IN THE MAGIC CITY of Sharia, in an office on the outskirts of the city, a young elf woman was copying words written on a contact tablet onto paper. Her name was Fariastia—Fari or Tia to her friends. A certain executive at the company still couldn’t remember her name.
Unbeknownst to Rudeus, Fariastia was the real name of Little Miss Elf, the receptionist. She was in charge while the CEO was out of the office.
“Right, from Sylphiette… Nina is pregnant, so she won’t be able to support us. I’m heading to the Biheiril Kingdom now. I guess I should forward this?”
Her job was to take all the information that everyone sent in and copy it out on paper for Rudeus and Orsted when they came back. When the message was urgent, however, she was permitted to use her own discretion to forward it to another tablet. The thing was, these communications were full of words like god and king, so it was hard for an ordinary, middle-class girl to decide what was important.
“Okay, let’s forward it.”
It was Aisha who’d picked her for the job. Aisha had hired her based on stringent criteria through a rigorous selection process. You might think anyone could do Orsted’s paperwork, but her position handled large volumes of information that couldn’t be allowed to leak.
Faria had been born in the capital of the Kingdom of Ranoa. Her father was an elf who’d been a roaming adventurer. Her mother was a human, the daughter of wealthy merchants. She was the youngest of three siblings. Because she was a girl, she wasn’t taught how to be a merchant, and so she’d never aspired to it—however, running around a merchant house since infancy meant she’d grown up watching crafty merchants. That background would come in handy later on. When she started at the University of Magic, she took a class taught by an intelligence agent on a whim and got excellent grades. That was the feature that caught Aisha’s sharp eyes. There were others more skilled in handling information, but she was Orsted’s pick. In Orsted’s estimation, the chances of her becoming their enemy were low.
“First I’ll send this to the Superd village… Who else, after that…? Oh, Eris. Eris might be happy to hear that Nina’s pregnant?” she muttered to herself as she sat in a corner of the CEO’s office, contact tablet in front of her. She toiled over it, magic crystal in hand, sending messages off to the Superd village, the Third City, and Irelil.
A shadow fell over her back.
“Phew, that’s that…huh?” Faria turned around and gaped. An enormous figure filled her vision. “Um… I… Are you here to, ah, see Sir Orsted…?”
Before her was a body like a steel drum with two arms as thick as tree trunks sprouting from it. She saw bright red skin, massive horns, and a jaw like a cooking pot from which two long tusks protruded.
“Orsted’s…woman?” the ogre grunted.
“Sorry?” When Faria hesitated, the ogre swung its arm out. Crash. The contact tablet went flying. It, and the wall of the CEO’s office.
“You enemy? Fight me?”
“Ah… Um…” The ogre clenched its fist, then hurled it at Faria. The fist filled her vision; it was enormous, twice the size of her head. Hair grew from the back of its coarse hand and fingers. The callouses around its knuckles implied a long history of violence. After seeing the wall behind her pulverized, she knew what would happen if that fist hit her.
“I-I’m—I’m not!” Faria cried at last as she crumpled to the ground. All the strength had gone from her legs, as though they’d been pulverized too. She couldn’t flee. The only thought in her mind was that she didn’t want to die.
“Then you, out. You no fight, I no fight.” The ogre grinned, then reached for her.
“Eep!” Faria shrank away from the open, outstretched hand. For a fraction of a second, she thought she was going to be crushed to death, but then the ogre picked her up with unexpected gentleness and tossed her out of the hole she had just made.
“Aaaaagh!” Faria went shooting from the office at terrifying speed, bounced twice, rolled, then came to a stop.
“…Ow!” Every inch of her hurt. Her brain was telling her she had to run—if she didn’t run, she’d be killed. Her body was screaming that it didn’t want to die. Her mouth wouldn’t produce words, just pathetic squeaks. Crashing into the ground seemed to have shocked her legs back to life. Trembling, she rose to her feet like a newborn lamb. She ran a few steps, then fell. She tried three times more, then heard a thunderous rumbling from behind her. She turned.
“Oh…” The office walls crumbled. The red ogre raged at the building, sending stone and timber flying until there was no trace of its original structure. Faria forgot about running. She stared in abject shock as the office was reduced to a pile of rubble.
There was nothing she could do but watch, tormented by her powerlessness. She prayed that the red ogre wouldn’t emerge from the rubble. Prayed that it wouldn’t come this way, even as the noise faded and her surroundings fell silent once more. She kept praying until a passerby, coming to see what all the noise was about, came and took her in.
That day, all the teleportation circles drawn by Rudeus Greyrat stopped glowing.
Roxy and Eris were in the forest. The Third City of Heirulil was a port. As a rule, the oceans of this world were the province of either the Merfolk or the Fishmen, who together made up the Ocean Tribe. Except for set areas of water, land-dwellers were forbidden even from crossing. Fishing in the vicinity of some of the port towns was tolerated, but the Ocean Tribe would sink the boat of anyone who ventured beyond those limits. Things were a little different in Heirulil. The stretch of ocean between the Third City of Heirulil and Ogre Island belonged to the Biheiril Kingdom. When the kingdom was founded, they’d cleared the Fishmen from the area and claimed it. Since then, the fishing industry had prospered in the Third City. There was seafood on offer here that couldn’t be found anywhere else.
At least, in theory.
“I’m getting sick of fish. It’s all we’ve been eating lately.”
“You are? But it’s delicious!”
On the outskirts of Heirulil lay a forest surrounded by a fence. The fence was less to prevent trespassers and more to stop monsters from getting out. The two of them walked through the forest munching on dried fish.
“Yeah, but it’s salty. Why do they put so much salt on it?”
“I expect that’s to preserve it.”
“Why don’t they just preserve it with ice magic, like Rudeus does?”
“Ice magic isn’t something just anybody can use,” Roxy said, laughing a little at Eris’s grumbling. Eris wasn’t usually one to complain about food, but it was true that they’d been eating a lot of salted fish.
Despite the city’s reputation for great seafood, they hadn’t found any fresh stuff in Heirulil.
The reason for this soon became clear. It was Ogre Island, which was a day’s journey away by boat from the Third City. The men of Ogre Island were excellent fishermen. Usually, they worked with the humans to catch fish around their island. At present, the ogre men weren’t fishing. They kept saying a battle was coming soon and they were getting ready. Because of that, supply was running lower than usual in the port.
Roxy and Eris had promptly ascertained why the ogres were preparing for battle. They were going to join the hunting party on the orders of their leader, the Ogre God. Ogre God Marta was in the Second City of Irel.
Now, they were heading for the cave where the teleportation circle was to tell Rudeus what they’d learned. They’d been a little delayed in getting the message out, but when they’d last checked the contact tablet, it had been good news: the Superd Tribe had been on the road to recovery and negotiations with the kingdom had gone well. They weren’t going to come back and find everything on fire after that.
“The Ogre Tribe protects the Bihieiril Kingdom. I suppose this means that that agreement is still in effect. I don’t understand why he’s in the Second City and not the capital or the Third, though…”
“Geese must be on the move.”
“It’s too early to say that for sure. The Ogre God might just be surveying the location on his own. There’s still a chance we could win his allegiance, so we can’t go antagonizing him,” Roxy said, but at the same time, she sensed something wasn’t quite right. They could see he wasn’t acting as he usually would. Was it the enemy’s plan? Or were they just not seeing the full picture?
At least things were going smoothly. Rudeus had saved the Superd village, and now the Superd were his allies. Roxy and Eris might not have been able to obtain any information on Geese, but they’d located the Ogre God. Roxy had no reason to think so, but she wondered if maybe Zanoba had found something out about the North God in the capital. Things were going well enough that she suspected he might have.
At the same time, she felt an inexplicable sense of dread. After thinking about it for days, she decided it reminded her of the dread she’d felt when they were trapped in the Teleportation Labyrinth. The sense that everything looked like it was going well, but they’d missed something important. Any time a task was going well for her, she always got tripped up. She was well aware of this.
“Hey, Roxy? After this report’s done, how about we go meet up with Rudeus?”
“You never let that drop, do you, Eris?”
“I just want to see Ruijerd already! I’ll introduce him to you!”
“Um, I have actually met him once before.”
Ah, that’s where the dread is coming from, Roxy thought with a wry smile. Rudeus and Eris weren’t afraid of the Superd at all. She knew intellectually that the Superd were not the devils they were said to be—but no matter what she did, she still stiffened at the mention of them. She’d been told the old story about them ever since she could remember. Even so, she was going to have to meet them. Rudeus and Eris were indebted to Ruijerd. He was their old companion. She ought to introduce herself to him, but she still couldn’t stop her heart from quailing. If she just met him, talked to him, spent time with him, that would surely change…but what if it didn’t? That thought had to be where the dread was coming from.
“Maybe you’re right. It might be a good idea to go to the Second City while we have the chance to pin down Ogre God Marta. He might head elsewhere before long.”
They’d learned all they could in the Third City for the moment. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to leave their post for a little while and pay a visit to the Superd village.
With that thought, Roxy came to a halt before the cave where they’d set up the teleportation circle. Its entrance was a hole just large enough for a person to enter while crouching, camouflaged with branches and other foliage. The original inhabitant, a bear, had attacked them when they passed near it, so Eris had cut it up and they’d eaten it. The size and placement of the cave was just right, so they’d repurposed it.
They pushed aside the branches hiding the entrance and went in. It was about twenty meters deep and decently spacious. The only problem was that it stank of bear. The teleportation circle and contact tablet were right at the back.
“…Huh?” There was something a little off about the circle. It was in the middle of a forest, a place saturated with magical energy. It should have been glowing blue, in a state of constant activation. For some reason, it was dark.
“What’s going on?” said Eris.
“Give me a minute.” Keeping calm, Roxy examined the magic circle, thinking that perhaps she’d made a mistake. The circuit was malfunctioning; that had to be it. But as she examined it, she couldn’t see any problems. It had been working fine up until just the other day, and there were no signs of anyone entering the cave…
“Hey, this isn’t working either,” Eris called. Roxy looked up and saw Eris crouched down beside the contact tablet. The light had gone from the tablet as well. Roxy hurried over and tried to push magic into it along with a random string of characters. It didn’t respond.
Roxy stood there at a loss. “What could possibly have caused this?” she said to the air. This was wrong. The teleportation circle was one thing, but Orsted had made the contact tablet. She’d helped to replicate them. It was inconceivable that they could be faulty. They wouldn’t stop working just like that…
“That’s obvious,” Eris said. She wasn’t confused. Did she know what had caused this, then? Roxy looked at her questioningly.
Eris folded her arms. Looking down at the contact tablet, she announced, “Something happened!”
“Yes, that’s… If nothing had happened, this wouldn’t…” Roxy began saying, then it hit her. Something had happened. Where? Not here. There were no signs that anyone had been here. The entrance was perfectly concealed. Neither man nor beast had come into the cave. It must have been somewhere else, then. Both the teleportation circles and the contact tablets needed a counterpart in order to function. If you lost one, the other would automatically stop working.
There was nothing wrong with the ones they had here. What about the ones they connected to?
“Something happened in Sharia…?” Lara’s face appeared in Roxy’s mind, followed by all the other children. Lucie, Arus, Sieg—and Lilia and Zenith, who were looking after them.
If something was wrong in Sharia, all of them were…
Roxy leapt to her feet and ran out of the cave. If this teleportation circle was no good, she thought, they’d find another one. After a few steps, she stopped. If she were their enemy, and she’d launched an attack on the office in Sharia, what would she do to the other magic circles? She wouldn’t just leave them be. She’d destroy them all.
“What do we do… What are we supposed to do?”
Was someone already dealing with this threat? According to the last message, Orsted wasn’t in Sharia right now. If someone was attacking the office, was there anyone there to defend it?
“Roxy!” Eris shouted, jolting Roxy back to herself. “Tell me what’s going on!”
“The teleportation circle and contact tablet have been deactivated. There’s no problem on our end, so Orsted’s office in Sharia has probably been attacked. It’s possible they attacked our house at the same time. Right now, there’s no one at the house…”
“Right.” Eris listened until partway through, then stood up. “Does Rudeus know about this?”
“I don’t know. He might.”
Eris stood for a while without moving. She stayed in the same pose and just pulled her chin with the corners of her mouth turned down. After a moment, she looked up again, like she’d arrived at an answer.
“The house will be fine! Sylphie’s there!” she said.
“Huh?” Roxy stared at her. “Sylphie went to the Sword Sanctum…”
“Sylphie said that when Rudeus is away, she’ll protect the house! So it’s fine!”
Roxy didn’t reply. That’s absurd, she thought. She can’t seriously think… But then she thought again. They didn’t know when the teleportation circle had been deactivated. Sylphie wasn’t using a teleportation circle at the office. She’d used the old teleportation ruins. Even if she couldn’t join them in the Biheiril Kingdom, she could get back to Sharia. All they could do was leave it to her.
“You’re right,” she said. There was also Perugius. Roxy was a demon, so he was cold to her, but he was close to Rudeus. He’d even given Sieg a name of his own design. She couldn’t guess what he’d do, but there was a whistle back at the house to call his servants. If something happened, Lilia would use it. That wasn’t all. Rudeus had summoned Leo in case something like this happened. If he didn’t do anything now, what was the point of having him? There were plenty of safety measures in place. The Mercenary Band was still there, and so were the crafters at the Zanoba Store. If it came down to it, the teachers at the University of Magic would help, too.
All that made her feel a little better. They just had to keep going. She and Eris could do that right now.
“Right, let’s go!” Eris said.
“Yes, let’s go.” There was nothing else they could do here. Roxy didn’t need anyone to tell her what it was they could do. They had to get the information they had to the people who needed it. She was afraid for their children back in Sharia—that was only natural. If it were possible, she and Eris both would have scrambled to get home.
Both of them fought that urge, and they got moving. They hurried to where Rudeus was. To the Superd village.
Zanoba was panicking. Rudeus hadn’t come back. The hunting party was getting ready to march, and the day of its departure drew near.
Rudeus had set off in high spirits for the Superd village. Rudeus. Zanoba knew he’d use all the tricks he had to bring the soldiers around, and they’d all make peace.
Had negotiations broken down? The message on the contact tablet had said I was successful in persuading them. Yes, it had been signed by Orsted, but Zanoba couldn’t start suspecting him at this late stage.
What was happening? Maybe they’d been attacked by assassins on the way. Or they could have run into some other trouble on the road that held them up. Surely he hadn’t felt so at ease that he’d stopped to see the sights in the Second City? No, that was absurd.
The fact remained that if nothing changed, the hunting party would set off in ten days’ time.
Should I wait? Or should I act? Zanoba thought. Eventually, he decided to act. He’d teleport to the Superd village and find out what was really going on. Having made up his mind, he didn’t delay. He took Ginger and Julie and left the inn. Clutching their luggage, they hurried to the hut where they’d set up the teleportation circle.
“Hrm… This isn’t good…”
The light of both the teleportation circle and the contact tablet had gone out. Zanoba understood right away. Something was wrong at the office. After a few seconds of thought, he reached his conclusion.
“We’re going to the Superd village!”
“Roger that!” she replied, then added, “What about the Second City?”
“We’re not going through it. If our enemies are here, that’s where they’ll be.”
Zanoba exited the hut, then reached into his pocket to pull something out. It was a whistle. A gold whistle in the shape of a dragon. Without hesitation, he blew it. It emitted a comforting trill.
Nothing happened. No one came.
“Drat, we are too far away. Ginger! Julie! Was there a monument to the Seven Great Powers nearby?”
“Not that I remember.”
“I didn’t see one!”
There was more than one person who could operate teleportation circles. Zanoba had thought he’d call Perugius and ask him for help, but it hadn’t worked.
“Fine! Tell me if you see one on the way! We’re heading for the Superd village at once!”
Everyone would converge on the Superd village. Perhaps it would be soon enough.