TL : Cnine
ED/PF : Aster
「So then, have you decided on your next course of action?」
After Francois granted Rio the right to a family name as Haruto Amakawa, he asked about the latter’s plans .
「I’m going to head west . 」
When he answered, Francois paused, muttering under his breath .
「I see . You were originally active in the outskirts of Almond before this, no?」
「Yes, that’s correct . 」
「If you’re going to pass through Duke Kretia’s territory on the way, you should pay a short visit to the home of Cedric . I heard that you and Liselotte came to the capital together by magic ship . 」
The distance between Almond and the Galwark kingdom’s capital was a few hours at most, even with the most common magic ship .
Taking the highway by foot, it would be around a fortnight .
In Rio’s case, however, he can fly alone much faster than a magic ship, but there’s no way Francois knew about that .
「My deepest gratitude for your consideration . 」
「I mentioned before that it’s fine as long as you return on occasion to see Charlotte and Satsuki-dono . I’m sure they’ll both miss you . 」
Francois spoke their names as if to emphasize it .
「I understand . I’ll do my best to visit once in a while . 」
Holding back a strained sigh, Rio answered his request courteously .
Some time before the meeting between Francois and Rio, there were three magic ships owned by the Saint Stella kingdom anchored on the Galwark capital’s east harbor .
The knights were extremely nervous, taking every precaution so to not miss any sign of intruders entering the ship after Takahisa and Liliana boarded .
Among the two-man pairs on patrol were Alice and Kiara .
「Alice, have there been any abnormal reactions around or inside the ship?」
「No~ne . If there was, I would have told you as soon as I noticed . 」
Although Kiara’s voice was tense, Alice remained nonchalant as ever .
「You’re the only one on board with the ability to perceive magical power . I won’t let you miss it a second time, so please stay focused . 」
「Got it~ . But come on, don’t you think you’re overworking me here? I deserve some rest by now . 」
Her attitude aside, it was extremely difficult for someone without a good plan to creep onto the magic ship .
Naturally there were the knights keeping watch with their eyes and ears, but Alice was vigilant for the use of any magic or magic tools .
There’s two necessary skills to use magic . Those are the manipulation and perception of magical power, referred to as odo by the Seirei no Tami .
Though it’s possible for humans who can use magic to perceive odo, in any normal case they only feel the fixed amount being used for spellcasting . They can’t feel the loose magic drifting in the air .
To say nothing of changing the phenomenon, it’s impossible to discern the true nature of the magical energy with the naked eye .
This sort of high level sensory ability and perception is extremely useful for detecting abnormalities in magical power, and indispensable for learning spirit arts .
Since magic used by humans doesn’t strictly demand the ability to sense pure magical power, they don’t have the know-how needed to train that ability efficiently .
Of course, it’s also possible for a human to learn spirit arts after dedicated training, but it’s not a widespread discipline in the Strahl region .
The discipline they refer to as magic became widespread in the region thanks to its ease of use, so the high-demand spirit arts faded into obscurity .
Then there are those rare cases of a genius having a high affinity for spirit arts among humans . Such an exceptional human would be able to sense odo with high precision from little training .
Rio, who was able to learn spirit arts far more quickly than any normal human, and can even skip many of the steps involved in use, could be considered the rarest of the rare . However, Alice isn’t all that far from his level .
Many spies and assassins often use strange magic and tools . As a result, a natural-born prodigy like Alice is particularly precious as an escort—a living national treasure .
There are occasions where one is clever enough to use the absolute minimum required power, enough so that they can remain undetected up to the point of contact with their target . But for anyone careless enough to use spirit arts or magic within Alice’s range, she’d catch it without fail .
Her exceptional talent matured at a very young age, so it was quickly decided that she be raised as a royal knight for the princess . Despite being the eldest daughter, her ability in service to Liliana couldn’t be overlooked .
「But, we’re on top of a lake, aren’t we?」
Miharu muttered those words .
「Isn’t this tremor coming from the ship itself?」
「… Maybe . How are you feeling?」
Miharu answered Masato’s question with one of her own, but before he could answer the trembling grew stronger . The ship seemed to be on the move .
「Wa—the ship! Is it moving?」
Masato looked around the salon as he stabilized himself, but unfortunately there weren’t any windows to look outside .
「Um, it looks like it . Did Takahisa-kun board already?」
The sightseeing flight on the ship was to wait for Takahisa to return, so she thought it would begin when he did .
「Aw, come on, I wanted to be on the deck when we took off . 」
As Masato grumbled his dissatisfaction, the burden of gravity slowly lessened on them .
「Ah—whoa, this feels kinda weird . Let’s try taking a peek outside . 」
Masato headed toward the salon’s door, interrupted by Aki .
「W-wait! Masato, you can’t!」
And suddenly the door flung open, Takahisa on the other side .
「What’s up, Aniki? Let me go to the deck when we’re leaving,」
「My bad . There’s something I wanted to talk about . Will you sit back down for now?」
「But we’re already in the air, aren’t we? I wanted to finish looking around soon . 」
「There won’t be any tour . We’re heading to Saint Stella kingdom right now . 」
For some reason, Takahisa’s voice was stone cold .
Although Masato looked restless, he was completely dumbfounded . He couldn’t understand what his brother just said, and couldn’t say anything himself .
Next to him, Miharu was just as perplexed, only muttering in response .
「What are you saying?」
「I decided to return to our country . This ship is currently heading toward Saint Stella kingdom . Everyone was supposed to come with me . 」
「Hold up, I don’t get this . What are you talking about?」
Masato frowned at him with suspicion .
「That’s why I’m about to explain . Can we sit down first? Let’s have lunch while we talk . 」
After everyone gathered at a dining table in the salon, a warm meal was immediately served to them .
On the menu was a white stew made with Galwark native calf, fresh-baked bread, sautéed mushroom, omelette and a colorful salad .
The aroma tickled at Masato’s nose and roused his stomach .
He had a lot of questions he wanted to ask, but he felt like it would have been wasteful to let his food cool . Thus, Masato promptly stretched his arms to begin devouring his slightly delayed lunch .
Frankly, it was so Masato-like that Miharu couldn’t help but crack a smile at the boy who never once beat his stomach in a battle of attrition .
She thought it would be fine to start the conversation herself, but she hesitated to really do it, so Masato got ahead of her .
「So then, Send… Santo—」
「Saint Stella kingdom . 」
In the end, Miharu still ended up correcting him .
「Yeah . Why are we going to Saint Stella kingdom? What happened to Haruto-anchan, and Satsuki-oneechan? Are they on board?」
Masato threw a barrage of questions at Takahisa in between greedy gulps of bread .
「They’re not on the ship . They’ll visit Saint Stella in the future . 」
「H-Haah? I didn’t hear about this!」
「Weren’t we going to meet with Haruto-san this afternoon? You promised, didn’t you?」
Miharu asked with a look of confusion, Masato’s head spinning trying to follow along, and Takahisa desperately endured the urge to grimace .
「I’m sorry . That became impossible . That’s why we’re heading to Saint Stella now . 」
Miharu froze stiff for a moment .
「Th—That’s a lie! YOU’RE LYING, AREN’T YOU?!」
She completely lost her composure .
「Why? Why is the ship taking us to Saint Stella kingdom? Tell me why!」
「M-Miharu-oneechan, what’s the matter?」
Aki couldn’t keep in her shock, having never seen Miharu blow up before . Masato was stunned, as well .
She sat back in her chair, body tense .
——This shouldn’t be happening, so when did it come to this?
That was the only question on her mind .
Miharu’s brain was on overdrive the night before . She didn’t even get a moment’s rest .
Or more accurately, it had been on her mind until just a few minutes ago .
The chance that Haruto might be Amakawa Haruto .
What if it was the truth? What would she do?
She wanted to know the truth . No, without exception, she had to know .
Still, Haruto showed various sides of himself, and sometimes she caught the sight of something so cruel it overwhelmed her——
When she thought the truth may not be as she imagined… when she thought the time finally came for her to learn the answers to her questions… she was scared, wanted to run from it——
She tried to settle herself, even just a little bit, before she met with Haruto, but for all the preparation she did her mind was slowly crumbling .
She was afraid to leave the ship to see Haruto, but at the same time she was brimming with anticipation to speak with him .
Her heart throbbed so heavily it hurt, and only more as the time to meet him again crept closer .
She never expected him to prefer doing something else .
「It has to be a lie . This kind of thing… THIS SHOULDN’T BE HAPPENING!」
Haruto confessed his love to her .
He said there was something he wanted to give her .
She didn’t think he would end up going somewhere else before then .
Miharu was assaulted by indescribable anxiety .
「It’s the truth . 」
When Takahisa spoke, a shiver ran down Miharu’s spine .
Only a moment’s hesitation flickered in her eyes .
「… I have to leave . 」
Aki tilted her head as Miharu stood up and ran for the door .
「Huh—Miharu-oneechan! Wait! Where are you going?!」
Aki scrambled after her, managing to grab Miharu’s arm when she opened the door .
Nobody could understand why Miharu was acting so out of character .
「Let go of me! Please! I have to get off this ship!」
「Y-You can’t! It’s flying you know!」
「I still have something to do there! Where Haruto-san is! So, why did it turn out like this without any explanation?!」
Though she clearly wasn’t happy with what was happening, Aki refused to release her .
「She’s right, Aniki . Please explain what’s going on right now . And if we’re not satisfied with the reason, please send us back immediately . 」
Masato composed himself and agreed with Miharu .
「It’s alright . You’ll be able to meet again . I’ve discussed it with Satsuki-senpai, and she approves as well . 」
Maybe because he expected Miharu’s reaction, Takahisa could reply without skipping a beat . And not just Masato, even Miharu turned around to listen .
Although, in Miharu’s case, there was a strangely threatening glint in her eyes .
「If that’s so, then why are you hiding all this from us?」
「… I’m sorry . It’s my fault for keeping this matter a secret from you . We have a pressing issue ahead of us, so we didn’t have enough time to tell you . 」
「If you’re in a hurry, why are you forcing us to go with you? We can’t even say goodbye to Satsuki-neechan and Haruto-anchan . 」
「… I’m sorry . I didn’t want to be away from anyone . 」
Masato clicked his tongue at Takahisa’s apologies .
「I wonder if you’re just trying to wear us down saying stuff like that… but there’s an order for this kind of thing, right?」
「I’m really sorry . 」
Takahisa’s stiffened bitterly, knowing Masato was making a sound argument .
「Ah-I decided to go along after talking about it with Onii-chan!」
Unable to watch any longer, Aki forced her way in .
「Why is Aki-neechan involved in this too…?」
「I was the one who asked her . I’m an older brother . I should have been the one who protected you all . I couldn’t bear staying separated from you and letting you live in a world like this with such poor public safety . 」
「He’s right . Why should we be torn apart again when we’re finally back together?」
Aki immediately covered for Takahisa, who finally stopped lying about what he really wanted . Masato was still pouting in discontent, though .
「That’s, that’s right, but…」
He didn’t want to be separated from his brother either .
They had their quarrel yesterday, but Masato was trying to think of a better solution the entire time .
「Maybe it’s impossible for Satsuki-neechan, but why couldn’t Haruto-anchan come with us?」
He wanted to know what Haruto had to say on the matter .
「I tried to invite him… But he refused . He said there was something he had to do, no matter what . 」
Masato and MIharu’s eyes widened hearing that . After all, Haruto himself told them the same thing .
「It seems he’s going back to Almond soon . But he’ll come visit after finishing his business, right, Onii-chan? And Satsuki-san, too . 」
And hoping to not see Takahisa lose any more face, she added on to his explanation from what she already heard .
「Yeah . Satsuki-senpai would take some preparing, but as long as the Galwark kingdom grants permission she can come meet us . As for Haruto-san… I don’t know how long it’ll take for him to finish his business . 」
Miharu spoke like she was wringing her voice out .
「Haruto-san really didn’t say anything?」
「… He said, “Best regards to everyone . ”」
「Let’s… “Let’s meet again . ”」
Pushed along by Miharu’s desperation, Takahisa said whatever came to mind .
He immediately regretted saying something so half-baked .