Editors: Skythewood, Nate
It was sunset.
Every day, around this time, lessons ended and the students would return to their dwellings.
At the same time, the city’s residents would slowly began rousing themselves, as though to fulfil some silent pact with the students. To merchants, evening was when business picked up, and one could hear people shouting “We’re opening for business!”
To the housewives, the most important thing for them when evening came was to rush home so they could prepare dinner for their husbands and children, so they frequently appeared en masse on the streets whenever the time came.
The pedestrians on the streets milled about here and there, far exceeding the density of the morning crowd. The entire city was a scene of extraordinary liveliness.
Several robed students flashed through this scenery, pushing aside the people blocking them as they swiftly darted through the crowd While they ran, they strained their voices and shouted what they had just seen, as though conducting some form of public service.
“It’s a fight! It’s a fight! Two mages are going to fight!”
“And they’re both girls!”
“And one of them is that genius girl Arpeggio!”
“What!? You mean Iron Alfie’?”
It would seem this fight involved someone who was quite famous in this city.
“Who’s her opponent?”
“She’s a human girl called Lelei. Seems to be fourteen, fifteen, maybe.”
“Never heard of her. Then, where are they fighting?”
“Just in front of ‘Marina’. Hurry!”
Once they heard this, quite a few people sprang into action and ran at top speed. They sprinted through the streets like a stampede of mad bulls, and the number of people joining them increased quickly as they moved on.
“Well then, apprentice knight Gray. Did you hear that?”
“Indeed I did, Shandy-dono. They’re somewhere near a restaurant called ‘Marina’. Although, there’s no need to search around; we just need to follow wherever the crowd is heading.”
“However, that would waste time, and the more we dawdle, the more dangerous the situation could become. Our hidden enemy must surely be around here somewhere.”
“You have that right. Anything which your servant could hear could not possibly escape the enemy's notice.”
The two knights who were dressed as travellers nodded and spoke as they walked down the streets, following the crowd of students who were rushing toward their destination.
And so, the street which had become an impromptu battlefield filled up with curious students in the blink of an eye. This resulted in a complete lack of customers for ‘Marina’, at a time when it should have been busiest. The fact was, this spat was causing the owner a lot of problems. On the other hand, his salesman soul was undaunted by this difficulty — instead, he decided to try his luck selling snacks to the audience, so they could watch and eat at the same time. In the end, not only did he not run a loss, but he actually made more than he would have through normal business.
The people who were here to watch the commotion were laying bets on one hand and eagerly waiting for the fight to begin on the other.
Arpeggio El Lelena thumped her magic staff into the ground where she stood, on the eastern side of the road.
Master Kato had once spoken of this 24 year-old woman, saying straight to Lelei’s face: “If I had to mount someone, I’d rather mount someone like your big sister — with her perky boobs, slender waist and juicy-fruit butt”. Her sensual curves were immediately apparent even through a layer of clothing, and they drew the eyes of every man in the crowd.
On the west side, with her staff in the ground, was Lelei La Lelena.
If this dispute were judged by the maturity of their appearances, then it would be very obvious that this 16 year old (she had celebrated her birthday just recently) would lose. Her scrawny body had only just started rounding out, and it was around this time that her feminine sexual characteristics were starting to develop.
The sisters faced each other, about ten paces apart, when the wind suddenly gusted up, carrying a spray of dust with it.
A bale of straw rolled across the ground as the wind blew. The mood of confrontation — like a showdown in spaghetti western films — intensified further.
Incidentally, this road was not very wide, but it was still enough for two horse-drawn wagons to pass each other going different directions. Therefore, the wagons and pedestrians behind the feuding pair found the road impassable. The two people standing in the middle of the road were basically blocking traffic. Still, perhaps it was because they felt they had front-row tickets to something good, or they had resigned themselves to watch, but there was no frustration on the faces of the bogged-down drivers; only looks of excitement.
Soon enough, there were more people taking bets. A man who looked like a bookmaker shouted, “Three to one odds here!”
It would seem that the mildly famous Arpeggio was favored for victory.
Gambling was quite popular in this City of Wisdom. As for the reason why, one could say that they had no other forms of entertainment. In other words, one could view this as a local custom which also revealed the attitudes of the native people. In a way, life for the common folk here was difficult, but compared to the people of any other nation in any other world, they held their heads high and took everything as it came.
“Is that girl Lelei? I’ve never seen her before.”
The crowd around the pair began a quiet discussion, eager to find out anything about the nameless girl confronting Arpeggio.
“She’s wearing a Sage’s robe, right? How come it’s so dirty?”
“Look at her hair. Someone dumped soup on her head, right?”
Indeed, Lelei’s hair and robe were dyed a deep red by a soup made with fruits and vegetables.
It was made by boiling meat and vegetables for a full day and night, with the marrow-juices adding to the taste as it dissolved into the soup. It produced a thick, rich flavor, which would prove quite difficult to wash out of her clothing. And now, it made a mess of her pure white robes.
“That’s terrible. Who did that?”
“Who else but that genius Arpeggio? At least, that’s what I can see from this.”
“I think Arpeggio got mad and said ‘how could a brat like you try to be a sage’ or something.”
“Uwah, seriously? So this fight’s because of jealousy? Man, that’s so uncool.”
Alfe clicked her tongue as she heard the people whispering things like these around her.
The fact that others had immediately seen through her motives only made her more embarrassed.
Still, what had led to this state of events?
She had given in to her emotions, and so… well, that was a quick summary of it.
“So she was acting up because she was jealous? Well, that must be hard on her.”
Though people quietly jabbed at her like that, it could not be helped. Rather, it did not matter if she stood here either due to stubbornness or pride, because either way, she would not take this lying down. She had to demonstrate the difference between her strength and Lelei’s once and for all.
This was why she had to roll up her sleeves and do it.
To the bystanders, it seemed like she had gone too far. Even she herself was not proud of this. However Alfie had her own reasons for taking on Lelei seriously, no matter the cost. Right or wrong, she still had to devote her heart and soul to this reckoning with Lelei.
If she did not do this, if she allowed herself to silently fade away into the flow of time, she would be eternally tormented by her negative emotions, forever looking on her little sister with envious eyes.
If she pretended to be magnanimous and applauded her little sister’s accomplishments, perhaps the two of them might be able to get along for a while longer. However, this period of harmony would ring false. From that moment on, everything she did would contradict what she truly felt inside, and there would be an invisible wall of dishonesty between them. In addition, they were not truly related by blood. If a hint of deceit worked its way into their relationship, the two of them would immediately turn on each other. She had to avoid that at all costs.
Therefore, Alfie had chosen this course of action, to challenge Lelei of her own accord, despite knowing that people would mock her as a jealous girl.
That said, how had she gotten to this place?
How… how had her little sister taken one giant step after another, until she had exceeded herself, as the elder sister?
Alfie looked to the side, at the man called Itamy who was watching the battle, and bit her lip.
After tidying up Mimoza’s lab. Arpeggio shoved the unused parchments into the satchel she carried with her, locked the door, and then rushed to the restaurant.
Once she reached the restaurant, she edged the door open and poked her head in to chat up the restaurant’s owner.
“How are you? Is Mistress here?”
“Lady Mimoza has already arrived with her guests.”
After hearing the owner answer in the affirmative, she proudly strode into the restaurant, treading the familiar wooden floors under her feet. Just then, she heard Mimoza and Lelei talking. However, the contents of their conversation made Arpeggio think her heart had stopped.
“It would be great if books were cheap enough to be easily accessible to people.”
“That dream will come true one day.”
Those words hit her like a bombshell.
So great was her shock that her hand slipped, and the door crashed loudly.
However, that could not be helped. After all, the things Lelei and the others were talking about clearly included some things which distressed Arpeggio.
“Wait, wait a bit, that would be bad. Very bad. There’re people who would be inconvenienced by the price of books going down.”
Alfie inched closer as she spoke. It was as though she was damning Lelei as a corrupt merchant, conspiring to knock the bottom out of the book market.
“Alfie, what are you doing? Stop that at once.”
“Mistress, you should be more aware of these things! Research supplies aren’t free! They cost a lot of money!”
“And here I was wondering what you were so excited about. Is that all?”
“Is that all?! Aren’t you taking this a bit too lightly? The magical grimoires which I worked night and day and spent so much effort to copy out are worth three sinks, no bargaining allowed. If the price of books hits rock bottom, then my four months of work would go down the drain, wouldn’t they? If that really happened, our food, our rent, our living expenses, how would we… ahhhhhh!”
It certainly seemed quite strange to have a woman grabbing her head in what looked like despair and suffering. The fact that she was quite pretty as well made it look even more comical. Itami’s jaw dropped as he watched Lelei’s sister, unable to speak. Nor was he alone — even Tuka, Yao and Rory were hard-pressed to hide their shock.
At this, Mimoza rose to her feet — in order to protect her pupil’s reputation, she felt that she had to clarify some of the subtext here.
“I apologize if you were startled. This girl of mine specializes in mineral-based magic. However, branching out this far into the field carries with it certain expenses. Therefore, she has gone to great effort to work part-time as a copyist, but even so, she’s not making much. So… when she heard something along the lines of ‘The price of books might go down’, she exhibited this… greatly discomforted behavior.”
Lelei looked like she was going to comfort her big sister. She patted her shoulder and said:
“Don’t worry. What I’m talking about won’t happen in a couple of days. It’ll be in the future.”
“Mm. In the future. Eventually. It will come to pass one day.”
Arpeggio‘s entire body seemed to go limp, sinking down into a pile on the floor.
Perhaps her antics from just now had fatigued her, but Alfie sighed deeply.
Lelei took all this in, and sensing that her big sister had calmed down, she went to take a glass of water for her.
After a while, when she returned to the dining table with her glass, she found that her place had already been taken by someone else.
And that someone else was Alfie.
On the right was Mimoza, and to the left was Itami — that was how well-positioned that place was.
Though Lelei’s expression remained the same, she stared at Alfie’s back, standing still as she did. If she could exert force just by looking at someone, perhaps Mimoza might have been forced away by the pressure of Lelei’s glare.
Lelei silently pulled up a chair, slotted it into the only remaining space between Alfie and Mimoza, and then sat down.
Alfie, who had deftly seized the opportunity earlier, did not seem to understand her little sister’s feelings. She merely grabbed the cup in Lelei’s hand with a “thanks’ and downed it in a gulp, which also quelled the heaving of her breast.
“Don’t scare me. Really now~”
As though drunk, Alfie suddenly plopped herself on the table and started griping. Everyone’s eyes went to her once more.
“Alfie, you’ve always been so wilful. You’ve never been patient enough to finish listening to what people say.”
“But, you said ‘one day’... when will that be?”
“It’ll be a while, but not too long.”
“I see. I heard that in Valleta, people have been using something called typesetting to print things. So that’s why I said it’ll come eventually. However, does that mean there’s really no future in this sort of thing? What should I do from now on…”
Just as she finished, the man beside her asked, his interest blooming: “Do you mean, authoring books?”
“No, no. Well, there’s writing involved, but it’s basically just copying the valuable books penned by great sages of the past. Of course, they have to be bound and illuminated, so the finished tome looks both intricate and informative. After all of that is done, you can take it to the store shelves and sell them.”
“This girl not only has good calligraphy, but she’s good at prettying the volumes up, so her works are quite popular among the wealthy.”
“Ehh~ so that’s what it’s like.”
After Mimoza finished, the man softly murmured in understanding.
Illuminated manuscripts looked good on the shelf, and also hinted at their owners’ generosity, because said owners would have paid a premium to decorate their rooms with such items. Therefore, nobles or wealthy merchants who wanted to pretend that they were cultured were often very happy to buy such exquisitely made volumes.
“Copying an entire book by hand is really difficult, no? My ex-wife also worked in publishing, and she had to face her desk every day. I’m quite surprised that she actually managed to stay sane after all that.”
“Would that lady be a Sage as well?”
“Hell no. She’s a doujin artist… er, how shall I put this. In any case, she drew pictures to tell a story.”
“Oh… so she’s an author of picture books…”
Alfie nervously looked Itami up and down and then asked:
“Then~ though this might be a little intrusive… why did you part ways? Women who stare at desks all day aren’t very attractive, are they?”
“Of course not. She was the one who brought up the subject of divorce. The truth is, I don’t mind women doing that sort of work, so I guess the reason why she wanted to break up was because she wanted to return to the starting point. I guess we just drifted apart somewhere in our lives.”
Itami went “ahaha” as he sheepishly scratched his head.
After that, Alfie put an arm around her little sister’s neck, and gathered her close.
“Who is this man?”
“What does he do?”
“He’s a soldier from the other side of the Gate.”
“So why is a soldier from the other side of the Gate not in the Imperial Capital, but all the way over here?”
Londel had long known of the war between the Empire and the country on the other side of the Gate. However, when one took the location of the Gate at Arnus into consideration, the city of Londel was in the completely opposite direction of the Imperial Capital. There was even a mountain range between the two cities, complete with a mountain stream that flowed from the icy peaks. Because of that, nobody thought that the fighting would come here.
“He’s on a resource-prospecting mission, by order of his country.”
As this conversation reached Mimoza’s ears, the old lady seemed to remember something, and clapped her hands together.
“That’s right! Speaking of which, Itamy-san wants to know something about ores. That’s Alfie’s specialty. Alfie, if you don’t mind, go help him out.”
“Ah, yes. If you don’t mind, I’d be glad to accompany you.”
As she said this, Alfie straightened up in her chair.
Just then, as though waiting for this moment, the restaurant’s owner came in with the food, taking advantage of the brief lull in the conversation. Soon the narrow table was heaped high with bowls filled with stew and plates laden with food.
“As always, everything looks delicious.”
“Mm. I was pretty motivated today.”
As the owner said this, the ladies in the shop smiled.
And so, it was time to eat. In order to fill the time, Mimoza decided to bring up the “homework”.
“Rory. Before I forget, let me answer the question you gave me last time. You asked me — ‘Why are there so many species in this world?’ And the answer I can give you is — the Gate. The sheer number of demihumans in this world could only have been brought here when the Gate opened and allowed them to pass through. With that in mind, we humans should have been the last immigrants. Historically speaking, humanity would be the youngest residents of this world.”
Mimoza leaned forward, and Rory asked if that was her final answer.
“Mm, I’m pretty sure. It’s for the same reason that Arnus is viewed as a sacred place in the Empire — not for religious reasons, but because it was the place where humanity first flourished.”
“As expected of you, Mimoza.”
Mimoza seemed to have gotten a little excited after winning Rory’s approval — she curled her arms and clenched her fists
“Aah, it looks like the question’s been settled. I feel so relieved. To think, I would discover what it means to be liberated at this age.”
“Why did you ask her that question?”
In response to Itami’s question, Rory gave a serious, earnest reply.
“If you compare this world to a tree, then we as Demigods would be the gardeners who tended to that tree. If we see a branch that has grown too long or grown the wrong way, then we will cut it off, if need be. Of course, the tree called ‘The World’ won’t grow if all we do is trim, am I right? So what we do is pick out some Sages with promise, and pose them a seemingly unreasonable question.”
Even Itami knew that Rory meant knowledge and technology when she talked about branches.
“It sounds like raising a bonsai.”
“Pretty much. You trim the branches you don’t like and get rid of pests that fly in. We have always guarded the peace of this world through those means — well, we should, but…”
“You should? Why do you say that?”
But just as Itami was about to ask, he saw Rory sigh, and then quietly hiss “Hardy, you idiot.”
Elsewhere, Lelei seemed to have her doubts about what Mimoza had just said.
“I’ve never learned anything like that before.”
Mimoza, on her part, simply shrugged and said, “Well, it’s only to be expected.”
“You see, that’s the direction in which I took my research. Kato focused on physics, so his knowledge of history was only average. It would have been strange if he actually shifted his focus to studying history.”
Right after that, Alfie elbowed her sister in the sides, and the look on her face seemed to say, “As I thought.”
“Didn’t I say it before as well? — Mm, yes, Master Kato is a specialist in combat magic. But learning solely from one old master leads to your knowledge being lopsided. Still, it’s not too late for you. Why don’t you stay here and benefit from a structured education?” Alfie advised.
However, Lelei remained unmoved. She simply said, “If I did not seek Master Kato’s tutelage, I would not have had the chance to contend to be a Sage.”
“That may be so, but that doesn’t matter, right? Here’s some advice for you, that white robe of yours might end up turning all the colors of the rainbow, like a tropical bird — they say that recently, the Elders have been bringing liquid dyes into the conference hall, and you can imagine how that turned out.”
“It’s fine. I have confidence in my research. If possible, I would like you all to see this.”
With that, Lelei withdrew a scroll from a bag which her robe had covered up.
As she did this, several funnels which she had kept inside the bag spilled out. Lelei hurriedly moved to pick them up.
She had bought these copper funnels from a Japanese grocery store. One could use them to fill a container about the size of a wine bottle with liquid from a large beaker (about one liter’s worth of wine, sauce, and so on). Now that bottles were commonplace, funnels like that were quite hard to find.
“Why, why do you have things like these?”
Lelei gave Itami’s question a deadpan answer:
“The shape and materials of these objects are well-suited for producing the Neumann effect. In addition, they are cheap to make, so losing them is not a great loss. The most important thing is that nobody would think of them as weapons.”
Just as the two of them began discussing this, Mimoza and Alfie opened Lelei’s scroll and began reading.
“This packaging looks terribly plain…”
Alfie began by finding fault with the scroll’s exterior. However, by the time she read its contents, she fell silent.
“Well, this is quite surprising. If you directly presented the knowledge from another world as-is, you would definitely be accused of plagiarism. Instead, you used it as a base, and then fused it with our magical systems. If you do this, those picky Elders will have nothing to say.”
Mimoza smiled to Lelei, as though giving a guarantee.
“The coming month’s conference will be quite interesting…”
Alfie said that, but her body had long since frozen up, her brows knotted. Shortly after that, she muttered:
“She, she surpassed me. She completely…”
Arpeggio brought her index fingers together and she rubbed their tips against each other as she kept sighing.
“...Lelei surpassed me.”
“That’s just too bad, Alfie. But you have lots of time, so don’t give up.”
Mimoza’s words were intended to comfort and encourage her. But to Alfie, who had sacrificed so much and devoted her life to research in order to gain results, the shock of being so easily eclipsed by her younger sister was not something that simple encouragement could help with.
“Haa… I might as well not bother with this research business. I don’t have any talent. When will I get a chance to shine? I might as well retire and go back to the village to teach children.”
Alfie was completely depressed.
And now, it was Lelei’s turn to give her encouragement.
“It’s not like that. Obtaining solid results from mineral magic research takes great time and effort — that’s just how research in that field is.”
“It was only by the slimmest of chances that I managed to witness the knowledge from the other side of the Gate, and by standing on the shoulders of giants I arrived here. But everyone knows that mineral magic research requires a great sum of money to carry out. Nobody can deny that.”
“That’s what I mean. Without money, I can’t even afford experimental samples… Say, Lelei, you’ve come into a lot of money recently, right? Lend me some!”
Before Alfie could finish, Lelei turned toward the dining table and began spooning up the soup.
“This is really delicious.”
She had completely ignored Alfie’s request.
“Oi! Don’t tell me that you don’t have any money now!?”
“Mineral magic — even if it’s alchemy — is like a witch’s cauldron that melts down every single coin thrown into it. People have literally seen their money go up in smoke. As you can see, this field of research is truly frightening. Anyone who gets involved with that business is asking for it. Because of that, nobody is going to help you.”
As though bemoaning her misfortune, Alfie grabbed her head and wept piteously. As they watched this, Tuka and Rory whispered to each other:
“Lelei’s sister is quite an interesting character.”
“Mm. This is the first time I’ve seen such a passionate human woman.”
From the side, Mimoza merely sighed in exasperation, before joining their conversation:
“That girl threw herself into research ever since she was first able to do so. She’s all wound up, physically and mentally. I guess she’s just been pushed to her limits.”
“Speaking of which — when you were her age, all you did was mess around and have fun, Mimoza.”
Rory began counting on her fingers, for some unknown purpose. Her right hand was not enough, so she carried on to her left hand.
“Rory, could you please not bring up the past?”
It would seem Rory’s actions had managed to turn an old woman’s ears red in embarrassment.
After a while, when she realised that nobody would pay attention to her crying, Alfie suddenly dropped the act and said:
“I’ve had it! I might as well find someone and marry him!”
“Eh? It feels like she changed all of a sudden,” Tuka said.
“What interesting things will she say next?” Rory replied, a look of eagerness on her face.
Alfie put her arm around Lelei again and said:
“Tell me about Itamy-san, hm?”
“Itamy Youjy. A military officer of the country of Nihon. Granted the title of’ Lord’ by the King of the Elbe Kingdom. In addition, he is an honorary patriarch of the Schwarz Forest Dark Elf tribe, et cetera.”
“A ‘Lord’... well, he’s not a very highly-placed one, but he’s still a noble! How, how about his financial situation? His assets?”
This time, it was Yao who answered.
“Due to certain contributions by Master Itamy, our tribe gave him a diamond which was about this big. In addition, I am also considered Master Itamy’s property.”
Alfie stared at the shape which Yao made with both hands — something about the size of a human head — and fell silent. She rose, radiating a pressure which made Yao feel very uncomfortable, and asked:
“A, a diamond? The size of a human head?!”
At this point, Alfie could not help but let her imagination run wild.
This man possessed enormous wealth, enough for her to build an environment suited for research stocked with all the lab reagents and equipment she could possibly need at a moment’s notice.
They could leave household chores and raising the children to a hired maid (the silhouette of Yao came to mind as she imagined this). Besides, if her husband was a soldier, then he would hardly be at home due to his work. Another thing was that this man had already been divorced, so he was still single.
In other words — he was quite the catch!
Alfie did not care much about anything else as long as she could live comfortably. The sort of lifestyle she wanted was which people described as “As long as my husband brings back the bacon, I don’t mind being left alone at home.” Of course, to a man, a home life like that would basically destroy his hopes and dreams...
By the time Alfie had recovered from these heady delusions of hers and jerked her head back, she found that her seat had already been taken by someone else — Lelei was sitting there nonchalantly, practically leaning up against Itami. It would seem that Lelei had taken advantage of Alfie’s standing up to swiftly occupy the void which she left.
“Hey, wait a minute. Lelei, that’s my seat.”
“It was mine before you got here.”
“There’s no point saying that now. Give it to me.”
“Why not? Why are you being so difficult?”
After that, Lelei gripped Itami’s sleeve tightly and said:
“We already have a three-nights kind of relationship.”
The three nights in question (one could call it a ritual, but it was more of a tradition) referred to the fact that a couple which spent three nights sleeping together in the same bed were now joined together. In other words, this was a declaration that “From this day forward, we are married.”
“Who… who and who?” Alfie asked in a trembling voice.
“Itamy and I.”
She had been surpassed in academia, beaten in financial power, and now Lelei had even taken the lead in the field of love...
At this moment, the tense string knotted around Alfie’s heart strained even further — and like that, it snapped. By the time she returned to her senses, she had already beaned Lelei on the head with the bowl of soup.
Part of her had considered that it would be bad if Lelei got burned, but once she picked up the bowl, all that went out the window — the soup had grown cold after being left there for so long. That being the case, there was no need to hesitate — Alfie hurled the soup bowl at Lelei’s head.
Her silver hair was now stained reddish-brown by the sweet potato soup. In addition, the dripping soup had reached her shoulders and stained her white clothes.
Everyone was staring in shock at Alfie, while she herself realised what she had done.
Crap, I went too far.
Even so, she did not regret what she had done. Right now, Alfie was feeling more relaxed than she had ever been — indeed, all this was necessary.
At this moment, Lelei rose, somewhat unsteadily. She glared at this big sister of hers, and a fire burned in her eyes.
And this brings us to the events at the beginning of this chapter.
The two female mages stared each other down, like duelists waiting to strike.
The apprentices around them held their breaths, waiting for the battle to start.
No matter how you sliced it, both sides belonged to the Lindon School — one of battle mages. Therefore everyone here could observe the intricacies of magical combat during this battle. If they were lucky, they might even be able to observe spells which were typically reserved as trump cards — something which they all eagerly anticipated.
In the exact center of the distance between the two sisters was Rory in her black priestess’ outfit, who slammed the end of her halberd into the ground.
“Koff—. I shall explain the rules which both sides must abide by. First, neither of you will do anything which endangers the others’ lives. Secondly, since you are both ladies, you will not strike each others’ faces. Everything goes apart from these two rules, and you may indulge yourselves to your hearts’ content. Also, I will state the loss conditions. One, if anyone breaks the abovementioned two rules, they lose. Two, if anyone surrenders, or if they are knocked down and unable to rise to their feet by the count of ten, they lose as well. In addition, both sides must reconcile with each other after the battle is over. Do you both agree on these four points?”
Emroy was the God of War. Rory was the Apostle of Emroy. Lelei nodded silently, assenting to those conditions. Similarly, Alfie nodded in acknowledgement.
“Then, I, Rory Mercury, Apostle of Emroy, the God of War, grant my sanction to the 13th Lelena Family Sisters Battle!”
Rory’s declaration was like a starter’s pistol.
Alfie made the first move. There was a flash of light from her right hand, and a small ball of light flew out at Lelei.
In response Lelei summoned a ring of wind around her white robe, easily evading the ball of light.
Right after that, Alfie whipped out a weapon known as a bolas.
Originally, bolas were throwing weapons used for hunting prey. However, in the hands of a skilled user it could be used for all sorts of highly variable attacks, showing great power in the short to medium range. In addition, it was not a heavy weapon, so it was easy to carry on one’s person. Usually, bolas were made by joining several weights with a rope, but the bolas Alfie was holding were made of three weights linked by fine chains. In addition, since Alfie was an exponent of mineral magic, she had managed to alter the physical properties of the weapon in her hand — the spiralling weights were made of different materials and heavily enchanted with magic, which released brilliant light in accordance with their user’s will.
As he saw this, Itami mumbled, “That, that’s…”
Mimoza assumed he was gasping in awe, and stepped in to explain.
“Amazing , isn’t it? The current focus of Alfie’s research is the use of minerals as a contact medium to release all sorts of magical phenomena. Usually, one would need to use the ‘magic principle’ to delve into the ‘phenomena’ from which everything springs. The principle behind the use of a contact medium opens a new possibility in the practice of expressing the ‘phenomena’ — it becomes faster and simpler. However, the effects produced are as varied as the types of media themselves. For instance, steel simply glows and gets hot. A certain type of media we know can produce a powerful light. With specially treated wood, one can even produce a defensive barrier. Alfie’s research centered around these properties, to discover the fundamental principle governing them.”
However, Mimoza’s explanation did not dispel Itami’s doubts. Instead, he seemed confused, and frowned.
“No, no, I didn’t mean that. What I wanted to say was, wouldn’t Lelei get hurt if it hit her? Logically speaking, that’s what should happen, right? This is… it’s definitely not on the level of a mere sister’s squabble any more.”
“But this is how mages have always settled their disputes with each other.”
As the two of them were talking, the sound of the air shattering resounded through the street as blades of compressed air streaked continuously through the air, and debris rained down from the sky like a monsoon. With waves of their staves to defend against an attack, evade, and then slash out horizontally, the attacks of both sides crashed against each other in the middle.
“It’s only been a few years, but you’ve grown quite a bit.”
“This white robe isn’t for show, you know.”
“Bold words. See if I don’t rip the stitches out of your clothes.”
After that, both sides upped their ante — and their firepower. Deflected bolts of light went astray and scorched the eaves of nearby houses. Several chunks of stone debris scattered into the crowd, which drawing howls from them. The fact that nobody had been hurt was a miracle, which seemed to be proof that the people watching were actually mages.
“It, it looks like they’re going out of control…”
Pieces of shattered stone fell from the sky like bullets, making Itami cringe back into his uniform.
The moisture in the air crystallized into icicles, whose sharp tips glittered in the light as they flew back and forth. Some of them stabbed into the nearby walls, and their plaster crumbled and fell.
“The first thing mages of the Lindon School learn is defensive magic. Therefore, in most spell battles, both sides rush to see who can break the other’s defenses first. However… the two of them have very high attack and defensive power. Lelei’s grown so much I can barely recognize her.”
The truth was, both of them had exerted the whole of their abilities, and the pressure was building by the second.
That said, all people had their limits; and at a certain point, both of them stopped moving. They panted, and with every breath they cast an attack spell, before raising their weighty staves and using all their strength to throw up a defensive barrier.
And then, a sound like a heavy lump of metal striking something else echoed all around, raising a cloud of dust.
“Uuu, is this what they mean by a genius? Dammit…”
Alfie clenched her teeth, and took a step forward.
The first half of this battle was like a duel between two knights swinging at each other with all their might. The fact that they had come this far was a testament to a clash of strength versus strength and will versus will.
However, if they continued dragging the fight out like this, the difference in their respective strength would soon become clear — Alfie was attacking less and less, while she was defending more and more.
In this intense situation, Itami felt it was about time to try and stop them. With that, he turned to Rory the referee, and ventured:
“Rory, what should we do now? I think their determination is going to push this fight to a dangerous stage…”
“You’re right, but it would be best to wait a bit more, until victory and defeat are apparent, before we stop them. Otherwise, the grudge between them won’t go away. Look, even under these circumstances, Alfie is still looking for a chance to deliver a decisive counterattack, while Lelei — who’s confident of her victory — is waiting for a chance to finish the fight in a single move.”
Rory had a point, but was it really all right?
However, just as Itami was about to share his thoughts, a wail came from the nearby crowd, clearly unrelated to the sisters’ battle.
There was the sound of a swinging sword, and —
After a cry of anger, there was a moan of pain from someone.
“You coward! Prepare yourself”
At first, people thought it was just two spectators who had gotten into a fight because they were excited. However, when they turned to look, they saw a man with a sword through his chest slumping to the ground.
Though this battle involved the exchange of powerful magic, though it scarred the ground with holes and marks, though the nearby walls were perforated like Swiss cheese, it was still a battle between sisters which took place under the auspices of Rory, Apostle of Emroy, and her precondition was that it did not involve the taking of human life. Because of that, everyone could watch in excitement.
But now, the ground was covered in fresh blood.
Someone had died under the eyes of everyone in attendance — a man whose body was soaked in blood staggered a few steps forward before collapsing to the ground.
After that, everyone’s face changed — some grimaced, turning pale, while others flushed red, glaring angrily at the killer, and some looked aside, storming off to summon the guards.
There were even some people who were experienced in these matters, who raised their magic staves as they moved to the side, ready to capture the killer with spells.
There was a wrathful look on Rory’s face as she asked:
“...To think you would dare stain the soil of a battleground sanctified by I, Rory. State your reasons for doing so, Gray Co Aldo.”
The killer — Knight-in-Training Gray, sheathed his bloodstained sword and genuflected before Rory.
“Your Holiness, it has been a while. This one is honored to meet you again.”
The deference this man was showing seemed somewhat exaggerated. The reason why he did this was due to the hostility of everyone around him.
To him, the first thing to do when asserting the rightness of his actions was to project a straightforward yet humble image of himself. It was of paramount importance. One could say that in this place, it was exactly the right thing to do, and as he drew the attention of the surrounding audience, they slowly stopped what they were doing to watch.
Naturally, Gray’s answer was loud enough for everyone to hear.
“I understand that your Holiness is upset by this development, but if you will permit this one to speak one thing, it would be that this one hopes everyone can swiftly leave this place. Eliminating one assassin does not guarantee this place is safe.”
Gray’s words raised a commotion from the people around him. When he said this place was “unsafe”, it implied that there was danger here. But who was in danger? What kind of danger was it? Everyone looked around in confusion.
The kneeling Lelei and Alfie seemed to have recovered from the exertions of the intense battle, and when they heard this they had no choice but to raise their heads.
Shortly after Gray showed himself, the person who had searched the deceased man’s body and belongings — Shandy Kaf Marea — approached Rory and produced the crossbow she had just found.
At a closer look, the crossbow was drawn and a bolt fitted to the string. If it were a gun, one could say that it had been loaded, the hammer was pulled back, and the safety was off. In other words, a round would be fired once the trigger was pulled. Normally, nobody would go around with a weapon in that state upon their persons. Because of that, one could infer that the dead man had been aiming at someone with this weapon and planning to shoot them. All this lent a great deal of credibility to Gray’s words.
At this moment, Lelei and Alfie looked at each other — what was going on? The two of them had no idea was going on, and so they asked Shandy:
“What was with that man?”
“That man was hiding in the crowd with the intention of killing you, Lelei-sama.”
“Ehhhhhh?! But why?!”
The person who cried out was not Lelei, but her sister Alfie.
“I cannot explain now. Everyone, please hurry and...”
Everyone reacted slowly to Gray’s words, as though they were unable to comprehend what he was talking about. However, there was one person who immediately understood what was going in times like these.
“Got it. Everyone, follow me. Quickly, let’s get out of here.”
That person was Itami. He gathered Lelei and Alfie together and hurried them on, going, “come on, come on, come on,” breaking into a stride as he shunted the people on the street out of the way, leaving the restaurant ’Marina’ behind him.
Gray and Shandy followed behind him, levelling watchful looks at everyone around them.
At the same time, Itami called Yao over and told her, “Go back to the inn first and see what’s going on.”
Perhaps she was delighted by being given a task, Yao replied in a cheery voice:
“Understood! I’m to make sure there’s nobody suspicious hanging around the inn, right?”
“Tuka, you go with her too. Please.”
At this moment, Tuka — who still had trouble understanding what was going on — immediately agreed, nodding and saying, “It can’t be helped”.
And so, Tuka and Yao jogged back to the inn ahead of the others.
Lelei and Alfie followed them. Behind them were Mimoza and Itami, while Rory, Gray and Shandy shot wary looks all around them.
“Tell me, who’s set their sights on Lelei? She’s a good girl.”
Mimoza’s protestation made Gray and Shandy look at each other.
Both of them were hesitant and unsure of how to answer. There were many people around and many ears to hear what they had to say, so this was not a good place to talk. That said, Itami also wanted to learn something about this. Therefore, he decided to change his tack and asked them questions instead — he pressed them on matters within the area they could explain and avoided questions which were difficult to answer, trying to get the information he needed through inference.
“Who gave you your orders? The Princess?”
“Yes,” Shandy said.
She had been repeating the same set of actions since just now — she stopped, looked around and then quickly paced forward again. This made her breathing fast and uneven, and her brown hair was glued to her forehead with sweat.
Shandy felt she had been a fool. If not for this assignment, she could have been a translator during the talks in the Imperial capital. However, reality was indifferent to her wishes, and right now, she was forced to work a dirty, grimy job in a place like this.
“Her Imperial Highness commands that we are to take Lelei-sama to the Imperial Capital. In addition, her Highness said that Itami-sama and his companions would surely trust Gray and myself. And then, surprisingly enough, we learned who was hiring the assassins, and proceeded here with all speed.
The reason why Gray could earn Itami and his companions’ trust was because he had been closely acquainted with Itami and the others during the Battle of Italica and introduced by Shandy, who had been learning Japanese in Arnus.
“So who’s gunning for Lelei… no, you can’t answer this question here. However, I’m sure you can tell me why you’re so tight-lipped, right?”
“As expected of you, Itami-sama. As for ‘who’ it is, we’re still in the guessing phase, and speaking incautiously will only jeopardize our chances at nabbing them.”
After saying that, he added, “However…” and then proceeded to clarify his words.
“However… the news of the Flame Dragon’s head in the Imperial Capital has won you much fame in the Imperial Capital and its surroundings, Lelei-sama. One could say that everyone knows of you, and that ‘someone’ is unhappy with that.”
“The Flame Dragon’s head showed up in the Imperial Capital?”
“Did you not know of this?”
“If I’m not wrong, the head of the Dragon was taken by the Dark Elves. They said something about wanting to use the Dragon’s head as evidence and tell the entire world that the Flame Dragon was dead, and let everyone know that their lives would no longer be in danger…”
“Indeed, it could be used in that way.”
“And it was very effective. Because of that, everyone’s opinion of you is at an unprecedented level, Lelei-sama.”
Although Gray and Shandy had made their explanations to Itami, he still tilted his head and muttered, “How strange” in confusion. This was because they had not said a thing about why only Lelei was so popular. If the reason was because she slew the Flame Dragon, then everyone here should be a target, but the truth proved that this hypothesis was flawed.
And then, Gray stopped and looked back to Lelei before saying:
“It is known that the fame is not solely yours, Lelei-sama. However, because you and your companions are either foreigners or not human at all, the humans in the Empire react much differently to you than to your other companions. This one feels the matter stems from this.”
Itami was still confused.
“It’s because Lelei-sama is both a citizen of the Empire and a member of the human species.”
“My people are nomadic and call no place home. I have no intention of becoming an Imperial citizen.”
“The smallfolk do not care about these circumstances. No, I can’t say that — perhaps it is because of these circumstances that the people cheer for you. Say what they may, this was a task which the nobles, the army, or even the Emperor could not accomplish. And now you — not even a citizen of the Empire — managed to do it. Your existence is a great encouragement to anyone who does not wish to labor under the Empire’s rule.”
Itami felt that this might be similar to the attitude of “cheering on the Japanese team in overseas baseball or soccer tournaments”. If the Japanese team won, the media would air all sorts of special programs revolving around them day and night. However, the members of the other baseball teams would not receive any coverage at all. Only a small fraction of die-hard fans would care about those teams — in a sense, that example was oddly suited to this situation.
“Oi, wait a minute. Your explanation still doesn’t tell me why someone would want Lelei’s life.”
Gray was naturally wary of someone who had been fighting Lelei not five minutes ago. He asked, “My apologies, but who might you be?”
Before Alfie could answer, Lelei injected from the side, “She’s my big sister.”
“So that’s what it was! That battle of yours from just now was just a sisterly spat. That was quite a magnificent display of sibling rivalry.”
“That’s not important. You haven’t answered my question yet. Why is Lelei being targeted. Speaking of which, what’s all this about the Flame Dragon’s head?”
“Oya, you didn’t know?”
Gray looked at Lelei in confusion.
“I didn’t tell her.”
“What a shock. You should have told her from the beginning.”
“I didn’t do anything outstanding.”
“There’s your problem. Lelei-sama, you and your companions have no idea how impressive that feat was.”
Gray had a look on his face that seemed to say, “I don’t believe this”, and then he shook his head. After that, he summarized the details of the Flame Dragon incident to Alfie.
“Not long ago, the Flame Dragon was slain by the combined efforts of your honored sister and everyone present.”
“What? Don’t be stupid… hey, is that true?”
Gray paid no heed to Alfie’s question, and continued speaking in a calm, matter-of-fact tone — to him, there was no time to waste on dispelling her doubts. At the same time, it was precisely because of Gray’s tone that Alfie realised that he was telling the truth.
“It would seem that ‘someone’ is deeply repulsed by Lelei-sama’s accomplishments. That person has brought out various reasons to convince themselves of the rightness of their prejudice: “Real live heroes are a pain to deal with”, or “I can’t stomach it if she’s not a citizen of the Empire” and so on… But no matter what reason that person brings out, the ultimate root cause of that problem, the reason why they can’t just let it go, is simply this — they are jealous.”
Itami nodded as he mumbled to himself. It would seem this was why Lelei had been targeted.
“However, the problem now is that the assassins they sent are not amateurs. The fact that Lelei-sama slew the Flame Dragon has drawn the full attention of the person pulling the strings, and so that person has sent skilled killers to carry out the mission. This one and Shandy-dono alone are not enough to stop these people. Therefore I hope you can all lend us a hand in this.”
“Of course. Who would say ‘no’ to protecting the people close to them?”
Itami’s prompt answer drew a keen stare from Lelei.
“Marvellous. I expected as much from one of the legendary Men in Green. Then, let us join hands and soundly smite these assassins!”
However, Itami shook his head as he heard Gray speak, and the look of his head seemed to say, “I might disappoint you, sorry about that”.
“Hey, do I really look that combative to you?”
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