Chapter 02 – The Exile
After being summoned, they were given relatively good treatment due to being friends of the Priestess Princess. Asahi, the proclaimed Priestess Princess, was living a lavish lifestyle just as the King had promised. She had spacious quarters, a personal maid, and a bevy of beautiful dresses and jewels; anything else she wanted, she was given. Ruri was being treated radically differently, but since Ruri was provided with meals every day along with quarters of her own and other bare necessities, she never felt envious of what Asahi had.
After all, the differences in the way the two girls were treated hadn’t yet begun in earnest. In a turn of predictable events, Asahi had begun to amass followers even here, in another world.
It was most likely spurred on by her being lauded as the Priestess Princess—the one who would bring prosperity to the land. Ruri had personally held on to the small hope that since they were in a different world, there would be someone with enough mental fortitude not to be taken in by Asahi’s wiles, but those hopes were swiftly and ruthlessly shattered.
Faced with this situation, Ruri figured that she should quickly learn this world’s common knowledge and culture then get out of the castle and start life on her own. To this end she spent every day learning the country’s written language. She had hoped that since the spoken language was the same as her own she would be able to read it as well, but no such luck; this world proved to be a much harsher mistress than that.
Also, unfortunately, even after coming to this world so different from their own, Asahi still stuck to Ruri like glue. Whenever Ruri was studying, Asahi would always come in to disturb her, almost like clockwork.
“Boy, there you go studying again, Ruri-chan~ You don’t have to waste your time studying with us here in this different world, y’know. C’mon, let’s have some fun.”
“I’m doing it because I need to.”
(I’m studying exactly because I’m in a different world. You should be hitting the books more yourself. Also, not sure if it’s because he’s been corrupted by you, but for a “prince,” this guy sure doesn’t have any damn patience!)
Behind Asahi was the Prince, glaring at Ruri in detest like Asahi’s followers would in the past, along with the four classmates that were summoned to this world along with her.
It seemed that the Prince had been corrupted as well, and with Asahi coming to see Ruri time and time again, he found Ruri’s presence loathsome. She had earned the ire of a prince who held an immense amount of authority in this land. While she was able to grin and bear the small bits of harassment, she was secretly terrified of it evolving into a bigger incident. Then again, it wasn’t as if she would ever let those fears show on her face.
“Hahah, Princess Priestess and Lady Ruri, you two have quite the amicable relationship.” “Of course, we’ve been best friends since childhood!”
(We have not, dammit.)
Ruri mentally screamed that same interjection for the umpteenth time. It didn’t help that seeing the Prince glare daggers at her while Asahi was oblivious to it all made Ruri want to roll her eyes, but she resisted the impulse.
Eventually, something did happen: Ruri’s worst fear came true.
Upon waking in the morning, she put on her long-sleeved dress and boots which she had been wearing since coming to this world.
They had prepared clothing for them to wear, but the cluttered mess of ornate patterns and designs on the clothes here was too much for Ruri, and she didn’t feel herself wearing them. Though, Asahi and the female classmate gladly decked themselves out in the stuff.
Just as she had finished tidying herself up and decided to make her way down to the dining hall for breakfast, without any warning, her door burst open and a wave of soldiers came flooding into her room.
“What’s going on?!”
Ruri was frozen in utter shock, but the soldiers paid that no mind as they wrenched her arms behind her and bound her hands with rope, dragging her off to the King’s throne room. She tried to wriggle in resistance against the extremely tight bindings, but they suddenly pushed hard on her head and made her kneel, causing pain to shoot into her tied hands.
In the room was the King, the Prince, her former classmates, and a boatload of soldiers, but Asahi was nowhere to be seen.
Not only were the soldiers glaring at Ruri like she’d killed all of their parents, but the Prince’s warped smile, along with the expressions on her former classmates’ faces, was filling her with a terrible sense of foreboding.
“We have only been sheltering and providing for you as a favor to the Priestess Princess, yet you attempt to murder her? How dare you, you knave!”
“Huh?! I did no such thin—urk.” Ruri started, objecting as soon as she heard the wild accusations that the Prince was throwing at her, but the soldier standing behind her kicked her, effectively cutting her off.
(Ouch! What the hell is he talking about? Me? Try to kill Asahi?! I would never do something like that!)
“We have a witness,” he proclaimed. As he did, out stepped the female former classmate.
“There is no doubt about it. She was jealous of Asahi-san getting treated better than her and said, ‘I’m going to kill her.’ She asked me to help her do the deed!” The girl looked at Ruri for a split second and gave her a twisted smile, which was all Ruri needed for understanding to dawn.
(Aah, now I get it. So she’s working with the Prince to get rid of his perceived nuisance—i.e. me.) Ruri was awfully clear-headed despite being in such a dangerous situation.
“A crime of this magnitude, plotting to assassinate the Priestess Princess, calls for a punishment of equal magnitude. I suggest we exile her to the Hidden Woods. What say you, Your Majesty?” “So be it.”
Once the words Hidden Woods left the Prince’s mouth, a chorus of gasps rose from the soldiers, cementing its status as a dangerous place. The thought of that instantly filled Ruri with anxiety.
Ruri started to speak, not necessarily because she thought arguing would be successful but because they were finally allowing her to.
“…Does Asahi know of this? She would never believe that I would threaten her life, and even if it were true, she would probably ask you to spare me,” she said, pain from her bound arms and the spot where the soldier kicked her a minute ago radiating through her body. Her classmates all winced in discomfort, but held their tongues.
That was practically admitting they agreed with what Ruri had said.
The Prince answered her instead. “We wouldn’t dare tarnish the fair Priestess Princess’ ears with news of a friend making an attempt on her life. We will tell her that you couldn’t take being in the castle any longer and ran away.”
“Well and good if she were to buy that, but…” She would most definitely not buy that story.
He most likely just didn’t want Asahi butting in so he could be sure to get Ruri out of the picture, but from Ruri’s perspective, she was trying to tell him that he didn’t have a clue about how Asahi worked. Asahi’s attachment to her was about as persistent and clingy as birdlime. It wasn’t unreasonable to say that if Ruri ran away, then Asahi wouldn’t be too far behind.
(Here I am, in another fine mess because of Asahi. For crying out loud, keep a rein on your followers already!)
Despite always bringing messes to Ruri’s doorstep, Asahi never realized—or never wanted to realize—how much Ruri had suffered because of her. While Ruri had a host of complaints, she wasn’t going to fight any longer. No matter how much she insisted that she was innocent, her adversary here was the Prince of this country. He could forge a crime or assassinate whomever he wanted, so there was no point in trying to argue with him. Thinking of that, well, she didn’t know what kind of place this “Hidden Woods” was, but it gave her more hope than being killed right here and now would.
Once they bound her legs in addition to her hands, they chucked her into the back of a carriage like a piece of luggage. While she demanded the bag she had with her when she came to this world, her pleas landed on deaf ears, making her click her tongue in disgust—on the inside.
The back of the carriage had its windows sealed off to prevent escape. She had dreamed about leaving the castle and getting away from Asahi, but she’d never thought that this would be the way she’d be doing it.
She fell asleep now and then on the hard wooden carriage floor, so she had no idea how long they had been on the road, but the rattling and rocking from the carriage grew worse and worse.
Shortly thereafter the carriage came to an abrupt halt and she was rather unceremoniously unloaded.
“Hey, you’re hurting me!”
“Shut up, wench. If you blame anything for your pain, let it be your own foolishness.” “Come on, we have to move fast.”
“Yeah, if we don’t get out of here pronto, things aren’t going to be pretty for us, either.” The soldiers vacated in the blink of an eye, leaving some unsettling words in their wake. “At least untie these ropes!” Ruri demanded, her limbs still bound.
The tightly constricting ropes weren’t going to loosen just by moving her hands around. She even tried to twist her wrists to slip free, but the hemp rope simply rubbed against her skin painfully and to no avail. She looked around her to see if she could find anything that could possibly cut her bindings. She thought that a sharp rock might do the job, but there were none within reach.
Just when she figured that she would be forced to crawl on her belly to search, she realized that there was no longer a tight grip around her wrists and ankles. When she looked at her ankles she saw the once tightly wound ropes slip right off. She tested her wrist bindings to find that they too had unraveled.
The knot hadn’t come undone. Ruri looked at the cross sections, where the ropes had been cut by something sharp, in bewilderment. The faint notes of a bell ringing sounded, but Ruri didn’t notice.
“Well, I’m not sure how this happened, but I’m glad either way,” she said, standing up and looking around her while rubbing her now free wrists.
She was in a dense forest, surrounded on all sides by tall trees. Ruri hadn’t studied quite enough about this world yet, so she had absolutely no clue where she currently was. Without food or water, her situation was rather dire. It wouldn’t be odd if she were to die at any moment. However… she had one goal clear in her mind.
“Mark my words, I’m going to get out of here and get my revenge on all of them. What have I ever done wrong? Asahi befriending me has never been a source of joy in my life, ever, so why do I have to pay for it over and over?”
In fact, she was more than glad to be away from her, and if they really wanted the moniker of Asahi’s “best friend,” then she would have tied it off with a ribbon and presented it on a silver platter for them.
That being said, despite her mind being set on vengeance, she didn’t have any semblance of a plan hashed out. Escaping this forest alive was her first priority. Ruri remembered the world map that she had consulted as soon as she came to this world, albeit vaguely.
“There should be a big nation neighboring Nadasha, if I recall correctly…” she trailed off, recalling that there was a nation much larger than Nadasha set to the northeast.
According to what she’d been told, not only was the neighboring nation heavily populated with beings commonly referred to as “demi-humans,” but the Kingdom of Nadasha held an ingrained dislike toward said demi-humans and the country they inhabited.
“If it’s a nation that the people in that nation dislike, then it might be a decent place, all things considered.”
However, she was never going to figure out which direction to head in unless she first determined her current location, and it would be getting dark soon.
In the meantime, she needed to secure the two things necessary for survival—water and shelter. She perked up her ears and concentrated, listening for the sound of a river, but all she heard was the sound of rustling leaves. As she stood there, pondering what she should do next, her ears picked up the sound of a bell ringing from seemingly out of nowhere.
The sound began to fade into the distance, but Ruri was already running toward the direction it had come from, holding out hope that someone would be there when she arrived. She ran so far that she lost track of how much time passed as she desperately chased after the phantom sound.
Finally, breathing erratic and unable to move herself any farther, she crumpled to the ground.
As Ruri’s surroundings were encroached on by darkness and made only a little visible thanks to the huge moon up above, the regret of being hasty in her decision-making started to set in.
However, that was when she heard the sound of running water nearby. Once she mustered up all the energy she could to move toward the sound’s source, she stumbled upon a small stream of running water, the sight of which filled her with both joy and relief.
“…I wonder if it’s safe to drink. Unghh, well, it’s better than standing here, withering away.”
Unable to withstand her thirst, she scooped up the water, fully prepared to ruin her stomach, and gulped it down.
In her desperation, Ruri let the fact that the bell ringing had stopped slip her by. With her thirst quenched and a small amount of her composure regained, Ruri’s next order of business was securing a place to sleep. She gathered some dry-feeling leaves and spread them across the ground to construct a makeshift bed. However, looking at how pitch black it was, some useless fears started to rear their ugly heads.
Since this was a forest, it had to possess wildlife. While she might have stood a chance against a smaller animal, she would have no means of defending herself against an assault from a larger beast. And even if she wanted to start a fire, she had no tools to accomplish that.
“These are the times that I wish I could use magic,” she said, remembering the magic the Priest had shown to convince them of their summoning to this world. What Ruri needed most right now was the magic to produce the same fire and water that he’d shown them. Ruri closed her eyes, pictured fire in her mind, and grunted in fashion similar to the Priest.
There was no way that she was capable of that feat. They said you needed special training and qualifications in order to learn magic, which is why the Priests who used magic in Nadasha were of high status. If she could so easily do it herself, then Earth would already be filled with sorcerers.
Ruri was ashamed to even humor the thought that she stood even a chance of pulling that off. With that thought heavy in her mind, she opened her eyes only to find—a red hot flame roaring on the ground before her.
Ruri couldn’t believe her eyes. As she stood there in disbelief, the fire soon started to die, so she rushed to scrape together some dried leaves to keep the flame up. She breathed a sigh of relief now that she’d secured fire for herself, but she wondered over the mystery flame.
“…Nah, it can’t be,” she said to herself, positive that she was incapable of using magic. However, when she held a tree branch in her hand and imagined fire once again, a small candle wick’s worth of fire lit the end of the scrap of wood.
“Hahahah… Oh yeah, I’m definitely dreaming. When I go to sleep and wake up, I’ll be back in my bed,” Ruri said to herself, laying her weary body down in an attempt to escape from reality. She fell into a deep slumber not long after.
Night turned into day, and while her back and shoulders were killing her, she found herself wide awake. Amazed by her own audacity at being able to fall fast asleep despite her entire situation, she sat up and noticed she was in the same forest as before—a fact that made her despondent as she accepted that everything wasn’t a dream.
◆ ◆ ◆ ◆
Meanwhile, back in Nadasha, the Prince and former classmates of Ruri all celebrated their successful exile of Ruri from the nation.
“I thank you all for your cooperation.”
“It was my pleasure,” the female classmate replied, bowing with her hand to her chest.
Despite originally being a student in her late teens who didn’t know proper royal etiquette, she’d picked up the bare minimum in terms of courtesy and tradition from living in this world. She was told that otherwise she could suffer the consequences, unlike Asahi who was an exception, being Priestess Princess, so she was careful in how she conducted herself.
“I say, that girl was an eyesore, regardless of whether she was a childhood friend or not. Oh well, she is probably resting soundly in the belly of some sort of beast by now. I shall make haste and inform the Priestess Princess that her friend has run away. And I shall help console her in her hour of need,” the Prince said, chuckling in an extremely pleased and devious manner as he walked off.
“So hey, did we really do the right thing?” whispered one of the male classmates in a nervous tone.
“What are you freaking out over? You said that girl was a nuisance, too, didn’t you?” said the lone girl angrily—she who’d joined in on slandering Ruri as she was being subdued by the soldiers, all the while keeping up appearances as an innocent party.
“That’s not what I meant. I’m just saying that killing her is going a bit overboard, you know?”
“We didn’t kill her. We just dumped her in the forest; that’s all.”
“But that’s the same thing as killing her, isn’t it? I mean, you heard what the Prince said, right? That she’s in the belly of a beast or something? We helped make that happen, knowing that she’d go someplace really dangerous, so isn’t that basically the same thing…?”
A short silence descended upon them.
“And why do we even hate her so much anyway?”
Posed with this question, they found themselves speechless. They tried to divine a clear answer from their hazy and vague thoughts, but they weren’t able to pin down anything. They affirmed their actions to get rid of that sense of confusion.
“Quit being so incessant! She was different from us, so we had to get rid of her. This is for Asahi-san’s benefit, too!”
“Yeah… you’re right. She’s… different from us.” “R-Right.”
Doubts started to ripple among the four, but they weren’t able to develop beyond simple doubts.
◆ ◆ ◆ ◆
It had already been five days since Ruri had been tossed into this forest, and she had somehow managed to survive. Not only had she been able to use fire magic, but Ruri’s grandfather was a former soldier and a survival nut who would bring her to the forest and mountains from a young age. He had been very strict in drilling in all sorts of survival techniques necessary for life out in the wild.
She believed it had helped her gain a greater mental fortitude.
“Disaster can strike at any time, so never slack and always be ready so you can survive!” was what her grandfather loved to say. but she would lash out at him in secret, thinking, “We live in Japan, the most peaceful country around; there’s no way something like that could happen, you survival-obsessed, old coot!” But now, she wanted to sincerely apologize to him for that mental outburst. After all, one never knew what life might throw one’s way. “…Well, that’s if I can manage to make it back home, of course.”
Although she didn’t honestly believe there was a way she could make it back to her world, the small sliver of hope that the other nation might have some way to make it happen was keeping Ruri afloat.
Just then, she heard the sound of a bell ringing again.
It was the same bell she had been hearing on and off since the first day. Whenever she walked toward the source of that ringing, she would always discover water and food, such as nuts and berries. It seemed as though someone must be watching her, which was a creepy thought at first, but it was thanks to this mysterious benefactor that she avoided starving to death.
Although it was perhaps expecting too much, she also wished they would provide her with a change of clothes and some savory seasonings… Passionately so.
Since she’d heard the bell, she looked around to check for any food lying around, but something was off this time around.
The sound was intense.
It was so intense and felt so close, in fact, that it was almost like it was trying to tell her something. The volume was so loud that she was about ready to scream, “Shut up!” at the top of her lungs, but the sound of grass rustling echoed out from behind her.
Innocently she turned around, to find a mysterious animal that was a cross between a wild boar, a bear, and a scorpion and that stood at about three meters high. Breathing heavily out of its snout, clearly agitated, the animal set its sights on Ruri and let out a bizarre cry, “Boo-hyaaah!” and headed straight for Ruri.
“Eeeeek! Wait, what? What?!”
The never-before-seen raging beast came charging at her, but Ruri turned tail, let out a shriek and ran for it at top speed.
She dashed through the trackless paths in the dense, dense forest of green trees. “Oh God, I’m going to die. I’m definitely gonna dieee!”
Focused on running, and not on the branches and tall grasses whipping at her and nicking her body, Ruri eventually timidly checked over her shoulder but, much to her dismay, saw the mystery animal still charging after her.
Tensing her face, she again faced in the direction she was going and sped up her sprint with desperation written all over her face. She cut through and weaved between the trees in an attempt to gain some distance, but the fierce beast trampled over every obstacle that stood in its way, traveling in a straight line toward Ruri and Ruri alone.
“Right now, I’m pretty sure I could set a new world record in track and field! …Hah, hah. God, you’re persistent. I taste terrible, you know!”
Ruri was running for dear life, but the branches were both hurting her and getting in her way, causing her fatigue to mount.
She was done for…
Just as that thought ran through her mind, she felt a sense of dissonance, as if she were passing through a thin layer of film, which so caught her by surprise that she tumbled to the ground.
She scrambled to her feet in dread and turned around to face her certain demise, but what she found was the fierce beast who was supposed to be charging after her, standing within a stone’s throw of her and checking its surroundings with a completely dumbfounded expression on its face.
And almost as if its persistent chase had never happened, it ignored Ruri and walked off elsewhere.
“…I’m saved… But what was any of that?” Ruri said to herself, taking a deep sigh of relief and scanning the area. That was when Ruri’s eyes widened in surprise.
“…A house? But how? That wasn’t here a second ago…”
A huge house had just sprung up in the middle of this completely virgin forest.
It didn’t matter that she’d been running for dear life, there was no possible way that she wouldn’t have noticed a house of this size. Confused, she approached the house and saw that there was smoke billowing from the chimney.
“Someone’s inside…” She had finally found a real live person since being abandoned in this forest. The memory of being chased by a fierce beast moments ago faded into an afterthought as a smile of relief drew itself across her face.
“Please let this be a nice person!” Ruri’s mind was filled with thoughts of a bath, a change of clothes and a hot meal. She clasped her hands together and prayed that this individual would bless her with all these things as she dragged her exhausted body closer to the house.
“Hey, you, girl. Where did you come from?” said a voice out of nowhere, making Ruri’s shoulders jolt in shock. She turned to the source of the voice. There stood an old woman dripping with blood from head to toe, as if she’d showered in it, holding a kitchen knife in one hand.
“Gyaaaaah! A killer haaaaag!” “Who you calling a hag?!”
Faster than she could argue that age wasn’t the concerning factor here, the fatigue from her game of chase with that monster earlier, combined with the shock of witnessing this gruesome sight, caused Ruri’s vision to fade and her to black out.