Chapter 3 – Lieseltania
“Well then, be careful on the way.”
The next morning, Kaya who saw them off to the front door said so with a kind expression while stroking Saya’s head.
Saya nodded while being a little embarrassed.
Although today was sunny as well, the temperature was so low that the breaths spat out were white.
『Ah, that’s right. I’ll tell you just in case. It’s about the intruder last night; according to the sensors’ data, it didn’t seem to be a human.』
“It wasn’t a human, you say…? Then, what the heck was it?”
When Ayato asked back, Soichi ── or rather his holograph standing beside Kaya briskly rubbed its chin.
There were probably 3-D projection devices not only in the house, but also in many places in the premises.
『It was a wild animal or something like that. It might have come out of a forest that’s around here.』
Since this area was a suburb, there seemed to be many dense forests if you went a little further for a walk.
“An animal, huh…”
Claudia pondered over Soichi’s words.
Then, a big black-painted limousine stopped in front of Ayato and company.
“Everyone, I have come to pick you!”
When the girl dressed in maid clothes who came out of the passenger seat ── Flora said that vigorously, she exaggeratedly bowed before everyone.
“You’re healthy as usual, huh, Flora-chan.”
“Yes! It’s Flora’s redeeming feature after all!”
Flora said so with a smile all over her face.
Only several months had passed since the , but she seemed to have grown a little taller. She would surely become a beautiful girl in several years.
“Well then, Soichi-ojisan, Kaya-san. Thank you for having taken care of us.”
After greeting Kaya and Soichi, everyone got into the car.
The inside of the car was slightly similar to that of Dirk Eberwein’s when Ayato talked with him before; but the windows were not black-tinted, nor was there a table. The driver’s seat side was separated by a glass slide; interview seats with cushions for three people and comfortable rear seats for two were disposed so as to face each other.
“Ah, Princess and Amagiri-sama, please sit on the rear seats.”
“Eh? Well, it’s fine…”
Ayato did not know what kind of meaning the assignment of seats had, but there wasn’t really any reason to refuse. Just as he was asked, he sat on the rear seat alongside Julis.
“Then, let’s depart!”
When Flora said so, the driver with a stern face silently started the car.
“About how long will it take to arrive there?”
“Let me see… I would say around two to three hours by car from here.”
“Huh, it’s closer than I expected.”
“Lieseltania is a mountainous country located on the border of Germany and Austria after all.”
While answering Kirin’s question, Julis turned her gaze to the three before her.
“Well, there is time, so I’ll briefly speak about my country. Though if I make a mistake, there is one person who might know more than I──”
“Fufufu, I wonder who you might be talking about.”
As Julis openly sighed, she looked outside the window so as to pull herself together.
“First of all… Let’s see. Originally, the predecessor of the country called Lieseltania was the St Roman Empire. It became independent as a kingdom at the time of the empire’s collapse… and was later overturned by the Germany’s revolution. And it lasted for around 100 years as an independent country.”
From the start, perhaps because Saya’s house was in a suburb, the scenery outside the window immediately changed to series of trees covered with snow. While looking at that, Julis slowly continued.
“There might’ve been no trouble if it had just ended with that, but sadly Lieseltania has once again been dragged out from within its coffin due to the . This is because in the middle of the Revival Period, a special class of Vertice Meteorite was discovered from the territory that used to be Lieseltania.”
The Vertice Meteorite was the name used in order to distinguish the meteorites brought about by the from normal meteorites.
“If I remember correctly, special class means that it’s very rare, right?”
“Just for note, only several tens of meteorites of that kind have been discovered so far.”
Having answered Ayato’s question was Claudia.
The Vertice Meteorites were graded by its mana dite content rate, and a special class was composed of 95%── in other words almost entirely of mana dite.
Currently, the technology to create mana dite artificially was established, but as expected most of them hardly reached the real thing in quality. Moreover, because there wasn’t that technology in the past yet, the securing of Vertice Meteorites was the top priority matter of the Integrated Enterprise Foundation in the Revival Period.
“The size was quite small compared to other meteorites, but even so in Europe, there was as little Vertice meteorites as there was damage from the . When it comes to special class meteorites there, it’s natural that the Integrated Enterprise Foundation of any place will want it. After all, Europe is the home territory of powerful figures of the Integrated Enterprise Foundation such as Solneige, Frauenlob, and EP.”
Julis took a breather there and once again looked at the three people before her.
“But, the place where they were discovered became a problem. As I said a little while ago, the neighborhood that once used to be Lieseltania became a borderline in that time. On one hand, the influence of Solneige which has established its headquarters in Germany was strong, and on the other hand so is that of Frauenlob based in Austria as well. Therefore, naturally both parties had come to clash… But, the risk of military conflict in Europe which had its quickly stabilized economics’ revival due to the economics bloc was too great, so the other Integrated Enterprise Foundations had decided to act as mediation.”
“Even though it was called mediation, it feels more like the other Integrated Enterprise Foundations had their eyes on the leftovers interests (rights).”
Claudia plainly spewed venom with a smile.
“And as soon as the benefit-sharing agreement was concluded, the Integrated Enterprise Foundation came up with the idea of ‘since you’ll split the benefits anyway, why not rather make there a miniature garden where you can do whatever you please more freely’. Although power to oppose the existing nations no longer remains, it doesn't mean that everything is free so long as the Integrated Enterprise Foundation is using that framework. So, what was selected was the country of Lieseltania which once existed there. Therefore in my country, all policies, from tax rate to social status guarantee, are perfectly convenient for the Integrated Enterprise Foundation. Simply put, it’s the tax avoidance and the diplomatic immunity of key staffs.”
“…In other words, a puppet nation?”
“Bluntly put, I guess you can say that.”
Julis smiled wryly and shrugged her shoulders to Saya’s words.
“This being the case, the research institutes of every Integrated Enterprise Foundation jostled around the Vertice Meteorites. As I also said before, there are no airports in Lieseltania, but if I say that the research institutes respectively have their own runway and maintenance facilities, it’s somewhat easy to understand, right?”
“Since mana concentration is high around Vertice Meteorites, it’s ideal for Meteoric Engineering research.”
Mana concentration fluctuated to some extent depending on the place, but there were also data that the higher mana concentration an area has, the easier a was to be born there.
“That said, it isn’t as if the country itself is poor. We also receive some benefits from the Integrated Enterprise Foundation. Although as the story always goes, the qualitative difference is great.”
Julis who said so bit her lips somewhat in vexation.
From what they heard from Julis’ story, the country called Lieseltania certainly seemed to have complicated circumstances.
While listening to her story, the scenery outside the window was gradually changing into magnificent snowy mountains. There was also a large quantity of fallen snow if compared with the plains. If there was this much snow piling in this season, it meant that there would be much more at the time when it would become fairly cold.
“Ah, we can almost see the Capital Strel!”
Flora sitting on the passenger seat looked back and innocently said.
They seemed to have crossed the border before they knew it.
As they looked frontward at Flora’s words, a town bigger than they imagined spread around a lake surrounded by mountains. Old houses made of brick and wood stood in a row, and it generally had the impression of a European townscape that they imagined. In the place seeming to be the center of the town, there were also several buildings standing in a row, and a roadbed crossed the town from there.
“So this is the capital of Lieseltania, Strel… It’s a beautiful town.”
Kirin muttered with a fascinated face.
“Well, it isn’t really that different from other towns though… hmm?”
Then, Julis suddenly frowned. “No, if we’re to go to the royal palace, then we shouldn’t take this road… What is going on, Flora?”
“Errr, this has also been ordered by His Majesty.”
“From big brother?”
“Yes. Please wait a moment.”
Flora took out a folded memo from her pocket like usual and carefully unfolded it.
The car which Ayato and company boarded seemed to have taken the main street heading to the center of the town. Moreover, its speed has clearly decreased.
“…Somehow, doesn’t it look like there are a lot of people?”
Saya said as she stuck her forehead on the window.
“Errr, he said “since you have come back after a long time, enjoy a triumphant return parade while you are at it”.”
Julis was about to get up, but great cheers arose as to stop her.
They thought that they got used to cheers in the , but this was a heated atmosphere which did not lose to that of the finals.
People were overflowing on the roadsides and everybody unanimously shouted Julis’ name.
Colorful confetti danced down from the sky and when looking up, people showing their faces from windows of houses and buildings were scattering them while waving their hands.
It was a number of people so as to ask oneself whether the men and women of all ages of this town, all without exception, were packing the streets.
When looking carefully, this triumphal return was announced on the posters pasted here and there in the town and in the space windows on the streets along with Julis’ photos.
“Kuh, big brother! I’ll remember this…!”
Julis turned to the window with a forced smile while cursing her brother as such.
“Julis is really popular.”
“As expected, Princesses are amazing, huh.”
Overwhelmed by such atmosphere, Saya and Ayato frankly expressed their admiration.
“Fufufu, it’s to be expected. In Asterisk’s history, it’s a first for a Princess of a country to win the after all. I don’t need to mention that topicality, right? Both Ayato and Julis have left the dealing with the mass media to the academy and Asterisk and outside tend to be out of touch, but Julis is now a worldwide celebrity rivaling Sylvia Lyyneheym.”
Claudia explained while joyfully chuckling.
“Yes! The number of tourists seemed to have increased thanks to Princess having won the !”
“Heeh… It’s really amazing.”
If so, then this huge audience was not only the citizens; such people (tourists) were probably mixed in as well.
“You’re speaking like it’s other people’s affairs, but even if it isn’t to the extent of Julis’, Ayato’s home also seems to be very crowded.”
“Eh? What do you mean?”
“It’s just as you’ve heard yesterday, too. Offers flooded to the father of Sasamiya-san who lost in the semifinals, you know? So, it’s natural that the dojo of the Amagiri Bright Dragon Style which won the will attract attention, right?”
When he contacted his father, he did not mention that at all.
“Well, we of the academy will give back up in that area, so rest at ease.”
Because from the start Ayato’s father wasn’t the kind to reject students who came to him or chase after those who left, there wasn’t much enthusiasm although he was gathering pupils. That became more and more conspicuous since his big sister’s disappearance.
(Guess I’ll contact him again later…)
If this was to cause trouble for him, Ayato should apologize briefly.
His name was shouted as he was pondering; when he suddenly looked up, Flora was staring at him and she seemed irritated.
“If it is fine, please respond too, Amagiri-sama. Like Princess.”
“Ah, yes… wait, m-me, too?”
Flora unconcernedly nodded.
“No, why me, too…?”
“Because Amagiri-sama is Princess’ tag partner!”
“Well that’s true, but…”
As the troubled Ayato threw a fleeting glance at Julis who was next to him, Julis was waving her hand outside the window with a rare── though a bit stiff── smile.
As if responding to it, cheers increased in intensity.
“Fufufu, don’t make such a surprised face. You do know about Julis’ strong sense of responsibility, right?”
Claudia smiled as such at Ayato.
“…Sense of responsibility, huh.”
Certainly, Julis had a responsibility as the Princess of Lieseltania.
And there was no doubt that Ayato also had a responsibility as her tag partner.
“Haa, I got it.”
Ayato also reluctantly tried to wave his hand outside the window like Julis. Honestly, there was no more embarrassing, or rather itchy thing than this.
Probably, he had put on a much more stiff expression than Julis.
In fact, among the gathered audience, those calling not only Julis’ name, but Ayato’s were not small in number; which made him become more and more embarrassed.
“But, it’s really an amazing atmosphere.”
“…I’m a little surprised.”
On the other hand, Saya and Kirin sitting in front of them had somewhat carefree expressions.
“As Julis explained a short while ago, this country has quite complicated circumstances. Although this is not a good way of putting it, it is good to let out some stress, I guess.”
When Claudia said so, she continued muttering while dropping her tone.
“Although── I think the expectation of that person who set up this will not stop at just this.”
- ψ -
The royal palace of Strel was on the opposite shore across the land from the center of the town and it seemed to be currently used as the official residence. It was a solid building made of brick said to have been built more than 200 years ago.
After having finished the parade which lasted longer than expected, Ayato and company finally arrived at this royal palace; but as soon as they arrived, Julis whose face was dyed in anger briskly walked along the corridor with quick steps.
Ayato and the others who were perplexed had no choice but to follow along.
Before long, Julis vigorously pushed open the door of a room located on the second floor of the royal palace without knocking.
“Big Brother! What on earth is the meaning of this?!”
As Julis raised her voice filled with anger, Ayato and company who were behind her quietly peeked into the room.
Although luxurious, it was a room which gave off too gaudy of an impression. Furnishings were probably all first-class items, but they had excessive decoration; be it the desk set up massively by the window side, the big sofa which depicted a gentle curve, or even the paintings and pictures frames displayed on the wall, neither of them seem to fit in well.
And the man who lay down on that sofa with his head put on the lap of a woman with fluffy and curly hair slowly got up.
“Ah, you’ve returned, Julis. Welcome home.”
He was probably in his mid-twenties. His deep red hair was slightly long and he was overall thin. Lightly dressed in trainers, this man did not seem to fit into this room the most.
“Oh my Julis-chan, it’s been a long time. Claudia-chan as well.”
The woman who was doing the lap pillow gently smiled with a carefree tone.
“Big Sister, I’m sorry to intrude in the middle of your relaxation. I would like to talk with Big Brother a little.”
As the woman innocently said so, she stood up with the man and gracefully bowed.
“Nice to meet you all~”
“You’re the students of Seidoukan Academy, right? I’m glad that you’ve accepted my impolite invitation this time. I’m Jolbert, Julis’ big brother. I’m this country’s King. And this is my wife Maria. Ah, this is my private room, so you may relax, too.”
To these words, the three people except Julis and Claudia opened their eyes wide.
Since Julis called him Big Brother, he was certainly so, but still──
“…His Majesty the King?”
Saya stared at Jolbert with dubious eyes.
“…I mean, really?”
“Hahaha, it’s really troubling. Would it be all right if I wear a crown and a flashy mantle?”
Though Jolbert unconcernedly laughed, actually Ayato was surprised, too.
Speaking of Kings generally, one would imagine a little more substantial person, but Jolbert was the exact opposite of that, or rather he gave a frivolous impression overall. Although his features and hair color were similar to Julis’, their personality seemed to be completely opposite.
“Normally, I properly wear a suit during public duties. But I’m off duty today. Although there usually isn’t any work for me.”
“More importantly, Big Brother! I wasn’t informed of a triumphant return parade! I thought I told you not to make it that big of a matter!”
“Well, if I’ve said it, you’d have definitely been against it, right?”
Jolbert indifferently warded off Julis’ anger.
“Of course! Moreover, me aside, what are you planning by involving even Ayato?!”
“Yes, well, I just thought since it’s a rare opportunity.”
“Thinking with common sense, it’ll be normal to first talk it through!”
“I got it, I got it. It was my bad. Sorry, everyone.”
When Jolbert said so, he turned to Ayato and company and smiled wryly.
“But you know, Julis. The citizens were interested not only in you, but also in your tag partner Amagiri-kun. After all, he’s the partner that you, the princess, have chosen.”
Clever indeed. Since Julis was conscious of her position, she would not come forth quite strongly if he mentioned that point.
That’s her brother for you; he knew well Julis’ weak point.
“…Ara, is it only the citizens who are interested in him?”
Claudia looked at Jolbert with eyes hinting at something.
“Oh dear, as shrewd as usual, huh. Young Lady of the Enfield.”
“…What do you mean?”
Though Julis suspiciously asked, Jolbert laughed as to evade it.
“About that, could I have a little of your time again later? I would like to talk about various other things with Julis and Amagiri-kun.”
“Well, I don’t mind, but…”
Since Julis stole a glance at him, Ayato hurriedly nodded, too.
“Ah, yes. Of course.”
Though he had an idea about what the King wanted to talk with him about, he could not afford to refuse, too.
“Oh yeah, I also have to thank you guys for having saved my maid.”
When Jolbert said so, he slowly looked at Ayato and company.
“Therefore, I decided to hold an evening party to welcome you tonight, so by all means I would like you to take part in it. Ah, I have already prepared clothes for you, so you may choose a suitable one. If it’s now, we can still make it for the size adjustment.”
“Like I said, I haven’t heard of that too, Big Brother!”
“Hahahaha. Well isn’t it fine?”
Julis once again raised her voice, but Jolbert’s cool expression did not change.
“Somehow, um, he’s a peculiar one.”
Kirin looked at Ayato with a face showing that she didn’t know what to do, but it was feeling like her words were quite indirect.
Ayato could only return a bitter smile. At least, there was no doubt that he was quite forcible and smooth-talking.
Afterwards, Ayato and company were guided to the royal villa which was in the same site as the royal palace.
It was within walking distance from the royal palace and seemed to be connected by a special corridor.
On the way, a beautiful baroque style garden spread out in front of them, and they could not help but slow down before its splendor. Unfortunately, it was covered by snow now; but the pure white coat of snow without any footprints was also beautiful.
“Wow, it’s really beautiful…”
“Yes! When spring comes, it’s full of flowers and even more beautiful! This is also Princess’ favorite place; and it’s the Princess who personally takes care of these flowers!”
To Kirin who leaked a voice of admiration, Flora puffed her chest with an “ehem”.
Certainly when that season came, there was no doubt that a beauty different from this peacefulness would color this garden.
“Flora, don’t speak of unnecessary things. Let’s quickly go.”
As she was embarrassed, Julis curtly said so and quickened her pace.
While smiling wryly to such a Julis, the party went to the royal villa visible ahead.
Similarly to the garden, the baroque style villa was of a splendor as not to lose to the royal palace; it seemed that one part of it was used for the royalty’s residence and all rooms except that were used as a guesthouse where guests of honor would lodge. According to Julis’ story, there also seemed to be a quarter for royalty in the royal palace, but Jolbert mainly used the private room of the royal palace and Julis, mainly the private room of this villa or something like that.
As expected unlike in Saya’s house, one room ── and a too wide and luxurious one at that ── was given to one person.
Honestly, Ayato could not calm down that much, but even so he could finally take a rest. When he thought so, Flora came before long.
“Amagiri-sama, I brought the formal clothes for the evening party.”
“Ah, the formal clothes which Jolbert-san mentioned earlier, right?”
“Yes. I will examine the size, so could you wear them a little?”
“Ah, yes. More importantly, how is the evening party? Such a place is a first for me…”
Or rather, having an ordinary student participating in an evening party hosted by a King was not that common an occurrence. Thanks to his big sister having been strict, he acquired the bare minimum etiquette, but still he felt like the dimension was quite different.
“Hmm… Flora really doesn’t know, too, but this evening party is something which was suddenly decided, so I don’t think that it will be such a big thing.”
“I hope so.”
Though not as much as Julis, Ayato too didn’t like things being done so exaggeratedly.
While also being here like this, Flora was writing a lot of things in her memo as usual while measuring the size with familiar hands.
“Still Flora-chan, you also have it hard, huh. You’ve to handle various works like this.”
“That’s not true! It’s thanks to His Majesty’s power that Flora is able to work here, so I have to do my best to repay him!”
“Besides, handling the men’s preparations is easier, too. Compared with my Senpais who are helping with the preparations of the other…”
“Yes, certainly the preparations in the women side seem to be difficult in a lot of ways.”
“Yes, that’s right.”
Since under normal circumstances, women take time to get dressed, when it comes to formal clothes, they would probably take much more time than usual.
──Actually, since the women’s preparations were set, it was after the evening came that Ayato was called.
“…Julis, I’m coming in.”
“Y-Yes. It’s fine.”
When he knocked the door of the room where Flora guided him to, a somewhat nervous voice from Julis returned after a short pause.
While inwardly looking puzzled at her voice, Ayato who opened the door unintentionally stiffened.
According to Flora, this room seemed to be Julis’ private room; she said it was cramped like a room in the dormitory, that plants were put in and that it looked like a small botanical garden.
But, that was not the reason why Ayato became stiff.
It was because he was fascinated by the four girls who were in there── by their appearances.
“W-Why are you standing around so vacantly?”
“That’s right, Ayato. At such time, it’s courtesy to properly praise a lady.”
“No, um, I-I’m sure it doesn’t suit me that much, so you don’t have to force yourself…”
Julis and company were respectively dressed in different, yet really suitable dresses.
Everyone was basically dressed in a one-piece dress whose hems were long enough to hide their feet; their arms and back were greatly exposed, and especially since at the bare top, Claudia’s and Kirin’s bosoms were emphasized, Ayato was troubled with where to look. It was probably the so-called evening dress.
Julis was dressed in a deep crimson one-shoulder and Saya wore a white camisole style. Claudia wore an elegant purple and Kirin a thick black.
“…Ah, e-errr, sorry. I think they really suit you all.”
Ayato who suddenly came to his senses frankly said so as he was embarrassed.
Not that it suited someone the most, but that it really suited all of them.
“Fufufu, thank you Ayato. Your outfit suits you really well, too.”
As a dress suit, Ayato was wearing a tuxedo. His hair was also swept back to match it.
Frankly speaking, he did not like stiff (formal) outfits, but it could not be helped.
“Now then, I originally wanted to escort Ayato, but today’s main guests are Julis and Ayato. So, I will bear it. In return, please take care of us properly afterwards, too, okay?”
Claudia said so and pushed Julis’ back.
“W-Well, it can’t be helped… let’s go.”
Julis suddenly held out her hand.
For a moment, Ayato did not understand what it meant, but Julis smiled wryly, lightly bent Ayato’s elbow and put her arm there.
“I at least know that you aren’t accustomed to such things. Don’t mind it. I’ll lead you when necessary.”
While chuckling, Julis whispered.
It was slightly shameful for a man, but there was no doubt that Julis was reliable.
“──Everyone, it’s already time. Are you ready?”
Flora broke in there, her tongue seeming to be stuck, but she mustered her courage and told so exaggeratedly.
- ψ -
Ayato hurriedly restrained the sigh which he unintentionally leaked.
“Fufufu, you seem quite tired.”
Julis standing next to him held out a new drink while laughing.
“Of course. I didn’t think that they’ll be so many people…”
From what Flora said, it wasn’t supposed to be that big a party, but looking at the actual situation, an amazing number of people had gathered in the hall of the royal villa. The invitees were all either people related to the Integrated Enterprise Foundation or Liseltania’s political figures.
Julis and Ayato who were introduced as they were the main guests repeated greetings to various people one after another, and Ayato was already completely exhausted.
“It may not be the time to ask this, but… Julis, didn’t you say that your house has no money?”
Aside of the invitees in the hall illuminated by a gorgeous chandelier, there were several waiters and maids, and drinks and light meals were diligently prepared. Ayato could not even imagine how much amount of money it took to hold such evening party.
“I told you before, right? That in this country, “even if there is money used on me, there is no money I can use”. Besides… my big brother is different from me.”
When Ayato asked, Julis’ eyes naturally chased her brother ── Jolbert’s figure.
Even now, Jolbert was at the center of the party pleasantly chatting with several people. As expected unlike daytime, he was formally dressed and looked like a different person at first glance.
“My brother is obedient to the Integrated Enterprise Foundation after all. He has no claim politically, nor is he enthusiastic in his work. You may say that there is no greatest puppet than him. Therefore, the Integrated Enterprise Foundation also finds my brother useful as such and overlooks his selfishness to some extent. And my brother too fully enjoys it to the maximum.”
Assuming that these comments were turned to her blood-related brother, it was an acrimonious evaluation, but contrary to her words, Julis’ eyes looked somewhat sad.
“Although, I don’t think that having invited us this time was my brother’s own discretion. There is no doubt that my brother intended to do so as well, but it’s likely that either an Integrated Enterprise Foundation somewhere allowed it or there is also the possibility that they backed it.”
“It’s indeed complicated… wait, huh?”
Ayato who was looking at Jolbert like Julis noticed something strange. Jolbert was always surrounded by multiple women. Queen Maria was among them, but all the other women were touching Jolbert as if they seemed to be intimate.
“…Ah, that, huh. They are all my brother’s mistresses.”
As Julis plainly said that, Ayato almost dropped the glass in his hand.
“Mistresses… So openly?”
No matter how light the moral value became compared with the past, religiously most of the countries in Europe adopted the monogamy system. As the inequality between classes was spreading wider, while it is true that the approval concerning the wealthy having