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“Village Chief! It’s terrible, those guys are back again!”
Bursting through the door in a panic, a villager intrudes, blood flowing from his head, possibly due to injuries from the earlier explosion.
“Damn it, why now of all times…!”
“Wait, you shouldn’t move yet! Your wound…”
“Huh, so you’re the village chief. No wonder your house is so big.”
“What are you saying at a time like this! We need to escape, but we can’t move the injured…”
Momose is in a flutter, but there’s probably no escape. If the village is surrounded by log fences, the exits are limited. It’s safe to assume that escape routes are sealed, making it near impossible for these magic-less villagers to escape.
“But it’s strange, when was the last time the bandits came?”
“Three days ago, they took almost all of our food and money!”
“Then they have even less reason to target this village now…”
Having appeared a month ago and raiding several times since, they should’ve stripped the village of its resources. If they plan to disappear before reinforcements can be called in this weakened snow, there’s no merit in attacking the village now. Unless…
“Villagers! Listen to us! We are deeply pained!”
“Wow, that startled me! What’s with this voice?”
“They’re using wind magic to amplify their voice, it’s grating.”
The loud voice, seemingly yelling right in our ears, makes us grimace. It’s meant to be intimidating, but the crudely adjusted volume and amateurish magic construction are more annoying than anything.
“We had a contract to protect this village in exchange for a modest amount of supplies! But you betrayed us!”
“What modest amount, they’re making ridiculous claims…!”
“Same old tricks from scoundrels, no matter the era.”
The village chief’s indignation suggests the bodyguard contract is a mere pretext, likely forced through intimidation. But what does he mean by betrayal?
“We found traces of someone approaching the village and chains used to kill magicians!”
“…Momose, where’s the chain that bound me?”
“I threw it away because it was cumbersome!”
I inadvertently scold her directly, but now I understand. The bandits’ target is us.
“That chain was cursed to inhibit magic flow just by touch. To them, it’s a nerve-wracking sign.”
“But you used magic, didn’t you?”
“It’s not magic, but magic arts. It only inhibits, so with enough skill, small-scale magic arts are possible.”
But for half-baked magicians, even touching a fragment of the chain would completely neutralize them. Seeing our tracks and their feared tool outside, the bandits must think the villagers called for external help. If they truly thought that, they wouldn’t have carelessly discarded such an important restraint. But perhaps they aren’t that thoughtful.
“But we are generous! Surrender the traitors, and we’ll let this go!”
“They really don’t see the irony in their words… Alright, Momose, stay quiet in the corner of the room.”
I intended to leave the village before getting entangled in trouble, but I feel responsible for this. Plus, there’s no guarantee the villagers won’t hand us over. Better to nip the problem in the bud.
“Alright, Momose, just look after the village chief. This will be over soon, so you just…”
“Wait, where’s Momose?”
“That pink-haired girl? She rushed out with incredible speed.”
“Repeat! We have shown mercy to you all…”
“Wait a minute!”
“What the… Who the hell are you!?”
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Emerging at the devastated center of the village, I confront the shouting man. He’s a stark contrast to the magician Raika I know – unkempt beard, muscular build straining his jacket, a horned hat more befitting a bandit than a wizard.
“Never seen you around this village, girl, with such flashy attire. You one of those outsiders?”
“Yes, and I just threw away that chain because it was in the way! The villagers have nothing to do with it!”
He points to a chain held in his thick leather gloves. It seems utterly untouchable to him, just a chain for me, easily torn apart, but to him, it’s as if handling deadly poison.
“Don’t be stupid, girl. Even I can tell that’s a masterpiece for killing magicians. Could fetch a fortune in gold coins on the market.”
“So, I’ll give it to you, just please don’t trouble this village anymore. And return what you’ve taken.”
“Talking nonsense, girl. That was our rightful payment. Isn’t it?”
The bandit unsheathes a sword from his belt, pointing it right in front of me. I can feel the heat radiating off the blade, almost burning in this cold. Magic… no, like Raika, this man can use magic arts.
“What I don’t get is why someone would throw away such a treasure. You’re still hiding something, aren’t you?”
“Me, hiding something else?”
“No, I’d like to know that too…”
“It’s useless, that fool over there doesn’t have the brains to keep secrets.”
With a dry snap, the sizzling sword, which was inches from me, is flung far away. It sticks into the snow, hissing and steaming. The thought of being touched by it sends shivers down my spine. Once again, I’ve been saved by this person.
“Tch… Who the hell are you!”
“Raika Galakuchika. But don’t bother remembering, we’ll be saying goodbye soon.”
Panting, she emerges from behind me. Borrowed from a villager, she’s donned warm clothes, and her hair, once touching the ground, is now cut to waist length.
“You idiot, don’t just rush out like that. I haven’t received my payment from you yet.”
“I’m sorry, but I couldn’t just stand by and watch!”
“Oi, brat! You a magician too!?”
“Shut up, what if I am? Ready to give up and apologize? Now’s your chance.”
Catching her breath, Raika moves me behind her, standing defiantly in front of the bandit. Despite the height difference, she doesn’t flinch, only looking annoyed as she provokes him.
“Hah, think you can handle us with just a couple of brats? My five men won’t let you…”
“They won’t be coming, boss.”
“What do you mean?”
Raika then tosses a knife at the bandit’s feet. When he sees the well-worn knife, his confident expression changes instantly.
“You… What did you do to my dear henchmen…!!”
“While you were distracted with the naïve one over here, I borrowed it from them. Perfect for a haircut.”
The man shouts with force, and a burst of flame erupts from thin air, engulfing Raika in an explosion. It’s the same force that blew away the village fence. No time to escape, a direct hit is certain…
“Face bombing, no way she’s alive! You’re next…”
“So, I did warn.”
That impossible voice freezes the bandit’s expression for a moment, and he leaps back dramatically.
It was a direct hit, at least to my eyes. But when the smoke clears, there’s Raika, unharmed, not a scratch or scorch mark.
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“This is modern magic arts? If so, it’s underwhelming. No progress at all.”
“How… How are you still alive…!?”
“Mo-Mo, stay back. Don’t get caught up in this.”
“Yes! Raika, please… be careful with your life!”
Shooing me away, Raika’s words have me retreating to the shadow of a nearby house. Frustrating, but I can’t help in that situation. If I got caught in such an explosion, I’d be dead. All I can do is trust Raika.
“Really, in such a situation, who can care about their life…”
“Ignore me, will you! ‘Ant’s breath, its end, soon surpassing the gale—'”
“‘Gale’s first strike.'”
Before the bandit can finish his chant, Raika speaks, and from this distance, I hear an unpleasant creaking sound. Peering from the house’s shadow, the bandit’s belly is caved in as if pushed by an invisible ball, collapsing onto his knees.
“Ugh… Cough… What…?”
“Slow. Did you think exposing such a gap during your chant was wise?”
“Damn it… ‘Explode’! ‘Explode’! ‘Explode’! ‘Burn’! ‘Burn it all’!”
Explosions attack Raika one after another, each looking like a direct hit. I couldn’t dodge those, but Raika remains unscathed, just occasionally waving away the smoke in annoyance.
“Is that all you’ve got? No matter how much you shorten your chants, they’re useless if poorly executed. Your blast’s origin is too obvious.”
“Heh… Heh… Why isn’t it working!?”
“‘Work, wake up.'”
Seizing the moment the bandit is out of breath, Raika chants and the ground under him swells, punching into his stomach. He vomits in agony, collapsing there, while Raika watches, unflinching.
“Guh… Really, just a kid… you…!?”
“Only in appearance, but you’re weak.”
“What… did you say…?”
“Your magic and thieving skills are nothing to boast about. You should’ve left this village as soon as you gathered the resources to survive the snow. Why didn’t you?”
Raika slowly approaches the bandit, step by step. Reaching him, she steps on his bowed head. No damage from her tiny foot, but surely it’s humiliating.
“You were… scared, right? What if you couldn’t cross the snow, or ran out of food, or got lost?”
“So you clung to this village as a ‘bodyguard,’ postponing the problem, deceiving yourself to flee after the snow stops.”
“Pathetic. Struck a nerve, did I?”
“Shut up, you damn brat!!!”
The bandit’s back shimmers, then the air explodes. Centered on his feet, the snow instantly melts, turning into a rush of steam. And Raika, caught in an incredible blast, is sent flying directly towards me.
“Perfect timing, catch me!”
Catching Raika, who’s flying like a piece of paper, was perhaps a stroke of luck, thanks to her surprisingly light weight. And she, as if being caught was the most natural thing, had an utterly calm expression.
“Ahh, that was close…! Raika, why did you provoke him like that!?”
“To neutralize a magician, you need to completely crush their spirit. I wanted to draw out his full strength.”
“Even so, that was harsh… And it’s hot! Suddenly feels like midsummer!”
The area, filled with hot steam, felt like a sauna, the humid air clinging uncomfortably to the skin. If that was the bandit’s full force, it’s understandable why the villagers couldn’t stand against him.
“I’ll kill you… I’ll kill you all…!!”
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The bandit, appearing amidst the steam and igniting it, was engulfed in flames. Like a suit of fire armor, the heat was so intense it hurt to look at him from this distance.
“That’s severe burns right there!”
“He’s just using the released magic power as fuel, it’s not hurting him. Desperate measures though, he’s got maybe three minutes left.”
“So we just run away then…”
“Didn’t I say? Crush them completely. So I’m counting on you, Mo-Mo.”
“Counting on me… for what?”
Raika, cradled in my arms, smiles with an innocence I’ve never seen before. Her smile, coming from such a beautiful face, has a deadly charm, but it sends a chill down my spine.
“Just walking in the snow made you collapse with that frail body, right? He’s going to make his last stand, and dodging everything will be quite troublesome.”
“So… you mean?”
“Don’t worry, I won’t let you get hurt. Just be my legs for now.”
Dear Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Grandma,
I’m fine, still alive…
…But I might die soon.