(Toggle Theme) (Size Up) (Size Down)
The Lie-Eating Dragon and the Forgotten-Color Songstress < II >
[ Day Five ]
I didn't do any oversleeping today, and managed to get up at the usual time. Maybe getting to bed early last night had worked out.
I left Efi with an instruction to search the mansion for the bluebird again. As for myself, I wandered the town as always.
I'd heard that the bluebird would appear before townspeople - even the gloomy ones. And since those people found the mansion too eerie to approach, that indicated these meetings had to be outside the mansion.
So there was a need to search out here too, and a decent likelihood of finding her. ...But likelihood alone doesn't mean anything. Assuming that "only appearing once a week" was true, my investigation was rendered fundamentally useless...
"Sure feels like a standstill..."
Truthfully, having not personally met the bluebird, I felt like I was making no progress. Maybe it'd be better to search with Efi in the mansion?
Just then, I saw a huge shadow from overhead.
Something was flying in the sky. It was no bird.
It looked like a person with wings growing from their back, but it was not the bluebird. It had a familiar face, so I knew I couldn't be mistaken.
While I pondered, the flying man noticed me, and gradually descended down to the ground.
No, that's fine. You can stay up there.
"...It's been a few months."
Despite my plea, the man gracefully touched down in front of me and started talking.
He had blue hair with bits of white in it, and two hair pins in different colors. Over his right eye was a black eyepatch. And he had a stupidly huge build. He was a dragon, captain of a police force, named Neil.
"What brings the captain of the force way out here? Sightseeing?"
"No," Neil shrugged, smiling bitterly. "As you can see, I'm on duty."
Me and the captain here had a familiarity with each other since I was little. His force was an organization that set out to investigate and resolve cases all around the country. I always had a slight habit of getting tangled up in such cases, so he was a man I happened to meet often.
"What name are you using nowadays?"
And he could, of course, read me rather easily. So there was no need to cover up my normal attitude.
"Al, I see. If you're here, that's better proof than any something is afoot in town."
"That's a bit heartless, captain..."
Then again, I felt the same way. The police being sent out here told me that yes, something was afoot.
But was it the work of humans, or otherwise? It'd be good to get some more information out of the captain.
Suddenly, a black mist of sorts came up from my feet, and I quickly stepped away. Sensing danger, I took out the knife hidden on my waist and pointed it at the mist.
"Ah, sorry. Seems that startled you. This black shadow is my subordinate, so drop the wariness," Neil told me admonishingly.
Shadow? Subordinate? Any subordinate of Neil's would be a dragon, I supposed.
Well, but also, surely something like this could only be produced by a dragon.
The hazy black mist came together in one spot to become a single cluster. From that cluster emerged a young man characterized by pink hair and a sharp glare. He looked so young, it made me question him being Neil's "subordinate," but given the uniform, it seemed to be the truth.
"Captain, I've been investigating, and I believe it's more or less as you've supposed."
"I see. Good work."
As Neil complimented the young man's work ethic, he noticed and turned his gaze to me. Or his glare, rather.
"...What?" Why would you glare at me at our very first meeting? This guy has no social skills.
"Captain, who's this... person?"
The young man ignored me and questioned Neil. Huh, did he dislike me? Couldn't imagine why.
"He's Al. And Al, this is Brett. He's still an apprentice, but he's very capable." Neil slapped Brett's shoulder and pointed toward me.
Despite the introduction, Brett continued to glare at me unabated, not opening his mouth.
"...Sorry. He's a little shy. Forgive him for that," Neil apologized, smiling wryly.
I felt this might be stepping over the line of "shy"... And well, more importantly, this Brett guy seemed awfully young to imagine him being with the police.
"Is the force taking on the duty of looking after little brats?"
"How dare you speak like that to the captain?! I'll drag you out into the city and tear you limb from limb!"
That's the first thing you're gonna say to me? Definitely not what you wanna hear from somebody dedicated to protecting peace, either...
"Brett, you're being rude. Sorry if he's upsetting you, Al. He's not great at controlling his power yet either, so don't get him too stimulated."
"Hey, I'm not doing anything."
"I can smell the crime coming off this man!"
Talk about relentless. Granted, that was a spot-on judgement call.
"That may be an accurate intuition, but you need conclusive evidence to pin someone as a criminal. Until we can do that, he's to be treated as a common citizen for us to protect."
...Was he actually saying that to defend me or not? Feels like he's practically saying the answer.
"What was that black mist about?", I interjected to change the topic. Brett refused to speak to me as usual, so Neil answered for him.
"We call him a shadow dragon. Like you just saw, he can assume the form of a shadow and pass through solid objects. And that ability can be used not only on himself, but on other objects."
I tried offering a casual compliment, but Brett had no reaction. Made me feel awkward being here.
"...Say, captain, what'd you come to this town for?", I pressed, since that was the top thing on my mind. "I've only been here a few days myself, but it must be a serious case if you're coming in person."
All over this country, there are incidents day after day, big and small. The force had plenty of members they could split up and assign to them all.
Of those, it was mostly murder cases and big disputes that Captain Neil came out in person for. Or... cases that had to do with dragons.
"Right... We received a request from someone in town. Many of the citizens here seem troubled by some rather mysterious phenomena."
"Seeing people who should be dead, seeing things that shouldn't be there. Even being attacked by giant bugs, I heard."
The gloomy residents had told me about seeing ghosts and all that, but if the phenomena were that unrealistic, I began to wonder if some shady drug was spreading around.
"And these phenomena got you to come out here, huh?"
"That's right. There's a force we believe could be causing these mysterious events covering the entire town. The townspeople have no idea as to the origin of or reason behind this massive force. We can't deny a link to criminal organizations or acts of terrorism, so we decided to head over."
A force covering the entire town?
This town was significantly bigger than your average town, and that much more populous. If there really was some force looming over it, causing all these strange occurrences... Maybe the gloomy residents, and the mutual belief that the other residents are monsters, could be due to that force's influence.
Neil seemed about to continue, but Brett interrupted with displeasure. "Captain, should you really be divulging our intel to this man?"
"Is there a problem? All I'm saying is to take caution."
"You're giving far too many details for that. He should be plenty cautious already. Time is of the essence. Let's return to our investigation."
Despite being an apprentice, he was already talking like he was on Neil's level. Then again, the power and age of dragons didn't always show in their appearance, so maybe they really were on equal footing.
"Sorry, we should get back to work. Try to keep your distance from any citizens seeing such phenomena if possible, and don't interfere."
"Got it. Oh, right, there's one last thing I want to ask..."
I called to stop Neil, but Brett shouted to get his attention. The shadow around him swayed like a flame. Maybe he was angry.
"Don't worry, it'll be quick."
If I could just ask him this, it could put a lot of pieces together. So I absolutely wanted to ask it here and now.
"What is it?", Neil responded. Brett gave a sour look and retreated a few steps.
Aha. I could quickly get the info out of Neil with some coercion, but this Brett guy was pretty stubborn. Maybe he'd prove to be a powerful foe.
"About that force covering the town..."
"...I see. Thank you. I just wanted to know."
I turned and decided to leave this place. 'Cause I felt like Brett's displeasure gauge was going to max out soon enough.
"Why are you in such a foul mood, anyway?"
I had that sudden thought, and twisted my torso around to say it to Brett.
He stubbornly refused to talk, so I asked again. "We've never met before. So what's the reason for it? If I don't even know why I'm pissing you off so much, I'm not gonna be able to help it."
Maybe it was like tossing a match into oil. But contrary to what I expected, Brett slowly answered while averting his eyes.
"...I don't know either. But when I see that scar on your cheek, I get irritated all of a sudden. That's all."
...What an irrational reason.
I'd lowered the scarf covering my mouth to talk to Neil, so the scar on my cheek was visible. But it'd been dealt to me ages ago for reasons which surely had nothing to do with Brett.
Observing the silence between us, Neil mumbled something.
"Did you get that wound... back when you were in that organization?"
"Yeah. Just when I was all glad to be saying goodbye to it."
"Hmm..." Neil went into pondering. "Dragons generally don't share memories or feelings with their master. But there are rare instances. Maybe Brett is one of them."
"What do you mean?", Brett asked with deep interest.
"You see, he used to..."
"Quit it. You're gonna put me in a bad mood."
"Ah," Neil responded.
Me being in that organization was something long over with, but the fact was, it still wasn't over. I didn't care for the past, 'cause I had a habit of remembering everything I didn't want to remember.
...But, huh. Dragons influenced by their masters aren't common? If you compared me and Efi, yeah, you'd get that impression. It's not like how a human kid can have a parent's face.
"...Well, 'scuse me. I'll see ya."
I decided there wasn't any more information to extract and got out of there quick.
Neil gave me a goodbye, but Brett said nothing, as grumpy as ever. Shortly afterward, I heard what sounded like a "tch."
I heard a voice singing. It was quiet, but pretty.
"Is it the singer lady?"
I thought I met her in the entrance hall earlier, so did she move?
Well, it was the song she sang, so I figured it was her. It seemed like it was coming over from the big garden.
"Miss singer! ...Huh?"
I got to the garden, but the songstress wasn't there. Instead, there was the bluebird, sitting on a fence and singing.
"Hey, Efi. Good day."
She noticed me and hopped down off the fence. Just then, the song stopped, so I guess she was the one I heard?
"Was that you singing, miss bluebird?"
"Yeah, that's right. Mischa taught me."
I knew it. 'Cause it was the song the lady was singing.
"Are you old friends with miss singer?"
"Hmm. I mean, I've been with her since I was born... but that's only a year and some change. So not old friends."
A year and some change? I looked miss bluebird's body over. She was a little shorter than me. Do people get this big in a year?
Then again, yeah, she was a bird. And Al did say that there were a bunch of different kinds of "people" now.
"I know Mischa and Phil really well. Even their past. Curious?"
"Do you really? Yeah, I am!"
"Then again, you broke your promise with me. So I wonder..."
Oop. Right, she told me to keep her a secret. But then I went and told Al about her.
"Sorry, miss bluebird...", I mumbled shamefully. I was a bad kid for breaking that promise.
"Nah, I'm not bothered. I pretty much just say that as a greeting, it's not even that important."
Miss bluebird didn't look fazed at all, so I guess she really didn't mind. Well, then I could not mind it too, I guess?
"Err... Mischa and Phil's past, right. I can only tell you what I know, though."
"Who did you hear it from?"
"From Mischa and Phil, of course."
Huh? She heard about "the past" from miss songstress and mister butler?
"...But miss singer doesn't remember things, does she?"
That's what the butler said yesterday. After three days, her memories before that went away. So she couldn't talk about the past, right?
"True, Mischa has an illness that impairs her memory. But as I think you've heard, she doesn't forget everything. If it's something important in her past, she seems to remember it."
Oh yeah. Mister butler did say that too. She'd remember her name and family and important stuff like that.
"Mischa has memories of her past, just vague ones. Like a park bench she always sat on. That must've been an important place to her. But she can't seem to remember what she did there at all."
"Maybe she sat on the bench and sang?"
"Who knows," the bluebird muttered, looking off into the distance.
"Every morning Mischa loses her memory, you know what Phil does? He wakes Mischa up, then says "nice to meet you.""
"...But he's not just meeting her?"
I mean, Phil remembers. Why would he say "nice to meet you"?
"Probably because it'd confuse Mischa. She forgets about Phil, so he wouldn't want to say "so, we meet again" or anything."
This seems kinda weird. She doesn't forget her songs or her name. But she forgets about mister butler...?
"Even though mister butler has been with her so long...?"
I, too, was only just born and some change, but Al was important to me.
Was mister butler who she'd been with all her life not important to her?
"Yeah. But I think it's just something you gotta accept. It's like a curse, you can't fight it."
"Even though miss singer is such a wonderful person..."
"Doesn't matter. Curses and blessings are handed out equally to everybody."
Who knew equality was so awful... What do you say at a time like this? I guess, yeah, it's gotta be...
"I feel bad for her..."
"Yep. Both the cursed people and the blessed ones. Mischa and Phil are both pitiable people. And I'm sure I'm pitiable too for lending a hand to them."
"Huh?" What did she mean by that?
"Haha, I guess you shouldn't be calling yourself pitiable. That's a call for other people to make."
Then miss bluebird yawned and did a stretch.
"Ahh, I'm tired again today. I get tired easily."
"Hmm. Maybe I just get too enthusiastic. I probably don't have to work this hard, but I gotta realize it's for Phil."
"For mister butler?"
She rubbed her sleepy eyes and answered. "Yeah. 'Cause Phil's a precious friend of mine."
"Hmm, I see!"
Miss bluebird was putting in a ton of effort for her friend. I wanted to try harder and harder too. And get bigger!
"Mmm... Can't stay up much longer. Night, Efi."
"Good night, miss bluebird!", I waved as she flapped her wings and rose into the air.
Dizzy and staggering, she flew over to the other side of the fence.
"Welcome back, Al!"
I laid in wait in the entrance hall, and when Al got back in the evening like usual, welcomed him back with a shout.
Just like the bluebird, Al was always stumbling around when he got back lately.
"Al, are you tired?"
"Yeah, sure am. Well, but this should be over soon. Back to the room."
Al tugged on my arm and quickly dragged me along. I didn't have any time to talk, and desperately kept from being left behind.
"...Oh, am I walking a little fast?"
"Nope!", I answered. But Al slowed down his pace a little bit for me.
In the room, Al took off his jacket and sat on the bed as always. I climbed up next to Al and sat.
"I was able to talk with an acquaintance today. Got to hear about this town, and about the bluebird. And there's a lot I've figured out now. We'll settle this tomorrow."
"Al, do you have any friends?"
Al twitched slightly.
"...Don't have any."
"Hmm..." I wasn't sure what response to give, so I just went with that. Maybe Al was a "pitiable person" too...
"...What's that response supposed to be? Whatever... Anyway, let's sum up the story so far. First, Mischa. I'm sure you heard this, but she loses her memory every three days."
"But she remembers important things, yeah!"
"Right. And there's a guy who lamented Mischa's illness and wanted to help her."
"You're on fire today. Exactly right. So one day, Phil got the ability to help Mischa. And that had some major influence and damages elsewhere."
"Just... bad stuff, in general."
In other words, mister butler was trying to help the sick Mischa, but it did something big and bad to this town...?
"Well, why's that?"
"What Phil got was the power of a dragon. I mean, dragon powers are sorta beyond human understanding. Not all that surprising if they could affect a whole town. Anyway, that power starting to influence the town coincides with someone appearing to Phil - the bluebird, who you met. That makes it highly likely the bluebird is a dragon."
"But when I asked miss bluebird "Are you a dragon?", she said "I'm the bluebird." And no lie monster appeared."
Al's face scrunched a little when I reminded him that.
"Yeah, that's right... That's the one thing I think I'll have to ask the bluebird about directly. Heck, we might not be able to get any further until I do."
"Well, miss bluebird was in the garden today, and the day before, so I feel like she'll be there again tomorrow. Maybe you can talk?"
"I see... So not once a week at all, it seems. Okay, I'll talk to her tomorrow. To see if she's a dragon or not, and if Phil is her parent or not."
If Phil's the bluebird's papa...?
"Today, miss bluebird said Phil was a precious friend."
"And did any lie come out?"
Al folded his arms and got quiet. Seemed like he was worrying about stuff again. After a while, he let out a big sigh and fell back on the bed.
"Let's stop here for tonight and sleep. Okay, good night."
Al closed his eyes, but I poked him in the belly.
"Wait! One more, just one more!"
There was something I was kind of curious about still. Al looked sort of displeased, but sat up to look at me.
"Still need something?"
"Um, about miss bluebird's power? Is it the same as mine? Can she eat lies too?"
"No, the bluebird... ahh, I'm tired. Tomorrow."
Then Al's head dove into the pillow.
It was something I was really curious about, so I tried shaking him a little, and pinching his cheek, but he flicked my forehead back, so I obediently went to my bed.
Tomorrow, we'd end it. Once it ended, we'd leave the town.
This was how it always was. The time before, and the time before that. Once it ended, we'd leave town and it was over.
Ends are kind of sad things, huh. My heart ached a little, but I closed my eyes and got to sleep.
[ ??? ]
I hated myself.
I was slow, and there was nothing about me worth complimenting. I had no hopes for the future, either. I had nothing. But still, that was fine.
...Since even so, I had nothing to worry about.
But when I met you, I felt something change. I didn't gain anything visible to the eye, but I felt like you had given me something. And while I hadn't ever doubted that I had nothing before, I was embarrassed with myself for being that way.
The day I met you, I felt saved by your voice, happily singing from a park bench. I remember that moment clearly.
So I thought, "I want to be a person who can give something to you."
You may have already forgotten that, but I don't mind.
"Really?", the bluebird asked from beside me.
It was a quiet night, with only the rustling of trees. I'd come out to the mansion's garden to talk to the bluebird.
"I sure don't see it that way, myself."
She doesn't see it that way. Why is that? I don't know. Yet...
"As many times as I think it over, deep down, I feel like it's best that it stays this way."
"Huh." She nodded, her blue wings blown by the cold air. "You... Phil, you think things are best this way. You really think that, huh."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Happiness isn't something that lasts very long," the bluebird mumbled with a lonely, somewhat pained look.
"Are you hurting, perhaps?"
"Me? Yeah, when I look at you guys now, I really hurt inside."
"I mean, I don't."
"Nah, well, I said "you guys.""
So, then... not just me?
"Who were you talking about besides me?"
"I meant... hmm. I won't say for now. Since I'm sure you'll figure it out soon."
She made her answer vague with an implication of deep significance . I felt my heart become a little hazy.
Just then, the bluebird suddenly coughed violently. I looked at her with surprise. She slowly lifted her head and gave me a smile. It made my chest ache.
"...I suppose you are the one in the most pain."
"I'm fine. I mean, I was born for this. This is nothing if it's for you, Phil."
Why was the bluebird exhausting herself so for my sake? It was always this way since the day we had our meeting.
The bluebird in the fairy tale gave happiness not to just one person, but many townspeople.
Right now, there were people in town who seemed happy, but about just as many who looked unhappy. Surely it wasn't this way before I met the bluebird.
"I don't suppose that to make someone happy, someone else has to be made unhappy... Surely not, yes?"
I aired a worry to the bluebird. She took a deep breath to calm her breathing.
"My ability doesn't require anything like that. Just... well, I guess you could say this ability can cause both happiness and unhappiness."
"What... do you mean?"
"If you knew what happiness really was... I wonder."
The bluebird stared at something far away. What did she mean by those words?
"Well then... I'm going to bed now. Phil, you need to get Mischa up early again. You better sleep too."
On rare occasion, I would come to meet the bluebird at night like this.
The day I first met the bluebird, she told me "I'm nocturnal," so when I wanted to talk, I met her at night. But after a while, she said "It's no problem to meet during the day," and night meetings became infrequent.
Tonight, I had felt like enjoying the night breeze, so I came to the garden. Then she came peeking over the fence, so we talked.
After saying goodbye to the bluebird, I lifted myself up from the brick wall around the flowerbed.
"If you knew what happiness really was... I wonder."
Those words swirled in my chest all the way back to my room.
What would happen, indeed?
Would I be able to keep being happy like this? Or would I perhaps become unhappy?
...I wondered if the bluebird knew what happiness was.
Those words of hers made it difficult for me to fall asleep that night.
[ Day Six ]
A refreshing morning. A curtain of light slipped through the trees and illuminated my cheeks. As I sat up, the tree trunk I'd been napping against lightly shook.
The usual morning. Nothing changed. Nothing since the day I was born.
Well, maybe I tired a little more easily these days. But that was it. Even if I used up all my power and died, I wouldn't really mind it, myself.
Because that was just my mission, and my destiny, I guess.
"Morning. Nice weather today," I said to some little birds stopped on tree branches and chirping. The birds chirped back, but I had no clue if they were responding to my greeting.
"They call me a bluebird, but I don't really get what you guys are saying."
I don't know too much about who I am. But since Phil, Mischa, the townspeople all called me a bluebird, I must've been that.
What do I know is my power. Phil called it the power to make people happy.
But I begged to differ. I couldn't exactly tell you why I felt that way, but I just doubt a power that can make everyone happy, no buts, exists in this world.
Since happiness to one person isn't necessarily happiness to someone else, that seems pretty obvious.
"I guess I might be coming up to my limit..."
It had been a year and some change since I started using my ability. I had zero confidence I was using it well.
I mean, as far as I could see, as far as I heard, I wasn't using it well. Laughable, huh? Maybe because I'd only just been born.
"Maybe I got a little too cocky."
Every day, I was using lots of my own energy. Pretty much on full blast all day. Not surprising that I'd start to wear out. I couldn't become the bluebird from the fairy tale.
"Wonder if Efi'll come today?"
The other day, some visitors came to town.
One was Al. I hadn't talked to him in person, but Phil called him that, so that was probably right. The other was Efi. Somehow, she seemed to have the same scent as me. Just intuition.
Efi was bright and silly and just a little stupid, but I had a lot of fun talking with her. And she smiled a lot. The kind of smile a happy-looking person had.
I felt like there were hardly any people left in this town with smiles like that. There were some who smiled a lot, but they were fake smiles.
I wanna talk with Efi. And I wanna see her smile. That's the only time I can have the illusion of being happy myself.
"Efi?" I sensed someone on the other side of the fence.
Someone looked down from the fence connected to the garden and greeted me as usual. But it wasn't Efi greeting me.
"Got it? You go see Mischa."
"Why?", Efi asked with a tilt of the head.
"'Cause that seems safest."
Efi still looked to be not getting it, but said "Got it!" and flew out of the room. ...Not asking anything complicated, so she should be fine.
If Efi was to be believed, the bluebird was in that garden where we talked with Phil two days back.
What would I do if she wasn't there...? Well, Efi talked to her in the same place two days in a row, so maybe the bluebird kept coming back there to talk to her.
It wouldn't be Efi today... Would she talk with me?
I'd have to be careful about breaking the ice and all that. ...But did I have time to spare?
While thinking a bunch of things over, I arrived at that spacious garden.
Unfortunately, I didn't see the bluebird anywhere. Couldn't be that easy, could it... I sighed and was about to head back, when...
An unfamiliar voice came from over the fence. Looking closer, I saw a little bit of blue hair sticking through the fence. Was this the bluebird?
I calmly issued a greeting, hiding my impatience. First, I decided to wait for her reply.
A child peeked her face out from behind the fence. "Not Efi, huh. You're Al, aren't you?"
"You know me?"
"I saw you talking with Phil here, that's why."
The blue-haired child moved her face away from the fence, then vigorously leapt over it.
The fence was pretty tall, so I panicked for a moment. But she flapped the wings on her back and softly landed on the ground.
"So Efi couldn't come today."
"Nope. I'm the one who wants to talk to you today."
"Huh." The blue-haired child smirked.
"First, I want to ask something. Are you the bluebird?"
"Yeah, that's me," she nodded, not attempting to hide a thing.
While I was thinking about how to proceed with the conversation, she spoke up. "So what do you need with me?" Helped that she was making this quick.
"It's you. You're using your power over the whole town."
With that, the bluebird tilted her head a little.
"...Huh. You already know a bunch, Al."
Readily admitting to such a massive truth, she met eyes with me without her smile breaking, as if to say "that's not all that important."
Considering her age, it felt off that she had such a distanced outlook... that she was so hard to get a handle on.
"Well, instead of talking, can I make a request of my own?"
I braced myself slightly for this sudden proposition.
"It's nothing weird... I just want you to save a certain person."
"Who would that be?"
"...What in the world do you mean?" The bluebird's unexpected reply honestly disconcerted me.
"Just what it sounds like. What you asked me, and what I'm about to tell you - with all of that, you should understand too, Al."
Still wearing an meaningful smile, the bluebird began to tell me everything.
"Sending Efi over there was a mistake..."
I hurried to find Mischa. She wasn't in the front hall like I expected, so I had no choice but to search all over the vast mansion. Was Efi meeting with Mischa now?
I had to find her and talk to her now... As my impatience grew, my feet quickened too.
Now at nearly running speed, I was about to turn a corner when I suddenly saw a figure in my blind spot. I attempted to stop, but couldn't halt my momentum and lightly bumped their shoulder.
"Ahh, sorry. I'm in a hurry..."
"Oh, I'm fine. ...What seems to be the matter?"
Phil was standing in front of me.
...What should I do?
For a few seconds, I considered every possibility.
I could continue toward Mischa. But if we were in the worst possible situation I could imagine, I wouldn't have the means to handle it.
Phil seemed like the key to resolving said worst-case scenario. So maybe it would be best to talk to Phil here.
"I was looking for Miss Mischa. She wasn't in the grand hall, so..."
"Mischa... is in her room. She hasn't been well lately. What did you need with her?"
Not well... My spine shivered with bad premonitions.
"Er... Not well how?"
"Hm? Oh, it's not a fever or anything of that sort, but she's had trouble breathing. It seems she couldn't sing yesterday..."
So was that the reason I didn't see her yesterday?
If it had worsened to the point of not singing, the symptoms must have started appearing a few days ago.
"Well... Then we might want to hurry."
"Hm?" Phil's face hardened.
"Let's tell Mischa... about her memory loss."
"Huh?!" Phil showed an expression of pure surprise like I'd never seen before, more suiting his age.
"Do you understand what it is you're saying?"
"I sure do."
"Mischa... Even if you tell her such things, she'll quickly forget! So why let her know something so sad? Why intentionally cause her pain?!"
Phil desperately denied my proposal. He had the right reaction. I'd even promised to him that I'd keep quiet about it.
"But I think Mischa's suffering as she is."
Phil locked up for a moment.
"W-Why would you think that too...?"
"'Cause I told him."
Hearing a voice from the back, Phil's gaze left me.
From behind me appeared the bluebird. She told me she too was worried for Mischa and Phil, so I brought her along.
"I've been talking with Mischa, too. And when I told Al about it, he told me that's what we should do."
It seemed the bluebird had been talking with not only Phil, Efi, and the townspeople, but also Mischa periodically. And earlier, she told me all about their conversations.
"So there you go. Any further use of the bluebird's power will just leave Mischa and the bluebird sad. And the bluebird... even if she isn't human, she might just die."
"Not human... That's obvious, isn't it? She's like something out of a fairy tale."
"Right. That's it. But technically speaking, this girl isn't a bluebird or anything."
"Not a bluebird...?"
Phil seemed to be overwhelmed by all this information, and his mouth simply hung open. Not surprising, having all these truths dropped on him rapid fire. But what he really needed to hear was yet to come.
"...She's a dragon."
This made Phil freeze completely. As I suspected, even he didn't know.
"...A dragon, like Miss Efi...? Where is your proof?"
"First up, the wings. All dragons have horns and wings. There are also these wing-like things coming out near her ears, but I suppose they're her horns."
As I explained, Phil's gaze wandered between the bluebird's wings and body.
"One doubt I had was, when Efi met the bluebird, she introduced herself as "the bluebird," and Efi didn't detect it as a lie. Once we talked about it, though, it made sense."
"You called me the bluebird back then, so... that's what I thought I was, too."
In other words, the bluebird herself hadn't realized the fact that she was a dragon. This allowed for a situation where she could say something that wasn't a fact, but it wasn't a lie, meaning no lie monster appeared. I figured that out while talking to her earlier.
"Sounds like you're the one who called her "bluebird" from the start. So I can only assume you know all about her birth?"
Phil listened to my question in silence. He showed no intention of answering.
"I don't suppose you saw her come out of a giant egg that suddenly appeared? 'Cause I saw dragon Efi here be born the exact same way."
Phil's mouth faintly trembled. Sure enough, this bluebird's... dragon's owner was Phil.
"At this rate, you and Mischa will just remain unhappy."
"Y... You know nothing!" Phil exploded into an objection. "How do you think I feel greeting Mischa with "nice to meet you" every three days when she loses her memory?! Holding in my welling emotions, treating her as if I were a stranger... Or even... how I feel for Mischa at such a time..."
"Right, I don't know, because I'm not you. And you don't know anything about me, either."
"Of course I wouldn't!"
"Yep. But more than just me. You don't know Mischa either. Nor the bluebird."
"Huh?" The color of Phil's face changed. "What do you... mean?"
"What do you know about her power?"
Phil glanced over at the bluebird, then back to me.
"...Isn't it the power to make people happy?"
"That's the bluebird in the fairy tale. Like I said before, she's not the bluebird, but a dragon. Dragons have unique abilities. In her case..."
"The power to show illusions," said the bluebird.
"Eh...?" Phil weakly uttered.
When I talked to the bluebird, I recalled what Neil told me yesterday and the theory I had put together then.
Before leaving Neil and Brett in town, my final question was "What's the source of the force covering the town?", and this was Neil's answer:
"The power of a dragon is enveloping this town. Of this, I have no doubts."
That answer matched up with the theory I'd been considering.
So, what precisely were the mysterious phenomena happening in town?
We have the extremely happy and extremely gloomy townspeople, each suspecting the others of being monsters. The gloomy ones claimed they saw dead people, or people who shouldn't be in town...
Putting together the stories from the gloomy townspeople, I established my first theory: were they only seeing an illusion?
It was unbelievable and questionable in its own right, but since the events were limited to this town, the idea that a force over the town was creating illusions felt most reasonable.
In that case, what about the cheery citizens?
They all seemed perfectly happy, and I heard not a peep about seeing ghosts or anything. Perhaps they were being shown separate illusions, and that's why they seemed so happy.
I felt like things were lining up, but what I absolutely couldn't figure out was why the citizens saw different illusions.
After the bluebird made her "request," I aired this doubt to her. And she had a most unexpected reply.
"...The truth is, it was only supposed to be a little bit around Mischa. The plan was using my power to make "illusionary citizens." For the sake of Mischa, who had no friends because of her memory loss, I had them visit her every day so she wouldn't be lonely. Those "cheery townspeople," as you call them, were all illusions made by me."
I was deeply shocked when she gave me that answer. After all, she was telling me those very human-like happy people I'd seen were all illusions. I hadn't noticed in the slightest.
"To be exact, it's an ability that can give form to people's memories... I guess. The happy townspeople were created from the memories of the many real residents of this town. I just used those real people as a base for the illusionary ones."
That would explain why the illusions seemed so realistic, I thought.
"I see. So wouldn't it be possible to show Mischa the memories sleeping in her mind?", I asked naively.
If you could summon something up from memory, couldn't you give form to lost memories which she couldn't remember herself? If you did that, even though she may forget them, she could recall them again and again.
"My ability won't work on lost, long-forgotten memories. I can only make an illusion of something someone remembers clearly. If I did try to do it on something deep in their memory, they'd only see something warped unless they could remember it. The extent of my ability is really pretty puny..."
The bluebird had a sorrowful look. I was sure she had tried all sorts of things, but to no avail.
"What do you want to do, then?"
"Like I said before, help Mischa. I mean, well... I'm making Phil and the townspeople unhappy, too. So I want you to save them, and her."
"You asked that already. What about you?"
"Huh?" The bluebird tilted her head as if to say, "what about me?"
"I could save you too."
"Huh... How good-natured."
That was definitely not accurate. I just couldn't bear to see things get any worse with these guys.
"Using your power any more will just ruin your body, I'm sure. Either get things to a point where you don't need to anymore, or end up rendering yourself unable to use it anyway. Same result."
The bluebird lowered her head, striking a thoughtful pose.
"Right... Either way will be the same in the end. All right, I guess I'll have you save me."
I nodded. And we left the garden to look for Mischa together.
"Then... the people who came to see Mischa were illusions. What's more, damage from this has spread beyond this mansion...?"
"Sorry, Phil," apologized the bluebird. "My bad for not saying so as soon as I realized. I couldn't control my power well, and I couldn't say anything... and things slowly dragged on until today."
"I want to go with you to see Mischa."
Phil looked like he still couldn't accept it, and was refusing to cooperate.
"Please... While you're keeping me here, Mischa's driving herself further into a corner. Even if it's too late, I think we can do something with you there. You can save Mischa."
That seemed to the key to unlocking Phil's shackles. He sighed and turned his gaze to me.
"Understood. Mischa's room is this way."
Heading further down the hallway where I bumped into Phil, I saw a door.
Phil knocked three times and called through the door. "Mischa, it's me."
He waited a while. But even after a long while waiting, we didn't hear Mischa's voice.
Usually she would reply right away, I supposed. Phil craned his neck and reached for the doorknob, and suddenly, it opened with a click.
From inside leapt not Mischa, but Efi.
"Ah! You're here! Um, miss singer's in a real bad way!"
With that, Efi grabbed my hand and pulled me inside. Sensing Efi really meant it, Phil and the bluebird followed behind us.
Something monstrous was sitting on a big white bed, making a beastly moan. It had a human-like shape, but was somehow incomplete, not all one thing. Its expression seemed slightly sorrowful.
"We didn't make it in time...?"
As I'd predicted, it was the worst-case scenario.
"Efi, how is it?"
"Umm... It'll just keep pouring out like this, so I can't eat it all..."
Indeed, the thing before us was overflowing head to toe with a black mud.
I took a few steps closer, but it only moaned. It showed no sign of attacking us.
"Hold on a moment... What's happened to Mischa...? Did that monster devour her?!", Phil asked in a panic, pointing at the monster spewing mud.
"...Nope. That is Mischa."
Yes, this was Mischa. Though her form had decayed almost beyond recognition.
"Mischa was always lying, too. Because Efi was with her, all the many lies haunting Mischa took on form. And then... they overflowed like crazy, resulting in this."
When Efi approaches, lies take form. If it's one or two, you get cute-looking weak monsters like what was wrapped around Phil's foot the other day. Something Efi could easily neutralize and process as food.
But as lies get bigger, they overtake the host, and ultimately swallow them up like this. At that point, even Efi can't eat them.
"You know, Phil, the whole time I was fearing this would happen to you. Every time Mischa lost her memory, you'd been telling her "nice to meet you." But once I heard from the bluebird, I realized Mischa's lies were the real concern."
"What lies are those...?!"
Phil grabbed my collar roughly. He hardly seemed able to control himself from impatience and uneasiness.
"This is one thing even the bluebird didn't seem to notice. Because when you really don't want a lie to be found out, you obviously won't tell anyone else. So... here's my guess."
I put it in simple words to make it as easy on Phil as I could.
"Mischa remembers you."
The moment I told him, the energy left his hands.
"What do you... mean by that...?"
"The bluebird's been talking with Mischa often. And you come up a lot, it seems."
"Yeah, Mischa was dying to hear about you. Especially the days she lost her memory," added the bluebird.
Phil made no attempt to hide how lost he was, listening silently while sweat formed on his brow.
"If she really forgot everything about you, she wouldn't do that every time. So your appearance, your name, maybe both... Some part of you, she still remembered clearly even when she would lose her memory."
"Then what need was there to hide it?"
Phil's voice trembled. Because of the secrets they'd kept from each other, Mischa was taken by lies. He was probably starting to realize that himself.
"Same reason as you, I'm sure. She "didn't want to make you sad"... Because she may remember how you look or your name, but nothing about the times you had together."
"She knew you were someone important to her, but didn't know how you had lived together up to now. You kept introducing yourself anew to her, so she decided it was best to not make you sad."
"No... Then does that mean Mischa realizes she loses her memories, too?"
"If you only remember a little bit about yourself and your family, of course you're gonna notice there's something up. I'm sure Mischa isn't that stupid."
Phil bit his lip and lowered his head.
Everything they'd struggled to hide all this time had been for nothing in the end. Not only Phil; you could say it about all three of them.
"We'll need your words to strip away the lies around Mischa. Tell her everything."
"What? What would I tell her now...?", Phil asked in a strained voice of regret. Now that he understood everything, he was full of guilt... or something like it. His expression was sullen.
"Ask your heart. I bet there's plenty you want to say. Make it as long as you need to. I'm sure your words alone can save Mischa."
I patted Phil's back and pushed him over to Mischa, whose silhouette grew hazy from the lies eating at her.
Phil shot me a puzzled look, but after seeing I would say nothing, took a slow deep breath with resolve.
I hate myself.
I'm losing my memory. It may be because of an illness, or it may be my fault. Though you will not tell me.
But when you greet me in the morning, I feel myself wrapped up in happiness. I just can't remember what it is you gave me.
When and where did we meet? I remember your face and name, so why can I not remember that?
Maybe you've forgotten me as well? Are we truly meeting for the first time, as you say?
"Why can I not remember...?"
It hurts, deep in my chest. And it's suffocating.
Surely, you treated me preciously at all times. You were kind to me, I'm sure. You smiled for me, I'm sure.
But as much as I search within myself, I can't find your expression.
It's like I've been thrown into a maze where everything around me is dark.
I can remember my name which I love. The precious name my loving family gave me.
I can remember my family which I love. Their faces and names, and just a little bit of the meals I ate with them.
I can remember the songs which I love. Even if I can't recall the lyrics, I remember the melody.
And I can remember you who I love. Though I know you're important, that's all I know.
Why can't I remember anything but your face and your name?
I tried saying your name. Though there was no reason why doing it now would clear up the darkness around me.
I heard someone's voice from far away. Is this a voice I know...?
This time, I heard it clearly. I know this voice well. It's your precious voice.
I strove to speak. Lately, I had been feeling sickly, and could not even sing very well, so I was unsure if you could hear it. But I raised my voice and shouted your name.
"There's something I need to apologize for, Mischa."
"I need to apologize for something as well, Phil."
It felt like there was something stuck in my throat. My voice was quieter than usual. But I ignored it, and continued to shout into the darkness.
"I've been lying to you. When your parents went away for work and I was entrusted with you, I felt just a little pressured. I wondered if I would suffice. Even when you hired me at the mansion, I felt my chest was about to burst."
"There's no need to feel that way."
Surely, Father and Mother were fond of Phil. That's why they called him to the mansion. Though I can't remember that day anymore.
"I was told your parents explained your illness to you every morning you lost your memory, so I felt I had to do the same. But the first time I told you, you looked so sorrowful. So I lied. I started saying "nice to meet you" instead."
The days when I went empty, Phil always said "nice to meet you." I didn't understand why he would say such a thing. I was uneasy that he had really forgotten me.
But that wasn't it, was it. He said it for my sake.
"I knew that we were not "meeting," either. But I didn't say it. And I was very sad when I couldn't say it."
"So I want to apologize. I'm sorry, Mischa."
"So am I!"
I had to properly apologize as well. And yet, my throat was filled with some kind of mud, and I couldn't speak the words.
I had to apologize... I had to say it to Phil...
(I want to apologize to Phil!)
As I made that wish, a ray of light came through the darkness.
"It's coming off!"
I heard an adorable voice, and the light grew.
So blinding... But I desperately reached toward that light.
I could see Phil's face. And in the next moment, I was being held up in his arms.
"Sorry... I'm really sorry, Mischa..."
Phil apologized with a quivering voice. His body was shaking, too.
"No, so am I. I need to apologize myself."
The things that had built up in me, and dragged me into the darkness...
They had fallen away now. So now, I could say it.
"I did know you, Phil, but I couldn't remember. Even though I knew your face and name, I could remember nothing else. So I thought... if I told you that, it would only make you sad. So I didn't..."
"I see... I see now. That's fine. I've always been unremarkable, after all. Even if you just remember my face and name, if you haven't forgotten everything about me, that makes me very happy."
As I called his name, tears fell from my eyes.
I squeezed out one last apology. I wonder if Phil heard it.
After that, the two of us continued to hold each other, and quietly cried together.
[ Day Seven ]
It was a quieter morning than usual.
Me, Efi, and the bluebird were sitting around a big white table. Having sweets and tea, we were waiting for Phil and Mischa.
"I don't think I can eat too much..."
"Figures, after eating a lie that big."
It was large enough to distort a human's form. I could expect not having to give her a single bite for a week, maybe.
I'd never gone a week without any food myself, so I couldn't imagine what that felt like. Dragons must have real different stomachs from humans, too.
"Wonder if everyone's happy now?", the bluebird murmured with a smile. Unlike yesterday, she had a simple expression.
After the lies were stripped away from Mischa yesterday, the bluebird repealed her power that covered the town.
As she'd told me, most of the "cheery citizens," as I called them, vanished. There was naturally confusion, but the police went around offering an explanation, and by evening, they seemed to be getting back their usual liveliness. These people could just adapt to anything, I bet.
Phil was worried that Mischa would feel lonely with the people who came to visit her being gone, but Mischa said with a smile that it was enough if Phil would listen to her.
With Mischa's song and personality, I was sure people would naturally gather around her again. And not illusions this time. At least I thought so.
"I'd say this is better than before. No reason to call you the bluebird anymore, though."
"Yep. My wings only come out when I'm using my power in the first place. I could make them appear anyway, but it wears me out."
"...Yeah, I feel like this town gets me unusually tired too."
When I met Neil in town, he wondered aloud if the power of a dragon covering the town might have an effect on humans.
Then again, maybe it was just the fatigue from dragging Efi around.
"You met the captain and his subordinate, right? What are you gonna do?"
After the case with Mischa was settled, Neil's force evidently came to the mansion. But I wasn't interested in another glare-fest with that Brett guy, so I stayed up in the room with Efi.
"Yeah, but I told him I'm staying here. I love this town and all."
"Hmm. Seems like you'd be safer with them, though."
"I mean, there aren't a lot of bad people in this town. Oh, and there are lots of big trees. I love leaning on tree trunks and sleeping. So this might be a better place for me."
"Hey, what are you talking about?", Efi interrupted.
Here, I had a thought.
The bluebird being a dragon. The illusion-showing power that had covered the town. The police's explanation.
"...You're a dummy, so you should stay out of the conversation."
Explaining all of that in a way Efi would understand seemed like a huge annoyance... downright difficult, even, so I rejected it.
"Whaaa?! Why not, why not?! Tell meee! You're mean, papa!", Efi wailed.
Shoot. Maybe I pressed the wrong button.
"Al is your papa?"
"Yeah! And Al's name is a lie, too!", Efi casually revealed to the bluebird. She was being such a blabbermouth, I had to stop her.
"And also... Mmh mmfh!"
"Say any more, and no snacks for the rest of eternity."
I covered Efi's mouth to keep her from spilling any more beans. She struggled and made muffled noises through my arm.
"You guys are funny," the bluebird snickered beside me.
There was nothing funny about it, if you ask me.
"Sorry to keep you waiting!"
Right on time, I was saved by Mischa and Phil arriving with sweets and tea.
"Are you certain?", Mischa asked, looking at us lonesomely.
"Yeah, we finished our main objective of gathering info. We gotta get moving somewhere else soon. A traveler's fate and all that."
"Is that so... Then we will pray for good fortune on your travels," Mischa vowed in a clear voice.
"I know we've caused you much trouble." Phil bowed his head low beside her.
"It's done with now. Don't sweat it."
Phil looked at me closely after my blunt reply.
"...Mr. Al, you seem quite different from our first meeting."
Come to think of it, I was slipping back to my "usual" way of speaking with Phil and the rest. Not a great idea for a con artist to let his true colors be seen, but...
"Well, yesterday called for hurrying. And if you've seen it once, no point in hiding it anymore."
"But I believe that suits you more, Mr. Al."
What's that supposed to mean? Because I've got a mean look?
While I worried over it, the bluebird came up to us. "Oh yeah, take this. As proof of our friendship."
She rustled around her waist, then offered us a handful of blue feathers.
"Haha, since you talked with me so much, Efi. I hope we can talk again."
The bluebird smiled at Efi with a hint of sadness.
"Right... I suppose I can't call you "the bluebird" anymore. I'll need to think of a proper name for you," Phil suddenly mumbled.
True, she wasn't really a bluebird in any sense, so that could be an issue going forward. Efi was the only one present who didn't seem to follow, but seemed deep in thought about what name would be good for her.
The bluebird thought for a while, then suddenly looked up.
"Well, Al sounds good."
"...Why?" I winced with a sort of disgusted surprise.
"It's a fake name anyway, so why not? Gimme your name, Al...", she whispered in my ear. Seemed she was being careful not to let the others know.
"Ahh..." I hesitated to reply. It was a pseudonym, but still... why my name?
"Hooray," the bluebird whispered with a wide smile. Then she turned to Mischa and Phil.
"Since Al saved me, I said I wanted to make my name Al too so I don't forget. And then Al said I could use it. So from today forth, I'm Al."
So she told them. I was speechless from the feeling that I'd been out-conned.
"Oh? That's wonderful."
"Heehee. That's great, Al."
Phil and Mischa both smiled happily at the bluebird. I had been using that name for the past week, so it gave me a weird ear-burning feeling.
"Will you come to this town again?", Phil asked me.
"Hmm... If I feel like it."
"I wanna hear miss singer sing again!"
Mischa bent down slightly to Efi's eye level. "Oh, I'm so glad. I'll have to practice my singing plenty."
"Well then, excuse us."
At this rate, Efi would only get that much more unwilling to leave town. So I turned around, pulled Efi's hand a little forcefully, and went down the road out of town.
Before Efi fully turned her back on the town, she waved goodbye to Mischa and the rest.
A quiet "goodbye" came from behind.
After walking a ways, I noticed a little flower blooming at my feet.
No... Actually, there were little flowers springing up and blooming along the path we were walking.
It was still a cold season. Too early for flowers to bloom. The bluebird must have set this up.
So the range of the bluebird's power did extend past the town. That's really far.
...Maybe I should've gotten a little more information.
"Wooow!", Efi shouted with amazement at the dreamlike spectacle.
"Must be that bluebird. Guess it's a perfectly good use of that ability."
"She's not the bluebird, she's Al!", Efi reminded me angrily.
"Yeah, yeah, got it. Doubt we'll be stopping by that town again anyway."
"...So we really aren't going there again, huh?" Efi's face went sullen.
"Like I've said before, I can't just come and go to places like I please. You never know who's watching, and you could get stabbed any moment in this line of work. Wouldn't want me to get stabbed, wouldja?"
Efi silently shook her head.
"That's right. The people you build good relationships with are the ones you can't avoid trouble with. So we won't be going back to that town."
Efi was a dummy, but she probably more or less got what I was saying. Still, she was pouting hard, not able to fully accept it.
"...If we can clear a bunch of things up... go all around the world, and run out of towns to go to. Then I'll take you there again."
Eh, it was a lie, of course. But Efi didn't notice my lies, so this would do.
Suddenly, my cellphone rang. I answered the call, and the hat informant's voice leapt into my ears.
"Yoohoo! Done with bluebird hunting?"
"Yeah, with results. Let's make a trade next time we meet."
"Whoa-ho! Amazing. That's our gifted conman. How does Vermilion Town sound next?"
"Vermilion Town?" Hmm... I'd never heard of it. Once this call was over, I'd have to find directions there.
"There's an interesting legend they've got over there. I'm heading there now, so I'll be waaaiting!"
"Right, got it."
I hung up, and Efi looked at me as if to ask "who was it?"
"...Our next destination is decided. Vermilion Town."
"Va...?", Efi tried to repeat in a dumb voice. Probably didn't hear me very well. "Are there tasty treats there?"
"That'd be nice."
...I had to get a lot of money ready for next time. With Efi along, I wouldn't be surprised if I ran out.
There were still things I couldn't resolve. First of all, the lie I'd told to my family. That was a lie that still wouldn't come off.
This journey of ours was more accurately an escape. I was constantly fleeing from place to place.
It was something I'd have to bear my whole life, I was sure.
I don't feel like asking forgiveness. It's fine.
"I hope I can eat your lies too someday, papa."
"Don't call me papa," I retorted, and Efi let out a quiet "gack!"
...Efi, eating my lies. Would a day like that come, I wonder?
If it did, that might be the day I'm saved. ...Now, I'd come to have silly thoughts like that. Strange as it was to put any hopes in this little dummy.
"I'll do my best to stay with you forever, papa!"
Ever since our shocking meeting, I was constantly getting pushed around by this brat.
...For now, maybe I was happy being pushed around like this for a while.