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Many layers of dark gray clouds carpeted the sky over Silesia like a thick curtain. Although noon had only passed a little time ago, the surface was shrouded by a film of glum dimness, casting shadows of gloom on the faces of the residents traversing the streets at heightened paces. Some sniffled their red, runny noses within the chilly autumn gusts, others like the merchants began to put away their stall’s merchandise before the coming rainfall.
“It would be no wonder for rain to start pouring at any moment now.” Tigrevurmud Vorn pulled a sombre expression as he looked up.
His body draped in traveling clothes, he held his family’s heirloom, the black bow, in his left hand with a quiver dangling at his hips. The traveling clothes were his idea of avoiding suspicions about him carrying a bow in the middle of the city.
If the capital had been peaceful, even he wouldn’t have thought of expressly carrying bow and arrows around. But, he knew that the city wasn’t as peaceful as it seemed at a first glance. For the sake of protecting his friends and himself, he couldn’t risk being unarmed.
“Tigre, should we call it quits for today?”
The one suggesting this to the youth while addressing him with his pet name was Ludmila Lourie. She was as old as Tigre with her 18 years, and was called Mila by those close to her.
Standing next to Mila, the three years younger Olga Tamm tampered with the ends of her pale red hair while joining the conversation, “I also think that would be for the best. The wind smells damp.”
Mila and Olga were hiding their bodies underneath plain, dull overcoats, wearing their hats low – a disguise to conceal their true identities. If it became known that two Vanadis, major authorities of the kingdom, were strolling through the city, it’d cause a small uproar.
Gazing at the street, filled with people busily hurrying one way or another, Tigre muttered in disappointment, “We didn’t make much progress today, did we?”
“There will be such days as well. I’ll brew some black tea for you once we get back to Sofy’s mansion.” Mila consoled the youth with a wry smile on her lips.
Tigre pulled himself together and thanked her.
Since early in the morning, their little group had diligently worked at gathering information by walking all over the capital. They made their way to bars often frequented by low-ranking nobles and knights, called out to minstrels taking a rest at roadsides, and generally asked around what people thought about the events recently taking place in the city. The three had been continuing this routine for many days by now.
Several incidents took place in the capital during this autumn. The return of Prince Ruslan to the royal palace after recovering from the illness afflicting him over the course of eight years might be called good news. However, ever since then, one tragedy followed the other.
Ilda Kurtis, an influential high-ranking noble and Duke of Bydgauche, died in the palace, and King Viktor, who had held the reins of this country for many years, followed Ilda a little while later. Prince Ruslan announced that he’d wait with his coronation ceremony until spring, seeing to the mourning until the end of winter. In response, the people felt a reprise of relief believing that the dark clouds hanging over the capital would dissipate, but not few among the noble lords looked at Ruslan with distrust.
Under such tense circumstances, Tigre and the Vanadis decided to gather information from all directions. They wouldn’t be able to stomach if their own words and actions were to trigger new chaos at the court, and thus they couldn’t make any careless moves until they had all the information together.
Coldness stabbed Tigre’s head just when he started to walk in a direction leading him away from the main street. The youth pulled the hood of his coat over his head, protecting his face from the rain. Shortly thereafter, rain began to hammer on the ground. Several children quickly scurried past Tigre, Mila, and Olga.
“I told you that we should have hurried back home, didn’t I!? Didn’t the rain start falling because you forced me along, saying something like having seen a fairy!?”
“But, I really saw one! It looked just as grandpa had described them! I mean, the other day you also talked about having seen something like a monster, haven’t you!?”
“It wasn’t a monster! It was a kikimora!” 1
“How’s that any different from a monster?”
For no particular reason, Tigre gazed at the children as they kept running while bickering with each other.
──A fairy and a monster, eh?
It might be a children’s story he shouldn’t take serious, but during the last three days, Tigre’s group had frequently encountered adults talking about similar things. According to their words, they had seen midgets riding on the backs of stray cats, monsters peering at them from the shadows of buildings, and ghosts silently floating on the spot in alleys…
Mila’s response to all these stories was quite pragmatic: “They likely thought they had seen stray cats when they were just old rags whirled across the ground by the wind. If stuff like midgets or monsters was on the loose, it’d cause a lot more of a disturbance.”
Olga shared Mila’s opinion in her very own way, “I won’t say that I don’t believe in ghosts and spirits. But, I think such beings show themselves to very special people – like those who continue harboring strong feelings about the dead, or those possessing appropriate abilities.”
In short, both judged it to be mostly cases of people mistaking what they saw. Tigre didn’t try to object to their opinions either, but something about it was bothering him.
──I suppose it’s because we actually experienced fighting against monsters.
Vodyanoy, Torbalan, Baba Yaga, and lastly, Drekavac – all of them terrifying monsters borrowing the names of fairies as they would only appear in fairy-tales.
──Tir Na Fal said that it was their goal to reshape the world to their liking.
Anxiety welled up within Tigre, as he wondered whether all of those people had really just only fallen for optical illusions. Didn’t those people witness fragments of our world changing?
“Tigre, what’s wrong?”
Probably because Tigre had stopped moving, completely absorbed in his own thoughts, Mila, who had been walking several steps ahead of him, fell back with a puzzled look. The youth shook his head, as if to say that it was nothing of importance.
It was just then that a golden flash pierced the skies at the corner of their eyes.
“No.” Tigre rejected Olga’s muttering.
He had perceived how this flash hadn’t struck down from the sky, but instead was hurled upwards from the ground.
Another flash ─ and as Tigre had estimated, it originated from the ground. The face of Liza ─ Elizavetta Fomina, crossed Tigre’s mind. Her draconic tool, Thunder Swirl Valitsaif, was a jet-black whip endowed with the power to cause lightning.
It was only this morning that Tigre had seen her. She had shown up at Sofy’s mansion, their base of activity. And after exchanging some greetings and light chit-chat with the youth and the others, she had left without so much as a word about doing anything special.
Liza had been gathering information in her own way, visiting the palace and the mansion of nobles close to her. That’s why Tigre had believed back then that she might have some urgent business. However, it wasn’t as though he had made sure of it by checking back with her.
“You two go back first. I’ll go take a look at the flashes just now.” Tigre started to run through the curtain of rain, feeling uneasiness nagging at him.
The lightning witnessed by Tigre’s group was shot out of a littered, dirty vacant plot of land. Two Vanadis were facing off against each other. The one wearing a deep purple dress and clasping a black whip was 「Princess of the Thunder Swirl」 Elizavetta Fomina. She possessed eyes with different colors, earning her the title of Rainbow Eyes. A golden right eye and a blue left eye, both blazing with fighting spirit, homed in on the enemy standing in front of her.
The one on the receiving side of Liza’s glare was a woman with long, black hair. Wearing black clothes adorned with falcon-patterned sewing, she held two small swords in her hands. One blade golden, the other red, but both clad in crimson flames. She was called Figneria Alshavin, also nicknamed 「Hidden Princess of the Luminous Flame」.
Not much time had passed since their battle began, and yet both Vanadis looked like ragdolls, with their hair disheveled, their clothes smeared with dirt, and their skins riddled with countless small burns and gashes. The ground showed many traces of destruction, the legacy of Liza’s whip ripping soil apart as it swirled around. Even parts of the stone walls enclosing this plot had crumbled down.
──It’s not that she’s strong or anything like that.
Liza carefully measured her distance to Figneria while keeping her whip ready to pounce. If you were to account only for the reach of their weapons, Liza would have an overwhelming advantage here, but Figneria completely made up for that difference with her formidable martial arts. She would slip through the whip’s attack or repel it with her swords, closing the distance in the blink of an eye. For Liza it meant that she couldn’t brandish her whip recklessly.
Liza’s breathing had started to become disordered from the tension, and she paid more attention to her powerless right hand than usual. Thanks to the rain coming down since a while ago now, the fabric of her dress was uncomfortably glued to her body like a second skin.
──But, this rain might present a good opportunity for me. The muddy ground might dull Figneria’s footwork, and the force of the flames covering her draconic tool has visibly declined, too.
Without saying a single word, Figneria stood still with her two blades ready to lunge. Even though her wet hair was stuck to the left side of her face, she didn’t even try to comb it back.
Liza couldn’t fathom how Figneria planned to move next.
“Let me ask once more, what’s the idea here?” The red-haired Vanadis hurled at her opponent, albeit not believing that she would get an answer.
Liza being in a place like this had a reason – she had been called over by 「Illusory Princess of the Hollow Shadow」 Valentina Glinka Estes. A few days ago, Valentina had made a certain request to Liza, namely, she wanted Liza to openly announce her support of Prince Ruslan. Liza had agreed to that.
In reality, Liza held several doubts about Ruslan, but she believed that she might be able to draw out some information from Valentina.
──And here I am, after being told by her to come here for a talk.
The only one awaiting Liza at this vacant plot was Figneria. Moreover, she had slashed away at Liza without so much of an explanation.
The black whip in her hand gleamed whitely in response to Liza’s call. Countless light particles manifested, coiling around her while drifting through the air like fluff. Each and every single of the particles could be described as mini lightning. If touched by anyone other than Liza, they’d burst open, releasing shock waves and heat. It was a powerful armor of lightning protecting its owner.
In the next instant, Figneria moved. The blades of her swords ─ Luminous Flame Bargren, were wrapped up in flames.
“Flying Blaze of Explosion.”
She raised her swords overhead as if scooping them up from below. At the same time, two fireballs were shot out of the two blades. Defying the downpour of rain with their sizes of an adult’s head, their flames left a trail in their wake as they assailed Liza.
──She added different timings to them, eh?
Liza didn’t overlook how Figneria’s right arm had moved slightly slower than her left. Sweeping her whip sideways, she crushed one of the fireballs, causing it to scatter heat and smoke in all directions alongside a thunderous roar. Then she tried to pulverize the second fireball with a back sweep, but immediately following, the ground several steps ahead of her suddenly exploded, blowing up a huge amount of earth and stones. Liza squinted her eyes in annoyance while receiving that storm of dirt with her lightning armor.
“Now you’ve done it…!”
The second fireball, which had been a decoy to force her into intercepting the first, had the aim to blow up the ground from the very start. All in order to slow down Lisa’s reaction while robbing her visibility.
With an astonishing speed, Figneria darted for her. While showered by a rain of dirt and water, she leaped across the hole she had produced herself, instantly shortening her distance to Liza.
Liza swiftly drew back her whip to close at hand. The whip’s tip shrunk down towards the handle, transforming into a short, cylindrical weapon. At the same time, Figneria brandished her two swords, making them cross in front.
“Piercing Fire Lance Column.”
Many fire pillars formed between the two Vanadis, lining up next to each other without leaving a single gap, and thus towering high up into the sky as if to keep away anything and everything.
Confusion crept into Liza’s rainbow eyes. She couldn’t read the purpose behind this wall of fire. Following that instant of hesitation, she jumped back heeding toll to her intuition.
For a moment she saw the figure of the black-haired Vanadis as she broke through the lances of fire. Liza repelled the golden blade straightly stabbing at her with her own draconic tool, but just when she expected Figneria to attack with her other sword, Figneria leaped to the side.
It was only then that Liza noticed the fireball overhead in the process of crashing down. Without any time allowing her to dodge, Liza was swallowed. The blast and heat blew away the lightning particles cladding her body, mercilessly roasting her whole body. While being scorched by the roaring flames, Liza comprehended: The Piercing Fire Lance Column was a smoke screen for the sake of concealing the fireball in the sky. And Figneria coming to slash at her was likely to guarantee the fireball’s hit.
The embers and smoke were dispersed by the rain. If not for the weakening of the fire by the lightning spirits, only black charcoal would have remained of Liza by now.
Without a moment’s delay, Figneria assaulted her as she panted in pain. Liza faced her foe, tightly gripping her whip which was still in the shape of a staff. She blocked a sword, causing a shrill metallic sound to reverberate. Countless raindrops twinkled as they reflected the draconic tools’ radiance.
The heels of Liza’s boots dug deep in the muddy ground. She desperately held back the golden blade pushing down on her with her teeth gritted. The three colors in her eyes, blurred with fighting spirit, blended.
Contrary to Liza visibly seething with fury, Figneria’s eyes showed no emotion at all, being calm like a lake at midnight. Keeping the small sword in her right hand just like that, Figneria tried to drive the sword in her left into Liza’s flank.
“──Valitsaif!” shouted Liza at just that moment.
The black whip unleashed a dazzling flash of light, burning itself into Figneria’s retinas. Figneria winced at that unexpected counterattack, limiting the thrust of her left sword to only grazing Liza’s side.
Once she had forced back Figneria and taken some distance, Liza instantly reverted her draconic tool into a whip. Alongside a scream of furious rage, she slapped her whip down with all her might. Figneria’s body was blown away, crashing onto the ground. In no time, Liza let a second attack sally forth.
The whips’ pointed end jumped up with a shrill sound. It had been repelled by Figneria’s two swords. However, Figneria apparently hadn’t been able to fully kill the momentum. She slithered across the ground, splashing up mud and dirt.
──No problem as long as I can root her to one spot.
Liza lifted Thunder Swirl overhead, and then started to shower Figneria with blows, which drew disorderly arcs. It was a furious attack which would have literally torn Figneria’s body apart if she were to receive it head on. Figneria had her hands full protecting herself with her two swords, seemingly unable to even get up.
Liza kept swinging her whip without allowing her hand to rest. She had to wear down Figneria as much as possible to dull her movements – all for the sake of definitely landing her draconic tool’s sure-kill technique.
Around the time when Liza had attacked for the umpteenth time, the mud was suddenly whirled up in a conspicuous way. The whip bounced back far stronger than before. Figneria artlessly raised her body. She was drenched in mud and covered in small cuts from the crown of her head down to her toes. Her breathing was a mess, too.
However, her expression remained unchanged. The curtain of rain evaporated where it touched onto the flickering flames of her two blades.
Liza’s face tensed in nervousness as she ordered Valitsaif, “Lightning Blade.”
The black whip transformed into a huge, single-edged sword. Countless protuberances clad in white light clustered its jet-black blade, reminiscent of a halberd. It was more powerful and heavier than its whip-form, but it also had the flaw of having a limited range.
──I’ll wrap this up before Figneria catches her breath. Afterwards, I’ll take my time to ask her in full detail why she has attacked me and what Valentina is planning.
Kicking off the mud, the red-haired Vanadis closed the distance to the black-haired one.
Just when Liza was several steps away from having her blade reach her foe, the atmosphere around Figneria glimmered oddly. Her figure became obscure as if Liza was looking at her through a murky glass window.
Liza’s eyes widened slightly, but without wavering, she kept closing in on her enemy. Then she raised her draconic tool overhead, and slapped it down with all her might.
The rasping sound of metal hitting metal reached her ears, and bluish-white sparks brightened up her visual field. The blurry figure of Figneria disappeared as the black-haired Vanadis was blown backwards. Although she had escaped falling down by fixing her posture in midair, she still slumped down on her knees after landing.
“──Piercing Fire Lance Column.” Figneria squeezed out while panting heavily.
A wall of fire lances manifested between her and Liza. Liza slashed at the wall with a grim look, swinging her lightning-clad blade sideways. Divided in the middle, the fire lances crumbled apart in a shower of sparks.
However, Figneria was nowhere to be seen.
Readying her draconic tool, Liza let her eyes wander. Thereupon she noticed something moving at the edge of her vision.
Two narrow alleys led away from the plot, but someone had leaped into one of them. No doubt, it must be Figneria
“You think I’ll let you get away…!”
Liza ran after Figneria with the hem of her dress, dirtied by rain and mud, waving. ‘I must bring her down before she catches a breath.
But, when she reached the boundary between the open plot and the alley, Liza became flabbergasted. She couldn’t see anyone in the narrow alley winding its way between two buildings.
Just as she was about to mutter the question where Figneria might have gone, Liza swallowed her words due to a chill traveling down her spine. Her senses, honed on battlefields, warned her of the danger approaching from above. Someone swooping down on her while utilizing the momentum of the fall was reflected in her eyes as she looked up. Still, only that spot in the air looked blurred as if her eyes couldn’t focus on its contours.
Liza thrust out her draconic tool straight above her. The blade rang, lightning flashed, and sparks danced through the air.
She perceived that her thrust had been warded off. At the same time, she felt like something sharp bore through her left shoulder. Her not being able to sidestep was also owed to the attack looking awfully blurred.
Accompanied by her short scream, Liza’s stance broke apart, and she fell to the ground without even the time to take a defensive posture. At the top of her shoulder, blood dyed her dress which had become a mess due to the fierce battle.
Figneria landed in front of Liza who tried to get up while bearing the pain. Without a shroud of triumph, she coldly looked down at Liza. Liza clenched her teeth, glaring at Figneria. Rage, frustration, and self-loathing colored her two eyes.
The black-haired Vanadis had lured Liza into this pinch by pretending to be cornered. And then, she had launched an attack from above while cladding herself in the shimmer of “Heat Haze”, warded off the whip with the sword in her left hand, and injured Liza’s left shoulder with the one in her right.
Figneria raised her two blades overhead. Liza slashed the single-edged blade sideways as a restraint while energetically raising her body. Figneria dodged the sweep by instantly jumping backwards. Liza stood up with her breath going roughly in gasps. Even though her body should be cooled down by the rain, only her left shoulder felt like a melting pot of lava.
──This is really bad.
She had understood after swinging Valitsaif: she could move her left arm a lot less than she had hoped for. All while her right hand was already inhibited to begin with. Her body had become sluggish and heavy because of the blood loss, too.
Liza released “Lightning Blade,” returning Valitsaif into a whip. Mustering her remaining energy, Liza brandished Thunder Swirl. Answering its master’s will, the whip clad itself in white lightning, releasing an abnormal radiance. The overflowing lightning sparks burned through the atmosphere. The end of Valitsaif’s grip divided into nine parts, with every single of them transforming into fearsome lightning hammers, capable of smashing the ground and tearing the heavens.
Figneria probably sensed something uncommon from Liza’s spirit. She held up both her swords as if to protect her face. The golden blade was wrapped up by a gleaming, golden flame, the scarlet blade blew out a crimson blaze. Her right eye calmly observed Liza through the gap between her arms.
Both approached the other by half a step. Only the enemy in front mattered. The other’s faint panting rang in their ears as if the rain didn’t even exist.
When Liza slid her foot another half step forward, Figneria leaped after kicking off the ground. The two flames swirling around her two blades changed into big loops of crimson and gold.
“──Miraculous Smashing Claw Ripping Heaven and Earth Apart!”
“──Revolving Twin Blaze!”
The nine lightnings turned in surging waves of light as they were released. The two flame loops transformed into muddy streams of intense flames, leaving a trail of fire in their wake. Fire and lightning clashed, emitting roars that weren’t inferior to those of a dragon. Swallowing each other, and raging, about to erase each other’s existence. Within the furious dance of countless lights blending and clashing, the overflowing energy turned into a storm, violently sweeping across the plot, and causing cracks to run across the buildings’ walls that were unable to bear the pressure.
The destructive power of their draconic tools was even. If there was a difference, it’d likely be the stamina of their respective masters.
I’m getting pushed back. At the instant she believed that, her feet left the ground. Being blown away without the ability to go against the flow, Liza was engulfed by scorching, roaring flames, as her back slammed against the hard soil. Still, this didn’t kill the momentum, and she kept rolling across the ground. When her body finally came to a halt, she laid still with her muddy face pointing upwards. Her sight was blurry, she had trouble breathing, and no sound escaped her lips.
With her consciousness dim, she didn’t understand right away what had happened to her. Only the rain as it continued to drizzle down and the ash gray sky were reflected in her eyes. However, she faintly sensed the coldness of the mud and the pain of having been burned.
Gradually her sensations came back to her. Once she stirred slightly, a sharp pain ran through her left shoulder. Liza groaned. Tightly grasping the draconic tool in her right, she clawed at the mud with her left hand, eagerly trying to raise her body.
Left and right of her were walls. Liza had been blown away all the way into the alley on the other side, opposite of the one where she had been lured by Figneria.
Around twenty steps ahead of her stood the black-haired Vanadis with an air of arrogance. Behind her, Liza could see the traces of destruction left behind by the two draconic skills. The ground was gouged out as if a raging storm had passed, and big holes cluttered the walls on both sides. Everything around them was scorched black.
Liza failed at her attempt to stand up, flopping back down with her head falling into the mud first. The dirt clinging to her face had been washed away half-assedly by the rain, causing weird patterns to remain as a kind of make-up.
Figneria didn’t move from her spot. She swung the sword with the golden flame, releasing a dazzling, golden fireball from its blade.
In a stance as if crouching on her knees, Liza brandished her whip while supporting her right hand with her left. The fireball was blown off into the sky, turning into a cluster of countless embers.
Liza exhaled deeply with her face twisted in pain. Her body felt like lead. Just the act of swinging her draconic tool was already terribly painful. Still, while repeatedly gasping in short intervals, the red-haired Vanadis got up.
──Am I going to die in this place?
She wondered. Even if her right hand had been in perfect condition, it probably wouldn’t have changed the final outcome much. There was too much of a difference in ability between both parties. Suddenly a smile formed on Liza’s lips. Putting power into both her legs, she firmly stepped down. Overlapping her hands, she held up her draconic tool with both hands.
What made her laugh was her own weakheartedness. ‘If this was Eleonora who taught me how to fight when I was a child, or Tigrevurmud Vorn who boldly fought any opponent, be it demons or dragons, they would never give up, even in the face of death.
──That’s it. I won’t yield. Even if I become unable to wield Valitsaif, or run out of blood to shed after getting chopped up.
Figneria took one step forward. Liza remained rooted to her spot. With the resolve to take on her opponent’s blow, Liza intended to strike back in response. Even the stamina of a single step would be a waste at this point.
However, the anticipated clash didn’t happen.
As soon as she heard the faint sound of air being torn apart through the rain, a single arrow fell from the sky. It precisely landed in the space between the two Vanadis. Figneria stopped moving, and Liza looked backwards. Of course Liza didn’t take her eyes completely off Figneria, but relief and joy still crept onto her face.
Powerful footsteps approached from behind her, passed her, and planted themselves in front of Liza. For the sake of protecting her. Dull, red hair, a black overcoat, and a jet-black bow in the left hand ─ Tigrevurmud Vorn had arrived.
Although it was a deserted back-alley, they had rampaged around quite flashily. Figneria was certain that someone might show up. Although it was slightly unexpected for that person to be Tigre, she immediately recovered from her surprise, and calmly scrutinized the youth.
──300 alsin, was it? I’ve heard that he can shoot arrows over a fairly long distance.
Figneria wasn’t overly well-informed about Tigre. Even if 300 alsin might be an exaggeration, it’s still a fact that he’s a skilled archer was the extent of her knowledge about him.
The distance separating both of them was less than 20 steps. Buildings towered as walls on both sides, making free movement impossible. Just looking at those facts, Figneria would seem to be at a disadvantage here.
──No, the one with the handicap is that guy.
On top of the rainfall, an arrow might not fly adequately over such a short distance. Moreover, because Liza was behind Tigre, it’d be extremely difficult for him to dodge any of Figneria’s attacks.
──I guess he’ll aim for my head or legs. If he’s confident in his aim, the legs, I’d say?
Figneria surmised that he’d slow down her movements by shooting her legs, and then wrap it up with a headshot.
Tigre nocked an arrow onto his black bow. Figneria lowered her body, adopting a forward-bent posture. She planned to plunge at him in a straight line. It’d be the fastest way to have her two blades reach him.
My opponent might be the hero of a foreign country, but I don’t give a damn. Valentina will handle it one way or another.
She kicked off the ground. Flicking away countless raindrops, the black-haired Vanadis approached the youth at an astounding speed. Within the blink of an eye, the distance between the two shrunk down to less than ten steps.
Figneria was certain of her victory. She would reduce any arrow shot at her to ashes with her two blades, and had even calculated where her blades would dig into his flesh. As Tigre was acting as Liza’s shield, he wouldn’t be able to do anything.
However, her plans never came true. Tigre slightly lowered the left hand with the black bow, and shot an arrow aimed at the ground, not Figneria.
No sooner than the arrow hit the ground several steps ahead of Figneria, it rebounded with a hard sound, heading straight for her face, its sharp, pointed end directly aimed at her.
At once Figneria put on the brakes, and tilted her body. The arrow went right past her face, drawing a small arc in the air, and falling to the ground. Figneria widened her eyes, staring at Tigre while even forgetting to breathe.
She couldn’t believe what had happened in front of her eyes just now. While keeping an eye on the youth, she carefully examined the spot where the arrow had bounced off moments ago. She spotted a pebble with the size of a finger.
──He aimed for that from the get-go?
If he had hit the ground, and not the pebble, the arrow would have merely embedded itself into the ground. Even if he had skilfully hit the pebble, it’d become no more than a stray arrow, if it hadn’t bounced off and come flying straight at Figneria’s face.
──A trickshot like this is possible? Within the rain?
Figneria felt terrified. She knew several mercenaries skilled at archery, but not a single of them could pull off such a stunt. In addition, in a situation where they’d lose their life if they missed.
Tigre nocked another arrow. Figneria swiftly readied her swords while jumping backwards. She realized that she had underestimated the youth.
This is no opponent I can slay by simply shortening the distance.
“Why did you attack Liza?” Tigre asked calmly, probably because she had moved away.
Figneria pondered what she should do. The answer was actually simple: Valentina had arranged for it to be like that.
However, Tigre was a Brunian noble. He might show an unexpected response. She was also afraid that she might make a verbal gaffe, if the conversation dragged out unnecessarily. Her lack of experience and knowledge about handling such situations was inevitable as she had only become a Vanadis a short while ago, but it was also Figneria’s own shortcoming.
──Besides, the appearance of this guy means…
It was also possible that other Vanadis were already on the way. Figneria noticed that fact belatedly. It was clear proof that she hadn’t yet fully recovered from her shock over having witnessed Tigre’s mastery archery skills.
“You’ve got no intent to answer?” Anger filled Tigre’s voice.
Figneria shrugged her shoulders, replying, “Sorry, I was simply spellbound by your archery skill.”
If her words had contained a shred of sarcasm or some kind of other intent, either Tigre or Liza would have likely perceived it. However, it was an honest praise lacking any negative notions. The anger dissipated slightly from the youth’s face with bewilderment taking its place.
Figneria took another set of backsteps, before turning on Tigre and Liza with her black clothes fluttering. Then she began to run at full speed towards the alley she had lured Liza into earlier. Without using any draconic skills either.
On the other hand, Tigre watched Figneria quickly leave while feeling dumbfounded. It took him around three breaths to ask himself whether she was actually escaping. Despite adjusting the hold of his bow, the youth was uncertain whether he should fire his arrow at her. The rain turned into a white curtain just a few dozen steps away, obscuring visibility, but he still was confident in his ability to land a hit.
However, the opponent was a Vanadis. It was quite imaginable that she possessed some kind of defense measure. Also, if Figneria were to change her thinking and come back here, Tigre would have to fight her while protecting the heavily injured Liza. If it means that the opponent is running away, I should let her do just that.
Figneria’s figure vanished within the rain, and after counting to ten and confirming that she wasn’t coming back, Tigre relaxed the bowstring, stored the arrow back into the quiver at his hips, and turned around to Liza.
He tried to ask her whether she was alright, but the words didn’t want to come out. Taking another look at her, it was evident in what tragic state she was.
The red-haired Vanadis was smeared with mud and riddled with injuries from head to toe. Her dress had no resemblance with its original form. It was so black that it was impossible to tell its previous colors, and had changed into a dirty rag barely covering her body. Several burns and abrasions could be seen at her thighs, and especially the wound at her left shoulder looked rather deep.
“So you…came for me, eh?” Liza smiled at Tigre, likely barely standing at all.
A mud-caked necklace swayed on her chest – a present the youth gave to her in the past. Her body shook violently, and heeled over. Tigre quickly extended his arms, catching her in an embrace. He examined Liza’s condition with a grave expression, full of anxiety and tension. Learning that she had only fainted, the youth breathed out in relief. He took off his own coat, and draped it over her.
I guess I shouldn’t have allowed Figneria to run off.
Tigre thought due to his rage towards the black-haired Vanadis, but he immediately shook his head. He didn’t want to think what would have happened to Liza if she had gotten dragged into their fight in such a state. ‘Yep, it’s better like this, after all.
Shouldering his bow, he hugged Liza with both arms.
At that moment, he spotted Mila and Olga running through the alley towards him. Guessing that the two had tracked after him, Tigre began walking in their direction.
Around the time when Liza and Figneria had their scuffle in a hidden part of the capital, another battle was unfolding in a section of the royal palace. In a small garden exposed to a downpour of rain, two women – both in the first half of their twenties – faced each other with their weapons drawn.
One of them had wavy, blond hair flowing down all the way to her hips over the greenish dress covering her voluptuous body. In her hands, a golden bishop’s staff. The other wore a pure-white dress covered by rose decorations as her long, bluish-black hair loosely fluttered. A long-handled scythe as tall as an adult was her weapon of choice.
Both of them were owners of breathtaking beauty with the blonde one being Sofya Obertas and the other being Valentina Glinka Estes. Just like Valentina was also referred to as Illusory Princess of the Hollow Shadow, Sofy also held a nickname: Brilliant Princess of the Light Flower.
Their battle had begun slightly before the rain began to fall. Valentina had assaulted Sofy just as she was taking a rest in the garden. Comprehending that she wouldn’t be able to escape unscathed, Sofy fought back by wielding her bishop’s staff, Light Flower.
The number of clashes between staff and scythe had easily exceeded twenty in number by now, with both weapons painting countless shining trails onto the canvas called air. A quick conclusion didn’t seem at hand, and eventually, rain started to blanket the garden, bringing us to the current point in time.
The autumn plants coloring the garden with their blossoms scattered through the air and drowned in mud as they got enveloped in the fierce fight. Water was dripping from Sofy’s hair with her dress glued to her cold body. Being drenched by the rain could be said about Valentina too, but in contrast to the tense, strained expression of the blond Vanadis, Valentina had the composure to even smile in this situation.
“What do you mean by calling me a hindrance?” Sofy challenged Valentina while getting her breathing in order.
Back when Valentina had slashed her scythe at Sofy in the beginning, she had said: “You’re in the way, Sofya.”
For a good while now, Sofy had paid attention to Valentina’s movements. She believed that Valentina might be scheming something while pretending to have a weak constitution. Sofy had never directly opposed her actions, but Valentina might have still perceived her as a person standing in her way.
Moreover, recently Sofy had been frequently visiting the palace, meeting with many nobles and bureaucrats. These visits would clearly give Valentina the impression that Sofy might challenge her ways in an attempt to oppose her.
However, even Valentina wouldn’t be able to get rid of Sofy just because she considered her a hindrance. She should have prepared some other, suitable reason.
“You don’t know?”
“I’ve got absolutely no clue. I believe that you might be misunderstanding something.”
“It saddens me that you really try to play dumb with me.”
Shouldering Hollow Shadow Ezendeis – the scythe combining jet black and deep crimson colors, Valentina kicked off the ground. With an agility and speed hardly imaginable from her drenched dress, she shortened the distance to Sofy in the blink of an eye.
However, without moving an inch from her spot, Sofy simply readied Light Flower for counter, and then repelled the scythe’s side sweep. Faster than the reverberation of the metallic clang could fade, Sofy turned her wrist over, unleashing a strong counterblow by making her staff rotate.
Valentina dodged by twisting her body.
“Aren’t those some fine moves, in lieu of your constant claim about having a weak body?”
“Even if it might seem so, I’m pushing myself quite a bit here.” Valentina warded Sofy’s sarcasm off with a light laugh.
Casually closing the distance, she swiftly stepped in, brandishing her scythe. Sofy blocked the attack with her staff. As the first ringing of metals was drowned out by the second, another metallic clank tore through the atmosphere.
The hem of Sofy’s dress was ripped apart, revealing a crimson line on her thigh’s white skin. At the same time, her staff’s pointed end grazed Valentina’s left arm, leaving behind a cut looking like it would soon swell.
Valentina wielded her draconic tool, showering Sofy with slashes from various angles. Their sharpness, severity, and above all, unpredictable trajectories forced Sofy into a defensive battle. Blocking, repelling, evading by bending her body, and restraining the scythe with minute swings of her staff. Each time draconic tool met draconic tool was followed by a shower of golden sparks, which immediately vanished in thin air.
Then, the scythe aimed for her feet. Judging that she wouldn’t be able to dodge it, Sofy barely managed to repel it. The raindrops reflected the draconic tools’ glow as they were flicked away, creating minuscule rainbows between the two women.
Sofy honestly admitted Valentina’s skill as a warrior. Her strength could be lined up in a row next to that of Eleonora Viltaria and Mila.
If the battle continues at this rate, I’ll likely be the one to come out as the loser.
“──Space Corridor.” Accompanied by that muttering, Valentina’s body suddenly vanished.
Sofy widened her eyes, but without showing any other signs of surprise, she calmly held up her staff.
“──Heed my call, dazzling golden beads, and congregate around me.”
Golden light spilled over from the rings linked to the bishop’s staff, twining around her body. It was at this moment that Valentina manifested above Sofy’s head.
Sofy’s figure, wrapped up in golden particles, soundlessly disappeared as Valentina’s scythe cut through the air. If a third party had been watching, they probably wouldn’t have had the slightest clue what just happened.
Valentina had jumped through space with her draconic skill, launching a surprise attack on Sofy. And Sofy promptly vanished thanks to her draconic skill, evading the lethal, dreadful scythe slash.
Once Valentina touched down on the ground, she stared in a certain direction, her face lacking any of its previous joy.
“Nothing less of you, Sofya.”
As if in reply to her comment, the contours of a person materialized in the empty space. As they continued to draw clear lines while gaining a multitude of colors, the contours took the shape of Sofy’s body.
Sofy didn’t answer – proof that she didn’t even have that much of a leeway. She was able to stay on guard against Valentina’s draconic skill, which allowed her to traverse space, as she had heard about it before. If she hadn’t known of it, it’d have likely been her end just now. Moreover, it was rather questionable whether she’d have been able to avoid the attack if she didn’t have her own vanishing skill.
“Is this how you murdered Duke Bydgauche?” Deliberately faking calmness, Sofy provoked Valentina by confronting her with such a claim.
The other Vanadis slightly tilted her head to the side, “His Grace died after falling down the stairs.”
“The bereaved Duke family seems to not believe in that tale, however.” Sofy pressed on.
She didn’t believe that Valentina would make the blunder of spilling the beans here, but seeing as her chance for victory was slim when fighting her straight from the front, she had no choice but to probe for chinks in her defense through other means.
“I do understand their feelings, but every once in a while, inexplicable or unimaginable things happen in this world. Don’t you believe so as well, Sofya?”
Valentina answered her with a somewhat serious tone while smiling, and took a step forward within the mud. Sofy readied her staff, preparing herself to defend against the coming onslaught.
──It’s really detestable how it’s not said that she’ll come slashing at me straight from the front.
Valentina might possibly appear behind or besides Sofy after jumping through space while closing the distance. For Sofy it meant that she would always be one step late.
But, just when both sides were about to cross their weapons again…
“What do you think you’re doing here!?” The thunderous roar assailing the two from the side stopped the two Vanadis in their tracks.
It was Valentina who first averted her eyes from her opponent. She completely turned around to the person who had called out to them, placed her draconic tool on the ground, and knelt down.
As soon as Sofy learned of the person’s identity, she performed a retainer’s bow.
“Oh my, Your Highness Ruslan…”
A single man stood there without minding his white, silken garments getting drenched as he was exposed to wind and rain. He was in his mid-thirties. Possessing a vell-balanced, trained body, rage oozed out of his blue eyes and face, bordered by light blond hair.
Ruslan overlooked the two Vanadis, and announced in irritation, “Both of you, come to the hallway. I cannot allow our country’s precious Vanadis to continue standing out in the rain.”
The two Vanadis obeyed Ruslan who turned on his heels, walking towards the hallway. They had not much choice as he was this country’s prince, and the man considered to become the next king.
──I wonder what’s this about?
Sofy stared at Valentina’s back one step ahead of her, doubt dyeing her beryl eyes. Since she had attacked Sofy in a place like this, Sofy had been certain that Valentina had made sure that no one would approach this area.
Once they returned into the hallway, Ruslan addressed the two Vanadis with a strict tone, “It’s not like either of you has become a Vanadis just yesterday. You should also be well aware of your own positions. Just what happened for you to start a fight inside the palace? ──Sofya Obertas, you go first.”
Ruslan’s approach was to stay neutral and impartial, instead of backing Valentina. Sofy bowed at the prince once more, and explained that she had suddenly been attacked by Valentina while taking a rest in the garden. Ruslan nodded his comprehension, and shifted his eyes to Valentina.
“Well then Valentina Glinka Estes, let me hear your view of the events.”
“It’s true that I assaulted Lady Sofya.” Elegantly bowing, Valentina replied.
“What’s the reason?”
“I have obtained secret information.” Ruslan knitted his eyebrows upon her words. Valentina continued, “After talking it over with Lady Eleonora and Lady Elizavetta, both Vanadis like her, Lady Sofya won over Earl Pardu, scheming to overthrow Your Highness.”
Sofy gasped, shuddering. If Valentina and Rushlan were in cahoots, she would be groundlessly blamed for a crime she hadn’t committed. And not just her either. It’d also include Elen, Liza, and Earl Eugene Shevarin.
However, it didn’t develop into such a direction.
“Do you have any proof?” Ruslan hurled another question at Valentina without easing his grim expression.
The black-haired Vanadis denied it, and then after taking a breath, “However, I have confirmed Lady Sofya and Lady Elizavetta have frequented the palace for the last few days. Moreover, Lady Eleonora has visited Earl Pardu several times.”
“Enough.” Ruslan spat out, not even trying to hide his anger, “It’s not particularly unusual for Vanadis to visit the palace. Especially in the current state of affairs. The earl has told me that he’s been a friend of Lady Eleonora for a good while now. You seem aware of it yourself, but just that alone is no reason to move against them.”
Seemingly quite furious, Ruslan further hissed, “Valentina. I’m relying on you, but don’t you think you’ve moved far too hastily, carelessly believing in unconfirmed information? In the worst case, it could have resulted in me losing two loyal and capable Vanadis.”
“You are absolutely correct, Your Highness. It is just as you have stated.” Valentina bowed her head much deeper than before.
Unable to judge how she should act under these unexpected circumstances, Sofy merely watched Valentina’s behavior.
“The one you should bow your head at isn’t me but Lady Sofya, don’t you think? It doesn’t appear like either of you has suffered any serious injuries, but…” Ruslan sighed.
Valentina went down on her knees, facing Sofy.
“Sofya, my rash actions must have caused a lot of trouble to you. Allow me to deeply apologize for my improper conduct.” Valentina apologized to Sofy with a tone and expression, as if she was regretting it from the bottom of her heart.
Pretending to still be fuming with anger, Sofy didn’t say anything. She had absolutely no interest in responding to Valentina’s acting in any way. Moreover, Sofy was worried that Valentina might be scheming something again.
“──Valentina,” called out Ruslan with a grave expression, “I must punish you for causing unrest at the palace, and furthermore for the crime of having tried to harm your fellow Vanadis.”
“Certainly, I shall accept any punishment you deem fit.” Valentina waited for Ruslan’s verdict while keeping up her solemn attitude.
The hallway was completely dominated by silence, with just the pitter-pattering of the rain reaching the three’s ears from the garden.
“If I remember correctly, you own a mansion in the capital. I order you to hand over your draconic tool into our custody, and spend thirty days under house arrest in that mansion. You’re forbidden to take a single step outside during your house arrest. Even visitors might only come to see you after receiving my permission. Same applies to exchange through letters and similar. I shall have seen it through by dispatching supervisors. As for the apology towards Lady Sofya, I shall make an announcement afterwards.”
Supervisors under such circumstances referred to people tasked with monitoring. It was a strict surveillance protocol to make sure that the person under house arrest wouldn’t secretly leave their house or invite guests over.
“Sofya, what do you think?” Ruslan asked.
This question implicitly asked her whether she’d agree with this level of punishment.
From Sofy’s standpoint, she had been attacked, and then falsely accused of a crime she didn’t commit, so she might be able to demand a stricter punishment. For example, she could request for a part of Osterode to be confiscated and put under the direct control of the royal family.
“I have no objection.”
However, she opted for going along with the prince’s suggestion. If Sofy made another claim here, and Ruslan accepted it, other people might get the impression that it was a power struggle between Vanadis, and Sofy feared for that to happen.
“By the way, Your Highness, how are you going to handle the secret information mentioned by Lady Valentina?”
Ruslan frowned in response to her question.
“Of course I plan to find out the identity of the informer to pass a harsh punishment on them. I do understand your anger over having your name sullied, but would you allow me to handle this matter? I promise that it won’t be to your disadvantage.”
Sofy immediately guessed what Ruslan was worried about. If the informer was in a high position, or an influential noble, it’d turn into a major issue. He likely wanted to proceed with this secretly until the background of the informer became clear.
“Understood, I’d be delighted if you could take care of it, Your Highness. Also, I shall explain the situation to Eleonora and Elizavetta.”
“Right, please take care of that side. I shall speak to Earl Pardu. Well then, I shall provide a room to each of you, so make sure to dry your bodies and change your clothes. You shouldn’t take the winds during this season lightly.”
The prince’s words carried dignity, but they had become softer compared to moments ago. Very likely, this gentle attitude was what defined the true Ruslan.
Soldiers rushed over from the other side of the hallway. Ruslan clumsily glossed it over by saying, “The ladies had a little argument in the rain,” and ordered them to lead Sofy and Valentina to vacant rooms. Then he walked away himself while accompanied by soldiers.
Protected by soldiers, Sofy began to walk down the hallway. Only now she had started to feel uncomfortable over the dress clinging to her body, and the chill permeating through it. She casually glanced at Valentina who was walking next to her. When Sofy saw her profile, the suspicions lurking deep in her heart turned into conviction.
Valentina had stayed calm over the entire course of events, her face betraying no despair or disappointment. For her, this situation had very likely played out just as expected.
──I must hurry back, and talk it over with everyone…
Sofy had to restrain herself to not break into a run.
When she came to, Liza found herself lying on a bed.
“Where am I…?”
It was a dim room where her body was fully tucked underneath a blanket. However, when she tried to move, pain assailed her all over. Her left shoulder was especially bad.
Moving just her head, Liza surveyed her vicinity. She appeared to be in some mansion’s room. The place was dimly illuminated and heated up by the flames flickering inside a fireplace along the wall. The scenery visible through the glass-paneled window only showed darkness. Yet, she could perceive that rain was still pouring outside, just like earlier.
Rummaging through her memories, Liza recalled what had happened before she fainted. She fought against Figneria, lost, and was rescued by Tigre.
“This must be Sofy’s mansion.”
At least, it’d make sense. If you were to bring a mud-caked Vanadis, who’s covered in wounds all over, to some unfitting place, it would cause quite a commotion. Sofy’s place should be the safest option here.
Liza sighed. Trying to lift up her right arm, she noticed that it was wrapped up in bandages, elbow up. And not just her right arm either. She could clearly perceive how her whole body was bandaged at many places.
“I’m lucky that it’s only this much.”
Figneria was definitely out to kill her. Once she imagined what would have happened if Tigre hadn’t rushed over, a chill traveled down Liza’s spine.
“I must give Tigre my thanks.” Just when she muttered this casually, knocking could be heard from the door.
Thinking that Tigre might have come to visit her, Liza’s cheeks blushed out of happiness and confusion. She pulled up the blanket all the way to her chin, and quickly fixed her disheveled hair. Tigre telling her, “I’m going to come running right away, if something happens to you,” alongside the situation back last year’s winter revived in her mind. That scenery overlapped with the youth’s back she had earlier seen through the rain.
While immersing herself in a feeling of joy, Liza answered the door. But, the one who entered was Elen. As Liza felt embarrassed about her own behavior moments ago, she pulled the blanket all the way up to her nose. She didn’t want her current face to be seen by Elen.
Elen held a round tray in her hands. A silver cup filled with water and a small plate holding several black beads were placed on it. After Elen put the tray down on the table next to Liza’s bed, she pulled a chair over, and sat down.
“How are your injuries?”
“For you to be worried about me, that’s quite unusual.” Unintentionally Liza gave a rather harsh reply while averting her eyes from Elen.
The other Vanadis knitted her eyebrows, but without reacting to Liza’s words, she simply stated, “I brought your medicine. Take it.”
Liza looked up to the tray, guessing that the beads on the plate had to be the medicine in question.
“Who has made this medicine…?”
“One of Sofy’s maids said that she could contort medicines, albeit limited to simple ones. It was also that maid who took care of your wounds.”
“Ah, so I’m at Sofy’s mansion, just as expected.”
“Yeah, I haven’t seen it myself since I came back only a little while ago, but I heard that it was quite a lot of work to take off your clothes, remove all the dirt, clean your body, and apply medical ointment. Since she’s busy with housework and can’t spare any time right now, I took over. Make sure to thank her later.”
Liza nodded, and then sat up while bearing the pain. She knew that the blanket slid down, but beneath she had been wearing a loose nightgown, most likely because the maid in question had slipped it over her body.
Elen’s face darkened when she saw the injuries on Liza’s arms and shoulders.
“Your hands have been messed up really badly.”
Liza drained down the medicine alongside the water in the cup, grimacing as the medicine was far more bitter than she had expected.
“Come to think of it, what kind of medicine is this?”
“I hear it works against inflammation and eases pain. The maid said that you should also eat properly and sleep as much as possible.”
“Sofy sure employs good maids.”
Liza laid down once more. She finally understood why Elen, and not Tigre, had brought her medicine. Beneath her gown she only wore her underwear and bandages. She was sure that facing Tigre in such a getup would be very embarrassing.
“What about the others?”
“Sofy still hasn’t come back from the palace. Ludmila and Olga have gone over to check on the situation. Lim and Tigre are here. Want me to call them over?”
Liza shook her head. Then she looked up to Elen with a curiosity written on her face as Elen stared at her without showing any indication that she was planning to stand up from the chair.
“I have already taken the medicine.”
“I’ve been asked to watch over you until you fall asleep.” Elen answered with a shrug of her shoulders.
Liza only returned, “I see.”
She closed her eyes, but couldn’t quite fall asleep, albeit feeling sluggish. There were no signs of Elen leaving either. Liza pondered whether she should talk about something, but no good topic came to mind.
──Well, that makes only sense. Until a little while ago, we bitterly hated and fought each other.
Liza had razed a village related to Elen to the ground, Elen had killed Liza’s father. Both had their reasons, but that alone wasn’t reason enough for either to be able to accept the sentiments of the other. During the chain of incidents surrounding Tigre’s loss of memory, they eventually fought side-by-side. But, it wasn’t as though they made up with each other. Right now they were in a phase of figuring out how to deal with each other.
──Which reminds me…back when I met Eleonora for the first time, it was a similar situation.
Liza had been ten years old when she encountered Elen for the first time. Back then, Elen was nine years old and a child warrior belonging to the mercenary band staying over in the poor village where Liza lived as an orphan while wearing an eyepatch over her right eye to hide her rainbow eyes. Elen happened to pass by just as Liza was bullied by village children. She instantly beat up all the children, rescuing Liza. And then, during the four days of the mercenary band’s stay in the village, Elen taught Liza how to fight.
──I wonder whether Eleonora still remembers all this.
This was probably the first time ever since Liza became a Vanadis that she was together with Elen in a peaceful setting like this. Liza believed that it might be a good opportunity to ask about the past.
──But, what if she doesn’t remember…?
Anxiety and fear reared their heads inside Liza. As she hesitated, Elen spoke up, apparently having switched her approach since it didn’t look like Liza would fall asleep anytime soon.
“Why did Figneria attack you?”
While suppressing the relief and disappointment in her chest, Liza replied with her eyes still closed, “I don’t know. She didn’t tell me.”
“I see,” was the short comment Elen gave before immediately moving on to the next question, “For what reason were you in a place like that?”
Liza’s eyebrow curved up, revealing her displeasure. A mix of rage and some guilty conscience manifested on her face. After making Elen wait for around five breaths, she began to talk, bit-by-bit. After having listened till the end, Elen was flabbergasted.
“How very reckless of you.”
“I don’t want to be told that by you!”
Although she was quite aware of her own rashness, it still pissed her off to have it pointed out by someone else, and thus she lashed back at Elen in anger, only earning herself a small laugh by the silver-haired Vanadis.
“I guess you’ll be alright if you’ve got enough spunk to get so angry.”
Liza opened her eyes, just to be met with Elen’s smiling face. Understanding that Elen was apparently taking her into consideration in her own way, the anger surging within her subsided.
Liza asked something that just occurred to her, “If it had been you who got invited by Valentina, what would you have done?”
“I’d have stayed clear from that side the moment I heard about Figneria’s involvement.” Elen immediately replied, wiping away her smile. Then she added with a serious look, “Even leaving aside the matter with Figneria, I still can’t trust Valentina. She probably doesn’t trust me either. To be honest, I wouldn’t be any good at putting on an act of being nice buddies, so I wouldn’t have any choice but to turn it down anyway.”
“That sounds very like you.” A smile formed on Liza’s lips.
Those words were no sarcasm, but her true feelings. For her, Elen’s clear-cut, openhearted attitude had always been something she adored.
“Somehow it looks like my presence makes it actually harder for you to sleep instead.” Elen got up from her chair with a wry smile. “I’ll explain the circumstances to the others, so you just care about getting a rest.”
When Elen was about to leave the room after that last comment, Liza asked her from behind, “Do you plan to fight against Figneria?”
A curt answer. However, Liza could acutely sense intense emotions, that would make anyone flinch away, contained within.
“Wait, Eleonora.” Liza stopped Elen with a grave voice while raising her body. As Elen looked back quizzically, Liza pointed at the chair. “I will tell you how Figneria has attacked me.”
Elen put on a serious expression, and sat back down. What she knew about Figneria’s fighting style dated back to five years ago. Just like Elen had remarkably evolved as a warrior since then, Figneria ought to have raised her skills as well. She had decided that it was something she had to hear.
Liza carefully explained in detail how Figneria had moved, and what kind of draconic skills she had employed. At times she ended up gesturing with her hands, resulting in her having to take a short break because of the pain, but Liza’s explanation was precise and easy to understand.
Suddenly Liza felt uneasiness tugging at her when she saw how Elen listened to her attentively without interrupting even once.
──Is it really smart to tell her all that?
Liza didn’t know much about the relationship between Elen and Figneria. But, she could easily imagine that they shared a fairly heavy past from Elen’s attitude and expression. High-strung emotions might narrow down one’s own outlook over the whole. This was something Liza had experienced herself as well. Liza suspected that Elen would lose against Figneria, if she were to suffer from such a tunnel vision.
Once Liza’s explanation finished, Elen breathed out lightly, and stood up.
“Thanks. You were a big help.”
Liza silently stared into Elen’s eyes for a moment without saying anything. When Elen tilted her head in confusion, she said, “I know that it’s none of my business, but…when you try to win against someone, your feelings play a big role. If you discard those, you will fail in grabbing a chance at victory when it presents itself. However, Figneria is truly strong. I think it’d be better if you fought against her while thinking of not losing first.”
When she finished speaking, Liza noticed that Elen was looking at her with surprise written all over her face. A completely unforeseen reaction as Elen wasn’t angry, nor fed up, as Liza would have expected.
“Nothing, it’s just unexpected,” Elen flashed a wry smile at Liza, and continued, “I teach promising soldiers the same. The desire for victory is important, but think of how to not lose first, is what I tell them. For you to tell me the exact same thing is quite a surprise.”
Liza’s chest throbbed in nervousness, and her face became hot.
“It’s something I was taught in the past. When I was still small.”
She intended to answer while pretending to be calm, but her voice sounded somewhat shrill and tense.
“Say, Elen.” She looked up to Elen with just her blue eye as she hid her right eye with her hand, “Did you perchance meet a girl with such a face a long, long time ago? In a small village where you stayed over back when you still were a small mercenary.”
Elen stared down at Liza, clearly bewildered. With her eyebrows furrowed, she obviously rummaged through her memories the best she could. When around five to six breaths had passed, Elen finally realized the meaning behind Liza hiding her right eye.
“Elizavetta? You wore an eyepatch…?”
Elen couldn’t hide her surprise, and Liza’s expression softened, as both stared at each other. The scenery from nine years ago played back in both their minds. A silver-haired girl teaching how to fight, and a red-haired girl devotedly listening to her every word with a sparkling, left eye, with a poor village in the background. Elen had instantly pulverized Liza’s wrong impression that she couldn’t do anything about her own despair, and taught her how to walk while facing forward. Holding up the flame lit by Elen, Liza kept struggling through the darkness, even after Elen had left. The two from back then had now finally reunited again.
Only the rain pattering outside was audible inside the room.
Elen left Liza’s room, instantly erasing the smile full of mixed feelings she had shown inside. The one standing there wasn’t a girl full of joy, albeit a perplexed one, over the unexpected reunion, but a warrior with furious rage burning in her ruby eyes. Walking through the dim corridor, only illuminated by a lamp on the wall, she didn’t head to her room, but instead made way for Tigre’s room. She didn’t return to her own room, because she expected to find Lim and Tigre there, and she was certain that both would try to stop her if they learned that she was about to go out to search for Figneria.
Tigre’s room wasn’t locked. Within the dark room, Elen blindly groped for Tigre’s overcoat, and put it on after getting hold of it. She decided that it’d be fine for her to summon her own draconic tool, Arifar, once she left the mansion behind.
Just when she was about to go outside, someone called Elen to a halt from behind. Reluctantly she stopped her feet, and looked back. The one standing behind her was Tigre.
“Where are you going at this late hour?”
“Just a little stroll.” Elen replied with a deliberately blunt tone.
However, the youth didn’t allow his lover’s deception to pass. His black eyes stabbed at her piercingly.
“Are you going to Figneria?”
“As if that’d be the case. To begin with, it’s not like I know where to find her.”
“Why are you sneaking out behind our backs then?”
Going by him using us, Elen guessed that Lim had to be somewhere, too. Tigre continued as Elen remained silent with her lips pursed.
“If you go to the palace, you might learn where to find Figneria. And even if not, as long as you walk through the nightly streets all alone, she might take you up on that invitation. Considering it like that──”
“Is there any reason to simply leave that bitch to her own devices?” Interrupting Tigre, Elen hurled words full of rage at him.
“Yes, there is. You might end up like Elizavetta.”
Elen appealed to him with her eyes to let her go. However, Tigre didn’t budge.
Elen drew close to the youth with her fists clenched. Her attitude was terribly menacing, but without wincing back from her, Tigre calmly took on her fiery glare.
Her protest was interrupted by Tigre suddenly hugging her. Confusion spread on Elen’s face, just to be followed by embarrassment and dismay. Even though she tried to retort something, she couldn’t form any clear words with her muddy thinking.
“Wh-! Whash the deal!?”
Although she finally managed to squeeze out some words, they lacked impact because she had fumbled them. Tigre increased the strength in his arms, which he had put around Elen’s back, without answering. As if to tell her that he wouldn’t let her go, no matter what. Elen started to raise her fist, but stopped midway. The warmth and passionate feelings, transmitted to her from Tigre’s body, soothed the raging emotions in her chest, and they also allowed her to realize that she was about to do something completely reckless.
After around ten breaths, Tigre whispered, “By now it’s already two years ago, but…do you remember the time when I had a one-on-one fight with Duke Thenardier? And do you also recall the words you told me back then?”
Without waiting for her answer, Tigre continued, “──I won’t tell you to not harbor any desire for revenge, but don’t get blinded by it. Don’t use that as your only weapon.”
Those words and her fist had dragged the youth out of the dark maze inside his heart. Without it, Tigre’s life would have definitely taken a completely different turn, compared to now.
Elen asked with a face and voice full of bitterness, “Do I look like that to you?”
Once Tigre nodded, she put her hand around his back, and lightly tapped it.
“Okay, okay, you win. I’ll behave myself for now.” As the youth released her from his embrace, Elen put on a troubled expression within the dim illumination. “I’m happy about your feelings, but…if this was your reason, it’d have been better if you had punched me without any restraint.”
“I’ll keep it in mind for times when I’ve got no other options left.”
The two exchanged smiles, and headed back to Elen’s room.
It was one of several guest rooms in this mansion that had its floor covered by a carpet. Two chairs, a small table, and a sofa allowing for two people to fit on it had been added as furniture. A lamp suspended from the ceiling provided the necessary illumination.
Lim, who had waited there, breathed out in relief as soon as she spotted Elen. She had tied her dull, golden hair into a braid on the left side of her head. Just like Elen, Lim was wearing a bluish uniform. A smile, she wouldn’t show to anyone but Elen and Tigre, bloomed on her face which usually was completely devoid of any kindness.
“Lord Tigrevurmud, thank you for bringing back Eleonora-sama.” Lim got up from her chair, deeply bowing at the youth.
Then she turned an inquisitive look at Elen who had sat down on the sofa while still wearing the overcoat.
“Eleonora-sama, you don’t need to wear an overcoat inside this room. Please take it off.”
“It doesn’t really matter, does it? I promised Tigre that I wouldn’t go outside anyway.”
Lim tilted her head at Elen’s reply. After quietly scrutinizing her, she sighed once she realized that the overcoat draped over her lord’s body was Tigre’s. She didn’t quite understand whether this sigh stemmed from her thinking that Tigre was pampering Elen too much, or her believing that Elen fawned on Tigre too much. However, there was no doubt that it contained a tiny fraction of envy.
“By the way, Elen, about Lord Eugene…” When Tigre broached the topic of Eugene after sitting down on one of the chairs, Elen and Lim immediately snapped out of it, switching their thinking.
During the time when Tigre had been walking through the streets with Mila and Olga, Elen and Lim had visited Eugene Shevarin, their teacher in etiquette. Normally Eugene would be at the palace to assist Prince Ruslan, but today’s schedule included him inspecting temples, the castle gates, and towers, which resulted in him working outside the palace. He met the two at his mansion.
“I heard a bit about it from Lim, but is his condition still as bad?”
“No, it’s actually getting worse by the day. Moreover, I can’t see any signs that it’d improve in the near future.” Elen angrily spat out with her arms folded.
Lim added, “It felt as though he lost even more weight compared to our meeting several days ago.”
If you were to summarize what was causing Eugene so much grief, it’d be the royal palace. When Ruslan had been appointed as next king, the noble lords and bureaucrats, who had swarmed Eugene until then, distanced themselves from him. However, once the marriage of Eugene’s daughter Alyssa with Ruslan’s son Valeri was decided, all those people drew close to him again. In addition, people slandering him out of jealousy, and people sucking up to Eugene out of antipathy towards Ruslan and Valentina also started to come out of the woodworks.
Moreover, probably instigated by someone, people started to get in the way of Eugene’s work by passing orders on wrongly, or having him handle work that wasn’t originally his. From the start, Eugene was someone with a healthy mind and body, but both got worn down by the deaths of his close friends Ilda and Viktor, followed by him being confronted with the political marriage of his ten-years-old daughter. Reaching that point, it was only natural for his health to deteriorate, considering the daily backbiting and slander, combined with a flood of flattery and servility.
However, Eugene couldn’t leave the palace and return to his own territory, Pardu. He couldn’t afford to be suspected of planning a rebellion by people thoughtlessly deciding for it to be so. And above all, Eugene had sworn to the late King Viktor that he’d support Ruslan. Seeing as that Ruslan also relied on him, he couldn’t just toss all his governmental duties aside.
“As a matter of fact, someone else visited his mansion when we were talking with Lord Eugene.”
A low-ranking noble possessing a mansion in the capital had visited Eugene. Despite having a low rank, that noble originated from an old, long-standing family, making it hard to treat him too rudely. Having Elen and Lim wait in another room, Eugene decided to wrap up talks with that man quickly. That noble kept the greetings short, and immediately went on to advocate that Eugene should grasp the political power.
“Since he pissed me off, he got kicked out.”
Tigre tilted his head in confusion over Elen’s rough explanation, and asked, “Kicked out? By who?”
“Me, of course.”
“Lord Eugene allowed you to sit in on his meeting with that noble?”
“When I passed the room by pure coincidence, I heard their conversation, okay?”
Tigre shifted his eyes to Lim. Elen’s adjutant answered with an indifferent expression, “As it was something done out of worry over Lord Eugene, it wasn’t wrong in the end, and Lord Eugene himself forgave her with a laugh.”
In short, Elen was eavesdropping. Tigre rolled his eyes at Elen. But then again, once he thought it over, it wasn’t such a bad way to deal with the noble. Elen was a Vanadis, a political authority ranking next to high-ranking nobles. Even if she had punished a single noble for making reckless remarks, she wasn’t in a position where this would turn into an issue. Considering what he had said to Eugene, the noble wouldn’t be able to publicly blame Elen for it either.
“Just thinking about such retards showing up almost every day, I can fully sympathize with Lord Eugene’s suffering. I’d like to somehow cheer him up when possible, but I don’t know how…”
“How is the relationship between Lord Eugene and His Highness Ruslan? Can’t he talk it over with His Highness to have him change the situation?”
Elen nodded at Tigre’s question with a face showing her complex feelings on this matter.
“I was also curious about that part, and asked him various things, but going by his words, you can’t call their relationship neither good nor bad. If I had to pinpoint an issue, I feel like it’d be Lord Eugene holding back too much.”
“But, it sounds like anything Lord Eugene says could be taken as the words of a person who should have become the next king, and not as those of a single retainer. I think it might be inevitable for him to tread carefully.” Lim objected humbly.
Elen groaned lightly.
“Not being able to clearly voice out what ought to be said must be hard on Lord Eugene as well…” Lim added.
While listening to the two, Tigre got lost in his own thoughts.
──I wonder, is there anything I can do about this?
Tigre was visiting Zhcted as chief delegate of Brune, and as a thanks for Zhcted having helped out in the previous wars. With him having had an audience with Prince Ruslan, presented the gifts, and even attended the unexpected event of King Victor’s funeral, he had finished his tasks as envoy. There were several reasons why Tigre still remained in Zhcted’s capital.
One was his wish to access the palace’s archive to search for documents about the demons. Another was his wish to ward any potential danger off Brune by ascertaining Zhcted’s state of affairs. Moreover, there was also the matter of marrying Elen, although this had a lower priority under these circumstances.
At that moment, there was a knock at the door, and the face of a girl with hazel eyes and chestnut-colored hair peeked inside the room. The girl had tied her hair together at the back of her head, and was wearing a white apron above a black shirt with long sleeves and a skirt reaching down all the way to her feet. It was Tigre’s maid, Titta.
For several days now she had been living in this mansion. Tigre had asked Sofy to allow it, and Sofy had willingly accepted. And, as Titta couldn’t bear only relying on Sofy’s kindness, she had been helping the maids working in this mansion. Apparently Titta had quickly befriended the maids here.
“Tigre-sama, Eleonora-sama, and Ms. Limalisha. Sofya-sama and the others have returned.”
The three breathed out in relief, and Elen said, “I worried that something might have happened as they hadn’t come back until now, but it looks like all’s fine.”
Tigre’s group left the room, and headed to the mansion’s entrance hall, led by Titta. In addition to Sofy, Mila, and Olga, two of the mansion’s maids were present. Under the light of candles, the maids received the wet overcoats of the three Vanadis.
“Welcome back, Sofy. Mila and Olga, you too.”
Upon Tigre’s greeting, the blond Vanadis turned her face in his direction.
“I’m back home, dear.” Sofy grinned at Tigre while using a tone and expression a wife would use for her husband.
Troubled how to react to this all of a sudden, the youth answered with an ambiguous smile. And then he noticed that the clothes she was wearing now were different from when she left today morning. He suspected that she might have changed them after getting wet in the rain.
Sofy made a beeline for Tigre, stopped in front of him, and hugged the youth in a fluent motion
Various dishes were lined up atop the big, round table. Fish soup in deep bowls as they were normal for Zhcted, a cooked mutton and fruits wrapped in grape leaves, boiled potatoes, roasted whole cod sprinkled with salt, wheat porridge using plenty of sheep’s milk, fried herb chicken meat, grilled pork skewers, omelettes with thin pork slices, and many more created a layer of white smoke above the table from all the wafting steam. Even though just looking at all the delicacies would already whet anyone’s appetite, the fragrant aromas released further urged the people at the table to dig in.
Not all of it were hot dishes. Big plates were stuffed with various kinds of breads, and jam bins had been placed nearby to be smeared on the bread. Heavy lumps of cheese had been flopped down on the table, and thin slices of meat pickled in salt were decorating flat plates. Moreover, many bottles filled with fruit juice were arrayed up at the table’s edge.
The three lamps hanging down from the ceiling brightly illuminated the room – the dining hall of Sofy’s mansion. The ones sitting around the table were Sofy, Elen, Lim, Mila, Olga, and Tigre. While having a late dinner, they talked about what had taken place today.
This was also the reason why Titta wasn’t present. Tigre didn’t want his beloved maid to listen to all the intrigues going on in Zhcted. Hence she was eating dinner together with the other maids in the kitchen.
After they filled their silver cups with juice and toasted, Sofy immediately began to talk about her battle against Valentina.
“Secret information, eh? ──What an extremely unpleasant story.” Elen twisted her face in rage while chewing on a potato.
Tigre shared her feelings on this.
“There’s no way that Lord Eugene would have become so worn out if he really intended to raise a rebellion against His Highness Ruslan.” Not losing to her lord, Lim also got all worked up.
A calm fighting spirit flickered deep in her blue eyes.
“Sofy, His Highness Ruslan didn’t hear anything about such secret information, did he?” Mila confirmed while elegantly sipping on her fish soup.
Sofy nodded while tearing off a small piece of bread and carrying it to her mouth. “If he had harbored even the slightest suspicion, I doubt that I would have been able to come back here today.”
By the way, because of Sofy’s spontaneous act of hugging right after returning, she had been forced to take the seat furthest from the youth. She excused herself by saying, “I simply took the warmth of the person who looked to be the warmest,” but not one of the others believed that excuse.
Next to Sofy, Olga was silently stuffing her cheeks with bread and pork skewers while chewing on cheese. She seemed to properly listen to the discussion, but for the time being she appeared to prioritize satisfyng her appetite.
Tigre was eating fish soup, breathing out hotly. Sliced cod, potatoes of appropriate bite sizes, onion, and carrots were garnishing the soup. As he took a sip, the tastes of the cod that had blended with the soup, salt, and pepper spread inside his mouth. And when the hot foot reached his stomach, a comfortable warmth spread across his whole body. Not to mention the cod, but the potatoes and carrots, which were just right, not too hard nor too soft, were delicious, too.
When Sofy finished, Tigre spoke up next. But then again, since he didn’t have anything notable to say about their investigations in the city, he wrapped it up quickly. The part about Lisa’s rescue focused on what he had heard from her, with Elen supplementing things on several occasions.
“Valentina apparently approached Elizavetta about an official declaration of support towards His Highness Ruslan. Considering that, you can safely assume that Valentina and Figneria have teamed up.”
Mila frowned at Elen’s words, “Why did Figneria decide to cooperate with Valentina? Is she someone driven by emotions or does she calculate her every move carefully?”
“Calculation, I’m pretty sure.” Elen immediately replied.
Lim showed her consent by nodding, and further added, “You can’t say that she’s unfeeling, but she principally doesn’t move based on emotions. I believe Valentina must have offered a suitable reward for Figneria’s help.”
“Seeing how Valentina had been ordered into house arrest, the same might happen to Figneria who committed the same crime, but… A suitable reward, eh? Somehow nothing comes to mind.”
“We just have to ask her directly.” Elen answered Mila without hiding her seething fighting spirit.
However, should Figneria go under house arrest, it’d be difficult for them to get such an opportunity.
“Come to think of it, did Liza mention anything about notifying Lebus about the current situation?” Tigre asked while recalling her knight Naum and the elderly official Nazarl serving her.
Both of them were very loyal, making it hard to believe that they’d stay silent about their lord being attacked.
Elen nodded while eating the omelette, “I’ll have her write a letter once she wakes up. If it looks like it’s tough for her to hold a brush, I’ll get someone to do it for her. I plan to wait till dawn, and then dispatch someone trustable to inform Lebus.”
It’d be terrible to pass on wrong information to Lebus. Despite it being a race against time, it was still important to be as accurate as possible.
Afterwards Elen talked about her meeting with Eugene. She toned down the matter of her driving away a certain low-ranking noble, but neither Tigre nor Lim butted in. Elen didn’t bring up any topics that would derail the conversation either.
Having waited for her to finish speaking, Tigre asked Sofy, “Did Valentina truly believe in that secret information or whatsoever?”
Considering it objectively, her actions could only be described as foolish. Without even trying to check the authenticity of the information, she had assaulted another Vanadis, and on top of failing, she was put under house arrest by Ruslan. However, none of them believed that Valentina would make such a blunder. They suspected that she should have some kind of motive.
“She’s probably only pretending to have believed it.” Sofy calmly answered Tigre after taking a sip from her cup.
“But, she was put under house arrest, right?”
In response, a mischievous gleam crept into Sofy’s beryl eyes, “Say Tigre, could you tell me your thoughts on what kind of impact the house arrest of Valentina and Figneria is going to have on the court?”
Tigre got flustered when suddenly confronted with that question, “Let’s see… Since His Highness has been relying on her, wouldn’t it inhibit governmental affairs?”
“Anything else?” Sofy prompted him to go on with a playful smile.
Probably unable to watch Tigre brooding while holding a piece of bread, Lim butted in with her expression as unsociable as ever, “Lady Sofya, Lord Tigrevurmud isn’t well-acquainted with the circumstances of Zhcted’s court. Isn’t it unreasonable to expect him to come up with the proper answer?”
“Oh my, Lim, you sure are protective of your cute student. Or are you saying that only you are allowed to have Tigre solve exercises?”
Lim’s cheeks took on a faint, red tint when teased by Sofy. Going by her reaction, one of Sofy’s guesses hit home.
With a wry smile, Elen interjected, “Please go on, Sofy. I’m also curious where this is going.”
Seemingly satisfied with the exchange up until now, Sofy readily nodded, “You’re right, I guess,” and seriously said after erasing her smile, “Sooner or later a power struggle will break out in the palace. I’ve mentioned earlier that His Highness and Valentina have been actively appointing new personnel…”
One after the other, those who had been serving in the palace so far, were transferred away. The number of people having left the capital to examine several cities as inspectors or to serve as governor assistants in distant regions had reached a fairly big count, with only the acceptable people allowed to stay at court. And even those remaining in the palace couldn’t help but feel worried about what the future would hold for them, resulting in them harboring animosity towards Ruslan and Valentina.
Moreover, those supporting Eugene were hostile towards Valentina. After all, Eugene would have become the next king if she hadn’t brought Ruslan back to the palace. If they regarded today’s incident as Valentina’s failure, they would gleefully try to take advantage of it, obviously moving in order to keep her away from Ruslan by shunning her out of the court before her house arrest was over.
“His Highness Ruslan imposed a gag order, but Valentina, who has been staying close to him until yesterday, has suddenly been placed under house arrest. No matter what Ruslan does, it’s impossible to keep it hidden.”
Tigre and the others exchanged looks upon Sofy’s commentary. The youth asked gravely, “In other words, Valentina deliberately took on a house arrest to flush out the people opposing her?”
“At least that’s what I think.”
What popped up in Sofy’s mind was Valentina’s calm expression when she was ordered under house arrest. This would make a lot of sense if this situation played out for her as planned.
“It would have been fine if they could have defeated Liza and me, but even if not, Valentina would still be able to find the political powers working against her by shocking the palace. It’d also serve as provocation against the people backing Earl Pardu. For Valentina, who advises His Highness, the biggest threat must be the Earl, I believe.”
Elen’s expression twisted in irritation, and Lim frowned openly. After casting a sidelong glance at the two, Mila hurled a question at Sofy, “With that reasoning, I could somewhat understand Valentina attacking you, but why did Figneria attack Liza?”
“I can think of two reasons. First, a geographic one.” Sofy drew Zhcted’s map in empty air with a finger. “Valentina’s Osterode is northeast of the capital, Figneria’s Legnica west, and Liza’s Lebus northwest. If Liza became unable to take action, Valentina and Figneria would be able to move their troops without needing to mind their rear.”
“And the other one?”
“At some point they must have noticed that Liza isn’t going to cooperate with them. Maybe she made a comment advocating Earl Pardu, or──” Sofy’s eyes shifted to Elen, “it might be related to you, Elen.”
“What do you mean?” Elen frowned.
Sofy giggled, “The relationship between you and Liza has changed. Compared to the past, you’ve recently reached a point of being able to exchange greetings. I apologize if it offends you, but something like you examining Liza would have been unimaginable around two years ago.”
“It’s not like… I just brought her her medicine, that’s all.” Although she didn’t avert her eyes, Elen’s answer sounded as if she had bitten on something bitter.
“Come to think of it, it didn’t develop into an overly dangerous atmosphere between the two at this year’s Sun Festival.” Mila said, obviously having remembered it just now.
“If it comes to a showdown between His Highness and Earl Pardu, Lim and you’re going to support the Earl, right Elen?” Sofy carelessly spoke of an extremely dangerous assumption.
Elen looked displeased, but she nodded without denying it. If things should really turn out like that, Elen planned to stand behind Eugene, just as Sofy said.
“For Valentina, as a supporter of His Highness, you’re one of the biggest obstacles. She believed that Liza and you were on bad terms. However, once she talked with Liza, she found herself proven wrong. Maybe Liza said something to cover you.”
Elen stared down, on the wine in her cup. Now that she had heard about the past from Liza, she could regard Sofy’s guess as a likely possibility.
“In Valentina’s eyes that’s more than enough to conclude that Liza cannot be trusted. Adding the first reason to this, didn’t she think that she ought to get rid of Liza as fast as possible?”
“In that case, it sounds like there’s no Vanadis left who would go along with Figneria and Valentina’s ideas.”
Mila’s blue eyes contained a dangerous glint. She didn’t mind supporting Ruslan, but assuming that she had to cooperate with Valentina to express it, Mila would scornfully laugh into her face without any hesitation.
“What should we do from now on?” Apparently having finally filled her belly, Olga asked after lifting her face from her plate.
Sofy directed her eyes at Tigre without answering right away.
“Please tell us what you think, Tigre.”
Tigre looked surprised, but immediately grasped her aim. She wanted to hear the opinion of someone who was not a Vanadis. And Lim would always take Elen into consideration first. Lowering his eyes into his empty cup, Tigre sank into thought. However, he didn’t need overly long to come to a conclusion. Tigre lifted his eyes, looking around himself, at the faces of his friends.
“There’s something I’d like to confirm first. I don’t know much about His Highness Ruslan’s character, but you wouldn’t mind him becoming the next king of Zhcted, would you?”
“I have no objection against His Highness ruling over Zhcted.” Sofy was the first to answer. “I’m slightly worried about his health condition, but if it allows us to prevent Valentina’s tyranny, it’d be the very best to have His Highness rule.”
“I agree with Sofy,” Mila stated next. “I don’t know His Highness well, but at present I have no reason to dislike him. Besides, my mother said that the prince has great talents, too.”
Mila’s mother was the previous Snow Princess of the Frozen Wave. Since it was said that Ruslan was a wise, cheerful prince eight years ago, Tigre considered it highly unlikely that her mother’s description was mere nonsense.
“I don’t know much about Prince Ruslan either, but I trust all of you who have been Vanadis for a much longer time than I have,” said Olga.
While being fully aware of her lacking experience, she declared her determination to take responsibility for her decision. When Sofy smiled at her, Olga lowered her head to hide her face.
Lastly, Elen responded calmly, “I think that Lord Eugene would become a splendid king not inferior to any of the kings before him.”
Mila narrowed her eyes in suspicion, whereas Sofy’s expression softened in joy. Without paying attention to either, Elen continued, “I didn’t like King Viktor, but he managed this country for many dozens of years. Lord Eugene had been once appointed as the successor by such a king. I’ve got no doubt that he has the necessary qualifications to be king. But…Lord Eugene doesn’t desire the crown, and has pledged his allegiance to His Highness.” Elen took a short breath, calming her voice. Passion could be faintly seen in her ruby eyes, “I wish to help Lord Eugene in fulfilling his own wish. However, should it come to a fight between His Highness and Lord Eugene, I’d defend Lord Eugene.”
Lim nodded silently as if to express that Elen’s will reflected her own.
“──Thanks.” Tigre stood up, bowed deeply to everyone, and then informed them of his own thoughts, “I believe we should work towards mediating between His Highness and Lord Eugene.”
If both were to work together, it’d be possible to avoid the power struggle feared by Sofy. It should also help in suppressing Valentina. For Tigre it was out of the question to investigate the demons as long as Zhcted hadn’t stabilized. Brune also had interest in its friendly neighboring nation to be peaceful. Besides, Tigre didn’t have a bad impression of either Ruslan or Eugene. Particularly Eugene had prayed to the gods for the soul of his parents to rest in peace.
“Someone slightly more unscrupulous than you would have probably advocated to place Lord Eugene on the throne, and demanded concessions for Brune in exchange. It’s truly a typical approach for you.” Elen smiled proudly with her eyes sparkling.
Mila and the others nodded with smiles that combined trust and deep affection.
Tigre shrugged his shoulders, looking bashful, “I just do what I’m capable of.”
Just as it always has been.
“Let’s first meet with His Highness to lend him our strength.”
Up until now Tigre had gotten through various situations together with the girls gathered here, and he believed that this time the same should be possible as well.
It was around the time when Sofy, Mila and Olga returned to Sofy’s mansion that Figneria Alshavin visited the palace. She had been asked by Valentina to come to the palace, no matter how things might have panned out. It resulted in her walking through the palace’s corridors while surrounded by several soldiers.
The soldiers very obviously didn’t accompany her as guards, but to stop her from running away. However, Figneria accepted that treatment obediently. Not because she trusted Valentina, but because the soldiers, whose expressions showed fear and bewilderment rather than hostility, couldn’t confiscate her draconic tool.
Figneria was sure that she could literally cut her way out with those two swords at any time if push came to shove.
The place she was led to was one of the guest rooms. Once she opened the door, she found Valentina relaxing on a sofa inside the room illuminated by candlelights and a fireplace.
“So you came just as promised.” Valentina waved a hand at Figneria with a broad smile.
Then she offered Figneria to sit down on the sofa opposite of her. It was plenty warm inside the room, but Figneria sat down without taking off her cloak.
“I failed.” Figneria curtly admitted without any prefaces.
After staring blankly at Figneria for a moment, a bitter smile crept on Valentina’s lips.
“Me too. It went quite badly.”
Figneria concisely explained her battle with Liza, and Tigre’s intervention. Valentina placed a hand on her chin, and sighed exaggeratedly.
“For Lord Tigrevurmud of all people to appear at that place.”
“He surprised me. I’ve never met a man like him before.” Figneria talked about his archery skills, faint agitation dyeing her voice. “Can that man really shoot an arrow over a distance of 300 alsin?”
“I’m pretty sure he can. I’ve witnessed something close to that on several occasions during the battles against Sachstein.” Valentina confirmed readily. “I don’t believe it to be likely, but don’t tell me you’ve fallen in love with him?” Valentina asked with curiosity filling her violet eyes.
Although her acquaintance with Figneria was a short one, it was the first time for Valentina to see Figneria praise someone so openly. Valentina had thought that Figneria was only interested in polishing her own skills, and expanding Legnica.
Figneria laughed with her shoulders trembling lightly, “If you ask me if I fell in love with his archery skills, you’re completely right. Very likely anyone capable of using a bow to some extent or known as an archery master would feel the same as me.”
“Please don’t cheat on me, okay?” After cracking a joke with a smile, Valentina returned to the main topic, “It was a good decision to have withdrawn then and there. It’d have produced various issues if you had killed him.”
“I guess you mean besides the relation with Brune?”
Valentina tilted her head to the side upon Figneria’s question, “You’re right. I guess I should tell you now since it’s a good opportunity. But then again, it’s not like I’m aware of everything…”
Valentina explained about the Black Bow owned by Tigre. However, it didn’t trigger as deep an impression in Figneria as his archery skills. She believed that you just had to offset paranormal powers with similar paranormal powers.
When their talk came to a lull, Figneria asked, “What are we going to do next?”
“You will be punished with house arrest, just as I have been. His Highness will likely prepare a room somewhere within the palace for you, to separate us. Please stay there obediently for a while.”
Things had gone as planned. Valentina had told Figneria that it might turn out like this if they didn’t manage to kill Sofy or Liza. Despite Tigre’s interference, Figneria felt that it was her own blunder for not having been able to finish off Liza. Thus she had no intention to go against the house arrest. However, she was bad at staying cooped up indoors.
“Isn’t there anything I can do while under house arrest?”
“I suppose I’ll ask His Highness to send you several stories. I’d like you to read them by all means.”
With her eyes gleaming in joy, Valentina leaned herself forward. Figneria looked at her in irritation.
“I’m bad with books. They make me fall asleep right away.”
“Then it’s just perfect. If you spend your days sleeping, those monitoring you will let their guard down.” Valentina told her, flashing a smile that concealed how much of her words were true.
Figneria felt discouraged, but she didn’t protest since it’d be bothersome to do so.
It was shortly thereafter that Ruslan visited their room. The two Vanadis knelt, and after listening to Figneria’s recount of the events, Ruslan sighed deeply.
“Earl Vorn, eh…?”
It was bad news for an outsider to have learned of a battle between fellow Vanadis. If the neighboring countries held doubts about Ruslan’s capability as ruler, they might try to interfere in some way.
Ruslan asked Valentina, “Tina…no, Valentina, do you happen to know anything about the informants?”
“Just one person.” Valentina answered calmly. “Earl Kazakov. He rules over the territory of Polus, located in the northwest.”
Ruslan searched his memory, nodding with a bitter face.
“Lord Orgelt lost his life in a domestic battle last year. His eldest son succeeded him, right?”
Orgelt Kazakov was a man famous enough to have earned himself the alias of “Bloody Kazakov.” He absolutely loathed rainbow eyes, and launched a domestic war against Liza, whose territory was next to his, last winter, but had the tables turned on him. However, the one who defeated him in a one-on-one wasn’t Liza, but Elen who assisted Liza.
“The current family head is Lord Egol, but I have heard that he deeply resents Elizavetta and Eleonora.”
“I understand. I’ll keep it in mind.”
Figneria, who had been listening silently, thought that it was good for her to still be bowing her head. After all, it prevented the prince from seeing how her eyes were full of pity. It was a fact that Egol had provided secret information because of his hate towards Elen and Liza. However, the one who made him do so was Valentina. She had secretly provided him with the necessary information, and induced him towards passing on that information by fanning his enmity. Of course, Egol didn’t know about Valentina being the source, believing that he had obtained the secret information with his own power.
Figneria’s body tensed when gently addressed by Ruslan.
“I think it’ll put you on the spot as you’ve just become a Vanadis recently. However, this case won’t finish by simply excusing it as a lack of prior investigation. Even if you might be a Vanadis, I must pass a heavy punishment on you.”
“I have no excuse for having troubled you, Your Highness. Please do as you see fit.” Figneria answered what Valentina had told her to say in advance.
Thus both Vanadis were put under house arrest.
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