※ Lucien's POV.
The girl he rescued was strange.
She had clapped her hands together and said something about her time coming like an old lady in the city.
She certainly was younger than Lucien, but she felt…awfully old.
For a moment, the word "old-fashioned" popped in his head.
But, he was grateful that she didn't scream or thrash about in fear.
Still, this didn't mean that she wasn't terrified. She probably cried and refused to accept this reality.
When he thought this, he grew more sympathetic.
And, nostalgia together with some small regret gushed out from the bottom of his heart.
He looked down at the girl, seeing her white skin, untouched by the sun. Her citrus-yellow hair was an eye-catching color. But, her deep red eyes were…unusual.
The unfinished clothes covering her thin body made him think that she was some kind of prisoner.
The reason that brought him and his group to attack that castle was…because she was the same as those who were killed inside the forest.
"I guess…she's a victim created by those performing the forbidden arts."
That might have been the reason behind her strange words.
To begin with, the strange movements of the monsters near the order's territory were the start.
The ones who brought this report were some merchants.
They claimed that monsters appeared in places they were never present in.
The monsters had deviated from their habitat, so they were likely to attack humans after traveling out this far.
As such, Lucien had the knights mobilized to exterminate them, but in turn, they discovered these mysterious corpses.
Some wore clothes that weren't fit for traveling, and none of the victims' belongings could be found.
The only conclusion they had come up with was that these people were slaves abandoned by their masters to deal with the monsters.
However, the Scylla territory, a neighbor of the order's territory, didn't report any sightings of slave traders or missing people.
Amid this confusing situation, they discovered another victim.
In a location different from last time, the knights, who had been investigating near the road, spotted traces of the deceased.
If this continued, it was likely that a much larger problem lay ahead.
And, what they discovered was an abandoned building hidden deep in the forest.
According to their investigation, this group wasn't slave trading; far from that, they were using forbidden magic. As such, Lucien and several knights utilized flying lizards to attack them from the sky.
Inside were magicians who possessed characteristics of the neighboring country of Tanastra and the warriors who guarded them.
Although a fight immediately broke out, several of them escaped due to the sheer number of magicians.
Lucien also headed out in hopes of pursuing them.
He was told not to break from the group by the other knights, but he assumed that those magicians would use black magic to escape.
Sure enough, as soon as he followed them outside, he saw that the magicians were using the life of a girl who looked to be a slave to activate long-distance magic.
However, when he tried to ask the rescued girl about the situation… She had promptly fainted.
"Captain Lucien, are you uninjured?!"
A golden-haired young wearing the indigo uniform of a knight ran over. He was Frey of the First Order.
"I'm fine. Are the clothes this girl is wearing the same as the victims from before?"
Being asked this, Frey stared at the girl's clothes and nodded.
"I believe so."
"Take her in and question her. The same goes for the ones over there. They fainted, but question them too."
Upon receiving these orders, Frey smacked a nearby magician on the floor.
"Hey, wake up."
The magician already had a concussion, so after this rude awakening, he appeared dazed. But, he soon realized he was caught and began to tremble. Regardless, Frey was merciless with his questioning.
"What black magic were you all using here? Was it a forbidden art?"
"If you give me the details now, I'll let you live."
Not only did the magician's eyes wander about, but he also mumbled his answer.
"Fusing human and spirit…to produce a witch…"
"Fusion with spirits?! You abducted people and experimented on them?"
"People could trace us if we bought our test subjects… That's why we summoned them from faraway countries, but all of them…failures…grah!"
After saying that much, the magician suddenly groaned in pain.
No sooner had black smoke escaped his mouth did he collapse, never to move again.
Frey went to confirm the man's pulse and shook his head.
"It's no good."
"Silencing him, huh…"
"Most likely. I believe that if they were to speak of their affairs to outsiders, all of them would meet the same fate. The reason for the delay must be the time it takes to activate the magic. …In any case, should I ask the others?"
When Lucien gave his permission, Frey woke up the remaining magicians, one by one, and had them confess while they were still dazed.
By the time the remaining magicians died, the knights had a general idea.
"They attempted to experiment with fusing people with spirits. But, kidnapping people would incriminate them, so they abducted people from other countries through summoning magic… However, the experiments ended in either death or magic-less failures, so they disposed of them by feeding them to monsters in a separate area."
"So, those were the corpses we had discovered. As well as this girl."
Frey looked on with sympathy.
"She…did well to survive."
Fusing human and spirit was absolutely absurd. Spirits possessed tremendous magic power, so by fusing the two together, the human body was likely to break down.
"The reason she's alive is probably that the spirit's magic power dissipated and couldn't completely fuse with her body."
It was unlikely that she could continue to live without issue.
In fact, just as Lucien commented in his head about her strange speech, the fighting inside the building ended. The other knights came along.
"Lord Lucien! Why did you act independently?!"
The one who approached him with a slightly angry expression was a young man with long black hair tied at his nape—Ivar.
There was a slight nervousness in his facial features, causing others to say that he was more suited to be a civil official.
"What if something were to happen to you? You are the only one in the Arendal Kingdom with a claim to the throne."
"This is nothing new, Ivar. There's no problem concerning the current me. Besides, has the crisis not been diverted once the Cigle Knights drove the nuisance to the edge of the kingdom's border? I wonder how much my being here so far away from the capital has eased Uncle."
Lucien's statement caused Ivar's expression to grow more severe.
"We do not know when something might happen. Even his Majesty, who has given us the decree that Lord Lucien must be protected, cannot hold back His Highness Eric…"
Since Ivar belonged to a family that had long served Duke Alvaine's family, he was vehement about protecting Lucien from danger.
"Even Uncle has his reasons. …In any case, we may be able to get some information from this girl. If she is another victim of the forbidden arts like the others, we'll need to take her under our care."
"As you wish."
Frey picked up the unconscious girl.
"However, after we take her in, I want to have her movements monitored for some time."
"Hah? What do you mean?"
"It appears that she was experimented on, fusing her with a spirit. They may have failed, but we don't know what kind of effect it would bring about."
"Fusion?! That's unfortunate…"
Ivar, hearing about the fusion now, expectedly looked at the girl with pitiful eyes.
"But, are you sure you don't want to send her to the researchers? It's customary to have them handle matters that have complicated cases."
"If they hear that she was fused with a spirit, they'll never let her go."
"…That is true, but don't you think your decision lacks forethought?"
Lucien also believed so. But, he couldn't afford the forethought. After all, he detested the idea of leaving matters to be determined by others.
"This deals with spirits."
When he said that, Ivar and the others finally understood.
Up until now, Lucien was believed to be the most useful person to deal with spirits. If not, he wouldn't have been able to stop the girl from being shipped to the research institute.
Besides, if they pressed him any further, Lucien wouldn't give them any concrete basis for his reasoning.
He said that the reason for his sympathy was that he felt nostalgic and that it would be troublesome if it was listed as favoritism.
"This conversation will need to go through the vice-captain as well. Contact him for me."
"I know that he is dissatisfied with the decision. How long will he continue to sulk…? He is well-aware that Cigle is a royal order, and he should thus yield his duty as captain upon His Majesty's decision, but he claims to have retired and confined himself indoors."
It appeared that the reason for Ivar's sigh was the vice-captain.
"His Majesty had approved of his retirement from being the vice-captain, so his position hasn't changed. We can only hope that his mood improves soon."
Lucien could only respond with that.
Because it wasn't simple nor easy to change other people or their feelings.