“…Um, what happened?”
Rachel whispered. Without answering her, I looked back at Heuk Jeon and his crew who were following us.
Putting his pride and status into consideration, I said I would let him off even if he didn’t kowtow to me, but he decided to follow me like an attendant anyways.
Rachel put on a suspicious look at my vague reply.
“Well, it’s like I said before. I trade stocks on the side. That’s it.”
It really wasn’t easy to come up with a good explanation. After all, I didn’t want to look like someone who was related to Djinns.
“Yes, I gave one of my clients a valuable piece of information. That client just happened to be extremely influential around people like them.”
“Eh? Then is your client also a Djinn…?”
“No. It’s all about money. That’s why they’re here too.”
I wasn’t lying. Boss really was a money-loving fool… well, maybe calling her a fool was too harsh. She was focused on making money because the Chameleon Troupe was relatively free, but once their involvement in the main story kicked in, she would undoubtedly show why she was called the Yasha.
Rachel didn’t seem to believe me one hundred percent, but she didn’t ask further questions.
She mumbled to herself, then suddenly her eyes shot open.
“Ah, Ha, Hajin-ssi.”
She called my name while stuttering.
“Then did you make a lot of profit with stocks?”
“Uh… my nickname is the Invisible Hand.”
When I said that, Rachel’s cheeks flushed red with anticipation.
I could easily see what that meant.
At the moment, the English Royal Court guild was in a financial crisis. Because of last year’s incident on Clancy Islet, they were suffering from lack of investors.
“I see… it makes sense since you’re rank 1 in theory. You must be good at analyzing charts and data…”
However, she seemed to be too embarrassed to ask for a favor outright, as she fiddled with her fingers.
“I guess you could say that.”
I acted oblivious.
After hesitating to voice her thoughts, Rachel finally worked up the courage to speak.
“So, um, I heard guilds have recently started investing in stocks to make money…”
“Oh~ is that so?”
Seeing her embarrassed yet full of hope, I felt the urge to tease her. It was all thanks to Boss that I could be so relaxed in this situation.
“Y-Yes… and um, the English Royal Court guild is looking to start a business at the moment…”
I cut her off. This time, it was to give her a more meaningful piece of information.
“If the space distorts while we’re walking, stay calm and head over to that building.”
“You don’t have to worry about that.”
Suddenly, Heuk Jeon interrupted me. I turned around. Heuk Jeon flinched at my gaze, then took out a palm-sized orb from his pocket.
“…Hajin-ssi doesn’t have to worry about that. We have a pathfinder orb.”
Pathfinder orb? That must be what they used to find Rachel.
“Give it here then.”
I put my hand out towards the black orb.
Heuk Jeon scratched his neck but didn’t express any refusal. Instead, he pleaded.
“Um, about this matter….”
“I know, I know. How many times do I have to tell you?”
I wasn’t interested in using my power to order him around. As it's a common trope in novels, I’ve read it several times and even used it a few times myself. In the end, I got bored of it.
“Y-Yes, thank you.”
“…He interrupted us in the middle of our conversation.”
Rachel pouted unhappily. I grinned and went back to the topic at hand.
“So, Rachel-ssi, do you want me to give you a recommendation?”
“Yes? Ah, well, you see…”
Quickly livening up, she began to list all the business plans the English Royal Court guild had. Although it was lacking compared to what Yoo Yeonha was capable of, I could see that the guild was passionate and hardworking.
“It’s going to be difficult to take all of that on with just taxes. It’s a long-term plan, and with the economy being so bad recently…”
We walked together, talking about the English Royal Court, and before we noticed, we arrived at the central building.
It looked like a small abandoned school found in a rural town.
“We’ll talk about this later. Now isn’t a good time.”
Rachel nodded and looked up at the worn-down building.
“Where are we…?”
“It should be a building in Cube.”
To be exact, it was a lighthouse that went obsolete when Cube introduced Portals. Because of the spatial distortion, the building that was normally in the deepest corner of Cube was dragged here.
“Let’s go in.”
Rachel and I walked in, and Heuk Jeon stopped in front of the entrance.
I turned around and looked at Heuk Jeon and his crew.
“We will go back here, but Lancaster will not give up.”
Heuk Jeon prepared for departure as he gave us a warning. I didn’t stop him since I didn’t want people misunderstanding and spreading rumors of me having Djinns as subordinates.
“But we will stay in the area and stop Lancaster’s subordinates if we see them.”
Yesterday’s friend is today’s enemy.
To Djinns, the concept of loyalty was certainly thin.
Strictly in terms of strength, Heuk Jeon was a trustworthy guy. Since he brought many subordinates with him, he should be able to deal with Lancaster’s Djinns somewhat evenly.
“By the way, you don’t need this pathfinder orb?”
“No, we have another one.”
“Good, then see you.”
I waved my hand.
Soon after Heuk Jeon and his crew left, an alarming sound rumbled out from a nearby bush.
Rachel and I glared in that direction and stood with caution.
However, the person that soon popped out of the bush was someone Rachel and I were familiar with.
“Ah, Kim Hajin!”
Chae Nayun shouted my name and ran up to me.
“Hey! Geez, I was so surprised. You suddenly disappeared…”
Chae Nayun was about to run into my embrace but stopped when she saw Rachel.
“Are you okay? You’re not hurt, are you?”
“I’m fine. But why are you with her?”
“…That’s not important. Anyways, follow me. We have something to do. You too, Rachel-ssi.”
“Ah, what is it?”
Chae Nayun, Rachel, and I walked into the building and walked up the stairs.
Our destination was the broadcasting room on the highest floor.
I fiddled with the broadcasting room’s microphone and tested out the sound. Using this, I had to gather the cadets and instructors to this building. Although this was supposed to be Kim Suho’s job, it was better to do it sooner rather than later.
“Will everyone hear us if we speak into it?”
Chae Nayun asked.
There were at least 10,000 people in Cube.
However, to be pulled into this broken mirror phenomenon, one needed to have enough internal magic power to resonate with the magic. As a result, only about 3000 people, including instructors, should be caught up in this phenomenon.
As for how someone like me who couldn’t wield magic power was brought into this place, I could confidently say it was because Stigma’s magic power resonated with the magic. Ever since I was pulled into this phenomenon, my arm's been throbbing constantly.
“Aaah, testing, testing, one two three.”
I turned the microphone on and spoke into it. As expected, the speaker was working properly.
“This is an announcement to all cadets and instructors who might be panicking. I repeat, this is an announcement to all cadets and instructors who might be panicking.”
After grabbing everyone’s attention, I cut straight to the chase.
“Space has been distorted due to the broken mirror phenomenon.”
I paused for a moment to choose my next words.
“…If you are a cadet, do not panic. Head to the building you see in the center of the island. Even if you get lost, continue heading towards the building. I repeat, even if you get lost, continue heading towards the building.”
After repeating the same thing a few times, I put the microphone down.
About 30 minutes after my announcement, people began to arrive at the central building.
Kim Suho, Shin Jonghak, Yi Yeonghan, and several other cadets all came at the same time.
Next was our instructor from last year, Kim Soohyuk, who quickly ran over. After an hour, first-year cadets began to arrive.
Unfortunately, they weren’t in good shape.
“Instructor! Some strange people in robes kidnapped Hyunsuk!”
The Djinns’ goal in this incident was kidnapping cadets who had the potential of becoming incarnations of devils.
This invasion wasn’t only happening in Cube. As one of the largest planned attacks on humanity, the same thing should be happening in several Hero Academies across the world.
“…Ah, what should we do?”
Kim Suho stomped his feet and glared into the forest.
He probably wanted to go save his comrades and juniors but couldn’t in fear of getting lost.
“Hey, Kim Suho, do you want to go?”
Kim Suho’s current strength was far beyond that of any other cadet. He should even be stronger than he was at this point in the original story. With Misteltein strengthened as well, he should be able to join the rescue team without problem.
“But if I go into the forest….”
I threw the pathfinder orb to Kim Suho.
Kim Suho caught the orb and tilted his head quizzically.
“That’s a pathfinder orb. With it, the space shouldn’t suddenly distort. Go together with the instructor.”
“Are you doubting me?”
“Of course not. Thank you, Hajin!”
Kim Soohyuk, who was listening in on our conversation, cut in.
“Pathfinder orb. If you have it around, you won’t get lost. Oh, Shin Jonghak, do you want to go too?”
I also asked Shin Jonghak, who was standing guard with his spear like a sentry. His eyebrows twisted up. It didn’t look like he was going to listen to me.
“Let’s go, Shin Jonghak.”
Kim Suho also chimed in.
Shin Jonghak glared at me and Kim Suho unhappily.
“I guess Yoo Yeonha isn’t here yet.”
However, he soon joined in.
“I, I’ll help too.”
However, an unexpected individual hopped in.
“You want to go too, Rachel-ssi?”
It was Rachel.
“Yes, I want to help rescue them too.”
Rachel spoke resolutely with her hands cusped over her heart.
Since her trauma had to do with a rescue effort, I understood where she was coming from. But because of Lancaster… no.
Objectively speaking, she was probably safer around Kim Suho, Shin Jonghak, and Kim Soohyuk.
“Ah, then I wanna join in too~”
Yi Yeonghan also raised his hand.
From the usual group, only Chae Nayun and I were not taking part.
Kim Suho spoke with a grin.
“Hajin, you stay here and protect the other cadets.”
“…Like I’m strong enough for that.”
Of course, even though I said that, I planned to do exactly that. Now was supposed to be Kim Suho’s time to shine.
Thankfully, there were other high-ranking cadets here to protect the place with me. For example, Samurai Yohei and Supporter Yi Jiyoon.
“Don’t worry about us.”
“Yeah, be safe!”
Chae Nayun also waved her hands at them from the side.
“You aren’t going with us, Chae Nayun?”
At that moment, Shin Jonghak asked her, pretending like he wasn’t concerned. In the original story, Chae Nayun would have followed them even if it cost her life. However, the current Chae Nayun wasn’t even hesitating.
“You’re all going, so it’ll be a waste of resources if I go too.”
Shin Jonghak let out a small sigh and turned around.
As he stomped forward, Kim Suho followed after him.
“Ah, hey! You have to stay close to the pathfinder orb!”
“Everyone, make sure you stay in this building!”
A rescue team centered around the instructor Kim Soohyuk was formed. After they left, Chae Nayun and I climbed to the roof of the building to watch for any Djinns that might ambush us.
“Wow, look what we got ourselves into this time.”
As always, it was better to maintain the high ground over the enemies.
Chae Nayun looked out into the horizon and mumbled.
“First, Creator’s Sacred Grace. Now, this. These things keep happening to us, huh?”
“Yeah. After today, many things will change…”
This incident was an important turning point. Even in the original story, the main cast’s life in Cube was skipped after this incident.
“Yeah, you’ll be leaving too.”
“…That has nothing to do with it.”
My hair blew up from a cool breeze.
“At least the wind is nice.”
“I guess so…”
While we were talking leisurely, the gentle breeze suddenly turned fierce. Like a storm, it slapped my face sharply and strongly.
From the East Sea in the far distance, a waterspout rose up.
A tornado that seemed to contain powerful energy. Its fierce air current shook Cube’s land.
Seeing this supernatural phenomenon, I couldn’t help but frown.
“Ah, hey, look at that!”
Chae Nayun jumped in surprise, but I remained calm.
Seeing this monstrous phenomenon, a chill went down my back.
At the same time, my smartwatch buzzed.
[Criticism – It doesn’t make sense that Djinns, who are known to be vile and brutal, would only slightly provoke the Azure Dragon.]
“…But that doesn’t mean you can do this.”
You son of a bitch, how can you send a dragon after cadets!?
I quickly raised my head and looked out into the distance.
Then, I became speechless.
In the horizon far away, a single creature appeared.
Looking at its proud and noble figure, I fell into a daze.
A soft, beautiful azure body that resembled the clouds.
A face that seemed to be the mix of a snake and a tiger.
Two sacred horns that protruded out behind its ears.
All this described the one creature, the Master of the East Sea, a creature that was too noble to be called a monster.
The Azure Dragon, one of the Cardinal Guardians, was exactly as it was described in the legends.
This legendary member of the dragon race was beautiful enough to make me forget the gravity of the situation.
However, the Azure Dragon wasn’t so kind.
Glaring in this direction, the Azure Dragon snorted. His snort transformed into a huge wave that swept through the entire land.
However, I was unaffected by this snort. Chae Nayun, on the other hand, screamed in pain and collapsed.
I quickly ran towards her.
Her veins were protruding out from her neck to her face.
It was ‘magic convulsion’.
The Azure Dragon was a Cardinal Guardian that was especially skilled in handling magic power. However, Chae Nayun was directly exposed to such a being’s breath. Flowing into her body, the Azure Dragon’s breath must have suppressed her magic power, leading to this convulsion.
This theory also explained why I was unhurt. I was fine because I didn’t have any magic power inside my body.
“Uuugh, huaa, huaaa….”
“Calm down. Don’t panic and collect your breath.”
“Hu, huu, huuuu….”
That was all I could think. A creature that could do this to Chae Nayun with just its breath… such a monstrous creature opened its mouth.
Its rage wasn’t directed at us.
What the Azure Dragon was doing now should only be an annoyed tantrum thrown at those who awakened it from its sleep.
However, just its tantrum was a matter of life and death to us.
My sense of time slowed down. From the Azure Dragon’s mouth, blue magic power began to coalesce.
There was no way for me to dodge it. This magic power bomb would surely be catastrophic.
I looked down at Chae Nayun, who was unconscious in my arms.
I didn’t need to think much.
This time, it was my turn to be the protector.
Still holding her in my arms, I released the magic power reinforcement seal of my obsidian bracelet. Then, I added the Egyptian Archer’s Sand Barrier on top of it. With that I was under two layers of protection.
However, I wasn’t done yet.
Gritting my teeth, I began to pour out every ounce of Stigma’s magic power.
Immediately, the Stigma on my upper arm shone brilliantly, emitting light through my clothes.
I squeezed out everything without saving a single drop. The pain on my arm grew sharper and sharper, but I clenched my teeth and held on.
Once the third layer of barrier set in, the dragon’s tantrum descended.
A mere tantrum, something that couldn’t be compared to a full-on dragonbreath, made it feel like my body was bending in half.
Enduring this attack, I looked down at Chae Nayun.
She was looking up at me.
To be exact, she was staring at the white symbol of light shining through my clothes.
Her eyes were hollow and out of focus.