“… Wait. Heaven? Hell? Don’t tell me there are angels and demons around too?”
Isaac looked around as if he heard a joke, but the response from everyone else was serious. Isaac could only laugh into the silence and gulp down the rest of his wine. Of course you couldn’t exclude heaven and hell in a fantasy setting like this.
“The war against Heaven and Hell had been ongoing since ages past. It is told there was a bridge which connected our world to Heaven and Hell before the 7 Days of Calamity.”
“It is told?”
“Because I’ve never seen it. It was similar to a Gate except once opened, it would remain so until it was forcefully closed – hence why it was called a bridge. Many wars were fought in an attempt to close this bridge. We know that for certain, since it is a testimony from the oldest living individual whose birth predated the 7 Days of Calamity.”
There was only one being that could be called the oldest in the entire world.
“… A dragon?”
“We call it the Old One.”
“A dragon huh… I do want to see it one day.”
Isaac imagined many different dragons in his mind, for dragons were a staple in a fantasy world. Mazelan, on the other hand, shook his head with sincerity.
“… I wouldn’t recommend it. They are a race with a difficult personality, to say the least. Anyhow, even this bridge that connected Heaven and Hell crumbled in the face of 7 Days of Calamity. But they persevere with their invasion using the gate as their alternate route.”
“So you’re fighting against not just the Expeditionary Force but Heaven and Hell too.”
“But do demons go on magical rampages, and do angels have wings?”
“You’re asking if they look like demons and angels?”
“We don’t know. We’ve never seen their true forms. All we know is that both are sons of bitches.”
Isaac seemed curious as to why Mazelan was so hostile to them.
“Let me explain it to you.”
Mazelan first lined two salt shakers next to each other. He then placed a knife and a fork on either side of the salt shaker on the right.
“Now, the salt shaker on the right is the world we are in currently. The shaker on the left is your previous world.”
Mazelan then sprinkled some pepper, linking the fork, knife, and salt shaker on the right together in a line.
“This pepper is the gate which connects our worlds. This is why we call our world Middle World.”
“Then the knife is hell and fork is heaven.”
PR Note: Here’s a simple drawing Moyo made in case our description is a little lacking.
“You catch on quick. But hell isn’t a harsh world where only barren deserts exist, and heaven isn’t a place where everything is sunshine and rainbows. Both are no different from the world we live in. They are worlds where many races live together, including humans.”
“So you’re saying it’s not angels or demons that live there, but humans and other races we see here?”
“That’s right. Of course, the races that live in those worlds are completely different from ones who reside here.”
“Then why do you guys fight? I’m sure you guys can attempt diplomatic negotiations if both are sentient beings similar to us.”
Mazelan profusely rejected Isaac’s opinion by wildly shaking his head.
“That’s impossible. Think of it more carefully. We are the Middle World. Below is Hell, and Heaven above. Where do your world’s people think people go when they die?”
“Heaven if you’ve been good and hell if you’ve been… huh?”
Isaac’s words faltered, and he couldn’t finish his thoughts. Mazelan smiled bitterly and nodded.
“It’s as you predict. To those from Hell, this world is Heaven and to those of Heaven, this place is Hell. The reason why this is a problem is because that truly is the case. Those from hell will do everything they can to climb up here, while those who fell from Heaven will do whatever they can to escape from Hell and return back home. All of the races had united their power regarding the problems of Heaven and Hell even before the 7 Days of Calamity, and this tradition has remained unbroken. The Expeditionary Force is merely a new addition to our list of enemies.”
“Considering that, you only mention information about heaven or hell as mere fairy tales to the public.”
“They passed through the bridge unscathed before the 7 Days of Calamity, but they now invade us using the same method as you.”
“Same as in?”
“If they came to our world via Type 1 invasions before the 7 Days of Calamity, they now invade us as Type 3 invaders.”
“So someone’s personality suddenly changes??”
“That’s right. Not only that, but they also retain all of the powers they possessed back in Heaven or Hell. But their numbers are limited, and the strength of the Middle World is too powerful for them to openly reveal their identity. Which is why the angels and demons that cross over to our world began using more troublesome methods.”
“Like I said before, to the denizens of hell, this world is heaven. But the emotions that give pleasure to them are negative energies in our world.”
“So others’ misfortune is their happiness.”
“… That’s right. Type 3 invaders retain all of the original owner’s memories and experience the moment they arrive, so they immediately hide themselves in fear of Central.”
“That doesn’t sound like a nice heaven to me.”
“They have a much safer method than acting alone. These demons use the same method every time. Perhaps they have some information network that we aren’t aware of.”
“First, they secretly disseminate magic circles disguised as magic that can summon demons. The number of fools tempted by unlimited strength are a dime a dozen. The demons would share some of their power with them and let them do the dirty work, while the demons themselves safely collect the negative emotions from the pain and suffering of the victims. And those who have formed contracts with demons are called ‘demonic turncoats’ by Central or ‘warlocks’ by the rest.”
“Hm. I can say they aren’t the nicest bunch, coming from personal experience.”
Mazelan hesitated to continue for a moment when Isaac said his cheeky response.
“Truth be told, Warlocks are on the easier side of fighting. It’s very easy to find them, since they tend to go on a rampage drunk on their new power. And the more we kill these warlocks, the easier it becomes for us to find the demon, who will struggle to hide its overwhelming power.”
“Hm? How do you find them when the power is sent back to the demon?”
Isaac asked his question, and Mazelan quickly used the brief moment to wet his throat with some wine before continuing.
“They are powerful individuals strong enough to climb to what is considered their Heaven with their own strength. They aren’t like ordinary folks. They don’t have any power when they first manifest in this world, but as time goes by, their bodies begin to change in a way more befitting of their power, unleashing an unmistakable aura around them. That is why demons prefer to live long and meek lives instead of living exciting but short ones by distributing their power to the warlocks, allowing them to hide their strength.”
“Hm. So when you kill these turncoats, the power returns back to the original owner.”
“That’s right. Although it takes time, we will eventually find where the demon is hiding if we continue the chase. But the bigger problem is the Angels.”
“That’s strange. I understand demons from hell, but aren’t angels usually nice since they’re from heaven?
Not only Mazelan, but Yoo-rah, the Emperor and even Arc Royales sighed in unison when Isaac asked his question. While Isaac was dumbfounded by their response, Mazelan smiled faintly and answered the question.
“That’s why they are a problem. That’s how we instinctively see things. They are both complete assholes, but we naturally think those from heaven are nicer just because they look better.”
“I guess that is prejudice in a way…”
Isaac smiled bitterly as he grumbled. People naturally shun ugly people when they come too close, but they are more hospitable and even try to befriend them when they are handsome.
“Can’t you just watch them since they would stand out from the populace?”
“Angels come to our world as type 3 invader just like the demons, but unlike the demons, who grow stronger the more they stay here, angels can use their full strength the moment they arrive. And this power they have is something like a holy power. We theorise that it is what happens when one descends from a higher dimension, but we have no way to prove it so far.”
“But wouldn’t rumours about it spread like wildfire if that’s the case?”
“Unlike the demons, angels can hide it. When done so, they even look plain or slightly handsome on the outside.”
“When you say they have holy power, does it mean like we feel at awe or look up to them?”
“That’s why they are the greatest problem. Who usually comes to hell?”
“Really bad people.”
“That’s why they don’t care what method they use.”
“Then instead of killing them, can’t you assist them and send them back?”
“We’d love to do that, but the problem is the method. Have you ever seen any religion in this world?”
“That’s what bugged me too.”
Humans love to rely on something. The best candidate to do so is god. But in this world, not only god but even deities didn’t exist. It was simply overlooked by Isaac since it seemed like it’d cause more problems if he tried to look deeply into it.
“Everyone tends to have a favourable image of those from heaven, but they are most definitely not nice. Based on testimonies from the few we managed to capture, even breathing in this world is excruciatingly painful for them. They can at the very least ease it slightly by constraining their power into their bodies, but it is still painful nonetheless. That is why they try to go back to heaven, and as much as we’d look over it if the method was good, they were evil enough to the core that they were thrown into hell. I told you before that they’d do whatever it takes right? I don’t know what method they use in heaven to open a gate, but the simplest way to open a gate from our world to heaven is to use mana. Mana in its purest form, contained inside living beings and not from tools such as mana crystals.”
“Is that even possible? You’d need much more than a handful of candidates.”
Isaac tilted his head, and Mazelan responded with an uncomfortable look and grit his teeth.
“What happens to those that cast magic beyond their capabilities?”
Isaac’s face immediately crumbled after hearing that. He was well aware since he once dreamed of becoming the world’s greatest archwizard in the past only to give up on it. Mana is required by the caster in order to use magic, but they are injured if the mana required to cast it is greater than what the caster holds. If the required mana is exponentially greater than the caster? Not only does the magic drain all of the caster’s mana, it also eats away at the caster’s life until nothing remains. Mazelan nodded after seeing Isaac’s expression.
“It’d be impossible with one or two, but what if there were thousands or tens of thousands?”
“Won’t they know they’ll die if they cast it? I can imagine controlling up to a thousand, but managing more than ten thousand would be impossible.”
A single person controlling ten men was difficult enough as it is. But if the numbers increased beyond ten thousand, there was bound to be someone who’d mutiny.
“That’s why the angels are complete assholes. They create a religious order and tempt those around them by promising a path to heaven. Central calls those who have been tempted by angels ‘angelic turncoats,’ and the way they act is much more secretive than the warlocks. The members themselves are civilians, making it difficult to act upon, and we rarely have a good grasp on how far it has spread. It’s a complete mess when one takes root in this world. These fanatics would willingly become martyrs, blinded by their faith. These foolish ‘angelic’ turncoats believe they too will ascend to heaven, but do you think these angels would care about them when all they care about is escaping this hell themselves? Sadly, we have limited options, since it’s impossible to discuss anything with them.”
“Ah. I hate religion.”
Isaac shrugged his shoulders with disdain on his face. He was well aware how martyrdom and fanaticism could warp someone’s mentality. If the religious order grew powerful enough, they could recruit as many martyrs as they needed. Mazelan continued, the look on his face knowing that saying so was futile.
“In this world where religion doesn’t exist, these angels know that they’d be killed before they could start if they boasted of being gods or coming from heaven. That is why they prop up a puppet and try to manipulate them from the shadows.”
“A puppet? Are you talking about angelic turncoats?”
“No. Just poor oblivious souls who are dragged around and made to act like a hero.”
“Yes. A hero. Followers amass out of admiration for the heroes and their achievements. But we have no idea in the beginning if these followers truly admire their heroes or if they follow these heroes as messengers of a god in their religious order. They would increase their influence by converting those around them, growing stronger and more fanatic as time goes by. Once the number of people willing to commit to martyrdom reaches a threshold, these cunning angels reveal their true colors. The Empire would have to make a difficult choice at this point.”
“What is this choice?”
“We exterminate the infected regions completely. Many of the horrendous disasters and nightmarish plagues in history are disguises to hide the battles we had fought against these angels.”
“Can’t you just watch these heroes from the start then? Won’t they stand out since they are technically heroes?”
Both Yoo-rah and the Emperor chuckled quietly, and Mazelan looked at Isaac with a peculiar expression.
“Do you remember that man who suddenly appeared to you, saying he’d taken over all of the districts?”
“Ah, that guy? What was his name again?”
“There are many stages in angelic turncoats’ activities. First is to choose who’ll be the hero. Second is to assemble those who admire the hero. Third is to brainwash those around them and bring them into order. Fourth is to spread the infection. Fifth is to establish open worship of the hero, creating and providing the hero with an army with undying loyalty. Sixth is to manipulate the hero into a war. This war, of course, is one that is destined to be lost, and even if it seems like they’ll win, they’ll force their hand to make it a loss. The last seventh stage is to trick the followers they have the last trump card to turn the tide of war and commit mass suicide, opening the gate to heaven. By the time their activities reach the 4th stage, they’ve already formed a proper organisation from the normal believers, fanatics and followers who are the main resource to open the gate, bishops who are the angelic turncoats, and the holy prophet or maiden as the cardinal, who is the angel. Central had established that the man who approached you was a follower.”
Isaac’s face crumbled when he heard those words.
“They really are mad as you say. To think they’d be so desperate to resort to worshipping me.”
“It seems these ‘angelic turncoats’ realised their mistake too. After Central’s investigation, we determined that all of the turncoats have withdrawn.”
Even these mad fools would avoid him… was he supposed to feel happy about this?
Isaac narrowed his eyes as a complicated feeling welled up inside him, unsure how he was to receive this news. Mazelan, on the other hand, burst out in laughter. Realising that the explanation was mostly over, Isaac took one sip from his wine and stared right at the Emperor as he spoke.
“So what do you want from me?”
The Emperor spoke back with calm demeanour despite Isaac’s glare.
“I will be honest. Central suffered significantly in the last battle to defend the gate. We have reorganised and resupplied our troops to the best of our abilities, but it is still lacking. There is little time until the next opening of the gate comes. With the battle against Expeditionary Force so near, we have little room or power to send our forces to deal with these angels and demons, who invade us from elsewhere.”
“And you want me to take care of these turncoats?”
“I’ve heard of your feats from the Queen. We’ve confirmed it from the information we’d gathered too. You have quite the talent in leading battles. If you cooperate with us, I guarantee your life in retirement will be peaceful.”
Isaac snorted and declined the Emperor.
“Don’t want to.”
It seemed that the Emperor didn’t expect Isaac would refuse him and asked. Even Yoo-rah looked at Isaac, stumped. With the centre of attention on him, Isaac drank the rest of his wine and spoke as he poured himself another glass.
“I want to settle my vengeance first. Isn’t it obvious I won’t be able to work with those who kidnapped me, no matter how nice of a man I am?”
Everyone seemed relieved after hearing Isaac’s words, and the Emperor spoke as if this wasn’t a problem.
“I was wondering why you refused me. Was that what bothered you? I guess it is our fault for not explaining properly. To set things straight, it wasn’t Central who kidnapped you. We found out recently that it was a scheme by the warlocks who disguised themselves as Central to kidnap you.”
“A scheme you say… didn’t I hear the organisation that kidnapped me was a secret Central black op called Dark Royale?”
Mazelan spoke with frustration in response.
“I hate to admit it, but part of it is our fault too. We never thought a turncoat had infiltrated so deep into Central. It was the price for letting our guard down. That is why there was confusion in our chain of command. These demonic turncoats really handed it to us. Thanks to that, Central’s in complete chaos. They probably wished that you would grow to distrust Central even if they failed. What these turncoats hate more than Central is the Dark Royale, as it was founded to hunt down turncoats..”
“Then can’t you just leave everything to Dark Royale instead?”
“As much as we’d like to, we found a turncoat within the ranks of Dark Royale. It is a dire piece of news difficult to swallow for all agents of Central. That is why we decided to found a new organization we can trust.”
Isaac tried his hardest to keep his poker face up, holding down the laughter as he listened to the emperor. If you only consider their argument, it really seemed like this was a conspiracy created by some hidden organisation.”
‘Ah. This is really funny.’
Isaac thought to himself, chuckling in his mind. It must have taken them so much time and effort to infiltrate so deep into Central. Was he really worth throwing it all away? To craft such a convoluted plot that even if Isaac escaped, it’d mislead Isaac into harboring negative feelings for Central? When such feelings from a single individual have little power to do anything against Central? And he’s supposed to believe these warlocks, who have a screw loose in their heads, managed to stay quiet and polite inside Central?
Basically, they want to cover it all up by claiming that he was kidnapped by warlocks and Central rescued him. Whether this is what’s intended or is actually the truth is known. But how could he possibly believe it when it’s so obvious that they all have their own hidden little agenda?
Not one of them spoke a single word asking if Isaac was okay after what had happened, even as courtesy. Whether it was the Emperor, Mazelan or even Yoo-rah. Only a fool would fail to see he was being treated as disposable pawn at this point. This is probably why he should act as they want him to for now.
“Well. That is an offer I can’t refuse. I need to pay back what they deserve. Now! Shall we begin the negotiation?”
Unable to hide his laughter, Isaac naturally morphed it into a smile. The Emperor rubbed his chin in the face of a sudden turn of events. Mazelan gulped his mouth in shock and even Yoo-rah looked at Isaac with a blank look, never thinking he’d go this far.
“A negotiation. I do want to settle the deal with my kidnappers, but truth be told, that’s just annoying. I have a deep unending urge to give it all up and live a peaceful life back home. Did you really think I’d act without anything in return for myself? I guess I’ll have to act upon your order if you say it’s the Emperor’s decree, but we’ve all seen how low all of us can go at this point. Trying to make me submit with the Emperor’s decree is rather laughable, when you know who I am. As you know, the world I lived in was a place where everyone was equal, at least on the surface.”
Basically Isaac was implying he had no reason to follow the emperor’s order since he wasn’t from this world and wanted to trade instead.
“Don’t you know negotiations only occur between parties of equal power?”
“What? You want to blackmail me?”
“… It isn’t impossible.”
“Kill me then. Seems like you already have volunteers lined up behind you.”
The Ark Royales’ intense gazes focused on the Emperor, begging him to give them the order. The emperor looked with keen interest at Isaac.
“This is the first time I faced an opponent I can’t threaten. Don’t you feel some attachment to New Port City?”
“I was ready to burn it all down because of that whole provincial war debacle.”
“… I can turn you neither living nor dead, being tortured for eternity.”
“I find that unlikely, seeing I have at least one person on my side here.”
“… You are right.”
The emperor smiled bitterly, feeling Yoo-rah’s cold and murderous glare stabbing at his face. The Queen’s influence was strong. Perhaps even more so than the Emperor’s. Most of the other races who were friendly with her were elders or chiefs of their races, and even the younger generations were friendly to her. Central titled Yoo-rah as the Queen and worshiped her, but a minority called her a witch. The immortal witch who lived for more than 300 years. That is why only humans had ill feelings for Yoo-rah. And even if it wasn’t for Yoo-rah, the Empire wasn’t going to torture Isaac. It was their loss if they did so.
The Emperor declared surrender and raised his hands.
“Fine. We will negotiate. What is it you want?”
“I need some grunts I can bring along.”
“You speak of subordinates? We will provide you with Central’s elite agents, veterans.”
“No. How can I trust agents you are providing me when the entire reason you are creating a new organisation is because you can’t trust your agents?”
“I want volunteers.”
“… I’m sorry to say this, but do you really think there will be volunteers, Sir Isaac?”
Everyone looked at Isaac in confusion.
“I figured there won’t be any volunteers if I presented them with typical benefits. That’s why I want to give them incentives.”
“1 million Giga invested in their retirement pension. Even if they die in duty, their families will receive 1 million Giga. Tax exemption for 3 generations, regardless of whether they retire or are killed on duty. And reward them with the title of Count and grant them a fiefdom.”
Everyone dropped their jaw in astonishment at Isaac’s demand. 1 million Giga alone was an incredible offer, but the reward of Count and fiefdom was sure to bring in many volunteers.
“… That is too great of a demand.”
The Emperor frowned at such baffling demand, and Isaac spoke as he poured himself another glass of wine.
“But, I have complete ownership of their life and death as their commander.”
“Isn’t that a given?”
“I see you don’t understand what I mean. I mean complete obedience. I don’t know if it’ll happen, but a female agent under my command have to accept it if I rape her or if I tell others to do so. They must follow if I order 2 guys to fuck each other. To murder or steal, even kill an infant. To become my toy when I’m bored. I want to only accept those who understand that they’ll die if they refuse or go against my order, no matter how unacceptable or unfair it is. I think that reward is suitable for what they must face.”
Everyone’s face grew pale after hearing Isaac’s sinister explanation. Isaac smirked and poured himself a great deal of wine and rose up from his seat.
“That is my demand. I don’t want to move if that isn’t met. You can decide on your own.”
“… This isn’t a negotiation.”
“Then let’s call it an offer.”
Isaac nonchalantly joked with the Emperor and moved to leave the Banquet Hall.
“… You will die.”
Seeing Isaac turn his back on the Emperor and talk to him without even looking face to face, one of the Ark Royale approached Isaac with fuming rage. Although he was no larger than Isaac, the pressure he brought with him was at a different scale.
“Are you going to kill me? I’d prefer to go back and have some rest.”
Isaac turned and asked the Emperor, who shook his head, exhausted, as he spoke.
“The Ark Royale is not to act.”
“You heard that?”
Isaac smirked mischievously at the Ark Royale who blocked his path, who glared menacingly at Isaac.
“I will kill you soon.”
Isaac immediately cowered as if he was scared of Ark Royale’s words, pretending to grovel at him.
“Hey, don’t be like that. I’m sure we can be good friends if we work it out.”
Seeing Isaac change so suddenly, the Ark Royale remained stunned even as Isaac wrapped his arms around his shoulder as if they were good friends. Isaac then whispered into the Ark Royale’s ears.
“But I really doubt it.”
“What are you doing!”
Isaac thrust the wine glass in his hand into the Ark Royale’s neck. The glass shattered, and the shaft of the glass stabbed into the Ark Royale’s neck. The Ark Royale pushed Isaac away in panic at the sudden ambush, and the shaft came out with it. Blood began to pour out from the Ark Royale’s neck as he frantically tried to stem the blood with both of his hands.
Enraged seeing their comrade ambushed so suddenly, all of the Ark Royale jumped at Isaac, who was pushed onto the ground. Countless blue barriers came up in the face of Ark Royale’s sword. The Queen and Emperor desperately shouted out.
“Stop! Tend to the wounded first! Hurry and take him to the healer!”
One of the Ark Royales assisted their bleeding ally out the room. A new group of Ark Royales rushed into the banquet hall and surrounded the Emperor to protect him.
“What are you doing!”
Yoo-rah shouted at Isaac, whose face went pale after suddenly seeing blood. Isaac patted the dust off his ass nonchalantly and spoke.
“This is just an example.”
“They call it ‘high risk, high reward.’ This is just an example of what’s to come if you are prepared to handle the risk of using me.”
Everyone remained motionless as Isaac left the room smirking. Isaac began making his way to his room after passing the banquet hall door, lighting his choyu leaf as he heard the emperor telling the Ark Royale to stand down.
The bait was thrown. He made unacceptable demands and even attacked the Ark Royale. How would they respond? Although he wasn’t sure why, the Empire would accept all of his demands and even overlook the offense against Ark Royale if he really was important to the Empire. What if he’s only important to Yoo-rah but not the Empire? Yoo-rah would come with a middle ground offer. If he’s of no use to both of them? The Ark Royale would come at him for vengeance. How it all worked out was of no concern to Isaac.
‘Now, how will they act?’