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Chapter III: The Amazing Race 

The skies were blue and clear, aside from the occasional roaring Dragon. There was no severe wind, and the seas were relatively peaceful. It was the perfect day for racing. 
I’d warned the Dragons not to attack the humans zipping around the island, and a few of them even seemed interested in watching the race. I was fine with them watching so long as they didn’t disrupt anything. 
I summoned a few Valkyries to act as my camera crew. They hoisted cameras into the air and could move around above the vehicles. After that, I erected a large monitor on the beach for the spectators to watch at their own leisure. 
Now, for the list of participants... 
Vehicle Number One: The Steel Ax. Driver: Griff 
This rugged dwarven machine was being driven by Griff, the leader of the dwarven craftsmen. It was an Ether Vehicle made almost completely out of original dwarven tech. 
Vehicle Number Two: The Silver Star. Drivers: Rosetta & Monica 
This lean, mean, silver machine was built collaboratively by the gynoids Rosetta and Monica. Both of them would be driving it together. 
Vehicle Number Three: The Swan. Driver: Lapis 
An elegant vehicle driven by an elegant beauty. Rosetta and Monica created the machine, but head maid Lapis would be handling it. 
Vehicle Number Four: The Red Cat. Driver: Nia 
A red machine for a red cat. Rosetta and Monica created this one as well, but Nia was handling it. 
Vehicle Number Five: Strain. Driver: Berlietta 
A standard-build Ether Vehicle modified extensively by Princess Berlietta of Strain. 
Vehicle Number Six: Triharan. Driver: Lupheus 
A standard-build Ether Vehicle modified extensively by Prince Lupheus of Triharan. 
Vehicle Number Seven: Felsen. Driver: The king of Felsen 
The culmination of Felsen’s magitech research. It was quite a huge vehicle compared to the others. 
Vehicle Number Eight: Brunhild. Driver: Mochizuki Touya 
I was participating as well, though I stuck to a regular Ether Vehicle. This one was based on the Renault Type K. 
All eight vehicles were racing against each other. 
Some of the vehicles definitely looked unusual, but the range of their specifications weren’t known off the bat. I was one of the participants too, so obviously I wouldn’t be told if they had any aces up their sleeves. 
The one that stood out the most was Felsen’s, with its massive size. I kind of felt like it was only big to match the size of its driver, though... 
The Steel Ax also looked like a military vehicle... If I wasn’t mistaken, it was made out of mithril. 
I’d handed out a map of the race track to all drivers a few days before the race began. I hadn’t made it too detailed, since I didn’t want to spoil all the obstacles, but it let them get a general feel for the place. 
If you split the island into four areas based on the directions, then the race started in the southern area and looped around the island counter-clockwise. 
Elluka and Doctor Babylon explained the segments of the track to me like this: 
The pier track. It was basically a racetrack on a pier that had been constructed atop the beach and sea areas. 
The forest track. It was a series of dirt roads that went over winding hills. 
The snow track. A slippery track with ice and snow around it. 
The obstacle course. A dangerous area filled with mysterious obstacles. 
The details were pretty vague in general, so I had a feeling my suspicion wasn’t misplaced. 
The rules were pretty simple too. The drivers needed to get through each area within a certain amount of time, or they were out of the race. 
If the vehicle broke down and ended up being pushed manually into the next area by its driver, it would be considered them getting through, so they could stay in that way if they sustained damage. 
Each area also had one or two pit stops that would allow the drivers to repair or refit parts on to their vehicles. 
I let out a small sigh. Geez... This was supposed to be more of a test than a race, but I guess it’s my fault for expecting things to go according to plan... 
It was an hour before the race began. 
The international representatives that I’d invited, along with their guards, were all looking up at the screen. All of them seemed happy as they sat around the various tables I’d set up. 
I’d invited almost every country from the regular world. This was their first time in the Reverse World, but the island was identical to the one in the world they’d come from, so they weren’t really doing any sightseeing. 
The Reverse World nations in attendance were Triharan, Strain, Primula, and Gardio. 
The one representing Gardio was Prince Lucrecion, who no longer held any rights to the throne. He was still overseeing Lowe, though. 
“It’s been a while. Thanks again for your help earlier.” 
“You’re looking well. How are your parents?” 
“Quite well. They’ve been living pretty peacefully since abdicating the throne.” 
The young boy gave off such a mature vibe that I almost forgot he was only around ten years old. I was impressed every time I saw him. 
Even though he’d been put in charge of Lowe, someone else was managing it until he was older. He’d probably been learning a lot about how to be a ruler, so I hoped this would be a chance for him to relax a bit. 
I introduced him to the young king of Palouf, since they were close in terms of age. 
Seemed like young Ernest hadn’t brought his shogi set with him this time. The two boys seemed to get along, so I let them chat about various topics from each world. 
I backed off slightly when Ernest’s fiancee Rachael glared at me as if to say “Why did you bring some stranger over?” She probably wanted some alone time with him. 
Triharan’s emperor, Strain’s queen, and Primula’s king were all busy chatting to the world leaders from the world I lived in. 
I was glad that they were able to get acquainted a bit before the formal summit. I wondered if they were chatting out of caution, or a desire to make friends... 
“A kidnapping, you say? That certainly sounds like him.” 
“I’m not surprised that Isengard country fell when they made him an enemy. Two countries on our side actually made the same mistake.” 
“It’s fine if you just get along with him, though. He’s a fine young man, he just does some crazy things every so often. This gathering, for example!” 
...What are you guys talking about? I neglected to butt in, since they seemed to be having a good time. 
As the world leaders continued to side-eye me and gossip, I moved towards the contestant garages. 
There was a wall enchanted with [Gate] opposite the garages, which connected to various pit stops along the race track. If their vehicle was damaged during the race, they’d be able to come back to the garage for repairs using the pit stops. 
I entered garage number eight. 
There wasn’t a door or anything, so it was pretty easy to walk right in. I figured I should do some last-minute preparation before the race. 
Four mini-bots acted as my maintenance workers. They were all doing some final checks on the Type K. 
Each participant was allowed four maintenance staff and one navigator who could ride with them. Only Rosetta and Monica opted for the navigator option, though. Everyone else thought the weight of an extra person would be too much. 
“Make sure the handling’s secure, alright?” 
The mini-bots waved my way in affirmation. I wasn’t aiming to win the race or anything, so I wanted to prioritize getting through it safely. 
As I directed the little robots, two people walked into the garage. 
“Is this your vehicle, Touya? It looks cool!” 
“Ah, we brought some food...” 
Linze and Elze walked through the entrance and greeted me. They each held a small basket with sandwiches and fruit inside. 
We started eating together, and I asked them what the other girls were up to. 
It seemed that Lu, Yumina, Hilde, and Sakura were talking to their respective fathers. Leen was talking to the beastking, and Yae was meeting with Eashen’s mikado. Apparently Yae only went to see the mikado because her brother was there as an imperial guard, though. 
Sakura was also only talking to the overlord because her mother dragged her there. Linze and Elze weren’t royals so they didn’t have any family among the guests. That was why they came to see me. 
Technically they were from Refreese, but it wasn’t like they knew the emperor or anything. 
“How’re you feeling about the race?” 
“I’m not really aiming to win or anything. I just want to get the testing sorted out.” 
“Huh? That sounds like loser-talk to me. Don’t you wanna win?” 
Elze’s competitive streak started flaring up. But I didn’t really see the point in winning. I was more interested in the rivalry between Lupheus and Berlietta. 
So long as I finished safely, I’d be happy enough with that. I had no idea what kind of obstacles I’d be facing during the race... I just had to pray that there wouldn’t be any landmines. 
Gradually, all my other fiancees made their way towards the garage. We all chatted together as the mini-bots finished their tweaks. 
“Hey, Touya. Can I ride with you?” 
“Eh... It’ll probably be safe, but you shouldn’t. If we drove into the water you’d get all wet.” 
Sue wanted to get in the passenger seat for the race, but her getting wet was the least of my worries. I had no idea what kind of weird dangers would be on the track. 
All my other fiancees had probably considered that as well, since Sue was the only one to ask. The navigator position was entirely optional, so I didn’t need them in there. I could just have the map projected in the car, anyway. 
Paula suddenly raised her arm, as if to volunteer. I didn’t think she’d be much use, though... 
“Heh... I doubt she’ll get in your way, so could you take her?” 

“...I mean, I guess.” 
I shrugged and gave in, since Leen asked me to. Paula suddenly threw both arms into the air and dashed out of the garage in celebration, I had no idea where the hell she was going. 
The [Program] spell sure was incredible, though. It made a stuffed doll like her seem so alive... I was even calling her a ‘her’ sometimes instead of an ‘it.’ 
“Alright, now all I need to do is wait.” Paula suddenly toddled back in and started tapping me on the pants leg. 
“What’s up?” 
I followed her outside, only to find Prince Lupheus and Princess Berlietta staring each other down. Shit... 
“Congratulations on finishing your vehicle. But your victory is all but impossible. My Strain will wipe the floor with you!” 
“I’m afraid you’re misguided, Princess Berlietta. Your pride and joy will be left in the dust by the power of my Triharan! I must apologize in advance.” 
...Your eyes are a lot more menacing than your laughs... Even your maintenance staff are getting freaked out. 
“...This is certainly a vicious battle...” 
“Not yet it isn’t.” I heard Elze and Sue chattering as they peeked around the garage entrance. 
I wondered if everything would be okay... They were certainly more aware of each other on an individual level, but it wasn’t exactly loving... 
“The race begins in fifteen minutes! All participants please change into your racing suits and assemble in front of the main building.” 
Elluka’s voice came through the speakers atop the garage. It was finally time. 
The two royals broke up their glaring match and headed towards their vehicles. I quickly returned to mine as well. 
...Geez. I hope this race ends safely. 
I prayed to God Almighty, hoping he’d somehow keep this looming disaster free from harm. 
“As we mentioned earlier, you must clear each zone within the designated timeframe, or else you’re out. If your vehicle breaks down and you have to push it, then you’ll still be A-OK to pass so long as it gets through in the right amount of time.” 
Elluka listed off the basic rules from atop the stage. 
“You’re permitted to interfere with the other drivers. Each of your vehicles has been enchanted with magic to prevent direct collision, so feel free to try ramming each other. The lighter cars might get repelled away like a magnet, though.” 
Each vehicle had been enchanted to create a repulsion field that synchronized with their engines. Basically, each one would act as a magnet, pushing the other cars away. 
The closest any two cars could get to each other before the repulsion activated would be roughly ten centimeters. It was originally just a safety feature, but when we realized it could be used for ‘fighting’ we decided to incorporate it that way. 
“In the event of a crash, the driver will be teleported back here before impact. That doesn’t immediately mean you’re out of the race, but if the crash is so bad that the vehicle teleports you, then it’ll probably end up too wrecked for you to carry on. We also have a manual emergency teleport button, use it if you think it’s necessary.” 
We had a [Gate] enchanted into all the car seats, just in case. We also had Flora from the Alchemy Lab on standby to treat any possible injuries. 
“Magic’s also forbidden during this race. If you use any spells, you’ll be out immediately. I’m talking to you here, Touya.” 
“...I get it, geez.” 
If magic was allowed, I’d just use [Slip] and win without a hitch. 
“And the race commentator is...” 
“A cat that fights for the sake of mankind! Mankind that gives its lifeblood to a cat! The heavens cry! The earth cries! The cats cry! Bear witness to my kitty-cat chivalry! For it is I, the feline knight that’s feline fine, Mr. Mitt- Uh... D’Artagnan!” 
Sakura’s summoned Cat Sith, Mr. Mittens, took to the stage. He was brandishing a mic instead of his usual rapier. 
You’re the one commentating? Please don’t make too many puns... 
“Meow then! It’s time to get your paws on the pedals, all participants into the Ether Vehicles!” 
A red line was drawn along the stone path by the beach, and all our vehicles lined up against it. We’d all be starting in the same spot. 
The drivers all got into their cars and began revving up their engines. I also got into my Type K. I then fired up the magic engine and started to project my map before I realized something... I wasn’t allowed to use magic. 
Luckily, Paula was in the passenger seat and helpfully passed over a map to me. What a thoughtful little inanimate object. 
Hmm... So the stone road stretches out straight and then ends on a sandy beach path... Then we’ll race in another line until we veer right on to the pier area, got it. 
The pier was only about two and a half times wider than a standard Ether Vehicle. If someone decided to drive in the middle, it’d be almost impossible to pass them. If someone tried to ram someone else there’s a chance that both cars could get knocked off into the water and disqualified... That was a pretty tough starting area. I shrugged a bit and decided to just keep driving while prioritizing safety. If I held back a little at the start of the race, I’d be able to survey the situation as well. It wasn’t like I needed to win. 
I put my helmet on and pulled the attached goggles down over my face. 
“Are mew ready?! Then I pawsitively declare the start of the first Babylon Cup... Go!“ 
Right as Mr. Mittens yelled ‘go,’ the signal to start went off. A roaring sound rang out as all eight vehicles whooshed forward past the starting line. 
“Meow about that! Princess Berlietta’s Strain has blasted past all the others! The Red Cat and the Silver Star are coming up close behind!” 
Strain shot ahead with incredible speed, followed closely by Nia’s Red Cat. Rosetta & Monica were gaining on them both in the Silver Star, taking third place easily. Lapis’ Swan was coming up in fourth, with Prince Lupheus’ Triharan following after her. I was behind them both in sixth place. 
The king of Felsen’s Felsen was behind me, and Griff the dwarf’s Steel Ax was in last place. 
There were five people in front of me, but none of them had a particularly massive lead. 
The smooth stone path ended in a flash, quickly replacing itself with a sandy trail beneath our wheels. It was slightly wet, goopy sand but it wasn’t quite on the level of quicksand. It gave me some traction trouble, but I carried on without a hitch. 
“Wahaha! If you’ll excuse me, Grand Duke!” 
“I can’t believe my little kitty eyes! The Felsen is clawing its way ahead!” 
The king of Felsen’s vehicle completely ignored the more difficult terrain, charging forward like a bulldozer and rushing right past both me and the Triharan. 
...Damn it. I know I said I don’t care about winning, but it doesn’t mean I like being overtaken either. 
“Meow my goodness! The frontrunners are already at the pier! It’s hard to pass people there cause it’s so narrow, so they’ll probably be stuck in their positions! But don’t let that throw you off! This little kitty knows it’s actually one of the most dangerous parts of the race! One wrong move will send them hurtling into the deep!” 
...The pier track was actually built over the shallows. The deepest it got was a meter and a half at most. None of the Ether Vehicles in the race were airtight, but the drivers would easily be able to get out so long as their seatbelts didn’t get stuck or something. In a worst-case scenario, there was always the teleport button. 
If a participant drove off the pier in a more shallow area, they could definitely get back to the beach. Ether Vehicles ran on magical engines, after all, so getting wet wouldn’t stop them... But they’d definitely lose any chance of placing first place. 
I drove off the beach area on to the pier. I looked in my rear-view mirror and saw that there was quite a bit of distance between Steel Ax and my vehicle. I couldn’t imagine him being able to catch up to me without some kind of major boost. 
I looked ahead and saw the Triharan. I didn’t really feel like overtaking it, since it looked like it was a similar weight to my own car. That meant I didn’t have a clear advantage or disadvantage when it came to ramming attempts, so it was better to play it safe. 
If my car was a lot heavier, I’d obviously be playing a lot more aggressively. 
“The Felsen is approaching the Swan! If it tries to overtake then paws-on-heart I promise you folks, the smaller vehicle is gonna get pushed off the course!” 
The Felsen and the Swan were driving down a straight stretch of the pier, with the Felsen closing in fast. 
“I’ll be forcing my way through, now! Don’t think too badly of me, now!” 
The Felsen caught up to the Swan and began driving right next to it. Given how large the Felsen was, it didn’t leave much room on the pier when lined up with another vehicle. 
The Swan swerved slightly as the Felsen caused its repulsors to activate. It swiftly managed to stabilize itself, but I had a feeling that another good push would knock it and Lapis right into the water below. 
Lapis probably realized that too, as her vehicle began accelerating in an attempt to get ahead of the Felsen. 
But the Felsen retaliated by accelerating itself, overtaking the Swan with surprising ease. 
“Muahaha! How do you like that? Wait... What?!” 
The boastful king of Felsen failed to notice a ninety-degree left-hand turn coming up. 
The king of Felsen slammed down on the brakes, turning his vehicle hard to the left and just barely making the turn... Is what would have happened if Lapis wasn’t so prepared. 
In a flash, Lapis drifted her car on the inner part of the turn, syncing her movements up with the Felsen perfectly. The Swan continued to drift, perfectly making the turn... before bumping hard into the Felsen just as it managed to stabilize itself. 
“Uh oh.” 
The Felsen had its delicate balance completely shattered and crashed into the waves below. The Swan sped onwards through the rest of the pier track, leaving the enormous splash behind it. 
“Ooh! It’s a long catnap for the Felsen! Upside down in the ocean waves! You’re out!” 
Good lord... Kinda glad I didn’t try anything now... 
I, along with Prince Lupheus’ Triharan, passed through the left-hand turn. I glanced at the bubbling Felsen as I drove by. Obviously we lowered our speeds to safe levels before attempting the turn. 
As the Steel Ax passed the same turn, the king of Felsen appeared all drenched in saltwater. He suddenly gripped the front of his vehicle and took in a deep breath. 
“Looks like the king of Felsen is good to continue! If he can somehow make it back to the beach, then... Great yarn balls, what is he doing?!” 
Mr. Mittens’ shocked voice caused me to turn around and look at what was going on. I looked and saw the king of Felsen lifting up his vehicle using his bare hands. 
What the hell is going on?! 
In a flash, the beefy king physically threw his vehicle back up onto the pier. He then clambered back up, got into the driver’s seat, and started the engine back up. Even though there was a long distance between him and everyone else, he clearly wasn’t down for the count. 
“That... That’s a little too much, isn’t it?” 
I muttered in disbelief. Paula nodded her little head in agreement. If that guy was the king of the magic kingdom, there was something fundamentally wrong with this entire world. 
“Looks like we have a furry-ous change in leadership! The Silver Star has overtaken both Strain and Red Cat! It’s in first place!” 
Heh... So Rosetta and Monica took first? That’s pretty good. 
I reached the end of the first pier stretch and drove along the sand. The Triharan in front of me wasn’t going especially fast, either. It was probably conserving its energy based on the rough terrain. I took a quick swerve and drove on to the next pier segment. 
This segment had a lot of S-shaped curves and stuff, so I’d have to be careful. 
Given how easily the Felsen took a bath, I had no choice but to lower my speed and play it safe. 
I noticed, however, that the Triharan ahead of me wasn’t really slowing down at all. I wondered if it was because it had better tires or something... Probably improved the grip strength. 
Berlietta’s Strain started to fall behind, probably because it wasn’t so good on this kind of terrain. 
Currently, the leader was the Silver Star, followed by the Red Cat, with Strain struggling a little behind. 
“Would you believe it, folk?! The Swan slipped right by Strain with a purrfect corner drift! That overtake cemented its place in the third position!” 
Lapis overtook her, huh...? How the hell can you drift so well on such a narrow, wooden pier?! With the Swan taking third, that meant Strain was in fourth and Triharan was in fifth. 
The two fated foes... who were supposed to be fated lovers... were within one place of each other. 
Triharan kept on trying to overtake the Strain, but it was deflected at every turn. 
“You shall not pass!” 
The two of them kept swerving to the left and right atop the pier. The constant swerving meant their speed went down, resulting in me gradually catching up. 
Damn it, now they’re in my way... 
From behind, it was clear that whenever the Triharan moved one way to overtake, the Strain moved the exact same way to block it. They were effectively synchronized, which gave me an opening. 
Paula spread her arms forwards as if to egg me on, and she was right. I had to take my chance. 
I perfectly timed my acceleration to coincide with their next veer to the left and blasted past them. 
“What the?!” 
The two of them stared at my Type K in utter disbelief. 
Sorry guys, time to leave you in the dust! I pressed on until Lapis and her Swan were in my line of sight. I was in fourth place, which was a good position to maintain throughout the rest of the zone. 
We finally drove off the second pier and made our way to the third sandy track. I looked ahead and saw that the Swan was approaching the Red Cat. 
“Ohoho! Bless my little kitten soul, the Swan is on the warpath! It’s cutting in close, using all the twists and turns to its advantage! And... Ohhh, just as they make it back off the sandy trail, that’s it, folks! It’s a successful overtake! The Swan is in second place!” 
Lapis used the transition from sandy road to stony road and overtook Nia in a flash. That was pretty wild. 
I kept Nia in my sights as I continued to drive at a steady pace. The stone road was a little bit difficult to drive on due to the patches of sand scattered across it. Driving off-road wouldn’t knock me out at this point, but I still had to take care. 
“The Silver Star is purring on smoothly through the pier track’s gate! It’s steadily proceeding towards the forest track! In that zone, you gotta keep on your toes, because mountain trails can be harsh for drivers!” 
Rosetta’s team cleared the area first. Lapis passed through not long after, followed by Nia. They were all well under the time limit. 
I maintained my position in fourth and passed through the gate with good time as well. 
“I-I-It’s pretty bumpy here, huh...?” 
The rough mountain path was extremely uncomfortable to drive on. The surface of the path was so uneven that the cars could easily overturn if they went too fast and hit a raised area. 
I kept on driving until I saw a sign that said “Pit Stop. Next Right. Five-hundred Meters.” 
“Might be a good chance for a tire change. Could swap some parts, too.” 
Paula nodded in affirmation. I made the call to drop into the pit stop. It’d be hard to keep going with our tires in this condition, if they were damaged along the mountain trail that’d be really bad... Plus, the bumpiness was making me feel kinda carsick. 
“Oho! The Silver Star has entered the pit stop, folks! And the Swan has also swung in to change its gear out, but... What’s this?! Are you seeing this, folks?! The Red Cat has completely bypassed the pit stop and taken first place! You gotta be kitten me!” 
“I’ll be taking that first position! Ahaha!” 
Nia, what the heck? You’re gonna keep on going? I guess you’re not the type to get carsick, but are your tires really gonna be okay? I shrugged and decided not to worry about my opponents, then I turned in to the pit stop. 
I passed through the magic circle that triggered the [Gate] and took me back to the garages. 
I moved my Type K to Garage Number Eight, and the mini-bots swarmed over towards me. They quickly began swapping out the tires and other equipment with pieces better designed for off-road travel. 
I looked at the little monitor in the garage to see the current race situation. Strain and Triharan had gotten through the pier section and entered the forest area. The Steel Ax and Felsen were just coming up to the gate that would take them to the forest area too. 
Huh, nobody’s out yet... I must admit, I’m surprised. Given that Doc Babylon designed this course, I figured it’d be more dangerous. Then again, Felsen would’ve been out if it wasn’t for his crazy strength... 
I saw Rosetta and Monica zip past the garage in their Silver Star. It seemed like they’d already finished refitting their vehicle. 
Lapis and her Swan returned to the race shortly afterward, seconds before Princess Berlietta and Prince Lupheus came charging into the pit stop. They were neck-and-neck. 
The two of them split off into their respective garages in perfect sync. 
Just as I thought they’d be busy, both competitors stepped out of the garages and started glaring at each other with wide grins on their faces. 
“You’re pretty good, but know that the next zone will spell your doom! You aren’t ready for this!” 
“Right back at you, fool! Try not to crash and get booted out of the race, okay? It would be boring if I saw you lose like that!” 
...This is honestly scary. The two of them were smiling wide, but their eyes were full of malice. Frankly, they looked like a perfect match. 
Crap, can’t let myself get distracted. 
I returned to the garage just in time to see my tires being swapped out. Paula and I hopped back into the vehicle, fired up the engine, and high-tailed it out of there. 
I went back to the track and noticed the dwarf-made Steel Ax was right behind me. Seemed like Griff had opted not to take the pit stop. 
That made sense to me, given that it was clearly a rugged vehicle designed for off-road driving. The Felsen, on the other hand, turned in to the stop and went to swap out its equipment. 
“Let’s check in on the forest track, folks! We’ve got the Red Cat in the lead, feline pride represent! Following behind it, we’ve got the Silver Star, the Swan, the Brunhild, and the Steel Ax! Ah, paws on that a second! The Strain and Triharan have just come out of the pit stop!” 
I was listening to Mr. Mittens’ coverage of the race as I rounded a turn, but suddenly caught my tire in a patch of uneven dirt. Gah! 
“...That was definitely placed there deliberately. Looks like I can’t let my guard down.” 
I gripped my steering wheel and stared at the forest-enclosed path ahead. The race had only just begun. 
“We’re looking in on the forest track now, people! Nia Vermouth’s Red Cat is still high in the lead, kitty pride! Rosetta and Monica are following in second with their purrfectly serviceable Silver Star! Lapis, the maid extraordinaire, is gaining on them in third!” 
I was in fourth place, headed straight for Lapis. 
After driving on it for a while, I realized how harsh the forest track was. The trees were so dense it was almost impossible to see up ahead. 
Plus, the road was so bumpy that if I accelerated too much I’d end up flying up and crashing. 
Luckily, we had that basic map of the area pulled up. Paula was helping by holding it up for me to reference now and then. 
“So the path splits up ahead...” 
A little bit into the forest track, the road split into two. 
Path A was a shortcut, but the road was bumpier and it had more obstacles. Path B was the long way round, but it was much less risky. Both paths would merge back into one later down the line. 
Typically, one would try to consider which path was the best to take, but I was dead set on B. 
This entire race had been designed by two maniacs. I didn’t even want to think about the horrors that would await me on Path A, so I just decided to avoid it. 
I didn’t care about winning or losing, I just wanted to make it through in one piece. 
“Oho! The Red Cat still holds the lead, and it’s going down Path A! The Silver Star in second place has opted for Path B!” 
Rosetta’s team chose B as well, huh? Given how well they know the doc, I’m not surprised at all. But Nia went for A... She probably just did it without thinking. Knowing her she’ll have just chosen it because it was nearer to her. 
The Swan in front of me veered left, which meant Lapis was also going for A... I hoped she’d be alright. 
I worried a little bit as I made the turn for Path B. 
After a short while, the forested area opened up into a scenic road by the sea. 
Man... This is a hell of a nice road, there aren’t any bumps... And the scenery’s great! One of the Merlion statues suddenly blasted a straight jet of water toward Monica and Rosetta. Oh well. 
Path B was so straightforward that it didn’t have many obstacles surrounding the road, so I could plainly see Rosetta’s car up ahead. She and Monica had quite the lead on me. 
I was still taking care, since I had a feeling that even if Path B seemed peaceful, it wouldn’t be entirely free. 
“And Brunhild heads down Path B! Steel Ax veers into Path A, while the Strain follows down B! Ah, Triharan went down A! And there’s the Felsen, catching up and opting for B!” 
Hmm... Berlietta went for B, while Lupheus went for A. That’s a little surprising... I would’ve pegged them for going the opposite ways. 
The Steel Ax and Felsen definitely have enough rugged power to handle A, but for some reason, the Felsen went down B instead... Maybe he’s trying to stay on the safer side since he fell off the pier earlier... 
Path A had the Red Cat, the Swan, the Steel Ax, and the Triharan. 
Path B had the Silver Star, Brunhild, the Strain, and the Felsen. 
We’d split into two neat groups. 
“Holy delicious smoked mackerels! There’s a massive river coming up ahead of the Red Cat! She’s going for it, she’s going for the jump, and... Oh my whiskers, she made it! She just barely made it!” 
J-Just barely? What kind of river was it? I’m glad I chose B... 
“And the Swan gracefully made the jump too! Oh, oh! The Steel Ax is coming in for the jump... It’s... It landed! Ohh! But wait, the rear wheels are stuck, it’s falling backward! Oh, oh! No, it composed itself! It’s good!” 
The Steel Ax looked like it was really heavy, I was surprised it could even get airborne. 
Path A seemed a lot calmer than B. It honestly felt like I was on a relaxing country drive. 
I looked behind me and saw Berlietta riding in the Strain, she was charging towards me at an incredible pace. 
I wasn’t really aiming to win, so I had no intentions of trying to stop her. 
“Pardon me!” 
The Strain rushed on, kicking up dust in its wake. 
The Strain didn’t let up at all after passing me and went on charging towards the Silver Star. I wondered if pushing her magic engine to the limit like that was okay... But it wasn’t like they overheated or anything. The only risk was if the magical charge overflowed, then it would simply stall the engine. 
As I pondered, I heard Mr. Mittens start his commentary up again. 
“Oh my goodness gracious me, this is the upset of the century! There’s stuff flying across the racetrack! They’re being fired from the trees! It’s... It’s cream pies! Delicious fresh cream pies, hurtling from the tree branches! They’re pelting the drivers! Nia just got biffed right in the face, forcing her to veer to the roadside! Meow, the humanity! Lapis is deftly avoiding all the pies! The Swan has overtaken Nia and claimed first place!” 
Pies. I knew it. I knew Path A was cursed. Sorry Nia, I’m sure you didn’t expect to meet a creamy end. 
Nia was still reeling from the surprise creaming, allowing the Steel Ax to get past her. 
“The Swan’s continuing along Path A, completely unscathed! The Steel Ax is following close behind, and the pie-smeared Red Cat is starting up again! Oh! Over on Path B we’ve got the Silver Star in first, followed closely by Strain!” 
Path B was definitely the safe choice, but it was a slightly bigger detour than I’d expected. 
The first of the racers to make it to the merging point was the Swan. The Silver Star was next, followed by the Steel Ax, then the Red Cat, then the Triharan, the Strain, my Brunhild, and finally Felsen. We were finally all back on one path. 
Dang it. I was in fourth place before the path split up, but now I’m seventh? I guess it’s my fault. I had a leisurely drive along the long road, so... Whoops. 
I started driving faster through the rocky area, hoping to catch up to the Strain ahead. 
We emerged from the rocky, forested area on to a wet, muddy field. It was sort of like a swamp, but a rice paddy probably would’ve been a closer comparison. The paths for vehicles to drive on were spread out like a sprawling web. 
The field didn’t bother me as much as the gigantic Merlion statues did, though. There were a ton of them dotted around the place. It made me feel highly uneasy. 
I decided to keep on driving while avoiding the muddy areas, I didn’t want to get caught in the mud and then sink so deep I couldn’t get out. 
The other racers were also maneuvering around cautiously, which caused us to end up quite bunched up. As I carefully steered around, trying to avoid the muddy areas, I heard a blasting sound. 
“Ohhh! The Silver Star got attacked by a jet of water! What a pawsitively evil trap!” 
One of the Merlion statues suddenly blasted a straight jet of water towards Monica and Rosetta. The force of the jet was like that of a fire hose, causing their vehicle to get pushed back into a muddy pit. 
The jet finally let up, but only after blasting the vehicle so much that it was flipped on its side in the mud. 
I’m in trouble here... 
“Ma’am... No, ma’am! This is harassment!” 
“Like, goddamnit, and stuff! This is totally unfair!” 
Rosetta and Monica, now completely caked in mud, started cursing Babylon’s name as they flipped their car back to position and slowly started driving it back to the pathway. 
Everyone else kept driving on, taking extra care to watch the Merlion statues. 
The muddy Silver Star finally got back on track a bit ahead of me, and we left the paddy. 
As we filed out of the field, the road turned into a rough mountainous one. The bumpy surface was clearly the challenging part of this road... But it was way beyond just bumpy. 
The road was so uneven and rough that I felt as though I was riding a rodeo bull machine. Paula started hopping up and down as if she were bouncing on a trampoline. My vehicle had been outfitted for extra durability on this road, so I didn’t even want to imagine how badly the cars that didn’t go in for the pit stop changes were faring. 
I drove past Nia’s Red Cat, which I expected to be ahead of me. It was parked by the roadside. I looked to my left and saw Nia hunched over, holding her own hair back for some reason. 
...I am going to erase that scene from my memory. That’s what you get for skipping on the pit stop, though. 
I felt a bit sorry for her, but I had to focus on the race. 
“Ohoho! The Steel Ax is showing its might along this path! It just overtook the Swan and claimed first!” 
Oh? If I remember right, the Steel Ax skipped on the pit stop too... I have a feeling that it won because of the driver’s hardiness rather than the Ether Vehicle itself, though... Dwarves are made of sterner stuff, after all. 
“This... is... too... shaky!” 
It was like I was driving on top of a giant washboard. By the time I got done with that bumpy hell of a path, I was struggling to keep Linze’s sandwich from crawling back up out of my mouth. 
“That was awful...” I was in no state to drive properly after that horrible jolt to my system. As I slowly proceeded down the road, the Felsen came rushing past me. 
“Muahaha! Looks like you’re still a little wet behind the ears, Grand Duke!” 
Shut up... I just have a delicate stomach. No, wait... This is a normal reaction! You’re the weirdo here! 
“The forest track is nearly over and done with! Steel Ax has taken the lead, followed by the Swan in second! The Triharan’s in third, followed by Strain, the Silver Star, Felsen, Brunhild, and the Red Cat in dead last! You’re a disgrace to the feline persuasion!” 
Even though the road was clearer, I was still feeling the aftereffects of that bumpy hellscape. I listened to Mr. Mittens as I picked up the pace a bit in an attempt to catch up. I checked my rearview mirror and saw that Nia’s pie-caked car had managed to get on to the somewhat comfier road too. 
“...It’s getting colder, isn’t it?” 
As we came to the end of the forest track, the air got chillier. That was probably a result of the next area, the snow track. 
“The Steel Ax is the first vehicle out of the gate! The Swan is close behind in second! They’re heading straight towards the snow track! A dangerous, icy path indeed! Put on your kitten mittens, kids!” 
The snow track was designed to be hella icy. Without changing the tires to an appropriate set, there was no way you’d be able to make it through. 
I finally passed through the goal gate, coming in at seventh place. 
I entered the next area and found the roads already covered in a faint layer of snow. The snow was inauthentic and magically generated, but basically identical to the real thing. Plus, since I was seventh, I had to deal with the extra-slippery aftermath of the previous cars that had driven through the road already. 
Just like back at the forest, there was a signpost pointing out the pit stop. Obviously, I was going to use it. 
The cold air vanished the moment I was warped to the garage area... Which was pretty obvious, considering the garage was near a nice, warm beach. 
I saw a familiar sight in front of garages six and seven. A duo grinning and glaring at each other. 
It was the princess and the prince, both of them pale in the face. That was probably because of the hellish washboard road they’d just been on. 
After I drove the Brunhild into the garage and instructed the minibots to do what they needed to do, I lay down on the floor. I had to do anything I could to mitigate the carsickness I was feeling. 
“Paula, hey... Can you bring me some ice?” 
I asked Paula to fetch some ice cubes over from the freezer. She was completely fine, obviously. No, wait... It would’ve been fine if I could cast [Refresh] on myself, but magic wasn’t allowed. 
I broke off a chunk of the ice and tossed it into my mouth. I focused on licking and sucking at it, and my nausea gradually began to subside. 
Motion sickness generally arose when your central nervous system was overstimulated and received conflicting messages. That was why focusing on licking a piece of ice could help stabilize your body and make your nervous system think everything was going to be okay... At least that’s what I heard on TV one time. 
It might’ve been a placebo, but it did help. 
That apparently worked for hangovers as well, though. Drinking icy water was a solid way to sober up, some even called it an effective hangover cure. But I didn’t drink so I wouldn’t really know if that was valid. 
Apparently, spicy food was also good at stabilizing the central nervous system, but I wasn’t really interested in nibbling on chili peppers. 
I changed into a thick jacket, which would hopefully help me fight against the cold. 
After that, I hopped into Brunhild. It had been outfitted with spiked tires. 
The six vehicles that were ahead of me had already rolled out by the time I was done. 
Before long, the road had become covered in ice. Apparently, pure ice actually had some decent friction on it, so it wasn’t actually awful to drive on. It was only bad when the surface level was slightly melted, creating a slippery water membrane. 
My tires slipped a bit, so I had to pull on the steering wheel. Damn... Some of this ice is partly melted, I’ll definitely have to take care. 
“Steel Ax is still blazing ahead in first! Its caterpillar tracks are making it impossible for the ice to slip it up! The ice is practically shattering under it!” 

We were on a long, U-shaped bend, which gave me a good view of the Steel Ax. Oh come on... What are you, a tank or a bulldozer or something? Is it even legal to use caterpillar tracks?! It wasn’t exactly specified in the rules, but come on! 
Since the dwarves had been working on the Dverg, I wondered if they’d learned about tracks from Babylon or something. I wondered if the next Dverg model they built would use caterpillar tracks. 
“But there’s no denying that its weight is slowing it purrty heavily down! The Swan is catching up little by little and... Ohh, it passed! The Swan is in first! But it’ll have to face the ice-walls of doom!” 
There were several blocks of ice piled up to form impassable walls that covered parts of the road. They were around a meter tall each. They continued in a pattern. One wall blocking the right side of the road, then one blocking the left, and so on. 
If you wanted to avoid crashing, then you’d have to make several sharp zigzag turns. It was a very difficult thing to do, given how slippery the ice was. 
Lapis began carefully navigating past the walls, but the Steel Ax just began plowing through the ice. 
“You think this is enough to stop dwarven engineering?!” 
Everyone stared, dumbfounded, as the tank-like vehicle started annihilating every obstacle in its path. 
It swiftly took first place back from the Swan. I honestly had no idea if the dwarves were insane or geniuses. 
Wait, crap... That definitely looked dumb, but now the ice wall fragments are obstacles for everyone behind him! If he planned this, then... Nah, there’s no way he planned this. 
Everyone behind continued on, weaving through the broken ice fragments. 
The smaller chunks were easily driven over, but the larger pieces had to be avoided. The Felsen, on the other hand, was able to do a smaller-scale version of what the Silver Ax had just done. 
“After the ice walls, we have the slippery slope! Everyone be careful as you drive up, okay?! Especially if you’re behind a vehicle! You never know what might happen if it loses its grip and falls back on to you!” 
It was a wide, uphill road with an extra-slippery surface. I assumed that it would probably become a downhill road at some point, though. 
Hmm... If I slip here, I’ll fall right to the bottom... The best thing to do here would probably be to drive straight up with a lot of force. As I began to ponder the best way to make it up the hill, it happened. Several massive snowballs, around two meters in diameter each, appeared at the top of the slope. They all started rolling down towards our vehicles. 
“Gwaaah!” The Steel Ax, hurtling ahead at the front of the race, suddenly collided with one of the massive snowballs. The snowball did not break, even after the vehicle impacted it, which made me assume they’d been magically reinforced. 
The enormous snowball strained against the Steel Ax, pushing a massive weight down on the vehicle. 
Griff desperately put his foot down on the accelerator, but it seemed like even staying in the same spot was using up all the power the vehicle had in it. 
But the Steel Ax’s fate was sealed as another snowball rolled down and pushed against the one that was already straining against the vehicle. 
In a flash, the entire vehicle lost its battle against the obstacles, sending it crashing back down the slope along with the snowballs. 
The Steel Ax went all the way down to the bottom and pitifully rolled off the course. 
“Bless my little kitten mittens, the Steel Ax just went from first to last place in the blink of a cat’s eye! He’s even gone off-track! Oh my... Ohhhh! No! He’s skidding and crashing through ice walls, he’s overturned!! Aaah! His emergency teleport kicked in and took him back to the garage, folks!” 
Welp... Griff’s fine, but I worry about the state of the Steel Ax. Even if he does get it back here I don’t think he’ll be able to clear this area before the time limit now... Guess he’s out. 
“That was a shame, guess I’ll— Agh!” 
Whoa, that was close! How’d I fail to notice that snowball?! Guess I can’t let myself get distracted with moving obstacles all around. 
Everyone carried on, carefully, up the slope. Lapis and her Swan had taken first place thanks to the Steel Ax’s fall. She was closely followed by the Triharan, which was in turn closely followed by the Strain. 
I kept on driving up the slope, narrowly avoiding snowball after snowball. Ugh... This is stressful. If I even get hit once, I’m toast. 
I finally made it to the top of the slope and found a downhill path. It wasn’t very steep, so I just kept sliding down while making mostly ineffective brakes now and then. 
At the bottom, the road returned to normal... Well, it was still frozen. But normal enough. 
“And the Swan has blasted through the frozen hairpin curve! Now comes the hardest part of this section, the great snow maze!” 
I blinked in confusion at that final part and glanced toward my map. They did it... Those idiots really did it. 
The finish line of the snow track lay beyond a giant maze with snow-block walls. All I had to do was get through this last part and wave this icy hell goodbye. 
“The Swan already found a dead end in the maze, people! She’s taking a U-turn! This isn’t really very exciting to comment on! Actually, it’s a bit boring!” 
This part of the track definitely wasn’t exciting, but it made sense. It could eat up a lot of time if you went the wrong way. There was a classic maze-navigating method involving leaving things behind as markers, but I didn’t really have time for that. 
I followed after the Felsen into the depths of the maze. 
I immediately came to a T-junction. The Felsen had turned right, so I opted for the left. 
I came to a four-way junction a bit later on, and I took a left there as well. After driving for a while, a massive white wall appeared in front of me. It was a dead end. 
The road was, thankfully, wide enough for me to make a solid U-turn. I turned back toward the four-way junction, but ended up forgetting which way I’d come from in the first place. There were tire tracks on the ground, but multiple people had driven through so I couldn’t accurately track mine. 
“Oh! The Red Cat finally entered the maze, now everyone’s inside! Who’s gonna be the first one to make it out?! Stay tuned, folks!” 
I looked up in the air and saw one of my summoned Valkyries holding a mass-produced smartphone in her hands. She was filming us for the viewers. All I had to do was synchronize my sight with hers, and I could have won the race in no time at all... But that would have been kind of scummy. 
Still... with magic forbidden and Paula’s map obviously lacking any maze details, I didn’t know what to do... Suddenly, I glanced at Paula. She glanced back. I looked upward. 
Paula... She’s a stuffed animal. She’s light. That means I can... 
Yeah, this’ll work... Paula tried to scramble away as she realized my plan, but it was too late. I had a hold of her. 
“Relax, it’ll only take a little bit. I promise you’ll be safe, I won’t let you land on the ground.” 
Paula shook her head violently in protest. I ignored her (imagined) screams, and hurled her straight up into the air with all the force my body could muster. 
Paula flew up way past the snow walls, paused for a brief moment in the air, then came plummeting back down. I caught her without any problems. 
“So? Did you see a way out?” 
Paula nonverbally grumbled and sulked for a while, before eventually pointing her arm straight ahead. 
Thank you, my lovely little navigator. Now, let’s roll. 
I kept driving Brunhild through the maze, relying on my pocket PaulaNav whenever we came to a junction. All I ended up doing was throwing her up into the air, but it worked great. 
Paula certainly had an incredible memory. She was never in the sky for long, but she always knew the right way. 
Leen had actually told me that Paula had begun doing things or moving in ways she had never programmed her to. 
It was possible that, since Leen was a beneficiary of my divinity, it was also flowing into Paula and giving her more autonomy. 
Still, for her to be leeching divinity from someone who was already leeching from me...? That would probably put her on the level of a spirit or something. I didn’t really think that was possible, though. I wasn’t even a fully-fledged god yet! 
After being thrown up and down a few more times, Paula gradually started moving a little more slowly, but she still dutifully continued to point out the right path. 
Just as I worried if she’d be able to keep it up, we reached the exit. 
Hell yeah! 
“Meow my goodness! The Brunhild is out, I repeat... The Brunhild is out! It’s making a beeline for the exit gate!” 
I was a little baffled that I was now somehow in first place, but I decided to focus on the path ahead instead of worrying. 
It was a little amusing, though. I hadn’t cared about winning at all, but the moment I took first place... I wanted to maintain that position. 
“Brunhild has cleared the snow track! It’s headed toward the final zone, the obstacle course!” 
Oh man... It feels real nice hearing that I’m number one, I can’t lie. 
As I carried on driving, the ice gradually vanished from the road. I’m in first, but I should probably step on the gas. I can widen the gap while they’re all back in the maze. 
I thought this was meant to be like an obstacle course or something. Where are the obstacles? I figured at the very least there’d be caltrops all over the place or something... Huh? I turned quickly and noticed something on the road ahead. 
What is that? Something drawn on the road? It’s a black background with a white symbol on it... Wait, is that a skull symbol?! It was too late. By the time I realized what I was looking at, Brunhild had driven over the black panel with a skull painted on it. I heard a distinct clicking sound ring out. 
It only took a few moments for the sudden blast to send me flying up into the air. It took a few moments more for my ears to register the sound of the explosion. 

Before I knew it, Paula and I were back in the garage. We’d landed headfirst on a mattress. 
“Holy smoked mackerel! The Brunhild exploded, folks! I-Is the driver safe? He’s safe, people! He was warped out! But what a scary track!” 
“Come on, wasn’t that a little extreme?!” 
A landmine?! Is that legal?! Is that even legal?! I know we’re trying to test out the limits of our Ether Vehicles but I didn’t realize I was supposed to make an armored truck! 
I looked at the monitor in my garage and saw my Brunhild laying on the tracks. It had been damaged pretty badly. Repairs would definitely be possible, but it’d take longer than the race to fix it up. It was regrettable, but I had no choice but to withdraw from the race. I was pretty mad about it. 
I contacted the race HQ and told them I was out. 
“Oh, the Brunhild is out of the race! What a shame!” 
Tsk... I didn’t think I’d be the first one to get kicked out. But I guess the Steel Ax is out of commission too, so there are only six racers left. 
I told the mini-bots to recover the Brunhild wreck, then went through a [Gate] that led me and Paula to the audience seating area on the beach. 
“Oh, Touya. Sorry you lost.” 
“Dang it, lad! I had a bet on you!” 
The emperor of Regulus and the beastking glanced over and offered me their comments. I couldn’t believe they had a betting pool going. 
“Gimme a break, man...” 
I sighed slightly as I looked up at the monitor. The other racers were still stuck in the maze. 
Looking at it from this angle made me keenly aware of how well-constructed it was. It was definitely going to take them a while yet. 
I started to worry a bit when I saw the timer ticking down in the corner of the screen, but I reassured myself when I remembered how close the goal was to the maze exit. 
“Touya, are you okay?” 
I looked over and saw Yumina and the other girls seated at a table. Paula hurriedly toddled over to Leen. I followed after and sat down in an empty chair. 
“I knew you were fine, I did. But I must admit that when your vehicle exploded I felt a pang of fear, I did.” 
“It was scary...” 
Yae and Sakura voiced their concerns. I was certainly frightened in the moment as well. I didn’t think a trap like that would be there so soon, so it was a result of my own careless nature. 
“You should’ve paid more attention. That trap was totally obvious! It had a skull on it!” 
“I was accelerating at the time, and I couldn’t see it properly since I’d just made a turn...” 
...Bah, it just sounds like I’m making excuses for myself now. I guess I did let first place go to my head, though. 
“We placed it there expecting something like that. We believed the first vehicle through would be the one to trigger it... But I must admit, I’m surprised we got you, Touya.” 
“You devils...” 
I glared over at the labcoat-clad girl and the glasses-adorned woman. 
“Don’t you think putting mines down was a bit much?” 
“I admit it might’ve been a little far. But we certainly got some good data on the emergency teleport function, didn’t we?” 
You assholes... I’m not surprised by this in the least... I was wary from the moment I realized you two would be in charge of designing this race... 
“And what would you have done if the teleport didn’t work as planned?” 
“That’s simple enough. We built in several safety measures just in case. We were actually worried nobody would trip the mine at all!” 
“Didn’t you just say you expected it to happen?!” 
Ugh... No matter the world, you magitech nuts have something wrong with your brains. 
“Meow my! The Silver Star made it out, and the Felsen’s out behind it!” 
I looked up in response to Mr. Mitten’s coverage. Seemed like Rosetta & Monica, along with the Felsen king, had made it out. 
The rest of the racers gradually made it out too. The Triharan came out next, then the Swan, then the Strain, and finally the Red Cat. 
Nia just barely made it through the goal before the timer ran out. 
“And that’s time up for the snow track! The Steel Ax is officially out!” 
The Steel Ax had made it back to the track at some point, but unfortunately, it was too far behind to even make it to the maze before time ran out. 
I definitely would’ve just thrown in the towel then and there, but it seemed like dwarves didn’t enjoy quitting. 
The six remaining vehicles carried on through the obstacle course. They all knew that my car had been blown up, so they were all driving carefully. 
They all stayed well away from any skull-marked panels on the road and thus ended up maintaining slow speeds. They all made it to the pit stop without any change in position. 
Basically nothing was known about the obstacle course, so nobody knew the best way to specialize their vehicles. In the end, they all opted for a basic setup. 
The Silver Star came out of the garage first followed by the Swan, the Felsen, the Triharan, the Strain, and the Red Cat. 
There were skull panels all over the track, so nobody accelerated too much. Lapis and her Swan managed to deftly avoid the traps while picking up speed. Lupheus in his Triharan also stood out due to his handling. He just barely scraped the edges of a few panels as he accelerated ahead. 
It only took a short while of this for the Swan to reach first place, and the Triharan to reach third. 
“Oh goodness me! The landmine stretch is finally over! It’s time for steep cliffs! If you fall down once, then you’re out!” 
The monitor showed the next area. Falling wouldn’t do too much damage since the ocean was below, but if anyone did fall they wouldn’t be able to get back up. The drivers would simply teleport back to the garage and be forced to give in. 
There weren’t any guard railings either, so even the slightest mistake would result in the vehicle flying wildly away. 
“...This is another evil design, I see. But that can’t be all there is to it.” 
“Heheh, I guess we’ll see.” 
“Fufu... We’ll see!” 
I shot a glare at Elluka and Babylon, who were grinning up at the screen. Fenrir, Elluka’s Gollem, let out a small sigh and shook his head. I didn’t think Gollems could get that exasperated... 
“Meow! The Strain is charging ahead full-throttle! It overtook the Felsen!” 
Damn, that’s quite fast... If her vehicle’s optimized for speed, it makes sense she’d want to take advantage of this long stretch. 
“Oh! It overtook the Triharan and is on its way to the Silver Star... Wait, what the...?!” 
The road in front of the Strain suddenly started bubbling and oozing black liquid. The vehicle started to spin as it drove over the goop. 
“Eep!” The Strain was out of control, sending the Ether Vehicle into a frenzied tailspin. 
Is that oil?! Was that oil just now?! Princess Berlietta desperately attempted to gain back control of her car, but she started spinning off toward the edge. She was done for... 
But suddenly, seconds before the Strain was about to tumble off the edge, the Triharan came up from behind and smashed into the vehicle. The impact knocked the Strain back toward the middle of the road. 
The Strain suddenly upturned, skidded, and came to a halt in the middle of the road. One of its wheels popped off and fell into the ocean below. 
The Triharan spun around and quickly came to a stop. Smoke began rising from the hood of the car. 
“Meow my goodness me! The Strain and the Triharan crashed! Both drivers got out with their teleports, and they’re safe! I nearly coughed up a hairball out of anxiety just now!” 
“...I’ll go check out what just happened.” 
As I listened to Mr. Mittens’ commentary, I opened up a [Gate] to the garage. I was curious about what had just gone on. 
As I approached the garage, I heard the two of them arguing. They were bickering so intensely that they didn’t seem to notice my presence. 
“Why did you crash into me?! Was there any need to wreck your own vehicle as well?!” 
“You’re saying you’d be fine with losing your vehicle off the side of a cliff like that?! I could never allow it!” 
“But... But now we’re both going to end up being out!” 
Berlietta looked down, her expression was miserable. 
“We’re not out yet. Are we? There’s still a chance. We’re both drivers, and we’re both engineers. Nothing is stopping us from fixing our vehicles. It may be impossible for us to reach first place, but we can still try our best.” 
Prince Lupheus had a point. If they didn’t tap out, they were still in the race so long as time wasn’t up. Their pit stop teams weren’t allowed to enter the race area, though. Meaning they’d have to do the repairs themselves. 
Prince Lupheus gathered some tools together and placed them in a large, unwieldy toolbox. 
Princess Berlietta simply stood still, looking down at her feet. Lupheus didn’t skip a beat, grabbing her by the hand and leading her along. 
“Let’s head back. It’s not too late, I promise.” 
The two of them headed back to the race track through the pit stop portal. 
Prince Lupheus was surprisingly proactive... But I did recall that he was the one leading the charge against his old fiancee’s arrest, though that might have been more of his personal grievances with her than anything else. 
It would’ve been nice for them to finish the race in time. The final area had a longer time limit than the previous ones, so there was still a chance. 
I walked over to my own garage to check up on the mini-bots and Brunhild. 
...They’re fixing it a lot faster than I expected. Wasn’t the damage worse than this...? Wait, there aren’t any burn marks here at all... Could... Could that explosion have been illusion magic or something? Was... Was I just thrown upward with Wind magic? Shit, they tricked me! I didn’t realize the damage was this basic! Why did I bow out of the race?! I could’ve gone back! 
...Well, maybe I’m just underestimating the mini-bots here. They’re the result of some severe ancient technology, so they do work pretty fast and efficiently... I mean, hell, they even maintain the Frame Gears. 
“Oh! The Felsen is headed straight into the birdlime zone! He’s trying to push through, but he can’t quite make it! That’s some strong, sticky resin alright! Meow my! He’s gotten out and... is trying to lift his vehicle!” 
I looked over at the little screen in my garage and saw the king of Felsen trying to lift his vehicle out of the sticky birdlime. This guy was really something else... 
Once he lifted it up, he started walking with it in an attempt to get it out of the sticky area, but... he didn’t realize his mistake. 
He looked down at his own feet and yelled in frustration. He was stuck in the birdlime now. You dumbass! Why didn’t you use your head?! 
He kept trying to move his feet, but the birdlime kept on clinging to him. Eventually, he fell over, dropping his vehicle. 
Now most of his body was trapped in the birdlime. He kept on wriggling and trying to escape, but he just ended up looking like a specific yet deliberately unnamed insect you might find caught in a kitchen floor trap... 
Thus, the Felsen was effectively out of the running. 
Lupheus and Berlietta were definitely no longer contenders for first place, so the ones in the race were the Swan, the Silver Star, and the Red Cat. All three were Ether Vehicles that Monica and Rosetta had made, so I didn’t think they were too different in terms of specs. That meant that it would all come down to the talent of the drivers. 
The Swan and the Silver Star cleared the birdlime area without any issues, but Nia’s Red Cat just barely made it through by teetering on the edge. I was honestly worried for her safety. 
A small side angle shot in the corner of the screen showed the king of Felsen wriggling around like a bug. He was desperate to get out... It’s time to stop, man. 
Another camera view appeared in the other corner, showing Lupheus and Berlietta heading toward their vehicles. I wondered if they’d be fine. 
I decided to open up a [Gate] and check on them. I was out of the race and didn’t know much about engines, so I was hardly going to be of any help. 
“So? How’s it look?” 
“Grand Duke?” 
Prince Lupheus was looking into the hood of the car before he raised his head in response to my voice. 
“The ether lines have been burned out here... I was definitely hitting the accelerator quite hard at the end. My focus was on strengthening the vehicle’s frame, so I didn’t focus as much on the engine as I should have.” 
I could hear a twinge of regret in the prince’s voice. His vehicle’s frame wasn’t in good shape, either. One of the wheels had been mangled pretty badly. 
“And what about this one?” 
I called over to Princess Berlietta. She’d just finished removing one of the front wheels. With both of its front wheels off, it kind of looked like the kind of cart you’d pull around. 
“One of the wheels dropped into the ocean, so I can’t really do much. I was thinking of attaching this wheel to the middle of the front and trying for a three-wheeler...” 
What... a trike? I figured that was a sound idea... until she showed me the driver’s seat. I let out a small sigh when I realized the object that had fallen down below it. 
It was the steering wheel. 
“It broke off... I focused only on engine power, and didn’t give much thought to my car’s frame...” 
Damn... Even if she converted it into a three-wheeler, she’s kind of screwed if she can’t steer. 
Hold on... I looked from one vehicle to the other, slowly. The two drivers caught on to my motion and started to do the same thing. They then looked at each other. 
The thought finally clicked. 
Just as I started to suggest the idea, the two of them cut me off by yelling, “I’ve got it!” in unison. 
I decided to just keep my mouth shut and let them handle it. They were definitely thinking about what I was thinking, and there was nothing in the rules about drivers not being able to co-operate. 
“Is your Strain’s engine the same kind used in Isengard’s Kyeris Freighters?” 
“Yes, the Tellion brand ones. They’re extremely high-class, even when it comes to Gollem carriages!” 
“Perfect. I’ll work on swapping the engines out.” 
“I’ll switch out the Triharan’s twisted tire with one of mine. Oh, take care to remove that blue pin or else you’ll cause an ether spill.” 
“Got it.” 
The two of them began to rapidly exchange incomprehensible instructions, working faster and faster on fixing up their vehicle. 
“Oh, I see... So you shifted the seal used during mana charge. I was curious about that.” 
“Ahh... So you raised the durability with this part in a structurally significant spot, I see... Oh, you even installed it here...?” 
The two of them were in pretty big trouble in terms of the race, but they had huge smiles on their faces. I wondered what was going on. 
“And there it is, you know? This is what brings them closer together.” 
“Are you sure you’re not the god of spying?” 
“That’s rude! I’m the god of love, you know?” 
I let out a sigh when I heard Karen’s voice. She was no longer able to surprise me. 
“They’re starting to see each other for who they are. A very faint love is beginning to blossom, you know?” 
“Huh, how about that...” 
I wasn’t really sure how to verify that... but I decided to trust Karen and roll with it. I couldn’t really understand how they’d gotten so close after just yelling at each other, though. Still, they did have the same hobbies, and they had fairly compatible personalities as well. It was probably a case where the right opportunity needed to present itself. 
“Holy clowder of kitties! A clowder of kitties has appeared on the track in front of the Swan! I repeat, a whole family of kitty-cats are just leisurely strolling across the track!” 
Wait, what? I thought I heard something insane from Mr. Mittens’ commentary, so I quickly synchronized my eyesight with the Valkyrie recording the area. Then, I looked down from her position to see a huge line of cats blocking the road in front of the Swan. 
What the?! How many kittens are there?! Why would you use that as an obstacle?! I mean, it’s true nobody wants to mow through a group of cats, but... Seriously?! 
The Silver Star caught up with the Swan and came to a halt in front of the cat conga line. Welp... The race is at a standstill... 
The long blockade of cats continued without end. Lapis and Rosetta looked troubled by the prospect of potentially hurting animals, but Monica just looked pissed off. I could sort of understand why she’d be mad, though. 
Nia’s probably gonna catch up at this rate... Oh, there she is. 
Nia, upon seeing the furball fiesta dancing along the road, came to a complete stop. The three racers were all lined up with each other. Nobody was in first or last place at this point. 
This was truly the fiercest of traps... Though the cats were incredibly cute. 
“Meow my... It’s a little awkward to comment on this, given my feline persuasion...” 
Oh yeah, Mr. Mittens is a Cat Sith and all. 
They’re all meowing, too... Are they singing? Maybe there’s a hundred and one of them... Wait no, that was dogs... 
Monica eventually reached the end of her tether and got out of the car. She stormed over to the kitties in an attempt to move them out the way. 
She reached down to grab one of the cats, and... 
“Meow my goodness, the cat slipped through her hand! Or rather... her hand slipped through the cat?!” 
There were no cats. It was illusion magic. Goddamn illusion magic. Monica tried running around near the other cats, and she went right through them. 
Nia’s vehicle sped ahead, thankfully finding no real cats mixed in with the illusion. Lapis’ Swan accelerated after her. Once Monica returned to the Silver Star, it sped onward as well. 
The illusion trap was designed to stall anyone at the front of the race... What a heinous obstacle indeed. 
Vrrrrrr... Vrrrrrr... 
Prince Lupheus and Princess Berlietta finished their Ether Vehicle. It was a six-wheeler. The two-wheeled Strain had been merged with the Triharan. 
...I get that you had to use elements of both vehicles to keep you both in the race, but this kind of looks dangerous... 
Also, what do I call this thing? The Triharan? The Strain? The Trihrain? Whatever... The Trihrain’s engine kept whirring, but it wasn’t turning on properly. The magical power inside was refusing to complete its circuit. 
“C’mon... Move!” 
Lupheus sat in the driver’s seat, desperate to channel magic power through the vehicle. Berlietta sat in the passenger’s seat, praying for dear life. 
Oh...? Is it... 
“It’s working!” 
The magical engine suddenly roared to life, particles of light began gently flowing from the muffler. 
“Let’s floor it!” 
The six-wheeled hybrid vehicle, the Trihrain, began whooshing down the track at incredible speeds. It went so fast that it only took seconds for it to become a speck in my field of vision. 
“Wow, that’s fast... They’ve gone past the horizon already, you know?” 
“...Karen, did you just use some of your divinity...?” 
“Hm? I don’t know what you mean, you know?” 
...Don’t play dumb with me. I know how badly that engine was failing. I sensed the divinity, too... Not that I know what you did. 
“The prayer of a young maiden can do wonders, you know? I guess that’s just the power of love.” 
Karen flashed a wink my way. 
The Trihrain blasted onward, clearly making up for lost time. 
It blasted straight through the birdlime area in a flash. As the camera panned over it, I noticed the King of Felsen still wiggling around... I wondered why the hell he hadn’t just quit already. 
As for the kitten obstacle, it had already been revealed as a trick so they blasted straight through it. 
“Meow my goodness, the Triharan and Strain hybrid vehicle is plowing through the track like a kitty in a fish market! Meanwhile, the three up ahead have entered the final stretch!” The last part of the race was a straight road with a bunch of panels on the ground. Each panel had a question mark on them. 
There were quite a lot of them, so driving while avoiding them would end up eating into your time. 
I had used [Fly] to look down over the race, so I could see how cleverly it was all arranged. 
Everyone was likely picturing how I’d bitten the dust against the explosive trap earlier. Even if it wasn’t all that damaging, it looked a lot more serious than that... It was only natural the other racers would be afraid. 
“Oho! Looks like there are some lucky panels mixed in with the traps! If you drive over one, you may find an unexpected boon! Meow my, this seems too good to be true!” 
There’s no way anyone would be stupid enough to drive over a panel just because of that. That sounds suspicious as hell... Oh. Nia just did it. Of course. 
“Oh! The Red Cat has come to a standstill, shaming kittykind all over the world! Her penalty is sixty seconds of paralysis!” 
“NOOO!” Nia yelled out in frustration, practically tugging at her hair. Too bad for her... She probably figured it’d be easier to drive straight and hope for the best. 
Lapis in her Swan continued to weave past the panels, with Rosetta and Monica’s Silver Star in hot pursuit. 
The Swan was the first one to escape the panel zone, but the Silver Star refused to let up. They were practically neck and neck. 
They bumped into each other’s sides gently as they shot through the zone’s gate. 
“Meow my! We’ve got the final stretch now! It’s the last run to the finish line back where the race began! My whiskers are bristling in anticipation!” The two of them charged toward the finish, neither one of them relenting to the other. Since the finish line was right across from the seating area, I came back down to the ground and watched with everyone else. 
The two vehicles passed around the last corner and entered our field of vision. Guess they’re even... Wait, no! The Swan’s a little faster?! I guess having two people in the car is slowing the Silver Star down. 
Ohhh, and they’re going for it! They’re almost there! We’re about to find out who the winner is! 
Suddenly, just before the Swan and Silver Star reached the finish line... The road slanted down, forcing the two vehicles to drive underground and miss it entirely. 
“...Excuse meow?” Everyone stared in confusion at the sudden slanted road. 
What just happened? They vanished like a magic trick... The ground returned to normal after swallowing up the two drivers, prompting a sudden outburst of laughter from Doctor Babylon. 
“A real driver knows not to bank on your victory until you’ve won. Carelessness is the true enemy, in the end. One must always be wary of the darkness that— Ow! Owowowow! Touya, ow! Stop! It was just a prank, bro! Don’t bully me, I’m a little girl! You’ll develop a kink for it if you keep this up! Aaah!” 
“Shut it.” 
I gave Doctor Babylon the dreaded double-fisted noogie. That trap was in such bad taste that I couldn’t stand to think about what could’ve made her place it there... It had nothing to do with testing the vehicles at all! 
“Where did they go?!” 
“So long as they keep going through the underground portion, they’ll make it out the other side. Owie... Stop, stop! If you don’t let go I’m gonna start leaking... Nnh!” I had no interest in finding out what was going to start leaking, so I relented. 
Mr. Mittens stopped eavesdropping on us and started commentating again. 
“Um, well... Th-They’re safe! We know that much! Safe as a cat in a burlap sack! Ah, we were all distracted by the fuss, but the Triharan and Strain combo has made it to the panel zone!” 
I looked up at the monitor and saw the Trihrain weaving past all the trap panels while maintaining top speed. 
“Alright, that’s sixty seconds!” 
Nia was finally free from her penalty. Okay, good. Now she can... Wh— She’s driving toward another panel?! Is she stupid?! 
“Oooh! Bless my whiskers, the Red Cat has activated the clear panel! All the other panels have been wiped from the race!” 
“...Huh. She actually got the clear panel... There was only one of those, too. Lucky girl.” 
Doctor Babylon grumbled quietly to herself. I honestly didn’t believe she’d put in any panels with positive effects, so I was surprised. 
The Red Cat and the Trihrain sped on through the clear area. 
They went past the gate for the obstacle track and headed straight for the finish line. 
“Oh?! The Silver Star and the Swan made it back from the underground! They’re making a U-turn as fast as they can, just as the Triharan/Strain hybrid and the Red Cat make the final turn! They’re all rushing for the finish line!” 
Wow! We’ve got the Red Cat and the Trihrain from one side, but the Swan and Silver Star are coming in from the other! The finish line is right in the middle of them, this is neck and neck! Who’s gonna make it?! 
Only one of the vehicles could reach first place, and the winner was... 
Elluka waved a checkered flag as the four vehicles sped past the finish line and just narrowly avoided each other. 
“Wh-Who...? Who won?” 
“It happened so fast...” 
“What’s the call?!” 
The audience murmured amongst themselves, but I’d already seen it thanks to my enhanced senses. Karen probably saw it too. 
“We’re putting a replay up on the monitor now!” 
Elluka played the replay, then left it on a freezeframe. By a teeny, tiny margin... there was a clear winner. The result was not one I had expected. 
“And the winner is... The Red Cat! Nia Belmot!! Bringing pride to kitties worldwide!” 
Nia pumped both of her arms in the air in celebration. ...Nia, you’re still driving. Hands on the wheel! 
The few members of the Red Cats in the audience cheered for their boss. 
The audience began applauding, but the queen of Strain shuffled over and whispered in my ear. 
“Grand Duke... This may be a tad late for me to mention it, but that Red Cat... I wondered...” 
Oh shit. 
I’m a dumbass. The Red Cats are wanted in both Allent and Strain... Why did I bring Nia here?! I-I’ll just have to play dumb. 
“...H-Huh? Whatever do you meaaan?” 
“...I see. Forgive my misunderstanding, I thought that they could’ve been members of a wanted gang of self-proclaimed chivalrous thieves that punish the unjust. My mistake.” 
...There’s knowledge hiding behind that smile, lady... I can tell you’re on to me. Damn it, I should’ve at least had her change her car’s name. 
Lapis came in second place, while Rosetta and Monica came in third. Fourth place was taken by Berlietta and Lupheus. 
I walked over toward the two of them and gave them a wave. 
“Sorry you guys lost.” 
“I’m certainly not. It is a small shame we didn’t win, but I’m simply happy that we were able to see it through to the end. It was considerably fun.” 
“I concur!” 
The two of them smiled brightly, and it was then that I knew I’d made the right decision by inviting them. A smaller part of me felt like I’d just made things too complex and should’ve left them to it. 
“Princess Berlietta.” 
Prince Lupheus turned toward the princess and took her by the hand. Then, he knelt down on one knee. 
“You are a beautiful and ingenious woman. This experience with you has given me confidence that we can stand by each other with pride. If it’s okay with you, I would ask that you join me in Triharan, for I wish for you to be with me.” 
“...Y-Yes, of course...” 
Princess Berlietta squeezed the prince’s hand. There was a light blush on her face. I was certainly surprised by how forward he’d been. 
“My, my... Looks like it’s all coming together.” 
“Indeed it is. That’s a weight off my shoulders, I must say.” 
The queen of Strain and the king of Triharan nodded and smiled at each other. Apparently that was settled. Adversity strengthens the foundations of love, I suppose. Still, they did like each other from the start, they were just awkward. 
The race had finally concluded, so we cleared up and prepared for the afterparty. We had a special venue set up on the beach with delicacies from different nations. We’d even brought in royal chefs from both worlds, especially for the event. 
I just came up with it on the fly. I figured the nations could bond better over the food of their people. It’d also be a good chance for them to meet and greet a little. 
Lupheus and Berlietta formally announced their engagement and were met with congratulations all around. I was glad they’d done it here, since all the nations attending would definitely remember them. 
“All’s well that ends well, hm?” 
“Looks like it. Even if they end up bickering over small differences, I’m pretty confident they’ll both make it okay.” 
Yumina and I smiled over at the happy couple. I had a feeling those two were going to be just fine. 
“A little embarrassing that the event organizer was the first one out of the race, isn’t it?” 
“Ghh... That wasn’t my fault!” 

I grumbled a little in response to Elze’s teasing before the king of Felsen walked over to see me. 
“Good job out there today, lad. Shame we both missed our chance at a win, eh?” 
The king of Felsen sat down on a seat next to me. Apparently, he’d been so completely covered in birdlime by the end of the race that he needed to take a soothing bath afterward. He certainly seemed calmer than he was out on the track. 
“The race was most interesting. It showed me a lot of potential adjustments for the Ether Vehicles... I’m certainly eager to see how they continue changing from here on.” 
“I’m glad you had a good time.” 
“Aye, that I did... And the people from the other world... They ain’t so different from us, are they?” 
The king of Felsen looked over at the newly-engaged couple. Wait... he’s engaged, isn’t he? 
Oh yeah, that’s right. He’s actually gonna be related to me through marriage, since he’s engaged to Lu’s older sister... Ellicia, I think her name was. I guess I just erased that thought from my memory. 
“Oh right, I’ve gotten word from my country’s ministers a small while ago. It’s about Horn.” 
“What about them?” 
Wasn’t that the country on the verge of civil war? The king’s grandson and the king’s brother had opposing factions or something? I guess it makes sense Felsen would be in the know, since they share borders. 
“Both factions have tried approaching us for assistance, but we’ve committed to neutrality. Ideally, we’d want both sides to come to a peaceful agreement. It seems like they’ve finally taken our advice. They’re going to hold a conference with Felsen representatives as mediators. It’ll happen in three days.” 
I see. It makes sense to have a foreign mediator in attendance... Hopefully they can avoid a civil war breaking out. 
“I’d like you to join in on the meeting, Grand Duke. Something doesn’t sit well with me about this entire situation if I’m honest. The last king of Horn was a just and wise man, it makes little sense that he’d leave behind such anarchy... I think there has to be more to it.” 
The story allegedly went that the now-dead king of Horn had entrusted the nation to his younger brother. The reasoning was that he believed his son was unfit for rule. But that was only one side of the story. The prime minister argued that the now-dead king had mentioned wanting to make amends with his son, and never suggested revoking his succession rights. 
These two claims contradicted each other. Either the now-dead king lied to one of the parties, or one of the parties was lying. Then again, we couldn’t exactly rule out that the now-dead king was actually just stupid and did tell them both contradictory things. 
There was also that unsettling rumor Tsubaki had reported to me... Yulong’s black ops might have been involved in all of this. If they were working with the brother or the prime minister, things could get messy. 
There were even rumors that the organization had a Null-spell wielding assassin amidst their ranks. 
“Alright, I gotcha. I’ll participate in the meeting, no worries. I want Horn to join the league of nations and come for the multidimensional summit anyway.” 
“Wonderful, that’s a relief. Knowing you’re there, Grand Duke? I won’t have to worry as much.” The king of Felsen smiled and walked off. 
Hmph... Maybe I should see if Her Holiness the Pope can help me sniff through those lies. She has the mystic eye for it, after all. 
With the pope on my side, it’d be easy to determine whether the younger brother or the prime minister was lying. The polygraph test that Doctor Babylon had created would probably work too... But it’d be better to go with the subtle approach. 
I stood up and walked over toward the pope, who was seated at another table. 

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