“Okay, now that the terms of our alliance have been set, let’s teleport.”
Shin waited for Lina to stop crying, then made preparations for the teleportation. She seemed a bit embarrassed to have lost control, so her face was still red.
“Yeah, it’s a secret technique that allows you to go to a faraway place instantly. It’s attached to this crystal. With this, we can go to Lanapacea in a second. We’d stand out if we used it in an open space, so we waited till we reached a more secluded place, like here.”
“So that’s why we went to a forest. I was wondering what was going on….er, sir.”
Lina awkwardly turned up the politeness of her tone. She seemed to have suddenly noticed that she was speaking casually.
“I am sorry, I was a bit out of it.”
“That’s all right. I’m just a no-name adventurer, so feel free to speak as you like. You only need to worry about that when there are other people around.”
Shin made up the fact that it would be bad if a World Tree priestess addressed him too politely and told Lina to adopt a more casual tone. They would be fighting together to heal the World Tree and bring down the Luderia clan head, so he honestly didn’t want her to treat him with such restraint.
Shin also personally disliked being treated with respect and admiration because of his strength.
“Ok, so, er, thanks.”
Lina awkwardly lowered her head to Shin, who nodded.
“Ok, ready to go.”
Shin infused the crystal with magic power. The attached spell properly activated and the next instant Shin’s group was in the Lanapacea residence.
“Wow, we really are in Lanapacea…”
Lina seemed to know about the residence: she looked around the room and realized they were back in Lanapacea. From how she looked around, however, she seemed a bit confused all the same.
“Oh, they’re back.”
Schnee and Tiera were in the residence too: they probably detected their return. The door opened and they entered the room.
“You’re back. A bit too quick, no?”
“It’s almost time for the next purification. I haven’t got much information, but I wanted to tell master at least.”
Tiera managed to acquire new information, albeit only a little.
“So this is the girl Lilishila wrote about. I am Tiera Lucent. How do you feel?”
“M-my name is Lina Lulac. I’m honestly surprised, but I feel really good!”
Tiera knew what Lina had gone through, so she talked to her with a warm smile. Lina had noticed Tiera even before the latter introduced herself, so she replied with a rather excited tone.
“Is the miasma not affecting her anymore?”
“It surely doesn’t look like that. She probably recovered because we made her drink an elixir. She also said that the World Tree used its powers for her.”
Shin replied to Schnee’s whispered question with what he heard from Lina.
“Past priestesses told her about you…? Well, I suppose a priestess could do something like that…I wonder who she was, though.”
“Yes. It’s not too rare for priestesses to be able to speak with the dead. The current situation is pretty unique, though. I can’t help but think that there must be a reason why she was chosen.”
“…that’s right. If a random priestess had been chosen, like in a game, it wouldn’t sit right at all.”
Shin and the others didn’t know who the elf that Lina saw was, though. Lina had told them about the elf’s facial features, but as expected she was very beautiful, which did not help to narrow down the options. She had silver hair and green eyes, a combination that was not unusual among elves.
“It doesn’t help that she doesn’t seem to have unique features…since she contacted Lina from her side, it’s difficult to call her from this side too.”
“I can’t pinpoint exactly which spirit to channel either, it just can’t be helped.”
Tiera said that even if she could speak with the dead, she couldn’t do it with just anyone unconditionally.
“If a disaster is approaching, someone with the ability to counter it appears; to communicate with the remaining family, someone from the same family is necessary. Calling the perfect person to do such things isn’t something I can do, but I heard that past priestesses had this ability.”
As far as Tiera knew, only one of the World Tree priestesses ever had such an ability. She was a very powerful priestess, like Tiera.
“I see…well, if it’s not possible, then that’s that. If she ever comes in contact again, please ask for her name. We can’t do anything special even if we know, but it’s always better than not knowing.”
“Okay, got it.”
Lina nodded to Shin. Like before, she was unusually close to him.
“….by the way, Shin. Lina’s back safe and sound, so shouldn’t we bring her to the Lulac? Their authority and clout would be restored if she returned to them.”
Schnee noticed Lina’s attitude, her eyes narrowed and she voiced this doubt. She added that Lina would be given proper items to defend her from demons, of course.
“About that, well, before we came here I promised that she could stay with us.”
If the Luderia clan head, who was connected with the demons, knew that Lina was back, she would surely be attacked again.
A demon that made deals with people was definitely high-ranked. In that case, the Lulac clan’s fighting power was likely insufficient.
“I’m sorry, I’m afraid things might get a bit complicated.”
“A bit? They’re going to get *very* complicated.”
Shin had promised, partly, on the spur of the moment. Even if Lina was equipped with anti-demon items, as Schnee suggested, it wouldn’t mean anything if others were attacked in her place.
In the orphanage, Millie had been given such items, but the demons took hostages, forcing her to remove the items herself. Lina had friends and family in Lanapacea: Shin’s party couldn’t protect them all. The items they provided could also potentially be handed to others or used in other ways.
“I guess it can’t be helped, then. Fortunately, among the Lulac there are those who lament the current situation. If we contact them and explain the circumstances, further interference from the Lulac clan should be reduced.”
“The same goes for the Luderia. If we talk to Orlean, their movements should change a bit. Considering what Shin heard, they will probably get in contact with me when I head for the next purification.”
Shin’s party would not mention the clan head’s connection with the demons yet. If Orlean and Herald came to know, they -along with their allies- might resort to violent means.
“I’ll go to the holy area now. What should we do with Lina?”
“Purifying the World Tree is our top priority, but I’m thinking of trying the items first and bringing Lina next time too. They won’t just let her in anyway, we would just start a ruckus.”
The return of the kidnapped priestess would definitely be huge news for the village. If she showed her purification powers no one would doubt she was the real Lina, but the Luderia clan head was on the side of the perpetrators. In the worst case scenario, Shin’s party could be accused of the kidnapping.
“Herald is my older brother. If I talk to him, I’m sure he will understand.”
Shin mentioned what he heard from Herald and Orlean; Lina was slightly surprised, then said this.
“I guess we might go talk to them while Tiera goes to the purification. We need to sneak into their residence, but are there any traps we should watch out for?”
Lina didn’t know the extent of Shin’s stealth abilities, which could make it hard for her to reply, so he erased his presence and turned invisible to show her an example. Lina’s eyes widened.
“I think that they probably reinforced the security since I was kidnapped. I do not think that they would ever find you as you are now, sir Shin.”
“I guess we need to go actually go there to find out. Why the ‘sir’, though? You don’t need to address me with titles.”
“That won’t do.”
Lina’s tone had become a bit more casual, thanks to Shin’s attitude and atmosphere, but she clearly stated she couldn’t address him without a title. Apparently, it was something she wouldn’t budge on.
She addressed not only Shin, but all party members in such a way. Shin had no strong preferences about that, so he let her do as she wanted.
“Okay, let’s move then. I’ll go to the Lulac with Lina.”
“I will accompany you.”
Schnee and Yuzuha said that they would follow Shin.
“It would be suspicious if we all disappeared except Tiera. I shall remain here.”
“I will go the purification, as scheduled.”
After deciding what they would do, Tiera left for the World Tree and Shin’s group for the Lulac residence. Since Lina was with them, they wouldn’t risk getting lost.
Shin concealed their presence with skills and proceeded via the village’s rooftops. Lina couldn’t jump like them, so Yuzuha let her ride on her back. Proceeding without care for the streets, they could reach the residence in little to no time.
“Doesn’t look like we’ll find any nasty traps. Can you feel anything, Schnee?”
“No, I do not detect any dangerous traps either. I believe we’ll be fine as long as we are wary of people’s eyes.”
If the kunoichi Schnee said she didn’t feel anything, they concluded there weren’t any traps to worry about and jumped on the residence’s roof. If they found a trap they couldn’t detect, it couldn’t be helped.
Right before entering the residence, Shin felt something pass through his body. He thought he might have triggered an alarm, told Schnee and the others not to move and carefully scrutinized the surroundings, but no one inside the residence seemed to react.
“Was there a trap?”
“No, but I felt something pass through my body…”
Lina said that she had no recollection of such traps. Thinking it might have been his imagination, Shin kept his guard up as they descended into the residence’s garden.
Guided by Lina, the group headed to Herald’s private quarters, where they detected someone was present. 【Through Sight】 revealed that Herald was reading something in the room. He hadn’t gone to see Tiera, evidently.
They planned to leave a message if he wasn’t there, but it was much more convenient for him to be present. Shin’s group entered without a sound, closing the door behind them. Herald did not notice and continued looking at the letter he was holding.
“!? Who’s there!?”
Surprised by the sudden voice, Herald assumed a fighting pose and turned around. His pose showed that he was likely versed in martial arts.
“Wait! It’s me, Lina!”
Shin deactivated the skill and they became visible. Herald recognized her and his eyes opened wide.
“…what exactly is going on here?”
“You know that I was kidnapped by demons, right? These people saved me. But since Lanapacea is in an abnormal situation now, we decided to let you know that I was safe first.”
“Are you really Lina? No, if lady Schnee is with you, I’m sure you are, but…”
Herald was confused, but as he talked with Lina he gradually recovered his cool. He couldn’t believe his eyes yet, to good reason: after all, his missing sister, who he didn’t know whether was alive or dead, had suddenly appeared before him.
“Look, this should be proof enough.”
Lina held her hands as in prayer and concentrated. Her body then started glowing in a faint light.
“The light of purification…you really are…Lina.”
Herald staggered towards her, as if attracted by the light. When the light of purification, proof of Lina’s identity, faded away, he hugged her tightly.
“….I’m so glad. You’re alive…!”
Herald, still hugging the squirming Lina, barely managed to put his feelings into words. He was clearly overjoyed that Lina was still alive. Tears were streaming down his cheeks.
“Can we talk now?”
“I apologize for making you wait. You have my most heartfelt gratitude for saving Lina. I will never forget this debt as long as I live.”
Herald bowed deeply and expressed his gratitude. His frank tone when talking to Lina was subdued, his speech extremely polite.
“So, what do you wish from me?”
Herald raised his head and his expression turned serious. They happened to save Lina, who happened to be a World Tree priestess, so they brought her here…he knew things couldn’t be that simple.
Shin explained why Lina had been kidnapped and that she wished to stay together with them for a while.
“Considering such circumstances, I cannot possibly oppose you. I know of Lady Schnee’s martial prowess: if she says so, sir Shin must be equally strong or even more. You are both far superior to me, but I can tell that you are strong. Our Lulac clan has warriors with special powers like Returned Ancestors, but I do not know how they would fare against demons. I am sure my sister would be more than sufficiently safe with you.”
Though there were Chosen Ones in Lanapacea, most were chiefs of the warrior corps in charge of protecting the village.
Herald then told Shin’s party what he knew of the current situation. Since he had saved Lina and Schnee was his ally, Herald found him worthy of trust.
Herald’s information included the fact that recent cases of missing persons happened frequently and some warrior chiefs’ personalities suddenly changed drastically. Thanks to his relatively high rank in the country, he had gathered a fair amount of confidential intel.
Shin was especially concerned by the information stating that lately, the clan head had not shown himself to anyone. Whenever he spoke with someone, he did so through a curtain, so in the last few months, only a select handful of people had actually seen him.
“How was it during the audience, Schnee?”
“It was just like Herald said. The curtain was attached with an enchantment that neutralized all visual skills like 【Analyze】. That by itself is not too unusual, so I did not mention it.”
Shin thought that some still existing game settings were probably involved. In the game, it was possible to block magic eye-type skills.
Schnee had connections to Tiera, but she was still an outsider. Even if she was a well-known personage, they would still be wary around her. Among Magic Eye-type skills, there were some that could charm and manipulate the target.
In the game, Lords were often connected to such visual barrier items. One of the Lords’ characteristics was having Magic Eye skills: in order not to be suspected of abusing such skills for evil deeds, they produced items that could neutralize them. This was true for NPCs in the game era, however, Shin did not know if it applied to this world as well.
Schnee said that royals and nobles other than Lords often conducted audiences in that way. Other than Lords, Elves and some Beasts did, at the very least.
“Judging from the information we have, there might be a reason why he doesn’t want to be seen.”
Shin recalled the woman who had turned into an Invader he had fought in the church. The real clan head could be already dead.
“That’s possible. If it’s a fake, it wouldn’t be strange that it stayed hidden to prevent being found out. It would also explain his strange behavior.”
“This is just a theory, though. He might be under someone’s control, or…as much as I hate saying it, the probability that he’s cooperating with them of his own volition is not zero.”
Shin hoped for this last probability to be a clear zero.
“We need to investigate more to be sure. Fortunately, the son of the Luderia clan head is not pleased with the current situation either. He will let me know if he finds out anything, so I will let you know as soon as I can. Can I talk to Orlean, the son of the head chief, about you, sir Shin?”
“Lina plans to participate in the next purification, so I would like you to keep it a secret until then. I don’t mean to suspect you, but Orlean might be under surveillance. I want to avoid any risk that the clan head discovers us.”
Shin said that it was a possibility, but Orlean being under surveillance was a fact. This would probably happen to Shin’s group too, but as far as their detection field extended, it hadn’t occurred yet. They teleported back inside the residence and always concealed their presence when they were outside.
Not even the elves working in the residence had seen them, so very few knew of Lina’s return to Lanapacea. There was a chance the clan head learned about their plans or other parties interfered, so they wanted to keep it a secret until right before the purification. If they were attacked they could just beat the assailants back, but if they used their authority it wouldn’t be so simple.
“Understood. I will keep this meeting a secret, then.”
It would be risky to talk for too long. They completed their objective of informing Herald of Lina’s safety, so they decided to go back to the residence. Before they did, Shin took out an item card from the box.
It was a simple necklace with glowing clear magic stones about 1 cemel in size. Shin gave it to Lina.
“What is this?”
“It’s an accessory enchanted with 【Hiding】 and various defensive skills. Even if you are separated from us, with this you can hide your presence and buy enough time to flee. If you take it off the effects will disappear. I’ll make sure at least one of us will always be with you, so I think everything will be alright, but take it just in case.”
“From the description, it looks like a national treasure…but okay…it’s for my safety…for my safety.”
When Shin lent it to Millie, he realized that the necklace had a weakness: if the wearer removed it, its effects were lost. Shin had rearranged it to be active only when the registered person wore it, but in the end, it just served as insurance.
Lina whispered to reassure herself and equipped the necklace. Her detection abilities probably told her that the item she was so casually given could be astoundingly precious in that world.
“Hm? Someone’s coming.”
Shin detected a presence and, from the map, noticed that it was heading straight for their room. No one had approached that room before, so he concealed them just in case.
“Lord Herald!! Lord Herald!!”
Herald opened the door and talked with a panicking female elf. Apparently, the path leading to the World Tree had turned into a dungeon: they couldn’t contact Tiera, Lymliss and the warriors that were escorting them anymore.
“What the…what happened to the warriors protecting the holy area?”
“They apparently suffered heavy casualties while fighting monsters when the dungeon appeared. The Luderia clan has contacted all clans, to gather warriors in order to clear the dungeon. The elders have already started doing so, but…”
The monsters in the dungeon were all over level 300, apparently. With enough numbers, it wasn’t impossible to defeat them since, among the warriors, there were some who could even defeat such monsters on their own. However, there were simply too many monsters. There seemed to be even more powerful units too.
Not much time had passed since the dungeon appeared, so information was still scarce, but the surroundings of the holy area had been shut due to the emergency.
“We must go as well. Ready the equipment.”
Herald gave orders to the female elf, who quickly left.
“The clan head made his move? Or maybe the demons he’s connected with…”
“Or the World Tree is reaching its limits.”
Shin hypothesized while taking out a message card, then Schnee added a possibility. In game terms, her theory was more probable.
Shin tried extending his detection field and caught Tiera, Kagerou and Lymliss’ presences. However, they were so faint and unstable that they were flashing on the map.
“I can’t read their presences well, since they’re inside the dungeon-turned holy area. If I can detect their presence, however, they should still be safe. Kagerou also with them after all, and Tiera, as she is now, won’t go down easily. If a duke demon comes up, they’ll be in trouble, though…they’re definitely being targeted, so we’re going to blow through the dungeon without holding back this time.”
Tiera and Kagerou could hold their own, but Lymliss’ fighting ability was low. She could easily become a weak point if attacked. If a high-ranking demon appeared, they would definitely target her. There was no guarantee that there was only one demon attacking either.
There was no time to wait for the elves’ rescue operation. Shin decided to go help Tiera’s group, regardless of the consequences.
“S-sir Shin!? I understand that lady Schnee is with you, but won’t it be dangerous!?”
Herald was surprised to hear what Shin said to Schnee. He didn’t know how strong Shin was, so he probably thought that Shin was saying something absurd.
“I might not look the part, but I have defeated duke demons in the past. I have Schnee Raizar’s seal of approval too, so please believe me. We need speed above everything now, so I’ll have Shibaid watch over Lina. Please wait here for a while.”
Shibaid excelled in muscle power and defense, so his speed was inferior to Shin and Schnee. He regretted having to do give him this role, but contacted Shibaid to ask him to guard Lina.
“Yuzuha, please stay here until Shibaid arrives. Once he’s here, I’ll call you with 【Summon Partner】.”
Probably happy to be relied on, Yuzuha deftly stood on her hind legs and saluted Shin, then jumped down at Lina’s feet.
“Yuzuha looks like a small fox, but if she goes all out she can turn this whole country into a wasteland. Please rest easy.”
Herald was convinced of her power, so -albeit a bit lost- he nodded.
“Once Shibaid arrives, please stay with him in the residence.”
“Okay. Please take care.”
“Sure, we’ll be back with Tiera and the others.”