Chapter 57:

Captured #3

What Clichés has this World Wrought? [ Volume One: Another World ]

Captured #3

“How is the situation, dear?” King Stephen wondered. With both hands behind his back, the king stared out of the open window of the private room. Behind him was Sume, kneeling in strict form despite being his biological daughter.

“Otome has retreated to her room, with Ayama in tow.” Sume rose from the floor, “I assume as to how much those two have danced around each other for the past two weeks, our plan in tying him to the family is about to succeed.”

“Wonderful,” Her mother smiled, entering the room discreetly, “And what about Haruto, Sume? How is your relationship with him faring?”

Sume smirked triumphantly at her, “The fool is completely under my thumb.” She shook her head, “A bright hero thawing the ice-like heart of a maiden warrior— the perfect cliche, father, just as planned.”

King Stephen nodded, waving with his hand. “Thank you, Sume, that will do for today.”

The monarchs watched proudly as their eldest daughter triumphantly marched out of the room, probably to further solidify the naive hero to their clutches. The queen felt a small tug of guilt inside her chest as her daughter walked by, an image of her past self from years past overlapping with her current one.

“W-What–” She coughed, wondering what that was as she banished it from the corners of her mind. They’ve come so far, crossed most lines imaginable, and therefore she had no right to even feel a tinge of regret. “There is no room for remorse. If I were to dip even a finger in the ocean, the blood on it would stain the whole world.”

“What is it, dear? Is there something bothering your mind?” King Stephen questioned, slowly approaching his wife. Kaguya only smiled at him as his arms found themselves around her waist.

“None, dear.” She sweetly leaned on his chest, taking something hidden in a secret pocket inside her kimono “Keisha’s report finally came, I have it right here.”

The King looked at the queen and nodded, taking the crystal ball from her hands. “Then let us read it shall we?” The crystal ball glowed with a gentle light, the magic-encrusted sphere turning into a full document– one of the many treasures acquired in the Caverns of the Dungeon.

The King and Queen sat side by side, a hot teapot brewing in front of them, two teacups already prepared for serving. The tough paper-like material clearly explained all of Keisha’s findings, all in some kind of ink only inscribed by magic power. It was a document capable of standing the test of time, and the knowledge inside it would greatly benefit the Kingdom Alliance. Written in a casual-professional tone, the monarchs eagerly tuned in.

“Your Highness, I humbly present to you the results of my research on Test-Subject 005. To put it simply, the TS 005 is almost a completely different kind compared to the normal man. For example, His skin on average is comparable to that of chainmail, in some areas like steel, and bone structure is also much, much stronger than average, despite weighing the same with a different sample.”

“His blood is thicker, much richer in iron and other properties, capable of carrying incredible amounts of oxygen with each cycle. Muscle tissue from TS 005 would have the same strength as five times that amount from others; likewise, his tendons and ligaments are capable of carrying more load and stress. The results of heart and brain tissue are also similar, durability, density, and efficiency completely different from the other provided subjects.”

“Usually, such a discovery couldn’t be achieved with only one sample, but every night the sample regenerates to full health– exactly when the moon is at its highest. However, we discovered that the subject cannot heal under a new moon.”

“The screaming only lasted for a week, I believe we’ve successfully broken his spirit. This allows our research to move along much more smoothly, but I must say, with each regeneration, he grows weaker and weaker. He will die soon.”

“All in all, in his physiology, he is superior to that of regular humans, even amongst his peers. You must be careful, your Majesty. If my words carry any weight, left uncontrolled, the rest of them might grow enough to usurp the kingdom. We have foreseen the gravity of such a situation because the other test subjects are already bearing results capable of being weaponized.”

King Stephen looks at the report, almost uninterestedly for the most part, only until the last paragraph. It was the exact point they were fully prepared for and he answered as if he was speaking to Keisha herself. “That is why we must find other countermeasures.”

He turned to Kaguya, who had her head resting on his shoulder, “And that is why we are fortunate to have been blessed by daughters, right dear? It is still quite sad that Otome is not like her sister.”
Queen Kaguya only smiled, leaning further in, “Yes, it is quite the shame. Lying to our precious child– is quite unsavory, to say the least.” She said with a sigh,

“If only she was like Sume…” Her husband added, making the mother shake her head.

“There is nothing we can do about that now. We can only pray that Ayama will not follow the same fate. It would be a shame to lose another of the best we have.”

How long has it been? Two months? He was not sure. Since Akiro’s disappearance, he had begun to seek company elsewhere, developing his relationship with someone else. Ayama gasped for air, staring aimlessly at the tall ceiling above him.

His mind was empty of all thought, his consciousness drowning in the bliss of what just had happened. To his mind, it felt like moments, but his body reminded him that it was hours. He was sore all over, his body screaming for him to move and stretch, but that would risk waking her up.

The pleasure was beyond everything he had experienced before. It was not mindless lust but love. Intimacy with genuine care, unfailing assurance, and complete trust– it was magic. There he laid in Otome’s bed, sharing warmth underneath her sheets, with her by his side. He couldn’t feel any safer, he didn’t realize how bad he had it until last night.

“Oh, look at me,” Ayama huffed to himself, his eyes tracing her peacefully sleeping face, which was mushed into his chest. Despite the small trickle of saliva on her lips, the hero couldn't help but gush at the sight. “Ayama, fucking hell, how in the world are you this lucky.”

He stared at her, his eyes lost in complete adoration of her, only for him to return to reality. “I promise, I won’t ever lose you. I promise to protect you from the darkness festering in this country.”

Ayama does not know what is being done in the shadows around him, but after he awakens from his injuries, he can sense the morality of everyone around him– almost like a seventh sense. In his eyes, Otome shone like stars, white and pure, however, she was innocent and susceptible to the darkness that seemingly grew around her.

His eyes were opened to another facet of reality, and it disgusted him to no end. Humans, mothers, and priests were smiling, beaming with radiating joy and peace– but he knew better. If Ayama squinted, even their bright faces hid darkness underneath, looking in the mirror, not even he was exempt from that fact.

The hero slowly slithered out of the bed, careful to not disturb his sleeping lover, and stared at himself through the full-body mirror. “Why… Why was I the hero? Am I supposed to save this world?” He thought to himself, reaching for his reflection, reaching for the obvious scars that have multiplied on his body.

“I never wanted to be a hero, I am not a hero– I never was! So why…” Ayama gulped, his forehead touching the glass. “How could I be a hero if I can’t even fucking save my friend?”

He hadn’t realized until now, but standing side-by-side with Akiro, he didn’t realize how safe it was. Every time he walked the halls of the glorious castle, the darkness felt like it was crawling all around him.

For somebody destined to be the ‘Hero,’ he couldn’t help but feel in awe of someone who walked with these shadows– growing, learning, and resisting them. He stared at his reflection, long and hard, and like the rising sun shining on him, he finally realized something…

Akiro was not weak, he was limited by his environment. Like how a fish should never outgrow its tank, he kept his head down, keeping silent as he obediently took blows– not because he was powerless, but because it simply wasn’t worth the hassle. He simply had nothing to gain.

“Sly bugger,” Ayama grinned, turning away from the mirror, nearly jogging to the small locked chest Otomoe had allowed him to use. He turned the lock, opening it and removing the false bottom to reveal the letter.

Ayama opened it, grinning at the concise, single-sentence message inside. Written sharp, surgically thin cursive lines, the simple message was conveyed. “Play along.”

The hero huffed, rolling his eyes as he returned the letter, all of his troubles eased. “This will be interesting.”

Ayama waited patiently, quietly pretending to be oblivious to the secret schemes growing around him, silently awaiting the large scheme his friend was orchestrating. The three-month mark closed in quickly, and two weeks before the deadline, the heroes were alerted about the sudden appearance of King Earl.

That alone was not a surprise, the problem was in how he appeared– disheveled, dirty, wounded, and dare the servants say it, traumatized. The queen that accompanied him was nowhere to be found, and by the King’s words, dead. That was not the only news the monarch barely coughed out, in front of all the heroes.

“T-The…H-Hero…Hiroto…” King Earl heaved in his bed, the entire company of otherworlders watching anxiously. “Is on the warpath…”

The news was numbing to everybody, especially Takumi and Ayama, who exchanged worried glances. However, they kept their peace, allowing the King to speak unimpeded. “H-He is possessed! The D-Demon you slayed in the labyrinth– He is no longer himself!”

To no one’s surprise, Haruto rushed to his side, kneeling unceremoniously to catch the monarch’s falling hand. “Your majesty! My Lord! Please, don’t exert yourself!”

The monarch looked at the boy with a glint in his eyes, the shine of someone celebrating a success. Ayama turned around the room, with no one catching the sight he did. Something was gravely wrong here.

“M-My wife…Sebastian…my servants— gone!” King Earl roared with a hoarse voice, his other hand clasping Haruto’s hands. “There is no hope left for him…Please, I cannot imagine the weight of my request–”

Ayama looked dumbfounded, and for the first time in his whole life, his trust in his friend wavered and a dozen thoughts raced through his mind. “Akiro…What is going on? Did you murder the Queen? Sebastian? Why!? Is King Earl next?-- Kaguya, Stephen…Sume…Oto–”

“Save the kingdom!” King Earl pleaded, bowing his head, the crown falling onto his lap. “Do what you must!... but I fear that it is too late. He is coming— the peer you once knew is no more…”

The class and the vassals present in the room watched quietly, only realizing a moment later that the King was no more than a corpse. The screaming was loud, but Ayama didn’t hear any of it, instead, he stood there motionless like a statue with only a single thought dragging his heart into his stomach.

“We…need to kill…Akiro?”