| After returning to the port town of Beretta, Rudel spent his days with Izumi, comforting a depressed Sakuya.
Within all of that, Rudel made a small shield of light over his right hand and thought. The shield that wasn't even ten centimeters twirled over the palm of his hand.
Sitting down and gazing at the shield, Rudel had made some break time in front of Sakuya's den, repeating a similar practice every day. At this point, he was even able to produce a shield of light from the tips of his toes.
While he tested it on Bennet's suggestion, it was surprisingly easy. More so, he could only be perplexed at why he had always fixated on his left hand.
"Even so, I want some more cards to play."
Bennet's fighting style was one thing, but Rudel also wanted to secure Keith's piloting methods. When he started to look at it like that, he began to see what he was lacking. The sword and magic were insufficient. He couldn't help but think so.
Bennet was a demi-human of the wolf tribe, and she compensated for her lack of magic with an abundance of attack methods. Rudel knew that.
He had tried out the boomerang, but it didn't feel right in his hands. His admiration for Bennet only made that all the more irritating.
"Then is it throwing knives after all?"
Once he had thought that far, Izumi appeared as per usual with a bag she held in both hands. It contained a midday meal and drink.
"Are you thinking of something again? If you plan to concoct another special move, if possible, I'd like to ask you to stop."
While Izumi sent him a bitter smile, Rudel couldn't understand why she was against it. However, at that moment, he wasn't thinking up a special move, so for now, he nodded.
"No problem. Right now, I'm thinking up new means of attack. Just like the major, I'd like a means of mid-range attack apart from magic."
Izumi lined up the food she took from the basket on a rock in front of Rudel as she listened in.
"I don't think there will be any problem with your mana, Rudel. Even if you're not on Aleist's level, you're definitely on the more plentiful side."
"I definitely have a bit..."
His words growing muddled, Rudel extended a hand to the food before his eyes. There, he felt Izumi's skill in cooking had risen from before.
"This is good. Have you been practicing?"
"Thank you. It's all because of Bennet-san. That person can do everything, after all."
Generally omnipotent in housework, and first rate as a knight and dragoon. She was an admiration to both Rudel and Izumi.
"I'm glad I came to the outer reaches. I've got two proficient superiors to look up to."
When Rudel said that satisfactorily, Izumi gave a powerless nod.
"Yeah. You're right. Bennet-san is a good person. Yeah. But..."
Izumi couldn't bring herself to recognize Keith, and Rudel directed her a perplexed face. He didn't think the man had any particular problems. To Rudel, they were both admirable superior officers.
"Anyways! How are things on your end? Bennet-san was delighted, said you had grown a bit."
Matching Izumi's change of topic, Rudel washed down the sandwich in his mouth with tea before responding.
"I've got a long way to go. I've got to work on the finer details. And using magic while on the move is still a bit... in that case, how about I deploy magic before moving? Keep it deployed at a set distance from me at all times?"
Suddenly hitting on something, Rudel sunk his thoughts into the sea. Izumi watched over him with a warm smile.
Among the members Keith was to deliver to the palace, Aleist's party was not included.
"You really aren't going back?"
"Yeah. I have a bit of a place I have to go."
His words growing muddled, Aleist had seen Rudel training every day, and after the recent monster attack, he thought over it.
As a result, for a while, he wanted to go on a journey.
"The captain has us with him, so it'll be fine."
While the members of his platoon gave large nods, the man in question could only breathe out a sigh and watch. Normally, he would decline, but the girls said they would tag along and wouldn't listen to anything else.
"Well, I'm returning so that's all well and good. I'll hand a letter to your superior, but what do you plan to do from now on?"
Eunius didn't seem particularly worried, but if possible he wanted to return together. For some reason, he made an unpleasant face when he looked at Keith. On the contrary, Keith seemed pleased.
"Fufufu, a trip through the sky alone with Eunius-kun."
"Hold it. Aren't you after Aleist?"
"You two look like you're having fun."
When Aleist said that, Eunius made a truly incomprehensive face. From Aleist's point of view, in both the game and this world, Keith's impression as a good, reliable person was too strong. He couldn't even imagine him being after him.
"Now let's enjoy our journey over the clouds!"
"Oy, get any closer and I'll cut you! I'm serious!"
"Y-you're serious... what a passionate proposal. Then I must answer to those steamy feelings!"
"Gyaaah! Stay away!"
The water dragon Spinnith spread out his wide sings and lifted into the sky. His figure was truly beautiful.
After seeing off the dragon that flew with a ruckus on its back, Aleist turned and looked at the women who made up his platoon. In order to inform them of his future plans.
"There's a large town nearby, and I'm thinking of heading there. We have to get someone to look after the holy sword we obtained, and more than anything, we'll be able to operate out of there for a while."
There were plenty of monster hunting jobs to be found around the border with ample facilities to tend to weapons and armor. His own armor was also being worked on by a craftsman in those parts.
Why wasn't Aleist returning with Eunius? It was because Aleist had reached his own sort of answer in regards to his strength.
Aleist had thought about his strength. He knew he couldn't catch up if he went at it the same way as Rudel and the others.
He wasn't the same sort of lunatic, and it wasn't as if his technique was particularly high. A magic talent he could never master wouldn't even serve as borrowed plumes.
But... there was something he could do.
(This isn't a game, but I can't think of anything else. Power is power. I have to do what I can...)
What he recalled was his conversation with Bennet. When Aleist returned to Beretta, he heard from Rudel she was dreadfully strong. If she really was that strong, or so he and Eunius tried asking her.
"What are you supposed to do to become strong?"
Bennet was short in stature, practically a little girl, yet before her, Aleist stood troubled. No matter how he looked at it, she looked like a girl standing on her tip toes to talk to him and he felt his face would grow slack. While he somehow managed to endure it, Eunius just gave up and called her Bennet-chan.
While the girl's expression didn't show any signs of minding it, her tail would droop powerlessly. And while she clearly did seem to mind it, even that was cute as well.
"If you could establish something like that, we wouldn't have our troubles. Even if, hypothetically, there was a definite method, our prerequisites are far too different. What I know is no guarantee."
What Bennet was trying to say was that while she could give advice, she wouldn't take responsibility for it. Even with Rudel, who she was tasked with watching, she said she was just accompanying him every day to confirm his results. From what Aleist could tell, he didn't think that would make him strong, but for now, he wanted to catch up to Rudel as much as possible.
While Luecke and Eunius had grown in their areas of expertise, all he had done was cleaning. He was beginning to panic.
Perhaps sensing Aleist's impatience, Bennet decided to try helping him out. Borrowing an open room of the station, she talked to him one on one.
"It's not like I'm your superior. I can't give you any orders, and I can't take responsibility. You'd best get that in your head."
Giving a vague response, Aleist sat across from Bennet as she put out a drink. He did his best to convey his own panic and anxiety.
Avoiding any game terms, he told it so Bennet could understand. But Bennet made a perplexed face.
"Then what are you worrying about?"
"If you know the means to become strong, What reason could you have not to use it?"
"I... don't have one. But it feels a bit cowardly, or unrealistic, or rather, in my head, I don't accept that it'll work. Even if I say I'll get stronger the more monsters I beat, doesn't that sound a bit wrong?"
Speaking in game terms, by defeating monsters, he'd gain experience points and level up. But it's not like he could see something like his own status.
For some reason, Aleist was beginning to grow embarrassed. Even seeing his reddened face, Bennet didn't laugh.
"... Talks of defeating monsters to become strong, you can find them anywhere. In the place I was born, a man's rite of passage was monster hunting. There was a superstition that you steal the strength of the life you take away, but I do get the feeling it will make you stronger. It's not a complete lie."
Rather than becoming stronger from the monster slaying itself, Bennet thought that by beating them, you would gain combat experience and courage.
Having depended on his game knowledge and failed, Aleist had once bid them a complete farewell. But everyone around him was growing strong, and even if he wasn't there, wouldn't Courtois be just fine? He tried to convince himself too. But he couldn't stand the feeling he was being left behind. At the same time, he had gotten around to thinking he wanted to stand shoulder to shoulder with Rudel.
But it was that moment, he realized he didn't have anything of his own. What he wished for was inexhaustible mana, and social status. While both of them had become Aleist's power, they weren't his own. That's precisely while his close friends who climbed up with their own power looked radiant in his eyes.
"This might sound cruel, but in the end, power's just power, nothing more, nothing less. If I were you, I'd seek out that power without hesitation. I don't see any particular problems with your methodology. No problem at all. No, as a knight, it'll be bad if you don't report to your commanding officer."
"Ah, right, there's that. I've been doing so much cleaning these days, I've stopped thinking of myself as a knight."
While Aleist turned his head down in a powerless laugh, Bennet gently called over to him.
"You're the black knight. Hold your head up high."
"I've heard about you from Rudel. I know you're not a bad person, but you worry too much. Just make it simple... there's no point in just having power. The problem's how you use it. If there's something you want to accomplish, you gain power for it."
When he thought of what he wanted to, Aleist reached the conclusion he would definitely need more power than what he had now. He could no longer think that just because those around him were strong, he could just leave it to them.
"Will I be able to do it?"
But Bennet wouldn't reassure him.
Bennet looked at Aleist and told him that was for him to decide.
"It is when you master your strength that it finally becomes your own. And if you fear you'll drown in your power, then fret not. The reason being..."
Recalling Bennet's words, Aleist began walking.
But turning back once to look at the port town, he grew envious of Rudel. Ever since he was enlisted in the defenders, all he had ever been taught was cleaning. The difference in environment between him and Rudel, from the eyes of those around, perhaps it might look as if he was being given preferential treatment.
But thinking of his own growth, Rudel had the better circumstance.
"I want a superior like that too..."
Additionally, he did have some lingering regret with Millia, but there were no particular developments in that field. While he tried calling out to her, things never went as he wanted. He would end up speaking so naturally his subordinates around him couldn't even bring themselves to believe he really was smitten with her.
"If I drown in my power, then Rudel and the others will stop me, eh... friends sure are nice."
Bennet's final words... if Aleist was ever going to step off his path, his friends would come to stop him. Sure enough, Rudel and Eunius... and Luecke would probably stop him.
His other friends from his school days had saved him all the way. The very fact he could think he wasn't alone was a blessing to Aleist.
But when he thought of his friends gleefully charging at his power-drowned self, he felt a slight quiver. The battle maniacs Rudel and Eunius laughing as they swung their swords, while Luecke used him as a test subject, hammering in his magic, he could imagine it too vividly.
"What's wrong, captain Aleist?"
As one of his subordinates called out in worry, Aleist forcefully made a smile and said he was alright.
To enact a game-type strengthening method, Aleist was walking again. Swearing he would never lose himself to his power...
In the mansion of the Arses House, Erselica was panicking.
A letter had come from her older brother Chlust, but the servants had thrown it away. IF Lena hadn't discovered it by chance and brought it to her room, she would never have noticed.
The contents of the letter she unfolded right at the door darkened her face.
"This is... but, it can't be..."
The letter from her brother stated he wanted precise and current information on the relations between nobles at the palace. While it seemed he was in a serious situation, Erselica didn't have enough information to answer to her brother's hopes.
With Chlust sent off to the border, the state of the Arses House only grew worse.
Thanks to the eldest son Rudel, she was occasionally called to parties, but at first, she and her parents avoided them. At this point, her parents would show themselves, but in order to ensure Erselica's marriage to a wealthy noble or merchant, she wasn't let out.
The prominent nobles were taking a wait and see approach to the Arses House's state of affairs. If Rudel took the archduke seat, they would approach, but the rumors of discord between him and his parents were experiencing a sudden spread. His father's attitude at the knight appointment ceremony was coming back to torment them.
Because of that, Erselica couldn't say she had a precise grasp of the current situation.
"What does it say?"
Sending a harsh look at the cheerful Lena, Erselica yanked her into the room.
Closing the door and fastening the lock, unlike Lena's or Rudel's room, the splendid room of an archduke's daughter was spread out.
"... Were there any other letters?"
"That's the only one I found. See, when I thought I'd roast some potatoes over the scrap paper, there was a letter inside."
Seeing Lena scratched her head and smile, Erselica felt irritated. While she knew Lena didn't have any ill intent, the contents of the letter suggested he had been sending letters for a while now. Meaning the servants were crushing his attempts to send them.
While the contents didn't go into the specifics, it was certain he required information urgently. Erselica took a deep breath before making a plea to Lena.
"I have a request."
"If you see any of the servants throwing away any letters from Chlust, I want you to deliver them to me."
"I don't mind."
While Lena easily took up Erselica's request, the problems didn't end there. Erselica didn't have the connections to answer Chlust's demand. And even if she managed to receive his letters, it would be difficult for her to send them.
"Anyways, I have to somehow look into it... but..."
Even if she wanted to investigate, from the letter's contents, she understood it wasn't the sort of thing she could talk to people about so easily. What's more, the fact the letters hadn't been getting through made her imagine the worst possible scenario. Within the mansion, there was an individual preventing Chlust's letters from reaching her.
If they just wanted to crush Chlust, that wasn't a problem. Erselica saw it as a huge problem, but the real problem would be if they had seen through Chlust's actions
Holed up in her room, Erselica was in a situation where she couldn't' do anything. There, Lena read through the letter she had dropped in confusion.
"Noble relations? I know someone who's really knowledgeable about that."
Lena's sudden statement caused Erselica to jump at her It gave off the impression as if she was clinging onto Lena's tall build.
"No, if you just ask Luecke-san, you'll be able to find out most things. He's real knowledgeable."
"... Well yeah, I'm sure he knows."
Erselica was aware of Luecke of the Halbades House. Talks of engagement to Eunius of the opposing Diade House had come up. But generally speaking, the three lords held an antagonistic relation to one another. If possible, he was someone she wanted to avoid. More than anything, the fact he held a friendly relationship with Rudel made him someone she couldn't psychologically accept.
"I'll try asking next time. I'm getting a lot of letters from him these days."
"Wait, you mean to say you're pen pals?"
"We're not. They just keep coming in, and I respond to about one every ten letters. I'm no good with writing, you see. When I'm trying to write up a response, the next one comes in, so I have to write something new."
Seeing Lena laugh, Erselica didn't know what she was supposed to say. While there was a problem with Lena, she felt the problem lay with Luecke as well.
The story continued to flow without delay.