The next day. Lunchtime on the 8th of the Month of Blue Moon (Sougetsu). I have come to the dining room in the academy’s main building that is currently crowded with starving students. I haven’t come here to fulfil the hope of having a wild feast that I abandoned yesterday, but to meet someone.
The『Seven Goddesses of War』, an impressive painting depicting Mia-chan’s seven wives, is in the background. I see that the person I’m meeting has arrived here before me and taken a seat.
「Fuh, you have come… I am aware that we are unable to avoid the intersection of our fates, but I have grown tired of waiting for our reunion.」(Will)
Sitting there with arms and legs crossed, leaning slightly forward, is Will, whose face I last saw at the victory party the day before yesterday.
Next to him is the maid Seria, who is standing there quietly with her presence erased as usual. With her usual composed expression, she gives a slight bow towards me and then quickly begins preparing a cup of tea.
By the time I take my seat and we begin the first topic of our conversation, there is a cup of amber-colored tea before my eyes that emits steam with a sweet-smelling aroma. Her work is incredibly fast. This person is a professional maid after all.
「Haah, I’ve reached a troublesome social status where I can’t even have a quiet lunch if I’m not sneaky about it.」(Kurono)
「Hahaha, such is the fate of a hero! When Nero reached Rank 5, he wore an apprentice’s robe, just as you are doing.」(Will)
Though it’s tedious, I’m unable to remove the hood of the apprentice mage robe that I’m wearing for the first time in a while.
After reflecting on the skirmish with the guards yesterday, I’ve decided to adopt an inconspicuous appearance for a while as I go about my academy life.
Still, I’d never expected that I’d be wearing this thing that Fiona gave me for experimental purposes again. It’s not something I’m particularly emotionally attached to, but –
「I have made some alterations, so I want you to test how comfortable it is to wear. Here, please wear this for a while, at least for three days.」(Fiona)
Since Fiona presented it to me with those words, I couldn’t help but to wear it.
Fiona’s scent faintly lingers on it, so it’s actually a little embarrassing. Well, I’m sure it’ll disappear if I wear it for the whole day today.
Either way, it looks like I’ll be borrowing this thing for a while. I’ll make sure to wash it properly before returning it to Fiona.
「If it were just girls squealing at me like they do for Prince Nero, I wouldn’t have to be wearing this, though.」(Kurono)
The problem is that the screams directed towards me are not high-pitched squeals, but genuine screams of fear. I’m finding it quite difficult to get Helen’s expression of pure fear out of my mind.
I’ve killed numerous people up to this point, but I’ve never made a girl cry. It’s actually quite a shock to me.
「The title of Rank five is special, causing those who bear it to gain the attention of not only masses of women, but also of the nation and Adventurers’ Guild – though it seems that there are some interesting rumors regarding you that are spreading quickly, Kurono.」(Will)
As Will smiles with a slightly unpleasant expression, I have a bad feeling about what’s coming next.
「Are they rumors that I attacked a noble girl from Avalon in the arena yesterday… or something like that?」(Kurono)
「A lunchtime nightmare, a maddened sexual assault in the arena – the Nightmare Berserker rapes a female exchange student from Avalon.」(Will)
Will spreads out a single article on the table. The inciting words that he has just spoken are written in large letters across the top, and there’s even an illustration of a large, red-eyed, black man tearing the clothes of a lovely girl into shreds.
「W-what the hell is this…」(Kurono)
「Calm yourself; this is not Spada’s newspaper. This is the magazine published by the information committee in this academy, well-known for its false, gossip-filled material and exaggerated articles.」(Will)
Now that I look at it, the date of publication is today. Considering they’re only students, they’ve already made a report of yesterday’s events and spread the news around… What a fearsome bunch.
「Don’t you feel the need to ask me what really happened?」(Kurono)
「The name of the girl who was attacked was written in the article; she is Helen, eldest daughter of the Azrael house, which is one of the Twelve Noble Houses of Avalon. The fact that she is the captain of Princess Nell’s guards is well-known. Considering the rumored relationship between you and Princess Nell after the events at Iskia, it is not difficult for me to imagine that she selected you as a target to be purged. My word, what a disaster to befall you right after your return.」(Will)
The only words that come out of my mouth are those of gratitude. Ah, what a wonderful thing it is to be trusted.
「But won’t I really be treated as a criminal at this rate?」(Kurono)
Will believes me, but that doesn’t mean that the world will.
I’d thought that things would be fine considering how things ended yesterday, but with something like this before my eyes, I’m starting to feel anxious, even if it is a gossip article.
「I suppose there will be rumors. However… Fuh, the people of Spada have no ears to listen to the excuses of those defeated in a battle they started themselves.」(Will)
The fact that Helen and the guards picked a fight with me seems to be known. Well, she did do it brazenly in broad daylight. There’s no way there wouldn’t be eyewitnesses. Judging from Safiel’s words, I can imagine that the curious onlookers who gathered around the arena were aware of that.
Also, she started the fight herself with large numbers on her side, a situation that was clearly not something that could be called fair. If you’re defeated in such a situation, don’t complain if you’re killed or raped – or so the people of Spada would apparently say.
Rather than being savages, their culture just regards duels as sacred events. The victorious are absolute. It is only natural that they can kill or spare the defeated as they please and take their belongings. Even if it is a mock battle between students, as long as it is called a duel, that is how things go.
There’s no doubt that Helen, a person from Avalon, wasn’t aware of this.
「And it is common for ill rumors to spread about those who have newly become Rank 5. This incident will join all the other baseless rumors and be forgotten sooner or later.」(Will)
「I see, that’s a bit of a relief.」(Kurono)
Honestly speaking, I’m rather relieved. I quite seriously thought that that I might… be locked up on false charges. I’m really glad that it’s turned out to be a needless worry.
「By the way… Is it true that you defeated the genius swordsman, Kai?」(Will)
Will asks me this question with sparkling eyes. Hmph, so be it, I’ll give you the answer you want to hear!
「Yeah, I defeated him with one hit.」(Kurono)
「OH! SO IT WAS TRUE!」(Will)
I was expecting an excited reaction, but Will gives an even more intense reaction that I expected. I’m suddenly embarrassed by the fact that I boasted and said that I did it in one hit.
「W-well, I did defeat him in one hit, but I kind of only barely managed –」(Kurono)
「No, you do not need to speak any further! I understand, I understand very well. A duel between powerful individuals designated as Rank 5 in which the two exchange a single, honed attack, deciding the victor in an instant… I am sure that was how it went.」(Will)
「Yeah, well, I suppose it was pretty much something like that.」(Kurono)
The only response I’m able to give is a vague one like one of Fiona’s. I know that I defeated Kai with my divine protections and strength, but I can’t shake off the feeling that the way I beat him was kind of like foul play. Though with that said, I’d definitely turn down a fair-and-square rematch involving only swordsmanship and martial skills.
「Still, if I had not seen you defeat the Greed-Gore with my own eyes, the fact that you defeated Kai in a single blow would be difficult to believe even for me.」(Will)
「He did have amazing power and speed. On top of that, his perception was good as well.」(Kurono)
「And above all, that man is tough. Nero was completely exhausted after defeating Kai in a duel last year. He made many complaints, such as Kai would not fall no matter how many times he was struck, that he would stand up over and over, that there was no end to the battle, that it was troublesome. And he said he would never do it again.」(Will)
Yeah, I definitely don’t want a rematch.
There’s no doubt that if I hadn’t landed a clean straight punch strengthened with『Overdrive』, it would have turned into a slugfest.
It’s true that we couldn’t use attacks that would kill or maim each other as it was a mock battle, but even so, I could still feel how tough Kai was. It was pretty scary when he was charging straight through my Gatling Burst.
「Come to think of it, what happened to Safiel?」(Kurono)
「Hmm? Was she not just observing your duel with Kai?」(Will)
I see, the fact that she made an attempt to murder me hasn’t spread at all. I was expecting this, but the way it’s been swept under the rug makes me a little angry.
I have absolutely no reason to keep the fact that she was aiming to take my life a secret, though. To my friend who believes in my words, I can tell him everything and have him share my anger.
「No, that woman really turned out to be something else –」(Kurono)
And so, with the hint of a grudge in my voice, I explain what happened.
「Hmm, the Undead knight in full Mythril armor is her most powerful servant. Her intent to murder you was genuine.」(Will)
「I really thought that surprise attack was going to kill me.」(Kurono)
「Indeed, as to be expected from Taa-chan, the ultimate Undead created by the prodigy of the Hydra house. The fact that Safiel made the Nightmare Berserker truly fear for his life shows that her Rank 5 status is not merely for show.」(Will)
As frustrating as it is, I can’t help but to acknowledge her ability now that I’ve crossed swords with her. But there’s one word that Will said that bothers me more than anything else.
「What is Taa-chan?」(Kurono)
「The name of that Undead knight. Its official name is Takion, but Safiel refers to it as Taa-chan. It is likely that its official name is remembered by… none other than me. She is rather careless about how she names things, you see.」(Will)
I would normally wonder if it’s alright to give it such a random name, but, well, I got a glimpse into the broken state of her mind. That might just be how things often turn out for geniuses.
「Either way, there is no doubt that Safiel is the most cunning individual in Wing Road, no, in the entire Spada Royal Academy. Surely she will not make any assassination attempts during peaceful times, but… there is no telling what she may attempt to do in places such as Dungeons. It would be wise to ensure that you do not ever lower your guard.」
「Yeah, you’re absolutely right.」(Kurono)
For now, I think I should take care when I’m doing quests. If I die in a Dungeon, it will look like the work of monsters, after all. If there ever is a next time, I have to make sure to strike back with the intent to kill.
Well, I’ll be praying that even Safiel won’t be free enough to be looking for opportunities to kill me around the clock.
「By the way, Kurono, there is a question that I truly wish to ask. Would you permit me to do so?」(Will)
「W-what is it?」(Kurono)
This is the only response I’m able to give as Will suddenly says this with a meek look on his face. I’m not guilty of anything, but now that I’m being questioned again, I feel a little anxious.
「… What happened between you and Princess Nell?」(Will)
Ah, that. I see, that’s certainly something he would be curious about.
Rather than getting the feeling that I’m being doubted in a strange way, I actually feel more at ease because of the scary emergency Element Masters meeting with Fiona and Lily that I experienced.
Other than the mistake I made of being too careless around a member of a royal family, I should have no reason to hesitate about telling him of my relationship with her.
「Ah, let’s see, Nell is –」(Kurono)
And so I explain everything in order, starting with the day we first met, the 3rd of the Month of Red Flame (Kouen), when Merry stopped in her tracks and Nell saved me, and finishing with the battle at Iskia.
During my explanation, Saria is kind enough to take care of me and Will and bring us lunch.
Both of us are eating the same Dortoth hamburger set meal. Will chews the Dortoth meat with a complicated expression on his face; perhaps he’s made some kind of connection between my words and the events in the battle at Iskia.
As we are almost finished eating, I reach the end of my recount of my memories with Nell.
「Is that so… I see. I now have a good understanding of the reason why Princess Nell is fixated on you.」(Will)
「Yeah, because she’s an important friend.」(Kurono)
「Ah, no, you are right, she is a friend. It has not been long since you met, but you consider each other to be important friends. That is your perception of it, isn’t it, Kurono?」(Will)
「Of course. There were some times where I almost mistakenly thought that she was interested in me, but she’s clearly declared that I’m a friend, and Nell is a kind person so she’s like that to everyone, right?」(Kurono)
Will gives an affirmative response, but for some reason, his gaze has been averted. He is looking into Seria’s cool-blue eyes. What kind of eye contact is this?
「By the way, Will, is Nell not getting any better? I heard that she collapsed in Iskia and she’s still bedridden.」(Kurono)
It doesn’t seem that she’s been hospitalized, but I’ve heard that she’s continuing to rest in the women’s dormitory while taking no visitors. Nell’s condition has become a rumor spreading through the academy so I hear about these things even without really trying to.
「Hmm, so you are worried about her after all.」(Will)
「Of course. It was Nell’s will to go to Iskia, but it’s still a fact that I bear some responsibility.」(Kurono)
「That is why Nero struck you once as well.」(Will)
I do think that was just an act of self-satisfaction, though. Perhaps understanding that as well, Will does not deny my words.
「In any case, Princess Nell apparently has no problems with her physical body; she is completely healthy. In other words, she is suffering from emotional problems.」(Will)
「… The battle of Iskia ended in a great victory for us, so what could have been such a shock for her?」(Kurono)
Indeed, everyone recognized it as such a great victory that decorations were awarded and a victory party was held.
But the reality is that Nell is still lying in her bed. She is in such a serious condition that her older brother punched me and I was almost lynched by her guards.
「Hmm, that is… No, you are right, Princess Nell is kinder than anyone, but as a result, her heart is delicate. It is possible that she is grieving over those we could not avoid losing, or perhaps she is suffering because of something that we cannot even imagine.」(Will)
「That’s certainly possible, but… what are we supposed to do, then?」(Kurono)
「Wait for time to resolve the problem – or so I thought, but now that I have heard of the beginning of romance between you and Princess Nell, there is something I am certain of.」(Will)
Oi, Will, did you just casually say, ‘beginning of romance’? A beginning of a romance is the first meeting between a man and woman who become lovers, isn’t it?
「You should go and visit her, Kurono.」(Will)
Will suggests this to me full of confidence, as if this is a secret plan that will turn everything around. The monocle over his right eye shines as if it has perfectly picked this moment to do so.
「I mean, I really want to visit her, but she’s not taking visitors, right? And since she’s in the women’s dormitory, I can’t go near.」(Kurono)
「No need to worry about such things. I have already taken measures, knowing that this might happen.」(Will)
It seems that this was a thoroughly prepared trick rather than a secret plan to turn things around.
As Will raises a hand, Seria quickly produces a single envelope. An impressive, incredibly quick response. And then this plain white envelope with a wax seal bearing the crest of Spada’s royal family is offered to me.
Now then, I wonder what on earth this is.
「Oh, do not open this here. After you leave this place, read it somewhere you are sure that nobody will see you.」(Will)
I have no choice but to comply with Will’s words as he emphasizes this point. I’ll obediently put it away in my Shadow Gate for now.
Maybe this is some kind of letter of introduction from the Spadan royal family. Maybe if I present this, I’ll be allowed to visit the resting princess.
Considering that, it’s an important document that contains the handwriting of a royal family member. Alright, I’ll be careful with it.
「Thanks, Will, you’re being really helpful.」(Kurono)
「It is but a trivial matter. With my gray brains, this level of –」(Will)
He continues his inciting words and finishes it off with a loud laugh. I don’t know if he’s supposed to be humble or boastful, but my feelings of gratitude won’t change either way.
If I can meet Nell directly, I can at least stop being worried for her without knowing what’s going on.
I’ve also been thinking of asking Nell for a favor. I can’t ask this of Lily or Fiona; it has to be Nell. Just this one thing, no matter what…
Well, it’s something that can wait, so I’ll ask her when she gets better.
「Incidentally, Kurono, today is the day that Simon finally makes his return to the dormitory.」(Will)
I’m sure Will is trying to keep a cool tone, but he is clearly unable to hide his delight. He seems kind of restless. He’s like a guy in middle school talking about the girl he likes.
Similarly, my heart is also throbbing at the prospect of seeing Simon again for the first time in a while. No, I’m certainly not worried about the fact that I fed him antidote potion mouth-to-mouth. Absolutely not.
Actually, let’s shut that incident away at the very bottom of my mind. I’m sure even Simon doesn’t remember it since his consciousness was hazy at the time.
「Won’t it be around evening when he returns?」(Kurono)
Will and I were thinking of paying a visit to the Bardiel residence, where Simon is resting, but we received a letter saying that he’ll return in eight days right before we did, so we decided to just wait patiently for him to come back. The letter did say,「Thanks for your concern, but you don’t have to visit.」
「Then let us drink the night away to celebrate his return!」(Will)
「Yeah, Simon didn’t get to attend the victory party, after all.」(Kurono)
Well then, I’ll have to go shopping and make preparations. I was planning to go shopping in the afternoon anyway, so I’ll take the opportunity to buy the necessary things then. Come to think of it, I should look for something to give to Nell when I visit her as well. I’m sure there’s not going to be any canned peaches, so I’ll have to think of something else…
「Muh, we are behind schedule; shall we proceed to the main topic of discussion?」(Will)
All kinds of conversation topics have come up, so we’ve taken quite the detour. But I certainly haven’t come here to have an enjoyable chat with Will.
I’m more or less prepared to hear this information, information that I need to know no matter what. The information more precious than any reward that the king of an entire nation could have given me.
「Yeah, I’m counting on you, Will. What’s going on with the Crusaders right now –」(Kurono)