It was underground, out of the reach of the outside world’s light . Only some pale, and dim artificial light sources were lighting up the place .
Moreover, those sources’ original purpose was not to give off light, they were pods filled with a solution that just happened to give off a glow . The pods were arranged in line at a regular interval, and most of them had ―― human bodies in them .
There were no common points between the ages and genders of the bodies, if there had to be any common points to mention, it would that they were all naked and unconscious . And there was one other common feature that one couldn’t tell based on their appearance, they were all from the Stellar tribe .
Cutting through the atmosphere of that dark, ominous space were the sounds of weapons clashing and flashing . Each time the weapons turned, the pale lights were reflected on their blades .
The real source of those lights and sounds were a young man and a young lady who were crossing blades with each-other .
The young man, who had slightly purple hair, was holding in his hands a long spear, as long as his own body’s height . Even a grown adult would be unlikely to be able to wield the spear like the youth did, freely manipulating it while taking into account the spear’s weight and centrifugal force .
The weapon of the young woman facing him was a scimitar that she held in a reverse grip . The sword was already short as it was, let alone when compared to a spear . Moreover, even for a scimitar, the blade was quite short and it had a large curvature . And yet, despite being in such a disadvantageous situation, the young woman, who was holding the scimitar with both of her hands, was actually rivaling against the young man and was making many more attack moves than he did .
However, in contrast to that intense battle, both of them were fighting with expressionless faces devoid of emotions . They had no fear of pain or death, nor did they have any killing intent to show their will to kill each other . They were so indifferent that it almost looked as if they were apathetically carrying out some simple task .
Observing them as they did so was the owner of this place, Justus Freund .
Upon being given a certain signal by Justus who had been looking at the scene for a while, the two young people halted their extremely fierce fight and all their movements, as if they were robots who had received a command to stop their actions .
【”……That was so-so . Their fighting ability has room for improvement…”】
Justus had rather not continue developing them right now, not wanting to end up reducing the number of bodies he had in hand . Though the output of their strength was insufficient to start up the device, putting more efforts in getting more members of the stellar tribe would waste too much time . But there was someone who was fit to support those two, and Justus believed that if he put that someone in charge of managing them, then there would be no problem .
Having come to that conclusion, Justus decided to apply his decision to the development he was working on . If that person was able to get their abilities up to Justus’ expected standards, then it would show that his actions followed Justus’ wishes .
The moment Justus was longing for was finally coming . That was what he remained more than ten years in the dark for .
He was finally reaching the point where he could realize his dearest wish . Justus spontaneously leaked a laugh out of his mouth .
【”Hehehe, just a little bit… Just a little bit more until I can meet you… Just you wait . ”】
Justus looked at an empty space with an ecstatic expression on his face . And his usually calm and almost emotionless voice was now quite differently filled with madness .
And so, the despair brought upon by the total destruction of the world was secretly starting to come to life .
Right now, there was a child in front of Harold . More accuaretly, it was a very recently born baby .
Of course, it wasn’t Harold’s child . Sleeping soundly in his crib, was Huey, Harold’s younger brother born of a different mother .
Harold got to know of Huey’s existence shortly after returning from the celebration of the engagement between Itsuki and Silvie held at the Berlioz family’s residence . In one of the letters that Harold’s father regularly sent him to persuade him to reconsider the break off of his engagement with Erica, he added one sentence【”Your little brother was just born, so come by to see him one of these days . ”】
Upon reading his letter, Harold first admired him for being energetic despite being almost fifty years old, but when he thought about it carefully, he, who was originally supposed to be the Stokes household’s heir, had a bad reputation that was spread far and wide and had selfishly broken his engagement, so it was only natural that his father would get another son as an insurance, just in case .
Although it was a rare concurrence, it was allowed within the kingdom for nobles to get a concubine, and his wife, Jessica, was already over forty years old . In consideration of her health and the child’s, perhaps making an heir with a concubine instead was a reasonable choice .
Putting that aside . Harold believed that, if he were to return home now, his father Hayden would certainly nag him, once again trying to persuade him not to break his engagement . Besides, even if he were to survive until the end of the game’s story, Harold didn’t know how the Stokes family would do .
Though some parts of this world were different from the game, fundamentally, it was still very similar to『Brave Hearts』’s world . Although the LP farming method had made some profits for them, there was no change to Harold’s parents’ pure-blooded principles and the behavior that came with it, leading them to oppress their population . No matter how Harold thought about it, there was a high probability that their household would be crushed .
Therefore, in case he survived until the end of the game’s story and yet was still unable to return to his former world, Harold had considered the idea of leaving the household and throwing away the name Harold Stokes .
Fortunately, he had obtained strength that would make it easy for him to make a living as an adventurer or a mercenary .
Therefore, he had no interest in doing something as troublesome as voluntarily going back there, however, as Harold worried about that and looked at his brother, he realized something and froze up on the spot .
If the Stokes household was crushed and Harold left it, what would happen to Huey, who was only a newborn? He would be left in the street, and at worst, he would likely die .
The original Harold had no younger brother . He might have had one, but at least, there was certainly no depiction of such a setting within the game . In other words, there was no denying the possibility that Huey was born due to Harold’s actions that differed from the game’s story .
And even if it wasn’t for that, his brother was his brother no matter who his mother was . That’s how Harold felt in the part of his emotions that had no regard for reason .
Done with his worrying, Harold dealt with negotiating with Justus and got permission to return to his home for a few days, and so, Harold went back to the Stokes’ mansion after five years of absence . And as expected, he ended up receiving a huge scolding from his father and kept fending off his words for over an hour, until he finally got to meet with Huey .
But, standing on the other side of the crib, there was also a woman, Huey’s mother and Hayden’s concubine . She looked young and was probably of the same generation as Yuno . It looked like there was a difference of over 20 years between Hayden and her .
She did come to the rescue of Harold who had no idea what to do when Huey got unsettled, but, except for the exchange of greetings she had at the very start, she was silent from beginning to end, and it seemed like she did not intend to launch the conversation herself .
It wasn’t clear whether this was because she was nervous, terribly reserved, or simply because she did not like Harold .
So Harold tried to come in contact with her to test the grounds .
【”You’re called Dorothy, right?”】
【”Yes . ”】
【”How old are you??”】
【”I’ll soon be 25 years old . ”】
She was much older than Harold . So it would have been only natural if she looked down on him a little, and yet it seemed like Dorothy had chosen to use honorifics with him and to talk politely . Harold could not figure out whether that was normal or not .
In the first place, he was troubled enough not knowing in the slightest what kind of stance he should take while interacting with her . From Harold’s point of view, her stand as his father’s lover was fine enough already, but she was married in the family register so she could also be said to be his mother-in-law .
However, his father’s wife Jessica was also live and well so perhaps it was more accurate to say Dorothy was just his second woman? If that was really what she was considered to be, then Harold was not familiar with what that position represented in the hierarchy and was confused as to how to communicate with her . Harold’s mindset was still largely similar to the one from modern-day Japan .
【”You chose to give the favor of being a noble’s concubine at that age, huh . Did your family throw you away?”】
Contrarily to his mind that was hesitating to talk, his mouth was completely straightforward . And Dorothy also answered without a problem .
【”I wasn’t married and it was too late for me to get married, so I am alright with it . ”】
According to Dorothy’s words, it seemed like she was a former young noble miss from somewhere, but her family had a falling business and had to sell their title of nobility so as not to become poor to the point of not being able to live . Though around ten years had passed since they had reluctantly passed from being aristocrats to being simple commoners, they still were not able to stop their downfall towards extreme poverty .
And at that time, a proposal was made towards Dorothy . Dorothy’s father had jumped on this occasion . Apparently, the effect of that proposal made it so that the Stokes family took care of Dorthy’s family’s financial difficulties, therefore allowing them to regain their noble title, which they had sold off .
It was in gratitude for that favor that Dorothy became Hayden’s concubine . She was basically sacrificed .
Because Hayden had used such vicious methods to have his way with her against her will, she probably did not have good thoughts about him, or even about Harold, who was the reason why Hayden took her to the household . Even when it came to Harold’s engagement with Erica, Hayden had never resorted to any methods that went as far as that proposal .
Well, given the high importance Hayden attached to noble blood and given how Dorothy was a “former noble”, that proposal was likely the result of his maximum and ultimate concession .
In any case, Harold’s heart was full of apologies for Huey and Dorothy .
【”Humph, look, your thoughts are of no interest to me . As long as you don’t annoy me, do as you like . ”】
Though he wanted to transmit those feelings of his ever so slightly, it was an impossible wish for him to put them into words properly . However, Harold was concerned about the future education of Huey, who was going to be raised in such a household, and especially about his future views regarding the commoners . As he worried about that, Harold looked at his younger brother’s sleeping face from the side, and finally left the room .
Although Harold had yielded to temptation and had come to meet Huey, it could not be said to be a good encounter for the emotional side of Harold . Watching people who were thrown around at the convenience of their families and surroundings was obviously depressing for him, especially since he was part of the cause behind that .
And if the household were to fall to ruin, Dorothy, who was married to the Stokes family, would also go through hardships once again . Due to Harold’s actions, it was almost decided that the destiny of Huey and Dorothy was to be unhappy .
But that was only as long as Harold stayed true to his plans to desert the Stokes’ household .
(What should I do?)
The downfall of the Stokes’ household was not necessary for Harold . He was just thinking that it would be fine since it was supposed to happen anyway if the flow of the game’s story was thoroughly followed . That was why Harold was considering leaving the household and did not feel the need to make a move or do anything about its ruin .
It could be said that he could not afford to worry too much about the household as he had rather focus completely on protecting himself .
However, because of Harold repeatedly acting against the world’s original story, a change had occurred in the situation .
There was no particular meaning to helping Dorothy and Huey . If he just discarded the issue as being someone else’s problem, that would be the end of the matter .
Though he understood that in his mind, Harold could not bring himself to be ruthless enough to abandon those with an unhappy future for the sake of his own future . He could not choose that method even though it would make things much easier for him . In a word, he was soft .
That day eight years ago, Harold had reprimanded Erica, telling her her kindness made her too soft, but he did not have the qualifications to say that .
But that didn’t mean obstructing the collapse of the Stokes family would necessarily have a bad effect on Harold’s death flags . Perhaps that was an irresponsible thing to say, but it was the goal he had determined for himself and that he would do his best to accomplish .
But he still couldn’t do the impossible . It would be good if as a result of his efforts he could help Dorothy and Huey avoid the unhappiness that was going to visit them . If he found himself unable to do that, then at that time, he’d think of what to do next .
Besides, Harold also had some vague feelings towards his family . Harold wasn’t the type of person who was very fond of discrimination, but despite that flaw of theirs, Harold’s family had raised him with great care so far, and he was quite thankful to his parents who did not abandon him, even when the people of the world turned their backs on him .
He believed it would be best if the Stokes family could survive .
Though that was going to give Harold some new issues to carry on his shoulders, the more occupied he was, the less time he had to be worried .
The next day after arriving at his parents’ house, Harold received a summon as a message on the machine attached to his wrist . Naturally, the sender was Justus . Unable to take his leisure time, Harold directly returned back to the research center and unwillingly dragged his feet towards Justus’ location .
The time when the game’s story would start was very close . Harold wanted Justus to avoid giving him missions that were too time consuming if possible .
While thinking so, Harold entered inside Justus’ laboratory without knocking . That was the standard procedure whenever he entered the room, for Justus himself had complained that answering the door every time was troublesome .
Harold had put himself on guard, not knowing what to expect . And he was right, for Justus was not the only one who had been waiting for him, as there were also a young man and a young woman, that Harold had never seen, in the room .
The young man with purple hair was probably around 20 years old, and the young woman, who had light blue hair, was probably 17 or 18 . Both of them were expressionless, as if they had no emotions .
Without giving Harold the time to ask who they were, Justus skipped over any explanations and solely declared the role that Harold had to play .
【”Harold, you’ll be the leader of these kids . ”】
Harold responded by reflex, unable to understand the meaning behind Justus’ words . What did he mean by leader? Or rather, who were these two people?
If he wasn’t under Justus’ control, he would have immediately refused, however, that was not an option . Either way, for now, the priority was to clear out any doubts Justus had about him .
【”What’s with them?”】
【”They’re dolls of my own design . ”】
【”Playing with dolls at your age? That’s quite a weird hobby . ”】
【”There is more to them than just being dolls . They are faithful servants that follow any commands given to them . ”】
【”……Did you brainwash them?”】
【”Well, something like that . The people of the Stellar tribe can use some unique magic, they have special organs that allow them to use astral bodies in a different way than we do . While making them into dolls, I removed the unnecessary parts, such as emotions and the like . But although I’m saying I removed them, I didn’t completely eliminate them, I just made it so that they wouldn’t appear on the surface…”】
Although Justus was giving a long lecture, Harold’s consciousness was gradually straying away .
Dolls that obeyed orders, stellar tribe, removed emotions .
By assembling those key words, a hypothesis assembled itself within Harold’s mind . He had a very bad premonition .