“Requesting for status update on β.”
– respectfully, Armor Piercing Knight, Mugain
The note, written in a special kind of ink, ignited as soon as I had finished reading it.
Not a single trace remained, not even ashes.
This messenger from the heavens, a young new recruit to the Cloud Knights, shuddered at the sound of my voice, and left without so much as a salute. We were of a similar age; he had no reason to be so scared. But then I guess that’s the price of being the Knight of Severe Punishment, Geid, vice-captain of the fifth unit of the Shadow Paladins.
Deep under Sacred Albion, the former capital of Keter Sanctuary, there lay the Shadow Paladin’s base.
Due to the nature of our work we rarely actually used this space.
Until a few days earlier it was also home to a treasure being protected by ancient magics…
“Damn that Mugain.”
My words disappear into the walls.
In the Chakrabarthi Divine Era this underground passage allowed us to freely choose who got to hear what we said by using a particular set of vocalizations. Things you don’t want anyone to hear, secret messages, discourse (messages for a whole room), long-distance communication, and even orders meant for the whole facility. This was a very useful feature of the fifth order’s base, whose work predominantly involved gathering and delivering highly confidential information. The base was specially designed for this purpose, but it also had excellent acoustics thanks to it having once been part of a palace.
Among the Shadow Paladins stationed up on the floating city of Ketergia this place had become known as the Hall of Whispers. Well, what do they know? They thought that they could protect the nation with just their swords, magic, and science.
“Sir Geid.” A squire’s voice. This was a secret message meant just for me.
“The ‘red-haired’ knight is ready to see you, sir.”
The Shadow Paladin squire sounded nervous.
“Is he able to ‘speak’ now?”
The squire hesitated. He must be scared, like the last messenger.
The fact that my family have served as senior members of the Shadow Paladins for generations is evident in the way I speak, the way I hold myself, and in the way I treat others. After rising to my current rank I have started using that as my primary weapon. My haughtiness serves like a mask, simultaneously intimidating my subordinates and hiding my true thoughts–even my true age.
In any case it is better to not say anything if you do not know how to respond. It seemed our code was being strictly followed even by the squires. Very good.
I turned and started to walk. The sword on my side made a small sound. I may need you today, old friend.
The familiar path led me further and further underground.
This was the lost core of ancient Sacred Albion.
Aside from the occasional “hole” in space-time that would appear, there was nowhere better for a Shadow Paladin with an interest in history to serve his country. And if you like the warm sun and open spaces? Well, there was always the Gold Paladins. They preferred those kind of places.
The dragon in question was in the Dragon Room.
This was built as a counterpart to the Knight’s Room that I had left and was connected to the outside by an unimaginably complex network of tunnels. It led to the funnel-shaped city of Sacred Albion.
“That is far enough.”
I ordered my subordinate, and then entered the room.
I heard it immediately.
The black dragon writhed on the floor.
I had heard rumors of this. If a Dragon Knight of the Dragon Empire were ever to be separated from their steed, the dragon… the knight would end up in this state. Their very souls were bonded for life. Of course, I could only see the physical manifestation of this separation. I can only imagine the pain and suffering it was causing.
I lowered my mask and tried again.
“Our ‘red-haired’ friend. Virulence Dragon!”
The dragon finally stopped moving and turned to face me.
It breathes fire in my direction in response. I raise my mask again. I didn’t want him to see my relief.
Since this dialog with the black dragon couldn’t be done through any human language, I needed a specialist. The dragon’s rider would be ideal. However, as this interrogation was about the disappearance of Doof, this particular dragon’s partner, that would, of course, be impossible.
As reckless as it may be, I tried to talk to him.
One must be ready for anything when talking to a dragon. Fire was the least of my worries.
“First, let me express my sympathies for your loss. It must be overwhelming.”
There. The pleasantries are over. Now to get to the main part of the interrogation.
I unsheathed my sword. I then raised it with both hands.
“This is my family sword. Its name is Gundestrup. He will help me get what I want today.”
Gundestrup was an executioner’s sword, which meant it lacked a tip. However, this sword was not only razor-sharp, it was also imbued with magic by my ancestors. It gave me the ability to enter into a person’s mind and relive moments from their past. A useful ability for a Shadow Paladin. It is with this power I operate as the field captain of the fifth unit of the Shadow Paladins, Keter Sanctuary’s foreign intelligence agency.
I closed my eyes.
The dragon’s story unfurled before me. I was seeing the world through his eyes, and hearing through his ears. It was a heady experience.
He took off from Sacred Albion with Doof on his back.
–This is taking too long. I’m sorry ‘red-haired’ one, but can we skip the journey and just get to the part where you’re at the cave?
As soon as he got there, he felt very sleepy.
–Who in this day and age has the power to put a black dragon to sleep?
His body shook and fire coursed through his veins. The next thing I saw was a young girl kissing his nose.
–… The girl’s kiss woke him up? Is this some kind of fairy tale?
No, this must have really happened. But I made a mental note to check the folklore later.
–”Red-haired” one, I’ll let you play this through until the end now. He would tell me everything I wanted to know.
The dragon once again breathed flames, then the vision faded with Virulence Dragon returning alone.
I opened my eyes.
“Th-Thank you… Really, thank you. My friend, Virulence Dragon… ‘red-haired’ one… We will find your partner.”
I lowered my sword to lean on it. Gundestrup’s power took a great deal of physical strength to keep going.
My mind was racing far more than usual. I was aware of Virulence Dragon’s piercing gaze.
The Treasure of Light had fulfilled the purpose for which it was created. A purpose it shared with our order.
However… Ah, how to put it into words?
I had thought as much, but the truth is beyond anything I had imagined.
Having spent most of my life underground I have come to depend on my senses of hearing and smell more than most, but the black dragons have hearing so sensitive that they can hear what’s going on deep underground as long as they are lying prone.
In other words, apart from the dragons themselves and the Dragon Monk, Gojo, I was closer to the truth than anyone had ever been before.
My dear friend Doof’s words were particularly troubling.
“I never thought I’d ever see someone using an ancient blaster…”
Was he attacked by Blaster Dark down in the caves?!
If he was, that would make this connected to the message Mugain had sent, and to the problems our entire order was facing.
And that was just the start of it.
Even more concerning were the words that Gojo had said to the girl Filine, words that even the dragon had not been able to hear.
What had he said to her?
What did she see on the other side of that door? What did she know?
Was it a secret that could forever change the balance of power in our nation? On our planet? Of our entire universe?
I must find out! We must discover her secret!
We must find her! We must protect our friends, and the children of fate! We cannot fail!
“Shadow Paladins! This is your captain Geid! All hands gather in the base!”
I send a message to all knights.
As quiet as this place was, there was always someone there. As soon as I gave my order, I could sense the knights and squires start to move.
Just hold on, my friend.
I left the dragon and made my way hurriedly upstairs. My mind was racing trying to work out what my next orders would be, and what I would say to my superiors.
I felt a frenzied, burning hot passion I hadn’t felt in years. My heart leaped in my chest.
However, was it out of a sense of duty, a sense of friendship, a desire to learn the world’s best kept secret, or… was it envy? I had no way of knowing.
<<Notes about Terminology>>
The dark knights of Keter Sanctuary. They were formed of five separate units. The Heavenly Knight Brigade, known as the Cloud Knights, were the public facing unit, but they were actually often in conflict with the Royal Paladins, the so-called Knights of Light, who were nominally their comrades in arms. No one knew where the fourth and fifth units were based, and even the other knights did not dare to ask about their duties. Units one to three were tasked with fighting against external threats to the country. The fourth unit was formed as a domestic counterintelligence force, and also acted as an inspectorate which would police the police. The fifth unit was an international counterintelligence unit and so spent much of its time beyond the borders of Keter Sanctuary. The nature of their work was top secret not just to the nations in which they operated, but even within Keter Sanctuary.
Supervising Editor: 中村聡