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Interlude - The Nobles' Fates

One day, a great shift took place in the Freyjagard Empire.

The Bluebloods had long been at odds with the Four Grandmasters. Unwilling to suffer any longer, they staged an armed uprising. Working together, the Blueblood aristocrats raised an army that spanned the entire empire. They targeted any organizations and aristocrats who supported the Four Grandmasters. The Bluebloods denounced their enemies as unfaithful to Freyjagard’s founder, Emperor Gottfried, and all who were disloyal were crushed by military might, allowing the Bluebloods to seize control of the nation in all the ways that mattered. Thanks to their swift blitzkrieg tactics and a plan they’d spent ages refining, the Lindworm administration’s supporters had no time to coordinate a response.

And the Blueblood efforts were hardly confined to the countryside. The effects were felt even in Drachen, the Emperor domain’s capital.

Leading this rebellion was Archduke Lucius von Weltenbruger, commander of the Bluebloods and nephew of the emperor that Lindworm deposed. Weltenbruger’s backroom dealings placed his supporters among the capital’s guard, rendering the force useless against his coup. After securing a route to the grandmaster’s estate, Weltenbruger ordered what precious few mages he had to deploy an anti-magic barrier around the building, leaving it helpless against his troops.

His aim was to execute the one grandmaster who had stayed behind to govern the empire in lieu of joining the New World campaign—Neuro ul Levias.

The soldiers protecting the grandmaster’s estate expected the imperial nobles to be on their side, and the sudden betrayal left them unequipped to defend. They crumpled like wet paper before the surprise attack. Weltenbruger made it all the way to Neuro’s office with ease and had his men hold the grandmaster at swordpoint.

However, that was as far as he got. Everything had been going swimmingly up until then, but that was where it all went wrong.

The moment they leveled their weapons at Neuro, all the Bluebloods’ ambitions were dashed.

And why, you might ask?

Because there was a young man who’d anticipated their plan as though he’d been a part of it—Masato Sanada, prodigy businessman.

On Earth, none could match Masato’s business acumen. The people went so far as to dub him the “Devil of Finance.” For him, predicting the future by tracking the flow of goods was child’s play. Once he deduced how much of a commodity was being purchased, and where the transactions took place, Masato could determine the precise landscape of the world, present and future.

That was why, ever since his days spent handling logistics in Elm, he’d known everything. Not only had he been aware that the empire was on the verge of a massive civil war, he’d also anticipated who would start it.

Armed with that knowledge, he turned to Lakan after breaking ties with Elm. With Shenmei’s assistance, he formed a contract with a Lakan mercenary group and took them right to Neuro.

Masato needed to protect Neuro during the coming upheaval.

Neuro heeded Masato’s warning and had the mercenaries stand alert in the grandmaster’s estate. In short, Neuro enlisted them as his personal army. And because he did so outside of the empire’s systems and frameworks, the Bluebloods were ignorant of that alliance.

That oversight was the Bluebloods’ undoing.

The moment their strike team was certain they had Neuro cornered, the Lakan mercenaries took them by surprise and mowed them down.

Losing Weltenbruger during an already messy and chaotic war caused the entire Bluebloods insurrection to fall apart from the grandmaster’s estate outward.

“We’ve finished the sweep, Chancellor Advisor. The area is secure.”

It was evening, and the twilit sky over the grandmaster’s estate in Drachen cast the estate’s entrance in bright crimson.

After receiving the mercenary captain’s report, Masato thanked the captain for how he and his men had met his expectations to a tee. “Good. Nice goin’. I gotta hand it to you, you Qinglong Gang guys work quick.”

The viridian-clad mercenaries thrust out their chests with pride. Confident grins spread across their tanned faces.

“Of course. We Lakan sellswords have a motto: Be good, be fast, be reliable.”

“Loyalty ain’t worth a single stinking ira. We’re more motivated than those imperial grunts’ll ever be.”

“We sure as hell don’t come cheap, but we make damn sure we earn our keep.”

“That’s what I like to hear,” Masato replied. “A man who respects the value of money is a man I can trust. Glad to be doin’ business with you guys.”

“I wish we could take more of the credit, but this was only half on us,” one of the mercenaries admitted. “These bad boys you smuggled for us did as much work as we did.”

“For sure,” another agreed. “These rifles don’t mess around. They blasted through those armored soldiers like it was nothing.”

They held up the Elm-made bolt-action rifles they were carrying.

“How’d you even get your hands on these?”

Masato replied with a light shrug. “I was the angel in charge of all Elm’s logistics, remember? It was a piece of cake.”

Due to the sheer scale of the flow of goods, Masato had known that the Bluebloods were assembling a gigantic army. If he hoped to successfully protect Neuro, he had to be capable of outmatching that force with a much smaller one. That was why, before he left Elm, Masato secretly diverted some machinery and equipment to Lakan and poached a fully trained Elm engineer. In a world where flintlock weapons had yet to achieve widespread adoption, the power that bolt-action rifles possessed was hard to overstate.

“Anyhow, me and the grandmaster still have some stuff we need to hash out, so you guys are dismissed for the day. Just remember, it won’t be long before we see more action, so make sure you don’t drink yourselves too stupid.”

“““Yes sir!”””

When Masato dismissed them, the mercenaries dispersed through the city.

Neuro strolled over as though to take their place. “I have to say, those are some well-trained men you’ve got. Color me green with envy.”

“That there’s the Qinglong Gang, the biggest mercenary company in Lakan. Their skills are no joke. Lakan’s got a double-digit number of powerful families who spend all their time secretly warring for control, so the mercs get to build up loads of experience.”

“Perhaps not for much longer, however. I hear that the infighting settled down a great deal when Shenmei Li officially became chancellor. And I’ve also caught wind that you played a big role in the ousting of her predecessor. I must say, I never took you for such a Lakan man.”

“The flow of goods made it obvious that the Bluebloods were about to stage a coup. You’re my ticket home, and if I wanted to keep you alive and kickin’, I needed some troops I could deploy as I pleased. Lakan was the best place to get ’em. That’s all there was to it.”

The Freyjagard Empire had been an aristocracy for ages, and in an aristocracy, you earned followers with prestige. The problem was, lineage and notoriety weren’t the kinds of things that could be obtained overnight.

However, the Lakan Archipelago was different. True to its name, it was a collective body of islands each ruled by a different family. This made their national bonds far weaker, and prestige carried little luster there. Instead, Lakan culture valued wealth, something far easier to acquire in a hurry than reputation—especially for a prodigy businessman like Masato Sanada.

That was the true reason he’d gone to the Lakan Archipelago instead of heading straight for Freyjagard.

“So you earned the new chancellor’s trust to ensure that she’d announce the Lakan Archipelago’s support for the Four Grandmasters in the Freyjagard civil war and all so I’d owe you one.”

“I scratch people’s backs, they scratch mine. It’s the only way to keep everything even. I’m a merchant, after all. It wouldn’t sit right with me if I just took advantage of your goodwill and never gave you anything in return,” Masato said with a jaded smile.

Neuro’s expression remained congenial…

“But that was all you acting on your own.”

…but all of a sudden, he squinted probingly.

“As I’m sure you’re aware, the rest of your otherworldly friends are making quite a mess for me over in Yamato. I must know, what made you decide to split from them?”

“I told you back when I came offerin’ to help, didn’t I? I gotta return to my original world, no matter what it takes. You’re the only one who knows how to do that, so when Tsukasa started talkin’ about makin’ moves that might piss you off, I put my foot down and bailed.”

Masato gave Neuro’s unsubtle scrutiny a simple answer: His interests had fallen out of alignment with the group’s. That was all there was to it.

“Why, you afraid I’m a spy or something?” the prodigy businessman pressed. “You already let me and my men into your stronghold; I figured that meant you trusted me at least a little.”

“Oh, no, I believe you. In fact, I had a front-row seat to your little breakup.”


This time, it was Masato’s turn to give Neuro an inquisitive look.

Neuro responded by letting out a laugh that rocked his shoulders. “Ha-ha-ha. Having it out like that in front of an imperial exchange student was a sloppy move.”

“So you used Nio, huh?”

“Not just him. I did a little tampering with all the exchange students we sent over to Elm. I can peer through any of their eyes to view exactly what’s going on.”

“What are you, a voyeur or something? You seem like a stand-up guy, but you’ve got some real shady hobbies.”

“Didn’t I tell you? All I want is to live a peaceful life in this new home of mine, but you and your friends are maniacs. The very notion of remaining unaware of your doings takes years off my life.”

Now it all finally made sense to Masato. During the original peace talks, Neuro was the one who’d suggested launching a program for studying abroad so that Elm and Freyjagard could deepen their social and cultural ties. His motivation had only been a desire to spy on the Seven Luminaries.

“And see, Masato, that’s why I do trust you.”

“Good, then we can—”

“But the thing is, the situation’s changed,” Neuro cut in. “You remember what Lucy said before he died, don’t you? About how the Elm ambassadors attacked a member of Yamato’s Freyjagard-acknowledged autonomous government, and how the Resistance managed to take Fort Steadfast? Considering that they’re cut off from their leader, Kaguya, it’s hard to imagine them making such bold moves all on their own. Plus, the Resistance is practically wasting away. No group like that would be strong enough to seize a stronghold. It’s obvious that our Elm ambassador escapees—that is, Tsukasa and your other friends—had a hand in all this.”


“I wanted to get along with you guys, I really did. And war is such a headache. Unfortuantely, as an imperial grandmaster, I can’t exactly let what they’re doing slide. This stuff jeopardizes my head’s place on its shoulders. So given the new situation we’re in, I have to ask again. Are you really on my side? Actually, let me put it more bluntly.”

Neuro locked eyes with Masato…

“If the need arose…would you kill Tsukasa and the rest of your friends?”

…and put him on the spot.

If things came down to that now-possible scenario, which side would Masato pick?

The young man from Earth didn’t so much as flinch. “I told you, I gotta get back to my original world. No matter what it takes, and no matter what it costs. My employees—my family—are waiting for me back there. And besides…”

“Besides, what?”

“This was always how it was gonna end for Tsukasa and me. He wants to find better compromises, I want to take the best option, and the two of ’em can never coexist.”

Tsukasa aimed to maximize well-being for as many people as he could, whereas Masato wanted to maximize it for himself and the people he cared about. The issue wasn’t that one of them was wrong and the other was right. Rather, each of them had a dream they refused to give up on, and those two aspirations were fundamentally incompatible.

Someday, Masato was going to fight Tsukasa and anyone who sided with him.


“All this did was speed up the inevitable.”

…Masato was ready.

He’d been prepared for a long, long time, having made his peace the day Tsukasa chose to kill his own father and live as a politician.

“Well, all righty then. And it looks like you mean it, too.”

Neuro’s expression softened upon hearing Masato’s answer…


…and he snapped his fingers.

The evening sunbeams had stretched Masato’s shadow out wide, and a large splash sent ripples through it.

“What the?!”

Arf! Arf!

A large black dog emerged from the shadows. After barking, the creature ran to Neuro and circled him affectionately.

“Who’s a good boy?” Neuro said as he petted the dog’s head. It dived happily into Neuro’s shadow and disappeared.

“What the hell was that thing?”

“You can think of him as a familiar of mine. His specialty is sniffing out lies, so I had him hide in your shadow and told him to rip you to shreds if you tried to pull one over on me.”

“You piece of shit…”

Rage flashed across Masato’s face at Neuro’s egregious precaution.

However, Neuro didn’t look ashamed in the slightest. “Come on, now, don’t give me that scary look. I offered you and your friends an olive branch in good faith, and you stabbed me in the back for my trouble. Can you really blame me for being suspicious? I think a little security is well within my rights. But now I can genuinely put my faith in you. And I do love trusting people. Your bloodlust is authentic. I gotta say, you’re one ruthless dude.”


“So come on, there’s no need for scowls. It won’t happen again, I promise. All right, like I told you before, activating a gate between worlds is a pretty serious bit of magic, so it’ll take me some time to get it up and running. I’ve been making all the necessary preparations down below the grandmaster’s estate, but it’ll still require three more months to complete. If you agree to ally with me until it’s ready, I promise I can get you home. Do we have a deal?”

“Yeah. It’s a deal.” Masato had a couple of questions and doubts, but at the moment, Neuro was his only way back to Earth. Instead of offering any complaints, he nodded in acceptance. “In that case, now that we’re back to trusting each other, I’ve got a question. What’s our next move? Heading over to Yamato to put down the rebellion?”

Neuro shook his head. “Nah, that ship has sailed. I don’t know when exactly it was that Fort Steadfast fell, but information travels slow in this world. Even if word traveled by the swiftest dragon, it’d still be three or four days before the news reached Lucy.”

Magic for telepathic communication did exist, but it only worked at short ranges. More importantly, all the mages except Neuro who could use spells that advanced were off conquering the New World with Lindworm.

“If you add in the ten days or so it must’ve taken the Bluebloods to coordinate their revolt all across the empire simultaneously, we’re looking at an event that happened at least two weeks ago,” Neuro explained. “I find it exceedingly hard to imagine that Tsukasa’s been spending his time since then twiddling his thumbs in that fort. I imagine the conflict in Yamato has progressed considerably.”

“Yeah, that all checks out.”

“Even if we try to get involved now, everything we do will be late. I’d just as soon avoid getting played for a fool. What’s more, the fact that Tsukasa and his friends took her along means they’ve got an idea of Yamato’s situation. I don’t know for the life of me how they figured it out, but they did.”

Neuro suddenly frowned in frustration, but Masato didn’t have the context he needed to understand the meaning behind the expression. Cocking his head, he asked, “What?”

“Oh, don’t mind me,” Neuro replied evasively. “For now, we need to focus on stamping out the Bluebloods’ efforts in the empire. Gotta secure the home front first, or it’ll be hard to get anything done. I’ll be counting on you.”

Neuro thumped Masato on the shoulder. His cloak fluttered behind him as he headed back inside the estate.


The moment Neuro disappeared from view, Masato heard a voice timidly call to him from behind. He turned around to find Roo, the byuma slave girl he’d bought in Dormundt, with worry swimming in her eyes.

“Are we gonna have to fight everyone?”

“…Depends on how things shake out, but maybe, yeah.”

“Are you really okay with that?”

“I mean, I’d rather avoid it, if we can,” Masato admitted. “But at the end of the day…it’s like I told Neuro. Eventually, Tsukasa and I are gonna have to settle the score. That’s just the way fate shook out for us. Y’see, Li’l Roo, people like you and me are never gonna get on board with that fair and equal world he’s after, or the universal basic income he’s gonna have to set to get there. I’ve known that for a while now…and I’m pretty sure he has, too.”

Masato paused.

“Also, Tsukasa and I aren’t the only ones in play here.”


“I’m sure Ringo and Prince’ll stick with Tsukasa to the bitter end no matter what, but the other three are different. Shinobu, Aoi, and Dr. Keine are only working with him ’cause their interests happen to be aligned at the moment, that’s all. Each of ’em has their own brand of righteousness, and there’s no guarantee that what they think is correct and what Tsukasa does are gonna be compatible forever.”

Shinobu Sarutobi was a journalist, and her actions didn’t always serve the designs of Tsukasa and his administration.

There were times politicians had no choice but to play nice with people they didn’t agree with, but whenever that fact came to light, it was often difficult to get their constituents to understand why they’d done so.

Then, there was Aoi Ichijou, and she and Tsukasa were already on somewhat dubious terms. The thing was, Aoi didn’t always fight for the side the Japanese government preferred. The United States was a close ally of Japan’s, yet its military had found itself on the receiving end of Aoi’s blade a few times, and her actions had caused more than several diplomatic incidents for Japan.

Finally, there was Keine Kanzaki. The way Masato saw it, Keine was in the same boat as he was. Eventually, she and Tsukasa were going to have to part ways for good.

Masato’s intelligence network on Earth had kept him abreast of events across the world, both in public and behind the scenes. Through it, he’d learned of the deeply unethical practices Keine employed on the battlefield. Her moral philosophy vastly differed from society’s. Masato couldn’t begin to make heads or tails of it, but given how highly Tsukasa valued human rights, he likely found her all but repugnant.

“We were always kind of an oddball crew. You’ve only ever known us as a group, so this might come as a surprise to you, but if not for us crashing here together, you’d never have seen us all workin’ as one.”

“Roo never knew…”

“Still, I’m not a monster. I’m not just gonna let Ringo and Prince hang out to dry. Even if things turn ugly, I want to at least use my position with Neuro to get him to spare their lives. With things the way they are, though, that’s probably as much as I’m gonna be able to do for ’em…” Masato glanced down with a hint of sadness in his eyes. “If you’re upset with me after hearing all that, you don’t have to keep tagging along.”

“Roo would never leave!” The little girl shouted at the top of her lungs. “You bought Roo as a slave, and Roo is gonna stay right here! Roo’s gotta learn lots more stuff from you to buy her mommy and daddy back!” she declared.

“Well, all righty then,” Masato replied, grinning.

Roo stuck to her contracts, and she was honest and direct about what she valued. Both of those were admirable qualities for a merchant to have.

“That’s what I like to hear. Remember, if you don’t know what you want, you’ll never get anywhere.”

The young girl’s eyes never strayed from their target, and nothing was going to sway her. With the kinds of talents she possessed, it wouldn’t be long before she made that dream of hers a reality.

And that would only be the beginning.

Once Roo realized the power she had at her disposal, she wouldn’t be able to help herself from testing its limits, just as Masato had.

I’ve got dreams and desires of my own to fulfill.

Masato turned his gaze to the eastern sky and his thoughts to his age-old foe who waited somewhere in that direction.

Excitement welled up in his chest.

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