The group from the Magic Tower who went to the Main Plaza with Peruda brought the corpses back to the Magic Tower. What they faced when they returned to the tower at the first floor was a mountain of corpses.
“H… How could this be?”
One of the group mumbled after seeing the Magic Tower’s first floor in a complete disarray. An answer could be heard.
“… Ahah, please pardon me for the intrusion.”
The floor was full of blood, and there were their comrades lying there. The group, who were looking at the scene, turned their heads toward the direction of the voice.
“Y… You are?”
“Having considered the situation, I figured I should stop by here, so…”
In the direction, there was an old man with long grown white beard sitting on the chair and looking at the group.
“H… How could you be here?”
“Please calm down.”
In disbelief, the group panicked. The old man responded, saying there is no need to be surprised, raised his right hand.
“You will understand it soon.”
The old man made a snapping noise with his right hand by flicking it, and the corpses that were lying all around the floor started to twitch.
The corpses started to come back to life.
Some had burns, and some had frost bites. They all had unique characteristics. However, they all had one thing in common, which was… that they all had pitch-black eyes.
“W… What in the world…”
The corpses were just like the ones they saw at the Lower Solia.
The group anticipated how the corpses would behave. They carelessly tossed the restrained corpses from the Lower Solia to the side and slowly started to take steps back.
‘R… Run… We must run. We need to tell Mr. Peruda about this…’
When one of the group started to take steps back, as if the rest felt they should too, they started to do the same while being choked in fear.
It was because, regardless of the fact that they were mages of the great Magic Tower, they could not possibly win against the old man who was sitting on the sofa.
“Ahah, that won’t be allowed.”
The old man sitting on the sofa looked at the five men who were trying to run. This time, he casually raised his left hand.
With just that hand movement, just like what Peruda demonstrated, the floor around the group started to twitch, and disgusting tentacles poured out.
A tentacle tied the group’s legs. In panic, they ground their teeth and glared at the old man in front of them. The old man, with belittling laughter, said,
“That’s for beautifully wrapping my gifts. It would be ungrateful of me to not pay you back for that, so… This is your reward.”
The old man was looking at the tightly restrained corpses that were tossed carelessly to the floor. He then started to close five fingers on his hand that he raised.
“U… Uuua? Uuuuuaaaa!”
The group started to scream.
It was because, in response to the old man’s hand gesture, there were thorns growing in the vines that tied their legs.
“Um… It seems the color that I used to have before was lost after I switched the body.”
Looking at the color of vines and the thorns piercing the group’s legs, the old man clicked his tongue as if he was disappointed. At that moment,
“Well, it does not matter.”
The corpses that twitched and got up earlier opened their mouth wide and looked at the group who had their legs tied.
The group felt like they definitely knew now what it was like to be frozen in fear. Tears started to form around their eyes.
“It is time for meals.”
When the old man mumbled, the corpses started to limp their way toward the group.
Of the corpses, it seemed one of them had been starving for quite a while. One of them was charging at them while dragging on the robe.
All of the corpses were the group’s comrades in the Magic Tower. Earlier today, the group had been smiling and chatting with them.
Thinking they could not just die like this, the group from the Magic Tower, who were shaking in fear, raised their hands to their front.
Along with spell incantations, lumps of flames were formed in front of their hands. They aimed the flames at the corpses that used to be their friends.
“Ah! You cannot do that.”
As if the old man could not allow their frantic last-ditch efforts, purple colored ring like things started to form in tight array on the old man’s right hand, and they started to turn like a clock spring.
The five men from the Magic Tower, who were about to launch the flames, mumbled in tears.
As if he had lost his mind from the fear, one of the group was about to shout out the name of the old man sitting on the sofa. However, his neck was bitten off by the corpse that charged at them first.
Along with the scream, there were rapid sounds of flesh being bitten off.
The group’s eyes, after the group was caught and bitten off by people who now became corpses to attack them, were slowly losing light.
“… How ungrateful.”
There were sounds of blood splatter from flesh being bitten off. That gruesome scene was happening in front of him. Despite all that, the old man just mumbled leisurely.
“Being quiet during the meal is the right mannerism.”
From the back, the old man leisurely watched the corpses eating their meals. He finally got up and continued,
“As always, the ones being eaten should fully focus on being silent.”
The old man…
Astroa had a shady smile on his face.
* * *
It was during a late morning.
On the hotel’s bed, Riley opened his disheveled eyes. He found that Ian’s bed was empty. Riley covered his face with his palm as if he thought this was such a headache.
“Ugh, Ian, please…”
Riley put the blanket aside and got down from his bed. He looked and saw Ian’s bed was neatly organized. Riley looked around and said,
“Where did you go?”
Ever since Ian faced the animated corpses on the Lower Solia, Riley thought something was odd about Ian. Riley scratched his head.
‘By any chance, he is not out there causing a havoc trying to handle this on his own, right?’
Riley thought about the worst case scenario that he could possibly imagine at the moment. He mumbled that it could not be. Riley was about to leave the hotel, but…
“Ah, Young Master.”
He ran in to Ian who was standing in front of the door.
Unlike Riley, who was about to leave the room, it seemed Ian was about to enter the room. Ian, who was standing in front of the door, tilted his head side to side as if he was wondering why Riley looked confused.
“Are you going to head out?”
It seemed Ian just came back from washing himself. Instead of the butler suit that he always wore, he was in light clothing. There were some water on his face that he didn’t manage to wipe off. Having looked at Ian, Riley mumbled he worried for nothing. Riley asked,
Riley was going to have a conversation with Ian about what happened yesterday. However, having noticed the serious look on Ians face, Riley stopped what he was going to ask.
“… There is something I want to tell you.”
Ian added that he had been agonizing about this all morning while taking a walk. Ian sighed big.
“Is it a long story?”
“I’ll summarize it.”
Ian changed to his butler suit, prepared a tea that Riley might like at the hotel’s first floor, and brought it to him. Ian started to tell the story.
“It’s about the corpses we saw at the Lower Solia yesterday. I have seen them. To be precise, not the corpses… I have seen those pitch-black eyes.”
The pitch-black eyes were the one thing that was common among all animated corpses. The entire eye was dark without any white. Ian was saying he saw them before.
“About 15… No. 16 years ago, I think… What happened that day is something I still regret about. It is something I remember very clearly as much as I regret it.”
He was talking about when he was still young, before he obtained the title of the Mercenary Hero.
There was a woman in a small town who had been accused of being a witch.
There were strange rumors about her, saying she worshipped bizarre gods and worked up appetite to kill and eat the children whenever she saw the them…
“I met her when I was just a newbie. She also had pitch-black eyes like those corpses… There were no white on her eyes. Her eyes were completely dark.”
Ian said he followed her because perhaps he should not let her be just in case the rumors were true. Ian said he was going to stop her if she did something suspicious like the rumors, and he wanted to be acknowledged for the exploit.
“Witch… Actually, calling her witch was a ridiculous thing to do because… She wielded a sword.”
“Yes. That woman with pitch-black eyes was… my master who have taught me swordsmanship when I was still lost in my ways.”
Ian said he asked his pitch-black eyed master one day.
He asked why her eyes were filled with pitch-black color when she had the appearance of a human being and swung a sword like a human being.
“She said it was a blessing.”
Riley asked with a confused look on his face. Ian nodded and said she really did say that.
“Appearance wise, it looked more like a curse than a blessing. So I asked that ‘it look like a curse of some kind.’ When I asked…”
Ian said the woman’s response was…
“She said she actually think that too.”
Ian nodded and continued.
“Yes. Her pitch-black eyes were… not something she obtained because she wanted to.”
It seemed Ian was about to tell the most important part. With a serious look on his face, Ian lowered his voice.
“About what I told you about my master and what I am about to tell you… They are something nobody in this world knows, even Count Stein.”
“Young Master. Can you keep this secret?”
Ian asked with a petrified face. Riley was not able to answer. He just kept silence.
Ian called Riley again. Riley, who was agonizing about something for a moment, put up an unusually sincere and serious face and looked at his butler.
This was the first time for Ian to see Riley looking like this. Ian vacantly had his mouth open. Ian told the story with a serious face.
“Right now… Underneath the world that we live, there is another world that people don’t know about.”
* * *
It was at the Iphalleta mansion’s garden.
It had been a while since Iris stepped on to the grass. Standing on the grass, Iris vacantly stared up at the apple tree that her son had been using instead of sofa or a bed.
“The apples formed pretty late this year.”
Sera, who had been standing next to Iris and looking up the apple tree with her, responded to Iris’ comment.
Sera was thinking about a girl who was crying in front of the apple tree before she left the mansion last summer.
‘The apples will form soon… and I want to pick them all for you, Young Master. I want to live. Can I live?’
Sera remembered the girl who was desperately pleading that she did not want to die as she looked up the apple tree. Sera bit her lips for no reason.
‘The apples are ripe now. I wonder where she is and what she is up to? Is she doing all right?’
It was because Sera was worried about Nainiae.
“Are you thinking about Nainiae?”
Sera was in tears. Having noticed this, Iris smiled gently and asked carefully.
“You must miss her a lot?”
As if she was found out, Sera blushed her cheeks. Without her ribbon, Sera’s hair was flowing down to the side. Sera fiddled with her hair and complained,
“I… It’s just that I need to get my ribbon back from her, that’s all. That’s all.”
With her face all red, Sera was splashing spit as she talked. As if she was giving in, Iris waved her hand and made suppressed laughing noise.
“All right. All right.”
Sera could not say anything back at Iris for laughing. To change the topic, Sera asked about something else.
“Young Master must be doing well, right?”
“It is Riley. We just need to think that he is going to have a good rest in leisurely manner like how he had when he went to Rainfield.”
It seemed Sera was more worried about Ian who went with Riley. There was sudden gust of wind, and Sera cringed one of her eyes.
“… It is cool.”
By the autumn wind blowing, instead of cringing, Iris gently closed her eyes and fully embraced the cool breeze.
“It seems so.”
Sera’s hair was blowing in the wind, so she pressed it down with her right hand. Sera suddenly looked confused.
Flowing through the wind…
Sera could smell a familiar scent. This was why.
Sera, who had sharper senses, could tell.
This sent was definitely…
To the direction the wind was blowing from…
To where the scent that Sera longed for was coming from…
Sera vacantly turned her head toward the direction of the entrance of the mansion. Sera’s lips was shaking, and her mouth slowly opened wider.