Chapter 27 – Spirit Festival
The Spirit Festival.
Held once a year, it was a festival for the Seirei no Tami to offer their thanks to the spirits.
「Under the compassionate blessings of the great spirits, may their blessings and divine protection forever be with us, the Seirei no Tami…」
The surrounding area was wrapped in a solemn atmosphere. Reciting the prayer dedicated to the spirits were the three elders, Arthura, Dominique, and Syldra, of the Beastmen, Dwarves, and Elves respectively.
At the same time that day, besides the few left as minimum security, the whole population of the Seirei no Tami had gathered in prayer under the Great Tree where Dryad resided.
When the three elders concluded their prayer, wearing ceremonial attire, Oufia, Sara, and Alma performed a dance as an offering to the spirits.
It was a breathtaking spectacle to behold.
Next to Rio, Latifa was earnestly watching the three’s dance, fascinated and entranced by the mystifying sight.
Dryad was also happily watching the dance performed by the three.
「Everybody! Once again, we are able to safely hold the Spirit Festival this year. All of this could not have happened without everyone’s cooperation and prayers to the spirits. I pray that your devotion to your faith in the spirits will never cease to remain strong.」
Upon completion of the sacred dance, Syldra called out to the people in a solemn voice.
Although he was not speaking in a loud voice, he was using spirit arts to propagate his voice like a megaphone would so it still resounded throughout the whole area.
「Then next, we will be holding the blessing ceremony under the divine protection of Dryad-sama.」
At Syldra’s words, Latifa’s body trembled.
Every year, it was a custom for the children of the Seirei no Tami who reached a certain age to receive a blessing of the spirits from Dyrad, along with a brief introduction during the Spirit Festival.
Because Latifa was not originally part of the village and joined later in her life, she has already passed the age. However, it was arranged beforehand for her to receive the blessing of Dryad during the festival.
Furthermore, by receiving Dryad’s blessing, though not to the degree of a spirit contractor, one’s aptitude with spirit arts and their Odo capacity both slightly increased. Therefore, children who receive Dryad’s blessing are able to learn spirit arts.
Syldra, Dominique, and Arthura performed a simple introduction for the children of the Seirei no Tami and then one-by-one, introduced them to Dryad for the blessing.
When Dryad blessed the children who came before her by kissing them on their foreheads, their bodies were wrapped in a faint light.
「——In addition, a new friend joined us last year, Latifa from the fox tribe.」
At last, Latifa’s name was called. Hearing her name called, she approached Dryad’s side.
Perhaps receiving countless stares from the Seirei no Tami caused her to become nervous, her movements were slightly awkward. Reaching Dryad, Latifa stood upright like a statue causing Rio, who was watching, to smile wryly.
Before long Dryad gave her blessing and Latifa’s body was surrounded by a faint light.
「And now, I’d like to introduce the personage who rescued Latifa to everyone here. He rescued Latifa, who was enslaved by a noble of the human race, while being a member of the human race himself, and brought her to our village. At that time, due to a misunderstanding, we treated him poorly, yet he still forgave us.」
At the spot where Dryad gave Latifa her blessings, Syldra began the introduction of the final person.
Latifa was not the only one who was going to be introduced to everyone.
Rio’s introduction was also decided beforehand.
「I am pleased to introduce, the benefactor of Latifa and the Seirei no Tami, Rio-dono.」
Climbing the stairs to the altar which was equal in height with the roots of the Great Tree, Rio deeply lowered his head as Syldra introduced him.
Syldra started praising Rio’s achievements of bringing many new recipes to the Seirei no Tami.
Furthermore, when it was revealed that Rio was contracted to a Quasi High Spirit, the Seirei no Tami began to noisily talk amongst themselves.
「Silence. It has been confirmed by Dryad-sama that a humanoid spirit lies dormant within Rio-dono’s body, there’s no mistake about it. We will not ignore one who has made a contract with a Quasi High Spirit. Therefore, we have decided to accept Rio-dono as a sworn friend of the Seirei no Tami. As a testimony to that friendship, he will receive a blessing kiss from Dryad-sama.」
Syldra spoke with a clear but solemn voice, instantly silencing the crowd.
「Fufu, please take care of me. Little hero[Eiyuu] of human race-san.」
In the solemn atmosphere, Dryad smiled sweetly and bestowed the blessing kiss on Rio’s forehead.
Immediately Rio’s body was wrapped in a powerful light. Following a brief silence, the Seirei no Tami began to applaud in unison.
「Now, the ceremony has concluded. TIME TO PARTY, BABY*! RETURN TO YOUR PREPARATIONS!」
When the applause died down, Dominique announced the end of the ceremony to dispel the solemn atmosphere.
Afterwards, as per tradition, the open banquet was held in the village with the participation of Dryad. Dominique’s words also assisted in lifting the mood of the Seirei no Tami.
Syldra smiled wryly being slightly amazed at the suddenly noisy atmosphere that accompanied the transition to the banquet preparation.
「Umu, well it’s something like that. It’s not just to hold a grand ceremony but also for the sake of welcoming our new brethrens.」
With Syldra’s voice acting as the trigger, the Seirei no Tami orderly dispersed and returned to the village.
「Rio-dono, to accept our unreasonable demands and have a sudden change of heart, there are no words that can properly express our gratitude.」
Thereupon, Syldra deeply lowered his head to Rio in the noisy area surrounding them.
「Please do not mind it since it wasn’t a bad proposition for me either.」
Rio smiled weakly while shaking his head.
In the first place, for what reason did Rio become a sworn friend of the Seirei no Tami?
It was because after he met Dryad, Arthura quickly and skillfully followed up with the elder council and wrapped everything up.
She informed the elders about the existence of the High Spirit dwelling within Rio and arranged to have him become a sworn friend of the Seirei no Tami.
Rio vaguely felt that it was Arthura’s goal all along.
Up until then, Rio was regarded as an irregular guest living in the village, despite being a human.
However, he will eventually have to separate from Latifa and leave the village. Whether he will still be recognized when he returned to the village again was another story.
Certainly Rio was a benefactor of the Seirei no Tami and circumstances allowed him to be on friendly terms with them but even so, him belonging to the human race was an element that could not be overlooked.
To freely invite Rio into their village so many times despite being an outsider of another race, it surely could not be said to be a favourable situation for the village administration.
However, it was a different story if he became a sworn friend of the Seirei no Tami.
Thus, even if Rio left the village, he would still be recognised upon returning; it also made it easier for him to visit Latifa.
Having anticipated the matter, Arthura took action.
「That said, we’ve received a lot of help from you. The doubts of the few who still harboured distrust against you have been wiped away as of today. Hereafter, spilling Rio-dono’s blood, who is now one of us, means spilling our own blood. I swear upon my name as an Elder.」
Syldra displayed an earnest expression when he spoke.
「Thank you very much. I also swear upon Latifa’s name that I shall never turn against the Seirei no Tami.」
That was Rio’s answer.
The two floated light smiles and exchanged a firm handshake.
Afterwards, they returned to the village and soon after, the Spirit Festival banquet began.
Food overflowed from every corner of the village square. The Seirei no Tami were chatting amongst one another with cups of sake in hand.
「GAHAHAHAHA! Rio brat, you’re quite a skilled drinker!」
Drinking with Rio, Dominique raised a hearty laugh.
「Yes, it’s because Seirei no Tami village produces truly magnificent liquor.」
Staring in fascination, Rio emptied his sake cup.
Although a variety of liquor was brought out for the banquet, it would not be an exaggeration to say that they consisted of only the finest grades of liquor with every one of them surpassing anything the human race could produce.
「Of course it is! Since this is genuine liquor brewed only by our country! Not only does it possess the most refined taste, it won’t get you drunk, unlike those brewed by humans!」
Dominique laughed energetically, praising his own brewed liquor.
「This is the treasured Spirit Liquor of the Seirei no Tami! Give it a try.」
Dominique retrieved a glass and Karafee made of mithril, poured the liquor and presented it to Rio.
The moment the liquor flowed into the glass, a rich aroma wafted up tingling Rio’s nose, intoxicating him by scent alone.
Fascinated by the viscous liquid, he carried the glass toward his lips and poured the contents into his mouth.
In an instant, a shock ran through Rio’s body.
The liquor disappeared the instant it entered his mouth, as if it evaporated.
No, the liquor certainly passed through Rio’s throat.
However, the flavour was so overwhelming that he instantly swallowed without getting a chance to savour it.
The alcohol was extremely strong and yet easy to drink. With such a exquisite flavour, it lived up to its name of Spirit Liquor.
「How is it? My sap is also included in it.」
Saying such words, Dryad appeared from his side with a sake cup in hand.
「GAHA, GAHA!」 [coughing due to the surprise]
Rio involuntary choked due to her sudden appearance.
「Kyaa, what’s with that, geez. What’s the matter, for you to suddenly do that?」
Dryad glared lightly at Rio with slightly annoyed smile.
「Sa— SAP!?」[TL : I know this is an old joke, but he thinks it was sap from her honey pot[if you know what I mean]]
He asked Dryad whether, when she calmly declared that a certain ingredient from one part of her body was used, was true or not.
「It’s true. That’s why it’s called Spirit Liquor. As a spirit, the Great Tree is my main body; the sap is extracted from it to be used in the Spirit Liquor, hence its name. My sap is also an ingredient for a miracle drug.」
Dryad said that while displaying a proud expression on her face. [TL : my side is hurt due to this sap GAG]
「I— I see…」
Certainly, the word supreme was suitable to describe the liquor as there did not exist a drink that could even hold a candle to it. Rio had no doubts the drug was of high quality seeing how the sap could produce such wonderful liquor.
「Nevertheless, you can really hold your liquor. Generally only dwarves are able to drink it undiluted.」
「Really. You’re too good to be just a human.」
To Dryad’s admiration, Dominique gave a look of approval while calmly gulping down an extraordinary amount of liquor.
「Certainly, this sake is really strong. Despite that, it’s really smooth and easy to drink.」
Rio gazed at the glass filled with Spirit Liquor in awe.
With a seemingly cheerful expression, Dryad directed her line of sight behind Rio.
On impulse, he followed her line of sight.
There, he found Oufia with a face so red, anyone could tell she was drunk at a glance. With an unsteady gait, she was seen making her way over to Rio.
「Rio-shyama~, aye~ you dwiink?」
Rio was dumbstruck at seeing how much Oufia deviated from her usual behaviour. Flop, she seated herself beside Rio and spoke as if her tongue could not
「E— Etto, Oufia-san. Perhaps you had one too many of a drink?」
For the time being, Rio worriedly asked Oufia about her condition with cramped smile plastered on his face.
「A— Aa— Aiym fwineee~. Jyis ish nyot enough chu knock mee out~」
YOU DON’T SEEM FINE AT ALL! Rio performed a tsukkomi at her in his mind.
Then, for some reason, Oufia brought her body close to Rio, clinging onto him.
「Jyat’s nyot itt Rio-hyan! Jyust how long are you going chu keep using a formal tone with usss?」
「Etto, a formal tone？」
「Jyat’s why, icht jyust like you’re chwying chu dishtance yourshelf from usss.」
Contrary to her usual quiet and a slightly air-headed nature, the current Oufia looked at Rio with a strange and steady gaze.
Rio winced at the overbearing force of her words.
「Alchough you’re very kyose chu Yatita-hyan, you’re nyot chwying chu shorten the dishtance with usss. Nothing hash changed shince lasht yearrr.」
Rio was becoming troubled at how to handle drunken Oufia’s passionate speech. When he was about to signal the others for help with eyes, he discovered everyone had abandoned him and his surroundings were deserted.
In the distance, he noticed Dominique and Dryad were grinning fearlessly at his predicament; Rio tsukkomi’ed them in his mind.
Towards the place where Rio and the drunk Oufia sat, only one person dared to approach.
It was Sara.
「Aaah, geez! Oufia, you’re troubling Rio-sama.」
Saying that, Sara also sat down next to Rio with an empty sake cup in her hand.
Though Sara did not seem drunk, Rio’s vigilance was at its peak by that point.
Even though Rio referred to them as Oufia and Sara as well as earnestly interacting with them, it did not mean he was close with them.
Latifa usually broke the ice and the conversation flowed from there. Without her, Rio didn’t feel close enough to talk to them.
Rather than friends, they were closer to close acquaintances; Rio had interacted with the two while keeping them at a distance.
In spite of that, Sara, as with Oufia, had come over and glued themselves to Rio.
「But, aren’t you too distant, Rio-sama? Rio-sama has also received Dryad’s blessing and became our sworn friend right? We want to become closer to you.」
Sara looked up at Rio with unfocused eyes.
「Jyats riight. I shecond Shara-shaan.」
Oufia pulled Rio’s arm from the other side in agreement.
（How did it turn this out way?）
For some reason, pulling his hands from both sides were two beautiful girls of high-standings from the Beastmen and High Elf tribes.
A murderous atmosphere arose from the nearby men at his enviable state, but the person himself was unable to enjoy the situation.
「Muu~, Oufia-onee-chan and Sara-onee-chan, how cunning!」
As if to pour oil into the fire, Latifa came and hugged him from behind.
「Latifa, don’t tell me you too…」
Turning around to face Latifa who brought her face uncomfortably close to his, he faintly caight the sweet smell of Spirit Liquor drifting from her lips.
In the distance, he could see Arthura laughing merrily seeing him getting into difficult situation.
「Geez, no matter how delicious Spirit Liquor is, the three of them clearly drank too much.」
And, while he was in a daze, another girl called out to Rio in a happy tone.
「Good evening. May I also accompany you?」
It was Alma.
「Of course. It seems Alma-san is the only one who isn’t drunk yet.」
As their eyes met, they exchanged a brief greeting and Alma sat in front of Rio with a small bottle of liquor in hand.
「That’s only natural since Dwarves are a race who can hold their liquor.」
Alma said that with a slightly flushed face and shy smile.
「Alma-shaan, so cuute~~~」
Oufia suddenly hugged Alma.
「Wawawa, Oufia-nee-san. It’s ticklish.」
Even though Alma was embarassed, she allowed Oufia to continue embracing her.
「Even though in the old days, Alma was a crybaby who kept chasing after us from behind. You’ve grown to become more adult-like recently; Oufia and I have become a little lonely. You also call us “Nee-san” now, no longer “Onee-chan” like how you used to, moreover——」
「WAA, Sara-nee-san! What are you saying!? You’re drunk!」
In a panic, Alma hurriedly cut off Sara, who was reciting stories of their childhood.
「I also want to hear stories of Alma-chan’s childhood! Right, Onii-chan?」
While happily gazing at the flustered Alma, Latifa stated.
Rio delightfully agreed to Latifa’s words.
「E— even Rio-sama… A— aa— Right! N— now is the time to aim at deepening our friendship with Rio-sama!」
Alma indirectly signalled a temporary cease-fire with Oufia and Sara.
「Jyat’s riight. Nyow is zhe time chu become even chloser with Rio-shama!」
Oufia instantly jumped onboard with the idea.
Despite being drunk, her pleading attitude was successfully transmitted to Rio.
At the incomprehensible request, an uncertain expression surfaced on Rio’s face.
「Yes, if you’re Latifa’s brother than you’re also our brother. We have always desired to become better acquainted with you. However, Rio-sama always seems so distant, or rather we weren’t able to seize an opportunity— Nevermind, anyway that’s what we’ve always felt, I hope you understand. Please don’t say you dislike us~」
Sara explained their circumstances in a slightly serious [albeit drunk] atmosphere to Rio.
Even though she was laughing through her explanation, it left a strong impression on Rio making him unable to rebut her.
A slight laugh involuntarily leaked out of him.
「Wh— what? Was there something funny about what I said?」
Perhaps it was because she was drunk, or perhaps it was because she felt embarrassed directly confessing how they wanted to be his friends, Sara’s face was flushed red when she questioned Rio.
「No, it’s nothing. Sorry about that. I wasn’t laughing because I found it funny. I’m truly thankful Latifa is blessed with such great friends. I was laughing out of joy.」
「I— Is that so? Then, uhm, that’s alright…」
Receiving Rio’s gaze upfront, Sara bashfully nodded at his words.
「Now that you mentioned it, I never got the chance to properly express my gratitude for taking care of Latifa. Sara-san, Oufia-san, Alma-san, thank you very much for becoming friends with Latifa.」
With smile, Rio bowed expressing his gratitude.
「N— no. Please don’t mind it, since it’s only natural for us to do so.」
「Jyat’s riight. 」
「It’s as Sara-nee-san said.」
As if remembering somthing, the three of them replied to him embarassed.
「And if you’re fine with it, please become friends with me.」
Rio lightly bowed his head with smile; a hint of embarassment could be seen on his face.
The three answered him with extreme delight.
Although they were all slightly intoxicated, the feeling of wanting to become friends with Rio was genuine.
「Fufu, everybody’s finally becoming good friends!」
Still clinging onto his back, Latifa joyfully expressed her feelings.
「Ahaha. Something good seems to have worked out. Hey, bring over the liquor and dishes. Let us start deepening our friendship with this.」
Dominique came over while laughing merrily.
Arthura was also following from behind.
「As I thought, you guys had a hand in this right…」
「Hoho, I wonder about that, since it’s turned out well, I’ll leave it to your imagination.」
Arthura said that while keeping on a good-natured smile.
「Dominique-ooki-jiji-sama. How are we supposed to deepen our friendship with this?」
Looking at the large amount of food and liquor on display in front of her, Alma asked curiously.
「You’re a dwarf so you should know. We’ll eat, drink, and laugh together!」
Dominique bellowed as he laughed heartily; though loud, his voice was not unpleasant.
「Please don’t group me in with that tribe of muscle heads.」
Alma struck down his statement with a cold glare.
「Guha~. Really, this girl. So how’s that, Rio-boy. Although she’s a bit uptight when it comes to jokes, she has her merits. She’s also one of the cutest girls around here. After going through such great pains to become a sworn friend of the Seirei no Tami, why don’t you take one of these Seirei no Tami girls here as your wife?」
Domonique began talking about such a thing while smiling radiantly.
Rio remembered that he also said such a thing during their first encounter.
（I wonder how serious he is… But, well it’s probably just a joke.)
「P— Please don’t start saying something stupid like that!」
Although Rio just smiled and took Dominique’s words as a joke, Alma protested with flushed red face.
「That’s right. The opinion of the person involved should be respected as well.」
She was surprised that Rio defended her.
「Is that so? So Alma doesn’t find Rio-boy agreeable?」
「N— no, I’m not saying that Rio-sama isn’t agreeable… It’s just that we’re still young so we should take one step at a time…」
Alma answered earnestly despite her flushed red face.
「Alma-syaa~n, so cuuut~e. The~n, mee chuu will become~ Rio-syama’s waifu~~~」
Oufia said that while stroking Alma’s head. It really could not be helped since Alma’s reaction was so adorable.
「HOHOHO! Latifa! You won’t just yield right? Sara too.」 [Dominique]
「Wha— why am I also included!?」
In contrast to Latifa’s honest reply, Sara protested with a red face.
「Ahaha. All four of you can become his bride. The Seirei no Tami allows polygamy you know~」
Red in the face and holding spirit liquor in one hand, Dominique encouraged them with loud and rattling voice.
「Sheesh, you’re dead drunk. This old man really…」
Alma sent an tired look towards Dominique.
It truly was a joyful moment.
It had been a while since he was able to laugh so much like that.
Rio noticed he was also laughing with them.
Just like that, laughing and clamoring, when the entertainer appeared, he noticed most of the Seirei no Tami were absolutely hammered and sprawled out around the plaza.
Soundly sleeping by Rio’s side were Latifa, Oufia, and Sara. Even Alma, who was a capable drinker, lay sleeping among them.
Her condition was caused by trying to distract herself from her earlier embarrassment by recklessly gulping down the strong liquor.
「Umu. This is truly a disastrous scene.」
Uzuma[Arthura] spoke to Rio with a wry smile.
「You could’ve helped me earlier if you thought so…」
Although Rio’s face was somewhat red from being a little tipsy, Rio gave her a straight reply.
「Kakaka, isn’t Rio-dono also unusually happy? I can cure everyone’s drunkenness immediately using Spirit Arts but I won’t do such a boorish thing for the long awaited festival. Since it was everyone’s intention to enjoy the festival by getting drunk. It’s also good for Rio-dono to cut loose a bit more.」
「No, it was already plenty of fun for me already.」
Returning a feeble, wry smile to the pleasantly talking Arthura, Rio shifted his gaze over to Latifa, who was sleeping with a blissful expression on her face.
When Rio first met her, Latifa was extremely malnourished and had the appearance of only skin and bones. Now, she had a body appropriate for a girl her age in their second growth period.
The scars on her body left from the abuse she received had also completely vanished thanks to the elven medicine she was given.
It was not just her appearance that had improved.
Latifa had become a lively girl who was able to laugh and smile frequently.
However, it did not mean the wounds in her heart were completely cured. Yet from glancing at her peaceful sleeping face, one would never be able to guess that she was formerly a cold-hearted slave.
「I feel it would be best for me to tell her soon.」
He did not specifically say what.
It concerned the issue where Rio was to soon leave the village. However, both of them were aware of the issue despite never openly talking about it.
「I see. It’s a bit early but I think this is a good time. You’ll be staying in the village for another year right?」
Given the time required to complete the training under Syldra, Dominique, and the others, Arthura roughly deduced how much longer Rio would stay.
「Yes, I’ll be staying for at least that long.」
As for Rio, he believed now was the best time to break the news to Latifa whose life had stabilized.
Any later and he might risk not giving her enough time to emotionally prepare herself, so he wanted to tell her as soon as possible and allow her some time to come to terms with it.
「Fumu, it’s an issue best left to be dealt with between the two of you. I’ll do my utmost to make sure she doesn’t feel lonely but it’s not a problem a third party like me should meddle in. I wish you all the best in persuading her, elder brother-dono.」
Captivated by the adorable Latifa sleeping on Rio’s lap, Arthura provided Rio with a few words encouragement.