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The girls had prepared an incredible feast to share with me.
First, I quenched my thirst with a cup of tea that Sicily poured for me.
It was a highland black tea from a region in the east called Meva. This variety of tea has a lingering aroma and is resistant to temperature changes. It was perfect for traveling with.
Sicily’s pouring method was also the best. The temperature of the water was perfect and the teacup was warm. There was nothing to complain about in the way it was poured. Perhaps it was because I was looking at her like that, but Sicily lowered her eyes in embarrassment.
“It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. I’m complimenting you.”
“…please praise my teacher too.” (Sicily)
I know I’m supposed to praise Chloe, her mentor for making tea, but Chloe was extremely nonchalant about it.
“Her Highness is a perfect princess who can do anything.” (Chloe)
“No doubt about it.”
Then she poured olive oil on a hot griddle.
And when it started to smoke, she put the soaked pasta in it.
“Dried pasta can be cooked immediately if it is soaked in water.” (Chloe)
“That’s the wisdom of maids. I see.”
“It was in the August issue of Maid’s Friend.” (Chloe)
“I’ll look for a back issue when I get back to work.”
While she was doing this, Chloe put in the chopped garlic, ginger, and chili.
A very nice scent then began to tickle my nose.
“It’s amazing. You’re a master cook.”
“Cooking is a science. If you follow the steps, you can make the same thing.” (Chloe)
“It’s amazing that you know all the steps. It’s like the art of war.”
“Well, the kitchen is the maid’s battlefield.” (Chloe)
After declaring that, she manipulated the frying pan with finesse. After a few minutes of cooking, she placed the food on a plate.
“Now, it’s done. It’s a Chloe-style, cooked dry-pasta.” (Chloe)
It’s a simple pasta with just salt, garlic, ginger, and chili.
But the taste is superb.
When I brought it to my mouth, the savory taste and aroma burst in my mouth.
“Yeah, this is excellent.”
Sicily, who elegantly carried the pasta in her mouth, agreed.
“Chloe’s pasta is superb. I sometimes even have seconds.” (Sicily)
“Fufufu, it’s good that you said so. I’m preparing more.” (Chloe)
Chloe smiles and takes the frying pan. There were seconds for both of us. Apparently, she had prepared a perfect amount of second helping for me. She put the pasta on my already finished plate.
“Thank you. And you put it on as if you already knew how much I wanted to eat.”
“Yeah, that’s the great thing about Chloe. It’s as if she can see through your stomach and know how much you want to eat.” (Sicily)
My eyes and Sicily’s were drawn to the maid, but she smiled and explained.
“I determine the amount of food people want to eat based on the temperature and humidity of the day, as well as the amount of exercise you did the day before. My accuracy on Leon-sama isn’t quite there yet, but I’m proud to say that for Her Highness I am a hundred percent accurate.” (Chloe)
Chloe said confidently. This is also thanks to her maid friend, she said.
“The Maid’s Friend is to be congratulated.”
With that thought in mind, I finished my second bowl of pasta. Ten minutes later, after Sicily had also finished her meal, Chloe began to wash the dishes. It was a simple task but there was no water source, so, she had to do it as soon as possible or it would be harder to clean later.
Looking at it from behind, Sicily murmured.
“My maid is the best maid there is.” (Sicily)
“I agree with that.”
“Yes. It was a great fortune for me to meet her.” (Sicily)
“Oh, take good care of her.”
“Yes…. But there are some things that bother me.” (Sicily)
“Something bothering you?”
“Yes, I think I’m holding Chloe back.” (Sicily)
“No, you’re not. She seems happy.”
“…I believe so too, but I feel like she’d be happier if she was free to live her life.” (Sicily)
“Is it because of her brother?”
“Although there is that, but I also feel that she would be happier if she were free. I’ve heard that the Dolls are not known for their ability to stay in one place.” (Sicily)
“They’re a tribe of wandering mercenaries. They are rootless.”
“I think they value their freedom more than anything.” (Sicily)
“Then don’t worry about it. Chloe is free.”
“She left the forest of her own free will, met a princess of her own free will, served a princess of her own free will, honed her maid skills of her own free will, and became your ‘friend’ of her own free will.”
“…Chloe’s free will.” (Sicily)
“That’s right. It’s Chloe’s freedom not to leave the royal capital with her brother. If you’re in a situation where you’re surrounded by a horde of 100,000 enemies and all the powerful people in the country, she will protect you. By her own free will. So don’t worry about it. As long as you continue to be you, Chloe will be by your side.”
Sicily looks up at me with a gaze full of melancholy. Those shiny and teary eyes are so beautiful that I was getting enraptured. —No, I was already enraptured. My body moves against my will, taking a step in front of her and getting into a distance where our breaths intermingle.
My hand naturally reaches for her chin.
–I do exactly what the protagonist of a romance novel I read once did.
My head starts to move on its own, and I try to aim for her lips, but Chloe interrupted me.
–Or, more accurately, by the pasta Chloe just made.
Sicily’s face wrinkled. She seems to have noticed the smell of garlic emanating from my mouth. Seeing her frown, I regained my composure, stepped back, and patted her on the shoulder.
“Well, Chloe will be on your side all the time, because you and Chloe are a pair. I’m rooting for you.”
Forcing herself together, Sicily nodded happily.
I patted my chest, relieved that she hadn’t figured out my intentions, and headed for the tent, but before I knew it, I noticed Chloe’s eyes on me as she finished washing the dishes, she was staring at me.
When I looked at her, she seemed to be saying something with her mouth moving noiselessly.
I read the movement of her lips, as I have a subtle knowledge of lip-reading.
“Missed… o… ppor… tu… ni… ty.” (Chloe)
Apparently, she’s teasing me.
I don’t feel anything because she’s just pointing out the obvious, but I remind myself that there is such a thing as a winning moment when it comes to assaulting a large army and when it comes to seducing a woman. I was confident in the former but completely flunked the latter.
I brushed my teeth and fell asleep in my tent. [T/N: Is this a coincidence or a strategic cockblock? You can never tell.]
When I woke up the next day, I resumed my search.
After passing through the hidden door, the underground passage became wider and wider.
Chloe reported that there was a damp air drifting in from further away.
“Maybe there’s an underground lake?”
I guessed, and I was right. After a few hours of walking, we came across a large underground lake.
Chloe happily started washing our equipment, so I talked to Sicily instead.
“I never thought I’d come across a lake here. Do you have a swimsuit?”
“I don’t have one.” (Sicily)
She answered seriously.
“But when I was a child, I used to go naked when I played in the river. If I had to swim–” (Sicily)
She started to take off her clothes and I hurriedly stopped her.
“It’s okay. I’m a magician, so there are many ways around that.”
I called out to Chloe, who was washing our things.
“Is it freshwater?”
“Yes, it looks like it might be potable.” (Chloe)
“Yes. Well, then I wouldn’t expect it to be buoyant.”
There’s a magic called [Water Walking] that allows you to walk on water like a water strider, but it’s very strenuous to use on freshwater. It seems that there is no current, so the magic [Underwater Breathing] would be more appropriate here.
Underwater Breathing was a spell that created a ball of air around you and took away your buoyancy so that you could walk in the water. This made group actions a breeze, as all I had to do was make the air bubble bigger.
“The question is, is there a monster in this lake?” (Chloe)
I stared at the surface of the lake, but there was no sense of danger in the air. The lake was calm and glass-like.
Chloe gives us some thoughts on that.
“Monsters are also living things. They can’t live without fish in the lake.”
“That’s right. There seems to be no fish in this lake.” (Chloe)
“That means there are no monsters, right?”
“That’s right. Well, I guess we’re safe to pass.” (Chloe)
“I trust you.” (Sicily)
“Thank you, but even if there were, we’d have to continue through. If we don’t get above ground, we’ll starve to death.”
“Of course.” (Sicily)
We had some delicious pasta last night, but the food on hand is not unlimited. I hadn’t expected to have to go through a dungeon, so we brought the bare minimum.
We should go to the surface as soon as possible.
So, I quickly created a ball of air and instructed them to enter it.
Sicily touched the sphere fearfully and went in, but Chloe jumped in at once. Her personality is also reflected in this area.
“It’s amazing. It’s like something out of a fairy tale.” (Chloe)
“When I was a little girl, I read a picture book about a girl who went for a walk in the water, and she looked just like that.” (Sicily)
“This is the real world. Well, you can breathe normally in a sphere, but oxygen is finite. Don’t over-breathe and consume everything.”
The two nod and hold their breath.
“No, we’ll save it when we enter the sphere.”
They began to take deep breaths. It was quite a cute scene.
The three of us entered the sphere at the same time, and I took control of the sphere.
“By the way, it’s quite difficult to control, so if anything happens along the way, I need your support.”
I understand. The princess and the maid answered immediately.
We entered the underground lake that spread out in the underground labyrinth.
The only light source was Sicily’s sword, but it was still enough.
The water in this underground lake was crystal clear, and the ceiling of the lake was covered with a glowing moss called Light Moss, so I had no trouble seeing.
Rather, the visibility was good enough to enjoy the complex and fantastic terrain of the underground lake.
Looking at the scene, Sicily let out a few words of admiration.
“It’s like heaven or nirvana.” (Sicily)
“It is indeed fantastic and fascinating, and I would believe it if I were told that we are actually already dead and that we are wandering on the threshold of heaven.” (Chloe)
“Well, I’ve never been to the other side, but I’m sure it’s a scene like this, and as a magician, I’d like to confirm it, but I don’t think I can.”
“Why not?” (Sicily)
“Because I’m going to hell.”
To put it plainly, Sicily argues, “That’s not true.”
“It’s impossible for a good man like Leon-sama to go to hell.” (Sicily)
“No, it’s not. How many people do you think I’ve killed? If I don’t go to hell, then the world is wrong.”
“Mu, then I will go with you to hell.” (Sicily)
“That’s no good because you’re going to heaven and pull me up using a spider’s thread.”
Sicily giggled when I joked about that.
That made me feel so comfortable.
However, that feeling of comfort would not last forever.
I felt a presence in front of the underground lake.
Chloe was the first to react. Her eyes, which had been watching us while smiling, sharpened.
“I’ve heard that there are no living creatures in this underground lake, according to the conjecture of the court magician.” (Chloe)
“That shouldn’t have been wrong. There isn’t really a single fish.”
We checked our surroundings, but could not see any fish. Perhaps the water quality is such that the plankton that fish feed on cannot live there.
“So, the shadow in front of us is not a demon, is it?” (Chloe)
“It’s not a creature, but it’s not a monster–“
“They may be living on land and just come to this underground lake to bathe.”
“So that’s it.” (Chloe)
“Or it could be connected to another lake, where they feed.”
“As expected, Leon-sama, how intelligent.” (Sicily)
Sicily was full of praise, but her two thoughts were completely wrong.
The black object that rushed at them from the bottom of the lake was not a living creature.
It was indeed in the shape of a fish. It was a streamlined fish, reminiscent of a huge shark, but it had no scales. It had no flesh, no bones.
All it had was an iron skeleton.
Yes, the master of this lake bed was a machine from an ancient magical civilization.
“Oh, that is…” (Sicily)
“A mechanical fish–mysterious” (Chloe)
This was Chloe’s impression, and she was right.
“At the Academy of Magic, we’re bombarded with ancient magical civilizations and we’re forced to touch relics of those civilizations, but I’ve never seen such a magnificent Guardian.”
I’m sure the professors have never seen such a magnificent mechanical doll
“The designers of this labyrinth are very devious. They made it look like a human-powered labyrinth without any magic, but they unexpectedly prepared such a device.” (Chloe)
“I agree with that, but, well, the dwarf who designed it will still be in his grave even if we protest.”
“Yes, all we can do is deal with the creature.” (Chloe)
“That’s what I meant. But like I said, I’ve got my hands full with this bubble ball.”
“Then I’ll take over here.” (Chloe)
And she then began rolling up her maid clothes. It is Sicily who desperately stops her.
“Chloe can’t swim, can she?” (Sicily)
I stagger a few steps mentally. She is a fierce but useless girl in this scenario.
“Oh, no. It’s not that I can’t swim. It’s just that I’ve never been in the water, and the Dolls don’t have a habit of swimming.” (Chloe)
She must have caught me thinking that for a moment. Chloe glares while smiling.
“I don’t have the habit of swimming, but I do take a bath. There are public baths in the village.” (Chloe)
“I’m glad to hear it, but can you swim on your own?”
I move my bubble ball to the right. Then a mechanical shark passes by where we were just now. The shark slams its huge body into the bottom of the lake but does no damage.
“I can swim. I will swim.” (Chloe)
“Then, the moment we avoid the next attack, the bubbles will be released. You’ll immediately be thrown into the water, but don’t get confused.”
“I know.” (Chloe)
“Get to the shore somehow. I don’t care how badly you swim.”
“I will protect you even if I give my life for yours.” (Chloe)
A promise with a smile is more reliable than anything else.
“Then, suck in as much air as possible. It will be released after 5 seconds.”
As soon as I said that, a mechanical shark rushed at us. We avoid it with the distance of a piece of parchment, then the bubble was released. Three people are thrown into the water.
Unexpectedly, Sicily seems to be a better swimmer than I thought. She probably swam in the river as a child. She moves along easily.
Chloe, on the other hand, was spewing out a lot of bubbles. It seems that the Dolls are not a good match for water. Still, the fact that she was still struggling and moving forward was quite impressive. Perhaps she was using her natural muscle power to generate propulsion. It’s not the most efficient way to swim, but we can’t afford to be picky. The mechanical shark was trying to prey on the girls at great speed.
As I watched from a distance, I muttered to myself, “Oh dear,” and began to chant a spell.
I created a glacier.
O Mother of the Frozen Ones
Give me the spear of ice.
I chanted ice magic called [Ice Spear]. Lightning magic had been the standard against aquatic and mechanical monsters, but now it was impossible. Because the princess is right next to that shark.
The most suitable magic for this is the ice spear.
I held up my spear and threw it with the form of a hunter.
The blue, almost translucent spear flew straight up.
The ice spear has exceeded its swimming speed, so if it catches it, it will easily pierce it.
The mechanical shark doesn’t scream, but it still flails around.
Does the machine have a sense of pain?
I had a strange premonition, and it seems to be quite hostile, now it is glaring at me.
It seems that its aggression has been directed to me. It’s sharpening its fangs ready to eat me.
(That’s fine. As long as the princess and maid get to shore, the rest will take care of itself.)
With that fearless thought in mind, I decided to play bullfighting with a shark under the water.
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