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Chapter 8: Connection

Connection

As a general rule, Skills grew more powerful the more stages they attained.

For those that have Skills that strengthen their body, it's generally the case that they get an even stronger version for its expansions.

But there exist exceptions in everything.

My first stage Skill [Experience] was a shady-as-all-hell one that stated that it gave more experience than one would usually obtain.

And with that, I was able to constitute for my constitution that required a large amount of experience, and rarely experienced Growth in the first place.

But then there's the second stage. [Connection].

It was a Skill related to bonds.

Nothing to do with obtaining more experience; something completely different.

And I would have preferred just gaining more experience. Even if my constantly active [Experience] sucked up quite a bit of Mana already.

Even if the amount consumed increased a little, my Mana was plentiful enough to support it at this point in time.

The problem is that something completely irrelevant had come out.

After encountering the quilin, Shannon had to go and make me sound dubious, so I was going to explain it and change the subject.

It really was bad timing to explain that I had the wills of five different ancestors recorded in the Jewel.

(I really should have just explained that one before it came down to this.)

I mean, the main reason was just that explaining it would be a pain.

T-the truth is, I'm... perpetually chaperoned!

I did have the sentiment so as not to say it, and a bit of pride so as not to have others think of me as such.

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Night.

A fire alit near porter, I was offered a warm drink in a metallic cup.

Everyone was waiting for me to start talking.

Shannon had her eyes on the Jewel, so the ancestors remained silent.

(... Really bad timing on my part.)

Shannon and Eva were speaking about the Jewel.

And they already knew that Celes had one quite similar. Because of that, if voices rose against the artifact, things really would get troublesome.

Doubtful stares around, albeit a small portion looked on with intrigue.

"... The truth is, there's something I've been concealing."

A white steam rose from the cup, and occasionally a cold wind would come to sway it. I stared at it as I quietly continued.

"It's about my Skills."

Shannon tilted her head.

"Hey, why is it Skills? Just talk about the blue Jewel on your neck already..."

"Because they're related!"

Shannon was taken aback, the contents of her cup leaping a little, some of it ending up on the ground.

I apologized, and explained my skills.

"My Skill... [Experience] is one to acquire a greater amount of, well, experience. It's perpetually active."

Hearing that, Eva...

"Uwah, that's really convenient. Support Class, was it? Can't you live on that one alone?"

I nodded, and started on the second Skill.

"It's just the second stage [Connection] is... one to build links."

Clara had been raising her cup to her mouth, but she stopped and looked at me.

"I can't think it a greater application of the first."

I gulped down a sip, and dampened the inside of my mouth before continuing.

"It's a Skill to create special lines with me at the center. You can convey mutual understanding... right, it's because that activated that the quilin got angry, it seems."

The moment I said that, everyone's eyes went sharp.

Novem still sent some doubtful eyes.

(Okay! Break through like this!)

I began to realize that this story had much more persuasive power than the unprovable existences of the ancestors.

To speak the whole truth, I'd have to go from the Jewel to an explanation of the Ancestors' Skills.

And I'd have to tell the Fifth's story as well.

And I'm fine with saying all of that, but it would be a pain if misunderstandings cropped up. Like of whether I was being manipulated and whatnot.

If that mindset came about, it would be quite hard to solve the misunderstanding.

Because the truth as it was, was that Celes' change had a clear relation to the Jewel in her hands. And Novem had already explained that to everyone.

I don't want to be thought of as the same, and having them seal away the Jewel truly will be troublesome.

Aria sighed.

"Meaning it got angry because you used a Skill? ... so it's your responsibility after all."

The look she sent me was quite a cold one, but within my heart...

(Okay! Now talks are proceeding in the direction of Skills!)

If I had just opened up earlier, I wouldn't have to go through this... and it isn't just once or twice I've had such regrets.

Miranda...

"If that's true, then you're quite something, Lyle. That mutual understanding thing is interesting in itself. It's as if you awakened to another Skill altogether."

The first was experience amplification.

The second mutual understanding with comrades.

They really were totally different Skills. But if you ask if that's what prevented me from saying it, I'd have to say that isn't the case.

(Ah~ should I say it? But if I don't... I don't really want to.)

The moment the Skill had manifested, its name and uses had come into my head quite clearly, as if I was simply remembering something I'd been taught none too long ago.

It was why everyone could understand how to use their own Skills. Naturally, I knew exactly how to use Connection.

I understood it, but I didn't want to say it up to now.

(If I say it, another strange misunderstanding will pop up, won't it...)

I really didn't want to talk about it, and if possible, I didn't want to use it either. Its performance was spectacular, but the method to make the lines was no good at all.

I myself thought it questionable.

Miranda urged me on.

"And so, why is it you haven't used that Skill on us? Do you perhaps not want to be peeped on?"

I averted my eyes from her grin.

"... Once the lines are made, I'm the one managing them, so peeping is impossible. Perhaps it's best to think of it as the ability to hear each other's' voices regardless of the distance or obstacles in between? Ah, maybe distance is relevant, though."

Clara raised her glasses with the tip of her finger, returning them to their original positioning, before speaking a little excitedly.

"That's amazing. I'm sure there was a similar basic Skill in the Support Class, but just having it was enough to get scouted immediately. Because it's a Skill to let a group move more efficiently."

Everyone present got a little excited, but there, Novem...

"... Lyle-sama, why have you never used it up to now? Is there some sort of problem?"

Thinking the time had finally come, I gulped down what remained in my cup. It had become lukewarm, but on the contrary, quite easy to down.

Monica approached, and poured some more.

"... It's a kiss."

Eva looked at me strangely.

"What?"

"To establish the lines, what's needed is a kiss! What's more you have to do it every time you want to use it! Would any of you really believe it if I said something like that!"

Everyone made complicated expressions, as they looked at me. Aria opened her mouth.

"J-just a little k-kiss and it's over, right? What, it's not l-like we're kids or anything."

Her face was deep red, and even if she said something like that, she held no persuasive power. Among us, isn't Aria the most innocent to things like that?

"Not a light one. To make a line, you need the deeper variant! Not the one a parent gives their child!"

Her face still flushed, Aria began muttering what sounded like, 'd-deep...' as she hung her head.

Making a complex expression, Miranda let out a sigh.

"Hah... so Lyle, what you're saying is as follows? You wanted to make a line with that quilin, and were going to try and... kiss it?"

Reluctant as I was, all I could do was nod.

"... Yes. That's exactly right."

Clara said, 'well of course it'd get angry,' while Eva: 'I'm sure there are people who love animals enough to do that.' She was making a cramped smile.

Shannon drew back.

"So you angered it by trying to kiss it? Are you an idiot?"

I knew it was coming, but it dealt more damage than anticipated when it actually reached my ears.

Miranda was sending a fed-up glance.

Novem put her hand to her mouth, thinking deeply over something.

Monica...

"Good grief... if you'd just said it, then I'd have given you as many kisses as you wanted, shallow or deep as they need be! Now, chicken dickwad... let's adult kiss, and make a line with all due haste."

I held back Monica's head with my left hand, as she approached with both arms spread, and gave it to her straight.

"No, you already have some sort of Mana line formed, so a kiss is unnecessary. Great, ain't it? I don't have to kiss you to form a line with you."

Hearing that, Monica collapsed on the spot.

"You'll lock tongues with an animal, yet won't kiss the world's ideal maid Monica... even so, I shall serve you by your side to the end. Oh pitiful Monica. She shall never lose to something like a quilin!"

(This girl is a pain...)

The air had become quite strained, but I felt relief that I had somehow overcome the situation.

Though I got the feeling I lost more than what I gained.

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Midnight.

I confirmed that everyone besides the watch was asleep, and carried my consciousness into the Jewel.

In the room with the round table, the Fifth was waiting.

He was sitting in his chair, but it seems he couldn't calm down.

His elbows were atop the table, one hand under his jaw, and the other incessantly tapping the conference table.

(TL: I just realized this, but English really doesn't have a synonym for table, does it...)

[You're sure late.]

"I was misunderstood quite a bit, but I somehow managed to explain it. Because of that, I'm being taken for a pervert."

When I said that, the Fifth tilted his head.

[How does something like kissing an animal make one a pervert? To an animal, that's just something of a greeting, dammit. Oh, right. Come to my room at once.]

Saying that, the Fifth brought me with him through his room of memories.

The Fifth's room was a space like a stable that continued on a long way.

But it wasn't just livestock contained within.

Various animals of various sizes carried out their lives.

"Um, this is?"

[The rearing pen I prepared. At the start, it was just things like cats and dogs. Next came the birds, and I think it was there that the brakes broke. When it came to these guys, they just kept on increasing.]

No, aren't you the one increasing them?

When I thought that, the door in the back of the relatively vast stable went and opened by itself.

Inside, white with golden mane, and a small horn with a rounded off tip growing from its head, lay a quilin.

"So its neck was injured?"

A bandage was wrapped around it, and perhaps it was wary, as it rolled itself into a ball in the depths of the room. The bandage around its neck had turned red, and it doesn't look like it had laid a hand on its meal.

[I gave her the name May. I mean, even as a quilin, she didn't develop any affection, try as I may.]

(TL: The original pun here is that Mei means niece, and he's joking that a niece never warms to her strange uncle.)

The Fifth patted a cowering May, but as we were within his memories, she didn't show a reaction.

Footsteps were audible from the entrance to the stable. Two had entered it, and among them was a middle aged Fifth fully loaded with bags and parcels.

The Fifth of memories looked at May, and...

[You, if you don't eat, you'll never get healthy.]

Then is the one with him a veterinarian? The man's shaking in his boots.

[Dear viscount, if you detain a quilin, it will call for its comrades, and shower you with retribution, or so I've heard. You should return her to the wild as soon as possible. And just what will the surrounding lords say when...]

Turning to the vet, Fredricks scoffed.

[And what of it? She was injured, so I took her back and treated her. I haven't the slightest ill-intent. And with her injured too badly to even walk straight, you'll toss her out to the wayside?]

For him to show so much love to an animal...

(No, you should really give a little more of that love to your family, you know.)

Is what I ended up thinking, but I kept my mouth shut.

From a bag, he took out an expensive-looking medicine, and handed it over to the veterinarian.

[If it's insufficient, I'll assemble as much as you'll need. All you have to do is treat this child.]

He took the medicine, and started the treatment.

The quilin warily took up a posture to attack with its horn, widening its wound, and dyeing the bandages a deeper red. Pale blue lines sparked about, but the Fifth held her down.

[Hurry!]

[V-viscount, that's dangerous!]

The veterinarian hastily began administering the medicine, but when he was done, it was the Fifth that was in tatters.

He immediately carried him out and shouted.

[Someone come!! The Viscount is...!!]

And within that panicked voice, the Fifth laughed.

[Ah, right, something like that did happen. I'd totally forgotten it.]

I felt some pity for the fet. With the treatment over, May lay down, and closed her eyes.

Seeing that, the Fifth...

[Adorable, ain't she?]

"No, when you think of how big she's gotten in seventy to eighty years, it's more of a shock than anything else to me."

The one I met was a splendid adult quilin.

Hearing the Fifth's voice, I remember how she had directed her hostility for some reason.

"Um, so... why did she act so hostile to me? There wasn't anything at the start."

When I said that, the Fifth put his hand to his chin in thought.

[... No, I cannot understand it. In the first place, it's strange she even came up to you. Quilins race across the sky bringing ruin to evil. That's why they're known as divine beasts. They never try to approach humans.]

Quilins were said to be good luck, and were renowned for bringing prosperity to the house of whoever caught one.

But in truth, there were countless examples of where many had failed while trying to catch one.

There were some success stories out there, but they were the small minority.

Not just within a country, quilins spanned continents killing monsters on the way, hating all contact with humans. No, they always maintained a set distance.

But as long as humans didn't launch attacks on them, they wouldn't do anything in return.

"But she definitely reacted to your voice, right Fifth? You didn't do anything to buy any resentment, did you?"

[... Hey. I may have failed completely in marriage and child rearing, but I've not a single failure to report in relations to animals!]

I get the feeling that's no good in itself.

"Then why was May so angry?"

[And here we are in my memories trying to find that one out. Now let's go to the next one.]

I followed him as he walked off, the scenery around us changing.

We were in the courtyard of the mansion.