A New Path

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An exclamation slipped out of my mouth at the splendid view.

Even looking at it with my own two eyes, it was hard to tell whether I’d come to the top floor of the ship or had suddenly been moved to a resort.

The interior was divided into surprisingly diverse spaces, with a garden and pool on one side, a bar on another, and a performing arena at the third.

I’d expected it to be roughly the size of a football field, but seeing it for myself, it felt as large as a full-fledged sports complex.

It was just too wide for mere words, and there were so many different things scattered here and there, too.

“It’s big.”

It looks a lot bigger on the inside, doesn’t it?”

“Seems there’s some spatial transformation involved.
There are quite a few goblin elders that I know of who use this type of magic.
It’s not very rare.
It’s just a mix of a little mischief and some lies.”

“Is that so? I’m not a goblin, so it’s a little surprising.”

Of course, I did know that such abilities existed.
But there’s a big difference between reading something in a manga and experiencing it in real life.

“By the way…”

I took a look around us.

There was nobody to guide us, so we had to decide by ourselves where to go.

The space was very large, but there were few people using it.

However, I noticed some people sitting on the benches near the central fountain, fewer than twenty all in all.

They were also looking at us, but they didn’t make any gestures to beckon or invite us.

“What heavy asses they have[1]… Shall we drop by there first?”

I walked straight towards them.

As I got closer, the cast became clearer little by little.

It wasn’t like they had a lot in common.
They wore different clothes, and there was a wide variety of races and ages.

The only commonality was that they all looked rich.


At first glance, nobody particularly stood out among them.

Aside from a redhead who’d been giving me a weird stare since I started coming their way, nobody else looked like they cared about us one way or the other.

Of course, the redhead wasn’t that eye-catching either.
If I had to say, he commanded relatively more attention than the rest? He was just at that level.

Actually, he just looked like a weird guy, nothing more, nothing less.

The secret masterminds in most shounen manga aren’t really that complicated or profound as characters.
They aren’t very politically-minded, nor are they driven by any great beliefs.

In a nutshell, just as there’s no particular reason for a thief to rob a bank, there’s no particular reason why a mastermind does bad things.
They’re bad guys, and that’s all the reason they need.

Therefore, if you look closely, the faces of these secret bosses often have ‘I’m the villain!’ written on them.
(Yes, just like me.)

Of course, it’s often the case that in their first appearance in the work, they have half their face covered by the shadow of a curtain, or the readers only see a silhouette hidden in the dark.
But even so, if you look closely, even the little bits you see often scream that they’re the worst type of scum.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t see such a guy here right now.

If I had to say it, they all just looked plain stupid.

Of course, that wasn’t enough to conclude that the secret boss wasn’t hidden among their ranks, but it did make me relax slightly.

That was then.

“Oh, you’re here!”

A certain black-haired young man approached us with a smile.

He was the most unassuming of the lot.

“You’re the new VIPs who’ve just arrived, right? The adventurers?”

“Oh, yes.”

From the looks of it, it seemed that the most pitiful of them had to take on the guide’s role for us.

“Are you… the captain?”

The guy looked at me and asked.


“It was clear at first glance.
You look really strong!”

“… Oh, is that so.”

Wouldn’t it be weirder if he couldn’t guess at first glance?

The only people next to me were a little kid, a bigger kid, and a little princess who was shuffling on her feet and constantly looking around.

Of course, the princess and the other two weren’t actually weak, but I was still the only candidate for being the chief here, wasn’t I?

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This guy was quite a smooth-talker.

“Could you please come over here first? Thank you.
May I ask you to please introduce yourself? Because that’s the tradition here.
You can just keep it simple.”

Saying that, he led me to the centre of the fountain.

It was a bit iffy, but it looked like I couldn’t avoid it.

“Ah, yeah.
We’re the ones lucky enough to become VIPs this time.
I’m Hiro, the leader, and next to me are the members of my team.”

Even after finishing, there was no response.

Everyone just looked at me with curious eyes.

‘What else do I have to do?’

It was a tad worrying, but I wanted to push the ball in their court, so I just stayed still.

That was then –

“I heard you won the first place in this Adventurer Qualification Test.”

I turned to where the voice had come from.

Yeah, he’d been holding himself back for a while, hadn’t he?

It was the polite red-haired man who’d been staring at me for a while.


“This isn’t the whole of your group, right?”

“Ah, that’s…”

I stopped talking for a bit.

Not because I wanted to properly explain the ins and outs of the situation.

It was simply because that red-hair looked and sounded so rude.

We’d never met, though, right?

“There’s another member, but we’d taken the test with four people.
These two little kids here, me, and another one who isn’t here.”

The red-haired man’s expression strangely distorted at my response, but then he just gave a mocking laugh.

“… The exam is no longer how it used to be in the old days.”



I scratched my head.

Did this guy read my thoughts or what?

“This is Sir Xavier, an S-class adventurer.
He scored very high in the Adventurer Qualification Test, too.
And he’s been promoted to S-class in only two years.”

Because our guide, the black-haired young man, promptly told me what I was curious about.


How outrageous.
He was talking about the old days, but he passed only a couple years ago?

“Then were you the number one in your year?”

The man flinched for a moment before he slowly spoke.

“… I got third place.
I missed the first place because our stupid guide took the wrong path.
But as an adversary, I didn’t lose to anyone.
Even though there were as many as six adventurer groups who’d flocked to the same treasure as we did.”

“Oh, really? Good job.”

I was praising him sincerely.
Didn’t the Leo Adventurers also get third place?


“… Cheeky.”

The red-haired guy was staring at me and grinding his teeth for some reason.


It seemed that his sense of entitlement had taken a hit.

I quickly turned to the black-haired young man.
Before I got entangled with this tiring guy for nothing, I wanted to change the topic a bit.

That was then –

“I came here because I heard there was a new VIP… but somehow I see a familiar face.”

A voice came from some distance away.

I turned to see who it was, and boy, was it a shock.


The speaker was in a whole other league compared to the guys I’d seen so far.

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A real hardcore type.

So slim that a stiff breeze could tip him over, a mane of hair that had turned all white, sunken eyes shining brightly, a heavily wrinkled face with a long beard, and… a scar that ran diagonally from the top of the left eyebrow to the bottom of the right cheek.

Maybe… this was the hidden boss?

While I was carefully observing the middle-aged man as he approached –

He abruptly turned to the side.

And the direction he faced was none other than –

“I hope you don’t plan to call yourself an adventurer, Princess Thermis.”

The side where the princess stood.

“… Minister Tamar.”

The princess muttered softly.

From the stiff expression on her face, this was what she’d been worried about.

“I thought you were living in comfort after running away somewhere, but… it seems that you’ve decided to come back to Eastland again? I suppose you were worried about the lives of your people after all?”

“Well, that’s….”

“The first prince was very worried.
He said he didn’t mean to hurt so many people.
Does that even make sense? What does it mean to be the first prince of the empire? At the very least, he shouldn’t be weak enough to flinch after proposing to the princess of a small country once.”


I didn’t know the true identity of this guy who looked so much like a secret boss, but he seemed to have great power.
Those remarks that looked down on the first prince of the empire, and maligning somebody from a royal family to their face, although she was the princess of a foreign country, was proof enough.

Although, he didn’t seem that smart.
If he kept talking like that, who knew when his spine would get folded in half by the princess?

“Even Lord Baatar, the royal teacher himself, is on board this ship.
Even at his age, he came all the way here just to persuade you, princess… Isn’t that absurd? For our empire, the royal teacher should be valued a little more than you.
Although, he’s still just an old man who’ll die any day now.”

“I definitely told him to go back, but he…”

“You must’ve lacked conviction in your words.
Now, let’s stop this shilly-shallying, shall we? How about finishing this song and dance right here? Either get married, or run away.
If you’re sure what you’re going to do, either way, I’m all ears.”

It was bizarre.
I was feeling more irritated at his words than the princess.

Who the hell was this guy and why was he so rude?

“This ship was originally supposed to be anchored in Nanma Port for two weeks, but if you ask, princess, I will tell the captain to set off again immediately after anchoring for a day.
If you get off at the port of Aimag, you can reach the imperial capital in two days from there.”

The princess bit her lips that’d been pressed tight.

“No matter what I choose… there’s no way for me to survive.”

Then the man called Minister Tamar let out a strange smile.

“… You’re misunderstanding.
If you were to be with the first Prince, you’d be able to look down on the whole world.
Of course, only if the wedding proceeds smoothly.”


“If I had to give you one piece of advice, it’d be to think of the people.
Running away for your own sake would mean you lack the qualities of royalty.
There is no other or better way to prove the nobility of your blood.
When you have an opportunity like this…”

At that moment,

“Opportunity, is it? How boring.”

I couldn’t control myself.

All their attention was soon focused on me.

I wasn’t sure if he was the hidden boss or not.
But how very irritating he was, wasn’t up for debate.

“The whole country buzzing at her just because she said she didn’t like a guy, who wasn’t even her type, after he suddenly started bothering her? And what? A chance to prove the nobility of her blood?”

I took a step forward, towards him.


“The people are terrified, so go walk into the jaws of death on your own two feet? Hey, uncle.
Why don’t you come a bit closer so I can show you what that feels like.”

I didn’t leave any leeway in my verbal attacks.


The man flinched a couple of times, but didn’t step back.
Rather, tidying himself up, he faced me again.

But, of course, he didn’t actually step forward.

“… Friend, you should be the one who became an adventurer by taking the first place in the qualification test this time.
I don’t know how you got to know the princess, but don’t you think you’re overstepping your limits? Besides, your words… are deeply worrying.”

“Don’t worry, I know my own limits.
And I don’t think you’re in any position to lecture somebody else about how they talk, either.”

“I didn’t say anything wrong.
No matter even if she’s royalty, that cannot weigh more than the lives of the people.
Running away to save one’s own skin… isn’t that abandoning the duty of the royal family?”

“You’ve got fantastic talent at threatening people.
Shouldn’t it be your job to make sure you guys don’t start a war? Your prince got dumped, that’s all.
You should just take it on the chin and calm down.”


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He seemed a little perplexed.

“And it looks like you are a nobleman of the Skull Empire… is it okay to talk like that? If the marriage really happens, the princess over there will become the crown princess-consort.
Then she might even become the empress.
And when she takes a look around, huh? Isn’t this the guy who’d been insulting me the other day? Huh? Why do I feel so pissed?”


“You don’t think that could ever happen, do you? To the point where you’re openly telling her to run to the imperial capital.
If you’re planning on doing something behind the scenes…”

Of course, I also knew very well that my words were very exaggerated.
However, the reason I dared to poke at him like this was because I wanted to make sure that this guy was the hidden mastermind.

That was then.

“Oh my, oh my… why are you doing this the first time you meet, at the place where we should all greet each other with courtesy? You’re making me blush with shame.”

The black-haired young man who’d been guiding us interrupted suddenly.

“Come on, stop it, and let’s just take our seats for now.
We’ll try and organize a more fitting celebration party soon.”

Then he gently pushed me aside.

“… Hmm.”

I pretended I couldn’t overcome it and accepted being pushed.

It was a pity that I couldn’t confirm the intentions of that son-of-a-bitch Tamar, but right now wasn’t the time to stir things up further.

First of all, there were still many days left of our voyage.
Also, people who looked like stewards were standing around looking worried that there’d be a fight, and the red-haired man was also making me a little concerned.
He was tapping his fists against each other and muttering something under his breath.

Thankfully, that son-of-a-bitch also backed away without making a fuss.
I hadn’t planned to clash with him here and now, anyway.

The black-haired young man took us all the way back to the front of the elevator and kindly told the manager to escort us to our new room.

And then,

“Oh, by the way, Princess Thermis.
It’s been a while since then, but we’d met once when you were very young.
I don’t know if you still remember me?”

He left a meaningful sentence behind before departing.

“I am Nergui, the fourth prince of the Skull Empire.”

The newly assigned room was gorgeous enough to make one gape.

I’d thought our old first-class room had been luxurious, but this was in a whole other league.

However, I didn’t have time for that right now.

I was reflecting on the recent events.

I hadn’t noticed because I suddenly got angry and interrupted, but thinking about it, it was odd.

Why did I get so angry?

It was simple.
Because of my sympathy due to the princess’ situation.
Because how irritating the whole thing was.

But that itself was the strangest part.

This wasn’t the kind of development that would appear in a shounen manga.

Let’s say my mission was to keep the princess alive.

If I focused only on that, there was nothing inexplicable about it.
The main goal was to save her.

But the how was the problem.

I kept feeling that something was out of place.
As I myself had said, in the end, the princess was being forced to marry even if she didn’t want to do so.
To survive.

Was I supposed to encourage that? Really? Weren’t adventurers supposed to represent the freedom all children dreamed of?

Of course, this wasn’t a mission given to Leo.
Even in shounen manga, there can be no happy ending for everybody involved, unless it’s the main character who solves the problem.

But nevertheless, the situation kept rubbing me the wrong way.

‘In such a situation, even if she becomes the crown princess, how could she rise to the throne? She’s not familiar with the place, and she’s not even from the imperial bloodline.’

Eventually, I gave up thinking any further.

Searching for an answer by myself wouldn’t give me any results.

So I started doing what I should’ve done right away.


After a while,

“… Are you calling me?”

The princess, who’d been in the other room, poked her head out the door.

“Come, sit.
I have something to discuss.”

The princess came and sat down in front of me without a word.

“Actually, I also had something to say… But, um…”

“Okay, I’ll go first.
Is there no way?”

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“… Huh? What do you mean?”

The princess asked, nonplussed.

“A way to not get married.”

The princess’ eyes filled with surprise.

“… Well, I could run away…”

“Not that.
A way to make even the empire shut up.
A way to avoid becoming an excuse for war.
Isn’t there anything like that?”

There could be.
There had to be.

There had to be one.

Soon after,

“… There is one.”

After some hesitation, the princess finally spoke.

I knew it.

I perked up.

“It makes no sense to tell you.
Because you… you’re the one who wants me to marry.”

“It’s fine, just tell me.”

The princess hesitated again, but then slowly spoke.

“… It’s simple.
I just have to become a warrior of the Skull Empire.”

“Warrior? You mean, join their military?”

“It’s a little different.
Not an ordinary soldier.”

The explanation that followed was perfectly in line with the ‘shounen manga-like development’ I had envisioned.

In the Skull Empire, there is a very special warrior selection test called the ‘Warrior’s Path’.

Those who pass it are given the title, ‘Heart of the Empire’, and the right to choose who they will serve.
At the same time, anybody else cannot force any choice or obligation upon them.
Even the current ‘Khan’, cannot.

It really did exist.
An effective and reasonable solution that an adventurer could pursue.

‘The Warrior’s Path… Come to think of it, there was a setting that this woman went through something like that.’

Of course, I didn’t know how she actually rose to the imperial throne after that… Well, just because it seemed difficult right now didn’t mean there’d be no way in the future, right?

After revealing all this, the princess sighed softly.

“Becoming a warrior was also my original goal, so I also wanted to overcome the situation this way.
If I become a warrior of the empire, the cause behind this war will disappear anyway.
But I thought it wouldn’t be easy.
Without anyone’s protection, I have to break through to the imperial capital all by myself.
What’s more, I’ve already been captured like this…”

“Alright, I’ve decided.
I’ll take you.”

“… What?”

“The Warrior’s Path, right? I’m going to help you enter that.
Of course, it’ll be up to you to actually pass it.”

The princess gaped, blankly.

“… Why?”

“You don’t need to know.
We’re done for now.
Now go, go.”

I didn’t say anything else and shooed the princess away.

It didn’t matter how hard or easy it would be.

I only hoped that this irritation would disappear and a new path would open up.

It was only then that I could start surveying the room properly.

That night.

As the princess had said, it suddenly occurred to me that my plan wouldn’t be particularly easy.

Clang! Tinkle!

A group of people swarmed in through the shattered window.

One, two, four, six, eight… ten in total.

For guests who’d come to a VIP’s room, they had terrible manners.

Not only did they barge in without an invitation, they also weren’t dressed properly, and even committed vandalism.

‘Hey, didn’t they say not to worry about security in a VIP room…’

The assassins’ assault had begun.

Editor’s Notes:

[1] 엉덩이 무거운 (lit.
heavy ass), in this context, lazy people who don’t want to stand up once they sit down.

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