We go back in time a little…
Around the time when Hajime defeated the Hydra in mortal combat, the party of heroes had temporarily aborted their dungeon clearing and returned to the Kingdom of Hairihi.
The clearing speed had fallen due to a lack of the comprehensive intelligence they had on the floors up till now, and also due to the strength and trickiness of the monsters. As such, intense member fatigue had resulted - the conclusion was to take a break and rest.
But though the rest town of Horuado would have been good for recuperation, someone was sent to meet them: they had to return to the palace. An envoy of the Hoelscher Empire had come wanting to meet with the heroes.
What was with this timing?
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By nature, almost no time had passed between the arrival of the God Ehit’s oracle and the summoning of Kouki and company. For this reason, the empire -which was an ally and did not itself conduct the hero summoning- would not be able to meet the heroes right after they were summoned.
However, it had been thought that the empire had not moved even after knowing of the heroes’ summoning. This was because the empire had been founded 300 years ago by famous mercenaries, becoming a ‘holy land’ for adventures and sell-swords with its meritocratic system.
For them, talk of a group of heroes suddenly appearing and leading humanity was unconvincing. The Church was also in Hoelscher, and as such it was not an exception to having believers, but they were less devout than those in Hairihi. Most of its people were either mercenaries or were involved in the business, and as such there were more who valued profits over faith. If anything, this was just a story; it would hardly make earnest believers out of them.
Based on that, it was possible that they had made light of meeting up with Kouki and the rest just after their summoning. Of course, they were not against openly showing an obeisant attitude towards God in front of the church. While Haihiri would have been happy to patronize such a meeting, the empire -particularly His Imperial Majesty- had not been interested, and as such had not been involved.
However, the fact that this raid on the [Orcus Dungeon] had succeeded in breaking through the 65th floor, beating out the previous record, piqued the interest of the empire. So they sent word that they would like to meet, and both the church and Hairihi were quick to agree.
After this news was meticulously related to Kouki and company on the carriage, they arrived at the palace.
The carriage entered the palace, and upon their descent from it they saw a figure of a boy coming towards them. He was around ten, and had blonde hair and blue eyes. The atmosphere around him was similar to Kouki’s, but which much more mischief in it. This was Randell S. B. Hairihi, Prince of the Kingdom. His air could be likened to that of a dog with flopping ears and wagging tail as he rushed up to them calling in a loud voice:
“Kaori! You made it back! I’ve been waiting!”
Of course, Kaori was not the only one there, for the returning expedition was present in full force. To them, it was easy to imagine what Randell’s feelings were just by looking at his attitude - apart from Kaori he saw no one else.
In fact, Prince Randell had been making aggressive approaches towards Kaori since the day after they had been summoned. That said, he was only ten. In her view he could only be recognized as an emotionally attached child, and there was no sign of her feelings ripening beyond that. For a person as innately kind as her, he would be like a cute younger brother.
“It’s been a while, Your Highness.”
The imaginary tail wagged furiously up and down at her small smile, as Randell instantly turned red. Despite that, he managed to make a masculine expression before making another ‘approach’ toward Kaori.
“Ah, it’s been a long time indeed. When you said you were going to the dungeon, I felt as though I had died. Were you hurt? If I was stronger, I would never let you do such a thing…”
Randell bit his lip in annoyance. Even though Kaori refused to only be protected, the heartwarming feelings of the boy still caused her cheeks to soften.
“Thank you for your concern. But I’m alright, you know? I wish to do this.”
“No, Kaori isn’t suited for fighting. Th, there should, you know, be safer things you can do.”
Kaori inclined her head at his words, and at this he turned an even deeper shade of red. Observing this amusing exchange from the side, Shizuku could only smile wryly as she considered the young man’s valiant ‘approach’.
“Mmhmm. For example, how about being a maid? You can work exclusively for me, starting today.”
“As a maid? I’m sorry, but I’m a healer…”
“T-then, going to the Medical Institute is fine too. There’s no need to go to dangerous places like the dungeons or the frontlines right?”
The Institute was a state-run hospital, situated right beside the royal palace. In short, Randell hated being apart from Kaori. However, the feelings of the young boy would not move Kaori’s obstinacy.
“No, I won’t be able to heal them immediately if I’m not on the frontlines. Thank you for worrying about me.”
“Uu…” Randell groaned softly, realizing that he could not move Kaori’s determination.
“Your Highness, Kaori is my precious childhood friend. As long as I am around, I will definitely continue to protect her!”
From Kouki’s viewpoint, he was being one-hundred-percent-beneficent in comforting a younger boy, but those were not the right words for that moment. In the eyes of the lovestruck Randell, this was translated as such:
“I won’t let my woman leave me. I definitely won’t hand Kaori over to anybody!” (Note: The first bit is a bit dodgy, since my ability to recognize that variant on the kanji for ‘hand’ is currently failing me.)
The hero and the healer snuggling up intimately - that was a likely picture in his mind. His expression twisted in annoyance, Randell levelled a ‘you are my mortal enemy’ glare at Kouki. To him, they looked like lovers.
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“What are you saying? You think nothing of sending Kaori into dangerous places. I won’t lose to you! Kaori being with me is the better decision.”
[Note: Chauvinist pig, he uses the word kimatteiru, which indicates a decision without the target (Kaori’s) individual input. i.e. “it has been decided” versus “I/you have decided”]
At the hostile words that Randell spoke, Kaori was at a loss and just smiled weakly, while Kouki was speechless. Shizuku, seeing Kouki like this, could only sigh.
Before Kouki could say anything more to aggravate the already growling, angered prince, a cool but authoritative voice rang out.
“Randell. Behave yourself. Can’t you see Kaori is troubled?”
“B, big sister! …B, But!”
“No buts. Even though everyone is tired - to detain them in this place…who is it who isn’t thinking about others?”
“Randell?” (Note: I imagine she is projecting some kind of dark aura at him right about now.)
“E…errand! I remember, I had an errand to run! Excuse me!”
Refusing to admit his error, Randell turned on his heel and fled. Seeing his back fade from view, Princess Liliana spoke with a sigh.
“Kaori, Kouki-san, I’m sorry about my brother. My apologies on his behalf.”
Liliana lowered her head as she said that, causing her beautiful, straight blonde hair to flow downward.
“Mm, don’t worry about it, Lili. Prince Randell was just concerned.”
“I agree. Still, I don’t understand why he got angry…I didn’t say anything rude that I had to apologize for.”
Kaori and Kouki said this as Liliana smiled thinly. Understanding well the sibling love between an older sister and her younger brother, Kaori sympathized with Liliana to some extent for having a brother completely ignorant of her feelings. Above all, it was important that the ‘mortal enemy’ knew that she was separate from this matter.
By the way, the meetings between Randell and his ‘mortal enemy’ would cause a big stir…but that’s another story.
Liliana was a talented lady of fourteen years. Golden haired and blued eyed, she was both beautiful and popular amongst the people. Earnest, but not too obstinate, and good at reading the mood, she was even able to interact openly with the servants.
She, as a princess and as a person, had been quite anxious as to the state of Kouki and the other summoned students. This was due to a sense of guilt about dragging them into problems of her world, which should have been their concern.
For that reason, she took the initiative to get to know the students, and it had not been long before they became well acquainted. She got along especially well with Shizuku and Kaori who were around the same age as her, by this point they had dropped all honorifics, electing to speak casually with one other and even giving each other nicknames.
“No, Kouki-san. There is no need to worry about Randell. He just tends to be a bit reckless. More importantly…Once again, welcome back, everyone. I am heartily glad that you all returned safely.”
Saying this, Liliana smiled gently. Even those classmates who were standing close to beauties like Kaori and Shizuku all blushed when they saw her smile. There was a refined elegance of royalty in her that the two of them did not have, something that most young women could not compete with using beauty alone.
In fact, Nagayama’s group and the delinquent group were also crimson from having their hearts stolen; even female members were slightly dyed in the cheek. For ordinary modern day students, the aura of a bona fide Otherworldly Princess was too much. Those who could bear it, like Kaori and those already close to the princess, were abnormal in this regard.
“Thank you, Lili. Your smile has blown my fatigue away. I too am glad to see you,” Kouki said such affected lines with a refreshing smile. Though it has been repeated often, Kouki did not have any ulterior motive in saying this. He was truly glad to be alive, and to meet a friend once again - he was just pathologically unaware of the effects his words and actions had.
“R, re, really? U, um…”
As a princess, Liliana was used to the compliments and flattery paid by the gentry, imperial envoys and the people of the cities and towns. As such, she had trained herself to become adept at looking past these masks and discerning their true intentions. Thus she could see that there was no such thing in Kouki’s words. Unused to such experiences outside of her family, Liliana’s cheeks too went red, and she became flustered and unable to respond.
Kouki, as usual, just continued laughing and smiling, not realizing at all the effects his behavior had. And as expected, this caused Shizuku to sigh deeply. Someone worrisome had taken the stage, and yet the person himself would resolutely fail to notice it.
“Um, anyway, thank you all for your hard work. Preparations for the meal and baths have already been completed, so please make yourselves at home. The imperial envoys will take a few more days to arrive, so you needn’t worry about that.”
Having recovered her balance, Liliana urged them thus.
While Kouki and the others were unwinding the fatigue accumulated in the dungeon, the groups who had stayed behind heard of Behemoth’s defeat, and jubilant shouts went out amongst them. After this, the number of people who returned to the frontline increased. Aiko-sensei’s title of “Goddess of Fertility” also became a topic at this point, which caused her to writhe quite a lot.
Kouki and the others slowly rested their bodies, which had been exhausted from the raid.
But inwardly Kaori was restless; she desired to return to the dungeon.
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