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9 Black Star [3]

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Rustle——!

A fluttering of the clothes.

"Haa..."

The small wisps of water vapor swirling in the air before vanishing.

And the cold chill that pressed against the cheeks early in the morning.

Indeed, this was real.

I was once again reminded of that.

".....Took you long enough."

Waiting for me outside the residence was Leon. Clad in a matching blazer, a sword at his hip, he casually brushed his hair.

"We'll be late if we don't hurry."

"Right."

The two of us walked on the empty streets.

Tak——

The gentle click of our heels echoed in the air.

He walked by my side, maintaining a respectable distance. That was his duty as Julien's designated knight.

The city we were in was called Lens.

It was the nearest city to Haven and our temporary residence. Currently, being early in the morning, there weren't many people outside.

The cobblestone streets were empty.

It was just the two of us.

"We're here."

We didn't walk far. Our destination was merely a few minutes away from the residence, located near the city center. Unlike the streets, this place was packed with people.

Leon handed me a small paper.

"Here's your ticket."

"Thanks."

One that I took.

Rather than a knight, secretary seemed more fitting for him.

"Wow."

I stopped in my tracks to stare ahead.

I was still having a hard time getting used to the sight before me.

A means of transportation unfitting for a world like this. One that seemed to function even better than the locomotives in the modern age.

"...This really is a game."

"Hm? Did you say something?"

"Nothing."

I boarded the train, making my way toward my cabin. [A-25] Ah... Right here. It was rather spacious and had a wide window for me to look at.

From there, I could see the scenery outside. The lush trees, the tall mountains in the distance, and the orange glow that dyed the sky.

lightsΝοvεl ƈοm

...It felt peaceful.

"How is it? Is it to your satisfaction young master?"

Leon's voice brought me back. I turned to glance at him.

"You can drop the act when it's just us."

The whole 'young master' thing felt rather uncomfortable. I wasn't Julien. He didn't have to call me that.

"I'd rather not."

"Suit yourself."

But he seemed insistent on calling me that.

I wasn't going to force him.

There were other things that I needed to pay more attention to.

Like,

How would Julien conduct himself if he were to give a speech?

The speech.

As Leon said. I needed to act closely as the previous Julien acted. In this world, possessing someone else's body wasn't merely a fantasy.

Many were capable of such a feat. Some for looks, and others for longevity reasons.

Unless I acted like Julien, then there was a chance someone might find out.

I couldn't allow that to happen.

"Here's the speech."

Thankfully, I wasn't completely unprepared. Having discussed it with Leon, he already had a speech prepared for me.

".....Ah, thanks."

I opened the paper to see the speech. A quick scan and I didn't see anything wrong with it. In fact, it was quite short.

Is this good enough...?

"I could've prepared the speech by myself."

Things would've probably been easier for me if that was the case.

"Maybe."

Maybe...?

"I just didn't want to take any risks."

"Then couldn't I have just shown you my speech while you helped me correct along the way?"

"That would've taken longer."

"..."

I chose to leave the subject there. It didn't seem like my words were getting through to him.

He doesn't trust me at all.

Noted.

I shifted my attention back to the speech. It wasn't long and also wasn't hard to memorize. I could learn this.

While I immersed myself in the speech, the train started to move.

The pistons roared and the train picked up speed.

I naturally turned my head to look at the window.

Unknowingly, the paper in my hand wrinkled.

Rustle——

Finally.

I was walking into the devil's den.

***

Haven, Leoni Hall.

His presence grabbed the eyes of all in attendance.

An exquisite appearance that stood out from the rest. Clad in clothing that highlighted his lean and muscular physique, his appearance imprinted itself in the minds of all present.

He strode with measured steps, reaching the center of the podium.

"The Black Star."

Julien Dacre Evenus.

"...He's here."

A fact Aoife was made aware of the moment his name was called out.

Her gaze traced over his body. His every action, movement, expression... she marked them in her mind, making sure to miss nothing.

He was the one who took the title away from her. Someone her cousin and the institute's board seemed enamored with.

And the one that stood above her.

「It's a pleasure to be standing here amongst all of you.」

His tone felt rather flat.

It lacked any highs and lows, sounding rather indifferent.

「It is with great honor that I find myself in this position.」lightsnovel

As if he didn't mean the words that he was saying.

That was what Aoife thought at first. However, all of a sudden Julien's gaze shifted.

「Many of you stand at the very peak of the Empire. Proud sons of heaven...」

It turned sharp.

「Everywhere you go, people will praise you. Call you the elites of the Empire.」

Like that of a sharpened blade.

「Someone that should be worshiped.」

Stabbing right at those present in the hall.

「But...」

He suddenly paused, and just faintly, Aoife noticed a change. His lips... They were pulled into a smile.

「Remember.」

And as his gaze swept the hall,

He slowly muttered,

「I stand above you.」

The entire hall fell into a state of silence.

Aoife's expression underwent a small change.

"What is he....."

She looked around her. All the cadets wore similar expressions. One of utter shock which soon morphed into anger.

The previously quiet hall started to heat up.

"What did he just say...?"

"Who is this arrogant bastard?"

"Did he just say that?"

Aoife took in the sight around her. The disorder and chaos that was slowly taking shape. The flustered and shocked looks of the professors. The angered looks of the cadets.

.....And the stoic, yet arrogant look of the Black Star who stood at the center of it all.

"This isn't right."

The Black Star was supposed to be a leading figure.

Someone the other cadets looked up to.

And yet,

Aoife tore her gaze away from the chaos happening around her and closed her eyes.

"As expected..."

Her fists slowly started to clench.

"Julien Dacre Evenus."

He wasn't fit to be the Black Star.

***

The weight of over a hundred eyes weighed heavily on me. My every action seemed to be closely scrutinized.

From the way I walked, the way I looked, and the way I spoke.

All of it was assessed.

But even so, I didn't feel nervous. I had been a salesman in my past life. Things like this weren't a problem for me.

I tapped on the small ball in front of me.

"It's a pleasure to be standing here amongst all of you."

It appeared to be a microphone. My voice echoed throughout the hall, reaching the ears of all present.

The gazes were now truly on me.

"Many of you stand at the very peak of the Empire. Proud sons of heaven..."

I kept my tone flat.

"Everywhere you go, people will praise you. Call you an elite of the Empire."

This was simply because Leon suggested me to. He was the one who came up with the speech after all.

"Someone that should be worshiped."

But that wasn't the reason why I followed the speech.

"But..."

The main reason why I followed it was because,

"Remember."

I liked it.

"I stand above you."

I almost laughed after saying that line. Taking in the expressions of all those in the hall, I almost regretted not having a phone.

It wasn't a pretty sight.

Amidst the glares of disgust, hatred, and scorn directed towards me, I chose to stand my ground next to the podium, taking in everything that was directed my way.

Leon's reasoning behind the speech was that he believed this was what the previous Julien would've said.

I didn't doubt it.

But that wasn't the reason why I went through with it. If I wanted to, I could've said something different.

But I didn't.

"What sort of joke is this?"

All of a sudden, one of the cadets stood up from their seat and shouted,

"Are you seriously supposed to be the Black Star? I refuse to believe someone like you can be our top ranker! I request a duel!"

Ah, yes.

This was what I wanted.

A cliche scenario.

"Me too!"

"Julien Dacre Evenus. I request a duel...!"

What came after the first was the second, and then the third...

"Fight me!"

The entire hall became heated with several cadets standing up and challenging me on the spot.

While some appeared to be influenced by a few instigators, a significant number seemed genuinely eager to fight me.

'Yeah, this is it.'

It was the effect that I desired to achieve.

My time was limited.

I needed to get stronger. And for that, I needed a target on my back.

Pressure.

A comfortable environment wouldn't shape me into a stronger individual. What I craved was pressure, and the best way to intensify the pressure on myself was to provoke every first-year in attendance.

'It was bound to happen anyways...'

I wasn't naive enough to think nobody would challenge me the moment I entered the institute.

It was bound to happen.

I only hurried that process.

'Only this way can I force myself to improve faster...'

I could already feel the weight of my actions on my shoulders. It weighed heavily on them, but it was necessary.

Growth can only be achieved through struggle.

And what better way to make myself struggle than this?

'That's right.'

This had to be done.

For the sake of my growth.

"I'll do anything."