Arriving at the clock tower at the heart of the royal capital, the appointed meeting place, I found Kyrio already waiting.
Kyrio had also changed clothes, wearing a brighter shade than what he wore during the exam. However, the outfit consisted of a tight-fitting jacket and pants that clung to the body, maintaining that same style.
To be honest, I was somewhat surprised to see him; I hadn’t pictured his type to actually show up.
“H-Hey,” I raised my hand in greeting.
“Hi,” Kyrio responded, somewhat tersely.
Perhaps Kyrio wasn’t such a bad person after all, just a bit quick-tempered.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” came a loud voice, and with that, Leo appeared.
Unlike us, Leo hadn’t changed clothes, still donning the lavish red and gold garb from the exam.
It was quite conspicuous amidst the town, but he didn’t seem to mind.
“Not really, I just got here myself.”
“Is that so? There’s a familiar shop of mine nearby. Let me treat you,” Leo declared, taking the lead.
Kyrio followed, and I hurried after them.
Once at our destination, we found ourselves in front of an old, small restaurant with a well-worn entrance.
“This place has been around for two hundred years. It’s a bit of a hassle since you need a letter of introduction to enter, but their roasted wyvern is out of this world. Come on, let’s go in,” Leo said as we entered.
Inside, we were immediately led to a private room at the back of the restaurant, no doubt thanks to Leo’s social standing.
“I’ll leave the order to you,” Leo told the waiter confidently.
The waiter, a calm, middle-aged man, gave a deep bow before exiting the room.
“Let’s start with a toast. They use melted snow from the Pace mountains for their water,” Leo said, raising his glass.
Kyrio and I joined in, our glasses clinking together, producing a bright, light sound.
“So, what’s your game?” Kyrio asked, cutting straight to the chase after wetting his lips.
Leo downed his drink in one gulp and grinned.
“There’s no hidden agenda. I just thought it would be nice to deepen our friendship, that’s all.”
“Wh-Why us, though?”
Especially someone like me, a commoner?
I couldn’t help but voice my doubts as I sipped the water, marveling at its smoothness.
“I saw your talents during the magic exam. You were outstanding.”
“But so was Bob,” Kyrio interjected.
“He’s no good,” Leo responded sharply. “His character is questionable, and his family background isn’t favorable, either. The Mehsin family, I mean. What I want are talented friends free from noble strings. Being friends with other nobles becomes a political issue instantly because of my status.”
At this moment, a large, porcelain plate of meat was brought to our table.
This must be the roasted wyvern.
“For now, dig in. Forget about manners and just bite into it. That’s the best way to enjoy it.”
Taking his word for it—I had been starving since I smelled the roasting meat—I stabbed the meat with a fork and took a big bite.
The moment I bit into it, the juices flooded my mouth. The simple seasoning of salt highlighted the rich flavor of the meat.
“It’s as good as ever,” Leo commented, his plate already void of meat.
He had finished it in the blink of an eye.
“Anyway, I wanted to become friends with you guys. An immensely talented commoner who’s become a scholarship student and a noble on the brink of poverty with no heirs and a house on the verge of extinction.”
Is he talking about Kyrio?
Surprised, I looked at Kyrio, only to find him glaring with red eyes.
This is bad. Why did Leo have to provoke him like that?
“Wait, what? What do you mean?”
I was puzzled.
“But isn’t their heir right here with us?”
If there are no heirs, then what is Kyrio?
But at my words, both Leo and Kyrio looked at me with wide, round eyes.
“Oh, I see. Van doesn’t know. Makes sense, I guess. It’s not the kind of story that comes up in exams. It’s gossip, after all,” Leo remarked, collecting himself.
“You didn’t know, huh.”
Kyrio sounded relieved yet disappointed as he let his shoulders drop.
“Huh? Wh-What do you mean?”
“Listen, Van,” Leo started, giving Kyrio a meaningful look.
“Kyrio is a girl.”
Then he added, unnecessarily, “Though she doesn’t have much in the chest area,” earning a glare from Kyrio.
The once prosperous and influential house of Laafla was now a shadow of its former self, having lost territories, fortune, and status through a series of blunders.
To add insult to injury, the couple at the helm of the family were childless, teetering on the brink of extinction.
In such dire straits, one might have expected them to resign themselves to their fate, but they clung to hope, scheming for the house’s survival. Yet, no noble family was willing to entrust their child to such a crumbling house as an adopted heir, and there was no surplus to entertain the idea of concubines.
Just when all seemed lost, a child was conceived between the lord and his wife.
The joy they must have felt was immeasurable, as was their despair when the child was born a girl.
Nonetheless, the girl, Kyrio, was raised as a boy, her parents clinging to the belief, or perhaps the illusion, that she was the male heir the Laafla house so desperately needed.
The Laaflas, blind to their dwindling fortunes, paraded Kyrio around the social circles, introducing her as the promising heir, oblivious to the mockery they were subject to from other nobles.
I could only exhale in disbelief after hearing such a tragic tale.
“It’s a well-known story. They were always in social circles despite their financial troubles. But sending her to the Military Academy? That must have been the last of the Laafla fortune,” Leo remarked, glancing at Kyrio.
“I suppose it can’t be helped,” Kyrio muttered, her eyes sharp as she closed them, as if in prayer.
But she was a girl all this time?
I did think she had an androgynous look, one that could pass for a pretty girl.
However, her hair—which might be deemed lengthy by the standards of men but short for a maiden— masculine attire, and demeanor led me to believe she was anything but.
“I’ve met Kyrio a few times in social circles.” Leo continued, “She hasn’t changed much. She’s been away from her parents for a while now, but I guess it would feel awkward for her to suddenly start dressing as a girl, wouldn’t it?”
“Shut up,” Kyrio snapped, her eyes glaring red at Leo.
“Ah, by the way, Van. Just so you know, her sharp eyes and prickly demeanor aren’t new. She’s been exposed to curious stares since she was a child. Cut her some slack, will you?”
“Oh, uh, sure,” I replied, unable to do anything but agree.
“And as for her eyes turning red so quickly…”
Kyrio tried to cut him off, flustered.
Her reaction was just like any other girl’s, making me rethink my previous misconceptions.
“She’s always been a crybaby. Hasn’t changed since she was a kid,” Leo revealed with a smirk.
Kyrio fell silent, her face turning red.
Huh? A crybaby?
So all this time, her red, bloodshot eyes were just because she was holding back tears?
That was an anticlimax.
“Anyway, that’s the situation. Even if you guys are skilled, having a powerful noble family as your backer can’t hurt, right? Think we’ll get along?”
I answered immediately.
Given the circumstances, it seems like it might be hard to find companionship elsewhere.
“Yeah, I’m fine with it too,” Kyrio said, blinking rapidly as she lifted her face.
“But I have one thing to say.”
Leo looked confused.
“I’ve met you a few times, too, Leo, so I can tell. You went easy on us, didn’t you?”
I looked at Leo, puzzled, as he grinned like a predator baring its fangs.
“Caught that, did you? Impressive. Yeah, I did hold back during the magic exam. Merlin noticed and gave me an earful,” he admitted.
“Why would you do that?”
She was puzzled, and Leo shrugged before turning to me.
“Van, you weren’t going to enroll if you didn’t get a scholarship, right?”
“Yeah, that’s true. I can’t afford it otherwise.”
As I answered, I realized what Leo was getting at and was taken aback.
So, that’s what this was about?
“I really wanted you to be here, Van. That’s why I held back to ensure you got the scholarship.”
He winked at me.
“Though, in the end, it was unnecessary. Looking at those results, you would have been the top scholarship student even if I had given it my all.”
And that’s how the three of us became friends.