Chapter 21: The status window opened on the first day of enrollment (V)
Confirmation bias, a term signifying the inclination to selectively choose information in line with one’s views, becomes irresistible once doubt sets in. Enrique’s situation mirrors this pattern.
“There’s something off with him.”
For three days, she has been lurking and digesting intel.
When they initially joined the assassination group, Enrique instilled in her disciples the virtue of ‘patience’—to stand firm regardless of weather, insects, and observe the target. However, the extent to which Ivan takes this goes beyond what Enrique intended.
Unlike herself, a vampire with no inherent hostility as long as she avoids sunlight or blessings, Enrique, being human, has basic needs like sleep, meals, and rest. Enrique squinted at Ivan and sighed deeply.
Taking care of someone his age, especially at this age, feels like a cruel joke.
Ivan stood there like a statue, completely focused and unresponsive to distant voices.
His eyes’ movement reveals an ongoing monologue. Enrique shrugged, shoved her hands into her sleeves.
She fired the gun, a perfect shot with no unnecessary movement. A precise shot to the back of the head, no shake.
Ivan dodged, tilting his head and leaping off the tree with an axe in hand.
“Yeah, kid. Let’s get out of here. Gunshots can attract unwanted attention. We’ll go to your place.”
“I’m in a bit of a bind right now.”
“I’m in a lot of trouble. Elise will cry again if she finds out. Let’s visit your orphanage while we’re at it.”
Enrique grabbed Ivan’s collar tightly and dragged him away. Ivan glanced at her face and put the axe back.
The grandmaster is a quirky woman, slightly crazy, but not one to make frivolous remarks. Thus, they aimed to uncover the urgent matter. Ivan smoothly escaped from Enrique’s arms and walked ahead.
“The place may be a bit messy.”
“Yeah, yeah. Let’s go for now.”
A while later, Enrique stepped into Ivan’s orphanage.
Her first impression was bewilderment.
“Are you really not raising an assassination squad?”
“It’s a misunderstanding.”
Enrique looked around blankly. From very young ones to those about to graduate, little ones wandered about, but there was no sound of footsteps. Even in her organization, such discipline was hard to find. Enrique let out a disappointed laugh.
“If you have a special curriculum, share it with me. I also want kids like them.”
“Just provide a regular lifestyle and a nutritionally balanced diet.”
“You’re talking crazy, you son of a bitch.”
Enrique chuckled and resumed walking, then stopped again.
“What’s that? Is it a demon?”
“Enough…! Do you really know that if this gets exposed, you, him, and this place will all die?”
Ivan shrugged. In the distance, Icarus was teaching something to the kids.
One of the kids ran up to him and drove a fist into his side. It was a remarkable thing. A melee backstabbing surprise on a centurion who had been rolling on the battlefield for thirty years.
The child cheered and ran off again, disappearing from sight in an instant.
“Everyone deserves a chance to live like a human.”
Listening to Ivan’s words, Enrique squinted. Ironically, for a topic about embracing demons, the children were attempting to launch another surprise attack against Icarus.
Ivan silently opened the door to the director’s office. The dimly lit room behind the curtain was dark.
Enrique was about to take a step forward but stopped. Thin tripwires extended just in front of her.
Dozens of them. Like spiderwebs, they were revealed in a single ray of sunlight through the curtain.
“What is all this…?”
Even without light, vampires have a sense of the shadow. It means that indoor spaces cannot be concealed with blackout curtains.
Tripwires, well, you can overlook them as obsessive security measures.
“Seriously, what have you been doing with your life?”
Ivan dismantled the tripwires without saying a word. Undoing the traps hanging on each line, he touched the lights in the corners of the director’s office.
Click, and the magical lamps emitted a blue light, illuminating the room.
The interior was a mess.
Dozens of stacks of documents. Someone’s profile written densely in neat handwriting. Notes with names and the red thread connecting them.
In this entangled web, inevitably inserted notes revealed ordinary dialogues—ordinary, yet not the kind that should be present. Engaging in conversation, predicting tone, making inferences about the meaning and changes in tone, and deducing the origin of the speaker based on the tone. Even when tracking international criminals under the Red Alert of the Intelligence Headquarters, this level of effort wouldn’t be expended, and all of this was done by him—alone, without sleep for days.
Enrique’s face gradually hardened. This situation, this appearance, this behavior—all of it was familiar to her. This was a trace of some mental illness, a kind close to panic attacks, perhaps even longer. Among those who spent a long time on the battlefield, it’s occasionally seen, not a very common kind but precarious like a time bomb. Even now, in Frechenkaya, there are streets filled with drug addicts who, among combat veterans, roam around in such a state.
Enrique took a deep breath.
Ivan’s face remained expressionless. It seemed clear what kind of face he was making under that dense beard. Naturally, he seemed completely oblivious to anything abnormal.
“When was the last time you slept?”
“… About a week ago, it seems.”
The last time he slept, he was having a nightmare between the stacks of documents. It was a truly dreadful feeling, and since then, he deliberately refrained from sleeping—one might call it superhuman willpower. But Enrique looked at him with a bitter gaze.
“Tell me. What is all this? Until Dmitri asked me to check on you, I thought you were trying to protect the kids.”
It seemed obvious since he only seemed to be chasing after hero party members, and that was appreciated. It meant that even after retirement, he was genuinely concerned about the kids, willing to step up personally. But the traces seen here suggested otherwise.
“Who are you trying to catch? The terrorist from Jan’s University?”
“Tell me. Just be honest. I can tell by now; you’re hiding something. Tell me everything, my disciple.”
Enrique tightly held Ivan’s hand and looked into his eyes with a somber expression. For someone who had lived for over a century, there was as much persuasiveness in the weight of time. Ivan met her desperate gaze, sighed, and after a moment, his mouth opened.
It was a grand confession.
If, by some chance, there is such a person—someone who left the place they lived, leaving behind all familiar faces and landed in an entirely new world, just like that. So, for example— as if falling into a world from a novel they liked so much, staying up all night reading, and dozing off, only to find themselves dropped into that novel’s world in their dream.
No matter how hard they try, the dream doesn’t wake up, and the world still feels like a story from the novel. Not wanting to die or wanting to go back, they try everything they can. Fortunately, they seem to have talents that allow them to adapt well. After experiencing everything until the last page of the novel, such a person might think: Why doesn’t it end?
Maybe there are different conditions. If suicide is the most plausible solution, considering it for a few years while observing the situation. In the meantime, one person suddenly appears, perhaps an outsider from the same hometown.
Now they think something like this: Is this world really nothing more than a world in a novel? Are all the things I’ve experienced just the prologue of a novel? Does that person’s novel even have my name on one page? If so, what if. If you were to meet your end, what form would it take? Tragedy? Comedy? No, before that. Am I and my life just a prelude to a single line of history? Merely characters waiting to be brought to life in a newly unfolding story.
Such thoughts. Increasingly chaotic, yet with a gaze filled with certainty, he continued to face his mentor, even explaining it in a way that an old-fashioned person from the pre-modern era could understand, with as much kindness as possible.
“So… to summarize… you’re actually a reincarnator.”
“And you recently confirmed that there’s one more.”
“And you need to kill that guy.”
“Well, disciple, your logic is surprisingly sound.”
Enrique sighed deeply, splashed some cold water on her face, and leaned against the sofa for a moment, gazing at the ceiling. For goodness’ sake, even the ceiling had notes stuck on it. It was a wonder how they were attached.
“I have a lot to say, but I should start with an apology. I thought you both were Climber of Demon King’s Tower.” She had spent so much time with this boy that she had naturally assumed he had also climbed the tower.
“The Demon King’s Tower?”
“Yeah. Strangely, we all thought both of you as part of the same party, but thinking about it, it wasn’t the case. We didn’t even mention it because we assumed it was something you already knew.” It was Enrique’s mistake. In fact, it was everyone’s mistake. Excusing it by saying they didn’t know his condition was meaningless. It was tantamount to neglecting him, despite calling him a disciple.
“Max isn’t a Tylessian.”
“Does that mean he’s from a different country? But…”
“No. Listen to me first. Max… Maximilian. That guy is not from this world.” Enrique looked Ivan straight in the eyes, enunciating each word as if trying to carve them into his mind.
“You’re not the first. You won’t be the last either.”
Despite casually referring to him as a “reincarnator” following this guy’s words more comfortably, to be more accurate, these were not reincarnators but rather “those who were drawn.”
In other words, individuals who popped up here and there, one or two at a time, whenever the world tilted a bit, like seasoning added to a chaotic world. They weren’t a common occurrence, but a couple would inevitably emerge over a century.
These individuals emerged and disappeared, doing “something” in the chaotic world, trying to spice things up, and then vanishing. Enrique knew such individuals. She had even seen some of them. Maximilian, that guy, was also one of them. A common person who yearned for their hometown but, impressively, headed towards the battlefield.
So, Enrique, even as a vampire herself, had followed his lead. He was that kind of person. Standing in front of everyone with a smile, making everyone follow him. A hero, a warrior, a demon king slayer, and just an ordinary man. The foreigner who remained lonely until the end. Now, he had disappeared. That man was remembered by Enrique as such. The brave foreigner who drew his sword to protect a common girl he took in from Tylesse. A courageous stranger.
“That’s why we don’t say that heroes are ‘born,’ do we? We say they ‘appeared.'”