「– But I’m glad that you’re looking healthier than I thought.」(Kurono)
For some reason, Nell is lying face-down on her bed as she responds to my remark, as if she’s embarrassed.
After being beaten by the rain for dozens of minutes, I’ve successfully been invited into Nell’s room, wiped my drenched body with a towel and broken the ice with safer topics of conversation such as,「How are you feeling?」
The fact that she was hastily running around and making various preparations allowed me to confirm that she wasn’t weak to the point of being unable to get out of her bed.
Still, the sense of relief I get from actually seeing her face-to-face and having her tell me that she’s fine with a cheerful smile is something else entirely.
「Your face doesn’t seem too pale, either.」(Kurono)
「Haah… P-please don’t look so closely…」(Nell)
I guess it’s embarrassing for her to have her face stared at when she’s lying down because she’s ill. She covers her face with both hands to block my gaze, and at the same time, her wings wrap around the top half of her body. What a lovely, impregnable defense.
「Oh yeah, here, eat this if you want.」(Kurono)
From my shadow, I produce a small paper bag bearing a logo of a smiling woman. This is the get-well gift that Will recommended to me.
「Ah, could that be a custard pudding from『Sweet Smile?!』」(Nell)
「Yeah, I heard that you like these.」(Kurono)
To be more precise, I「read」it. Will really showed off his ability to gain information in that letter.
「Yes, I love these! Thank you very much, Kurono-kun!」(Nell)
There is a smile covering Nell’s entire face – no, I can even see signs of tears glistening in her eyes that have faint shadows beneath them. She is incredibly happy. If she’s this happy about it, it’s worth the effort I spent in buying the pudding.
It was surprising to learn that custard puddings are sold normally as well-known treats from Rune, but the length of the line of female customers outside the confectionary store called『Sweet Smile』was surprising as well.
I was the Nightmare Berserker standing in line with all of those young maidens. Man, it was really hard for me. Mentally, that is.
But the most surprising thing of all was the exorbitant price of 1500 Klans for a single small-sized cup. As expected of a store set up in the upper district; even the prices are high-class.
「Umm, can I… eat it?」(Nell)
「Of course, go ahead, go ahead.」(Kurono)
I give a cheerful reply, and then immediately wonder if it’s alright for her to have such a sugar-filled item this late at night. Well, let’s just pretend it won’t be a problem.
「Ah, yes, I will prepare some tea. Kurono-kun, is there a brand of tea that you like in particular?」(Nell)
「No, you don’t have to, don’t push yourself too hard.」(Kurono)
Perhaps Nell’s sudden enthusiasm comes from the fact that she is eating the custard pudding that she loves so much. As she smiles and cheerfully makes an attempt to get out of her bed, I stop her.
I’ve come here to visit someone who is ill; having her move her body in order to show me hospitality would defeat the purpose.
Also, I have no knowledge whatsoever about tea brands in a foreign world. The only thing I have is the resolve to gratefully accept whatever is given to me.
「No, it is really fine. Nothing is wrong with my body, and I will be able to depart for quests soon.」(Nell)
The gently-smiling Nell before me is the Nell that I know, through and through. Her face is a little pale, but she is full of the same vitality, energy and motivation as she had when she was in the Grand Coliseum’s infirmary, making the decision to go and rescue the students at Iskia.
In other words, there’s no stopping her.
「Ah, my cooking hasn’t improved much, but I can at least make some proper tea!」(Nell)
I suppose tea is something that nobles and royalty are accustomed to. It’s normally made by their servants, but on occasions on which they are hosting guests of equal social status, such as when they’re having chats with noblemen from another nation or when new friends are visiting, it is not uncommon for the head of the house to personally make the tea. It’s probably part of the etiquette needed for interaction between people of the upper-class.
Since Nell is a princess, she has probably been taught this quite strictly.
「Alright. Well then, I’ll let you treat me to tea.」(Kurono)
I don’t have any particular requests, so I’ll leave everything to her. I guess her physical condition really is okay.
I look around the neatly-arranged room and exchange intermittent pieces of conversation with Nell for a few minutes while she prepares the tea.
「Here, I hope you enjoy this.」(Nell)
A tea set has been prepared on the small, round table in front of me.
The amber-colored tea that is steaming with an elegant fragrance is known as black tea in this world, too. I don’t know whether the tea leaves and the method of making the tea are the same as on Earth, but its taste and aroma are exactly the same, and the options of adding milk or lemon are the identical as well.
There is a teapot with a lovely floral pattern, black tea being poured into a cup with a matching pattern, and a saucer beneath the cup. There is also sugar and a stirrer available as part of the tea set nearby.
It’s quite the performance. Nell just told me a moment ago that she often has tea parties with Charlotte and Safiel, the female members of her party. It seems that she wasn’t lying.
Though they’re daughters of noble and royal families, laying out cushions on the floor and sitting around a table like this would indeed be very schoolgirl-like. Well, considering that Safiel is one of them, I have mixed feelings about it, though.
I have a strong image of her shutting herself in a Necromancy workshop full of skulls, completely absorbed in experiments with an evil smile on her face. This image is just a product of my own imagination, but I have the strange feeling that it might not be far off the mark.
I’m a little embarrassed that she’s staring at me with amazingly sparkling eyes as I drink my tea, but I do my best to feign composure. I gently try a mouthful of a tea, trying not to seem too greedy.
「… It’s delicious.」(Kurono)
「I’m glad it suits your tastes.」(Nell)
Nell speaks earnestly with a gentle smile, exuding the happiness in the bottom of her heart.
The taste of the tea is indeed something I would call delicious without trying to be flattering, but I wonder why I just felt a little – no, considerably startled.
C-calm down, it’s not like Nell has the pure emotions of a maiden who has been praised and rewarded for the efforts she has made for the man in her heart. She is simply happy as a friend; she has no ulterior motives.
However, the scary thing about Nell is that if she shows me a pure expression like this, it really could cause a misunderstanding.
「By the way, why is there also a pudding for me?」(Kurono)
I attempt to change the topic in order to distract myself. Even if I wasn’t doing that, the custard pudding with the『Sweet Smile』logo placed next to the black tea has been bothering me ever since I spotted it, though.
「That is something that I found in the cooler. I think it is something that someone brought for me as a get-well gift.」(Nell)
「Is it alright for me to eat it?」(Kurono)
「Yes, it will taste better when we eat it together.」(Nell)
Kuh, I begin to hate myself for immediately assuming that I would have this custard pudding that costs 1,500 Klans all to myself. Nell is a princess with overflowing affection. On the other hand, even though I’ve become a Rank 5 adventurer, I’m a frugal person of the lower-middle class.
「Ah, I will be eating the pudding that you brought, Kurono-san.」(Nell)
As Nell giggles, I find myself unable to think of the words to form an appropriate response. I suppose I’ll just internally apologize to the person who bought her this custard pudding. Sorry, I’m going to be eating this expensive pudding.
「Well then, itadakimasu.」(Kurono)
「Yes, me too. Itadakimasu.」(Nell)
As expected of such an expensive product, the custard pudding is delicious. It’s on a different level from the one I made using a vague recollection of the recipe. The custard pudding has probably undergone Rune’s unique improvements since its manufacturing method was introduced by Count Redwing, also known as Akabane Zenichi-san. At the very least, it’s a custard pudding the likes of which I never tasted in Japan.
As this thought runs through my mind, the white, expensive-looking spoon with white wings engraved into it hits the bottom of the cup. There’s none left; the portion size wasn’t very large.
I look up to see that Nell’s spoon, which bears an engraved lightning bolt on it, is also scooping at the empty air in her own cup.
「M-my apologies, I was a little hungry, so…」(Nell)
As if embarrassed that she finished her pudding at the same speed as my greedy pace, she shows some truly innocent, bashful behavior as she makes an excuse that I never asked for. Damn it, Nell looks about thirty percent cuter now… I need to clear my mind.
And so, Nell and I enjoy our night-time snack together. Conversation between us flows naturally, just like the time we spent every day together before we went to Iskia Fortress.
Perhaps because her boredom has accumulated from all the time that she’s spent in bed, Nell is more talkative than usual.
Reminiscing about her childhood, the first time she met Will, the emotions she felt when she was bestowed a divine protection, the story of the failure of her first quest. Also, the other desserts she likes, the restaurants she is fond of, the subjects she is good at, the lessons she dislikes and all kinds of other silly topics.
During this, I suddenly remember something important.
「– Come to think of it, I forgot to thank you.」(Kurono)
Nell tilts her head slightly to the side as she repeats my words. The timing I was supposed to say this is really off, so I suppose I can’t blame her for not knowing what I’m talking about.
「It was thanks to you that Iskia could be saved. Thanks for lending me your strength.」(Kurono)
「Eh, that’s… I just… did the natural thing, so…」(Nell)
Nell has an expression that’s as if she’s more surprised by me thanking her so formally rather than the timing of my gratitude. Indeed, considering her kind disposition and impressive abilities, that might have been the natural thing for her to do.
But even so, I wanted to thank her properly.
「No, if it wasn’t for the charm you gave me, the『Aria Guard-Feather』, I would have been parasitized by the Sloth-Gil.」(Kurono)
Come to think of it, does Nell know about the Sloth-Gil, the parasite monster that was controlling the Greed-Gore?
For now, I give her a brief explanation and emphasize how much danger I was in as I thank her.
「Really, thanks. You saved my life, Nell. If I was on my own, I wouldn’t have been able to save anyone. No, even the Curse Carnival wouldn’t have ended well for me. If you didn’t save me, I wouldn’t have been able to do anything…」(Kurono)
「Fufu… Ufufu, it’s alright, Kurono-kun. You don’t have to try to do everything perfectly on your own.」(Nell)
Despite intending to thank her, it comes out as more of a complaint. Nell speaks with a gentle smile, as if she’s really a goddess.
No, it’s not just her words. She is leaning over the table and has taken my hand, wrapping it in both of hers. It’s the gesture of a real saint, extending her hands to a lost lamb.
「Companions rely on each other and save each other, don’t they? So it’s fine for you to rely on me more, Kurono-kun. I want to become your strength.」(Nell)
I think of Lily, Fiona and now Nell as well, as companions that I can trust with all my heart, but… maybe I’ve been trying too hard to shoulder everything on my own.
Taking advantage of someone and relying on them are different things. Even though I understand that, the line between the two might be really blurry.
「You’re really saving me by saying that.」(Kurono)
「Me too, hearing you say that… has saved me.」(Nell)
Nell’s hands squeeze my hand a little harder. Her delicate, white fingers entwine warmly with mine. I wonder if me being startled is because of my impure thoughts.
No, there likely isn’t a single man alive who wouldn’t feel overly conscious while being stared at by Nell’s vivid blue eyes. It’s not my fault. It’s not my fault, but… I need to control myself.
Concluding that any more than this would be dangerous, I make a casual attempt to shake my hand free, but it seems that things won’t go as planned. Nell’s hands continue to gently restrain my right hand.
Is it just my imagination? Her eyes are a little moist, as if she is feeling feverish. As I avert my eyes, trying to escape her gaze –
「– Princess Nell?」
I shudder as I hear a knock accompanying a woman’s voice. The warm atmosphere that has been filling the room up until now disperses in an instant. Nell’s grip on my hand is also released instantly.
Who is it? No, no matter who it is, this is bad. This is very bad.
It seems that Nell understands the situation as well; she has opened her eyes wide in astonishment. There’s no doubt that she is wearing the same expression of surprise as me.
After all, I’m not someone who is supposed to be in the women’s dormitory, let alone the room of a bedridden, ill princess.
It would have been bad if I was witnessed infiltrating the room with my tentacle-climbing, but it would be even worse for me to be seen in this room. I’d be caught red-handed and arrested. The authorities probably wouldn’t hear my excuses.
「You are resting, aren’t you… I am coming in, alright?」
「Don’t come in if she’s supposed to be resting!」I shout at her in my mind, but that isn’t going to make the woman on the other side of the door to give up on rushing into the room.
Damn it, now that’s it’s come to this, I have to escape even if I have to smash through the window. The moment I come to this decision and stand up –
「Kurono-kun, please hide here!」(Nell)
Nell displays her fine skill in shouting while whispering. The hiding spot she’s pointing at is her bed.
Indeed, Nell is raising her blankets and asking me to hide in there.
Th-this is… I have a feeling that being discovered not only in the same room, but in the same bed as her would cause an even more irreversible situation.
If I’m found in Nell’s room, I’d be executed. Being found in her bed would likely add some torture before the execution.
But by no means is breaking through the window in order to escape the best plan. On top of that, I can’t see anywhere else I could possibly hide. Damn it, I’d be able to hide in that closet if I was Lily-sized!
Even as I think that, I can hear the rattling sound of the door being unlocked by the woman who is trying to enter the room for some unknown reason. This is bad, I don’t have any more time to think.
Making up my mind, I leap towards – not the window, but the bed. Clinging to the sliver of hope that I won’t be discovered at all.
「Fuwah… Wah, ah… Kurono-kun…」(Nell)
「Sorry, Nell, bear with it for a bit.」(Kurono)
As I slip into the blanket, we naturally end up in a position where we’re embracing each other. Of course, my head isn’t sticking out. It’s not sticking out, but because of that, my face is touching Nell’s chest. No, it’s not simply touching it; it’s more like it's pressing against it.
The pair of large hills that push up against her pure-white négligée are wrapped around my face. I experience softness, warmth, a scent and a slight difficulty in breathing. My heart, which was already sounding its alarm bells at this dangerous situation, begins beating twice as fast.
I don’t want to separate myself from her, but at the same time, I do. But I wouldn’t be able to do so anyway. Nell is holding me tightly against her chest, showing no signs of intending to let go. I think I’m going to go crazy.
At the culmination of my tension, as my ability to reason reaches the brink of collapsing, the woman finally steps into the room. I desperately hold my breath, erase my presence and simply pray whole-heartedly that this danger will pass. Ah, this reminds me of when I escaped the experiment facility and was being chased by Sariel…
「Oh my, the lights have been left on! And the tea has been left out like this… Good lord, what a rude person your last visitor was.」
She’s probably a student who lives in this dormitory, taking care of Nell who is resting. There’s no doubt that it’s soon to be bedtime for the dormitory, and she came to check up on Nell one last time.
However, as I hear the tone of her voice that is clearly displeased at the state of the room, I realize that the owner of this voice is undoubtedly Helen, the one who tried to lynch me under the pretense of challenging me to a duel.
I see, she’s the captain of Princess Nell’s guards; since she’s a daughter of some super-important family, she’s in a sufficient position to take care of Nell. In fact, judging from the way she worshipped Nell, I’m sure she’s doing this of her own desire.
Well, that loyalty is tormenting me and Nell right now. I accidentally scared to hell out of her at the arena, but damn it, Helen, you really have seized the opportunity to kill me…
「Princess Nell?! You were awake?」(Helen)
Nell begins her ad-lib acting in order to overcome this predicament. Though I know it’s an act, I’m startled in a bad way upon hearing her speak in a tone that sounds really displeased; I can even hear traces of hatred in her voice.
「I don’t care. Hurry and leave.」(Nell)
「I-I’m terribly sorry… Please excuse me…」(Helen)
Upon receiving a heartfelt rejection from the master whom she loves and respects, Helen departs with these clearly sad words of apology.
Since I was born, my heart has never felt more at ease than now as I hear the sound of the door closing and being locked once more.
The room remains silent, and several dozen seconds pass.
「… Nell, isn’t it safe now?」(Kurono)
「Uu… Kurono-kun, Kurono-kun…」(Nell)
I should hurry and separate myself from her. I spoke out to Nell thinking that it would be safe to leave her bed now, but her restraint on me doesn’t loosen. I wonder if she’s confused because of how nervous she was.
「Hey, you can let go of –」(Kurono)
「C-calm down, Nell, it’s alright, everything’s alright now.」(Kurono)
Doing my best to calm the strangely agitated Nell, I gently escape her embrace while feeling an insolent reluctance to do so and slip out of her bed.
I finally experience the sensation that I’m still alive. At the same time, as I slip away from Nell’s incredibly attractive body, I realize just how embarrassing the immoral situation we were in a moment ago was.
「U-umm… Kurono-kun, I…」(Nell)
Nell’s face has been dyed a magnificent red from nervousness and shame. I’m so embarrassed that I can’t look her in the eye right now. I’ll become conscious of it even if I don’t want to.
Feeling heat in my own face, I keep my eyes averted as I speak.
「You saved me, Nell, thanks. You managed to somehow deceive her successfully.」(Kurono)
「Yes… You… are right.」(Nell)
Honestly speaking, this really saved me. I’d completely abandoned the notion of hiding in her bed as I’d thought that there would be no way that two people being in the same bed could go unnoticed.
「To think that your wings would come in handy in a time like this.」(Kurono)
Indeed, the secret behind how Helen was tricked lies in Nell’s wings. The trick was plain and simple. When Nell is lying face-down, her large wings are above her, of course. They have considerable surface area and volume even if she folds them, and if she moves them a little, she can naturally create a space large enough to hide a person.
By nonchalantly holding her blanket up with her wings, she made my hiding beneath it inconspicuous.
「I am happy that I could be of help to you, Kurono-kun.」(Nell)
Out of the corner of my vision, I see Nell squirming around, covering her face with both hands. Perhaps she still can’t think straight because of how nervous she was; it seems that her agitation won’t subside.
But now that the danger has passed, I realize something. When I was hiding under the sheets, couldn’t I have avoided the risky situation altogether by submerging my body in my Shadow Gate? Yes, the same way that I hid myself in the wooden crate of apples on the ship headed to the Pandora continent.
It’s way too late now, but since I managed to make it through the situation safely regardless, I’ll just accept it.
「Sorry for overstaying. Me staying here is dangerous, so I’ll go back now.」(Kurono)
「Ah… Y-you are right… I understand.」(Nell)
Hearing Nell speak in a remarkably disappointed tone, I’m tempted to suggest that I stay longer, but I really can’t do that after experiencing that danger.
「You seem healthy, Nell, so it looks like you’ll be able to return to the academy soon at this rate.」(Kurono)
「… Ah! Y-yes, that’s right, that’s right, isn’t it! I am fine; I will be able to go back to attending the academy starting from tomorrow!」(Nell)
「I see, that’s good to hear. With that, we’ll be able to see each other at lunchtime or after school or whenever.」(Kurono)
「Yes, I… am always with you, Kurono-kun…」(Nell)
As Nell directs a feverish gaze at me, I feel insolent feelings stirring within me once more. This is bad, if I don’t get out of here as soon as possible, I have a bad feeling I’m going to do something I’m going to regret.
I hurriedly make my way towards the window. Just as I steel my resolve to leap out into the pitch-black, thunder-filled night once more, I suddenly remember something.
「Oh yeah, Nell, can you teach me magic again sometime?」(Kurono)
I learned something during the experiments with my divine protections a few days ago.
In order to make full use of『Overgear』and『Over-Accel』, I need an accurate understanding of the spell formulas for『Protect Boost』and『Concentration Boost.』
With『Force Boost』as the base, I have a clear image of the spell formula for『Overdrive.』Compared to the other two, its activation and effective duration are more stable and the backlash on my body isn’t as harsh.
Thanks to my special training with Mia-chan, I was able to activate the second and third divine protections intuitively even without any image of the spell formulas.
But if they’re that unstable and exhaust my strength so relentlessly, I’d feel very anxious about using it in real battles. Especially if I’m going to be taking on the Apostles as my opponents.
While I need to look for the next divine protection, I also need training to ensure I can make proper use of the divine protections I’ve already acquired.
Well, it’s a rather pathetic that I’m relying on Nell for this, though.
「Yes, of course! Ah… But among your party members, there is a, umm… witch, isn’t there?」(Nell)
Nell’s favorable response makes a complete reversal, and she suddenly frowns.
I see, from her point of view, there would be no denying that it would seem like she’s intruding by teaching me magic while I ignore my party members who are proficient with magic. Jeez, what a considerate princess she is.
「No, it has to be you, Nell.」(Kurono)
「Eh… I-I am… I am special?」(Nell)
「Yeah, I can’t ask anyone but you, Nell. It would be completely impossible for anyone else.」(Kurono)
Indeed, for teaching me about modern magic, there’s nobody better than Nell, who is good at teaching and is able to directly guide my mind through telepathy.
After receiving such wonderful one-on-one lessons, I can’t bring myself to go through Fiona’s indecipherable, tricky lessons. Lily’s out of the question as well, since she’s only able to use her own Characteristic Skills.
「Yes, yes! Thank you very much, Kurono-kun, I’ll do my best!」(Nell)
I’m the one who’s supposed to be saying thanks. But Nell, whose motto is that things should be done for the good of the people, accepts my request, finding happiness in being of use to me. Considering that her wings are fluttering restlessly, I guess she’s really happy about it.
「Thanks. Well then, see you tomorrow. Good night.」(Kurono)
「Yes, good night, Kurono-kun.」(Nell)
And so I depart Nell’s room. I leave the women’s dormitory as quickly and silently as when I came.
As I head back to the dormitory, being struck by the heavy rain once more, I suddenly realize something.
「Come to think of it, Nell was just fine when I saw her, but she’s been bedridden all this time…」(Kurono)
Considering her condition, she would probably have been fine to start attending the academy starting tomorrow even if I hadn’t gone to visit her. I didn’t get the feeling that she was suffering mentally from something on her mind like Will told me, either.
The battle of Iskia was hard; maybe even people like Nell want to skip school and take it easy from time to time.
「Well, since she’s fine, it doesn’t really matter.」(Kurono)
Coming to this conclusion, I return to the dormitory in a good mood after having one of my worries resolved.