Four-Day Educational Superd Village Tour
I WENT BACK to the Superd village with the two knights in tow. Traveling with them meant I couldn’t use the teleportation circle, so we took the day-long journey back to Irelil by carriage. We stayed in Irelil overnight. I wanted to pick up Chandle on the way, but he said he still hadn’t tracked down our informant, so we just exchanged progress reports. Disappointed that Geese had evaded us for this long, I hurried on. After another day, we reached the Earthwyrm Ravine Village. Like last time, it was full of people. The old woman was berating the mercenaries with gusto. That was what you’d expect, given that not even ten days had gone by since I was last there. I wanted to reassure Grandma that it was all right and the People of the Forest were safe, but it was still a bit soon for that. There’d be time after the hunting party was disbanded. We stayed in the village, then entered the forest the next morning.
“It’s about far enough that we should be there by sundown if we set out in the morning. I ask a little more of your patience.”
“Lead the way. I don’t want to dawdle.”
“My feet hurt.”
My two soldiers tended to moan. First, there was Galixon: he had a magnificent handlebar mustache and looked a lot like the official at the reception desk. They might have been brothers. His tone and the way he talked were totally different, though. Unlike Whiskers from reception, Galixon was much blunter and came across as a bit rough. He was also impatient. I was going to pay for their board at the inn, but before I could get a word in, he’d paid for everything including my share. On the road, the moment he saw it was time to get a fire going, he was already gathering firewood. There was also the time we were attacked by monsters. He actually tried to take the lead in the fight. I was the one who dealt with the monsters in the end, of course. I couldn’t have him getting hurt.
As for Sandor, he was of the long-faced variety—horse-faced, if you felt mean. Unlike Nokopara, wherever he was, he wasn’t actually a horse. Compared to Galixon, he was more laid-back. He always wore a dopey smile and didn’t even draw his sword when the monsters showed up. He wasn’t much of a talker, either—when it wasn’t necessary for him to speak, he clammed up. Funnily enough, though, he was curious about everything. Once he found out I could use non-vocalized magic, he asked me a stream of amazed questions. He was dressed like a soldier, but maybe he was a magician.
I sometimes caught Sandor giving me significant stares like he was evaluating me. It made me feel like I was under observation, but I couldn’t do anything about that. I was the guy who’d shown up out of the blue urging them to call off the hunting party. He probably had orders to keep a close eye on me in case I did anything suspicious. It was only natural for him to be on his guard. It was literally their job to observe me. Even so, for some reason, it gave me the creeps. They barely looked at Dohga, oddly enough. Despite his appearance, he was an innocent kid and I didn’t think he had the brains to fool anyone or anything. Maybe they’d worked that out and that was why they weren’t on guard.
On the road, I ran a positive information campaign for the Superd aimed at Galixon and Sandor.
“The Superd Tribe are good people. They’re a little blunt, but so long as you meet them rationally, they will answer in good faith. They’re also kind to their children, by the way.”
“We aren’t children.”
“Yes, of course, but don’t worry. They’ll be welcoming to you.”
Unfortunately, they were skeptical about the Superd. If they showed up like this, it wouldn’t matter if the Superd welcomed them—they’d suspect the very food put in front of their faces. Not to mention there’d been a plague in the village until recently. They might hesitate to eat the food. But, happily, the Superd had the medical team’s food provisions now. All that stuff was produced in the Kingdom of Asura, so it should be delicious. Anyway, I wanted them to see the sights of the Superd village. We’d have a good time together.
We arrived at the Earthwyrm Ravine. Before us were two bridges.
“Why are there two bridges?”
One had been there originally. The other was the one I’d built.
“I didn’t want the old bridge to collapse when I was halfway across, so I used earth magic to build a new one.”
“Huh. Which one do we cross?”
“This one,” I said, pointing at my bridge. Right away, Galixon jumped on and set off across. Despite the height and the lack of a handrail, he marched on without hesitation. Wasn’t he scared? Guess not. I followed him with Sandor behind me and Dohga in the rear.
“Please don’t collapse,” I said under my breath. If I’d crossed first and the bridge had begun to collapse, I could have saved myself, but Galixon insisted on being the first. He was just like Eris. Maybe Galixon was a Sword God Style fighter too.
“Um, there are Earth Dragons down there…” Sandor said. I turned and saw him clearing his throat, looking below us.
“You hail from this country, right, Sandor? Didn’t you know?”
“I knew, but this is my first time coming here.”
Fair enough. People who’d seen all the famous sights in their home countries were few and far between, and this was not a tourist destination. He was a soldier, so he wasn’t about to go into a forest everyone was forbidden from entering.
Take Red Wyrm Mountain Range in the Asura Kingdom. Next to no one had climbed that set of peaks. It was the same thing.
“Master Rudeus, you introduced yourself as a follower of Dragon God Orsted…” Sandor began. “But have you ever fought an Earth Dragon?”
“You did some spectacular magic on the road. If you fought one, do you think you could win?” His voice was shaking. Maybe he was afraid an Earth Dragon would climb up the ravine and attack us. We couldn’t see the floor of the ravine. That made your imagination run out of control, picturing what might be lurking down there…and what might come flying out.
“Don’t worry,” I told him. “I can’t make any promises if we fall into the middle of a swarm, but I can take one or two of them.”
“One or two…” Sandor repeated. “All right…” He didn’t sound reassured.
“Hey! Move it!” Galixon shouted. While we were talking, he’d already reached the other side and was waiting for us. I picked up my pace to catch up with our hasty companion.
“Once we’re across the bridge, we’ll be practically on top of the Superd village.”
Then the real task would begin.
Welcome to the Superd Village Educational Tour, guided by Rudeus Greyrat and his assistant, Dohga! There were only two tourists.
“The Superd village has a single entrance, with two guards keeping watch to stop monsters getting inside. The Superd have a unique sensory organ, and thanks to that they never miss an intruder. They are already aware of our approach, but you have nothing to worry about. They’re a very friendly race.”
“Why are you talking like that?” Galixon asked suspiciously.
“I’m explaining,” I replied. There was a lot you couldn’t understand just by looking, so I had to explain everything they wouldn’t pick up on. That’s why your guide is here. That’s what the presentation is for.
“We can see the entrance now. Do you see them? Those are Superd. See how their faces are pointing this way even though we’re still inside the forest?”
I pointed towards the village and the two soldiers stiffened. They were Superd, really and truly.
“Their hair is green.”
“That’s right. But there’s nothing to be afraid of. You get along just fine with the ogres, with their red skin and horns. Superd hair is a little different, that’s all. On the inside, they’re just like you…although, as with any types of people, there will be some cultural differences. If you’re friendly, they’ll like you. If you’re hostile, you’ll put them off. They’re just like us. Look, please.”
As I spoke, one of the guards came up to us. First off, I needed them to understand that Superd weren’t devils. Say hello with a smile and get a smile back. That was the first step in good human relations. I raised a hand and greeted the guard.
The guard stared at me doubtfully, hand half raised. He turned to look at his companion. Oops. Got a bit carried away there.
“Excuse me. I’m here with envoys from the Biheiril Kingdom. I want to show them around the village. Would you mind letting us pass?”
“Go ahead. Ruijerd told us about this.”
“Thank you very much. I’d also like to talk to the chief, if we can.”
“Very well. I’ll pass it along.”
One of the young guards set off running into the village. We saw him off, then I said, “Follow me.”
Galixon and Sandor entered the village slowly behind me, their faces tight. They were nervous. To stop them from fretting, I slowed my pace.
“There was a plague going around here until just the other day, but humans can’t catch it.”
I didn’t know that for a fact. Sokas Tea seemed to cure it, but I didn’t even know whether the cause was Vita or the plague. Maybe I was already infected, and a month from now the Biheiril Kingdom would be plunged into a pandemic… I’d still choose the survival of the Superd over the risk of infecting humans I didn’t know.
“They’re getting food ready over there. Guess they’re making dinner, considering the time. That place there is where they grow vegetables. Over on the other side, they’re butchering the spoils of the hunt. See the carcass? It’s visible now, but that’s an invisible monster. They didn’t attack us on the way here, but they’re in the forest. The Invisible Wolves become visible after they’ve been dead for a little while. Just as the name implies, they’re wolves, and they’re invisible. Only the Superd can hunt them well.”
The chief and the others would need to get ready, so I took them on a quick look around the village, explaining as we went. None of the Superd came near us. I wasn’t about to approach them carelessly either. With how standoffish they were being, I had to wonder if it wouldn’t have a negative effect on the soldiers’ mental image of them.
I was worrying too much. All they were seeing were the idyllic scenes you’d find in any village anywhere. It was okay. We were all okay.
“There’s a Millis Church man over there.”
“And an elf.”
I looked over and saw Cliff and Elinalise talking about something. They were walking and pointing at a bundle of papers. Probably still hunting for the cause of the disease.
“Yes, he’s the key architect of the Superd’s recovery from their sickness.”
“Does the Millis faith recognize the Superd then?”
“Not the entirety of the Millis faith, but some of its factions are accepting of demons. I can at least reassure you that the Millis Church isn’t going to dispatch an army to the Biheiril Kingdom just because you shelter the Superd.”
The two soldiers didn’t reply.
“Shall I introduce you?” I suggested.
“No, that’s fine.” I raised a hand in greeting to Cliff. He nodded at me and crossed his arms. The sight of him living peacefully in the Superd village would confirm that the Superd weren’t a danger.
Cliff looked severe as he eyed Galixon and Sandor. I needed another play.
“Oh, look over there! There are Superd children coming this way.”
The children ran past us, holding balls and laughing amongst themselves.
“Aren’t their tails adorable? All Superd have them. They eventually turn into the white spears they carry. Children are sweet and innocent no matter where you come from,” I said, following the children with my eyes. “Don’t you think?”
The soldiers didn’t turn to watch them. Did they hate children? That wasn’t it. They were looking in the direction the children had come from. There stood an unsettling figure in a white coat and a black helmet.
Galixon gasped and his hand went to his sword. I quickly put myself in front of him.
“Uhhh, that’s not a Superd. Just ignore him!”
“Then who is he?”
“That’s my boss, Dragon God Orsted. I know he looks a bit unsettling like that, but he’s all right. He’ll leave your kingdom once this wraps up. He’s harmless and he won’t linger here. Please, rest assured of that.”
“I see,” Galixon said, after a pause that lasted way too long.
Orsted looked at them for a few seconds, then turned and walked away. As he left, the soldiers’ tension dissipated. Orsted’s curse had the effect of turning tense situations sour. On the other hand, after seeing Orsted, it should be all the clearer that the Superd were no more than ordinary villagers.
“There are many warriors amongst the Superd, but as you can see, more than half of them are harmless women and children. Please, set aside your preconceptions and look at them without prejudice. Do they look like devils to you?”
I asked them just after they’d gotten a look at Orsted. I was blatantly implying how much more devilish Orsted looked. I’d apologize to him afterwards.
“They don’t,” Sandor said in the silence that followed. “Setting aside, uh, Mister Dragon God? The village itself seems like any other normal village.”
“Yeah. It looks like my hometown,” Galixon agreed. Whether Orsted had been effective or not, Galixon and Sandor’s impressions weren’t bad so far.
I noticed the young guard from earlier coming towards us. “The chief will see you,” he said.
“Thank you. If the two of you would please follow me, I’ll introduce you to the chief.”
The chief was ready to see us. Feeling that this was a good sign, I guided the two soldiers to where the chief awaited us.
The chief waited in a large-ish house. With the hall still being used as a medical center, he’d had to make temporary arrangements. There were three total waiting for us: two of the four who’d been there at my meeting with the chief, plus Ruijerd. The other two elders were still recuperating.
Norn stood beside Ruijerd, and as we went inside, she brought us tea she’d steeped in advance. My little sister was so considerate, if I do say so myself. She wouldn’t have had the mind to do this sort of thing before. I supposed these were the fruits of a formal education.
“Well, Master Rudeus? What shall we talk about?”
“The history of the Superd, your current situation, and your request to the kingdom.”
After the modest welcome, the meeting went relatively amicably. The Superd chief spoke and the soldiers heard of the Superd Tribe’s past, present, and future, and their small wish to live in peace doing no harm to anyone. As time passed, the soldiers eased up as well. The village was tranquil and the chief’s manner was gentle. Even Ruijerd was doing his best to let down his guard.
“Very well. We will relay all this to his Majesty, just as we heard it,” Sandor said. “Fear not, we will not let you down.” With that, the meeting came to a close.
The soldiers stayed the night in the village. They would set off home the following day. I set them up in the house we’d been lent for Chandle and Dohga. Dohga and I were going to stay there too.
Norn had been staying with Ruijerd the whole time. She was practically attached to his hip; it was like she was chasing after some reminder of Paul.
“How did you find the Superd village?” I asked them before we went to bed.
“It was a more fruitful journey than I expected,” Galixon said, and Sandor agreed. They both looked happy.
“I always heard that the Superd were devils. But it’s different when you see it with your own eyes, isn’t it?”
“It’s a regular village. With great grub.”
“I’m still not convinced about these monsters you can’t see, though. Invisible Wolves, wasn’t it?”
“But the forest was weirdly quiet. Even quieter than the forest near the capital I go into regularly to hunt.”
“I guess it’s true that they’re hunting the invisible monsters then, huh?”
The two of them went on finding this and that to praise about the village until bedtime. Looked like the Superd Village Educational Tour had been a resounding success.
The next day, we decided that I’d see the soldiers back to the capital. I told them that if we stayed two or three days they’d get to see a real Invisible Wolf, but they said they had to get back right away to tell the king and get the hunting party disbanded. We set off at once. It’d really been a whirlwind trip. I really wanted to let them use the teleportation circle, but I restrained myself. Haste makes waste, as the saying goes. If I slipped up here, it’d be mortifying.
I went to tell Ruijerd that I was accompanying them back, then left the village.
The Superd should be all right now. Time to move on to Geese. I wanted to know where the North God and the Ogre God were, too. Chandle’s information gathering seemed to have stalled for the time being, and they might have already fled this country for somewhere else… That could mean Sylphie was in danger. The “somewhere else” could be the Sword Sanctum.
I wondered how Sylphie was doing. I hoped she’d safely made contact with Nina. And how was Eris? I hoped she hadn’t caused any trouble. She was probably all right so long as Roxy was with her, but Roxy slipped up herself sometimes. I couldn’t shake all my worry. As for Aisha and her group… They’d be okay, somehow or other.
“Are you going to return alone?” Galixon asked.
“Huh?” I was walking along, lost in thought, when he turned back and asked me.
I looked around us. Galixon, Sandor, and me.
“That knight? He was fast asleep when we set out. Not even snoring,” Sandor said, and I realized that Dohga wasn’t with us. I hadn’t noticed at all. The guy was huge, but he had no presence. More to the point, he’d slept in?
“Oh, well,” I said breezily, “Please, don’t worry. I’ll be able to protect you just fine, even alone.”
The other two exchanged a look. They didn’t seem convinced. Not to worry, that wasn’t a problem. If it came down to a fight, Dohga’s presence wasn’t going to make a difference.
I had also been told not to be alone, mind you. I could have these two wait for me in an Earth Fortress while I went and got Dohga, but we were going to meet up with Chandle in the Second City of Irel…
I realized the forest had opened into a clearing. We’d reached the Earthwyrm Ravine. In front of us were two bridges. Perfect. Across the bridge there were hardly any Invisible Wolves, so it was relatively safe. They could wait for me once we were across to the other side.
“I’ll go first,” Galixon said like this was the natural order. Sandor and I followed him. Maybe I should have taken the rear to make sure they don’t fall, I thought. I kept on alert, so I’d be ready whenever either of them fell.
Suddenly, Galixon stopped.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. Galixon turned back. His face was blank. It didn’t suit his magnificent mustache.
“You gonna do it?” The question was directed at Sandor. I turned and saw him shrug.
“He’s all yours. Go ahead.”
Sorry? What are they talking about?
“Guys, if you have something to discuss, can it wait until we’re across the bridge?” I suggested.
“Eh?” Galixon exhaled with something a bit like a sigh, then moved his right hand to his left wrist. While I wondered what was going on, he hooked his finger into his gauntlet and slowly pulled off his glove. “I thought you’d notice,” he remarked.
My heart was hammering in my chest. There on his finger was a ring. A ring I recognized.
“When I saw Cliff Grimor with that Eye of Identification, I had my heart in my mouth! Without the gloves, he’d have got us.” Turning, I saw Sandor had taken his glove off as well. He wore the same ring. The ring I recognized because it was the same as the ring on my finger. The magical implement from the Asura Kingdom that changed your face.
Galixon exhaled deeply. “Those stupid theatrics. My shoulders are all knotted up,” he said, then took the ring off. Before my eyes, his face began to change. His mustache vanished and was replaced with the face of a middle-aged man in his forties. A face like a hungry wolf that suited his way of speaking. He was an entirely different person.
“I have a message from Geese: ‘Don’t assume any magic item’s the only one’,” said Sandor. I turned back to him and found his face changed as well. He wasn’t horse-faced any more. He was now a kid with black hair and a face still round with the last traces of puppy fat. “I have to say, I’m disappointed. I had such high hopes after you defeated Auber…”
I was speechless. My mouth was dry. Both Galixon and Sandor looked at me with murderous hostility.
“Geese said, ‘If ya get Boss into a tight place with bad footing, all his tricks will fizzle.’ I didn’t expect you to wander in so obligingly, and to let yourself be flanked…”
“Who…who are you?” I croaked. I don’t know whether I’d guessed it then or not.
“Gall Falion, Sword God fighter.”
“I am North God Kalman the Third, Alexander Rybak.” They both spoke at once. The former Sword God, Gall Falion, and the North God Kalman the Third. They had used Geese’s name. They were enemies. These two were my enemies.
The moment I was sure of that, I reached for my waist and pressed the button to release the scroll for the Magic Armor Version One.
But my arm didn’t move.
I watched as my right arm fell before my eyes, hit the bridge, then plunged down into the ravine. Galixon—Gall Falion, I mean—had his sword drawn. He cut my arm off, I realized, way too late.
“Aaaggghhh!” At last, a wave of excruciating pain raced through me. I tried to cover the stump of my right arm…my left arm wouldn’t move either.
No, not “wouldn’t move.” It wasn’t there. Gone. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my left arm fall into the ravine.
“So that’s your face, eh? Not too shabby. Way prettier than that mug you had on before.”
Gall looked at my face and laughed. When my arm fell, the ring must have stopped working.
“‘Boss casts magic from his hands. Cut ’em off and you might just be able to scuttle him,’” Sandor added. Blood poured from the stumps of both my arms. He was right. I couldn’t use magic. As though the circuits that fired my magic had been in those arms, it wouldn’t come out.
“We could have beaten him without all this, couldn’t we?”
“Nah, there’s no telling what might happen when you fight fair and square. Geese was being real cautious.”
“I don’t think so. When he had that bodyguard, Dohga, that was one thing. I doubt I’d lose to him alone.”
My magic wouldn’t come out of my arms. When I realized that, I started sending magical energy into the Magic Armor.
I upped the output of the leg segments, then turned. Facing Sandor, I launched. I wasn’t attacking. I was aiming past him, to slip past, and back to the Superd village—
Something hit me in the back. It was a sword, I knew that. A slash that cut through the Magic Armor like butter. The Sword of Light. My torso was split in two…or was it? I’d thought it was, but then feeling an impact on my back didn’t make much sense.
Suddenly, I felt weightless. I was falling.
My vision was spinning, but I could make out Gall and Alexander looking down over the edge of the crumbling bridge at me. Ahh, I thought, I kicked down with the full force of the upgraded Version Two and punched right through the bridge.
I continued to fall. With both my arms gone and nothing I could do, I continued to fall. All the power had left my body. Fear rose in its place. I’d be dead in a moment.
Just as I surrendered to my inevitable death, something hit my body hard and I blacked out.
Gall Falion looked down into the ravine Rudeus had just tumbled into and sighed. “He fell?”
Alexander peered into the ravine as well, his brows furrowed dubiously. “Did you hold back at the end there, Gall? Looked almost like you didn’t cut through him.”
“Like hell… It’s this.” He held up his sword. It was snapped off at the hilt. As anyone who knew their stuff could tell, the sword was cast steel, one of those distributed to regular Biheiril soldiers. It wasn’t junk, but it wasn’t a sword made to last.
“That bastard’s armor was a whole lot harder than I thought…”
Be that as it may, Gall Falion was a master of the blade, and a craftsman never blamed his tools. There was no need to use a famous blade to cut up a flesh-and-blood opponent. The cast sword should’ve been more than enough, but Rudeus’s armor had been more resilient than he’d accounted for. He’d met stronger resistance than he’d ever encountered before when he slashed Rudeus across the back.
“Should’ve brought my own sword,” Gall muttered as he threw the sword into the ravine.
“Don’t beat yourself up about it,” Alexander said, shrugging. He continued to stare down into the ravine. “If we’d had our own swords, our identities would have been exposed.” He also had a regular-issue Biheiril sword on his belt. It was, without question, not a fit blade for the North God.
“Well, what now? Do we go down there and finish the job?”
Alexander hmmed indecisively. “After he lost his arms, he couldn’t use magic. So long as that wasn’t an act, I think we’re in the clear.”
“And it’s crawling with Earth Dragons down there.”
“He said himself he could take one or two, but definitely not a swarm,” Alexander said conclusively. He also couldn’t be bothered climbing all the way down the ravine just to check Rudeus was dead. Killing Rudeus had never been the goal.
“Right, that’s our biggest obstacle out of the way. We heading back now?”
“I can’t wait for the fight with Orsted,” Alexander sighed. “Hey, I let you have Rudeus, so you’ll let me have Orsted, right?”
The two of them would go back across the crumbling bridge. Shooting the breeze like nothing of importance had happened, they would go back to the road that led to the capital of the Biheiril Kingdom.
“Eh? You just wanna move up the rankings in the Seven Great Powers. What’s it matter if I go first?”
“You’re wrong. I don’t want a higher ranking. What I want is to be a hero. I want to be a greater hero than my father was—a greater North God than he was.”
“Hah,” Gall scoffed.
No one followed them. No one was watching this place, not even a Superd with their third eye. In the aftermath of the chaos caused by the plague, their hunting parties weren’t venturing far from the village. If someone had been watching, the two men wouldn’t have launched their attack on the bridge.
“No skipping your turn. Come on, let’s stick to the plan. That was one of the conditions.”
Gall hissed through his teeth. “It’s too damn slow. And after Vita jumped the gun, who gives a rat’s ass about the plan anymore?”
With that, Gall Falion and Alexander Rybak melted away into the trees.
The ravine was empty. Only the crumbling bridge remained. Only the bridge and the silence.