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Chapter 8: Fellow Pupil

Fellow Pupil

On the first floor of the inn, Miranda was making a troubled expression.

Nearby, her younger sister Shannon was drinking a juice made of wrung out fruits.

Perhaps the number of customers had risen, as there were more people around them than usual.

Novem, Aria and Clara were getting the luggage in order.

Monica was in the borrowed warehouse, conducting the final tunings on Porter.

I spoke to Miranda.

"Was it impossible to purchase tickets?"

She nodded.

"While the prices did shoot up a bit, the transportation system's in a bit of a panic, so I've been told it's best to avoid it for a while."

Reservations were full, and finding an inn was becoming more difficult by the day, or so I've heard.

"So we're stuck in Centralle for a while... I did want us to leave as fast we could."

Miranda spoke.

"We just came at a bad time. That aside, Shannon?"

"Yes?"

"You should help out a little as well. When everyone's so busy, why are you lazily drinking juice in a corner?"

Miranda sounded fed up, but the juice was something Shannon had purchased herself.

She was, for argument's sake, a party member, so she received an equal share in our rewards.

And Miranda took sisterly charge of Shannon's portion.

From that sum, she received enough free spending money to amount to a child's allowance.

"Eh~?"

Shannon made quite a reluctant face, and Miranda lowered her clenched fist.

She tried to avoid it, but Miranda had planned for that, and altered its trajectory ahead of time.

"Ow..."

"Hah, Lyle, you said you were going shopping, right?"

"Eh? Yeah, that's right."

We already had the necessary things assembled, but while shopping around, I could observe the present state of the city.

I hadn't noticed it before, but the residents of Centralle seemed to be looking at the breaking of the engagement in quite a favorable light.

And the fact that Celes was to be the next Queen was quite an essential one to their favor.

By the time I became aware of it, the whole country had already gone amiss.

Even if it wasn't everywhere, the Walt House had repeatedly conversed with all the influential lords and authority figures.

While I was in my room, the world outside was being changed by my sister's will.

"In that case, get Shannon to carry your bags. She's been doing nothing but laze around as of late, so work her to the bone."

"Lyle, it isn't possible for you to use such a cute and lovable lass as a pack mule, right?"

Shannon made an endearing pose, so I smiled and spoke.

"Of course not. If they were cute, that is. While your outward appearance may fit the terms, your heart's simply awful, so I'll be putting you to full use."

As I said that, Shannon...

"... Didn't you say you'd never let me regret it?"

"Guhah! ... You're bringing that up here?"

I heard the Third's voice from within the Jewel.

[Hahaha, that one was a nice one. I simply can't wait for the next.]

The Fourth as well.

[Personally, I don't rank that one too high.]

(T-these guys are...)

I let out a sigh.

"Then just tagging along and walking around outside a bit is fine, isn't it? Now go and ready yourself."

When I said that, Miranda nodded.

"Yes, Shannon, get yourself ready."

Shannon drained her cup to the last drop, and sluggishly ascended the stairs.

"It's too cold for anything fun to happen outside."

Seeing Shannon throw out nothing but complaints, Miranda let out a sigh.

I gave a wry smile.

-

-

-

Even when it was around noon, my breath was white, and a biting cold pierced my body.

I walked with Shannon, holding her hand so we wouldn't lose one another.

Shannon spoke.

"Even if you said you'd be shopping, I thought there was nothing left to shop for."

She was staring at me quite intently, so I covered my face with my right hand.

"Then we can just buy something small. I mean, Aria was circling around all the food carts last I checked."

"Don't group me with Aria. Even like this, I'm an ephemeral noble beauty."

"Former, that is. Look, if you see anything that piques your interest, just tell me. I'll just be listening in on the idle banter floating around the area."

While walking, I craned my ears in to the voices of the surrounding city folk.

"Did you hear? It seems Celes-sama's finally arrived in Centralle."

"That's later than scheduled. Is she alright?"

"Come to think of it, there was quite a ruckus at the gate the other day..."

Hearing that, I stopped in my tracks.

Shannon tilted her head.

"What's wrong?"

"N-no... it's nothing. (So my parents are here... and Celes)."

She spoke with a slight strain in her voice.

"Very well. Anyways, buy me that one."

What Shannon was pointing to was a stall that was selling accessories.

Within it, these was a selection of precious metals that all truly seemed quite cheap lined up.

Looking through such a selection, Shannon pointed her finger at a single one.

"This one."

"This? No, it's cheap so I don't really mind, but... wait! Isn't this exactly what your allowance is there for?"

Just as I was about to buy it for her, I noticed.

Shannon did have money on her person.

And as I noticed that, she audibly clicked her tongue.

"Tsk, can't you treat a girl to this much at least?"

"I'm fine with that, but you should really do something about that personality of yours."

After I reluctantly paid, Shannon happily put the purchased product in her pocket.

It didn't look anything great to me, but if Shannon's that happy with it, then perhaps it's something special.

Of course...

"Now I can brag to onee-sama. I've finally one-upped her."

... Perhaps there isn't anything so deep to it.

After distancing ourselves from the stall, I noticed an acquaintance of mine nearby.

The one singing the song filling the area was Eva.

She had finished her piece on the slaying of the Gryphon, and announced it to Centralle.

I came right in time for its conclusion. An applause followed by the sound of metal on metal as small copper and normal copper coins were tossed her way.

"A minstrel? It's that elf from before, right? Come to think of it, I've never properly heard the reading or singing of an actual minstrel before."

As Shannon said as such, I took her by the hand and headed to Eva's side.

After her customers happily dispersed, Eva draped a coat over her stage garment.

"Done already?"

She started picking up the coins scattered around.

"Sorry~ the next performer's coming, so I have to vacate the stage... wait, Lyle? Are you on a date with that girl?"

On her teasing eyes, I gave a sardonic smile.

"Close enough. Shannon says she wants to hear the song of a minstrel. Lend a hand, why don't you?"

"Ah, you don't need to worry about those..."

I got down to help collect the change, and deposited them in her tin.

Seeing her can filled to the brim, Eva looked quite delighted.

"Maybe it's time to find a larger container. But these sorts of trends come with the times, so if the customers stop coming the moment I enlarge it... yeah~."

While I watched Eva trouble herself, Shannon pulled on my arm.

In quite a demanding fashion.

"Hey, I'll pay the fee, so can you pick an arbitrary spot and sing? Shannon tagged along on the Gryphon expedition, so if possible, a different song."

Eva thought for a bit.

"A different song, is it... In that case, the ones that were quite popular until quite recently, of the battle between those foreign countries,[The Two Maiden of the Great War], [Holy Woman]... but [Queen] is good from a story point of view. For a young girl, perhaps a princess is more appealing than knights and generals."

Those grandiose names coming out only excited Shannon further.

While watching the elf tire herself out, I spoke.

"For a meal and a song, three large coppers. How does that sound?"

Eva was on favorable terms. She consented with pleasures.

"Great! I'll do it. Since it's come to this, I'll sing it through to the end!"

It seems the terms I put out were quite extraordinary to her.

Shannon was also happy.

Both her arms were flapping, and she gave off an impression younger than her actual age. Perhaps that's just how high her expectations were.

"Really!? Yay!"

For her to be so excited at hearing the songs of a professional, she really is like a child in those aspects.

"So I'm to give a personal performance to spend the afternoon... as I thought, it was right for me to leave the tribe!"

Was it really right?

As I thought that, the one who had first-hand experience running away from home, the Sixth...

[... In this girl's case, she's a dreamer, so it's fine for now, but I'd appreciate it if she didn't forget there's a family back home worrying for her.]

There, the Fifth and Seventh.

[There's not a fragment of persuasive power when you're the one to say it.]

[Quite right.]

He didn't say anything further, but it wasn't hard to imagine the Sixth hanging his head.

I looked around, and addressed Eva.

"It seems the next performer is here."

The ones I referred to removed their coats, displaying considerably light garments within this hellish cold.

It looks like they were thematically dressed for winter, but just looking at them made me feel cold.

The three-person group of elves consisted of one singer, and two with instruments.

Eva glared at them.

"Oh my, if it isn't Eva of that bumpkin Nihil something or another."

Flicking back her golden hair, was a female elf clearly trying to provoke her.

"Looking down on me just because you were raised in the city... you're still just a third rate who's never even sung in a shop before! Same as me! Same ground here!"

To her rebuttal, the opponent also...

"It's because guys like you keep flooding in, that getting a gig like that is so hectic! Why not be a little more mindful of your brethren who've chosen to settle down!?"

Looks like elves have their troubles.

I gripped Shannon's impatient hand, and waited for Eva to finish.

"Brethren? You're all just enemies. Enemies I say! And the Nihil are the oldest tribe there is among the elves. I'd like it you didn't look down on it."

"It's exactly that pride of yours that makes me hate you all! Just because you have a few more songs than the rest, you think you're such hot stuff!?"

"What? Jealous? Oh course, you barely have anything to sing in the first place."

"Dammmmn you!"

Yep, there's quite a bit going on with elves. The two male elves behind looked on the verbal brawl with mild amazement.

Noticing us, they came to apologize.

"Sorry. It's something of a greeting, and it'll end after a while."

"Ah, yes."

"I really am sorry. She had a bit of popularity, but ever since Eva flowed in, there's been a little of a..."

As they did seem to be honestly troubles, I didn't offer a complaint.

And like that, I waited for Eva's quarrel to end, before grabbing a bite to eat.

-

-

-

The meal ended, and we heard our share of songs. We were returning down the darkening roads of Centralle.

It was a road without much traffic.

Snow had started to fall and build on the ground.

(And in this cold, we finally get snow.)

We tread over the snow as we pressed on.

After the meal, we reserved a number of hours, and Shannon listened to many a poem and song.

She seemed satisfied, but on the other hand, Eva was quite worn out.

"Wow! Today really was fun. Especially that story of those two war maidens glaring at one another."

The story she spoke of was of the leaders of two small countries.

The rulers took the initiative to lead their armies, and from the sheer violence of the affair, the two of them were feared as the Maidens of War, and Blood Queens, and other names of the sort.

"No, wasn't that one just too scary? Why do they have to fight so many times every year? It just sounds idiotic."

They were countries that fought numerous times on their border, and mercenary troupes occasionally went to join in, but looking at the strength of those two most turned back at the quick estimate of their inevitable casualty count.

Eva spoke with a tired expression.

"Well I'm glad you enjoyed it. I've only heard the tale, and never seen it in person, but it seems the number of battles has only increased over the past few years. Though the countries had always been at each other's' throats."

Hearing that, the Fifth even...

[... Isn't it that? Rather than going at it for real every single years, are you sure they aren't setting up rules beforehand?]

... Began the supposition it was staged.

The one to agree was the Fourth.

[Yeah, there are wars like that. Because killing one another only to get destroyed by external powers once weakened is simply idiotic.]

(So it can go like that. When you think of war, my image of it as a considerable tragedy is the stronger one, though.)

Largely due to the memories of the Third, I'll bet.

Eva looked at me and grinned.

"Those Queens, and the Holy Woman are all the same. It's always the pretty ones, you hear that, Mr. Hero."

I cleared my throat.

In the past, I ended up declaring my wish for Eva to pass down my epic of heroism. While I was in a spot of high tensions due to a Growth, that doesn't change the fact that I can be chided with it.

I tried to change the topic, but Shannon, whose hand I was gripping, suddenly stopped.

"What's wrong?"

"... That can't be... why..."

Her eyes were opened quite wide. Her amber pupils were giving off a golden shine, and in the direction they were pointed, was a knight with four subordinate soldiers.

Seeing the equipment of those men, I could understand it at once.

From within the Jewel, the Seventh...

[Lyle, move at once. They've yet to notice our presence!]

The Third didn't seem to understand it.

[What? What's up? You know them?]

The knight was speaking with a city resident. The resident pointed at us, and received a silver coins from the knight's wallet.

"L-Lyle, that hurts."

It seems I had started gripping her hand too hard. Shannon grimaced, so I let go

"S-sorry. More importantly, we should really vacate the..."

I turned to address Eva, when a voice called out to us.

"Could you wait a moment? We've business with that singer over there. I hear she has a wonderful singing voice. Our lord Celes is intent on hearing of the famed slaying of the Gryphon."

It was quite a kind voice, and the knight it came from was a delicate man with silky long hair.

He approached with a smile, but as per usual, he showed no openings to take advantage of.

The uniforms of this man, as well as his soldiers, was that of the Walt House's.

"Oh?"

HE finally noticed me.

"... You're Lyle, aren't you?"

Alfred Virden's voice lowered, while the soldiers following him raised their guards and began moving to surround us.

The Seventh muttered in a provocative tone.

[Not a single honorific for our Lyle? My how high and mighty you've gotten, brat of the Virdens.]

I stood in front of him as if to protect the two girls.

"It sure has been a while. Is that what I should be saying here? I really didn't think we'd be meeting here, mind you."

In truth, I was well aware of the rumors of Celes and her movements. That's why I purposefully gathered information in places I wouldn't get to meet her.

(My Skills can't identify personal identity. I never thought these guys would come out here.)

Those around had wide grins on their faces.

The soldiers weren't Alfreds, but ones of the Walt House.

"The washout failure of the Walt's is pulling around two woman in a secluded place like this? What's more, an elf and a young... hm? Aren't you Shannon of the Circry house?"

It appears that Alfred knew about Shannon.

The girl hid herself behind me.

"W-who are you lot!?"

As Eva yelled out at the soldiers surrounding us, Alfred breathed out a sigh.

"So you're Lyle's woman. Well that's interesting in itself, I guess. I'm sure Celes-sama would praise me for it. The main issue at hand is how to get you to come along, it seems."

Perhaps he thought himself the absolute strongest here, as Alfred went on with considerable extravagance.

And it's true that I only had a portable dagger on me at the moment.

Not reliable enough to handle these numbers.

The Sixth let out a voice.

[Men of the Walt House? They sure seem arrogant.]

The Fifth was displeased as well.

[How lamentable. Back then, I'm sure I taught them to observe everything from below, and crawl and struggle to the highest point...]

Fed up, the Third addressed the Fifth.

[If everyone had power, perhaps that's how it would be. But this child's a Virden, I see.]

The Fourth sounded angry.

[The parasitic house that put us through hell and back. The virdens.]

The Seventh spoke.

[Lyle, do it! We'll permit it!]

(I don't think it's a problem of permission, but... it doesn't look like they'll let us pass.)

By the look of things, Alfred wanted to shame me. What's more, as he proclaimed it as something for Celes' sake, I couldn't accept it personally.

He was once a senior disciple of mine, but I'm sure I can bring myself to hate him.

"Immobilizing him and taking them both sounds nice too. Or perhaps before his very eyes..."

While lost in his own fantasies, Alfren drew the sabre at his waist.

But what I was watching wasn't the blade in his hands.

"... Oy."

"Huh?"

Alfred sounded clearly displeased that I interrupted his conversation with himself.

But that was irrelevant to me.

What I wanted to know about was the dagger hung at the man's belt.

It was one I was familiar with, and not something that should be in his hands.

"Where did you obtain that dagger?"

"This? It's something Celes-sama bestowed on me as a reward. Jealous? Unlike a washout like you, I'm blessed with splendid..."

"Not that. I mean where did Celes get it?"

Even when I started glaring at Alfred, the surrounding soldiers did not react. But the moment I blurted out my sister's name without an honorific, they all pulled their swords at once.

I could see some considerable training behind their movements. The quality of these soldiers really was different.

"... Add on a -sama, trash. For one like you, being left alive was more compassion than you deserve! You can't imagine how much hatred flows through these veins simply knowing you carry the same blood as her's."

"... Yeah, no I don't really care. What you think of me doesn't really matter. It's just that the dagger over there is something my friend had on him. Where did she get it!?"

When I yelled out, my anger seemed to put Alfred in a better mood.

"Those three blockheaded adventurers, you mean? They refused Celes-sama's invitation, and received the blessing of being dealt with her personally. It's a dagger that became Celes-sama's at that point in time. I'm sure this blade is more honored in my hands than in the service of those worthless fools!"

Shannon trembled on the laughs of Alfred and his men.

And Eva...

"Hey, these men are strange in the head. If we don't run, then..."

Alfred's expression turned severe, as he turned to Eva and spoke.

His attitude, his voice was completely different from when he first called out to her.

"When Celes-smam is gracing you to let you play your tunes for her ears, you turn to run? A mere elf thinks to turn against her? ... Cut off her limbs. Even without them, her voice should come out."

"Yes!"

The soldiers approached, and I snapped my fingers.

A box contained in a magic circle emerged in the ground, opened on its own, and shot out a sabre.

After that sword came into my hand, the box and circle vanished altogether.

On the approaching soldiers, I used a Skill.

"... Up n' Down."

The Fourth's Skill caused all of them to lose the sharpness in their movements. But even so, they continued closing in to carry out the orders given.

From within the Jewel, the Fourth issued out orders.

[They sure are trained. Also, using Skills didn't fluster them in the slightest. For them to be so proficient, 'tis a pity. Lyle, if the opponent is too strong, these sorts of Skills won't have too much an effect, or they'll be able to arbitrarily cancel it out at some point. Don't let your guard down... of course...]

I raised my left hand, and used magic.

"Lightning!"

An electric discharged assailed the assailants, making them collapse to the ground. The output wasn't that high, and I doubt their lives were in too much danger.

[... When it comes to ability, at least, Lyle's the better, but...]

With the soldiers incapacitated, I heard some screams from my surroundings.

While it may have been a relatively deserted street, it looks like we've been spotted.

"Okay, Eva, take Shannon and...!"

I blocked an attack with my sabre.

The one repeatedly thrusting at me with a sabre of his own was Alfred.

"I felt that one a little, Lyle. Using magic against your senior swordsman, do you not find it the underhanded tricks of a coward?"

I repelled his assault, took some distance, and fixed my stance.

Alfred learned under the same teachings as me, and would make an annoying opponent to take down.

Behind me, Eva was clutching onto Shannon.

I wanted to let them escape, but despite my magic, the Soldiers were already on their feet.

Eyes locked on me, about to slash.

Alfred spoke.

"You lot, I'll hold down Lyle. Get the other two."

The Soldiers sprung to action, and I tried to protect the two, but Alfred shot a thrust.

Retreating a step, I turned half my body to avoid it, swinging at him horizontally.

Intercepting my blade, he loosed a kick at me.

I took the blow, using it to move backwards, and cut one of the soldiers approaching Shannon and Eva.

However, my attack was only to be blocked, with its target taking distance.

The Third sighed.

[... Lyle, you're no longer in a situation where you can hold back. You're at a numerical advantage at that. If you continue going at it as you are, Shannon-chan and Eva-chan'll die, you know.]

The Fifth agreed.

[Resolve yourself. Also, get the hell out of there already.]

(I know that.)

I clenched the Jewel, and got into position again.

Alfred watched my movements and narrowed his eyes.

"This boy's better than I thought."

On the soldier's words, he gave out an order in an amused tone.

"Then we'll crush Lyle first. Celes-sama is waiting expectantly for that elf's song. If we waste any more time, then Celes-sama will succumb to boredom."

And for that sake alone, the men swung their swords at my neck. Seeing their plight was enough to make my head hurt.

And at the same time...

"I'll have you return that dagger."

I decided to reclaim Rondo-san's dagger from their bodies.

All while both my fear and anger for Celes rose in level.