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  High School Prodigies and the Imperial Grandmaster  

After a plane crash of an unknown cause, seven high school students found themselves stranded in a foreign world that they’d never so much as heard of before.

Once they arrived there, they discovered that it was home to a cruel, feudalistic society like that of Earth’s Middle Ages.

After being saved by this new land’s locals, the septet of teenagers decided to repay that kindness by taking down the Freyjagard Empire, the nation that had established that inhumane system.

It was a bold decision, to be sure.

However, what could seven mere children hope to accomplish? Their goal should have been impossible to achieve.

Surprisingly, the high schoolers took that obvious conclusion and threw it right out the window.

Back on Earth, a planet several centuries more advanced than this one, the group was known as the High School Prodigies. They led the fields of politics, business, science, medicine, swordplay, journalism, and entertainment.

Now they had turned the full force of their talents on this alien world.

The septet started out by defeating an evil lord, gaining the people’s trust, and seizing control of the domain’s government.

Subsequently, in just three short months, a series of consecutive military victories over the empire allowed them to unify all four of the empire’s northern domains.

At long last, the world became home to its first-ever democratic nation: the Republic of Elm. The Prodigies’ resounding successes sent a wave of excitement through the fledgling nation’s populace.

“Equality for all.”

With a new value system set in place by the High School Prodigies, the era in which circumstances of birth determined one’s lot in life had come to an end. Now, one’s work was properly rewarded, regardless of whether they’d been born into aristocracy or not.

The people celebrated the new system’s advent for days on end, happiness practically emanating from their bodies.

As the lively festivities went on, a letter arrived for the Republic of Elm’s governing body, the Seven Luminaries.

The sender was one Neuro ul Levias.

He was one of the four Imperial Grandmasters and, while the emperor was off on his campaign, the empire’s acting governor.

In short, it was from the Freyjagard Empire’s de facto leader.

And as for its contents…

“You’re telling me that the empire proposed a cease-fire?!”

A shout echoed out within the Seven Luminaries’ office in Dulleskoff City Hall.

The wide-eyed speaker was Winona, who came to Dulleskoff with the newly healed Ulgar in tow to deliver a certain item to Tsukasa.

Elch replied with a nod. “Yep. The offer came from the Imperial Grandmaster himself.”

“Wait, wasn’t the emperor s’posed to be the one in charge over there?”

Ulgar’s question was answered by Lyrule, a blond girl who was staying in Dulleskoff like Elch. “The emperor is off conquering the New World, so apparently this grandmaster is the one who’s in charge of all the empire’s affairs right now.”

“Basically, he’s our foe’s current leader,” Elch added.

“Well, hot damn. So they got the enemy’s top brass to come crying to them and begging for mercy?!”

Elch nodded. “I don’t think the letter was quite as pathetic as you’re making it sound, but just looking at the facts, then yeah.”

“Couldn’t it be a trap designed to lure Tsukasa and the others down there?” Winona asked.

“They considered that possibility, but…,” Lyrule replied.

“Even if it’s dangerous, this cease-fire negotiation is essential,” Tsukasa had said.

If they could successfully negotiate peace with the empire under favorable terms, they could avoid vast amounts of needless bloodshed.

That was meaningful enough to be worth the seven of them taking on a little risk.

As such, Tsukasa had accepted the empire’s invitation. The Seven Prodigies had boarded a Ringo Oohoshi–designed bus the previous evening and departed for Fortress City Astarte, the city that guarded the Emperor domain’s northern border.

After hearing all that from Elch and Lyrule, the two who’d been entrusted with watching over the republic in the Prodigies’ absence, Winona smiled with an astonished sigh. “Whew… Just three months, and they already managed to drag out the empire’s top brass, huh. We sure stumbled across some amazing kids.”

“Ga-ha-ha, you can say that again!” Ulgar laughed.

Elch and Lyrule nodded in agreement as well.

Even Elch, who’d doubted the seven teens when they’d first showed up in the village, had nothing but respect for the incredible group now. He could hardly believe what reliable allies his people had been blessed with.

Part of him had to wonder if perhaps the Prodigies were really the heroes sent from the heavens to change the world as in the story his mother had once recounted.


“But if their talks go well…they might end up going back to wherever they came from.”

Ulgar tilted his head at Elch’s mutterings. “Hmm? Why’s that?”

Winona, who was standing beside the older man, explained. “Isn’t it obvious? Those kids are from another world, remember? Once the war’s over, and they’ve built a nation with equality for all, there won’t be any reason for them to stick around and keep meddling in our affairs. Makes sense that they’d hunker down and get serious about looking for a way home, right?”

“Ah, so that’s what you meant.” Ulgar nodded—then gave voice to his immediate doubts. “But this new country’s sorta been built on their backs, hasn’t it? Is it gonna be able to survive their absence? The empire’s makin’ nice about cease-fires and whatnot now, but who knows when they’re gonna turn around and hit us with all they got…”

As Elch glanced through the economics textbook he’d gotten Bearabbit to retrieve from his database and translate into Altan for him, he gave his grandfather a determined reply. “If that happens…then as people of this world—of this nation—we’ll just have to show the emperor what we’re made of.”


“That’s why Tsukasa said what he did on his broadcast, why he asked if we were prepared to take responsibility for preserving our freedom and equality. These are our lives we’re talking about here. Relying on Tsukasa and the others isn’t a permanent solution.”

Things might go well, or everything could come crashing down. Either way, it was Elch and everyone else’s responsibility to bear as the citizens of their world.

Elch gave his answer in a tone flush with resolve. After leaving his small village, he’d seen the Gustav domain’s grim state of affairs with his own two eyes. Calling it appalling would have been an understatement.

We can’t let something like that ever happen again, and to do that, we need to make sure we don’t depend on any single ruler.

Each member of the new nation needed to put all they could muster into safeguarding freedom and dignity.

That was the only way that democracy, the system that enabled the concept of liberty, could exist.

Tsukasa and the others had given them the environment and skills necessary to make that happen.

Everything past that was up to them.

“Ga-ha-ha! Look at that; my grandson’s making big ol’ speeches of his own now!” Upon hearing Elch’s resolute words, Ulgar let out a hearty chortle and clapped Elch on the back.


“Your mom and I might not be able to help much when it comes to reading and writing, but if things come to blows, those wimpy imperials don’t stand a chance against us. They won’t even know what hit ’em!”

Ulgar’s grandson had always been cleverer than most, but he’d lacked guts. Now, though, Elch was using his smarts to help out not just their small village but an entire nation.

It filled Ulgar with joy, watching Elch grow up like that. And Elch’s mother, Winona, felt the same way.

I look away for half a minute, and he’s got the face of a right proper man. Winona smiled at her son, who was looking more and more like the man she’d once loved by the day. She hadn’t failed to notice the change in her other child, either.

As soon as they mentioned the possibility of Tsukasa and the others going back to their original world, Lyrule had begun dejectedly staring at the floor. Undoubtedly, she was concerned for her friends traveling into enemy territory, but there was more to it than that.

A single glance was enough for Winona to figure that much out. She’d learned quite a lot in her thirty-plus years.

And over here, Lyrule’s got the face of a true woman, too… Heh.

After leaving the tiny world that was their little village, both of Winona’s kids were growing up fast. She smiled, squinting as though it was too bright to see, then turned her thoughts to the people who had sparked these welcome changes.

…Come back safe, everyone.

Winona looked up at the dragon flying through the air outside the window and prayed for their safe return.

Meanwhile, the Bearabbit AI-manned electric bus carrying the Seven High School Prodigies, Bearabbit, and their two guards made its way into Astarte.


“What is that?! A…box? A moving box?! But it doesn’t have a horse or anything!”

“Hey, there’re kids inside! Who do ya suppose they are?”

When the self-propelled metal container rolled into town, it naturally caused quite a stir among the residents. However, the seven teenagers from another world were more or less used to such reactions.

Ignoring the inquisitive gazes being directed their way, they instead muttered their own little remarks of amazement as they looked out over the townscape gradually rolling past them.


“Man, they’ve got it good down here. It’s like night and day compared to the other domains.”

The roads were all paved with alabaster stone, and the buildings beside them were tall and aesthetically pleasing. Furthermore, all the people they passed were dressed elegantly, emphasizing how high the living standards were here.

As if that wasn’t enough—

“Keine, m’lady, look! Elephants!”

“Oh my. And lions, even.”

“They probably brought ’em over from the New World. I took my daughter to see the exhibition when they held it in Dormundt.”

It was just as one of the two guards, the Order of the Seven Luminaries’ byuma commander, Zest du Bernard, said. Astarte was holding an exhibition of rare and exotic animals in its central plaza.

Astarte’s shopping center also boasted a theater, a concert hall, a casino, and various other recreational facilities.

The town’s well-developed infrastructure was home to every luxury a resident could ask for. Commoners and nobles alike walked the streets with content expressions.

The Freyjagard Empire was a major nation, so it was only natural for the settlements near its capital to be so opulent. However…

Masato Sanada’s gaze narrowed. “…Looks like animals aren’t the only thing they brought over.”

He was looking at the dark shadow cast by Freyjagard’s glorious prosperity. It was a group of brown-skinned people wearing tattered rags. They had been brought over from the New World as slaves, just like Masato’s own employee, Roo.

The Prodigies saw captives being exploited all over the city as the imperial citizens wore fineries and sated their every indulgence.

And there was no small number of servile people, either.

“There were certainly some slaves back in Findolph and Archride, but nothing like this,” Tsukasa remarked.

“I heard that, in the Emperor domain, even commoners are provided with slaves to use as they please… This is my first time outside the Gustav domain. I never quite believed it, but now that I’ve seen it with my own eyes, I suppose I don’t have much choice.”

Their other guard, the female redheaded knight Jeanne Leblanc, was right. Here, even the commoners delegated everything to slaves and spent their days in comfort and leisure.

By pushing all their duties onto this worker caste, the imperial citizens were able to live free of want.

In the Emperor domain, that was simply the standard state of affairs.

“Survival of the fittest is their national policy, and this close to the capital, it definitely shows.” As Shinobu voiced her sympathy in a hushed tone, she snapped photos of the Astarte scenery.

The sight of people using others as livestock made for a horribly twisted little paradise.

In one of her pictures, a byuma child no older than Roo was being savagely lashed at a construction site.

“ ”

“Tsukasa, don’t let it get to you. We don’t wanna be picking fights this deep in enemy territory.”

“…I know.”

Tsukasa shot down Masato’s warning. He understood full well already. Those slaves weren’t their responsibility at the moment. The people of Elm were.

Giving in to emotion and making a move here would accomplish little more than endangering the captive workers’ lives.

Right now, the Prodigies were on the verge of finally solidifying their democracy. They couldn’t afford to start wars over personal sentimentality.

There was more to it than that, however.

“We won’t be the ones to save them. Rescuing people here and there on idle whims won’t actually do this world any good. After all, sooner or later, we’re going to leave this place behind.”

And so…

“Our true goal should be to foster ideals that won’t allow such horrors in the first place—and to engender the strength in this world’s people to be willing to rise up and save the downtrodden. Even if it means sacrificing their own peace.”

Accomplishing such a thing was by no means a simple task, though.

By Tsukasa’s calculations, it would take thirty years at the very least.

That was how long it took for a new generation to mature and take over.

In other words, their task was to build a sturdy enough foundation for the Republic of Elm that it could survive in that interim, no matter what the world threw at it. As Tsukasa saw, it was their responsibility to get Elm up to that baseline.

“To do that, we need to emerge victorious. To buy…a period of peace for this world, no matter how temporary it might be.”

As the words left Tsukasa’s mouth, the bus rolled to a stop.

Standing before the seven of them was a majestic blue-and-white building that looked almost like a temple—Astarte City Hall.

That was where that messed-up nation’s current ruler was waiting for them.

It was the empire that had produced the likes of Findolph and Gustav, and the man inside was closer to its heart than most.

Would they be able to broker peace? Or would they end up fighting to the bitter end?

Either way, the results of their talk would have a massive impact on the Republic of Elm’s future—not to mention their own.

Tsukasa stepped off the bus, took a deep breath, then turned back toward the others. “Let’s go. It all hinges on this.”

After leaving Bearabbit behind to watch the bus, the High School Prodigies, along with Zest and Jeanne, headed into city hall.

Naturally, the staff inside had already been informed they were coming. They welcomed the Prodigies with the utmost decorum and then took them to the dining hall set up for the negotiation.

After showing the group to their seats, a middle-aged noble addressed the Prodigies. “Please wait here for a moment while I call the grandmaster.”

“Of course,” Tsukasa replied.

The noble gave a practiced bow and turned to leave.

As they watch him go, Tsukasa and the others pulled out their chairs to sit down.

However, they were soon interrupted by the dining hall’s doors slamming open.

“Heya! Sorry for keeping you waiting, my good angels!” The man’s greeting loudly echoed as he strode into the room. His hair was blue, and it was almost odd how good-looking his face was. He appeared reasonably young, but his dignified outfit made it clear that he was no ordinary aristocrat.

A sudden premonition struck Tsukasa.

Could it be…?

Then, not a moment later, the middle-aged noble who’d led the Prodigies there verified it. “L-Lord Grandmaster…?! Wh-what are you doing here already?!”

Indeed—the young, handsome man was the very one who’d requested the presence of Tsukasa and the others.

“I-I’m terribly sorry for my lack of timeliness. I was just about to go call for you, but…”

“Yeah, my bad. I just got bored of waiting, y’know? Oh, and you can leave now. Ta-ta!”

“P-please wait just a moment…! I’ll summon your guards at once, so—”

“No, no, don’t bother. We’re trying to end a war here, not start one.”

The grandmaster, somewhat annoyed, waved the attending noble away.

Then he approached the Prodigies and flashed them a genuine smile. “Anyhow, thank you for coming all this way! Apologies for asking you to meet me down here, even though the talk was my idea to begin with. I’m in charge of keeping an eye on the Emperor domain while His Grace is off conquering, so it’d be a problem if I just up and left it. Ha-ha-ha.”

Despite the apology, the man didn’t seem ashamed in the slightest. He reached out and offered each of the seven teenagers a handshake.

Aoi, Ringo, and Akatsuki seemed flustered, but they all accepted the grandmaster’s proffered gesture regardless. However, Keine, Shinobu, and Masato were a little more composed, mirroring Neuro’s relaxed tone and telling him not to worry about it.

When the man reached the last member of their group, he finally announced himself.

“It’s a pleasure meeting you all. I’m Imperial Grandmaster Neuro ul Levias.”

Tsukasa introduced himself in kind as he returned Neuro’s handshake. “…I’m Tsukasa Mikogami, entrusted by God Akatsuki in matters of state. The pleasure is ours.”

“I must say, though, this is quite a surprise. I wasn’t expecting you angels to have warm blood like ours.”

“We’ve taken human form on this world for the time being.”

As Tsukasa replied, Neuro continued overenthusiastically shaking his hand up and down.

The bit about the Prodigies being divine beings was something they’d decided to go with when they first started calling themselves the Seven Luminaries.

Neuro narrowed his gaze. “Then…if I stabbed you, would you die?”

A faint smile played at his lips.

Zest and Jeanne, who were waiting by the wall, immediately tensed up.

Surprisingly, Tsukasa didn’t seem perturbed in the slightest. In fact, he replied with a provocative grin of his own. “Who knows. Care to try?”

He knew from the look in Neuro’s eyes and the tone of his voice that the grandmaster wasn’t actually serious.

“…Oh, I think I’ll pass. Wouldn’t want to be uncivilized.”

Just as Tsukasa had predicted, Neuro released his hand and stepped back.

“More importantly…,” Neuro said, sweeping his gaze over the visiting group again, “I’ve heard all sorts of exciting things about you people. Healing your body after being cut in half, making mountains vanish… Those are some impressive miracles you’ve got! Could I be so bold as to ask you to show me one?! I must say, I’ve been looking forward to this ever since I first sent that letter!”

…He looks like a child who just got his hands on a new toy.

Neuro’s spirited demeanor came as a shock to Tsukasa.

For the acting ruler of an empire, his expression hardly seemed that of a man about to participate in an essential international negotiation.

There was certainly a chance he was feigning buffoonery to get them to lower their defenses, but still…

Real or fake, there’s no good reason for us to play along.

For one, all of Akatsuki’s miracles were just magic tricks.

In short, he needed to set up tricks and contrivances in order to make them work. He couldn’t just summon them at the drop of a hat.

Tsukasa quickly shut Neuro’s request down. “I apologize, but we came here today to discuss a cease-fire, so—”

Or rather, he tried to.

“Very well.”

However, it was none other than Akatsuki himself who spoke up. He stepped toward Neuro.


Tsukasa gave him a look. Are you sure?

If Akatsuki messed up here, it would call his divinity into question and potentially prove problematic for their negotiations.

Akatsuki responded to Tsukasa’s concern by whispering, “Don’t worry; I got this,” and taking a deep breath.

When he spoke to Neuro next, it was the feigned voice and indomitable expression he used in all his performances. “Bwa-ha-ha! Now, allow me to introduce myself once more! I am Akatsuki, the god of the Seven Luminaries!”

“Oh wow! A real god?!”

“Verily. Heh… You’re amazed, aren’t you? Shocked and awed?”

“Oh, absolutely! I never expected God to be quite so cute!”

“D-don’t call me cute!”

Upon having his psychological sore spot prodded, Akatsuki unthinkingly let his true colors show.

Then he felt Tsukasa’s icy gaze bear down on his back.

Tsukasa’s silent “I told you so” was quite plain.

Akatsuki broke out into a cold sweat, but he rallied and got back on track after clearing his throat. “…Neuro, was it? Well, if it’s a miracle you want, then it’s a miracle you’ll get. Consider this a great honor… Now, do you have a coin on you?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Neuro replied. He fumbled around in his pockets with a fretful expression. “I don’t tend to carry a purse… Ah!” Suddenly, his eyes gleamed. Deep in his pocket, he’d found a single one-gold silver coin. “How’s this, God?”

“That’ll do fine. Hand it over.”


What was Akatsuki going to do with it?

Neuro tilted his head to the side as he placed the coin atop Akatsuki’s petite palm.

Akatsuki squeezed it tight…then quickly opened his hand back up.


The coin that should have been sitting atop his palm was gone.

In the blink of an eye, it had vanished without a trace.

Neuro was clearly shaken. “Wh-whaaaat?! But the coin?! I could have sworn I just handed it to you…!”

“Bwa-ha-ha-ha! I see you’re quite flummoxed, Grandmaster! But instead of just standing there dumbfounded, why not check your own pocket?!”


The moment Neuro did as instructed, his expression froze.

Masato and the others leaned forward in curious anticipation.

When Neuro gingerly withdrew his hand from his pocket, he saw that he was holding a gleaming, one-gold silver coin. “Impossible…”

“Nice one, Prince,” Masato remarked.

“My oh my. It never fails to impress, no matter how many times I see it,” agreed Keine.

“Bwa-ha-ha! Why so surprised?! If you’re confused, well, don’t be! It’s simple—all I had to do was turn time back a little! Such a feat is child’s play for my divine hands! Now, never call me cute again unless you want to get reverted into a baby!”

Neuro’s jovial countenance from before was gone, replaced with a look of abject astonishment. After coming up with a plausible-sounding bluff, Akatsuki stepped back behind Tsukasa.

As Akatsuki passed Tsukasa by, he shot him a proud look as though to say, “How’d you like that?”

Tsukasa replied with an apologetic shrug.

Akatsuki was a consummate professional, and it was clear that Tsukasa’s concern had been misplaced. Having predicted that he’d be called upon to show off his miracles, Akatsuki had undoubtedly set up some sort of trick back when Neuro first offered them all handshakes.

All in all, it was a brilliant piece of work.

Neuro was visibly impressed, and he piled on his praises. “Wow, that was really something else, pulling that off without using any magic! I guess that’s divine power for you! I wasn’t sure what to believe before, but you just blew all my doubts out of the water!”

That statement was enough to confirm Tsukasa’s suspicions about Neuro’s true motive. He’d been checking to see if Akatsuki’s miracles were some sort of magic.

As I hear it, Blue Grandmaster Neuro ul Levias is a skilled mage himself…

When Neuro initially heard the rumors about Akatsuki’s powers, his first suspicion had probably been that Akatsuki was a swindler passing magic off as divine acts. That was why he wanted to see a miracle in person, so he could check for himself.

However, his prediction had been off the mark. A miracle had taken place right before him without a whiff of magic to be sensed.

In other words, the time was ripe.

“Grandmaster Neuro, now that we’ve fulfilled your request, would you mind if we got this discussion started?”

Neuro wasn’t letting it show on his face, but learning that Akatsuki’s deeds weren’t spells must have saddled him with a fair bit of psychological pressure. There was no good reason to give him a moment to get his thoughts in order. Acting decisively, Tsukasa had urged Neuro to start the meeting.

“Of course, of course. I’m sorry; I got a little carried away from seeing something so marvelous. Ah, how embarrassing. Ha-ha-ha.” With a deceptive smile, Neuro circled around to the other side of the table. Once he was across from the Prodigies, he took a seat and encouraged them to do the same. “Feel free to sit down wherever, by the way.”

His grin seemed nigh indomitable. If he was shaken the way Tsukasa was hoping he’d be, it didn’t show.

I suppose it makes sense… After all, the man’s governing an entire nation right now.

It looked like it would take more than a single act of sleight of hand to shake Neuro.

This time, Tsukasa was the one whose prediction had been off the mark.

That said…

I never really counted on him screwing up anyway.

Tsukasa’s philosophy was to anticipate every possibility and develop strategies for dealing with all of them.

As such, Neuro’s mental fortitude fell well within acceptable parameters.

“Commander, I want you to take Jeanne and wait in the hallway.”

“You sure about that?”

Tsukasa gave Zest’s question a nod.

Even without them, they’d still have their strongest fighter with them, Prodigy Swordmaster Aoi Ichijou. Furthermore…

“Grandmaster Neuro had his soldiers stand down, so it would be rude to meet him with an armed escort.”

“Yes sir.”

Zest and Jeanne followed Tsukasa’s order and left.

After watching them go, Tsukasa and the others took their places at the table.

Then Tsukasa focused his gaze on Neuro and got the ball rolling.

“Now, shall we begin?”

“Yes, let’s. This conference will determine the future of both our empire and your republic.”

And thus, their head-to-head showdown with the Freyjagard Empire began.

All right…

Now that he was finally face-to-face with the Freyjagard Empire’s representative, Tsukasa took a moment to go over the tasks they needed to accomplish on their trip.

Broadly speaking, the Prodigies had three goals.

First, they needed to get the empire to acknowledge their republic as not a band of rebellious upstarts but as a legitimate nation.

Second, clear borders between the empire and the republic needed to be established.

Third, the empire had to agree to a nonaggression pact.

Those were their bare-minimum requirements. If they couldn’t achieve at least that much, the entire meeting would be pointless.

Nothing but those three items mattered. In other words, the discussion’s topic was going to be how the Prodigies were going to get what they wanted.

What would they have to give up, and what would they force the other side to cede?

Neuro was the first to speak. “Well, I’m the one who called this gathering, so I guess I’ll kick things off.”

Tsukasa nodded in approval.

To begin with, he wanted to see where his opponent stood.

“The Freyjagard Empire has no desire to see any more bloodshed. If at all possible, we’d like to reach an amicable reconciliation with you…and given that you agreed to come here today, can I guess you feel the same way?”

Tsukasa bobbed his head in acknowledgment. “Of course. We’ve yet to suffer any fatalities on our side, but we Seven Luminaries preach equality for all. We grieve for the Freyjagard Empire’s deaths, and we came here today in hopes that we could prevent any more blood on either side from being spilled.”

“Truly, what a wonderful doctrine. Let’s work together to make this cease-fire a reality, then.”

“I agree wholeheartedly.”

Neuro smiled happily, but immediately thereafter, he lowered his tone and fired off a verbal arrow. “…By all rights, though, none of our men had to die at all. And they wouldn’t have if you hadn’t riled the people up.”

The first round had begun.

Hearing Neuro’s timbre change caused Tsukasa to ratchet up his guard.

Neuro went on. “Everyone who lost their lives in those battles had every right to live to see today. If you hadn’t started the war by agitating the people with your talk of liberty for everyone, then those dead would still be here. But you killed them. You wanted to force your ideology onto others so badly you were willing to sacrifice fathers. You were willing to offer up sons. You were willing to destroy families.”


Neuro purposefully chose his words to evoke images of those tragedies as he laid the war’s blame at the Republic of Elm’s feet.

Ringo and Akatsuki went pale.

There was a certain level of truth to Neuro’s words, one that they couldn’t deny.

Even as he blamed the Prodigies for starting the war, though, Neuro continued. “Well…I say all that, but even I recognize that the fault doesn’t lie solely with you. Gustav, in particular, took things too far. In a way, it was almost inevitable that a group like yours would eventually rise up. What I’m saying is: While it was definitely you all who started the war, the Freyjagard Empire has its share of the blame for not reigning in the nobles whose abuses inspired your action. In acknowledging that…we hope we can call it a draw and broker for peace.”

“A draw?”

“That’s right. We could spend all day assigning blame, but that wouldn’t get us anywhere, would it? The opposite of justice is another brand of justice, after all. Neither of us would end up backing down, and all we’d have for our efforts is a whole lot of wasted breath. So I say: Why not find a compromise? For example, try this on for size—you people admit fault for starting the war and agree to pay the empire three million gold in reparations. In exchange, we’ll admit culpability for not dealing with the misgovernment and cede the rights to all the land you took from us in the war. How does that sound?”


Masato, who had a firm handle on how much this world’s currency was worth, gasped.

Three million gold was a hefty sum, but for all four of the empire’s northern domains, it seemed far too cheap to be real.

Did the grandmaster truly feel shameful over what his side had done?

There was no way.

If he were really that admirable, he wouldn’t have let the Gustav domain get so foul in the first place.

Neuro undoubtedly had some trick up his sleeve. Masato had no idea what that might be, though. Stuff like that was outside his area of expertise.

However, the same wasn’t true of Tsukasa. For him, this kind of bureaucratic maneuvering was his bread and butter. That was why he knew exactly what Neuro’s plan was.

There was only one answer the Prodigy politician could give. And so he gave it, his voice sharp and clear.

“We refuse.”


Neuro wasn’t the only one surprised at Tsukasa’s response—Ringo and the other Prodigies were shocked as well.

As they’d seen it, three million gold was more than a reasonable price for being able to secure all three of their conditions in one fell swoop.

Despite that, Tsukasa’s answer remained firm. “I’m sorry; did you not hear me? I said we refuse.”

“…How odd. I thought you just made it clear that you wanted to work together to help end the fighting. Was all of that just a lie?”

“Not at all. I meant every word I said.”

“What, would you have us make more concessions, then?”

“That’s not it, Grandmaster. You see, your very premise is flawed.”


Neuro tilted his head to the side, and Tsukasa outlined his reasoning with utmost certainty.

“In this case, the opposite of justice isn’t another brand of justice. Justice exists solely on our side, and your side is that of evil.”


To no one’s astonishment, Neuro was visibly taken aback at the thoughtless, unilateral declaration.

Even so, Tsukasa continued undeterred. “That war was a necessary step to rescue the powerless from a corrupt, depraved empire. The actions we took were good and proper, and I can say with utmost certainty that the justice we represent is pure and unambiguous. As such, it’s completely unreasonable for you to ask that we take even a tiny amount of responsibility for that war. When I said we wanted to help you, I meant that we were willing to listen to your apology and help you convey its sentiment to our angry citizens. That cooperation in and of itself is a substantial concession, and it’s the only one we’re prepared to make.”

“You’re saying you don’t feel a shred of guilt for the hundreds of people you killed?”

“None whatsoever. All of that was collateral damage, the fault for which lies solely with the Freyjagard Empire.”

“And what about all the nobles who had to flee to the Emperor domain? Could you say the same thing to them after you started the conflict that robbed them of their families and homes?”

“Without a moment’s hesitation.” Tsukasa’s expression didn’t waver in the least, and he gave his reply as though it was the most natural thing in the world.

However, all of that was a bluff.

In truth, Tsukasa Mikogami was plagued by constant doubts.

Was there truly no better option? Was there not some way to reduce the number of casualties?

And because Masato knew all that—

…Ah. So that’s what this is about.

—he finally realized.

At last, he understood what Tsukasa was trying to protect…and what Neuro was gunning for.

The terms he’s offering seem great, but secretly, they’re garbage.

If all you did was look at the three-million-gold price tag, it appeared like a steal.

By accepting that proposal, however, Elm would be acknowledging something. It would be tantamount to admitting that the republic had been established via unjust means. That would be a hefty weight to bear. Once they accepted responsibility for starting the war, it would haunt the new nation for the rest of its days.

In fact, there was a good chance that the seeds of democracy that the Prodigies had gone to such lengths to plant would be forever stained.

That was why Tsukasa couldn’t back down.

Plus, there was a reason why not accepting responsibility for the war hadn’t been one of the three goals—it was merely a core tenet of diplomacy and a basic premise of the art. Even if your side was clearly at fault, you had to use whatever illogical justifications you could come up with to force the blame onto your opponent. Although the enemy’s hands were clean, you had to assert that they were soiled. Your side may have unilaterally massacred theirs, but you always had to insist that you were the victim. Politics was a world where the only things that determined the victor were the claims each side made. Logic had no place in such a realm.

At the diplomacy table, honesty and impartiality were nothing but useless vices.

Only an utter fool would admit their own fault.

That initial upset hardly spelled the end for Tsukasa’s first maneuver. “Please don’t misunderstand me, though. I was sincere when I stated that we wanted to reconcile with the empire. So allow me to say this: We Seven Luminaries, and by extension, the Republic of Elm, are prepared to make certain concessions regarding the fact that the Freyjagard Empire caused this war.”

Once again, Tsukasa reiterated his desire for peace. Furthermore, he insisted that he was prepared to make sacrifices to achieve it.

The implication, then, was that if the negotiations fell through despite all the effort he was putting in, the Freyjagard Empire would be entirely to blame.

This is some bone-chilling shit.

Masato gave a pained smile. People called him a devil, but even the dirtiest deals ever made in the world of business paled before the utter amorality that was political discourse.

Still, this Neuro guy’s no pushover.

By trying to get the Republic of Elm to admit fault for the conflict, Neuro had been trying to damage not just the young democratic nation but the concept of democracy itself. He must have realized how this new style of governing was poised to infect every nook and cranny of his world.

Not only was Neuro perceptive, he fully comprehended the gravity of the situation he was in.

Faced with that, Masato had to admit that the grandmaster was a formidable foe.

We’re gonna have to pull out all the stops for this guy.

Meanwhile, Neuro seemed to have come to the same realization about the white-haired boy before him.

“Ah, I see. If I pick this fight, we’ll both end up rolling in the muck.” He let out an exasperated sigh. Then he gave Tsukasa a small, knowing smile and posed a question. “All right then, let’s hear it. What do you want from us? What would be enough to demonstrate our remorse? Gold? Land? Or perhaps…just peace?”

Not even sparing a moment to consider, Tsukasa responded, “All of that.”


“The Republic of Elm has the following three demands for the Freyjagard Empire. First, you will pay the citizens of Elm reparations for the oppression they faced under your rule. The Empire must also recognize the legitimacy of the Republic of Elm’s territory and sovereignty in perpetuity. Finally, your nation must enter into a treaty of nonaggression with the Republic of Elm. Nothing less.”

“ ”

Even the other Prodigies found themselves taken aback at Tsukasa’s aggressive demands. Naturally, Tsukasa himself was well aware of how outrageous he was being. He was asking for as much as possible, the greatest imaginable fruits of victory.

As such, he was under no illusions that the other side would accept the terms as is. Neuro would undoubtedly demand numerous compromises in return, and Tsukasa had decided well in advance how much leeway he was prepared to relinquish in any given category.

However, there’s no reason for me to tell him what I’m willing to compromise on from the get-go.

After all, negotiations were nothing more than vehicles for two parties to try to get what they wanted at the other’s expense. The only thing that mattered was what you walked away from the discussion with.

If you spent your efforts on trying to resolve negotiations quickly, you were liable to end up making concession after concession and ultimately not get nearly as much as you could have.

It was a common trap for the peace-loving Japanese to fall into, but Tsukasa wasn’t about to have any of that.

He wouldn’t show so much as a shred of mercy, nor would he expect any from his opponent.

Normally, people looked out for others and hoped that others would look out for them in turn. That naive way of thinking had no place at the negotiation table, however. Diplomacy was like a shoot-out where words served in the place of bullets.

In short…

It all starts here.

This was where the true battle began.

Tsukasa was going to need to carefully read his opponent and play his carrots and sticks accordingly.

It was time for Prodigy politician Tsukasa Mikogami to show what he was made of.

Or rather, it should have been.

After a prolonged silence, Neuro said something completely unthinkable.

“Sounds good. The empire unconditionally accepts all three of your demands.”

“ ”

Tsukasa was careful not to let it show, but the fact that Neuro had agreed to his outrageous demands without the slightest show of resistance had him utterly baffled.

What game is he playing?

Earlier, Neuro’s quote of three million gold for the four northern territories had seemed like a ludicrously low price. The reason for this was because the offer had been a clever ploy to poison the Republic of Elm.

That had at least made sense. This latest surprise was of a whole different order.

There was absolutely nothing Neuro stood to gain by accepting Tsukasa’s terms without asking for anything back. Not anything Tsukasa could think of, at least.

As far as he could tell, Neuro was essentially offering a unilateral surrender. Such a situation seemed impossible, though. The deal was too good to be true. There must have been some sort of catch.

Tsukasa wasn’t the only one with alarm bells going off.

Masato, who was sitting beside him, piped up in a casual tone. “Hey, whoa, slow down a sec. You’re just a stand-in for the actual emperor, right? Are you really authorized to accept our terms, just like that? Seems kinda dicey for a guy in your spot, no?”

Given that Tsukasa was the one making demands, it was difficult for him to ask those kinds of follow-up questions. Understanding as much, Masato had chosen to break the silence and give voice to the doubts that Tsukasa couldn’t. It was a masterful piece of support work.

Neuro replied with a light chuckle. “Ah-ha-ha. Sure, why not? Emperor Lindworm left me with the Great Seal of State, after all. So long as he’s off on his campaign, I have absolute authority. For now, my will is the will of the empire. Doesn’t seem dicey at all. Besides, I think I’ve gotten us a pretty good deal. After all…

“…it’s a small price to pay for a nation with nuclear missiles.”

“““ !!!!”””

A shock shot through the High School Prodigies like lightning.

Did he just say…?

He did.

“Nuclear missiles,” Tsukasa muttered.

It was a piece of vocabulary nobody on this more primitive planet should have known.

“Heh-heh. Now that sure got a rise out of you.”

“How does someone from this world know of such things…?!”

Neuro gave Tsukasa’s blunt question a shrug. “Oh, well, that’s simple enough. Truthfully, the answer’s kind of boring. You see, I’m like you all—I’m not from this world, either.”

“Oh my…!”

“You’ve gotta be kidding me.”

None of the Prodigies had expected that particular development and several who’d been planning on staying quiet through the conference couldn’t help but let out exclamations of surprise.

“W-wait, hold on a minute! Y-you mean, you came here from Earth, too?!”

However, Neuro replied to Akatsuki’s question by shaking his head. “No, sorry. I can’t say I’ve ever heard of this ‘Earth.’ My world’s probably a different one from yours. There, nukes and other technology like it were supplanted by magic long ago. I’d never actually seen one until you all bombed Uranus. And wow, those clouds really do look like mushrooms, don’t they? That was a big surprise for me. Oh, and speaking of surprises—Akatsuki, that magic trick you showed me was delightful! Even though I knew it was just sleight of hand, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what you’d done or how you’d done it! It’s no wonder you’ve been able to fool everyone for so long.”


“ ”

After watching Neuro and Akatsuki’s exchange, Tsukasa’s expression grew sterner.

One had to wonder if the grandmaster was being truthful.

He claimed that he wasn’t from this world, nor from Earth, but some other, third planet.

Between Neuro’s knowledge of atomic weapons and the fact that the seven high schoolers’ presence proved that more than one developed world already existed, it was certainly plausible.

If it was true, though…then it was terrible news.

That their miracles were nothing but magic tricks was the Seven Luminaries’ Achilles’ heel. Now that someone from the empire knew that, Tsukasa and the others were in big trouble.

Amused, Neuro laughed when he saw Tsukasa tense up. “…Heh-heh, no need to look so grim. I’m certainly not planning on blowing your cover and telling everyone that you’re just average Joes. The people of Elm probably wouldn’t even believe it, coming from an Imperial Grandmaster, and besides, why would I? After all…I’m on your side here.”

“You are?”

“Most definitely. And I’m a good friend to have. After all, I can help you out. It’s the main reason I sent for an audience with you.”

Neuro sat up straight and broke the news.

“Let me get to the point. I have the power to return you all to your original world.”



“Is that true? Is it?”

None of the Prodigies could stay quiet after hearing that.

They all rose to their feet and started bombarding Neuro with questions from across the table.

Seeing their gazes fixed on him, Neuro nodded. “Absolutely. I guess the proof is in the pudding, though, so it’d be faster just to show you.”

With that, Neuro slid his teacup to the center of the table.

Tsukasa and the others all looked down at it.

At a glance, it looked like an ordinary cup of black tea, but…

“What’s this supposed to be?”

“Tsukasa, could I trouble you for a strand of your hair?”


Tsukasa agreed, then plucked out a piece from his bangs and handed it over.

“Thanks. Wow, it really is white to the root.”

“What do you plan on doing with it?”

“Oh, you’ll find out soon enough.”

With that, Neuro did something utterly inscrutable. After taking the proffered hair, he dropped it into the teacup.

Initially, Tsukasa was confused. A moment later, though, Neuro tapped the edge of the cup—and then it happened.

“Huh? Wh-what’s going on…?!”

All of a sudden, the tea’s surface flashed, engulfing the entire room in light.

What was going on?

The seven high schoolers were utterly befuddled.

Once the glow died down, they could see again, though their confusion vanished without a trace. For what they saw in the cup was…

“Wait, whoa, that’s…”

“It’s Tokyo… That’s the Tokyo skyline! Look, there’s the Skytree!”

That’s right. It was the displaced septet’s homeland, a truly nostalgic sight for all of them. Unfortunately, the image projected onto the tea’s surface only lasted a moment. It soon wavered, then vanished, leaving behind nothing but the liquid’s dark-brown hue.

While it’d only been for a moment, all the Prodigies were certain of what they’d glimpsed. The world they needed to return to had been right there in front of them.

“Grandmaster Neuro, was that…?”

“Based on your expressions, I guess it hooked up to your planet all right.”

“Was that…magic?”

“Yep… My original world, well, let’s just say that certain events left it inhospitable. In order to find new homes, my kind developed a type of spell that creates gates in space-time. That’s what I used to come here. Just now, I combined that magic with information fundamental to Tsukasa to find the planet you were born on and create a temporary link to it. Now, that was just a quick, spur-of-the-moment thing, so all that passed through it was light. Transporting material across space is a much more involved endeavor. But with a little time and preparation, even that becomes possible. In other words, with this sort of spell—”

“We can go home to Japan?!” exclaimed Akatsuki.

Neuro nodded. “Precisely.”

After that answer and having seen that Neuro’s powers were the real deal, Akatsuki completely abandoned his deific act and leaped up and down with joy. “Y-yeeeeeeeeeeeah!!!!”

Who could’ve blamed him? After being cast adrift with seemingly no way back to the life he’d once known, he’d been offered an apparent, definite lifeline of safe return.

Akatsuki wasn’t alone in his exultation, either. Everyone else rejoiced at their sudden stroke of exceptional fortune.

Everyone except Tsukasa, that was. He had his doubts. Was that tantalizing proposition really all it seemed?

“Grandmaster Neuro, you’re saying you can use your magic to send us back to our world. Is that right?”

“That it is.”

“And what would you ask of us in return?”

“In return? Oh, perish the thought. I found a group of lost children; the only decent thing to do is help get them home.”

“…What a wonderful sentiment and what an appealing offer. Why, it’s so tempting…it makes me feel like I’m striking a deal with the Devil.”

“Ha-ha-ha. You’re a cautious one, aren’t you?”

“It’s my job to be cautious. Let me say this, Grandmaster Neuro—we’re deeply grateful for your proposition. However, would you mind indulging this stubborn, suspicious ingrate and clearing up my last niggling doubt? …Are you really rendering such aid solely out of the goodness of your heart?” As Tsukasa posed his question, he stared straight at Neuro so as not to miss the tiniest flicker of emotion in the man’s eyes.

Neuro answered—

“Of course! …Well, okay, fine. It’d be a fib to say it was an entirely benevolent gesture. Yeesh, that intuition of yours is something else.”

—with praise and the truth.

“To be perfectly honest, you people are becoming something of a thorn in my side.”

“How so?”

“I came to this world to live a rich life free of want or hardship. It doesn’t take much to tell that you’re all going to cause trouble for me—and my new home, the Freyjagard Empire. You already have, no? Come now, you can’t pretend you don’t realize you just snatched up a full fifth of the empire’s land. So when I say I want to get you home as soon as possible, I mean every word of it. It’ll be a headache and a half if you’re still around the next time we want to go to war.”

Ringo, detecting the ominous implication behind Neuro’s words, blurted out, “Y-you mean…!”

Once everyone turned to look at her, though, she clamped her lips tight shut. “Mmmmm…”

“Don’t worry. I’ll say it for you.”

Tsukasa could tell what Ringo was trying to say. He’d noticed the same foreboding portent in Neuro’s statement.

He picked up where she left off. “Are you saying that you plan to attack Elm the moment we’re gone?”

Neuro gave him a faint smile. “I’ll neither confirm nor deny that. I’m under no obligation to share the empire’s classified plans with you, after all.” Having dodged the question, the grandmaster stated, “…And besides, what does it matter to you? You aren’t actually gods or angels, and you have no intention of setting down roots here. As I see it, you’re trying to leave as soon as you can. Am I wrong?”

As Neuro put it, they didn’t even have the right to ask that question.

The only ones qualified to talk about this world’s future were its native inhabitants. Even if the empire was to break the nonaggression pact and attack Elm after Tsukasa and the others left, the people who abandoned this planet and left it behind would be in no position to criticize them.

It was a perfectly valid argument.

The Seven Prodigies had a home they had responsibilities toward—but it wasn’t this one. No, their world was the one on the other side of that teacup. That was where they lived, and that was where their duty lay. And because of that, Tsukasa reached his decision.

“Thank you for answering my rude question, Grandmaster. You’re absolutely right; we do have obligations back in our world, and we have every desire to return there without a moment’s delay.”

“Right? Then I can get started on the preparations right this—”



“We’ve made promises to the populace here, and we intend to keep them. Leaving will have to wait, at least until the Republic of Elm has its footing firm and a system is in place to ensure that democracy will flourish. Only then will we have fulfilled our commitments.”

That would take a year. Six months, at a bare minimum.

After explaining that, Tsukasa repeated his request once more. “But if you still feel the same way afterward… If you’re still amenable to help us, even after we’ve built up a nation that may well become your enemy, would it be all right if we relied on your goodwill then?”

They couldn’t depart now, not until Elm was mighty enough to stand up to the empire even once after they’d gone. When faced with a concrete method of returning home, that was the answer Tsukasa gave.

Neuro let out an exasperated sigh. “…Ugh, what an obnoxiously bullheaded sense of duty you have. What if I were to refuse, hmm? What would you do then?”

It was a reasonable response. From his perspective, Tsukasa’s request was egotistical and selfish in the extreme.

After all, he was trying to help Neuro’s enemies yet still take advantage of his goodwill.


“No, no, it’s fine; I get it. I know just how entrenched you’ve gotten in that little nation of yours. Go on then, do your good deeds. When you’re finished, just give me a holler. I’ll get the gate ready for you in the meantime.” Neuro’s expression was sour, but he accepted Tsukasa’s request all the same.

“We thank you for your generosity.” Tsukasa stood and gave Neuro a respectful bow. Then he looked over at his teammates. “And there you have it. Once we’ve solidified the Republic of Elm’s position in this world, we’ll be returning to Earth thanks to his help.”

Tears began rolling down Akatsuki’s face, and he turned and wrapped Masato in a big embrace. “We did it, Masato! We’re going home! Waaah!”

“Ha-ha. What, you’re so happy you’re crying? Guess I can’t blame you.”

“I—I…need to tell…Bearabbit…!” Ringo stuttered.

“Who would have imagined we would find a way back so quickly? Hmm-hmm. How very fortunate,” Keine remarked.

“Yeah, it feels like we’re in a manga that just got axed,” Shinobu replied.

Trying to find a transportation method back to Japan had felt like they were chasing after clouds, but now they had a clear endgame in sight. The Prodigies were overcome with joy.

Neuro smiled. “I’m glad to see you’re all in such high spirits. All right, now that the boring meeting’s over with, let’s get some dinner in here! I promise you, the Emperor domain’s cuisine will blow anything you had up in the boonies out of the water.” He then rose, ostensibly to order his subordinates to bring in food.

The peace talks with the Freyjagard Empire had been full of shocks and surprises, but now they were finished.

The startling truth Neuro had sprung on them partway through had thrown the Prodigies off guard, but just looking at the results, the negotiations had ended in an overwhelming victory for them.

Without giving up a single thing, the Republic of Elm had obtained land, sovereignty, and reparations.

Plus, Tsukasa and the others got something they hadn’t even been planning for—a way back to Earth.

The seven high schoolers were utterly thrilled. All their minds were filled with thoughts of their homeland and what they would do first when they got back to it.

As everyone relaxed, Tsukasa called out one final time to stop Neuro before he left. “Oh, Grandmaster, one last question.”


“Does the phrase evil dragon mean anything to you?”

Upon hearing that final inquiry, Neuro replied—

“…Should it? Sorry, I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.”

—with a complete and utter lie.

As the words left his mouth, he gave a sinister smile, as though mocking the very world he stood in.

After dinner, Neuro and the Prodigies hammered out the specifics of the bilateral agreements they made in the meeting. This included the exact location of the border between their countries, the wording of their pact, and creating an exchange-student program to help solidify the treaty’s longevity. Each article was written out, looked over, and then signed by both parties. That done, the nonaggression pact was official, and the Republic of Elm and the Freyjagard Empire formally became allies.

Neuro offered rooms to his new friends so they could stay the night in Astarte, but Tsukasa politely turned him down. The Republic of Elm was still just finding its legs, so he didn’t want to stay away for too long. Neuro understood, and that night, he saw them off as they left the city.

Now they were back on the bus.

“…And thus, I assumed the mantle of God to rescue the impoverished populace. The enemy took sword in hand, clad themselves in armor, and sent tens of millions of men to try to slay us, but they were like ants before our might. Thanks to my brilliant leadership, we crushed them all! We pulverized them! And yet, even so, we held back! Why, you ask? Well, that should go without saying. If we’d gone all out, we’d probably have broken their world!”

“…Akatsuki, what’re you going on about?” Shinobu asked.

“What do you mean? I’m practicing for our press conference, duh. I mean, we’re obviously gonna have one once we get back. Heck, I figured you’d be the one running it, Shinobu. I gotta figure out what I want to say in my speech when we tell them about all the awesome stuff we did!”

“I feel like there was a lot of exaggeration going on there.”

“C’mon, it’s good entertainment. Nothing the masses love like a thrill.”

“Also, didn’t you plagiarize that line about breaking the world from Tsukes?”

“It’s fine; I asked permission!”


“Oh, and speaking of entertainment, block off an hour for me immediately after the press conference. I’m gonna do my first post-return magic show and blow the audience’s socks off!”

For so long, returning to Earth had felt like a far-off pipe dream. The Prodigies hadn’t even known if it was going to be possible. Now that it was right there in front of them, however, Akatsuki was revved up and ready to go.

In his excitement, the young magician had utterly forgotten that he was supposed to be acting as a deity and was spouting off one taboo phrase after another.

Fortunately, Tsukasa had anticipated his utter lack of self-control. When they boarded the bus, he sent Jeanne and Zest off into the walled-off room in the back. It had been soundproofed so Tsukasa and the others could hold private conversations, so that was one problem nipped in the bud.

As it turned out, Akatsuki wasn’t the only one who was excited, either.

“That sounds like a beary good time indeed! If you need any help getting ready, I’d be happy to lend a paw! Ringo, you’re pawbably going to want to write your speech down on index cards. Whenever you get in front of a crowd, your mind always goes as white as a polar bear.”

“I-I’m…good… You should just…give the speech…for me, Bearabbit…”

“That’d bruin everything! The people back home are probably worried sick about you, so you have to go tail them that you’re doing okay.”

“O-oh… Okay, I’ll try…”

It wasn’t clear when he found time to make them, but the moment Tsukasa and the others got back to the bus, Bearabbit had greeted them by setting off a hundred party poppers. He, too, was pretty amped up about the news, a fact that was evidenced most clearly by how much more reckless his driving was than it had been on the way down. If Ringo was considering the notion of public speaking, she must have been excited as well.

Shinobu Sarutobi gave them a pained smile. “Ha-ha, I think you two are getting a little ahead of yourselves. There’s still no guarantee we can actually make it home, y’know.”

“Huh? What do you mean?”

Shinobu responded to Akatsuki’s question by turning to Masato. “…What about you, Massy? You think we can trust the grandmaster?”

“As if.” Masato snorted. “I’ve met car salesmen who were more trustworthy than that guy.”

“Right?” Shinobu concurred. “That guy was fishier than a weekly gossip mag.”

Even Keine agreed with the dismal impression of Neuro. “My faith in him runs about as deep as it does for unlicensed dietary supplements.”

Akatsuki and Aoi looked at the three in bewilderment.

“Huh? What? You guys, what’re you talking about?”

“You three… You think the grandmaster untrustworthy?”

“B-but until we got on the bus, you guys looked just as enthused about going home as we were!”

“That’s ’cause doubting him wasn’t part of our role.” With that, Masato glanced over at Tsukasa, who hadn’t said a word since they’d boarded the vehicle. “Tsukasa’s one thing, but if Neuro saw the rest of us lookin’ suspicious, too, it’d make his next moves harder to read. Plus, he’s more likely to let his guard down if it looks like we’re dancing on his strings.”

“S-so when you were getting all pumped up, that was all just an act?!”

“The surprise wasn’t.”

Shinobu and Keine nodded in agreement. The three of them had played along during the negotiation, but that didn’t mean they trusted a word that came out of Neuro’s mouth.

“Prince, man, you’re way too trusting,” Masato remarked. “You gotta get your act together before someone suckers you into buying sketchy-ass pills that claim they’ll make you grow taller or something.”

“Uh, I—I-have-no-idea-what-you’re-talking-about-no-sir-not-me.”

“Oh geez, did you really?”

Then Shinobu cut in to ask, “Anyhoo, Tsukes, what about you? Was the grandmaster lying?” Shinobu knew that Tsukasa had been carefully observing Neuro during the whole meeting. That was why she’d asked.

However, Tsukasa shook his head from side to side. “No. When Neuro revealed that he was from another world, and when he said that he found us bothersome and wanted to get us back to Earth as soon as possible…those were his true feelings. Based on his gestures, eye movements, breathing, and several other external factors, I find it hard to imagine any of that was a lie. If we asked him to, I’m reasonably sure he would send us to Earth.”

“S-see! I told you the grandmaster was a solid guy! Masato, I’m disappointed in you, doubting an upstanding gentleman like that. Whatever happened to the innocence you had as a child? When was the last time you smiled, like, really smiled? Here, how about I show you a magic trick. That’ll make you smile.”

“Shut up, Prince,” snapped Masato.

“However…at the same time, I can’t bring myself to accept his proposal as is,” amended Tsukasa.

“Y-you too, Tsukasa?” Akatsuki asked falteringly.

“Something caught your attention, did it?” Masato inquired.

Tsukasa nodded. “Most of what he told us came from the heart. At the very end, though, he lied.”

The “evil dragon” was a memetic concept, one that had been mentioned by both Winona and whatever mysterious entity had tried contacting the Prodigies through Lyrule. And Neuro was hiding something about it.

“Neuro’s the acting head of the largest nation on the continent, so it wouldn’t be strange for him to have heard the legend of the Seven Heroes. But why would he mislead us about that? It’s only important to us because of its parallels to our current situation, but it should just be a centuries-old fairy tale as far as he’s concerned. What reason would he have for intentionally trying to conceal it? It doesn’t make any sense, at least not to me,” Tsukasa explained.

“M-maybe he was just hungry and wanted to get dinner started?” Now that he’d finally found a shred of hope, Akatsuki was loath to relinquish it. He was holding on to it for dear life. Denial of having heard of the evil dragon wasn’t the only curious thing about Neuro, however.

“And there was another thing that bothered me, too. I imagine Merchant, Shinobu, and Keine noticed this as well, but…how did he know we couldn’t return to Earth on our own?” Tsukasa asked.


Akatsuki tilted his head to the side in confusion, so Masato elaborated. “Prince, imagine you made it to this world on your own, and then some guy with crazy tech who clearly isn’t from around here showed up. Your first assumption wouldn’t be that they got dragged onto this planet by some strange power, right? You’d probably think they came on their own like you and that they could get back to their original world just fine.”


“But that guy knew right from the get-go that offering us a way home was something we’d value. Why do you think that is? That’s something he cleverly left out of his little explanation.”

“Now…that you mention it…that is weird…,” Ringo remarked.

“Th-then why didn’t you just ask him yourself back then?” Akatsuki countered.

This time, Tsukasa was the one who replied. “Because we weren’t nearly prepared enough to do so.”

Tsukasa remembered the words he’d heard from Lyrule back at Castle Findolph. They’d been staticky and hard to make out, but the audible parts sounded like they went as such:

“This world…is being engulfed…in a massive, evil dragon’s maw…

“I beg of you, O Seven Heroes, you must save this world.”

If Tsukasa took the words at face value and combined with them the Seven Heroes story Winona had told them, he could guess at a number of rules that this planet operated under.

Rule 1: There existed some sort of threat to the world referred to as the evil dragon.

Rule 2: There existed some sort of entity that opposed the evil dragon.

Rule 3: There existed a group known as the Seven Heroes affiliated with the opposer and was called in from somewhere beyond.

“Now, there probably aren’t very many people who know of these parameters. The original Seven Luminaries religion had some connection to them, but it collapsed hundreds of years ago, and all that’s left of it are oral accounts passed down as legends. In other words, anyone who knows the rules probably falls into one of two buckets.”

There was the entity from Rule 2 that summoned the Seven Heroes.

And there was the evil dragon from Rule 1—or whatever being that term referred to.

It had to be one or the other.

“The latter would be particularly bad. Hypothetically, if it turned out that Neuro himself was the evil dragon…then we might very well be playing with fire.”

Unfortunately, even Tsukasa could only guess at the true nature of this evil dragon. It wasn’t clear in what way it was devouring the world, either. With scant information to go on, there was little the Prodigies could be sure of.

However, depending on where Neuro’s allegiances lay, pressing him for answers there and trying to get to the heart of the matter could well have proven exceedingly dangerous. The grandmaster’s intentional hiding of information about the evil dragon made that all the more accurate. Neuro had undoubtedly dodged the question because revealing any information would have put him in a disadvantageous position. There was no telling what might have happened then.

That was why Tsukasa had avoided pressing the issue. More accurately, that was why doing so had been the prodigious politician’s only option.

“There’s just too many things we don’t know, both about the world as a whole and about Neuro ul Levias in particular. The only thing we can do in situations like that is flee. But that can’t go on. We need to learn more—not just to assess whether accepting Neuro’s help getting home is a good idea, but to fulfill our obligations to Elm and ensure that it doesn’t fall before equality can take root in this world. We need to find out what the exact rules are.”

Lacking such knowledge, the Prodigies wouldn’t know what kind of power they needed to muster, nor what the best course of action would be.

To make a plan, they needed information.

“So with that in mind, I have your new instructions going forward.”

But right as Tsukasa was about to start addressing the group, he was interrupted.

It all happened in an instant.

A thunderous roar cracked the air, and an impact struck the bus head-on.



The bus rocked from the back-to-back explosions.

Bearabbit responded quickly and slammed on the brakes, and Jeanne and Zest charged out of their soundproof room with weapons in hand.

“Shinobu! Are you all right?!” Jeanne exclaimed.

“Yeah, I’m awesome. Tsukes, was that…?”

“Whoever it was, it doesn’t look like they come in peace,” replied the young prime minister.

“Forces bearing arms detected on the surrounding hills! And their flags…they’re flying the Freyjagard standard!”

At Bearabbit’s declaration, everyone looked out the windows toward the gently sloping hills to their sides. The dark of night kept them from seeing any particulars, but they could definitely make out some sort of group gathered atop the ridge. From what they could tell, there were several hundred people in all.

Balls of fire arced from the hilltops, hurtling through the air and crashing into the bus. This hostile force was bombarding them with magic.

“Could it be some sort of patrol that hasn’t heard about the peace deal yet?” Jeanne wondered.

Zest’s expression hardened as he replied, “No, that’s too big a group just to be a patrol. Plus, there’s no way they’d have that many mages unless this was planned. If I had to guess, I’d say they’re—”

Tsukasa had come to the same conclusion. He was already quite certain, as it happened. However…

“In any case, we need to formally announce ourselves. Bearabbit, turn on the parabolic sound system and pass me a mic,” requested Tsukasa.

“Fur sure!”

Bearabbit grabbed a small wireless microphone and tossed it to the white-haired young man using his spiderlike manipulator arms.

Tsukasa caught it, then addressed the assailants. “Attention, imperial troops. This vehicle is under the control of the Seven Luminaries, representatives of the Republic of Elm. Yesterday, we of the Republic of Elm signed a nonaggression pact with the Freyjagard Empire. Our nations are now allied. You are in gross violation of our treaty. Cease this hostility at once.”

Tsukasa’s voice cut through the bombardment and echoed clearly through the hills. His words seemed to bring the unwarranted attacks to a halt.

Had the misunderstanding been cleared up? For a moment, it seemed almost possible.

Then the bus’s parabolic sound system picked up the high-pitched voice of a man who seemed to be the enemy force’s commanding officer.

“Those Four Grandmaster swindlers may have fooled the emperor and taken control of the capital, but they have no authority over us! The will of the empire is the will of those who carry royal blood in their veins! And besides, our nation operates on the survival of the fittest! The emperor would never deign to make peace with you peasant lowlifes, much less under such degrading terms!

“That treaty is based on nothing more than that Blue Grandmaster fool’s delusions of grandeur, and it won’t stop us of House Weltenbruger, true loyalists of the emperor, from carrying out justice as we see fit!”

Right as the man finished speaking, Bearabbit got a lock on his position and brought him into focus on the bus’s cameras. An image of a short, old man popped up on the vehicle’s interior monitors.

His face was wrinkled, his back was hunched, and his eyes were large. Between that and his high, shrill voice, he gave the impression of a monkey. As he shouted to proclaim his righteousness, he gesticulated like a stage actor.

All in all, it made him look almost intoxicated.

Tsukasa looked him in the eyes through the camera. “…Grandmaster Neuro was entrusted with the Great Seal of State by Emperor Lindworm directly. Doesn’t going against his wishes constitute an act of treason?”

“Not in the slightest! We swore allegiance to the empire itself, and we are its will manifest! The cowardly Blue Grandmaster failed to teach you your lesson, so it falls on me, Lucius von Weltenbruger, to teach you how we do things here in Freyjagard! Shwarzrichtenritter, my Obsidian Knight Order, trample the enemies of Freyjagard beneath your feet!”


When Lucius finished his speech, an aide blew into a bugle.

Its call riled up the soldiers, and they charged down the hills as one toward the bus below them. A force of three hundred men was now bearing down on the Prodigies. By this world’s standards, it was a reasonably impressive military force.

“A-ahhhh! We’re under attaaaaack!” Akatsuki cried.

The weight of the soldiers’ footsteps was enough to shake the ground, causing the bus to wobble from side to side.

Inside, Masato cocked his head. “He just said House Weltenbruger, right? I feel like I’ve heard that name before.”

Shinobu, well-informed as she was, gave him a quick rundown. “Maybe you saw it on some sort of trade documents? Lucius von Weltenbruger is an archduke. He’s the previous emperor’s nephew, the leader of a group of aristocrats called the Bluebloods, and the most powerful noble in the empire.”

“Ah, that’s what it was. I guess that means this aggression is their dumbass way of lashing out at the Four Grandmasters for stealing the emperor’s affection.”

As Shinobu and Masato calmly laid out the situation, neither of them seemed concerned in the slightest.

Upon seeing that, Akatsuki raised his voice in disbelief. “Uh, guys?! Why don’t you look more worried?! We’re under attack, in case you hadn’t noticed! Ts-Ts-Tsukasa, what do we do?!”

“Settle down, Akatsuki. Magic like that doesn’t stand a chance against this bus’s armor and reinforced glass. Right, Bearabbit?”

“Yup. We’ll be completely safe fur as long as we stay inside.”

Bearabbit was right. The vehicle was under constant fire, yet none of the strikes had so much as dented it yet.

Its reinforced glass had clouded up a little, but even that hadn’t cracked or warped. When the soldiers tried charging it on horseback, their results were just as poor.

“Aaaaagh! My aaaaaarm!”

“Wh-what’s this box made of?!”

“How’d it take that much fire without a scratch?!”

When the approaching enemy soldiers rammed their lances into the bus at full speed, all they accomplished was shattering every bone in their arms from the shoulder down. They screamed.

The infantry tried hitting it with their swords as hard as they could, but the recoil reverberated through their bones and caused them to faint in agony.

In moments, their righteous vigor and enthusiasm evaporated.

At a loss for what to do, the forces of the Shwarzrichtenritter stared at the strange vehicle in befuddlement.

“The bus has onbeard machine guns. Should I give them what fur?”

Tsukasa shut Bearabbit’s proposal down. “That won’t be necessary. We still have the treaty of commerce and a few other points to hammer out with the empire, and causing casualties immediately after we signed a nonaggression pact would give them unnecessary ammunition to work with. I’d much rather use this incident as ammunition against them instead. For now, we should flee without meeting their attacks head-on. Bearabbit, fire warning shots at the soldiers straight ahead of us. We’re going to break their ranks, then charge through. If anyone’s still dumb enough to get in our way afterward, though, then go ahead and run them down. We don’t want to look too accommodating, or we’ll come across as weak.”

“Pawger that!”

Bearabbit did as instructed and began warming up the bus’s external machine guns.

As he carefully fired in between the soldiers standing around them, he also laid on the horn and filled the air with an earsplitting honk.

The soldiers were under attack by more bullets than should have been possible to fire at once, and their eardrums were bursting at some alien sound. Terrified of the unknown threat, they scattered like cockroaches.

Bearabbit, taking advantage of that opening, revved the engines and got ready to charge their line.


“What a cowardly sight. Grown men, screaming and fleeing like little children. You people are an embarrassment to the Shwarzrichtenritter’s good name.”

Directly in front of them, one soldier had yet to flee.

He was a middle-aged byuma, nearly ten feet tall and clad in a kimono.

His face was covered in powder foundation with an imposing crimson design that was the spitting image of a Kabuki actor’s kumadori stage makeup.

It was undoubtedly odd attire for a foot soldier to be wearing. The curious byuma showed no signs of trying to flee from the bus barreling toward him, instead merely drawing the sword resting at his hip in one fluid motion.

“ !”

At that moment, a shiver ran down High School Prodigy Aoi Ichijou’s back—


—and the vehicle they were riding in split in two.

The samurai, whose outfit looked like it came straight out of the Kabuki play Renjishi, had sliced the bus vertically down the middle in one swing.

Each half of the bisected thing whizzed by him on opposite sides.

Thanks to Aoi’s sudden cry and their own quick decision-making, none of the bus’s passengers fell victim to the slash. As soon as the out-of-control vehicle flipped over, though, they’d all end up getting violently ejected.

And the automobile was still going just as fast as ever.

Even if the fall itself didn’t kill the passengers, they’d be stuck surrounded by enemies. That would likely end just as poorly.

Bearabbit was the first to act. “Bear with meeee!!!!”

Because he was a machine, it only took him an instant to figure out the optimal course of action.

Specifically, he shot a series of anchor cables from his manipulator arms toward each half of the vehicle.

Then, once the anchors were hooked into the bus’s frame, he was able to pull the split thing back together forcibly.

Now they didn’t have to worry about anyone getting dumped out.

However, that didn’t change the fact that the transport had been chopped in two.

It was electric-powered and didn’t run on fuel, so thankfully, it hadn’t exploded, but the shock from the brute-force reassembly sent the right front wheel flying off, driveshaft and all. Having lost its support, the front-right corner of the bus made contact with the ground. Dirt went flying up as they curved to the right, then crashed straight into the bare cliff face to their side. Now they were at a complete stop.

After getting up from being knocked around by the forceful reassembly and the sudden crash, Masato smiled wryly. “Oh man, you’ve gotta be kidding me… It looks like they’ve got a real piece of work on their side.”

“Is everyone all right?!” Aoi asked.

“Yeah, somehow. But…” As Shinobu stood, she looked out the window.

“Shishi did it, the madman!”

“I tell you, those samurai are something else! He cut up that tough box like it was cheese! Fighting against ’em is hell, but it’s great having one on our side!”

“All right, now’s our chance! Surround them! Don’t let any of them escape!”

The imperials had rallied and were heading right for the Prodigies.

“Ahhhhh!” Akatsuki cried. “They’re all coming for us!”

At the moment, the bus was only just barely being held together by Bearabbit’s cables.

It was not without its openings, however. If their enemies surrounded them and pried it open, they’d be able to make their way inside. They didn’t even have to go that far—all the Shwarzrichtenritter forces had to do was toss a bomb in, and it’d be game over.

“Okay, this has gone past the point where we can afford to worry about future negotiations. Bearabbit, can you fix the bus?” asked Tsukasa.

“It’s pawsible, but it’ll take about thirty minutes to—”

“No, it won’t,” Ringo Oohoshi cut in. She could tell just how urgent the situation was.

Not caring that she was in front of people, Ringo stripped down to her tank top, got out her tools, and gave Tsukasa a confident “I’ll have it running in ten…!”

It was clear what the rest of them needed to do.

“Got it. Then we’ll go and buy you time. Merchant, Shinobu, Jeanne, Commander. We’re heading outside to return fire. Don’t let a single person anywhere near the bus,” Tsukasa instructed.

“We’re not gonna use it for cover?” Shinobu asked.

“I want to spread out their focus while Ringo’s working. Our ride out of here taking even more damage would defeat the whole point,” replied the white-haired young man.

“Ah, makes sense. In that case, aye, aye! Sha-sha!”

Masato smirked. “Man, those cease-fire talks went so well, and yet here we are shooting one another again. Not that I mind.”

Once the four received their orders, they all pulled out the machine guns from under their seats and got to work loading in their ammo belts.

“Bearabbit, are the bus’s defense systems still online?” inquired Tsukasa.

“The only grizzly damage is to the circuits, so all it’ll take is a simple bypass to reboot them.”

“Then you’re our backup. Prioritize giving us cover when we run out of ammo.”

“Pawger that!”

“And, Aoi, as for you—,” Tsukasa began.

“My task is to stop that man, I take it?” finished the swordfighter.

“…I suspect you’re the only one who can.”

Aoi reached down and ran her fingers over the katana hanging from her waist. Her beloved Hoozukimaru had shattered during the battle with Gustav, but Ringo had made her a replica. Aoi nodded with conviction.

“Very well…!”

“In that case, I’ll stand by and resupply anyone who runs out of bullets,” Keine offered.

“Perfect.” Tsukasa nodded.

“U-um, Tsukasa…wh-what should I do?” Akatsuki stuttered.

“Akatsuki…you can cheer us on.”

“A-all right, I can do that! You picked the right man for the job! Go, team! Go, team!”

Tsukasa found himself invigorated by Akatsuki’s encouragement. Well, not really, but in any case, he took it as a signal to dash out of the bus with a machine gun in hand. As Aoi headed up their vanguard and hurtled like a gust of wind toward the dangerous man who cut their bus in half, the rest of them fanned out to protect the bus. After pointing their machine guns at the oncoming soldiers, they pulled their triggers and mowed them down in unison.

In terms of raw numbers, it was three hundred versus six. Such a disadvantage was monumental enough to make a person’s head spin. The reality of the situation was skewed the opposite way, however. The battle around the bus was overwhelmingly in the Prodigies’ favor.

After all, each fighter on the Prodigies’ side was equipped with a machine gun that would’ve been cutting edge even back on Earth.

Thanks to their rapid-fire capabilities and penetrative power, each armament took down ten enemy soldiers in the space of a single second. This skirmish was being held on open ground with no cover to speak of, which only made things easier for those with the automatic weapons.

With nowhere to hide, the imperial warriors toppled like dominoes before the veritable storm of bullets.


“Wh-what the hell’s up with those guns?!”

“The bullets just keep on coming!”

The soldiers cowered in fear at the sight.

Lucius, the monkey-like geezer, standing at the back of their ranks, shouted at them in his shrill voice. “You call yourselves the Shwarzrichtenritter, losing your nerve against wretches like that?! If the enemy has firearms, all we have to do is send in our own gunmen and shoot them down!”

However, that was a wrong move.

For one, there was a stark difference in effective range between this world’s matchlock weapons and Ringo’s specially made machine guns.

The imperial troops’ only option was to figure out a way to avoid the deluge of lead raining down on them until they got in firing range themselves, and that just simply wasn’t feasible. All they were doing was casting themselves into the abyss. It was no different than committing suicide.

No matter how many people they threw into the meat grinder, Lucius’s people couldn’t so much as start to close the gap.

At that point, even Lucius realized that throwing good shooters after bad was an exercise in futility. He then tried bombarding the Prodigies from afar with his mages…but that ended unsuccessfully as well.

The Shwarzrichtenritter’s mage unit was typically made up of Imperial First-Class Mages. However, because of how valuable of a military asset they were, most of them had been recruited to provide support over in the New World. At the moment, all that Lucius had were unproven Second-Class Mages who’d been temporarily conscripted straight out of the academy.

There weren’t very many of them to begin with, and the fireballs they were loosing didn’t even begin to compare with Gustav’s in terms of speed and power. Tsukasa and the others weren’t encumbered by armor, so they could dodge them all without breaking a sweat.

Nothing was hitting.

The Prodigies’ line wasn’t breaking.

After things persisted in that way for a little while…

“W-we need to pull back, Lord Lucius! At this rate, we’re the ones who’ll be wiped out!”

“Lord Lucius, give the order to retreat! We need to retreat!!”

Eventually, the soldiers began shouting their complaints. Seeing the sorry state their enemies were in filled Tsukasa and the others with confidence.

They only needed another minute. Surely the Prodigies could hold out for that long.

Unfortunately, their hopes were dashed yet again by the exact same man.


All of a sudden, a loud, heavy smashing sound echoed through the night and drowned out the gunfire.

Everyone turned in the direction of the noise, toward the bus behind them, to see what had happened.

“Gah…! Rgh!”


There, they saw Aoi’s body half-buried under the now-sunken mess of crushed frame and warped glass at the bus’s rear.

“Your skills are true. And there is little fault to be found in your training. It truly is a shame, though. The blade you wield ill suits you.”

The one who smashed her into it…was the same Kabuki samurai who bisected the bus. His murmur indeed did sound apologetic.


Then, the next moment, he closed the hundred-foot gap between himself and one of the bus’s defenders in an instant and appeared directly before the redheaded knight Jeanne.

“I have heard tale of your good deeds. But alas, what I do, I do for the people of Yamato. Now die.”


“ ”

Shinobu screamed, but she was too late.

The white-faced samurai’s katana glowed faintly like a firefly as he brought it down to bear on Jeanne.

It was so sudden that all Jeanne could do was freeze up.

Much to everyone’s surprise, however, the byuma man’s blade never reached her.


At the last moment, Zest du Bernard shoved her aside to protect her. Aoi’s defeat had left everyone else stunned, but Zest’s wealth of combat experience had allowed him to react to the samurai’s attack in time.

He brought up the massive slab of iron that was his trusty sword to block the white-faced samurai’s assault, but—

“Rgh… Gah!”

—even though he guarded against the blow, the samurai’s blade sliced through weapon and wielder alike.

“C-Commander Bernard!”

Zest’s knees buckled, and his hefty frame toppled over.



—he used the last dregs of his strength to grab onto the samurai’s right leg.

“Mr. Tsukasa, now!”

“ ”

Tsukasa, who was the second to act after Zest, charged the samurai and brought his special weapon to bear—a stun baton.

The moment he started running, he threw his machine gun aside. Firing it on full auto would have been liable to hit Zest in the crossfire, and more importantly, trying to shoot a man powerful enough to beat Aoi with ease, even with a machine gun, would likely have been an exercise in futility.

However, Tasers and their like didn’t exist in this world.

In other words, the enemy would respond to the attack as if it were a mere strike with any plain, blunt weapon.

And with any luck, that knowledge gap would let him emerge victoriously!


The samurai blocked the attack with his katana, exactly as Tsukasa had hoped. No sooner had he done so than electricity ran up its blade and coursed through his entire body.

Thanks to the gap in their civilizations, Tsukasa was able to pull off his surprise attack successfully. Then, taking full advantage of the opening, he used his other hand to draw his government pistol from his suit—


—and fire off seven melee-range rounds at the samurai’s unprotected chest.

There was no way the powerful foe could dodge them. The bullets were going to bury themselves in his chest and end his life.

Or at least, they were supposed to.

“A cudgel clad in lightning? How peculiar. Some manner of cursed weapon?”

Unfortunately, the samurai was unharmed.

Despite being flooded with electricity, he had still been able to move just fine. By gripping his katana with only his left hand and pulling up the iron sheath hanging from his waist, he had blocked every one of Tsukasa’s shots.

“That shock should have easily been enough to knock you out.”

“I am a samurai. My mind is perfectly clear—your paralysis spell cannot bind me.”

The man’s inhuman feat left Tsukasa at a loss for words.

To make matters worse, while the electricity might not have worked on the samurai, it had been plenty effective on Zest. His last threads of consciousness snapped, and his hand dropped from the byuma’s leg.

Now the mighty assailant was utterly unfettered.

“And for your slight, your life is forfeited.”

His slash rent the air as though being sucked toward Tsukasa’s neck.



The moment before it landed, though, a lupine cry echoed through the night air, and the samurai stopped in his tracks.

The white-faced man wasn’t the only one who froze upon hearing the sudden call.

“That howl just now, it can’t be…!”

Once the samurai had broken the Prodigies’ defensive line, the Shwarzrichtenritter had been about to charge them, but they seized up as well. The alarm was plain in their eyes.

They knew that howl. They’d heard it before.

It was the sound of an enemy who’d slain countless of their brethren back when the empire had invaded Yamato.

Everyone looked up toward the top of the cliff the bus had crashed into.

Upon that outcrop was a pair of figures with their backs to the full moon.

One was an imposing white wolf and the other, mounted atop the beast’s back, was an animal-eared girl wearing a kimono. Her hair was the same argent color as the wolf’s.


“It’s Shura, the White Wolf General…!”

“So Shishi’s daughter…still lives…!”

The soldiers went pale.

As the kimono-clad young woman gazed down at the Shwarzrichtenritter army from on high, she drew her incredible blade—a nodachi greatsword over six feet long—from its sheath and planted the scabbard in the ground.

Then the wolf threw itself off the cliff with the girl still astride and charged straight toward the group of soldiers trying to surround the bus.

“Sh-she’s coming our way!”

“H-hold your ground! She’s alone. We can take her!”

“Get herrrrrr!”

The warriors grouped up and held their spears at the ready.

However, the wolf had predicted as much.

The moment before it rammed into the spears, it took a mighty leap into the air.

After clearing the polearms and soldiers’ heads with ease, the large beast landed right in the middle of the enemy formation.


The moment it did, the girl spun her nodachi in a circle, striking down a dozen men through their armor.

That sight was more than enough to drive terror into the Shwarzrichtenritter fighters’ hearts. They descended into an unorganized mob, and the young woman and wolf broke through the line with ease. In the blink of an eye, they closed in on the samurai facing off against Tsukasa, and the girl swung her blood-soaked weapon.

The white-faced swordfighter responded in kind, and the two silver streaks met with a thunderous roar.

“Shura… I see you still refuse to understand how your actions imperil the people of Yamato.”

“Bite your tongue. I’m not here to hear you talk.”

Neither party yielded an inch, and they began exchanging blows.

The girl and the wolf used their nodachi and claws to attack in waves. The samurai’s sword work didn’t seem particularly swift, but his complete lack of wasted movements allowed him to parry the entire onslaught.

Sparks flew as the two sides vied for supremacy.

In the middle of all that, the girl shot Tsukasa a quick glance with her crimson eyes. “You owe me a debt for this.”


That moment, the bus’s rear lights flashed on, and Bearabbit’s voice came booming over the speakers. “Everyone! The rebears are finished!”

Tsukasa responded immediately. “Everyone, retreat! We’re getting on!”

After giving the order, Tsukasa helped Jeanne retrieve Zest and boarded the bus along with them. Then, as the wolf-mounted girl held the samurai off, the three-wheeled vehicle took off, fleeing the battlefield at top speed.

Thanks to the mysterious young woman’s help, Tsukasa and the others successfully escaped their attackers. However, none of them looked relieved in the slightest. All were dead silent as they waited for Keine to finish treating Zest back in the soundproof room.

About half an hour later, the stifling quiet was broken by the sound of Keine exiting the sectioned-off portion of the vehicle.

Jeanne immediately rushed up to the doctor, practically clinging to her as she asked for any news. “Dr. Keine! Is Commander Bernard going to be all right?!”

Keine gave Jeanne her best bedside-manner smile. “Not to worry, he pulled through. He’ll need bed rest for the time being, but he should wake up in about two days.”

“Th-thank goodness…”

Jeanne crumpled to the floor.

At long last, they all breathed sighs of relief.

Now that the tension had dissipated, their pent-up anger finally had time to surface.

“What were those guys’ problems?!” Akatsuki cried. “I thought the war was finally over, and then…all that. Tsukasa, you gotta file a complaint with the grandmaster!”

“Oh, don’t worry. He’ll be hearing from me about this.”

Tsukasa had no intention of letting the empire get off scot-free.

The biggest shock lay elsewhere, however.

“…Still, Aoi, I’ve never known you to be bested in a one-on-one duel. Honestly, I was surprised.”

“………” Aoi slumped her shoulders apologetically.

She’d been tossed around pretty roughly during her fight with the white-faced samurai, but fortunately, there was a reason people called her a Prodigy swordmaster.

It was only thanks to her astounding skill that she’d been able to keep her injuries to a minimum. She was covered in scrapes and bruises, but nothing more serious.

“Ah, about that.” As Keine got to work disinfecting Aoi’s wounds, she asked the other girl a question. “Aoi, dear, why were you holding back?”


Aoi was visibly startled.


“What’re you talking about?”

“I spent quite a lot of time traversing battlefields with Aoi before we came to this world, so I noticed it right away. Aoi was intentionally restraining her own movements,” Keine replied.

“Aoi, is that true?” Tsukasa inquired.


Aoi didn’t answer. Given her reaction, though, it would seem that Keine’s observation had hit the mark.

If that was the case, though, then the other Prodigies needed to know why.

“If you’re sick, you need to tell us. It’s a rude way to put it, but you’re the best weapon in our arsenal. As such, I put a lot of trust in you when I come up with battle plans. You being out of form endangers us all. This is why it’s important to share information like that with the group.”

As Tsukasa lectured, Aoi hung her head. “…A thousand apologies.” She expressed her regrets to the group and, in doing so, acknowledged that she hadn’t been fighting at her best. “However, there is nothing wrong with my body, that there isn’t… Perhaps it would be faster simply to show you.”

After asking everyone to back up a little, Aoi held her katana at the ready. The bus had basically just been stapled back together, so it was incredibly wobbly, but even so, Aoi stood tall and steady.

Then, after slowly raising her katana—


—she swung it down with a vigorous shout.

That’s when the weapon she was holding snapped at the base, and its blade fell lifelessly to the floor.

Akatsuki gawked at it in shock. “Th-the sword broke just from you swinging it…”

“Ringo made that one for you to replace the one that broke in the battle against Gustav, as I recall,” Tsukasa remarked.

“Man, it snapped way too easily. Did it have cracks in it or something?” Masato wondered.

However, Bearabbit immediately shot the businessman’s doubts down. “Th-that’s impawsible! That there was a pawfect-koality, one-to-one replica of Hoozukimaru’s design! Ringo made sure to scan it fur imperfections before giving it over, and all its durability tests came back green! I’m tailing you; there’s no way Ringo could have screwed up!”

“He’s right, that he is,” Aoi agreed. “Ringo, m’lady, the weapon you crafted for me was well forged. It was free of cracks and fissures, and in terms of sheer cutting power, it surpassed even my Hoozukimaru. Unfortunately, that alone was insufficient, that it was.”


“Craftsmanship alone is not enough for a katana to withstand my techniques. A weapon must have a soul, as a cursed sword or bewitched blade does, to be able to keep up with me.”

“Ah, now that you mention it…,” interjected Shinobu, “you said something like that back during an interview you gave me. You told me that Hoozukimaru was an ensorcelled katana imbued with a vengeance that a young swordsmith forged in the flames of his family’s cremation after they all got killed by robbers.”

“Precisely. Zeal or hatred, it matters not—any blade tempered by fierce emotion will not easily break, for it knows it has a duty it must fulfill. But without an edge such as that…no sword can withstand my techniques, that it cannot.”

As they just witnessed, a lacking weapon couldn’t even endure a single swing.

To avoid breaking the replica, Aoi had been forced to rein in her power.

“…However, Ringo took time out of her hectic schedule to craft it for me, so I could never bring myself to tell her that it was insufficient for me to fight properly with. But in doing so, I’ve caused you all a great deal of trouble, that I have. My sincerest apologies…” As Aoi explained the situation, she bowed her head low to all present.

Ringo, in an unusual display, spoke up. “Please don’t…apologize…! It’s my fault…for not…making it better…”

“No, the guilt lies with me. The war seemed to be waning, and I allowed myself to grow careless. None of this would have happened had it not been for my negligence.”


“All right, that’s enough.”

“Ts-Tsukasa, m’lord?”

It looked like the two of them were about to start fighting over who was to blame, so Tsukasa stepped in to stop them.

“We’re all in the same boat here. There’s no need to argue about whose fault it was. It’s a waste of time. If you feel guilty, then reflect on it on your own time. None of us would ask anything more of you. Right?” Tsukasa turned to the group.

“Of course,” Masato declared. The others nodded in agreement. “Instead of focusing on useless stuff like who to condemn, we gotta figure out how to deal with the bigger problem—the fact that our best weapon, Aoi, can’t fight properly.”

“Exactly, Merchant… Ringo, would you be able to make a sword stronger than the one that just broke?” requested Tsukasa.

The genius inventor weakly shook her head side to side. “Um… S-sorry…”

“I suspected as much. If you could, you would have just done so in the first place.”

“Besides, Aoi’s talkin’ about occult stuff. That’s, like, the exact opposite of Ringo’s area of expertise,” Shinobu added. “…Looks like we’re gonna have to source our new spooky sword locally.”

“The man I fought and the girl who came to help us… Both of their swords were impressively sharp, that they were. Whoever forged them might well be able to make a blade that could withstand my power, but…”

When Aoi mentioned the girl, Akatsuki let out a low murmur. “That reminds me, I hope she’s okay… We kinda left her on her own back there.”

“She’ll be fine,” Aoi replied. “The man I faced was skilled, but the girl was a master, at least his peer. Even if victory eluded her, she could have fled with ease.”

Tsukasa concurred. “That’s right. She told me that we owed her a debt now, which leads me to believe that the only reason she showed up in the first place was to rescue us. Once we got out safely, I imagine she simply withdrew.”

“O-oh, okay. Well, I hope you’re right,” said Akatsuki.

“Still, I do wonder who that young lady was,” Aoi admitted.

“If you’re fine with hunches, I’ve got a pretty good one,” Shinobu replied. “She’s probably a samurai from the Yamato Empire.”

The Yamato Empire was a country that had existed on that continent up until a few years ago, and the name still popped up every now and again.

Unlike the Freyjagard Empire, whose culture resembled Middle Age Europe’s, the Yamato Empire bore a closer resemblance to ancient Japan. The katanas and nodachi they used were just like the Japanese weapons of the same names, and the soldiers who wielded them were called samurais and ninjas.

Tsukasa knew the basics about that country, too.

Between the girl’s outfit, her weapon’s shape, and the imperial soldiers’ reactions, Shinobu’s guess was likely accurate.

However, that meant…

“The white-faced samurai, too, perhaps.” Tsukasa thought back to what the soldiers had said. They called the Kabuki-style samurai Shishi and the girl, Shishi’s daughter. “There’s also a chance that those two…were parent and child.”

“Now that you mention it, they did both have pale-colored hair, and they had those same wolflike eyes,” Shinobu agreed.

“But if they’re related, why were they fighting?” Akatsuki asked.

“I don’t know,” Tsukasa replied. “I don’t have enough information to reasonably speculate. However…”

For the Prodigies, the biggest problem wasn’t why those two were fighting, but rather, it was why survivors from an empire that had fallen years ago were choosing to show their faces in front of them, the Republic of Elm’s representatives. What was their reason? What was their plan?

When the Republic of Elm was born, the balance of power in this world started shifting…

Tsukasa turned his thoughts to the future, then let out a whisper.

“The debt we incurred today may cost us more than we know.”

Before long, Tsukasa’s prediction would end up coming true.

The Yamato Empire.

A few years ago, it had been wiped out by the Freyjagard Empire. However, its ghost still lurked in the continent’s shadows, and when that specter came out into the sun, the Republic of Elm would find itself divided.

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