… Varius sat hunched in the seat of his office in the castle.
By the rumors spreading through town, the hostages headed to Centralle weren’t unharmed. Such info had flowed even to the populace, and knowing by his own intel network, he knew nothing good would come of it. So Varius felt cornered.
Within the room, his retainer knight stood.
“Varius-sama, We are unable to deny anymore of Centralle’s demands. If you continue putting in on hold, the capital will send the imperial guards. If it comes to that…”
On the knight’s words, Varius lowered his fist onto the table. A little while later, he opened his mouth.
“I know. But thinking of my grandson and daughter-in-law, sending the two of them to Centralle is akin to sending them off to hell. My son is in Celes’ cage. Anymore is…”
The knight understood his sentiment. So he put to mouth the second and third son, who’d married to other houses.
“Shall we call back the boys you sent off for marriage?”
Varius shook his head.
“As if I could do that. If I did it, I’d have to go through due process, and take in their second or third son as heir. If I act too strongly after marrying them off, it’ll become hell.”
His sons had been married into houses of lower status, but even so, if he used his power to call them back, it would come out with problems. To add to that, his eldest son was alive. He even had a grandson. Officially, there wasn’t a reason to call them back.
The knight spoke with a resolved expression.
“Will you protect them even if it means war?”
Varius couldn’t make a decision. He loved his grandson. His son was already Celes’ slave. At the very least, he wanted to protect his grandson.
“For the sake of my grandson alone, I cannot sacrifice the territory. But, just a little longer… I beg of you.”
Hearing Varius’ conclusion, the knight nodded.
“Let us wait until the imperial guard arrives. With how tense our situation remains, we could not spare forces, tell them something like that.”
On the knight’s words, Varius powerlessly nodded…
Within the Jewel.
Surrounding the round table, we heard out the Seventh’s opinion.
『I know Varius-kun. I remember it. He was standing beside the previous Margrave of Resno. Never talked with him before, though.』
Investigating around Margave Varius and leaking rumors, we spent a few days. At that time, the Seventh recalled something, but it doesn’t seem he knew the man himself.
The Third sounded bored.
『You know any embarrassing stories about his youth? You got the Margraave of Resno his territory back, didn’t you?』
The Seventh shook his head.
『I did regain it, or rather, it was scattered landholdings, so the Walt House wasn’t able to manage them. I handed them back. However, I got the demarcation of the other disputed to proceed favorably.』
In the Seventh’s Era, the Walt House’s standing was that of counsel to the throne. It was proof at just how large the House’s power had grown. But because of that, they had some trouble shoved onto them.
The Fifth sighed.
『You sure work hard when there’s so little to be gained. If it were me, I wouldn’t want to get involved.』
The Seventh seemed to be of the same opinion, but there was a bit going on for the Walt House of the time.
『Even I generally hated it. The one charged with it all was the Walt House. But it’s true I wanted a new leaf at the time. I took over quite a few bad rumor from the Sixth, so the head’s standing was a dubious one.』
Milleia-san touched a hand to her face, and tilted her head a bit.
『About the Margrave of Resno. The previous generation was quite incompetent… or even if that wasn’t the case, he wasn’t overly skilled, to say the least. His son’s means, from what I can see of the territory, aren’t bad.』
The city, and surrounding villages… from what I saw, he could be called a benevolent lord to the people. To protect the border with Faunbeux, it was clear he was putting his effort.
I put together the rumors I’d gathered today.
“By the rumors, he’s soft on his grandson, and his grandson is proficient as well. Giving the reason that he was too busy preparing the border, he said he couldn’t spare men to send the hostages, it seems. But he hasn’t explicitly stated he won’t send them.”
The Fifth lightly tapped his finger on the table with a fixed tempo.
『… Meaning he does have plans to send them? Or will he oppose to the end… a Margrave alone won’t pick a fight with Bahnseim. Even if he changes sides to Faunbeux, this area used to be an important land of Faunbeux to begin with. They’ll just take it from him, and call it quits, or perhaps they’ll use him and have him crushed in the war with Bahnseim.』
The Third looked interested. He folded his hands on his lap, and grinned.
『Nice. One son in Centralle. The other two married off, and he can’t easily lay hands on them. He doesn’t want to part with his precious grandson, is what I’m feeling.』
The Seventh, delightedly.
『I’ve gained a bit of a favorable impression of Varius-kun. Let’s lay off a bit in negotiations.』
I hid my mouth with a hand, and thought of what was to come.
“We’ll be expending a bit of time before Faunbeux. It’s true they’re on the border, so we’ll be able to hear rumor of Faunbeux as well, but… should we wait until the imperial guard shows up? It’s thinkable the Margrave could prepare his own guards to send them to Centralle”
The Third closed his eyes.
『If that’s what it comes to, than pitiable as they may be, you’ll have to injure a few. Take care not to kill them. He’s your important negotiations partner. There’s nothing to be lost in refraining from angering him.』
We were attacking them after all.
I made my resolve, and thought up a plan to give as few casualties as possible.
… On another front.
Adele’s unit took the Baronet along to break up the east.
This time’s opponent was of Baronet Status as well, and he was making a conflicted expression.
In his estate, they were surrounded by his soldiers throughout negotiations.
Adele was troubled by his demands.
“A rise in rank just from cooperating? My apologies, but with the scale of your territory, it is my belief Baron would be impossible. Carrying that extent if responsibility isn’t quite…”
On Adele’s words, he pinched his prided beard with his fingertips to get it together.
“If I am to cooperate with your cause, I can put out three hundred soldiers. Is that insufficient? And if that’s the problem, I need only receive a territory large enough to fulfill my obligations. Fret not, I’ll do something of the Knight Class Houses around. If you’ll prepare a level of reward for them.”
Adele glared at the good Baronet sitting beside her. The Baronet made a not-my-problem face. But he couldn’t remain silent.
“Aren’t you biting too much with no achievement to back it? If you want a territory of Baron Scale, you’ll need to hold at least twice your current land/”
The other party gave an undaunted laugh.
“Then I’ll accept a territory change. Right… I’d like a territory close to Centralle. I’ve grown tired of these sticks of the far east.”
Adele felt a bit like smacking him, but while this Baronet House was a pain, the Knight Houses around him were also a pain. With scale from settlement to village, there were various Knight Houses in Bahnseim.
They all had different demands, and there were many unsatisfied with just the peace of their territories. As Lyle had said, without someone larger to get them in order, it would be difficult, she had begun to believe.
Adele looked at her opponent.
“If we give preferential treatment to one, the others will seek out the same level of returns. I cannot approve of it.”
He made a leisurely expression.
“Then I’ll leak your info to Centralle. That Lyle Walt’s party is secretly moving around.”
Adele glared at him, but perhaps he only saw her as a little girl, as his expression didn’t crumble.
However, the Baronet beside Adele lowered his voice.
“Then would that mean making a foe of me, and the others who’ve already promised our cooperation? That sounds rough. I’ll have to return and draft up countermeasures at once.”
Their foe’s expression turned somber. The same position of Baronet. Speaking to scale, there wasn’t much a difference in power. Making an enemy of the surrounding lords as well, however, was painful.
“… There is a land being disputed with the neighboring lord. That land has belonged to us from times immemorial. If you will cooperate in taking it back, I shall cooperate with your cause.”
Seeing him suddenly fold like that Adele realized he had still made quite a large request. She didn’t quite like these sorts of negotiations.
“And that that neighboring lord would be?”
“A Baron. Fret not, if you take our side, he is but an easy foe. And could you dispatch at least five hundred soldiers?”
On his request, Adele’s head started to hurt.
(This is… just as Lyle-san said. If we don’t take them down from the top, we won’t be able to handle it.)
She had made light of small-scale lords, but here, she was facing a severe loss of time…
… There was a squad dispatched from Centralle.
Led by Celes’ imperial guard knights, three hundred soldiers of the capital’s standing army.
The reason for their departure to the land of the Margrave of Resno was because he wouldn’t send a hostage to Centralle no matter how much time passed.
The unit leaving the castle was spied by a certain Celes, moving down the corridor, riding on the back of a woman. She stood up straight on that woman’s back, to watch the group set out.
“Huh~? Did I tell them to dispatch a unit anywhere?”
The woman seemed to be in pain, and she didn’t show any adoration to Celes. That was precisely why she was receiving such terrible treatment in the first place.
Tattered clothing and a choker, she was being treated as if she was a dog. The reason was simple… she didn’t bend to Celes.
To Celes, people like that were simply interesting toys. She simply adored the defiant, and played most delightfully with them.
Nearby, the captain of the imperial guard, 【Breid Vamper】 answered her smile.
“Celes-sama, that is a unit setting out for the Margrave of Resno, who won’t dispatch a hostage. A foolish frontier feudal lord, who won’t obey your will.”
Celes gave an intrigued smile, as she licked her lips.
“Aha, come to think of it, I did ask him to get hostages. Oh Rufus, so he actually carried it out so earnestly. It had totally slipped my mind.”
Wearing a tailcoat, and toting red hair, the butler… automaton spoke indifferently.
“But that woman you’re treating as a horse was sent as one of those very hostages. How many does that make it? You should really fix that habit of losing interest in no time and breaking them.”
The girl walking behind Celes… dragging her long, black hair as she walked, the surrounding people took care not to step on it.
Celes looked at 【Rumel】and smiled.
“It’s alright. Rumel properly cleans up. Right, Rumel?”
The girl called Rumel opened her small mouth. But that mouth gradually expanded, as she showed off sharp fangs and a large tongue to affirm Celes’ opinion.
“You’re adorable, Rumel. When you opposed me and I killed you, I thought you were nothing but a stupid quilin, but once revived, you’ve grown so honest and cute. But I’m sorry I couldn’t use the Skill well enough to give you much in the ways of speech.”
Rumel… the divine beast who had once met Celes and fought… the quilin girl was brought back from a husk to be Celes’ marionette.
Celes ground her foot into the fearful woman.
“If you’ve had enough, just say it. I’ll free you at once. Aha! You should see yourself shake. You’re an interesting one.”
Finding the woman’s quivers interesting enough, Celes lowered herself onto her back. And she pulled at the thread attacked to the collar.
“Then we must be off. Let’s take a round of the castle today. We’re going exploring.”
The sweet sound of Celes’ laughter. The humans obeying her were all fascinated by her.
Only the automaton could watch her with such cold eyes…
In a city held by the Margrave of Resno, we collected information as we spent our days.
I was taking an afternoon nap in my room.
No, I was sending my consciousness to the Jewel.
The location was my own room of memories.
The one I faced was LYLE, and in my hand, I held a Katana. Whether I cut, or used magic, LYLE dodged everything, as he hit his attacks into me.
『No good. Absolutely terrible! Your attacks are too honest. You’re putting in too much power.』
He cautioned me, as he cut my shoulder, and then the back of my hand. Making me drop the Katana, he leapt at me, and executed a kick.
I was hit off my feet, and as I rolled, Lyle circled ahead of me, and stopped my rotation with his foot.
『Yeah~, you may not be at a level where you can manage something against me on your own.』
Out of breath, I looked up at LYLE. There, he showed me his arm. Rolling up his sleeve, I saw a clear blue line running down it.
LYLE lightly continued. A part of it felt courteous.
『The flow of Mana, perhaps I should call it? In short, it’s pretty much a blood vessel. But what flows through it is Mana. The Walt House has polished Support Skills over the generations, so you should be seeing a blue line. And the ones who have these stretching all around their bodies are humans.』
There, LYLE took my arm in his hand. Reacting to his light, I was able to see a line on my arm as well. But its shape was different from LYLE’s.
To put it simply, it definitely connected somewhere, but it was ragged. From what I could see, it was in a horrible state.
LYLE looked at that.
『… That Celes, after stealing them, she ripped yours to shreds. No wonder your efficiency is so terrible.』
He put away his sabre, and traced the line on my arm with a finger. That line of light… but LYLE’s face turned grim.
『She’s destroyed it extremely carefully. She must have been considerably scared of me.』
I stood, and asked him.
“So what happens if that line is fixed?”
『It’ll improve the efficiency with which you can use the Mana in your body, but she’s perfectly torn them up, so even I can’t fully repair them. How should I put it, even if you output a ten, I can’t even guarantee you’ll get a two or three. Even if you’re successfully treated, you may reach a six or seven, perhaps?』
Hearing those words.
“Then if I get this fixed, I could fight against…”
『That’s not happening. I mean, you can’t even win against the current me, so there’s no way you can win against Celes, who pretty much has my power added on top of her own. Her side has Septem… Agrissa as an ally. If you’re alone, it won’t even be a contest.』
When I lowered my shoulders in disappointment, LYLE laughed.
『But I think you’re fine just like that. Not being able to fight without the aid of others, it means… you need others, is what I’m saying.』
I looked at LYLE.
“Are you calling me unreliable?”
『Perish the thought. There are some things it’s better to have lost, is all I thought. This is just a hypothetical. But if I tried to stop Celes, I’d surely be alone… or with a few. And perhaps I’d have been able to do something about it. But that wouldn’t be any good at all.』
When I tilted my head, LYLE looked at me, and smiled.
『Lyle, I think you’re a single different completed form than Celes.』