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  Public Bathhouse and Sudden Panic  

It had been about two months now since the High School Prodigies found themselves in their new world. The freshly fallen snow crunched under Tsukasa’s feet as he headed to visit Ringo. Suddenly, he heard something.


A rousing shout, loud enough to reach the very heavens. Turning to face its source, he saw Aoi Ichijou standing between the village and the woods. With each swing of her trusty katana, another massive tree fell. Tsukasa reflexively found himself applauding the nigh-inhuman feat.

“I see those thick trees are no match for your skills, Aoi.”

“Tsukasa, m’lord… Mmm…” The girl turned around upon hearing Tsukasa’s praise, only to immediately scrunch up her face.

“Waaaaaaah!” Tears began gushing from her eyes like waterfalls. “I would prefer you did not say such things! I—I… I am nothing but a useless good-for-nothing who gets in everyone’s way, that I aaaaam!”

…She’s still hung up on that?

She was crying like a baby. As for the reason…it was because Mayor Ulgar had kicked her out of the hunting group. It wasn’t because she was a woman. Rather, it was because she was too strong. Her mere existence gave off a powerful kind of aura. Animals sensed it and would flee before the hunters could even find them.

In the end, the hunts with Aoi present had gone so poorly that the mayor had no choice but to relegate her to woodcutting duty. The hunt had gone back to normal in her absence, but Aoi herself had spent the past few weeks fretting over the trouble she’d caused.

“Waaaah! The Ichijou Rishin style even teaches us to wield our swords to protect the weak, that it does… I am beside myself over my own ineptitude!”

“It was my decision to have you join the hunt, Aoi. I’m the one who misjudged your skill set. You have nothing to be ashamed of.”

“…Rgh. This is the same as saying I am of no use to this village, though. I am but a base fool, good for nothing but cutting people down… I cannot cook. I am unskilled at commerce. I lack the wit to entertain the children. Woodcutting is all I can do for those who saved my life, that it is…”

The girl insisted she wanted to be of true help, to be useful. She sobbed as she slumped over, dejected.

At this rate, she’s liable to lose focus and get herself hurt.

That was no good. Tsukasa stepped toward Aoi and placed a hand on her shoulder.

“Don’t abase yourself like that, Aoi.”

“Tsukasa, m’lord…?”

“I’ve heard that the winters here get downright frigid. And the snow’s already started piling up. Firewood is the lifeblood of anyone who lives in places like this. There’s no such thing as having too much.”

“…So you are saying that my blade is of use, despite cutting neither beast nor foe?”

“Absolutely. Remember breakfast this morning? We cooked that with the wood you cut and charcoal made from it. The only reason we’re able to have warm meals is because you’re chopping down trees out here. Your katana is doing plenty of protecting as it is, both of the village and of us. Take pride in that.” Tsukasa wasn’t patronizing her just for the sake of it. Everything he’d said had been true.

The boy gazed straight into her wet eyes, his voice firm and reassuring. Hearing it seemed to bolster Aoi’s spirits a bit.

“I am in your debt. Thanks to you, I feel a good deal better.”

“I’m glad to hear it. Now, those trees aren’t going to chop themselves. And like I said, there’s no such thing as too much firewood.”

“Understood. Hyah!”

Aoi still wasn’t at 100 percent, but the look in her eyes had recovered some of its focus and vigor. At least now she wasn’t likely to hurt herself.

…Still, that was just a stopgap. I need to think of a good follow-up at some point.

Deep in thought, Tsukasa turned away from Aoi and continued walking.

—It had been two months since they’d come to this world.

Not just Aoi, but pretty much all of them had settled into their roles in the village. Tsukasa’s cooking skills hadn’t gone anywhere, so neither had he.

Akatsuki was still beloved by the children, so he was still on babysitting duty. Keine was good with her hands, so she was helping out with the sewing.

Masato had been back in the village for the last two days, but he generally spent most of his time over in the city, wheeling and dealing for the company to further support the village finances. And as for the new member of the village the Devil of Finance had picked up, she was over at Lyrule’s house, busying herself with learning to read and write. Everything was going smoothly. The peaceful days were passing gently by.

In fact, things are far less stressful here than they were back on Earth…

Back there, he’d had to restore his country’s failing economy while constantly fending off assassins. Tsukasa was certainly getting more sleep in this world. To him, the days he was spending in the village were downright blissful. If he wasn’t careful, he might’ve soon found himself not wanting to leave.

…This is bad. I have to get back to Earth—and sooner rather than later.

They all had responsibilities back there.

Tsukasa quickened his pace as he made for Ringo’s base. He needed to talk to her about how they were going to find a way home.


There was a river on the outskirts of the village that folks used for bathing and washing clothes. Beside it, there was an ancient ruin built into the side of the mountain. It very nearly resembled a temple. However, there were two things by its entrance that were decidedly un-templelike.

Specifically, a pair of signs: One read ELM VILLAGE NUCLEAR POWER PLANT and the other had the universal symbol for radiation on it. Yes, Ringo Oohoshi—the genius inventor—had turned the masterless ruins into a power plant slash laboratory.

After slipping past the entrance’s now-spoiled view and continuing on through the ruins for a while, Tsukasa eventually came to a large dome-shaped hall. Originally, it had probably been used for some sort of ritual. Now, the entire hall was lit with electric lights, and there was a throng of towering machines grouped in its center. Pipes and wires snaked all along the walls and floor. The machines themselves were made from a hodgepodge of organic and inorganic materials—stone, wood, iron, and the like—giving them the countenance of a certain moving castle from an anime movie Tsukasa had seen in the theater when he was a child.

At first, there had only been the pocket nuclear fission reactor—the one that had survived the crash. But Ringo had added countless new machines since then. Things like a blast furnace and a reduction pot for making aluminum, which explained the current state of the hall.

All the machines were chugging away. The cavern was filled with the sounds of ventilators pumping out air and steam blasting from pipes.

It’s been some time since I last heard the sounds of civilization.

Back on Earth, it would’ve just been a racket, but now the chorus of machinery sounded like home. As he basked in the nostalgia, Tsukasa searched for the room’s master. It didn’t take him long to find her.

The girl in question, Ringo Oohoshi, was in the middle of doing some welding at the base of the cluster of machines.


Wearing the goggles that were usually perched atop her hat, she traced the two sheets she was joining with her oversized gloves. The fingertips of the gloves glowed red-hot as she did, their heat melting the metals together.

The gloves she was using were one of her inventions, the All-Purpose Gloves. Once connected to a power source, they could serve as basic tools like pliers and hammers while also being able to weld, cut, and cleave. One pair of gloves allowed their user to perform almost any type of simple industrial work without having to constantly swap out tools, making them indispensable to any sort of craftsman. They were incredibly convenient and efficient, and their creation was estimated to have increased worldwide productivity by 20 percent. Some people referred to them as the invention of the century.

Currently, it appeared that Ringo was using them to remodel a machine.

Tsukasa chose not to call out to her. He didn’t want to interrupt her work. But just as he was thinking of leaving and coming back later, a mechanical voice piped up behind him.

“Why, I can bearly believe it! It’s Tsukasa!”

The boy prime minister spun around and saw Ringo’s massive backpack using its manipulator arms to walk around on its own like a spider. After it scuttled over to him, its top popped open.

“I haven’t seen you since the crash! It’s been a bear’s age!”

Then a monitor displaying a cartoon character that looked kind of like a bear crossed with a rabbit emerged and greeted him.

Tsukasa knew the character well.

Ringo was bad at conversing with others, so she’d developed an AI to talk to people in her place. Its name was Bearabbit, and it had also been in charge of piloting the Prodigies’ plane.

“Did you have something you wanted to tail Ringo?”

“Yeah, but she looks busy. I’ll just come back later.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it! She’ll be pawsitively elated when she finds out you’ve come! Ringo, Tsukasa’s here to see you!”

“Huh?! Tsu-Tsukasa…?!” Hearing Bearabbit call her name, Ringo looked up like she’d just been flicked on the head.

“Good morning…er, evening? I think?”

“Good afternoon, Ringo.”


The hall was artificially illuminated both night and day. Apparently, she’d been cooped up in there so long she’d forgotten what time it was. When Tsukasa corrected her, the girl’s pale cheeks went as red as an apple.

“Hard work is good and all, but you should try to get some actual sunlight every now and again. No good will come of you ruining your health.”

“O…kay. I’ll be careful…”

“Please do.” Tsukasa walked over to Ringo’s side and gazed up at the machines she’d built. “I have to admit, this is all really impressive. It seems like they get bigger each time I visit.”

“We have Masato to thank fur getting all the materials!”

“That’s right… Masato…is amazing.”

“When it comes to making money, he’s the best in the business. What are you working on right now?”

“Oh, um, this newborn over here just came together. Come look!” Ringo let out a happy exclamation, seemingly pleased that Tsukasa had taken an interest in her work. She hopped over to a laptop connected via a wire to a large machine and punched in a few lines.

When she did, the machine thundered into motion. After a short delay, it spat out something hard that clanged noisily as it emerged from something resembling a rubbish chute on the machine’s lower half. Upon inspection, the “something” was actually ten-odd silvery shovels.

“Are those…aluminum shovels?”

“This little one can take any material, then process it according to the design I put in.”

“I can already make pretty much anything myself, but for mass production, a piece of equipment like this is beary handy.”

Tsukasa found himself unable to conceal his surprise at Ringo’s accomplishment.

“That’s amazing. I had no idea you were already able to manufacture aluminum.”

“Eh-heh-heh…” Hearing Tsukasa’s admiration for her work made Ringo rock her body like she had an itch. However, she seemed happy.

“We’re pawsitively surrounded by raw materials, and we’re able to refine the sodium hydroxide we need for the reduction pot from salt. As long as we’ve got electricity, bruin up aluminum is a piece of cake.”

“Oh, so that’s why you asked Merchant for so much salt. That’s what you were using it for. It all makes sense now.”

“Yup… Now I can finally be useful to the village.” Ringo picked up one of the shovels, then turned back to Tsukasa. “Will they…be happy with this, do you think?”

Ringo seemed unsure of herself, so Tsukasa nodded vigorously.

“They’ll be thrilled, I’m certain of it. Up until now, the shovels they’ve been using have been barely better than wooden spatulas. Digging up the hard ground around here with them was a nightmare and a half. Light, sturdy shovels like these will make the farm work far easier.”

“Eh-heh-heh… I’m glad… Ah…” Tsukasa’s praise seemed to have drained her tension; she let out a cute little yawn.

“I-I’m so sorry! We were in the middle of talking, and I…!” Ringo frantically apologized, but Tsukasa told her not to worry about it.

“You look exhausted. Maybe you should call it a day.”

“Oh…but you came because…you needed something, right?”

“While that’s true…it’s going to be a big job. We can’t have you pushing yourself and passing out. For now, just rest up. That way, you’ll be able to give the next assignment your best.”

“…In that case, I think…I’ll take you…up on that…” Having seemingly reached her limit—unable to stay awake any longer—the girl tottered over to the pelt at the back of the cavern and rolled herself up in it.

“You’re going to sleep here? Shouldn’t you turn off the machines first, at least?”

“I can’t… If I stop the coolant pumps all of a sudden, the machines will break.”

“Isn’t it loud, though?”

“No…it’s nice. This way, I can hear all the voices of my children.”

“…I see.”

To Tsukasa, it was just noise, but apparently, she heard it differently. Her expression had a certain kind of pride to it.

“It seems my question was rather boorish. Rest easy, now.”

“…Mmm. G’night …”

As soon as their conversation finished, Tsukasa could hear Ringo breathing softly in her sleep. She must have been dead tired.

I definitely need to make sure she doesn’t push herself any more than this.

Originally, he’d come because there was something he wanted her to build.

Namely—an airplane.

Given the info he’d gotten from Shinobu the other day, there appeared to be no easy way for them to pass through the checkpoints marking the edge of the domain. Travel over land wasn’t a viable option. And the ports had the same checkpoints, so the sea was no better. In other words, there was only one route left: the sky.

However, if he so much as mentioned that to Ringo, she would undoubtedly ignore her fatigue and immediately turn her considerable intellect toward drawing up blueprints. And that could only end poorly.

Things aren’t so urgent that we need to drive her into the ground just yet.

Ringo’s scientific prowess was abnormal—even for Earth, which was centuries ahead of this world to begin with. Her skills were without question the greatest weapon in their arsenal. Right now, he needed to make sure she rested and recovered her stamina.

“What’s up? If it’s something time sensitive, I might be koalafied to help.”

“No, it’s nothing that urgent. I’ll just try another time.”

“In that case, I’ll come with you. I want to let her hibernate peacefully for now, so I thought I’d go recharge in the sun until she wakes up.”

“That sounds like an excellent plan.”

Tsukasa and Bearabbit headed down the path leading outside.

“…I’m beary sorry.” Bearabbit sprung a sudden apology on the boy, midway through their walk.

“I can’t say I recall you having anything to apologize for. What’s this about?”

“It’s my fault the plane crashed… If I’d kept my bearings, we wouldn’t have ended up having to live in this inconvenient new world.” The AI appeared to feel responsible for their current situation. However, Tsukasa immediately refuted his claims of guilt.

“Not at all. For one thing, traveling to another world can only occur via a supernatural phenomenon. Losing control of the plane wasn’t your fault. Either some unfathomable power is at work here…or we’re the victims of a coincidence of cosmic proportions. One way or the other, there’s nothing for you to feel guilty about. Nobody could possibly blame you for that.”

“That’s beary sweet of you to say…” Bearabbit’s response to Tsukasa’s reassurances was decidedly vague. The mere fact that he’d been the one piloting the plane still clearly weighed heavily on the AI. It was something he was going to have to come to terms with on his own, but…

Still…he wasn’t wrong about how inconvenient this was.

Tsukasa thought back to the way Ringo had passed out like a light. And it wasn’t just her, either. He could tell that fatigue was eating away at all of them.

It was only natural. Back on Earth, they could get potable water at the turn of a faucet and fire at the turn of a knob. They could eat whatever foods they wanted, no matter the season, and seasonings were varied and plentiful. But now they’d been set adrift in a world where they had to sweat and bleed just for a single grain of pepper. And to make matters worse, they had no idea how to get back.

The exhaustion was eroding their bodies and minds. Recently, they’d even had to start worrying about the temperature. They’d all come from Japan, a subtropical climate, so Elm’s harsh winters were especially brutal on them. Each bath they took in the frigid river felt tantamount to punishment. Even Tsukasa himself had started feeling like his feet were made of lead.

…I wish there was something I could do about it.

Futile thoughts swirled around his head as he made his way out of the ruins.

“Well, Bearabbit, I’m heading back to the village, so—Hmm?” Suddenly, he noticed something peculiar. White fumes were rising from the woods out back.

“Is something on fire?”

If so, that could be real trouble. However, Bearabbit quickly put his worries to rest.

“Oh, nothing to fur. That’s just steam.”

“Steam? But why?”

“A lot of our machines get unbearably hot, so we draw water from the river to cool them down. The steam is coming from the used coolant.”

“So that’s industrial wastewater?”

“Oh, it’s not nearly dirty enough to koalafy as industrial waste. All that drains there is water we used as coolant. The only thing wrong with it is that it’s pawsitively boiling, so we can’t pour it back in the river immediately.”

“Where’s the actual waste, then?”

“We’re keeping all the contaminated water and bauxite tailings in tanks for now. It’s not like we’re mass-producing, so the amount is still bearable. We can’t exactly dump it here, though.”

“True. You’ll have to ask Merchant to take it out to sea for you.”

But that aside, boiling water…

Tsukasa gazed up at the pillar of steam as the gears in his mind began turning.

It’s not something we strictly need, but it certainly isn’t useless. Also…given the state those two are in, the timing works out nicely.

After considering every aspect, every pro and con, Tsukasa made his choice.

“If you’re not busy, Bearabbit, would you mind lending me a hand?”

“With what?”

“I am a politician, so I thought I’d act the part and organize a public works project.” Tsukasa drew his phone as he spoke and dialed Aoi Ichijou.


A little while later, Aoi came running over to the meeting spot—the point on the river’s edge where the people of Elm bathed.

“I apologize for keeping you waiting, Tsukasa, m’lord. What is this request you would make of me?”

“I was thinking of building a public bathhouse here, and I was hoping you’d help.”

“A—a public bathhouse?!”

“That’s right. It’s gotten cold recently, hasn’t it? The people from this village may be acclimated to it, but the weather we’re used to is much warmer. At this rate, some of us might even fall ill. I want to make sure that doesn’t happen. And the people of Elm will probably be just as excited at the prospect of a nice, warm bath. Think of it. Remember the last time you had a hot bath on a freezing winter night? Remember how nice that felt?”

“Oh, I do…”

The memory brought a warm glow to her face. Her body was practically shaking as she grabbed Tsukasa’s hands.

“You have my wholehearted support! Whatever you need, I shall gladly assist! I am certain that the people of Elm will be thrilled, too, that they will!”

“I’m glad to hear you say that. There’ll probably be a lot of manual labor, so it’s good to have you along.”

No sooner had Tsukasa finished securing Aoi’s assistance than—

“I’m back!”

Having finished the assignment Tsukasa gave him, Bearabbit returned.

“And I come bearing shovels!”

“Good work.”

Bearabbit handed Tsukasa the aluminum shovels he was carrying in his manipulator arms. Tsukasa made sure to thank the AI, then inquired about the matter he’d asked Bearabbit to check on.

“So do we have enough spare materials to make a boiler?”

“We do! Thanks to Masato’s hard work, we have an embearassment of riches!”

“Excellent. In that case, I leave manufacturing it to you.”

“The task is in good paws!”

Bearabbit was brimming with confidence. Well-warranted confidence, too. His artificial mind had been designed with Ringo’s as its base.

As a computer program, he couldn’t invent new things on his own, but when it came to devices that already existed, he could produce them to the same degree of quality Ringo could. Building a hot water boiler was child’s play to him.

“And where are my talents needed?!”

“Aoi, I need you to bring over enough wood for the roof and the waterways. Then I’ll show you how to build them. Twenty trees’ worth should do the trick.”

“The deed is as good as done!” Aoi’s reply was cheerful, and her expression was sunny and full of energy. All she’d wanted was to be helpful, and now she was directly contributing to the village’s well-being.

And Bearabbit, who felt indebted to the seven waylaid earthlings, was much the same. It was hard to read his expression, but based on the way his manipulator arms were chugging away, his spirits seemed to have picked up a bit.

Seeing the two of them in such high spirits secretly filled Tsukasa with relief.

While increasing the village’s quality of life and protecting the Prodigies’ health had certainly been one of the reasons he’d decided to build the bathhouse, he’d also hoped to use its construction as a form of therapy for Aoi and Bearabbit.

The idea was that having tangible proof of their contribution to the group would help alleviate some of their guilt. Based on their expressions, it looked like he’d succeeded on that front.

“You two can go ahead and get started. Oh, and if you have official work you need to do, make sure you prioritize that. We’re in no hurry to get this built. We should plan on finishing it gradually over the next couple days.”

Now all they needed to do was take it easy and make sure they didn’t push themselves. Or so Tsukasa thought.

“Nonsense! It shall be done before nightfall, that it shall!”

“Fur sure! This isn’t a job that’ll take multiple days! Half a day is plenty; I bearantee it!”


The other two were getting even more into it than Tsukasa had anticipated. It was possible his plan had worked too well. A pang of unease flitted through his mind.

However, as the one who’d suggested the idea in the first place, it wouldn’t do for him to dampen their enthusiasm.

“…Sounds like a plan. I’m looking forward to that hot bath, after all. I’ll be sure to do my best as well.”

Aoi’s physical abilities were downright superhuman, and it had taken a superhuman intellect to design Bearabbit and his manipulators. The prospect of having to make sure he didn’t slow the two of them down made Tsukasa’s head spin, but he was careful not to let it show on his face.

Then, after a few hours of work—

The three of them actually managed to finish the bathhouse before the sun went down.


In the end, Aoi brought five people to the completed bathhouse. Keine Kanzaki and Winona, who’d happened to have been free, were first. Lyrule and Roo, having just finished their spelling lesson, were next. The last of the group was Ringo, who Bearabbit had gone and woken up.

All of them gathered under the structure’s triangular, anti-snow roof. Upon seeing the steam rise from the tub Aoi had dug out of the riverbank, they all let out cries of joy.

“Wow! It’s so toasty and smoky!” exclaimed Roo.

“Oh my. Now this is a pleasant surprise,” remarked Keine.

“Tsukasa…did you all make this?” asked Lyrule.

“That we did. Aoi, Bearabbit, and I.”

“Gosh, you kids really are amazing. Is there anything you can’t do?”

“Right? This is incredible! I never knew you could make your own hot springs…”

Lyrule and Winona, in particular, seemed impressed.

In their eyes, hot springs were a gift from nature.

However, while they’d likely heard rumors about places where hot water bubbled up from the ground, they’d never even considered the possibility of making one themselves.

“Oh? What’s that little shed over there?” asked Winona.

“That’s the boiler hut. It’s where we heat the water befur we send it over here.”

“Oh, I see. So it’s like a big pot.”

“They’re furly similar. I’ll show you all how to use it later.”

“Incidentally,” added Aoi, “you cool the water using this channel from the river. When that is no longer necessary, all you need to do is divert the flow.”

“Wow. You all really thought of everything.”

Evidently pleased at how happy everyone was, Aoi and Bearabbit continued their explanation. However, no description was going to be better than experiencing it firsthand. Tsukasa turned to them and offered a suggestion.

“You know, they say experience is the best teacher. There’s still some time before dinner, so why don’t you all try it out? You seem excited, and the water’s already heated. Besides, Aoi, I’m sure you worked up a fair sweat.”

“That I did!”

“Roo wants to try, too!”

“I’m embearassed to say that I’ll rust if I try to join you, but I could certainly go for a little back scrub.”

“Once you’re finished, you should let me know if you have any modifications you’d like us to make. I hope to make this the best bathhouse it can be.” Not wanting to keep them waiting now that they’d decided to take their bath, Tsukasa turned to leave. As he did, though, Aoi said something outrageous.

“Hmm? Are you not joining us, Tsukasa, m’lord?”

“What?!” “Hweh?!?!”

Alarmed expressions immediately crossed Ringo’s and Lyrule’s faces. It was a natural response. The question had been downright absurd.

“…If anything, I’m curious as to why you assumed I would.”

“It was your idea to build this bathhouse, was it not? It would be wrong to exclude the man who worked the hardest from its inaugural bath.”

“That’s right! Labor begets re-mooneration! That’s what Teacher said!”

“I have no objections to mixed bathing. I’m certainly used to seeing naked bodies.”

Roo and Keine piled on as well. The situation was taking a turn for the worse.

Roo was just being a kid, but Keine was probably doing it on purpose. Ringo and Lyrule were both as red as lobsters and sweating bullets, and Keine was watching them with clear amusement.

However, Tsukasa had no intention of playing along with her game.

“While I’ll admit that I was the first to come up with the idea, Aoi and Bearabbit both put in far more work than I did. I’ll just take my bath with the other men when they get back, so don’t worry about me. I’ll see you all later—”

He tried to end the conversation unilaterally and stride off. In his haste to leave, though, he made one big mistake.

He casually waved them good-bye.


The moment he did, Lyrule keenly noticed what he’d been hiding and quickly grabbed his hand.

“Tsukasa, your hand…!”

…Oh, now I’ve done it.

Lyrule’s action finally forced Tsukasa to acknowledge how stupid he’d been. In order to keep up with the pace Aoi and Bearabbit were maintaining, he’d pushed himself a good deal too hard. Not only had he blistered his palms, he’d broken the blisters, too.

And now Lyrule knew.

“Oh my. Those certainly look painful.”

“I just broke the skin because I wasn’t used to the work. It’s nothing serious.”


Even though he claimed it wasn’t serious, that didn’t change the fact that his palms looked like shredded rawhide. It certainly was no surprise that Lyrule’s and Ringo’s faces clouded over when they saw them. However, that wasn’t what Tsukasa wanted at all.

Those weren’t the kinds of expressions he’d worked so hard to inspire. Aoi and Bearabbit were probably no different. He racked his brain. How could he lighten the mood? He was still in the middle of thinking, when all of a sudden—

“All right, all right, all right! Cheer up, Lyrule!”


Without Tsukasa having to do anything, Winona blew away the heavy pall by reaching out and grabbing Lyrule’s ample breasts.

“Why’re your boobs the only things that ever get bigger, huh?! You little pip-squeak, you!”

“Winona, wh-wh-what are you doing?!” Startled at the abrupt turn of events, Lyrule’s face went red.

Winona laughed in exasperation as she told Lyrule off. “If you keep looking guilty like that, how’s Tsukasa gonna feel about all the hard work he put in?”


That was right. The reason Tsukasa had built the bathhouse in the first place was to make everyone happy. If all he got were depressed looks, how was that going to make him feel? The fact that Winona had picked up on that really carried home the fact that she was their elder, but she didn’t stop there. If only she had. However, she only went further.

“But just like Aoi and Roo said, it wouldn’t be fair for all of us to go and have fun without the man we have to thank for all this. But don’t worry, I have a great idea!” A mischievous grin unbefitting a woman her age spread across Winona’s face. Before she even said what her idea was, Tsukasa could already tell that no good would come of it.


“Ah, I see… I have to hand it to you—that was a good idea.” Tsukasa took in the view before him as he soaked in the tub. The women were all wearing bikinis made from leaves layered atop one another.

“I never considered making swimsuits out of leaves. Clever thinking, Winona.”

“Heh-heh. Wasn’t it just? Go on, praise me more!”

“You’re right. It’s very like you to come up with an idea that straddles the line so narrowly between genius and stupidity. I could never have come up with something like that, and even if I had, I wouldn’t have ever considered actually proposing it. You have my respect.”

“…Huh? Wait, is that a compliment or an insult?”

Tsukasa averted his gaze, offering no reply. In truth, half of him was impressed, and the other half was thoroughly vexed.

Possibly the most surprising part, though, was the fact that Winona had gotten all the others to go along with her scheme.


“Heh. It sounds like you’re enjoying yourself, Roo,” quipped Keine.

“…Back in Roo’s country, it was always toasty warm like this.”

“Ah, I see. In that case, you should make sure you bundle up in the coming months. Having your environment change so drastically can be hard on your health.”

“Mmm…” Roo submerged herself up to the tip of her nose, blowing bubbles as she gave a vague response. Given her expression, they half expected her to just dissolve straight into the water.

Most of the other women were relaxed and enjoying themselves, too. However, although they’d gotten everyone to go along with Winona’s plan, one member of the group had been keeping her back bashfully turned to Tsukasa the whole time.

“…Ringo, if it’s too embarrassing, there’s no need to force yourself to stay.” Tsukasa, reading into her behavior, offered her an out.

She still didn’t turn around, but she shook her head vigorously.

“I’m…fine…” Her voice came out quiet and thin. With moist eyes, she shot a fleeting glance over her shoulder. However, when her gaze met Tsukasa’s, she immediately looked away. The young man could tell what was going on now.

Odds were that it wasn’t that she was ashamed of being seen in her swimsuit, it was that she was ashamed of seeing a guy in his. She didn’t seem to dislike it, though. She was definitely interested. Internally, her curiosity and bashfulness were warring it out. In other words, she hadn’t joined them because she’d caved into peer pressure. It was probably fine to just leave her to her own devices.

“Man, Tsukasa, do you kids really always have hot baths like this in your world?” asked Winona.

“Not everyone prefers to soak their whole body like this, but we generally don’t use cold water, no.”

“Wow… That must be a lot of work, gathering all that kindling.”

“Hmm-hmm,” Keine said, laughing. “In our country, we use gas to heat our water, so we don’t have to cut down firewood at all.”


“It’s a kind of flammable air.”

“Oh, Roo knows about that! Roo had that near her village! The burning air is really dangerous, so the mayor told us not to go near it!”

“You probably lived near a deposit of natural gas, then. In our world, we use it as fuel. We cook food with it, heat our baths…pretty much anything you could think of that needs fire. We generally only use firewood when we go out camping,” explained Tsukasa.


“The more I hear about your world, the stranger it sounds… But if it means you get to take nice, warm baths like these every day, then color me jealous. Heh…”

“I’m glad it’s to your liking.”

Smiling softly at how content everyone looked, Tsukasa submerged himself up to his shoulders. He could feel the leaden fatigue inside him slowly melt away.

As he sat, basking in the satisfaction that all those blisters had been worth it, he heard Lyrule call out to him from above.

“Tsukasa, do you mind if I sit here?”

A little while ago, she’d gone back to the village on her own, saying there was something she wanted to go get.

“Of course not. I’m glad you’re back. So what was it you—?”

But the moment he turned around, his voice got caught in his throat. The sight of Lyrule carefully dipping herself into the water feetfirst so as not to cause any ripples left him speechless.

Her slender ankles and the way her calves gently arced from them. Her round, soft, feminine buttocks—how her waist accentuated them. The slight forward inclination of her posture made her plump breasts (and the leaf bikini that only barely covered them) jiggle with her slightest movement. And finally, the way the water’s warmth made her attractive face soften with pleasure.

He couldn’t focus on anything else.

…She’s so beautiful.

“Oh…this really is nice, isn’t it! I can feel my entire body warming up…? Um, is something the matter?”

She was talking to him, but he wasn’t responding. How odd. Lyrule focused her lapis lazuli eyes right on Tsukasa. When he finally replied, his voice was as calm and collected as always.

“Ah, forgive me. I simply found myself captivated by your beauty.”

“What?! Hwa-wa-wa?!”

Lyrule’s face immediately flushed bright red, and she instinctively covered her chest.

“My oh my, how forward.” Winona laughed.

“Is there any reason to beat around the bush when praising someone’s looks?”

“Mmm! Oh, really now! That’s enough flattery, just… Just give me your hand.”

“I can’t say that was my intention, but what’s this about my hand?”

“Just give it here already!”

What exactly was she planning on doing? Tsukasa was confused, but he offered Lyrule his hand anyway.

When he did, she pried it open with one hand and stuck her other in the small, fist-size pot she’d left on the rim of the large bath’s basin. Then she scooped up something white and goopy from within the pot and smeared it across Tsukasa’s palm.

“What’s this?”

“It’s an ointment we make from horse fat. It makes the pain go away and speeds up the healing process.”

“Oh, thank you for going out of your way to get it. I apologize for the hassle.”

“Not at all… It’s thanks to you all that we have this lovely bath, so it’s the least I can do…” Lyrule continued to gently apply the ointment to his hand as she thanked the young prime minister.

The sensation of her dainty, slime-covered fingers crawling across his raw nerve endings sent pins and needles across his whole body. Tsukasa twitched.

“Oh no, did that hurt?”

“No…it just tickled a little.”

“If it hurts, make sure you tell me.” Lyrule smiled tenderly and resumed the treatment. This time, her touch was even tenderer than before. It still tickled, but the sensation was by no means unpleasant.

It was comforting…and gentle. Ever since he’d destroyed his family, Tsukasa never had anyone care for him like this. He wanted this peaceful time to go on, even for just a second longer…

But then—

“Th-there’s been trouble!!!!”

—a shout, along with the sound of frantic footsteps, brought it to an end.


When Tsukasa turned around, he saw that Akatsuki had come running over from the village. His expression was frantic.

“Tsukasa! Bad news, you have to—Wait, whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?! Huh?! What kind of joint are you running, exactly?! When did this place get here?!”

“Enough with the nonsense; what’s the matter? It must be serious for you to have run all the way over here.”

“Y-yeah, that’s right! It is! See, what happened—”

Between gasps of breath, Akatsuki elaborated on what had occurred.

“ ?!?!”

They all responded with shock. Winona leaped from the tub, her face drained of color. After all, she’d just learned that her family, Elch and Ulgar, along with the hunters they’d been leading, had been attacked by the massive bear known as the Lord of the Woods.


Winona raced back to the village, not even stopping to get dressed. The women and children had already assembled in the village square. The crowd was gathered around Filippo, one of the men who was supposed to be out hunting. He was sitting on the ground, panting.


“Whoa! H-hey, Winona, what’s with that sexy getup?!”



Masato had been treating the cuts Filippo had gotten on his shoulder when he’d dived through the brush, but Winona flung him aside and pressed Filippo for answers.

“Filippo, is it true?! Did you really run into the Lord of the Woods?!”

“Yeah, we did…! Everyone’s still fighting it, but once that thing gets going, it’s impossible to escape…! Our only option is to take it down…! That’s why I—Ah!”

Suddenly, Filippo’s gaze shifted to behind Winona’s back.

Tsukasa and the others had followed her back to the village, and Filippo called out to one of them in particular—Aoi Ichijou.


“Filippo, m’lord! Are you unharmed?!”

“I’m fine. But the others are in danger. This is no time to be chatting! We need your help! You’re the only one in the village who can take on that monster!”

The Lord of the Woods was a vengeful creature. Once it picked a fight with someone, it would follow them to the ends of the earth. If the hunters tried to flee, they’d end up leading it right to the village. And they couldn’t let that happen.

So instead, most of them had stayed behind as decoys while Filippo ran back to get Aoi. She was the only person they knew who stood a chance against that sixteen-foot-tall behemoth of a bear.

Aoi instantly agreed to the request.

“My blade is yours! Just lead the way!”

“Of course! I—?!”

But the moment he tried to stand, the man immediately collapsed to the ground.

“Filippo, m’lord?”

“Th-this is nothing. Just give me a second, and—”

“That’s quite enough.”

The second time he tried to get up, Keine pressed down on the back of his neck.

She was probably squeezing some pressure point needed to move. Even with just a woman’s strength, she was able to completely immobilize him.

“Bwuh?! Wh-what are you doing?!”

“No moving, doctor’s orders. Your ankle is clearly sprained. Trying to run on it would be an exercise in futility.”

“I just twisted it a bit, is all! It’ll heal on its own in a min—Mmph?!”

“No, it will not. You’ve suffered a grade-two sprain to your lateral ligament, as well as a complete grade-three tear of your calcaneofibular ligament… Given how serious they are, it’s a wonder you made it all the way back here. Now, do as your doctor says and get some rest.”

Filippo had kept thrashing despite her warning, so she covered his mouth with a handkerchief.


A moment later, Filippo fainted, his body going limp.

“You anesthetized him?”

“As long as he was conscious, he would’ve crawled there on his hands and knees.”

“But how’re we supposed to find them with this guy out cold?” asked Masato.

Tsukasa had an idea. “About that… Ringo?”

“Hweh?!” Ringo clearly hadn’t been expected to get called on. She jumped a little as she turned toward Tsukasa.

“Aoi and I are going to go save the mayor and the others. I want you to come along, find where they are with your goggles’ infrared thermography, and lead us there. Can you do that for me?”

Now Ringo understood why he’d asked. Her goggles had so many features that they required knowledge and experience to use. There was no time for her to teach someone else. It was a job only she could do. Knowing that, she nodded. She said nothing, but the nod itself was firm.

“In that case, I will bear Ringo upon my back!”

“I’ll accompany you, too. There are sure to be people injured over there,” Keine added.

“Yeah, please do.”

“Prince and I will stay here. I figure we’d just slow you guys down.”

“Y-yeah, what he said! It’s for the best, I’m sure! I’d love to rush off all gallant-like with you, but I’m way better with indoors-type stuff!”

Masato’s statement earned Akatsuki’s vigorous endorsement. Tsukasa hadn’t had any real plans to bring the two of them along anyway, so he offered no objections. He quietly nodded his assent, then turned to leave with the others.

Before he could go, though, Winona grabbed the hem of his suit.

“…The menfolk of this village are counting on you…!”

“I know. —Let’s go!”


As she watched the five of them disappear into the forest, Lyrule said a quiet prayer.

“Everyone, please… Be safe…”

“Hey, Aoi and Keine are on the case. There’s no way either of ’em will let anything bad happen. You don’t need to look so worried.”

Masato placed a hand on her trembling shoulder to cheer her up. Hearing the confidence that bordered on certainty in his voice eased Lyrule’s expression.

“…You’re right. I should just believe in them.”

“Damn straight. For now, though, we should do what we can on our end. First off, we gotta treat this guy. Can’t exactly leave him napping out here all day, can we?”

“Bring him around to our place for now. I’ll get a bed ready,” said Winona.

“I can do that, so please get some clothes on…! Look, here!”

“Oh, you brought ’em for me. Good thinking, Lyrule.”

Lyrule handed Winona back her cast-off clothes.

It’s now or never; I gotta burn this sight into my eyes…!

As Masato carried Filippo away, he turned his gaze toward Winona in her immodest state of undress. However, Akatsuki slipped right into his line of sight.

“Yo, Prince, get outa the way. You’re making me miss the most important moment of my life.”

However, Akatsuki paid his objections no heed. His expression grew serious.

“Masato…do you hear that?”

“Hear what?”

Now that Akatsuki pointed it out, though, Masato definitely heard something. His hearing was far superior to most people’s, after all.

…What is that? An earthquake? No, I hear metal on metal…and a whole bunch of feet walking. But why—?

Still unsure what was going on, Masato turned to face the direction the sound was coming from, the village entrance.

Then he spotted it.

There was a long mountain path that extended from the village and through the trees. Five soldiers in light armor had just rounded one of the bends in the path.

“Soldiers? What is this, a patrol like last time?” Akatsuki, who’d been present for their last run-in with soldiers, wondered if the same thing might be happening again.

However, it soon became clear that the situation was far grimmer than the previous encounter with armed men. Coming up behind the first five were another ten soldiers, then a second set of ten, then a third. Some of them were even clad head to toe in formidable bronze armor.

Winona stared in shock.

“Those are no underlings! They’re the Lord’s Order of Guardian Knights…!”


The villagers were all visibly shaken. Why was the Lord’s Order of Guardian Knights, the domain’s main military force, coming to their village?

A violent shout rocked the startled villagers’ ears.

“You haughty peasants are in the presence of the captain of Marquis Findolph’s Order of Guardian Knights, Silver Knight Inzaghi! Lower your filthy heads!”



Winona reacted to the voice faster than anyone else, immediately forcing Lyrule’s head down. The feudal lord who ruled their lands was a massive lecher, so the village had been hiding Lyrule from him.

The other villagers followed Winona’s lead and prostrated themselves.

“M-Masato, what do we do…?”

“Just go along with it for now.”

Masato and Akatsuki, the two who’d stayed behind, did the same. There was little to be gained from being stubborn. Even so, a foreboding inkling crossed Masato’s mind.

…I’ve got a bad feeling about how this is gonna play out…

There was one thing he knew for sure. In life, misfortune and hardship had a way of crashing down on you at once. And sure enough, his hunch was on the mark.

The soldiers moved aside to create a path, and a carriage pulled by a white horse rolled up in front of Masato and the others. Its door opened, revealing a knight garbed in silver armor and adorned with a cloak of deep blue. This was the man who led the soldiers and Bronze Knights of the Findolph domain’s Order of Guardian Knights.

Silver Knight Alessio du Inzaghi.

The villagers were prostrating themselves, and Inzaghi’s tall figure allowed him to lord over them all the more. He scoffed.

“Hmph. This is my first visit here, but I see I wasn’t missing much. The village reeks of wild beast, and most of its inhabitants are defects.”

Defect was a slur for byuma, people with animal qualities. Just that one phrase was enough to tell Masato what kind of person the man was.

“And what business do you have that you’d need to come to our reeking village yourself, Sir Captain?” Masato lifted his head, every inch of his body on high alert, posing his question to the man called Inzaghi.

The Silver Knight flashed his yellowed teeth as he smiled.

“What business? Ha-ha. I see, I see. You plan to feign innocence to the bitter end. You think you can trick me? …You commoners are all utter fools. Very well, though. Allow me to make my purpose crystal clear: You all are being charged with the grave crime of treason against the state.”

“Wh-what?! What kind of sick joke is that?!” In her surprise, Winona looked up and snapped at him. Inzaghi looked down at her with abject disgust, then continued, satisfied with ignoring her outburst.

“As I’m sure you remember, you used unlawful means to amass gold within your lord’s domain. We’ve already conducted a full investigation.”

“Wait, hold on a minute!” Masato couldn’t help but stand and protest. “Unlawful? Those charges are false. We earned that money through legitimate trade. We got a license from the mayor and everything. Take a look through our ledgers; it’s all there.”

Inzaghi laughed down Masato’s rebuttal. “I don’t need to. Those scraps of paper mean nothing.”


“You people are lowly peasants who hunt beasts up in the mountains, yet you had the gall to come down and lay your grubby, mud-ridden hands on gold coins with the Dragon Crest of the Freyjagardian imperial family engraved on them. And in doing so, you have enraged your lord. The very act of laying your filthy peasant paws on the Dragon Crest constitutes an act of treason against the state.”

“Wait, those charges are worse than false…!”

“False? You push your luck, peasant. As nobles, our words hold more weight than your very existences. You live when we tell you to live, and you die when we tell you to die. That is the law of this land, and that is justice. And in following with that law, His Lordship has decreed that every treasonous upstart in this village shall be burned to death!”

“““ ?!?!”””

The cruel, arbitrary verdict made the villagers blanch and tremble. Inzaghi, however, had no intention of listening to them beg for their lives. He raised his voice and gave the order.

“Let the judgment commence! Seize everyone in this village, then confiscate every last coin and scrap of food! Feel free to kill any who resist!”


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