On this day too, the main street of the Yusala drill city was overflowing with soldier candidates.
In the centre of the city, on both sides of the stone pavement were lined up stalls.
The drill school's campus was on top of a hill, lodgings across the street. Between them there were plenty places to hang out and rest after the lectures were over, the merchants seemed to know that and sold tea and sweets aimed for young people as well as had fruits lined up on the serves. Every store had chairs and benches available at the edge, allowing people to eat and drink on spot after purchasing food.
The drill students were men and women from fourteen to twenty years old. Regardless of their age they were divided into four years depended on when they entered, there was about two hundred students in each year. About seventy percent of them were nobles and people from powerful families, the remaining thirty percent were commoners. After finishing the course, people with excellent grades were acknowledged and enlisted in the Royal Knights.
Of course, if they just want to become soldiers they don't have to enter the Royal Knights. Since the graduates are qualified officers, they can become mercenaries or part of aristocratic private military forces where at worst they become captains of troops of ten. But still, the overwhelming majority wished to become part of the Royal Knights troop. After all, it was a service from Imperial City. In other words, it was a service distant from the front line, they would be sent to live carefree lives as guards.
To add on to that, even if children of nobility and rich families with poor qualifications were enlisted to Royal Knights, it wouldn't have any impact on it. Even if they have entered drill school, they would at most become figureheads of private armies and would proceed on a path that doesn't share an edge with war.
Having such circumstances, the faces of the young people were overall bright, the town was crowded.
Even if two hundred kilometres of this city was the forefront of war.
Second Fairy War——the war named tentatively like that was very close to Yusala and yet far at the same time. Five days of crossing the mountains in a horse-drawn carriage, one day of transit with quick horses. The watchtowers weren't at a distance one could go to for a picnic there, and the noise couldn't be heard either so people didn't feel nor had awareness of the fact they were close to the front line. Although the great Astozellen fortress in the front line was at a stand-off for six months, if it was broken through by any chance the drill students weren't obligated to fight and would be evacuated.
Still, after being trained they seem to be entering very brave moods.
A stall with snacks on a main street.
Two drill students sitting on its terrace were in the middle of a blooming discussion on magical swords.
"Actually, Juelamil method is already old."
Tilting his ginger ale, a big boy spoke enthusiastically.
"In the first place. 'Changing the evocation depending on situation' in actual battle is... I wonder if it's possible in the current battlefield. It's certainly useful when two people are fighting. But, the enemies now are elves, as well as magical beasts and demons. There's no time to look at the opponent and pick a spirit energy tube for each one of them. It's better to focus on a single high-powered evocation, right?"
He had a rough and thick voice fitting his physique and also had a somehow unlikable atmosphere.
"Still, it's hard to say that Eftal method is the best isn't it?"
Responding to him, was a conspicuous boy with soft hair who felt somehow aloof from the world.
He held bread with dried meat sandwiched between it in one hand and somehow hassled——still responded to the discussion.
"Certainly, I think there is a point in using up one evocation to the limit in the current war. Magical beasts and demons are just extreme beasts. All that's needed to kill them is to break through their hair, skin and bones. It's not necessary to make full use of exaggerated evocations. Also, by limiting the evocation one could limit the operative unit and the blade's structure, thus simplifying manufacturing process and including durability of the blade. The situations during which they melt from continuous operation of the evocation would happen less often. Both servicing it and mass production would be easier, looking from that point of view Eftal method is perfect."
"See, it's full of advantages."
"C'mon, listen till the end. To me, despite those advantages, I want to say that it doesn't escape the fundamental flaws of magical swords. You listened to the necromancy lecture, right?"
"Hey hey, you who always doses off during the lecture asks me that?"
Although the big boy responded ironically, the soft-haired boy shrugged and smiled.
"I never miss important things. ...well, anyway. Both Juelamil and Eftal methods are unable to activate the evocation once the spirit energy they're equipped with is exhausted. We humans are unable to use our flesh and blood to draw spirit energy from the ground like elves. In other words, we need spirit energy tubes no matter what. If you can use only one evocation before its exhausted, then which one is better? In fact, with a skilled user, the destructive power of Juelamil method is higher."
"It's not like that."
The blonde wrinkled his eyebrows in frustration.
"I know. But, even if you say it's not, in the end it's still like that."
The big boy fell silent.
The soft-haired shrugged and using the opportunity, ate the remaining bread all at once.
After crudely chewing it he poured himself grape wine,
"To resolve this drawback, one would have to suck up and compress spirit energy, the processing technology for that... right now there's no choice but to do it in the magical sword factory. But, you too on your first year went on a tour in the factory, right? There's no way that absurdly big equipment can be miniaturized and mounted on the magical sword's engine. Above all, they have the built-in organic parts of the spirit energy accumulating device. They rot and die over the time and have to be replaced, it's too unreasonable to operate that on the battlefield."
"...still, I think the Juelamil method is outdated."
A response not suiting his rugged body, almost sulking.
The boy with soft hair licked a piece of bread off his fingertip and with "good grief", he said.
"Hey, Fream. I can understand you're frustrated after losing to Vint in practice battle, but isn't it bad to blame it on a weapon?"
Fream——the big boy made an expression as if he was poked where it hurts.
He frowned and scratched his head.
"Yeah, you're right. It's just as you say, Sashtal."
Surrendering to the soft-haired boy——Sashtal, he scratched his head shyly,
"I know that myself, that talking like this is pathetic."
And placed the wooden jug with ale on top of the table.
Then he leaned against his own chair and stared at his weapon.
Wrapped in a cloth, a long spear.
Pointing at it lightly, Fream sighed.
"But well, being told that clearly is annoying. I've gotten this guy in the drill school, it's a magical spear my family splurged on you know? Saying the cheap Eftal is inconveniencing, they kindly splurged on the Juelamil method you see?"
Magical swords were valuable. Juelamil method weapon was as expensive as a house, it was incredibly expensive for commoners. In fact——there were people from even more rural areas than Fream, with ancestors living from hunting, they purchased a mass-produced Eftal method daggers thanks to taking a debt.
"And yet, Vint... the only son of venerable Culias Marquis household, despite having lots of gold is using a damn cheap Eftal weapon. Despite using a cheap weapon, he had a brilliant victory against an opponent wielding a Juelamil magical spear!"
As Fream chagrined, Sashtal smiled wryly.
"He's pragmatic despite being a noble. Doesn't seem gaudy at all."
"Aaah? Sticking up for him? As I thought, you two of the enforcement branch are thinkin' alike eh?"
"If I did, I wouldn't be listening to your complaints."
Sashtal's aloof attitude was undisturbed, he fluttered his hand dodging Fream.
Just, he narrowed his eyes slightly and his tone had slight seriousness mixed in,
"Well, I can tell wanting to blame a weapon from frustration after losing. But, you shouldn't blame the weapon your family had gathered a large sum of money for, I think. If anything, blame your lack of skill."
For a moment, Fream was silent.
But, before long he met Sashtal's gaze meekly and,
"You're right, my bad. I was rude to this guy and to my family that bought him for me."
For a commoner in a drill school, having a magical sword was a crystallization of effort of their families and the hope entrusted to them.
"Yup. Honesty is your good point."
Sashtal laughed and hit Fream's shoulder.
"Well, it can't be helped. Vint has good pedigree, excellent results and is good looking, like a honour student sample. I too, when we have to act together as enforcement branch feel like complaining about him. If that guy's a deer, then I'm a monkey and you're a boar."
"You're free to make comparisons like that as you were born in a hunter's household, but don't involve me in it."
Then——Fream who filled his jug with ale again,
"......nn? Hey, look."
With a frown, the two looked towards the next stall.
Because it was behind Sashtal, he turned around.
There alone, stood a girl.
It was a girl who had her mantle's hood put on deeply on her eyes. Almost as if she didn't want her face to be seen. But on the other hand, she wasn't wary enough from the neck and below and the front was open. On her breasts and from below the short skirt her skin peeked out, it was incredibly glossy and captivating.
Not only her body was attractive. The face peeking out from below the hood——in the end, wasn't completely hidden either——was incredibly striking.
In one word, lovely.
Round eyes, crystal clear facial features, shapely eyebrows, soft-looking lips, everything was exquisitely placed on her face. Her somewhat troubled and tempting expression tempted men to give her protection. Her bluish-silver hair was like that of an elf.
Of course, there was no way an elf could be in a place like this, in the first place, silver hair wasn't uncommon among humans. But, the combination of silver hair and the striking beautiful appearance made her worthy of the epithet "like an elf". It should be noted that even now during the war with elves, it was used as the greatest tribute to somebody's appearance.
She didn't wear the Yusala drill school's uniform. Since she was wearing a fabric cloth she must have been a traveller.
It seemed like she was trying to buy something. Panicking in front of fruits and nuts in a box. Maybe she was looking for the wallet, as she was looking through her chest pocket and the waist pockets. Because of these gestures of hers she didn't notice she displayed more skin.
And, her appearance, expression and all her gestures——had caused the drill students hanging out at the next stall to whistle in a vulgar way. The one Fream rebuked was finding fault with wasn't the girl, but them.
This is troublesome, Sashtal thought.
It was an aristocrat just like Vint the two were talking about earlier, but he was just opposite of Vint, completely contrasting with him. He felt privileged and had a bad attitude, the worst fellow who thought of himself highly and one should be careful with. Time after time he acted violently in the city, but because he repeatedly silenced victims these were only rumours.
The traveller girl seemed to have caught their eyes.
Caskes Kilishiaham——the leader of the bunch was a third son of a Marquis——but, as the group expected he stood up with a grin.
"Milady, are you troubled with something?"
He crept up to her from behind and called out. His expression wasn't noble at all, completely vulgar.
The surprised girl's body twitched and she turned around. Her face behind the hood was timid, but rather than making Caskes feel like protecting her it must have aroused his sadism.
"Do you want fruits? Or maybe nuts? I'll buy them for you."
"N-no umm, don't mind me."
The girl seemed confused.
"It's fine it's fine. By the way, you aren't a drill student right? Why did you come for to this city? Maybe, you are looking for a job? I'll guide you. See I'm mostly familiar with all the stores around here. If you get along with me I'll introduce you. How about that."
As to take advantage, Caskes' attitude was aggressive. Confident of his position he took his opponent off-guard. A mere female traveller, he'll be able to do however he pleases with her, he thought.
Actually, taking Kilishiaham's house influence into consideration, there were few stores that would refuse. If she got along his invitation she could pick any job she would like. If she didn't——that wouldn't trouble him either.
"First to deepen our friendship, how about we talk for a while at that store? They have delicious sweets."
"Damn, can't he cut it out."
Sashtal stopped Fream whose anger won over and was about to stand up.
"Your position will get worse. At best you're just one year his senior, it'll be troublesome if he has an eye on you."
"Are you saying I should just sit and watch?"
"Yeah, that's right. You sit and watch. I'll go alone."
While thinking its a suicide, Sashtal stood up.
Honestly, he thought it's troublesome. In the first place, he didn't have the personality with sense of justice. Helping a traveller that wasn't even a drill student was too much a pain in the ass.
However, despite it being troublesome,
"As an enforcement executive, I can't keep silent when I run into such a thing in such a place. If I do, I'll be scolded by the representative."
Enforcement——it was autonomous institution in the drill school, he was one of its members.
Of course he wasn't recommended nor a candidate. He was an appointed by the drill school's student representative, it was decided single-handedly. However, that didn't mean he wanted to abandon the responsibility.
Sashtal thought he'd be glad if Vint Culias whom they talked about earlier was here. Contrary to Sashtal, he'd gladly welcome this.
Caskes didn't notice Sashtal stand up.
As his comrades watched it proudly, with a grin,
"Now, come. I'll treat you to a feast."
Over-familiar, he put a hand on the girl's shoulder.
But, contrary to Caskes expectations——the girl furrowed her eyebrows uncomfortably and slapped his hand away.
"Don't touch me."
Caskes' voice turned low and arrogant.
"What's with you, this attitude."
Sashtal started feeling impatient.
While thinking it serves that despicable aristocrat just right, he'd prefer if she refused him in more gentle manner. That was more like a provocation.
If it goes bad, it might get out of hand.
"Don't touch me, I said."
The girl firmly glared at Caskes.
"Hee, my goodness, acting strong."
However, Caskes made a light smile. He wasn't angry. Instead, he thought of making her cheeky face cry. His gaze turned around freely, licking her chest and thighs.
As expected, staying on sidelines for any longer would be bad.
Sashtal took a deep breath and was about to call out to him, restraining Caskes.
A figure walking straight towards the girl was reflected in Sashtal's field of view.
It was a boy.
Seventeen, or maybe eighteen, he looked young but might have been older.
Of course, he wasn't a drill student. He looked like a traveller. A crudely-worn thumbed cloak. A sword visible from behind the tattered hem. Wide and somewhat short blade, a double-edged one-handed sword——probably a falchion.
Ruffled dark red hair. He was a short person for a man. However, his eyes were incredibly sharp, just by walking he let out a presence of a ferocious beast.
The boy stopped in front of the girl and muttered.
"Ellis, don't just wander as you like."
The girl——she seemed to be called Ellis——responded, depressed.
"I'm sorry, Imina. See, they sell walnuts so I..."
"You don't have a purse, do you."
"Y-yes. After coming to the store, I remembered Imina has the purse..."
"That's why I told you not to separate from me."
The boy——called Imina had a blunt attitude. But contrary to his tone, he stroked he girl's head over the hood with gentle movements.
"The inn seems to be over there. Let's stay here for a few days and rest."
"Umm, Imina. I'll use walnuts and make brea..."
"I know. If you have ingredients I heard it's fine if you use the kitchen."
Ellis' face suddenly shone. Including Sashtal, all the onlookers gasped. They were completely charmed. Earlier she was fearful and timid,but now she just had a happy expression. Like a water lilly blooming in front of them, it had no equal.
The boy looked towards the stall's shopkeeper.
"Walnuts, can I get a bag of them?"
"S-sure. Umm... two hundred pennies."
Probably the old shopkeeper was also fascinated by the girl. He spread the bag out in panic.
But, there was a single person who didn't fall for her smile.
"Hey, ...wait a second, you."
It was Caskes, who was quarrelling with Ellis.
His presence was riddled with displeasure, dissatisfaction and anger. No wonder. As he was in middle of harassing a cheeky girl, he was ignored by the boy who suddenly appear to take her away, not even shown any hostility. Even more so that he was accustomed to flaunting his identity. It must have been an intolerable insult to him.
"What's with these antics? Even an unfamiliar countryman should know better how to behave in this city."
Moving in front of the boy, he glared.
Height-wise, Caskes was taller. Glaring with intimidation downwards,
"Listen all right? Drilling students is at this city's core... we are responsible for the future of Royal Knights. You commoners will be guarded by us so a big and arrogant attitude won't be tolerated."
Still his demonstration, didn't go through to the boy——to Imina.
"So this, is the drill city Yusala."
He muttered to himself.
"...haa, I paid it a visit four years late haven't I."
In self-ridicule the edges of his lips distorted, and,
"Hey! I said, don't ignore me...!"
Caskes finally passed the boiling point and put his hand on the thing at his waist.
The Estoc-type magical sword purchased thanks to his parent's wealth. The tension had run through the agape crowd.
However, the sword wasn't unsheathed.
Without any signs ahead of it, Imina's right hand hit Caskes face from the side. That's how it looked like those who were looking from the sidelines. But those who didn't receive combat training and the shopkeeper, they didn't see any arm movement. Also, it was actually hit in the jaw.
Immediately after, Caskes fell on his knees.
Like a puppet with its strings cut he fell on the ground and didn't even flinch.
Behind Sashtal, Fream let out a voice of admiration. A splendid and accurate blow——even the school practicals' instructors wouldn't be able to imitate it.
The henchmen who were looking from a distance have all at once stood up, hostile.
There were eight of them. Each of them was a noble, but they were Caskes cronies' of low pedigree. As underlings they probably couldn't overlook what was done to their boss because of appearances.
"What's with you guys. This guy's friends?"
Before the eight's hostility, Imina didn't falter in the least.
He spoke completely disinterested.
"He only fainted so don't worry. I don't have a hobby of quarrelling."
"Wha...? You bastard, are you insulting us?!"
The henchmen were frenzied. "I don't have hobby of quarrelling"——it was equal to saying "with you guys it'll be at most a quarrel".
Either they didn't understand their position, were unable to withdraw, or maybe both. Eight people pulled out their weapons in unison. Claymore, wand, mace, daggers——each and all of them were expensive swords purchased with their parents' money.
Behind Sashtal, Fream's chair creaked.
"This is turning into somethin' big."
Of course it was, usage of magical swords within this city was strictly prohibited by the school regulations outside of emergencies. If they do it their grades would suffer, at worst they can be expelled.
"Hey, hurry up and stop th..."
Reminded by Fream, Sashtal however felt a different kind of impatience.
Sashtal wasn't worried about the boy.
It was the opposite.
Perhaps because he was hunting in the mountains from an early age, he felt these things intuitively. And his intuition was telling him.
Rather than Caskes' cronies, rather than the evocation's outburst that could deal large damage to the city, there was something more dangerous.
It was that quietly standing boy. The one the girl called Imina.
It wasn't that he let out any thirst for blood. He didn't enter combat readiness. However, that's why. It's because despite the absence of will to fight——because he didn't feel like fighting at all, the oppressive feeling like that of a wounded beast he let out, made him feel beyond ordinary.
He wasn't an ordinary person, that was clear. There was a possibility he was already a mercenary veteran at that age.
Of course, Caskes' henchmen didn't notice the boy's dreadfulness.
Behind the confronting boy, the girl narrowed her eyes.
This is bad——they'll go at it.
That's why Sashtal determined himself and was about to shout "wait!".
At that time.
A voice of a woman, as if a sword was being unsheathed had resounded in the tense air of the place.
It wasn't loud. Calm, if anything. Nevertheless, it resounded well.
The onlookers, Caskes' henchmen and Fream from behind Sashtal have all looked at her and gasped.
Someone muttered in daze.
A single girl stood there.
Sparkling blonde hair extending to her waist. Hair ornaments decorated with jet-black corals. Perky nose and neat features. Her eyes were somewhat cold, the strictness in her entire body and her beauty attracted viewers, naturally making them correct their posture.
She was wearing Yusala drill school's uniform, but rather than general student's black with blue bordering, she wore a white one with cherry-coloured bordering and it gave a totally different impression. The designs of the decorations were added on as well, proving she was in this school——or rather, in entire city she was a special existence.
The knight sword hanging at her waist was inscribed with "Raika Tenseki" which meant "Trace of Heavenly Lightning's Flash". It was a magical sword created by a famous sword-smith who had no equal in Midgalz Empire, Shuleli Saimond. Shuleli's magical swords were of high quality and low number. Not counting commoners, it was hard for even nobles to purchase them.
Her name was Milifica. Milifica Yusala Astozellen.
Yusala Drill School's representative, Midgalz Empire's Astozellen royal families twelfth heir to the throne and the next and the second child of Yusala's duke. Rather than a mild noble, she was from royal family with long history.
And at the same time, the enforcement staff Sashtal was serving, an immediate supervisor so to speak.
Milifica grimly let out a voice again.
"What are you doing, I have asked. Did someone permit you unsheathe your blades in the city premises?"
Caskes' henchmen one after another discarded their swords and got down on their knees.
Still, Milifica's expression remained steep.
"This is a serious violation of school regulations. Arrest them."
At these words, the students who earlier sat unconcerned have ran over and restrained the non-resisting henchmen. They were splendidly small-minded, but it was no wonder. If they continued to stay at the sidelines the suspicions might be also extended to them. Being suspected of being Caskes' comrades would be unbearable.
On the other hand, Sashtal was relieved.
Thanks to her intervention, the dreadful presence has disappeared from Imina.
Not just that, he stared at Milifica blankly. The change of atmosphere thanks to Her Royal Highness Princess Milifica has apparently paid off.
That's what Sashtal thought but——.
"Let's talk calmly in the campus, shall we. ...now then."
After ascertaining that everyone including unconscious Caskes' has been arrested, Milifica turned towards the two who weren't students, towards the boy and the girl.
With a light diplomatic smile,
"It seems we have inconvenienced you two... however, since I wasn't here to see everything, I do not know the situation. If possible, I would like to hear the full story, would you."
Be able to kindly answer. She was probably about to continue with.
But she interrupted in the middle and made a dubious expression.
The traveller boy and girl——Imina and Ellis.
The two for some reason, turned astounded gazes towards Milifica.
Ellis' lips trembled.
"Can't be? What do you mean?"
At the same time Milifica asked.
The action taken by Imina had amazed everyone on spot.
Just like Ellis he had lost his temper and facial expressions, then took a step forward. He extended his hands, held Milifica's shoulder——and of all things he wrapped her cheek with his palm, staring into her face.
There was no one who noticed that the muttered word was someone's name.
That's because every single one——was stunned by the rude behaviour.
The moment everyone had returned to their senses, Milifica had shook his hands off and slapped him.
"......!! You insolent!"
*paam*, a simple sound had resounded in the main street.
The place they were guided to was the training centre.
It was a separate building standing side by side with school's.
The stone walls were piled up with emphasis on the robustness rather than the appearance, here and there were small scratches. The floor——on the ground there was fine sand, it looked perfect for bouncing away from it. The roof was wooden, on it there were large open windows without sliders for better ventilation, cold winter air from outside blew in through them.
Please use this, they were passed folded chairs made from iron bars and tanned leather. It was the same thing soldiers used to rest on the battlefield.
Were they not welcome, or maybe this was normal. Or maybe both. Although it didn't seem like they were treated as guests, the school's hallways they passed through weren't flashy either, making them think the school's traditions were very Spartan.
Of course——with that said, as expected of the drill school built by the royal family. The building design and the atmosphere had dignity despite the rustic look. The training centre too, if one looked well, there were beams on the ceiling and the cut-out stone was firm.
The location's size was roughly fifteen square metres. Since there was a sign "Seventh Training Centre" at the entrance doors, it meant there must have been another six of this size. Gold was used generously.
Imina stood in the corner of the training centre while thinking that and stared at the inside.
"I wonder if we'll be all right."
Next to him Ellis was sitting in a chair and looked up his way.
So he replied with a shrug.
"It certainly turned troublesome, but it's not like we'll be eaten."
Not wearing the hood she was anxious. Before they entered the campus they took off their cloaks and they were taken away. They left their jackets with the guards, unable to go against their compelling tones. The manners and noise around them was also aristocratic.
Ellis constantly put her hands on her head——specifically, she was holding down the plasters on her ears. They were well hidden by her hair, but she was still anxious.
"Don't worry so much."
Her head was lightly bumped.
"If by off chance something happens, I'll protect you."
Ellis squinted and happily nodded.
"In the first place, it's my fault it turned out like that."
Imina made a bitter smile. In it, there was a slight criticism.
"It couldn't be helped."
It seemed like Ellis thought the same.
"They were alike... right."
"Yeah, though the hair colour and atmosphere were different."
He involuntarily forgot, that's how they were similar. Like two peas in a pod.
It seemed like she was a prominent person in this drill city. He ended up being incredibly disrespectful. Thanks to that they changed from being victims of a turmoil and were handled like this.
It'll be fine if they are released without any events. If possible, they didn't want to make it long.
In the first place, if he knew this was Drill City Yusala they wouldn't have stopped at the inn. If possible he didn't want to see it——if by chance such a thing didn't happen, he would have learned in these buildings.
He should have checked the map properly, he didn't pay attention to the city's name.
"I have kept you waiting."
Along with a well-sounding voice, the training centre's door has opened.
Entering, were three people. Two men, one woman.
Walking in the front was the blonde girl who slapped Imina.
As he thought, their facial features were exactly same. It could be said they had the same face.
As the one who died four years ago——his elder sister Uruha.
But if he looked at her intently, it was clear she wasn't Uruha. Her hair and atmosphere were different, the way she was bearing herself was completely alien.
"Ours wasn't this elegant."
Moreover, his sister was no longer in this world. She couldn't be Uruha.
"Did you say something?"
He looked to the side and played dumb.
The girl similar to Uruha had pulled one of her legs slightly backwards and introduced herself together with a short explanation.
"My apologies for late introduction. My name is Milifica Yusala Astozellen. I serve as the representative of this city and the drill school."
Hearing her name, Imina opened his eyes wide.
"Astozellen? ...so you were a princess. Well, no wonder you got angry."
Even if he was born and raised in a remote village, he at least knew the surname of the royal family. Although, he didn't know how high was the status of Yusala branch family.
Still——to think she would be a spitting image of a princess, if Uruha were to be alive, she would definitely be happy about this.
As he thought of something that couldn't be changed, his expression stiffened.
And he was blamed for it by a person standing behind the princess.
"You, aren't you acting disrespectful for a while now?"
It was a tall man, his age was about same as Imina's. Considering his elegant features he must have been a moderate noble.
As not to aggravate him, Imina shrugged.
"Ah, sorry. I didn't mean to offend anyone."
"I'm saying that your way of speaking itself is rude towards the Princess..."
"Give it a rest, Vint."
The man standing next to the one called Vint had restrained him.
He had frivolous attitude and his standing posture was also candid. Honestly speaking, no grace could be felt from him, possibly he wasn't an aristocrat.
"We're within the school grounds. It's not 'Princess' but 'Milifica' here. If you want to speak with respect to her, call her 'representative'. If you don't do that, you'll be the one disrespecting her, right?"
"Sashtal, don't divert the topic. It's not about me, but about this man..."
"Cease it, you two."
The princess——Milifica furrowed her eyebrows and glanced at the two.
"The disrespect I have suffered from him wasn't as part of the royal family nor representative, but as a lady."
And then she turned back towards Imina,
"Do you have a justification for your actions?"
He could only respond in formal manner. Imina honestly explained himself.
"You, being spitting image of my dead older sister has agitated me. Also, I apologize for my speech. A country bumpkin like me has no idea about the royal family."
"I see, that's not an unreasonable explanation... I understand, I forgive you."
It went so easy it was anticlimactic.
Was she like this because she was royalty? Or maybe it's her own personality?
"Where did you come from?"
The one who asked that was the frivolous boy, certainly, his name was Sashtal.
"I'm from the country as well, the west. Do you know where Lakesand is?"
"Sorry, I don't know... I grew up in Salaido."
Everyone standing in front of Imina paled hearing that word.
"Then you are..."
Apparently, over those four years Imina's home town had become quite famous. Come to think of it, the elves' invasion had started on that day.
"Yeah, I'm a survivor."
Imina smiled in self-mockery.
Even though they knew that Salaido was destroyed, they didn't see that tragedy with their own eyes. It was irritating and at the same time strange.
"Speaking of which, we haven't introduced ourselves yet. I'm Imina, she's Ellis. We both came from Salaido. We stopped here in middle of our journey, our destination is the great fortress."
"The great fortress? Are you going there as a mercenary?"
Sashtal nodded hearing response to the question.
"And this girl? She doesn't look like a warrior."
"She wants to be a nurse, despite how she looks she's good at wrapping bandages."
"Where were you before coming here?"
"The north. We secluded ourselves in the mountains to practice with the sword."
"Heh, that's quite old-fashioned. How far into the north? The elves' advanced considerably deep."
"The place we were in was beyond Mimora."
"Hmm I see. How'd it feel? The people who live in there, the air and such."
"We hadn't much exchanges with villagers, but they're living peacefully. It's quite far from the elves' influence because they advance in a different direction. Of course, I don't know what happened to them after our leave."
"I see I see. Then..."
This guy's tone of voice was really light. However, it felt like he tried to make Imina get carried away with it. In other words, he asked leading questions under the guise of small talk——in order to investigate about Imina and Ellis.
"You were called Sashtal, right?"
As he tried to continue, Imina interrupted him and asked.
"Is there a reason for investigating our identity in detail?"
Sashtal made a bitter smile and scratched his head. It was spot on.
"I was found out. Meh, you got me. What do we do? Milifica."
"...please don't openly swing it my way."
Milifica heaved a sigh, displeased.
"Really you, despite being good at sneaking things out, you give up too fast."
Although she made an impression of being formal and solemn, her making that kind of expression was a surprise to Imina. Maybe she was more at ease with someone she forgave from the heart.
"My apologies. We might need to examine the commotion students of our school have caused, but at the same time we have decided to examine your side as well."
"We didn't do anything. They have come at us on their own."
"I have heard so. However, in fact..."
"Hey hey, it's been revealed already so let me ask, what's your relationship with this girl?"
"Eh, me... eh? Ah, um, er."
Having gazes turned towards her Ellis was confused, and then,
"Sashtal, that's low! Really, what a person you are."
Milifica's voice had turned rough.
"It's just as the Prin... the Representative says. Do not lower the dignity of the Yusala drill school's representatives."
It was the other man who had a bitter expression, Vint.
Seeing these exchanges, Imina smiled unconsciously.
——It looked like they weren't bad guys.
Imina pat Ellis shoulder, whose face was red and had a confused expression,
"...she's my childhood friend. She's very timid, so don't tease her too much."
After he answered, Milifica looked into his eyes and nodded.
"Please forgive us for our repeated rudeness."
"No, I don't mind. We were acting rude as well. ...with that said, we're in the middle of a journey. We'd be grateful if you released us as soon as possible."
Unexpectedly, Milifica squinted.
"Actually, there are deliberations whether we should present the students of our school who have caused the outrages with charges. Therefore, we would like to trouble you for a little longer."
At the same time, the corners of her lips formed a thin smile——it was an act that was supposed to make it seem like she's troubled.
Imina had a feeling it would get cumbersome.
"The meaning behind their actions is questioned. In other words, whether 'they started a fight with an opponent they can't beat' or 'they were trying to harass weak people by using their numbers'... of course, both these acts are despicable. However, the charges and the punishment will be changed accordingly. The former would charge them with lack of knightly qualities, the latter would charge them with lack of gentlemanly qualities."
"...in other words?"
As expected, his premonition was right on target.
"We shall ascertain your abilities."
Milifica raised her hand and one of the men behind her——Vint, moved quietly.
He briskly moved in the front. Before Imina realized, he had prepared two wooden swords. Milifica received one of them and the other one was shoved in front of Imina.
"So that's it."
Imina heaved a sigh.
Although in theory it was plausible reason, in fact, this was entertainment of this princess.
A boy of the same age who had suddenly appeared in the town had beat the drill school's students. As representative she found interest in the boy and wants to check how strong is he——that's what it meant.
"What if I say I refuse?"
She could no longer hide her smile.
"Your abilities and background will have to be examined. To be specific, you'll be questioned for much, much longer."
"In other words, the interrogation from earlier is going to get drawn-out, huh."
"Calling it 'interrogation' is a horrible accusation."
No one reacted to Sashtal's barefaced lie.
Imina scratched his head.
"...so their mean natures were similar too, huh."
"What will you do? If you don't decide soon, Vint will get tired."
"Tired? It seems like he'd be all right for at least an hour in this posture... well, I get it."
"Are we doing it here?"
"These are practice grounds after all."
In other words, she intended this from the beginning.
"Ellis, move in the back."
Ellis beside him raised her hands lightly and then they started moving in opposite directions. Milifica put on a thin smile and stood in front of Imina.
Looking at this was,
"Good grief, Princess is so playful."
Vint, who made a genuinely troubled expression and,
"I tried stopping her, but it can't be helped. Since it's already happening how about we bet on who's going to win?"
In contrast, Sashtal acted frivolously.
"Y-you must be joking! To propose gambling, even more so with the Princess as one of the targets..."
"Hey hey, it is a joke. Don't get so angry."
"Even if it's a joke, it's a poor one!"
"Vint, act as a referee."
Then, the bustle was silenced by authoritative voice.
Vint fixed his posture and stood between the two.
Imina lightly gripped the wooden sword. It was lighter and longer than the weapon he normally used.
——Well, it doesn't matter.
His and Milifica's line of sight met.
Involuntarily he opened his eyes wide. She had already finished her preparations for battle.
She took a stance holding the sword in both her hands and protruding it forward. Dignified and undisturbed, it looked like a model posture for swordsmanship. Her mind serene, she slowly raised the pointed sword. Imina understood she was a considerably skilful opponent.
Unconsciously, Imina's heart started beating faster.
He forgot this feeling a long time ago. In other words, it was a exhilaration of a match.
A match——sword to sword, pure game of skill. There was him and the opponent, two people who weren't enemies, it was something of which purpose wasn't killing.
However, he immediately drove away this emotion out of his head.
Because he no longer lived in that kind of world.
Hence, this too——this match, was worthless.
Stooping low with one leg in front and the other extended behind him, he poised his wooden sword naturally with one hand.
Vint gave a signal after seeing the two prepared.
At the same time Milifica's sword moved.
There wasn't a single opening, it could be called superb. It seemed like she could hit any part of his body in an instant. She must have trained swordsmanship from a young age.
He recalled what Lakshus told him once in the past. "You're skilled enough already, there should be no students of the same age as skilful as you are"——it was incredible flattery. Imina wondered if he could win against her if he enrolled four years ago.
Not moving an inch to close the distance between them, Milifica muttered a question.
"So you're not coming at me?"
With no answer, she swung the point of her sword just slightly.
"Then, I shall make my move."
Together with that sign——there was a flash.
She stepped in deeply closing the distance, raised her small sword and swung it downwards. All of it using minimum of gestures. With no wasteful preliminary movement she released a high-speed attack.
What she aimed at was his wooden sword. Her strike hit it from above, then without losing the momentum she slid the blade below his and flipped it up. All that in just an instant, there was no time to even blink.
Imina's weapon left his hand and danced in the air. On the other hand, Milifica's sword was pointed at his throat, unmoving.
After a second, the wooden sword that flew far away had rolled on the sand soundly.
The referee raised one hand declaring Milifica's victory.
"Amazing, it's my loss."
Imina shrugged and raised his eyebrows.
It was a simple, sleek move. His hand that had the sword stolen from it wasn't even numb, which meant that rather than forcibly blown away, it was pulled out of his hand. A strike that didn't rely on strength at all.
"That was well done, as expected of the Representative."
Even as he complimented her, Milifica didn't move. She furrowed her eyebrows and glared at Imina.
It lasted for about five seconds.
Finally, when Vint spoke in puzzlement she exhaled loudly.
She finally pulled her sword backwards.
"You have my thanks for accompanying me in this bout. With this we can continue our deliberations."
After saluting Milifica spoke somewhat dissatisfied.
Well, it was natural since he was beat easily.
He replied politely, although it was a mystery what kind of deliberations this would help with.
"How long will you stay in this town?"
"About three days."
Compared to the original schedule he extended his stay by a day. They were caught in trouble and tired out, so he thought of replenishing their strength and doing preparations.
"Then, we shall pay for your stay. Please treat that as apology for the trouble."
"No, as expected that's..."
"No need to refrain. Let that be our reconciliation."
"Fine, I get it, thank you."
Imina nodded. Ellis who had imperceptibly come near him had lowered her head too.
Milifica showed a smile of appreciation to Imina and then to Ellis.
"If we finish our deliberations before you depart, I shall visit you."
We don't need it, Imina thought, but starting another exchange of words was cumbersome.
"I get it. Well, if you feel like it."
That's why just raised one hand and responded with a smile.
And then they have seen off the two travellers out of the school grounds.
Milifica Yusala Astozellen sat down in a chair after returning to executives' office and asked the two standing in front of the desk——Vint and Sashtal.
"What do you think?"
"By what, you mean?"
The one who responded with a question was Vint Culias.
He was the eldest son of Culias, an old Midgalz marquis household and Milifica's childhood friend. He was courteous and calm, also proficient with a sword. His loyalty to the royal family had caused him to be overprotective and overly friendly with Milifica, but he was a sincere boy.
"The match from earlier. I can't comprehend it anyhow."
"In my eyes, it was Princess' complete victory..."
Unable to discern her intentions, Vint tilted his head puzzled.
"Sashtal, what about you?"
Her other subordinate, Sashtal Dei made a dispirited expression and smiled.
In contrast to Vint, he was a commoner born in a rural area in the west. He was poor with etiquette, frivolous and composed, Sashtal was good at confusing others with words. On the other hand, since he was born in a hunters' household he was skilled in perceiving others' true nature and strength. He could see through lies and secrets of others.
"When I said I want to have a match with him you tried to stop me. 'It's better to give up' you said."
She thought that surely, he must be incredibly strong and it made her excited for the match instead. His warning had an opposite effect, she had to exchange blows with him by all means.
"However, the result was like that."
"Was your judgement mistaken?"
"No, I don't think so. Seeing you dissatisfied is good enough proof of that."
He was one of few people who could calmly speak to her without using honorifics. Vint didn't like that, but Milifica was pleased by the fact she wasn't given special treatment. Before being a Princess, on the school grounds she was the drill's student.
"What do you mean by that?"
She leaned slightly forward hearing his response.
"Before I voice my opinion, I would like to hear yours."
About from earlier. The match with the boy who called himself Imina.
The match was finished in just a moment. It was her victory. Milifica's skill decided it brilliantly.
"I felt a strange discomfort, but I don't know what was that. I wondered whether he held back or deliberately lost, but it didn't seem like that. It was as if..."
She searched for appropriate words for a moment,
"...he didn't feel like winning at all——that would the be closest description."
That's why she was dissatisfied.
Even after the declaration of her victory, she didn't pull the sword backwards.
"It was Princess' overwhelming victory!"
"He was defeated unable to react to Princess' swordsmanship, there's no doubt about it."
"Then, what is this discomfort I feel. It's first time feeling something like this. Also, Sashtal doesn't think it was my victory either."
Sashtal nodded as she looked at him questioningly.
"He wasn't really holding back. Just, he didn't intend to win."
"Then, he lost on purpose?"
"It's slightly different from that."
He shook his head and shrugged.
"The match itself ended with your complete victory, Milifica. Whether the strike or rolling the sword upwards... the 'Thorn Bite' decided everything splendidly. Probably, considering pure skill you're above him."
"In a match, that is. In other words..."
With a smile.
Rather than with his usual frivolous attitude,
"If that wasn't a match, Milifica, it would be your loss. No... you would be dead ."
With a bitter smile that felt like——awe.
"After receiving the 'Thorn Bite' his wooden sword fell out. In a match that's where it ends. But, if you were to kill each other, that is not so. That's where he would start his attack. He would close the distance even further and poke your eyes out with his bare hands or crush your throat."
These were words far outside the scope of Milifica's imagination.
The two couldn't say anything out of surprise.
"In my homeland there's something named 'Blackback'. When wounded it turns mad, a big bear that doesn't hibernate during winter. It's much nastier than some magical beast. After all, it's capable of discerning whether the strike that's about to hit it is fatal and if it isn't, it doesn't try avoiding it. Instead, it calmly strikes back. His presence... it feels just like that of the 'Blackback'. That's why surely, he employs that fighting style."
Extremely irrational, she thought.
But on the other hand, the discomfort in the back of her head disappeared and she was able to think properly again.
Milifica didn't feel like she won. And that's because she indeed, did not win. It didn't mean he held back, it only meant he was disinterested in the match.
Even though he knew her 'Thorn Bite' was coming he didn't intend to avoid it at all, was it.
"Most likely, he's familiar with killing. He must have wielded a sword in actual battlefield or had an experience close to that. He's in a world beyond that of drill students."
In his pupils and voice dwelled a warning for Milifica.
"That's why, it's better not to involve ourselves with him. You wanted to invite him to the drill school, right? He's the same age as we are and most likely just as skilled. But, he doesn't need it. There's nothing he can learn in here."
Caskes Kilishiaham and his comrades, the expulsion from the school was decided on that day for all nine.
There were more than enough charges for that. Starting with an assault on an innocent woman, through behaviour unworthy of drill school's students, usage of magical sword in the city, brandishing swords in a group against a single opponent——in addition to that, a number of their previous criminal acts that were covered up before were brought up to light by an anonymous report. They could no longer excuse themselves anyhow.
The marquis household of Kilishiaham was very prestigious despite the short two hundred years' history as compared to the Empire's calendar, in their territory they were a family famous for supplying herbs and logistics during the war with southern barbarians. Therefore they had strong influence in the empire, Caskes used that authority to protect himself as he indulged in crime.
However, this drill school was supervised by the duke of Yusala household. Even Kilishiaham household couldn't compare to the family that had connections with the king. Also the tyrannies conducted by Caskes and others couldn't be covered up anyhow.
They were judged by the royal family, it was impossible to go against the decision. His father wouldn't help him. Rather, the third son was more like mud, a disgrace to the family, therefore cut ties with mercilessly.
Caskes relaxed himself far from his own territory and made a mistake of abusing authority he was born with. Surrounded by minor nobility flattering him, he misunderstood his own standing.
He got too carried away.
The students expulsed from the school would first contact their parents. Then, until either someone would pick them up or disinheritance would arrive, they would be imprisoned in the punishment room in the corner of the school campus.
Compared to the campus, the punishment room was inorganic and forlorn, merciless. No windows, small bath and hard, thin beddings. The door had a mechanism that only opened with key used from outside, they couldn't leave on their own anyhow. Therefore, it was something akin to a prison.
Sitting on the bed, Caskes Kilishiaham spat out curses to no one. Although it was his first day in prison, he already did this dozens of times. Of course, no one counted them.
Why has it turned out like this——only anger and irrational feelings welled up inside him.
He didn't feel any guilt. He was unaware of the fact he did a bad thing. Although he was aware he violated the school regulations, he should have been allowed not to abide by them.
When Caskes named himself as Kilishiaham everyone had become afraid of him. There were only few people of higher standing than him in the entire empire, even more so in this town. Yusala drill town was a stopover supplying Great Astozellen fortress, Kilishiaham's herbs passed through this town. In other words, the merchants here would try getting closer to him.
Just why do I have to through something like this, he wondered.
Entering drill school might have been a mistake in the first place. Because of his lack of talent for bussiness Kilishiaham household didn't expect anything from him and wasn't as generous as to allow him to free-load on them. That's why he thought of becoming a knight since young age. He could uphold marquis' households honour as a royal knight. Yeah, he remembers it. When he entered he was full of hope. He received the classes seriously and was training desperately——since when was it, that this happened. He noticed that the name of Kilishiaham that was a burden to him in the house was very convenient to use outside. Everyone served him readily. Since when was it that accustomed himself that his selfishness would pass.
Even despite thinking about that, Caskes didn't feel any remorse.
In that sense, he was foolish. He understood nothing. Even though everyone made a good expression to him, he was hated on the campus. More prideful people had laughed at him from the shade, the ones fawning over him were just mercenaries hired with his gold.
"Damn, damn damn, this...!"
He hit the bed with all his strength.
His henchmen who were arrested together with him were imprisoned in a separate room. He wondered what were they doing. In the end, they were just minor nobility. They didn't have to worry about their household's name, even despite expulsion from school they probably won't be thrown out by their parents.
But Caskes was different. Even if he went back home, it was no place for him——.
Hearing knocking on the door, Caskes raised his head.
He looked at the clock on the wall. It was nine in the evening. Barely two hours passed since dinner. Most likely he wasn't disinherited from his household in such a short time.
Frightened, he raised a voice of frustration.
"I can't open this anyway, do whatever you want!"
After a sound of the key being turned in the lock, the door slowly opened.
Peeking inside was the face of instructor Shishilii.
"Not very calm are you, Caskes Kilishiaham."
Apparently he, with his wry smile, was on duty today.
Originally, he was in charge of history lessons. He was a thin man in the middle of his forties who had pleasant features. He had a calm personality but lacked dignity and was looked down upon by the students. Normally they made fun of him by saying "Glasses' lessons are only good for sleeping".
Of course, Caskes was no exception.
"Ha, I'm no longer a student here, honorifics are unneeded, right."
Certainly, this guy was a viscount. It was a different position from that of a marquis.
However, Shishilii ignored Caskes insult.
"Here's a gift for you. Of course, it's not from me."
He put down the tray he held with both of his hands on the ground.
On it, there was a drink in a glass and a small cake. The drink was something like a wine. The cake looked cheap, like something commoners would eat.
Not happy at all getting this, he asked.
"Who is this from."
"This just means even someone like you has somebody worrying about you."
He got a sarcastic answer. Involuntarily, he let out a low voice.
"In any case, it can't be helped if you don't eat it."
Suddenly, Shishilii——had smiled somewhat meaningfully, Caskes was confused by the intimidation. It was something the instructor never showed before. Despite undergoing his lectures for three years since admission, he didn't see it a single time. Did this guy really smile like this.
With a broad smile stuck to his thin face the instructor said this.
"It's quite a high-grade cake. Especially. The cream is. Exquisite."
He made pauses as he spoke, as if he didn't care about anything,
"Tomorrow morning I'll come to get dishes. Listen, you are not to leave a single bit."
While Caskes was in shock, the instructor turned around on his heel with a twirl.
The door was closed, locked, and silence had dominated the punishment room again.
Caskes furrowed his eyebrows, but then suddenly he walked up to the table. He stared at the "gift" on top of the tray and grasped a fork next to it to split it crudely. As expected, a frugal butter cake for commoners had no cream inside it.
Instead, there was a piece of paper inside.
It was a short note.
Written on it was "I'll save you tomorrow, so just wait".
His lips distorted involuntarily.
Save you, what did that mean specifically. It's probably not about escaping from this place. Even if if he escapes from the drill school and lives as a commoner, his situation as someone disinherited by his household wouldn't change. The one who wrote this probably knows that.
In that case, it must probably be overturning the expulsion, or possibly something else entirely——possibly, a large confusion because of which Caskes' case will be forgotten.
However, it did sound interesting.
It seemed like someone was up to raising a fuss. Moreover, they even had an instructor involved. It meant that their plot was sink or swim, a good opportunity for Caskes.
Indeed——it was a much better prospect than his current one.
He placed the piece of paper in his mouth and washed it down with wine. He then stuffed himself with the cake to get rid of the discomfort after eating foreign matter and chewed strongly.
The wine and the cake had a harsh, astringent taste, speaking clearly - they were distasteful. Must have been something to taste of poor commoners. It didn't fit an aristocratic tongue.
However, he was ordered not to leave any. All evidence has to be erased. If some of the ink was left on the sponge, it might be found out what was written on the note.
Caskes ate the distasteful gift clean and laughed.
By now, probably the same thing was delivered to his henchmen. Though he was worried if those fools will realize the meaning of this "gift".
Thinking that, he threw himself onto the bed.
Still feeling acrid taste in the back of his throat, he closed his eyes and breathed in deeply.
He didn't wish for the next day not to come. Rather, after the night is over and morning comes——that will begin, he couldn't help but look forward to it.