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    Realizing belatedly that she had made a mistake, Zenoa smacked her lips in frustration.

    “Do you think we’ve done something to the food?” Azeld appeared displeased and curled his lips. “I do feel sorry for the soldier who followed me and died. However, until a proper result comes out, Madron is a demon. He deserves to die.”

    “It seems my subordinate is sensitive because of the demons.”

    “If you are so suspicious, I’ll eat the food first to prove it’s safe.”

    “Zenoa, apologize for your indiscretion.”

    I urged Zenoa with my eyes.

    She immediately bowed her head.

    “I apologize. I’ve behaved very rudely.”

    Azeld still wore a dissatisfied expression.

    However, fortunately, he didn’t seem to detect any strange vibes and refrained from being assertive.

    ‘Or perhaps he judged that there’s no need to quarrel with us.’

    In any case, I didn’t sense any danger.

    I took my hand off the hilt of my sword and acted breezily.

    “The food is delicious. I’ll definitely remember the hospitality.”

    “Eung… if the commander says so, there’s nothing more to it.”

    Azeld, perhaps appeased by my words, raised his wine glass.

    “Haha, I was once a member of the Imperial Knights. You know the 5th Commander Taikan? He’s my partner once.”

    “Taikan?”

    “Yes, we’ve been tight since we were snot-nosed brats. These days, we’re both too busy to see each other. The last time I saw him was three months ago when he stopped by here.”

    Naturally, to sit in any important position, one had to obtain higher qualifications from the Teheran Knights.

    Azeld looked to be about the same age as Taikan.

    “If I meet Taikan, I’ll pass along your regards.”

    “Ah, I’d be grateful for that. It seems I get along well with the 7th Division Commander. Please don’t forget Azeld of the Guardian Corps.”

    The meal resumed in a friendly atmosphere.

    * * *

    “‘Isn’t it certain that among them, there are demonkin? I was worried in case even the food was mixed with blood…'”

    In a luxurious room decorated with red curtains framed in gold, Zenoa spoke as we stepped into the temporary lodging that Azeld prepared.

    “I apologize.”

    She bowed her head in deep reflection for the trollish act she had committed.

    Well, it’s a mistake made out of concern for me, so I can forgive it generously once. 

    Of course, if it repeats, I will have to raise an issue.

    “There’s nothing wrong with being suspicious. However, being too cautious might tip off the other party, so you need to keep your intentions hidden. Be more careful next time.”

    “I will keep that in mind.”

    “It wouldn’t have mattered even if the food had demonkin blood mixed in it.”

    If there really were blood, it would be uncomfortable, but…

    “What? Isn’t there a risk of becoming a demon if you drink the blood of a demonkin?”

    Zenoa tilted her head.

    I said, “Drinking blood doesn’t automatically make you a demon.”

    “But Helena clearly said… that’s why we always have to be careful with red-colored foods…”

    “That’s like a rumor. The fear of the demonkin has inflated such talks.”

    I said as I took a bite of a cookie.

    “‘If you want the power of the demon…’ Only when you drink blood with a strong desire like this can you accept the power of the demonkin. Otherwise, it’s just disgusting.”

    “But that’s strange, according to what you’re saying. There were investigation results in a few cases where they put blood into the wells and created demons en masse.”

    “That must’ve been prepared in advance. Either they were instigated to worship demons, or they were originally greedy, or they were followers of the ‘Demon Faith’.”

    It’s not for nothing that those demonkin try to spread the ‘Demon Faith’ that worships demons.

    In other words, one must have a strong desire for demons to drink the blood of the demonkin, for it to take root inside the body, and to emit magic power.

    “…”

    Zenoa picked up a cookie with a stoic face.

    After chewing thoughtfully, she then asked me a question.

    “But how do you know this in such detail? I don’t think there is any information related to blood in any books on demonkin.”

    I wondered why she hadn’t asked this time.

    Hopefully, she wouldn’t be making unnecessary comments, saying I’m a demon or a demonkin.

    I quickly interrupted Zenoa.

    “Because I’ve tried it.”

    “…What?”

    “I tried drinking the blood of a demon to see if it would turn me into a demon. Nothing happened, even after five tries.”

     

    “Why would you even do that… The mere study of demon blood is already frowned upon, let alone without the approval of the Magic Tower and the Holy Kingdom. Isn’t it impossible to even study the blood without their approval?”

    While Zenoa was speaking, a sound came from the window.

    Tap!

    Blue was flapping its wings vigorously.

    I opened the window.

    Reading Blue’s thoughts, it had narrowed down the location to three places.

    Just in case, it had placed some friends there to keep watch.

    “You did well, Blue.”

    I offered a cookie, and Blue happily pecked at it with its beak.

    I looked over the surrounding buildings through the open window.

    Then I noticed that the fire in the shield-shaped sign of the Magnil Church, adorned with a cross, had lit up.

    “Zenoa, we should start moving.”

    I wrote a note saying, ‘I’ve identified the demon’s hideout. Blue will guide you,’ and tied it to Blue’s leg.

    I sent Blue straight towards where Fenil was, at the barracks of the 7th Knights.

    If Fenil discovers this and the regular army takes care of the demon’s habitat cleanly, then we wouldn’t have to worry about it.

    “Commander, were you looking for demons?”

    “Yes.”

    Swallowing the cookie she was eating, Zenoa approached the window.

    “Who is the demon hiding here…”

    “The head of this area, Azeld, is likely the demon.”

    I pointed at the church with my finger.

    “The Magnil Church strictly forbids the extinguishing of fire on their shield. Even without prayers, a burning shield should always emit light.”

    Anyone with a deep understanding of the Magnil Church would know this. 

    For someone who claims to be a fervent believer to the extent of building a church, not knowing this would be absurd.

    So the answer is clear.

    “The church is hiding something. Even if you’re the commander of the Knights, you can’t search the church without a warrant. Moreover, they usually treat it as a sanctuary, and it’s not easy to get a search warrant unless you’re the execution force of the Holy Kingdom.”

    “I missed that. You really do know a lot, Commander.”

    Zenoa looked at the church in the distance.

    The shield-shaped sign was the only thing emitting a bright light, as if struggling against the darkness of the night.

    “Let’s move.”

    I picked up the robe hanging on the coat rack and left the room.

    As I opened the door, a soldier who had been waiting in the hallway blocked my way.

    “What’s going on…”

    Soldiers patrolling the hallway and those waiting at the end of it.

    Approximately ten personnel seemed to be guarding our room.

    No, it would be more appropriate to consider this surveillance.

    “Commander.”

    I glanced at Zenoa, then quickly moved my hand.

    The soldiers, who belatedly realized our intentions, drew their weapons.

    Swish!

    I sliced the soldiers’ throats one by one.

    “If you can’t see their horns, first knock them unconscious. We don’t know if all the soldiers are following Azeld.”

    The soldiers around me rushed towards me all at once.

    ***

    “Do you think the 7th Division Commander knows everything? It’s not like Madron spilled all the beans.”

    Azeld was gnawing on his lips in a corner of the church.

    The loyal followers added comments to reassure Azeld.

    “If Madron had snitched, he wouldn’t have sent just the two of us to capture the commander.”

    “Exactly. Even if he’s a commander, would he be foolish enough to go into a tiger’s den without any troops? Besides, he didn’t seem to have a warrant.”

    “Still, just in case, it would be wise to move the supplies in advance.”

    Azeld nodded his head.

    In a secret storage area at the back of the church, the soldiers were lugging large wooden boxes, one by one, out the back door.

    The plan was to use the enemy’s storage as if they were putting things up for auction in the black market, and later recover the goods after paying a fee.

    “What a hassle. This is costing unnecessary money.”

    Azeld let out a dry sigh.

    Until now, he had hidden well, operating only his magic hands and scheming in the shadows.

    Also, the Meins he had laid around him had drawn attention by acting erratically, allowing Azeld to safely gather supplies.

    “But lately, all the Meins in this area have been subjugated.”

    Right when the 7th Division Commander appeared, the most prosperous Mein village had been uprooted, and surrounding Meins started to die off.

    Thanks to Kashul who had somewhat united the otherwise erratic Meins, things had been relatively easier.

    But with her death, the ecosystem was a mess.

    “Indeed, those Mein brats are even less intelligent than the magic beasts.”

    As Azeld clicked his tongue, a soldier who had been observing his mood spoke up.

    “Have you heard the rumor? They say the 7th Division Commander made a fool of himself in the intermediate exam a few days ago.”

    “A fool?”

    “He even challenged the Legion Commander to a duel with a sword right in front of him, saying he was dissatisfied with the exam results.”

    “What? He’s done such crazy things and still holds the commander position?”

    “The problem is that the Legion Commander Calrond didn’t say anything and just let it slide.”

    Who is Commander Calrond?

    A big shot that no one within the Empire is unaware of.

    There is no one who can overwhelm Calrond, be it politically or in terms of abilities.

    Even the current commander of the royal guard is his son, so jokes are heard now and then that the next Emperor would be Calrond.

    “…The Commander has expressed remorse for his mistakes and has requested to withdraw from the duel with the 7th Division Commander,” they said.

    That such a man would bow his head to the 7th Division Commander, known as a mere “Swordmaster of the Frontier,” was astonishing.

    Azeld angrily shouted at the soldiers.

    “Move quickly! If that 7th Division Commander guy even storms the church, we’re done for!”

    “Do you think he’ll search the church too?”

    “Do you not know who Commander Calrond is?”

    If the 7th Division Commander is the man who broke even the stubborn pride of that old man,

    “Even though he dares to act like that with the higher-ups, he seems to really care about the distant Holy Kingdom’s opinion. That 7th Division Commander is an unpredictable guy. So move it!”

    Azeld stamped his feet.

    He found himself unawares, raising his voice in anger.

    “Argh! Why do I have to do this crap! It couldn’t be that Kashul’s brainwashing has worn off, right? She didn’t betray me, did she?”

    Just then,

    Crash!

    The outer wall blocking between the prayer room and the secret storage crumbled down entirely.

    Dust clouds billowed from the debris, and Liorne walked out.

    “…What did you just say?”

    His eyes were chillingly cold.

    “I thought I heard the name ‘Kashul.'”

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