༺ Vacation ༻
Today was the academy’s vacation ceremony.
In other words, it marked the end of the eventful second semester.
“…I can’t believe how quickly time has passed.”
The clock already showed 1 o’clock in the afternoon. I had only managed breakfast and a brief nap, yet time seemed to have flown by so quickly.
When I tried to lift my utterly exhausted body, a surge of intense pain coursed through me. Just as I had expected, my body was barely holding on, especially after receiving three stacks of penalties.
Despite the discomfort, I couldn’t remain in the academy indefinitely. So, I forced myself to stand up and started searching for the walking stick that the main heroines had given me.
Since the girls had enchanted the walking stick after the end of the Third Ordeal, it could restore some vitality simply by holding it.
“…What the hell.”
However, the walking stick I remembered placing next to my bed last night now lay on the floor. Had I accidentally knocked it over while I was asleep?
At first, I considered using my pager to call Kania over, but summoning her merely to retrieve my walking stick from the floor seemed excessive. Thus, I summoned all my strength to bend down and began to reach for it.
My back throbbed like crazy because of that move. However, Kania had been glued to my side throughout these nights and was being very overprotective. Furthermore, her eyes would well up with tears every time she hugged me in response to my coughs. As such, I couldn’t afford to look weak in front of her.
But, in retrospect, it was somewhat strange.
Apart from Kania, who knew the condition of my body the best, even Irina and Clana would appear on the verge of tears whenever they saw my frail appearance.
This pain would only be momentary, and we were destined to reach the “real happy ending” from this point onwards, so I wasn’t sure why they were overreacting like this.
“Here you go, Frey.”
As I pondered, someone retrieved the walking stick and handed it to me.
It felt so natural that I involuntarily blurted out my thanks as I accepted the walking stick.
However, I instantly froze with my hand outstretched.
“Don’t you need this walking stick?”
Professor Isolet stood before me.
She hadn’t been here just moments ago. When had she entered the room?
Could it be that she had also become a magic swordsman like me?
“You’re the only one who hasn’t left the dorm for vacation yet, right? That’s why I got the key from the maid’s room and came in.”
As I entertained such nonsensical speculations, Isolet gave me an explanation as to why and how she had entered my room.
Lately, my thought process has become increasingly abnormal due to the many unrealistic experiences I have been through.
“So, what brings you here? Don’t tell me that now you’re suddenly concerned about me?”
I tried to pull myself together as I stared at Isolet, but her expression remained as cold as the first time I met her.
Fortunately, she still didn’t seem to worry about me when I saw…
As I contemplated that, Isolet spoke coldly and thrust the walking stick into my arms.
Since there was no reason to decline, I cautiously accepted the walking stick, my entire body beginning to revitalize.
“I’ve come here because I have a letter for you.”
Saying that, Isolet took out a letter from her inner chest pocket and handed it to me.
“I wonder who sent a letter that prompted even Professor Isolet to personally deliver it to me. I suppose it must be a request from a rather influential person…”
“Shut up and just read it.”
I still provoked her, despite being fully aware that Isolet, who despised those corrupt higher-ups, would never willingly associate with such individuals.
Consequently, she proceeded to order me in an even colder, icy tone.
Even under her pressure, I pretended to be indifferent and calmly opened the letter. However, I couldn’t help but display a brief change in my expression as I read the first sentence.
Perhaps that moment had finally arrived.
“I can guess what the letter is implying.”
I said after finishing the letter while attempting to maintain composure. Isolet just stared at me without any expression as she spoke.
“I assume that letter probably declared her intention to sever ties with you. I’ve been wondering why she didn’t do it sooner. Why is it only happening now? The timing seems rather late…”
“The official announcement is the only thing missing here, but the entire empire has been buzzing about this incident for months now. From the press, including gossip magazines, to the elite social circles that control the empire, and even to people on the streets.”
“Therefore, no wonder Aria couldn’t endure it any longer.”
That was right. Perhaps, Aria couldn’t bear it any longer.
I orchestrated the recent slave market incident. Simultaneously, I spread convincing rumors throughout the empire regarding my encounters with the Demon King Army at the market.
So, it’s no surprise that Aria ran away from home. She must have been at her breaking point.
Yet, it was a relief. At least she wouldn’t get caught up in the shitstorm that would soon follow.
Naturally, the same applied to Isolet, who stood before me with a cold expression.
“Aria has been staying in my place for a few days now.”
While lost in thought, I suddenly focused back on Isolet when I heard Aria’s whereabouts. My eyes widened inquisitively as I turned to Isolet.
Of course, I had already known about her departure from the mansion and where her destination was. If she had gone to a dangerous place, I would have sent Kania to bring her back. However, I left her alone because she had only moved to Isolet’s house.
This was because there were few places as secure as Isolet’s house, especially within the empire.
At best, Isolet would be able to deal with any potential threats, and given her lack of luck with men, there wouldn’t be any scoundrels daring to cast their eyes upon my pretty sister.
“Well, I don’t care anyway. While we are at it, how about you consider adopting her into the Bywalker family as well… “
“Do you know how many times Aria wrote that letter?”
After realizing Aria’s safety, a sense of relief washed over me and an impulsive joke slipped out of my mouth. However, Isolet’s expression turned into a deep frown as she started to speak.
“She rewrote that letter numerous times while struggling to hold back her tears.”
“…In the end, the letter she handed to you was the shortest and most gentle of all the versions she attempted.”
“That’s quite touching…”
I murmured, feigning a drowsy look, quietly resisting the sharp pang in my chest.
Isolet, who had maintained her cold expression until then, suddenly grabbed me by the collar and glared at me.
A brief silence followed.
And during that moment, a myriad of emotions filled Isolet’s eyes.
Anger, disappointment, abhorrence, hatred, discomfort, disdain. Even a glint of murderous intent.
Those unfiltered emotions were quite familiar to me, and I could recognize them clearly even without using any skills.
“You want to kill me, don’t you…?”
In that situation, I smiled and taunted her.
I had noticed that her reactions towards me had been somewhat peculiar since our previous encounter. So, I wanted to clarify her feelings towards me well before the next ordeal.
With that thought in mind, I said something she was supposed to despise.
Isolet’s gaze suddenly wavered upon hearing that.
Then, a soft groan escaped her lips.
For some reason, that sight intertwined with the image of her breaking down during the Third Ordeal.
I had unintentionally asked her with concern, but she distanced herself from me and composed herself quickly.
“Please leave the dormitory within an hour. Numerous security personnel are stationed on the ground just because of you.”
After a while, I heard her voice revert to its chilly tone, so I just sighed, realizing that my recent concern was baseless.
“By the way, it appears you’re in quite a bit of pain?”
I heard her subtle question as she was about to grab the doorknob and exit the room.
“Considering you couldn’t even attend class for a few months now… As expected, you must be seriously injured?”
I had no choice but to use my skills because of her questions.
“Why are you asking that?”
After staring at her blankly for a moment, I posed a question.
“…I’m not entirely sure either.”
She mumbled something to herself while wearing a complicated expression, but then she turned around and began speaking in a composed tone.
“To be honest, I’d like to beat you to death now.”
“I want to be the one to put an end to your life, before you become an even bigger monster than you already are.”
It was a terrifying declaration that might’ve haunted someone’s dreams if they had heard it, but for some reason, it didn’t scare me at all.
“But… But… When I tried to put it into action…”
Her composed facade gradually crumbled.
“For some reason, my body refused to budge.”
It wasn’t just her facial expressions that wavered, but her voice as well.
Even though I could clearly sense the murderous intent, I found myself feeling more perplexed than afraid.
“Actually, I was about to kill you just now.”
“I purposely stationed the security personnel downstairs, sent Kania on an errand to keep her away from you, infiltrated your room, and even circumvented its protective spells— I did it all just to kill you.”
As I grappled with my surge of emotions, Isolet’s words struck a chord deep within me.
“I attempted to draw my sword multiple times while you were asleep. And when you struggled to pick up your fallen walking stick with all your might. Even when you mocked the letter written by your sister.”
“And also, when I grabbed you by your collar just now.”
Her gaze mirrored the same bewilderment as mine.
“…I attempted to forsake my duty as a knight and strangle you, frail and vulnerable as you were, to death.”
She finished in a voice barely above a whisper, her gaze locked onto mine.
Breaking the ensuing silence, I questioned her in a calm voice.
“Why didn’t you kill me then?”
In response to that question, Isolet closed her eyes and said.
“You couldn’t draw your sword?”
“I tried with all my might, exerted all the strength that I could muster… but I still couldn’t draw my sword.”
She said it with a dejected look on her face.
“I even tried to strangle you, but I couldn’t bring myself to raise my hand.”
Then, she turned around quietly.
“Let me ask you one question.”
“Frey, is it true that your life span has been reduced? Is it not an act, but an actual reality?”
I weighed how to respond to the question she finally posed, her voice trembling.
“I-If it’s indeed true… then that’s what you reap for what you have sown. You’ve received divine punishment, Frey.”
She drew her own conclusion.
“There’s no need for me to do it myself since you are going to die soon anyway. Yeah, I don’t have to stain my honor because of someone like you. So, I’m giving up on killing you.”
“However, bear this in mind, Frey.”
Her name slipped from my mouth without me even realizing.
“No matter what kind of condition you are in, if you cause another incident…”
She unilaterally bid me farewell, disguising it as a warning.
“…I won’t hesitate to end you.”
As soon as she finished speaking, she opened the door and left the room.
Despite the window in front of me, I continued to gaze fixedly at the spot where Isolet had stood. However, soon, my attention was abruptly drawn to the skill window before me.
There were question marks at the end of the series of long negative emotions.
“All of this is starting to drive me crazy.”
I distilled countless thoughts into a single sentence, gripping my head as I laid down on the bed.
“…What the hell.”
Just like that, I stared vacantly at the ceiling for a while.
Suddenly, a dark energy emerged from my shadow against the wall.
“…Are you alright, Young Master?”
After a while, Kania emerged from the shadows and lay down beside me, speaking in a hushed tone.
A few days ago, she had successfully advanced in high-level dark magic, making the manipulation of shadow magic relatively easy for her.
“Now that I’m here, you can rest assured…”
“That was weird.”
I observed her as she nervously lay beside me, silently staring into her eyes. Soon, I spoke with a grave expression.
“After the ordeal ended, I had thoroughly examined all the ‘sub-heroines.'”
“…Are you referring to the precautionary observation you did in case someone had regained their memories?”
“Yes, most of them were completely unaffected by the Third Ordeal.”
After saying that, I rubbed my eyes and muttered.
“But why… did something so strange happen to Isolet out of the blue?”
“I’m sick of all these variables… I want to rest a bit… Well, I’ve rested quite a lot until now, but…”
“I’ll watch over you.”
While gazing at Kania, I sighed and asked.
“How’s Aria? Has she completely stopped worrying about me?”
“It seems so…”
Kania abruptly paused as she was about to respond, and then carefully examined my face.
“…You look sad.”
“No, not at all… “
“More than ever.”
Eventually, I shook my head, attempting to deny her statement.
“… You seem to have had the hardest time today.”
I silently listened to her words as she drew closer.
Lately, I felt like Kania could almost completely read my thoughts. Could this be the side effect of using shadow magic?
“Uhm… Y-Young Master.”
While I was thinking about that, Kania suddenly began to stutter.
“Could you… spare some time for me tonight?”
“If you don’t have any plans yet, maybe you could join me for a drink.”
I was curious about what she would say, but I hadn’t expected to hear such a suggestion.
“It would be nice to have a drink, but lately… I can’t really get drunk in the first place due to my mental strength…”
“Well, I can help you to get drunk.”
I was about to politely decline her suggestion since I couldn’t get drunk anyway, but Kania averted her gaze and continued.
“I’ve prepared a method for you to get drunk. And, um… also the alcohol…”
“…All right, if my most trusted subordinate insists.”
I responded cheerfully to her idea of getting drunk, but Kania suddenly started looking at me sadly.
“I-I’ve made thorough preparations so you can enjoy it to your heart’s content…”
“Oh right, I should get ready to go out.”
Eventually, I rose from my seat, leaving behind the murmuring girl who had lowered her head. Suddenly, Kania began to tense up.
“…Are you really leaving today?”
“Yeah. Everything concerning Isolet and Aria has been weighing on my mind, so I don’t want to delay it any longer.”
I started putting on my coat with a determined expression.
While touching the Robe of Deception laid on the desk, I muttered in a cold voice.
It was time to go to see the Fake Hero.
Meanwhile, at that very moment.
“Hey, Ruby! It’s been a while!”
After months, Ruby finally showed up again at the orphanage Frey had established and greeted the caretaker with a bright smile.
“I heard you had some business to take care of and couldn’t visit for a few months, so I was worried. But I’m relieved to see you in perfect health!”
“Oh, yes… Haha.”
Her expression momentarily faltered at the caretaker’s words, but she quickly put on an awkward smile as she responded.
“By the way, what a coincidence that you came back at this time!”
“Today, the person who established this orphanage is visiting!”
Upon hearing that, once again, Ruby failed to maintain her composure.
“He’ll be here soon, so let’s quickly prepare…”
“Yes, yes! I understand!”
With that, she quickly turned around and headed off somewhere.
“…No way, at a time like this?”
She closed the semi-transparent window before her and began mumbling with her brow furrowed.
And from a distance, a girl observed this scene.
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