Lifa had been strange lately . That’s the feeling Harold got, because the times he actually met face to face with her were decreasing drastically .
If that was it, maybe he’d have thought it was just a coincidence, but he doubted that since, whenever she saw him, Lifa would turn around and go back to wherever she came from . Maybe she was tired of his careless abusive language and took some distance .
The last time Harold had talked to her was a few days prior . At the time, he wanted to advise Lifa, who was observing his daily early morning training, by stealthily whispering to her【”You should stop going out of the research center by yourself . ”】 . And, as usual, his words turned into sarcasm . Perhaps that was the cause of the current state of affairs .
Looking back on his behavior so far, his misconducts had just been accumulating so this result wasn’t strange in any way .
There were no demerits to being disliked by Lifa, but unlike in Erica’s case, there was no guarantee that Lifa would become an ally, therefore, Harold was worried that she’d switch sides and go with Justus . In the worst case scenario, Harold would have to consider taking her in his own camp instead of sending her to the main character’s party .
To avoid this what-if scenario, Harold had been looking for solutions, and apparently, Elu knew the reason behind Lifa’s change of attitude . Although Elu didn’t want to get into the details for some reason, Harold was relieved to learn that the situation wasn’t all that serious and would most likely not bring any harm to him .
At any rate, Lifa’s change weighed on Harold’s mind, so he really appreciated that Elu stayed with her since it considerably decreased his worries . Harold believed that as long as Elu was involved, he’d somehow manage . Elu was that reliable to him .
Especially in situations like the one that was currently happening, as he had to leave the research center to do a mission for Justus .
(…… Speaking of, just how far is the meeting place?)
A few days ago, he was called by Justus to get his new mission . It was nothing unusual . The unusual part however was that the task wasn’t commissioned by Justus but by a third party .
Ever since Harold had been working under Justus, that was a first .
He hadn’t been told where to go or what to do yet, but it seemed like, this time only, he’d be informed about the details directly from the client at the meeting place . Incidentally, Harold had been told beforehand that he couldn’t refuse the client’s demands .
And what startled him the most was a message that Harold received from Justus the previous night . Though that in itself was quite frequent, the strange part was the content of the message【”Be careful not to use your power too much . Remember, you don’t have that much longer to live, Harold . ”】
That “power” probably referred to the sword made by Justus . That sword with the crystal embedded in it that supposedly absorbed the user’s power, and cut down his life to grant him a herculean strength . By making Harold seemingly carry that kind of risks, Justus convinced the higher-ups to disregard the danger Harold represented and make him a subordinate . In other words, it was all a pack of lies .
In the first place, what pushed the higher ups of the knight order and the members of the tribunal to come to the conclusion that Harold was dangerous were Justus’ lies, therefore, he himself had no reason to be worried about that .
So the message was likely made to be heard by a third party, and not Harold himself .
(Maybe someone intercepted it and Justus actually did this on purpose to turn the tables on that person?)
Harold cast his eyes down at the wristband-like device coiled around his arm .
It was a terminal equipment, developed by Justus, that made it possible to send voices to another material with a similar source of magical power by attaching said material to to an astral body . It appeared to be like some kind of substitution of science with magic, but when Harold asked Justus to explain how it worked, Justus laughed at him scornfully and told him that no amount of detailed explanations would make him capable of comprehending this .
That attitude really angered Harold, but he had no understanding of that kind of specialized knowledge, so he just let it go for the time being .
The device’s system worked by recording the voice first and then sending it, so it wasn’t possible to have a real time conversation with it like with a phone, and the more distance there was between the two terminals, the longer it took for the message to arrive . Be that as it may, in this world where telephones didn’t exist, it was a ground-breaking invention .
What Harold was wearing was a test prototype . If Justus successfully commercialized this, his fame would rise yet again, and he’d make lots of money .
While he thought about this and that, Harold was being jolted around in a horse-drawn carriage .
Two whole days had passed since he left the royal capital . The sun was already halfway down the horizon, and as Harold was dejected, thinking the ride would keep going for the whole night again, the carriage started slowing down .
When the carriage came to a complete stop, its door was opened from the outside .
【”We’ve arrived . Get off . ”】
The very unfriendly rider lowered the carriage’s staircase .
As Harold got off the carriage, he found himself in some sort of town square . The city’s business district, or what looked like it, was thoroughly illuminated by the street lights and the lights at the store fronts, and even though the night was coming soon, the people were brimming with energy .
However, Harold no memory of that town . Perhaps it didn’t exist in the game’s story, or perhaps it just wasn’t part of the game’s map . (Tln: Was the game open-world?)
【”What’s this place?”】
【”It’s Kablan . 】
Though the town hadn’t come up in the game, he had heard of the name in his life within Harold’s body . He didn’t know if the term “provincial city” existed in this world’s language, but when compared to the towns and cities scattered across the country, save for the royal capital, this city was extremely well developed .
【”What am I supposed to do here?”】
【”I wasn’t told . My task was just to bring you here . ”】
As he said that, the rider got on the carriage and quickly rode away .
Isn’t this going a little too far? I have no idea where I am or what I’m supposed to do, I’m just stuck here . As Harold was at a complete loss about where to go…
【”What’s wrong? What are you just standing here for?”】
Someone called out to him from behind .
Harold reflexively responded to that voice . In normal times, he’d have probably immediately realized who was calling out to him . That familiar voice brought a feeling of nostalgia in him .
【”It’s none of your fricking business you――”】
Upon looking back towards the source of that voice, Harold was at at a loss for words . He had an aghast expression, rarely ever seen on his face .
【”It is kind of my business though . Or are you denying our friendship?”】
【”…… The hell are you doing here, Itsuki?”】
The one who stood there was Itsuki Sumeragi, Erica’s older brother, also known as Harold’s only friend .
The next day after Harold departed for his new mission, the atmosphere in the research center was somehow calmer than usual . Perhaps that was due to Harold’s absence?
Moreover, Lifa, who was now Elu’s temporary roommate, had regained the composure that she had lost for several days . However, the implications of that were the complete opposite of what other people perceived .
It wasn’t not that Lifa didn’t want to see Harold, but rather that she didn’t want to be seen by him . And Lifa herself didn’t seem to realize the cause behind this .
(Who’d have expected this kind of development . It would be premature to call it love, but she’s become really aware of him ever since that day . )
On that day, Elu found signs that Lifa had slipped out of her room, so he followed behind her without her noticing . That was to abide by Harold’s instruction of not letting Lifa be by herself if possible, regardless of the fact that Lifa had simply went out for a stroll .
In the middle of her walk, Lifa happened to come across Harold, and, at that moment, she likely felt a strong sense of appeal towards the opposite sex .
Harold had a constantly displeased expression on his face and sharp eyes that could kill a person, yet he was attractive . Even by the standards of Elu, who had many male acquaintances, Harold’s looks were top class .
He had good facial features and a well trained body . If he whispered something close to someone’s ear while fully displaying those looks, it wasn’t that weird for said someone to crumble on the spot, depending on the person . Moreover, it didn’t seem like he did it intentionally .
Perhaps Harold was some sort of natural lady-killer . When Lifa and Elu visited the research center for the first time, Justus teased Harold about getting himself a second wife, but he wasn’t necessarily off the mark .
And that’s why Lifa’s emotions had been in shambles up to now, but today was the day of the second meeting with Justus, which Lifa had been waiting for, so she seemingly managed to clear her mind of idle thoughts . She was very proud and in high spirits as she had, based on the gains from her first meeting with Justus, prepared new ideas for the second meeting .
Elu really wanted to learn from Lifa, who switched her mood so easily . As Elu observed her while thinking that, the time of the meeting came .
【”Let’s go, Elu!”】
【”Yeah, yeah . ”】
Lifa, who had been constantly looking at the clock, tried to pull Elu out of the room by force . Elu, who wasn’t particularly fond of being dragged on the floor, decided to follow her pace so that they wouldn’t be late . There was no way he was going to let Lifa confront Justus alone .
However, Lifa seemed a little bit too passionate . She was certainly very eager to learn, but maybe she was also desperate to get rid of the anomaly in her emotions, to which she still didn’t know the cause .
Either way, Lifa was trying too hard . Though Elu gave her a warning just in case, he had to back her up so that she wouldn’t give Justus any opportunity to take advantage of .
If he had to be honest, Elu didn’t want to get involved with Justus more than necessary . Elu knew very well that it would be extremely difficult to get any information from Justus without exposing himself .
But making up excuses to not go, at this point in time, would be akin to confessing that something shady was going on . Justus’ perception and thought process were far from average after all . He was basically a monster .
Which made it all the more ridiculous for Elu to willingly go to the man’s office to wait for him . Elu jeered at himself . However, this was the job that Harold had entrusted him with, so he had no other choice than try his luck and deal with it .
And that’s why, Elu came to Justus’ office . However, when he knocked on the door, there was no response . Usually, he’d have been received by one of Justus’ assistants, but it didn’t look like there was anyone inside at all .
It was already past dinner time, and those assistants were dedicated to their research day and night . It was hard to believe that all of them, at the same time, had gone to sleep or eat .
【”Oh? Is no one there?”】
Lifa reached her hand to the doorknob without any hesitation . The knob soon stopped turning and the door opened with a clank .
When the two peeked into the room, there was no light, and not a soul in sight .
However, upon a closer look, there was a dim light coming out of the door that led to Justus’ personal laboratory . It seemed like Justus was inside .
Elu considered what to do . Normally, it would be fine to just go inside the office since they had an appointment . Even if Elu examined the office, and then later on insisted that he had just arrived, there would be no way to actually prove that he lied, moreover, if he managed well, maybe he could get some important information .
But this unusual situation was too advantageous for Justus .
Harold wasn’t there, and all the other researchers were out as well . If Justus planned to do something to Elu and Lifa, this was the perfect opportunity for him . Considering that, Elu had to thread carefully, any mistake could bring back some severe retaliation .
Elu was hesitating . But in the end, the answer he reached was still to take the gamble .
Harold had warned Elu not to take any risks . However, Elu knew better than anyone else that, if he followed that warning, he wouldn’t be able to draw any information from Justus . Justus was that strong of an opponent .
Although this was for his job, Elu didn’t want to clash head on with that man . So far, he had taken a pretty big safety margin so as not to expose himself as being Giffelt, like Harold had told him to .
So why did Elu choose not to do that this time? That was because his mind wasn’t thinking straight, he was too impatient to gather information . Had he been composed, Elu would not have made such a reckless decision .
The compensations Elu would get for cooperating with Harold were indications regarding the star memory . This star memory was a gathering of information that gave one the ability to know about everything in the whole creation, be it in the past, the present or the future .
Obtaining it was everyone’s dearest wish in the Giffelt clan that was in a constant pursuit for knowledge and information . Elu wasn’t sure this was true, but he had heard that the Giffelt clan came to be for the sole purpose of finding it .
And he feared that, if he didn’t show himself useful to Harold, he would be back where he started, without a single clue about the star memory’s whereabouts . Therefore, to gain Harold’s trust, Elu wanted to get some useful information by any means necessary .
Elu put his index finger on his mouth to instruct Lifa not to make any noise . Once he confirmed that Lifa understood him, Elu very silently walked across the room . Lifa followed behind him timidly . She did quite well considering that she wasn’t used to moving stealthily .
Inside the room, the two arrived before the door that led to Justus’ laboratory . On the right, Elu approached his ear while being careful not to let his silhouette appear behind the door’s blinds, and Lifa did the same on the left side of the door .
And then, the two’s ears picked up something .
【”―― Be careful not to use your power too much . Remember, you don’t have that much longer to live, Harold . ”】
Harold didn’t have much longer to live, that reveal was probably a merciless blow to Lifa .