Inside Jihad's office in Solminati Academy, two men and a woman faced each other.
A woman in a white coat and an elderly man in a well-tailored suit. And a dignified, blond, nobleman.
A crystal ball the size of an adult's arm was placed in front of them, and the images of Jihad and Nozomu crossing blades were projected on it.
The two attack each other with unbelievable speed. Each time they swung their blades, the atmosphere screamed and the ground broke.
And then, Jihad's final blow was released.
Nozomu also pulled his katana out of the sheath held at his waist in a single motion.
In the next instant, the image of Nozomu cutting off the extremely thick Qi-blade that was swung towards him, shattering everything in its path, was shown.
"I see, it is indeed a strange power. No wonder Jihad-dono is so wary."
The Nobleman. Victor rubbed his beard and murmured as if he was convinced.
"That's true. Especially his last Qi technique. That is no longer in the realm of student-level techniques."
Next to Victor, Haibao Foca, an elderly man who was also looking at the crystal ball image, nodded his head.
His tone was flat, but the sweat on his forehead showed how he felt.
"More than that, I'm also impressed by his swordsmanship. Hmmm......"
Victor seemed to be interested in Nozomu's swordsmanship as well as his power.
Norn, the woman in a white coat, spoke to him who went silent.
"How was it?"
"It is indeed marvelous. I couldn't believe it when I was given this..."
Haibao's face broke out in admiration. In his hand was a report about Nozomu, handwritten by Jihad.
The most important thing, that Nozomu is a dragon slayer, was also clearly written in the report. And that he had not fully controlled his power.
"So, can you help us regarding this Nozomu Bountis?"
When Norn threw in a few words to force a conclusion, Haibao shrugged his shoulders as if he had no choice.
"From the beginning, you knew we couldn't say no, didn't you?"
"Yes, otherwise I would not have shown you these images."
Yes. After being shown that much, they had no other choice but to cooperate.
It was impossible to ignore it, and it was out of the question to eliminate it by force.
While confirming Nozomu's power, Jihad would show them how Nozomu fought and urged them to cooperate with him.
And while showing them Nozomu's power, Jihad also needed to show them the fact that only he could fight against Nozomu.
Jihad had planned it from the beginning, so he decided that it would be fine even without him being here.
"Very well. As the chairman of the Arcazam Council, I will assist you as much as I can. However, it would be better not to leak this information. I will discuss the details directly with Jihad-dono at a later date."
Hearing these words, Norn smiled with satisfaction.
"Thank you, Haibao-dono. How about you, Victor-dono?"
Norn also asked Victor, who had been silent for some time, for an answer.
However, Victor was staring at the crystal ball with squinted eyes, as if there was something stuck in his mind.
There was an image of Irisdina sitting on the ground and offering her hand to help Nozomu, who was being treated.
"... Sure, I'm in favor of both emphasizing that he is important and concealing his true nature. I don't know what kind of chaos he would cause if his true identity became public. I will keep this report and the images shown today to myself. But......"
"... No, I'll tell the rest directly to Jihad-dono. I'll leave it as it is for the time being."
Victor waved his hand and activated his magic. He lit the report in his hand and threw it into the fireplace in the office.
He then glanced at the report, which was quickly burning, and turned on his heel to leave the office.
"Hmm, I see, so that's it. Norn-sensei, I'm going home too. I will keep what I saw today to myself."
Perhaps sensing something in Victor's glance, Haibao gave a small nod, tossed the report in his hand onto the fireplace, and followed Victor out of the room.
Norn looked at the closed door for a while, exhaled heavily, and dropped her shoulders.
"... Oh dear. It looks like we're going to have a hard time."
Norn's small mumbling faded into the quiet office.
After confirming that all the reports had been burned, Norn put away the crystal ball and left the office.
The quiet Jihad's office. The only light in the darkened office was from the fireplace, where the remaining fire from the burnt-out reports was still burning.
After the combat training with Jihad, it was decided to end the training for the time being.
As expected, it might be too violent today.
Nozomu was treated by Irisdina and the others, while Jihad, Inda, and Anri were putting away the magic tools they had brought with them.
Jihad who crossed blades with Nozomu had his own thoughts on the matter. It started with a bunch of nonsense and ended with a single word: training.
"I have never heard that uncontrollable power can be suppressed by Ability Suppression, but from now on Nozomu will need to train to be able to control that Ability Suppression at will. Hasn't Nozomu ever controlled Tiamat's power by adjusting the effects of Ability Suppression?"
"If I release even a little bit of Tiamat's power, the whole Ability Suppression itself blows up. So I could just either not use it at all or release it at full power... But lately, I feel less likely to receive Tiamat's interference even when I release my power."
Nozomu glanced and saw Irisdina and the others nodding their heads.
On the other hand, Inda, who heard Nozomu's story, put her hand over her mouth in contemplation.
"Perhaps you are unconsciously using the power of the Ability Suppression for self-defense."
"Whenever anyone is about to be hit, he or she will immediately engage in reflexive defensive actions, such as raising his or her hands or closing his or her eyes. It could be similar to that. However, you're just a human being. So, I doubt that Tiamat's power can be sealed just by a single person's ability..."
According to Inda, it seemed questionable why there was a bias toward mental preservation and not physical preservation. Normally, someone would try to protect both.
How could Nozomu suppress Tiamat's power? Inda had wondered about this herself, but in the end, she could not come to a conclusion even after thinking about it.
She had only deduced from what had happened until now that the Ability Suppression was related to the fact that Tiamat was sealed in Nozomu's body.
Inda seemed to be skeptical even about the current situation, though.
"While Nozomu-kun was bedridden, we also looked into various literature on Ability Suppression, but there is no precedent for this kind of thing."
Instead of Inda, who was still thinking about it, Jihad now joined the conversation.
"For the time being, I will have you, Nozomu-kun, release your Ability Suppression every day from now on and meet Tiamat face to face."
Nozomu's surprised voice involuntarily came out.
He had met Tiamat in his dreams, but he rarely went to confront Tiamat himself.
In the first place, every time he met her, she almost killed him. It wasn't just once or twice that he felt like he was dead.
Nozomu was uneasy about Jihad's suggestion, but Jihad continued the conversation without concern.
"Tiamat is the owner of the power that Nozomu-kun has taken in. The best way to learn how to control that power is to ask the person who has it. And according to what I have heard, the number of times Nozomu has released Tiamat's power is not that many. If he continues to release it to some extent, he may be able to adapt his body to the power."
It made sense.
The power that Nozomu took in originally belonged to Tiamat, and to some extent it made sense that he should release the power in order to familiarize it with his body.
Nevertheless, Nozomu's anxiety couldn't be wiped out.
"Ummm.... Is it going to be all right?"
"From what I've heard, you've had a lot of interference so far, haven't you? Still, you're safe, so I'm sure you'll manage. ...... or rather, do something about it."
"Ha, ha, ha... you're as unreasonable as shishō..."
"It's unreasonable! The burden on Nozomu is too great!"
"If he's not careful, there's a possibility of irreparable damage to Nozomu-kun's spirit, you know!"
Irisdina and Shīna shouted to interrupt the conversation.
They seemed to be more worried about Nozomu, and their expressions were even more urgent than ever before.
"Of course, we will do everything we can to help. The first thing to do is to make sure that he has the best possible countermeasures in place. He has a precedent of being able to escape Tiamat's interference through the previous contract with Shīna, so we will devise ways to make the most of that."
Of course, Jihad also intended to have insurance.
It would not be needed if they were just going to open the door, but if they were going to face Tiamat, it would be natural to think of one or two countermeasures before making the suggestion.
Nozomu would have to control Tiamat's power at all costs.
Furthermore, Inda will present a concrete countermeasure plan.
"Specifically, we need to prepare and equip ourselves with the tools and equipment to perform the ritual properly. The strength of the magic path connected by contract magic can be considerably increased by such preparations."
Jihad and Inda's explanation showed that they had properly thought out countermeasures, which dampened Irisdina and Shīna's spirits.
Nevertheless, the girls glanced sideways at Nozomu himself, as if they could not change their own worried feelings.
Jihad and Inda continued their explanation while smiling at their gesture.
"Also, we will connect the path to others in that contract to ease his burden. The same way you guys did before."
"But it's better not to connect too many people. If there are too many people, the technique will become complicated and we may not be able to maintain it in case something unexpected happens."
The other party is Tiamat. It would be necessary to construct the technique with considerable flexibility.
"... How many people can you handle?"
Nozomu asked for further explanation.
Inda quickly calculated the difficulty and scale of the required formula and came up with an answer.
"Depending on Shīna-san's ability, and considering the other party Nozomu-kun will be facing, I would say two or three people, including those who will be using the contract magic."
The number of two or three was calculated from the number of people who connected to the path when Nozomu went out of control before.
Recently, Shīna had been further refining her spirit magic. Even at the time of the previous incident, she was able to construct a magic communication network that covered the entire Arcazam, even though she borrowed the help of Tima and magic tools.
After taking into account Shīna's ability, Inda decided on this number of people with a sufficient safety margin.
Jihad stared at Nozomu. His gaze was asking Nozomu whether or not he wanted to do this.
"... I understand. Let's do it."
"Nozomu-kun, are you sure?"
Nozomu thought about it for a while, but clearly accepted Jihad's suggestion.
Shīna frowned at him.
"Yeah, I think it's time to do something about it."
Until now, he had met Tiamat mostly by accident in the form of dreams or when the other party interfered with Nozomu. Nozomu himself had never gone to meet Tiamat.
However, he couldn't stay that way forever. Nozomu himself understood that. But he could not do it without Shīna's cooperation.
Nozomu turned his gaze to her.
"I understand ....... If you say so, Nozomu-kun, I will cooperate."
It couldn't be helped if he was rejected. Nozomu thought so, but surprisingly, Shīna readily expressed her willingness to cooperate.
"... Are you sure?"
"You wouldn't be able to do it without me, would you?"
"W-, well, yes, but ......"
Nozomu was so surprised that he couldn't help but ask back.
Shīna, on the other hand, shrugged her shoulders, as if she couldn't help it, but a smile naturally appeared on her lips.
Her smile, as clear as a fountain, did not contain the slightest bit of anxiety or dissatisfaction.
Combined with her beauty, she radiated an air of illusion that made it hard to believe that she was a person.
Nozomu felt his own cheeks naturally become hot.
"If that is the case, Anri-sensei and I would be the best suited for the burden-reducing roles, and we should adapt our techniques accordingly."
Having obtained their consent, Jihad continued the conversation. Then all that remained was to select the people to share the burden with Nozomu.
Jihad recommended himself and Anri for that role.
Considering that Inda needed to support Shīna with the techniques, it was a natural choice.
However, there was one person who put a stop to Jihad's words. Yes, it was Irisdina.
"I'll do it!"
Nozomu and the others widened their eyes when they heard her voice, which was so tense that it was not the usual her, which was usually so calm.
Irisdina, on the other hand, met Jihad's gaze head-on.
"This role isn't something you can do with half-hearted mental strength. I think you already know that, don't you?"
"I have served in the same role before, connecting with Nozomu through Shīna's contract magic. I have also experienced the mental pressure of Tiamat during that time."
Jihad kept showing a stern expression on his face and his voice was grim and bitter. However, Irisdina didn't give up either.
"Besides, I ......"
What came back to her mind were the words she once shouted to him as he was about to be devoured by Tiamat.
It was her wish and vow.
To stand by him and support his back. Her true intention, which she would never compromise.
"... This is my will. I will not give it up to anyone else."
Her voice was not loud. However, her dignified voice and sincere eyes spoke more eloquently than anything else to Jihad about her intentions.
Jihad, perhaps defeated by Irisdina's will, let out a big sigh and slumped his shoulders as if he had no choice.
"Alright. Then, it will be Irisdina-kun and I..."
"I understand~. It'll be me and Irisdina-san who will be connected to the path with Nozomu-kun~."
This time Anri interrupted Jihad's decision.
Jihad, who got interrupted again, stared at Anri with a sharp look in his eye.
"I'm sorry~. But Nozomu-kun is my student~. I can't give up this role, even to Jihad-sensei~"
Her tone of voice was as slow as ever. But beneath that tone, she radiated her own will as much as Irisdina.
"Haa ... understood."
Jihad shook his head as if nothing can be done anymore.
Nozomu quickly moved closer to Irisdina and spoke to her in a voice so quiet that the others could not hear.
"Is that okay, Iris?"
"What is it?"
"No, umm... the thing Jihad-sensei was talking about earlier."
"What? Is that it?"
Unlike Nozomu's worried tone, Irisdina's voice didn't sound shaky at all.
Her cheeks seemed to be slightly flushed, but it was hard to tell in such a darkened forest.
There was a clear inflection in her tone, which sounded flat and somewhat exuberant.
"What do you mean by 'is that it'..."
As for Nozomu, he really didn't want Irisdina and his friends to take any risks.
In fact, when he had gone out of control, his friends had really put their lives on the line.
Therefore, Nozomu did not want Irisdina and the others to do anything reckless.
(It's going to be okay now. I'll hold Tiamat down firmly.)
Nozomu was about to say those words, but Irisdina interrupted him with the next few words.
"As I told Jihad-sensei earlier, it was my own will. Nozomu doesn't have to worry about it."
Nozomu was overwhelmed by her determination to follow her own will.
Besides? Just as Nozomu tilted his head, a slight shadow appeared on her former exuberant atmosphere.
"I don't want to lie about what I said before..."
She muttered in a soft voice that only Nozomu could hear her.
Her words at that time. Those were definitely the words she shouted out when Nozomu went out of control.
(I want to protect your back! I want you to protect my back!!)
It was, without a doubt, the words that formed the bond that brought Nozomu, Irisdina, and their friends together.
If she used those words, Nozomu would not be able to say anything more.
His worried feelings didn't change. But at the same time, Nozomu felt a warmth welling up in his heart.
However, was it because of that? The slight shadow that had just appeared on her face was still haunting his heart.
On their way home, Nozomu and his friends walked through the forest, passed through the walls of Arcazam, and walked along the outer edge of the city.
The surrounding area was already enveloped in darkness.
A whole lot of post-training cleanup at Shino's hut had been completed, but as expected, there was nothing they could do about the gouged forest, so they had no choice but to leave it alone.
No one would have noticed because Shino's hut was located deep in the forest and covered by a barrier of concealment, but Nozomu had a wry smile on his face as he saw yet more things to clean up.
"Ouch ... As expected, using that power was going to affect every part of my body."
Dull pains ran through every part of his body. Even after the treatment, Tiamat's power had placed a considerable burden on Nozomu's body.
Even though the wounds on the surface were healed, the burden remained firmly in the core of his body.
At the same time, it showed that Nozomu himself was not yet able to control Tiamat's power.
"Considering the source of the power, I guess this side effect is still considered minor, and even then it's still too much of a burden on Nozomu...."
"Well, you can never be too careful. Tiamat has tried to mislead you in various ways before."
Nozomu nodded silently at his friends' complaints.
However, contrary to their words, there was one thing that really bothered Nozomu.
(What happened to Tiamat in the past that made her change so much?)
Nozomu's mind recalled the scenes from Tiamat's past.
A young black dragon happily enjoying her time among her friends.
The horrific tragedy that followed after such a heartwarming scene was unimaginable.
Tiamat's former friend who denounced her and her desperate attempts to appeal to him.
Their exchange of words clearly didn't mesh and Tiamat fell into the depths of despair.
(......Was she betrayed by her friends? Many things couldn't be explained about her. Or was there something else going on?)
He had recently begun to feel a sense of familiarity with Tiamat. However, he couldn't shake off his distrust of the dragon sleeping within him.
He had mixed feelings about it.
Ever since he had that dream, an indescribable feeling kept haunting him.
Trying to shake off this unpleasant feeling, Nozomu glanced at his friends walking next to him.
The two girls were the first to speak up in response to the unreasonable training proposal.
Indeed, just the thought of meeting Tiamat made his whole body tense, but strangely enough, he felt relaxed now.
Perhaps noticing Nozomu's gaze, Irisdina tilted her head.
"Nozomu, what's wrong?"
His cheeks were naturally getting hot. Not wanting to be noticed, Nozomu averted his gaze.
"W-well, there's a lot of things I can't quite get my head around..."
He also strongly desire to be with his friends who were now next to him.
A girl with dignified black hair, a girl with a smile as beautiful as the sun, an elf girl as pure as the moon. A slightly reckless best friend and a timid female friend. A pair of beastmen who always caused trouble for no reason, and an alchemy-loving classmate who got involved in it.
These were the people that Nozomu truly didn't want to lose.
"Besides, Tiamat isn't the only source of trouble ..."
The more he thought about Irisdina and the others, the more the image of Lisa also came to Nozomu's mind.
At the same time, something unspeakable was stirring deep in Nozomu's heart.
Anyway, he had to make time to speak to her properly.
As Nozomu pondered so, he heard an unfamiliar voice.
"Welcome back, Irisdina-ojōsama, Somiliana-ojōsama. We have been waiting for you."
When Nozomu turned in the direction in which they were called out, a middle-aged woman dressed in a maid's outfit stood at the entrance to the city.
She folded her hands in front of her and bowed deeply.
That was a woman Nozomu had never met before.
However, He was familiar with the clothes she was wearing. They were the same clothes as those of the maids working at the Francilt mansion.
"U-umm ... who are you?"
"Nice to meet you. My name is Mena, and I serve the current head of the Francilt Household, Victor-sama. I look forward to working with you."
"H-hello, it's nice to meet you..."
Nozomu instinctively bowed his head at the polite greeting from the woman who introduced herself as Mena.
Being bowed to by an older woman, Nozomu also bowed his head.
Meanwhile, Irisdina and Somia, who were acquaintances with Mena, froze in surprise at the appearance of someone who wasn't supposed to be there.
"... Mena, how did you get here?"
Irisdina's words slipped out unintentionally. A thick voice echoed as if to answer her.
"Because I came to this city."
"F-, father ..."
A middle-aged man with a bright golden beard appeared from behind the maid.
Dressed in clothes that were recognizable at first glance as expensive.
But what surprised Nozomu more than anything else was the fact that Irisdina addressed the man in front of her as her father.
The current head of the Francilt Household. Nozomu had heard of his fame.
He was a loyal vassal who advised the king of Forsina to send an army as soon as possible during the great invasion 10 years ago. He was also the person who offered a helping hand to the countries that were being driven into a corner by the demon beast attack.
"It's been a long time, Irisdina. You have become more and more beautiful, just like Firana."
"Father too, I am glad to see you are doing well."
Victor's stern face broke when he saw his beautifully grown daughter.
Irisdina, whose eyes had been wide open in surprise, also smiled wryly.
"Father! It's been a long time!"
"Oh, Somia! You've grown up. I'm sorry I haven't been able to come to see you more often."
Upon seeing her father, Somia rushed to him in a lively manner.
Victor picked up his young second daughter and gently stroked her head while smiling broadly.
"Father, that's ticklish."
"Sorry, sorry. Somia is just too cute. Yeah, you're as still light as a feather."
"Bu~! Father, I'm growing up all right!"
"I see! Well, Somia has also grown into a fine young lady, hasn't she?"
"Yes! I'm a fine young lady now!"
Somia's cheeks puffed out in dissatisfaction, but her smile soon returned and she hugged her father tightly.
Perhaps she was so happy to see her father, she was more energetic than usual.
"Father! Have your work been doing well?"
"Yeah, everything is good. Because Mena has been doing an excellent job."
Where have you been? What happened? What was it like?
Somia's questions fly in rapid succession, and Victor again happily talked about foreign countries and cities.
Irisdina, who was listening at the side, was also smiling at her family's reunion after a long time.
On the other hand, it was Nozomu and the others who were completely left behind.
They left them alone for a while because it was a parent-child reunion, but there was no sign of an end to the conversation between Somia and Victor.
But they were afraid to talk to them.
"Father, we are still in the city. Somia too should hold back a little..."
Irisdina noticed that Nozomu and the others were wondering what to do, and she said a word to Victor and Somia.
"Ah, I-I'm sorry."
While smiling bitterly, Victor gently lowered Somia to the ground.
Perhaps embarrassed that she had been so excited in front of Nozomu, Somia turned and hid behind her sister after she was lowered from her father's arms. Her cheeks turned bright red.
"Let me introduce myself again. My name is Victor Barenz Francilt. I am the father of Irisdina and Somia."
"N-, Nice to meet you! I am Nozomu Bountis."
"I'm Mars Dickens."
"T-, Tima Lime ..."
"I'm Shīna Yuriel."
As each of them gave a brief self-introduction, Victor nodded his head.
"Oh, I've heard a lot about you guys. You've taken care of my daughters in many ways."
"N-, no. I ... I am the one who has been indebted to them..."
"So, Father, what brings you to Arcazam today?"
"Hmm? Why would I need a reason to come check on my daughters? Well, I came for a little inspection as well..."
When Victor noticed Jihad near Nozomu, he quickly approached him and began to talk about something.
"Jihad-dono, I now understand the "circumstances". I have just confirmed it earlier. We will talk about it early tomorrow morning..."
"I understand. See you tomorrow at your Office ....... Well then everyone, see you all tomorrow."
Jihad briefly exchanged words with Victor and then returned to the school with Inda and Anri.
"Father, what is the matter?"
"No, I just told Jihad-dono that I wanted to talk to him, but it's getting dark today, so we'll talk tomorrow."
Victor cut off the conversation as if to say it was no big deal.
"Well then, let's go home. It's been a while since I've had dinner with my daughters. Oh, yes. Would you like to join us, ladies and gentlemen?"
Nozomu and the others were perplexed by the sudden offer.
The other party is a famous nobleman on the continent. While Irisdina is already more like a dear friend than the daughter of a noble family, this is not the case with Victor.
Besides, it would be their first family reunion in a long time. Nozomu also wanted them to take their time and not worry about him.
Victor may have sensed that Nozomu was feeling this way, and he smiled as if to say, "Don't worry about it."
"This is a good opportunity. I'd like to hear how my daughters are doing in school. I hope they don't misbehave..."
Irisdina raised her voice as if she was dismayed.
Victor watched his daughter with a smile on his face.
"'Umm, are you sure?"
"I've already sent the maids to do the preparations. If you all refuse here, all the hard work of the maids will have been for nothing, right?"
It seemed that Victor was going to invite Nozomu and the others from the beginning.
After being told this much, Nozomu and the others had no choice but to accept.
"W-, we understand. We will be your guest."
"Alright. Then, let's go."
Victor smiled with satisfaction at Nozomu's response and began walking with his daughters.
Nozomu and the others followed, with Mena walking at the end of the line.
An unusual group of nobles, students, and maids. Naturally, they attracted attention.
Nozomu and the others walked through the darkness of Arcazam toward the Francilt Mansion, while the residents glanced at them through the windows of the houses on the street.
1,096 | 1 118 chapters