Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
When he pushed open the thick solid wood doors, what first entered Priest’s gaze was a pale gold crystal light of the Ancient Edda style. He looked around him to find its radiance—a mix between gold and white—had filled the entire octagonal hall, at once noticing a whirling rune at the center of the crystal light that was bright but not too sharp.
It was the communications hall in the castle of Victor Academy, equipped with thirty-two continental communications tool and eight private rooms. Since students and teachers of Winter Fort Academy might not all be locals, the academy had especially built the communications hall so that they could speak with their kin or people on the other side of the continent. Apart from the public communications equipment in the hall, one could apply for use of a soundproofed room if something confidential was discussed.
Inside the hall, there were five others who were speaking to distant relatives, although they took no mind when they noticed Priest’s arrival and continued their respective conversations.
“There’s nothing bad here apart from being a little strict…” a young woman whose clothing was a little expensive was saying. “Yeah, all the instructors are so powerful that I find it a little oppressive—but apart from that, I don’t find anything bad.”
“Yes, daddy,” said another girl who appeared to be the young lady of a household. “I have enough money here—Moldavian prices aren’t too high, and might even be cheaper than back in the Trade Federation.”
“Don’t worry, mom,” a seemingly unassuming boy whose chest bore what seemed to be an Imperial Noble crest was saying. “The lessons are detailed, and any instructor is Gold-tier, compared to the private Silver-advanced tutors we had before… And do you believe it? Just a while ago, the fencing instructor had applied for leave, and Brandon of the Kaos Family came as a substitute teacher! He is a Supreme champion, even if he was invited to teach us for just one session.”
Another boy with a noble crest was there as well. “Father, we must bring forward the construction of public magical facilities,” he said. “I could feel the tides of a new era here at Count Radcliffe’s domain—there’s no question we would be left behind if we don’t keep looking forward.”
“Don’t worry, I’m fine,” a man who was plainly dressed and bearing a straight gait was saying, “I and my party are confident in making the top ten. When I get my rank, I will return to our hometown and marry you.”
As the voices of varying pitches wafted from around him, Priest paused slightly, but the Information Terminal on his wrist flickered with green-blue radiance, guiding him as he picked the private communications room with the serial number 02.
Arriving by the door, Priest raised his hand, leveling his Information Terminal at the magic circle by the door. As a green ray shot out from the terminal and shone on the circle, the door opened with a light hum, and Priest strode inside.
The private communications room was decorated plainly—white paint, wooden chairs, a plain circular dome and without any wall relief or painting. Indeed, the only conspicuous thing at the center of the room was a large silver mirror with a metal at its base, with the occasional veins of runes appearing over its smooth surface. Priest could also sense the doors behind him closing automatically, and the commotion outside cleared at once: he could hear nothing other than his own breathing.
“Compared to the old place, Moldavia is really another world.”
Technology is really so advanced that it is almost inconceivable.
As he ruminated softly, Priest could not help remembering his old home by the southern frontiers of the Empire. It was a small, unordinary village town, the villagers of whom would never leave that soil if not for the attacks of berserker dragons. Everyone farmed crops, harvested soy beans and corn—they would not even come across any mage in a year, much less magical equipment.
But in Moldavia, magical equipment could be found anywhere as if it was part and parcel of life.
However, it was no time to wonder. Taking a deep breath, Priest sat on the chair in front of the mirror—but as if awaiting his arrival all along, a faint mana undulation and popping sound appeared the instant he settled himself. Radiances resembling snowflakes appeared over the silver mirror, and turned into veins of distinct patterns and colors within moments that finally gathered, becoming a lightly swaying screen.
There was also a silhouette at the center of the screen, leaning into a chair and carrying a book in his hand, his sitting posture nonchalant. He then looked up, as if sensing the screen’s activation, and looked towards Priest.
“You’re here,” the person—a man—spoke with a low yet distinct voice. “Please be understanding since this meeting was called on such short notice.”
His tone was friendly, his words plain, sincere and without a sense of being high and mighty. Even so, Priest felt his own body shuddering the instant he heard that voice, as if some unstoppable threat that engulfed the world was arriving like a surging tide of Dark Forest. Despite being a merchant escort who had fought against dragons in mortal form—even chasing them off, he instinctively wanted to draw his flail that hung from his hip, only to suddenly realize that he was not in the Dark Forest or facing a surging wave of beasts. He was no longer a merchant escort, nor did he had his flail in his hand.
It was all an illusion. He was merely conversing with the academy’s dean, Joshua van Radcliffe in the private communications room of Victor Academy.
And nothing else.
“…No, it’s all right. Well… it’s my honor to speak with you!”
Priest quickly calmed himself, a unique attribute of his own. At first, he stuttered a little nervously, but soon spoke fluently as if having overcome an impediment. “My Lord, I heard from Miss Damia that you wished to see me, though I’m still a little nervous…”
“There’s no need to be anxious, Priest.” Joshua, appearing pleased over Priest’s reaction, nodded lightly from the other end of the screen. “You’re a student in the academy as well: don’t call me ‘lord’, just ‘dean’.”
“You must have questions as to why I wanted to see you. I’ll keep it brief and direct…”
Priest looked on as the warrior straightened his sitting posture a little, placing the book he had on his desk and then held his chin with both his hands.
“I hope you won’t join Victor Academy,” he said serenely.
Even if Priest did not react at once to what Joshua was saying, he still did not show any signs of shock or disappointment seconds later. Still, though there was a tinge of bewilderment in his scarred face, he smiled as if relieved. “I would accede if that is your wish, Dean Radcliffe.”
“Not bad, Priest. That calmness is no quality that could be uncovered by any assessment.”
Joshua’s tone appeared more pleased on the other side of the screen. “You could probably tell that I admire your qualities—which is why I don’t want you to receive the ordinary education in an academy, and recruit you to a newly established but important division of the nation: The Imperial Department for External Expeditions.”
“I don’t favor compelling others—that is why I have to take to you alone and determine your intentions before inviting you to that vital cause.” Joshua did not speak quickly, and enunciated each word clearly, which Priest noted solemnly.
“Why me, Dean Radcliffe?” Priest asked doubtfully when Joshua finished. Naturally aware that Joshua preferred to be ‘brief and direct’, he was forthright with what puzzled himself. “I’m honored by your praise—that is certainly a merit most in this world would envy… I’m definitely happy to be invited as well, but before that, I wish to know what kind of a branch the ‘External Expedition Department’ actually was, and why I’m chosen… Burp .”
Though his speech began to clear and his tone fluent, Priest became nervous once more and accidentally belched, making him instantly bewildered, his face blushed a crimson and appearing prepared to strangle himself.
“Hahaha. A belch, that’s new… Alright, you could stop blushing. Your performance is not bad—the young fellows before you who met me all looked prepared to faint, with some almost losing control over their bladders. So, belching isn’t really anything embarrassing.”
Moreover, it was more appropriate to say that being able to belch while facing Joshua was sufficient proof that Priest had stalwart will. One way or the other, the warrior took no mind, and proceeded to answer Priest’s question seriously after a short laugh.
“The first reason for choosing you… Priest Omni, don’t sell yourself short. In the local assessment, you ranked fifth in the written test and first in live combat, second overall—choosing is a matter of logic.”
“Secondly, though there isn’t anything confidential about the External Expedition Department right now, your memories would be purged by academy instructors if you learned about it but chose not to join—would you agree to that?”
“I do.” Priest answered at once without thought.
“Very well.” Joshua nodded, pleased. “Now, I talk, you listen.”
Joshua did not speak for long. In less than three minutes of explanation, Priest understood clearly the true face of the ‘Imperial Department of External Expedition’. It was a government subsidiary established to explore places beyond the world of Mycroft, to carry out widespread survey of outer realms both individually or collectively. Every member of the department were all important characters and had their unique qualities, elites capable of solving most issues—and even if you were not elite at the start, it would train you to become the best of the best.
It was also a whole new department independent of the Imperial Army and the Imperial Royal Mage Guild, but directly affiliated to the Imperial Family. That was the precise reason why it could select candidates across the Empire, not even sparing a small fry like Priest who had yet mature. Should he accept and join, Priest would become a seed cultivated with the department’s full resources, and it would not be impossible for him to rise into Supreme.
—It was an opportunity.
The youth was deeply aware of the fact: it was an opportunity that would undoubtedly change his fate and the chances he would have in the future. Priest could feel his heartbeat accelerating, his surging blood heating up his entire body: A department, with the Empire’s name as prefix and levied with such importance by Legendary champions, and all Imperial resources unquestionably at the disposal of its operations… Was there a better opportunity? Was there any better opening to become a champion? Of course not.
Still, exploring other worlds? That’s even further away than escorting merchant convoys to the other end of the continent, almost as dangerous as heading to the Abyss…
At the very thought, the image of his sister Britney promptly appeared in Priest’s mind. He hesitated for a moment, the promise to never part with his sister echoing around his own ears… but soon, he steeled himself and made his choice.
I’m sorry, Britney. The days living in Moldavia had been pleasant and relaxed, and I really never had been so happy… Even so, that is not enough—such shallow happiness consumes my spirit.
What I want isn’t such simple ‘happiness’. I wish for absolute ‘ease’.
Closing his eyes, Priest already had a resolve in his heart: there was no question that it was through attaining greater power could he protect his sister.
Priest had realized that in the Berserk Dragon Plague that claimed the lives of almost every kin he had—if he stayed a normal human, he would not be able to protect anyone. Back when the calamity struck, his father could not protect his mother or young brother, nor could Priest himself protect his family. All he could do was save his younger sister from the clutches of draconic talons and flee the village… and how many times could a life bear such miracles after his life was put on the line?
There was nothing more laughable to put himself in the mercy of fate.
Indeed, Priest came from the distant south of the Empire to Moldavia, solely because it was safer than other places and to be protected by the Legendary champion present, to live by shielding himself behind the wall called ‘the strong’. He would be able to live a comfortable and peaceful life, without having to explore faraway places, picking between branching roads, worry about unknowns or be cautious of possible threats. Everyone here is able to live to live out their lives pleasantly and leisurely with widespread magical technology.
And yet, humans could never stay behind walls forever, and be the one protected.
Priest wished to become the wall that protects his sister instead.
This was his decision that he would never regret.
Priest became even more doubtful even as he repeated the very first question he asked, even after he learned about the Empire’s external expedition team. “My results might excel, but there are also many Gold and Supreme champions in the Empire… And with a Legend like Dean Radcliffe yourself who could enter or exit the Abyss as you wish, would it not be infinitely efficient for any of you to explore worlds?”
Joshua shook his head a little impatiently. “You didn’t really get what I was saying… if that’s the case, I will make things easier to understand.”
“There are many reasons I chose you, Priest Omni.”
In the shadows, the warrior narrowed his eyes—two red dots blinking like fiery stars—slightly. “You have considerable talents, with divine strength that could temporarily wrestle green dragons even before maturity and first-class innateness in combat. Even if you had not broken through to Silver, you could defeat Silver-intermediate magical beast in the illusionary assessment.”
“You have no parents, meaning that there isn’t seniority to restrain you. You have a sister, meaning that you still have bonds to this world. You have friends, firm principles and a positive outlook, as well as trust partners while possessing a heart of endurance. Overall, you are spiritually exceptional and of virtuous character.”
“Priest, while human elites are needed to explore other worlds, neither Israel nor I picked the senior Gold or Supreme because they do not count—how could those fellows who do not how to use measuring apparatus, basic mathematics or geography assume the vital role of determining the future of humanity? Instead of grooming those whose minds were only filled with battles… Hmmm. In other words, instead of training those who do not fight with their minds as expedition teams, it would be better to train newcomers like you.”
“Most importantly,” Joshua sighed then said, “different worlds react differently to supernatural powers. Some are relaxed, some repulsed—for Gold champions who had been branded with Mycroft’s mark, it would be fine for them if the fundamentals of the world they visit was not too different. But if it is, Extraordinary individuals below Legend would be greatly suppressed in their ability even if they did not self-destruct.
Revealing information only Legendary champions would experience, Joshua, a man who had traveled many worlds and sensed various different Steel Strength, hence indicated the greatest issue of exploring the Multiverse in the past. “They simply wouldn’t do as expeditioners.”
Priest, who had been listening attentively was promptly taken aback. “Eh? If that’s the case, won’t we be rejected as well even after we become Gold?”
However, Joshua shook his head slightly, smiling. “It’s the reason talented youths like you who hasn’t treated the path of Extraordinary are chosen.”
Then, Joshua lifted his head slightly, as if he could see through the skies on the other end of the screen. “Your party would be sent to the Void beyond the world,” he said with a slight mirth. “To the Multiverse Sacrificial Grounds, one of the most special places in the Multiverse. You would live, train, be educated and assessed over there, and come to grasp Extraordinary powers commonly used across the Multiverse.”
“Your group would become an unprecedented type of Extraordinary individuals.” Joshua finished, lowering his gaze to watch Priest directly. “Now, Priest Omni. Tell me what you have decided.”
Was there even any other choice?
Priest rose, lowered his head before kneeling on one knee in front of the screen, and exclaimed with a voice that could not be more earnest.
“I will join the team!”
“To actually waste so much time on that youth… Have you been too idle, Joshua? The server of the Information Terminal is not yet stable, you could take a look if you have the time.”
Inside the study of the Liege’s Residence, Nostradamus sat on a couch, staring as Joshua closed the screen in front of him. “A whole twelve minutes,” he grumbled. “Just a youth with considerable talent—there’s no need to be so serious.
“That’s where you’re wrong. Treating every seriously is absolutely not a waste of time.” Joshua shook his head in return, picking up and taking a sip from a cup of tea. “Moreover, Priest is not most people. I’ve made a background check: do you think anyone could chase off a juvenile Green Dragon, and carry his little sister some twenty kilometers away to seek refuge in a fortress?”
“Eh? Then, could it be that the little fellow…”
Nostradamus noticed that something was not right as well, and frowned. “Is he some heir of divine bloodline? Or perhaps a descendant of a Legendary champion separated by generations?”
“Don’t keep revolving yourself around the theory of bloodlines, Nostradamus—didn’t you have a distaste for nobles? Instead, it’s precisely because he has no bloodlines that I’m quite taken with him… Most importantly, I like his attitude—that reluctance of accepting mundane happiness and to grasp fate in his own hands. That is the seed of champions I have in mind: Lisa fits the standard, while Arlwa, Ivan and the others still miss the mark by a fraction.”
“And it is really worth wondering,” Joshua said softly and almost imperceptibly even as focused on the words in the book. “Although I kept repeating to the point that I’m a little jaded, I can’t help wanting to say it again… This is the era of the Great Mana Tide, Holy Ones would descend, heroes would rise, the Abyss lurks, the Evil Gods spy.
The most glorious and finest era that was also the worst and most hateful.
“Hmm? What is it?”
“A new generation of champions is coming.”
“I know.” Tasting his own words, the elderly man first furrowed his brow slightly before sighing, and finally smiled, shaking his head. “I’m not old yet.”
“I know,” Joshua replied, remembering the blessing that Gale, Lord of the Skies left for this era before perishing. He blessed His successors could surpass themselves and venture further than They did, to arrive at places They never reached.
Thus, the warrior smiled lightly. “Therefore, let us lead them forward.”