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    “The winner is Rinda Azrael of Tag Green Squad!”

    His name was called out loudly, and Rinda let out a sigh, lowering his practice sword. At the same time, his opponent, who had the sword pointed at his neck, also exhaled, “Hah…” Rinda extended his hand to his opponent, who was now sitting on his backside.

    “Thanks. Man, I give up. You’re crazy strong.”

    Gripping Rinda’s hand without hesitation, his opponent smiled brightly.

    “Not crazy strong, but thanks.”

    Praised genuinely without any pretense, Rinda felt embarrassed and thanked him while rubbing the tip of his nose.

    “I’m Jorjoa from Howard Squad. Call me Joe.”

    “I’m Rinda from Tag Squad. Nice to meet you, Joe.”

    Rinda smiled and gave Joe’s hand a firm shake.

    The rookie competition was proceeding smoothly. So far, Rinda had fought three people and currently had a record of two wins and one draw. Incidentally, the opponent he had tied with was a rookie from the squad Cain belonged to. Apparently, he had joined the order with much fanfare about his “skill with a sword,” and indeed, each of his strikes had been heavy enough to make his arm go numb. The match ended in a draw because Rinda had kept dodging his attacks until time ran out.

    “Ahh! Philly’s gonna chew me out…”

    Hearing Joe’s lament as they walked side by side, Rinda’s eyes widened. Since he only saw Philly as a little brother at home, it was quite refreshing to see him being feared by new recruits like this.

    “I get it. I just got seriously scolded by my senior too. He said there’d be special training after this~”

    “Eek. Guess every squad’s the same, huh?”

    Joe probably knew Rinda was from the infamous Tag Squad, but he deliberately lumped them all together by saying “every squad’s the same.” The small nuance in his words made Rinda happy, and he naturally smiled. Joe must be a good person.

    “Oh, come to think of it, Rinda, you’re Philly’s sibling, right? His little brother?”

    Joe struck up a conversation as they headed back to the spectator seats where each squad’s members were waiting with crossed arms. Since Rinda usually only interacted with people from his own squad, this kind of exchange was fun. Perhaps this kind of interaction was also one of the objectives of this rookie competition. To gauge the rookies’ skills, foster camaraderie, and also show off the new recruits to the senior members. And of course, to clash the pride of each squad… Somehow, various objectives seemed to flicker in and out of view in this training exercise.

    “Hm, no, Philly’s my little brother.”

    “Oh, really? You look younger than him, Rinda… Hey, don’t tell Philly I said that! Seriously, don’t! I’m begging you.”

    Joe pleaded with Rinda in a hushed voice, and he couldn’t help but laugh.

    “I won’t. Philly can be a handful, but I think he looks after others well, so take good care of him.”

    “Well, he does look after us, but… Is that a good thing?”

    Rinda laughed again at Joe, who tilted his head with his arms crossed. It seemed Philly was also quite strict with the new recruits.

    “Anyway, I’m in for a real grilling now. He seems pretty angry.”

    Joe whispered to Rinda, and he glanced over at Howard Squad. He could see Philly sitting in the very front, arms crossed, glaring with his brows furrowed.

    “Uh, hahaha… Good luck, Joe.”

    Even though Joe had only lost once so far, the fact that he had lost to Rinda was problematic. Glancing over at Philly, Rinda’s eyes met his as he pursed his lips sullenly.

    “Hehe.”

    Out of habit, Rinda couldn’t help but make a triumphant face at Philly, even forming a small fist next to his face. …And flames rose up behind Philly. Of course, it was just an illusion, but it probably wasn’t far from the truth.

    “Hey, what, what did you do, Rinda? Philly’s glaring over here, what, what did you do?”

    Joe grabbed Rinda’s arm and shook him, and he replied with a dry laugh, “Ah, haha.”

    “Sorry. I just provoked him out of habit.” “You provoked him out of habit?! Hey, hey, hey, I’m the one who’s gonna suffer for that, hey, what the heck?!”

    Shaking his head, Rinda apologized, “Sorry, sorry, sorry.”

    “Philly hates losing. So… Good luck.”

    “You didn’t need to tell me that now~ Geez, seriously~”

    Rinda apologized again to Joe, who was nearly in tears. “S-sorry.” Indeed, if Kenneth had provoked him after losing a match, Rinda would probably want to grab him by the collar and shake him, saying, “Why’d you have to do that?!”

    “Got it. Sorry, just wait a sec…”

    Rinda freed himself from Joe’s arm and headed toward the spectator seats… toward Howard Squad.

    “Philly… -san.”

    “What do you want, Rinda Azrael of Tag Squad?”

    Even though they were siblings, within the Holy Knights, they were a senior and a rookie. Rookies generally couldn’t address senior knights without an honorific, so Rinda called out to Philly with a “-san” in a low voice. Philly approached Rinda while being teased by the other squad members, “Ooh, your beloved big bro is here.”

    “Geez, what is it? I get teased when Rinda’s around. What?”

    Philly complained to Rinda in a hushed voice. The dignified (though not quite) demeanor from earlier was nowhere to be seen. He was back to his usual way of speaking.

    “I’m in charge of dinner tonight, and…”

    “Huh?”

    “Is there anything you want to eat?”

    “Listen here…”

    Philly looked at Rinda as if to say, “What are you suddenly talking about?” but then stopped mid-sentence and pondered, “Hmm.”

    “…Stew with meatballs in it.”

    Hearing Philly’s whispered request, Rinda narrowed his eyes.

    “The one with big chunks of veggies?”

    “That one.”

    When Rinda asked for confirmation, Philly nodded vigorously. Then he added, “But cut the onions small.” Trying not to burst out laughing, Rinda nodded firmly, “Got it.”

    “I’ll cut the onions small, and I’ll make the meatballs oval-shaped, just how you like ’em. I’ll make the biggest ones.”

    When Rinda told him in a solemn tone, Philly’s eyes instantly sparkled. Then, as if realizing something, he pursed his lips.

    “I saw your last match.”

    “Yeah.”

    “I think it was good how you noticed right away that Joe was left-handed and circled around to his left side to attack repeatedly. But your footwork was a bit off. You should always be aware that not every stage will have a nice, even footing like this… That’s what I think. Brotherly advice from your senior holy knight.”

    Though his way of speaking was a bit petulant, his advice was on point. Rinda mulled over Philly’s words and compared them to his memories of the previous match. Then he nodded, “Yes.”

    “You’re right, Philly… -san. Thank you very much.”

    When Rinda thanked him sincerely, for some reason, Philly clutched his chest and looked up at the sky. He closed his eyes, furrowing his brow as if enduring something.

    “Hmm… I don’t know what this feeling is. It’s kind of embarrassing, but not bad. What is it?”

    “Huh?”

    From Rinda’s perspective, even if he asked “what,” he had no idea what he was talking about. Judging by his happy expression, it seemed his mood had improved somewhat. Glancing back at Joe, Rinda saw him clenching his fist tightly by his hip, over and over, facing him. He had a clear look of relief on his face. He was probably relieved that Philly’s mood had lifted a bit.

    “See you later at home. Ah… I’m looking forward to dinner!”

    Philly said this in a good mood and headed back to Howard Squad. Rinda watched his back and let out a sigh of relief, “Phew.”

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