The woman named Vanessa stepped toward Rio . She left her weapon sheathed—likely because she had no intention of killing him—but the look in her eyes was dangerous all the same . Rio’s eyes widened, and he shifted a foot forward as he prepared to intercept her .
In an instant Vanessa cleared the gap, and grabbed at Rio to restrain him . He batted her hands away with ease, moving to lock her down himself, but—
Vanessa shook him off and thrust the back of her hand out to strike his abdomen, but Rio parried it again, knocking it upward .
「Cecilia, back in the passage!」
「Please step back, Vanessa!」
The voices of Rio and the purple-haired girl overlapped, and Vanessa was the first to react .
The purple-haired girl held her palm forward, and fired off three balls of light from the magic formation that appeared . Their lethality was low, but they still packed enough of a punch to break some bones, so Rio strengthened himself with his spirit arts and braced himself; he paid some extra mind to strengthen his hands more than the rest of his body .
Forearm, shoulder, torso—the girl’s bullets were aimed to render him incapable of fighting, and if he avoided them they’d hit Celia . Mentally praising the girl for her pinpoint accuracy, his hands followed each one .
Accompanied by a loud crashing noise, all three bullets vanished . Everyone who saw it, even Celia, was left shocked by the feat, and Rio was free to kick off the ground and move in unhindered .
He moved behind Vanessa before she could respond, immobilizing her arms around her back . At the same time, he managed to get himself closer to the purple-haired girl without putting Celia at risk .
「Lady Christina! Don’t worry about me, this man is—!」
Apparently, Vanessa was the type to choose death over capture . It was an admirable way of thinking .
Surprised by what Vanessa had shouted, Celia unintentionally let out a voice that made Rio pause .
Christina—he knew that name as well . She was the first princess of Beltram, one of Celia’s former students, and a girl deeply connected to Rio .
It could have just as easily been someone with the same name, but he was skeptical that things would be that easy even in as unlikely a place as this basement . He turned his eyes toward her, and upon closer inspection the girl bore an uncanny resemblance to the one he knew a few years ago .
It appears… she’s going to be causing me trouble again .
He would have been lying if he said he wasn’t interested in why the princess of a kingdom was living in a place like this, but he was ready to leave at a moment’s notice . More accurately, he figured things were only going to go downhill if he stuck around . However, without any information on things, it wasn’t a good idea to let his past get in the way here .
Besides, from Celia’s point of view as a noble of Beltram, she wasn’t going to ignore one of her own princesses hidden in her family’s mansion . He decided to leave the talking to her .
Fortunately, despite her readiness, Christina hesitated to attack with Vanessa taken hostage . They had a chance to speak, and maybe calm down . Unfortunately, sensing that she was the reason for the delay, Vanessa made a mortifying declaration .
「Kh… Just kill me already!」
Although caught off-guard by her decision, before Rio could tell her he had no intention of doing such a thing, one of the doors that had been closed during the entire exchange swung open . From the other side came a pair of boys in their mid-teens . They looked Japanese .
「… What’s going on? What the…」
They still seemed half-asleep, but the boys woke up when they realized they had no idea what was happening .
「Nobody move . 」
Rio was curious about them, but he had no room to let his guard down, and soon enough the air grew tense again . The only noise for a moment was the Japanese-looking boys gulping loudly, and Rio wanted to settle things before they possibly misunderstood things .
「Cecilia, over here . 」
「Ah, mh . 」
「I’ll leave the rest to you . 」
「Understood . Thank you . 」
Celia nodded and revealed herself more clearly to the others . Maybe because the person looking at her was the person they thought she was, Celia briefly looked surprised, then immediately kneeled as befitting her station .
「Lady Christina . 」
「I am Celia, eldest daughter of the house of Earl Claire . I apologize for my long absence, Your Highness . 」
With Celia’s recognition, there was no doubt the purple-haired girl was indeed Christina Beltram . She’d certainly grown more beautiful in her teens, and the raw dignity she exuded grew with her . Rio smiled dryly at his suspicions being confirmed, and Christina’s hostility disappeared .
「Miss Celia? But your hair? And weren’t you supposed to be missing? Why are you here?」
「I’ve been in hiding for the last few months . I was waiting for things to die down so I could meet with my father…」
As expected, she explained things clearly without leaking the important details . On the other hand, Rio finally released Vanessa after watching the situation cool off .
「Excuse me . Please pardon our rudeness . 」
「No, we were the ones who made the first move . We couldn’t afford to be found . Sorry . 」
While Celia and Christina exchanged information, Rio and Vanessa exchanged apologies .
「However, I’m surprised how well you managed to evade the guards . There should have been a large search team all over the place . 」
「That’s a… difficult question to answer . But, a search team? Your Highness, are you…?」
「… Yes . I managed to escape from the castle, but we were forced to hide because our pursuers caught up with us . I’m terribly sorry to become such a burden on the Claire family . 」
「Not at all . If the princess is in trouble, there’s no helping it . 」
Even without the full story, Celia didn’t mind . Earl Claire, Celia’s father, was fiercely loyal to the kingdom’s royalty . They had nothing to do with the factions behind Dukes Arbor and Huguenot . Knowing the Arbor faction were liable to do as they pleased, and having sheltered Christina, Celia agreed expecting her father to still be here .
「You have my deepest gratitude . Please, stand . 」
「Pardon me, then . 」
「Now I’m sure we both have much to talk about, but may I ask for the name of the gentleman with you?」
Christina turned a pointed gaze to Rio .
「Um, this is…」
「Your Highness, would you forgive my rudeness if I were to introduce myself?」
Rio took the heat off Celia, right hand to his chest in respect to the princess .
「… I don’t mind . 」
「My name is Haruto Amakawa, an honorary knight of Galwark Kingdom . I’m here serving as Miss Celia’s escort . 」
「Why is a knight of Galwark here of all places…」
「Is there any evidence to support your claim?」
After Rio completed his introduction, Vanessa and Christina were both shocked . The latter was the only one to remain entirely calm .
「This is the insignia given to me by His Majesty, King Francois . 」
He showed them the insignia affixed to his collar, and Christina had Vanessa confirm its legitimacy .
「Excuse me… It’s true . I couldn’t say if this was one of an honorary knight, but without a doubt the crest belongs to Galwark Kingdom . 」
「I see . Then we’ll trust you . Still… Have we met somewhere before?」
As if feeling like something just wasn’t right, Christina tilted her head and inspected him a little more carefully .
「… No, I don’t believe so . 」
Naturally, he denied it with his rock solid poker face, reflecting back on the party just a short while ago .
So Flora’s intuition wasn’t just a one-off…
By his side, Celia stiffened a little and tried to change the topic .
「Your Highness, rather than standing down here, why don’t we continue this inside? The dining room should be close by . 」
「Yes, I agree . 」
「In that case, allow me to excuse myself . 」
Rio planned to stay out of this . It wouldn’t have been prudent to hear secret information like this, but Christina shook her head .
「If possible, I’d rather you join us . 」
「But, I’m just an outsider here . 」
Admittedly, it was a modest resistance at best, not wanting to be half-forced into listening in on conversations that had little to nothing to do with him . Christina didn’t really have the authority to give an order to a foreign dignitary like Rio, but they were still in Beltram . With the situation in Beltram and the relationship between the kingdoms, it wasn’t a good idea to give them any reason for hostility .
「You’re a noble of Galwark . There’s no trouble if it’s someone like you, appointed as an honorary knight at your age . Miss Celia seems to trust you quite a lot as well . 」
Christina looked at Celia as if trying to get at her and Rio’s connection to each other . Rio considered how to respond, but Celia kneeled once more .
「… Your Highness, I can attest that Haruto is trustworthy . However, I don’t want my benefactor to be involved in this if he doesn’t have to be . Please allow him to leave if the story you’re about to tell shouldn’t be heard…」
The princess was startled, but soon answered with a wry smile .
「Sorry . I spoke thoughtlessly . Getting him caught up in our own problems wasn’t my intent; I simply wanted to know about what was going on in Galwark . Of course, I won’t pry for any more than you’re willing to say . 」
When she finished, Celia found it hard to keep insisting otherwise . She turned to Rio apologetically, garnering an ever so slight grin in response . And having already gotten enough of a grasp on the situation, he choked down his desire to get out of Dodge .
「So be it . I’ll be happy to accompany you . 」
「My thanks . Let’s go back inside then . Vanessa, you too . Ah, before we do, I forgot to introduce her . Miss Celia, about Vanessa…」
Christina looked back at Celia .
「Yes, I’m already aware . Our houses are associated with each other . 」
「I see . Your houses belong to the same faction, after all . Then Vanessa, please introduce yourself to Sir Arakawa . 」
「Vanessa Emal . I’m sorry for my previous discourtesy . 」
「Emal? Are you perhaps related to Alfred, the 『Sword of the King』?」
Rio’s eyes widened a little . When the name Sword of the King came to mind, the only other person he knew of was Lucius, his mother’s murderer .
「Alfred Emal is my older brother . Are you an acquaintance of his?」
「Not directly, no . But I don’t think there’s anyone interested in the sword who doesn’t know of his fame . 」
On the contrary, he had met Alfred once before . It happened during his interrogation in prison after saving Christina and Flora . At the time, he had no idea about any connection between Alfred and Lucius .
Vanessa briefly seemed like she was proud about it, but she looked somewhat down until Rio changed the topic .
「This is getting a little off track; my bad . Haruto Amakawa . It’s a pleasure to meet you properly . 」
Similarly to before, Rio placed his right hand to his chest and bowed lightly . After they finished with the formalities, Christina spoke again to lead them inside .
「Well then, shall we go?」
Then one of the boys timidly spoke up, forgotten the entire time . Christina answered them with a gentle tone .
「You two can return to your room . 」
「Ah, alright . We got it . 」
The boy who responded nodded absentmindedly, and they left the group alone .
「Lady Christina, who are they?」
「They are… It’s a long story . They were pulled into this world during the hero summoning . I’ll have to explain the details later…」
Christina knitted her eyebrows as she talked about them .
「I see . Then that as well, we can worry about it once we’re in the dining room . 」
The women made their way inside, with Rio following at their backs . As they walked, he couldn’t keep down the feeling that the direction things were going was…
This is just getting weirder and weirder .