༺ Puppy’s Love ༻
“Young Master… how did this happen…?”
As soon as I cleansed the dark mana, Kania and Irina, who were lying on the floor, stared at me blankly.
“Are you guys fine?”
As I approached and inquired as such, Kania answered with an absurd expression on her face.
“…Since you’re saying something like that, you must be the real Young Master.”
“You’re severely wounded.”
I glossed over Kania’s words and found a wound on her stomach, then muttered to myself, not knowing what to do.
I looked around to find something to wrap around Kania’s wounds, but when I saw the scars on Irina’s body and her blackened mana circuits, I placed my hand on my forehead and said.
“This is insane.”
Irina, who was looking at me blankly, immediately lowered her head and muttered.
“S-Sorry… Frey… I…”
“It’s fine… it’s really fine.”
I didn’t want to shake her emotional state, so I urgently cut off her words. I looked around and said.
“First of all, let’s talk when we get out of here. This place is kind of… unnerving.”
When I said that, Kania and Irina’s expressions hardened.
“Don’t be like that, here…”
As I was about to head for the entrance after forcing them to stand up, I suddenly saw Aria lying on the floor, unconscious, and sighed.
“…That’s right, Aria is here too.”
To be honest, I don’t know how to deal with Aria, who is quick-witted and continues to worry about me. Even if I intentionally treat her badly, she will be suspicious, and if I treat her kindly, even more problems will arise.
“Kania, cast a sleep spell on Aria. Make sure she doesn’t wake up for a while.”
After saying that, Kania approached Aria and gently stroked her hair, and her breathing rate became more calm.
“Then let’s get out of here. I don’t want to be here anymore.”
Lifting Aria up, I, along with Kania and Irina, began to head out the cavern.
Just as I was about to reach the exit, Kania, who had been following me quietly, asked me a question in a hushed tone.
“Was that… really magic?”
“Yes, it was magic.”
Saying so, I spread the twinkling flashes of light everywhere, and added with a smile.
“The same magic my mother used.”
Kania watched the scene in awe as the flashes of light suspended in mid-air began to crystallize. However, soon her expression turned grim, and she began speaking again.
“Young Master, the room in there is…”
“Let’s talk about that a little later.”
Kania’s expression was about to turn even more grim, so I cut her off and spoke firmly.
“Sometimes it’s best to delay such things, Kania.”
“…I understand, Young Master.”
Eventually Kania nodded her head quietly seeing my resolute stance on this matter and silently began heading towards the entrance of the cavern.
“So, what now?”
As I came out of the cavern and took a look around outside, I noticed that the rain had stopped. I asked Kania and Irina who were looking at me blankly.
“F-For now… so…”
Irina, who had been unable to meet my gaze till now, hesitated and started stuttering.
“I think we have to deal with Lady Aria’s problem first.”
Then Kania, who had been keeping her mouth shut until then, intervened and started talking.
“Even though I cast a sleep spell, I couldn’t cast it properly because I almost ran out of mana due to the unexpected battle. So, she might wake up soon.”
“Considering her condition and other factors… going to the nearby Starlight Duke’s mansion would be the best option. If she wakes up now, it will be problematic for us.”
Hearing these words, I quietly nodded my head in agreement, and Kania walked over to Aria, who was in my arms, and continued speaking.
“So, I’ll take Young Lady Aria to the Duke’s mansion myself.”
“Will you be fine? If you show up with those wounds, Kadia might worry…”
“Even if that’s the case, Young Master and Irina can’t do this.”
Saying so, Kania took Aria, and looked at me and Irina alternately, then let out a sigh and said,
“And… I think you’ll have to stay here until tomorrow.”
“What are you talking about?”
When I asked her with a bewildered look, Kania frowned and said.
“As I said before, I ran out of dark mana due to the unexpected battle, so it’s quite difficult to use stealth magic.”
“So it’s not possible to use it today?”
“Yes, my dark mana will be replenished by tomorrow… I have to go see Serena, who will be at the academy, after explaining the situation to Aria at the Duke’s mansion. So, if you stay here for a day, I’ll come back tomorrow morning and pick you up.”
When I nodded at that, Irina, who had been hesitating for a long time, opened her mouth.
“I-I will stay here…”
Hearing her words, Kania showed great displeasure.
“Miss Irina, there is no need for you to stay here.”
“Um… Leaving Frey alone is dangerous. There are wild beasts, and they are all…”
“Didn’t you see the Young Master defuse the situation in an instant with his stellar mana?”
As Irina continued to stick to her opinion, Kania, who looked at her with displeasure, shook her head and said,
“I can’t do anything, since you aren’t going to change your mind. Then, please take care of the Young Master until tomorrow.”
“U-Uh… I-I’ll do my best…”
As Kania looked at her fiercely, Irina flinched for a moment, then she stuttered slightly and answered.
“Young Master, I’ll go now.”
Kania, who was looking at Irina with a dissatisfied expression, put Aria on her back and bid me farewell.
“Yes, then, please take care of Aria…”
I smiled at Kania and was about to see her off, but Aria on her back started moving around.
“Brother… Thank you…”
She quietly smiled and muttered as I broke out in a cold sweat and gasped for breath. However, fortunately the penalty window didn’t appear.
“She must be talking in her sleep.”
As Kania, who had a stony expression on her face, muttered in a reassuring voice. On the other hand, I fell into deep thought as I contemplated over this while drenched in cold sweat.
‘I’ll have to somehow get rid of Aria’s concern for me soon…’
I had been eliminating the people who would be cursed by the system’s ordeal one by one.
Isolet still hates me. I’ve begun erasing Serena’s ‘worry’ with my continued love affair with Kania, and Irina had a dark mana circuit implanted in every corner of her body today, so it shouldn’t be a problem.
However, with Aria, I can’t seem to find a way.
If I keep acting cruel to her, she would criticize and suspect me. On the other hand, If I treat her nicely just like before, her suspicions would be dispelled.
If there’s any good news, it’s that she’s getting ‘tired’ of it all.
When she collapsed with a headache a moment earlier, although her consciousness was blurred, she clearly stated that she was tired of believing in me.
So I need one more…just one more big event to happen…
“Then please take care of yourself.”
“Oh, Yes. I will.”
After thinking for a while, I decided to put aside these concerns for now and bid Kania farewell.
Anyway, it’s something that can’t be fixed right now.
“T-Then… let’s go back to the secret base.”
As Kania’s figure with Aria on her back faded from our field of vision, Irina lowered her gaze and whispered.
While feeling slightly awkward, I nodded my head, and I began to slowly return to the secret base with Irina following behind.
“Damn, the secret base is flooded with water.”
After walking without saying a word for a long time, we arrived right in front of the secret base, but there was a puddle of water in there, and even more water continued to pour in through the wide open door.
“With this… do we need to camp outside?”
As I muttered to myself with a troubled look while watching the scene, Irina, who was watching me quietly, grabbed my arm and started heading somewhere.
“Uh, where are we going?”
“…Just follow me.”
Her hand holding my arm was trembling, so I surrendered to her without a word and started following her.
‘Wait, but why did Irina say that earlier?’
In the meantime, I began wondering about that question that popped up in my mind.
Why did Irina stay behind saying that I would be in danger, even though there’s a secret base that nobody besides me and her can enter? Of course, the secret base is flooded with water, but she wouldn’t have known about that.
I was immersed in such thoughts for a long time, till Irina stopped me. I stopped thinking about her for a moment and looked around, then asked in a low voice.
“Isn’t that lake where we always played together?”
It must have still been awkward for Irina since she answered briefly. She gathered the branches that had been lying on the floor and started to light a fire, while I settled down quietly and began to observe her.
By the way, Irina, who had always lit the fire in less than a few seconds, started struggling with the basics again.
As I looked at her with a worried expression, Irina, who was rubbing the twigs together, began to slowly glance at me.
“Uh… can I help you a little?”
“I-It’s fine… remain seated.”
She looked quite pitiful, so I got up from my seat and tried to help her, but Irina stopped me and began to rub the branches harder.
“I told you I’m fine?”
“No, that’s not it… look at your hands.”
After hearing her words, I sat down for a while and waited for the fire to ignite, but I looked at her hands and involuntarily ran towards her in shock.
“… I… I’m sorry.”
Her hands were scraped from the rough bark, and blood dripped down from the wound.
“Irina, are you all right?”
When I asked, holding her hands tightly, she shook her head helplessly and began to mutter.
“I’m sorry… I’m really sorry…”
I was about to tell her that there was no need to feel guilty, but then stopped for a moment as I looked at the branches she had gathered.
“…All right, I’ll light the fire. You need a little rest.”
Eventually, after noticing the residual dark mana on the branches, I found out the secret of how she would quickly light fires back in a day, and said with a smirk.
“Isn’t putting a branch in here the first thing you do?”
Carefully grabbing a branch and inserting it into the groove, I began to quickly rub the branch, reminiscent of a scene Irina used to boast about while making a fire in front of me.
“Wait your hands…”
With a worried expression on her face, Irina began to reach out to my hand.
But as soon as the twig was set alight, she hurriedly pulled her hand back and began looking at me with a puzzled expression.
“How did you do it?”
Eventually, when Irina asked a question timidly, I imitated the words she would say to me when she would light a fire instantly. Irina grimaced upon hearing that.
Irina, who was staring at me blankly, noticed that the wooden stick I was holding was covered with stellar mana, smirked a bit, but soon her expression turned grim again.
“Aren’t you hungry, Irina?”
Seeing her fidgeting, I asked her a question because it was time for lunch.
Then she avoided my gaze and answered timidly, as I got up from my seat upon hearing that.
“Okay, I was just hungry. I’ll go catch some fish.”
Having said that, Irina, who was staring blankly at me as I started heading towards the river, quickly got up from her seat and said,
“You idiot, you can’t swim.”
“Why the hell do you remember that?”
Of course, I couldn’t swim back then only because I was young, but to protect Irina’s feelings, I decided to choose another method to catch the fish.
“Hmm, what did Clana do when she attacked me?”
For a moment, I began to concentrate as much stellar mana as possible at the tip of my fingers, envisioning Clana in my mind, who had gathered a lot of solar mana and then fired a laser beam.
Aiming my fingers, which started to glow, at the fish, I released stellar mana, and a silver laser was fired from the tips of my finger and pierced the fish.
“All right, looks like we’ll be fine for dinner.”
I caught the fish floating in the river with a long branch, and calmly spoke to Irina, who was smiling at me from the side.
“Would you like a bite too?”
Every single word I said imitated Irina’s words from the past, and in the end, she smiled once more and nodded her head.
“Fine, then you’re going to have to get the fish out with the branch. I’ll focus on killing the fish with the laser.”
Saying that, I handed her the long branch I was holding, and began to shoot lasers at the fishes swimming in the river.
For some reason, it seemed that Irina was looking at me closely, but I decided to ignore it for now.
“How is it?”
As the sun was setting and the sky slowly turned darker, I held out a fish skewer to Irina with an anxious look on my face.
Then Irina, who had been watching the fish skewers for a while, carefully took a bite of the fish.
“…it’s pretty good.”
When she opened her eyes and praised it, I let out an expression of delight, then picked up the fish skewer next to her, and began eating it.
“Today I won the fire, I won the fishing, and I won the grilling, right?”
After eating the fish, I said to her with a sly smile on my face.
“You’re right, congratulations.”
“Not just congratulations… You have to keep the promise you made a long time ago.”
“A promise I made a long time ago?”
As she answered blankly, I put a stern expression on my face and reminded her of the promise she made back when we were kids.
“You told me that if I beat you in all three, you’ll reveal a secret.”
Then, maybe after remembering, she heaved a brief sigh, and then she started looking at me with a blank expression.
“Don’t even think about glossing over this matter, say it quickly.”
Ever since the promise was made, I had wanted to find out a secret like crazy, so I continued to urge her.
Irina, who hesitated then, turned her gaze to the side and spoke in a low voice.
“…I made up the name ‘Ice Dragon Berry’.”
My eyes shot wide open at those words, and bewildered, I began to stutter.
“U-Unbelievable… I’ve always believed those words until now… I’ve told the other kids the same… Wait, then, did you trick me in the ashen forest back then…”
I wasn’t all that shocked when I was going through the ‘First Ordeal’ of the system, but I was really shocked after hearing her words.
“Then… What’s the real name of the berry?”
When I asked with a slightly bewildered expression, Irina lowered her head and mumbled.
“‘Puppy’s Love’ berry.”
I burst into laughter without even realizing because it had a cute name that was completely different from the ‘Ice Dragon’ she had told me previously. Irina blushed profusely with her head still lowered.
“What kind of name is that? Did a puppy pick up the fruit and fall in love with it?”
“No, that’s not it… oh, the fish is done.”
As I smiled and said so, Irina, who was about to say something, sighed and shut her mouth.
There was silence between the two of us for a long time.
“Frey, I have something I want to tell you.”
“Go ahead, tell me.”
Irina smiled shyly and slowly opened her mouth, then made a shocking remark.
“I want to drop out of the academy.”
As I looked at her in astonishment, Irina murmured silently as she gazed up at the night sky.
“…Instead, I’ll work as your maid.”
It seems there was something wrong with the fish I just served to Irina.
Meanwhile, at the back alley after nightfall.
“Hello! This is a scroll store right?”
A girl in a purple robe entered through the door of a shabby stall. She snooped around and asked a question.
“Are you the owner here?”
Then, suddenly from the empty counter, the sound of the storekeeper’s singing could be heard, and the girl who heard the sound frowned and pushed her head over the counter.
“… Have you ever thought that the world revolves randomly…?”
“More importantly, you’re open right now, right? Please sell this to me.”
Soon, the girl found the shopkeeper, who was fiddling with a wine bottle in his hand. She ignored his gibberish and gave him the scroll she was holding.
“That’s 1500 gold… If you can afford it, pay up.”
The owner, who looked intently at the scroll, teased her with giggles, but …
“…Is this enough?”
She flicked her finger and asked with an impassive look on her face.
“Exactly 1500 gold. Fine, take it.”
Then, the corners of the girl’s lips rose slightly to form a lopsided smile. She turned around and bid him farewell.
Her ruby-colored eyes shone through the glass door of the store as she headed towards the exit.
Meanwhile, the owner was laughing out loud mysteriously behind the counter.
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