Autumn was soon approaching, and the mornings and evenings began to get colder little by little.
In a corner of the castle, the training grounds for the knights were crowded.
“Ah……Yes, like that……! Hit him right there……! “
“Oh my, oh my, Chris. Do you want Ain to win that much? “
“Of course! I’m sure Ain-sama will win without a doubt! “
Chris showed an excited look while sitting next to Olivia in a corner of the training grounds.
Before the eyes of this pair was a small stage similar to an arena.
And in the middle of it stood Ain together with a knight from the castle, having a mock battle.
Ain was a bit taller than average, but still, he was a young boy.
However, rather than power, it was his skills and tactics wielding a sword that shook even a full-fledged knight.
“Damn……So that was your aim……I won’t let you……! “
To put it badly, he kept moving around, but that also meant he had high maneuverability, so he moved around the knight without being hit.
This could be reflected in the knight who had lost his strength and was now out of breath.
(Thanks to the Dullahan’s magic stone, I can make up for my physique……! It’s a little unfair, but I have to make use of what I can……!)
He didn’t use the Phantom Hand but competed with his sword and physical strength.
However, it was no lie that he was able to cross swords like this all thanks to the great growth in his status.
Still, there was also the fact that this was thanks to Ain’s great efforts and skills.
“……I will……Win! “
Dodging the knight’s sword being swung down, Ain closed the gap into his bosom.
He tried to avoid it, but Ain had already made his move perfectly.
A moment later, Ain swung his dagger up.
The dagger was touching the knight’s neck.
At that point, the knight slowly stood straight up.
“──I-It’s my defeat.”
Then, the knight dropped his sword to the ground, raising his hands in loss.
Today, a little over a year had passed since he came to Ishtalika.
And Ain had finally won against an elite knight of the castle.
Ain only realized this after hearing the sound of the wooden sword rolling on the ground.
“I-I won……I’ve won, Okaa-sama! “
His bright smile oozed a strong sense of accomplishment and joy.
In a light rush, he approached the seat where Olivia was at, expressing his bliss.
“You really worked hard……Ain. It was very cool.”
Olivia embraced Ain, not worrying about the sweat or caring about her dress getting dirty.
“Chris-san, thank you very much for always teaching me how to use a sword! “
After that, he turned towards Chris, his sword teacher, and bowed down to her.
Perhaps because she was being bowed by the crown prince, she panickily shook her hands.
“A-Ain-sama! You can’t do something like that……! Well, I’m happy too, so please just raise your head! “
Contrary to appearances, hers was a pretty and cute gesture that paired with her beautiful hair that seemed like gold threads made her look like a blooming flower.
Maybe because she was clumsy, but there was a charm in her wealth of emotions.
“……Come on, Chris, you too praise him? “
P-Praise? Chris panicked while repeating that word in a mutter.
How should I praise him? Or rather, is it alright for me to praise the crown prince?
Her heart was flustered, but after a few deep breaths, she came up with an idea.
“W-Well then, please excuse me. This is not being rude, okay……! “
Keeping the urge to argue about the meaning of those words to himself, Ain just stood still, waiting to see what she would do.
Slowly, she approached Ain, bending her waist, and bringing her eyes closer to him.
“──You’ve worked really, really hard, right? The previous fight was tough, yet splendid…… “
Wondering what to do next, she folded her knees and brought her eyes closer to him, slowly reaching out.
When her hand touched Ain’s head, she gently patted it.
(I sure get my head patted a lot……Well, I’m small, so it can’t be helped.)
As her long hair fell in front of her chest, a gentle, calming scent wrapped around Ain.
“Ah……U-Uhh……Thank you very much.”
He was taken aback and confused, but his shyness still won, so he had a complicated expression on his face.
“A-Are? Did you hate it, after all……!? P-Please don’t make that sort of face……! “
“Seriously, Chris. Ain didn’t hate that──”
That’s right, I didn’t hate it at all. Rather……
“Chris-san! It’s alright! Don’t make such a sad face! You too, Okaa-sama! It’s embarrassing, so you don’t have to say it! “
The sad face of a beautiful woman in front of him was quite a shocking sight.
If even one tear had peaked through her eyes, it would have had an incredible destructive power.
“Fufu. Even though she’s so cute……What a shame.”
Olivia made a gesture with her tongue sticking out, like a pranking child.
She’s still as beautiful and cute as always, Olivia praised her in her mind.
Even so, the mood was good.
He felt his body filled with vitality, and his mind was clear and composed.
Right then──The sound of applause reached his ears.
“You did it, Ain-sama! “
Before Ain noticed it, Lloyd had already approached him wearing a big smile.
“Well then, you can’t afford to lose to the Prince you’re supposed to protect. Go run around the outer walls until the sun sets.”
The knight though they should be praising Ain.
But he just bowed down towards Ain and Olivia, and as ordered, he started running from the training grounds.
“Lloyd-san? Uhmm, aren’t you being a bit too harsh?”
“There’s no way that’s the case. You’ve indeed become more reliable, Ain-sama, but as the Grand Marshal, if he does nothing about it──I simply can’t forgive him.”
“Having said that, this was all just thanks to my skills and that I just happened to be able to absorb that magic stone……”
That’s why he felt a bit sorry for beating the knight.
“Not at all. This is the result of your own hard work, Ain-sama! “
Lloyd returned in a strong tone.
“Without the Gift of Training, you wouldn’t have been able to use that power in this way! That’s why, all of this is the result of your own efforts, Ain-sama! “
Agreeing with the Marshal’s opinion, both Olivia and Chris nodded deeply.
And, for being praised so directly, Ain couldn’t help but laugh a little in embarrassment.
“Still……Slowly but steadily, you’re looking more and more like a Prince.”
This was not empty praise, but Lloyd’s own admiration.
The training equipment was covered in dirt, the healed wounds on his hands from wielding a sword, and his brown hair was disheveled by sweat.
Those weren’t ambiguous words, Lloyd was happy seeing Ain’s appearance because he knew of his sense of purpose.
“──一You’re approaching His First Majesty one step at a time, Ain-sama.”
And so, he spoke about the existence that Ain longed for.
“Well……With you being this dirty, nobody would believe you’re the Crown Prince.”
Being covered in sweat, dirt, and calluses, it was true that this was not the image one had of a Prince.
“──Well then, I’m ready, so let’s start whenever you want, Ain-sama.”
Ready for what? Start on what?
When he looked at Lloyd with that questioning gaze, his jaw slackened.
“Let’s have a mock battle, like with the knight. Up until now, I haven’t exchanged blows with you, Ain-sama, because I was afraid there was some danger. But now, you’ve won against a knight, Ain-sama……That’s how it is.”
……I see, so you want me to practice with someone more proficient?
Ain slapped his cheeks to pump himself. Then he took the sword and moved to the center of the arena.
Standing in front of him was a Lloyd that looked more giant and powerful than ever before.
(Let alone a wall to climb, isn’t this more like a mountain?)
It was easy to see how much he was expecting from Ain by having someone like him as an opponent.
However, by fighting against the Grand Marshal Lloyd──Against the pinnacle of the superpower Ishtalika in a mock battle, Ain’s heart danced with joy.
(He’s a person who has climbed to the top with hard work, there’s no way this is going to be easy……)
“A-Ain-sama! Lloyd-sama is……He’s weak in his lower body! “
Ain laughed loudly and answered Chris’s words waving both of his hands.
“Wait, Chris! I-Is that something you should be saying with that wording!? “
Next to her, Olivia laughed while covering her mouth with a hand.
Chris, on the other hand, probably wondered how to express herself, but her desire to support him won over.
“What else? Is there anything else? “
“There isn’t! Therefore……Please do your best! “
With her lips closed, she held both hands tightly closed in front of her chest; she was rooting for Ain.
(Nothing else, huh? ……Well, I’ll do my best.)
And so, Ain took a step forward after recovering his stamina.
“──Wai-, you gotta be kidding me! Lloyd-san! That’s not the power one would use against a six-year-old! “
The training sword was supposed to be made out of wood, but how did this happen?
He was shocked by the outrageous force that scooped up the ground, almost as if a small meteorite had fallen there.
“However, to be able to dodge that……I guess you’ve really grown stronger……! “
There’s no way I can receive such an attack after all! He desperately tried to cope up with the situation.
Lloyd’s attacks were fast, solid and too powerful── So, eventually-
“I g-give up……”
He conceded, falling to the ground with his limbs stretched, realizing that it was too early for him to be fighting this opponent.
At least he wanted to praise himself for lasting a few minutes.
“Uhmm……do you want some water? “
“Ahh, Chris-san……I do want some water, but I think it’s better if you don’t come near me right now.”
“Eh? W-Why so? “
Ain responded tiredly to Chris, who was approaching slowly with concern.
“……I’m so exhausted that I might suck your magic stone unknowingly……Maybe.”
Hearing that, she retreated a few steps while covering her ample chest with her arms.
“Y-You can’t suck this……okay? “
(Why are you holding your chest, Chris-san?)
Like this, with his training for today having ended, Ain headed toward the bath while feeling exhausted.
──That same day’s night.
After getting ready to sleep, Ain was visiting Olivia’s room.
“It’s almost time for you to go to school, Ain.”
They sat on the sofa and were having a casual conversation when she switched the subject.
The season was approaching autumn, and come winter, Ain would become seven years old.
If asked about whether he was interested in school or not, Ain’s answer would be yes.
“What kind of school am I going to go? “
“It’s a school here in the capital where Otou-sama serves as the director. ……Speaking of another good school, there’s one in the Port City, but……”
But that meant he would be living away from Olivia.
Contemplating this possibility, a small tear formed in the corner of her eye.
“I think the school here in the capital is the best option. Because I don’t want to be separated from you, Okaa-sama.”
The pair were sitting next to each other on the sofa.
And perhaps because she was pleased with Ain’s response, Olivia hugged Ain.
“Seriously……You’re such a good boy, Ain. Then, if it’s the school here in the capital, I guess you’ll use the water train.
“Huh? Is it alright for the Crown Prince to go to school using the water train? “
“An escort will be accompanying you, so you’ll be fine.”
I see. So, it’s fine so long as I have an escort?
He was surprised that this was not as strict as he had expected.
“That’s right, let me tell you what kind of school you’ll be going, Ain.”
Olivia then began to explain about the school in the royal capital.
The name of the school was Ishtalika’s Royal Kingsland Academy.
Kingsland was the name of Ishtalika’s Royal Capital, and it seemed the name was just added to the school.
However, apart from the Royal (Ooritsu) Academy, there appeared to also be another school called National (Koukuritsu) Kingsland Academy.
(Their names are too similar……Just rename them……)
The Royal one was the academy sponsored by the Royal Family, and the director was Silvird.
Furthermore, the student capacity was lower than the National one, and the difficulty to enroll in it higher.
“Also, you can take the entrance examination in you are of expertise──”
For example, history or law. Of course, one could also take the test by swordsmanship or magic skill.
However, Ain felt at loss.
“In my case, my strong points are Toxin Decomposition EX and the Dark Knight skill.”
They were difficult to showcase. And since they were too different, it was doubtful whether it was really a good idea to use them.
“You’re right……I also think these two are difficult to show.”
Dark Knight was a skill that would usually not dwell in people. So, he should avoid using it in the examination.
That being the case, it came down to Toxin Decomposition EX. However, due to its peculiarity, Toxin Decomposition EX was not yet planned to be made public.
“Then, I’ll have to do it with swordsmanship……? “
“I’m sorry you won’t have the chance to show all your strength, but I believe this is the best option.”
“I guess you’re right……Then, I’ll take the examination with my sword.”
Lloyd and Chris were his teachers. All he had to do was show the polished swordsmanship he learned from them.
His efforts had earned him the Gift of Training. And he had continued that training even after coming to Ishtalika.
Thanks to that, the current Ain was-
“Ain, you were able to beat a castle knight. I’m sure you’ll be absolutely alright if it’s a test in swordsmanship.”
“I’ll try my best. By the way, when is the exam? “
“Because of the large number of candidates, it is held every month before winter.”
‘If it’s every month, I would like to do it the sooner’, Ain thought.
He didn’t want to draw out this matter for too long.
“In that case, I want to finish it as soon as I can; when can I take the entrance examination the earliest? “
“Okay, I see. Well then, I’ll make the necessary procedures.”
◇ ◇ ◇
There was no special training for the entrance exam.
Ain just continued what he usually did as Crown Prince.
Swinging his sword in the morning, studying hard in the afternoon, and a short training and a study session before going to bed.
“Ain-sama. Would you like to go outside for a change? “
A few days after he decided to take the examination exam, on a day off, Chris spoke to Ain.
“……Outside? I could certainly go for a change of pace……But where would we be going? “
The weather was nice today, and the sun shone brightly in the sky.
Chris then approached Ain, who was reading a book in the courtyard of the castle.
The two of them seemed to have been getting along better now, and as they grew closer, Chris’s tone also became softer.
“Since you’ve still haven’t made your social debut, how about we go to the sandy beach behind the castle?”
“Huh? Was there such a place? “
Apparently, there was a small beach behind the castle that doubled as an emergency escape.
It was a close place to outsiders but didn’t seem to be bad to go there for a change of pace.
Ain then got up from the lawn and walked behind Chris, with the beach as their destination.
The sound of the steps of two people echoed through the hall of the castle.
The hard stone surface, which had been polished to give it a glossy finish, created a somewhat sacred atmosphere.
From time to time, he could see a knight or a servant bowing down as they walked past them.
The beautiful elf Chris walked in the lead.
And as he admired her dignified walking figure, she suddenly stumbled.
The tip of her shoe rubbed against the ground, causing her other leg to lose balance.
She didn’t fall over. However, for a moment she was about to.
“……Come, right this way, Ain-sama.”
“I know. Also, is there something wrong with your feet? “
She smiled and tried to play it off, but he somehow felt the need to point that out.
After hearing Ain’s words, her body stiffened and she showed a strained smile.
“Your feet, is it alright? “
This is becoming a bit fun.
Reluctant to let this slide, Ain asked, albeit not purely out of concern.
“I……If……I-If you already know, why are you asking……? “
Obviously. No matter where he looked, he knew.
“Huh? Was I found out?”
“Y-You really are Olivia-sama’s child……Seriously, Ain-sama.”
This is normal. We’re parent and child, so it isn’t strange we’re similar.
Thinking so with a smile, Ain laughed at the successful mischief.
“Seriously…… Ohh, looks like we’re here.”
Eventually, she reached the back of a hallway……And stopped in a place where the sun hardly reached.
“The door to the beach is surprisingly simple.”
“Yeah. It’s because it’s rarely used, but……Well, it’s a nice place.”
The door was made out of wood and not very adorned, so when compared with the rest of the doors in the castle, it looked quite simplistic.
As she opened with a slight squeaking noise, a cool breeze flowed in.
“──You’re right, it looks like a really nice place.”
Some distance away, there was a modest but fine sandy beach.
The pair went down a slope made of stone bricks and reached the white sand.
The transparent pale blue sea paired with the surrounding rocks made for a beautiful scenery.
“It’s cold already but in the warm season you can swim.”
“Speaking of which, can you swim, Chris-san? “
“About that……Ahh! Come, let’s get closer to the beach! “
So, you can’t. However, he didn’t ask further since he had already teased her earlier.
Walking next to Chris, he stepped on the smooth sand.
“Ain-sama, are you preparing for the entrance exam? “
“Yeah……Is what I’d like to say, but I’m just doing my usual training.”
Rather, he wanted to ask if there was more training he could do.
“I suppose. But let me tell you this, you can already beat a castle knight, so I think you’ll be able to pass just fine.”
“Now that I think about it……You’re right.”
The pair sat on a nearby rock and talked to each other while listening to the sound of the waves.
The sea breeze shook Chris’s hair, making the string holding her hair came undone and untied her ponytail.
“Ahh……Sorry. I’ll fix it.”
Stretching out her slender fingers, she picked up the string and held it with her mouth while she combed her hair.
Ain noticed the white skin of her nape exposed as she grabbed her glossy, gold thread-like hair, putting it together without it getting entangled in her fingers.
(T-This is too stimulating……)
That gesture alone exuded a pure appeal.
And if a woman like Chris was the one doing it, no man would be able to look away.
The flowery scent that reached him every time her hair fluttered in the wind was like a searing fire that made Ain’s heart rate go up.
Before long, and only after she finished with her hair, Ain was able to calm down.
“A-Are? Ain-sama, your face is all red……Are you feeling sick? “
Without knowing his inner thoughts, Chris asked him with a worried look.
It was somewhat frustrating, so Ain simply smiled wryly.
“No, it’s just that I thought you were surprisingly unfair, Chris-san.”
“Me!? E-Ehh……I don’t really understand, did I so something unreasonable……? “
It was certainly unreasonable, but all she was responsible for was tickling a man’s heart.
Ain simply ignored her and turned back to listen to the sound of the waves.
With a sultry voice, she leaked the same word she had been saying who knows how many times today.
However, that only lasted for a moment.
“Come to think of it……The examiner is quite famous.”
“In other words, he’s strong? “
“At least stronger than the castle knights. He was originally a famous adventurer who was invited after retiring.”
Ain’s mood improved after hearing that it was apparently difficult to enter that school.
Also, hearing about a famous adventurer added an exciting element.
“All you need to do is show your ability even if you don’t win, in order to pass, so don’t worry──”
“No, I’m aiming to win. It’ll be pathetic to give up on that now.”
Ain’s gaze, as he watched the waves, had a stronger determination than before.
Seeing this, Chris couldn’t help but placing her hand over her moist lips and laugh.
“Fufu……I’ll be your escort that day, so I’ll be looking forward to your victory, Ain-sama.”
The sound of the waves, and her voice.
It was different from a music box, but it was a similar gentle sound.
This change of pace was just perfect.
It also helped with his recently accumulated fatigue, and his mind became clearer.
──At that moment, Ain asked one question.
“Against father……Against Logas, can you and Lloyd-san win against him, Chris-san? “
“A……Ahaha……Are you curious about that?”
She tilted her head in a troubled manner.
“Was it wrong for me to ask? “
“No, not at all. There’s nothing wrong with it──Well, let’s see. Let me show you the answer.”
With a small cough, she stood up.
She took the sword that was on her waist while still sheeted, and after taking some distance from Ain, she continued.
“I’m going to drop this on the beach now, so don’t lose sight of me from the moment it falls.”
“……? Okay, I understand.”
Not knowing how to answer, he nodded in wonder.
Then, just as she said, she let go of the sword, and seconds later it fell on the sand.
He was told not to lose sight of her, but the moment he blinked, he lost sight of Chris.
Where did she go? Ain hurriedly looked around.
“Over here, Ain-sama.”
His shoulder was touched by a finger, and after looking back, there was Chris.
She had her knees folded and crouching so that her line of sight was at the same height as Ain’s.
“W-When did you move……”
“The moment the sword touched the ground. Logas-dono, just as you, Ain-sama, will lose sight of me. ……That’s why, I am stronger than him.”
He felt thankful that she taught him with an example, using her own body to explain.
“Also, Lloyd-sama should be able to win with raw power alone.”
“……I know, right.”
He thought about the mock battle against Lloyd the other day.
He was a man who could create such a mess with a wooden sword after all.
So, he could see him winning with strength alone.
“But don’t worry. You will eventually be able to sense my movements.”
As she crouched down, she joined her hands over her knees and spoke with a dazzling smile.
“How many years will it take?”
“……I guess about ten years or so? “
“I see……too long.”
Apparently, he still had a long way to go.
“Fufu──It’s alright, everything now is just beginning.”
Seeing Ain mulling over it, Chris laughed happily.
(I wanted to become as strong as the First King──But thinking about it, Lloyd-san and Chris-san might have already gone beyond him.)
The wall was high. No, more than high.
And he knew that in order to go over it, he’d have to work really hard.
“There isn’t a stronger existence than you and Lloyd-san in Ishtalika, right? “
“……No, there is.”
She sat next to Ain and replied with a slightly more serious voice.
“When we went to the forest, Lloyd-sama told you about a huge dragon, didn’t he? “
“Yeah, he said something like that……”
“──It’s called a Sea Dragon, and it’s a monster that falls under the national disaster category. It’s been there for one or two hundred years, and has claimed many lives.”
According to Lloyd, it was even bigger than a battleship.
Certainly, it was a monster that a person alone couldn’t deal with.
“Also, some of the Demon King’s close aides are alive. I’ve gotten that feeling before──”
Apparently, she has felt such an overwhelming strength that she knew from the beginning she couldn’t win.
……Ishtalika, a country that he thought was peaceful, had actually many lurking threats.
Ain felt nervous, but after a bit of time, he nodded strongly.
“I’ll become strong enough to beat them. If I don’t do that much, I won’t be able to achieve my goals.”
“Speaking of your goals, Ain-sama, that’s……The First King, right? “
“Yes, that’s right.”
Placing her fingertip over her cheek, she looked at Ain with a look of not understanding.
“Come to think of it, why is the First King your goal? I’ve never heard about it……”
“Huh? Didn’t I tell you?”
She answered moving her head from side to side.
And thinking about it, he hadn’t mentioned the core reason for his decision.
“──At first, it was to prove myself superior to Heim.”
“That means……You no longer care about Heim? “
“It’s still vexing. However, the underlying reason wasn’t me, it was their disdain for Okaa-sama.”
While recalling the stories of the First King and the Demon King, Ain continued further.
“Before I longed for that, I had just become the Crown Prince. I didn’t know what to do, but there was still that frustration.”
“Is that when you learned about the First King?”
She now knew the reason.
Chris nodded deeply, coming to understand the motives of Ain a bit more.
“I found the best way to solve all my problems at once was to become like the First King.”
“A-Are? I’m sorry, it seems like the story just took a big jump……”
Problems? Solve? Chris was puzzled.
“If I’m strong, I can get rid of the past in which Okaa-sama is despised in Heim.” And as a Crown Prince, if I can become like the First King, that’d be a matter for congratulations──That’s why, the First King.”
“I-Is that why you’re aiming to become like that someone who defeated the Demon King……? “
She doubted his sanity, wondering why he thought reaching that point was the best course of action.
However, Ain just nodded with a carefree smile.
“That’s right. I might have gone ahead of myself by sucking the Dullahan’s magic stone, but I think it was the right choice.”
He felt it might be presumptuous to say it, but he gained the confidence to achieve his goal by gaining that strength.
That’s why Ain had made this his goal.
“Is having a reason like this disrespectful? To His Majesty, the First King, that everyone respects.”
“……Not at all, I think the First King would be pleased. Having one who inherited his blood to also aim to become like him.”
Some may think of him as a fool or being self-important.
But Chris thought differently.
This boy will become important, and eventually will show me something awesome──She thought.
“That’s good to hear. And I’ll be in your care for future training.”
──After that, they continued talking on the sandy beach for about an hour.
Then came lunchtime, and since Ain was hungry, they left this secret beach.
◇ ◇ ◇
A few days after the talk to Chris, on the morning of the entrance exam.
She used her helmet to hide her appearance, as she did the time they went to visit Majorca’s store.
(It took a surprisingly long time to get here.)
After leaving the castle, Ain went to the White Rose station, known as the largest in Ishtalika.
But this time, he took the civilian water train instead of the royal one.
After boarding the water train, and feeling that particular shaking sensation for about 15 minutes, they got off at the station nearest to the academy.
“There sure are a lot of people.”
While walking to the place the test was taking place, he opened his mouth and spoke to Chris while also looking at the cityscape.
“Despite it being inside the capital, this place is called Academy City. There are not only students but also researchers and parents coming and going, so it’s always quite lively.”
Ain was impressed by such a bustle, making it seem like a festival was taking place.
“I don’t really like crowded places, but I’ll do my best to pass the exam.”
Looking around, one could see plenty of people with knights as escorts.
“Looks like there are a lot of noble children, huh?”
“Right……Basically, all the children in the royal capital come to this academy city.”
No wonder it was so crowded. After Ain felt convinced while making a bitter smile, Chris continued speaking, making a surprising comment.
“Speaking of which, Lloyd-sama’s child also goes to the Royal Kingsland Academy.”
It was so shocking; Ain couldn’t immediately reply.
After a moment of having his eyes open in surprise and his mouth agape, he turned towards Chris.
“L-Lloyd-san’s? ……Eh? Was he even married? “
“U-Uhh……Were you not aware? I was certain you already knew……”
Although Ain couldn’t see Chris’s face due to the helmet covering her, he could tell she was feeling a little lost, given her troubled laugh.
“I never heard anything remotely close to it.”
“I……I see……Well, what to do……?”
Chris wondered what she should do.
Apparently, it seemed like she wondered how could she explain this.
“No, no, no……! But, it’s fine since it’s Ain-sama……Yeah, there should be no problem.”
As if to encourage herself, she cleared her throat and looked at Ain.
“Lloyd-sama’s wife is Martha-san.”
“──You’re lying, right? “
It was natural to be surprised. After all–
“That little Martha-san and that monstrous Lloyd-san are married……? “
This surprised him to the point of him losing his normal calmness.
“Please calm down. Many people think like that……No, I’m sure everyone thinks like that.”
“I bet. Furthermore, I’ve never felt any lovely-couple air from them.”
“Since they both have their positions, they don’t show that sort of behavior in the castle.”
They never had any couple-like conversation, nor did they take any action a normal couple would, so it was hard to see them as a married couple.
This was the reason why Ain never noticed this.
In the first place, Ain basically never leaves the castle.
So, since he didn’t have any source of external information, this couldn’t be helped.
──While continuing with such conversation, they soon arrived at the test site, the Royal Kingsland Academy.
Having the shock from those facts wear down a little, Ain decided to switch gears and brace himself for the entrance exam.
“This is the Royal Kingsland Academy.”
(Huge……Rather than a school, isn’t it already a castle……?)
His first impression could be summed up with that word.
Inside the large gate, a green lawn spread out, and there were many buildings here and there
Isn’t it even possible to build a whole town inside? The place was so vast that it made him wonder that.
“As expected from something with Royal in its name……”
“Hahaha…… Look, Ain-sama, the test venue seems to be over there.”
The direction at which Chris pointed was a building with many children. After Ain took note of that–
“──Well then, I’ll do my best.”
Only the test takers could enter the examination hall.
Chris Answered with “Good luck”. And after receiving those words, Ain walked inside.
Crossing the gate, Ain looked for the place where his specialty was being tested.
The test Ain was taking consisted of proving he could use either a sword or have the physical prowess to fight.
Furthermore, one was allowed to use skills so long as they were not in the projectile category.
(Uhmm……is it over there?)
Ain walked inside the school while reading the guidebook the brought with him.
Suddenly, a young boy’s voice reached him from a little far away and noticed he was taking the exam.
After walking around several buildings, he arrived at a small, arena-like place.
There, Ain saw the figure of a young boy swinging a sword in the center and a man who parried his attacks.
“What’s with this shitty display!? Just go home already! “
……Said the man parrying his slashes──Probably the examiner.
(So that’s the examiner Chris-san was talking about……whoa, he’s got quite the foul mouth.)
Hearing the words of the examiner, the boy taking the test shed some tears in regret.
Reaching this point, the exam could be considered over.
“Hmph! Saying you could defeat a Sea Dragon; you’re not even fit to beat a weak monster! You fail! “
In the end, this was the Royal Academy.
And because it was a place where the future subjects serving the King were trained, apparently a strict selection was bound to happen.
Furthermore, if the boy mentioned earlier had shown his resolution by not shedding a tear, the result might’ve been different.
“I’m here! I’ll be in your care! “
The next examinee came forward. Here in the Royal Kingsland Academy, the test takers couldn’t state their name.
This was a measure to prevent preferential treatment for noble children from the school officials.
And honestly felt a bit relieved after hearing that.
“Hmph! You also failed! You’re so not suitable for this school! “
And, while this kept happening, Ain’s turn came.
He couldn’t say he wasn’t nervous at all, but after placing a hand over his chest, he noticed his heart was beating not as crazy as he had expected.
Furthermore, there was something he noticed when he looked at the examiner. And that was, he was stronger than the knights in the castle.
However, Ain thought──Or rather didn’t think his physical abilities wouldn’t be enough.
“I’ll be in your care.”
After taking a deep breath, Ain moved forth.
“Come at it, kid. See if you can pass the exam.”
This remark signaled the start of the battle. While Ain held up his wooden sword, he quickly closed the distance with the examiner.
“──Ohhhh……Not bad! “
He continued his attacks without paying attention to the praising words of the examiner.
Aiming for the legs, at the joints, at the neck. He attacked different places without a fixed aim so that his opponent couldn’t read the next attack.
“Hmph! Don’t think you can win with such childish tricks.”
With the difference in physique this large, it was easy for Ain to receive a blow at his side.
The examiner’s weapon was also a wooden sword, but it was enough to get the air out of Ain’s lungs with that attack.
“Hmph, you’re relying too much on your stats. So much that your skill isn’t up to par. I guess your teacher isn’t that good! “
He might’ve been bad-mouthing the test takers as part of the examination.
However, he had indirectly insulted Lloyd and Chris, so in his heart, depression, and resentment began to accumulate.
“Not yet, I can still go.”
The examiner was strong. Just as Chris had told him, he was a very talented individual.
At the very least, he was a few steps above the knights of the castle. ……However.
“……Well then, let me show you once again what someone like you is missing.”
“Y-Yes……I’ll be in your care……”
However, he was surprised at how easy and often he hurled such abusive words.
And with this, he understood that they were also testing the examinees’ mental fortitude.
“Most of the people who don’t know their place are like that thanks to their undisciplined parents, I guess you’re the same……! “
(──I see, so it’s come to that.)
……Let’s use Dark Knight. Ain decided so in his mind.
Despite knowing this was a provocation made for the exam, Ain decided he wouldn’t put up with Olivia being insulted.
Not doing anything about it here and now would be, for him, the same as accepting those insults as true.
(Chris-san, I’m sorry. But there’s only so much I can allow……!)
──For researchers who were familiar with monsters from ancient times, they apparently evaluated the Dullahan as follows:
If you fight it, you should never do it on a one-vs-one.
If you fight it, you must always maintain a suitable range.
It should be treated as an existence above the strongest swordsman in the world. That was the monster called Dullahan──
“I know this is just your job, but whether I can accept those words or not, is a different matter.”
Ain muttered to himself. He gradually focused his strength, putting more force into his body while closing his eyes to increase his concentration.
“Did you say something, brat? ……If you have time to complain th……e……n……”
He had yet to fully master the Dark Knight’s abilities.
So, for now, the only thing he was able to use was the Phantom Hand.
It was an illusionary hand of the Dullahan by which he could use the Dryad’s skill, Absorb.
(Here, eat my magic power and grow bigger……!)
Rather than putting magic power into it, Ain fed it his magic power.
This made the strength of one of these hands adjustable by changing the amount of magic you fed it, similar to a Magic Parasite.
And if you lose yourself to your anger and feed it continuously, you’ll be able to show an almost limitless power.
“Kid……What are you doing!? “
Looking at the black aura leaking from him, the examiner asked.
“If I knew something like this was to happen, I should’ve trained the Phantom Hand a bit more. Well, I guess I can try to strengthen it little by little.”
Thus, black tentacles that looked jointy and muscular appeared, one which would shock anyone looking.
Two Phantom Hands materialized themselves from Ain’s shoulder blades.
“These are not projectiles so it’s fine, isn’t it? “
I’m not sending any attack flying, so I’m not breaking the rules, right? Asked Ain implicitly.
“I’m telling you to explain! “
“I don’t really have to explain, right? There isn’t such a rule after all.”
In response to the concerned examiner, Ain answered while looking at him coldly.
Behavior like this one, as if to stir up trouble, wouldn’t normally be taken by Ain since he was taking an exam.
However, having Olivia being mocked filled him with a wave of anger that made him forget about this.
“──I don’t know what kind of skill that is, but well, whatever. If you were to get stronger just by getting more arms, then an insect would be stronger than you……Don’t you think!? “
The examiner, noticeable more focused than before, accelerated into Ain’s range and swung his sword down at Ain’s shoulder. However.
“It’s quite the dexterous arm! ……Tch! “
With one of the Phantom Hand at his side, he grasped the wooden sword swung down by the examiner.
Immediately afterward, Ain swung the sword in his arms towards the examiner.
“Hmph! Even though you just got more arms……This really is a hassle.”
(……I knew it. This man, he’s really strong.)
The examiner was strong. He endured Ain’s current attacks and responded in kind.
The surprised expression he showed earlier must’ve been purely out of wonder.
“That’s not what you said before. ……HAAAAAAAAA! “
Using the other Phantom Hand, he tried to strike at the examiner.
However, the examiner expertly defended using his other arm.
“Ugh……guuh……quite the heavy hit, crap! “
Still, he noticed the examiner was still in a good condition. It was then that Ain made his choice.
“No. I still need a bit more……Then.”
EAT! And let’s beat this opponent. Ain conveyed those strong sentiments to the Phantom Hand.
Immediately, the examiner noticed the change.
“……Looks like you’ve strengthened it, kid.”
The Phantom Hand pulsated, almost as if it had blood vessels filled with blood.
Each pulsation gave off a pale blue glow, inviting the examiner’s caution.
“This time, it’s my turn to attack.”
He closed the distance between him and the examiner, who had already retreated a few steps. Still, Ain was by no means quick.
This could be said to be due to the nature of the Dullahan, and could also be said to be an adverse effect of specializing in strength and reinforcement.
“You use some strange skills, but it helps me your movements are still slow……fuu! “
Ain’s sword was swung down and was parried by the examiner.
However, perhaps because of the momentum gained, the examiner had to put a lot of strength into his legs and defend using both of his hands.
“──Are you sure that’s wise? “
Ain said with a cold gaze.
In an instant, the tormented examiner felt a lurid sensation when seeing the black arms coming from behind Ain.
And those black arms squirmed towards the examiner who had his arms locked protecting against the slash.
……Still, the examiner showed his resolve.
“Like hell I’ll let you……! “
He twisted his body forcibly, evading one of the incoming Phantom Hand.
But, since it wasn’t possible for him to protect against the remaining one, he had no choice but to use the armor protecting his arm to guard against it.
“……That sort of defense isn’t enough anymore.”
Ain mercilessly spoke.
The strengthened Phantom Hand easily broke through that degree of defense easily.
With the force of the enhanced Phantom Hand, the examiner was pushed and rolled for many meters on the grounds of the examination site.
“Haa……haa……What the heck was that? ……This is the first time a kid has……! “
“I’m honored to hear that. Well then, let’s continue──”
He couldn’t help but show some honest praise. And after standing up almost as if dragging his body, the examiner placed his sword on the floor, spreading his hands.
“Don’t be stupid, it’s unheard of an examiner losing in an entrance exam……You’ve passed.”
The examiner declared the result. But at the same time, Ain had some regrets.
Not just the use of the Dark Knight skill, but also the attitude he took towards the examiner made him feel a bit guilty.
“……Uhmm, I’m sorry for showing such a self-important attitude earlier.”
“Same here. Seriously, this is just an entrance exam, but I guess I asked for it. You surely are the first one in the history of this school──I mean, the first freshman who has defeated an examiner.”
After that, the examiner took out a piece of paper from his pocket.
“This is the certificate of acceptance. Don’t lose it, you’ll need it later to finish the procedure.”
“Y-Yes, thank you very much.”
Once the test was over, all those excess thoughts brought by the anger washed off, and the fire blazing inside him was quenched.
All that remained were feelings of pure fatigue and a little regret for what had happened.
However, a pass was a pass in the end. Ain paused to take a deep breath.
Well, now that the test had finished, Ain left the venue with mixed feelings.
He walked down the same passage as when he came to the academy and reached the school gate where Chris was waiting for him.
“Ain-sama. Congratulations on passing the exam.”
There she stood near the gate waiting for Ain.
However, for some reason, her voice sounded a bit different from her usual gentle one.
“Th……Thank you very much……Yes.”
Because of her helmet, he couldn’t see her expression. However, he could see glimpses of anger showing here and there.
“I’m sorry, I’m sure you must be tired. You must be prepared for the sermon on our way back……Excuse me, there’s something I must tell you, Ain-sama, I’m sure you don’t mind, right? “
Chris knew Ain had used Dark Knight.
Even if there was some distance between them, she could feel when the Dark Knight skill was released.
“Say, Chris-san? “
“Yes. What is it?”
Chris responded with a stiff voice.
Ain smiled wryly at that somewhat cold voice from her.
“Are you angry because you’re disappointed? Or are you just purely angry? “
It was a somewhat abstract question, but apparently the meaning was conveyed to Chris.
Then, I guess it’s okay. Thought Ain. She still showed a pouty attitude, but not all was lost.
“Even I would get angry if someone told me I wasted my time training with you and the others, even though it was an exam.”
Actually, the words that were said after that were the trigger. But his words carried no falsehood.
In fact, it was starting with those remarks that Ain got angry.
“Mu……muu……! Even so, that was wrong! You used a skill that you shouldn’t have shown, so, no matter how sorry you are……! “
He felt a bit calmer.
Despite right now feeling quite tired, he understood he had done something wrong. Therefore, he wanted to have a break from being lectured, at least for now.
“……Haa. His Majesty will learn about this incident through the school.”
“Rather than that, I did hurt the examiner, but is he going to be okay?……Will he not be suspicious about that?”
“There are professional healers in the school. It would’ve been different if he had gotten seriously injured. But I know the examiner, he was originally a famous adventurer and a decent man.”
However, what kind of reaction would his grandfather, Silvird, have?
He felt a bit anxious, but for the time being, he just wanted to go back to the castle and take a good rest.
(I’ll start school next year……I’m looking forward to it, but I wonder when will Krone come here?)
Ain remembered the first time he met her on the day of the presentation party.
He had yet to receive a reply from the letter he sent her a while ago.
However, he knew Warren and other officials were interacting with them. Therefore, Ain had faith.
(I wonder if we can meet……before spring comes?)
He felt his body tingling, aside from his life at school, he was looking forward to Krone coming to Ishtalika.
While thinking about this, he felt a small amount of his fatigue healed.
◇ ◇ ◇
That day, in Euro, they were welcoming two guests.
One was Ishtalika’s fleet. And the other was a big noble from Heim.
Several Ishtalika ships were lined up.
They were unloading large magic tools, ones that Krone had never seen before, for the excavation work of the Sea Crystals.
“……Is this really just a research ship? “
“Umu. It’s not a battleship by any means. If we’re talking about battleships, they are even bigger.”
Krone was surprised by her grandfather’s words.
She didn’t know how much such a research ship would cost, no, she couldn’t even begin to imagine it.
Her understanding of the civilization gap with Heim was too large that she couldn’t keep up with it.
“B-But……Can Heim’s navy even win against a research ship? “
“Hahaha! There’s no way they can win! It just needs to hit them with its body to crush them! “
Graf couldn’t help but give a self-deprecating laugh while pointing this out.
Immediately after, a new voice, coming from one of the people of Ishtalika reached the two people.
“Notify the third ship, starting now we’ll deploy both wings to work.”
“Roger──Third ship, this is the Command Station. Deploy both wings as instructed before.”
Immediately, the people of Ishtalika began to move.
While listening to them, Krone was surprised once again.
The research vessel heard the instructions and quickly began to deploy.
With quick, intertwined, and awe-inspiring precision.
She had already seen the difference in their technical skills, but what she was now shown was their high level of leadership.
For example, if you were to fight them, you’d find yourself surrounded in no time.
“Ohh, so this is where you two were. What do you think about our ship? “
A man called out to them──He was one of Ishtalika’s civil officers, and the one entrusted with guiding the pair.
“……Yeah, it’s truly incredible.”
“My oh my. I’m honored to hear those words.”
Then, he urged them to walk.
“This way please, we have prepared a place for you.”
He pointed to a ship.
It was one of the research vessels that were near land.
“Will we have a room assigned to us in that ship? “
“Yes. Her Royal Highness, the Second Princess instructed us to make you feel comfortable for the next month.”
Krone held her hand tightly and thanked those on the other side of the sea, in Ishtalika.
“……I would like to show my gratitude towards her Royal Highness, the Second Princess.”
“Yes, the Princess is a kind person──Well then, this way please.”
Following the civil officer, the pair slowly walked down a slope, as if they were going down to the sea.
From time to time, the sound of the waves in Euro, crashing hard, reminded her they were not in Heim anymore.
“Sorry but, could we bring in our luggage later? “
“Ahh, don’t worry about that. We’ve already brought it in, so rest assured.”
“U-Umu. You have my thanks.”
Graf was glad by the noninterference and quick actions from Ishtalika’s people.
Carrying out their duty without the need for them to say anything……He once again took note of their competence.
Eventually, the two arrived at the entrance of the research vessel.
Unlike Heim’s ships that felt almost like a prison, this one gave off a sense of luxury.
“I hope you can spend the next month here, dear guests.”
He reiterated what he had spoken earlier.
Graf and Krone, alongside the servant they had brought, would be spending one month aboard this ship.
And the reason for that was.
“The reason for this, as explained earlier, is to not expose the appearance of you two. I’m aware that it might be hard to hold for the month needed to finish our work, but I hope that you understand.”
That was an easy trade-off. They could go to Ishtalika and all they needed was a little patience.
“Not at all, you have our thanks.”
Originally speaking, he tried to cross the sea by other means.
But since he was now allowed to use a ship, taking advantage of the trade deal with Euro, he had nothing but words of gratitude.
The letter had also been delivered to Ain himself, and they received a response.
After this, Krone looked in awe at the interior of the ship, that looked more like an elegant inn.
──And like this, she took her first step towards Ishtalika.