"Potential for growth comes when you push
beyond 100 percent."
-Seventy percent effort will give you stability in life.
AUTHOR: RUDEUS GREYRAT
TRANSLATION: JEAN RF MAGOTT
Someone Notices Something Amiss
IN A SMALL TAVERN tucked away in the Second City of Irelil, the second largest city in the Biheiril Kingdom, Sandor von Grandour and a young man were having a drink.
“…So, you’re saying the monkey-faced demon left the Second City of Irelil for the capital, then vanished?”
“Yeah. His mug’s supposed to be unique, so I reckon it’s true.”
“I dunno… Hey, I swear I don’t know any more than that! I’m just speculatin’, but I reckon he caught wind that you was after him and did a quick vanishing act.”
The informant speaking to Sandor was little more than a boy, but that boy knew more rumors of the Biheiril Kingdom than anyone else. Either he was older than he looked, or he was a pawn of the real information broker.
“Hey, mister,” said the boy abruptly, “I’ve got a juicy story—only it’ll cost you extra.”
Sandor pulled a silver coin out of his pocket and clunked it down in front of the boy, who scooped it up quickly into his pocket.
“You hear about the devils in the forest?” he asked.
“Yeah, you know the ones. Turns out, they’re them Superd. Some foreign adventurer made ’em angry, so they slaughtered a whole village.”
“Gosh. Nasty people who’ve moved in,” Sandor said.
“They say the kingdom’s gonna send out a hunting party any day now. I hear tell the forest devils make invisible beasts fight for ’em, so who knows how bad the fallout’ll be…”
The remainder of the boy’s story was made up of extremely exaggerated rumors. There was nothing to confirm it for sure, but it sounded like gossip someone might spread on purpose. That someone was obviously Geese.
“Anyway, point is, right now they’re recruiting for the hunting party, so I figure that monkey-faced demon what you been looking for might be hiding in their ranks.”
“I see,” Sandor said. “You’ve given me a lot to go on. Cheers.” He paid the informant another copper coin, then exited the tavern. Outside, night had fallen completely. It was mostly quiet around the backstreet tavern, but he could hear a commotion.
“I want to get this information to Rudeus as fast as possible,” Sandor murmured, “but it’s late.” His words melted into the empty night.
According to the plan, Rudeus was supposed to have come back to town that day with the two soldiers. He’d rendezvous with Sandor in the Second City of Irelil, then they’d go on together to the capital of Biheiril to conduct negotiations. The sun had long set, and Rudeus had not returned.
If that were all, Sandor wouldn’t have worried. He’d have assumed that, Rudeus being who he was, he’d simply gotten carried away talking up the Superd Village to the soldiers.
“First things first, let’s let the Dragon God know.” Sandor went back to his room to share his information. He had a contact tablet in his room. If he used it to get in touch with the others, they might know the source of the rumors and what was delaying Rudeus. Dear me. What modern conveniences. Or rather, I suppose that’s the power of the Dragon God. He turned his gaze to the contact tablet.
“Eh?” The other day, when Rudeus had used it, the tablet had emitted a constant blue glow. Now it looked like an ordinary lump of rock and nothing more.
“…Are you broken?” Sandor gave the tablet a casual rap with his fist, and the part he’d touched just crumbled away.
“Whoa, now…” he said, as his inner voice immediately cried, I broke it! It had gone dim at some point before he got back, so he chose to believe that it had already been fragile.
“This is a pickle, though…” he muttered. Sandor was confident in handling magical implements. In his life thus far, he was proud to say he’d handled more than your average number of them. He’d also broken more than your average number, and he was not confident in his ability to fix them.
“Hmm.” If he couldn’t fix it, he couldn’t confirm his information. He worried over this for a few seconds, then made up his mind.
“Guess I’ll head back.” Perhaps it was different for other people, but he knew that if he were left to his own devices, it wouldn’t lead to anything good. He turned to the teleportation circle.
In that basement, Sandor looked in silence at the teleportation circle. It should have been ready to use, but it wasn’t glowing. Sandor’s alarm bells rang louder. His magic communication implement was broken, and now his magical means of transportation was out of operation. Sandor was an experienced warrior, so he sensed when he was in a trap. This was a perfectly crafted dead end—a cramped basement with nowhere to run. It was a location begging for a surprise attack. His extensive fighting experience brought him visions of enemies blowing up the upper floor and burying him alive… But no, they would have blown it up by now if that were the plan. His foe must want to do it with their own hands to ensure he was dead.
“How about you show yourself already?” he said, turning to the entrance to the basement. Their plan was probably to lie in wait at the exit until Sandor panicked and tried to leave, then stab—knife in the back. Sandor was used to surprise attacks.
He put on a brash voice and said, “I know you’re there.” He pointed his weapon—a staff—at the exit. He hadn’t sensed anything, but he figured he ought to expect as much from someone who’d come to kill him. He waited. There was no response. Foolish of them, when he’d already found them out.
Sandor snorted, then walked forward with a light step, like he was going for a nice walk. Anyone who knew what to look for would get chills seeing that power walk. Thus Sandor left the basement, casting his gaze about to catch the moment the attack came. Whenever it happened, he would be ready. He kept it up all the way outside. There, a battalion of soldiers lying in wait for him…was nowhere to be found. The street was deserted. When Sandor emerged with his staff readied for combat, a passerby shot him a suspicious look.
He set off down the street. He cut a suspicious figure with his staff still gripped in his hands; a buzz of interest swept over the townsfolk. Sandor paid them no attention. That was how he strode through the town gates and out of the town. Seeing from his movements that he was no ordinary passerby, the guards let him get out of town without impeding his departure. Perhaps if he had tried to enter the town from the outside, they would have moved to stop him, but there was no need to call out to someone who was leaving.
Sandor got out safely. Even then, he didn’t lower his staff. He walked until he could no longer see the walls of the town. When he arrived at an empty plain with good visibility, he let his guard down at last, and without a moment of hesitation, he set off running. He was heading for the Superd village. Something was terribly wrong. If he wasn’t the target, someone else was.
“…I really did think someone was there,” he said to himself. As he remembered what he’d said back in the basement, he went a little pink.
Sandor made haste to the forest of the Superd village and didn’t stop at any towns or villages on the way. He hadn’t been attacked back at the teleportation circle, but he was on his guard against an ambush. Whether he was deterring his would-be attackers or there just hadn’t been any assailants in the first place, he couldn’t say, but his journey passed without incident. He exited the forest and approached the ravine. When he went to cross the shudder-inducing depths, Sandor suddenly realized something was wrong.
“There’s no bridge…?” The stone bridge that Rudeus had built had collapsed partway in. It had looked extremely sturdy, but he supposed it had only been a makeshift thing built with magic in the end. Sandor didn’t know much about magic, but he vaguely knew that this sort of dashed-off magic bridge was prone to collapsing. It didn’t strike him as odd. What caught his notice was the original bridge next to the broken one. There was something on the ground near it: the scabbard of a sword. If his memory served, it was the one the regular soldiers of the Biheiril Army carried.
“…What’s this doing here?” he wondered aloud, his alarm bubbling up once again. He knew his own instincts well enough that when something felt wrong, he wasn’t imagining it. Of course there were times he read too much into things, but still, he could trust his gut.
Looking around the bridge to ensure he was alone, he slowly began to cross it until, when he was partway across, he was greeted by a familiar sight. Splotched, black stains. Bloodstains. He couldn’t tell whose, but judging by the color, they were likely human. The blood appeared to have come flying from the broken stone bridge.
The bridge had collapsed. There was a scabbard lying near the original bridge. Sandor furrowed his brow as he pieced together a theory.
“Does that mean Rudeus and the soldiers were attacked on the bridge?”
He set off sprinting. He was across the bridge in a moment, safe on the opposite side. He’d feared attackers hemming him in on the middle of the bridge, but even now that he was on the other side, no attack came. At the end of the bridge, he kept his staff raised for a few seconds, looking for danger. When he knew there was nothing coming, he set off running again.
As Sandor approached the Superd village, he entered stealth mode. From afar, he confirmed that no enemy was occupying the village…and then some Superd warriors came out from the village to greet him. He confirmed he wasn’t a threat, and thus they ambled back to the village.
Sandor headed for the residence of the warrior who—though still recovering from illness—he could trust most.
Ruijerd was eating with Rudeus’s younger sister, Norn, but when Sandor came running in he stood up at once, ready to fight. It was the kind of quick shift you only saw in a legendary hero. Sandor felt his heart flutter.
“Where is Master Rudeus?” he asked.
“He left the village with his soldier escort a few days back.”
That was where it hit Sandor. “I think someone—maybe from the Second City, maybe the Earthwyrm Ravine Village—attacked him on the bridge! Rudeus is missing! Form a search party!”
“Understood!” Ruijerd picked up his spear and ran out of the house.
“Huh…?!” Norn gaped. “Huh…?!” She hadn’t followed the conversation and gaped in bewilderment and alarm. Sandor smiled kindly at her.
“Fear not, Miss Norn,” he told the confused girl. “Your brother is the right hand of the Dragon God. He won’t go down easily. You can count on that. I’m sure he survived the attack and he’s hiding out somewhere. Have no doubt that I will save him!”
With that, Sandor ran to the village square where Ruijerd, who worked fast, had assembled five warriors.
“We’re ready to go.”
“Then let us be off.” The warriors, like Norn, couldn’t conceal their confusion, but their quick response showed their training. They followed Sandor without a single objection.
They ran through the forest. A few Invisible Wolves crossed their path along the way, but the Superd warriors put them down with ease, as though they were brushing aside branches. In no time, they arrived at the ravine. When Ruijerd saw the unremarkable stone bridge Rudeus had made, his brow furrowed.
“There are signs of a fight. The bridge has collapsed.”
Trust a legendary warrior to see all that at a glance, Sandor thought, his heart fluttering again. Suddenly, Ruijerd’s eyes went wide, and he ran out onto the bridge. That was where the specks of blood Sandor had seen were.
“This is Rudeus’s blood,” Ruijerd said.
“So he was attacked here?”
Ruijerd didn’t reply, only went further down the bridge toward the side leading to the Earthwyrm Village. When he reached the end, he knelt and stared intently at the ground.
“Rudeus’s footprints aren’t here,” he said. Sandor automatically looked into the ravine. There’d been an attack on the bridge, and now on the other side, there were two sets of footprints, neither of them Rudeus’s.
“He was killed and thrown off?” Sandor asked. Ruijerd was silent, but from his grave expression, he guessed the likelihood was high.
Even supposing Rudeus wasn’t dead, the ravine beneath them was teeming with Earth Dragons. Rudeus was a powerful magician, but even he couldn’t make it out of such a place alone.
Sandor was deliberating on what to do when suddenly, Ruijerd crouched down at the edge of the precipice and began lowering his legs over it.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Sandor asked.
“…I know how you feel, but if we go into the ravine with this lineup, we’re not coming back out.” Ruijerd might be a legendary warrior, but down at the bottom of the ravine was an Earth Dragon den. They would end up in grave peril if they went, and that was a guarantee. They’d be throwing away their lives for nothing.
“Then what should we do?!” Ruijerd demanded.
Sandor pondered this. It was a tricky situation, no mistake. In the first place, they didn’t know for certain that Rudeus had fallen into the ravine. They couldn’t even rule out the possibility that the other two had set off for the village carrying him, slight though that possibility was.
“…Oh.” That was when Sandor remembered something. He’d set up insurance so that this wouldn’t happen.
“How many sets of footprints were there on the way to the bridge?” he asked.
Ruijerd glared, as though angry at the irrelevant question, but he answered. “Four.”
Sandor looked around at their surroundings. He saw only empty forest. No trees had fallen, nor was the earth torn asunder. It was peaceful. Having confirmed this, he set off running. He was heading for the end of the bridge. The side that led to the valley village. There, Sandor turned his attention to the ground. He saw a single footprint. It was a distinctive one, larger than that of an ordinary man, but not outside the mold of a human. He turned back to Ruijerd.
“Confirm this for me again. You only found Master Rudeus’s blood, correct?”
“Well, that’s all right, then,” Sandor said decisively.
“Let’s leave Master Rudeus for the moment,” Sandor said. “I expect our enemies are on their way.” No sooner had the words left his mouth than Ruijerd seized him by the collar.
“You mean to abandon Rudeus?” he demanded.
“I do not,” Sandor replied calmly. “I give you my absolute guarantee that Master Rudeus will return to us.” His words were full of a conviction that made them strangely persuasive. Ruijerd was still confused, but he slowly released Sandor.