The End of Spring Prayer
The leaf dropped to one side, and I soon lost my balance, slipping into the air. I could hear Brigitte yell out my name from below as she summoned her highbeast, but before she could finish, something shot out from the trees. It charged right toward me as I spun backwards, unable to focus my eyes. Then, as gravity took hold and I began falling headfirst toward the ground, it caught me.
My insides dropped as I was suddenly stopped mid-fall, causing me to let out a grunt. I blinked in surprise and looked around to see what had happened, only to see Ferdinand right up close, giving me a scary look for some reason. His eyebrows were furrowed about fifty percent harder than they usually were.
“...Ferdinand? What are you doing here?”
“Oh, merely rescuing you from a deadly fall. Or would you rather I toss you back into the sky?” he asked, glaring at me with his light-golden eyes narrowed in displeasure. I hurriedly clung to him so that he couldn’t drop me.
“My hero. Thank you ever so much,” I said. While he had saved me from the fall, I could still feel an impending sense of danger, maybe due to the lecture that I knew was inevitably coming.
I trembled as Ferdinand set me down in front of my Pandabus, fearing his terribly poor mood.
“Lady Rozemyne, are you okay?!” Fran asked, rushing over with a worried look on his face. I told him that I was fine thanks to Ferdinand, and the tension quickly drained from his expression as he sighed in relief.
“Now then, Rozemyne...” Ferdinand began in a low voice. I tensed up, preparing for a lecture, but all he did was ask whether I had successfully gathered the ingredient—albeit in a rather tired voice.
Feeling a bit surprised by this turn of events, I nodded and showed him the bottles of rairein nectar. “See? I gathered it all just fine. You’re welcome to shower me with compliments.”
Ferdinand took a bottle, opened it, and poured just a bit of the nectar onto his palm. He checked the color and smell, poured some mana into it, and then immediately grimaced.
“...I expected as much, but it is already dyed entirely with your mana. My own is being blocked.”
“What? That can’t be right. I mean, I scooped it up using this spoon, just as you said to...” I took out the spoon, pretty certain that I hadn’t messed up the gathering process, and pouted. “Is it broken or something?”
Ferdinand shook his head. “You misunderstand. The raireins grew from your mana, and thus the flowers themselves were dyed.”
“Ngh... Did I maybe, um, mess up?” I asked, feeling bad for Ferdinand and everyone else who had gone on this journey with us. Had I managed to ruin everything after we went out of our way to defeat the talfroschs and ask the goddesses themselves for the nectar?
Ferdinand shook his head again while magically cleansing the nectar from his hand. “No, you did not fail; our primary goal was gathering your ingredient, and that was accomplished. However...” He trailed off, then let out a sigh. “In any case, we must return to the Fontedorf winter mansion posthaste.”
It wasn’t just Ferdinand who looked tired. Fran, Eckhart, and Damuel—all the men in our group looked exhausted for some reason. Their faces were pale, and they were sighing as if weary to the bone.
“Did something happen?”
“Too much for me to explain here. We shall discuss the bizarre behavior of the forest and spring tomorrow. The sooner we return and rest, the better. None of you got much sleep last night, I would expect.”
Ferdinand cut the conversation short there, saying that he’d give the details tomorrow, but their night had apparently been pretty crazy thanks to the forest, too. I tilted my head curiously, then called out to stop the men from packing.
“Actually, would you care to wait a moment? I would like to gather some water from the spring before we leave. It’s good for curing light wounds and sickness, correct? It would be nice to have for when those in the orphanage get sick, and I’m sure that Fontedorf’s mayor would appreciate receiving some as well.”
“Do as you wish.”
Luckily, we had several barrels of water inside Lessy to use on our journey. Each was big enough to carry several liters, and two were already empty as a result of us all eating and Brigitte and me wiping ourselves down. My attendants thus scooped water from the spring and into the barrels.
“We can refill our drinking water here as well.”
After filling our drinking pouches with spring water as well, we returned to Fontedorf’s winter mansion. The men were exhausted, of course, and while we girls had all undoubtedly had fun last night, we were definitely sleep deprived too. While stifling yawns and rubbing our eyes, we decided to get to bed early and rest well.
After I had bathed and refreshed myself, Ferdinand came to me with a recovery potion. “Rozemyne, drink this before you sleep,” he said. And after drinking it, I climbed into bed.
“So, what crazy things happened to you boys last night?” I asked the next morning after breakfast, brimming with excitement as I sipped my tea.
Ferdinand, Eckhart, and Damuel, on the other hand, all grimaced simultaneously. It seemed the night had not been an enjoyable one for them.
“...To put matters simply, the goddess harassed us.”
“What? She harassed you...?”
As it turned out, while we girls had been playing with the mysterious lights during the Night of Flutrane, the men had been having a very bad time.
“Do you recall, Rozemyne, how we took turns keeping watch throughout the night?” Eckhart asked.
I nodded. Brigitte, Eckhart, Ferdinand, and Damuel had taken turns staying up and keeping watch, each of them having experience doing so from their training. The incident in question had apparently occurred during Ferdinand’s watch.
“The trees began to abruptly sway without warning. At first, I thought it might simply be the wind, but there was not even a breeze; the trees were swaying on their own,” Ferdinand explained. “I scanned the area, on guard, when suddenly the trees moved as though they had minds of their own, grasping your highbeast with their branches and passing it down from tree to tree.”
My jaw dropped as I imagined how it must have looked for Lessy to be passed between the trees like a baton in a relay race.
“I would understand if you did not believe me. I myself doubted my own two eyes. After all, what I am referring to here is the trees themselves working together to move your highbeast. It was unthinkable.”
As soon as Ferdinand saw Lessy being passed down the trees, he instantly woke everyone else up and began attacking the trees to get us back. But since they couldn’t risk hitting us, they couldn’t launch any direct attacks. Instead, they ended up chasing after us in their highbeasts.
“...I’m glad we didn’t get hit with the full force of your attacks,” I said, looking in particular at Ferdinand and Eckhart.
The trees had moved to block their path, putting distance between us as Ferdinand and the others worked to cut them down. By the time they were able to get through, Lessy had already been brought to the Goddesses’ Bath. And while they somehow managed to chop their way to the spring, they had ultimately been stopped by a thick wall of mana that blocked their entry.
“It was warm in the spring and there was not any snow, correct? That was due to the mana filling the area. We had all noticed it while hunting the talfroschs, but I never expected that enough strong mana would accumulate to prevent all of us from entering,” Ferdinand said with a bitter expression. He possessed so much mana that he had undoubtedly grown accustomed to smashing through almost any barrier in his way.
He had been put in a frustrating situation where he could see Lessy by the spring, but couldn’t actually approach us. When the lights began to gather around my Pandabus, he broke out into a cold sweat, and when we just outright stepped out of our own accord, he had apparently shouted “You fools!” on instinct.
...We sure didn’t hear that.
“In any case, I ask that you never again thoughtlessly wander out into an area dominated by such immense amounts of mana. It is beyond dangerous,” Ferdinand said. “You are only safe while you remain inside your own highbeast, which is filled with your own mana.”
I was told that it was dangerous to go outside before identifying whether the one wielding the mana was friend or foe.
“The lights didn’t seem hostile at all.”
“Even creatures that do not appear to possess hostility can change on a whim if you displease them. And in such cases, it is impossible to say what might happen.”
“Oh, that’s very true.”
It seemed that even Fran, Damuel, and Eckhart had gotten stress-induced headaches as they watched us from the other side of the mana wall. No matter how much they called out, none of us heard them. None of us could hear them. And while they were having borderline heart attacks, my musician started playing the harspiel and my chefs spread out snacks like a picnic.
“If you had the presence of mind to peer into the spring and hunt the talfroschs, you should have been able to notice that we were not there,” Ferdinand said with a glare.
Brigitte and I exchanged looks. When he put it like that, it really was weird that we hadn’t noticed that they were missing. It was strange, but at the time, they weren’t on our minds at all.
“Maybe the spring was so breathtakingly mystical that we all came to see it as a dreamworld?” I suggested.
“While I was in the highbeast, I thought that I must send word at once. But the instant I stepped outside, all such thoughts left me. I was no longer capable of comprehending that we were missing people,” Brigitte replied. It seemed that she had exited Lessy with a feystone in hand, intending to send an ordonnanz, but upon stepping out, she immediately forgot why she was holding a feystone at all.
“The mana must have been exerting its influence,” Ferdinand muttered, pressing a hand against his forehead. “And then you faced the spring and started singing. Your mana spread, and the flowers began to grow. Can you imagine how much panic we felt at that moment?”
It seemed they had been extremely uneasy as they watched me leisurely continuing to sing despite the flowers growing around us. They started to worry whether I would be able to harvest the rairein nectar at all.
Eckhart shook his head, equally exasperated. “What really shocked me was that you stood on the leaf to gather the nectar.”
“No normal person would stand on such unreliable footing as a leaf,” Ferdinand continued. “Why did I give you a highbeast? Why do they exist? Consider these questions carefully.”
I clapped my hands together in realization. Of course! Had I gathered the nectar while in my highbeast, I would have been completely safe, even after the morning sun shrank the leaves.
“Normal people certainly are wise, aren’t they?” I said.
“No. You are simply a fool.”
They had almost keeled over in agonizing stress as I stepped onto the leaf and casually gathered the nectar, despite my footing being so fragile that even a calm breeze might knock me off.
“We watched on, terrified of your inevitable fall, until the mana wall started to fade along with the brightening of the sky.”
The light of the morning sun had evaporated the balls of light, and as they disappeared, the spring returned to its usual appearance. But even as everything went back to normal—including the shrinking leaf beneath my feet—I just kept looking at the sky in a daze. It had been so terrifying that Fran actually let out a yell.
“I brought forth my highbeast, burst through the thinned mana wall, and began to race through the sky when, as expected, the stem of the leaf snapped,” Ferdinand said. It was thanks to him acting so soon that he had managed to catch me right as I started falling through the air.
“When you put it that way, I sure was in a lot of danger, wasn’t I? Thank you for helping me once again, Ferdinand. I’m so grateful that I wish I could make you a stress-alleviation potion.”
“I would never drink something so dangerous. Your gratitude is enough, though I must ask that you stop blindly walking into danger time and time again.”
“...I’ll try to do better.”
“As you should. In any case, you know what happened from there.”
“I really didn’t expect that you all had such a hard time,” I said with a sigh. We girls were having the time of our lives in the dream-like fantasy spring, and never had it even crossed my mind that the men were watching on in stressful agony. “But why wouldn’t the mana wall let men in? Fran offered up sweets to the shrine, too.”
“Perhaps the goddess of the spring is not fond of men. It is known as the Goddesses’ Bath, after all. It could be that no men are allowed in during the Night of Flutrane,” Brigitte suggested.
But ultimately, we didn’t understand what had separated our two groups. Perhaps the goddess had just been after the sweets in Lessy. We came up with a bunch of possible theories, but in the end, there was no way for anyone to know which was the right one.
“In any case, we have gathered the rairein nectar, completing our objective here. We shall return to our Spring Prayer duties starting tomorrow.”
With my spring gathering now complete as well, we would be leaving Fontedorf and returning to Spring Prayer. But before we left, we gave the mayor some of the spring water as planned.
“Thank you for your hospitality. As a token of my appreciation, I offer to you water from the spring. Please use it if someone falls sick or becomes injured.”
“You have my utmost gratitude,” the mayor responded.
“I expect that it will be significantly more effective than the usual spring water,” Ferdinand added. “It has been drawn by the blessed Saint of Ehrenfest, after all.”
The mayor gasped in surprise, looking between me and the sealed barrel full of water.
“Truly?! To think that you would gift us such valuable water...”
“Ferdinand?!” I exclaimed, glaring at him.
But he simply murmured for me to leave it be, since it would apparently be inconvenient in more ways than one for others to learn that the spring’s mana intensified at this time of year. In his attempt to hide it, Ferdinand had made the water out to be precious holy water that was to be used sparingly, having been personally drawn from the spring by the Saint of Ehrenfest.
Well, as long as they get a lot of use out of it, I guess it’s fine.
Several days after we had safely finished Spring Prayer and returned to the temple, Ferdinand summoned me over, seeming more excited than usual.
“Is there something we need to discuss? I’d rather be preparing for my meeting with the Gilberta Company later today.”
“Silence. Just follow me.”
Ferdinand all but dragged me into his hidden room, which he had fashioned into a workshop, to discuss the rairein nectar we had gathered. He went through his explanation quickly out of excitement, but it contained so much technical terminology that I didn’t actually understand what he was going on about.
“...I’m sorry, but could you repeat that with a little less jargon? Or, better yet, give me a book that will teach me said jargon. I’ll read it right here and now, I promise.”
Unfortunately, he elected to simplify his explanation instead. To sum it up, the rairein nectar was rich with my mana, but it hadn’t been entirely dyed by it. What did that mean, exactly? I had no idea.
“This nectar crystallizes when completely filled with mana. You will need to crystallize a portion to use in your potion, like so,” Ferdinand said, using his own mana to demonstrate. The nectar morphed into a green feystone-like crystal, which he showed me before handing me a bottle of the nectar.
I poured my mana into it while Ferdinand continued his explanation.
“The nectar has much of your mana within it, due to coming from a flower that you personally matured. It is a material exceedingly rich with pure Water.”
“But since it’s dyed with my mana, nobody else can use it, right?”
“That would normally be the case, but it seems this rairein nectar in particular can be dyed with another’s mana. One must overcome much resistance to do so, but it is very much worth it,” Ferdinand said amusedly while rolling the green crystal around on his palm. “I am quite interested in learning whether this is possible only with nectar harvested on the Night of Flutrane, or if it is possible with other ingredients as well. Rozemyne, would you care to grow various feyplants with me to experiment?”
As much as I loved the idea of growing feyplants with Ferdinand’s explicit permission and using the research to help with paper-making, there was one thing that gave me pause.
“I don’t mind growing feyplants, since I could also use them to help develop paper, but... does Ehrenfest have enough leeway when it comes to mana that we can spare so much of mine on experiments and growing feyplants?” I asked, keeping it to myself that I had already been stealthily growing trombes.
Ferdinand widened his eyes then shook his head, his brow thoroughly knit atop a bitter expression. “It does not.”
“I thought as much.”
Our grand feyplant cultivation plan thus came to a swift end, but Ferdinand wasn’t quick to give up on it.
“In ten years then, Rozemyne. Shall we experiment once the duchy has more leeway and you’ve grown such that you have more mana?”
I didn’t know whether it was due to the new ingredient or him having developed a new magical theory, but Ferdinand was seriously motivated. He was even willing to plan ten whole years ahead for this.
“I’ll have you know that my mana is expensive,” I said with a grin, at which point Ferdinand gave a dismissive laugh.
“What are your demands? I can prepare more money than you will know what to do with.”
“Ferdinand, do you really think that I would ask for money here?” I asked, broadening my grin.
Ferdinand narrowed his eyes, raising his guard a little. But the fact he raised his guard instead of giving up entirely showed that he really did need my mana for his experiments. And if my mana was that valuable to him, then I could drive as hard of a bargain as I wanted.
“If you want my mana, you’ll have to give me a library. I can wait ten years. Have fun.”
Ferdinand furrowed his brow harder, but he avoided giving a clear answer.