Section 7: Smiling Through the Walls
Walking in through the store-side entrance, I found Sarah talking with a customer.
“Oh, you’re back Iris.”
The customer turned around showing a jovial old man whose face was covered in deep wrinkles after a lifetime of smiling and laughter.
“Huh, Grandpa? What’s wrong?”
It was Ferdinand-san, the Calvafon bookstore’s neighbor and the magician ojii-chan who taught me what little I know about magic.
He put in an order for a new book the day before yesterday, but it hasn’t arrived yet. Grandpa should know that, so did he need to order something else and forgot about it until now?
“Welcome home Onee-chan. Grandpa and I were just talking about you.”
“I came over to order another book, but Sarah kept badgering me to talk with her some more.”
“Because I had loads of free time. And I didn’t have Onee-chan to keep me company. Oh, Saluena-sama, welcome back.”
Seeing Saluena come in after me, Sarah jumped out of her chair and quickly bowed.
“I’m back. It’s amazing how you can tend the shop on your own like this.”
“Thanks. Whenever Mom and Onee-chan are busy, it falls on me to pick up the slack.”
“Hoh, how admirable. But that reminds me, I never asked what your father does during the day. I only ever see him during the early mornings and at night.”
Saluena asked while quietly throwing some extra firewood into the stove in the middle of the shop.
“Did we never tell you? Dad is a scholar. He’s writing his next book right now.”
“Hoh, a scholar? So Iris inherited being a book lover from him?”
“Well, who knows? Dad married into the family, so maybe I got my book loving blood from Mom.”
The Calvafon bookstore is mainly manged by Mom. Dad will end up compiling all the research he’s done over the winter, and we’ll end up selling his book out of the shop.
With that being said, there are quite a few people who look forward to his books, and we get a surge of letters from all over the world every year during this time of the year. Grandpa here is one such person.
“So what kind of research does he do?”
“Medicinal herbs. The medicine I’m taking right now is something Flammel prepared for me.”
“Dad is amazing!!’
Sarah stuck out her chest with a *harumph*. But thinking for a bit, I wasn’t looking at her…..instead keeping my eye on Grandpa.
“Grandpa, I’m researching spirits right now…….”
“……hoh, spirits you say. How strange to hear that word coming from you. Are you interested in learning magic again?”
Grandpa’s face cracked into a large smile, one hand stroking his long, thin beard.
“Well, sorry. I’m not. The adventurers who escorted me home are currently working out of this city……”
It feels weird keeping a secret from Grandpa and Sarah, but I decided to avoid telling them both about what I was doing in the church. I instead focused only about what happened in the guild–about the investigation into the mysterious moaning and how we currently suspect there might be a powerful spirit nearby.
“I see…..that is certainly strange indeed.”
“Yes, because it goes against an ent’s very nature to gather together in a single spot like what you’ve described.”
Grandpa stuck out one finger as he spoke. Then, a small ball of flames materialized at his fingertip.
“Wow, amazing Grandpa!”
“Fuahaha, most people would yell at me for starting an open fire while inside. So right now I have to say Sarah is the amazing one.”
*Flit* *Flit*, Grandpa slowly raised each one of his fingers, another fireball flitting into existence at the tip of each one.
“So I’ve started a fire. Do you know how?”
“The elder is a mage, so you used magic to do it.”
“Then let’s shift the question. Why can a mage start a fire like this?”
Saluena shut her mouth. Mages can use magic. A person is called a mage because they can use magic. But if an ordinary person was asked why a mage can use magic, how were they supposed to answer that?
“I see. So it’s the same principle?”
“So you understand it Iris? Then please share with the class.”
“Grandpa is making use of the spirits in this room. Spirits are big bundles of magic power all grouped together, like a crystal. So if Grandpa’s magic power is high enough, the spirits should naturally follow you as well.”
“You remember your lessons well Iris. Spot on.”
Grandpa nodded his head in satisfaction before throwing another piece of wood into the stove. The flames devoured the wood, jumping up in intensity and lighting up the room as bright as day.
“……in other words, the elder’s nature is no different from a strong spirit?”
“Fuahaha, I suppose you could say that. Mages use the magic power circulating in our bodies to attract spirits, and we influence those spirits into using their power to best suit our needs.”
“Do you have any clues about the spirit that might be in charge of the ents Grandpa? I’d also like to ask if you know about anything similar to this happening to the town in the past.”
“Let’s see……. As a mage, I was never an elementalist who specialized in using powerful spirits. And without sensing its existence, I can’t tell what kind of spirit it is…….”
Grandpa started his explanation, and the wrinkles between his eyebrows only deepened as he continued on.
“Thinking about it normally, I would take a guess at it being a wind, earth, or tree spirit. Wind blows through these mountains endlessly, and the mountains themselves are chock full of minerals. Meanwhile the leaves around here grow thick and green even during the winter. Look at it that way, and we have the possibility for our culprit to be one of three powerful spirits. But like I said, that’s if you think about it normally……. What I mean is, there’s nothing to say that it might not be a different spirit entirely.”
A sylph, the spirit of the wind. A gnome, the spirit of earth. Or a dryad, the spirit of trees. In this case, I guess the most likely answer would be a dryad?
“Okay, I understand. I’ll be sure to keep my mind open to any other possibilities as well.”
“Mm, good. This world is filled with the mysterious. Remember that even what you think you see with your eyes could just be an illusion for something else entirely.”
Grandpa has been telling me those same words ever since I was little. They’re like a habit of his. But with the knowledge on magic he passed down to me included as well, and it turns out I’ve learned quite a bit from this ojii-chan. When I confronted the dragon, it was all thanks to Grandpa’s teachings that I was able to understand the grimoire’s nature.
“And the question you’re probably most curious about…….I moved to this city twenty years ago, and not once have I ever heard about an incident like this. Not even so much as a rumor. So if it has happened before, it did so before I ever came to town.”
“I see…….thanks Grandpa.”
“I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help.”
“No, you’ve been a huge help. I only had some suspicions about this spirit, so you really saved me.”
While I gave my honest thanks, Grandpa stopped and stared at me for a moment.
“No, I was just thinking about how much you’ve changed in the last six months.”
Sarah and Mycena both said I’ve gotten fatter, but I don’t think that’s what Grandpa is talking about. The atmosphere I carry, that’s probably it.
“Well, various things happened.”
“Fuahaha, of course. How boorish of me to say that to a girl your age. Then I should be going. And should you ever wish to start learning magic again, feel free to stop by any time.”
Even if Grandpa says so, I’ve already given up on that kind of life, so it’s hard just nodding my head.
(Magic training…….? Once again…….maybe I should do it. If I could cast some proper spells, I might be able to defend myself…….)
I waved Grandpa off with a bitter smile. Then just as the store’s door closed, I heard Mom’s voice coming from the back of the building.
Apparently supper was finished.
We were having dinner, but my mind was somewhere far off in the distance. Mom’s delicious cooking was having a hard time finding its way to my mouth.
“What’s wrong Iris? Are you not hungry?”
“Are you feeling sick?”
“Ah, no, nothing’s wrong. Sorry, I was just thinking about something.”
Tonight’s meal was salted chicken soup with ginseng mixed sweet bread. We also had a salad made from vegetables preserved in the snow over winter.
“That’s good. But I can make you something else if you want. You too Saluena. Dig right in, no need to hold back.”
“You have my gratitude.”
Mom was really taken aback when she first learned that Saluena was a knight, but she’s really opened her heart now that the two of them had gotten to know each other. Saluena has also gotten used to living here, even starting to help Mom with the chores around the house.
“Heh, so that really happened?”
Dad has a huge smile on while listening to one of Sarah’s stories.
“Yes. Mycenyan is always making me laugh by saying fun things like that.”
Sarah is really enjoying herself getting to talk to Dad who is usually away during the day. Meanwhile Mom is laughing to herself watching the two of them go.
They’re my family, but I’m keeping a secret from them.
I’m lying to the people I love most in the world.
A black muck in my heart continues to grow bigger and bigger with each passing day accompanied by a pain as if there were a million protruding spines growing off of it and cutting me open from the inside out.
“Now that I think about it, those adventurers haven’t stopped by again. I could barely say two words to that Toslin-san, and I feel like I really need to thank her.”
“Ah, you’re right. Let’s stop by the guild some time. Or maybe it would be better if we visited the church instead?”
“Hey Iris. Could you tell those girls we want to see them again?”
A vase filled with tikarodeka is sitting right in front of me. The orange flowers are still blooming and serve as a beautiful decoration for the dining room table.
Is this really okay? Will I spend the rest of my life in this house with a sullen heart?
“Iris. Your venerable mother¹ is calling for you.”
“N-No. There’s really no need for you to call me a venerable mother Saluena-san.”
“Oh, s-sorry. What is it?”
“You’re really engrossed in your thoughts tonight. Is there some kind of difficult problem eating away at you? You can talk to us about it if you like.”
Dad gave me the same smile he was giving Sarah. For as long as I can remember, Dad has always been earnest about helping the two of us face our problems head on.
“……..ah, um…….. Sorry. I want to try thinking about this on my own for just a little bit longer.”
But I can’t face my problems head on like Dad can. I use words to build walls hoping they’ll hide away my lies and secrets.
“I see. Just remember that if you can’t figure something out yourself, you always have Poatika and me who you can rely on. Okay?”
“Yeah, thanks Dad.”
I forced a smile through the walls so as to not worry them anymore or disturb this peaceful atmosphere.
And then…….the next day.
I traveled to the guild with Saluena same as yesterday to hear how things went.
But……Toslin, Carol, and Rose-san never showed up.