In the instant that the teleportation magic takes effect, my reflexes kick in and I pour mana into my emergency protection measure, the【Severing Sword of Safeguarding.】
A huge amount of mana pours into it in that fraction of a second.
My increased thought speed allows me to see each little detail of that process.
Blazing fireballs, sharp icicles, sharp blades of wind that I can’t see, masses of rock that could crush anything, spear-shaped missiles of light, dark shadows in the shape of hands.
The mana of over a hundred spells full of murderous intent. I’ve felt this somewhere before.
I undo the disguise of the【Mirror Sword of the Divine Devil】and get ready for a fight.
Beyond the swirling dust and scattered pebbles, I see over two hundred fierce knights bearing scars from their past battles. The knights who are familiar with the battlefield and shared their knowledge about its basics with me, the knight captain who leads them and Princess Alesia whose silver hair is fluttering behind her from the wind produced by the force of the spells cast.
「Really, the fact that you are so durable for such an idiot makes you so difficult to deal with.」(Alesia)
Taking a quick glance at my surroundings, I see that I’m at the center a colosseum-shaped dome that I’ve seen before - the Guardians’ Chamber in the deepest part of the Elegant Maple Ruins that I conquered along my journey before I challenged the Demon Lord.
It wouldn’t be strange to think that the Guardians revived long ago, but seeing that they’re not here, I guess they’ve been defeated again. The proof of that is that the Dungeon Core behind the princess is no longer shining with mana. I don’t know whether these guys did it or they hired adventurers to do it, but even I had the assistance of the Knights’ Order to defeat the boss here. As long as they knew its weak points and how to fight it, I’m sure that it would have been simple for them to defeat it.
「... Alesia, have you betrayed me as well?!」(Kaito)
「Betrayed? You are mistaken; the word “betray” is used in regards to allies, you know? You were never an ally to me, so I have not betrayed you. After all, there is no way that I would do something as horrific as becoming allies with someone from another world, is there? Ah, this feels so unpleasant, but now I can finally put an end to this act.」(Alesia)
Alesia says this with a happy smile.
It is, without a doubt, a truly genuine smile.
「Really, everything would come to an end if you were to die. You are just like a gutter rat. Well, even so, this is the end.」(Alesia)
「Teleportation-type powers do not work in this place, do they? This is not a city, so there is no need to be concerned about collateral damage, either. I do not believe that even you could escape while surrounded by this number of people with the exit sealed.」(Alesia)
It’s just as Alesia says. In the『Guardians’ Chamber』, teleportation-type powers… don’t work. Even if teleportation is used to enter the chamber, it’s impossible to teleport out of it. Even if I were to freely use my movement-type Skills, it’s impossible even for me to make it to the only exit while facing this number of truly exceptional knights.
If they were ordinary soldiers or inexperienced knights, then I might have a small chance, but these guys are all the real deal. There’s no opening that I can use to cut through this encirclement.
「The fact that you are so foolish was of great help. You were deceived so easily; it is no wonder that you were even fooled by the commoners who were on the verge of falling into the slums.」(Alesia)
「W-what… it can’t be!」(Kaito)
「Yes, ever since you came to this city, I have been receiving information about you. Did you not know? My informants were very talkative after being offered a mere two or three gold coins.」(Alesia)
『This time, it’s our turn to save you.』
『It’s only natural to repay those who have helped you.』
The faces of the people who said that to me surface in my mind. Did they betray me as well?
「... Damn it, how can you betray people so easily?」(Kaito)
I feel rage from having been betrayed. And disappointment in myself.
Why did I have no doubts in my mind? It’s only been two days since I arrived in the city.
The royal capital has no shortage of outsiders; there are countless people entering and leaving and my appearance was mostly concealed by a large hood. So just where did she get information about a woman who resembled the Hero?
Why didn’t I realize where the safe house was?
Teleportation magic could be used in that room, even though you couldn’t teleport into the middle of the city from there.
This mistake was caused by the naivety in my heart.
It wouldn’t be untruthful to say that it was because I was tired from being on the run. However, letting my guard down like that is what led to my current situation.
「Why, why are you going to such lengths to try and kill me?!」(Kaito)
「Oh, are you trying to buy yourself some more time? Well, I do not mind. I do think that you did your best for a gutter rat. I can engage in a little conversation with you.」(Alesia)
With these words, she gives me a scornful smile and a small giggle.
I won’t die until I go back to my own world, until I fulfil my promise.
As I look around, searching for an opening to turn my situation around, I see Alesia behaving like this.
… What I’ve seen of her up until now was really all an act.
「The Hero who slew the Demon Lord. The existence of a human with this power is incredibly inconvenient for the Kingdom. The very fact that you live and breathe leaves coals to stoke the fires of independence and rebellion. The people’s discontent has been suppressed up until now because of the Demon Lord. That is why for the sake of the Kingdom, you must bear all of that discontent and allow it to be cleansed in a single moment.」(Alesia)
「For that reason...」(Kaito)
「That is the official reason that Father and Mother have given. The true reason is simply because we cannot allow you to exist. Ah, how disgusting it is for someone from another world to have the same appearance as us, speak the same words as us and exist in this world. Demi-humans and Beast-people are the most repulsive creatures, but you are something that induces even more disgust. You are truly unpleasant; did you know that I had to hold back my nausea when I came into contact with you?」(Alesia)
She looks at me with something that is more than just a disdainful, cold gaze.
Those eyes don’t even consider me human. It’s as if she is looking at some abhorrent filth.
… Her gaze conveys the feelings of repulsion from the bottom of her heart.
However, in the next moment, Alesia’s frowning face changes into the flower-like smile that I’m used to seeing.
「Still, this is fine. This is the end, after all. As promised, I will teach you the spell for you to return to your original world.」(Alesia)
Alesia gives an amused laugh.
I’m bewildered by the sudden change in her behavior.
「Ah, of course, this is not a lie. Ah yes, let me invoke the『Prayer of Restriction』to prove that I am not lying.」(Alesia)
『Prayer of Restriction.』
This is something that users of spirit magic can use on themselves as a method of proving their intent.
If the contents of the restrictions are broken, the caster will pay the declared price as well as losing their spirit magic and the divine protection that it grants.
「I hereby swear to speak only the truth with no falsifications regarding the Ritual of Hero Summoning/Return, with my arm as the price.『Prayer of Restriction.』」(Alesia)
A faint light wraps around Alesia, showing that the restriction has been applied.
With this, Alesia has become unable to lie as long as the light of the『Prayer of Restriction』surrounds her.
The moment she lies about the Hero Summoning/Return spell, her arm will be offered to the spirits and lost forever.
「Now then, shall we talk?」(Alesia)
Alesia gave a smile full of sadistic intent that she has never shown as the princess.
That sight sets off every alarm bell of my sixth sense.
Why is she going as far as to use the Prayer of Restriction to prove that she isn’t lying?
Even if she is trying to just make me feel better about dying, what reason does she have to do such a thing?
Unable to read Alesia’s intentions, my sense of suspicion grows stronger, but this is a good opportunity.
It’s true that I need to find some way to escape, but I’m really desperate gain any information about the ritual spell that could send me home.
As long as the Prayer of Restriction is in effect, she can’t lie. Even if she does, I’d be able to tell immediately by looking at her arm.
「The procedure for the ritual is truly simple. Like other ritual spells, the Hero Summoning/Return ritual can be carried out by anyone as long as the corresponding offerings for the ritual spell can be prepared. The offerings required for this ritual is any object containing a vast amount of mana, and the ancient magic circle carved into that place. And what else do you think is needed?」(Alesia)
「What else, you say…?」(Kaito)
What the Hero Summoning ritual spell requires is an object that contains an overwhelming amount of mana, enough to transform numerous magical items that are worthy of being national treasures - for their powers, not because of their historical value - into pieces of junk.
It is possible to use multiple objects to make up the required amount, but even then, each object needs to contain a certain amount of mana to be considered as an offering.
That’s what I was told is needed for the Hero Summoning ritual.
The amount of mana that an object can contain is influenced by its properties.
For arms or armor, it depends on the materials they are made of, the techniques used to create them and the crafting skill of the person who made them.
Objects with the power to contain that much mana are rare enough on their own, but if the search is narrowed down to objects that contain the correct type of mana as well, it would be extremely difficult to collect such objects even if an entire nation was to dedicate all of its resources to doing so.
That’s why I was entrusted with her magic core, which is in the pouch resting on my chest.
「There’s something else that’s needed…?!」(Kaito)
「Yes, precisely. There is no way that mana alone would be sufficient for a spell that infringes on the domain of God, is there? Have you not given it any thought at all?」(Alesia)
Alesia gives a sweet, princess-like smile.
And as if not even giving me a chance to think, she speaks in that venom-like voice once more.
「There are four procedures for this ritual spell. First, a『hole』must be opened in the space-time of this world. Second, a『hole』must be opened in the space-time of another world. After that, a『path』that connects the two holes must be created. And the final process is『drawing in』the human that has been chosen as the target of the summoning. Each of these processes requires an offering; mana is merely a stimulant to activate the ritual spell and an offering for the『drawing in』process. So with this being the case, can you imagine what the remaining offerings are?」(Alesia)
I have no way of knowing what’s needed for a ritual spell.
The only offering for a ritual spell that I know of is the large amount of medicinal plants that are needed to cast an anti-poison spell. I’ve seen a powerful ritual spell before, but I don’t know what offerings were used for it. I’m not particularly knowledgeable about ritual spells to begin with.
「*Giggle* Well then, let me give you a hint. The price of opening a『hole』in our world is...」(Alesia)
Fear runs down my spine.
「In the place where the『hole』is opened...」(Alesia)
My instincts are screaming at me not to listen, to not allow this to enter my ears. My body aches, telling me to stop these words.
But I suppress my instincts with reasoning. There’s no point in doing something like that, and it’s impossible for me to do so anyway.
And so, the words don’t stop.
「The lives of two hundred people must be offered.」(Alesia)
I feel the blood drain out of my face.
As if pleased by my reaction, Alesia gives a demon-like smile.
「Now then, I will change the question a little. When you were summoned, Beast-person slaves obtained from other nations were used to open a hole in the space-time of this world. So then…『What was the price of opening the other『hole』and the『path?』』」(Alesia)
If the requirement for opening a『hole』in this world was that『the lives of two hundred people must be offered at the place where the hole is to be opened』, then…
Of course, in my world, the offering to open a『hole』in my world is…
「Say, Hero-sama. We have talked about it previously, have we not? Can you remind me who the people around you were when you were summoned? Now then, could you please answer the question regarding the『hole?』」(Alesia)
I was in a classroom in my high school.
So then, the ones who became the offerings that time, were the ones who were there with me…
… The teacher and my friends?
「This is not a lie. As proof, look, my arm is still here. The two hundred people closest by to you were sacrificed when you were summoned.」(Alesia)
I can hear the sound of something cracking inside my heart.
「「「「「『Iron Chains of Binding Thorns!』」」」」」
In my rage, I unleash a powerful Soul Sword capable of the fastest attacks, but as I move, magic chains tie my body down.
Obeying the mana poured into them by the knight mages, chains with gray thorns attached burst out of the ground and repeatedly wrap themselves around me to form a net. I don’t have a single wound thanks to the【Dark Spirit’s Attire】that I’m wearing, but with this many chains wrapped around me, there’s no way that I can escape.
「*Giggle* I did say that I am not lying, didn’t I?」(Alesia)
「Shut up! I’ll kill you! Shit, don’t get in my way!」(Kaito)
I’m seized by a rage that feels like my head is boiling.
I attempt to forcibly throw off the chains that bind my body and tear them to pieces, but though they creak, they show no sign of coming apart.
Watching me struggle, the corners of Alesia’s mouth twist upwards in an expression of true delight.
「... We still have not talked about the offering for the『passage』, you know?」(Alesia)
These words cause me to feel an ice-like chill running up the back of my neck.
「Oi… Oi, wait. There, there’s... more?」(Kaito)
The words formed by my trembling lips have distinct fear in them.
This woman intends to say more. With that delighted, demon-like smile, she intends to say more.
「The threshold between one world and another is the domain of God. There is no way that a human with a body of flesh and blood can cross such a place unscathed.」(Alesia)
I don’t want to hear it, I don’t want to hear it, I don’t want to hear it.
To summon me to this world, these people sacrificed something even more.
「Places under the influence of God apparently etch his power directly upon the soul. That is precisely why that Heroes inherently obtain such powerful abilities. With that said, it would be troublesome to deal with a person who has been crippled by having his soul violated by God’s domain. A『path』is needed to allow a person to pass through to be able to receive that power without being broken.」(Alesia)
After sacrificing two hundred of my friends and teachers, what more has been sacrificed?
And then Alesia speaks these final words.
With the elegance of biting into a small, soft, pleasant, cherry-like, fruit.
「The『ingredients』used to make that path is the offering. Humans who possess souls that do not reject your soul are transformed into the path itself. About five people, perhaps? For example, yes -」(Alesia)
… Parents, siblings, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins.
I hear a noise that sounds as if my own world is being crushed by the princess’s finger that resembles a venomous claw.
「What are you saying? Eh? That’s, but, it’s...?」(Kaito)
Words spill out of my mouth. I wonder what I’m saying right now.
「They are dead, you know? Your family and the friends around you became sacrifices for the sake of this world.」(Alesia)
Dead? Father? Mother? Mai? Suehiko, Kenta, Haruto and Oogane-sensei?
Why, why why why why why, I can’t go back now, can I?
I promised her that I would go home to my family and return to my normal life, return -
Return return return AAAAAAAAAHHHH!
「Ahahahaha, that’s the face I wanted to see! I’ve wanted to see that face for the longest time! Ahah, hey, hey, how are you feeling right now? You did say that you wanted to return to your world and meet your family, didn’t you? And your friends? They all died a long time ago; you’re such an idiot! AHAHAHAHAHA!」(Alesia)
The shrill, echoing laughter sounds close, distant, sharp, dull; it creates more and more cracks in my heart.
「I had a lot of trouble suppressing my laughter when you told me that, you know? For just that moment, I forgot my disgust at having to show courtesy to you.」(Alesia)
The world spins. Round and round. Front and back and right and left and up and down is all scrambled and the brightly-colored patterns mix together.
「Stop it, please stop it already…!」(Kaito)
「『I want to go back to my hometown, back to where my family is. I want to return to the days where I can play around with my friends and eat meals with my family, I want to go back.』It was something like that, wasn’t it? I tried imitating what you said before you went to defeat the Demon Lord; what do you think? Do you think I am talented at doing impressions of people?」(Alesia)
It breaks; it crumbles.
With crackling, rattling sounds, my world twists and cracks; it transforms into something else.
「If you want to go back, you are free to go ahead, you know? If you forcibly rape and impregnate some Beast-people and make five children or so, you will have enough to create a path, won’t you? Well, I would do my best to prevent you from doing such a repulsive thing. I would kill your『materials』, your『children.』It is just so, so disgusting for the monster child of someone from another world to live in this world, even for an instant, so it cannot be helped, can it?」(Alesia)
With my physical strength and my legs forcibly strengthened by the mana that is responding to my rage, I tear the chains that bind me into pieces.
「Now! Concentrate your firepower!」(Knight captain)
「GUGAAH, MOVE, DON’T GET IN MY WAAAAAY!」(Kaito)
At the knight captain’s command, the knights release their spells. But it’s annoying for these to even be in my field of vision.
I’m burned by fire, struck down by water, cut by wind, beaten by rock, pierced by light and tormented by darkness, but even so, the inside of my head is completely dominated by the thought of impaling Alesia with the sword in my hand.
My thoughts of escape have disappeared somewhere. As long as I’m still able to move, it’s fine. I slip through the openings between the knights’ attacks as they swing their swords at me.
I swing the tip of my sword down in rage, towards the princess that I have finally reached.
「*Giggle* You really are a foolish person, aren’t you? To not even be able to see through this kind of illusion; just how bad can your eyes be?」(Alesia)
The princess that I was supposed to cut to pieces vanishes like mist, and at the same time, multiple arrows pierce me from behind.
With its power drained after I forced myself to run through the storm of spells, my【Dark Spirit’s Attire】couldn’t completely block those arrows.
「Now then, this is the end. As thanks for dancing conveniently for me, I will kill you with my own hands. Think of it as a privilege. Bring me a sword.」(Alesia)
In response to these words, a knight presents his sword to the princess.
Taking that sword in her hand, Alesia slowly steps towards me.
『Say, Kaito.』(Demon Lord)
At a time like this, it's the words of the girl that was called the Demon Lord that come to my mind.
『I would do anything for you, anything you want, if it is within my ability to do so. I would even give you half of this world. So stay by my side. Please.』(Demon Lord)
I couldn’t take that trembling hand.
Even though she probably knew that I would refuse. Even though she probably expected that I wouldn’t take her hand.
I couldn’t take the hand of that girl whose cold tears were spilling down.
I made a mistake, I made a mistake, I made a mistake.
Is this my punishment for that? My foolishness has come back to repay me like this.
『I will definitely return to where my family is.』The promise that she even sacrificed her own life for.
It can’t be fulfilled anymore.
Because the place I was supposed to return to had been robbed from me right from the beginning.
「Die. You monster who came from another world, wearing the same skin as us.」(Alesia)
Even though I’m on the verge of death, the only thing that surfaces in my mind is a sense of regret.
『Live in a way that you will not have left things undone when you die one day. I am giving you my life; if you live a life that you throw away halfway through, I will never forgive you.』(Demon Lord)
The moment I get the feeling that these words are ringing through my ears is the moment that the princess’s sword tries to pierce my heart.
「?! W-what is this?!」(Alesia)
What Alesia pierced isn’t my heart. With a crack, the sword that she thrust down crushed… the magic core hanging around my neck.
The magic core that contains the mana of the Demon Lord is unusually dense; currents of mana flow out of it and fill this place.
This immediately provides the Dungeon Core with the mana necessary for the Guardians’ revival, which is normally supposed to take several months.
A sharp roar echoes out in the chamber.
Two beasts appear, one is a lion wrapped in red flames and the other is a tiger wrapped in blue flames.
「Kuh, everyone, get into battle formation! We must protect the princess!」(Knight captain)
Despite the chaos caused by the abrupt appearance of these enemies, the knights move quickly.
… If I’m going to run, now’s my only chance.
「Wha-?! Shit, the hero is getting away!」(Knight)
I don’t have skills, I don’t have shit, I’m just breaking through with only one thing in my mind. I break through the knights’ encirclement. Their ranks have already been thrown into disarray by the appearance of the Guardians; they collapse as I run through them.
Increasing my speed with『Shukuchi*』and『Divine Feet*』, I dash through the air using『Sky Walk』close to the ground. I evade the attacks aimed at me with the smallest amount of necessary movement or simply accept them, suppressing the screams of pain coming from all over my body. And I head towards the only exit to this place.
「No, he must not be allowed to escape! If he is allowed to even take one step from this chamber -」(Alesia)
In response to the princess’s voice echoing from behind me, I tighten the grip of my hand that is holding my Soul Sword without thinking.
Even if I die afterwards, I have to pierce the princess with this sword in my hand...
『If you live a life that you throw away halfway through, I will never forgive you.』(Demon Lord)
「! FUUUUUCK! Scatter them, Cruel Blade - Firebird Burst Lightning Flash Flower!」(Kaito)
「Raise your shields!」(Knight captain)
An echoing, thunderous roar drowns out my voice and the voices of the knights, and an explosion filled with purple lightning expands outwards.
Of course, nobody here is inexperienced enough to be hit by this explosion directly, but it succeeds in delaying the humans that stop it with their shields and magic barriers. And since the guys behind me are fighting the Guardians, they have no time to give chase.
「I will not let you!」(Alesia)
A fireball released by the princess scorches my back.
But the victor of this battle is me.
That’s the last I hear of the princess’s voice.
I turn my head as I teleport using my Soul Sword’s power, and the last thing I see is the princess, wearing an ugly, demon-like expression of fury.
I didn’t have any destination in mind when I teleported other than “far away”, and I find myself deep in a forest that I’ve never seen before. The sun hasn’t risen yet and even the moon is hidden behind the rain clouds. The forest is submerged in complete darkness.
The drizzling rain runs down my body, easing the pain of the countless wounds on it.
My back hurts a lot from being burned by the princess's spell. As the thought of treating it runs through my mind, my vision becomes distorted.
Long-distance teleportation consumes an incredible amount of mana. After my level increased, it was almost unlimited, but I suppose I’m suffering from mana intoxication now. At this rate, it seems like it’ll be a while before I can treat myself.
I pull out the arrows, apply pressure to my wounds and try to walk, but I can’t even take the first step.
The humans that I asked to help me, the humans that I trusted, were my『enemies』right from the beginning.
I believed that I would be able to return to a normal life in my world. The hope that kept me going until now was nothing but a mirage.
I don’t know what I’m supposed to do in this world anymore.
I don’t know what I should live for.
… I don’t know, but -
『Live in a way that you will not have left things undone when you die one day.』(Demon Lord)
My legs feel like they’ll collapse any minute, but even so, I take one step forward.
Even if I don’t know what I continue living for, I can’t die.
Because of her, I came to like this world.
Because of her, I was able to smile in this world.
That very girl told me that she’d never forgive me if I lived my life in a half-assed way.
Even so, if I were to die, she would probably give her usual laugh and say something like,『You are so helpless; foolish until the very end.』
That’s why my feet can’t stop here.
If I were to die in a way where I gave up before the very end, I wouldn’t be able to stay by her side even after I die.
That’s why, that’s right, I’ll walk.
I want her to let me cry a little.
「I’m sorry, Leticia. I couldn’t keep my promise. I’m sorry, I’m really sorry...」(Kaito)
These words spill out and disappear into the darkness, never to be heard by anyone.