Clink, the heels of the boots rang, and at the same time, an energetic voice echoed throughout the spacious room,
“Reporting to senior master swordsman Eugeo-dono! Today’s cleaning has been completed!”
The owner of the voice was a young red-haired girl; dressed in a grey junior apprentice uniform.
She had passed through the gates of the Academy this spring. Maybe because it hadn’t been a month since she was appointed as a retainer of a senior master swordsman, it felt painful to see her standing at attention so tensely.
While Eugeo tried to be as kind as he possibly could, no matter what he said, it wasn’t easy to make them feel relaxed. He understood how they felt, as he experienced it all too well the year before. To the juniors, the twelve senior master swordsmen, in a sense, were even more terrifying to approach than the demon instructors.
Normally, it would take at least two months before they could somehow manage a normal conversation, and Eugeo himself was no exception. But then, his wholly strange partner seemed to be the only one completely unaffected by this.
After closing the old textbook about the sacred arts he was reading, Eugeo stood up from his tall back chair, and gave a nod before replying,
“I appreciate your efforts, Tizé. You can go back to your dormitory now. ……And, hmm……”
His gaze shifted to the left of Tizé’s red hair, toward the girl with dark brown hair, who, just like Tizé, had also straightened her back.
“……Sorry, Ronié. I have already told him to come back before the cleaning is completed many times, but……”
As Eugeo apologized in place of his partner, who disappeared as soon as the training course ended, the junior practitioner named Ronié widened her eyes and shook her head repeatedly.
“N-No, before the completion of my report, I’m still on duty!”
“Well then, sorry but just wait for a while. How to say it… err…… as his roommate, I’m really sorry……”
Even though the North Centoria's Imperial Master Sword Academy is the best of the training facilities for the children of nobles and wealthy merchants across the land of Norlangarth, the moment they stepped onto Academy ground, even the heir of the royal family had to start off as a junior apprentice just like any common born apprentice.
In the first year, there was almost no chance to even touch a real sword, they spent all their time in practice using wooden swords; studying tactical theories and sacred arts, and in addition, various routine duties within the Academy were assigned to each of the juniors as well.
Tasks were given based on the sword arts examination, which took place immediately following enrollment. Nine-tenth of the students were either appointed to be in charge of cleaning within the Academy, tools maintenance, or cultivating the sacred flowers; while the top twelve would be officially appointed as the retainers of the senior master swordsmen, gaining both envy from their classmates, and a feeling of tension for their two months of service as retainers.
Although they were called retainers, their tasks actually weren’t much different from the other students. While their classmates were cleaning the classrooms or the practicing ground, they were cleaning the rooms of the upperclassmen- or at least it should have been this way; however, if the student they accompanied had malicious intent and just scattered items about the room on purpose, or had a habit of always disappearing somewhere; retainers like Ronié would only end up with troubles everyday.
“……Ronié, if you want, I should be able to ask the teacher to get someone else to substitute as a retainer…… Having to be together with him for a year will be troublesome, no doubt about it.”
Ronié shook her head violently once again in reply to Eugeo’s proposal. At the same time, a familiar voice could be heard; not from the door, but from the twilight outside the open window,
“Oi, oi, what are you saying behind my back, huh?”
Smoothly slipping into the room from the window of the third floor, dressed in a senior master swordsman’s uniform; was Kirito, who had been his partner for two years. While the shape was the same, Eugeo’s uniform was in indigo blue tinged with gray; while Kirito’s was in jet black. Being able to freely choose the color of their uniforms was one of the many privileges of being a senior master swordsmen.
For some reason, looking at Kirito; who came back holding a paper bag that smelled good, Ronié had her mouth open as if she felt relieved. Her expression then suddenly became tense as she rang out a high pitched sound with the heels of her boots.
“Reporting to senior master swordsman Kirito-dono! Today’s cleaning has been completed without delay!”
“I see, thank you for the good work.”
Kirito idly scratched his black hair as he expressed his appreciation to Ronié. As usual, he was helplessly weak against the existence of his retainer apprentice. While watching that situation with a bitter smile, Eugeo started questioning his partner’s actions,
“Well, Kirito, I can’t stop you from going out, but the girls have had to wait for you so many times already; you should at least come back before the cleaning is over. Anyway, why do you have to come back through the window?”
“The window is the shortest route if coming back from the east third street. Ronié and Tizé should remember this just in case you need to use it in the future.”
“Don’t teach them such strange ideas! ……The east third street, so that bag has honey pies from the Leaping Deer Pavilion in it, huh?”
As it was before dinner, the sweet fragrance drifting from within Kirito’s arms immediately stimulated Eugeo’s stomach violently.
“……It’s certainly quite unique, but why do you have to buy so many?”
“Hmph, just be honest and say you want some, Eugeo-kun.”
Kirito grinned before taking two gold-colored cylindrical pies out of the swollen paper bag. Tossing one to Eugeo, he held another one in his mouth. He then dropped the bag onto Ronié’s arms.
“Eat them with your roommates when you get back to the dormitory.”
‘Wah—!’ Tizé and Ronié made shouts of joy like fifteen or sixteen year old girls would, before quickly correcting their postures.
“T-Thank you very much, senior master swordsman-dono!” was Ronié’s reply.
“We’ll make haste back to the dormitory so the Life of these won’t decrease! We’ll see you tomorrow!” is what Tizé exclaimed.
After giving a quick informal thanks, the sound of the girls’ boots rang out across the room, before they opened the door and exited into the hallway. They gave a light nod and closed the door, the sound of their joyful voices could still be heard from the hallway. The sound of them running faded into the distance.
Eugeo took a big bite of the baked pie, before taking a sidelong glance at Kirito.
“……What is it?”
“No, nothing really. It’s just that I think maybe senior master swordsman Kirito-dono has already forgotten why we are here.”
“Hmph, how could I forget about it.”
After Kirito took a large bite to finish off his pie, he licked his fingers before looking out the window —— not at the dormitory of the junior apprentices, but at the great tower of the Axiom Church, rising high at the heart of Centoria.
“Three more…… we’re finally at this point. The first obstacle to overcome is defeating the other ten senior master swordsmen in the graduation inspection contest and taking the positions of the Academy’s representatives. Next is defeating all the old imperial guard guys of the Chivalric Order in the Empire Sword Combat Tournament. The last is winning in the Four Empire Unity Oblation Tournament until we are the last two remaining. Then, we will become Integrity Knights. And we’ll be able to elegantly march into that tower from its front gate.”
“Yeah…… One more year…… then, I’ll finally……”
——finally meet her. My golden-haired childhood friend who was taken away by the Integrity Knight right before my eyes eight years ago.
Eugeo’s gaze returned from Central Cathedral to the other side of the room, to look at the two swords, one black and the other white, hanging on the wall of the room.
There is nothing that can stop us, as long as these swords of destiny; which have been guiding us until now, remain beside us.
Without the slightest hint of doubt, Eugeo believed so.
(Alicization Running End)