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Chapter 7: Secret of the Proxia Empire Castle 

One week after the dinner party with Satsuki and Liselotte, Rio visited the imperial capital of the Proxia Empire, Nidgard. He was practically certain that Reiss was the ambassador of the Proxia Empire, and with his connection to Lucius, there was no way he could disregard this country any longer. 

He moved by flying with his spirit arts, landing off the road close to the capital, then made the rest of his way on foot. Outside the castle walls were unprotected residential areas. 

It’s a fairly big city. Enough to proclaim itself an empire, I suppose. 

In terms of city size alone, it probably surpassed that of both capitals of the Galarc Kingdom and the Beltrum Kingdom. However, the urban development outside the walls was rather negligent, and public safety didn’t seem too fantastic, either. There was a somewhat heavy atmosphere in the air. 

Compared to the gloom outside the castle walls, the castle sure is splendid... 

Rio gazed up at the imperial castle in the distance and thought to himself. The castle in his field of view was truly luxurious and magnificent. 

What’s that barrier? 

From a distance, Rio could see there was a barrier set up around the Proxia Castle. It was cleverly hidden, but there were faint traces that could be detected. When he stared hard enough, he realized there was a cylinder-shaped barrier set up around the entire castle. 

In the first place, the spell that formed the barrier was complex—in terms of Strahl region standards, it was still a sorcery difficult to put into practical use. Even so, there were some kingdoms that had partially analyzed ancient magic artifacts and put them into limited practical use. However, the cost of continuously maintaining an essence source for them was a flaw that made most kingdoms in the Strahl region give up on its use. The ones used on a daily basis were, at most, small scale barriers for important figures. 

However, the magic barrier surrounding the castle was clearly at a larger scale. It wasn’t as large as the supersized barrier used on the spirit folk village, but it was clearly superior to the standard barriers used in the Strahl region. 

I can’t tell what kind of barrier it is from here... Let’s get within the castle walls first. 

After observing enough of the outer city, Rio decided to head inside the capital. It was roughly one hour’s walk away. Stopping at street stalls to confirm the state of the capital on the way, he arrived at one of the gates. There, he paid the entry fee and stepped inside the city walls. 

The further I move inwards, the higher the standard of living and public safety gets. 

That’s right—the inside of the walls was clearly a different world from the outside. The standard of living rose closer to the walls outside the city as well, but once inside the walls it was visibly evident that life was better here. 

The people walking past had better clothes, spirited expressions, and there were street stalls everywhere, overflowing with liveliness. Furthermore, the buildings were all neat and the city was well maintained, with soldiers patrolling at every turn. 

Every city had a difference in living standard between the inside and outside of the walls, but it was rare to see a city that had prioritized the development of the interior city so much. 

Nidoll Proxia, the emperor who started as a mercenary... 

Survival of the fittest. It was an extremely mercenary-like way of thinking, and it governed the entire country. 

Rio approached the castle while observing the city’s townscape. He went up to the bounds that the general public was allowed to go and analyzed the castle. 

There’s definitely an intruder detection effect on this... How annoying. There may be other effects too, but I won’t be able to investigate it up close during the day because of the security. 

Not even Rio could approach the heavily guarded castle during the day. Especially if Reiss was potentially inside. 

For now, let’s wait for night to fall. 

Rio arranged a suitable inn to stay in and decided to gather a little more information about the Proxia Empire. 

 ? ? 

Late at night, once the citizens of the capital had fallen asleep... 

In the end, Rio hadn’t been able to obtain much information. He could choose to spend several more days conducting a thorough investigation, but there was little chance of gaining information with no connections. 

In the end, Rio decided to go with the high risk, high return option. He dressed in black and covered his face, then snuck out of his room at the inn through the window to commence his plan. His destination: the imperial castle. 

He climbed over several walls within the city walls and proceeded towards the interior of the capital. The city was silent at night—especially in the residential areas—and there was no one to be seen apart from the patrolling soldiers. 

From a certain point past the noble area near the castle, the townscape came to an end and was replaced with a wide, stone-tiled square; beyond it was the massive stone wall that surrounded the castle. Rio came to a stop right before the square. 

The torches are lit and there are a lot of soldiers patrolling the area. The barrier’s also set up to just cover the walls. Should I just go around the castle for now? 

The probability was low, but there could be a hole in the barrier somewhere. With that thought in mind, Rio decided to go around the vicinity of the castle first. He’d traverse around on the ground and search for an opening. 

However, there were no gaps to be found. It seemed that breaking inside without being detected would be impossible from the ground, at the very least. 

This meant his only options left were to break in from the sky or interfere with the barrier. That being said, he wanted to avoid the latter option if he could. Depending on the type of barrier it was, he could be detected as soon he tried to fiddle with it. In conclusion, he had no choice but to try breaking in from above. 

Rio gently rose up in the air. He ascended higher than the barrier and overlooked the castle below. 

The top of the barrier is coming apart. Though it may be a trap... 

Perhaps the magic essence couldn’t reach the top of the barrier, as there was a gap that seemed wide enough to pass through. It was possible the opening was a trap, so it would be better to investigate the nature of the barrier—but that could be the very aim of the trap, putting him at risk of being hit by a counterattack spell. 

That being said, there were no other potential openings to be seen. Unless there was a hidden passageway only select people knew of, he wouldn’t have overlooked anything either. 

It would be too optimistic to hope a new point of entry would conveniently appear at some point in the future, and if the gap in the barrier was a temporary failure, it was possible it would be closed by tomorrow. 

Let’s try going through it. 

Rio hesitated, but eventually decided to weave his way through the gap. He knew there’d be risks from the start and was prepared to conduct a rough investigation if it became necessary to do so. But as long as there was the possibility of someone in the castle knowing Lucius, he couldn’t afford to run away like a coward. 

Since there were ample numbers of soldiers on guard in the garden, he first descended on the roof before entering the castle. He had to figure out the structure of the castle interior as much as possible. 

Thus, Rio entered the castle through a window on a darkened upper floor. Next, he confirmed there was no one inside the room before carefully slipping out into the hallway, wary of any soldiers. However... 

There’s no one around...? And it doesn’t seem like there are any magic detection artifacts either. 

There wasn’t a single soldier guarding the hallway, which made Rio’s eyes widen in surprise. 

There were no lights on inside the castle, making it pitch black and eerily quiet. He strained his eyes in the dark, but there was no trace of any magic essence originating from detection spells. 

But there are so many soldiers on guard outside... Is this a trap after all? 

Rio pondered for a moment, but there was no sign of any commotion outside, so he dismissed it as him simply overthinking things. 

However, something felt strangely amiss. The complete lack of patrol almost gave the illusion that the castle was inviting him inside. Rio shook his head, deciding to search the inside of the castle a little more. There were no soldiers to be seen on patrol, but he made sure to walk quietly just in case. 

For the record, the imperial castle was formed of several buildings. Rio was currently on the upper floor of the main building, where the throne room, main office, council rooms, and other administrative and military facilities were located. 

The main building would normally have the most soldiers present in a royal castle, but there was really no sign of anyone around. 

Let’s head down to a lower floor for now. If no one’s around, I’ll go to a different building. 

There should be at least one or more residential buildings where the imperial family and castle nobles lived. 

If he could sneak into them successfully, he might be able to draw out information from the people there. This time, Rio’s goal wasn’t to find a soldier, but someone with a certain level of status. People with status tended to be well-connected and were a better source of information. 

At the same time, it was possible for such a person to be in the building Rio was currently in, so when he spotted a promising room during his search, he tried to enter it. However, the door was securely locked without any sign of life behind it. 

In the end, Rio proceeded onwards and headed downstairs. 

From a security perspective, it was common for the entrance to be placed away from the first and second floors, so the main building could only be accessed via bridges on the third floor connected to other buildings. 

Rio was able to sneak out of any window and fly over to the other buildings, but he was confirming the structure of the castle right now, so he chose to move on foot. He proceeded forward carefully, blending in with the darkness. 

Then, on one of the connecting walkways on the third floor, Rio finally found a soldier. There were a total of five bridges connected to other buildings, four of which were guarded by soldiers. It wasn’t a very welcome sight as an intruder, but Rio felt oddly relieved to find soldiers on guard. However, his mind immediately focused on the matter of which building to move to next. 

I’ll go through all of them, starting with the least-guarded building. I should learn the structure of all of them. That building is strangely large, though... 

He decided to start searching the least-guarded building first. The lack of security made it less likely there was anyone there, but even learning the structure of the building could be useful later. 

Thus, Rio swiftly and quietly crossed the bridge. What he found at the other end was... 

What is this place...? A training ground? No, an arena? 

The building had the appearance of a round arena. The roof was an atrium and the interior was dimly lit by moonlight. Rio was currently in the upper seats of the stands, overlooking the weathered grounds below. 

Well, I can see why they don’t need guards here. Seems like I won’t need to check any further either, Rio thought, losing interest and turning to head back to the main building. However— 

“Huh?!” 

With his heightened senses from using a body enhancing spirit art before sneaking in, Rio detected a faint presence. The owner of the presence immediately closed in on him. 

Rio jumped out of the way in a fluster. 

“Oh? So you can detect my presence under the cover of darkness. As expected of an intruder capable of slipping through the barrier. I am the emperor, Nidoll Proxia. Welcome, insolent intruder.” 

There stood a boulder-like man with a bright smile—who introduced himself as the first emperor of the Proxia Empire. 

 ? ? 

Rio warily observed the man that appeared out of nowhere from underneath his hood. 

“What, have you frozen in fright at the emperor’s reverence? Fine, I’ll allow you to speak. What do you have to say for yourself?” Nidoll Proxia raised both arms and spoke to Rio pompously. He held in his right hand a black broadsword that would normally require both hands to handle. 

“How did you know I snuck through the barrier?” Rio asked, concealing his discomposure by deliberately choosing not to acknowledge the man before him as the emperor. 

“Bwahaha! On top of hiding your face before the emperor, you speak in such a disrespectful manner... Well, that’s fine. However, I have no reason to explain myself to an intruder.” Nidoll smiled heartily, refusing to answer Rio’s question. 

Figures... But that doesn’t matter. Nidoll Proxia... This man is the emperor of this country? 

Rio hadn’t expected a proper answer to begin with, but he was dubious about whether this man was really Nidoll Proxia himself. 

“If you refuse to reveal your identity, I will have to make you yield by force. Are you ready, lout?” Nidoll said, raising his sword in a natural stance. 



At the same time, Rio unsheathed two daggers from his breast pocket without hesitation. He held them in a backwards grip and assumed his battle stance. 

“Bwahaha! Whether you’re an assassin, a thief, or someone else... Well, it doesn’t matter. I’m in a great mood right now. As the first intruder to make it this far inside, I’m willing to give you a reward. If you manage to defeat me, then I shall willingly present you my neck.” 

No sooner had Nidoll finished his words than he charged at Rio. 

So fast! 

Rio’s eyes widened at Nidoll’s physical abilities before he moved forward to meet Nidoll from head-on. Slipping past the broadsword that Nidoll swung lightly, he slashed at Nidoll’s thighs while passing him. However, the dagger was easily deflected with a metallic clashing sound. 

He’s not wearing metal armor. Is it chainmail? No, the resistance just now was more... 

Rio gulped quietly. 

“Bwahaha! Well done, well done. Do continue to entertain me,” Nidoll said, attacking again without giving Rio the time to think. In contrast to his large body, his movements while swinging his broadsword were compact and precise. Each time he swung his sword, the audience seats crumbled away like a biscuit. 

However, Rio moved like an acrobat to skillfully evade Nidoll’s attacks. He moved freely from left to right, eventually shifting the battlefield from the spectator seats to the field below. 

“You’re nimbler than expected. Vexed as I am to admit, it seems I’ll be at a disadvantage if I challenge you in a test of speed,” Nidoll muttered, following Rio down to the arena. The open field made it easier to put his mobility to use, making it simpler to move around there than the audience seats, which had steps and other obstacles. 

Immediately following, Rio feinted by dashing to the left and right while charging towards Nidoll. 

“Hmph!” Nidoll slammed his broadsword against the ground with all his might. Then, starting from the point of impact, black flames exploded outwards, scattering in front of him. 

What are those flames...? 

 

Rio instantly stepped back to widen his distance with the black flames, watching them dubiously. 

“Hmm. On top of being nimble, your reactions are quick as well. However, my sword controls the flames of the evil dragon. It won’t be so easy for you to extinguish,” Nidoll hummed in admiration, then brandished his broadsword in a horizontal slash. The black flames radiated out in a straight line, burning the entire field. 

“Hmm... Perhaps I should have held back more?” Nidoll muttered in exasperation at the sea of black. “It has been so long since I’ve crossed swords with someone of equal or greater ability, so I wanted to enjoy myself more... What a cowardly dragon indeed.” 

No sooner he muttered that, a barrage of wind suddenly shot out from the black flames. The barrage of wind blew away the black flames, nay, it took in the black flames as it attacked Nidoll in a straight line. 

“Hmph!” Nidoll suddenly brandished his sword. The blast of wind made contact with his broadsword and applied creaking pressure to his arm, shocking the air around him. 

After a while, Nidoll repelled the barrage of flame-carrying wind. The next moment, Rio had snuck right up to Nidoll. 

“Splendid!” 

Nidoll had an enraptured smile carved onto his face as he reflexively counterattacked. However, the one with the initiative was Rio, who had launched the surprise attack. He had snuck right up to Nidoll, erasing his distance to the broadsword before swinging his daggers left and right with tricky movements as he began to overwhelm his opponent. 

Illuminated by the moon, Rio’s daggers glinted several times. He launched accurate slashes at Nidoll’s arms and legs, but... 

The cloth armor he’s wearing seems to have some secret to its material. It’s as tough as cutting a demi-dragon’s skin. 

Rio’s slashes were functioning more like blunt attacks. Nidoll’s clothes easily deflected the blades of the daggers. However, it did seem like the damage was building up underneath the clothes. Hits to the vitals were blocked carefully, but it was only a matter of time before he would be rendered immobile. 

“Bwahaha, it seems my defeat is coming in only a matter of time. Good, very good. How splendid indeed. I can feel my blood pumping through my veins. Yes, I remember this sensation now.” Despite being backed into a corner, Nidoll laughed loudly without a care in the world. It was as though he loved fighting with every fiber of his being. 

Unable to measure the amount of humanity in this man, Rio began to increase his number of attacks somewhat cautiously. 

“What’s the matter? This is an opportune chance to come for my head. Come, take this neck in one blow. You’ll only regret it if you try to weaken me first... Ah, it’s already too late.” 

Nidoll urged Rio to quickly take his head, but then he suddenly frowned in disappointment. Immediately following, black magic essence violently rose like flames from his body and broadsword. 

Rio backed away reflexively, but— 

“Unfortunately, time’s up. I cannot hold it back any longer. You should run away quickly,” Nidoll sighed. The violently blowing torrent of black essence gathered around his sword ominously. 

That magic essence is bad news. 

Rio felt a cold chill down his spine and promptly gathered essence within his body. 

“Oh? It seems you intend on exchanging blows with me. Good, good. That way of thinking is truly magnificent.” Nidoll’s eyes widened, showing a glimpse of his astonishment. Then, his mouth twisted with an aggressive grin. During this time, the black essence torrent continued to gather around his broadsword. 

“En garde.” Nidoll held his sword pointed at Rio’s eyes, then swung it down slowly, and a tremendous rush of black flames was released. The inside of the arena was covered in pitch black darkness. 

However, Rio had gathered a similarly vast amount of magic essence. He raised his hand at the approaching flames without flinching, and white light burst forward from it. The white torrent of light glittered like diamond dust as it rushed straight onwards, colliding with the black flames. Immediately after the collision, blinding light filled the arena and an ice-cold gale blasted through the area. 

Nidoll’s black flames had been eaten away and were freezing over. Furthermore, Rio had already moved to approach him from behind. 

“Hmm... It was a rather sudden ending, but I cannot recall the last time I felt so elated. Well done. I had fun. To keep my word, I will give you your reward. What do you desire? My life?” Nidoll asked simply. Rio’s dagger was pointed at his neck. 

“I have no particular interest in your life. What I want is information.” Rio paused for a brief moment before stating his demand. The reason why he hadn’t attacked Nidoll with the intent to kill was because his original goal was to gather information. 

The current situation was definitely not what he had expected, but if this man was the country’s emperor, then it was all the more convenient for him. There was a high likelihood he would know Lucius. 

“Oh? So you wish for my truthful answers to your questions as a reward. Is that it?” Nidoll’s eyes widened in surprise. 

“That’s right,” Rio nodded. 

“Ha. Fine, then. State your questions. Quickly, before the guards come running.” Nidoll smiled in spite of himself and ordered Rio to speak. 

“I’m searching for a mercenary named Lucius. If he’s from this country, I want you to tell me what you know about him.” 

“...Bwahahahaha!” Nidoll laughed loudly. 

“...What’s so funny?” Rio asked with a suspicious look. 

“I see. You snuck all the way here in search of that man. An admirable ability to take action, indeed. Heh heh heh.” 

“So you’re saying you know of him?” 

“Indeed, I do. Though he isn’t a citizen of this country.” 

“Then what is his relationship to you?” 

“I am the ruler of this country, and that man is the head of a renowned mercenary group. It’s not strange for us to have a contract connection,” Nidoll answered boldly and heartily. 

“In that case, you must know of a man named Reiss too? The one acting as the ambassador of this country.” 

Nidoll’s eyes widened faintly. “Hmm, so you know of Reiss as well. Indeed, I was the one who appointed that man as our ambassador.” 

“What is Reiss and Lucius’ relationship?” Rio asked flatly. 

“Lucius was once tasked with Reiss’ protection, but I have no interest in the relationships of my retainers. Reiss rarely returns to this country as is. Even when he does return, he disappears without a word shortly after. Well, it seems he’s making various moves forming factions and the like... Hmm. So which is your target, Lucius or Reiss? I will only give you information about one right now, so choose wisely.” 

“Do you understand the situation you’re in right now? I’m the one asking the questions.” Rio shifted his hand quietly, pressing the dagger against Nidoll’s throat. 

“Now now, boy. I told you the patrols will come running soon. Do you have the time to waste?” 

“Then tell me Lucius’ location. If you know where he is, that is.” 

“The Paladia Kingdom. The kingdom is constantly in conflict with their neighboring countries, but my country is providing support behind the scenes. It’s a small kingdom to the east. Have you heard of it?” 

“I’ve heard the name.” 

“Then I’ll keep this short. It was roughly one year ago that his contract ended with me, and he chose the Paladia Kingdom as his new job location. I prepared a letter of recommendation in secret, so he should have a connection to the royal family. I don’t know if he’s still working there, but the first prince may know something,” Nidoll replied, then gave a small shrug. 

“...” Rio fell silent with a pensive look. Nidoll was voluntarily giving him information, but without credible evidence, there was no telling whether his words were true or not. Rio hesitated, wondering whether it was right to leave like this, when— 

“Well, it’s your choice whether you believe me or not. But what will you do now? I’ve told you everything I know about his location, so your reward has now been fulfilled. I have no obligation to obey you any further than this, yes? And it seems the patrol is here. Right on time,” Nidoll sneered audaciously. Like he said, the passage connecting to the arena was starting to fill with noise. 

Staying any longer would indeed be too risky, huh? 

Rio furrowed his brow faintly, then decided to retreat. 

“Ah, one more thing. If you’re leaving, leave through the way you came in. Don’t go touching the barrier carelessly. Though it’s up to you whether you believe this or not, too,” Nidoll added as an afterthought. At the same time, magic essence swelled up within his body. Rio reflexively stepped back to gain his distance, then immediately began running to escape. 

What was the deal with that man? 

Rio leaped while running, making his way up to the spectator seats. He had an eerie feeling that was difficult to describe in words, making him glance back down at Nidoll. 

Nidoll smiled up at Rio boldly. 

“There he is!” 

“He’s fast!” 

“There may be others! Protect His Majesty!” 

The soldiers scrambled around in a flurry, surrounding Rio with coordinated movements as they commenced their escort of Nidoll. However, Rio ran at a speed faster than they could follow, lightly leaping up to the atrium. 

“W-What physical abilities he has...” 

“Is he an enchanted sword user?” 

The soldiers froze and looked up at Rio in amazement. 

Rio looked down at Nidoll one more time before leaping out of the arena, disappearing from the view of the pursuing soldiers. 

“H-He jumped?!” 

The soldiers were all wide-eyed in shock. Rio took that chance to use his wind spirit arts and ascend rapidly, leaving the barrier through the gap. Meanwhile... 

“Don’t be so mad. I merely put on the act that Reiss directed. I made quite the actor, don’t you think?” Nidoll muttered, chuckling heartily to himself. 


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