༺ Day of the Entrance Exam – Interlude ༻
“Kaya, is there a boy you like?”
A large training ground near the Astrea Mansion.
In response to her mother, Historia’s question, Kaya Astrea, a girl with dark green twin tails, coughed excessively. She was receiving special training from Historia.
Kaya quickly turned her head. Her face instantly flushed red. Heat wafted from above her head, and her jade-colored eyes spun like whirlpools.
“Uh, Ma’am. W-what do you mean by that…?”
“Aren’t you being oddly formal to me? Anyway, isn’t there a boy you like?”
“A-a-a-a boy I like?! I-I wonder if there’s such a thing, but naturally, there would be no boy I like, of course. Choosing who to like is something to be carefully considered, so if considered carefully, there might be one, no no, it’s natural to not have one, I don’t have one!”
“I’m starting to get a little scared of you, girl.”
Historia looked at Kaya, who was rambling, with a smile full of understanding.
Kaya gave up. Indeed, she was someone who could never hide her feelings, especially in front of Historia.
“It was quite obvious. Now, let’s take a break. Won’t you tell your mom about your love story?”
“Uh, Mother… Even if you are my mother, I can’t tell you that…”
10 minutes later.
Kaya was completely taken in by Historia’s relaxed way of speaking.
Before long, the two of them were sitting side by side in a corner of the large training ground.
With her face flushed red, Kaya was hesitating, having already finished telling the story.
The reason she did not strongly refuse Historia’s coaxing… was because she secretly wanted to talk about the person she liked. Historia had dug into that feeling.
“So I see… Many rivals, huh? That’s a serious matter. I never thought a cute girl like my daughter would struggle with boys. You must claim that boy soon, or there will be issues.”
“Uh, Mother… The term ‘claim’ is a bit… you know…”
“Oh, you’re still a child, aren’t you? Love is war. It’s about conquering. Petty pride or consideration only leaves opportunities to your rivals.”
“It seems like you’re getting a bit too emotional, Mother…”
Perhaps it was because she was reminded of the time she struggled with women clinging to her husband, Historia became overly emotional.
“Oh, I’m sorry~. Well, what I’m trying to say is this. If it’s not a one-on-one love, you need to be selfish and aggressive.”
Kaya thought of Isaac.
Then she thought of rivals like Luce and Dorothy.
Her fist trembled with a competitive spirit. Could she overcome those powerful competitors and win over Isaac…?
“Yoo-hoo! I’m excited~. What kind of man will our daughter bring!”
Historia embraced Kaya’s shoulder from beside her.
Kaya, surprised, unclenched her fist.
“Mom is confident that she will objectively evaluate whoever Kaya brings! Whether that guy is a good person or not! Which noble’s son is he? Or a tycoon? Ah, I’m so excited! It feels like there’s one more piece of entertainment!”
Historia was very cheerful, of course, because she had no idea who the person in question was.
Kaya liked Isaac, but the thought of actually having a formal meeting made her feel dizzy.
The youngest archwizard in history.
The Nameless Hero who single-handedly defeated a powerful demon that had tormented humanity for a thousand years: The Floating Island.
Kaya wondered… if Historia could really evaluate that very Isaac impartially.
Upon such reflection, she realized once again how incredible the boy she had fallen for was. Kaya felt herself shrinking.
“Someday, I’ll bring him. Definitely.”
Indeed, she couldn’t give up on Isaac.
Therefore, she resolved not to lose to Luce and Dorothy. Kaya reaffirmed her own determination.
At the time when dusk settled.
The escort wizard from Horan, crying and running, searched for the Priestess Miya. Fortunately, she succeeded in finding her in the Butterfly Garden.
Miya grumbled about needing to find her prince, but the escort wizard earnestly persuaded her that, according to academy rules, examinees must leave before sunset.
This was the academy where the Nameless Hero resided in seclusion. Miya, though regretful, decided to abide by the rules of this place.
Thus, Miya obediently followed the escort wizard back to where the carriage of Horan was located.
Only then could the escort wizard hold back her tears.
“Life is truly futile.”
The imperial carriage of the Zelver Empire was leaving Märchen Academy and crossing the bridge that connected the mainland.
Examinees had to leave Märchen Academy before sunset, and if there were problems going home, they had to secure external accommodations. Even the members of the Imperial Family were not exempt.
Imperial Princess Snow White, looked out the carriage window at the Arkins Sea scenery.
To her distant voice, Merlin Astrea responded with a perfunctory, “Is that so?”
When Princess White hinted for her to ask for the reason why, Merlin said, “Ah,” in response.
“Why do you hold such an opinion…?”
“Because the position of a princess means nothing in the face of humanity’s fundamental fears and uncertain future.”
“Yes, I see…”
Merlin nodded as if impressed.
From Merlin’s perspective, White seemed quite subdued, as if her whole body was expressing, ‘I am in a disheartened state.’
‘Indeed, she seems quite disheartened.’
Merlin stroked her chin in thought. As she moved, her partial armor made a metallic sound.
The skills of the Saintess and the Priestess were exceptionally excellent. She knew this thanks to the chatter of passing examinees, and White’s own ramblings.
According to the Emperor’s order, she was to build a good relationship with the Saintess and the Priestess. That way, she could contribute to the peace of the Zelver Empire and the world…
White, being innocent and less skilled than them, was certainly a cause for concern.
“Princess White will do well.”
So Merlin decided to comfort White.
“Ha ha… Really, do you think so…?”
“There is no doubt about it. Well, wouldn’t the Priestess and the Saintess be impressed by Princess White’s good character?”
“B-but, they didn’t seem like such people at all?! What on earth did you see, Merlin?”
The Saintess and the Priestess that White saw today were far different from her imagination.
A noble Saintess? She’s tougher than anyone.
An elegant Priestess? Her personality is terribly shitty.
Both seemed like people who lived in their own way without considering others. It was questionable whether they had developed any social skills.
If not for an external stance, White would have resolved to never get involved with them.
“I meant not to worry too much. You have just taken the entrance exam, after all.”
White let out a forced laugh, then took out a small pocket watch, about the size of two fingers, from beneath her garment to look at.
“Princess, what would that be?”
It was a pocket watch, but its face had no numbers, and its hands did not move.
However, its appearance, as if it captured the night sky with the Milky Way flowing through it, was incredibly beautiful. The case was platinum, it was clear to anyone who looked at it that it was incredibly expensive.
“It’s a broken watch. It’s nice to look at it when my mind is cluttered. Maybe it’s a feeling that clears my mind? It makes random thoughts fly away.”
The pocket watch held by White was no less than a piece of art. After losing its original purpose of telling time, the only thing the watch had going for it was its exceptional beauty.
However, White gazed at this watch, trying to gulp down the anxiety and the burden that the uncertain future brought. This watch served as a means to forget the passing of time and to cast away her deep thoughts.
“It must be a precious item.”
“Mother gave it to me.”
She used the term ‘Mother’ instead of ‘Her Majesty the Empress.’ Merlin immediately understood the reason.
That pocket watch was undoubtedly a gift from the Empress to White as a ‘mother.’
Feeling an inexplicable tingling and heaviness inside, Merlin quietly looked out the window.
The darkened Arkins Sea. It was a very familiar scene for Merlin, who once graduated from the Knight Department of Märchen Academy.
She reflected on the mission entrusted to her, It was just one: to protect Princess Snow White.
She vowed to the moonlight and Arkins Sea under the darkness to surely protect this kind and lovely princess.
White laughed, sounding as if she had a screw loose.
She looked at the pocket watch while laughing eerily as if she had lost her mind.
‘Did she say it dispels random thoughts…?’
The effect of the pocket watch seemed better than expected.
A floor with a chess pattern of black and red.
The dark ceiling had sporadic lights of unknown origin shining down.
The red walls, which were adorned with patterns of black thorny vines forming elegant curves, were spotlessly clean.
The walls were lined with various clocks, all hung in a haphazard, slanted manner.
In that space, among the sparsely placed furniture, four people were seated.
Spatial magic, Alice’s Labyrinth. Inside the Realm independently created by Alice Carroll.
The four people were each waiting for the person they served to arrive.
As the sound of shoes echoed from one darkened side, the attention of all four shifted in that direction.
But what appeared was only a fat purple cat wearing ill-fitting large shoes.
[Meow~. Thought I was Alice?]
A serious, bespectacled male student, sitting with his arms and legs crossed, glared fiercely at Cheshire. His voice was sharp.
On the back of his left hand, a navy blue spade symbol, simply depicting a shovel, was emitting a faint light.
A Paladin’s mark. Covered by a black glove, its light was blurry.
“Kyahaha! Cheshire, what’s with that look? Totally doesn’t suit you!”
[Meoow!! I don’t want to hear that from you, Shera!]
On the backrest of a red sofa…
A cute girl named Shera, wearing red heart-shaped earrings and a charming golden heart hairpin, was precariously seated.
She laughed heartily, then toppled over backward along with the sofa.
Thud. A single cry of “eek” rang out, and the laughter abruptly stopped.
“Why did you come and not the Queen?”
A kind-looking boy asked in a gentle tone. He was wearing a tie pin with a green three-leaf clover symbol, representing peace.
[Well, I’m just here to deliver a message and leave. There’s no need for Alice to come, right?]
A female student with a yellow diamond symbol on her forehead leaned against the wall, looking indifferently at Cheshire. She seemed like a girl who would normally lack courage.
Meanwhile, the heart girl quickly got up, set the fallen sofa upright again, then put her arms on the backrest to support her chin.
She couldn’t contain her excitement, bouncing slightly. Her uplifted mood was evident. A smile of anticipation filled her face.
[Well then, this is Alice’s message. I assume you understood everything last time, so I’ll just convey the essentials.]
The spade boy adjusted his glasses and stood up.
The heart girl ran excitedly to the front of the sofa with a broad smile.
The clover boy stood next to the spade boy with a thoughtful expression.
The diamond girl moved away from the wall to stand beside the heart girl.
Thus, the four stood in an orderly line before the strange Cheshire, ready to hear Alice’s message.
Cheshire, with a smile, flung off the shoes it was wearing.
[First, hinder the Black Monster. Second, uncover the identity of the Black Monster. Third, eliminate the Black Monster. That is your mission as Paladins. Remember, it’s an enemy too strong to be taken down head-on, even if all of you combine your powers. So, discreetly and meticulously… eliminate them.]
The four Paladins crossed their left hands behind their backs and placed their right hands on their chests, bowing their heads.
And they all spoke the same words.
* * *
Morning. The middle-lower dorm, Briggs Hall.
Leaning on the window frame with arms crossed, feeling the cool winter breeze. The quiet landscape of the school grounds was in view.
In the left hand was a cup of freshly brewed hot coffee, and in the right, [Frostfire] was habitually conjured. It was a routine to shake off morning drowsiness.
Taking a sip of the hot coffee, I felt my foggy and blurry mind gradually clear up.
A deep breath turned into white mist, scattering in the cold wind.
Time to organize my thoughts.
Alice brought the four Paladins to capture me. Every single one of them was extremely powerful, so I couldn’t defeat them with mere force.
Then, how should I deal with them?
I’d like to just take my beloved characters and beat them all, but…
Attacking those who were not yet suspects would only make me and them criminals, and I’d be expelled from the academy and that would be the end.
The better approach was to gather evidence that Alice was in collusion with the demons and that the Paladins were her subordinates, and then direct the suspicion toward them…
‘It’s not easy.’
Alice was meticulous and she had never done anything conspicuous.
Moreover, with Cheshire around, it was difficult to unravel her secrets using [Clairvoyance].
Perhaps, I couldn’t avoid being involved with the Paladins in my second year.
[Here comes the valiant killer whale, Bello!]
While drinking coffee and immersed in thought, suddenly a small killer whale magic beast, wrapped in water mana, flew in front of me. It was Bello.
[Isaac! I have a message for you! My master wishes to personally go on a date with you, so get dressed and come out at once-kahaaak!]
A powerful water cannon blast sent Bello blasting off again.
Looking down where the water magic was shot out, a woman with rose-gold hair stood in front of the dorm, extending her arms and unfolding a magic circle.
She quickly dissipated the magic circle.
Seeing that her first thought was to eliminate her familiar, who had blurted out absurdities loudly, rather than unsummoning him, it seemed she was in quite a hurry.
Luce Eltania waved at me when our eyes met. She was smiling awkwardly, perhaps embarrassed.
Today was the day I was asked to be Luce’s sparring partner and training assistant for the whole day.
Isn’t it too early for that?
‘Not that I mind, though.’
On the snowy path. Luce, bathed in the morning sunlight, looked incredibly beautiful.
Eager to go to her, I thoughtlessly gulped down the steaming hot coffee. It was bitter and hot. I was supposed to have let it cool down, ah. Belatedly, I crudely cooled my burnt mouth with ice magic.
[Kahak! Bello is shocked by Master’s tyranny! No violence! No violence!]
After turning my back on Bello, who was spinning in the air and protesting with a voice like that of a young boy, I got ready to go out.
I left the dorm.
Luce was waiting with a smiling face.
Year 2 at Märchen Academy had begun.
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