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There was a troubled man here.
"Ahh, what am I going to do......"
He looked up as he spoke.
Those words sparkled as they traveled through the air. But sorrow mingled with the light, making their brilliance seem a bit faded.
"What should I do?"
It was a question spoken to none other than himself. But the man couldn't find an answer within his own heart, so all he could do was slowly sink into his own world.
He wrapped his arms around himself, twisting his body in dejection.
The source of the dejection was his own heart, and the source of the problem was the same.
But he didn't have to show these feelings. He tightly squeezed his arms, twisted his body, and put a sad expression on his face, turning his constantly-repeated and piled-up questions into words.
"Ahh, where should I direct my love!?"
He expressed that sentence with his whole body.
Specifically, he spread his arms, looked up at the sky, and spun on one foot.
"Ahh, how merciless!"
Vance's curt remark made the man contort his body as he danced in midair.
Mifi charged into the cla.s.sroom and grabbed Layfon, her shout reverberating through the whole cla.s.sroom.
"Mi-chan, I'm listening."
Cla.s.ses had ended and it was time for a final cleaning right now. Layfon was cleaning the cla.s.sroom with a broom.
He remembered that Mifi ought to be cleaning the area in front of the school.
It hadn't been too long since he started cleaning the cla.s.sroom. It wouldn't be strange if they had only started cleaning the area in front of the school right now.
"Right, the cleaning--"
"Right now isn't the time to do that!"
Mifi's eyes glittered. The light in her eyes was a bit different from her level of curiosity. Her current degree of curiosity was the highest.
But actually, that curiosity didn't give any credibility to whatever topic she was bringing.
Naruki and Meishen weren't here. The two of them were cleaning somewhere else.
In other words, there was no one here to control and admonish Mifi.
"So, what is it?"
Layfon asked with a sigh.
"What kind of att.i.tude is that? Are you not interested? I came to tell Layton first because this was big news. You should be thankful to me, super thankful! That'll definitely happen, so please pay first."
"No, I'm not paying."
"Hmph, you're so reliable in that kind of area. That sucks."
"Uh, what exactly is the matter?"
There were many gazes nearby focused on them, which felt very uncomfortable. The girl who was their cla.s.s representative was also staring at them. She was Mifi's sworn enemy and Layfon wasn't good at dealing with her, so he wanted to finish this topic and start cleaning again as soon as possible.
The cla.s.s representative strode over.
"Uwah, this is bad."
Mifi also noticed that she was in the cla.s.sroom, so she instantly pulled Layfon's ear with her fingers.
She told Layfon.
"Well, I'll tell you the rest later!"
Mifi quickly left Layfon's side, running out of the cla.s.sroom without even listening to the cla.s.s representative's calls to stop.
"Don't run in the hallways!"
Mifi didn't stop even after being scolded. The cla.s.s representative shrugged her shoulders huffily and went back to the cla.s.sroom.
Layfon rubbed the ear that had been pulled as he mulled over Mifi's muttered words.
That was because he wouldn't be able to believe it if he didn't do so.
Nina had a lover?
Afterwards, the cleaning was finished.
Layfon and Mifi were in the stairwell on the highest floor. No one was on the roof due to the heat. If no one had business with the roof, no one would come to this stairwell. Though it was very cool in this place where the sunlight didn't reach, no one would gather here after school.
"So, what's going on?"
Layfon and Mifi both held juice bought from vending machines in one hand as they sat here talking, and they were so close that their foreheads were almost touching.
Naruki and Meishen had to work, so they weren't here. Layfon also had to go to the training facility, but if he didn't properly listen to this matter, he wouldn't know what to say when he saw Nina.
"Could it be...... a rumor?"
"How rude, the great Mi-chan witnessed it clearly."
Mifi dexterously stuck out her chest as she whispered, but Layfon still looked at her with dubious eyes, so she took out the evidence.
"This is what I took when we were cleaning just now."
In other words, she had immediately developed this photograph right after escaping the cla.s.sroom.
So in the end she had skipped cleaning. Choosing to ignore that fact for now, Layfon looked at the photograph.
In the photograph was a guy and a girl walking on the tree-lined road in front of the school.
It was Nina and a man he seemed to have seen somewhere before.
"That's a guy...... Right?"
Layfon asked without any confidence.
The person standing next to Nina was a man whose long golden hair flowed in elegant waves. Did he have makeup on? His face looked strangely beautiful, and his figure was very slender, with the shirt of his uniform not even regulation. It was made with what looked like a very soft fabric, and ruffled things were sewn into the sleeves. The chest was open wide and red flowers adorned it.
Judging by the open chest, he could be identified as a man.
Layfon realized this, but even through the photograph he realized that this man wasn't masculine.
"What are you saying, isn't that Rafaela Serfa-senpai from the first platoon?"
Mifi said his name matter-of-factly.
"That person is regularly among the top three of the Military Artist Beauty Rankings. He was an overwhelming number one this year. Ah, by the way, Sharnid-senpai was fifth this year, and Layfon was fourth."
"Uh, that doesn't matter at all."
The question of why his name had shown up there truly didn't matter at all right now.
"So, what's he doing?"
"As for that, I have to start investigating right now."
"So they might just be walking together by coincidence?"
If they were walking in front of the first-year school building at this time, their destinations might be the training facility. If the man Rafaela was a platoon member, then there was undoubtedly the possibility that they ran into each other on the way.
"Naive! Layton, your thinking is too naive!"
But Mifi thoroughly struck down Layfon's thinking.
"Layton, you don't realize after seeing this photograph?"
Mifi pushed the photograph over. But Layfon really didn't know the answer. It was Layfon's first time seriously looking at Rafaela's face, so he didn't know what was different about his expression. That said, all he could realize from looking at Nina was that her smile was a bit stiff.
"Captain isn't very good at dealing with this person, right?"
Mifi retorted with a secretive tone.
"That's not where you should be looking. It's here! Here!"
Mifi pointed to the center of the photograph.
The shoulders of the two of them were close.
Layfon tilted his head and put on a confused expression, which made Mifi claw at her hair.
"Ahh, why don't you get it. Is it because you're Layton? Or is it because you're a guy? If it's because you're a guy, it'll be hard to fix. That's why everyone forgets there's such a cute girl here!"
Mifi uttered a complaint that Layfon couldn't really understand as she pointed to the same spot.
"It's this, this sense of closeness! Don't you understand? A guy and a girl who just happened to run into each other couldn't possibly walk this close together, right?"
Even if Mifi said this, Layfon still didn't understand. Maybe it was just as Mifi said, since after all Layfon normally didn't concern himself with such things.
But now that she mentioned it, it seemed like the cla.s.s representative had pulled aw y a bit from him when he had helped her carry things. But maybe that was because she was a girl who preferred that kind of distance, so Layfon still didn't feel like he could conclude anything.
"Anyways, these two are very suspicious! So Layton, what you have to do next is get more definitive evidence. Got it?"
Layfon still felt confused. Mifi shouted this, perhaps feeling impatient about that reaction.
Layfon could only keep nodding his head.
When he arrived at the training facility, Nina was already there.
The scolded Layfon apologized as he readied his things. Putting aside Naruki for now, Sharnid and Felli were already here. Naruki was at the city police, so of course she wasn't here. Everyone had already arrived other than her.
Hard b.a.l.l.s were scattered on the floor. Ever since Layfon had explained the Psyharden training style to Nina, it had been woven into the platoon's basic training regimen.
Layfon restored his Adamantium Dite, then stood on a hard ball. Maybe because everyone was already used to it, their balanced stances on the b.a.l.l.s looked quite stable.
After finishing their basic training, Nina spoke to Felli as she was reading a magazine with nothing to do.
Felli wordlessly grabbed the restored Dite from next to her. The Psychokinesis flakes spread in the training room gave off slight electric glows, then surrounded Layfon and the others in faint light.
Felli had put up one of a Psychokinesist's defenses - a magnetic barrier.
This was an advanced way to train with the hard b.a.l.l.s.
Nina, Sharnid, Dalshena, and Layfon released Kei from all over their bodies. Though the power was extremely weak, the b.a.l.l.s scattered on the floor bounced away from this. The hard b.a.l.l.s trying to fly away were bounced back by the magnetic barrier.
On the other side of the barrier, Felli returned her gaze back to the magazine. A timer next to her was keeping time.
The hard b.a.l.l.s hurtled around chaotically. Layfon and the others dodged them or hit them back. It was a foul to use external Kei over the entire body like before. Even if they were to use it, they had to bounce a ball back towards a certain direction.
Three of them were unable to avoid or hit back the hard b.a.l.l.s. At the same time as everyone was struck by the b.a.l.l.s and cried out, Layfon dodged or struck back the approaching hard b.a.l.l.s with the smallest of movements. He might not even have needed to use his limbs. He released external Kei purely through the movements of his muscles to bounce them back.
He watched at Nina as he did this.
She looked no different from usual.
She didn't cower even when the hard b.a.l.l.s struck her back from her blind spot, swinging her iron whips to sharpen her nerves. Layfon felt like she could relax her shoulders a bit more. This training was to hone the reflexes and at the same time widen the field of vision. Focusing on a single thing would improve your responses to it. But once something else happened, you would be unable to respond to it so easily and your stance would crumble. In order to guard against that, it was necessary to unconsciously see the entire situation around you and improve the senses. That was the purpose of this training.
As expected, Nina's figure as she focused on this was the normal Nina.
She really didn't look like she had a lover.
No, Layfon wasn't sure how someone would change by having a lover.
Layfon imagined a blushing, shyly-smiling Nina surrounded by an atmosphere of blooming flowers. It was too unlike her. Layfon shook his head and rejected that image.
As expected, he couldn't see any change.
The timer made an electronic screech to tell them that the designated time had pa.s.sed. Layfon and the others put away their weapons. This time they grabbed the flying hard b.a.l.l.s.
When all the hard b.a.l.l.s bouncing around had vanished, the magnetic barrier was released.
"Whew...... How tough....."
Sharnid wiped off the sweat dripping to his chin and then drank a sports drink. Dalshena wiped her sweat with a towel as well.
After using a towel as well, Nina hung it on her neck and then took up a stance with her iron whips. Maybe she was thinking of their training from just now and doing image training.
Layfon was the only one who wasn't sweating. He picked up the hard ball by his feet and put it on the tip of his blade as he looked at Nina.
After they finished three rounds of the same practice along with some other training, it was time to finish up.
As the others slowly warmed down, Layfon was the only one who circulated internal Kei as he walked and reached out a hand to the sports drink placed on the bench.
"What's up with you?"
Felli looked up from her book and asked. She had already stored her crystalline Dite in her weapon belt and looked ready to go home.
"You seem concerned about something."
"Ah, no, it's nothing......"
As Layfon was thinking of an excuse, Sharnid grabbed his shoulder from behind.
"Weren't you looking at Nina the whole time?"
Sharnid, who had lowered his voice, grinned.
"You smell like sweat."
Felli responded to Sharnid, who had naturally leaned over to her as he spoke.
"Hmph, some girls like that, you know."
"Please exclude me from that group of people."
Sharnid, who was unable to learn his lesson from that cold att.i.tude, obviously didn't move away from her.
"So, what's up? You seem unusually interested in Nina, did something happen?"
"Didn't I say it was nothing?"
"Could it be that you've only now realized your secret, tangled feelings for Nina?"
"What kind of feelings are that......? Huh? By 'only now', you mean......?"
Sharnid's words felt strangely unnatural to Layfon.
Why had he said 'only now'?
But before Layfon had an answer to his question, the door was knocked and opened.
"Hi, is training already over?"
The person Layfon saw when he turned around was that man Rafaela Serfa.
Rafaela was dressed like he had been in the photograph, but had a big box in his left hand.
"Rafaela-senpai, why are you here?"
Nina, who was wiping her sweat, approached him with a fl.u.s.tered look.
"Hehehe, isn't it natural for me to want to see the face of my sweetheart as much as possible?"
Sharnid, whose arm was still hooked around Layfon's shoulder, put on a strange expression as if he had eaten something unfamiliar. Felli was silent. But judging by the way her eyes widened, she was definitely feeling the same as Sharnid.
"Why are you describing me as your sweetheart......"
Nina showed a confused expression, not knowing how to accept being called that.
"Well, we'll talk about that later. I came here for this."
After saying this, Rafaela gave Nina the box in his hands.
"It's something I prepared because I thought it would really suit you. Please take it."
Nina still showed a somewhat confused expression after taking the box.
"I'd be really happy if you wore that for me next weekend."
After saying those words, Rafaela turned and left.
All that was left was an atmosphere in which it was hard to speak up.
To put this atmosphere in concrete words, perhaps it would be a giant '?'.
After all of the training was over, Layfon and the others went towards the nearest restaurant.
"So what's going on?"
Dalshena was the first to open the topic.
Dalshena was less questioning about the fact that Nina had a lover and more confused about why that person was Rafaela.
"Why that disgusting guy......"
"No, aren't you and Rafaela the same type?"
Sharnid murmured calmly to Dalshena, who was trembling and clenching a fist.
"Oh......? So you mean to say it would be fine if I were a guy?"
"No...... Well, never mind. Speaking of which, you didn't deny the part about being similar."
"That doesn't matter! Listen, do you know what that guy said to me in a match before? He said 'Hahaha, Dalshena-san. A beautiful rose doesn't rush to bloom.' Hah!"
That had been during a final match of a tournament. It looked like Rafaela had been the one to give Dalshena the final blow when she had fallen into a trap.
"That man's entire reason for existing is to make me mad. And I even lost to him!"
Apparently, she had gotten incredibly angry after the match. Maybe she was angrier about losing to Rafaela than losing the match.
"So what exactly is the current situation?"
Dalshena asked this of Harley, who was the farthest from her. Though Harley hadn't been present at the time, Sharnid had brought him here when he showed up at the training facility afterwards.
"Well, at a time like this you should ask for Nina's expert opinion."
Ignoring Harley's confusion, Sharnid explained what had happened in the training facility just now.
Harley's face became paler and paler as he heard the explanation.
"So? Do you think Nina and Rafaela might be lovers?"
"Uh...... Huh? Rafaela-senpai? Why?"
After muttering this, Harley held his head.
"Uwah~ I'm glad I didn't see that. No, maybe I might see it later on? Urgh~ Spare me."
"......I heard that the Captain's family in her hometown was quite a famous clan."
Felli, who had been silent up till now, interjected.
"Ah, yeah. The Antalk family is famous in Schneibel."
"Then I think she'd be familiar with those upper-cla.s.s customs."
"What does that mean?"
"This box is Binira Barmela."
Those words elicited an 'ah' from Dalshena. Layfon didn't understand what they meant, but Sharnid explained:
"Binira Barmela is a brand of clothing designed mainly for the upper-cla.s.s. Ahh, come to think of it, Zuellni has some clothing stores that carry their designs."
Perhaps thinking of something, Sharnid looked up at the ceiling.
"It's a bespoke tailoring store, so it's no wonder you didn't know."
"That's since you can't show their design taste with inferior materials, so that way is natural. But even if you have the materials, the technique is still only on the level of students. I wouldn't expect much of those kinds of high-cla.s.s brands in this kind of place."
After Felli and Dalshena explained this, Layfon shook his head in denial.
"Even if I knew the brand, I definitely would be too scared to buy it."
Layfon only bought clothes at cheap stores, so he would never even think of buy that kind of brand-name clothing.
"......If she's wearing Binira Barmela in Zuellni, it must be 'Night Meeting'. Hey hey, is Rafa-san really going for Nina?"
Another phrase that Layfon didn't know.
"It's a gathering place for rich kids."
"Famous families or successful business families...... Well, rich people. It's a group that those people formed after coming to Zuellni. But since it's an Academy City, those people were the ones who ended up getting thrown out, so there are a lot of misbehavers."
"Nina would be qualified to join. Speaking of which, our Felli-chan and Shena could join too, right?'
"I'm not interested."
"No way, their bragging makes me want to vomit."
"Meaning you joined?"
"......In my first year."
Dalshena shook her head, unwilling to even recall it.
"Well, since you say that, is Rafaela like that too?"
As expected, Layfon didn't have any interest in high-society things like Binira Barmela or Night Meeting. But he didn't have a very good impression of that person, so maybe Nina was being tricked - that was what Layfon worried about.
"No, Rafaela-san isn't that kind of person."
Sharnid was the first to straightforwardly deny this.
"He's generally a good person..... Although he's a strange person."
Dalshena also added that, wearing a bitter expression.
"You could even say he's the conscious of Night Meeting. He chases people who act too badly out of Night Meeting. If the other party of such a situation is a Military Artist, they might get a painful lesson."
Though she didn't even want to mention his name, Dalshena didn't deny Rafaela's personality.
In that case, he was a good person. Though the phrase 'strange person' made Layfon feel worried.
"But Rafa-san and Nina? Though I thought it was strange that Rafa-san didn't have a lover, I never would have imagined someone like Nina would be his type."
Sharnid's words ended the topic.
Cla.s.s was ending. The two of them were together like yesterday, having a secret discussion so close that their knees were touching.
"A date at Night Meeting? Huhuhu--"
"Hmm, I can't go there. You can't enter if you're not a member, and it seems like their dress requirements are pretty steep. It's really tough for a commoner."
After Mifi said this, Layfon let out a relieved breath for some reason.
"Well, I'll think of something."
Break time ended on that note.
During cla.s.s, Layfon tried thinking about the reason he had felt relieved.
He didn't really understand it himself.
Nina had a lover. Wasn't that good? She would definitely have a love suitable for her age. Even if the other party was that man named Rafaela who wore fluffy clothing and sparkled and who Layfon wasn't used to at all, there shouldn't be any problem as long as Nina like him.
There shouldn't be any problem, so why couldn't he accept it?
"Why was that? Why was he in such a troubled mood?"
Layfon scratched his chest with his finger as if trying to rid himself of that unnatural feeling. Of course, that didn't make the troubled feeling vanish.
After school, Mifi took someone away.
Who was it?
It was Layfon.
Mifi had risen from her desk and shouted this when the last cla.s.s ended, when it was time to start cleaning. Then she had grabbed Layfon's arm and rushed out of the room.
"Hey! You have to clean!"
The cla.s.s representative's angry scolding quickly became distant.
"I got it!"
Mifi said after sprinting out of the school building. The two of them had already let go of their hands and stopped running, and were now walking side by side.
Layfon still didn't know their destination.
"What did you get?"
Layfon adjusted the shoes that he hadn't put on properly as he asked.
"Of course, it's a way to sneak into Night Meeting."
"If we're lucky, we might be able to get free high-cla.s.s clothing too. Hehehe, I'm looking forward to it~♪"
Mifi led the way with a skip in her step, while Layfon walked behind.
"So what kind of a way is it?"
"Hohoho, just leave it to me."
Mifi wasn't willing to tell Layfon. All she told Layfon - no, all she instructed Layfon to do was to wait until the time came, and nothing more.
He had to make sure to say a certain line if negotiations went smoothly.
Mifi told Layfon this and he agreed to do so. Even so, he didn't really understand what Mifi wanted to do.
But he immediately realized that Mifi was going to make a request of someone.
Because the place they arrived was the Student Council building.
Karian slowly nodded.
The Student Council President has readily agreed to meet. The files on the desk were piled into a mountain, so he was probably very busy. But he seemed to have already dealt with them. The Student Council member who brought them tea took those files away.
"You said you want to experience Night Meeting?"
Karian repeated the first thing Mifi had said, perhaps to confirm her meaning.
Karian's voice wasn't cold, but he didn't show anything that could be taken as agreement. Layfon couldn't read his tone. Ahh, when he started thinking of the entrance ceremony business, his stomach started hurting. He had thought he was already used to the Student Council President......
Mifi might be nervous as well, as her voice was a bit cracked.
"But why are you interested in Night Meeting?"
"Because Layton...... Ahem, excuse me. Layfon's quite an excellent Military Artist. Though I wasn't able to see the Military Arts Compet.i.tion with my own eyes, he shows us incredible matches in compet.i.tion, right?"
Mifi changed her wording and began an explanation.
Karian looked at Mifi with eyes filled with interest. That feeling of interest seemed to say something like 'so, what kind of interesting topic will this girl lay out?'. It felt very similar to the feeling of a carnivore wanting to watch its prey struggle. Of course that wasn't actually the case, but that was the easiest way to imagine it.
Mifi rapidly wove words amidst that tense feeling:
"So Layfon will be accepted by the outside world as an outstanding Military Artist after he graduates. I think it's not a very strange conclusion when you think that way."
"Right, I agree. I think I'd be very happy if he came to my hometown. Of course, as the Student Council President, I must first think of Zuellni's peace, but at the same time I don't want to enchain the students' futures.
What a hypocrite, you even chained me. Had the fact that Layfon had entered the school in General Studies already become something that had never happened in Karian's mind? Or maybe there weren't even records of it? Layfon shivered as he thought of that.
"......Maybe it's possible that he'll come to my hometown."
Mifi added a bit mischievously, perhaps thinking that she had some leeway.
Karian replied with:
"Hoho, that's hard to say."
"Hohoho, I wonder how it'll turn out."
The two of them traded strange laughs. It felt like a different kind of tension was hanging in the air here.
(What is it.)
Layfon couldn't help but feel like that tense feeling was exploding in sparks above his head.
"Well...... Ah, he's an orphan. I don't want you to misunderstand, I'm not looking down on him for that. That matter is very important for this conversation."
"Well...... Because of his circ.u.mstances, I believe he was unable to receive a societal status comparable to his strength. Actually, judging by the way he talks and acts, I can't feel the refined air of the Military Artists from famous clans in my hometown."
......He felt like he was being insulted off-hand.
Also, Layfon didn't really understand what Mifi was talking about. Though the impulse to interrupt swelled up inside him, Layfon still kept quiet and watched what Mifi did next.
"......If he spends his days as a Military Artist in another city after graduating, and if something happens to let him display his power, then his circ.u.mstances will improve in a flash. In that case, he'll become a member of high society in that city, and he'll need conduct befitting that position. But he doesn't have an opportunity to learn anything like that. Usually that would be impossible, but it happened to him."
"......I see. I understand what you're trying to say."
Karian slowly nodded.
"Letting him join Night Meeting would be very meaningful in order to let him learn how to interact with high society."
"Right. Also, if Layfon can behave properly in that situation, people will praise Zuellni. At that time, you might be mentioned as one of the people who helped him grow."
Karian nodded, and Mifi nudged Layfon in the side.
He murmured the line they had arranged beforehand.
"Then, please let Mifi be my date."
Then, that day came.
Next to him, Mifi was smiling so much her face was all wrinkled.
She had put on makeup for once, but it was all messed up because she was putting on such a face.
"Come to think of it, props to the President for preparing these clothes all of a sudden."
After saying this, Mifi lifted the hem of her skirt. She felt the comfortable sensation of the fabric on her skin with a rapt expression.
She seemed to be very satisfied with the evening gown that had been prepared for her. Also, the President had made an appointment at a beauty salon where they had done her hair up, and even applied her makeup.
Of course, it wasn't just an evening gown. Shoes, accessories, and a handbag for small objects had also been prepared.
Though she had to return the accessories, it seemed that the shoes, bag, and evening gown had all been given to Mifi. That was probably a reason she was in such high spirits.
"Really? I just feel unnatural wearing this."
Layfon said. Karian had also prepared an entire outfit and shoes for Layfon, and had also scheduled a beauty salon visit for him. These clothes certainly felt nice on the skin, and they weren't actually uncomfortable, but Layfon vaguely felt like it would be very inconvenient for movement.
"I get gooseb.u.mps when I think of what I'd do if I got such expensive clothes dirty."
Moving was inconvenient for him because of those thoughts.
The two of them were waiting in the entrance hall of a certain large building. It was a service-oriented place that provided s.p.a.ce and food for large parties. An introduction of today's gathering was by the entrance hall, and the groups of people arriving checked what floor the parties they were attending were and either went there or headed to a cafe to wait for others.
"We really should go wait in the cafe."
Mifi proposed this upon seeing the groups of people pa.s.sing by in front of them.
"No, it's too expensive."
That was the only thing he wouldn't back down about. The separation between the entrance hall and the cafe was unclear, and maybe that was deliberate. Layfon checked the menu with his Military Artist vision, and after seeing it, he immediately decided never to enter.
Mifi pouted, but even so Layfon was resolute in not backing down. Just then, Karian arrived.
"Hi, did I make you wait?"
Karian wore formal attire like Layfon and Mifi, with a female date by his side. She had an intellectual face and felt like someone of the Student Council. The fact that she didn't seem unnatural after changing her outfit meant that her actions were indeed that natural and that she wasn't conscious that she was wearing such high-cla.s.s clothing.
"Let's go, then."
As Karian urged them, Layfon and the others entered the elevator. After arriving at the top floor, an unexpected face showed up there.
"......What are you all doing?"
"I'd say that's our line."
After walking out of the elevator, Layfon and the others were immediately welcomed by a large, block-clothed man.
It was Vance.
"Are you working? Honestly, is the pension not enough? I thought the Military Arts Head's compensation was pretty good."
"The money is enough. But I have no choice in this."
"Hm...... Well, I see. I know your family's habits......"
"If you know, then hurry up and go. No one will complain about people you're bringing."
Vance remarked after staring at Layfon and Mifi.
"Then I'll do so."
Karian leisurely pa.s.sed by the Military Arts Head, and Layfon and the others followed behind him and entered the area.
The place was surprisingly cramped.
There were many tables lined up together with food placed on them. There was a band in the corner playing music that wouldn't disturb conversation.
But the center was very s.p.a.cious.
The tables had been moved to the sides in order to open up the central s.p.a.ce, and there were also many booths, which was why it felt unexpectedly cramped. But the booths weren't completely cut off and it was possible to see the faces of the occupants.
"This kind of high-society gathering is held to let people remember the faces of bigshots and also to let those people talk without having to make appointments. That's the focus of this kind of gathering. It's no wonder things look so inadequate, if they're only use a single floor of a building to hold an activity of bigshots."
Karian explained as he brought the two of them to an empty booth. Many people who greeted Karian during the process. Karian politely responded to those greetings, but didn't even stop once.
"Is that your true goal?"
After saying this, Karian singled out an area with his gaze.
Over there was the entrance through which Layfon and the others had just entered.
A guy and a girl just happened to enter the area.
It was Rafaela. Though his general outfit hadn't changed, the amount of ruffled fabric had increased. The pants he wore weren't the uniform's, so that was the part where it had increased.
Also, standing next to him was Nina - Nina who was walking into the area while paying attention to Vance behind her.
"Ah, how pretty."
Mifi spoke inadvertently.
She wore a white evening gown. It was an outfit with a very refreshing design that bared her collarbones, with a suitable necklace adorning her chest. Her hair had become glossier along with this. Her always somewhat messy hair now smoothly showed the shape of her skull, basking in the light emitted from the chandelier.
Nina also had makeup on. Her lips were painted a pale pink, and the color on her eyelids made the contours of her eyes more apparent. It seemed that her eyelashes had been done as well, as they were clearly visible even though they were usually unnoticeable.
"Ohh? As expected of a daughter of the Antalk family."
Karian also made an admiring sound.
"The Antalk family is one of the few prestigious families of Schneibel, so she must be very used to these occasions, right?"
"............Huh? Ah, yeah."
Karian's words made Layfon finally come to his senses.
"Then the problem is her date, right?"
Unable to continue the sham, Layfon nodded honestly.
"Rafaela-san...... Although the fact that Nina-san chose him as a lover is interesting, I don't understand why Rafaela-san chose her as a lover."
"What does that mean?'
"Well, let's watch the situation for now. That's why you two came here, right?"
Layfon fell silent when this was brought up. He could only stay silent.
Though Nina was a bit confused when Rafaela led her inside, she still greeted those who approached her with a dignified att.i.tude.
Layfon couldn't do something like that at all. He would definitely feel confused right away and then look for a place that was out of the way. But Nina stood next to Rafaela, partic.i.p.ating in chats without even running away.
This was the method of interaction in high society, Felli had said. Could Nina, Dalshena, and Felli all do this naturally? Though Sharnid didn't often talk about his background, he was probably good at doing this kind of thing too. Even Naruki could definitely do it.
Was Layfon the only one who couldn't?
After thinking this, Layfon felt like a gust was blowing in his chest. He wasn't dissatisfied with his background as an orphan, since he was unable to imagine what the normal households other people talked about were like.
But, if...... If Layfon Alseif had grown up in a normal household, would he be able to naturally do something like this? Maybe he would be being honored as a Heaven's Blade successor in the Grendan Royal Palace or some other location, mingling with even more dignity than now or saying a witty joke to make everyone laugh.
(......I can't imagine it.)
Layfon felt stunned at his poor imagination as he continued observing. No, thinking carefully, he felt like no Heaven's Blade successor could do such a thing. Maybe Troyatte could, and maybe Savaris could, and Kanaris, and Tigris might be able to. What about Ruimei? As for Lintence, Layfon couldn't even imagine such a scene.
Ahh, Reverse definitely couldn't do something like this.
Nina and Rafaela left their conversation circle and entered a booth like Layfon and the others. Even if there was a wall, he could still see their faces.
"But it was honestly a surprise. I never thought the Captain would be able to change like that."
"Women have many faces. Guys are so shallow compared to them."
"Uu...... Meaning that it's still early for me?"
"It's not a big deal, women naturally become like that with experience."
"......Will guys be crowding around me too?"
"You're a very charming woman already, you know."
"Ahahahaha...... President, your date looks really scary."
"Yeah, my side feels very painful right now."
Sweat beaded on Karian's forehead, the woman showed a cold glare, and Mifi broke out in a cold sweat...... Next to that scene, Layfon quietly looked at Nina.
He had confirmed it.
He had succeeded in achieving his aim, to sneak into Night Meeting and see Nina.
She was currently in a relationship with the man Rafaela.
That was how things were - Layfon thought.
In that case, this matter was already over. He would just have to beg Mifi not to write an article on it later. It would bother Nina if the situation became too noisy. I was fine as long as Nina was happy - Layfon thought.
But what was wrong?
The gust he felt in his chest seemed to be even colder than before. What was wrong, what was wrong - Layfon kept thinking. Those feelings might be very similar to what he had felt when Nina had suddenly vanished, or maybe they were different. Maybe they were similar, but completely different feelings.
Because Nina was right before him. She had been very normal in the training facility, no different from always. So nothing should have changed to Layfon. Perhaps that would be the case in the future as well. Nina was there, just like always, in front of Layfon.
But why was he so......?
Time pa.s.sed, but the traces of that strange feeling didn't disappear.
The band changed songs.
They changed from a song that wouldn't disturb conversation to a lively, fast-paced song.
Once the song changed, the movements of the people present also changed. The men took the hands of their dates and gathered in the open central area.
A dance began.
The intense movements of the dance made those who didn't join in the dance laugh. The band's playing became even fiercer. As if the dance were being manipulate by the fast rhythm, pairs started to fail. The laughs became even more intense, between both the surrounding people and the ones dancing. The pairs who fell also laughed.
Nina also smiled among the group dancing.
"Tonight's Night Meeting is quite good. This place was a dismaying gathering when I was new here."
"It's because the Military Arts Head is here."
The woman by Karian replied to his impression.
"No, that's not it. I heard that Rafaela-san is the current core of Night Meeting, so he must have succeeded in cleaning up Night Meeting. Though he likes dressing gorgeously, he's a diligent, good man deep inside."
Right. Though his appearance was eye-catching, no one said anything bad about Rafaela as a person. Judging by the way he addressed him, Sharnid seemed close to him. Though Dalshena hated him, she hadn't said anything bad about him.
That meant Rafaela was a good person. Since he was a member of the first platoon, he had a reliable strength completely opposite from his appearance. Once he thought of the Heaven's Blade successors, he realized how foolish he was for being confused by appearances. Reverse had an iron will underneath his weak appearance, and normal people definitely wouldn't imagine what kind of power was hidden under Barmelin's strange dress.
Rafaela was in no way unsuited to be Nina's lover.
That was how things were.
The music changed. This time was a gentle, atmospheric song. The lights dimmed to match the music, and the dance steps also changed. The men held the waists of their dates, and the atmosphere became more intimate.
"Well, it would be a waste if we just stayed here the whole time."
Karian pulled his date away.
The two who were left here looked at each other.
"......What do we do?"
"What do you want to do?"
Layfon put on a confused expression when Mifi asked this. Neither of them had any confidence about dancing. Also, dancing with Mifi in this kind of atmosphere would seem like a joke to others.
"Layton, do you want to...... Eh, no way."
Mifi murmured, seeming to think the same.
"Should we go back?"
"I guess. Anyways, there's nothing left to investigate, and I don't want to take an exclusive scoop of your captain. Also, I don't have a camera."
The President had indicated in his agreement that she couldn't bring a camera in if she wanted to come here. Mifi nodded with a calm expression.
The two of them quietly stood up from their seats. Mifi had her hair down and was wearing makeup, so she gave off a different atmosphere from usual and wouldn't immediately be spotted by Nina. But Layfon used Sakkei was he walked out in order to keep Nina from noticing him.
After seeing Vance standing by the entrance with nothing to do, Layfon naturally turned around.
In that moment.
There was Nina's surprised face.
Rafaela firmly held her waist in his hands.
Nina was swaying back and forth, her fingers on his chest.
Nina's eyes wide as she briefly muttered something, and Rafaela's face next to hers.
Layfon turned around in that moment.
He clenched his fist.
Layfon himself didn't really understand why he had clenched his fist. All he felt was an 'ah......' sensation and nothing more. He didn’t really understand anything else about his emotions. But it seemed like there were compelling emotions in that brief word, so Layfon didn't open his clenched fist.
A first was swung. It sank into Rafaela's cheek, making him lean backwards and away from Nina.
But Layfon wasn't the one who swung the first.
Layfon gazed at the scene in surprise.
He didn't move half a step.
Nina was the one who swung her first.
Laughs came from around them.
"I didn't allow you to go that far."
Nina's calm voice made the laughs become even louder.
"Ugh...... Sorry. But tonight was enjoyable, so thank you."
He had been hit, but Rafaela thanked her. Nina also responded. The surrounding laughs became cheers.
"......But, but! Everyone!"
Rafaela suddenly spread his arm, raising his voice towards everyone present.
"I've found true love this time. No, everyone! All of you wise ones must have already noticed! I hate pretending to fool others."
Rafaela started a speech.
He moved with an exaggerated posture that couldn't even be called dancing as he wove his words:
"Military Artist families are about lineage. Maintaining that lineage is the basic duty of one from a Military Artist family. But everyone! Love is not necessarily a friend of that idea. Just like my father, and just like my mother. Everyone is aware of this. There are also those who are troubled because lineage and love are gears that do not mesh for them.
I am the same!
Today, I have decided! Goodbye, duty! I will be reborn for love!"
Cheers came from the surroundings again.
In that moment, something seemed to make Layfon realize the goal of Rafaela's sudden declaration.
Rafaela's gaze pointed at Layfon...... It wasn't just his gaze, even his body flew by his head as he ran towards Vance standing blankly by the exit.
"Vance, as I thought, I only have you!"
Vance struck Rafaela with a karate chop as he was about to hug him.
That movement didn't have the mercy that Nina had shown.
Then, Nina noticed Layfon.
"I heard that the families of those two have a master-servant relationship."
Nina explained on the way back.
"Though I'm not really sure, I heard that Rafaela-senpai's family was the master and Vance-senpai's family was the servant. The relationship between the two of them is just the opposite in the first platoon, so it must be a custom of their city unrelated to power or anything."
The two of them walked to the tram stop.
"......Though I personally don't understand at all, Rafaela-senpai seems to be only interested in men. No, that's certain."
Nina seemed to take issue with that.
"You saw it too, right? Rafaela-senpai likes Vance."
Afterwards, Rafaela hadn't given up on hugging Vance even after being struck, and the Night Meeting partic.i.p.ants had laughed while watching the confusing scene of the two of them all tangled up.
It seemed that was a common occurrence.
Meaning that Rafaela had long since expressed those feelings to Vance.
"In that case, why were you with him, Captain?"
Unexpectedly, Nina put on a serious face.
"Well, despite what he felt, some thought things wouldn't work out. I heard that he explained this to someone he knew, and then spent some time with her in Night Meeting and practiced liking women. But that woman had a lover, so he couldn't ask her out, which is why he suddenly spoke to me about it. At the start I was planning on refusing him, but he was so serious that I wanted to help him, so I said I'd only help him out this time."
Layfon felt like this was very must like Nina's style.
Unable to ignore someone who was trying their best.
It was honestly very much like Nina, wasn't it?
"Right, Layfon, why were you in that kind of place?"
"Huh? Ah, well......"
In order to confirm whether Nina truly had a lover - Of course Layfon couldn't say something like that.
"Well, it was to study high society."
Layfon immediately mentioned the excuse Mifi had used with the President.
"Study society? Well, Night Meeting is pretty nice, though it's not in Schneibel's style. I'm not confident about whether I behaved right or not......"
However, Nina accepted that reason.
"But dancing is the same no matter where you are. Layfon, can you dance?"
"I see. I'll teach you, then."
"Ah, uh, there's no need."
"Don't be polite, it's all about the rhythm."
Nina grabbed Layfon's hand right there after she said this.
The two of them danced under the streetlight in front of the empty stop.
Though it was only for a brief time until a tram came, it was enough to melt the frozen emotions in Layfon's heart.
Translator's Notes and References ↑ I'm unsure, but Mifi might be referring to herself. ↑ Clothing made only by commission.