This incident happened on the same day Flora was teleported to the Paladia kingdom .
After staying in Almond for one night, Rio then went towards Proxia the next morning . Naturally his goal was to pursue Lucius’s trail . Though it was still unclear whether Lucius belonged to the Proxia empire or not, even more so as it was that self-proclaimed ambassador of Proxia empire, Reis who said it, he couldn’t ignore that piece of information . The infiltration could be considered a success as long as he could get some information about Lucius from the top brass of the empire .
Rio flew to the empire’s capital Nidgard, located at the centre of the empire, with his wind spirit arts .
Though he stopped at several cities along the way to gather the information about Lucius from famous mercenaries, he couldn’t get any useful information . On the third day after leaving Almond, Rio arrived in Nidgard .
（The castle is far………… . . From the size, this can be considered as a big city . Even if it’s only a self-proclaimed empire . ）
walking on a nearby road towards the city, Rio entered the imperial capital from outside the rampart and looked up at the imperial castle far ahead of him . The imperial castle that was reflected into his eyes was in fact a magnificent and impressive display of power .
But the development of the city outside the rampart where Rio was standing in was disordered and a gloomy atmosphere enveloped the entire city .
（Let’s take a look at the inside of the rampart for now . ）
Rio decided to head for the center of the imperial capital first .
One hour later, after confirming the state of the empire from the street stalls which he stopped by, he arrived in front of one of the gates of the rampart . After paying the tariff, he went into the area inside the rampart .
After entering he could clearly see that the inside and outside of the rampart were like two completely different worlds . Though he was able to see even from outside of the rampart that the living standards rose higher and higher as he got closer to the rampart, the wealthy lifestyle became even more prominent when he stepped inside .
The clothing of the people aside, from the aura of the people inside the rampart and the street stalls that could be seen everywhere, the inside of the rampart was an extremely lively place . Moreover, even while it was filled with neat and tidy buildings, all of it was properly maintained with soldiers patrolling everywhere to protect the citizen’s safety .
Even though there were many cities which had vast gaps between the living environment of outside and inside of their ramparts, a city that showed priority of developing the inside area was rare . As if reflecting the raison d’etre of the former mercenary turned emperor, Nidol Proxia, he built a segregated place emphasising on survival of the fittest .
「………… . Uhn？ 」
Rio felt slightly uncomfortable in seeing the appearance of the grandiose castle in front of him . When he strained his eyes to see the reason for that uncomfortable feeling, he noticed that a cylindrical shaped magic barrier enveloped the entire castle .
（What kind of a barrier is it?）
Rio’s eyes opened wide and a thoughtful expression floated on his face .
In the first place, barrier magic had a complicated structure and it was yet to reach a practical level with the level of magic engineering in the Strahl region . Though some countries managed to reach a semi-practical level by analyzing a part of ancient magic tools, it still had a fault, namely the power source to maintain the barrier . So the current civilization of the Strahl region had no choice but to abandon this research theme when it came to large scale magic barriers . At the very least it was used for the protection of an important person .
But now, the magic barrier that enclosed the entire imperial castle was obviously a large scale one . Though the level was still a far cry from the one used by the Seirei no tami, this level of magic engineering was obviously at the top in the Strahl region .
（The effect is to detect intruders but……………… . . Such a bothersome effect . There might be another one as well . There are even patrolling guards during the daytime that check the barrier . Better to wait till it’s dark then . ）
Rio frowned, as expected ―― He thought that there might be a relationship between this barrier and Reis, thus he heaved a sigh . Though he wanted to sneak into the castle, that alone might prove to be too troublesome .
Later, Rio arranged his stay at an inn and decided to gather some more information regarding the situation inside the castle so that it won’t come back to bite him later on .
◇ ◇ ◇
In the end he got no important information at all . Though he would have been able to do a more thorough investigation if he were to spend a few more days in this place, the probability of him getting more information without any assistance was low .
As a result, Rio chose the high risk high return method . Late at night when all the citizens of the imperial capital had fallen asleep, wearing black clothes, he secretly slipped out of his inn through the windows . His target was the rampart ―― Climbing some walls he went ahead without meeting any kind of problem . The imperial capital at night was extremely quiet, especially in the residential area . There were almost no people walking outside aside from the patrolling soldiers .
After going a bit further in, from a certain point closer to the imperial castle, after leaving the noble district, he came out to the paved plaza which commanded a great view of the townscape when the scenery was interrupted . The plaza before him was hidden by the massive wall of the imperial castle . Rio stopped his gait right before entering the plaza .
（They built a watch fire and there are many soldiers going around . The range of the barrier is also precisely calculated to be just right to hide the castle . Should I take a look around the castle for the time being?）
Despite being low, there was still a possibility that this barrier had a crack . So Rio decided to go around the range of the barrier that enveloped the castle . First he looked for an opening at ground level .
The gap he was looking for did not exist . At the very least, an infiltration from the ground was impossible .
Thus he was left with no choice but to try to infiltrate from the sky to see whether it’ll be obstructed or not . Nevertheless, he wanted to avoid infiltrating from the sky as much as possible . Due to the type of the barrier, he would be discovered at the same time as he infiltrated the area within the barrier . He was left with no choice but to infiltrate via the sky however .
Rio’s body slowly rose from the ground till he reached a height that was higher than the barriers range . After rising some distance from the ground, he took a better look at the castle from above . There, he noticed…
（There’s a faint crack at the top part of the barrier . It might be a trap but………………）
Perhaps due to a lack of magic power, he finally discovered a gap on the top part of the barrier .
He thought he needed to study the nature of the barrier as it could be taken as a trap as well, but his potential ambusher might be aiming for that opening .
But then, there were no other routes for infiltrating aside from this one . He shouldn’t have missed any routes except for those that are secret and known only by a select few .
The matter of planning to make a new infiltration route would take too long and currently he could only find this gap which might be fixed by tomorrow .
After hestitating for a while――、
（Let’s try to enter then . ）
He decided to enter by using that gap . He knew the risks of this choice from the very beginning and he had already decided to go as far as torturing if that meant getting the information he needed . There was no time for hesitation as someone inside the castle might know the whereabouts of Lucius .
Since there were numerous soldiers patrolling inside the garden, he descended on top of the roof and entered the castle from there under the cover of night . First he needed to grasp the structure inside the castle as much as possible . Rio went into the castle through a window of an unused room . He confirmed that no one was around while being on high alert for the patrolling soldiers . As he started walking carefully――、
（There is………… . . No one? It doesn’t look like there are detection type magic tools either . ）
Rio was amazed in seeing the fact that there were no soldiers patrolling inside the castle at all .
An eerie sensation was permeating the insides of the castle that was enveloped by total darkness and total silence . He strained his eyes but was unable to find any trace of detection magic being used .
（Even though so many soldiers are waiting outside………… . . It really is a trap huh?）
Rio considered such a possibility for a moment but, seeing the eerie silence inside the castle, he thought that he might be overthinking things . And yet, he couldn’t dismiss the uneasiness in his heart . Without anyone patrolling inside the castle, the situation looked as if designed to invite him to go even further .
But Rio shook his head and decided to investigate the castle for a while longer . Though there were no soldiers patrolling, he was being very careful and did not let his guard down .
Furthermore, even though the imperial castle had several mansions inside, the current location was the upper part of the main castle ―― With some buildings that were mainly used for the administration of military affairs, offices, the throne room and a conference room .
Though normal castles should have soldiers stationed inside the castle, maybe because no one was inside, he felt almost no sign of life inside the castle .
（Let’s try looking at the lower floors then . If there’s no one, then try another building . ）
Maybe the nobles working in the castle or the royalties―― might be resting inside one of the buildings .
As long as he successfully infiltrated, he would be able to get as much information as he wanted from the people inside . Rio’s current target was not the moving soldiers, but the people living inside the building . Since the people staying there might be big shots, there was a high chance of him hitting the jackpot .
As it was possible for someone else other than soldiers to be inside the most conspicuous looking building, he decided to infiltrate it . But he still couldn’t feel any signs of humans inside the tightly locked rooms .
In the end, Rio decided to advance towards the lower floors .
Since it was common sense not to build pathways on the first and second floors connecting to other buildings, entrances were usually installed on the third floor which connected to the entrance of another mansion by bridge .
In Rio’s case, although he could sneak in through the windows as he could fly, he decided against it and walked as he checked inside the buildings . He advanced very carefully as if trying to blend in with the darkness .
As he was exploring he found a soldier standing guard on a bridge connected to another mansion . There were 5 bridges in total that connected one mansion to another . 4 amongst them were guarded by soldiers .
It was an unwelcoming news for those trying to infiltrate, but Rio felt relieved instead in seeing that soldier . Nevertheless, he quickly made a plan of how to quickly cross those bridges .
（Is the defence being neglected due to them being undermanned? He might know the structure of the building too . This situation is screaming trap but………… . ）
He decided to search the buildings that had less lookouts . Though the possibilities of someone being that negligent was really low, as long as he could grasp the structure, it would be useful in the long run .
Thus, Rio quickly moved towards the bridge as silent as possible . After crossing the bridge…
（What the……………… . heck is this place? A training field? Or, an arena?）
It had an arena-like circular structure . With the ceiling fully open, the moonlight shined down on it . The place where Rio was standing at right now was above the audience room . The neatly evened out wide ground spread below him .
（Well, there might be no soldiers guarding this place . There’s no need for me to investigate the inside structure of this place . ）
Rio lost interest and was about to turn around and leave when――,
「!!!!! ? 」
Rio, whose senses had been raised to the maximum with spirit arts since the beginning of the infiltration, sensed a faint sign . The next moment, Rio was already moving closer to the source of that sign .
He practically jumped from that place in panic . ――,
「Hou, so you sensed the faint sign that was left when I hid in the dark huh? Excellent! You’re the sole intruder who has managed to come this far within the barrier . My name is Nidol Proxia . The emperor of this empire . Welcome to my castle, O insolent intruder . 」
Standing there was the self-proclaimed founding emperor of the Proxia empire―― A rock-like man with a bright smile on his face .