The conference room is thick with tension.
Una and her group had noticed a commotion among the castle guards on their way to the meeting, but it isn’t until they arrive that they understand the reason.
The emperor, who rules the empire, hasn’t shown up yet.
While representatives from all nations have taken their seats, the seat meant for the presiding Emperor Kagrias remains empty.
Being late to a Continental Congress, where the course of nations is determined, is unthinkable.
Especially if it’s the host nation.
「…What’s going on?」
Orion murmurs anxiously.
「Nufufu… Could something have happened to His Majesty?」
The pig answers, fanning himself with a paper fan.
Una suddenly exclaims,
「Did he overeat at breakfast?」
Shut up, sis.
With a look, Dos silences his sister.
She instantly goes quiet.
For the moment, everyone finds their seats.
Orion sits down, and both Una and Dos stand behind her.
Suddenly, a voice booms,
『———Everyone, please be silent! Silence, I ask!』
Perhaps amplified by magic, the voice echoes throughout the hall.
It comes from a man seated at the central chairman’s spot — the prime minister, if memory serves.
『Currently, an urgent matter has reached our Emperor Kagrias. This has caused a slight delay. As for the future schedule———』
From what’s being explained, this delay seems to be an unexpected event even for the empire. It suggests that there’s a problem the Emperor himself must solve, which has delayed the congress.
…Something smells fishy.
There shouldn’t be many issues that require the nation’s leader to abandon international representatives.
Such actions could harm international relations, and they should be well aware of this.
Despite this, they offer such an excuse.
The answer is clear.
Something has happened to Kagrias himself.
And it’s significant.
Judging from the situation, even the prime minister and castle officials don’t seem to have a grasp on it.
That’s why they’re stalling with this speech.
Right after that thought — a deafening explosion echoes through the conference room.
「What was that?!」「What’s happening?!」「I heard an explosion from outside!」「Aaahhhhhh!」「Stay calm! We should be safe here!」「What are the guards doing?!」
While the guards and knights remain calm, representatives from the various nations are in a frenzy.
The explosion came from outside, and it’s nearby.
Dos guesses it might be around the courtyard.
Wasting no time, Dos acts.
「…Una, Orion, excuse me.」
Without another word, Dos rushes out of the conference room, running towards the direction of the explosion.
Utilizing his magical senses and intuition, he heads to the explosion’s source.
As expected, it’s the courtyard — styled like medieval European gardens.
A section is emitting black smoke, trees knocked down all around.
Looking closer, amidst the dust and haze, there’s a figure.
An imperial uniform of red, short-cut black hair, and a sharp face.
And in his right hand, a golden sword, the “Magic Sword Gram.”
It’s the supreme ruler of this country, Kagrias Dir Hà Giang.
Blood runs down his forehead, and he’s noticeably injured.
There’s another figure — an old man towering before Kagrias.
Dos recognizes him.
An older man with hints of white in his hair, sporting a horn on his forehead.
When they’d returned to the dungeon, Gijie had shown him the adventurer’s face — a living legend who’d crafted numerous tales in the empire.
The most famous adventurer in the Hà Giang Empire.
Known as the master of the “Dragon Slayer” Wald and the “World Piercer” Beldi.
―――”Silver Demon” Linwu Sousei.
The “strongest” adventurer of the Hà Giang Empire.
What Dos witnesses are these two, locked in a deadly duel.
A few minutes ago―――
Kagrias is unable to grasp the current situation.
Why am I fighting to the death with Linwu?
When Linwu entered the room earlier, Kagrias had assumed it was to confirm today’s security duties.
But then, Linwu had said…
Immediately after, Linwu’s weapon grazed Kagrias’s cheek.
From there, they effortlessly flowed into battle.
Breaking through a window, they continue fighting outside.
While wielding the demon sword Gram, Kagrias shouts,
「Linwu! Why are you pointing your weapon at me?」
Linwu remains silent.
But the overflowing murderous intent practically serves as an answer.
He holds a weapon resembling an octagonal stick and advances towards Kagrias.
Kagrias can barely catch Linwu’s movements with his naked eye.
He deflects Linwu’s thrusting stick with his sword, aiming for a counter-attack.
However, Linwu instantly retreats, making Kagrias’s sword cut through thin air.
Linwu then swings his octagonal stick horizontally.
This time, the stick separates and whips towards Kagrias like countless lashes from all directions.
Kagrias concentrates magical power to his feet to dodge.
But in that moment of evasion, Linwu closes the gap.
A cruel smile forms on Linwu’s face.
「Foolish, Your Majesty!—’Piercing Strike’!」
Linwu’s fist pierces into Kagrias’s solar plexus.
A devastating blow.
Kagrias spits out blood, dropping to his knees.
「…Why don’t you fight seriously, Your Majesty?」
With cold, ghostly eyes, Linwu looks down at Kagrias.
In contrast, Kagrias’s eyes, looking up at Linwu, are filled with confusion.
「Serious…?! There’s no way that could be!」
Kagrias spits out blood as he speaks.
「Answer me, Linwu. Why do you raise your fist against me? If you have a legitimate reason, let’s consider this a duel and conclude it here. Should you harbor any resentment towards me, speak now. I won’t raise my blade against you without knowing why!」
Kagrias confronts Linwu with dignified poise.
However, Linwu chuckles.
「Why…? Indeed, it wouldn’t be fair to kill you without a reason.」
Linwu twirls his octagonal stick, even though its meaning remains unclear, then answers,
「It’s a message.」
「Yes, it says, ‘I am disappointed in you.’」
Kagrias is puzzled. He’s made countless mistakes that could disappoint many.
Mainly towards his prime minister.
There were only a few times… he believes… that he may have caused trouble for Linwu or those around him.
But the words Linwu speaks next are entirely unexpected for Kagrias.
「―――It says, ‘I had hoped you would judge that witch, but it seems unlikely now.’」
That brings to mind a woman known as the “Witch of Reynolds.”
Léna-Lloyd Reynolds. The representative of the Borhelic Kingdom, who placed Wald and Beldi on an international wanted list and shifted all responsibility to them.
During the recent Continental Congress, Kagrias and the guild master of the Magic City Endymion, Gerald, had planned to oust her.
They intended to hold her accountable for the large-scale extermination campaign in the Eld Desert and the mismanagement after, plus the nation’s current state of neglect, and strip her of her prime minister position.
But it had proven harder than anticipated.
Too many unexpected events occurred on the first day, leaving no time to confront her.
「’So, we will handle it our way from now on,’ is what I was told.」
With a cold gaze, Linwu continues.
「I see… So, it’s her doing…」
Kagrias recalls her.
Months before the Continental Congress began, a mysterious dead woman, Rias Aurora, visited Kagrias and spoke of Fáfnir’s transition.
Was Linwu her companion?
… No, that can’t be it.
Kagrias shakes his head.
Listening to Linwu’s words, he finally regains his composure.
It seems the revelation that his longtime friend betrayed him took more of a toll on him than he expected.
Really, such a blunder is unworthy of an emperor.
「…Linwu, there’s something I need to ask.」
「What is it?」
Kagrias then voices his suspicions.
「…Who is the one ‘inside’ you?」
For a moment, intense heat flares in Kagrias’s eyes.
It’s rage―――anger at the unknown entity exploiting the body of his friend.
Fueled by this anger, Kagrias raises his magical sword, Gram.
However, it’s dodged.
Linwu swiftly creates distance between them.
Kagrias confronts him.
「After talking with you just now, I’ve come to realize. Linwu, there’s someone else ‘inside’ you.」
Looking carefully at Linwu’s form, there’s a subtle difference in his magical power.
Within the pure silver magic, there’s a tainted energy reminiscent of murky mercury.
Kagrias, like all emperors of the Hà Giang Empire, possesses the “eyes” that discern the truth.
The same eyes that immediately identified Rias as a dead person—the infallible eyes that tolerate no deceit.
With these eyes, Kagrias discerns Linwu’s current state.
「There’s no way my ally Linwu would aim a fist at me without reason!」
With overwhelming murderous intent, Kagrias confronts Linwu.
He draws close and swings his sword, but Linwu, or whoever controls him, promptly evades.
「What are you talking about?」
「Playing dumb, are we?」
There’s not a hint of doubt in Kagrias’s eyes.
With conviction, he gazes at Linwu.
Then, Linwu―――or rather, the entity controlling him―――laughs.。
The voice was unlike that of an old man; rather, it sounded like that of a young man.
After laughing for a bit, Linwu lifted his face.
「『I didn’t expect you to figure it out this easily. Truly, the emperor’s keenness is no joke. Those eyes that recognized senior Rias as a dead person right away weren’t just for show.』」
His tone is now carefree and youthful, a stark contrast to moments ago.
The gestures of the figure without a staff, the casual sway of his foot, are not Linwu’s. They belong to someone else.
「Who are you?」
Wearing a slight smile, the entity within Linwu introduces itself.
「『Nice to meet you, Emperor. I’m called ‘Joker’. I came here on senior Rias’s orders to ‘retrieve’ that sword you have—the magical sword, Gram.』」
「What did you say?」
「『Sorry, but I don’t have time to explain. Let’s get back to fighting.』」
With a sound like the rush of wind, the man who calls himself Joker closes the gap.
Countless dividing staff segments rain down on Kagrias like a storm.
「『Must admit, it’s impressive you realized I’m controlling this body. But just that realization won’t help much. After all, this guy is stronger than you.』」
Magic courses through the octagonal staff held by Linwu.
Then, a leap.
Racing along walls and rooftops, his speed increases.
A supernatural velocity enabled by the demon tribe’s astonishing physical capabilities combined with magical enhancement.
「『How about that? Bet you can’t keep up with your eyes.』」
Strikes accompany each spoken word.
Each blow accurately hits Kagrias’s vital points.
「『Indeed, the Emperor’s ‘eyes’ are quite troublesome. Senior Rias has cautioned me about them countless times. However… if I keep moving at ultra-speed and slip into blind spots, those eyes lose their advantage. That’s precisely why I picked this guy.』」
The blows come in quick succession.
Magical evasion can’t catch up in time.
Before a spell can be cast, a barrage of attacks rain down, interrupting the process.
Kagrias desperately tries to deflect the onslaught while thinking rapidly.
（Damn it, he never enters my range… It’s infuriating, but he clearly knows Linwu’s fighting style… my weaknesses.）
Kagrias prefers close combat.
Within the range of his sword.
In that range, Kagrias boasts unparalleled strength.
On the other hand, Linwu excels in mid-range combat.
Attacks with an octagonal staff, artillery strikes through earth magic, and the demon tribe’s multiple unique magics.
In terms of overall combat ability, Kagrias and Linwu are almost evenly matched.
However, their preferred tactics and realms of expertise differ.
Close-range Kagrias and mid-range Linwu.
That’s why Linwu never gets too close to Kagrias.
He strictly sticks to mid-range combat, his strong suit.
Now that his true identity is revealed and Kagrias has regained his composure, it’s unlikely Linwu will resort to using the “Piercing Strike” as he did previously.
Kagrias is increasingly cornered.
In real-time, their clash lasts less than a minute.
Yet in that brief period, hundreds, if not thousands, of exchanges occur.
However, the end is abrupt.
An exhausted Kagrias is blown back into the courtyard.
Among the battered trees, Kagrias stands, bloodied.
「『Man, the body of the empire’s strongest adventurer is something else. It feel great to dominate using someone else’s power. Tell me, Emperor, how does it feel? Being cornered by an old friend?』」
「You seem intent on angering me…」
A massive murderous intent overflows from Kagrias.
Even Joker momentarily reels from it.
Yet he soon regains his composure, a smirk on his face.
「『Hahahah, you’re terrifying. Overflowing with killer intent. …I’m scared, so I’ll end it here. The barrier is up, but its effect is fading.』」
Joker infuses his octagonal staff with magic.
Apparently, he aims to finish it with this blow.
Kagrias braces for Linwu’s imminent attack.
In that moment, Kagrias resigns to his impending doom.
A dry sound rings out.
It isn’t the sound of Kagrias taking a hit.
It’s something else――the sound of someone else taking the blow for him.
A young man stands there, catching the octagonal staff aimed at Kagrias.
Kagrias stares blankly at the figure.
「Who… are you?」
The young man doesn’t answer.
He simply says,
「…are you okay?」
It’s Dos, standing there expressionless.
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