With a Love Sorceress I'll Make My Romance Last!
As I stumbled through the bamboo forest, I chuckled at how much my throat hurt. It'd been a long time since I’d yelled like that. It was cathartic, but I knew I’d have a hard time talking tomorrow. Not to mention it drained me more than I thought, yelling on top of being awake for so long.
But when I looked over my shoulder at Mia, she seemed so much more at peace. That alone was worth it.
Mia coughed, unused to the shouting. “I’ll have to sneak out here more often,” she said gently. “Yelling at pest-plants is surprisingly fun.”
She carefully stepped around a bamboo shoot, then stopped to kneel down and inspect the plant. “What did you call this again, Roki? Bam-boo?”
“Bamboo indeed!” I grinned at the sprout. “The ones you have here must be a summer-growing variety. Where I’m from, we dig up shoots like this and slow-cook them with fish, or into a vegetable soup, or pickle them and put them on top of ramen. Or you can build with them, make things like those sōzu you always see in gardens…” I just kept rambling.
I had a sudden pang of homesickness, and tried to blame it on being hungry.
“So-zu?” Mia considered the unfamiliar word. “Is that another type of elven food?”
“It’s a shishi-odoshi! You know? Those bamboo water things? They scare off wildlife, I think? Don’t you have something like that here?” I pointed to one of the bamboo stalks. “You use a tube of this, but cut it and put on a pivot. And then you run water through it, like shishishishi,” I mimicked the water noise with my mouth, pretending to pour water through the bamboo, “and then it gets heavier,” I tilted my arm, pantomiming the movement of the bamboo, “and then it goes ‘doink!’ against a rock.”
“...Shishi-doink?” Mia repeated, growing ever more confused by my terrible description.
I let out a small breath. “It really makes more sense when you see one in person.” I was too tired to try to describe it any better.
Mia walked alongside me, running her hands over the bamboo stalks as she went. “So to the elves, this really isn’t a pest-plant?”
“Not in my hometown it isn’t.” I paused, already guessing Mia’s next question. “W-which is to say, uh, my hometown of the Forest of the Rising Sun!” I quickly lied. “Yep! Forest of the Rising Sun. Super secluded place. You’ve probably never heard of it.”
I really needed to stop talking about Japan and attributing it to elven culture.
But Mia’s eyes seemed to light up. She turned towards me with excitement. “Could you teach me how to cook some of these elven bam-boo dishes, Roki?”
I didn’t have an answer to that one. I wasn’t exactly the greatest chef (microwave was about the extent of my abilities) nor was I an expert on bamboo cooking.
“I might have to ask Miss Bradleton to help uh, translate the recipes,” I answered, inwardly hoping Claire could print some recipes from Earth, “but I could probably teach you something.”
Then, there was another pang in my chest. I remembered that Claire wasn’t back yet. It was nearing afternoon. Claire had been gone almost a whole day.
Mia started mumbling to herself, distracting me from my concerns.
“If I can make some elven foods,” Mia muttered, “and maybe craft some elven goods...” She spun towards me with a wide grin. “Roki I just might have an even better idea for our tribute to the Painted Moon Festival!”
She looked so happy, so cheerful. I smiled for her. “I’ll do what whatever I can to help—”
Suddenly, I saw double, as I tripped over my own feet. I reached for a bamboo stalk, but Mia caught me first.
I tried to get my vision to clear. “Sorry, Mia, I’m just a little dizzy. I-I think I’ve been awake for...over two days straight now?”
When I glanced up at Mia, her eyes were so full of worry that I almost couldn’t bear it. She helped me upright, then nervously took my hand.
“I’ll walk you to your cottage,” Mia offered. I opened my mouth to object, but Mia spoke first. “Let me help you, Roki. You’ve done so much for me these last few days. Let me walk you home so you can get some rest. Everything else — my dad, the festival — we can worry about that later.”
I had to admit, sleep sounded amazing. I’d managed to fight it off through adrenaline alone, but my neck felt so heavy. I couldn’t keep my head up any longer.
Yet somewhere in my mind, I could hear my dad’s words: telling me I couldn’t show weakness, telling me I needed to take charge — demanding that I stay awake, and make it home on my own.
Instead of listening to those old, broken records, I relaxed my shoulders. I took Mia’s hand, and let her support my weight.
We slowly made our way out of the bamboo thicket, back towards the pastures that surrounded the sparkling lake.
“After you help me back, Mia,” I said softly, “be sure to wake up Toren too.” I gestured over the hill, to the orchards where I knew the half-beast was snoring. “Otherwise I’m pretty sure he’s going to roll over and fall out of a tree at some point.”
Once at my cottage porch, I saw Mia off with a wave, and made her promise only to talk to her father if she was ready. Mia and her dad needed some time before they could recover their relationship. Mia wanted to forgive her father, she admitted that much to me, but she couldn’t find it in her heart to do so just yet.
So, after seeing Mia’s backside turn around a corner down the road, I felt like I could finally rest. The orchard would be fine. Toren would watch over things in my absence. Things were quiet.
I went to open my door.
It burst towards me.
Madam Claire appeared, flinging the door aside and stepping out from her otherworldly dimension with a grin on her face. She wore white robes and goggles over her usual purple outfit — looking a bit like a confused cosplay between a mad scientist and a witch.
“Roki!” she exclaimed in surprise, seeing me so close to her. “I wasn’t expecting you to be at your door!”
I was just so happy to see her, so happy that she was okay. Exhausted as I was, all I could do was stare at her with a silly grin.
Claire looked proud, as she held up the bottle of poison. “I figured it out! I finally figured out what kind of poison it is! It took me longer than I thought, but based on my deductions, the only person who would know farming chemicals well enough to make something like this would be—”
“Mia’s father?” I finished her sentence with a chuckle.
“Well, yes, but,” Claire lowered the bottle, confused, “how did you know?”
I gently stepped past Madam Claire, closing the door and sealing off the portal to her void dimension. I then fumbled, trying to unlock the iron door handle that would lead to my regular, void-less cottage.
“Toren caught the man in the act, actually,” I murmured, still trying (and failing) to open my own door. I yawned. “We talked to Mister Faralind about it already, Mia too.”
“Already?” Claire’s voice peaked. “You mean I missed the whole thing?!” She looked upset that her chemical discovery was too late. She let out a pout of disappointment.
I laughed, delirious from my lack of sleep at this point. “Claire, I’m glad you’re back,” I mumbled. “I’m so glad you aren’t mad at me. I’m so glad you’re here...”
Relief rushed through. She really was here. She hadn’t given up on me.
I tried to put my thoughts together and explain everything that happened, but I just couldn’t keep my sights straight. The door handle slipped from my grasp.
All I could hear was Claire distantly calling my name, as I fell asleep where I stood. I tumbled forward...
...and something soft caught me, right before I passed out.