The city burned.
It had once been a place of splendor with sprawling structures and spires that reached for the clouds. Now, those buildings were reduced to ash and rubble. Screams erupted throughout the city. The clash of metal and blasts of magic echoed in the distance. Mangled corpses littered the streets, and a trio of figures were kneeling bound before the palace.
“These are the prisoners, my liege,” a voice said.
Kallistus strode up the steps of the palace, coming to a halt before the three figures. A retinue of royal guards followed after him, and a liberally dressed woman walked by his side. She was the one who spoke, leading him to the prisoners.
“Thank you, Melissa,” Kallistus said with a nod.
“It is my pleasure to serve you.” She stepped aside with a deep bow.
The bound figures stirred, looking up. An elderly man, a middle-aged man, and a young lady. Kallistus eyed them before saying their names.
“King Thorne of Archon; his son, Prince Dominick; and… who is this woman?” Kallistus frowned.
“I believe she is one of Prince Dominick’s many mistresses,” Melissa replied, still bowing.
“And where are his other mistresses?”
“They fled without him.”
“Interesting.” Taking a knee, Kallistus eyed the young lady with a smile. “What is your name, Miss?”
“Do not talk to her! She will not speak with you—” Dominick started.
Only for Melissa to strike him across the face. “You will not address my King in such a manner, you fiend!”
“That is enough, Melissa,” Kallistus said, raising a hand. Slowly, he turned back to face the young lady. He spoke softly, holding her gaze. “Your name. Please.”
“S-Sabina,” she said.
“Were you forced into this marriage, Sabina?” he asked.
Sabina nodded. “I was.”
“You disloyal harlot!” Dominick spat at the young lady.
But Kallistus pointed a finger. And the Prince of Archon froze, held by an invisible aura. Melissa covered her mouth, watching this sight in amusement.
Dominick tried to open his mouth, however his body refused to respond. He couldn’t speak. He began to choke. He struggled against this force and failed. After a moment, Kallistus just flicked a finger, speaking a single word.
And the Prince of Archon’s neck snapped back. Sabina blinked, staring in horror as her former husband was killed in an instant. Kallistus drew back and turned to Melissa.
“Release this young lady. She does not deserve to die with this family.”
“Yes, my liege,” Melissa said and quickly unbound Sabina.
Kallistus turned away, casting his gaze to the third figure— the remaining prisoner who was still bent double in chains. King Thorne of Archon didn’t even recoil at the sight of his dead son. Instead, the elderly man laughed. A bitter laugh.
“Oh, such cruelty and such kindness, both demonstrated at once. As expected from you, the great and terrible [Hero King].”
Thorne gave Kallistus a crooked smile. The [Hero King] said nothing in return, simply staring down at the elderly man.
“And here I thought I could have convinced you to spare my son’s life,” Thorne continued. “But you had him killed before I could even speak. And for what? Because he dared to have a wife?”
“You know as well as I do the reason why I executed him,” Kallistus said simply.
“Of course I do.” Thorne shook his head. “Because you are the [Hero King] who can do no wrong. Because you are the one chosen by the World System to act in the name of justice. Because you are an otherworlder who knows better than us native vacians.”
Melissa paused, glancing over at them, clearly affronted. But Kallistus didn’t reply. King Thorne of Archon gritted his teeth.
“Do you know what I have to say to that?”
There was a crack— the clink of broken chains clattering against the ground. Thorne broke through his bindings, thrusting a dagger straight for the [Hero King]’s head.
“Fuck you!” the King of Archon screamed.
And Kallistus just raised a hand. A purple sphere appeared in his palm. A vortex that sucked the very world into it. Thorne blinked, then tried to back away from it, but failed. He was caught in it. He couldn’t break free.
“What in the world is this—” Thorne tried to speak, but his voice was warped with space.
The King of Archon let out a cry of terror as he was pulled into the sphere, his entire body being torn apart in the process. Until, eventually, he vanished into the darkness.
The [Hero King] lowered his hand as the sphere dissipated. He looked down at where Thorne had once been kneeling before shaking his head.
“Do you think this was my choice?” Kallistus murmured. “I did not want this either, but the World System made me a [Hero]. So I will do what I must.”
Taking a step back, the [Hero King] swept his gaze over the burning city. He saw his troops marching down the streets, bringing with them the defeated soldiers of Archon. Prisoners of war. He turned to Melissa as she straightened.
“Appraise every single one of the prisoners,” Kallistus said. “I want you to bring me those who have yet to reach Level 10.”
“And what about those above, my liege?” Melissa asked as he spun around.
“I do not care.” The [Hero King]— the otherworlder— spoke as he walked down the steps of the palace. His eyes flickered, and a deluge of blue boxes flashed before him. But he ignored the notifications. He cared not what they said. “Now leave me, I have a meeting to attend.”
“Yes, my liege.”
Out of everything I had told Noele, I expected that being from another world was going to be the most surprising. But apparently, she took it in stride.
“Honestly, I should have known you were an otherworlder,” the blonde girl said as she lay back down on the bed. “Now it makes a lot of sense, honestly. Not everything— but a lot of things.”
I remembered the System calling me an otherworlder, too. I thought it was just a designation unique to me. As it turned out, it was not. It was a common way to refer to people from outside of Vacuos.
“I take it otherworlders aren’t uncommon, then?” I asked as I leant back in the chair. That made things a lot simpler for me. I could easily explain away a lot of things by simply telling the truth now.
Noele shook her head. “They aren’t common. But there’s usually one or two otherworlders present at a time in Vacuos. In fact, I know that there’s three other otherworlders out there right now.”
“I see. And that’s why the System won’t give me a Class.” I rubbed my chin. Well, the System was giving me one Class, but it wasn’t one I wanted. This was probably true for all other otherworlders too. At least, so I thought.
“Oh, no,” Noele said, sitting up. “That doesn’t explain that at all. I have never heard of such a thing happening ever. One of the otherworlders out there right now is a famous [Craftsman], and another is a [King].”
I blinked, and she shrugged.
“I also still don’t understand how you’re so ridiculously strong. I don’t get it— what did you do, Amelia?” the blonde girl asked.
She stared at me as I sat there in thought. I raised my head, frowning. “If you’re still confused about that, then what did you even learn from finding out I’m an otherworlder?”
“Well, the way you’re dressed is… distinct.” She gestured at my clothes— at the black jacket and pants.
I looked down at myself. I definitely stood out with my modern fashion sense. “Fair,” I acquiesced.
Noele gave me an apologetic look. “And even before that, when you were walking around like a homeless beggar, no offense—”
“Not so fair. Offense taken,” I said flatly.
“—I was a little bit confused. Especially when you told me you weren’t an S-ranked adventurer. But now that part makes sense. And, also, the reason why you’re broke too.”
I massaged my temples. “So, to sum it up, you didn’t learn anything substantive at all.”
“That is correct,” Noele replied with a smile.
I rolled my eyes. Slowly, I raised a hand towards the ceiling and stared at it. “Well, if you really must know how I acquired this power, it’s really simple.”
The Noble Spellsword leaned closer, listening eagerly. I spoke simply.
“All I did was spend every single waking moment of the last ten years fighting for my life.”
“What?” She paused. Her eyes widened as she repeated after me. “Every single waking moment?”
“That is literally what I just said, yes.”
“Because I had no other choice,” I snorted. “It’s really complicated, honestly. I’ll explain it some other time.”
“And you did it without the World System… without even having a Class...” Noele pursed her lips. She still looked like she was in disbelief— like her mind hadn’t fully processed this fact fully just yet.
I wasn’t sure what there was to say. I was certain that if anyone else was thrust into the same situation I was, they’d come out just like me. Either that— or they’d die. But that was a depressing thought. Especially since I didn’t really think I was special in any way, so there was no reason for me to have survived the Fractured Realm if others in the same situation would end up dying.
Noele sat there, thinking. Raising her head, she spoke hesitantly. “Have you… considered investigating this further?”
“What do you mean?” I cocked my head at her.
The blonde girl placed a finger on her bottom lip, clearly apprehensive. “Well, there is… this expert. Let’s just say he’s a sage of sorts. He is someone who is very old and knows a lot of things. He has met dozens of otherworlders, and he is more knowledgeable about the World System than anyone else out there. Maybe— just maybe, you can speak with him, and he can help you out?”
It was a suggestion. One which she didn’t seem too comfortable offering. Weird.
“Sure, I guess,” I said as I got to my feet. “But can you even get up in your current state?”
Noele nodded. “I’ll probably be fully recovered by tomorrow thanks to my [Faster Healing]. So we can leave at dawn. But…”
“But?” Again, she was reticent. I glared at her, and she backed up. “You’re not hiding something from me, are you?”
“No! I’m not!” she sputtered as she raised her hands defensively. I drew back as she sighed in relief. With a hand on her chest, she spoke softly. “The only problem is… he lives in Mount Arkais.”
“And I’m supposed to know where that is?” I asked, crossing my arms.
“It’s far away. All the way across the continent. Beyond the borders of the Astrad Kingdom. After the Kingdom of Kal. It’s probably a week’s journey, at the very least. And that’s if we head there as fast as possible.”
“So it’s far away. And?” I raised a brow at her.
“That’s not all.” Noele gritted her teeth. “It’s said to be one of the most dangerous regions in all of Vacuos. It is where S-ranked adventurers are made. It is where armies go to die.”
Her gaze darkened as she spoke. I watched her entire demeanor change. She was nervous— afraid. The idea of venturing to Mount Arkais alone terrified her.
“I see.” I lowered my head. And I nodded casually. “So we’re going tomorrow, right?”
“What?” The Noble Spellsword blinked. “Didn’t you hear what I just said? It’s very dangerous! You should at least think it over—” she started.
But I placed a hand on her shoulder, interrupting her. “Relax, Noele.”
Her eyes grew round as she stared at me. “That’s…”
“I’ll be there, so we’ll be fine,” I said as I stepped back. “Just rest up. I won’t disturb you. I’m going to go out and get a bite to eat. Maybe take a walk outside of the city if I’m really bored. There isn’t much to do here in Windrip since everything is destroyed.”
“Amelia…” Noele trailed off.
I pulled the door open and smiled at her. “We’ll meet up again tomorrow morning. See you then.”
With that, I closed the door behind me. I could still feel the blonde girl’s gaze lingering on the doorway, even from the other side. But I left it at that. Truth be told, that conversation was starting to exhaust me. Explaining myself again and again was getting tiring. I needed to step outside and get a breath of fresh air.
A thought crossed my mind as I exited the inn. “I wonder… are there any pet shops in Windrip?”
Noele knew that Amelia was strong. The blonde girl had seen it firsthand, of course. Her master had killed a Goblin Lord with a single strike. Not only that, but supposedly, Amelia had killed a Lich King with one slash too.
That… was a bit harder to believe, for Noele. Sure, she could kind of see it, but she was also slightly dubious. Not of the veracity of Amelia’s words— rather, the blonde girl thought that her master mistook a regular lich for a Lich King. After all, in the first place, a Lich King hadn’t been seen in Vacuos in over a thousand years.
It must’ve just been an honest mistake.
So the next day, Noele nervously left the inn and met up with her master outside of the city. The brown-haired woman looked annoyed, muttering to herself as they walked away from Windrip.
“...I can’t believe you need to have an [Animal Handler]-adjacent Class to buy a pet or they refute you. That’s fucking ridiculous...”
Apparently, back in Amelia’s world, no one had a Class— even for things like taming animals. Frankly, Noele found Amelia’s world to be the odd one. After all, without Skills, how was anyone supposed to control a wild beast? It just didn’t sound believable to Noele.
The Noble Spellsword didn’t vocalize her thoughts. She just followed behind Amelia until the brown-haired woman came to a halt.
“Are we going in the right direction?” Amelia asked, turning back to face the blonde girl.
Noele nodded and pointed. “That’s right. We can rent an enchanted carriage when we arrive at
Bacton to speed up the journey. But it’s just straight southwest to reach Mount Arkais from here.”
“I see,” Amelia said. “That makes things simpler.”
“What does?” The blonde girl tilted her head, only to blink as she was picked up by her master. “Wha…?”
Her master shook her head as she held Noele. “We don’t need an enchanted carriage. I looked at the prices yesterday— it’ll be too expensive. Just hold on tight.”
“Amelia, what are you—” Noele started… then screamed as she suddenly found herself rapidly flying through the air.
In a single motion, Amelia had leapt into the sky, leaving behind a small crater where they’d stood. Windrip was but a speck in the distance, and Bacton was already being passed over. The brown-haired woman glanced down, speaking against the wind.
“Just tell me if we’re heading in the wrong direction, alright?” Amelia said as they flew over another city. A hundred miles, crossed like it was nothing.
In response, Noele continued screaming incoherently.
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