To the people of the Magic Tower, she was just a 'disposed product,’ but even someone like her had a name.
‘Nainiae, you are all I have.’
‘Yes, Mommy! Just believe in me!’
By a rare chance, a girl heard a rumor about the Magic Tower paying money for a secret experiment. Needing money to feed her only mother, the last of her family, the girl went forth to participate.
‘If I participate…you will really give me money, right?’
‘Of course. Really. That’s not all. Even an ordinary citizen will get a chance to learn magic.’
‘In that case… I will do it.’
‘Huhu. Most of the people in the Magic Tower are looking forward to your performance. We have faith in you. Please try to endure the experiments the best you can.’
‘Looking forward…? Faith in…? Yes! Please look forward to it!’
Just from hearing these few words, she shook off her hesitations and participated in the experiment.
The first day was acceptable.
The second day was more or less like the first.
The troubles began from the third day.
‘Endure it. You must endure this, right? If you can’t even withstand this, what are you going to do?’
‘Uu… Uuk! Stop! Please stop!’
‘We said we have faith in you, didn’t we? You need to endure this much at least. We believe in you.’
The drugs she was asked to swallow on the first and second days were the cause.
Her skin turned dead to pitch-black and then back to pale white. The process repeated.
The pain was far beyond anyone’s imagination.
‘Kill… Kill me! Please, please kill me!’
‘Everyone is looking forward to your performance. You must not die yet.’
Since that day, a day that she no longer recalls, her daily life was changed dramatically.
She spent her days being tied up in chains and screaming in pain, pleading to be killed.
‘We believe in you.’
She wasn’t even able to keep food down in her stomach, vomiting immediately after consuming food. Instead of taking meals, she received shots.
In order to forget the pain from the drugs, she bit her fingers, poured a monster’s bodily fluids or blood on her face or over the top of her arms.
However, the excruciating pain was necessary.
It was the only way to receive money.
Her misery only continued. One day, an unknown monster’s acidic fluid mistaken for something else was poured on her face.
That day, one side of her face, including the eye, was completely disfigured.
Before anyone realized, two of her fingers were bitten off and swallowed. The girl’s body and mind were in a seriously devastating state.
‘Even so…my mother would still recognize me.’
After being turned into her horrendous appearance, she gradually became used to the pain. Her long-grown hair in disarray made her look like a ghost.
In chains, the hobby she found was magic.
‘One Circle light magic, Light, with this, I may not need candles anymore.’
She started with magic spells that were useful for daily life.
Maybe it was due to the drug’s power, but she mastered up to Six Circles magic in a record time for a child. After that,
‘It has been 2 years. The experiment is over. You may go.’
‘R-Really? Now, that medicine… I don’t need to take it anymore?’
‘That’s right. You have done well.’
After being told by Astroa that the experiment was over, she was full of joy like she could jump up and do a binky like a rabbit. In that high spirit, she started heading back home…
… without hearing the murmur that Astroa said right after,
‘You were the sole survivor. How did you manage to… Nah. It doesn’t matter. Since she will be dead soon, can it still be considered as surviving?’
While coughing black blood, Nainiae returned home.
It appeared that her mother definitely received money from the Magic Tower. In her home, Nainiae’s mother was holding down the fort.
Although she was finally able to come home,
‘It’s… It’s me. It’s Nainiae.’
She couldn’t recognize her own daughter.
On the contrary, she told Nainiae to never come again with that hideous face and kicked her out.
‘Now…what should I do?’
In the end, having lost her place to go to, she returned to the Magic Tower. After going through a few more experiments, with her remaining lifespan numbered to be less than half a year, she was disposed of.
She looked like she had no will or strength left to resist.
Riley was directing his sword to cut off her head, but he stopped his sword before doing it.
Nainiae was sitting and hugging her knees as tightly as she could. She whispered,
“… What was it that I did wrong?”
Her voice was completely torn.
It was not certain if it was from self-hatred or resentment toward another.
After her cryptic murmur, Riley’s eyes instantly calmed.
It was because in Riley’s past life, there was a time when he murmured just like her.
“Because they were looking forward to it, because they had expectations and hopes for me, because they said they are relying on me… I tried very hard. I tried my best, but how come, instead…”
Unlike Riley, who was praised as a brave warrior in his past life, the specific details of Nainiae’s situation or how she had been treated was different to some degree… However, she did the best she could.
To not let anyone down, to live up to their expectations, she tried her hardest with everything she had, yet…
… she heard devastating words from the very person whom she tried to protect. In the end, she couldn’t even protect her, and now, she was in this state.
“What should I have done differently?”
Hearing the girl’s voice, which sounded like she was about to give up on everything, Riley felt like he was watching his former self. He steadied the sword he held forward and said,
“…That was the wrong way.”
From hearing Riley’s voice, Nainiae’s shoulders shivered a little.
“It was wrong from the very first stitch of the needle.”
In his mind, Riley continued,
'You have, and…
… I have.'
Riley lowered his eyes and looked at the top of Nainiae's head.
Breaking her silence, Nainiae, who had her head buried between her knees until now, slowly lifted up her head and looked at Riley. He said,
“Should I show you a way?”
After asking Nainiae, Riley asked himself in his mind,
If he could start his entire life over with all of the memories intact, how would it be like?
In that case, he would certainly not do useless things…such as holding a sword as the prophecy foretold or volunteering to fulfill someone’s expectations, and…
Like the girl in front of him, he wouldn’t break down either.
With her forehead finally away from her knees, Nainiae asked back.
Although she only had one good eye, he could feel sincerity and desperation in her gaze.
Riley withdrew his sword that was aimed at her neck.
“It would kind of not feel right to just tell you, so how about we do a trade?”
“I know what is troubling your mind. I also know the right answer to handling it.”
“That answer, I will tell you.”
Nainiae’s mouth opened.
“Why would you tell me that…”
Nainiae wondered how a boy in her age, a nobility from a Count’s House, would know what was troubling her. With a blank face, Nainiae looked at Riley.
In Nainiae’s only good eye, Riley was not cringing anywhere despite looking at her horrifying face.
“But, I will need an advance payment.”
It was early morning.
A few of the important members woke up and gathered at the Magic Tower.
There was a call from Astroa.
“So in the end, you are saying you couldn’t find it.”
While chewing on herbs, Astroa criticized the members, including Peruda, and then sighed heavily enough to make the ground sink.
“Yes. We are terribly sorry. We don’t know what to say.”
The people from Magic Tower apologized to Astroa by bowing, and then they started to look over their shoulders.
It was because Astroa’s arm was wrapped thick with bandages.
It looked as if he was stabbed by a blade. The bandages had a red stain.
To think that a grand mage of Seven Circles magic was stabbed by a blade, it was just unbelievable to them.
Astroa cursed as he pasted a thick layer of ointment on top of the bandage on his arm.
He was already angered from being stabbed by the blade of some unknown runt that crawled out of nowhere and, on top of that, he just heard that the mana measurement boulder on the first floor that he treasured very much was destroyed.
“Did you find any evidence?”
“I’m talking about the runt that destroyed the boulder! Do you know who did it!”
“About that…although there are a few suspects, as for having evidence…”
“Instead of making excuses, if you don’t have any evidence, just say you don’t have any before I burn you to crisp.”
Annoyed, Astroa threw a tantrum as he formed flame above his palm and made a tight fist.
“Ah, yes… My apologies.”
Watching the man apologize while breaking out in a cold sweat, Astroa scrunched his face.
The look on his face was that of someone who stepped on poop. Stepped hard and really firmly.
“Looks like Solia’s Magic Tower is not what it used to be, huh? We lost the runt who wore a mask, lost the bastard that broke the boulder, and now lost the disposed product that we threw away. Ha… Everything! That’s really impressive!”
Astroa spat out to the floor the herb he was chewing on. He turned to the other member and asked him a question,
“Let’s just say that the masked runt is a ghost and there is no proof to find the bastard that broke the boulder. Fine… But why are you saying you couldn’t find the disposed product? There should be a tracking seal branded on it?”
No one was able to answer the question.
It was a tracking seal that Astroa branded.
It was odd that they could not find it.
Angered from the silence and the lack of response, Astroa swung his arm in a big motion.
Soon, a knife-like sharp wind accumulated, and it cleanly cut off a cowering member’s arm.
The arm that was cut off rolled on the Magic Tower’s first floor and poured out blood.
Other associates rushed toward the man that just lost an arm, and they answered with pale faces,
“It… It was erased.”
“The tracking seal…was erased.”
“What the hell are you saying? How could the tracking seal be erased?”
‘Tracking seal was erased?’
Even if the branded subject died, in order to make the recovery of the corpse easier, the tracking seal was placed carefully by himself, Astroa the grand mage of Seven Circles magic.
It was impossible for it to be erased.
“It is the truth. The tracking seal on the disposed product is no longer there. If you cannot believe us, please see it for yourself…”
A man, who was helping to stop the blood loss from the cut off arm, answered in shaky voice, and that made Astroa to frown even more.
“What about Erengium?”
“That… That is… Today… No, because of the incident in the last evening, they said today would be difficult.”
Astroa clicked his tongue.
“That’s a shame. A real shame. If they were going to take it, they should have done so yesterday.”
As Astroa thought about what he was going to trade today in secret, he made hand gestures to wipe off the blood splatter and herbs he spat out. Astroa murmured,
“It looks like it will be difficult to expect great results from the tournament.”
After cleaning up, Astroa tossed a word of advice to the people who were rushing to take the man with cut off arm to the Holy Temple.
“Even if the schedule changes, the money is the same…so make sure to take it from them, you got that?”
The people from Magic Tower nodded and quickly made their way out of the tower while supporting the man who just lost his arm.
A few people’s faces looked disconcerted and upset over the undue violence, but they didn’t dare to take it up against Astroa.
“So, what about the bastards in Lower Solia? Are you managing them properly?”
With some of the members gathered now gone to help the injured, Peruda, who was among the people that still remained, answered his question,
It was a prompt answer.
It was to prevent yet another man from having to be carried to the Holy Temple with a cut off arm.
“Good. Good. Be careful to make sure nobody from the Holy Temple or the castle notices. I figured it would be all right because there is a swordsmanship tournament going on, but with an incident like this happening, it might be dangerous.”
Astroa was sitting on a chair on the first floor that was meant for guests, and now he got off from his ass.
As if he was going to leave, Astroa turned away and started to walk. Watching this, Peruda followed suit and asked,
“Where are you going?”
“Ah! There is something I need to take care of quickly.”
Having heard Astroa saying he had ‘something to take care of quickly,’ a shadow was cast on his face. With a displeased expression, Peruda asked again,
“…Are you going to the basement again?”
“Now… How would you feel about discontinuing it?”
After Peruda’s question, Astroa’s steps came to a halt.
“Seven Circles… Aren’t they enough?”
“I believe it is more than enough. To go further, it could no longer be considered a passionate research or anything else mage worthy. This is just…”
When Peruda lifted his head back up after briefly staring at the ground, Astroa was no longer there. He could not be seen or found on the first floor, it was almost as if he had teleported away.
It was in a dark basement.
“…Now, tell me.”
“Why do you claim to know me so well?”
Riley ignored Nainiae’s voice coming from his back. Instead, he went through a mountain’s worth of wooden boxes and checked its contents.
“How could you know my suffering, and how are you going to propose a solution?”
Nainiae asked again, but Riley didn’t answer the girl’s question this time either. Instead, he only lifted up what he found just now.
The content found in the box was some sort of plant, grass, a bunch that looked like medical herbs.
‘Wait. Could this be…’
After bringing the herbs closer to his nose and going ‘sniff-sniff’ to smell it, Riley wrinkled his eyebrows.
The contents of the wooden boxes in the basement were all the same.
In his past life, Riley had smelled something similar to this. With a blank face, he murmured,
“In the Magic Tower, why would there be narcotics…”
Around the time Riley was cringing at the sight of the greens, from behind, a creaking noise from an opening door could be heard.
Nainiae’s head turned rapidly.
Having confirmed the identity of the man that entered the place, her eyes filled with terror.
“What’s this? It looks like a couple of rats crawled in.”