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    (Phew, that’s good… Now then.)

    Rinda also had to return to Tag Squad. If he lingered too long with another squad, Kenneth would scold him, saying, “You’re just loafing around again.”

    “Must be nice having talented siblings, getting special treatment even without any real skill.”

    Rinda was about to turn on his heel and return to Tag Squad when he heard those barbed words from a relatively close distance.

    (Huh?)

    Turning around to see what it was about, Rinda saw the back of a rookie knight holding a practice sword. With his short, light brown hair buzzed short, he was briskly heading toward his own squad. Ahead of him were the two holy knights who had harassed Rinda before.

    “Haaah…?”

    A low, threatening growl escaped Rinda’s mouth. But the other party didn’t even glance back at Rinda and was chatting merrily with his own squad. Rinda glared at them for a while before abruptly turning his back and striding away.

    (That was about me, wasn’t it? I’m the only one here with a bunch of siblings.)

    Rinda advanced with a moody feeling weighing on him.

    (Special treatment? What special treatment? I don’t get any special treatment. Kenneth scolds me every day. I have lots of odd jobs. A ton of them.)

    Clenching his fists, Rinda’s daily frustrations welled up.

    (Sure, my brothers are talented, but that doesn’t mean I get any special treatment.)

    The words “even without any real skill” snagged on the thorn in his heart, and Rinda bit his lower lip. It was just an extension of badmouthing, and he shouldn’t let it get to him. That should have been the case, but…

    “Aaaah… Dammit.”

    Muttering a curse under his breath, Rinda returned to Tag Squad. Everyone was chatting lazily. Compared to the other squads, there was a lack of tension. The squad captain, Tag, had even brought paperwork and was working on it for some reason. It was such a tranquil scene that it made Rinda feel silly for stewing over things. The vice-captains, Razley and Tidia, cheerfully called out to Rinda, “Good work. Another win, I see.” The other squad member, Joshua, had work he couldn’t get away from and wasn’t participating. Aside from Kenneth’s intense personality, the other members of Tag Squad were relatively mild-mannered. Perhaps it was because the squad captain, Tag, was a peace-loving pacifist who disliked conflict.

    “Th-thank you very mu…”

    “You shoulda chased after him and beat the crap outta him.”

    “Huh?”

    Just as Rinda was about to thank Razley and the others, he heard a voice from behind him accompanied by a snort, “Hmph.” Turning around, there was Kenneth, impatiently tapping his foot with an irritated look on his face.

    “Beat… Ah, you heard that earlier, didn’t you?”

    Rinda had just learned that Kenneth had “good hearing” before the competition. Apparently, that rookie’s mutterings had reached his ears as well.

    “The hell’s he mean, no real skill? You’ve won twice already, is he blind or somethin’?”

    Kenneth grumbled with his cheeks puffed out. Rinda was taken aback and tilted his head, saying, “Th-thank you very much?” It seemed Kenneth was looking out for Rinda in his own way (though it felt a bit different).

    “That’s it, you go break his arm! Go right now! Go break it right now!”

    “But, um…”

    Kenneth was probably referring to what had been said to Rinda before the match, egging his on.

    “He’s your next opponent! Don’t you dare run around and settle for a draw! You better win decisively! Show ’em what you’ve got!”

    As Kenneth clenched his fist, getting strangely fired up, Rinda responded with incoherent replies like “Ah” and “Uh,” at a loss for what to do, and turned to the other squad members for help.

    “Kenneth sure has taken a liking to Rinda, huh?”

    “I’m just happy to see the new recruits getting along.”

    However, both Tag and Razley were just laughing merrily, “Ho ho ho.” They were like guardians watching over children.

    “Huh, wait, Captain? Vice-Captain?”

    “Just do your best. Ah, but I’d be happy if you won. Yep, yep.”

    That wasn’t the response Rinda wanted to hear. He could only nod, “Ah, yes,” to the ever-easygoing Tag.

    The rookie competition, round four. Rinda’s final match for the day. His opponent’s name was Sheldon, a new recruit from Jeanette Squad. Jeanette Squad was known as an elite squad, consisting mainly of members from noble or wealthy merchant families.

    ‘Building “connections” with such bigwigs is also part of the job. That squad exists to be entrusted with that kind of thing.’

    That was what Razley, who seemed to be quite informed, had said. Just as Tag Squad was often tasked with matters related to half-demons, it seemed each squad had a suitable role. This could also be considered “the right person in the right place.” Jeanette Squad apparently had many members with connections to those “bigwigs,” so in other words, they had quite a high and mighty attitude.

    (Well, I guess from a squad like that, Tag Squad must seem like small fry.)

    Directly facing Sheldon, who was glaring at his with narrowed eyes, Rinda inwardly sighed.

    (There really are all kinds of people out there.)

    Even among holy knights, they weren’t a gathering of saints. There were indeed people with various mindsets. …And Rinda was finally starting to understand that. Well, Rinda herself, as a half-demon posing as a holy knight while hiding his true nature, wasn’t exactly a paragon of virtue either.

    “Begin!”

    The knight acting as referee announced the start of the match.

    “Hah!”

    At the same time as the referee’s voice, a sword strike came rushing from the front, and Rinda hurriedly raised his sword to deflect it. Despite his attack being deflected, Sheldon followed up with a second and third strike, each one quite forceful. While not quite frenzied, Rinda could clearly feel the frustration imbued in his technique.

    “Hiyah! Hah!”

    His shouts were also loud, and he seemed quite intent on “crushing” Rinda. Sheldon’s build was a full size larger than Rinda’s. In the first place, the only holy knight shorter than Rinda was Kenneth.

    (…He’s trying to overpower me because I’m small, huh?)

    With his frequent downward swings, Rinda couldn’t help but notice his intention. The method itself wasn’t wrong. The quickest way to deal with a small, nimble prey was to strike it down from above before it could escape. As another practice sword was swung down at him from above, Rinda shifted his weight to the right and lightly bent his knees. Then, stepping forward, he slashed at Sheldon’s side with his sword.

    “…Guh!”

    Sheldon let out a pained grunt and staggered a step or two. Rinda followed up with a barrage of strikes, but as expected, he managed to dodge them. Avoiding the sword that was swept horizontally, Rinda nimbly leaped back. But then he felt a faint discomfort in his chest.

    “Ah!”

    Looking down, he saw that his training uniform was torn. Right below his collarbone, a single horizontal line had been slashed, clearly exposing his skin. Fortunately, it seemed his flesh hadn’t been cut. Rinda glanced down at his chest, then glared at Sheldon.

    (Did he infuse that with magic power?)

    It wasn’t impossible for a practice sword to tear clothing. An ordinary person might have just clicked their tongue and left it at that. But Rinda was a half-demon, a succubus sensitive to essence. He had detected the faint scent of magic-infused essence from Sheldon’s practice sword.

    (This guy…!)

    Today’s matches were meant to test swordsmanship. The use of magic was not permitted.

    “You bast…”

    “Azrael, can you continue?”

    Just as Rinda opened his mouth to complain, the referee called out to him. Rinda looked at the referee, then at Sheldon, and finally lowered his chin, saying, “…I can continue.” Among holy knights, there were those who were sensitive to magic power and those who were not. This referee was likely the latter. It was possible to assert that Sheldon had “used magic power” here, but then Rinda would have to explain “how he knew.”

    (I can’t exactly say it’s because I’m a succubus…)

    And even if he pointed it out, it would be troublesome if Sheldon responded with something like, “I didn’t use any magic power.” There was no evidence left behind when using magic, after all. If this referee was insensitive to magic power, and Sheldon had anticipated that, attacking with a faint magic spell…

    (What a disgusting guy.)

    It was only thanks to Rinda’s reflexes that he avoided it, with only his clothing getting cut. Had he been a step slower, his flesh would have been torn.

    (Doing this in front of so many people… Does he have the confidence that even if it causes a commotion, he won’t be punished?)

    He had called Rinda “favored” and whatnot, but to think he’d stoop to this. In any case, it was extremely underhanded.

    “Hah!”

    Sheldon let out a loud yell as he slashed at Rinda. That exaggerated shout might also have been to cover up his use of magic.

    “…Rah!”

    Rinda also shouted as he parried his sword. Despite a voice in the back of his head telling him to stay calm, the lingering scent of magic power kept distracting him, making it hard to focus. In his impatience to end the match quickly, he made a critical mistake.

    “Ah!”

    In one of their clashes, Rinda failed to properly block a sword swung down with great force, causing his hand to waver. Before he could regain a firm grip on the hilt, he took a barrage of sword strikes that left his fingertips numb and tingling.

    “…An opening!”

    “Tch.”

    Sheldon overtly curled his lips and lowered his sword to the side. He probably intended to sweep it horizontally in a line like before. If he used magic power, it would slice through his flesh, and even without magic, a direct hit would likely break a rib or two.

    “Ngh.”

    Sheldon’s movements were a beat faster than Rinda raising his sword. At this rate, there was no way he could block his attack.

    (Damn it…)

    The instant he thought he was done for, the center of his head felt strangely, extraordinarily clear.

    “Ah…?”

    Despite the dire situation, his body bent forward as if collapsing.

    (Huh?)

    His torn chest fluttered, letting wind into the gap in his clothing. The wide opening exposed not only his collarbone but even the area around his nipples. Sheldon’s gaze briefly flicked there, and for some reason, his movements dulled as if startled.

    (Got him…)

    Before he knew it, Rinda had thrown aside his sword from his numb hand. It wasn’t a conscious decision. His body moved on its own. Reaching out to Sheldon’s shoulder, he caught his gaze and gave him a faint smile. He saw Sheldon’s dazed, hazel eyes, and then…

    “Hah!”

    Rinda stepped on Sheldon’s chest, twisting his body up, and locked his head between his thighs.

    “Mmph, mgh!”

    Sheldon must have been surprised too. Perhaps because his vision was suddenly blocked, his feet stopped moving in confusion. Not missing his chance, Rinda used his body weight to drag him down. The clang of Sheldon’s practice sword hitting the stage echoed.

    “Ugh… Gaah!”

    Rinda crossed his legs, squeezing Sheldon’s neck tight. Sheldon struggled for a while, trying to pry Rinda’s thighs apart, but a few seconds later, his hands fell limply onto the stage.

    “…Alright, the winner is Rinda Azrael of Tag Green Squad!”

    Along with the referee’s declaration confirming Rinda’s victory, cheers of “Woah!” resounded. Only then did Rinda realize he hadn’t been hearing the sounds around him.

    “Huh…?”

    “Azrael, you can let him go now.”

    “Oh… Yes!”

    At the referee’s prompting, Rinda finally loosened the tight squeeze of his thighs. Sheldon, now lying limp, let out a small groan, “Ugh.”

    “I-I’m so sorry! For using a grappling technique, I…”

    “No, strictly speaking, this match only prohibits the use of magic, so it’s not a violation.”

    “What?”

    “Magic power can run out. These mock battles are also meant to train you on how to deal with that situation.”

    “I-I see.”

    Rinda nodded vaguely, wondering if that was also the intention. In any case, if grappling techniques weren’t against the rules, then it was Rinda’s victory for knocking Sheldon out.

    “Rinda’s not the problem, but that guy’s in big trouble, right?”

    “Huh?”

    At the sudden sound of a familiar voice, Rinda looked up to see Cain standing right next to the stage.

    “Cain? …Whoa.”

    Something was thrown at him, and he reflexively caught it. What landed in his hands was Cain’s jacket.

    “Put that on and go change right away.”

    Reminded that his training uniform had been torn, Rinda glared at Sheldon, who was now completely limp. …Then, recalling Cain’s words, he tilted his head quizzically.

    “By ‘that guy,’ you mean Sheldon? Was there a problem?”

    The referee asked Cain in a casual tone. Perhaps they were acquaintances or from the same class. At the referee’s question, Cain let out a disgruntled “Haaah?” with a rising intonation.

    “He was using magic power. In a sneaky, cowardly way so he wouldn’t get caught.”

    (So Cain noticed too…)

    Rinda let out a sigh of relief. For him to assert this now meant he had been seriously watching Rinda’s match.

    “Huh, really?”

    The referee looked down at Sheldon. But he was lying there limp, his eyes rolled back. The referee must have felt it wasn’t right to make a judgment based on one party’s claim alone, so he concluded, “Let’s ask Sheldon about it when he wakes up.”

    “Well, regardless of whether Sheldon used magic power or not, Azrael’s victory stands. To think he’d throw his sword aside and still insist on winning. That was a good match.”

    The referee smiled at Rinda as he said the latter part. Unexpectedly praised, Rinda lowered his head, feeling awkward.

    “…Hey, someone from Jeanette Squad, come collect this guy.”

    The referee called out to Jeanette Squad in the spectator seats. One of the holy knights who had previously harassed Rinda stood up reluctantly and approached. As Rinda watched, wrapped in Cain’s jacket, he made eye contact with the holy knight who had slung Sheldon’s arm over his shoulder. The holy knight looked at Rinda’s face, then for some reason, his gaze shifted to his lower body… his thighs, and finally settled on his chest. After staring intently, he shook his head as if coming to his senses.

    “?”

    “…Tch.”

    Rinda thought he might say something, but in the end, he left without a word. The holy knight from Jeanette Squad carried Sheldon back to the spectator seats.

    (Umm…?)

    He had defeated Sheldon, who had looked down on him, and his senior had clicked his tongue and left as if making excuses for the loss. Looking only at the results, it was a huge success. But somehow, it didn’t sit right with him. It might have been because Cain was standing there with his arms crossed, looking angry for some reason, or because Kenneth was shouting something in the spectator seats, or because people from other squads were stealing glances at Rinda. But more than anything…

    (That was kinda weird earlier, wasn’t it?)

    The moment he thought Sheldon would cut him, his head had felt strangely clear, and his body moved in a way he hadn’t intended. It was as if he was being controlled.

    (It felt a little similar to when I transformed into an incubus…)

    Rinda looked down at his palm as he returned to Tag Squad. The numbness from when his sword was deflected earlier had completely vanished, replaced by an indescribable heat. Timidly, he moved his tongue inside his mouth and licked his canines. They weren’t especially sharp and were the same shape as always.

    (It wasn’t a visible transformation.)

    He hadn’t visibly transformed into an incubus. So what in the world was that? Mentally tilting his head in confusion, Rinda tightly grasped the hem of Cain’s jacket draped over his shoulders.

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