[Prologue] [Chapter 1] [Chapter 2]
Chapter 1 – Diego and Alvaro
It was a clear day. The cacophony of sea birds could be heard from quite a distance, and the sun shone down brightly upon the port city of Caldeis.
As usual, the leading port city of the Spinea Kingdom was bustling with activity.
There was a tenement house located in a poorly lit back alley that seemed to be the antithesis of the previous scene. A rude knock echoed throughout that house.
“Oi, Diego! Diego!”
The young man who was sitting inside that stuffy room and writing something on a sheet of papyrus imported from the Southern Continent that he had purchased dirt-cheap from a friend, frowned as a voice yelled his name from the other side of the door.
“Hey Diego, you’re in there, aren’t you!? This smell… It’s almost time for lunch, right!?”
He had considered pretending that there was no one at home, but the boiling pot on the stove precluded his plans.
“What do you want, Alvaro?”
Seeing no other option, Diego opened the door to his small residence and replied to his friend.
“Oh, I know that expression, That’s the expression you put on when your research was interrupted just as you got to a good part, right?”
“If you understand that, then make it quick.”
Every time Alvaro came over, he would end up staying for a long time for some reason or another. Due to that, Diego brusquely asked him to hurry up.
“Come on, calm down a bit! My business with you today is incomparably more important than the usual stuff! To begin with, I was thinking about dragging you out of here and getting a bite to eat…”
“If you’re okay with leftover stew from yesterday, you can have some. I don’t feel like going out today.”
Diego bluntly rejected the invitation from the lively Alvaro.
“That sounds wonderful , but I still suggest that we go out to eat.”
The usual Alvaro would have jumped at Diego’s offer.
“Hey, it’ll only take about an hour, so let’s go out. I’ll judge your talent for cooking some other time.”
“That’s an interesting statement coming from you, Alvaro. In that case, how about I add some oatmeal bread to the offer as well?”
“I have no intention of being tempted by oatmeal bread today and missing out on the chance to eat wheat cakes in the future!”
Even baiting him with bread didn’t work. The matter started to look more and more serious.
“Alright, fine. If it’s The Oyster Shell, then I’ll tag along.”
Diego compromised by suggesting a restaurant that Alvaro was familiar with, and Alvaro’s face suddenly lit up with a smile.
“Now we’re talking! I was thinking about going to The Oyster Shell as well!”
The Oyster Shell was a restaurant that purchased its ingredients from various lands, from the Empire in the farthest reaches of the east, to the Continent of Sand and Fire in the south, and even from the ice ridges in the north that were part of the Pirate King’s domain.
They would mix all of those ingredients into something that vaguely resembled the cuisine of the Spinea Kingdom. It was a restaurant that served food with no cultural boundaries, and thus it was well known among the sailors who gathered in Caldeis.
It was a restaurant that both Diego and Alvaro frequented.
Alvaro jumped up in joy, grabbed Diego’s hand, and tried to pull him outside right away.
Diego had no idea why Alvaro was in such a hurry, but first he picked up the leather pouch that he carried with him at all times when he went out and then proceeded to lock every single window and door in his house, even checking them several times to make sure that they were secure.
Diego’s house was certainly located in a run-down area, but it was not particularly lawless.
“I’ve seen it before, but it’s amazing how precautious you are.”
Alvaro felt that Diego was overly concerned with making sure that his house was secure whenever he went out.
Alvaro, who had brown-colored hair and youthful freckles on his face, smacked the shoulder of Diego, who had golden hair the same color as the sun and brilliant blue eyes that were currently narrowed.
“Oh well. Look, Diego, humans aren’t meant to shut themselves away inside during the day. They should spend time outside like this. If you do that, the sun will give you a brilliant smile as well!”
“What’s up with you today? Are you planning to become a preacher of the Holy Church or something?”
“Close, but not quite! First things first, let’s get something to eat! You can relax, I’ll be the one paying today!”
Hearing that, Diego’s anxiety immediately spiked.
Alvaro had a job doing menial work at the ports, but with his naturally sunny disposition and sociable nature, he had become friendly with several sailors who worked on the merchant ships from various nations. He had learned bits and pieces of their languages and offered his services as a rudimentary translator.
He had boasted to Diego before that he had finally managed to find steady work with some trading company recently. However, his overconfident nature was apparently also reflected in the way he spent his money, as he rarely had any money left by the end of each day.
Despite that, the reason why Diego still associated with him was because among the great number of people that Alvaro was acquainted with, there were a few who stocked the kind of items that were indispensable for Diego’s 『research』.
Dyes and oriental herbs from the Eastern Empire. Special minerals and papyrus from the Continent of Sand and Fire. They were all the kind of items that a person would never have the chance to see if they led an ordinary life, but with Alvaro as the intermediary, they could always be obtained somehow.
Apart from his regular work, Alvaro also received a sizeable sum of money from Diego on a regular basis for his services. However, he had the mysterious ability of becoming completely broke at the end of each week.
In any case, Alvaro showed up at Diego’s house at the beginning of the week, and not only was he not mooching off Diego, but he had even offered to pay for lunch. Diego knew that this could only be an evil omen of some sort.
“Ah, you don’t believe me, do you!? Leave it to me, I say! Look, I actually have money today!”
Alvaro suddenly stopped walking, shoved his hand into his pocket, and pulled out a hempen pouch that jangled heavily. He opened the mouth of the pouch slightly and showed Diego what was inside.
In that instant, Diego’s uneasy premonition turned into certainty.
As Alvaro had said, he certainly had money. And what’s more, there were five Carlo silver coins, stamped with the likeness of the previous king of the Spinea Kingdom.
One Carlo silver coin was enough to ensure that an ordinary family would not go hungry for a couple of weeks.
Diego could not imagine that any of Alvaro’s deals could have netted him that kind of money.
“See, you can relax. Anyways, time for some food!”
Diego was not at all at ease, but Alvaro just put his pouch away and started to walk away in high spirits again.
The path that they were following had a gradual slope, and by the time they walked down that path towards the city of Caldeis and lively sounds from the docks, Diego was regretting the fact that he had accepted Alvaro’s invitation.
There were a number of unfamiliar ships moored at the port, and he could see a massive five-masted ship in the open sea as well.
Diego did not miss the fact that a flag bearing the Spinea Kingdom’s naval ensign was flying off one of those masts.
In the current era, the wealth and power of societies around the world were on the rise, centered around gold, silver, and spices.
The Spinea Kingdom, a maritime nation that had expanded into markets all over the world and was even called the Ruler of the West, discovered 『The New World』 and thereby strengthened its position in the Old World region of Eureka.
Even in the Eureka region where the advanced nations of the world were gathered, the Spinea Kingdom was ahead of all other countries in matters of commerce, industries, and military might.
During such a time, an adventurer who was backed by the country discovered a continent that was called the 『New World』 and was said to have vast, fertile lands and abundant resources. At that point, everyone believed that Spinea’s hegemony would be secure for all eternity.
However, there was no way that the other kingdoms in Eureka would be content to play second fiddle to Spinea.
Eddingdon, an island kingdom with a powerful navy. Faranne, a country on the mainland with fertile lands. Patogal, a country that was once known as the Ruler of the Eastern Seas as it had laid the foundation for the Age of Exploration of Eureka. All of these countries were competing to reach the newly discovered continent as well.
However, Spinea received the titles of 『Discoverer of the New Continent』 and 『Preferred Development Authority』from the religious organization that had spread throughout the Old World region, the Holy Church. Due to that, Spinea was able to seal the movements of the other countries that were trying to catch up.
With the backing of the Church, Spinea was able to triumphantly set sail for the New Continent and freely take whatever it wanted from that land that no one else had set foot on before.
The king of Spinea at the time, Carlo the First, boasted that his country was close to becoming a utopia that people had only dreamed about thus far.
However, the king was soon made to realize that he had been overly optimistic.
The adventurer who discovered the New Continent was given the rank of Admiral, and an expeditionary force was sent across the sea to the New Continent to colonize it. However, less than a year after the New Continent had been discovered, the force was nearly wiped out and returned to their homeland in tatters.
During the return voyage, half the soldiers of the expeditionary force died of either sickness or wounds, and the ones who survived were uniformly consumed by fear and spoke the same words.
“Colossi appeared in the forest.”
Five years had passed since that nightmarish report was first brought back.
Spinea’s only tangible achievement was the construction of the Coastal City Isnia, which served as their foothold upon the New Continent.
To make matters worse, King Carlo the First who held tremendous influence suddenly passed away during those five years.
Crown Prince Felipe who ascended to the throne after the previous king’s death took measures that went against the wishes of the Holy Church, and hence the Church’s support of Spinea deteriorated rapidly.
The policies enacted by King Felipe were designed to limit the influence of the Holy Church in the New World.
As the prospects of colonizing the New World were still bleak, the actions he took at such a time could only be described as foolish.
However, the die had already been cast.
Spinea’s preferred development authority became a title without substance, and within a few years it was no longer able to keep other countries from sending expeditions to the New World. In light of this, King Felipe sent orders to further speed up the process of securing territory on the New Continent.
Overthrowing the Colossi of the forest, expanding the borders of Isnia, and colonizing the New Continent became the topmost priority for Spinea.
For that reason, a large portion of the young workforce from Spinea were recruited and sent off to the New Continent.
The ones who applied and boarded the expedition ships were comprised of people who had grown tired of their existing lives in the Old World, people who dreamed of working in a new land, and people who were ready to risk their lives to earn a profit while working away from home.
However, ever since the relationship between the Holy Church and royal family of Spinea worsened, the navy ships that Spinea sent out on expeditions started to be frequently attacked by pirates.
It was obvious that these attacks were the work of other countries who were trying to get in the way of Spinea now that the support from the Church had weakened.
Despite the fact that the various countries were locked in an ever-escalating struggle to control the New World and the sea routes, there was no shortage of people who dreamed of making a quick profit in the new land.
The markets were revitalized by desire for products from the new land, and the different countries glared at each other like hawks as the situation approached a critical point.
It was and era where people around the world were getting heated up and the world map was undergoing drastic changes.
In this kind of situation, it was only natural that Caldeis, the largest harbor city in Spinea where people, items, and money gathered from all over the world, was like a kettle that was on the verge of boiling over.
“I’m begging you! Please come with meeee!!!”
Diego kicked Alvaro who was crying while on his knees and placed his empty tankard on the table.
“Thanks for the delicious lunch, Alvaro. Cassia-san, please give us the check!”
“Diiiiiiieegooooo!! I’m begging yoooouuuuu!!!”
“Diego, you’re going to take that noisy one with you when you leave, right?”
The poster girl of 『 The Oyster Shell』 restaurant, Cassia, came to the table with the check when Diego called for her and looked down at Alvaro who was crying at Diego’s feet as if she was looking at a jellyfish that had been washed onto the beach.
“Alvaro said he would pay, so I’ll excuse myself.”
Diego stood up and attempted to walk out, but he stumbled and nearly fell over when his leg and the back of his collar were grabbed at the same time.
“Dieeeegoooo!! For the love of god, pleaaasseee!!”
“Very funny. There’s no way Alvaro would have any money at the beginning of the week!”
Alvaro had grabbed his leg, and Cassia had grabbed his collar.
Diego earnestly regretted accepting Alvaro’s invitation to lunch as he was dragged back into the chair that he had just vacated.
“This guy has five Carlo silver coins, so he said he’d pay off the accumulated tab as well.”
“Carlo silver coins!? Alvaro! We don’t serve thieves in this shop! After you pay off the tab, turn yourself over to the police at once! If you want, I’ll come with you!”
From this one sentence, it could be seen that Cassia did not have a very high opinion of Alvaro.
“Give up. I’m not going along with any plans like that.”
“Diiieeeegoooo!! I’m not going to give up—Guh !!”
Cassia delivered a punishing blow to the top of Alvaro’s head as he continued to make a scene while dripping tears and snot.
“Stop drooling and dripping snot all over the place, you idiot! We serve food here!”
The red-headed and strong-willed poster girl of the shop, Cassia, was ruthless. As expected of someone who dealt with all manner of ruffians from the port on a daily basis.
Anyone foolish enough to try and touch her backside after being enticed by her slender body and well-ordered features would not only get sent packing by her but would also get beaten up by all the ruffians in Caldeis who were enamored with her.
“So? You want to tell me what happened?”
Diego, who felt that he was unreasonably being glared at by Cassia, sighed and pointed outside the door.
“He wants me to get onboard that thing along with him.”
Cassia glanced at the ship that was moored at the harbor.
“Ah. The 『New World Expeditionary Force』.”
She made a bitter expression and nodded.
“Ever since the new King took the throne, we’ve had no choice but to speed up the plans for developing the New World. I’ve lost count of how many times the country has sent large-scale reinforcements to wipe out the 『Colossi of the forest』, but what does that have to do with this fool?”
“People from that volunteer army came recruiting in Caldeis for the first time!!”
Alvaro suddenly got excited after having recovered quickly from Cassia’s blow and startled both Diego and Cassia.
“You need to be a healthy male over fifteen years of age! That’s the only requirement! Both of us turned eighteen this year, and while the fact that you are somewhat frail is concerning, there is no doubt that you are healthy! There are no problems!”
Diego felt offended at that remark, but Alvaro, who worked hard at various physical jobs at the port every day was actually quite strong despite looking slender.
Diego also needed money for his basic needs, so there were times when he accepted day laborer jobs to make ends meet. However, he was nowhere close to Alvaro’s equal when it came to strength or stamina.
If asked which one of them was living a healthier life, Alvaro who ran around the port every day and formed connections with a large number of people was obviously better than Diego who spent a lot of time sitting at a desk and conducting research in a room away from the sunlight.
“A weak and frail person like me would only end up getting in the way of someone healthy and vigorous like you, so I’m not going.”
Hearing Diego reply with the obvious answer in an offhand manner, Alvaro panicked and waved his hands.
“My bad, I didn’t mean that!! Basically, they welcome any young man who has ambitions! Once the plan succeeds, depending on a person’s achievements, they can get priority for settling down there and there is even a chance of entering into the service of the government here at home! I have no intention of spending my entire life as a servant in a port city like this! I’m definitely going to achieve something for myself in the 『New World』!”
“So, if you apply and pass the inspection, you’ll get funds to prepare for the journey?”
“So that’s how you got five Carlo silver coins.”
Compared to the enthusiastic Alvaro, Diego and Cassia were completely indifferent.
“Alvaro, were you planning to get Diego mixed up in your plan to run away after getting the money? He would obviously reject something like that.”
It looked like Cassia’s trust in Alvaro was already in the negative ranges.
“Cassia-san, haven’t you been listening to what I said? I just said that I wanted to go over to the New World and settle down there, didn’t I!? I was inviting Diego to come with me to the other side of the ocean!”
“I refuse. Go by yourself.”
“Whyyyyyyyy!? It’s such a good offer!”
Hearing Diego’s point-blank answer, Alvaro once again tried to cling to him.
“I think Diego has the right idea. Alvaro, just beg Diego to cover the check for today’s meal as usual and return those five Carlo silver coins at once.”
“You too, Cassia-san!? Why!?”
Seeing Alvaro lose his temper, Diego and Cassia glanced at each other and sighed.
“Alvaro, how many years do you think have gone by since the 『New World』 was discovered?”
Alvaro made an idiotic sound in response, and Cassia spoke to him in a remonstrative tone.
“Ten years have passed since the adventurer, now known as Admiral Cris Colone of the Navy, discovered the New Continent. The development efforts have not progressed even a little, apart from establishing the coastal city Isnia. The people who traveled there were supposed to bring back gold, but we are now in a situation where the country is shelling out gold coins instead to hire men who just end up getting crushed underfoot by the Colossi. Besides, here in the 『Old World』 continent of Eureka, Spinea is losing the support of the Church and other countries like Eddingdon and Faranne are nipping at our heels. Do you think a dockyard thug like yourself could do anything to change this situation for the better?”
After hearing Cassia’s tirade, Alvaro made an expression that indicated that she had hit upon a sore point.
The name Cris Colone had spread all over the Old World as the hero who had discovered the New Continent, but in Spinea he was known as the person who had instigated this high-cost, low-return project.
The constant failure of Admiral Cris to deliver results with respect to the development of the New World caused his reputation in the Navy to plummet steadily.
There were many people who said that he was an impostor who just happened to get lucky.
“B-But that’s why I want Diego to come with me!”
“How many times do I have to say that I don’t want to? Why are you so insistent on taking me along with you, anyway?”
“Every hero needs a sidekick who understands his temperament. I may be strong physically, but I don’t have your smarts, and vice-versa. So, if the two of us team up, we’ll be invincible!”
Diego started to get fed up Alvaro’s persistence, but Alvaro just continued to speak excitedly.
“Come on, you’ll go with me, won’t you? I still have no idea what it is that you do, but maybe your 『research』 will make great progress if you go to a new land, right?”
Upon hearing the word 『research』, Diego put on a displeased expression.
The sharp-eyed Cassia noticed that immediately, but Alvaro, who was desperate, failed to do so.
“Come on, I’ve been acquiring all sorts of tools and information for you, haven’t I?”
“For which you have been paid in full, with a hefty bonus. I see no reason why I should feel overly indebted to you.”
“Hey, Alvaro, maybe you should stop…”
“But you know, if you go to a new land, maybe you’ll find new research materials? You’re always looking for rare dyes, herbs, minerals, and metals, right?”
Cassia tried to stop Alvaro after she sensed the threatening atmosphere around Diego, but Alvaro continued to speak without paying any heed and finally said the decisive words.
“Besides, the crew from the merchant ships were saying that if you work hard enough, Admiral Cris Colone will turn a blind eye towards any attempts to make a quick fortune—Guh!”
Alvaro was not able to complete his sentence.
He had received a serious punch of anger to his jaw that was on a completely different level from Cassia’s blow earlier.
Obviously, the person who punched him was Diego. His blue eyes alight with anger.
“Cassia-san, here’s the money. Please let him lie there for a while.”
Despite Cassia asking him to wait, Diego walked out of the Oyster Shell after leaving a number of copper coins on the table to pay for the meal, with some extra coins to cover for the fuss Alvaro had caused earlier.
Diego flexed his right hand that he had punched Alvaro with while looking at the Navy ships in the distance that were rocking from the gentle wind in the port.
“Admiral Cris Colone, the hero who discovered the New Continent, huh?”
Diego muttered that to himself in an uninterested manner and was about to go back to his house when he saw it.
Diego stopped in his tracks when he saw a large merchant ship at an anchorage some distance away from the ships of the Navy.
Seeing the flag flying on top of the ship which looked like an old Navy carrack that had been repurposed, Diego understood that it belonged to a fleet that regularly passed between the south-eastern part of Spinea and the coast of the southern continent.
There were a large number of navy soldiers standing guard around the ship, mixed in with the sailors.
When Diego saw the 『cargo』that was removed from the ship, he felt his throat burn with anger.
The 『cargo』 that was being made to walk while secured with long chains and iron bands were slaves.
Spinea, Eddingdon, and Faranne had actively occupied the northern coast of the Continent of Sand and Fire to the south that was on the other side of a large strait. All three countries had acquired gold, silver, spices, ivory, and slaves to compete in the markets.
The unfortunate victims of the 『slave hunts』 in the southern continent were gathered in large ports like this for a while before being sold not just in Spinea, but in countries all over Eureka.
The young man in the prime of his life who had locked gazes with Diego was immediately pulled away by the guards and disappeared from sight.
After that, even more slaves were urged by the merchants and soldiers to disembark from the ship in droves.
The corpulent merchant who oversaw the unloading of the 『cargo』 from the top of the ship was a short, vile-looking man who looked as if all the crudeness of men in the world had been collected in one place and stuffed into a human skin.
Diego saw red and reflexively reached into the pouch at his waist.
Diego felt around inside the pouch, searching for the small, palm-sized darts stored inside.
There were a number of darts inside the pouch that had cores made of brass, but Diego’s fingers rested upon a compartment within the pouch that contained darts whose flights were painted white in color.
With his fingers still within the pouch, Diego approached the merchant ship that had held the slaves.
“Oi! Who the hell are you!? Stay away from that ship!”
However, it was obvious that an unfamiliar person approaching a merchant ship that was in the process of offloading 『cargo』 would be very conspicuous.
A large harbor guard who was nearly twice Diego’s size spotted him quickly and approached with his spear pointed at Diego.
Although they were called a harbor guards, the truth was that they were actually employed by the merchants.
Their task was not to maintain order in the harbor, but to protect the life and assets of their employer.
“About those slaves…”
“Is there a girl about twenty years old, with blue eyes?”
The guard who was about to threaten Diego and remove him from the premises was taken aback at those unexpected words, but he recovered quickly and snorted, preparing to chase Diego away.
“The hell if I know. Get lost.”
“You want to get hurt? I don’t have the time to argue with kids like you.”
Seeing that Diego refused to back off, the guard feinted a thrust with his spear.
If Diego used the 『results of his research』, he would probably be able to get rid of this one guard.
Diego strongly gripped the darts inside his pouch, but he soon relaxed his hand.
Diego understood that if he used force to overpower the guard, he would just end up getting arrested.
The slaves were the legitimate 『property』 of the owner of that merchant ship. If Diego took action here, the country would punish him instead of the merchant who treated people’s lives as merchandise.
It happened then, when Diego was trembling due to a sense of helplessness and gritting his teeth.
With a flash of light, a loud sound reverberated through the air as though a bolt of lightning had struck, despite the fair skies without a single cloud.
“W-What was that!?”
Both Diego and the guard crouched down and looked in the direction that the sound had come from.
The ship from which the slaves were being unloaded just a second ago had split cleanly in half like an apple that had been cut with a kitchen knife, and it was sinking to the depths of the anchorage.
“W-What the hell is this!?”
The guard obviously lost his head at this sight, but Diego was confused as well.
The large ship that had been floating there grandly until a few seconds ago was now broken into pieces like a fragile ceramic plate.
The slave trader who had been standing aboard the ship was clinging to the edge of the ship and wailing, and the guards in the area were so shocked by what had happened that they just stood in a daze.
The next second…
Taking advantage of the instant when the ship had been broken to pieces and the guards were in a daze, the slaves who were restrained with chains raised an angry roar and started to riot.
The guards were taken by surprise and thrown off balance, and the slaves attempted to steal something that looked like the keys to their chains from one of the guards while repeatedly punching him in the face.
The guard who had been keeping Diego at bay no longer had the time to worry about him, and he ran towards the rioting slaves.
Not only were the guards not paying any attention to Diego any more, they didn’t even have the time to spare a glance at their employer who was sinking in the anchorage along with his ship.
Diego moved almost on reflex.
Diego pulled a dart with a red flight out of his pouch and threw it towards the location where the guards and the slaves were fighting, accurately hitting a link in the chain that was binding the slaves together.
In the next instant, the chain that had bound twenty people disintegrated with a flash of light, and those people were now free.
The slaves understood that they had been freed even though they didn’t understand how it had happened, and they suddenly picked up momentum.
On one side were the guards who could punish the slaves but not kill them as they were the property of their employer. On the other side were the desperate slaves who had no choice but to escape from this place as they had no idea what fate awaited them otherwise.
The difference in their circumstances brought about a difference in their motivation, and the harbor was immediately engulfed in a large-scale riot.
After watching that sight for a while, Diego suddenly came back to his senses and immediately fled the scene.
He couldn’t believe that he had done such a thing in such a public place.
After using his incomplete 『research』 so recklessly in a public place, there was no telling who might have seen him, what the results might have been, and who might be secretly reporting his actions this very minute.
Despite that, he still turned around to look at the merchant ship that had carried the slaves after running into a narrow alley.
People might have been injured. People might be dead. By recklessly pouring fuel on the fire, he might have changed the fates of some people.
Just as he turned around to look at that scene that was beyond saving, he saw something moving unnaturally in his field of vision.
It was on top of the mast of the ship that was almost completely submerged.
Diego initially thought that a piece of cloth had been blown there by the wind, but he stared in wonder when he realized that whatever he was seeing was moving with a will of its own.
When it slowly stood erect on top of the main mast that had slanted to one side…
“It” stared directly at Diego before he could escape into the alley.
Apparently, “it” had known about his location from the start.
He could not identify the person as their entire body was wrapped in cloth.
However, Diego could clearly tell that the person was watching him through a narrow slit in the cloth.
Perhaps that person had seen everything.
Diego froze in place from fear that someone had seen what he had done.
However, the figure soon looked away from Diego and instead jumped into the ocean from the top of the mast after the ship came to rest at the bottom of the relatively shallow anchorage.
A small spout of water rose up from the anchorage before Diego could say anything, but due to the riot in the harbor, nobody else paid any attention to it.
In the past, there was a time when the flames of hysteria took the shape of ‘witch hunts’ and spread like wildfire across not just Spinea, but all countries of the Old World continent of Eureka.
During that time, hardships such as failed crops, the spread of plague, and natural disasters were treated as calamities caused by magicians and witches who had made pacts with demons.
With the believers of the Holy Church at the core, the creed of 『eliminating magicians who brought calamity by making pacts with demons』 spread throughout the land and many people who were said to be practitioners of magic and witchcraft were sacrificed in God’s name.
A vast majority of the people who were 『executed』 for being magicians were people like town doctors, herbalists, and teachers; in other words, people who practiced professions that the uneducated masses could not understand. There were even cases where herders who raised goats were killed because their livestock “resembled the Devil”.
In the modern day, the practice of “witch hunts” had been systemized by the Inquisition branch of the Holy Church, and techniques that could be classified as 『magic』 were in the process of being abandoned all over Eureka.
However, even in such a situation, there was a technique known as『alchemy』 that had managed to survive in secret.
Most people knew of this as a technique to 『transform trivial substances into gold』, but it was still being developed in secret despite being censured as a form of 『magic』.
The alchemists who had survived the witch hunts formed a secret society in order to continue their research, and markets that catered to alchemists had slowly appeared all over the Old World continent of Eureka.
Sitting in a dark room where even the light of the moon did not reach, Diego was fervently scribbling something with chalk on a small blackboard while consulting a 『book』 that dealt with the study of something different from alchemy.
Perhaps the fear that someone might have seen the results of his research served to spur him on to greater efforts, as he was brimming with determination to make progress with his 『experiments』.
After he finished writing all the necessary formulae on the blackboard, Diego carefully unfurled a length of papyrus that was larger than the distance between his outstretched hands and put it on his desk.
He neatly copied the formulae that he had written in chalk on the blackboard several times onto the papyrus.
When copying it onto the papyrus, he used dyes of several different colors. The dyes, brushes, and papyrus were all far too expensive for an ordinary person to obtain in bulk. He needed to be very careful when preparing the copy.
After he finished copying the 『formulae』 that he had created onto the papyrus using the 『appropriate colors』, Diego let out a small cheer.
While waiting for the dyes to dry, Diego proceeded to clean up his experiment table that had many books and materials scattered across it, ensured that the windows and door were tightly locked, and securely closed the thick curtains while making sure that there was no gap in between them.
Even Alvaro, who had known Diego for a fairly long time, had no idea what Diego was doing.
Whenever anyone asked him what he was doing, Diego would always reply that he was researching medicines.
Depending on how you looked at it, that statement was not completely false. That was because Diego was working to finish his research for the purpose of inventing a medicine that would wipe out a dreadful disease that affected people all over the world.
After he finished cleaning and locking up, Diego once again looked at the papyrus.
“Green for Wood, red for Fire, yellow for Earth, white for Metal, black for Water.”
Diego pointed at the diagrams and characters that he had painted on the yellowed surface of the papyrus using green, red, yellow, white, and black dyes.
In the center of the papyrus, Diego placed a wooden doll that had joints which moved similar to those of humans.
“I hope this works.”
Saying that hope out aloud, Diego pulled out darts that were colored green, red, yellow, black, and white.
The point, barrel, and shaft of each dart were made of brass and reflected the meagre golden light given off by the lamp. Diego started to stick the darts upright at five corners of the diagram, one at a time.
At the end, when only the dart with the white flight was left in his hand, Diego stuck the dart into the papyrus with a trembling hand and unconsciously clenched his fist.
The five darts that had been stuck upright on the papyrus gave off a faint glow. The light moved through the diagrams and formulae painted on the papyrus, eventually making its way to the wooden doll at the center.
The wooden doll was covered in a light that shone in five colors, looking like a fire that had chemicals added to it.
“Now it begins.”
Out of the five glowing darts that were channeling light into the wooden doll, Diego gently touched the dart with the blue flight with his right hand and the dart with the yellow flight with his left hand.
Diego whispered that at the wooden doll .
The doll’s right leg slowly rose up from the papyrus.
On top of the diagram that glowed in five colors, the wooden doll took a step forward with its right leg, just like a human might have done.
Unable to restrain his excitement, Diego whispered once again in a trembling voice.
This time, the wooden doll’s left leg moved. Just like it had done with its right leg a few moments earlier, it now took a step forward with its left leg. The wooden doll had definitely moved two paces away from the center of the diagram where it had originally been placed.
“Alright, now for the hands.”
Diego nervously removed his hands from the blue and yellow darts, but the wooden doll showed no signs of falling over.
Diego proceeded to touch the red and white darts and commanded the wooden doll with his voice, just like before.
The doll lifted its right arm forwards.
“Lower the right arm and raise the left arm.”
This also went as Diego had planned. The wooden doll lowered its right hand and lifted its left hand.
“Lower the left arm.”
Diego commanded the wooden doll in a voice that had ceased to tremble.
For a second, a black light ran through the diagram before converging at the wooden doll’s head. After that…
“……I did it.”
Diego felt the urge to shout out loud.
On top of the diagram painted on the papyrus, the wooden doll began to slowly move forwards.
The doll’s stiff movements were far removed from the fluid movements of people, but even so, it appeared that the wooden doll was moving of its own volition.
One step per minute. There was no telling how much effort, time, and money Diego had put into making the doll walk at that absurdly slow pace.
The wooden doll walked on top of the diagram while moving its hands and legs.
The doll’s small and clumsy step forward was in fact a giant leap towards saving Diego and a large number of people from their suffering.
However, the next second, a sound resembling a shriek escaped from Diego’s mouth.
The wooden doll had placed one leg outside the diagram on the papyrus.
At that moment, the light that was emitted from the darts vanished without a sound and the wooden doll fell over like a puppet whose strings had been severed.
And then, after emitting a bright light for just a moment, the doll shattered into a several pieces.
With his hand placed over the black dart, Diego watched in a daze as the wooden doll with articulated joints that he had paid a large sum of money for crumbled into pieces.
“This is no good, something like this isn’t even close…”
Diego lay down on the floor in dejection and whispered to himself.
He had been happy because of his success just a few moments ago, but there was not the slightest trace of joy remaining in his expression right now.
The reason why the doll had fallen over and crumbled to pieces was obvious.
He had lost control over the doll the moment it stepped out of the diagram, and the five-colored light that he had lost control over destroyed the fragile wood that the doll was made from.
The aim of the experiment was to eventually make the wooden doll move as fast as a person, and perhaps even surpass that.
Diego turned an annoyed look upon the book that had given him the hints that he had needed to create the diagram that made the wooden doll move and the secret technique used to draw power from the darts.
He had been full of hope when he had obtained the source of this power that could make a large number of people happy, unlike alchemy that could do nothing more than making gold.
However, when Diego had been filled with hope after finding a book that explained how to use the source of this power, the book merchant who was of undeterminable age and spoke in strongly-accented Spinean had said something to him that made him feel like a bucket of cold water had been dumped over his head.
If you read this book expecting to find light, you will end up being chased by shadows instead. That is what the bookstore owner had said while laughing ominously.
『There is a rumor that everyone who seeks this power will end up unhappy without fail. Nothing in this world is infinite. When you use this power to forcibly drag out the light, you are taking that light away from someone else who was basking in it somewhere in the world. Light and shadows are two sides of the same coin. The fact that I carried this book all the way here from the Far East means that this damned thing has been moving from place to place while making people unhappy wherever it goes.』
“Light and shadows…. What the hell… No matter what I do, I only end up with the shadows… Goddammit!!”
In spite of all the time that had passed since then, the words of the old book merchant filled Diego with a fresh wave of fear. In the dimly lit room, he held the book as he groaned in frustration.
“Light… Speaking of which, what was the light that destroyed the ship today….?”
Diego’s musings had unintentionally reminded him of the scene that he had seen that afternoon.
He had not realized it back then because of his anger and the chaos at the scene, but the slave trader’s ship had not broken apart for reasons such as accidental ignition of the ship’s supply of gunpowder, degradation of the hull, or a keel failure.
Thinking back on that incident, wasn’t the light from that time similar to the light that the wooden doll had emitted just now when it broke apart?
Only the person who had calmly stood on the mast of the sinking ship had shown the composure to survey that surreal scene without panicking.
What was that person even doing in a place like that?
A method to split a ship of that size in two without producing any fire or smoke or using any large-scale equipment.
“It can’t be, right?”
Diego looked at the pieces of the dart with the red flight that he had used in the experiment before and lowered his shoulders.
Breaking two or three chains was one thing, but Diego’s abilities did not have the brute power required to break an entire ship.
However, it was certain that the incident had caused the slaves to regain their sense of dignity and their survival instincts.
There were rumors flying all over Caldeis that a number of slaves had managed to escape after that riot in the harbor.
“Rose… Will my actions bear fruit someday?”
Diego questioned himself.
“Was I mistaken in thinking that this 『Yin Yang Technique』 would save you……?”
Even the papyrus with the diagrams that was spread out on the table was covered in black scorch marks.
Sighing at his bitter failure, Diego could not even bear to look at it directly. That was when it happened.
Hearing some sounds coming from outside his front door, Diego immediately stood up. Before confirming the source of the sounds, he started to clear away the tools that he had used for his experiment.
He picked up the large sheet of papyrus that could no longer be used and cut it into several pieces with a knife. He threw the pieces into the stove in the kitchen along with the broken pieces of the wooden doll and set them on fire.
He had already cleared up all the other tools before starting the experiment and had hidden them away in places where they would not be immediately apparent, so as long as he burned these items there would be no problems.
Eventually, the flames of the stove started to heat the remnants of the stew that Diego had offered to Alvaro earlier that day and the smoke from the fire passed through the chimney to escape outside. At that point, Diego gripped a dart in his hand just in case and opened the front door while pretending to be nonchalant.
He saw that one of the paving tiles on the path next to his door was broken, and when he stepped on it, it shook and rattled beneath his weight. Maybe someone had just walked by coincidentally and caused that noise?
“What the hell am I doing, getting scared over something like this? I guess it’s time to say goodbye to this place as well.”
After looking to the left and right on the road that was utterly devoid of people, he let out a little sigh of relief and made to close the front door.
A slight breath of wind entered the house and caused the dust inside to rise up before he could shut the door entirely.
The next instant, Diego had his movement sealed all of a sudden by someone who twisted his left arm behind his back and placed a cold, metallic object against his throat.
In the instant while Diego was still in the process of understanding what had happened, someone whispered in his ear.
“If you shout, I’ll kill you.”
It was the voice of a girl who spoke in a low tone with a slight accent. For just a second, a knife-like object flashed in front of his eyes.
“Answer my questions. Where did you obtain that power? Who did you steal it from?”
“The power you used to break the chains of the slaves and move a lifeless wooden doll.”
Diego gulped and cleared his throat. That action caused him to feel the sensation of the blade that was held against his throat even more keenly.
He had closed the shutters on all the windows and used a triple-layer of curtains to further darken the room. Just how had she managed to peek at his experiment?
No matter how she had managed to do it, the fact that someone had managed to observe his technique did not bode well.
Just because Diego’s techniques were different from alchemy and other magic, that didn’t mean that the Inquisition would look kindly upon his abilities. They had no means to tell them apart in the first place.
The current situation of Eureka was such that anything that went against their tastes would be purged.
However, saying that they would kill him if he didn’t tell them about the source of his power was somewhat strange.
Seeing as this girl was referring to the incident from earlier today, his assailant must be the person who was standing on top of the mast at that time.
What kind of background did this person have?
The oddly calm part of his mind realized that this attack was strange, but it would not do to forget the most important thing.
Despite the fact that this situation made no sense, his life was still in danger.
Diego dropped the dart with a white flight that he had been gripping in his hand all this time while taking care that she would not notice it. It would be more than enough to work as a surprise attack against someone who was unfamiliar with this technique.
However, his assailant noticed it, and instead of slitting his throat, she strongly shoved him away and jumped away from him.
The floorboard that the dart with the white flight had pierced suddenly broke and flew upwards. It shot up towards the ceiling as though it was turning back into the living tree that it had once been before it had been turned into construction material.
If a person had been standing at that spot, they would not have been able to avoid getting skewered. However, now that he had been freed, Diego thrust his hand into his pouch and pulled out all the darts that he had left.
He did not think that his opponent would be scared off by something of this degree.
This time, Diego properly threw a dart with a black flight so that it stuck upright on the floorboards.
The next second, the floorboards rose up like snakes that had their own free will and menaced the intruder with their pointed tips.
“Leave! Or I’ll have to set these things on you!”
Diego’s voice trembled slightly as he threatened her because he was not used to violence. However, when he properly saw his assailant for the first time, his nervousness went up a notch.
Just as he had thought, she had the same peculiar appearance as the person who had been standing on the mast of that slave trader’s ship.
“…..Go ahead and try.”
Also, not only did his mysterious attacker show no sign of fear at his strange technique, she even declared that fearlessly.
Without showing the slightest surprise at the phenomenon that Diego had brought about, she jumped towards him once again.
Diego released the pointed snakes that had been created from the floorboards almost on reflex.
Diego doubted what he saw with his own eyes.
The sharp points only managed to rip through the robe that his assailant had been wearing.
The attacker used a dagger with a white tassel to stab the stake of wood that he had originally created.
The next moment, the stake slowly returned to its original state of being a floorboard like a wild animal that had been intimidated.
Even the pointed snakes of wood lost their power and fell to the floor as worthless splinters when they were cut by her dagger.
Diego panicked and tried to use his darts again, but his opponent was overwhelmingly faster.
At some point, she had switched to using a dagger with a red tassel instead of a white one, and she stabbed it into the ground under the floorboards from where the pointed snakes had been created.
The battle had been decided at that moment.
The mud that rose up from the ground wrapped itself around Diego’s arms and legs and pinned him to the wall of the room.
Rather than the fact that he had been restrained, Diego was overwhelmed by the phenomenon that had occurred before him.
No matter how he looked at it, she was using the same Yin Yang technique that Diego himself used.
He had studied the basics of the Yin Yang technique from his book, but he had developed the techniques that called forth miracles entirely on his own.
So why was this attacker able to do the same things as him?
When he looked closely, he saw that his attacker had five daggers at her waist, each of which had a differently colored tassel.
Most likely, the different colored tassels worked in the same way as Diego’s technique and used green for wood, red for fire, yellow for earth, white for metal, and black for water.
For some reason, the tassels on two of the daggers were not as brightly colored as the others, but the accuracy of her technique was so high that Diego couldn’t care less about that.
Unlike the snakes that he had created from the floorboards that had been easily knocked down, the earthen restraints that were pinning him to the wall were unbelievably sturdy.
What’s more, Diego received a further shock due to the attacker’s appearance.
She was around the same age as Diego, or maybe a little older.
She was beautiful, with dark brown skin and long, black hair the color of midnight.
Diego unconsciously said that aloud, and for some reason, his attacker’s steps faltered for a second when she heard that.
“Ah, sorry. I thought you were someone else.”
Despite his current situation, Diego still apologized to her.
There was no way that 『she』 would be in a place like this. In the first place, no matter how much this attacker resembled her, their eyes were of entirely different colors.
『She』 had possessed eyes that were far more blue than Diego’s own, the color of the sky itself. However, the girl in front of Diego had eyes of gold, the color of the metal that alchemists had been in pursuit of since time immemorial.
“What do you want? If it’s money you’re after, there’s a decent sum behind the stacked firewood….”
“I don’t care about your money. I am not like you bastards.”
After replying in a manner that couldn’t properly be called a response, the girl with golden eyes once again raised her dagger.
“This is your last chance. Tell me about the source of your power.”
“S-Source? If you use the same abilities as me, shouldn’t you already know about that?”
From what Diego had seen, the techniques that she had used undoubtedly belonged to the same family as his own Yin Yang techniques. What’s more, they were far more refined than his own.
However, the girl put on an even more displeased expression and slightly dug the point of her dagger into Diego’s throat.
“The same, you say? You filthy invaders dared to steal our techniques, make a crude replication of them, and say that they are the same as ours?”
As he had thought, they were not on the same wavelength at all.
After thinking about what to say to this girl who was obviously misunderstanding him, Diego looked towards the pot of stew that had begun to boil and was making rattling sounds with its lid.
“Next to the stove… at the back of the closet where the vegetables are stored, there is a hidden space. There is a book made of paper in there.”
“I created my techniques based on a book that I purchased from someone. I didn’t steal them from anyone. I read that book, studied by myself, and created them.”
There was no point in lying as his life was already in her hands.
She didn’t look like she was from the Inquisition, so there was no reason why he could not tell her the truth.
“You created them on your own? Those techniques?”
The girl looked at him once more carefully from head to toe, and eventually noticed the pouch at his waist.
While still keeping the knife pointed at his throat, she felt around his waist and removed his pouch. She then skillfully opened it with one hand and peered inside.
After that, she asked him something that he had not expected.
“This metal, the one that is used to make the shaft. Is it gold?”
Diego widened his eyes and even forgot about the knife that was held against his throat as he was on the verge of shaking his head.
“Of course not. There is no way I can get my hands on gold. That’s brass.”
“………Don’t move. If you do, the earthen restraints will snap your neck.”
Although her words were threatening, Diego thought that he saw a questioning look on her face.
She carelessly tossed Diego’s pouch on the table and after sticking a dagger with a black tassel into the wall beside Diego’s face, she walked over to the vegetable storage closet and pulled out the book that he had mentioned earlier from the hidden compartment.
The danger and value of the contents notwithstanding, books made from paper were rare and so Diego wanted to ask her to handle it carefully. However, she asked him another strange question at that time.
“Aren’t the contents of this book considered a taboo within this country?”
“O-Of course, I don’t want the Church to find out about that. There are even people who will make a fuss about the fact that the book is written in another country’s language…. But you said, ‘this country’… do you mean…?”
“……At this time, I lack the evidence to conclude that you are lying.”
The girl seemed to have come to some sort of understanding by herself. She closed the book and unexpectedly returned it to its hiding place carefully.
After that, she pulled out the dagger that she had stabbed into the wall beside Diego’s face, and took out a dart with a black flight from Diego’s pouch.
After casually tossing the dart at the earthen restraints that bound Diego to the wall, she turned her back to him and started to walk out of the house.
“I will let you off for now. But do not forget.”
Diego looked at her even as he felt the restraints slowly turning into mud and releasing him.
“Curses to the fakes. I will never let them get away”
He watched as the girl with golden eyes and dark-skinned, slender legs jumped into the night sky outside and vanished.
The girl with golden eyes had vanished in the blink of an eye, like fog that was blown away by the wind.
Diego slowly stood up and walked to the door that had been left open, but the only thing he saw outside was the road that he was used to seeing.
“What… the heck was that all about?”
Diego looked around in a daze like someone who had just woken up, and even wondered if what had happened had been just a dream. However…
『Curses to the fakes.』
The words of that mysterious girl resonated in the depths of his ears and made him think that she was real.
Diego was assailed by a delayed sense of fear, and after closing and locking the front door even more securely than usual, he fell into his bed without even cleaning up and went to sleep under his blankets while trembling like a child.
Ah, this dream again.
He was apparently a simple person. Any time he went through a rough experience, he would definitely have this dream.
One of Diego’s earliest memories was an image of himself greedily eating scraps from the bottom of a pot along with his parents and siblings.
At some point, Diego’s family had moved from that kind of lifestyle to living in a large palace with a full complement of servants and a garden full of roses.
After they had moved to that mansion, which was known as the Palace of Roses, Diego hardly ever saw the other members of his family.
His father was always on a ship at sea, to the extent that it wouldn’t be strange if people wondered if there was any point in him receiving such a large palace to live in.
As soon as his older brothers reached adulthood, they disappeared one by one for reasons Diego could not understand.
His mother passed away soon after they had moved to the mansion due to an epidemic.
Despite the fact that everyone in his family except his mother were still alive, Diego ended up losing many of his family members in a short span of time.
The reason why he still had that memory of his family greedily eating scraps of food was probably because, in his mind, that time when everyone in his family were smiling was the time when he had been the happiest.
Compared to being surrounded by roses that lacked any trace of warmth, he had been far happier back then.
As his life amidst the blooming roses continued, an unexpected ray of light fell upon Diego’s heart that had grown progressively colder.
A warm smile. That was something that had disappeared from Diego’s surroundings a long time ago.
That smile was far more beautiful than any of the hundreds of roses that bloomed in the palace. Diego stretched his hand out towards that smile, but all of a sudden he was thrown into abject darkness.
He was thrown into a stormy sea with nothing but an unreliable raft to cling to.
When he looked towards the place where that warm smile had existed, he saw only a large, black ship that sucked a line of chains into its belly. Diego shouted in despair, but his raft just kept getting farther and farther away from the harbor where the line of chains extended.
When he discovered the precious Rose that he held dear above everything else in that line, Diego screamed like a man who had lost his mind.
The most beautiful Rose in the world gave him a sad smile and was dragged away into the black ship by the chains.
『There is a rumor that everyone who seeks this power will end up unhappy without fail.』
The words of that book merchant echoed over the stormy sea.
Diego had been thrown into a sea, and he was at the mercy of light and darkness caused by flashes of lightning.
Just before his vision was cut off, he felt that he saw a pale golden glow.
It had been the feather of a bird that released a very warm light.
The light returned all of a sudden along with a strong impact.
It took him a few moments to realize that he had been dreaming.
He had seen that dream many times before, but why did he never realize that it was a dream while he was seeing it?
That probably showed how close the events from that dream were to his current reality, but he had already had enough of the pain that constantly tormented his heart.
Diego shook his head to clear away the vestiges of his bad dream. He grimaced at himself for sleeping deeply enough to sweat through a nightmare despite the fact that his experiment had failed last night, and he had been attacked by a mysterious woman.
“Maybe I should go to the bathhouse… No, I spent too much money because of Alvaro yesterday, and considering the strange person from last night I should probably avoid going outside carelessly….”
While getting up from his bed, Diego had just started to go over the previous night’s incident once again with a fresh mind, when it happened.
A loud banging sound came from his front door, and Diego froze in place due to shock while berating himself for his carelessness.
He had been discovered while carrying out an experiment that was similar to magic. And yet he had thoughtlessly gone to sleep in his own house.
If he had been discovered by pious believers of the Holy Church, it wouldn’t have been strange if they had set his house on fire without a second thought.
Diego was afraid to find out if it was a policeman or a member of the Inquisition banging on his door, but…
“Diego!! Diego, we have a problem!!”
When he heard Alvaro’s familiar voice instead, Diego nearly cried due to relief.
“What is it, Alvaro? What do you want so early in the morning…?”
Diego prepared himself to deal with the usual scene of Alvaro barging into his house, but…
“This is bad, Diego! Hurry up and pack your bags!”
Alvaro had a haggard face and was covered in sweat. Diego had never seen him like this before.
Diego was perplexed at Alvaro’s unusually serious behavior, but then Alvaro gave him a shock that was even more serious than the attack last night.
“The Holy Church found out about your 『Research』!”
Diego was speechless. The contents of Alvaro’s news were so devastating that he didn’t even notice the fact that Alvaro was shouting about his research while standing on the street.
“A-Alvaro. Don’t tell me… just because I refused to go to the New World with you…”
Diego unconsciously gave voice to his suspicions, but Alvaro just looked at him with bloodshot eyes and shook his head.
“I’m not that big an idiot! And besides, if I did something like that, even I would get into heaps of trouble for supplying you with the materials you needed! Anyways, this is not something we should be talking about out here! Let me in!”
Alvaro pushed Diego aside and stepped into the house, while closing the door on his way in. Once he was inside, he let out a large breath.
“Even though I said that, depending on how you look at it, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that it was my mistake. The trading company I work for found your requests to be suspicious, and so they have been keeping track of all the items you ordered for a while now.”
“But they were paid handsomely to overlook that! And besides, I didn’t order anything that would attract so much notice!”
Diego was well aware that his 『research』 and 『parentage』 were not something that the Holy Church, whose influence extended to every corner of the Old World, would look upon with favor.
That was precisely why he had not been stingy with payments while dealing with Alvaro’s associates or other merchants, in order to ensure that his identity was never revealed.
“D-Don’t tell me, was there an informant within the company…!?”
The uninvited guest from last night seemed to have some interest in his research.
The first thing that came to his mind was that she had leaked information about him or the company that Alvaro worked for. However, Alvaro frowned and tilted his head.
“If people were branded as heretics for the meagre amount of materials that you ordered, it would become impossible to conduct a business! Besides, those people from the Church would not move just because a business rival leaked some information about you.”
Alvaro immediately denied his conjecture, and instead said something that touched upon a sore spot.
“Diego. There’s something you’ve been hiding from me, right?”
Diego didn’t know what to say.
“I don’t know what it is, but that’s probably the cause of this situation. Trade companies don’t have the time to identify individual customers as heretics and report them to the Holy Church. However, if the Church offers a reward for information about a scandal concerning one of 『Spinea’s preeminent citizens』, then that would be a different story…… Do you understand what I’m saying?”
Diego desperately tried to avoid Alvaro’s gaze, but he could not keep himself from hearing his words.
“A-Alvaro, do you know about my… that is….”
“Your secret? I don’t know anything about that. What I told you just now is something I found out by eavesdropping on a meeting at the company. Still, a fast rider was dispatched to the cathedral just before dawn. I am not the kind of person who can sit idly by while my friend and financial benefactor is being tried as a heretic by the Inquisition, so I went to the trouble of letting you know about it as soon as I could.”
Despite Alvaro’s patronizing tone, if what he said was true, then Diego was in his debt.
“W-What should I do?”
Hearing Diego say that in a voice that quavered pathetically, Alvaro put on a serious expression and crossed his arms.
“Although it sounds strange to say that this is because of the King’s policies, due to the way the Holy Church’s influence is distributed, the nearest cathedral that has a branch of the Inquisition is in Urgell. Even a fast rider would need four days to travel to Urgell from here and come back. You need to run away before then. Of course, you need to dispose of anything they can use to track you down first.”
“Run away… And sure, I have already made arrangements to quickly dispose of anything that might cause problems.”
Within Eureka, the Holy Church’s information network was far greater than that of any single country.
Moreover, if they found out the truth about Diego’s parentage, they would stop at nothing to get their hands on him. Even if he left Spinea, the Church’s evil clutches might still reach him in the surrounding countries.
Alvaro looked at the hesitating Diego like a spider watching its prey entangled in its web.
“……Alvaro, you don’t mean…”
“What other options are there? It’ll be fine. I know the people over at the harbor who handle the ships that travel here from the New World. Those guys don’t keep track of what is happening within the country, so I’ll put in a good word for you. Stay hidden at The Oyster Shell until it’s time to depart. Ruffians from all over Eureka who arrive at the harbor here in Caldeis visit that restaurant. You should be able to avoid suspicion in that place.”
Alvaro had a proud look on his face, and Diego could do nothing but stare at him speechlessly.
Fate, it seemed, had a cruel sense of humor.
I have to go to the place where that man is waiting? Throwing away everything that I have to achieve in this country?
“Don’t worry, I won’t make you go alone. Let’s go the 『New World』 together.”
Diego stared at the setting sun with a dejected expression from an attic that overlooked the Caldeis harbor.
As the next expedition was the first one from Caldeis to the New World that was open to civilian volunteers, the fleet was fairly large. From the window of The Oyster Shell where he was currently staying, he could see six full-sized sailing ships.
Four of them were large-sized galleons that were capable of transporting large amounts of freight, and the other two were sleek, medium-sized galleons.
Of course, in this day and age, even cargo ships were outfitted with weapons when they traveled on the open sea. The civilian volunteers would also be given several tasks during the voyage, starting with being reserve soldiers and eventually branching out into various other jobs.
Alvaro was currently busy ensuring that the two of them would get as good a position as possible once they were aboard the ship. Diego had already handed over the money required for that to Alvaro, including the five Carlo silver coins that he had been given for volunteering.
“Diego, do you have a moment?”
Diego heard Cassia’s voice from the other side of the door, and he responded in the affirmative in a low voice.
“I have a message from Alvaro. He asked me to tell you that you would be leaving aboard that black galleon, the Faro de Esperanza, in two hours.”
“Faro de Esperanza, huh?”
Diego smiled as if he found the name to be ironic.
“That’s a heck of a name for a ship that is taking a large number of young people away from the country.”
Cassia tried to accept his cynicism, but her expression turned dark despite herself.
“Hey, Diego. Are you really going?”
Despite the brevity of her question, Diego understood exactly what she meant.
“I have no other choice.”
“Still, you don’t need to go all the way to the New World, right? I mean, you could go to some place like Eddingdon. There are rumors that even the Holy Church keeps its distance from that country.”
“Eddingdon won’t accept a troublemaker from Spinea like me, precisely because they keep their distance from the Holy Church. That would be the same as sowing the seeds of conflict. That’s especially true for me, considering my parentage.”
“Thank you, Cassia-san. You treated even someone like me fairly.”
“Stop that. Every customer is important to me, no matter what kind of person they are. Of course, I won’t forgive the people who don’t pay or waste food.”
That last part was said in jest, and Cassia laughed at her own joke. However, she immediately regained her serious expression.
Diego looked at Cassia who seemed to be thinking about his situation a lot harder than himself, and intentionally spoke in a light tone.
“If the people from the Church come asking about me, don’t try to hide any information, okay? That’s for your own safety. The only people that I’m close to who hang around near the harbor are you and Alvaro. My only worry is whether my disappearance will cause problems for you, Cassia-san.”
Cassia gripped the fabric of her apron and hung her head.
“Why do you… because of someone like him…”
“There’s no helping it. There will be times when you run out of choices.”
The person who introduced Diego to the suspicious-looking book merchant who came from the east was none other than Cassia herself.
At that time, Cassia had not known why Diego was hanging around the Alchemists’ Market. In the end, however, Diego had worked out the details of his Yin Yang technique thanks to the help he had indirectly received from Cassia. For that reason, he had revealed all the details regarding his objectives and his parentage to her.
Diego had been prepared to be treated as a heretic. However, Cassia had sympathized with his circumstances and shed tears for him.
Letting the feelings of a woman like her go to waste was very painful for Diego.
“Alright then, I should get going.”
“This is wrong.”
Diego picked up his luggage that mostly consisted of the tools he needed for his Yin Yang technique and attempted to leave the room. However, his steps faltered when he saw Cassia’s tears that were reflecting the light from the setting sun.
“This is wrong… All you wanted to do was to save someone, and yet….”
“That’s right. Despite all the grand things that I said, all I want is to save just one person who may or may not still be alive. That is why I was punished for my hypocrisy.”
“You get punished, and the people who trade the lives of others for money get to live in peace!? That’s even more wrong!!”
Cassia shouted without even bothering to wipe away her tears.
“It’s just that kind of world. It’s that kind of era. I can’t do anything about the times that we live in with my power alone.”
Diego forced a smile and hugged Cassia tightly.
The poster girl of The Oyster Shell trembled in his arms and wept as the salty breeze caused her hair to rustle.
“Cassia-san. Despite how I look, I’m quite tenacious. Just because I’m going to the New World, that doesn’t mean that I am going to die. Although being dependent on Alvaro is annoying, I should think about it positively for now. I’ll spend a few years in the New World, gather what I need for my research, and one day I will definitely come back here.”
“You really think I’ll believe that? Just how many people do you think I’ve sent off from this harbor who sailed out into the open sea only to never come back?”
“But there have been people who made it back. Even the first expeditionary force that got hammered by the Colossi didn’t get wiped out entirely, and some of them made it back. I will definitely come back, for the sake of my objectives.”
“……If you said that you would come back for my sake, I might have believed you a little.”
“That’s harsh. You’re older than me, Cassia-san, and you’re the most beautiful woman on these docks. I don’t know how many years it will take for me to come back here, so I’m not going to ask you to wait for me.”
“I’ll make you regret that, okay?”
Cassia had finally regained her strong spirit and her ability to make jokes.
With this, he could set off on his journey without worrying about her.
“Well then, I’ll be back.”
“Okay, take care. Don’t let that fool Alvaro get too cocky.”
After nodding strongly, Diego left the attic of The Oyster Shell where he had been staying for the past three days.
Cassia did not come with him to see him off.
The harbor was full of people who were going on the expedition and the people who had come to see them off. Even looking down from above through the window, Cassia was not able to spot Diego amongst that crowd.
Eventually, the navy ships started to slowly move away from the pier, and the harbor was filled with sorrowful voices as the people who were going on the expedition and the people who had come to see them off exchanged their last farewells.
Cassia did not move away from the window in the attic of The Oyster Shell until the sun dipped below the horizon and all the ships had disappeared from sight.
While praying for the good fortune of the Faro de Esperanza that Diego was traveling on, Cassia whispered to herself.
“Have a safe trip… Diego Colone.”
 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wuxing_en.svg ↑
 “Lighthouse of Hope” in Spanish. ↑
[Prologue] [Chapter 1] [Chapter 2]