FANDOM



Chapter 4 - Where the Fireflies Are

I wound my way through the Le Locle Canyon, several arge outside town. The cliffs towered above me, stretching up to the sky. That was the reason why, despite being mid-morning, it felt so dark down in the canyon.

I felt as though I was shut away from the rest of the world. The great, wide sky was compressed to a thin strip of azure, zigzagging overhead.

As I looked up, I saw two birds fly by, far above me. Seeing them, I thought back to my conversation with her the day before.

'Have you two heard of firefly mushrooms?' Clementine asked as she brought us our dinner.

'Seen 'em once or twice. Never eaten one, though,' Henry said between mouthfuls of food.

'Are they mushrooms that look like fireflies or, like...mushrooms that grow on fireflies?' I asked.

Henry, in the middle of a big gulp of water, did a spit take, spraying watery bits of his dinner here and there.

'What kind of question is that?' He coughed up more of his drink. 'You really think there are fireflies that fly around covered in mushrooms? That'd be gross, man!'

I actually thought there were fireflies like that, but I kept it to myself.

'I've actually been thinking of making a new dish with some more exotic ingredients like firefly mushrooms,' Clementine explained as she cleaned up Henry's mess. 'If I'm able to whip something up, would you like to try it?'

'Of course,' I responded instantly.

Henry stared at me, dumbfounded.

'You signed up for that really quick. For all you know, these mushrooms could be straight-up nasty.'

Hearing that, Clementine frowned angrily. It was actually pretty rare to see her like that.

'They won't be after I'm done with them! I promise I'll make something extra delicious.'

'But you can't even get them in this town, right?' said Henry. 'I'm sure someone's selling them somewhere, but are you really gonna make a cross-state trek every time you run low on ingredients?'

'O-Oh,' Clementine said, looking a bit dejected, 'I...still haven't figured that part out.' She excused herself and hurried back into the kitchen.

'That wasn't very nice, Henry,' I said, glaring at him. 'Can you really not find any around here?'

'Who knows?' He shrugged. 'There's a forest past the canyon, so it's possible.'

I instantly shot out of my seat and turned to leave, but Henry's reflexes were too fast. He grabbed my arm, stopping me.

'You can go once it's light out,' he said with a sigh.

So, taking his advice, I set out for the Le Locle Canyon first thing next morning.

As I walked, the steep canyon walls slowly parted, and before long, I found myself standing in front of a verdant forest. Henry had told me to look in especially shadowy parts of the forest or around rotting trees. I made my way through the forest, picking anything even vaguely mushroom-shaped. It didn't take long before the bag I had brought with me had grown heavy with a cornucopia of different mushrooms.

I figured if I couldn't find a firefly mushroom for Clementine, I would at least give her a variety of other mushrooms to choose from.

As I continued my search through the forest, I came across a clearing, and was struck by how beautiful and tranquil it was. A little stream quietly wound its way through the trees. Rays of sunlight, filtered through the treetops, shone down, glittering on the surface of the water. A number of squirrels and small birds were perched on the trees above me, chittering and chirping merrily. It was a scene straight out of a painting, more beautiful than anything I'd seen in my days working at the foundation.

'Oh? It's rare to see anyone all the way out here.'

I heard the sound of rustling leaves, and turned to see an old man step out of a thicket.

'Traveling alone, young man?' he asked me. 'Trying to outrun a spot of heartbreak, are we? Or maybe you're looking for something?'

I stared at the old man. Beneath his head of short white hair, I spotted a few long, green strands poking out here and there. He averted his eyes and nervously cleared his throat.

'Well, as for me, I'm here to pick mushrooms,' he said. 'It seems like someone got to all of them first, though.'

I continued to glare wordlessly at the old man. Beads of sweat began to form on his forehead. He cleared his throat again.

'Oh. What's that you've got in your bag there?' he asked. 'Could it be mushrooms, perhaps?'

'So, you're trying to strike a bargain,' I finally spoke.

'Yes! Exactly!' he exclaimed. 'I like a youngster who understands! So about that firefl--I mean... what is it you're looking for way out here?'

'Firefly mushrooms,' I curtly responded.

'Well!' he said proudly, 'I just so happen to have one right here.'

He held out a mushroom with a faint green glow to it.

'I went to some trouble finding this. Be sure to use it well,' he said.

'Sure. Thanks,' I said, taking the mushroom from his hand and turning to leave.

'W-Wait just a minute!' he called out. As I walked away, the old man quickly grabbed my arm, stopping me. It was a familiar feeling, and a much stronger grip than an actual old man would have.

'That's not what we agreed on. You need to give me that bag in exchange,' he said.

'I didn't agree to anything,' I told him. 'You just gave this to me.'

'Wh-What?! That's not fair!' he stammered. 'You think you can treat an old man like that?'

'You're pretty strong for an old man.' I gave him an unimpressed look. The same kind he'd given me at least once nearly every day.

Henry blanched at my words, and the white wig he was wearing fell slightly askew on his head.

'Look, just let me have the mushrooms. You're going to get to try her dishes, too,' I told him.

'Shut up, man! I just want my share for helping you!' he snapped at me.

He started grabbing at the firefly mushroom in an attempt to take it back. We began bickering like a pair of children.

'Give it back!'

'No! Let go!'

'Not until you give it back!'

Unfortunately, we didn't realize how our fight would end until it was too late.

In one final attempt to rip the mushroom out of each other's hands, we each let out a yell and pulled as hard as we could. It took us a moment afterward to regain our senses, and to our horror, we saw that the mushroom had been torn in two. An awkward silence fell over us as we stared at the pieces in our hands.

We picked ourselves up and silently headed back to town.

As we left the forest and headed back into the canyon, the sun was beginning to hang low in the sky.

'You know, sonny. This trip is a bit rough on this old man's knees,' Henry piped up, 'I wouldn't mind if you carried me back to town.'

'You're pretty spry. I think you can make it on your own,' I told him, curtly.

Henry sighed and abandoned his old man facade, picking up his pace.

We returned to our silence, each of us absorbed in a complicated anger. However, it wasn't long until a voice snapped us back to reality.

'You there. Halt. What's that you have?'

I turned to look at whomever it was who had spoken to us, only to be greeted by a familiar face.

'What were you up to today? You both have leaves in your hair,' Clementine asked as she brought us our dinner later that evening.

I pulled a vibrant green leaf out from behind my ear.

I hadn't noticed it there at all. It had been an exhausting day.

'Oh, remember how we were talking about firefly mushrooms yesterday?' Clementine said. 'I actually decided not to use them after all. I was trying to think about what I could make with them, but I couldn't come up with anything good.' She gave a sheepish smile.

'Well, I guess everything turned out fine in the end,' I said with a small, tired grin.

'Yeah. I guess so,' muttered an exhausted Henry.

'Huh?' Clementine tilted her head in confusion at us.

Henry and I spent the rest of the night burying our sorrows in food.

Earlier that evening, it was a bracer--Boris--who had called out to us in the canyon. The same Boris who led me away after the fight in the restaurant. Henry and I were so preoccupied that we'd crossed the border between the sightseeing area and the bracers' training facility without realizing it.

We were given a stern lecture and, of course, all the mushrooms I picked were confiscated.

第4巻  「蛍火の行方」

 町から数アージュ離れた一帯に広がる、ル=ロックル渓谷。
切り立った両側の崖が、深く細長い谷を形作っている。そのせ
いか、朝とはいえ絶壁の谷間は薄暗かった。        
 ふと、外界と遮断された感覚に陥る。          
「空が、狭い」                     
 遥か頭上を、2羽の鳥が横切って行った。        
 彼らが飛んで行く先を見上げ、ぼくは昨日の彼女との会話を
思い出していた。                    
 

「お2人は“ホタル茸”って知ってますか?」       
 夕食を食べていると、クレムがそう尋ねてきた。     
「見たことあるぜ。食ったことはないけど」        
「それってホタルなの? キノコ?」           
 ぼくの発言に、口に含んでいた水を噴射するヘンリー。  
「キノコだよッ。キノコ生やしたホタルって気色悪いだろ」 
 そんな珍味もあり得そう、と思ったことは声に出さない。 
「実は、珍しい食材を使った新作メニューを考えていて。  
 試作品ができたら、食べてくれますか?」        
「もちろんです」                    
 ヘンリーが呆れたようにぼくを見る。          
「即答かよ。とんだゲテモノかもしれないぞ」       
 その台詞に、クレムが珍しくむきになった。       
「絶対においしい料理にしてみせます」          
「だけど、この町じゃ手に入らないだろ?         
 どっかの市場まで行けば手に入るかもしれないが。    
 仕入れの度にいちいち買いに行くつもりか?」      
「そ、その辺は、もう少し作戦を練るところです」     
 と、足早に奥へ下がってしまった。           
「言い方が厳しいよ、ヘンリーは。            
 本当にこの辺りじゃ手に入らないの?」         
「どうだろうな。渓谷地帯には森があるし、もしかすると」 
 素早く立ち上がったぼくだったが、瞬時に反応したヘンリー
にタッチの差で捉まってしまった。            
                            
 「明るいうちに行くなら良し」と条件を出され、今朝からこ
のル=ロックル渓谷へやって来ている。そびえる絶壁は少しず
つその幅を広げていき、ぼくを取り囲むのは青々とした森へと
変わっていった。                    
 ヘンリー曰く、キノコは「木陰や朽木に生える」。その条件
に合う場所はすべて確認し、傘状のそれらしき物体は残らず採
取した。おかげで担いでいる袋は結構な重さになってきている。
 万が一ホタル茸を見つけられなかった場合は、代わりにこの
大量のキノコを渡すつもりだった。            
                            
 歩き続けていると視界が開け、穏やかな小川が現れた。陽の
光がよく差しこんで、水面がキラキラと輝いている。木々には
小鳥やリスの姿もあった。                
「絵になる、ってこういうことを言うのかな」       
 日頃、財団の一員として働いている間は、まず出会えないよ
うな美しい景色である。                 
「ほう。こんなところに観光とは珍しいの」        
 草を踏み分ける音と同時に姿を見せたのは、初老の男性。 
「1人旅か? 傷心旅行か? それとも、何か探し物かの?」
 じっと見つめるぼくの眼差しに、白髪頭の老人は尻込みした。
「……コホンッ。ワシはここにキノコ狩りへ来ていてね。  
 ところが、見るとこ見るとこほとんど抜き取られておる」 
 揺るがないぼくの眼差しに、老人の目が泳ぎ始める。   
「……ゴホンッ。おや、君が担いでいる袋はなんだね?   
 それって、もしかするとしなくても、キノコかい?」   
「つまり、交換条件ということですか」          
「素晴らしい! 話が分かる若人は嫌いじゃないよ。    
 それでは、君のホタ……じゃなくて、欲しい物は何かな?」
「ホタル茸です」                    
「おお! なんと! 1つだけちょうど持ち合わせがあった」
 老人が差し出したのは、ぼんやりと緑色に光る茸だった。 
「見つけるのに苦労したんだよ。有効活用しておくれ」   
「もちろんです。ありがとうございました」        
「ちょ、ちょっと待ちなさい」              
 立ち去ろうとするぼくを、“老人”は強い握力で引き留めた。
「話が違うじゃないか。君の持ってる袋をワシにくれ」   
「交換条件を呑むとは言ってないです」          
「なッ! ひ、卑怯じゃないか。年寄りをバカにするのか!」
「年寄りにしては、腕の力がすごいですね」        
 老人はビクッと身を震わせた。             
「すべてぼくに預けてもらえれば、            
 キノコ料理の恩恵があなたに巡ってきますよ。必#2R・#ず#2R・#」
「う、うるさい! 手伝ったんだから分け前は欲しいんだ!」
 ホタル茸を取り返そうと、老人はぼくの腕を離さない。  
 「いいから返しなさい」「返しません」「返せ」の応酬。 
 しかしこのせめぎ合いの終点に気づいた時にはすでに遅く、
「あッ」という掛け声でホタル茸は千切れてしまった。2人を
包む妙な沈黙。交わらない視線。             
 ぼくらは揃って帰路についた。             
                            
 森を抜け、渓谷を過ぎようとする頃には日が落ちていた。 
「若者よ、哀れな老人を背負ってくれても良いのだぞ」   
「もう少し歩けば町だから、頑張ろうよ」         
 諦めたように、老人はさっさと歩を進める。       
お互いに悔しさやら複雑な気持ちを噛みしめている。その時。
「ちょっと、お2人さん。それ、持ってるの何かな」    
 背後の声に振り返ると、そこには数日前に顔を合わせたばか
りの“彼ら”がいた。                  
                            
「お2人とも、頭に葉っぱがついてますよ」        
 夕食を持ってきたクレムに言われ、初めて気がつく。お互い
に他のことで頭がいっぱいだったからだ。         
「実は新メニューのことで、ホタル茸は無しにしました。  
 なんとか作れる方法を考えたんですけどね。ダメでした」 
 恥ずかしそうに笑う彼女。               
「……じゃあ、結果オーライってことだね」        
「ああ、そうだな……」                 
「え?」                        
 その晩、ぼくらは無心で食事にありついた。       
                            
              ◇              
                            
 1時間前、渓谷で声をかけてきたのは遊撃士たちだった。食
堂での喧嘩の件で出会ったボリスの姿もあった。      
 あの一帯は遊撃士協会が所有する訓練場と、一般人が入れる
観光エリアとが区切られているようで、ぼくらは夢中になるあ
まりその境界線を越えてしまっていた。          
                            
 そして見事、採取したキノコはすべて没収されたのだった。
                            
 

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.