Chrome Shelled Regios:Volume1 Chapter5
Chapter 5: Point of Difference
This is my fourth letter but I still haven't received yours. I'm beginning to worry that you haven't been getting mine.
Honestly, I'm feeling a bit down.
What is it like to have a dream?
I'm beginning to understand that feeling.
I feel that......It's innocent and dazzling, like something at the bottom of a cave. No matter how much you stretch out your hand, you can't reach it. A place of deep despair.
The good friends I've made here shine from a place that I can never reach.
You also shine with light.
Back then, I didn't understand how you could be so diligent and hardworking for such a boring thing. I was too desperate to live, and because of that, I missed the point.
What forced me to become like that? I was running away. It's unsightly of me to place the blame elsewhere.
Now, I don't find your goal boring. It's the opposite: I'm envious of you.
Can I still grasp hold of it? Grasp hold of the thing on the very bottom, the unreachable......The thing that might not even be there.
I'm struggling with whether I should send this letter or not. Useless content.
But I still think I should send this. I want to hear your opinion. Don't complicate it. I just want to hear what you think.
I want to read your reply to this letter.
Your dream is and has always been dazzling. Please don't lose it.
To my dear Leerin Marfes,
Nina walked in a brusque manner along the corridor, stomping the floor with force. A girl passing by, holding a pile of documents and who seemed to be a member of the Student Council quickly moved aside for her.
It was natural for the girl to be startled. Dust and soil particles were stuck to Nina's forehead and cheeks. Her golden hair was dirty and messy, and even her Military Arts uniform was in tatters. There weren't many students who would walk around with that appearance full of anger.
Nina was outraged. She wasn't quite sure why she was incensed, but she was currently throwing a tantrum.
Unquestioning of the anger inside her, she had stomped over here after the match, propelled by her emotion. Layfon had fainted when the siren rang out and was carried away on a stretcher. There wasn't anything unusual with the flow of his Kei, so he must have just lost consciousness.
"Just what was that about?" Nina let out her words in resentment and pounded heavily on the door of the Student President's room.
Before the reply came through, she had already pushed open the door on her own.
Besides the bitterly smiling Karian, Vance was also in the room. Vance's presence calmed her down. She halted her steps.
"Third year, Military Arts, Nina Antalk is coming in."
Karian said that and then praised her.
"Congratulations on your first win."
Nina's brow furrowed. "......Just what was that?"
"Uh......What do you mean?"
"Layfon Alseif. You know he's not a normal person, don't you?"
"Why do you think so?"
"This is all too strange. He really did well in the opening ceremony, but before his ability was confirmed, you transferred him into Military Arts and nominated him to join my platoon. During that time, there must have been lots of people thinking you were just blinded by his brilliant performance. But you didn't take any action afterwards...... Your personality would've made that impossible."
"But you accepted Layfon. Don't you admire his performance today?"
"I tested him."
She'd had Felli bring him to the training room and had measured his strength. At that time, she didn't feel Layfon was hiding his true strength. She'd felt that if he had more training, his strength could exceed that of the existing members.
But that judgment was completely in error.
The issue wasn't that Layfon could become stronger after more training. He didn't need training at all.
She saw Layfon's true strength in the platoon match just then. Needle Kei (Shin Kei) and Whirl Kei (Senkei) ......He couldn't have mastered that power in a short period of time.
Vance nodded in agreement. He glanced at the screen that was about to broadcast the fourth match, and turned his gaze back to Karian.
"You seem to know who Layfon Alseif is. Did you know of his identity before this match?"
Karian shook his head.
"It's not that easy to obtain intelligence on other cities."
The other two people in the room weren't convinced.
"I only found out about him by chance." He raised his hands in surrender.
"How did you two come to this academy?" Karian asked.
"On a roaming bus of course."
"Obviously by riding the roaming buses. Normally, we can only travel between cities by riding the roaming buses, but what I mean is the route."
"Yes. All the roaming buses eventually return back to the Traffic City Joeldem and then depart from there. Only the consciousness of Joeldem knows the current positions of all the mobile cities. But sometimes a roaming bus might not come directly from Joeldem. It might go around to other cities before arriving here."
Nina nodded. She had passed three cities before arriving at Zuellni.
"Did you pass through Grendan?" Nina asked.
Karian nodded. "It took me three months to arrive at Zuellni. During my travels, I had a two week layover in Grendan. It wasn't boring over there at all because of the numerous Military Arts matches being held. Fortunately, I saw a Heaven's Blade successor match."
Nina glanced at Vance. Vance didn't seem to know of it, so she waited for Karian to explain.
"That isn't just a title for the twelve best Military Artists in the Lance Shelled City, Grendan......A certain special item also comes with that title, but as an outsider, I have no idea what it is."
While listening to Karian, Nina thought of what might have happened.
Layfon was from Grendan. That was true. Since Karian rode the roaming bus to Zuellni for first year study, this meant he must have stayed at Grendan five years ago.
Five years ago? ......Layfon wasn't even ten years old!
"How is that possible......"
"I know there are geniuses in this world. But even I was greatly moved by his performance. I was so surprised I was speechless. I don't have the talent for Military Arts, but everyone watching that match was all shocked by the scene."
A kid, who might not even be ten years old yet, easily wielded the long sword and defeated an adult.
"It wasn't just men, everyone was overwhelmed and shocked. It was a rare and extraordinary scene. A kid could actually reach the summit of the Military Arts world! I couldn't forget that name. When I saw his name on the scholarship application, it was impossible for me to miss it. For him to settle in Zuellni, at this time, is like the birth of a savior. At the same time, I didn't understand why he left Grendan and wanted to specialize in General Studies. No, actually, I wasn't surprised at him entering General Studies. He doesn't need anyone to teach him Military Arts. Even so, I was still curious about the real reason behind his decision, so I did some investigating, and the results arrived at my desk the day before the opening ceremony."
Nina swallowed, trying to remove the feeling of something sticking to her throat.
She suddenly realized why she was so angry.
She got it now. Layfon hadn't used his true strength during training. Never mind that. What was unforgivable was the fact that he deliberately lost to her when they first fought. He could have defeated her easily, but he chose to lose to her.
It felt like an insult to Nina.
Even so, the truth might not be what it appeared to be on the surface.
She suppressed her anger and thought more calmly. Perhaps the excited Karian could calm her down further.
What was Military Arts to Layfon? Perhaps he didn't like it. If he liked it, even though he didn't need any training, he would have entered Military Arts.
(Speaking of which......)
She remembered. Didn't he say that when they were eating supper at the Mechanical Department?
"Not Military Arts. I've already failed it."
She had forgotten that soon afterward, distracted by the Electronic Fairy. But thinking of it now, his words seemed to hide some deeper meaning.
Failed? Just what was that about?
The Layfon who was a top Military Artist in Grendan. Just what mistake did he make?
Nina almost perked up her ears by reflex.
She wanted to know.
But then, perhaps she shouldn't be listening to this. If she knew, she might not let Layfon stay in the platoon. Perhaps she wouldn't be able to forgive him.
Just when her heart was swaying in two directions, Karian continued.
"He had tainted the reputation of a Heaven's Blade successor."
Something bad must have happened if he woke up in the hospital.
"I'm here again......"
Layfon awoke and realized what he had done. He held his head, hating himself.
He felt it and found many lumps on it. No wonder it felt as if his head was cramping.
As he moaned, trying to escape the pain, his eyes wandered around the surrounding room and saw something placed on the bench. Something that looked like a big basket and three female schoolbags. Then, rowdy noises drifted in from the corridor, and the door was pushed open.
"Ah, Layton's up!" Mifi said loudly with a paper cup in hand. Meishen and Naruki were standing behind her.
"How do you feel? Are you all right? Speaking of which, you were incredible. You gave me such a scare."
Layfon smiled sourly and sat up on the bed.
"I didn't know you were that strong. The last two moves were amazing," Naruki said.
Naruki said that because she was also in Military Arts. The bitterness on Layfon's face deepened.
Noticing Layfon's look, she changed her expression.
"......So are you alright?"
Layfon took the juice from Meishen. The juice refreshed his thirsty throat. He drank as if to allow the liquid to seep through his entire body.
"Thanks. I feel much better."
Meishen's face reddened. She lowered her head and half-ran from the side of the bed to the long bench.
"......Um, if you're hungry, I've got a bento......"
"Uh, thank you."
Layfon got off the bed, made his way to the long bench and looked into the basket. It was divided into two sections. One held sandwiches; the other had things wrapped in paper that seemed to be baked biscuits.
"I am hungry."
He hadn't eaten as his stomach had hurt since early this morning. Looking at the basket, now he wanted to eat.
He took a sandwich and bit into it. Feeling the look Meishen was giving him, he ate the sandwich in two bites and washed it down with juice.
Meishen's tense expression turned into a blossoming smile.
Layfon hesitated, his hand reaching out for more.
"We aren't hungry. It's okay if you eat it all."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Just eat it all," Naruki and Mifi said. Meishen nodded. So he took another sandwich.
"I'll go buy some juice."
"I'm going with you."
The girls' sudden movements alarmed Meishen.
"......Wha- you two!" she protested.
"Don't worry. We'll buy your share," Naruki said to Meishen, who was waving at them in agitation.
"Oh, almost forgot. Your platoon's going to celebrate the victory. We've been invited too."
"Oh, okay, got it," Layfon replied.
Recalling the match brought a shadow over him, but eating took priority. Naruki and Mifi left the room.
Now that they were left alone in the room, Meishen had lost her composure. Sitting next to Layfon, she fidgeted and played with her fingers, her eyes darting around.
After finishing the fourth sandwich and settling his stomach, he noticed Meishen's peculiar behaviour.
(Ah, is she shy?)
And he felt awkward and embarrassed. It was bad of Naruki and Mifi to leave her when they knew she'd become like this.
"I'm sorry for making you make the bento."
"......Not at all. It's a......th......thank you."
"......You saved me."
Recalling what he did in the opening ceremony, he shook his head.
"That was nothing."
He wasn't thinking of saving her. His body just moved on its own.
That was all there was to it.
"......But, I was still saved."
"Then I'll gratefully receive your goodwill, but I've almost eaten it all."
Meishen laughed lightly at the joke. Feeling embarrassed, Layfon grabbed another sandwich.
"......Lay......ton. You're strong," Meishen whispered as he finished up the last sandwich.
"No......not at all."
Even though he wanted to deny it, he knew inside him was another "him" who couldn't deny himself. He understood he had extraordinary strength in Military Arts. He tried his all to hide it. He didn't know how the Student President found out, but he thought he could solve this issue since Karian didn't seem to have leaked the secret.
But he had dashed that hope in today's match.
There must be a student here from Grendan. Those who thought they had mistaken him for someone else would now know he was a Heaven's Blade successor.
"......You're really strong. Like how you struck down those two instantly......"
The huge screen set in the audience section must have broadcast his image.
"......But, why didn't you defeat them before?"
The question he had been dreading now lay before him. He noticed the smell of earth on his clothes. The Medical students had dusted off some of the soil on Layfon before putting him in bed, but that wasn't enough to clean the dirty clothes. While thinking of that, he remembered the pain in his head.
(I must have rolled too much on the ground.)
In the arena, Layfon had difficulty thinking because of his head bumping here and there. He thought back to the scene of Nina receiving repeated attacks. Compared to him, irrespective of the difference in their real strength, Nina was not allowing her concentration to falter from pain.
"I wasn't planning on winning."
He decided to be honest.
"I don't care about the me who trained in Military Arts. I didn't start training in it because I liked it. I didn't have anyone encouraging me to study it. I learned it because I had to."
"Besides, Military Arts isn't necessary to me anymore, so I'm abandoning it," he said in small voice.
Meishen watched him with wide eyes.
If......if he was more used to it, he might have lost the match with more beauty. That was what he thought, but he was unable to do so in battle. As long as he held a weapon......even if he wasn't doing his best, he always fought seriously. This had nothing to do with the strength of the opponent. He had no feelings besides a desire to fight seriously for the result of victory.
"I told you before that I'm an orphan, didn't I?"
Meishen nodded and moved away her awkward gaze.
"The Head of our orphanage was terrible with money, so he was always having trouble with it. Looking at the dwindling food, I guessed the Head must be losing money again. I was always afraid that one day, there might not be food at all."
At that time, he encountered the way of the katana.
"I was told I had a gift with the katana, so I decided to make money with it. I participated in all kinds of matches and won lots of prize money......"
And before he knew it, he had become a Heaven's Blade successor.
Perhaps people who dreamed of becoming a Heaven's Blade successor would be outraged by his words. To him, though, this was his truth. This was the value the title "Heaven's Blade" held for him. It was only a step on the path to his goal.
"The situation at the orphanage improved because of the prize money. Everyone was grateful to me."
"......So, you then decided not to train in Military Arts again?"
"Yes, since there was enough money. Unfortunately, it isn't enough for my school fees. That can't be helped, so I had to earn money through some other means."
"......Don't you miss it at all?"
Layfon smiled naturally and nodded. "Yeah, but I still haven't found out what I want to do......"
"......You'll definitely find it," Meishen said in a light and shy voice. She hunched her shoulders, her body seeming to become even smaller.
Looking at the floor, she added,"......You were incredible......in the match......But you were a bit devious."
"......Why did you win if you'd decided to lose the match?"
He wanted to say he couldn't think properly because of his injured head, but on second thought, he swallowed the words. It wasn't a good enough reason; besides, he didn't want Meishen to know more about it.
"......Layton, you have your own way of thinking. I don't know much......about winning or losing matches......but, if you've decided to lose, I think it's better to lose the match. It's not so good to change halfway through......About finding what I like doing, I can't properly explain why I like making sweets. I don't know how to discover an interest, so I can't give you any suggestions......"
She paused as if to take a deep breath, and then continued, "But the Lay......ton I saw at the opening ceremony was cool. I want to see the Layton from back then."
Her face was all red. Then she added a light "Sorry."
Layfon remained silent, and could only shake his head.
Afterward, he chatted a bit with Naruki and Mifi. They all decided to part ways before tonight's celebration party.
Back in the dormitory, Layfon took off his dirty clothes and went to have a shower.
Coming back to the room, refreshed, he looked at the paper bag on the desk.
In it were Meishen's biscuits.
"I don't really like sweets."
He had taken the package with him without opening it, not wanting to refuse her.
Now he opened the paper bag. The sealed-off aroma of sugar rushed out to pat his nose. He wasn't sure why, but it smelled like Meishen. The image of Meishen surfaced in his mind. Because of her passion for making sweets, she was doing a job she wasn't good at. He recalled how she peeked at him eating sandwiches, her face lowered and pink.
He popped a biscuit into his mouth.
But he didn't hate the sweetness on his tongue. It was good for the body to eat something sweet when tired.
"Aah~" Holding the bag in one hand, he fell into a sitting position. He brushed aside the hair falling across his eyes, and gazed at the floor.
He had lied to Meishen.
To put it correctly, he had hidden from her things that would disadvantage him in her eyes. This way, nobody would get hurt.
But he resented himself for only wanting to maintain his good image.
Either way, his pretense had been exposed. He was useless in the match. He didn't plan on winning, but the other half of him had taken action for victory. It seemed as if he was hiding his real strength so as to hoard the spotlight in the end.
Besides, what could he do after winning?
Go back to train in Military Arts?
"Just what do I want to do?"
Who knew how many times he had asked that question already? But he still had to ask. What did he have besides Military Arts?
Was there anything else he could do?
Nothing. He just wanted to be doing something. He walked on a path with no dream and no obstacles. All he wanted was to try walking on a path, relying on himself.
He hadn't even decided on where to go.
And he came to Zuellni for that purpose. But the situation of the Academy and the Student President who knew of his past were denying him the chance to discover his own interest.
Layfon grabbed another biscuit. Meishen probably knew he didn't like sweets, so she had made them with less sugar. They tasted nice.
Her consideration pained him. It reproached him.
What was he like, the "cool Layfon" in her eyes?
"It really is......so sweet......"
He ate another biscuit.
The day after the platoon match passed by smoothly. It was now night.
Naruki walked near the fighting arena with a flashlight in one hand. On her breast was a City Police badge. A baton hung from her harness. She was patrolling with a Military Arts senpai.
"Is that first year in the 17th platoon your classmate?"
A wry smile crossed Naruki's face at the curiosity of her senpai.
A great number of people had moved over to the busier part of the city at night, so the areas surrounding the arena were quiet and empty. Some people would use this chance to carry out activities here, such as lovers doing something indecent, and students in Alchemy and Engineering conducting illegal experiments.
Still, this patrol was a leisurely job.
Senpai told her of what the Alchemy students did here and how students from the Engineering department used their machines for underground gambling matches. And somehow, the conversation came to focus on Layfon.
"He's amazing. Not that many in Military Arts can reach his level. Just who is he?"
"Who knows......He doesn't talk much about himself."
It was more like Layfon himself didn't want to talk about his past. His unenthusiastic expression was all the answer that people received for the various questions that they threw at him yesterday in the celebration party.
"I just know he's from Grendan."
"Grendan? Ah, I see. But not everyone knows Military Arts even in Grendan. Oh, speaking of which......"
"A Military Artist came here from Grendan last year. A good-for-nothing. What an absolute horror in group training," she said, trying to suppress her laughter.
"......What was so horrible?"
"Oh, I haven't finished. If one enters the Military Arts course, one should have trained in the basics of Internal-type or External Burst-type Kei, right? That girl kept boasting about her Kei and how it was just a basic level in Grendan, but in real combat, she couldn't even reach the lowest level. The other girls finished her off so easily. She ended up withdrawing from the course after only half a year. We all thought Grendan wasn't that great, but after watching yesterday's match, it looks like it's not just all talk about Grendan."
"Are there only a few students from Grendan?"
"Well, I only know that girl from Grendan. Grendan seems to have moved very far away from Zuellni in these past few years. Isn't it safer to go to a closer Academy City? So I don't think students from Grendan would come all the way out here. Perhaps that girl thought she wouldn't have to use Kei if she went to a place far away from Grendan," Senpai giggled.
Naruki sank into contemplation. Couldn't the example of the female student fit Layfon?
It made more sense to enter an Academy City closer to home. This minimized the potential danger of spending too much time on a roaming bus. It was impossible to know the exact location of a city, but the Traffic Department was able to guess its location through the whereabouts and number of traveling days of various roaming buses. Even Naruki and her friends used the information from the Traffic Department to narrow down their options and finally picked Zuellni.
(Did Layfon deliberately choose a distant Academy City?)
She thought so. So he chose this place because it didn't have as many people from Grendan? She didn't understand, but this hypothesis felt close to the truth. For him who was hiding a secret, he wouldn't have wanted people near him to know it. So he purposefully picked a distant place.
"What is it?" the senpai turned around, as Naruki had been deep in thought and had lagged behind.
"No. Nothing," Naruki shook her head and ran to catch up with her.
(No problem at all.)
If so......was there an issue with Layfon? No. Not at all.
As long as a person lived, he had to have experienced a sad or embarrassing past that he wanted to wipe clean. There was nothing wrong with escaping the place where he kept recalling his bad memories.
(Ah, but that depends on the situation.)
The person she was worried about wasn't Layfon, but Meishen. Obviously, Meishen liked him. The closer she got to him, the greater the possibility she'd come into contact with the truth he was hiding. No, maybe she had already touched it. If the two were to be together...Naruki didn't want them to develop a distant relationship of being afraid to touch the other's wound.
What would Meishen do?
(If it's her......)
No problem. Sure, but Naruki couldn't think like that.
(Perhaps she'll be depressed.)
This was worrying.
Since they were young, Meishen had always hidden behind Naruki, the tallest of the three, who knew how to fight. Nobody messed with Mifi. Mifi liked to use the fastest means possible to grab hold of the other person's secret and use it against them in the most diabolical way possible.
Meishen grew up being protected by them.
But she wasn't just being protected.
Both Naruki and Mifi fell under the charm of Meishen's sweets. They wouldn't dare lift their heads before her. If they went over the line, Meishen wouldn't make any sweets for them. But even so, Meishen rarely left their small circle to make contact with the outside world. Her assertive action of working in the coffee shop was a great improvement. However, this wasn't enough to build a relationship with someone outside their circle.
Naruki was really worried.
(Um, what should I do? Maybe I should force the truth out of Layfon? Meishen might really fall into despair if it's a hard truth. What should I do? He's weak in personality. Perhaps it's better to use my authority as a City Policewoman? Just make up some evidence to threaten him and arrest him?)
Deep in thought, Naruki had been walking slowly. The senpai strolling ahead of her turned back to look...
And at the same time......
"Whhaaa......" She lost her balance and fell onto the grass.
The ground was shaking.
"What is it?"
The intensity of the tremor made Naruki kneel down. The trees lining the road and the buildings around them clamoured. The streetlights shook violently, as if they could fall down at any moment. The light jumped.
"Wh wh wh- what's happening?"
Senpai grabbed hold of one of the streetlights. It seemed to be her first time experiencing a cityquake.
"This is a city-quake. The cause could be uneven ground or the city not having a firm foothold......"
"Oh? ......I see." It took a while for Senpai to understand her.
It was easy to forget this fact while living a normal life in the city. Zuellni was moving continuously.
When Naruki was very young, a city-quake of a greater magnitude than this had occurred in her city because Joeldem was trapped in ground with a weak crust. The city-quake had caused huge damage.
When the shaking gradually eased, Naruki stood up. It didn't look like there was a fire anywhere. She couldn't hear the racket from the residential district as it was a bit far from here, but things must be chaotic over there.
She thought of Mifi and Meishen. They should be sleeping in the dormitory.
"I hope there aren't any accidents."
And the shrill call of the siren dashed her hope.
She was in a bad mood since yesterday because Layfon had hidden his true strength......
They were cleaning and painting the tubes to prevent the spread of rust in the Central Mechanism Chamber.
Holding the paint can and the brush, Layfon focused entirely on the sound of the moving gears behind his back.
Nina was silently cleaning a tube.
To Layfon, the sound of her brush against the tube was scolding him.
Nina didn't react to the sound he tried to suppress. Layfon's stomach hurt.
(What did I do wrong?)
He thought of the possible reason.
Nina had been acting strange since yesterday's celebration party. Putting Felli aside, who was absent, both Sharnid and Harley greeted him. Nina was the only one who didn't look like she wanted to talk to him. All she said was "Thanks" and then she had gone to sit by herself.
She must be angry at his hiding of his true strength.
This had to be the only reason. Even he could understand her unease. Someone with a lukewarm attitude actually exceeded her in her best area. It was like he was mocking her hard-won accomplishments.
"Excuse me......" he called to her. Her brushing movement stopped.
"What?" she said without looking at him.
"Are you angry?" he blurted out.
(I'm an idiot!)
He could have said something better.
He thought she'd roar at him, but all she did was deny in a low voice.
"There's no reason to be mad, but......" she sighed, lowered her shoulders and turned around.
Her gaze didn't directly touch his.
"I regret letting you enter the platoon."
"I was deceived by the Student President. I was satisfied to have you since the platoon match was close and we still lacked members. You took my Kei directly, so I thought if you trained well, you could become an attacker in the platoon. Even if we lost the match, you could become stronger somehow, before the real Military Arts Competition."
"But your real strength is way beyond my calculations."
"Was the Student President lying when he said you were a successor of a Heaven's Blade?"
Looking embarrassed suddenly, Nina moved her gaze further away from him.
"Did he tell you?"
"Yes," she nodded.
"He told me what he knew, and all I can do is pray it's not true."
Her eyes, questioning him and wishing for something, made him release the breath he was holding. He felt debilitated, as if a certain tension was suddenly cut away, the weight of his body disappearing into thin air......the emotion of despair.
(It's all over......)
Just what had ended? What he had left behind in Grendan had returned to him. What he had been running away from had finally caught up with him.
"Tell me it's all a lie," she pleaded.
But she didn't think the Student President had lied to her.
Wolfstein......from the moment he learned of the twelve Heaven's Blade successors.
Everyone had been scolding him, saying it was wrong, yet nobody had taken care to explain just how wrong it was. All they did was scold him.
His stiff expression relaxed.
Yes, his old self had returned.
Nina's face turned frosty. She must have obtained her confirmation from his look.
"Was it true?"
"Yes," he nodded.
"I participated in underground matches in Grendan, tainting the reputation of the Heaven's Blade and was exiled."
He watched with indifference as the muscles on her face twitched.
"To earn money."
He trained in Military Arts for that purpose and won again and again.
But the prize money from normal matches was too little.
As a result of unbroken victories, he had become a successor of a Heaven's Blade to serve under the Queen of Grendan, Alsheyra. But his salary was still too small and the special scholarship he obtained was still too little.
"I needed a lot of money for the many children in the orphanage."
The money he had was enough for himself or just a normal family.
But there were too many orphans. The money he earned wasn't enough to provide for their education and living. His Master wasn't the only one managing an orphanage. Layfon needed money to give to his comrades, for all the numerous orphans in Grendan......and what he was earning wasn't enough.
He could have just earned enough for the orphanage he lived in, but he felt he needed to provide for all the orphanages. He didn't know why either. Perhaps, all the orphans were his comrades.
So he wasn't earning enough.
"And at that time, I found out about the underground matches."
Nina's expression swayed.
She probably thought what he did had tainted the Military Arts. Many people thought of Military Arts as a sacred art to defend a city from outside enemies. This viewpoint was especially strong in those who lived as professional Military Artists.
The sacred art must not be tainted by human desires.
But in reverse, because it was sacred, people wanted to taint it. The students gambling secretly on the platoon matches were immersed in the festival-like atmosphere committing their illegal act.
But compared to the students, there were people who wanted to do such things with clear-cut intent. Perhaps they weren't satisfied with the normal matches that began and ended ceremoniously in the spirit of sports. What they lusted after were the mad and bloody fights.
And for this reason, the underground matches offered huge prize money.
Layfon had found out about it. He contacted the people who organized such matches. Using the threat that came from the authority of a Heaven's Blade successor, he suggested that they could advertise his unbelievably strong power. It was easy to tell who would have won in a normal match, but it was another matter to watch a Heaven's Blade successor fight without holding back.
He used his Kei as if he was in a show, and through that, obtained money from the audience.
"But I couldn't keep that up for long."
It was difficult to shut people's mouths. The rumor of his deeds spread widely in Grendan and eventually reached Queen Alsheyra's ear.
"And so I was exiled."
"Of course," Nina said, as if to let out all the anger and irritation inside her.
Nina's outrage was the same as the people's at Grendan, including Layfon's Master, the other Heaven's Blade successors and even his comrades – the orphans.
Even so, he still didn't understand.
"Why are you so certain?"
"Kei is an important treasure for humanity, striving to survive in this world. Because of it, the orphans and I didn't have to worry about food. Why must people make using it a crime?"
He truly couldn't comprehend.
"The Queen exiled me because a certain Military Artist was threatening me."
She probably didn't know about this.
"That person wanted to participate in a Heaven's Blade match. He showed me proof of my fights in the underground matches and threatened to spread it around unless I lost to him purposefully and let him have the Heaven's Blade."
There were twelve Heaven's Blade successors. The only way to get that title was to either defeat a successor in a Heaven's Blade match or win the numerous matches after the death of a successor.
The blackmailer had another way than Military Arts to win a match, and he used it to threaten Layfon. But Layfon didn't accept the deal. He couldn't abandon his title as it was his key to the underground matches, to fight as a Heaven's Blade successor.
So he tried to kill the other person. His secret would be safe if this person died.
He planned to win with one strike. He had that confidence. Once his opponent got careless, Layfon would deal a fatal strike and finish him off.
But, he failed.
His one strike only managed to sever his opponent's arm, and the match ended as his opponent was unable to keep fighting.
And then the news of Layfon's deed in the underground matches spread.
"I don't find him despicable," he said to the speechless Nina.
"He was only doing everything he could to obtain what he desired. But he got careless in the end. That's all there was to it."
To Layfon, the way he finished his opponent was naive. One must fight desperately to survive, but the level of desperation he showed in his method was meaningless. At that time, there were still things driving him to act that way solely for the purpose of survival. And as such, he wasn't angry with the Student President. Karian's attitude of manipulating things and people to ensure Zuellni's survival was the same as Layfon's.
But Karian's concern on what Layfon had abandoned made him revisit the feeling he had in Grendan all over again.
"And that is who I am. Do you find me despicable?"
Everyone in Grendan reproved him for being base.
Was Nina the same? He waited for her reaction with a neutral expression.
He felt pain as of his heart being torn apart. The pain was an illusion, but he had no way of shaking it off, so he could only suffer it.
Why was he feeling this kind of pain?
No. He had already experienced it before – the punishment that Queen Alsheyra had passed down to him. All the Heaven's Blade successors served her, so Layfon could only surrender to her judgment.
All the Heaven's Blade successors, officials and his Master watched him as his punishment was dealt out. Their gazes were cold and icy.
The pain jolted him back to reality.
"You......are despicable," she said.
And then the ground shook violently.