There will be one last chapter for this mini-arc, and then we will enter the next mini-arc!
ED: clover, eristol
To say that they were ears, they were too fluffy for that.
They felt soft to the touch and triangle-shaped.
They were certainly cat ears.
They were elaborately made cat ears.
In other words, they looked like real cat ears themselves.
They felt warm when I touched them, which means that blood was flowing.
When I noticed that the pulse was linked with me, once again I realized the seriousness of this situation.
If they don’t return to normal, even if I don’t die physically, I will die socially.
In the meantime, my heart will also die.
Actually, my eyes that were reflected in the hand mirror went beyond dead fish eyes and looked more like dried fish eyes.
『You look ve~ry cute and they suit you well.
If you win, I will restore you to normal, although if you like it you can stay in that appearance, you know~?』
Palug was smiling like a Cheshire cat.
As for me, I would like to respectfully decline.
I wanted to argue, but I still hadn’t recovered from the shock, and the words that I wanted to say were not assembled properly.
……I kept my emotions low and my eyes on objectivity, but I might reach my limit soon.
There is no such thing!
It isn’t like that!
Even though my life is barely hanging on a thread, why are you striking me with embarrassment!
『Now, now, it’s not the time to be fascinated with your own lovely figure.
If you aren’t willing to ask the next question, you can accept your loss as it is, you know?』
Feeling ashamed regarding the cat ears and feeling terror regarding physical erosion.
To me who was confused by the two emotions, Palug mercilessly threw a demand to continue the match.
I had to think about what question to ask next with a confused head.
Neck that came out of the mouth was a yawn1.
Bread that couldn’t be eaten was a frying pan2.
The one that hit the raccoon’s shoulder was a persimmon3.
This was a bad miscalculation.
The riddles that I have heard in my previous life are mostly language-dependent, and they don’t make any sense when I translate them into this world’s language.
Right now, it is not good to recycle the Japanese riddles.
It would only butcher the words quoted from the original language and they would not even become a riddle.
It is inevitable.
I only have to overcome this problem by myself on this one occasion and pass through this.
Rather than the usual puns, by turning the gears inside my brain, somehow I succeeded in creating one riddle.
“It is both a cradle and a graveyard. It is both soft and hard. A sun that sleeps in a small sea. What is this?”
Palug giggled as she heard my childish riddle.
『Oh my, is it fine to ask such an easy question?
It is a soft cradle for a growing life.
However, for those who cannot break the hard shell, it is a graveyard.
In the transparent white sea, it is packed with golden yellow yolk similar to the sun.
That is……an egg, right?』
I tried hard but I couldn’t even buy myself time.
And now the questioning right has shifted to Palug.
If I make two more mistakes, I will be devoured by Palug this time.
In other words, I only have the room to make one mistake.
However, when I thought that I would be forced to get something equivalent to the cat ears, I didn’t want to make a mistake again.
『Now then, daughter of an alchemist. I will ask you again.
It is greedier than any beast.
It cannot help but eat what it touches.
However, it disappears once it stops eating.
It is tamed by people, but sometimes it turns its fangs toward its owner, eating and killing them.
What is the name of this thing?』
About the riddle of Palug, I first thought of dogs, cats, and other demons.
‘Eating people’ usually associated with large carnivores.
But, is it such a simple thing?
In particular, I didn’t understand about ‘it disappears once it stops eating’.
It doesn’t die, it disappears.
Does no corpse remain?
“The answer is ‘disease’. Both animals and plants, all living beings can be affected by some disease. Moreover, after it causes death the disease itself will be gone.”
『Ufufufu, I see. So that’s what you came up with.』
I gently stroked my chest in relief.
However, looking at my relieved state, the facial expression of Palug turned into a mean smile.
『But, that’s incorrect. Disease does not eat anything other than life, and people don’t tame them.
The answer is fire.
Fire tries to burn everything it touches.
If inflammable materials disappear from its surroundings, fire cannot exist.
Humans learned how to manipulate fire freely as theirs.
However, too much fire will destroy the humans themselves who tried to manipulate it.』
Aah, this is bad.
I thought that it was a living thing by the word ‘eat’.
Certainly, because this is a riddle, the word ‘eat’ could be a metaphor.
『Now then……two thirds of your body is now mine. Are you prepared, Erica Aurelia?』
Palug brandished her right hand with a flowing movement.
The lit up nails were the same color as my cat ears.
I drew back reflexively and covered my face with both hands.
Such efforts were also useless, the claws of Palug went through my defense and touched me.
I felt something moving inside my clothes.
Something as smooth as velvet was touching my skin.
Because it was blocked by my clothes, the inside of my skirt felt cramped.
Considering the length and shape touching my skin, it felt like a tail.
I moved it and stretched it out of the way.
I felt fear that such a thing that suddenly grew could be moved at will.
With such steady preparation, Palug was ready to rob my body.
『Good grief, unexpectedly there is no response for that. The next question has to pack more punch, or else I won’t tolerate it.』
In contrast to her words, Palug grinned and showed her sharp fangs.
It was the smile of a beast who was asserting her own superiority.
I can’t afford to make another mistake.
Then, what should I do?
I couldn’t win with a frontal attack.
Even in the riddle match I was driven into the corner.
I was inferior to Palug, both in power and wisdom.
But, is it truly a checkmate?
For me who is still a normal human being, there should be some ways to counter the monstro who has knowledge beyond that of a human.
If the monstro in the folklore is defeated, how did the weak humans defeat the monstro?
For example, putting them to sleep by making them drink alcohol.
For example, flattering them and fooling them into taking the form of a small weak creature.
For example, fooling them into trusting you, and dig out information about their weaknesses and their True Name.
Each one of those were not fair, they involved cheating and cowardly means.
Will it be impossible to win the riddle match with Palug unless I cheat or use cowardly means?
But, with a simple foul, it will be my immediate death when it is seen through.
What I need is a foul that can attract the interest of Palug and get her hooked.
Something that Palug has a strong interest and emotional attachment to.
I only know one such a thing.
I started off with those words.
In response to that word, Palug’s ears snapped up in attention.
Her face still maintained that calm smile.
But the fact that she kept smiling, without saying anything, was evidence that she was listening carefully to this topic.
I continued the question while watching Palug’s reaction.
“Who is Prince Auguste’s most important person?”
I didn’t know the answer.
No, the real answer of Auguste is unknown.
Surely, since we are talking about Auguste, if I ask the person himself, he will dodge the question.
But, in this case it is convenient because no one knows the answer.
Unless the person himself denies it, if I say ‘his father’ or ‘his mother’ it would be a likely answer.
For example, if Palug answers ‘his mother’ then I will say it is ‘his father’, and if she answers ‘his father’ then I will say ‘his mother’ is the correct answer.
If she says ‘his parents’……then I will say that ‘his siblings’ is the correct answer.
By preparing multiple correct answers, I can make the answer different from whatever Palug would say.
This was the method I came up with after thinking it over.
“Now, answer it. It should be easy since you have been with Auguste for a long time, right?”
In order to drive her into my trap, I provoked Palug to rush her.
Palug who was questioned cast her eyes downward for a while, but she immediately raised her face.
She exposed her sharp fangs and had a terrifying smile on her face.
My heart beat faster.
Although she has a smile on her face, I feel like she is so mad that the time when I was fighting with Zaratan cannot be compared to what she is feeling right now.
『Ooh, how annoying……unexpectedly, you asked me that.』
『Yes, of course I know. Even I know that. I have been with him for a long time, so how can I not notice?』
Palug stared at me with a smile on her face, but her eyes were burning with hatred.
I don’t know what went wrong.
But, it seems that I have definitely stepped over her landmines.
『How vexing! To think that I have to spit such words!
The answer is you, the daughter of an alchemist of the West, Erica Aurelia!
In such a short time, you filled the prince’s loneliness, snatched away his heart and left!』
For a moment, I didn’t know why Palug said my name.
As I understood the meaning gradually, surprise spread in my heart.
No, there is no way that is the truth.
I wonder how I could become the most important person even though we have only met for a few days.
Even if that is what Palug thinks, it might be rude to Auguste.
But, if by any chance Auguste holds romantic emotions towards me, I can’t use the answers I have prepared.
On the contrary, my reaction might have exposed the foul play itself.
『Oh? Perhaps you didn’t know?
Even though you didn’t know the answer, you asked me such a thing?
You made a riddle for me that you don’t even know the answer of?
—You committed a wrongdoing, daughter of an alchemist!』
A cry similar to the roaring of a lion echoed throughout the room.
The light of the patterns engraved on the wall turned into dark red and began to heat up as if burning.
Not only her nails, all of her arms were wrapped in flames, as if in response to Palug’s anger.
『How dare you, to defile the sacred contract ritual with an unfair riddle.
You are now a filthy offering.
I cannot afford to eat you.
Now that I can’t eat you, I’ll kill you, and in the short time that I have left, I will go around eating every human with the power that I can get hold of in this Royal Capital.
There would probably no one more suitable for the offering than you, but it might be able to maintain the fusion with Auguste for several years.
Everything is for this child’s wish……for my last wish!』
Intense heat stroked my skin.
Due to the intense heat in the air, my throat seemed to burn.
I looked at Klaus, Tirnanog, and Auguste.
Klaus might be eaten as an offering.
Or perhaps he might be spared as Palug had promised.
But, Klaus’ family, Ann and the Duchess of Hafan might suffer.
Palug is extremely opposed to Tirnanog.
Palug wouldn’t keep the black dragon alive.
Or, Tirnanog who possesses a strong sense of duty might challenge her to a reckless fight in revenge.
As long as Auguste fuses with Palug, the loss of his riding ability is inevitable.
He would endeavour to leave the royal family in order not to disturb his brother’s succession to the throne in the ending of his individual route.
His family will lose him.
Not only that.
It will be the duty of Auguste, who will lose his memory of her, to deliver the final blow against Palug who will lose her sanity.
That tragedy will occur under the circumstances where both of them wouldn’t remember each other.
But, as I know about that, I can’t let them bear such fate.
Regret filled my heart.
If this is the case, it would have been better to just lose the match and be eaten by Palug.
Then, perhaps at least Palug’s mind could be saved.
A glowing claw drew near me.
I decided my resolution and closed my eyes, just before the unavoidable death.
Palug let out a groan.
Through my closed eyelids, I could feel the blazing nails of flame approaching my eyes.
But the nails didn’t attack me at all.
(What does it mean? There’s no way that Palug who was so angry would suddenly decide to forgive me.)
When I opened my eyes, there was a flame-covered right arm of Palug in front of me.
Her right arm stopped right at the moment she was about to swing it down.
I thought so, but Klaus is still on the floor.
The spell cards are not deployed either.
Palug seems to be able to move except for her arm, and I also can move without the magic of Neutralization.
This is not due to the Time Delay barrier.
When I looked around, my eyes met that person.
“Wait please, Palug. You do not have the right to kill Erica.”
Auguste stood up, with his palm facing us.
Sweat drenched his forehead, and he had a complexion making it seem he was likely to collapse even now.
I understand now.
Auguste used all of his mental interference ability and stopped Palug’s movement.
Of course, that is not the original usage.
Surely, his body and spirit are terribly burdened.
Palug was frightened as if she was a little child whose wickedness was seen, and she extinguished the flames burning on both of her arms.
At the same time, she firmly put away her killing intent which she had let out plainly.
Auguste approached Palug step by step while enduring pain.
With a gentle smile as if he knew everything, he said:
“You, the answer to that problem……you don’t know about the most important person for me.”
1 Neck is くび (kubi), while yawn is あくび (akubi). So, a neck (kubi) that comes out of the mouth is a yawn (akubi).
2 Bread is パン (pan), while frying pan is フライパン (furaipan). So a bread (pan) that cannot be eaten is a frying pan (furaipan).
3 Raccoon is たぬき (tanuki), hitting the shoulder is 肩たたき (katataki), while persimmon is 柿 (kaki). In this case, you have to read the ‘tanuki’ as [ta] nuki, which means without ‘ta’. So the whole riddle roughly becomes: What hits the shoulder (katataki) without ‘ta’? The answer is persimmon (kaki).