Wortenia Senki (LN) - Volume 10 - Chapter 4

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Chapter 4: The Shadow’s Presence

The sound of labored breathing boomed in the young man’s ears—his own breathing. He knew gasping for air like this would only reveal his position to any potential enemies, but his body unforgivingly ignored his will.

He’d survived countless battlefields. His body was tempered like steel and made stronger thanks to martial thaumaturgy. But even with his muscles and endurance augmented to extraordinary levels, his body still had human limitations. His lungs still required oxygen, burning sugars and fat to produce energy. His muscles then consumed that energy, converting the oxygen to carbon dioxide that would be expelled from his lungs.

This was a principal shared by all human beings. It would hold true no matter what level of experience this young man had, regardless of his status as a Rank C adventurer.

Wiping the sweat from his forehead in one rough motion, the young man brought the leather sack hanging from his waist to his lips and drank. The water was lukewarm and had the aftertaste of leather. It wasn’t pleasant in the slightest, but to his parched throat, it tasted like the finest wine.

“That’s all?”

Drinking up the last drop of water, the man threw away the sack in annoyance. If he were to reach the watering hole in the heart of the forest, he could refill it. The young man had inspected the map of the Wortenia Peninsula the guild supplied him with. It wasn’t as accurate as maps in Ryoma’s world, but it did detail where the water sources were.

While water was imperative to staying alive, carrying it around weighed one down. Compared to food, extra weapons, and gear, water could be procured locally, meaning one didn’t usually carry large amounts of it. But that only meant the task of reaching the watering hole was that much more imperative. And at this rate, it was unlikely he’d ever reach the watering hole anyway.

Those bastards are driving me in the opposite direction of the watering hole. They probably want to exhaust me before hunting me down.

Spitting in frustration, the man glared in the opposite direction. Had it been a paved, level road, he probably could have ran along it for miles without fatigue. But right now, he was in a no-man’s-land. The woods grew freely and the vegetation was thick. Having to run from both the monsters infesting these lands and his own invisible pursuers sapped his physical and mental fortitude. Honestly, he wished he could stop and take a break.

To hell with them...

The friends that recommended he take this job were presumably already dead. They were horrible when it came to handling money, but he got along with them surprisingly well. Whenever he’d finish a job and find his financial position wasn’t as good as he’d like, they’d take him out for a drink or a trip to the brothel.

But right now, the young man wasn’t thinking back on those memories. He could only curse those now-deceased friends of his and lament ever having taken this accursed job. The pay was good, that much was for sure. It paid five times as much as other jobs, and in advance, at that. One could even earn a bonus, depending on how good the results of their investigation were. It was a shady job that wasn’t done through the guild, though. The employer was a noble who paid exceedingly well for a mere investigation. It looked too good to be true, but he took it.


Just an investigation? Goddamn bastards got me caught up in this shitty job.

The Wortenia Peninsula. Anyone who made their living doing difficult jobs for the guild had heard of the place. The young man himself had heard a few rumors about it in the past. One rumor said it was an abandoned land that became a hideout for pirates and housed a hidden village of filthy demi-humans. Another said it was a roost for dangerous, lethal monsters, whose skins and fangs could be sold for a pretty sum—a mountain of treasure for those in that business.

Whenever he’d heard it mentioned, the man would brag to his friends that he’d try going there once he got stronger. It might have been a cursed, blasted hellhole, but if one could successfully make a round trip, the guild and other adventurers would acknowledge their skill and prowess. That kind of prestige could land one a government position. And so this young, up-and-coming adventurer eyed this place with both dread and aspiration.

About two years ago, things changed in Wortenia. A noble no one had heard of before popped out of nowhere, receiving the right to govern the Wortenia Peninsula from the Queen of Rhoadseria. It was a bolt from the blue. Most people couldn’t believe a nameless mercenary would be promoted like that. But soon enough, shock turned to mockery once they realized that the noble had been forced to accept the Wortenia Peninsula.

It was an honor in name only. No one could see it as anything but a thinly-veiled attempt at harassment. The Wortenia Peninsula was a very large strip of land, larger than what any one noble would usually govern. But any land, no matter how large it might be, was worthless without people living in it. He would just be a naked king...or rather, a naked lord, with an infertile land that produced nothing and had no people to govern.

Either way, the general opinion of the western continent was that Baron Mikoshiba was a foolish, gullible noble who had been misled by the size of his territory to pull the shortest straw. However, this young man now realized from painful experience just how wrong that perception was.

“He’s a monster... Any man who made that has to be a monster.”

The sight he’d seen from atop a hill flashed in his mind as he spoke, his words both praise and insult. This young man, who was born in a small village in Rhoadseria, had never seen a city of that scale and size in his life. True, he’d been to Pireas once to register at the guild, and this city paled in comparison to Rhoadseria’s capital. His friends also told him of O’ltormea’s capital, which was similar in size.

But the tall, imposing walls, and the large port that seemed to fill the entire shoreline... No one who saw that could remain composed. In addition, at the center of the bay was a construction site, where work on a massive castle was underway. The sight of this large yet functional fortification had overwhelmed the hearts of the young man and his comrades.

“I have to let them know. They have to know about that place...”

No one knew the full extent of what was going on in the Wortenia Peninsula. Baron Mikoshiba refused to have a branch of the guild established in his domain. There was also a checkpoint built on the border of Count Salzberg’s territory, which hardly let anyone pass through.

As a result, the guild received more requests for resources native to the Wortenia Peninsula, and the nearby nobles began recruiting for jobs outside of the guild, asking mercenaries and adventurers to investigate the goings-on within the peninsula.

That was how this young man got this job, but reality was cruel and ruthless.

“That place is a nest of monsters. They killed everyone so they wouldn’t talk.”

Soon after Baron Mikoshiba began governing Wortenia, mercenaries and adventurers sent there began to go missing. At first, people believed they had simply overestimated their power like fools and fell victim to the monsters. This young man knew the real reason behind their disappearances, however. The giant fortress city he’d seen over that hill told him all he needed to know. A man skilled enough to build something like that in such a blasted land in the span of a couple of years had to be a monster. And anyone that talented wouldn’t show their hand easily.

These observations led to this young adventurer’s current predicament. The sense of purpose that drove him to return to his employer and report what he saw spurred him forward. This was the only recompense he could offer his dead comrades as the sole survivor.

Eventually, the road ahead of him opened. That was proof he’d escaped the forest growing along the mountainside and was close to Count Salzberg’s territory. The young man’s body, which had been overcome with fatigue and exhaustion, was filled with one more burst of strength.

Just a little longer. I’m almost there...

Just as he was about to cross the border, a black shadow descended on him from the trees.


A light flashed through the air, and the young man felt something cold skim along his throat. He stopped in his tracks, his hand jumping to his neck. His eyes froze in fear. He felt a moistness between his fingers. Something too viscous and thick to be sweat flowed down his throat.

As he felt the clock that ticked his life away grow duller and slower with each second, he raised his hand, gazing at it with a sinking sense of realization.


Blood gushed from his wound with each beat of his heart. As he gazed at his red-stained hands, he felt something warm build up in his throat. Before long he crumbled to the ground. At some point, a black shadow appeared next to him.

“You came this far. You should consider yourself lucky.”

Wiping their dagger clean with a cloth, the shadow gazed at the adventurer’s corpse with cold, emotionless eyes.

“I know they’re training as hard as they can, but it’s not enough. We should tell Gennou to train them harder.”

The shadow had whispered this, but it was still loud enough for the figure behind them to hear.

“No need to say that, Ryusai. For just a few months’ training, the young ones are quite skilled. If we were to push them too hard, it might just break them instead. And the lord did firmly instruct us not to train them too harshly before he departed, did he not? There’s no need to hurry.”

Heeding the voice of the wrinkled old woman behind him, the shadow turned around. “So you say, O-Ume, but I’d like for them to improve more visibly before the lord returns.” He had used the affectionate prefix with her name, but his voice clearly sounded discontent.

As one of the elders of the Igasaki clan, Ryusai felt exceedingly responsible for the clan’s successes and failures, so he wanted to make the clan seem all the more useful to Ryoma. A shinobi was, effectively, a living tool. And tools only had meaning when there was someone to use them. Conversely, a tool couldn’t even be seen as a tool if no one used it. All it would ever be was an object left to rot. Ryusai knew this, and so he tried to make a show of the Igasaki clan’s value.

“I do understand why you might feel that way, though,” Ume said empathetically. “But of the five intruders, the young ones disposed of four all on their own. I think that alone is worth acknowledging.”

“So you’re saying his skill was surprisingly good?” Ryusai asked, kicking the corpse. From his perspective, he would rank the man lying dead at his feet quite poorly, even if he were to be generous with his assessment. But then again, he did have decades of experience as a ninja.

“I am,” Ume said. “He mingled in with the others, going unnoticed. As a matter of fact, you had to personally dispatch him.”

Ryusai nodded, his expression bitter. The elders were among the most powerful members of the Igasaki clan. Two of them wouldn’t be standing in such a place for no reason.

“True... You might be right, O-Ume.”

“I do think the lord’s training regimen is quite effective. After all, these mere children are already proving themselves as quite skilled ninja.”

“At first I didn’t understand why he told us to allow the spies to cross the border and only eliminate them after,” Ryusai admitted, a resentful smile on his lips.

They couldn’t let outsiders know about how developed the city of Sirius was at this point. One day, it would become a prosperous port known across the continent. But now, with its governor away on the expedition to Xarooda, there was no telling what might happen if news of it were to leak to the outside world. That was why the Igasaki clan worked tirelessly, engaging in counterintelligence and keeping the border closed. The problem, however, was that Ryoma gave them one more order.

“I feel the same way. Allowing spies to encroach on Sirius so they young ones can eliminate them... No one else could come up with such a reckless training method. But letting them experience real combat does make their skills grow more rapidly.”

He ordered the Igasaki clan not to prevent the spies from crossing the border but rather only to eliminate them once they got close enough to Sirius. At first, it didn’t seem like a reasonable order. It skirted a very dangerous line, after all. But the results ended up being quite the opposite.

Had he been at war, Ryoma wouldn’t have issued such a lax order in his absence. But when it came to espionage, this gesture was very significant. A spy’s job was to gather information and return alive to report it. Discovering information only to never share it was meaningless.

Ryoma took advantage of this, electing to make as much use of those spies as possible. By allowing them to journey deep into his land, he made them into prey for his ninja in training. It was a truly cold, cruel, and utilitarian approach that saw human life as a resource to exploit—an almost economical use of other people’s lives. But, as a matter of fact, the idea produced results. The slave children he’d gathered were quickly becoming capable ninja.

“I hear lions teach their young to hunt by weakening their prey. This is much the same,” Ryusai pondered aloud.

“It’s a fine method to get the little ones to acquire the nerve they’ll need,” Ume agreed.

“But I do think we’re approaching the point where this training method is becoming too risky,” Ryusai said.

Ume nodded. “Indeed. We needn’t do away with it right this instant, but... I haven’t told you yet, but there are more spies who successfully gave the little ones the slip and reached close to the border. I have dispatched them myself so far, but I’m beginning to fear I may not be enough.”

“Hmph. Hence why you called me.”

Ryusai heaved a deep sigh. Sure enough, unless their enemies were complete and utter fools, they wouldn’t send in spies continually without adopting some kind of countermeasure.

“Yes, I believe we’ll manage to hold on, but we’ll have to do something about this situation soon.”

If none of their spies returned, the clients and the guild would begin sending more skilled people in. At first, they had employed Rank F and Rank E adventurers, but now they were using more skilled people, some as strong as Rank B. Given time, the Igasaki ninjas would have to contend with Rank A adventurers. At that point, despite their locational advantage, they wouldn’t be able to continuously and consistently dispatch every single person who encroached on their territory—even if they tried to enclose the peninsula entirely.

“We’ll still be fine if they keep sending people of this level... But we can’t assume that they will,” Ryusai warned.

“Well, we can consult the lord about that when he returns.”

Ryusai nodded, looking up to the southern sky. His thoughts wandered to his lord, who was likely reporting the results of his ventures to Queen Lupis Rhoadserians in the capital city of Pireas.

“Incidentally, what of the elves?” Ume asked. She hadn’t been to Sirius in some time, so she wasn’t aware of the state of the city.

“Lord Boltz handles the matter of the elves. As far as I’ve heard, everything is going smoothly?”

“Hm? I thought the elves hated humans, though?”

“That hasn’t changed; they still hate humans,” Ryusai said, a wry smirk on his lips. “But whether they hate the things we produce is another matter.”

Ume’s lips curled up. “Food and alcohol, yes? I suppose elves aren’t that different from humans after all.”

“Some of them even show interest in cigarettes. Yes, I’d say there isn’t as big a difference between us and the elves as we thought. I hear humans and elves can even produce children together.”

Ume nodded. “The results of the trade the lord ordered us to make, yes?”

“I believe so. Be it alcohol or cigarettes, one can easily ignore the temptation as long as they don’t know how sweet those luxuries can be. But once they taste them, it’s hard to resist.”

“Ah, I see...” Ume sighed with amazement.

At Ryoma’s orders, the people of Sirius periodically sent Nelcius small shipments of assorted luxuries. In exchange, the elves would give them surplus ingredients for medicine.

“But eventually... You see?”

“Ah, yes...”

The ingredients the elves gave them did have value. Using Simone’s connections, those ingredients could be circulated to the market, where they’d fetch a good price. But sooner or later, the elves would run out of ways to pay Ryoma. These ingredients were collected from the bodies of powerful monsters that were difficult to hunt down. Others came from plants that could only be collected at certain seasons. For now, they had a surplus to share. But they were bound to run out, at which point the elves would be faced with a choice. They could either do away with the luxuries Ryoma provided them with and return to the lives they led before, or they could come up with another way of paying for them.

And once one knew the sweet taste of such luxuries, they didn’t easily forget it. Being ignorant of them was a blessing, in a way. Much like narcotics, it was hard to resist the taste after the fact. And so, when that time came, the elves would choose to share their knowledge of thaumaturgy as the price.

Ryoma had guided things so this would happen. That was why, in all his past conversations with Nelcius, he never mentioned the secrets of thaumaturgy the elves guarded.

“But that too will have to wait until the lord returns. The last message said he should arrive two days from now, yes?” Ryusai asked.

“Mm. If I recall correctly,” Ume said, nodding.

The curtain of night settled over the city of Sirius. At its center stood an estate, its lights lit even at this late hour.

With the celebrations in Pireas concluded, Ryoma had returned to his domain that afternoon after a year of absence. Once he arrived, he immediately shut himself up in his office and began catching up on his paperwork. As he was now, Ryoma didn’t have a moment to rest.

The very image of a noble, aren’t I? Ryoma thought to himself in self-deprecation.

Ryoma rested his elbows on his desk and leafed through the thick reports piled there. These reports detailed the counterintelligence measures Gennou Igasaki had implemented across the peninsula.

They’re specifically resolving the problematic points one after another, and they’re properly setting priorities. I guess Gennou and Boltz have lived as long as they have for a reason.

Seeing that the results were even better than he expected, Ryoma smiled in satisfaction. Of course, the two of them weren’t civil officials or anything of the sort, so they weren’t particularly good at paperwork. Their reports were by no means well written. Their writing style was the crude, sloppy sort of text of those unused to writing documents. If any of the civil officials working in Rhoadseria’s palace were to see these reports, they would call them scribbles penned by uncultured barbarians. Then they’d nitpick the countless errors and throw them away without a second look.

While there was certainly value in organized, easy-to-read documents, Ryoma didn’t feel it was absolutely essential. What the Wortenia Peninsula needed more than anything right now were people who could build an outline for an ideal organization and form an itinerary that would produce it.

Though Ryoma didn’t have anyone else he could entrust with his domain, Boltz and Gennou were accomplished in their own right. They were familiar with managing and leading a group, and in that regard they were both qualified. They knew how to distinguish between short-term objectives and medium- to long-term goals, how to assign degrees of priority to each one, and how to calculate and manage risks and merits.

These ideas were just as viable in modern society, and indeed, at any point in time. At the higher echelons of society, they were running enterprises as grand as entire countries. On the lower rungs, they applied to units as small as a commoner’s household. Different cultures and time periods might have given it different names, but those ideas were the same no matter the place or time. However, people who understood and knew how to implement those ideas and properly manage an organization were surprisingly hard to come by.

I was right to leave those two in charge.

Both of them had overwhelming life experience as leaders—the wisdom that came with age, as it was often called. And that wisdom was incredibly valuable to Ryoma right now. Gennou had led the Igasaki clan for years, giving him a firm but precise outlook on things. Boltz had supported Lione as her second-in-command in the Crimson Lions mercenary group. Seeing their results, Ryoma was confident he’d made the right choice. If he had to nitpick, he’d simply comment that he wished their handwriting was a bit less crude.

But that’s nothing. Besides, if someone were to tell me to write a report like this, I don’t think I’d have the first idea about how to do it.

Imagining the two of them desperately trying to write a document they weren’t familiar with, a vicious smile overtook Ryoma’s lips—a smile that overlooked the fact he wasn’t any more capable of it than they were.




“Phew, almost done.”

Reading through the last page, Ryoma let out a sigh and stretched. He then handed the report over to Laura, who stood at his side.

“Very well, all that’s left is Simone’s last report,” she said.

“Understood...” Ryoma mumbled, visibly fed-up with the work. Despite this, he accepted Simone’s report without any resistance and began reading it.

A year of absence meant Ryoma had a lot of catching up to do. Now that he’d returned to Wortenia, he knew he’d be spending a good deal of time just dealing with paperwork. Though, he was already growing tired of it. He did understand the importance of that work, however. Ryoma believed in Boltz, Gennou, and his other confidants, but he didn’t unconditionally trust them. There was a difference between faith and blind trust, and he wasn’t going to trust they’d do his job for him.

That’s the difficult part, though...

There was a delicate balance to maintain. Speaking about it too much might make his confidants think he didn’t trust them, resulting in backlash. Then again, neglecting his duty would just make it seem like it didn’t concern him, and that would make the others lose faith in him. This was true in all circles of life, be it family, work, or even society at large. However...

“Once you understand the essence of it, you can implement it. Yeah, I see it now.”

That was something Ryoma’s grandfather, Koichiro, would often say. So often, in fact, that Ryoma had once grown sick and tired of hearing those words. At the time, they’d only struck him as fussy nonsense. But ever since he’d come to this world, Ryoma lost count of the amount of times his grandfather’s ‘nonsense’ had saved his life. Thinking back on it now, Ryoma could only smile sardonically. Life, as it turned out, had an ironic edge to it.

Who would have thought the things Grandpa taught me would be useful here.

As bothersome as it was, this kind of paperwork was a fundamental part of leadership. Shirking it would make one a poor leader. It was a bit like martial arts in the sense that the most advanced and secret feats were built upon the foundation of the basics.

Especially with my wish ahead of me...

As he thought of his final objective, Ryoma felt a jolt of electricity rush down his spine. His objective was so grandiose that a man who had only lived in the peaceful environment of modern Japan would probably never consider it. Though, on the other hand, this was a dream most men harbored at one point or another. Still, everyone knew to treat it as a mere fantasy that would never come to fruition.

And even that wasn’t Ryoma’s end goal. It was only a means for achieving his true wish.

Anyway, let’s do it without getting impatient. I’ve got a long way to go.

Ryoma took a deep breath, calming his billowing emotions. His heart still burned with fires of hatred and ambition, but letting those flames overcome him would only lead to ruin.

“You must be exhausted. I’ll prepare some tea,” Sara suggested.

“Yeah, thanks. I’ll take a break.”

Ryoma nodded and rotated his neck a few times. He was beginning to feel his concentration slip. He fixed his eyes on the papers bundled up on his desk. Parchment was more commonly used in this world, as paper was expensive. Still, given Ryoma’s current finances, he could afford to use paper.

Securing a constant supply of paper was one of the few instructions Ryoma gave Simone, alongside gathering funds for the development of his domain. The fact she was able to successfully secure him that paper was something Ryoma was very grateful for.

But as his eyes scanned over the bottom half of the report’s summary, his expression began to darken.

This isn’t exactly surprising, but I can’t say I like it... I guess everything can’t always go the way I want it to.

In truth, things seemed to go against Ryoma’s wishes more often than not. The fact he was summoned to this world to begin with was a pretty glaring example of this. The problem was that even if things went against his expectations, he could either leave them be or try to adjust the situation so it suited his ends. In that regard, slaying O’ltormea’s court thaumaturgist as soon as he was summoned was an act of rebellion against this world’s indifference and his own bad luck. And killing Gaius Valkland was what essentially led Ryoma to the position he was now in.

While he thought back to his past, Ryoma finished reading the report. But as he put it aside, he furrowed his brows. He’d tasked Simone with supplying his domain with required resources in the form of paper, iron, and lumber, and she had completed this task well. The intelligence agency organized in her company was developing steadily, successfully establishing an intricate intelligence network that gathered information from across the three great countries of the western continent. In other words, Simone’s accomplishments were also satisfactory. Perfect, even...with the exception of one matter.

Taking a sip from the cup on his desk, Ryoma submerged himself in his thoughts.

That’s only half the estimated sum. Well, I wasn’t going to use it any time soon, and the merchant deals are going well, so we’ll probably cover for it, but...

This was one thing he’d ordered Simone to prioritize—gathering funds for his domain’s development. But the amount didn’t meet his requests. The sum in the report was 30,000 gold coins. That was only half of what Ryoma requested from Simone when they met before he left for Xarooda. The real problem, however, was that the document didn’t have an explanation for this discrepancy.

I doubt there was a problem with Simone’s management skills.

Simone had already proven that her business management skills were superb. While at first the Simone Company only had two galleons, that number had increased to eight ships, all sailing the northern shores of the continent, loaded with merchandise to sell.

With the pact forged between Helnesgoula and the three kingdoms of the east, their trading sphere had increased substantially. It wasn’t free trade yet, but business had increased greatly and prices had fallen. The environment had become much more conducive to business.

But that also meant competition with other companies had grown more fierce. Helnesgoula and Myest had proven to be quite quick-witted, forming state-sanctioned unions among their most influential merchants. This had increased the production, export, and import of local products. At the sight of this lucrative business opportunity, everyone was keen to make a profit. The only ones not riding this wave were Xarooda and Rhoadseria, which lacked influential ports along the coastline. The merchants of those countries gave up on sea trade and instead scrambled to find good land routes.

Even in that situation, the Simone Company made reliable and consistent profit, so one couldn’t claim that Simone was a poor merchant. This only made the insufficient funds all the more baffling. The warning Julianus I gave him in Xarooda once again surfaced in his mind.

I have a bad feeling about this.

There was nothing to guarantee that warning was somehow related to this case. There wasn’t even anything to support Julianus I’s words to begin with. But Ryoma’s intuition was trying to alert him.

There was probably a reason Simone didn’t list an explanation for the missing sum.

The question is whether she didn’t write it because she didn’t want to or because she couldn’t. I have to ask her about this...

The clock on the wall displayed the time—1 in the morning. Not the most appropriate time to beckon a young woman over, but Ryoma didn’t have much of a choice. Something was telling him he was on the verge of a turning point, one that would greatly influence future events for him.

It must be about that matter...

Despite receiving a sudden summons late at night, Simone’s expression didn’t betray any signs of confusion. She’d offered explanations and details for every matter she’d reported, with the exception of one. Given Ryoma’s personality, she could easily imagine he’d be intent on asking her what happened.

I’ll admit I didn’t expect him to call me at this time of night, though. I suppose I misjudged him. But this works out well. There was something I wanted to ask him too.

Simone had assumed he would call for her during the day, but apparently that matter drew Ryoma’s full attention. Even if some part of her did anticipate this possibility, she was still a woman who had been woken up and ordered to prepare for a meeting. Her hand jumped to her hair, which wasn’t quite set to her liking since she had been rushed.

A sentinel at the door to Ryoma’s office announced her arrival. “Miss Simone Christof is here to see you. Shall I let her through?”

The sentinel watching his office today was a young soldier, his face still visibly boyish. His conduct, however, was that of a skilled, trained soldier.

He’s even taught those children etiquette. I’m impressed.

Their quality didn’t quite match that of a trueborn servant in service to a high-ranking noble house, but the gap wasn’t significant. By the very nature of her work, Simone often visited nobles, and from her perspective, the guards and servants of Ryoma’s estates greeted her in a manner that was acceptable enough.

What’s more, despite his age, this soldier was undoubtedly quite skilled. Of all the soldiers in the Wortenia Peninsula, who had all learned to wield martial thaumaturgy, he had been selected to guard the ruler’s office. Anyone handpicked for this position must have been both loyal and qualified.

“Yes, let her through,” a feminine, chime-like voice responded from the inside.

The sentinel gently opened the door, and Simone stepped inside. There was a large desk set in front of the room’s window. A towering heap of papers was sitting on top of it, filling her field of vision. But what truly drew the most attention was the room’s owner.

It’d been some time since she’d last seen him, but Ryoma’s face was as serene and calm as ever. Standing at his back, like shadows stretching behind him, were two twins—one with silver hair, the other blonde.

Always by his side, like guard dogs...




Something akin to envy bubbled up in Simone’s heart. She cracked a smile, but it was forced. She was perhaps displeased that Ryoma had never once tried to woo her the same way he did them.

“My apologies for calling you so late,” Ryoma said, motioning for her to take a seat on a nearby sofa.

“Oh, I don’t mind,” Simone replied as she settled into her seat. It was a rather luxurious piece of furniture and quite comfortable to sit on.

No good... I have to focus on work.

She stifled her feminine disgruntlement, straightened out her skirt, and then turned a serious gaze at the young man sitting opposite her.

“I know I was the one who called you here, and you did arrive surprisingly fast, but...judging by things, it doesn’t look like you knew I’d call you tonight.” Simone was dressed well enough to appear in public, but Ryoma could tell she had done only the bare minimum. He noticed her hair was still slightly disheveled. “I see, looks like asking you directly was the right idea.”

“Yes, I thought it’d be for the best if I made time for you as soon as possible. But I didn’t think you’d call for me so soon after returning.” Despite the unusual time, her words didn’t contain any displeasure. In fact, Simone very much praised Ryoma’s quick thinking and decisiveness.

“Again, sorry about that. I wasn’t sure if I should call you this soon either, but Xarooda’s king warned me about something.”

“Warned you?”

“Yes. And I had a feeling whatever you’re going to tell me now might just be related to it.”

Simone’s expression turned quizzical. He was being oddly evasive. Why was he beating around the bush?

“What do you mean?” she asked.

Xarooda’s king, Julianus I—the Mediocre King. What had he told Ryoma? Rhoadseria eyed the decisions he’d made during this war quite coldly. Simone herself had her doubts about him too.

I’m surprised he really accepted that truce and backed off. For starters, ending the war at that point would make the initial plans fall apart...

Something about that decision felt off, as if something didn’t quite fit. At least, that was Simone’s impression of the war. But Ryoma’s next words made it clear he had no intention of answering those doubts.

“I think I know what you’re going to ask, Simone. Lione’s been pestering me about it the whole time, actually. I’m sorry, but I can’t answer that right now. It’ll have to wait. I’ll need to explain it to Boltz and Gennou later down the line, anyway.”

With the lord of the land telling her that, Simone had no choice but to nod wordlessly, albeit reluctantly.

“Anyway, the hour being as late as it is, let’s get started...”

Simone calmly answered Ryoma’s questions. Their conversation lasted until morning.


In almost every society that had advanced past a certain cultural level, money was essentially a weapon and a tool of unlimited power and utility. No... Money was more than just a weapon. Money could be converted into anything—food, clothing, knowledge, time...and even a person’s very life. Some things couldn’t be obtained with money, however. That much was true. But without money, one couldn’t obtain anything. It was, in many ways, the ultimate power.

That doesn’t change in any world. Well, assuming that world invented the concept of currency. It’s a good thing this one has done so.

Ryoma couldn’t deny the hypothetical existence of some world where culture didn’t have any idea of money or its value. After all, his very presence in this world was absurd enough as it was.

Resting his chin on his hands, Ryoma listened to the meeting while rolling the golden, shining coins in his hands.

Now that’s a good feeling. Nothing else quite like it.

Gold had a distinctive sort of weight to it, and the coldness unique to metal made Ryoma’s lips naturally curl into a smile. Unlike paper money, coins were heavy and hard to carry around, but they had a satisfying sense of presence and importance that bills couldn’t hope to emulate.

“So let me get this straight... What yer saying is that the whole time, ya were after money?” Lione’s voice echoed through the room designated as their meeting room.

A round table was set up on a black carpet, where the ruler of the Wortenia Peninsula and his subordinates were gathered. As one of them, Lione spent most of the meeting slouched over her chair, listening silently. But when Ryoma finished telling about his exchange with Simone, she was the first to speak up.

She looks like she’s in a bad mood. That’s to be expected, I suppose... It feels like something she’d do.

The problem was the reason behind her disgruntled reaction. As a mercenary, Lione’s anger was justified. As a commander on the battlefield, she was also justified. But what Ryoma expected out of her wasn’t that shallow of a perspective. And truly, he expected the same out of everyone else.

Though, I think Lione might actually have an inkling...

Otherwise, she absolutely would have gotten angry with him. And with her short temper, if she’d been honestly angry, she would have stormed out of the room by now. The fact that she had the sense and discretion to not do so proved she was willing to listen.

Simone, on the other hand, regarded Lione’s words with apprehension. Collecting funds was indeed a means to an end, and Ryoma didn’t go on the expedition to Xarooda solely for that reason.

“Miss Lione, I think what you just said was a touch faulty. My role is to secure funds and supplies, but that’s not everything to Sir Ryoma,” Simone explained.

Lione frowned at Simone’s calm reasoning. She likely understood what Simone had meant to at least some extent.

I didn’t lie to anyone, though, Ryoma thought. If nothing else, he’d never lied to Lione. Maybe he’d neglected to explain everything, but she couldn’t claim he’d outright deceived her. If there was a reason to blame Ryoma, it was for one thing: that he didn’t disclose all of his plans.

“I think I see. Like the lad said back then, it was to make a show of our power to the surrounding countries and buy time for Xarooda,” said Boltz, who had been sitting next to Lione silently with his arms crossed.

“Yes, Sir Ryoma wasn’t lying when he said that,” Simone added. “It was imperative he go on the expedition for those reasons.”

“But he didn’t tell us the full story, did he?” Boltz asked.

Simone nodded. “Put concisely, that’s what it comes down to...”

“I see... So who’s to say there aren’t any more secret reasons?” Boltz said, casting a gaze of profound significance in Ryoma’s direction.

“Oh no, don’t worry, there are no more secrets,” Ryoma said.

Sensing the meaning behind his words, Boltz smiled. “Well, I see... It’s like Miss Simone said, then. I suppose we never did ask,” he said. Then he laughed grandly, shaking his head in an exaggerated manner. He undoubtedly did it out of consideration for Lione, who looked primed to get mad.

“Fine, fine,” Lione eventually said with a sigh. “I don’t much like it, but I suppose I didn’t ask...”

Seeing her second-in-command acting like that convinced her to back down. Boltz was right; they didn’t ask him for his reasons, so he wasn’t obligated to answer. He hadn’t told any lies. Lione probably knew Ryoma would say that, so she reluctantly decided to agree.

“Then let’s return to the subject at hand. Ya didn’t gather us here early in the mornin’ just to talk about that, did ya? And honestly, I’ve got some questions for ya, boy. All sorts of questions.”

Feeling Lione’s gaze on him, Ryoma lightly shrugged. He’d imagined she would have a lot to ask. He knew he’d neglected to explain things properly to them, and he felt a pang of guilt about that.

Ryoma nodded. “You want to ask about Julianus I?” This was a question Lione had persistently asked him about at every turn—something he’d avoided answering.

“Aye. What did that old man tell ya the night before we left Xarooda?”

“What are you talking about...?” Boltz looked at Lione incredulously.

Several other people seated at the round table looked at her the same way, and every gaze in the room was fixed on her. Lione, however, kept her eyes fixed on Ryoma, silently pressuring him.

“Don’t try to tell me nothin’ happened. I could tell something was wrong from the way ya looked that night.” Her tone demanded an answer. It was clear she’d had enough of putting up with Ryoma’s evasive attitude.

I suppose it’s as good a chance as any... It was a long story, and a complicated one at that. Ryoma honestly wasn’t sure where to start.

“Well...I figure this would be a good chance to explain.”

Ryoma heaved a deep sigh and parted his lips to speak.

“King Julianus told me this war...or rather, most if not all of the wars taking place on this continent are being influenced by the intentions of a certain group.”

The silence that followed was as loud as a bomb dropping.

Lione gazed at him with a stupefied expression. “Huh? What the hell...?”

She wasn’t the only one to react like this either. Everyone else looked at Ryoma with shock. The only ones not visibly surprised were the Malfist sisters, who sat to Ryoma’s left and right, and Simone.




“I mean, I don’t expect you to believe something like this when I just drop it out of the blue,” Ryoma said.

Their reactions were natural for such a revelation. In fact, Ryoma wouldn’t want to associate with anyone who’d blindly believe such a statement without any previous information.

Heavy, suffocating silence settled over the room. From their perspective, Ryoma’s words were lunacy.

“W-Well, I say we hear the lad out, yes?” Boltz managed to suggest, albeit with some difficulty.

Despite his misgivings, Boltz was giving Ryoma the benefit of the doubt. However, apprehension and suspicion were still clear in his eyes. Ryoma did understand where he was coming from, though.

“Thanks, Boltz. Then, back to what I was saying,” Ryoma continued, looking around and confirming that everyone had calmed down. “Let me start off with this. I’m not swallowing the king’s story blindly here. Honestly speaking, calling it absurd would be an understatement.”

Everyone sitting around the table nodded firmly at those words. Sara and Laura, who had already heard all this from Ryoma, were among them.

“That’s why, after he’d told me about this, I didn’t share it with anyone. I’ll be real here. I was asking myself if the old man had lost his marbles. But on the way back from Xarooda, I thought things through. Maybe what he said wasn’t completely crazy. I mean, if nothing else, someone on O’ltormea’s side definitely wanted to draw out this conflict.”

“Meaning?” Boltz asked.

Ryoma gave a quick nod. “The first point is how Joshua Belares prolonged O’ltormea’s invasion for almost a year.”

Joshua was definitely a skilled tactician—Ryoma would go so far as to vouch for that. His father had formed the privateer unit, consisting of villains and knaves, but they all regarded Joshua with respect and admiration. His capacity as a leader and commander was great, and his knowledge of the border’s mountain terrain was comprehensive.

But after hearing Julianus I’s warning and thinking things through more carefully, Ryoma noticed a few suspicious points. Blocking the enemy’s supply chain was a basic, rudimentary strategy. O’ltormea’s side had to have known that just as well as Ryoma and Joshua did. So would they have acted without precaution? No, they would have taken suitable measures to counter Joshua’s raiding tactics. Even so, most of Joshua’s raids were successful—not all of them, perhaps, but enough of them to slow the invasion army’s charge. Ryoma did believe Joshua’s excellent capabilities were what afforded him this achievement. But on closer inspection, he realized this reason couldn’t explain everything.

“So yer thinking someone on O’ltormea’s side was feedin’ Xarooda information?” Lione asked.

“Well, creating allies within the enemy’s ranks is as basic a strategy as they come,” Ryoma said, nodding. Then he turned his gaze toward Gennou. “Though I’d figure you and Ryusai would be experts on that.”

“I see... Your words are not without merit, milord. But based on what Sakuya tells me, I doubt anyone in Xarooda is that skilled at subterfuge.”

The members of the Igasaki clan nodded, their expressions clearly unconvinced. If Xarooda had a good enough spymaster or an intelligence organization working for them, perhaps they wouldn’t have been cornered as badly as they were. The fact they did nothing in the face of the coming danger implied they lacked any such intelligence agency. If they did have that kind of spy network, it must have been quite diminutive and weak.

Ryoma’s analysis brought him to the same conclusion. “Yes, that’s why I thought Joshua’s talent was how they managed to hang on.”

Schemes were a fundamental part of war, but it was difficult to use them effectively. One would need to build a vast, intricate intelligence network, operated by multiple skilled individuals. Most important of all, one’s operatives would need to be both loyal and devoted. But Xarooda exhausted much of its national power due to internal strife, meaning it didn’t have the strength to create such a force. The only way to compensate for that was to admit the disproportionate gap between the two countries’ strength and embark on unconventional warfare—which is what General Belares once did, with Joshua subsequently following in his footsteps.

“But I think that’s the wrong answer,” Ryoma admitted.

Ryoma had spoken to Joshua after the war ended and learned that the extent of his espionage efforts was to send spies into the enemy’s ranks to sniff out information. Other than that, he didn’t have anyone planted within O’ltormea’s inner circle. Of course, Ryoma had no definitive proof Joshua wasn’t lying to him. But he did realize that planting someone that deeply into O’ltormea’s ranks would have been difficult, given how backed against the wall they were. Xarooda had nothing to offer to a potential traitor anyway, which narrowed things to one conclusion.

“Yer sayin’ someone on O’ltormea’s side—and someone involved in the invasion force’s command, at that—leaked information on purpose?” Lione asked.

Ryoma nodded. “I mean, think about it. The way their army was stalled for so long feels off. It’s unnatural.”

By comparison, the skilled display of strategy that claimed the life of General Belares, revered as Xarooda’s Guardian Deity, during the first battle was much more impressive. It felt as if O’ltormea had completely changed its direction for the remainder of the war.

“At first, I thought someone inside the empire might be trying to sabotage Shardina’s efforts. You know, a political struggle over the throne. Stuff like that feels like it’s par for the course with them.”

Shardina Eisenheit was the emperor’s eldest daughter as well as his favored child. He’d likely trusted her more than her brother, the crown prince. It was perfectly possible someone within the O’ltormean court might have resented Shardina over that and attempted to make her fail. This was only speculation on Ryoma’s part, but everyone present agreed it was plausible.

“Wait just a minute though, lad. What you just said is your theory about the inner workings in O’ltormea. How did what King Julianus say fit into this?” Boltz asked, trying to put the facts together. He was clearly doubtful.

“Yes, I understand why you’d ask that. It’s merely a possibility given the antagonism within O’ltormea’s regime. But let me finish, and I think you’ll understand what I mean.”

“And that’s related to you orderin’ Simone to gather funds?” Lione asked.

“Yeah. I set Simone a goal of one hundred thousand gold coins. We’ll be putting it to use for the coming war.”

“One hundred thousand golds...?” Lione, who hadn’t heard of this before, stood agape. “That’s, well... That’s freakin’ crazy...”

When converted to yen, that sum would be roughly one hundred billion yen—more than most people would ever achieve in a lifetime. Ryoma, however, stated it unflinchingly.

“There’s nothing to be shocked about. Given my final objective, that kind of loose change isn’t enough to cover the costs.”

As a practical matter, Ryoma needed all the money he could get right now. One hundred thousand gold coins would only cover the development and maintenance of the Wortenia Peninsula. That wouldn’t be enough to move forward.

Lione eyed him skeptically. “And you two seriously think you can scrounge up that kind of money?”

Everyone else seemingly felt the same way. Having an objective to strive for was fine, but an unrealistic goal would get them nowhere. Speaking reasonably, collecting one hundred thousand gold coins would be difficult for Ryoma right now.

As if waiting for someone to voice those doubts, Simone finally spoke up. “Yes, if all goes as planned, gathering those kinds of funds should be well within the realm of possibility.”

“All goes as planned? What plan?”

“Yes, Xarooda and O’ltormea... If we use the war between those two countries, it should be perfectly feasible.”

Lione eyed Simone quizzically.

Yeah, makes sense she’d react that way. Profiteering off a war isn’t something people in this world tend to consider. But that means...

The fact that Lione and everyone else reacted that way proved to Ryoma that his suspicions were correct. There was a good chance people with the same kind of knowledge as he had might be instigating this.

“I’ll have to make a move...” Ryoma whispered to himself as Simone’s explanation echoed through the meeting room.

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