Chapter 21 – True Identity
A considerable amount of time had passed since Chelsie started living in the woods known as the Mystic Forest. Her unhampered, solitary life was peaceful and quiet outside of the occasional visit from her son or grandsons.
The day that broke that mold was two years ago.
Two years was only the blink of an eye to a dragonkin, but the two years that she lived with Ruri left a deep impression on her. When Ruri left for the Nation of the Dragon King, Chelsie kept accidentally making meals for two for quite some time after.
She was finally getting accustomed to living on her own again as of late.
Chelsie was going about another normal day of life out in the forest—until she felt somebody enter the barrier around her property. She was very familiar with their mana, however, and went to the entrance to show her guest in.
Just then, before Chelsie could process the door loudly flinging open, someone ran through the door and dashed straight into Chelsie’s arms, causing her eyes to open wide—that someone was Ruri.
“Chelsie-saaaan!! You have to hear this!” Ruri clung onto Chelsie tight while voicing some rather incomprehensible things at length.
“I swear… The noise never stops when you’re around. Well? What’s the matter?” Chelsie asked with a sigh as Ruri went on to tell her about the conversation between King Nadasha and the Priest in an excitable manner. “Yes, I ended up finding that out myself.”
Chelsie’s unsurprised demeanor toward the news left Ruri the surprised one. “‘Ended up finding it out’? You mean you already knew, Chelsie-san?!”
Guiding Ruri over to a chair and sitting her down, Chelsie pulled out some tea leaves from the rack and began to prepare a pot of tea. “More or less, yes. I assume you met my grandson, Joshua?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Joshua told me that he investigated the Priestess Princess in Nadasha. He also investigated what the book of prophecy said about her and noticed something odd.”
“Yes. He said that despite it being an ancient book of prophecy, it looked relatively new. Specifically, he found clues that led him to believe that the description of the Priestess Princess’
features was added recently. The handwriting was that of the Head Priest himself.”
“Why would they do something like that…?”
Placing the prepared tea in front of Ruri and herself, Chelsie sat across from her, took a sip and began to elaborate.
“King Nadasha wishes to go to war because he wants the land of the dragonkin. And the upper echelons of the church are a den of money-grubbing fiends. When conflict breaks out, the citizens pray for their safety and provide ample donations to the church. That is why they want a war.”
Displeasure toward the king and the priests was showing clearly on Ruri’s face, but she stayed silent and listened to Chelsie attentively.
“But that doesn’t mean that Nadasha is filled with war-hungry people. There were moderates, dissatisfied with internal affairs within the nation and opposed to war. Those forces had been keeping the king and his pugnacious designs in check.”
“If so, why are they going to war anyway?”
“The King and the Head Priest decided to fabricate the existence of the ‘Priestess Princess’ in order to forge ahead with their war efforts. The citizens, impoverished from the war and the tax collection, would hold on to the hope of this bringer of prosperity, thinking that if she endorsed the war then they should go through with it. The Priestess Princess could have been anyone. But since there was a girl with such unusual and attractive features among those summoned to this world, they just settled on her.”
“That was their reason…?” Ruri had predicted that from the King and Head Priest’s conversation to a certain degree, but it still shocked her. Part of her even found it hard to accept, but part of her remained calm enough to voice her doubts.
“In that case, why didn’t they just make someone in their own nation the Priestess Princess instead of summoning all of us? If you’re saying that anyone would have done, then it doesn’t make sense that…”
“They probably wanted a real human summoned to this world to emphasize the fact that they’re someone special. Were it one of the citizens of their own nation, the moderate factions wouldn’t believe them anyway. Plus, someone summoned to this world wouldn’t know a thing about the current status of Nadasha and would be pretty easy to manipulate.”
This wasn’t the first time that Asahi had embroiled her into a mess. It drove her up a wall, but it was a familiar old story. She was almost used to it.
However, they didn’t need to settle for Asahi—it could have been anyone.
In that case, why did this happen to Ruri? Why was Ruri here when all they’d really wanted was her? Luck just wasn’t in her favor—but that wasn’t a good enough reason to calm the complicated feelings that swelled inside of Ruri.
“May I continue?” Chelsie asked gently, looking in concern at Ruri, who nodded in reply with her head hanging low.
“So, Nadasha deceived this ‘Asahi’ with the lie of her friend being taken away by the Nation of the Dragon King to incite her desire to go to war with them. They also exiled anyone who was opposed to it. In Nadasha, they don’t worship spirits. Instead, they worship their own god and are extremely devout, meaning the power of the church is strong. That being said, not believing in their Priestess Princess, summoned from another world, is practically the same as not believing in god. Then, conveniently enough, the priests were suddenly unable to use magic. The priests proclaimed it was because of the non-believers of the Priestess Princess and used the opportunity to exile the moderates. People started to convert into proponents and true believers of the Priestess Princess, which helped force the opponents of the concept into submission.”
After hearing Chelsie’s explanation, Ruri felt her skin crawl. She looked at Chelsie’s face and said awkwardly, “Then… that is mostly my fault…”
They’d talked Asahi into inciting a war by using her “friend” being taken away by the Nation of the Dragon King. Whatever lies they’d concocted—that “friend” was obviously Ruri.
And the priests being unable to use magic was part of the revenge that the spirits thought they were enacting on Ruri’s behalf. Ruri was shocked that the spirit strike that happened because of her offhanded comment could trigger such a major event.
“Perhaps that did set the whole thing into motion, but the result was inevitable with or without you, Ruri. This was the King and his court’s design all along, after all.”
“But if that whole thing with them not being able to use their magic never happened, then those people wouldn’t have been fed to the beasts of the forest, right?” In Ruri’s mind echoed the mean-spirited laughs of the King and the Head Priest speaking about the current status of the moderates, assaulting her with immense feelings of guilt.
“No need to worry about that. I wouldn’t just let them dispose of the valuable few with heads on their shoulders. When they were exiled to the forest, I took them under my custody and sent them to the Capital of the Dragon King. So you don’t need to harbor any guilt over any of that, Ruri.”
Ruri felt keenly relieved upon hearing that they were safe. Even though they were complete strangers, she would feel horrible if her actions had led to their deaths, however inadvertently.
“I’m sure that they’ll be entrusted with Nadasha after they overthrow the current king. So… what are you going to do, Ruri?”
“You said something about wanting to beat up the people you were summoned with and the Nadashians, didn’t you? I wouldn’t think you’d be too hard on the people summoned since
they’re just being used as puppets, but the King needs strict punishment, so you’d better seek council with the Dragon King right away.”
“I do feel like blowing a gasket over what they did, but I can’t even consider that a real option at this point—I don’t know, it’s complicated.” She still felt shocked by the truth—she was brought to this world not in order to bring prosperity to a nation but for the selfish desires of those in power corrupted by greed and their own self-interest.
“What has you feeling so down, Ruri?”
“‘What has me feeling so down?’ I was summoned here because people wanted an excuse to start a war, wasn’t I?! You said that anyone else would have worked, so, of course, it makes me think—why me?!”
“You’re not only not from Nadasha, but not of this world. So from your perspective, no matter what their reasons might’ve been, that doesn’t change the fact that they brought you over here against your will, does it?”
Be it for war or to provide help to people, it didn’t change the fact that Ruri was in no way at fault for any of this and was cast into the forest under false charges.
Thinking that calmed her down slightly.
But only slightly. She had finally grown accustomed to life in this world and her attachment for her own world had grown weak, but the disturbing and greed-driven conversation between the King and the Head Priest had rekindled it. Unable to contain herself, she once again flopped down atop the desk.
“But I can’t help but think. Think that if it didn’t have to be Asahi or me, then if I had left my house just ten, no, five minutes later, then things would be different now. Why did I turn around to look at Asahi instead of rushing onto campuuuus?!”
“Well, that’s an understandable train of thought.”
Ruri pounded her hands against the desk in utter frustration.
Normally, when a path to this world was opened, it wasn’t big enough for people to travel through. The path should have only been big enough to make something small and unnoticeable disappear—like a pebble near Ruri’s foot. The Nadashian summoners had intentionally made the path bigger after they’d opened it and designated a room in the castle as its exit. But, not only was it not guaranteed that they’d get anything through to their side, it wasn’t even guaranteed that it would be a person if they did.
Luckily for them, the Head Priest of Nadasha was, despite his rather twisted personality, in a class of his own. Through tireless research, he refined his process until he could open a path directly to spots with a high concentration of people by targeting their lifeforce.
The victims of the glorious first run of this technique were none other than Ruri and co.
Ruri just so happened to collide with the path to this world. It was just the right day, in just the right place, at just the right time… a stroke of astronomical bad luck—luck so bad that even Chelsie was hard-pressed to provide any sort of follow-up explanation. Pointing out Ruri’s bad luck any further, however, would feel like kicking someone when they’re down, so Chelsie kept it to herself.
That was when the spirits, who had been quietly listening in on Ruri and Chelsie’s conversation, worriedly asked Ruri a question.
“Ruri, do you hate this world? You don’t have fun here?”
“I do have fun. I’ve always dreamed of a life free of Asahi’s annoyances, and with Chelsie- san and all of you in my corner, every day is filled with fun and happiness. But as much fun as it is, I still want to see my family. The thought of not being able to see them again hurts.” In the past, Ruri would have never thought that she would miss her parents so much at her age. She might have once been a child with separation issues, but she couldn’t deny her desire to see her parents now. The spirits didn’t seem to understand that sentiment.
As a doleful expression came over Ruri’s face, the conversation she’d eavesdropped on suddenly popped into her mind.
“…Oh! That’s right. They said that they could just call forth a new person if they needed to. If I investigate that, I bet I could figure out some kind of way to get back to the other side!”
Joy shot back onto Ruri’s face upon discovering this ray of hope, but the spirits were quick to strike it down.
“That won’t work. You can come from over there, but anyone with a physical body can’t pass through the boundary from here to there.”
“Once you come over here, you can’t go back. No way, no how.” “Mm-hmm, no how!”
“Shooting it down, just like that…” After having this answer to the question that she’d agonized over for the past few years shot down in an instant, she looked at the spirits with a forlorn expression and flopped back on the desk. “My last hoooope!”
In spite of all the hard hours she spent researching a way back home at the capital library, in spite of having tutors teach her to read a new language, she was being told that all that effort was meaningless by a crowd of tiny, smiling faces.
The pent-up rage, sadness, and other emotions she had been keeping inside finally exploded. Leaving her at least a morsel of hope was all that she was asking for.
“Just give up and settle down in this world. Anyway, what are you going to do about Nadasha?”
Ruri had almost forgotten. She brought the slightly derailed conversation back on track.
“There are a lot of people in Nadasha who are going along with the war because the Priestess Princess is in support of it, yes? And since Asahi is their figurehead, all one would have to do is change her mind, right? If she agreed with the war only after being led to believe that the Nation of the Dragon King abducted me, then if we just told her that that was a lie she would lose her reason for going to war in the first place. Even if the King and the Priest still want to go to war, if the Priestess Princess they’ve picked refuses, they won’t be able to incite war right away, at the very least,” Ruri suggested. She thought this was a sound idea, but Chelsie slowly shook her head in response.
“The moderates that had been keeping war from breaking out this whole time are nearly gone from Nadasha. Even telling Asahi the truth now wouldn’t help to change the situation. The war is unavoidable. Anyway, you would need to go directly to Asahi to tell her that she’s been lied to.
It seems unlikely that she’d believe a third party telling her that you hadn’t been kidnapped. You’re opposed to the idea of going to see Asahi, aren’t you?”
“Ungh, I know. I am ‘opposed’—I mean, I downright hate the idea—but I really don’t want war to break out. It’s true that it might be impossible to stop it at this point, but if I don’t do something Asahi will end up involved, won’t she?”
“Most likely. According to Joshua, she’s pretty gung-ho about getting you back, so I’m guessing she’ll come to get you personally.”
“But it’s a war. People will be taking each other’s lives… Honestly, knowing Asahi, she probably doesn’t even realize that. If I don’t stop her, she might die.” In fact, remembering the King and the Head Priest’s conversation, they were entirely prepared to eliminate her along with the Prince. Chances were that she’d end up getting killed not even by the war itself but by the very people she considered her allies. That meant just staying in Nadasha in and of itself was dangerous for her.
“I’m surprised to hear you showing concern for Asahi. I thought you disliked her so much that you didn’t even want her near you?”
“Sure, but I’m not cold enough to think it’s okay if she dies. She is technically my childhood friend—albeit reluctantly…”
“So what do you plan on doing now?”
“I’m going to Nadasha to convince Asahi not to take part in this war. Even if Asahi disagrees and the war proceeds, it might buy some time until war actually breaks out.”
As depressing as it was, Ruri had no other choice but to go to Nadasha, straighten out this misunderstanding and convince Asahi not to participate in the war!
“But I can’t let you pull something as dangerous as sneaking into Castle Nadasha,” Chelsie said, clearly concerned. It was only natural that the castle would be heavily guarded, which meant there was no guarantee that she could make it to Asahi safely. Not even going in cat form
ensured that nothing would happen, and it was going to be bad news if she were caught.
“Well, I have the spirits with me and I can turn into a cat while I’m sneaking around, so I can go undetected.” Ruri argued this to give Chelsie some peace of mind.
“Your spirit entourage is a world of worries on its own, though.”
“Well, I can’t deny that…” The concern about the spirits taking drastic measures for revenge if anything should happen to Ruri remained an issue. “But it will be just fine. I will make sure to warn the spirits to not get involved.”
Chelsie breathed a sigh of resignation, realizing that any further attempts to dissuade Ruri were futile.
“If that’s what you want to do, then give it your best shot. I will just tell you to be careful. If you feel that you’re in danger, come back immediately.”
“I will.” Ruri was fired up and ready to charge into Nadasha right away until… “Ruri, Lady Lydia is calling you~”
“Huh? Lydia?” Ruri opened up her pocket space to answer the call. There a sulky and dissatisfied Lydia was waiting for her.
“What’s wrong, Lydia?”
“Don’t you ‘what’s wrong’ me. Now, Ruri, I don’t mind you going to the royal capital, but you haven’t come to visit me at all since.”
Ruri couldn’t deny that she might have been neglecting visiting Lydia as of late. While it could be considered an excuse, she spent the majority of her time either working at the diner or by Jade’s side, which didn’t give her any opportunity to enter the pocket space. But since there was no way that Lydia would have known her situation, she probably thought that Ruri simply abandoned her. Ruri felt honestly sorry after seeing Lydia so unhappy.
“I thought you were enjoying the capital so much that you forgot about me.” “I’m sorry, Lydia. I didn’t forget about you.”
“It’s fine. You can repay me by having a tea party with me right now.”
“No… I would like to break for tea, but now isn’t the time. There’s someplace that I have to go,” declined Ruri, looking apologetic.
“Nadasha,” replied Ruri. Then she gave a simple explanation about the events in Nadasha, the potential war, and all the things concerning Asahi.
“Oh, I see. That sounds like a lot to handle. Can I do anything to help?”
“Thanks, but I can’t always depend on you and the other spirits to do everything, so I want to try as best as I can on my own. I’m going off to persuade Asahi. It needs to be me that talks to her.” A part of Ruri was also worried that Lydia or the spirits would take drastic measures if she carelessly asked them for help.
“I see. Good luck, then. Once you handle your business, we’ll have another tea party. I’ll be praying for your success.”
“Yup, I’ll give it my all!”