“It’s almost here, huh.”
Three days had passed since Hilamee visited the royal palace to make her report. Shin heard from Luxuria that, based on the current pace, Avaritia would arrive in a few days.
“I’m worried about the kingdom’s preparations…they seem rather slow.”
Schnee spoke while looking out the window towards the royal palace. The kingdom’s troops were researching the missing trade convoys, but Shin and his party felt that they were not preparing adequately to counter the devil’s army.
Schnee had visited the palace the day after Hilamee supposedly related her report, but the mood among the troops was very much relaxed. At the moment, she thought that the news hadn’t been released yet.
“Maybe they thought it was too early and the soldiers would be shaken?”
“They would panic when the monster troops actually appear though. The morale might fall, but I believe that is better to make sure every single soldier knows what is coming.”
Shin’s group had been disposing of the monster packs attacking the convoys in the last few days. Countless requests for extermination were sent to the guild, so Shin’s participation was very welcome.
After the first three days, the monsters apparently realized that there was a group of warriors hunting them down, so the attacks on the convoys became scarce. Shin sold some of the parts they obtained and stocked the rest.
“Maybe boss Vulcan knows something…let’s try asking him.”
Vulcan was in charge of the knights’ gear, so he would probably know how the army was going to move based on the equipment orders he received.
They had nothing in particular scheduled that day, so they went to the workshop right away. Shin opened the door and found Vaal behind the reception counter, as usual.
“Mr. Shin, Ms. Yuki. I have been hearing of your exploits.”
It seemed news of Shin’s exterminations had reached Vaal’s ears too. Kicking wolf monsters measuring several mel in midair, sniping flocks of bird monsters, and much more. While they might sound like exaggerated stories, Vaal did not doubt them at all.
He had known Shin for a fairly long time now, so he knew well how extraordinary Shin was.
“I feel I better not ask about those exploits…I’d like to talk with the boss, is he in the back?”
“Yes. You look different than usual, did something happen?”
Shin had felt it also when he had come to bring in the weapons he found in the cave, but Vaal had a keen eye. He noticed right away that Shin had not come for the usual exchange of techniques.
“There’s something I’m worried about, but I can’t confirm my suspicions easily. It concerns the safety of Erkunt as a whole, so I want to verify as soon as possible.”
“The safety of the whole country? Could it be, that?”
Vaal lowered his eyes, deep in thought.
“Do you know anything that might fit?”
“I heard gramps…the boss talk with some knights, and…well, I don’t know if it’s okay for me to talk about it, so please speak directly with the boss.”
Shin understood that Vaal couldn’t just talk about state secrets like that, so he nodded and headed towards the back of the workshop. Schnee went with him this time.
The sound of hammering metal couldn’t be heard. Shin found Vulcan sitting, his arms crossed.
“What’s wrong? It’s strange to see you sitting in the workshop doing nothing.”
“…it’s you. Blacksmiths don’t just hammer on metal all the time, you know. Well, this time it’s not related to blacksmithing, though.”
Vulcan had a sour expression, as if he was frustrated about something.
“Can I ask what happened? Vaal said you talked with soldiers from the kingdom. He didn’t say what you talked about, though.”
“That’s fine. You’re involved too, after all.”
“I am? Then it must be something related to the devil.”
Shin figured it had to be something like that. He had no other connections to the kingdom and blacksmith work.
“Those fellows from the kingdom came here saying that the devil had been defeated, so they didn’t need anti-devil equipment anymore. I have no intention of ruining their mood when they’re all so giddy and happy, but devils don’t die that easily, do they? Don’t they always have an ace up their sleeve or something? That’s what is rubbing me the wrong way.”
Vulcan had learned about the devils while making weapons that worked against them, so the kingdom’s actions did not convince him at all.
“Boss, when did they tell you to stop?”
“When? Today, just today. Either the top brass knows something we don’t, or—”
“That can’t be.”
Shin reacted before Vulcan could finish his sentence.
“What can’t be?”
“The devil isn’t dead yet. And the top brass should know too.”
“What did you say?”
Vulcan’s frown changed into surprise.
“Something’s not right. Why did they stop the orders of anti-devil equipment, then?”
“The information has been stopped somewhere…or there’s something wrong with the brass themselves. Either way, the situation is really bad.”
Hilamee said that she had duly relayed the message. It didn’t look like anything unusual happened to her, so Shin thought that either the person she gave the message to or their superiors were suspicious.
Some time had passed since he met the king, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary with him at the time. He didn’t want to think that the kingdom’s top brass had fallen into the hands of the devil in such a short time.
“Maybe the devil did something to interfere?”
“I wonder. They say that there are people willingly following the devil too. They might have done something.”
“There are people like that?”
Vulcan joined in Shin and Schnee’s conversation. He probably couldn’t comprehend how people willingly cooperated with devils.
“The devils’ sins are originally a reflection of people’s desire. It’s not impossible for people to be seduced by them.”
“I just don’t understand it, but…I can’t deny it.”
Vulcan held his head with his hands and closed his eyes.
“In any case, we better figure out what’s going on with the top brass.”
“Is there any way you can do that?”
“Well, yes, I have my ways…..”
Shin shrugged and gave a vague reply.
“I’ll check with my connections too. Don’t you go cause a commotion now, you hear? Also, should I resume making weapons?”
“I’m not going to cause any problems. If you have the time to make more weapons, by all means do. We’re going to need them.”
Shin didn’t say that the devil would arrive soon, but Vulcan understood the situation by the expression shown by Shin’s eyes. He replied, “Got to hurry.” He then started hammering right away.
Shin nodded and left the workshop.
“Are we going to the royal palace?”
“Yeah, we don’t have the luxury of going through the proper procedures.”
Shin implied that he planned to sneak inside. Information about the devil had been intercepted: even if he asked to visit the castle, he would likely be rejected.
Shin entered a narrow back alley, immediately concealed himself with 【Hiding】 and jumped. He landed on the workshop’s roof, made sure Schnee was keeping up, and headed towards the castle.
The very moment he stepped forward, something completely unexpected happened.
What he heard was a sound similar to an explosion. Surprised, Shin looked towards the source of the sound.
Schnee looked in the same direction and couldn’t help but voice her surprise, with good reason: they saw Avaritia’s massive body, supposedly still a few days away from Erkunt, destroying the castle’s outer walls.
It was more than double the size of the monster Shin, Schnee and Sherlene fought in the dungeon, measuring up to 7-8 mel. Its fists easily shattered the walls protecting the castle.
Clouds of dust rose to the sky as the booming sounds of the crumbling walls reached Shin’s ears.
“Let’s go. I don’t know what happened, but Avaritia’s here already!!”
Behind Avaritia, a horde of monster presences was approaching. They proceeded in orderly ranks, and Shin remembered the monsters he had seen in the cave. These were probably similarly armed too.
On the other hand, there were a few human presences near Avaritia, moving in various directions. The ones that did not move were either paralyzed by fear or wounded by the crumbling walls.
“This is bad. If it manages to get inside, it—-”
Schnee asked why Shin stopped talking and he replied that he had just received a message card.
“Not even Luxuria understands what happened. It moved while avoiding her detection…could it be that it teleported!?”
“With a crystal, it could be possible.”
Teleportation was a skill available only to players. That was common sense for Shin.
No monster possessed teleportation abilities, nor did they need to.
Normally monsters would roam established routes or lie waiting in specific locations.
Only players moved from town to town, from guild houses to fields, etc.
“Shit, I should have realized when we determined Luxuria’s level of intellect…an ambush via teleport! It knows how to fight!”
Shin shouted out of frustration for falling in the enemy’s trick.
Avaritia ignored the east and west gates, focusing instead on destroying the walls between them. It was the point closest to the forest. It was the ideal location to hide the monsters until the very last moment.
“Schnee, please take care of the monsters coming from outside. Rescue the people that can’t escape in time.”
“Are you going to face Avaritia by yourself?”
“Don’t worry. Even if it has its full powers, I’m not going to lose. I’m going to punch it as hard as I can first, so I can send it flying.”
Shin and Schnee ran on the roofs as if they were flying. Avaritia was focusing on destroying the outer walls, so it wouldn’t get inside to rampage just yet.
Shin thought that he would make it just in time, but —as if to counter Shin’s efforts — Avaritia’s massive body disappeared, just moments before Shin could arrive.
“That bastard…! It turned into human form!”
Avaritia’s large icon had turned into one of the many dots on the map. Mingled with the panicked crowd, it would be very difficult to find.
Monsters and people, however, had different presences. Not all locations were swarming with people.
Now that the monsters hadn’t yet penetrated the castle premises through the crumbled walls, there was no mistaking it. Shin’s expectations, however, were betrayed yet again.
“What? There are monster presences in town already?”
“What in the world…?”
Schnee was confused too. The monster presences outside the walls were still far from the town. The monsters which suddenly appeared inside came from somewhere else.
The worst case was for Avaritia to mingle among the monsters, making it impossible to see which one it was. It probably prioritized hiding among the monsters instead of heading straight to Luxuria.
“I lost track of Avaritia’s presence…”
They could track it in the beginning, because of the low density of monster icons, but after Avaritia arrived in a location where a pack of monsters was prowling, they lost it.
“This just gets worse…the monsters’ presence are even in the royal palace. What the hell’s going on?”
Even within the range of Shin’s detection field, there were groups of monsters rampaging in various locations throughout the town. Unlike the monsters outside, marching forward in a well-organized manner, the monsters within town had movements that seemed random, as if they were just following their instincts.
“I suppose the ones inside are expendable pawns, meant to confuse us. They’re still powerful enough to hurt the citizens though. Damn it.”
Around the adventurers’ guild and soldiers’ posts, there were many people used to fighting, so they could take care of any attacking monsters. The ones that suddenly appeared in town were level 200 at most and generally moved by themselves, which was a silver lining.
“What are we going to do?”
Schnee stared into Shin’s eyes.
There were no skills that could conveniently only blow monsters away. Only Shin and Schnee were present at the moment: they had to decide what to do.
“Like I said before, please take care of the monsters outside. They’re much more powerful than the ones inside, after all. Very few people here can deal with those.”
The monster troops coming from outside were probably around the same level as the monsters Shin found in the cave. They were much more threatening than the ones currently running wild in the town.
“Where will you go, Shin?”
“I’ll find Luxuria first. If Avaritia appears somewhere, it’s likely to be where she is.”
Avaritia’s goal was clear: Shin couldn’t think of any other options. Shin could defeat it on his own, so he decided to go to the most likely location.
“When you finish with the monsters outside, come back and deal with the ones in town. We can’t do both with just the two of us…”
If only Shibaid and the others were here…Shin found himself thinking.
He had asked Tzaobath to take them to Erkunt, but Filma and Sety were occupied with retaking a city conquered by a demon, while Shibaid and Tiera were restoring a weakened World Tree, so they couldn’t go right away.
They were all occupied with important tasks, so Shin couldn’t count on reinforcements.
“Understood. I will do so as quickly as possible.”
Shin and Schnee nodded to each other, then ran off. The former towards the institute, the latter towards the crumbling castle walls.
Erkunt’s threat had struck with timing that no one expected.