10 – Martial Hero Route – I
Ars Nova, the capital of the Human Empire… or rather, the Northern Empire. It was a bustling city filled with activity. Merchants from all around set up stalls to promote their wares. Adventurers of all sorts wandered the streets between accepting requests. And then the normal citizens milled about here and there on their daily routines.
That was the type of place we arrived at. The only signs of conflict that could be seen was the checkpoint placed at the city gates, manned by soldiers. Each passing traveler was required to present an ID card before being allowed passage into the city.
Of course, with Information Concealment, that became a non-issue and we safely entered without hassle. Soon, we were walking along the main street of Ars Nova, myself in the lead, Aria to my right, and Saphira slightly behind and to my left. Along the way, I scanned the surroundings with Analyze, making a mental map of the city and accumulating information.
“Nowun. Are all cities like this?” Aria’s emerald eyes flitted about, taking in everything around. “There’s so much going on. Don’t people feel tired?”
I glanced towards Aria. “Isn’t your hometown the same?”
After staring at a stall serving crepes for a while, Aria shook her head. “No. It’s much quieter there and everyone mostly keeps to themselves.”
I thought that Alvheim would be similar in atmosphere to Ars Nova, but it looked like the temperament of elves were too different from humans.
“I have another question,” Aria said.
“Go ahead.” Since this was her first time outside of Alvheim, I decided to take the role of a guide.
Aria glanced around at the surroundings and then took a step closer to me. “Do… people usually stare so much?”
“Hm?” Hearing that, I stopped analyzing and focused. “What do you mean?”
“W-well… ever since we’ve entered the city, a lot of people have been looking at us. And they’re whispering too.”
Before I could answer, Aria flinched after seeing something and grabbed my arm. Following her gaze, I saw a scarred warrior staring at her with desire in his eyes.
A quick glance around showed similar gazes from the men in the area, although more were directed towards Saphira walking behind me. From the female gazes, I saw both envy and jealousy.
At that rate, it wouldn’t be long before some arrogant adventurer or noble walked up to cause trouble.
The scarred warrior staring at Aria took a step forward.
I sighed. “They always make it seem so interesting when the protagonist hides their power. But this… this is just irritating.”
Perhaps taking my inaction as weakness, the scarred warrior grinned and took another step forward.
And then he stopped. Him and everyone else in the vicinity.
“Eh?” Aria glanced around. But this time, not a single person dared to look her way. “What happened?”
I shook my head and kept walking, lightly pulling Aria along behind me. “Don’t mind it, Aria. People just tend to lose their heads a bit after seeing beautiful women.”
“B-Beautiful?!” Aria’s eyes flitted towards me and then she looked away. “Nowun, that’s-“
“Fi, stop. You can’t kill them, even if they’re being rude.”
Aria frowned at being interrupted, giving me a small pout.
I ignored that and focused on my other flag-triggering party member.
Saphira’s right hand was raised, but she smoothly used it to brush her silver hair behind her ear. “I thought of no such thing, my Master.”
“Of course you didn’t. Think of it as just concern on my part. Also, don’t reveal any of your power without my permission. With how much that person enjoys drama, who knows how many flags will get raised if you do.”
A person running forward and saying that I hid behind the strength of women, a proud warrior wondering why such a skilled person is following a weakling, etc. I could practically feel the cliches incoming.
The plan was to trigger a few, but even though I wanted to put on a show to distract the goddess, there was a limit to my patience.
“…Understood.” Saphira replied. The fact that her tone sounded dejected only confirmed my worries.
I sighed and we continued our walk around the city.
As we did, Aria said, “Nowun?”
“Yes, Aria?” I replied after checking the level of equipment being sold by a shop nearby.
“Why are we walking around? I don’t know much about traveling, but shouldn’t we be finding a place to sleep?”
Before I could answer, Saphira said, “Foolish girl. My Master’s plan is so obvious and yet you fail to comprehend it.”
Saphira sighed. “You experienced it for yourself. This lowly empire is still unaware of my Master’s might. If not, how could they dare to make an advance on you, who my Master has already claimed as his own?”
Aria flushed a bit at Saphira’s words, but nodded. “Ah. But… will just walking around change that?”
“Of course! Furthermore, it will allow my Master to gain the acknowledgment he deserves, furthering his plan of world-“
“That’s enough, Fi.”
“Ah.” Saphira lowered her head. “Understood, my Master.”
It seemed like Saphira’s personality developed in a strange direction, reminding me of a certain black-winged guardian overseer. I briefly wondered if that was because of my subconscious, or if that was just the natural development for the minions of powerful beings.
In the end, I decided it didn’t matter too much. It meant that I’d have to be vigilant in the nearby future, however.
Perhaps sensing my mood, Aria didn’t ask further questions, simply walking close by my side.
With the silence, I was able to completely focus on my primary task: information gathering.
Most of it was from using Analysis on everything in sight. However, while walking around I heard some interesting reactions from some people that saw us passing by.
A merchant said to a knight, “Is that another of the Emperor’s Braves? Being that powerful and followed by such beautiful women… he is, right?”
The knight shook his head. “No. The only ones that have left the imperial palace are Lord Kouki and his party and that man isn’t one of them.”
A nearby warrior said, “Isn’t it obvious? That guy’s a young master from the Sun Kingdom. He must have just finished his seclusion and was sent to explore the world and temper himself.”
The merchant frowned. “What makes you think that?”
The warrior laughed. “Ha! A merchant and you can’t even tell? You must be new. Just opening business?”
The merchant flushed and narrowed his eyes.
The warrior shook his head and said, “Look. See that silver-haired woman? Although she’s concealed her aura, there’s no mistaking the sharp demeanor around her.”
I stopped listening at that point, having heard enough. Still, what I heard was both interesting and concerning.
That goddess had said I would go an isekai, but what was this wuxia like setting? I knew that the Sun Kingdom was the equivalent of Asia from my Otherworlder title, but I thought it was just another Japan. Yet, it seemed that there were even cultivators?
…No. That goddess said she had brought a lot of people over. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch if one of those people had been a fan of wuxia. And since this was supposedly a one-way trip, they might have wanted to recreate it.
Either way, it provided a surprisingly convenient cover story.
Walking around the capital, I heard other bits of information that confirmed my thoughts on the cliché of a class summoning. I also heard that the elves had joined forces with the Demon Lord, although that reeked more of propaganda than truth. At the same time, I completed a mental map of the city and gained a general sense of how it worked, as well as the important places to keep in mind.
Eventually, the sun reached the highest point in the sky. Seeing that, and since we had walked around all day, I called for a break.
Aria sighed in relief. “I was starting to worry that my feet would fall off… I just can’t keep up with you two.”
Saphira scoffed. “Then you had better work harder, girl. You can’t expect to be a burden to my Master all your life, do you?”
Aria flinched, and then determination shone in her eyes. “That’s right! I’ll definitely get strong enough to fight by Nowun’s side! I won’t let him die for me again!”
“Eh?” Saphira narrowed her eyes. “What did you say?”
Aria didn’t respond and her determined eyes dimmed a bit. “Again? Why did I say again? Did Nowun-“
I coughed and said, “Is there anything you two want to eat? There were a lot of food stalls along the way. Did anything catch your eye?”
“Oh!” Aria snapped out of her daze and said, “There was a tasty crepe shop back where we entered!”
Hearing Aria’s words, Saphira’s eyes brightened as well. “Indeed, those pastries looked… adequate for such a lowly place. Ah, but if my Master is against it, I would not mind consuming anything else.”
That place they were talking about was the stall that Aria was staring at while we walked in, wasn’t it?
I nodded. “Alright. We’ll get something to eat there and have a heavier meal later.”
Aria gave me a bright smile and hummed. “Crepes, crepes, crepes~ Oh, I wonder if they’re as good as eldest sister described them?”
“H-Hmph.” Saphira scoffed from beside me. “Being so excited for a mere pastry. How childish.” Although saying that, Saphira couldn’t hide the sparkle in her eyes.
It was nice. After so long, I was finally having a lighthearted isekai adventure. It was a bit stereotypical, and it took a while to get to the point I was, but it was a good break from the mind-numbing grind trying to gain enough strength to avoid being manipulated by that goddess.
…Or so I thought.
But when we walked towards the food stalls by the main entrance, I saw a pair of people wearing hooded cloaks from the corner of my eyes.
Aria and Saphira hadn’t noticed, too excited about the crepes, but there was no way I didn’t.
One was a tall man with short cobalt hair and steely gray eyes. A giant double-edged sword hung from his back, and form-fitting armor forged from an unknown but powerful mineral covered the rest of his body.
The other was a shorter woman with crimson hair and matching eyes. She was also beautiful, but in a different way than either Aria or Saphira. If Aria’s beauty was innocent and Saphira’s beauty was ideal, then that woman’s beauty was like a flame, drawing the eye but promising a slow death.
Both of them concealed their mana, suppressing it to the level of ordinary adventurers, but with my affinity towards darkness, there was no way I would be fooled by that.
The man saw me and frowned.
I started walking faster.
Aria stumbled a bit from beside me, but quickly matched my pace. “Oh! Are you excited about the crepes as well, Nowun?”
“… Of course. It’s been a while since I’ve had anything sweet. This will be a nice change of pace.”
The moment I said those words, an explosion sounded from behind us.
“…But that definitely won’t be,” I muttered.
Aria started to turn around to look, but I tugged at her arm and said, “Keep walking. If we hurry, then maybe-“
“Stay where you are, foul demon!” It was a heroic voice, one filled with justice and resolve.
Aria frowned. “Nowun-“
“Keep walking. We have nothing to do with this, so let’s just hurry and-“
Something whistled through the air on my left.
“Nowun!” Aria called out and then rapidly chanted. “Oh spirits of the wind! Heed my call and shield us from harm! Ventus!”
Mana surged and wind spiraled. With it, icicles were sent flying into the ground instead of towards my body.
After that, a shadow briefly flickered from above.
I sighed and then took a step to my left, pulling Aria along with me.
At that time, a figure came crashing to the ground where Aria was standing. The figure retreated, leaping back through the air on my right. Landing on the ground, a short-haired girl twirled her spear and frowned. “I missed.”
A volley of arrows suddenly shot through the air towards my face.
I didn’t react.
Before they reached me, a barrier of light emerged, disintegrating the arrows on contact.
Saphira stepped forward, her left hand outstretched. Her blue eyes were frosty with rage and she glared at the attacker, a pretty-boy archer with light-brown hair.
I turned around. Standing there, with a cold black-haired beauty at his side, was another pretty-boy. However, unlike the archer, that guy had black hair. Also unlike the archer, he was holding a shiny silver sword and crackled with energy.
“…Are we really doing this right now?”
That guy with the sword narrowed his eyes and said, “You wicked demon! Bewitching such fair maidens to protect you…! I, the Brave Kouki, will cut you down and set them free!”
Japanese features, a pretty-boy, hot-blooded, and thinking mostly with his lower head. That guy was a typical ‘Brave’ if there ever was one.
I sighed. “This is a misunderstanding.”
“Enough with your lies, demon. Prepare yourself!” Completely rejecting my words, he raised his sword and gathered mana around it.
Aria shifted in my arms and said, “What do we do, Nowun?”
Saphira scowled and took a step forward. “What else, girl? We cut down the fools that dare to oppose my Master.”
“You’re not helping, Saphira. But it looks like they won’t listen to whatever we say anyway…”
The Brave shouted out to his comrades. “Ayumi, trap them with thunder magic! Miki, incapacitate the blond girl! And Matt, cover fire!”
“Got it, Ki-kun!” The girl with the spear shouted and then leaped into the air, her weapon pointed at Aria.
“Understood, Kouki.” The cold beauty next to the hero nodded and began chanting. “Oh thunder, grant me your strength! Zap!“ With those words, a bold of lightning surged towards me.
At the same time, the brown-haired pretty-boy raised his bow. “Volley Shot!” With those words, a single arrow turned into ten, all of them crashing down towards me.
Finally, the Brave charged. He raised his sword above his head and shouted. “Die, demon! MIRACLE SLA- kuh!”
The Brave’s words caught in his throat.
The arrows froze in mid-flight, falling harmlessly to the ground.
The lightning bolt dispersed.
Finally, the girl with the spear plummeted to the ground, her spear shattering against it.
For the nth time, I sighed and shook my head.
Was it my fault? It must have been my fault. Too many flags were raised and now I was running into cliches left and right, even off-genre ones.
I wanted to put on a show for the goddess, true. But with this… I was starting to think that goddess had too much spare time on her hands. So many coincidental events occurring at once reeked of divine meddling.
All the more reason that I had to-
“You mongrels!” Saphira narrowed her eyes and stepped forward, blinding white lightning gathering at her fingertips. “To dare act so audaciously against my Master, I should-“
“Again, not helping Fi.”
Also, it seemed that Saphira was starting to channel a certain golden king of heroes. Better to nip that in the bud before it got out of hand.
The Brave grit his teeth and tried to take another step forward. His entire body shuddered with the effort, but caught in my Dragon’s Grasp it was futile. “You… monster…!”
I shook my head. “Is this how the Northern Empire treats their guests? It’s no wonder our kingdom has declined to ally with you against the Demon Lord.” I took a step forward and pulled something from my pocket.
Seeing it, the Brave paled. “Th-that card. A dragon clawing the skies and that material. You’re an elder of the Heaven-Seizing Dragon Sect?”
I slipped it back into my pocket, inwardly thanking the versatility of Information Concealment, and smiled. “Having attacked us… I hope you know the consequences?”
The Brave’s face distorted, regret clear in his eyes.
Seeing that, I inwardly nodded. With that, if I played my cards right and assuming nothing else happened-
“So the level of the empire is only this much. To think, that I was concerned for nothing.”