It was the middle of a season that won't be called neither spring nor summer.
Cutting through the cool and dry atmosphere, I was flying in the broadleaf forest. This forest seems to be quite vast, as I can't see the end no matter how much time passes.
In order to avoid the trees that block the path on the very narrow road, I shift my broom left and right while noisily rubbing against branches.
After that, I saw the sky. This forest was so full of trees that I just merely saw something dazzling at the opposite side of the greenery.
While looking up, my tricorne was swept away by a tree's branch.
After stopping, turning back, and recovering it, I once again started my advance.
If it's so difficult to fly in this forest, it would've been better to fly above it──But unfortunately, it's too late now.
I already came this far, and turning back would take too much time. If I tried to forcefully fly up from here, then I have a feeling that this time, my tricorne won't be the only thing that ends up being damaged.
I feel like I've fallen into a somewhat difficult situation.
Whose fault is it you ask? Well, it's entirely my fault, so what?
While such complaints directed towards no one in particular drifted in my mind, I continued flying.
I don't know how long it was before the path finally opened up.
I leaked my astonishment without thinking.
What I saw there was a garden of flowers.
I was flying above the garden.
There were red, blue and yellow flowers spread along the earth. All of them were vividly stretched out, facing the sun. The wind from the broom's movement was grazing my face and showering me with petals along with a refreshing fragrance.
Good fragrances that touched the bottom of my heart soared up along with the distinctly colorful flowers. Holding my hat not to be stolen by the wind, I lowered the speed of my broom.
There, in the middle of the forest, was another world.
I was completely captivated by that sight.
Within the flowers—I saw the silhouette of a person mixed in within the dazzling colors.
Is this person caring for this flower garden? I pointed my broom towards them.
"Um, excuse me."
As I called out from above the broom, that person turned their head while sitting. It was a cute girl the seemed to be around my age.
"Hello. Are you tending to this flower garden?"
She shook her head.
"No. I'm not the caretaker of this flower garden. I'm here simply because I love flowers."
"You are not a caretaker......? Then, all these flowers bloomed here on their own?"
"Yes. That's how it is."
Is that so? I thought.
I thought something like a flower garden could only be made through human effort. Then again, the flowers were on earth before humans, so it's not like they won't exist without human interference.
But, how can such magnificent scenery exist by nature's power alone, without human assistance?
"Are you a Witch?"
Tilting her head, she asked as she gazed at my chest.
"Yes. I am traveling."
That's so amazing──Ah, that's right, in that case~ I have a favor to ask."
"If it's something in my power."
With that, she plucked some flowers, wrapped them with her jacket, and presented them to me.
It was a bouquet made on spot.
"If it's all right, I wanted you to deliver these flowers to the country that's up ahead from here."
"Is it fine to give it to anyone?"
I cocked my head in puzzlement as I accepted them.
"Anyone is fine. Handing them to people is considered a beautiful act and it's important."
In other words, she wants to spread the word about this flower garden.
I feel like I can understand her feelings to show this beautiful scenery to everyone.
"So in other words, you want me to be a publicist of this flower garden, eh?"
"No, it's fine."
Rather, it would be my pleasure──As I replied, she looked relieved from the bottom of her heart, and answered "I'm glad." while showing a smile.
After that, we engaged in light conversation for a short while. About countries I visited up till now, and about flowers she liked the most. If I'm not mistaken, we talked about subjects like that.
Then, afterwards we spent a lot of time enjoying the moment:
"Well then, I have to hurry now──I'll deliver the flowers to someone in the next country."
"Please do, traveler-san."
She smiled and waved her hand.
Suddenly, I got an uneasy feeling. "You are not going to leave this place?"
"That's right. There's nothing bad in being in this flower garden. Soon, the day will end from just playing with flowers. I become happy just from basking in the sunlight. Isn't this just lovely?"
She said it with a clear voice. While continuing to sit.
"Halt, little girl. Hey, I told you to stop, didn't I?"
After traveling for a few hours on my broom from that flower garden, I, who arrived at a certain country’s gate, was greeted by the black clothed guard-san with a nervous tone.
Taking such an oppressive attitude towards a stranger, and what's more calling me a little girl. While there were no people that made a good impression on me until now and this should be a natural thing for me, against him my anger raised if only just a bit.
But, I didn't show it. I'm an adult after all.
"Traveler you say?"
"Yes. Can't you see by looking?"
"What's that bouquet?"
"It's nothing important."
"What is it?"
"Show that to me for a bit."
He rudely approached me and snatched the bouquet from my hands.
"Ah, hey!" As expected, I can't close my eyes to this. I quickly got down from broom and tried to take back the bouquet.
But, he shook off my hands and stared at the bouquet──As if trying to drill a hole in it. As if my resistance was insignificant to him.
To make it worse, "This.....Could it possibly be that person's......" he ended up muttering something as his facial expression changed. I didn't get it.
........This gate guard fellow.
"You, where did you get this."
"Why does it matter. Please return it."
"Per chance, isn't this picked up from the flower garden?"
"That's none of your business."
I am completely underestimated huh. What should I do? Should I turn him to ashes?──I took out my staff.
"Hey, what are you doing?"
It was at the moment I decided to throw him down with a gust and prepared my staff: a voice resounded from behind me. And it had another oppressive attitude.
Just what is this? Are there only arrogant fellows in this country? Haah? Getting angry, I turned around.
"That is a traveler-san's possession. Return it at once!"
There was a middle aged man──Clad in the same black cloth as the gate guard── He wasn't glaring at me but at the young guard.
As I turned around, that young guard was grasping the bouquet with an awkward face. "But, sensei, This......... This is........."
"I get it from looking. I'll handle it from here so get back."
"That's not it, This is──"
"Get back I said. Didn't you hear it? You should rest for a bit."
".....Tch." While smacking his lips, he bitterly glared at me and went away.
"Ah, please return the bouquet."
He came back with a weak expression on his face, and:
He pushed the flowers at me.
He didn't reply back. And now, he went off somewhere. That gate guard felt irritated until the very end.
Let's leave this behind now.
After watching until he disappeared, that person who was called a senpai made a troubled face.
"Sorry, Witch-san. It's because his little sister went missing recently. He's been like that ever since. Please forgive him."
"I don't mind it."
Even though that's a lie.
"By the way, those flowers, I'm sorry but can you dispose of them here? It is prohibited to take them in the country."
"Prohibited to bring it? You mean these flowers?"
I didn't understand the meaning and intention.
I unconsciously embraced the flowers tightly.
"There is a poison in those flowers." He indifferently said it instead of unreasonably snatching them away. "Since you are a Witch they are harmless to you, but they contain magic power that makes the hearts of people who can't use magic go mad──I also don't understand the details, but it's something like that."
"Charmed by those flowers, people go to their original field and spend their whole life nourishing them. That's why taking them is prohibited."
"Is something wrong?"
Supposing that there is a poison inside the flowers in my hands, then. . . could it be, I started thinking.
The girl that gave these flowers to me. Why didn't she try to stand up even once?──Why was she sitting in the flower garden? I kept wondering about it.
But, was that not trying to stand up, or being unable to stand up?
Maybe her lower body was not her's already?
"Um, then the little sister of that guard from before."
"Yes. Ever since going to the garden of aforementioned flowers a few days ago, her whereabouts have been unknown."
He dropped down his gaze to the flower bouquet from before.
"Hey, Ojou-chan. Who are you planning to give them to? Perhaps──"
I interrupted his speech.
"I plucked these flowers for myself. The cloth they are wrapped in is my spare one."
That's why, I don't know about his little sister. I shamelessly declared.
After that, without doing any notable sightseeing, I went to the hotel and rented a room for one night’s stay, then went took a bath and crawled in bed as if trying to disappear.
I started thinking while staring at the thin wood boards lined up at the ceiling.
About the flower garden.
And about the girl that was sitting there.
In the novel "Adventures of Nike" that I read long ago, there was a mention about a strange plant.
As I remember, the circumstances in that tale were that a mutated plant obtained a sense of self, or ego, from absorbing the magic power that it originally discharged and started acting violently──It was something like that.
In the first place, something like magic power exists everywhere in the world. Plants like trees and grass in particular, after getting bathed in sunlight, they radiate magic power. But, I don't understand why in the world it's like that.
Then, those who take in that magic power that's not originally in the human body, and are able to manipulate it at will are called Magicians.
So, Magic can be used at its strongest inside a forest that is overflowing with magic power. The place I trained at with my teacher in order to become a Witch was also in the forest.
I'd say we Magicians are also mutated existences like that plant in the "Adventures of Nike". After all, we are able to use something that is not usable by humans.
.......No, perhaps the ones who can't use Magic are the abnormal ones.
I don't understand who is who. I had such casual discussion in my head, but thinking about it is useless. That discussion is the same as what came first, the chicken or the egg, it's absolutely useless to think about after all.
I yawned and rubbed my eyes. I can't sleep yet. It's okay. Don't sleep, don't sleep.
──The flower garden from before.
I fear that from that much magic power, the flower garden will evolve in a strange way. Similar to the flower in that novel that obtained self awareness.
If I think about it, that forest where the flower garden was was so dense with trees that you could barely see the sunlight if you looked above from there. The magic power that was created was befitting of it.
Under that much piled up magic power, it wouldn't be strange even if that flower garden turned into something different.
And the flower garden that spewed venom with its nectar that started tempting people──What in the world brought it forth?
What would become of people that were tempted by that flower garden?
That hazy feeling constantly clinged to my mind without leaving.
"Oya, Witch-san, are you leaving already?"
The next morning.
The one protecting the gate was the middle aged guard from yesterday. Seeming to remember me, he greeted me with a casual smile.
While making the same smiling face:
"Yes. This wasn't a too big country so one day was enough for me."
"It's a boring country isn't it?"
"No no. It was very enjoyable."
"Hahah. That was a funny joke."
Was I seen through?
"By the way, where is the young guard from yesterday?"
"Hn? He's taking a rest today. He left the country yesterday evening and hasn't returned since then. Why? Did you wanted to meet him?"
I don't want to meet him, so listen.
"Well he said he'd return by tonight, so if you want to meet him, then you should wait."
"No thank you."
"Hmm. Then, are you still going?"
"Yes. I would say that there is no need to hurry, but unless you leave this morning, you might have trouble reaching the next country before sunset."
Besides, there is a place I must go.
More than this country, my mind is at that place.
"Is that so? Well, take care."
"Alright. Thank you."
Thus, I left the country.
I faced towards the forest visible in the distance──Towards the place from yesterday and flew with my broom.
As I approached the trees that were sprouting from the forest, everything got dyed by the green in front of me.
The violent wind was blowing and twisting around, cooling down the hot, vast land. The clouds gathered in the sky, interrupting the sunrays.
The now ashen sky began to dye the scene with a leaden color.
Immediately after that, it started raining.
Passing through the trees that were pressed together, I was met again with the open space.
There was the flower garden.
Similar to the sky, they were quite dull compared to the vividness from yesterday.
Not just colors, even that appearance was giving off a slight uncomfortable feeling.
I followed the same path from yesterday in reverse, so this should not be another place, and, this uncomfortable feeling that can't be wiped of is a proof of it.
Descending with my broom, I met with the source of this uncomfortable feeling. Kusha! - With the sound that lacked elegance, the flowers underfoot felt like they were dead.
The flower garden with a pleasant fragrance. In front of it was a person's figure.
The true shape of this uncomfortable feeling was that: that human figure itself was what gave off this distress.
The girl who gave me the bouquet. And in front of that figure was a single man──His attire was different from yesterday but the person whose face I clearly remembered was sitting in the flower garden and looking at the girl with a smiling face.
It was the gate guard from yesterday.
"Ah, are you that traveler from yesterday? Greetings." He showed a very light reaction.
"Is this your little sister?"
He nodded to my question.
"Yes. I finally found her. Who'd think she would be at such a place."
Making a kind face, he grasped her hand.
It looks strange the more you look. For some reason, I can't perceive the girl whose hand he's grasping as a human.
Green specks are visible on the skin, and the ivy is crawling throughout her body. She stagnantly looked towards the sky with blank eyes without blinking. Her mouth was opened wide and drool was spilling out.
Her lower body was even stranger. Her body below the hips was wrapped in giant red petals.
As if a human was growing from a giant flower. As if the human and a flower were forcibly connected. It was very bizarre looking.
He was looking with fascinated eyes towards such girl.
"So lovely. To become so pretty at such place."
"What is it?"
I shook my head.
"No, you look surprisingly different from yesterday so I was surprised."
"Aah, from yesterday? My bad, yesterday I was perplexed from not knowing my little sister's whereabouts.
Looking slightly down, I saw ivy that was coiled around his leg. Surely, he is unable to move just like her.
Rather than unable to more, it might be more like he has no intention to move.
He wasn’t paying my presence any mind either. If I didn't call out to him, he would turn towards her and continue to talk to her with emotionless eyes.
"Good grief, to be monopolizing such a lovely place."
"Ah, that's right. Hey, let's invite everyone from the country here together. If we show it to everyone, they'll surely be pleased."
"What's more, I want to show you to everyone now what you became so lovely."
"Hey, is that okay?"
"I see. Thank you."
Perhaps he was able to hear words that I was unable to hear. To me it only looked like a one-sided conversation, talking to his little sister about something, however.
The girl that I talked with yesterday couldn't even make facial expressions anymore. Nor could she really express anything.
It looked like both emotions, body and everything else was casted away somewhere by the flower garden.
She couldn't do anything other than be admired.
Just like a flower.
I was flying upon my broom above the grasslands.
Fortunately, it hasn't rained ever since I got on broom. I want to reach the next country before it starts raining, but what should I do?
Under the ashen sky, I saw something wriggle towards my direction.
As it approached, I vaguely understood that its shape belonged to a human. Without dropping my speed, I passed side by side with that person.
I didn't really understand whether it was a man or a woman. Age is also unknown. I only understood that it was a human.
That person was walking towards somewhere. Going ahead, perhaps towards the country.
In those vague things, I only understood one thing clearly. There was just one thing I saw.
It was the important-looking thing that they were carrying in hands.
The flower bouquet.