Little Red Riding Hood's Travel Companion...is the Wolf!?
Even as the seasons began to turn, Noelle was still very determined to work on her magic skills. She has gotten much more proficient with her magic, being able to cast the Rainstorm spell over a rather large area. Though she always forgot that she casted the spell while still within the spell range and often got herself wet. Conri found that occasionally clumsy side of her endearing, and is usually standing nearby with a towel in hand—in the off chance that her other water spells would not work as she planned.
“Conri, can you come here for a moment?” Noelle’s grandmother called out to Conri from the front door.
“Sure, granny. Coming.”
Conri walked hastily towards the cottage. Noelle was too busy casting spells to notice that he was gone.
“Is there something wrong, granny?”
“Oh, don’t worry, nothing is wrong. I was just going to ask you for a favor.”
“Yes. If you don’t mind, could you bring Noelle to explore the woods and teach her some skills? I think it will—”
Noelle’s grandmother started coughing lightly.
“Granny! Are you okay!?”
“Ahh, it’s nothing, Conri. Maybe it’s because of the weather, nothing a little rest can’t fix.”
Noelle’s grandmother never stopped smiling as he reassured Conri. She turned him around and patted him on the back.
“Go on, you guys should head out while it’s still early.”
Conri walked back to Noelle and told her what her grandmother said. Although she was reluctant due to her dislike of the cold weather, she went with him anyways since her grandmother told her to. She convinced herself with excuses such as she was going to go on a fun adventure. So, the two headed off into the woods with Conri leading the way.
Conri decided he would teach Noelle how to start a fire first. They looked around and gathered dry branches and leaves.
“After we gather them, we have to stack them like so. Then we need to start a fire wi—”
“Oh, you mean like this?”
Tilting her head sideways, Noelle nonchalantly lighted a fire before Conri could even reach for his flint and stone.
Conri did not have the excess energy nor resolve to tell her otherwise and only gave her a resigned smile.
“Haha…I guess you could just use magic too…”
Next, Conri decided he would teach Noelle how to catch some fish. They headed to a nearby river. Even though the weather is cold, there are still certain species of fish that remain active in the river.
“First, you just need to tie a hook with string to the end of a stick. Then, you will need to attach a piece of bait to the hook and cast it into the river. The key is patie—"
“Too boring. Here, look~”
Noelle recited a few lines of incantations while holding her hands out towards the river.
“Hear me, the power that resides within, I command thee to bend as I wilt, oppose the restraints of nature and rise, heed my call and come forth—Whirlpool!”
At first, only a small vortex can be seen on the surface of the river. That small vortex quickly grew and rose from the river, the vortex of containing both water and a few fishes headed towards them.
“Noelle, wait! Don’t—”
Before they could even move away from the incoming water, they were already too late.
“—aim it here.”
“Hahaha, you look drenched, Conri~ Maybe yo—Achoo! C-c-cold…”
Pulling a fish out from his shirt, Conri shook his head to get some of the water out.
“Oh? That’s pretty rich coming from you.”
“Geez, shut up!”
The two of them looked at each other and laughed, only interrupted by their sneezes.
“Here, luckily I brought a towel along. I’ll got get some wood to start a fire to keep us warm and dry our clothes a bit. We probably will catch a cold if we just walk back like this.”
As Noelle was drying her hair, Conri thought of an idea.
“Hey Noelle, it’s just a theory, but I remember the magic book stating that it is possible to merge two different spells to create a new effect. Though, it has to be done without incantation since there weren’t any for it written in the book.”
“Hmmm, I’ve never tried it before. What about it?”
“Why don’t you try imbuing a fire element to a wind spell to dry us up?”
“That’s a great idea! Let me give it a go.”
Noelle closed her eyes while placing her hands on the ground.
Let’s see…I think I can do it by using the Updraft spell as a base while adding the fire element into it. Feel the flow of mana…Picture the flowing wind and heat it…Make sure that I do not make it too powerful…”
A rising column of wind began to form around Conri and Noelle, water droplets were carried away by the gushing wind.
“It’s warm! I did it, Conri!”
Conri simply nodded and smiled at her.
“Once we’re dry, let’s get these fishes back home to grandma. I think we had enough of the woods for the day.”
When they got home, Noelle’s grandmother was surprised to see them with four fishes in the basket.
“Wow, that’s a lot of fishes you got there. Did you two have fun?”
“Yeah, I guess I had fun.”
Well, originally you did ask me to go out and teach her a few things. She may be clumsy at times, but I’m pretty sure she’ll be able to handle herself.
“Me too! We’re going to have a fish feast for dinner tonight~”
The first snow finally fell last night, the once vibrant foliage of the woods were now reduced to bare branches and the scenery is just full of snow as far as the eye can see. At times like this, Noelle would wish that she was an animal so that she could hibernate and sleep through the winter.
“Urghhh…But I don’t wanna get out of bed, just let me go back to sleep…”
Noelle pulled her blanket over her head as she whined. Without any mercy, Conri pulled the blanket away from her.
“It’s time for breakfast, just get up and get changed already.”
“C-cold…Tsk! Fine, fine, I’ll get up! Now, just give me my blanket back already!”
After getting ready, the two of them sat down with Noelle’s grandmother at the dining table and had bread for breakfast.
“Good thing we stocked up on supplies before winter came. With the snowfall being this heavy, it’s going to be very difficult to head to town to buy things.” Noelle’s grandmother said before she took a sip from her cup of hot chocolate.
“Well, it’s all thanks to Conri for going to town since I was busy with my magic practice. We should only need to travel to town a few times during winter since we stocked a lot of grain.”
“Grandma? You seem to be coughing more recently…Are you okay? We can go to town to get a doc—”
“I’m fine, sweetie. I’ll take some medicine and it should be fine.”
Noelle’s grandmother looked at her with her usual reassuring smile, keeping her from continuing with the topic.
“O-ok, grandma…If you say so…”
While Noelle was washing the dishes, Noelle’s grandmother whispered to Conri.
“Conri, I have something to discuss with you. Could you come to my room after Noelle’s asleep?”
Conri could not think about anything that she wanted to discuss with him but he agreed to her request anyways.
Later that night, Conri waited until Noelle fell asleep before he headed to Noelle’s grandmother’s room. He knocked on her door before entering the room.
“Ahh, Conri, take a seat.”
Conri took a stool and sat beside her bed.
“What is it that you want to talk to me about, granny?”
“Conri, I want you to bring Noelle along and travel together. You were planning to leave us to find answers about what happened to your village for quite a while now right?”
“Wha…How did you know…?”
“I could tell from your looks. Your mind would drift off into the distance every now and then. You also told me you hesitated because you were worried about leaving us, remember?”
“Take Noelle with you, it may be dangerous but I’m sure she will be fine as long as she’s with you. Besides, you two can keep each other company.”
“Wait! Putting aside the matter of taking her with me, what about you?”
“I’m sure you’ve noticed my health is getting worser by the day, Conri. It’s only a matter of time before I pass on.”
“No…You’ll be fine, I…I’ll go get the doctor!”
Noelle’s grandmother places her hand on Conri’s hand and shook her head, this scene feels all too familiar to Conri.
“I’ve been trying to suppress my sickness for a while now, I’m sure I do not have much time left. I’m a pretty good actress don’t you think?”
Noelle’s grandmother never once faltered in keeping the smile on her face. Even now, she is still gently smiling at Conri.
Conri turned his head towards the door. Noelle was eavesdropping through the gap by opening the door slightly. She walked into the room with her face looking down, tears were rolling down her cheeks.
“Conri, how long have you known that she was there?”
“A while ago, but I’m not sure how long she was standing there for.”
“Grandma…Tell me it’s not true…Tell me that you’ll be fine…”
Noelle walked to the side of the bed and knelt down, nudging her face against her grandmother’s shoulders.
“Sweetie, it’s alright. Everyone’s time will come one day, it’s just that my time is soon.” She said as she caressed Noelle’s head.
“I need you…Don’t give up yet…Conri and I will go an—”
“It’s too late for that, I know my own body well.”
“Seeing you grow up into a such a lively and beautiful girl is already enough for me. I might not have lived long enough to see a hundred years, but the experiences I had while living far exceeds any amount I could ever ask for in a single lifetime. Seeing my children grow up and have children of their own who now stands before me healthy and strong. I even got to meet a boy who I believe will protect her no matter what. I am content with my life. When the time comes, I hope you two will send me off with a smile as well, as my last wish.”
Grandma…How can I say no if you put it that way…? That’s not fair…It’s not fair…But I have to…
With a forced smile, Noelle smiled at her grandmother with a face full of tears. Her words did not come out of her mouth easily but she pushed herself to say them anyways.
“Ok grandma, I will make sure that we won’t be sad around you …”
Conri tightened his fists as he just sat in silence.
Why…? Why do I always fail to save anyone…? I promise you, granny. I will make sure to protect her at any cost.
Back in their room, Conri heard Noelle’s muffled cries as she drenched her pillow in tears.
Noelle…I wish I could do something for her, but what…?
Over the next few days, Noelle’s grandmother has grown so weak that she could not leave her bed. Even so, Noelle kept to her usually bright self and spent most of her time with her grandmother. Conri stayed by her side and helped to take care of her grandmother. Just as snow quietly falls onto the ground, Noelle’s grandmother silently fell into eternal slumber during the night. She showed no signs of suffering, shown by her face which could only be described as tranquil.
When morning came, Noelle stumbled upon her grandmother who peacefully laid in bed. She was holding onto a red hooded cloak with a note on it. Noelle picked up the note, it read, ‘My old master gave this to me when I graduated from her teachings. This is yours now. Congratulations, Noelle, you are now a fully-fledged mage. Go out and show the world how great of a mage you are. Love, grandma.’
Her hands were trembling when she read the note, but no tears came from it. Instead, Noelle simply smiled.
“Thank you, grandma. I will make sure the world knows that you raised an amazing mage.”
Conri soon entered the room and understood the situation. Despite the heavy snow, he dug a hole under a tree that was beside the cottage. He did not flinch as snow constantly fell on him, he only continued to dig. After he was done, he carried Noelle’s grandmother who was wrapped in white satin and lowered her into the ground. As their own way of showing respect, they used their bare hands to cover the body in soil.
“Wait here a moment, I’ll be back soon.”
Conri turned into his wolf form and ran into the woods. Soon after, he came back with a flat rock in his jaws. He put the rock down and turned back into human again.
“Here, we can use this.”
Noelle placed her palm on the rock and closed her eyes.
Glowing lines appeared on the rock and moved as she poured her mana into it. When the glowing stopped, all that was left was engravings that she made using magic.
“May you rest in peace, grandma.”
“I will keep my promise, so don’t you worry, granny.”
They placed the rock above the grave and went back inside.
For the rest of the day, Noelle just kept silent, even during meal time she would just eat quietly. Her face did not show any expressions and her mind seemed distant. Conri did not say anything to her, comforting others was something he has never done before and so he did not know how.
The day neared its end as Conri and Noelle headed to their room to sleep. They have not spoken to each other since Noelle’s grandmother passed away, they simply did not know what to say to each other.
Conri was worried about Noelle but he just naively hoped that things would be better in the morning. He closed his eyes and tried to sleep, eagerly waiting for morning to come where he believed things would sort itself out.
Footsteps? Noelle? Is she—
Conri felt a familiar weight lying against the side of his body.
Noelle turned around and placed both of her hands on Conri’s body, her face was firmly pressing against his side. Like a sudden storm, she let everything out all at once—tears and cries, nothing was spared as she let out an outburst of emotions in full force.
“I did good…R-right…? I kept my smile till the very end…I kept smiling, but why do I feel so sad…? The tightness in my chest, it’s so unbearable…I…I…”
Conri could feel Noelle’s tightening grip as well as his fur that was getting soaked. He nudged his face against her head.
“Noelle…You did good, I’m sure granny would praise you as well…It’s alright, you can let it all out…I will be with you as long as you need…”
Conri did not know how long Noelle cried after that, he only knew her tears were enough to seep from his fur onto the floor. She finally calmed down after crying her heart out.
“Conri…Thank you…And also, sorry for getting your fur wet …”
“Oh, that? Don’t worry about it, I’m just glad you’re feeling better.”
“Let me try something…”
Noelle closed her eyes as a draft of warm air flowed around Conri’s body.
“W-whoa, you’re getting better at this.”
Determined, Noelle psyched herself up and steeled her resolve.
“Alright! I’ve made up my mind, this will be the last time I will cry for grandma. Tomorrow on, I will live my life in a way which I will not regret.”
“That’s good to hear.”
“About the other thing, I want to follow you no matter where you go or how dangerous it is… Plus, I did also say that I would become a great travelling mage surpassing grandma. No matter what happens, I will be by your side.”
Conri was initially worried about what Noelle thinks about leaving the cottage, so he felt a sense of comfort when he saw her determination.
“Say, Conri~ Sleeping like this feels pretty good, doesn’t it?”
Noelle looked up at Conri and showed him her usual smug look.
“W-well, I guess so…”
“Ohhhh? Were you expecting something more than that?” Noelle whispered into Conri’s ears as she drew her finger around his body.
“N-no, I wasn’t…Anyways, let’s get to sleep now, it’s getting late.”
Noelle laid back down with her back against Conri and pulled her blanket over her body.
“I suppose so, let’s talk about what to do next in the morning. Goodnight, Conri. We’ll be together for a long time to come.”
“Goodnight, it’s a promise.”
Conri and Noelle both closed their eyes and felt as though the heaviness in their hearts were washed away by a gentle breeze. Slowly, they drifted off into their much-needed slumber after all that happened.
The seasons wait for neither human nor god, heavy snow continued to fall as the scenery was painted in white silence. The young boy and girl did not feel lonely as they had one another to keep each other company. In fact, they saw the white scenery of winter as a blank canvas—a chance to paint their own colours onto the world, where they can start their lives anew once spring graces the land. Knowing Noelle’s persistent dislike for the cold, Conri decided they should make their move when spring comes. They could use the time to prepare themselves for the journey ahead, he thought. With encouragement from Noelle, Conri attempted to figure out the full extent of his wolf abilities. The kind and accepting nature of Noelle was what allowed him to feel more at ease with unleashing the latent power within him. Before, he was always worried that the people close to him would see him as a monster if he were to use too much of that power. Not wanting to be left behind, Noelle pushed herself to improve her magic skills amid the bitter cold. The days of winter passed through the passage of time in an instant for them as they kept themselves busy.