*Step, step, step…*

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He heard footsteps walking leisurely through the deserted palace.
It is already midnight.
Yet, this person is still walking around the palace, where he works.
He hs not returned to his residence for days.
He have forgotten the exact number of days, but there is still so much to do that there is no time to rest his body.
But that need will soon disappear.

He opens the door with a clang and walks into his office, where the peasant on duty comes out.

「Master, is there anything I can do for you?」

「No, I don’t need anything, thank you.
It’s late, you should get some rest too.」

「I refuse, Master is working, and I don’t think that kind of…」

「If you go down, the other peasants will get the wrinkles, you know? Even though it’s because of my continuous packing of Oval Office, you’ve already worked four nights in a row.
You are still growing, so take care of yourself.」

「What a waste of words for someone like me.
I will leave now, but please take care of yourself, Master.」

「Yeah, I will.」

The peasant boy bows and leaves the room.
A young man watches him with a gentle smile.
However, as soon as the peasant biy leaves and there is no longer any sign of him, the young man’s face is as emotionless as if he wore a Noh mask.

Then, out of nowhere, he heard a voice speaking to the young man.
The voice, despite its innocent tone, is somehow dark and heavy.
If the young man had been there earlier, he might have been thrown off by the eeriness of the voice.

「Master, hey…」

「You’re here.」

「Is that very kind of you, dearest brother?」

「Hmm, I’ll let them dream while they still can.
After all, the peasant has a job to do.」「Hahaa… As one would expect of dearest brother.
You come up with some pretty outrageous ideas.」

A chuckle echoes out of nowhere from inside the room.

「Not as much as you.
Don’t be so transparent with your flattery.」

「No, no, I really respect you.
After all, I’m the one who didn’t kill you, and we’re still exchanging words like this.」

The laughter he heard was gradually turning into something unpleasant.
But this young man doesn’t seem to care.
It is always the same, the owner of this voice has a foul mouth.
However, if he is not careful, it will come to really kill him at any time.
Of course, he doesn’t have a shred of respect to it.

「…So, what do you want?」

「The material I’m looking for is in the Forest of Dulcass.
I am wondering if you could lend me a soldier.
You’re in charge of this area, after all.
It would be boring to move around on your own and then get a penalty later.
As my dearest brother, you should praise me for coming here to show my face, right? After all, the rest of wouldn’t be able to do that?」

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The conversation gets down to the business and there is no longer the slightest hint of respect.
This must be the voice’s original way of conversing.
However, the young man does not seem to have raised his voice.
He knows that he will not be able to survive if he expresses his irritation at this level at every turn.
Besides, the owner of the voice is so happy that it irritates him.

「It’s fine.
I still have people searching in the Forest of Dulcass.
Use them as you wish.」

「Can I use ordinary people?」

「I don’t care.
But just make sure clean up after yourself, alright?」

「Of course.
I greatly appreciate it, dearest brother.」

It answered with a cheerful voice and a hail of laughter.

「…So, how long do you plan to stay in this country?」

「It’s none of your business.」

「Ah, you can’t talk to me like that? … Do you want me to kill you??」

The air in the room instantly becomes tense, as if the bright voice of the previous speaker is a lie.
If the peasant mentioned earlier had been here, he would have fainted from this pressure alone.
It was such an unusual amount of deadly atmosphere.

「…Do you want to give it a try?」

「…I’m just joking! Enough, I hope you don’t take me so seriously anymore.
We don’t have any pieces on our side right now, so how could I possibly do it?」

「(I’m not sure I’d do it even if I had all the cards in my hand.
This person is still dangerous aa ever.)」

Although he was his junior, the young man did not like the owner of the voice from the first sight.
He did not know where his master had brought him from, but how many times had he wondered how much easier it would be without him? But he is not alone in this.
He knew that everyone, including himself, had their own quirks.
But it is also true that the presence of the owner of the voice has helped the plan move forward more quickly.

「…Well, it’s alright.
I did what I had to do in this country for the time being.
It may take some time for the sown seeds to sprout, but they will bloom well.
Just look forward to it.」

Here, for the first time, the young man grins.
It was wickedly evil smile, not even a hint of the gentle smile he had just shown to the peasant.

「Hmm~, since you’re so sure of it, you are not clearly wrong.
Because you are certainly precise in your work and aesthetically pleasing.
It’s just that your methods are too slow for me.」

「I’m not an ephemeral hedonist like you.」

「Hey, hey! Then I’ll come back to report when I’m done with my work.
Until then, keep that body of yours, okay?」

「You’re getting pretty rickety, anyway.
I can’t make any guarantees, but you’ll have to endure…」

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Before the young man could finish his line, the owner of the voice is gone.
The young man’s guts were boiling inside, but he had mo choice but at this stage.
He was the only one who could take the kind of action that would endure among his friends.
They can’t let them get rid of him just yet.

He went to his desk and started to write a letter.
What he wrote was a declaration of war against Zamued, Gruzald’s ally, and an order for the border guards to march on Zamued.

***

And the place had changed, they were at the forest of Dulcass.
Half a day had pssed since Alfiris and her team entered the Dulcass Forest.
It was different forest from the one in Rukia, where they had gone last time to defeat the Archfiend.
While Rukia was relatively young forest with thin trees and a lot of undergrowth, Dulcass was a much older forest.
The trees are tall and thick, and it is difficult for the sun to penetrate.

The ground was covered with grass and moss that is shorter than the undergrowth because of the lack of sunlight, and the footholds are quite poor.
In addition, the humidity and the discomfort are strong.
The temperature is quite moderate during the day, but the nights are quite cols.
And yet, because they wanted.to keep this activity secret, they couldn’t even use the fire.

「If we use fire, they can see it across the mountain.」

「Besides, the fiends here are not afraid of fire.
In fact, they may even come closer.」

That was Miranda and Nia’s decision.
But to Fenna, it seems like a garden, and she said that if there’s danger, the forest will tell her.
It is kind of earth magic, she said.
And then there’s Lisa, the sensor.
Nia also has night vision, and even if she can’t use the fire, she doesn’t thave to worry about security.
However, not being able to use the fire to prepare meals is a pain.
They have to eat mainly dried meat and bread, which can preserve, and if they continue to do so for a long time, they are likely to lack nutrition.

「Guys, prepare to get your bunks ready」

「Eh, isn’t the sun just about to set?」

「No, the forest is so deeo that soon we won’t be able to see anything.
It is better to have a place to sleep now and take a longer rest.
Besides, considering that fiends are more active at night, I don’t know if we can really rest even in our bunks.」

「I agree with Nia.」

Miranda nods.
And it was dark in less than half an hour as Fenna searched for a suitable spot near a watering hole and cut trees and weeds to secure enough room to pitch the tent.
Thanks to this, they had to eat their dinner by hand.

「Fenna, how far are we from our destination?」

「We’re about two days out.」

「We are closer than we thought.
I thought the elven village be deeper in the forest.」

The moonlight was shining, albeit slightly.
In the midst of it, Nia makes a surprising face.

「The center of the forest is a den of magical beasts.
Their family are migrants, so they would not be so bold as take up a position in the center.」

「Migrants?」

「Yes, they moved here from the south only about 500 years ago.
I have not been told why they moved here.」

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「If it’s been 500 years or so, how many elves are still alive that time?」

「No, only the High Elves or Ancient Elves have such a long lifespan.
Te lifespan of us Seekers is not much different from that of humans, 150 years at most.
We may look younger for longer than humans, as we come of age at around 20, but our appearance remains unchanged until we are about 100 years old.」

「…I envy you very much for that.」

Lisa began to ponder something.
Alfiris thought that she was a person who had nothing to do with jealousy or envy.
Lisa mumbled to herself, oblivious to Alfiris’ gaze.

「(After all, boys should be young in appearance, right? Well, Lisa will probably reach her best age in terms of appearance in about 10 years… but it is possible that Jake is a lolicon.
If he sees a grown-up Lisa and calls her『old』and『granny』 which as expected, Lisa won’t be able to get over it either.)」

「…Lisa?」

「But I don’t want to be as tall as Alfie… although I do want those breast and buttocks.」

「Hey, Lisa?」

「No, but what if he prefers a body shape like Miliazar’s… Ah! If so, was it a mistake to leave with Miliazar!? He’s being taught some sleazy things at night now… haha, Lisa doesn’t think that Jake is the only one… what if he’s unexpectedly into that kind of thing…?」

「Lisa, listen to me!」

Alfiris shook Lisa, who had started to groan and hold her head somewhat alone.

「Don’t interrupt me, Alfie? Now seriously,『are small breasts in demand?』I am thinking about this.
Yes, I’m sure that’s none of your business anyway!」

「?? I have no clue of what you’re saying?」

For some reason, even Nia started to worry a bit about her figure.
Fenna, on the other hand, had a little head tilt, wondering if it was a problem she wouldn’t have to worry about if she had such a great style.
It could be that she is just naive.

Fenna has long straight silver hair and silver eyes.
Elves are generally said to be tall, but Fenna is not so.
She’s is almost as tall as Miranda.
Her head looks even smaller, and her waist and other parts of her body are very thin, but she has a perfect figure.
This is what they call,「inhumanly human.」

Nia was short in stature, but she herself said was still about 15 in human terms.
As she recall, she told that beastmen have a slow growth period, and many of them changer their physique from that age.
She still gives the impression of being a bit timid and young, but she could be described as quite cute if she were to develop a calm and relaxed atmosphere.
Her tone of voice is strong, like someome from military, but her gestures are quite cute.
Whenever she does something, her tail twitches and moves impatiently.

Incidentally, Nia has fur and eyes that are somewhere between blue and gray.
And her fur is very pleasant to the touch.
Her fur is very soft and is truly「cat fur.」She gets angry when one touch her head, but she is embarrassed when one touch her neck.
「Stop it!」that turns into「S-stop…」when her voice changes.
It’s an easy personality to understand.
It is no wonder that Lisa teases Nia every night before she goes to bed.

Which brings back the topic, Miranda, who is usually at the center of the conversation, is not involved with anything.

「Miranda, what are you doing?」

「Nhn—? I’m making explosives.」

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「Hey! Do it somewhere away from the danger, you know?」

Alfiris involuntarily takes a step back.
Miranda giggles when sees Alfiris like that.

「It’s all right.
I don’t mix gunpowder, I just add effects to bombs and make special bullets.
Hey, Fenna! Is this Chiko leaf?」

「No, those are Musca leaves.
The Chiko leaves are…」

「Ah, I see.
Then I’ll put it like this… how about this?」

「Okay, I think it’s well done, Miranda-san.」

「I have confidence in my ability to mix medicines and such.
But Fenna, I told you to call me by my proper name, didn’t I?」

「I-I’m sorry… umm, Mi-Miran…da?」

「Your voice is too small! One more time!」

「I’m sorry!!」

「Almost there!!」

The group have no idea that Fenna was royalty or anything like that.
She seems strangely accustomed to apologizing.
Was there such a thing as a princess who is accustomed to apologizing?

「But why are you making bombs?」

「Because I’m not a good enough myself.
I make up for it with this.」

「But again.
Miranda is just strong enough.」

This Alfiris’ honest opinion, but Miranda fixed her with a hard stare.

「Alfie.
Are you serious about that line?」

「Y-yeah.
I’m not lying.」

「…As expected, you’re still naive as ever…」

Miranda sighed deeply.

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