The person was older than anyone they had seen in this world. Still, she supported her curved back with a walking stick, and stood there proudly. And unlike Zynis and the others, she had small, triangular ears.
Sauro looked at Maki and Chiharu curiously.
They said in unison.
“That granny? But she’s so wrinkled.”
“Future chief of the birdolk. You sure are rude.”
Said the cat person with exasperation. Maki and Chiharu also felt a degree of regret over calling someone much older than them ‘cute.’
“Nevermind that. I was still old when I met your predecessor. And she too said that I was ‘cute.’”
The woman said calmly, and with a gentle smile.
“Of course, your predecessor was also afraid of Miragaia and the dogfolk, and they were not allowed to get close. She was only comfortable around me and the dwarves. So I understand why they are annoyed.”
She laughed with a refined ‘hohoho.’ However, her words were quite harsh.
“It’s true that Mira has some bitter memories. But not us. After all, we were assigned to take care of Maki and Chiharu, and have single-handedly helped them travel. I am confident in the fact that I understand the Saintesses better than anyone else in the beast lands.”
Sauro wasn’t moved by the old woman’s sardonic words.
When had they been assigned? Single-handedly? Understand us better than anyone? There was a lot to question about Sauro’s claims, but Maki and Chiharu just chuckled. After all they had been through together, it was hard for them to not like him.
Just then, someone raised their voice. The old woman had been so eye-catching that they hadn’t realized that there was someone behind her.
“We’ll be standing here all night if we have to listen to granny and the birdfolks’s nonsense. Zynis, you and the Saintesses must be tired. While it is not very big, we have prepared a place for you to rest. And if you like, there is even a hot spring.”
Maki and Chiharu practically shouted together. How long had it been since they last used a hot spring? It wasn’t just Maki and Chiharu. Sauro and Saikania were also very happy.
“A hot spring, eh? It’s been a while. The hot springs here are outdoors and very big. Maki, Chiharu. Come with me.”
And just like that, Saikania smacked Sauro on the head.
“I think that our wings will get in the way. Really, you should know better as the future chief. We will use the largest hot spring ahead of the others. And we can meet up again for dinner.”
And like that, the birdfolk went off without being guided. They had been closely protecting Maki and Chiharu up until a moment ago, but as always, they disappeared once they found something else to do. Besides, Saikania’s reason for correcting Sauro had also been off. That’s just the way that birdfolk were.
The cat people that were left just chuckled. It seemed that they were used to this kind of thing. The cat person then explained to them,
“Well, the hot spring doesn’t really belong to anyone. And so the birdfolk visit it whenever they feel like it. And though we tell them that we don’t need anything in return, they often bring us unusual gifts, saying that they ‘just happened to be carrying them.’ So no one in the village really thinks ill of them.”
Upon hearing this, Zynis clapped his hands as if he had just remembered something.
“Ah, yes. We have some honey with us, since we just came from the elf lands. Would you like some?”
“We’d be very grateful. You know that we all love sweet things.”
And then they accepted the honey and small barrel of honey wine that had been stored at the bottom of the basket.
“Granny, it’s honey wine!”
“Yes. How wonderful.”
Zynis quietly told Maki and Chiharu that the old woman was a rare cat person who liked to drink.
“We knew you were coming today, so we prepared a feast. Of course, we won’t keep you up too late. But I did hear that you two like meat. And so we have prepared some skewered meat.”
Maki and Chiharu’s eyes shone when they heard this.
Wait a minute? Now that they looked closely, wasn’t this cat person very handsome? Chiharu had a sensor for attractive men, and it was detecting something. While this granny is the same height as us, this man is closer to 170 cm, which was similar to a lot of men in Japan. And since so many of the men they had met here were very tall, it seemed very refreshing to Chiharu. He was also slender and graceful, with a very long tail.
As for his eyes, they were almond shaped and pulled upwards a little. His eyes seemed to shift between green and yellow depending on how the light hit them. And his tail was long.
“Chiharu, stop focusing on his tail so much.”
Maki said with a laugh.
“What? Was I thinking out loud?”
“No. But I can tell by your eyes.”
He looked at them kindly as they talked.
“As we cat folk are smaller than the dog and bird folk, it was easier for your predecessor to feel easy around us. That being said, even with the trains, the human lands are very far from us. And we do not like to travel much, so most of us have never seen a Saintess. That is why this is such a great honor.”
He offered both of his hands.
“My name is Kear. I will be the chief after Granny.”
“Maki and Chiharu.”
Kaider was the last person they had been able to talk to without looking up. And while he had an unusual eye color, the shape of his eyes and the color of his skin felt very familiar to them. In a way, so did granny.
“Yes, your predecessor would say the same thing. She often took my hand and wept.”
Said granny as she looked at Maki and Chiharu.
“But you two seem to be fine.”
“We do feel nostalgic.”
“But unlike our predecessors, we’ve traveled a lot and met many people and did many things. But it’s still nostalgic.”
She repeated the last part with a smile.
“While we won’t cry, we are very happy.”
I see. So this feeling of longing was because of nostalgia, and not because he was handsome. It was like looking at a far away relative. Chiharu thought.
“Too bad. I thought you fancied me.”
Kear said with a wink. However, someone smacked him on the head.
“You are always like this!”
“No, it was a joke…”
The person who had appeared was a cat person who was the same height as Chiharu and granny. The inside part of her ears were white, and she was very pretty.
“Now, you must be tired. I’ll show you to the hot springs. I’m Alyssa. Kear’s wife.”
She had blue eyes. Maki and Chiharu followed her happily. The tail that wagged behind her was white with gray stripes. Alyssa looked over her shoulder at Maki and Chiharu and said,
“I just thought I needed to do something if there was even a chance you could be fooled by him. But it was clearly not necessary.”
Chiharu couldn’t help but say,
“Oh, uh, does he do that a lot?”
“I wouldn’t say that. But he’s too nice to everyone. Damn it!”
“Yeah, I know what you mean.”
They were in perfect agreement.
“He really doesn’t mean anything by it. But people get confused when he’s so nice to them.”
“Yes, that would be quite a problem.”
“You understand what I go through?”
Apparently, their friendship was now established. Maki followed them leisurely from behind. After walking a short ways, they saw steam rising up ahead, a small building had been built as if to cover it.
“You can get changed here. You know how to use it, right?”
“Are we allowed to take off all our clothes?”
“What an odd thing to say. Of course.”
And so they changed and exited the building. In front of them was a hot spring that was at the base of a waterfall and surrounded by rocks. The hot water flowed gently down from above, and landed quietly.
“It’s the same as in the dwarf lands. There are different levels that you can go inside of.”
“Ah, Maki-chan. It would be nice to stay over a few days and check all of them.”
They took their time, sinking into the water up to their chins and talked. Suddenly, a great gust of wind blew.
“You should do that then.”
“Who said that?”
Maki moved in front of Chiharu. What Chiharu saw over Maki’s shoulder was…
“A bird person?”
Four of them, in fact. But none were Sauro. What was happening?