In her room at the Tower of Truth, Marlene the Sage faintly frowned as she noticed the disappearance of her subordinates’ magical signals.
Whitehare, the Dark Lady, possessed some sort of power to hide her attributes from [Identification].
At its most basic, [Identification] was a skill that made use of the identifier’s own experience and nature to analyze the information they took in through their eyes, ears, and skin, then expressed it as numbers. But that didn’t mean the user wasn’t capable of gathering more than just vague information — with the help of the skill, the number they saw was virtually the exact reflection of the target’s power.
However, humans possessed weaker senses compared to demihumans and monsters, forcing them to spend more magic to activate the skill. Furthermore, the maximum attribute number the skill could display was limited to ten times the user’s own. This was simply because the standard for measurement was based upon the user, and if there was too much of a power gap, it wouldn’t be able to accurately measure the difference. The skill user could only vaguely sense that there was ‘a lot’, like how a human lacking knowledge could never grasp the size of an ocean.
The Warrior had reported that he was unable to identify Whitehare’s abilities, but Marlene thought it very unlikely that the Dark Lady could have over ten times Gold’s power.
Any monster with such power would even stand above Catastrophe-class monsters such as normal dragons and Dark Generals. They would be the ascendant Calamity-class, and in the whole history of this world, such existences could be counted on one hand.
Calamity-class described dangerous existences that were capable of destroying several countries. Whitehare had certainly done so, but that was because she’d attacked the World Tree Saplings. It was improbable she truly had the power to face the countries head-on.
Judging from the records of Whitehare’s battles as well as the fight at the auction hall of Trestan Kingdom where she was first sighted, Marlene had concluded that it was impossible the Dark Lady could have gained power equivalent to a Hero in just a few short months.
Marlene hypothesized that the Dark Lady Whitehare was a demihuman with a special ability, similar to the human Children of God, and that she could only exert enough power to destroy a city under limited circumstances.
Either that, or there was another possibility…
“The damn demihumans are helping her.”
Today, humans viewed the demihuman races as nothing more than cattle, but in the past, their magical culture had been far more developed than humans. Examples of such advanced magical races were high elves and dragonkins. Fearing the threat they posed, the human race had driven them to extinction a century ago.
Of the beastman races, only the canine and feline races still survived, as they were useful as labor for humans. According to the literature kept at the Tower of Truth, many beastman races had survived until several centuries ago, and the herbivorous races among them had possessed highly advanced magical technology.
Then Whitehare should either be a survivor from one of the extinct beastman races; or she possessed an advanced magitool left behind by the previous civilizations, perhaps by the high elves; or she had people helping her in her quest.
“If the demihumans are backing her, then I just need to deal with them first,” Marlene giggled, “oh, Whitehare… I’ll slaughter your comrades everywhere, and there won’t be a thing you can do about it. Ah, but then maybe sending those boys to go alone was a bit hasty? Well, whatever. I have plenty of replacements.”
Her soldiers were those who’d endured the torture that she called her hobby. They’d cried, they’d wailed for days and days. While most had drawn their last breath in agony and despair, some had had their minds broken and warped. They no longer held Marlene’s interest and were kept alive as guinea pigs for her experiments. They received training, and Marlene used them as obedient lab rats or as vanguard soldiers. Still, the boys she’d sent out had been getting uppity recently, so she didn’t quite care whether they lived or died.
Marlene sighed. She looked at the magical signal map once more and noticed that the powerful magic signal she assumed to have been in combat with Whitehare was currently moving fast, as if being washed away to somewhere.
Marlene had been convinced the powerful signal was some sort of high-rank monster, like a chimera or a manticore. But then, was there a reason for Whitehare to have spared them?
Was her conjecture correct, that Whitehare had limitations in using her power? Or was there a reason she didn’t kill the signal?
“…can’t be that stupid pervert, right?”
The first time Marlene met him was when she was still in her mid-teens. It was at a dinner party at a certain country. The blond, handsome youth had greeted her with a dashing smile and said:
“How beautiful you are! Please, become my 6827th woman! Allow this Calimero to show you the meaning of true love!”
Marlene had burned that thing to a crisp… or attempted to, at least. As the flame spell that had engulfed him as well as a few other unfortunate nobles let up, Calimero once more showed himself from behind the obese nobles he’d used as a shield and said:
“Such passion! Come now, don’t be shy, my dear!”
If the Warrior hadn’t stopped her back then, the whole country would’ve been a scorched wasteland.
As Marlene watched the lights on the map, she began working on her “Blademaster Murder Plan” that she’d started. It was practically her hobby by now.
“Salia’s gone?” In spite of himself, Tiz asked for confirmation.
“Indeed, young master.”
He had been listening to his old butler’s report in the palace of Touze Empire. Normally, there was no need to bother the emperor with such trifles. Her father, the knight officer, had already moved out. This was the sort of thing where the only words Tiz needed to hear was “it has been done.”
But the problem this time was the other people that had disappeared at the same time.
“The problematic nobles inside our country who had been under house arrest or imprisonment, as well as the incarcerated magicians, had disappeared at the same time. Similarly, our plants in several other countries had also reported the disappearance of many dangerous characters.”
Every country had magicians doing dangerous experiments or nobles with threatening ideologies. Most of them simply died from an unknown sickness, but for those who, despite posing a threat to the country, also possessed useful knowledge or skills, some would be put under house arrest and convinced to direct their talents toward serving the country’s purpose.
“Who were they?”
“A researcher investigating how to control monsters, a necromancer, a researcher working on a mass-destruction spell, and a demon worshipper.”
“I see… Get the Third Knight Squadron to search for them. If they found them in our borders, execute them on the spot. No need for capture. Just bring me their heads.”
“…understood.” The old butler bowed deeply.
Tiz released a long sigh and leaned back deeply on his lavish chair.
With Shedy going around destroying Saplings all over the world, every country were tightening security around their vicinity. This resulted in an adverse effect on their monster suppression, and the armies of the Dark Generals, the Ogre Lord and the Orc King, were getting more active.
And just as if they’d been waiting for it, the demihumans had begun attacking countries that had lost their Saplings in order to rescue their comrades in slavery. And now the dangerous characters throughout the world were vanishing at the same time, as if it’s all been arranged beforehand.
The world had begun to change. The white-colored girl behind it all came to Tiz’s mind. He let loose a silent whisper heard by no one else.
“Shedy… what plans do you have for this world?”
Gold the Hero had lost his home country. He no longer had a place to return to. He had turned into a machine that knew nothing but fighting, and he had left the land of humans to wander the deep forests.
He thought he could have prevented that disaster, if only he was stronger. He should have been the Hero he was supposed to be, even if he had to turn his back on the emperor that he had as a brother. If he had stayed with his comrades, if he had kept his equipment, he might have been able to keep up with the Dark General, even stopping the Dark Lady.
But nothing could change the fact that he had lost to the Troll King. In the end, he was only alive due to the whims of the Dark Lady Whitehare.
He didn’t know how many days it’d been since he entered the forest.
His food supply was long gone. Still, he kept on swinging his sword, killing monsters with only the flesh and blood of animals to subsist on.
Perhaps by pushing himself to the limits, he could regain the power and the honor of a Hero. Or perhaps he was just punishing himself with the spartan training with nothing to show for it.
Then why was Gold subjecting himself with this torture?
The Dark Lady had killed the Troll King, an enemy he was no match for, in a single blow, even if it had been an ambush, and she had shown him mercy. Her words, the words of the white-colored girl, had stabbed deep into his heart.
“Funny that. To me, humans, demihumans, goblins, they’re all equally life.”
Who was he wielding his sword for?
He was doing it for the people, for the country, for his brother, for the peace of the world… so then, whose peace was it?
Gold let out a painful groan.
He had been swinging his sword for days on end without sleep. He had killed hundreds of monsters. His strength had run out, the light of a Hero no longer shining. Now, even monsters as weak as the fiend wolves were capable of savaging him.
No, that wasn’t quite right. The light had disappeared ever since Gold began doubting himself.
As long as a Hero held true to their conviction, the elemental of light would never abandon them, even for someone like the Blademaster. If Gold could no longer call upon the light, then the elemental must have finally given up on him.
Just as Gold finished dispatching the final fiend wolf, he collapsed, no longer having the strength to support his own weight.
No matter how much of a Hero he was, once he had lost both his blessing and his consciousness, he was defenseless. His fate would be sealed the moment a monster found him.
But he was fortunate. A hooded shadow, small as a child, was timidly getting close to him, their nervousness overcome by curiosity. A finger poked the unconscious Hero.
“…Daaaad! There’s a human passing out here!”
Their voice rang toward the depths of the forest. Their hood dropped to their back, revealing the long ears of an elf.