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Chapter 13: On the Boundary Between Humans and Monsters (6)

“Show your face once in a while.”

As I finished packing and was about to leave the village, the priest who came to see me off said so.

...Although his words were all too reminiscent of something a father-in-law would say, I chose to ignore them.

No matter how much I tried to explain, it seemed to fall on deaf ears anyway.

I had heard him entrust his daughter to me countless times.

“You should... come visit once in a while as well.”

The priest said this with a smile.

Lien responded to the priest’s farewell with a bright smile and shared a hug with her father.

It’s a strange feeling.

The relationship between people who, according to the original story, would have ended in tragedy, has changed like this.

Feeling somewhat proud, I watched their farewell with a contented expression... then something came to mind, and I rummaged through my bag for a moment.

Fortunately, what I had made last time was still there.

“...This is.”

The priest’s eyes widened in surprise.

It was, perhaps, to be expected.

What I handed him was a map of this world.

A map drawn by me, a gamer who had poured his life into Blood and Bone.

Sure, there might be some discrepancies due to the time difference between the previous work and this one. But still, there’s nothing in this world as accurate as this.

What kind of surveying tools could this era possibly have?

And how would one go about mapping the terrain of dangerous areas teeming with monsters?

‘I’m glad I made an extra one to give to Siel.’

Maps can be made easily enough by me, so they’re not particularly important to me, but it’s different for these people.

They’ve been marked by the empire.

It seems their location has been exposed.

In any case, they need to leave here and find another safe place.

“You might want to consider moving somewhere around here. There’s a monster habitat nearby, but if you’re careful, there’s a route that can be safely navigated.”

I suggested a place they could move to, away from the prying eyes of the empire.

Having played the previous game and personally evaded the empire’s pursuit, offering advice wasn’t particularly challenging for me.

“What exactly do you do?”

The priest looked at me and asked.

...Indeed.

Even to me, I seem suspicious.

Who would carry around such information?

‘But I can’t just not share what I know.’

Especially when it’s about people like Lien’s family.

It seems wrong to let people die just to avoid suspicion when I could save them with a mere scribble.

Just handing over a piece of scribbled paper could increase the chances of dozens of people surviving.

I quickly thought of a suitable excuse, but it never made it out of my mouth.

“...No, you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.”

The priest spoke before I could, saying just that.

“Whoever you are, I know you care for and cherish my daughter. That’s enough for me.”

He’s truly a kind and good person at heart.

It’s a shame he’s caught up in a strange cult.

That such a person could have been led to kill his own daughter.

The dangers of cults are truly frightening.

“Should you ever need help, just say the word. We’re all on your side.”

With those words, the priest nudged me towards Lien, urging me to go to her.

From his expression, it seemed he genuinely meant what he said.

Have I been acknowledged as an honorary member of the tribe?

Having the backing of a cult village is a mixed feeling... but let’s take it as a good thing.

Having more people willing to help can never be a bad thing.

“Shall we go?”

At my words, Lien nodded.

Watching her, I suddenly realized something.

“Come to think of it, you haven’t heard my name, have you?”

At this, Lien looked puzzled for a moment, then noticeably flustered.

It seems I was right.

“I... It’s not like that! I didn’t just decide to follow you and I don’t know your name, but because it’s you...”

“...Because it’s me?”

Asking this, Lien’s face turned even redder.

She’s still so easy to tease.

Her reactions are so genuine, and now she’s even creating her own teasing material.

I feel the urge to tease her more, but I decide to hold back this time.

“Ian. Just Ian, no surname.”

Hearing my name, Lien repeated it softly.

Her appearance was so endearing that I was lost in observation when suddenly, the plains came into view.

We had emerged from the mountains.

Only then did I feel that this whole affair had finally concluded.

Admittedly, there were complications along the way, but the outcome was quite satisfying.

I had successfully recruited Lien. Moreover, I had gained an unexpected ally and verified the superior performance of the Emperor Might characteristics.

It was a result beyond what I could have hoped for.

‘...Well, there’s still a long way to go.’

There was still the need to rendezvous with Siel, accumulate power through various means, find and avert the cause of the impending doom, and recruit Yuli...

There was much left to do.

The thought was somewhat daunting, but when had it not been?

The approach was to tackle things head-on and find solutions along the way.

As I chatted with Lien on our way to the guild, I began to organize my plans for the future.

‘With this, we’ve certainly gathered a considerable force.’

Two companions, Lien and Siel, along with the acquisition of mental resilience.

With this, we could definitely make our move.

To the imperial capital.

To the heart of the empire where all its forces are gathered and monsters swarm.

This would finally enable me to do what every protagonist possessed by another soul does as a matter of course: ‘dealing with the enemy using future knowledge.’

A smile naturally formed on my lips.

Perhaps my luck was finally turning.

Things were going smoothly.

*****

The man furrowed his brows in irritation as he smoked his cigar.

That troublesome tribe.

The forces he had sent to annihilate those who could potentially sabotage the empire’s plans had gone silent.

Wondering if it was an act of disobedience, he had tried triggering the self-destruct runes that were engraved on the necks of the empire’s soldiers as a test upon enlistment, but there was no response.

The implication was clear.

They had been overpowered.

The entire force had been wiped out.

‘How many times has it been?’

Things have been going terribly wrong since the last time.

And in the man’s opinion, the cause was simple.

Those despicable beings who dared to defy the empire’s leadership, the empire’s ruler, deserved nothing less than a painful death.

The Black Fangs.

‘What are they trying to accomplish?’

Their intentions and objectives were a mystery, but their power was undeniably abnormal.

Even the dark mages hired by the empire now refuse all requests to investigate the Black Fangs.

The empire doesn’t give a second chance when its own dogs don’t obey, yet here they are.

They feared more to dig into those fiends than to face death itself.

Everyone who has tried to uncover information about that organization has met the same fate.

They laugh maniacally, their bodies so mutilated they’re unrecognizable, before dying.

Each corpse was marked only with the bite marks of the Black Fangs.

If the troops sent to attack the village were entirely annihilated, there could be no other culprits but them.

Only those damned Black Fangs could be capable of such an act.

It’s infuriating.

Utterly infuriating.

Therefore...

“Is there no choice but to use it?”

The man, the empire’s second prince, slowly made his way forward.

The temple, off-limits to the public.

It’s in the domain of the Sacred Imperial Court, but the court is in league with the empire anyway.

They exchange benefits and share the same secrets.

Walking through the temple filled with secrets that must never be revealed, including the corpses of former heroes and the devices powered by them, the empire’s Second Prince finally reached his destination.

There lay the Holy Grail. Or more accurately, it would be correct to call it a counterfeit of the Holy Grail.

Not a miracle’s creation but a replica made by sacrificing children full of faith and brimming with divine power as the main ingredient.

This one was the most pure abomination among them.

A factory that turned children into mere animals capable only of reciting prayers to harvest high-quality divine offerings.

From these, only the highest quality was meticulously selected, resulting in a supreme product made from the corpses of a thousand.

However, it didn’t matter.

If it could eliminate that damned organization, the cost was not too great. The Second Prince was willing to use even the treasured artifacts he had conserved.

Thus, with a smile, he prayed to the Grail.

He prayed for the death of the damned traitor of the empire, the ‘Commander overseeing the Black Fangs’ who dared defy the empire.

And then...

Nothing happened.

The Grail merely sparkled before losing its power, as if such a person didn’t exist at all.

The Second Prince’s face turned to shock.

It was clear what this implied.

‘Could it be that this, too, can be easily blocked?’

Before the powerless Grail, the man laughed hollowly.

The Black Fangs.

He was aghast at the monstrous nature and unfathomable strength of the commander who oversaw this mysterious organization.

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