—What is this?
Not one person who saw that did not think that.
After all, even she made that remark despite her unique position and despite being one of the most talented people out there.
But it didn’t take long before she realized how pathetic it was to think so.
Because the existence before her was on a completely different level.
Not only did he easily fight an exoskeleton unarmored, the person inside was none other than the sword saint, a power that could be counted within the top 10 of all of Garesto.
And yet, he defeated her unarmored so easily, and the only price paid he was a little exhaustion.
Indeed, just what was this?
And yet despite her shock, somewhere deep inside, she felt like this only made sense.
As for why, she herself didn’t actually understand.
What was more curious was the fact that the boy knew that she was here yet still continued to show off his ‘power’.
And then, while they were taking a break, the conversation suddenly took an outrageous turn, she understood everything through their lips, and for a moment, her thoughts stopped—
In a place sparse of people was a door that opened gently from inside.
It was not the sort that would slide on its own, but the sort that had to be manually opened, so the girl had to turn the knob gently.
She hid her skyblue hair under her beret and wore a pair of glasses to cover her face.
Taking care not to make any sound, she quietly stepped out, and then just as quietly, closed the door.
When the door successfully closed without making a sound, the girl made a small guts pose to herself.
Mission complete, the expression on her seemed to say.
Which is why the boy couldn’t help himself, and…
“Going out somewhere, young lady?”
When a voice suddenly called out to her from an unexpected direction, the girl jumped in surprise.
Not only was her reaction exactly as the boy had expected, she even cried out in an adorable manner.
When the boy stepped out of the shade of the tree to reveal himself, he was barely able to keep himself from laughing.
“Ah, my bad, my bad, I didn’t think you would come out from there.”
Despite saying that, his face was clearly laughing, making it difficult for anyone to take his words sincerely.
Yet the girl was more concerned about him being there than anything else.
“Shin— Ah, I mean, Nakamura-san, why are you here!?”
“…That should be my question to you.”
This was the back of the general hospital in the school district.
Unlike the front door that faced the main street, the back door was rarely frequented by anyone.
To make the girl even more suspicious, the door the girl had used was meant for employees, moreover, she herself was in civilian clothes.
But of course, if her being here was a topic to be questioned, then him being here was just as questionable, but Shinichi intentionally forgot about that.
Regardless, the girl herself hadn’t actually registered his mumblings.
“C-Could it be you’re here to visit me—”
“—Some people were hospitalized because of the recent incident, so I was thinking of checking up on them. Of course, I’m not exactly in a position to visit them openly.”
The girl was half-hopeful and half-speculating when she spoke, but the boy mischievously interjected before she could finish.
However, she was indeed among the people he would be visiting, so she wasn’t actually mistaken.
Evidently, he was only trying to tease her by speaking in this roundabout way, but…
“Oh, I see, as expected of you! You’re even going out of your way to investigate the result of your leadership! You really are amazing!”
His roundabout phrasing only made her admire him even more, and her eyes even started sparkling through the glasses.
Her hands were held tight once again as she gazed at the boy full of reverence.
Apparently, him visiting his subordinates was a much more laudable act than him visiting her.
“…I didn’t think you would admire me for that.”
The boy could only wryly smile in response.
Had she been off the mark, he would have been able to deny it, but with how correct she was, he just found the matter embarrassing.
He had indeed come here to check on the people that were hospitalized due to injury or exhaustion.
Although he didn’t think his orders were a mistake, there was no denying that he had pushed them hard, so at the very least he wanted to see how they were doing.
This was actually a bad habit of his.
As for him entering from the back door, it was just because he didn’t want his younger sister to see him, a private reason.
“Okay, this time it’s your turn to answer my question. Why’d you come out of there? Especially when you’re one of the patients,
“Yes, actually… Huh? Wait, did you just—!! Mnnn!?”
“…Okay, my bad, my bad, I’m sorry, don’t scream, okay?”
Apparently, she hadn’t realized that her disguise had been seen through already, so the boy apologized for his lack of consideration while covering her mouth.
This may have been the back of the hospital, and was sparse of people, but it wasn’t so deserted that no one would notice them were she to scream.
The girl understood that too, so she nodded many times despite her blushing face.
“Fuu, haa… I-I’ve been touched… Ah, I mean, I’m sorry. I was just so surprised… Since when did you know it was me?”
“Since we reunited with you looking like that. Though I really should’ve made the connection the moment I saw those ringlet curls. To be honest, I was really nervous on my first day of school.”
“Ah, so that really was the case. Now that I think back on it, you were indeed a lot less composed than when we were at the department store. No wonder.”
When Shinichi confessed the truth in that jesting manner, Aristel responded as though his actions that day finally made sense.
That left him speechless for a moment, but he immediately shook it off, and muttered.
“This is why princesses are so troublesome. Sometimes they’re really sharp.”
To think that she’d actually seen through him without him realizing it. How scary. She reminded him of a certain someone too, so he couldn’t help but laugh a little internally.
People like her, who had to meet a lot of people growing up because of her social standing, would occasionally develop insight that was significantly sharper than the norm.
Insight like that was fundamentally different from his.
If his insight was born out of his exceedingly high rank in Skill, then hers was the real thing, something born purely out of experience.
When it came to insight, besting her would likely be impossible. He honestly thought that.
“Still, there’s not much point to a disguise if it can be seen through so easily. Being able to fool you once is certainly something I can somewhat be proud of, however,” the girl said shyly.
Evidently, she hadn’t heard his earlier mutter.
Also, there was a loveliness to her that the large frames of her glasses couldn’t hide.
Shinichi thought she looked cute like this too, but…
From his perspective, her disguise wasn’t simple at all.
It would be more apt to say that she’d essentially transformed into a completely different person.
He may have been emotionally unstable at the time, but the achievement of fooling him even once wasn’t something to be taken lightly.
Looks-wise, the only thing she shared with her undisguised self was the color of her hair, but the beret she wore hid that, and unless one looked at her from an odd perspective, it wasn’t something that could be picked up on easily.
The glasses she wore also seemed to have some kind of trick to it, as they completely hid the golden color of her eyes.
On top of that, the aura that enveloped her when undisguised was also much thinner.
The atmosphere about her was so different it actually troubled him, a person who tended to differentiate people by the aura of their souls.
Which was real, which was false? But then again, perhaps both were real?
“It doesn’t really matter, but you do realize that doesn’t answer my question at all, right?”
“I-I’m so sorry! Actually, I—!”
“I told you, keep it down. Ah, it can’t be helped, let’s go somewhere else, I can more or less guess why anyway.”
The moment he saw her about to make a commotion again, Shinichi interjected and took her hand.
Before the girl knew it, she had already been pulled along and was walking after him, and then while taking care not to be caught by anyone related to the hospital, they left for downtown.
“There’s a place I was thinking of going to anyway.”
“Where are you—!”
Where are you taking me? She was about to ask, but she didn’t, perhaps realizing what would happen if she did.
And as she realized whose hand it was that was holding hers, her face dyed itself in a deeper shade of red.
Shinichi glanced behind to enjoy that expression for a moment before continuing to pull her along.
At the same time, he examined her health through the feel of her hand.
He had gone through her diagnosis and knew that she’d strained her arm a lot when fighting.
Fortunately, there were no wounds or side-effects, and after making sure that she was fine, he was able to heave a sigh of relief.
That’s why he didn’t notice it at all when the expression on her changed.
As her eyes turned to that of shock, all of her consciousness turned to his hand.
After all, it was this sensation, this very thing that she had been pining for her whole life.
He had lent her his hand before, but she didn’t have the time then to immerse herself in it, but now that she could, she knew that she was all too familiar with this sensation. This was the hand of someone who has been fighting for a long time, a beautiful, magnificent hand.
It wasn’t that much different than hers in terms of size, still very much that of a child’s, but this particular sensation was a war medal that belonged to someone who has been hurt many times.
She could well imagine the countless battles and wounds that he incurred to protect something.
“As I thought, it really is wonderful.”
When those words naturally left her lips, it was not just because of her admiration for him as a warrior.
They’d started with him leading her, but when she realized it, they were already walking next to each other.
The boy had only pulled her at the start, but after that he matched her pace.
She was glad that her newfound feelings were directed to him, and she grasped his hand tightly.
Rather than the embarrassment of holding a boy’s hand, she was proud to be able to hold the hand of someone like him.
From his perspective, she’d suddenly squeezed back his hand, so he glanced at her curiously.
But she just looked at him as though nothing could be more right and smiled cheerfully.
She knew that he wanted to hide it, so she didn’t say anything, and he too didn’t ask her why.