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The Lie-Eating Dragon and the Forgotten-Color Songstress < I >
[ Day One ]
"Hey papa, what's that?", Efi asked, tugging on my sleeve. I ignored her and stared out the window.
Even though we were riding a train, I had to say it was moving along pretty slow. Heck, the horse-drawn carriage that ran past the train earlier was faster. The only thing this hunk of junk excelled at was shakiness.
"Papa, what's thaaat!"
"Ugh, shaddup, runt. And don't call me papa."
I got so irritated as to use some pretty harsh language at Efi. Didn't sound like something I'd usually say. But consider what it's like for a guy like me to get stuck raising a little kid.
"I'm not "runt"! I'm Efi!"
...I got forced into having exchanges like these every day, every hour.
The idea that kids are cute has got to be a fantasy dreamt up by people who've never had to be with a kid all the time. Can't see "cute" in them - "odious" is the right word.
I let out a deep sigh, as if expelling my feelings of having no escape.
"So, what's that? The long thingy, going all whoosh around your neck!"
Efi's eyes sparkled with intrigue as she pointed toward my neck. How long was this quizzing gonna go on?
"...This is a scarf. You wear it when you're cold, or when you wanna look fancy."
"Fancy! Efi wants to be fancy!"
Just as I finished my reply, Efi grabbed the scarf and tugged, hard. Acting too quickly for me to react, she strangled me, and I let out a groan.
I felt ready to die from the stress of conversing alone, and now you're getting me physically, too? I'm not long for this world, am I...
"Aaaaagggh! Stop it, you stupid brat! Just sit still!"
Tearing away her hand (which was trying to strangle me further), I unwrapped my scarf and put it around Efi.
...It served no function for either warmth or fashion; instead, she was all but tied up by it. But...
"Ehehe! Now Efi is fancy!"
...As long as she was pleased with it, I guess it didn't matter.
Looking at Efi so satisfied with herself, a wave of fatigue came over me.
Work hadn't even started, so why was I feeling dizzy here of all places? I couldn't help but worry for what lied ahead.
It had been about a month since my shocking encounter with Efi.
Since then, I'd asked Efi direct questions and looked into as much as I could, but all I really found out was that Efi was a dragon who fed on lies. Not even she seemed to know the reason or experience of her birth.
I was delighted at first to have my hands on a dragon, since everybody sought after them. But with the pain and fatigue just piling on day after day, I was already beginning to regret it.
I should've sold her to somebody for a ton of money while she was still in the egg - thoughts like that grew bigger with each passing day.
"Papa, why are you tired?"
'Cause of you, I refrained from saying. Well, or maybe I just didn't have the energy left to voice it. Instead, a little groan escaped my mouth.
Maybe I should take a nap here, I thought. Then I felt the cellphone in my pocket vibrate. Before the vibration even paused, I answered and muttered "Who?"
"Oh, oh? Why so exhausted? You okay over there?"
"...Informant with the hat?"
The call came from a woman who mainly worked as an informant, buying and selling info. Her always wearing a hat is what stood out to me most, so I called her "the informant with the hat."
...'Course, I couldn't see that gaudy hat of hers over the phone now.
"Hmm, sounds like you're still on the train? You're taking this reeeal slow, huh. The day might just change on yooou."
This informant was skilled, but had some childish aspects. I was never very good at talking with her, but I felt she was vastly preferable to Efi.
Oh yeah, Efi - I turned to her, and found her sound asleep, the scarf still wrapped around her whole body.
"How boring. Feels like there's not much point in teasing you these days, y'know? By the way, what alias are you using now? Claude? Duke?"
"Those are some pretty outdated ones... For now, it's Al."
Thanks to Efi having fallen asleep for me, I was getting back to my conning self. I had to get things straightened out before I reached our destination, or it could lead to a blunder. The smallest mistake could ruin the time, effort, and money involved in coming here - so, had to avoid that at all costs.
"Okay, Al it is. So, I'll put together the info for you while I've got the chance."
With that, she began to explain.
On a request from the informant with the hat, I was headed toward a place called Indigo Town to determine the truth of a certain piece of info.
The info in question was the legend of the bluebird. Word was that this thing could grant people's wishes.
"And I'd like you to capture it, if you could... Well?"
"Can't tell you if I can or not until we know if it actually exists."
The informant cackled at that over the phone.
"You're talking about my
info, you know? Granted, I'm not sure what conditions will get it to appear, but asking people around town might be the fastest way to find out."
"Right, got it."
The instant our conversation came to an end, the announcement that we had arrived at Indigo Town echoed through the train. I said farewell and hung up, and shook Efi's shoulder as she slept like the dead.
"I'm already fuuull...", she mumbled, drooling with a satisfied expression. So I awarded her a solid poke in the forehead.
"It hurts..." Clutching to my sleeve, Efi rubbed her forehead with the other hand.
I didn't think I'd prodded her that powerfully, but I grew worried as she kept acting like this. Maybe I had poked a little too hard.
"It huuurts...?" She shot a glance over at me.
...Ahh, got it. She just wanted me to pay attention to her. Toward the beginning, I wouldn't notice her intentions and got ordered around quite a bit, but after being with her a month, yeah, I could tell.
"Listen, I told you a million times already on the train, but don't walk ahead of me."
"Ah, wait, wait! Don't walk fast! Nooo!"
I had no time to bother with her. First, I had to find a place to lodge here. The train arrived late, so I was in sort of a hurry.
"Oh yeah, do... trains? Do you use money for them?' Realizing her earlier tactic wasn't getting her any attention, she talked to me as she usually did.
"Obviously. If you think anything's gonna be easy, that means it costs money."
"But you said you didn't have money earlier, Al."
Why'd she have to remember that?
"...Listen, Efi. Not having money isn't something you can solve right away."
She nodded eagerly beside me.
"But anything else, and usually you can do something about it."
From my pants pocket, I produced a counterfeit ticket I'd created last night.
"So what you don't have, you make."
We walked for a while, but Indigo Town was a big place with a fair number of inhabitants. Plus, with the exception of some residents I occasionally spotted in the darkness, they had a pretty bustling lifestyle. ...Some things caught my attention, but I had to prioritize finding lodging for now.
At a large plaza with a fountain in it, I decided to try talking with a townsperson resting on a bench to the side. While I'd taken the scarf back from Efi after getting off the train, I pulled it away from my mouth and got my expression and voice in order.
"Good day. There are a few things I'd like to ask you... Is now a good time?"
He slowly raised his head to look at me. A middle-aged man whose thick beard stood out to me. No sooner had he seen me than his face brightened and he stood up.
"Oh, ohh! Could you be a traveler? Well, what do you think of the town?!"
"Ah, it has a very nice air about it. All the inhabitants seem quite joyful, too."
"No doubt! Being here makes you happy. It's the town of happiness, that's what it's called! Hope you can bring home a lot of happiness yourself, lad!"
With a hearty laugh, he put his arm around my shoulder and shook me. It was stronger than I expected, and my body creaked a little. I glared at Efi, who was about to speak up, silently instructing her not to so much as burp.
Then I faced the man again with a smile.
"By the way, is there anywhere I could lodge in this town? I've nowhere to stay right now, you see..."
The middle-aged man gently removed his arm from me, and brought it back around his head. His expression hardened slightly.
"Hmm... Well, let's see. As far as I know, most of the inns are all filled up or closed, so there's just... Ah!"
Having a sudden revelation, the man clapped his hands together in front of his chest.
"That's right, there's a large mansion at the back of town, where a pretty little girl lives, known as the Songstress. How about you head to see her?!"
"So this is... a person's house, you mean?"
"Yeah, but she's such a gentle soul. Don't you worry, she'll gladly accept you!"
There wasn't necessarily a particular problem with using a person's house, but for the business of a con artist, a proper inn is just more convenient, with its variable population and all. But if he said there were no inns available, guess there was no choice.
"...Understood. I believe I'll go inquire there. The back of town, you say?"
"Yep. Just head straight down the road from this plaza and you'll find the mansion. In fact, around this time should be when the Songstress is singing. If you get lost, you should follow her voice!"
I said my thanks to the man and left.
After walking a few minutes, Efi tugged on my sleeve and asked, "Hey papa, why is it when you talk to people different from me, you're a different papa?"
"Not papa, I'm Al now. Don't ever call me papa. Got it?"
"See, your voice is all different too! And your face! Why?" Efi kept tugging.
She'd really stretch that sleeve at this rate. Appearances are the number one thing you have to pay attention to when you're tricking people. And anything said by some bozo with a mismatched sleeve would probably lack credibility.
I silently poised my other hand to unleash a forehead-poke, and Efi let out a "gwuh!" and went docile.
With a quiet Efi in tow, I walked out of the plaza, and once I was sure we were on a road without many people, I began to answer her question.
"Listen up. People... When they meet somebody for the first time, first they judge the person by their appearance. Next, their voice and tone. What's inside, well, that comes way at the end."
"But you're all scarfed now, so you're hiding your face..."
"Yeah, can't be bothered to fool people except when it's necessary." I pulled up my scarf a little.
Long ago, the informant with the hat told me my real face - the face I was born with, wasn't a great face for being sociable. Since then, I'd hid my expression a lot except when talking to people. Sure, I was aware I had a bit of a nasty glare, but was it really that frightening?
"Hmm... But that means... It's a lie-Al?", Efi asked with a vexed look.
"Lies aren't lies if they don't get found out.", I bluntly replied, and she tilted her head as if understanding even less.
"But aren't lies bad? You lie to people, so... are you a bad person?"
Pure, to the point. And not even with any ill will.
Kids are so difficult to handle when it comes to this stuff. Especially for someone like me who makes a living deceiving people, that much purity is too much to handle.
"Al... Are you a bad person?", she asked again, worried.
I scratched the back of my head a few times, then told Efi more or less the first response I could think of.
"Sure, I'm bad. But so are the guys who get tricked."
After walking straight down the path for a while, a pretty sound came into earshot, like a bird chirping from far away. No... It was a human singing.
"Ooh! Pretty song!"
Efi's mood was improved, her eyes sparkling and voice elated. Felt like a lie how she'd been all quiet and moping like she didn't want to take another step earlier.
"Once we reach the mansion, we can hear it up close. So pick up the pace a little."
"Gotcha!", Efi shouted, and her pace increased. Or rather, she started off running. Did she already forget all those times I said not to get ahead of me?
For as slow as Efi's head was, she was fast on her feet. I supposed she couldn't get lost on a straight path, but there was no guarantee she wouldn't run into something. I groaned and hurried after her.
Turned out I had no reason to worry; by the time I spotted Efi, I'd reached the great white door of the mansion without any real incidents along the way. As for Efi, she was talking with an unfamiliar young man in front of the door.
He had blue hair and wore a black silk hat tilted to one side, decorated with a yellow ribbon. On the side opposite the hat stuck out a perky, dog-like ear, and it twitched about every time Efi said something. Must have had some beast blood in him.
Actually, I recalled how compared to other towns, this place seemed to have a lot of people with animal-like ears and tails.
"Oh! That's him! He's my... um, Al!"
Efi pointed to me and began to explain me to the young man. I was focused on catching my breath after all that running, but when the man looked at me, I hurried to reassemble my expression and stuck my face out from the scarf.
"Good day... I'm sorry my sister's come and bothered you. She didn't pull any pranks, did she?"
He smiled nicely. "Ah, you're her older brother? I was afraid she might be lost, so I'm glad you weren't far. Do you have some business at this mansion?", he asked in a kind voice.
"Oh, I should introduce myself. I'm Al, and the little girl there is Efina. We're on a journey, but we're at a bit of a loss looking for a place to stay in town. A friendly townsperson told us we might be able to inquire here..."
"Indeed, I see now. Yes, Mischa will certainly welcome you. As for myself... I am Phil, Mischa's humble butler." The young man, Phil, politely bowed.
I bowed in return, lifted my head, and put my hand on the door handle. The old, grave doors slowly opened with a slight creak.
The moment the doors opened, a clear singing voice washed over me like a giant wave I'd only been feeling the ripples of.
It was a large hall, and right in the center, a girl with an air of transience about her was singing. Slightly further away from the girl, what must have been townspeople gathered in many rings around her, all intently focused on her song.
It seemed we arrived right toward the end of the song, and when the girl finished the final note, the hall was completely silent for a few seconds. Then immediately after, a storm of cheers and praise erupted from the audience, echoing through the hall. Seeming scared by the loud noise, Efi ducked behind me.
The girl went around thanking the people encircling her one by one, but then finally noticing some unfamiliar guests, she approached us.
With each step the girl took, the soles of her shoes clacked against the hard marble floor and made a rhythmical sound. Just as the sound came to a stop, her mouth opened.
She gently tilted her head and put her hand to her chest. "It's nice to meet you. I am Mischa. Do you have some business here?"
In that moment, the slight flopping of the rabbit-esque ears on her head and the sway of her long hair stood out in my mind.
"You're a super good singer, miss!", Efi leapt out to say before I could even open my mouth.
I just can't contain that boundless curiosity, can I... I held my head.
Turning back to the songstress, Mischa, she didn't actually seem especially displeased. She bent her knees a little to get on eye level with Efi.
"Heehee, thank you. I love to sing, so it makes me very happy to hear that." She smiled a mild smile. Efi smiled back, and a peaceful mood filled the air.
...Not good. These two are gonna bring me down to their level. I loudly cleared my throat, getting Mischa's attention.
"Excuse me? We intend to stay in this town for a little while, and we're looking for a place to stay. If it's not a bother, would you let us stay here? We can handle food and clothing ourselves..."
"Oh my! In that case, you should absolutely stay with us. We can provide meals or anything you might lack, and we won't charge at all. We have plenty of rooms... Oh, yes, Phil. Go find an open room upstairs, please!"
Mischa made a request of Phil, standing a ways behind us. With an "Understood," Phil came up as if sliding on over.
"I will show you to your room. This way, please." Phil swung a hand out in front and began to walk.
I told Efi "Let's go," but she wouldn't move an inch from Mischa's side, so I grabbed her by the collar and dragged her along.
Efi sulked, and waved back toward Mischa.
Going upstairs and down a long hallway, Phil, walking a few steps ahead of us, came to a sudden stop.
He produced a small cluster of keys from his pocket and put one of them into the door's keyhole. Right as it clicked open, he began to speak.
"Please make use of this room. The mansion is quite large, and first-time visitors are often lost... But I believe this room should pose little issue, being near a hallway which leads to the stairs."
Phil quietly opened the door and invited us to go in.
It was a spacious room with two beds and refreshing light pouring in through a big window. Looked fancier than some hotels.
Maybe this was pretty lucky after all, considering they were letting us stay here for free.
"Wow, the bed's so fluffyyy!"
While I was busy thinking about that, Efi dove onto a bed and hopped on it like mad.
Shoot, I got careless and let go of her... I apologized to Phil, who was snickering, and went to seize her.
"Oh, no, it's good to be so full of energy."
While I fought to calm down Efi squirming about in my arm, Phil asked a question in a suddenly serious tone.
"...By the way, for about how long to you plan to stay here?"
It was a normal, obvious question for someone lending out a room - but the air about Phil seemed a little different, I felt.
...Was there something to this?
"Oh, let's see... There are a few matters we want to look into in this town. I would like if we could stay here for three days, at least. Would that be a problem?"
For an instant, Phil's expression seemed to stiffen at the words "three days."
...So there is
Observing Phil's countenance, I waited for his next move.
"...No, that's not a problem. Simply, it's just that there are many inhabitants in this mansion, coming near-daily to listen to Mischa sing or just to visit. It is typically busiest in the noontime..." He paused. "Is that all right with you?", he asked with a somewhat uneasy look.
He seemed to be desperately trying to conceal his thoughts, but his expression just grew stiffer. I supposed everything he'd just said was his answer for the public.
I put on a cheery look in contrast. "No, no! Not to worry. As you can see, my sister's rather noisy herself, so I'm quite used to it."
With that, Phil's shoulders loosened and he smiled. As for Efi, who I'd offered up as an example, she was still thrashing her arms and legs about in my grip.
"...Alright, let's make it simple. You're Efi, my little sister. That's all the info you need to remember. Don't talk any more than you need to. Got it?"
Once Phil had left the room, I gave Efi a reminder to keep her from causing any blunders. I'd tried having her use an alias, but she kept forgetting and calling herself Efi no matter what, so it didn't pan out.
"Mmm... I can't talk about anything?" Her brow wrinkled, and she tilted her head.
"Like the past, for instance. Where you've traveled, what you've seen - if you get asked anything like that, don't say a word. People who suck at lying talk about things they weren't even asked. And don't even notice the inconsistencies in their stories."
Efi seemed awfully confused by that explanation, and her head spun around.
"So what should I do if I get asked?"
"Simple. You can just answer, "I'm a dummy, so I don't know!""
"What's a dummy?"
...Was she really that big of a dummy? Well, maybe convenient for me.
"It means you've got a lousy brain."
"Hmm. Is having a lousy brain bad?"
"Means you're gonna have a lot of troubles ahead, that's for sure."
Boy. I just can't handle kids at all. Especially when they're pure and straightforward... and keep innocently bum-rushing me with an empty head, like this runt.
And even after I'd explained it this much, she still didn't seem to understand. Seemed like continuing with this any longer would just be a waste of time.
"...It's not really that bad of a thing. So you don't have to worry about it."
Wonder if she really understood? ...That'd probably do, at any rate. Until Efi knew what "dummy" meant, I could go with that. I didn't really mind.
"Alright... There's still time until the sun goes down, so I'll check out the town some more. If I'm gonna look for the bluebird, I should know where things are first."
"Me too!" Efi leapt over as I stood up from the bed to go out. It was pretty forceful, so I nearly toppled over. Managing to regain balance, I tore Efi away from my waist.
"Thought you were saying you didn't wanna walk anymore earlier? This town is huge, so forget it. Stay here."
I threw her toward the bed, and she booed me from atop it.
"I'll buy you something sweet on the way back."
"Efi will hold down the fort!", she replied with gleaming eyes.
I gave her a sidelong glance, left the room, and went back outside the mansion.
A few hours had passed since we arrived in town, but the bustle outside showed no sign of dying down. I headed for the fountain plaza and found the middle-aged man who told me about the mansion, taking a break on the same bench as before.
Noticing me, he heaved himself up. "Oh, traveler! Well, did you find a place to stay?"
"Yes, we had no problems. We went to the mansion as you said, and Miss Mischa warmly accepted when we asked to stay. You were a great help."
"I see, I see." The man smiled and slapped my back a few times.
From what I could tell, there were a lot of good-natured inhabitants here, even besides this guy. With people like that, you wouldn't get any funny business - easy to handle in general.
The man checked his watch. "Oh, would you look at the time! I'd better get home, or the wife'll get real annoying... Oh, don't tell anybody I said that. A happy day to you!" With a quick goodbye, he left in a hurry.
I turned around to resume my rounds. When I did, I noticed a circle of old ladies in the shade of trees whispering to each other about something.
I passed by, feigning ignorance, and listened in. Their conversation caught my interest. "Is it all right to let them stay at that mansion?" "Shouldn't they stay away?"
Were they talking about me? Even after I'd passed them by, I felt their eyes on me, so I supposed it was so.
Ever since coming here, I'd felt something wasn't right. I couldn't pinpoint it, but it gave me a bad feeling.
Still, the conversation didn't seem directly connected to my search for the bluebird. It was probably safe to just forget about it.
I shook my head to clear my thoughts, and refocused on the bluebird.
Watching the sunset turn the sky a dark purple, I rewrapped my scarf.
"...Hope this can go without incident."
The words unconsciously slipped out, and I was taken aback with myself. Didn't saying things like that just make bad things happen? ...But it was too late.
I decided to head back for the day.
Right around then, I remembered I'd promised to buy her something sweet. My feet feeling a little heavy, I went to go pick something out.
Back at the mansion, I opened the front door and found Mischa singing in the hall again. But unlike before, there wasn't a huge gallery; the only person listening was Efi.
"Oh, welcome back! You must be tired."
Mischa noticed me first and gave me a soft smile. Nobody had shown me any concern for my fatigue and suffering lately - and I'd been going through nothing but, so I really needed that.
"Huh? Al, you're back! Sweets, please!"
...And she was the main reason why.
Wanting to keep that from showing to Mischa, I prepared my face, removed my scarf, and took out a package of cookies I'd bought at a nearby store. Efi's eyes shone at once, and she tried to rip it from my hands, but I firmly held onto the edge of the package.
When Efi ate sweets, it was like she removed some kind of limiter, and sometimes she'd spit fire. It seemed there were some dragons who could manipulate forces of nature beyond their usual abilities, so I wondered if Efi was one of them. I'd had to throw out a change of clothes in the past thanks to it.
"...You can't eat it here. You'll have to come back to the room to eat."
My normal self nearly came out in front of Efi, but I was cautious to keep on the mask of a kind older brother in front of Mischa.
"Whaaa?! But I wanna eat with the singer lady!" Efi refused and pulled on the package.
Typically she would complain, but comply - why was she resisting now of all times? I guess I really didn't get how to handle her yet.
"Heehee, don't concern yourself with me. You do need to get back to your room soon. Please enjoy them for yourself, little sweet-lover Efi!"
Mischa spoke with a charming smile, then bowed and went up the stairs.
I didn't think our war over the cookie bag had been very well-acted. Yet she didn't show any particular doubts - in fact, maybe she could even see us as a friendly brother and sister.
"Heyyy! Let's eat cookies!"
Efi's words brought me back, and hit me with fatigue. Augh... How long should I keep this life up?
Should I consult with someone else of her species? The dragons I knew were enough to count on one hand... My feelings started to get messy thinking about it, so I put a stop to that.
Let's just sleep for today. Yeah, that's a good idea.
Not lending an ear to Efi's whining, I quickly headed up the stairs to our room. She went "Ah!" and went after me, sticking behind me thereafter.
Once we got back to the room, I took off my coat and immediately fell onto the bed. It was rare that I'd ever gotten this
I often dealt with a lot of peculiar people in this line of work, and I was proud to say I was accustomed to handling them. But the girl here was a dragon. And a kid. I didn't understand one iota of her thought process.
As I felt like I was going to be crushed by fatigue, Efi looked at me worriedly. I turned my gaze to look at her face.
Looking at her again, I thought, she didn't look much different from a human at all. I wondered if there was a reason why dragons imitated humans in appearance.
Efi had been pondering something as she watched me. I wonder. Maybe she was concerned for me? Then I wish she'd leave me alone.
I had no energy to voice that sentiment and just stared. Then Efi, seeming to have an idea, put on a victorious smile and asked cheerfully...
"Can we sleep together?"
"...Gimme a break," I bluntly refused.
[ Day Two ]
The chirping of birds tickled my ears and brought me back to consciousness.
I was worried that some of yesterday's exhaustion would still hang over me, but I sat up and found that I'd made a full recovery.
I'm proud to say I haven't lived a decent life from the day I was born to the present, but it seemed that when it came to my ability to recover, life wasn't so unfair. Youth is wonderful. I opened the window and relished that as I felt the breeze.
While I was revering the refreshing morning, Efi got up with a yawn. My early-morning repose ended here.
"...You're up early today."
With not a hint of refreshedness in my face nor voice, I said my first words to Efi for the day. She rubbed her eyelids and drawled "Mornin'..." I impulsively replied "Morning" back.
"Where're we going today?", Efi asked in a still-sleepy tone.
"Let's see... I'll investigate in town. You sit tight at the mansion..."
"No!", she refused before I could finish. Felt like she was pretty opposed to my suggestions as of late. Was she at that rebellious age already?
"We gotta stay together!", she pressed further. When I was a kid, I was never this stubborn. Well, though I wasn't a little girl.
Honestly, if we got split up in this huge town and she got lost, what was she going to do? Did she understand that she was a dragon, something tons of people around the world were after for research?
"I'll go buy you something else today."
...Couldn't even decide if she was easy or hard to handle. Oh well. Relieved it wasn't a lengthy battle, my shoulders loosened.
Come to think of it, I'd heard dragons weren't too satisfied by human food. So why did Efi like sweets so much? And before we came here, I'd fed her quite a lot of lies, so I thought she shouldn't be getting hungry anytime soon.
"Candy would be good!"
"Sure," I replied, practically not hearing her.
There were still many mysteries about her.
To be extra sure, I asked the butler Phil to keep an eye on Efi, and left her at the mansion while I explored the town.
Today, I would begin my search for the bluebird in earnest.
Now where to start, I pondered... Suddenly, someone behind me forcefully slapped my back.
"Hey, traveler! Fancy seeing you. Guess it's just 'cause I go around the same places every day! Gahaha!"
I turned around to find that same bearded man. For such a big town which had to have a lot of inhabitants, we really did meet often.
Given our previous conversations, it appeared he knew a fair bit about the town, so maybe he knew something about the bluebird.
"Oh, good day! It's true, we keep running into each other. You see, I came here to look into the bluebird. Would you know anything, sir?", I asked with such a cheerful voice and smile, even I thought I sounded idiotic.
Having such a model example around me lately, it seemed I could pull off a far more idiotic performance.
"Ohh! The bluebird, I see. Yes, it's in this town, alright. Though I've never seen it. Still, it's why everyone in this town is so happy, with a few exceptions!"
"A few... exceptions?"
That got my attention at once. Maybe it was related to the feeling niggling at me since I arrived.
"Ah... Well, I shouldn't say this too loud..."
He leaned over, put a big hand by his mouth, and brought his face near my ear.
"Don't you think this town's a little weird? Most of the townspeople are simple and carefree like me, happy people. But I'm sure you've spotted some other, more gloomy folks."
I was reminded of the old ladies talking yesterday. People like that would hardly be rare or anything in other towns, but it's true, they felt out of place here.
"See, rumor has it that they're all monsters taking human form. And that someday they'll reveal themselves, and attack this peaceful town. So travelers like you had better watch out for 'em, too."
Right after he finished speaking, the man stretched his back and laughed loudly. I was somewhat confused by the sudden change in mood.
"Well, nothing else to really worry about, anyway. Oh, you said you were looking for the bluebird? Well, I've heard that the bluebird shows up once a week."
"Once a week...?"
Though he said "it's in this town," it didn't seem you could encounter it very frequently. So, wouldn't it be difficult to determine its authenticity in short order...? As I began to ponder, I thanked the man and left.
Without knowing when the bluebird had last appeared, I would probably have to stay in this town for at least a week. Maybe I should have brought along a little more money.
Ever since I started living with Efi, my funds always suffered. When I was alone, I was free to decide whether I should skip meals and whatnot, but that wouldn't work out anymore. I felt like an impoverished housewife struggling to do finances.
It was an experience which I would never have conceived of going through before I met Efi.
"I'm getting a headache..."
I put my fingers to my temple and waited for the pain to subside.
Come to think of it, that guy said "this town has inhabitants who are happy and carefree, and gloomy ones who aren't." And how rumor was spreading that the latter were secretly monsters...
After walking a bit, in a main street lined with various stores, I decided to try casually observing the townspeople.
Indeed, the majority seemed like bright-faced people, but there was the occasional person with a strikingly dark expression. And I saw not a single person somewhere in the middle.
On one hand, I couldn't perceive the gloomy people as simply having an especially low standard of living. Nor did it feel like they were stricken with some illness, or they were troublemakers, or that there was a significant wage gap between townspeople. There must have been some other reason for the difference in expressions, but I couldn't tell from looking.
"Maybe it has something to do with the bluebird...?"
The man earlier had told me that thanks to the bluebird, they lived happily.
Given that, were these people who hadn't received the bluebird's blessing? If so, what was the reason?
The more I thought about it, the threads of the mystery seemed to get increasingly complex to untangle. I was working with too little information still.
I checked where the sun was at to determine how much time I had left. Still plenty. It was only my second day of searching, so it was unsurprising that I'd have to fumble about.
Though groaning, I moved ahead.
Although I had to wonder, how big was this bluebird? Searching for a little bird in a town as big as this sounded pretty terrible. Once I found it, I'd be sure to price the info extra-high for the hat informant. Fueling myself with that thought, I resumed walking.
"Have you lived here a long time, miss?"
The songstress lady thought about my question for a little. Her head slanted, and she answered like she was saying "maybe?"
"Yes, for a long time. I'm very happy to be in this town. So I can't even think of going somewhere else."
She smiled gently at me. The songstress lady's smile was really lovely. Her singing was lovely, but she was a really lovely person too.
"Where did you come from, Efi?"
Her sudden question kind of startled me.
I come from?
I remembered when I was born. I saw papa... er, Al's eyes get all wide. But after that, we'd been going all sorts of places, like we were now.
"Hmm... Places! Lots of places!"
The lady made a curious face at my answer, but smiled right after.
Al told me not to answer if people asked about my past, so I wonder if that answer was okay? Efi always keeps her promises!
"True, you did say you were travelers. I'd be glad if this town pleased you, too."
Right after the lady said that, the mansion door went creeeak
Al's appeared from behind the door. When he saw my face, he trembled a little for some reason.
"Did you behave?"
Maybe. All I did today was walk all around the mansion, and have mister butler tell me "I was surprised when you vanished all of a sudden," and talked with the songstress lady and a bunch of people who'd all gone home now. That's got to just barely make "behaving"!
"I was behaving!"
"You... don't have to repeat yourself." Al scratched his head.
Al's eyebrows would get all tight, and he'd do this a lot. I wonder what it meant?
I wonder... Maybe he was surprised that I listened to what he told me?
Then I guess I should be proud! I puffed out my chest, and I think Al's eyebrows got even tighter than before.
"Ahh..." I let out a big yawn. I'd walked around the mansion a lot and talked a lot, so maybe I was kind of tired.
"My, perhaps we spoke for a little long. It is getting quite late. Efi was behaving perfectly well, don't worry. I'm envious you have such an adorable sister!"
"Oh, she's just always giving me trouble... Hahaha."
Al replied to the lady with a different face and voice from before. This was a really weird thing about Al. I think maybe they were lies, but I wasn't able to see through Al's lies.
"Well, I'll excuse myself for today. Good night."
I waved and saw off the songstress lady, and she waved back.
Once the lady was gone, Al went back to his usual self.
"...Back to the room."
He pulled my hand with a tired look, so I hurried along, careful not to trip.
Back in the room, first Al took off his coat, then jumped back onto the bad.
I loved jumping on the bed too, because it's so fluffy and comfy. I got really happy whenever I saw a similarity between me and Al.
"Oh yeah, I didn't give you this. Here's a souvenir. Only one 'cause it's before bed. You get the rest tomorrow."
Al gave me round candies wrapped in a cute little bag, so I took one out and put it in my mouth.
Rolling it around on my tongue, I tasted a sweet flavor. Sweet flavors wouldn't do much to make me full, but they'd make me really happy. And when I made a happy face, Al would sometimes smirk a little, which I loved to see.
"...Well, guess we should sum up the day."
Whenever we came to a town to investigate something and acted separate, we'd always report what happened to each other before saying good night.
Who you talked to, what you found... He told me to tell him everything, so I told him about how I'd walked around the mansion and talked about things with the songstress lady.
"Anything catch your eye while exploring the mansion, or talking to the songstress?"
Wanting to have a good answer, I closed my eyes a little and tried to remember.
The mansion was... big? That probably wasn't strange. And there weren't statues of a weird old guy like the town we went to before.
What I talked to the lady about... She said she liked this town. That probably wasn't strange either, right?
But what I thought was strange and what Al thought was strange were a little different. So like usual, I decided to tell him everything.
Once I was finished, Al nodded a few times. "...I see. Guess we can pretty much say we didn't get much today."
I guess since I'd talked so much, I let out yet another big yawn. I got really tired today...
"Okay, you can sleep now. See you tomorrow."
Al patted my head and quickly crawled under his bed covers.
"Good night, Al!"
"Yeah, good night."
Our final words of the day. He was always super blunt, but if you said good morning, Al would say good morning back, and if you said good night, he'd say good night.
So I figured Al had to be a good person. Nodding to myself, I got under my own covers and closed my eyes.
I hoped tomorrow could be just like this, too.
[ Day Three ]
Still sleepy... But is it morning already? I opened my eyes, and saw blinding light coming in.
It's morning! I sat up. I wonder if Al's up?
I looked over to Al's bed. He was still lying down on it.
"Morning! It's morning!", I greeted loudly. Sometimes I would jump onto the bed to wake him up, but he'd yell at me a lot, so I couldn't do that again for a while.
Making kind of a pained voice, Al looked toward me.
"...What time is it?"
What time...? Did he want me to check the clock? He taught me how to read a clock one time, but it was too confusing, and I didn't get it.
"Oh, sorry. You still can't read a clock yet..."
Al slowly got up, rubbing his eyes. His hair was all messy.
Stumbling around, he started getting dressed and messing with his hair. I did the same. I could at least dress myself, of course!
"...Your ribbon's crooked."
...I could mostly
dress myself, of course. I got some help from Al at the end, so now I was all set to tackle another day.
Al told me to hold down the fort again and left the room. He wouldn't take me along yesterday, or before that either. When I really wanted to go with him!
I puffed my cheeks and pouted to myself. In a small town, he'd let me come along, but in a big town like this, he'd always make me watch the room.
He said it was so I didn't get lost, but I never get that lost! ...Probably.
Just sitting around in the room was boring. I wonder if the songstress lady is up? Maybe I should go talk with her again.
After a couple of jumps, the door opened with a click. The handles on these doors were just a little too high up for me...
I pushed the door and entered a long hallway. Yesterday I'd gotten lost here, which led into an adventure. Mansions really are huge! But I'd probably be fine today.
When she was awake, the songstress lady was always in this big plaza-y area downstairs. Mister butler told me yesterday that it was called the "banquet hall."
There was a big round table with chairs packed around it, and the lady would sit there and talk with the town people, or sing songs.
And she looked really happy doing it. All the town people looked really happy, too.
I went downstairs to the banquet hall, but she wasn't there yet. But mister butler was there cleaning instead.
"Ah, Miss Efi. Good morning." He greeted me with a wide smile.
"Good morning!", I shouted back loudly, 'cause I wasn't going to let him beat me. My powerful greeting echoed around the mansion like yelling from the top of a mountain.
"Where's the singer lady?"
"Ah, I believe Mischa is taking a bath. She seemed to be in the mood for that today."
So the songstress lady was in a bath, apparently. Did taking a bath in the morning feel good? I'd only taken baths at night, so I didn't know.
"Then let's talk, mister!" If the lady wasn't around, mister butler would be fine too. He looked at the mop in his hands for a few seconds, then sighed.
"I suppose. I've mostly finished, so that should be fine."
Alright! This might've been the first time I could really talk to mister butler. He was always going here and there around the mansion. And maybe I could hear some different stuff from him than from the songstress.
"Wait here," he told me, so I sat in a chair around the round table and waited. After a little while, mister butler came with a plate and a cup.
There were sweet things I'd never seen before on the plate. They were colorful, and chubby, and really cute!
Seeing my sparkly eyes, he told me about them. "Have you never seen one before? These are called macarons. They sell them at the nearby sweets shop. They're quite delicious."
He placed one in my hand. "Here you are."
I tilted it around. The macaron rolled and danced in my palm.
After that, I gave it a little bite. A fluffy and sweet taste filled my mouth. Very delicious!
"You appear to be quite pleased. That's good," the butler said, offering me a cup. The cup was full of tea. I knew tea, 'cause I'd drank it before.
"How much sugar would you like?"
Mister butler seemed surprised by my answer, and smiled childishly. He put two sugar cubes in my cup and swished them around with a little spoon. Then he sat in the chair next to me.
"Mister butler, have you been friends with miss singer for a long time?", I asked, suddenly wondering about it. He said he was the songstress's butler, but they seemed really friendly to me.
"Yes, that's right. We have been friends for a long time in this town," he answered while pouring his own tea.
"Has she always liked to sing?"
"Yes. She's always sung quite often. And I've adored Mischa's singing for just as long."
He smiled warmly, and the morning light lit up his face. He really seemed to like miss songstress.
And I could tell deep down that he wasn't lying, so I felt warm inside.
When people told the truth, especially when talking about things they liked, it would lighten up my own feelings. I kind of liked that sensation.
Though, if there wasn't anyone who lied, I might go hungry and collapse.
"I heard from Al that when you spend a long time with people, you sometimes fight. Have you ever fought with miss singer?"
Mister butler was about to put the cup to his lips, but my question made him put it back on the plate.
"We... haven't fought, come to think of it. Though reasonably speaking, I suppose that should be the case."
Reasonably speaking? What did he mean? I had kind of a question mark about mister butler's words.
I didn't feel like he was lying. Probably. I couldn't be sure without Al around.
While I was thinking, the songstress lady trotted over with a steamy air around her.
"Morning, miss singer!"
Her eyes blinked, and she looked at me.
"Good morning... Er, Efi!" It took a little while before she said my name and smiled kindly.
Just a little pause. But I found that little bit of time a little weird.
Continuing on from yesterday, I went around town for several hours, but failed to obtain any useful information.
"Does this bluebird really even exist...?"
Sure enough, I started to doubt the thing itself. All the residents I'd asked had the same thing to say.
"Thanks to the bluebird, we're happy." Albeit with minor differences in phrasing, they all told me that with a cheery look.
Sure, the bluebird seemed to be a popular legend in this town. But isn't it a little odd?
Maybe the bluebird was a kind of idol. I couldn't help but get a kind of religious feeling from this. Some people will blame bad things happening to them not on themselves but on divine punishment, so the opposite wouldn't be so strange.
"...Well, at least I'm not completely out of leads."
There was one more option. Something I'd heard from that bearded man yesterday, then avoided.
To talk to the gloomy residents...
From yesterday to now, I'd been choosing to talk with cheery-looking townspeople. Mostly because that talk of "they might be monsters, so watch your back" was still hanging over me. Always wanted to avoid hassle.
But now I was stuck, and I felt like if I kept avoiding it and keeping up the way I was now, coming to this town at all would end up being a complete waste of time.
So no other option. Of course I'm strong enough to protect myself, at least.
Checking the pouches in my coat and pants for concealed weapons, I went into a cramped alley in search of some downtrodden townspeople.
I sat in the shade of a large tree.
I had walked around town a lot. Searched every nook and cranny, from tight alleys to wide-open streets. And those gloomy residents I spotted here and there before were nowhere to be found today, not a one.
Maybe they were avoiding me, too. I searched my memory for clues, and recalled the gossipping old ladies on the first day.
"Is it all right to let them stay at that mansion?" - I'm sure they said that.
The residents of the mansion, Mischa and Phil... I hadn't felt anything odd about them so far. And the people who came to and went from the mansion... while they did give me the impression of being awfully zealous about Mischa's singing, they were all carefree, cheery people, nothing suspect.
..."All cheery people" made me wonder. Well, maybe people with a gloomy disposition just never even got the thought of visiting someone else's house.
As I was thinking about it, a person passed by. I hid behind the tree and observed them. He was a young man with a face as sullen as a cloudy sky.
"...Do you have a moment?"
I nimbly got out in front of the man and put on a smile. He seemed surprised, letting out a little scream.
"I'm on a trip, see. I just wanted to ask you something. I can offer you a reward if necessary," I told him weakly. I acted as much like a passing weakling as I could. That would get people to trust you, as long as they didn't sense any malicious intent.
"No... I don't need any reward. If it's just for a second, it's fine," the young man acknowledged.
Saying he didn't want to talk here, the man led me to a nearby bench, and I followed him without saying much.
Once we sat down on the bench, the young man started talking before I could.
"Um... You're the traveler who came here two days ago, right? You look the same as what everyone's saying. Is it true they're letting you stay at that mansion?"
I was a little thrown off. I didn't expect for him to start talking, and about that.
"Yes, it is... Is there something about that mansion?"
"Well, it's the mansion, but it's more like something odd is going on in the whole town..." His head lowered with a clouded look.
It caught my attention straight away, but asking directly would probably be counterproductive. So I just repeated the words back and waited a bit to hear it from his mouth.
"...There are those cheery townspeople, you know. Those startlingly carefree people. There are rumors among us... about how they might be monsters."
I was stunned. So these gloomy people were saying the same thing about the cheery ones. They both suspected the others of being monsters.
"We hear all these strange stories lately. Someone's dead grandfather passing by looking as if nothing happened, a girlfriend who moved far away sitting on a bench and laughing... So everyone's exhausted. There are even rumors that the songstress at that mansion might be summoning up ghosts with her song."
"Someone who moved far away isn't necessarily dead. It wouldn't be too odd if they came back for some business, would it?"
"Well, it's my ex-girlfriend, actually. We broke up and she moved away, so I don't know if she's alive or not... But I'm sure there's no business she'd have back here."
Even so, that was no good reason to jump to speculation about ghosts and monsters. Though considering these gloomy people's position, maybe it wasn't surprising that they would.
Irrational things were happening around them. So they went looking for an explanation with at least a little consistency, wanting to prove that they weren't just losing it.
"So no one will go near that mansion, or those cheery people. We heard the news that they were apparently letting you stay at the mansion, and... Um, this is kind of hard to ask directly, but... I was wondering if you were a ghost, or..."
Aha, so that's why these gloomy townspeople wouldn't come near me. Why I couldn't find one even walking all over the place. Sure, it was a big town, but in two days, rumors could spread to most everyone. And the more they wanted to stay away from me, the harder it would be for someone with no familiarity with the town to find them.
"So that's it... But no, I'm no ghost. Want to feel it for yourself?"
"Oh, I realize that talking to you now. Though I was startled when you talked to me, and got worried you were here to take me to the afterlife..."
The young man smiled wryly. So did I, figuring he must be quick to believe anything. But I couldn't blame him for having difficulty making calm judgements when he was so haggard.
"There's something I want to ask, too. Are you familiar with the bluebird?"
"Bluebird... Uh, yes. There has been a legend like that in this town for a long time. But it's just a legend. Even if rumors are spreading lately about it really existing... Those started at about the same time I started hearing other weird rumors. So even if it is true, it's not bringing any happiness."
The young man's face grew darker and darker as he spoke to me. I couldn't imagine that he'd be lying about this. So what he said held a lot of credibility.
In other words, the rumor about the bluebird said to have started around the same time became highly credible, too.
"Thank you very much for telling me."
"No problem... Please be careful, traveler. Because you might get dragged to the other side, not even kidding."
With that, the young man stood up, bowed a couple times, and quickly walked away.
Well, now I'd gotten to speak with the so-called gloomy residents as well. And it seemed that the people of this town were suspecting each other of being monsters, ghosts, that kind of thing.
I didn't know why things had gotten like this, but I became convinced that the bluebird was involved in this in some way, shape, or form.
"Seems that bringing happiness isn't a cute thing, that's for sure."
I shrugged and leaned back on the bench. Quickly surveying my surroundings, I took out a box and lighter from my pocket and checked inside the box. There were still a few cigarettes left.
I took one out and lit it. I used to smoke all the time, but cut back more and more once Efi showed up. A certain feathered informant told me that cigarette smoke isn't good for dragons, either.
I wondered once if Efi's ability to breathe fire could prove useful for times like this, and had her light a cigarette for me.
Suffice to say, more than just the cigarette ended up on fire.
Thinking about it again, I wasn't sure why I had even gotten the idea to try such a stupid experiment. Maybe it was sheer curiosity. ...That sure taught me how dangerous sheer curiosity is.
"...Doesn't taste very good."
Watching the white smoke hanging in the air, I spaced out and thought.
Maybe it was because it was a different brand than usual, or maybe because it just brought up bad recollections, but I didn't feel any better once I was done with the cigarette. I thought of reaching for a second, but decided I'd rather not waste time here.
With a sigh, I pressed the shortened cigarette into an ashtray by the bench and shoved the pack back into my pocket. The sun was already getting pretty low.
Let's cut it here for today. Feels like some ugly developments are ahead. But I wouldn't leave empty-handed after coming this deep.
"I'll find you, I swear..."
So long as I didn't sense any threat to my life, I'd go as deep as I needed to. I never wanted to put my life on the line, but most anything else I would. I'd get all the details on this stuff, and use it to get big money out of the hat informant. There was no way I was coming out of this with nothing to show for it.
Those thoughts eased my mind better than any cigarette.
"Oh, welcome back. You were out quite late..."
When I got back to the mansion, Mischa, sitting in a chair, turned around and greeted me warmly. I'd been so sure Efi was gonna pounce on me again like yesterday, so it threw me off a little.
"Ah, hello... Huh? Where's Efi?"
I looked around the hall and saw no sign of her. Maybe she was lost or something?
"Oh, there's no need to worry." Mischa beckoned toward the far side of the round table, outside my vision.
I looked over and saw Efi asleep, using Mischa's lap as a pillow.
"...! Sorry, it seems I've caused you a lot of bother..."
"Oh, no, she just seemed tired from talking to me. If anyone's to blame, it's me."
She replied with a slight giggle, but it was no laughing matter to me. Efiii... I glared at her as she slept soundly.
Before I could come to a decision on whether to wake Efi, Mischa asked me a question.
"It seems you've been walking about outside a lot today. Were you looking for something?"
"Yes, that's right. Did I look exhausted again...?"
"Why, yes. I thought it was a rather tired look for mere sightseeing."
I'd been trying to put on a smile, but I guess some fatigue was showing through after all. Didn't exactly grow up in kind circumstances, but I felt like I was getting especially tired these past few days.
"Have I gotten you that curious?", I asked with a bitter smile, and she nodded.
"Hahaha, sorry. You were having a nice relaxing time, and I show up looking like this..."
"Oh, I don't mind."
Mischa smiled, but I began to feel an inkling of something off about her.
"Well, I'll take an early rest. ...And I'll be taking Efi with me."
I shook her body, but the vibrations shook Mischa too, so I gently picked Efi up. From there, I put her over my shoulder, but she still wouldn't wake up. She was completely knocked out.
"You carry her quite boldly," Mischa remarked at the sight.
"Not to worry. This is an ordinary day for us."
I bowed and quickly walked to our room upstairs.
"...Are you really awake?"
"Super duuuper awake," Efi replied in a more muffled voice than usual.
Efi woke up the instant I arrived at the room, so I let her down on the bed. But she had been totally knocked out a moment ago, thus... this.
"Well, let's put together our info."
Ignoring her pathetic reply, I summed up the info I'd gathered.
"The residents here are split into two groups, of... cheery people and gloomy people. Also, both of them believe that the other group is something inhuman. You have any thoughts about that?"
"Hmm... It was all cheery people who came to see miss singer. And I haven't heard anything from anyone about, um, gloomy people."
So no one coming here was spouting that stuff to Efi, it seemed. Of course, there was no reason for it to come up if you weren't looking for it.
"Well... Next, let's talk anything we thought was weird. As usual, if you think of anything, say it."
Efi nodded. Or wait, was she nodding off again? I lightly pinched her chin, and she raised her head with a gasp.
"First off, Mischa asked me this: "It seems you've been walking about outside a lot today. Were you looking for something?""
"What's weird about that?", Efi puzzled.
"I went out yesterday, and the day before that. But she only pointed it out today. 'Course, this much might not mean anything; you could interpret it as her just being curious about it for a while."
I thought I was doing a pretty clear-cut explanation, but Efi kept shaking her head left and right. She looked like a toy doll with a shaking head.
"The "today" part is what feels off. As I said, today wasn't my first time going out. So was there a reason to include that word?"
"Hmm... Maybe? Not?"
Yep, she didn't understand. It was obvious, the way she added the "not."
Of course, talking to Efi was just a means of sorting out the info for myself, so it didn't seem like a problem.
"Oh, well, I had something similar, too!"
I was genuinely surprised to hear that. She always just answered what I asked; it was rare she brought me any info herself. Though... I didn't know what she had to say yet.
"This morning, mister butler brought me some tasty treats. They were, um... macarons? And I ate them! And they were all fluffy and sweet..."
"Not looking for info on macarons."
She was starting to get oddly fierce about macarons for some reason, so I cut her off.
"Err... Right! So then the singer lady came back from the bath, so I talked to her while I ate. Then she said, "So you like sweet things, do you, Efi?""
That was strange, alright. She should have been able to tell Efi liked sweet stuff from day one. I mean, we'd had that dispute about handing over the cookies right in front of her eyes.
And afterward, when Efi pouted about wanting to eat cookies, Mischa said: "Please enjoy them for yourself, little sweet-lover Efi!" Yes, she certainly said that.
But in that case, something else was off. The fact that, if that were a lie, nothing happened when she made that statement with Efi around.
Efi had the ability to sense lies. Whether Efi herself could sense them was a mystery, but the ability that allowed her to feed on these lies reacted when people lied.
Lies, even if you intend to tell them, are something that stick to you. Lies full of guilty feelings and regret gather and turn into something bigger. And that's how a person can be completely taken by lies. When that happens, it's dark times ahead. But Efi could sense the lies haunting people, materialize them, and eat them.
Of course, there were lies which this ability couldn't detect too. When the liar didn't feel any regret or anything about their lie.
The only people who could get away with coolly lying in front of Efi were really good liars. To put it simply, real assholes like me.
I couldn't imagine Mischa being in the same league. So the other possibility I could derive was...
"...Guess I'll go talk with Mischa myself tomorrow."
Without some confirmation from her, I couldn't conclude anything. So I'd go see Mischa before I went out tomorrow.
...Come to think of it, Efi wasn't responding. She'd usually give an "mm" or whatnot when I said something. I looked over to her, and saw her asleep with arms and legs spread wide.
Did they seriously talk that much...? Mischa sure didn't look too tired. When she sang, she was able to keep up a powerful volume, so maybe she had stamina that belied her appearance.
As my thoughts drifted into pointless territory, I lifted up Efi's body and moved her to the other bed. As I pulled the covers over her, she kicked them away. ...Not the world's greatest sleeper.
I pulled them up again and went back to my bed. With any luck, there would be major progress tomorrow. With that final thought, I fell asleep.
[ ??? ]
"Mischa, do you like to sing?"
"Yes," she nodded. "I remember it well. My name, and that I liked to sing. My beloved family. I remember it well."
She smiled with a hint of loneliness. I didn't want her to look so sad.
"I love your singing, Mischa."
"Heehee. I'm glad."
I lifted myself slightly, and snuck a little closer to her on the bench.
"Will you remember how I love your singing?"
"Yes, yes. I love that you would say that. So I'm sure I'll remember."
I felt a kind of excitement and sorrow about that. I knew how it would turn out, Mischa remembering or not.
"Well, I'll remember."
Mischa looked taken aback for a moment and turned back toward me.
"I'll... remember," I muttered again, this time to convince myself. Mischa said "I see," and gently smiled.
She couldn't protect herself. She was unable to protect herself from the monster eating away at her.
So I wanted to protect her. There was no reason for it. It was just what I wished I could do.
"You're a kind person, Phil."
I still can't forget the look she had on her face then.
[ Day Four ]
Efi shook me awake. I was just having a hard time getting up lately. Probably had to do with how tired I was getting.
"Um, what time is it?"
That's what I wanted to know... I took out a clock from the bag by the bed. It was already past 12. That's more than just oversleeping.
I took Efi to leave the room. The moment the door opened, clear singing came from the hall below.
"It's the singer lady!"
"Is she always singing down there?"
"Yeah, all the town people come in the day, and she sings and talks to them every day."
I remembered the butler Phil had said something like that when we first arrived. But I was usually out of the mansion at this time, so I didn't think she honestly sang every day. Cutting her song short to talk to her when there were people around seemed pretty uncouth.
Though those people were all cheerful and carefree, simply asking questions could risk getting a knife in my back. Besides, you could say Mischa's song was healing me.
"Let's go listen to her song."
Looking down at the banquet hall from the second floor, I began to quietly hear Mischa's song. It was a different one from the one I heard on our arrival.
"Miss singer's singing is really wonderful, huh?"
"She's not called a songstress for nothing."
As I gave an uninteresting reply, the song entered what seemed to be the most rousing part.
"...Has she ever sung the same song?"
"Hm?" Efi responded with confusion. She probably hadn't, then.
"Hmm... I don't think so."
It was a shaky answer, but Efi wasn't that much of a moron. I made a mental note that she sang a different song every day, and went back to focusing on said singing.
"Oh, Al and Efi! Good day," Mischa greeted as she poured some tea. "If it's all right with you, would you like to dine?" The teapot shook slightly in her hand.
I politely declined. "I just want to talk for a little bit."
"The day I arrived here, I brought back some food for Efi, and she says she wants me to get the same thing again... But I've forgotten what it was. Since you were there with us, Mischa, I thought you might remember."
Mischa's expression hardened slightly. "You came here... three days ago, yes?", she replied slowly.
"Yes, that's right."
I waited for her reply. She appeared to be deep in thought, then quietly lowered her head.
"I'm sorry... I wouldn't know, either."
"Is that so? No, I'm sorry for interrupting your tea time. Please, enjoy."
I bowed to Mischa and tapped Efi's shoulder. She yelped "ah!" and followed me, waving goodbye to Mischa.
"Where are we going?"
"To see that butler."
Efi told me the butler and songstress had been good friends for a long time. So it seemed guaranteed he'd know something about Mischa.
There were two possibilities I was considering. First was that for whatever reason, Mischa had lost her memory.
Efi had spent quite some time with Mischa over the past few days. She gave me no reports of witnessing any major incidents, so the "whatever reason" was beyond me for now. But maybe, just maybe, it had to do with the reason for the townspeople acting strange.
The other possibility was that the Mischa I first met and this Mischa were different people.
In that case, I could see a connection between this and the ghost stories that gloomy citizen mentioned, like "seeing his dead grandpa."
But personally, I couldn't imagine that there were two different Mischas. I didn't know which was the real one, but the real Mischa at least would have no reason to lie, and if she did lie, lie-eating Efi should have noticed.
"There's mister butler!"
Efi brought me out of my thoughts. I looked at where she was pointing. Phil was cleaning a large garden past the terrace.
He stopped to look back at us. "Oh, good day. Is something the matter? Are you lost again?"
"Nah! I'm not lost today!", Efi replied vigorously.
Did you really get so lost in the mansion as to come way out here? Seemed like quite a distance from the banquet hall... But this wasn't the time to ask that.
I broke the peaceful air between the two and asked Phil a question.
"Excuse me, can we talk for a moment?"
I'll protect her. So that she can smile and live happily.
Ever since I was little, I offered everything to her. There was no definite reason for it. I simply did it because I wanted to.
While tending to the garden, I had a sudden thought.
Is it really right to keep things this way?
Before I could answer that, I heard footsteps from behind. I turned around to see the traveling siblings who had come here a few days prior, Al and Efi.
"...What is it?"
It appeared these two had been searching for something since coming to town. So I found my pulse naturally quickening.
"About Miss Mischa... Pardon my rudeness, but has she ever been especially forgetful?"
Suddenly being asked exactly what I didn't want to be, I was at a loss for words. How should I answer that?
"I asked her earlier about an event she should have witnessed the day we first arrived at the mansion. But she was completely unable to answer. This alone could be passed off as her carelessly forgetting... Yet actually, a number of conversations have made me wonder."
"...Such as what?"
"To be specific... She's reacted as if learning something for the first time to things which she should already know. And yet she shows no signs of trying to fool or tease us. So I considered that something had affected her memories."
I was overcome with unease and impatience. "...Did you ask Mischa that?"
This was extremely bad. Mischa could not be told her own memories were gone. Because it would make her grieve so.
And that wasn't the only thing it would be bad for her to know. There was also...
"No, of course I couldn't just ask her "Do you have no memory of it?" I asked enough that I could surmise it."
Paying no mind to my silence, Al went on. I'll keep my composure. That should prevent anything from leaking out.
"Now, let's see... Did she suffer a strong blow to the head, perhaps? Or else, I've heard that illness or genes can lead to severe forgetfulness even in youth. Or maybe it's even possible someone is intentionally erasing her memories. Would you know anything, Phil?"
"Would this have something to do with what you are investigating in town?"
Al nodded. "Yes."
Figuring it might have caused more trouble, I didn't ask exactly what they were investigating. But I wondered what it had to do with Mischa.
"Is that so. ...Well, I suppose it was Charlotte who you met."
"Charlotte...?" Al's eyes widened at my surely-unexpected answer.
Well, it was true - or rather, not. It was unexpected even for me. It was a random lie which I found escaping my mouth.
"Mischa has a twin sister who comes to visit us on occasion."
Having said this much, I couldn't stop now. I couldn't say I felt nothing about having lied.
But... I had no choice.
I felt my body growing heavy. From guilt, I suppose. Or, wait...
Was it actually heavy?
A black object was wrapped around my leg. While in shape, it resembled something cute like a cat, it was covered in some kind of dark mud with pieces falling off - something I truly couldn't comprehend.
I desperately tried to shake it away, but the monster didn't move an inch off my leg.
"So, you lied."
Hearing Al speak, I looked up at him.
"Not to worry. It's still just a little lie. As long as you don't lie anymore, it won't attack you."
"Can I eat it?", Efi asked from beside Al, her eyes sparkling.
What in the world was all this?
"Geez, you're hungry?"
"I wanna eat it!"
"Alright, alright. Go for it."
After having the conversation, Efi leapt toward my leg. She did so with such force, I tipped over and fell on my behind.
"Ack... Ah, sorry. Just stay like that and let me talk, please."
I was in no position to say no. A monster was wrapped tight around my leg, so I couldn't even run. I weakly nodded.
"All right... I'll explain that monster that appeared on your leg, but first, I'll explain Efi. First, Efi is a dragon. Do you know about dragons?"
"Naturally, I do. A species which is born with strange powers, yes?"
"Right. In Efi's case, it's the power to eat lies. When someone lies, she can give that lie form and eat it. That's what the monster on your leg is."
I returned my gaze to my leg, and the monster was gone; instead, it was in Efi's hands.
Stuffing her cheeks with the monster, she had a satisfied expression like eating a delicious meal. She certainly did seem to be eating it.
"Well, it seems you understand. So, next. Why did you lie?"
I felt a sharp glare on me. He had seen through everything.
An apology came out of my mouth. I couldn't lie in front of these people. I could see that quite clearly.
"Mischa... is sick. Due to a sickness she was born with, all her memories vanish once every three days."
I slowly began to tell them about Mischa. Al listened with a serious look.
"She seems to remember things important to her, such as her name, her family. That she loves to sing. All other memories... even those of me, she forgets in three days."
My voice trembled. This was something I'd understood for such a long time, yet my heart quivered.
"But... if she were told that. To tell her that in three days, she would even forget about her sickness... it would make her so sad. I did tell her once, long ago... And I never want her to feel the way she did then ever again. So... won't you keep quiet to her?", I implored, my head hung low.
What was I doing, lying to them and then making a request? But I had my back to the wall.
"It's all right."
I was startled to hear a much kinder voice than I'd expected.
"Actually, the fact of Efi being a dragon isn't something people should hear either, so... Rare things are that much more likely to be hunted down, you know. And I, too, was forced into being unable to hide it. So, let's both keep a secret."
With a wry smile, Al also made a request of me.
His mood was shockingly different from his relentless deductions a moment ago. I wondered if he might have been hiding something bigger yet.
I stood up from my shameful position on the ground. Al lent me a hand in getting up.
"Mister butler, you won't lie anymore?"
Suddenly, Efi hit where it hurt, and I felt a regret akin to fatigue. She seemed to be done with her meal, patting her slightly-fuller belly.
...She really did eat lies. Dragons are strange creatures indeed.
"No, I have learned that I can't lie in front of you."
Efina made a face showing a little bit of disappointment. Had she been hoping for seconds?
"...Well then, we have investigations to do."
Al bowed and smiled at me. I apologized again with a bow and saw them off.
"...Are you okay? That looked like it was tough."
Once Al and Efi were completely out of sight, a voice came from behind me, where no one should have been.
When I turned around, standing before me was the bluebird.
Though she was called the bluebird, she simply had large bird wings on a human back. So I still couldn't get used to that name.
"Why didn't you say anything?"
"Didn't you say your existence couldn't be spoken of to humans?"
She played dumb, then calmly smiled. The deep blue wings on her back shook in the wind.
My meeting with the bluebird occurred while I was sorting out the mansion's storeroom.
Though, to be exact, she didn't yet have the form she does now. When I found her, she was only a giant egg.
What kind of egg is this?, I wondered. But leaving it here, it seemed likely to break. So I carefully picked it up - and just then, a crack ran through the shell.
Oh no; did I handle it too roughly? As I worried, the cracks began to spread across the egg. Soon, a creature like a human child showed her face from inside.
I describe her as "like" a human because of the large wings which grew from her back. Beautiful wings which seemed to hold blue skies inside them. For a few seconds, I was taken by their beauty.
"...Who are you?", I found myself saying, trying to figure out what this child was.
"Huh? Me? Hmm. Who would I be?"
She only responded back with another question. Not knowing how to respond, I smiled wryly.
"Oh, I know this much. I came to grant your wishes."
Grant... my wishes?
"Then... Might you be the "bluebird"?"
There had long been a legend in this town. It spoke of a mythical being who would grant any wish and make people happy.
Seeing the blue wings on her back, I began to feel it was her.
"If you'll call me that."
What an ambiguous answer. But that didn't matter to me. The important thing was that she might grant my wish.
"Well, this is sudden... but can I make a wish now?"
I'd always had but one wish.
"...I have a friend named Mischa. I want you to cure her sickness."
Would she really grant my wish? She wouldn't ask for a suitable payment, would she? Though I'd stated my wish with such determination, I quickly felt uneasy.
However, the bluebird shook her head. "I don't think my power can grant that one," she answered all aloof.
What...? So she can't
grant any wish? Though I was visibly disappointed, she seemed to pay me no mind and asked another question.
But the wish I'd just asked for was my most heartfelt wish. Nothing else could possibly come to mind. I only wish for Mischa... At that point in my thoughts, I did have one idea.
"Ah... Well then, Mischa's happiness. I want for Mischa to never be sad, and always be happily smiling."
Once I'd spoken it, I realized it was a fairly vague wish. Maybe this wouldn't do either.
"Ahh, maybe even I can do that one. Sure."
Truly? Hearing that wholly unexpected reply, I felt anxious whether it was really alright.
"No worries. Your Mischa will definitely be happy."
Then, the bluebird spread her wings wide.
Once they spanned the whole storeroom, the room lit up with a flash of light.
"Now your wish is granted."
I timidly opened my eyes. The bluebird stood there with just about the same expression as before.
"...Was that the end of it?"
That was a disappointment. Though, I hadn't gone outside yet, so I didn't know how things might have changed.
"Your wish is granted, probably," the bluebird boasted, ending with a word that only added to my unease.
"I'm the bluebird. So what should I call you?"
Come to think of it, I hadn't told her my name yet.
I raised my head and looked at the bluebird.
"...You really did grant my wish, didn't you?"
"If you think so."
The bluebird would always reply ambiguously like this to my questions.
"What were you thinking about?"
"Just reminiscing a bit about when I met you."
"Oh yeah... I was nude, so you were blushing real bad."
...I'd prefer to have not discussed that.
"Is it okay even if you can't be happy, Phil?"
"I'm fine. If Mischa is happy, then that's a happy thing for me as well... Ah, yes, my cleaning was interrupted. I should get back to that..."
I picked up the broom fallen to the side. Yes. Even if I couldn't be happy myself, this was fine.
"What're we gonna do now?"
Al was walking quick. I was doing my best not to get left in the dust.
"I'm going out to look for the bluebird."
When he reached the big door in the entrance hall, Al finally stopped.
"Hold down the fort?"
Again... But oh well. I'm a good kid, so I keep promises!
"Efi, stay in this mansion. If you find the bluebird, you can just report it to me when I get back."
"Why're you hurrying to look all of a sudden?"
"I'm starting to suspect the bluebird's a dragon."
The bluebird, a dragon...? But it's a bird.
"Dragon? Like me?"
"Yeah. I can't imagine this is the work of a human. As soon as someone said they saw it, things started getting weird in town. If the bluebird really exists, it's highly likely it's a dragon that's the cause of all this weirdness."
Al patted my head and reached for the door handle.
"And if the bluebird's a dragon, then what's its power...? Causing memory loss? In that case, townspeople who had their bad memories erased would be cheery, and those who had happy memories erased would be gloomy... That could be it. But powers seem to vary between dragons, so I can't narrow it down yet..."
Muttering to himself about complicated stuff, Al left the mansion.
"The singer lady's not here..."
I looked under the round table in the hall and behind small trees and everywhere, but I couldn't find the songstress.
"Maybe she's taking a nap?"
But even if she was, Al told me it was bad to go into people's rooms without permission.
"What should I do...?"
I twisted my head and thought. Al always did that when he was thinking.
Oh yeah, mister butler was in that big garden earlier. Maybe I could talk to him?
"Let's do it!"
And so six seconds later, I came to an answer.
I came back to the big garden, but even mister butler was gone.
"Mmgh..." I hadn't thought
about what if the butler was gone. Now what?
As I worried over what to do, I heard a voice beside me. It wasn't a voice I'd heard before.
I turned and saw a strange person with blue wings sitting on the fence around the garden.
"Hello! I'm Efina! But Efi's fine!"
I shouted my super-important introduction. The blue-winged person seemed a little surprised.
"You're energetic, huh? I'm the bluebird."
Bluebird? Al said he was looking for the bluebird, right?
"But you're not a bird, are you?"
"If you say so, Efi, then maybe."
Maybe? Hmm... The things this person said seemed a little too complicated for me. But I remembered what Al said earlier.
"Miss bluebird, are you a dragon?"
"I'm the bluebird."
The bluebird. She introduced herself to me, and those lie monsters didn't show up. So miss bluebird wasn't lying. So, that meant... I don't know.
"I was looking for somebody to talk to. Wanna talk?"
Alright! If we could talk, maybe I'd hear something about the bluebird. Al really wanted to know about the bluebird, so I'm sure he'd be glad when I told him about this!
"What's a dragon?", the bluebird asked, hopping down from the fence.
"Uhh, well, they've got all these powers, and, uh... They can fly!"
That was the number one explanation of dragons I could muster.
Of course, I could
fly, but Al told me not to go flying off on my own, so I wouldn't fly most of the time.
"Huh, that's neat."
"I can't since I'm told not to fly off on my own, but you've got wings, huh?"
"Yeah. Never used them, but maybe I can fly."
Miss bluebird jumped a little bit off the ground and flapped her wings. With a flappy sound, she floated in the air.
"But I'm a bird, so of course I can fly, right?"
She didn't seem that surprised, and gently landed on the ground.
"I guess so..."
"Having wings, having cool powers. Yeah, maybe we're similar."
"But you're not a dragon, right?"
"Uh-huh. 'Cause I'm the bluebird. Phil calls me that, so I think so."
Because of mister butler? Al told me "you're Efina," and that's why I call myself that too. Maybe that's how it is for everyone?
"So is mister butler... Is Phil your papa, miss bluebird?"
"Hmm, maybe not that. Phil is Phil. If I had to say, maybe he's my friend."
When I was born, I instinctively thought of Al as my papa. Al said that was a "characteristic" of dragons. So, maybe miss bluebird really was just a bluebird.
"Oh yeah, keep me a secret to everyone else, okay?"
"No specific reason. I just say it to everybody," she said with an unfazed look. But I always keep promises!
"Okay! I won't tell anybody!"
Did that reply mean "it's a promise"?
"Well, I'm getting sleepy, so I'm gonna take a nap."
The bluebird yawned, and I yawned too.
"You're tired too, Efi? Well, good night."
The bluebird floated off the ground, and went over to the other side of the fence.
"Uhh... Let's get our info in order! Miss bluebird was miss bluebird... and can fly! That is all!"
Alright. Now whenever Al came back, I'd be all set!
"...Excuse me, do you have a moment?"
I talked to a resident passing beside me. Or to be exact, beside a sculpture I was hiding behind.
"Huh? Oh, er, I..."
"Just for a moment!", I pleaded in a way difficult to take as gloomy nor serious. The sullen middle-aged woman hesitantly heard my request.
"Are you familiar with the rumors of the bluebird?"
"Oh... yes. I believe it appeared about a year ago..."
"A year ago?"
If that were true, it was some pretty helpful info. I wanted to be sure it was accurate.
"I heard about it from my master... About a year ago, apparently he met the bluebird. She even introduced herself as the bluebird, and had these blue wings..."
"...The bluebird can talk?"
"It seems she did. He said that she had wings on her back, but looked much like a human."
An appearance much like a human... Maybe the bluebird really was a dragon. Although... actually, there were some humans who had wings too. I knew such a feathered friend myself.
"Um, is that all?", the woman asked, looking at me dubiously.
"Oh, yes. Thank you for telling me that."
I thanked her with a bow and quickly ended the conversation. If I probed people too deeply, rumor could very well spread among the gloomy townspeople about that traveler grabbing people and grilling them for info.
"...Would be nice if Efi had some findings too," I suddenly thought once the woman was out of sight.
I'd started today by scouring the town for the bluebird from the moment I left the mansion. The townspeople I questioned told me what they knew, but it was all stuff I'd heard before.
After that, I decided to stick to questioning gloomy people like so. Since they were avoiding me, I could only ask a scant few. But three of them had met the bluebird, or knew someone who had, allowing me to get some fairly solid info.
And the information I got from those three all had something in common. They all said the bluebird spoke the language of humans, and that it had the appearance of a human with wings growing from their back.
Like I said, some types of human had wings too. But I'd never heard of those people having special powers - like the power to make people happy.
"...Time to go back."
Just thinking about it seemed unproductive. The stress was building from days of questioning. Maybe I gave up my train of thought a little early, but I decided to head back to the mansion for the day.
The instant I opened the front door, Efi leapt on me. She hit right around my stomach, so I groaned and nearly fell over.
"What? You're awfully energetic."
"Um, I met the bluebird!"
No way. Efi really did have some findings of her own? Now this was lucky.
"Oh, really? Good job. Well, let's get back to the room and talk."
Efi had a look of remembrance and held out her hand.
"Where's today's snack?"
...I'd completely forgotten.
"...Cheer up already."
"But you broke your promise, Al!"
Efi was stuck like this once we got back to the room. She wouldn't look me in the eye. I'd utterly hurt her feelings.
"I never said I'd buy you something every day, anyway."
"Mmgh..." She glimpsed toward me.
I reached into the bag by the bed for the candy from the other day and shook it in front of Efi. "Here, the leftover candy. You ate a lie today too, so put up with it."
Efi's eyes watched it shake, then she calmly took it from my hand.
"Now, let me hear about the bluebird. You met her, right?"
"Mmfh, fhuh mhh mgh mhuh!"
"...Push the candy to the side of your mouth before you talk."
Efi quickly shifted over the candy. Then she began to speak, albeit still not entirely clearly.
"Miss bluebird wasn't a dragon. I asked, are you a dragon?, and she said, I'm the bluebird!"
"And no lie monster came out?"
"Nope. So miss bluebird is miss bluebird! Oh, and she flew!"
Efi used her hands to illustrate flapping wings.
"You've got wings too... Is there a point to that gesturing?"
"I mean, my wings aren't big like miss bluebird's..."
So they were big wings? I'd heard the size of a dragon's wings indicated the extent of their ability.
"Just to make sure, the bluebird looked like a human, right? And she just had big wings on her back."
"Yeah, that's right!"
Again, it coincided with the stories I'd heard from the townspeople. But I hadn't imagined she'd show up in the mansion.
"And where did the bluebird go? When will she appear next?"
"Umm... I dunno..."
Efi told me that the bluebird said she was sleepy and left. If it was true that she only showed up once a week like the townspeople said, this was going to get tedious, no doubt. Not to mention...
"So she's not a dragon..."
If no lie monster appeared, it must have been true. I felt closer to the truth, but also that much further away.
"...I'm gonna sleep and let it sort out."
"Does sleeping do that?"
"When humans are asleep, their brains'll just sort out info for them on their own."
I'd heard that somewhere, at least. I didn't know if it was accurate, but I didn't really care. I did know from experience that your head worked better if you'd slept well instead of being sleep-deprived.
"Well, I'll sort stuff out too! Good night!"
As she hurried to get in bed, I grabbed Efi by the collar and lifted her up.
"What?! I'm trying to go to bed!"
"That's my bed."
Efi stuck out her tongue and looked away from me.