The day after, I came back, on Sunday, I didn’t see Ellen in the dining hall during breakfast.
I somewhat knew what was going on. After talking to Harriet for a bit, I got a feeling for what it could have been about.
‘I was just following her around… She suffered a lot. It’s just, see… I don’t know if I should say this… She got into a fight… with your boss…’
I had heard something along those lines.
‘After we returned to Temple, she just kept on sitting on that bench in the middle of the rain, waiting for you… She wouldn’t even listen to me…’
Maybe she did that because she wanted to be the first to see me when I came back; or maybe she was just out of her mind, I wasn’t really sure.
She probably caught a cold.
I went to Ellen’s room and knocked on her door. After waiting for some time, Ellen opened the door, looking quite messy.
She didn’t even seem to have the energy to talk properly.
“If you’re sick, you should go visit the priest on duty, what are you doing here?”
I didn’t know if it was just a slight cold, but was it right to just keep it in while one was so sick?
Ellen was trying to close the door as if she was saying that I should leave if that was all.
“…I knew you were going to say that, so I made you porridge.”
I felt quite sorry for a lot of things, so I planned on doing whatever I could for her.
* * *
“I’m glad you didn’t wind up dead.”
She was lying down and eating the porridge I brought her. I never thought I’d live to the day I would witness something like that—the day that someone a summer cold that not even dogs would catch.
“Why were you sitting around in the rain?”
Just because she was sitting in the rain like that didn’t mean I would come back faster. Ellen had sat in the rain for almost a whole day.
“I… I thought this was all my fault.”
That was what she muttered, avoiding my gaze. Why did she feel like it was her fault that I got kidnapped? There was no reason for her to think that way.
“I told you those things, so I felt like this was my fault.”
Ellen knew best that this was utter nonsense, but that was how she felt. After making a few mental leaps, it seemed like this happened because of what she said.
“I wanted to do something, but in the end, there was nothing I could do.”
“So… Because I felt so pathetic. Because I couldn’t bear it…”
Ellen closed her eyes.
“If I didn’t do that… I wouldn’t have been able to go on.”
She hated herself for not being able to do anything, so she had been torturing herself.
“I don’t hate that you have secrets.”
Ellen looked at me. Her eyes were red.
“I hate to helplessly lose someone precious to me. That’s what I hate… Being unable to do a single thing… I absolutely hate that.”
When she had found out that her brother had left to participate in the Demon World War, Ellen couldn’t do anything about it.
When I had gone missing and she had come looking for me, she had no other choice but to leave it in someone else’s hand.
At that time, Ellen seemed to have reflected on what she really hated.
Even without Loyar coming for me, I hadn’t been in any real danger. Although I hadn’t planned on getting kidnapped, at one point it had become a staged act.
In the end, it had been pretty meaningless for Ellen and Harriet to come looking for me to save me. It had no effect on me, and I had been completely safe.
But I couldn’t tell her that.
Ellen looked at me silently after I apologized.
“I’m more sorry.”
We stared at each other in silence for a while.
* * *
The kidnapping case had largely been settled and a tumultuous period came to an end after talking with Mr. Epinhauser privately on Sunday .
Mr. Epinhauser seemed rather sullen, seeming as if he didn’t believe me, but he didn’t ask anything more. Like Bertus, he was someone I couldn’t read at all.
After my kidnapping, Class A underwent several changes.
* * *
“The rain has stopped. Should we eat out?”
Harriet and Ellen became much closer. To be exact, it seemed like Harriet had become able to approach Ellen much more comfortably since they had gone out together to look for me.
Harriet, Adelia, and Ellen.
Those three ended up doing everything together. Naturally, the only girl that still went around on her own was Liana de Grantz.
Harriet felt that her being an outcast was a somewhat strange situation.
“Would… Would you like to come with us as well, Grantz?”
That was why Harriet tried inviting her as well.
After my kidnapping, the girls of Class A began to unite.
Harriet turned into the center point all the girls flocked to.
She evolved from a headstrong and stuck-up noble girl to the center of the girls. In the original novel, she would have stayed the same until the end.
This made me wonder if all of them were changing.
There were more changes—another example.
After that incident, Ellen would slowly avoid my gaze when she looked at me.
I did the same.
However, it definitely felt different from before.
Before, she was just trying to pretend that she didn’t know me, her behavior afterward was different.
It felt like she couldn’t look at me properly.
It seemed like she did this either because she was embarrassed that she called me someone precious to her or because she showed her weakness in front of me by crying.
There were a lot of things for which I felt guilty towards her, and I felt really sorry, so I couldn’t really approach her either.
I felt rather awkward because they started to care so much for each other.
I didn’t know what the hell was going on, but it felt really weird!
As for the third change…
Cliffman and I were on speaking terms.
“…It kinda feels like we made up but didn’t…”
Our conversations didn’t last long, just long enough to call them short conversations.
Didn’t it actually feel like we were flirting or something? We both cared about each other but were too shy to approach each other, something like that?
Anyway, it seemed like Ellen didn’t come to the gym because of a different reason than before. She could, of course, swing by, but it seemed like she didn’t have the time because she was hanging out with Harriet a lot.
It wasn’t like she was the one who asked to hang out first, but she did follow around Harriet, seeming as if she got dragged around.
Hence, the only regular visitors to the gym were Cliffman and me.
“…Would you like to spar?”
I wasn’t that good at wielding a sword, so when I asked him that question, Cliffman looked at me.
Us two quiet men started practicing swordsmanship with each other.
* * *
I felt like I had gotten left behind, but the reversal of Class A’s atmosphere was straight-up ridiculous.
Ellen and I made up, but things turned kind of awkward, Harriet became Class A’s unrefuted center of attention, and I became friends with Cliffman after I only had female friends before.
A week after I got kidnapped, Thursday.
“The Thieves’ Guild is just the beginning?”
“Yes, but I haven’t really worked out a detailed plan yet. I got kidnapped so suddenly, after all.”
I talked to Bertus last. His goal was to absorb the Empire’s underworld and keep a firm grasp on it. However, he couldn’t possibly control everything on his own, so he tried to make me his proxy.
That was why I decided to take advantage of my kidnapping situation.
“I knew you were bold, but this is just amazing.”
Bertus grinned, asking me where I took that confidence from.
“Take care of it, although I can’t really help you. I can give you some advice, though.”
Bertus couldn’t have anything to do with the underworld. I had to keep in mind that if I got caught doing this dirty work, I would be the only one to suffer.
Of course, I hadn’t even absorbed the Thieves’ Guild yet, so there wasn’t much I could do at that stage.
* * *
Ellen didn’t go to the training room, but that didn’t mean she gave up on her training.
She just didn’t do it in the training room.
“…Why are you here again?”
Ellen had just arrived at the Rotary Gang’s new base located in the southern part of the Imperial Capital. Loyar seemed surprised to see Ellen appearing there so suddenly again.
“Teach me how to fight.”
What kind of nonsense is this?
That was what Loyar seemed to think, but Ellen shamelessly continued to approach her.
“Teach me how to fight..”
“Why would I do that…“
“You’re good at fighting.”
What kind of situation is this?
Loyar’s brain was about to freeze.
‘…You crushed her? You even tried to kill her?’
When she remembered the expression on her master’s face when he heard that she had beaten Ellen up, contemplated whether it would be better to kill her, and even tried to kill her, Loyar’s head felt numb.
‘Don’t do things you aren’t ordered to do.’
Her master didn’t even swear like usual; he just said those things. However, because of the anger these words carried, Loyar honestly felt like screaming because it was so scary that her head stopped working.
Was it because he was of the Archdemon bloodline?
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Loyar realized at that point that she would have wound up dead if anything had happened to Ellen.
As a result, she didn’t want to have anything to do with that girl ever again, and yet that girl had approached her.
She was asking her to teach her how to fight out of nowhere.
“Hey, kid. There should be a whole lotta people much better and smarter than me in Temple, so why do you want to learn from me…?”
“Because you’re different from the teachers, auntie.”
Ellen clearly realized just how different real combat was from sparring and training in her brief clash with Loyar. She thought that the only person who could teach her was Loyar.
I want to learn how to fight better.
I want to get even a little stronger.
Hence, Ellen came to Loyar.
Of course, Loyar focused on something else entirely.
Loyar’s eyes flashed at the word ‘Aunty’. Ellen just tilted her head.
Loyar was really angry.
“…Shouldn’t you call me big sis?”
“If you teach me how to fight, I will.”
Ellen drove it in as she prepared for round two.
A vein grew prominent on Loyar’s forehead.
“Okay, let’s do this then, kid.”
Loyar rushed at Ellen like lightning.
And Ellen took on Loyar’s hit just like that.
* * *
With Ellen absent, I mainly practiced with Cliffman. His talent was ‘Combat’, a talent for everything having to do with fighting. It was a comprehensive talent just as great as Harriet’s ‘Magic’.
It went without saying that weapon handling was included in this. Even Ellen, who was like a walking talent vending machine, didn’t have that talent.
Cliffman was also a monster similar to Ellen in the field of combat, so it was only natural that he was far superior to me.
Their styles were a bit different, though.
While Ellen had quickly subdued me with her sophisticated techniques, that guy fought almost like a beast.
Although Ellen wasn’t lacking in strength, she strived to reach the extremes of technique itself. She calculated every sword strike so that she couldn’t help but win. It went without saying that she was excellent at improvising.
However, Cliffman’s style was to push his opponent using his strength, reflexes, and animalistic intuition rather than technique.
It felt like his fighting instinct was forcing him to choose the most optimal path.
Ellen had to calculate the correct path first, but that guy just swung his sword in a way he felt would be best.
I staggered to get up.
When Ellen completed a match and subdued me, she would stop before making her last move and say, “You’re dead.”
If what Ellen did was subdue me, then what that guy did was overwhelm me.
His style was incomparable to Ellen’s.
“…Are you okay?”
After we were done fighting, that wild, boar-like man would grab my hand, help me up, and ask if I was seriously hurt. What was with that? Is that what one called gap-moe?
“I can’t control my power well… Sorry.”
“No, no. I’m just hella weak is all.”
“…But you’ve improved a lot compared to the start of the semester. A lot.”
Why were we being so sappy when it was just us two men there? Complimenting and praising each other like that…
Anyway, his technical skills were lacking, so he wasn’t good at controlling his strength; it was a lot harder than when I sparred with Ellen.
“…Let’s stop for today. It’s late.”
It was already rather late, so I nodded to Cliffman’s words. I should just eat something and then go to sleep. When it got closer to curfew, I went towards my room but then saw someone wandering about.
The hallway was dark, and everyone should have been in their rooms, but I saw someone coming into the hallway from afar.
It was Ellen.
It looked like she had gone out somewhere because her whole body was covered in dust.
She wasn’t just dusty either.
Her face was somewhat red, her head was a complete mess, and she seemed seriously injured, as she was limping. When she made eye contact with me, she lowered her gaze and tried to run past me.
Oh, come on, what’s her problem?
A kid who usually wouldn’t act that way suddenly acted strange. It made me feel somewhat crazy.
That girl who’d say that she was going to do it her way no matter what other people said or thought, who didn’t care much about other people, suddenly acted like that towards me.
I knew that she felt guilty and sorry towards me, but no matter how I thought about it, she had no reason to think that way. I thought she was doing it because she thought she had been too harsh on me.
No, it really was true that I had a lot of secrets; I felt really sorry that I couldn’t tell her any of them, so why did she have to feel sorry?
And thus a vicious circle of guilt was created, to the point where I was about to go completely crazy.
“How… did you get hurt like this?”
“It’s nothing really.”
Did she get into a fight? I usually would let it slide because things were still awkward between us, but seeing her like that, I just couldn’t let it pass.
Even if she got beaten, she wasn’t the type to get beaten up so badly, though, right?
“Well, it is what it is. Let’s just go and get you some treatment.”
“Fine? What’s fine? Follow me.”
I grabbed Ellen’s arm.
“I-it hurts… B-be more careful…”
When I grabbed her arm and tried to drag her with me, Ellen staggered and almost fell.
I felt like I saw Ellen’s weak side quite a bit over those past few days. I never knew I’d see Ellen in such a pathetic state like that.
Looking at her like that made my heart tremble, but more than that… I was worried about her.
If people changed too drastically suddenly, that meant they were about to die!
“Ah… Yeah. Okay.”
Ellen followed behind me while limping.
And, after I got beaten up by Cliffman all day, I wasn’t in peak condition, either.
“…While we’re there, I should probably also get myself treated…”
We went to see a priest while supporting each other.