~~Six O’clock in the Morning, Eleventh Day of the Fifth Month, Ninety-Fourth Year of the War Demon Calendar~~
“Asley’s still not back…”
Lala said while she was crouching down, plucking weeds that had grown around her crops.
“Still not back, indeed…”
“”Since We could not connect to him with the Telepathic Call, it would be better to assume that he is either far away… or that he was prevented from using it for some unknown reason.””
With Itsuki speaking up in agreement with Lala, Tzar proceeded to explain to them while using his ends to pluck out weeds on the fields.
“Right… besides, it hasn’t even been that long yet. Way too soon to start worrying, don’t you think?”
“But Betty…what about Lina? You think she’ll be fine?”
“Oh, brother, you know how strong she is. Mentally and physically. She even beat Egd in a martial arts match yesterday.”
“Geh – for real?!”
Bruce was agape with surprise, while Blazer voiced his admiration.
It was quite unexpected for a warrior such as Egd to be bested at martial arts by a mage like Lina.
Although Lala wasn’t all that familiar with Egd, she still voiced her surprise alongside everyone.
“Well, this is Lina we’re talking about… fighting her probably threw off Egd’s concentration. Ah – hey, don’t slack off, brother!”
“And that’s my part done. It’s about time for breakfast, so I’ll go help Natsu and Haruhana get things ready. Go wake up everyone else when you’re done here, all right?”
Betty stood up, gave her order, and then went back into the house.
Blazer, Itsuki, and Tzar finished their weeding quota at around the same time; they moved on to prepare today’s work.
“Man, I’m just not good at this kinda thing…”
“Bruce, over there.”
“Yeah, yeah… wait, Lala, isn’t it about time you go call Ryan and the others?”
“You’re the one who’s supposed to go today.”
Lala’s utterly disinterested response exuded enough power to prompt a deep sigh from Bruce, now the agency’s figurative rickshaw boy.
“So, he still hasn’t returned…”
The same day, seven o’clock in the morning.
Student Council Adviser Irene grumbled to current President Lina, who had been up all night clearing up the Council’s works.
“He hasn’t, indeed…”
“I’d thought he’d leave the communication channel open this time, but there hasn’t been anything for the past half month… It’s quite concerning, I must say.”
“You think so, professor?”
Upon hearing such an unexpected remark, Irene stopped fiddling with the brush that she had held with her lips.
She had never expected Lina to have any different opinion from hers on this matter.
“Huh. Now that’s a surprise.”
“Hmm? Did I say something… strange?”
“Not necessarily. It was just… unexpected.”
Irene groaned subtly up her nose, leaned back on her chair, and then fiddled with the brush in her lips once again.
“Professor Irene… You’ve warned me not to make a habit of that a while ago.”
Now Irene remembered the warning in question that she had given to Lina in the First Month of this year.
She took the brush away from her mouth.
“That reminds me, it’s barely been three months ever since he was back in town, hasn’t it?”
“During that, he went away for awhile for the Rank-up Evaluation, too… But, well, a lot of things happened over these past months. I’ve gotten to learn quite a lot, too!”
Irene giggled bitterly at the look on Lina’s face as the latter pumped up her fists in an attempt to emphasize how much she’d grown.
“Heh, come back and brag after doing something about those bags under your eyes.”
“Ah- huh? S-Sorry…?”
Seeing how Lina was covering her eyes out of embarrassment, Irene giggled again; at the same time, the latter heard footsteps approaching from a distance.
“This weight, oscillation, and pace… could it be Hornel?”
“I think so, yes…”
Their prediction was correct – Hornel, out of breath, swung the door open and rushed his way in.
Once he was done catching his breath and readjusting his glasses, Hornel proceeded to say,
“Hah… hah… sorry for running late, Lina.”
“Huh? Isn’t there a little bit more time until your shift?”
“My, oh my, greeting Lina before a member of the faculty now, are we?”
Hornel’s face cramped up slightly upon being hit with a sarcastic tease. He took it seriously – at least seriously enough to try and clean his act by bowing his head down.
“Good morning, Professor Irene!”
Irene smiled and replied to him, perhaps satisfied to see a student of hers panic so comically.
Hornel, still not raising his head, glanced up slightly and asked,
Irene inclined her head, wondering what question he might have. Lina did so as well.
“Why is Lina… covering her eyes?”
“Heh heh… It’s a secret.”
At this time, Hornel had already raised his head up, and was now tilting his head in perplexion toward Irene’s suspicious grin.
Eventually, Lina’s blushing faded, though the sense of awkwardness remained. Hornel took this chance to sit down in his usual seat.
“So, getting to work… we were looking to add one of this year’s Freshmen to our ranks, yes? How has the investigation been going?”
“Well, we did manage to compile a list of candidates here, but couldn’t narrow it down further…”
“How come? They may not be up to snuff… yet, but shouldn’t there be at least some talent in there? Can’t we just choose someone well-rounded from the list?”
Hornel asked while looking over the set of documents.
Before Lina could answer him, Irene explained, sounding quite sour,
“See, from what I’ve seen of the White Faction… they’re all too polarizing. There’s this boy, Mash, who’s pretty mediocre but quite ambitious and well-liked by pretty much everyone. Timmy is an immensely popular girl, too, but her capabilities are bottom of the barrel. And then there’s…”
Irene abruptly stopped, but Hornel understood what she had meant to say.
Hornel being the Student Council’s Vice President, there was no way for him to be unaware of this matter.
Tifa, another one of Asley’s pupils, had enrolled in the University, and had subsequently been crowned the top student of her year.
Numerous rumors of her had made the rounds after the school year had started, and he had heard from Lina herself that they had studied together under Asley.
And above all else, Irene would always complain each time she held a practical skill testing session – that she was one of the worst things ever to deal with.
“She’s the best by far… if we consider only her skills. Surprised me in every way, if I am to be honest. But her… mindset… is a major issue. Sure reminds me of a certain someone…”
“Oh, no, Sir Asley never-“
“Not HIM. He was problematic in his own unique way.”
Irene said, in a semi-interrupting manner.
“Just consider what he has done – entered false registration credentials, manipulated the Contract, caused conflicts within the class, did business with the Colorful Food District, sold his rights of the Teleportation spell to ME. Seriously, Lina, you were one of the few people he’s had a non-problematic human relationship with.”
Lina and Hornel’s faces cramped up in reaction to Irene’s rough groaning.
[Wait, doesn’t this mean all those businesses with Sir Asley…]
[Could it be that Professor Irene was involved in most of them…?]
Irene, noticing the change in their expressions, threw a glance at them, prompting the two to avert their lines of sight, with Hornel going back to his documents.
Then, after a period of awkward silence, Hornel looked up and proceeded to say,
“I’ll vouch for Tifa’s inclusion, ma’am. Her capabilities do exceed her character and popularity, all things considered. Without power, the Student Council is useless anyway.”
“But then…why not choose Mash instead? If we look at things in the long-term, he has a good chance of thriving in Student Council work. His progress seems fairly consistent, and considering our open positions, I say he’ll be a good fit as the General Affairs Manager.”
“Hmm… what do you say, Lina? You haven’t presented any opinion yet.”
“Well, I think I might try negotiating things with Anri…”
Ever since Hornel had been reassigned as the Council’s Vice President, Anri had replaced him as the Public Morals Enforcer.
Irene quickly realized that the negotiation had to do with that position.
“Are you considering reassigning Anri as the General Affairs Manager, and have Tifa be the Public Morals Enforcer in her stead?”
“Is that… out of the question?”
“Not quite – more like exceedingly difficult. The position of Public Morals Enforcer is critical to the Council’s integrity, not something you ought to entrust to a first-semester Freshman – not to mention Tifa, of all people. Even if all three of us approve, the rest of the Council members will most likely not.”
Lina crossed her arms and pondered it over.
It seemed that the aforementioned plan was the best one Lina had in her head. She was having a hard time accepting Irene’s opposing opinion.
Irene herself, understanding that, grunted out of slight amusement and explained,
“…Now, listen. The final opinion still falls upon you two. Since the current President and Vice President both belong to the Black Faction, it’s inevitable that Tifa’s name is brought up, backed by her capabilities as a member of the White. Anri is likely to understand what Lina wants, too… so you two might as well go for the desired outcome as much as you can.”
Lina’s face brightened up with joy, her hands clasped together.
“Thank you very much!”
She produced a hearty, dazzling smile; seeing that, Hornel felt his face flare up.
Irene, considering the matter settled for the time being, stood up from her seat and looked at Lina again.
“All right, then. I can dismiss you from today’s morning classes, so that you can get some rest. I’ll inform your class’s lecturer myself.”
“Ah, yes, ma’am!”
Lina’s voice echoed through the morning air of the office.
Taking Irene up on her offer, she immediately stood up. The two then left the room, but not before Irene told Hornel one last thing,
“Hornel, we’re counting on you to take care of the rest.”
Their footsteps faded into the distance; the Student Council Office was now shrouded in silence.
Only the blue-haired boy remained here; he pictured the face of the girl that had been in the President’s seat just moments ago.
He heaved a sigh of relief, as if expelling the tension in his body along with that one word – the secret word he couldn’t afford to let anyone hear.