The next day, Shin’s group split up to do their own things.
Shin had to visit the guild and report about his actions in the Kuwain area, but the other members didn’t have any pressing matters to attend to.
Arno was supposed to have returned to the guild already: Shin had already arranged with her to report that they had not made any significant discoveries.
“If anything urgent happens, just send a message via Mind Chat.”
Shin left the inn and went towards the guild, accompanied by Yuzuha who was half dozing on his shoulder.
He thought Schnee would have wanted to go as well, but unexpectedly said she wanted to go gather food for the journey.
The other three, Shibaid, Filma, and Tiera, said they would go train on Celciutos. Shibaid and Filma would act as instructors for Tiera’s combat training. The poor elf will probably be put through the wringer.
“It’s been a while since I went out on my own.”
Shin realized that lately there was always someone else with him. Yuzuha was with him, but partner monsters were considered as one with their master, so he felt like he was acting on his own.
“So, Miss Arno, then.”
Shin arrived at the guild and looked for Arno at the reception.
“….she’s not around.”
He thought she used the teleport to return, but unexpectedly Arno wasn’t behind the reception counter. It would have been a pain to come again later, so Shin went to the closest open counter he saw. If his memory was correct, behind the counter was the female worker who was next to Arno when he first visited the guild. Animal-like ears poked from her semi-long brown hair, so she was highly likely a Beast.
“Excuse me, I went to the Kuwain area, so I would like to make my report.”
“The Kuwain area? Oh, you must be from the group Arno was in charge of. She’s on leave today, so I will handle your report in her place.”
Shin followed the receptionist to a private room and gave his report as planned.
“I see, you have been to the shallow part of the Kuwain area. I can understand how you could return safe and sound. You didn’t notice anything else in particular?”
The receptionist nodded. The girl, who said her name was Mizet, had joined the guild at the same time as Arno and was apparently good friends with her.
“No, nothing in particular. The rain, wind, and waves were much fiercer than expected, so it was impossible to voyage further. It wouldn’t make sense to lose our lives just to risk that, so we came back.”
“A sound decision. By the way, I apologize for changing the topic, but did something happen to Arno?”
Shin asked what she meant: apparently, Arno had been strangely restless after checking Shin’s ship. Some receptionists were attracted by dangerous-looking adventurers, so they were worried that the same thing happened to Arno.
Shin said that nothing in particular had happened, and Mizet stared at him for several seconds. She probably realized that he was hiding something. Shin was thinking about how to get out of the situation, when Yuzuha cried.
“I’m sorry for boring your little friend. We haven’t got much information about the Kuwain area, so if you remember anything, we would be grateful if you reported again. If you ever go on another expedition you will need to submit the request again, so please be careful. If you don’t, the patrol ships will stop you.”
Only Shin could hear Yuzuha’s words: Mizet probably took her cry as meant to make Shin hurry up. She probably thought that Yuzuha was the small fox-type monster often kept as a pet.
“Just one more thing. Unrelated to the Kuwain area expedition, there is a request for you from the shipwright Zigma.”
“A request for me?”
Shin took a look at the request form, wondering why it was necessary to go through all the work of submitting a request specifically for him. The request was for Shin’s cooperation in building a new ship.
There was no mention of magic-powered vessels inside. Since the guild didn’t know the circumstances, it was probably viewed as a request for the adventurer to look for necessary parts.
However, Shin knew Zigma, and immediately understood that something else was being asked of him.
“Sir Zigma apparently vehemently insisted that this request be given to you when you came. I wonder what happened to him?”
Shin tried not to show it, but mentally wondered what had gotten over the shipwright.
“Anyway, I planned to go the shipyard later, so I’ll ask him directly. I’ll decide then whether to take the request or not.”
“Very well, please take the request form with you then. That is all, thank you for your time.”
“I’ll be on my way, then.”
Shin nodded to Mizet and left the guild. Thinking that he might find Schnee, he decided to pass through the market on his way back.
While Shin was talking in the guild, Schnee was shopping alone in the market. She was using her usual illusion skill, so no one could find her true identity, but people would turn and look at her rather often. Schnee remembered that Shin once told her that she was beautiful even when transformed, and a small smile appeared on her lips.
That smile, however, did not last long.
A sigh escaped her mouth. She had done her best not to show it in front of Shin. Because of that, whenever she was alone she would suddenly feel down. It had happened before, albeit very rarely. Lately, or to be precise, from the previous day, it happened much more frequently. The reason was clear: the barrier that had stopped her during the fight against Ishkar.
Tiera, Kagerou, and Yuzuha could go help Shin: Schnee could not break the barrier until Ishkar was defeated.
It was like trying to pierce through the earth itself, a barrier so sturdy that it was impossible to even think it could be broken through. Schnee could not do anything.
There was no way for her to be able to do something against a barrier that easily repelled even Shiden martial skills. There was also a high chance that similar barriers would separate her from Shin again. In such a case, she would not be counted among the members that could help Shin.
Schnee silently did her shopping, putting the items in the item box without being seen. She kept thinking throughout the process. However, her train of thought was elsewhere. There were also other things that she couldn’t help being concerned about.
Those were Ishkar’s words about an “undesired return”. They pointed to Shin’s return to the real world, did they not?
Shin must have realized that possibility too.
When she met him again in the Wraith Plains, Shin answered Schnee’s “Would you go back to your world if you could?” with a yes.
Not to rely too much on Ishkar’s words, but if they found a safe way for Shin to go back to his world, what would he choose to do?
“Shin has reasons to return.”
Marino’s last words. The family and friends left behind, all the other people connected to him.
The other side is Shin’s homeland, the place he belongs to. Schnee understood that his presence in this world was an irregularity.
“Does he have reasons to stay here…?”
So she was trying to say.
Shin has reasons to stay in this world. Something important enough to compare it with the other world.
I will be that reason. So she wanted to say.
Schnee’s mouth, however, could not pronounce those words. Only sighs escaped her lips.
Like you. Very much.
I can say with confidence that I love you.
But what about you?
What do you think of me?
Schnee expressed her emotions clearly, but on the other hand Shin rarely expressed such things in words. Unfortunately enough, he often just laughed apologetically.
—-All you can do is to make him fall for you hard enough that he won’t feel like going back anymore.
Filma’s words troubled Schnee.
Her appearance was all decided by Shin. Judging from his initial reaction, it was clear that it was just as he idealized. His look going to her chest area couldn’t be her imagination either. Being shown affection by her shouldn’t be unpleasant for him.
The strategy Filma had proposed, half joking – to approach him asking him to take her – might succeed too. Even if it did though, would it be enough to hold Shin down?
In the game era, physical interactions with his lover, Marino, were limited by the system. In Schnee’s eyes, however, they truly loved each other.
The appearance of the physical body called avatar could be changed, apparently. It was not something you could rely on to decide whether opening your heart or not.
What connected them, however, was not the body but the heart. A deep place that could not be easily touched, that was where they truly sought each other.
Even if she offered him her body, even if her face was to his liking, her body was better, Schnee did not think it would be enough to keep Shin back.
What do I want to do?
What do I want Shin to do?
I have more than enough wishes.
I wish for him to be happy.
I wish to see his smile.
I wish for him to hold me.
For him to kiss me.
I wish for him to look at me and me only.
To want me and me only.
Maybe they were more desires than wishes. But they were Schnee’s true feelings.
Maybe because she felt uneasy, the desire to have her loved one all for herself grew stronger. At the same time, she was reminded of Shin’s lover, Marino.
She wanted to be like her. That’s what Marino was to Schnee.
Schnee thought about Marino, who became Shin’s mutual lover. She thought, thought harder, finally understood.
The person closest to Marino was Tiera.
Maybe Shin had also realized that, somewhere within Tiera, Marino’s shadow was present.
The kiss back at Black Priestess Shrine, the bypassed barrier during Ishkar’s fight. Something else that Schnee didn’t know about might have happened too. It probably did.
If Marino cooperated with Tiera, Shin’s heart could be led to her. Looking at Tiera, it was clear she didn’t dislike Shin, with or without Marino.
Whether she was aware of it or not, Tiera’s gaze went towards Shin as frequently as Schnee.
Schnee was aware enough of her surroundings to notice it.
“….what am I even thinking about now.”
Her train of thought had completely derailed, her thoughts scattered. Schnee realized it and sighed again.
She had probably been walking absorbed in her thoughts: before realizing it, she had arrived on top of a hill overlooking the city of Barbatos. It was probably set to be a place to enjoy the view from: there were some toys for children and benches.
“No one else is around though.”
A place with such a nice view, deserted before lunch time.
It was Schnee’s first time there, so she could not be completely sure, but it felt strange for no one else to be there at this time of the day. As she was wondering about the suspicious situation, she caught a presence heading towards the hill. Someone walking calmly. Schnee looked in that direction.
“Am I being watched?”
The person was probably using 【Through Sight】. Schnee clearly felt the unseen stranger’s gaze on her.
Schnee used 【Through Sight】 herself and looked at the mysterious observer.
“It can’t be…!?”
Schnee was surprised to see who was walking up the hill.
Gentlemanly clothing with dazzling decorations, white hair with a gold-rimmed silk hat. White gloves holding a stick, the appearance of a true gentleman.
A handsome looking face with an innocent, boyish smile. Schnee noticed, however, how his light brown eyes were not smiling at all.
Without disguising himself or paying any attention to the surroundings, the criminal wanted throughout the continent, Hameln was leisurely strolling up the hill.
As soon as Schnee realized the man’s identity, she sent a Mind Chat to Shin and the rest of the party.
“(I saw Hameln. We will come in contact soon.)”
Schnee also relayed the location to the surprised group. There were no monsters around, as far as she could see. If possible, she wanted to bring him down then and there.
She was concerned, however, about the reason why he would appear before her like that, in the middle of the day.
Scouting jobs like Hunters and Ninjas were said to possess high ability in visual detection skills. Players had even performed various tests to see if there weren’t hidden stats based on race and job.
Using 【Through Sight】 with no other countermeasures on a Kunoichi -the female version of the Ninja- like Schnee was just like publicly displaying one’s location.
Hameln was surely aware of that: he must have been definitely plotting something.
“Oh my, you graciously waited for me. Surprising. I was sure you would ambush me, you see.”
Hameln affected surprise with his whole body.
Seeing through Schnee’s disguise like nothing was expected of a former player like Shin.
“You know well that it would be pointless, as I have captured your position. I’ll ask just in case, what is your aim?”
Schnee engaged Hameln in conversation to buy time until Shin and the others arrived. Shibaid and Filma would probably take some time, but Shin should arrive in a few minutes.
“My aim, you say. I suppose that would be you.”
“Yes, you did come to this world too after all. I was thinking of testing something that has been bugging me, you see.”
Opposite to Hameln’s stick wielding left hand, a card appeared on his previously empty right hand.
As soon as she saw it, Schnee grabbed the hilt of her 『Blue Moon』 and put more distance between them.
Other than item cards, there were also offensive cards that sealed magic spells.
“Please, do not be wary of me, there is no need to worry. This is just a little trick, I have no intention of harming you. That would be ‘meaningless’.”
Schnee’s suspicion made Hameln’s smile deepen. He pointed the card towards Schnee.
As he did, the card disappeared and Schnee’s body started glowing.
Schnee noticed her body’s sudden glow and started moving even before thinking. She instantly dashed next to Hameln and swung her 『Blue Moon』 without hesitation.
“My, oh my, your speed has improved tremendously. Your weapon has been reinforced too.”
Hameln, who had escaped the full brunt of Schnee’s attack, retreated a few steps while clutching the spot where his left arm used to be. The stick he had tried to use to defend himself was on the ground, cut in half.
“If the item hadn’t shown its effect, I would already be down for the count. I suppose I underestimated you. I shall reflect on it for the future.”
Hameln spoke in a tone hardly fitting someone who had just lost an arm.
In the game era, because of freedom of movement and AI performance, he was probably superior. From this exchange, however, Schnee realized that she could defeat him now. That was, however, beyond what she could do in her current condition.
“What did you…do to me…!”
Schnee felt her strength leave her body. Not only that, she could also feel something different, something irreplaceable, disappearing. Something she couldn’t put in words. She could not ignore it either.
More than Hameln, this unknown sensation enveloping her whole body was far more terrifying.
“Only players could tell what this is, pretty much. I have no intention of keeping secrets, so let me tell you what is happening. Maybe you have experienced it once, but this is an item that resets support characters’ affection level to zero. In the game, it only affected one’s support characters, but it appears that restriction does not exist anymore in this world.”
Schnee had never heard of the item mentioned by Hameln. She instinctively understood, however, how it would be a fatal weakness for her.
Her body glowed for several seconds. She could not speak another word though.
Schnee’s hand let go of 『Blue Moon』.
Before the clanging sound of the blade hitting some stones could get her attention, she felt a dull shock behind her head. She then noticed that she had collapsed on the ground.
“Well well, mission complete. Oh yes, I should ————- that too. ——-me effect on the other ———port characters…”
She caught bits and pieces of Hameln’s words.
Her consciousness was fading. Her eyes wouldn’t stay open.
Right before completely losing consciousness, she heard someone’s voice.