༺ It’s Not Because of Alcohol ༻
“Are you saying that the problem arose because I’m a soldier?”
It was hard to agree with the statement that he was an extraordinary soldier, and he couldn’t understand the claim that the problem arose simply because he was a soldier.
Lirya, the Instructor, clicked her tongue and shook her finger.
“No. It’s not just because you’re a soldier, but a very extraordinary one. For example, if a monster were to invade this room right now, Instructor Graham wouldn’t be surprised at all and would immediately subdue the monster, right?”
I nodded my head slightly.
I wouldn’t be entirely unsurprised. It would be close to impossible for an uncontrollable monster to appear within the Academy.
However, separate from that thought, my body would instantly react to the intrusion of a monster. Just as it had for the past 20 years.
“Why is that?”
“Why, you ask? Well…”
“Because you’re constantly on guard, even now?”
That was spot on.
It wasn’t specifically because I was wary of Instructor Lirya. I had been like this since before entering this room and even before entering Garnet Red Dormitory.
It was like an occupational disease for me.
“At first, I thought you were just nervous because you entered a woman’s room. I thought it was natural for Instructor Graham, being a man, to be conscious of that. But the more I observed, it didn’t seem like that was the reason. So, I thought of other reasons.”
Instructor Lirya, perhaps due to the alcohol, spoke more casually than usual.
“Leaning against the wall is because you’ve experienced many surprise attacks from behind. Keeping both the entrance and windows in your sight is to secure an escape route at any time. Scanning the room as soon as you enter is to check for any dangerous materials… am I right?”
“You’re quite detailed.”
“I’m an Instructor in both tactics and history, you know? That’s how I’ve become well-versed in war. I naturally learn how people change after experiencing war… even if I don’t want to know.”
Instructor Lirya sipped from her wine glass as she spoke.
“Is the reason you’re so hard on your students during class because you’ve seen so many children die that way on the battlefield?”
I slowly nodded my head to her question.
Was it just because I had seen it?
I was the one who experienced it firsthand.
At the mere age of fourteen, I was given weapons that barely qualified as such and armor that hardly resembled armor. I was thrown into battle after only a few weeks of basic training, which was woefully inadequate for survival.
My strong body, which was unmatched in the village, wasn’t of much help on the battlefield. There was no one to teach me how to become stronger and survive.
Everyone was too busy trying to save their own lives on the front lines against the monsters. In a situation where it was difficult to even protect oneself, nobody would bother to take care of a child who was about to die soon.
If it hadn’t been for Charlotte, I would have died several times over in those days.
Even after getting stronger, not much changed. As I grew stronger, so did the enemies I had to face. In the fierce battlefield where a small mistake or a moment of carelessness could cost you your life, I had to learn how to survive through my own body.
Instructor Lirya asked calmly, with a softened voice.
“Have you ever lost a loved one during the war?”
I placed the empty wine glass on the table.
The room was engulfed in silence.
I felt as if the blood in my body was turning cold.
Charlotte’s face was the first to cross my mind, but she wasn’t the only person I thought of.
There was a time when I had people I could call comrades. People I trusted and relied on. There were countless people I wanted to save but couldn’t.
Instructor Lirya leaned forward and gently placed her hand on the back of my hand.
Her hand was so small and soft compared to my calloused and scarred one.
She looked at me with sad eyes.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up painful memories.”
I shook my head lightly, signaling that it was fine.
The past is the past. I had already decided not to dwell too much on what had happened.
Now, I wanted to stop looking back and move forward. People need to look ahead to live.
As for how to do that, I was still figuring it out.
“I may not know the specifics of your experiences, Instructor Graham, but I’m sure they weren’t all good. I understand why those experiences have made you value efficiency and survival above all else. I don’t want to deny that. Anyone who went through what you did would probably feel the same.”
Instructor Lirya hesitated for a moment before continuing slowly.
“But not everyone has experienced war. It’s something they should never have to.”
“Being prepared for the worst isn’t a bad thing.”
“The students won’t fully grasp the need for those preparations. They may understand it intellectually, but not emotionally. They haven’t experienced it themselves.”
“Isn’t it my job to teach them that? Isn’t it?”
Instructor Lirya slowly shook her head.
“I can’t judge whether your teaching methods are right or wrong. There’s no definitive answer in education. But…”
“The students may feel that you don’t value their experiences.”
I was at a loss for words.
Marquis Kalshtein had asked me to teach the students how to survive. I thought I had been doing just that.
There’s nothing more important than life. Insisting on using a weapon that doesn’t suit you is a surefire way to die. Unnecessary desires are a luxury when it comes to survival. That’s the value system deeply ingrained in my mind.
I couldn’t understand Gwyn’s actions.
But that probably applied to Gwyn as well. She hadn’t experienced what I had.
Had I been too focused on my own experiences and not considered what the students valued?
No, I had considered it, but maybe I didn’t think it was more important than survival.
Instructor Lirya spoke with a gentle smile in her eyes.
“Have you ever tried to find out why Gwyn values the Rock sword so much? I think the answer lies there.”
“…I’ll have a conversation with Gwyn.”
“That’s all I wanted.”
It seemed that Instructor Lirya had always believed that an honest conversation between Gwyn and me was necessary.
But in the situation at the time, talking to Gwyn would have only resulted in parallel lines. Maybe she wanted to tell me that it was necessary to understand the students’ perspective.
I still don’t know what to say. But I’m willing to try to understand.
I spoke in a self-deprecating tone.
“I still have a lot to learn.”
“Instructor Graham, you’re already a great teacher. I’m sure you’ll only get better.”
Instructor Lirya spoke a little dreamily, as if intoxicated.
“I like people who recognize their shortcomings and try to improve.”
I looked at Instructor Lirya with a slightly surprised expression.
Instructor Lirya met my gaze with slightly unfocused eyes, and then her face turned bright red as if she had just realized what she had said.
“Ah, no! I mean, not like that…! I don’t mean ‘like’ in that sense! I meant that I feel a fondness for people like that, not in a romantic way…!”
“Alright, calm down.”
When the atmosphere gets awkward, alcohol is the best solution.
I poured wine into Instructor Lirya’s empty glass to help her calm down, and she immediately emptied it. That wasn’t my intention, though.
Instructor Lirya, still unsatisfied, snatched the wine bottle from my hand and began pouring not only for herself but also for me.
“Hey! Instructor Graham, drink more! You haven’t taken a sip since earlier!”
“No, I’m fine-“
“I won’t take no for an answer!”
This was problematic. I had been purposely not drinking to avoid loosening up when intoxicated.
Reluctantly, I agreed to have just one more glass.
Instructor Lirya forcefully initiated a toast to break the tension, and I hesitantly clinked glasses with her.
She didn’t down the entire glass this time but emptied about half of it with a satisfying breath. Strangely, her face seemed to overlap with the face of the Marquis of Kalshtein in that moment.
That must be a rude thought…
“Ah, speaking of which, it’s a big deal. I unknowingly helped our competitor, and now I feel sorry for our students.”
“I’m talking about the class tournament. Oh, you must not know, Instructor Graham. At the end of each semester in Philion, it’s traditional for each class to compete against one another. You will be preparing for it after midterms.”
I took a light sip of my wine and thought.
“Can we compete with them? There’s a difference in the number of students.”
“Of course, if all students were to compete, Diamond White and Garnet Red would undoubtedly win. So, each class selects about twenty outstanding students as representatives.”
“Still, twenty students…”
“Hey, don’t you think Opal Black will be noticed not only by Garnet Red but also by other classes? Each of them is an extraordinary student.”
Instructor Lirya grinned playfully.
“And I know that the Instructor is not an ordinary person either.”
“You overestimate me.”
“Really? Well, we’ll find out when the time comes.”
We continued our casual conversation for a while until I noticed that it was almost curfew. I needed to return to the dormitory before it was too late.
As I was about to tell Instructor Lirya that it was time to get up, she suddenly spoke first.
“Um, Instructor Graham.”
“I heard that people who have experienced hardships and emotional wounds, like Instructor Graham, tend to recover with emotional support from close ones, like family or friends… Do you have someone like that?”
I shook my head.
My family was wiped out during the war when our hometown was attacked. The same was true for my friends. I didn’t have many people I could call friends in the first place, and after the war, there was no one left.
Instructor Lirya hesitated for a moment, her head bowed, before finally speaking.
“Do, do, do you have…a lover?”
I pondered what to say to Instructor Lirya, who was anxiously observing my reaction.
My relationships with Ella and Charlotte were somewhat like lovers. Ella was my first, and I was hers too. We were young and foolish, but we wouldn’t have had that kind of relationship if there were no feelings involved.
Charlotte was similar. We never explicitly expressed our feelings due to the dangerous circumstances, but we shared a relationship that we couldn’t disclose to others.
But even though there were emotions, they never formally said anything to properly establish a relationship. It was the same when the two left my side.
They must be alive somewhere.
No matter how much I think about it, it’s hard to call the two of them lovers.
Because I don’t see them that way myself.
That’s why, just as I was about to answer that there was nothing, suddenly I heard footsteps approaching this room.
“What? Who at this hour…”
Bang bang bang!
“Instructor Bennet! Are you in there?! I already know you’re in there! Open the door right now!”
“Ah! Instructor Hartzfeldt!”
“Who is it?”
“It’s our dormitory supervisor…! What on earth is going on?”
Instructor Lirya’s complexion turned pale in an instant.
In the meantime, the angry voice banging on the door grew louder.
“Instructor Bennet! You’re not drinking alone in your room again, are you? You clearly said last time would be the last!”
Again? Had this happened several times before?
“Ah, Instructor Hartzfeldt! I just, I just took a shower…! I’ll change my clothes and open the door for you!”
“Don’t lie! We received a report from another room that they heard you making noise until this late hour! You don’t have someone else in the room, do you!? As an Instructor, you should set an example for the students!”
Instructor Lirya had mentioned earlier that the soundproofing in this room wasn’t very good. It seems we were caught because of that.
She glanced back and forth between the door and me, then said with a panicked expression:
“Instructor Graham! You need to get out of here now. If they find out you’re here, I’m dead!”
“What? But where should I go…”
Instructor Lirya’s gaze turned to the window.
I asked incredulously:
“Are you serious?”
“I-I’m sorry…! But if they find out I brought a man into my room on top of drinking, I might really get kicked out of the dormitory this time! And if strange rumors spread among the students, both you and I will be in big trouble…!”
That was a valid point.
I didn’t want to imagine how the Garnet Red and Opal Black class students would see me if rumors spread that I drank alone with Instructor Lirya in her room during the first week of the semester.
I sighed deeply from the bottom of my heart and said:
“This is the only time.”
“I’ll apologize properly later. I’m really sorry…!”
I opened the window and jumped down in a single leap. The person who told me to jump was more surprised, as a small scream came from above.
Jumping from the third floor was not a big deal for someone with my physical abilities. I landed quietly on the ground, taking care not to make a loud noise.
I thought even a falling cat wouldn’t be quieter than this as I got up.
My eyes met Theo Bailey’s, who was blankly staring out the window.
“Uh… Uh? Instructor Eon? Huh? This is Garnet Red dormitory…
Uh, I’m sure, huh? Wait, don’t tell me…”
I exuded an intense energy.
Theo Bailey froze solid like an ant in front of an elephant.
Without a word, I put my index finger to my lips. It meant not to make a sound.
Theo Bailey couldn’t breathe and nodded like crazy.
After confirming that, I quietly left the Garnet Red dormitory without anyone noticing.
My vision swirled.
I was sure it wasn’t because of the alcohol.
Before curfew, I returned to the Opal Black dormitory.
In the empty training hall, Gwyn Tris was alone, swinging her sword.
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