"What would you like to drink? We have everything here from traditional and modern wines, eastern and western wines, distilled liquors, to honey and even rice wine?"
"No, please don't mind me..."
Nozomu, who had been escorted upstairs to the salon by Mekria, was sitting across from her at a table that had been prepared in a section of the luxurious gathering s.p.a.ce.
While being offered a drink, Nozomu's gaze, filled with tension, was fixed on the bewitching beauty in front of him.
Meanwhile, Mekria, despite his obvious wariness, did not seem particularly bothered and asked a pa.s.sing servant for a bottle of vintage red wine.
When the servant opened the wine he brought, Mekria poured it into two gla.s.ses and offered one to Nozomu.
"So, what is it that you want to talk about?"
Without looking at the wine offered to him, Nozomu asked a straightforward question.
"Please don't be so nervous. I understand that you are wary of me, considering our relationship with your friend, but for my part, I am just genuinely interested in talking to you."
There had been no connection between Nozomu and Mekria until now.
The only thing he knew about Mekria was that she was working for a political enemy of the Francilt household.
However, he had been involved with Egrod during the daytime combat training. Above all, Nozomu was alarmed by the gaze directed at him from behind Mekria.
Nozomu's gaze turned toward the source of the gaze, which would be the person behind Mekria.
Mekria, noticing that his eyes were directed toward behind her, smiled happily and clapped her hands.
At that moment, as if a shadow was taking shape, a figure appeared from behind Mekria.
"h.e.l.lo, h.e.l.lo, it's nice to meet you! I am this young lady's escort, errand boy, and outlet for her desires..."
A slender man with pale skin to the point of being sickly white appeared.
The man was dressed in neat formal attire, but his tone of voice, which could only be considered as joking, and his fierce, bird-like eyes, which were in direct contrast to his tone of voice, made him look even creepier beyond belief.
"Eeh!? I finally got a chance to talk to him, you know? We should get to know each other better..."
"'I have not given you permission to speak yet. Just shut that superfluous mouth of yours."
Despite Mekria's verbal admonishment, the skinny man did not seem particularly bothered by it.
The man sat down at the empty seat at the table where Nozomu and Mekria were sitting and began to chomp down on the tea cakes that had been served to him.
"My name is ...... John Smith, so by all means remember it."
It was an obvious fake name.
He had no intention of telling Nozomu his real name from the very beginning. A question popped into Nozomu's head, but that thought was quickly pushed out of his mind.
Nozomu's already tense body tensed up even more.
What was more problematic than the man's real name was the fact that this man, who seemed to be joking around, still had a clear murderous intent directed at Nozomu.
A tingling sensation ran through Nozomu's neck and eyeb.a.l.l.s.
If he were to let his guard down even for a moment, his eyeb.a.l.l.s would be plucked out and his head would be chopped off in an instant. It was so deadly that he could feel such a premonition.
Nozomu's switch had already been flipped.
His body naturally shifted into a combat mode in the face of the murderous intent directed at him.
The image of the innocent student who had been fl.u.s.tered a moment ago when dealing with the n.o.bles disappeared, and replaced by the face of one of the continent's greatest combatants.
His mind was filled with the determination to put up the greatest possible resistance when the time came.
Perhaps sensing Nozomu's fighting spirit, the cheeks of the man who called himself John lifted up.
The combination of his innocent smile, like that of a young child who has found the toy he has been longing for, and his morbidly pale skin, is the most gruesome and twisted smile one could ever imagine.
"Stand down. This place is not a battlefield."
Mekria interrupted from the side and admonished the pale man called John. The man shrugged his shoulders as if he had no choice but to listen to her words and put aside the murderous temper he had been directing at Nozomu.
"My apologies, Nozomu-dono. He is my escort, and although he is very skilled, as you can see, he lacks common sense, which is why he is usually kept out of the public eye."
Mekria bowed deeply to Nozomu.
Nozomu replied with a small nod, but his attention was still on the man who called himself John.
It must be true that he is skilled. No one else in the room seemed to notice the man's sudden appearance, let alone the murderous intent he had directed at Nozomu.
It was a formidable technique of concealment.
The reason Nozomu was aware of this man was because this man had been directing his murderous intent at Nozomu from the beginning.
Nozomu was not sure if he would be able to detect this man, who called himself John, if he were to seriously try to conceal himself from him.
While Nozomu was agonizing over this, Mekria, whose mouth had been moistened by the wine that had been brought to her, asked Nozomu a question.
"Well, let's get straight to the point. Nozomu-dono, are you willing to cooperate with me?"
"... Does that mean you want me to serve the Fabran family?"
"Well, you may take it that way. As a matter of fact, I need your power."
Mekria's statement raised a question mark in Nozomu's mind.
Because the head of the Fabran family has a harsh evaluation of Nozomu today.
"Your Master doesn't seem to think so, does he?"
"To be precise, his remarks were emphasizing 'for the time being'. It seems that Nozomu-sama is still unable to decide on your own future."
Nozomu's eyebrows twitched when he heard Mekria's words.
For Nozomu, it wasn't pleasant to be told what he was anguishing over with such a casual manner, although he guessed that Egrod was probably just trying to inquire about his personal life.
On the other hand, Mekria smiled happily in response to Nozomu's reaction and continued the conversation.
“But I, personally, would like you to come regardless of my Master's wishes."
''Wouldn't that be taken as treachery if it were done poorly?"
"Sure, but I think it would be much more beneficial for us to recruit talented individuals such as yourself rather than dealing with such trivial matters."
“Egrod-sama is a fairly conservative person. It takes him a reasonable amount of time to bring outsiders into his life. But he is by no means a recluse. He will spare no expense to reward those who do a satisfactory performance."
Egrod Fabran's political ideology is very conservative.
He insisted that the Great Invasion that took place ten years ago should have been a logistical support operation, and that no troops should have been sent to the affected countries.
He also outrightly rejected the establishment of the Solminati Academy, vociferously opposing it because it would spur the loss of the country's human resources and technology.
On the other hand, he was not regarded unfavorably by the people of his territory and the officers who served him, and he was well-liked by them. This proves that he knows how to treat those he considers to be his people in an appropriate manner.
"How would you like to be rewarded? If you are willing to come to us, we will certainly give you a reward that will satisfy you.'
In a seductive voice, Mekria invited Nozomu to join her.
"Whether it be money, honor, or concessions. And even if it's a personal matter..."
Before he knew it, Mekria had quickly and naturally closed the distance between her and Nozomu.
Nozomu's whole body was enveloped by a sweet, honey-like fragrance.
At the same time, Nozomu's brain was struck by a numbing sensation.
His heart started beating faster, and his vision narrowed to see only the beautiful, purple-haired woman who was slipping closer to him.
The feel of the silk cloth rubbing against his skin aroused his instincts as a man.
It was similar to the way an insectivore preys on its prey.
It lures them with its sweet scent, offers them dripping nectar, and in return, devours everything with pleasure.
And the current Mekria was so s.e.xy that it made any man would not mind being devoured.
"... I'm terribly sorry, but I have no intention of serving the Fabran family."
However, Nozomu did not succ.u.mb to that temptation.
Perhaps it was fortunate that he had been wary of Mekria from the very beginning.
He bit his tongue to avoid being overwhelmed by Mekria's scent, and forcibly suppressed the l.u.s.t that was aroused by the pain.
Instead of the s.e.xual vigor of an aroused male, what was directed at Mekria next was the fierce, frigid sword intent that was directed at an enemy.
It was not the fiery one that he had directed at Egrod, but the kind that made one imagine a very cold winter.
"Ara~, what a pity."
Mekria did not seem particularly upset with Nozomu's reaction, and she moved away with a natural gesture.
Nozomu silently tried to get up from his seat.
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To be honest, Nozomu did not want to continue talking with the woman in front of him any longer.
Then, with her arms around his arm, Madam Parline turned on her heel and led Nozomu out of the salon.
“Madam Parline, u-, umm…”
"You have been caught by a very peculiar woman. I must commend you for not being seduced by the [Perfume of Ishtar]."
"Perfume of Ishtar?"
"It's a very powerful aphrodisiac that will blow one's rationality away. It has a sweet, honey-like scent."
Apparently, the unusually heightened instincts that Nozomu felt were caused by Mekria's aphrodisiac.
And it was a very powerful one at that.
He wondered if such a dangerous thing could be used at such a public party.
"The escort who was next to her was using magic to prevent the scent from spreading to the surroundings. Besides, such a method is not unusual in aristocratic society."
Madam Parline responded to Nozomu's question.
How to gain public attention, and how to outwit the opponent.
To achieve this, the aristocrats use every means at their disposal. They prepare luxurious costumes and ornaments, polish their own appearance and speech, prepare perfumes and accessories that would attract people, have excellent attendants at their side, and obtain information about their opponents in their heads.
And then, without hesitation, they would strike the vital point with accuracy and precision.
Even though Nozomu was not familiar with this kind of battle, he was able to feel a certain degree of sympathy for it.
Madam Parline looked up into Nozomu's face, who had fallen silent.
Her eyes were somehow tinged with a hint of dismay.
"I don't know what kind of problems you have. Nor do I know how much she knows about you."
"Am I that easy to figure out?"
"Well, yes. You need to be a little more relaxed. A gentleman, no matter how difficult a situation he faces, never panics and always smiles."
Always act with grace and composure. Even if your heart is full of impatience and anxiety, never let it show on your face.
Madam Parline told Nozomu as if she were telling a little child.
"Remember this. A woman gets anxious when she sees a man who has no room to relax. If you want to rea.s.sure your loved one, you must remain calm at all times."
In Nozomu's mind, the faces of Irisdina and Shina, who had yelled at him for injuring himself in the training, came to mind.
It would make them feel uneasy. Those words fell deep into Nozomu's heart.
"Well, that's something you'll have to work on in the future. Besides, there's something else you need to do today.
Madam Parline's chin pointed forward.
In the direction she had pointed, there stood a G.o.ddess in a pure white dress and silver jewelry, reminiscent of the moon. It was Irisdina.
Irisdina smiled radiantly when she spotted Nozomu.
It was a smile full of affection, sweet and sour, and refreshing, something that only Madam Parline, who had been acquainted with Irisdina for a long time as an aristocrat, could understand.
The sight of the girl whom she fondly thought of as her own daughter falling in love naturally brought a smile to her mouth.
"Now go and escort your leading actress. She's been waiting for you all this time."
While saying so, Madam Parline pushed Nozomu with a shove on his back toward Irisdina.
"Y-, yes! U-, um, Madam Parline!"
"Hm? What is it?"
"Thank you very much!"
Nozomu turned around once, bowed deeply with the utmost grat.i.tude, and made a short run toward Irisdina.
Madam Parline smiled at Nozomu's sincere and honest grat.i.tude and sent him off.
A n.o.bleman and a commoner. Madam Parline, who had overcome the disparity, could understand the problem that lay between the two.
No, she thought, if they were not careful, they might face more severe difficulties than what she had experienced.
"You still have a long way to go as a gentleman, but ...... well, do the best you can. Boy."
Even so, with these two, it was by no means impossible to overcome.
With such thoughts in her mind, Madam Parline's heart danced like never before as she gazed at Nozomu and Irisdina.
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