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A few days after the day he had talked with Chris, it was the morning of the entrance exam. Chris was hiding her appearance with her helmet, just as she had done before when she went to Majolica’s store.
(It took a surprisingly long time to get here.)
After leaving the castle, Ain went to the White Rose Station, one of the largest stations in Ishtalika. The train he took this time was not the royal train but the civilian water train. After fifteen minutes on the water train, they got off at the nearest station to the academy.
“There are so many people here.”
He looked at the city streets as they headed for the entrance test venue and opened his mouth to Chris.
“This area is in the royal capital, but it’s called an academy district. Not only students, but also researchers and the student parents come here, so it’s always crowded.”
Ain was impressed by the bustling atmosphere that made him think it was a festival.
“I don’t like to be crowded, but I’ll do my best to pass.”
When he looked around, he saw several people with knights as their bodyguards.
“There are many noblemen’s children, aren’t there?”
“That’s right… The children from the royal capital basically go to this academy district.”
That’s why it’s so crowded. He smiled bitterly and agreed with Chris, and she continued with her surprising comment.
“Speaking of which, Lloyd-sama’s child also goes to the Royal Kingsland Academy.”
The words were too much for Ain to respond immediately. His eyes widened, and he looked at Chris with his mouth wide open.
“L-Lloyd-san’s child? …Eh? Lloyd-san is married?”
“Oh, you didn’t know about that…? I thought you knew…”
The helmet made it impossible to see Chris’s expression, but Ain could tell that she was confused and smiling like she was in trouble.
“I never heard a word about it.”
“U… Umm… W-what should I do…?”
Chris began to wonder what she should do. Apparently, Chris was wondering if she could explain this to him.
“N-no, no…! But if it’s Ain-sama, it’ll be okay… It won’t be a problem, yeah.”
Chris cleared her throat and looked at Ain as if to encourage herself.
“Lloyd-sama’s wife is Martha-san, you know.”
“Eh ─ Y-you’re lying, aren’t you?”
It was natural for him to be surprised. In any case.
“That petite Martha-san and the big beast-like Lloyd-san are husband and wife…?”
The truth is too much for Ain, who loses his usual composure.
“Please calm down. A lot of people think that way… No, everyone thinks that way.”
“Right? Besides, I didn’t feel like they were married in the slightest.”
“Both of them are in a position to do so, and they don’t make such gestures in the castle.”
They didn’t talk or act like a married couple. This is the reason why Ain could not notice it.
In the first place, Ain basically never leaves the castle. There is a part of him that is not familiar with the outside world’s information; there is nothing that can be done about this.
──While they were having this conversation, they arrived at the Royal Kingsland Academy, the venue for the test. After learning the shocking facts, he pulled himself together to face the test.
“This is the Royal Kingsland Academy.”
(It’s a large… academy, or rather, it’s like a castle…)
His first glimpse of the academy left him with this impression.
Inside the large gates, there are many buildings and a large, lush green lawn. The grounds were so vast that it made him wonder if it would be possible to build a town inside.
“As expected of the royal…”
“Ahaha… It seems that Ain-sama’s entrance test venue is over there.”
In the direction Chris indicated, there was a building where a lot of children were gathering. Ain also noticed it.
“──Then, I’ll do my best.”
Only candidates are allowed to enter the entrance test venue.
Please do your best. As Chris cheered him on, Ain slapped his cheek and stepped out.
After passing through the academy’s gate, Ain looked for the test venue he wanted to take. The test that Ain was going to take was a martial arts test, where he could either use a sword or fight with physical techniques. The test also allows for the use of skills, as long as it is not treated as projectile weapons.
(Let’s see… I think it’s over there)
Ain walked around the academy with the information book he had brought with him.
Suddenly, he heard a boy’s voice from a little far away and realized that it was the candidate from the same test. He walked around several buildings and arrived at a small, arena-like venue.
What Ain saw was a boy swinging a sword in the middle of the arena and a man blocking it.
“What’s with that attitude! Go home now!”
…And the man who blocked it ─ probably the examiner, his voice reached Ain.
(That’s the examiner Chris was talking about… wow, he’s so harsh with his words.)
“Kuh… no way…”
The examiner’s words brought tears of frustration to the boy’s eyes. If this happens, his test will be over.
“Hmph! You can’t even defeat a low-grade monster, let alone a sea dragon! You’ve failed!”
However, this academy is a royal one. It is a place to train people to serve the king, so the selection’s strictness seems unavoidable. Besides, the boy from earlier might have gotten a different result if he hadn’t cried and shown his determination.
“Yes! Please take care of me!”
The next candidate stepped forward. Here at the Royal Kingsland Academy, candidates are not allowed to identify themselves. It is a measure to avoid being treated as a child of a nobleman or someone related to the academy. When Ain heard that, he was relieved to feel at ease.
“Hmph! You’ve failed as well! You’re not worthy of this academy!”
In the meantime, it came to Ain’s turn.
He couldn’t say that he wasn’t nervous at all, but if he put his hand on his chest, he could feel the calmness beyond his imagination. And there was one thing he learned from watching the examiner. That is, he is stronger than the knights in the castle. But Ain couldn’t believe that his own strength would not work ─ until he felt it himself.
“Please take care of me.”
After letting out a deep breath, Ain moved forward.
“Come on, kid. Show me how you can pass.”
This statement was the signal for the battle. When Ain held up his wooden sword, he quickly closed the distance to the examiner.
“Oh… not bad!”
He continues to attack without regard to the examiner’s praise.
He aimed for his legs, his joints, and his neck. He didn’t fix his aim but attacked several parts of his body so that his opponent would not be able to read his next attack.
“Hmph! Don’t you think such childish tricks will work on me?”
The difference in physique between the two was huge, and Ain was easily hit on his side. The examiner’s weapon was also a wooden sword, but it took all the air out of his lungs at once.
“Hmph, you rely too much on your status. Your skills are not up to par. I guess your mentor isn’t much to look at either!”
The bad-mouthing might be for the sake of the test, but whether it feels good or not is a different story. He was indirectly insulting Lloyd, Chris, and the others, and inwardly his resentment began to pile up.
“No, please, not yet.”
The examiner was strong. As Chris had told him, he was one of the best. At the very least, he was a few steps above the knights in the castle… But.
“…Then I will tell you once again the extent of what you are capable of.”
“Y-yeah… please take care of me…”
But he was surprised how often he could say such abusive words. Ain understands that he is looking for mental strength for the candidates, but…
“Most of the time, people who don’t know how to take care of themselves have sloppy parents, and you’re probably one of them…!”
(──I see, that’s how it is.)
…Use the dark knight. Ain decided to do so. Although it was a provocation for the sake of the test, Ain stopped holding back when Olivia was insulted. If he couldn’t do anything here, even his insult to her would be an acceptance.
(Chris-san, I’m sorry. I can’t give up on this one thing…!)
──A researcher who is familiar with old monsters says that Dullahan has the following evaluation. If one is to fight them, one must never accept a one-on-one battle. Never fight them at their own range. They are the strongest swordsman who have no equal when it comes to handling a sword. This is exactly what the monster called Dullahan is.
“I know it’s a job, but whether I’m satisfied with it or not is another matter.”
Ain muttered. He gradually put all his strength into his body and closed his eyes to increase his concentration.
“What did you say, kid? …If you have time to complain about… then…”
The dark knight’s abilities have not yet been fully mastered. The only thing he was able to do was to use the illusory hand. It’s just like the Dryad can use absorption from birth; for Dullahan, it was the illusory hands.
(Now, eat my magic power and grow up…!)
Rather than putting magic power into it, Ain makes it eat magic power. The strength of these hands is such that they can be adjusted at will, and they are very much like magic-eating insects. If he feeds the magic power to his anger, he will be able to show his power without limit.
“Kid… what are you doing?”
The black aura that leaked out made the examiner question what he was doing.
“When it comes to this, I should have tried my illusory hand a little more. Well, I guess I should have made it stronger little by little.”
Then, the black tentacles that appeared were muscular and knobby, and they simply amazed the people who saw them. The two illusory hands that appeared appeared from Ain’s shoulder blades.
“It’s not like I’m trying to shoot flames or anything, so it’s fine, right?”
It’s not a projectile weapon, so it doesn’t violate any regulations, right? Ain asked.
“I’m asking you to explain!”
“I don’t have to explain it to you. There is no such rule.”
Ain replied with cold eyes to the flustered examiner. It’s not as if he was trying to stir up trouble, and this behavior is unacceptable to the candidate, Ain. But his anger over having Olivia being humiliated is making it impossible for him to control it.
“──I don’t know what kind of skill you have, but it’s okay. If you get stronger with a few extra arms, then the insects will be stronger than you…!”
The examiner, who is putting in more effort than before, accelerated to get into the gap with Ain at once and swung his sword at Ain’s shoulder. But.
“It’s a very dexterous arm! …Tsk!”
Ain grabbed the wooden sword that the examiner had swung with one of his illusory hands and held it down.
This time, with both of Ain’s own arms, he raised the wooden sword towards the examiner.
“Hmph! Even if you just got more hands, it’s still… a pain in the ass.”
(…I knew it. This guy is really strong.)
The examiner is strong. He endured even the current attack of Ain and handled it with dexterity. The surprise he showed earlier was probably just pure surprise at the oddity.
“It’s not the same as what you said before… Haahh!”
Using his other illusory hand, he struck out at the examiner. But again, the examiner dexterously uses his arm to defend himself.
“Kuh…Nnh… Damn it; it’s heavy!”
It’s a stalemate. Then, Ain made up his mind.
“No. I need a little more…”
To be able to defeat the opponent, devour my magic power even further. He conveyed his strong will to the illusory hand. And then the examiner could feel it.
“…You’ve enhanced your strength, huh, kid?”
The illusory hand pulsated strongly as if the blood vessels were sucking up the blood. It glowed with a pale blue light to match the pulsation, which caught the examiner off guard.
“This time, I’ll attack from here.”
He closed the gap between him and the examiner, who was now at a distance. But Ain is never quick. It’s the nature of the Dullahan and a consequence of his specialization in strength and sturdiness.
“It’s a strange technique to use, but thank goodness you move so slowly… Huh!”
The examiner defended against Ain’s sword as he swung down. However, perhaps because of the attack’s momentum, the examiner put strength into his legs and feet and defended with both arms.
“──Are you sure about that?”
And then Ain told him with cold eyes.
For a moment, the examiner was tormented by a hair-raising sensation and looked at the black arm that was sticking out from behind Ain. The black arm wriggled against the examiner, who had his arms full.
…But, the examiner also showed his determination.
“I won’t let you…!”
He forcibly twisted his body and dodged one of the illusory hands that extended. However, he could not avoid the remaining one, and he had to defend himself with the armor attached to his arm.
“…You can’t get through with that kind of defense anymore.”
Ain told him mercilessly.
The enhanced illusory hand can easily penetrate that level of defense. The examiner was pushed by the illusory hand’s momentum and rolled several meters on the ground of the test venue.
“Hah… hah… what the hell is that? Good grief, this is the first time I’ve met a kid like you…!”
“It’s an honor. Well, let’s continue──.”
He had to admire it, honestly. The examiner stood up as if dragging his body, put his sword on the floor, and spread his hands.
“Don’t be stupid. It’s unheard of for an examiner to lose in an entrance test… So, you’ve passed.”
The examiner declared that he had passed. But at the same time, Ain regretted it. It’s not only the use of the dark knight but also his attitude towards the examiner that makes him feel remorseful.
“…Um, I apologize for my pompous attitude.”
“I guess it’s mutual. Good grief, I still have another test, and I have to ask for a replacement. You must be the first freshman in the history of this academy to defeat the examiner.”
The examiner then took out a sheet of paper from his pocket.
“This is your certificate of acceptance. Don’t lose it; you’ll need it for the procedure later.”
“Y-yes, I understand.”
Once the exam was over, the excess brain matter brought on by the anger and the burning that had been clinging to his body faded away. All that was left was pure exhaustion and a little regret for having gone into a rage.
But a pass is a pass. Ain breathed a sigh of relief.
After finishing the test, Ain left the venue with mixed feelings. He walked through the same corridor as he had come and returned to the academy gate, where Chris would be waiting for him.
“Ain-sama. Congratulations on passing the entrance test.”
She was waiting for Ain at the gate. Her voice, gentle as usual, sounded different somehow.
“Ah… thank you… yes.”
Ain couldn’t see the expression on her face because of her helmet. However, what is visible is a fit of quiet anger.
“You must be tired, but I’m sorry. On the way home, I have to lecture you… no, I have something to tell you, Ain-sama, if you don’t mind.”
Chris knew that Ain had used the Dark Knight. She could sense the presence of the Dark Knight that had been released, regardless of the distance between them.
“Yes. What is it?”
Chris answered in a strong voice. But the voice was somewhat cold, and Ain smiled bitterly.
“Are you just frowning? Or are you genuinely mad?”
It was an abstract question, but Chris seemed to have understood the feeling. Then I guess it’s okay. Ain thought. If she was a little sulky, there was still something he could do.
“Even if it’s for the test, I’d be angry too if someone undermined my time with Chris-san and the others.”
To be fair, the words that followed were the trigger. He didn’t lie. In fact, Ain was irritated from that moment on.
“Mu…mu…! It still won’t do any good! You have used a skill that should not have been shown, no matter how much you feel about it…!”
He felt like he was nearly done. He understands that he has done something wrong, but he is very tired right now. He likes to refrain from lecturing.
“…Sigh. I’m sure His Majesty will hear about it via the academy.”
“More importantly, I injured the examiner. Is that okay…?”
“The academy has specialized healers. Also, it’s worse to get hurt. I also know the examiner; he used to be a famous adventurer and was a man of great ability.”
Ain wondered how his grandfather, Sylvird, would react. Although he felt somewhat depressed, for now, he wanted to go back to the castle and take a good rest.
(I’m looking forward to attending school next year… but I wonder when Krone will be here…)
On the day of the announcement party, Ain thought about the first time he met her. He had sent her a letter a while ago and hadn’t received any response since then. But Warren and the others must have been communicating with her. He had faith in them.
(I hope we can meet… before the new spring comes.)
As much as he was looking forward to life at the academy, he was also looking forward to the arrival of Krone, and he couldn’t bear just to wait, his body tingling with anticipation. Thinking about this, he felt that the fatigue that had built up in his body had been healed.
◇ ◇ ◇
On that day, Euro was receiving two VIP guests. One was a fleet of Ishtalika ships. The other was a great nobleman from Heim. There were many Ishtalika ships lined up. And Krone was looking at the huge magic tools that she had never seen before, working on excavating sea crystals.
“…Those are just research ships?”
“Fumu. It’s certainly not a battleship. If it were a battleship, it would be much larger.”
Krone was taken aback by her grandfather’s words. The price of a research ship was unknown, or rather, unpredictable. Her understanding could not keep up with the too-large civilization gap with Heim.
“B-but wouldn’t Heim’s navy be able to win even against those… research ships?”
“Hahahaha! There’s no way we can win! All they have to do is hit our country’s ships with their ships body, and our navy will be torn to pieces!”
It’s like a state of self-deprecation, and Graff could only laugh.
Then, the two of them were greeted by a new Ishtalikan voice.
“Notify the third ship that it will now deploy to both wings and begin work.”
“Aye ─ ship three, this is the command center. Deploy to both wings as instructed.”
The Ishtalika people were standing nearby. Krone, who was listening to what they were saying, was in for a new surprise.
“… I-it’s a lie… isn’t it?”
The research ship heard the instructions and began to unfold in a matter of seconds. Quick, interlocking, and awe-inspiringly precise. She had seen glimpses of the difference in technology, but what she had been newly shown was the power of leadership. If she fought against them, for example, before she even realized it, she must be surrounded by the whole thing.
“Oh, there you are, both of you. How do you think our ship is?”
The man who called out to them ─ he was a civilian official from Ishtalika, and he was in charge of guiding them.
“…Yes, it’s all very surprising.”
“Oh, that’s good to hear. I’m honored that you enjoyed it.”
Then he motioned for them to walk.
“This way, please, we have prepared a room for you.”
He pointed to a ship. It was one of the research ships that were close to the land.
“You have a room for us on that ship?”
“Yes. Her Highness, the Second Princess, has requested that we provide you with a comfortable place to stay for the following month.”
Krone squeezed her hand and thanked Olivia, looking across the ocean toward Ishtalika.
“…I would like to thank Her Highness the Second Princess from the bottom of my heart.”
“Yes, the princess is very kind ─ Now, please come this way.”
The two of them walked after the official and slowly made their way down the slope to the seafront. From time to time, the sound of waves coming in forcefully made them feel the difference from Heim.
“Excuse me, but do you mind if we bring our luggage in later?”
“Oh, no, no. We have already taken them in for you, so don’t worry.”
“U-umu. Thank you.”
The reason why Graff was distracted was because of the quick action of the Ishtalika. Doing the job quickly and without saying a word… their ability to do the job was once again impressed upon him.
Eventually, they arrived at the entrance of the research ship. Unlike Heim’s ship, it was solid and had a vaguely luxurious feel to it.
“You will all be staying here for the following month.”
He recited what he had said earlier. Graff, Krone, and the servants they brought with them will spend a month on this ship.
Now, as for the reason…
“As I was explaining, the reason for this is to avoid exposing the two of you. Please understand that you will have to wait a month for us to do our work.”
That’s a small price to pay. The only thing they had to do was be patient, and they would be able to go to Ishtalika.
“No problem, I appreciate it.”
In the first place, they tried to cross the ocean by other means. He could only say thank you for letting them take advantage of Euro’s deal. The letter was delivered to Ain himself, and they were able to receive a reply.
And after this, Krone was surprised to see the place’s interior, which looked like a luxury inn. In this way, she took the first step toward Ishtalika.