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Ryuu Kusari no Ori -Kokoro no Uchi no “Kokoro”- - Chapter 8.27
Early in the morning, two days after Irisdina was told by her father about the agreement with the Waziart family. She was walking alone on her way to the school.
Combined with her originally dignified appearance, she had always had an ethereal atmosphere, but this morning she was covered in an icy atmosphere, as if she were in an ice field.
Passersby were intimidated by Irisdina's menacing atmosphere, their faces tightened, and they quickly moved away from her.
Seeing the frightened reactions of those around her, Irisdina sighed.
"This is not good. I can't even mend my expression..."
Realizing that her emotions were leaking out, she repeatedly took deep breaths, trying to calm her raging heart.
Little by little, the raging emotions that had been leaking out of her body gradually subsided.
At the same time, Irisdina put a lid on her own mind to prevent her emotions from getting too riled up and leaking out again.
She was used to this kind of emotional control. This was something that could not be avoided if she had lived in an aristocratic society.
While being aware of her own frozen heart, Irisdina thought about what she was going to do.
(The reason my father wants me to continue attending the academy is so that I can use Nozomu as a bargaining chip when the time comes. However, I can't bring myself to put him in front of that woman again ...)
Having witnessed firsthand Nozomu's out-of-control state and having actually crossed blades with him, Irisdina understood that his current state was as dangerous as walking on needles.
More than anything, Irisdina is indebted to Nozomu in a way that she could never repay him.
He saved her sister's life when her soul was about to be extracted, and for that, Irisdina still couldn't thank him enough.
She would never allow herself to use him as something like a bargaining chip.
More than anything else, her own feelings reject the idea of offering Nozomu to the vampire princess with all her might.
But Irisdina's thinking and reasoning as a noblewoman calmly impose that his presence is necessary to protect Somia.
Contradictory thoughts. The conflicting emotions and reasons. In the midst of endlessly repeated unanswerable questions, Irisdina shook her head to refresh her thoughts once again.
The final settlement of negotiations for the agreement has not yet begun.
Of course, Irisdina's groundless fears would disappear if the negotiations went off without a hitch, but she could not believe that the head of the Waziart family, who had just shown up, would remain silent at the final round of negotiations.
Victor thought the same way as Irisdina, which was why he had decided to keep Irisdina attending the academy.
(But what should I do? Dizzard Empire has no ties to any other country. The connections of the Francilt family and myself are meaningless.)
Whoever the negotiation partner is, if there is a certain degree of previous interaction with the other party, then that relationship can be used to force the other party to compromise on the terms and conditions. But in the case of the current one, with whom Francilt is establishing diplomatic relations for the first time, there are almost no precedents or ties that can be used to gain the upper hand in negotiations.
(Why did father decide to push for the negotiation with the Waziart family in the first place...)
Victor had said that a monetary solution alone would leave a lasting trail, but as time went on and Irisdina independently obtained information from her own connections, she slowly, but surely, began to understand the concerns that her father was not telling her about.
(Concerns about the convergence of the factional conflicts in the Cremazzone Empire and the rapid expansion of military forces...)
In recent years, the Cremazzone Empire has been in turmoil due to factional strife, but the turmoil in that country seemed to have been settled a few months ago when one faction, the Vuitton faction, purged the main leaders of the opposing factions.
As a result, the countries bordering the empire were worried that the eyes of the empire would turn toward the outside of the country.
Moreover, there seemed to be some disturbing movements within the Vuitton faction, which had been victorious within the empire, and this further stimulated the wariness of the various countries.
Currently, the Cremazzone Empire and Forsina, as well as the power of the various countries, are in a state of balance.
However, the empire originally possessed great potential national power, both in terms of resources and population.
If it were to be unleashed, the power structure of the continent could change drastically, which the upper echelons of the various countries believed would happen within a few years.
(So that is why both father and the king decided to establish diplomatic relations with the Dizzard Empire...)
In short, the essence of the negotiations this time was not about to ensure greater national security, but about avoiding an imminent crisis.
The word "national security" might mean the same thing, but it has a completely different connotation.
Given the urgency of the situation, Irisdina could no longer do anything about it on her own.
(As far as the country is concerned, if we don't have diplomatic relations with the Dizzard Empire, the balance of rivalry with the Empire will be broken within a few years. However, I don't think that Vitora will be so naive as to sign the agreement...)
Irisdina looked up to the sky as she recalled Vitora's appearance at the opening ceremony.
She was the focus of attention not only from the masses but also from high-ranking nobles, yet she had the ability to act without any regard for the eyes of those around her, and the charisma to bring those around her into her life whether they wanted to or not. Although she is a person who is the epitome of arrogance, she also has more presence as a monarch than anyone Irisdina has ever known.
(Even so, I cannot let Nozomu and Somia be involved in this negotiation. No matter what it takes, I have to make sure that the negotiation is concluded on terms that exclude those two...)
If the negotiations fail, it was easy for Irisdina to imagine that either her beloved sister or her beloved love, or both, would be hurt.
The oath she swore as a child to protect her family, her longing as a girl, and her sense of duty as a nobleman are once again violently fighting each other deep in Irisdina's heart, and the pain is like being stabbed with countless needles.
(There is no such thing like a castle that cannot be penetrated. There must be something. Something...)
The final negotiations have not yet begun.
While reminding herself of this fact, Irisdina continued to desperately circulate her thoughts, which were becoming dulled by impatience.
It was like searching for a single flower in a forest shrouded in fog.
"Good morning. Ai."
Irisdina's thoughts were interrupted by a bell-like, dainty voice that called her.
She looked over to see Tima, dressed in her school uniform.
Behind her were the usual friends, including Nozomu, Mars, and Shina.
Perhaps because she had been thinking about Nozomu earlier, the moment Irisdina's gaze caught sight of the person she was thinking of, her heart, which should have been frozen, shuddered with a heavy thump, and the emotions that should have been covered up almost erupted at once.
"Good morning, Iris."
"Yes. Good morning, everyone."
Irisdina managed to hold back her shaking heart and tried to keep her tone flat.
Nozomu's gaze turned to the side of Irisdina. He was checking on Somia, who was always next to Irisdina when she went to school. But today, the girl who should always be there is not there.
"Where is Somia-chan?"
"She is taking the day off. Somia has been targeted by the Waziart family before, so she's staying at the mansion until negotiations are finalized."
Somia has been ordered by Victor to remain at the Francilte mansion until the negotiations with the Waziarlt family were concluded.
In response to Irisdina's matter-of-fact words, Nozomu, who understood the situation, fell silent, not knowing what to say to her.
A moment of silence flowed between the two of them.
Both Nozomu and Irisdina felt as if there was a bottomless valley lying between them.
"Let's hurry up, we're going to be late."
Prompted by Irisdina's words, Nozomu and the others also started walking towards the school.
Nozomu and Irisdina were walking in the front, followed by Shina, Mimuru, Tima, Mars, and Feo.
As they walked down the main street leading to the school, Nozomu asked Irisdina, who was walking next to him, a straightforward question.
"Iris, about the negotiations with the Waziart family, is it really possible to establish diplomatic relations with vampires in the first place?"
What Nozomu was concerned about was whether it was possible for a great noble family of a great nation to establish diplomatic relations with vampires, beings that suck human blood.
"Actually, the past head of my household has made secret agreements with them. However, it was done a long time ago, and probably it would be impossible now... well, at least, that's how we perceive it..."
Irisdina, on the other hand, sounded as if she was recalling something in response to Nozomu's question. Irisdina began to talk about the current position of vampires while raising another question.
"For Nozomu and the others, how do you think vampires are ?"
"Umm, a blood-sucking creature? Or a powerful race that can turn themselves into bats, or have tremendous regenerative and magical powers?"
"And there's also a story about how they turn people into monsters."
"Well, yeah. I suppose that is the general perception of vampires."
Irisdina quietly nodded her head in affirmation of what Mars and the others who were walking behind her were adding to what she was saying.
Vampires have a history of being recognized and persecuted as beings that turn people into monsters.
The impression of vampires on the Arkmill continent is that they are monsters that are irreconcilable with people, regardless of whether they are human or demi-human.
In fact, there are still stories in the villages and towns of many countries of people being turned into monsters by vampires, and the vampires being defeated by heroes.
"... Have any of you ever met a vampire other than those of the Waziart family?"
"N-, no, I haven't..."
Everyone present except Irisdina nodded in agreement with Nozomu's answer.
Not to mention Mars, who originally lived in Arcazam and Nozomu, who came from a rural village, and Shina, an elf who escaped the Great Invasion, even Mimuru and Feo, who both were beastmen, had never met a vampire before.
"I suppose so. Hardly anyone on the continent has ever actually met a vampire. It should be impossible. After all, since the establishment of the Dizzard Empire, vampires have been holed up almost completely within the Empire. The main reason why vampires have been exclusively regarded as a species that harms people is because they 'suck blood and turn people into monsters'. However, recent research in Arcazam proves that is not true."
"A research published some time ago showed that vampires do not intentionally turn people into monsters."
Nozomu and the others were surprised to learn this unexpected fact.
If this were the case, it would mean that all the old tales and common beliefs were completely false.
"But even the school's library is..."
In the midst of all this, Tom voiced his doubts.
In order to study alchemy, he often went to libraries and other sources, and among them, he found references about vampires.
And in one of those references, it said that as far as vampires are concerned, they turn all those whose blood they have sucked into the same vampire.
"The resources in the school's library come from all over the world, but many of them are old. Especially the more recent materials are often placed in a separate section of the library, and some of them are not in the library, but in the Gloaurum Institution."
However, Irisdina flatly dismissed Tom's words.
Arcazam has one of the best research institutions on the Arkmill continent, the Gloaurum Institution.
The latest research, in particular, is conducted continuously at the Gloaurum Institute, so materials are sometimes kept in the institute's building instead of being brought down to the library.
"As I mentioned earlier, since the founding of Dizzard Empire, vampires have been holed up in their territories, so the documents collected are inevitably from long ago, and even those in the library lack credibility."
The academy's library has a collection of documents from all over the world, but according to Irisdina, the documents themselves are sometimes lacking in credibility.
"In the first place, blood is an essential food for vampires, but if they were to turn every single person into a vampire every time they sucked blood, their blood supply would eventually run out, wouldn't it?"
Irisdina's words convinced everyone present.
If every time they sucked blood, they would turn people into vampires, vampires would eventually run out of food and would destroy themselves.
"So you're saying that they can be somewhat selective about whether or not they would turn someone into a vampire?"
"Yes. The process by which a person turns into a vampire is also fairly well explained. That is why both my father and the king stepped up to the plate to see if they could negotiate with them."
Whether or not the great vampire was able to control, whether or not they could turn someone into a vampire, and whether or not the reason for this was known, is very much a matter of great importance.
This is also because Arcazam was able to gather and research documents from all over the continent, and was able to pin down the discrepancies in the documents from the various regions.
"Then why are there still stories about vampires turning cities into dens of monsters?"
"As the vampire princess said, the reason for this is due to 'blood intoxication'. There are other causes for the process of turning people into vampires. I suppose that area is still being researched at the Gloaurum Institute."
That said, even if they had the foundation to negotiate with vampires, whether or not they could actually conclude the negotiations was a different matter.
After a brief conversation, silence returned.
Nozomu and Iris Dina, both heading to the school side by side, but the atmosphere between them was still heavy.
Nozomu, perhaps unable to bear the atmosphere, opened his mouth.
"Iris, when are you going to do the negotiations with the Waziart family?"
"... It will take place at my mansion in a week's time. All the servants will be out of the mansion except Mena."
"A week ... That's fast."
"Yeah. Since the terms themselves were already agreed upon, I guess there was no need to wait that long ..."
Although it might be called a negotiation meeting, when it comes to finalizing a formal agreement, the terms and conditions are usually already agreed upon in advance.
However, this time, the vampire princess is present.
Nozomu had no idea what kind of action the unpredictable princess was going to take.
The only thing that stirred Nozomu's frustration was the unpleasant feeling like a snake crawling up his spine.
"Iris, shall I keep Somia-chan with me during the negotiation meeting?"
As if rushed by his impatience, Nozomu ended up blurting out such words.
Once the restraints were removed, the words that had been held back began to pour out of his mouth.
"The bell that Iris requested me to make, I'll borrow a furnace to build it today, so I can give it to you tomorrow. At that time, I'll take Somia-chan out with me and I'll protect her during the negotiation meeting. How's that sound?"
Nozomu's suggestion was, to say the least, extremely imprudent.
He has been directly told by Jihad to keep his distance from the Francilt family, and the Francilt family has also been nailed to the ground that the school would not be able to cooperate with them.
On the other hand, for the Francilt family, Nozomu's suggestion was a great opportunity.
Although Arcazam has offered to provide a place for the negotiation, they have been told that they would not cooperate any further, but if it was an offer from Nozomu himself, it would be a different story.
The reason is that it was Nozomu who disobeyed Arczam's decision, and it could be said that the Francilt family was not to blame.
In fact, Irisdina believed that the reason Victor told Irisdina to continue attending the school was to get Nozomu to make an offer of cooperation.
"The target of the secret agreement was Somia-chan. If that's the case, I think we can protect her in case of an emergency if we stay by her side during the negotiation..."
For the Francilt family, it was a perfect situation.
However, this offer was nothing but a deleterious drug for the current Irisdina.
The rekindled conflicts erupted into flames, violently shaking the lid that was supposed to have sealed it.
While being tossed around inwardly by a problem to which even she herself has no answer, Irisdina tried desperately to keep her expression on her face so that she would not show her agitation.
However, no matter how much she tried to mend her expression, her head was so messed up that she did not know what to say back to him.
"Nozomu, that's impossible. Jihad-sensei told you not to have anything to do with my family, didn't he?"
The words that came out of her mouth out of reflex were words of rejection toward Nozomu's suggestion.
Her disgust at her own attempt to take advantage of Nozomu outweighed her reason as an aristocrat.
The one who was most surprised by this action was Irisdina herself.
As someone from the Francilt family, she had to keep Nozomu in her grasp. She had to bring Nozomu in. However, instead of doing so, she threw it away.
As an aristocrat, she has always been able to push aside her own emotions and see through the true intentions of her opponents.
It would not be too late for her to accept Nozomu's offer. Her rational mind began to make a commotion that she should accept Nozomu's suggestion.
"…Certainly, that's what Jihad-sensei said to me. But I am..."
"If Nozomu and the others were to be involved, it would mean going against the decision of the academy. If that were to happen, it would, if done poorly, shake the very foundations of Arcazam, which has always maintained a neutral stance. Besides, to put it bluntly, you have no effective authority or position in diplomacy right now..."
Contrary to Nozomu's appeal of reason, Irisdina's words move in the direction of distancing herself from her connection with Nozomu.
However, at the same time, her emotions also appeal to the fact that there would be no point in rejecting Nozomu with such a stubborn attitude.
He is a man who, once he makes up his mind, will stand up, even if he breaks. He is not a person who stops at merely oppressive words.
If she wanted to stop him, she would have to use more direct force to force him to stop.
Thus, rejecting him emotionally and verbally would be counterproductive. Instead, he would be more stubborn and try to protect Irisdina and the others.
In other words, he would try to protect Irisdina and her family, without regard for his own safety.
This would lead to the worst possible outcome for her.
Irisdina herself no longer understood her own actions.
Although her words were calm, her thoughts and feelings were all in disarray.
"Nozomu, that's enough."
"I said, that's enough. Forget what I said to you before. And forget about that bell I asked you for."
In the end, she began to move in the direction of completely severing her connection with Nozomu in an effort to suppress everything.
She crushed Nozomu's words with a cold, emotionless stare.
Nozomu was speechless at the emotionless expression on Irisdina's face, as if she were a puppet.
Irisdina as a noblewoman and Irisdina as a girl. She froze both her thoughts and her heart, keeping a lid on the raging emotions that were about to leak out, and crushed both of her conflicted selves herself.
As Irisdina's emotions fade from her eyes, an intense sense of frustration struck Nozomu.
"Iris, wait a minute..."
I can't let it go on like this.
Nozomu, sensing the danger in her eyes, which were turning into a pair of cavernous eyes, tried to approach Irisdina, but she quickly walked away from Nozomu, and then walked faster away from him.
"It's an extremely crucial moment for both of us. I'll keep my distance for a while..."
Irisdina left Nozomu and the others behind as she cut her words short and then walked away from Nozomu at a quickened pace.
(I am a terribly harsh, contradictory, and selfish woman...)
Feeling Nozomu's bewildered gaze on her back, Irisdina gently ran a finger across her lips.
Her mind flashed back to the one time she and Nozomu had locked lips.
When Nozomu had rescued Lisa from the Abyss Grief and was still in a coma, Irisdina had kissed the comatose Nozomu out of an impulse.
Irisdeena herself has long been aware of her own feelings towards Nozomu.
She is so attracted to him that she can no longer stay away from him.
(These feelings get in the way in front of Nozomu...)
Neither can she discard her desire to protect Somia, nor her longing for Nozomu.
Then he had no choice but to throw away everything she has in order to protect both of them.
Not as the next head of the Francilt family. As a mere human being, swallowing every contradiction, she had decided to sacrifice herself completely in order to keep the vow she had made to her late mother.
Glancing back over her shoulder, she peeked into the face of her loved one.
The sight of Nozomu clenching his fists, his face distorted by his own incompetence, makes her heart tingle, even though it was supposed to be frozen.
(I wanted that present from Nozomu...)
At such a cry as a maiden, Irisdina ruthlessly trampled it down with her ice mask.
Staring at Nozomu's back, stunned by Irisdina's departing figure, Mimuru whispered in Shina's ear.
"Shina, this is your chance."
"You know what I mean, don't you?"
Shina, realizing the meaning of Mimuru's words, responded in a nonchalant manner, but Mimuru also kept her gaze fixed on Shina, as if to say, "Don't fool yourself."
Their gazes crossed for only a few seconds.
Shina, understanding Mimuru's silent suggestion, turned away, as if rejecting her suggestion, and started walking again on the way to the school.
Mimuru continued to stare at Shina's back while letting out an exasperated sigh at her stubborn best friend's attitude.
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