Chrome Shelled Regios:Volume17 Chapter1
===Chapter 1 - Her Determination=== (50% Complete)
Though she couldn't see it, though she couldn't touch it, it was extremely important.
She only had to think about it, and her brain would heat up along with her heart feeling tight.
She wanted to treasure it, carefully preserving it.
Wanting to bury it deep inside her heart.
As if she were receiving an extraordinarily important treasure, she tightly locked it in a chest.
Very, very carefully......
If their homes became closer, did that mean the time they spent together would increase? In reality this was not so.
The cake shop that she had opened became busy very early, and in order to get inspiration for new products, she spent more time at night looking for new ingredients or checking out other stores. Still, her time at school naturally became time for the two of them to meet.
"In other words, the situation is the same as it was your first year."
At Mifi's conclusion, Meishen could only emit a sorrowful noise.
Right now was lunch break. It was only Mifi and Meishen eating lunch together, as Naruki had been called over to do City Police work.
"Wait, has the time for you two to be together become less?"
Her childhood friend looked around the classroom. With no way to refute it, Meishen also turned her head. In front of her gaze was Layfon's seat, but no one was in the seat.
Currently Layfon seemed to be busy with something. Never mind time after school, even during lunch break he was almost always outside and didn't stay in the classroom.
"I don't know if it's his expression or look, but don't you think the feeling that Layton gives off isn't the same?"
It was vague, but Meishen also had this kind of feeling. She was the same as Mifi, not knowing how to describe that kind of feeling.
Layfon had found something to work hard at - perhaps it could be described like that, but Meishen also felt that it seemed like there was a difference somewhere.
Should it be said that it wasn't interesting, or that he was too desperate?
"......What's bothering him?"
"Ah, I don't know."
Mifi strongly nodded her heat to Meishen's soft mumble.
"He feels like he wants to do something but he's not strong enough. I feel like Layfon's normal appearance is the same as before, looking like he doesn't have much leisure time. When he was in his first year, he didn't have much free time because of his work, but now I feel like his look has become different. Nn - it's really quite strange."
"Maybe something big has happened?"
Layfon was a Military Artist, and was in one of the numerous Military Arts branches, part of one of the elite platoons, the seventeenth platoon.
Even if he was with those people, he was still a person with outstanding combat abilities.
Seeming him desperate like this, one couldn't help but worry about whether something big had happened.
"That...... The attitude of the Student Council hasn't changed much, so I think it shouldn't be that."
Mifi worked as a reporter, so she was very clear about this information.
"Even if they were deliberately hiding it, I can vaguely feel whether things are like that by looking at the manner and expression of those important people. Also, I haven't seen the Student Council taking any peculiar actions."
Mifi's words let Meishen loosen her breath. She had felt that there might be a big commotion happening like last year, so she felt quite unsafe.
But, compared to this, more importantly......
"Is Layton okay?"
Just looking at the previous year, after Layfon had done something, after showing an extremely troubled expression, he seemed to have received a very large wound.
Did he had some trouble hidden in his heart that he couldn't tell others? If it wasn't related to the Student Council, then what kind of situation was it?
"I can't help him, can I?"
Meishen tried saying it, but she didn't know if she could do anything for Layfon.
"You think that the time you spend with him will increase?"
"I didn't mean......"
After being asked sarcastically by Mifi, Meishen showed a worried expression.
If she said she hadn't thought like that, Meishen would be lying. However, Meishen truly had always been looking for a storefront to open a cake shop. Though she had slightly adapted to interacting with strangers, she didn't think she could become a shop owner who could interact with many customers, and this was really why she had opened a cake delivery shop.
It was also the truth that she couldn't find a suitable storefront.
The reason that she couldn't find a storefront was also because the had to find a place that was close to the residence of her childhood friends who lived together.
If she was willing to move, then she could have found a suitable storefront. Since it wasn't based on attracting guests, the choice of a remote location wasn't important.
But then, she would be moving to a place inconvenient for Mifi and Naruki.
She didn't want to leave them.
In reality, this kind of feeling also hindered her search for a storefront.
So during the party celebrating Layfon's moving, although she had been influenced by that atmosphere to make her decision, Meishen still hadn't decided to live alone. Even now, she still didn't think she could make the right choices to solve the store's problems.
As for the cake shop, with the help of the worker who had arrived and who lived in the same apartment building, Vati Len, business had begun quite smoothly.
However, Meishen thought that the opportunities for her and Layfon to meet had become less than before.
"That... Though only one year has passed, many things have changed."
Maybe she was too bothered to continue joking, as Mifi murmured with a serious face:
"The operational responsibilities assigned to me have increased, and Naruki should be the same."
Meishen also had her own store. For example, if she wanted to do this kind of thing in her home city, she would have to spend much more time saving money. But, the system of the Academy city was very clear, and supported the students' doing what they wanted to do, so she was able to so quickly achieve her dream.
Anything could be attempted, as long as you desired it - This was the idea of the Academy City.
So, the students with goals quickly became very busy.
Meishen was like this, and Mifi and Naruki as well.
Layfon perhaps was also like this.
Mifi's word made Meishen raise her head.
"What Layton's doing seems very important, but it doesn't feel like he's unhappy, right?"
Meishen agreed with those words. That sentence also related with Layfon's expression that was different from normal, and made her feel that this answer was definitely not wrong.
"If things are like that, isn't it good for Layfon?"
Mifi nodded her head, and and the two ate lunch without a topic for a while.
Meishen didn't know what Layfon was doing.
Because she felt that there was another, even greater worry. This wasn't what Layfon was doing, but concerned the results that would be produced by what Layfon was doing......
This could only be described as a small, uncomfortable premonition, as if needles were deeply stuck inside Meishen's heart, and she couldn't pull them out however she tried.
As to what Layfon who Meishen worried about was coing, he was currently training.
He was on the roof of the school.
It was training to use Sakkei while compressing his Kei flow. The so-called Kei concealment meant not letting Kei leak outside of the body. Compressing Kei in this situation would make the body feel excess heat, but if one could keep from generating this excess heat while producing Kei, the most efficent chained Kei attacks could be produced.
If the speed at which Kei was produced increased, the speed of one's moves would increase as well.
Additionally, the speed of Composite Blast would increase.
Since he couldn't expect the capabilities of the Dite to increase, he could only review the way he used his Kei. His current method of use put an abnormally high burden on the Dite, but at the least he already wouldn't run into a situation where he broke the Dite before he could use a move.
Layfon kind of thought that he could not use the Dite altogether, and directly use Kei techniques.
But, the material properties and internal structure of the Dite allowed it to transform Kei in an efficient manner. If Kei techniques were used without this kind of ability, one simple techniques like burst Kei could be used.
Though it was a bit late to do it now, there were times when those techniques came in handy. But, one couldn't only rely on such a weapon to fight.
"I really am clumsy."
That kind of thought suddenly emerged in his mind, and Layfon sighed.
If something had to do with Military Arts, regardless of in what area, Layfon could use his genius to complement his weakness, but it could even be said the problem was that he had never thought about this. Layfon thought that his own strength was that he had many ways to respond in a critical situation, but now the number of ways that he could respond had become less.
For most Heaven's Blade successors, the number of ways that they could respond in an urgent situation wasn't that much. However, among those few options hid immense strength, and that was the reason they had the qualifications to become a Heaven's Blade successor.
Layfon had taken to heart Gildred's words that he was 'A kid who could only play genius'.
If someone wanted Layfon to select his most adept martial art, then as expected, he would still choose the sword. However, till today, Layfon had never thought of changing his fighting style to exclude the steel threads, because Layfon felt that the way he used steel thread techniques had already become part of himself.
However, if someone asked Layfon if he could rely on his steel thread techniques to confront Lintence, he would feel very worried.
"After all...... I should first strengthen Composite Blast. It would be good if my Kei flow was bigger."
Layfon decided on his next goal, but right now he sighed again. Compared to Dites, he would rather break through his body's Kei limits. To do this, he needed to expand his Kei vein, which was essentially his Kei flow, but for the most part, all kinds of training would have no use regardless towards this.
"It's not easy to find a clue......"
Layfon sighed again.
Something appeared in front of him.
It was the empty city he had encountered during his previous mission and an old Military Artist named Gildred.
That old man was Nina's great-grandfather...... It seemed to be a more distant blood relation than her grandfather or an ordinary great-grandfather.
That person had tried to come to Zuellni, but Layfon and Nina had succeeded in stopping him, and along they way that had fought with unknown creatures that were possibly filth monsters.
Even though this kind of thing had happened, Nina still hadn't said anything.
However, Layfon began to think in a different way - perhaps she wasn't 'not speaking', rather 'she had no way to speak'?
"For you, this way of thinking might even be pretty smart."
Explaining his way of thinking to Felli after things had calmed down, she had said something like this.
"I'm very concerned about the creatures that appeared. According to your story, they not only can change their form at will, but every part of its mass possesses the ability to think independently. Perhaps the particles take the form of a creature as a group, and carry out their activities as a group organism."
Layfon almost couldn't understand Felli's abstruse commentary, but 'group organism' let him think of a certain filth monster.
Back when he was in Grendan, when Layfon was still a Heaven's Blade successor, he had once faced an aged phase together with Lintence and Savaris, and Delbone had seemingly explained that filth monster this way at the time.
"So, since there's a precedent, then the creature that appeared before is most likely that kind of being. Therefore, we should imagine that being has the form of small particles, and there's the possibility that they are hiding in Zuellni doing surveillance."
"In our current situation we can't completely confirm this deduction."
Felli asserted this, and Layfon didn't possess any way to follow up with this way of thinking either.
"Since we might be being watched, we can't take any reckless actions or communications."
"Then, maybe we should avoid talking about this topic."
"Right now is a time for us to watch the situation of the city and the Captain while accumulating strength."
Falli's words made Layfon spend days silently practicing.
For how long should he do this kind of thing?
During this situation to which he didn't know the answer, the city had somehow entered the summer.
Layfon was somewhat impatient. However after careful thinking, Layfon saw the situation from a different angle. In reality, this kind of pressure was the same as the time in Grendan when he dind't know when filth monsters would attack next, the same as the situation when he could only practice Military Arts every day.
After thinking that, Layfon's heart suddenly calmed down. Doing things with a runaway heart would only lead to continuous defeats, a lesson Layfon had already learned from the things that happened last year.
"The important part is thinking that way."
Layfon compressed his Kei while murmuring this. His current task was to find out how mnuch Kei he could compress while keeping the Miltiary Arts student in this school building from noticing his Kei.
Using Sakkei while creating Kei flow was like blowing air into a balloon. Sakkei was the balloon, and the Kei flow was the air. Between the acceptable range of the balloon, one could endlessly blow air. Even though the balloon became large, as long as the explosive noise of the balloon breaking didn't sound out, no one would perceive the balloon's existence.
In other words, how much air could be blown in without the balloon breaking? How fast should air be blown into the balloon? Could he raise the strength of hte balloon? Layfon thought of these things as he let the balloon inflate.
This was what was meant by using Sakkei while creating Kei flow.
"How should I do this......"
He once again murmured.
Nina had been involved in some problem, and he already knew that this problem was quite significant.
However, the problem hadn't shown its true appearance.
But, by using his mentality from his time in Grendan, looking at the situation from a different angle, he had unexpectedly successfully been able to eliminate this impatience. The ability of aged phases were various, and had great differences from each other, so he would often only know the strength of his opponent after encountering them.
Thinking carefully, not knowing the actual situation of his opponent was normal.
Nina was here. Then, perhaps enemies would appear here in a day, or perhaps Nina would leave here in a day.
"If that happens, I can only go with her......"
He mumbled this.
Afterwards, a small doubt appeared in his heart.
That doubt was, why did he go to this kind of degree?
Did he have a reason to do this kind of thing for Nina?
"What should I say?"
He didn't really understand.
However, Layfon couldn't just give up on Nina. Just thinking of that made him feel pained.
Was it because he was too good of a person?
"She's dont a lot for me."
When he had just come to Zuellni, he had completely lost his confidence as a Military Artists. Though it wasn't intentional, Nina had strongly brought Layfon back to his role as a Military Artist, and many things had happened. In the end, many knots had been untied.
Thought new problems had emerged, they were all Layfon's own problems, and Nina wasn't the reason.
Because Nina was here, Layfon had maintained his position as a Military Artist.
"I can't give up on her."
Layfon once again murmured.
"......Though, nothing has happened."
Though he said this, after he came back from the battle in that empty city, the season had already changed. After that no obvious changes had occurred, no filth monsters had even attacked, and the time passed by very smoothly.
Perhaps this was only the ordinarily life of and Academy City. However, to Layfon who had grown up in Grendan and passed many restless days, this kind of peaceful time let him feel somewhat impatient.
"But, in reality this is the best, right?"
Could he really be only the kind of person who wasn't used to those lines? This kind of uncertainty flitted through Layfon's mind in a moment. It wasn't because Layfon was preparing for some big event, but because of the environment of his birth.
Though, right now there was still something to be cautious of.
It was Felli.
Two days before, she had indicated that she wanted to challenge Delbone's legacy.
After that, she had not left her home.
"She's okay, right?"
Thinking of this, he felt tense.
As a precaution, Felli had given the room key to Layfon to keep, so he went to quietly see Felli's situation.
Felli slept on the bed.
Even if he opened his mouth and cried out he wouldn't get a response. Her breathing was very quiet, and expression and body temperature were very normal.
Felli had said that Delbone's legacy was her battle experience.
Layfon had never heard of Psychokinesists being able to exchange experiences like physical data. So, perhaps this was something only Delbone could do.
Then, it was only because it was Felli that she could receive her experiences.
Therefore, it was only Felli who could carry on her resolve and inherit her challenges.
As to what consequences this action would bring, only Felli herself knew.
Regardless of success or defeat.
"In terms of speed, it might be over quickly. But, if the time is prolonged, there may be big differences produced between my mind's sense of time and the world's time. So, it's possible that I will enter a sleep-like state for a long time."
Before challenging her legacy, Felli had mentioned the dangers of it. Hearling this, Layfon only felt that the blood in his entire body had frozen, and he even tried to stop Felli verbally.
However, Felli didn't stop.
"Though I expect the information contained in Delbone's legacy to be the key to our current problem, since she said this was empirical battle data, perhaps I can't hold great expectations of this."
"In that case......"
"But, even only being able to achieve her experience as a Psychokinesist is extremely worth challenging this."
At Felli saying this, Layfon had no words to respond.
It wasn't wrong to say this.
Because, Layfon had never heard of a Psychokinesist above Delbone. Fighting from before Layfon existed, she had always held the identity of a Heaven's Blade successor protecting Grendan, and went through countless battles.
Felli said she could achieve this kind of experience. If Layfon was a Psychokinesist, he would definitely want it.
"Right, Felli, didn't you want to give up your identity as a Psychokinesist?"
"Is the current situation one where I can give up?"
"Since I can't give it up, I want to have the peak as my target. The key reason is close by, so even if there are some risks, I feel that it's worth trying."
Layfon couldn't continue rebuking Felli's words.
So, Layfon could only worry and be anxious. He couldn't even focus well on maintaining his Sakkei, and soliloqized about the memories continually spinning around in his head.
"But, I feel that it would be better to stop."
He tried mumbling this to his memories. The residual memories left inside his head and his imagination produced developments, and because of this sentence a Felli with her eyebrows creased appeared in front of Layfon's eyes.
He felt that he couldn't even save the Felli who had appeared from his imagination.
"Maybe it's true."
If that were so, then it would have been better if he hadn't asked Felli for help in the first place. If he hadn't said anything to Felli, then perhaps she would have already turned from Military Arts to another department.
Now liberated from her brother's chains, in order to experience new things, perhaps she would have done that.
The one who obstructed her was Layfon.
"Aah, it really is!"
It was because he had said those things, that Felli had helped him to this degree.
After thinking this, the sinful feelings produced made Layfon feel quite uncomfortable, and the doubt 'How nice that you're doing this kind of easy training' emerged in his heart at the same time. Doing this level of training, achieving no progress or what couldn't be called progress, was that really good? He couldn't stop wanting to ask himself.
Layfon couldn't stop his remorse, and facing Felli who had challenged the legacy and was still in a sleep-like state, he felt even more guilty.
However, he didn't have anything else he could do.
"......Did the Captain also have these kinds of feelings before?"
What Layfon meant was Nina that they had barely met. Up to last year, because of the poor performance at the Military Arts Competition, the number of selenium mines Zuellni possessed had reduced, and the city's existence was faced a crisis. In order to find ways to solve this predicament, Nina established the seventeenth platoon and endlessly struggled, and had desperately trained her Military Arts with a feeling unlike now.
The destination was clearly there, but because her strength was too weak she couldn't arrive. The Nina at that time had exuded this kind of impatient feeling from her whole body.
The feeling that seemed like she couldn't complete some goal had always been there. Now she wasn't focused on becoming a strong Military Artist like Layfon and was focused somewhere else, making Layfon feel impatient, and she hadn't told Layfon what he should do.
Last year's Nina had had a mission as if she had to do something, single-mindedly charging forward.
Like last year's Nina, the current Layfon also felt as if he had to do something.
Other than increasing his power as a Military Artist, Layfon felt that he had to do something else.
But, he didn't know what he should do.
Layfon had to become strong, because he had already decided that he would help Nina who had been involved in some big event.
"......Is it only that?"
So he had to become strong.
Layfon was clear that in the end he would return to this conclusion, but when he thought again, he noticed he was still pondering it.
"Hahhh, I'm really too indecisive."
Layfon let out a sight while he trained. There was an ambiguous feeling in his heart that made him unable to quickly reach a conclusion. What was the mystery blocking Nina from moving forward after all, and what would happenen next?
Was this related to Grendan?
In other words, related to Leerin......
His mood was so heavy that he lost his focus.
"Lunch break will be over soon."
Only as he said this did Layfon notice that he had not eaten lunch. Since had thought of this method of training during class, he hadn't been able to stop wanting to hurry up and try it, so he had trained till now on an empty stomach.
"Ahh, what should I do?"
Moreover it seemed like he had left his bentou in the classroom.
"I wonder if I'll be able to make it if I go get it now?"
From here he could clearly see the clock tower in the middle of the Student Council building.
Layfon looked at the clock, and there wasn't much time left. If he went to get it now, the senior lecturer could just then walk into the classroom.
"No, after all I'll go to the canteen to buy something, and I guess I'll wait till after school to eat the bentou? Ahh, but maybe the canteen's sold out."
After considering the situation of the canteen near the second-year building, Layfon let out a pondering sound. In this Academy City, not only were the customers students, but the shope owners were also students. The stores that did business during classtime were few.
Therefore, he should skip class altogether...... That choice tugged at Layfon's heart. If he went downtown, he could find a store that was in business, because the demographic there was upperclassmen whose classtimes were rather free. Though if the underclassman Layfon were dining in that kind of place during classtime, it would be very easy for him to draw their attention.
"Hahhh...... Can I only tolerate it?"
Though he could eat something as soon as class ended, once he thought of how he would have to listen to class with a hungry stomach, Layfon felt dismayed.
Just then, Layfon noticed there was someone walking up to the roof. His hearing that was heightened because of his training heard footsteps walking up the stairs.
It was a sound he had heard before.
Judging by the footsteps, she was walking quickly.
She couldn't have come here to look for him, right? Thought Layfon thought this, he still paid close attention to the sound of these footsteps, so he stopped maintaining his Sakkei, and slowly released the Kei he had gathered towards the sky.
Doing this would allow him to not be noticed by other Military Artists as he handled this Kei flow that could only be released outside his body.
The sound of the footsteps reached the roof.
"Ah, Layton, you really were here."
Meishen showed a surprised expression. But at her saying this, Layfon was also surprised.
"Huh? You were looking for me?"
"Nn. Because you left your bentou in the classroom. I thought you would return to get it right away, but you didn't."
The bentou in Meishen's hand made Layfon's eyes light up.
"Wow, thanks. I forgot to take my bentou, and I was just thinking about how to deal with lunch."
"Really, then that's great."
"Ah yes, how did you find me?"
Layfon asked this of Meishen who had relaxed her breath.
Judging by Meishen's rone, she knew that Layfon was here.
But until just now, Layfon had been carrying out his training while using Sakkei.
There shouldn't be anyone able to feel his presence.
"Vati told me."
Vati Len, a new student this year who lived in the same apartment building, as well as a worker at Meishen's shop.
"But, how would she know?"
She was a first-year student, and at this time she should have no reason to appear in the second-year building.
"Just as I was going out to find you, I ran into her. So she told me about it."
Layfon nodded his head, but didn't understand.
"Was I seen while I was there?"
Though Layfon cared about it, perhaps it wasn't something worth studying. Even if his presence wouldn't be felt by others, it didn't mean that his body would be hidden. Perhaps she had just seen him. Moreover she could have had some business in the second-year building, and seen Layfon walking up to the roof preparing to carry out his training.
In the end, Layfon's current priority was his appetite. He sat on the ground, preparing to eat the bentou that Meishen had brought.
"Layfon, did you make today's bentou?"
"Since I made too much dinner, I made this bentou almost entirely from the leftover ingredients."
Since his life semi-cohabitating in the apartment, the opportunities for Layfon and Meishen to make dinner for the others had increased.
When Layfon cooked, he had the bad habit of cooking too much, so the dinnertable would often have leftovers. But layfon would always made the leftover dishes into bentous for the next day, so they had never thrown away the leftovers that they couldn't eat.
"I haven't been preparing bentous for you much recently, I'm really sorry."
"How can that be, I was just too dependent on you last year."
If she had time, Meishen right now would still make bentous for Layfon, but the occurences weren't as frequent as during their first year.
"You're very busy right now, it's not your fault."
Every morning Meishen seemed to be busy managing the work at her cake shop, and it would be a mistake for him to expect her to prepare bentous for him like before.
"It's surprising that you still make me bentous. You're really amazing."
"It's only extra that I made while preparing bentous for myself."
"That's still very amazing."
These were Layfon's true feelings. Meishen seriously confronted the things she wanted to do, and didn't escape from the things she wasn't good at. Meishen had only hidden behind the backs of her childhood friends in her first year, but now lived on her own, and had her own store.
"Meishen is very amazing, how could it be otherwise!"
Meishen went silent with her whole face red, that was her right from her first year.
However, during her work at the cake store, Meishen's eyes gave off a different radiance. As she did things with all of her heart, it produced a kind of feeling that could be enjoyed from the bottom of one's heart.
It made Layfon feel very envious.
From his first year, Layfon had envied Meishen who knew what she wanted to do. Moreover she had also actually advanced towards her goal. Layfon didn't only feel envy, but also felt happy for Meishen as if it were himself.
"I also have to work hard."
"I think Layfon is trying very hard."
Layfon felt very happy that Meishen could say this.
But, though the training to become strong was important, he couldn't only put his gaze above.
"The important thing is why I'm becoming strong."
Meishen tilted her head showing a puzzled expression, and Layfon smiled at her.
At that time, the sound of the clock declaring the end of lunchtime rang out, and the two hurriedly left the roof.
Layfon's praise made her quite happy.
But, the sentence that he had casually said, 'I also have to work hard', seemed quite serious.
"What is it?"
School was already over, and Meishen was in her shop. The important business of this store was to send desserts to affiliated stores, and though this work was completed in the morning, it didn't mean the work in the store would end just like that. The store was also connected to the district, and would also have customers enter.
The fame of Meishen's store had spread to the students working in the Warehouse District, so though there weren't many, there were still customers who came to buy cakes, or directly ate here.
But right now, there were no customers at all in the store.
Even the apartment residents and childhood friends who would come over whenever they had the chance hadn't coome.
So, Meishen stared blankly with nothing to do. At that time, Vati had asked such a thing of her.
"Eh? Ah, huh?"
"The cleaning outside is finished."
"Ah, s, sorry. Thanks for your work."
"No, it's no problem, I had nothing to do anyway. More importantly, how is manager?" 
Though Vati was very pretty, her face had no emotions and her tone was very serious, so one could easily feel that she was unapproachable.
Meishen was already used to her attitude, so she notmally wouldn't think of it. But, the sense of guilt of being dazed during work made the oppressive feeling that Vati gave off become even heavier, and this pressure almost crushed Meishen.
"Please don't mind. More importantly......"
"Huh? Ah, Did I say something?"
"No, it seemed like manager was contemplating something."
"Huh? Ah, ah, that...... thinking of new products......"
Meishen tried finding an excuse, but her voice grew quieter as she spoke.
However, this kind of reason wasn't good enough for a girl like Vati.
"No, it felt somewhat different from that."
"Huh? T, there's nothing like that......."
"No, it wasn't manager's expression while thinking of new products. When manager is thinking of new products......"
Speaking to here, Vati suddenly lost her normal cold expression. She relaxed her face, her mouth spread apart slightly, and showed an absentminded look that wasn't looking at the ceiling, though her gaze slanted upwards.
How to describe it, this expression looked a bit...... blank.
The moment Meishen thought this, Vati had restored her normal expression.
"......If that kind of expression continues for ten minutes or more, the next day has a seventy percent chance of a new product appearing."
Never mind the expression, once she thought of other people seeing herself actually making this face, Meishen was embarrassed enough to want to die.
"So what manager was just thinking of wasn't testing products."
"......Yes, you're right."
Meishen slightly raised her hands as if completely surrendering.
"......Is it something you can't say?"
"If it is, then I've been too careless. Sorry."
"......It's a little hard to explain."
Though her mouth said this, her tongue thought about weaving the situation into words.
Even if she looked outside, it seemed like there wouldn't be customers entering.
Meishen spoke of what had happened during noontime.
Layfon seemed to be secretly planning something, and his expression was different from before.
Morever he seemed like he would leave this place and go somewhere far away.
"Go somewhere far away?"
"Ah, I don't know the reason. Yes, I can't really make sense of it myself."
Meishen also felt confused about the words that she had blurted out.
However, she didn't want to deny her way of thinking. It would be better to say that this way of thinking had quietly entered Meishen's heart, and embedded itself inside.
Yes, she felt that Layfon seemed like he wanted to go somewhere far away.
"Ah, I don't think he wants to leave Zuellni."
Yes, the situation wasn't like that.
"......How should I say it?"
Meishen didn't have any way to explain it more clearly. Just from looking at layfon, a strange kind of lonely emotion would emerge inside her, so she had used 'Layfon wanted to go somewhere far away' to describe the feeling.
"What is it?"
Meishen thought of what Mifi had said around noon.
"Is that it?"
Many things had changed. Just like Meishen having her own shop, just like the increasing responsibilities the editorial department had assigned to Mifi, just like the increased work that Naruki had with the City Police.
Layfon had also changed towards some direction.
"......It can't be, I don't want him to change, maybe?"
Perhaps it was like that.
"But, it's really......"
"Ah, I'm sorry."
Meishen had been immersed in her thoughts, and had completely forgotten she was talking with Vati.
"Are you alright? You look pale."
"Resting a bit would be a bit......"
"That's true, since there are no customers right now, I'll sit down for a bit."
"I'll go get something for manager to drink."
With a smile, Meishen watched Vati walk to the kitchen.
(I don't want him to change.)
The words that boldly emerged made the imaginary needles that had stuck in her heart become larger and dig deeper.
Meishen could only feel dazed, as if she felt that kind of pain.
Tonight it was Meishen's turn to make dinner.
Vati had insisted that Meishen should rest today, even though she said that she was fine. In the end, Vati had somehow ended up helping Meishen make dinner.
"What should I make?"
After Meishen said the menu, and after Vati nodded her head and said 'I understand' with the usual expressionless face, she nimbly took out the ingredients from the fridge.
"It's enough for manager to supervise the flavor, please allow me to handle the rest."
"Th...... thank you. Uh, but is this okay?"
"It's for manager, and I might as well say that if it's not like this my heart would feel uneasy."
"Don't worry about it."
Vati who wore an apron talked as she smoothly lined up the ingredients, then took up the kitchen knife to handle them.
The two of them smootly prepared dinner like this, and the speed of completion made Meishen stare in surprise.
"I referenced the movements of manager in the kitchen."
"Huh? But I only made sweets and cakes in the shop kitchen......"
"For the most part it's the same."
Meishen could only give praise.
"Though I've thought this before, Vati's really amazing."
"That's not so, I'm only good at imitating other other people. Is the flavor alright?"
"Eh, ah...... Nn, add a little more salt and it'll be fine."
"According to manager's preferences, I thought this much would be about right."
"Yes. But Layton and the others are Military Artists right? They exercise a lot, so..."
"It's like that, sorry to bother you."
Being stared at by Vati made Meishen feel very embarassed. In order to avert the other party's attention, she showed a smile.
Vati finished the preparation according to the instructions.
After the cooking was finished, Vati collected the kitchenware to the point where Meishen could barely express her level of gratitude, and then left the room without saying a word.
"Hahhh...... If only I could do things as ably as her."
Seeing Vati like that, Meishen produced that kind of thinking from the bottom of her heart. She not only looked beautiful, had excellent grades, and had no problems with athletics, but moreover she could do house chores.
Though she had the shortcoming of a cold attitude, this was only because she lacked expressions, and in reality her heart was very tender.
"......Hah, I'll work hard."
What should she work hard at? Meishen herself wasn't too clear, but her spirit still rose automatically.
"What are you doing!"
The urgent voice coming from the door made Meishen shrink her body.
"............What is it?"
If she wasn't wrong, the voice's owner was Nina.
Thought the sound that entered her ears next was muffled, the one who spoke it was Layfon.
After that no more sounds entered the room, so Meishen timidly went to the entrance and opened the door.
That scene was staged at the stairs.
Layfon and Nina who should have been walking up the stairs had their heads raised looking at the top of the stairs.
Moreover Vati's figure was standing at the stair landing, and she held Felli to her chest.
"Captain, please calm down."
Nina's body still emitted killing intent, and Layfon who was completely confused spoke to her.
"How can I calm down!"
Then, giving off incredible anger, Nina glared at Vati.
What exactly had happened, and what was the situation right now? Meishen once again looked at Vati.
Vati was kneeling on the floor, and the unconscious Felli was in her arms. Her face was expressionless as usual.
"......Loss-senpai's body was not suited to walking down the stairs, and fainted here. I was only thinking of looking after her."
"Yes, could it be that Captain thought Vati-san was doing something?"
"But...... This person!"
This person was what? However, Nina showed an expression as if she were biting the bullet and quieted down, and the words afterwards could not be heard.
"Waah! What are you guys doing!"
Was it by chance? A new person let out a cry as if she were going to charge over, and without hesitation came from behind and grabbed Nina.
It was Claribel. With a pale face she said to Nina:
"Wait wait wait, you're too excited, Nina."
"But! This person made Felli! To Felli......"
"It's okay. Nothing has happened, nothing has happened! Isn't that right?"
That last sentence was directed to Vati.
"Of course. Loss-senpai's body temperature and pulse are sufficient to maintain the normal state of her vital functions, but her body seemes to be in a state of extreme fatigue, and it seems best to immediately send her to the hospital."
"See! See! Right now isn't the time to do this kind of thing!"
"Mu, gu, uu!"
"Layfon-san, please take Felli-senpai back."
"Ah, ah...... yes."
Layfon climbed the stairs with a puzzled face, and received Felli from Vati's hands.
Yes, it was at that moment.
Meishen forgot how abnormal the current situation was.
At that moment she only had that face in her mind.
The face of him lowering his head to look at Felli after he took Felli from Vati's hands.
He worriedly gazed at Felli.
This was obviously his normal response, but at that time, the expression that appeared on his face in that moment, though at first glance it seemed the same as normal, it produced an unexpectedly different feeling in Meishen.
Was this a misunderstanding, was she just guessing?
She was thinking too much - wasn't that kind of conclusion good?
But, even if she was proud of that conclusion, who was she trying to fool?
It was as if the pain from the needles inserted in her heart grew stronger.
If that kind of paint wouldn't disappear, then whatever she said was meaningless.
"What should I do?"
What should she do about what? To whom?
Soon after, Meishen had already returned to the room. She hadn't escaped back to her room, but the her afterwards hadn't really been seeing anything.
She remembered that in order to send Felli to the hospital, Layfon and the others had gone to the hospital, and only Vati had stayed here. Claribel had apologized to Nina.
Meishen stood blankly, looking at the drama performed on the stair landing, and in the end she was the only one left.
On the dinner table covered with a fresh cloth was placed dinner. Comparing the abundant preparations and the room's emptiness, Meishen intently gazed at the food.
"Ah, dinner...... what should I do?"
Meishen tried asking, but the answer didn't come to her immediately.
Instead, what appeared and endlessly spun in her mind was the scene that had just been performed, Layfon's face as he gazed at Felli.
What was it that had made her so shocked? What was it that she had seen?
No, she was very clear.
She didn't know the truth - put this pretense to the side, and recognize the truth that appeared in her heart.
In Layfon's eyes as he gazed at Felli, there seemed to be some special feeling. It wasn't a look given to a friend of classmate. The gaze he had given Felli hid various emotions.
She felt this way.
"I'm thinking too much, right?"
Her own answer was far too unreal, and made Meishen feel as if she had been completely defeated.
Meishen had seen all of the interaction between the two of them since last year. Meishen knew Felli was interested in Layfon, because she had admitted it to Meishen herself.
So, just Felli staying by Layfon made Meishen feel uncomfortable. In order to find a way to overcome this feeling, Meishen had worked hard in her own way to today. However, she had not thought of getting rid of Felli as a rival. She was sure she had never thought of it.
It wasn't because she thought of having a fair competition with her rival, only because she could never think like that.
......Perhaps, this was only because Meishen didn't even dare elicit his hostility. Even so, she had dared to offer sacrifices to show that she didn't detest Felli. Shouldn't that be something worthy of praise? She thought so.
But, perhaps this was only because Felli wasn't brave enough to go on an offensive towards Layfon.
In other words, Felli was also a late bloomer in terms of love. Only because of this had Meishen felt that she didn't have any need to panic.
Meishen didn't know what she should do. At the least she should let Layfon know of her strong points. Meishen who had thought this worked hard to show off her cooking, but only doing this seemed to be insufficient.
The time continually passed, and changes happened every moment.
Among these changes, was there one where Meishen had been tossed back to her original position?
So, is that why things had become the way they were?
"I'm not...... thinking too much, right?"
Felli only had one thing that made Meishen feel scared and which also made her envious. Of course, Felli had her beauty and her excellent grades and other superiorities that made Meishen feel envious, but the thing that made her the most envious was the interaction between Felli and Layfon.
She could stay with Layfon in the place where he could become himself the most, the battlefield. It was something Meishen definitely could not do, and to Layfon, Felli would definitely become a very trustworthy individual.
But, even if she understood in her heart, Meishen could only helplessly watch the events unfold.
"......I can't do anything."
As a normal person, Meishen couldn't enter the battlefield. She didn't know what to do in order to fill this gap.
"Can I really do nothing?"
That face endlessly appeared in front of her. The face of Layfon gazing at Felli when she had lost her consciousness. However Meishen thought, she didn't feel that the expression that appeared on that face was only concern for a comrade.
Had Layfon been drawn in by Felli?
Or perhaps...... had they gone further..................?
The sound of the door being knocked almost made her heart stop beating.
When she came back to reality, a long time had already passed. The sound of the door hesitated a bit before sounding again, and Meishen hurriedly walked to the door.
"Ah, sorry. You weren't by off-chance sleeping, were you?"
It was Layfon.
"Huh? I...... I wasn't. Nothing like that."
"Oh, good. You worked hard to make dinner, but it was wasted."
"Its okay. Ah, come in...... Is Felli-senpai okay?"
"Nn, it's as Vati said, she's only a bit fatigued."
"......Did something happen?"
"Nothing like that. Seems like senpai was also doing something."
Senpai was 'also'.
Meishen was already distressed to the point where she paid attention to trivial matters of this degree. In order to keep Layfon from seeing her emotions, Meishen worked hard to feign a concerned expression, and herself being this way made her feel quite miserable.
After bringing Layfon into the living room, even if she was unwilling, the food placed on the table greeted her eye.
"Right, have you eaten dinner?"
"Then you should eat here."
"Is that okay?"
"Nn, I'll go heat the food now."
Meishen had thought Layfon would return home in order to politely keep from disturbing her, but he hadn't done so. Meishen couldn't help but resent herself who didn't have the courage to open her mouth to tell him to go back home.
"Captain wants me to apologize for her."
"For her not being able to come eat dinner, and for yelling at Vati."
"Even if you tell me this, I......"
"That's true, but I think Captain only wants me to say this for her."
"I guess so. But, has something happened to Nina-senpai as well?"
"You really think something's weird?"
According to his words, Layfon also didn't know the situation?
"Captain seems like she's angry at Vati. Meishen, have you heard of Captain fighting with Vati?"
"Um, I haven't."
Meishen hadn't heard of anything unpleasant happening between Nina and Vati.
"Really, what's going on after all?"
Nina's actions made Layfon lost in thought, and right now there was no way to ask him about Felli.
After the food was reheated, Meishen and Layfon ate together. She had never experienced a dinner with such an awkward atmosphere, and didn't feel that she would be able to eat much.
However, in front of her was placed a great amount of unheated food. She had to think of how to deal with them.
"Right, about this food..."
Just as Meishen was thinking about what to do, Layfon opened his mouth to speak, perhaps perceiving her gaze.
"When I returned just now, Captain, Claribel, and I talked. Tomorrow morning, because of changing courses, the Military Arts department has a few extra free blocks."
"So they plan to borrow a practice battlefield from the school, so the three of us can carry out battle training."
"Ah, you're thinking of using this food to make bentous for that time?"
"Right, right! Can I?"
"Nn, it's okay. But I can't move them all myself."
"Yeah, sorry. I'll help bring them over."
The talk ended here.
After finishing the meal, Layfon indicated that he wanted to wash the dishes. After having some difficulty getting him to leave, Meishen finally relaxed her spirit.
However, the echo in her stomach didn't quickly disappear along with it.
"What should I do......"
Even if she muttered, she couldn't turn around the situation. But other than expressing her feelings, Meishen couldn't think of anything she could do to take out the boulder lodged in her heart.
- Vati here uses manager to refer to Meishen. Note that this is the Japanese thing where they talk directly to someone but address them in the third-person.