I might be sticking my nose where it doesn’t belong, but I want to try talking to Niki-kun.
They probably discussed it among themselves first, but after a short while, their leader, Shin-san, gave the go.
I thanked him and approached Niki.
“I got us some time, so let’s calm down first. By the way, did you make this whole place yourself? That’s pretty amazing.” [Ryouma]
You can’t get to this secret base without crawling through that tight entrance, but the secret base itself is surprisingly big. The ceiling here is high enough so that you can stand up and just barely not graze the top.
He probably scraped out the mud in between the roots of the trees and cut out roots to make this space. After which he used the cut roots and branches and leaves brought from outside to strengthen the space in between the yet alive roots to prevent mud from flowing inside.
It’s a bit crude, but considering Niki-kun’s age and the fact that he didn’t rely on magic makes this whole thing a huge undertaking.
“I also made a place like this in a forest before—” [Ryouma]
“Shut up… I don’t need your flattery. You didn’t come here for that, did you?” [Niki]
“—I see.” [Ryouma]
I failed to get closer to him.
To be honest, I really did think that he did an amazing job with this place.
“In that case, I’ll just get straight to the point.” [Ryouma]
“What? You’re just going to ask me to go home too, aren’t you? You said as much earlier.” [Niki]
“No. Before that I want to talk.” [Ryouma]
“You want to talk? About what? Me going back home?” [Niki]
“No. I want to talk about you. Weren’t you yelling awhile ago, saying ‘there’s no point since you won’t believe me anyway!’ or something like that? If so, then there must be something that you want to say.” [Ryouma]
I was just saying things to get him to let out his feelings, but his reaction was unexpected.
He wasn’t looking at me earlier, but now he’s raised his head up and is looking straight at me.
After that he turned his eyes away as if he were at a loss for words. He might be a lot more honest than I gave him credit for.
“Why are you asking something like that?” [Niki]
“I just felt like it, I guess.
To be honest, I barely know anything about you, and yet here I am in the middle of nowhere after spending half a day looking for you. I suppose you could say I’ve gone too far to turn back. Anyhow, if there’s something you want to say, then I’m all ears. I’ll listen until the end. If we do that we should be able to understand each other better. At the very least, that’s what I think.” [Ryouma]
“…Didn’t they tell you? I’m a bad kid who plays pranks on people.” [Niki]
Yeah, I’ve heard that already…
But, hmm… If he’s saying that with this timing, then that must mean he himself acknowledges his reputation of being known as a prankster to be correct, and if he’s saying that ‘people won’t believe in him’, then…
I thought back to the stories I heard of back in the village.
‘A promise not to prank people other than villagers’ ‘Niki always protects that bottom line’ ‘That’s why he’s let off with just a punch and a light sermon’
Putting everything together… Maybe my assumptions were mistaken.
“Could it be that you ‘never intended to prank anyone originally’?” [Ryouma]
Niki looked like he didn’t know whether to say something or not… Looks like I was right on the mark.
“In that case, I’m sorry, but I also thought that you intended to play a prank on me this afternoon. I heard a lot of stories while we were looking for you, and there’s something that concerns me. Supposedly, although you like to prank people, you know where to draw the line. If that’s the case, then why did you make an exception today and played a prank on an outsider such as myself?” [Ryouma]
But if that was originally not meant to be a prank, then the story finally starts to make sense.
And if I think back to what happened back then…
‘I’ll give this to you!’
That’s what he said when threw the okuta at me.
“If I were to take those words at face value, then Niki-kun, you were just trying to give me the okuta as a present, weren’t you? Unfortunately, when you threw the okuta, it ended up spraying ink at me.
I don’t know why you would want to give the okuta to me, but… What do you think? Did I get it right?” [Ryouma]
I lined up my conjectures and asked my questions as gently as I could. In response, Niki-kun gradually opened up.
“That afternoon… I saw the slimes at the beach. There were a lot of them and they moved oddly. …But I thought they were kind of amazing.” [Niki]
So he saw that and thought they were amazing? Well, I guess he has his good points. But right now I should just quietly listen.
“And then… I became a little curious, so I wanted ask about them. But I didn’t know you and I remembered that when a new person comes to the village, mom would give them a gift. So I thought I should bring one to greet you with.” [Niki]
“Ah, I see. So that’s what happened. But why an okuta?” [Ryouma]
“I thought you’d like it since it resembles a slime. Your slimes have limbs like the okutas, after all.” [Niki]
“I see…” [Ryouma]
I smiled a little at that.
Who would’ve thought he’d have a reason like that?
But when he puts it that way, I can kind of see it. I mean both okutas and slimes are soft and flabby.
My slimes also extend parts of their body, which do kind of resemble okuta limbs.