༺ Homecoming (2) ༻
“Good. It’s done.”
While wiping away the surrounding holy water, Lucia finished the sanctification.
Yuria, who was carefully seated inside a circular barrier with the names of Seraphs sequentially written, slowly sheathed Severer, which she had been holding.
‘…The speed should have slowed a little.’
Lucia looked at Yuria, who was wearing the Starsteel Circlet, with a worried gaze.
The ‘white stem’ extending from Severer’s scabbard had reached all the way to Yuria’s wrist.
It wasn’t something that was supposed to be there. This was a sign that the curse had started to corrode her body gradually because she had been attached to Severer for too long.
Although Lucia had slowed down the process dramatically by doing sanctification and curse removal daily, the cursed artifact was still rooted in her little sister’s body like a disease.
Severer. One of the oldest artifacts ever discovered by humanity.
The only record left about it was that the ‘Miracle of God’ would descend upon the surface if the curse progressed until the end to completely devour the user.
In the first place, her sister was an artificial life form created by the Pope with the sole intention of getting devoured by such an artifact.
As such, from the moment she first grasped the sword, it became physically impossible to remove that thing from her body.
If Yuria had been ‘devoured’ as intended by the Pope, thus becoming a ‘charm against evil’ and was forcibly ‘merged’ with Lucia…
What kind of state would Lucia have been in now?
Just thinking about it was enough to make her shudder.
While she was lost in such thoughts, Yuria took hesitant steps forward.
Despite the Starsteel Circlet she wore, it was clear that her actions were driven by an ingrained habit developed over many years, thus making her discomfort all the more visible.
Lucia cautiously approached one step at a time.
After all, she couldn’t afford to take the risk of stepping inside the three-step radius, just in case an incident actually happened.
However, even when she moved inside the danger zone, Yuria didn’t react. Lucia, who had been preparing divine protection as a precautionary measure, let out a relieved smile.
A brightly beaming Yuria threw herself into Lucia’s arms.
She nuzzled her head against her sister, almost as if she was acting like a baby.
“Yes. It’s okay to be close to each other now. Big sis won’t run away.”
Lucia chuckled while stroking her head.
It was such a warm moment that her earlier worries seemed almost insignificant.
It had been several days since they could touch each other, but it was like this every time they did so. Yuria was like a puppy that had finally reunited with its owner after a long ti—
That was definitely not a sentence that should come up when thinking about her little sister.
Startled by her own impious thoughts, Lucia instinctively made the sign of a cross and murmured a prayer.
Seeing her in such a state, Yuria tilted her head in confusion. As she gazed at her innocent expression, Lucia’s guilty conscience squeezed her heart even harder than before.
Lucia opened her trembling lips with great difficulty.
“Uh, Yuria. How about we start by removing that collar…?”
Truthfully, it was inevitable that such despicable thoughts would appear when Yuria was wearing something like that all the time.
But strangely, Yuria’s expression became clouded at the suggestion.
Lucia found herself wanting to ask the same thing.
“No, but… Mr. Dowd gave me this as a gift…”
As Yuria fiddled with the collar with both hands and gave such a muddled response, a headache started to creep upon Lucia.
It was always like this.
Yuria would obediently listen to anything else he said, but when it came to this topic, she would always push back and refuse.
“Big sis, do you not like Mr. Dowd?”
Wouldn’t it be normal to not like him?
He put a collar on someone’s precious little sister, and, while it couldn’t be helped, he even grabbed her and threw her around like some kind of object.
If she were asked if she disliked him, she would naturally say no.
Although she couldn’t understand his intentions, the fact remained that he was helping the two sisters without any apparent reason.
‘You can stay as you are at the academy for the time being.’
She remembered hearing those words not too long ago.
Not long after the incident with Valkasus was wrapped up, he relayed such a message while handing over an official document from the Holy Land.
‘For the time being, they won’t be able to lay a hand on you. So, during this time, stick with Yuria and do your best to prevent Severer from encroaching on her further.’
At the time, she was so incredulous that she didn’t even have a chance to ask how he got such a document from the Holy Land.
She wasn’t sure what he did to the Pope, but at the moment, it seemed like the Holy Land was willing to grant any request that he had within reason.
With all his capabilities and his effort to help the two sisters at every turn, there was no reason to dislike him at all.
“I don’t dislike him.”
“But that doesn’t mean I like him…!”
Seeing her sister retort with a huff, Yuria tilted her head in confusion.
“Why are you getting angry?”
It was as Yuria said, it wasn’t something to deny so aggressively and angrily.
However, it somehow felt like she was losing if she freely admitted that she saw him in a favorable light.
“Mmm, because Mr. Dowd was brought up, I suddenly miss him.”
However, her reaction didn’t seem to bother Yuria that much, seeing how quickly she stated such things.
She was always like this.
While she could go half a day separated from that man without saying a word, after a day, she would start getting visibly anxious, and after two days, she would go all out trying to find him.
He had mentioned earlier today that he was leaving somewhere, but he seemed to take such things into account because he said he would return in two days.
“Anyway, let’s go out. We’ve finished everything we need to do here after all.”
With that, Lucia calmly took Yuria’s hand and headed for the hallway.
Whenever she completed the sanctification, she had to report that she was done with the room to the academy staff who let her use it.
“Oh my~ Did you finish early today~?”
“I’m always grateful, Dame Ophelia. I apologize for always troubling you.”
Lucia bowed to the female knight with abundant blonde hair.
The freshman dormitory supervisor, who perpetually seemed laid-back, was the person who had always lent an empty room to the girl so that they could work comfortably without being disturbed by others.
“…But, what are you doing right now?”
Lucia asked as she looked at the massive wooden door that Dame Ophelia was holding onto.
Considering she was a knight, she was definitely capable of moving objects of that size on her own, but why was such a thing being carried in the hallway in the first place?
“Ah~ There was just a bit of an issue inside the dormitory~”
“The door hinges came off in one of the rooms~ So this is a spare to fix it~”
“…Why did something like that happen?”
“It seemed two female students got really angry when they found out they’d be going together for the Pilgrimage Homecoming~ So, they broke the door to get inside~ That male student really is something~”
She didn’t even hear a name, but somehow, she had a feeling that this had something to do with a certain someone. Perhaps you could call it a Saintess’ intuition.
“…Is it perhaps Dowd Campbell?”
“Oh~ That student must be quite famous now~”
Well, there you have it.
She wasn’t wrong to have her reasons for being wary of that ma—
“Even some very important people have been asking about that student’s whereabouts~ Somehow, he is suddenly getting a lot of recognition~”
Once again, perhaps due to her Saintess’ intuition, a shiver ran down Lucia’s spine.
“Ah you see, some people even asked if that student would return to the Campbell Barony for this vacation~”
“…Is there perhaps any way I can find out who those people are?”
“Well, it’s not exactly a secret, so it should be fine~”
Lucia received some documents from Ophelia and started scrutinizing them with sharp eyes.
Then, she folded the documents in half and handed them back to Ophelia.
However, unlike before, her hand was now trembling.
“You said you missed Mr. Dowd, right?”
“Good. We have to go meet him right away.”
‘Just like that? Without any explanation?’
While even Yuria was taken aback with her mouth slightly agape, Lucia quickly turned her head back towards Dame Ophelia.
“Is there any way to directly travel from inside the academy to the Campbell Barony?”
“If you go to Central Square, there should be a train~”
“Thank you, Dame Ophelia!”
Hearing that, Lucia immediately turned and rushed away.
Yuria, who was holding her hand, was dragged along in surprise. And seeing this sight, Ophelia tilted her head in confusion.
“But, why are you going there~?”
“Something urgent has suddenly come up!”
From the perspective of a Saintess, she was absolutely certain of one thing.
The situation was already a mess even when only considering the fact that he had gone back to his hometown with both the Hero Candidate and Lady Tristan.
However, if all the people mentioned in that document were gathered in that one place as well…
“If something goes wrong, the entire Campbell Barony could be wiped off the map!”
Such an answer echoed out from a desperately sprinting Lucia.
Mastery: Forbidden Sorcery – Basic
Description: You can carve Tattoo onto your body by sacrificing mediums. Depending on the shape of the Tattoo, you can generate Arrays with different effects.
[ ■ You can only use living beings as mediums. ]
[ ■ You can currently carve a maximum of 3 Tattoos. ]
[ ■ The power of the Array increases with the number of Tattoos carved. ]
[ ■ Increasing proficiency will allow you to carve more Tattoos and generate more type of Arrays. ]
I read the information on the window with a serious look.
It was true that this was the only Mastery that the world’s greatest Forbidden Sorcery User could give, but…
It felt a bit unusual that it came in the form of a Mastery and not a Skill. Was this the reason for it?
If I had 3 Tattoos, drawing one Array would probably be my limit.
Also, it bothered me a bit that only living beings could be used as mediums.
‘This alone is a big harvest, of course.’
However, just being able to use the power of the Forbidden Sorcery showcased by Valkasus in our battle was a significant merit.
The ability to specify effects at will based on different combinations was also appealing.
In other words, in the hands of an expert, it was an instantly usable and powerful cursed technique that could unleash incredible destructive power.
I could only use one for now, but I could solve that by increasing my proficiency anyway.
‘If only I had enough of these, I’d raise my proficiency right away.’
With that thought in mind, I changed the window.
[ You have made great contributions through the buff you applied to your ‘Party Members’! ]
[ AP received! ]
[ You can use AP to increase the proficiency of a desired Mastery! ]
These were the things I had accumulated from my previous battle with Valkasus.
I had also accumulated a lot of it before during the midterm exams when I faced a horde of students, but compared to that time, the amount I had now was not even half of what I received then.
Honestly, when comparing the difficulty, the battle with Valkasus was way harder, but the ‘contributions’ that the window mentions was often determined by the ‘number’ of people taken down rather than by the opponent’s strength.
To gain proficiency with the AP, I needed to accumulate a bit mo—
“Are you trying to escape reality, Young Master?”
Herman’s words dragged my consciousness back to reality.
The butler, who always had a gentle atmosphere, was now staring at me with a piercing gaze, akin to a needle.
I responded while averting my gaze..
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“…I have doubts as to whether this is a situation that we can handle.”
Herman pointed at the two carriages closely following mine on both sides.
Honestly, the carriages themselves weren’t a particularly unusual sight.
After all, disembarking from the train and traveling by carriage was a common situation, so the nearby locals wouldn’t pay too much attention to the carriages themselves.
If there were individuals who recognized the crests engraved on both carriages as the ‘Margrave Kendride Household’ and the ‘Duke Tristan Household’….
Then they could quickly grasp how unusual this situation really was.
For these two crests to be visible simultaneously, it would require a significant event at the level of an important ceremony at the Imperial Palace.
Basically, what I was trying to say was that it wasn’t the kind of spectacle one would see in a mere Barony.
Okay wait. No. This wasn’t fair.
It was really bewildering for me as well, you know?
Not only did I wake up to my door getting obliterated by Iliya and Eleanor, but I was also dragged out of my own room with each of the girls grabbing one of my arms. And, contrary to my expectations, they had even prepared their ‘household carriages’ in advance. How the fuck could anyone expect this?
Okay, well I kinda knew that Eleanor had a terrifying amount of interest in this event, but I never expected Iliya to feel the same way as well…
‘…This is no joke…’
To take out an item engraved with the family crest and visit someone else’s territory was an incredibly serious matter.
Basically, it wasn’t a situation that could be casually explained as mere academy friends visiting each other’s hometowns.
This was no different from expressing the desired intent of an ‘official exchange’ between ‘households’.
In other words…
It means that both of them wanted a rather ‘serious conversation’ to take place in the presence of my family members.
“If it’s alright with you, may I leave first and help the Baron prepare for the reception? I believe we should make proper preparations to welcome these guests.”
As the castle gradually came into view, Herman brought up this proposal.
“…You may do so.”
When I slightly turned my head to look at Herman, the butler was staring at me with a worried expression.
“I have no intention of blaming you. From the standpoint of someone who has served you for a long time, I never believed that the Young Master would live quietly in Elfante. I thought that something like this might happen from the very beginning.”
“Perhaps no one among the locals believed it either. You’re someone who drove people away with just some eye contact. How could someone like that live quietly, as if they’re dead? How ridiculous…”
“Of course, even after taking that into account, this situation still is unexpected. After all, the households of the two ladies are quite… impressive.”
Herman sighed as he continued.
“As such, in order to handle either side without causing harm, a great amount of work will be needed. Of course, I believe that the Young Master can do it somehow.”
With that, I sighed inwardly as I watched Herman get off the carriage and head to the castle.
Yeah. You’re right.
Agreed x 100
Still, there was one silver lining in this entire fiasco.
As mentioned before, the ‘Pilgrimage Homecoming Event’ was the only time throughout the entire scenario where I could mediate and resolve the friction between the two girls.
Of course, given the situation, I knew that I was going to have a difficult time, just like Herman had said.
As I contemplated this while getting off the carriage, the familiar scent of my hometown wafted through my nose.
Both Iliya and Eleanor disembarked from the carriage at the same time.
There was a palpable chill in the air.
Was it winter already?
Why was there a blizzard next to me?
While Iliya and Eleanor hadn’t always gotten along perfectly, this level of tension was something else entirely.
They themselves were clearly aware of the significance of dragging out the household carriages.
At this point, it was possible that all three of us would continue to walk in silence until we entered the caste.
‘I think I’m about to die.’
The atmosphere was so stifling. I couldn’t breathe. Please, someone, send me some oxygen…
It would be okay if there was an ‘aggressive’ event happening, so just give me anything…!
“You worthless bug, how many times have I told you to deal with this in advance? How many times?”
“…I have already explained, Viscount Goldic. I cannot comply with the contents of your request.”
Yeah, uh… I knew I kinda hoped for something like this to happen, but I didn’t want it to be this aggressive…
As I poked my head into my father’s office, I saw my father with an awkward expression and a fat man pouring out swears at him.
‘If it’s Viscount Goldic…’
I know this person as well.
A noble from a neighboring territory. He was the lord of the Goldic territory, known for its mining as its primary industry.
He had continuously pressured us to sell the iron ore veins allocated within our territory.
From what I knew, this had caused my father a great deal of stress.
“Where are the locals supposed to live if their homes are taken?”
“That isn’t my problem. Perhaps they should blame themselves for being in such a pitiable situation. After all, didn’t they choose to live in the territory of a worthless Baron?”
Seeing the quiet figure of my father, Viscount Gooldic continued with smug laughter.
“If not, should I personally evict those bastards by force? Huh? Do you even realize who is backing me?”
“…Viscount Goldic. They are all innocent and honorable people.”
However, this time, his behavior was quite abhorrent.
Although he was known for being aggressive and temperamental, he still had maintained some degree of composure in the past.
“What’s going on here?”
As I entered the room while uttering these words, my father turned towards me with a surprised expression.
It seemed like he didn’t want to show his son such a shitfest upon his return home.
“Welcome back, Dowd. Since you must have a lot of fatigue from your travels, go rest for now and-”
“No, this is perfect. You claim that your son is capable enough to enroll in Elfante, right? It would be quicker to resolve this matter by discussing with him instead. Dealing with you is so frustrating that—”
With those words, Viscount Goldic attempted to approach me, but he frowned when two silhouettes promptly blocked his way.
“Your attitude is quite insolent and your manners are unbefitting of nobility. It would be better for you if you calm down and talk about what your business here is.”
Eleanor and Iliya spoke with slightly twisted expressions.
“I don’t know what’s going on, but insulting other in this matter is not acceptab—”
“Hah. At best, they’re probably from some insignificant household if they were brought here by the son of a mere Baron. Hey, step aside.”
Viscount Goldic continued to derisively laugh while sneering.
“I have business with that trash’s son, not you.”
Upon hearing his words, a chill ran down my spine.
No like… I wasn’t really angry about being insulted and sworn at.
Honestly, it was better that I was insulted than having my father insulted.
The real problem was that after hearing those words…
I could instinctively feel that the two women in front of me were ‘really fucking pissed off’.
“…Trash’s son. And an insignificant household, huh.”
Eleanor smirked while Iliya let out a disbelieving laugh.
“You have insulted my precious person. You have insulted his close friend. And you have even insulted my household.”
“Ah, that’s right. The same words can be applied to me as well.”
Eleanor who spoke such words. And Iliya who added on such comments.
Their eyes were not laughing at all.
“Is it right for me to believe that you are prepared for what is to come?”
The atmosphere turned icy.
However, unlike earlier, it wasn’t an atmosphere born out of tension between the two girls.
It was an icy presence from a hostile who had designated a ‘target to vent their emotions on’.
I took a step back involuntarily.
After all, I instinctively felt the absolute shitstorm coming this way.
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