Read at Watashi wa Sugoi Desu!
Black stripes that ran across a yellow background. White, fluffy hair that grew around the eyebrows and on the sides of the face. Eyes that slanted upwards like a cat’s. Whiskers that twitched vigorously. A thick tongue and fangs that could be seen from the slightly soft and raised mouth every time the black-edged mouth opened. No matter how you looked at it, it was a tiger.
A creature that Rio had only seen in picture books, on TV, and through the fences at the zoo was currently right in front of him.
Rio was so shocked, that he let out a wordless scream. He knew that he had to get out of there right now, but he couldn’t move. He couldn’t move even a millimeter to the right or left, thinking that he would be pounced on as soon as he moved.
Rio kept breathing shallowly, unable to take his gaze away from the approaching tiger, as he waited for the moment when the sharp fangs and claws would tear into him.
The tiger made a sound as it opened its mouth. Rio winced, but its voice sounded more like a human’s than a tiger’s. That’s right, the “sound” he heard earlier. It sounded like the roar of a beast, but it was the voice of the tiger in front of him.
Rio eventually realized that the tiger was trying to communicate with him. He also noticed that the tiger was walking on two legs and was even dressed like a human.
His amazement surpassed His fear. Rio’s eyes widened in astonishment.
He remembered seeing a fierce beast in a circus when he was a kid, but he couldn’t remember if it was a tiger or not. He was walking slowly, step by step, with the help of a wheeled platform1. Unlike the fierce beast at that time, however, this tiger was walking at the same pace as Rio. Moreover, he didn’t seem to be particularly inconvenienced by it.
He was dressed in a crisp, white shirt, a black jacket, a matching vest, and unwrinkled pants.
They were made of smooth, satin fabric and appeared to be very well-tailored. The back hem of the jacket was shaped like a swallow’s tail, so it must’ve been the formal wear called a swallowtail suit. Rio, of course, had never worn one before and had no confidence in his ability to wear such a thing. But this tiger was wearing it beautifully.
The wrists, ankles, and neck were all the right length, most likely because it was custom-made for this tiger, and the entire outfit appeared to be perfectly suited for it.
He had no idea how many times he had heard the tiger repeat the same sounding words to Rio in a disciplined manner. No, he had no idea if it was actually the same or not. Rio didn’t have enough knowledge of the sound to judge it accurately.
The only thing he knew was that the tiger was talking to Rio, so he tilted his head slightly and slowly shook his head. He wanted to tell him that he did not understand what he was saying.
The tiger immediately closed his mouth and made a very polite bow on the spot. With one hand gracefully placed on his chest, the tiger did not bow his head too much, but it was a bow that showed that he was being respectful. Rio couldn’t believe that a tiger, a beast, would bow to him, so he just watched in silence.
A different-sounding word was spoken to him. This time, Rio knew right away that it was talking to him. The tiger was looking straight at Rio, after all.
Rio shook his head again to indicate that he did not understand. The tiger paused a little when he saw Rio’s answer and then bowed once more.
(Don’t you want to eat me… or attack me?)
After calming down, he looked at the tiger again and saw the color of intelligence in its eyes. It looked as if he was dealing with another human being. Rio, too, stared back at the tiger.
The tiger must have felt Rio’s gaze because it twitched its whiskers and its yellow and black furred ears fluttered a few times. It was like a cat’s ear when it was picking up sound. The white fur on the inside of the ear was fluffy and looked nice to touch, but of course, he wasn’t going to touch it.
He was not sure how the tiger interpreted Rio’s head shaking. The tiger, however, quietly walked away from Rio after nodding his head. Then he bowed again near the entrance of the room and left in a flash.
Rio couldn’t do anything but watch him go in a daze.
(What was that about…)
Rio stared at the large door through which the tiger had exited for a moment, then slid his gaze to the side and looked around the entire room.
The room was all white. No, it was not entirely white, but the walls, ceilings, furniture, etc. were all white.
The bed that Rio had been sleeping in, or rather the bed that was too big to be described as a bed, was also covered with pure white sheets and a white blanket. On the bedside table, there was a large pillow and a number of fluffy cushions.
The floor was, of course, white. The long-haired carpet laid on it was also white, but if he looked closely, he could see that it was off-white and finely embroidered, making it quite elaborate. A desk with a bowl of fruits and two chairs to match it were lined up away from the bed. There was a large sofa and a small drawer with a heavy design at the far end of the room, but he couldn’t tell what it held. The drawer handles were a magnificent gold color, and there were what he assumed to be white jewels shining at the edges of the drawer.
On the wall to the left of the bed, there was a large window. Part of it seemed to be openable, and beyond that was a balcony. The floor of the balcony that could be seen through the window was also covered with white tiles, making it look brighter than just white. Rio, who had no knowledge about interior design or anything like that, thought the place was very stylish.
It was too different from Rio’s usual room. If this is a “room,” Rio’s room was like a doghouse that had been abandoned because it was no longer used. The difference was too great.
After being stunned by the unrealistic interior of the room, Rio suddenly looked down at his own body.
(…Eh? These clothes…)
Rio’s face had lost its color.
What Rio was wearing was not the gray hoodie and sweatpants that he always wore as a nightgown, it was the one-piece dress that was extremely comfortable to the touch.
That was right. It was exactly what the man who looked like Rio was wearing in the dream. And that was what the man had magically dressed Rio in.
“I don’t want to be married to a beast, even if it costs my life. So I’ll trade your life for mine.”
Rio’s mind was suddenly filled with the words of the man from his dream.
There was no such thing as exchanging lives. There was no way you could swap your life with someone else’s so easily. But in reality, Rio’s world had changed completely.
The overly luxurious room, the clothes he saw in his dream, the man’s language, and the tiger that walked and talked. Rio became terrified of everything and wanted to see his own face. He thought to himself, “What if I am no longer ‘Rio Hayashida?’” Everything had changed since he had fallen asleep, but he was determined to ensure that at least he, his existence, had not changed.
(A mirror, mirror…)
Rio stepped down from the bed. The soft carpet gently wrapped his bare feet. Surprised by the feeling, he put all his strength into his feet and stood up.
He took a few steps forward and then looked around in confusion. He wondered where the mirror was.
If this were a hotel room, there would be a sink or a bathroom, but was this that type of room? Rio had no idea what it was.
As far as he could tell, the room had only one door. To put it another way, the only way to get to another room was through that door. Rio sighed and looked up at the door as he walked up to where the tiger had just left. Somehow, it was pretty big.
To begin with, the door was so big that you had to look up to see the top, and the ornate door knob was much larger than normal. Rio’s hands struggled to grasp the door with both hands because it was so big. Rio reached out nervously to turn the doorknob.
But before Rio could grab it, the door slammed. Rio shrunk back in fear.
To be more specific, the door did not make a sound on its own. Someone was banging on the door from the other side.
Rio couldn’t help but take a few steps back to see what would happen next.
After a few seconds, the door was opened quietly.
‘Pyong’, Rio made that sound in his head.
When he saw the person, or rather creature, who appeared through the open door, he couldn’t help but make a cute noise.
Two large, awkwardly dressed rabbits crept into the room through the open doorway.
For the first time since he woke up, words came out from Rio’s mouth. Rather than words, it was a whispering sound like a questioning sound or a sigh.
The rabbits’ ears twitched at Rio’s voice. The two rabbits looked at each other a little and then bowed to Rio. They weren’t as graceful as the tigers, but they definitely bowed. Rio, still unable to say anything, just stared at them in amazement. The rabbits looked at each other again and then sniffed. The fur that grew on the sides of their mouths moved up and down accordingly. Rio wasn’t particularly fond of animals, but of course, he didn’t hate them.
When he saw a cute gesture, he would think, “That’s cute,” and was enchanted by it.
And right now, Rio was a bit entranced by the two rabbits. He couldn’t help but forget about his own situation.
The rabbits were much larger than the ones Rio was familiar with. It could be because they were standing on two legs, but the rabbits’ heads were at about the height of Rio’s waist. Including their ears, they would reach Rio’s chest. Even though the rabbits’ size was unusual, they were still adorable.
Each of the two animals held a piece of cloth in their hands. They lifted it as if to reverently offer it. But then they looked at each other and then at Rio as if they were in trouble.
(I wonder if I should do something.)
Rio cocked his head inwardly. What were the rabbits up to, and why were they in trouble? Rio couldn’t figure it out.
One of the two rabbits, the one with the gray fur, eventually opened its mouth fearfully.
However, Rio still could not tell what was being said. He could tell that they were saying something, but he just couldn’t understand what it was.
Rio couldn’t help but tilt his head. Then the rabbit spoke to Rio in a whisper, as if even more troubled. Rio was also troubled and lowered his eyebrows a little.
The rabbits’ ears were drooping. Both the rabbit who was talking to him and the brownish-haired rabbit who hadn’t said anything were depressed.
(What should I do…)
Rio thought about it for a while and looked at the cloth the rabbits were holding.
The rabbits were glancing at the cloth and at Rio. Rio guessed it meant that they brought it for him.
“Oh, I’m sorry…”
Rio apologized inaudibly, then took the cloth from the rabbits. The rabbits jumped up, as if in fright. They were frantically shaking their heads, and Rio realized he should not have taken the cloth, so he hurriedly attempted to return it. The cloth then fluttered and spread.
(…Are these clothes?)
The cloth seemed to be a garment. And judging by the size, it seemed to be intended for Rio.
(Perhaps… they want to help me change into it.)
Rio pondered a bit, then pointed with his index finger to the cloth the rabbits were holding and then to his own body. The rabbits stared at Rio with round eyes.
Rio pointed to the cloth again and then pointed to himself.
(Is that mine?)
That was what he wanted to ask.
After a while, the gray rabbit seemed to have read Rio’s gesture and nodded slowly, hesitantly. The brown rabbit also saw this and nodded his head.
It seemed that Rio’s interpretation was correct.
Rio stroked his chest and nodded his head, as if to say, “I understand.” He nodded his head as exaggeratedly as he could to make sure that the message was understood.
The rabbits immediately lifted their heads and stretched their whiskers. The rabbits exchanged another look before reverently taking Rio’s hands from both sides.
They then led him into the room, as if inviting him in. Rio didn’t resist and was led to a slightly larger area of the room, well ahead of where the bed was. The brown rabbit left the spot after stopping there.
He quickly walked out of the room and came back inside pushing a cart full of luggage. Rio couldn’t help but gaze at the adorable figure pushing the dolly with its cute, furry legs, as it hobbled along.
The brown rabbit stopped nearby and took out a small step ladder from the cart. He spread it out next to Rio and started to climb.
The brown rabbit and the gray rabbit reached for Rio from the top and bottom of the stepladder, respectively, and put their hands on the dress-like clothing.
In the blink of an eye, Rio had been stripped of his clothes by the rabbits and was naked in front of them.