In order to save Millie, the group rode the Elder Dragons to the Church’s headquarters.
There they met Lilishila, cardinal of the Church. She requested Shin to capture Bulk, a fanatic follower of the “Summit Faction”.
Bulk had not only kidnapped Millie, but also imprisoned Hermie, a girl bearing the name of “Holy Woman”.
Shin’s party, acting alongside Lilishila, assaulted Palmirack -the facility serving as the Church’s headquarters- and successfully rescued both Millie and Hermie…
“…what will I do now, you ask?”
“Yes. We could save Lady Hermie thanks to you all. Once this information spreads, all the others who had to endure Bulk’s arrogance will want to thank you.”
About 30 minutes had passed since Hermie and Lilishila had reunited.
It was already well into the night.
The guard knights ran off to convey the word of the Holy Woman’s rescue, while Hermie and Millie were resting in another room, guarded by Wilhelm.
Shin sent a message to Tiera, asking her to come to Palmirack.
Shibaid, guided by a knight, headed to Bulk’s room to collect any remaining submission items, like the “Submission Collars”.
Shin, Schnee, and Lilishila were discussing the rewards in the room assigned to the female cardinal.
Shin didn’t wish for any reward; instead, he wanted to be considered a “mysterious helper”, but Lilishila wouldn’t agree. She strongly argued that the others wouldn’t agree either.
Concerning the efforts spent on this operation, at that point in time the date had changed, thus it was 3 days in total. The only money spent was on lodging fees at the inn. There was no particular expense to be refunded.
What Shin’s party had done was simply infiltrate Palmirack and take down Eline and Bulk.
Shin understood that it was the most important part, but for him it had been an easy feat; that’s why there was such a difference of opinions between him and Lilishila.
Even if they were to receive a reward, something too generous would, on the contrary, make it difficult for them to accept it.
Shin’s name had already begun spreading because of the Balmel defense battle. If he was grandly awarded by the Church here, it would only invite greater trouble their way.
It was too late to say things like “I don’t want to stand out”, but his honest desire was to avoid as many problematic situations as possible.
“I would really appreciate it if you kept my name hidden.”
“Your name? But to me this seems to be a great chance to gain recognition.”
“Our reason for coming here was to save Millie, the rescue of milady Holy Woman was…pardon my bluntness, but it just happened along the way. Besides, after knowing about what Bulk was doing, I’m sure that anyone would have tried to do something, no matter what they could or couldn’t do, without concern for what could be gained or lost…don’t you agree?”
Any proper human being would have been disgusted at Bulk’s actions.
It was the same for Shin’s party, which also happened to have the power to stop Bulk. That’s all there was to it.
“At the very least, is there anything you need? I have asked for your help saying that I would give anything in return. After everything you have done for me, letting you go empty-handed would brand me as ungrateful.”
“Aaah, well, I didn’t mean to say we wouldn’t need anything, so please calm down.”
Shin moved a step back from the slightly too close Lilishila and laughed wryly.
Shin understood well enough that from the standpoint of someone who had been saved, not being able to express gratitude would be hard to bear. Shin was thus thinking about what to ask for as a reward.
“Is there something you need?”
“Yes. There are 3 things we would like to request. First, we would like to collect any remaining collars like the ones used by Bulk. I would like to do so before they pass onto others’ hands, to examine their structure and effects. We would then dispose of them ourselves, and if we can come up with an item to nullify their effects we will offer it to you too, of course.”
Leaving behind items that grant the power to control others would eventually give birth to other Bulks. History itself tells how even holy men and women can succumb to desire.
In addition, there was the necessity to research a method to nullify their effects, other than Shin’s ability. In order to build and test a collar removal item, having the collar themselves was a prerequisite.
The request to hand over items that instantly force others to obey one’s will, would likely be a difficult decision for Lilishila, thus Shin considered it a fitting reward.
“I see, even we are not immune to temptation after all. I shall entrust them to you, Shin-sama. Considering your actions until now, I am positive that you will never use them as Bulk did.”
Contrary to Shin’s expectations, Lilishila accepted his request with ease.
According to Lilishila, Bulk supposedly had other allies within the Church; candidates for the position of “next Bulk” were not scarce. Rather than risk keeping the items, letting a trusted person have them would be better.
Lilishila’s trust towards Shin was deeper than he thought.
“I would truly appreciate it if you get in touch with us, the moment you succeed in creating a collar removal item.”
“It’s quite a problem if I’m the only one able to do something about them, after all.”
Will it be possible to make them? How much time will it take? There were still too many unknowns in the equation, so the topic was closed by agreeing to communicate whenever the desired effect was created.
“What is the second request, then?”
“The second is information. We would like you to tell us everything you know about the Sacred Place. If possible, we would be grateful if you contacted us whenever you learned something new in the future.”
The Sacred Place still hadn’t been researched enough, but if anything had been discovered already, Shin wanted to know in advance. The Church had a great number of believers, so in this head church of Sigurd there was likely a great concentration of information as well.
Information about the Sacred Place was known only to the top members of the guilds; survey missions of its interior sometimes claim the lives of an entire expedition teams. It was that dangerous a location. Information about it was more than worthy to be requested as a reward.
“We have documents with collected information about the Sacred Place. I shall have someone bring them to you. As long as it is within my capabilities, if any new information comes up, you’ll be the first to know.”
“Thank you very much. Our third request concerns the “Summit Faction”. We would like to ask you to find out more about the ritual site Bulk spoke of. It would be great to know where the faction’s base is, but we are more worried about the ritual right now. Because there may be others other than Bulk bringing sacrifices there. ”
The first priority for Shin’s party was to investigate the Summit Faction, as the disappearance of Shin’s support character Filma had not been resolved yet.
It was Shin’s 3rd request, but higher than anything else in priority.
“These are the rewards I am thinking about.”
“Are these three requests really enough? For us they would barely suffice to claim we have repaid you…”
“Well, I thought they were rather large requests, honestly. You don’t need to feel so much obligation, you know?”
Lilishila was serious, yet somehow felt under pressure, so Shin tried to pacify her.
“No, that will not do.”
Lilishila, however, clearly expressed that Shin’s words had not convinced her.
“Please listen. This rescue operation, if it wasn’t for you and your party’s cooperation, would have had no chance of success. If we embarked in it by ourselves, most, if not all of us, would have been killed, Hermie and Millie would have been sacrificed, while I and the other women would have probably become their playthings.”
Lilishila spoke clearly and firmly. If Shin’s party had not joined their struggle, that future would have been almost certainly inevitable.
Wilhelm alone too, would not have been able to enter Sigurd before Bulk’s entourage left the city.
There would have been no one able to subdue Konig or Eline; in addition, with Hermie equipped with the submission collar, there was no possible way for Lilishila to emerge victorious.
There was even the possibility for the whole Church to fall under Bulk’s control.
Because of all this, Shin’s appearance was a true miracle for Lilishila; it wasn’t strange that they saw it as a message from god.
“When I said I would give you anything, I included my own self. And this is why.”
“I said those words because I was ready for anything. Please understand.”
“Oh, I see, so that’s what you meant…”
Shin fretted, expecting a phrase like “I give my own body to you” to come out, but was relieved when it didn’t.
You saved my life, thus now I am yours. A common occurrence in some fantasy fictional works.
Shin, however, was not the type of person to happily accept an offer like that.
“Allow us to ask for your help when something happens, then. We aren’t omnipotent, after all. The first request can probably be taken care of easily, so for the time being we would be grateful if you could focus on locating the Summit Faction’s base of operations and the ritual site Bulk talked about.”
“Understood, we will gather all the information we can. Whenever you may need our help, please say so without hesitation.”
Shin told the enthusiastic Lilishila to contact the Golden Company if they learned something. Lilishila was surprised at Shin’s connection to the Golden Company, but immediately nodded with a serious expression.
“I think that’s all for now.”
“If that is really all, it would be no problem if you desired me too.”
“Er, I’m not sure why we are going back to that topic…I will not, of course?”
As the phrase he thought he had dodged came out of Lilishila’s lips, Shin’s face muscles stiffened.
“The women alongside you are an Elf and a High Elf. Female Elves never join parties with men, unless they deeply trust and are comfortable around them…and it seems they are with you, Shin-sama, so I thought you had that kind of relationship. You like elves don’t you? I’m an elf too, you know.”
“You’ve got it all wrong!! Aaahhhhhhhh!!!!”
So screamed Shin in the depths of his heart.
Shin had no idea about the difficulties of female elves in joining parties with males. Knowing that someone aware of it would think he made himself an elf harem was a small shock.
“Anyway! As far as men are concerned, there’s Shibaid too! Why do you pair only me with those two?”
“Just a maiden’s intuition. Although, it is more than clear to whom Lady Yuki’s affections are directed.”
Lilishila stated with confidence and a smile.
Shin was quite troubled by her sudden change in personality. Lilishila probably thought that continuing to discuss the rewards would have inconvenienced him. In other words, the serious discussions were over.
“I-Is that so…er, Yuki, why are you sticking so close to me…?”
“I’m keeping watch.”
“You don’t say…”
Yuki – the disguised Schnee – had slipped very close to Shin, no one knew when. It wasn’t clear if her answer to Shin’s question was serious or in jest.
“Hehe, you two get along so well. I’m envious.”
Lilishila’s expression while speaking to them was of someone enjoying a heartwarming scene.
Lilishila’s warm look, so different than before, made Shin feel slightly uncomfortable.
Only one thought came across his mind: “What the heck is this situation?”
While Shin and company were discussing “rewards”, Wilhelm was guarding Hermie, Millie and Konig, who were recently released from the submission type item, in the neighbouring room.
Bulk was detained, however, he wasn’t the only dangerous individual within the Church. There was no guarantee that individuals, who operate in a dishonest fashion, wouldn’t move and take advantage of this situation.
“You should be able to go home soon, right?”
“Since Will-nii and Shin-nii is here, everything will be alright!”
Millie was in high spirits: she was lying down, her head resting on Hermie’s lap, who was petting her softly.
Everyone was safe and there was someone she could trust among those who came to her rescue.
That someone, Wilhelm, was right next to her even now, so she had no reason to be worried.
Wilhelm was looking intently at Millie, without speaking a word. He was observing her to find out if there was anything strange remains, while making sure she didn’t notice and was unsettled by his observations.
After all, Millie had been manipulated by Eline and stabbed Wilhelm. It wouldn’t be strange for her heart to bear a deep wound because of it.
However, asking Millie about Wilhelm and Eline’s battle revealed that her memories stopped at the beginning of the fighting. It could be said to be rather fortunate.
Eline had probably made preparations to use Millie whenever needed. This one time, that actually led to a positive result.
“Are you concerned?”
The question to Wilhelm came from Konig.
Once Shin removed his collar, nothing restrained his actions. He thus returned to his original duty, Hermie’s protection.
His armor had been rendered unusable by Shibaid’s attack, but his beloved blade, the Legend-grade magical sword Haufer, rested at his side.
Konig didn’t know that the manipulated Millie had stabbed Wilhelm, but knew that the collar had been equipped on her. He assumed that, like him, something had happened while she was under control.
Wilhelm then inquired back.
“By the way, do you feel like your memories have been altered? It looks like memories while being manipulated remain differently from person to person.”
“I remember very well. The collar’s power was not used too often on me, even when I was being manipulated I felt as if I was dreaming, everything was hazy.”
Bulk often used Hermie to force Konig to do his bidding, apparently.
Konig suggested that it was because when manipulating others via the collar, it was not possible to give concrete, detailed orders.
“I see. The lack of consciousness also means that only simple actions can be taken.”
“It’s just an assumption, though. However, it is rather useful during battle. An order like “strike with all your strength” will be executed even if it ends up costing your arms. During the battle with sir Shibaid, I performed a powerful blow I normally couldn’t. It’s also possible to order suicide attacks, the attacker has no regards for his own life.”
“The more I hear about that time, the more it makes me sick”
Wilhelm’s expression was distorted by disgust.
“Some of those items leaked outside. Fortunately only a few did, but I’d want them dealt with before they’re used for ill intents.”
“There’s something I was wondering, though. If the person equipped with it dies, can the item be used on someone else?”
If such a repeated use was possible, the usefulness of the item would increase even more…in the worst way possible. Wilhelm then asked Konig, as the latter was in the position to know.
“I have never heard about it being re-used. However, the number of items Bulk obtained and the number of times he used them do not match. This is just an assumption too, but repeated use after death could be possible.”
According to Konig, the number of women Bulk had submitted to his will was higher than the number of collars.
Konig had learned the number of collars from Bulk himself. Bulk could have let down his guard, as Konig was under his control.
“A sack of shit through and through, I see.”
“I must agree. If only I wasn’t controlled by that collar, I would have cut him down on the spot.”
Konig was a knight firmly believing in the Church doctrine of protecting the weak.
His strong sense of justice not only made him despise Bulk, but probably made him even unwilling to recognize his existence.
“However…I might have been manipulated, but I have slain others with my own hands.”
“…you’re feeling guilty? If you worry about that you’re going to die soon too”.
Wilhelm spoke rather bluntly to the tormented Konig.
“You say I shouldn’t care about them?”
“I’m saying that nothing changes even if you do.”
Konig’s tone had grown fiercer. Wilhelm, however, continued talking without losing his composure.
“Regret all you want, but the dead won’t come back to life. In the end, it all depends on the feelings of the ones still alive. If you worry about that and end up dying, the people you should protect will die too.”
Hermie could be targeted again because of her abilities, as it had just happened. At such a time, were his sword dulled by doubts, it would spell death not only for Konig but for others as well.
The loved ones of the people he killed might want revenge. He might be demanded to atone for his sins.
However, those are natural consequences for his actions. There was nothing to do about it.
The flow of time does not reverse; the dead do not come back.
That is this world’s rule.
In the world before the “Dusk of the Majesty”, it is rumored that a potion of resurrection existed. But that world is no more.
(Maybe he could…no, this isn’t something to think about)
In Wilhelm’s mind the silhouettes of a certain High Human and his two followers appeared.
Shin and Schnee might know of a way to create such a potion, or even have one already in their possessions.
He won’t say a word about it, though. He had no proof, and even if such a thing was possible, Wilhelm doubted that Shin and Schnee would revive the people Konig killed.
Resurrection of the dead. That was a heretical practice never to be attempted, it was burned within Wilhelm’s consciousness.
Wilhelm knew of someone who had attempted such practices, and how they brought destruction upon themselves.
That is why he stopped thinking about it. Even in the Church, research concerning resurrection of the dead was a taboo among taboos. It was a completely lost miracle.
After a long silence, Konig spoke again.
“That would be a problem.”
“You just have to find your answer fast, then. Most of the time, things like that happen whether you like it or not, after all.”
“Are you speaking from experience?”
Wilhelm dodged Konig’s question and fell into silence.
Konig, suspicious of such behavior, followed Wilhelm’s line of sight and found a peacefully sleeping Millie.
“I see, so this is the man they call the “Demonic Spear”.”
Wilhelm scoffed lightly. His silhouette was, much like a knight’s, one of a protector.
“So this is Bulk’s residence.”
“Yes. Access was restricted, so I do not know what’s inside.”
After listening to the knight’s reply, Shibaid turned his eyes to the closed door.
Priests are assigned private rooms, which was an ideal place to act in secrecy, with no risk of being seen by others.
Infiltrating an empty room seemed possible, but this room was inside Palmirack; it was no simple feat.
The rooms were surrounded in Chimeradite, which made slipping past its walls, or unlocking its doors, extremely difficult.
For that reason, even chosen ones could not easily enter the room and discover Bulk’s secrets.
“I’m opening it.”
Shibaid laid a hand on the door.
He had received Shin’s permission to unlock all doors; for a limited time, he could enter almost every room located inside Palmirack.
Shibaid concentrated on his hand and the door opened with almost no resistance.
“!! Stand back, everybody!”
Shibaid stepped in front of the knights.
Intense miasma emanated from beyond the door.
“Don’t come near! You may lose your sanity!”
Shibaid had the sickly-looking knights move away from the door and stepped inside the room.
Shibaid was now equipping his original weapon, the giant halberd “Placid Moon”. The light shining from its blade completely purified the miasma coming from the room.
After being upgraded by Shin, the weapons wielded by Shin’s support character gained the ability to purify miasma.
“The miasma has been purified. You can go inside now.”
After Shibaid’s words reached them, the knights entered the room with wary steps. They were knights of the church, but that did not mean that they had high resistance to miasma.
The miasma emanating from the room was so dense that simply looking at it caused a visceral sensation of impending danger. Not even upper class chosen ones would have been able to withstand such a level of miasma.
It was not something that knights, even if trained, could endure.
“Bulk was continuously immersed in that concentrated miasma? Yet.. it looks like it hadn’t caused any mental deterioration…”
Doubt arose in Shibaid’s mind.
Such a high concentration of miasma would undoubtedly lead to insanity. Despite that, Bulk had not shown the symptoms typical of those infected by miasma.
What could it possibly mean?
“I see there’s another room in the back.”
Shibaid left the current room to the knights and headed to the room in the back. There he found scattered magic tomes, items and weapons with ceremonial decorations.
Probably because of long-term exposure to miasma, they were all partially corroded or cursed; nothing was left in proper condition.
In a corner of the room was a metal box equipped with heavy locks.
Shibaid’s appraisal skill let him see through the trap protecting the box.
“【High-Poison】 and 【High-Confusion】, is it. Quite a nasty little device.”
Shibaid let out a sigh and touched the box.
The trap activated and powerful status abnormalities reached towards Shibaid, to invade his body. Shibaid’s equipment, however, made him immune to status abnormalities; he wasn’t the least bit fazed by the trap’s effects.
Shibaid then crushed the box’s lock, nothing more than a decoration compared to the trap, and opened it. Inside it he found 4 black collars.
Compared to the information Shin obtained from Bulk through torture under the name of interrogation, the number of collars were too low. Shibaid took the collars inside the box, turned them into cards and stored them in his item box.
“There should be another one somewhere…”
Having confessed under the effects of Shin’s skill, it was not possible for Bulk to have lied. The only possibility was that the last collar was hidden somewhere near by.
“It has to be inside this room.”
With the knights’ help, Shibaid searched every nook and cranny.
Much like Lilishila’s, Bulk’s residence too was equipped with a secret room. Shibaid, thinking that it was the ideal place to hide something, operated the walls.
A door opened with a dull sound, and at the same time a rotten smell was released.
It was a stench strong enough to force the knights behind Shibaid to hold their noses. Even knights such as them, used to the smell of blood and guts permeating the many battlefields they experienced, grimaced at this stench.
“Sir Shibaid, this is…”
“I can’t say I have a good feeling about this. We already know that there’s a trap inside. I can go alone, but what will the rest of you do?”
“Please take me and one of my subordinates with you. To cower before a mere stench would be utterly shameful for a knight. I shall have the others check the room again for anything we might have missed.”
The two knights with the highest level followed Shibaid. Advancing through the corridor caused the foul stench to gradually increase in intensity.
At the end of the corridor they found a door. Opening it revealed a young girl, collapsed on the floor.
As Shibaid drew closer, he noticed long, slender ears poking out from her hair. Her HP had not decreased very much, but she was affected by several status abnormalities.
The girl appeared to be unconscious as she did not move an inch.
“She’s still breathing. Let’s bring this girl outside first.”
Following Shibaid’s decision, the knights ran out first, to call a healing specialist.
Meanwhile, Shibaid materialized an elixir from his item box and poured it into the girl’s mouth.
After making sure that the girl had swallowed the golden liquid, Shibaid stood up.
He contacted Shin via Mind Chat, then left the room while carrying the girl in his arms.
The two met up and moved to a room with a bed.
“First of all, let’s remove it.”
Shin touched the neck of the girl, now lying on the bed. As it happened with Millie and Hermie, the black collar shattered away.
The girl, however, did not open her eyes.
“I can’t fully diagnose her situation. Could you explain?”
Shin nodded to Shibaid’s request. The weakening of the spirit due to miasma was highly likely to be the same as during the game era.
“I suppose this is a good occasion. Listen up, everyone. This girl was exposed to dense miasma and is now in a comatose state. I think she’ll continue sleeping for at least 1 or 2 weeks…maybe even months.”
“What in the world happened to her?”
“When exposed to dense miasma, unless one has high resistance or regularly drinks potions to raise resistance, the spirit is weakened before the body. If nothing is done in time, there’s a risk of never waking up.”
Shin answered Lilishila’s question, recalling his knowledge from the game era.
Miasma possesses negative effects other than the status abnormality and MP consumption. NPC’s other than those belonging to the players become unable to act.
In case of players or support characters, they are affected by negative status and stats reduction.
In a game event Shin had experienced, where a miasma infection broke out in a city setting, the city’s NPC shops, adventurers’ guild, etcetera all stopped functioning.
The scenario had them fall in a coma because of the miasma’s mind infection.
Thanks to that, all miasma-related events were always instantly cleared by players who were already too powerful for guilds, before the situation became too dire. If that setting was still active, this girl too was probably in that situation.
Shin had heard from Shibaid about the dense miasma concentrated in Bulk’s room.
Based on his knowledge of the game and the state of the room, that was the only likely explanation.
“Will this girl be alright?”
“Yes. Luckily, it seems she wasn’t exposed to miasma for a long time. The body changes color when it’s too late, so you just need a glance to know.”
During the game era, the NPCs beyond salvation turned black and were replaced by another NPC the day after. That likely meant that they would never wake up again.
“Does anyone know this girl?”
Everyone surrounding Shin shook their heads at his question.
Schnee and Shibaid obviously didn’t know her, nor did Lilishila or the man who guided Wilhelm inside Palmirack.
“She was probably kidnapped, just like Millie. I will take care of her until she wakes up. Please leave it to me.”
Lilishila volunteered to help the girl, as she couldn’t just leave an elf that was just like her.
Freed from the shackles represented by Bulk, for the cardinal Lilishila, taking care of one young girl was an easy task.
No one could predict when the girl would wake from her slumber, so Shin’s party heartily welcomed her proposal.
“I apologize for the inconvenience, but please take care of her.”
After deciding to entrust the girl to Lilishila, the group returned to her room. There was no reason for a large group of people to stay in a sick person’s room.
“Here are the collars I’ve collected”
After leaving the room, Shibaid hands the collected collars to Shin in item card form.
Since they could not proceed or even begin to examine the collars here, Shin casually gazed at the collar’s design before putting it away in the item box.
“Was there anything else?”
“Nothing stood out to me. But this kind of research is best done by Shin or Yuki.”
“That’s right. I’ll go search the room once Tiera joins us.”
They asked Lilishila to not allow anyone near Bulk’s room, just in case. It was possible to physically separate it from the others, but as it would invite needless suspicion, they decided to leave things to her.
Only Rokuten members and their subordinates can use Palmirack’s functions. The support characters’ faces and names were known, so spreading information about their usage privileges would end up revealing Shin’s true identity.
“Oh, so it’s really over?”
As Shin was talking with Shibaid, Tiera made her entrance, escorted by the knights. In her shadow, dwelt Kagerou, while Yuzuha was attached to her arm.
“Yes, the rescue somehow ended in success. However, we don’t know the location of the ritual site. Anything happened on your end?”
“Nothing happened to me directly, but there is something that concerns me.
“Yes? What’s that?”
“I saw a shadow fly away from the Church. Just to confirm, was there anyone with wings among the people you fought?”
Tiera’s words made Shin cock his head and think. Having wings meant that the species had to be Beast, Dragnil, Lord or Pixie.
“No, I haven’t seen anyone like that. Have you, Shibaid?”
“I haven’t seen anyone like that either. To begin with, everyone we fought has been captured. I do not think anyone escaped us.”
Shibaid, who had moved separately from Shin, gave the same answer.
“Well, what I saw was a human-like shape with 4 wings. 2 bird-like and 2 insect-like. It was night so I couldn’t see their face very well, but I had Yuzuha attach a mark to track where it was headed. Yuzuha?”
Yuzuha answered Tiera’s question energetically. Shin received a “I know!” message via telepathy. A truly unexpected hint had been found.
“Well done!! The more clues we have, the better!”
“I’m relieved to know I could be of help. I haven’t been of much use at all this time.”
Tiera spoke with a slightly somber tone.
She was uneasy about the fact that since she had been targeted at the beginning, she hadn’t contributed to Millie’s rescue.
Shin and Schnee’s infiltration operation, Shibaid’s defense operation…not her ability, but her stats made her somewhat lacking for both categories.
Kagerou could have been useful in defense, but Tiera was still inexperienced as a tamer and could not use its abilities to the fullest yet. She could not have dealt with the situation as swiftly as Shibaid.
“Asking you to keep watch was the right choice.”
Elves are quite apt at scouting jobs such as hunter or shinobi. Furthermore, the tamer job covered several roles, production, battle, scouting, etcetera; this depended on the tamed monster.
Tiera’s monster, Kagerou, was of considerable high level and also proficient in detection and infiltration abilities.
As tamers are affected by the monsters they command, Tiera’s detection ability was now boosted for a limited time.
It was a preparation done as a mere precaution, but it yielded an unexpectedly great result.
Kagerou and Yuzuha’s detection abilities were also fairly high, of course, and could be expected to be very useful.
“They said a messenger would come, what shall we do about that?”
“Let’s think about how to deal with the messenger first. In the end, we can chase down the target marked by Yuzuha whenever we want. We know that it flew away from the Church, but we don’t know if it’s going to the ritual site. If it’s Bulk’s messenger, it’s certain to lead us there.”
Shin answered Schnee’s question basing himself on the information obtained from Bulk.
“The messenger was supposed to come “pick up” Bulk, so they would surely head to the ritual site later. If we can catch it we can learn the location of the ritual.”
Alongside with a lot of other information.
“(The messenger is supposed to come 2 days from now. As long as there is a possibility that they captured Filma exists, we cannot take this lightly. We’ll use mind-type skills.)”
“(Understood. What shall we do with Lilishila?)”
“(If I say that I’ll morph into Bulk with an illusion-type skill, she won’t come with us.)”
Shin communicated the plan to Schnee and Shibaid via Mind Chat.
The great sword supposed to be in Filma’s possession, Exvaine, was here.
Consequently, it was more likely that Filma was not captured, but instead being manipulated. Even now at an unknown place, she could be doing others’ bidding.
This event had been caused by Bulk’s and a few others’ lust for power. That is why Shin decided not to dispose of the other people of the Church. However, the “Summit Faction” was different.
Those who hurt innocent people and treat life as a tool do not deserve any pity.
(The world might have changed, but these kinds of people don’t learn new tricks, do they?)
What Shin had remembered was the battle against players called PK’s.
There were no benefits. It was a war. A massacre, where lives were expendable as if they were disposable items.
It was a battlefield filled with grief, hatred and insanity.
The sensation Shin felt now was familiar.
“(What should we do if the enemies equip items that make them immune to status effects?)”
“(Nothing to worry. I can bypass the “Age of Gods Earring”’s defense now.)”
Shin answered Shibaid’s question with confidence.
The effectiveness of mind-type skills depends on the user’s INT.
The mind-type skills used by Shin, who had surpassed the limit, were now capable of penetrating the defenses of even items which granted immunity to status effects.
The only situation where they could fail was if the target equipped multiple accessories of the highest rank, such as the ones Shin and Schnee had.
“Hm? What’s wrong?”
As he was speaking through Mind Chat, a faint voice reached Shin’s ears. He turned in Schnee’s direction.
His eyes found her holding the right sleeve of his clothes, a worried look on her face.
“Is everything alright?”
“Shin, your face just now…was kind of scary.”
“Ah…was it showing on my face that much?”
Shin touched his own face and felt that it was indeed pretty stiff.
Shin knew from experience that if he wasn’t careful, thinking about the PK’s would cause his emotions to become visible on his expression.
He was not thinking about things that Schnee should worry about, but Shin regretted having saddened her. Shin knew what worried Schnee the most.
“I wasn’t thinking of things you need to worry about, Yuki. It’s alright.”
“If so, I’m glad.”
Shin replied with a cheerful tone, to dispel Schnee’s worries. Shin’s smile wasn’t forced, so Schnee, relieved, let go of his sleeve.
On the other hand, Shibaid and Tiera motionlessly watched the scene that had just transpired.
“It’s pretty hard to join the conversation when you two fly in your own world all of a sudden, you know.”
“Hmm. I understand Yuki’s worries, but I would prefer you would save such gestures for when you’re alone together.”
Tiera was almost rolling her eyes at the couple, while it was not clear if Shibaid was reproaching them or giving advice.
Shin and Schnee had come back to the real world because of their words, only to be struck by another unexpected ambush.
“(Kuu! Scent of peaches! Kiss her? Kiss her?)”
“Peach-colored atmosphere” was a truly fitting description. Yuzuha had talked all of a sudden, fortunately not via words but Mind Chat.
“Hahaha, no, I’m sorry. And no Yuzuha, no kissing!”
Shin, however, replied through his normal voice.
Hearing these words, Schnee could guess what Yuzuha had said, and her whole face was stained red.
“(Shin, what in the world is wrong with you?)”
“(Yuzuha asked me if I was going to “kiss her” via telepathy! Ah, darn, I spoke out loud…)”
Shin explained what happened to Shibaid via Mind Chat. The latter then understood the situation, but behind him stood Lilishila’s group, who was unable to use Mind Chat.
Shin’s sudden “no kisses” declaration attracted their glares towards him.
“Excuse me, Shin-sama? You said something about kissing…?”
“Hahaha, of course not. I did say “missing” though, maybe you heard wrong?” (T/N: 治癒 Chiyu: Healing, but the words are omitted thus changed to missing. And ちゅーChiyu: Kissing, they are said the same way in japanese.)
“But just now, I’m sure that…”
“Surely just your imagination, milady.”
Shin tried desperately to change the subject.
Kissing and missing, it would be pretty hard to mistake words like these, but not impossible. They did come out of the blue, though.
Shibaid whispered a word of advice to Yuzuha.
“Yuzuha. Please save such words for when there is no one else around. Timing is an important factor as well.”
Yuzuha cocked her head to one side, apparently finding it a concept difficult to grasp.
“Shibaid! Hey! What kind of advice is that!?”
“You see, such things should be allowed to proceed while they can.”
“….where’s the serious atmosphere from a few moments ago…?”
Their serious discussion had been blown away by Yuzuha’s one line.
“How can I say it, Shin’s comrades are all pretty peculiar.”
Tiera spoke with a small wry laugh, while looking at Shin and his party.
Having lived together with Schnee, Tiera knew more than the average person about Rokuten and its members. She felt that the other members she hadn’t met yet would surely be out of the ordinary.
“Not exactly, Ms. Tiera. Remember that you too are one of those comrades.”
Shin pointed out that Tiera seemed to consider herself as not included in the “peculiar” group.
A remark that painted a shocked expression on Tiera’s face.
When Shin asked Tiera to act on her own, they explained to Lilishila that Kagerou was a monster that possessed abilities on the same level as an upper class chosen one. There was no way for Tiera, the mistress of such a monster, to be a normal person.
From Lilishila’s party’s standpoint, Shin and Tiera were in the same category.
“Why are you that shocked?”
“I can’t be expected to be on the same level as you. A normal person might think I’m incredible, but Shin, you guys are on a whole different level.”
From someone at level 1, both level 150 and 255 appear equally high-level.
Yet from Tiera’s standpoint, who had barely reached level 150 without reincarnation, a level 255 with reincarnation bonuses possessed power far beyond hers.
In addition, Tiera was a high-level user thanks to Kagerou. To be considered on the same level as Shin, who could take down Kagerou by himself, isn’t something she could simply agree with.
From Shin’s standpoint, however, Tiera was incredible enough; she had tamed the divine beast Gruefago without fighting, after all.
“You would make us lose face, if you were able to match us so easily. But you are still growing, in more ways than one. You’ll become much stronger.”
“I do think that I grew a little stronger, but I honestly can’t imagine matching you all in strength. All this time I’ve been admiring master and Shin, but I can’t even jest and say ‘I’ll be as strong as you one day’”
Tiera replied with a sigh to Shin’s comment concerning her future growth.
“Well, let’s continue this conversation another time. First, let’s do everything we can till the messenger arrives. Yuki and I will go search Bulk’s residence. Shibaid, go help Lilishila. Tiera, please keep an eye on Millie. ”
Shin stopped the conversation for the time being and gave orders to Shibaid and the others.
Lilishila was now going to arrest the people who had colluded with Bulk, so Shibaid would act as her escort. He asked Tiera to look after Millie because he felt it would not be good to have Hermie, the one venerated as Holy Woman, continue to act as caretaker.
The two nodded to Shin’s proposal.
Lilishila, who had been listening too, nodded in agreement.
With Shibaid on her side, even if the opponent was an upper class chosen one there would be no trouble. Her confidence was reinforced by having witnessed his fighting prowess not long ago.
“I’ll have Millie sent to Vizzy later. Can you relay this to Wilhelm too?”
Shin whispered to Tiera as to avoid being heard by Lilishila.
He wanted to send Millie back as soon as possible, also to soothe Rashia’s worries, who was waiting in Bayreuth. However, if it was at all possible, he wanted to keep the fact that they rode Elder Dragons to Sigurd a secret.
Vizzy, support character of Rokuten member Cashmere, had tamed the Elder Dragons, and Shin could use it freely. If this information spread, trouble was very likely to arise.
That is why he whispered to Tiera the message to be relayed.
“Understood. Don’t worry about it… Anyways, you be careful too, Shin.”
“We’ll go perform our search now. If we find anything, we’ll report later.”
“Thank you very much. We shall go remove all the infection festering within the Church.”
Lilishila had already investigated before hand, in order to stand against Bulk; her eyes now burned with red-hot flames.
This was expected. Not too long ago they were not able to deliver a crushing blow to the other party. Now, they are able to pass judgement on those people.
There was no reason not to be fired up!
Shin caught himself thinking that Lilishila’s smile was almost scary.
“Here we are.”
Shin and Schnee parted ways with Lilishila and were now in Bulk’s residence.
Shibaid had already purified all the miasma, so it looked like any other room.
Shin and Schnee’s honed detection-type abilities, however, revealed the presence of miasma-emitting items -miasma stones- scattered throughout the room.
“I see, all these miasma stones explain why Bulk was like that.”
“What do you mean?”
“Bulk’s body was actually in a really nasty state. The miasma’s corruption had entered its final stage.”
During Bulk’s interrogation, Shin found out that more than half of his body had already turned black. If this was still the game era, he would have been far beyond salvation.
“In a state as advanced as that, I bet he barely felt pain anymore. Looks like he himself hadn’t realized it, though.”
That time, Bulk wasn’t paying the slightest attention to his own body. Even seeing its blackened appearance solicited no reaction in him.
It appears that another effect of miasma contamination is the loss of the ability to perceive such abnormalities.
It would be impossible for anyone to not notice the oppressing miasma leaking out every time the room’s doors opened.
“These are all the ones in this room, then.”
“Adding the other room and the hidden room, it’s become a considerable amount, hasn’t it?”
Schnee spoke while looking at the small mountain of miasma stones in the center of the room.
The stones, each half the size of a fist, were 11 in total. A large number for just one room.
According to Shin, even just one stone would have been enough to fill the room with miasma.
“With so many stones, even if Palmirack’s functions worked, purification would be pretty difficult.”
“That could have been their goal.”
Even if Palmirack was not fully functional, the miasma accumulated near its core was a very small quantity. That influenced the purification mechanisms Palmirack was equipped with.
The walls of Chimeradite composing Palmirack are a combination of several different structures.
The walls of all rooms and corridors are made in Adamantine mixed with Chimeradite. In certain locations the walls were built by also using Mithril, which can easily transmit the effects of magic. If it detects the presence of miasma, it will automatically perform a purification on the miasma.
The Orichalcum used to coat the walls also possessed the ability to purify miasma, thus Palmirack itself made it difficult for miasma to accumulate within its walls.
However, if a large quantity of miasma was created in one spot, like this time, purification would be difficult even if all functions were alive. Schnee’s prediction had fully hit the mark.
“There’s nothing else worthy of note here. Let’s go to the next room.”
After completing their investigation of the first room, Shin and Schnee moved to the next.
Roughly the same number of miasma stones had been placed in the adjacent room as well. They could imagine how the room must have looked dark and stagnant because of the miasma.
“By the way, could you gather any information from Bulk?”
“He believed himself to be completely sane, but his memories were full of holes. He remembered about the ritual and the sacrifices, but the couldn’t say anything specific about the headquarters or the other central members. He remembered that a woman with blonde hair was supposed to come for him, but couldn’t even remember her name.”
Shin had used a mind-type skill while interrogating Bulk. He could force him to confess the information he knew, but in the end what he could gather was not much.
Shin didn’t know if it was because of the miasma’s effects or some other factor, but it appeared as if he had made preparations not to leak any information in case something happened to him.
There was not, however, the possibility that he had been controlled via an item or skill.
The reason being that he was talking about his ridiculous desires fluently. Maybe it had to be expected, but he had solid foundations for his current state.
“The man who was with him…Eline, was it? It didn’t seem like he had been subjected to the miasma.”
“He was an upper-class chosen one after all, I guess he had high resistance? He had decent items too, and his weapon was 『Exvaine』 after all. I do think he was subjected to other things, though.”
It might not have been Filma’s original weapon, but 『Exvaine』 was a powerful sword. Compared to other weapons of lower level, it might have helped resist the miasma’s effects.
Thinking about how perverse Eline’s personality was, however, suggested that it might have been formed by the explosive combination of Bulk’s education and the miasma’s corruption.
“Alright, we’ve checked this room too. For a leading member of the Faction, there isn’t anything of value here.”
Bulk’s residence was impregnated with miasma, yet nothing of importance was found except the miasma stones.
Considering that things related to the Faction were not hidden, but simply not there, one could start doubting that Bulk’s assertion of being one of the Faction’s central members.
“Maybe he was simply deluded that he was a lead member, or it was an illusion induced by the miasma.”
“That’s possible. He was just a kidnapper after all.”
Bulk was a pawn, used for gathering sacrifices through his position as priest. That was Shin and Schnee’s theory. But even if it was the truth, Bulk’s acts forbade any pity.
“Next is the hidden room, then.”
“If anything is to be found, I suppose it will be there.”
Shin activated the room’s controls and opened the doorway to the room.
He then grimaced at the foul stench emanating from it, much as Shibaid had done.
“….this is far beyond being just “stinky”.”
“What an awful smell.”
Shin and Schnee proceeded through the corridor, enduring the nauseous odor. After reaching its end they opened the door without hesitation.
“Splattered blood doesn’t go away, does it.”
“So it seems.”
When they visited the assassin several days before, Lilishila told Shin about how corpses disappear. He thought that their blood would vanish as well, but one look at the horrible state of the room made him change his mind.
The floor, the walls, even the ceiling were stained with what appears to be blood.
“But even so, Schnee…does this look like a drawing to you too?”
“It’s quite disturbing that it was drawn with blood.”
Shin and Schnee were looking at the drawing of a snake coiled around a half-broken mask, which occupied an entire wall.
Maybe because it had been painted with blood, the impression it gave to the viewer was a gruesome scene.
“I feel like I have seen this before…”
“This is the emblem of a dark guild. If I remember correctly, it was quite a large organization.”
Shin, his head cocked to one side, was trying to grasp an elusive memory. Schnee answered with confidence.
The ominous drawing before their eyes was not a completely new sight.
“Do you know the name of the guild?”
“The guild is called “Ouroboros’ Hollow”. It’s famous for accepting any request if the reward is adequate. On one hand, they undertake even criminal acts such as assassination and thievery, on another, they will take down other dark guilds or catch criminals if rewarded amply enough; in a way, they can be useful to society. That’s why all countries have a difficult time dealing with them.”
“I see, a true jack of all trades. I feel I heard that name somewhere before.”
“….that’s because it stems from a PK guild from the game era. It was formed by members of guilds you crushed, Shin.”
“That explains it.”
Schnee had pronounced the last sentence with a slightly stiff expression, but Shin’s answer was short. Compared to Schnee, his tone of voice was much more casual.
The actual problem was that, looking at the picture, Shin simply thought that he had seen it somewhere before. The reason for this was he didn’t feel it was worth remembering PKs after cutting them down.
PKs simply caused damage to other players, without a reason or a cause. Shin spared the least amount possible of his resources for such people.
He hated them. He resented them. But he never thought of keeping in mind the PKs he killed or the PK guilds he destroyed.
Even if he were questioned about feeling remorse after taking people’s lives, or how he could forget about people he killed, Shin would not care in the slightest.
There were some players who felt guilty about killing PKs, but Shin could not understand that sentiment.
“Even if they were offered heaps of money, gathering sacrifices would be too much even for them, don’t you think?”
“It is said that if the reward is enough, they will undertake any mission, no matter the content. Rather, there is the possibility that they are actively involved. Those who share a connection with players can cause the spread of miasma, and there were also quests where if the player didn’t stop it in time a Demon would appear. On the contrary, it is also possible to lead things to failure. In the past, I have participated in an expedition to bring down a group who tried to do just that, so I don’t think it’s impossible.”
“That really happened? Well, the ones I crushed were all players, so there’s no doubt that are support characters such as you exist. If there is game era knowledge, it’s possible I suppose.”
Quest disruption by PKs happened during the game era too. Causing the birth of powerful Demons was possible.
There was the impression of a slight discrepancy with the Summit Faction’s goals, but considering the miasma found in Bulk’s quarters, it could be concluded that the organization had its share of internal conflict.
“I suppose Bulk must have acted on his own too, for his personal agenda. A reason to conclude as such, was that he was secretly connected with the underground guild “Immoral Sacrifice” too, after all.”
“That guild could be no more now. After all, “Ouroboros’ Hollow” does not tolerate multiple contracts with other guilds.”
Schnee had heard that in the past, someone who had a contract with Ouroboros’ Hollow had bound a contract with another dark guild, thus causing that guild’s annihilation.
For Ouroboros’ Hollow, contracting another guild means that its own strength was being doubted. Needless to say, the contractor had been targeted too.
“As expected of a major organization. That’s some grand scale planning.”
Shin spoke with a sigh. There was nothing to laugh about.
“So there aren’t any clues here either?”
“What we have now is only the shadow Tiera saw and the messenger Bulk talked about, I suppose.”
“Better than nothing, I guess. Let’s focus on the day after tomorrow first.”
Shin decided to make preparations in order to gather as many clues as possible.
Shin and Schnee completed their investigation of Bulk’s residence and returned to Lilishila’s room.
Shin thought he would find someone inside, but maybe because their search ended rather quickly, no one was there yet.
Shin ran a search using Palmirack’s functions and found that Tiera, Wilhelm and Millie were in the same room.
Lilishila and Shibaid were on the verge of breaking into one of the rooms in the residential section. It looked like they had already captured several rooms. They were likely fighting against Bulk’s allies.
“Looks like everyone’s doing fine for now.”
“Shibaid is with Lilishila too, so I doubt anything bad could happen.”
Shin nodded in agreement to Schnee’s words and headed to where Tiera and the others were.
As Shin and Schnee entered the room, Millie noticed and ran up to them.
“Hey there, good morning. How are you feeling?”
Shin caught Millie as she jumped to him and checked her status. Her HP and MP were completely recovered and she did not appear to have any status conditions.
The status screen can not show everything, but at the very least she had no visible aftereffects.
“Have you heard from Tiera?”
Millie nodded, smiling. Tiera, walking behind Millie, nodded too after meeting Shin’s eyes.
“There’s no time to lose then. After all, Rashia and Thoria must be worried sick.”
Shin spoke while patting Millie’s head.
They had previously contacted Vizzy to let her make preparations, so they could leave right away.
They asked Vizzy to protect Millie until Shin’s party had stopped the ritual.
Wilhelm with his powered-up equipment, Vizzy and the Elder Dragons she had gained control of, even if enemy hands approached them again, they would not go down easily.
“Are you departing?”
“Yes, there are people worried about Millie. They deeply regretted not being able to protect her, you see.”
“I understand. It is best to hurry, then.”
Hermie showed a relieved smile after speaking. Hermie had been used in the past for the abilities granted by her title, so she was glad to know that Millie, who shared the same title, was cherished.
“We have already made the necessary preparations. We were thinking of leaving now, actually.”
Shin nodded at Hermie’s words and faced towards Wilhelm.
Wilhelm too could use the item box, so he could leave right away without needing time to prepare. Millie had been kidnapped with only the clothes she had on, so she obviously had no luggage to speak of.
They decided to wait for Shibaid to come back and leave once they were all together.
Shin’s party left Sigurd momentarily, to see Millie and the others off.
The carriage they rode on blazed through a wasteland heading to the meeting point with Vizzy at a slightly ridiculous speed due to the power of Kagerou’s pulling.
Normally the carriage would be shaking violently, but the shock absorbing mechanism equipped on the carriage’s cabin worked perfectly, preventing the passengers -especially Millie- from feeling sick.
“Will, Will!! Look outside! It’s like we’re flying!”
“Easy now, or you’ll fall from your seat.”
Millie’s eyes were sparkling looking at the scenery breezing past them much faster than in a normal carriage, and Wilhelm cautioned her. She was not being careful about her foothold, so a stronger shock could have sent her flying out of her seat.
“Some things don’t change no matter where you go, huh.”
Shin felt as if he was looking at a kid excited to be riding a train and let that remark slip. Even when he had gotten used to the game world, he would sometimes remember the real world.
“Did you recall something about your homeland?”
Tiera asked the question as Shin was gently looking at Millie.
“You looked like you were thinking about something far away. Usually people think of their homeland when they look like that, no?”
“I really looked like that?”
“Well, that doesn’t apply to everyone, but…I get the feeling I was right this time, wasn’t I?”
“Well, not too far from the truth, let’s say.”
Tiera asked for confirmation and Shin replied after some thought, his head cocked to one side.
One could say it was his homeland, but strictly speaking it really wasn’t. Since it was in another world.
“I was thinking of the past though, that’s for sure. I was thinking that kids act the same everywhere, you see. I’ve seen children act the same way as Millie, so…”
“I see, there was a time when “things like these” were normal, then.”
Tiera assumed that Shin was talking about the world before the “Dusk of the Majesty”. She imagined that there once were carriages this fast running through city streets.
“Children don’t change, no matter the times we’re in. Yes, I can see that.”
“The things we do are pretty much the same, after all. Hunt monsters, forge weapons or armor, create buildings, do research, go on adventures, or do battle. Some people play dirty, others work diligently. We’re all living beings, there aren’t many differences.”
In THE NEW GATE, the playstyles…the ways to live were too many to count. All players had a different one, and this world was no different.
“A world packed with High Humans like you, right? I don’t even want to think about it.”
“Hey now, there weren’t many at my level. Including me, there were only 6.”
“It’s insane that there were even 6! I’m really glad I wasn’t born in that era, for sure!”
Wilhelm says so light-heartedly with his legs crossed and back leaning on the carriage’s wooden partition.
The carriage was protected from outside noise via magic, making its interior quiet; everyone could hear the others talk.
Almost all members knew that Shin was a High Human, so they could talk without reserve.
The only person who wasn’t told this information was Millie. However, she said that she realized it the first time she met Shin, surprising the whole party.
“Shin is, kinda, amazing.”
“That’s a whole other level of ambiguity. Come to think of it, you told Schnee that I would be back soon. Did you see that in the future?”
“You see, I saw Schnee hugging someone, all happy. I felt all warm in my chest, so it had to be something good.”
Millie had predicted that after Schnee told her that she was waiting for her master, apparently.
Her ability at the time was still unstable, but for some reason that time she felt a strange confidence, so she told Schnee about it.
Everyone nodded at Millie’s words. Starting from Wilhelm, however, all members reacted to a different part of her recollection.
“So that’s what happened…but still, hugging, huh…?”
“I heard something similar too…so she hugged him, is that so.”
“What a mysterious ability…master, you really hugged him?”
“(Kuu! Schnee likes Shin very very much!)”
Wilhelm grinned, Shibaid nodded, Tiera inquired seriously. It was a side of Schnee they had some difficulty imagining, so their interest shifted away from Mille’s ability.
The only salvation was that Yuzuha’s telepathy had reached only Shin.
“W-what is it with you all? That’s not the part that needs to be talked about here!”
This agitated response came from Schnee, who was holding the carriage’s reins and could not participate in the conversation.
Only Yuzuha knew that when Shin and Schnee had met again, she had hugged him without thinking, but now the truth had been revealed to all.
It was quite a surprise for everyone that the usually straight-laced Schnee they knew had been so forward.
“We’re talking of a noble High Elf who never had romantic rumors about her, after all. A passionate hug, is it? Truly forward indeed.”
“I see, I wasn’t aware but you didn’t miss your chances to act. Very good, very good I’d say.”
Looking at Schnee abandon her coachman role and unusually panicked, Wilhelm and Shibaid’s expressions became sympathetic.
Even though they had just met, the two poked fun at Schnee just communicating through their eyes and facial expressions.
“She doesn’t deny it, so…it’s true?”
Tiera’s reaction was slightly different. She understood from Schnee’s reaction that what Millie said was true, and at the same time she felt a certain uneasiness in her chest.
Tiera didn’t know of the “bed sharing incident” or the “moonlight encounter”, so she couldn’t decide if Schnee’s feelings towards Shin were born from loyalty or affection…or rather, she purposefully put off such a decision, but the present situation made things very clear.
But what was the feeling of uneasiness in her heart? Tiera couldn’t understand.
She had been exiled from her village before ever experiencing such feelings and lived at the Tsuki no Hokora since then; she did not have a name for what she was feeling right now.
“You better go easy on Schnee, or she’ll make you regret it later, you know?”
“To be able to poke some fun at Tsuki no Hokora’s very own Schnee Raizar is something that will happen only this once in my lifetime. I can’t let this chance go.”
“I was certainly not poking fun at her. I simply found all this heartwarming.”
“You two are going to pay for this…!”
Behind Shin, who was sitting with his back to the coachman seat, Schnee uttered these words with a menacing tone. Her embarrassment was so strong that even her long ears were all red.
Wilhelm and Shibaid’s grins widened even more.
Shin, on the other hand, was unsure about what to do. Tiera was slightly annoyed.
Crying “kuu, kuu” and “gruu, gruu”, the two divine beasts adjusted the carriage’s course, which had lost its coachman’s control, and brought it forward to its destination. Inside the carriage, however, confusion reigned supreme.
“Here, we’ve arrived. Come down quickly, everybody.”
The chaotic atmosphere had to be endured for a few minutes. Thanks to Yuzuha and Kagerou, they arrived at the meeting point without trouble.
In order to wipe away that awkward atmosphere, Shin urged the passengers to go down quickly.
Both Wilhelm and Shibaid knew when to stop, so they promptly obeyed.
“Fufu, fufufu. You will be repaid for this favor very soon.”
Behind Shin, the still flushed Schnee had made her decision.
Having had little to no experience of being made fun of in the past, the damage she sustained seemed to be quite high.
“Go easy on them, OK? Besides, well… even embarrassed like that, you were pretty cute, you know?”
“EH!? Ah, er, thank you…very much…”
Shin tried to console her with words he wasn’t used to saying, and the effects were greater than he expected.
Seeing Schnee go all red, he was struck by her cuteness again.
“Er, aren’t you…used to hearing things like this?”
“It depends on who says them…if it’s the person I l… I like, of course… of course I’d be happy…”
Schnee glared at Shin while her voice trailed off to a whisper. Another cute expression, and Shin couldn’t help but pat her head gently.
That sudden gesture made Schnee let out a little cry. Shin’s hands stroked her hair gently, expressing the master’s feelings to his companion.
Shin realized what he was doing and pulled back his hand with a surprised expression. The warm emotion that had sprung forth in his heart had guided his hand.
A feeling that Shin had once experienced, but then lost. The feeling of deep affection towards someone else.
Shin himself was a bit surprised by his own heart’s transformation.
There were, however, other things to make sure first.
He stole a quick glance at Schnee’s expression, and found it frozen in what seemed like ecstasy.
Shin sighed with relief that, at least, she wasn’t in a bad mood.
“Y-yes!? What is it!?”
“Well, er, nothing. My hand kind of moved by itself…”
“No, well, I didn’t dislike it, so…”
Are you a teen again!?! Is what Shin wanted to say to himself right now. That’s how awkward their conversation was. Not that he didn’t enjoy it, though.
Shin felt clearly how his emotions were changing.
“Shin-nii, Schnee-nee, do you have the hots?”
Shin and Schnee were still lost in their own world when a childish voice called to them. They looked at the source of the voice and found Millie staring at them.
“Eeeheh!? Ah, yeah, Millie, didn’t you go on ahead with the others?”
“They told me to come call you, since you’re so late.”
“I see. We’re coming, so go on ahead.”
“Okay….but you have the hots?”
“Enough about that!”
Shin tried to change the topic, but it didn’t work on Milie.
Millie’s face as she was running back to Wilhelm, as expected, had a big grin.
“….it looks like we should hurry ahead.”
“Indeed. But please, wait just 20 seconds.”
Schnee felt that she was still red, so she and Shin got down from the carriage after she had calmed down a little.
“My my? There’s something interesting going on here, isn’t there?”
Shin and Schnee joined the others, only to find Vizzy also looking at them with sympathetic eyes.
Among those present, only Tiera -who was carrying Yuzuha- looked at the two latecomers with different eyes.
Shin had almost reached the limits of his patience and darted a look at everyone present.
“Guys, if you don’t cut it out already you’ll make me angry, all right?”
“Alright, let’s stop the jokes for now. We’ll have to be sharp and focused for what’s coming, after all.”
“Yes, though we can say that there’s less pressure on our shoulders now.”
A state of prolonged emotional tension often invites unwanted accidents.
Shibaid and Wilhelm know that from experience; their poking fun at Schnee served to ease the whole party’s tension too.
Of course, they couldn’t deny that there were other reasons too.
“Agh, you people are just… anyway. We will deal with our mission as soon as we can, so please take care of Millie in the meanwhile.”
“You just leave it to us! We’ll do our very best!”
“We’re not going to let them have their way again.”
Vizzy stood proudly, while Wilhelm expressed his strong conviction. With the Elder Dragons’ assistance on their side too, they couldn’t be defeated easily.
Vizzy called the Elder Dragons, and as Wilhelm turned away from Shin’s party, Millie suddenly stopped.
“Hm? What’s wrong, Millie?”
Shin called to the Millie, still not moving an inch, but received no response.
Shin was looking at Millie with suspicion, when suddenly her body was covered in a faint light. Millie’s magic power was astir.
“What’s going on?”
Shibaid too, like Shin, noticed Millie’s unusual state. Schnee reacted by analyzing the young girl.
“I suppose this is the “Star Reader” title’s activation.”
“The title, you say?”
Tiera, not being able to understand the situation, did not know what to do.
“It’s all right, it’ll be over soon.”
Only Wilhelm seemed to know what was happening to Millie, thus he told Shin’s party not to worry. True to his words, Millie returned to her normal self in less than a minute.
“What did you see?”
“A woman with red and purple hair and the man who kidnapped me.”
Wilhelm’s expression turned sour at Millie’s words.
“Millie, you mean Eline?”
“Yes, but…he was strange.”
“In what way was he strange?”
“He was the same, but…different.”
The whole party contemplated Millie’s riddle-like words.
Shin further asked what she meant, but Millie couldn’t explain well and would simply repeat how “He was the same, but…different.”
“Will-nii, you should go with Shin-nii. I think it’s better that way.”
“You won’t be in danger?”
No one doubted Millie’s -a Star Reader’s- words.
But it would be meaningless if Millie was in danger because of that. That’s what spurred Wilhelm’s question.
“I’m all right now.”
“…Got it. I’ll do as you say then.”
Wilhelm, as if he had lost to Millie’s insistent look, agreed to her request.
There would be less protection for Millie and the church, but he decided to trust Vizzy and the Elder Dragons with that.
According to this world’s common sense, 5 Elder Dragons -albeit small- counted as a small army already, so there would be nothing to worry in most cases.
“We’ll be waiting for your message then~”
“Do your best, everyone!”
With the ones carrying Vizzy and Millie leading the rest, the 5 Elder Dragons flew off in the sky. Shin and the others waited until they couldn’t see them anymore, then returned to the city of Sigurd.
“Well, we have some time to kill, and the first thing we should make sure that the news of the fall of Bulk’s faction don’t spread.”
As they crossed the gate into Palmirack, Shin contacted Lilishila and used an illusion magic.
If word of Bulk’s defeat spread, the messenger wouldn’t appear.
Lilishila too was cooperating as not to allow any information leak, but the disappearance of the priests colluding with Bulk would certainly cause suspicion.
For that reason, Shin re-created the figures of Bulk and his allies via illusions, to show them leading their normal everyday lives.
Bulk’s clique wasn’t one to appear in public often, so Lilishila agreed too that the trick would work for a few days.
“In any case, I didn’t think it would be so difficult to gather information.”
“That’s right. Not even one of the priests allied with Bulk knew anything…”
Shin sighed after interrogating the last captured priest. Schnee, who had accompanied him, was impressed by the enemy’s information management.
They had questioned the priests about the messenger who was supposed to come meet Bulk, but most of them had never even seen her. It couldn’t have been a cognitive impairment caused by the miasma; the messenger had surely used some form of camouflage.
“With things as they are, we have no choice but to leave the matter to chance.”
“It also depends on who we have to deal with…but there seems to be no other way.”
Neither Shin nor Schnee believed that the messenger could have been an honest person. Also considering what Tiera had witnessed, there was a high probability that the messenger was not a human, but a demon.
Fooling humans using High Humans as lure…it was not beyond the scope of what a Demon would do.
“Everyone’s here, I see. Let’s decide our roles for the day.”
Shin and Schnee returned to the room assigned to them within Palmirack and begun their discussion with Shibaid, Wilhelm and Tiera, who were waiting for them.
The result was that, using illusion magic, Shin would take Bulk’s role, Schnee Hermie’s and Tiera Millie’s. Wilhelm and Shibaid would standby, ready to stop the messenger in case she tried to flee.
Kagerou, as usual, would be in Tiera’s shadow.
Yuzuha would not participate in the fighting, in order to continue tracking the target.
“All right. Then all that’s left is see what our opponent does.”
Shin’s party thus started the operation to rescue Filma.