It was two days after Shin and Sherlene found the monster den that an emergency summons arrived from the royal palace.
“It is probably related to the devil.”
The messenger sent by the royal palace was whipping the horses in a frenzy, so they opted not to ask questions yet. He was trying to be prudent while traveling as fast as possible. If they distracted him, he might even cause an accident.
“Your guide is waiting for you. Please, do lend us your assistance.”
After they somehow arrived at the castle, the messenger briskly saluted Shin and Schnee. They answered that they will do whatever they can and passed through the castle gates. The woman who would act as their guide approached them right away.
Shin and Schnee were led to the room where they had previously met king Kreunzeit. The guide quickly served them both tea.
“I am sure they have been notified of your arrival. Please wait here for a moment.”
The guide had prepared tea and sweets before them, so Shin obliged without restraint. There were mainly cookie-like baked sweets with a couple other types mixed in.
“Pretty good, as expected of the royal palace.”
“If you like them, I can make some at the hotel too.”
“You know how?”
“I can pretty much tell, from the look and the flavor. Then I just need to make adjustments while baking.”
Level IX Cooking skills was nothing to snuff at. Thanks to visiting various countries and cities on official quests, Schnee had expanded her food repertoire.
“If you liked them, I’ll have someone give you the recipe later.”
While Shin and Schnee were talking, Namsaar entered the room as somber and expressionless as ever. He addressed Shin in the same way as he had done to the king.
“Please, you mustn’t bother. Is there only you today, Mr. Namsaar?”
“Yes, why do you ask?”
Namsaar asked back to Shin, as if meaning to ask if that was a problem.
Normally, it would be extremely disrespectful for an average citizen like Shin to address the captain of the royal guards so casually. Namsaar himself had said to not use titles when talking to him however.
“No, I don’t have any problems with you, Mr. Namsaar. I heard it was an emergency summons, so I figured that it might have come from king Kreunzeit.”
“It’s just information to be shared, so I’m more than enough. There is no need to put up appearances with you, sir Shin, as we must with the nobles. I’ll get on topic then. We have called you because a dungeon has been spotted about 2 kemel north of Erkunt.”
“That’s pretty close.”
“Yes, it is inside a forest, but it does not appear to be too deep. The knights said that they’ve never seen it before.”
The location where the dungeon was found was in a place that Erkunt’s knights routinely patrolled. The forest was also visited often by adventurers on gathering or extermination quests: if a dungeon was present, it would be found immediately.
Namsaar added that the dungeon was not in a rarely visited location.
“Could it be related to the cave I found with Sherlene?”
“Probably so. The dungeon was found the day after the cave sighting, so I would be hard pressed to say the two are not related. There could have some sort of device or hidden mechanism, unknown to us.”
Namsaar talked without changing expression, but he seemed to be in a foul mood. There had to have been something more behind a dungeon appearing close to the kingdom when it was preparing for a devil’s attack.
This dungeon was highly likely to be related to devils. Even if they just went to inspect it, they needed to be very careful. That was the reason why Shin and Schnee were summoned. They had enough skills to both sneak into or conquer it.
“The exploration party will be only me and Yuki?”
“No, like last time, you will be accompanied by Sherlene and some knights under her direct command. If the dungeon is connected with the devil, I am sure only Sherlene will be of use in battle, but the knights could prove useful to take care of small fry or watch the surroundings.”
Shin found Namsaar’s words concerning, but chose not to say anything. Half baked strength was of little to no use against high level monsters. Even if they were powerful as average individuals, there was a limit to the monsters Sherlene’s knights could handle.
Shin chose not to say anything about it, though.
“Understood. Should we depart right away?”
“I had Sherlene and the others get ready. I would like you to join them and go.”
Shin and Schnee were told that they were in the training grounds, so they were about to leave the room and go.
They heard a lament behind them, however, and turned around. Namsaar was holding his head, a pained expression on his face.
“Are you okay?”
“No problem. Just light exhaustion. There are many arrangements to be done to advance the preparations against the devil attack.”
Namsaar lightly shook his head, then returned to the usual stone-faced expression.
“It might be out of place for me to say, but you should rest when you can.”
“….I will think about it.”
Namsaar replied to Shin’s words and left the room.
“As long as he doesn’t overdo it and collapses.”
“Being a captain, I am sure he knows the importance of rest, but…I suppose we should mention it to Sherlene.”
“Yeah, you’re right.”
Schnee had a point. They wouldn’t go out of their way to openly worry that Namsaar was so overworked he risked not being able to fight when it was needed.
When they arrived in the training grounds, they noticed that Sherlene and her group were waiting, just as Namsaar had said. Sherlene was wearing a light armor with a red base color, just like before.
“Hello. Namsaar told us to join you for this expedition.”
“Yes, I’ll be counting on you. Lady Yuki, I think this is the first time we have actually talked. I heard that you are much more skilled than your looks would suggest. I’ll be counting on your assistance too.”
“I will do my utmost, as not to cast shame on Shin.”
Schnee shook the hand Sherlene extended and nodded while smiling. Some of the knights who were watching were charmed and stopped in their tracks.
“Enough staring at lady Yuki, you lot! You have work to do!”
“Y-yes ma’am!! We shall do our utmost!!”
The knights exhibited a very sharp salute, then started moving again.
Shin felt sorry for the annoyed Sherlene, but he understood their feelings all too well.
Schnee was in a very good mood today, maybe because she could go together with Shin. Her expression clearly reflected her state of mind. Her bright smile would charm anyone: that’s why Shin nodded to the knights’ reaction.
“I see we are all ready. Let us depart for the dungeon in question then.”
No monsters or thieves dared attack the group of armored knights armed with swords and lances. Thanks to the lack of actual battles and relative close distance, the group reached the dungeon in less than 30 minutes.
“The entrance is much wider than the previous cave.”
“According to the soldiers we posted to observe the entrance, no monsters went inside. Though not much time has passed since it was discovered, so it could be a coincidence.”
“It can’t be helped. Will you leave the knights here to guard the surroundings, like last time?”
“Yes, this time the explorers will be us three: Sir Shin, Lady Yuki, and myself. I believe the devil is definitely involved here. Nevertheless, we cannot concentrate all of our fighting power here. It’s rather troublesome.”
All countries possessed more Chosen Ones than the number they made public. Shin thought that there had to be skilled fighters in Erkunt other than Sherlene, Fagall, and Namsaar.
Maybe they were either keeping them as a reserve or they weren’t as strong as Sherlene and Fagall. As they headed towards the entrance, Shin wondered why heroes who were supposed to be the kingdom’s trump cards, were used so proactively so often.
“I don’t like this presence…”
Sherlene’s expression turned sour.
Shin and Schnee felt the same, though not as much as Sherlene. There was a certain indescribable unpleasantness which they had not felt outside. It had approached them the moment they stepped in the dungeon.
“I thought this dungeon might be related to the devil, but it looks like we’ve hit the jackpot.”
“What do you mean?”
Sherlene understood the meaning of Shin’s words after her question, as her expression showed.
“You don’t mean….”
“There’s a high chance there’s one here, in the lower floors.”
It was the same in the game era. Dungeon fields where devils were present had the attribute of making players feel unpleasant. What Shin felt now though, was not so much a strong uneasiness as it was little more than a bad feeling.
“(This didn’t happen with Luxuria, so I had kind of forgotten.)”
“(That was probably because she is on friendly terms with humans. I can only feel hostility from this negative aura.)”
Shin and Schnee talked via Mind Chat.
Luxuria had no hostile intentions from the start. Instead, she wished to coexist with humanity. Schnee suggested that because of this, she didn’t release an aura that made others feel unpleasant.
“I guess we should get ready for the worst.”
“Are we proceeding like this? Should we not call for reinforcements?”
“No, we can fight it now without risking casualties in the kingdom. It’s definitely better to defeat it here rather than let it go out.”
Avaritia’s drain attacks had a very wide range. The damage would be incommensurable if it used them in a populated location. Dungeons might have been rife by monsters, but were the perfect battlefield to avoid human casualties.
“I see. In that case, I have no objections. Can you defeat it?”
“No need for concern. I always have anti-devil gear with me.”
Shin then changed his equipment. In one instant, his attire turned into a shining full-body armor with silver and blue hues. Decorated with many thin, delicate ornaments, it looked like it was more suited for displaying than fighting.
The full-face helmet had a horn-like decoration extending towards the back; which gave the whole armor a strong impression of being poorly apt for battle. From the shoulders a dark blue mantle flowed down too. Paired with 『The Ark』 equipped at the waist, it really looked like what a holy knight would wear.
“Well…I am surprised again.”
Seeing the person next to you turn into a knight straight out of a fairytale in an instant, was surely a surprise to behold.
“This is the anti-devil, anti-demon specialized gear, 『Holy Armor – Vanquisher of Evil』. Just standing close to a person with it equipped reduces the effect of status ailments and debuffs released by devils and demons. Don’t you feel different?”
“It’s true, the unpleasantness I felt before is gone just by being close to you…I suppose this is your trump card?”
“That’s what I would like to say, but the devil surely expects us to come with this. Many warriors clad with this armor have slain devils in the past, after all.”
“That’s true too. If we have a weapon so useful against devils, there would be no reason not to use it.”
The armor’s grade was, of course, Ancient. It was strong enough on its own, but it also boosted attacks against devils. For them it was nothing but a bane of their existence. Shin was wearing it the first time he met Luxuria; she had casually remarked that she was scared, but she had to have really been quite terrified.
“We have an anti-devil lance for you Sherlene, will you use it?”
Shin had procured it, but not given it to Sherlene yet, so he used this opportunity to propose it.
“May I try to use it once? An anti-devil weapon sounds very appealing, but I am more familiar with this.”
Sherlene then looked at the weapon she was holding.
“Of course. If it feels difficult to use, you can keep it as a sub weapon.”
Changing the weapon you were familiar with with a new one just before fighting a powerful enemy was a decision that required a lot of courage. Being a warrior, Sherlene knew it well.
Sherlene wielded the 『Holy Lance Guildern』 Shin gave her and tried a few practice swings.
She didn’t look awkward at all in Shin’s eyes.
“How does it feel?”
“I’m almost shocked…it doesn’t feel quite like my usual weapon, but it is very easy to use. It will do nicely. I am going to use it this time.”
Sherlene judged that if she used the lance in battle, there would probably be no problems.
“Let me give you this too then. This blue one is for protection, while this red one is for throwing. By the way, the one you have is for close combat.”
Shin pulled out some cards as he explained, but Sherlene was completely lost. The reason was all the cards he showed had 『Holy Lance Guildern』 pictured on them. Just the color was different: there were 10 red and blue cards respectively.
“My apologies, Sir Shin, but…these are all the same weapon?”
“They are, but the magic enchantments attached are different. The blue ones are for protection: if you thrust it in the ground it will create a field that reduces status ailments and contact damage. The red ones are for throwing: they have aiming support and piercing boost attached. If it hits, it can cause continuous damage. The one I gave you first is for close combat, it boosts physical abilities and grants auto-recovery. The red and blue ones are generally one use only, so I’d advise against re-using them as weapons while fighting.”
The different colors were meant to help not to confuse them. Not only Shin, but also other blacksmiths in the game applied these adjustments. Players did everything they could in order to defeat monsters in the most effective way possible.
“A-as expected of sir Shin…I will make good use of them.”
Sherlene’s expression was extremely tense. She could only stiffly nod to Shin’s words of using Legend-grade weapons as “one time only” items.
“Should I launch a surprise attack with the usual set?”
“Yes, I’m sure the enemy is wary of us, but that will be very useful all the same. If you can, land a blow or two.”
Schnee nodded and changed her equipment.
Her maid attire disappeared, with an anti-devil ninja outfit in its place.
Just like Shin’s equipment, it was anti-devil gear for ninjas, called 『Shinobi Gear – Vanquisher of Evil』 .
“This looks, quite, light.”
Sherlene wasn’t sure how to react to Schnee’s transformation. It was to be expected: Schnee was now covered by a very thin, rubber suit like outfit. Arm guards, leg guards, kunai holders, item holders and other accessories. The pieces of armor “protecting” Schnee’s shoulders and waist could barely be called part of a ninja outfit.
Schnee’s body and curves were very accentuated, so even Sherlene found it difficult to look at her straight. Just like bikini armors, this outfit too was often described as “too much” by female players in the game.
Incidentally, the male version had the same design too, but very few ever talked about it.
While it might look like something from another genre of game, its stats and effects were exceptional.
It allowed the user to move with enough stealth to completely bypass a devil’s detection field and -against devils’ attacks- have more defensive power than even the 『Holy Armor – Vanquisher of Evil』. The negatives of its looks were completely counterbalanced by the positives of its specs.
If you could stand to wear it, it would prove to be a real asset against devils.
“I will conceal my presence till we reach the devil, then.”
“Yeah, leave the rest to us.”
It would be too blatant to disappear in front of the devil’s eyes, so Shin agreed with Schnee’s proposal of hiding until they arrived.
As long as extremely powerful monsters did not appear, Shin and Sherlene would be enough.
“I wonder if lady Yuki does not feel embarrassed…?”
“It’s because only you and me can see her. If there were other knights around, she wouldn’t have shown herself like that.”
Schnee didn’t care what people other than Shin thought of her, but she still had a sense of shame. As long as the devil didn’t go on a rampage outside the dungeon, Schnee wouldn’t risk showing herself to others like that, or so Shin thought.
“I see, I understand. Apologies, it was just…that stimulating. I ended up asking something unnecessary.”
“No, I’ve seen it plenty of times and think about it too sometimes, it can’t be helped.”
He had seen it in the game era already, but in this world Schnee wearing the 『Shinobi Gear – Vanquisher of Evil』 was something to behold indeed.
Shin then shook his head to erase the image of Schnee that had etched itself in his brain. They were going to fight a devil: no matter how much the anti-devil gear would help, they couldn’t afford to lower their guard.
“Shall we go then?”
Sherlene nodded and they moved. Her expression did not show the former confusion anymore. Fighting was her profession, after all, and she was quick to switch back to serious mode.