Wortenia Senki (LN) - Volume 1 - Chapter 1

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Chapter 1: Summoning 

The morning sun had only begun to peek out from over the horizon. In the garden of a certain estate in Tokyo’s Suginami ward, two men faced each other, swords in hand. 

“Hurry and come at me already!” An angry shout echoed through the premises, clashing with the usual silence one might expect of a residential district at dawn. 

This estate was spacious, though, and the bamboo thickets growing in the yard and mortar walls segregated this estate from the rest of the neighborhood. Perhaps owing to that, no one was there to witness their training. 

The source of that shout was an old man, with his white hair tied to the back. He stood roughly 170 centimeters tall. The thick chest peeking out from the gap in his kendo outfit was finely shaped and divided into a well-defined six-pack. His upper arm was thick and muscular, and he held a drawn katana of 63 centimeters in length. 

Were it not for the wrinkles carved into his face and his whitened hair, no one would have suspected him to be an old man. His body was that well-formed and trained. And to top it off, his gaze had a sharp, focused glint to it. The kind of glint that would make the common man flinch away from him nervously. 

The combination of his features, his physique, the glint in his eyes, and the gleam of the whole, perfectly maintained katana in his hands made this old man into a figure who would strike awe and terror into any man who laid eyes on him. 

But the expression of the young man facing him wasn’t clouded by doubt or hesitation. On the contrary, he seemed to be enjoying this situation. 

“Gramps, if I come at you with an unsheathed sword, you’ll die! Not like I care that much if you do, but having to deal with the police would be a real drag.” 

As the young man spoke, his lips curled up in a provocative smile. It wasn’t a bluff, though. He truly and honestly didn’t feel any fear towards the old man’s menacing aura or the sword in his hands. 

This teasing young man towered at a height of over 190 centimeters, possibly even extending to a full two meters. The muscles adorning his body were just as toned as that of the old man standing opposite of him. If anything, his younger body seemed even more supple and powerful. 

Given his height and armor of rock solid muscles, this young man’s body weight undoubtedly exceeded 100 kilograms. A veritable Goliath, adorned with a body as removed from the ordinary Japanese physique as can be. 

Had he also had a vicious face, surely no one would ever dare approach this young man. But perhaps owing to his good upbringing, he was blessed with a gentle, amicable demeanor, and a face which gave off a certain quality that put those around him at ease. 

“Hmph. You think you’re capable of killing me?” The old man regarded the younger one’s words with scoffing disregard. 

The disdain was limited only to his words, though. He surely believed in the young man’s abilities, and there was kind warmth residing in the old man’s sharp gaze. 

“Who knows?” The young man said, turning a probing gaze to the older one. “I’ve been putting in a lot of training, so it might be about time you fail to block my sword and kick the bucket.” 

“Your sword, eh? Well, if that time ever comes, I’ll pardon you from all training sessions, and you can even have my inheritance altogether.” 

Regarding the boy’s words with a satisfied smile, the old man gripped his katana with both hands, holding it in a stance at eye level. 

“Like anyone would stick around with me for morning practice if you drop dead, Gramps.” 

Smirking at the old man’s words, the younger one entered a similar stance with his own katana, its full 90 cm length extended. 

“Your inheritance is a tempting reward, though!” 

Exchanging insults, the two glanced over every part of each other’s bodies. In their current state, no matter where one were to look at the other, he wouldn’t be able to focus his gaze. It almost felt as if the air between them had frozen. No trace remained of the friendly, intimate atmosphere that resided between them not a moment ago. 

True murderous intent emanated from both of their bodies. Nothing but the will to cut the other existed between them. 



They both exhaled at the same time, and the bloodthirst that had reached its zenith spread out from them. Any ordinary person would be rendered motionless, being washed over by such sheer desire to kill. 

The two figures intersected, the sound of steel clashing against steel ringing out at the moment of their meeting. A brief shower of sparks danced over the bamboo forest. 

Crossing the two meters that separated them in the blink of an eye, the two exchanged positions, once again holding their blades at eye level. 

“You shitty little brat!” The old man regarded the boy with sheer fury. “You actually went for my throat after going into your middle stance!” 

Any talk about handing over his inheritance seemed to have been completely forgotten by that point. The young man’s slash really did aim to separate the older one of his soul. But the same held true for the old man, and he had no right to fault the younger one for his actions. 

“A certain teacher taught me to even cut my own parents down when it comes to a clash of swords... Besides, if you want to talk about cutting it close, you were aiming for my throat too!” 

The old man taking offense to him unfairly made the boy’s tone become understandably thornier than usual. 

To begin with, the boy’s techniques and mentality were all beaten into him since infancy by this old man. The way of thinking that one must only take up the sword when resolved for true, mortal combat was one taught to him by his grandfather. And that was why the young man felt that him being annoyed with him for living up to these methods was absurd. 

“Of course I was! My sword always kills with a single slash!” Such reasonable appeals wouldn’t reach the old man, now that all the blood had gone to his head. “One only takes up the sword when resolved to take the life of another!” 

The young man regarded his grandfather’s angry, red-faced shout with an exasperated expression. 

“See, that’s the problem right there. There’s no use for that sort of dangerous thing! Where in Japan can you use those kinds of techniques?! Besides, where do you get off trying something that lethal on your own student?” 

True enough, in modern Japan, carrying real swords was forbidden, much less dueling with them. The old man holding that belief as a martial artist was acceptable, but when it came to actually making use of them, the young man’s claims would in all likelihood be seen as more valid. 

One can polish their killing techniques as much as they want, but there would be little point in doing so without somewhere to make use of them. But hearing his student voice these perfectly reasonable claims only made veins pop out in the old man’s temples. 

“Quiet, be quiet! Cut your pretentious prattling and get back to practice!” The old man shouted, and swung his sword down on the boy again. 

It was a slash that, had the boy not blocked it, would surely have split his cranium in half. 

“But I keep telling you! What’s the big idea behind these life and death duels if this is practice?!” 

The sound of their swords clashing reverberated through the quiet residential district. None of this would bother the neighbors, though, so the two were free to spar(?) as vigorously as they wished. 

At first, the two seemed to match each other perfectly. But in the end, one of them was aged and the other was young, and the scales of victory were gradually tipping in the boy’s favor. As diligent as his training may have been, the old man had no chance of matching him. If anything, the fact he kept up with him for as long as he did was astounding. 

Pushing the old man back with sheer strength, the boy’s sword approached his teacher’s neck. But with the sword inches from his windpipe, the old man suddenly slackened his grip, making his student lose balance from the sudden lack of pressure and lurch forward. 

Taking this chance, the old man thrust his thumb towards the younger one’s eye. Probably realizing he couldn’t match his student in terms of sheer strength, he let his left hand away from the sword’s pommel and instead attempted to poke his eye out. This sudden attack prompted the boy to pull back and create distance between them. 

“God dammit, if this is practice keep foul play out of this! Stop acting like a shitty kid!” 

The young man’s patience was noticeably at its limit, as his language towards the old man was becoming increasingly profane. 

“Hmph. None of that matters in true combat, be it foul, or shitty, or whatever you want to call it!” 

The old man claimed there was no such thing as foul play in battle where one’s life hung in the balance. There wasn’t a hint of shame in his words at employing an unarmed attack in the middle of swordplay practice. If anything, the fact that the boy was aware and capable enough to anticipate and judge that unarmed attack meant he wasn’t nearly as reasonable or normal as he made himself out to be... 

Their training always carried with it the risk of injury, and even death. But that was only because the two of them were perfectly aware of each other’s skill levels, and always stopped attacking at the very last moment. Their slashes may have been full of bloodlust, but there was no true intent to kill in them. It was training that perfectly imitated true combat. 

Leaping back, the old man put his katana back into its scabbard and placed it against the bamboo stacks. He then turned to face the younger man slowly, relaxing his body’s muscles and letting his arms droop down calmly. A true, natural posture. A lack of stance is the ultimate stance, as they say. 

“Come at me unarmed! I’ll show you how your exaggerated strength isn’t good for anything!” 

“You sure?” The young man sneered. “I’ll gladly play along with your request! But do you really think you can beat me with your bare hands, when you couldn’t even beat me with a sword?” 

But the old man said nothing, simply motioning with his chin for the boy to put away his sword. Abiding by that demand, the boy sheathed his sword and placed it against the bamboo stacks as well, then turned to face the old man. 

He propped his left fist along his face, and lowered his right so as to cover his median line. Shifting his center of gravity to his left leg, he curled the toes on his right foot inward. It was a stance that balanced attack and defense, enabling him to both freely shift from punches to kicks on demand and hide his vitals from attack. 

For these two, unarmed battle was just as lethal as swordplay. The suspense made their breathing catch in their throats. But the silence was soon suddenly disturbed... by the sound of the boy’s stomach growling in complaint, of course. 

He had awoken before dawn, and their training had gone on for over an hour. It was right about the time his stomach would begin to loudly protest its hunger. But his teacher and grandfather wasn’t lenient enough to cut training short just because his grandson was hungry. 

Crap, I’m starving... C’mon, Gramps, just finish this already... 

But pray as he might, the old man showed no openings in his stance. If anything, he was visibly raring to go, and propped to take advantage of any careless opening the boy might expose. 

The boy was kicked out of bed early in the morning and forced to participate in lethal training on an empty stomach... When suddenly, an angel descended to save him. 

“Would you cut it out already?! I go to the trouble of making you breakfast and this is what you do? God. Why are you two even playing around so early in the morning?” 

A girl clad in an apron, her black hair tied in a ponytail, appeared at the edge of the boy’s line of sight. She was an attractive young woman with willful black eyes, standing a hair over 170 centimeters tall. 

Her name was Asuka Kiryuu. 

“Me? Playing around? With this geezer? Your humor could use some work...” 

At the very least, the young man wasn’t going on these bouts of early morning practice, waving real swords around or fighting in semi-mortal unarmed combat, for fun. 

“Well, what were you doing, then?” Asuka narrowed her eyes at the boy, who shook his head in an almost offended manner. 

Her pointed question made the boy tilt his head quizzically, looking for the right words to describe what was far too dangerous to be considered normal training. 

“...Trying to kill each other?” 

The moment those words left his mouth, a blunt sound echoed against the bamboo stacks, and with it, the sound of a fist clashing against an open palm. 


“Stop talking like a moron already!” Cocking a perfectly shaped brow in annoyance, Asuka threatened him with ladle in hand. 

Where did she even pull that from? 

The ladle Asuka was currently holding had landed a blow on the young man’s head, brandished in what could truly be described as lightning speed. 

As extremely refined as his physical capabilities were, the blow she had landed still smarted greatly. As proof of his capabilities, he had caught the attack the old man unleashed on him — a fist with the third finger’s second joint extended like a horn — the moment he flinched from Asuka’s attack. It lacked the force of a normal punch, but in exchange was optimal for penetrating the opponent’s vitals. 

In this way, the boy had blocked the blow aimed at his temple with a reaction that was equally attributable to both instinct and reflexes developed from ruthless training. And despite that, he failed to block the girl’s attack. 

Though, if anything, this was far preferable to what he had read in old comics. Whenever the hero in those comics would try to lay a hand on another girl, the heroine would bash him over the head with a hammer. He could usually avoid speeding bullets, but oddly never succeeded in dodging the heroine’s hammer. 

Indeed, surely this situation was the lesser of two evils. As well built as his body might be, a blow from a hammer would still kill him... 

“Ah, Asuka. Enjoying your quarreling newlyweds act?” The person who had just been responsible for the boy being beaten over the head with a ladle addressed Asuka with a nonchalant expression. 

Not a trace of the intimidating vigor he had during training remained in his voice; he seemed like an amicable old man you might find anywhere. 

I might have blocked it, but he still launched a surprise attack at me, and here he goes, just laughing like nothing happened. This is why I hate this geezer... 

Honestly speaking, even though it was his grandfather, he couldn’t keep up with this disparity in his behavior. 

“What are you saying, Gramps! I’ve got a boyfriend already... And besides, like. This is Ryoma we’re talking about.” 

Saying this, Asuka directed a meaningful gaze in the boy’s direction. The kind of look a cat might eye a mouse with. It seemed no matter how he replied to this, it would walk him straight down the path to hell. 

Seriously, this is no joke. I don’t want this any more than you do. 

If one were to consider her as a young woman, Asuka Kiryuu was indeed very attractive, and the young man had no intention of denying that. But it was also a fact that the years they had spent together invalidated something that would have made their relationship develop into a romantic one. In this young man’s eyes, Asuka Kiryuu was something of a sister. 

Not that he had the courage to voice those words anywhere but in his heart. He was more familiar with his cousin’s personality than he cared to be. So he held his tongue. This was the only safe path available to him. No one would have to get hurt this way. 

“Don’t say that, Asuka.” But there was someone here adamant on disturbing this peaceful equilibrium. “You wouldn’t be coming every morning to make him breakfast if he was just a childhood friend, would you now?” 

The old man stubbornly kept teasing Asuka. Was it out of true curiosity he was doing this, or did he have some ulterior motive in mind? Whichever it was, the end result would not be one the young man would appreciate. 

But contrary to the boy’s expectations, Asuka simply smiled innocently. 

“Nah, not really. I’m not doing this for free, after all. My monthly allowance gets upped by a cool twenty thousand yen for doing this!” 

Those words made everything click into place in the young man’s mind. So she wasn’t doing this out of the kindness of her heart. Apparently, his aunt had negotiated things with Asuka to boost her allowance in exchange for this. 

“Ahh... To think my own flesh and blood would be so miserly...” 

As the old man whispered those words with exasperation, a certain thought floated up in the back of the boy’s mind. 

Right, auntie made a killing in trading stocks, didn’t she...? 

Like mother, like daughter, it seemed. Asuka Kiryuu was graced with an attractive face and well-formed figure, as well as a sharp, keen head on her shoulders. On top of this, she was friendly and amicable, and didn’t come off as a snob, either. This winning combination made her one of the more popular girls in school. 

She excelled at cooking, and she was capable when it came to cleaning, laundry and handicraft, among other housework. She was, in many ways, perfect. True, she could be strict when it came to managing a budget, but that just meant she had a sense for economics; it couldn’t be really seen as a point against her. 

And while she may have seemed like the ideal girl to anyone else, the boy couldn’t help but laugh at the idea. He was far too close to Asuka to view her as a woman. 

“Aaah!” Asuka suddenly raised her voice, examining the watch on her right hand. “I’ve got archery club practice to get to, so I’ll be off. Make sure to wash the dishes when you’re done, got that, Ryoma?!” 

With that parting remark, Asuka took off her apron with an exaggerated caricature of a calico cat drawn on it, and ran towards the main building. 

“Hmph... Such a hurry this early in the morning.” The old man said, crossing his arms with a satisfied expression. 

“Wouldn’t we have more time to eat if you didn’t tease her so much, Gramps?” The young man pointed out this valid criticism. 

In practice, this old man’s tendency to say the wrong thing at every turn and ruin the atmosphere for the sake of his own enjoyment was truly a bother. 

“It’s because you don’t show enough respect to your elders.” The old man said, puffing up his chest without so much as a trace of remorse. 

He had no intention of addressing the younger man’s complaint. Apparently the word ‘introspection’ didn’t exist in his lexicon. 

Damn geezer! I’ll end up strangling you one of these days... 

Grandfather or not, he truly was bothersome. 

“Haaah...” The boy gave a long sigh, one that betrayed his true feelings. 

“What’s wrong?” 

Ignoring the old man’s question, the boy made his way to the main building. Wasting his time on dealing with his grandfather left him with little time to eat, to say nothing of washing off all the sweat. As detached as the boy was from his appearance, going to school when he smelled of sweat like this was out of the question. 

He went on to take a shower and wash off, as he did every morning. Then, after changing into his school’s blazer uniform, he walked over to the dining table, only to find his breakfast had long since gone cold. As expected. 

The boy’s name was Ryoma Mikoshiba. He was, as one could probably surmise, a young man who wasn’t quite blessed with joy in his life, at least from the perspective of the common person. Ryoma saw it differently, however. 

Every day, he practiced martial arts with his grandfather, the kind of severe training that would likely be seen as nothing else but abuse from the eyes of a bystander. When he was still an unskilled child, scrapes and blue marks were an everyday occurrence, and given that he trained with a wooden sword and no protective gear whatsoever, a fracture or two was to be expected. 

Despite the old man going easy on him at times, he was still hospitalized after taking a blow from a wooden sword to the head. It was that kind of severe training, but Ryoma stuck to it nonetheless. He’d kept up this routine for as long as he could remember, so he’d been going at it for at least ten years. 

Had he truly wanted to stop these training sessions, there were plenty of opportunities to do so. The ward’s child welfare department was an option, as were Asuka’s parents, the Kiryuus. They all offered their aid to Ryoma, but he still chose to reject their help by his own will. 

One reason for that was, his grandfather wasn’t a purely strict person. Outside of training, the old man treated his grandson with honest affection. If nothing else, he didn’t have the kind of cruel, distorted heart that would derive pleasure from hurting a child. 

And the other reason was, Ryoma himself enjoyed his grandfather’s training. A combat theory that assumed true combat, and mental training based on the premise of combat with one’s life at stake. It was inherently different from modern martial arts, which had mostly been converted into sports. If one were to categorize it properly, the training Ryoma went through felt closer to military training. 

It was a martial art that would seem like heresy from the perspective of modern times, but it seemed to be a perfect match for Ryoma. In fact, one time in primary school, a teacher invited him to a judo training session, but Ryoma never went back there after the first visit. His young heart sensed that it wasn’t what he was looking for. 

And ever since, Ryoma had devoted himself to that training with greater vigor. He may have cussed and complained every day, but he willingly chose to live with his grandfather in this quiet neighborhood in the Suginami ward. 

Ryoma’s parents had apparently passed away when he was a child. ‘Apparently,’ because his grandfather never specified how they had died. He didn’t know if it was by disease or an accident, and he’d never so much as seen their graves. They could still be out there somewhere, alive and well, for all Ryoma knew. 

However, he honestly didn’t care one way or another for his parents, who had never been there for him. Alive or dead, it didn’t change the fact that they never raised him. And so, he had no interest in them. Ryoma Mikoshiba was, for better or worse, a realist. 

While different people have different notions of what counts for attractive, Ryoma was by no means an ugly man. He wasn’t much of a pretty boy either, though. His facial features were what one might positively call manly, or put more negatively, distinct. It could be more simply summed up as a typical Japanese face. 

His physique was, in a word, large. His upper arm was about as thick as a slim woman’s waist. But this mass wasn’t the result of fat, but of perfectly developed and tempered muscles of steel. His arms and thighs were as thick as logs, putting him in contrast to the thin macho types that were popular nowadays. 

His fellow high schoolers gave him the nickname ‘The Sleeping Bear,’ inspired by his usual gentleness and beast-like physique. Or at least that was the surface-level explanation. Only a select few were aware of the true meaning behind that name, and they weren’t ones to speak on the matter openly. 

No, even they weren’t aware of Ryoma’s true self. 

Ryoma had his own personal complex; his face made him seem older than he truly was. People had estimated his age at anywhere from twenty-four years old to an embarrassing thirty years old. The kind of estimates that shocked Ryoma so badly, he would lie in his bed moping over them. 

That said, it wasn’t that his face actually seemed that much older. He didn’t have a baby face or anything of the sort, but it was overall average. He could have passed off as a year or two older, but that was it. If any factors could be attributed to the problem, it was his calm demeanor coupled with his distinct physique, ill-befitting to a regular Japanese person. 

If there was any positive side to all this, it was enabling him to buy alcohol at convenience stores without the cashier bothering to ask for ID. Once, when Ryoma was a kid, his grandfather had gotten drunk and offered some to him as a joke; this led him to develop a taste for alcohol. 

His grandfather wasn’t particularly noisy about the matter either, never really warning him too strictly about it. If anything, he seemed happy to have someone to drink with. 

Ryoma’s hobbies were watching movies, reading books and playing video games. While his athletic skills were far from bad, he was the type of person who enjoyed being alone in his room. He wasn’t anti-social, but he didn’t appreciate things being too lively. Owing to these traits, he didn’t attract much attention in school except when it came to his size, and he naturally didn’t have a girlfriend. 

And so, seen from the perspective of the common person, Ryoma likely seemed like a young man who wasn’t quite blessed with joy in his life. And that was probably the value of the person called Ryoma Mikoshiba. But if he had lived on longer in Japan like this, he would surely someday come across a woman he would love and go on to create a warm household with her. 

But the goddess of fate had no plans of allowing this humble dream of his to come true. For on this very day’s lunch break, he would be cast down into hell. 

“Phew, finally time for lunch...” Ryoma Mikoshiba sighed as his final lesson for the morning drew to a close. 

While it wasn’t a school centered on getting students into university, it was still a public high school with a fairly high admittance rate. Ryoma had only enrolled this spring, but the material was already very hard to keep up with. 

Ryoma wasn’t particularly dumb, but he tended to show exceptional intelligence when it came to topics that agreed with him, while not being quite as smart when it came to topics he didn’t like. In other words, he had a fundamentally whimsical and free personality. 

Ryoma stretched hard in his chair. His favorite topics were history and literature. He could be described as having an interest in the humanities, but despite that, he was terrible when it came to English. 

I mean, I live in Japan. Why can’t I just study Japanese and leave it at that? 

The day’s fourth class was that very same abhorred English, and the exhausting weight of that fact weighed down tremendously on Ryoma’s nerves. 

Well, whatever. I’ll just eat lunch on the roof, and maybe take a nap. It’s nice out today and all. 

While mumbling complaints that didn’t particularly gel with modern-day international society, Ryoma reached into his bag and took out a wrapped lunch box. Asuka had made it for him that morning. With his lunch box and a plastic bottle full of tea in hand, Ryoma made for the classroom’s door. 

But one of his classmates, who was preparing to eat lunch with her friends in the classroom, suddenly called for him as he was about to leave. 

“Mikoshiba... Are you going to eat on the rooftop again? How about you have lunch with us for once? I wanted to talk to you about club activities, too.” 

Her voice stopped Ryoma near the door. And after a moment of hesitance, he turned to her and said with a smile, “Sorry, I can’t. Maybe next time!” 

It wasn’t that Ryoma didn’t want to eat with the girls. No, the appeal of eating lunch with the girls in his class wasn’t lost on him in the slightest. But he had two reasons to refuse her offer. 

The first reason he refused to eat lunch with his classmates was a fairly simple one; he didn’t want them to see his boxed lunch. Asuka always adorned it with cute garnishments, and it didn’t match with his own image, or at least so he thought. 

Someone out there had once gotten the idea to invent what was known as the chara-ben. It was a boxed lunch whose ingredients assumed the shape of various cartoon characters, and went on to become an art form mothers from all walks of life would pour their own blood and sweat into mastering. 

And Asuka was quite proficient at making them, too. Her creations ranged from a certain electric mouse from a video game, to just about any other character one might think of. And Ryoma had to admit her skill at doing so was certainly impressive, and even admirable. Whenever he stood in the kitchen and tried to cook, he came to appreciate just how skilled Asuka was. 

But if he was allowed to be honest, he wished she would stop making them entirely. Carrying one of these into high school was... Well, it may go over well with the girls, but it would squander any dignity he had among the boys. Up until middle school, he’d eaten at the cafeteria, so there was no problem there. But with the advent of high school, he had to start bringing his own lunch. 

Ryoma didn’t have parents, and his grandfather wasn’t the type of person to make him a boxed lunch, so he made do with bread from the school store. But sometime in mid-April, Asuka suggested the idea of making him lunch. He gratefully accepted this gracious offer, but he wasn’t quite surprised when he opened the box the following lunch break. 

It’s a good thing no one saw that... 

The memory still made him shiver a little. He wolfed it down before everyone else could see it, somehow retaining what little traces of dignity he’d managed to build up to that day. But when he called her to complain after school, his lunch the following day was the most basic of lunches imaginable; rice with a single pickled plum. 

Breakfast was pretty bad, too... She made us cornflakes with milk and nothing else... 

Not that he intended to slight cornflakes with milk as a breakfast option, but it was nothing short of torture after a harsh session of morning training. 

But he still endured his hunger until lunch, only to once again be met with despair when he opened the lid on his usual boxed lunch. In the end he swallowed his pride and apologized to Asuka, cursing in the bottom of his heart all the while. He knew perfectly well that buying bread or making his own lunch would just sour Asuka’s mood further. 

And so it was that Ryoma Mikoshiba’s boxed lunches were all decorated in this manner, prompting him to flee to the rooftop and eat alone every time. It was the other reason why he had refused his classmate’s offer this morning. 

“You keep saying you’ll join us next time!” She said. “And you always go straight home when school ends. With a body like yours, you’re wasted on the literary clubs! C’mon, my upperclassmen won’t stop pestering me about it. Come check out the karate club. All you have to do is watch, so please?” 

She looked at him with an upturned gaze. It was a fairly adorable gesture, the kind that would render most men incapable of doing anything but nod at her suggestion. But Ryoma stubbornly shook off the temptation. These kinds of recruitment tactics had become an everyday routine in the month since he’d entered this school. 

“Didn’t I already tell you? I don’t intend to do kendo, karate or join the track team. I’m really sorry, but I can’t come.” 

He was up against a highschool girl, and one of the more attractive and influential ones in his class at that. He didn’t want to refuse in a way that would express his displeasure too forcefully, so as to not buy her animosity. So, while minding to keep his tone and wording as delicate as possible, Ryoma made his refusal as clear as he could. Especially since the mention of karate made the other classmates listen in on their conversation. 

While this school focused on academics, it was also pretty serious about sports. Their achievements when it came to kendo were especially remarkable. They won the regional tournaments regularly, and while they never won the national competitions, it wasn’t unusual to find this school ranked in the top 16 or top 8. 

So what would happen when a brawny new student like Ryoma Mikoshiba were to enroll into the school? As one might expect, every club imaginable immediately began trying to recruit him, and all 190 or more centimeters of tempered muscle that went around with him. These weren’t a bodybuilder’s muscles, developed for the sake of showing off, but a supple armor of flesh, graced with just the right amount of fat. It was obvious he had experience from some sort of club. 

“Hmm, well, I guess I can’t force you to come today. Still, I hope you’ll at least consider it. We’ll be able to kill it at the nationals for sure if you join!” 

With that said, she jauntily turned around and returned to her friend’s desk. She probably already knew from experience that hounding him stubbornly wouldn’t do her any good. 

She does this day after day, and she still doesn’t give up... Maybe I’d consider it if she just invited me for lunch like a normal person... 

Smiling wryly at her retreating figure, Ryoma placed his hand on the classroom door. 

Asuka’s boxed lunch wasn’t that much of an issue, honestly. He could just buy some bread or another boxed lunch when eating with them, and then eat Asuka’s for a snack later. But there was another major reason Ryoma didn’t make that choice. 

Simply put, their repeated attempts to recruit him into their clubs were irritating. Not that he thought there was anything wrong with sports or martial arts clubs in and of themselves, nor did he have any intent to pass judgment on people who devoted their lives to them. 

But now that they had all become glorified sports, divided by weight classes and based on gaining points, Ryoma didn’t find them the slightest bit interesting, and had no desire to do them only for the sake of showing off his strength. 

For Ryoma, martial arts were a tool for killing an opponent, and to keep himself from being killed at their hands. It wasn’t something he wanted to make a show out of, and he didn’t see it as something to compete for superiority with. But he knew full well that this line of thought didn’t align with modern-day peaceful Japan, and no matter how much he tried to explain it with words, he wouldn’t be understood or accepted. 

The majority of people saw martial arts as nothing more than sports, or otherwise, a form of mental training or a piece of culture to preserve. And there was a difference as wide as heaven and earth between that line of thinking and Ryoma’s, a gap that could not be bridged or mediated. 

So Ryoma simply refused, saying nothing else, and on sunny days like this he would flee to the rooftop to eat his lunch and nap until the bell rang. It was better for everyone this way. 

“Right, see you later, then.” Ryoma threw those words in the direction of his classmates’ inquisitive gazes and left the classroom. 

Right, that day was the same as any other. But that peaceful time would not last for much longer. 

It happened just as Ryoma was climbing up the staircase to the roof. This was when his long, long journey began. 

“Huh?” Suddenly, Ryoma lost all sensation of the floor beneath his feet. 

His body began to fall vertically. It wasn’t that he missed a step. The floorboards comprising the stairs he was walking on had suddenly disappeared. Ryoma reached out, trying to grab onto the staircase’s edge and regain his balance, but the rest of the staircase had seemingly disappeared along with the floorboards, and his hands groped at nothing but air. 

Looking up, he saw the light of the school building’s lamp becoming smaller and smaller, eventually disappearing altogether. He simply kept on falling into this dark abyss. 


Ryoma soon noticed a change; at some point he seemed to be ascending instead of falling. 

“Is this a dream? Or some kind of hallucination?” Ryoma whispered to himself. “What’s happening to me?” 

A natural question to ask. Falling was perfectly in line with the laws of physics. The probability of it happening was low, but faulty construction or a powerful earthquake could make the staircase’s floorboards come loose. But him floating up defied all logic. People weren’t capable of flying on their own, no matter how they might temper their bodies. 

Ryoma looked up. He noticed that, at some point, light had begun shining down on him. His body floated up, and Ryoma found himself flying into the light. 

“What’s going on? The school... didn’t have anywhere like this, did it...?” Squinting at the light, Ryoma looked around. 

From Ryoma’s point of view, this should have been the school, or at least like something that could be found anywhere in its premises. So when he saw the sanctum-like space spreading out before him, he at first thought it was some kind of facility of the school’s. But as soon as he saw the people standing around him, that idea was completely annulled in his mind. 

His eyes slowly adjusted to the light, and the muddled silhouettes in the room gradually became clearer. 

Who are these people...? Teachers? No, they couldn’t possibly... 

Five men stood in front of Ryoma. One of them was an old man, dressed in what looked like heavy robes, embroidered with silver and gold threads. It was the kind of thing one might expect to see in a movie based on Middle Age-era Europe. But that wasn’t the real issue here. The problem lay with the four shiny, sharp objects held by the four people standing behind the old man. 

The men had a weight and physique that wasn’t much different from Ryoma’s, and they looked to be well trained. He could tell with a single glance, from the thickness of their upper arms and thighs, that they weren’t amateurs. They were clad in full-body metallic armor, and wore on their heads what looked like ancient Roman Galea helmets; they had chicken plumes on their tops and T-shaped nose guards. In their hands they held halberds. 

Ryoma couldn’t tell by sight if their armor was the genuine article or not, but having seen his grandfather wielding a real sword in training countless times, his eyes could tell the halberds in their hands were true tools of murder. And if so, that very likely meant the swords sheathed at their waists were also real weapons. 

Were it just their armor, Ryoma would be inclined to believe these were costumes and props. They may have had an unusual design, but fake props like these weren’t something impossible to buy in Japan if one desired to. Of course, there weren’t many who would buy them, and even then, they would be unlikely to actually wear them. But while implausible, it wasn’t impossible, and it didn’t strike Ryoma as something that could never occur in real life. 

But while he couldn’t guess at the fact he was in another world yet, the realization that this place wasn’t part of the everyday life he was used to dawned upon him with perfect, undeniable clarity. That was owed to how the halberds directed his way were all sharpened to a deadly sheen. Having helped maintain and whet his grandfather’s treasured sword, he was very capable of being able to distinguish a true blade from a fake one. 

And to top it all off, Ryoma couldn’t believe someone would gather real halberds for some kind of practical joke. He couldn’t imagine having a weapon like this thrust at him in Japan, which boasted of its peacefulness and pacifism even among the rest of the modern world. Even burglars and murderers wouldn’t go to the trouble of finding a halberd. They’d use a knife of some sorts, perhaps, but not something like this. 

And finally, the murderous intent emanating from their bodies was real. Ryoma had studied martial arts since he was young, and this was the same kind of aura he could feel from his grandfather. The familiar sensation prickled against Ryoma’s skin. 

Holy crap, they’re serious. I don’t like the look in these guys’ eyes... 

Their leg movements and the way they handled their halberds gave the impression that they were experienced. They were, without a doubt, professional soldiers trained and familiar with the use of this unique weapon. 

The instant he realized it, a switch seemed to flip within Ryoma’s mind. As if switching from the ordinary to the extraordinary. He could practically hear the sound of his peaceful daily life crumbling to dust... 

“Oh?” The robed old man spoke to one of the soldiers standing behind him, keeping his gaze fixated on Ryoma. “It seems we caught quite a fine specimen with our summoning this time.” 

The man he spoke to had red plumage decorating the top of his helmet. Out of the four soldiers, this was most likely the captain of the group. 

“Nay, Lord Gaius, I believe it’s too early to make that judgment. His physique is impressive, of course, but first impressions can be deceiving... After all, we’ve summoned over a hundred of them so far, but less than ten have proven to be of any use.” 

The men’s eyes regarded Ryoma with the weight of a merchant assessing the value of his merchandise. 

“Hmm, true enough... So be it. We will find out just how useful he is once we raise him.” Nodding at the younger man’s words, the old one gestured with his chin towards Ryoma. “Let us make haste and carve the seal on him... Go on.” 

Hearing his words, the other three soldiers moved in on Ryoma slowly in a formation, surrounding him while keeping their halberds pointed in his direction. 

Who are these people? What’s going on here?! 

Ryoma struggled to suppress the questions burdening his mind. In this moment, what these people planned to do with him wasn’t something he had any way of knowing. After all, he had been going about his business at school just a few moments ago. Being thrown from that into a situation where he was staring down blades in the blink of an eye wasn’t something he could so easily understand. 

But Ryoma could tell that the men’s intentions for him were far from virtuous. One does not point a weapon at another without the intent to do them harm. 

Ryoma quickly surveyed his surroundings. The important thing right now was securing a way out. There were four enemies, plus the old man in the robe. Attempting to fight them directly would only end in his defeat, but the room didn’t seem to have any windows he could use to escape. He could see what looked like a window used for ventilation around ten meters above the floor, but there was no reaching it without a ladder. Which meant his sole path of escape was the iron door behind the old man. 

Ryoma had to choose now. Would he sit quietly and accept whatever ill fate was to come, or make a run for it even if it meant killing everyone in the room? 

His grandfather’s words floated into his mind: If you truly wish to protect something, show your foes no mercy. 

Those were words that were more easily said than put into practice. At the very least, never before in his life did Ryoma Mikoshiba have to resolve himself to murder another. But this extraordinary situation demanded taking extraordinary measures. 

Running is probably the best idea, but I still need to figure out where I am and what’s going on. 

Given his lack of understanding of the situation, he would have to ask someone to explain it to him. If nothing else, he didn’t see how taking a powder without an inkling as to the circumstances around him would tip the odds in his favor. 

Which left him with one choice. Leave the weakest of the bunch— the old man in the robe— alive, and kill the other four. 

That was an unforgivable choice to make. It was more than just resolving to kill; it was a taboo a man living in modern times should never break. But Ryoma didn’t hesitate. He chose the path that would lead to his survival, even if it was a bloodied road of carnage. The animalistic instincts slumbering within Ryoma were beginning to awaken. 

I’m unarmed, and facing down four enemies in armor bearing weapons... Attacking from the front puts me at a disadvantage. I need to catch them by surprise and take them out immediately, or I’m screwed... Right, only one thing to do. 

Ryoma formulated a plan in his head which gave him the highest chance of survival. His grandfather had already taught him the skills necessary to put it into action, though he’d never had to actually make use of these skills before. But this was no time to hesitate. 

Ryoma purged all violent thoughts from his mind, and as he did, all his anxiety and anger plateaued as well. Ryoma then dropped the boxed lunch in his hand, and greeted the approaching soldiers with a wide grin. Just as if they were close friends heading towards him. 

Seeing the smile directed at them, the soldiers exchanged glances in what looked like confusion. They had never conceived of the idea that a summoned human would smile at them in this way. And their confusion was to be expected. An abducted individual wouldn’t normally grin at their captors. 

Stricken by doubt and confusion, the soldiers stood still, stopping their advance towards him. And that was exactly what Ryoma had expected them to do. 

Then, in a flash, Ryoma broke into a run towards the soldier on his leftmost side, and thrust his index finger deep into his left eye socket, right down to the knuckle. 

“Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah?!” An animalistic howl erupted from the soldier’s lungs. 

The eye was one of the more vital and easily damaged parts of the human body. Even a grain of sand entering into it could inflict a significant amount of pain, and Ryoma gouged it out without mercy. It wasn’t an easy area to attack, but Ryoma’s smile had caused the soldier to momentarily let down his guard. 

Surprise attacks, by their nature, were launched from outside the enemy’s perception. If both opponents were facing each other on equal footing, surprise attacks would never prove effectual. But these sorts of attacks were not limited to merely sneaking around and striking from the shadows. 

And so, just as he had been trained to do, Ryoma dealt the finishing blow to his opponent. With his finger still gouged into the soldier’s eyeball, he swung his arm down. The soldier’s greatest misfortune came from the fact he was wearing armor. Even with his powerful body, Ryoma couldn’t hope to defeat four armored soldiers with his bare hands. He needed to find an opening to strike. And the easiest one was their eyes, which granted a man a far more painful fate than mere death. 

The eye-gouged soldier fell to the floor, howling and screaming in agony like an animal. Ryoma’s gaze fell on his cervical vertebrae, exposed in the gaps between his armor. In one fluid motion, he mercilessly drove his elbow into the soldier’s defenseless neck, putting all 100 kilograms of weight his body packed into the blow. 

A wet, blunt crushing noise filled the room. It was the sound of the soldier’s neckbones snapping under the force of Ryoma’s blow. The soldier violently crashed to the floor, blood frothing from his mouth. 

It had taken Ryoma mere seconds to attack and dispatch a single soldier. 

This totally unexpected development left everyone in the room stunned. And while everyone around him struggled to process what just transpired, Ryoma pulled the sword from the toppled soldier’s waist and ran toward the other two soldiers. His surprise attack may have gone well, but he was still at an overwhelming disadvantage. 

“Aaaaaaaaaah!” Roaring like a beast, Ryoma threw the sword in his hands into the stupefied face of another soldier. 

Shock filled the soldier’s expression. He surely never predicted Ryoma would throw his own weapon away. He hurriedly raised his halberd in Ryoma’s direction, deflecting the thrown sword with its guard. 

But that too was exactly what Ryoma had expected him to do. 

The soldier bent his body backwards to evade the sword, consequently shifting the armor around his throat, exposing it to Ryoma. No matter how much of the body a suit of armor might be able to cover, there had to be gaps somewhere, and if there were none available, they could simply be made. 

Ryoma swung his right hand like a spear with all the force he could onto the soldier’s exposed throat. The distinct sensation of the man’s windpipe breaking ran through his body. 

That’s two down. Now the real fun starts! 

It wasn’t an instant kill, but now that the soldier had had his windpipe broken, there was nothing left for him but death by suffocation. Ryoma pulled his hand away from the soldier and readjusted his stance. Only three remained, including the old man, and the surprise attack’s initial shock had worn off for them by now. 

“Die!” Someone suddenly shouted behind him, and swung a halberd in his direction. 

The soldier’s expression was filled with wrath at the murder of his comrades. But Ryoma, thanks to his perfect awareness of his surroundings, easily evaded the attack. Ryoma grabbed the soldier whose throat had been crushed by his shoulders, and leapt over his body, positioning it in front of him as a shield. 

A blunt noise rang out. It was the sound of the halberd lodging itself with full force into the doomed soldier’s armor, stabbing into his body. 


Ryoma moved around the soldier, who was desperately struggling to pull his halberd out of his comrade’s body, and once again struck a spear hand at his exposed throat. 

The human body can be surprisingly sturdy, and a blade thrust too deeply into a person’s abdomen can prove very difficult to pull out indeed, as the contraction of muscles is more powerful than the common person may assume. And this time it also thrust into layers of armor, making it even harder to extract. 

Two left. 

Ryoma glared at the remaining two. The soldier with the differently-decorated helmet, whom Ryoma assumed was their captain, and the old man in the robe. 

The captain threw the halberd in his hands to the floor and unsheathed his sword. Seeing Ryoma’s attacks probably made him conclude that a more agile and flexible sword would have greater effectiveness against him. He, the fourth among them, would likely be more challenging than the previous three. He truly must have been the captain. He had made an optimal assessment of the situation. 

The captain shifted his sword’s tip downward, and shifted the blade inwards under his flank, as if trying to hide it. 

A flank stance... He doesn’t want me to see how long his sword is. He wants to cut me down in one strike. 

There was little point to using a flank stance in kendo. The length of the wooden swords was regulated, and the valid hitting points were limited to parts like the gauntlets and helmet. The flank stance was useful for hiding the length of your sword and hitting the legs and lower half of the body, making it mostly unviable. 

But Ryoma now held a sword in hand in a battle to the death, which made things entirely different. Especially when it came to swords, where not judging completely or blocking the opposing slash would lead to an injury. And that injury would lead to loss of blood, which would result in his stamina plummeting and his concentration being disturbed by the pain. No, even before that, if he were cut along the leg and had an artery severed, that would decide the battle right there and then. 

Looking at the captain’s stance, Ryoma accurately realized his intent. There were two optimal slashes that could stem from this stance. A horizontal slash from right to left, and an upwards slash from the right leg to the left shoulder. Any other slashes would require changing stance, and that could create a fatal opening. The man before him would never make such a foolish decision. Ryoma could almost feel the suspense in the air prickling against his skin. While Ryoma couldn’t read the opponent’s range, the captain stood poised, waiting for an opening to present itself. The only thing that seemed to move sluggishly in this stalemate was the flow of time. 

But the situation suddenly changed. While Ryoma was focused on the opponent before him, the old man’s voice suddenly reached his ears. 

“Spirits of thunder! Spirits of wind!” 

Turning around, he found the robed man had brandished his hands towards him and begun reciting what sounded like a prayer aimed at some kind of transcendent being. 

What? What is he... No, crap! 

Ryoma had no way of knowing what thaumaturgy was at this point in time, but his survival instincts were screaming within him. 

Get away! 

Ryoma poised his sword and ran towards the captain. It was all or nothing. Charging at his opponent when he stood at an ideal stance was leaping into death’s maw. But now a dragon was about to blow fire at him from behind; he had no other choice. 

Ryoma dodged the captain’s slash, aimed at his abdomen from a right flank stance. Slipping to the captain’s left side, his body slipped below the blade, evading it. The sword skimmed inches below his head, cutting through strands of his hair. 

It was a risky gamble. Had the captain went for a horizontal slash, Ryoma’s body would have been cut in half. But he had went for a slash from the right leg to the left shoulder, and that choice decided the duel. 

Having slipped behind the captain, Ryoma delivered a kick to his exposed back. He did it to position the captain’s body as a shield. And that decision was the correct one. 

“Gather together at my side. Abide by my will and crush my foe! Bolt Storm!” 

Just as Ryoma dove to the ground, the old man finished his incantation and blades of violent wind and heavy lightning shot from his hands. 

“He dropped dead!” The old man spat out after firing his powerful spell. 

In contrast to his heavy breathing, the old man’s face was distorted in a smile, evidently pleased with his successful kill. Among the thaumaturgy in his arsenal, he chose this spell due to it being a particularly lethal one, and having a very short incantation. No one could take it head on and survive. He was confident in this spell’s power. 

Hence, the old man lowered his guard without confirming he’d actually killed Ryoma... Little did he know how fatal of an error that would be. 

Realizing the old man had let down his guard, Ryoma leaped to his feet immediately with the agility of a wild ape lunging at his prey. He closed the distance between the old man and himself in the blink of an eye. The old man, realizing what was happening at once, began reciting another incantation, but it was far too late. 

“What? That’s impossible! How could you survive that... Damn it. Almighty— Ngh?!” 

Overwhelmed by the wall of flesh closing in on him, the old man’s face distorted with pain. A low, heavy sound came from the old man’s right flank, and his body stiffened as he became unable to move. Ryoma’s ruthless punch forcibly knocked all the air out of his right lung, interrupting his incantation. It was easy enough to prevent once you knew the trick to it. 

After kicking away the captain, Ryoma dove to the floor. That was all he needed to do. Had the old man released a fire spell instead, its high temperature would cause great damage to Ryoma’s body even if he evaded a direct hit. Had he used an earth spell to skewer him with countless spears of stone, Ryoma would have surely been run through by them. 

But the old man used a wind and lightning spell, which he considered an instant, lethal attack. The soldier’s armor had served as a lightning rod and absorbed the attack, while Ryoma had evaded the wind blades by diving onto the floor. Ryoma instinctively picked up on the words the old man uttered in the incantation and knew he had to dive down. 

People are most careless when they’re confident. The old man believed his thaumaturgy was absolute, and that any hit on his opponent would mean an instant kill. Those two pieces of overconfidence robbed the old man of his victory. 

“Say, old man. What is this place?” 

Several of the old man’s ribs were likely broken. As the old man scrambled around on the floor, holding his injured right side, Ryoma spoke to him in a serene voice. But his eyes had a cold glint that would freeze the blood running in the veins of anyone who dared look at them. 

“Gaaah...” The pain robbed the old man of his words. 

“Hey? I’m talking to you.” Ryoma didn’t seem to care much for the old man’s poor condition, though. 

A loud snapping noise rang out in the room. It was the sound of the old man’s left elbow being shattered from a kick by Ryoma’s leg. He then unflinchingly poked the old man’s wounded side with the tip of his fingertips. 

“C’mon, old man. Answer me. You shouted at me to ‘die’ and ‘drop dead’ earlier, so I know we can understand each other’s language.” 

The old man’s appearance didn’t look even remotely Japanese, but Ryoma didn’t much care about that for now. All that mattered was that they were capable of communicating. 

A soft smile played over Ryoma’s lips. A truly gentle, amiable sort of smile. But to the old man’s eyes, nothing could have been more terrifying. 


Refusing to answer Ryoma’s question was not an option for the old man. He immediately realized this wasn’t an opponent he could pretend to be silent against. But he couldn’t speak through the pain. All he could do was curl up and withstand the agony suffered from the kick and his broken ribs. 

“Come on, old man. You know, I don’t really like doing this sort of stuff!” 

Ryoma grabbed the reclining old man’s left ear and twisted it up. It began tearing up from having to support his whole weight, and slowly began bleeding. 

“S-Stop. Let me go.” 

There was no telling what would happen if he’d kept his mouth shut. The old man’s heart had filled with terror at that thought. 

“What? Let you go? Don’t you know how to ask a little more nicely, asshole? I thought greater wisdom went together with your age.” 

The smile remained on Ryoma’s lips, but his eyes narrowed down to a slit and froze over in a dangerous glint. That may well have been Ryoma Mikoshiba’s true nature, which had never been seen by anyone before— sealed away by the chains of reason. And this old man would be the first unfortunate victim of that primal nature. 

Another dull sound resounded from the old man’s flank, and he let out a scream that didn’t sound possible for a human to make. Ryoma’s well built body unleashed a left punch that knocked the old man, all 170 centimeters of his height and 60 kilograms of his weight, a full two meters away. 

A puddle of red spread across the floor. Ryoma had continued to grip the old man’s ear as he punched him away, tearing it off. The bloodied, severed ear remained in Ryoma’s hand. 

“Now, old man. Let’s be real honest with each other. It’ll just be a few questions.” 

Ryoma strode confidently towards his injured victim. To him, this old man was nothing more than a thing in the shape of a human being. A prime example of how the moment a person stops seeing another as a fellow human being, they become capable of any atrocity. 

“S-Stop... p-please. I’ll talk... I’ll tell you... everything...” 

His broken ribs probably stabbed into his lungs, because with every word the old man uttered, blood oozed out of his mouth. His face was smeared red from the bleeding coming from his missing ear. It was unlikely he could withstand any more pain. The old man spoke, each word steeped in agony. 

“Oooh. Well, that’s a relief. All right, so, question number one. What is this place?” 

That was Ryoma’s first question. He needed to know if this place was Japan. Depending on whether it was, his treatment of this old man had the potential to significantly change. 

“This is... the Empire of O’ltormea’s... palace, in the capital...” 

“The Empire of O’ltormea?” 

The old man’s words made Ryoma’s expression turn quizzical. Ryoma liked social studies, and geography was one of his stronger subjects. He prided himself on being able to recite the names of almost every nation on the planet. But he’d never heard of this Empire of O’ltormea the old man spoke of. 

“That’s... right... Ruler of the... center of... the western continent...” The old man said, spitting out more saliva mixed with blood. 

Hmm... So this isn’t Japan. Well, that’s a relief. 

Japan had the concept of legitimate self-defense, but compared to the United States, it applied in very limited cases. He’d just killed four human beings in self-defense, and was now torturing an old man, even though he had attacked first. It was dubious whether this situation, were it to be investigated by the police, would count as legitimate self-defense or even an act under a state of emergency. 

Thinking of it rationally, it would likely get judged as a case of excessive self-defense, with a suspended sentence. At worst, the positions of the assailant and the victim could even be reversed. Of course, a close inspection would reveal Ryoma was certainly the victim, but it would take a long time for that to be proven. Ryoma didn’t want to lose precious time off his life just because he’d fought to keep himself alive. 

But if this was not Japan, none of that was any concern. Whatever the laws were in this country, Ryoma had every intent of ignoring them and returning to Japan as soon as possible. 

“Next question, then. Why am I here?” 

That, too, was a fairly obvious question. Ryoma should have been at school, but suddenly found himself in some Empire of O’ltormea he’d never seen or heard of before. He wanted to know why. And the answer he received was... 

“B-Because I... summoned you...” 

It was a peculiar, if unexpected, claim. But Ryoma’s expression didn’t change. 

“Hmm. Well, I suppose that adds up.” Ryoma responded to the old man’s words casually. 

But no one could tell what he was truly thinking in his heart of hearts, within which brewed emotions he would not dare bring to the surface. There was no way to read into those depths, but his third question made his feelings all too apparent. 

“Right, here’s a third question for you. And it’s the most important one, so you’d better answer. It could influence your immediate future.” 

Ryoma stared the old man directly in the face before asking. 

“I can go back to the world I came from, right?” 

His tone was serene. His words may have been rough, but they didn’t feel menacing. And that made him all the more terrifying. The old man’s heart was beating fast enough that it could burst. That was the question he wanted to hear the least right now. The old man tried to think of a lie that would get him out of this situation. 

Should I tell him he can go back? No, if I were to say that, he would tell me to send him back right now. What do I say, then? If I tell him the truth, he’ll kill me without a second thought. What if I tell him I need time to prepare? 

Gaius Valkland, the man praised as the brains and intellect of the Empire of O’ltormea by their neighbors, and court thaumaturgist of the O’ltormean court, could not meet his end at the hands of such a foolish man. The future of the empire rested on his shoulders. 

I need to buy myself some time... Once they notice the disturbance, the guards will surely rush in here. 

But Gaius’s wish would not come to pass. As he wracked his brain while staving off the pain from his fractured bones, Gaius suddenly noticed Ryoma’s fingers were coiled around his neck. He simply hadn’t tightened his grip, so the old man failed to notice. 

“C’mon, old man, that’s no good. Lying won’t get you anywhere.” Ryoma whispered, peering into his face as he grabbed him roughly by the hair. 

“I-I did... not lie...” 

Those confident words riled up Gaius’s nervous heart further. 

“But you were thinking of doing it, weren’t you?” 

Seeing through Gaius’s intentions, Ryoma continued. 

“I could tell from your blood. You were afraid I’d see through you if you lied, weren’t you? So your pulse quickened.” 

The complete certainty and confidence behind those words rendered Gaius completely and utterly speechless as he looked away uncomfortably. And that attitude told Ryoma his assumption was right. 

In truth, Ryoma’s words were little more than a bluff. Ryoma did notice the old man’s pulse had quickened, but he had no way of telling if that was because of the pain from his broken bones or his fear of the man currently clutching his life in the palm of his hand. 

But Ryoma knew he would be right. And that was owed to the expression of terror that overtook Gaius’s features when Ryoma asked his third question. The answer to that question was one that would spur Ryoma to kill him. And had he refused to answer, it would have been because he was trying to think of a lie that would get him out of this. 

“Y-You... How do you... have that ability...” 

Just as Ryoma intended, Gaius’s face clouded over with terror towards some unknown power. 

“Now, answer me. Can I go back, or not?” 

“That is... not possible.” After extreme hesitation, Gaius finally spoke those words. “At very least, it is not within my ability...” 

His expression was full of resignation. But despite having heard the worst possible news, Ryoma’s expression still wasn’t overcome with anger. At least, on the surface. 

“Hmm... Well, I suspected as much, given your attitude and all. So, is there any way for me to get back home?” 

Even after the old man’s absolute words of denial, Ryoma’s tone remained calm. And that attitude only made the fear thicken all the more in Gaius’s heart. 

Why...? Why isn’t he getting angry? Why isn’t he surprised? 

Gaius had summoned over 100 otherworlders over the years, and he’d seen countless reactions. Most otherworlders panicked. They would cry and beg and scream— which was to be expected. But none of those reactions had any power to them, and they were all equally apprehended by the soldiers and etched with the seal of servitude by Gaius. 

Of course, some otherworlders realized the threat they were in and tried to attack Gaius and his soldiers, but they were still unarmed and incapable of facing armed opponents. It was a touch rougher, but in the end they were suppressed by the soldiers just the same, and forced to kneel before Gaius. 

But the young man standing before him was different. Difficult to believe though it was, this otherworlder he’d summoned today had single-handedly slain four soldiers. 

“A-As far as I know... No country... has that knowledge.” With countless doubts in his mind, Gaius answered the question. 

Given their previous exchange, there was no reason Gaius would lie. 

“So you know how to summon people to this world, but you can’t send them back. Why?” Ryoma asked, rubbing his chin. 


That question prompted Gaius’s pulse to leap to the quickest pace it had gotten to up to this moment. 

No good... What do I say? What can I say that would save my life? 

Judging from Ryoma’s previous actions, Gaius realized perfectly well that he was dealing with a cruel, merciless man who spared no pity to his foes. And if he were to answer that question, this cold-hearted man would never let him live. 

“Hmm.” Ryoma smiled, noticing Gaius’s fear of answering. “Looks like you really don’t want to answer that... Well, that’s fine. I’ll answer it for you, then.” 

Those words made Gaius’s features distort with further fright and surprise. His heart felt like it was on the verge of bursting. 

It can’t be... No, there is no way he could know. No way this person who has only just arrived from another world would... Oh, God... Meneos, God of light... 

He prayed to his God, but that prayer would go unanswered. The words Ryoma spoke seemed as though they would cast him down into hell. 

“The reason there’s no method to send otherworlders back to where they came from is because you never planned to let those you summoned leave alive, did you? There’s no point in sending back a corpse, so you never researched a method to do it, and no country has a method to do so. Is that it? C’mon, tell me. Am I wrong?” 


Ryoma’s words were the equivalent of a death sentence signed by the grim reaper himself. It was the thing Gaius wanted to avoid saying at all costs, and he saw through it all. 

‘Tis all hopeless now. If he knows this much... Nothing I say will prevent him from killing me. 

He had quick enough wits to launch a preemptive attack on them, the combat prowess to beat four armed soldiers with his bare hands, and the cold-hearted nature to torture someone for information. To top it all off, he had the deductive ability to know exactly what to ask Gaius. 

Such a fearsome man. If only we could put him to good use... Our empire would likely succeed in conquering the western continent. 

That thought filled Gaius’s mind. And that could have very well come to pass. But the man standing before him completely and utterly antagonized the empire. He could see through why they summoned otherworlders, and what they saw them as. 

Am I going to die here...? No! I mustn’t die here. The king’s dream, and mine, cannot be crushed here! 

Gaius tried to compel his despairing heart. He supported O’ltormea because he shared the ideal of the emperor, who had tried to bring peace to this tumultuous world, and if he were to think of the sacrifices needed to achieve that, giving up here wasn’t an option. 

Thankfully, my thaumaturgy is gradually healing my wounds. I’ll bide my time and wait for an opportune moment... That’s my only chance. 

Since he had no way of sending this man back to his world, he would certainly never let Gaius live. He already knew that once this man had beaten all the information he needed out of him, his life would be unceremoniously ended. 

This fool is lowering his guard, thinking me to be injured... So in the moment he resolves to kill me, I will...! 

“Bullseye, huh... Well, that’s bad and a half.” In contrast to Gaius’s tragic internal struggle, Ryoma remained nonchalant. 

Ryoma looked up and sighed. He could tell from the old man’s face that he wasn’t lying. He didn’t enjoy torture, and had only done it to ensure the old man wouldn’t lie, but alas, the result was the worst possible one. Even so, it still wasn’t enough. 

If he had no way back, that opened a whole new array of questions he needed this old man to answer. And if Ryoma was to survive, he would get those answers out of the old man by any means necessary. 

“What are you summoning people for? If you’re not intending to send otherworlders back, you must be using them as slaves or something, right?” 

This question was yet another one Gaius hesitated to answer. 

Again... He continues to ask these sorts of questions... 

Ryoma watched Gaius’s expression closely. 

No! This man already knows the answer. He’s testing to see if I’m lying... He’s only asking me to be sure! 

Ryoma was only asking to ascertain if the answer he’d come up with, which he was ninety percent sure of, was the correct one. Gaius realized this when he peered into Ryoma’s unwavering eyes, and after a few moments of faltering, he eventually parted his lips to speak. 

“We are making use of otherworlders such as yourself... to win a war.” 

It was a terribly selfish reason, steeped in malice. They summoned humans from Earth and sent them out into the battlefield, regardless of their will. They were simply forced by Gaius to shed their blood in the name of the empire. 

But even after hearing those words, Ryoma’s expression didn’t change. He simply asked for further confirmation of the facts. 

“A war, huh... Can you explain that a bit more?” Ryoma turned his gaze towards the dead soldiers lying on the floor as he spoke. “As near as I can tell, your armored friends here seemed more used to fighting with swords and spears than most people in my world.” 

In terms of skill, they were competent enough from what Ryoma could see. He’d gotten the jump on them and survived, but that was mostly thanks to luck being on his side. They were clad in armor, and were experienced in true combat. In other words, most people summoned into this room were far weaker than these soldiers. 

“Plus, there’s no one back in my world who can shoot wind and lightning like you can, old man. Or are there, like, multiple other worlds, and you were trying to summon someone with those kinds of powers?” 

These kinds of things were common in comics and cartoons, but as far as Ryoma knew, real people couldn’t pull that off. 

“No. There are other worlds, but your world is the only other one populated by humans.” 

So there was no chance of them reaching out into the wrong world. But that made things even weirder. 

“Hmm. But summoning people from my world wouldn’t help you much in the war, would it? Why go to all that trouble?” 

Maybe if they were pulling people from an age where knights and warriors existed, they could probably expect some fighting potential. Even commoners from that time weren’t detached from the reality of war, and were more accustomed to bloodshed in their everyday lives. 

But if they were summoning from the present, there was no such advantage. Of course, war in itself still existed, but most weapons of the current age were firearms, and most weapons intended for close quarters combat were, at best, knives. If you were to order people of this age to fight with swords or spears, they wouldn’t be able to comply in the overwhelming majority of cases. Bows and arrows were hardly used, even for hunting. In which case, summoning people from Ryoma’s world seemed like a wasted effort. 

In terms of efficiency, the chances of them actually nabbing someone who’d be useful for their purposes are slim. 

Which left one option; they had some kind of value Ryoma was unaware of, which made them worth using. 

“That’s because you otherworlders have the potential to become the greatest warriors of this world.” 

Answering that question was frankly dangerous. Letting Ryoma learn of this ran the risk of creating a terribly tricky monster for the empire. But Gaius still took that gamble, despite that danger. Holding his tongue would only get him killed. 

“Greatest warriors... you say?” Ryoma’s expression took on a quizzical shade at Gaius’s words. “You’re saying untrained people could become the greatest warriors of this world?” 

Gaius’s claim understandably made Ryoma tilt his head in confusion. There was no guarantee that whoever they summoned would be a practiced martial artist like Ryoma. 

“Are the people you summon limited to some condition, like having a certain degree of power to them?” 

That would explain things. But Gaius shook his head in denial. 

“Whoever is summoned is decided by arbitrary luck and nothing else.” 

Is this geezer lying through his teeth? Ryoma thought. No, that doesn’t seem likely, judging by the way he’s been behaving. 

The chance of Gaius lying was slim, but that meant most of the people they summoned came here without any knowledge of combat. They came from an age without war, where martial arts existed only as part of culture. Very few people practiced martial arts in modern society as a means of actually fighting. 

True enough, Ryoma practiced them as a tool for killing and keeping himself alive. He practiced in case a situation might arise where he would need them. But the grand majority of people weren’t like him. The average person would hesitate to kill an animal, let alone a fellow human being. So what meaning was there in summoning them to this world? 

“Then what’s the point of summoning total amateurs from another world?” 

Gaius nodded at Ryoma’s question. “In this world, when you kill another living being, you absorb a fraction of its life force. That is why we summon them.” 

That was far too absurd and ridiculous an idea for Ryoma’s ears. Most people would scoff at it. But he simply stared at Gaius in silence. 

Doesn’t seem like he’s lying. I mean, if he’d wanted to fib his way out of this, he’d think of a more convincing lie... But still, this is pretty far-fetched... 

Gaius’s expression was entirely serious, and he didn’t appear to be lying. Had he intended to tell a lie in the first place, he’d likely think of a more believable one. But this was still an extremely difficult revelation to believe. 

“The hell does that mean? You’re saying that I absorbed the power of those four mooks I just killed?” 

“Precisely.” Gaius responded to Ryoma’s dubious expression with a nod. 

Ryoma looked at his body, but nothing felt different. His arms weren’t thicker and his legs weren’t longer, so at least judging from outward appearances, he looked the same as ever. 

“Sure doesn’t feel like it to me.” 

“The lives of a few people do not amount to much.” 

“You’re losing me.” 

Killing people in order to absorb their life force... It was an inexplicable phenomenon Ryoma had never heard of before, so it was only natural he would have trouble understanding it immediately. 

“To be exact, once you have killed one thousand people, you gain the equivalent strength of one person.” 

While Gaius explained the additional prerequisites in place for this phenomenon, Ryoma felt aghast and astonished in his heart. Kill one thousand people to gain the equivalent strength of one person? What a gyp. 

“Aren’t those pretty diminished returns? Doesn’t seem worth very much if you have to sacrifice that much for it.” 

Ryoma’s exasperation was to be expected. It seemed like far too paltry a reward, considering the effort required to kill a thousand people. 

“It depends on the conditions, and isn’t restricted to humans. If one were to slay a single dragon, he would likely gain power equal to that of a dozen people.” 

Gaius kept talking, desperately trying to keep Ryoma occupied. 

Just a little more! If I can just buy a little more time, the guards will surely come. They would grow suspicious of us not making contact for this long, and come to ask what has happened! 

That was the last hope Gaius could cling to. 

“Hmm. Well, I understand the whole power absorption thing, but still, why go to the trouble of summoning people from my world?” 

“One reason is that your absorption efficiency is higher.” 

“Huh?” Gaius’s words left Ryoma surprised again. 

“In other words, if an otherworlder and a person from this world were to slay an equal number of creatures from the same species, there would be a noticeable difference in the amount of life force each absorbed.” 

“I see.” Ryoma’s eyes narrowed. “So what you’re focusing on is the rate of their growth after you’ve summoned them... Even a person with no combat experience could eventually become stronger than the people in this world. So that’s why you’re choosing to groom otherworlders.” 

There were likely other secrets at play here, but for now he mostly understood what he needed to know. 

“I guess it’s time...” A faint whisper escaped Ryoma’s lips. 

And then he directed a gaze that pierced as sharp as a needle at Gaius. 

“Well, I don’t know how much of what you’ve said is true, but I’ll believe you for the time being...” 

And after whispering that, Ryoma directed a vile smile at Gaius, who was squatting down on the floor. 

“By the way, old man. Looks like your wounds are healing really quickly.” 

Those words were spoken completely nonchalantly, but hearing them made Gaius feel like his spine had just turned to ice. 

After being punched by Ryoma, Gaius had kept himself curled into the fetal position, and had been using a healing spell the whole time. And Ryoma had seen through it. 

“Wha...!” Gaius cried out in surprise, and Ryoma simply sneered at him. 

“I mean, of course I’d notice that. I broke your ribs hard enough to damage your lungs. You could hardly even speak given how much blood you were coughing up, but all of a sudden you started chattering away, loud and clear. Which means you’ve been healing yourself... while you were holding your stomach there on the floor.” 

“Y-You! You knew that all along?” 

Ryoma answered his question with a shrug of the shoulders. 

“Why... Why?” 

Why did you say nothing, and let me lay there and heal myself? 

Ryoma simply gave an icy smile in response to Gaius’ words. “Why didn’t I say anything, you ask? Because I figured you’d keep flapping your tongue, thinking it would buy you time. Besides, you were waiting for me to show an opening, weren’t you?” 

“D-Damn you! You let me do as I wished despite knowing that much?!” 

Gaius raised his voice in outrage. That was on a level beyond trickery or cunning. To Gaius, the figure of Ryoma smiling down on him could be seen as nothing other than the human incarnation of the devil himself. 

“Is it really that surprising? Well, if you were really looking for me to screw up and give you an opening to attack, you were better off pretending to be injured. Poor call of judgment there, old man.” 

Saying that, Ryoma clenched his baseball mitt-sized hand into a rock-like fist. 

“But never mind that. I get the gist of what you’ve told me, at least. I don’t know how much of your story is true, but if nothing else, it doesn’t look like I’m going back home for the time being...” 

Such was his last warning. Ryoma’s lips curled into a mocking smile, proclaiming he had no more use for Gaius. Seeing that smile, the old man instinctively backed away. His fear of Ryoma spurred his body to move. 

“Yeah. I wouldn’t do anything reckless if I were you. After all, I have to thank you for all the information you gave me. I’ll grant you a painless death. You’ve been a great help, so I think that’s a fair trade. Well? What do you say?” 

That was the kindness Ryoma Mikoshiba directed towards Gaius, the man who had abducted him. But that kindness didn’t register as such to Gaius. Realizing Ryoma’s intentions, he took his final gamble. Now would be his only chance to come out on top. No matter how close to zero that probability may have been, he would have to take it. 

“Spirits of wi—Kagh?!” 

Gaius’s incantation was cut short by Ryoma thrusting a spearhand against his throat. 

“What did I just tell you?” Ryoma told Gaius as he toppled down to the floor, looking down on him with emotionless eyes. 

And then, Ryoma mercilessly delivered the finishing blow, a low kick that sank into the back of Gaius’s head. A sound like that of a watermelon being crushed resounded through the room. 

“You shouldn’t have done anything reckless.” 

And those whispered words were the last thing Gaius Valkland ever heard, as he was stomped upon and killed like an insect. 

“Everything you said pissed me off. You were one seriously disgusting bastard...” 

Ryoma spoke to Gaius’s corpse lying at his feet, and then mercilessly kicked it as hard as he could, sending it flying three meters away. It was the kind of anger Ryoma never showed on his face while Gaius was alive, but now it appeared all too clearly on his features. He had the expression of an enraged demon. 

Anger can cloud one’s judgment. Losing oneself to anger in the middle of a battle is akin to just asking the opponent to kill you. Having had that lesson beaten into him by training, he was naturally capable of keeping his cool. But that was nothing more than a feat of temporary patience. 

Ryoma was no saint, but a simple human being; he was as susceptible to anger as anyone else. Especially in this kind of situation. So Ryoma had kept it bottled up and hidden in his heart until the moment his opponent had breathed their last. 

Gaius and his underlings had likely been summoning people into this world since long before they called Ryoma here, and he could only imagine the results of that... How many people were called into this world only to die, wallowing in despair? Those people must have had hopes and dreams of their own. 

That thought filled Ryoma’s heart with new sorrow and further hatred towards the old man, and towards the empire of O’ltormea. Ryoma Mikoshiba may not have been one to show mercy to his foes, but he was still a human being— a common man who knew pain and sorrow as well as any other. 

Suddenly, a loud banging resounded from the room’s iron door. 

“What the hell?” Ryoma reflexively tensed up at the sudden change, straining his ears to pick up on what was happening. 

“Is something the matter, Lord Gaius?” 

There came another knock on the door. A man was hurriedly knocking from the other side, calling into the room. 

“The guards informed us that they heard a loud sound from this room. I understand you are in the middle of your summoning rite, but please, show your face for but a moment!” 

“Tch... Figured this would happen.” The voice on the other side of the door prompted Ryoma to click his tongue in annoyance. 

Apparently those on the other side of the door were soldiers, much like the ones he slew, who had noticed the disturbance inside. This wasn’t an unpredictable development, but an inopportune one nonetheless. 

Do I have a way out of this? Ryoma thought to himself. There’s gotta be something. Some kind of method. 

But try as he might, he couldn’t come up with anything. There was no window in this room he could reach. The only way out of the room was the door with soldiers waiting on the other side of it, and that didn’t feel like a usable escape path. But at the same time, he couldn’t afford to do nothing. 

There’s no smoothtalking my way out of this, either. Maybe I shouldn’t have killed that geezer so quickly. 

That regret crossed Ryoma’s mind for a moment. 

No, I couldn’t keep the old man alive. There’s no telling what kind of trick he might have pulled. It’s a good thing I finished him off. 

True, there was the option of taking Gaius hostage, but he was more than just an old man. He was capable of firing lightning from his hands and kicking up powerful gusts of wind. No amount of caution would suffice if it came to handling him. 

But that just made getting out of here all the more difficult. Ryoma had killed Gaius and four soldiers, which meant negotiation wasn’t an option. No, even if it was, Ryoma would never choose to negotiate with them. His dignity as a man wouldn’t allow it. Yielding to these bastards? Never. 

Deciding he would need to secure a weapon, Ryoma turned over one of the soldiers’ corpses, lying face down on the ground, to procure his sword. As he did that, an idea popped into his mind. 

It was a fairly dangerous gamble, with a less than fifty percent chance of working. Or more pessimistically, thirty percent, if not even less. But he had no other options. After a few moments of pondering, Ryoma came to his conclusion... 

“It’s worth a shot...” 

Another strong knock resounded on the door. The iron door was secured with a metal bolt as well, but if the people on the other side were adamant on getting it open, it would only take them a few minutes to do so; this world had people capable of firing lightning from their hands. He didn’t have much time. 

Ryoma rummaged through the corpses’ pockets. This was another world, after all. Escaping this castle without any money on hand meant he would either have to go on to rob people for theirs, or steal food. Even if he considered finding employment, there was no telling at this point if this world had any jobs a high-schooler was capable of doing. 

In a typical light novel, now would be the time when a helpful character who supports the protagonist and provides him with food and lodging would show up, but Ryoma didn’t intend to rely on that kind of convenient development. 

For the time being, he fished five leather bags filled with coins from the corpses’ pockets. This money was his hope and lifeline. At the very least, he would have to find a way back to Japan, or some kind of work, before this money ran out; otherwise he would be forced to stoop to thieving in order to survive. He didn’t know the exact value of these coins, or how long he’d be able to live off this amount, but this was all he could do for now. 

“Lord Gaius! Lord Gaius!” There came another knock on the door. 

The shouting from behind the door grew louder. The ones outside were becoming confident something happened. Ryoma didn’t have any time to hesitate. 

Ryoma took off his school uniform and, after removing his leather belt, fastened it around his chest. It was a ridiculous sight for sure, but that didn’t matter right now. After tightening the belt, he bound the leather sack containing the money to it tightly. 

Next, Ryoma removed the armor from a corpse that was close to himself in size, then dressed it in his own uniform and burned off its face using a torch, in order to make it unrecognizable. He then put on the clothes and armor he had taken from the soldier. 

“Phew. I put it on, somehow...” Words of relief escaped Ryoma’s lips. 

He’d never put on armor, after all. But while it took him a bit of time, he’d managed to do it. Fortunately for Ryoma, this armor wasn’t a single suit, but made up by affixing several parts onto the body. 

Another loud banging came from the door. 

Ryoma had been so focused on donning the armor that he’d briefly forgotten about the people behind the door, but it seemed like they were just about ready to force their way in. 

Ryoma approached one of the soldiers’ corpses and slashed the carotid artery on his neck. Of course, since it was a corpse, the blood didn’t squirt out, since it wasn’t pumping through the veins. Rather, the blood from the wound gradually spilled over the floor; more than enough to fool whoever would walk into the room. Ryoma then lowered himself gently onto the floor and lay down in the pool of blood. 

“Not the wisest gamble, but it’s better than trying to force my way out...” 

Ryoma waited patiently for the moment the door would open. 

While Ryoma was lying down on the floor, a crowd of soldiers were clamoring behind the door. 

“Commander, the assistant court thaumaturgist, Lady Celia Valkland, is approaching!” 

In line with the soldiers’ reports, a woman with red hair appeared. 

“What is the meaning of this, Sir Rolfe? What has happened to my grandfather?” 

The first words to leave her lips were that harsh inquiry, directed at the man the soldiers referred to as commander. Skilled as she may have been, she wasn’t much of an amicable person. 

“Calm yourself, Lady Celia.” Rolfe said, a glint in his single eye. 

“How do you expect me to keep calm?!” 

It appeared she had come in a hurry. Her red hair, usually well-kempt and perfectly done, was ruffled and messy, and her sizable breasts bounced with each step she took. There wasn’t anyone foolish enough to blush at her appearance at this place and time, though. Everyone present was intent on resolving this unusual situation. 

“I said calm yourself!” This time, it was Rolfe who raised his voice in anger. 

He was a veteran who ran through many battlefields as a member of the imperial guard, and once even blocked an arrow meant to claim the emperor’s life with his own body, a feat which cost him his eye but earned him the title of “The Emperor’s Shield.” The story of his lost eye echoed throughout the continent. 

He had earned the Emperor’s trust, and was now charged with the palace’s security as the commander of the Order of the Imperial Knights. The words of this man, who had lived through the mud and blood of the battlefield years before Celia was even born, struck doubt into the heart of the talented assistant court thaumaturgist. Taken aback by his angry shout, Celia seemingly calmed down and took a deep breath to compose herself. 

“My apologies, Sir Rolfe. That was a pitiful failure of composure on my behalf.” Celia said, lowering her head sincerely. 

She seemed to have realized how agitated she was. If nothing else, she had the presence of mind to try and comb her tangled hair and adjust her disturbed outfit. 

“No, I apologize for my own boorishness. ‘Tis only natural you would be disturbed when it concerns your own flesh and blood. I am most sorry for raising my voice.” 

Seeing Celia’s attitude, the gaze of Rolfe’s lone eye softened, and filled with the compassion a father looking down on his daughter might feel. 

“With that said, Sir Rolfe, what of the situation?” Celia’s tone regained its calmness. 

Her face was filled with the cool-headedness and cold-heartedness of the young genius who came to be known as the “Queen of Blizzards” by the neighboring countries. 

“We presently know very little.” Rolfe shook his head at Celia. 

Rolfe himself had only recently rushed over after hearing the report from his subordinates, and didn’t quite have a grasp on the situation either, but still knew a bit more than Celia, who had only just arrived. 

“That is fine. Whatever you do know will do; please, speak.” 

“Very well,” Rolfe nodded. “In order to perform the summoning rite, Lord Gaius entered this room with four soldiers. That was some three hours ago now...” 

“Three hours...” Celia’s expression clouded over. “It takes two hours to prepare for the summoning rite, and the spell’s incantation takes roughly thirty minutes. Even allowing for some error, hearing no word for over three hours is most unusual indeed...” 

A feeling that something had gone terribly wrong nudged at Celia’s heart. 

“Yes. According to the report the guards gave me, they heard a tremor coming from the room some thirty minutes ago. I ordered the guards to contact you and headed here myself.” 

“I see. And then?” Nodding at Rolfe’s explanation, Celia urged him to continue. 

“Upon coming here, I found these soldiers waiting in front of the door. Apparently they’ve been forbidden from letting anyone in or from making any noise during the rite, so some of them went to make the report while they remained here on standby... Isn’t that right, men?!” 

Rolfe suddenly shouted, turning his gaze to the two soldiers standing behind. Their expressions were thick with despair, standing as proof that they were uneasy about whether they had handled the situation correctly. 

“I see... Your judgment was quite sound.” 

“Yes, ma’am!” 

Celia looked to the soldiers, who stood in attention to her words of encouragement. Receiving her smile made the soldiers’ expressions relax. They had confidence they had done their job as palace guards properly, but there weren’t many nobles who would see it as such. At worst, they might demand to know why they did not barge in at once, and punish them for it. But since they realized that wasn’t the case, their expressions softened. 

Rolfe ignored the two soldiers’ demeanor, and continued his explanation. Now wasn’t the time to concern himself with their actions. 

“But the fact remains that too much time has passed. So I’ve taken it upon myself to try and knock a few times since I arrived, but...” 

“No response?” 

“Aye, milady.” 

“The preparations for the rite and the incantation for the spell shouldn’t take three hours, even at the longest.” Celia worded her thoughts after hearing Rolfe’s explanation. “And if a practitioner as skilled as Grandfather hasn’t come out after that long... After all, Grandfather has conducted over a hundred summoning rites...” 

“Quite right,” Rolfe nodded at Celia’s doubtful words. “Lord Gaius has conducted the summoning rite one hundred and twenty one times, and has never once failed it.” 

Rolfe’s expression stood as evidence of his deep bond and trust in Gaius’s skill as a thaumaturgist. The rite of summoning from another world was well known in this world. The existence of otherworlders was documented in the ancient myths of other countries as well. But while the rite’s existence was well known, it wasn’t something which was regularly performed. Few thaumaturgists were capable of performing it, even if one were to search the western continent up and down. 

The summoning rite was the greatest, most difficult secret art of all. The fact that Gaius Valkland had performed it with a success rate of one hundred percent stood as proof of his fearsome skill. But that was only to speak of his past achievements. 

“Yes, so far there haven’t been any problems.” Celia said, doubt hanging behind her words. 

“So you think Lord Gaius may have failed the ritual, Lady Celia?” Rolfe’s expression clouded over. 

“It is hard to discern at this point. But if we assume nothing happened, it becomes hard to explain the tremor the soldiers sensed. There is no aspect of the summoning ritual which would cause such a disturbance.” 

“So you’re saying there was some kind of... accident? Should we have His Grace evacuate the palace at once?” 

Rolfe wasn’t foolish enough to naively assume that there was zero probability of an accident occurring simply because none had ever happened until now. And he also knew that thaumaturgical accidents could have long lasting consequences. 

A thaumaturgical calamity. The image of the worst possible conclusion flashed in Rolfe’s mind. If anything were to happen to interrupt the summoning rite and the spell were to go out of control, there was no telling what could happen. Having just an entire ward in the palace be blown away was optimistic. At worst, the entire country could be wiped away, just as had once befallen an ancient kingdom of old. 

I may be just assuming the absolute worst. But if that presumption proves to be true, we must secure His Grace’s safety, for the sake of our nation... 

The emperor’s safety, if no one else’s, would have to be secured. That thought spurred Rolfe to action. But Celia shook her head, denying his concerns. Had there been a thaumaturgical calamity, some signs of it would have already manifested outside the room by now. Even if its effects were limited to just the room, Celia excelled at detecting thaumaturgy and would detect any disturbance at this range. Which left only one conclusion. 

“No. In all likelihood, Grandfather must have made use of his thaumaturgy.” 

Rolfe’s single eye glinted at Celia’s suggestion. Gaius may have used attack thaumaturgy while fighting someone. 

“Attack thaumaturgy... That’s certainly possible. But if that’s the case, why wouldn’t Lord Gaius leave the room?” 

That was the main reason Rolfe couldn’t discard the possibility of an accident. Few in the entire continent could survive a spell fired by Gaius, the O’ltormea Empire’s court thaumaturgist. The idea of something happening in the middle of the rite to immobilize him seemed more probable than that. Of course, Rolfe knew there were no absolutes in battle, but Rolfe couldn’t imagine Gaius being slain by someone. 

“Maybe he can’t leave the room.” 

“Impossible.” Rolfe’s expression changed at Celia’s words. “Surely a man of Lord Gaius’s caliber...” 

Celia had pointed out the one possibility Rolfe was deliberately trying to ignore. 

“If we consider the worst possible scenario...” Celia’s features tensed up. 

That was the expression of a person realizing the possible death of a relative. 

“My apologies!” Rolfe suddenly lowered his head to Celia. 

“Wh-What are you doing, Sir Rolfe?” Celia became flustered at Rolfe’s sudden apology. 

“Lady Celia, I have erred in my judgment.” 

I should have broken in as soon as I heard the report. Had I entered the room as soon a possible, perhaps I could have saved Lord Gaius’s life. 

That thought crossed Rolfe’s mind, but Celia shook her head. 

“No, Sir Rolfe. It is law that no one may interrupt the summoning rite while it is in progress. If you’d have broken into the room on your own discretion, that on its own may have caused a catastrophe. I believe that no matter what happened, your waiting for me was a wise decision... So please, stop this at once.” 

Soothing Rolfe, she had him raise his lowered head. True enough, no one was allowed entry to the summoning room in the middle of the rite, for fear of a secondary disaster. Such was the level of cautious attention that summoning required. 

“I do doubt the possibility of an accident. Had that occurred, its influence would have been made visible to us by now.” 

The meaning behind Celia’s words was an all too cruel premonition. 

“Lady Celia...” Rolfe noticed Celia’s shoulders were trembling. 

She was desperately trying to restrain her emotions towards her one and only blood relative. 

“Of course, this is just assuming the worst possible scenario. For now, let us go inside and confirm the situation for ourselves!” 

Rolfe could only watch over Celia as she clung to the last strand of hope. 

“Since the door is made of iron, it is bolted from the inside. I’ll have a battering ram brought over to bash it open, so please give us some time.” 

Rolfe quickly prepared to order his soldiers, but Celia seemingly had no intention of abiding by Rolfe’s suggestion. 

“No, Sir Rolfe. We haven’t the time to spare. I’ll break through it.” 

Those words made Rolfe panic. The door to the summoning room was rather thick and sturdy, and a normal thaumaturgist wouldn’t be able to break through it. Of course, Celia, being the assistant court thaumaturgist, would be able to; but the problem was what would come after that. 

“Th-That’s...” Rolfe mumbled in a flustered manner. 

But there was no cutting into Celia’s incantation. 

“Spirits that govern over fire! Grant me your protection and abide by my will!” 

“Lady Celia, no! Men, take cover!” 

Ignoring his attempts to stop her, Celia completed her incantation. 

“Crush the foe that stands in my way! Flame Blast!” 

A globe of flame swirled in the palms of Celia’s hands, who stuck out her hands towards the iron door. The moment she did, the door distorted, and the thundering sound of an explosion echoed through the castle. The shock and noise of the explosion robbed Rolfe of his eyesight and hearing for a few moments. Heat and the charred smell typical of a fire filled the corridor. The strength of the blast ran minute cracks through the castle walls. 

Rolfe’s eyesight gradually recovered, and the first thing he saw was the door, glowing in crimson. The surrounding air wavered with heat daze, as if a portion of hell itself had manifested there. The door, however, remained intact. No, if anything, with the door burning hot now, it was impossible to approach it. Things were even worse. 

This is why I tried to stop her. What is Lady Celia going to do now... 

However, before Rolfe could make his will known to Celia, the door crumbled away with a loud noise. 

“Come, let us enter.” Celia’s voice echoed. 

The soldiers crossed the door, which had been cooled to the point where touching it would bond one’s skin to it, filtering into the room. 

“I see... So you used the difference in thermal expansion to shatter the door. Most impressive.” 

Celia nodded lightly at Rolfe’s words of praise. She had first used fire thaumaturgy, which made Rolfe believe she was trying to melt the door. He had tried to warn her of the problems that would cause, and then tried to stop her. But Celia understood the issue perfectly well. If she were to use flames strong enough to melt the door, the surrounding area would be reduced into a burning inferno. Celia and Rolfe would probably get away unscathed, but the more simple soldiers likely wouldn’t. 

Additionally, they wouldn’t be able to enter the room until the air cooled down. So Celia doused the door with massive heat, and then used frost thaumaturgy to chill down the seething door. The heat caused the metal door to expand, and by chilling it rapidly, the door shattered. 

“Come, Sir Rolfe. Let us hurry inside.” 

Rolfe nodded silently at Celia’s words. 

“Move. What are you standing in front of the door for? Go in already.” 

“What’s the matter? Is Grandfather safe?!” 

Cutting past the soldiers who stood in front of the door, their breath visible in white puffs, the two of them witnessed the site of a tragedy. The rusty aroma unique to spilt blood filled their nostrils; a scent Rolfe was all too used to. 

“Lady Celia... What... What is this...?” 

“This is horrible...” 

The sight rendered them speechless. They may have predicted this somewhere in their hearts, but even with the reality of it thrust before their eyes, it was still hard to believe. 

“Wh-What about Grandfather?” 

Looking around, Celia caught sight of the white robe lying on the floor, a unique robe her grandfather especially favored. There could be no mistaking it. 

“Nooo... Grandfather!” Celia fell to her knees, collapsing onto the floor. 

Rolfe hurriedly supported her, but Celia tore away from his arms violently and ran over to Gaius, who was sprawled on the floor face first. She picked his body up in a panic. Her hands were smeared with blood. 

“This is... too gruesome.” Rolfe grimaced, looking at Gaius’s body lying in Celia’s arms. 

Even he, who had run through countless battlefields, could only recall seeing a corpse so savagely beaten a handful of times. From the injury on the back of Gaius’s head, Rolfe surmised he was either attacked from behind or beaten while crouching. If it was the former, it stood as testament to the assailant’s skill; if it was the latter, it stood as proof of their cruelty. 

In either case, this would be a formidable foe indeed... Hmm, this is... 

Somehow convincing Celia to let go of Gaius’s body, they laid it back down on the floor, and upon closer inspection, Rolfe grimaced. 

A single blow to the throat. That was probably the fatal wound. In which case... 

The assailant had blocked Gaius’s windpipe, and then delivered a finishing blow to the back of his head. 

“Who would do something so horrible...” That small whisper escaped Rolfe’s lips. 

Those words were heavy with wrath and sorrow. Rolfe had been on countless battlefields, and the sight of a corpse wouldn’t normally make his heart waver. He would only think of such a sight as the weak having met their demise. But seeing the corpse of Gaius Valkland was different. Gaius fought for many years on Rolfe’s side as a companion, and had helped build up O’ltormea into the great country that it was now. 

It was impossible to keep one’s cool in the face of a friend’s death, but Rolfe did all he could to restrain the urge to scream out. 

“Is that not obvious?!” A scream of hatred erupted from Celia’s lips. “It was the otherworlder he summoned!” 

Her eyes burned with dark flames of wrath at the murder of her grandfather. And the moment Rolfe saw that fire in her gaze, he restrained his own wavering heart. 

I cannot say I blame her... They were closer than most fathers and daughters would be... 

Celia’s parents passed away when she was only an infant. They died in battle against a neighboring country that once existed near the empire, and it was Gaius who took her in and raised her. He was her teacher at thaumaturgy, and at the same time, her only remaining blood relative. So it was natural for Celia to lose her composure having learned of his death. However... 

“Listen, Lady Celia.” He had doubts about her assertion. “Otherworlders could indeed become quite powerful if raised, but we are talking of a weakling who was only just summoned. That world is free of war, unlike ours, and from what I hear, they aren’t usually allowed to carry weapons.” 

Judging from past cases, someone who could be that much of a threat had never been summoned before. The most anyone had ever carried on them was a small knife or a metal rod, and the vast majority of the otherworlders who were summoned weren’t even apt at using those weapons. From the perspective of a warrior, newly summoned otherworlders seemed to be even weaker than the commoners of this world. 

“But...!” Celia shook her head wildly at Rolfe’s doubtful words. 

No other explanation came to mind. Such was what Celia was frantically trying to say. 

No. As Lady Celia says, there is a strong chance of this being the otherworlder’s handiwork. But we mustn’t jump to conclusions. 

Rolfe himself agreed with Celia that the otherworlder was the most likely suspect, but there wasn’t enough proof at the moment to be completely certain. 

“I do concur with you that the summoned otherworlder is the biggest suspect, but we lack sufficient proof.” Rolfe tried to reasonably soothe her protests. “There’s a chance something else might have happened.” 

The only option he had right now was to quell her emotions, lest they blind her and allow the culprit to escape. 

“First, we must take stock of the situation and understand what happened here.” 

Rolfe’s admonishment made her expression tense up. She was a genius of such caliber that she had been given the station of assistant court thaumaturgist, even at her young age. Rolfe’s words reminded her of her role and responsibilities. 

“My apologies. You are right, Sir Rolfe.” 

“So long as you understand. I will take command, then.” 

Stopping Celia from lowering her head any longer, Rolfe immediately began to order his soldiers. 

“Confirm whether any of the soldiers are alive! And make sure that oddly dressed man there is truly dead. Everyone else, search the room and check if there’s no hole the culprit could have left through. Besides that... Did you find anything, Lady Celia?” 

Celia shook her head at Rolfe’s question. 

That outfit does look like something an otherworlder would wear, but why is he dead? Wasn’t the otherworlder alone? 

She may have regained her composure, but the death of her only blood relative still weighed down on her heart heavily, and her intellect wasn’t as sharp as it usually was. 

“Sir Rolfe! Lady Celia!” 

“He’s alive. This one’s still alive!” 

After a short while, the men sent to confirm the survival of the soldiers called out to Rolfe and Celia. 



Rolfe and Celia hurried over to where one of the soldiers was lying in a pool of blood. 

“S-Sir Rolfe...” The voice mouthing Rolfe’s name did indeed come from this soldier, whom they had presumed was dead. 

“Are you alright?” 

“What happened? Can you tell us anything?” 

As he was the only living witness, Rolfe and Celia went straight to the point with their questions. 

“Sir Rolfe... A monster...” 

Hearing his words, the two went pale. This man was the only one who knew what had happened in this room. 

“What?! A monster...?” Rolfe felt the color drain from his face upon hearing this unfamiliar word from the soldier’s lips. 

Celia panicked as well, wondering if her grandfather possibly failed the summoning rite and accidentally summoned some unexpected otherworldly creature. 

“What happened?! Come to your senses!” 

“Ga-Gai... he...” The two listened to his words carefully, but failed to gather any kind of meaning from the fragmented sentences leaving his lips. 

They did gather that some monster had appeared, but the situation remained as unclear as it was before. 

“Answer me! What happened to Grandfather?! What monster are you talking about?” 

Grabbing the soldier, who was lying on the floor, tightly by the shoulders, Celia shook him violently. Celia would normally never let herself be seen in such a disturbed state, but right now she didn’t care in the slightest about who saw her in this state. 

A monster? What sort of monster? No, more importantly, where is this monster right now? 

If a creature powerful enough to kill the court thaumaturgist was running around the palace, then things were quite dangerous. This was, quite literally, the heart of the empire of O’ltormea. 

But the more Celia panicked, the more dire the situation would become. The soldier, who already wasn’t speaking coherently, broke into labored gasps. His body went completely limp, and he wasn’t reacting to any of their soldiers. 

“Th-This isn’t good. Someone take this man to a doctor! Right now!” 

Stopping Celia from pressing the soldier for more questions, Rolfe quickly ordered the soldiers to put the soldier on a stretcher, which they had carried with them into the room, and take him to the infirmary. 

“Why?! Why did you stop me?!” Celia raged at him angrily with a demonic expression. 

Rolfe remonstrated her. He likely realized that if he didn’t say it now, he would lose all control over this girl, already close to mad with grief. This was probably her lack of experience at play here. Talented as she was, Celia still wasn’t adept at controlling her emotions. She’d finally calmed down, but the soldier mentioning a ‘monster’ made her lose her composure again. 

Of course, perhaps that was to be expected, given the implication that her honored grandfather had failed the summoning rite and died. But on top of that, this place was home to royalty and nobles. If any harm came to human life, even the family of court thaumaturgists who gathered as many achievements as Gaius would lose its honor and go into decline. At worst, if he were to be held responsible for the incident, his entire clan would be punished. 

Both her feelings for witnessing her grandfather’s death and her desire to defend her family brought Celia’s heart into a state of panic. Rolfe understood this, and yet... 

“If you were to continue questioning him like that, that man could very well have died.” Rolfe told the hysterical Celia, trying to speak as calmly as possible without betraying his emotions. 

His words didn’t allow for any argument. Questioning that bloodied soldier right now would have surely lead to his death, given his condition. 

“True as that might be, look at this situation. Isn’t understanding what happened in this room more important than that man’s life?” But his words didn’t seem to reach Celia. 

She was still confident that getting information about her grandfather took precedence over the life of a single soldier, and so she argued against Rolfe’s reasoning. She realized Rolfe was right, but her heart got in the way of her common sense. Still, Rolfe explained the situation in detail, hoping to calm her down. 

“That’s certainly important, but the only one who knows what happened is that man. I find it hard to believe you’d get any useful information if you were to question him, wounded as he was. At worst, he’d die before telling us what we need, and it all truly would have been for naught. Patiently waiting for him to recover is safer, is it not? For now, let us focus on confirming the situation here.” 

Celia wasn’t able to argue any longer against Rolfe after that. His words rang true, but her emotions as a person bereaved of her family, and her dignity as a noble, prevented her from being able to wholly accept that. 

“Haah... I understand. Your judgment is sound, Sir Rolfe. Pardon me for losing my temper.” 

With a heavy sigh, Celia regained her composure. Her snapping at Rolfe was likely the result of the strain on her heart. A genius she may have been, but the lack of experience stemming from her young age was plain to see. 

“But I do wonder what monster he was talking about... I cannot imagine Grandfather failing like this. And where did that monster disappear to?” Those doubts escaped Celia’s lips in a whisper. 

She was talking to herself, but hearing those words, Rolfe felt something nudge at him. A sense of unease that stemmed from his years of experience on the battlefield. But he brushed that doubt away, not putting it into words. 

“True. If a monster truly was summoned from another world, this is a crisis... No, for now, let us inspect the remaining corpses. We may discover something.” 

Rolfe himself was rather flustered by this situation, and that caused him to commit a blunder he would otherwise never make— the blunder of ignoring his own intuition. And it was Rolfe’s judgment which would end up cutting short what faint possibility they still had of resolving this situation. 

“B-Big trouble! Sir Rolfe, the infirmary! The infirmary is...!” 

A soldier burst into the summoning room. The panic in his voice made it clear he was reporting a true emergency. 

“Calm down! What’s the matter?!” Rolfe’s angry bark echoed through the room. 

The soldier he’d shouted at recoiled at Rolfe’s menacing glare, and made his report through labored breaths. 

“Sir! A fire of unknown cause has started in the infirmary... It is spreading rapidly, and has reached the medicine storeroom as well.” 

Rolfe was rendered speechless halfway through the soldier’s report. The timing was simply all too awful. 

“What?! How can all this be happening in succession? What of the fire? Has anyone come to extinguish it?!” 

The medicine storeroom had a variety of combustible substances, and they’d only just sent an injured soldier to the infirmary— their only live witness. Rolfe knew he was only taking out his anger on an unrelated party, but he glared viciously at the soldier. 

“Y-Yes.” The soldier said with a desperate expression, overwhelmed by Rolfe’s gaze. “We’ve promptly informed the palace thaumaturgists, and had them deployed to handle the fire.” 

The soldier’s continued report calmed Rolfe down slightly. If nothing else, the fire didn’t seem to have spread to the palace, and that alone was a relief. 

“What are your thoughts, Lady Celia?” 

Rolfe turned his gaze to Celia, who stood beside him deep in thought, with her finger pressed against her well-formed chin. Doubt surged up in his heart again. 

“Something feels very wrong...” She answered Rolfe’s question without hesitation. 

It seemed she had clued into that as well. 

“So... you think so too, milady?” 

“Yes... Too many things are happening at once.” 

Gaius Valkland was dead. A hitherto unprecedented failure in the summoning rite had occurred. An unknown monster could possibly have been summoned. And now, the fire. Rolfe pondered over it all, and the answer surfaced in his mind. 

Ridiculous. Could all this truly happen? 

Like Celia said, too many things were happening at once, and there was only one plausible explanation. But it was one that didn’t align with Rolfe’s common sense. 

“I have one hypothesis that might explain this situation. However...” 

“You think it to be impossible?” 

Celia correctly guessed at Rolfe’s idea, and knew his reason for not saying it. 

“I don’t know... At least, not right now.” 

Rolfe turned his neck again, gazing at the soldiers busily inspecting the room. Ultimately, speculation was only speculation, and Rolfe wanted the cold, hard truth, not conjecture. 

“We have a report!” 

Their conversation was interrupted by the soldiers who had returned from their inspection. 

“Yes, go ahead!” 

“I’ve confirmed the rest of the soldiers are dead.” 

“And? What was the cause of their death?” 

The soldiers exchanged looks at Celia’s question. It seemed to be something hard to report. 

“What’s wrong? Speak clearly! What was their cause of death?” 

Pressed by Celia for an answer, one of the soldiers spoke as a representative. 

“I-It seems they were murdered with a man’s bare hands...” 

“What? Bare hands?! How can you be certain of that?” Rolfe asked back angrily. 

Bare hands? So an unarmed man managed to kill those fully armed soldiers and Sir Gaius? Inconceivable. 

Rolfe could only imagine how difficult of a feat that was. 

“One of the corpses seems to have had their throat crushed, but there are finger marks on the neck...” 

“Finger marks...” Rolfe growled. 

Rolfe ordered the soldiers take him to the corpse in question, and the two of them soon stood before the dead body. Its throat was indeed caved in. 

“I see, those do look like finger marks...” 

Rolfe didn’t object to Celia’s assertion. 

“What about the other corpses?” He asked the soldiers. 

“From what I’ve confirmed, this one had his neck bones broken from from a blow to the neck. The armor and helmet are intact, though, which leads me to believe no weapons were used. This one was likely killed by the assailant’s bare hands as well.” 

And indeed, looking at the body, it did seem like it was dispatched by unarmed means. 

“There’s another thing that bothers me...” Another soldier said timidly as the two glared at the corpse. 

“What?! Be clear with it!” The normally calm Rolfe was unable to hide his irritation. 

But that was only natural. This incident could shake the country, and there were few clues remaining. 

“Yes, sir!” The soldier gave his report, shivering in fright of Rolfe’s anger. “This corpse we presume to be the otherworlder has its face burned off, and also has finger marks on its neck. And, erm... The belt for the body’s trousers is...” 

“What?! Hurry up with it!” 

“Yes, sir!” The soldier flinched at Celia’s annoyance. “The belt is missing! The trousers are slipping off the corpse. I cannot imagine him trying to fight in that manner...” 

Hearing this, both Celia’s and Rolfe’s expressions changed, and they hurried to the corpse. 

“He’s right...” 

“They couldn’t possibly fight like this... So how?” 

The corpse lying before them seemed to be properly dressed at a glance, but upon closer inspection, there were some discrepancies. In particular, the sleeves of the outfit were far too long. The cuff of his trousers was also too long for his legs, making it hard to believe he could walk in them without tripping. And the biggest issue, as the soldier said, was that the trousers were also loose. 

Impossible. They wouldn’t be able to walk right in these. 

At that moment, everything suddenly became clear to Rolfe, and Celia as well. 

“Oh, no. Sir Rolfe, the soldier you sent to the infirmary! He’s the otherworlder!” 

All the color draining from her face, Celia strengthened her legs with martial thaumaturgy and tore out of the room like a gust of wind. 

“Put the castle on high alert! Understood? The enemy is disguised as a soldier. I don’t care if you have to arrest any suspicious-looking soldier you find.” 

Giving his orders in rapid succession, Rolfe took after Celia, leaving the room behind him. After putting everything together, they realized everything that took place. 

“The worst outcome truly has come to pass... Hopefully he is still here.” Rolfe called out to Celia, who was running ahead of him. 

“Yes. For now, we should check the infirmary... But he’s probably gone by now.” Celia hastened her run with a bitter expression. 

The terrible villain who slew her grandfather was right in front of her eyes, and she didn’t even notice. Rolfe could only guess at how frustrated she must have felt. 

“In that case, the otherworlder had a means of fighting...” He said to her running back, between heavy breaths. 

“Yes, and he was skilled enough to face four armed soldiers and a thaumaturgist on Grandfather’s level... It seems.” 

“To have this much skill when he’s only just been summoned...” Celia’s answer sent shivers down his spine. 

An otherworlder with this much power could be prowling the palace, and he harbored clear animosity towards the empire. The scars on Gaius’s corpse stood as proof of that hatred. 

He’s a dangerous man, but we won’t let him get away. He’ll rue the day he foolishly dared to defy the empire. 

“Orlando!” Celia shouted as soon as she caught sight of a young man, standing in charge of the soldiers cleaning up the mess. 

“Celia, Sir Rolfe. Did word of the fire bring you here?” The young man turned to the sound of Celia’s voice with a surprised expression, and gestured towards the infirmary as he spoke. “In that case, do not worry. I’ve taken care of it. There is no danger of the fire spreading any further.” 

“I can see that for myself.” Celia ignored Orlando, and proceeded to question him. “More importantly, I have something to ask you. There should have been a soldier carried into the infirmary just before the fire started. Where is he? Is Ronbert present? Can anyone here explain the situation?” 

Celia’s question made Orlando’s speech trail off into stuttering. He was present here purely by coincidence, having just happened to be walking by the courtyard when he overheard the shouting about a fire, which led him to rush over. He was not fully informed about the situation. 

“W-Wait just a moment, Celia. I’m not following what is happening. Why are you in such a panic? It is very unlike you.” 

Orlando could none too well hide his confusion at Celia’s uncharacteristic lack of calmness, but Celia herself didn’t seem to be in the right state of mind to answer Orlando’s question. 

“Never mind.” Her thorny tone made it clear she’d given up on asking him. “Is there anyone here who can explain what is going on?” 

Celia’s sharp gaze scanned over everyone present, but her question was succeeded only by a lengthy silence. Everyone seemed to stop working and looked away uncomfortably, trying to escape her gaze. For all they were concerned, they had only rushed over to help put out the fire. 

Finally, one man’s voice disrupted the uncomfortable quiet. 

“You’re quite right. That soldier you’re looking for was definitely here.” 

It was a man dressed in white, bald at the very top of his head, with the hair surrounding his exposed scalp as white as snow. His unkempt, unshaven beard gave the impression of a sloppy person. 

“Ronbert... There you are.” 

The old man came out of the burned remains of the infirmary, reeking of alcohol as he advanced through the group of people to reach Celia. Under normal circumstances, she’d probably be criticizing him by now. Although he was quite skilled as a court physician, walking around the castle with the stench of alcohol about him was preposterous. But Celia swallowed the anger in her throat, for the flames of anger in his eyes riveted her in place. 

“I just checked the infirmary, but that man’s long gone by now.” He said in a low, dark voice. “He probably managed to escape amidst the panic of the fire. If you’re going after him, best get a move on. He’s a dangerous man.” 

His voice lacked all traces of his usual cheerfulness. 

“There’s three corpses inside. Must’ve had some pretty impressive skill to kill ’em like that. Doesn’t seem like there’s any signs of hesitation, either.” 

“Then, Alan...” Celia guessed at the reason for Ronbert’s anger. 

“Yeah... His collarbone was smashed.” 

Those words rendered everyone present speechless. Alan was Ronbert’s beloved son, who had been expecting a child of his own soon. Everyone who knew just how much Ronbert was looking forward to his first grandson struggled all the more to think of words of consolation. Out of everyone, though, Orlando was the only one who seemed incapable of picking up on the situation. 

“Celia, what is going on here?! What is Sir Ronbert talking about? Who killed Alan?!” 

Orlando had thought that everything was settling down now that the fire had been extinguished, so Celia and Ronbert’s words were all too unexpected to him. 

“Orlando, go and gather the thaumaturgist unit at once.” Ignoring his inquiry, Celia started giving orders. “Sir Rolfe, please organize the imperial guard. I will go to His Grace and ask for permission to deploy the troops! We shall regroup at the courtyard.” 


“W-Wait, Celia, I have no idea what’s...” 

Contrasted with Rolfe, who knew the situation well, Orlando asked for an explanation timidly, in fear of Celia’s anger. 

“Never mind that, Sir Orlando! For the time being, abide by Lady Celia’s orders!” 

“Please, Orlando, we don’t have time for this! He might get away!” 

Orlando’s expression changed on hearing Rolfe and Celia’s words. Orlando Armstrum was a third-seat palace thaumaturgist, and a warrior who had lived through quite a few battlefields. Though he may have appeared unreliable at first glance, he had the right stuff when it came to handling these kinds of situations. Celia’s voice caused his mind to make the switch from peacetime to the battlefield. 

“How many troops?” He asked in a deep, icy voice that didn’t seem to belong to the shaken man from earlier. 

“As many as you can muster! The enemy is a dangerous man. We are in a state of emergency, so I approve the use of teleportation!” 

Celia had given the thaumaturgists permission to make use of thaumaturgy which was forbidden in the castle. That was a prime indicator of just how pressing this emergency was. 

“Acknowledged.” Nodding at Celia’s words, Orlando swiftly began to chant an incantation. “God of Light, Meneos. I invoke my contract with you, grant unto me speed to rival light itself.” 

The next moment, he was transported to the front of the thaumaturgists’ barracks. The sight left Rolfe astonished. 

“I would expect no less of a third-seat thaumaturgist. Being able to teleport with such a short incantation is most impressive.” 

The greater the caster’s skill, the shorter their incantation could be. The fact that Orlando was capable of verbally abridging a spell as advanced as teleportation stood as evidence of his skill. 

“Of course. He is Grandfather’s pupil, after all. It would be inexcusable for him to not have that sort of skill.” 

Rolfe’s words made Celia’s hardened expression soften just a bit. She was pleased to hear her fellow student receive praise. But the next moment, that emotion faded from Celia’s mind. 

“Sir Rolfe, we have to move. There’s no time to waste.” She raised her hand towards Rolfe. “I will use a spell to send you to the Imperial Guard’s barracks. Please gather the troops.” 

“Understood. Go and gain His Grace’s approval.” 

He may have been the captain of the royal guard, but he still could not deploy those forces without the Emperor’s explicit approval. 

“I will! God of Light, Meneos. I invoke my contract with you, grant unto this man speed to rival light itself.” 

After confirming Rolfe was gone, Celia recited yet another incantation, all to corner the shadow of that escaped killer. 

When Celia teleported herself to the doors of the audience chamber, the guards turned their halberds menacingly in her direction. 

“How dare you use teleportation within the castle’s boundaries?!” 

“Do you intend to spit in the face of national law?!” 

Their shouts of anger lashed out against Celia. 

“This is an emergency! I must relay the situation to His Grace!” Celia ignored the guards’ interrogation. 

Realizing the assistant court thaumaturgist had teleported in, the guards standing at both sides of the doors leading to the audience chamber lowered their halberds respectfully. But along with their embarrassment at shouting at such a figure, their expressions were thick with confusion. 

“It’s you, Lady Celia. My apologies! But why did you teleport...?” One of the guards asked. “You’re aware of the law, are you not? Did you do this with Sir Gaius’s approval?” 

Their confusion was plain to see. Usually, using thaumaturgy in the castle was forbidden, and its usage was hampered by a barrier set around the building. This special barrier prevented teleporting into the castle from the outside, and also weakened the use of thaumaturgy within the premises. As such, using it within the palace required performing a special ritual ahead of time, which was reserved for the court thaumaturgist and a handful of high ranking knights. It was an obvious measure they had to take in the name of security. 

In addition, only the court thaumaturgist was allowed to use thaumaturgy within the palace itself, and even then, he was not permitted to use it freely. On the contrary, the law explicitly stated it could only be used in a state of utmost emergency; rare situations where lives were at risk. 

That wasn’t a law which could be easily broken, either. All those who broke it were sentenced to death, with very small exceptions. The guards’ doubts were correct, but Celia didn’t have the time to answer to them. 

“Silence! I told you, this is urgent! We are wasting precious seconds here! If you will not open the door, I shall force it open with my spells!” 

Celia’s eyes flickered in what bordered on madness. Her beloved grandfather’s death and her hatred towards his killer evaporated all traces of calmness from her heart. The court etiquette that was beaten into her since she was young were fading from her thoughts already. All that remained in her thoughts was the craving to corner and slay the killer. 

“P-Please wait one moment, Lady Celia. We shall usher you in at once!” 

Overwhelmed by Celia’s anger, the guard shivered as he nodded to his comrade, who moved back into the doors. They probably instinctively realized her resolve was true from her words and demeanor. It didn’t take ten seconds from when the guard went into the doors for them to silently swing open, this time to welcome her. 

“What is the meaning of this, Celia Valkland?! How dare you show such disrespect before His Grace!” 

As Celia entered the audience chamber, she was met with the angry shouting of the iron-blooded Prime Minister, Durnest. 

Tch, the minister is here, too... I’m already short on time to explain things as it is... Celia clicked her tongue while thinking to herself. 

This wasn’t something she could be happy about, given that every second counted. Prime Minister Durnest was a fiercely loyal aide to the Emperor, and a vassal with influence over O’ltormea’s fate, but he was also an extremely unreasonable man. His visage, especially over matters of upholding the law, was what earned him his reputation as a man of steel. 

“Your silence tells us nothing. What even brought you here? What of Sir Gaius? It is the duty of the court thaumaturgist to come in case of trouble. Assistant court thaumaturgist, Celia Valkland! I order you by my authority as prime minister of this Empire, answer!” 

His questions came in rapid succession, all of them obvious ones. But in a situation where every second counted, Durnest’s justified questions were nothing but a nuisance. However, there was one person in this room to whom Celia could not afford to show disrespect; the Emperor, seated on the Throne. 

“Enough, Durnest. Celia asked for an audience with us in extreme urgency. Surely something unusual has happened.” 

“But, Your Grace...” Durnest insisted that excusing her would not serve as a good example. 

Durnest himself realized Celia’s actions likely had a reason behind them, but that was a different matter. He was a protector of the law, for better or for worse. 

“Cease your obstinance.” The Emperor’s voice was cool and collected. 

Even Durnest was incapable of protesting against that voice. The Emperor’s eyes narrowed, their gaze stabbing into him. 

“As you wish, Your Grace. Please forgive my disrespect.” 

Even the Prime Minister was incapable of going against the Emperor’s direct word. The current Emperor was more than just a nominal title for show. This man was the supreme ruler who had brought the center of the western continent to its knees by sheer strength, after all. Durnest lowered his head and took a step back, standing behind the throne. The will of the Emperor stood above all laws. That was both the strength and weakness of a despotic dictatorship. 

“Good. Now, Celia Valkland. What brings you before me?” 

As he spoke these words, a wave of pressure emanated from his body towards Celia. The pressure forced her to kneel. 

Truly, one would expect no less of His Grace... 

The First Emperor of the Empire of O’ltormea and the man known by the surrounding countries as the Lion Emperor— Lionel Eisenheit. 

He was born the third prince of the old kingdom of O’ltormea, located in the mountain range in the center of the western continent. The old kingdom of O’ltormea had little territory and a struggling economy. In addition, the internal affairs of the kingdom were in a state of turmoil, and the power struggles between the nobles and the royal house had brought the country to the brink of decline. It seemed the fate of the kingdom would be to be absorbed by the surrounding countries. 

But, lamenting the state of his country, young Lionel aspired to restore its strength. He won the succession wars, and through purging the opposing nobility, he restored power to the royal house. In the process, Lionel himself fought through many battles. 

And forty years ago, with the invasion and takeover of the neighboring Kingdom of Thene, he changed the name of the country to the Empire of O’ltormea. Ever since then, he had been committed to fighting for sovereignty over the center of the continent. 

Even at the age of 68, this Emperor, who had known the bloody battlefield, was covered in virile muscles and had enough strength to overwhelm most commanders in battle. Having slain many warriors and absorbed their prana over many years, he still boasted the strongest body in the Empire in terms of raw strength. 

“Hmm. What is the matter, Celia?” Lionel slowly asked Celia, who hung her head. “I will not understand unless you speak. You wished for an urgent audience with me. You may answer me, promptly.” 

His serene voice undid the pressure in her heart. 

“Yes, Your Grace! I humbly request that you grant me command over the Imperial Guard!” 

Steeling her resolve, Celia made her request, but her words were far too sudden and unexpected. Silence hung over the throne, as Lionel’s gaze remained fixated upon Celia’s face. 

“What are you saying, Lady Celia?!” Durnest shouted, recovering from the shock. “An assistant court thaumaturgist asking for command over soldiers, and the Imperial Guard meant to protect the Emperor himself at that? Is Sir Gaius aware of this?!” 

Silence reigned again. Durnest shouted, red in the face, demanding answers from Celia. His anger was justified; Celia held no such authority, though she was allowed to offer her opinion, as palace thaumaturgists also doubled as civil and staff officers. But that was only in the scope of verbal advice. She had no right whatsoever to command soldiers, much less the elite Imperial Guard stationed to defend the Emperor’s person. 

“Command over the Imperial Guard, you say... very well.” Lionel’s voice, however, was calm in contrast to Durnest’s. “Depending on the reason, I may permit it. Use them as you will.” 

“What... Your Grace! What are you saying?!” 

“I said I see no reason to refuse, Durnest. Celia surely has a reason to come here bearing such a request.” 

While Durnest argued vehemently, Lionel spoke with a strikingly calm tone. 

“However, Celia, first you must present your reason. Why does a palace thaumaturgist require the soldiers? As Durnest asked, does Gaius know of your actions?” 

That was a question which anyone without knowledge of the situation would be right to ask. Celia restrained the sorrow bubbling up in her heart to answer the Emperor’s question. 

“My apologies, Your Grace. The truth is, Grandfather... excuse me, Gaius Valkland has been assassinated by someone.” 

Her words echoed loudly through the audience chamber, and silence dominated, everyone seemingly forgetting to breathe for a moment. Her declaration left Lionel and Durnest beyond words. After all, Gaius was the greatest thaumaturgist in the empire, who stood at Durnest’s side in running O’ltormea’s internal, diplomatic and military affairs. 

“I-It cannot be. Sir Gaius is... dead?” 

“Impossible. It is impossible! Celia!” 

Words of denial came from both of them in unison. The two of them could not believe her, for they knew of Gaius’s strength. Or perhaps their combined will was refusing to accept that their comrade, with whom they had shared their joys and sorrows since youth, and who had supported their empire, was dead. 

“I’m sad to say it is true, Your Grace... Gaius Valkland was assassinated.” 

Silence once again fell over the room, and Lionel was the first to break it. 

“Why? Why was Gaius killed? Who could have... What happened?” 

Celia could hear a low, heavy sound. Lionel was restraining his wrath, gripping the armrest of his throne tightly. 

“There is much we do not know for certain yet. We do not have proof, nor witnesses. But we do know there is someone who could very well be the culprit, based on the circumstances.” 

“Who is it?” 

The armrest screeched. 

“Sir Gaius was scheduled to perform a summoning today. Since all the soldiers brought to guard the rite were also slain, it is safe to assume that the killer was the otherworlder he summoned.” 

“I-Impossible. I cannot believe it...” Durnest, who had remained silent for a long time, finally managed to speak. 

They had summoned countless otherworlders before, and there had never been any problems until now. 

“We’ve also discerned there is a high probability he is posing as one of the castle’s soldiers. I realize how forward this is, but for the time being I had the captain of the Imperial Guard, Sir Rolfe, and third-seat palace thaumaturgist Orlando prepare their units to give chase. We’re ready to begin pursuit as soon as you grant permission, Your Grace.” 

After hearing that much, Lionel was quick to give his decision. 

“You have my permission! Writing a decree will take time, so take this sword as proof of my life and order!” 

Having said this, the Emperor unsheathed the sword at his waist and threw it to Celia. This was the moment the Emperor himself recognized this situation as a state of emergency of the highest caliber. 

“Celia. Gaius was my trusted confidant, a friend across decades, a teacher to me... And a pillar supporting my country.” 

Lionel’s voice echoed at her back as she made her way out of the audience chamber. 

“Yes, my Lord.” She could only nod at his words. 

Of course, unlike Celia, there was no blood relation between Gaius and the Emperor, but his words made it clear that there was a bond that transcended familial closeness between them. 

Even the Emperor, who stands at the top of this country, laments his passing... 

Those honest, guileless words made Celia understand just how important her grandfather truly was. 

“To think Gaius was assassinated... This is a declaration of war against the empire of O’ltormea itself. Find the culprit who did this and apprehend him, and if he cannot be restrained, you may end his life!” 

Celia lowered her head deeply before the Emperor in respect and gratitude, then left the room. Lionel heaved a heavy sigh, and spoke to the curtain behind the throne. 

“Shardina. Did you hear everything?” 

“Yes, Father.” 

The voice that answered Lionel’s call was that of a woman in her early twenties. She had golden, wavy hair that was tied together at its top and reached down to her waist. She was tall, but had a well-proportioned form. Most of all, she was a striking woman with the same blue eyes as the Emperor. 

“I’ve only just received a report from my subordinates, as well. There’s no mistaking that Sir Gaius is dead. A fire broke out in the infirmary at the same time, and a single soldier went missing as it happened. Lady Celia seems to be under the impression that the missing soldier in question is the otherworlder.” 

“I see... And what do you think, Shardina?” 

“I believe her assertion about the culprit’s identity is correct. If nothing else, I do not believe this is an assassination by one of the neighboring countries. However...” 

“However, what?” Lionel’s gaze bore into Shardina as she spoke in an elusive manner. 

“I think her chances of apprehending the culprit are decidedly low.” Shardina answered the question timidly. 

“What?!” Durnest exclaimed in surprise. “Lady Shardina, are you claiming it’s impossible for Lady Celia?!” 

The Emperor himself had approved this order, but Shardina claimed it would be near impossible to apprehend the culprit. 

“Sir Durnest, my claim does not stem from a lack of belief in Lady Celia’s abilities.” Shardina shook her head without flinching away from Durnest’s red face. “Even if I myself were to take command, I believe the chances would be slim. In fact, I doubt anyone would succeed.” 

“Why?!” Durnest shouted, despite knowing how disrespectful it may have seemed. 

“We do not know the face or age of the otherworlder, so how are we to capture him?” 

“What? What do you mean?” Lionel raised his voice in surprise. 

Celia hadn’t taken into account that they did not know the killer’s face. Without showing a hint of discomposure at her father’s backwards glance, Shardina continued her explanation plainly. 

“All the soldiers that were present in the summoning chamber under Sir Gaius’s command were slain. When he was taken to the infirmary, he was under the guise of a soldier and did not remove his helmet, so no one confirmed his face. The soldiers who took him to the infirmary and the doctor present were likewise slain. As a result, no one knows what this man looks like. All we know is that he’s a well-built young man.” 

O’ltormea’s capital city was a great city of unrivaled size in the western continent, as one would expect of a powerful empire. If the only description they had to go on was ‘a well-built young man,’ it would be hard to narrow that down to just one man in this sprawling city. 

On top of that, forcing a blockade on such a large city was quite difficult. If the neighboring countries learned that a single man slew a high ranking court thaumaturgist, it would leave a lasting scar on the nation’s dignity. 

“How dreadful...” Lionel groaned before the reality his beloved daughter had pointed out. “Then, how is Celia to track down the culprit?” 

“It is a gamble, Your Grace. The fact the otherworlder is disguised as a soldier is good for us. We must interrogate any soldiers trying to switch out of uniform near the castle, or hurriedly trying to leave. Even if it is impossible, we may yet obtain some information. It is because Lady Celia understood this that she was in such a hurry.” 

Shardina’s words made Lionel sink into his thoughts. Then, he spoke again in a low voice. 

“I see. So there is a chance?” 

“Yes. However...” 

“Good! As long as we know that much. Shardina! You too are to take command of the knights and join the search.” 

Shardina was unable to hide her annoyance at Lionel’s words. For all he was concerned, so long as the probability wasn’t zero, that was enough. 

“Y-Your Grace?” Durnest’s face filled with suspense. “Is removing Princess Shardina from your presence wise?” 

Shardina was charged with being the last line of defense to protect the Emperor. She had never, not once, been relieved of this duty. Durnest’s concerns, then, were justified. The Empire of O’ltormea became as grand as it was because it had brought its neighbors to submission by constant pressure and absorbed them as vassals. As such, there were still sparks of discord smoldering, both domestically and abroad. An assassin could make an attempt on the Emperor’s life at any time. 

“I said cease your obstinance, Durnest!” Lionel, however, cut down his concerns without mercy. 

He then turned his gaze back to Shardina, and exclaimed loudly: 

“Shardina Eisenheit, first princess of the Empire of O’ltormea and captain of the Succubus Knights! Regroup with Celia and proceed with the search for the culprit!” 

His sharp gaze stabbed into her. Lionel’s eyes flickered with unwavering resolve, which could also be understood from the fact he called his daughter by her full name. 

“As you wish, Father. I will do so to the best of my ability, however poor it may be.” 

Sensing her father the Emperor’s will, Shardina lowered her head and left the audience chamber quietly. 

That was the moment the Empire of O’ltormea acknowledged Ryoma Mikoshiba as its enemy. 

At last, only the two of them remained in the audience chamber. After a long silence, Lionel spoke to Durnest, who stood at his side, with a tired voice. 

“Things have become quite dire, Durnest.” 

“Aye, Your Grace. We must resolve this situation before the surrounding countries learn of it.” 

“Mm. And this happens just as we’ve gained control of the center of the continent, and are on the cusp of conquering the east.” 

“Yes... It is regrettable. To think something like this would happen to Sir Gaius...” 

Lionel shook his head slowly. Moreso than the setback of his path to conquest, the loss of his years-long vassal weighed on his heart heavily. 

“We’ve no choice. Durnest, we must quickly elect a new court thaumaturgist. Summon the ministers.” 

“As you wish. Will it be Lady Celia?” Durnest’s voice was thick with anxiety. 

She had more than enough talent, and her loyalty and pedigree were without fault, but her lack of experience was overwhelming. 

“Not much can be done about her youth... Except hope that what’s to come will help her mature.” 

“Understood. I will go attend to the preparations at once, then.” 

Durnest retreated, leaving Lionel alone on his throne. 

“You fool, Gaius... Just when my domination is at hand...” 

A single tear fell onto the red carpet. It contained all the emotions the man known as Lionel held for the one who had fought long through ruthless battles by his side.

Let us rewind time a bit. The injured soldier taken from the summoning chamber was, of course, Ryoma Mikoshiba. His gamble had paid off. 

Of course, he was somewhat confident in his chances. Ryoma assumed that when the people who broke down the door were faced with the floor drenched in blood and the four corpses lying there, they would not be able to make calm calls of judgment. And he was right. Indeed, the soldiers who broke into the room were shaken by the gruesome sight. 

Ryoma’s greatest concern was the possibility that they would remove his helmet and see his face, because if they were to do that, the soldiers would surely grow suspicious. After all, not one of them would recognize him. And even if he were fortunate enough to escape this place, having his face known would make his escape that much more difficult. 

As a result, the man and woman who broke into the room having called each other by name was a godsend. Ryoma’s calling that man by his name, Rolfe, lessened his suspicions, and led him to ordering to have Ryoma sent to the infirmary. That simple act of being called by his name deceived Rolfe into thinking the soldier before him was an ally, and he never dared to even think this was all part of Ryoma’s ploy. 

“Guh... Gaah... Guah...” Ryoma, lying on the stretcher, pretended to cough. 

“Hey! Stay with us! We’ll get you to the infirmary soon!” 

“Yes, just keep it together a little longer! You hear me?! Stay conscious and don’t you dare faint on us! You’ll die!” 

The soldiers carrying the stretcher talked on and on, trying to give Ryoma morale. They honestly and truly believed the man on the stretcher was an injured comrade on the verge of death. 

Ryoma continued feigning his agony. He’d never really thought of being an actor, but desperate men with their back against the wall are capable of doing things they are usually incapable of doing. And right now, Ryoma was giving a truly Oscar-worthy performance as he pretended to be injured. 

“Right, we made it!” A soldier called out and banged on the wooden door. “Doctor! This is urgent, please open the door!” 

After a few moments, the door opened from the inside in a vigorous manner. 

“Hey, Alan, they said it’s urgent!” An old man shouted into the room while gripping the knob. 

The stench of alcohol reached Ryoma’s nose. 

“I can hear them just fine without your shouting, Father! You two, place him on the bed there, quickly.” 

A young man in his late twenties promptly instructed them, as the old man left the infirmary, regarding him with a backwards glance. 

“You too, Fath— Huh, Father? Where did he go?” 

“The Head Physician’s gone. Probably means to go drinking again.” One of the soldiers said in an exasperated voice, watching the young man look around in confusion. 

“Again? Whatever will I do with him...” 

This was probably an ordinary occurrence. The young man wore a bitter smile. 

“Come now, there’s nothing to worry about.” The soldiers exchanged glances upon seeing his expression. “The assistant head physician’s skill is just as sound as his teacher’s, ain’t it?” 

“No doubt about that. If anything, his hands don’t start shaking when he sobers up, so he might even be better.” 

Saying that, one of the soldiers tapped Ryoma’s helmet. 

“Anyway, let’s check the patient... Hmm? This looks pretty bad.” Looking at Ryoma, the young man furrowed his brows. 

His entire body was drenched in red, he reeked of the rusted, metallic scent of blood and was panting heavily. From the young doctor’s perspective, he looked severely injured. 

“For now, let’s inspect his wounds. If you wouldn’t mind, could you take off the patient’s armor and helmet?” 

At the young man’s request, the soldiers drew closer to the bed. 

That place would soon become their grave. 

One of the soldiers suddenly collapsed on the spot, and red liquid spurted out of his neck vigorously. As he sat up, Ryoma lunged his sword forward, cutting the soldier across the neck. And as he hopped out of the bed, he pounced on the other soldier who stood there in shock. He had no way of avoiding an attack by the soldier he thought was writhing in agony just a moment ago. The soldier had no understanding of what was going on, and Ryoma’s sword slashed his throat without mercy. 

“Wha...! What are you...?!” The young doctor shouted in surprise, and turned around towards the door, running away desperately. 

He knew full well he wasn’t suited for fighting, so his immediate course of action was to take off and run. But that was the worst possible conclusion for Ryoma. 

Dammit, if I let him get away, he’ll call for reinforcements! 

Ryoma swiftly removed the scabbard from his waist and tossed it towards the young man’s feet. This wasn’t done as an attack, but to get his feet to trip for a moment and block his path of escape. And his attempt was successful. Fortunately for Ryoma, the scabbard hit the young man against the hip, making him lose balance just before he made it out. 

Not letting the chance pass him by, Ryoma ran over to the collapsed doctor, and as he put his weight against his back, wrapped his thick hands around the young man’s neck. The young man was thin, and his body weighed several kilograms less than Ryoma’s. Despite this, he struggled wildly, feeling the danger to his life, but his futile scrambling only made Ryoma tighten the grip on his throat. 

“L-Let go... Wh-Who are you...” The young man squeezed out the words painfully as his neck was being constricted. 

“Sorry, pal. I’ve got some things I need you to tell me.” 

Ryoma spoke brightly, but his vice grip on the young doctor’s neck never slackened in the slightest. He could strangle the life out of him or snap his neck with little to no effort. With Ryoma literally holding his life in his hands, the young man was left with no choice. 

“What do you want to hear?” The young man’s voice was hoarse, due to the grip around his throat. 

Still, his intent was clear enough. Ryoma spoke with the softest voice possible. He knew well enough that depending on the situation, speaking softly could be far more intimidating than shouting. 

“Not much, I’m just looking to get out of this castle. Think you could point me in the right direction?” 

Ryoma’s voice was perfectly casual, like he was asking for directions in the street. But that in itself made the young man more frightened. 

“Who are you? Why did you kill them? Weren’t they your friends?” 

From the young doctor’s perspective, that would be the natural conclusion. Only a few dozen seconds ago, the man before him was a gravely wounded patient. Ryoma, however, didn’t have the time to answer his questions. 

“Yeah, sorry. I don’t like this any more than you, but you’re gonna have to answer my questions, and quick.” Ryoma whispered softly into his ears and tightened his grip. 

“Gauh... Gugah...” The young man’s face gradually turned red. 

“Feel like talking?” 

The young man nodded desperately. If Ryoma were to keep strangling him like this, the man would die without a doubt. The fear of death made his resolve snap. 

“Gho righ’ dow’ the khorridor, an’ akhross th’ ko’tya’t...” 

“Go right down the corridor, and across the courtyard?” 

Seeing him nod desperately, Ryoma tightened his grip on the young man’s neck further and further, strong enough to snap his neck... 

Ryoma didn’t have the option of letting him stay alive. It didn’t matter how good of a person he was, or how harmless he looked. He couldn’t allow any witnesses if he wanted to escape this castle alive. The sole advantage Ryoma had in this utterly unfavorable situation was that the enemy had little to no information about him. 

“Guah... Gaaaugh...” Gurgles and moans leaked from the young man’s mouth, and the blunt sound of his neck snapping echoed from between Ryoma’s hands. 

Trying to push Ryoma’s body off to the best of his ability, the young man’s body then went completely limp. His muscles completely relaxed, and a putrid smell leaked from his crotch. 

“Sorry.” Ryoma whispered to the corpse at his feet, after removing his hands from the young man’s throat. 

That word was the only thing Ryoma could offer to the doctor who had believed him to be an ally, and was honestly worried for his well-being. Bringing his hands together before the corpse, Ryoma once again made preparations to run. Firstly, he searched the three corpses’ pockets, taking out their sacks of coins. Pouring them all into one sack, he tied it around his waist. 

He then dipped a bandage into the hot water in the room and used it to wipe the blood off his armor. Walking around in bloodied armor would attract attention. 

Right, I’ve got eight people’s worth of money now. Guess these are gonna have to be my funds for the time being. 

Having money on hand was important. Without that, he wouldn’t be able to get too far in his escape. After reconfirming the weight of the sack at his waist, Ryoma tore the curtains and sheets away, as well as the cloths in the medicine cabinet, and lit everything in the infirmary on fire. Since he’d picked all the flammable things he could find, the fire spread swiftly through the room. 

Right. This is the deciding moment. 

Ryoma left the infirmary as it started billowing black smoke, and took a deep breath. 

“Fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiire! There’s a fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiire!” Ryoma’s voice echoed through the castle. 

One of the palace thaumaturgists, Orlando, was crossing the courtyard on his way back to his office from the barracks, when he heard the shouting. 

“What?! A fire?!” The blood drained from his face the moment he heard it. 

A fire in the castle was a serious crisis. If the home of the royalty and the center of government were to catch fire, it would leave a scar on the empire of O’ltormea itself. And besides that, the damage to property would be unimaginable. Most of the items in the castle were high class and expensive, and if there were damage done to the nobility, it could cause internal strife at worst. Even Orlando, who was seen as flippant and easygoing by his peers, realized the severity of the situation. 

Orlando’s nostrils then caught the whiff of a scent in the air. The flowerbed was rife with flowers blossoming proudly, releasing a fragrant aroma into the air. But within that was mixed a foul, burning aroma. And as he listened carefully, the shouting reached his ears again. 

“It’s a fire! A fire in the infirmary!” 

“A fire? Where did you say it was?!” 

“The infirmary’s on fire! Get water, quickly!” 

“No, call a palace thaumaturgist! They can put it out faster!” 

“Don’t be a fool! We must evacuate His Grace and the nobles first!” 

Many soldiers, maids and butlers were working hard to put out the fire. They were all shouting and moving about frantically. Some were trying to move valuables out of the way, a few were looking for a superior to give them their orders, and others were carrying buckets to extinguish the fire. It was a true crucible of disorder and chaos. And within that were nobles running away from the infirmary to the courtyard with their personal guards. 

Realizing there really was a fire, Orlando broke into a run over the flowerbed. He felt some guilt at stomping over the diligently tended to flowers, but now wasn’t the time to care about that. He cut through the flowerbed and made his way to the infirmary. He knew that once he got there, he’d be able to swiftly put out the fire. That thought dominated Orlando’s heart. 

And that was exactly why he failed to notice the sight of one suspicious soldier, mixed in with the rest of the nobles’ guards, walking towards the exit and ignoring the fire and chaos behind him... 

I should be able to get out as long as I just blend in with them... 

That was a fortunate miscalculation on Ryoma’s part, and he couldn’t restrain the smile playing over his lips. He’d lit the fire hoping to sneak away in the chaos, but he didn’t expect the nobles to dash for their lives like this. The sight of them all running for the gates reflected in Ryoma’s eyes. 

“Phew. Well, I’ve made it this far now...” 

Blending in with the fleeing nobles, Ryoma evaded questioning from the guards and successfully slipped out of the castle. He then looked back, glaring up at the white castle he’d just managed to escape, the cold, dark flames of hatred burning in his eyes. 

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