Chapter 19 – Unsettling Rumors
It was early morning and Ruri awakened from her slumber. She immediately found Jade’s face right next to hers, which startled her for a moment, but this was a sight that she had finally become used to.
Sneaking out of the comforter, she put her front legs out straight, put pressure down on her paw pads and stretched.
“…You’re up, Ruri?” Jade slowly sat up in bed, seemingly awakened by Ruri’s movements.
He still looked sleepy, but it didn’t keep his face from looking stunning. The groggy Jade was exuding at least thirty-percent more sex appeal than usual. Though bashful, Ruri was finding it hard not to look.
Jade reluctantly rose from bed and began to change out of his sleepwear into his normal attire. Ruri, of course, turned around and waited until he was finished.
They normally received their meals at separate times and places, but Jade seemed to have time today, and when he could spare the time, they would eat together.
But unlike eating by herself in her room, she couldn’t just revert to human form, so eating proved a little difficult. Not only was she incapable of using forks or spoons in cat form, she had Jade looking at her the whole time, even while in the midst of eating, so it made for an uncomfortable experience.
Judging from Jade’s expression, he thought Ruri eating was the most adorable thing he’d ever seen. Ruri could understand how a cat eating could be adorable, but when she was the one being watched, it made eating supremely difficult.
When their meal was over, Jade still had time to spare, so Ruri asked if he could spend it teaching her their written language.
He held a book open in front of Ruri, who sat on his lap, like a parent reading for their child. He proceeded to read the contents of the book aloud, nice and slowly. It was a children’s book that Ruri sometimes studied from.
Jade’s deep and well-projected voice was a soothing treat for Ruri’s ears as she followed along on the page. Whenever she encountered some text that she wasn’t familiar with, Jade would write the word down on a separate piece of paper and teach Ruri with incredible patience. He would present the occasional question and she would answer it. If correct, Jade’s mouth would form a gentle smile and he would congratulate Ruri with a scritch on the head, which naturally made Ruri squint her eyes in pleasure.
It was hard for Ruri to put into words, but this all felt extremely peaceful. Perhaps the fact that Jade’s presence was extremely comfortable played a part, but this was the most at peace that she had felt since coming over to this world.
After a while, Jade closed the book.
“It’s about time for me to depart. Will you be coming with me, Ruri?” “I’ll be going out for a walk,” she said, hopping off of Jade’s lap. “Oh, alright, then.”
As she parted ways with the slightly-disappointed-looking Jade, Ruri slipped out of the castle under the guise of taking a “walk” and headed toward the diner.
“Alrighty, another work day awaits.” Every day there had been filled with fun and fulfillment so far, but little did she know that her docile life was about to come crashing down.
◆ ◆ ◆ ◆
Soon after Joshua left for his trip, Ruri headed toward the diner, just like she always did.
She served the rush of customers that came in one at a time, but a conversation that two customers were having made Ruri’s eyes widen.
“Huh?! Did you say war?” Ruri found herself accidentally interjecting into their conversation, but the two people speaking didn’t grimace in response—instead they explained in detail.
They were traveling merchants who came from a nation further past Nadasha and were en route for the royal capital of the Nation of the Dragon King. Plenty of these traveling-merchant types would come to the capital since it was a port city with a smorgasbord of merchandise from many countries. The merchants who came to the capital would not only acquire merchandise but news as well. The information these particular merchants had acquired was throwing her heart into chaos.
“That’s right. We came here by way of Nadasha. Y’know, the country on the other side of the forest. Seems they’re buyin’ up a large supply of armaments. That’s gotta be prep for war.”
“Yeah, no doubt about it. We don’t deal with weapons, but they seemed to be asking every merchant that passed by and buying all their stock.”
Not noticing the grim look on Ruri’s face, the merchant continued on. “And I’m pretty certain they’re after the Nation of the Dragon King.”
“Nadasha never learns its lesson.” The merchant’s comment was met with hearty chortles, leaving Ruri confused.
Ruri had never personally experienced the ravages of war, but from what she knew of it from books and television, it was an extremely frightening and tragic event, so what was this? Neither of the merchants in front of her seemed nervous or afraid over the prospect of war and instead were chatting and joking around with one another. Their reactions just didn’t line up with a word like “war,” which evoked such tragic images.
“How can you laugh in the face of impending war?” Ruri asked with a hint of criticism in her voice.
The merchants looked at each other before turning to Ruri and proudly explaining. “Well, because it’s technically ‘war,’ but it’s not gonna be much of a battle. The Nation of the Dragon King knows they’re gonna win before they even fight.”
“You from another nation, li’l miss? If you are, then it’s no small wonder why you’re not in the know. Nadasha waged war against the Nation of the Dragon King many times in the past. Every single time, they get pummeled into the ground.” The merchants laughed, knowing that regular men stood no chance against dragons.
The dragonkin had such sturdy bodies and robust recovery abilities that they could easily withstand being shot with an arrow or two, unlike humans. They also had incredible physical strength and mana, so humans had no hope of winning against them.
The merchants scoffed and said they pitied Nadasha, sarcastically commending them for fighting the good fight in spite of the cold, hard facts. There wasn’t any chance the dragonkin could lose, and Ruri thought of all the dragonkin people she’d come to know with relief. It was only for a moment, though, as she considered the Nadashians…
“It seems that the Nation of the Dragon King will be alright, but the damage to Nadasha is going to be enormous, isn’t it?”
“Well, yeah, it will be, but they’re the ones who went picking fights in the first place. They’re coming to get slaughtered, so they’re probably ready to accept the consequences. Are you a Nadashian, by any chance, li’l lady?”
“No, but I have acquaintances in Nadasha…” replied Ruri as the faces of Asahi and her former classmates flashed in her mind.
The merchants were clearly abashed when they heard that.
“Hey, sorry about all that. We shouldn’t have laughed. You’re probably pretty worried, in that case.”
“…Yes,” Ruri answered with a bit of a pause beforehand. That pause was her questioning whether she was actually concerned over Asahi, a person she had an immense dislike for, and her former classmates, who had set her up to take the fall on false charges. But she put that aside and realized she was indeed worried. After all, she knew that her former classmates’ actions stemmed from Asahi’s Bewitchment and most likely weren’t guided by their true intentions.
Perhaps in consideration for the grim expression on Ruri’s face, the merchants changed the subject.
“Right, d’ya know of the Priestess Princess, young miss?”
For a split second, Ruri’s heart jumped in her chest, but she kept it on the inside and shook her head.
“The people there say that the Priestess Princess is supposed to lead Nadasha to prosperity.”
Hearing this, another merchant chugged his cup of water, slammed it hard on the table and launched into an objection. “That’s obviously a goddamn lie! If she makes ’em prosper, she wouldn’t make ’em go to friggin’ war. D’ya know how many of Nadasha’s citizens are pouring into the Nation of the Dragon King right now? Prosperity? Psh, they’re on the fast track to ruin, if ya ask me!”
“And it seems that the Priestess Princess is spearheading the war—so forget trying to stop it.” (She’s what?!) Ruri almost yelped out this thought, but she managed to hold it in.
“Hell of a Priestess Princess she is. The Nadashians are suffering because of her.”
“I agree. When I was traveling here, I saw the refugees flooding in at the border fort. It’s probably gonna make His Majesty take action personally, right?”
That made Ruri remember that Jade had been pretty busy and looking very fatigued as of late. He seemed to be in extra need of Ruri’s healing in the past few days, with Nadasha probably to blame—the very nation that had summoned both Ruri and Asahi…
(I’m going to assume they cajoled her into doing this by using me as a reason.) Ruri wasn’t absolutely positive in her assumption, but she was more or less certain. Asahi came from a land devoid of war, so the thought of her proposing it was not only hard to imagine—it was baseless.
That meant that someone had to be putting her up to it.
She thought it was strange—odd that they thought that the mere presence of a single person could bring a whole nation real prosperity. At first, she’d processed it like the common trope in fantasy stories, but now that it was happening in real life, it put things into a different perspective. After she settled down, Ruri started to think there might be more to this whole “Priestess Princess” thing then met the eye. It was concerning, but she didn’t know what she should do…
Once she returned to the castle after work, she sat on the sofa in cat form and contemplated some things. On one hand, she wanted revenge against the king and all the others in Nadasha, but on the other, she didn’t want to bring her long-awaited life away from Asahi to a crashing halt. Which is why she’d never been tempted to go anywhere near Nadasha again. She would rather jump off a cliff than have to deal with Asahi and the classmates that had framed her, but she wasn’t heartless enough to ignore them after hearing that they might get themselves involved in a war. She felt obliged to help them out of same-world solidarity.
“Maybe I should head over to Nadasha…” She had no intention of getting truly involved; she simply wanted to pop over and check things out.
“Ooh, me too!” The spirits raised their hands one after another, more raring to go than Ruri herself was, making Ruri’s eyes go wide.
“Huh? You guys want to go with me?” “Of course.”
“I see, thank you.” The spirits’ tone made her think they weren’t going to take no for an answer whatever she said. Ruri had been hesitant about going on her own, but now that she’d gained so many reliable travel partners, a soft smile appeared on her face.
Since she was going far away, she needed to report in. If a Beloved were to just up and disappear, it would obviously cause a gigantic panic. Although, if she told them that she was going to Nadasha, they would probably ask her why, and she couldn’t explain it to them without also telling them that she was human. If she were too vague, it would raise doubts and Jade would probably insist on coming along with her. Even if it wasn’t Jade himself, he might assign someone else to follow her.
If Joshua were still around, then she could have him devise a way to subtly relay the message to Jade, but Joshua was unfortunately far away on business.
She had no alternative but to handle things herself, and, since she couldn’t explain her reason for going, it seemed likely that Jade would try to stop her if she went to see him directly.
Finally, Ruri reverted to her human form once she returned to her room. She took a pen and paper in hand and decided to write a note to leave behind.
The only problem was that Ruri only knew the bare minimum of the language, even with Chelsie teaching her during the long time that she spent in the forest. Living in the forest meant that she didn’t need written language, and Chelsie prioritized teaching Ruri the general rules of the world and how to control her mana. Even when they went out shopping in the city, she’d only needed some basic vocabulary and numbers, so she didn’t have grammar instilled into her.
Although Jade had provided her with teachers and she’d started lessons, they’d only gotten to some basic vocabulary as of yet. However, she believed that she could string together her small vocabulary and get the point across. She wrote her letter, returned to cat form, and gave it to a passer-by in the halls, instructing them to deliver it to Jade.
With that task out of the way, Ruri set off for Nadasha.
◆ ◆ ◆ ◆
Jade scanned the intel amassed by his intelligence operatives and racked his brain. “Ugh… Why is that place so infatuated with war?”
Claus made out these mutterings and responded with a wry smile. “Because they are immovably stuck in their ways. Generation and generation again, their mindset remains the same.”
Jade sighed deeply. He had honestly lost track of how many times Nadasha had tried to wage war against them. Nadasha was free to start whatever they wanted, of course, but it was honestly a waste of time. When the Nation of the Dragon King fought Nadasha, the former came out completely unscathed. After all, no degree of human strength could overcome that of the dragonkin, and a human besting a dragonkin was considered impossible unless they were a Beloved—that was how stark the divide between their abilities was. Conversely, it would serve as exercise for the hot-blooded dragonkin soldiers and keep them from tearing the castle up with all their pent-up energy. At least there was almost a silver lining to this mess.
With a divide so great between the two nations’ powers, the dragonkin one day ruling the world didn’t seem out of the realm of possibility. Dragonkin however, as hot-blooded as they were, possessed docile dispositions that were devoid of any desire for the control or domination of others. While they did have a love of competition and battle, they abhorred pillaging and otherwise harming the innocent because the dragonkin took great pride in being an honorable race.
The entire reason the Nation of the Dragon King was formed was to help protect the slaves who sought help from the dragonkin leader. Monarchies and domination had been of little interest to them from the very beginning.
Jade had become king simply because he was the most powerful of the dragonkin; he never had much attachment to the position of “king.” But as long as he was king, he planned on carrying out his kingly duties to the letter. That was his plan, but when problems occurred he always wanted to run away.
Day by day, the number of refugees from Nadasha increased. If they were simply being pursued by troops, then he could’ve just beat them and be done with it. But the situation was more complicated than that, and they couldn’t just turn away these refugees who so desperately sought his help.
Jade thought about his options for dealing with this situation and couldn’t help but let out a deep sigh.
Seeking healing, he reached over to his lap, but he came to his senses when he felt only air and realized that Ruri was not there. Whenever he grew weary, he would always search for that soft and fluffy white fur. Actually, even disregarding that, lately he found himself always on edge unless Ruri was by his side.
The thought of the elder dragonkin, frantically searching for his “bride,” was deeply conflicting for him.
When he’d told them there was a girl he might be interested in, he’d thought that it would help settle them down. He’d been completely off the mark. No girl he could think of struck Jade as “mate” material at the moment and, more importantly, he valued Ruri more than any of them.
While that stance was fine for the moment, he was going to face real problems going forward —he couldn’t stomach the idea of marriage unless someone with a mana wavelength more compatible with his than Ruri’s appeared. Thinking of the comfort he gained by being with Ruri, he figured that someone showing up like that would be impossible, which worried him a little.
That was when he heard a knock at the door.
“Come in,” Jade curtly responded, signaling for the man outside the door to enter. He handed Jade what appeared to be a memo.
“This is from the Beloved. I was given this and instructed to deliver it to you, Your Majesty.” “From Ruri?”
“Yes, Sire. They seemed to be in somewhat of a hurry and rushed off elsewhere.” With his delivery completed, the man bowed and exited the room.
“What in the world could this be?” Jade was a little annoyed. If Ruri needed to give him something, she should have just delivered it to him herself. Regardless, he opened the piece of paper, which had been folded into fours, read what was written on the page and frowned. He took his eyes off the paper, massaged between his eyebrows and then looked again. No matter how many times he read it, the words remained the same, and after a short pause, he sprung to his feet.
“Your Majesty?” Claus asked, curious as to Jade’s strange and sudden behavior. Jade passed the paper over to Claus, his hand seeming somewhat limp.
“Leave. Home. Chelsie. Go Back… Um, what is this?”
“A letter Ruri sent me.”
“This is quite sloppy penmanship. Well, then again, I shouldn’t be too critical considering it was written by a cat.”
The penmanship wasn’t the problem for Jade—it was what the message said.
“Leave. Home. Leaving… home. Leaving home! She’s leaving!” exclaimed Jade, clearly flustered.
That was certainly one way of reading the message, but Claus interjected, “Please, remain calm, Your Majesty. We do not know that for sure.”
“Y-Yes, you’re right. Have the entire castle searched immediately, top to bottom.” While a full-blown search for one cat might seem ridiculous, the cat in question was a Beloved.
Claus ordered soldiers to conduct a sweep of all regions of the castle, but they were unable to find Ruri. When Claus returned to Jade with that news, he deflated into a despondent slump. Then he straightened suddenly and made as if to walk straight out of the office.
“Please wait, Your Majesty! Wherever are you going?” “I’m going to look for Ruri myself!”
“How do you plan on searching for her if you don’t know where she is, Sire?” Claus had used spirits to search for her as well, but the spirits did nothing but speak some unintelligible nonsense and wouldn’t tell him clearly where Ruri was. The only thing he’d been able to gather from them was that she wasn’t in the castle. They’d reached a complete dead end.
“I’ll wing it.” If Ruri wasn’t in the castle, Jade had no idea where else to look, but he couldn’t just sit around like a lump on a log with Ruri potentially running away.
“What in blazes dissatisfied Ruri enough for her to leave? If something displeased her, she should have just said something to me,” Jade lamented. To him she’d seemed perfectly content just this morning.
“We still do not know for certain that she has left for good. I see that my mother’s name is written here, so perhaps she simply went to go pay her a visit. I shall write a letter to Mother at once. So, please, I implore you to exercise patience.”
“…Tch.” Jade stopped in his tracks, to Claus’ immense relief. He watched Jade settle down in his chair and gave him an awkward smile.
“It is truly quite rare to see you so perturbed, Your Majesty.” Even Claus was taken aback at seeing the usually calm and collected Jade lose his wits so thoroughly.
Jade himself realized this, and felt somewhat embarrassed. “How can you blame me? I can’t stay calm with Ruri gone.”
“You care a great deal for Ruri—more so than I would have imagined,” Claus said, not sure if the return of someone capable of throwing Jade’s heart into such a frenzy would be a good or bad thing.