Chapter 1 Part 4
Steano and I, who were slightly late for our meeting, were scolded by Petra. However, there was one person missing from our usual group. Petra seemed to be aware of that as well, and in a furious tone, she exclaimed,
“So, Aldia and Steano came, but what is that guy thinking!?”
With her arms crossed, Petra’s sharp gaze was directed towards the distant city… mainly towards the direction of Flegel’s residence.
Flegel von Margneuer.
He is the only one among our group who holds a peerage, being the son of a noble. Normally, he is more reliable than Steano or me and is not the kind of person who would be late. However, there was a valid reason for his absence.
―― No one knows it except me, who knows what will happen in the future.
“Petra, it seems Flegel won’t be able to attend today’s graduation ceremony.”
Since Petra was so angry, I indirectly conveyed the message that he would not be coming. Petra seemed to question why I knew about it and approached with a frown.
“It seems to be a family matter. I don’t know the details since I didn’t ask.”
I actually know everything.
His fiancée is from the Vulcan Empire, a daughter of a prominent noble. It was related to the absence of turmoil this time because their engagement was being reevaluated due to a crack in the relationship between the two countries.
―― Princess Valtrune’s engagement will be called off right after the graduation ceremony.
The offer to break off the engagement might be made today, but the content itself had probably been decided long before. Otherwise, it would have been unthinkable for many noble children to be absent from this graduation ceremony.
“If it’s a family matter, then it can’t be helped! Come on, come on, don’t be mad~ don’t be mad~ smile~.”
Mia tried to appease the grumpy Petra in a light-hearted tone.
“Mia, it’s heavy… Don’t lean on me.”
“Aww~, it’s just a little physical contact. You don’t have to be shy.”
“I’m telling you, it’s heavy! Please get off~!”
Following Mia’s cheerful laughter, Steano, Ambros, Addy, and Tredia nodded in agreement, one after another.
“Mia is right. If we keep worrying about the person who couldn’t come, we won’t be able to enjoy the graduation ceremony that we’ve been looking forward to.”
“Steano is right. We should fully enjoy the graduation ceremony in Flegel’s place.”
“Well, that guy must have his own plans, right?”
“Um… um, don’t mind it?”
Perhaps Petra was drained of her venom by the reactions around her, as her anger subsided.
“Haa… I guess you’re right. I wasn’t thinking straight.”
I can understand her feelings. Today is a special day, the graduation ceremony. It is a natural desire for close friends who have spent several years together at the military academy to want to end it with laughter and camaraderie. They want to be together for every minute and second. After graduation, everyone will go their separate ways and be unable to meet casually anymore.
“But… once today is over, we won’t be students here anymore.”
Steano muttered in a solemn voice.
“We used to see each other every day until today, but once we graduate from here, we won’t be able to do that anymore…”
The students will return to their own country. They would not have the opportunity to chat again, and they would be forced into battles they never asked for.
“If only time could stop…”
If only graduation day had not come.
If only there were no war.
If only they were not put in a situation where they had to make some difficult choices.
Various thoughts were condensed into that one sentence.
People around me probably perceive it as sadness over the fact that we will be separated after graduation. But the reality I know is much worse. They will be involved in a deadly struggle among friends. Former acquaintances who once laughed together end up killing each other in earnest. Such a tragedy unfolds in reality.
“Al! Don’t make such a sad face. We can all gather like this again!”
Mia patted my back, trying to cheer me up. Petra also held my hand.
“That’s right… Even if we’re apart, our connection will never be severed. We’re bound together somewhere.”
―― That is why it is painful. If there had been no connection from the beginning, the feeling of sadness would not have sprouted. The pain of a stake being driven into the heart remains every time something precious slips away. And that pain does not go away. The tears would not stop until they dried up.
That is why I want to protect everything now that I have a second chance. For that reason, I must speak up.
“Listen, everyone… After graduating here, I plan to go to the Vulcan Empire.”
In a subdued voice, yet firm tone, I announced my decision to everyone present.
“You’re… kidding, right?”
When I conveyed my intention to go to the Empire, Petra had the most shocked expression.
“Why! You said you had an offer from the Kingdom’s Chivalric Order… That’s what you said!!”
“I’m declining that offer. I… won’t return to the Kingdom. I will go to the Empire.”
“―― ! …What, I don’t understand what you are saying.”
Petra, like me, is from the Kingdom.
For her, my decision to go to the Empire meant that we would not be able to see each other anymore.
“I don’t get it… Why…”
“I’m sorry… but that’s what I’ve decided.”
“Don’t apologize. It’s your choice, no matter what you think… But still!”
After graduation, Petra is guaranteed to become a royal court mage. So if I had joined the Kingdom’s Chivalric Order as planned, we would have worked in the same royal castle and could have seen each other frequently.
“But to suddenly say something like that…”
I did not expect Petra to become so emotional.
Ambros, who had been silently observing, spoke up.
“I’m curious, why do you want to go to the Empire? Personally, I think working in the Kingdom or the Empire isn’t so different.”
Ambros’s words hit the mark.
If it was about work, both the Kingdom and the Empire are powerful countries with plenty of opportunities. It would not make much of a difference… But my reason for wanting to go to the Empire is not for such practical reasons.
“I don’t understand why you’re fixated on the Empire. Did you become fed up with your homeland?”
Ambros’s words struck at the heart of the matter. Even if I stay in the Kingdom, I will never have a bright future.
“Well… something like that.”
After a brief silence, I quietly confessed.
Ambros looked at me with wide eyes, but soon returned to his serious expression.
With just that, he nodded. The heavy atmosphere seemed like it would continue, but unfortunately, it was only the people from the Kingdom who looked disappointed.
“That’s great! If Al is coming to the Empire, we’ll warmly welcome you!”
“Yes. Personally, I would be very happy if Al-senpai came to the Empire.”
“M-Me too… If Aldia-senpai is coming…”
Mia, Addy, and Tredia, who are from the Empire, showed a bright, welcoming mood. Well, the more friends you have in your own country, the more opportunities you have to see them.
In response to that, Petra raised her voice.
“T-Then! I’ll go to the Empire, too!”
Steano, Ambros, and I, all from the Kingdom, let out surprised voices. We could not keep up with Petra’s sudden statement.
“Petra, why would you…? Hasn’t becoming a royal court mage always been your dream?”
I did not understand. If she still aspires to become a royal court mage, it should not lead her to consider going to the Vulcan Empire. Chasing one’s dreams is a wonderful thing. Especially when you finally have the opportunity to reach for that dream.
“So, you’re also declining the offer?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“It’s not something you decide so easily…”
It was unthinkable. Normally, you would not just abandon your dream so easily. However, Petra directs a determined gaze toward me.
“…I thought there might be some reason why Aldia wanted to go to the Empire. If I become a royal court mage, I’ll wholeheartedly throw myself into my work. But I’ll never know the reason why Aldia chose to go to the Empire for the rest of my life. And I don’t like that.”
“For such a reason…”
“Yes, for that reason… I’ve already made up my mind. If Aldia is going to the Empire, then I’ll decline to become a royal court mage and go to the Empire, too. Don’t worry, I’m quite talented! I have confidence that I’ll do well there, too!”
Petra has always been perceptive. She often accurately guesses what others are thinking from their words. Perhaps she sensed something from my words and actions. The truth is uncertain, but I was genuinely surprised that she would come with me, even if it meant giving up her dream.
“Haa… Then, maybe I’ll go to the Empire, too.”
Following that, Steano also declares so. With a sleepy yawn, he exuded an air so light that it did not seem like we were having a serious conversation.
“You too, Steano?”
“Yeah, I’ve made up my mind, too. I’ll go with you to the Empire!”
Although he had been so indecisive just moments ago… he now had a look as if he had let go of something. Perhaps he was influenced by Petra’s quick decision-making.
And then, another person raised his hand.
“Hey, if that’s the case, it seems like only Flegel and I will be left out. We’ll need someone to guard us on the journey. So I’m going, too.”
Ambros also declared that he would go to the Empire.
He is from the Kingdom. But there was an impression that he was not particularly fixated on his post-graduation employment. I had hoped he would side with us when the diplomatic relations between the two countries deteriorated, so this was a pleasant surprise.
“Is it okay?”
I asked again. Are they sure they will not regret this choice?
The relationship between the Kingdom and the Empire is not necessarily a good one. Considering what might happen next, it is even more of a reason to think that way. There is a possibility that the place they should eventually return to will be lost due to conflict. They probably still do not know that.
“No problem. This is my choice.”
There was no hesitation in Ambros’s reddish-brown eyes. Looking at the faces of the others, it was clear that they had all made their decisions.
“Are you all really okay with it…?”
I chose to go to the Empire because I absolutely do not want to regret it. Moreover, I know that a war will happen in the future. Despite not telling them about it, they chose to go to the Empire.
In response to my question, Steano was the next to speak up.
“Yeah. It was Al who said, ‘Come with me’. In that case, shouldn’t you just be happy and not question it?”
“And besides, you were so desperate to ask me to go to the Empire… You must have had your own reasons for it, right?”
He saw through me, huh? He probably does not know that a war will happen, but my intense expression seems to have had a significant influence on his decision.
“Thank you, Steano.”
“Yeah, don’t worry about it.”
Next, I turn to Petra.
“Are you sure about this, too? Being a royal court mage would guarantee your future. To decline that…”
Petra was always an honor student who consistently ranked at the top during our time at the military academy. It was her constant efforts that enabled her to become an excellent royal court mage. Choosing to abandon that bright future shouldn’t be decided so easily.
“A woman never goes back on her word.”
With an apologetic expression on my face, Petra pokes me in the side.
“What’s more important is why you invited Steano before me. And yet, it sounds like you don’t want me to come… Explain properly, will you? Do you not trust me? Depending on the explanation, I might just punch you!!”
…For some reason, she is angry. No, no, she is missing the point.
It was true that I approached Steano before this group gathered. However, that was because I thought he would be easier to persuade.
I thought Petra was different.
She had always talked about how becoming a royal court mage was her dream. I thought that the stronger her feelings were, the less likely she would come with me to the Empire… And so, I believed that it was not the right time to bring up the topic yet, considering it is still our graduation period.
“Petra, calm down. I didn’t talk to you about it because I knew about your dream…”
“There’s no way I can calm down! You wanted Steano to come with you, and you think I’m in the way? It’s infuriating, infuriating!! Besides, that’s one thing, and this is another separate issue!”
…Her reaction was different from what I expected. We were supposed to be having a serious conversation. It feels just like any other time back when we were students.
“Giving up on becoming a royal court mage is such a waste…”
Petra then declares with a powerful voice, not backing down from my persistence.
“I don’t care about that!”
“Now that it has come to this, I’ll go to the Empire even if it kills me!”
Overwhelmed by Petra’s intense emotions, I could not find any more words to say.
“You might regret it…”
“Yes, I’m prepared for that.”
Well… I did plan to invite her later on. So I should be happy that it saved me the trouble.
“And by the way, I expect a thorough explanation later on about why you invited Steano but not me, okay…? Aldia?”
“Y-Yeah… I got it.”
Scary. She is so scary…
I never expected to feel genuine fear toward Petra. Mixed feelings of joy and chilling cold sweat running down my spine seem to tighten around my heart. Amidst the swirling, mismatched emotions, I feel a greater sense of relief. Everyone present in this place has shown their determination to head to the Empire.