Shortly before the outer walls were destroyed and monsters started spawning in Erkunt…
Something abnormal happened inside the royal palace.
Most soldiers were gathered in the training grounds, separated into platoons, to check their equipment. They were all nervous, some of them confused.
“To think that there were other devils…”
“Could it be that the institute was keeping it hidden? If so, then the staff is…”
All soldiers on stand-by were whispering.
Just when everyone in the palace was relieved by the news of Avaritia’s defeat, another piece of news had arrived. All palace workers and especially the soldiers were shaken.
They had to fight with mere swords and spears against a beast that could level entire cities. No matter how many they were, they could never hope to match it.
There weren’t enough anti-devil weapons to supply the whole army.
“I heard that the anti-devil clan guys were possessed by the devil.”
“If they fight alongside the devil, we have to fight them too, right? Can we really win?”
Information was spreading in a chaotic manner. Conflicting information was reaching even the lowest ranked soldiers. They all talked about information, regardless of its veracity, and believed it all.
“Hey, what is going on here!?”
There were some who hadn’t lost all reason, though. One of Erkunt’s heroes, Fagall, and the knights serving directly under him.
When Fagall returned to the castle after an inspection outside Erkunt, he found the soldiers ready for war, with a heavy atmosphere hanging over them.
The confused Fagall asked nearby soldiers what was going on and was told that the captain of the royal guards personally ordered them to go exterminate the devil dwelling in the institute.
“This can’t be…”
Information about Luxuria had been halted by the country’s elite. It was impossible for mere footsoldiers to know about it.
The captain of the royal guards, Namsaar, also knew that Luxuria opposed Avaritia and would not harm normal people.
Fagall then asked the soldiers if anything happened about the devils, as there had to be a reason behind this order. All soldiers, however, replied that they did not know anything.
They also spouted unbelievable things, such as that Shin and Yuki were on the devil’s side and the institute as a whole was under the devil’s control.
“Just what is going on here…”
“I believe that there are mental skills at work. You can train your body, but things are different for the mind.”
One of Fagall’s subordinates, specialized in magic and healing, gave her opinion. She was one of Fagall’s vice-captains, a female Chosen One called Nakuri.
“So that’s the reason why I feel this indescribable unease…if so, we have an emergency on your hands. I will go inquire to His Majesty. Based on the circumstances, we might need the King’s permission to act. Kassh, Nakuri, take the knights with you and go ask Lady Sherlene what’s going on. If they are already in formation in a platoon, tell them to standby until I come back. I’ll take responsibility. And…”
“Be ready to fight, yes?”
The stern-looking man called Kassh completed Fagall’s order. He too was a Chosen One.
“That’s right. Nakuri, use defensive skills on the men, as much as possible. If you feel the atmosphere becomes more suspicious, retreat from the palace. If we end up under the enemy’s influence too, there will be no one left to protect the kingdom.”
“…understood. Please take care.”
Both vice-captains replied at the same time, but Kassh sounded not completely convinced, while Nakuri was worried. Kassh out of frustration for not being able to do anything, Nakuri out of concern for Fagall, who would be left on his own.
“Hopefully we can learn something.”
Fagall passed through the pacing soldiers, hurrying towards the king’s chambers.
“It’s too quiet…”
Normally, the king would be carrying out his duties at this time. Fagall noticed that the more he approached the king’s chambers, the less noise he heard.
Armed soldiers would not be found in this area, but if there was another reason for the lack of people in the surroundings, the situation was extremely dire.
Fagall hurried even more, trying to keep his nerves in check. He arrived close to the room where the king executed his duties and found two soldiers standing guard. Fagall knew both of them.
“Is His Majesty here?”
“Yes, but why the hurry? Is something wrong?”
“The whole castle is. The soldiers are getting ready to go exterminate the devil, but I came to check with the king if there are no mistakes about their orders.”
Fagall didn’t know where Namsaar, the one who actually gave the order, could be. As he told Kassh and the others, the king had to be aware of the situation, so Fagall came to ask him about the reasons behind the order, while also making sure the king was safe.
“I have heard nothing about such orders. Could it be that your information is wrong?”
“I understand why you would think that. The soldiers below, however, are preparing to battle this very moment. There is conflicting information going about, but as far as I heard, they were told that there is a devil in the institute.”
The guards looked just as confused as Fagall was when he arrived in the castle. Fagall then judged that they hadn’t lost their reason yet.
“I wish to speak directly to the king.”
“Just a moment.”
One of the guards turned his back to Fagall and knocked on the door.
While he was supposedly speaking with the king inside, the other guard held the hilt of his weapon and kept Fagall firmly within sight. Even if confused, he would not let down his guard. Not even if his opponent was a hero or an acquaintance. That was their job.
After a few seconds, the first guard turned the doorknob and allowed Fagall inside. The other guard silently opened his side of the door too.
“For you to come without prior notice…what is happening?”
Kreunzeit understood right away that something was off. After hearing Fagall’s report, the king’s brow furrowed.
“That is a first for me too. Namsaar would inform me first of all.”
“I do not know why this happened. I did not know where sir Namsaar is, so I decided to confirm Your Majesty’s safety first.”
“You have done well. What in the world is—what!?”
A booming sound interrupted Kreunzeit’s words. The sound came from the direction of the window: Fagall looked outside and saw a wall crumbling, with an enormous monster attacking it.
Fagall was speechless for a moment. A wall that could easily withstand attacks from giant-sized golems was destroyed, revealing a horde of monsters behind it.
“What’s wrong? What happened?”
“The outer wall has been destroyed. It couldn’t withstand the attacks of a gigantic monster.”
The king’s words let Fagall return to his senses. He then started reflecting on what he just saw. Then, he realized. A human-like shape. A torso with a lion head grafted onto it. A head wearing a goat skull coming out of the lion’s mouth. It all coincided with Sherlene’s report about Avaritia’s appearance.
“This is absurd…why would the devil be here…?”
“Wasn’t lady Sherlene supposed to have defeated it?”
“That is correct. The soldiers who went to inspect the area said that they found clear traces of fighting.”
If so, then why? Doubts and questions ran through Fagall’s mind.
Maybe they only thought they defeated it? Maybe it managed to flee? The reason was unknown, but the reality that the devil was attacking was an undeniable truth.
“It disappeared? Is it going to where lady Luxuria is?”
The devil’s gigantic body disappeared in an instant. Fagall thought he saw a small shadow, so he hypothesized that the devil turned into human form and went into the city. Based on the information he had, the destination was surely the institute.
Should he rush to the crumbling walls? Go fight the devil in the institute? Stay here to protect the king? A series of choices appeared within Fagall’s mind.
If the devil went on a rampage, the city would surely suffer extensive damage. The monsters approaching from beyond the crumbling walls could not be ignored either, though. No matter what he prioritized, damage and casualties were inevitable.
Fagall was unsure what to decide, but one of the choices was quickly crushed. The monsters outside the walls were swept away by magic spells, the gap in the wall sealed with ice.
“That has to be either sir Shin or lady Yuki’s doing.”
“Yes. That should prevent the monsters from penetrating the city.”
“Then all is left is to deal with the devil. I do not know if Namsaar predicted this, but the situation is in our favor. Select the troops equipped with anti-devil gear and send them to exterminate it. Sir Shin’s group is certainly on the move as well. If possible, join with them and take down the devil.”
“Yes, Your Majesty!”
There were too many potential risks. Defeating the devil, however, took priority. Fagall was about to leave to execute the order he received.
He put a hand on the doorknob, but jumped back as if something had repelled him. Fagall drew his sword, warily looking at the door.
“…I suspected there was someone behind the soldiers’ confusion, but I suppose they came straight here.”
“Please flee. This ominous presence…it will be a very dangerous opponent.”
Outside the room, there were the guards too. Considering that this new threat had approached the room without Fagall realizing, it had to be an assassin very skilled at hiding their presence.
Fagall could not tell how powerful the enemy was, but estimated them to be very able, so he immediately asked the king to escape. If Fagall fought seriously, the king would be in danger too.
“Well damn. I thought I had finally taken over this guy, and here I find another pain to deal with.”
As Kreunzeit leapt into the secret passage, the door opened. The voice heard as the door revealed the intruder was very familiar to Fagall. Its tone was very casual, however. Fagall knew that the owner of this voice would never use such a tone.
“I surely didn’t want this prediction to come true…”
Fagall whispered to himself, looking at the man who entered the room.
“Oh, don’t say that? We’re pals, aren’t we?”
“Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ve ever met. Who are you? What did you to Namsaar!?”
Voice, body, 【Analyze】 data—everything said Namsaar. The ominous black armor that covered its body, the goat bones that covered half its face, however, clearly showed that Namsaar was not currently himself.
Probably because he had just seen Avaritia, Fagall quickly realized who had taken over Namsaar’s body.
“My other self was knocked out before they even managed to introduce themselves, so I guess I better do it, yeah? You are in the presence of one of the Seven Deady Sins, Avaritia the devil of Greed. You….are not the one who defeated my other self in the dungeon, are you.”
Avaritia peered at Fagall and spoke after he had gauged the knight’s skill.
Avaritia’s words let Fagall understand that the devil could create copies of itself. He didn’t know how many, however.
“Your other self, hmm. Which means, if you are defeated here everything will be over?”
Let it be so. Fagall tried his hardest to hide his nerves and asked the question.
“Too bad buddy, I’m not the real body either. If you take me down things will be easier though, that’s for sure.”
Avaritia drew his sword, Namsaar’s loyal partner. Its blade had lost all its shine: black vein-like tendrils ran across it.
“I might be an enemy, but this is your comrade’s body. You know what it means to attack me, yeah?”
“I surely do!”
Fagall answered Avaritia’s threat by swinging his sword. He aimed at the face, the side not covered by the goat mask. Avaritia parried Fagall’s unhesitant strike with his sword.
Fagall saw how his swing had been effortlessly blocked, despite the fact that he had not held back at all, and realized that his opponent might be using Namsaar’s body, but his abilities exceeded the host body’s limits.
“You’re pretty strict on your buddies, huh?”
“Sir Namsaar would take me to task if I wasn’t.”
Hiding his concern about his opponent’s actual strength, Fagall replied in turn to Avaritia’s quip. While it might be hard to imagine from his appearance and atmosphere, Namsaar was extremely loyal to the king. His fighting prowess and loyalty had granted him the position of captain of the royal guards.
If Namsaar was himself, he would rather take his own life rather than point his sword at the king.
Thus Fagall knew that he had no reason to hesitate. Ready to take Namsaar’s life if need be, he once again swung his blade.
“Is that so. Let’s see how long you can struggle, then!!”
Avaritia’s blade clashed with Fagall’s. The devil’s movements were the same as Namsaar’s. Every strike was much heavier, though.
“Plenty, you will see. I cannot be useless forever.”
Fagall had his pride as a hero as well. If necessary, he was ready to die and take his enemy with him.
The two warriors’ blades crossed again. Even brighter sparks flew about, as if to show the strength of Fagall’s renewed conviction.
A thundering sound made the ground tremble, echoing through the palace gates and training grounds. In response, abnormal events happened throughout the palace.
Monsters appeared out of thin air. Their levels were low, but the soldiers fell into confusion because of the sudden event. The booming sound that deafened their ears was a sort of signal.
“What is going on here…?”
The monsters appeared when Sherlene, informed of the order to exterminate Luxuria, was in the barracks to inquire further about the sudden orders. Sherlene rushed out of the barracks and found the training grounds in utter chaos: soldiers feeling from monsters and others fighting them.
The soldiers were supposed to be well trained, so even if the monsters had appeared all too suddenly, their response was far too poor.
“Do not cower!! Troops with shields, go to the front and block the monster’s attacks! Troops with spears, gain enough distance and seal their movements! The monsters are few! Face each of them in groups!”
Sherlene shouted orders at the soldiers, also using the support skill 【Hearten】, used to encourage one’s allies. Even the platoon leaders were panicked: there was no time to worry about the chain of command.
Struck by Sherlene’s orders, the soldiers started moving in a well organized manner, making it seem unreal that they were running around until moments ago. Sherlene then realized that they had to be influenced by something.
“So that was the reason why the soldiers’ information was compromised?”
“It does seem to be like that.”
Sherlene talked to herself, but received an answer.
“Ma’am. I and Nakuri have been ordered by sir Fagall to contact you.”
Kassh related to Sherlene about the bizarre situation in the castle and that Fagall had gone to see the king.
“I am glad to see that you seem to be in full possession of your wits.”
“No, I did not notice the situation before, so I cannot say that I was not influenced at all. I heard just now about the order to exterminate lady Luxuria, but it would be strange for me not to realize the soldiers’ unusual state. Taking down a devil is not such a simple task either…”
Sherlene remembered the battle against Avaritia and her brow furrowed. She then materialized a spear. It was one of the weapons she borrowed from Shin, the holy spear 『Guildern』.
“I have never seen such a spear. It is quite heavily adorned.”
An instant after materializing 『Guildern』, Sherlene opened her eyes wide and stopped. Kassh, concerned, called to her: Sherlene regained her senses and shouted.
“What…what a blunder!!”
『Guildern』 was a holy spear meant to fight devils. Because of this, it could protect the wielder from devil attacks and dispel devil influences.
Depending on the devil’s power, it might only weaken their powers, but this 『Guildern』 had been reinforced by Shin, so it was more powerful than the default version.
Thanks to its boosted ability, the fake memories Avaritia’s copy had planted in Sherlene disappeared. She recalled the conversation she had with Hilamee.
Avaritia hadn’t been defeated yet. There were copies remaining. Something was controlling Namsaar too.
“Sir Kassh, Lady Nakuri. I want you to take my troops and take care of the monsters. The chaos will continue, I fear. Also, do not follow sir Namsaar’s orders.”
Namsaar was the captain of the royal guards: he had nearly unlimited access to the royal palace. Sherlene thought that the monsters’ appearance had been orchestrated by him, or rather, whatever was controlling him.
She chose not to say it at the time, however. The presence that had hid in the shadows until now finally showed itself. Sherlene was also concerned about the sound that thundered through the castle minutes before, but there were other, greater priorities.
The king’s safety, most of all. If the leader of the royal guards was under enemy control and the king dead, the whole country would fall into chaos. It would be almost impossible to bring things under control.
There was enough confusion because of the monsters rampaging in the palace. For the devil, it was the perfect chance to strike. Sherlene thought that Avaritia aimed to take advantage of the confusion to kill Luxuria.
“If it appears in town, not even sir Shin could…”
Thanks to her experience fighting against the copy, Sherlene understood very well how dire the current situation was.
“Lady Sherlene. Do you know what is actually happening?”
“Yes, but forgive me, there is no time to talk. We must take control of the situation as soon as possible, then have the citizens take shelter. This is just a prediction, but I believe that the monsters have appeared in town too. The devil I and sir Shin defeated was a copy. There is also another one in the palace too.”
“Do you really think so??”
“Oh my god…”
The two vice captains could not hide their surprise at Sherlene’s statement.
“That devil is more and more dangerous the more people are around. We have to make everyone…no, everyone still alive evacuate the palace and institute as soon as we can.”
While she said it, Sherlene was aware that it would be impossible. There wasn’t enough time or manpower in Erkunt at the moment.
“I will go see His Majesty. Sir Fagall is probably fighting the devil as we speak. I must leave the monsters here to you. If possible, have the citizens take shelter too.”
Sherlene hurriedly gave her orders, then rushed deeper in the palace, towards the royal duties’ chamber.