Nozomu, who was absent from school, invited Lisa and went out for a walk in Arcazam together.
They pa.s.sed through the civic district where the student dormitories were located and headed for the central park in the middle of the city.
Sitting on a park bench, Nozomu and Lisa gazed at the chalk-white school building of Solminati Academy in silence.
For a while, silence flowed between the two.
"Umm, I'm sorry."
It was Nozomu who opened his mouth first.
He glanced sideways to check Lisa's shortened hair and looked down in regret.
Her hair, which was cut to the shoulders, was now trimmed even shorter, making her look like a boy.
"I told you, no need to apologize. I just wanted a change of pace. Well, Camilla surprised me."
Contrary to Nozomu, who had a painful expression on her face, Lisa had a clear expression, and she waved her hand, saying not to worry about it.
"No, that one too, but what I mean is that everything happened until now."
"That's not something Nozomu should apologize for, isn't it? To begin with, it was my fault because I couldn't believe you, Nozomu..."
This time, Lisa's expression became clouded.
Even though she had been fooled by Ken's plan, it was definitely her who had thrown abusive words at Nozomu.
And her words were the decisive factor in bringing down Nozomu's position at the school to the bottom of the barrel.
"I should be the one apologizing. I'm sorry I didn't believe in you, Nozomu..."
Turning towards Nozom, Lisa bowed her head deeply.
She herself didn't expect to be forgiven. Even so, she felt that she had to apologize properly here.
"No, I should have asked you as soon as those rumors came out. I should have confronted you, as well as Ken. The only reason I didn't do it was because I myself ran away from you and Ken."
Nozomu looked at her as she bowed her head and slowly speak about his true feelings.
His words were colored by regret.
Indeed, Nozomu was rejected by Lisa. Furthermore, he had been deceived by Ken's trickery, and he had also been impatient with his own ability, which was not growing at all at the time.
However, the reason the situation had become so complicated was also because Nozomu had a part in it.
He couldn't bring himself to face her. He was under the delusion that if he became stronger, he would be able to help Lisa. That was Nozomu's sin.
"In the end, we said we were doing it for each other, but we didn't even try to face each other. We kept convincing ourselves about stories that were convenient for us and kept turning our backs on each other because they weren't going the way we wanted them to. That is why. I want to apologize."
Once again, Nozomu turned to Lisa and bowed deeply.
Then, both of them raised their heads at the same time, and both of them smiled.
"Pfft~! We're doing something weird, aren't we?"
"Haha~! That's for sure. A man and a woman are absent from school in the daytime and bow their heads on a bench in the park. From the outside, people would be scratching their heads and wondering what they're doing."
They smiled and laughed at each other for a while.
They could feel the stagnation that had settled in the depth of their heart for two years flowing away. It was the first time in a really long time that they could smile from the bottom of their heart.
They had a distorted relationship, but they still leaned on each other as if they depended on each other. The rusty cogs in their relationship were finally starting to turn.
"What are you going to do now, Lisa?"
They laughed for a while.
After a while, Nozomu suddenly asked Lisa a question, and she looked up and stared off into the distance.
She looked at the sky and closed her eyes as if to look inside her own heart. Then, with a wry smile on her face, she turned to Nozomu and slowly opened her mouth.
"I don't know. I've always wanted to be an adventurer like my father, but I've come to think that there's more to it than that, and I still want to learn a lot of things here..."
When she cut her own words without saying them to the end, Lisa quickly closed the distance between her and Nozomu.
Her moist eyes stared at him from a close distance.
Nozomu felt his heart skip a beat at the expression on her face as if she were about to cry at any moment.
"Hey, Nozomu... If I decide to leave the academy, will you come with me?"
Lisa's words were a plea for confirmation.
She knew she had no right to ask, but she had to be sure.
Her eyes were as moist as rubies wet in the rain, and her quivering mouth eloquently expressed her feelings.
Faced with Lisa's pleading. Nozomu closed his eyes as if to confirm his feelings.
Then he slowly opened his eyes, in front of Lisa's plea...
"Sorry, I have something I really, really have to do."
He refused, once and for all.
"That's why I can't fulfill my promise to you right now."
"I see. I thought so..."
Lisa distanced herself from Nozomu as if she knew it was coming.
Nozomu bit his lip as she moved away with a sad expression on her face.
"I'm sorry. I couldn't fulfill my promise."
"No, that's not true. Nozomu, you have kept your promise to me. You supported me so that I could face my dreams properly. I know, Nozomu is a man who always fulfills his promises."
He couldn't fulfill his promise. When Nozomu said so, Lisa smiled gently, and clearly denied his words.
Nozomu had fulfilled his promise.
It was definitely thanks to Nozomu that she was able to wake up, who had run away and turned away.
It may have taken him a long time. Even so, in the end, it was because of him who never gave up.
Lisa was happy from the bottom of her heart that she was able to fall in love with him.
The result may not be a happy ending. Still, for Lisa, this feeling was a precious gift from the person she loved more than anything else.
"I was spoiled by Nozomu. I invited you to this academy, probably because I was worried. Life as an adventurer is fraught with danger. I invited you to this academy because I thought you might suddenly disappear..."
If all she wanted to do was become an adventurer, there was generally no need to attend the Solminati Academy. She could have joined a guild or other union near her hometown and started as an adventurer there.
The reason why Lisa did not do so was because she was worried. She confessed that she had been feeling that way.
However, she felt that it would not be good to keep being tormented by regrets and frightened by anxieties.
'Besides, I've got a lot of goals now."
Returning a smile to Nozomu, who stared at her with wide eyes, Lisa raised her hips.
Her face was as radiant as a clear sky.
"Are you going home?"
"Yes. Nozomu is Nozomu. Besides, you have other things to do, right?"
"Yeah ... you can tell?"
"How many years do you think we've been together? I'll know right away if it's only this much."
Apparently, the childhood friend in front of him could see right through what he was thinking.
Nozomu chuckled at Lisa, who smiled at him with her hands folded behind her waist. He slowly got up from the bench.
"Alright, I'm off."
"Yeah, off you go ..."
Turning his back to Lisa, who waved him off, Nozomu walked toward the exit of the park.
Lisa sighed loudly as she looked at his back.
"'We've come a long way in two years..."
Lisa couldn't help but let out such words as she reached out her hand for Nozomu's shrinking back.
"But it doesn't matter. Let's start anew, from the beginning. From here and now..."
With such thoughts in her mind, Lisa turned her back on Nozomu and began walking away.
Their paths part here.
But Lisa was happy about it. Deep down in her heart, the feelings that the love of her life left behind were still firmly in place.
With such thoughts in her heart, she would be strong enough to stand beside him once again.
Feeling the last, hot-drop of water dripping from her eyes, the red-haired girl took a new step forward.
Nozomu, who had parted ways with Lisa, was visiting a stall in the commercial district alone.
A unique fortune teller's shop where ancient and modern ornaments and ritual objects were crammed into filling the room in a disorderly manner.
Was it because of the bizarre decorations or the shopkeeper who was too unique that no one didn't feel like visiting at all?
While thinking about this, Nozomu called out into the store.
"Old man, are you there?"
"Oya oya~, look who it is, the little brat. What do you want? The store is still closed."
The owner of the store, the white dragon with gray hair and a beard, appeared with an annoyed expression on his face.
"You came back sooner than I thought. Have you decided what to do with Azel?"
"We have agreed on a sealing sentence and are now detaining her in the village. Do you want to hear the specific punishment?"
"No, that's not important right now. Besides, I didn't even want to ask you about fortune-telling."
"Then what exactly do you want?"
Nozomu himself had no intention of hearing about Azel's punishment now.
As long as he didn't get involved, that was fine. Besides, there was another reason why Nozomu had to meet the old man.
"I have something to ask. Old man, when I entered the Abyss Grief's predatory barrier at that time, you said that I needed my own strength to save Lisa. What did you mean by that?"
"I meant exactly what I said. You have more than just the vast amount of elements you took from Tiamat. You awakened other abilities as well. That is the reason why you have been able to live until now."
Nozomu's own ability.
This was what the old man said to Nozomu in the incident where Ken and Abyss Grief fused together.
Nozomu raised his eyebrows at these words.
He honestly had no idea what Zonne was referring to.
"Did you ever think it was strange? Tiamat's power is extremely heretical and different compared to other dragons. There is no way a person could take in such power and remain sane."
This was somewhat understandable if one were to imagine Ken fused with Abyss Grief. It was not a good idea to compare Abyss Grief and Tiamat. They were very similar in the way they erode the host's spirit, however, both have a different scale of power.
"But you are alive now because of your unique skill as a Dragon Slayer."
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"I agree. I think so too. Even though I'm like this, Iris and the others are happy that I'm still alive. That's why..."
With a bitter smile on his face due to Zonne's joke, Nozomu looked down once more at the arm around which the invisible chains were wrapped.
Nozomu and Tiamat were connected by their souls. No matter how much he tried to deny it, it seemed to Nozomu that he could no longer break the connection.
"I will not run away from this power anymore. I don't want to run away from Tiamat. That's why I don't care how hard the training is. Please, I want you to teach me how to use my power."
If that was the case, then Nozomu himself had no choice but to take control of Tiamat's power.
He wanted to become strong so that he could continue to stand beside his friends.
With such thoughts in mind, Nozomu bowed his head to Zonne.
In front of Nozomu, who bowed his head deeply, Zonne remained silent, with a more serious expression on his face than ever before.
One second, two seconds ....... Eventually, when the silence had pa.s.sed ten seconds, Zonne replied to Nozomu in heavy, powerful words.
"...... The training will be tough. Tiamat will definitely try to escape your seal. If there is even the slightest gap in your spirit, you will lose yourself, as in yesterday's incident, and this time you will surely die. Are you still willing to do this?"
"I'm well aware of it. If I can't even overcome it, I don't deserve to be next to them. Let me do it."
Nozomu answered immediately to Zonne's intimidating question.
Zonne exhaled deeply and urged Nozomu to raise his face.
"... Fine. From now on, call me Shishō."
"No, I can't do that. There is only one person I call Shishō. So I'm going to call you Rōshi (Old Master)."
"Hmm, you are a disciple who doesn't know how to use his words."
"Of course, I can respect my teacher. That's why I'll use the honorifics .... Rōshi, please treat me well."
In response to Zonne, who smiled provocatively, Nozomu also returned a gaze with a strong will and firmly grasped his old master's hand that was offered to him.
Inside a certain mansion in a section of the administrative districts. In a dimly lit room, a man and a woman were facing each other, staring at a crystal placed on the table.
The woman, wearing a purple-toned dress, is Mekria. The other man is a man known as the Corpse Raven, dressed in a costume reminiscent of a raven.
The crystal at the end of their gazes emitted a faint glow from within. The light, which shimmered like a shimmering flame, gradually took on color and revealed its shape. The light was modeled after a young man carrying a katana and a white dragon facing him.
The young man and the white dragon fought fiercely, and the young man, who had cornered the dragon, was subdued by the white dragon's death-defying move.
Then, students in Solminati Academy's uniform stood in front of the white dragon who was trying to finish him off.
"So, you mean this is what you wanted to ask me to do?"
"Yes, it was. You're the right person for the job, weren't you?"
"Certainly, there is no one better suited for the job than me~. It is impossible for a normal person to notice the quarantine barrier..."
While Mekria and the Corpse Raven were talking, the images on the crystal were changing by the minute.
The white dragon was defeated by the students, and now the young man that the white dragon had restrained was released from the seal.
The katana-wielding young man and the students began to clash their blades.
The young man's body blew out five-colored elements, which overwhelmed the black-haired girl and the greatsword-wielding young man in charge of the front line.
The Corpse Raven clapped his hands with a happy expression as he watched this spectacle with admiration.
"Ooh, those boys and girls are amazing~. I was beyond surprised to see such students, but I was also a little scared~. What are they? Are they really human?"
"They are the daughter of the Francilt Household, the school's most powerful mage, and the problem child. And then there's the elf and the beastman. More importantly, "that" is a normal human being according to the data. He is neither a beast nor an elf. He's just an ordinary person from a remote village."
The tone of the Corpse Raven's voice seemed to strike a nerve in others. However, Mekria, who was facing him, didn't seem to be bothered by it and answered the Corpse Raven's question in a nonchalant manner.
On the other hand, the Raven, upon hearing Mekria's answer, smiled bitterly and pointed at Nozomu's reflection in the crystal, as if to say it was impossible.
"No, it can't be. That little boy's power, no matter how you look at it, is the power of a spirit. Moreover, it's out of the ordinary."
"Yes, I have so much in mind that I can't even bother to mention them."
In front of The Corpse Raven and Mekria's eyes, the battle between Nozomu and Irisdina was entering its final phase.
Nozomu tried to grab the magic arrow released by Shina. Irisdina and Lisa forcefully pushed the arrow against Nozomu's left chest, causing it to explode.
There, the image inside the crystal was interrupted.
"So what are you going to do about it?"
"I'm going to move up the schedule. I intended to be a little quieter, but that's no longer necessary. I'm going to have you work for me, too."
"Eh~. I've just come to this town, so I thought I'd do a little more sightseeing and get my energy replenished~."
Mekria's absolute-zero gaze was directed at the unmotivated and complaining Corpse Raven.
Quiet, cold eyes with a flickering flame of thirst behind them.
They were filled with the color of rage as if they had been interrupted from an encounter that they had long been in love with.
*I would not allow you to do so.*
The Corpse Raven shrugged his shoulders as if he had no choice.
"Good grief~, you are a rough and wild young lady, aren't you? Well then, call me if you need me~."
With a flick of his cloak, the Corpse Raven instantly disappeared from that place.
All that remained was a black feather that fell to the floor.
Mekria, on the other hand, paid no attention to the Corpse Raven that had vanished in an instant. She gazed intently at the crystal from which the image had disappeared, then gently reached out her hand and slowly stroked its surface.
With a ghastly smile on her cheeks, she stroked the surface of the crystal.
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