… On the move in Porter.
Aria was in a bit of a good mood.
As she brought a drink to Clara, the driver, Clara looked at her as she accepted the canteen, and spoke.
“You’re in high spirits today.”
Clara felt Aria taking a bit of distance from her. She presumed it was unconscious, but perhaps she couldn’t forgive that Clara had taken up Ludmilla’s proposal, and joined the faction.
Clara put her mouth to the canteen, and noticed at once it was tea brewed by Monica. The scent, and the easy-to-gulp-down temperature and flavor, Monica was able to prepare tea with a level of perfection unthinkable from a machine.
But her hospitality to anything besides Lyle was lacking, and as long as you didn’t specifically specify what tea you wanted, she would only ever ready Lyle’s preferences.
Travelling down a path with no road, Porter could proceed down any terrain with its large wheels. On a little of a sway, Aria grasped a nearby handrail.
Clara was sitting in a seat Monica prepared, wearing what she called a seat belt, so there wasn’t a problem. It was fine as long as she had her staff in hand. But a spot of hot tea spilled from the canister, and fell onto her lips.
As she wiped her mouth, Aria posed a question.
“Could I ask something?”
Clara responded as she operated Porter.
“If it’s about Ludmilla’s faction, that is a conclusion I came to after thinking it out. It’s not like she’s trying to pull you in no matter what. And it would be better if you didn’t join a faction, Aria-san. Or perhaps you could raise up a faction of your own.”
“P-perish the thought!”
Being told to start her own faction, Aria opposed. But Clara response to the exact reaction she expected from Aria was a little bit strange.
“Why are you smiling?”
“I’m sorry. But you’re misunderstanding something, Aria-san. If you’ve got three friends together, that’s already a faction. And I have a complete lack of trust in Novem-san. Miranda-san will be taking Shannon-chan into her faction. Then that leaves Gracia-san, Elza-san, and Vera-san… to a greater or lesser extent, all of them are backed by House or country.”
Aria didn’t seem to understand what Clara was getting at.
“It’s true that my family is…”
“I’m pretty much the same. But even if you lent a hand to one of the others, considering character and sponsorship, the options are limited. Gracia-san and Elza-san won’t serve under another. They have their own countries’ interests in mind. Miranda-san is weak as a sponsor. She’s in a state close to isolation. So I chose Ludmilla-san.”
Aria looked like she couldn’t accept that. Clara saw her as an honest person, and felt a little jealous. They two of them were almost polar opposites.
“Something not to your liking?”
“… To be perfectly honest, I don’t think you have to serve under a woman who’s trying to make a faction. Doing something like that at an important time, it just kinda feels wrong to me.”
Clara capped the canteen, and looked a bit up.
“It’s precisely because it’s an important time. To oppose Novem-san and Miranda-san, I think I need Ludmilla-san. And at the same time, I can keep watch of her from up close.”
“You, couldn’t be…”
Clara pushed up her glasses, let them catch the light, and smiled a bit.
“The one with the greatest power right now, is Ludmilla-san. Not as an individual, she can support Lyle-san with aid on a national level. I thought it best someone keep watch over her.”
Aria looked at Clara, and covered her face with her right hand.
“You’re surprisingly wicked.”
“Oh, I’m sure. Perhaps this is all I’m able to do. But… no, it’s nothing.”
What Clara was going to say at the end…
(But I can’t think Novem-san hasn’t taken Ludmilla-san’s movements into account. And this deployment… I get the feeling Miranda-san sent Shannon-chan over to keep watch. When you think of it like that, the faction war has already begun…)
『Hmm~, so you got through it without losing Aria-chan. Good for you. If you lost her, it’s certain your future would be bleak.』
“D-dude… if you plan on talking to me, then get off of my back.”
Within the Jewel. In my room of memories, as if to pin down the fallen me, LYLE was sitting on my back.
He had a child’s body, but it felt as if I was being pressed down by a massive boulder.
『How gallant. It looked like poor Lyle was in trouble, so she compared herself with the others, and found she had nothing, so she wanted to lessen the burden… well, after leaving the mansion, she’s the longest relation you have next to Novem. She really is necessary.』
I put power into my body to try and stand, but LYLE looked on my efforts with a grin. And he continued on.
『You both need each other, really. That’s how it is. Even so, if you’ve decided something once, it’s no good if you don’t push it through to the end. After kissing her so many times, not stopping a woman who’s trying to pull out is just terrible.』
I somehow got power into my arms, and raised my body just a bit. There, LYLE flapped his legs, and shifted his body.
My power application shifted, and I fell onto the ground again.
『Hah, when we’re almost back home in Bahnseim, are you sure you’re okay like that? Hey, do your best. You can’t train your body in the Jewel. Try to do something with your Mana.』
“Mana… come to think of it, you called Mana poison a little while back, didn’t you?”
I got my breath in order, as I wrung out my knowledge to find a way to stand up. If he said to do something with Mana, the easiest way would be to make an explosion nearby, and use the blast to remove him.
And when I thought it, I remembered his words. In the past, he had said Mana was poison.
『So you remembered. Well, it’s not poison for now. Or rather, poison and medicine’s the same shtick. Long as you know how to use it, it can become medicine, is how it is. Of course, it was first thought of as medicine, so when it was mistakenly used as one, it caused quite a stir.』
I gathered magic on my palm, and tried to hit it against the ground to use the explosion to rise. But a sabre stuck through my hand as if to nail it to the dirt.
『Yep, no good. Self-destruction acts can’t be put to practice at a moment’s notice. Now think over it again.』
“Y-you damn brat!”
Within the Jewel, I continued my days of not being able to defeat the child me.
Entering Bahnseim from Cartaffs, we put Porter away in the Box Skill, draped over robes, and travelled acting as an adventurer party of five.
Entering a town close to the border, we found a number of mercenaries and soldiers gathered.
We were about the only ones who knew Cartaffs wouldn’t take any action due to Ludmilla-san’s orders, so the town was filled with a tingling tension.
Shannon walking beside me grabbed my robe with her right hand, and looked around.
Scary faced mercenaries and adventurers. On top of the soldiers, it was an imposing town. Shannon was frightened.
“W-why does it look so dangerous. There were folks carrying around weapons in Beim, but it never felt this bad.”
The reason for Shannon’s fear lay in the fights breaking out wherever you looked. And with the sun high in the sky, there were drinks being served, and numerous harlots again, an ill-natured town.
“I’m sure it’s rough because it’s so close to the border. And those here have experienced war a number of times, so they can’t help but look rough.”
It was an occupation where you never knew when you’d die. For now, they were just desperate to live. And as we traveled like that with the five of us, a reaction came up on the Skills.
A group aware of us changed their signals from yellow to red, and tried to approach. From the feet visible beneath the robes, they likely discerned we were mostly women, and tried to call out.
I spoke to everyone.
“A group diagonally behind. Six in total. They’re on our tail. I’d like to avoid trouble, so let’s hurry on, and enter an inn.”
When we swiftly left the area, the other party sped up to catch us.
With the Fourth’s Skill… Up ‘n Down… I lowered their speed, and disappeared into an inn, successfully shaking off the six pursuers.
Arriving in the southern country, Novem’s party used the merchants as intermediaries to arrange a meeting with the king at his palace.
Maybe because it was south, the country’s windows were large, and the palace’s construction comfortably let wind pass through it. Many of the foods and plants were ones they had never seen before, and May looked like she wanted to drop by the castle town as soon as possible.
Eva had set up a talk with her brethren of the southern land, and she seemed excited as well. Of all else, instruments unknown to her ears, and a unique brand of music. Because of that, she wanted to hear their tales ASAP.
Sitting in a large chair, with two officers stationed to his sides, the King 【Jules Parswall】 was a man of pink hair, and brown skin.
They had heard he was in his early thirties, but he looked younger than that. His facial features were firm and well carved into his face; coherent with the rumors he had played around in his youth, he was quite a looker. His blue eyes looked as if they were evaluating Novem and party.
His arms and ears were adorned with golden ornaments, and he gave off an atmosphere similar to the late nation of Selva, but his were not as showy.
“Welcome to Djanpear, shall I say?”
On Jules’ words, Novem and the others lowered their heads.
“It is an honor to be in your presence, your majesty. We are here in regards to the matter we’ve exchanged word on beforehand. Could we hear out your response?”
Jules touched a hand to his mouth, as he leaned his back into his throne. He crossed his legs, his pose indicating him to be deep in thought.
“It was only recently that word of the four-country-alliance reached us. What’s more, if even the northern land of Cartaffs is cooperating, you truly do hold an air of validity. However. My frank opinion: it is troubling if you ask for a response all of a sudden. My apologies, but I’ll be having you take up a stay in the palace a while. I don’t plan on inconveniencing you. For I don’t want to make an enemy of Cartaffs or the alliance, after all.”
Jules laughed as he said it, but Djanpear held a navy. It was powerful, and well reputed for exterminating pirates.
Novem could see that he didn’t have any particular intent to bring harm to them. They truly were troublesome existences. He likely didn’t want to cause a problem.
But at the same time, there was a distance between Djanpear and the alliance. And Cartaffs as well. Even if a problem did arise, it wouldn’t be so easy for them to invade, and Jules surely understood that.
“Yes. Understood. Then we will be in your care for the time being.”
Novem said that as a representative of the rest, so Jules answered with a smile.
“I’ll try to come out with an answer as quick as I can. And I’m happy to have so many beautiful guests. I think we’ll have a banquet tonight. Take part in it at your leisure.”
The girls smiled, and took up his offer…
… In Djanpear’s palace conference room, the authority’s sat atop a rug.
Jules sat on a space a little higher than the rest, the documents on the alliance and Cartaffs in front of him as he crossed his arms.
“Now then, what shall we make of it, gentlemen? An alliance of countries large and small. Both sides are larger in scale than us. But picking a fight with Bahnseim is close to gambling.”
The authorities each spread out their opinions.
“Why not hand them over to Bahnseim, and gradually build a friendly relation?”
“You’ll pick a fight with so many countries? The current Bahnseim has no credibility. We cannot trust them!”
“They’ve been especially strange as of late. It’s best not to poke them. Is it not best to offer them a polite refusal?”
“From their words, they are heading into Bahnseimian territory after this. They are searching for feudal lords who will be their allies. Just courteously send them off?”
With those opinions on the floor, Jules put them together.
“So to summarize your opinions, handing over the envoys is out of the question. Give them a polite refusal, and have them on their way… it’s true that is the safest measure. But can we overlook Bahnseim’s recent movements? I think them a threat, how about you?”
The authorities closed their mouths, and thought. From their border with Bahnseim, news of the country did come in.
For them to maintain a distance with one another, they weren’t negligent in information gathering. Because they never knew when the large nation of Bahnseim would rush into their own soil.
And for that sake, they had accurate information on Celes. Their opinions coincided. The current Bahnseim was abnormal.
But even if their opinions overlapped, their countermeasures did not. Many thought they could continue taking distance as they had, and the majority vote was not to assertively stick their heads into the flame.
But come so far, the countries around Bahnseim were showing movements.
“I thought it would take more time. With the threat of Bahnseim growing by the day, when there was nothing left for them to do… that was the moment I thought the surrounding nations would act. And for that moment, I augmented our military… yet someone made the first move.”
It was Lyle. Jules knew if he passed precise information of Bahnseim’s abnormality to the surrounding lands, they would show some sort of movement. So he pushed for a reinforcement of the military.
And yet there was a man moving those countries himself. Mildly vexed that he was overtaken, Jules found it a little intriguing.
“I thought the time would come for Djanpear’s name to be known across the continent, but quite an interesting man popped up. Now then, gentlemen… we were planning to become the center, and make our move, but shall we let this chance slip by? Please keep that in your field of vision as you discuss.”
The authorities folded their arms, and one proposed.
“… Now is the only time we will be able to sell our services for a high price. There is no meaning in jumping in later. And in a state where we cannot lay hands on Bahnseim, if the surrounding countries lose without us lending a hand, all that awaits us is ruin.”
Jules massaged his chin, and spoke in regards to that.
“The four-country-alliance, and Cartaffs of the north are trying to make their move. If the countries to the west centered on Faunbeux move, then they’ll be able to hold around half Bahnseim’s might. How about we sell ourselves when that moment comes?”
One authority opened a heavy tone.
“If we measure that timing wrong, we’ll be destroyed. The risk is too high. Whichever the case, if we aren’t going to fight, then the only other option is surrender. Your majesty’s opinion?”
Jules stood, and boldly declared.
“Sorry, but I’ve no intent to share a woman with any other men. If we surrender, and I’m to be charmed by Celes, I’d rather be dead. So my ego has cut off the route of surrender. Carry on.”
The authorities sighed, and opened their mouths.
“Please put out a more proper reason. In the first place, even if we surrender, the probability we’ll be on the same terms with Bahnseim as before is quite low.”
“Is that girl called Celes really human? That’s the beautiful siren of fairytale herself right there. Bewitching humans, and that brutal nature.”
“The poor treatment of the country’s opposing faction… just listening in sends a shiver down my spine.”
And at the end, one of the authorities addressed Jules.
“I think our best bet is to assertively support them. But the representative man… we should send one of our own to that Lyle Walt.”
Jules looked amused.
“My daughters are too young. The eldest is ten.”
An authority spoke.
“That’s enough. But it will be troublesome if she can’t have a child in the near future. How about your majesty’s younger sister?”
Jules sat down, and shook his head.
“You think she’ll move for me? We’re not even of the same mother, and I’m the one who killed her full-brothers to get where I am, you know?”
One of the authorities put a hand on his face.
“Anyhow, so it’s been decided we will cooperate. We’ll figure something out with the concubine. If all goes well, it may be possible to take legal wife. But your majesty… please don’t lay a hand on the envoys. It seems they’re that man Lyle’s women or something.”
Jules smiled a little. Perhaps the authority felt a bad premonition, as his expression stiffened. And seeing that, Jules smiled even wider.
“Trust me. Even I’ll draw back if the woman is too dangerous. And. My instincts are screaming at me. Don’t even think about it. Gathering nothing but women like that around him, I’ve grown interested in this Lyle fellow. I’d like to have a drink with him.”
As Jules laughed aloud, the authorities lowered their shoulders in relief…