【”Wait! What are you doing to Elu?!”】
A voice forced itself in between Elu and Harold .
Lifa, who had finished collecting the Hydra samples, dashed towards them in her white coat covered with red spots . In her eyes, Harold appeared to be bullying Elu .
With just his right hand, Harold restrained her by grabbing her small head in what’s commonly referred to as an Iron Claw .
Lifa let out a strange voice, surprised from the sudden shock and pain .
The sight of a bloodstained person aggressively approaching him roused Harold’s revulsion .
Though he wasn’t one to talk as he was covered by hydra blood .
As Lifa wriggled in resistance, Harold figured he couldn’t keep this going forever and reluctantly released his grip .
Lifa, now released from the iron claw, took some distance and threatened him .
Just like a cat .
Removing his eyes from her, Harold turned off his “switch . ” His excitement from the battle slowly died down .
Harold called it a switch for convenience’s sake, but in reality it was simply a method he had worked out to shift his consciousness to make use of the original Harold’s power .
However, that didn’t mean Kazuki Hirasawa’s consciousness was cut off . It was a kind of mind control technique which pushed forward the awareness of the original Harold… or so he had perceived, but he didn’t really understand the theory behind it .
Based on his experiences in this world, he believed that the original Harold was sleeping in his body or his mind, but this was just Harold’s conjecture .
So he had started suspecting the circumstances that were forced onto him . Who was it that would take control of his body out to say and do things he hadn’t intended?
And the time he fought against Ritzert, where did the killing intent that poured from the depths of his mind come from?
The conclusion Harold had reached by joining the pieces together was “The Original Harold is within me . ”
To verify his hypothesis, Harold had tried various methods on countless occasions . At times, he’d put his life on the line on dangerous battlefields in order to free himself from obstructive thoughts and turn off his consciousness .
He was going to need this for sure sooner or later, so that he could draw out that power in the battle events from the original work . (TLN: Original work = the game)
As a result, Harold managed to acquire a new skill, “switch . ” He didn’t know if that was proof that his hypothesis was right or that he had improved his mind control .
What was clear, however, was that the switch burried his fear with battle instincts and considerably improved his combat capabilities . Even in life and death battles, he didn’t even flinch .
His body and skills were beyond what they were in the game . He was very familiar with the fighting style that suited himself . And he now had the battle instincts of the original Harold .
Speaking only of strength, the switched Harold was close to being in the best state Harold Stokes could possibly wish for as an individual .
If he had to name a price he had to be pay for using the switch skill, it would be that his harsh words and complaints would become even harsher than usual . In his switched state, Harold’s way of speaking was basically the same as the Harold from the game, so he preferred to keep to himself while switched .
【”Calm down, Lifa . He didn’t do anything to me . ”】
Elu calmly addressed Lifa who hadn’t dropped her threatening stance .
【”Then, then why are you kneeling?!”】
【”Oh, that’s because I’ve become his— Harold-sama’s subordinate . ”】
From Elu’s words, Lifa let out a flat voice . Harold was in a similar state of mind .
Elu said that he had become Harold’s subordinate, which explained why he kneeled .
That seemed to make perfect sense . However, Harold’s intention had been to reach a mutually beneficial relationship where he would cooperate with the Giffelt family’s search for the 『Star Memory』in exchange for Elu’s help .
Thinking back on their earlier exchange, Harold’s words did make it seem like he would be playing first fiddle, though he didn’t go as far as suggesting a master and subordinate relationship . Perhaps he had been more overbearing than usual because the switch was turned on .
Though he had been too busy mentally celebrating, he should have at least felt a sense of incongruity when Elu attached “sama” to his name .
(Rather, why would Elu agree with that? He’d normally completely refuse becoming something like my subordinate or whatever, right? )
When he thought he had gotten an ally, he had actually obtained a subordinate .
By no means did he assume he would stand above the Giffelts . To begin with, he didn’t even have confidence he could deal with Elu as one member of the clan .
【”Don’t go getting the wrong idea here . All I said is that you’d be working for me, bastard . ”】
【”This one understands he does not deserve your trust as of yet . This one shall prove himself worthy with his future actions . ”】
Wrong . That was not what Harold wanted to say .
In addition to the honorifics that were never seen in the game, Elu wasn’t even speaking to him in first person anymore . This sense of creepiness was way past discomfort .
【”W-what do you mean by ‘subordinate’? Don’t tell me you were threatened to… . !”】
【”Not at all . This is my own choice . ”】
Though the now awakened Lifa cross-examined him in an attempt to figure out his true motives, Elu denied her question head-on . There was no mistaking Elu’s words . Harold was guilty of nothing .
And at the same time, the question put some light on how Harold was perceived by Lifa .
At the first suspicion she had of him, her reaction was to threaten him . She must have thought that he really was scum .
Well, that probably meant the bad rumors about Harold had reached her, but Harold was sad because there was no real need for Lifa to hate him . Erica would probably tell her that he was a proper human being and clear up the misunderstanding once the two became friends later on, but still, he couldn’t deny that it bothered him .
【”If you want to earn my trust, start by changing that weird behavior of yours . ”】
【”Is it that bad? I was going for a loyal retainer-like mannerism . ”】
【”Yeah, it gives me the creeps . ”】
【”Well I guess I screwed up . ”】
Hahaha, Elu laughed . And he easily turned back to his usual state .
Perhaps he took on that mannerism to make fun of Harold . Or maybe he abased himself more than necessary for the sake of information on the Star Memory?
Harold wanted him to confirm whether he was joking or serious about being his subordinate, but he put that aside for the time being as his priority was to descend the mountain . The weather was fine but his body told him the temperature was quite low, probably under 5°C . (Tln: Under 41 °F)
And yet Lifa was wearing a miniskirt, and Elu was wearing nothing but thick overalls and a cotton wrap around his chest . How are they not cold?
Well, in the original work, Erica easily climbed mountains wearing what looked like lacquered Geta shoes and a Hakama . And in general, the hero’s party members were all dressed in thin clothes, so there was no point arguing about that . It was just another part of the game’s settings .
【”It would be a waste of time to stay here any longer than this . Let’s hurry and go back . ”】
【”Alright . By the way, Harold, are you going back to the royal capital after this?”】
【”That’s right . ”】
【”The royal capital? It’s been two years since I’ve last been there . ”】
【”What’s your business with the royal capital, bastard?”】
【”Business? Well, I’m going to follow you there so…”】
Elu tried to naturally step in as Harold’s travel buddy . Harold was about to reject him on the spot, but then stopped to think about it .
He had already been expelled from the knight order, so when he returned to the royal capital, he was going to stay in a room in the research center . And in that research center was Justus .
Could he obtain some information if he introduced Elu to him?
Thanks to his knowledge from the original work, Harold roughly knew what steps Justus would take and by what means he would take them . However, it was going to be difficult to crush Justus’ project from its source if he didn’t know the progress of his plans, and even if he did, there was a possibility that the world would deviate too much from the original work, rendering his greatest advantage, his knowledge about the game, completely useless .
Therefore, Harold’s imagination was constantly focused on counterattacking, and having rapid countermeasures against the events Justus brought about .
In practice, Liner and the others were the ones who would actually be on the move, but still, supporting them from behind the scenes was going to be a major objective for Harold . Hence why he was gathering upright people, this time, he was fortunate and won over Elu .
Borrowing Elu’s talents, he could probably figure out how far along Justus’ plan was .
【”We’ll have plenty of chances to come in contact from now on so I also want to confirm the location of your dwelling . ”】
【”Humph . Have it your way . ”】
Certainly, he had a point, they were going to meet pretty often . Besides, even if Elu met with Justus, Harold didn’t need to worry about him revealing information by mistake or something .
What was worrisome, however, was how much Elu knew about him .
It seemed like he had grasped the series of events that happened to Harold from when he joined the knight order until the present time, but how about the things before that? Considering Giffelt’s power, it wouldn’t be surprising if they had thoroughly investigated Collet and the LP farming methods, but there were no proofs of that .
And Harold didn’t want to ask Elu not to speak of these things since it would be suspicious and could end up exposing him .
As Harold was thinking things through and nodding to himself, Lifa, who had been contemplating to herself en route, made an abrupt declaration .
【”I’m coming along, too!”】
Her remark was so baffling that time seemed to stop .
Harold and Elu were utterly lost about why she wanted to come .
【”What a merry train of thought . You have way too many shortcomings, and you’re too high maintenance . ”】
【”What? So it’s fine for Elu but not me?”】
Though his words had a sarcastic tone to them, he was telling the truth . If Lifa did not become Liner’s comrade, the story wouldn’t progress .
In this world that wasn’t bound by the scenario, Lifa not meeting Liner was an option, but of course, that would lower the hero party’s strength . Especially since she played a part in resolving the miasma outbreak in the Sumeragi territory .
If she came to his side, , the damages would be impossible to predict . He wanted to avoid that .
【”That’s right . You’re of no use to me . ”】
【”I didn’t mean I’d become your subordinate . I’m worried about Elu so I’ll follow you to the royal capital and just return to my village afterwards . ”】
Said Lifa while gritting her teeth .
Apparently Harold had just jumped to conclusions and she was just, seemingly unwillingly, requesting to travel together with him .
However, if she was going to stop following at the royal capital, then it was no problem . He couldn’t get involved if she returned by herself and ran into an unforeseen accident and died, so this was an advantage in terms of assuring Lifa’s safety .
【”You’re worried? For this one?”】
【”Yeah, that’s right . There is no way I could entrust Elu to you after all . ”】
And just what is Elu supposed to be to you?
While feeling her low credibility, Harold had a hard time enduring to let out his retort .
Elu was looking at Harold, who was advancing rapidly in front of him, as if he couldn’t understand him .
Rather than expressionless, Harold looked ill humored . And he wasn’t making a face, that was the default for him . Perhaps his angry eyes were one of the factors that made him appear to be bad-tempered .
It had been three days since they had left mount Giran . And the only facial expression that Elu saw on him was his bad-tempered one, and the sarcastic crooked smile that he often had when provoking Lifa .
Harold was a man of a few words but his way of speaking was extremely bad . He appeared to be constantly putting his all into turning his surroundings into enemies .
Elu couldn’t infer on how he was on the inside yet, but from the outside, he couldn’t be said to have a good character . Though Elu took pride in the number of strong people he came into contact with, Harold really stood out among them, and not in a good way .
If it weren’t for the condition of obtaining information on the star memory, he would never have even considered stooping this low . If that turned out to be a lie, he would disappear immediately without a shred of hesitation .
That’s what Elu, who shared only a few hours with him, felt .
So he could easily guess the feelings of the people who were around Harold from day to day .
Hostility, digust and scorn were fired at him from his surroundings .
Though the place was supposed to be silent, it felt to Elu like he would start hearing hallucinatory insults anytime soon .
This was people’s evaluation of Harold at the『Astral research and development center』where he belonged .
Next to Elu was the cowering body of Lifa who had been consistently energetic so far . Even though she had been extremely excited about embarking on a ship for the first time a few hours prior .
Lifa, who was supposed to have a far stronger will power than the any average man, was frightened by emotions that were directed to someone other than herself . Even Elu had to strongly focus his awareness on slowing down his steps in order to suppress his urge to quicken his pace to hurry and leave this place even one moment sooner .
The animosity of the people from this research center towards Harold was that severe .
Even though Harold was drowning in said animosity, he didn’t seem to be disturbed by it .
He had no fear of being stuck by those ill feelings, but he didn’t show any anger to oppose them either . He didn’t show an attitude of shrinking back from it or being fed up with it, and he didn’t put it any conscious effort to try to erase his facial expression either .
Indifference . That was the word that best described Harold’s state .
(I wonder what kind of circumstances led him to growing accustomed to this…)
It’s difficult to disregard someone who’s interested in one’s self whether they’re being friendly or hostile . All the more so when said interest is so extremely strong and comes from such a great number of people .
He suspected that Harold was lacking one of the sensations that a person should normally have .
It that wasn’t the case, then he had to admire him if he had a motive behind this, no matter if said motive was righteous or evil .
Harold’s feet unexpectedly came to a stop . At the end of the corridor, before their eyes, was a white door .
A knock resounded . After a few seconds, the door was opened with a clank .
A man who came out of it seemed to be in his thirties . He frowned for a moment once he realized the once knocking was Harold . It seemed Harold was hated like some kind of abomination .
【”… . What’s your business?”】
【”Don’t ask the obvious, imbecile . Do you want to show off your low status that much?”】
(The moment he opens his mouth, he’s guaranteed to be hated . )
It was a very harsh environment so the man had that outcome coming . There was no room for sympathy here .
However, things like sympathy were most likely unnecessary to Harold who did not care about the people surrounding him .
The mad who was told those harsh words had his face instantly turn red, and his eyes turn fierce . He was quite obviously furious .
He was trembling in anger, but regardless, the man tried to somehow ward off Harold’s words .
【”The chief is in the middle of an experiment . For your report, you’ll have to come back when――”】
【”You should have been told that my report is the top priority . Or did you forget even that? Then just tell that guy I’ll be coming back later . Even with your infant-like memory span, you should be able to do this at least . Well, if you think it’s too complicated, I won’t force you . “】
His sarcastic and provocative words kept coming out one after the other . Hearing this confirmed one thing, Harold was going extremely easy on Lifa with his provocation . His words were many times harsher now .
As for the man, he seemed like he was going to die of anger anytime soon as he gave Harold a forbidding look . And then, when the dangerous atmosphere between the two was about to reach its climax .
【”I am of the belief that some quarrels have their benefits, and some are futile . Which are you two going for? I don’t know about you, but I expect it won’t be the beneficial kind . ”】
There was a voice flat enough that one could doubt whether it came from a human . It had come from the back of the room with the white door .
There, was a man with white hair and a pale face, lacking life . While he had a tall and lean figure, his back was slightly bent and he gave off a somewhat frail impression . Out of all that, what caught attention the most was his cold and dull eyes .
This was Justus Freund . One of the scientists who represented the royal capital .