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Sota and Asugi sat side by side, watching the singing competition in the Elf village.

"Everyone is quite talented. I thought it would be an amateur contest at the festival..."

"Hehe, there's not much else for us to do."

Sota's shoulder touched Asugi's, and she pressed against him even more.

"I also use spirit magic to accompany from behind."

"I do like wind spirits. Since Ayahi's father passed away, I hadn't touched them much, but I used to like them too..."

—Ayahi's father was a spirit element, wasn't he?

—I've never seen a spirit element in human form, so it piques my curiosity...

Although curious, Sota decided it wouldn't be appropriate to delve deeper on this joyous day, so he chose not to ask.

"Is that so?"

"It's been a while, but would you like to hear about it sometime?"


At that moment, an instrument floating in the air resounded cheerfully without a performer, and the voices of Ayahi and another girl who had come to pick her up earlier blended together.

Green-glowing wind spirit elements appeared around the stage, enhancing the stage's sound with echoes and accurately cutting through the noise, delivering it to the surroundings.

"Oh, it's started. Quite an old song, isn't it?"

"What kind of song is it?"

Due to the unique rhythm and the exceptional Elven acappella skill of using wind spirit elements to replicate human voices with instruments, Sota couldn't make out the lyrics.

"It's a traveler's song, welcoming those from distant lands."

"Distant lands...? Are they being welcomed?"

Asugi vigorously nodded at those words.

"Of course! Because you're here, this harvest festival has become so enjoyable. It's been a while since we could have such a flashy festival!"

"Is that so?"

"Yes, indeed. It means we have surplus harvest to pay taxes and still have enough for the festival."

Sota knew.

This year's harvest wasn't good by any means. The village's prosperity was due to improvements in extraction techniques.

—If this were to be known, there could be even more exploitation, right?

This wasn't lasting prosperity.

He knew that.

"Some years we can't pay our dues."

"The unpaid taxes become debts to the Border Earl. In other villages, the debt piles up so much that they end up selling their children... Wouldn't that make you sick of it?"

"...Sick, indeed. What did the children do?"

To sell children. Those words left Sota speechless except for the word "sick."

Unable to say anything, he drank his chilled sake and fell silent.

"...Shall we change the subject? Hey, Sota-san. Don't you have someone you like? Outside of this village, I mean."

Sota's hand, holding the sake cup, paused at her words.

"Oh, no, it's not like that, I mean..."

—Has she found out about the Goddess?

—Is she probing?

—Did I let my guard down?

Fretting over these thoughts, Asugi continued with a grin.

"My father mentioned it. He said, 'He might be a good person, but for a grown man to be that quiet, he's probably not single.' So, what's the truth?"

"Well... it's, uh, sudden."

"Someone's there, right?"

—Is she going in that direction?

Elves lack delicacy. They don't delve deep in thought.

—What, she's going there?

"I... well, it's not like there's something specific going on."

Asked that way, Sota's mind immediately conjured the image of the Goddess.

—It's not like something happened between us. But...

—What is it between me and her?

"Someone's there. Someone you're interested in. What kind of person? Are they here in the village? You can't keep them hidden, you know."

Asugi's voice remained calm as usual, yet Sota felt a prickling sensation run down his spine.

—Oh no, is this bad? It's worse than the initial probing about the Goddess. Misunderstandings are really bad.

—Right. It wouldn't be good if she thought I was interested in any Elf woman other than Asugi.

Sota intuitively sensed the crisis.

"No, it's not someone from this village. But..."


After confirming that the tingling sensation from earlier was absent, Sota continued his words.

"There was a woman who let me escape to this point. Why it was me, I still don't quite understand. But she was there. That person. Even if I forget many things, I can't forget her... that's the truth."

"Then you should cherish her, that person."


Asugi poked Sota's cheek playfully and smiled again.

"I'm not very clever, so I don't understand complicated things like Father or you do. But you see, I understand this much. Even if you had feelings for someone else, it's okay. Because, just like you, there's someone more important to me. To me, you're the person who protects the most precious girl in the world. So... at least, you're more important than myself."

Asugi smiled, seemingly in good spirits.

—For now, it seems alright.

Sota let out a relieved sigh.

"...Please don't tease someone like me, who's practically a child. When it comes to understanding human emotions and intricacies, I'm the one who's lacking."

"Oh... but when you talk about age, it makes me sad to the extent that I'm just a girl, you know?"

Asugi wore a delighted smile. Seeing Sota's awkward smile, she chuckled even more.

"You're quite sly. What's with this suddenness? Spare me, seriously..."

"Oh dear, then let's be cunning companions, shall we? Come on, let's toast to our little trickeries as a family."

There were many things he wanted to say, but...


A clinking sound resonated.


On that day, after thoroughly enjoying the sake, songs, and dances, Sota returned to the separate building that had essentially become his own home.

"It seems like you had fun~?"

"I brought back some souvenirs. How about enjoying them together?"

Sota said so, showing a bag of fried beans alongside a gourd containing sake. The Goddess smiled as she looked at it. The scent of camellia wafted from today's cigarette; it was a good day.

"Ahaha, actually, I secretly mingled in the festival too. I am a goddess, after all."

"Can you do that?"

"During the festival, people's perceptions and boundaries between oneself and others become more relaxed. And if you adjust the perception slightly, it becomes harder to notice... you see."

Taking one of the beans from the bag and placing it in her mouth, the Goddess smiled happily.

"It's salty, hehe."

Sota poured some lukewarm sake into a glass and enjoyed the salted fried beans as well. The tension that had been persistent until now had completely dissipated without him realizing.

As the tension eased, he realized. This is bad.


"What's the matter?"

Numerous stories he had heard resurfaced in Sota's mind.

"This village somehow managed to avoid being indebted to the Border Earl..."

"We deemed your knowledge and technology to be advanced, even for the capital..."

"Last year, there was a poor harvest, so we couldn't afford festivities..."

"The unpaid taxes become debts to the Border Earl. In other villages, the debt piles up so much that they end up selling their children... Wouldn't that make you sick of it?"

"During the festival, people's perceptions and boundaries between oneself and others become more relaxed..."

Sota hurriedly posed a question.

"Ren, do you usually go around observing the village's situation?"

"It's a waste of energy. Why would I bother with something like that..."

"Hurry and take a look around. There might be people from outside the village mixed in. Especially right now, there's someone sneaking around outside who's dangerous. Dammit, why didn't I notice? Today's the worst possible time!"

"Wait, wait. Explain yourself. What in the world..."

Sota had just said that, and it was precisely at that moment.

An Elf's scream tore through the silence.

"Fire! They've set fire to the fields!"

A massive column of flames shot up in fields where the harvest wasn't yet complete.

Visible even from Sota's house, which was a bit away, its height and brightness painted a vivid streak across the darkened night sky before swaying.

Without further explanation, the Goddess hurriedly ascended into the sky.

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