— Gallia Fortress, Barrack’s Cafeteria.
In the corner of the soldier-filled cafeteria, a young man let out a deep sigh. The young man’s name was Ashton Zenefilda. He’d been enrolled in one of the most prestigious schools within the Kingdom and held a good score to match. He was exempted from conscription due to his great potential. But after the Kingdom’s successive defeats, his exemption was revoked, and here he was, on the frontline.
Ashton was pessimistic.You could say that he was already in despair now. For those who never held a sword or spear before, Gallia Fortress was like a deathtrap. Like already having one foot in the grave. No matter how much he trained, he believed that he’d die the moment he stepped onto the battlefield.
Sitting next to Ashton was a girl happily munching away on a bread. The tears trickling down her cheeks were like clear streams glowing across white clean land. Ashton had never seen such a pretty girl in his life before. When the girl had finally finished her bread, she stared at her empty tray In contrast, Ashton’s tray still held an untouched piece of bread.
(“I guess she’s not satisfied yet? Maybe I can give her my bread… No, it’s not like my i’ve fallen for her or something, but times like this—“)
That was the excuse Ashton made for himself, but then his eyes met with hers.
“Hey, hey, do you want to eat my bread or something? Its not because I have feelings for you or something along those lines, We haven’t even talked to each other for god’s sake.”
“Really? Thank you very much. You are truly a kind human!”
(“Uwaa, her voice is unexpectedly cu- Nn? Kind human?”)
He felt a bit uncomfortable with how the girl referred to him, but Ashton offered the bread to the girl still. She grinned as she received the bread, displaying clean white teeth, then proceeded to immediately fill her mouth with the bread.
“… Are you saying the bread is delicious?”
The girl muttered to herself upon getting what she wanted. While seeing her delighted appearance, Ashton leaned closer to her in curiosity. Compared to the bread sold in the Capital City, the bread here was harder and bumpier. It wasn’t that tasty, to begin with. Even compared to those sold just outside the capital, it was a much lower quality.
“It may be rude to say this to someone who thinks that is delicious, but the bread here honestly isn’t that delicious.”
Seeing her amazed over such a trivial thing, Ashton felt a sense of superiority.
“Yeah. The bread sold within the capital is much more delicious. Its crispy on the outside, but soft on the inside. But we’re currently short on food, so it’s hard to get delicious bread nowadays.”
“Eeh, is that so? For me, this is the first time I’ve ever eaten bread. But this bread is also really delicious. It’s been mentioned so many times in the books. I have always wanted to eat it for once.”
The girl said so while staring longingly at the now half-eaten bread in her hands. Ashton spurted out the soup he was eating when he heard. This caused the female soldier sitting across from him to give him an unpleasant look. He quickly apologized to the woman, but his mind was stuck on the girl’s remark.
It was unthinkable that she’d never eaten bread before. Whether it was the most rural area, there should still be people selling bread.
This must’ve been a joke.
He immediately thought so. Ashton waited for the punchline. However, the girl merely continued to much on the bread. She showed no intention to continue talking. Only then, Ashton realized that she meant every word.
“… Hey you, if this is the first time you ate bread, just where are you from?”
“About that, I’m from the Gate of the Underworld deep inside the forest. Do you know about it?”
When asked, Ashton immediately searched his memories. Although he was not a great swordsman, he prided himself upon reading lots of books and his accumulated bank of knowledge. Gate of the Underworld, Gate of the Underworld. Ashton kept repeating it within his heart.
But he didn’t know whether that “gate of the Underworld” the girl had mentioned truly existed.
“– Sorry. I guess I’m not as knowledgeable as I thought.”
“I see. Well, I lived there for a long time myself, but honestly, I know very little about it.”
Then the girl laughed without a care in the world. She then rose from her chair and took her empty tray along.
“Thank you for the bread. Can you tell me your name?”
“Ha, ah, yeah. My name is Ashton.”
Being suddenly asked for his name, Ashton quickly answered.
“So, it’s Ashton. I’m Olivia. Let’s meet again if we have the chance.”
After she spoke, Olivia left while she waved a hand over her back. While Ashton was entranced by Olivia’s long silvery hair – that reached down to her waist – someone pulled a chair up next to him. They tapped on his shoulder wildly. When Ashton turned, a blond man with a flirtatious smile entered his vision.
It was Morris, someone who came to the fortress around the time Ashton did.
As for his story, Morris was also deprived of his “exemption” and was sent to this very same deathtrap as Ashton. And just like Ashton, he also wasn’t good at swordsmanship. So, he and Ashton became regulars in receiving the scolding of their superiors during training.
“Oi oi, Ashton-san. Do you know who that girl was just now?”
“What? I don’t know much about her. Does Morris know something about her?”
MOrris waited for Ashton to ask exactly that and crept closer to his friend. Then, he turned left and right, checking for people who’d overhear. He then spoke quietly.
“This is top secret information, no need to doubt it. A little while ago, there was hearsay about a volunteer coming to apply while bringing a huge bag full of Imperial soldiers’ heads as souvenirs. Remember?”
“I think I heard something like that. However, isn’t that just a rumor?”
“Top secret information” My ass, Ashton snorted. However, Morris instead grinned and shook his head.
“No, that actually happened And that girl you just talked to, was the rumored volunteer – Warrant Officer Olivia.”
“Uee?! That girl is… No, she’s a Warrant Officer?!”
Morris quickly turned himself away upon seeing his overly surprised reaction.
“Don’t be that surprised. Just keep it normal… Well, whatever. Certainly, her applying and being appointed Warrant Officer was a sudden and unusual case.”
“So, it’s not a joke?”
“What do I get from telling lies to you? Besides, telling you the truth is more interesting. So what did you two talk about?”
While he asked, Morris wrapped his arm over Ashton’s shoulders. Ashton paid him no mind, as he knew his friend wouldn’t linger long. Apparently, Morris was also interested in this Warrant Officer.
(“Well, she certainly doesn’t look the part, and she is a very interesting person.”)
Ashton’s mouth parted with a small sigh.
“It’s nothing interesting, we just talked a bit. Like it’s the first time she ate bread, and that she’d been living at some kind of shrine. Just that.”
“She used to live at a shrine, you say? … Perhaps St. Illuminas’ Church…? Could it be that she’s a ‘Magician’?!”
Morris asked with a surprised expression. The St. Illuminas Church was a wide-spread religion that worshiped the goddess Stressia. Its believers were spread throughout the continent. Among these believers, there were those who lived mostly in the church. These people were called “Magicians”; they were feared for their power. It had something about being able to use “magic” that supposedly had disappeared in ancient times.
According to the “White Book” published by the St. Illuminas Church, Goddess Stressia used a powerful spell to create the Duvedirica continent.
(“That’s ridiculous. This isn’t a fairy tale, how can there be magic here? That’s just a fictional story made up by the church. I didn’t know that Morris believed in such a fantastical being.”)
Amused by Morris’s obvious fascination, Ashton added.
“No, she said it was the Gate of the Underworld. The church may not have anything to do about it since this is the first time I’ve heard that name.”
“Even if you asked me that… I still can’t remember a thing about it, so that’s all I can say.”
“… Hm-mm. So, she isn’t related to the church. Well, it’s certainly not interesting anymore.”
Morris removed his arm and left the cafeteria. Apparently, he lost interest once being told she was not related to the church.
(“Could it be, perhaps, Morris is a believer of the church? … Well, not that it’ll make a difference.”)
After letting out a deep sigh, Ashton forced himself to gulp down the remainder of his cold soup