By the next day, “Uhh...” I wearily propped myself up on the bed.
I sifted through the white sheet covered in numerous pleats and sat on the bed-side. My head nodded occasionally. My mind was light, my thoughts muddled. I began stretching my limbs as I yawned. As my arm plopped back to my side, a sense drowsiness rushed to my heavy eyelids. I almost fell back to the bed, but I resisted. Until then, I found myself staring at the cuckoo-clock on the opposite side of the room.
Six in the morning… So this world has twenty-four hours a day too huh.
The thought passed my mind in a half-asleep state, but I recognized the time I usually rise from bed. Six in the morning, or sometimes earlier. It was what my body-clock was accustomed to. After all, the day starts earlier in the province.
A few minutes after, I stood and approached the wardrobe. I reached for the handle to check for the kimono I wore yesterday. Upon seeing the neatly folded tea-green cloth, I heaved a sigh.
“So it really wasn’t a dream.” The sense of disbelief still lingered inside me. I could not fully accept that I was suddenly brought here, to a world I knew nothing of.
Soon, the white night-wear fell onto my toes. I began undressing the clothes given to me by the maid. Then I reached out for my kimono. Although it was not appropriate to use a kimono as a casual wear, I began wrapping myself in its embrace.
The kimono was the only thing I have left of me that reminded me of home.
It was my only link to home.
It took a while before I was able to fix myself—just like how I arrived in this world. But then, I stood there frozen in my feet. I stared at my sock-covered feet with a wooden sandal. I was lost.
“What should I do...” I pinched the sides of the kimono, hoping that various ideas would come to mind. However, there was none. No solution came to mind as I think about the current situation I was in. A situation that I could call impossible.
They are hiding something. From me, From us.
I bit my lips. I furrowed my brows and recalled what I saw last night. It was supposed to be a simple peek. It was just a peek, but some pieces of the puzzle fell into place.
Late at night, Madeleine visited the blonde-haired Hero in his room. It was puzzling. It was Odd. I never imagined a Princess could casually visit a man’s room unguarded. She pulled herself up on the door and shyly knocked. She seemed like a maiden-in-love as she entered. At the same time, a sense of guilt welled inside me as I spied on them.
They exchanged a few greetings before they started their conversation in earnest.
“Hero Clark. Perchance, would you like me to join you in your party? I could provide support from the rear with the magic I’ve learned from the academy. I’ve also learned Light magic so I can tend to your injuries at any point in time. Other than that—I could help ease your worries when dealing with persons of authority.”
Simply put, Madeleine requested Clark to let her join his party. It was one of the things Talcott explained to me. A Hero should form a party of their own rather than a party of Heroes. It was meant to provide support to the Heroes and to divide the task among us four. But then, I was starting to doubt it.
After listening for a few more seconds, I began to move. Or in a sense, I moved Clairvoyance's scope with my will. It enabled me to pass through walls and listen to conversations. It also gave me a lighted view of a room despite the darkness of the night. It was fairly convenient, but the duration of eight minutes won’t last that long.
Soon, I found the next male Hero. However, just like the situation with Clark, a girl was inside his room. She was not familiar but judging from her pure-white dress and ribbon, she was a priestess. A priestess with a light-blue hair and a somewhat mature face. Her body was, in every sense, well-proportioned. Even by my standards, she would easily pass for a model or an idol.
“Oh Hero, please take me with you. The temple is not enough for me to reach out my hands to the poor, the weary, and the sick.” In her eyes, the embers of determination flickered. “But with your help, I could travel and offer help to the people we pass by, save the people in dire need.”
The Hero, Charles, was taken aback by the priestess’s words. “The journey will be dangerous. And hard.”
“If the need to offer my life arrives, then it shall be. For better, and only for the better.” She held a silver staff to her chest. The rings at the end of the staff clinked.
It did not take long before Charles gave in. He buckled his knees and fell to the bed-side and agreed to let the priestess join his party. He wore a smile of both worry and joy. It was easy to see that he was pleased with his very first companion.
Just like Charles—while I listened to the priestess’s speech—I too was taken aback. It gave me a sense of relief that I was overthinking my thoughts based on the unknown magic.
Ah, not good, not good. I listened for too long and wasted a minute more than I intended. On to the next.
The walls of the castle flashed by and soon, I arrived in the room of the last Hero. And just like I began to expect, a person was inside her room. But similar to my case, it was a handsome young man.
However, by the time I arrived, Evelyn, the Hero, had already concluded their conversation with, “Fine. Do whatever you want.”
The knight saluted while expressing a light smile. “My gratitude, Hero Evelyn. On this day on, I pledge my loyalty to you.”
“Whatever, leave me be for now.” Evelyn gestured him to leave. “I want to be alone.”
The sound reminded me of Clairvoyance’s duration; I only had a minute left. Thus, I began to move towards the tall structure where we were summoned. I followed my memory of the vague path we took. Then soon, I found the stairs leading down to the dungeons.
As fast as I could urge Clairvoyance to move, I went through the walls. I grimaced at the glances I took at each room I passed through. Weapons leaned on numerous racks. Hammers, sickles, chains, maces, and more. Most weapons were for bludgeoning.
Aside from that, there were customized tables fitted with iron cuffs. They were tables smeared with black stains, and at times, maggots squirmed on the small chunks of meat left on the table. The sight of it slowed my pace as I resisted the urge to hurl.
Don’t tell me…
Shortly, with a heart pounding like a drum, I reached the room where we were summoned.
Huh? Why is it still glowing?
Other than the glowing inscription on the floor, the large room was empty. No blood, no flesh, no dead bodies. It was just a simple room made of slabs.
That point aside, it was too odd for the inscription to keep on glowing.
Are they going to summon more? But the robed men aren’t present. Maybe… It’s glowing because it has a mana source?
My knowledge about magic was lacking, but it wasn’t that hard imagining mana functioning like electricity. And so, with that in mind, I passed through the floor.
Or so I tried. But the view would not move any further than the floor. I tried moving upwards and the view changed. But whenever I tried to pass through the floor, I get stuck. I tried it several times, within and outside of the inscription, but nothing changed.
And before I was able to figure out anything, Clairvoyance’s duration ran out.
Immediately, my sight returned to that of my room’s ceiling. Now that I no longer have enough mana, I couldn’t do anything else but sleep. However, the room beneath the floor kept on circulating in my mind. It bugged me. It made me more anxious.
But then, I remembered my Blessing. Right, I was capable of searching through a list of magic.
Seal of Space.
Various others were also listed in my mind. They were the list of magic that is capable of interfering to fully blocking Clairvoyance. Among them, Sanctuary was the minimum to nullify Clairvoyance.
As I reviewed each of the magic listed, I fell to my side and buried my head into the pillow. I pulled the pillow close to my body like an infant and trembled. My breathing became deep and slow as I realized the difficulty of achieving at least Sanctuary. In more ways than one, Domain was already above my full mana capacity to maintain it for more than two hours. For Sanctuary, I was only capable of maintaining it for a minute or two.
Just who… Just who could maintain such a thing… Do they really need Heroes? What are the Heroes are for? Where would they use us?
Thoughts crashed like a torrent. It made me question the reason I was summoned yet again.
If there are beings more powerful than we Heroes, then what are we for?
My new set of unanswered questions kept me at night. It left me muttering until my eyelids fell on its own. Until then, I was sound asleep.
“What to do...” again, I muttered. “Maybe I should just bring this up to the others and find a way.”
I snapped from my frozen feet and strode towards the door. Once I opened it, the figure of Talcott sitting on a chair opposite the hallway welcomed me.
“Err...” A wry smile rose on my face. “What are you doing here?”
He flashed a gentle and reassuring smile. “I heard you weren’t feeling well last night so I took up the duty to guard the door. Well, just in case you needed some help with anything. Or in case something happened.”
“Ah, sorry to worry you.” I bowed. How do I deal with this?
“Anyway, you’re up early. Do you need anything?”
“I want to visit the others so I woke up earlier than expected.” I laughed dryly.
“Is that so?” He stood at his feet and approached. “But you look a bit tired. You should rest for a bit more.” He turned the knob of the door and offered me to enter.
I shook my head. “No, I’m fine. I’m just not used to sleeping in a place like this. Anyway, I have to go.” I waved my hand and turned away.
“Then I’ll accompany you.” He ran to my side and adjusted his pace.
Please leave me alone.
“Don’t you have any other duties?” I asked.
“There is none as of the moment.”
“Training? Or something else? I might be bothering you if there’s anything.”
“Don’t worry. All is well.”
Partway, I gave up persuading Talcott to leave. He was too persistent. Consequently, we met the priestly man from yesterday.
“Ah, Hero Meiko,” he greeted in the middle of the hallway. “Going for a tour?” His presence was somewhat oppressive.
“I see.” He smiled. “Then it would be best to head to the throne room for now.”
“Eh? Why?” I furrowed my brows in confusion.
“There’s an emergency summon from the King. The servants would arrive a few minutes from now to inform you and the others. But now that you’re here, I might as well lead you there.”
I had no rebuttal or any appropriate reason to refuse, and so I agreed to head to the Throne room first. After all, it would be easy to speak with the others once we have gathered.
Along the way—Talcott still on my side—the priestly man started speaking.
“I have forgotten to introduce myself, have I?” He chuckled. His white garb brushed the cement floor. “I’m Bishop Aurelius, a substitute for the busy Pope.”
There wasn’t much to talk about, but the Bishop brought up the topic about the Demons. He spoke in a reverent tone, hoping that the Demons would perish through God’s salvation. He recounted the times the Demons breached a few forts and fortresses and took the lives of the people. He also told me about the brave soldiers who fought and took back what was lost from Libet.
“Here we are,” Aurelius muttered. “Well then, I’ll take my leave, Hero Meiko. May God guide you through the night.”
“T-thank you.” I shuddered. Did he… know? It can’t be him, right?
I recalled the details of Sanctuary and anything above it. Other than a barrier, it worked as an alarm if something or someone meddled with it.
So it was at least Sanctuary… My blood ran cold. I quickly checked my remaining mana—only to find out I have a little over two-thirds of the full capacity. In a panic, I started searching for a magic that I could use to escape.
“Hero Meiko?” Talcott stood beside the open door, urging me to go inside.
“A-ah, err… Sorry.” I replied a little absentmindedly.
I walked through the door at a slow pace and restarted my search. Numerous results appeared. But I filtered them based on my mana capacity, duration I could maintain the magic, and the number of usages before I ran out of mana.
Body Reinforcement. Body Exceed. Short Transfer.
Mold. Stone Steps. Pitfall. Tunnel. Earth Wall.
Fleet Foot. Silence. Air Cushion. Soar.
Hide. Shadow Clone. Dwell. Night Shroud.
Fire and Water
Mist Cloud. Fog.
Earth and Water
Vine Wall. Root Overgrowth. Mire.
Light and Dark
Illusion. Cloak of Concealment. Dance of Shadows.
Then suddenly, someone grabbed my wrist.
“Hero Meiko,” Talcott called with a worried expression. “Are you sure you’re alright? You seem pale.”
In response to my silence, the King sitting on the throne cleared his throat. “Hero Meiko.”
I hurriedly turned to the King, sitting on his throne like I saw yesterday. “Y-yes! I’m sorry. My mind was flying around for a bit.” Then I forced a laugh.
“Hmm… It seems you have some concerns. In case you’re willing to speak, I will lend an ear.”
I release my hand from Talcott’s grasp and waved my hand in dismissal. “No, no, it’s fine. It’s nothing. Really. I’m just panicking since I thought yesterday was just a dream.”
“… I understand. It may not be believable at first, but you will soon be able to grasp reality.”
“I hope that I do. Ahaha.”
From then on, a seat was prepared for me near the steps of the throne. I hesitantly took a seat while I waited for the others to arrive. While waiting, I tried to formulate an escape using a sequence of the magic available to me. Then, after several minutes of waiting in silence, the time came. At that point, I moved towards the others and line myself beside them.
“Heroes, you have my gratitude for answering my call.”
“Well, we’re still around the castle, so that’s obvious,” Clark commented in a mutter. However, this time, Charles and Evelyn responded.
“Keep it down, please,” Charles said.
“What a rude person,” Evelyn said.
Clark silently knitted his brows, displeased.
“Well then,” the King continued after observing our figures. “The reason behind my sudden call is to trouble you with a task. I want you to form a party of at least four for each of you. This is—as you were informed yesterday—due to the outbreak of small skirmishes against the Demons.”
Then the King stood from the throne and took a step and another down the platform. He then stopped a step higher from the floor we stood on.
“Each of you would be given a personal instructor in the art of fighting. There’s an available instructor for Great Swords, Long Swords, the Rapier, Daggers, and several more. And with that, I hope that you can extend your patience before moving out of the castle on your own.”
“...” I remained silent. It was logical enough for us who have not handled a single weapon to train before risking our lives.
Clark raised his hand. “If I could prove myself worthy enough to be on my own without the training, can I leave ahead of time?”
“If the instructor does indeed deem you worthy, then yes, you may.”
“Yes.” Clark pumped his fist.
“That goes for every one of you.” The King added. “Later this day, the instructors will arrive. You may each pick one instructor you are willing to be under. I advise you to focus on a single weapon to make things easier. Other than that, consider picking your party members down the courtyard.”
Sometime after we left the throne room, I closed in on Evelyn and asked.
“Say, do you think is a game?”
“Huh? What?” Evelyn replied in surprise. “Oh, it’s just you.”
“Are you a troll or something?”
“Troll? By that you mean?” I furrowed my brows.
“Oh, so you’re one of those. Acting like some nuts who have only experienced VR for the first time.”
“That’s…” a little more than plain rude. “Ahehe. Can you explain to me what a VR is?”
“Virtual Reality,” Charles responded. I didn’t notice that he had already lined beside me while Talcott remained a few paces from my back. “That’s rare, for you not to know a wide-spread tech. Are you perhaps at the pit bottom of the society? Anyway, you’re experiencing it now. You could stay put and let your mind do stuff six times faster than your average day.”
“… I don’t get it.”
“Don’t mind her. She’s probably trolling on purpose. And anyway, six times? Are you joking? That’s the lowest setting there is nowadays.”
“Really, she might not be what you thought she is. And what are you on about? Six times is currently the latest.”
“In your country maybe. Your gear is too outdated.”
From the exchange between the two, I started to lag behind. I watched them exchange terms that were foreign to me. “Umm… I really think it’s our Blessing that’s replicating a game we saw at least once.”
Both Charles and Evelyn turned to me with a puzzled look.
““Did you say something?””
“Err… I said, our Blessing is replicating a game we knew, trying to make things appear as if it was a game.”
“Your voice is weird,” Charles replied. “It’s like a garbled sound from a corrupted recording.”
“True.” Evelyn nodded.
“Eh?” And so I realized. It’s impossible to inform them through words.