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Completed ― Transmutation Master Aria Is Doing Her Best Today ~a Happy Second Life for a Transmutation Master Who Had Her Results Stolen by Her Sister~

Chapter 0: Prologue

Transmutation Art.

The art of combining substances to create new ones.

It is a prestigious power that has been passed down since ancient times, and it is said that there was always at least one among those who built civilizations.

It was historically considered a great existence.

“Look, Otoo-sama!”

“Oh, wonderful, Aria. Are you now able to perform transmutation on your own?”

I was born into a prestigious family of Transmutation Masters.

I had both the talent as a Transmutation Master and a privileged environment, and expectations were high for me.

Things were going smoothly.

Until my childhood.

However, life is dramatic, and you never know what will happen.

Reality is not just what you see.

One day, a woman who claimed to be my mother appeared.

She was a commoner.

At first, my father denied the relationship, but it was revealed to be true after examination.

It turned out that she was my father’s lover and they had a relationship before.

The other person was a commoner.

There was a social status difference between nobles and commoners, and it was unacceptable.

So my father hid it.

He cunningly deceived my mother’s memory with medicine so as not to be found out.

From that day on, my life changed dramatically.

As soon as it was known that I was the child of his lover, people’s gaze around me turned cold.

“Otoo-sama, look at this! I made it.”

“… ”

My father’s change in attitude was obvious.

He treated me as if I were not there and stopped talking to me.

Even the servants treated me badly.

No, the worst was my mother.

She wasn’t my real mother, but the person I thought was my mother.

We weren’t very close in the first place, but now it’s decisive.

Then my little sister was born.

Everyone favored my sister.

I was left alone and often locked myself in the study.

A single piece of paper fluttered.

“The court… Transmutation Master?”

It was a coincidence.

Transmutation Master working in the palace, and my family had been producing excellent Transmutation Masters to work at the palace for generations.

“If I could work at the palace too… then, we used to do.”

I couldn’t help but think about it.

As a child, I had faint hopes and had no choice but to hold on to them.

From then on, I studied Transmutation Art on my own.

I achieved some results, only to have them taken away by my younger sister and felt frustrated.

Still, I believed that someday, the day would come when I would be recognized.

Several years went by, and as an adult, I took the test to become a court-appointed Transmutation Master.

Although I was delayed behind my sister due to my parents’ disagreement, I was well-prepared and confident.

And I passed the test.

I finally made it here.

To the place where I aimed to become a court-appointed Transmutation Master.

However, the reaction of those around me did not change even though I achieved the results.

Rather, I received even worse treatment because of standing out.

I was kicked out of the mansion and had to live and work alone.

Feeling lonely.

But at the bottom of my heart, I still believed that someday I would be rewarded.

The world is not fair.

Even if you have talent, work hard, and achieve results, you may not be happy.

Knowing that, will the day come when I can laugh about it?

Chapter 1: Court Transmutation Master, fired

About a year had passed since I became a court Transmutation Master.

Summoned to the throne room, I was told by His Majesty:

“Those who can’t produce any results as a court official are nothing but ‘wage thieves.’ We don’t need such people in our royal palace.”

That was the last thing I heard in this country.

For me, who had no place even in my mansion, the court was the only place to belong and rely on.

Having lost that, I left the capital without any destination.

“How do I…What should I do?”

No one replied to such a soliloquy.

There was no one to help me.

My family, who had served as Transmutation Masters in the court for generations, had been granted a noble title for their many contributions.

It seemed that I, born as a child of the head of the family and a commoner lover, also had the talent to be a Transmutation Master.

Because of this background, I wasn’t treated very well in the mansion. But I thought that as long as I could achieve clear accomplishments as a Transmutation Master, the people around me would surely recognize me.

For more than a decade, I diligently worked towards that goal.

However, all the new developments and achievements I made in Transmutation Art were taken away by my half-sister Celica, the daughter of my father’s legal wife.

She also had talent as a Transmutation Master, but disliked the hard work, so she simply reported my accumulated research results to Otoo-sama as if they were her own.

Even if I pleaded that they were my achievements, I received no attention.

Before I knew it, she was selected to be a part of the court earlier than me, and more than two years had passed since then. Finally, I was able to become a part of the court like I’d always wanted.

But even then, I continued to lose credit to her for my achievements.

I was even accused of being a “salary thief” and driven out of the palace for receiving pay without doing anything.

My mother was a commoner who disappeared somewhere after having a relationship with my father.

More accurately, my father probably distanced himself from his own blemish.

I found out about it when I was old enough to understand.

So, I have no one to rely on other than my father.

After losing my job and place to stay, I wandered around in despair.

And then——

“Here…”

Before I knew it, I had entered the forest that I felt nostalgic about.

Being born into a noble family of Transmutation Masters, I was not given much support from my family due to being disliked for my background.

Normally, if you say you need materials for Transmutation Art, you would be given them.

My sister was given them, but I wasn’t even given that…

Before I became part of the court, I used to gather materials from the forest or mountains myself.

This forest had many rare plants and was relatively safe and calming, so it was my favorite place.

“It feels so nostalgic.”

“That’s my line.”

“Eh——?”

Lost in emotions, I was suddenly addressed by a man’s voice.

A voice I had heard many times before in light conversation, causing me to quickly turn around.

“Long time no see, Aria.”

“Yuren-kun?”

The person who called out to me was Yuren, whom I had met when I first entered this forest.

He had silver hair and a mysterious atmosphere about him.

At that time, he was still young and aiming to become a Transmutation Master like me.

He came to this forest because good materials could be obtained here.

Perhaps because we had the same goal, we talked to each other, and since we met, we had run into each other in the forest several times without any specific plans.

Before I knew it, he had become the only one my age whom I could speak to with ease.

“Long time no see?”

“Yeah. It’s been a year, hasn’t it? The last time was when you came to report that you had been appointed to the court. I didn’t think I would see you again. What’s up? Did you come to look for materials you lack?”

“Um, well…”

The last time I saw him was about a year ago.

I went to report to him first when I was thrilled to be appointed to the court.

I ran through the forest, happy and stumbling, and scraped my knees.

Once I became a courtier, I no longer needed to go to gather materials, so coming to this forest was my last time.

Since then, I haven’t met him once.

I really wanted to see him, so the reunion was very happy.

But…

“Aria?”

“Yuren-kun, I…I’m thinking of quitting as a Transmutation Master.”

“Huh?”

I lost my reason to work hard.

I no longer had a place to belong.

The hesitant response led to a word of resignation.

Yuren-kun was also surprised as he probably didn’t expect me to say that, with a look of shock on his face.

“… Weren’t you supposed to become a courtier?”

“Yeah, I became one.”

Becoming a courtier was my ultimate goal.

I think every time I met him in the forest, I talked about my determination to become a courtier.

That’s why he was surprised.

On the day I reported that I became a courtier, I was so excited that I was embarrassed, and he was happy with me.

So why did it lead to the conclusion that I would quit?

He must have been wondering.

Nevertheless, he seemed to understand from my expression and tone, and he didn’t ask further.

“I tried my best… but maybe it’s already impossible.”

Since he didn’t ask, I spoke out my weakness by myself.

To achieve results as a Transmutation Master and to be recognized by my family and the people around me.

That was my ultimate goal, and being appointed to the court was like the first step.

But now I have no home, no work.

There is no reason for me to keep trying.

So surely, quitting is not the wrong choice.

But even though I think so, it’s hard to accept.

Chapter 2: Kind reason

“…You were able to become a member of the court, right?”

“Yeah, but I was fired already. They said they don’t need someone who doesn’t do anything in the court, or something like that…”

At first, I had no intention of telling him, but before I knew it, I had confessed everything.

It seemed that the desire to feel relieved by speaking was stronger over my desire not to cause worry.

And now, I have nothing.

Nothing to lose, no goals.

I am left empty.

All that remains is a sense of loss and complaints.

“What? Aria…got fired? You’re not joking, are you?”

“I wouldn’t joke about something like that.”

It would have been so much better if it were just a joke.

It’s not funny because it’s the truth.

Yuren-kun must have also sensed that.

“Why?”

“Well, you know, I told you about my sister before and all.”

“Oh…”

With just that, Yuren-kun understood.

I had talked to him about my family and my sister before.

Of course, I didn’t tell him everything, and since it was my sister I couldn’t say anything bad about her.

But still, she was too cunning to hide.

“I thought that if I became a courtier… things would change a little. But they didn’t. Not for me, nor for the people around me…”

“Aria…”

If it was because I lacked ability or didn’t produce any results, would that have been acceptable?

I worked hard until I developed my abilities.

I had achieved results, but everything was taken away and replaced with my sister’s achievements, who had done nothing.

Looking back now, maybe the only reason I was appointed to become a courtier was that I was a Transmutation Master from the same family.

But because I didn’t produce results, I was cut off as unnecessary despite the effort to appoint me.

“I tried so hard, but it just doesn’t work.”

It was my sincere feeling, devastated from the bottom of my heart.

After saying it out loud, I forced a smile to hide my true emotions.

“I’m sorry. We haven’t seen each other for so long, and here I am, talking about depressing stuff.”

I regretted bringing up the negative topic.

As I turned my face away, Yuren-kun sat down next to me.

“You can complain as much as you want. We’re the only ones here. No one else is listening, so you can say whatever you want. I’ll listen properly.”

“Yuren-kun…”

When he said that, I suddenly lost my strength and squatted down.

“Thank you.”

Perhaps because I had just experienced a terrible ordeal and was completely broken down.

His warm words touched my heart strongly and firmly.

For me, who thought I was alone and had no allies, his presence trying to be close to me was deeply appreciated from the bottom of my heart.

I think my heart, which had been a little bit tattered, was healed.

“Oh, by the way, Yuren-kun is here, so you must be gathering materials for transmutation, right?”

“Hm? Yeah…”

This forest has many valuable materials that can be used for transmutation.

So, being in such a place means that he is still in the middle of training as a Transmutation Master.

I made a statement about resigning as a Transmutation Master in front of those who aspired to become one.

Now, I deeply regret my words and am filled with remorse.

“I-I’m sorry! I’ll leave now.”

“Aria.”

Yuren-kun grabbed my hand as I tried to escape in shame.

“Yuren-kun?”

“Hey, can’t we talk a little more?”

“Huh?”

“I have something I want to talk about.”

❂❂❂❂❂❂

Yuren-kun led me to a cottage in the forest.

Even though it was a familiar forest, it felt fresh after a year.

It was actually eerie and scary.

“Aria, I never talked to you about why I wanted to become a Transmutation Master.”

“Huh, yeah…”

On the way, Yuren-kun suddenly began to talk about it.

I had talked endlessly about why I wanted to become a Transmutation Master, but I didn’t know his reasons.

I was curious and asked him once, but he brushed me off.

Since then, I had unconsciously avoided the topic, feeling that it would be better not to ask.

“I’ll tell you now, here and now.”

The place we arrived at was an old dilapidated mansion.

It had been decades since anyone had lived there.

Moss grew on the walls, and the window glass was shattered.

Part of the roof had collapsed, and the holes were covered with twigs and vines.

I had been to this forest many times, but I had no idea there was such a mansion here.

“This was a small noble’s villa about thirty years ago. The noble’s home is gone now, and this mansion has been left abandoned.”

“I see.”

“Let’s go inside.”

“Okay.”

With some trepidation, I followed him into the mansion.

Surprisingly, the inside of the mansion was organized.

It was still dilapidated, but it had been maintained to some extent.

There were places that were clearly repaired by human hands, and I wondered who had fixed a mansion in such a place.

But that doubt was soon dispelled.

“Is this a Transmutation Circle?”

“Yes. The nobles who used it before might have disappeared, but they were from the same family of Transmutation Masters as you.”

The Transmutation Circle.

It is a pedestal made of a special stone used in Transmutation Art.

It is as tall as my stomach when installed on the ground, and a transmutation circle is engraved in the center.

If you look around, there are rows of old books on shelves that contain information about Transmutation Art.

There are also minerals and materials scattered around.

“Did you study Transmutation Art here, Yuren-kun?”

“Yeah, until recently…around six months ago.”

“Six months? Haven’t you used it since then?”

“I haven’t. There’s no reason to use it anymore.”

What?

Does that mean…Yuren-kun is the same as me?

The unspoken anxiety seemed to be reflected in my expression.

Yuren-kun looked at my face and shook his head before answering.

“It’s not the reason Aria is thinking. It’s actually a good reason in my case.”

“Is that so?”

“Yeah, should we go back to the first story? The reason I became a Transmutation Master was for my younger sister.”

“Yuren-kun has a sister?”

It was news to me.

When I asked in surprise, he nodded and continued.

“I have a sister named Irina who is five years younger than me. She was born with a weak body and was frequently sick or had poor health.”

As Yuren-kun spoke, he seemed to be reminiscing about the past.

While there was a hint of sadness, he also had a refreshing and open feeling, like a gust of wind. It didn’t feel like he was talking about something unpleasant.

“Irina’s even slow to recover from a simple cold. The potions we made at home didn’t work well for her. That’s when I got the idea to create a potion specifically for her.”

“I see.”

It’s a very kind reason.

It’s not like he’s doing it to seek recognition, like me.

He aimed to become a Transmutation Master for the sake of his family, so that his sister wouldn’t have to suffer.

I am somewhat ashamed of my reasons.

I think it’s a typically kind and genuine reason for him.

Chapter 3: Come to my country?

“That person who lived in this mansion was also a Transmutation Master, and from what I’ve heard, an incredible genius.”

“A genius? Was he that amazing?”

“Apparently. He didn’t want to stand out, so he wasn’t very active publicly, but the potions and artifacts he left behind are still widely used today.”

“Wow.”

According to Yuren-kun, he came to this mansion to trace the footsteps of the past genius.

There were also unpublished research results here, and he intended to confirm and practice them.

Despite being abandoned for thirty years, the mansion was strangely well-maintained, thanks to Yuren-kun’s efforts.

“That’s a good story. Does that mean the potion for your sister is complete?”

“Oh, yes, about six months ago.”

“That’s amazing! Congratulations, Yuren-kun!”

“Thank you. But, there’s something different. I didn’t make the potion.”

He said with a gentle look in his eyes.

“Congenital Mana Circulation Disorder.”

“Wait…”

“You should remember, right? It’s a disease that a person is born with and cannot control the mana flowing through their body. My sister’s frailty was due to this illness. It’s a difficult disease, and no effective potions have been made since its discovery… But six months ago, a potion that could be called a specific cure was announced.”

“That is…”

I remember the name of the disease and the potion very well.

That’s because I made that potion.

“I recognized the potion’s description and manufacturing method right away. You made this potion.”

I came up with the idea, made it, and provided the method of mass production.

It was probably my first significant achievement since I became a courtier.

However, it was not announced under my name.

It was announced under my sister’s name, who stole and took credit for my achievement.

That’s why I remembered it and doubted what he was saying.

As the potion’s developer, my sister’s name, not mine, should have been written.

“The developer was someone else, but I heard about you and the people around you. I thought you must have been struggling. But thanks to you, my sister is now healthy.”

“R-Really?”

“Yeah. Now she runs around the garden like nothing was ever wrong.”

“I see. That’s great.”

I felt relieved from the bottom of my heart. Someone got better with the potion that I created. It feels good to realize that.

“Well, to be honest, I was hoping to make it on my own, you know? So I’m a little disappointed.”

“Fufu, that’s just like you, Yuren-kun. You have always been competitive.”

“Well, not as much as you, I think.”

We exchanged trivial conversations and laughed together. Hearing about Yuren-kun’s sister’s recovery, I felt at ease and was able to show a natural smile even when I was feeling down.

Then Yuren-kun said in a formal tone, “Thank you, Aria. Thanks to you, my wish came true.”

“No, I haven’t done anything significant.”

“It’s a significant accomplishment. Thanks to that potion, many people, including my sister, have become healthier. You made them smile. You should be proud of yourself.”

“…Yeah.”

I’m happy to hear that.

But it’s frustrating.

After all, that achievement was ultimately taken away by my sister.

Yuren-kun’s sister is probably the opposite of mine.

Thinking about unpleasant things, I let out a small sigh.

“Okay, that’s enough introduction. Let’s get to the main point.”

“Eh? Wasn’t that the introduction?”

“That’s right. The important part starts now. Actually, in our country, there has been a serious shortage of Transmutation Masters for several years, you know? Since the loss of a genius, personnel has been gradually decreasing.”

“I-I see.”

Wait.

Did Yuren-kun just say “our country,” not the same kingdom as mine?

“Yuren-kun, weren’t you from the same kingdom as me?”

“I’m not from here. I’m from the neighboring country, Salem Kingdom. This forest used to be our territory, but we relinquished it just before I was born.”

“Oh, really? I had no idea.”

“Well, yeah. It seems like my father deemed it unnecessary to keep the land since it wasn’t being properly managed after the genius who used to oversee it was gone. I think it was a foolish decision to abandon such a treasure trove, even though he is my own father.”

Yuren-kun let out a sigh and shook his head in disbelief.

“Hahaha, well, I can understand why he made such a decision, but…”

I recalled Yuren-kun’s words.

Foolish decision to abandon such a treasure trove… even though he is my own father.

This was the land of a former neighboring country, now in the possession of the country I was in.

It was impossible for ordinary people to negotiate the exchange of land between countries.

Even if it were a noble, the final decision would rest with the king who ruled the country.

“Yuren-kun, could it be…?”

“I’ve never properly introduced myself, haven’t I?”

And then, he said with emphasis.

“My name is Yuren Salem. I am the third prince of the Salem Kingdom, as unlikely as it may seem, I am a member of the royal family.”

“Eh? Yuren-kun is…”

The prince of the Salem Kingdom?

“You can’t believe it?”

“Umm, is it true?”

“Yeah, it’s not a lie.”

Although Yuren-kun liked to joke around, he was not a dishonest person.

So I believed him.

Now that I thought about it, he did have an aura of a prince…or maybe not?

I knew he was not an ordinary person, but I never thought he was a prince.

“Our country’s style is free. My brothers seem busy, but as the third prince, I have more room to move. That’s why I could come here.”

“I see. But if the prince enters the territory of a neighboring country without permission and is caught, it would be a big problem, right?”

“Haha, that’s why it’s good that it was you who found me. And I’m glad to see you again. Actually, I’ve been coming to this place, hoping to see you again.”

“T-To see me?”

Did he keep coming back to this place even when the reason for making potions was gone?

He waited for me even though he wasn’t sure whether he could see me again, for half a year?

“Why go to such lengths?”

“I wanted to thank you directly. And, I wanted to repay the favor of saving my sister.”

“Repaying the favor?”

“Yeah. Hey, Aria, if you have nowhere to go, would you come to my country?”

That was an unexpected invitation.

He reached out to me.

With a gentle and warm hand.

Chapter 4: Tomorrow to grasp, yesterday to never return

“I knew you were going through a hard time. If possible, I wanted to help, but I couldn’t get involved with other countries’ situations. But now it’s different. Now, I can invite you openly without any hesitation.”

“B-But I…”

“I know better than anyone how amazing you are. I understand the greatness of what you have accomplished more than anyone else in this world. To me, you are a benefactor and a goal.”

“Me…?”

A goal?

It was the first time someone spoke to me like that.

I was happy.

From the bottom of my heart.

“Just because you’re excellent doesn’t mean anyone will do, okay? I want you to come because it’s you. I’ve seen you work hard without being overwhelmed by the malicious environment. That’s why I want you to come and be happy. So, will you take my hand?”

“……Yes.”

He acknowledged me.

Have I ever had someone who evaluated me so straightly before?

Not even my family who was always by my side bothered to look at me closely, but he praised me.

I took his hand because it was him.

“Thank you very much.”

“Yeah, that’s my pleasure.”

I thought happiness was just an illusion.

But with him by my side, even that illusion might become a reality.

Somehow, I had a feeling that it might be true.

❂❂❂❂❂❂

The royal palace that dismissed Aria.

A girl visited the laboratory she used to use.

“Fufu, the lab still looks charmless as ever.”

Her name is Celica Lawrence.

She is the daughter of the Lawrence family, a proud family of Transmutation Masters and Aria’s younger sister.

“I’m glad she’s finally gone. I can’t stand that commoner being my sister.”

That was the only reason.

She had been planning to trap Aria somehow because she couldn’t stand calling the child of her father’s lover her sister.

She had been steadily taking away her achievements, little by little, for a long time, taking away her small place.

And now, she had completely taken away her place.

“What a fitting end.”

Celica deeply resented Aria.

However, it proves that we did not look down on her.

Because Celica knew that Aria had the potential to be an excellent Transmutation Master.

Despite being the child of a mistress, her sister had talent as a Transmutation Master.

Moreover, it was unbearable for Celica that Aria had created a potion that was more highly valued than her own.

So she took it from her.

She took over Aria’s position, achievements, and everything else.

“Well, it’s fine. With this, I can become the greatest Transmutation Master both in name and reality. With all the research results here…fufu.”

Celica laughs, imagining her bright future.

“If she could do it, why can’t I do it?”

Celica knew of Aria’s talent.

She was confident that she possessed talent equal to or greater than Aria’s.

Therefore, as long as she had the research papers Aria left behind, she believed she could achieve the same results or even better results.

However, she did not know.

No, not only she, but many others did not know.

Aria Lawrence.

That her talent was not limited to just being called a genius.

That even a mere genius could blossom further talent through effort.

Those who had already lost it could not know.

And from now on…

They will come to feel the loss of her.

Chapter 5: The same prince

I was driven out of the royal palace, and I have nothing left.

I am worthless now that I have nothing and no one needs me.

Will I end my life quietly and unnoticed like this?

To me, who was even thinking about that, my old friend Yuren-kun reached out with a helping hand.

He was the only one who watched my efforts.

He also evaluated them.

He said I was necessary.

His hand, which I held, was warm and strong, yet gentle, making me feel relieved.

We looked into each other’s eyes.

In a worn-out mansion where nobody else was around.

Without saying a word, just by staring at each other, my heart felt warm and comfortable.

“Well, let’s get going. It’s getting dark, and there’s no light here, so the forest is especially dangerous.”

“Huh? I’ll be fine. I’ve camped out a few times to gather materials.”

“That may be so. If it was just me, it would be okay, but I don’t want to leave a girl alone in a place like this. Aria tends to be reckless, you know. You should take better care of yourself.”

“Y-Yeah.”

Yuren-kun is probably the only one who treats me like a girl.

I want someone to treat me like I’m important… but even my family has never said that to me.

“Yuren-kun is so kind.”

“Hm? Did you say something?”

“No, it’s nothing.”

I laugh it off.

Yuren-kun doesn’t seem to have heard me, and he tilts his head in confusion.

I could have repeated it louder, but it’s embarrassing to be conscious of it.

“Oh, right. Where are we going, Yuren-kun?”

“To my house, of course.”

“Yuren-kun’s house… huh? Is that, by any chance――”

The castle of the Salem Kingdom?

❂❂❂❂❂❂

My homeland, the Mayquin Kingdom, and beyond the forest to the northeast and over a small mountain lies the neighboring country of Salem.

The land size of Salem is less than half of that of the Mayquin Kingdom, and their population is only about a third.

Although it is a small country, it is blessed with abundant nature and resources, and I hear that the standard of living for its citizens is high.

Especially, the national style is distinctive and “free.”

This does not mean that anything is allowed, of course, but rather that people are free to live as they wish within the bounds of not inconveniencing each other.

“My grandfather started the current national style. If it had been free from the beginning, there would be no need for a king or a castle.”

“Is that so? I don’t know anything about the neighboring country.”

“You should get to know more about it from now on.”

“Yeah. Um, aside from that…”

We arrived at a dark, damp room at the back of the mansion.

“Where are we headed?”

“A secret passage. If you walk on the surface, it’ll take you over four hours to get to the castle. You have to go through the forest and over a small mountain.”

“Four hours…”

“It’s quite tiring, isn’t it? But if you use this shortcut, you can get there in less than an hour.”

In the center of the room underground, there was a square door with a handle.

Yuren-kun pulled the handle and slid the door open with a creaking sound.

Then, there was a stone staircase leading down to the basement beyond the door.

“Is this…”

“The master of this mansion was a Transmutation Master who served the palace at that time. This place was made so that he could easily go back and forth between the palace and here.”

He stepped on the first step of the staircase as he explained.

He looked back and gently reached out his hand to reassure me as I held his hand and slowly descended the dark staircase.

“Aren’t you scared?”

“Well, a little bit, but I’ll be okay.”

“I’m sorry, but please bear with it for a little longer. It’s safer to go straight down the stairs than to go outside.”

Even if he said so, the staircase was dark and hard to see.

I only had Yuren-kun’s dim light to rely on.

If he let go of my hand and ran away, I would be helpless in the darkness.

I knew Yuren-kun wouldn’t do such a thing, but I was still somewhat anxious.

“Have you always passed through here alone, Yuren-kun?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s amazing. You’re a prince, right? Aren’t you supposed to have bodyguards when going out alone?”

“I’m fine. My older brothers seem busy, but I’m the third so it’s not that bad. And when it comes to guarding, my sword skills are even better than the Knight Commander’s, you know?”

Yuren-kun bends his other arm, showing off his biceps in contrast to his hand holding mine.

I can’t help but laugh at his silly gesture.

“What, you think that’s funny?”

“Oh, sorry. It’s not that it was funny, it’s just that… you’re both princes, but we’re very different.”

“Hmm? Different from who?”

“… The second prince of the Mayquin Kingdom.”

Thinking about him makes me feel a little sick.

But I can’t help but remember him.

When I hear the term “prince,” I think of that liar and scary prince.

❂❂❂❂❂❂

It happened a year ago.

It was just after I finally got my dream job as a court Transmutation Master.

I was so lost and confused that nobody in my family was willing to lend me a hand.

And in the midst of it all, the first person to talk to me was…

“Hey there. Looks like you’re in trouble. You’re a new Transmutation Master, right?”

He has bright golden hair and blue eyes.

He shows a gentle smile that looks like it came out of a painting.

Laurus Mayquin, the second prince of the Mayquin Kingdom.

He’s kind and friendly to everyone, sincere, and widely supported by those around him.

However, only I know that it’s all just a façade.

Chapter 6: Back face

For every front, there is a back.

For every light, there is a darkness.

Both are correct, and both are wrong.

Humans, too, have both sides: the part they show and the part they hide.

Everyone must have them.

I had never thought about it, but I am sure that I have them too.

Someone made me aware of this fact.

“Y-Your Highness!”

As a newly appointed court Transmutation Master, I was struggling to figure out how to use the laboratory given to me.

Unexpectedly, His Highness Laurus arrived.

Surprised by his unexpected visit, I quickly lowered my head, but Laurus-sama laughed and said, “It’s all right. You don’t have to be so formal. I just came to check on things, so relax.”

“Um, well…”

“I said it’s all right. Or do you want me to give you an order?”

“Uh, no, um, I understand.”

When I answered, His Highness smiled gently.

To be honest, at first, I thought he was a little strange.

But there was no one in the royal castle or even in the estate who would talk to an outcast like me.

“Don’t you know how to use the lab? This is your room, so feel free to use it as you like. You can even renovate it if you want.”

“R-Renovate it?”

“Yeah, some Transmutation Masters have done it before. I think it’s better to be more eccentric as a Transmutation Master.”

“I-Is that so?”

He was a truly mysterious person.

I was sure he was a kind person, but there was also something that bothered me a little from the beginning.

His expression was gentle, and his voice was kind.

Yet, while talking to me, it seemed like he was looking at something else.

But that was a trivial thing.

From that day, His Highness began visiting my lab frequently.

Without any particular plans, he seemed to show up in his free time.

I was happy…very happy.

He came to see me in his spare time.

Normally, something like that would never be an option.

“Oh, so your Transmutation Art is self-taught?”

“Yes. I read books and did research, and I gathered materials on my own.”

“Wow, that’s amazing. To become a courtier through self-teaching.”

“N-No, not really.”

By entering the court, I no longer needed to go and collect materials myself. It was a good thing, but it also meant that I could no longer meet Yuren-kun.

There was no one I could talk to as freely as Yuren-kun, so I didn’t mention it, but I felt lonely enough to feel the solitude.

However, I think I managed to get through it somehow because Laurus-sama was concerned about me.

In that sense, I am grateful to him.

But…

One day, Laurus-sama asked me for advice.

“To me?”

“Yes, I can’t ask anyone else. It’s something only you can do.”

Something only I can do.

I remember feeling somewhat excited by that phrase.

It was a personal request from His Highness, and there was no one else I could ask.

I thought it must be that important.

“I want you to make this.”

I looked through the request form that was handed to me.

“A medicine? Uh, but this is…”

I was speechless and couldn’t believe what was written.

It listed the effects of the drug that needed to be made and the materials that could be used.

Almost all of them were poisons.

“Poison… Right?”

“Yes.”

“Are you sure it’s not a mistake or something?”

“I’m not mistaken. That’s what I want you to make.”

Laurus-sama replied calmly.

His expression was calm as usual, and his voice was gentle.

But…

I’m scared.

I don’t know why, but I just felt it.

“Can you do it?”

“Uh, well…”

“You’re the only one I can ask. Of course, you can’t tell anyone.”

“…I understand.”

In the end, I gave in to Laurus-sama’s pressure and nodded.

I regretted it deeply and doubted it.

However, Laurus-sama is a kind person, so I thought there must be a reason for this.

The reason is…

Is it really?

The requested poison had an effect that clearly reached lethal levels.

Where would one use such a thing?

For what purpose?

I thought about it and soon finished making the poison that had been requested.

“Hey there, Aria.”

“Laurus-sama.”

“Is the thing done yet?”

“N-No… it isn’t finished yet.”

Laurus-sama visited me several times after the request.

Each time, he asked about the progress, but I was too scared and ended up lying to him.

Even though it was completed, I pretended to struggle.

I just couldn’t believe it, I didn’t know what it would be used for.

And then, the incident occurred.

In the morning, the first prince died suddenly.

He vomited after breakfast, collapsed, lost consciousness, and never woke up again.

The cause was unknown, but it was clear to me.

As a court Transmutation Master, I was also notified of the sudden change in the first prince’s condition. But what was written there was…

Requested by Laurus-sama, it was the very effect of the poison I had newly created.

“Why? I don’t think anyone…no way——.”

I searched my laboratory.

My bad feeling hit the mark, the paper with the recipe for the poison was nowhere to be found, and there were signs that the hidden drawer had been tampered with.

Instead, I noticed a single memo paper left behind.

You don’t have to do anything.

I trembled in fear when I saw it.

I thought this was his true nature.

After the death of the first prince, Laurus-sama, the second prince, takes the first prince’s place.

As a result, Laurus-sama became a strong candidate for the next king.

I realized this was the reason.

After that, I never spoke a word with Laurus-sama.

From the beginning, that person only approached me to use me.

Probably it started from this moment.

The gear of my life was decisively shifted.

Chapter 7: Spend the night

Walking down a dark staircase.

Memories of a past I don’t want to remember weigh on my mind and my feet naturally slow down.

“Aria?”

Yuren-kun notices and calls my name with a worried, gentle voice.

“Is something wrong?”

“No, it’s nothing.”

I snap out of it and return to walking at a normal pace as if nothing happened.

It was obvious that it was unnatural, but Yuren-kun didn’t probe further because I acted nonchalant.

He looks ahead again and takes my hand, leading us down the stairs and onto a straight, dark path.

As I gaze at his back, I think to myself.

It’s rude to think of them as the same.

Yuren-kun is different from that person.

I thought they were both kind people.

But I never thought they were similar even once.

Despite having the same kindness, they are completely different.

If I had to say only one thing, that person’s kindness was fake, and Yuren-kun’s kindness is genuine.

Yuren-kun’s voice, face, and heart… everything about him is kind.

The hand that grips mine to pull me along doesn’t apply too much force, and I can feel only a gentle touch.

Even the pace of the walk naturally adjusts to my slower pace.

That’s just how this person is.

It’s been that way since we first met.

My life has been a repeated series of setbacks, and good things rarely happen to me.

Still, I can’t help but feel truly happy that I met him.

I grip his hand.

He grips mine back with the same strength.

We walked straight ahead for a while.

It was dark and scary at first, but that feeling disappeared along the way.

His presence by my side made me feel secure and I stopped feeling afraid.

And once again we reach the stairs.

This time, we’re going up step by step instead of going down.

“When we reach the top of these stairs, we’ll be in the basement of the royal palace.”

“O-Okay.”

In exchange for my fear going away, nervousness gradually rises within me.

I’ve heard of it before, but I’ve never been to the neighboring country.

That royal palace.

More than wanting to know what kind of place it was, I became worried about how I would be perceived.

“Don’t worry about it. It’s still the basement even if we come out, and it’s too late today. I’ll introduce you properly tomorrow.”

“R-Really?”

“That’s what I was planning to do. But if Aria wants to go see my father today, shall we go straight there?”

“N-No! Tomorrow is fine.”

I shook my head hurriedly.

If I suddenly met the king, I would feel even more nervous than I do now.

Perhaps because many things had happened today, I also felt like I wanted to calm down and take a rest.

If he says tomorrow is okay, I’ll take him up on his offer.

“We’ll be there soon.”

“Okay.”

As he said that and climbed a few steps, I could faintly see the square door, just like the entrance, in the darkness.

He slowly opened the door with a clanking metal sound.

The area beyond the door was still dark.

Even though he had said it was the basement, the atmosphere was not much different from the stairs we had been climbing.

It felt like a prison, and I couldn’t imagine it was a part of the castle.

“This basement was a room for the people in the castle to hide during the war in the past. It’s been several decades since then, and now there’s no more war, so it’s not used. As you can see, it’s barely guarded and almost abandoned.”

It seems that Yuren-kun noticed what I was wondering about.

Before I could ask, he answered the question I wanted to know.

The reason it looks like a prison is that the walls and ceilings are made of durable minerals.

It’s also because there is no light at all in the dark.

My doubts were resolved and I felt relieved.

Thanks to that, another question arises that I wanted to ask.

“Hey, Yuren-kun. We’ll introduce ourselves to the king tomorrow, but what about tonight? Won’t it look suspicious if an outsider is suddenly in the royal castle…”

“Well, that would be suspicious.”

“You just say that so casually…”

I thought he had a plan, but maybe he didn’t?

“It’s alright. I know the security at this time, so you can go to my room without being seen.”

“Oh, I see. That’s good… Huh?”

“Hmm? What’s wrong, Aria?”

“Umm…about Yuren-kun’s room right now…”

I thought I heard something, but maybe it was just my imagination.

When I ask again, he answers as if it were obvious.

“Yes. Tonight you will stay in my room.”

“…Eh.”

Eeeeeeeeeeee?!

As I am shocked, I can’t find words, and only a non-verbal scream echoes in my head.

Yuren-kun takes my trembling hand and, deceiving the eyes of the security guards, leads me to his room without making a sound, like an assassin.

If you were to just look at it sideways, you would not think he was a prince of a country.

After that, we proceeded without any problems, and we arrived at Yuren-kun’s room in no time.

“Okay, I guess we’re good for tonight.”

“Y-Yeah.”

We arrived without any problems.

As I came here in a bit of a rush, I am both out of breath and my heartbeat is racing.

I can’t tell which is which anymore.

Taking a deep breath to calm down, Yuren-kun speaks to me.

“Are you tired today? You can use my bed however you want, so please rest well.”

“Huh? Then where will you sleep, Yuren-kun?”

“I’ll sleep on that sofa over there.”

With that, Yuren-kun sits on the sofa.

At this point, I realized that Yuren-kun had not considered this kind of situation.

I felt embarrassed that I was the only one who had thought about it, and my face turned red.

At the same time, I felt sorry for using the bed.

“No, Yuren-kun, that won’t do. This is your room, and you’re a prince, after all.”

“The title doesn’t matter. It’s even more embarrassing to let a girl sleep on the sofa while I sleep on the bed.”

“B-But…”

“Just go ahead and sleep. We’ll be busy starting tomorrow, right?”

“Okay.”

At times like this, Yuren-kun can be stubborn.

He’s been like that since we were kids.

Feeling apologetic, I decide to use the bed.

Even though we were apart, II still slept in the same room with a boy.

Thinking about it that way, I found myself getting nervous on my own.

Chapter 8: Prince and knight

Spending the night with Yuren-kun.

It doesn’t have any deep meaning; we just slept in the same room.

I thought I wouldn’t be able to sleep because I was so nervous.

At first, it was like that for a few minutes, but before I knew it, I had fallen asleep.

When I woke up, it was morning, and warm light was shining through the window.

“…I must have been tired.”

I think that’s it.

I was tired.

If I think back to yesterday, I would find it strange not to be exhausted.

I was suddenly fired and driven out of the palace, and then I happened to meet a friend I had wanted to see in the nostalgic forest.

I am here now, drawn by the kindness of that friend.

If it were really true, I would have woken up on hard ground or damp grass.

Thinking so, what I am doing now feels like a miracle…

“Hmm? Ah, Aria, you’re already awake.”

Yuren-kun gets up from the sofa and comes closer to me.

As he rubbed his eyes from waking up, he approached me until he was within arm’s reach and made eye contact with me.

“I had a good night’s sleep…”

Tears fell from my eyes as I looked at him.

It was unconscious.

It wasn’t sadness, rather tears of joy.

I noticed that I was crying when I saw Yuren-kun’s expression.

“I-I’m sorry.”

I hurried to wipe away my tears, trying to put on a smile to not worry him.

Then——

“Eh…”

Yuren-kun gently wiped away the tears running down my cheek.

He whispered to me with a calm smile.

“It’s okay now. Neither I nor this place should be bad for you.”

His hand touched my cheek.

The warmth of his hand overlapped with the warmth of my tears.

That smile was unfair.

That’s what I thought.

Because my dry tears flowed like rain again.

“Uh, yeah…yeah.”

I didn’t want to worry him.

My overflowing tears wouldn’t stop.

Yuren-kun didn’t say anything, he just silently watched over me.

It was a strange time.

Now, it felt like there were only the two of us in the world, and it felt special.

Knock knock knock——

So we didn’t notice the sound of knocking on the door, nor the voice that followed.

“Hey, Yuren-dono~ it’s morning already~”

It took a few seconds before we noticed the man’s voice.

Was it because we didn’t reply?

He opened the door without permission and walked into the room.

“At least give me an answer~ Are you still sleeping? You should be able to wake up without me having to wake you up…”

Our eyes meet.

What he sees is the scene of Yuren-kun touching my cheek while I sit on the bed.

By the way, I am crying.

I am crying seriously.

From the perspective of someone who doesn’t know the circumstances, what would they think?

“Yu—”

“N-No, wait a minute, Hisui! You’ve got it all wrong——”

“So Yuren brought a girl to his room and made her cry, huh?!”

“That’s not what happened!”

As expected, it seems that we were misunderstood.

The well-built man who entered the room was taller than Yuren-kun and carried a sword on his waist.

His hair was short and spiky, and he had a strong look of a man.

“Yuren was never interested in girls, and now he’s secretly meeting someone… It’s making me cry.”

“Don’t cry! It’s not like I made her cry! And besides, it’s all just a misunderstanding on your part!”

“Don’t put this on me. I’ll tell everyone around us, so don’t worry.”

“That’s why it’s not what you think!”

I’ve never seen Yuren-kun so flustered before.

He was shouting like a child, his face reddening.

Even though I was embarrassed for being caught crying, seeing Yuren-kun innocently bickering made me laugh.

“Fu, fufu.”

“Hm? You’re being laughed at, Yuren.”

“It’s your fault.”

Yuren-kun let out a small sigh and smiled at me.

“But it’s good. Looks like you’ve stopped crying.”

“Yeah. Who’s that person, Yuren-kun?”

“Oh, yeah. This guy is Hisui, my personal guard.”

“What do you mean ‘personal guard’? It’s always a hassle when you go out on your own!”

It seems like he’s a knight who’s a guard.

I had thought he must be her older brother or someone, judging by his casual way of talking and his attitude.

Their relationship did not look like that of a master and a subordinate at all.

Looking at him curiously, Yuren-kun noticed and answered for him.

“We’ve known each other since we were kids. There is a difference in our positions, but I do not care about that.”

“Well, you should care about that in public, right? Nice to meet you, Yuren’s fiancée.”

“F-Fiancée?”

“That’s why I told you to stop it! I will explain everything from the beginning.”

Yuren-kun explained the situation to him while looking exasperated.

Hisui-san listened seriously, nodding along.

As for me, I was fidgeting beside them, waiting for the conversation to end.

“I see. That’s quite a misfortune.”

“You think so too, right? That’s why I thought she could work here. We were also short-handed, and her abilities as a Transmutation Master are top-notch.”

“Yeah… well, that’s true…”

Hisui-san is staring at me intently.

It’s not a hostile gaze, but I get nervous when someone stares at me like that.

“So, this is the girl you mentioned…”

His serious expression suddenly softens.

“Alright then, I understand. I’ll take care of the arrangements for your audience with the king.”

“Thank you.”

“It’s not just for Yuren’s sake. From what I’ve heard, she hasn’t eaten anything since yesterday. It would be good to have some breakfast and take a bath.”

“Uh, really? Is that okay?”

The phrase “It’s okay” had several meanings.

Hisui-san’s response comes back with a gentle smile.

“Of course. If the prince trusts you, then I have no complaints.”

The words showed the solid trust between Yuren-kun and Hisui-San.

Chapter 9: Welcome to a new place

Breakfast is laid out on the table.

There is only Yuren-kun and I at the table, despite it being big enough to accommodate more than ten people.

It’s not just about being fresh; there’s something unsettling about it.

“Sorry. It was sudden, so I was only able to prepare something simple.”

“N-No, it’s fine! I’ve never had so much breakfast before.”

“Is that so? Then please eat a lot.”

“Okay. Thank you for the meal.”

Even when I worked at the royal palace, breakfast was provided.

Of course, since it was a meal at the palace, it was not bad in terms of the quality or quantity of food.

However, in my case, I was often so busy researching Transmutation Art that I skipped breakfast.

Perhaps because of that, I have been eating less and less breakfast.

I knew it was my fault for not eating properly, so I just kept quiet and dealt with it.

In that sense, being able to have a calm breakfast like this is rare and more valuable than luxury.

“Did you already take a bath? Did you have trouble finding your way around?”

“No, I’m okay.”

I had already taken a bath.

I’m very satisfied with being able to use a huge bath all by myself.

I feel relief from the tiredness I’ve been feeling since yesterday.

“Thank you for the clothes. You specially prepared them for me.”

“It’s okay. They’re meant for people who work in our court, and it also means that we expect you to work properly from now on.”

“Is that so?”

Certainly, there is the Salem Kingdom’s crest embroidered on the chest of the clothes.

The clothes from my previous country that I was wearing are in the process of being washed, but it seems unlikely that I will wear them again.

Design-wise, this one is better.

It’s not too flashy, and there’s more gray than white, so even if chemicals splash on it and it gets dirty, it won’t stand out.

As a Transmutation Master, I handle many different materials, and sometimes I fail, so my clothes tend to get dirty.

“If you wear these clothes, you won’t arouse suspicion in the royal castle. Hisui is talking to the king on your behalf, so once the conversation is over, you can walk boldly.”

“Umm, Yuren-kun, what should I do when I meet the king?”

“Oh, yeah. Well, I’ll have you give a brief introduction, but the basic information has already been conveyed by Hisui. I’ll explain and persuade him later.”

“Is that okay? It’s about me after all.”

Can I just leave it up to them to request that I work here?

I feel like I should be the one to clearly express my requests.

But…this is the first time I’ve met him, and he’s the king of this country.

If I make a wrong move, it could be the end of the conversation…to be honest, I didn’t have much confidence in speaking to him.

“It’s okay. Half of the reason Aria came here is because of my selfishness. It will be easier for Father to hear it from me.”

So when Yuren-kun said that, I secretly breathed a sigh of relief.

I feel pathetic.

❂❂❂❂❂❂

Throne Room.

Located on the top floor of the castle, it is the largest and most luxurious room, and as the name suggests, it has a throne at the back of the room.

It is a prestigious room used when His Majesty the King receives guests or holds events.

The interior and atmosphere of the room are said to be similar across all countries.

The red carpet leading to the throne, flanked by sturdy knights on either side.

Hisui-san is among them.

In contrast to the atmosphere in the room, he stood straight with a stern expression.

I walked on the red carpet between their gazes.

Together with Yuren-kun.

I could see the face of His Majesty.

He was around forty years old, I think?

He was completely different from Yuren-kun in terms of age, and he had a splendid beard that gave him a powerful impression.

However, I felt a sense of closeness in the atmosphere that made it clear they were father and son, and surprisingly, I wasn’t nervous.

Approaching the foot of the throne, Yuren-kun and I knelt down on one knee.

“Your Majesty, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule.”

“Good. I have heard from Hisui about your circumstances. Both of you may rise.”

“Yes.”

“Y-Yes!”

I lifted my face a little later than Yuren-kun.

His Majesty, who I looked up to, was neither angry nor laughing.

“So you are the Transmutation Master of the neighboring country?”

“Yes! My name is Aria Lawrence! I’ve been working as a court Transmutation Master for about a year now. But…”

“Very well. I understand that it was not your fault after hearing the circumstances. But now you want to work here in the palace…”

His Majesty had a complicated expression.

It may still be difficult to suddenly employ an outsider.

Yuren-kun tries to persuade him.

“I have created many medicines and items so far! I am self-taught in Transmutation Art, but I have the confidence that my knowledge and skills are second to none! If I can work here, I will devote myself entirely to helping everyone! So please, let me work here!”

“Aria…”

“Oh?”

But I spoke first.

I immediately lowered my head energetically.

Yuren-kun said he would persuade him, but when it comes to my future, I should be the one to speak for myself.

From now on, I don’t want to just rely on his power to live, I want to be his power.

“Look up. I understand your feelings well. They are very strong and straightforward.”

When I looked up, His Majesty was smiling kindly.

The atmosphere was just like Yuren-kun’s, and his smile made me feel relieved just by looking at it.

“I will recognize you as the Transmutation Master of my palace! Welcome to our country! Show that your words and thoughts are sincere.”

“Father!”

“Thank you very much.”

My eyes became teary with happiness.

Somehow, I’ve been crying all day today.

Chapter 10: A country that has lost its genius

“That’s all for the discussion. As for the future, Yuren, Hisui, I leave it to you to make the arrangements.”

“Yes, sir!”

“Understood, Father.”

Yuren-kun stood up first and gestured for us to follow him.

I wiped away my tears and stood up.

“Thank you very much.”

I bowed deeply again to express my gratitude.

Then I turned around and walked on the carpet to leave the room.

But then, as I took a few steps, a voice called out to me.

“Oh, wait. I forgot to tell you something important.”

Hearing His Majesty’s voice, we stopped.

When we turned to look at him, he had inexplicably stood up from the throne.

And then——

“Aria Lawrence, I am deeply grateful to you.”

His Majesty bowed deeply and thanked me.

“Eh?”

I didn’t understand what he meant.

I even thought it was a mistake for an outsider like me to make a king bow to me.

His Majesty continued to bow his head.

“Thanks to the potion you made, my daughter has recovered.”

“Ah…”

So that’s what it was.

The reason Yuren-kun was aiming to become a Transmutation Master.

It was for his sister who was battling a serious illness.

In other words, I was able to help the princess of this country, who was His Majesty’s daughter.

Maybe Yuren-kun had also conveyed that I had made it.

“I’ve wanted to thank you for a long time. As a king of a country, of course, but also as a father of a daughter, I can’t thank you enough for what you have done. I will definitely repay you for what you’ve done.”

“N-No, I just… did what I could.”

“I see.”

Just receiving words of thanks is enough.

Yes, it’s enough.

I didn’t do it for something in return.

I just wanted to be acknowledged, and that wish has already been fulfilled.

“I have high expectations for you. Not just me, but many others will be helped by you. In return, we promise to be your allies when you need help.”

“Yes, thank you very much.”

Expectations.

Words spoken in recognition of oneself.

I am inexplicably happy and it feels new.

And…if It had been in “that place”, those words would have never been spoken to me.

❂❂❂❂❂❂

At the King’s Castle of Mayquin Kingdom, which serves as a political base, many people work every day.

Even after Aria was expelled from the palace, everyday life continued without any changes.

Her laboratory was taken over by her sister, Celica, who was grieving over the fact that her sister was gone and wanted to use the place where her sister spent her time.

When those around her heard of this…

“It’s so kind of her to say such nice words to her incompetent sister.”

“Oh, what a wonderful person she is.”

They praised her without knowing her true nature, not even those who were closely related to her.

They did not have any feelings for her sister.

If anything, they viewed her “incompetent sister” as a hindrance.

The word “sisters” was nothing but a fantasy for them.

Celica’s biggest reason for taking over Aria’s laboratory was to take her research results as they were.

The laboratory was left as it was when Aria used it, with all the materials still there.

“Well, I’ll make good use of them.”

After obtaining Aria’s research results, Celica released new potions and new substances one after another.

Potions with the effect of undoing petrification and potions that temporarily completely neutralize poisons.

Metals that are harder than iron, have excellent heat resistance, and can be easily processed by simply mixing a specific liquid.

She continued to invent inventions that developed not only domestic but also world civilization.

Celica’s reputation continued to rise.

A true genius.

The greatest Transmutation Master of the generation.

She was called by various names.

But all of them were just borrowed glory.

It wasn’t her own talent or the result of her efforts.

Yes, she didn’t do anything.

She would have had the talent as a Transmutation Master.

However, she did not try to develop her own talent, but rather devoted herself to taking talents away from those who had them.

So…

“What? A production method?”

“Yes. His Majesty has ordered you to provide a simplified production method for this new potion here.”

“Eh, do we really need a production method?”

“Of course. Even if the effect is good, it’s no use if only Transmutation Masters can make it. That’s how it’s been until now, hasn’t it?”

The envoy from the king tilts his head.

He is just stating the obvious, as they have always responded in that way.

The role of a Transmutation Master is to create new things that have not existed in the world before.

After creating them, the task also includes shaping them into a form that anyone can create.

Only those with the talent of a Transmutation Master can use the transmutation circle.

They are just one person, and there are limits to what they can do.

“The deadline is two weeks as usual. Thank you in advance.”

“Understood.”

Up until now, she had only been stealing Aria’s achievements.

Therefore, it was inevitable that she could not respond to any further demands.

Celica hurriedly searched the entire lab and despaired at the fact that there was no description of the mass production method.

She didn’t know.

Why were so many of the achievements left in the lab not published?

It was because the mass production method had not been established.

Aria always looked to the future, and she only saw the present. She could never reach it.

She was not a real genius.

Chapter 11: Transmutation Master of the Royal Palace

After finishing our conversation in the throne room, we leave the room.

As we politely bow and the door closes, Yuren-kun smiles.

“That’s great. Now you’re officially our Transmutation Master.”

“Yeah, thank you, Yuren-kun.”

“I just created the opportunity. You were chosen because you’re an amazing Transmutation Master.”

“D-Do you really think so?”

Yuren-kun praises me several times.

I feel like I’ve been complimented for a lifetime between yesterday and today.

“Don’t underestimate yourself like that.”

“Hisui-san.”

“Neither Yuren nor His Majesty would give you a position in the court out of favoritism. As Yuren said, you were undoubtedly chosen for your skills.”

“Right, so have more confidence.”

Both of them give me kind words.

Over and over.

Thanks to them, I feel like I’m gradually gaining confidence.

We walk through the corridors of the castle.

“Uh, by the way, where are we headed now?”

“This is the royal palace. I thought I’d show you where you work.”

“This place is divided into the royal castle and the royal palace.”

The royal castle is where His Majesty and the royal family live, while the royal palace is where many people, including royalty, work.

Each has its own roles, and it seems like many of the courtiers work in the royal palace.

Among them, the Transmutation Masters were given rooms at the edge of the royal palace.

“There are…seven Transmutation Masters working here now, right?”

“Yeah. Except for the Head Department, everyone else is a new employee hired within the past two years.”

“That’s right. So, you could say that Aria is actually a veteran Transmutation Master.”

“V-Veteran…I only became a courtier about a year ago though?”

Even though I had started studying transmutation long before that.

“But you had enough skills before that, right? We were short on personnel, and the minimum requirement for hiring Transmutation Masters is being able to use the Transmutation Circle.”

“T-That means…”

It’s really the bare minimum requirement.

If you can’t use the Transmutation Circle, you can’t become a Transmutation Master.

On the other hand, if you can use it, you can perform transmutation.

However, in this profession that requires knowledge and experience, it doesn’t mean much to be able to use it.

“That’s right. More than half of them were amateurs, and they didn’t know much about Transmutation Art.”

“That’s why the Head Department-san is the only one teaching them. We couldn’t help, and it seemed tough.”

“I helped, you know? I can use Transmutation Art to a certain extent, and I’ve also been studying it. Actually, I also talked about Aria at that time.”

“R-Really?”

So Head Department-san knows about me too.

It’s better than not knowing them at all, but I’m nervous about meeting them now.

In the previous palace, I was neglected and worked almost alone, so I don’t really understand the relationship between superiors and subordinates.

What if he’s a scary person?

As I thought about the possibility that we might not get along, my walking pace slowed down a bit.

Yuren-kun seemed to notice that too.

“Don’t worry. That person is friendly, so I’m sure you can become friends.”

“R-Really?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll vouch for him too, though the said person has a bad drinking habit.”

Hisui-san made a gesture of exasperation.

I wonder if he had a bad experience with alcohol before?

Even though Yuren-kun reassured me, I became anxious again when I saw Hisui-san’s reaction.

Then we moved to the royal palace and walked straight down the hallway.

We arrived at a luxurious door with a plaque that read “Imperial Transmutation Master Room” and was framed in gold.

Knock, knock, knock.

We knocked and then opened the door.

“Welcome, oh, it’s Hisui-chan and Your Highness?”

“I will disturb you.”

“Don’t call me ‘chan’…”

When I heard that the person has an alcohol habit, I imagined a man in his thirties.

So I was surprised.

“A woman?”

“Hm? Who’s that cute girl over there? Is she his highness’s girlfriend?”

“Wha…”

“Hahaha! Yuren, you were caught off guard.”

Hisui-san laughs out loud.

Yuren-kun glares at him with a sour look on his face.

As for me, I didn’t know how to react and was frozen in place.

Then——

“Oh yes! She’s the new palace Transmutation Master. See, she’s the amazing one that his highness praised before.”

“Ah! That’s the foreign Transmutation Master his highness was raving about! You finally stole her away!”

“Hold on, don’t say things that sound bad!”

“Well, it’s not entirely inaccurate.”

Hisui-san nods in agreement.

It’s only dawned on me now, but this conversation between a prince and his subordinates doesn’t seem very princely.

Yuren-kun and Hisui-san seem to be good friends, and Head Department-san behaves like a friendly neighborhood sister.

I’m getting a little off kilter.

“Um, if I remember correctly, you’re Aria-chan, right?”

“Y-Yes! I’ll be in your care starting today.”

“Yep, yep! You seem serious like I heard and also a good kid. And you’re cute too.”

“T-Thank you very much.”

Head Department-san was also a beautiful person.

She had long, pale orange hair and her skin was delicate and translucently white.

The words “mature woman” suited her perfectly.

“The potion you made was amazing. That is a miracle potion!”

“M-Miracle, isn’t that an exaggeration?”

“No way~! Thanks to that, tens of thousands of people were saved. You have surpassed what we could ever achieve. Do you understand? You’ve set a goal for us Transmutation Masters.”

“A goal…”

I never thought I’d be someone’s goal.

“It’s an honor to work with someone like you! I’m Laura, the Head Department. Nice to meet you, Aria-chan.”

“Yes!”

As Yuren-kun said, it seems that Head Department-san is a friendly person.

I felt relieved and thought that I could work with this person, just a few minutes after meeting her.

Chapter 12: Difficult circumstances in the neighboring country

“Well then, shall we start working right away?!”

“No, wait a moment, Head Department. First, explain the facilities and job details.”

“Oh, right~ I’m just so happy that Aria-chan is here that my emotions got the best of me~.”

“Head Department-san is always like that, aren’t you?”

Hisui-san looked exasperated while Yuren-kun made a face that said “oh well”.

It seems that Laura-san from the Head Department is someone who goes at her own pace.

In the royal palace, there wasn’t someone like that, so it feels very fresh to me.

Are the two of them a little tired?

“Um, before we get started with the explanation of the job, well…basically, it’s the same as your previous work. We make things requested from above and develop things that are likely to be useful. That’s pretty much the gist of it.”

“Isn’t that too vague? Aria, did you get that?”

“Yeah, I’m okay with it if it’s similar to what I did before.”

The role of a Transmutation Master is to create new things.

I don’t think it will change no matter where you are. If there’s something different, it would be the environment of the workplace and knowing what is most necessary.

“Excuse me, Head Department-san.”

“Just call me Laura. What’s up?”

“What are you researching here mainly?”

“We focus on potion development and inventing new plants.”

Upon hearing her response, I was a little surprised. Potion development is expected everywhere, but research on new plants is not often heard of. At least, no one was researching them in the previous palace.

“Why plants? Plant research is even more difficult than researching living creatures, and the usefulness is often low.”

“That’s true, but~”

As Head Department-san said this, she glanced at Yuren-kun. It was a signal for him to take over and talk.

“How much does Aria know about the circumstances of this country?”

“Um, I’m sorry. I don’t know much about it.”

“Yeah.”

When I was working, I was too busy with my research and blocked out any unnecessary information.

All I knew was that the neighboring country was a nature-rich one.

“You didn’t have the chance to see it on the way here because it was difficult, but we are surrounded by nature. We have fewer cities and man-made structures compared to normal countries. Do you know that?”

“Yeah.”

“Then, do you know about the four seasons?”

“I’ve heard about that, too.”

Spring, summer, autumn, and winter.

Perhaps it’s because we are surrounded by vast nature, including mountains and the sea.

Apparently, the Salem Kingdom has four seasons.

“The four seasons themselves are not unusual. They exist in other countries and regions, too. The problem is that the environmental changes depending on the season are extreme.”

Yuren-kun talks.

The four seasons in Salem Kingdom are slightly different from the ones we know well.

Specifically, the temperature difference between cold and warm is sometimes strong and sometimes weak, depending on the year.

In some years, summers that can be described as scorching were followed by cool ones the next year.

In addition, natural disasters such as storms, earthquakes, cold waves, and dryness frequently occur.

“Although it is a relatively calm period now…winter is coming soon. Winter is always harsh every year, and it’s also a season where you don’t know what will happen.”

“That’s why crops are hard to grow, and all plants quickly wither or rot.”

“If plants don’t grow, animals can’t survive. So we’re working hard to develop plants that can withstand harsh environments.”

Yuren-kun and Head Department-san took turns explaining, and I understood.

If there are such circumstances, we must work on plant development, no matter how difficult it may be.

For the sake of our lives, not only for us, but for the people living in this country as well.

“We’re working on animals too, but it’s impossible with our technology. We’re working on plants because we might be able to manage it somehow. Well, the results are not that good though.”

“I also personally investigated it, but unlike simple synthetic materials, plants are alive. It’s difficult to handle living things, no matter what. But…”

Yuren-kun looks at me.

Head Department-san and Hisui-san continue.

Their eyes were shining, and I felt filled with their expectations.

“If Aria is here, I feel like we can make it work.”

“Yeah, yeah! It’s reassuring to have you around~ It’s been difficult to take care of the new recruits, and now I can’t focus on my research.”

“The previous potion was also amazing, so I understand why Yuren has high expectations.”

“Uh, y-yes.”

It’s kind of itchy.

I didn’t realize how restless it would make me to have their expectations.

“I’ll do my best to meet everyone’s expectations.”

“Yes, but don’t push yourself too hard. If you feel pressured, it’s okay to take a break, and if someone bullies you, just tell me right away.”

“Yuren is overprotective~.”

“You’re annoying, Hisui. Also, keep an eye out for anyone bothering her. I don’t think there is, but still.”

Hisui-san just responds with an indifferent “Yeah, Yeah.”

Because of his attitude, Yuren-kun gets angry and says to do it seriously.

“I get it~.”

“Is that really true? If you do it half-heartedly, I’ll reduce your salary!”

“Wow, that’s harsh. You’re being tyrannical.”

“Fufufu.”

I’m also in this lively space.

Until recently, it was something I couldn’t even imagine.

Chapter 13: Aria’s workshop

I received a work explanation from Head Department-san while joking around.

Basically, it’s the same as the previous palace.

If there’s anything I don’t understand, they’ll answer my questions as necessary, and most of the explanation is over.

“Well then, it’s time for me to show you your roo…”

Head Department-san suddenly froze from her high energy, or rather, she was stunned.

Yuren-kun, Hisui-san, and I tilted our heads in unison.

We looked at each other’s faces, and then Yuren-kun, as a representative, asked the question.

“What’s wrong?”

“W-Well, it’s a little late for this, but…we don’t have any rooms available.”

“Huh? What do you mean?”

Ahahahaha——a carefree laugh spreads through the room.

I didn’t know how to react and stayed silent.

As for the other two’s reactions…

“What’s going on, Head Department?”

“Don’t ask me, Yuren. It’s always like this.”

“Always like this?”

When I asked again, Yuren-kun answered with a sigh.

“I confirmed beforehand that there was an available room.”

“Huh? But it’s not available now.”

“That’s right. I think you’ll understand why if you go take a look.”

“Hahahaha, it’s not something interesting to see though~.”

Head Department-san is still laughing.

Following after the two dumbfounded individuals, Yuren-kun and Hisui-san headed towards the supposed available room.

“Is this it?”

“That should be it.”

After confirming with each other, Yuren-kun and Hisui-san opened the closed door.

And then——

“Uh, oh my…”

I unintentionally let out a small gasp.

The room that was supposed to be available is filled up.

Literally filled up.

Packed to the brim with a large amount of belongings.

“That’s what I meant.”

While I was nodding my head in agreement, Yuren-kun scolded the Head Department.

“I told you to clean it up a month ago, didn’t I?”

“Well, I was quite busy~.”

“Hey Yuren, don’t you think there are more things in here now than before?”

“What a coincidence. I was thinking the same thing.”

The room was completely packed with belongings, to the point where there wasn’t even any space to stand.

They say it increased, which surprises me.

Was it better before?

Judging from the current state of mess, it doesn’t seem to have changed that much.

“Clean it up by the end of the day.”

“Um, please don’t ask for the impossible~ Look at this amount.”

“Who do you think piled up all of this stuff until it became this amount?”

“Umm… it’s not like that. These are all necessary materials for research, so I can’t throw them away.”

Head Department-san begins to make excuses.

I gaze around the research room which is filled with piles of items.

Though it sounds like an excuse out of desperation, what she says does seem to be true.

Most of the papers piled up are related to Transmutation Art.

There are also other data and materials that seem useful.

“Just clean it up. Otherwise, Aria’s room won’t be ready.”

“Oh, umm, I just remembered! There’s one more room available!”

“Huh? Where is that room… Oh, I see.”

“Yes. It’s a little far from the building, but it’s clean. And it’s already been cleaned by… someone else.”

Leaving aside the comment of “Isn’t it yourself?”, it seems that there is an empty room available.

Yuren-kun had a somewhat awkward expression.

We decided to go take a look for now.

The place was not inside the palace building but a small stone hut in the garden.

Maybe it’s better to call it a workshop.

When we entered, it was indeed very clean.

And I felt a familiar atmosphere somewhere.

“Yuren-kun, where is this?”

“Didn’t we talk about it on the way here? There was a great Transmutation Master here in the past.”

“Ah, I see. Is this that person’s place?”

Yuren-kun nodded.

“It’s an important place, isn’t it? Can I use it?”

“Well, it is an important place, but… I can’t say anything else except that you can use it if you can.”

I tilted my head at his unsure response.

Then, Yuren-kun slowly walked over and touched the Transmutation Circle in the center of the room.

“The truth is, this Transmutation Circle is broken.”

“What? Really?”

“Yeah. Maybe.”

“Maybe?”

Once again, it was an ambiguous answer.

From the outside, it didn’t look like anything was damaged.

The Transmutation Circle was made of special minerals and had a transmutation array inscribed in the center.

As long as the transmutation array was not broken, it should not be damaged.

“Looks clean on the outside, but nobody can activate it.”

“Including Head Department-san?”

“Call me Laura. But yeah”

“…Um.”

Being told that, I became curious and wanted to try it.

“May I try it?”

“Sure.”

With Yuren’s permission, I approached the supposedly broken Transmutation Circle.

It still looked ordinary on the surface.

No, upon closer inspection, the inscribed transmutation array seemed a bit different.

It wasn’t that any symbols or letters were missing, but rather there were some unusual ones inscribed.

Could this be the reason why it couldn’t be activated…?

“Um, maybe this is it.”

The significance of the special part related to the creation of an entirely new substance.

The materials used for Transmutation Arts are usually something from this world, and you cannot create anything greater than the quality of those materials.

But this Transmutation Circle… no, the person who used this was trying to create something that didn’t exist in this world from scratch.

I place my hand on the Transmutation Circle.

It faintly glows as if I have been qualified by understanding.

“It moved?”

“Wow! I’m surprised. It wasn’t broken, was it?”

“No, I don’t think so. It just seems to be slightly different from a normal Transmutation Circle.”

“I see, so you were able to use it. You really are not a normal person.”

Head Department-san grins.

Their glance is a bit uncomfortable, but I’m being praised, right?

“I don’t really understand, but you can use it?”

“Yes.”

“Then it’s decided! From today, let’s make this place Aria’s workshop.”

“My.”

Thus, I obtained the workshop of a Transmutation Master.

Chapter 14: Who was helped

The place where a great Transmutation Master once spent his time.

Even as the times change and the scenery changes, this important place remains unchanged.

Surely, many memories are stored in this place.

I am so fortunate to have been given this precious place.

My laboratory.

My workshop.

From today, I am——

“I am the Transmutation Master of this country.”

I realize that.

It’s the start of a new life.

I feel refreshed and very good.

“Your actual work will start from tomorrow. Today, you should tidy up the room or even rearrange it.”

“Is that okay?”

“Of course. This is your workshop. It will be easier to work if it is organized and easy to use, right?”

“Yes, that’s right. I’ll do that then.”

Although because it is a historic building, I feel a little hesitant.

As Head Department-san said, it’s much better to have a room that is easy to use if you are going to work from now on.

That way, I’m more likely to meet the expectations of the palace and everyone else.

“Then I’ll help too.”

“No, Yuren, you can’t.”

“Uh…”

“You know, don’t you? The public duties that you skipped out on yesterday have piled up.”

Yuren-kun averts his gaze from Hisui-san, who gives him a piercing glare.

It seems that Yuren escaped from the castle like that yesterday, leaving his work behind.

Could it be that he always escapes from the castle like that?

“Wait, just a little bit.”

“No, you can’t. You won’t be let go until you finish yesterday’s and today’s work.”

“Damn… I’m sorry Aria, I can’t help you.

Yuren-kun looks visibly disappointed.

Did he really want to help that much?

“It’s okay, Yuren-kun is busy too, right?”

“Well, I am still a prince, after all.”

“Exactly. So act like a prince and do your work properly. I’ll keep an eye on you.”

“You’ve got work to do, too!”

The two of them exchange light banter as they try to leave the room first.

Yuren-kun stops as he puts his hand on the doorknob and looks back.

“Aria.”

“Hm? What is it?”

“If you need anything, just let me know. I’ll prepare it for you.”

“Okay.”

Saying that, he tries to open the door again.

He opens it about thirty percent, then stops abruptly and turns around.

“I’ll try to finish work as soon as possible. I think I’ll still be able to come see you around evening time.”

“Okay. I’ll be waiting.”

“Oh, good luck.”

“Yuren-kun, good luck with your work too.”

When I said that, Yuren-kun showed a relieved smile and finally opened the door completely before leaving the room.

I watched him until he was out of sight.

“Ah~ to be young and in love~.”

“Eh?”

“Oh, nothing. Well then, I’ll go back to the lab. If there’s anything you don’t understand, don’t hesitate to ask me. And as for introducing you to the other students…how about tomorrow? For today, let’s just focus on creating a good working environment.”

“Yes! Thank you so much, Head Department, Laura-san.”

I bowed deeply and felt full of gratitude for being treated well.

“It’s us who should be grateful. You’ve helped us so much until now. It’s time for us to repay the favor. And now, we’ll be able to witness the research of a skilled Transmutation Master up close. It’s a plus for us too.”

“I’ll do my best to meet your expectations.”

“Yeah, yeah, me too. Because I’m the Head Department-san.”

Laura-san leaves the room.

I bow deeply again and see her off.

“Now, I have to do my best too.”

First, let’s check what’s in the room.

Should I organize the necessary and unnecessary items?

Cleaning seems to have been done, but the items are still in place.

It’s hard to distinguish whether they are important or not unless you are a Transmutation Master.

“There are many things here.”

There are materials with unreadable characters, and tools with unfamiliar shapes.

In short, it is a mysterious room.

Then time passes quickly.

It becomes noon, then evening.

“Phew, I guess that’s it.”

The room was tidy, with things stored away in shelves and drawers.

Items that seemed to be used frequently were placed near the Transmutation Circle.

Things that appeared to have low usage frequency were placed a little farther away, and things that were not used but had potential were placed at the back.

Since it was not as cluttered as Laura-san’s room, there was enough space after organizing.

It’s a bit plain, but it’s calming like this.

Once everything is settled.

“Aria, can I come in?”

Together with the sound of the door knocking, I heard Yuren-kun’s voice.

He came as promised.

“Sure! Come in.”

As I answered, Yuren-kun entered the room along with someone else.

A girl with pale yellow hair and golden sparkling eyes.

Her skin was so white that it looked fragile, like a doll.

“I’m sorry for intruding!”

“Yuren-kun, who is this girl?”

“She’s my little sister.”

“Eh…”

Isn’t that the girl who is said to be frail?

“Hey, Irina, this is Aria. Say hi.”

“Yes! Onii-sama!”

She responded with a cheerful and high-pitched voice, taking a step forward in front of me.

She then smiled and introduced herself.

“Nice to meet you, Aria-oneesama! My name is Irina Salem!”

“O-Onee-sama?”

Why is she calling me Onee-sama?

Confused, I asked her, and Irina continued.

“I heard it from Onii-sama! Thanks to the medicine you made, I was able to recover! Thank you very much!”

“I-It’s nothing.”

“I also heard that you’ll be working at the palace from now on! I’m so glad! I want to hear lots of stories about the outside world! Nice to meet you.”

“E-eh?”

She bowed her head.

As the sister of Yuren-kun, she is the princess of this country.

I was flustered that such an important person would bow her head to me, but Yuren-kun just laughed.

“Hahaha, I told Irina all about you. You’re probably her biggest supporter in this country, aren’t you?”

“S-So, that’s how it is.”

“Yeah. So please get along with her.”

“U-Uh. Not with someone like me…I mean, if you’re okay with me, then sure.”

It’s rude to say “someone like me.”

She was a person who was saved by a potion I made.

In front of that person, I will stand tall and proud.

Unlike my past self, the new me swears to do so.

Chapter 15: Start a new life!

I can hear the chirping of birds.

I feel a peaceful mood.

I woke up at 7:00 a.m., my eyes opened to the brightness of the sunlight shining in through the window.

“Uh, hmm!”

I sit up and stretch my body.

I get out of bed while looking out the window and take the clothes I prepared for work last night.

I change clothes after washing my face and brushing my teeth.

But I still look at them for a confirmation.

New work clothes.

Clothes to work as a Transmutation Master in the Salem Palace.

“Ufufu.”

A smile naturally escapes my lips.

Even this room was specially prepared for me.

Normally, people who work in the palace have their own house in the city and commute from there.

Some of them live in rooms in the royal castle, just like the royal family.

I was one of them.

It was just because I had just arrived and hadn’t found a place to live yet, so Yuren-kun helped me.

Waking up in a room in the palace gives a feeling of luxury that cannot be found elsewhere.

I finish getting ready in the morning, have breakfast, and…

I walked through the hallway, fully prepared, on my way to my workplace.

“Good morning, Aria. You’re up early.”

Yuren-kun called out to me.

When I turned around, Yuren-kun was waving his hand lightly.

“Good morning, Yuren-kun! Oh, I mean, Your Highness Yuren?”

“Hahaha, it’s okay, you don’t have to be formal just because we’re in the castle. Unless it’s someone from the outside, you can talk to me as usual.”

“R-Really? Then I’ll take you up on that offer.”

It had been two days since I found out that Yuren-kun was a prince.

I had always thought of him as a regular person and had casually interacted with him, so it felt a little uncomfortable to speak formally.

Ideally, I wanted to interact with him as usual, like a friend.

“Are you working now, Yuren-kun?”

“Yeah, but I came to check on things first.”

“You came all the way here just for me?”

“Is that surprising? You’re someone I brought along, so I have to make sure you can work properly.”

Yuren-kun said with a smile.

He was worried about me.

Just knowing that made me very happy.

“Well, then. Good luck. You’re the Transmutation Master of the Court we’re all expecting great things from.”

“Yes, leave it to me, Your Highness!”

“Haha, that still sounds weird.”

“Yeah, you’re right.”

A morning conversation.

After enjoying some trivial chit-chat, we each head to our own places.

He as the prince to carry out his duties.

And I as a Transmutation Master of the Court to start my first job.

It’s just an extension of what I’ve been doing before, but I feel excited about it.

To be able to work in a place I love and do what I want is just ideal.

Feeling the ideal present, I can’t help but be happy.

After walking for a little while outside the castle, I entered the palace on the same premises.

I see people who work just like me.

Our eyes meet, and we exchange greetings as we pass each other.

They probably don’t know who I am, but they still return my greeting.

It used to be normal to be ignored when I did that at the previous palace.

What I took for granted before is being updated in this new environment.

I feel really good since the morning.

I proceed as it is and head towards the room of Head Department-san.

“Excuse me.”

“Oh, come in~”

I hear a light response and enter through the door.

Then, Head Department’s Laura-san had already started working.

There were plant seeds and some materials placed on the Transmutation Circle.

“Good morning, Aria-chan. Can I count on your work from today?”

“Yes!”

“Uh huh, that’s a good answer. You also arrived at the right time this morning, I’m impressed. Can I introduce you to the work I want you to do right away?”

“Please do.”

What kind of request will I be given?

I have some expectations.

Laura-san takes a few documents from the messy table, looks at their contents, and speaks.

“Um, I’m thinking of entrusting you with some of the requests that have come to me. Should I start with just one or should you accept about three?”

“What kind of requests are there?”

“It’s something like this.”

Laura-san showed me the content of the request on the request form.

Each request is different, but half of them seem to be for creating plants.

It is the development of plants that can grow even in harsh environments that was mentioned in the conversation the other day.

It seems to make up the majority of the requests given to Head Department-san.

“There’s no particular deadline for this one?”

“Well, the request is clearly difficult. It’s not like creating an urgent potion, so if you can do it, it’s better to do it sooner rather than later.”

“In that case, I’ll take on several requests. That way, it will reduce Laura-san’s workload, right?”

“You don’t have to worry about my workload. Well, can you handle these three, Aria-chan?”

With that, she hands me the request form.

“If there are any new requests, I will introduce them to you. If you complete a few jobs, you may start getting requests specifically for you, Aria-chan.”

“Yes! I’ll do my best.”

“Good, but don’t overdo it, okay? Well then, I’m counting on you.”

“Yes!”

After receiving the request, I leave Laura-san’s room.

Each Court Transmutation Master was provided with a room called a laboratory or workshop.

My room was not inside the palace, but a small cottage in the garden.

I obtained my own workshop in the place where a great Transmutation Master used to reside.

I entered the room and took a deep breath.

“Now, I have to work hard.”

To meet the expectations.

And so my new life as a Transmutation Master has begun.

Chapter 16: First job

Upon arriving at my workshop, I laid out the request documents that Laura-san had given me on the table.

There were three request papers.

All three were about alchemy involving plants.

At first glance, all of them seemed to have a high level of difficulty, but no deadlines were set.

If I prioritized personally, then…

“Is this it? Development of a new species of wheat.”

Wheat is a common grain that everyone from commoners to nobles knows.

It is not only used as food but also as a versatile material, including straw.

I also used it as a material for transmutation.

It is a material for potions that instantly closes wounds.

From this perspective too, wheat shortage can be seen as a serious problem.

Yes, wheat production is currently decreasing in this country.

To be accurate, it is just a decrease compared to the previous year, and the amount of wheat extracted was not originally large.

The cause lies in the environment.

There are days when there is a continuous downpour of rain like a flood, and then the next day no rain falls at all.

There are days when exposed to fierce winds, and also days with nearly no wind.

This kind of sudden change in environment usually causes most crops to wither before they can grow.

It seems that the royal palace has an indoor cultivation facility under management, but it requires extensive equipment and is expensive.

In addition to wheat, there are other necessary crops, but it was not enough to cover the consumption of the entire kingdom.

So His Majesty personally commissioned the Court Transmutation Master to develop a new species.

It was handled by the Head Department Laura-san but…

“Laura-san, seemed busy.”

I could tell by her busy appearance in the morning that, as the Head Department, she had to think about things other than transmutation.

I heard that the other members of her subordinates were almost amateurs and she was doing the guidance alone.

I think that there is nothing as deep and requiring knowledge and experience as the Transmutation Art.

I had been studying it on my own since I was little.

Learning it now and teaching it seemed to be much more difficult than I had imagined.

“By the way, she said she was going to introduce me to the others today…”

But she seemed to be too busy to do so.

There’s no need to rush.

Even if there’s free time, I could introduce myself to everyone.

If it seems too late, I’ll go and greet them myself.

These people here are surely not going to give a negative reaction.

“Well then.”

I’ve organized my thoughts and information.

Putting aside two request forms, I first put the request form for wheat production in a noticeable place.

“Okay. Let’s try making it with the materials we have now.”

Laura-san shared some materials that could be used for transmutation.

Common wheat seeds, grown wheat, and medicinal materials.

Also, nuts and plants were put in the same box for transmutation.

“I know almost all of these materials. Yes, I can use these.”

I check the characteristics and structures of each material.

In order to succeed in transmutation, it’s important to understand the quality and quantity of the material, as well as how to use it.

The quality of the transmuted object is determined by the quality of the original material.

If you use inferior materials in transmutation, the end result will also be inferior.

Furthermore, sometimes transmutation fails.

Most of the time, it’s because the materials are not right, but even if you attempt transmutation without understanding the materials, you won’t be able to get what you want.

It’s similar to cooking in that sense.

If you don’t know the taste of the ingredients, you won’t know the taste of the finished dish either.

Only by understanding the quality and structure of the materials can you achieve the transmutation you want.

And then——

“Plant transmutation, huh? It’s been a while.”

The first time I attempted it was one year after I started learning Transmutation Art.

Since becoming court-appointed, my main focus had been on potion-making, so I hadn’t had the opportunity to try plant transmutation.

Plant transmutation is more difficult than inorganic substances.

The level of difficulty in transmutation increases as the entity becomes more alive.

It may not be accurate to say that it’s alive like animals, but plants do have life.

To manipulate and create living things is beyond the boundaries of life itself.

In the past, the world used to call Transmutation Art the work of God, and I can’t say that’s entirely wrong.

The difficulty is especially high this time.

Because…

“You can transmute wheat and use it as a material to transmute seeds… but the important thing is the growing process.”

As I said it aloud, I started to think about the necessary elements.

The wheat that needs to be made should be a variety that can grow in harsh conditions without compromising on quality or taste.

If I only want to make delicious wheat, it’s possible to do it right away.

It’s also possible to make seeds using it.

However, the problem is that whether the planted seeds will grow properly can only be determined by trying it out in practice.

It’s no problem to grow it under normal conditions.

However, if it’s grown in an unexpectedly harsh environment, it’s uncertain whether it’ll become the type of wheat I’m looking for.

Transmutation Art is the power that produces results.

It cannot recreate the process that led to the results.

“That’s why I need to start with types that grow quickly and increase durability… and then use some for experimentation.”

As I think, more and more things need to be done.

It looks like it will be quite busy from the first day.

It’s not that I dislike it, though.

I actually feel a sense of fulfillment from the difficulty.

Chapter 17: Let’s make wheat

Examining the provided materials carefully.

First, there are three essential materials: mature wheat, wheat seeds, and water.

Having a base material for transmutation makes the process smoother, and when making improvements, it is impossible without the original material.

And water.

For some reason, this material, water, is the most important.

In Transmutation Art, liquid serves to connect the materials.

Water connects accurately and smoothly, oil connects strongly, and when water with impurities mixes, the characteristics of the mixed materials become stronger.

In most cases, transmutation without liquid does not work well and results in mediocre output.

Be careful not to cause an explosion, especially when attempting this for the first time.

“When I first started, I used to cause explosions often. I didn’t know the amount or type of liquid to use, so I mixed things randomly.”

I don’t have a master of Transmutation Art.

It seems normal for someone to learn from someone else, but it was difficult in my situation.

So I taught myself Transmutation Art based on the knowledge I acquired from books.

Looking back, I was quite reckless.

Even when causing a huge explosion that burned everything around me, I survived miraculously.

Now that I have confirmed the materials, I think it’s time to get started with the actual work. But before that…

“Oh, right.”

There was one more thing I needed to confirm before starting.

It was whether the Transmutation Circle could be activated or not.

It worked properly yesterday, but the reason why this place was abandoned in the first place was that the Transmutation Circle couldn’t be activated.

The reason being that the transmutation array inscribed in the Transmutation Circle was different from the usual one.

Now that I understand the content, I think I can activate it, but I need to confirm it just to be sure.

“Phew…”

I place my hand on the Transmutation Circle.

I focus my mind and imagine the activation of the transmutation array in my mind.

Then, the Transmutation Circle shows a soft glow.

“Alright. It’s working properly——”

“Wow.”

“——Hey, who?”

I unintentionally make a strange voice at the sound of a voice other than mine.

The direction of the voice I heard was from the window.

I knew whose voice it was right away, even though she was hiding in the windowpane.

It was the voice I just heard yesterday.

“Princess? What are you doing here?”

“Oh no! I’ve been found out.”

You were trying to hide, weren’t you?

Or rather, since when had she been watching?

I invited the Princess into my workshop.

“Good morning, Aria-oneesama.”

“G-Good morning, Princess.”

I’m not used to being called Onee-sama by the Princess.

“Well, why are you here?”

“Actually, I wanted to watch Onee-sama work. So I peeked in secretly.”

“I see.”

“Yes. I’m sorry, Onee-sama. I didn’t mean to disrupt your work, but…”

Princess Irina looks downcast.

I hurriedly comforted her.

“No, I don’t think you’re disrupting at all. If you want to watch, please come closer.”

“Really?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Thank you very much, Aria-oneesama!”

This time, she directs an innocent smile towards me.

It’s dazzling.

It shines so brightly that it almost hurts my eyes.

For a moment, I thought the words “innocent and pure” were meant for this princess.

“Well, can I get to work then?”

“Yes, please!”

Saying that, she approached the Transmutation Circle.

Really close.

Close enough to reach her face from my hand.

“You might want to step back a bit, it might be too bright.”

“It’s okay! If it doesn’t bother you, I want to see it as close as possible.”

“Okay.”

I was very nervous.

I’ve been doing this alone for a long time, and I’m not used to being watched by someone else.

And the other person is a princess.

If it wasn’t Yuren-kun’s sister, I wouldn’t even be able to talk to her like this.

The more I think about it, the more nervous I get, so I take a deep breath.

Then, she imitated me and took a deep breath in the same way.

When our eyes met, she smiled kindly.

So cute…

The nervousness that was beginning to calm down flared up again.

I switch my mindset, knowing that I couldn’t let this continue.

I took out wheat, water, and yucca leaves.

“Aria-oneesama, what are those leaves for?”

“They’re yucca leaves. Since it’s a plant that is resistant to cold, I thought I’d try to synthesize it.”

“I see, Yucca, Yucca.”

The princess nods repeatedly.

She seems to be trying hard to remember it in her head.

Her gestures are also cute.

It’s very relaxing to watch.

But no, no!

I was thinking about something else again.

I need to focus on my work now.

“Phew…”

I exhale deeply.

I place my hand on the Transmutation Circle, check the materials one last time, close my eyes, and start the transmutation.

I activate the transmutation while imagining the completion.

The Transmutation Circle is enveloped in a soft light, and the materials are wrapped in light.

“Wow, Aria-oneesama’s transmutations are so beautiful.”

“Really? I think the others are just as good.”

“That’s not true. Aria-oneesama’s light is the most beautiful!”

“T-Thank you very much.”

That is probably the effect of this transmutation array.

As far as I have deciphered it, it has an effect of making the light produced during transmutation more vivid.

It has no effect on the transmutation itself.

Maybe the previous users were people who cared about coolness?

While thinking such thoughts, I maintain my image of transmutation.

Materials wrapped in light are consumed and come together as one.

“It’s done!”

“Okay.”

For now, it’s completed.

It’s a little too green, but it looks like the shape of wheat.

Next, I need to check if it’s harmless.

As I was about to move on to the next step, the Princess speaks up.

“Um, Onee-sama!”

“What is it?”

“If you don’t mind… I’d like to help you too!”

“…Eh?”

With this unexpected request, I can’t hide my perplexed expression.

Chapter 18: If we were born differently

“Helping me, Princess?”

“Yes! Onii-sama has taught me about Transmutation Art. If I’m bothering you, then please forget about it…”

Once again, the Princess looks downcast.

Her sad expression is so unfair.

“N-No, that’s not it. It’s not a bother, and I’d be delighted to have your help.”

“Really?”

“Yes. However, Princess is…”

She is the Princess of this country.

It’s frightening enough just to speak with someone so noble, let alone ask her to help with my work.

What would happen if His Majesty or other important people found out?

Just thinking about it is terrifying.

“N-No, I can’t let the Princess help me with my work.”

“I don’t mind! Onii-sama and Otoo-sama have given their permission as well.”

“Eh? Is that so?”

“Yes!”

She answered clearly.

I can’t see any indication that she’s lying.

If it’s true, then when did this happen?

So, you wanted to help, not just observe from the beginning?

I didn’t really understand, but I could feel that she was serious.

That’s why I was curious.

“Why did the Princess want to help me?”

“Well… because Aria-oneesama is my benefactor.”

“Benefactor? Is that about the potion?”

The princess nodded.

She had a serious illness called Congenital Mana Circulation Disorder.

There was no known cure, and it was a terrible disease that gradually weakened the body when it flared up.

But a potion with an effective treatment was developed.

By my own hands.

Thanks to it, many people were saved, as Yuren-kun told me.

Among those saved was also Princess Irina, Yuren-kun’s sister.

“That’s not all.”

“Huh?”

“Aria-oneesama also helped my brother.”

“Me? Help Yuren-kun?”

I don’t remember helping him, in fact, I feel like I was the one who was helped.

How much his existence was a support for me.

Even now, I cannot measure it.

“Onii-sama was working so hard all alone. To cure my illness, to help everyone in the country… every day was so hard for him.”

“Yuren-kun…”

She is probably talking about the time when he and I met in the forest.

I remember that time well.

Yuren-kun always seemed to be having fun.

If that smile was something he forced himself to show… It makes me depressed.

“But, Onee-sama made a potion for me! I got better, and everyone got better too! And then Onii-sama smiled with happiness!”

Princess, speaking of Yuren-kun, smiles as happily as the words that come out of her mouth.

You can tell how much he is loved just by looking at that expression.

I really love him.

“It was Onee-sama who brought back Onii-sama’s smile. And my body too… So! I want to return the favor!”

“Princess…”

“Now that I’m feeling better, I can do anything! There are so many things I want to do. But the first thing I want to do is help Onee-sama.”

She had thought of it that way.

When I heard her sincere thoughts, I almost couldn’t help but cry with gratitude for being saved.

I’m proud that I was able to protect Yuren-kun and the Princess’s smiles.

“Okay. Well then, can you help me?”

“Yes! What do I need to do?”

“Well, I want to grind the material, so let’s get the tools ready together.

“Okay!”

Together with her small hands, we investigate the materials we create through alchemy.

Teaching and talking to each other.

We had a pleasant time.

At times like this, I suddenly think of my sister…Celica.

If we were born in different places…

I wonder if we could have become close sisters?

Without positions or titles, like me and the Princess now.

Were there days when we could laugh together?

❂❂❂❂❂❂

In a room of the royal research laboratory, Celica was showing signs of impatience.

She wasn’t hot, but sweat was pouring down her forehead.

She looked at the pile of papers in front of her, trying to avoid them with her eyes, but they wouldn’t decrease.

All the requests were assigned to her.

“What is this amount? What’s going on?!”

It wasn’t the amount that could be piled up in just two days.

Contents that would take other Transmutation Masters several weeks to complete were being collected and sent to her all at once.

All because of expectations.

The receptacle for her own expectations couldn’t bear the expectations that were placed on her as a true genius.

Then, a man appeared.

“Oh? You seem to be in trouble.”

“Your Highness Laurus!”

When Laurus entered the laboratory, he laughed as he saw the pile of papers.

“Expectations are high, aren’t they?”

“Y-Yes, they are. Expectations that are too much for someone of my background…”

“Really?”

“Huh?”

Laurus let slip her cold thoughts.

For a moment, his expression was stern, but he quickly returned to his usual self and smiled.

“It’s nothing. Just don’t push yourself too hard.”

“Yes. Thank you.”

Saying that, Laurus left the laboratory.

On the other side of the closed door, he had a wicked smile.

“…Should I retrieve her after all?”

While Aria was working hard in her new environment,

A bad wind had begun to blow.

Chapter 19: Start of experiment!

7:00 AM.

As the time to wake up arrives, my consciousness awakens naturally.

When I try to get up at this time, my mind switches on its own.

It’s a skill I acquired since I started working, but thanks to it, I have never been late before.

On my way to the workshop in the morning, I told Yuren-kun about it…

“Aren’t you too serious?”

“Huh? Do you think so?”

“Definitely. Your body is used to the waking time for work, right?”

“But you wake up early too, Yuren-kun?”

He often greets me when I’m walking in the hallway.

It’s impossible if we don’t wake up at the same time, around the same time, right?

“I am usually not that early. I can only do it now because I have a purpose for waking up early.”

“Is that so? Is work that busy?”

“No, it’s not about work…it’s nothing.”

Yuren-kun started saying something but stopped halfway and fell silent.

For some reason, he seemed embarrassed, and his ears turned slightly red.

I tilted my head in confusion.

“I’m good…Is Aria properly getting enough rest?”

“Of course. I always finish at the same time every day.”

“Well, if that’s the case…by the way, how about Irina? Is she getting in the way?”

“No way, she’s not a bother at all! She’s been a huge help.”

Since that day, the Princess has come to help every day.

And she learned faster than I expected.

She already had a basic knowledge of Transmutation Art, and she even reviewed things I taught her later.

If she had the talent to run Transmutation Circles, she would have had a promising future.

It was a shame in that sense.

“I see. That’s good if she’s not getting in the way. I heard that good reports are likely to come soon?”

“Yeah, several prototypes have been completed, and we’re moving on to the next experiment from today.”

“I see. Tell me about it sometime.”

“Sure.”

With that promise made, I headed to the workshop and Yuren-kun to his job as a prince.

❂❂❂❂❂❂

Standing in front of the Transmutation Circle were the Princess and myself.

We faced each other and expressed our enthusiasm.

“Aria-oneesama! I’ll do my best to assist you today too!”

“Yes, please do. Thank you.”

“No, no, Onee-sama.”

“Huh?”

The princess continued with a slightly exasperated expression.

“Here, I am Onee-sama’s assistant! You don’t need to use polite language for an assistant.”

“I-Is that so…?”

After all, the other party is a princess.

Unlike Yuren-kun, who I’ve known since childhood, I just met her a few days ago, so I felt hesitant.

I was just letting it slide thinking…

“Then please call me Irina at least!”

“Irina-sama?”

“No need for ‘sama’!”

“Uh…”

She’s pretty forceful.

At first, she seemed gentle and energetic, but as I got used to her, her powerful side came out more.

Of course, it’s not unpleasant, but…

“Um, Princess…”

“It’s Irina!”

“…Irina-chan.”

It feels oddly embarrassing.

My face is getting so hot that I want to hide it.

“Is it Irina-chan?”

“W-Well, this is my limit.”

“No, it’s more than enough.”

The princess smiles happily with a slight smile.

I think this every time, but this smile is really unfair.

“You don’t need to be formal either?”

“P-Please let me get used to it first.”

I wonder if this pushiness is like his Majesty.

Or is it her Okaa-san?

Come to think of it, I’ve never met the queen, is she out now?

I’ll ask if I get the chance.

“Then, Irina-chan, let’s start the preparation.”

“Yes!”

Today is different from the usual transmutation.

Or rather, we won’t be transmuting today.

The prototype of the finished product is already prepared.

We finished preparing and headed to the room where the Head Department is.

Knock knock――

“Excuse me.”

“Yes, welcome. Princess Irina is with you, right?”

“Hello, Laura-san.”

“Yes, hello. Is the purpose of the visit what we discussed yesterday?”

I and Irina-chan nod simultaneously.

“We’ve already cleared it up, so feel free to come and go. Here’s the key.”

“Thank you so much.”

“It’s fine, it’s fine. Can I come and check on you later?”

“Of course.”

After finishing our conversation, we headed to our destination.

If you head west from the palace, there is a building made of transparent glass.

Inside, there is a vegetable garden, and it is one of the facilities managed by the Transmutation Masters.

Here, we can cultivate wheat to transmute it, adjusting the environment finely.

“Let’s plant them in order. We want to change the environment, so let’s keep a certain distance.”

“Okay, I’ll start from over there.”

“Thank you.”

It’s a dirty job, and I want the Princess to watch and learn, but I’ve come to understand in recent days.

The Princess is a little stubborn and won’t change her mind once she’s decided on something.

“I wonder if that’s similar to Yuren-kun’s personality?”

He’s also a bit stubborn or rather, hates to lose.

Feeling like true siblings, we plant the wheat seeds we made.

Each seed is tailored to its environment.

We actually adjust the cultivation to fit that particular environment.

And let’s change the state of the soil in some areas.

Then, another thing.

“Onee-sama! This is a growth accelerator.”

“Thank you.”

If we grow it by ordinary means, it can take months.

I can’t just wait, so I prepared a secret weapon.

It’s a growth accelerator created by a special formulation through transmutation.

With this, the plants grow in no time.

If it’s wheat, it should reach the size of a harvest after a week or so.

It’s groundbreaking, but the fatal flaw is that the plant cannot withstand the rapid growth and quickly withers.

It’s nothing more than a tool for experiments.

“That’s it!”

“We just have to wait now.”

Let’s wait with about one-tenth of our expectations.

Chapter 20: Trial and error

Day One of the experiment.

The growth accelerant has taken effect, and the sprouts have already emerged.

They have a characteristic of two green leaves, some are bright green in color, while others are yellow or already brown.

Apparently, the change occurs at the sprout stage due to the different materials used.

“We’ve finished observing the progress of all of them. They seem to be growing well for now.”

We made the wheat to grow even in harsh environments.

I’m relieved that we managed to pass the stage of sprouting.

Because there were patterns where failure occurs without even sprouting, as expected.

“Sister, what about adjusting the environment?”

“Well, let’s keep it like this. We need to set the environment as harsh as possible so that we won’t have any problem growing them in reality.”

“Understood!”

With Irina-chan’s support, the operation is going smoothly.

“Now then…”

I wonder what tomorrow will bring.

❂❂❂❂❂❂

The next day.

When I went to see the vegetable garden…

“They’re all withered.”

“Oh, no…”

Moreover, everything had withered beautifully.

The wheat, which was tailored to each environment, did not last two days.

It sprouted yesterday.

There are signs of growth between sprouting and withering, but everything has wilted midway.

It was either dry or spoiled.

The way to fail differs depending on the environment, but the cause is the same for all of them.

“They couldn’t withstand the strength of the environment. Maybe the growth promotion caused the change to happen more quickly.”

“In that case, why not try it without the growth agents?”

It was a good suggestion, but I shook my head.

“That won’t work. We need to make the conditions as difficult as possible to achieve success. Plus, without the growth agents, it will take longer.”

“I see… sorry about that.”

I suddenly noticed Irina-chan, who looked disappointed.

“Oh, no, your suggestion was great! I always think that opinions other than my own are necessary, so I appreciate it!”

“Onee-sama…”

“So, please don’t be down.”

“…Fufu, don’t worry, Onee-sama. I never thought everything would go well from the beginning.”

Irina-chan laughed and firmly declared.

It doesn’t seem like she distrusts or has no expectations.

She continued with her reason.

“Onii-sama often said that you became who you are now because of relentless effort.”

“Yuren-kun said that?”

“Yes, he did. He said you are someone who can keep trying even after repeated failures.”

“I see…that’s true.”

Yuren-kun thinks that way.

Hearing it from her mouth, I relaxed a bit.

“So let’s keep failing!”

“…Yes. Transmutation Art is all about trial and error! Let’s learn from our failures and use them for the next attempt.”

“Yes! Um…what is trial and error?”

“Um, uh…”

As I explained to Irina-chan, I reminded myself.

Trial and error.

To attempt and fail.

Not accepting failure, but instead considering why it failed and how to succeed in the next attempt.

Repeatedly doing this will eventually lead to the correct answer, whether you are a genius or hard worker.

It’s the path that I have taken many times.

I continued to improve from that day on.

Were the materials insufficient?

Or was it a problem with the amount?

Or was it a completely different possibility?

I pulled out my reference book, found candidates that seemed usable, and asked Laura-san to collect them for me.

“I will transmute it again!”

“Yes!”

Trying to do everything at once will leave you incomplete.

At the first failure, I examined the wilted wheat and decided to work with the ones that lasted the longest.

After investigating, it turned out that the most resilient wheat was one that was resistant to humidity.

I used a type of flower, Anthriscus sylvestris, that was resilient to humid conditions as a material.

In the second experiment, I added another two types of plants that were also humidity-resistant.

However, it failed.

It lasted for four days, but it withered before it could produce any blossoms.

Continuing for the third time, I increased the quantity.

I also replaced the liquid used to connect the materials from water to oil.

Then, one week later…

“It’s done, Onee-sama!”

“Yes. But…this cannot be used as food, can it?”

“Yes. It has a strong taste.”

We succeeded in cultivation.

However, although we knew at the time of transmutation, it seems that the original materials had a strong influence on the finished wheat.

“Next, let’s adjust the quantity and look for substitute materials.”

“Yes. Next time, we will succeed!”

Do not be discouraged by failure.

That comes after everything is over. Analysis comes first, rather than reflection, in order to use it for the next time.

Thinking about how to succeed.

I have been doing this every day since before working at the court.

But what’s different now is——

“Onee-sama, how about this?”

There are people who help me.

“Well done, Aria. You’re working hard, aren’t you?”

There are people who praise my efforts.

Because the voices of people who expect results can be heard nearby, I can do my best.

And——

Twenty days after starting the challenge.

“It’s… done.”

Finally, the first one is done.

The seed of wheat that is resistant to humidity is completed.

Chapter 21: Late afternoon, scent of death

Afternoon.

I finished lunch and got ready for my outing.

Putting some money in a small bag, I changed from my court clothes to casual clothes.

Once I was ready, I left my room and walked straight to the entrance of the royal castle.

As I approached the entrance, someone called out to me.

“Aria.”

“Yuren-kun?”

I turned around and saw him running towards me.

I stopped and waited for him to catch up.

“Are you going somewhere?”

“Yeah. I thought I’d go to the town for a bit.”

“Hmm, was today your day off? I saw you working in the morning.”

“No, it wasn’t my day off. I’m going to the city to gather materials for transmutation.”

As I answered, Yuren-kun tilted his head.

If I declared the transmutation materials I needed, I could have them prepared for me. I didn’t need to go gather them myself, but I had a different way of thinking.

“I’ve always gone to collect materials myself since I was young. While it’s nice to have them prepared, there are new discoveries and different ideas that come up when I go look for them myself.”

“Oh, I see. Does that mean you’re planning to go outside the city too?”

“Well, yeah. There’s also the forest, and I wanted to see for myself what’s out there.”

I have already received approval from Laura-san.

Irina-chan also has princess duties today and cannot come to help.

The request has been completed for now, and I have a bit of peace of mind.

So it’s a good timing.

“I’ll be back in the evening.”

“I see. Hmm, okay! Then, I’ll come with you.”

“Huh? You too, Yuren-kun?”

“What’s with that face? You don’t want me to come with you?”

Yuren-kun gave me a sullen look, and I shook my head vigorously.

“I don’t mind.”

I was just surprised.

After all, Yuren-kun is a prince, and can’t just leave the castle easily.

But then I remembered that he had frequently snuck out before.

“Are you sure it’s okay?”

“It’s fine. My schedule was free anyway——”

“Yureeen! Where did you go?!”

I heard Hisui-san’s voice calling Yuren-kun loudly.

Yuren-kun flinched slightly and looked away with a displeased expression.

“They’re calling you?”

“Nah, don’t worry about it. Let’s hurry up and head out to the city!”

“Huh, hey!”

“Just hurry up! It’ll be a hassle if he catches us.”

Catch us? Did he run away?

Before I could ask, Yuren-kun grabbed my hand and pulled me out of the royal castle.

We ran down the slope that led from the royal castle, feeling the wind in our faces until we reached the area where the town of the capital city was visible.

“Phew, he won’t be able to find us here.”

“Haa, haa…”

“Hm? Are you okay?”

“Yuren-kun, you, suddenly started running…”

I was out of breath.

Yuren-kun seemed fine, looking relaxed.

“Weren’t you fine when we used to run around the forest all day? Have you gotten soft from serving in the court?”

“Th-That might be true…but is it okay? Hisui-san were looking for you, right?”

“It’s fine. It’s always like this.”

“Always like what…”

In other words, the prince regularly sneaks out of the castle like this.

I couldn’t help but wonder if it was okay for a prince of a country to do that.

“Don’t you need an escort?”

“I have the skill of a sword, so I don’t need an escort. Rather, it’s Aria who needs one.”

“Huh?”

“If anything were to happen to the promising new Transmutation Master, it would be a problem, right? So today, I’ll be with you, Aria, to serve as your escort.”

With that said, Yuren-kun pats his right chest.

It’s a declaration of his will to protect, but I can’t help but feel it’s disrespectful to be escorted by a prince.

However, from this moment, I started to feel a… somewhat unpleasant gaze.

❂❂❂❂❂❂

After touring the city, we decided to explore the forest for the rest of the time.

By the way, we couldn’t find anything good in the city.

“There were some interesting materials, though.”

“Yeah. But they might not be suitable for wheat.”

“You’re already looking ahead to the next thing. Impressive.”

“It’s not like that. We’ve only completed one so far.”

We developed a new variety that is resistant to humidity five days ago.

Now we’ve planted the seeds in the actual environment and can only hope they grow well.

The experiment was successful, so there shouldn’t be any problems.

However, the development of other new varieties is difficult.

Today’s material collection was also meant to search for something that could be used for wheat making.

“There are other things to do. We have to keep working hard.”

“Don’t push yourself too hard. It will be troublesome if you collapse.”

“Okay, I understand.”

“Really? You say that, but you seem to be pushing too hard without realizing it. You’ve always had the tendency to overwork yourself.”

Yuren-kun gave me a suspicious look.

When he said that, I felt a little weak.

I laughed and changed the subject, trying to distract myself.

“By the way, the people in the city seemed calm even though Yuren-kun was with us?”

“Well, that’s because it’s nothing out of the ordinary.”

“How often do you slip away?”

“About once every three days or so.”

It was a higher frequency than I thought.

Is Hisui-san also having a hard time with this?

“Why——”

I was about to ask why Yuren-kun slips away when suddenly I felt a freezing cold sensation down my back.

When I realized it was a killing intent, an arrow was already flying towards us.

“Huh——”

“Get down!”

Yuren-kun pushed my head down.

I instinctively crouched down as the arrow grazed over my head.

Yuren-kun unsheathed his sword and stood in front of me as if to protect me.

I couldn’t comprehend the situation.

Even in my state of confusion, I felt the fear of death.

Chapter 22: Raid and reunion

The arrow that grazed above my head is replaying in my mind.

If Yuren-kun hadn’t protected me or if I had noticed even a moment later…

I would have been dead.

As I feel this, my body shakes with fear, more than confusion.

“Aria! Are you okay?”

“Y-Yeah.”

Yuren-kun grabs my shoulder.

Even in this situation, his touch is gentle and it calms my tremble a little.

But fear still lingers.

I’m also confused because I don’t know what happened.

“Y-Yuren-kun, what just happened?”

“I don’t know. So don’t move for now.”

Yuren-kun holds up his sword and keeps watch of our surroundings.

I never thought the sound of the forest trees swaying in the wind could be so eerie.

Something is out there.

But I can’t see it.

I’m sure I’m the one being targeted, not the prince, but me, a Transmutation Master.

“Damn, following you was the right choice.”

“Yuren-kun.”

“It’s okay. I’ll protect you.”

When Yuren-kun turns his head back, he shows me a gentle smile.

To reassure me,

Right after that, another arrow came flying towards me.

This time, from two directions, aimed directly at me.

“I won’t allow it.”

He used his sword to deflect the arrow coming from the right and pulled out his sheathed sword to hit the arrow coming from the left.

“Two people, no――.”

Yuren-kun looked up.

As I followed his gaze and looked up, I saw a man in black holding a knife and charging towards us.

“Three people.”

I felt like I was going to scream uncontrollably.

But Yuren-kun calmly caught the attacking man’s blade with his sword.

Before they clashed in sword lock, he kicked the man away and put some distance between them.

“An assassin, huh? Who hired you?”

The man didn’t answer.

The other two showed no sign of revealing themselves, lurking in the shadows.

“You won’t answer, huh? Well, it’s okay. I’ll force it out of you.”

For the first time, I saw Yuren-kun’s angry face.

With furrowed brows, he glared at the man with anger and killing intent.

Even I, who was protected behind him, felt a chilling sense of oppression that I couldn’t imagine coming from his usual calm and gentle demeanor.

The assassin trembled for a moment.

Yuren-kun does not miss that moment’s opening.

“You let your guard down.”

“What…”

Moving at a speed that I can’t keep up with, Yuren-kun sneaks into his pocket and hits him on the back of the head with the hilt of his sword.

Unable to withstand the impact, the man falls to his knees.

Lowering his head as he kneels, the man’s consciousness fades away.

“Take a little nap.”

“Gah, ugh…”

Yuren-kun strikes the man on the back of the neck, causing the assassin to lose consciousness and fall over.

Yuren-kun then looks at the two on his left and right.

Does he sense something that I can’t?

Nothing comes from the left and right.

They don’t attack me despite having an opening in my guard.

“…Looks like they escaped.”

“R-Really?”

“Yeah. We can’t let our guard down yet, but we’re safe for now.”

I’m relieved to hear that.

I slump down, feeling drained, and Yuren-kun rushes over in a panic.

“Are you okay? Did you get hurt anywhere?”

“N-No, I’m fine. I just got really tense and my strength drained away.”

“I see.”

I could tell Yuren-kun was relieved.

The expression of anger he had briefly shown disappeared, and he returned to his usual self.

“Can you stand?”

“Yeah.”

I grabbed his hand and pulled myself up, no longer feeling the fear from earlier, although my body still trembled slightly.

After analyzing that I was able to walk without any problems, I turned my gaze to the person lying on the ground.

“Yuren-kun… That person was…”

“An assassin. They were targeting you, Aria.”

“Why me…?”

“I don’t know.”

Yuren-kun shook his head.

He sheathed his sword and slowly approached the unconscious person.

It seemed like he intended to restrain him so he wouldn’t wake up and resist.

Yuren-kun rummaged through his body.

Then——

“Hmm? This is…”

“Is there something wrong?”

“…Yeah.”

He replied in a low tone.

The reason for his reaction was the pocket watch he showed me.

“Wait… This emblem…”

It was a familiar emblem.

A shape I had seen many times and could never forget.

The crest of the Mayquin royal family was engraved on the assassin’s possession.

❂❂❂❂❂❂

After the attack, we hurried back to the royal castle.

The assassin was reported to the castle guards by Yuren-kun, and we were able to hand him over.

For the time being, we were safe.

Yes, for the time being.

The fact that I was targeted remained, and as time went on, I felt more and more fear and anxiety.

“Don’t worry. It’s safe within the castle walls.”

“Y-Yeah.”

“Heh, normally I would be scolding you for leaving without permission… but today, you did well, Yuren.”

“Who could be after Aria-chan? There are only a limited number of people who can afford to hire assassins, right?”

Hisui-san and Laura-san were also in the room with me.

The two of them came to worry about me.

Yuren-kun had already told them the current situation.

Hisui-san put his hand on his chin and asked Yuren-kun.

“Is it true that the royal family over there might be involved?”

“I’m talking about a possibility. A clock with the royal family’s crest was found among the assassin’s possessions.”

“Isn’t it stolen?”

“If it’s stolen goods, why would he carry it with him? I think he was intentionally made to carry them.”

The employer of the assassin must be someone related to the Mayquin royal family.

Someone from that family requested my assassination.

That’s what Yuren-kun thinks.

It’s an unbelievable reason, but I suddenly thought of a certain person.

Knock, knock, knock.

“What’s the matter?”

“Your Highness Yuren, Aria-sama, a guest has arrived.”

“At this hour? Who is it?”

“It’s His Highness Laurus Mayquin, the second prince of the Mayquin Kingdom.”

The moment I heard that name, I felt an extreme chill run through my body.

Because just earlier, the person who came to mind as someone who wanted to kill me was… His Highness Laurus.

Chapter 23: Crazy smile

We moved to another room and headed towards the room where the visitor was waiting.

There was no conversation along the way.

Did the atmosphere become gloomy because I fell silent?

I don’t think that’s the only reason.

Right after the attack, the prince of that country came to visit.

Can we really say that it was a coincidence?

The same thought crossed the minds of others besides me, so it was time for each of us to gather our thoughts.

When we arrived in front of the room, Yuren-kun said to me,

“I will mostly lead the conversation. It will probably be smoother that way.”

“No objections.”

“I’ll leave it to you. I might get emotional.”

“Aria?”

After confirming my intentions, I nodded slightly after thinking for a while.

If it was His Highness Laurus, I think I should be the one to speak, but it is hard to imagine if he really came to see me.

No, I didn’t want to think about it.

So I ran away, taking advantage of Yuren-kun’s kindness and consideration.

“Let’s go.”

Yuren-kun opened the door.

In the room, there was a long table and several chairs around it.

He was seated in a seat.

As soon as we entered, our eyes met with his calm smile that I had seen many times before.

Even his princely demeanor now gave me a shiver.

“I’m sorry for keeping you waiting.”

“No, don’t worry. We came by suddenly, after all. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Prince Yuren.”

“Yes, it has been a while, Prince Laurus.”

Yuren-kun and Prince Laurus exchange greetings with each other.

The two of them are both princes and seem to have known each other for a while.

And…

“It’s been a while for you too, Aria. You seem to be doing well.”

“Yes, um…it’s been a while, Prince Laurus.”

My body reacts with a start at his words.

Prince Laurus is composed and doesn’t seem particularly different from usual.

But the memories of the daytime attack and that day flicker through my mind.

“I heard that you’ve already started a new job after leaving the palace. And you’ve already made some achievements, right? Your talent is remarkable.”

“Ah, well…”

Is he talking about the wheat incident earlier when he mentions “achievements”?

How does Laurus-sama know about it when it’s still mostly unknown?

I can’t organize my thoughts properly due to the confusion caused by this sudden reunion.

Although I’m being praised verbally, I don’t feel happy at all.

His smile is just scary.

“Aria, you——”

“Prince Laurus.”

Yuren interrupts his words.

Laurus-sama’s gaze turns from me to Yuren.

“What brings you here today? Since we both have limited time, could you please make it brief?”

“Ah, yes. Let’s handle that first.”

Thanks to Yuren, the conversation got derailed.

I feel relieved, but Laurus-sama’s gaze returns to me again.

“Well, actually, I have a request regarding her.”

“Her? Do you mean Aria, the court Transmutation Master?”

“Yes. To be frank, I’d like you to return her to us.”

“What…?”

What…is this?

“What do you mean?”

“It means exactly what it says. We want her to be reinstated as a courtier.”

“What do you mean? You voluntarily removed her from the court. Are you just pretending like that never happened now?”

“I’ll admit that’s true. But I was opposed to it from the beginning. She’s an excellent talent. However, it seems that many people didn’t understand that, and only realized it after she was gone. Thanks to that, the current palace is in chaos.”

Prince Laurus showed a troubled expression as he said that.

Why does he seem to be acting so much?

Well, he’s probably acting.

Even if he thought I was a talented person, it didn’t mean he actually needed me.

I’ve known that a long time ago.

“I would like her to come back. I’ll handle the persuasion.”

“I appreciate your words, but she is already a valuable talent in our country. We respect her will, but we cannot comply with your convenience.”

“Well then, I want to hear her opinion. Aria, do you not have any intention of coming back?”

“Um, well…”

Laurus-sama whispers to me and looks at me with kind eyes.

Do I have the intention of going back?

The answer has been there from the beginning.

But I’m scared to answer it.

Scared and wanting to cling onto Yuren-kun, who responds to my gaze with his usual expression without saying anything.

I can’t hear his voice.

But… you can do what you want.

That’s what it felt like he was telling me.

“I’m sorry, Your Highness. I would like to stay in this land.”

So I gathered my courage and answered.

I clearly and boldly gave the answer I had already decided on.

And then——

“I see. If you’ve made your decision, then there’s nothing we can do about it. I’ll give up on bringing you back.”

Prince Laurus withdrew so easily that it was anticlimactic.

It was unexpected.

At times like this, he would usually use his eloquent words to manipulate and persuade me.

“On the other hand, may I make one request?”

“A, a request…?”

I have a bad feeling about this.

“Yes, it’s something only you can do.”

That’s the same line he used back then.

Because it’s something only you can do.

Saying that, he made a request to me…

“I want you to make this.”

“…T-This…”

I don’t need a closer look.

He asked me to make a potion of poison, and it’s even more potent than the one I made before.

I turned pale.

“W-What will it be used for?”

“I can’t tell you, but don’t worry. It’ll be for my own good.”

He showed a refreshing smile.

Surely, or rather definitely, he’s not lying.

He always thinks about his own interests.

“I-I refuse.”

“I’ll be troubled if you refuse. Then… I’ll have to do what I have to do.”

“――!”

I felt a chilling fear.

He knows.

He knows the consequences of my foolishness… the crime that was exploited.

It sounded like he was threatening to expose it.

He is a prince, and I am just an official.

With one word from him, I could become a mere criminal.

He also has risks.

But he would still do it if it benefited him.

He would sacrifice even his own family for his own gain.

That’s the kind of man he is.

Chapter 24: Atonement

My body is trembling.

It’s so apparent that anyone could see it, and I can’t stop it myself.

“Aria?”

Yuren-kun looks at me with concern.

I don’t want to make him worry, but I can’t stop it.

I’m scared.

I’m so scared that I don’t even know what I’m scared of.

An absolute terror attacks my whole body, and I can’t even speak.

“… It seems that the conversation has ended.”

When I hear Prince Laurus’ voice, my body reacts greatly.

Thanks to the exaggerated shaking, the shaking in my body subsides slightly.

Prince Laurus stands up and speaks to me.

“I will come again in three days. If you are willing to take the request, please prepare the item.”

“Y-Yes…”

I can’t refuse anymore.

Without waiting for my answer, Prince Laurus starts to leave.

“Well then.”

“Before you go, can I ask you one thing?”

It was Yuren-kun who called out to him.

Prince Laurus turns around.

“What is it?”

“This afternoon, while we were out, she and I were attacked.”

“Oh? That’s unfortunate. Are you injured?… Oh, thankfully you’re not.”

“Yes, the one who was targeted was not me, but her.”

Yuren-kun glares at Prince Laurus.

Prince Laurus, on the other hand, calmly responds with an unaffected expression, “Oh, really? What happened?”

“The attacker had an item with your royal emblem on it.”

“What! That’s surprising.”

“Do you have any idea about this?”

Tension fills the air.

It was clear that both Hisui-san and Laura-san, who were also present, were looking at the prince with suspicion.

“I’m afraid I have no idea. However, if someone from the royal family is involved, we cannot ignore it. I will investigate as well.”

“I understand. Thank you.”

“Very well. Goodbye.”

And then, Prince Laurus leaves the room.

He appeared like a sudden storm, swirled around me, and left me feeling like a huge hole had opened up in my slowly healing heart.

❂❂❂❂❂❂

“Are you sure? He’s the one who requested for Aria to be attacked.”

“That’s a reckless judgment, Head Department. There is no evidence.”

“Is that so? Do you think there’s someone else?”

“Well, yeah, but…”

After the conversation, we returned to the first room.

While Laura-san and Hisui-san were talking, I sat silently.

Yuren-kun, who was sitting next to me, spoke up.

“Are you okay?”

“…Yeah.”

His expression seemed to suggest that I didn’t seem okay.

I wasn’t okay.

There were too many things happening at once and my mind couldn’t keep up.

“Hisui, Head Department Laura, sorry to bother you, but could you leave us alone for a while?”

“Understood.”

“That seems like a good idea.”

With Yuren-kun’s words, the two left the room.

I looked at Yuren-kun, not understanding why.

There was silence.

“Yuren-kun?”

“On the way to this castle, you talked about how different we are even though we are both princes, didn’t we?”

“Yeah…”

“Did something happen between you two?”

I gulp instinctively.

Yuren-kun looks at me with a serious expression.

It was clear from his tone of voice that he wasn’t just asking casually.

“That is…”

I should tell him.

At first, it was only my problem.

But now, I am the court Transmutation Master of Salem Kingdom.

My circumstances might involve this country and Yuren-kun.

No, I may have already involved them.

It’s not good to keep it hidden.

Even though I know that, my words get stuck in my throat.

I am scared.

I am scared of telling the truth and being blamed.

I am scared of being hated…

Yuren-kun holds my hand, sensing my fear.

“Don’t worry. Whatever happened, I am on Aria’s side.”

“Yuren-kun…”

“That’s why, please tell me. I want to help you.”

“…Yeah.”

I will tell Yuren-kun.

Because I felt that way, I told him everything.

I didn’t hide anything, including my feelings at the time.

He listened attentively without interrupting from beginning to end.

And when I finished talking…

“First of all, you’re not at fault. He is.”

I felt like he would say that because he was kind.

When he actually said it, I felt his kindness even more.

“He took advantage of your position. Anyone would have a hard time refusing in the same situation. And you still refused in the end, right? Then you’re not at fault.”

“Well… maybe, but the fact that someone got hurt by something I made…”

“That’s what’s bothering you.”

“Yes?”

Yuren-kun was troubled.

He listened to my story and there was something he couldn’t understand.

“Just to confirm, can that guy use Transmutation Art?”

“His Highness Laurus? He shouldn’t be able to.”

“Then, was the poison stored in a created state and then stolen?”

“No, I only worked out the theory and didn’t actually make it. So all I had were documents…”

Huh?

Oh, then how did Prince Laurus get his hands on the poison if he can’t use Transmutation Art?

“There are other collaborators. Another Transmutation Master like you is helping him. That person also made the poison based on your data.”

“What? Who is it?”

“I don’t know if you don’t have any idea, Aria. But, it’s certain that you didn’t make it. If we can identify the collaborator, you won’t be held responsible.”

“W-Well, that’s true but…”

How can we identify them?

I have no idea.

Could it be another Transmutation Master working at the court?

If so, that person would have collaborated knowing that it was poison.

Is there really someone like that?

“At this point, it doesn’t matter who it is. We need to expose his wrongdoings somehow… Can you make a truth serum?”

“Well, y-yes, I can.”

“Then let’s make him speak the truth with his own mouth. Preferably in front of the king over there, not us. If we leave him alone, he will only commit more crimes.”

“But, but that’s impossible.”

I thought what he was saying was wishful thinking.

“But we have to do it. Otherwise, you will be charged with a crime and be punished. Even if you were to return, you would be killed. That assassin is good evidence. You, who know the truth, will be a hindrance to him. He intends to prepare only what he needs and get rid of you.”

“But…”

His Highness Laurus would do it.

He’s that kind of person.

“Aria, you’re not someone who can just end it here.”

“B-But…”

My sins do not change.

For whatever reason, I have created an opportunity to hurt people.

I made it happen.

Even if kind words are spoken to me, I don’t think I can ever erase this sense of guilt.

“If you feel guilty, you should stop him even more. To prevent any more sacrifices. That would be redemption.”

“Redemption…”

To stop him.

As Yuren-kun said, if left alone, things could get worse.

I don’t even know who the poison I was asked to make will be used on.

Laurus may look calm, but his heart is pure black.

I cannot…I must not leave things be.

Precisely because I know his true nature, I must stop him.

“Understood. I…will try.”

“Yes, I’ll help too.”

“Thank you, Yuren-kun.”

Thanks to him, I have made up my mind.

To continue working in this palace.

I will now settle the past grudges and confrontations.

Chapter 25: Cause and effect

Stop the evil deeds of Prince Laurus.

I must settle my past.

To do that, I decided to gather what I need.

“First, we need a truth serum. The usual kind you drink won’t fool him.”

“Yeah. That’s why we’re not using a drinkable one this time. We’ll use one that you have to smell.”

There are potions that work without swallowing.

What we’re going to prepare is a potion that only works by smelling it.

Let’s make it so that the effect disappears when it dissolves in liquid.

That way, even if someone accidentally ingests it, there will be no harm.

The only thing left is how to get him to smell it naturally, but I already have an idea about that.

“Then it’s time for confession. I’ll take care of that.”

“Can you do it?”

“Yeah, I’m still a prince, you know. Even the king of a neighboring country can’t completely ignore my words. Normally, it wouldn’t work, but this time, I’ll use my position to the fullest.”

Yuren-kun, who said that, had an unusually wicked look on his face.

He looked like a child who was up to no good.

“Anyway, leave it to us. Aria, please focus on making the potions.”

“Okay.”

“It’s not even three days, but can you do it?”

“Of course.”

Once I decided to do it, I would give it my all.

I will do my best so that I won’t regret no matter what the outcome is.

That’s all I’m thinking about right now.

And three days later, on the fateful day——

Prince Laurus visited the royal castle again, as if nothing had happened.

What was different from that day was that Hisui-san and Laura-san were not there.

Now, in this room, there were only three of us – me, Yuren-kun, and Laurus-sama.

We faced each other in the same room as three days ago and greeted each other with a smile.

“Hey, Aria, did you accept the request?”

“Yes.”

I handed him the potions I had made—three bottles filled with transparent liquid, neatly lined up on the table.

“That’s amazing. You made three of them?”

“Yes. However, there is one thing to note. This potion is powerful, but its effectiveness will weaken if exposed to air. Therefore, I sealed them immediately after making them. But even then, the effectiveness will eventually weaken over time.”

“I see, if you use it, as soon as possible… right?”

Prince Laurus grinned.

So far, it doesn’t seem like he’s suspicious.

“Yes. When checking for the effectiveness, please confirm the fragrance when you open the lid. If the sweet fragrance is strong, the effects are still strong. Just mix it into the liquid and use it.”

“Got it. Thank you for your detailed explanation. You really are a talented person.”

“…Thank you very much.”

I don’t need those words right now, but I’ll accept them honestly.

Naturally, so as not to give any hint.

While showing a little bit of fear.

“Well, then I’ll take my leave. Oh, by the way, I think I’ll rely on you again, so please take care of me then.”

“…”

I don’t respond to that.

It’s more believable if I show my distress.

In fact, I’m not thinking about the next time and I have no intention of accepting.

This is the end.

Prince Laurus leaves the room.

“Now all that’s left is to pray.”

“Yes.”

Please let his misdeeds be known to the people of Mayquin.

❂❂❂❂❂❂

After returning to the royal castle, Laurus decided to test the poison he acquired.

His target was the king.

After assassinating his brother, he plotted to become the king himself by assassinating his father.

His target was at night.

The king was old and took medicine before sleeping.

He planned to mix the transparent poison into the water that he drank at that time.

He went to the place where the medicine was prepared, and there was nothing unusual.

For this day, he had been pretending to be a son who was worried about his father and preparing medicine.

His reputation was not bad with those around him, and there was no one in the castle who doubted him.

“The scent, huh…yes, it’s properly sweet.”

He followed the instructions he was given and mixed the poison in the water.

Since it was transparent, it could not be seen even if it was mixed.

The scent also disappeared when mixed with water.

Now it was in a state of just having to make the king drink it, so he called one of the servants.

“I apologize, but could you deliver this medicine to my father? I was planning to do it myself today, but I’m a little tired.”

“Understood.”

The servant received it without suspicion.

Even if he is poisoned, it will be the servants who are suspected, not Laurus himself.

As long as it is not known that Aria provided the poison, Laurus will not be suspected.

Because he played such a character in public, he felt he was perfect.

However, the next day, Laurus was summoned by the king and went to the throne room.

(What is going on?)

The poison did not work.

According to plan, the king should have died overnight.

(If the effect has weakened over time, then let’s make another poison.)

The king told Laurus.

“Laurus, there is something I want to ask you.”

“What is it, father?”

“…I received a warning from someone. That someone is after my life.”

“——?!”

Laurus reacted briefly, but then quickly regained composure.

“This is a serious matter! We need to increase security immediately!”

“…Is it you, Laurus?”

“Father?”

“Are you trying to kill me?”

Suspicious and sad eyes.

The king was filled with disbelief at the thought that his own son had tried to kill him.

(…Have Aria and the others done something? I can’t believe they would do something foolish like that.)

Laurus sneered in his mind.

As usual, he tried to deny it with sincerity and vigor.

But——

“Yes, that’s right Father! I intended to kill you by poisoning you. So why are you still alive? Please die quickly and hand over the throne to me.”

The words that came out of his mouth were different.

(——What? What the?)

“If it’s the truth…then you also killed your own brother.”

“It’s the truth. I killed him. There was a Transmutation Master who was easy to handle and just right, so I threatened her to make the poison for me.”

(Why did I confess? I didn’t intend to spill it.)

Laurus was confused.

The truth serum he smelled had the effect of reversing his true feelings and facade.

The effect lasts for a day.

For just one day, he cannot hide his real intentions.

Then a letter arrived from the prince of the neighboring country.

Everything went according to their plan.

“Aria was an excellent Transmutation Master! But that was unacceptable. She always went against what I said. So, I gave the data to her sister and had her do the transmutation instead. Her sister is obedient and good. Her talent is less than her older sister, though.”

The collaborator was Celica.

He even spoke before being asked.

The multitude of hidden truths overflowed and could no longer be stopped.

“Seriously, everyone is useless. I wish all the useless people would just disappear. Even you, father.”

“Laurus…arrest this person!”

“What, what are you doing? Father! What did I do?”

“You fool! You are no longer my son!”

Laurus is confused.

The effect of the truth serum made the truth and pretense mix.

He wouldn’t even know which one is real.

It’s all retribution.

The seeds he sowed were tangled in the grown vine and tripped him.

A few days later, the second prince was announced dead.

Few people knew the truth.

But this sealed one wickedness.

Quiet talk: Another person’s end

While Laurus was falling into the trap of the two conspirators and exposing his own guilt before the king, the other accomplice was tossing and turning in the laboratory.

“It never ends…What the hell is this?!”

She slammed the table, causing the pile of documents on it to collapse.

Frustrated with herself, she swept away the remaining documents with her arm.

“I can’t take this anymore! This is too much for one person to handle. Only a true genius can endure this——”

She thought of her sister’s extraordinary talent when she had that thought.

She bit her lip with regret.

The main reason she hated her sister was jealousy.

She realized it herself.

As a fellow Transmutation Master, she noticed her sister’s exceptional talent and the effort she put in every day to match it.

When she realized it, there was already a significant gap between them.

The time of birth doesn’t matter.

Talent and effort.

Both were inferior in herself, and she couldn’t replace her sister.

“What the hell…are you still getting in my way even though you’re gone?”

With that realization, her inferiority complex grew stronger.

You may have already noticed, but she has forgotten her past mistake.

It was just to take revenge on her sister in the heat of the moment.

She was involved in someone’s death just to comfort her own inferiority complex.

“Excuse me! Court Transmutation Master Celica Lawrence.”

“Huh? W-What is it?”

The collectors came late.

Rugged-looking knights enter her laboratory.

Two of the three knights stand on Celica’s left and right.

“You are suspected of being involved in the assassination of the first prince! We would like you to tell the truth in front of His Majesty.”

“W-What?”

Finally, she remembers.

Her guilt.

“W-Wait, please!”

“Please come with me. His Majesty and the former Second Prince are already waiting.”

“Former?”

“Yes.”

She can’t keep up with understanding.

It can’t be helped.

No one could have predicted it.

Even revealing the fact that the Second Prince assassinated his own kin.

Without knowing anything, she is grabbed by the arms by the two knights and pulled away.

“Please come quickly. It is better to make a defense as soon as possible. However, at the point when the former second prince confessed… it does not change that you are a serious criminal.”

“I-I can’t believe it…”

She lost the strength to resist and was taken away willingly.

Reaping what she sowed.

When she chose to frame her sister as a way to compensate for her inferiority complex, she had already sealed her fate.

True geniuses who work hard and achieve results are rewarded in the end.

Will she reflect on her actions after experiencing the consequences firsthand?

However, it is too late to expect anything from her in this life…

Chapter 26: Days like empty shells

Early morning.

The sky visible outside the window is gray.

It’s not raining, but the sky is cloudy and I can’t feel the brightness of the sun.

As a morning awakening, it’s normal.

No, I’m not feeling it as much.

“…I have to prepare.”

I stared out the window absentmindedly for a while before realizing the time indicated by the clock.

Not quite late enough to be considered oversleeping, but it’s cutting it close.

Hurriedly finishing my preparations more quickly than usual, I headed to the workshop.

❂❂❂❂❂❂

The development of a new wheat variety is still ongoing.

Only one has been completed so far, and other matters have stalled progress since then.

Although several new materials have been gathered, no ideas have come to mind yet.

I feel like I’m just going through the motions at work.

It’s clear that I’m not into it.

I know the reason why.

“It’s over… isn’t it?”

I murmured in a small voice that only I could hear.

After meeting again with Prince Laurus, I was made to recognize my own past foolishness.

To settle things with my past self.

For this purpose, we made a whitewash with Yuren-kun’s help.

I think the results were as intended.

Although I don’t know the details since it’s about another country, the Mayquin Kingdom has been in a hurry since that day.

According to the reports, the second prince seems to have been dismissed.

The reason has not been clearly stated.

At the same time, the Lawrence family’s name was also mentioned.

It seems that His Highness Laurus’s collaborator was my sister, Celica, who worked at the palace and was involved in a scandal.

I never thought she was involved, and honestly, I was shocked.

“Did you want to bring me down that badly…”

I was aware that I was hated.

I could vaguely imagine the reason.

Yet, did she really want to tear me down at the expense of others?

I cannot understand it.

However, this is where it all ends.

The long-lasting tragedy has come to an end.

As well as my past…

“Onee-sama, this is the material…Onee-sama?”

“Oh, sorry. What is it?”

“Well, I was thinking of proposing a fusion, but…are you tired?”

“No, I’m not. Which one is it?”

I must not do that.

I have to concentrate on my work.

I have worked hard for the past few days to continue working at the royal palace.

To settle my past and move forward.

I cannot worry Irina-chan, who helps me, and Yuren-kun and those who cooperated with me.

I have to be strong.

I tell myself that in my mind.

However, I can’t help but think sometimes.

Was this really the right choice?

Have I settled my past?

No matter how much evil is exposed, the fact remains that some people have been hurt by my foolishness.

In the end, I wonder if I should be hated.

❂❂❂❂❂❂

One evening.

The sky was cloudy and darker than usual.

In Head Department Laura’s room, four people, including her, were gathered.

“Well, it’s like Onee-sama is not feeling well.”

When Irina told the other three about Aria’s usual behavior, Head Department Laura continued the conversation.

“I feel the same way. She’s doing her job as usual, but her heart is not in it. She seems to be worried and depressed, and it’s a complicated feeling.”

“I see…”

Yuren, who heard the story from the two of them, looked sad and looked down.

Hisui asked when he saw that.

“That plan went well, right? The one with the second prince and the collaborator.”

“…Yeah, as far as I heard, everything went according to plan perfectly. The second prince was overthrown, and the collaborator was punished.”

“Then there’s no need to be depressed, right? You’ve brought justice to the wrongdoers.”

“I think so too… but, it’s not that easy.”

The source of evil has been punished.

She doesn’t need to worry about that.

With the collaborators clearly identified, she will not be charged with any crime.

“Aria did nothing wrong. Even if we think that, she cannot forgive herself. She’s so kind because… she’s Aria.”

“I see. It’s a difficult problem.”

“If only she were the kind of person who could let go of the past like it’s the past.”

“Onii-sama, is there anything we can do?”

Yuren is lost in thought at his sister’s words.

He wants to do something for her.

However, he cannot think of the right thing to say.

“I think it’s best to just leave her alone in the end. That’s what I think.”

“I agree. Interfering in someone’s personal problems won’t help.”

“You’re right.”

“But… Onee-sama looks like she’s going through a rough time.”

Irina’s sad voice echoes in the room.

Everyone present is concerned about Aria, and they all have the same problem of not coming up with a good solution.

“Well, there may not be a good solution, but we can try to distract her.”

“Really?”

The first one to react to Laura’s comment was Yuren.

She grinned.

“Yes, yes. We have a method that’s just perfect for Yuren-sama.”

“Me?”

“Yes. Well, you see, since Aria-chan has a day off tomorrow——”

❂❂❂❂❂❂

Looking at the clock, it was 7 PM.

It had already gotten dark outside.

“That’s it for today.”

I finished my work for the day and cleaned up.

Tomorrow was a day off, but I didn’t have any particular plans.

My research wasn’t progressing well, so maybe it was better to work.

Also, I just couldn’t relax without doing anything.

As I was thinking about such things…

“Aria.”

“Yuren-kun?”

He had entered the workshop without my noticing.

Did he come to check on me?

But something seemed off about him…

He appeared to be nervous.

“What’s wrong?”

“Uh, so tomorrow’s your day off, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Well then, would you like to go out with me… I mean, would you like to do something together?”

Yuren-kun said while blushing.

I froze for a few seconds trying to understand the meaning.

Isn’t that what you call a date?

Chapter 27: Scenery I want to show

The next morning.

I woke up earlier than usual.

Or rather, I couldn’t sleep because of nervousness.

It wasn’t a nice clear day, and it had been cloudy for the past few days.

Although it was not raining, it looked like it could start raining anytime with the cloudy sky.

“Yuren-kun… why did you suddenly make plans to hang out?”

No need to think about it. He probably said it to cheer me up and show concern for me.

I think they all noticed that I was feeling down, including him and everyone else, although I tried to be careful with my facial expressions and attitude.

I feel sorry for them, that they made time for me.

“… But, let’s go out and play…”

Apart from that, I was also happy to be invited to hang out.

I’ve never been invited by friends before, let alone someone of the opposite sex.

I think it’s also because it’s Yuren-kun.

Along with my anxiety and worries, there was a small expectation in my heart.

I changed my clothes and headed to the meeting place.

I couldn’t wear the clothes for the court because it’s not work.

I thought it would be necessary for my private life, so I bought some regular clothes, which turned out to be a good decision.

There aren’t many and I wear them in the most fashionable way possible.

The meeting place is the entrance of the royal castle.

When I arrived, Yuren-kun was already waiting for me.

“Yuren-kun.”

“Good morning, Aria.”

“Good morning. Did I keep you waiting?”

“No, not really. Don’t worry about it.”

Although he said that, I think Yuren-kun was there thirty minutes before the appointed time.

That’s just the kind of person he is.

I also arrived ten minutes early to make sure I wouldn’t be late.

“Shall we go?”

“Y-Yes.”

We once went sightseeing together before, but that was by chance. This was the first time we met up and planned to go somewhere together.

I became nervous and started to worry about my surroundings when I became self-conscious.

“Um, Yuren-kun, where are we going today?”

“Ah, well, about that…” Yuren-kun responded hesitantly.

“I have one place I want to go, but I haven’t thought about anything else. What about you?”

“I-Is that so?”

“Yes. So I thought we could just wander around city until noon. Is that okay?”

“Sure, I’ll leave it up to you, Yuren-kun.”

The place I want to go is related to Transmutation Art materials, so I can’t think of any other places I want to go.

And since I’m not familiar with the city either, I think I’ll leave it up to Yuren-kun.

“Then let’s go around. Last time we only went to a few shops that sold materials, and then we got interrupted.”

“Okay.”

The two of us then toured the city.

Restaurants, clothing stores, accessory shops, and precious metal shops.

There were even shops that girls would like, making me feel refreshed.

I had been cooped up in the palace, focused on research, and was not knowledgeable about things that normal girls would like.

As I watched groups of girls around my age gathering, I couldn’t help but envy them for having those kinds of futures.

But it’s not like I’m unhappy with my current situation.

“Aria, is there a shop you want to go to?”

“Hmm, aside from collecting materials…I can’t think of anything else.”

“Hahaha, that’s just like Aria.”

“Since I was a kid, I’ve been thinking about Transmutation Art all the time. Nothing else really matters.”

I don’t even know about fashion or trends at my age.

I feel like I’m still on the same path I’ve been on since I was a kid, spending the majority of my youth on Transmutation Art.

Thinking about it, have I not changed at all since then?

Maybe I haven’t…grown up.

“Hey, Yuren-kun. Where do you want to go?”

“That’s a surprise for when we get there. Let’s have lunch first.”

“Okay.”

He acts mysterious, which makes me even more curious.

But his lips are sealed about it.

We finished lunch together, and just as we stepped out of the store, Yuren-kun spoke.

“The place we’re going to is a bit of a walk from here. Can you handle it?”

“I think I’ll be okay. I’m not tired yet.”

“Okay, let’s go. It’s the perfect time.”

I followed Yuren-kun as we walked.

We headed towards the outskirts of the city.

After passing through the forest where we previously gathered materials, we came across an open area.

Following up the slope, there was a small hill.

“Here it is.”

“This… is a grave?”

“Something like it, yeah.”

At the end of the hill, there were crosses buried in the ground.

Colorful flower wreaths were put on a beautiful white cross.

Yuren-kun’s response was ambiguous.

Was this not a grave?

“This is the place you wanted to show me, right?”

“Yeah, look behind you.”

“Behind me?”

“You’ll understand when you see it.”

I turned around as he said.

And then——

“Wow, you can see the city and the castle from here!”

“Isn’t it a great view? This is the best place to see the capital city clearly in this area. It’s my favorite spot.”

As he said, the cityscape was clearly visible.

The castle was also visible, and the great nature surrounding it was included in the view.

It was certainly a beautiful place.

The breeze blowing through was also pleasant.

“It would have been perfect if it was sunny, but well, it’s better than raining.”

“No, it’s beautiful enough. I’m seeing this kind of view for the first time.”

“That’s good to hear.”

It’s a view that moves you just by looking at it.

Although I had heard about it, I didn’t think such a thing actually existed.

But it does exist in this world.

These types of views that soothe your heart.

Chapter 28: Even if you can’t forgive yourself

Just by looking at the beautiful scenery, one can feel better.

Is it because one can sense their own insignificance compared to the vast nature?

Compared to this grand nature, my worries are too small and terribly weak.

“How is it? Do you feel a little better?”

“Yeah.”

“When I have my own worries, I often come here. I’ve had a tendency to overthink and get depressed.”

“Is Yuren-kun the same?”

When I asked, he nodded with a gentle smile.

He brought me to this place because I was still worrying.

Yuren-kun is as kind as ever.

“I’m a little tired from walking. Shall we take a break and sit down?”

“Yeah…that’s a good idea.”

We sat down on the hill.

The green lawn was soft and felt like a small carpet.

It was a bit cold because of the cloudy weather, but it was also refreshing.

Even while sitting, the scenery could be seen.

I remained silent for a while and just gazed at the scenery.

Yuren-kun did the same, but suddenly spoke up.

“This cross, I built it myself without permission.”

“What… do you mean?”

“You asked me if it was a graveyard, right? Half true, but half different.”

I tilt my head.

Yuren-kun looks at the cross as if reminiscing, then continues to explain.

“I made this cross about five years ago to mourn the people who protected me when I was a child.”

“People who protected you… like Hisui-san?”

“He’s a different story. As I’m a prince, my life was always in danger from an early age. Assassination, attack, abduction… I have experienced them all at least once.”

As I hear his story, my body trembles slightly in terror.

The fear of assassination is still fresh in my memory.

At least for me, it’s impossible to talk about it as if I want to remember.

Was that just an ordinary part of his daily life?

If that was the case…

“It must have been tough for you…Right?”

“Well, yeah. But it’s unavoidable for a prince to be targeted. What was really the hardest part was seeing people sacrifice themselves for me.”

Those who fought to protect him and lost their lives.

Those who risked their lives to protect Yuren-kun, following orders for the sake of the country.

This cross was also meant to honor them.

Yuren-kun speaks his mind.

“I didn’t want to see anyone die because of me. But when I was younger, I didn’t have the strength to protect myself, so I had to be protected. It was frustrating and I felt guilty, but I couldn’t look away. Everyone fought for me.”

He clenches his fist powerfully as he speaks.

You can tell from his gesture that he is feeling regret.

It’s frustrating that he couldn’t do anything.

If only he had the strength to fight, maybe he could have saved more lives.

“So I’ve been working hard to become stronger since then. If I can become strong enough to protect myself, nobody else will get hurt because of me, right?”

“… Do you often spend time alone?”

“Yeah, because I don’t want to drag others into danger. Especially the knights, who use themselves as shields for me. I can’t bear to watch that. But I know that it’s their duty.”

To protect one’s lord at the expense of one’s life.

That was the true duty of a knight, or so I had once heard somewhere.

To risk one’s life for the sake of others.

He had felt an extraordinary loyalty since his childhood.

“I have become stronger since then. Thanks to that, I have been able to protect lives. I think I have grown as both a prince and a human being.”

“I think so too.”

“Thank you. But you know, no matter how much time passes, I can’t forget about the people who have passed away. I still regret my actions. I keep thinking, if only I had done this or that… You probably feel the same way, right?”

He directed his soft gaze towards me.

I hesitated for a moment, but soon nodded.

“Right. If I had… if I had refused in the beginning, lives wouldn’t have been lost. It’s not my fault, everyone tells me that, but… it’s hard to accept it.”

I could understand it in my head, but I couldn’t accept it in my heart.

As Yuren-kun had told me, I had been regretful for a long time.

I had to put an end to the past and move forward, yet I still looked back.

That’s just who I am…

“How pathetic.”

“That’s not true. It’s just because you’re kind-hearted that you think that way.”

“Kind-hearted… you think? I just think I’m weak.”

“Then, you should become stronger.”

He stands up and puts his hands on his waist and takes a deep breath.

“No matter how much you think about it, the past cannot be erased. It’s not something that can be settled, and you’ll keep regretting it. Nevertheless, we have to keep living and live for the future. You can’t move forward if you keep looking back.”

“…yeah.”

I understand.

I’m trying my best to think that way.

“If you think you deserve to be blamed, it’s not true. The one who is really bad is that prince, and he’s the one who should be blamed. Carrying those feelings will only drag you down to hell. Aria should focus on meeting expectations, not on bearing grudges.”

“Meet expectations…?”

“Yes. You can carry it with you. If you regret it, just work hard not to repeat it. If you’re struggling alone, I’ll help you. Rather than getting stuck and worried, let’s do our best with what we can do now.”

“Do our best with what we can do now…”

My best contribution is to serve as a Transmutation Master.

If I can help many people as I did with Irina-chan and others, maybe it will be a redemption.

Yuren-kun reaches out his hand to me.

“Live with your head held high. Live strongly, become happy, and be praised by everyone in the afterlife for doing your best.”

“… Yes.”

I cannot forgive myself.

I will regret my foolishness forever.

Still, I will keep on living.

Keeping it in my heart, I will keep moving forward.

Because there are people who need me and will support me.

I want to answer their thoughts.

I realized that I am stronger on the desire to meet their expectations than on the feeling of regret.

That is why I took his hand.

I will stand up again and start from scratch.

Chapter 29: Restart

I have come to terms with my worries.

Or maybe not completely, but I have found a reason to move forward.

There are limits to what I can do.

Within those limits, I have no choice but to do my best.

Instead of giving up, I feel like I can switch gears.

“Yuren-kun.”

“Yeah?”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

Thank you very much.

Just after expressing my gratitude, light shines through the cloudy sky.

The faint blue sky gradually opens up to reveal more.

The cloudy sky had persisted for a long time, enduring without rainfall.

Finally, a ray of sunshine appears.

The light shines down on us, and then continues to illuminate the city of the royal capital.

“It’s beautiful.”

“Yeah, it is. That’s why I want to make it even more beautiful. I want to polish this city and this country as a prince. And Aria, you should pursue what you want to do.”

“Then I will help as a Transmutation Master.”

“I see. Then I’m counting on you.”

We make a promise.

The next time we visit this place together, let’s go further ahead.

Let’s become a better version of ourselves than we are now.

❂❂❂❂❂❂

Walking down the hill and through the forest.

My steps feel lighter on the way back.

“You had a little breather, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, thanks to that, I feel like I can work hard again from tomorrow.”

“That’s good. Everyone was worried, you know? Irina was sad and said, ‘Onee-sama is not feeling well!’”

“Uh…sorry, I tried to be careful.”

I intended to act like normal so as not to worry those around me.

However, this time I couldn’t focus on my work as much as I thought, and not just Irina-chan but others were probably worried about me.

I’ll have to apologize when I get back.

“I’ll be more careful from now on.”

“Yeah. But be careful not to take the wrong approach. Aria, how should I put it…you might end up fretting alone and keeping everything to yourself. If you’re worried, you can always talk to someone. If it’s me, I’ll be there for you anytime.”

“Thank you. Yuren-kun is so kind.”

“…It’s not like I’m kind to everyone.”

He muttered in a low voice.

It was a small voice, but I heard everything he said clearly because we were talking right next to each other.

However, as soon as I thought about the meaning of the words, I became embarrassed and couldn’t say anything in response.

He is kind to everyone.

Is that… Is that what this is about?

Or is it different?

If I ask, will he answer?

I was curious, but I remained silent and walked next to him for a while.

I caught a glimpse of Yuren-kun’s cheeks, which seemed to have turned slightly red.

❂❂❂❂❂❂

“I’m sorry for worrying you!”

The next day.

I gathered in Head Department Laura’s laboratory and apologized to everyone.

Yuren-kun, Hisui-san, and Irina-chan were also in the room.

When I apologized, Laura-san was the first to respond with a light smile.

“You don’t need to apologize. Everyone goes through tough times and feels unwell sometimes, right? You did your job properly, and if you’re feeling better now, that’s good!”

“I’m also happy if Onee-sama is feeling better!”

“If it gets tough again, let me know anytime. I’ll lend you my Yuren then.”

“Hey Hisui, don’t talk about me like I’m a thing.”

To Yuren-kun sulking, Hisui-san said with a mischievous smile.

“You say that, but you’ll be the first one to rush to Aria’s side if she looks like she’s in trouble.”

“Well, yes. She’s an important friend I’ve known for a long time.”

“Is that really all?”

“You’re so annoying! Let’s get back to work soon.”

Yuren-kun seemed busy too.

He still makes time to come to the laboratory.

He touches the door of the room and turns around, opening it halfway.

“Aria.”

And he called my name.

As our eyes met, he spoke in a warm tone.

“Good to see you again. Keep up the good work.”

“Sure.”

He said this and then left.

Just one word gives me courage.

It makes me want to do my best.

“Shall we go too?”

“Yes! To Onee-sama’s workshop!”

We leave the laboratory and walk through the corridors of the palace.

The destination is my workshop.

The place where everything I have to do in this country is.

I stop in front of the door and slowly touch it, thinking.

The me from yesterday and before that.

Am I making progress compared to back then?

If not, let’s take a step forward today.

“I’ll do my best.”

I mutter those words and open the door.

I remember what he said to me on that hill.

I want to be Yuren-kun’s support.

Just as he supported me, now it’s my turn to support him.

For that reason… starting today, it’s a new day for me.

I have decided to make it the new start of Transmutation Master Aria.

So that I won’t regret anything that happens from now on.

Let’s try to live every day to the fullest.

Even if there are tough times, I’m sure I’ll be okay.

Unlike in the past, I have Yuren-kun and the others with me now.

Let’s face forward and move ahead.

When I stop and look back next time, I hope the road that continues behind me is beautiful.

Chapter 30: Disturbing stares

Various sounds can be heard in the workshop.

Sounds of metal clanging and glasses rolling around.

Occasionally, there are high-pitched sounds like breaking glass, as well as heavy and wild sounds.

You might think it makes sense if you look inside.

But if someone who doesn’t know passes by, they might think like this:

“It looks like a witch’s house.”

“Huh?”

Yuren-kun, who visited the workshop unexpectedly, muttered.

Irina-chan and I stopped working.

“Oh, sorry about that. There’s a rumor going around in the palace, you see.”

“What rumor? About me?”

“About Aria, or rather, about this workshop. See, it’s in a location where many people pass by. And it’s an old building, so the soundproofing is not very good, and the sound often echoes.”

“Ah…”

I found myself convinced by what I heard.

Indeed, even before I became a Transmutation Master, I was once anxious about the sounds coming from the research lab in the mansion.

To someone unfamiliar with it, it might seem like I’m conducting experiments of unknown nature. But being called a witch is a first for me.

“It’s because Onee-sama has achieved so much in such a short time.”

Irina-chan told me.

She still comes to help out.

As Irina-chan poured liquid from a glass jar down the sink, she continued the story.

“Onee-sama was appointed as a Transmutation Master not long ago, and nobody outside of us knows the circumstances. Rumors spread that a newcomer suddenly appeared and solved the kingdom’s problems.”

“At an alarming speed, with an unknown background. So naturally people thought, could she be a witch?”

Yuren-kun continued the story.

I didn’t realize the situation was unfolding like that at all.

Now that I think about it, I am in a rather unusual position within the palace.

But then again, I never did receive an introduction to the other Transmutation Masters.

I’m too busy to even have time to go greet people on my own.

In fact, I don’t even know who’s who.

“Anyway, witches are interesting, aren’t they?”

“That’s not interesting, Onii-sama! Being called a witch is dishonorable for Onee-sama.”

“Huh? Is that so?”

I tilted my head in confusion.

Then Irina-chan asked with a surprised expression.

“Don’t Onee-sama know about witches?”

“Well… I have a recognition of the great people who existed a long time ago.”

I’ve heard stories about them appearing in picture books and fairy tales.

I don’t have any more knowledge than that.

When I answered that way, Irina-chan was greatly surprised.

Yuren-kun followed up.

“Aria has been into transmutation since she was a child. She avoided unnecessary knowledge.”

“I see. Onee-sama was a hard worker since she was a child.”

“No, it’s not like that.”

“Don’t be modest. I can guarantee that Aria is a hard worker. I’ve seen it up close.”

Yuren-kun often praises me like this.

Recently, I have become used to it, and my embarrassment has gradually decreased.

It’s strange that it still makes me happy no matter how many times I hear it.

“So what kind of person is a witch?”

“Oh? Are you curious about it?”

“Yeah. It seems like everyone knows about it.”

Although it seems unrelated to alchemy, I thought I should ask just in case.

If I am being called that, it might not be completely unrelated.

Irina-chan’s mention of it being dishonorable piqued my interest.

“A witch is a female magician who actually existed a long time ago. Do you know about magic?”

“Yeah. It’s like a limited miraculous power that only a few people can use nowadays, right?”

“That’s right. It’s rarely seen nowadays, but everyone was able to use it back in the old days. Among them, one person who had especially strong power was called a witch.”

“Oh, I see. So she’s really an amazing person after all.”

When I showed my lightly understanding reaction, both of them showed a subtle expression.

Irina-chan looks particularly gloomy.

She starts talking about the witch again.

“She was an amazing person, but also a very scary one.”

“A scary person?”

“Yes. The witch had strong hatred towards humans and the world. So she tried to destroy them with her own power.”

“What?!”

I am surprised that someone could think of such incomprehensible things, trying to destroy humanity and the world.

“Well, what happened?”

“It ended up as a failure. But many people were sacrificed, and the name of the witch became infamous.”

“I heard that she used tools and weapons that had never been seen before. Maybe that’s why they call Aria a witch.”

“I see.”

The mystery of not knowing what she is making could be the reason why they call me a witch.

If witches are considered bad people, then it certainly is not a good thing.

“Oh…so that’s why. I’ve been feeling strange looks lately.”

“Looks? Is that so?”

“Uh-huh. But after hearing the story, I guess that’s how it is. It’s not like they did anything to me, so if it’s just a rumor, I guess I don’t blame them.”

If it’s just a rumor, it will soon calm down.

At that time, I thought of it lightly.

“…I see. But if anything happens, be sure to tell me, okay?”

“Yes, of course.”

That’s how I answered.

However, after this… I would break that promise.

Chapter 31: Threatening letter

It was just an ordinary morning.

I left the workshop to visit Laura-san’s lab to report on the progress.

The workshop was located in the middle of the garden, so I had to take a big detour if I wanted to go out to the main road.

Because I found that troublesome, I usually cut through the woods.

It was nothing out of the ordinary.

Irina-chan was waiting at the workshop, and I was thinking of finishing the report quickly and getting back to work.

That’s when it happened.

Is it dangerous?

“Huh?”

I thought I heard a small voice.

I instinctively stopped.

Stopping was the right choice, as a silver blade skimmed by in front of me.

A knife pierced into a tree with a “thunk”.

If I had been a little slower to stop, it would have pierced my head.

“E-Eh?”

I didn’t understand the situation.

This was the palace, the safest place for me.

There shouldn’t be any danger to my life.

Feeling secure, my whole body was drenched in cold sweat when the knife narrowly passed by.

“I-It’s me again…”

Am I being targeted?

But why?

I didn’t feel the same fear as I did back then.

Normally, I should have left the scene immediately, but I had the leeway to look around.

No one was around.

There was no sign of anyone.

My eyes were drawn to the knife that had suddenly pierced through the air.

“White… paper?”

There was a white paper wrapped around the handle of the knife.

It was probably a letter or something.

Slowly, I pulled the knife out of the tree and opened the wrapped paper.

What was written there was…

Do not approach Prince Yuren.

You are not suitable.

“T-This is…”

A blackmail letter, isn’t it?”

I thought it was right.

I could sense the resentment and anger towards me from the writing.

Someone who doesn’t like me being close to Yuren-kun.

Just who could it be…

While I was thinking about it, I realized that time had passed.

“I have to report this first.”

I hastily put the knife and the letter away and headed to Laura-san’s laboratory.

I ran there.

Breathless, I burst into the room and opened the door a little too forcefully.

“I’m sorry I’m late!”

“Hey, what’s with the exhaustion? You’re all sweaty.”

“Oh, umm, I ran here.”

“Is that so? You didn’t have to hurry, you know.”

In front of a bewildered Laura-san, I give a dry laugh.

While regularly communicating and submitting research reports, I think about something else in my head.

The contents of the letter from earlier.

Should I show it to Laura-san and ask for advice?

It’s unlikely that the sender is related to Laura-san, considering the contents of the letter.

But still, there’s a possibility…

“What’s wrong? You’re making a troubled face.”

“Oh, umm… yeah. I don’t have enough of the new material.”

“The wheat one?”

“Yes.”

I switch to another topic that was in my head.

Maybe I should have consulted her, but Laura-san is busy with her research.

She wouldn’t have the luxury to think about anything else.

In that case…

After finishing my report, I return to the workshop.

“I’m back.”

“Welcome back, Onee-sama! Did you finish the report safely?”

“…Yes. Let’s continue with our research.”

Consulting Yuren-kun’s sister is out of the question.

She would surely be very worried about me.

She would listen to me empathetically and take action to help.

But that could also turn into a big event.

If the palace becomes noisy, it would not only affect me, but also others.

“Then Yuren-kun…”

I murmured in a small, faint voice.

Irina-chan didn’t seem to hear me and continued helping in silence.

The letter said, “Don’t get close to Yuren-kun.”

It’s not certain that Yuren-kun is the one who delivered it, so it’s not wrong to consult him since it concerns him too.

But…what if someone who doesn’t want me to get close to Yuren-kun is watching me?

What would happen if I consulted Yuren-kun?

Would he also be harmed?

I don’t want that.

I absolutely don’t want Yuren-kun to get hurt because of me.

In that case, there is only one person left to consult.

On the day I finished work, I walked around the palace looking for him.

Then I found his figure walking down the hallway and called out to him.

“Hisui-san!”

“Hmm? Oh, Aria. Good work today.”

Hisui-san greeted me cheerfully.

Hisui-san is Yuren-kun’s confidant and friend.

I trust him as much as Yuren-kun and the others, after all, he is the person Yuren-kun relies on the most.

“Um, actually, I wanted to consult with you about something.”

“Consult? Me?”

“Yes. It’s just that… here is not the best place.”

“I understand. Let’s change location.”

Perhaps he could tell from my reaction, he led me to a room where there was no one.

After taking a deep breath and entering the room, I explained the situation.

“I see…”

I thought he would be surprised, but he remained calm.

He analyzed the situation rationally and mentioned the possibilities.

“Most likely, it’s the work of someone within the palace, or someone who frequently comes and goes, and has a connection with Yuren. Maybe a noble from somewhere?”

“Um… What should I do?”

“For now, just act like you normally do. If you look too scared, everyone else will worry about you. The other person probably doesn’t want any trouble within the palace either.”

“Y-Yes, you’re right…”

A feeling of relief and anxiety dominates my heart.

In the end, I wonder who the sender is.

Hisui-san said he doesn’t know either.

“I’ll look into it on my end. I have a vague idea who it might be.”

“R-Really?”

“Yeah, but given who we’re dealing with, I can’t say for sure. Please wait for a while.”

From Hisui-san’s tone, it seems that the sender is of a certain social position.

“I understand.”

“Yeah. But I’m surprised you came to me for advice instead of Yuren.”

“I-I’m sorry. I just felt that if I talked to Yuren-kun, he might get into danger too.”

“I see. Well, from my perspective, that’s the right choice. I don’t want to cause any unnecessary stress for the prince. If I told him, he’d definitely get angry.”

I also think so.

Yuren-kun is kind.

“Knowing Yuren, if you didn’t tell him and sought my advice, he would be angry. But after it’s over, please tell him with your own words.”

“Yes.”

Chapter 32: Duke Gardenn

The Great Incident that Occurred in the Mayquin Kingdom.

The downfall of the second prince and the punishment of the Transmutation Master who aided him.

Although not publicly announced, some information had also spread to neighboring countries.

Especially for those in the royal family or similar positions, it was not a matter unrelated to them.

A few days after the commotion in the neighboring country.

A luxurious carriage enters the Salem Castle.

The crest of a rose thorn motif indicates a prestigious noble family.

A stern-looking man with gray hair and beard comes out of the carriage.

The servants bow their heads.

“Welcome, Duke Gardenn-sama.”

“Yes, guide me.”

“Certainly.”

He is Duke Gardenn.

He is the same age as the king and one of the five major nobles who has the same voice as the royal family.

He visits the castle regularly and reports on his territory and policies.

The Duke and the servant walk through the palace.

Suddenly, he catches a glimpse of an unfamiliar woman in the distance.

“Who is that girl? She has an unfamiliar face.”

“Aria-sama? She recently became a Transmutation Master in the court.”

“Oh, a Transmutation Master. The hiring exam was still far off, but was someone recommended?”

“Yes. She was recommended by his highness, Yuren.”

He reacts to the name Yuren.

Duke Gardenn looks at Aria, who disappears into the trees, with a stern gaze.

“If she was recommended, she must be from a noble family. Where is she from?”

“Um, the details of her background have not been revealed.”

“What? What do you mean?”

“I-I’m sorry, I don’t know either.”

The servant was intimidated by Duke Gardenn’s oppressive presence.

He tries to look at Aria again, but she has already vanished.

“… Did his highness Yuren really recommend her?”

“Yes. There is no mistake.”

“I see.”

Duke Gardenn puts his hand on his chin and thinks for a few seconds.

“I’m sorry, but we have to change our destination.”

“Which one?”

“It should be obvious. At His Highness’s place.”

He came to the conclusion of going directly and finding out the situation.

The servant led him to Yuren’s office.

After knocking three times, Yuren responded from the inside.

“Come on in.”

“Excuse me.”

Yuren immediately recognized who had come from the sound of their voice.

He stopped working and focused on the Duke, who had just entered.

“Duke Gardenn”

“Yes, it’s been a while, Your Highness.”

The Duke placed his hand on his chest, showing a noble and stiff posture.

“What brings you here today? I don’t recall having any scheduled meetings.”

“Yes, Your Highness. I have something I want to confirm with you, and I apologize for coming without permission.”

“What is it?”

“It’s about a Transmutation Master named Aria. The story is that you recommended her.”

Yuren’s eyebrows twitched for a moment, but his expression remained unchanged as he calmly asked, “Has something happened to her?”

“The story is that you recommended her,” Duke repeated.

“It’s true, okay? I was the one who recommended her. Even Father acknowledges her talent, doesn’t he?”

“…Then why hide her background?”

Duke asked the crucial question.

No strange negotiations, just a straightforward inquiry about what he wanted to know.

It was thanks to the Duke’s unwavering trust in Yuren.

Yuren also trusted Duke in the same way.

“Can I talk to Duke Garrden about this?”

Yuren explained the situation that occurred in another country and how she was involved as a victim.

She left out the part about creating the poison that caused it.

She finished talking about the events and their vague meeting.

“So that girl is a Transmutation Master from the Mayquin Kingdom?”

“Yes, she was. She was unfairly dismissed but still has undeniable talent. She has a proven record of resolving one of our country’s national crises.”

“That’s great, but her background is not suitable. And the timing is bad.”

The Duke spoke with a stern expression.

“The incident at Mayquin Kingdom has spread throughout the country. It may be just a rumor, but some of the citizens know about it. If it were known that the Transmutation Master had been brought from the kingdom in the middle of such a situation…”

The citizens will be confused.

And they might misunderstand.

“I heard that you have a personal connection with that girl. Is that true?”

“Yeah, she’s been a friend of mine since childhood.”

“…With all due respect, it might be better to refrain from such friendship in the future.”

“Why is that?”

Yuren asks the Duke, sensing the reason but daring to ask.

The Duke answers with irritation.

“You understand, don’t you, Your Highness? If you associate with someone whose identity is uncertain, it could affect your credibility in case of emergency. And if the woman realizes that Your Highness has taken an interest in her, she might become arrogant.”

“What do you mean?”

“She might want a title, or money. What will you do if she becomes presumptuous?”

“That won’t happen. Aria doesn’t care about money or status. She doesn’t need those things for what she wants to do…”

“Your Highness…”

Duke bites his lip.

“No matter what kind of thoughts she may possess, the fact remains that that girl has issues. I won’t object to her working in the palace, but Your Highness should consider your position.”

“You’re overthinking it, Duke Garrden. Don’t worry, it won’t be what you think.”

“…I hope so.”

Yuren, who knows Aria’s heart, and Duke, who only knows her title and circumstances.

Their arguments are parallel.

Because they trust each other, they think deeply about it.

Chapter 33: You can’t hide it

The day after consulting with Hisui-san,

I was working at the workshop as usual.

I was told not to act weird or flustered.

Not that I had to, but I couldn’t even if I wanted to because I didn’t feel any stares or hostility.

I’ve been trying to pay attention to my surroundings since then, just in case.

“Nobody’s watching, right?”

“What is it?”

Irina-chan, who was working with me, heard my sudden mutter and asked me about it.

I hastily made an excuse.

“Oh, it’s nothing. I was just thinking that I need to produce results soon.”

“You don’t have to rush. Onee-sama has already achieved a lot, hasn’t she?”

“There’s only one.”

“That’s not true. You’re also working on other requests alongside your research, and Onii-sama has been praising you a lot.”

Yuren-kun often exaggerates his praise for me.

Apparently, he’s also telling someone else about it, not just me.

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about him praising me.

It’s mostly from Irina-chan and Hisui-san, but I’m sure he’s telling others too.

Normally, I would be happy about it, and I am happy now too.

But…

I feel like it’s connected to that incident.

I’m sorry for Yuren-kun, but I’m sure there are people who don’t like him praising me.

And in fact, I found out that there are.

This palace is comfortable unlike Mayquin, but there are always people who don’t get along in places where people gather.

It’s best if everyone can get along, though.

“It’s hard.”

“Even for Aria?”

“That’s right. I’m a person too——Yuren-kun!”

Yuren-kun, who had visited the workshop without my knowledge, was standing next to me.

I was startled to find out that the person I was casually talking to was him and I inadvertently took a big step back.

“Hey Aria, I didn’t expect you to be so surprised.”

“Uh, yeah, sorry. It was sudden so I was surprised.”

“I’m sorry about that.”

Yuren-kun smiles kindly.

Irina-chan notices him and runs over.

“Welcome back, Onii-sama! Is your work done?”

“Yeah, it’s all settled.”

“Is that so? Thank you for your hard work, Onii-sama. What brings you to the workshop?”

“Well, I don’t really have anything to do. I just came to check it out since I had some free time.”

As Yuren-kun and Irina-chan talk, I can’t help feeling uneasy.

I glance around nervously.

I think the inside of the workshop is safe, so my gaze leans inevitably towards the window glass.

I wonder if someone is watching me.

I don’t feel anyone’s gaze on me right now, but it feels like someone is staring at me.

It’s okay… Right?

I won’t suddenly be attacked or something, right?

Yuren-kun is here too, so it should be fine.

“Aria?”

“Huh?”

“What’s wrong? You keep looking around.”

“Are you looking for something, Onee-sama?”

The two of them stop talking and notice that I am focused on something.

I calmed my restless heart and pretended to be calm so as not to reveal anything.

“Yes. I’m just looking for some material.”

“Material? Is it for making wheat?”

“Yeah, it’s a plant called ‘seven-leaf grass.’ It’s a special material, so I want to go get it.”

“Seven-leaf grass… I’ve never heard of it.”

Yuren-kun puzzled over how to get me the information I needed.

I wasn’t just making it up; it was really a material that I wanted.

Seven-leaf grass is a special grass with seven different types of leaves, and the type of leaves changes depending on the environment in which it grows.

Each leaf has a different characteristic, so it is highly versatile as a material for transmutation.

I think the reason Yuren-kun doesn’t know about it is that it was discovered fairly recently.

“It can grow anywhere, but it’s hard to come by because it grows quickly from sprouting to withering. Processing it after harvesting is also important, and if you make a mistake, you won’t be able to store it.”

“Wow, it’s that kind of plant. Then, I can’t request you to just pick it up quickly.”

“Yeah, it might be difficult. That’s why I was thinking of going to get it myself.”

“Right now?”

I shook my head.

I did want to go and get it, and I had been considering going soon.

But recently, it had become difficult.

“Let’s do it another time. I’m in the middle of trying to make do with the materials I already have.”

“Okay. Let me know if you need anything. I can come with you too.”

“Uh, yeah. Thank you.”

Normally, I would be happy, but I couldn’t feel genuine joy now.

It wasn’t Yuren-kun’s fault… I felt sorry for him.

I wanted it to be resolved quickly.

Otherwise, I wouldn’t even be able to concentrate enough to talk to Yuren-kun.

“Oh, by the way, Onee-sama, have you heard the rumor that you’re a witch again? They’re saying that you’re making dangerous potions in that hut and stuff, but that’s impossible!”

“Hahaha, I’ve heard the same thing.”

I was busy with other things, so I didn’t have time to worry about that.

Rumors that I was a witch had become common within the royal palace.

It was not to the point of being behind my back, but I could feel people’s eyes on me when I passed by, so I didn’t really mind that much.

“Everyone doesn’t know me, so they’re just being weirded out by the rumor.”

“That may be so, but it’s rude to call you a witch!”

Irina-chan pouted in anger.

She was kind to get angry on my behalf.

And then I noticed Yuren-kun remain silent.

When I looked towards him,

“Hey, Aria.”

“What?”

“Has anything strange happened to you lately?”

“Huh?”

That was unexpected.

Chapter 34: Second threatening letter

Yuren-kun was looking at me.

He wasn’t looking suspicious or worried.

He was just looking at me with his usual expression and not averting his gaze from my eyes.

Caught off guard, I couldn’t answer him immediately.

I averted my gaze slightly.

But I quickly composed myself and asked him back.

“What do you mean, something strange?”

I tried my best to keep a poker face, pretending that I had no idea.

I was desperate not to involve Yuren-kun and to keep my secrets hidden from him.

“…If there’s nothing, that’s fine. Keep up the good work, Aria.”

“Okay, thank you.”

Saying that, Yuren-kun left the workshop.

I was relieved that I managed to avoid his suspicion, but I regretted making him doubtful.

I seemed to have made him feel the difference from our usual interactions.

I need to be more careful.

At least until Hisui-san finds out who sent the letter.

◇◇◇

A few days later.

There was no particular movement, and there was no report from Hisui-san.

I walked around the trees where the knife had flown.

Today, I took a shortcut to report to Laura-san.

I arrived in front of the tree where the knife had pierced, and somehow stopped my feet.

“Oh!”

Just like that day, a knife passed in front of my face and pierced the same carved tree.

It was exactly the same as before, down to the finest detail.

“Oh, a letter.”

A letter was wrapped around the handle of the knife.

Although it was just white paper folded and wrapped, I knew it was a letter because it was the second time.

I pulled out the knife and opened the letter to read it.

It was a second warning.

“Do not get involved with His Highness Yuren any further.”

It was a short message, but strong emotions were clearly conveyed.

The sender was clearly angrier than in the first letter.

“I wonder if they were watching me.”

Perhaps they were observing Yuren-kun’s visits to the workshop somewhere.

I looked to the left and right once, and then lowered my gaze to the letter again.

The flying knife was thrown so that it would miss.

I didn’t feel any danger, but the second time I did, I was feeling increasingly uneasy.

I hid the knife and folded the letter, putting it in my pocket.

Then, after reporting to Laura-san, I took a longer route back to the workshop.

I didn’t want to take any shortcuts and risk another knife coming at me.

“I’m back.”

“Welcome back, Onee-sama! Is everything okay?”

“Huh?”

“Your complexion doesn’t look good.”

Irina-chan can tell that I’m troubled.

I quickly force a smile.

“Oh, it’s nothing. I’ve just been going in and out of the palace a lot lately so I was just thinking about that.”

“I see… is it related to the incident in the neighboring country?”

Irina-chan lowers her voice.

When she mentions the neighboring incident, she’s undoubtedly talking about the case in the Mayquin Kingdom.

She continues, “That incident has spread to other countries and many people in our country are worried that the same thing might happen here.”

“Anxiety…is this place also affected?”

“Yes. However, the person in question’s Onii-sama is not concerned. The ones who are concerned are the Five Great Noble Families.”

“The Five Great Noble Families?”

It was a name that had come up in a previous conversation.

I knew they were very important people.

“What kind of people are the Five Great Noble Families?”

“They are descendants of nobility connected to the royal family. They have been supporting the country for a long time, and Otoo-sama is also relying on them. And each of the Five Great Noble Families supports a different prince.”

According to Irina-chan, the word “support” is not quite appropriate, and “assist” would be a more accurate description.

Princes are people who have the qualifications to become kings someday.

They move politics and support the country.

It is the role of the Five Great Noble Families to assess and lend their power to them.

So they are concerned about the princes, and the princes also trust them.

After listening to the story up to a point, a certain premonition passes through my mind.

“So, are there people who support Yuren-kun too?”

“Of course. Duke Gardenn-sama will become a supporter of Yuren Onii-sama.”

“Duke Gardenn-sama… What kind of person is he?”

“Well~ let me think…”

Irina-chan groaned and thought for a moment.

“In short, he is a very strict person.”

“Strict… so he is a tough person.”

“Yes. But he is not just strict; he is a very serious and sincere person, so Onii-sama also trusts him.”

“I see…”

My premonition becomes stronger.

Could it be that Duke Gardenn sent the threatening letter?

No, it’s too complicated for such a distinguished noble to do something like that, right?

I understand why he doesn’t want me to get close to Yuren-kun.

My background is not clear.

Moreover, I am from Mayquin Kingdom, where there were some problems, and I used to work as a Transmutation Master in the royal palace.

I don’t know how much that person knows about the situation, but it’s only natural to think that it’s dangerous.

If that’s the case… is that really it?

Chapter 35: I’m worried about you

The next morning.

I finished breakfast and was walking down the hallway of the palace towards the workshop when I noticed Yuren-kun walking towards me.

He also noticed me and waved his hand lightly.

“Good morning, Aria.”

“Good morning.”

He stopped in front of me and showed me a warm smile like the morning sun.

“You have work today too, right?”

“Yeah, what about you, Yuren-kun?”

“Yeah, the documents are piling up again.”

He looked like he wanted to say “good grief”.

It seems that the prince’s job is quite tough.

He complains that despite not going out recently, the work keeps piling up.

“Fufu, don’t push yourself too hard, okay?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I’m gonna go now.”

“Yeah. Do your best.”

I smiled lightly and walked down the hallway faster than usual.

I wanted to talk to him more, but there is a reason why I can’t.

You never know when or where you are being watched.

It might be better to reduce my opportunities to interact with Yuren-kun outside of the workshop.

I think so, but…

In the workshop around noon.

“Oh, Onii-sama, welcome!”

“Hey, you’re doing well.”

“Yes!”

Yuren-kun arrived.

Irina-chan was happy to see him.

“Is Aria doing well too?”

“Yeah, I’m fine, but I’m a bit busy right now and can’t take my hands off.”

I put on an indifferent attitude.

If I let the conversation drag on or make him stay in the workshop, I’ll make “them” angry again.

“I see. If you’re busy, I shouldn’t bother you.”

“…Yeah, sorry.”

I’m really sorry.

He came all this way, but I can’t even talk to him.

I really want to talk to him too.

Just talking about trivial things makes me very happy.

But now, anxiety is stronger.

So I try to reduce our interaction as much as possible.

I thought that was the case, but…

“Why?”

When I entered my room after work, there was a letter on my desk.

The contents were the same as the one sent with the knife.

There was a message telling me not to approach Yuren-kun, and a scary sentence saying that we can’t overlook this anymore.

I thought I was avoiding it, but it seems like it wasn’t good enough for the other person.

Since that day, my anxiety grew stronger.

With the influence of the rumors, I always felt eyes on me from my surroundings.

Who is watching me?

I found myself following eyes to see if anyone was angry.

Conversations with Yuren-kun also became shorter and shorter.

Even when he came to talk to me, I became more and more distant.

It was heartbreaking.

Although I really wanted to talk, my anxiety always won and I couldn’t do anything.

There has been no report from Hisui-san yet.

Maybe it’s because he’s busy, but the chances of meeting him have decreased.

This only fueled my anxiety even more.

Occasionally Irina-chan is absent for a day.

Since she’s also a princess, she should be as busy as Yuren-kun.

I thought it was natural that she couldn’t come to help on days when she couldn’t due to her duties.

But the time when she’s absent, and I’m the only one in the workshop… that made me particularly anxious.

If something were to happen now…

When anxious, the door to my workshop creaks open.

I turned around and there he was.

“Yuren-kun.”

“Hey, I came to check on you.”

Relieved that he had come, I had the urge to spill everything, but I held back.

I didn’t want to cause trouble.

I didn’t want to become a burden, even though I wanted to be his support.

But he noticed my change.

“Aria, come here for a sec.”

“Huh?”

He grabbed my hand and forcefully pulled me along.

Running powerfully, we arrived at Laura-san’s room, which had turned into a storage room.

“There’s a lot of stuff here, and it can’t be seen from the outside. There’s no need to worry about being heard here.”

“Yuren-kun?”

He let out a small sigh and looked at me with a serious expression.

“Hey, Aria, something’s happened, hasn’t it?”

“Huh…n-nothing’s happened.”

“Don’t lie. You’re obviously avoiding me, and you seem afraid of something.”

“That’s…”

It seems like he noticed after all.

At first, I was able to hide it, but lately it had become more noticeable in my behavior.

It was because of the threatening messages that had been sent in a short period of time.

I know it sounds like an excuse, but I don’t think anyone could receive something like that and remain calm.

“Please tell me, Aria! I’m worried.”

“Yuren-kun…”

I didn’t want to worry him.

I didn’t want to burden him and wanted to solve it without involving him.

But in the end, I regretted worrying him.

I was also happy that he was worried about me.

“Actually——.”

If I kept quiet, he would only worry more.

So I told him about the recent events that had occurred.

“Why didn’t you consult with me earlier?”

“Uh, I’m sorry.”

He raised his voice and got angry.

Seeing him get angry, my body shook.

“If it had gone wrong, you might have been injured. I told you to consult with me about these things!”

“U-um… but… I didn’t want to cause trouble for Yuren-kun.”

“It’s the opposite. If something happened to you while I did nothing… I would hate that.”

Yuren-kun replied, gripping my shoulders.

At first, it was a strong grip, but gradually the strength faded.

“I’m glad you’re okay.”

As soon as I heard those words, my eyes couldn’t hold back the tears anymore.

Before I knew it, a single tear fell from my eyes and soaked the ground.

Chapter 36: This person

I tried to hold it in, but once I confided in Yuren-kun and heard his voice, I couldn’t take it anymore.

My anxiety had been mounting.

I wept in embarrassment.

“You were scared, weren’t you? You did well to hold it in.”

“Yeah. But, it was different from last time, so I was fine at first.”

“Last time?”

“When I was attacked in the forest.”

I wiped away my tears.

At that time, I felt a real intent to kill and was in mortal danger.

Although the situation was the same this time, that feeling was not there.

The knife that grazed my face twice seemed to have been thrown in anticipation of me stopping.

“And I had consulted with Hisui-san, so I thought it would eventually settle down.”

“Eh? You consulted with Hisui?”

“Yeah.”

“…Why didn’t you tell me that first?”

Yuren-kun let out a huge sigh, and his strength faded.

“Yuren-kun?”

“If you had consulted with him, I can’t be mad at you.”

“I-I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize. I feel pathetic for getting angry. But I see, you consulted with Hisui, huh.”

He showed an envious expression.

He averted his eyes and face, and his reaction was like that of a child pouting.

He seemed to be saying that he wanted me to consult with him without actually saying it.

“It’s not that, Yuren-kun. I just thought if I told you, I would involve you.”

“What do you mean involve? This is obviously something that concerns me very much, right?”

“That’s true, but Yuren-kun is a prince, right? I didn’t want to cause you any trouble because of me.”

“I see. That’s why you talked to Hisui, right?”

I nod in agreement.

Hisui-san is close to Yuren-kun and easy to talk to.

When I mention this, Yuren-kun has a complicated expression.

“I understand the reasons why. You were worried about me.”

“Y-Yes…”

In the end, I ended up worrying him, and I may have made a mistake in how I showed concern.

Maybe I should have consulted with Yuren-kun from the beginning.

“But the truth is, I really wanted you to consult with me… Please do so from now on.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry for worrying you.”

“I’m the one who caused the trouble, so it’s my fault.”

Yuren-kun bows his head.

“Don’t apologize, Yuren-kun!”

“I should. The actions of my retainers are also my responsibility. I’m a prince, after all.”

Yuren-kun spoke with strong words, as if he is determined rather than angry.

“Aria, can you show me the knife and the letter?”

“Sure.”

I showed him the knife and the letter.

“I see. Well, I think it’s okay as long as Hisui is on the move, but I have an idea of my own and I will investigate it.”

“Yeah. Is there anything I can do?”

“Not currently. If anything, it would be better if you don’t avoid me and instead stay with me.”

“Really?”

If I do that, won’t it provoke the other person?

“They also wouldn’t commit a murder or assault inside the palace. Especially if it’s who I think it is.”

“I-I see…”

Who does Yuren-kun suspect?

Did Hisui-san also say something similar? I wonder if it’s the same person.

“They can’t do anything while I’m with you. The fact that it stopped at a threat is a good sign. And if we’re too obviously friendly, it might make them impatient and come out.”

“T-That’s scary…”

“Don’t worry, okay? It’s not bad to be cautious, and if you happen to meet someone like that, just pretend not to know them. We’ll figure it out on our end.”

“Okay.”

I feel a sense of calm coming over me.

Maybe it’s because I was able to talk to Yuren-kun, but I feel lighter.

I think it’s because he’s the one I can talk to and feel reassured, since he’s the one who has helped me before.

Will he end up helping me again this time?

It’s pathetic to think like that.

I want to be Yuren-kun’s support, but in the end, it’s me who’s being supported.

“I should go soon. Is there anything else you’re not telling me?”

“No, that’s all.”

“Okay, good. Don’t overdo it.”

“You too, Yuren-kun.”

Please don’t try too hard for my sake.

After talking to him and feeling reassured, I think about it again with a calm mind.

I reflect on it.

It was good that I was able to talk to someone about it.

Still, I wanted to solve it without relying on him.

◇◇◇

Since that day, Yuren-kun and I have been meeting frequently.

We talk in the hallway or he visits me in the workshop.

What we do is the same as usual, but it feels fresh since we avoided each other for a few days.

It’s more than enjoyable, it’s calming.

Thanks to this, I have the time to think and focus on my work.

And then, after a while——

I was walking in the hallway of the royal palace.

A man stood in front of me.

Well, to be precise, he was just standing there and not really blocking the way.

But I stopped in my tracks.

It felt as if I was being told to stop, and before I knew it, we were facing each other.

A stern-looking man with gray hair and a beard.

My intuition tells me that——

It’s him.

Chapter 37: I convey my will

It was our first meeting.

Even so, I could tell.

This person doesn’t think well of me.

He looks at me with suspicion.

“I’ve never seen you before. Are you a courtier?”

“Yes, I’m Aria, a Transmutation Master at the royal court.”

He spoke to me and I politely responded.

The elegance that could be felt from his attire and attitude.

Undoubtedly, he was not a palace staff but a nobleman.

“Transmutation Master. I believe the court recruitment test was scheduled for later… did you receive someone’s recommendation?”

“Yes, I received a recommendation from His Highness Yuren.”

I answered before he could ask who.

I expected him to know even without asking.

He didn’t seem particularly surprised.

“His Highness’s recommendation is rare. Excuse me, but from which family were you born? As a head of one of the five major noble families that are connected to the royal family, I would like to build close relationships with those who support our king.”

The head of one of the five major noble families?

Does that mean this person is Duke Gardenn-sama who was mentioned earlier?

“I’m sorry. I’m not a native of this country.”

“Is that so? Then where are you from?”

He continued to ask questions.

After the family background, now came the place of origin.

He even looked like he knew.

There was no doubt anymore that this person was involved in the threatening letter.

Hisui-san and Yuren-kun said they had an idea about the person, but they didn’t tell me anything.

They also said that they couldn’t do anything without confirmation.

Because they were dealing with such an opponent, they couldn’t take any reckless actions.

If the opponent was a member of the Five Great Noble Families, it would also support the two’s statements.

“What’s wrong? Can’t you answer?”

“No…”

Whether to answer or not.

Yuren-kun told me it was better not to say anything reckless.

I agree with that.

If I say something wrong, I can see a future where I will be criticized.

But…

“I…”

But is that okay?

Is it okay to just dodge the question, deceive, and run away like this?

Should I leave it to Yuren-kun and Hisui-san, or is that really okay?

I decided to work hard to become a support for Yuren-kun.

But here I am again, relying on him and causing trouble…

This is not right.

I’m not in the royal palace to be protected by Yuren-kun.

I’m here to support him.

I chose this place.

So then…

“I’m from the Mayquin Kingdom.”

I’ll confront this.

If this is what it means to be on Yuren-kun’s side, then I shouldn’t back away.

If I want to be with him from now on, I need to become someone who can be his ally.

With my own power.

“Mayquin Kingdom…a Transmutation Master, huh? I haven’t heard good rumors about them.”

Duke-sama reacted to the name of the kingdom.

From his nonchalant reaction, it seemed like he already knew about it.

My identity is known to the royal family and those with similar status.

If this person is Duke-sama of the Five Great Noble Houses, it’s not surprising that he knows.

“Do you know? There seems to be some involvement of Transmutation Masters in the recent scandal in that country.”

“Yes, I have heard rumors about it.”

“I see. Just to make sure, you’re not involved in it, right?”

“——!”

I hesitated to answer.

If you are asking if I am involved or not, I would be one of them.

But if I thought calmly about the “involvement,” it must be whether or not the Transmutation Master is the one in question.

Because except for the royal family of Mayquin Kingdom, who are parties concerned, only four of us know the truth about that incident, including me.

This person doesn’t know anything.

Then, my answer should be enough.

“I am not the Transmutation Master who got into trouble.”

“I suppose so. If you were, His Highness would not have recommended you. However, if your true identity is revealed, there may be people who doubt you. If you are suspected, His Highness, who recommended you, will also be held responsible.”

It is Yuren-kun’s responsibility.

It was just recently that I heard those words.

I realized it again.

Yuren-kun is a prince of this country and holds a responsible position.

“I will work hard to live up to His Highness’s expectations. I hope to prove myself with the results I achieve.”

“That’s a good attitude. But is that about being a Transmutation Master? From what I’ve heard, you seem to have a personal relationship with His Highness.”

An abrupt change of topic.

Moreover, knowing that means he recognized me from the beginning.

The first exchange was like a greeting, perhaps this is where the real discussion begins.

I secretly brace myself.

“His Highness is a prince and his social circle must be appropriate for his position. Don’t you think so too?”

“…Yes.”

“I don’t know what your intentions are in dealing with His Highness, but there are those who don’t approve of it. If your relationship with him damages His Highness’s credibility, you should refrain from it, don’t you think?”

“Are you saying that I should refrain from contacting His Highness?”

No answer.

But there was no denial either.

This silence could be taken as affirmation.

There is no need to think deeply about it now.

What this person wants to say is that I am not suitable as a friend of Yuren-kun, and I should keep an appropriate distance.

I should not interact with him closely as a friend, but understand his position as a prince and me as a courtier.

I reminisce about the memories so far: meeting Yuren-kun, the day he helped me.

And even now, the time I spend with him is a priceless treasure.

I cannot bear to lose it.

Because I do not want to lose it, I have decided to stand up to this.

So I will answer like this.

“I apologize.”

“Can I assume that this apology means you understand my intentions?”

“No, it means I cannot fulfill your expectations.”

“…I see.”

An ominous atmosphere hangs in the air.

Duke-sama’s expression stiffens, and his gaze sharpens.

Still, I do not run away.

I convey my will.

Chapter 38: The goal is the same

“Have you understood my intentions?”

“Yes.”

“And yet you made the statement earlier?”

“Yes. I have no intention of changing my relationship with His Highness.”

I declared clearly and without hesitation, prepared for the consequences of disrespect.

But I could not compromise, so I spoke straight without hiding anything.

“Is it His Highness’s will?”

“No, it is my own.”

“Do you want to maintain your friendship with His Highness that much?”

“Yes.”

I wanted to shout it out, without looking away even if I was scared.

If I ran away here, I would remain someone who could only be protected.

“Do you have any ulterior motives? Are you trying to approach His Highness for rewards or something?”

“I do not need rewards. Being praised by His Highness is enough.”

Well done.

You’re doing your best.

Just those few words are good enough.

If it’s a word from Yuren-kun, that’s enough.

“I don’t need money, status, or honor. I just want to fulfill the expectations His Highness has of me. He needs me, and I want to respond to that feeling.”

“Your spirit is admirable. But does that change your identity or status, does it?”

“No, it doesn’t. That’s why I’ll make contributions as a Transmutation Master and work towards the future that everyone hopes for. If one thing is not enough, then two, and if that’s still not enough, then three. I’ll put all my abilities to work and bring this country closer to its ideal state.”

Yuren-kun spoke to me about it on that hill.

The beauty of Salem and the desire to change it into a more beautiful country, for the happiness of the people who live here.

I also want to help with that, as a Transmutation Master and as a friend.

“I am a Transmutation Master. As someone who has been chosen by His Highness, I will show more than what is expected…no, I will show outstanding work. I will prove that His Highness’s eyes are sharp, and be by his side without shame.”

And so, I start walking.

I cross Duke-sama, who blocks my path, and move forward.

Beyond Duke-sama, there was a room where Yuren-kun was handling official duties.

Looking back on it later, Duke-sama might have been standing here from the beginning as a warning not to go any further.

But I passed by him.

I had already made up my mind not to stop anymore.

Clap clap clap——

As soon as I passed Duke-sama’s side, I heard applause from somewhere.

I stopped and looked out the hallway window.

“Oh, wow, Nee-san, you’re amazing! I’ve never seen anyone stand up to the boss like that!”

A cheerful, black-haired boy sat on the windowsill.

He leapt lightly through the window into the hallway and landed with a somersault.

“Who might you be?” I asked.

“Why did you show up uninvited?”

Duke-sama demanded.

“Sorry, boss! I couldn’t resist coming out for a bit of fun,” the boy replied.

“How dare you be so presumptuous.”

The boy seemed to be an acquaintance of Duke-sama’s and spoke familiarly with him.

He looked to be around twelve or thirteen years old and wore cheap, easy-to-move clothing.

I don’t really want to say it, but he wasn’t a suitable match for Duke-sama.

“Hello, Nee-san! I’m Fusaki! If you see this, does this look familiar to you?”

“Ah!”

He takes out a knife that has a familiar shape.

I also have two of the same knives.

“Did you understand? I’m the one who threw the knife at Nee-san and sent the letter.”

“Heh, you’re mistaken. I instructed it for His Highness’ sake.”

“Ohhh~, you’re such a stickler. But let me explain. He told me from the very beginning not to hurt you.”

“I see… I understand.”

I am convinced after hearing that.

I see.

That’s why, although I felt uneasy, I never felt scared until the end.

“It’s true that I did something dangerous, but he’s devoted to His Highness! If it means that he will suffer any disadvantage, he is the type of person who will remove it even if it means being punished or hated.”

“Don’t talk nonsense.”

“Why not~? I don’t want my master to be the bad guy either.”

“…Bringing you here was a mistake.”

The dumbfounded Duke and the cheerful boy, Fusaki.

I wonder what kind of relationship they have.

However, thanks to them, the atmosphere in the room became calm.

Perhaps he is behaving in a silly manner to lighten the mood.

“You’re Aria, right?”

“Yes.”

“The words you said earlier… were they not a lie?”

Duke-sama looks at me seriously.

Not with anger or suspicion, but with pure scrutiny.

I answer with just one word, without falsehood or pretense.

“Yes.”

My feelings have not changed.

To support Yuren-kun, to be of help to him.

Surely, Duke-sama feels the same way.

We are each aiming for the same future from different perspectives.

“I see. Then you should do your best. To prove that His Highness’s choice was never a mistake.”

“Yes! I will do my best!”

“I’m cheering for you too~.”

“You, be quiet for a bit! You’ll get a lecture later.”

“Eh~.”

Duke-sama and Fusaki-kun leave.

I watched their backs until they disappeared from view.

“…haa~”

I was nervous.

My heart was pounding until the end.

But it was good.

Duke-sama was not just a scary person.

He is someone who trusts Yuren-kun and listened to me properly.

The last word was meant to be understood as “I have expectations for you,” right?

“I have to respond.”

To the new expectations.

Chapter 39: See for yourself

Two people talking in the office.

Yuren and Duke Gardenn.

“That’s all for the report.”

“Understood. I’ll leave the management of your territory to you.”

“Yes.”

After finishing the regular report, the conversation came to a natural end.

A few seconds passed, and the Duke tried to start the conversation.

“Your Highness.”

“Come to think of it, you had quite an interesting conversation earlier, didn’t you?”

“――! Did you hear it?”

“Well, yeah. But let me tell you that I wasn’t eavesdropping. I just happened to pass by. Can’t move forward if the road is blocked, right?”

Yuren spoke with a smirk on his face.

The Duke, who seemed to want to say “that’s called eavesdropping”, let out a sigh.

“How was Aria?”

“…Well, I’ll admit she was genuinely enthusiastic.”

“Is that all?”

“…I also felt the trust you have in her. I don’t intend to retract my earlier statement, but I realize it was hasty to draw a conclusion.”

Yuren breathed a sigh of relief, thinking that it was a typical response from the Duke.

However, they couldn’t end the conversation there.

He takes out a knife from the drawer and places it on the table.

“Do you recognize this knife?”

“Yes.”

The duke didn’t lie.

He intended to confess about this matter from the beginning.

He just missed the timing because Yuren brought it up first.

Even if he was not caught or asked, the Duke had already made up his mind to talk about it on his own.

“You went too far this time. The result could have been different with one misstep.”

“Yes. I’m sorry.”

He does not make excuses.

It is a fact that he did it wrong.

The Duke deeply bows his head precisely because he realizes it himself.

“Raise your head, Duke Garrden.”

“Yes.”

The Duke raises his head as ordered.

Although he was ready to face any punishment, he realizes that Yuren has no intention of doing so by looking at his expression.

“Hey, Duke Garrden, did you say that you were doing it for my sake? Was that really true?”

“Yes. For the sake of Your Highness’s future, I will stubbornly do what I feel is necessary.”

“I see. You are that kind of man. That’s why I trust you. I believe you had your own considerations in this matter as well.”

“Yes.”

Trust.

The two of them have known each other’s intentions and respected each other.

Therefore, Yuren knows that the Duke does not have malice.

Otherwise, he would never have entrusted his territory to him in the first place.

If it had been someone else, they would have immediately mobilized their troops for this incident.

But Yuren trusted Duke.

“I also want to respect your ideas. You have ideas that I could never come up with. Your opinions are necessary for me to become a true prince.”

“Please don’t be ridiculous. My ideas are lightweight compared to Your Highness’s.”

“That’s not the point. What I want to say is that one’s own opinion is not everything.”

As Yuren spoke, he turned his back and looked out the window slowly.

From his office, he could see Aria’s workshop, which was small.

“I want to associate with people who have ideas that I can’t come up with for myself, for my own sake. I want to have those people around me. Aria is the same. She has something that I don’t.”

“What is that exactly?”

“Who knows? If you want to know, you have to get involved. Are you also planning to observe her?”

“…Yes. I will do that.”

See for yourself.

Yuren conveyed this to the Duke, and the Duke agreed.

If you can confirm and understand it with your own eyes, not by asking others, you should be able to truly appreciate the person’s value.

Yuren and Aria have been deepening their bond in this way.

◇◇◇

The clock hands indicate 7 p.m.

It’s completely dark outside after the sun went down.

It seems like it’s already been an hour beyond 6 o’clock, which had been planned to be the end.

While in a rush to tidy up, the door suddenly swung open.

“You’re still as dedicated as ever to your work, Aria.”

“Yuren-kun? What brings you here at this time?”

It might be the first time he has visited at night.

I stopped cleaning.

“I thought I’d let you know, just in case.”

“Inform me of what?”

“Well, that matter has been resolved.”

Yuren-kun’s words make me pause.

I had a conversation with Duke-sama and felt relieved, but I hadn’t told Yuren-kun anything about it.

If he hadn’t mentioned it, I would have forgotten to report about it.

“But, wait, it’s resolved? Did you reach an agreement?”

“I guess you could say that. Actually, thanks to Aria telling him everything, there wasn’t much for me to say.”

“…Eh? You were listening by any chance?”

Yuren-kun nods.

Apparently, he overheard our conversation in the hallway.

“If you talk in a place like that, others might hear you. Fortunately, it seems like no one else was there at the time.”

“I-I see…”

He heard us.

Wait a minute.

Now that I think about it, I said some embarrassing stuff, didn’t I…?

“You looked cool, though. Standing proudly in front of Duke Garrden.”

“W-Well, I guess. I was caught up in the moment.”

“And that made me happy. Thank you.”

“U-Uh, yeah.”

He said with a smile that it made him happy.

I wonder which words he was referring to.

Chapter 40: I’m going to be your assistant

“So, from today on, I’ll be in your care!”

“――Eh?”

Introduced without any context was Fusaki-kun, who was with Duke-sama.

Yuren-kun and Hisui-san had visited the workshop together and brought up the topic of introducing someone, and he suddenly appeared.

“Nice to meet you, Nee-san! I look forward to working with you!”

Fusaki-kun showed an innocent smile.

When I looked into his sparkling eyes, I had an impulse to hug him.

Irina-chan is like that too, but why are children of this age so cute?

Suppressing my rising impulse, I asked Yuren-kun.

“Well… what does he mean?”

“Well, you know… this guy was involved in that thing we talked about, right?”

“Ah, yes.”

We had talked about it in the hallway. He used a knife to hand me a letter.

Apparently, it was at Duke-sama’s command, but Fusaki-kun claims he did it on his own.

I had already heard that.

“Although there was no actual harm, what this guy did is a fact. Have you talked to the Duke? So Fusaki’s custody will be in our hands now.”

“I see.”

“Yeah. So, I’ve been thinking…”

“The decision has been made for me to become Nee-san’s assistant and bodyguard!”

Fusaki-kun stood up straight and saluted.

Assistant?

Bodyguard?

“For me?”

“Yes. We’ve been considering it for a while. He’s the perfect fit for the job, so we decided to hire him.”

“Huh?”

I looked bewildered and didn’t quite understand.

I understood that Fusaki-kun was going to be my assistant, but I didn’t quite understand the reasoning behind it.

It felt like there might be some complicated circumstances surrounding it.

“Well, anyway, we want him to be your assistant. If you’re uncomfortable with it, you can reject it.”

“Please don’t reject it, Nee-san! If you do, I’ll have nowhere else to go!”

Fusaki-kun looked up at me with his round, animal-like eyes.

I couldn’t refuse his hungry expression.

“W-Well, it’s not like I hate it or anything.”

“That’s great! I’ll work hard as Nee-san’s assistant!”

Fusaki-kun salutes with a snap.

Just then, the door opens, and Irina-chan shows her face, returning from her errand.

“I’m back.”

“Welcome back, Irina-chan.”

“Oh? Onii-sama and the others were here?”

“Yeah. We had some business.”

Irina-chan’s gaze turns towards Fusaki-kun.

“Fusa-kun?”

“Long time no see~, Princess.”

“It’s Fusa-kun after all! It’s been a while!”

Irina-chan runs over to Fusaki-kun like a dog who has found its owner and grabs his hand, shaking it up and down.

“Hey, don’t get too excited. You might hurt yourself.”

“I’m happy to see you, Fusa-kun! You haven’t come to play with me recently.”

The two talk in a friendly manner.

While watching their interaction, Yuren-kun whispers to me.

“Fusaki was originally Irina’s guard when she was fighting her illness.”

“Is that so?”

“Yeah. Or more like a conversation partner? The Duke was considerate and assigned someone close to Irina’s age to be her guard and allowed them to come and go. To talk about the world outside with Irina, who couldn’t go outside.”

“Duke-sama…”

He not only cared about Yuren-kun, but also about Irina-chan.

He’s a very kind person.

“Well, I appreciate him, but it’s also true that he pointed a knife at Aria! You can use him as you please, okay?”

“Hahaha~.”

“Hey, you can’t say things like that, Your Highness! Nee-san is a kind person, so she can’t use me like, ouch, ouch, ouch!”

Yuren-kun rubs Fusaki-kun’s head vigorously.

It looks painfully obvious.

“It hurts, Your Highness!”

“Shut up and reflect a little! Remember what you did, so make proper amends and contribute.”

“I know! I’ll do my job properly!”

“Onii-sama and Fusa-kun are good friends, aren’t they~?”

The workshop became more lively.

I was happy because there hadn’t been many times like this lately.

Then Hisui-san, who had been behind me, walked to the front and stood next to me.

“Fusaki may be childish, but his skills are top-notch. You can rest assured that he will protect you from danger.”

“Yes.”

“Also, I’m sorry I couldn’t help this time.”

“Oh no, I was just happy you listened to my concerns.”

Thanks to Hisui-san’s advice, my anxious feelings had really calmed down.

So I was very grateful.

Then Yuren-kun, who had stopped “guri guri” Fusaki-kun, came over.

“Can I be angry with you for a moment? You knew about this midway but you left it alone.”

“Eh? Is that true?”

“Well, actually. I knew Fusaki was involved, but what could I do? I had my own position, didn’t want to hurt that person, and it was Duke’s orders to begin with, so I couldn’t move.”

“Ah, so…”

I thought there was no news from him.

It seems like Hisui-san was struggling behind the scenes too.

“Do you understand? From now on, consult with me first, okay?”

“No, report to me first. Because if you tell Yuren first, he’ll get ahead of himself.”

“I won’t get ahead of myself! I’m cautious!”

“Where’s the caution? After she consulted you, you were ready to complain to the Duke.”

R-Really?

“You would have gone if I hadn’t stopped you., right?”

“Well…maybe.”

“See? That’s why I’m asking you. But really, it’s up to you in the end.”

“Yeah, I guess. For now, if anything happens, rely on someone. Don’t try to deal with it alone, okay?”

“Okay.”

And so these busy days came to an end, and a new daily routine began.

Chapter 41: The boy and the Princess

“Starting from today, I’ll work hard!”

“…I feel like I heard that line yesterday too.”

“But I’m using different words today, so it’s a different thing!”

Fusaki-kun became my assistant from yesterday.

He was one year older than Irina-chan and he was originally her escort.

For various circumstances, he became my assistant and also my escort…

“Let’s continue from where we left off yesterday.”

“Understood! I’ll prepare the materials then!”

“Okay.”

Transmutation Art is profound.

It is not a job that an amateur can easily handle.

Even as an assistant, you need to have some knowledge to keep up with the conversation.

Yuren-kun learned it on his own, and Irina-chan learned from Yuren-kun.

They both had basic knowledge, so they could keep up with my work and conversation.

On the other hand, Fusaki-kun…

“Well, Transmutation Art is even more difficult than I thought~.”

“Is that so? I have been studying it since I was a child, you know.”

“I heard it from His Highness! My skills can’t compare because I’m just a quick learner overnight~,” he said boastfully.

“…It’s not normal for someone to be able to learn so much overnight.”

I muttered under my breath, sighing at his talent.

On the day Fusaki-kun became my assistant, he apparently had all the basic knowledge of Transmutation Art hammered into him.

I doubted it was true at first, but now I have no choice but to believe it.

“This is the material we’ll use for the next transmutation, right? If you’re also using this, I’ll prepare it for you.”

“Thank you. Can you line them up in order?”

“Understood!”

He anticipated what I wanted to do and prepared the necessary materials in advance.

Whenever I was thinking about missing elements from my transmutation failure, he would arrive at the correct solution before me.

He was so excellent that it made me slightly envious.

Or rather, people like him should be called true geniuses.

Yuren-kun and Irina-chan are also like that, but I feel like there are many people in this country who possess an extraordinarily shining talent.

Unfortunately, he was not qualified to control the Transmutation Circle.

“It’s not fair, is it?”

“Well, it can’t be helped~ If everyone could do everything, the world would become full of frightening things.”

“W-Well, that might be true.”

I thought I said it in a low voice that couldn’t be heard, but did he just hear me?

Fusaki-kun seems to have good ears.

“Oh, it’s about time for her to come running.”

“Huh?”

Right after his words, the door to the workshop opened with a clatter.

“Hello Onee-sama!”

“Irina-chan.”

“See, she’s here.”

Irina-chan came to the workshop.

She was out of breath from running.

“Fusa-kun, hello! You’re helping with the work properly!”

“Well, this is my job, you know.”

While talking to Fusaki-kun, Irina-chan seemed very happy.

The two have known each other since he was her escort and they are the best of friends.

What is surprising is that the one who arranged the relationship between the two was Duke Gardenn-sama.

Due to her illness, Irina-chan could hardly leave her room.

To help her, he recommended a boy of the same age as her as an escort.

Fusaki-kun’s personality worked in a positive direction, and Irina-chan began to show a smile while fighting her illness.

“Onee-sama! How far have we progressed now? I will help too.”

“Thank you. But is it okay? Haven’t you just finished your job as a princess?”

“I’m totally fine! It’s just a jobI couldn’t do until now.”

Those born into the royal family receive education to acquire the behavior and abilities appropriate to their position.

It is said to start from when they are still young, but in her case, she had an illness.

She couldn’t be forced to do anything that would overexert her weak body.

However, it seems that events that had been cancelled due to her illness were resumed when she recovered and became healthy once more.

From about six months ago until today, it has been a period of preparation to recover from illness, and recently it has become busy in earnest.

“I actually want to help more, but…it seems like it’s going to get busier again.”

“I am already grateful enough. Thanks to Irina-chan, my research has progressed quite a bit.”

“Really? I’m happy to hear that.”

Actually, Irina has been a great support for me.

She taught me that it’s more enjoyable to work with someone than to work alone in solitude.

She says it’s a way to repay a debt, but I have already received enough from her.

“Well, don’t worry! From now on, I’ll help too, and I’ll support you firmly, even for Princess’s share.”

“Yeah! Fusa-kun, I know I can rely on you!”

“Hahaha~ I blush when you say it so clearly.”

Their exchange is soothing to listen to.

I wish I could watch it a little longer.

Chapter 42: Battling an illness

The work progresses steadily.

When we concentrate, the three of us reduce our conversation, and only the activation sound of the Transmutation Circle and the sound of materials and tools are heard.

Depending on our position, the sound of the clock’s needle moving can also be heard.

“Oh, Princess.”

“What’s up, Fusa-kun?”

“Isn’t it time for you to go back soon? Look at the clock.”

“Oh, huh! That’s right!”

Irina-chan raises her voice in surprise.

Her voice leads to some noise in the workshop.

“I’m sorry, Onee-sama! I have to go back soon for my next lesson. I’m still in the middle of it…”

“Don’t worry about it. I’ll do my best in my work, and Irina-chan should do her best as a princess too.”

“Yes! I’ll do my best!”

After carefully arranging the materials we were working on, Irina-chan heads toward the exit door.

She turns around energetically and says with a smile, “See you later! I’ll come back if I finish early!”

“Yes. Take care.”

“Don’t push yourself too hard~.”

“Okay!”

Irina-chan waved cutely and ran towards the royal palace through the garden.

Fusaki-kun and I saw her off until she was out of sight.

“It’s great to see she’s feeling better. It’s hard to imagine her running around like that, considering how she used to be.”

Fusaki-kun knew her from when she was battling illness.

As I looked at his expression, it seemed nostalgic as he thought of those times.

He turned to me and said, “Didn’t Nee-san make a potion for her?”

“Yes, it seems so.”

“I know I’ve said it many times, but let me thank you too. Thank you for helping the princess and making her better,” Fusaki-kun bowed deeply.

He was usually playful, but he expressed his appreciation with a serious face and voice.

He must have been genuinely worried about Irina-chan.

I only found out recently that she was sick.

With the potion I made, she regained her strength.

I want it to be of use to many people.

I’m really glad that what I made saved her life.

“Hey, Fusaki-kun, what was Irina-chan like in the past?”

“Huh? Do you mean when she was sick?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you curious?”

I am curious.

I want to know how people suffering from illness feel.

In other words, it’s out of character, but everyone else knows except me.

“Is it okay to ask?”

“It’s fine. There’s no need to hide it.”

“Thank you. Can I listen while we work?”

“Of course. If we slack off, the Princess will get angry with us.”

We return to the workshop.

Fusaki-kun washes out the empty potion bottles, and I work in front of the Transmutation Circle.

“It’s about the princess’s past, but for the most part, she was the same as she is now.”

“Huh? Is that so?”

“Yes. Oh, but when I first started as her escort, she was so quiet. She would read books on her bed, with a bored expression on her face. She really seemed like a captive princess.”

“A captive princess…”

I can’t imagine her being like that now.

He continues his story.

From several years ago up until today, the story between the princess and her guard.

◇◇◇

Irina Salem.

The young princess of the Salem Kingdom.

Since birth, she has had a weak body, caused by a disease called Congenital Mana Circulation Disorder.

Despite being an old disease, no cure had been found yet for this difficult illness.

Mana is another name for the life energy that resides in the body.

It could be said that it is life itself.

The disease she carries rapidly consumes mana, which is a terrifying thing.

Even if she eats, it doesn’t provide nutrition, and even if she moves, her muscles do not develop.

The more she pushes herself, the more she weakens and deteriorates.

That’s why she couldn’t leave her room properly.

On the contrary, it was so hard for her to even get out of bed.

The wind blew, turning the pages of her book.

The window was open, and she could see the blue sky outside.

Although it was a very pleasant day outside, she couldn’t go out.

“…Is this the way it’s going to be?”

Will she continue to live her life without being able to do anything?

He suddenly appeared in front of her, just as she was feeling that loneliness.

“You look so bored~.”

“Huh?”

He appeared from the window as if he were a prince coming to rescue a trapped princess.

He spoke with an innocent smile.

“If reading a book is boring, let me tell you an interesting story!”

That was how they met.

At the time, she didn’t know that Fusaki had become her escort.

He didn’t say it deliberately and treated her like a friend.

It was his consideration so that she, as a princess, could have someone to talk to without any reservations.

“Hey Fusa-kun! What happened after that?”

“It was terrible. I fell into the sea and got completely soaked.”

His brightness had a positive effect, and Irina gradually regained her vitality.

She wanted to someday cure her illness and see the outside world.

She wanted to run around the garden.

Fusaki’s presence may have played a big role in making her think that way.

“When that time comes, will you guide me, Fusa-kun?”

“Of course! I’ll take you anywhere in the world!”

He had seen her fight against her illness.

He was close to her, closer than any blood relative.

And then, six months ago.

Princess Irina was freed from her illness.

It was thanks to the potion created by a Transmutation Master from a neighboring country.

Chapter 43: Going out for the first time?

Memories of two people.

The story of a princess battling illness and the boy who supported her made my heart feel warm and emotional.

There were probably moments just between the two of them that even I didn’t know about, and I’m sure Yuren-kun didn’t either.

What could be a more beautiful story?

“Fusaki-kun is so kind.”

“That’s not true. It was just my duty.”

Although he said this with his mouth, it was clear that he had other emotions besides work.

As he spoke of the past, his expression was filled with nostalgia and sadness.

Surely he had wanted to do something to help ease her suffering.

At that time, he felt helpless and frustrated, but now he can see the expression that she has.

Fusaki-kun is still a boy, but his heart has grown to the extent that it can hold its own against adults.

Perhaps he has a stronger heart than I do.

“I can’t lose either.”

“Huh, what are you talking about?”

“Oh, it’s nothing.”

Fusaki-kun’s bewildered expression is cute, showing the changes in expression that are natural for someone his age.

Just like he supported Irina-chan and protected her smile, I will also work hard to support Yuren-kun.

Having heard about their first encounter, I secretly thought that in my heart.

◇◇◇

One day, at the workshop.

I and Fusaki-kun were struggling, along with Irina-chan.

“Hmm, this one is also a failure.”

“Did we not have enough material? What do you think, Onee-sama?”

“…I think we are missing a material that can connect them together.”

We had been working on creating wheat for a while now.

The first one was a success, but since then, we had been struggling.

We had a few pieces that had taken shape, but we couldn’t reach the stage of mass production.

The production process was too difficult, and it would be meaningless if it could only be made with my transmutation skills.

“Fusaki-kun, do we still have materials left?”

“Just a moment.”

He easily lifted the wooden box.

“Well, the material box has become much lighter.”

It contained the materials that we had ordered and imported.

But more than half of them had already been used, and the inside was cool.

“Should we order more? I can provide a list of materials.”

“No, I don’t think the ones in there will work.”

“I think so too. We have tried everything already.”

“Ah! Then how about the ‘seven leaf grass’ that we talked about before?”

Irina-chan’s suggestion clicks with me.

“That’s it!”

I had a feeling that something was missing.

Another material is needed to connect the materials.

Seven leaf grass grows in a wide range of environments and is adaptable to even harsh conditions.

Furthermore, depending on the environment in which it grows, the seven leaf grass changes into seven different types of leaves.

Each leaf has a different effect, making it the most versatile material.

“If it’s a place where it grows, I know it.”

“Really?”

“Yes. I found it near a town called Floria. But, isn’t the harvesting method difficult?”

“Yeah. If you don’t handle it properly according to the type of leaf, it will wither immediately after being pulled out.”

It’s also difficult to distinguish the different types of leaves.

It’s a material that even knowledgeable individuals tend to avoid due to the fact that leaves that resemble edible leaves sometimes include poisonous ones.

I haven’t seen the actual thing myself, and I only know how to handle it as knowledge.

But now, that material is necessary.

Fusaki-kun asks me.

“What should we do? Should we place an order for the materials?”

“No, I think it’s probably better to go and gather them ourselves.”

“That makes sense. They’re not on the material list. Then I’ll go do the procedures for going outside!”

Just as he was about to rush out the exit, a voice spoke up.

“There’s no need for that.”

“Ah! Your Highness?!”

“Yuren-kun.”

“Onii-sama!”

Yuren-kun opened the door and came into the workshop.

The three of us were slow to notice and let out a loud exclamation that echoed in the workshop.

He spoke as he walked.

“I’ve heard the story. You want to go to Floria to gather materials?”

“Yes. We want to go and gather materials.”

“Well, then it’s perfect. Shall we go there the day after tomorrow?”

“The day after tomorrow?”

It turns out that Yuren-kun and his party also have plans to go to Floria, and if we accompany them, we won’t need permission.

“Why would Yuren-kun go out of his way to go there? Was there something wrong?”

“No, it’s just a regular inspection. That area is under my jurisdiction.”

“Oh, that’s right! I forgot about that! The timing is perfect.”

Fusaki-kun’s reaction… he seemed to have known already.

The permission he mentioned earlier, was he planning to talk to Yuren-kun about it?

“What will you do? If it’s inconvenient, we can reschedule the permission for another day.”

“No, it’s okay! That day works for me too.”

“Then it’s settled. We depart early in the morning, so make sure you’re prepared and don’t be late on the day.”

“Okay.”

Time passed in the blink of an eye.

On the day of departure, Fusaki-kun and I waited for Yuren-kun and the others in front of the royal palace.

“It’s too bad for you, Princess. Being the only one left behind.”

“Well, it can’t be helped.”

Even though she recovered, it’s still dangerous to go out casually.

Irina-chan understood that and gave her consent, but she seemed a little lonely.

“Let’s bring back souvenirs. I’m sure it will make her happy.”

“Yeah, that’s a good idea.”

If Fusaki-kun tells her a story about even just one of the souvenirs, I’m sure she’ll be happy.

While we were talking, Yuren-kun and Hisui-san arrived on horseback from the direction of the royal castle.

“Sorry to keep you waiting. Shall we go?”

“Yeah.”

I was secretly excited.

It was my first trip since coming to this country.

Chapter 44: Disturbing shadow

We’re traveling to the town of Floria by horse.

We advance on a well-maintained road with three horses, and time flows slowly.

“Hmm…”

“Hey Yuren, stop sulking already.”

“I’m not sulking.”

“You’re clearly sulking.”

Even Fusaki-kun points it out.

I can tell that Yuren-kun is sulking.

Hisui-san sighs.

“You know, I understand the desire to let Aria ride with you. But you can’t put a servant on the master’s horse, can you?”

“I wasn’t talking about that.”

“Sometimes His Highness says childish things like that~ I know, it’s not something a child like me should say, right? Right, Nee-san?”

“Hahaha.”

What should I say?

There are three horses.

Not because there weren’t enough, but because I have never ridden a horse before, and I have to ride with someone else.

Yuren-kun is a prince, so a servant can’t ride with him.

Fusaki-kun can ride a horse, but two people riding together is dangerous because he’s small.

That’s why I’m currently riding behind Hisui-san.

“I’m sorry, Aria. Our master is just being childish.”

“Who are you calling childish?!”

“You’re reacting, so you must know it’s true~.”

These two are their usual selves.

It’s refreshing to see Yuren-kun sulking, but the pleasant atmosphere is also nice.

It’s also my first time riding a horse, and since my line of sight is higher than usual, the surrounding scenery looks different.

“Well, it’s fine. We’ll be there soon anyway.”

“It’ll take about two hours though?”

“Ugh, don’t say unnecessary things. I had already come to terms with it.”

“Are you still worried after all?”

Yuren-kun, who was teased by Hisui-san and easily played along, moves his eyebrows up and down.

You can easily tell he’s holding back his anger.

I wonder if there’s anyone in the royal castle other than Hisui-san who can say mean things to the prince like that.

Normally, he would be fired on the spot.

After a while, we had the opportunity to pass by a merchant’s carriage.

The people who noticed Yuren-kun stopped their carriage, bowed, and waited for us to pass.

This highway seems to be a passageway for merchants.

“Um, I know this is late to ask, but is it really okay for Yuren-kun to go out so openly?”

“Normally, it’s not allowed. We would have large numbers for security.”

Hisui-san answered lightly.

I also think he’s right, but for now, we are only four people going out.

I can’t fight, and if I didn’t accompany them, Hisui-san would have been alone.

“As I mentioned before, I have sword skills that can fight alone. Fewer people are easier to move with than having too many guards.”

“I’m here too. It’s unlikely they will attack us unless they are very foolish.”

“That’s right. I got permission from my father. I had a hard time getting it the first time.”

“That’s because you were good at sneaking out.”

I can somehow imagine the scene from listening to their conversation.

Yuren-kun seems to have been sneaking out of the castle on his own while he was meeting me in the forest.

His Majesty the King must have been worried.

As someone involved, I also have a bad feeling about it.

We were walking along the road, chatting away.

It was peaceful, to say the least.

The sound of wind blowing and birds chirping could be heard clearly, and it was a tranquil time.

There was no anxiety or anything that threatened us, and in fact, nothing happened at all.

“Hey, Your Highness! Look, smoke is rising from that cart over there!”

“What?”

Fusaki-kun was the first to notice.

A cart was parked at the end of the road we were traveling, and it looked like there was a faint smoke rising from it.

There were several armed men around the carriage.

Clearly, an uneasy atmosphere was in the air.

“Is it a bandit attack?”

“Hisui.”

“Yeah, I know. Let’s hurry.”

Yuren-kun and Hisui-san’s horses accelerated.

Fusaki-kun whipped his horses a little later, and all three horses ran.

“Hey, hurry up and hand over everything!”

“P-Please, stop! Those are our precious goods.”

“Shut up! Do you want to die?”

A bandit pointed his sword at a frightened man.

To this scoundrel with a disgusting grin, Yuren-kun shouted, “That’s enough!”

“Huh?”

Their gazes turn towards us.

Yuren-kun jumps off his horse, followed by Hisui-san.

Hisui-san takes my hand and helps me down.

“Fusaki, protect her.”

“Understood! I’ll provide cover from here.”

“Okay.”

“What do you want?”

The bandits start appearing one after another.

There were eight of them, including those who were hiding behind the carriage.

All of them were armed.

I felt uneasy, but Fusaki-kun stood in front of me and turned around to say in his usual tone.

“Don’t worry. They’ll be fine.”

Even though he said so, my worries did not disappear.

I gulped and watched Yuren-kun and the others.

“I don’t like it when people do things on my own in my country.”

“What? In my country…”

“Hey, isn’t this the infamous third prince?”

“What? Really?”

The atmosphere of the bandits changes.

As soon as they realized Yuren-kun’s true identity, they became hesitant.

“Tch, let’s get out of here.”

Without even fighting, they ran away.

Hisui-san asks.

“Should we pursue them?”

“No, first we need to provide medical treatment to the injured and ensure the safety of the carriage.”

“Understood. Fusaki, help us out.”

“Got it!”

Fusaki-kun and Hisui-san rushed to assist the fallen people.

Yuren-kun, who had sheathed his sword, had a sad expression as he gazed towards the escaping bandits.

Chapter 45: Town of Floria

There were two men who had collapsed.

Both had minor injuries and were not in critical condition.

The contents of the cart were also checked, and nothing seemed to have been stolen.

“Thank you so much. I don’t know how to thank you.”

“If you want to thank anyone, say it to her.”

And with that, Yuren-kun pointed to me.

The two merchants repeatedly thanked us while bowing their heads.

“Thank you so much. The potion healed our wounds completely.”

“This is the first time I’ve seen something that works so well.”

“Don’t worry about it. If you’re not feeling well, please see a doctor.”

The two merchants decided to return to Floria.

They had some broken merchandise due to the accident, so they decided to settle down before departing again, since Floria was closer than the royal capital.

We decided to stay behind to investigate the scene.

We saw them off.

“Thanks for the help Aria, I didn’t know you had potions.”

“Yes, I’ve been carrying them with me lately.”

In addition to healing potions, I also have a range of detoxifying potions.

There are people I couldn’t help before.

So, I always try to be prepared so that I don’t have to go through the same experience again.

I didn’t expect it, but this time, the preparation came in handy.

I feel relieved.

At that moment, Hisui-san and Fusaki-kun return after checking the surroundings.

“How was it?”

“No good. We know the direction they fled, but they’re too far away.”

“What should we do? I can pursue them if you want?”

“…No, it’s better not to be too reckless. The movements of the recent bandits are strange.”

The two of them understand after hearing Yuren-kun’s story.

I feel left behind, being the only one who didn’t know.

“What do you mean by strange? Did something happen?”

“Thieves have been around here and there before. But they were all individuals and their numbers were small. Besides, they didn’t come to places as conspicuous as this.”

Hisui-san continues to explain.

“But recently, they’ve begun moving in an organized group. There’s a high possibility that a leader who gathered them has appeared.”

“I also have that information! It is almost certain that they have a leader. Their power has quickly expanded in recent weeks, and there are rumors that they are dealing with dangerous drugs.”

“Drugs”

Might it be poison or something? The memory of past events makes my heart ache.

When dangerous substances fall into the hands of bad people, it is impossible to predict what the outcome will be.

“For now, we’ll also enter Floria. There are concerns, but we have to do what needs to be done.”

“That’s right. We’ll report to the guards and contact the capital as well. We need to increase security in the surrounding area for a while.”

“Can I go on ahead?”

“No, you can’t. Please focus on protecting Aria.”

“Understood.”

We got on horses and headed towards the town of Floria.

There was no danger afterward, and we were able to enter the town.

It was smaller than the capital, but it was bustling with a lot of people.

It seems that many merchants come and go in the town, which is also a characteristic.

“We have work, but what about Aria?”

“Um, if possible, I’d like to go pick some Seven Leaf Grass in the nearby forest…”

After what happened earlier, I was feeling a bit uneasy.

But since I had come all this way, I wanted to at least pick a few.

In short, I was struggling.

“It’s okay! I’m with you, and the distance isn’t that far away.”

“I don’t think I’d have a problem with it in the daytime, either. They were after the luggage. There’s no reason for them to go after her.”

Fusaki-kun and Hisui-san were saying that.

Yuren-kun still seemed to be a bit hesitant.

“What do you want to do, Aria?”

“I… just want to gather some materials even if it’s just a little. I don’t think it will take that much time.”

“I see. Then it’s until daytime. Be sure to come back by evening.”

“Okay.”

With Yuren-kun’s approval, Fusaki-kun and I headed to the forest right next to the town.

It was a distinctive forest with trees in shades of green, as well as trees in shades of red and brown.

The forest had already been explored by various people, so signboards were placed to prevent getting lost.

There were no dangerous animals, and it seemed like a safer place than I thought.

“Fusaki-kun, do you remember where it was?”

“It’s a little further ahead. I remember it was growing just before the cliff.”

“Near the cliff. By the way, do you remember what the leaves looked like?”

“I think they had a normal shape~ a roundish feel, but I don’t remember it clearly.”

Seven-leaf grass changes its leaf shape depending on the environment.

It is named after having seven different shapes.

If it’s a round shape, there are three types.

In my estimation, the leaves are slender ovals.

“Hey, Fusaki-kun, do you think there might be any nuts or something around here? I prefer ones with strong acidity if possible.”

“I think there are some. Shall we take a detour?”

“Sure.”

So we went deeper into the forest.

Fusaki-kun was with me, and it was a reassuring place because there was a clear path.

Still, I feel a little uneasy.

Maybe I’m just being nervous because of the succession of bad things that have happened.

This matter doesn’t directly concern me, so I thought it would probably be okay.

Chapter 46: Seven leaf grass

Fusaki-kun and I advance towards the depths of the forest.

I’ve been in and out of the forest since I was a child, so I’m used to it, but Fusaki-kun’s steps are light too.

He moves without any hesitation.

It seems like we’re off the path with the signpost.

“We’ll be fine on the way home~.”

As I look left and right, Fusaki-kun notices and responds ahead of me.

He raises his left wrist to show me something.

“Can you see this? There’s a really thin thread wrapped around it.”

“Eh? Thread…thread…”

Even staring at it, I can only see Fusaki-kun’s slim wrist.

I shake my head and say that I can’t see it.

“Then come closer look.”

He steps out of the tree’s shadow and stands in a spot where sunlight is filtering through the leaves.

The sunlight falls on his wrist.

Fusaki-kun raises his wrist and tells me to look again.

A faint sparkle appears on the thread.

“This is the thread. I forgot the name, but there’s a spider that makes very thin and sturdy thread, and I use that thread.”

“Is that a garden spider?”

“Yes, that’s the one! As expected, you know a lot, Nee-san.”

The threads of the garden spider are famous.

They are so thin that they are almost invisible, yet they cannot be torn even by strong pulls.

It is said that if multiple threads are braided together, they can withstand the sharpness of a knife.

This is the first time I’ve seen it in person.

“You see this? I stretched it out from the entrance.”

“You did that?”

“Yes! It’s essential when going to a new place or somewhere you’re not familiar with.”

I thought to myself, “As expected of Fusaki-kun.”

He is definitely more accustomed to exploration than me.

“You won’t get lost if you stay with me! Come on, let’s go.”

“Okay.”

He had a reliable presence that was unexpected for a boy.

I can see why he was chosen by Duke-sama.

Afterward, we harvested some tree nuts.

We picked the most pungent and astringent ones we could find.

“What are we going to use these for?”

“To preserve the seven leaf grass.”

“Oh, I see. But I thought the preservation method differed depending on the shape of the leaf. Do you already know which one it is?”

“I have a general idea. If you grow it in this environment, it’s probably the fourth leaf.”

The seven-leaf grass is numbered by the shape of its leaves, and my prediction is that it is the fourth.

The temperature is not too high or too low, and the humidity is higher than normal.

There are many well-grown plants around, especially those that prefer shade.

The shape of the leaves is a long oval.

“If you crush it, it can be turned into a disinfectant, so it can be used for healing or detoxification potions.”

“Hmm, I didn’t know about that. The shape does seem to suggest that though.”

“We’ll know if we check.”

“True. Let’s hurry then! If we’re late, His Highness will be angry.”

Check the time on the clock.

Yuren-kun said to come back by evening.

There is a little less than two hours left, with some time to spare.

We can’t spend too much time searching, so we hurried through the forest.

Twenty minutes later…

I found a grass growing in the corner of the shade of the tree.

“Found it!”

“Really? Where?”

“Over there. The grass growing under the tree.”

There is a plant of the shape that I described with my mouth growing where I am pointing my finger.

There are other plants growing around it, but they have a different shape.

The color is a bright shade of green.

The stem grows straight and is thick.

“Wow, you found it well. There’s only one growing.”

“It was easy to find because one leaf had a different shape, you know?”

“I had no idea at all. I found the one before by chance too. It’s amazing to be able to search and find them.”

Praise keeps coming out one after another, like Yuren-kun.

“So, do we not pick it yet?”

“It’s still not ready. We need to prepare first.”

I took out a fruit from a tree and crushed it right there.

I poured the squeezed juice onto the seven leaf grass.

Next, I borrowed some soil and mixed it with the mashed flesh.

“It’s done. Now all we have to do is pull it out and insert the stem.”

“Do we have to do it for each one? That sounds troublesome.”

“Hahaha, it’s certainly a hassle, but if we don’t do it, it will wither.”

Saying that, I snapped the stem.

The folding point is also determined, in the middle of the ground and the first leaf.

If it deviates too much, the effect will weaken.

“But we were able to get one, right?”

“Yeah. I’d like to have about three more if possible.”

“Well, let’s hurry up and find them! We also need those strongly smelling fruits.”

“That’s right. We already used one.”

One fruit is consumed per tree.

We only found two on our way, so I want to prepare two more.

“Anyway, it smells so bad. But hey, have I gotten used to it? I can now smell the sweet scent now.”

“Eh?”

Sweet scent?

I don’t smell it…

Yes, I had crushed some fruit so close that my nose was getting silly.

That’s why I didn’t notice it.

The dangerous scent surrounding me.

Chapter 47: Scent of poison

“A sweet scent ? Is that what you smell?”

“Huh? It does have a smell… like some kind of sweet… dessert…”

“Fusaki-kun?”

Something is wrong.

Fusaki-kun, who was fine just a moment ago, suddenly goes pale.

He starts to sway and his eyelids look heavy.

“This… can’t be…”

“What’s wrong, Fusaki-kun…?”

Huh?

I suddenly feel heavy and sluggish…

“Dammit, I let my guard down… Nee-san, you can’t inhale any more. This is poison.”

“P-Poison?”

“The sweet smell is the smell of poison. They scattered a small amount that was so faint we didn’t notice, and it dulled our senses.”

Fusaki-kun bites his lip, trying to stay conscious.

Thanks to the smell of the nuts, I’m not feeling the full effects of the poison yet.

And if it’s poison, I can make an antidote potion.

When I try to take it out, an arrow comes flying at me.

“Nee-san!”

Fusaki-kun pushes me out of the way and the arrow misses me.

I can tell he’s pushing himself even though he’s unsteady.

“Are you okay?”

“Y-Yeah.”

“Good. Let’s leave this place for now——.”

He could have dodged it if it were usual circumstances.

The poison had been wafting through the forest long before we noticed it.

We must have been breathing it in faintly, our senses dulled.

The poison’s concentration suddenly intensified, and I couldn’t tell if I was standing or collapsing.

Despite the situation, he shielded me, consciously trying to protect me.

That’s why he overlooked himself and didn’t notice the sword being swung down from behind.

“Gah…”

“Fusaki-kun!”

A man with the appearance of a villain stood behind him.

The blade was swung down, slashing Fusaki-kun’s back.

I reached out to him, feeling dizzy.

My hand couldn’t reach him and was caught by another man.

“Hey there, Young Lady. You’re coming with us. We were told to bring you.”

“What?! Let go!”

“Nee-san…”

“Fusaki-kun!”

Blood flowed heavily from his back.

He still stood despite the wound that could make him collapse due to pain and shock.

He had a knife in his hand, ready to save me.

“Let go of her.”

“This one is tough. I’ll take her, you deal with him.”

“Understood. Can I kill him?”

“Yeah, the boss only said to bring this woman with us.”

Boss?

Is he their leader?

Did someone order them to kidnap me?

Who…no, it doesn’t matter right now.

“Let go! I need to treat Fusaki-kun!”

“Shut up! He’s going to die anyway, so who cares? Just shut up and sleep!”

“Ugh!”

I was forced to drink a liquid.

It had a bitter taste but a sweet smell.

Was it the original poison they scattered?

My thoughts stopped.

My consciousness suddenly plummeted, and I couldn’t think of anything.

◇◇◇

Dark and cold.

My consciousness sank into the water.

I realized that I was about to drown and struggled desperately.

Digging through the water like remembering, I ascend higher and higher.

“——Ugh, wh-where is this…”

As I woke up, I was bewildered by an unfamiliar landscape.

The ground and walls were made of rocks, and flames flickered in the darkness.

Droplets of water fell from the ceiling onto my cheeks.

I tried to move my body.

Clang.

A metallic sound echoed.

Before I knew it, my hands and feet were bound by chains, and I couldn’t move.

“W-What is this?”

“It seems like you’ve just woken up.”

“Eh——?”

I felt frightened by the voice coming from the darkness.

It was a voice I knew.

I never wanted to hear it again, and I thought I would never hear it again.

That’s because he was…

“Prince…Laurus?”

“I’m not a prince anymore, thanks to you.”

The former prince, who had become a shabby figure, appeared from the darkness.

He had used and set me up, and eventually confessed to all his sins and was punished for them.

So why was he here?

“Why are you here…”

“Oh? Didn’t you know? We were banished from that country.”

“Banished…? And when you say ‘we’…”

“Ah, me and her.”

Thud, thud.

Another person appeared from behind him.

Another person I didn’t want to see if possible.

But more than Laurus, I was more curious about how things turned out with this person.

“Celica?”

“…”.

My sister, who had helped Laurus as a Transmutation Master.

She was also banished from the kingdom.

There was no vitality in her appearance, and her eyes were dry like a doll’s.

“Now that we’ve exchanged pleasantries, shall we get to the main topic?”

“The main topic…!”

I suddenly remembered.

Fusaki-kun, whose back was slashed in front of me, and his safety.

“What happened to Fusaki-kun?!”

“Oh? The kid who was with you? Who knows what happened to him? The poison I spread just caused numbness, and I haven’t heard anything about it, but… I think he’s dead.”

“T-That can’t be…”

Fusaki-kun…is dead?

Someone else has been hurt because of me again…

“But that doesn’t matter right now. There’s something you need to do for me.”

Laurus leans in closer to me.

“Will you work for me?”

He shows a smile.

I’ve seen that gentle smile many times before… but it was all false.

Right now, I don’t feel any kindness.

I shudder at his creepy smile filled with madness and malice.

Chapter 48: Prince and former prince

Four o’clock in the afternoon.

The time when the sun leans towards the west.

Yuren finished his work and was taking a break in his room.

Checking the clock, Yuren turns his gaze out the window.

“They should be back soon.”

“Aria and Fusaki?”

“Yeah. I said by evening, but they have probably already finished exploring.”

Yuren sips his tea while looking out the window.

“…If you’re that concerned, why don’t you go pick her up?”

“Wha!”

Yuren is caught off guard and spits out his tea.

Denying while coughing, “I-it’s not like I’m concerned!”

“Well, it’s pretty obvious you are. Fusaki is with her. They wouldn’t get lost or anything.”

“Well, yes, but…there was that bandit thing, too, wasn’t there?

“That had nothing to do with them. Besides, see, you’re worried after all.”

Unable to argue back, Yuren sulks and finishes his tea in one gulp.

He places the empty cup on the table a little forcefully, then stands up quickly with force.

“Yeah, I’m worried! That’s why I’m going to meet them in the forest.”

“Yeah, yeah. I’ll come with you too.”

“I’m fine on my own.”

“Don’t say that. I’m worried too.”

Ignoring Hisui’s gestures, Yuren quickly left the room.

After calmly tidying up, Hisui followed him.

The two walked to the edge of the forest.

As they walked, people passing by whispered something to each other.

It wasn’t just one or two people.

When Yuren and Hisui looked back in the direction they were headed, the people quickly ran away.

“It seems kind of noisy.”

“Yeah, something might have happened…hey, look at that!”

Yuren was the first to notice.

People were gathering at the entrance of the town.

No, the focus wasn’t on the gathering crowd, but on one person that they were watching from a distance.

Fusaki, covered in mud and blood, staggered as he walked.

“Fusaki!”

“Your…Highness…”

When Fusaki spotted Yuren, he fell to his knees.

The two quickly rushed over.

“What happened?! Who did this to you?”

“Your Highness… Nee-san is… worse off than me…”

Fusaki grabs Yuren’s arm.

He pulls weakly, as if clinging to him.

“Aria? Has something happened to her too?”

“I’m sorry… She was kidnapped…”

“What…?!”

Yuren couldn’t hide his agitation.

His expression paled.

However, in front of him was Fusaki, who looked like he was in pain.

“N-No, we need to provide first aid first! Hisui! I’ll carry him, so please arrange for a doctor!”

“Right, and I’ll round up the town guards while I am at it. We’ll probably need them.”

“Good idea. Thank you.”

“Leave it to me!”

The two head off in different directions.

Fusaki, who was carried on Yuren’s back, repeatedly apologized as his consciousness started to fade.

“I’m sorry… I’m so…sorry.”

He didn’t blame Fusaki at all.

On the contrary, he was relieved that he was safe.

However, he couldn’t hide his anxiety.

His heart was racing for a different reason, not just from running.

Aria…please be safe.

◇◇◇

At eight o’clock on the same night.

The forest was darker than usual with very little light.

There was a cave there.

Two men were watching in front of the cave.

“Ha, this is boring.”

“Hey, don’t let your guard down. You don’t want to get in trouble with the boss.”

“It’s fine. Nobody’s… what?”

The sound of trees rustling and the sensation of wind blowing through.

There are limited sounds that echo in the forest.

Therefore, they are easily heard.

The sound of metal clanging, and heavy footsteps pounding the ground.

Light appears.

One, two, ten… even more.

At the head of it all, two angry eyes glare silently.

“I found you. You’ve been wreaking havoc in my country.”

“Enemy attack!”

The battle begins.

Behind Yuren were the knights who had been stationed at Floria.

In addition, some of the guards who were protecting the town were mobilized.

They rushed into the cave with overwhelming numbers, taking down the bandits along the way.

Yuren and Hisui lead the charge.

“Where is she? Where are they hiding?”

“Don’t get too hasty, Yuren. Don’t rush too far ahead.”

“I know, I know, but…”

He cannot suppress his anger.

Aria was abducted, and his important subordinate was injured.

As soon as he saw the blood of someone close to him, Yuren’s anger boiled over.

“Yeah, me too.”

Hisui was also angry.

Despite knowing that his master was being reckless, they ran together.

It was not a calm judgment considering their position, but the two were exceptional in terms of their abilities.

They mercilessly cut down the bandits who appeared one after another.

“There’s no end to them.”

“This is the bandits’ hideout. What do you expect?”

“…Leave the bandits to the soldiers. We need to make our way deeper as soon as possible.”

“Understood. You guys, I and His Highness will move ahead! Catch the thieves, don’t let any of them escape!”

In response to Hisui’s voice, the soldiers answered back.

The two of them hurried through the cave.

They jumped over the rough terrain and navigated the maze without getting lost.

And——

“Aria!”

“Yuren-kun!”

They finally arrived.

“Long time no see, Prince Yuren. Did you miss me?”

“Laurus…?”

The former prince and the prince.

Two people who followed different destinies meet again.

Chapter 49: To have no regrets

Yuren-kun and Hisui-san rushed to me, as I stood there bound by chains and unable to move.

Both of them held their swords, catching their breath as they arrived.

Yuren-kun was relieved to find me, while I was relieved that he had come to my rescue.

Amidst this, Laurus appeared, as if to interrupt us.

“I’m so glad to be able to reunite with all of you so soon. It saved me a lot of trouble,” he said with pride.

“So, Laurus, you’re the one who kidnapped her?”

“As you can see, yes. Do you really think anyone besides me could pull off something this spectacular?”

Laurus responded, clearly feeling pleased with himself.

At this point, Laurus didn’t seem to feel any remorse.

He was the same as he was before, unchanged.

“I see. Has it been your influence that led to the formation of the recent band of bandits? That makes sense.”

“That’s right. It was quite a struggle to get them organized, though. After all, they’re a bunch of savages who don’t understand aesthetics.”

“Aesthetics… It’s amazing that you had something like that.”

“I do. My existence represents beauty and the ultimate. Even now, nothing has changed.”

The ultimate narcissism perceived from his remarks.

He seems to think that he is at the center of the world and that everything revolves around him.

No, he must be thinking that.

That’s why even criminal acts are glorified within him.

He could never think that it was wrong.

“Could you at least tell me how you found this place, for reference?”

“Our escort is excellent. Even while injured, he left a clue to find her.”

Saying that, Yuren-kun shows his left wrist.

Laurus tilts her head, unable to understand the meaning of his actions.

But I understood clearly.

The thin thread that Fusaki-kun had wrapped around his wrist, he had wound it around me and showed them the way here.

“Yuren-kun! Is Fusaki-kun okay?”

“He’s fine. He’s getting medical attention in the town right now.”

“Thank goodness…”

I feel relieved from the bottom of my heart.

If he had died, I would have collapsed again.

And even in that situation, Fusaki-kun tried to protect me.

It may be insensitive, but I was glad about it.

“Hmph, I don’t really understand, but they messed up, didn’t they? That’s what I hate about incompetent people.”

“The bandits are being restrained, it’s over, Laurus. Release her.”

“I can’t do that. Didn’t I tell you? It saved me a lot of trouble. We caught her in the first place to bring you out.”

Laurus points to Yuren-kun.

Hisui-san prepares for battle.

Yuren-kun stops him with his hand and asks Laurus.

“Me? For what purpose?”

“It’s obvious, isn’t it? I’m going to use you as a pawn to make me a prince again!”

“…Have you gone crazy? It’s impossible now.”

“No, it’s possible! All you have to do is confess that everything was your plot! If that’s not enough, I’ll use the medicine or whatever I have to!…Just like you guys did to me.”

Malice, resentment.

The emotions emanating from Laurus’s gaze are directed towards me and Yuren-kun.

“Have you fallen so low…do you think we will cooperate with you?”

“I don’t need Aria, let alone you. I already have a replacement.”

“A replacement?”

“Yes. Celica.”

At Laurus’ command, Celica appeared behind me.

While I was imprisoned here, she had been standing silently behind me the entire time—not responding to anything and seeming to have lost her mind.

In her right hand, she held a vial of poison.

“If you refuse, Aria will drink the poison here.”

“What…!”

“It’s a powerful poison—she’ll die within a minute of drinking it.”

“Laurus!”

Laurus sneers at Yuren’s cries.

Confident in his victory, he laughs smugly and says, “How is it? You don’t have a choice, do you? She’s important to you. After all, you did protect her by framing me.”

“You…!”

“Yuren, calm down. You understand, right? Don’t shake your head recklessly.”

“I understand. I understand, but…”

There is no choice.

He is a prince and has the position of ruling the Salem Kingdom.

There is a duty to prioritize one’s own safety over the sacrifice of one person.

Hisui-san, by virtue of his position, must protect his master at any cost.

That’s why neither of them can move.

“You understand, right? If you try to touch me, it’s the same thing?”

“…”

“Yuren-kun! More than me!”

“Of course I care!”

Yeah, that’s right.

Yuren-kun would say that.

He remembers the people who sacrificed themselves for his sake and grieves and mourns for them.

He can’t possibly accept any more sacrifices right in front of him.

Whether he prioritizes his position or his emotions.

The future he wants cannot be obtained.

“Onee-sama.”

She called my name when I was about to give up.

“Celica?”

“——I’m sorry.”

Tears and apologies.

Immediately after, she drank the poison she had.

“What are you doing?!”

Laurus also did not expect this.

He couldn’t hide his agitation and became erratic.

Seizing that moment, Yuren-kun rushed forward and cut down Laurus.

“Guaah…”

“You will be punished later, Hisui!”

“I’ll hold him!”

“Understood!”

Yuren-kun rushes over to me.

“Yuren-kun!”

“Don’t worry, I’ll free you soon.”

He cuts off the chains that bound me with his sword.

I’m able to move again, so I hold Celica, who has collapsed from drinking poison.

“Celica! Why did you do it…”

“I’m sorry… It’s my fault… So many people died because of me.”

Tears spill from her eyes, mixed with genuine sadness, and run down her cold cheeks into my hand.

“I’m sorry… I’m sorry.”

I can sense her regret.

She probably wasn’t cooperating with Laurus but was being used, just like me.

She may have been threatened like I was.

Banished from the kingdom and left with nothing, perhaps that was the only path she had.

And now, she couldn’t bear the guilt and had tried to take her own life.

To atone for her mistake with her own life.

“No…that’s not enough to make up for it!”

I know.

If you really want to make up for it, what should you do?

She shouldn’t have to die.

If you regret it, you should live and make up for it.

Even I——

“Because of my regrets, I am here now.”

Chapter 50: Have we made a little progress?

I don’t want to do it because I regretted it before.

It’s just like back then.

I don’t want to stay silent and do nothing.

That’s why I’ve prepared myself.

“Drink this!”

“Oh… Nee-sama?”

“This is an antidote potion that I created! It can cure any poison!”

I was particularly cautious about poison.

There is no potion that can cure all types of poison.

That’s why I made it.

So that no one dies from poison.

I learned from a major mistake in the past.

“But… I…”

“Just drink it! You regret it and want to make amends, right?”

“..Yes.”

“Then you have to live and make amends! No one will praise or be happy if you die alone! If you really want to make amends, Celica has to use her power to help lots of people!”

“My…”

That’s how I live.

I will keep living like that, carrying my unending regret and moving forward.

I hope she lives the same way, facing forward.

Not just as a senior who has gone ahead.

As her… sister.

“Stay alive, Celica!”

Without waiting for a response, I poured the antidote potion into her mouth.

It wasn’t the best thing to do, but if I had waited, time would have run out.

As she drank the potion, the poison vanished, and Celica’s complexion began to improve.

The heat slowly returned to her cold skin.

“Onee-sama… I…”

“Aria is right.”

“Yuren-kun.”

He sheathed his sword and smiled.

“Do not make amends in the wrong way. If you want to atone, do it in a way that only you can.”

“Only I can…”

“You’re a Transmutation Master, aren’t you? Then there’s someone around here you can learn from. It’s not too late to start now. Learn little by little.”

Even at a time like this, he wore a gentle face.

Even though he could be angry, it was as if he had already forgiven her.

“Then someday, contribute to my country.”

“Yes.”

And thus, a fate was sealed.

◇◇◇

One week later.

After the post-processing was completed, Yuren-kun and I visited that hill.

The wind blew through elegantly, and our hair waved in the breeze.

“It feels nice.”

“Yeah, the weather is great too.”

Since then, Laurus was put in a special underground prison.

He doesn’t recognize his crime as a crime, and no words can reach him since he doesn’t think of himself as doing wrong.

Now that he is no longer a prince of a neighboring country, he can be judged by the law of this country.

The verdict was to live alone and painfully until death.

Killing him doesn’t make up for the sin.

If he is set free, he will accumulate more sins.

So he will suffer until the end.

“I wish he could be born as a decent person in his next life.”

“Yeah…”

If his birthplace had been different, he might have had a different way of life.

That’s what I try to think.

“Fusaki-kun is also feeling better.”

“Yeah. He was the most seriously injured, but it’s surprising how calm he is.”

After I was put to sleep, Fusaki-kun apparently defeated the remaining bandits.

It’s amazing that you were able to move with that injury, let alone defeating three bandits. I can’t believe it.

Being able to maintain consciousness in pain worked out well, and ultimately, it gave Yuren-kun and the others my whereabouts.

I owe him my gratitude.

And then…

“I wonder if Celica is also doing her best.”

“She’s doing her best. She’s Aria’s sister, so once she decides to do something, she won’t hesitate.”

“I hope you’re right… ”

She’s now working at a store in the capital city.

Regarding this incident, she was only threatened and used by Laurus.

It seems like she was also producing poison and other chemicals, but none of it was her own will.

If she had resisted, as a woman, her future would have been bleak.

At first, she seems to have followed out of fear, but gradually her spirit wore down, and she couldn’t think of anything.

She wanted to atone for her sins.

She wanted to do something that only she could do, as a Transmutation Master.

She couldn’t work at the Royal Palace, so I asked for the help to get her a job in the city.

I plan to go and check regularly if she is truly working hard.

“I’m really… I’m glad I could help.”

“Yeah, me too.”

To prevent tragedies from happening someday, we always need to be prepared.

Thanks to the sad and painful past, there are lives that have been saved like this.

“Hey, Yuren-kun.”

“Hm?”

“Do you think I’ve made some progress?”

“——Yes, I can guarantee it.”

I swore an oath here before.

The next time we came here, both of us would have grown.

Everyone knows that Yuren-kun is moving forward every day, not just me.

Whether or not I’m making progress, Yuren-kun is watching over me.

If he says so, then I must be making progress.

“Well, then we have to work harder next time.”

“Yeah, we both know what we want to do.”

“Yeah.”

Yuren-kun’s dream is to make this country a better place.

My wish is to support his dream.

Both of us are looking forward to it.

Thinking about a new tomorrow in a new place.

Crossing the country, surpassing our positions.

We are connected and we will progress step by step.

Eternal Darkness

“Ku, damn it! Let go!”

He was grabbed by strong men and forcefully taken into the darkness.

Even if he resisted, the power difference was clear.

Struggling was pointless, and he was led down a dark staircase.

What awaited him was an iron cage.

There was only one light and one room.

There was no one else.

The men opened the iron bars and threw him in.

“Guh.”

He fell down and when he got up, the iron bars were closed.

He grabbed the bars and shouted.

“What the hell are you doing?! Get me out of here!”

Even if he tried to force it open, he could not move them alone.

Pulling, pushing, and hitting could not open them.

“What are you doing? Who do you think I am?”

“——A convict?”

In front of him stood the king.

The one who ruled over the Salem Kingdom.

“The King of Salem…”

“Long time no see. No, is it the first time we’ve met like this? Mayquin’s former prince.”

The two glared at each other.

When Laurus was a prince, they had a friendly relationship.

But that was only on the surface.

Laurus had failed in his attempt to use him before.

The king also realized his intentions and kept his distance.

They both refrained from interfering with each other and didn’t even make efforts to exchange opinions.

“I had a feeling it would come to this. You underestimate others. You only see them as convenient tools.”

“Well, of course. I am a prince. It is the commoners’ place to serve the prince, they are just tools after all.”

“That’s why you couldn’t see their hidden fangs.”

“…”

The king speaks to Laurus, who cannot retort after being hit with a dead-on remark, while touching the iron bars.

“This was once a prison used to manage those sentenced to death.”

“Are you planning to sentence me to death? That would become an international problem.”

“What are you talking about? You are no longer a citizen of any country. If you are a convict, our country can judge you by our laws. Besides…I never said anything about sentencing you to death.”

“…What do you mean?”

The king lets go of the iron bars and starts to walk away, turning around.

“Wait, where are you going?”

“No one visits this place. The food is there. If you ration it correctly, it will last you a month.”

“Y-You don’t mean to say that I should stay here like this…”

“I won’t sentence you to death. You will live until the end. All alone, without any connections, facing your final moments in a dark cell.”

That was the punishment he was given.

He played with the lives of others for his own greed and took their lives.

Even if he paid with his life, the suffering of those who died will never be lifted.

So, at least he will be driven to the extreme, suffering in loneliness until he dies.

That’s how he will be purified.

So that mistakes like him won’t happen again.

“W-Wait a minute!”

“You went too far. You laid your hands on the benefactor of my country, and on those who serve the palace. Not just once, but twice.”

Anger.

The anger that the king kept inside as a person and as a king.

He could not forgive it.

“Rot away in the darkness.”

“Wait——”

The door was closed.

The door leading to the underground would never open again.

Without anyone knowing, he will spend his entire life alone.

His mistake will thus be extinguished.

Chapter 51: Self-worth

“I’m sorry!”

A boy’s voice echoed through the workshop.

Fusaki-kun bowed deeply to me and apologized.

“It’s okay, Fusaki-kun, you don’t have to apologize.”

“No, it’s because of my incompetence that Nee-san was in danger.”

“That’s not true. Thanks to you, Yuren-kun and the others were able to come quickly.”

“…It was just lucky. It was His Highness and the others who saved you, and I couldn’t do anything.”

Fusaki-kun continued to deny while bowing his head.

How many times has this exchange taken place?

He had been severely injured and couldn’t get out of bed until just the other day.

As soon as he was able to walk again, he came to me first.

His first words were an apology like this.

I’m not bothered by it.

On the contrary, I’m sincerely glad that he has recovered.

I’m sure everyone else feels the same way.

However…

“I’ll work my hardest from now on, since I couldn’t be of any help earlier! Please tell me anything to do.”

“You should rest a little longer since you just recovered from your injury.”

“It’s okay. It doesn’t hurt that much.”

“Fusaki-kun…”

I can tell he’s lying.

He was really badly injured.

The doctor said he was on the brink of death.

It’s only been two days since he could walk, so his injury shouldn’t have completely healed.

It hurts when he moves.

In fact, Fusaki-kun occasionally makes a face that seems to endure the pain of running.

He seems to be trying to hide it, but the fact that I can see through it means that it must be quite painful.

I want him to rest.

“I think you should still rest. It would be troublesome if you pushed yourself too hard and collapsed.”

“But if it’s me——”

“No. Let’s at least decide on something you can do while sitting.”

“…Okay.”

He should really be in bed.

But since he won’t back down, we compromise and decide to work together.

I have a feeling he’ll disappear if I take my eyes off him.

Time passes and it’s now evening, the time for work to end.

“Good work, Fusaki-kun.”

“Yes.”

“Make sure you rest properly. Don’t push yourself too hard, okay?”

“I understand. See you tomorrow.”

Do you really understand?

I see Fusaki-kun leaving the workshop, a figure that looks somewhat sad and lonely.

Watching him, I feel anxious and want to chase after him.

But before I know it, he’s gone, and I can only sigh in frustration.

“Sigh…”

“Tired?”

“Huh? Yuren-kun!”

“Don’t be so surprised.”

As always, Yuren-kun appears out of nowhere, causing my heart to skip a beat.

“How long have you been here?”

“Just a few minutes. I came to check on him.”

Yuren-kun points in the direction that Fusaki-kun walked.

“Yuren-kun was also worried.”

“Well, of course. He’s my subordinate. As I expected, he seems to be very concerned.”

“Yeah. I am fine, though.”

“I told him the same thing, you know? Thanks to Fusaki’s quick action, we were able to rescue Aria and capture the bandits. It was all thanks to him that we were able to rush in under favorable conditions.”

The reason why Yuren-kun and his companions were able to find me was because Fusaki tied a thread to me and showed them the way.

At that time, he was already seriously injured.

Despite being numb from the effects of the poison, he prioritized me over his own life.

That alone, I think he has already done more than enough.

Both Yuren and I acknowledge it, but Fusaki still blames himself.

“I couldn’t protect you. I’m sorry for being such an unworthy guard. I can’t do anything more than this. I’m worthless. That’s not a boy’s line.”

“…Yeah, but…”

“Oh, he’s not an adult either. Just depressed and down. Like a kid who’s trying to be an adult.”

“I think so. Maybe Fusaki-kun has been…”

Has he been pushing himself like this, questioning his own abilities?

“Does Yuren-kun know? Before Fusaki-kun was Irina-chan’s escort?”

I suddenly became curious.

He’s still young, but he was already working for a long time.

Had he been in this palace all along?

Or was he in a different place?

“Well, to be honest, I don’t know the details either.”

“R-Really?”

“Yeah. It was Duke Garrden who brought him in. He was described as a talented kid, and that’s about it.”

“Duke-sama… I think he did mention something like that.”

Come to think of it, Duke-sama is in no position to call me an outsider or a danger…

Perhaps he was just testing my resolve from the beginning.

If I showed my willingness to stay here, he would accept me… I have a feeling.

“I also trust Duke Garrden, and he has not made a mistake in the people he recommends so far. But just in case, I’ll ask around somewhere.”

“Okay. If you find out, please let me know too.”

“Yeah, Aria has the right to know as well. We will continue to work together.”

“Okay.”

He is my assistant and bodyguard.

Our relationship has not changed until now.

And it will not change in the future.

Chapter 52: Pushy self

“Good morning, today too please take care of me!”

“Y-Yes…”

Every morning, he greets me enthusiastically.

It may seem like he’s just showing his motivation, but in his case, it’s a little different.

He seems to be pushing himself too hard, thinking he’s pathetic, despite his injured body.

And that’s probably the truth.

No matter how much Yuren-kun and I tell him not to overdo it, he still does it anyway.

Last night, we talked about it, but we concluded that letting him do as he pleases is the best option.

Even if we strongly warn him and try to make him rest, he’ll probably just overwork himself in another way.

I can feel the danger in that.

So if he could just stay within reach, it would be reassuring.

“I really want him to rest, though.”

Those words don’t reach him.

No, they reach him, but he won’t listen.

In a good or bad way, he’s still a child.

Not too long ago, he seemed more composed than me, surveying his surroundings and able to handle things fairly well. He seemed mature.

But as soon as one weakness appears, he crumbles in an instant.

It’s like a sand mountain flying in the wind.

“Nee-san, the box is here.”

“Fusaki-kun!”

Fusaki-kun, who was carrying a large wooden box, suddenly dropped it and fell to his knees.

As I hurried over, I could see that he was enduring pain from his expression and sweat was dripping down his forehead. I turned my gaze towards his back.

“Fusaki-kun, blood is coming from the wound on your back.”

“Ugh…”

“The wound has opened. I’ll fetch a healing potion right away!”

“W-Wait, please!”

Fusaki-kun weakly grasped my arm as I tried to stand up.

“You don’t need to use a valuable potion for someone like me.”

“What are you talking about? Don’t tell me, you haven’t even drunk the potion I sent you.”

“…”

I had a feeling that something was off.

Even if it was a serious injury, I had already given him a variety of healing potions after proper treatment. Even deep wounds would be healed after drinking it a few times. The pain would also weaken, but there were no signs of improvement.

In other words, he hasn’t been drinking.

“Why?”

“…because of someone like me.”

“Don’t be ridiculous!”

I yelled in a surprisingly loud voice.

If Irina-chan had been nearby, she might have been surprised and taken a step back.

That’s how angry I was.

“You only have one life! How can you not value it?!”

“Nee-san…”

“First, drink this! If the wound has been healed this much, you can fully recover with just this.”

“…but…”

Fusaki-kun hesitated.

Feeling more excited than usual, I became irritated with his attitude.

Out of frustration, I forcibly thrust the potion into his mouth.

“Gu-guh.”

“Just drink it already!”

It was really surprising.

This was the first time I had ever been so forceful.

Maybe I couldn’t tolerate his way of not valuing his life.

“…pfft.”

“How is it? Is the pain from the wound gone?”

“…the pain is gone. It’s probably healed.”

“Really? Show it to me just in case.”

To confirm, I rolled up his clothes and checked his back.

I lightly touched it on top of the bandage wrapped around it in circles.

If it hurt, there should have been a change in expression.

Since there was none, I removed the bandage.

In any case, since there was blood on it, it had to be replaced with a new one.

When I removed the bandage, the wound was exposed.

“It’s closed. It looks like there’s still a scar.”

“I see…”

He didn’t seem very happy.

He was probably thinking he had caused trouble again.

“I’m sorr——”

“Apologies are forbidden.”

“Huh?”

“Apologies are meant for when you actually do something wrong, right? Fusaki-kun didn’t do anything wrong. It’s probably more like a time to say thank you, isn’t it?”

I felt embarrassed saying that myself.

Despite speaking so haughtily, I often apologized and prioritized apologies over gratitude.

That’s why I learned.

Being thanked is more pleasing than apologizing for helping someone.

“Thank you…very much.”

“Yeah.”

As expected, being thanked is nice.

Even more so when it comes from important people.

“Fusaki-kun, can I ask you something?”

“What is it?”

“About Fusaki-kun. Before you became Irina-chan’s bodyguard, before coming here.”

I didn’t plan on asking, but the words naturally came out.

It was something I wanted to know.

Yuren-kun could have asked Duke-sama, but I want to hear it from the person himself.

“…asking about that isn’t really interesting, you know?”

“It’s not about being interesting. I just want to know about Fusaki-kun.”

“You’re asking someone like me?”

“Don’t say it like that again. Please.”

I gently hold his hand.

As Yuren-kun did for me once.

“I want to know. Because it’s about someone I’ll be with in the future, I want to know properly.”

“…in the future…?”

“Yes. I feel the same way, as well as Yuren-kun and the others.”

“…I see.”

Fusaki-kun seems somehow melancholic, and he lowers his eyes relieved.

I felt my hand, which I was holding, tremble slightly.

“I understand. Please listen to what I have to say.”

“Okay.”

Chapter 53: Because I’m not carrying anything

He starts to speak.

From his childhood to his current situation where he had to reach a little further.

I listen to him while being close enough to feel his body.

◇◇◇

If I were to describe the place where he was born in one word…battlefield.

Salem is surrounded by eight nations, most of which are friendly, but there were some that were not.

There was an ongoing conflict with that country.

At that time, they were struggling against the advancing army that wanted to take their land.

The battlefield is a miserable place.

It may be natural to take each other’s lives since it’s a fight for survival, but lives there are cheap.

They fall easily like flower petals dancing in the breeze.

Children’s lives are even cheaper.

Would adults say that being born in a bad place is the reason?

He was born and lived in such a place, alone.

“Hey! He ran over there!”

“That kid stole our food!”

Days that cannot be fully expressed with the word “harsh”.

Stealing and being stolen from were a daily occurrence.

Children were not shown mercy, and on the contrary, they were not protected.

They would do anything to survive.

Without that level of determination, one cannot even live in the present.

As the conflict continued, the surroundings became desolate, and blood flowed in disorder.

I don’t know how many, tens of bodies he stepped on.

Tomorrow…no, even today, he might become a corpse himself.

He was fighting his fears and continuing to live.

“Ugh…”

“You’re taking too long, damn it.”

He is a child.

No matter how fast he moves or how much he uses his wits, he cannot compete with adults.

As time went by, he was cornered.

He was beaten and kicked.

“Ha! Spit out all your food!”

“Just in time! I was just getting frustrated.”

“It would have been even better if it were a girl.”

There was no mercy.

Several adults were bullying a child.

There was nothing he could do, even if he saw such an unbearable scene, and no one was around.

Even if someone were there, they were most likely of the same kind.

It is more likely to join in the bullying than to help.

He had no choice but to give up once he was caught.

“Let’s just break all his bones!”

“…It’s pathetic to bully a child.”

“Huh? Ugh.”

“W-What the hell are these guys?”

A group of knights follow a man who behaves nobly as he leads them.

He strikes down the bullying adults with the scabbard of his sword.

“Listen up! This land is under my management from today on! Any ungrateful deeds in my territory will not be tolerated!”

The man proclaimed boldly.

Naturally, the surrounding adults tried to oppose him, but strong knights stood ready.

They had no choice but to obey, as their personal safety was at risk.

Leaving the scene without agreeing, they were disgruntled.

“You’re covered in wounds, boy.”

“…Who are you?”

“When asking for someone’s name, it’s polite to introduce yourself first, right?”

The boy tilted his head in wonder at such manners being used in this kind of place.

But if he doesn’t answer, neither will his opponent.

The boy, sensing this, introduces himself.

“…Fusaki.”

“I see. I am Garrden, entrusted by His Majesty with this land.”

“Garrden…”

“You’ve had a rough time.”

Duke Gardenn spoke coldly to Fusaki.

Fusaki’s eyes were as murky as dirty water.

It was ordinary for him, who had resigned himself to despair, but it was not the kind of eyes a child should have.

“Fusaki. How long have you been here?”

“…I don’t know.”

“Then, what about your parents?”

“I don’t know.”

He was born here.

He had no memories other than that fact.

He could hardly even remember his parents’ faces.

There was no room for him to feel sad about it.

The daily life was harsh, cruel, and miserable.

“So what are you going to do from now on?”

“From now on?”

“As long as I rule, I will not tolerate theft. So how are you going to live?”

“…I don’t know.”

That was all he knew.

He couldn’t answer as a young child.

Then ――

“If you have nowhere to go, work for me.”

“What?”

“Didn’t you hear me? We’re short on staff, so we could use even a child’s help.”

“…”

Duke said so with an exasperated expression.

Actually, it was unclear how much of it was his true feelings.

It could be kindness, or it could be pity.

However…

“What’s wrong? Do you want to squat and live in this place?”

“…I don’t.”

It doesn’t change the fact that it was a helping hand for him.

The reason doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand.

Someone appeared before him to destroy his present.

So he took that hand.

◇◇◇

“——And so, I was put to work by my master. He drilled me with various things.”

“I see.”

I felt Duke Gardenn’s kindness.

He’s not just a strict person, after all.

He probably couldn’t leave him in trouble.

“He’s a kind person.”

“Yes, that’s right. He looks scary, but he’s the kindest person I know. Thanks to him, I got a clean place to live. He gave me a purpose to live when I had nothing.”

That’s why I have to fulfill my duties.

I have to respond to expectations.

Even if I have to sacrifice something, I have to show my worth.

“I don’t have anything. That’s why I have to do the job I’m given, no matter what happens to me.”

That’s his true feelings.

He wants to respond and repay the kindness he received.

A kind thought.

But…

Chapter 54: Start with self-help

He is not wrong.

He feels grateful for being helped and wants to repay that kindness with his actions.

The emotions that are bottled up inside him are good-hearted.

I also understand this well since I was once helped by someone.

I can understand those feelings…

That’s why I know that it’s not enough.

Just the desire to repay kindness and the desire to do something for someone else…that’s not enough.

Because he’s not including himself in those thoughts.

“I have no value if I can’t be of use. I shouldn’t even be one of those who can stay here. I should have lived until I died in that place.”

The difficulty of his birth environment is also a factor.

Despite being a child, he’s matured early due to his harsh living conditions.

His outlook on life and death is different from an ordinary person’s.

While we were thinking about what to do tomorrow…

He was probably thinking about how to survive today.

There’s no guarantee that tomorrow will come.

If you don’t live in the present, then the next few seconds are even uncertain.

Because he has lived in such an environment, he realizes that the present peace he has is special.

“My life is useless if I can’t be of any use. If I can’t fulfill my duties, I have no place to belong.”

That might be true.

If he hadn’t met Duke-sama, he might not be alive today.

He came to the place where the light shines because of a fateful encounter.

I also know the warmth and strength of a hand that reaches out.

Since I know, I should say it.

You should be more… no, I can’t say it.

If I were in the same position as him, I would do the same thing as he does.

Because it’s the right thing to do.

Even if you’re not wrong, you can’t say that someone else is wrong.

But, if I could say it…

“So, Nee-san, please tell me if you no longer need me. When you do——.”

“No!”

The door opened vigorously.

Irina-chan came in with an even louder voice.

“Irina-chan.”

“Princess.”

She had tears in her eyes.

But she doesn’t seem to be sad.

Her expression is rather angry.

For the first time, her face turned bright red like a little demon.

“Fusa-kun!”

“Uh, yes?”

“What did you just say?”

“Well…”

Irina-chan glared at Fusaki-kun.

One step at a time, she slowly approached him.

The shaken Fusaki-kun couldn’t speak his words as usual.

“Just now?”

“What did you mean by ‘not needed’ earlier?”

“Huh?”

“Don’t say something like, ‘I’m not needed’! Like It doesn’t matter what happens to you!”

Irina-chan started crying.

Tears fell from her eyes, streaming down her cheeks and wetting the floor.

“Princess…”

“You only have one life! Once you die, you can’t do anything. You won’t be able to see anyone or talk to them. You’ll be all alone!”

Her words had depth because she knew the importance of life, having burned her own life and dreamed of tomorrow.

The birth of Fusaki-kun, who believed that garbage and life were of equal value, and Irina-chan, who felt the end of her life approaching at an early age.

The two were similar yet different.

One knew the lightness of life, while the other knew its significance.

For him, the life he was about to throw away might be worth nothing.

But the one who knew the value of life more than anyone else was…

“I…enjoyed talking to Fusa-kun. When I was alone in a small room, I was happy when Fusa-kun came to visit.”

Tears flowed down her face.

And thoughts.

Overflowing emotions were expressed in words.

“Because of that time…I was able to think that I wanted to live tomorrow. Because Fusa-kun was there, I can still smile now. Maybe it was just a job for Fusa-kun, but I was happy just to have him there. I was happy just to be able to talk to him.”

If she could deliver her words to him, there would only be one person.

Only someone who genuinely seeks him, not just his work.

Leaving behind anyone else, she only had him.

“…I’m worthless, unable to fulfill any role.”

“Don’t say that. I feel lonely without Fusa-kun. Just being together with you is fun.”

“If it’s just talking, anyone can do it. Not just me.”

“I want Fusa-kun. Talking to you is what I want.”

Pure feelings.

That’s what moves people’s hearts.

From the outside and from within.

“Hey, Fusa-kun.”

Thanks to Irina-chan, there’s something I can say now.

As someone who was also saved.

“Your life belongs to you, Fusa-kun. You can decide what you want to do with it from now on. But you know what? There are people who cherish your life. Not because of your talent or status, but because it’s you. They want you to stay by their side.”

Life is one and it belongs to the person.

But there are people who support that life.

Someone who touches it.

If it’s lost, warmth turns into tears.

“In my case, I don’t want to have any regrets. It might be different from Fusaki-kun’s situation, but you have to first be alive to do anything, to help anyone, right?”

“Yes! That’s right, Onee-sama! If you’re not alive, you can’t do anything!”

“Princess…Nee-san…”

“Take care of yourself! If Fusa-kun ever goes missing, I’ll go search for him anywhere!”

Anywhere.

That means even if it leads to a place of death.

“…I see.”

He smiles.

It’s a sarcastic, relieved smile.

“In that case, I have no choice but to do my best here.”

That is surely the right and happy thing to do.

Chapter 55: 2nd Prince

The materials are placed on the Transmutation Circle.

In addition to familiar materials, there is also the seven-leaf grass harvested recently.

Half of it was turned into seeds for cultivation, while the rest was used as materials for transmutation.

But even so, the number is not enough.

I really want to go gather more, but after the incident the other day, I cannot leave the royal palace for a while.

“I wonder when they will give us permission…”

“If you bring ten knights with you, I think you’ll be allowed?”

“That’s a bit… Yuren-kun!”

Before I knew it, Yuren-kun was next to me.

“Am I disturbing you, Aria?”

“Don’t surprise me like that.”

“You should be used to it by now. It’s always like this, right?”

That’s true, but when someone suddenly appears behind or next to me, or someone talks to me unexpectedly, it startles me.

Yuren-kun looks around the workshop.

“Are you alone today?”

“Yeah. I think Fusaki-kun is with Irina-chan, right?”

“Is that so? Did you have any plans?”

“No, I asked her to go play with her friend since it’s her day off.”

After receiving Irina-chan’s pure feelings, Fusaki-kun seemed to have decided to value himself as well.

But since it won’t change immediately, I thought I should help in any way I can.

On days off from work, make sure to play like a child.

Are they chatting away now?

I’m sure Irina-chan is also happy.

“Fusaki seems to be moving in a good direction too.”

“Yeah, thanks to Irina-chan.”

“Yeah, but it surprised me. You were the one who heard about his situation before I did.”

“Hahaha, that was just a coincidence.”

I just wanted to know, so I asked.

Yuren-kun also heard about it from Duke-sama on a different day.

“Considering Fusaki’s past, I can understand why he pushes himself like this.”

“Yeah, I really understand that.”

“I thought so. That’s why you were worried, right?”

“Yeah.”

There were other reasons why I was worried, but that was generally right.

It’s not like I can say that he resembled me and I was being presumptuous.

Anyway, it’s good news that he wants to take care of himself.

“…So? Aria works even on her days off?”

“Uh-huh.”

A Transmutation Circle in progress.

Materials lined up and scattered research materials.

I’m even holding a material checklist.

It looks like I’m working no matter how you look at it.

Yuren-kun says with a slightly mean smile.

“You want Fusaki to take care of himself, but what about yourself?”

“Ugh…”

“I’m pretty sure I told you to take a proper break on your day off, didn’t I?”

“…Oh, yeah.”

I remember being told that.

And it was a relatively recent memory.

“Before you worry about others, take a break yourself.”

“I-I’m sorry.”

“That’s just like you, Aria.”

“Well, I don’t have anything to say to that.”

It’s like being told that you haven’t grown up.

I think I know it myself, but sometimes I can’t stop unless someone tells me.

In my case, Yuren-kun often makes me realize it.

“It’s good to be enthusiastic, but there are people who are worried about you, like you are, worrying about Fusaki. Like me.”

“Y-Yes, I will.”

“Really, be careful, okay? It’s your day off today, right?”

“Yeah, but I don’t have anything to do… on my day off.”

It might be an excuse, but I can’t go outside, and there’s nothing else to do.

Before I realized it, I was heading to the workshop as usual, and at first, I was planning to tidy up… or something like that?

“In that case, I’ll be your conversation partner. Fusaki and Irina are probably doing the same thing right now.”

“Well, let me ask you something.”

◇◇◇

Led by Yuren-kun, we moved to the conversation room in the royal palace.

I thought it would be better to talk at the workshop, but Yuren-kun said, “You might start working if we talk there.”

“T-That’s true.”

So we decided to move.

It was the first time I entered the room, so it felt a little fresh.

As expected of a conversation room, there were several chairs facing each other across a table, allowing a large group of people to discuss.

Currently, it was only Yuren-kun and me.

“I wonder what happened to the place where Fusaki-kun was born?”

“Is that what you suddenly want to ask?”

“Sorry, I’m just curious.”

It might have been a heavy topic as the first conversation.

I regretted it after saying it.

But it was still something I wanted to know.

“It hasn’t really changed. That place wasn’t originally a peaceful place for people to live. It was a boundary between countries, and conflicts were prone to happen.”

“So it hasn’t changed even now?”

“If you ask me if it’s changed, it has changed a little. My older brother is in charge now.”

“Yuren-kun’s older brother?”

A different word caught my attention than before.

Come to think of it, Yuren-kun has an older brother.

He’s the third prince, right? There are two older brothers above him?

“What kind of person is your older brother?”

“Well, if I had to describe Ash-niisan in one word, he’s probably the strongest person in this country.”

The Second Prince of the Salem Kingdom, Ash Salem.

He was the greatest swordsman in the kingdom and was also a magician.

Chapter 56: Ash Salem

Magic.

It is a power that embodies miracles.

It brings about the occurrence of reality that disregards logic and common sense through the hands of humans.

The heyday was in ancient times.

The world prospered through magic.

However, that prosperity did not last long.

Magic was too powerful.

It exceeded human capabilities.

It expanded when it fell into the hands of small people, and there was no way to stop it.

Eventually, conflicts began to spread.

For power, land, people, and everything else.

If you use force, you can take them away.

If you don’t want to be taken away, you have to become strong.

The conflicts created bigger conflicts.

The world was filled with strife.

Someone may have thought that such a world was sad.

Who? There was a god at that time.

It was not human, not an animal, but an absolute existence that was not mortal.

The god, beyond human intellect, took away the power of magic from the people to return the world to its rightful state.

As a result, human beings declined and returned to primitive life.

Eventually, they continued to evolve calmly and gradually to create a new history of humanity.

It is because they lost the omnipotent power of magic that people struggled to find wisdom and courage.

It seems that magic was not necessary for people to live.

But still, there were those who dreamed of the power of miracles.

People who wished to obtain it, even if it took decades or hundreds of years.

So God gave again.

The power of miracles.

To only a few…chosen humans.

◇◇◇

“Yuren-kun’s older brother… is a magician?”

“Yeah. He’s said to be the strongest person in this country, not just because of that, though. Even from my perspective, it’s true.”

“W-Wow, that sounds incredible…”

“He’s an amazing person. But, I think it might not quite match up to what Aria is imagining.”

Saying so, Yuren-kun grinned.

To put it simply, I pictured a large and scary man…

If that’s not it, then what kind of person could he be?

As I let my imagination run wild with curiosity, Yuren-kun said to me:

“I think you’ll be able to meet him soon. It’s about time for him to return home for a short while.”

“Return home… He’s in another country right now?”

“Yeah, he’s half on a diplomatic mission and half on a deterrent mission. Because my brother is around, no country would dare to openly pick a fight with ours. That’s also part of the reason for his visit.”

“I-I see…”

I became even more curious.

Yuren-kun’s older brother… the second prince of Ash Salem.

I wonder what kind of person he is.

I’m looking forward to meeting him.

“I’ll introduce you then. It can be nerve-wracking meeting someone for the first time, right?”

“Yeah! I’d be happy if you did that.”

Afterwards, the two of us continued to have a great time together for a while.

We talked about trivial things, but I also learned about Yuren-kun’s older brother.

It seemed that he was the one who taught Yuren-kun swordsmanship.

He was a martial arts enthusiast since he was a child, and Yuren-kun often practiced under his guidance.

Yuren-kun’s brother was apparently a formidable opponent who Yuren-kun could never win against.

“When he comes back next time, I plan on having him teach me again.”

“Will you win next time?”

“That’s the plan. You understood me well.”

“It’s written all over your face.”

Yuren-kun tends to wear his emotions on his face, especially in front of me and Hisui-san.

I was happy and felt reassured that he trusted me enough to let me see that.

◇◇◇

The day after spending a peaceful and enjoyable holiday.

I was working hard in the workshop as usual.

“Do I take this to the Head Department-san?”

“Yeah, can you ask if it’s okay?”

“Okay. I’ll hand it over quickly!”

Fusaki-kun, who had recovered, was also working diligently with me.

I entrusted him with the package addressed to the Head Department-san and focused on my own work.

The light and sound of the Transmutation Circle, and nothing else could be heard.

When I concentrate, I can’t hear the sounds around me.

It is precisely at times like these that Yuren-kun suddenly calls out to you.

Just as I thought that, I felt a presence.

I immediately knew it wasn’t Yuren-kun.

Because…the sense of intimidation was different.

Someone was there.

A person with a strong presence was in front of the workshop.

I opened the door fearfully.

“Um…May I ask who you are?”

“Oh? You noticed me. You’re quite sharp.”

Standing in front of the door was a large man.

Should I call him a wall?

Or perhaps a giant tree would be more appropriate.

Not just because of his size, but he had a certain presence.

“You’re the new Transmutation Master, right?”

“Y-Yes. I’m Aria Lawrence.”

“Aria, huh. That’s a good name.”

“T-Thank you.”

I didn’t know who he was, but his attire suggested that he was of noble birth.

What caught my attention even more was the large sword on his back.

He carried a sword as large as his height.

He didn’t exactly look like a knight, but he reminded me of someone.

“I’ve heard a lot about you. They say you’re a skilled master! You even helped my little sister, and I’m grateful for that.”

“Huh? Your little sister?”

Wait, could this person be…

“Oh, I haven’t introduced myself yet, have I? I am——”

“Brother! Don’t just disappear like that!”

“Yuren-kun?”

“You’re too slow, Yuren!”

Yuren-kun came running out of breath.

And he referred to him as ‘Brother’.

In other words, this person is… the older brother of Yuren-kun, the strongest person in this country.

He is the Second Prince, Ash Salem-sama.

No wonder he resembles someone.

Chapter 57: Magician

“Haa… When you suddenly disappeared, I knew you had come to Aria’s place.”

“Oh, I just wanted to see the person you like.”

“Hey, don’t talk about that in front of the person!”

Yuren-kun blushed.

I was happy to hear him talk about me, but I didn’t know how to react.

“Hahaha! Well, it’s all good!”

“Was I wrong to tell you earlier…”

“Don’t say that. Anyway, let me introduce myself properly. I’m Ash Salem, the second prince of this country and Yuren’s older brother. Nice to meet you.”

“Y-Yes! Nice to meet you too!”

I bowed deeply.

Then Prince Ash laughed heartily and said, “You don’t have to be so formal. Before you are a person from the royal palace, you are our benefactor! Please feel free to talk to me.”

“W-Well, that’s…”

“Whatever you’re comfortable with, Aria. It makes you nervous to talk in a forced, broken way, doesn’t it?”

“Is that so? Well, then let’s do that.”

Yuren-kun and His Highness Ash stand side by side.

Despite their completely different builds, they look somehow similar.

The atmosphere is different.

Yes, siblings do look alike after all.

“Hey, Aria, can I thank you?”

“Huh, yes?”

“I heard it. You made Irina feel better, right?”

Oh, that’s what he meant earlier when he called me a benefactor.

“As her brother, I want to express my gratitude. Thank you so much! That’s why I hurried here to tell you.”

His Highness Ash smiles.

His smile is like a dazzling sun and overlaps with Irina-chan’s smile.

It’s a very warm and enveloping feeling.

“You’re welcome. But I was only doing what I could do.”

“You’re so serious. Is that what you like about her, Yuren?”

“Don’t bring me into this. Well, that’s one thing, though.”

“I see. You’ve found a good woman.”

His Highness Ash slaps Yuren-kun’s shoulder with all his might.

It’s so wild that Yuren-kun’s body shakes up and down.

“Well, that’s all I needed to discuss. Sorry for bothering you.”

“No, it was nice to meet you.”

“I see. Please keep getting along with my siblings from now on.”

“Yes!”

I see, it certainly exceeded my expectations.

In a good way.

He had a large physique and a sense of intimidation, but it all turned into inclusiveness.

Like the sun… No, he was like the wide sky that surrounds everything.

“Well then, we’ll be going.”

“See you, Aria.”

The two turned their backs and left.

I tried to return to the workshop, but I suddenly heard their conversation.

“Hey Yuren, do you have any free time after this?”

“I do.”

“All right! Then, let’s have a practice session after a long time.”

“I was waiting for those words. Please do.”

It seems that the conversation between the two got exciting and they decided to practice together.

I recalled the conversation I had with him.

His Highness Ash is a magician.

“Oh, umm!”

“”Hmm?””

The two turned around at the same time.

I know it’s a bold request, but I just can’t help but wonder.

What does magic look like?

“If it’s not too much trouble, may I observe the two of you training?”

Summoning up my courage, I ask.

The two of them exchange a glance and answer in unison.

“Of course, feel free.”

“Thank you very much!”

I bow deeply once again.

Excitement wells up inside me.

◇◇◇

The two moved to the royal castle for their training.

On the castle grounds, there was a place for knights to train, and the two also practiced there.

In a spacious and bland room, the two faced each other.

Yuren-kun held a regular wooden sword, while Ash-sama wielded a wooden sword one size bigger.

“Are you ready?”

“Anytime you’re ready.”

“Okay then…let’s go!”

At Ash-sama’s signal, the two charged forward simultaneously.

They closed the distance between them quickly, nearing the range of their swords.

Yuren-kun was the first one to attack.

He attacked with a continuous series of stabs while standing half-ready, aiming for Ash-sama’s face with a sharp thrust.

However, Ash-sama dodged this easily by tilting his head to the side.

He then swung his heavy sword towards Yuren-kun with a large stroke.

Despite the fact that Ash-sama’s sword was bigger and heavier and should have been slower…

“Gah…”

Yuren-kun swung his sword down just in time to be able to receive Ash-sama’s attack, barely managing to withstand the impact of just one blow.

Unable to withstand the impact of just one strike, Yuren-kun fell to one knee.

“That was a good reception.”

“That won’t be enough to end it!”

“That’s the spirit!”

Yuren-kun struck with all his might, but His Highness Ash easily blocked it.

Throughout the training, His Highness Ash remained in control.

The difference in strength was obvious even to me.

Yuren-kun’s attacks barely grazed His Highness Ash, and although he was more agile,His Highness Ash remained calm and composed.

Truly strong.

The attack and defense continued for about ten minutes…

“Haa… Haa…”

Yuren-kun collapsed onto the floor, completely exhausted.

He had reached his physical limit.

“Let’s take a break for now.”

“Yes, please.”

As His Highness Ash-sama sat down next to Yuren-kun, he asked me a question.

“How about it? It’s not interesting just watching like this, is it? Why did you ask to observe?”

“Well, I wanted to see some magic.”

“Hmm? That’s impossible. I can only use magic.”

“Huh…”

What did he mean?

A question mark popped up in my head.

Then…

“What? Don’t tell me you don’t know the risk?”

“Risk?”

“You really don’t know what that feels like. Magic is a power that goes beyond human knowledge. That’s why there are risks involved for the users. For example, if you use magic, it will shorten your lifespan.”

“W-What? Shorten your lifespan?!”

I had no idea that there was such a risk involved in using magic.

The words from earlier.

I realized that “being able to use magic” meant this.

Chapter 58: Request of the Second Prince

After learning about the risks of magic, I was secretly disappointed.

I know it’s rude, but there was a difference between what I expected and what was presented.

It seems like my expression betrayed my slight disappointment.

“Are you disappointed?”

“N-Not at all!”

“No need to hide it. You wanted to see me use magic, right? Sorry about that.”

I noticed that His Highness Ash had caught on to my feelings, so I hurriedly lowered my head in apology.

However, His Highness showed a relaxed smile.

“Magic is the power of miracles. If there were no risks, there would be no miracles. It would have been easier if we could use it freely.”

“Brother is strong even without magic, isn’t he? Sometimes I wonder if he’s really human.”

“Isn’t it obvious I’m a human?”

“…Yes, you’re right.”

Yuren-kun, who had collapsed, stood up.

“Hey Aria, are you trying to get a hint of my brother’s magic?”

“Yeah. I thought it might be helpful.”

“I knew it. Transmutation Art and magic are similar in that they are both impossible in normal circumstances, but the biggest difference is the cost.”

The Transmutation Art combines substances to create new ones. In doing so, you must prepare and consume materials.

The value of the materials prepared and the completed item are equivalent.

Just as you cannot create something new from nothing, Transmutation Art requires materials as payment.

Similarly, magic also requires payment.

“In ancient times, people used to consume magical power to use magic. But modern people don’t have magical power. Instead, they consume life force to use magic, which shortens their lifespan as a result.”

“That’s the reasoning. Magical power…huh.”

So, if you have magical power, you can use magic freely?

What is magical power exactly?

Can you create it with the Transmutation Art?

While thinking about such things, His Highness Ash also stood up and said.

“Well, there’s no harm in not using magic! I know how to use it, but it’s just a weapon. Only useful when you’re in a pinch.”

“I can’t imagine a future where my brother is in a pinch…”

“It’s not like that! I’ve been in a pinch too… Ah!”

In the middle of the conversation, His Highness Ash suddenly remembered something and opened his mouth wide.

Then he clapped his hands.

“I just remembered something important, Aria!”

“Y-Yes?!”

His Highness Ash called my name and looked straight at me.

I was nervous because he suddenly called me, and my spine unconsciously straightened.

“There’s a case where I need your help!”

“You need my help?”

“Yeah. I meant to tell you about it too, but I completely forgot!”

“…As usual, Brother has a forgetful nature.”

His Highness Ash laughed heartily, and Yuren-kun looked at him in amazement.

Forgetting things seems to be a habit of his.

“Sorry, sorry. Anyway, I need your help. One of the territories I’m in charge of is suffering from a strange disease.”

“What kind of strange… disease?”

“We don’t know the cause. All we know for now is that those who contract it die within a week of showing symptoms. These symptoms include a purple bramble-like pattern appearing on the body.”

Death within a week of showing symptoms?

That’s a rapidly progressive disease.

And a purple bramble?

I’ve never heard of a disease that causes such symptoms.

“It’s not clear if it’s related, but monsters have started appearing in the territory.”

“Monsters? Is that true Brother?”

“Yeah. I reported it to our father first, but I’ve been chasing after them every day.”

“Monsters…”

They are not animals, but rather vicious and cruel, grotesque creatures.

There aren’t many of them, so I haven’t seen one myself, but they are said to be very dangerous creatures.

“I’ve already killed a few of them, but their numbers don’t seem to be decreasing. That’s why I want to borrow Aria’s knowledge and power!”

“I see.”

The two of them look at me.

In other words, they want me to help with the treatment of the mysterious illness and the handling of monsters.

Yuren-kun asks a question.

“What do you think? Did you learn anything from the story just now?”

“… Well, words alone don’t tell us much. We won’t know until we actually see it.”

“Then come with me! I’ll guide you!”

That’s the best choice.

The next thing to consider is whether it’s okay for me to leave here.

“Yuren-kun.”

“If it’s approved in terms of content, I think it’s okay. If we leave it alone, it could affect other territories.”

“That’s right. I want to confirm for myself after hearing what you just told me.”

“Got it. Brother, can I…”

Yuren-kun hesitates with his words.

It seems like he has something to say.

His Highness Ash notices this and laughs in exasperation.

“I get it. If we get permission from our father, you can come with us too. We can always use more hands.”

“Thank you!”

Yuren-kun bows his head.

It’s reassuring to have him come along as well.

“All right, then let’s depart as soon as we’re ready! I’m counting on you, Transmutation Master Aria!”

“Yes!”

A strange illness and monsters.

Both are an unknown threat.

To achieve the country that Yuren-kun is aiming for, we must do something about the two dangerous things.

I clenched my fists in my chest.

Chapter 59: Business trip

Two days after the conversation with His Highness Ash.

Early in the morning, I packed my bags and left the workshop.

After confirming the lock on the door, I set off for the meeting place at the gate of the castle, but first I went to greet Head Department Laura-san.

“Nee-san!”

“Oh, Fusaki-kun.”

On the way, Fusaki-kun ran over.

“Are you ready?”

“I’m good. I didn’t have much luggage to begin with.”

“I see. But are you okay with this?”

“What do you mean?”

He tilted his head with a puzzled look.

I am heading to His Highness Ash’s territory from here.

I will be leaving the palace for a while until the request is completed.

I don’t know when I can come back.

It might be a long time, they say.

“I just hope everything is okay with Irina-chan while I’m away and can’t come back to the palace for a while.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that. I talked to the Princess about it, and I’ll go see her as soon as I’m done with this work.”

“I hope that’s okay with you two.”

“It’s fine! It’s not like this is our last farewell or anything.”

He smiles with a calm smile.

I’m scared because that kind of line can become true later on.

“I am Nee-san’s bodyguard! It’s my duty to accompany her on her business trips!”

“I see.”

If he is fine with that, then I have nothing more to say.

“Let’s hurry up!”

“Okay.”

Fusaki-kun and I ran to the castle gate.

A carriage was parked at the gate.

I thought we would ride on horses behind someone, like we did in Floria, but it seems to be different this time.

Not just us, but also some knights are with us.

I also saw Ash-sama giving instructions to the knights.

“Your Highness.”

“Hm? Oh, you guys came.”

“Good morning, Ash-sama.”

“Hey. Fusaki also decided to come.”

“Of course!”

Fusaki-kun also knows His Highness Ash.

They met while serving as Irina-chan’s guards, and their energetic personalities seemed to fit well together.

The two of them bump their fists together.

I don’t really understand it, but maybe it’s a greeting between men.

I look around for “him”.

“I’m over here.”

“Ah——.”

Suddenly a voice comes from the side.

He pops his head out from behind the carriage.

“Good morning, Aria.”

“…”

“What’s wrong?”

“I always get startled, so I wanted to be the one to greet you this time.”

I was a bit frustrated and sulky.

To be honest, when I confess this, Yuren-kun laughs lightly.

“Huh, is that what it was all about? I’m relieved that you’re not nervous or anything.”

“I am nervous though. But more than that, I feel excited that my power might be useful to everyone. It’s probably insensitive, huh.”

“Nope. It’s better than keeping it to yourself. If you want to make others smile, you have to start by smiling yourself.”

With that, Yuren-kun shows an exaggerated smile.

To uplift people who are in trouble, to comfort those who are suffering.

To provide reassurance.

He is a role model for bright smiles, not mocking ones.

I also want to become someone who can smile like him.

As we were having this exchange, Ash-sama, who had been watching us, tapped Yuren-kun on the shoulder.

“What a great expression, Yuren! Yes, a smile! A smile is the most important thing. You know what I’m talking about, right?”

“I was taught that by my older brother.”

“Ah, that’s right. I forgot about the old days.”

“You forgot too much.”

His Highness Ash hits Yuren-kun’s shoulder vigorously as he makes an astonished face.

“That’s good. What’s important is now.”

“That’s so like you,Brother.”

“I am who I am. Now then, since we’re all set, let’s go——”

But then His Highness Ash noticed something.

His gaze is directed upward, toward the direction of the Royal Castle.

He smiles and moves his head to guide our attention that way.

Four pairs of eyes focus on one person.

“Fusa-kun! Onee-sama!”

“It’s Princess! Nee-san, look! The Princess is waving her hand.”

“Yeah.”

Irina-chan leans out of the window of the castle and waves her hand vigorously.

She shouts loudly, her voice coming from the bottom of her stomach and audible from far away.

“Please be careful!”

“Princess too! Don’t push yourself just because you feel better!”

“I’ll come back as soon as possible!”

“Yes! I’ll be waiting!”

She squeezed her voice from her stomach and watched us go.

She is such a brave and straightforward girl.

Just like Fusaki-kun, all the children I met in this country are honest and have kind hearts.

Maybe that’s because of the country itself.

If that’s the case, it makes me happy.

“Please do your best too, Onii-samas!”

“Yeah!”

“Leave it to us!”

She waved her hand to her two brothers as well.

His Highness Ash and Yuren-kun gaze at her figure feeling sentimental.

“Irina seems to have recovered well.”

“Yes, thanks to her.”

“Yeah, that’s why I have high expectations for her. She’ll surely save us from this predicament.”

“I think so too.”

Their conversation was barely audible.

Expectations and hopes were placed on me.

I’ll do my best to meet those expectations.

In the past, I might have been too scared to face this kind of situation, but now I have a bit more…confidence.

Chapter 60: Strange disease of the frontier

We rode in a carriage, crossing over mountains and rivers.

I had heard that it was far, but the journey was longer than I had imagined.

The reason why we didn’t ride horses was that the distance was too great.

Including stops along the way, it took a week and a half.

It was not a distance that one could endure the vibrations while riding on a horse.

“We’re almost to the territory. Be ready to get off.”

Ash’s loud voice reverberated from the front carriage.

Our carriage following behind also accelerates in response to his call.

“…We’re finally here.”

“Are you tired?”

“I’m fine! But I’m a little tired.”

“That’s not surprising. It’s the first time you’ve spent such a long time traveling.”

I nod my head.

Running around in the forest is much more fun.

I just didn’t realize that sitting still and feeling the irregular vibrations could take such a toll on my body.

“The two of you seem to be doing well.”

“We’re used to it.”

“I’m fine too, I used to travel far and wide!”

Both of them are tough.

His Highness Ash looks like he has good physical strength, but the two of them are skinny and don’t seem like that at all.

It’s embarrassing that I’m the only one tired.

Or rather, it’s pathetic.

“We have to make up for it on site.”

The real test is after we arrive.

To prevent myself from panicking upon arrival, I’ll start planning in my head now.

First of all——

After a few more minutes of rocking, we were back on the road.

We entered the territory of Ayre controlled by His Highness Ash.

Ayre seems to be the name of the noble family that managed the territory before His Highness Ash.

It was a noble family that no longer exists as it didn’t have any heirs.

The carriage stops.

“We’re getting off here in this village!”

We hear His Highness Ash’s voice and get off the carriage too.

We arrived at a small village.

It has no fence and is surrounded by a forest.

There are only a few houses with only a single floor, and I don’t see many people.

I was told that the destination was the villa of His Highness Ash, but there is nothing here that looks like it.

Yuren-kun asks His Highness Ash.

“Brother, what is this place?”

“This is the village where the first occurrence of the strange illness happened.”

“I see. So that’s why we stopped. I thought it was strange since this road is a little off from your villa, brother.”

“Ah.”

His Highness looks at me.

“There may be various things to do, but first it’s better to see the actual situation, right?”

“Yes!”

I was thinking the same thing.

The first thing to do upon arrival is to see the symptoms and situation of the strange disease for oneself.

Although I have already heard the information, it may be better to see and confirm it with my own eyes.

Even if we don’t find the cause on the spot, I wanted to talk to someone who knows about the strange disease.

His Highness seemed to have anticipated that I would say so, as he changed course.

“That’s good, Nee-san.”

“Yeah.”

Thanks to that, it seems to be progressing more smoothly than I had thought.

We immediately entered the village.

The knights who were accompanying us were waiting outside the village.

Only four of us entered the village.

His Highness said that since it wasn’t a large village, it would only get in the way if too many people came in.

“Oh, Ash-sama has returned!”

“That’s true! Ash-sama, you’ve come back. We thought you had abandoned us.”

Elderly men and women come out of their houses, one after another.

When they see His Highness, they happily approach him.

“How could I abandon you? Everyone is an important subject. I went back to the capital to call for reinforcements.”

“Reinforcements…you mean?”

“Yeah! You can rely on these reinforcements. Aria, the court Transmutation Master.”

“Hello.”

His Highness’ introduction was a bit exaggerated, so I was nervous.

I follow Yuren-kun’s lead and try to make a bright smile.

Then everyone responds with a gentle smile.

“Oh, the court’s Transmutation Master! That’s reassuring.”

“You’re amazing even though you’re young. You have a promising future.”

“Thank you.”

Thanks to the warm words, my tension was relieved.

The greetings are over and we immediately start our work.

“Aria will be investigating the illness here for a while. I want you to answer her questions for that. Is that okay?”

When I make eye contact with His Highness, he explains to the villagers, understanding my intentions.

The villagers responded kindly.

“Of course.”

“Please ask us anything. We want to help too.”

“Thank you very much.”

They are good people.

Perhaps it’s because His Highness is trusted.

“Then let me ask you a few things. Is there anyone here who has had the disease?”

“No, we elderly people seem to be immune to it. Everyone here is healthy.”

As I heard.

It seems that the elderly are not infected with the strange disease.

After confirming, the next question continues.

“What was the first person who got infected like?”

“He was suffering. He cried out in pain, saying that his whole body was hot, lethargic, and hurt. He was still a child.”

Fever and fatigue, and then pain all over the body.

All the symptoms were familiar.

Among them, the most important and distinctive one is…

“I heard that the thorn pattern appeared. How big was it at first?”

“I didn’t notice it at first. Maybe on his back? When I noticed, it had spread over his upper body and quickly covered his whole body.”

“How long was it from when you found it?”

“About two days.”

Two days… if left to progress until the final stages, the symptoms worsen rapidly.

We need to deal with it before that happens.

The first infected person was a ten-year-old child.

That child is already deceased.

Chapter 61: Arrival at Luia

Afterwards, I listened to the stories from the villagers.

They all said the same thing.

Before they knew it, they had fallen ill.

The symptoms of the rapidly progressing disease appeared all over their bodies without any warnings or prodromes.

Many people were creeped out or frightened, and they were sent away to a large city doctor’s office as if being chased out.

However, no one who fell ill has returned.

The child who was the first to show symptoms passed away a few weeks ago.

I heard that the mother of the child also passed away a few days later.

“Did the mother also pass away from the same disease?”

“No, I heard it was due to overwork. She took care of her son without sleeping, and her energy dropped after losing him.”

“We were also told that story, so we don’t know if it’s true or not.”

“I see…”

I wonder if it was really due to overwork or if it was due to the disease.

If there was a high risk of becoming infected by being in contact with infected people for a long time, we must also be careful.

We are going to be in contact with them a lot for a while from now on.

I’ll ask His Highness Ash about it later.

“Is there anything else? About the child who was first infected,”

“Well, there was nothing particularly unusual, I think.”

“What kind of child was he before he got sick? Was he naturally weak, or did he have any illnesses?”

“No, no, on the contrary, he was a healthy child. He used to run around the forest every day playing. Even though his mother warned him it was dangerous, he would go far away on his own, so she had a hard time.”

It didn’t seem like he was naturally weak or suffering from any illnesses.

According to their story, there was an adult man who was weak, but he didn’t get infected.

He has now moved to the town to accompany those who were infected because he can move better than they can.

In other words, it meant that there was no one else to rely on other than him, who was physically weak.

“Thank you for sharing your story with us.”

“It’s okay.”

“This is all we can do. Please try to get rid of this disease as soon as possible.”

“Yes. We’ll do our best.”

After hearing all the stories from the villagers, I returned to where everyone was waiting by the carriage.

Yuren-kun and Fusaki-kun had been waiting near the entrance of the village, knowing that it might be difficult to talk with their presence.

As they saw me returning, both Yuren-kun and Fusaki-kun ran up to me.

“Nee-san!”

“Are you okay now?”

“Yeah. Thanks, I was able to hear their stories.”

After talking with the two of them, His Highness Ash came up to us.

I met his gaze.

“Sorry for the wait.”

“It’s okay. Shall we get going then?”

◇◇◇

Luia is a town located in the center of the Ayre territory.

It is a large town where most of the territory’s residents live, and its beautiful streetscape is characterized by white and fantastical features.

It is also famous as a tourist destination, and many tourists visit here every day.

However, it is currently completely refusing to accept tourists, and there are few people walking around the town.

It seems that infections are spreading even in the town, and the residents are afraid.

Our carriage passes through the quiet shopping district of the city, and we arrive at His Highness Ash’s residence.

The carriage was parked and we entered the mansion, facing each other in the reception room.

His Highness Ash asked me.

“Was there anything you didn’t understand from what you heard from the villagers?”

“Just one thing. I heard that the mother of the first infected child had passed away, but is it true that it was due to overwork?”

“Yeah, that woman wasn’t infected. There were no symptoms that suggested it seen in her body.”

“I see.”

So, being together doesn’t make you more susceptible to infection?

But I can’t judge based on just one case.

I must be careful not to get infected.

“Is there anything else?”

“No, that was the only thing I wanted to ask about.”

“I see. Well then, would it be okay for you to start working from today?”

“Yes!”

I gave a clear and enthusiastic answer to restore my motivation.

Then, Fusaki-kun also raised his hand widely.

“I’ll help too! If there’s anything we need, I’ll go get it!”

“Sure. I’m counting on you.”

Yuren-kun then asked His Highness.

“Brother.”

“I understand. You also help out and lend your strength.”

“Thank you.”

Yuren-kun bows his head to His Highness.

I want to thank him instead.

I also bow with him, and His Highness waves his hand while saying “good, good.”

“Words of gratitude can wait until everything is settled! So, I’m counting on you, the Transmutation Master with high expectations.”

“Yes.”

I swear to work with all my might to meet those expectations.

◇◇◇

At the same time Aria and the others arrived,

The earth shook in the north of Luia, and the surrounding villages were devastated.

All the villagers perished.

The cause of death was said to be the shaking and the collapse of buildings, but thorn patterns were found on the bodies of young villagers.

Chapter 62: Start of work!

People infected with a strange illness are isolated in a building owned by His Highness Ash.

When you hear the word isolation, you might think they are being confined, but in reality, it is a little different.

Not only are medical services provided, but a system is in place for comfortable living, including food, clothing, shelter, and entertainment, with consideration given to any inconvenience.

It is all thanks to His Highness Ash’s thoughtfulness.

He even rented rooms for us to use for work and prepared materials that could be used for transmutation.

He thinks of everything in detail.

“His Highness Ash looks tough, but he’s actually very meticulous, isn’t he?”

“That’s just how he is, my brother.”

The three of us were walking through the town.

It wasn’t just a casual stroll around the town, we were heading towards a certain place.

Although the city is beautiful, I can’t say I don’t want to do some sightseeing.

“…No one’s here.”

“Yeah.”

I don’t feel like playing when I see such a bleak view.

We quickened our pace.

Our destination was one of the buildings owned by His Highness Ash.

This is where those who have been infected with the strange disease and have passed a relatively long period of time have been living.

Inside was very beautiful and white, and it was quieter than the plain-looking streets.

Rooms were prepared for each of them, and they were living inside.

“Hello.”

No answer.

While they were not dead, it was clear that they were in a dangerous condition.

Their breathing was shallow and short.

They had a continued fever, and their physical strength was rapidly being depleted.

The thorn emblem was already trying to cover their whole body.

“How terrible.”

“Yeah. Aria, let’s go check on the others.”

“…okay.”

I wanted to do something here.

Suppressing that feeling, we go from room to room.

Everyone had serious symptoms, and we couldn’t hold a decent conversation.

“This is the last room.”

“If we could at least talk to them a little…”

“Yeah, but…”

It was difficult.

Fusaki-kun had also only mentioned it with little expectation.

We opened the last door and greeted them.

“Hello.”

Then——

“Welcome…”

An answer came back.

The person lying on the bed in the sickroom was looking at us with vacant eyes.

We hurried to the bedside.

“Excuse me for intruding suddenly. I am Aria, a Transmutation Master dispatched from the royal palace.”

“… A Transmutation Master…”

“Yes, can I ask you a few questions?”

“…Ah, sure.”

He answered in a vacant manner.

He wasn’t fully conscious.

His eyes were half-closed, almost as if he was about to fall asleep.

He would not be able to answer long and complicated questions.

With that understanding, I decided to ask only one rough question.

“Have you noticed anything different since you got sick? If you have, even something small, please let me know.”

“What I’ve noticed is… it’s hot, I feel tired, and it’s dark.”

“Dark?”

I understood his statement from the fever and fatigue.

But, dark?

I hadn’t heard of such symptoms.

Could it be that it was related to his vision?

As I was thinking, he continued to speak.

“I have dreams…”

“Dream?”

“Yes… it was a dream. In a dark forest, there was a pitch-black lump… and it slowly approached me. That thing was… a monster.”

“A monster?”

After that, the man fell asleep.

I called out to him, but he didn’t wake up.

It seems his physical limit has been reached.

He won’t wake up for a while.

No, maybe there’s a possibility that he won’t wake up at all…

“Thank you very much.”

I bow to him and leave the room.

Then I hurried back to the mansion and told His Highness Ash what he had said.

“A monster… he said that, right?”

“Yes.”

“We heard it, too. There’s no mistake, Brother.”

“I see, a monster…”

His Highness Ash thinks hard with a troubled expression.

If I simply say that it’s just a dream, that’s all there is to it, but I intuitively felt that it was not unrelated.

Perhaps not just me, but Yuren-kun and Fusaki-kun, and even Prince Ash, will twist their heads around the words he left behind.

“Is it possible that monsters are related to this disease?”

“Yes, I also think so. There have been many diseases that have spread due to monsters.”

“I see. It does overlap with the time when the number of monsters increased. Maybe their increasing violence is not unrelated either.”

Saying this, His Highness Ash stands up from his chair.

“I’m going to deal with the monsters now. I’ll leave the rest to you.”

“By ‘deal with the monsters,’ do you mean go and defeat them?”

“Yeah, but no matter how many I defeat, they just keep multiplying. It’s really troublesome.”

His Highness waves his hands in frustration.

The story about the increasing number and violence of monsters is worrisome.

“Um, if it’s possible, could you bring the corpses of the defeated monsters?”

“Hmm? Yeah, sure. That’s an easy task.”

“Thank you.”

“Take care, brother.”

“Yeah.”

And so, His Highness Ash goes out to defeat the monsters.

We head towards the prepared room and face the Transmutation Circle.

Chapter 63: All-purpose potion

On the desk next to the Transmutation Circle, there were rows of wooden boxes filled with materials.

Apparently, they were items that Ash-dono had prepared in advance, thinking that they might be necessary.

They included medicinal herbs, herbs, materials taken from beasts and animals, and so on.

It seems that the materials needed to make potions are mostly available.

“There are various materials here.”

“If we have all these, we should be able to make it.”

“A healing potion? I heard we’ve already tried it.”

Potions used for wound treatment or to reduce fever.

There are several types of them, and it seems that none of them were effective when given to patients.

Well, it seems that there was a temporary effect.

However, the symptoms immediately relapsed.

Even if there was a temporary effect, the patients refused to continue using them.

Because when the pain or discomfort is relieved for a moment, the shock when it relapses is significant.

They said they didn’t want to use it if it was like that.

“That’s why we’ll make potions that haven’t been tried yet.”

“Haven’t tried it? Do you have a new idea?”

“It’s a new one, I think. It’s an all-purpose potion in the middle of research.”

“An all-purpose potion?! You’ve even made something like that?”

Yuren-kun said in amazement.

I knew he was trying to compliment me, but I quickly clarified.

“It’s still in the middle of research, and calling it an all-purpose potion is just something I decided on my own.”

“I see. But if it’s called all-purpose, it must be effective, right?”

“I tried it when I worked at the royal palace, and it was found to be effective for most diseases that exist now.”

“Well, that’s good enough!”

I shook my head, feeling sorry for Yuren-kun’s delight.

“It was only effective for existing diseases. I don’t know if it has any effect on anything else…”

“That’s because there’s nothing to test, right?”

“Yeah. So we have to try it out to see if it works.”

The same went for this case.

It was a new disease that I had never seen or heard of before.

And if monsters were involved in the cause, the situation would only become more complicated.

To be honest, I don’t think this will cure everything.

But if we can alleviate the symptoms even a little and produce something with lasting effects, we may be able to ease everyone’s suffering.

That’s why I decided to make this while waiting for His Highness Ash to return.

“I want to try everything before His Highness Ash returns.”

“Understood. If you can teach me the process, I can help too.”

“Since I can’t perform transmutation, I’ll help with everything else!”

“Thank you, both of you. Okay, let’s begin.”

Both of them nodded in agreement.

The production of the all-purpose potion “‘temporary” began.

There are five main ingredients.

Herbs, fruits, animal horns, water, and medicinal herbs.

We gathered seven types of medicinal herbs, all of which have anti-inflammatory and fever-reducing effects, and selected those with long-lasting effects.

We also chose herbs with anti-inflammatory effects.

Some of them have effects that calm the mind, not just the body, because when people are suffering, their minds are easily wounded.

I hope to enable everyone to spend their days in peace and calm, even if only a little.

There were also three kinds of fruits:

nutritious, blood circulation-promoting, and preventing new infections.

Each ingredient has a potent effect and strong acidity.

The taste of the fruits often remains unchanged in the potion.

Usually, I increase the ingredients to dilute the sourness, but this time, let’s leave it as is.

The sourness can be a good wake-up call.

For animal bones, I use the powder of the antlers of an animal called Yōreijika.

It has been used as a healing material for a long time.

Although it is not commonly used today, it has good compatibility with other herbs.

By combining it with other ingredients, I can enhance its medicinal effects.

Finally, water.

It is the most essential ingredient in potion-making.

Some may think it’s too obvious, but water plays an important role in connecting each ingredient.

Pure water without any dyes can dissolve other ingredients without interfering with them.

The ratio of ingredients is 30% medicinal herbs, 20% herbs, 10% fruits and antlers, and the rest water.

Place these ingredients in the Transmutation Circle with the bottle for the finished product.

Then, imagine the potion to be created and combine it within the Transmutation Circle.

Understanding of the materials and a concept for the finished product are required.

If these are not precise and quick, the transmutation will fail.

If it were an easy job that anyone could do as long as they had the materials, it would have been much easier.

I focus while feeling sweat running down my forehead and cheeks.

“You’re really focused.”

“That’s because transmutation is a difficult thing. The more materials you have, the harder it becomes. Aria is probably the only one in the world who can process that many materials.”

Even while concentrating, I can hear Yuren-kun’s voice.

Normally, I would answer humbly, saying it’s not true, but unfortunately I don’t have that luxury now.

Since I was in the middle of research, my imagination was incomplete.

I feel like if I lose my concentration even a little, I will fail.

If that happens, the materials used in the transmutation will disappear completely.

“Just a little more…”

I approach the finished product.

The moment when imagination and reality connect.

“——Done!”

The All-purpose potion is complete.

Chapter 64: Tearful farewell

With the finished potion in hand, I visit the facility where the severely ill patients are being treated.

Not much time has passed since my last visit.

But…

“Ugh, ah…”

His condition had worsened.

His body was covered in thorny patterns, the same one that he had told me about.

He cried out in pain, and a large amount of sweat dripped down, indicating high fever.

“That’s… It wasn’t up to his neck just now.”

When we first visited, his thorns had progressed up to his chest.

It had only been about four hours since then.

But in just that amount of time, the thorns had started to invade his face.

They had already crossed his wrists and ankles.

“This is bad. I heard that once the thorn patterns reach the entire body, it’s——”

——Death.

The progression of the thorns means the end of a life.

His life was about to end.

“What should we do, Nee-san?”

“…Let’s quickly try to give him the potion. Technically, we need his consent, but there’s no other way right now.”

“I agree. He won’t last long like this anyway. We should do it if there’s a chance he can be saved.”

Yuren-kun is right.

I can’t just sit back and watch someone’s life end.

I pull out a potion bottle.

“Fusaki-kun.”

“Understood. I’ll support him, so please give him the potion to drink.”

“I’ll help too.”

“Thank you.”

The two of them lift the man up, supporting him with their hands around his shoulders and back.

It’s not a good thing to give liquid to someone with an uncertain consciousness because there is a risk of it mistakenly entering the lungs.

Even considering that risk, I determined that we should give it to him now.

I pour the potion into his mouth.

The almost all-purpose potion flows down his throat and into his body.

The effect of the potion is immediate.

As soon as you drink it, the effect is shown.

On the other hand, if it doesn’t show immediately, it won’t work at all.

We hold our breath as we listen to the sound of him gulping the potion.

“Uu…ah…who are you guys?”

He moves his mouth and looks at me.

His consciousness is much clearer than the first time we met.

It seems like his rough breathing is starting to calm down.

I met the two of them and was pleased to see the effect of the potion.

I then returned my gaze to him and spoke slowly.

“Hello. Can you hear me?”

“Yes…I can hear you.”

That’s good.

He can hear me and is responding properly.

“Nice to meet you. I am Aria, a Transmutation Master from the royal palace.”

“Transmutation Master…?”

It doesn’t seem to ring a bell.

It looks like he doesn’t remember the first introduction.

He was unconscious at that time, so it’s not surprising that he doesn’t remember.

“How’s your body feeling? Any pain or discomfort?”

“…It’s strange, but I don’t feel any pain. No discomfort either. Did you do something?”

“Yes, I had you drink a potion I made. I’m sorry for taking the liberty.”

“I see. That’s why I feel…oh, but…”

For a moment, he showed a happy expression.

However, sad tears soon flowed from his eyes.

“Are you okay? Perhaps the potion’s effect has already worn off.”

“No, thanks to you, it’s very easy.”

Despite saying so, he had a very sad expression on his face.

I don’t understand the meaning of his expression.

The potion’s effect should be working properly.

Otherwise, we wouldn’t even be able to have a conversation.

“… My wife… is at a clothing store to the west of town. Could you give her a message?”

“A message?”

“Yes. I want her to know… my last words.”

“Last words?”

But I heard sad words from him.

In other words, it’s a dying wish.

“Thank you for the potion. It made it easier… but I know. I don’t have much time left. You realize it too…don’t you?”

“…”

That’s right.

I realize it.

I can see it, so I can’t help but know.

The potion has alleviated his symptoms.

Except for the one thing that hasn’t changed at all.

“The pattern…”

“Ah, it hasn’t disappeared. Rather――.”

As Yuren-kun was about to say it, it began to spread.

Fusaki-kun has also noticed.

The potion may have calmed the symptoms, but it has not cured the disease.

It will probably follow the same course as the potions tried before.

A result of temporary improvement, followed by further pain and suffering.

“…”

“Don’t make that face. Your potion is amazing. Thanks to it, I was able to have… this time to talk with you.”

He speaks kind words to me.

Towards me, who laments her own powerlessness while realizing one’s own mortality.

I feel like crying.

I want to avert my eyes and ears.

Still, I listen to his words.

To witness his last moments.

“Message, please.”

“Thank you. To my wife… just one thing… I was happy to be with you. Please… find your own happiness too. Please tell her that.”

“Yes. I will definitely tell her.”

He is truly a kind person.

Until the very end, he wishes for someone’s happiness.

Afterwards, he closes his eyes.

He falls into an eternal sleep, never to wake up again.

“Ugh…”

Tears fell from my eyes uncontrollably.

I couldn’t bear it any longer and it overflowed.

Yuren-kun gently placed his hand on my shoulder without saying anything, just watching over me.

On that day, I experienced a person’s death for the first time.

Chapter 65: Trial and error

His name was Teima-san.

His wife’s name was Haruki-san.

As he had told me, I ran a clothing store in the west of the town.

The store was closed due to these circumstances, but when we arrived, a beautiful woman greeted us.

“Hello. You’re Teima-san’s wife, right?”

“Yes. And who might you be?”

She was perplexed by our sudden visit, unaware of the situation.

Yes, she still didn’t know.

About the passing of her beloved.

I felt a desire not to convey the news.

Upon hearing Teima-san’s last words, I could imagine that the time they spent together must have been filled with happiness.

This imagination was surely not wrong.

Because his last moments were filled with kindness.

It was unimaginable that his partner hadn’t moved on from it yet.

But that’s why I had to tell her.

The words that I had received.

Teima-san’s last words that he left for me.

“I-haa… I have something important to tell you.”

I explained the situation to her.

Our situation was simple, but I took a long time to tell her about Teima-san’s passing.

Put emphasis on my words and try to convey them as they are.

And…

“I see… He said that?”

“Yes.”

Tears streamed down Haruki-san’s face.

Even though she tried to smile, she couldn’t contain her overflowing emotions.

I knew she would cry.

I thought I was prepared for it, but seeing her sad face in front of me made my heart feel like it was about to burst into tears.

“Thank you… very much.”

“Huh…”

“He was in a state where he couldn’t even speak. I am happy just hearing his last words.”

She said that with a smile.

Expressing her deepest gratitude while shedding tears.

Her kind words reached my chest, which I had lamented about not being able to do anything.

“Please do your best, okay? I will do my best for him too.”

“…Yes, definitely.”

I will definitely do something so that no one else will have to face an unwanted separation like the two of them did.

I have only one thing to do.

◇◇◇

Upon returning to the Transmutation Circle room, I quickly took out all the necessary materials and arranged them neatly on the desk.

While inspecting each material, I began to organize my thoughts.

“The potion from earlier had some effect. But it didn’t solve the underlying issue. In other words, this sickness has symptoms similar to a cold but is actually entirely different…”

I spoke out loud, but I wasn’t addressing anyone in particular.

By vocalizing my thoughts, I repeated them over and over in my mind.

“Fevers and fatigue are just secondary symptoms… No, what if the cause is something else entirely? Maybe it’s not a bacterium or virus.”

If the cause of the sickness is linked to a monster, should I wait for the return of His Highness Ash?

But I don’t know when he’ll come back, and waiting might result in more victims.

People are suffering while I’m contemplating.

I need to move forward, even if it’s just a little.

“Fusaki-kun! Could you go to the town’s pharmacy and get some herbs for me? I’ll leave the list here.”

“Understood! I’ll be right back!”

“Thank you. Yuren-kun, I need your help with the transmutation. We’ll divide it into steps.”

“Got it. But I can only handle up to a certain step?”

“Yeah, that’s enough for now.”

As long as the efficiency increases, we can move onto the next step.

Despite the limited information, let’s try a few patterns that we can test for now.

The bare minimum is to extend the effect time of the all-purpose potion.

Previous potions had some effect, but they were temporary and caused major backlash.

That burdened the patients’ bodies and minds.

By lengthening the effect time, we can alleviate some anxiety and give them some freedom even if the symptoms progress.

“I’ll try thirteen patterns from now on.”

“Oh, it’s just Aria… No, it’s nothing.

Yuren-kun probably wanted to tell me not to push myself too hard.

But he kept his mouth shut.

He realized that I wouldn’t stop even if he said those words.

I’m sorry, Yuren-kun.

But don’t worry.

I always consider my own well-being too.

If you want to help someone, make sure you’re safe first.

Remember the obvious.

If I collapse, everyone will be in trouble.

So I try my best in the nick of time to prevent that from happening.

“Next pattern!”

“Got it!”

“I’ve got the materials! If we need more, I’ll go get them.”

Everyone worked together in unity to perform transmutation.

We trial and errored.

We tried all available patterns.

Although it’s bad for sick people, they have to be test subjects sometimes.

Healthy people are useless.

We tried the finished potion without consent or refusal.

Without failure, there’s no success.

Just repeat the process.

That’s all we can do.

And just like that, time flew by.

Five days later.

His Highness Ash returned from the monster hunt.

Chapter 66: Troops that do not return

“Nee-san! Yuren-dono! Ash-dono has returned!”

“My brother has!”

I was a bit slow to react while facing the Transmutation Circle.

After hearing the report from Fusaki-kun who rushed into the room, Yuren-kun stopped working and told me:

“Aria, let’s go see my brother. We need to talk about that issue.”

“…Yeah.”

“I know you’re not excited about it, but…”

“It’s okay. I haven’t given up yet.”

Out of the thirteen patterns I have worked on, unfortunately, none of them have produced significant results.

While there was temporary relief of symptoms, it was far from a full recovery.

If I had to point out a result, it would be that the duration of symptom relief has increased.

As someone who was entrusted with watching over His Highness Ash’s absence, I wanted to help as many people as possible. But reality is that people are dying right in front of me.

But I can’t let myself get depressed.

Fighting against this disease is something only I can do.

“Let’s go. Yuren-kun, Fusaki-kun.”

“Okay.”

“Understood.”

◇◇◇

It seems that His Highness Ash, who had returned, was in the medical room.

We hurried to his side.

Yuren-kun opened the door boldly without even knocking.

“Brother!”

“Hmm? Oh, Yuren, Aria and Fusaki are here too.”

If he was in the medical room, it must mean he was injured.

So we rushed over, but he seemed to be in good health.

He was sitting in a chair, getting his wounds wrapped up by the doctor.

From what I could see, he had cuts and bruises all over his body, but there didn’t seem to be any major injuries.

“Brother, are you okay?”

“As you can see, it’s just a minor injury. Don’t worry, it’s not the kind of injury where I’m going to die.”

“I see.”

Yuren-kun breathed a sigh of relief and patted his chest.

I was also worried, but it seemed that he, as his brother, was the one who worried the most.

“But it’s rare. Brother getting injured and coming back like this.”

“Well, this time, it was quite violent. It was a tougher fight than I thought.”

While talking, His Highness Ash pats his own head and laughs lightly.

Even though I don’t know how terrifying monsters can be, I can’t imagine laughing like that.

It reaffirms how strong he really is.

“Excuse me, Your Highness Ash.”

“Hm? What is it?”

“If it’s okay with you, please take this. It’s a potion that can heal wounds.”

“Oh! Can I have it?”

I nod, as I had brought it with that intention.

“Thank you, that will be helpful.”

“Not at all.”

I hand him the potion and he drinks it all at once.

Immediately, the effects take place and his wounds and bruises start to heal.

“Wow, that’s amazing. Normally, medicine doesn’t work on me, but this one works instantly. Is this a special potion?”

“No, it’s just a regular potion…”

The effects are being applied as usual.

As he said, there are many people who are not responsive to medicine, and the effects of potions differ from person to person.

Generally, people who are not responsive to medicine also have a weak response to potions.

But he doesn’t seem to be like that.

“Is that so? Well, never mind. Thank you, anyway.”

“You’re welcome.”

His Highness Ash, who had recovered, rotated both arms to check for any discomfort and expressed relief upon confirming that there was none.

“By the way, how did things go on your end?”

“Well, about that…”

Yuren-kun gave me a signal with his eyes.

I nodded and spoke up, “I will explain it.”

“Go ahead.”

Afterwards, I told His Highness Ash about the information I had discovered in his absence and what had happened, specifically about the number of casualties, the difficulty developing new potions, and…

“…a monster, you say.”

“Yes. It was mentioned by one of the deceased.”

“I see.”

His Highness Ash lowered his head and began to think.

It was not the most reliable information as it was said while the person was unconscious, but since the word “monster” was mentioned, it was not an impossible story.

What would His Highness Ash think after hearing this story?

Yuren-kun asked on behalf of everyone, “What do you think, Brother?”

“…Well. If monsters are involved, then there must be something going on. As I mentioned before, lately there have been more reports of monsters becoming more violent. If it’s not unrelated then…”

His Highness trailed off mid-sentence.

Perhaps his thoughts weren’t quite organized yet?

We waited for his response.

“…Actually, there’s a unit that went missing during this exploration.”

“Missing? What happened?”

“We split up the unit for reconnaissance purposes. They were all elite knights, so we assumed they would be able to escape even if they encountered monsters. But the unit that went in a certain direction has not returned.”

According to His Highness Ash’s account, there were eight members in the unit.

All of them were veteran knights with the strength to work together even against monsters.

That’s why they were trusted to handle the reconnaissance.

In the end, another unit found one of the monsters, and His Highness went to deal with it.

However, the other unit did not return.

“That’s also why I didn’t have time to prepare any monster corpses.”

“No, it can’t be helped.”

It seemed like they couldn’t afford to do something like that.

I’m more worried about the people who have disappeared than my own request.

“I wanted to go search for them too, but I got injured and was too pathetic to do so. My subordinates stopped me.”

“I see. Well, your subordinates made the right call.”

“I know, Yuren. But I can’t let it go. I’m planning to go confirm, and if the monsters are related to this disease…”

At this point, I could sense what His Highness was thinking.

He was strong.

Strong enough to not lose to monsters.

But being strong alone couldn’t win against the disease.

The only ones who could fight against the disease… were those with that power.

“Aria, can you come with me?”

“——Yes.”

It was just me.

So there was no other answer to the question but “yes.”

From the beginning, I didn’t even have the choice to refuse.

Chapter 67: Danger zone

The forest in the northern part of the Ayre Territory.

It is a dangerous area where monsters have been confirmed, and entry is prohibited without the Lord’s permission.

The vast nature holds abundant resources, and many voices of the residents expressed a desire to make effective use of them.

In response to those voices, His Highness Ash has been planning and implementing a project to eliminate the monsters in the forest.

The plan was proceeding smoothly, and it seemed that the extermination would be completed soon. But then, an epidemic spread throughout the domain.

“At around the same time, while I was busy with the epidemic, the monsters started to increase again. They increased to almost the same level as at the beginning, and I was surprised.”

“I’ve heard that monsters have a high reproductive ability. It’s not your fault,Brother.”

“I know that, but I still feel like I should have done more.”

It was His Highness Ash’s responsibility that the number of monsters had increased.

If the epidemic was due to the monsters, His Highness Ash felt that it was even more so his responsibility.

I don’t think there’s a need to be so obsessed with such thoughts, but perhaps this is the responsibility of being a lord.

As one entrusted with the land and the livelihood of the people.

“I mean, Yuren, Fusaki, too. You didn’t have to come with us.”

“What are you talking about!? I am Nee-san’s guard, remember?”

“Well, that may be true for you. But Yuren didn’t have to come with us, did he?”

“…You’re being mean, Brother.”

Yuren-kun pouted a bit and let out a sigh as if he had given up.

“Well, it’s not an option not to come along.”

“For Aria’s sake?”

“Yes.”

Yuren-kun answered firmly.

His straightforwardness made my heart beat faster.

But if it’s the Yuren-kun I know, I didn’t think he only acted for that reason.

“But that’s not the only reason. The lives of the people in this land are at risk. I can’t just stand by and do nothing either.”

“That’s right. You’re that kind of guy.”

Yes, that’s the kind of person he is.

He wants to help those in need.

He can’t just leave someone who is suffering and going through a hard time.

“And besides, I’m strong, you know? I’ve been trained by my older brother after all.”

“Hahaha! That’s right, that’s right! I feel more confident with you around too. I’m counting on you, Yuren.”

“Yes, leave it to me.”

“Hey, hey, don’t leave me out of the fun! I can be useful too, you know!”

Fusaki-kun seemed a little jealous watching the conversation between the trusting brothers. The two of them comforted him with some patting on the back.

“We know, we know.”

“We’re counting on you too, Fusaki.”

It was a heartwarming scene. Even though the relationship between His Highness Ash and Yuren-kun was different, these three also seemed like close brothers.

Suddenly, I thought of my own little sister. Was she doing well now? Once this job was finished, I decided to go see her.

“――!”

“What’s wrong, Fusaki?”

“I hear something coming closer. It’s… three, no wait, four? It doesn’t sound like a human’s footsteps.”

His words heightened our vigilance.

Even though a peaceful atmosphere flowed, one should not forget that this is a forest where monsters dwell, a dangerous zone.

“Something with four legs is coming. From both sides.”

“Alright, everyone be on guard! The monsters are approaching!”

Following Ash’s directions, the knights who accompanied us drew their swords and readied themselves.

Splitting evenly to the left and right, I stood in the center to not get in the way.

“Monsters…”

There is fear.

I do not know the horror of monsters.

That is why I find it scary.

Even though I knew that when I came along, when a crisis approaches, my body trembles.

“It’s okay. Stay behind me.”

“Okay.”

Before me, there is a reliable back.

As he readied his sword, my trembling body calmed down.

And then——

“It’s coming!”

At the same time as Fusaki-kun’s voice, a monster jumped out from between the trees.

It had a wolf-like appearance with black fur.

It was a type of monster called a Black Wolf, which claimed forests and grasslands as their territory.

I read in a book that they are intelligent monsters that move in groups and lay traps to catch prey.

Four monsters approached, two from each side.

“Don’t be afraid, guys! It’s just four of them, no big deal!”

There were twenty knights here.

In terms of numbers, they had an overwhelming advantage and were accustomed to fighting monsters.

It did not seem like they were struggling against the monsters.

In fact, even without doing anything, His Highness Ash and his knights dealt with the situation.

They surrounded the monsters in a formation and took them down one by one.

“Oh, it doesn’t look like we’ll get to participate—another one is coming!”

“What? Where?!”

“I hear something… it’s coming from above!”

Fusaki-kun shouts.

When we looked up, a wolf jumped down from the sky.

It seems like it had been approaching by jumping from tree to tree.

It landed in the center of the formation.

The monster came towards me from directly above.

But——

“Get down, Aria!”

“Okay!”

As I crouched down, Yuren-kun stood right next to me and faced the approaching wolf.

With its sturdy fangs, the wolf landed on the ground after deflecting the sword. The monster and Yuren-kun, who held his sword in readiness, stared at each other.

After a brief moment of silence, the wolf leapt towards Yuren-kun.

It was a swift movement.

However, Yuren-kun remained composed and cut through the wolf’s movement with his sword.

He sliced through its open jaws and body effortlessly, showing a flawless victory.

“A-Amazing…Yuren-kun.”

“Black wolves may be monsters, but their movements are similar to those of quick dogs. It’s nothing.”

He said it easily, but he was so quick that I couldn’t follow with my eyes.

He was stronger than the knights.

He had been saying so since a long time ago, but now I could confirm that it was indeed the truth.

I had truly…met an amazing person.

Chapter 68: Deep into the fog

The knight defeats the last monster.

Even after the battle is over, Ash-sama remains vigilant and asks Fusaki.

“Fusaki, is there anyone else approaching?”

“Just a moment, please,” replies Fusaki-kun as he listens carefully.

His senses are much sharper than those of an average person.

He can hear sounds and feel the dangerous atmosphere on his skin.

“It seems to be okay. This seems to be the last one for now.”

“I see. Aria.”

“Yes.”

“We’ll only have a few minutes, but I need you to examine their bodies.”

Ash-sama points to the relatively intact body of a black wolf that he had killed.

“Thank you.”

Reluctantly, I approach the dead body and squat down to examine it.

It’s still scary even though it’s dead.

However, since I had asked for this opportunity and it had been prepared for me, I can’t back down now.

“Okay.”

With determination, I touch the wolf’s body.

The fur and texture are rough, but it’s not much different from that of a dog.

The blood is also red.

Including its black appearance, it almost looks like a normal animal.

If we eliminate its ferocity, where does the difference between a monster and an animal lie?

As I ponder this, I part its fur and examine its skin.

Then——

“――This is a thorny pattern…”

The same thorny pattern that spreads as a strange illness in the territory is also visible on the monster’s skin.

“Did you find something?”

“Look, Yuren-kun.”

“Is this… the same pattern?”

“Yeah.”

It’s almost certain now.

The thorny pattern disease is related to monsters.

“Thank you, Your Highness Ash.”

“Are you done?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. Return to formation! Let’s move on!”

Under His Highness Ash’s orders, the knights reform their formation and continue walking in the same state before the battle.

Amidst their trained movements, I feel like I am a bit out of place.

“But it’s strange.”

“What is it, Brother?”

“That monster from earlier. Normally, it wouldn’t attack such a large group like us.”

Monsters move on instinct.

Instincts for survival and sharpened senses.

They would not hesitate to use any means necessary to survive.

That is why they do not challenge opponents they believe they cannot beat instinctively.

“Black wolves are monsters that move in packs and do not attack opponents that outnumber them. But this time, they attacked without hesitation. It’s abnormal.”

“I see… it may be related to a strange disease. Perhaps it’s a disease that originally only affects monsters.”

“I don’t think so, Yuren-kun. If that were the case, there would be no reason for it to spread to humans. The symptoms probably vary depending on the source of infection.”

If it infects a monster, it becomes violent, and if it infects a human, it becomes weak.

That’s what I suspect the disease is.

“If that’s the case, it’s a troublesome story. It’s like someone is doing it to keep the monsters alive.”

“If it’s intentional… then it’s frightening.”

An ominous atmosphere hung in the air.

Perhaps because of the scary story being told, I felt the air turn cold.

My body trembled involuntarily.

At first, I thought it was pathetic that my body was trembling with fear.

But in reality, it was different.

“…Mist.”

I murmur quietly.

Before I knew it, a thin mist had appeared in the forest.

The chill was not fear, but a drop in temperature that had actually occurred.

◇◇◇

“Brother, the fog has started to appear.”

“That’s strange. Fog never appears in this forest… Be careful not to get separated. Try to stick together――Hey, where’s Aria?”

“Huh?”

“What, she was just next to me a moment ago!”

Fusaki and Yuren start to panic.

Both of them were always worried about Aria.

Despite this, she disappeared without anyone noticing.

“Aria!”

“What the hell is this fog! I can feel something coming from everywhere, but I can’t pinpoint it.”

“Could it be that this is also the work of the monsters?”

A bad feeling crosses everyone’s mind.

However, the fog around them thickens, and they are unable to move.

If they go looking for her, there is a danger of getting lost.

That’s why they can’t move.

“Aria… Where did she go?”

◇◇◇

“Yuren-kun! Everyone!”

I let my guard down… no, I don’t think I was that careless.

Before I knew it, I was surrounded by fog and standing alone.

There was no one nearby.

Even when I called out, there was no response.

I started walking towards the direction I had followed through the trees.

“Where did everyone go?”

Anxiety overwhelmed me.

It’s been a while since I truly felt so alone.

It’s scary.

I’ve been living alone for a long time.

So I thought I was used to it.

But I’m not.

I always wanted to be with someone.

I felt at ease when I spoke and received a response.

But now, that’s gone.

I realize once again the fear of being alone.

The fog in my sight covers my heart.

I can’t see anything.

No one is there.

I wish I could hear someone’s voice.

Thinking like that, I continue walking —

“Where is this…huh?”

Before I knew it, there was an unfamiliar wooden house.

It was built by a beautiful lake.

Chapter 69: Witch’s house

The mist begins to lift in some places.

The surroundings are still enveloped in thick fog, with poor visibility.

However, only one spot in front of me is now clearly visible.

It feels like the fog is avoiding the area to the left and right.

A small cabin stands by a lake that is not particularly large.

If it were in town, it would be an ordinary cabin that no one would pay any attention to.

Why am I so drawn to it?

As if the cabin is beckoning me to come over.

“――!”

I took a step forward and then stopped there.

To my surprise, my feet seemed to be drawn in, and I took three steps back hastily.

“What’s with this house…”

A little bit of fear grows within me.

A feeling of helplessness from being separated from Yuren-kun and the fear of the unknown world.

The two blend together, causing the fear to increase.

This is clearly strange.

It may not be unusual for a cabin to be in the forest, but it is unnatural for it to be in a place like this.

A forest inhabited by many monsters, where people don’t approach.

Surrounded by fog that cannot be seen through in all directions, only this area is clear.

“I should go back after all―― but…”

How should I get back?

The area behind me, after turning around, was covered in mist and I couldn’t see what was ahead.

If I were to leave this place, I would only wander in the mist again.

I couldn’t even hear Yuren-kun and the others’ voices; perhaps I had strayed too far away.

If that’s the case, moving too much might be dangerous.

Besides, I have some preparations in case of emergencies.

“… Should I go take a look?”

I made up my mind and approached the small cabin in front of me.

Strangely, as soon as I decided to go, the anxiety deep inside my heart eased.

That’s what it felt like.

Thanks to that, my footsteps were light, and I reached the vicinity of the cabin.

There was only one entrance.

I stood in front of the old but well-maintained door.

Knock, knock, knock.

After knocking three times, I called out loud inside.

“Excuse me, is anyone there——.”

Before I could finish my sentence, the door creaked open with a groan.

No one pulled it, it just opened on its own.

There was no one in front of the open door.

However, a woman was sitting back inside.

“Welcome, Young Lady. Please come inside.”

Her voice was as beautiful as a clear stream.

She was the most beautiful person I had ever met.

Should I say “bewitching”?

Her hair was a light purple color, and her eyes were a deep blue.

Her skin was so fair that it seemed to turn red with just a little bit of sunlight, and her body was delicate.

Above all, her atmosphere made her seem not human.

“What’s wrong? Come inside instead of staying outside forever.”

“W-Well…”

“It’s okay. I just have a request for you. Once we talk about it, you can quickly reunite with the others.”

“T-The others, Yuren-kun and the others?!”

Does she know?

Where Yuren-kun and the others are now.

As if being pulled by his name, I stepped into the hut.

Once my body was completely inside, the door closed on its own.

I turned around at the sound of the latch, but no one was there.

Of course, I didn’t close it.

“I’m sorry to surprise you. But it’s dangerous outside, so let’s have our talk indoors.”

“Is Yuren-kun and the others in danger?!”

I feel uneasy.

I wonder if anything unfortunate happened to them without my knowledge.

I want to ask if she knows anything about it.

Then she replies calmly.

“So his name is Yuren. Don’t worry, they are safe. They can’t go to dangerous places while they are in my mist.”

“My…mist?”

Why would she phrase it like that?

It’s like she’s saying that she’s the one generating this mist.

The mist that occurs due to a sudden drop in temperature is a natural phenomenon.

You can reproduce it on a small scale, but it’s impossible to generate a large-scale mist like the one enveloping the forest.

At least not for us humans.

If such a thing were possible——

“Magic?”

“Yes. I made this mist.”

She smiles.

The trigger to my memory is what His Highness Ash said.

He said he had the power of a magician.

If the magic I heard about is a power beyond human knowledge, then maybe it can cause this phenomenon.

But…

“You are…”

And then I remembered something else.

The name that the people around me used to call me when I started working at Yuren-kun’s royal palace.

I asked the woman in front of me fearfully.

“Um, who exactly are you?”

If she was the person I had in mind.

If she was that person.

I had to be prepared for the worst.

Sweat dripped from my forehead, and my throat was dry.

I cleared my dry throat as if to pretend I was getting a drink, then took a deep gulp.

And then——

“I am Nebel. I was once called the Witch of the Mist.”

She answered.

Clearly and without hesitation.

The name of the worst person I had expected.

Chapter 70: I can’t do that

Witch.

Once upon a time, there were magicians in the world.

One woman, known as The Witch, had the power to make the impossible possible, despite being human.

She hated the world.

She despised it.

She couldn’t answer the question of why.

Because no one knew her true feelings.

But she certainly had a strong grudge against the world.

That’s why she tried to destroy it.

In the end, her goal was not accomplished, but much blood was shed to stop her.

Since then, female magicians have become despised and feared.

Even today, in a world where magic has declined and even her name has been forgotten.

An extremely frightening presence, to say the least.

When her name is mentioned, there can be no smile.

However, she spoke it.

Unbelievably, she introduced herself.

“The… Witch of the Mist…”

“That’s what I’m called. I don’t really like it.”

Is it just a matter of personal preference?

How much does she truly understand the meaning of calling herself a witch?

Questions and apprehension well up within me.

Although my body didn’t shake, it seemed as if I was screaming to leave here right away due to the feeling of fear, which showed through my expression.

Then she…

“…Yes. You make that face, too.”

She muttered in a very lonely voice.

I didn’t understand why.

Despite calling herself a witch, she didn’t seem to like being called that.

It seemed like she was chewing on loneliness, and she had given up on the current situation.

It was just like me in the past.

“You’re…The Witch, right?”

“Yes, that’s what I’m called.”

“The witch I heard of was a really bad person. But you are…”

“That’s my predecessor. The only thing we have in common is being female. We don’t share the same beliefs or ideologies.”

She spoke in a soft tone.

At this point, the fear that I had initially felt had disappeared.

What remained was only the anxiety towards Yuren-kun and the pure curiosity towards her.

“You’re not…a bad person, are you?”

“I think so. Didn’t I call you here because I have a request?”

“A request… does that mean you want me to do something?”

I wonder if she called me here for something related to Transmutation Arts.

Or is it something else that she wants?

I brace myself and wait for her answer.

“It’s not just you. I have the same request for the people who came with you… Please don’t go any further. I want you to go back.”

“Huh?”

It’s not the request I was expecting.

It’s not like she wants me to create something or give her something.

What she wanted was for us to leave this place.

“…Why?”

“Because it’s dangerous.”

“Dangerous?”

“There’s a very scary monster living beyond here. That’s why it’s best not to approach.”

I heard the word “monster” from her.

It might be the monster that we are searching for.

Feeling excited at the thought, I forget her warning and ask her again.

“So there’s a monster deep in the forest? What kind of monster is it?”

“It has the appearance of a big cocoon. Its miasma causes other monsters to become violent. If you get too close, it can also affect humans.”

“Miasma…so that’s it.”

The cause of the spreading disease?

The monster that unleashes a miasma that affects humans and causes other monsters to become violent.

There is a sense of combining the hypothesis together, which was nothing but a mere idea.

“Could you tell me more about that monster?”

“Why?”

“We came to the forest to find that monster!”

“…That’s not a good idea.”

To calm my excitement, she denied it in a cold, low voice.

For a moment, I felt a chilling sensation.

“But we…”

“That monster is very terrifying. At the very least, it’s not an opponent that a mere human can defeat. You’re going to die, you know?”

“Death…?”

“Yes. So don’t go any further. I don’t want any unnecessary bloodshed.”

She speaks with a sad, pained voice.

Is she worried about us?

She looks at me with a concerned gaze.

“Death…”

As soon as I heard the word “death,” I imagined a terrible image of Yuren-kun’s gruesome death.

It’s not like I haven’t thought about it.

It was certain that the place we were aiming for was full of danger.

I think we all had the worst-case scenario in the back of our minds.

But nobody said it out loud in order to reign in the fear and move forward.

If you’re human, death is scary.

It’s foolish to willingly put yourself in danger when you might die.

But…

So many people are suffering.

They are facing death.

Living in fear without knowing if they will survive the day.

Living with the thought that someone they care about might die tomorrow.

We came here to help them.

“I’m sorry.”

I answer.

It makes me realize what we came here for.

“We came here for the sake of survival. So, I can’t fulfill that request.”

Chapter 71: Humans and witches

“For the sake of survival?”

“Yes.”

“I told you before. If you confront that, death is waiting.”

“There is a lot of death waiting for us, even if we overlook it.”

There are people suffering.

There are those who have fought against unknown diseases and lost.

The remaining people shed tears, and the wet ground will eventually dry out.

Yet, the sorrow remains for a lifetime.

“Because of that monster, everyone is suffering. Until now and even today… Many people are dying.”

“That is a sad thing.”

Yes.

In order to break the chain of sadness, we stepped into this forest.

We knew it was dangerous.

We cannot stop now that the cause is right in front of us.

If even I, who is easily frightened, think that way, Yuren-kun and the others will definitely not stop.

“So, I’m sorry. I can’t take that warning.”

“…I see. You are firm in your decision.”

“Yes.”

I answered clearly.

Then she let out a small sigh, as if in exasperation.

“Sigh, no matter the era, people are stubborn.”

As she muttered those words, there was a clanking sound from behind her back.

When I looked back, the door had opened by itself.

“I won’t stop you anymore. You may do as you please.”

“Yes…I’m sorry.”

“There’s no need to apologize. I gave you a warning, but it doesn’t matter to me which way you choose.”

‘Now, go,’ she gestured to me with her eyes.

I walked towards the door as she instructed.

But I couldn’t help but be curious.

I stopped and turned back to ask her.

“Nebel-san, why are you here?”

“Why what?”

“In such a dangerous place, with a monster in front of you. If the miasma is the cause of illness, you might get sick too someday.”

“Fufu, are you worried about me, The Witch?”

She smiled happily.

Her smile was innocent and childlike.

Even though we were both girls, I felt a little flutter in my heart.

“But there’s no need to worry. I don’t get sick. Even if it’s toxic to humans, it doesn’t affect me. The monsters is a bit of a nuisance, but as long as I have this mist barrier, it won’t come near.”

“I see… In that case, a mist, a barrier of mist…”

It suddenly came to mind.

Yes.

There was one big concern I had.

I could say that I stayed in the room to confirm it.

“Is this magic too? Can you really use so much of it without any problems? Using magic reduces your lifespan, doesn’t it?”

“Lifespan? That’s something that only applies to humans, isn’t it?”

“Eh?”

“Us witches are different. We have magical power, after all.”

I couldn’t keep up with the understanding and tilted my head in confusion.

So, is it okay because they have magical power, which is the energy for using magic?

So, witches are different from humans because they are creatures that have magical power?

“To create something, there is always a price to pay. Just as the Transmutation Art consumes materials, magic consumes magical power. Humans without magical power consume their own life force instead. That’s the only difference.”

If that’s the case, why do humans who can use magic exist?

It would be much better if there was no terrifying power that would cut their lifespan if they used it.

“Is there any meaning to the fact that magic still exists in today?”

“I don’t know. If anyone knows, then it must be only god knows.”

“Gods… Are there really gods?”

“Yes, there are. You’ve already met one of the gods, haven’t you?”

“Huh…”

With unexpected words, my thoughts suddenly stopped.

The surprise of there being a character from a fairy tale called a god was overwritten by the even greater surprise of him being near me.

“T-That means…”

“I can’t say anymore. It’s something I’m not allowed to say.”

Before I could ask who it was, she refused me.

She looked sad for some reason and advised me while looking at me.

“Well then, go now. I’ll get rid of the fog for a while. If you leave the house and go straight, you’ll meet your companions.”

“O-Okay. Thank you for teaching me so much.”

“Alright. And I can’t continue the conversation from earlier, but I’ll teach you one thing in exchange. No matter what, there are limits to a human. The way to exceed those limits is through magic… The phrase ‘inhuman’ might not be a metaphor, you know?”

“What kind of——”

I tried to ask for clarification, but when I saw her expression, I realized that she was urging me to think for myself from here on, and I withdrew the words that were about to come out.

And so I turned my back on her and slipped through the open door.

“Goodbye, kind Transmutation Master. When you come again, let’s have a more enjoyable conversation.”

When I looked back, she was nowhere to be seen.

The house was covered in thick fog, obscuring my vision.

It was as if everything I had seen up until now was an illusion.

But I could still feel her presence, in front of me.

“…Yes.”

She said “next time.”

So there must be a day when I will visit here again.

If that’s the case, then I’m happy.

There are still many things I want to ask.

Above all, the fact that there is a future means that it is so.

Chapter 72: Be prepared

Straight ahead into the mist.

If her words were true, everyone should be there ahead.

Still, nothing could be seen.

The thick fog gradually thinned out, and the faint scenery around me began to appear.

“Ariaー! If you’re there, answer me!”

Together with the opening scenery, the strong voice could be heard even from afar.

Yuren-kun was calling my name.

As soon as I realized he was nearby, my legs ran wildly on their own.

“Yuren-kun!”

“――! That voice just now, Aria!”

“I’m here!”

“Where? Where are you――.”

The mist cleared.

And there in front of me was Yuren-kun’s figure.

My heart stirred, and I ran towards him with all my momentum.

“Aria!”

“Yuren-kun!”

He caught me as I collided with him head-on, and embraced me tightly.

Feeling his warmth, my heart beat loudly and could not be suppressed.

Embarrassingly, tears were welling up in my eyes.

“I’m glad you’re safe, really.”

“Yeah. Yuren-kun and the others too.”

I’m glad that they were all safe.

Even if you believe everything will be okay, when you actually confirm that it’s safe, your body relaxes and your strength leaves you.

When we embrace each other, we can hear each other’s heartbeats echoing.

I want to stay like this for a while.

It feels like there’s no one else in this space but the two of us, but that’s not actually the case.

“Oh come on! I’m glad you’re okay, but it’s hard to react when you’re cuddling like that right in front of me.”

With a taken aback tone, His Highness Ash’s voice brings us back to reality.

We’re in a dangerous forest, and there are knights other than us here.

We realized that we were being watched very closely as we hugged each other.

“S-Sorry, brother.”

“I’m sorry! I-I’m just really happy to see you again.”

We separate and offer excuses.

But His Highness Ash just laughs and says, “I understand.”

While I was gone, they were looking for me desperately.

“Yuren was especially worried. He seemed like he was going to go search for you alone if we left him alone.”

“Well, it can’t be helped. I was worried, you know.”

“Hahaha, I guess so. So, where have you been until now?”

“Well, actually——”

As I was about to answer His Highness Ash’s question, Nebel-san’s face appeared in my mind.

My mouth closed to speak about her, and there was a moment of silence.

“Aria?”

“…I was lost in the mist. I wandered around looking for everyone and finally found you all when the mist cleared.”

“I see. Is there anything wrong with your body?”

“No. Are you all okay?”

After that, I listened to Yuren-kun and the others explain the situation in an indifferent manner.

It might have seemed a little unnatural.

But I felt like I shouldn’t talk about it.

Because Nebel-san was a witch.

If I told them about the fact that Nebel-san was a witch, she might not be able to stay there anymore.

I didn’t want to ruin the peace that Nebel-san had because of their concern for me.

But…that wasn’t the only reason.

The reason why I didn’t talk about Nebel-san was unclear to me as well.

“Anyway, we can resume our exploration now. Maybe it’s because the fog cleared, but we can feel the presence of monsters more easily.”

His Highness Ash said as he pointed deep into the forest.

Between the trees, nothing was visible. A pathless path continued.

The lake where I met the witch was just a little to the left.

“I feel a strong presence ahead. The moment the fog clears, I can feel it, so maybe that’s what’s behind the fog too.”

“Then why did it suddenly clear up, brother?”

“I don’t know. Maybe it was just a periodic occurrence. Let’s proceed cautiously and be on guard.”

“Yes.”

With His Highness Ash and Yuren-kun leading the way, we walked towards the direction of the presence.

At first, only His Highness Ash could sense it.

However, as we approached, I could feel an abnormal presence as well.

And not just one or two, but the presence of several dark entities gathered together.

After walking for a few minutes, His Highness Ash abruptly stopped.

“This will definitely not be easy from now on. Brace yourselves! It’s going to be a fight where you’ll be risking your lives!”

“Lives…”

Nebel-san’s words echoed in my mind.

If humans were to challenge this fight——they would die.

If his words hold true, then we will certainly shed a lot of blood from now on.

I’m prepared.

I have no intention of turning back now.

Still, that doesn’t mean I don’t feel fear..

“It’s alright. I will definitely protect Aria.”

“Yuren-kun…”

Yuren-kun’s words gently pushed my weak back.

Just by being with him and hearing his words, courage springs up in me.

That’s why——

“Excuse me! Before the battle starts, there is something I want to give to everyone.”

I handed out two types of potions to each person.

One was a potion that temporarily boosts your self-healing ability.

The other was a specially made resistance potion that doubles the concentration of an all-purpose medicine.

“Please drink it before the fight. I don’t have the ability to fight like all of you, but I can create something that can protect all of you.”

That’s what I can do.

My enemy is not the monsters.

The only thing I have to fight is… the Disease.

“Hahaha, that’s reassuring. Right, Yuren?”

“Yes. I will protect Aria. In return, can we entrust our lives to you?”

“Sure.”

That’s why I’m here.

Chapter 73: Castle of monsters

The presence of the monsters becomes even stronger.

With each step forward, I feel it more vividly.

I push forward, feeling the obstacles that stand in my way.

And then——

It was there in the open space.

Dark, ominous, and ferocious.

It had a shape like a black cocoon, as Nebel-san had described, but I never thought it would be exactly like that.

It truly was a cocoon.

So black that it couldn’t be seen at night.

Just staring at it made me feel like I was being sucked in.

“That’s… the monster?”

“Be careful, Yuren. That kind of monster with an unclear shape is the first I’ve seen. Clearly abnormal and strange.”

Yuren-kun gulped.

The other knights were also on high alert.

What His Highness Ash described as strange was floating by extending threads to the ground and trees.

The threads, like spider webs, were also black.

And the trees that touched the threads were withered, and the ground seemed to be rotting.

His Highness Ash, who was at the forefront, took a step forward.

With a splash, our gaze lowers.

“Water?”

“Brother, it seems that this is a lake.

As Yuren-kun said, it was a lake.

The size is about the same as the lake next to Nebel-san’s house.

However, it can no longer be called a lake.

The water is mostly dry, and the remaining little water is blackened and clearly rotten.

Miasma leaks from the monster in the cocoon.

I cover my mouth to avoid inhaling the miasma-like black fog, but some still enters.

His Highness Ash immediately held his nose upon smelling the odor.

“That stinks.”

“This rotten odor is coming directly from the miasma itself. The surrounding nature is affected, and it’s clear that this miasma and monster are the cause of the disease.”

“That’s right. However, it’s strange. Why hasn’t it done anything when we’ve come so close?”

Everyone, including Ash-dono, is already in battle mode.

They have already taken the potion I handed over and are ready to fight.

Despite this, the cocoon monster remains still.

“No… Is it possible that it can’t move? As a cost for a power that affects a wide area, does it lack attacking power in his body? If that’s the case, it’s a chance! Now’s the time to——”

“Brother!”

Yuren-kun stopped His Highness Ash, who was trying to approach.

I understood the reason.

Behind the cocoon, a large number of monsters had appeared.

“These guys, it seems like there were multiple signs but I didn’t expect this many.”

“I guess so.”

The monsters stood in front of the cocoon, guarding it.

“Get ready, you guys! It seems like we can’t attack the main body without defeating the entourage! I’ll lead the charge! Follow me!”

His Highness Ash readied his great sword and ran towards the army of monsters without hesitation.

His brave and fearless figure inspired the knights to take up their swords and follow him.

“Oooooooooooh!”

The knights raised a battle cry and followed His Highness Ash.

As they cut down the monsters blocking their path, the battle had begun.

I don’t have the power to fight, so all I can do is watch?

That’s not true.

There’s something I can do too.

I moved a little away from the location where the battle was taking place and set up a ward to repel monsters.

The ward was simple and effective only for a short time, but the monsters didn’t come near.

I created a temporary shelter in the dangerous battlefield.

“If you get injured, come over here! I’ll take a look!”

“That’s right! We have an excellent Transmutation Master with us! Fight without fear!”

Moved by my words and His Highness Ash’s voice, the knights’ morale rose even higher.

I don’t want them to push themselves too hard, but it’s enough if they gain a little courage.

“As expected of Aria. I said I would protect you, but it doesn’t seem necessary. I feel a little conflicted.”

“Then help me with this, Yuren! The wall is thick.”

“I understand, brother!”

The two fought at the front line.

His Highness Ash swung his sword vigorously, and the wind pressure blew away the monsters.

Yuren-kun cut down the four-legged monster that approached while avoiding it.

“My god, Brother just keeps getting stronger without me even knowing.”

“Well, of course! That’s just who I am!”

His Highness Ash’s fighting style is incredible, almost inhuman.

Yuren-kun, who can keep up with his movements, is also amazing.

Their battle was going smoothly, with no danger in sight and the number of monsters decreasing steadily.

However, it wasn’t going to be that easy.

Thump——

“What’s that?”

“A heartbeat?”

Thump, thump——

A huge heartbeat echoes.

We don’t need to look for the source.

“It’s the cocoon.”

It’s beating like it’s waiting for something to be born.

Immediately after, the monsters become even more aggressive.

They roar and rampage.

“What’s happening all of a sudden?!”

“Yuren, we need to hurry! It’s just a hunch, but that thing is dangerous!”

“Brother?”

“It’s a cocoon, just like it looks. There’s some crazy monster inside!”

Cocoons were originally intended to protect organisms that were in a slow and inactive state.

It protects organisms that are temporarily weak and waits for them to become active again.

If it is the same, then it means that there is something inside, and it has started to beat because activity is about to resume.

“Strike it down before it moves!”

Monsters block the way in front of the rushing His Highness Ash.

“Tch, these guys are in the way.”

The battle intensifies.

At the same time, I felt a sense of unease in my chest.

Chapter 74: Beyond the limits

Thud, thud, thud.

The sound of a massive heartbeat echoes and shakes the ground.

The sound gradually grows louder and more powerful.

Something hiding in the cocoon feels as if it could burst out at any moment.

“Hurry!”

Do not let it come out of the cocoon.

His Highness Ash must have felt it instinctively.

Although he had been attacking boldly but being cautious, he now forces his way forward.

The monsters stand in the way to block his path.

“Get out of our way! You’re in the way!”

A single swing of his great sword creates a gust of wind.

However, the monster, who has become more aggressive, resists and attacks His Highness Ash.

The monsters seem to be getting stronger, keeping pace with the cocoon’s heartbeat.

It was clear from my distant observation that the monster is beating much faster.

“Damn it! These guys are more mobile!”

“Work together! Trust each other’s backs!”

“Brother!”

“I understand!”

Their formation began to crumble.

The reason was the monsters’ aggression and a straightforward difference in strength.

The knights were by no means weak.

Still, His Highness Ash’s power far surpasses theirs, and there is a difference in their walking speed.

Yuren-kun is barely keeping up with him.

The other knights are busy dealing with monsters and can’t move from their spot.

In contrast, His Highness Ash is progressing quickly.

“Just a little more, just a little more.”

He’s cutting down the approaching monsters, as if telling himself those words.

It’s clear that he’s steadily moving forward.

As he said, the sword is just a little away from the cocoon.

But the monsters that stand in the way are desperate.

They stand before us as if to protect their own parents, even risking their own lives.

“Brother, the number of these monsters…”

“Yeah, they keep increasing.”

Their numbers aren’t decreasing at all.

The reason is that new monsters are coming one after another from the surroundings.

For every monster we defeat, two more appear, and the layers of monsters become thicker as we move forward.

Gradually, His Highness and the others’ speed also begin to slow down.

“Haa…”

“Come on, Yuren! Just a little more!”

“Okay!”

It’s a fight that’s so close to life and death that their lives are at stake.

The difficulty of avoiding death and continuing to pick up life is something I don’t understand.

Nevertheless, an overwhelming fatigue is evident.

Yuren-kun, in particular, had begun to breathe irregularly, and copious amounts of sweat were flowing down his forehead.

He had already reached his limit.

This was not just true for Yuren-kun, but also for His Highness Ash.

“Dammit, we’re almost there.”

The boss monster is right in front of our eyes.

We’re just a few steps away, and if we run, we can reach it in an instant.

However, this short distance feels infinitely far away.

The cocoon thread is starting to unravel.

“Brother, the cocoon!”

“Damn, we’re out of time.”

A new life is about to emerge from the cocoon.

As a result, the air suddenly becomes heavy.

In addition to a foul stench, an unusual odor fills the air.

Everyone present thought the same thing.

Intuitively, they felt that they shouldn’t let the monster emerge from the cocoon.

Feeling their own death approaching, their bodies tremble.

Only he, however, turns his trembling into strength and screams.

“Not yet!”

His Highness Ash lifted his great sword and kicked the ground hard.

He intends to dive into the cocoon, flying over the approaching monsters in one fell swoop.

“Brother!”

“I won’t let you!”

“No, brother! Even if it’s you, it’s reckless——”

“Reckless and audacious are just how I always am! I always surpass limitations! I’ll blow past my limits!”

His fierce back speaks volumes.

Leave it to me, he says.

As everyone rises up, with the flames of courage burning in their hearts, I am different.

My sense of foreboding intensifies.

The Witch of the Mist, Nebel-san, said it.

For humans, there are limitations, and magic is the way to easily surpass them.

Yuren-kun said it.

His Highness Ash said it.

“I’ll blow past my limits…”

“No…”

I realized what that meant.

“No, Your Highness!”

So I shouted.

With all my might, in a loud voice.

But it didn’t reach him. He ran faster than that, with impossible speed for a human.

He swung his heavy sword effortlessly, and cut through the cocoon that throbbed from the impact.

“Hah… hah…”

“You’re amazing, as expected of your highness!”

“Brother.”

Purple blood flowed from the monster’s cocoon.

Its heartbeat, which was loud enough to be heard, stopped completely, and its body stopped functioning completely.

The monsters also stopped moving altogether.

It was as if their soul had been ripped out.

The battle was over.

With our victory.

Thanks to the efforts of His Highness Ash.

“Ugh…”

“Brother?”

I was already running.

It wasn’t because the monsters had stopped moving or because the battle was over.

I just realized it.

Among those present, I was the only one who could predict such a future.

“Ugh, ah…guh…”

“Brother!”

“Your Highness Ash!”

By the time I rushed over, His Highness Ash was already kneeling.

He was clutching his chest in pain and struggling to breathe.

“Haah, sorry, Yuren…I’ll leave the rest to you.”

“Brother! Please hold on!”

He passed out, collapsing as if he couldn’t bear the pain anymore.

No matter how many times Yuren-kun or I called out to him, he didn’t respond.

Chapter 75: The price of power

The wind enters the quiet room through the window.

The curtains sway.

The book on the table is blown by the wind, flipping its pages.

Time passes calmly and peacefully.

“Ugh…”

“Brother!”

“Yuren…?”

“Yes!”

His Highness Ash, who was sleeping on the bed, woke up.

Yuren-kun talks to him with a crying face.

“Can you see my face?”

“Yeah. My body is still sluggish though.”

“I see… That’s good.”

Perhaps relieved that they can carry on a normal conversation, Yuren-kun relaxes his shoulders.

“How do you feel, your highness?”

“Aria? Well, I’m not feeling too bad, just as I said before, I feel sluggish.”

“Are you feeling any pain?”

“Not really. I didn’t get injured or anything.”

That’s right, he didn’t get injured.

He was bedridden for the past three days due to fatigue.

Both the doctor and I concluded that was the case and informed everyone.

In fact, he wasn’t injured anywhere.

“You’re pushing yourself too hard, brother. I was worried when you suddenly collapsed.”

“I’m sorry, Yuren. I also worried Aria.”

“…No, thanks to Your Highness, we were able to overcome the monster. People who were sick in the town have been recovering one after another since then.”

“Is that true?”

I nodded my head in affirmation.

The change happened the day after we returned to the town.

People who had been severely ill woke up together and showed rapid recovery.

The thorn-shaped patterns on their bodies began to disappear, and half of them were able to walk again by the next night.

“As expected, it seems that the monster was the cause of the disease. This is speculation, but maybe the people who were ill were being used as nutrients for that cocoon.”

“Nutrients… I see. That’s why healthier people were more prone to getting sick.”

“Yes. The disease was a signpost for the monster, and it was absorbing life force from far away. So I think everyone recovered because the monster was defeated.”

It was mostly my speculation, but I had a feeling that it wasn’t entirely wrong.

Everyone has recovered now, and as long as their lost stamina returns, they should be able to resume their daily lives.

“I see, I see! Then everything is settled.”

“Yes, as expected from my brother.”

“…”

——Settled… or is it?

Certainly, the issues that were happening in this town have been resolved.

But I am still carrying a feeling that I can’t conceal within my heart.

Should I ask about it now, while Yuren-kun is also present?

As I hesitate, His Highness Ash asks Yuren-kun.

“By the way, Yuren, have you reported to our father yet?”

“No, not yet. Brother was also still sleeping, so I thought it would be better to prepare to leave once he wakes up.”

“I see. Well then, sorry to ask this, but could you go ahead with the preparations to leave? I should be able to move by tomorrow, and it’s better to report to our father as soon as possible.”

“Personally, I would like you to take a bit more rest… but yes, understood.”

Yuren-kun stands up and walks towards the door of the room.

“I’ll step out for a bit. Aria, can you watch over my brother while I’m gone?”

“Sure.”

“Geez, you don’t trust me at all.”

“I’m just worried.”

With those words, Yuren-kun left the room.

Intentionally or coincidentally, I was left alone with His Highness.

Now is my chance to ask.

But before I could say anything, he spoke up.

“So, you have something you want to ask?”

He sat up as he talked.

It was intentional after all.

If that’s the case, I don’t need to pretend not to notice anymore.

“…You use magic, right?”

“I see you noticed after all.”

His Highness sighed.

He admitted it all too easily, showing a dry smile.

“How did you know?”

“…I was taught that there are limits to what humans can do, and that magic is a way to surpass those limits. Your Highness is too extraordinary, so I thought maybe that was the reason.”

“I see. That’s a good guess.”

“No…”

“It’s all thanks to Nebel-san that I noticed.”

The meaning of the last words she left behind was about His Highness Ash.

“When did it start?”

“From the beginning? It was quite a while ago. I was in a tight spot during a battle, and I relied on this power. It’s magic that transforms the body into a stronger one. The more you use it, the stronger you become.”

“But the cost of that…”

“I know.”

When humans use magic, it shortens their lifespan. To create something, an appropriate price must always be paid.

He is paying with his time of living as a human for his superhuman strength.

He himself does not know how much his lifespan has been reduced.

“Keep it a secret from Yuren.”

“B-But…”

“Please. I want to tell them with my own words. I’m trying to find a good solution before that, but I haven’t found one yet.”

He was secretly searching for a way to regain the lost lifespan since he first relied on magic.

However, he hasn’t found any significant clues yet.

Half-giving up, he spoke sadly from his own mouth.

“…Then please let me help, too!”

“Help?”

“Yes! I will search for a way to solve Your Highness’s worries together. My Transmutation Art can create something new.”

“That’s reassuring, but don’t push yourself. This is my problem. I should bear the responsibility that relies on my own strength. So——”

“That doesn’t matter!”

I deny it strongly.

His Highness seems surprised that I would talk back to him.

“So many people will be sad if Your Highness is gone. Yuren-kun, and even the king… I can’t do nothing knowing that such a future will come.”

“Aria…”

“I don’t want to give up on the life in front of me anymore.”

I wish everyone to live a happy life with laughter and joy until the end of their lives.

That is my wish.

It’s not just me; it’s also Yuren-kun’s ideal.

Of course, this includes His Highness Ash.

“…I can understand why Yuren is attracted to you.”

“Eh?”

“I got it! I don’t want to die either. If possible, I want to keep living with everyone from now on.”

He clenches his fist tightly.

“I’m counting on you, Transmutation Master.”

“Yes!”

On this day, I was entrusted with a new expectation.

I was given the task of protecting the life of a noble warrior, a prince.

Extra Chapter: Time left to talk

“What’s wrong with you? Is that all you’ve got?”

“I can still keep going!”

One afternoon.

The second prince, Ash, and the third prince, Yuren.

The two princes were crossing swords.

“Is that all? Your thrust is weak, Yuren!”

“Gah! Don’t be harsh, Brother. You’re not completely recovered from your illness, are you?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Then I’ll just have to try a little harder.”

“So will I!”

The two brothers exchanged playful banter.

But their swords clashed fiercely as they closed in on each other.

They were both serious.

They were serious about practicing, but also serious about winning.

However, there was a significant difference in their raw strength.

No matter how hard Yuren fought or struggled, the outcome was always the same…

“Damn it…”

“I won again this time, didn’t I, Yuren?”

“…I concede defeat to you, Brother.”

The winner was Ash.

His title as the strongest in the kingdom was well deserved.

Of course, Yuren was also strong, but Ash’s strength was on a different level.

After finishing their practice, the two princes sat down under a tree.

“I worked up a good sweat.”

“I’m sorry, Brother. I made you practice even though you’re still recovering.”

“It’s fine, it’s fine. I’m already feeling better as you can see. It’s not good for the body to rest too much, this is just right.”

“Brother is tough. I was really worried when he collapsed.”

Yuren smiles with relief.

Ash behaves brightly while watching him.

Yuren, his younger brother, still doesn’t know the secret of his brother.

What kind of expression will he have when he realizes the cost of his power?

Waves of worry rush through Ash’s heart.

“I’ll deal with it when the time comes.”

“Brother?”

“It’s nothing. But Yuren, you were really focused on your strikes. They felt heavier than before.”

“Really?”

Yuren asks with happiness, and Ash nods in response.

“Yeah. It’s like your sword was imbued with resolve.”

“Resolve… Is that such a big deal?”

“What? You look like you already know.”

“Yes, well…”

Yuren smiles kindly and touches the sword at his waist.

“I have someone I want to protect. Thinking of that person strangely fills me with strength.”

“I see.”

Ash didn’t ask who it was, since it was something he already knew.

“You’re a man, too.”

“Huh?”

“Men become stronger the more they have to protect. They don’t want to lose what’s most important. They become strong because they’re afraid of losing something and will protect it even if it costs their life. Human men are the most cowardly creatures in the world.”

“Cowardly…yes, that might be true. Although those are words that don’t suit my Brother.”

“Well, maybe not. But I’m the same. I sought strength because I didn’t want to lose you guys. Even if it meant sacrificing my own life.”

Choosing death to protect instead of living without being able to protect.

He was willing to take that vow.

But he never thought that his choice was the right one.

“Yuren. Don’t make a mistake.”

“Yes?”

Words from an older brother.

Perhaps these would be his last.

Ash spent every day thinking that way.

Fearful of the moment when they would eventually have to part ways.

Who knows who would know how much sand remains in the hourglass.

Chapter 76: Tn the study on a holiday

There is a study in the royal palace. Anyone who works in the palace can come and go freely, and with permission, they can even take books from the study.

Those who work here have their own specialties, and each profession requires special knowledge. Especially for Transmutation Masters, a wide range of knowledge is necessary.

From medicine, pharmacology, plants, and minerals, to all the creatures in this world from animals to monsters. Knowledge of every field is required because the job of a Transmutation Master is to create something new. Rather than creating something from scratch, it is about combining existing substances to produce something new.

It is essential to have an accurate understanding of what exists in this world and what does not, as well as the nature and characteristics of things.

That is why we Transmutation Masters are always seeking knowledge. Information is constantly being updated even as we go about our daily lives. What was not known yesterday may become clear today.

When I first started aiming to become a Transmutation Master, I read a lot of books and studied them thoroughly, covering every book in the bookshelf from one end to the other.

Even now, I occasionally read books to acquire new knowledge and review old ones. Especially when I’m undertaking a completely new field, I do thorough research.

Like now, for example.

“…This book only has what I already know.”

On a holiday afternoon, I visited the royal library alone and read books. I think it has been about three hours since I visited the library in the morning.

Finished books were piled up on the table. The titles, thickness, and appearance of the books were all different, but they all had one thing in common…they were all about magic.

Magic is the power to create miracles. It existed in the distant past, and even now, although it is becoming like a fairy tale in modern times, it was still present in my life.

I found out about it. Yuren-kun’s older brother and His Highness Ash’s secret. If a person without magical power uses magic, their life is shortened as compensation.

Knowing the risks, no one would use it. Even if it gives tremendous power, it consumes the future.

However, he was different. He reached out to the forbidden power while understanding the risks. Not for himself, but to protect the country and the people. He was one who could risk his life for others. He is similar to Yuren-kun, who is kind-hearted and good-natured.

Precisely because of that, he should not risk his life anymore. His Highness Ash said he was responsible for reaching out to the power. It may be true for the power itself, but he did not seek it for his own desires.

He wore himself out to protect the weak. I think there are many people who have been helped by him. I know it well, as I am one of them. If there is responsibility, it also falls on those who were protected.

No one wishes for him alone to suffer and die. If you have made someone happy, you have to make yourself happier than anyone else.

That is what I think.

“… Fufu, I wonder if my past self would have been different?”

At least that’s what I think now. I was able to come to that realization after experiencing various things and learning the value of life, now that I’m here.

“Well, I have to do my best.”

“Doing your best is good and all! But studying on your day off, isn’t that too serious?”

“Huh? Oh, Yuren-kun.”

Before I knew it, Yuren-kun had come to the study and was staring at me with his arms crossed. He must have just come in. Just as I noticed him, the study door slammed shut.

“Hello. Are you researching too, Yuren-kun?”

“Well, sort of. There’s something about the problems with the territory that I’m working on… No, wait! Isn’t today your day off?”

“Yeah, that’s right?”

“Then make sure you actually take a break. After all, holidays are for resting.”

Saying that, Yuren-kun sighed in exasperation. It seems that Yuren-kun thought I was hiding and working on my day off.

“Um, that’s not it? I’m not working or anything, you know?”

“But isn’t that research about Transmutation Art?”

“That’s true, but this is…not related to work.”

“Is that so?”

“Yeah. I just wanted to do some personal research.”

I’m not lying. What I’m researching is knowledge of magic, related to His Highness Ash. Being involved with His Highness Ash is just something I personally want to deal with, and it’s not part of my duties at the royal palace.

It’s not of equal importance, but it’s like a hobby, so Yuren-kun tilts his head and picks up a book from the table.

“Are you researching magic?”

“Yeah, you got it. Impressive.”

The books are all different, with many not even related to magic.

“I also researched magic in the past, you know, because of my brother. I wondered what magic was.”

“So that’s what it was. You too, Yuren-kun.”

“Well, yeah. I’ve read and researched all the books here. They’re all abstract hypotheses, and I couldn’t understand them well.”

“Ahahaha… Actually, I’m kind of the same.”

If Yuren-kun’s words are correct, reading the books here is unlikely to provide me with the knowledge I seek. Yuren-kun is diligent, and he probably reads every corner. If he is making a subtle face, then the chances are slim.

“But Aria, why are you researching magic?”

“Uh, it’s because I became interested.”

“Interested… I see.”

“You know, there are similarities between magic and Transmutation Art, right? I thought that by researching magic, I could gain a deeper understanding of Transmutation Art.”

This reason shouldn’t sound unnatural. I can’t tell the truth no matter who the listener is. Even if it’s Yuren-kun… no, precisely because it’s him, I can’t tell him.

Only me and His Highness Ash know the secret. I can’t reveal the secret that Ash-sama has kept. Furthermore, if Yuren-kun finds out about it, he will surely do something reckless. I’m very worried.

I guess His Highness Ash knows it will happen and that’s why he is not telling anyone. If you’re going to reveal a secret, you should do it after everything is resolved.

Until then, Yuren-kun should never know——

“Hey, Aria, could it be…my Brother is involved in this?”

“…Huh?”

Chapter 77: Don’t you want to be misunderstood?

I shuddered at the unexpected question, and he continued to frown as he sensed my reaction.

“Is that what I think it is?”

“Um…”

Yuren-kun seems down. Does he know…know about His Highness Ash’s secret?

No, it couldn’t be. His Highness said he hadn’t told anyone. And if Yuren-kun knew, he would have had a more dramatic reaction.

Knowing Yuren-kun, he would never ignore the fact that his important family member was risking his life. So what did his question mean?

“Well, I guess it’s understandable to be interested. My brother is strong and kind, and he even has a special power like magic, so it’s natural to be drawn to him.”

“Huh? Wait, what?”

His reaction seemed different from what I had expected. At least, I didn’t feel any heavy atmosphere, just that Yuren-kun was down.

“Um… Yuren-kun? What are you talking about?”

“Hmm? But isn’t it because you have feelings for my brother that you’re researching magic?”

“…What?!”

How did he come to that conclusion?!

I was so surprised that I let out a loud voice that echoed in the study. It was an unexpected misunderstanding.

“No, no, I’m not thinking such a grand thing!”

“Well, it’s just that the timing…”

“Certainly, meeting His Highness Ash sparked my interest in magic. Of course, I also thought he was wonderful, but that’s all!”

“I-Is that so? Then it must have been my misunderstanding.”

I vigorously shook my head up and down. It wasn’t really a misunderstanding as much as jumping to conclusions in Yuren-kun’s head.

Anyway, I hope that clears up the misunderstanding. I shouted so loudly that my heart was pounding and my breath was uneven. I took a deep breath and calmed myself down. Yuren-kun was watching me with a serious look.

“W-What’s wrong?”

“I just thought it was rare for you to deny it so dramatically… I wonder if there’s still something going on?”

“I don’t have it, I don’t!”

I think I reacted too violently than necessary. It’s not like me… Wasn’t it?

When I think calmly, why was I in such a hurry? It had nothing to do with His Highness Ash’s secret, but I felt like I was panicking.

Why did I deny it so desperately… Was it because I didn’t want to be misunderstood?

By whom?

By Yuren-kun?

I don’t know why… The answer is not clear.

“At least it’s not the kind of thing Yuren-kun thinks it is.”

“…Then is there something else?”

Oops. I said it wrong. The way I said it just now would make it seem like I’m hiding something else. Yuren-kun stares at me suspiciously.

“There’s nothing. I just got interested in magic.”

“…Okay. But don’t make me worry… about things like that, okay?”

“Sure.”

“If you need help, talk to me. Sometimes it’s better to hear someone’s opinion than to think alone.”

“I know.”

The misunderstanding was cleared up, but it seemed that I had worried Yuren-kun. In our exchange just now, he must have sensed that I was troubled. And he probably understood that it was something that I couldn’t share with him.

I closed the book I had opened and placed it on the table, stacking it on top of another book I had finished reading.

“There we go.”

“Is that all?”

“Yeah. I’ve read various things, but I can’t find the answer I’m looking for in these books. Let’s call it a day for today.”

To be honest, I had a feeling that I wanted to investigate a little more. But if I stayed with Yuren-kun like this, I might end up saying something unnecessary…

“I’ll help you.”

“Thank you.”

“That’s fine. What are you planning to do after this? You’re not going to work or anything, are you…?”

“No. I don’t have any plans, so maybe I’ll go to the city or something.”

Being in the royal palace meant that I would have more opportunities to meet Yuren-kun and His Highness Ash. But after the conversation we just had, it would be difficult to face the two of them.

After we finished organizing the books, the table was clean.

“Well then, I’ll be going. Yuren-kun, do your best with your work, okay?”

“Yeah. If I didn’t have work, I’d go with you too. Too bad.”

“Yeah…”

Too bad… I guess… I have mixed feelings about it now, but I’m sure I would have felt the same way under normal circumstances. If I’m going to the city anyway, it would be nice if Yuren-kun could come too…

“In that case, it’d be nice if we could go together on a day we both have off.”

“Sure. I’ll be the one to invite you then.”

“Yeah! I’m looking forward to it.”

As I smiled and responded, Yuren-kun also smiled happily. I was relieved to see his smile for the first time today, and I left the study behind.

With the sound of the study door slamming behind me, I looked up at the ceiling.

“… I can’t wait for it to come.”

Whether it was surprised or flustered, my heart was busy with changes in a short amount of time, but in the end, it was overflowing with hope and happiness. No matter what we talk about or where we go, I always feel this way after spending time with Yuren-kun.

His voice and words are more comforting to me than anything else.

Chapter 78: A little uneasy

I walked around the bustling capital city without going against the flow of people. After parting ways with Yuren-kun, I went back to my room to change and then went out into the city.

In the palace, we wear uniforms so that our social status is apparent. If you’re going out into the city without any work-related reason, it’s better not to wear the uniform. If you wear the uniform, you’ll attract unnecessary attention.

“Well then…”

I came to the city, but what should I do now?

I didn’t come here with any particular purpose, and although it’s been a while since I came here, I’m not very familiar with things outside the palace.

I don’t have any favorite places to go, or familiar shops…

“Oh, there it is.”

I suddenly remembered. It’s not my regular or familiar shop, but the only shop I’ve been wanting to go to. I’ve been wanting to go there for a long time, but I’ve been busy and putting it off.

Now is the perfect opportunity, so let’s go see how it is.

“I wonder if Celica is doing well…”

Celica, who was involved in the incident with Laurus, is now running a shop in the capital city. Although she was threatened by Laurus, she regretted the fact that many people were hurt by what she had created. I stopped her when she tried to atone for her sins by taking her own life.

It’s wrong for death to be compensation. If the desire to make amends is genuine, one should suffer and live to compensate, I said. With Yuren-kun’s agreement and help, she found a place in this country.

The store is located in a corner of the shopping district. She is in a two-story building facing the main street. I arrived in front of the store after a short walk.

As it was late when I headed out to the city, the sunlight had just started to turn orange by the time I arrived. Looking at the signboard illuminated by the setting sun, I felt complicated emotions.

“Ugh… I still feel embarrassed.”

My name, Aria, was stylishly written on the signboard. This is Celica’s shop, and I am not involved, but…

When deciding on the name of the shop, Celica insisted that this name was the best. It was her own shop, so she could have used her own name if she wanted.

But she’s still inexperienced. She said she wanted to borrow her Onee-sama’s name and become a Transmutation Master who was not ashamed of that name someday.

If I were there, I would have asked her to use a different name because it would be embarrassing for me. But Yuren-kun, who was there to hear it directly, apparently laughed and said that you would just have to do your best.

“He’s so mean.”

Knowing him, he probably didn’t mean any harm and likely agreed for a positive reason. But I wished he had expected me to feel embarrassed. If he laughed knowing that, then he truly is mean.

Thinking about such things, I sigh and put my hand on the door of the shop. But I couldn’t open it right away.

I haven’t seen Celica since that incident. It wasn’t that I was avoiding her, but I simply couldn’t find the time to meet her. Still, when I think about what happened between us, I hesitate. We are not like normal sisters.

I’m anxious about being alone with her and having a proper conversation. I take a deep breath and open the door with determination.

The doorbell rings, announcing a visitor.

“Welcome!”

Then, a cheerful greeting was heard right away. When I looked at her standing at the storefront, she had a smiling expression. Our eyes met, and she noticed me.

“Onee-sama!”

As if she had found her beloved owner, she gave a happy shout and ran towards me in a hurry, just like a puppy.

“You came!”

“Yeah, sorry for coming while you’re working.”

“Not at all! I’m so happy that Onee-sama came. I’ve been waiting for the day you would come.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes!”

Her energetic reply echoed throughout the shop. I’ve heard her voice many times before, but I’ve never seen her so lively and talkative like this.

I have always seen her smiling face. She was always cheerful towards everyone with a smile, but I’ve never seen her genuinely happy like this before. I feel like I’m seeing it for the first time now.

“Did you have a day off today?”

“Yeah, I had the day off.”

“In that case, we can talk and relax later!”

“Huh, is it okay for you to take a break from work?”

“As the evening comes, the number of customers decreases. So I was thinking of closing soon.”

Until just a little while ago, her sharp glances used to sting me. Even though she spoke politely with a smile, I could tell that she didn’t like me. So honestly, I didn’t like talking to her.

But now, I don’t feel that way at all. What I feel from her now is warmth and kindness. She genuinely welcomes me. That’s how I feel.

“Let’s talk upstairs! I’ll guide you.”

“Okay. Thank you.”

Until the door opened, I was anxious. I didn’t know if I could talk properly. But that anxiety disappeared in an instant. As I watched her back guiding me upstairs, I smiled to myself.

It seems like there was no need to be anxious after all.

Chapter 79: You made me feel happy

Celica’s shop was on the first floor, and the second floor was her living space. She guided me to the living room.

“Please have a seat here and wait! I’ll close the shop and tidy up, and I’ll prepare some drinks for you too!”

“Thank you. You seem busy, should I help?”

“No! This is my job too.”

With a smile, she brewed tea for me and went down to the first floor. Alone in the room, I looked around again.

There wasn’t a lot of furniture. Compared to the mansion where she had lived before, this was probably like a small cabin. She had been supported by those around her all her life, and now suddenly living alone in an unfamiliar land…

“It must have been tough…for sure.”

She received support until she started her shop. After that, she had to do everything on her own. Even just normal daily life was already hard, let alone running a shop.

It must have been a completely new experience for her. Nevertheless, to me, she seemed very happy and fulfilled.

I couldn’t imagine she would have such a refreshing and bright smile, which was different from what I knew about her.

After waiting for a few minutes, I heard the sound of someone quickly climbing up the stairs. The door to the living room opened with a bang.

“I’m sorry to keep you waiting, Onee-sama!”

“Did you run all the way here?”

“Yes! I didn’t want to keep you waiting since you came all the way here for me!”

“You didn’t have to worry so much.”

Celica shook her head.

“It’s because I wanted to talk to you right away! I was thinking about when you would come over.”

“I see.”

I wished I had come to see her a little earlier. Her straightforward and bright smile made me feel that way.

After refilling my tea and preparing hers, Celica sat across from me. As we sat face-to-face to talk, I felt a little nervous.

“So, how is your shop doing? Are you getting used to it?”

“Yes!”

“It must have been tough, right?”

“At first, yes. But the people at the royal castle did everything from preparation to everything else, so I felt relieved. I’m still learning about management. As for customer service, the experience of talking to various people so far has been very helpful!”

She had received various kinds of education since she was living in the mansion. Although there was a side where she was spoiled, her education was strict. When it comes to dealing with people, she’s much better than me.

Anyway…

“It looks like you’re having fun.”

“Yes! I’m having so much fun!”

She answered clearly with a big smile and continued speaking.

“When I first opened the shop, there were only a few customers. Potion shops are rare, and my prices were lower, so I got attention, but…there weren’t many people buying.”

“Because it was a suddenly opened shop with lower prices, people were wary, right?”

“Yes, that seems to be the case.”

In general, potions have become popular as expensive items. This is because the method of creation is special and the necessary materials are unique. However, because of their effectiveness, some buyers are willing to pay a high price. As a result, potions that are on the market are expensive.

However, in the case of this shop, the procurement is done through the kingdom, so it is cheaper than usual. This makes it possible to produce potions at a lower cost.

The effectiveness is, of course, guaranteed. There is an effect that is equal to or greater than that of potions on the market. However, this can only be conveyed by actually using it.

Potions are cheap, which is suspicious. You might think that there is something strange in them or that they are low-quality products only based on appearances. Because of these concerns, even though there is interest, customers are not always willing to buy.

“So, everything is OK now?”

“Yes! My customers are all very kind and I explain everything properly to them. I even show them how I use them and gradually, more and more people have started buying from me. And then, those who have bought from me even tell their friends! Now, so many people come to my shop every day.”

“I see. You’re doing great.”

I was relieved to see her effort.

“I still have a long way to go. Onee-sama, I didn’t know that I would be so happy to receive words of thanks from people who use my potions.”

“Celica…”

“That’s why I’m so happy now!”

I found out the reason for her brightness. Her heart must have been deeply wounded by that incident. Unlike physical injuries, emotional wounds cannot be healed even with potions. But little by little, her wounds are probably healing by feeling warm words and someone’s kindness.

And she was able to try her best in a real sense. She wanted to respond to the words of gratitude properly.

“I never thought I could feel so happy. It’s thanks to everyone… but above all, it’s because Onee-sama helped me at that time. So, let me thank you again!”

Celica lowered her head with moist eyes.

“Thank you for telling me to live on.”

“…No. I should be the one thanking you.”

The fact that the person she had helped was happy made her feel as if she herself was happy.

Chapter 80: So that’s what it means

After hearing Celica’s story, I felt relieved and drank the tea she had brewed for me. Even with just this tea, the Celica from the past wouldn’t have known how to brew it.

Although I knew that this was influenced by significant environmental changes, it was also proof of her growth. As I felt deeply about this fact…

“How have you been, Onee-sama?”

She asked about my current situation. I put down the teacup on the table and answered with a gentle smile.

“I’ve been a little busy lately. I was working outside the capital city, but other than that, everything was as usual.”

I was telling the truth. Apart from the busy days, everything was generally the same as usual. But… there were just more things to think about and do. It was so significant and weighty…

“Onee-sama… What is troubling you?”

“Eh…”

I involuntarily let out my voice at her sudden question. Even though I haven’t mentioned anything about my worries, she asked me with concern.

“Why?”

“Well, um… You seemed to be troubled, so…”

“Was I making that face…?”

Actually, I was trying to act normally and smile earlier so as not to worry her unnecessarily…

“I’ve seen Onee-sama’s smile many times, so I can tell whether it’s genuine or forced. And I have a certain feeling about it, too.”

“A feeling?”

“Yes! I just had a hunch. We’re sisters, after all.”

“…I see.”

It’s not like I had forgotten, but it made me realize again. That the length of time she has spent with me is longer than with anyone else as my younger sister. It’s natural as family, but…

Now I realize that it is a matter of course.

“So, what is troubling you, Onee-sama?”

“Uh, well…”

“Is there something you can’t share with me…?”

“…No, it’s not that, it’s just…”

The explanation is very difficult. The problem I have is something I can’t talk to anyone else about. His Highness Ash and I made a promise not to tell anyone. That’s why I haven’t told Yuren-kun either.

I don’t intend to tell Celica either. However, she is also a Transmutation Master like me. Maybe she can notice something that I haven’t. So far, there hasn’t been any progress with finding a way to save Ash-dono.

“Hey…Celica. Do you know about magic?”

“Magic? Yes, I know about what’s recorded in the literature.”

“Well, for example…let’s say you need magic power to use magic, but what if you could use something else instead of that magic power? How can you recover that other thing?”

“Recover it? Hmm…”

Celica closed her eyes and groaned as she thought about it. The explanation was abstract, so it was difficult to convey the essential parts.

“I’m sorry. It’s too difficult for me to understand.”

“I see.”

If the answer is immediately clear from the explanation, it’s easy. It was a shock to me since I had some expectations. Then Celica continued to speak.

“But if it were me——”

What she spoke was her own interpretation. I listened to her explanation until the end and said,

“I see, that’s right. There is a method like that. Why didn’t I notice it before?”

Celica’s remark was not difficult. If it were me, or any Transmutation Master, it would have been natural and something everyone should have thought of.

It’s embarrassing to think that I’ve been troubled for not realizing such a thing until now.

“Onee-sama, you’re thinking too deeply. In my case, I failed without thinking, but I don’t think it’s good to think too much.”

“You’re right… I guess. Yeah, as Celica said, I might have been thinking too much.”

“Fufu, Onee-sama is so kind. I think you’re working too hard for His Highness Yuren’s sake.”

“Maybe… Eh? Yuren-kun?”

I have never mentioned Yuren-kun’s name before.

“Why?”

“Just a feeling. Onee-sama always works hard for someone, but if you’re worrying that much, it must be for someone very important.”

“Yuren-kun…”

His Highness Ash is Yuren-kun’s older brother, and he is also someone Yuren-kun admires. Knowing that such a person is suffering, I wanted to do something about it.

I thought that was just because I wanted to help His Highness Ash and had no other reasons.

“Oh? Am I making a mistake?”

“… No. You’re really perceptive.”

“Of course, we’re sisters!”

It was something that I hadn’t even realized myself. Yuren-kun’s existence was always at the heart of my worries and thoughts.

I have this feeling in my heart that I don’t want Yuren-kun to be sad about His Highness Ash. More than Irina-chan or even His Majesty the King, Yuren-kun is the one who comes to my mind first.

“I see…”

So… that’s what it means.

❂❂❂

TL (Neko-chan): No more available chapters left. This translation was completed in April 2023

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