「…Sorry, I got a little ahead of myself there. I just didn’t expect to come across someone as distinguished as you in this kingdom…」
「Let’s not worry too much about whether or not this Shion is the same Shion that you have heard of. But more importantly, we already introduced ourselves. Are you happy now?」
As Ykslaas stepped forward, the armored figure nodded with a surprised expression.
「…I see that the situation is complicated. Well, you’ve made such a name for yourself, so I guess you run into all kinds of problems.」
Vermudol quickly looked away as Ykslaas glared at him coldly. She turned back to face the armored figure with a smile on her face.
「So, full-body-armor-san. If you don’t hurry up and introduce yourself, we’re gonna have to call you by that name forever.」
「Oh, I-… I’m sorry. But wait, before I do that, let me ask you something.」
「What is it?」
Her armor clanked loudly as she straightened her posture.
「Have you been hired by someone? Are you currently serving anyone?」
「If you mean to ask whether or not we’ve been hired by some person or power on this continent, no, we have not. We aren’t serving anyone either, though I guess we don’t really have a way to prove that.」
「I, I see. Well… I guess…」
「Yup, that’s right. And so I guess you’re fine with your name being full-body-armor-san?」
Ykslaas smiled. The armored figure let out a small groan.
「N-no. I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I’m hesitating so much to give my name to the people that saved me.」
「I don’t mind at all, full-body-armor-san」
Cold sweat dripped down the armored figure’s face as she saw Ykslaas smile widely at her.
「Oh, Ys. Please, won’t you be kind enough to excuse me from…」
「No. Despite my appearance, I’m a pretty mean person.」
「I already know that much, but…」
Ykslaas glared at Shironos. The armored figure stood before them and gave a knight’s salute.
「…My name is Eltrinde. I am the second princess of this kingdom. Shion, Ys, and Shironos, thank you for saving me. I am currently unable to give you anything to express my gratitude, but I promise to fully repay you in the future.」
「Ahh, we don’t need anything in return.」
As Eltrinde tried to stand up, Vermudol stopped her. He kneeled on the ground, looking at her in the eyes.
「If you really want to repay us for our help, I want to you to explain why you fell from the sky like that.」
「…It was the Alva.」
Seeing Vermudol’s surprised expression, Eltrinde stood up. As Vermudol did the same, she looked up at the sky.
「So it isn’t there anymore…」
「If you’re talking about the fracture in the sky, it disappeared when you fell.」
「Well, even if it was still there, we still wouldn’t have a way to get to the other side. Humans can’t fly, after all.」
Eltrinde ground her teeth in frustration. Hearing this, Ykslaas grimaced in displeasure.
「I don’t like that sound.」
「Wha-? Oh, oh… I’m sorry.」
「So, going back to what Shion said, why are you so frustrated? You just narrowly escaped death and now you’re safe with us. Shouldn’t you be relieved?」
Eltrinde turned to face Ykslaas, who had her arms crossed.
「…Due to various circumstances, I took the name of a certain man and concealed my face and identity.」
「You don’t have cover it up as “various circumstances,” we already know what you’re talking about. It’s about the Knight Army Trials, right? The name you took was Segius. What happened next?」
「Oh, ohh. Well, I guess anyone living in Kashnart would already know.」
「Well, I can kinda assume your motives based on your position, but none of that matters right now. Just hurry up and keep talking.」
Ykslaas stomped the ground with her feet. Startled, Eltrinde staggered backwards and bumped right into Shironos.
「I-, I’m sorry Shironos.」
「Don’t worry about it.」
「Now that I think about it, you’re the one that saved me, aren’t you? I vaguely remember…」
「Okay, okay, stop getting off topic! If you don’t stop that right now I’m gonna have to turn you two into some dumb love story!」
「Hey, calm down there…」
「And you need to be less calm! Why am I having to interrogate her on my own, anyway? I have two men with me and they do nothing but stand around in silence. Are you stupid!?」
Intimidated by Ykslaas’s vicious glare, Vermudol, Shironos and Eltrinde all took a step back.
「So, sooo… Uhm, about the reason why I fell from the sky…」
「You’re finally gonna tell us about it?」
「Yes. First, all of the trial participants, myself included, came to this mountain to hunt goblins.」
Goblins. Shirons mumbled to himself with a puzzled look on his face.
「But there aren’t any goblins on this mountain.」
「…And that seems to be the case. I had thought the exact same thing, but the moment I began to suspect that it was some sort of trap… The Alva dragged me into this strange place… It was like a labyrinth.」
「A labyrinth…? That’s… Ahh, could it possibly be the Dimensional Gap, the one from the Hero Legend?」
Though Eltrinde already knew about the “Dimensional Gap,” she frowned and shook her head in doubt.
「…I’m not sure. But I’ve never heard of Alvas living in the Dimensional Gap.」
「There’s a rumor going around that it’s where they come from. See, you’ve heard the rumor that the Alva are subordinates of the demon king Shukrose, right?」
「…I have. But still, I’m not entirely sure. I couldn’t even tell if the labyrinth was above or below the ground, and even if I got the chance to catch a glimpse outside, I don’t think I would be able to tell if it really is the Dimensional Gap.」
「I guess so.」
As Vermudol nodded, Eltrinde turned back toward Ykslaas.
「And then… It’s hard to believe, but inside that labyrinth… I met someone I know.」
「Someone you know? Does that mean it was someone other than one of the trial participants?」
「Yes, it was someone I know personally.」
Ykslaas glanced back at Vermudol, who stood behind her.
「So… does that person happen to be First Princess Narika, who is currently in Kashnart?」
Third Princess Celis and Maid Knight Reina suspected that First Princess Narika’s attendant Mazenda was responsible for the attacks of the Alva. Even if the most recent incidents were to be ignored, the reports made it pretty clear that the Alva were deliberately acting to put Narika at an advantage and Celis at a disadvantage.
If this was true, it wouldn’t be too strange for Narika to be found in the Dimensional Gap.
As Vermudol stood deep in thought, Eltrinde shook her head.
「…No. The person I saw… It was my younger sister.」
「Younger… That must mean it was Celis?」
「Yes. I saw her controlling the Alva. She asked me to join her, to come to her side, and… I refused, and here I am.」
No way, Vermudol thought.
Eltrinde still seemed to be deep in shock. 「I can’t believe she would ever do such a thing…」 she stammered. Vermudol looked at her face. There was no way she was lying.
But… the Celis that Vermudol knew could never do such a thing. To him, she was nothing but an ordinary girl.
And on top of that, there was no way Reina, a fragment of the water god Aklia, would ever let something like this happen.
「She said that she was going to completely rebuild the kingdom. She said that she had to do it to restore the Canal Kingdom… And to do that, she wouldn’t hesitate to borrow the power of the Mazoku.」
Vermudol and the others winced.
Ykslaas looked hopelessly at Vermudol, who seemed to be deep in thought. She lightly knocked on Eltrinde’s armor.
「…You said that she would use the Mazoku’s power? Not the Alvas’ power?」
「Yes. She said that no matter how much the kingdom crumbled, she would be able to restore it all with the power of the Mazoku… No, she said that she could make it even better with great ease.」
Trying to hold the smile on her face, Ykslaas asked one more question.
「I see. And so, what did you think of that?」
「…I’ve heard that Celis was receiving support from some Mazoku Kingdom. So… I thought that the Mazoku might be manipulating her.」
I see, Ykslaas thought.
It was true that the Zadark Kingdom, a kingdom of Mazoku, was providing support for Celis. Even though Vermudol was simply providing support for the people of Ellark by his own personal kindness, there was no doubt that some people would proclaim that she was being deceived, that something suspicious was going on behind the scenes.
In order to prove this wrong, they were also making diplomatic efforts through the allied Jiol Forest Kingdom, but there was no real point in trying if no one was even willing to pay attention.
There have been many cases throughout history where the truth is obscured by the false ideas held by the majority. The seeds of doubt are easy to sow, but they are difficult to remove, no matter how much evidence is presented.
「So I struck the silver Mazoku that stood next to her. I got hit back hard, and I prepared myself for death, but…」
Coming to a short pause, Eltrinde looked back up at the sky.
「…And then I heard her say “throw her away,” and the next thing I knew, I was falling through the sky. I probably would have died right then and there.」
「What is this silver Mazoku that you speak of? Is it the Mazoku that caused those gashes in your armor?」
Eltrinde slowly ran her hands over the holes in her armor, nodding silently.
「It was an absolutely brutal enemy. It was wearing a set of armor that seemed to be completely made of blades, and… The blades on the armor flew towards me and pierced my body. If this thick suit of armor wasn’t there to weaken the impact, I would probably be dead right now.」
「…So he’s still alive…」
「Hmm? Did you say something, Shion?」
「I said that I’m happy that you’re still alive.」
「Oh, thank you. However, it opened my eyes up to how weak I really am.」
Eltrinde forced a weak smile, but Vermudol wasn’t paying any attention to her. His mind drifted back to the Sword Demon that he thought he had killed at the blacksmith Margaret’s workshop.
He had heard from Southern General Raktor that, for some strange reason, no matter how many times the demon was killed, it would be alive and completely unscathed by the next morning. He had considered the possibility that the demon was still alive, but from what he heard just now, it seemed that this was the case.
「And? You were still able to survive. What are you planning to do next?」
「…I don’t think that, in my current state, I will be able to tell who’s right and who’s wrong. However…」
Eltrinde took off the armor covering her upper body. It fell to the ground with a thud. Before Vermudol’s eyes appeared a beautiful figure wrapped in blue clothes.
「…However, I will defeat Mazenda. Celis and Narika… I don’t know who’s right and who’s wrong, but I have no doubt that Mazenda is evil. I’ll do whatever I can to…」
Ykslaas put her hand on her face, deep in thought.
After a brief silence, Eltrinde, who had been gripping her hands together, suddenly spoke out.
「N-now that I think about it, do you happen to know anything about the other participants?」
「You’re the only person we found.」
As Vermudol tried to open his mouth, Ykslaas elbowed him in the side to shut him up.
「Oh, I see… I wonder if the others were also dragged into the labyrinth…?」
「Who knows. But they’re all pretty strong, aren’t they? Maybe they’ll eventually fall from the sky like you did.」
Eltrinde fell silent. Vermudol began to speak.
「I do know a little about Celis.」
Vermudol watched her intently as she gazed at him with curious eyes.
「Though I still feel like she’s incapable of pulling off such a horrible trick.」
「…I also want to believe that..」
Eltrinde murmured quietly.
「However, the environment that she was raised in has never been pleasant to her. She knows, better than anyone, the dark reality of the Canal Kingdom that claims to value freedom. Even if she joined the Mazoku in search of power… I can understand why she did it.」