Prologue

Preface

——Who do you want killed?

Give me strength! The moment I finished speaking, the boy asked this of me.

He looked about twelve or thirteen, and though his looks were rather cute, the effect was ruined by the complete absence of expression on his face.

It goes without saying that his words just now had been delivered in a monotone voice. He was simply seeking confirmation – it didn’t actually matter to him what my answer would be.

The boy appeared to view himself as nothing more than a tool.

He’d simply confirm the target and then move in to make the kill – he was a tool, and that was his purpose.

“Hmm…”

“Well, how should I answer?” I pondered.

I’d known even as I’d made my summons that whoever answered the call would have something of a twisted mindset – such was the cost of great power.

“Actually, before you talk about killing… I want you to smile first.”

The boy frowned. He looked perplexed.

“Watching a boy your age speaking that way with that expression on your face – I don’t like it. Although it’s true that you’ll be fighting on my behalf, but I want to be sure you know at least this much before we can work together. Oh, but don’t do it because it’s a command from me, nor because it’s your job. ——Anyway, long story short, it’s about time you learned to laugh and cry.”

The boy stood silent for a moment before expressing to me that he’d never learned how to do such things.

“That’s okay. Just try and copy Onee-san, alright? Watch, it’s like this.”

I lifted the corners of my mouth.

“There’s plenty of time to talk about work later. The battles you’re about to experience are unlike anything you’ve yet seen. First, let’s teach you how to feel; fighting can come later. Right, what’s important now is that you learn what it means to be human.”

The boy was utterly flummoxed, and maintained his silence.

“You know, you’ve already died once and come back, right? ——That’s why – this time – rather than fighting to kill, why not fight to protect – to save? How’s that sound to you?”

He asked me what it was he would protect, who it was he would save.

“People. This world. ——You are going to become a true hero, in every meaning of the word; I’ll teach you. Along the way, you’ll learn how to enjoy life for what it is, how to laugh from the bottom of your heart – all these things will I teach you.”

——Why would you do that?

“Because you’re my DuelistSword Apostle, and I need you. Come. Together, we’ll protect this world.”

 

Prologue

The full-powered blow bounced off the hardened scales; it appeared not much damage, if any, had been done.

(Shit! You’ve gotta be kidding, geez…)

Bertolt felt a chill run down his back.

The scimitar he wielded had been found in this labyrinth, the Magna PortaGreat Gate, and it was a second-grade ReliquiaDivine Relic. A marvelous weapon, it boasted both a sharpness and durability that human blacksmiths were simply incapable of reproducing. Just such a marvelous weapon had just failed to inflict any damage.

The monster was lizard-like in appearance, though easily three, four times as tall as the average person, with three eyes in its head.

It was something that could only be found in these labyrinthine depths, and never on the surface – a Void Beast.

Three members of their five-man party had lost their lives when it had ambushed them from behind.

“T-This is bad! Let’s get out of here already!”

“Shut your mouth! The prize is already within our reach – how could we possibly retreat at a time like this?!”

Bertolt, the party leader, screamed in fury at his cleric companion.

Under the guidance and care of Lady Luck, they had stumbled upon the treasure. A little more – just a little more! Once they had “that,” which lay behind the Void Beast, then they could leave.

If they left now, then treasure, fame, wealth – it’d all slip from their grasp.

The three-eyed lizard slowly lifted its head. Its black pupils lacked any hint of emotion as its gaze traced its way over, searching. Seeking.

Suddenly, that enormous frame charged over with a speed inconceivable for its large mass.

“Yaaaa——!”

Shouting mightily, the cleric strained himself to the utmost limits of his abilities.

A half-translucent shield appeared before the pair. The strength of this shield varied depending on the strength of its caster. With a shield of this strength, even the force of a charge from a horse or bull would be as naught.

The head of the lizard slammed into the invisible wall. Seemingly puzzled, it retreated a few steps.

But just as they heaved a sigh of relief, it again charged forward, butting the shield with its head. Over and over it repeated this action.

“H-hey…”

The cleric turned ashen.

On the fourth headbutt, the shield warped. With the fifth, it shattered entirely.

“O-oh no! Get out o—— aaaaaaaaaargh!”

Cut off mid-sentence, the cleric was thrown to the ground, his neck caught in the lizard’s mouth.

Bertolt abandoned his companion to his fate and made a run for it.

It pained him to leave behind the supreme treasure, the top-grade Reliquia “Dragon Fang Gem,” but things being what they were, he had no other choice.

His decision was far too late, however. Perhaps because it viewed hunting its prey rather than devouring it as a priority, the three-eyed beast tossed aside the cleric’s corpse and gave chase.

With its mouth – jam-packed with razor-sharp, saw-like teeth – it bit down hard on Bertolt’s right arm and tore it free.

“AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH….!”

That notwithstanding, Bertolt forced himself to keep it together and continued to run for dear life.

If they had just retreated earlier, then all would be well. If only they’d simply left after the first party member had fallen—

Never stopping to look behind himself, Bertolt nevertheless felt the lizard close behind him.

“Shit….SHIT! Against a monster like that, only a Duelist could win!”

Bertolt continued to run, screaming profanities all the while. Perhaps because he’d long since surpassed his mental limits, he didn’t feel any pain from his shoulder, though the absence of his limb threw his balance awry. Before long, he tripped and fell.

As he struck the ground, a mind-numbing fear threatened to overwhelm him; he wanted to vomit.

(No! Nono, nonoNoNONONO! I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die, Idon’twanttodieIDON’TWANTTODIE——)

Obsessed with collecting Reliquia, and after having bribed top officials to eliminate his competition, he’d finally attained the position of leader in a party of the “Sky’s Oath Legion.”

That’s right, there was no way he could die here. How could he possibly die here? This had to be some kind of mistake.

——Despite his attempts to escape reality, however, reality refused to bend.

The scritch-scratch of the lizard’s footsteps drew steadily nearer.

Even were it that top-ranked adventurer, the elite serving the “ShinkiDivine Princess[1] who Supports the Sky” directly – even he would crack under the stress of this situation.

“Oh God, oh God, oh God——”

Falling to the ground, Bertolt pleaded for salvation in a tone utterly contrary to his attitude a moment before.

“Guardian of our city, O Goddess, hear my prayer – grant me shelter. Deliver me——”

It wasn’t as if he were a particularly religious individual; indeed, this was the first heartfelt prayer of his entire life.

Alas, no miracle descended, and death still hung over him, imminent.

From out of the darkness, the lizard appeared, its jaws gaping wide – and suddenly froze.

“Wha…?”

He blinked.

The lizard had not stopped of its own accord. Even now it struggled, twisting its body with all its strength, but in vain. A terrible force held it captive – a cord of light, coiled around its body.

This was an Orison[2], but like none he had ever seen – not once had he met a cleric with the ability to so casually seal such a terrifyingly powerful Void Beast as this.

Without him noticing, the tiny shadow of a human form had appeared beside the three-eyed monster.

The person was dressed in a formless robe. The shadows cast by the soft glow of the surrounding flora, combined with the hood of the robe, hid the person’s face from view. Whoever it was was quite short, either an elderly individual or a young child. This labyrinth was home to several types of humanoid Void Beasts, but this individual felt like none of them.

Be that as it may, it was simply impossible that a lone human could have survived to come this far.

Moreover, not at any point had he sensed the approach of this stranger. No matter how much he’d lost himself to fear, this was simply inconceivable. There wasn’t a thing alive that could move without giving off any hint of its presence, whether sound or otherwise.

That fearsome silhouette lightly waved its hand toward the twisting, fighting beast. Suddenly its form began to distort and warp, as if vacuumed into some unseen hole, and then it was gone.

Silently, Bertolt watched the scene unfold, never moving.

The Void Beast, which had slain four well-known adventurers in their prime, which had effortlessly plowed straight through a divine shield, was unexpectedly not the apex predator of this place.

The shadow drew near. From beneath the shadows of the stranger’s hood, only the person’s mouth could be seen – a mouth which was even now curling into a smile.

That was the final straw: the last, frail fragment of Bertolt’s self-control finally shattered.

“Gyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa——”

A blood-curdling shriek ripped free of his throat as he madly dashed off into the distance.

 

Translator notes and references

[1]This term pops up everywhere in this series, e.g. the title. It’s composed of two kanji “神姫,” which mean “god” and “princess” respectively. (Goddess, the “translation” used by the author for the title, is “女神.”) It’s too much of a hassle to say “Divine Princess” every time, so I’ll just use “Shinki” in its place from now on.

[2]The term used is “神術,” which literally translates to ‘divine arts.’ Given the fantasy-RPG nature of this series, though, I opted for a more “appropriate” term. An orison is simply a prayer, but in the sense of invoking the divine.