「Yo, hero of Iskia.」
Nero is clearly angry for some reason. No, it’s not like I don’t have any idea why he might be angry at me.
「Not at all; if you hadn’t come to save me, I would have died. Thank you very much, Prince Nero.」
「Stop. Stop it with that tone and that insincere flattery.」
Damn it, I tried my best to take a humble position, but I guess it didn’t work.
This reminds me of the time when I met Nino in Irz Village; he also told me to stop it with the formal language because it annoyed him. I wonder if me using formal language is really that unpleasant.
But my feelings of “Prince Nero, thanks a bunch for saving me” aren’t a lie.
My words might have come off as a sarcastic comment after receiving the decoration, even if I didn’t mean it that way. I realize this only after I’ve said them, so it’s too late, however.
「We’re both students anyway. I don’t mind if you call me by my first name. You do the same with Will, don’t you?」
「And Nell as well.」
As Nero spoke Nell’s name, I felt a faint release of bloodthirst. It’s clear that he didn’t suggest that we use each other’s first names so that we can be friendly with each other.
I surreptitiously send a hand signal to Lily and Fiona who have moved behind me, telling them to「hold back.」I’m sure the two of them have noticed Nero’s unstable state. Actually, Lily might be performing a full-power telepathic scan of the prince’s brain right now.
「You seem to have come to be on pretty good terms with Nell.」
「Nell is my friend.」
There’s no point in trying to evade this topic. I’ve never been able manipulate conversations strategically. I’ll be honest and just say what’s on my mind.
If that’s no good, well, I’ll just release some black smoke, grab Lily and Fiona and make a swift escape. I don’t care anymore.
「I see. I don’t know how you approached her, but… Well, that’s not important now. Say, Kurono, there are some things I want to ask you.」
The gaze of Nero’s crimson eyes pierces straight through my own. It feels like he’s about to challenge me to a duel rather than question me. Ah, damn it. As I suspected, that pretty white sword is hanging at the prince’s waist.
Nero drawing his sword or me summoning my hatchet, I wonder which will be faster…
「The strength you used to defeat the Greed-Gore, what kind of divine protection was that?」
Uwah, he’s asking something that’s complicated and hard to answer!
I wouldn’t mind giving an honest answer of,「It’s Mia-chan’s」, but the Demon King’s divine protection is something special that has never been bestowed on anyone before. I’m hesitant to simply declare its existence here. It hasn’t been formally approved by the Pandora temple, either.
「I can’t answer that. It’s an adventurer’s right to refrain from divulging his skills, isn’t it?」
I preemptively add this excuse that I heard is apparently true.
「Well, I suppose you’re right.」
Nero nods as if he was expecting my reply. As an active adventurer himself, he seems to understand.
I suppose he won’t ask me anything more about my divine protection. Nero begins his next question.
「What was the meaning behind setting Fiona after me?」
I can’t help reacting like this. Anyone would respond in the same way after being asked a question that doesn’t make any sense, after all.
Who set Fiona after who? I set her after Nero?
More importantly, Fiona, just when did you come to know the First Prince of Avalon? You went on and on about the dangers of getting close to members of the royal family, so what’s the meaning of this?
She’s right beside me, so it’ll be faster just to ask her.
「Fiona, are you acquainted with Nero?」
「No, I have no recollection of him whatsoever. I suppose he has mistaken me for someone else.」
Fiona seems completely unperturbed; she replies with her usual sleepy-looking face.
Hey, hey, are you serious, haven’t you just forgotten – is what I think, but as long as that’s what she insists on, there’s nothing I can do about it.
「… Apparently you’ve mistaken her for someone else.」
I face forward once more and deliver Fiona’s reply to Nero.
As if he hasn’t heard my reply, the gaze of Nero’s red eyes that he inherited from Mia-chan is directed straight at Fiona, but then he quickly averts his gaze as if giving up. Of course, Fiona shows no reaction at all. Is she actually asleep?
「Tch, well, whatever… Questioning you now is pointless.」
I ended up giving him quite a joke-like answer, but for now, I’m glad that he’s satisfied.
However, he prefaces his next question by telling me that he won’t forgive me if I refuse to answer it.
This seems to be the final, most important question.
「– Why did you bring Nell to the fortress?」
The question that comes from Nero’s mouth is one that I’ve been expecting him to ask. Actually, I could only assume that he would definitely ask that question at some point.
And in response to that question, I have only one answer.
The moment I apologize, Nero’s right hand moves.
He’s drawing his sword – no, that tightly-clenched fist is thrown straight towards my face.
The only response I’m capable of is to close my eyes reflexively.
I feel the sensation of a solid fist striking my left cheek hard. Considering how thin Nero is, it’s an incredibly heavy punch. He’s even using『Force Boost?』
If I were a normal human, I would have been sent flying several meters. But because my body has been reinforced to be more sturdy, I was able to withstand it just by stepping back with my right foot and planting it firmly in the ground.
Even so, pain is pain. My cheekbone hasn’t cracked, but the inside of my mouth might have been cut a bit.
I stop Lily and Fiona with a hand motion – that might not be enough, so I talk to Lily under the assumption that she’s listening through telepathy. It’s fine, Lily. Don’t move, stay right where you are.
I hear Lily’s immediate reply of,「But!」echoing in my head.
It’s really fine. I’ve just taken a punch from Nero.
That’s right, that one punch is the only one that I’m going to take quietly.
In the next instant, Nero pursues me with his left fist, but I stop it with one hand.
The dry sound of his hand striking mine echoes loudly. His second punch is just as mercilessly powerful as his first.
「I asked Nell to lend me her strength. So as her older brother, you have the right to punch me for exposing her to danger.」
As if surprised that I stopped his second attack, Nero has a look of bewilderment on his face. I don’t know if he’ll be satisfied with my response or not, but I never intended to make him understand in the first place.
I’m just making something clear.
「But that was something that Nell herself wanted as well. She risked her life to save her older brother and her friends, her party members who were there. I couldn’t go as far as to ignore her determination to do that. So I can’t allow myself to be punched a second time.」
I release Nero’s fist from my palm.
A third punch doesn’t come. Instead, he glares at me with an even sharper glint in his eye.
「Don’t talk like you understand everything! Nell is different from me; no matter what reason there might be, she shouldn’t be exposed to danger!」
「Aren’t you the one who doesn’t understand?」
「What did you say...?」
It’s not like I don’t understand how Nero feels. If I were Nell’s older brother, I would feel the same way without a doubt.
But I’m not her older brother; I’m her friend. That’s why I’m the one who sympathized with her feelings the most.
「Nell is one of your party members as well, isn’t she? Do you think being the only one to receive special treatment would make her happy?」
「Nell said it herself, that there was someone that she had to save. Even though she was that determined, would you seriously have been able to tell her not to come and help because it would be too dangerous?」
「I told you to shut up!」
Nero’s right arm moves once more. This time, he grabs a hold of my collar and pulls me closer towards him. My shirt lets out a scream-like noise, as if it’s about to be torn to pieces.
「I won’t forgive anyone who exposes Nell to danger. That’s why I’ll never forgive you, Kurono, you bastard.」
Nero has finally stopped suppressing his bloodthirst; he’s letting it out indiscriminately now.
As expected of a Rank 5 adventurer. Though only for a short while, I’ve seen his abilities during the battle with the Greed-Gore. I feel a powerful sensation that causes my skin to crawl. My sixth sense is warning me that things are getting dangerous.
It seems that Nero isn’t the only one getting serious; there’s Lily and Fiona behind me who have been holding themselves back up until now. They’re barely managing to contain themselves for the moment, but I can vaguely sense that there’s enough bloodthirst swirling around in here that it might explode at any second.
The two party members that Nero brought with him are exceptionally sharp as well. Likely in response to the unstable presence of Lily and Fiona, they’re showing some indirect hostility, ready to immediately deal with any attack.
This is bad; it would be fine if this ended up as just a fight between me and Nero, but a brawl including the members of both our parties, a brawl between Rank 5 adventurers, would instantly turn the hall where this party is taking place into a scene straight from hell.
But my words are unlikely to reach Nero’s ears now.
It’s unfortunate that things have devolved into this explosive, dangerous situation, but I don’t regret anything that I said to Nero.
I know how it feels to be unable to save those that are truly important. I know the depth of the regret that it causes.
That’s why I absolutely support Nell’s feelings of wanting to save her friends. There are times when you have to fight, even if you have to expose yourself to danger in the process. That’s especially true for someone who possess the ability of a Rank 5 adventurer.
That’s why I won’t apologize to Nero or take back my words.
Even so, as an older brother, he’s correct to prioritize his sister’s safety above all else. Nero, your anger isn’t unjustified.
However, that doesn’t mean that we can express our inability to reach an agreement through our fists in a place like this.
「Listen, because of you, right now, Nell is –」
Nero’s hostility has already hit some kind of limit.
Right, I have no choice but to free myself from Nero’s grip, release『Black Smoke』and make an escape. The moment I come to this decision –
The sound of something being destroyed in a spectacular fashion echoes throughout the banquet hall.
What’s happening?! Both Nero and I reflexively turn towards the source of the noise. Actually, in this situation, there’s nobody here who can’t see it.
In the spot where the attention of the entire banquet hall is gathered, there’s male student wearing the same the same red cape as Nero. He’s not standing, but collapsed on the ground.
A red liquid is spreading across the hard marble floor. I can immediately tell by the liquid’s hue and the rich fragrance reaching my nose that it’s the local Spadan-made wine, not blood.
The remains of a half-broken bottle are mixed among the spilled wine. It seems that this is the source of the noise.
「FAAHAHAHA! My apologies, it seems that I have become a little too festive and drunk a little more than I perhaps should haaave.」
The student who fell onto the ground together with his bottle of wine is speaking in a strangely inarticulate tone. Now that he has gotten to his feet from his original face-down position, it’s clear who he is. No, his previous words were more than enough to give away his identity.
「O-oi, Will… are you alright?」
I’m still in the middle of having my collar grabbed, but I can’t help saying these words to my drunken friend.
「Whaaat are you saying! I am the immortal Second Prince who made a miraculous return from the hell that was Iskia! Falling over just a liiittle will not do me any haaarm! FAAHAHAHA!」
Will, who seems to have completely recovered, places both his hands on his hips and lets out a somewhat proud-sounding laugh. Maybe he’s gone crazy from hitting his head somewhere when he fell down. No, he’s like this even when sober, so I suppose he’s fine.
「Oops, broken shards of glass have scattered around, how dangerous! Good lord, who is the fool that put my bottle of special Spadan wine to waste?! Oooi, Seria, hurry up and clean this mess up for me.」
Before I know it, the escort-maid Seria appears behind Will, equipped with a cleaning set consisting of a bucket, a broom and a dustpan. Even though she’s wearing such a conspicuous maid uniform, I had no idea she was there until just now. She’s completely invisible, like Su-san during battle.
Anyway, behind the maid who has begun cleaning the bottle up on her master’s orders, Will takes some extremely unstable steps towards us.
「Fuoh, if it isn’t my childhood friend who acts as Sharl’s caretaker, the Lightning Lord Knight, Nero Julius Elroad!」
「Who are you calling a caretaker? Stop calling me by that title, and while you’re at it, stop using my full name for no reason.」
「Kukukukuh, and the sworn friend of my soul, the dark hero that was born on this night, the Nightmare Berserker Kurono! You are the star of tonight’s party; how are you finding things? Have you been drinking?」
「No, well, I was thinking of drinking something now.」
「I see, I see! Drink, drink plenty! The alcohol expenses shall be paid for by Spada’s national treasury, so you should drink to your heart’s content!」
Will is letting out his breath that stinks of alcohol in front of me and getting excited about something on his own. It’s as if he hasn’t noticed the explosive situation that we’re in.
「How about it, Nero? Let us drink together, shall we? I must thank you for saving my foolish sister who threw herself onto the frontlines, after aaaall!」
「Tch, I’m not in that kind of mood right now.」
As if his anger has completely subsided, Nero releases my collar, turns around and begins to walk off.
His two party members seem to want to say something as he turns his back on us with a flutter of his red cape, but they follow him silently.
Of course, the students in front of them part to make way for them and they continue straight ahead, exiting through the banquet hall’s front door.
「No matter, Nero’s sullenness and poor sociability is a frequent occurrence! Now then, my fellow students who survived the incident in Iskia, let us pay him no heed and drink the night awaaaaaay! FAAHAHAHAHAAAA!」
With Nero’s exit, the embers of conflict have been completely extinguished, and a lively atmosphere slowly returns to the banquet hall.
Realizing that we managed to get through that dangerous situation without anything too serious happening, I let out a sigh of relief.
And then I put a hand on my drunken friend’s shoulder and whisper in his ear.
「… You saved me, Will. Thanks.」
「Fuh, you saw through it, huh. As to be expected from the sworn friend of my soul; you have read my intentions.」
Yeah, I’m really blessed to have friends like these. This is just one of the events that really make me appreciate that.