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Chapter 17: To the Capital of the Empire (4)

I felt dizzy, which in retrospect, might have been expected.

The scene before me defied all common sense, even by my standards.

‘…No wonder she’s the protagonist’s ally.’

I knew she was strong, but I hadn’t anticipated this extent.

To think that an initial strike with a sword could inadvertently result in death, rendering preemptive attacks futile.

But what does it matter?

Just grab a spear or a sword with bare hands and bend it.

Magic?

Why evade it?

Just counter it with a punch.

There’s a saying that if your brain isn’t working, your body suffers, but the opposite is also true.

If you’re physically fit, your brain doesn’t need to suffer. You could act without thinking, and everything would still go smoothly.

Golems attacking?

Just smash them.

A dead end?

Smash through it.

Every obstacle in my path shatters into pieces in an instant. Of course, there’s no debris flying my way.

Because Siel spreads her shadow to protect me.

…Is this what it means to have great allies?

Walking alone through this chaos, I feel like the boss of some vast, villainous organization.

With that thought, I continued forward and soon, my target came into view.

Red hair and an aristocratic aura.

I knew at once.

This person was the Rubia I had been searching for.

‘…Perhaps this was a bit too much, after all.’

Upon seeing Rubia, I couldn’t help but think that way. After all, I’d probably react the same if someone tore down my house’s door and walls to find me.

But, what’s done is done and cannot be undone.

In this situation, it’s best to press on with confidence.

“I apologize for using such forceful methods.”

Given that she appeared older than me, I spoke with polite respect as I took Rubia’s hand and helped her to her feet.

“May we have a moment to talk?”

I asked, smiling warmly.

*****

Rubia seemed on the verge of madness.

In a way, it’s probably natural.

All her guards had been neutralized. The expensive security golems she had prepared were all destroyed.

Would it be so hard for such a person to crush Rubia’s head?

‘Why did he come here? What’s his purpose? Money? Kidnapping? No, then why choose such a conspicuous approach…’

Her mind was a ticking time bomb.

However, a single sentence from the man cleared away all her frantic thoughts in an instant.

“The Magic Addiction Cure Project.”

Rubia’s face contorted at those words.

It made sense. That project was her trump card to gain recognition from the empire’s higher-ups.

“According to the information I have, ‘someone’ intends to sell it to the empire.”

Of course she could understand that that ‘someone’ was referring to her.

He knew about her plans and had come to her using such extreme measures.

It was unlikely he was unaware that she was the one behind those plans.

He was merely hinting at it indirectly.

“But, that creates a problem.”

What problem? If a more effective cure than what was previously available is provided, who would suffer because of that?

Was it a threat from those who were supplying the inferior cure?

That thought crossed Rubia’s mind.

But again, the man’s words took an unexpected turn.

“The magic addiction cure will actually be used to increase the number of magic addiction cases.”

How could a cure increase the number of patients?

It was an incomprehensible statement.

“Are you aware of the rare cases that sometimes occur in magic addiction patients?”

...Indeed.

She was aware of a few reported cases.

When exposed to unrefined magic stones, some magic addiction patients experience a dramatic increase in both the quantity and quality of their magic.

“The empire plans to induce this intentionally.”

“What in the world...”

Rubia’s words halted.

If, just if.

What if the Empire intentionally tried to cause such a special case?

What if they intentionally exposed children to unrefined magic stones, and if their magic didn’t enhance, they treated and then reinduced the disease?

What if they were doing this to create a powerful military force?

The first few times might not endanger the subjects’ lives.

The cure was something she was proud of, after all.

But there’s no way a drug that cures such a severe illness would have no side effects.

And if it’s used excessively,

“It seems you’ve caught on.”

Death.

A drug created to save lives would end up causing even more deaths.

Rubia knew what kind of country the empire was. She had a vague idea of how things operated here.

That’s how she knew.

The empire doesn’t see people as people.

It wouldn’t hesitate to commit massacres if it benefited them, no matter how many lives were sacrificed.

“This is just my speculation, but the empire will probably gather newborns for experiments. They’ll use all means, legal or illegal.”

It’s a logical step.

Even now, the empire is overflowing with children who are not registered at birth. There are plenty of desperate people willing to sell their own children for a small amount of money.

Newborns don’t complain. They don’t resist, no matter what’s done to them. They don’t expose inhumane acts.

So, what would happen?

What would unfold if children were fed a drug that essentially borrows their body’s vitality repeatedly?

Rubia could easily picture it in her mind.

A newborn, barely introduced to the world, transforming into something that could hardly be called human.

A life that should have been full of possibilities, entirely robbed from that child.

“Well, it’s the empire, after all. They wouldn’t hesitate to ‘recycle’ even those children deemed unusable.”

Those words made Rubia’s complexion even paler. She had heard things on her way up to her high position.

Stories related to the Sanctuary of Light. Rumors so vile they made one’s stomach turn.

“But that’s not the end of it.”

As Rubia’s eyes trembled, the enigmatic man continued.

“The person planning this project is extremely competent. They’ve assessed the demand for the cure, assembled a research team, and secured support to achieve these results.”

He praised her abilities, but Rubia’s face grew even darker, anticipating the grim continuation of his tale.

“However, once entangled with the empire, that talent will be used for horrific purposes.”

With those words, the mysterious man shared a story.

The story of someone who, without realizing, became deeply involved with the empire and gradually began to meddle in darker deeds.

Compromising again and again, rationalizing each step until reaching a grim conclusion, as if he had seen the future firsthand.

Rubia listened to his tale about a person who had crossed a bridge too far and was slowly being consumed by darkness.

It felt all too real to be just someone else’s story.

She was acutely aware of the wrongness of the situation. Despite everything, this felt fundamentally incorrect.

But how long can one maintain such a conscience? After sullying one’s hands once, can one still recognize wrong for what it is?

Rubia continued to listen to the story of her future.

It was a story of undeniable success. A life more successful than anyone’s. But does such a life truly have meaning?

She wanted to be happier than anyone else. She aimed for unparalleled happiness.

Believing that reaching the top would bring happiness, she had come this far.

But is that really the case? Truly?

“This is why we’ve come to you. We’re here to ask you to prevent someone from making an irreversible mistake.”

The enigmatic man spoke, posing a question to her.

What choice will she make?

“Can you help us?”

This was an utterly irrational proposal.

Thus, what she needed to do seemed clear.

Pretend to agree, lie to get through this situation safely, and then find a way to shake these people off.

A smooth path lay before her, promising a guaranteed success.

All she had to do was keep running on this path of assured victory. Just keep running, yet...

Her heart was troubled. The man’s words, the future he whispered, weighed heavily on her mind.

She couldn’t shake the feeling that the path she was on wouldn’t lead to happiness.

The man extended his hand to her.

If she sincerely took this hand.

Her future would change.

The promised success would slip away.

The power she could almost grasp would vanish.

Yet, despite this.

Rubia grasped his hand without hesitation.

In that moment, the empire’s worst villainess, the mastermind responsible for leading countless people to their deaths, became the backbone of a secret organization.

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