Time and space changes to focus on Reiji's party.
Klant City is a blessed habitat. It has the same climate found in the middle of the Aster Kingdom and a spring from the northern the mountain range. Its only fault is that because it is close to the national border, living there comes at a great risk. Various battles are said to have been waged there hundreds of years ago. However, due to the highway connecting it to the Empire and Sardius Alliance, it's also a prosperous place with an abundant circulation of money.
Metal's capital city's respect for traditional customs and its proper maintenance lets the people live comfortable lives. The city also preserves a solid defense. The castle walls as of late are being refurbished with the newly discovered anti-magic material. Furthermore, the military is being augmented as a check to the Empire's military force. After all, during emergencies, this fortress, being so close to the border, is Aster Kingdom's second line of defense.
Reiji and his party have lodgings near the edge of this commercial bastide. Hadrias invited them after Rajas's defeat and threw them a triumphant parade upon arrival. Reiji was praised by the public for defeating the mazoku army, but to him, the lie everyone celebrated brought him false honor.
Reiji, Mizuki, and Titania sit in a circle on the sofa inside an inn's room. Mizuki gulps a glass of rose water and lets out a sigh. "That parade was amazing."
"Yeah, they might have even spent more money for this one than the one in Metal."
This parade lasted for three days whereas Metal's only took one. It was undoubtedly large scale.
Mizuki says without much thought, "I just realized this because of the parade, but Klant City is pretty rich… Although, it is the result of that guy's work."
"Duke Hadrias is a powerful aristocrat who governs over a vast amount of land including Klant City. His wealth and military might make his authority second to none within the Aster Kingdom."
Mizuki makes a complicated expression as she glances out the window at Titania's answer. Hadrias governs over a city that, in terms of size, is second only to the royal capital. Three things stand out to them about him when they reflect on the past few days. He has the military strength to face a mazoku general, the financial power to host a large scale parade, and the political authority to host said parade. Not only can he do all that, but he also possesses the drive to make them happen.
"But is doing all this really alright? I didn't actually do anything…" Everyone contributed to Rajas's subjugation. Giving me all of the credit is too much."
"Actually, Reiji-sama… Please forgive me, but I also agree. Making this your deed benefits my country."
"Yeah, I understand." Hadrias used the mazoku's defeat to inspire the public's withering moral. Titania, aware of the circumstances, approved of Hadrias's scheme to host the large scale parade. Reiji also understands the situation, but is also aware to how little he actually contributed to that battle. If anything, he's like a hyena snatching away someone else's glory.
Mizuki voices her cynicism, "What a typical story. Using someone else's feats to boost your own image. How typical of the aristocracy. If it increases your country's standing internationally, then why not?"
"You are absolutely right. That is why you cannot be negligent when dealing with Hadrias-kyo. He did not hesitate to use Suimei, Reiji-sama's friend, for his own political goals. Not even the Empire's princess, Graziela, was above his grasp." Titania adds, "I shall say this once more. Do not take him lightly."
She is extremely wary about Hadrias. When Reiji first met him, he got a bad vibe off of him. Now, he's fairly certain he hates the man. Reiji, while having such thoughts, asks, "Say, Tia, about Suimei and the caravan being used as a decoy, what are your thoughts about that? Suimei is my friend, but in regards to the Aster Kingdom's citizens…."
"In all honesty, I am torn over this matter. When I consider the harm the mazoku forces could have inflicted, I find myself agreeing with the decision. However, that is not something I want to do." With that said, Titania lowers her head.
Both Reiji and Mizuki raise their voices at Titania's unexpected bow. "Eh!" Huh?" Overcome by surprise, neither are able to speak properly.
Titania continues, "Reiji-sama, Mizuki, please forgive me. I also thought that was a good strategy when I first heard it."
"No, it's fine. Your position forces you to have different perspective from us. You think so too, right, Mizuki?"
"…Yeah." Mizuki's eyes glance downward as she gives a reluctant agreement. Her mouth droops as she stares out the window. Suimei was one of her earliest friends. They weren't dating, but such a development could have happened. "Suimei-kun, we never did find him."
"Don't worry so much. There's no doubt that Suimei is safe."
"Because he's cunning?"
"That's right, and besides, don't you remember what sensei said?"
Reiji recalls Felmenia's parting words. "—Suimei-dono is surely fine." Then again, she could have said that out of concern for their anxiety.
"White Flame-dono's voice did sound off. If we take that into consideration, then there is a possibility that she knows something we do not. She herself might even be tracking Suimei's footsteps."
"Tracking his footsteps? How?"
"With magic… White Flame-dono is an unprecedented spellcaster from my country who wields magic never before achieved."
Mizuki recalls Felmenia's lessons at Titania's words. The reminder also results in Reiji striking his hands together.
A modest knock resounds from the door. Loffry's voice soon follows. "Excuse me, Reiji-sama, may I enter?"
"Loffry? Sure, that's fine."
"Excuse m- Wait, Titania-sama! Fo- Forgive my intrusion!"
Reiji wonders if something is wrong with Loffry. He opened the door and jumped with shock. He's so confused, he's practically foaming bubbles out of his mouth as he lowers his head in shame. The most likely explanation is that he's come to a ridiculous conclusion that Reiji and Titania were alone together.
Titania gives a small sigh upon realizing his misunderstanding. "No, everything is fine. Mizuki is also present."
"Huh? Oh, she really is…" Loffry speaks while making a dumbfounded expression. The moment of silence that follows provides everyone a momentary relief.
Mizuki then leans towards him while making a mischievous smile. "Say~ Loffry-san, just what were you imagining?"
"Huh? N-No! I wasn't think anything strange!"
"Oh? I never mentioned the word 'strange'."
"A-ahwawawawa….." Loffry looks left and right as he realizes he dug his own grave.
Reiji, feeling pity for man, gives him a hand by saying, "Mizuki." She then confesses, with a smile that fuses mischief with sincerity, that she was only teasing him.
Reiji says, "Loffry, did something happened?"
"Yes, an envoy has arrived from Duke Hadrias."
–That Cute Star that I Still Can't Make, Sorry–
Reiji finds Hadrias's unexpected envoy waiting in the lobby. He follows the messenger to outside a private room within the Duke's manor. Beyond those doors is Hadrias waiting to greet him with his usual hard expression. There's music playing. Somewhere inside must be a musician. The murmurs echoing out from behind the door are brought to a gentle end.
Reiji, while taking in everything, resolves himself to greet the lord of the manor. His opponent is Hadrias. Before leaving the inn, Titania warned him to be careful while Mizuki said she'd pray for his safety. He was also told that this request is unreasonable and that he should refuse the invitation.
Reiji shakes his head at the thought. Inside that private room is a sly aristocrat, one Titania warned Reiji to stay vigilant against. He's only guessing, but he gets a feeling that he will be meeting with Hadrias very often in the future. Therefore, he can't just say he doesn't want to meet him. Instead, he should take the initiative to see what kind of man Lucas D. Hadrias really is.
That's why—, Reiji once more resolves his heart and knocks on the door.
Hadrias, upon confirming Reiji's identity, gives a curt, "Enter."
Reiji says, "Excuse me," while opening the door. The room he walks into is a luxurious parlor. The greeting he gives while stepping forward is brief and to the point.
Hadrias, seated elegantly on his chair, stares at Reiji who stands before the door. "Yuusha-dono, won't you have a seat?"
"In my country, first time visitors wait for the head of the house to recommend where they should sit. I am uncomfortable breaking this custom."
The sharpness in Hadrias's presence weakens a bit as he voices his wonder. He says, "Hou, respect is held in high regard within Yuusha-dono's country. Then, is it necessary that I recommend a seat for you as well?" While glancing towards a glass filled with a red liquid on the opposite end of the table.
"Is this alcohol?"
"Grape wine, the taste isn't bad."
Not bad? Regardless, "I appreciate your hospitality, but I'll have to refuse…"
"Are you unable to drink alcohol?"
"People must reach a certain age before they can consume alcohol in my country… I will have to refrain from drinking in order to stay in compliance with those laws."
Hadrias, at Reiji's tactful rejection, drinks from his glass. "Hmm, is there a reason for such a law?"
"The human body cannot properly process alcohol until around the age of 20. That alcohol goes on to inhibit the body's development. Therefore, those laws were passed to protect the people."
Hadrias stares at his glass of wine at Reiji's explanation. "To think that drinking the goddess's blood could have such an effect. But to go so far as to ban the drinking of alcohol… No, perhaps the intention is to nurture the capabilities of the populace?"
Hadrias forgets about Reiji as he stares at his glass and murmurs to himself. Reiji, seeing Hadrias lost in thought, asks, "Why did you invite me?"
"Why, I merely wanted to speak with you for a bit."
"This isn't the right atmosphere for an enjoyable conversation."
"Fuu, excuse me for that." The reason for his apology is obvious. Hadrias, ever since Reiji entered the room, had been electrifying the atmosphere. Upon having it pointed out, he displays a smile full of contempt, as though his apology were but an empty gesture.
Reiji feels that this is the utmost leeway Hadrias will grant to his behavior. It's the leeway granted by the strong. The only reason he's going this far for Reiji is because he's the Yuusha.
Hadrias scrutinizes his wine with an indiscriminative stare. He narrows his eyes in appreciation of the drink and asks, "Yuusha-dono, why did you accept our request to subjugate the Demon Lord?"
"To save the people of this world." Reiji gives the same response he gave to Almadias. His reason for accepting this request still hasn't changed.
"You wish to save the people of this world despite having no reason to do so? You stand to gain nothing by doing this. Yet, despite aware of this outcome, you still say that?"
"What are you trying to say, your Excellency?"
"You misunderstand. I am merely inquiring to the origin of your selfless decision."
Reiji wonders what Hadrias is trying to learn from that question. It's a strange inquiry. From the merciful look Hadrias sends, Reiji is unable to discern his true intentions. Hadrias is like a falcon waiting for a moment of weakness to appear. Whatever reason he's asking such a question reeks of ulterior motives.
Hadrias finds amusement in Reiji's confusion and releases a dry laugh. "Well, that's fine. Let me ask again, Yuusha-dono, what kind of place was your world?"
"Yes, how would you compare this one to your own?"
Reiji wonders if he really should compare the two worlds. He had a similar discussion in the royal castle with Almadias, but this time— "The biggest difference between my world and this one is technological development. Even though this world has magic, it can't compare the convenience of my world's technology."
"Technological… development? Does it have something to do with the prohibition on alcohol you mentioned?"
Hadrias, at Reiji's "Yes," for some reason looks out the window. While gazing at the scenery, he says, "Yuusha-dono, what do you think about this world?"
"It's nothing like my world, but it's a good world."
"A good world, you say…?" Disappointment laces Hadrias's tone. Despite the intent behind his questions still being unknown, he asks another, "Yuusha-dono, what do you see beyond this window?"
Reiji wonders if he's being asked to look out the window. The scene is one viewed from only three stories up, but the town and people are still within view. Street lights flicker and illuminate the various houses of Klant as dusk washes over the city. Off in the distance, he recognizes the glittering blue and green lights that distinguish the pleasure district. "What do you mean?"
"This world hasn't moved forward at all in the hundreds of years that have gone by. Everyone rests at the same time, goes to work at the same time, falls in love at the same time, has children at the same time, and dies at the same time. Technological development is at a complete standstill, countries rise and fall through war and diplomacy, and the people are stuck with their same ways of thinking. Progress no longer flows here." Hadrias concludes in a cold tone by adding, "This world is nothing more than the goddess's personal garden."
Reiji wonders if sorrow or grief is what motivates Hadrias's words. There is a connection between cultural development and human nature, and people want that which they do not own, but that isn't the same as desiring something that is impossible.
"Do you, the Yuusha who comes from a developed world, still think this is a good world?"
"Everyone lives in peace. Does anything more than that really matter? Change without reason creates conflict. Even in my world, that's something we weren't able to remove."
Reiji uses Hadrias's silence to think.
"— This is a bit sudden, but Yuusha-dono, go visit the Empire after this."
"Within the Empire— Princess Graziela has begun to take action. By taking up residence there, you'll be able to curtail her movements for a bit." Hadrias makes a decisive statement. His tone leaves no room for argument despite conflicting with Reiji's plans.
"Is that an order?"
"Except, I have no obligation towards you. My mission is to subjugate the Demon Lord, Nakshatra."
"That certainly is the case. -Except, Yuusha-dono, I've heard that you hurried here because of Gregory?" Electricity runs through the room at Hadrias's words. Naturally, that is nothing more than Reiji's feelings.
"Is that— Are you threatening me?"
"Fuu—, feel free to interpret it that way. However, a formal investigation was never held so there is nothing backing what I just said. Whatever you are thinking is a baseless accusation."
"—Che! Not only did you use my friend as a decoy, now you say this!!"
"That was nothing more than sacrificing a small piece to save the whole. As for your friend, wait a little longer before making any such statements. We're still searching for him. We'll be able to discover if he's alive or dead once we find his trail. So far, there haven't been any reports." Hadrias snorts as though what he says is a trivial matter. "More likely than not, he's probably dead."
"How dare you speak like that…"
As Reiji's anger exceeds his boiling point, Hadrias says, "What? I'm merely stating a possibility."
"Don't you feel the slightest bit of guilt towards what you did to Suimei?"
"If I say yes, will you calm down?"
"—Che!" That reply is unforgivable to Reiji. He grits his teeth and glares at Hadrias. The etiquette he was displaying vanishes as he loses himself to fury.
Yet, Hadrias continues with no regard to Reiji's anger. "I believe his name was Suimei Yakagi? He was just unlucky. I'll be troubled if you get angry at me."
"Bastard—!!" Reiji can't contain himself any longer as his fist flies forward. Nothing holds him back anymore. The consequence to his actions barely register in his mind.
Hadrias catches Reiji's fist.
"Fuun…" Hadrias isn't even interested by what just happened.
This man… Even though Reiji didn't put all of his strength behind that blow, it was still an explosive punch powered by the divine blessing granted to those summoned to save the world. It had all that and Hadrias stopped it without batting an eye.
Hadrias casts Reiji aside and looks back out the window. "You aren't focused enough. The way you are now, you're no where near ready to face the Demon Lord. To become stronger, you'll need to gain a lot more experience. Now, about the Empire—"
Reiji wonders if he has any room to argue. Hadrias implies something will happen to Gregory if he doesn't.
"… I'll go to the Empire. But keep your hands off of Gregory and his family. Now, about Suimei."
"I will continue the search as promised. As the Yuusha-dono's friend, he's a very valuable pawn."
"You bastard…" Reiji can't believe Hadrias is still saying that. However, there is nothing he can do with his weak point taken hostage. He's frustrated, but the only form of resistance he can display now is to leave in silence. Just as he grips the doorknob,
"—Yuusha-dono, there's still one thing I need to tell you."
"From now on, you will be encountering many enemies. Not all of them will be human."
Reiji wonders why he's being told this. I couldn't be… "Are you calling me naïve because of what I asked Rajas?"
"No, hearing that was a relief for me."
"Eh–?" Reiji didn't expect those words from Hadrias. He expected criticism for asking the mazoku their reason for waging war against humanity.
"Yuusha-dono, this world is different from yours. You need to adapt your way of thinking to match this place's. That's why, in your future battles against mazoku, don't distract yourself by pondering if what you're doing is right or wrong."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm talking about that being. That being attacks humanity for no reason. Many speculate that that prominent being exists solely to destroy humanity along with all the other races."
"Speculation of a prominent being? What are you…"
"That isn't something you need to know about at the moment. Your question is meaningless." Hadrias concludes with those words.
In the end, Reiji can't tell if he was given advice or a warning. "… Well, is that everything?"
"Just one more thing."
Reiji cannot figure out Hadrias's aim. He already asked this much, yet still has more to say?
Hadrias looks back out the window as he asks, "Yuusha-dono, what do you wish to obtain once your battle is over?"
"Nothing, I don't want anything."
"Status, fame, wealth, women. You do understand that you could have anything you want from the entire world?"
"How annoying. I don't care for any of that. I'm not fighting to improve my position in life."
"Really? In that case, I have nothing more to ask. For now, use this time up until you venture for the Empire to rest."
Reiji turns his back to Hadrias and leaves without a word.
"The summoned Yuusha…."
…Hadrias watches Reiji's return to his inn from a second floor window. The expression with which he watches is one of misgiving. He looks up to the darkening twilight sky and asks him another question, "Yuusha Reiji, what are your thoughts about this world? When you said this was a good world, were those your honest feelings? Do you really feel that way about this rotten world? A world that, thanks to the goddess, has no future—?"
T/N: And finished. You know, I should probably stop promising to finish a chapter per week. That's obviously not happening and I get the feeling saying that is only going to jinx me. Well, I'll keep doing what I can while I can. Anyway, if Reiji really doesn't want anything after saving the world, I have a few suggestions. To go home. Wait, that can't be done? Okay then, Hadrias's head on a silver platter.
In other news, a bit back I wrote the first draft of my novel. My inspirations for it were OSO and .Hack. Anyway, enough time has gone by that I'm finally able to start editing it. In all honesty, it isn't that good, but I don't care. I wrote it and my biased opinion is that it's amazing! I just wanted a moment to brag about it, that's all.
Thanks for reading,