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An angry, strangely high-pitched shouting echoed in the throne room of the Amid Empire’s imperial castle.
“Marshukzarl has escaped?! Who is responsible for this?! What were the guards doing?!”
The owner of this voice was Salazar Iristel, the eldest son of the Iristel house of dukes, who was now the emperor of the Amid Empire.
“It seems to be the doing of the Storm of Tyranny. According to a report from the Fifteen Evil-breaking Swords, the former emperor was abducted,” said one of the buffoons whose official job title was ‘secretary.’
The moment Schneider’s party was mentioned, Salazar let out a stifled scream and flinched in an unsightly manner, almost falling off his throne. “Schneider?! Th-this castle had better have its defenses in order!”
“Of course, Your Majesty! This castle’s defenses are flawless! There is not a single person who could possibly harm you, the emperor chosen by the mighty Alda himself!” another secretary said, trying to calm him down.
But these words weren’t enough to return the color to Salazar’s pale face.
“What is the Adventurers’ Guild doing?! Can’t they do something about him?! What of the heroes who have received divine protections from the gods?! What about the Fifteen Evil-breaking Swords?! What is the Great Church of Alda doing?!” Salazar screamed.
The secretaries desperately continued their attempts to calm him down. But Salazar was well aware that he was speaking nonsense.
Even Marshukzarl had struggled to deal with Schneider when he was still the emperor. Salazar knew that there was no way that this situation would change just because he had now become emperor.
It was true that if he united the A-class adventurers of the Adventurers’ Guild, the heroes who had received divine protections, the Fifteen Evil-breaking Swords, and the Great Church of Alda to form a single fighting force, they might be able to defeat Schneider. But how would he unite them? And even if he did, what strategy would they employ to battle against Schneider?
No matter how much Salazar thought about it, he had no clue what the answers to these questions were… though he didn’t even have the authority to carry out such a plan in the first place.
“Damn it. Chosen by a god my foot… It wasn’t a god who chose me, it was the Church, wasn’t it!” Salazar shouted.
He had plenty of knowledge, experience, and quick wits… enough to become the head of the Iristel house of dukes, that is.
Like the Marme house of dukes, the Iristel house of dukes was a great noble family that had supported the Amid Empire since its foundation, and the current head of the Iristel house did have a claim to the imperial throne. The region ruled by the Iristel house was the land adjacent to the empire’s border with its vassal-nation to the west, the Yond grain-nation.
The Yond grain-nation was a nation that was well-suited for agriculture, with vast swathes of cultivated land, and it produced the food that filled the Empire’s stomachs. In other words… the Iristel house was a house of nobles who ruled lands far from the threat of enemy nations.
Salazar was the eldest son of the Iristel house and was supposed to have become its head; he was a capable individual when it came to running the Iristel house’s business. But he did not have the resourcefulness needed to rule as the emperor of the entire empire.
And everyone in the upper echelons of the empire’s current government and everyone at the Great Church of Alda of cardinal rank and above was aware of that. The fact that Salazar had been crowned emperor regardless of this was because he was a convenient puppet.
Damn it, I know better than anyone that I’ve only been made emperor out of political convenience! Crowning a new emperor from the Marme house of dukes would have made the connection too obvious with the new Pope, Eileek Marme, and the public’s trust would have been lost. But the other houses of dukes had deep ties with Marshukzarl, and that’s why I was chosen! As nothing more than a convenient puppet that is neither bad nor good!
Salazar struck the armrest of the throne out of irritation, but the only thing this achieved was causing him pain in his fist. Currently, he was nothing more than a carrier pigeon who relayed the will of the Great Church to the army, the knights, and the Fifteen Evil-breaking Swords.
“But please rejoice! We have received reports that the rebels from the Church of Peria in Kalahad have been successfully detained! As we speak, they are being escorted under guard to be incarcerated at the great prison!” one of his secretaries said.
“Enough! Do not fill my ears with news as unimportant as the fate of a group of fanatics! Report it to the Great Church directly!” Salazar shouted in anger.
Recently, there had been people who claimed that Peria and Botin, who were both great gods like the God of Law and Fate Alda, had been freed by a hero or saint or such with the divine protection of the despicable Vida – a claim that could only be described as madness for the ordinary citizens of the Amid Empire. And not only that; it was a particularly unpleasant matter because clergymen who had previously been thought to be devout and upstanding were spreading these claims in secret.
At the Great Church of Alda’s will, Salazar had given the order to detain these heretics for treason.
They may be fanatics, but I do pity them. The Great Church does not need to be so sensitive, does it? And why do Peria and Botin not send Divine Messages to their worshipers to tell them the truth? Or have the mad Church leaders become so corrupt that they cannot even receive Divine Messages in the first place? Salazar wondered.
He himself had never failed to pray to the God of Law and Fate Alda, who was the chief of all gods, and his sister Botin. He gave a heavy sigh, feeling as if he were about to start coughing up blood.
At this rate, he would be remembered by history as the most foolish emperor to ever rule – the dog of the Great Church of Alda, whom Alda had given far too much authority. But there was nothing that he could possibly do about it.
“… Tell them to show mercy to those other than the Church leaders who are behind this treason – those who were simply deceived by the leaders’ words,” Salazar said.
“But Your Majesty, that would go against the Great Church of Alda’s –” one of his secretaries began protesting.
“Do you dare disobey me?! Do you wish to join them in prison?!” Salazar bellowed.
The secretary let out a stifled scream. “As you wish, Your Majesty!”
The only thing Salazar could do was lash out at his officials and assuage his guilt by giving orders that would likely change very little.
“Damn it! I am in a terrible mood! Alcohol, bring me some alcohol!” he shouted.
And so, Salazar used alcohol to numb his sense of powerlessness and his fear of the possibility of being killed by Schneider at any moment. In his mind, he spat in the direction of the gods.
Considering that only a few years had passed since Marshukzarl’s abdication, the authority of the imperial family in the Amid Empire had fallen remarkably.
Meanwhile, at the Hero Preparatory School in Orbaume, the capital city of the Orbaume Kingdom, Meorilith looked at the documents that had just been submitted with a suspicious look on her face.
“Hospitalized for a week? Our curriculum is credit-based, so there is no problem with this, but… he’s going to be hospitalized at that hospital?!” she exclaimed.
Meorilith was aware that Elizabeth’s mother had been hospitalized. The facility’s official name was the ‘Hospital of Psychotherapy,’ but because there was no other facility with the same name, and because people had avoided calling it by that name, it was now simply referred to as the ‘hospital.’
The facility took in patients who were considered to have ‘gone insane’… They were confined, and the majority of them never left. Meorilith knew of cases where the children of nobles – and in some cases, the heads of noble families – were hospitalized in the facility, only to be left there and entirely forgotten by society.
Of course, she knew that there were also patients who had been discharged… though these were patients who were thrown out because the donations from their families had stopped, and patients whose families gave up on having them treated and took them back in.
The facility was known for nobody being discharged alive except under circumstances like those.
“Given that he’s already decided that he’ll stay for exactly one week, it’s certain that he has some objective, but… what does he plan to do in there?” Meorilith wondered.
“Who knows,” said Randolf. “I tried asking Pauvina when she came to deliver the documents, but she didn’t say anything. However…” He sighed, then continued. “I’m sure there’s someone he wants to treat. This is information that I learned when I was undercover in the city of Morksi in the Alcrem Duchy, but after I declined to kill a certain woman who was essentially a living corpse, he treated her to the point she was able to speak again within just a few hours.”
He was talking about Juliana Alcrem, who had been held captive by Minotaurs.
Meorilith’s suspicious expression remained. “That is… a good thing. I mean, Vandalieu is curing patients that are unlikely to make a full recovery. But even if he’s capable of doing such a thing, why would he do that now? I don’t really have any complaints about it, but if he can do it within a week, he could have done it before enrolling at the school… or even after he graduated.”
Meorilith was not aware that Elizabeth’s mother was hospitalized in this particular facility. She was well-connected with the nobles in Orbaume, but she wasn’t running an intelligence agency. She could likely learn this information if she wanted to look into it, but… there was no need to pry into the secrets of every student, and doing so would only have negative outcomes for her, as the nobles would perceive this as her looking for her students’ weaknesses so that she could exploit them and plot something.
“Who knows,” said Randolf. “But I don’t know whether it’s a good thing or not. If he was treating an injury or an illness, it might be another matter, but… the mind is something that cannot be seen, not by the eyes of others, nor by the eyes of the patient themselves. I can’t imagine that there’s a single person at that hospital who can tell whether someone’s broken mind has been fixed or whether it’s just been broken in a different way.” He gave a tired sigh. “It’s not like I don’t trust Vandalieu. He is a student, after all, at least on paper. He probably won’t do anything reckless, but I’m sure it’ll be troublesome regardless. Both of us should be prepared.”
After a short examination, Vandalieu was led to a hospital room. It had a thick door with a secure lock that couldn’t be opened from inside. There was a window for peeping outside, but this couldn’t be opened from the inside, either. The rest of the room, however, was very luxurious; nobody would find it strange if it were described as a private room for a noble.
It had a soft-looking bed, a desk, a chair, and a dresser for storing clothes made of high-quality wood… though there were iron bars blocking the windows.
Two of the light-attribute Ghosts who had been spinning around and dancing in the hospital’s reception room – the ‘Fighting Dog’ Daroak and the ‘Mad Dog’ Berkert seemed very displeased, and were resentfully insulting the Hospital of Psychotherapy’s director and the doctor who had examined Vandalieu.
“Those who call themselves ‘doctors’ at this place must have rotten eyes. How dare they treat Vandalieu-sama like some madman,” Daroak grumbled.
“I-I am sure they would have treated him like a madman even if they could see us! They are the ones who are mad!” shouted Berkert.
“Now, now. I’m the one who misled them… though I do have to question the attitude of the specialist doctor who examined me,” said Vandalieu.
It was only natural for the director of the hospital to admit Vandalieu to the facility after seeing the letter of instruction that Duke Alcrem had written. But Vandalieu was displeased with the doctor who had examined him after that, who had shouted, “H-he’s completely lost his mind! He’s beyond help!”
Why had he treated Vandalieu like a madman after just taking a single look at him, when he wasn’t even acting or pretending to be insane?
“Anyone who heard him would believe that I really have lost my mind, don’t you think?” Vandalieu said.
“Indeed, you are completely right,” Chipuras agreed.
“Yes. To think that his legs would buckle just at the sight of you,” said Princess Levia.
“Well, it’s convenient that he didn’t consider the possibility that you’re a ‘Spiritualist,’ though,” said Orbia.
All of these Ghosts had the ‘Mental Corruption’ Skill at varying Levels.
“This facility is apparently also used to imprison noble children until they die because their behavior is so atrocious that they can’t be left alone. So maybe ‘specialist’ is just a title for that man?” said Kimberley.
He also possessed the ‘Mental Corruption’ Skill, but he didn’t believe that he and Vandalieu were ‘insane’ in the normal sense… though he did believe they were crazy and out of their minds in a good way.
“By the way, Boss, is the treatment of that girl’s mother the only thing you’re gonna be doing in here? This facility is pretty shady,” Kimberley said. “Well, there were similar facilities in the Amid Empire, too.”
“I will be treating her, but as you say, Kimberley, there are a lot of unpleasant rumors about this facility. Let’s investigate those, too,” Vandalieu said.
Even without being told by Kimberley, he’d managed to hear these rumors after only a little bit of searching. They were just rumors, but as the saying goes: There’s no smoke without fire.
“It’s easier to investigate by entering the facility directly, after all,” said Vandalieu.
No matter how terrible it was, it was still a hospital… a facility affiliated with the Church, even though neither its workers nor its patients really thought of it as such. It was likely that the Church considered it as nothing more than a strange facility that someone had added to its organization, but its outer appearances were in order.
Holy water was sprinkled around regularly as if it were alcohol for sterilization, and holy symbols of the gods made of rock salt were placed in the facility’s corners, creating a simple barrier that served as a measure against spirits.
Thus, weak spirits were unable to leave or enter.
“Not only did they not see through my act… they labeled me a madman before I could even put my act on. I have no faith in this facility’s treatment standards. It’s possible that the medicine they’re giving Amelia contains compounds that are worsening her symptoms,” said Vandalieu.
If there were any doctors who were making earnest efforts to treat the patients at this hospital, they would either be enraged or collapse to their knees if they heard what Vandalieu was saying. But there was nobody here to refute his words.
Gufadgarn, who lurked in the intermediary space behind him, did not possess the ‘Mental Corruption’ Skill. But as the ‘Evil God of Labyrinths,’ she was a very different being from a person. Her mind could be described as healthy, but she was far too different from mortals.
“Now then, first of all, shall we go and visit Amelia? I’ll leave you here in my place,” said Vandalieu as something gooey welled up from within his shadow.
Several hospital staff… including the man who had been supposed to watch Vandalieu as he cut the weeds… were keeping watch outside Vandalieu’s hospital room.
But they were not keeping watch to ensure that nobody entered. They were ensuring that Vandalieu wouldn’t leave his hospital room.
“… Hey, is there a point in us being here?” one of them grumbled.
“Quit your whining. You’re so annoying,” said another.
“I seriously can’t do this job if you’re not even going to let me complain about it,” the first said.
These men had little desire to actually do any work. They couldn’t understand the point in being made to watch over Vandalieu.
This facility’s hospital rooms were so sturdily built that they could be used as prison cells. Even a C-class adventurer wouldn’t be able to break their doors or walls.
The stone that made up its walls, floors, and ceilings wasn’t just ordinary stone; it was hard, reinforced stone that had been compressed by advanced earth-attribute spells that made it harder than steel. Its pillars were made of Obsidian rather than wood. And beneath the wallpapers were magic circles painted with a special dye to enhance the walls’ defense against magic.
The doors were even sturdier than the walls; they wouldn’t budge even if Minotaurs were to repeatedly throw themselves at them. They were kept shut by top-quality locks that had been made by first-rate craftsmen and alchemists.
Vandalieu had looked at his hospital room and judged it as being fit to be used as a noble’s private room, but in reality, even more money had been spent on it than a regular noble’s private room. Thus, patients couldn’t escape from their hospital rooms unless they were freed by their families when they came to visit, or a staff member let them out.
The hospital workers were well aware of this.
Thus, they didn’t see any need to watch over Vandalieu.
“To begin with, if you’d never slacked off in the first place when you were supposed to be watching him…” one of them muttered.
“It’s not my fault! I mean, how could I have known that he would actually want to get involved with the crazies?!” protested the one who had been supposed to watch over Vandalieu while he was weeding the garden.
These hospital workers had been assigned to watch over Vandalieu because of yesterdays’ incident, and because the director had remembered Earl Reamsand’s request to not to let Vandalieu come into contact with Amelia.
“And the situation is different from yesterday!” the hospital worker said.
Indeed, Vandalieu had entered the facility from the courtyard yesterday. He had likely entered Amelia’s hospital room, too. But they were under the impression that he had been let in by his acquaintances (Elizabeth and Mahelia), who had come to visit Amelia.
“Well, that’s true, but… he’s a student at the Hero Preparatory School, and he also happens to be the Dhampir tamer that everyone’s talking about. You can’t blame the director for being cautious, can you?”
“Yeah, and there’s the events of yesterday to consider, too. It’s only natural to think that he’s scheming something.”
“Really? He might just be really into that woman. She’s not exactly young, but she’s quite the beauty. If she was one of the patients assigned to me, I’d give her some drugs telling her it’s her medicine for today, then have my way with her.”
“… Maybe we should be keeping watch over this guy rather than the Dhampir kid?”
“I mean, there’s no need to even drug her. She’s completely crazy. One time, I said ‘I’m back’ as I entered her room, pretending to be her husband, and she replied, ‘Welcome back, dear.’”
“W-what?! So you did her?!”
“I intended to, but she creeped me out when I was talking to her, so I just ended up having some of her tea before I left. Even though she was supposed to be talking to me, she wasn’t looking at me, and she was continuing the conversation without even really listening to what I said. It gives me the chills just thinking about it.”
“She can’t even tell people apart anymore, huh. I guess any man who says anything that makes him sound like her husband will make her believe that he’s her beloved ‘dear.’”
“It seems that when nobody’s there, she calls something that nobody can see ‘dear.’ She’s so pitiful.”
“That sounds nice. Then maybe I’ll go and become her beloved ‘dear’ one of these days.”
“Be careful. Those kinds of patients are the kind who’ll suddenly scream, ‘Who are you?! You’re not my husband!’ and go out of control. I’ve heard rumors that ten years ago, one of the staff tried to have some fun with one of the female patients but ended up being stabbed in the eye with a table knife.”
“Wow, that’s scary. I suppose it’d be better to find a decent girl at the brothel after all, even if it costs some money.”
The hospital staff continued this vulgar idle talk until one of them whispered, “It’s time.”
Without even knocking, he opened the small window on the door.
He saw Vandalieu sitting on his bed, staring back at him.
“Hello, is there anything that’s bothering you?” the man asked in a gentle tone, wearing the professional smile that one would expect from a hospital staff member.
Vandalieu silently shook his head.
“I see. Please feel free to let us know if there’s anything you need. We will be bringing you a meal in a short while,” the man said, and then he closed the small window. “… Alright, no problems.”
“We need to keep watch over him, but at the same time, he’s a VIP with a letter of introduction from Duke Alcrem. What a pain,” one of the others sighed.
They needed to watch over Vandalieu with an excessive level of strictness, but continue to treat him like a noble. He was quite the troublesome patient for this facility.
But in reality, Vandalieu was no longer inside this room.
And there was more than one being in the room who wasn’t Vandalieu.
One of them – Kühl – made wobbling noises. “Dangerous people among hospital staff. Caution required.”
“Yeah,” agreed the other – Ghost, one of Legion’s personalities, who had the form of a young black man. “But we can only hear their voices from here. I’ll go outside and have a look at their faces, Kühl.”
“Counting on you, Ghost,” said Kühl.
“Leave it to me… I’m about as good as you are at slipping through small spaces,” Ghost said.
Ghost’s body melted back into the form of a mass of flesh, and then he left through the room’s narrow air vents.
“I’ve become particularly good at becoming long and thin lately. This is perfect,” he said.
Having used ‘Golem Creation’ to change the shape of the ceilings and walls of his hospital room, Vandalieu arrived at Amelia’s hospital room on the second floor.
On the way, however, he’d dilly-dallied and made some new friends. But by the time he’d thought of the idea of having Gufadgarn teleport them away, he’d already reached Amelia’s room.
“Oh my. To think that you’d come through the walls this time. You really know how to surprise me. But why didn’t you use the door?” Amelia asked with a happy smile.
“Because the staff here would find out and get very angry at me,” Vandalieu replied.
The hospital forbade patients not only from coming into contact with another patient, but even entering another patient’s room.
“Yes, visiting hours are almost over, after all. Elizabeth and Mahelia are always sent home because of that,” said Amelia, under the impression that Vandalieu’s odd entrance was because of the limited visiting hours. “Then will you be hiding under the bed or inside the closet if someone comes?” she said with a giggle. “It really is like we’ve become children again, isn’t it?”
“Yes, I’ll do that. It’s alright; I’m quite confident in my skill at hide-and-seek,” said Vandalieu. “So, Amelia-san…”
“Dear, you shouldn’t call me ‘Amelia-san’… It makes it sound like we’re strangers. Call me ‘Amelia,’” Amelia said.
“… Amelia,” said Vandalieu reluctantly, picturing an angry Elizabeth pinching his cheeks.
Amelia gave a flower-like smile. “What is it, dear?”
“I’m very sorry for having to leave all of a sudden yesterday,” Vandalieu apologized.
“Dear, that’s all you’ve been saying today. I’ve already told you so many times not to worry about it! I am your wife. I understand that you’re busy,” Amelia said.
… But Vandalieu had only appeared before Amelia moments ago.
Silently thanking the ‘dear’ that had apologized to Amelia on his behalf, Vandalieu continued. “Thank you, Amelia. But I can’t call myself a good husband if I’m always relying on you being so understanding.”
“It’s fine. You don’t have to try too hard to be a good husband. After all, I married you, not some ‘good husband,’ because I love you.”
“Thank you, Amelia. Could I ask you for one favor?”
“What is it, dear?”
“Embrace me, please.”
Vandalieu quietly spread his arms out wide. Amelia gave a beaming smile as she embraced him, still sitting in her chair.
“Oh my. There’s a pleasant smell…” she said.
“I’m sure it’s the lingering scent of incense,” said Vandalieu.
From his tongue, he produced a weak poison that numbed the senses, which evaporated around him. Using this as an anesthetic, he examined Amelia’s body as she embraced him. He extended a part of his body that he had turned into ‘Spirit Form,’ then searched for anything unusual in her body.
The weakness of her body is caused by a lack of exercise. Her bones and muscles have weakened due to the same reason. It would be better if she were to get some more sunlight… Organs, no abnormalities detected. Nerves, no abnormalities detected, at least in function. Cardiovascular functions, no abnormalities detected. Her brain… abnormalities detected?
Vandalieu had only examined Amelia briefly, but she was quite healthy for a woman who was living in confinement inside a hospital room. He couldn’t sense any poisonous substances in her body.
It seemed that restoring her sanity would not be a simple matter of casting the poison-erasing spell ‘Disinfect.’ But it seemed that her illness was no ordinary mental illness.
Her brain’s memory-related functions and cognitive ability have weakened to an unnatural degree. It’s not her mind; it’s the brain function themselves that have been weakened. I’m sure that this is what is causing the effects on her mind. In other words, the medicine that she is being given is only worsening her mental illness… This will take some time to treat.
Even if Amelia’s brain function was restored, that wouldn’t lead to her broken memories coming back. Her brain would recover with those memories still broken, and the only difference would be that her memories would not be altered or mistakenly remembered any further. And if her cognitive ability returned, she would become unable to see her ‘dear.’
It was possible that this would cause Amelia’s mind to become unable to accept reality and collapse.
First, I must stabilize her mind. After that, I’ll gradually restore her brain function. And I must prevent her from taking any more medicine… Will she be able to recover in a week? Vandalieu wondered.
Over the next week, he would need to treat Amelia, investigate the medicine she was taking, investigate this hospital, and treat the new friends he had met on the way to Amelia’s room. At the same time, he needed to mass-produce the general-purpose transformation equipment, finish Deeana’s transformation equipment, and build the facility to imprison Marshukzarl.
He would be very busy.
Could I ask Marshukzarl himself to build his own imprisonment facility? I could just leave him in one of my Inner Worlds with some wood and carpentry tools. He’s an emperor, just like me, so I’m sure that he’ll manage.
The schedule for the next week was so packed that even Vandalieu found himself looking for ways to cut corners.
A moment later, there were two loud knocks on the door, and the small window on the door opened.
“Madam, it is time for lunch,” said the hospital worker outside the door.
“Th… Thank you.”
The staff member gave the red-faced Amelia a slightly curious look, but didn’t pay her too much attention as he opened the door, pushed the food-laden wagon inside, and quickly set the plates on the table.
“I will return a little later to tidy up,” the hospital worker said as he left the room.
Amelia gave a sigh of relief. “It looks like he’s gone, dear.”
“Yes, it was very close,” said Vandalieu, detaching himself from the ceiling and landing silently back on the floor. “Now then, let’s eat together… Not this food, but this.”
He took out a meal that he had prepared inside one of his Inner Worlds and began exchanging it with the meal that the hospital worker had brought, just in case this food contained medicine.