever considered she would be entangled with such crooked people, but it was the truth.
At any rate, she had said her piece, and while she wasn’t sure how Asahi would take it, it was clear that Asahi needed to consider her options for the immediate future. It was probably difficult for her to provide an answer right away. Even Ruri wanted to discuss with Chelsie about what they should do about Asahi moving forward, so she decided to pack it up for today.
“I’ll be going back now.”
“Huh? ‘Going back’? Where are you going, Ruri-chan?!” “I’m leaving Nadasha.”
“I’m coming with you! I don’t want to be separated from you anymore, Ruri-chan!” Asahi locked her arm around Ruri’s like a spoiled child.
Just as Ruri wished that Asahi would just give it a rest, the terrible feeling of something coiling around her body overcame her and she reflectively pushed Asahi’s arm away.
Asahi’s eyes widened in surprise, but Ruri was also visibly shaken after brushing Asahi off. (What… was that?)
She looked at her arm, covered with goosebumps of discomfort. The coiling sense of unease was still with her, and upon further inspection, she realized that it was mana. It wasn’t her mana either; someone else’s mana was practically wrapped around her. Ruri didn’t need to think much to know who it belonged to. Ruri and Asahi were the only two people in the room, after all.
That was when it all clicked for Ruri—this was what the Bewitch magic did.
Every time that Asahi was being adamant in her demands she would probably use her mana to perform a Bewitchment spell on anyone and everyone just like she was doing now.
The reason that Ruri was able to sense it now was because she had learned to both use magic and sense mana. Realizing that she’d had mana wrapped around her like this her whole life wasn’t a comfortable thought—no matter how ineffective Asahi’s Bewitchment proved against her. She now had a very good reason not to want to come near Asahi, outside of her actions and words.
“Ruri-chan, I’m coming with you!” As Asahi made her desperate appeal, Ruri looked at her, thinking that her desperation to be with Ruri was because of her own mana compatibility.
Asahi didn’t know that herself, however, and although Ruri figured that Asahi couldn’t help but cling to her, it was a problem that would have been avoided if she could just communicate that fact to her. She was sure that even if she told her that mana was the cause, Asahi wouldn’t take staving off seeing Ruri just because it was intrusive as an option. After all, this was the same girl that had been pampered because of her Bewitchment power and never had to settle for less a day in her life.
“Hey, Asahi, what do you think our relationship is?”
“Well, we’re best friends, of course,” replied Asahi, as if it were obvious. “In that case… you need to listen to what your best friend is saying.” “But I am listening.”
“Back when I was getting bullied before and even now—it’s the same old story. You may be listening to what I’m saying, but you’re not believing the message I’m conveying. When I was being bullied, you explained it as me ‘hitting things off’ with my bullies. I get framed and exiled, you explain it as me having a ‘little fight’ with the Prince. You just won’t wrap your head around the words that come out of my mouth. You say that we’re ‘best friends,’ but when I’m in trouble, you don’t even attempt to understand or help me. Is that what you call being a best friend?” Asahi was about to interject, but Ruri continued on, regardless. “I don’t need a ‘best friend’ like that. Well, in any case, I haven’t been abducted by the Nation of the Dragon King. That’s all I came to tell you. That being said, think carefully on what I said and make the appropriate call.”
Those were Ruri’s parting remarks as she jumped out of the window.
She could hear Asahi yelling her name, “Ruri-chan!” from behind her, but she kept her eyes forward and disappeared into the darkness.
After turning back into a cat, she exited the castle, making sure that she didn’t run into anyone along the way.
“Are you done, Ruri?”
“Yup, let’s go back to Chelsie-san’s house.” Ruri was exhausted yet relieved that she’d managed to shake free of Asahi. She came, said what she needed to say, and even warned her about not participating in the war. But she knew Asahi, and she knew that she’d never been able to have any sort of meaningful conversation with her in the past. Though her intent was to give her a clear explanation, she was a tad worried that nothing had actually got through to her.
Ruri could only hope that Asahi would stew on her warning and give the matter at least a little serious consideration.
There were also her former classmates to consider. No matter how much of a grip Asahi’s Bewitchment powers had over them, they probably didn’t share Asahi’s level of optimism. Ruri hoped that she would realize the danger of this war through their reactions to it.