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Chapter 6: Round Table

 Round Table

...Within the bustle of South Beim, a slight tenseness was beginning to come out.

The representatives having come from across the lands, with their guard duties, the number of wary knights and soldiers had gone up.

In a town of such circumstance, Elza Rusworth was troubled.

"... I'm lost."

There were too many people walking around. On top of that, she wasn't usually able to go out, and even if she did, her guards or someone that fit the part would be with her. While she had been to South Beim before, the rate of its development was so fast it already looked like a different town entirely.

"This road wasn't here before."

Elza felt like crying, but held back her tears. While she was fidgeting in a troubled manner, her appearance was that of a tall beauty with light blue hair. Her facial features were well set, but that only served to give an unnecessarily cold impression to her surroundings.

However, right now she was dressed in girly attire... albeit in long pants, her upper garments had frills woven in. Elza had ditched her guards with light feelings, wandering the town and ending up lost, and as she stood nervously...

There.

"What are you doing?"

Holding sweets in both hands, Shannon stood behind Elza.

"... She took my back."

And vexed that such a small girl had gotten the drop on her, Elza began to sit and sulk.

"How rude. And wait, aren't you Elza?"

Elza got up and leaned over Shannon.

"You're... Shannon? As I recall, you're Miranda's sister."

They had a dubious relation with one another, and they had few chances to ever talk. They were both candidates for Lyle's bride, and from Elza's point of view, Shannon was a rival as well.

From the sweets in her hands, Shannon took one and began to eat it.

"You're eating sloppily."

On Elza's words, Shannon looked fed-up.

"Oh shut it. When I'm in the mansion, my sweets are restricted. So when I get my allowance, I need to go out to relieve some stress."

Seeing Shannon eat such tasty-looking sweets, Elza's stomach groaned. Frantically suppressing her stomach, her pale skin turned a slight red in embarrassment.

"What? You're hungry? Then there's no helping it. I'll bless you with one of my treats."

Shannon's upturned eyes irritated her. But the sweets she held truly did look delicious.

(No, wait a second, Elza! You're supposed to be the representative of Rusworth. Taking food from such a little girl is...)

What Shannon held out was a sweet that was gaining popularity in South Beim.

"Oh, you don't want it? This one's quite popular in these parts, and it always sells out in the mornings, so you won't be able to buy anymore today."

By the way, the ones selling them were the Valkyries who hadn't forgotten the value of money. Each faction, in order to raise funds for their campaigns, had opened stores to spread their sweets and culinary prowess. They were automatons at the base... what's more, they were constructed to serve humans, so their skills were considerable.

The sweet fragrance tickled the insides of Elza's nose.

Just as she had started to reach her hand out, Shannon pulled it away.

She grinned.

"Hey now, if you want it, you have to properly tell me."

"I don't think I like you."

When Elza said that, Shannon turned to the side.

"Why do I have to be kind to my sister's enemy? And I'm being quite nice here. I'm giving you the best one, you know."

There, Elza stood.

"Are you knowledgeable about these parts? Didn't you tag along to Rhuvenns?"

Did Lyle leave you behind? Hit with a tone that implied it, Shannon suddenly burst into a loud voice.

"Hah!? There's no way I was left behind! Even if I look like this, I'm properly working. That guy's no good without me around."

"R-really? I'm not usually around, so I'm not too knowledgeable about the situation."

Shannon yelled, and Elza fell into a slump. Seeing her like that, Shannon let out a sigh.

"There's no helping it. Follow me. If you don't want to take anything from me, I'll introduce you to a good sweet shop. I happen to be an expert on the subject."

By the way, the experts on the city's food as a whole were May and Marina. They had already eaten almost everything the stalls and stores had to offer, and were quite famous names within South Beim.

"Are you sure? Am I not an enemy?"

When Elza said that, Shannon gave a fearless smile.

"Hmph, I let you be a friend for now."

She said with her face a little dyed. Elza looked delighted.

"I-I see!"

Rejoicing over the word friend, Elza was once treated as an ornamental queen. For that sake, she wasn't too good at dealing with people. Her relationship with Gracia had become dubious, and she was starving for words of friendship.

"I'll teach you how to have fun in this town. First we'll fill your stomach. Then we can go to the Trēs House shop for some shopping. If you put out Lyle's name, they'll happily give you things free of charge."

"L-Lyle's amazing."

Fidel was just putting the bill under Lyle's name and forwarding it to him, but Shannon didn't know that.

So like that the two of them played in South Beim, and by the time they got back, Elza's guard knights were angry, and Lyle was angry at the invoice he received.

It's been reported the two of them were last seen kneeling in their rooms in repentance, or not...

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The grand meeting hall prepared in South Beim.

Surrounding the round table were the representatives of various lands. Among them, I sat in an extravagant chair to show my authority, trying to stop my expression from crumbling.

In the meeting room, we were giving explanations to just how dangerous Bahnseim was. Starting from the Bahnseim royalty's annulment of its engagement to Faunbeux, as well as Celes' numerous abnormal actions.

And once we conveyed the hell happening within Bahnseim, the representatives looked doubtful as they nodded.

To be honest, no one was taking part in this alliance out of some sense of justice. In Bahnseim's east, there were many feudal lords who chose to follow me once they learned of the Walt House's defeat.

And seeing that the times were flowing in my direction, there were other countries and lords who put forth their cooperation.

On top of that, on top of the trauma carved in by the Sixth and Seventh, Faunbeux's main goal was the reclaim the land they lost.

There, the representative of a country adjacent to Cartaffs that didn't share a border with Bahnseim spoke up.

"This is terrible. It's true there is a need for us to do something about Bahnseim. But leader... for participation, just what sort of collateral can we expect in return?"

There, representing the four-nation alliance, Aura-san spoke.

"Before a threat so great, you'll demand a reward? If we don't take it down, it's clear that it will threaten the entire continent."

The reason Aura-san advocated for me wasn't... for my sake. It was to show the alliance's, and Zayin's level of authority.

In all actuality, Zayin had provided considerable cooperation in my initial rise. They were demanding a reward for that.

"... That's rich from a small country."

An uncertain air spread through the room. From the Jewel, the Third sounded exhilarated.

[Nice. This mish-mash air is truly splendid. It's a good thing you were able to get a majority of the Walt House's soldiers on your side. Serves to keep the others straight. Contrarily, if you had too few, even the main countries wouldn't attack Bahnseim full force.]

Aura-san spoke.

"I'll pretend I didn't hear those words. However, if you wish to leave this alliance, wouldn't it be to your best interest to voice that desire?"

It was a statement knowing full well they wouldn't say anything, but that was riling in excess.

Other than that...

"I wonder what to think of one who come's in later with an attitude worrying over nothing but the reward."

"Have you forgotten that without us, you would never be able to put up a decent fight?"

"When you've done nothing but wait and see to this point."

As such dissatisfactions came out one after a next, I quietly listened to what they had to say. From the Jewel, I heard some advice from the Third.

[Lyle, there's no point in seeking the best possible answer in a place like this. Based on feelings, humans are unable to take it obediently. At a time like this, let them argue all they want, and make a proposal once they've worn themselves out. Meetings are a test of endurance.]

It was a meeting to bury over position and everyone's recognition of one another. It was only natural if an extent of dispute broke out.

And one middle-aged man stood.

Representative of a country even further west than Faunbeux.

"Pardon me. The problem we've just raised is how far the inhumanities of Bahnseim run. And that it is only a matter of time before it spreads across the continent. But while I might not be one to say... it is truly quite questionable whether our leader hailing from the Walt House is truly worthy of being our leader."

That middle-aged man with a well-set beard apparently held the position of crown prince. As I thought over how sound his question was, the prince went on.

"An alliance of such scale. I'm sure it shall go down in history. Yet its supreme commander, our leader, is related to our enemy of Bahnseim... I'm sure I'm not the only one facing trouble to accept it."

Within the noisy meeting room, I quietly listened.

There, Gracia-san folded her arms as she glared at the crown prince.

"What are you trying to say?"

He shrugged his shoulders.

"Cajoling women to spread his influence. I see, that is certainly a way to go about it. Yet how similar to the one introduced here as the greatest of evils, Celes Walt. Like brother like sister... It is my belief we should use this space to reelect a leader."

The Third laughed. In the clatter of voices, I could hear voices of approval from those who found that most convenient.

[He's sure stabbed at a painful point. Now Lyle, what are you going to do?]

Then on the contrary, who would be able to stop Celes? It was because he knew they didn't have an answer that he sounded so delighted.

I kept my back straight.

"... The soldiers set to invade Bahnseim are currently estimated at one hundred and fifty thousand. And this is something that will surely increase given the time."

The Bahnseim Lords that made their way to Rhuvenns, and the displeased civilians that drifted ashore. It would keep going up.

The crown prince's eyebrow twitched.

"And what of it? Speaking to troop numbers, the one dispatching the greatest would be Cartaff's..."

Ludmilla spoke.

"Cartaffs can't mobilize and dispatch that many. Or are you to say you can send more? It isn't only troops. Can you secure a means of immediate communication between all the armies? What of your plan? Do you have a grasp of the situation in foreign lands? If you believe there is any more suited to the task than our leader, then name them here and now."

There, the representative of Faunbeux offered a word.

"It's because you remote countries are like this. Even if you can send any out, I'm sure thirty thousand is your limit. Your homeland is already on a different scale."

The continent had been divided for a long time, and he only had the point of view for small=scale land. If he thought over continental scale, he'd have come out with problems that couldn't be solved with the number of troops alone.

There, Djanpear's Jules clapped his hands.

"So the results are out. It's good that we've come to understand that. Well, for those that call themselves men, it's a good thing to try and aim for the top. But Djanpear will support our leader."

The major players nodded, and once their support of me was revealed, the other participants were pressured into silence.

The Third sounded intrigued.

[Well, even if you tell them to suddenly think on a continental level, it's impossible. Even I want to tilt my head down here. You've got plenty of useful Skills and automatons that give you the advantage at times like these.]

The existences of automatons like Monica was one thing, but the Skills the ancestors left to me really gave me an upper hand. If it was as an individual, Vanguard Skills like the ones in Aria's red gem were most useful.

If it were a unit or on a scale a little larger, I'm sure it would be Rearguard.

But when it came to commanding a large army, Support Skills were exceptionally proficient.

For the blue gem our Founder bought for its price to become something so great... This world is adrift with mysteries.

I sent a look around the participants and confirmed there were no objections.

"Then let's continue the meeting. I'm sure you're all busy."

But the only thing decided in the meeting to follow was that it was a busy time of year, and most would be unable to move.

According to the Third.

[Well, from spring to fall is generally busy. If they use their working force as their soldiers, they won't be able to move so easily.]

It seems.

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... Miranda's room.

Miranda froze as she looked at Elza, who'd dropped by on Shannon's invitation. While Elza looked embarrassed, Shannon stuck out her chest with an attitude as if to say, 'how about that'.

"... Eh? You're friends?"

Shannon hit a hand against her chest.

"That's right! Me and Elza are friends."

Elza spoke a little awkwardly.

"Since I came here, we got to talk a bit, and when we were forced to kneel together, we became friends."

Miranda nodded a few times with her stiff smile.

"I-I see."

(... I always knew she was a problematic one, but this is beyond my expectations. For Shannon to go and do it here...)

As Miranda looked at Elza, Shannon spoke up.

"Anyways, I've introduced you to my sister, so everything's fine. Now Elza, let's go to the dining hall. Today, the small jellies are for desert, and they roll around your mouth."

"Y-yeah. I want to roll too."

Despite her usual cold image, looking at her like this, she was just as bad as Shannon. Miranda calmly analyzed her... and made a dark smile.

Immediately changing it to a gentle one...

"If you're a friend of Shannon, you're a friend of mine. Let's get along, Elza."

There, Elza spoke delightedly.

"I-I see! Let's get along!"

Unlike her scramble for Lyle with Gracia, Elza looked happy. Originally, Miranda and Shannon would be treated the same as Gracia. But on top of a difference in situation, Elza was thirsting for friendship... making prey of herself, entangling herself in the spider's web.

Miranda pulled her by the hand.

"Then let's go to the dining hall. And after that a bath. Ah, do you want to sleep in the same room? It'll be a pajama party."

"Pajama party! I've heard of that before!"

Elza rejoiced.

(Rusworth... I always thought it was bad, and it was bad after all. I have to fortify Elza's surroundings some more. It's because her guard's so soft that I was able to slip in like this.)

And like that, Elza was added to Miranda's faction...