“How is that?”(Wind troupe guy A)
“It’s useless after all. In the end I barely managed to scratch it.”(Wind troupe guy B)
Hearing that the wind user, who had the most penetrating arts, gave up, the leader of the elite group of Blue Garden sighed, groaning without saying anything as he hit the outer wall of the fortress that stood before him.
The appearance of the strange structure around the fortress was not in their calculations. Still, this structure has achieved “the intended result”.
“We cannot call this situation resolved, can we?”(Wind troupe guy C)
“We are not done yet. We have to remove all traces of ourselves first.”(Wind troupe guy A)
Jamming the transmissions by using wind arts did not take much time to set up. However, the walls of the fortress were immune to the slicing and stabbing damage of the wind attacks. Although, the walls of the fortress were not that durable during the attack they carried out a few days ago.
“It was the job of that black haired guy after all.”(Wind troupe guy B)
“I’m afraid you are right. I heard that his divine arts are quite unusual…”(Wind troupe guy A)
“It was an oversight of the intelligence guys. Shall we file a complaint?”(Wind troupe guy C)
“It’s futile. Without doubt, the water troupe guys will back them up.”(Wind troupe guy A)
The problematic upper echelons of Blue Garden were the few water arts users residing in the fortress city, Paula. With their ability to heal people and purify the water, they were highly regarded in the social structure of the city. The symbolic head of the Blue Garden was also a water arts user. All of this provided water arts users with a lot of influence in this country.
Divine arts militia organizations, that existed within Blue Garden at that time, were equivalent to the god corps of the Fonclank kingdom. The wind arts intelligence unit has recently achieved great fame after successfully luring Zeshald over to their side. Having obtained a capable leader and instructor, the water arts users were favorable towards these spies.
The Wind troupe, whose main forte was assassinations and guerilla tactics, did not leave traces of their action in the enemy country. Their actions were focused on bringing serious damage over a long period of time, yet these actions were perceived as harassment and provocation.
However, their opponent did not react rashly. There were no actions, leading to their destruction. There were no signs of riots or coup-d’état. This lead to the voices of doubt, regarding the efficiency of the actions of the wind troupe, being raised in their own country.
This time the calls were not only to lower the budget of the group, but also to change their strategic approach and to cause more direct damage from now on.
Thus, if the attack on the fortress could be “doubtlessly” linked to the wind troupe, Blue Garden’s government would become unable to brush off protests against the offensive action within Fonclank territory, as it did now, saying, “Without evidence, that is nothing but baseless rumors”.
If the truth came to light, other countries would protest against it, if they continued their agenda as they did now. Because of this, they could not afford to leave any evidence behind.
“Well, we should leave the matters to the group inside, for now.”(Wind troupe guy A)[i]
“I wonder how successful will they be…?”(Wind troupe guy B)
Answering this to his colleague, who seemed to be optimistically thinking ahead, the leader of the wind troupe answered like that while admiring the blockade (wall that was blocking off) of the Gearhawk fortress.
On the first floor of the Gearhawk fortress, six people, hiding in one of the rooms on the right side passage, were discussing about how to escape their current situation. For these guys, a fight against the elite of the Blue Garden was reckless. Therefore, they had to hold out against the siege of the fortress until reinforcements arrived. But to do that, they first had to secure rations and drinkable water.
“We can’t do anything about the provisions we have left at our carriage. It seems the only possibility is to search for the food storage of the fortress. “(Vermeer)
“The food storage room and the well should be located in the basement. I think there are stairs leading to it in the kitchen.”(Shaheed)
“Alright then, let’s check the basement together.”(Yuusuke)
Listening to Vermeer’s and Shaheed’s conversation, Yuusuke decided to secure the provisions. Under the current circumstances, Yuusuke also decided to block off all other passages in preparation for the siege.
“I think it is better to gather resources such as medical supplies, lamp oil, and wood. Securing the everyday goods will also help in maintaining morale.”(Aisha)
“Agreed. I can’t go on without any alcohol under these circumstances!”(Fonke)
Going along with Aisha’s proposal, the group agreed that, alongside food, they should also gather other daily necessities and goods, which would be necessary in case of a prolonged siege. Having decided on their goal, the group agreed to split up to search the first and second floors. Just in case, they warned Fonke to share the alcohol should he find some and not keep it all for himself.
“U-uhm… The 2nd floor and the basement has not yet been scanned for enemies, therefore…”(Isotta)
“Alright, please search for them.”(Yuusuke)
Hesitantly bringing up the dangers of their search, Isotta promptly performed her job.
“To deal with everything like this, you sure act like someone selected by the palace.”(Vermeer)
To Vermeer, gifted with an acute sense of danger, actions like transferring of command to subordinates was something he was not accustomed to. In light of this, he valued Yuusuke’s quick wits very highly. Yuusuke replied with a smile, saying, “It just happened by chance,” while thinking about the voice that warned him on the oncoming attack.
[“That voice, it had to be that sly Reifold…”](Yuusuke)
Yuusuke could not comprehend why that man, who was supposed to be a Blue Garden spy, let him know about the danger. The time that Sun was apprehended, and the time when he was troubled by the order to join the military service, that man just appeared out of nowhere, gave Yuusuke some valuable advice, and disappeared immediately afterwards.
[“What is his aim?”](Yuusuke)
Yuusuke’s doubts increased even more as he thought of it, deep in his mind.
“I wonder what happened to the people who were in the fortress…?”(Aisha)
“I don’t know. Did you sense any human presence, Isotta?”(Fonke)
“Y-Yes, but the air is unusually fresh. It was probably ventilated.”(Isotta)
Hearing Isotta’s reply, Fonke clicked his tongue and scratched his head, while Aisha cast her eyes down, scowling. Unable to comprehend the meaning behind Isotta’s words, Yuusuke asked for an explanation.
“What does that mean?”(Yuusuke)
According to the explanation, human presence always remained in places that were previously inhabited. It was especially true for an indoor environment, where traces could be found even after dozens of days have passed since the place became uninhabited.
By the state of this air, especially in an indoor space, where the air was stale, one could tell how long has it been since humans have left this place. Therefore it was very strange that there was no such human presence in this fortress. The only conclusion was that the air was forcefully changed.
“With that said… the air in this fortress was probably cleaned using wind arts…”(Isotta)
“In short, these guys have entered the fortress before, and cleaned out the stench of blood after finishing up their job.”(Fonke)
Fonke has frankly stated the conclusions, which meant that the people, who were in the fortress, were already dead.
“As we have talked on the road, around ten days ago there was a material delivery and duty rotation to this fortress. I think that at least by then none of this have had happened yet.” (Shaheed)
“Regular communications were probably faked by those guys.”(Yuusuke)
Assuming they were planning to escape from the fortress by themselves, thinking about the clean air, which the fortress was filled with, this situations was by no means one where they could call this air “fragrant”.
However, after Yuusuke has blocked off all the invasion routes into the fortress, for some time the group could hear the sounds from the attacks that the wall at the front entrance has been suffering. As the wall stood strong and the attacks had ceased, Shaheed noted that the cage they have built out of the fortress was beyond the expectations of their attackers.
“Probably captain’s divine arts are too much even for those guys to deal with.”(Shaheed)
“Is that so… However it was barely enough.”(Yuusuke)
Yuusuke’s body shuddered as he remembered the power of the wind troupe’s wind blades. Just being grazed by one of them in the shoulder would lead to a serious injury.
“I am confident that direct hit from one of them would mean the end to the victim.”(Yuusuke)
Despite talking about all these things everyone decided that they should first secure their food and water. Having decided that, the group set out to look for a kitchen. Isotta was responsible for scouting for enemies and the mobility of the group and Fonke was satisfied with being in the middle of the group. As Shaheed was skilled in diverting enemy attacks during critical moments of the fight, he and Vermeer were in the vanguard, while Yuusuke formed the rear guard along with Aisha.
“Weren’t your fire arts not fit for combat, Vermeer?”(Yuusuke)
“I can create enough fire to use for a light, but it lacks the power to be used as a weapon.”(Vermeer)
Because of this, Vermeer was appointed to be the light bearer and Shaheed was the only person in the group with any real offensive power. Yuusuke had opened the customization menu, so that he would be prepared to use the pavement of the floor to create protective walls and defend everyone in the group.
The dining room near the kitchen was destroyed, with tables and chairs thrown around in chaos, and the dried remains of the food scattered all over the floor. There were signs of the stone being scraped off by the wind blades in the passage, but the state of the room was especially bad.
“It seems they carried out their attack during the meal. A lot of people have died here.”
Vermeer pointed towards the mass of broken tables and chairs in the room. The floor, the walls, and even the ceiling, were abundant with marks left by wind blades, accompanied by a lot of bloodstains. A strange smell they had not felt before, floated in the room. It was a mixture of rotting food and the stench of blood.
“They should have thrown the corpses into the basement.”
As Fonke said that, Isotta, who was standing near the entrance, suddenly jerked her shoulders. A construction of such a fortress required an equally large number of personnel. If it was outside, they could have hidden the bodies by burying them. Thinking about the fact that they have yet had to find a body in this fortress – the very thought seemed to be impossible.
„Is everything alright, Isotta?”(Yuusuke)
“Y-yes…. I – I am alright.”(Isotta)
Looking at Isotta, who gave her reply in a tensed voice, while continuing to tense her body, Yuusuke thought to himself:
[“Why would such an ordinary child become a member of the god corps?”]
Yet again, he had no time to think about it as long as his attention had to be concentrated on the investigation of the basement.
“… The cover is tightly shut. We also need a key.”(Vermeer)
“I’ll open it right now. Let me through.”(Yuusuke)
Yuusuke opened the tightly locked trap hole into the basement within three seconds. Unlocking it through customization was way faster than using the earth arts.
“Wow, that sure is one useful divine art! Aren’t you invincible in close combat?”(Vermeer)
Vermeer admired Yuusuke as Fonke pulled the handle of the trapdoor, halfway opening it. As they put the light into the gap, they saw a stairway, descending into the darkness. Shadows of doubt appeared on Fonke’s face as he was lifting the trapdoor by the shape resembling a handle.
“What happened, Fonke?”(Aisha)
“…Nothing, it’s just that something is bothering me.”(Fonke)
After saying that, Fonke scratched his upper lip as he glanced at Isotta. The girl was standing still, staring at the crack as she was scanning the basement for potential enemies. Noticing that Aisha looked at Isotta with a worried expression.
What’s happened? … Did you hear something?”(Aisha)
“I-I’m all right… But, I think I sense the enemy. There’s three of them… I feel the aura of the wind arts users. And… I think I also feel a presence of a prisoner…”(Isotta)
There appeared to be three wind arts users, likely the members of the wind troupe, as well as two prisoners. She finished the report by saying that she did not detect any enemy in between the door and the storehouse.
As Yuusuke did not know to what the extent the wind arts could provide the user with the information about the enemy, he judged the severity of the situation from Isotta’s pale face and shaking shoulders. Yuusuke speculated that either the wind users had very strong wind arts at their disposal or the prisoners were in a very bad situation.
“Have they noticed us?”(Yuusuke)
“No- No they haven’t noticed us yet… Uhm… half of them… are sleeping.”(Isotta)
“Thinking that they have locked themselves in, these guys took a chance to sleep in the beds. Or maybe this is all a trap?”(Yuusuke)
“Captain, did you notice any kind of trap attached to the door? For example, something connected to the locking mechanism?”(Vermeer)
To answer Vermeer’s question, Yuusuke opened his customization menu and checked the customization history. He examined the lock part. As he used [Rotate] and [Enlarge][ii] functions, which were part of his ability, he noticed a sphere like contraption that would break if he unlocked the door normally and turned the handle.
As the ball was made of metal, it was sure to make a loud noise as it fell down the stairs.
“I see… So there was a device installed after all.”(Vermeer)
Vermeer and the rest of the company were either shocked or amazed at the way that Yuusuke’s divine art unlocked the door, bypassing the locking mechanism.
[“We are at the advantage from here on”]
Feeling that they have the advantage, the group started discussing on how to deal with the enemies in the underground. As half of them were sleeping, now was a good chance for an attack.
“Our attack will be most effective this way.”
“We can decide the battle if we attack all at once.”
“If I attacked from close range, I think even my water ball could kill a person.”(Shaheed)
As they had no chances of winning in a divine arts battle, thinking that his squad would manage to clutch a win in close combat, Yuusuke strengthened the daggers they carried for self-protection. Using his customization, he bestowed various enchantments on these daggers which were already strengthened through the use of the earth arts.
In the Item Customize Create System, which was the basis for Yuusuke’s Customize Create ability, when customizing clothes, map items, or items such as food, the user was allowed a certain degree of freedom. Still, originally this system was meant to customize the weapons and the defensive items of the user.
Therefore, when customizing the armor class items, Yuusuke had an extensive amount of options. This meant, that even if it could be considered cheating, Yuusuke could raise the strength and power of these items as much as he wanted.
Offensive power, stamina, divine arts power, accuracy, body strength, agility – Yuusuke could add special effects like that to the item that was customized. Thus, Yuusuke enchanted those daggers to their customization limit. Having finished with the weapons, Yuusuke went on to enhance the accessories with various body ability raising perks. After a while he came to realize something.
[“I didn’t expect this myself…”]
He murmured his innermost thoughts as he was handing out the daggers, with their offensive abilities customized, to three members of his squad.
“?! Whoa, this baby is amazing!”(Fonke)
“It’s mysterious, I felt my strength surging just by touching the dagger. My body also feels lighter.”(Shaheed)
“I can understand weapon and ability enhancement through the divine arts, but I have never heard of the weapon itself giving these effects to their user. What kind of a divine art do you really have?”(Vermeer)
“It’s a divine art of the Evil god.”(Yuusuke)
Yuusuke jokingly answered Vermeer’s question, as he decided to keep the truth behind his ability hidden. Vermeer smiled broadly and left this matter aside, without further questioning Yuusuke’s ability.
“Captain, this is your first mission, right? Do you have any experience in combat?”(Vermeer)
“None. I had a brawl in the game plaza before, but this is my first time facing a real battle.”(Yuusuke)
Vermeer nodded, acknowledging Yuusuke’s reply, and began disseminating the strategy. According to it, Yuusuke and the two girls would stay behind at the entrance, while the three guys went in to attack. After he gave a sign, he wanted the three of them to go in and support the vanguard. Yuusuke, being a complete novice at these kind of things, agreed to it, leaving all the decisions up to the more experienced Vermeer and the rest of his group.
After turning the light off, and silently, fully opening the basement hatch, Fonke enveloped himself, Vermeer, and Shaheed with a mobility wind aura. Afterwards, the three of them silently disappeared into the darkness of the stairway. During the execution of their battle plan, Isotta was continuously monitoring the status of the enemy in the basement.
In the meantime, Yuusuke was customizing his cloak, leaving customization of the clothes, other party members wore, for when they returned.
“Uh-uhm, I’m done.“(Isotta)
Isotta’s face twitched as she asked Yuusuke for further orders. There were no echoes of battle nor were there any cries of death. It was as if the wind troupe, who were hidden in the basement, met their deaths silently. But, as they received the signal from Vermeer’s group, they descended to the basement.
As they were descending down the stairs, Yuusuke frowned at the strange smell that has assaulted them. This smell was different from the smell of blood that was mixed in the air at the dining room above. This corridor was filled with an awful smell, which was frequent in wet, damp places.
After climbing down into the basement, Yuusuke’s group joined up with the Vermeer’s group. Leaving the stairwell, the path became a bit wider as corridor expanded to both sides. At the right hand side, four doors were positioned at the sides of the corridor, and three barrels were stacked up at the end of the passage. On the left hand side corridor widened immediately, and a construction, which was probably a water well, could be seen.
“Don’t you think it ended too quickly?”
“It feels wrong. Honestly it was dangerous. If we didn’t have these daggers, we would have suffered damage as well.”
“It’s to the right”, continued Vermeer.
Aisha nodded to the fire arts user and entered the designated storage room. A question mark popped over Yuusuke’s head, as he was unable to understand what was happening between them.
“I asked her to heal the prisoners that we freed”, explained Vermeer.
Before long, sobs and cries of a woman could be heard from the storage room.
“Were their injuries that heavy…?”(Yuusuke)
“Their injuries are not serious, but this is not the worst problem right now.”(Vermeer)
Vermeer did not go into the details, as he answered Yuusuke’s question. Isotta appeared from behind the corner, with her eyes cast down. She entered the room, carrying the water from the well that Aisha asked her to bring for the treatment of the prisoners. Fonke scratched his head, thinking about the future.
The atmosphere within the group was heavy, similarly to the stench that filled the air around them. Shaheed, who has been the only one to remain silent, started to speak.
“Captain still looks young and weak, but judging from the fight at the plaza and the accusations of that scoundrel, I think that he is mature enough for this.”
“Eh? What is happening? Despite everything, I am an adult.”(Yuusuke)
“Oh, is that really true? Well, it might have been strange of me to be considerate about that.”
“Well, I guess it’s my bad. You seemed to be too honest, Captain. I feared it might give you a trauma.”
Without any eagerness, the three directed Yuusuke to the room before him. The emergency food supplies were untouched, but moved to a certain part of the room. The freed up space was respectively separated into a space for the wind art users of the wind troupe and a space for the corpses of their prisoners.
“Three prisoners were held here. Two of them are being healed by Aisha further inside.”
“And the last one…?”(Yuusuke)
Yuusuke glanced at a pile on the floor that was covered with a cloth. It was not hard for him to guess that a corpse of the third prisoner was lying under it. Fonke stretched his hand towards the cloth and looked at Yuusuke as if confirming that he should uncover it.
“Well, this is not a thing I should be intentionally showing…”
For the elite soldiers that primarily stayed around the palace and usually avoided the dirty work, knights of god corps knew little of the actual work out in the field. The prisoner’s corpse that Vermeer’s group found and shown to the captain of a god corps of the palace, most likely belonged to a female god corps member, a captain in fact, who was captured during the defense of the fortress.
At first sight, it looked like the body was clothed in red colored spotted pattern camouflage clothes – the body was covered in deep red bruises and skin tears. Although the body was lying in a usual posture, her hands and legs were bent in an unnatural places. There were no fingernails on the remaining fingers of the hand and feet of the corpse.
The woman parts of the body were both sliced off, the nose was broken, and the jaw had an unusual shape. Her disheveled blue hair was tangled into a tight clot and had some bleached yellow powder stuck to them.
Yuusuke did not avert his eyes until the body was covered again. This made an expression of admiration float up on Vermeer’s face. Such gruesome sight was quite rare during the times of peace, but when fighting has started, such scenes were not a strange sight on the field.
Yuusuke suddenly thought of something and touched part of the corpse that was jutting out from under the cloth.
“?! It can’t be…”(Yuusuke)
Without answering the doubting calls of his group, Yuusuke opened the customization menu, feeling that he shouldn’t be doing this. In the menu he saw the image of the mangled body, but, by manipulation the various parameters, he could heal the skin tears and bruises, and even fix the broken bones.
Although most of the work included adjusting the damage sliders of various parts to their zero values, since his task concerned tampering with a human body, it still took a considerable amount of time. Finally, in the screen of the customization window, a reasonably muscular, naked body of a blue haired young woman could be seen.
Yuusuke, surrounded by an aura peculiar to the activation of the divine art, moved his finger in the air as if performing some sort of special ceremony, and was stared at by Vermeer’s company, who were bewildered, unable to understand the meaning of their captain’s actions. Isotta, having come to relay the information from the other two prisoners, whom were now healed and calmed down by Aisha, was also watching this spectacle from the doorway.
“All right. Execute!”(Yuusuke)
Light effects surrounded the body and burst out from under the clothes the body was covered with. Before long, the light particles, dancing in the air, settled, and the dark red mangled hand that was missing some fingers has changed into smooth white hand of a female. The fingers that were gruesomely cut were also attached back to their former positions.
“What?! What the fuck did you do?!”(Vermeer)
Vermeer and Shaheed, their eyes opened wide from amazement, were at loss for words. Before they regained their composure, Fonke has uncovered the body again. A beautiful, perfectly symmetrical body was lying there with not a single wound visible on her beautiful skin. Isotta, covered her mouth, her face becoming all red from embarrassment.
“Haaaa… I guess reviving someone is impossible after all…”(Yuusuke)
He could only customize the corpse as any other item.
“That… that startled me… Besides, if you could revive people, I couldn’t think of you as a human anymore, captain.”(Vermeer)
“Haaa… She was quite a beauty. Those wind troupe bastards are thinking too highly of themselves”(Yuusuke)
Cooling their emotions, Vermeer and Shaheed also squat down near the body sighing in a similar manner to Yuusuke. Contrary to the two, instead of focusing on the mysterious arts they had just witnessed, Fonke, obviously more interested in the beauty of the woman, covered the cloth again with regret clearly shown by his actions.
Afterwards, listening to Isotta’s report, everyone moved towards the inner room to listen to what the two surviving prisoners had to say.
“I, I think that… To be able to become beautiful again… that person… would also feel relieved…”
“… Is that so?”(Yuusuke)
[“Yeah I guess she would be relieved”], thought Yuusuke, praying for the woman to be able to feel at least a little bit more happiness in the next world.
Isotta looked up at her [“Captain Yuusuke”], admiring him with her green eyes.
[i] NOTE: the furigana implied “inside” while kanji read “concealed group”
[ii] CSI style