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Completed ― The Rune Magician Who Lost Everything to Her Older Sister, Becomes Doted On by the Genius Prince

Chapter 1: The younger sister who is not good enough

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Technology changes with the times.

It is created, used, and optimized by the people living in that era.

Magic was the same.

The original magic that was born in ancient times has gradually evolved into the optimal form for magicians over a long period of time.

Even now, that evolution continues.

If you fall behind in updated common sense and interpretations, you will be ridiculed by those around you as being outdated.

Yes, like me.

“Meiana, I’m breaking off our engagement.”

“——Eh?”

It was a sudden event.

But this is what I thought in my heart.

It has finally come.

“You’re breaking off the engagement…?”

“That’s what I’m saying. Didn’t you hear me?”

“No…”

I just wanted to double-check.

My fiancé, Jerick-sama, shows his frustration on his face.

Answer quickly.

I know he wants to say that from his expression, but I can’t answer immediately due to my position.

I muster up my words.

“Why all of a sudden?”

“Do you need to ask that? You should already know. You’re the main reason.”

“…”

“Hit the nail on the head, huh?”

That’s right.

I understand even without being told.

Why he wants to break off our engagement.

And who he chose instead of me.

“To be honest, I do feel sorry for you. Being compared to your talented older sister… it’s a shame. But that’s the reality. You don’t have a shred of talent unlike your sister. You’re just a plain and unremarkable younger sister… To be clear, I don’t find you charming.”

He says with an exasperated expression.

He’s saying hurtful things like carving into my heart, even though we’ve been engaged for several years.

I feel frustrated.

I can’t refute what he said…

“I understand how you feel, Jerick-sama. However, the decision to break off the engagement cannot be made by just the two of us. We need to have a discussion with both of our families.”

“There’s no need for that. The discussion has already taken place.”

Cutting me off, Jerick-sama says with a smug expression.

My engagement to Jerick-sama was simply to build friendly relations between aristocrats.

Both Jerick-sama’s Marquis Ingea family and my Marquis Pheles family are prestigious families in the world of magic.

Throughout the long history of the kingdom, both families have produced numerous excellent magicians and hold authoritative positions in the world of magic.

Therefore, it is necessary to pass on this blood to the next generation.

Magical talent is hereditary.

Children of excellent magicians tend to excel as well, with only a few exceptions.

That is why magical families often engage in marriages to each other, so that they can incorporate even more talented individuals into their lineage.

Our relationship was also predetermined because we are both magicians, and we do not hold any sweet emotions for each other.

Jerick-sama continues speaking.

“It was really difficult, you know. Even if I wanted to break off the engagement, I couldn’t lose my family’s relationship with yours. My father wouldn’t be happy if it was just a selfish move. That’s why I needed to find a replacement.”

“A replacement…?”

“If you ask me if she can replace you, it’s questionable. However, she is much more talented and attractive as a woman than you are!”

He starts speaking excitedly.

I didn’t even need to listen to the end.

No, I knew from the beginning.

I knew.

“Let me introduce you. But, you probably already know her.”

With a loud clank, the door to the room opens.

She came home just in time.

The master of this room… the court magician and my own sister——

“Leticia Pheles.”

She stands before me.

With a smirk and an insolent smile.

“Onee-sama…”

“That’s the way it is, Meiana. Sorry about that? I took your fiance for myself.”

She smiles knowingly.

It was a bright smile, not at all sorry.

She’s always like this.

My older sister quickly takes what I have.

“What about your engagement with Norman-sama, Onee-sama?”

“Of course, we’re continuing it. It was a decision made with our father and Norman-sama with their understanding.”

“I’m glad they understood. This way, our families’ relationship can also be maintained. Thank you for your cooperation, Leticia.”

“Well, I also wanted this.”

The two face each other and have a happy conversation.

Watching the happy couple, my heart aches.

It’s not like I loved Jerick-sama either.

It was just a relationship that was decided between our families, nothing more or less.

But still, it’s frustrating.

I’ve known about their relationship for a long time.

Since two years ago when we became engaged, the two of them have been secretly connected.

They even met in secret and had intimate moments.

I’ve pretended not to see such scenes.

So it was inevitable.

Today, our relationship ends and he will be taken by my sister.

“So, do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you. It was fun while it lasted.”

Even though he doesn’t think that at all.

While thanking me, his gaze and attention are directed towards Leticia, who is next to him.

Jerick-sama was head over heels for her.

In response, she looks at me with a smug expression.

“Meiana, I will escort Jerick-sama. Finish up the rest of your work.”

“…”

“I can’t hear your answer.”

“Yes.”

Unable to resist the intimidation, I gave a response.

Then she smiled and left the room with Jerick-sama.

Left alone, I let out a deep sigh that echoed through the room.

“Haah…”

Even if you know what’s coming, experiencing it firsthand hits you hard.

Breaking off the engagement and losing to my older sister.

I feel a sense of fatigue from the shock.

The mountain of documents piled up on the table is also one of the factors that make me feel discouraged.

“…I have to do it.”

I start working on the paperwork.

As I work silently, I think about myself.

I am… my older sister’s leftover.

I often hear that from others, but I sometimes think that myself.

My sister was outstanding.

Born into the prestigious Pheles family of magic, she studied at the forefront of modern magic and fully demonstrated her talents.

At the age of 14, she became the youngest courtier in history and became one of the magicians developing magic.

Even after entering the court, my sister continued to demonstrate her talents by coming up with and developing various types of magic.

As for me, her younger sister, I had no talent.

I had no talent in handling modern magic.

No matter how much knowledge you gain, if you can’t apply it practically, it is worthless.

I read books until my eyes hurt and practiced late into the night every day, but I couldn’t do it like my sister.

The only magical ability I became capable of using was Rune Magic.

Rune Magic is one of the ancient magical systems that was used during the time when magic was born.

It is a technology like a fossil that is no longer used in modern times.

Because no one uses it, it is considered a relic of the past.

Although it is a convenient power for me, it is not understood by modern magicians.

Therefore, I am treated as a third-rate magician.

Unlike my sister, who entered the court at a young age, I was unable to obtain the qualifications even after reaching adulthood and instead, work at the court as my sister’s assistant.

Perhaps our parents did everything they could to make me, who had no talent, look better.

My father often abuses me.

“You are a shame to the Pheles family!”

“Don’t embarrass us any further!”

At least be useful to Leticia!

Why is there such a difference between us born from the same parents?

I feel like I’m making an effort.

Nevertheless… is it not enough?

Chapter 2: Excellent Sister

The next day, I continued to work in the palace as usual.

I head to the laboratory first thing in the morning and organize the work for the day before Leticia arrives, which is two hours later.

“What’s on today’s schedule?”

“This is it.”

Without even greeting me, she asks me.

After seeing the piled-up work, she sighs as if she’s tired.

“You should do all this work as well, Meiana.”

“Uh, but this is the job that came for Onee-sama.”

“Stop being so annoying. You can just do it and submit it under my name. You always do it anyway, don’t you?”

“――?! That’s true, but…”

Not convinced, Leticia sighs heavily again.

“Got it? You’re only here because of me. You’d be worthless without me. Make yourself useful.”

“…”

“Got it?”

“…Yes, I understand.”

This is how I’m always forced to agree unwillingly.

I’m here thanks to her.

It’s a fact, so I can’t even make excuses.

“Okay, then I’m going out.”

“Where to?”

“You don’t need to know. Just work hard for both of us. I’m busy.”

Without explaining the reason, Leticia left the laboratory.

It was a common occurrence.

Always.

She would dump her work on me and go somewhere.

Anyway, it’s probably to see another man.

I know she plays around instead of working.

Since I became her assistant, she hasn’t been working seriously.

I do most of the work for her.

Recently, I developed new magic spells almost entirely by myself, and Leticia only did the finishing touches.

“…”

I suddenly stopped my hands.

Would my evaluation change if I made this fact public?

No, it wouldn’t.

No one would believe me anyway.

My sister is excellent, and I am incompetent.

The power dynamic is clear, and the public’s evaluation has already been fixed.

“I have to finish this.”

Today, the work piled up again.

Various cases come to my excellent sister, and I have to handle everything in her place.

That’s why I have to work overtime almost every day.

Since becoming her assistant, there hasn’t been a single day where I was able to return home on time.

Every day, I work desperately and lead a busy life, but it’s all to fill in for my sister.

I take on her work, develop new magic in her place, which is then presented to the world as her achievement.

Even my fiancé, who was the only thing that belonged solely to me, was taken by my sister without me even realizing it.

I have nothing for myself now.

Perhaps only my Rune Magic.

But even that power and I myself are probably outdated.

As time passes, it becomes night.

As expected, I was unable to finish work by the scheduled time.

Outside the window is pitch black, and I’m sure everyone else has already gone home.

It’s very quiet and I feel lonely.

“I finally finished…*sigh*”

Feeling exhausted, I prepare to leave.

In the end, Leticia never came back.

There were documents that needed to be submitted today, and I really wanted her to check them before they were submitted, but…

It couldn’t be helped, so I submitted them as they were.

If there were any mistakes, I would get scolded, so I looked over them multiple times.

I’m given work to do by others, and if it fails, it’ll be blamed on me.

I don’t even know why I’m working so hard.

On the way back, I walked along a waterway alone.

There is no one around.

I squat down and touch the water in the waterway with my fingertips.

“ᛚ (Laguz).”

I carve a rune on the surface of the water.

Then the water begins to move and ripples are created.

It’s a small change, but I controlled the water with the rune.

Since I engraved it on the surface of the water, the rune will quickly disappear due to the distortion caused by the waves.

But if I write it on something in the water, I can create even bigger waves.

“Yeah, it feels good.”

I have no freedom either in the mansion or in the workplace.

I spend most of my days working, and even on holidays, I’m not allowed to leave the mansion without permission from my parents.

But this way back is the only time I have my freedom.

I secretly take a detour and spend my time practicing Rune Magic.

Everyone says it’s outdated, and certainly not suitable for modern times.

However, Rune Magic has a long history and is deep.

Personally, I think there is potential that can match modern magic.

Someday, if I can prove it…

I laugh at the thought.

“It’s impossible, isn’t it?”

I will never have such an opportunity.

◇◇◇

Meiana leaves.

In front of a waterway with gentle waves, a man stands alone.

He squats down and checks the state of the water.

“…Faint magical power…I see, this is Rune Magic.”

He clenches the hand that touched the water and stands up.

Meiana’s figure is already out of sight.

He looks in the direction she went and smiles boldly.

“How interesting.”

There are geniuses in this kingdom.

The man’s name is Alectos Dell.

He is the second prince of the Sargrit Kingdom and a young genius magician.

Chapter 3: Choice of the prince genius

Walking down the corridors of the palace.

The people passing by seem to be excitedly discussing something.

“Hey, have you heard about Alectos-sama?”

“You mean how he’s going around seeking out talented people? Is that true?”

“It seems to be. I’ve also heard that he’s selecting his fiancée.”

“Really? I wonder if he’ll approach me.”

“Everyone secretly hopes for it.”

It seems that the topic of His Highness Alectos is causing quite the stir.

I’ve heard rumors about the second prince before.

He is a genius who, at a young age, has mastered all of modern magic and has perfect knowledge in other fields as well.

Among the heirs to the throne, he is said to be a leading candidate for the next king.

In other words, he’s an amazing person with both the title and the ability.

He’s someone who is completely out of my league, and I don’t even dare to have the same expectations as those girls.

If the rumors are true and he were to approach me…

When I return to my room, someone unusual is there.

“Why are you here, Onee-sama?”

“What are you talking about? This is my research lab. Is there something strange about me being here?”

“Um, I thought you were out…”

“Not today. I’ll be here all day.”

I feel like a storm is about to hit.

I immediately realize that Onee-sama isn’t going out to play and is staying in the laboratory.

There is no atmosphere that suggests she is working on anything.

She’s just there.

Is she trying to keep an eye on me?

Now, of all times?

No…wait, that rumor.

Onee-sama is looking out the window.

I can read her anticipation from her profile.

Onee-sama is definitely waiting.

Waiting for a call from Alectos-sama…

She believes that if anyone is being called, it will be her, as she is a talented individual.

Knock knock――

The sound of knocking on the door echoes.

Onee-sama and I both turn to the door at the same time.

“Come in.”

Onee-sama invites him in.

She sits in a chair that she doesn’t usually sit in and pretends to work.

She is still flawless.

She signals me with her gaze to move to the side where I’m not in the way.

I obey and move towards the wall.

The door opens.

The person revealed is the expected person.

“Excuse me.”

“――! Your Highness Alectos!”

Silver hair and blue eyes.

His beautiful skin is like that of a woman’s, charming many women.

This is the first time I have seen him up close like this.

Leticia is pretending to be surprised.

She actually knew all along.

“Sorry to bother you while you’re working.”

“No, not at all! How can I assist you today?”

“Well, I actually have a little something I need to discuss. Can I have some of your time?”

“Of course! Absolutely.”

As expected, she’s the one who gets chosen.

It’s frustrating, but I have to admit that it’s a possible scenario for her.

This is just widening the gap between me and my sister.

I can never catch up to her.

She’s always in the spotlight, and I’m in the shadows.

I’ll never be illuminated——

“Thank you. Although it’s not you I need to talk to.”

“Huh?”

“It’s you, Meiana Pheles.”

“…Eh?”

I unintentionally let out a strange voice.

His highness’s gaze and fingertips are directed towards me.

There’s a wall behind me, and no one else is here.

There’s no doubt that his highness is looking at me.

“I… I’m sorry?”

“Yeah, I came to scout you.”

“Scout?”

“Yes. Actually, we are currently gathering exceptional talent for a certain plan. I also want you to become a member of it. I can’t tell you the details yet, but you’ll be in a direct position under the second prince.”

A direct subordinate of the royal family refers to someone who serves a specific member of the royal family, as the name suggests.

In terms of position, it is higher than those who work in the court.

If you become a direct subordinate, there will be no need to obey anyone other than the royal family you serve.

Even if the person is a well-known noble, or even if they are another prince.

Therefore, the selector must be very careful.

If someone unsuitable is serving, the master’s character and ability are called into question.

For such an important role…

“Me, sir?”

“Yes, I want to scout you. What do you say?”

“…What――.”

“Why?!”

Before I could say anything, Leticia raised her voice.

She looked unusually uneasy.

“Is something wrong?”

“Why Meiana? She is an inexperienced magician and I don’t think she can be of much help to His Highness.”

She said it firmly.

In his presence, he said I was insufficient.

However, the truth was that I was thinking the same thing.

I’m filled with doubt as to why I was chosen.

“Meiana is only satisfactory with the outdated Rune Magic. That won’t do at all.”

“But I need that Rune Magic.”

“What…do you mean…”

“I’ve been searching for a magician who can master Rune Magic for a long time. I searched throughout the kingdom, but there was no one who could use it better than her. That’s why I came to scout her.”

Saying that, His Highness meets my gaze.

“Meiana, I need your power.”

“My…”

“Wait a minute! If it’s just that, I can do it too.”

Leticia shouts.

She’s breathing heavily with a more anxious expression than earlier.

“Oh, you can use it?”

“Yes, even I can use such an outdated product.”

She asserts that, even though she’s never practiced Rune Magic before.

So she won’t steal this important role from me.

Hearing that, His Highness smiles slyly.

Chapter 4: Rune Magician

“I see. Then let’s test it.”

“A test?”

“Yes.”

The prince took out a translucent crystal from his pocket and placed it on the table.

The runic letter 【ᛊ】 was engraved inside the crystal.

“This is a runestone discovered in a certain ruin. Show me how to activate this rune.”

“Understood.”

Leticia responded and moved in front of the runestone.

Then, for a moment, she turned her gaze towards me.

There was malice ingrained in it.

Is she jealous because it’s the first time I’ve been chosen? I’ve never seen her this uncomfortable before.

“What’s this ‘rune’ thing? It’s just a kind of magic, isn’t it?”

She muttered, touching the stone.

She poured her magic power into it.

However, the moment she did, the stone made a snap and rejected her hand.

“Ugh! I failed.”

“You failed.”

“Please, one more time.”

“It’s not necessary. You don’t understand anything about the rune. Can you show her an example, Meiana Pheles?”

“Yes!”

When my name was called, I hurriedly ran to the Rune Stone.

Leticia glared at me as she moved back.

I was nervous, sandwiched between her gaze and His Highness’s gaze.

Come to think of it, it’s been a while since I used magic in front of someone.

Due to sudden tension, my hands started shaking.

“It’s okay. Just do it the way you always do, like you’re on your way home.”

“Huh…”

When I turned around, His Highness smiled kindly at me.

On the way home, he said.

After finishing a difficult job, during my only free time on the way back, I practiced Rune Magic.

Just like during that time, I can use it now.

I took a deep breath and faced the Rune Stone.

The engraved letter on it is 【ᛊ】.

The letter means the sun.

I feel the magic embedded in the engraved letter by touching the Rune Stone.

What did the spellcaster think and wish for when carving this letter?

Only by deciphering the inscription can the rune be activated.

“――【ᛊ(Sowel)】.”

The magic contained in the rune is released, the stone floats and emits a dazzling light.

“Well done.”

“Th-Thank you.”

I hear applause from His Highness.

I am happy to be praised for the first time, and my expression naturally breaks down.

“So what?”

Leticia mutters quietly, as if she were speaking to me.

She seems to be saying, ‘What’s so great about just a stone shining?’

“Oh, no…”

His Highness seems to have heard it too, and she panics.

His Highness explains calmly without showing any signs of anger.

“To activate someone else’s rune, you need a thorough understanding and knowledge of the rune, as well as the ability to perceive someone else’s will. You can’t just activate it by pouring magic into it. You said earlier that Rune Magic is outdated, right?”

“Yes.”

“That interpretation is a mistake. Why hasn’t Rune Magic permeated until modern times? It’s because understanding Rune Magic is difficult, and there were extremely few people who could use it skillfully.”

His Highness continues to speak.

The history of Rune Magic is deep.

It is one of the lineages that was born when magic was born in this world.

The characters imbued with magical power, that is runes.

While other forms of magic encode their magic in words, spells, or actions, Rune Magic expresses everything with just one character.

Therefore, even with the same character, the effect and nature vary depending on how it’s inscribed.

The more you understand, the deeper and broader it becomes, with numerous interpretations for just one character.

That’s why an overwhelming knowledge and wisdom are essential.

“Talent alone is not enough. It takes effort and experience to finally reach the starting point. Rune Magic hasn’t been left behind by the times. Magicians have simply run away from it.”

“――!”

I met the first person who thought that way.

It was shocking.

“I know it’s something that modern magicians would hate to hear. But I believe it is true. Because I have experienced it myself. Rune Magic is the only thing I have never been able to master.

He’s a modern-day genius.

Even His Highness, who has learned all sorts of magic, couldn’t master Rune Magic.

As he speaks, his profile looks somewhat regretful yet also expectant.

“From my perspective, I think you are the true genius.”

“――Me, a genius…?”

No one has ever said such things to me before.

I was never recognized.

I was a castoff from my sister, worthless, and a failure.

But…

“I’ll say it again, Meiana Pheles. I want you to lend me your power.”

To think that someone needs someone like me.

Not as a replacement for my talented sister, but me, myself.

“…Yes.”

There’s no reason for me to refuse.

As I respond, I hold back the tears that well up in my eyes.

Leticia glares at me for doing so.

Normally, I’d be scared, but I feel nothing now.

I’m just happy to have been chosen, and my heart is full.

Chapter 5: Begin to change

“Well, we have to go through the formalities. I’m sorry, will you come with me?”

“Yes!”

I leave the laboratory with His Highness.

There is a mountain of work left on the table.

Leticia is not complaining because His Highness is here.

I am honestly afraid of what she will say later.

When we reach the hallway, I ask His Highness.

“Um, Your Highness…”

“What is it?”

“Is it really because of me…? My sister can’t use Rune Magic, but she is perfect in everything else.”

“…You’re amazing. You’re willing to defend your sister even though you are treated unfairly.”

“Huh…?”

The way he said it just now sounded like he knows about the relationship between me and my sister…

“I know you have an inferiority complex towards your sister. She is undoubtedly excellent. But just because you think you are more excellent doesn’t mean you can skip work and play, right?”

“――! So, Your Highness…”

Do you know?

Really?

My body trembles with surprise.

“Haha, I did some research before scouting you. I heard that there was a talented magician in the Pheles family, but to be honest, I was disappointed. Make her work hard for her past laziness. It will make you feel refreshed, won’t it?”

The prince shows a mischievous smile.

My heart is shaken by his childish smile.

Refreshed…I wonder.

“Yeah, you’re right.”

Honestly, I think it’s true.

I was inferior to my sister.

But I don’t think what he did to me was right in the slightest.

I think Leticia should experience the struggles of being unable to return home at night at least once.

“Did you teach yourself Rune Magic?”

“Uh, yes. I studied on my own.”

“It must have been difficult. There are not many materials available, and no one will teach you.”

“Yes. But it was interesting, and it was the only option for me.”

I studied with enthusiasm.

And if the result is being found by the prince like this, then that time wasn’t wasted.

“Even then, you don’t have to practice until late at night on your way back from work, do you?”

“W-Were you watching me?”

“It was a coincidence. I saw you playing with water while taking a walk at night.”

“I-I’m sorry!”

I thought nobody was watching, but I can’t believe I was seen by His Highness.

I must be the most embarrassing one to be seen by.

“Hahaha, there’s no need to apologize. I saw it and was convinced. You’re the right person for the job.”

“I-Is that so?”

“Yeah, I looked around everywhere but it was only you. You’re a unique existence that truly wears Rune Magic. Be more confident!”

“Y-Yes!”

His Highness’ words are strong yet warm.

They push my weak back forward and make my steps feel a little lighter.

“So, what should I do now…”

“Oh, I’ll explain it in detail later. There’s a super confidential mission.”

“Confidential…”

“Yes, to investigate the Ancient Artifact. That’s why Rune Magic was essential.”

“Ancient…”

Is it something like an ancient ruin that was discovered?

I still don’t really understand, but if my magic can be of use, then…

“I’ll do my best!”

“Yeah, I’m counting on it.”

I want to live up to his expectations for the first time.

Maybe this is the first time I’ve talked to someone with such a positive feeling.

◇◇◇

“What the hell!”

She bangs on the table.

The documents flutter and fall.

In the research room where Meiana and His Highness Alectos are gone, Leticia shows her frustration.

“Meiana is a genius? That’s ridiculous.”

She’s always the one chosen.

She’s superior in every field.

Even her fiancé chose her, breaking off the engagement just to be with her.

There is no area where she is inferior.

She is far superior to Meiana.

That’s what she thinks of herself.

But…

This time, Meiana was the one chosen.

Her incompetent little sister was recognized by the genius prince.

Feeling defeat for the first time, Leticia trembles in body and soul.

“Haah…”

She can’t keep being angry forever.

Now that Meiana is absent, she has to do the work piled up on the table by herself.

No, now that she has gone to the second prince, she will never go back…

“W-What is this amount of work!”

Leticia didn’t know.

That the amount of work kept increasing.

Since she left everything to Meiana, there was no room for her to notice.

It’s about twice the amount of work from before she became Meiana’s assistant.

What was barely manageable two years ago is now double the workload, weighing down on her.

“With this amount…there’s no way I can finish it in one day…”

Yes, normally it’s impossible.

It’s much more than the other magicians working in the court.

That’s because Leticia is thought to be talented.

And because Meiana always continues to finish the increasing workload.

Leticia is a genius.

On a modern scale, she can be considered top class in terms of her talent as a magician.

However, she had become complacent.

She thought she didn’t need to work hard since Meiana did everything for her.

Therefore, she neglected to learn.

Among the stacked documents, there are some unfamiliar words that she doesn’t understand.

But, Meiana can comprehend them.

Her talent as a magician is prominent, and in terms of knowledge and experience, Meiana has already surpassed her.

She finally realizes this.

And then――

From this day on, their relationship will change dramatically.

The younger sister’s outgrowth, the incompetent older sister.

In the end, Meiana will…attain the highest honor in the kingdom.

Chapter 6: My true feelings are——

In life, you never know what will happen.

You work like a workhorse every day, and there are times when you go unrecognized by anyone.

Even if you work hard to change the environment or evaluation, it’s not guaranteed that your efforts will be rewarded.

However, change does happen.

It might be a miracle.

It might be accidental.

But even so, I finally feel like I’m being recognized…

I was filled with joy.

As I stared at the back of His Highness, my expression naturally relaxed.

His Highness led me and guided me to his office.

In the hallway that connected the palace to the royal castle, there were knights guarding and other people working for the court.

The royal castle was where the royal family lived.

Unless a person had received special permission, they couldn’t enter or exit freely.

Even for someone like me who worked in the court or for a well-known noble, there were no exceptions.

That’s why I stood out.

The way I followed behind His Highness, who was called a genius, as someone who wasn’t even an official court employee.

“Who’s that?”

“That outfit and pattern, is she a court magician?”

“No, she’s an apprentice. I think she’s from the Pheles family.”

“Oh, you mean the one with the defective sister.”

I was infamous for all the wrong reasons.

Born into the prestigious Pheles family, I was the less talented younger sister compared to my excellent older sister.

I was always pitied for being compared and was called things like a no-good person working at the court because of my sister’s reputation.

I was called many things.

Yet here I am, heading to the royal castle with His Highness.

There’s no way I won’t stand out.

Of course, I stand out for all the wrong reasons.

“Don’t worry about it.”

“Eh?”

As I shrink into myself, His Highness whispers to me.

He slows down his walking pace, approaching me quietly beside me.

“Your Highness?”

“Your reputation will only be like this for now. Eventually, your evaluation will undoubtedly change.”

He asserted this with a powerful voice and words.

He meets my eyes directly, with an unwavering and refreshing smile.

“I guarantee it. So don’t worry about it.”

“——Yes.”

His words are warm and lift my sinking heart.

I feel pathetic for being so affected by just a single word, yet I am grateful for his words.

Afterward, I was brought by His Highness to his office.

As soon as I entered, there was a sofa set up for face-to-face meetings.

The room was spacious and well-organized, and documents were piled up on the table.

It was probably about the same amount of work I had been doing in my research lab.

Although the content was completely different, I quickly understood that His Highness was also very busy.

“Well, please sit down.”

“Y-Yes!”

I sat on the sofa nervously.

His Highness had come all the way to my place and offered his hand to help me, even though he was so busy.

I didn’t know what we were going to do, but I will do my best not to disappoint his expectations.

I involuntarily grip my hands tightly.

“Don’t be so nervous.”

“Eh, ah, sorry.”

He could see right through my tension.

His Highness sat down on the sofa opposite me, while smiling.

I took a deep breath, and faced him again.

“We’re just going to talk today. You can relax a bit more.”

“Y-Yes!”

“I see you’re still tense. Well, that’s understandable. It was unreasonable to suddenly bring you to a place like this and expect you not to be nervous. I’m sorry about that.”

“A-Ah, no, it’s fine!”

I say that, but the tension does not ease up.

It’s inevitable.

Even as a noble, opportunities to talk with royalty are not many.

Especially since I am an incompetent sister and have always left social events to my older sister.

Thanks to that, I don’t have much contact with other nobles, let alone the royals.

The only person I’ve ever had a decent conversation with was my former fiancé, Jerick-sama.

But that’s over now…

“You don’t look happy.”

“S-Sorry…”

“What were you thinking about?”

“Um…”

I can’t speak rudely and say that I was thinking about my ex-fiancé in front of His Highness…

When I stay silent, His Highness lets out a sigh, looking exasperated.

“Well, if you don’t want to say, then I won’t ask. Just casual conversation, small talk.”

“…”

“I’ve looked into various things about you. Your reputation in the Pheles family, your reputation in society, your accomplishments and relationships… According to the latest information, even about your former fiancé.”

“――!”

I widen my eyes and meet His Highness’s gaze.

Did he even know all of that?

I must have revealed my surprise too much, as His Highness seemed to have realized something.

“You’ve got a lot of depressing problems.”

“…No, it’s because I’m not living up to expectations.”

“Do you really think that’s all your fault?”

“Huh?”

Suddenly, His Highness looked at me with a slightly scary expression.

Startled, my spine straightened.

“Do you truly believe everything that’s happened so far, all the treatment you’ve received, is entirely your fault?”

“Um…”

Why is he asking me something like this?

His Highness had a serious expression.

He stared at me intently, not taking his eyes off of me.

Even if I wanted to look away, His Highness’s intimidation didn’t allow it.

“Answer honestly. You don’t need to lie in front of me.”

“Well, I…”

I answer honestly.

Looking back on everything that’s happened up to today, what do I truly think?

I’ve been scorned by my family and acquaintances as a failure.

Compared to my outstanding older sister, I’m always seen as a joke and a disappointment.

Otoo-sama and Okaa-sama, they don’t even think about me.

My excellent older sister… Leticia, ridicules me and treats me as a convenient tool.

No matter how hard I try, I’m not recognized.

I was always overshadowed by my sister, she took from me, and only my sister was praised.

I thought it couldn’t be helped.

It was a fact that I was incompetent and inferior to my sister in many ways.

But I couldn’t help feeling angry that even the results of my hard work were taken by my sister.

Yes.

My true feelings… my honest emotions were–

“I’m… furious.”

I was angry.

I was frustrated.

My heart, which was tormented by inferiority, was burning with the flames of rage deep down.

When asked by His Highness, I faced myself and realized it for the first time.

Chapter 7: Be ambitious

I’m different from my sister.

Being sisters, it’s natural that we’re compared.

But they praise my sister without noticing that she is cheating and scolds me without acknowledging my efforts.

I don’t think it is right in the slightest.

Jerick-sama is the same.

I was his fiancé.

Not my sister, but me.

Yet, knowing this, my sister still tried to seduce Jerick-sama.

I know they were secretly meeting behind my back.

I also know that they were getting along well in front of me, almost as if they were flaunting it.

The reason for his infidelity was simply cut and dry—he blamed me for it.

It’s impossible not to be angry the more I think about it.

What was the point of my efforts?

It wasn’t to cover up for my sister’s unfairness.

I’m not just a supporting role or a substitute for my sister.

I am me.

Meiana Pheles.

No one, not even my own flesh and blood, looked at me properly.

“Why is it always Onee-sama… Ah!”

In the midst of anger, I enter my own world.

I catch a glimpse of His Highness’s face and I’m brought back to reality.

I was talking to His Highness.

I had vented my anger towards my sister and those around me in front of His Highness.

I feel embarrassed and sweat in a strange way.

“I-I’m sorry! In front of Your Highness…”

I wonder if he’s angry.

I reluctantly look at His Highness’s face and realize he’s not.

“Your Highness?”

On the contrary, he’s smiling happily.

I can’t understand the meaning of his expression, so I stare at him with a puzzled look.

His Highness smiles and says to me.

“You finally said it honestly.”

“Huh…”

Finally?

“I’ve looked into your situation. I know what kind of circumstances you’ve been in. If I were in your position, I wouldn’t be able to accept it. I would be even more angry. But you don’t do that. I thought you were holding it all inside.”

“Um…”

“Then you must have been holding it inside as I thought. I’m relieved.”

“Relieved?”

His Highness leans both elbows on the table and clasps his hands in front of his face.

“I wanted to know if you were satisfied with your current situation. If you didn’t have any anger and had just accepted it, I would have dropped the matter.”

“Dropped it?”

“I know it’s presumptuous of me to call you here without reason. But still, those who don’t even get angry at injustice have lost their drive for improvement. I’m glad that’s not you. You are not satisfied with the current situation and are fighting to move forward. I like people like that.”

“――Hmm.”

His Highness spoke of his goodwill towards others with a refreshing expression.

Even though I knew it wasn’t in that context, I couldn’t help but feel flustered when such a wonderful man as His Highness said it.

It was a surprise attack, so it made me even more nervous.

“I want those who walk with me to have the same drive for improvement. The ones who sit back and relax in their talent, satisfied with their current position, will eventually be overtaken by those who work hard.”

His Highness spoke while looking at me.

He was looking at me.

But, it didn’t sound like he was talking to me… it sounded like he was talking to someone else.

“Of course, talent is important, but you have bot.,”

“Talent… do I have it?”

“Are you unaware of it? No, it’s because you haven’t been in an environment to think that way.”

“…”

You have talent.

Those words were always said to my sister, not me.

They praised my sister’s talents with contrasting words to me.

“I’ve never been told I have talent before, Your Highness.”

“That’s because people around you don’t see it. I think your talent is one of a kind in the current era.”

“One of a kind…”

“Yes. There is no one else who can handle rune magic like you.”

His Highness assures me in strong words.

“I myself failed when I tried to master it. The interpretation of runes is complex. The diversity of meanings contained in each character. The creativity to read and interpret them. It’s not like modern magic with predetermined words, formulas, and effects. It’s greatly influenced by the magician’s sense and understanding. That’s what Rune Magic is.”

He looked at me as if seeking my agreement.

I nodded in acquiescence.

What His Highness is saying is correct.

There are only 24 rune letters used in Rune Magic.

Just 24 letters.

Therefore, while Rune Magic may seem simple, it is not in reality.

The same rune can have different effects depending on the magician, and various interpretations are born.

The more interpretations expand and are pursued, the more the effects become diverse and stronger.

The difference in understanding, precision of magic manipulation, and quality and quantity of magical power all contribute to the changes in Rune Magic.

“For me, it is far easier to just learn and cast a specific spell. If it’s formalized, you can guarantee the result if learned correctly. But runes are different. Anyone can use them if they just need to use it. But only you can use runes at the same level as the ancient magicians. That’s what I think.”

His Highness held me in high esteem.

As he talked, he took out a rune stone from his pocket.

It was what we used for the test.

“This was excavated from a ruin and is at least 4,000 years old. A relic from the era of magical supremacy, when various magical lineages were born. It can also be said that it was the era when the skills of magicians were most refined.”

As he spoke, he pointed his finger towards the runestone.

“【ᛊ(Sowel)】”

He gathered magical power at his fingertips, drawing the same symbol engraved on the stone.

The basic premise of handling Rune Magic is being able to manipulate magical power outside of one’s body.

Without this ability, it is impossible to inscribe runes.

His Highness, of course, has cleared this prerequisite.

He traced the letters on the stone, urging the effect.

It seemed like the stone shone a little, but nothing happened in an instant.

“As you can see, I couldn’t do it. To activate the runes, there must be no difference in the ability and interpretation between the inscriber and the user. You, on the other hand, were easily able to demonstrate it. Perhaps you can do it.”

As he spoke, he took out another thing from his pocket.

This time it wasn’t stone, but a piece of paper.

What was drawn on the white paper was…

“A text in runic letters?”

“This is a copy of a recently discovered stone tablet. I want you to decipher it.”

“Decipher it?”

“Yes, if you can decipher it… we may be able to find it. The Ancient Artifact… the dungeon where the demon lord was once sealed.”

Chapter 8: What only I can do

Seven thousand years ago, the first humans with magical abilities were born in the world.

Magic was a powerful force that sprang from within.

It took a thousand years to explore how to use it and establish it as a technique.

From there, it took two thousand years to lead to the development of civilization.

It is said that it was four thousand years ago when magic spread the most and increased its types.

However, there was a background that was different from just the development of civilization.

Birth of demon beasts.

New life forms were born that were not human or animal.

These creatures with magical power devour other creatures mercilessly.

In order to survive, people needed to learn to fight.

Therefore, magic diverged greatly.

People gained power to survive.

As if in response to that, changes began to occur in the demon beasts.

Bigger and stronger individuals were born one after another, and the wild demon beasts began to acquire intelligence.

At around the same time, demon beasts that were similar to humans began to be born.

And then——

A Demon God called ‘calamity’ was born.

A monster that unleashes overwhelming power and destruction.

As a result, the existence of all humanity was threatened.

People fought while in despair and fear.

Amidst much bloodshed, the magicians did everything they could and took a hundred years to seal away the Demon God.

This legend is also handed down in modern times.

It is uncertain whether it is true or not.

However, if it is true, humanity will eventually face the fear of the Demon God once again.

“―― That legend is true.”

His Highness asserts.

He completely affirms the story that was only a fairy tale.

“Explorers and adventurers discovered ancient relics. Excellent researchers have examined them, and it has been proven that there was a big battle once. It is uncertain in detail, but there is no doubt that there was a monster equivalent to the Demon God.”

While listening to His Highness’s explanation, I gulp.

The Demon God that once threatened humanity.

If there really is such a thing, and it is still sleeping somewhere… It is natural to be afraid.

“Does this writing have a relationship with the Demon God…?”

“I’m not certain, but…there was a mural discovered together with it that depicted a human fighting a monster that I’ve never seen before. Next to it was a slate inscribed with runic characters.”

Runic characters were created for the purpose of magic, and each has its own unique meaning.

Originally, they were not used for anything other than magic.

However, there is also a history of using them as a secret code for communication between Rune Magicians.

With regard to characters, if you are a Rune Magician, you have the technology to discern the intentions of the practitioner inscribed in the runes.

“It has occasionally been discovered in the past as well. A slate inscribed with runic characters…but deciphering them has been difficult. Even if you understand the meaning of each character, you still can’t make sense of what it’s trying to convey once it becomes a string of characters. We can only speculate, and researchers have been scratching their heads over this issue. That’s why—”

His Highness pointed his finger straight forward.

“Me…”

“That’s right! I think you can directly decipher the runic characters from the slate. No, I’m sure only you can do it.”

“Something that only I…can do.”

His Highness nods slightly as he looks at me.

Something only I can do.

Something that neither my excellent sister nor His Highness, who is called a genius, can do, something that only I can do.

If someone says that to you, it is hard not to be excited.

“But I’ll do my best!”

“So, you’ll accept it?”

“Yes! I’ll do my best to live up to your expectations, Your Highness!”

“――I see. I’m counting on you, Meiana.”

He calls me by name and repeats the word “expectations” as if to declare that he is expecting it from no one but me.

My heart and body are stirred.

Emotions I’ve never felt before surge up inside me.

I want to meet his expectations.

I don’t want to disappoint him.

If I could show results and receive praise… surely, I would be so happy that I couldn’t put it into words.

Chapter 9: Those who have lost their support

A court magician appointed to the Second Prince.

As of today, my position has been officially appointed by His Highness.

From today, I will be calling myself as such.

I became a court magician, not just my sister’s assistant.

I wear a special badge given only to those who work in the court.

I had always been envious of those who had them, as I couldn’t have one as I was just an apprentice.

Now I finally have one.

It was an unexpected shape, but it filled me with happiness.

Furthermore, there was one more thing.

A badge proving to be a direct subordinate of the Second Prince, which I wear beside my court badge.

I also feel a bit of superiority, something I have never felt before.

“Are you sure about this?”

While grinning and touching my badge, His Highness asked me.

I turn around to the direction of the voice.

There is a carriage parked behind with knights moving luggage.

“I was the one who made the request, but there’s no need to hurry that much, right?”

“No, I’ll be fine.”

“Well then, that’s good.”

His kind Highness asked worriedly.

As a subordinate of His Highness, I am headed towards the city where the tablet was found.

That site is located far from the capital and during the investigation, we will be staying there.

There happened to be a knight order delivering goods to that site, so I decided to accompany them as well.

Move on the day of appointment.

Perhaps it was because the development was too sudden, but His Highness seemed to be worried.

“You’re not pushing it, are you?”

“No, I’m fine.”

“Then I’ll report back to the Pheles family.”

“I would appreciate that.”

The mission site is far away, and it will be a long stay.

Upon hearing that, I thought to myself that I was lucky.

I have no place in the Pheles family.

My parents might be pleased about my promotion.

But if I go back, there’s also my older sister.

Although it’s my own home, I’ve never felt comfortable there.

It’s probably claustrophobic.

My sister will undoubtedly give me a hard time.

If that’s the case, it’s better not to meet her.

Fortunately, the packing didn’t take much time because there isn’t much luggage.

“Well, it’s not like you’re going to a place that’s completely far away. If necessary, you can come back.”

“Yes, that’s…”

There was something that had been bothering me since earlier.

It was His Highness’s attire.

He seemed to have changed into it after our talk in the royal castle.

He was dressed comfortably, and he had a sword at his waist.

“Is Your Highness accompanying us as well?”

“Hm? What’s up? You don’t want to be with me?”

“N-No! It’s not like that!”

“Haha, just kidding. You’re fun to tease.”

His Highness laughs happily.

That was a little mean, and I frown a bit knowing it was impolite.

“It’s not like I’m going with you because I’m bored. The site where the tablet was found, City of Laurier, is under my jurisdiction. It’s the prince’s duty to check the condition of the city. This time, the inspection is also part of the trip.”

“I see.”

I feel a little disappointed.

He is not coming with me because he is worried about me.

Confirming such an obvious fact makes me ashamed of myself.

“But, I’m still interested. I want to see how you work too.”

His Highness looks into my face.

I feel like he can see through my thoughts.

It’s embarrassing, but I’m glad.

“Yes! I’ll do my best.”

“Don’t stress yourself too much. Well then, let’s get on the carriage. It will take half a day to get to Laurier.”

It is now evening.

We will depart now and arrive tomorrow morning as planned.

I will spend the night in the same carriage as His Highness.

I’m getting nervous all of a sudden.

Preparations are complete and the carriage sets off.

The view of the royal capital from the carriage window is colored orange by the setting sun.

I’ve always watched the sunset from my laboratory because I couldn’t finish my work in time.

This view is fresh and deepens my emotions.

Suddenly, I see the palace buildings.

I wonder how she is doing now.

Has she finished the work that she, not I, left for me?

Knowing her abilities, is she easily finishing the work and leaving on time?

Or is she struggling like I always do, unable to finish and going through a tough time?

◇◇◇

Around the time when Meiana departed from the royal capital.

Her older sister, who was excellent and a genius, was staring at documents in her lab.

“…”

She checks the stack of documents and flows right to left.

Simple clerical work.

As someone working in the court, not all of her work was as a magician.

Rather, paperwork was many times more, and it couldn’t be said that it was a fun job.

Especially for someone who pushed all their work onto their younger sister like her…

“What’s going on…It’s not ending at all.”

It was nothing but pain.

All the work she pushed onto Meiana was now returning to her.

It was her own fault, but she didn’t think so.

“Why am I doing this…”

It was natural for her to be a court magician.

The court was not a place to play, but a place to work.

The highest workplace in the country should not be easy, and the busyness is also top-class.

Work tends to accumulate for talented personnel, and it continues to increase day by day with trust.

Meiana had no talent as a modern magician, but she was excellent in paperwork and knowledge.

She works efficiently and finishes the given tasks faster than expected.

Therefore, the workload keeps increasing.

As “Leticia’s” evaluation rises, so does the amount of work.

However, it wasn’t until Meiana was gone that Leticia realized that.

“So much…”

Is it really that tough?

She realized again how important Meiana’s presence was.

However, her pride won’t let her admit it.

While complaining, she feels anxious deep down.

This job… Will it get done by the end of the day?

Chapter 10: First time feelings

Clang-clang.

Only the sound of the carriage shaking echoes.

His Highness and I are riding in the same carriage.

Two people alone in a narrow carriage, within easy reach if we were to stretch out our hands.

Even though it has only been a few minutes since departure, my tension has reached its peak.

“Meiana.”

“Y-Yes!”

“You suddenly raised your voice.”

“I’m sorry…”

Startled by the sudden call, I became flustered.

I regret having surprised His Highness.

I cleared my throat softly and faced His Highness again.

“What’s the matter?”

“I’m not good with silence. I thought we could talk about something. Can I ask you something?”

“What is it?”

“Why did you decide to learn Rune Magic?”

“Well…it’s because I couldn’t use anything else.”

My voice faded due to a lack of confidence.

His Highness continued to question me.

“There are various other things you could have tried, right? There are dozens of types of magic, including those from the past. Did you try them all?”

“Yes. I tried them all.”

“All of them? All of them?”

“Yes, everything that’s recorded in the literature.”

When I said that, His Highness widened his eyes in surprise.

Is it really that surprising?

Or is it the surprise of being amazed that I could only use runes after trying so hard?

If it’s the latter, then I can understand, but it’s sad to be thought of that way by His Highness.

It stings in my heart more than if it were someone else.

“That’s amazing. It must have taken a lot of time to try that much, right? You also needed knowledge. You must have put in a lot of effort.”

“Uh, well…I suppose so.”

“You worked hard. You should just answer honestly and say ‘yes’.”

“Y-Yes! I did my best!”

It’s a strange feeling to tell someone that I worked hard.

I couldn’t say it even when I did work hard before.

Even if I said it now, nobody would acknowledge it…

“Because of that knowledge, you were able to master the runes. You put in the effort in the right way.”

“――Thank you very much.”

I was praised for my efforts.

My heart started to surge and tremble. Tears welled up, but I held them back.

Instead of crying, I wanted to laugh with all my might.

“So you must have researched other types of magic too, right? What did you find interesting besides runes?”

“Um, the geo-texts was difficult, but interesting.”

“Geo-texts, huh? That’s also very deep.”

From there, we talked about magic and got excited.

Even His Highness, who is called a genius magician, knows more about magic than I do.

Not only is he knowledgeable, but he has his own interpretations and tries out applications.

You could feel that he enjoyed learning magic.

This is the first time I’ve talked so deeply about magic, and I forgot about time in the joy of it.

And so, time passed, we grew tired and slept through the night…

Before you know it, it’s morning.

Just as we woke up, the carriage we were on stopped.

“We’ve arrived.”

“This is…”

The city of Laurier.

The place where ancient ruins were discovered.

The size of the city is about one-tenth that of the capital, but its area is about the same.

What’s distinctive is that nature is incorporated into the city, with a river flowing, a forest and a lawn present.

The city of Laurier blends nature and artificial structures together seamlessly.

It was also a famous tourist spot.

“The knights will handle the luggage transfer. Let’s go to the ruins.”

“Yes.”

His Highness and several knights accompany me as we leave the carriage and head towards the ruins.

The ruins are located on the riverside, away from the center of the city.

Children playing nearby happened to discover a hole that people can pass through by chance.

When they widened the hole, it was discovered that there was a staircase leading underground, and the investigation revealed that it was a ruin from four thousand years ago.

I was excited.

It’s my first time going on a mission far from home, and it’s also my first time entering a ruin.

Even though I know it’s a job, my childlike curiosity wells up inside me.

Perhaps I was found out, as His Highness looks at my profile and chuckles.

“Y-Your Highness?”

“No, you’re just easy to read.”

“I-Is that so?”

“Yeah, it’s obvious. I understand how you feel though. I feel the same way.”

Is His Highness excited too?

When he says that, I can sense some anticipation from his expression, at least a little.

And then we arrive at the site.

The entrance hole is maintained, and a knight stands guard.

We descend the stairs and head to the basement.

Magical tool lanterns are installed at equal intervals, illuminating our feet.

“Remnants of magical tools used in combat are said to have been discovered from this ruin. Researchers speculate that this might have been a frontline base for magicians.”

“A frontline base…did a battle happen in this place?”

“Perhaps. The key to knowing that is…”

We arrive at the front of a stone slab illuminated by magical tools.

“…might be hidden here.”

The stone slab is three times my height.

Familiar runic characters are engraved on the large stone slab as I look up.

With twelve characters horizontally and ten lines vertically, it is a considerably long passage in runic characters.

To take a closer look, I take a step forward.

“Can you decipher it?”

I touch the stone slab.

“I don’t know.”

I cannot conclude.

I don’t have enough confidence to assert that I can decipher it with certainty.

Still…

I turn around.

“I’ll give it a try.”

I don’t want to disappoint this person.

“I’m counting on you. The only modern Rune Magician.”

“Yes!”

I’ll do my best.

For the person who has placed their first expectations on me.

So that I can say that his eyes and choosing me were right.

Chapter 11: Two fiancées

It’s been a week since Meiana left the capital.

Because she was a somewhat conspicuous existence, rumors spread quickly.

The useless younger sister of the Pheles family is working under the second prince.

“Where is the rumored little sister?”

“She’s in the city of Laurier with His Highness. That’s what someone who visited on business recently saw.”

“Oh, I wonder what the two of them are doing.”

“I don’t know. There’s a rumor that they’re doing something very important.”

The matter of the ruins investigation has only been conveyed to a few people.

Therefore, Meiana’s mission was also kept secret.

Speculations spread precisely because people didn’t know.

“Could it be that they’re in a romantic relationship?”

“The second prince and that useless younger sister? That’s impossible.”

“I heard that she’s only pretending to be a failure. Oh, look, it’s Leticia-san.”

“Oh, I heard about her. She’s so busy with work that she spends all day in the laboratory, right? Would it really make that much of a difference if she’s alone for one day? I have an assistant too, but even on her days off, it doesn’t change much.”

“In other words, “she” was the one who supported Leticia-san.”

Meiana, her younger sister, who had been labeled a failure and her sister’s hand-me-down, is now being recognized for her efforts.

But on the other hand, it’s also the result of her sister’s negligence being exposed.

Trust is difficult to build but can crumble in an instant.

Those who are thought to be excellent can have their credibility destroyed by just one mistake.

Like Leticia right now…

“…”

Of course, she doesn’t hear that voice.

She has no time to listen to the voices around her, constantly working day and night.

Her skin is starting to roughen from lack of sleep, and dark circles are clearly visible under her eyes.

Her usual bright aura has turned into a heavy atmosphere.

Knock knock–

The sound of someone knocking on the door echoes.

Leticia ignores it and continues working, pretending not to notice that it’s just another new task.

The door is knocked again.

“Tsk, who is it?”

She clicks her tongue and sighs heavily with frustration.

“Come in.”

She calls out in a low voice.

Looking at the person standing on the other side of the door, she regretted her unfriendly attitude.

“Jerick-sama!”

“Hello, Leticia. You seem to be quite busy.”

“I’m so sorry! I didn’t realize it was you, Jerick-sama.”

“No, it’s my fault. I didn’t think you’d be this busy. I was worried because I haven’t seen you outside lately.”

“Jerick-sama…”

Recently engaged Jerick, who was worried about her.

It was a comforting word for her, who was cornered.

She had high expectations.

Although Jerick is not part of the court, he is also a skilled magician.

Did he come to help her because he saw she was busy?

However, her expectations were quickly betrayed.

“By the way, have you heard about Meiana’s situation?”

“――! What do you mean by ‘situation’…?”

“I heard she got a position under the second prince. When did she get such an offer? You never told me when we were engaged. You knew, didn’t you?”

“…No, I didn’t know either.”

Why does he suddenly have interest in the person he broke off his engagement with?

Negative emotions begin to boil in Leticia’s chest.

“If you had told me…”

“Jerick-sama.”

“Huh? No, don’t get me wrong. I think it was good that we got engaged. It’s just that it’s a little lonely when you’re so busy after getting engaged. So…”

I’ll help you.

For a moment, Leticia hopes that Jerick would say that.

Jerick speaks with a smile.

“I’d be happy if you could finish your work quickly.”

“―”

Expecting anything is a mistake.

Even a moment of hope will make the anger greater when betrayed.

Leticia’s heart is filled with anger towards Jerick, who is oblivious and smiling wryly.

“Excuse me, I have work to do, could you please leave?”

“Huh? Ah, yeah, sure.”

Anger leaks from Leticia’s expression.

Jerick notices and hurriedly averts his eyes, opening the door to leave.

Then, a person stood in front of her.

“Leticia, I’m leaving, but there’s one more guest.”

“… Who is it?

“Someone like me.”

“Someone like you?”

They come into the room at the same time.

Seeing that person, she hurries to stand up from her seat.

“Norman-sama!”

“Hey, Leticia. You have a pretty intense expression.”

Then he laughs coldly.

Duke Norman Heuschel.

A young nobleman who became the head of the Heuschel family at a young age and also holds the qualification of a court magician.

He is Leticia’s other fiancé.

“What brings you here, Norman-sama? It’s rare for you to come here.”

Leticia forces a smile.

There is a power relationship between fiancés.

It’s not about individuals but the prestige of the family name they carry.

Both the Pheles family and the Heuschel family are noble families called famous families, but the Heuschel family is closer to the royal family and involved in the country’s domestic affairs.

The engagement between the two was realized by the current head of the Pheles family pleading and Heuschel accepting.

Therefore, Leticia cannot afford to be disliked by Norman.

The reason it took time to seduce Jerick was that she was waiting for an opportunity to get Norman’s approval.

“Meiana Pheles, I’m here to talk about your sister.”

“――!”

This person too, talking about Meiana…

Leticia desperately hides her frustration and answers with a smile.

“I’m sorry. Meiana is currently unavailable, and I am not aware of the situation either.”

“You too? Marquis Pheles said he didn’t know either. It’s strange. He doesn’t know about his own daughter and sister’s promotion…”

Norman’s cold gaze pierces Leticia.

In the face of probing words, she can do nothing but remain silent.

“It seems you really don’t know.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I’m not blaming you. However, if you can’t even do the job given to you properly, you may be blamed someday.”

“…”

He sees right through her .

That she’s busy with work.

That Meiana has been supporting her work so far.

Leticia didn’t like Norman.

His eyes that seemed to see through his opponent and his calm, mechanical laughter even made her feel uncomfortable.

He has no interest in physical beauty.

Only whether it is beneficial to himself or not.

“Meiana… I’m starting to become a little interested in her.”

Such a man’s interest is directed towards her incompetent little sister.

Frustrated.

It must feel like she has lost her fiancé to her.

Chapter 12: A depressing morning

I felt melancholic in the morning.

People who meet me for the first time usually have a look of disgust on their faces.

There is not a single ally for me within the mansion.

Even the servants must have found me to be a nuisance.

I am a member of the nobility and should be respected, but if anyone is kind to the failure I am said to be, the pressure from the surrounding people would become stronger.

As a result, no one came near me for a long time.

That’s why I always escaped to the court like a fugitive.

In the early morning, there were few people around.

If I entered the laboratory, no one’s eyes would be on me.

Onee-sama came to see me once, but when she went out to play, she never came back.

The free space amid the inconvenience was the court’s laboratory.

Even though I am there, I am still bound by the overflowing work…

“Mhm, morning…”

I suddenly woke up.

I slowly got up and looked at the clock.

If it were during my apprentice days, I would be very late and start getting anxious.

…But there is no need to hurry now.

I felt a momentary panic, but then I leisurely got out of bed and started getting ready.

After changing my clothes, I left the room and headed to the dining room.

When I opened the door, there was someone already there.

“Good morning, Meiana.”

“Your Highness! Good morning.”

I greeted His Highness, who was already in the dining hall before me, with a clear and loud morning greeting.

This is a villa owned by the royal family in Laurier.

During my stay, I will be living here with His Highness.

“You’re still an early riser. Are you sleeping well?”

“Yes, I’m sleeping soundly.”

“That’s good. Let’s prepare breakfast for two. Have a seat.”

“Yes.”

In general, a retainer and a lord would not share the same table.

However, His Highness arranged for us to spend time together during our stay, increasing opportunities for interaction.

A prince’s retainers are his closest and most trustworthy subordinates.

I have just become one, and I don’t know much about His Highness yet.

Similarly, His Highness knows about my circumstances, but doesn’t know my personality or inner thoughts.

Through this mission, let’s get to know each other better, His Highness said.

I was surprised, to say the least.

I am grateful that he, a prince of a country, took the time to get to know me, a mere vassal.

I thought our relationship would be more formal.

“What time do you wake up in the capital?”

“Um, at four.”

“That’s early. And what time do you go to bed?”

“At around one, I think.”

“…You’ll die young if you don’t get enough sleep.”

His Highness often talks to me.

I’m still awkward and hesitant to initiate conversations with him.

He’s considerate enough to notice that and take it into account.

He’s truly a kind person.

Not just talented, but also a person of character.

Certainly, if someone like him became the next king, everyone would be reassured.

In just a short time, I can see His Highness’s good qualities one after another.

“After breakfast, I will go on an inspection. What are you going to do today?”

“I’ll go with you if it’s not a bother.”

“I see. Then, come with me.”

“Yes!”

I energetically respond and eat my meal quickly.

While watching me, His Highness muttered in a low voice.

“You’re a fast eater, aren’t you?”

“Ah, I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have to apologize, but, how do I put it, you can eat more slowly, you know? No one is rushing you.”

“Y-Yes.”

This is also a bad habit.

I need to eat quickly to make it to work on time.

The family dinner table is uncomfortable, so I want to finish eating quickly and escape.

I have developed such a habit.

After finishing breakfast, I go out to inspect the city with His Highness.

His Highness mainly visits facilities that manage the city.

We visit places where people from the kingdom work, such as the management of waterways, magic power, natural gas, and resource mining.

In addition, we visit commercial facilities and observe the daily lives of the people in the city.

“Your Highness Alectos!”

As we walk through the city, people call out to His Highness.

We keep our distance so as not to disturb them, and when they wave their hands, His Highness smiles back.

His Highness was also very popular outside the capital.

People’s eyes light up when they see His Highness, from the elderly to children.

Today, we first visited the facility that manages magic power in the city.

“Welcome, Your Highness.”

“Oh, how’s it going?”

“It’s operating without any problems. There haven’t been any significant issues.”

“Then that’s good. Anything else?”

The facility administrator and His Highness continue their conversation impassively.

His Highness is not only an excellent magician but also knowledgeable about magical tools.

Magical tools created for the purpose of fighting have also evolved over time.

Magical tools have become essential to people’s lives.

Magical power is essentially the magic power needed to operate magical tools. It is generated here and sent throughout the city.

It is a facility that can be said to be the core of people’s lives.

Suddenly, my gaze meets that of the facility administrator.

“Your Highness, I was curious about this person.”

“Oh, this is Meiana, who has become my new subordinate.”

“I apologize for being rude without even introducing myself. I am Rodni, in charge of managing this place. Please remember my name from now on.”

“Yes! Nice to meet you too.”

I do my best not to interfere with His Highness.

After the facility inspection is over, we go outside.

“It’s been a week, but the tension hasn’t changed.”

“I’m sorry…”

“You don’t have to apologize so much. You need to fix your habit of apologizing so quickly.”

“S-Sorry, uh, yes…”

Because I was always scolded, I had developed a habit of apologizing frequently.

There’s a lot I need to work on.

I make a decision and clench my fist tightly.

“Well, it’s about time for lunch.”

“Yes, Your Highness, I’ll head to the ruins.”

“Ah, do your best.”

“Yes!”

After parting ways with the prince, I head to the ruins alone.

There was a reason why I didn’t go to the ruins immediately after breakfast.

The ruins are deep underground and covered in thick fog in the morning.

Due to unstable footing and danger, entry and exit are prohibited in the morning.

Permission to enter and exit is granted from noon.

“Hello, everyone.”

I greet the knights who are guarding the ruins beforehand.

Everyone responds politely.

Guided by one of the knights, I stand in front of a stone slab.

“Now.”

Let’s get started today too.

The important job entrusted only to me.

Chapter 13: What you find enjoyable

Rune characters were created for magic purposes.

There is no grammar or vocabulary, and each character has its own meaning.

Therefore, it is not suitable for language communication.

That is why it is used as a code that only Rune Magicians can decipher.

“Uh, I finished up to the third row yesterday, so let’s start from the fourth row.”

I put a ladder on the stone slab and climb up to a place where I can reach the characters of the fourth row.

Deciphering the rune characters on the stone slab is laborious.

You have to read the meaning of each character and associate the meanings you understand.

The rune characters engraved by the magician’s magic power embody the will of the magician.

Their instruction might range from desire to do something, to have or to create something, or to seek something, from abstract to specific.

The characters are directly carved into the slab.

However, a slight amount of magic power flows through them when touched.

The writer must have imbued magic power into the characters, making them decipherable only by the Rune Magician who discovers the slab.

In other words, this slab is designed for the Rune Magician who can handle runes, not for encouragement, but literally, it can only be deciphered by me.

I am the first character of the fourth row, 【ᛉ】.

“【ᛉ (Algiz)】”

As I trace it on the stone tablet, a slight magical activation is felt.

The meaning of 【ᛉ】 is defense and protection.

It often contains the intention of shielding and protecting something.

The intention to protect is conveyed from this character as well.

This interpretation is probably not wrong.

I move my gaze and finger to the left.

“Next is…【ᚦ (Thurisaz)】.”

I trace it from above, and sense the activation of magic.

The rune characters have been successfully activated.

The meaning of 【ᚦ】 is giant, monster, and thorn.

It can directly represent a large person or can be used to imagine something powerful or terrifying.

The size can be physical or spiritual.

In this case, it probably represents the strength of the Demon God.

At the same time, the threat has spread throughout the world like a thorn.

Understanding the meaning behind each character in this way.

By reading the will and emotions embodied in the characters, and using hints from the historical background and the meanings behind the surrounding characters.

Only those who have inscribed the symbols know the correct answer.

The person grading is a figure from 4,000 years ago who passed away long ago.

Interpretation involving guesswork will only result in success or failure.

What does this tablet depict and what does it convey?

According to His Highness’s speculation, there should be some secret related to the Demon God written on it.

It is my job to decipher it.

“Now, the next one…”

As time passes by in this manner…

In the underground, you can’t see the movement of the sun, so you lose your sense of time.

When the designated time comes, the knight on lookout calls out to me.

“Meiana-sama, it’s time for you to go.”

“Oh, okay.”

I just finished deciphering the fourth section, and it’s time to finish work.

I decipher about half of a row per day.

As the information grows, the pace of deciphering also increases.

At this rate, I should be able to finish deciphering everything within a week.

His Highness said the maximum stay is one month.

“It looks like I’ll make it in time.”

“That’s good news. It’s going well.”

“Yes. Wait, Your Highness?!”

His Highness is under the ladder.

Startled by the sudden voice, I quickly turned around.

“W-When did you arrive?!”

“Just now.”

“I’ll get down right away!”

It’s too rude to look down on His Highness.

I hurriedly tried to descend the ladder.

“No need to hurry. It’s dangerous if you fall――.”

“Ah――.”

Almost at the same time as the warning, the ladder shook violently.

At that moment, I lost my balance and was thrown off the ladder.

The ground below was hard rock, and if I fell on my head, it would have been a serious injury.

I closed my eyes in fear.

Suddenly, I was embraced.

“Darn, I told you it was dangerous.”

“――Your Highness.”

After falling off the ladder, His Highness gently caught me.

Just like a prince lifting up a princess.

But I’m not a princess.

He slowly put me down.

“Are you okay?”

“Y-Yes, I’m sorry.”

“If you’re not hurt, that’s good. You seem lighter. Are you eating properly?”

“Yes! I eat everything that’s given to me!”

“Come to think of it, that’s true.”

His Highness laughs happily.

He didn’t scold me for my carelessness, but instead worried about me.

This person is really…

“Well, shall we go home?”

“Yes.”

I head to the villa with His Highness.

Outside, the sun has already set, and it’s a night where stars shine.

The full moon is beautiful tonight.

“The moon is beautiful.”

“Yeah. Since there are fewer city lights here than in the capital, the stars and the moon are more visible. This is not bad either.”

“Yes.”

We spend a peaceful time.

Returning home after work and having a relaxed conversation with someone.

It’s an experience I’ve never had in the capital.

And with a prince as a partner.

How luxurious.

“Deciphering seems to be proceeding smoothly.”

“Yes. It should be finished within a week.”

“Fast. Are you not pushing yourself too hard? There is still enough time during the stay.”

“I’m fine. Rather, I feel like I want to work quickly because I’m having fun.”

I’ve never felt this way before.

Work was something difficult, something I had to do for someone else.

I was pushed by my sister and didn’t even benefit from it.

Now it’s different.

It’s my unique role, given to me.

Including this peaceful time, I feel happy.

Chapter 14: Didn’t want to meet

It has been ten days since I arrived at Laurier.

I’ve also become accustomed to my work and my conversations with His Highness have gradually become less tense.

This morning, I am accompanying His Highness on his inspection.

“It’s about time.”

“Yes, we’re heading to the ruins.”

The deciphering of the stone tablet is also going smoothly.

I was eager to show good results to His Highness as soon as possible.

“Don’t overdo it. Make sure to rest when it’s time.”

“Yes, thank you very much.”

With His Highness’s warm words, I head to the ruins alone.

My footsteps are light.

While my workplace used to be a cramped place that I didn’t want to go if I could help it…

Now, I want to start my work as soon as possible, even if it’s just a second earlier.

It’s not because it won’t end or because of any negative reasons.

I just feel like doing my best today.

Things that used to be unpleasant or sad are now forgotten.

“Meiana.”

“――!”

Until I met him…I had forgotten.

That I just recently had my fiancé taken away from me.

I stop in my tracks and turn around.

“Jerick…sama?”

“I finally found you.”

I’m not mistaken.

I can’t forget that face and voice.

He’s the man I’ve talked with the longest and the most.

I can’t keep up with the suddenness of it all and my mind goes blank.

I ask with all my might.

“Why are you here?”

“Of course I was looking for you.”

“For me…?”

Why now? What does he want from me?

I brace myself.

My body naturally leans back.

To me, he says with a smile.

“Hey, Meiana. Wouldn’t you like to engage with me again?”

“…Huh?”

I’m confused by unexpected words.

Engage with him one more time?

What is this guy talking about?

“I heard that you’ve got a position with the Second Prince. You’re working here, right?”

“Yes.”

“It looks like you’re alone. What are you doing?”

“Well…”

The mission I am undertaking is top secret.

The discovery of the ruins and clues to the Demon God have not yet been made public.

Only the royal family and a few people know about it.

Although Jerick-sama is a noble, he is not close to the royal family, so he doesn’t know about it, and it wouldn’t be appropriate to tell him.

“I’m sorry, I can’t tell you.”

“I see. That’s too bad.”

I could tell he was slightly annoyed.

But I am not afraid because His Highness Alectos is behind me.

He wouldn’t have come recklessly and asked about it.

“Well, it doesn’t matter. I’m not very interested in that anyway. What matters is that you have been recognized by the second prince. It’s a joyous occasion! You, who were just Leticia’s baggage, now hold a higher position than her.”

“… ”

He speaks loudly.

From his expression and words, I can see his intentions.

Yeah, that’s what it is.

“I also misunderstood you. You do have talent. I regret giving up on you halfway through.”

It’s because I started working under His Highness.

He’s doing this to flip-flop now that I have a useful position.

He is trying to get back my engagement and gain a connection with His Highness.

He intends to use me.

“Let’s restore our engagement. I am satisfied with the current you, and I’m sure Leticia and your parents will be happy too.”

“What are you….”

He’s satisfied.

I’m not happy at all.

He only says things that are convenient for him and doesn’t even consider my feelings.

I don’t even think he expects me to refuse.

I wanted to tell him.

But…

“…”

“I’ll talk to your parents on behalf of you. You don’t have to worry about anything.”

I’m still a member of the Pheles family.

In noble engagements, the relationship between families is more important than individual will.

Even if I say I don’t want it, I can’t go against what the Pheles family decides.

There’s no point in raising my voice here.

I don’t have the power or courage to reject this injustice.

“What a rude man to have a daytime rendezvous so brazenly.”

“――Who…?! Y-Your Highness!”

A hand is placed gently on my shoulder.

The prince smiles kindly.

My heart, which had become cold, is warmed by that smile.

Chapter 15: No, thank you

“I, I apologize for the rudeness! Your Highness Alectos!”

“What’s rude about it? Not realizing it was me? Or maybe, pressing her with a mean question?”

“――!”

It seems that His Highness was listening to our conversation.

Since when?

I don’t know.

The reason why the Highness, whom I thought I parted ways with, is here…

It’s like he appeared as if to help me, and my heart beats faster.

“Your Highness…”

“By chance. I was in town for a visit and happened to see you guys.”

“…”

“You want to reinstate the engagement, don’t you?”

His Highness smiles while turning his gaze to Jerick-sama.

Jerick-sama, who reacts with a twitch, shows a smile while sweating from his forehead.

“Yes, that’s correct. I showed you something unsightly. However, please don’t worry. This is a matter between me and Meiana.”

“That’s right. Regarding this matter, I am an outsider. I don’t intend to meddle in personal matters between families.”

“As expected of Your Highness, you understand perfectly——”

“However, let me give you one piece of advice.”

Interrupting Jerick-sama’s words of confidence, His Highness speaks.

“She is currently my direct subordinate, which means she is under my protection. If her freedom and rights are hindered, and she becomes unable to fulfill her duties, it may be seen as rebellion against the royal family.”

“…That’s——”

“It’s up to Meiana.”

His Highness looks at me.

Seriously, but kindly.

“Don’t worry. I respect your choice. You can say no if you don’t like something.”

“――”

“You don’t want to hear me out. What do you dislike——”

“I decline.”

I refuse.

Of course, towards Jerick-sama.

With my head bowed.

“What are you…”

“The matter of the engagement. It’s a nice story, but as someone who has already been broken off with, you don’t have the qualifications for it. As for the Pheles family, you’re already engaged to Onee-sama. I can’t see any benefit in getting engaged to me specifically.”

“I understand your intentions. But what will your parents think?”

“I understand. Therefore, I will talk to Otoo-sama and Okaa-sama myself.”

I wonder why?

The Prince is by my side.

Just standing next to me gives me so much courage.

Is it because he’s on my side?

I just feel reassured…that’s all.

Engagements between nobles often serve to deepen relationships between families.

However, personal intentions are not completely disregarded.

Especially if the individual has established a proper position, the family cannot ignore their wishes.

“The conversation is over. I have work to do, so…”

“If you want to interrupt her work, I can be your listener and take my time talking with you.”

“…Damn, let’s talk when we return to the capital, Meiana.”

“If we have the opportunity.”

Jerick-sama shows a frustrated expression and turns his back.

For the first time, I saw him make such a face.

It’s a mean thing to say, but it feels a little satisfying.

At the same time, the tension is released and fatigue floods over me.

“Haah…”

“Good work.”

“Your Highness…”

“That was unlucky. Being bothered by such a bothersome person after coming all the way here.”

He says this and laughs.

If His Highness hadn’t come, I would have been swept away by the atmosphere.

Accepting my unwillingness, I agreed to the unwanted engagement.

While understanding that there is no happiness beyond that point.

“Thank you, Your Highness.”

“I didn’t do anything. I just gave him a piece of my mind.”

That little comment was a big push for me.

“Well, while I’m at it, let me give you some advice.”

“Advice?”

“Yeah.”

He raises his right hand and points with his index finger.

That finger touches my forehead.

“Have a little more confidence in yourself.”

“Eh?”

“You were chosen by me. There aren’t many people like you in this country. You should be more confident.”

“Your Highness…”

That’s right.

I became a subordinate of His Highness.

If I show myself in a pitiful state, it will affect His Highness’s reputation.

I don’t want His Highness who chose me to regret his decision.

I don’t want to cause any trouble.

“I will try harder.”

“You’re already doing that, aren’t you? What you need is to recognize yourself for the effort you are putting in.”

“Yes!”

It’s still difficult.

But if His Highness says so…

I’ll try to think that I’m amazing, even if just a little.

Chapter 16: Decipherment complete?

“――【ᛏ(Teiwaz)】.”

Tracing the rune activates the magical power.

The meaning contained in 【ᛏ】 is of war and justice.

It signifies the beginning of a battle that upholds humanity’s justice.

I trace my finger and move to the next letter.

“Now… 【ᛜ(Inguz)】.”

The contained meaning is that of a god.

The opponent is the most disastrous demon in history.

It’s an opponent so strong that it cannot be certain of victory, even with the full power of the people.

“That makes seven.”

Since then, the pace of decryption has been steadily increasing.

As the interpretations become wider, the intentions of the characters on the tablets are gradually becoming more understood.

This tablet depicts an intense battle with the Demon God.

His Highness’ speculations may be correct.

Although it is still incomplete and not certain, the last character engraved on the tablet is…

“【ᛟ(Oswila)】…”

The meaning is legacy and land.

It is where they sealed the overwhelmingly strong power of the Demon God after the battle.

Perhaps if it is deciphered until the end, it will become clear.

With a speculation that is almost certain in my heart, I continue to decipher.

“…”

Deciphering requires concentration.

However, distractions inevitably creep in.

Just a little while ago, I was pressured into re-engaging.

It’s hard to forget.

I thought I could switch my feelings off, but…

“Haa, I’m still naive.”

I realize my own weakness.

I firmly declined the talk of engagement.

No matter what Jerick-sama thinks, I have no intention of getting back together now.

I don’t want to be used.

I don’t regret rejecting him, pushed by His Highness.

But once this mission is over, I will return to that mansion.

To the Pheles family… my family.

Jerick-sama should be the one to tell Otoo-sama about our broken engagement.

As far as the benefits are concerned, it doesn’t matter much since he’s already engaged to Onee-sama.

But still, Otoo-sama and Okaa-sama may think it’s impudent for someone like me to refuse.

I’m anxious about what will be said when we meet face to face.

Just thinking about it is depressing.

“I’d rather just…”

I come back to myself after thinking of such pathetic thoughts.

Thinking about staying at Laurier, or using my full stay period, makes me weak.

Even if I run away, I will eventually have to face it.

I also have to confront my own weakness.

If I don’t do that, I cannot grow.

“Okay.”

I slap my cheeks and psyche myself up.

Let’s finish this work quickly.

Then I will return to the mansion and talk properly with Otoo-sama and others.

I will deny anything unpleasant.

To do that, I have to face the task right in front of me now.

“Let’s see, the next letter is…”

I focus on deciphering quietly.

The next day, and the day after that, I face the stone tablet at the ruins.

I decipher it without getting bored, even if I look at the same scenery for many consecutive days.

Although the scenery remains the same, there is change.

Little by little, I understand someone’s feelings from the inscribed letters.

The sensation of solving a complicated maze may be something only a Rune Magician can understand.

In a way, it’s my privilege alone.

And then——

◇◇◇

“Your Highness, the decoding will be finished by tomorrow.”

“Really?”

“Yes, I finished decoding up to the ninth row today. Only one section remains.”

“Finally, huh.”

“Yes.”

During dinner time, I informed His Highness of the current situation.

The pace of the decoding has accelerated, and I am now able to decode one section per day.

At this rate, the decoding will finish without a problem by tomorrow.

The interpretation has deepened already.

All that remains is to finish decoding and consolidate everything into one.

“In that case, I will accompany you tomorrow.”

“Your Highness as well?”

“Yeah, just observing. I don’t intend to interrupt your work, but I also want to witness this century’s moment. Is that okay?”

“Yes, of course. I also want Your Highness to see it.”

I had hoped to share the moment of successfully completing the mission and the joy that comes with it with His Highness.

It was an offer beyond my expectations.

I was more determined than ever.

And then, the next day.

He finished his inspection earlier than usual, and I entered the ruins with His Highness.

There was still a slight mist.

It was a bit of a hindrance to work, but.

“Wind Curtain.”

His Highness sweeps his right arm widely and deploys a magic circle at his feet.

It’s a magic that manipulates the airflow around oneself to create a barrier of wind.

The mist quickly scatters in all directions.

“Can you see clearly now?”

“Thank you very much.”

“I’ll do this much. It’s my tour fee.”

While being watched by His Highness, I start to decipher the text.

The last row, 12 letters remaining.

Almost all the letters so far have contained negative emotions such as struggle, agony, anger, and despair.

The battle with the Demon God caused many casualties.

There is no doubt that it was a fierce battle.

There are probably many sad sentiments expressed within this rune, since the one who inscribed it must have lost something very important.

Emotions are embedded within the runes.

Regardless of intention, the conditions at the time affect them.

“The last letter…”

I already know what it means.

Heritage, land.

They fought against the Demon God and sealed its power somewhere.

Even after finishing deciphering it, I still didn’t know the location.

In such a case, I start reading while associating the meaning with each word in my head from the beginning.

“【ᚺ】, 【ᚾ】, 【ᛊ】…”

Carefully, I read each letter and trace the runes together.

I feel the activation of magic and the will embedded in it.

Runes were created for magic.

The letters are imbued with magic, carry the will of the engraved caster, and embody the imagination.

Even the characters carved on the stone tablet had a slight magical power in them.

I had thought it was just to carry the letters.

I had underestimated the beginning of the age of magic.

“【ᛟ】…!”

I realized it late.

This stone tablet itself formed one magic using all 120 Rune letters.

“Meiana!”

“――!”

His Highness’ voice echoes in my head.

I hear it somewhat distant, and then my consciousness fades away.

Chapter 17: Where calamity sleeps

My vision went pure white.

The runes on the tablet were a formula in itself.

The condition for activation apparently was to decipher all the letters and read them to the end.

That was the condition for activation, apparently.

“Where is this…?”

It’s a completely white world.

It’s like I’m floating in a space with nothing else but myself.

Or am I standing?

I can’t see it, but there is a ground beneath me.

No, that’s not all.

If I focus my eyes in this dream-like world, I can see something.

“Is this…a memory?”

Someone’s memory.

It’s probably the memory of the spellcaster who carved the runic characters on the stone tablet.

An unfamiliar scenery unfolds before me.

Could it be the world of four thousand years ago, from the ancient times?

There is a city.

It’s completely different from the current streets, with single-story houses made of hardened clay lined up.

The color of the ground and the walls of the houses are almost the same.

It’s a scenery unique to an era when construction technology wasn’t as advanced as it is now.

As someone living in the modern age, it was refreshing to see.

But more than anything…

“It’s peaceful.”

Even though people were not as prosperous as they are now, they were living freely.

They looked happy.

The owner of the memory is also leading a happy life with his wife and children.

However, one day a tragedy suddenly occurred.

The sky was covered in pitch black darkness.

The sun was hidden, the moon was gone, and only darkness enveloped the world.

This was the birth of the Demon God.

Just after its birth, it plunged people into the depths of terror.

The sun disappeared into the darkness, and demon beasts were running rampant.

People were forced to fight against the demon beasts, and the war spread.

There was a lot of bloodshed.

Most of the bloodshed was unnecessary.

Even the families of the magicians were killed by the demon beasts.

“This is terrible…”

The magician trembled with anger.

He held anger towards the demon beasts and hatred towards the Demon God.

He was an excellent Rune Magician and chose to fight against the Demon God on the front lines.

He pressed forward, facing only forward, while many of his comrades fell.

However, the power of the Demon God was too strong and there was no chance of winning.

The more they fight, the less strength humanity has.

Then they came up with an idea.

It’s not about winning, it’s about finding a way to end the fight.

The Rune Magicians joined forces to create a spell to seal the Demon God.

Of course, sealing the Demon God was not an easy task.

Even in the final battle, there was bloodshed.

However, the people showed their determination and successfully sealed the Demon God.

They had achieved victory.

However, the Rune Magicians were aware that this seal was not eternal.

They knew that in the distant future, the world would be threatened by the terror of the Demon God once again.

That’s why they left it behind.

Not as a great achievement, but as a legacy for future generations.

◇◇◇

“――na! Meiana!”

My consciousness is awakened by a loud voice calling my name.

When I opened my eyes, I saw the worried face of His Highness looking down at me.

He was supporting my shoulders and head, with his arm around my back.

“Your Highness…?”

“Thank God. You’re awake.”

“Um, I…”

“You fainted right after finishing reading the rune inscription.”

While I was reading the inscription on the stone tablet, it seems that I had fainted.

His Highness caught me as I fell from the ladder, and seemed to have been calling out to me multiple times until I woke up.

“I’m sorry, Your Highness. I caused you to worry.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yes. There are no abnormalities in my body. The runes inscribed on the slab just activated.”

“The runes… What happened?”

His Highness asked me with a worried expression.

I slowly got up and once again faced the prince.

“I now know the location where the Demon God is sealed.”

His Highness’s eyes widened.

There are many things to talk about, but for now, I’ll tell him what he wants to know the most.

I saw it.

The memories of the spell caster, the truth from four thousand years ago.

“…Where is it?”

“…In the royal capital.”

“――!”

“There is a ruin in the basement of the royal castle where the Demon God is sealed.”

◇◇◇

The carriage rattles and jostles along.

The shaking has subsided since we departed.

It’s proof that we’re traveling on a well-maintained road.

“We’ve come back.”

I look out the window.

After completing the investigation on the stone tablet, I returned to the royal capital.

It’s the first time I’ve seen the view of the capital in a while.

Only a few weeks have passed since the incident, but it felt long since I didn’t have a chance to leave the capital.

The capital feels nostalgic.

“We’re going to report to my father. Are you ready?

“Y-Yes!”

I’m nervous, but it’s also my duty.

I have to report the decoded content to His Majesty the King.

I return to the royal palace with His Highness and head to the Throne Room.

The knights have already informed His Majesty about the discussion we’re about to have.

He’s waiting for us.

“Are you nervous?”

“Yes.”

His Highness asks me in the hallway.

Of course I am.

It’s a rare opportunity for even nobles to talk to His Majesty.

This is a first for me.

But strangely, I don’t feel scared.

I wonder why?

“Your just reporting what you’ve learned. I’ll be here too.”

“Yes.”

Is it because I know His Highness is with me?

Before I knew it, we had arrived.

In the throne room.

Behind the grand doors waits the king of this country.

Chapter 18: If you want a reward

“Let’s go.”

“Yes.”

His Highness turns his gaze towards the knight on guard.

After giving some sort of signal, the knight enters from another entrance.

Aside from the grand door, there seems to be a door that the knights use to enter and exit.

We wait for several seconds until the knight returns and announces that the prince has been granted permission to enter.

And then――

The door opens.

We head towards the noblest place in the country.

A throne is elevated at the end of the red carpet.

There sat our king.

His Highness and I advance on the carpet, dropping to our knees halfway.

“We have returned, Father.”

“Hmm. Good to have you back, Alectos. And…you must be Meiana Pheles.”

“Yes!”

“A good answer. Both of you may raise your heads.”

I raise my head hesitantly.

Our eyes meet with the king sitting high above.

“You’ve had a long journey. Alectos, Meiana.”

I am not unfamiliar with the face of the king.

There are few people who haven’t seen him, having lived in the capital of the country.

Even ordinary people see him at parades and speeches.

I have seen him a few times too.

He has an impressive beard, and the number of wrinkles gives a sense of dignity, with an atmosphere that is fit for a king.

Even though I was seeing him up close like this, he didn’t have as much intimidation as I thought he would.

His expression was surprisingly calm, to the point of being anticlimactic.

“I heard you have an important report. What did you find?”

“Yes. The report is not from me, but from Meiana, who has succeeded in deciphering it.

“Oh, you were able to decipher the runes on the tablet.”

“Yes. She is a magician who master the runes.”

His Highness’s gaze and the King’s gaze both turned to me.

Expectations and curiosity mixed together.

It’s harder not to be nervous.

That’s why I will speak as loudly and clearly as possible, looking straight ahead.

“I am happy to report!”

As if concealing my weakness.

In order to muster up courage, more than just anxiety or tension.

There was barely enough time.

I conveyed the information I saw through the tablet to the King.

What happened four thousand years ago.

The fight with the Demon God and the sealing it deep within the land.

“So there is a ruin beneath this castle?”

“Yes. According to the memory of a spellcaster who engraved runes on a stone tablet, there is a base for the humans who fought against the Demon God in the underground of this castle.”

“Then what is the site where the tablet was found?”

“That is the spellcaster’s research facility. He studied rune magic there and left behind for future generations the spell of sealing the Demon God for good and that it would eventually revive.”

Hoping for a spellcaster like me who can decipher the runes.

So that someone in the future doesn’t have to experience the same sadness as he did.

I have received the message that the great sorcerer left for the future.

“I see…I understand. Alectos! You will be in charge of the first to third squads of the knights. Start exploring the ruins immediately.”

“Yes, sir!”

“It was a great achievement, Meiana. Thanks to your work, we have the chance to prevent the tragedy that will inevitably occur. We have created a foothold to save the kingdom and its people. You could truly be called a hero.”

“Well, I only fulfilled the tasks given to me, sir. To be called a hero…”

“You don’t have to be humble. I acknowledge you. Be proud. You have accomplished a great feat that only you could achieve.”

The encouragement from His Majesty pierces through my heart.

Now, I understand.

Even though I’m so close to His Majesty, why do I feel relaxed…

“Well done, Meiana.”

“Your Majesty…”

His Majesty looks similar to this person next to me.

It’s natural if you think about it.

After all, His Majesty is the father of the person who accepted me.

Not only did His Highness acknowledge my effort, but also His Majesty.

I couldn’t ask for more happiness than this.

Joy wells up inside me, and tears nearly come out.

“Meiana, I want you to participate in the investigation. Your help will be necessary.”

“Yes!”

“Very well, a good answer. Now, I need to give you a reward for your achievements. Meiana, do you want anything?”

“Something…?”

I didn’t expect to receive a reward from His Majesty, so I’m surprised.

Even though I’m suddenly asked, I can’t come up with an answer.

“You can ask for anything.”

“…”

What I need…what I want.

Money can be earned through work, and the money I have earned as an apprentice so far remains untouched.

As for position, I have it to some extent.

As for honor…I don’t really think I want it.

I don’t need everyone’s recognition.

I just want someone who can look at me properly, even if it’s just one person.

That wish has come true.

If possible, I hope to continue working alongside His Highness in the future…

“Is there anything you wish for?”

“Father, it’s not something you can easily say even if you suddenly ask like that.”

“Hmm, I see. Sorry about that. Then we’ll talk about it another day——”

“Wait! There’s one thing! May I ask for one thing?”

I raise my voice.

His Highness and His Majesty both react with surprise.

Even I feel like I’ve come up with a bold request.

But it’s something I need.

To move forward, free from entanglements, from now on.

I will discard the current version of myself.

Chapter 19: It’s too late now

After finishing my report to His Majesty, I decided to return to the Pheles household.

His Highness was also tired from the long journey.

I wanted to start exploring the ruins right away, but I was advised by His Majesty to take a rest for about two days.

He apparently meant to act quickly after recovering physically.

Therefore, I too am free for two days.

In this country, there is only one place for me to return to in the capital, and that is the Pheles household, even if I don’t have any good memories there.

“Sigh…”

I take a deep breath in front of the mansion.

It has gotten late, and it’s now approaching dusk.

I wonder if Onee-sama has finished work and come home.

While hoping that everyone is there, I enter the mansion with determination.

Why do I feel so resolute about returning to my home?

To me, this mansion is like a prison.

I’m not allowed to leave without permission, and even the servants avoid me so I have nowhere to go.

The country’s top is His Majesty, but the king of this mansion is…

“I’m back, Otoo-sama.”

This person is my father.

Albert Pheles, the current head of the Pheles family.

“You’re back, Meiana.”

“Yes.”

I reported my return to my father who was in his office.

I was prepared to be scolded for going to Laurier without saying anything.

But surprisingly, his expression is calm.

“Good timing. Let’s have dinner now.”

“Y-Yes.”

No objections?

“Let’s talk there leisurely.”

“…Yes.”

No, it won’t end that easily.

I gulp nervously.

When I entered the dining room for dinner, Okaa-sama also appeared late.

“Oh, welcome back, Meiana.”

“Yes, Okaa-sama.”

It’s unusual for her to greet me.

It’s never happened before.

She usually only talks to Onee-sama and ignores me.

It’s eerie how she’s talking so naturally now.

I don’t know, this doesn’t feel right…

“Sit down. Let’s eat.”

“What about Onee-sama?”

“Leticia is still in the court.”

“She seems busy. She’s been coming home late every day recently.”

“I see… I didn’t know.”

Onee-sama is still working, battling against an overwhelming amount of work, just like I did a little while ago.

It’s unfortunate, but it’s just returning to its original state, the burden that she had pushed onto me.

I can’t sympathize with her.

However, I am a little curious about what Otoo-sama and the others think about her situation.

Do they really not care?

Or are they just hiding their frustration?

If it’s the latter, then I am always the one who bears the brunt of their outburst.

Quietly, the meal begins.

“I heard that you’re working under His Highness Alectos, Meiana. Is that true?”

Otoo-sama broke the silence.

Without any pretext, he only asks a question.

I naturally stop eating.

“Yes.”

“I see. You went with His Highness to Laurier too, right?”

“Yes.”

“What kind of work were you doing?”

“I cannot answer that yet.”

Even if they were family, this was not something to compromise on.

Even His Majesty said that an official announcement would be made after the discovery of the ruins.

Until then, it should be kept confidential.

I expected to be asked this question, so I don’t panic.

“…I see. If that is His Highness’s wish, I will not ask. In any case, well done.”

“――!”

Did Otoo-sama just praise me?

Otoo-sama, who has never praised me before…

“I am truly surprised. I never imagined you would be favored by His Highness!”

“Okaa-sama.”

“Hey, how did you and His Highness meet? What kind of conversations do you have?”

Okaa-sama is talking to me so cheerfully, like a child, asking questions… I’ve never seen her like this before.

The person who is always unfriendly in front of me, and doesn’t even look at me…

“His Highness’s age is certainly close to yours, right?”

Now she is looking straight at me as she speaks.

Even Otoo-sama looks pleased.

It’s a good thing.

For the first time in my life, I’m sitting at a family-like dinner table.

It’s supposed to be…

It’s disgusting.

That’s what I thought.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was my heart’s cry.

So…

“Otoo-sama,Okaa-sama! I have something important to tell you.”

“What is it?”

“What’s wrong?”

I came prepared.

Today, I will be reborn in this place.

I take a deep breath.

After composing myself, I place an envelope on the table.

“What’s this?”

“It’s a special exemption document that His Majesty gave me.”

“Exemption?”

“Yes. The paper guarantees my…my personal noble status.”

I succinctly convey these words.

My wise Otoo-sama and Okaa-sama realize the meaning behind my words.

The two of them stare at me in surprise.

As an added confirmation, I clearly state it myself.

“Otoo-sama, Okaa-sama…as of today, I am leaving the Pheles family.”

This does not simply mean leaving the house.

It means leaving the noble lineage of the Pheles family…in other words, cutting ties with them.

Chapter 20: Rain is cold, tears are warm

“Meiana.”

Otoo-sama’s low voice resonates.

The peaceful atmosphere from earlier freezes.

“Do you understand what that means?”

His cold, sharp gaze pierces through me.

I feel a chilling sensation run down my spine.

“Do you understand? Cutting ties with us… Is that what you said?”

Okaa-sama is the same.

She’s smiling, but it’s a cold smile.

The two of them stare at me, blaming me.

“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that now.”

“Yes, the food won’t taste good if we don’t enjoy it. Let’s eat happily.”

“…”

But I refuse to succumb to that pressure and speak out loud.

“I’ll leave this house! As of this day, I’m no longer a part of the Pheles family!”

“――!”

They are shocked.

Perhaps they didn’t expect me to be so clear and resolute in my rejection.

Otoo-sama stops eating, places his elbow on the table, and clasps his hands together.

“What are you thinking? Leaving the house? How dare you.”

“Exactly. Do you think it’s that easy?”

“…That’s why I received a special exemption from His Majesty. Please read the contents.”

Otoo-sama glares at me.

He sighs in exasperation and looks at the contents of the envelope.

In brief, the contents written there are like this:

I recommend that I exit the Pheles house.

And my noble status will be maintained even after I leave the Pheles family.

In other words, I am allowed to become independent from the Pheles family.

By none other than the king of this country.

Normally, even the king cannot deeply intervene in the situation of other families.

However, if the parties involved wish it, the king can support it.

And this special exemption is just such a support.

“Why on earth has His Majesty done? No, what have you done?”

“I’m not going to answer that.”

“Meiana!”

An angry voice echoes.

With a volume that I have never heard before, a face filled with rage, like that of a demon.

Otoo-sama glares at me.

I’m scared.

But, if I back down here, nothing will change.

I have already decided to stop living in fear.

So that I can continue to work by His Highness’s side.

And become a person worthy of being His Highness’s subordinate.

“I have always thought about it. Is there a place for me in this household? Without a doubt, there is no such thing.”

My sister was always favored, while I was treated as a failure and ignored even when spoken to, not even looking me in the eye.

That kind of treatment continued for over a decade.

“I know that I am inferior to Onee-sama. But even so… I wanted to be recognized, even if not as an equal.”

For my efforts.

Not just Onee-sama, I am here too.

I tried to shout it out.

I learned knowledge and searched for things I could do.

But the two of them didn’t even spare a glance my way.

“I wanted to be recognized… by both of you, by Otoo-sama’s praise, and even when I talked to Okaa-sama, I didn’t feel happy.”

I just felt sick.

I was uncomfortable.

I can’t just disappear.

The treatment I’ve received until now, the invisible scars…

“I’m not happy to be treated kindly or to be accepted after all this time.”

“So what? You wanted to be acknowledged? Then produce the appropriate results. That’s why this happened.”

“——Yes.”

As I thought, these people are not looking at me.

Even now, they’re different from what they seem to be acknowledging.

The two of them must be looking at His Highness behind me, not me.

“It’s the same as Jerick-sama.”

Otoo-sama responds slightly.

“You already know. I was offered to be engaged to Jerick-sama again. However, I declined.”

“I’m listening. It’s… not that I need to hear why anymore.”

“Yes. I will renounce the Pheles name. There’s no meaning in being engaged to me.”

“…Is that so? Then do as you please.”

“Husband.”

“If His Majesty is involved, we should respect Meiana’s wishes. There was never a place for you in this house to begin with.”

Yes, I was clearly told.

I knew it.

But it’s still shocking to hear it so confidently from Otoo-sama.

“Thank you for everything until now.”

I am grateful for raising me.

Even if there was no love.

I was able to live until today because I had a home to return to.

I lost that.

No, I gave it up myself.

To move forward.

I leave the mansion alone.

The last meal didn’t go down well.

I finish packing quickly and look up at the night sky with my luggage in hand.

“It looks like it’s going to rain.”

Thick clouds cover the stars and the moon cannot be seen.

“Meiana?”

“――!”

When I return my gaze, she is there in front of me.

My older sister, the one always compared to me.

“Onee-sama.”

“You have returned.”

“Yes.”

She looks tired.

She is clearly exhausted and her eyes look bad.

It’s hard to see in the dark, but does she have dark circles under her eyes?

“Where are you going at this time?”

“…I am leaving the Pheles family.”

“Huh?”

My surprised Onee-sama freezes.

It’s fortunate that we were able to meet today, even if it was just by chance.

I can say goodbye to my last family member.

“Why…”

“I’m no longer a part of the Pheles family. That’s why I won’t return to this mansion.”

It must be hard for her that I’m leaving.

Otoo-sama and Okaa-sama always used me as a stress outlet.

After I’m gone, Onee-sama will have to take on Otoo-sama and the others’ feelings by herself.

As a family, as a daughter with high expectations.

I no longer have the right or qualification for that.

“Why are you suddenly leaving?”

“You understand, don’t you? This wasn’t my place to begin with…so it was a good opportunity.”

I’ve said what needs to be said.

I don’t want to stay any longer.

I start walking and pass by my sister.

“Goodbye, Onee-sama.”

“――Meiana.”

Will this be our final conversation as sisters?

I don’t look back.

I didn’t ask what expression she had on her face or what she wanted to say.

I hurriedly walked, without even asking.

I was afraid that my resolution would dull if I stopped.

I’m free from entanglements now.

I can go anywhere on my own two feet.

Where am I going from here?

Alone… In the pouring rain…

“You’ll catch a cold, Meiana.”

“――Your Highness.”

Before I knew it, His Highness was in front of me.

Getting wet in the rain without a care.

“I guess we’re done here.”

“…Yes.”

“Did you convey it properly?”

“…Yes.”

“You did good.”

“――Thank you.”

It’s not fair.

If he says kind words like this now, tears will overflow.

I didn’t intend to cry in front of His Highness.

I weep pitifully, and His Highness pulls my head to his chest.

“It’s not going to stop for a while. This rain…”

As if telling me that I’m not alone.

Chapter 21: Morning at the Royal Castle

Morning comes.

The sun is always the same.

No matter what happens in the world, no matter how people’s hearts change, it rises in the sky with an indifferent expression.

Even on mornings when you don’t want to wake up, it’s already morning, and it shines telling you to get up.

“…Ugh.”

It was a slightly gloomy morning.

This feeling is also something I haven’t had in a while.

I slowly open my eyelids and lift my heavy body.

“…”

I look at the clock while in a daze.

It was just a little later than usual.

It’s not like I hate my job.

I’m just tired.

After returning from a long-term mission in Laurier, I made a final decision.

I said goodbye to my family and the home I grew up in.

It was a parting I had prepared myself for.

It wasn’t a comfortable place to be, and I didn’t know what love for a family felt like since I had never experienced it.

But still, I couldn’t help but feel something.

After spending more than a decade together, it’s only natural for my heart to waver.

I don’t want to think of myself as pitiful for feeling this way.

“Phew…alright.”

Slaps my face with both hands.

The strength of the pain is just right.

My body is healthy, but my mind is tired.

I have work to do from now on.

I don’t want to worry too much.

Even if it’s just a show, let’s put some spirit into it.

Today, a new job starts again.

I have a light breakfast.

It’s convenient to have a kitchen, toilet, and shower in the room.

I fix my bed head in front of the mirror, change my clothes, and brush my teeth.

I change my shoes and check my final appearance.

It should be perfectly fitted.

I leave the room and head to work.

But there’s no need to hurry.

After all, this is…

“I really…don’t know what will happen in life.”

Because it’s inside the royal castle.

“Good morning, Meiana-sama.”

“Ah, good morning.”

As soon as I leave the room, a guard knight greets me.

I walk nervously because it’s an unfamiliar experience.

They said to come to the office in the morning, but is it too early?

Thinking back on Laurier.

His Highness had already started working earlier than me.

He’s surely still facing documents in his room even now.

I picked up my pace a little and arrived at the second prince’s office.

I took a deep breath and knocked on the door, “Excuse me, it’s Meiana. Your Highness.”

“What is it?” came the response.

“May I come in?”

“Sure, come on in.”

I opened the door with a click, relieved to see the scene just as I had expected.

His Highness was sitting at a table, his hand on the documents.

“Good morning, Meiana.”

“Good morning, Your Highness Alectos.”

His Highness stopped working and asked me kindly, “Did you sleep well?”

“Yes, I slept soundly.”

“Good. I’m glad to hear that.”

His Highness beamed with joy.

“Thank you so much for arranging the room for me!”

“It’s no problem. We have plenty of rooms, and my father approved of it as well.”

I left the Pheles household.

I could not return to the mansion and was without a place to stay, but it was His Highness who offered me a place to live.

He suggested that I should stay in a room in the royal castle.

I was surprised that the Emperor readily agreed to it.

I never thought that I would lose my home and end up living in the royal castle.

“Thank you very much. I will never forget your kindness in granting my selfish request.”

“You’re exaggerating. This is just a fair reward for those who have achieved results.”

“No, if it’s a reward, the special exemption was enough. Really, to go this far for me…”

“You’re very sincere. It’s not just for your sake, anyway. It’s more convenient for you to stay in the royal castle for the work that will begin from now on.”

“Yes.”

His Highness mentions the work that will start from now on.

Even after the work in Laurier finishes, I can still remain as a subordinate of His Highness.

I secretly feel happy about that.

I can still work close to him.

To keep this happiness going, I will do my best today as well.

“Your Highness, what should I do?”

“Well, right now, I’ve ordered the knights to search inside and outside the royal castle.”

The ruins where the Demon God was sealed are in the basement of the royal castle.

By deciphering the Rune Tablet, I learned about the battle with the Demon God that occurred in the past and its aftermath.

The battle against the Demon God took place in this land and a town was built to protect its seal, eventually leading to the formation of a country.

In other words, this country was formed to protect the seal of the Demon God.

Thanks to the knowledge from the tablet, I unexpectedly learned about the formation of the country. However, even more important is the possibility of the Demon God’s revival.

Furthermore, Rune Magic is essential to the seal placed on the Demon God.

“Unfortunately, we haven’t found it yet. Even with the mobilization of magicians searching for the flow of magic… is it in a very deep place, or is it so weak that it cannot be detected?”

“May I join the search as well?”

“Yes, please do. I also want to help, but as you can see, it’s quite a situation here.”

The documents piled up on the table.

His Highness looks busy.

“After this is over, I’ll head over there. Can I count on you for that?”

“Of course.”

I’ll work hard for His Highness who seems to be so busy.

If I can find it before His Highness arrives, I wonder if he will praise me?

Chapter 22: To find the secret entrance

I leave His Highness’s office so as not to disturb his work and head towards the laboratory.

I have a laboratory dedicated to me, located next to my own room.

All necessary tools are available and the environment is similar to the one in the palace where I used to work.

There is no inconvenience at all.

It’s truly a blessing.

“Well then.”

Let’s start exploring right away.

Although, the knights have already been mobilized to search.

Even so, they haven’t found anything yet.

It’s clear that blindly searching won’t work.

Let’s think a little.

There is no doubt that the ruins are underground.

If we could move the castle, would it be easy to find it?

But what if it’s in a deep place as His Highness mentioned?

In the first place, moving is impossible.

The knights are more familiar with the castle than I am.

If they couldn’t find it, it means that it’s not connected to the castle facilities.

Is the entrance hidden or blocked?

It’s said that it doesn’t even show up on the senses of a magician.

Is it weak or far from the magic power?

Or perhaps…

“Is it hidden by runes…?”

The magical power that resides in runic characters is difficult to perceive.

Even among Rune Magicians, they can’t tell unless they touch them directly or get close.

To a simple magician, they are invisible.

If you want to follow the traces of runes, it is best to use other runes.

I take out a transparent, flat crystal from the shelf and carve a rune inside.

“【ᚲ (Kenaz)】.”

The crystal with the rune carved into it becomes an impromptu Rune Stone.

The meaning hidden in 【ᚲ】 is “torch” or “ship”.

It is a runic character that is good at exploration.

A Rune Stone with this engraved can help a magician find what they’re searching for.

It floats upwards and starts moving towards somewhere.

The path that the Rune Stone passes through, faint lines of magic energy remain.

The wish I put into the letters is to follow the traces of runes.

So if it’s moving, that means there are runes inscribed somewhere in this royal castle.

The possibility increases.

I follow the trail left by the Rune Stone.

“Where is it leading to?”

The Rune Stone runs through the hallway, out of the room.

The gradual increase in movement speed is proof that we’re getting closer to the destination.

Turn right, left, go straight.

As I passed by a knight on the way, he looked at me with a puzzled expression as I chased after a stone.

From their point of view, it might seem like I’m just playing around.

Admittedly, the sight of me chasing after a stone might be comical.

But if I worry about it, I’ll only lose.

“I’m not playing. I’m on a mission!”

I tell myself that.

The Rune Stone increases its speed, and I finally can’t keep up with it.

Following its trail…

“Outside?”

The trail leads to the outside, into the courtyard.

The royal castle grounds are vast.

The courtyard is also luxurious and spacious.

The most distinctive feature is a beautiful, white fountain in the center.

The trail of the stone points to the center of the courtyard.

And then…

“It’s stopped here.”

It stops above the fountain, floating.

I observe the fountain.

It’s just a beautiful fountain.

As I peered into the water, I couldn’t help but laugh.

“Hahaha… I’m such a fool, too.”

How could I not have noticed it was so close by?

The surface of the rippling fountain.

In the depths, the rune 【ᚠ】 was engraved.

“【ᚠ (Fehu)】 rune… meaning “wealth”, “property”.

In other words, it’s a disguise to hide them.

There is definitely something here.

“First we have to turn off the water.”

Who should I contact in the royal castle to stop the water in the fountain?

I can’t think of anyone right now.

Above all, my curiosity to check inside right away wins out.

I instinctively reach my hand to the surface of the water.

“――【ᛚ (Laguz)】.”

I engrave a rune on the water’s surface.

The runes engraved on non-solid objects disappear after a certain amount of time.

I temporarily manipulate the water in the fountain to adjust the flow and reveal the bottom of it.

Now I can touch it directly.

It’s difficult to trace the runes from above when they’re this large.

However, in this case, there’s no need to activate the rune.

The 【ᚠ】 rune is meant to conceal.

Therefore, if I destroy the rune, the effect will be lost.

As a Rune Magician, destruction is easy.

All I need to do is disrupt the magic power embedded in the letters.

“Open.”

I touch part of the engraved rune, break its shape, and let the magic flow.

Rune letters that have lost their harmony lose their power and crumble.

I heard the sound of something peeling off.

In an instant, the bottom of the fountain cracks.

With a loud cracking sound, a staircase leading to the underground appears beyond the shattered bottom.

“I found it.”

This is the entrance to the ruins.

However, it’s pitch black inside and hard to see, and it seems like it goes on for a long way.

It might be the road leading to the entrance.

It’s a little risky, but let’s find out.

I re-inscribe the Rune Stone I used for exploration and turn it into a light to descend the stairs.

It’s cold underground.

The humidity is also bad, probably because of the fountain’s influence.

I slowly and carefully descend each step.

And then…

“A door?”

A grand metal door towers before me.

There are no other buildings or entrances.

It’s more like a wall than a door.

“…Does it open?”

I don’t know how to open it.

When I shine the light next to the door, I see an unfamiliar pedestal.

Four bracelets are fitted into the pedestal.

“This is…”

I take one of them and examine it.

Rune letters were engraved on the side of the bracelet.

Read and understand the meaning of the engraved characters.

“So that’s how it is…”

As expected, this is a door.

The entrance to the ruins.

The key to passing through here is this bracelet.

Chapter 23: Looking for friends

I reported to His Highness about my discovery of the entrance and the door I found beyond it.

Sitting in the office chair, His Highness listens to my report.

“The fountain in the garden, huh? It was in an unexpected place. No wonder we couldn’t find it.”

“It was hidden by runes. I don’t think even a magician could have sensed it.”

“So, it’s thanks to you that we found it. You did well with the stone tablet.”

“Thank you.”

His Highness praises me firmly.

Just hearing these words is enough to dispel all the hardships I’ve been through so far.

However, it is not that difficult this time.

“So, is this the bracelet we were looking for?”

“Yes.”

In front of the chair where His Highness sits, four bracelets are lined up on a pedestal on the table.

The runes are clearly visible, although they are rusty.

If polished, they will look beautiful.

“This bracelet is the key to passing through the door, right?”

“Probably. The wall of the door, or rather, is made of a metal similar to iron. I don’t know the hardness, but it’s quite hard.”

“What about the area around the door?”

“It’s soil, rocks, and ground. We can’t just break in from the side. I checked by breaking it up lightly, but it was covered with the same metal after the door. And there were countless runes engraved on everything.”

The door, walls, pedestal.

Runes were inscribed on almost everything that could be confirmed.

And these were not simple numbers like ten or twenty.

Countless runes, a number so great that counting them was difficult, were stacked and inscribed.

“Can’t you decipher it like you did with the stone tablet?”

“It’s difficult. This time it’s on a different scale. Plus, the runes themselves are rejecting magical interference from the outside.”

“Rejecting?”

I nod silently.

The runes on the stone tablet totalled 120 letters.

In contrast, the runes this time, even conservatively estimated, exceed ten thousand.

It took three weeks with only 120 characters.

If we tried to decipher these the same way, it would take years.

In addition, the inscribed runes are rejecting interference from the outside at the will of the spellcaster.

It is difficult to decipher, and even forced destruction is unlikely this time.

The only runes that could be deciphered were those engraved on the bracelet, which I conveyed to His Highness once again.

“I see. Then there’s no choice but to use the key to enter and exit.”

“Yes.”

His Highness crosses his arms and ponders.

Although it’s just speculation, only those who are wearing this bracelet are allowed to proceed beyond the door.

There are only four bracelets.

“If it’s sealed with Rune Magic, it’s better to assume that there’s a similar mechanism inside. One of the four has to be you, Meiana, you’re the most suitable.”

“Yes!”

I replied confidently.

I didn’t need His Highness to tell me that. I already had every intention to do so.

Only I can handle Rune Magic countermeasures.

Most of all, I was interested.

For someone like me who has had few opportunities to touch Rune Magic outside of literature, being able to touch an Ancient Artifact is an unimaginable chance.

This excavation will lead to my own growth.

And then, I can be even more useful to His Highness.

“Two more to go.”

“Two more?”

“Yeah, you and me, the two of us, two more left.”

“Your Highness, are you planning to join the exploration as well?”

I ask, surprised.

Then, His Highness makes a dissatisfied expression.

“What? You don’t want to team up with me?”

“T-That’s not true! I’m happy about it.”

He asked the same mean question as before.

I immediately denied it and spoke my true feelings, enduring the embarrassment.

“Haha, just kidding. Well, that’s nice.”

As he said that, His Highness smiled a little happily.

“Don’t worry. Despite my appearance, I’m strong. Not to brag, but there’s no magician in this country stronger than me. Except for Rune Magic, that is.”

“I am well aware of that.”

His Highness Alectos is a genius in magic.

Even in the court where many talented magicians gather, his talent surpasses them all.

He is the second prince and the best magician of modern times.

Realizing once again, I am talking to a great person in such close proximity.

“Anyway, it doesn’t matter if they’re few. I want someone with skill and reliability rather than a random person.”

“Yes.”

I strongly agree with that.

If His Highness is present, we should add someone whom he trusts.

I’m not good at dealing with other people, but if His Highness chooses them, everything will be alright.

“Have you already decided whom you will choose, Your Highness?”

“Well…there is one candidate. Though he’s still young, his talent is second to none in this country.”

“The most talented in the kingdom?”

Does His Highness have someone in mind who he can say that about so confidently?

I wonder who it is.

No one immediately comes to mind.

If I think of someone strong, it would be the members of the Kingdom’s prized knight order.

There are also court magicians…but His Highness is more…

Since I can’t figure it out, I decided to just ask honestly.

“What kind of person is he?”

“…The Hero.”

His Highness says in a low voice, a smirk appearing on his face.

“The only one in this country chosen by the Holy Sword.”

“Holy Sword…someone like that is in this country?”

“Yes, there is. Perfect timing.”

His Highness stands up from his chair.

“Let’s go meet him now. It’s a scout.”

“Y-Yes!”

The person chosen by the Holy Sword…the Hero.

What kind of amazing person could he be?

Imagining a muscular man, I leave the room with His Highness, excitement building inside me.

Chapter 24: Timid and brave

What is a hero――

One who is selected by the Holy Sword.

It is also a name that appears many times in the long history of the kingdom.

They were heroes.

They led great battles to victory, repelled great evils, brought peace to the weak, and gave courage to their comrades fighting together.

Therefore, they are called heroes.

Not everyone can become one.

Being chosen by the Holy Sword means being able to hear the voice of heaven.

Only those humans who are loved by the gods who may be somewhere in the world are qualified to receive it.

His Highness often praises me.

He says that I was chosen because I can use Rune Magic.

However, in the true sense of the word, only a hero is worthy of this title.

“It’s over here.”

“Here?”

The Knight’s Order headquarters.

It is the headquarters of the knights, the most powerful force in the kingdom, in which they take great pride throughout history.

Even now, the shouts of the knights training can be heard clearly.

Magicians may be strong, but they are not all-powerful.

Swordsmanship, spear technique, archery, physical combat… it is natural that those who have trained their bodies well will have the advantage.

The kingdom is not supported by magicians alone.

Rather, I think it is the knights who have trained their bodies and wield swords with their own strength that are the strongest and the greatest fortress.

“Is the hero among the knights?”

“Yeah, I just enlisted him the other day.”

So I didn’t know very well.

I have had opportunities to meet with the knights on the same castle grounds.

If there were a prominent presence like the hero, I should have heard rumors.

I didn’t know because he hadn’t been around until recently.

Even so, it’s not strange that he wasn’t talked about more…

I wonder what kind of person he is?

I am now even more interested.

As I advanced into the barracks, the knights were sweating and training.

They stopped and bowed politely to His Highness, and I was even more nervous than His Highness, who was used to it.

We continued to advance further.

We arrived at a large hall, and His Highness stopped.

“I wonder where he is.”

Mumbling while scanning the surroundings.

It seems like this is one of the training grounds too.

Relatively young knights were training around us.

It looks like they are being instructed by senior knights.

“What’s wrong with you?! You still have ten left!”

“Hyee… I can’t do it anymore. Please forgive me.”

“Don’t act like a baby, Zion!”

“Hyii! I’m sorry, I’m sorry!”

A boy with noticeable blue hair is on his hands and knees, holding a wooden sword.

He is especially young among the others.

From his appearance, he looks about 13 or 14.

He’s still a child.

He looks really timid, he doesn’t seem like a knight at all.

Although he is certainly training, it looks more like abuse.

It seems that even children are subjected to such harsh training in the world of knights.

“Oh, there he is. Zion!”

“Huh?”

Zion, is that the name of that timid little boy?

Oh, could it be that strict senior who is leading him is the hero?

They both turn this way.

As he seems so strict, I wonder if I can become friends with him…

I suddenly feel anxious.

“The prince is calling for you! Hurry up!”

“Y-Yes!”

The boy quickly runs over to us.

Could it be that the boy, not the hero, is the one who came over to us… No, it couldn’t be.

“W-What is it?”

“I’m here to recruit you.”

“Eh, Y-Your Highness, is this child really…the hero?”

“That’s right! He’s the hero chosen by the Holy Sword, Zion.”

I do a double-take at the unexpected person in front of me.

The young boy in front of me is looking at me with scared eyes and hugging a wooden sword tightly with both arms.

His already small body looks even smaller.

But upon closer inspection, his eyes are a beautiful emerald green, clear like glass.

“Come on, Zion, introduce yourself too.”

“Y-Yes sir! My name is Zion. Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too. I am Meiana, a court magician.”

We bow to each other while taking a step back.

When I meet his eyes, Zion-kun looks away.

Maybe he’s just really shy around new people.

“Your Highness, this child is really the hero?”

“Hmm, You don’t believe me?”

“N-No, it’s not like that.”

“It’s fine. Certainly, he doesn’t look like a hero with that appearance.”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!”

“Why are you apologizing…”

Zion-kun is bowing his head while begging for forgiveness, and His Highness is looking at him with exasperation.

He doesn’t seem to look like a hero, even His Highness acknowledges it.

“I think it’s better to see this for ourselves. Hey, you guys, gather around.”

His Highness gathered the knights who were training.

Young knights and senior knights who were instructing them gathered quickly.

There were over twenty people.

Being surrounded like this, it is somewhat intimidating.

“What can I do for you, Your Highness?”

“Give me a hand. All of you and Zion, in mock combat training.

“W-What?! Me alone?”

“Yes. But you can use the Holy Sword to fight. However, be careful not to cause injuries. I’m sure you can do it.”

“N-No way! I’ll just get beat up one-sidedly!”

Zion-kun refused with teary eyes.

I feel sorry for him.

“If you don’t like it, then fight with all your might.”

His Highness gave him a stern look and a harsh word.

It’s a bit scary how forceful he is.

In the end, Zion-kun couldn’t refuse and the mock combat between him and the knights began.

The knights use wooden swords.

Their killing power is low, but there’s a big difference in numbers.

Normally, he would be unilaterally lynched.

Zion-kun, who was timid and easily intimidated, was the obvious victim of bullying.

“Your Highness, will this be all right?

“Yeah. If I don’t do this, he won’t draw his sword.”

“Let’s go, Zion! It’s in front of His Highness! We’ll give it our all too!”

“W-Why…why is this happening…”

The knights were also motivated.

They didn’t seem to care about the bullying-like situation.

It seems that only Zion-kun and I were confused.

“That guy is obviously a coward. But there is no lie in the fact that he is the hero chosen for the Holy Sword. If he pulls out the Holy Sword, even if he usually is unreliable――”

“Let’s go!”

“I-I don’t know what’s going to happen anymore!”

A pure white sword is summoned in front of a frightened Zion-kun’s chest.

He draws it out, still sheathed in its scabbard.

Immediately after――

The wind blows.

I didn’t even blink.

I was staring intently…but I couldn’t see it.

Before I knew it, the wooden swords of the knights had been cut and the blade parts were falling to the ground with a clatter.

Zion-kun wasn’t in their line of sight.

Zion-kun had drawn his Holy Sword behind them.

“That’s…”

“Yeah. That’s the Hero Zion.”

Chapter 25: Praise

His profile after drawing out the Holy Sword was dignified and there was not a trace of unreliability.

The aura of a seasoned veteran, the grace of a strong person.

Even as a novice in swordsmanship, I could feel the atmosphere surrounding him.

The Holy Sword shone as if pulsating.

There is no mistaking his current appearance.

Truly the appearance of a hero, one chosen by the heavens.

Zion-kun sheathed the Holy Sword.

“——S-Sorry!”

Suddenly, he began apologizing in a loud voice.

“I broke one of the Knight Order’s equipment! I’ll make reparations, I promise! But I don’t have much money! I’ll do anything, just spare my life!”

“Huh?”

The dignified appearance just a moment ago was nowhere to be found.

The atmosphere changed as if he was a completely different person when he drew out the Holy Sword than when he was his usual self.

“Calm down, Zion. I gave the order. There’s no need for you to compensate, and besides, a wooden sword is a consumable item anyway.”

“S-So, I don’t need to make reparations?”

“That’s what I said. Geez, sorry for the trouble, everyone, and thank you for your cooperation.”

The knights bowed their heads in gratitude to His Highness.

The profiles of the knights looked a little regretful.

Everyone went back to their respective training.

“Then, I’ll be going too…”

“You stay.”

“Eek!”

He is grabbed by the nape of his neck and freezes up like a cat.

“W-Why?”

“It’s not ‘why.’ I told you I came to scout you.”

“A-And I joined the Order!”

“That’s not what I’m talking about. This is a new matter. I want to borrow your power.”

His Highness extends his hand to Zion-kun.

A request from His Highness directly.

If it were me, I would gladly take his hand.

“W-What are you going to make me do?”

However, he is cautious.

Or rather, he seems to be doubting himself too much out of fear.

“It’s a survey of a certain ruin. There is a limit to the number of people who can participate. Since we don’t know what kind of dangers there are, we are gathering people who are skilled and trustworthy.”

“T-Then I’m not a good fit. I’m weak and like this.”

“Listen…don’t call yourself weak. Then, were all the knights you fought weak?”

“N-No, that’s not it! I think everyone trained harder and is stronger than me.”

“Well, they’re not weak. If you say that you, who defeated them, are weak, then it’s disrespectful to them, right?”

“Uh…I’m sorry.”

It’s rare for His Highness to lecture someone.

Looking at the downcast Zion-kun, I suddenly feel the urge to comfort him.

“Anyway, you’re strong enough to say that you should be more confident! Have some self-awareness! You’re a hero!”

“Even if you say that…”

“Having awareness is difficult.”

“Meiana?”

Unexpectedly, what I was thinking in my head slipped out of my mouth.

The two of them focus their gazes on me.

“Oh, sorry! I spoke out of turn.”

“No, it’s fine. You should speak your mind. Especially in front of me, don’t hold back.”

“Yes, um…I think you don’t have self-awareness because you don’t have self-confidence. I’ve been… I’ve been like that for a long time. I used to think, “Why can’t I do this?”

I’ve been compared to my sister, who can do everything flawlessly.

More often than not, I can’t do it.

My sister is excellent, and I’m a failure.

That difference has been shoved in my face constantly.

I never thought I could be proud of the only Rune Magic I could do.

“Recently, I finally gained confidence. His Highness praised me for doing something amazing, and I was able to produce results… Thanks to His Highness, I was able to think about what I could do.”

“I haven’t done anything, though. I just gave you a word of encouragement.”

“That was important to me. Surely, Zion-kun feels the same way.”

“…”

I look at Zion-kun.

My face reflects in his beautiful emerald green eyes.

It’s a strange feeling.

Me, being able to comfort others or convey something…

“It’s good to be praised a lot. If you show something amazing, work hard, and get recognition for it… You will surely gain confidence. It was like that for me.”

“――Beautiful.”

“Huh?”

I am surprised by the words that leaked out of Zion-kun’s mouth.

“W-Well, I didn’t mean it in a weird way, I meant it from the heart!”

“My heart?”

“Yes. I can see your heart… You’re the first person I’ve seen with such a beautiful heart.”

“My heart is…”

Beautiful?”

I wonder what he sees.

I have never imagined something as formless as a heart.

But being praised for it rather than my appearance…

“Thank you, Zion-kun.”

It feels good to be praised for my heart.

I wish I could see it too.

I wanted to know how I looked to those beautiful eyes.

“I-I’ll do it!”

“Zion-kun?”

“Oh, did you suddenly get motivated?”

“Yes! Well, I… I also hated myself like this and wanted to change. That’s why His Highness told me to join the knight order…”

“Oh, I see.”

His Highness looks at Zion-kun with a gentle eye.

What was Zion-kun doing before joining the knight order?

“If there’s something I can do, I’ll work hard! So, if it goes well…I want you to praise me.”

“Oh, I’ll give you plenty of praise. I’m expecting great things from you too.”

“Y-Yes, sir!”

I hear a lively response.

“From now on, please take care of me, Zion-kun.”

“Yes! T-Thank you very much! I-I’ll do my best!”

Today, I met the hero.

It’s still a long way off before he can truly be called a hero.

Chapter 26: That question, I’m confused!

“Z-Zion. Nice to meet you!”

“It’s the second time, isn’t it?”

“Nice to meet you.”

Zion-kun bows deeply towards us.

Zion-kun has joined us as a member of the ruins exploration team.

We moved to the reception room in the Order’s barracks and explained the situation to him face to face.

“Zion, you’ll be joining us to investigate the ruins.”

“Yes. Um, is it the ruins of Laurier?”

“No, we’ve already finished with that one. Thanks to the excellent Rune Magician beside me, we were able to discover a new ruin.”

“Meiana-san found a new ruin? T-That’s amazing!”

Zion-kun straightens his back and praises me.

His Highness also looks proud.

Even though I have experienced it many times, the feeling of superiority from being called excellent never gets old.

Especially when it comes from two people who are truly talented, it’s bigger than when someone else says it.

“W-Well, does this have anything to do with the Order moving around in the royal castle?”

“Oh, you finally noticed. That’s correct. The ruins are located underground beneath the royal castle and the entrance was found by Meiana. You can descend from the fountain in the courtyard.”

“The fountain? I see. Even though I go there often, I didn’t realize it.”

“Me neither.”

“It was hidden by runes. Also, the fountain was big, so you wouldn’t notice the runes on the bottom unless you observe it carefully and with intent.”

Ordinary people would just think it was some kind of pattern.

I was able to notice it because I was familiar with runes and touched them regularly.

His Highness explains further.

The stone tablet of Laurier described the location where the Demon God was sealed and the possibility that it would be revived in due course.

That ruin is located at the end of the fountain.

The entrance is heavily guarded and difficult to destroy or unlock in time.

The right to enter and leave is only held by the four bracelets with runes engraved on them.

“Your Highness, Me-Meiana-san will also participate, right?”

“Yes, of course.”

“I’ll do my best not to be a burden.”

“I-I see.”

He mutters a small “thank goodness”.

Zion-kun seemed relieved to hear that we would be together and showed it in his expression.

And notice.

“Um, what about the other person…?”

His Highness and I look at each other and then back at Zion-kun.

“It’s not decided yet. It’s just the three of us at the moment.”

“I-I see…”

“Yeah, we still need one more person.”

His Highness puts his hand on his chin and takes a posture of thinking.

He must be thinking of someone other than Zion-kun, but it doesn’t seem to come to mind immediately.

It’s understandable that there aren’t many talented people beyond the Hero.

“The last one should also be a capable person. We already have two magicians. If it’s going to be a sealed relic of the Demon God, there’s a high possibility that demon beasts are living there. We need someone to fight with Zion…”

“How about recruiting from the Knight Order?”

I suggest a safe opinion to His Highness.

The people from the Knight Order know Zion-kun and are trained hard every day.

I’m sure we can find the right person for the job, but His Highness’s reaction was subtle.

“Not bad, but the Order is troublesome in various ways. Zion is an exception.”

“What do you mean by troublesome?”

“Well, you know. The knight order is an organization that protects the kingdom, and they’re not my direct subordinates. The right to give orders is held by the royal family and ministers. Zion is not a problem because I brought him, but there is a person who’ll make a fuss if I personally recruit other members.”

The prince shook his head with a sigh.

I tilted my head.

I understand that the Order does not belong to His Highness alone.

However, His Highness has the right to give orders, and investigating the ruins is one of the important missions.

If the Demon God is sealed there, I think it’s also the knight order’s job to prevent a crisis before it happens.

I wonder who His Highness meant by the person who makes a fuss.

It feels different from the king.

If that’s the case, it’s someone from the same royal family, perhaps the prince’s older brother…

“For now, let me contact a few people. The two of you will have to wait during that time. Sorry about that.”

“Understood.”

“Y-Yes.”

“I’m sorry. I forgot and needed to attend a meeting with the knight’s order as soon as possible. Can you wait here for me? It should be over in about twenty minutes.”

His Highness stands up looking busy.

“Understood. I’ll wait here.”

“Sorry about that. Well, it’s a good opportunity for you two to talk and get to know each other.”

“Yes.”

His Highness waves his hand lightly and quickly leaves the reception room.

He’s still as busy as ever.

As a highly skilled magician himself, he is counted as one of the valuable forces for the kingdom.

He also occasionally participates in the knight’s order mission.

That must be what these meetings are for.

Now then…

With His Highness gone, silence envelops the reception room where only the two of us are left.

Just the two of us in a large room.

Sitting opposite each other across the table, we can see each other’s faces when we look forward.

Though His Highness suggested talking, I myself am not very good at conversation.

Especially with someone of the opposite sex and with an age difference.

Zion-kun is probably shy too.

He looks nervous and uneasy.

As an older sister figure, I thought I should do something to lighten the mood…

“Oh, um!”

Just as I was thinking that, Zion-kun unexpectedly called out to me.

Summoning his courage.

Although I was a little surprised, I wanted to give a solid response since he had beaten me to it.

What’s wrong?

“Um, Me-Meiana-san, why is your heart so…beautiful?”

“Huh…”

The question he asked was very difficult to answer.

Chapter 27: Similarity?

“Um…”

I am puzzled.

What makes my heart beautiful?”

This is the question I was asked, but what is the right answer?

First of all, what does it even mean for a heart to be beautiful?

I can’t see other people’s hearts.

I don’t know what shape they take, what color they are, or the differences between them.

Until Zion-kun told me, I had never even thought about the shape of my own heart.

I worry, ponder, and come up with the best answer.

In the end, all that comes out of my mouth is…

“I don’t know.”

That’s all I can say.

I try to act like a big sister but fail, and I feel dejected.

“I’m sorry. I can’t answer well.”

“N-No! It’s my fault for asking a weird question! I’m sorry, I’m sorry!”

“Zion-kun doesn’t need to apologize.”

“That’s not it. I just can’t read the situation… That’s why I don’t have any friends, and I’m not good at talking to people.”

Gradually, his voice grows softer.

Zion-kun’s lack of confidence shows in his attitude.

But, on the flip side, it means he had the courage to talk to me, even though it’s something he’s not good at.

Maybe it’s my fault after all.

I feel inadequate for not being able to respond properly to Zion-kun’s courage.

“Hey, Zion-kun, what does the heart look like?”

So, this time, I decided to ask the question.

If he doesn’t know, I’ll make an effort to understand.

It’s the same when I learned Rune Magic.

If you don’t know, you won’t understand; if you don’t have knowledge, you can’t think.

His words, as well as his questions, can be answered if I learn.

“What does it feel like to see the heart?”

“Um, the shapes are all different. The size and the visible location are roughly the same, and it’s here.”

Zion-kun points to his left chest as he speaks.

I imitate him and touch the same spot on my chest.

I can hear my heart beating loudly.

“The heart?”

“Yes, it’s visible floating around there. Meiana-san’s heart is also there.”

“You said my heart is beautiful, right?”

“Yes! It’s really beautiful! It’s like I’m being sucked in just by looking at it!”

Zion-kun speaks with shining eyes.

Although he seems nervous, he is also slightly excited and leaning forward.

Is my heart really that beautiful?

When I think about it again, I become inexplicably embarrassed.

But as much as that, I become interested.

“W-What kind of shape is it?”

“A flower.”

“A flower?”

“I don’t know what kind of flower it is….”

Zion-kun starts to fidget.

He glances at me briefly, then looks away repeatedly.

Feeling that he wants to say something, I speak gently to him.

“It’s okay. You can say anything.”

“Y-Yes! Actually, um…I once saw Meiana-san at court before.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes. You seemed very busy, and I only saw you for a moment.”

It must have been when I was working as an apprentice.

There were times when I walked around court after leaving the laboratory for a report.

The Order’s headquarters are adjacent to the court, and although our interactions are limited, they can be seen.

It wouldn’t be strange if we passed by each other somewhere.

“At that time, I could see your heart… but it was still a bud.”

“A bud?”

“Yes. It was already beautiful enough. But I thought it would be even more beautiful when it bloomed, so it left an impression on me…”

“Is it blooming now?”

“Yes!”

Zion-kun answered with sparkling eyes.

According to him, the shape of the heart changes.

It changes daily, albeit not much, depending on the mood or situation at the time.

My heart is in the shape of a flower, and it was in a bud state when he first discovered it.

But now, it seems that it’s blooming beautifully.

“So that’s why I couldn’t help but blurt it out.”

“I see. Was it because of that that you asked me the reason earlier?”

“Yes. I was wondering why the bud was blooming. Although I can see the heart, I don’t know the reason for the change.”

“The reason for change… huh.”

I closed my eyes and placed my hand on my left chest.

I imagined my own heart.

Here, a flower is in bloom.

When I worked in the royal court, it seemed like the buds were closed.

But now, they are blooming.

I open my eyes.

“I think it’s because I’ve been liberated.”

“Liberated?”

I nod.

“I was always told that I was a failure and believed that I was a worthless person. But there was someone who told me otherwise.”

That person chose me.

Not my excellent older sister, but he said he needed me.

“If I achieved results, he would recognize it properly. He would praise me and say ‘well done.’ I have always wanted to hear those words. That’s why I think my heart has become beautiful because His Highness has acknowledged me.”

He watered the flower that was a bud.

It gave it a chance to blossom.

My heart’s flower bloomed because I was encouraged by His Highness’ words.

“Thanks to Your Highness, I have gained confidence in myself. That is why I want to be useful to His Highness.”

“――As expected, it’s beautiful.”

Zion-kun says.

While tightly holding his hands in front of his chest.

“That’s Meiana-san’s strength, being able to speak honestly. You’re strong and beautiful.”

“Thank you, Zion-kun.”

Your heart that can speak those words must surely be beautiful, too.

The heart of the one chosen to be a hero can’t be anything but beautiful.

“…I want to be like that, too.”

“You can, I’m sure of it.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Because if I could become like that, then anyone can.”

The important thing is the starting point.

If you can grasp that, people can change.

I know this.

Chapter 28: Do you like rain?

In just a short amount of time, we were able to open up to each other a little.

Perhaps it’s because we’re similar types of people.

Both he and I have been living our lives with no confidence in ourselves, always looking down.

Thanks to His Highness, I started to look forward, and have now begun to walk toward change.

Because we’re similar, we somehow understand each other’s feelings.

Would it be presumptuous to say that I understand how a hero feels?

At least this timid hero in front of me doesn’t think so.

“What did you do before you joined the Order?”

“I was living with my grandma in a small village in the countryside.”

“And then you suddenly joined the Order? That’s amazing.”

“I was lucky. A demon beast attacked the village, and a passing group of knights happened to save us. His Highness was also there and found me.”

“I see.”

It must have been a fateful encounter.

A boy living in a small village comes to the capital as a hero.

“So, did you get the Holy Sword after joining the Order?”

“No, I believe it’s something I was born with. The Holy Sword has assimilated with my body.”

“Sounds like magic.”

“Y-Yes. Even I don’t fully understand it… and I still can’t fully control it even after becoming aware of it.”

Zion-kun’s expression seems to say that he finds himself pathetic.

I recall the battle between the knights and Zion-kun.

A battle that was decided in an instant.

He’s still so strong, but unable to fully control his power?

The power of a hero is even greater than I imagined.

“It was then that His Highness invited you to come to the capital.”

“Yes. At first, I didn’t want to come… but Grandma told me to answer the call if there was someone who needed me. So I had no choice but to come.”

“You were reluctant…”

“A-At first, yes! But I gradually began to think it was worth it.”

As Zion-kun speaks, he looks at my left chest.

He should see a beautiful flower in his eyes.

“The Royal Capital and the Order were both scary, but there were a lot of kind people, so I felt at ease.”

“Because it’s His Highness’s country.”

His Highness himself is a very kind person.

His father, His Majesty, looks a bit scary, but he has kindness within him.

Of course, not everyone is kind.

There are people who are strict, mean, and whom I can’t get along with.

But even if it’s just one person who accepts me, I think that’s good enough.

“We were both lucky to be found by His Highness.”

“Yes.”

“Hey, Zion-kun, what does His Highness’s heart look like?”

I ask him naturally.

It was something I secretly wondered about.

If my heart were a beautiful flower, what about His Highness?

I was curious about how the heart of someone who is kinder than me and shines brighter than anyone else would look.

“His Highness’s heart…?”

“Yeah.”

Zion-kun shows a slightly dark expression.

For a moment, he seemed hesitant.

Thinking that it might be something I shouldn’t ask, I hastily try to deny it.

“If you can’t say it, it’s okay――.”

“It’s raining.”

However, Zion-kun answered.

“Rain?”

“Yes. His highness’s heart is like rain.”

“You mean it’s raining?”

Zion-kun nodded slightly.

There is a metaphorical expression that talks about clouds covering your heart or rain falling representing sadness. Both express sad emotions and are not positive.

Is his highness’s heart crying?

Feeling uneasy, I asked Zion-kun further.

“What’s it like?”

“It’s a gentle rain. Not cold, but slightly warm.”

Good to hear that it’s gentle and warm rain.

Knowing that it’s not a sad rain, I feel relieved.

“But there’s something cold and dark behind that rain.”

“Hmm?”

But I heard ominous words.

“What is it?”

“I don’t know. It’s just something I can see, but… I think his highness is holding some sadness inside his heart, so that’s why the rain…”

Zion-kun’s voice gradually gets smaller.

There is no certainty, and only Zion-kun can see the shape of his heart.

Therefore, in reality, I cannot perceive how His Highness truly feels.

That sensation can only be understood by Zion-kun.

That’s why I feel that the speculation that he mentioned is close to the heart of the matter.

Everyone has troubles that they can’t tell others about.

The troubles that His Highness carries…

I wanted to know.

Not just out of curiosity, but to see if I can help solve those troubles.

I know I’m being too forward.

However, just like how His Highness recognized me, if I can also be of help to him…

With a click, the door opens.

As if timed right, he came back.

“Your Highness.”

“Sorry I’m late. Meiana, Zion.”

He shows his usual gentle smile.

I can’t see his heart.

I just stare straight at his left chest.

“…Rain.”

My voice leaked out.

At that moment, His Highness’s expression seemed to slightly darken.

“Is it raining?”

“No, it’s not that…”

Is it okay for me to ask?

Or rather, will he answer if I ask?

After hesitating for a few seconds, I force out the words I can ask for now.

“Your Highness, do you like rain?”

“――!”

He is surprised by the abrupt question.

Zion-kun is also surprised.

This is the best I can do, even in a roundabout way.

“…Why are you suddenly asking something like that… Well, rain, huh.”

His Highness looks out the window.

“――I hate it.”

He said so and laughed.

It was not his usual smile, but a forced one.

Chapter 29: Was not interested

In the morning, I’m walking down the corridor of the royal palace.

A familiar face approaches from the opposite side.

“Good morning, Meiana-san!”

“Oh, good morning, Zion-kun.”

By chance, I came across Zion-kun.

He was recruited from the countryside and living in the royal palace, just like me.

Because the distance between male and female rooms is quite far, I didn’t get to know him until recently.

“What are you doing here?”

“Oh, just walking around for no reason.”

“Is that so?”

I was just walking around absentmindedly.

It has been two days since then, and time has passed without anything particular to do.

I wonder if His Highness is still looking for the fourth person.

Since I know that he is troubled by something, I have been thinking more about his problems.

Because I have nothing else to do, I’ve been thinking about it only.

“Are you going somewhere, Zion-kun?”

“I have to go to the knight’s training now.”

“I see. Do your best.”

“Yes! What are you planning to do, Meiana-san?”

“I…”

That’s right.

I can’t afford to skip work for two days straight.

I need to find something to do as well.

“I’ll be in the research lab. Studying runes. Looking for something that will help with ruins exploration.”

“I see. Good luck with that.”

“Thank you. Same to you, Zion-kun.”

“Yes.”

I see him off and return the way I came.

It was a coincidence, but it was good to talk to Zion-kun.

Thanks to him, I felt like I had to find something to do.

I’m worried about His Highness’s troubles, but there’s nothing I can do right now.

Certainly, even if I stepped in, His Highness would just be inconvenienced.

“I need to focus on my work.”

I tell myself that and go back to the lab.

When I opened the door, I saw a shadow.

It was a tall man.

For a moment, I thought it was His Highness…but it wasn’t.

It was someone else.

However, it wasn’t like I didn’t know him, but I am puzzled.

Why is this person in my research lab?

He turned around at the sound of the door and our eyes met.

“Long time no see, Meiana Pheles.”

“…Norman-sama.”

The fiancé of my brilliant older sister Leticia.

The young current head of the Heuschel family.

As a noble, his status is higher than that of the Pheles family, so even Leticia can’t show her strength in front of him.

I’m also a member of the Pheles family, so it’s the same for me, but even without those circumstances, I don’t like him.

“Well, you’re no longer part of the Pheles family now.”

“…Why is Norman-sama here?”

“This is your laboratory, isn’t it? If so, then the reason I’m here is because of you. I’m here because I want to talk to you.”

“Me…?”

It was surprising, or rather unnatural.

Norman-sama has never approached me to talk before.

He had no interest in me at all.

His interest was limited to those who would benefit himself.

Leticia was able to become his fiancée because of her connections to the Pheles family and her title as a court magician.

I had nothing, so he probably didn’t want to waste any time talking to me.

Thorough indifference.

That’s why I’m not very good with this person.

However, because he is indifferent, he doesn’t say anything mean.

So when this person came to talk to me…

“It seems like you’re doing something with Prince Alectos.”

He showed interest in me.

I became one of His Highness’s subordinates and prepared for an exploration to find ruins.

I understand it myself.

The significance of my existence has been established more than before.

Suddenly, I remember the day Jerick-sama talked to me about remarrying.

I brace myself, thinking it can’t be.

“You can relax. I won’t force an unnecessary engagement.”

“――!”

With one word that seems to see through my heart, my spine freezes.

Even though he’s not like Zion-kun, who can see hearts, I was seen through in that moment.

“I’ve heard of your achievements. I’ve become a little interested in you.”

“…Interested.”

“I thought Rune Magic was a product of the past, but it seems to have a surprisingly unique power. It was my fault for misjudging its potential. I wasn’t interested in you, but you have established a position for yourself. It’s truly fascinating.”

Norman-sama says with a smile.

It’s the first time I’ve seen him smile.

He’s always had the same expression whether he’s with Leticia or talking to someone else.

That’s the image I had of him, so I’m surprised with my eyes wide open.

“Do you intend to continue working under His Highness?”

“Huh? What do you mean?”

“I mean exactly what I said. You received a reward from His Majesty and left the Pheles family to become independent as a noble, right? You’re free now. You’ve also gained trust and status. But if you stay in that position, your freedom will be taken away eventually. Being the second prince’s attendant will limit your actions.”

“What are you…”

“If you feel constrained, you can come to me.”

Norman-sama extends his hand.

Just like the time with His Highness.

“I’ll make sure to maximize your abilities and ensure a future without restrictions.”

This is a recruitment.

He is planning to recruit me in the future from under His Highness.

I am so surprised that my head is spinning.

Someone who had no interest in me is now offering me his hand.

Norman-sama is also a person of high standing.

He wouldn’t talk about something like this for no reason.

He is really seeing value in me.

I was purely happy about that.

Regardless of the purpose, having someone recognize my abilities…

However, there was one thing that didn’t sit well with me.

“Thank you very much. However, I have decided to continue working by His Highness’s side.”

My current position and the place where I am now were being denied.

This is the happiest place for me.

There is no way I would think of it as being cramped.

“…Huh, I see. Then I hope you can continue to stay in that place.”

He let out a small smile and passed by me.

“If you change your mind, feel free to let me know. And one more piece of advice, it’s best not to think that all royals are people of character like His Highness Alectos.”

“Eh…”

When I turned around, Norman-sama was behind the door.

Leaving behind a meaningful word and an unpleasant aftertaste, I stared at the door with a restless feeling.

I didn’t understand the meaning of Norman-sama’s words until the following day.

Chapter 30: The First Prince’s March

The day after I spoke with Norman-sama.

Around noon, Zion-kun and I were summoned to His Highness’s office.

We coincidentally met in the hallway and headed to the office together.

“I wonder what he needs us for so urgently.”

“Maybe he’s decided on the fourth person.”

“Ah, that’s why… Ugh, I’m worried if we can get along…”

“It’s okay as long as the person His Highness chooses is trustworthy.”

Surely we can get along well.

Excitedly, I took a few steps forward.

I wonder what kind of person it is.

I thought that surely, the introduction of the fourth person was to happen just like before.

We arrived at the office, knocked, and received permission to enter.

“Ah, you both came.”

His Highness looked at us in the eye.

At that moment, I could sense an uneasy atmosphere.

His expression was unusually stern, so I stiffened.

No one else besides us was there.

It seems like it won’t be a happy story of introducing the fourth person.

“I’m sorry for calling you so suddenly.”

“No, Your Highness. Has something happened?”

“Oh, well, it’s not good… no, it’s become troublesome.”

“Troublesome?”

He had said something like this before.

Could it be a bad event that His Highness had anticipated?

I swallowed and asked.

“What happened?”

“You’ll know soon. He should be here by now.”

“Here?”

Who?

Just then, the door slammed open without permission, entering His Highness’s room.

What a rude person to enter without knocking.

But before I could think that, I understood.

If it was this person, even rudeness would be forgiven.

At first glance, I recognized who it was.

“Excuse me, Alec!”

“You should knock before entering, older brother.”

First Prince, Rejhon Dell.

Three years older than His Highness Alectos, and a person who holds the right of succession to the throne.

The real brother of His Highness turned towards me.

“Meiana Pheles and Hero Zion.”

He mentioned our names and smirked.

“You’re all here together.”

“Um, excuse me, but… w-what does that mean?”

Zion-kun was flustered and confused.

I was confused too.

Why did the First Prince Rejhon suddenly appear?

And why isn’t His Highness Alectos smiling?

He is wary of his own brother.

“I’m the one who directed you guys to gather here.”

“Huh?”

I look at His Highness Alectos.

He nods slightly.

It seems to be true.

“You guys are planning to explore the ruins with Alec, right?”

His Highness Rejhon asks.

It’s already a public fact, so I wonder if it’s okay to answer normally.

But when I hesitate, His Highness Alectos speaks up instead.

“That’s right. The two of us here, myself, and the other one we’re looking for, will head out to explore the ruins.

“Hmph, let me take over that role.”

His Highness Rejhon puts his hand on his chest and shows a confident triumphant face.

His Highness Alectos furrows his brow.

“Take over?”

“I’m saying I’ll gather the personnel and lead the exploration. You’re not strong enough for the job.”

His Highness Rejhon provokes His Highness Alectos.

It would be an understatement to say that I am powerless when facing His Highness, who is called a genius.

Is His Highness Rejhon also an excellent person?

Even when I was in the court, all I heard about was the genius Prince Alectos Dell.

I have never heard of the Crown Prince.

I don’t know this person, but I don’t think His Highness is inferior.

More importantly, it was uncomfortable to hear him being looked down upon.

“I understand what you’re saying, but Brother, the personnel have already been secured. There is no need to trouble you.”

“Have they? Is that really true? You can’t find the last one, can you?”

“…”

“I heard you’ve asked the Order. Didn’t get a good response, did you?”

He said that, and smiled slyly.

Both the royal family and the ministers have command over the Order.

The Order cannot be moved by a single person.

There needs to be the approval of many others.

However, there are differences in command.

For example, what if someone with significant authority strongly opposed the decision of others?

The Order is torn by decision-making.

I suddenly remembered what Norman-sama said.

The royal family is not just individuals with character like His Highness Alectos.

Could it be that Rejhon-sama put pressure to keep a fourth person from being chosen?

“The ruins are where the Demon God sleeps, right? It’s a crisis that can’t be delayed. Can we really afford to be so relaxed?”

“…”

A mean smile.

This expression definitely means he’s up to something behind the scenes..

“Cat got your tongue? If it were me, I’d have them ready by now! Come in. Let me introduce you——”

The door to the room opens.

I can’t believe what I’m seeing on the other side of the door.

Three people show up.

Two of them are familiar faces to me.

“Onee-sama…Norman-sama.”

Leticia Pheles, my ex-sister and member of the court magicians.

Next to him is the young head of the family, Norman Heuschel-sama, a qualified court magician.

And there is one more person I’ve seen before.

The person who serves as the head of the Kingdom’s Order of Knight, Lancelot Duran.

“Ki, Knight Commander!”

“I’m sorry, Zion. This is the position I’m in right now.”

Why are Norman-sama and Onee-sama with Prince Rejhon?

I panic at the suddenness of it all.

From behind me, Prince Alectos calmly points out, “Seems like one person is missing?”

“Yes, the last person is already decided. Or rather, she’s an essential member if we’re going to explore the ruins.”

Prince Rejhon points his finger.

That finger is pointed towards me.

“Meiana Pheles. Cooperate with me.”

“――!”

“You can’t do that! Brother.”

To override my astonishment, His Highness Alectos interjects.

His Highness Rejhon looks annoyed.

“She is my direct subordinate. Even as my brother, you cannot order her.”

“Of course, I know that. This is not an order, but a temporary recruitment. Lend us a hand.”

“Ah, well, I…”

“We have more people here who know you well. I’m sure you’ll work together quite nicely.”

His Highness Rejhon says with a smug expression.

What… is he talking about?

You think we work well with these kinds of members?

It is the most unlikely thing.

I was not just bewildered, but flabbergasted.

“I will not permit it.”

To protect me, His Highness steps forward.

“Alec, you don’t understand. We’ve already made the preparations.

“Then we will find someone soon too. The last one, and then there won’t be any problem, right?”

“Can you find someone? I don’t have time for this. If you don’t find someone within a week――.”

“Understood. We will find someone within a week.”

Alectos-sama says firmly.

It’s a little aggressive.

This is the first time I have seen His Highness with so little composure.

“Alright. However, if you can’t find someone, we will borrow Meiana.”

“That’s fine.”

“——Heh, I’m looking forward to it then. Do your best.”

His Highness Rejhon waves his hand and leaves the room with the other three.

Norman-sama gives me a slight nod.

Onee-sama looks away.

So much has happened in an instant that I am still confused.

“I’m sorry, both of you.”

“Your Highness.”

“I want you to believe in me. I will definitely find the last member.”

Determination swells in the eyes of His Highness.

I suddenly remember the rumors I’ve heard about His Highness Rejhon, who I’ve only heard of once before.

He was originally the most suitable person for the next king.

Yes, if it weren’t for His Highness Alectos.

Chapter 31: What should I do!

“Uh, what should we do? If we don’t find the fourth person in a week, Meiana-san will…”

“…Yeah.”

Zion-kun looks worried and fidgety.

I was also uneasy.

I assumed we would smoothly begin our excavation of the ruins, without any intervention from His Highness Rejhon, but that was a completely unexpected occurrence.

Surely, only His Highness Alectos could have predicted it.

“But, it’ll be okay. His Highness said he’ll definitely find someone.”

“Meiana-san…”

Zion-kun and I watch His Highness’s back together with anxious expressions.

He was looking outside from the window of the office.

Without turning around, he spoke with his back facing us.

“——Yes, I’ll definitely find someone. No matter what, within the time frame.”

“I’ll help too.”

“M-Me too! I don’t know if there’s anything I can do…”

“…Haha.”

His Highness let out a small laugh with his back still facing us.

Then he turned around slowly and said to us with a gentle smile.

“Thank you. It’s reassuring.”

That expression seemed to be crying just a little.

However, that feeling only lasted for a moment as he took a deep breath to regain his composure.

“Alright. First, let’s check the current situation.”

“Yes.”

“Y-Yes.”

We sit on the couches across the table.

After a moment of pause, His Highness begins to speak.

“For the past few days, I’ve been calling on the Knights. Since regular members cannot participate in the exploration this time, only those in higher positions were considered. Unfortunately, I did not get a good answer.”

“So, is there something Your Highness needs us to hear that we cannot?”

Zion-kun asks nervously.

His Highness lets out a small sigh.

“The knights belong to the kingdom. They are not mine personally. There are several people who have the authority to give orders.”

“Um, I was hesitant to ask this… but did Rejhon-sama apply pressure?”

I also ask.

It’s unbearable to speak ill of his own brother in front of His Highness, but my desire to confirm overpowers it.

“… It’s not just my brother.”

“Huh?”

“Even among the ministers, there are factions. There are those who support me and my father, and those who follow my brother. There are probably supporters collaborating with him as well. Otherwise, the Knights wouldn’t refuse my request based solely on my brother’s intentions.”

“But, why is the Knight Commander supporting him?”

Zion-kun interjected into our conversation with a question.

I, too, had been wondering about that.

I didn’t know much about the Knight Commander, but isn’t it questionable for the leader of the Knights to take sides with only one prince?

“Regarding that, there may be personal reasons as well. That person was my brother’s tutor.”

A tutor is someone who instructs and guides a royal family member on various aspects of daily life and experience during their childhood.

In general terms, it’s like a private teacher.

“He has been close friends since my brother was a child. So basically, that person will side with my brother in case of any conflict. Of course, he will prevent it from going too far. This time, it was too aggressive, but my brother also has a valid point.”

“But even so, doing things without permission… What does His Majesty the King think about this?”

“My father…supports whoever achieves the correct result. He doesn’t take sides. It’s the same this time.”

The King always maintains a fair judgement.

Even if there is some forcefulness or cowardice, if the result is achieved, it is acceptable.

What’s important is the result, not the process.

Nobles share the same sentiment.

Even in the Pheles family where I was born and raised before being abandoned.

In other words, it doesn’t seem like we can count on support from the King.

Recruiting members of the order of knights seems difficult.

“What about asking the palace official?”

“Yes, that’s possible. Your brother’s voice has not reached the court. However, as I’ve mentioned before, the last person would need to have high physical abilities and be someone who can fight alongside Zion. Those who possess combat ability in the palace are either magicians or sorcerers. You and I are sufficient for that task.

“But…”

“Yeah, I know. But this isn’t the time to be saying that. Our goal isn’t to compete with my older brother. It’s to explore the ruins and prevent the revival of the Demon God. If we compromise here and it hinders our true goal, it’s meaningless. If we have to choose, we need the best fourth member.”

The prince’s will seemed firm.

I understand what he wants to say, and I don’t think we should add someone careless.

But the harsh reality is also a fact.

There aren’t many warriors who can stand next to Zion-kun, the hero.

“We have no choice but to search. Even if we have to look outside the capital…oh, darn, I forgot.”

“Your Highness?”

His Highness puts his hand on his head and grimaces.

“Starting tomorrow, I was supposed to accompany the knights and raid the bandits’ hideout.”

“B-Bandits’ hideout?”

He was going to accompany them on such a dangerous mission?

I was honestly surprised.

His Highness is troubled.

“It’s a fairly large-scale mission. I won’t be back until at least five days after I leave. It’ll be hard to search during that time.”

“S-so if we also cooperate, c-can’t we finish it quickly?”

“Zion.”

“Ah, sorry, I’ll keep quiet.”

“No, that’s fine, Zion-kun.”

I think it’s a good proposal, so I support him.

“Your Highness! Please let us also help with that mission. If we can finish it even just a little bit earlier, we can spend more time searching for the fourth person.”

“Meiana… I appreciate it. Thank you.”

“I am your Highness’s subordinate.”

I won’t make your Highness go through a difficult time alone.

Even I should be able to help make time for your Highness.

Chapter 32: Successful Operation?

There is a valley on the outskirts of a town two away from the capital.

Originally, it was a place where several small villages were connected and people lived together.

However, as the number of demon beasts increased and it became unsafe for humans to live there, people moved to safer areas.

As a result, it became an abandoned village where only old buildings and fields remained.

Since demon beasts still inhabit the area in large numbers, ordinary people never approach it.

That’s why it became a perfect hideout for bandits.

Using information obtained from captured bandits in previous battles, the Order succeeded in identifying the location of their hideout and decided to conduct a large-scale raid.

The operation involves units one through ten, with the participation of the sixth unit.

Knight Commander Lancelot and His Highness Alectos will take command.

I am heading to the scene with His Highness and the fourth, fifth, and sixth unit of the Order.

“The enemy is bandits, right? Is it normal to move such a large force to deal with bandits?”

“No, this time is special. It’s a large organization among bandits and they’ve been wreaking havoc on the kingdom for years. I want to take care of them all at once here and now.”

The goal is a distance away in the valley.

Horse and wagon are used to reach a position just in time to avoid detection.

I ride alongside his Highness.

As a noble, I learned how to ride a horse when I was young, so I can ride horses too.

“Zion should learn how to ride a horse too.”

“I-I’m sorry.”

Zion-kun can’t ride a horse.

He’s still behind me, tightly clinging to my body.

He’s a child and short, so his feet can’t reach the stirrups.

“When you get a little bigger, I’ll teach you.”

“R-Really!?”

“Yeah.”

“Hahaha, that’s great.”

Despite heading to fight bandits, I am surprisingly calm.

With his Highness and Zion-kun, and many knights behind me, I can feel safe.

However, the atmosphere among the knights behind us is heavy.

Not because of the dangerous mission.

I sneak peeks at His Highness’ back and quickly avert my eyes.

“Sigh…seriously.”

His Highness sighs in exasperation.

I can somehow understand what he’s thinking.

I rush to the scene.

We stop before the designated location and prepare to attack without alerting the bandits.

Preparations are proceeding calmly.

However, there’s a heavy atmosphere here, too.

It’s a different air from tension.

“Listen up, all of you.”

His Highness, impatient with the atmosphere, declares to the knights.

We can’t raise our voices too loud because of the location.

“Don’t worry about “that” incident. We’re the ones who involved you in this mess. You guys just need to focus on doing what you can as knights.”

His words are gentle, and his expression is calm.

The knights listen intently to the quiet voice and nod slightly.

“Don’t apologize and look sorry once you understand. You guys are not at fault.”

Thump. He pats the shoulder of a young knight nearby.

Even the knight who had a serious expression softens upon hearing His Highness’ words.

They all equally trust Your Highness.

That’s why they feel guilty for not being able to lend their power to His Highness.

His Highness understands this, which is why he spoke up.

There should be no unnecessary worries before the battle.

“All right, we’ll charge as soon as preparations are done. Our mission is to block the south side of the hideout. There are only two large entrances and exits to this valley. We’ll block them.”

Your Highness gives instructions to the knights.

Zion-kun and I stand behind His Highness, making sure not to get in the way.

We are not included in the headcount for this operation.

So our role is to assist His Highness.

His Highness’s role is to provide attack support with magic.

We will protect him so that he will not be in danger.

I also brought Rune Stones beforehand so that I can help, even if it’s just a little.

Zion-kun also…

“Ugh… we’re going to fight now, huh.”

He may seem unreliable, but as soon as he draws the Holy Sword, he becomes a hero.

There is no more reliable ally than him.

That’s why there is no anxiety.

We will finish as quickly as possible and search for the fourth person.

“Let’s move forward.”

His Highness gave the order and, together with his knights, headed towards the hideout.

The knights walked through the dimly lit valley.

Even though they were an obvious sight, they were progressing in a way that blocked the entrance and exit, so the bandits couldn’t escape even if they noticed.

If it came to it, it would be a siege.

If that were to happen, the defending side would have the advantage of the terrain.

Before it became a long-term battle, they had to capture the bandits amidst the chaos.

“We will now storm the bandits’ hideout from here! If you find them, capture them! Don’t hesitate to strike back if they resist! Rise to the challenge before they can take refuge!”

The knights raised their voices in unison.

With that as the signal, the knights charged forward.

Following His Highness who led the charge, Zion-kun and I ran too.

Our opponents were the most powerful group of bandits in the kingdom.

Intense fighting was inevitable.

Nervousness suddenly struck me.

At the same time, I felt a cold chill run through my body.

“What…what’s happening?”

“Huh? The bandits…”

Those of us who charged forward energetically stopped in a hurry.

The bandits’ hideout was already enemy territory.

However, no one attacked us.

No disturbance was caused.

And no wonder… the bandits were already in a state of collapse.

Bandits were rolling on the roadside.

They were bleeding, groaning, and some of them weren’t even twitching…

“Ugh, how boring, what a bunch of thugs!”

“Is anyone there?”

On top of the pile of piled-up bandits stood a man.

With a large sword on his shoulder, he looked down on us…

“Hmm? Who are you guys?”

He looked just like a demon.

Chapter 33: War demon

Fiery crimson hair.

Eyes just as red and intense.

A sword the size of the person’s height is stained with blood.

At first glance, the person seems unharmed.

Exposed muscles that have been trained to perfection and not a single scratch can be seen.

In other words, the blood on the sword is from the bandits…

“――Did you do this?”

Breaking the silence, His Highness questions the mysterious man.

The tension is palpable even among the knights behind him.

“If I said I did, then what? These guys are a bunch of scoundrels, aren’t they?”

“And what about you?”

“Hey, can you imagine me being with these weak bandits?”

“I don’t know about that.”

Frustration can be seen on the man’s face.

His Highness seems to be provoking him deliberately.

He is trying to find out about the man’s identity and position through conversation.

There are no bandits around, and there doesn’t seem to have been any surprise attacks.

However, the sound of battle can be heard from just behind the man, a little ways away.

The man seems to have noticed it as well and turns his gaze to the back.

“What the hell. Are they fighting over there?”

He smirks, and turns his body in the direction of the battle sounds.

I can hear the sounds of a separate unit of the knights and the remaining bandits fighting.

His Highness’s voice stops the man who tries to head in that direction.

“Wait.”

“Huh?”

“Our separate unit of knights will take care of the remaining bandits.”

“Why the hell would I care? They’re my prey.”

“Don’t you get it? If you go now, it will only create more confusion. I’m telling you to stay put and not get in the way.”

The powerful words of His Highness stop the man who was about to walk away.

The man glares at His Highness in frustration.

“Who the hell do you think you are to order me around like that?”

“That’s the first time I’ve heard that kind of line.”

Of course it is.

Saying such a thing to a prince…

Normally, that would be punishable speech on the spot.

From what I can tell, he doesn’t seem to realize that His Highness is royalty or that we are a unit of knights.

Did he come from a place far from the capital, or does he just not care?

Why do I have a feeling it’s the latter?

“If you’re going to get in my way, I’m not going to let you get away with it.

“We don’t plan on fighting you. We just want you to wait until it’s over.”

“I don’t want that. I want to fight. You, you seem pretty strong. You’re better than these guys.”

The man finally directs his hostility towards His Highness.

Beyond hostility, is it murderous intent?

A chill I have never felt before.

Even though we’re not making direct eye contact, it feels like the air is freezing.

Like a small animal being stared down by a beast…

Everyone’s attention turns to the two of them.

In the midst of it all, my eyes go to his feet.

He moved slightly.

In the midst of the corpses I thought were dead on the mountain, there’s someone alive.

The man’s hand is gripping a knife.

Dangerous!

Before a voice could come out, my hand grips the Rune Stone.

The engraved letter is 【ᛁ】.

It means hail.

At this distance, the Rune Stone won’t reach with my shoulder.

So I throw the stone straight up.

“【ᛁ(Eis)】!”

As soon as the effect is activated, hail is generated around the stone.

The raining hail avoids the man with the great sword and strikes the side of the man’s head who was swinging his knife at his feet.

“Ah, gu…”

The man drops his knife and loses consciousness as he falls down once again.

It was a close call, but I made it.

As I let out a sigh of relief, the man with the great sword turns his gaze towards me.

“What was that attack just now…?”

It wasn’t hostility or malice, just pure curiosity.

But when curiosity is filled with madness like this, it’s hard to think of it as anything else.

I shudder.

“That was an amazing technique! Show me more!”

The curiosity, or rather, murderous intent is directed towards me.

It feels completely different from watching from the sidelines.

This creature wasn’t an easy-to-deal-with predator; it was a monster.

My feet freeze in fear, and my body won’t move.

“Show me faster! Or should I attack you instead?”

“Meiana!”

In an instant, the man disappears from my sight.

He moves so fast that I can’t keep up with my eyes, and before I know it, he’s coming for me.

He raises his great sword.

He’s not bluffing; he really intends to strike me.

Even His Highness can’t make it in time.

I, myself, am paralyzed with fear.

For the first time in my life, I feel the weight of my own impending death.

“――!”

The great sword that was about to strike down on me stops just in time.

It wasn’t that the man stopped.

He was stopped just before it happened.

“I won’t let you.”

He’s usually timid and unreliable, but he’s dependable in times of need.

The very cowardly hero had drawn the Holy Sword.

“I won’t let you lay a finger on Meiana-san.”

“Hey, hey, don’t get me too excited.”

The man with a crazed smile and Zion-kun, who calmly takes on his attacks.

I could only be amazed at the sight unfolding before my eyes.

Chapter 34: How to keep your head cool

“Who are you, anyway?”

“…”

A tense standoff unfolding before me.

Even as an amateur, I can sense the tension in the air, and the knights can only watch with anticipation.

“Answer me, you brat! You’re not just a regular human, are you?”

“I have nothing to say to you.”

“Hah! That gaze of yours is good! It’s just the way I like it!”

“Enough already――back away from Meiana-san!”

Zion-kun deflects the greatsword and tries to strike the man’s side with the hilt of the Holy Sword.

However, the man evades Zion-kun’s attack.

Then, he jumps backward, increasing the distance between them.

“What was that half-assed attack just now! Come at me with more killing intent. Otherwise, I can’t enjoy it!”

“…”

The man points the tip of his greatsword at Zion-kun.

He seems to have lost interest in me and is entirely focused on Zion-kun.

Zion-kun prepares his Holy Sword and faces him.

Looking at them like this, I get the feeling that I can rely on the brave hero.

He speaks in a different tone than usual, stronger and more commanding.

“What’s wrong? Aren’t you gonna fight?”

“…I came here to fight the bandits. Not you.”

“Huh? Don’t say such a weak thing in this situation. You drew your sword and even took my attack. At that moment…the fight began, you know!”

The man kicked the ground and disappeared from my line of sight.

Before I knew it, he was in front of Zion-kun.

He swung his greatsword boldly and launched an attack.

Zion-kun reacted to it and tried to block it with his Holy Sword.

However, Zion-kun, who should have blocked it, was blown away.

“Kuh…”

“Zion-kun…”

Did he get overwhelmed?

Even though he’s the hero who pulled out the Holy Sword, it’s hard to believe that an ordinary person could just blow him away like that.

Zion-kun did a backflip as he was blown away and landed gracefully.

The man then approached him without hesitation.

He easily lifted the greatsword with one hand and swung it down.

Zion-kun takes it with the Holy Sword.

Using his previous experience, he changes the direction of the blade the moment it makes contact.

“Hah! You’re skillful!”

Now Zion-kun slashes at him with the Holy Sword.

He feigns an attack towards his torso, but goes after his legs.

I thought his plan was perfect.

“You almost got me there.”

“――!”

The attack looked perfect to the untrained eye.

The other party’s response is also late.

I know Zion-kun is fast.

The attack was prevented by a later move by…

“Your reaction time is amazing. I thought that attack was going to hit.”

“Hah! Like I’d let that hit me. How long are you going to hold back for? Are you going to take it seriously if I kill that woman over there?”

The man glances at me for a brief moment.

A chill runs down my spine from that gaze, which lasts only a fraction of a second.

“――Your opponent is me.”

“Fine. I’ll target those eyes of yours from the start.”

“Icicle Lance.”

Suddenly, a giant icicle attacks the man.

The man dodges to the right and looks at the magician who attacked him.

“You…”

“If you lay a hand on her, I won’t stay silent either.”

“Your Highness!”

It was His Highness Alectos who attacked the man.

While everyone watched their fight without intervening, only one person broke in.

“You’re a magician, aren’t you? That was impressive just now. I didn’t notice it until it was activated! You’re one of the top magicians I’ve seen, I tell you.”

“Of course. There’s no magician in this country stronger than me…None.”

He asserts it confidently.

It’s not overconfidence.

It’s widely acknowledged that His Highness is a genius magician.

No one disagrees.

Then, the man smiles.

“I love it, you guys! We’re gonna have fun!”

The man rejoices as His Highness and Zion-kun confront him.

While the atmosphere is tense, I am surprisingly calm.

Too many surprising things happened in quick succession, which made my thinking process smoother.

Should we fight like this…?

On the opposite entrance, the bandits and knights were fighting.

If he defeated the bandits, then this man must not be a bad person.

Plus, he was incredibly strong.

If these three were to fight, it would result in serious injuries…

The conclusion comes to my mind that it must be stopped.

But all three of them were much stronger than me.

Talking to them normally wouldn’t stop them.

They all looked heated up.

If only they could cool their heads, they could think more clearly…

Cool… ice, water?

“――There it is.”

This was the site of an old village.

If it was a village built in an era before magical devices like now existed, there should be a well.

It might have dried up.

But if it weren’t completely dry and had even a little bit of water left, it would be enough.

I held onto the Rune Stone tightly.

“Let’s go! Entertain me!”

It looked like the fight was about to start again.

Before that happened, I threw the Rune Stone into the well.

Everyone’s attention was drawn to my sudden action.

“Meiana?”

“――【ᛚ(Laguz)】!”

The Rune of 【ᛚ】creates and controls water.

Touching the water that was left at the bottom of the well causes the rune to shine brighter.

A deafening roar and ground-shaking.

Along with a tremendous noise coming from the well, a large amount of water gushes out.

“I’m sorry!”

Let me apologize first.

The water that splashed up divided into three in the air and fell on the heads of the three people.

“Bubububu, wh-what the hell are you doing?!”

“Meiana-san?”

“What is it all of a sudden…”

“P-Please calm down! Our enemies are the bandits!”

I muster my courage and shout loudly.

His Highness’s eyes widen.

Zion-kun’s face also looks like he just realized something.

“…Pfft, hahaha!”

Suddenly, like a thread of tension being cut, His Highness bursts out laughing.

It’s the first time I’ve seen him laugh so heartily.

“Y-Your Highness?”

“Oh, sorry. You’re right. Ah, I’ve cooled my head. Zion! Put away your sword too!”

“――Yes, sir.”

The two of them lose their will to fight.

It seems they have calmed down.

“That’s right. You’re not a bandit. So there’s no reason to fight.”

“What the hell, you’re such a letdown. I was all fired up to fight… fight…?”

“Hmm?”

“He collapsed.”

The man, who hadn’t lost any fighting spirit, suddenly collapsed.

His Highness and Zion-kun approach slowly.

Then, there was a loud noise.

Grrr~

His stomach growled.

“Ugh, I’m hungry…”

“Your Highness.”

“Well, it’s true that he helped us take down the bandits. If he promises not to go wild, we’ll give him plenty to eat.”

“Really? Then, please…”

The man, who was once full of vigor, had disappeared.

His Highness and Zion-kun were amazed at the man who couldn’t move a step due to hunger.

I don’t really understand what’s going on, but I guess everything is settled now?

An hour later, the operation to eradicate the bandits was over.

It ended three days earlier than planned.

Chapter 35: Do you solicit?

Two days after the operation to sweep out the bandits.

As the knights were busy with post-processing, I was in the dining hall with His Highness.

The sound of plates being served.

The sound of chewing and food going down the throat.

Amidst the sound of eating that could be heard clearly, we watched him eat heartily.

“This is delicious! I could eat it endlessly!”

“I hope you don’t eat endlessly. Our portions will run out.”

His Highness heaved a sigh in exasperation.

He was defenseless as he chewed his food in front of opponents with whom he was exchanging hostility just a while ago.

Looking at him like this, I feel relieved.

He was like a fierce beast or monster when we were fighting, but now… more like a dog?

“Hahaha! That was great. I’m completely satisfied.”

“That’s good to hear.”

“Oh, thanks. By the way, you’re a member of the royal family, huh? No wonder you stand out.”

“You didn’t notice before? Even the knights were with me.”

“That was the knights? Huh…”

“Is this guy… perhaps an idiot…”

His Highness muttered to himself in disbelief, along with his exasperation.

I didn’t deny it because I also thought the same thing.

“What’s your name?”

“I’m Kaijin.”

“What were you doing over there?”

“You can tell just by looking. I knocked down some bandits because they said there were some around!”

“Why?”

“It’s obvious, isn’t it? It’s to become stronger.”

Kaijin shows a look like “Of course, what else?” or something like that.

His Highness is taken aback, and I am puzzled and unable to understand.

“So, what does that mean? Were you defeating bandits for training purposes?”

“It’s not training, it’s killing! You can’t grow in weak fights, you know. But, everyone was just a bunch of small fry, so it was boring.”

Kaijin sighs and shakes his head with a “well well” expression.

It seems like he has been traveling for a long time.

He wanders around various places without any specific aim and happens to hear rumors of bandits, leading him to their hideout.

When His Highness asks where he came from, he casually says:

“Was it up north? I just walked around randomly, so I don’t really remember the direction.”

He sought battles and wandered in search of enemies in order to become stronger.

It seemed as though he was going through something like a samurai training.

I was curious about why he had to strive for such strength.

“Why do you seek strength so much?”

I had the same thought.

His Highness asked.

Then Kaijin smiled and said with a grin.

“Because I’m a man.”

He balled his fist and continued with a joyful smile.

“If you’re born a man, anyone would aim for being the strongest!”

He spoke with confidence and pride.

A reason that had no substance.

Simple and straightforward, with no falsehood.

“You’re really…”

“Y-You’re an idiot.”

“Huh?”

“Nothi-, nothing at all!”

Zion-kun, who had been hiding behind His Highness all along, chimed in on Kaijin’s story.

But he was defeated by Kaijin’s sharp stare and hid behind His Highness again.

“Hey, is that really the kid from back then?”

“Yeah, Zion’s the Hero.”

“The Hero, huh…”

“He may be like this normally, but he’s strong when it comes to a fight.”

“I-It’s not like that…”

Even though Zion-kun denies it in a small voice, his voice doesn’t reach Kaijin.

“You’re from the north. Aren’t you not from this country?”

“Well, technically I’m from here.”

“Where…ah, I see.”

His Highness looks back at Kaijin’s appearance and seems to have noticed something.

With a slightly mischievous expression, he asks Kaijin.

“You want to become stronger, don’t you?”

“Yeah! I aim to be the strongest!”

“In that case, are you interested in the Demon God?”

“Your Highness?!”

“N-No way…”

Zion-kun and I gasp.

We probably had the same thought.

His Highness’s next words will probably be…

“Kaijin, would you like to enter the ruins with us?”

“Huh? Ruins? What’s with the talk about the Demon God all of a sudden? I don’t get it.”

“I can explain, but once I do, you can’t back down. So please choose first.”

“What do you mean ‘choose?’ I’ve never heard of the Demon God. Is it strong or something?”

“Yes, probably the strongest enemy in history.”

Not a metaphor or a threat.

The strength of the Demon God is proven by human history.

After experiencing numerous sacrifices, the only solution was to seal the strongest enemy, as it was impossible to defeat.

Yes, the strongest.

“――Sounds good. It seems interesting.”

The moment Kaijin heard those words, his eyes changed color.

He is pursuing strength with single-minded determination.

So you want to hear it?

“Sure. Go ahead, tell me.”

His Highness provided Kaijin with information about the ruins.

We didn’t even know who this person was.

I was a little uneasy about choosing someone we just met as the fourth member.

As if seeing through their unease, Zion-kun quietly reassured me.

“I-I think it’ll be okay. That person’s heart…it’s burning bright, but it’s beautiful. I don’t…think he’s a bad person.”

The shape of one’s heart cannot be faked.

If Zion-kun sees it that way, then he is surely not a villain.

“Well then, I’m all in! Let’s ride.”

“You said it, right? You won’t go back on your word now, right?”

“Of course not! I’ll join your ranks! I don’t know whether this ‘Demon God’ really exists, but you guys are strong. Strong people gather where even stronger people are. If I’m there, I feel like I’ll become even stronger.”

“Haha, you never waver. Thanks to you, we’re all here.”

His Highness clenches his fist.

The fourth person was discovered unintentionally.

We don’t even know his true identity.

His Highness chose him, and Zion-kun says he’s not a bad person.

Then I’ll trust the two of them.

Chapter 36: Stubborn prince

Less than a week later, we met again face to face.

In the reception room of His Highness Alectos, three people gathered under His Highness Rejhon and him.

We stood beside His Highness Alectos facing them.

The greatest magician in the kingdom, praised as a genius.

A Rune Magician who was selected as the Court Magician for the Second Prince, rising from a court apprentice.

A young, timid warrior who, when he draws his sword, is stronger and more dependable than anyone else.

And a mysterious traveler with the power of a demon.

“The four of us will head for the ruins.”

His Highness declared to his brother, His Highness Rejhon.

We managed to gather the fourth member within the designated period.

Now that the requirement has been met, we can start our ruin exploration as planned.

However, as expected, His Highness Rejhon objected.

“You did well for your abilities, Alec. But unfortunately, it’s full of holes.”

He smirked and turned his gaze toward Kaijin, who was gathered as the fourth member.

Kaijin met his gaze with a sharp glare.

“That guy over there, it doesn’t seem like something a prince entrusted with an important task would do, adding someone with unknown background to the group.”

“What did you say?”

“Calm down, Kaijin.”

His highness admonishes Kaijin who was glaring.

I thought it was impressive that he had an attitude where he wasn’t intimidated by the prince’s presence.

However, what His Highness Rejhon said had a point.

The exploration of the ruins could be an important mission that determines the future of the kingdom.

And if you added someone whose identity is unknown, what if you fail?

His Highness Alectos will be held responsible.

If there is damage to the citizens, he will lose their trust instantly.

I agree that only people with achievements and positions that can be trusted should be gathered.

“That’s not a problem in that regard. He’s also a noble.”

“Huh?”

I unintentionally let out a small voice.

His Highness said that Kaijin is a noble.

I can’t believe he would be bluffing in this situation.

But could it be true?

“Lying is not good, Alec.”

“Do you think I’m lying? It’s an undeniable fact. Do you remember the emblem on the sleeve of Kaijin’s clothes?”

“…Sword and shield, and a broken sun…!!”

His Highness Rejhon’s complexion changes.

He looks like he recognizes the emblem.

His Highness Alectos lets out a smile.

“You noticed?”

“That emblem…ah, I see. You’re from that rural noble family, the Remhounds.”

Remhound family?

I don’t know the name, but since the princes know it, they must be a well-known noble family.

I’m concerned about His Highness Rejhon’s frustrated expression.

Perhaps something happened in the past between the Remhound family and the royal family.

Or rather, was he really a noble?

To my greater surprise, I turned to Kaijin.

“What is it?”

“So, you were a noble.”

“It doesn’t matter. Titles don’t matter when it comes to strength.”

“Well, that’s not the point here…”

Zion-kun was also exasperated.

If he had told us from the beginning that he was from a noble family, we could have trusted him.

If His Highness had noticed, I wish you had told us.

But now…

“There’s no problem, right? He’s also a person in a position of authority.”

“…No, there are still holes.”

His Highness Rejhon doesn’t back down.

“Yes, he seems to have a position. But we’re the same in that regard. No, the personnel I gathered are even more excellent. They have achievements. People who have worked in the court for a long time, who led a knight order and repelled numerous dangerous enemies. They not only have positions, but also social credibility. What about over there? You’re still young and your abilities are uncertain, right?”

“Are you saying that they’re inferior?”

“Don’t make that scary face. I’m talking about the evaluations of society and those around us.”

Achievements… huh.

Certainly, Knight Commander and Norman-sama have built up their achievements and are trustworthy.

However, Onee-sama… Leticia’s achievements are mostly something I made in her place.

It’s true that it’s Rejhon-sama’s words, and I can’t deny them out loud, but at least I can’t agree with them.

“So basically, you’re saying that you’re uncertain about their ability.”

“That’s right. This is an important mission that is a matter of our country’s fate.”

“But if it comes down to ability, they have it. Originally, the condition that my older brother proposed was to gather a total of four people. This discussion should be over once that is achieved.”

“That’s why I’m saying there are complaints about those individuals. Can’t you understand that?”

Rejhon-sama is obstinate and refuses to acknowledge it.

This stubbornness reminds me a little of Alectos-sama.

However, in Rejhon-sama’s case, he looks a bit childish, like a child throwing a tantrum.

“Then how can I get your approval?”

“Well, if you have the ability, let’s compete. Your four versus my four.”

“…But you’re one person short, right?”

“Don’t worry. Just for now, I’ll join in.”

Rejhon-sama breaks into a sly grin.

Prince Alectos narrows his eyes.

The two princes lock eyes with each other.

“Shall we have a strength competition?”

“…Alright. And if I win, you’ll withdraw?”

“I promise.”

Upon hearing His Highness Rejhon’s words, His Highness Alectos looks at us for confirmation.

“Sorry, but can you guys come along?”

“Sure, why not? I love contests of strength.”

“I-I’ll do my best too.”

“Your Highness, please decide. We will follow you.”

“…Thank you.”

His Highness Alectos looks back and declares:

“I accept.”

We’re one step closer to exploring the ruins.

This is probably the final obstacle.

Chapter 37: Strength comparison

“D-Did you really come from a noble family?”

“What? How many times are you going to ask that? Are you really that curious?”

“W-Well, it’s just that, I couldn’t tell at all.”

After Rejhon and the others left the office, we remained behind.

Kaijin sat on the sofa, and Zion-kun was hiding behind the sofa, speaking quietly.

I turned to His Highness and asked him.

“Your Highness, did you know about this?”

“Well, yeah. But he didn’t say anything, so I kept quiet.”

“I wouldn’t have minded if you had told them. To me, family background is a trivial matter. It’s been over ten years since I left the estate.”

“T-Ten years?!”

I couldn’t help but exclaim in surprise.

Kaijin would be turning 25 years old this year.

In other words, he left the estate before he even became an adult at 15 years old, and embarked on a journey called warrior training.

bandits, demon beasts, and danger were everywhere in the world.

It could be considered suicidal for a child to travel alone.

Did he have the courage, or did he leave with determination?

Or was it just an impulsive departure?

Kaijin seemed uninterested and didn’t seem to want to talk about it in detail.

“Remhound family is a distant relative but has royal bloodlines.”

“R-Royal?”

“Yeah. Of course, it has been hundreds of years since the split, so the bloodline is already diluted. Now it’s just a noble family in the frontier, so Meiana probably didn’t know.”

“I-I see…?”

Even if I stare at Kaijin carefully again, I can’t see that he has royal blood.

Especially compared to Prince Alectos.

“Shut up. Who cares about the family history! Let’s talk about the fight! When are we going to have a showdown?”

“Huh…Didn’t you hear what we just talked about?”

“Huh?”

“Hiii!”

Zion-kun trembles even with just a glance.

He speaks as if to counterattack while hiding behind the back of the sofa.

“It’s going to be right after this! His Highness Rejhon has prepared the location, so we’re going to fight soon.”

“I see. Can’t wait. Heh, looking forward to it.”

“I’m not looking forward to it at all…”

“Kaijin is special, so don’t worry about it. Even I’m not excited about this one. There’s no point in this kind of fighting… but we have to do it, or my older brother won’t be satisfied.”

While saying that, His Highness looks out the window.

With a distant look and a sad expression.

Even though they are in conflict, they also have to fight against each other.

I can’t measure His Highness’s true feelings.

No, I am the same. I have to fight against my own flesh and blood.

“…Onee-sama.”

In our two meetings so far, she has never looked me in the eye.

I thought Onee-sama would be burning with a sense of competition against me.

As if being there was unwilling.

If she was brought here against her will…

I feel a little irritated with His Highness Rejhon.

At least, I hope no one gets hurt.

We wait and hope for that.

And then, an hour and a half later…

We were invited to the simulation training ground owned by the Order.

Among the various training grounds tailored to indoor, outdoor, and underground environments, His Highness Rejhon designated the outdoor one.

A place that simulated nature with a forest, a river, and a small waterfall.

Preparations have already been made, and there are towers with large, conspicuous aquamarine crystals on each end of the training ground.

Our faction takes position to the east.

“We win if we destroy this thing? What a bothersome rule.”

“It’s a consideration to reduce the number of casualties. My brother has thought about that.”

“Hmph, too naive. Once we’re on the battlefield, it won’t end until one of us is dead.”

“Don’t get it twisted, Kaijin. This isn’t a war. It’s just a test of strength.”

His Highness approaches Kaijin with a sharp gaze.

A slightly tense atmosphere flows, but Kaijin sighs.

“I get it. I’ll take it easy.”

“Please do.”

“Yeah! In exchange, I’ll do it freely.”

“That’s right. This was a hastily decided battle. There’s no time to make a meticulous plan and no teamwork to execute it. Therefore, let’s just decide on roles easily.”

This time, the rule is to see who can destroy the tower first.

We need to divide the personnel into roles attacking or defending the tower.

“Given my brother’s personality, there will be few people on defense and more on offense. There’s a high chance there will be at most two defenders…no, more likely just one.”

“So, should we have more defenders?”

“I want to, but if the offense is weak, we’ll ultimately lose. The question is, who will attack the opponent’s tower…”

Until five minutes before the start of the battle, we discussed role assignments and basic tactics.

And now, it’s time.

The signal is a large smoke signal in the center of the forest.

“Let the battle begin.”

Given the size of the training ground and the distance to the tower, we can engage in the shortest time possible.

According to His Highness, His Highness Rejhon, he is likely to aim for a straight-ahead breakthrough at the beginning, given his character.

As expected, they’ve arrived.

“I knew you would be on the defensive, Alec.”

“And I knew you would be on the offensive, brother.”

On the attacking side were His Highness Rejhon and Norman-sama, with the figure of Onee-sama in the back.

The number and lineup were just as His Highness Alectos had predicted.

“The defense will be headed by the Knight Commander.”

“Yeah, he alone is enough.”

“…Is that so? That’s good.”

His Highness Alectos smiles.

Our defense consists of three people: His Highness Alectos, me, and Zion-kun.

The attacker entrusted with the task is recklessly charging in——

◇◇◇

“So you’re my opponent!”

“…Is that a problem?”

“No, I’m relieved that you seem strong!”

Kaijin and the Knight Comander confront each other.

Chapter 38: Sibling conflicts

Kaijin turns his gaze towards the surroundings.

He appears defenseless, but remains vigilant against possible threats and doesn’t expose any openings.

“So, are you the only one here? Looks like the others have all gone on the attack.”

“And what about you? Are you alone?”

“Yeah, that’s right. I can take on anyone by myself!”

“You’re too overconfident.”

“You’ll see once we fight!”

Kaijin draws his large sword from his back.

He immediately jumps towards the Knight Commander, not the tower, and strikes.

The Knight Commander draws his sword from his waist and holds up a shield with his left hand.

As the two start their fight, the battle also begins in the Alectos faction.

◇◇◇

The assignment is as His Highness expected.

His Highness Rejhon and Norman-sama lead the way, with Onee-sama holding a staff in the rear.

Although Onee-sama is an excellent magician, she is not skilled in combat.

The staff she holds is a magical device that expands the range of auxiliary effects.

“Lord Norman, I leave the strategy to you as planned.”

“Leave it to me.”

The first one to move was Norman-sama.

He had already activated the spell and disappeared before me and His Highness.

He activated the transferral magic.

But the target was not to get closer to the tower, but to reach the one who was protecting the tower.

“Why did you appear in front of me?”

“Because you’re the most troublesome one. Behave yourself.”

Norman-sama’s target was Zion-kun.

He must have calculated to neutralize him before he drew the Holy Sword.

Zion-kun before drawing the Holy Sword was timid and had below-average physical ability.

As a court magician, Norman-sama was more than enough to defeat him.

However, if the Holy Sword is drawn——

“…Looks like I’m a step too late.”

He is the strongest hero.

“Ice Curtain.”

Norman-sama, who failed in his surprise attack, immediately changed his strategy and created an ice wall to surround himself and Zion-kun.

He tried to divide us.

Zion-kun, having realized his intention, advances to neutralize Norman-sama.

However, that was also anticipated.

The ground around Norman-sama was filled with landmine spells.

The moment he took a step forward, the ground lit up and exploded.

“Zion-kun!”

“No need to worry. That guy who pulled out the Holy Sword can’t be beaten by anyone.”

In response to His Highness’s words, Zion-kun emerges from the smoke unscathed.

Norman-sama also shows slight panic in the face of Zion-kun, who can withstand landmines.

To me, who sighed in relief, His Highness says,

“Stay focused. They’re coming this way too.”

“Yes.”

“That’s right. It’s better to concentrate.”

Rejhon-sama, who is approaching in front of my eyes, draws his sword.

And it’s obvious.

That’s not just any sword; it’s a magical tool… no, it seems to be a magic sword.

I’ve heard from Alectos-sama about Rejhon-sama’s abilities.

Not only is he strong as a swordsman, but he’s also a top-notch magician.

He may not stand out, but he is by no means weak.

“Flare up, Salamander.”

He seems to be wielding a flaming magic sword.

Overwhelming firepower ignites from the tip of the sword.

It seems like it could burn down the forest, but it’s being properly controlled.

None of the trees in the forest are catching fire.

“I’ll stop my brother. Meiana, you take care of the tower defense and Leticia Pheles.”

“Yes.”

With that, His Highness activates his magic.

He restrains the fire with ice magic and catches His Highness Rejhon’s attention.

“Such a weak attack. Come at me with more force.”

“I understand.”

His Highness Rejhon swings his magical sword and approaches His Highness Alectos.

However, His Highness Alectos won’t allow it.

He creates an intense icy wind with a combination of ice and wind magic, slowing down His Highness Rejhon’s movements.

Without hesitation, he unleashes the ice magic he started with.

His Highness Rejhon can’t dodge it and defends himself with his sword’s flames.

“Tsk.”

“You can’t get to me, brother.”

His Highness Rejhon is better at swordsmanship.

However, Alectos is overwhelmingly stronger as a magician.

Overall, Alectos is the superior one.

His Highness who always stood at the front lines with the knights, and the prince who only polished his skills through training.

The difference in experience points was clear.

“Don’t underestimate me, Alec.”

His Highness Rejhon shows his frustration and has no intention of retreating.

The flame of the magic sword increases in firepower and spreads so much that it covers the sky.

“Descend, Rain of fire!”

Countless fireballs rain down.

On the spur of the moment, His Highness deploys a magical barrier, but some of the fireballs reach the tower before it can be completed.

“Meiana!”

“Yes!”

I am here for moments like this.

I have already placed several Rune Stones around the tower.

Water is the enemy of fire.

“【ᛚ(Laguz)!】.”

There is no water in the vicinity.

Therefore, His Highness uses a chunk of ice made by magic instead.

The ice changes into water due to the activation of the Rune, and a thin film is deployed into the sky.

The rain of fireballs is blocked by the wall of water.

“Well, you did it.”

“Brother.”

“――!”

Taking advantage of a momentary opening, His Highness generates a thorny whip from the ground and restrains His Highness Rejhon’s feet.

“Tch, what is this!”

“You can’t afford to look away, brother.”

While the two princes engage in a fierce battle, I turn my gaze to the opponent I should face.

“Onee-sama…”

According to His Highness, His Highness Rejhon is a top-class magician but his magical power is unreliable.

And yet, he is able to use a magic sword with so much force.

The reason is probably because of Onee-sama supporting him from the rear with the expanded effect range of her staff.

That’s why I have to stop Onee-sama.

“【ᛊ(Sowel)】!”

The rune of the sun.

It converges light, and fires a pure white shot at Onee-sama.

I’m aiming for her feet, if she just steps back and gets away, it’ll be fine.

If she gets out of the effect range…

“Reflection.”

But it’s not easy.

The light is reflected by the light.

The reflected shot of light knocks down a giant tree.

“…It’s your fault.”

“Onee-sama?”

It’s a distance where I can barely hear her voice.

She muttered softly.

While glaring at me fiercely.

Chapter 39: Don’t blame me

“It’s my…fault?”

What is she talking about?

“Because you’re working hard…I have to work hard too.”

“What do you mean…”

“Why! Why is it always you!”

She becomes emotional and her words become monotone.

I didn’t understand what she was trying to tell me.

All that came across was her anger towards me.

“What…why are you so angry?”

“Don’t you understand? Do you know how much I’ve been suffering since you left!”

“Suffering…?”

Could it be something at the Pheles house…

Something that was done to me now to Onee-sama?

I had anticipated that, but if it’s really true, I feel sorry for her.

“Every time you achieve something, I get nagged about it. ‘Leticia, have you nothing to show for it?’ ‘Show us your new results soon.’ Even my work at the court is being monitored. Even if I finish my work properly, if it takes even a second longer, I’ll be scolded.”

“Huh…”

“It’s because you’re not there anymore! Neither Norman-sama nor Jerick-sama try to help me even when I ask for their help. No one, just me…”

“…”

I finally understood what had made Onee-sama angry.

With that understanding, I spoke out.

In a cold and dispassionate voice.

“Is that it?”

“Huh…?”

I’ll be honest.

I thought she was suffering more than that.

I was worried.

About physical punishment or confinement.

I had incited our parents to the point where it wouldn’t be surprising if that happened to her.

But it wasn’t so.

Everything she was saying…

“That’s what I’ve been enduring for a long time.”

“――!”

It’s not surprising.

After all, I know everything.

“Every time I see them, I get nagged, ignored, and no one helps me. I’m always compared to and criticized… I know how painful it is.”

It’s what I’ve been enduring for years.

That’s why I clearly state it, even if it’s cold.

“That’s what Onee-sama was doing to me, too.”

“――I…”

“If you’re talented, did you think you could do anything? Were you just using it as a stress release because you wouldn’t get scolded for treating people harshly, because people around you said so?”

“That’s…”

Ah, how mean.

I can’t control my frustration and emotions like this.

I’m getting even more irritated because I did my best to worry about her.

She’s not reflecting on her actions.

She doesn’t regret what she’s done to me, nor does she think it was wrong.

She’s just angry, blaming me for the current treatment she’s receiving.

“Don’t misunderstand, Onee-sama. It’s not my fault. You’re just not living up to expectations, right?”

“…Meiana…”

“I’m not the one at fault here. You’re the one who’s avoiding the problem.”

“…Who do you think you are?!”

Immediately after raising her voice, Onee-sama loses consciousness and falls over.

She falls asleep with a gentle snore, lying on the ground.

“It finally worked.”

I’ve been placing Rune Stones in various places from the beginning.

There was one near Onee-sama, too.

The rune of 【ᛞ (Dagaz)】.

It means “day” or “daytime.”

With an expanded interpretation, a calm day can induce drowsiness.

Although it took a while due to the excitement, I was able to induce good sleep.

Now, there’s no more support for them.

“Your Highness!”

“Well done!”

“Tch, Leticia, did you lose to your little sister?”

Clearly, the output of the magic sword decreased when Onee-sama fell asleep.

The amount of controlled flames was reduced by half.

“That’s enough for today, Brother.”

“…Not yet.”

The battle was over.

While everyone thought so, His Highness Rejhon didn’t give up.

“I haven’t lost yet!”

He tightens the magic sword with his feelings.

But that’s not good.

The magic sword is a powerful weapon, but it also has risks.

As if in response to the emotional upheaval, the magic sword bursts into flames.

“Oh, crap…”

“Your Highness!”

The magic sword begins to run amok.

If you lose your support and continue to exert force with your emotions, it will inevitably go out of control.

The control of magic power becomes lax, and the power is emitted uncontrollably.

“Your Highness Rejhon.”

“Rampage?”

Norman-sama and Zion-kun also broke off their engagement.

This is not the time for that.

If left unchecked, it won’t stop until it burns the user to ashes.

“Release the magic sword! Brother!”

“I, I can’t let it go…”

He has completely lost control.

We need to get rid of the magic sword right away, or forcefully stop the flames.

There is power within the runes to calm the flames.

“Let me——”

Before I could say anything, someone started moving.

Without any hesitation, the one who grabbed the blazing magic sword was…

“Your Highness?”

It was His Highness Alectos.

He activated the cooling magic at point-blank range.

He covered the flames with ice, calming down the rampage.

Cold air and steam mixed together and spread out to the surrounding area.

Will His Highness be alright?

I hurriedly ran to them and felt relieved when I saw him where the steam disappeared.

“Your Highness! I’m glad you’re safe…”

His Highness’s right arm, which held back the flames, was badly burnt from the shoulder to the fingertips.

“Are you hurt? Brother.”

“Alec…you…”

Despite his own serious injuries, he’s concerned about the well-being of his enemy.

Although they are siblings, it’s still an abnormal sight to witness.

And thus, the power struggle was resolved in an unintended way.

We, well…won.

But I’m not at all happy.

The only thing we gained from this battle was His Highness’ terrible burn.

Chapter 40: I am here

“It seems it will take a month until a full recovery.”

After the power struggle, everyone gathered in my laboratory.

I relayed the condition of His Highness that I heard from the court physician to Zion-kun and Kaijin.

The burn on his right arm is severe, and it seems it’s difficult for him to move it now.

“Damn it, it doesn’t feel right even though we won.”

“I-I’m sorry.”

“Why are you apologizing?”

“If I had acted first, His Highness might not have been injured.”

“Huh? If you had done that, you would have been the one with severe burns. The situation wouldn’t have changed.”

As Kaijin said, anyone could have been a sacrifice.

However, it was just that His Highness acted without hesitation.

Fortunately, His Highness Rejhon was not injured.

His Highness Alectos has contained all the flames, and he himself has taken the brunt of the impact.

By the way, it seems like the battle between Kaijin and the Knight Commander continued.

Using magical tools, the Knight Commander was able to restrain Kaijin, who was like a monster, alone.

Neither of them is a normal human.

Kaijin was left feeling restless as the issue remained unresolved.

“So, what about the prince who was saved? Did he properly accept his defeat?”

“That’s what I heard.”

“Well, if he doesn’t accept it now… I don’t think he can really call himself a decent person.”

He wasn’t someone heartless enough to not think anything of his younger brother who had risked his life to save him.

At that time, the expression on His Highness Rejhon’s face, who had been saved, was filled with regret.

“But geez, that guy really does go overboard. If things had gone wrong, he could have died.”

“…Perhaps he just isn’t afraid of death.”

“Huh?”

“I-I only say that based on how it appeared. At that moment, his highness didn’t hesitate. It’s as if he has no interest in being hurt… it seems like he doesn’t really care.”

Zion-kun speaks in a small voice.

It doesn’t matter what happens…I also had the feeling that it looked that way.

The sight of him worrying about the unharmed His Highness Rejhon, despite having suffered a serious injury himself, felt somewhat abnormal.

“Just being reckless. What about the exploration?”

“It’s going to start in one month, I heard.”

“Ugh, we have too much free time until then. What should we do to kill time? Hey kid, let’s play for a bit.”

“N-No thank you.”

“What did you say?”

“Hii! I’m sorry!”

Zion-kun ran away teary-eyed.

Kaijin chased after him.

“Wait! Fight me to kill time!”

“That’s why I said no!”

“Hahaha…”

Watching those two, I felt a little bit better.

“Your Highness…”

I heard he was getting treated in the infirmary.

I somehow wanted to see how he was doing, so I headed for the infirmary.

When I opened the door to the laboratory, I encountered an unexpected person.

“Meiana.”

“Y-Your Majesty!”

I suddenly met the king in the hallway.

I was surprised and made a strange noise before quickly bowing my head.

“Good. I just came here to chat a bit.”

“Y-Yes… um…”

“Were you planning on going to Alectos’ place?”

“――Yes.”

When I responded, His Majesty gave me a gentle look.

“I heard the situation from Rejhon. That child seems to have reflected a little as well.”

“I see.”

Rejhon-sama…

“Meiana, how did Alectos look to you?”

“Huh? In what way…”

“Didn’t you think he was a bit dangerous?”

“Well…I did.”

I remembered Zion-kun’s words.

“It seems like he doesn’t care what happens to himself…”

“Exactly. Alectos is careless about his own well-being.”

His Majesty asserts.

As I widen my eyes in surprise, His Majesty continues to speak.

“Alectos’s mother…my wife was assassinated on the way back from an inspection.”

“What…”

I am speechless.

It is widely believed that the wife of the current king died of illness.

I also thought that was the truth.

“Is, is it true?”

“Yes. Alectos was also there, small as he was. On a day of heavy rain…his mother was attacked and killed, and Alectos hid and watched.”

I gulp down a lump in my throat.

The young prince was hiding under the direction of his Okaa-sama.

Due to fear, he could only watch helplessly as the others were brutally killed.

Just imagining it sends shivers down my spine and scares me.

His Highness has such a past.

“Since that day, he has become stronger. He had talent to begin with, but now he is the best magician in the kingdom. However, what drives him is the regret from rainy days. Anger at his own weakness and incompetence for not being able to protect others…”

The king continues speaking.

And looks at me with a sad yet warm gaze.

“That child doesn’t want anyone to die. He doesn’t want anyone to get hurt. He thinks that if he has to sacrifice himself for that, then so be it.”

“That’s…”

“I also tried to stop him. I tried to persuade him several times. But he didn’t change. He is still haunted by the regret of not being able to help his mother.”

Zion-kun had talked to me about the prince’s heart before.

The prince’s heart is like a rainy day, with something hidden deep within.

I don’t know what that something is yet.

But I’m sure it’s the young prince himself, who couldn’t do anything but hide and watch when he wasn’t able to help.

“…Why are you telling me this?”

“You remind me a bit of my wife. Your demeanor, I mean.”

“M-Me?”

His Majesty nodded his head.

“He chose you partly because of your abilities, but unconsciously, he may have been drawn to you. So, I’m sorry to ask this, but I entrust him to you.”

“…Is, is there anything I can do?”

“I don’t know. I only want you to keep talking to him. About anything.”

“Talking…”

What should I talk about?

There’s no way someone like me can do anything about his dark and sad past.

His Majesty told me the story and left.

He probably stopped by just to tell me.

I deeply bow my head.

And then, I walk away.

Of course, I head to the infirmary.

I arrive at His Highness’ room and take a deep breath.

I still don’t know what to say.

I just want to see His Highness’s face, so I knock on the door.

“Who is it?”

“It’s Meiana.”

“Oh, come in.”

After getting permission, I open the door.

A cold, damp breeze blows through.

Coincidentally, it was raining today.

I make eye contact with His Highness sitting on the bed in the infirmary.

“You came to visit me. Is it for a condolence visit?”

“Yes.”

“I see. I’m sorry. I made you wait for a month in this state.”

“No, Your Highness. Your health is more important.”

“…It’s not that important. I’m just glad everyone else is okay more than me.”

I don’t care about myself.

He shows a profile that seems to want to say that.

He hates rain.

I now understand the meaning he previously mentioned.

It’s raining hard today.

He must have lost his mother on a day like this.

He has grown strong because he doesn’t want anyone else to die anymore.

Even if it means sacrificing himself, he wants to protect others.

What can I say to him?

“Your Highness.”

“What is it?”

“――I’m here.”

I lightly touch his injured hand next to him.

My thoughts are not organized.

But mysteriously, these words emerged from my heart.

I’m here.

“Meiana…?”

“Please don’t do anything reckless. If you’re going to be reckless, I’ll help too. I’ll protect Your Highness as well.”

It didn’t make any difference what His Majesty said.

If It would be meaningless for me to stop him.

Then, I’ll go with him.

To dangerous places, to scary places, it doesn’t matter.

If His Highness is going, I won’t hesitate.

That’s all I can do right now.

I, who was saved by His Highness, will now protect him.

“――Mom.”

“Huh?”

“Ah, no, that line just now sounded like something my deceased mother used to say. ‘I’m here, always watching.’ It was her catchphrase.”

“I see…”

“Ah…”

His Highness looks up at the ceiling, looking lonely.

I must have reminded him of his Okaa-sama.

Did I say something unnecessary?

“Meiana.”

No, it’s okay…

“Thank you.”

I’m not wrong.

Seeing the smile that His Highness directed towards me, I thought so.

I strongly feel that I want to be able to protect this person’s smile.

I want to continue to be a magician that can live up to His Highness’ trust.

Chapter 41: Resting

“Come on, come at me already!”

“Eek! I-I told you I don’t want to!”

Zion-kun is being chased around by Kaijin in the Order’s training grounds.

Kaijin chases after Zion-kun, who is crying and running away, with a mixed expression of frustration and joy.

It definitely looks like bullying, but the knights around them were just exasperated.

“He’s doing it again.”

“Hang in there, Zion. Keep running.”

“Please help me, not cheer me up!”

His fellow knights return to their own training, not because they are heartless but because they know Zion will be fine.

“Too irresponsible!”

Well, it’s about time Kaijin catches up with Zion-kun.

He’s cornered against the wall and has nowhere to run.

“U…uhh…”

“I’ve finally got you cornered. Now, draw your sword!”

“Eek! I-I…”

The cornered Zion-kun draws his Holy Sword.

Kaijin also attacks with the understanding, and his attack is intercepted.

From the knights who were observing sideways, a voice of admiration rises.

Everyone was waiting for this development.

The cornered Zion-kun draws his Holy Sword, and the clash with Kaijin begins.

It’s always the same flow, so in a way, I was watching with relief.

“Please stop this already. Every time, someone gets hurt.”

“Hah! That’s fine with me, kiddo!”

The battle between Zion-kun and Kaijin was becoming a famous spectacle within the knight order.

They are strong.

They have an unparalleled strength.

Moreover, they fight in an exciting way that makes you want to watch.

That’s why many knights come to watch.

As for me, I am responsible for watching over them so that they don’t get too heated and get injured.

“Both of you, please be mindful of your surroundings.”

“I know.”

“That’s up to this guy!”

“Already.”

The two are still in good spirits today.

It has been a month since that power struggle.

Kaijin kills time by sparring with Zion-kun and seems to be enjoying himself every day.

For him, who had no opponents of equal strength, Zion-kun was one of the few who could make him stronger.

Zion-kun also seems to be reluctantly participating every time, but he looks a little more lively.

Maybe he was also looking for someone who could take him seriously.

Of course, their personalities and interests are polar opposites.

“Hey, hey, what’s wrong?”

“Huh, take this!”

Gradually, the expressions of the two become stern.

They forget that it’s just a training and get closer to a serious stare-down.

That’s when it’s my turn.

“Enough from both of you! If you don’t stop, I’ll pour water on you!”

“――!”

“Tsk, we were just getting started.”

The two heard my voice and stopped their fight.

That’s good.

If I get in there, they won’t even hear my voice.

Then, I have no choice but to pour water on them from above.

The two who stopped fighting walk towards me.

“Great work, both of you.”

“We’re not tired at all. We haven’t even moved enough yet. Hey kid, let’s get back to it.”

“I-I don’t want to.”

Zion-kun also puts away his Holy Sword in its sheath and returns to his usual easygoing atmosphere.

“Meiana-san! Please stop him earlier if you can.”

“Then it wouldn’t be a training, would it?”

“Eeeh~.”

“Gahaha! Looks like you don’t have any allies!”

Kaijin roughly pats Zion-kun’s shoulders as he slumps down.

He still has that unpleasant expression on his face.

But I wonder if Zion-kun himself realizes that he can complain and have a natural conversation with Kaijin?

“Well then.”

“Where are you going?”

“To meet His Highness.”

“Oh, so it’s time already. Tell him to get his ass back in gear.”

“You said that yesterday too, didn’t you?”

“I’ll say it every day. I’m tired of waiting.”

Kaijin shakes his head with a sigh.

Despite being someone who seems to dislike waiting due to his personality, he has been staying in the royal castle for the past month while complaining.

Thanks to Zion-kun being here, but he tends to try and enter the ruins or run away from the castle by himself.

He looks rough, but surprisingly he’s a thoughtful person.

“What do you need?”

“Well, I’ll tell him then. What about Zion-kun? Are you coming with me?”

“Oh, no, I’m tired, I’m taking a break.”

“Okay. Well then, we’ll be going.”

I bow lightly to the two of them and leave the training ground.

◇◇◇

Kaijin sits on the ground and murmurs as he watches Meiana’s back.

“She’s such a diligent person every day.”

“I think it’s just because she’s worried.”

“Well, his wounds are already healed, right?”

“That’s what the doctor said. However, I also heard that he still needs to rest.”

“Jeez, if the wounds are healed, it should be enough.”

Kaijin groans and lies flat on his back.

He looks up at the clouds in the sky and says to Zion, who is standing next to him.

“Hey, kid.”

“I-I’m not a kid, I’m Zion.”

“What a pain in the ass. Anyway, it’s about time.”

“About the ruins?”

“Hey, this is gonna be exciting. I’ll make sure to see just how strong this Demon God guy is.”

Kaijin stretched his arms out towards the sky and balled his fists.

With an expression filled with expectation.

Beside him, Zion was exasperated.

“W-We’re going to stop his resurrection, you know that, right?”

“Shut up, it doesn’t matter if he resurrects or not.”

“…You can’t just do whatever you want, you know? When the time comes… I’ll stop you.”

“You will?”

“…Someone will.”

“Why don’t you say you’ll do it yourself? You’re strong enough.”

Kaijin closed his eyes in a feeling of bliss and said so.

A pleasant breeze blew.

Zion smiled softly at being acknowledged by him.

“Alright, Zion! Let’s continue.”

“We’re still supposed to be taking a break, you know!”

Chapter 42: Proud as an older brother

I walk alone from the knight’s barracks towards the royal castle.

Although going through the palace is the shortest route, I choose to take the longer way because there are many people I don’t want to see.

“Those two.”

I wonder if they will start fighting while I’m looking away…

It happened several times in the beginning, but it seems to have decreased after I warned them.

Since there is no one to stop them if I’m not there, I want them to wait until I return if possible. I hope both of them understand that.

To return as soon as possible, I hurried towards the royal castle.

I enter the royal castle and walk through the hallway.

His Highness, who was recuperating in the sickroom one month ago, has now recovered considerably and returned to his room.

His wounds have completely healed and he can move around now.

Like the two of them, he would act recklessly if not watched over regularly.

I was asked by the king.

To make sure His Highness doesn’t act recklessly alone, he wants me to keep a close watch on him.

To fulfill that duty, I am heading to His Highness’ room today, as well.

“――!”

My hurried feet come to an abrupt stop.

His Highness appears before me.

However, it was not His Highness Alectos whom I met, but another person.

“Your Highness Rejhon.”

“Meiana, can I have a little bit of your time?”

I need to go see how His Highness is doing.

As His Highness Alectos’ direct subordinate, I could ignore His Highness Rejhon’s orders.

I could have refused, but for some reason…

“…Sure.”

I felt like I could talk to him for a little bit.

We moved to a different location.

We moved away from the middle of the crowded hallway and into an unused room.

The royal palace was vast, and there were many unused rooms.

His Highness Rejhon moved towards the window, and I stood by the door.

It had been a month since we last met, during that power struggle.

There were no chance encounters in the hallway, intentional or not.

So I was surprised.

I never expected His Highness Rejhon to come up and talk to me.

“Were you going to see Alec?”

“Yes.”

“…I see.”

“…”

It was awkward.

The conversation didn’t continue.

There was no prior interaction, so there was nothing for me to talk about.

It was His Highness Rejhon who called out to me.

I think he has something he wants to talk about, and there is no atmosphere of joking around.

However, he seems hesitant to speak his mind.

The silence continues.

It turns out that I am not good with quiet moments.

As I was thinking about whether there was anything to talk about, His Highness Rejhon asked me a question.

“How is Alec’s condition? Has he recovered yet?”

He probably wanted to ask about His Highness Alectos.

After he asked the question, he quickly averted his gaze.

“Is His Highness Rejhon not going to visit him?”

“Huh? Why would I visit him?”

“But…”

It’s clear that he is concerned.

Since he stopped me earlier, there hasn’t been a lighthearted atmosphere or any laughter.

He has a dark and calm demeanor, never smiling.

“If you’re concerned, why don’t you go see him and check for yourself?”

“Don’t get me wrong. That injury happened because he selfishly protected me. If he doesn’t recover from it, it will be my fault. I’m just worried and asked about it.”

“…”

He makes an easy-to-understand excuse.

Is he hesitating to visit because he accidentally injured himself?

Surprisingly delicate, or maybe he’s really worried about Alectos-sama.

I thought they were just bickering, but maybe not?

“Gosh, that guy! He did it on his own even though he wasn’t asked…What was he planning to do if he died? The same as Mother…!”

His Highness Rejhon stops his muttering halfway.

Few people know the truth about his mother’s death.

Officially, it’s considered to be a natural death.

He looks embarrassed looking away after speaking emotionally about his mother in front of me.

“So, is he recovering?”

“Yes. He is recovering smoothly, and his wounds have almost healed completely.”

“——I see.”

He turns his face away and gazes at the window.

His profile that I caught a glimpse of seems relieved in some way.

After a moment of silence, His Highness Rejhon starts to walk.

“I’ve asked everything I wanted to know. Sorry for taking up your time.”

He walks with a determined attitude, passes by my side, and heads out the door.

I know the truth behind the Queen’s death, as told to me by His Majesty.

She died while protecting the young Prince Alectos, killed by an assassin.

That event shaped the current Prince Alectos into who he is.

And what about His Highness Rejhon?

It’s only natural, but he too is Okaa-sama (the Queen)’s son.

It’s impossible for him to not feel anything after losing his mother.

Could it be that he is hard on His Highness Alectos because of the sadness of losing his mother…?

But it doesn’t quite feel right.

I don’t think His Highness Rejhon hates Prince Alectos.

No, it might actually be the opposite…

“Did you challenge His Highness Alectos because you didn’t want him to die?”

“――!”

His Highness Rejhon, who had his hand on the door, stops abruptly.

It was nothing more than my imagination.

I don’t know the truth.

But if that were really the case…

“Hmph, what nonsense…I just challenged Alec because I don’t like him.”

“…”

“An older brother who can’t stand tall in front of his little brother can’t be called an older brother, can he?”

“——that…”

With a click, the door closes.

I felt like His Highness Rejhon’s heart was in his final words.

Chapter 43: Let’s take a walk

After parting with His Highness Rejhon, I head towards his room again.

I don’t have any set time to visit, but I find myself going there around the same time every day.

I naturally quicken my pace.

I arrive at the front of the room.

I knock three times and call out to His Highness.

“Your Highness, it’s Meiana.”

I waited for about three seconds.

There is no reply, only silence.

I tilt my head in confusion and knock on the door again.

“Your Highness?”

There is still no answer.

Could he be sleeping?

If so, I don’t want to wake him up.

But just to be sure, I wanted to confirm if he was sleeping or not.

After all, it’s rude to enter the prince’s private room without permission.

That’s where my special skill comes in handy.

“【ᛗ(Manaz)】.”

I engrave a rune on the door of the room.

The meaning of 【ᛗ】 is “person.”

It has the effect of sensing human presence, searching for lost people, and discovering something related to humans.

The rune engraved on the door glows, and if there is someone inside, it will continue to shine.

If no one is inside…

“Gone?”

The light goes out.

The detection by runes showed no signs of a person in the room.

I became worried and opened the door in a hurry.

“Your Highness!”

As expected, no one was there.

The bed was neatly made and the room was tidy.

The window was also closed, and there were no signs of a struggle.

In other words, he left on his own.

“He’s still supposed to be resting.”

Where could His Highness be?

I searched the room frantically.

But of course, he wasn’t there.

There were no traces of him either.

He’s already recovered from his injuries and has been told that it’s okay to walk around.

“Your Highness…”

I’m worried.

And after hearing that talk from His Majesty, I’m even more anxious.

However, His Highness should know better than anyone.

Surely he didn’t go too far.

Considering His Highness’s personality…

“The office?”

Making a guess, I quickly left the room.

I headed towards the office where His Highness usually works.

If it’s His Highness’s personality, he must be itching to get back to work after leaving it unattended for a month.

If the body can move well enough, then it should be fine to start working already.

That must have been what he thought.

With a presumptuous expectation, I knock on the door of the office.

“Your Highness, are you in?”

“――That voice, Meiana.”

“――! I knew it.”

He was here after all.

I breathe a sigh of relief.

“May I come in?”

“Sure.”

“Excuse me.”

I enter the room.

The window must be open, as a gentle breeze blows through the room.

Documents piled up on the table flutter in the wind.

His Highness was standing, holding the documents and examining them.

Honestly, it was too predictable and I was exasperated.

“You figured out I’d be here?”

“Since it is His Highness, I thought he might have started work.”

“Haha, you’re right. I’ve recovered enough. This much won’t be a problem.”

“That’s not right. Even the doctor must have told you to rest. Your wounds may have healed, but your strength hasn’t fully returned.”

Even if it was somewhat disrespectful, I offer my advice to His Highness.

Of course, Your Highness should understand as well.

So even if I tell him, he won’t get angry.

“You’re a worrier.”

Saying that, His Highness put the documents back on the table.

“You were later than usual, so I thought you might not come today.”

“I had some business to attend to.”

There was no need to mention my conversation with His Highness Rejhon.

I somehow thought that and didn’t bring it up.

“How are those two? Are they lively and well?”

“I think they’re taking a break right now.”

“I see. I’m sorry for making them bored. It would have been better if I were stronger.”

“You’re more than enough.”

The injury was quite deep and heavy.

It was only the shortest healing period recommended by the doctor, which was one month.

Wounds that would normally take two months to heal healed in half that time.

Healing by magic is advanced and especially difficult to treat others.

Healing was one of His Highness’s few inexperienced magic.

Still, this recovery speed was amazing.

“The doctor said I can go back to normal life. I think paperwork is fine, too.”

“Did you talk to the doctor about your job?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Then please make sure to confirm next time you see them.”

I’m not a doctor, so I can’t be clear about the state of His Highness’s body.

If a doctor says it’s okay, then there’s no problem, and if it hasn’t been said, then he should rest.

“Well then. Let’s stop working and take a walk together instead?”

“A walk? That’s fine, but where to? Not too far.”

“It’s okay, the distance isn’t too far. There’s a hill behind the royal castle.”

“A hill, you say?”

Come to think of it, that’s right.

The castle itself is built on a high place in the city.

I have never been there because you have to cross the royal castle to get there.

“Is there something there?”

“…There’s a grave.”

“A grave?”

“…Yeah, it’s my late mother’s grave.”

His Highness passes by me.

His profile, which was visible for only a moment, looked sad.

Chapter 44: Unforgettable memory

There was a path on the grounds of the royal castle that led to the hill behind it.

It was surprisingly easy to get to, but neither the knights nor the servants visited this place.

Because it was not just a simple hill.

Those who knew, knew what was beyond the hill.

That place was a special location for the royal family.

“Actually, today is my mother’s death anniversary.”

“…I see.”

His Highness began to speak as we walked.

There was a discrepancy of a few days from the officially disclosed death anniversary.

His Highness shouldn’t know what I know…

Then why did he mention that today was the day she died… in an assassination?

As I followed behind His Highness, I looked up at the sky.

It had been clear just a moment ago, but now the clouds were gradually becoming ominous.

A thick cloud, seemingly about to pour rain, was coming towards us.

The sky seemed to be sinking too.

And then, we arrived at the other side of the hill.

In a place where you could see the scenery outside the royal capital, a small cross was standing.

“My mother always loved this place. Whenever she was happy or sad, or had something to worry about, she came here. Even when she fought with my father, she always came here and made up with him.”

“I see.”

This place was not just important to him, but to their family as a whole.

That’s why they built the tomb here.

Their deceased mother, in her most beloved place…

“I come here often too. Mostly to report things, but sometimes when I’m troubled too.”

“Which one is it now?”

“Both, I guess.”

As he spoke, His Highness knelt before the tombstone.

This was the first time I saw his small, sad-looking back.

It was as if he were a completely different person from the one I knew, always dignified, courageous, and stronger than anyone else, leading everyone.

“Did my father tell you?”

“Eh…”

“I’m talking about my mother.”

His Highness asked while still facing away from me.

Although I was surprised by his sudden question, I had a feeling that he might ask about it.

Did you ask His Majesty about it?”

“No, Father didn’t say anything, but I just had a feeling. That’s all.”

His highness stands up and puts his hands on his waist, looking up at the sky.

“…It looks like it’s going to rain.”

“Yes…”

I hate rain.

I remember when his highness said that.

I’m sure he’ll forever remember the sad past, even if he tries to forget the sight of his mother being killed right in front of him.

“How much did you hear?”

“…That your Okaa-sama was assassinated. I didn’t hear the details.”

“I see…I still occasionally dream about that day.”

“Your Highness?”

He turns around.

He looks sad, but he forces a smile.

“Can you listen to me?”

“Yes…”

I nod slightly and listen carefully to his voice.

I won’t miss a single word.

◇◇◇

That day, the clouds were thick from morning.

The weather was such that it wouldn’t be strange to start raining at any moment.

But if my mother was around, it wouldn’t rain.

“If Okaa-san’s here, it won’t rain!”

“Why is that?”

“Well, it’s a secret.”

She evaded the question and laughed.

My mother was like the sun.

Always bright, with warm words and voice, being with her made my heart warm.

I loved my mother.

Being together for a short time because she was busy meant that being together like this was happiness.

Especially on this day, it was a field trip just for my mother and me, so it felt like we were the only ones there.

I was excited.

On the way home, an incident occurred.

It started to rain.

Rain that had never fallen before when I was with my mother.

It was the first time.

Even as a child, I had a bad feeling about it.

That feeling was right on target.

The carriage we were on suddenly stopped and then overturned with a loud noise.

“A-Alec!”

“Mother!”

In a moment, my mother protected me by holding me close to her chest.

The exterior of the overturned carriage had peeled off, and I could see the outside as it rolled over.

It was pouring rain.

In the rain, I could vaguely see a figure approaching the carriage.

“…Mother.”

“Shh, be quiet.”

I tried to speak, but my mother held my mouth.

“Alec, no matter what happens, don’t leave from here. Stay here quietly and don’t make any noise.”

“Mother?”

“Promise Okaa-san. Please?”

“…Y-Yeah.”

I was scared.

I didn’t understand the situation.

But my mother smiled and stroked my head.

I’m sure everything will be okay.

My mother went out alone through the gap in the broken carriage.

She stood in front of the gap so that I couldn’t be seen.

“Who are you guys?”

“Queen Militaria, right?”

“Yes.”

“――I’m sorry, but you have to die here. Everything is for the people’s peace.”

The men were assassins hired to kill my mother.

My mother knew.

Therefore, she chose a way to sacrifice herself so that at least I could survive.

Mother doesn’t know how to fight.

The opponents are multiple highly skilled assassins.

There was no way to save her, and my mother was killed without a second thought.

“――!”

I was about to scream out loud.

But I desperately held back because of my promise to my mother.

My mother’s body was leaning against the broken carriage, as if trying to hide my figure.

“According to the information, the second prince should be here too, right?”

“…He must have been crushed under the rubble. The objective has been achieved. Let’s withdraw.”

I heard the sound of the assassins leaving.

I couldn’t see anything.

It was pitch black… The only thing faintly visible was the blood flowing from my mother’s body, reaching my feet.

I suppressed my voice and presence, but tears still flowed down my face.

I will never forget the smell of the mixture of blood and tears.

Chapter 45: Rain stops

“That day, I made a vow. I don’t want anyone to disappear in front of me anymore. I want to become strong enough to protect everything… That’s why I want to become stronger.”

“…”

“Meiana?”

A cold drop of water runs down my cheek.

I had been listening to what His Highness was saying, but I had unknowingly started crying.

I was prepared for it, but I couldn’t resist.

“I’m sorry…”

It was a sad story.

I couldn’t believe that there could be such painful and difficult things in life.

But this story actually happened, and it is a past that remains burned in His Highness’s mind.

His beloved mother was killed before his eyes.

Suppressing the urge to cry out loud, he kept his mother’s last wishes.

His Highness gently touches my cheek as tears stream down it.

“When you came to visit me, Meiana said words that my mother often said. ‘I’m here for you.’ It’s strange, but it gives me strength.”

“Your Highness…”

“You look a bit like my mother.”

With that, His Highness smiles.

The same thing was said to me by His Majesty.

That I resemble the late queen.

So His Highness…

“Maybe that’s why I found you.”

He didn’t offer his hand to me by chance.

His Highness had been searching.

Unconsciously, he was following me because I resembled his beloved mother…

“Yeah, you do. You look a little like her, but it’s more the atmosphere… And the words, they came out of your mouth, right?”

“Yes. I thought I had to say something, and they just came out naturally.”

“I see. Then that was your typical expression.”

His Highness smiles happily.

If he could feel a little bit of his mother in my appearance and words, I’m glad.

I’m not his mother, and I don’t even know what kind of person she was.

Still, I consider it an honor to be able to overlap with the mother he loved.

Surely that is a privilege given only to me in this world.

“I won’t lose anyone else. I’ll protect you and them.”

“Your Highness…”

His Highness’s words are both an oath and a curse.

He doesn’t care about his own safety.

Even if it hurts, prioritize saving the person in front of you.

That is both strength and vulnerability.

I am not as strong as he is.

Even though I can use Rune Magic, I cannot fight bravely like everyone else.

What I can do… Let’s find something to say.

“Hmm, it’s starting to rain. We should—— Meiana?”

There is only one thing I can do.

I throw two Rune Stones held in my right hand high into the air.

Engraved on them is the symbol 【ᛈ (Perth)】.

The meaning it holds is wind, atmosphere, and the bearer.

The other Rune Stone flies high into the sky with the wind, reaching the height of the clouds.

“―― 【ᛒ (Berkana)】.”

The meaning of the symbol carved on the other stone is a birch branch.

Rune Stone dances in the air, drawing the symbol like a branch.

I draw a giant rune in the clouds.

“This is…”

“There’s only a little I can do.”

Drawing a symbol in a distant location is not easy.

It also requires intense magical power consumption and delicate operation.

“I can only do this. I am not as strong as His Highness and cannot fight. But…”

Even someone like me…

“――【ᛊ (Sowel)】!”

“The sky…”

With the power of the characters engraved in the thick rain clouds, the clouds scatter in all directions.

The meaning it holds is the sun.

The sun’s radiance pierces through the clouds, and the clear blue sky appears.

This is the greatest miracle that Rune Magic can perform.

I am not strong and cannot fight.

But still…

“I can stop the rain!”

“――!”

“As long as I’m here, Your Highness won’t be rained on! From now on, I’ll make sure it’s always clear for you!”

I can protect this blue sky.

I don’t know if it means anything.

But His Highness said he hates rainy weather.

Rain makes him sad.

His heart becomes cloudy and it rains.

So, I’ll change the weather like that.

If I do, at least he won’t be upset by the rain anymore.

“Haah…fuu…”

Even so, I can’t use such a large rune many times.

I squeezed out all the magic power in my entire body at once.

I feel extremely tired.

But I’m still in front of His Highness.

I can’t show him any weakness.

I’m sure his mother, Okaa-sama, was smiling in front of him too.

“……Pfft, Ha ha ha ha ha!”

“Y-Your Highness?”

Suddenly, His Highness bursts out laughing loudly.

Looking up at the sky, he puts his hand on his waist.

“Ah, you’re amazing. To be able to create such a miracle…”

“I don’t have any other outstanding qualities, so…”

“It’s more than enough. Stopping the rain… even I can’t do that.”

His Highness murmurs, looking up at the sky.

“What a beautiful sky…”

Maybe it seems that way because it’s after the rain.

The sky just after the clouds clear is bluer than usual.

A clear blue sky without a single cloud goes straight through the heart like a refreshing breeze.

“It always rained on the anniversary of my mother’s death.”

His Highness mutters, softly touching the cross on the gravestone.

“It’s the first time it has been so clear.”

Using wind magic, His Highness blows a gentle breeze.

Droplets on the cross and the grass around it dance in the air.

“Choosing you… was not a mistake.”

Muttering so, His Highness looks at me.

He looked sad the whole time.

He looked like he was holding back tears.

But now, it’s clear.

Just like this blue sky.

“Thank you. It’s my favorite sky.”

He says with a smile.

Like the sun shining in the blue sky.

I think to myself.

“You can see it as many times as you want from now on. I’ll show you.”

“——Oh, well. The next rain seems like it’ll be enjoyable.”

Surely, his Okaa-sama, was also… smiling like this.

Chapter 46: The Day I Became a Brave Man

I know very well that I’m a coward.

There are so many things I’m scared of.

Animals scare me.

Insects scare me.

Water scares me.

Thunder scares me.

I’m afraid to interact with others.

I was running away from so many things.

That’s why I can’t understand why the Holy Sword chose me, someone who is so cowardly.

“Grandma… The rain is getting worse. Maybe we should take a break from the farm on a day like this…”

“That won’t do. We have to protect the farm before it gets even stronger.”

“But, still…”

“Don’t worry. Zion can stay in the room. I’m used to this.”

Saying that, Grandma went out to the field in the heavy rain.

Outside, only the sound of rain and occasional thunder could be heard.

Both are scary.

Afraid to be alone, I couldn’t bear it and went to look for Grandma.

That’s when it happened.

Thunder rumbled and a pack of demon beasts attacked the village.

In a small village, there was no way to fight against demon beasts.

It was their first time for them to experience demon beasts, so everyone in the village was in chaos.

“G-Grandma!”

I ran.

I was worried about everyone in the village, but I was most worried about Grandma.

Grandma, who raised me.

If she disappears, I’ll be all alone.

I don’t want that.

Even in this situation, I feel pathetic that I can only think about myself.

But that’s all I can do.

When I arrived at the field, demon beasts had gathered around Grandma.

Grandma had fallen and was struggling to get up.

It wasn’t a situation where she could escape.

“Grandma!”

“Zion! Don’t come here!”

Grandma was kind.

She smiled at me with relief for my safety, despite her own peril.

I understood that she was telling me to escape, from the bottom of her heart.

Such a beautiful heart…

I don’t want to lose it.

I don’t want her to die.

“I have to help.”

As soon as I said those words, my head went blank.

How long had it been? How many seconds had passed?

When I came to, demon beasts’ dead bodies were scattered around me.

I am holding an unknown sword in my right hand.

“Is this…?”

“Holy Sword.”

I heard a voice from behind.

When I turned around, there was a man I had never seen before.

His dress and behavior conveyed his high status.

“I see. So, you are the hero.”

“Hero…?”

“Yes, that Holy Sword is irrefutable proof. I am Alectos Dell, the second prince of this country.”

“Y-Your Highness?!”

I never expected this person to be a prince.

He was a very mysterious person.

It’s raining in his heart.

Despite that, he showed a warm and sincere smile.

“You don’t have to worry about the village. My subordinates have annihilated the demon beast. Everyone is safe.”

“I-I see.”

“Anyway, I have a proposal for you.”

“A proposal?”

He reached out to me.

“Would you come with me to the capital?”

“The capital…”

“Yes, your power will be needed.”

I couldn’t immediately take his hand.

As a coward, I lacked decisiveness.

However, the words of His Highness were not a lie.

I was a little curious about the meaning of the rain in his heart.

Later, I would go to the capital with His Highness as a hero.

Advanced Chapters

KOFI-PATREON

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