Chapter 03 – The Witch of the Forest
The structure was two stories tall and made of wood. Despite being right in the middle of a forest that no soul dared trespass upon, this wasn’t some ramshackle handmade shack in the middle of nowhere. The construction was solid and well-crafted as if built by expert carpenters.
Set on the kitchen table, which was on the first floor, was a hot bowl of soup. Ruri quickly took a spoonful, heart filled with gratitude. Upon her first taste of hot food in days, tears unexpectedly welled up in her eyes.
“I’m so happy~”
“Hey, you either cry or you eat, not both. You want some meat to go with that?” “Would I ever!”
Ruri was intoxicated by the juicy meat, its flavor exploding across her tastebuds the second she took a bite. As she enjoyed her meal, she was overjoyed that she’d found someone so kind. Their initial encounter had been quite the shocking affair, but, apparently, the reason the old lady was covered in blood wasn’t because she had just finished committing murder but because she sensed someone’s presence while she was in the middle of gutting a fresh catch out in the shed.
She went to go check what was going on, and stumbled upon Ruri. When the old lady tried to talk to Ruri, she’d passed out right then and there. It was a very confusing situation… However, the old lady had looked after Ruri until she awoke and was now feeding her a hot meal, so Ruri’s gratitude was immeasurable.
Ruri had been so busy fainting that she hadn’t gotten a good look at the lady’s face. Now that she did, she realized how disarmingly normal looking of an old lady she was. That wasn’t to say that she didn’t come off as a tad ill-tempered, but considering she was providing a meal to a completely unexpected stranger, dropped into her lap out of the blue, she couldn’t be so bad.
The thought crossed her mind that she might be one of those fairy tale witches, who pretend to be friendly until they eat you, but the meal in front of her was far more important right now! But still, she checked on the location of the fireplace out of the corner of her eye…
“Seems you’ve been through hell. I’ve never had any love for Nadasha, but now my impression of them is even worse. I dunno what their book of prophecy or whatever says, but they’re fools for abducting you from your own world.”
Ruri’s hands stopped in the middle of eating, and she looked at the old woman in surprise. “Excuse me for asking, but how do you know that? I haven’t mentioned anything about it.”
Ruri hadn’t said anything about where she’d come from, yet the old lady was speaking as if she knew the entire situation in detail. The old lady smiled and turned her sights to the empty ceiling as if to imply something. Ruri looked at the ceiling herself in a similar fashion, but she found nothing there. She cocked her head in confusion.
“They told me the whole story.” She said “they,” but there was no one… on the ceiling—in fact, there was no one else in the room besides Ruri and the old lady. This answer only raised more questions. “From how you’re acting, it seems you can’t see them at all. …Ah, right. Did you hear any odd sounds on your way here?”
“Sounds? …Oh, I did hear bells ringing sometimes, but I just figured that was the hunger playing tricks on me. …But, whenever I would follow it, there was always food and water waiting for me,” she said. The same bell sound she’d heard in the forest rang out once more, as if “they” were confirming their attendance.
“That’s the voice of the spirits, and there are a bunch of them in this room right now.”
Ruri took one more look around the room, but she still saw neither hide nor hair of any “spirits.”
“From what I can see, you seem to possess a considerable amount of mana. Maybe the reason you can’t see them is that you have yet to master it. It doesn’t matter how powerful the tool you have may be, it’s useless unless you know how to operate it.”
So there was something there, she just couldn’t see it. It was like trying to watch a television that wasn’t turned on. Which means, all I would have to do is flip the power switch, huh? Ruri thought to herself. She began creating a mental image like when she lit the fire, concentrating, focusing the idea of power into her eyes.
Then, she felt a sensation come over her—it was like a fog had lifted from her vision. The next moment, she could clearly see bewinged people with very young faces, who were so tiny they could fit in the palm of her hand, in the room. And it wasn’t just one or two of them either. Some floated near the ceiling, some sat atop the table, but there were dozens of tiny people— men and women, dressed in all sorts of different outfits.
“Eeek!” Ruri exclaimed, the shock making her throw herself back in her chair with such force that the chair tipped over and she tumbled to the floor. The spirits all gathered around her in concern.
“Are you okay?”
“Are you hurt?”
“I’m fine… Wait, huh? I can understand what you’re saying.”
“Well, I’ll be. So you can see them already, eh? Guess you’re just a really quick learner… You’re emitting a wavelength of mana that spirits are fond of. The reason you can hear their voices is because you’re now able to recognize the spirits’ presences.”
“Before I explain that, you explain who this ‘Asahi’ girl is. These little ones were being too vague and abstract, so I don’t have the full story.”
Despite being directly asked to do so, giving a detailed account of her troubles to a person she’d literally just met was making Ruri feel awkward. She couldn’t say for certain whether this person was on her side. She would be fine if she were kicked out for being a nuisance after talking, but if she were to send her back to Nadasha she would be dead meat.
“I’m sorry, but I’m a little wary of telling my private business to a suspicious person I’ve only just met…” Ruri said, prompting the old woman to pick up the piece of meat that Ruri had only taken a single bite of.
“Oh? Then you don’t need the food that this suspicious person you’ve only just met cooked, I take it.”
“Woah! No, I do! I really do! I’ll tell you anything!”
Implementing starvation tactics was a lowdown yet shrewd move. In her current state, Ruri couldn’t bear taking in the delicious aroma of the meal set before her without being able to take in the meal itself.
As she ate the chop of meat now returned to her, she detailed her account of what had happened after she was summoned to this world. Over the course of the telling, her passion started to gradually swell, and almost as if she were never reluctant to speak in the first place, she went into great detail—especially when it came to Asahi. She complained her heart out, breaking out into tears, with all the resentment she’d held onto ever since she was a child. She almost sounded like a drunk dad ranting and sobbing about his family and society.
After she’d finished her entire story, Ruri’s face looked absolutely miserable, but her spirit felt refreshed. Ruri had been surrounded by Asahi’s followers for much of her life. Her parents were not included in those ranks, but they had been overseas for nearly a year, so she didn’t have any real place to vent her frustrations. Nevertheless, making someone listen to all that was inconsiderate.
“You’ve gone through hell, haven’t you, child?”
“Do you mean you understand?! Everyone is always on Asahi’s side and are really hostile toward me, and when I try to get away from her, she just sticks to me like a limpet! She’d probably even follow me after I get married; you have no idea how much I’ve feared that!” Ruri said, still willing to vent more, but the old lady’d had her fill and stopped her there.
“Yes, yes. I understand. You’ve told me enough. But I can certainly see where this ‘Asahi’ girl is coming from.”
“In what way?”
“You have an extremely comforting wavelength.”
“You mentioned this ‘wavelength’ earlier.”
“That I did. Anyone who retains mana in them possesses a wavelength. Simply put, it’s the quality of your mana. In this world, that wavelength is far more important than how much mana you possess. This sort of magic, the one to employ the help of spirits in exchange for mana, is commonly used, but the type of spirit you can employ depends on whether they’re compatible with your wavelength. If they like your wavelength, then they’ll work to aid you. If not, they won’t even come near you. You have a host of spirits of all types around you right now. That means you have a wavelength of incredible quality which many different spirits are fond of.”
“So, basically, Asahi doesn’t leave me alone because she likes my wavelength?”
“Rarely do you ever see this many types of spirits scrambling to enlist their services. And I assume that this Asahi girl has felt extremely comfortable by your side as well.”
Ruri now understood the reason behind Asahi’s stalker-grade persistence, but that didn’t make her any less of a thorn in her side. If it was an innate quality, then that meant that you couldn’t change it through force of will. No matter what she did, Asahi would never leave her alone. After all, it didn’t matter how negatively Ruri behaved toward her. Ruri’s personality and attitude wasn’t what Asahi was attracted to, it was her mana. These depressing thoughts were written plainly on her face, her expression turning bitter.
“Oh, but, wait. Since these are wavelengths of mana, Asahi shouldn’t be able to sense them unless she has mana herself, right?” Ruri asked, voicing the suspicion that had suddenly popped into her mind.
The old lady’s expression took a stern turn. “This is just my hunch, but don’t you think this girl has been using magic?”
“Magic? …No, not at all. In fact, in the world we come from, magic only exists in fiction.” Also, when they were shown magic after coming to this world, Asahi was the most surprised out of any of them. Ruri knew Asahi well, albeit unwillingly, so from her perspective, it was hard to think she was putting up an act.
“You say that, but the way people react around Asahi sounds very similar. Similar to a magic known as ‘Bewitch,’ that is.”
“It’s a magic that manipulates people by making them unconditionally attracted to you.” “Then why am I not affected?”
“You not only have mana of fine quality, but of ample supply. It doesn’t work on people with mana greater than the caster.”
Bewitching magic… Ruri was shocked to hear of such a thing existing, but, now that she was entertaining the possibility, it would explain the actions of the many people who acted like Asahi’s slaves, blindly following her in everything. Nevertheless, Ruri couldn’t believe that it
was something Asahi was doing knowingly. She had done so many different things in order to give Asahi the slip, and seeing as how Asahi never stopped involving herself in Ruri’s life, even when it caused everyone to treat Ruri with disdain, Ruri couldn’t deny the thought that Asahi might have been secretly overjoyed at her mistreatment all this time. She tried trailing her to unmask her true motives, hired a detective and even ran a background check on her, but all she found out was that Asahi was a simple—ton… a ton of happy-go-lucky optimism bundled into one person.
Having gotten her own way in everything since childhood, the consideration for others that most people learn through social interaction—the part of you that gauges the feelings of others— was completely missing from Asahi. Be that as it may, Ruri didn’t get the impression that she was trying to hurt people maliciously. Though there were many cases of Asahi’s inability to take hints causing pain for others, but, well… kids would be kids; they act out of instinct.
“I can’t imagine Asahi controlling them on purpose.”
“…I see. Coming from you, who’s spent so much time with her, that might very well be true. It could be that she’s been using magic unconsciously.”
“Is that possible? If she has that kind of power, that must mean beyond a shadow of doubt that Asahi is the Priestess Princess, right?”
“Who knows. I sure don’t. But in terms of power, with all these spirits favoring you, I’d say you’re far more powerful than her and her Bewitch magic. Plus, in terms of possessing ‘rare colors,’ you also fit the bill.”
Ruri placed her hand on her head and realized that she had lost her brown wig somewhere along the way. “If they were to find out that Asahi’s hair and eye color are fake, then they would probably come chasing after me…”
“Not exactly. While your platinum hair and deep blue eyes are rare, having the same hair and eye color is also considered rare here. You can’t definitely say that she’s not the real thing.”
“I see. That goes for the classmate girl as well, then.”
“That it does. Still, no one will know for sure until they bring the prosperity foretold.”
Ruri racked her brain as to what she was going to do if they came chasing after her. The old woman pulled a piece of paper from a drawer and started to write something down on it. Once she finished, she walked over to a square box filled with water and submerged the paper, which then quickly disappeared without a trace as if dissolving into the water.
“What is that, if you don’t mind?”
“I’m sending a letter with this. If you write a letter and dissolve it in this box, the letter gets delivered to the recipient’s box.”
“Oh wow. That’s neat.” She didn’t know how the infrastructure of that device worked, but it certainly served as a reminder that this was not Earth.
“Who did you send it to?”
“To my grandson, who serves in the Dragon King’s castle. I’m requesting that he investigate this Asahi girl and the contents of that book of prophecies. If she’s doing it on purpose, then Nadasha is being manipulated, which could cause harm to the Nation of the Dragon King as well. If she’s doing it unconsciously, she will need to be taught how to control her mana to avoid disaster.”
The mention of the “Nation of the Dragon King” made all thoughts of Asahi fly out the window. “Wait, you’re from the other country, Granny?!”
“Who are you callin’ ‘Granny’?!”
“Then what name should I call you? By the way, my name is Ruri.”
The old woman hesitated for a little and then murmured, barely above a whisper, “…Chelsie.”
“…Pft,” Ruri snorted. She tried desperately to hold it in but couldn’t contain her laughter. This ill-tempered witch-like old lady straight out of the fairy tales was named “Chelsie.” It was a name that didn’t match her face at all. “Aww, that’s so cute! Ahahaha!”
“And that’s why I didn’t want to tell you. Dammit, quit your laughing or you’re not getting another bite to eat out of me!”
“Eep! I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I, for one, think it is an adorable name that suits you perfectly… Pft, hee hee…”
“If that’s the line you’re gonna feed me, at least contain your laughing fit first! Your shoulders and voice are still shaking, for crying out loud!”
Ruri waited for her laughter to subside and asked about the “Nation of the Dragon King” that Chelsie had mentioned.
“The Nation of the Dragon King is the country neighboring Nadasha, and it’s my birthplace. This forest lies right in the middle. As its name would suggest, it’s a country ruled by the Dragon King. One of the largest countries on the continent, in fact.”
“The Dragon King?”
“The ruler of the dragonkin. Do you know of the dragonkin?” Ruri shook her head in response.
“It’s a race that possesses two forms—one dragon and one human. There are plenty of other races—catkin, dogkin—though there are some within those races who only have one form, like humans. However, unlike humans, they have beastly elements to their appearances. They are sometimes called ‘beast-men,’ but the more polite term is ‘demi-humans.’ There are many humans who discriminate against demi-humans, and Nadasha is home to many of them. In contrast, in the Nation of the Dragon King, under the current Dragon King’s rule, humans and demi-humans live free of discrimination.”
“Oh wow…” If Ruri retained anything from that it was that the Nation of the Dragon King seemed to be a much more scrupulous place than Nadasha. However, what Ruri really wanted to ask wasn’t about dragonkin or demi-humans—it was about a way back home. “So do you think someone from there would know a way for me to get back to my world?!” Ruri asked, gulping in anticipation as she awaited Chelsie’s response. If there were that many races around, then someone—anyone—had to have an answer.
Chelsie then reluctantly opened her mouth, clearly knowing she was about to crush Ruri’s hopes. “Unfortunately, there is no way for you to return home.”
“Maybe you just don’t know and if I go to the Nation of the Dragon King, there will be someone who does and…” Ruri desperately tried to make an argument for her case, but Chelsie shook her head.
“While not quite the same as you, since you were brought here against your will, people do occasionally end up here from your world. But not a single one of them has ever returned home.”
“Long ago, there was a drop-in who had held on to memories of their own world. She said
this: ‘Dropping in is the easy part, but in order to climb out, you need to cast aside your form.’”
“What is that supposed to mean…?”
“This will be hard to hear, but unless you die in this world, you won’t return to that world.”
Ruri was dumbfounded. Her thoughts were frozen, as if her mind had stopped working altogether. She had survived in the forest this whole time with the slight hope that she might be able to return home. Now that hope was shattered and everything looked bleak. What was she supposed to do going forward? How was she supposed to live in this crazy alternate world without a single acquaintance to rely on…? As she descended into despair, what came slowly welling up to the surface wasn’t tears—it was rage.
(I get abducted into this alternate world, arrested on false charges, chased by a giant wild animal in the middle of this forest and have to fight tooth and nail for survival. Why the hell is all this happening to me?!)
The root of all her problems was obvious. It was the girl who thought the world revolved around her, oblivious to the trouble she caused Ruri; the Prince and classmates who threw her out into this unfamiliar world without anything but the clothes on her back; and the King and Priests who abducted her in the first place.
(I simply will not take this lying down! If I can’t go back home, then I at least want to relieve all this stress and get compensated for my trouble!) Once she came to this conclusion, Ruri acted decisively. She kneeled in front of Chelsie and bowed her head.
“I realize that I am putting you out, but cleaning, laundry, cooking—I will do anything! So please, would you let me stay here and teach me the magic and rules of this world?”
Even if revenge was her only goal, learning the rules of this world would be essential, and seeing as how she had natural magical make-up good enough to attract spirits, she would be crazy not to capitalize on that.
“I wouldn’t mind,” Chelsie replied, her eyes widening for a moment, but she agreed in a matter of seconds.
It caught Ruri by surprise. “Huh? Are you sure it would be okay? I know me saying this is odd, but I think you should be a little bit more wary about who you let into your home…”
“I’ve been in this big house all by myself for long enough. Having a housemate would liven things up around here. Besides, I’m not inclined to be wary of someone who’s charmed all these spirits like you have. If I kick you out, then these little ones will probably stop lending me their powers.”
There were indeed a ton of spirits there. Ruri felt extremely grateful that out of all the people she could have run into, she ran into Chelsie.
“Chelsie-san, you are such a good person. Despite your ill-tempered old lady face…” “On second thought, out you go.”
And so, Ruri began living with the witch and spirits she met in the forest.