| "I definitely won't accept this!"
In the noble visitor room, Aileen judged the contents of the match between Aleist and Fritz with a rough voice. Her father, the king, let out a sigh, while her mother disinterestedly told her there was no problem with the match.
"Don't accept what? The black knight simply moved right after the match commenced... I never thought I'd ever be forced to bear witness to such an unsightly match, but the victor is the black knight. Aileen, are you certain your eyes aren't the problem?"
The queen had grown excited during Rudel's match with Eunius, but the instant defeat in the following match had dampened her spirits. It was clear Rudel had an even greater disadvantage against Aleist than he had in the last time they faced off in the finals.
With Aleist's abilities, the queen doubted he would lose. Meaning she already saw the result of the final match. That's precisely why she held some light expectations of the fight between Aleist and Fritz. If Fritz persisted here, then small as it was, she hoped a chance for Rudel would be born in the finals.
"Lay off, both of you. More importantly, it's almost the finals. Headmaster, I wish to put in a slight intermission."
"Understood. There shall be a break before the finals."
On the king's orders, the headmaster informed the staff waiting outside the door that there would be an intermission. The king had shown Rudel a courtesy before the finals. Aleist also declared he wanted to buy time, so he had afforded him some extra.
As Aileen rushed out of the visitor room, some knights of the royal guard followed behind. Fina looked at the doorway her sister had left before whispering into Sophina's ear.
The queen folded her fan, let out a sigh, and ordered the royal guard to bring Aileen back.
"... Drag her back here before the finals. Good grief, why did she grow up to be that sort of child?"
On her mother's complaint, Fina turned only her eyes to see her as she screamed in her heard.
(On the contrary, I'd like to know how you managed to raise two princesses this terrible!! Father, you say something to mother, you don't have to hold it back... it's your education that's to blame, those are the words you're looking for!)
Leaving her own matters on the shelf, Fina, had been laughing internally for a while at that last match, and her mother's words only stimulated her funny bone further. If she had any expression, she would surely be tearing up as she laughed and rolled around.
(More importantly, Fritz is damn weaaak!! Getting instakilled like that, are you trying to kill me with laughter? I guess I really can't look down on Fritz!!)
In a dimly-lit passage of the arena, Aileen grabbed one of the academy's staff and asked for Fritz' location. But once she learned that Fritz was bedridden in his waiting room, she issued that staff member an order.
"What? ... You want them to use real swords?"
Receiving that order from Aileen, the staff member's mouth opened in surprise.
"It's their final match, right? For both the black and white knights, it will be troublesome if we don't have them fight to their fullest... you heard me, I did give the order."
After saying only what she wanted, Aileen raced over to Fritz. If they used real swords in Rudel's match with Eunius, then surely neither side would have gotten off lightly. The white and black knights just need to crush one another, Aileen suddenly hit upon the idea and made an order of it.
The fact the staff member she grabbed held a considerably high station was part of Aileen's good fortune. It was almost as if anything would be granted if she wished it... all of Aileen's actions were being protected by some larger force.
Hearing that exchange from start to finish, Sophina waited for Aileen to leave before grabbing that staff member and carrying out Fina's orders.
Fina had ordered her to keep watch on her sister, Princess Aileen's actions, and Sophina never thought anything would come of it, but after seeing Aileen's conduct, she determined this was going too far.
Taking that staff member alone, Sophina made for the noble visitor room.
Holding his face as he left his waiting room, Fritz thought back over his hazy memories.
Right after he heard a voice signaling the start of the match, he had lost consciousness. Thinking that Aleist had worked some injustice, he left the waiting room he had been put to sleep in with the intent to put up a protest. Pushing aside the defender guards posted in front of his door, Fritz proceeded down the corridor.
His injuries themselves were nothing major, he was barely hurt. From before the match began, he had been strengthening his body with mana, so it didn't reach anything serious.
With unsteady feet, he walked down the passage to grasp some staff member or another. But there, he ran into Lena, who had left her seat during the intermission.
"Ah, it's the guy who got instakilled."
On Lena's words, Fritz' anger welled up.
"Wrong! That Aleist guy used some cowardly means to..."
Shaking her head, Lena told Fritz everything she had seen. After he provoked Aleist, Aleist got pissed and fired a kick right after the match began... she explained that's all there was to it.
There was no injustice, and it was a fair judgment.
"...! There's no way that's true. Rather, those clothes... you must be a noble."
"? Yeaaah, I guess you could call me a noble."
Looking over the clothes Lena words, Fritz determined she was a noble. But in this dark corridor, determining someone was a noble just by looking at their clothes was impossible. Fritz had convinced himself that the girl who denied him must be a noble.
"Hah, it's as I thought. You're tied to the worst house of all. You and Rudel, and Chlust who dropped out, you're all the same! Tormenting your people, you filthy nobles who sit back and drink the good stuff!!"
As Lena's eyes turned serious, Fritz was put on guard. Taking a stance against a younger girl was quite unadult-like of him. But even before Fritz, Lena remained at ease.
"Hey, do you think a person's name decides everything about them?"
"... What are you trying to say? And you're a person of the Arses House. A lineage of trash! Like hell you could understand the pains you put me through!"
Fritz hailed from Arses Territory, he had been tormented by Arses rule. Lena had heard of the territory's circumstances from her elder brother Rudel. She also knew her house was hated.
But while she pitied him, Lena could tell by instinct that the one the man before his eyes was rejecting was himself. Just knowing that made her have to open her mouth.
She had gained a rough idea of Fritz from Luecke. The world at large recognized him as a commoner man taken in by the princess. Hated by the nobles, the commoners treating him as their shining star of hope.
Hearing those words of justice Fritz lined up, Lena saw through what Fritz desired. For the poor, for the commoners... the true feelings of Fritz who would say it was for someone else's sake...
"It seems you intend to use everything around you to make some sort of hero of yourself, but I'm sure you'll never be a hero."
"W-what are you saying. There's no way I could be a..."
"It's an amazing thing to work hard for another. But you're not suited to be a hero. If you don't start looking around some more, I'm sure you'll come to regret it."
It was almost as if Lena had seen into the depths of his hearts even he didn't know about, and Fritz felt fear. Still in his stance, he took a step back, a doubt born in his mind about the greater good he was about to put to mouth.
"F-for the sake of the suffering people, I..."
As Fritz wavered, Lena tried to call out. There, from the other side of the passage came the group led by the princess. As Fritz turned to the footsteps, he turned back only one to look at Lena's face. Light was pouring in from the entrance to the passage from the audience, and it looked almost as if Lena was bathed in the light. But of his own accord, Fritz made for Aileen in the dark corridor depths.
"Are you alright, Fritz-sama?"
"Yeah, sorry. I lost."
Reaching Aileen, Fritz turned again, but Lena was already gone. He felt as if he had seen a dream, and was sure it was because his head wasn't yet clear.
"... It's alright. The black knight who smeared you with shame shall definitely be..."
Pretending he didn't hear Aileen's words, Fritz let her lead him as he proceeded down into the darkness.
The final match was the battle between white and black knight mostly everyone had been expecting.
In the audience, Eunius- who had fled as soon as his treatment was over- sat alongside a nurse. The doctors already knew he would run away, so he ordered the nurse to accompany him when he did.
As both sides climbed up to the ring, cheers rose through the arena again. As expected of the finals, more spectators let themselves be heard than in the first match.
Such was the finals, but Eunius' eyes were drawn towards a certain something. Atop the ring, a wide variety of weapons had been prepared.
"Oy, don't screw with me..."
Luecke agreed with Eunius' surprise.
"Yeah, this is madness. If they let Rudel and Aleist hold weapons, in the worst case, one of them might die..."
Luecke criticized the academy's decision in using weapons during the finals, but it was there Eunius' opinion differed.
"They didn't bring them out for me! Even if it's dulled, as long as it's iron, I would've been able to keep it a contest of swordplay to the end..."
Seeing Eunius truly vexed, Luecke made an incomprehensive face. There, Lena returned from her break and reunited with them.
"Huh? Why's Eunius-san here? He's holding his head, but is he alright?"
Those around could only feel fed up as Eunius showed serious envy for Aleist. Having real swords in a match was nothing but a hazard.
As Izumi stared at Rudel in worry, the referee loudly declared the special rules of the finals.
'As a special exception, the use of dulled weapons is permitted in this final round. But this is something entrusted to the competitors, and it is not an obligation...'
It seems they were leaving it up to Rudel and Aleist's wills, but Izumi and Basyle had a bad feeling about this. Millia thought they wouldn't take up dangerous weapons if it was left up to the competitors.
But they were dealing with Rudel. After hearing that explanation, he delightfully set into choosing a weapon. As if lured in, Aleist also selected a weapon.
"H-hey, wait, are they idiots!? Even if they're dulled, if they attack each other with lumps of iron, it wouldn't be strange if one of them fell dead!"
Millia stood from her seat and cried out, but Izumi and Basyle simply sighed, their expectations on the mark. As expected of my big brother, Lena sent some eyes of admiration.
As Millia cried out, Eunius with bandages wrapped all over his body gave a careful explanation.
"It's not really a problem. And that Rudel, he can already split rocks with a wooden sword, you know. He was seriously cutting at me and all, and if they're using iron, perhaps it won't break into a fist fight this time. Hah, how envious."
"Good grief, I cannot understand the actions of you muscle heads."
Luecke made a tired face, but he didn't even show the slightest intent to stop them. More than that, he was looking at Lena's delight. Millia seriously held her head, wondering if she was the strange one.
But once Eunius saw Aleist pick out two swords, he stood and cried out. Luecke's expression was also filling with anger.
"Alright, I'm going with this sword and shield."
"Eh? You've already decided... then I'll go with this sword... and this one too."
As Rudel picked out a sword and a shield, Aleist took out two swords. Truth be told he had only ever played around with a two sword style, but he remembered how the documents said the black knight used two swords.
Without any particular meaning, he took a two sworded stance.
"... Aleist, you can use two swords?"
"Perhaps. Did you always carry a shield?"
Rudel had received a shield from the boar, so he had studied how to use one. He was still immature, but he could use it considerably well. But Aleist had chosen his weapons to satisfy his curiosity.
His curiosity and the debt he felt to Rudel made him take up two swords. He could tell there were bandages wrapped under his clothing, and there was no saying how far his mana had recovered. If only I'd bought a bit more time, Aleist thought as he chose a style where he couldn't' go all out.
"... No, you can do what you want. It's nothing for me to stick my mouth into."
Shaking his head, Rudel took his weapon and headed for the center of the ring. Aleist also took his two blades and made for the center.
The two faced one another, but seeing Aleist's expression wasn't the best, Rudel called over.
"What's wrong? Are you unsatisfied with me as your opponent?"
"N-no... but this feels too cowardly or how should I put it... if only I bought you a bit more time..."
Unlike Rudel, beaten all over his body, Aleist's condition was close to perfect. If they were to face each other like this, the outcome was clear... Aleist didn't want to fight like this.
"You were mindful of that? Then I hope you'll let me have my say. Aleist, keeping the king waiting is disrespectful. You don't need to buy time."
"B-but there's no way you'd accept it!"
"Accept? Of course I will. I'm more thankful than anything. I was blessed with an opportunity to fight Izumi, and I fought Eunius with all my might. And finally, I get to fight you. What part am I to complain about? I'd be more saddened if you didn't go all out."
As Rudel said that with an innocent smile, Aleist gave a dry laugh. He chucked the sword in his left hand outside of the ring.
"I don't have to hold back, right?"
"Aleist, I think there's something wrong about holding back before royalty."
Aleist's eyes turned serious as he took a stance with his dulled sword. Rudel pointed the left half of his body forwards, taking a stance with his shield at the front.
"Henceforth, the finals shall commence!!"
Right after he gave the signal, the referee fled the ring at full speed. After leaving the ring, he collected the sword that had been cast aside before watching over the match from a safe distance.
Right after the starting signal, Rudel and Aleist stepped in, their weapons shedding sparks as they met in a violent clash.
The finals had begun, and the two of them were unveiling a match to surpass the story.