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Chapter II: The Sea of Trees and the Snowcapped Mountains 

The founding party went off without a hitch, and soon a sense of peace began to fall over Brunhild. 
Despite the fact that it had taken a short while due to various issues, I finally gave Lu an engagement ring. I definitely couldn’t have afforded to put it off any longer. Not to mention that it would’ve been extremely rude not to formally put a ring on her. 
Even though she acted as though she didn’t mind the delay, Lu gratefully and happily accepted what I gave her. The ring was identical to the ones I had given to the others, right down to the design and magical effects. 
“Now I can finally hold my head high and proclaim that I am the fiancee of Touya, my amazing man!” I felt a pang of guilt wash over me as I looked at her smiling. I definitely shouldn’t have put it off so long. 
We were all happily sitting together at a table on the balcony when Leen appeared with Paula in tow. Her expression was grave. 
“There’s been another Phrase sighting. One has appeared within the Sea of Trees. The tribe living there sent a request for help to Mismede.” Everyone suddenly jumped up from their seats in a panic. Except Lu, who had no idea what any of that meant. 
“And what became of it? Was it taken down?” Yumina asked. 
“I’m afraid not. It’s still there right now, demolishing the tribal village, and turning any and all individuals that enter the vicinity into mincemeat. From what I understand, it has a huge, arachnid form.” 
A gigantic Spider Phrase? I wonder if it’s on the same tier as the Manta Phrase we encountered a while back... What if it’s even stronger? If that’s the case, then [Apport] won’t do the trick... I’d like to try and smash it using [Gravity], though. 
“Let’s go, then. I don’t know if we can take it down, but we have to at least try. Not just that, we might—” 
“If we’re lucky, we may encounter that boy again.” I nodded at Leen’s comment. It was like she had read my mind. 
Ende. The mysterious young man who had so easily crushed the Manta Phrase that we stood no chance against. I wanted to know what he meant when he spoke of the “Sovereign Phrase.” That guy knew something, he had to. 
“Let’s get to Babylon and set course for the Sea of Trees.” We began our preparations to face off against this new Phrase.

“Crystal creatures that destroyed the civilizations of old?” We were traveling along to the Sea of Trees in our Babylon, so we decided to roughly explain the situation to Lu while we had the chance. 
Come to think of it, what even are the Phrase? Right now I’m just assuming that they were sealed in some area of space, and those tears in reality are where they’re slipping through as the barrier that’s keeping them contained breaks down. So now they’re finally returning to the world after thousands of years... Probably, I think. If I believe what Ende had to say, then the creatures are searching for their leader, the Sovereign Phrase. But from where I’m looking all they’ve been doing is killing everything in their vicinity. Is there more to it, or is it just mindless slaughter? Wait, what even happened all those years ago? Who sealed them in the first place, if they are actually sealed. Where did the Phrase come from? I don’t have any answers at all here! Ende... he probably knows. He warped off last time without so much as an explanation, but I’ll make him talk if he shows up again... 
“Master, we’ve reached our destination.” Cesca called to me and displayed a scene from below on the monolith computer. An enormous beast of crystal was rampaging around the forest. It was an arachnid monster with eight thin, sharp legs. Those legs were cutting through trees like they were butter, skewering members of a tribal village who happened to live down there all the while. 
“It’s a big one. About the same size as the last one we encountered,” I said. 
“Verily, it is. I am just thankful that this one does not appear to have the power of flight, I am.” I was just as thankful as Yae. Fighting the Manta Phrase was a huge chore because it was soaring above the desert sands. The forest was less open, so we had more blind spots to hide in. We just had to make sure none of those giant trees crushed us or whatever. 
“We need to hurry, now. The village will be completely lost if we don’t take action.” As we made preparations to reach the surface, we saw the tribeswomen firing arrows and invoking magic against the Spider Phrase. 
However, it shrugged off their attacks like they were nothing. As it roared, the creature absorbed all magic in the vicinity, including all of the spells that touched it. It seemed to work in a different way to the Drainbracer, and it wasn’t a nullifying effect like the Demon Lord’s, but either way it was a dangerous power that converted magical energy used against it into more fuel. 
The tanned tribal women brandished curved swords and tried facing it once more, but the Phrase simply swung out one of its sharp limbs and gutted them. 
“Itsh! Miyohmanah, Tacohdeejeekah! Garinoh!” One young tribal girl barked out what seemed to be orders, but I couldn’t understand what she was saying. It was odd to me that I didn’t understand her, as I had kind of just assumed God had given me an omnilingual body or something. 
At any rate, she looked to be their leader. At her command, the bow-wielding girls retreated immediately. It looked like they were trying to create a flanking formation in order to let the non-combatants retreat. 
One of the enormous creature’s legs suddenly raised in the air, then went bolting toward the shouting woman like a thrown spear. 
“[Accel Boost]!” I sped through the trees like a madman, taking the mithril greatsword out of [Storage] as I charged. Just in time to stop her from being impaled, I intercepted the creature’s leg and deflected it away from the girl. In a flash, I grabbed her and took her into my arms. Her eyes went wide with surprise as I leaped backward, putting a great deal of distance between us and the Spider Phrase. 
I set her down, brandishing my blade once more. 
“Get to safety, focus on evacuating, and... you have no idea what I’m saying, do you?” I tried to point to her, and then the deeper forest in an attempt to explain through signing. She either didn’t get it or ignored me, choosing to walk up to me instead. 
“Emoh. Ortettkoeecheeh. Merkoh! Sahnatoanehko! Boko boko!” 
“N-No, I can’t understand you...” I finally took a moment to get a good look at the girl, and realized she was very much the image of a warrior. She brandished an axe in one hand, and was decorated with red war paint all over her body. 
She had healthy-looking tanned brown skin, but I was a little unnerved by how little she was wearing. Only a single scrap of fabric bound her chest, and her lower body was covered by a crudely-constructed loincloth. She had sandal-like shoes and improved wraps on her hands, but she was practically fighting half-naked! Something gave me the impression that these tribes lived a very different life to those in the major cities. 
This girl’s gotta be around the same age as me, but she’s packing some incredible assets... They’re practically heaving and asking to be freed from behind that chest binding she’s wearing! I quickly realized I was staring a little too south, then immediately rectified the situation. 
“Emohoomaynaggredo! Ohcheenakuhoho! Kakanoha! Kellesohrise!” She was ranting and raving about something or other, but I couldn’t tell what she meant. I wondered if she was mad at me for staring. 
I pushed such thoughts out of my mind and took my sword into my hand. It was time to face down the enemy. I aimed for one of its legs... And, at the moment my blade angled down toward it, I activated [Gravity]. The thin leg was reduced to mere fragments beneath the super-bolstered weight of my greatsword. 
“Amazing, it actually worked!” Unfortunately, the shattered leg regenerated within seconds. The creature had absorbed all of the magic the people used against it some time ago. Just as I’d figured, the only way to take this thing out would be to destroy the core. 
There were three cores on its head, all lined up in a row. They glowed a faint orange, much like the Manta Phrase cores had in my last encounter. 
“Linze, Leen! Give him the old ice one-two!” As I yelled, the two of them began the incantation to cast [Ice Rock], and a massive chunk landed on the spider from above. The Spider Phrase dipped its body for a brief moment, but began to resist the weight, pushing upward with a loud straining sound. Sorry pal, but I can’t let you do that. 
I jumped up to the ice block bearing down on it, then activated [Gravity] to increase the block’s weight tenfold. 
A slow creaking echoed out as the Spider Phrase strained, and then I heard a new noise. The sound of shattering ice. The enormous rock was unable to support its own weight and began to splinter. Frankly, I was surprised it had held it together for so long to begin with. 
The ice buckled, raining down in thin sheets. The Spider Phrase, released from the crushing force, leaped high up in the air. Timing my strike as I fell down toward it, I activated [Gravity] on my greatsword and swung it down at the creature. 
“Shatter to pieces, you bastard!” I struck the Spider Phrase with such a force that the ground began to quake. 
A shattering sound echoed out as the monster split into thousands of pieces, and yet it was still standing. Regardless of that, I had shattered the head, exposing the cores amongst the ruined fragments. Using Brunhild, I took them out in quick succession. 
“Guh...” Somehow, I had done it. It was much easier than the last time, as well. But I guess I had [Gravity] to thank for that. It would’ve been better if I used the spell on the Phrase directly, but beggars couldn’t be choosers. I looked at my greatsword, noticing that the mithril blade had been bent out of shape. 
“Emoh... Nonamehotoh?” The brown-skinned girl muttered something, staring in abject amazement. I had no idea what she was saying, but her expressions spoke wonders for her surprise. 
I looked around to check on the injured, finding myself staring at a field of fallen people. The situation was bad. 
“Target Lock. Target any injured person within a radius of five hundred meters. Invoke [Cure Heal].” 
“Understood. Targets acquired. Invoking [Cure Heal].” The voice buzzed out of my smartphone as a magical light enveloped the wounded, gently tending to their injuries. Those who had visible injuries quickly found themselves with no open wounds to speak of. 
The young girl, upon seeing my sorcery, ran toward her collapsed allies. 
“My my, that was quite the feat.” Leen sauntered over to me, admiring the wreckage as she strolled. She was right. I wondered how I had even had any trouble against the Manta Phrase. This almost felt too easy. 
Leen picked up two pieces of the dead Spider Phrase and lightly tapped them against each other. After that, she firmly smacked the two fragments into each other. They shattered like glass. 
What’s happening? 
“It seems that a Phrase’s body is about as brittle as glass. What a shame... I thought we’d be able to construct fine weaponry from it.” 
Hmph... She had a point. If we had a weapon that could rival the firmness of a Phrase’s body, then even Elze or Yae would be able to go toe-to-toe with one. Well, it seemed that any and all toughness drained from a Phrase upon death. I wonder if we can harvest it for window panes or something... 
“Hey Leen, what makes these guys so tough in the first place...? Could it be they’re using fortification magic or something?” 
“...Oh, that could be it! Magical defense by using magic as a defense?! If we operate under the assumption that the Phrase have special attributes that let them take in magic and apply them for personal benefit, then...” Leen picked up another two fragments in her hands. This time, she closed her eyes to channel some magic into the pieces, then struck them firmly against each other. A noise echoed out, but the pieces remained intact. 
“Amazing, it’s as I thought... The Phrase’s body itself is almost like a spellstone. But what differentiates it from a spellstone is that the Phrase is much more adept at taking in magical power. They’re almost one hundred percent efficient at absorbing magic, even! I had no idea of the potential involved here...” 
“I don’t fully understand. Lay it out for me a bit.” Leen was blabbering about something I didn’t fully get, but what else was new? 
“To put it simply, if you pour magic into this material, then it will harden to a level that corresponds with the magic absorbed. It regenerates itself because it stores any excess magical power to use as reserve energy. The shell can constantly replenish until the mana inside it is drained entirely.” 
I have no idea how to process that... Is she saying I could create some kind of ultra-tough constantly-regenerating armor out of this? Wait, if I forge a weapon out of this thing, then it’d be indestructible so long as my mana reserves don’t go empty, right? It’ll probably grow heavier the more magic I pour into it, but I have [Enchant] and [Gravity], so that means nothing to me! Man, I just hit the goddamn jackpot! 
“Target Lock. Spider Phrase debris, including the tiny fragments. Invoke [Storage].” 
“Understood. Targets acquired. Invoking [Storage].” The magic circle spread across the ground in a wide area, covering all places where the Spider Phrase’s shell had fallen. All together, the fragments sank into nothingness like one would sink into water. With that, all the goods were recovered. 
If I had only known how valuable this stuff was in the desert, I’d have collected the pieces of the Manta Phrase as well... Ah well, you can’t win them all. 

“Yee. Emoh.” I turned around to find the tanned girl staring at me. I had no idea what she wanted now. 
“I already told you, I don’t speak your language!” As I pondered how to get her to understand me, Leen suddenly interjected. 
“She’s asking if you’re the one who healed the injured.” 
“Wait, you can understand her?” I stared at Leen, amazed she could understand. Maybe there’s some kind of pattern to the language...? 
“You are aware that I’m older than my form suggests, are you not? There are even those in Mismede today that speak the mother-tongue of the Rauli Tribe.” 
Oh yeah... she did say the tribe requested aid from Mismede. There’d have to be some interpreters in Mismede’s government for that to make sense. 
Leen turned and talked to the tan girl. 
“Hm, your name... er... Ontoh, Nomoho?” 
“Pam.” So then, the girl was named Pam. 
It was kind of a pain having to listen to them without understanding them fully. Leen began freely talking to Pam about various things in the tribal tongue, but I had no idea what they were saying. It was a little concerning. Pam kept stealing glances at me during their conversation, sometimes with looks of amazement on her face. That was even more concerning. 
“Ende didn’t appear after all, eh?” I thought for sure he’d show up alongside the Phrase, but I was apparently wrong. Maybe I had misinterpreted his intentions, and he wasn’t always gonna be around to stop them. 
“It even caused a massive uproar and trashed the place, though...” I took another look at the area around me. There were tattered cloths, ruined buildings, and other remains of a once-peaceful village strewn about amidst uprooted trees and general carnage. 
The villagers here seemed to make their homes up in the trees, building high in the branches. They moved from tree to tree using rope suspension bridges. 
The woodland was dense here, almost like a rainforest, so the sunlight only shone through the canopy in areas where the Spider Phrase had gone on its rampage and knocked trees down. 
“It seems that several people have passed away...” Lu looked over at a group of grieving women, looking rather grief-stricken herself. When I looked over at the weeping people clutching the pieces of their former friends and families, regret coursed through me. If only I had been faster. 
“It’s a shame that there’s no magic to bring people back from the other side...” I muttered those words quietly, and Linze suddenly spoke up from nearby. 
“That’s not necessarily true. A spell like that does exist...” 
“What?!” Wait, there’s seriously a way to bring the dead back? Wait, hold on, why am I so surprised? Didn’t that happen to me?! 
“The highest tier of Light Magic can resurrect the dead... But the consequences of doing so are grave.” 
Consequences? What, do you need to fulfill certain conditions or something? It’s not like that one RPG where you have to donate to the church, is it? It’s not like that money actually goes to God, anyway... 
“To begin with, the body must be fresh. Meaning that one hour must not have passed since death. Secondly, the body must be intact. Nothing that could hinder a functional body can be present in the subject. Lastly, an obscene amount of magical power is needed. As well as an obscene amount of life force itself.” 
“Life force?” 
“To be blunt, I’m referring to the very life that flows within a person. Resurrecting someone is no trivial feat. Through this method, the caster must stake part of their life on the line to perform the rite. There’s a chance the caster could die.” 
That sounds really risky. I guess it’s not a method anyone could employ unless they were absolutely ready to stake their life on the line for another person. But come to think of it, that might be the resolve needed to restore someone to life. In my case, the price I paid to return to life was to completely lose my old world. I don’t really want to think about that matter right now, though... Makes me sad to dwell on it. 
“That aside...” I’d noticed a while ago, but there were an awful lot of women amongst the tribe. I wondered where the men were. Had the Spider Phrase slaughtered all of them already? As I was pondering that, Leen wandered over and answered the very question I had been thinking about. 
“The Rauli Tribe consists of only female members, and they are a warrior people. Males are forbidden here. The young warrior from earlier, Pam, is the granddaughter of the clan matriarch.” 
Wait what, are they like Amazons or something? I didn’t expect to come across that trope around here... 
From what Leen told me about the Rauli tribe, the girls headed out to kidnap men once they reached fertile age. They would then use the man for... rather obvious purposes. 
If the child born from that union was a boy, he and his father would be removed from the village. If the child was born a female, the father would be expelled alone, and the tribe would collectively raise the girl. It was just how they dealt with children, it seemed. Either way, the father was kicked out. But apparently over a hundred years ago, they would just kill the man after taking his seed, so maybe this was preferable... 
As Leen told me the tale, I shivered a bit. The man inside of me was terrified, which was amplified by the fact that Pam was glaring at me for some reason. What was going on behind those eyes of hers...? 
“What?” I eyed Pam from the side, and she suddenly bounded forward, leaping into the air straight at me! 
“Wha—?!” She startled me, but ended up being way lighter than I expected, so catching her was fine. I was caught off-guard by the feeling of her soft skin, but in the next moment pain shot through my body, starting at my neck. 
SHE BIT ME?! WHY IS SHE BITING ME?! IT HURTS! IS SHE A MONKEY OR SOMETHING? GET OFF ME! I moved my hand to try and wrench Pam’s head off me, but she withdrew of her own volition right away. 
I put my hand to my neck and sure enough, she had drawn blood. 
What the hell was that?! Pam suddenly chuckled at me and turned on her heel before sprinting away. No really, what the hell was that?! All the other Rauli in the area who saw what had happened raised their voices in an uproar of laughter too. 
“Touya, are you alright?” Linze came over and cured the bleeding wound on my neck. Aah, it hurts like hell! 
“Seems she’s taken a liking to you.” 
“Excuse me?!” Leen’s offhand remark had me reeling. How in the hell could biting my neck until it was bleeding be interpreted as an affectionate gesture? Normally that kind of behavior was associated with hatred, right? Usually from a wild animal or a stray dog. 
I couldn’t believe that another person had just bitten me like that. I decided that the best course of action would be to retreat. The situation was too weird, and all the Rauli had started looking at me in a strange way as well... I had no idea what was up with that. I opened up a [Gate] and returned to Babylon. From there I picked up Cesca and Rosetta, and was back to Brunhild’s castle in the blink of an eye. 

“Aaaah, Master. Welcome baaaack!” Ripple was hanging halfway out of her picture frame in the middle of the landing. This kind of thing had pretty much become the norm for us at this point. 
“Hey Ripple, thanks. Have I missed anything?” 
“Uhm, you haaaave. We have a gueeest!” 
A guest? Really? Wonder who it could be... 

“Huh, Tsubaki? What brings you here?” 
“It has been some time indeed.” The girls said they wanted to wash up, so I parted from them and headed to the audience room alone. Waiting to greet me there was Tsubaki, a kunoichi from Eashen. She knelt down upon the red carpet and looked up at me. She wore a white coat with a black scarf. It looked like she was quite worn out in general, indicating she had traveled far to get here. Her hair was as long and black as ever, no real change there. 
“What are you doing so far from home? Are you running an errand or something?” Tsubaki was a ninja that served under Kousaka Masanohbu, one of the Takeda Elite Four. It’d be normal to assume she’d be out on a mission, but this was a considerable amount of distance to come from Eashen. 
“No. My allegiance to the Takeda Clan has been formally broken. I may be asking too much by coming here, but I made the decision to join your duchy.” 
“What?” Tsubaki recounted her story to me. She said that once the new lord of Takeda took over, everything was a bit chaotic for a while. Even so, she dutifully served until one day Kousaka summoned her. He said to her, “If things continue as they are now, I have no hope for the Takeda Clan. You must leave with your compatriots and find another worthy house to serve.” Tsubaki initially protested, but Kousaka actually ended up kicking her out. He was that confident about how grave the situation was. 
“When was this?” 
“Close to two months ago, I believe. After that, I began a personal journey.” I was surprised by that. It seemed that Kousaka had some incredible foresight, to even predict this so far in advance... He must’ve been an incredible guy. 
I mentioned to Tsubaki that Baba had been here recently and talked about his opinions on the matter, and she nodded in agreement. 
“Indeed, because of the dire situation, Kousaka-sama had me removed...” 
“But why me, of all people? Couldn’t you have defected to Tokugawa or Oda?” 
“Tokugawa and Oda are only feudal lords in the end. But you, Touya-san... Er, Touya-sama... you are an exceptional individual who may well become the next king of Belfast. I headed toward you thinking that you were incomparably superior! And now I find out you’ve already become a head of state! A grand duke! You’re truly beyond mortal comprehension.” During her voyage to Belfast she had heard stories about the founding of my duchy. And so, once she realized that I was the one in charge and that I was now living here, she chartered a boat across the Great Gau River all to get an audience with me. 
“Well, a lot of stuff went on here too, but, uh... You really wanna work here? This isn’t a big country like Belfast or anything. We’re pretty fresh.” 
“Of course. If you’ll accept me, Touya-sama, I would proudly serve under you.” If Kousaka was fine with it, then I was fine with it too. Honestly, the recent increase of allies was making me a little happy. Kind of made me hopeful that the Takeda Elite Four would come and stay as well eventually. 
“Very well, if you could please bring the remainder of my clansmen to your castle, I’d appreciate it...” 
“Wait just a sec. Your clansmen?” 
“Of course. It is my intention to have my entire ninja clan from Takeda’s territory come here.” 
Is she serious?! Wait... sure, Kousaka said “leave with your compatriots,” but seriously, relocating an entire clan of ninjas just like that?! 
“Uh... how many people are in your clan, exactly?” 
“If we include the children, then there are almost seventy.” 
“Gh...!” Isn’t that a bit much?! How’d you plan on moving that many people without me?! What if I was dead or missing or something?! I really didn’t mean to accept more than Tsubaki... but I can hardly take it back now. 
“Uhh... well, about that... I don’t have any issue with accepting your people into my country, but I can only really take you into my castle, Tsubaki.” 
“That would prove no issue. All proud ninja clansmen work standard jobs in the day-to-day. They have to make a living, after all.” 
...I guess that’s fine, then? I remember reading something about ninjas from the olden days infiltrating other countries by getting standard jobs there and living out regular lives... Do they have the same kind of methods in this world? 
My territory had a great body of water, as well as a large forest, so they could definitely get jobs as hunters or fishermen. Food wasn’t a concern, but I’d probably need to think about setting up other amenities. 
I’m gonna need mercantile contacts or something... If people are gonna be producing goods, then I’ll need active traders. I should consult Zanac or Olba about it. 
“It seems we’ve acquired many a new citizen today, sir.” 
“Sure seems that way, Laim...” I smiled wryly at my butler. Without further ado, I called my three knights into the throne room and told them not to be concerned about the large influx of ninjas. I decided to simply let them stay in the barracks for the time being, as I didn’t have an army living there yet. 
Just in case, I asked Lain to keep an eye out for people behaving suspiciously, not that I expected much in the way of trouble. I didn’t know if that was a racist assumption, but I felt that those rabbit ears of hers would surely be able to sound out trouble as it happened. 
“Master, you have a letter.” 
“Hm?” Just as Tsubaki left, Cesca came in with a small letter in hand. I had given most of my contacts a small Gate Mirror to immediately get in touch with me, so I wondered who had sent it... 
I took the letter and skimmed it over. Wow, this timing sure is convenient to the plot. 
“Who sent the letter, sir?” Laim inquired as I finished reading. I passed the letter over and told him to take a look. 
“Goodness me...” 
“Yup. Seems we’ll be getting even more residents soon.” The sender was none other than Kousaka Masanohbu himself. It had come through the Gate Mirror that I had handed to Baba recently. 
It was a formal account detailing the fact that the lord of the Takeda Clan had royally messed up. He had neglected his people, failing to prevent many crimes. The people ended up making quite a ruckus, and it was a full-blown riot in some areas. Ultimately, the emperor of Eashen had to step in and formally disband the Takeda house. Its former territories were divided up between Oda and Tokugawa. 
Well, that didn’t take long. And he had such promise after the situation with Kansukay, too... That sucks. He had a lot riding on his shoulders and a lot to live up to, but he really should’ve kept his head down and tried harder. Maybe he was just acting out because of the pressure of having such a famous father. Or maybe he was just an idiot... At any rate, he’s a nobody now. Apparently he had to report to the capital and face justice. He’ll probably be exiled. 
The most important thing here was that the Elite Four had all talked with one another and decided their services would be better held in Brunhild. 
I was more than happy to have such talented people on my side. I wondered if I should consult Kousaka about the mercantile issue I’d been wondering about earlier. I had yet to actually meet him, so I was curious about what kind of person he was. 
Well then... I guess I should go meet him. With that thought, I opened up a [Gate] to Eashen. 

“Repair the roads first. A town cannot develop without a road.” Kousaka looked at the map of Brunhild, and only had that to say. 
Kousaka was clearly younger than Baba, but he was still over sixty. He had a gentle face, but it was one clearly weathered by wisdom and age. He also wore his hair in a top-knot. The aura of experience and awareness emanating from him was just what I’d expect from a man who personally advised Takeda Schingen. 
After I received the letter, I went straight to meet with Baba and the other Elite Four members, but they had a surprise for me. 
Apparently several members of the Takeda Army who had now been displaced were willing to join my duchy. It was likely that they were troops who were extremely loyal to the Elite Four or something. There were only around fifty of them, but there was no way I could bring them in and hire them. We didn’t even have any way of generating revenue yet, so paying the salary of an army was out of the question. 
I briefly considered using the workshop to mass produce products for sale, but quickly decided against it. If we ended up dependent on the exports and the workshop broke down or something, we’d be done for. 
“If I use Earth Magic, I can probably create a road pretty fast...” 
“A functional road that leads to both Regulus and Belfast is of the highest importance. Please make one immediately. But on the other hand, Touya-sama... Er, milord. Don’t involve yourself too directly in the affairs here. If you, as their lord, do too many things for the people, they may grow too dependent. It’s best to only interfere directly in situations where the people cannot do it on their own.” 
Is that how it is...? I guess he has a point. People tend to sink into complacency pretty fast. It’d be bad for a country so young to start stagnating. 
“Now, the eastern part of the nation will be set aside for agriculture. We can dig out canals to draw water from the river, then create various rice paddies. I do hope the soil there is as fertile as it is here in Eashen. With that we can begin trading with merchants and creating income for the country’s administrative procedures...” 
So you’re saying we need to think about taxes, farmers, and sales of produce... 
Honestly, I didn’t think I needed to tax the people. I made more than enough money to support my growing family through adventuring alone. Still, Kousaka told me that if I didn’t have taxes, the infrastructure of my government would falter. I decided that I would entrust the situation to him, but I did tell him to keep the taxes as low as possible. 
“It would be good if we could export some kind of unique specialty. However, this land originally belonged to Regulus and Belfast, so it’s unlikely there’s anything of value around here. We may have to invest in technology to keep people drawn to us in trade.” 
“For the time being, I can manufacture some bicycles. It should help us earn some income to begin with, at least... Then, after a while, other countries might reverse engineer and make their own.” Bikes were pretty handy and unique in this world, but they were still inferior to horse-drawn carts for carrying stuff, and regular horses still beat them in terms of speed. Still, there was an undeniable demand for bikes, so I figured they’d take off if they were mass produced. That being said, I didn’t think any other nation would be able to make bikes quite as nice as mine. 
“Anyway, let’s try doing what we can for the time being. I’ll entrust you with agricultural and business administration for the time being, Kousaka. If it doesn’t work out, we can think of something else from there.” After my talk with Kousaka finished, I headed over to the training ground. My three knights were being put through the wringer by Baba and Yamagata, as usual. 
Since we still hadn’t formally created a knight order or anything like that, I had asked the two of them to step in as instructors. 
“Hey there, squirt. You done talkin’ with Kousaka?” 
“You’re technically a vassal of mine now, Baba. Isn’t it about time you stopped calling me that?” 
“Don’t be such a hardass. I’ll call ya ‘milord’ and such when the situation calls for it. I got enough social decorum to know when it’s needed.” Baba laughed loudly and slapped me on the shoulder. 
Damn it... There’s just no winning with him, is there? 
“Baba-dono might not change, but I’ll be sure to address you right, Chief!” 
“Yamagata, all ya did was stop callin’ him Touya and start callin’ him chief.” 
“Chief’s good, isn’t it? Sounds pretty important to me.” 
Well, I guess they could’ve used worse terms. Good grief... I’m not really good at dealing with these two, but I guess that’s not so bad. 
“I’m planning to go out and grab some supplies, since it’s already noon. I was thinking of having Lain and the others accompany me, since it could double as a training exercise.” 
“A hunting trip? Sure, but do you think they’re in any state?” Yamagata pointed over at the trio. They looked exhausted. Only Nikola was standing. It seemed like he was a young guy with a pretty strong will. The other two were collapsed on the ground. Nikola’s fox-ears were still drooping, though. 
“Come forth, Light. Breath of Vigor: [Refresh].” After the incantation, a soft light fell upon the three. Within a few moments, they hopped up, ran around a bit, did a few jumps, and swung their weapons with renewed energy. 
“I’m not tired anymore...!” 
“Was this your magic, milord?” 
“G-Gah... I’m not worthy! I’m not worthy, milord!” It was my fatigue restoration spell, [Refresh]. It didn’t cure injuries or heal illnesses, but it got rid of physical fatigue and restored stamina. If used, it restored people to peak efficiency, as if they’d had a good rest. It didn’t change the fact that these guys had definitely overdone it today, though. I didn’t want to have to use the spell too often. 
“Man, our chief’s really a crazy guy...” Yamagata called me crazy, but I think it was a compliment. 
“Now then, let’s get lunch. What do you guys feel like hunting? We could go for fowl, boars, crab...” 
Everyone suddenly yelled out crab in booming voices, so it was unanimous right away. That was easier than I had expected. Bloody Crab was on the menu that night. One was about the size of a truck, so I figured that hunting two was fine if I wanted to feed everyone. 
“Oh, let’s be careful when we hunt the Bloody Crab, alright? It’s regarded as a Red Rank monster on the guild system.” 
“What?!” The three of them seemed shocked, but that wasn’t too surprising. Red rank was the best most could hope to reach, so it was only natural for them to be shocked. 
“But don’t worry too much. The two old timers here will be helping you hunt it, so you’ll be just fine.” 
“We’re what?!” I smiled inwardly. You two didn’t think you’d be getting out of this, did you? 
Once the hunt was over, I lamented over how easy it was. I defeated one of them solo using [Gravity]. It took me about one minute. 
I left the second to the other five guys, just sitting back and watching, but I couldn’t just watch for too long, so I ended up supporting them with basic magic blasts and restoration spells. 
They fought with all their might for a solid thirty minutes, and the Bloody Crab finally fell. It was pretty hard for them. I should’ve considered the fact that none of them knew magic. That carapace on the crab was pretty damn tough, after all. I should’ve gone for a monster that was more suited to their attack style. 
“G-Good work...” 
“Ch-Chief... you’re incredible... Goodness me... You’re actually a monster...” Yamagata looked toward me, his tired eyes flickering with... what looked like fear. Don’t be so rude! 
The two ex-members of the Takeda Clan were still standing, but their breathing was ragged. Lain and the others, on the other hand, were almost completely worn out. 
Just like before, I cast [Refresh] to bring them back from the brink of exhaustion. 
The two old men were definitely the real deal, taking out a Red Rank monster was no small feat. The three warriors with them were also considerably tough, having held out so long. 
I put both of the crab corpses in [Storage], then took us right back to the castle. From there, I went to the barracks and took the crabs out. 
That reminds me... do we have enough condiments and seasoning? If I remembered right, we had a limited amount of miso, salt, soy, and other such things, so we’d be fine for the time being. Still, I made a mental note to hurry up with the mercantile access route. 
I left the job of harvesting the crabs to the old folks and the other guys. Then, I headed off to build a highway that would stretch across to Belfast and Regulus. 
Due to my territory originally being fraught with danger, the current road stretched around in a massive detour. It was down to me to build a new highway that passed through Brunhild. 
It’d make the journey between Belfast and Regulus a much safer and shorter one. I decided to leave the original highway where it was, so people still had the option of bypassing my country if they felt like it. 
“Maybe I should set up a checkpoint on the border or something. It’d be a whole heap of trouble if some bad guys tried coming through...” I decided to connect the checkpoint to the existing road as well. That meant I’d have to modify the existing road between Belfast and Regulus, just a little bit, but it’d be fine since I had permission to build a road from both countries anyway. 
I used [Gate] to appear on Regulus’ side of the territory. 
“Wonder if I can connect this side to Belfast in one go... It’d be better if I could make a single one-shot straight road instead of a twisty, winding mess...” I used Earth magic to flatten the ground and smooth it out from Regulus to Belfast. Honestly, it was already enough for it to pass as a road, but I decided that it would be a bit lazy to leave it at that, so I paved it with smooth stone so carriages could come across it with ease. That would also help it stay intact during rainstorms. 
After that, I built two basic checkpoints at the Regulus border and the Belfast border. I’d have to come back later and make proper ones. I then applied the finishing touches, including signposts. The signs read “Duchy of Brunhild, this way!” I figured that was enough. 
Even with that set up, there wasn’t exactly much that would make travelers want to head toward Brunhild. The castle could be seen from the road, but it wasn’t really enough to make the average wanderer say “Hey, I should go check that out!” 
Still, it wasn’t like my castle was a tourist attraction or a revenue generator anyway, so I decided to put Tsubaki’s ninja clan to work. I liked the idea of them manning something like a rest area, with food and drink. That way it could become a hub of gossip and information in the middle of two major kingdoms. Ideal for ninjas to work at if you asked me. 
That reminded me, I needed to make a road connected to my castle, too. I went and made a stone road that stopped at my castle gates. It was a simple repeat of the previous process, just on a much smaller scale. 
As I reached the castle, a pleasant smell wafted through the air. 
Smells like crab stew... Man, I’m hungry. 
It was decided that our new recruits would be taught how to make bicycles in the afternoon. 
I wasn’t going to be the teacher, though. That task fell to Rosetta. Mostly because she knew the details way better than me. It was better to leave it to her, after all. She began teaching everyone how to make them from scratch, without magic. That girl was definitely the terminal gynoid of the workshop for a reason. If she were an engineer in my world, she’d truly be of the highest tier. 
I entrusted Rosetta with the manufacturing process, and then decided to teach people how to ride some. After all, if nobody could ride them, then nobody would buy them! 
As I was teaching the ninja adults, their children mistook my bikes for toys, which wasn’t too unreasonable, so I ended up making a bunch of kid-sized bikes for them after they hounded me. 
The grown-ups and children alike mastered the art of bike-riding in mere minutes. Their balancing skills were on point... The ninjas of Takeda were a terrifying force indeed. 

“Hoh, it’s really starting to take shape, huh?” 
“I know, right?” As I admired the shops lining the highway, old man Naito nodded in appreciation. 
Naito Masatoyoh, once one of the elite of Takeda, was in charge of everything in this area. Nothing about his appearance really stood out. He just looked like a regular old worn-out businessman. 
Currently, there was nothing but a cafe, a bicycle shop, a weapon shop, an armor shop, and a general store, but it definitely had the look of a shopping district. 
Further away from the highway, some houses were being built for the citizens. Actually, I had assumed the shops and houses would be built in an Eashen style, but that wasn’t the case. They were all brick buildings just like in Belfast or other western countries. 
“If we emphasized our foreign culture, it’d make people feel a little cautious,” old man Naito said. 
Travelers would drop in to visit every now and then, so the place was off to a pretty good start. The weapon shop stocked some rare and unusual swords for the area, as well as some shurikens. The cafe menu included some Eashen cuisine, as well as roll cakes, ice cream, pudding, and french fries. 
Some rich customers would even buy bicycles on a whim, so business must’ve been booming. If business kept up at this rate, the place would be a huge success. That said, there weren’t that many citizens living here, so the place probably could’ve managed even without business being too prosperous. As I considered the place’s future, a former Takeda soldier rode up to us on a bicycle. 
“My lord, a merchant claiming to be your acquaintance has arrived at the checkpoint.” 
“A merchant? What was their name?” 
“He identified himself as Zanac the clothing merchant.” 
Zanac, huh? He must’ve come a long way to get here from Reflet. 
“Okay. Let’s go.” I opened up a [Gate] and passed through to the checkpoint on the Belfast side along with the soldier. 
There, I saw a horse-drawn wagon loaded with unfamiliar clothing, and Zanac, who was clad in that very same style. 
“Yo, long time no see. Whoops, I guess that’s no way to talk to a grand duke, is it?” 
“It’s fine. Welcome to the Duchy of Brunhild.” He was the first person to show me kindness in this world. The fact that I became a duke didn’t change that. I shook Zanac’s hand before speaking up. 
“So, what brings you to this country? Business with the empire?” 
“That too, but my primary goal is to establish trade with this country. I would like to set up a branch store here. ‘Fashion King Zanac: Brunhild,’ seems fitting.” Ah. That made sense. That’d be a pretty big investment, though. We weren’t even sure people would come, so his idea seemed odd. 
“The way I see it... this is your country. If you built it, they will come. Meaning there’s no disadvantage for me if I secure an ideal location while the iron’s hot.” So that was his rationale. I had my doubts that a clothing store would do well at our current stage, but it would’ve been a problem not to have one. After all, clothes would get dirty and torn quickly and easily in the construction and agriculture rush, so honestly, it was a huge help to have a clothing store. 
We returned through the [Gate] to the center of town and I introduced old man Naito to Zanac. The two of them worked out the land lot, the construction costs, the laborers and artisans, and other various business-related matters. I wasn’t an expert in those topics, so I let them handle it amongst themselves. 
Anyway... a branch store. Zanac was a real go-getter. He managed to expand all the way from Reflet. Though he did have some of my help. 
Speaking of Reflet, I wondered how Dolan and Micah were doing. Hold the phone. It took me a while to realize it, but this country doesn’t have an inn yet, huh? Honestly, I only really thought of this place as a passing point, but travelers and merchants will need a place to stay, right? Hmm... an inn sounds like a good idea. I’d prefer an inn that incorporates a restaurant and an information exchange area, too. Guess I’ll need professional help, after all. I decided that I might as well ask. 
“So, I was thinking of requesting a Silver Moon branch be built in my country.” 
“...Another request out of nowhere, eh.” Dolan crossed his arms and sighed. That made sense. I also realized it was a sudden request. 
“We’ll handle the inn’s construction. I want you guys to be in charge of its management. By that, I guess I mean I want to hire you as a manager.” 
“So that’s what you mean by a branch...?” Dolan tilted his head. Well, let’s not get too bogged down by the details. 
“So, you saying you want Micah to come to that little branch then, huh?” 
“Why not? I wanna go! It sounds fun!” Dolan covered up Micah’s mouth with an arm to the side as I sat across the table from them in the Silver Moon’s restaurant. It looked like Micah was ready to hop on board. 
“Hmm... But it’ll be tough here without Micah, you know?” 
“Oh, is that so? You can just ask Tania for help, can’t you? You have plenty of spare hands as it is already.” 
“H-Hey, you know how that woman is...!” Dolan suddenly burst into a panic. Tania certainly was something. She was that widow who lived on the north side of town. She’d greeted me several times. But... was she really that close to Dolan? I had no idea. 
“Wouldn’t it actually be better if I’m out of the way? Actually, can you even really refuse when the leader of an entire country asks you directly for help?” 
“Gh...! Fine, I get it! Go already! Just don’t come crying back to me!” Micah pumped her fist upon getting Dolan’s reluctant consent. 
I wanted to furnish the inn with a bathhouse, but there was a slight problem there... Getting the hot spring water from Belfast. It would’ve been improper to just take something from another country. 
Brunhild had a waterway, so I just needed to find a way to heat the water from there. It wouldn’t have the same effect as a hot spring, but it should have been sufficient for a bathhouse. I could blend in some [Refresh] and [Recovery] into the water, after all. 
For the time being, I took Micah back with me to where old man Naito was in Brunhild. 
“Oh, if it isn’t Micah. Are you setting up a Silver Moon here, too?” Old man Naito had been talking to Zanac, but looked over this way with a smile. 
“I decided to create a state-run inn, so I brought over a manager.” 
“Oh, I’m a little envious. If you would like to have employee uniforms made, then kindly keep my store in mind.” 
“You’re a good businessman.” Micah smiled as if she had thought Zanac was joking. I didn’t think it was a joke, though... Those were the eyes of a predator on the hunt. 
I had old man Naito and Micah plan out the inn’s location. Since it was going to be state-run and all, I decided it’d be better to make it on the large side. We’d need enough space for a bathhouse too, anyway. I told Micah that I was going to prepare a room for her, so she should come to the castle later. Then, I left. As I strolled through the street on the way to the castle, children on tiny bicycles headed my way. 
“Ah, milord! Hello!” 
“Hello! Milord!” 
“Yes, hello.” The kids greeted me as they zoomed past. They sure seemed energetic. It was a good thing they liked those bicycles. It was hard to believe that those innocent little kids came from a shinobi lineage. 
I saw the kids off, and soon enough, I found a familiar girl running my way with something in hand. 
“Oh, Lu. What’s wrong?” Lu gasped for air as she handed me what she was holding. A two-tiered lunchbox and a thermos? 
“Here’s your lunch. Since you weren’t back by lunchtime and all...” 
“Ahh... I haven’t eaten yet, now that you mention it.” I took the lunchbox and headed to the shadow of a tree beside the road before pulling out a table and chairs out of [Storage]. 
I opened up the lunchbox to find rice and a variety of side dishes like a meat and vegetable stir-fry, sauteed burdock root, beef and potatoes, some layered omelets, and boiled fish in soy sauce. The food was a little misshapen, though. 
“Huh? Did Crea not make this?” 
“Ah, actually... Well... I made it. Crea said you liked Eashen cuisine, so I had Tsubaki teach me some of it... It’s my first attempt, so it might be somewhat awkwardly done, though...” 
“Hoh.” It was pretty well done considering it was her first time. I used my chopsticks to try some of the beef and potatoes. Yup, it tasted just about right. 
“It’s good. I can’t believe it’s your first attempt.” 
“Really?! That’s great!” Lu was bursting with joy. She was kind of overdoing it, honestly. She had a pretty wide range of expressions, come to think of it. But that part of her was cute. Yumina and Lu were usually quite elegant and dignified, so it was charming to see them act like girls their age from time to time. 
“...Is something wrong?” 
“Hmm? Nah. Just thinking about how cute you are.” 
“Hweh?!” Crap. I’d said it out loud. I kept eating, trying my best not to look at Lu’s blushing face. I was just kind of embarrassed, but the food was good. The fish and other dishes had quite a pleasant taste. 
“U-Uhm, Touya, is there any food that you hate?” 
“Hmm? Not particularly. Oh, but I’m not really good with really spicy things, I guess.” Elze’s super spicy chicken was hell to eat... I didn’t think anyone but Elze could stomach it. 
“What about foods you like?” 
“Hmm... It’s gotta be Japane... I mean, Eashen food, I guess. Anything that goes with rice, really... Ah, I really like the taste of this beef. It’s the best.” 
“Th-Thanks...” Her face turned red again after I praised her cooking. Must be tough. 
“I’ve had an interest in cooking ever since I was little, but the castle workers never let me try... Every day has been just so much fun ever since I met you, Touya.” Well yeah, I mean, she was a princess. There was no way they’d let her cook. That said, it was a shame to let such talent go to waste. 
After I finished eating, I put the table and chairs back in [Storage] before we headed out back to the castle. 
Lu kept glancing my way as she walked beside me. She’d reach her hand out and pull it back in, reach it out, and pull it back in. And so, I reached out and took her hand instead. 
She twitched in surprise, but then clasped my hand back. 
“Eheheh.” Lu smiled shyly as we returned to the castle, hand in hand. We probably looked just like siblings. Well, we weren’t in any hurry. I was sure that one day we’d look like lovers, or even husband and wife. Because I wanted to live with her in my country, forever. 

Construction began on the Brunhild branches of Zanac’s clothing store and the Silver Moon inn, so the shopping district started looking more and more like a shopping district. Materials were running short, but I knew we’d find some way to cover it. 
Fortunately, the dearth of citizens meant there wasn’t much to worry about concerning the food supply. The forest had edible plants like berries and mountain yams to be picked, as well as wild animals like boars and rabbits. There were plenty of fish in the river, too. Just as the Belfast and Regulus royals had said, this land appeared to be rather fertile. Though I guess that was why the place had a monster problem. 
Well, you could say the place was, for the most part, suitable for establishing a new nation. Tsubaki suddenly came in with some new information. 
“My lord, I have received word that something resembling those transporters you mentioned was found in the Elfrau Kingdom, which spreads north of the empire to the frigid tundra of the east.” That was interesting. Sounded like that information came from a merchant from Elfrau. There seemed to be a mysterious cylindrical object hidden in a cave blocked off by ice, just as it was with the desert ruins. Though, the shape was different this time. 
If that doctor had only been consistent, it would’ve been simple to look for them using search magic. I mean, I did try using the search keyword “transporter.” Since the outer appearances changed each time, these things would only ever be recognized as “ancient ruins.” I was starting to think the doctor just hated me. 
Well, it wasn’t as if the thing in the cave was guaranteed to be one of those teleporters. 
Still, it must’ve been tough to have noticed it. Ninjas are really great. Information gathering was probably their specialty. 
“Now you can obtain another doll for your collection, Master.” 
“...It’s depressing to think that I might get more like you.” I wryly cracked back at Cesca’s utterance. 
I had always thought this, but I got the feeling her personality was a slice of the doctor’s personality. After all, some of the ones like Rosetta seemed to have some pretty artificial attitudes. Cesca, on the other hand, liked to make dirty jokes. 
For the time being, I had Tsubaki show me the object’s location on the map... It was pretty far. It was almost all the way up north. It’d probably be cold up there. 
“Rosetta, Cesca, go on ahead with Babylon. If it gets cold, just go inside the house on the garden, okay?” 
“No need to worry. Babylon deploys a barrier that maintains a moderate temperature, so heat and cold are no concern.” I thought about it, and it wasn’t that hot when we were in the desert, either. Seemed Babylon had multipurpose air conditioning. That sure was convenient. 
Perhaps it was a vital function for the plants in the garden, actually. I mean, there could be seeds sensitive to the heat or cold. 
After I sent out Cesca and Rosetta, I passed on the news about the transporter to Leen, who jumped for joy. I didn’t need to tell her about it directly, but if I didn’t, it would’ve surely proved to be scary later on. 
Everyone went back to their rooms to prepare for a trip to an extremely cold area. I was fine since I had my coat. After all, my coat was imbued with anti-cold, anti-heat, anti-blade, anti-fist, and anti-magic attributes. It wasn’t really that hot in the desert either, so I figured I’d probably be fine. 
We brought Kohaku with us this time, but Kokuyou and Sango requested to stay on house duty. 
“We’re weak to the cold. It’s not that we freeze completely, but we’d rather pass.” 
I see. It’s understandable since they’re a snake and a tortoise. Poor things. Good thing humans aren’t that frail. 
...I was too naive. I underestimated the extreme cold. How could it even have been so cold? Had the coat’s anti-cold attribute worn off?! I started shivering as soon as I set foot on the snow-covered territory of Elfrau. Just how many degrees below zero was it? Meanwhile, everyone else calmly looked around. What was the meaning of this?! 
“H-How are you all okay? A-Aren’t you cold?” 
“I’m using warmth magic. We’re all at room temperature except for you.” Leen gave away the trick to her little prank. It was so unfair. Why would she single me out? 
“Weren’t you the one who said you were perfectly shielded from the cold?” 
I know, I did! I’m sorry I overestimated myself! So put your magic on me too, please! 
“Come forth, Fire! A Cozy Cloak Scatters Down: [Warming]!” Leen’s magical light enveloped my body. The chill calmed down immediately. 
To test the magic, I picked up some snow. It didn’t feel all that cold, but it didn’t rapidly melt, either. It seemed that the magic didn’t simply raise body temperature, but perhaps acted more like a defensive barrier against the cold instead. 
Now that I was no longer distracted by the cold, I started to look around. Hidden by the pine trees was a large icy hole in the side of a mountain. The ice-covered cave continued endlessly underground. The ancient ruins we were looking for were apparently back there. 
We stepped into the cave. Despite the effects of [Warming], I could almost swear I felt a chill run through my spine. We illuminated the cave with [Light Orb] and slowly made our way deeper. 
“Watch your footing...” 
“Take it nice and easy...” The very moment I reminded everyone to be careful, I slipped and fell on the ice. It hurt like hell. I guess it could be considered divine punishment. Perhaps I had slipped my enemies one too many times. 
“What are you doing, Touya?” 
“Are you okay, Touya-dono?” Elze and Yae reached out their hands and helped pull me up. If only I had shoes that would never slip. If I did the reverse of slip magic, would it let me stand on ice without slipping? Despite the slippery footing, Paula hastily descended into the icy hole. She tripped and tumbled along the way, so I couldn’t help but wonder what she was even trying to do. 
Afterward, we paid even more careful attention to the cave. We almost slipped again and again, but eventually made it safely to the bottom without tumbling. 
“...Sure is deep.” Linze muttered as she looked up. Inside the icy hole was a tall and wide cave, with icy stalagmites and stalactites clinging to the floor and ceiling. The cave was so dark that we couldn’t tell where anything was. Kohaku led the way, alongside the orb of light. I put the tiger up front to detect any sort of scent or sound ahead. 
“My liege... Something is up ahead. I believe it is the ruins, but it looks like there’ll be some trouble...” 
Huh? Found them already? Kohaku was pretty useful in the dark. I was surprised that big cat had such acute senses... But what sort of trouble did he mean? After a little cautious walking, I found out exactly what Kohaku was talking about. The black cylindrical object was covered in an enormous amount of ice. It seemed to be a wall of permafrost. A wall of ice inside a cave, and inside the ice was a black cylindrical artifact. 
“It’s frozen solid... Can we even put a dent in this...?” I tried shooting one of Brunhild’s bullets into the ice, but it simply bounced right off. Typical. It figured it was going to be tough to crack this cold one open with the girls. 
“Leen... Can you melt this with magic?” 
“Hmm... I’ll try, but...” Flame spewed out of Leen’s finger like a flamethrower, but it was not enough to melt the ice. Why? 
“Guess it’s really not going to work. This isn’t any ordinary ice. It’s magice.” 
“Ice that naturally accumulates magic. It can’t be broken without immense force, and not even magic can melt it easily.” Well, that was a pain. I was thinking of using [Gravity] to smash it, but it could’ve broken the artifact inside, too. Couldn’t use [Gate] to move just the ice, either, since it was stuck to other places. 
So perhaps melting it really would be the best option? No, but melting it with heat could’ve made the cave itself collapse. The main question among us was what to do next. 
“Hmm, is there no good way?” I tried putting my hand on the ice wall. It was cold. And that was even with the mitigating effects of [Warming]. Normally, it would’ve probably been enough to freeze my skin off. 
“Man, and it’s right there, too.” 
“We could reach it easily if we could dig a tunnel...” 
“A tunnel...? Ah!” The word Yumina muttered sparked a flash of inspiration. I focused magic power into the palm of my hand. That was always an option, after all. 
“[Modeling]!” The ice warped and caved in front of me. It spread out past my sides, forming a tunnel. 
If we couldn’t melt it or smash it... then all we needed to do was reshape it. After all, our goal wasn’t to remove the ice. It was the same trick I used to bust the old guys out back in Eashen. 
I reshaped more and more of the magice. Eventually, the cylindrical object appeared from within the ice. 
“Now then, let’s take this back to Babylon and figure out if it can teleport...” 
“It sure is big.” Lu was right. The cylindrical artifact was about six or seven meters in diameter and three meters tall. It was almost like a giant tuna can. 
I tried circling the object by reshaping the ice with [Modeling], but I couldn’t find an entrance or anything. There was nothing that looked like a door, and unlike the desert artifact, it didn’t look like there was a way to slip into it by touching it. 
I wondered what it could be... Since the shape reminded me of a tuna can, I recalled how tuna cans were opened. It’s from the top, right? I transformed the ice into the shape of stairs and carefully made my way to the top, telling everyone to wait at the bottom. 
There was nothing on the top of the artifact except for a single cavity in the center that was about one meter in diameter. Is that it? I cautiously stretched my foot out to check, and sure enough, it slipped through. So that really was the entrance. That mysterious wall that only I, master of all six elements, could pass through. 
“I found the entrance. I’m going in. Everyone stay on alert. If anything happens, contact me through Kohaku.” I instructed everyone down below before cautiously leaping in through the top. I pierced through the ceiling and landed inside. There I found a dim, pale light, and a magic circle with six stone pillars. It seemed this was indeed a remnant of Babylon. 
I poured magic of each of the six elements into each of the six stone pillars. After all six elements had been poured, the circle began emitting a faint light. Finally, I stepped into the center and poured out some Null magic. A dazzling light engulfed me, and I vanished in a flash. 

Spread before me was the standard scene I’d grown accustomed to. A beautiful expanse of trees, a bright blue sky overhead, and luscious green grass as far as I could see, with a pure stream of water running through it. It seems that I had successfully warped to a new place. 
I was hoping that it’d be either the hangar or the library. The storehouse would also be quite welcome, because I’d finally be able to punish whoever was responsible for all the trouble I’d been through so far. 
I walked by the water, and eventually a building became visible through a clearing in the trees. The building was around three stories tall. It was fitted with stained glass windows, and had a regal air about it, somewhat like a church. It didn’t have any religious iconography on it or anything, though. 
The building looked to be built with red brick, all the way to the roof. Alongside it, an octagonal building jutted upward. It looked a bit like a pagoda. 
“Pretty sure this is a piece of Babylon, but...” 
“You’re quite right, you see. A very warm welcome to you. Welcome to the alchemy lab.” I turned toward the sudden greeting and found myself face-to-face with a golden-eyed young girl. She was fairly tall, had pale white skin, and beautiful pink hair that flowed to the side in a ponytail. She looked older than Cesca, physically at least. 
She wore a dark top, with a large pink ribbon about her chest. On her lower body there were black tights, and a fairly standard white skirt. Her outfit wasn’t really different from the ones worn by the other two when I’d met them. There was one thing setting her aside from the other two Gynoids, however. The size of the mounds beneath the ribbon on her outfit. She was on Cecile’s level at the very least... 
“I’m the Terminal Gynoid of the Alchemy Lab of Babylon, you see. My name is Bell Flora. But please, call me Flora.” If her name was Bell Flora, then I thought it’d make more sense to call her Bell, but... it was her call. That reminded me, Cesca’s full name was actually Francesca. Maybe in their culture it was normal to call people by the latter part of their names or something. 
But still, she had said we were in the lab. That meant it wasn’t any of the facilities we were looking for. 
“You’ve arrived here, you see. That means you have the same attributes as the doctor. But only a person deemed worthy can become the administrator of the Alchemy Lab of Babylon.” 
“I know all this already. I’ve already been recognized by the Terminal Gynoids from both the garden and workshop.” 
“The garden and the workshop? That means you’ve met Cesca and Rosetta, you see? My, it’s almost been five thousand years... How nostalgic.” Flora smiled happily and put her hands to her chest. Jiggle, jiggle... They both jiggled... 
My eyes darted downward, staring without my consent. In that moment, I knew what had happened. She’d used magic on me! That was it. That must’ve been it. She’d cast a wicked hex on me! 
“For those two to have accepted you, you must have the required qualities, you see... But even so, you must pass my test!” Her test? Oh, that suddenly reminded me that Cesca and Rosetta both had tests for me as well... a thought that drove a cold sweat to my brow. But it was already too late. As I was lost in thought, my body was taken advantage of. Flora grasped me by the hand, forcing my digits and palm against her spongy orbs. 
S-Soft... A soft sensation spread across my hand. The sponginess, the springiness... I couldn’t stop myself. Flora’s sudden action had scared me, so I instinctively flexed my fingers. I’d unintentionally groped her. It was inevitable, it was unavoidable! It wasn’t my fault, but even so, the deed was done. I had given her a firm squeeze. 
“A-Ahh, y-you see...?” Flora’s lovely voice snapped me back to reality, so I quickly realized what was going on. She had violated me, somehow! 
“Wh-Wh-What the hell?!” I was in a very compromising position, so I yelled out in a flurry, but... I had to be calm, I had to be composed. 
“Ufufu... You’ve passed the test! If you had turned into a savage beast and bent my knees back here and now, you’d have been disqualified for sure, you see!” 
Beast?! What the hell is wrong with you, lady?! You just sexually harassed me, in reverse? I guess? I don’t get it, but this doesn’t sit right with me! Flora suddenly began to undo her ribbon, then started unfastening the buttons on her blouse. I had no idea what I was even looking at. 
“Now for level two, you see... Let’s see if you can hold back much longer...!” 


Her breasts heaved and shuddered as they sprang forth from her blouse. My eyes couldn’t process what was in front of them. Fully nude, fully uncensored, up close and personal. My eyes instinctively darted away. Why the hell wasn’t she wearing a bra? 
“H-Hey! Put them back in already! I’m not gonna jump you, quit it!” 
“Are you sure? You could squeeze them, rub them, tweak them all you like, you see...” 
“I’m quite fine, thank you! I’ve had my fill!” I didn’t even know what I meant by that. My mouth just moved on its own, so I was spewing confused garbage. I could almost hear the doctor laughing at my flustered panic... If I had a time machine, I was sure I’d have used it to go back and show her a thing or two... 
“...Very well, would you like to shove them back into my blouse?” 
“I said I’m quite fine, thanks!” I yelled at her, quite irritated. Seemed that this girl contained a twinge of the doctor’s personality, as well. It really ticked me off. 
“I recognize you formally as a man suitable for the job. Therefore, I, Number Twenty-One, Bell Flora, hereby relinquish myself to you. Please treat me well, Master.” Flora adjusted her outfit and gave me a beaming smile. 
Just as I’d expected, this girl was a whole heap of trouble. Before I could even process my thoughts, she violently grabbed me by the face and pulled my lips to hers. No, not again! 
“Augh!” Just like with Cesca and Rosetta, she swirled her tongue around the inside of my mouth. Mmph, hey! Get off me... I— Help! After spending a short while violating my mouth with her tongue, Flora pulled back. Not before nibbling my lower lip, though. 
“Mm, genetic registration confirmed. Your genetic information has entered my system, Master. From now on, the Alchemy Lab of Babylon is yours to command, you see.” I heard Flora talk to me, but I was too zoned out and exhausted to fully take in what she was saying. Come on, lady... If you were the guy and I was the girl, that definitely wouldn’t have been considered okay, would it?! 
“This is a facility that specializes in the combination of materials through magic, you see. Though we primarily specialize in medication and food, we are able to do things with other materials, if need be.” I was listening to Flora explain the functions of the Alchemy Lab of Babylon to me. Functionally, it sounded kind of similar to my enchanting spell. From what I understood, it could do something similar to what I did when I enchanted the Silver Moon’s hot springs with [Recovery], just on a much grander scale. 
“So, what kind of things can you make here?” 
“We can create useful items, you see. Potions that cure you of injury, for example. But we can also imbue items with certain qualities, like making plants that bear disease-resistant fruits. Plants that would pass that quality on to whoever ate it, you see.” That was definitely interesting to hear. I had a feeling something like that would come in handy in Brunhild’s agricultural movements. 
“We are also equipped with a state-of-the-art medical facility, you see. If you were to have an arm ripped from its socket, or a leg shredded into grisly, writhing strips of red paste, we would simply grow you a new one!” I wondered if that was something more along the lines of biotechnology or life-restoring magic. I guess it dealt with science in the same way that fermenting natto, soy sauce, miso, and yogurt did. Still, her mention of selective breeding made me think it was more related to genetic modification. 
I wondered if we’d be able to use this place to clone people, or create homunculi... Given that Flora, the girl before me, was a gynoid with mostly biological parts... Well, it was entirely possible that she and the others were grown here. 
I decided not to think about that too much. 
“Could you crossbreed an apple with an orange to make a new fruit?” 
“That is indeed possible, you see. I can create an orange with the taste of an apple, as well as the inverse! I can even create a crop that fuses the flavor of both into one fruit.” That was incredible, but I had no idea how it worked. I wondered if we could cross garlic seeds with rice grains, and produce the ability to grow garlic rice... One fact was clear, this piece of Babylon had some of the most bizarre potential out of the lot. Still, it was more apt to call this a kind of magical synthesis, rather than alchemy. There was nothing scientific about it at all. 
“They’ve been modified by magic, but they’re still plants, you see. How they grow will depend on the hand of the one nurturing them. The taste will likely vary based on how well they’re taken care of.” Well, that made sense enough to me. We’d be introducing crops that had never before been seen in the world, though... So frankly, it was unknown whether or not they’d even turn out okay. The only way to know would be to try growing them. I made a mental note to set up an experimental farm for this very purpose. 
As I listened to Flora’s explanation, I finally set foot in the lab itself. On one side, there was a row of glass cases of all different shapes and sizes, all lined up in a row. On the other, there were various tool cabinets and storage units. There was something that looked like a control panel in the middle of the room, and beyond that there were a ton of cylindrical cases made out of glass. They sort of looked like cryogenic pods from old sci-fi movies. I wondered if they were capsules people would enter to be treated. 
“This is a gathering of the many amazing chemicals and potions the professor synthesized, you see. Most of these are medicinal, in fact.” 
“Amazing... So she actually researched things for the betterment of humanity...” 
“She certainly did, you see. Love potions, high-potency aphrodisiacs, erotic stimulants, energy tablets, libido enhancers, sensitivity agents, fertility-guaranteeing drugs... She was amazing, you see. All of these things are of the greatest potency, and with zero side effects.” 
“Never mind, I take it all back!” That damn old doctor was too horny for her own good. The only kind of medication she whipped up here was for a very specific subset of people! 
“The effect of this one is supposed to be beyond reason, you see. I’ve heard it’s so strong that you’ll feel as though you’ve died and gone to heaven...! I’ve never tried it myself, you see, but... i-if you’d like to indulge with me, master...!” 
“For the sake of the sanctity of life, I outright refuse!” Was this some kind of sick joke? I wondered if this stuff was actually safe and without side-effects, though... Things were mighty suspicious in the lab. Well, it didn’t matter much. I wasn’t planning on using any of it either way... At least I probably wouldn’t use any of it, yet. 
“Didn’t the doctor create anything, like... normal?” 
“Not at all.” Damn, that was blunt. This facility really was useless to me, after all... It was like a complete manifestation of whimsical nonsense. I began to wonder whether or not bringing my precious brides-to-be near this place would be a good idea... 
I left the lab and bared myself to the wind, deep in thought. Well, I have no choice but to bring the others...

“The Alchemy Lab of Babylon...? Is that even going to be of any use to us?” Leen let out a frustrated mutter. Seems she was disappointed it wasn’t the facility she was after. 
I’d called everyone over to the new facility, then set a course for Brunhild. I was planning on linking up the new piece to our Babylon puzzle. 
“Uhm... did I do something wrong, you see?” 
“No, don’t mind it.” Flora looked over with a troubled expression. It wasn’t a problem that Leen was irritated, but if she was going to get like this every time until we found the library, I decided I’d stop bringing her along. That aside, everyone except Leen was staring over at Flora. 
“Ah, are you the one in charge of the lab...?” 
“Ah, I’m Flora, you see.” 
“Th-They’re big...” Both Yumina and Lu had their eyes transfixed on Flora’s hefty melons. 
“Wh-What’s with those things?” 
“I-I can’t possibly win... Not against those... Th-They knock me out of the park...” The twins shuddered in misery for some reason... Yae and Leen, on the other hand, didn’t seem especially troubled. Yae’s bust was about the same size as Flora’s anyway, while Leen seemed to be deep in thought. 
I wondered why they cared so much... Well, it wasn’t too hard to figure out. After all, a man tends to glance at larger things more often. In the end, I didn’t care. Big or small, the chest still held the heart. Big ones were eye-catching, but it didn’t matter much to me in the end. 
“D-Do you prefer them big, Touya?!” Lu looked at me with wide eyes, seeming about ready to cry. That wasn’t the case at all! Flora’s big knockers had nothing to do with my tastes. Sure, my eyes might have occasionally darted down there, but my heart wasn’t dominated by her chest. 
“You should not fret, you should not. Lu-dono and Yumina-dono will surely blossom at a later date, they will. When I was your age, my bust was around the same size, it was.” Yae’s words brought hope to the saddened eyes of Yumina and Lu, but Elze and Linze simply sank into a deeper despair. 
“...Perhaps we could make them grow with a little massage?” 
“What the hell?! Don’t say stupid crap like that!” I ended up overreacting to Leen’s casual comment. That irritating fairy really never knew when to shut up. Upon hearing the exchange, everyone except Flora averted their eyes and blushed beet red. Flora herself only smiled widely, then opened her mouth. What are you doing? 
“Ehehe, my dear master already massaged mine a short time ago, you see...” Why in the world did you think that was a good thing to say right now?! Everyone, other than Leen, turned their gazes upon me in seconds flat. Flora opened her mouth with an innocent little smile, then... dealt the final blow to her enemies with her words. 
“He planted a wonderful kiss upon my lips as well, you see.” 
What?! You damned fiend, what the hell are you saying?! Are you taking a sick pleasure in all of this?! You’re the one who kissed me! I thought I could see Doctor Babylon’s wicked grin hiding behind Flora’s innocent beaming for a moment there. 
“Touya, I believe we need to have a small chat...” Yumina turned to me, smiling, but there was no kindness in her eyes. All of the other girls wore the same terrifying expression. 
Wait, no! This is a misunderstanding! I’m innocent here! I was made to bow down and listen to all of them yell at and lecture me for some time after that. It wasn’t fair... Once again, I was reminded of why hunting for the pieces of Babylon was a terrible idea. 
Paula patted me gently on the shoulder, reassuring my dejected self. Only she was there to comfort my wounded heart. 

The alchemy lab docked with the workshop and the garden, way up in the skies of Brunhild. At this point, the structure was around the size of a castle. It didn’t really have that many buildings, though. 
Cesca wore a maid uniform, Rosetta a workman’s overalls. Flora, on the other hand, changed into a nurse outfit. I guess they all had their preferences for casual attire. I wasn’t really sure why she made that choice of all things. But I did consider the fact that the alchemy lab doubled as a medical facility, so it wasn’t too far-fetched to call it a reasonable choice of clothing. 
That being said, I thought her choice of a pink nurse outfit complete with matching white stockings-and-garter belt combo was pushing it a little far. It felt more like a sexy nurse outfit than an actual uniform. Not to mention the fact that the outfit really seemed to emphasize the bust. I had no idea where to look. 
Flora’s medical knowledge was fairly extensive, so I decided to put a doctor’s office inside the castle for her to work out of. I could pretty much heal whatever with my magic, but having an actual medical facility in-house would be a very useful emergency backup. 
In the meantime, I planned to have the alchemy lab produce rice hybrids. I had acquired many rice seeds from Eashen, and the plan was to imbue them with resistance to disease and general plant-destroying trouble. I had set aside a plot of land in the eastern part of my nation, it was my experimental agricultural zone. I hoped it would work out. 
The street along the highway to Brunhild was also being well developed. Old man Naito was really giving it his best, so I was quite happy about that. 
The Brunhild Branch of the Silver Moon had been opened successfully too, it would prove a good place for weary travelers to rest their heads. I had set up a bath house there, too. It was proving pretty popular, on account of its fatigue-restoring properties. Micah ended up hiring a whole fleet of employees, most of which were ex-Takeda ninjas. It felt like she was really stepping into the shoes of a managerial position. 
“Seems Brunhild is coming along quite nicely... quite nicely indeed...” 
“Well, it’s Touya’s nation, after all. I wasn’t too concerned.” 
“Ah, sorry, Beastking. That’s Pon. Hoho...” 
“Heheheh. This is what you get for calling off me. Ron, Emperor. Tanyao, Pinfu, and Iipeikou. That’s 3900 points.” Ah, Refreese’s emperor just played into the emperor of Regulus’s hand. Wait, what were these guys doing here? This was Brunhild castle’s gaming center. And the rulers of the western nations were all gathered around its mahjong table. But not me. I wasn’t here to play mahjong. 
“So, what exactly did you call us all here for?” 
“Hm? No real reason. I simply wished to play mahjong with you all.” 
The king of Belfast responded casually. That’s why they were here? I even went out of my way to use the Gate to check up on them. These guys really need to take their safety more seriously. 
They pushed all their tiles into the depression in the center, and the automatic table provided them with a new fully shuffled set. They distributed the tiles with practiced movements and began their next game. They’ve really taken a liking to this game... 
“Well, I also thought this would make for a good opportunity to exchange information.” The emperor smiled as he discarded a tile. I was glad they’re all getting along, but this was a little worrying. It would be a pretty big problem if all the heads of state neglected running their countries and spent all day playing mahjong instead. 
“So you said you were swapping international gossip?” 
“Indeed. Lately there’s been a bit of a stir within the Ramissh Theocracy.” The King of Belfast spoke up whilst sorting through his tiles. I had vaguely heard about the Ramissh Theocracy, it was a sovereign nation located to the southeast of Regulus. If I remembered right, it was close to Mismede, accessible by crossing the Great Gau River. You could also reach Belfast by going downstream further from there. 
“What’s happening over there?” 
“Well they say that there’s been a vampire running about Isla, their holy city.” 
“A vampire?” That certainly sounded strange. But, on the other hand... I might’ve just been out of the loop. Vampires could just be another common species in this world. I tentatively looked over to the beastking. He was a demi-human, after all. 
“According to what I’ve heard, there’s new victims every night. Each of the corpses found is a dry husk, drained of all its blood.” How terrifying. This murderer certainly had questionable hobbies. 
“That’s why people think it’s the work of a vampire... a member of the Vampire Clan.” The emperor explained to me as he dropped a tile. The Vampire Clan, huh? So there was an actual race of people known as vampires, then. Well, seeing as there was an Aquatic Clan in Mismede, it stood to reason that there would be a lot of different races in this world. 
“The truly troublesome thing about this incident is that it had to be in Ramissh. Its citizens are all devout followers of Lars, the god of light. They despise denizens of the dark, no matter who they are. Anyone who so much as has an affinity with dark magic is shunned.” The beastking grimaced as he discarded his tile. Seriously? That sounded more like a cult than a religion. 
“Who’s this Lars guy?” 
“Hm? Oh, you haven’t heard of him Touya? It’s an old legend about the founding of Ramissh. A thousand years ago, the land was overrun by demons and spirits. But then Lars descended from the heavens and cleansed the land of all that was evil. The people that lived there came to worship this god of light, and spread his gospel wherever they could. That was how the Theocracy of Ramissh came to be...or so the tale goes.” I tilted my head in confusion at the king of Belfast’s explanation. God of light, huh? I already knew two gods, so perhaps it wasn’t so farfetched a story after all. I doubt the god of love had anything to do with it, but there was always the other one. Though I couldn’t imagine it, really. 
Besides, it seemed like he liked to avoid getting involved in worldly affairs. He had a bunch of other worlds to manage as well too, so he was probably too busy to deal with every little problem that popped up. 
I could always call him up and ask, but it didn’t really seem important enough to warrant it. He’d probably get annoyed if I called him up for every little thing. He was God, after all. 
“Dealing with Ramissh is always so irksome. They insist on making every decision based on their holy doctrine. Everything is done ‘in the name of justice and light.’ They’re all so stiff and uptight. Their pope especially.” 
“Oh yes, I cannot deal with that pope either. Any time we meet I always get a lecture. All that old crone ever does is nag. Well, I suppose she does mean well.” 
The emperor and the beastking exchanged wry smiles. Pope? 
“Excuse me, but when you say pope, what do you mean?” 
“Ramissh is a theocracy, not a monarchy. The ruler is elected from among the highest ranking bishops at the time, they don’t inherit their position. Once elected, the pope rules until they die, or chooses to retire. The current pope is Elias Altra. Or rather popess. This is the twentieth year of her reign so she must be past sixty by now... Ah ha.” The Refreese emperor dropped his tile onto the table. 
“That’s a ron, Emperor. Pinfu with two dora. 3900 points.” 
“Again?!” Once more, the Refreese emperor had played into the emperor of Regulus’ hand. The beastking looked up at the sky in defeat. 
“Ahh, I almost had a chinitsu too...Why must you keep going for quick wins with cheap hands, Your Highness?” 
“Strategy, my good man. Even if I never win big, as long as I’m the only one who wins, I’ll come out ahead.” 
The king replied triumphantly. Luck was what made mahjong such a thrilling game after all. In a way, their playstyles reflected their personalities as well. You could learn a lot about someone by how they played. The Belfast king continued talking as they pushed all the tiles into the center. 
“The Vampire Clan is actually one of the few clans that make up the demonkin. They’re not exactly a rare species, but they definitely know what Ramissh thinks of their kind, so it’s odd that one would show up there. There’s something fishy about this whole situation.” It did sound like suicide for a denizen of the dark to show up there. Though if the vampire hadn’t been caught yet, that meant he was doing a pretty good job of hiding. Hmm, this definitely struck me as odd... 
“Well, as long as it’s not affecting us there’s no reason to worry about it. It’s not like the entire clan has started attacking people or anything. Though if Ramissh starts going after the whole clan because of this, I’d take the vampires’ side.” The beastking harrumphed loudly and crossed his arms over his chest. Beastmen were still discriminated against in a lot of places. He probably hated the idea of someone being persecuted just for their race or birthplace. Though I agree it’s a little fanatic to believe anyone that belongs to the dark is automatically evil. 
The Ramissh Theocracy... 
It didn’t sound like a place I’d want to go to. I did believe in Gods, and I probably had more reason to be grateful to them than most, but I couldn’t say I cared for religion. 
In the end, the Refreese emperor kept losing to the emperor of Regulus, and the round ended with him in the lead. The four rulers agreed to meet again the next month and went home. 
Seems they’d decided to make it a regular thing. 

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