Some time prior to Schnee’s encounter with Hameln, Shin and Yuzuha had gone to the market, after finishing their business at the guild.
All sorts of people and species filled the market: a human girl was negotiating prices with a vendor, a male fishman was inspecting wares, a Mermaid was calling out to the passing crowd, a Beast frowning because of the pungent fish smell.
Shin looked around aimlessly, recognizing fish he knew from the game era and others he had never seen before. The great variety of foodstuffs on display also included seaweed, seafood, dried food: a collection of typical marine goods packed on the racks, a true feast for the eyes.
“(All look, so tasty)”
“(There’s some amazing looking stuff too. Can you really eat that?)”
In this world, there were many creatures with appearances barely matching their flavor, especially if they came from the sea. If they were on sale, they were surely edible, though.
“(It’s still a bit too early for lunch. Be patient.)”
Yuzuha, mostly drained of all her energy, lay powerless on Shin’s head. Her front paws covered his eyes, so Shin gently grabbed her by the waist and moved her to his right shoulder.
“We took some time back at the guild, I guess Schnee’s already gone?”
Shin checked the map while walking down a street near the center of the market. If Schnee was close, he would see her name near her marker. All the markers he could see, however, were colored green, as in, neutral. No sign of Schnee.
He could probably find her if he expanded the map’s range, but if she wasn’t in the market she was probably back at Shigureya, so Shin did not search further.
Here and there, however, Shin heard men commenting things like “I saw a crazy gorgeous blonde just now” or “That was one smoking hot body!”.
He couldn’t be 100% sure, but Shin felt positive that they were talking about Schnee’s camouflaged form. Despite always trying his best not to glance at Schnee’s chest, Shin couldn’t help sneaking peeks from time to time. According to Filma, she had grown even more from the game era. It wasn’t something Shin could forget or ignore.
“…what the heck am I thinking about, anyway.”
A men’s impure thoughts had probably affected him. Shin firmly shook his head to drive such delusions away.
The embrace at Black Priestess Shrine, the kiss at Fuji, her swimsuit figure at the Castle of the Depths.
Shin too was a man, after all: thinking of the softness of the female body and the voluptuous swimsuit figure he saw in the dungeon, he couldn’t exactly keep his cool.
“(Kuu, Shin, pervert.)”
“What!? Yu, Yuzuha, what did you just..!?”
It was like Yuzuha had read Shin’s thoughts: surprised, he forgot about Mind Chat and reacted loudly.
“(Schnee, beautiful. Just take her.)”
“That’s….not so simple.”
There wasn’t anything he disliked about Schnee. His objective, however, was to return to his former world: he felt it wasn’t right to lay his hands on her.
He knew it was cruel of him to let her have hopes about him. Even so, he did not refuse Schnee’s direct shows of affection.
On the other hand, if he gave up on going back and settled in this world, the dilemma with Schnee would be resolved.
In his current situation, however, it wasn’t even clear why he had been transported to the current world. If he gave up and then was somehow transported to the former world, it would be simply unbearable.
“(Shin, you like Schnee?)”
Shin was about to say “of course”, when he noticed various sets of eyes looking at him as if he were weird. From other people’s standpoint, it looked like he was walking while mumbling to himself.
“(….of course I do. But you know, in the game there was this thing called affection level…if that is still influencing Schnee’s feelings, you could say that it’s like I have her under mind control…)”
Shin switched back to Mind Chat and continued talking.
The same could be said for Shibaid, Filma and the other support characters. At the time of their creation, support characters only have the bare minimum level of loyalty.
That wouldn’t be a problem if the player just wanted them to act as clerks, but if they were to fight alongside the player, as Shin’s support characters did, things were very different.
If the affection level was low, the range of available commands was limited.
Acting together and using items to raise affection level gradually removed such limitations.
When affection level is maxed, as proof of such bonds the player obtains a 『Drop of Erathem』 fragment. One per support character for a maximum of five, so five support characters total.
When put together, they were still not enough to forge an Ancient-grade weapon, but they were still very rare items. Some players turned them into earrings or rings and gave them to their support characters.
“(Could I be twisting Schnee’s feelings? …is what I think, sometimes.)”
In the past, he had given her great quantities of affection-raising items at once, in order to increase it quickly.
In the game, it was just a stat going up, so nothing to worry about. To remove the command range limitations, to gain rare items. It was all for himself.
But this world was real. If Schnee was influenced by his actions during the game era or from the game…
Looking at Schnee, Shin was starting to have doubts.
“(Schnee likes Shin. She’s not controlled.)”
“(Well, I sure hope so.)”
Shin answered Yuzuha without much conviction, his shoulders dropping. Whether he returned to his former world or not, he wanted to make that clear.
“(No matter what happens, Yuzuha is with Shin.)”
“(You can’t be sure of that. If I go back to reality, you won’t be able to…)”
“(Yes. I come with you.)”
Shin objected, stating something he thought was obvious, but Yuzuha interrupted him, fully confident.
“(Yuzuha wants to be with Shin, so I do. I didn’t get any items. Kuu!)”
Yuzuha wrapped her tails around Shin’s neck and pecked at his cheeks with her front paws. Her light, padded strikes tapped him repeatedly.
Yuzuha expressed that she wasn’t with Shin because she was manipulated.
“(…well, do as you want. It’s not like I have proof or anything.)”
There was no way of finding out if someone was influenced or not by affection level.
Schnee said that she even remembered the first day that Shin logged in THE NEW GATE.
If so, it wouldn’t be weird that she really liked him. There was the possibility that her present affection level was true affection.
It was a problem that couldn’t be solved, no matter how long he thought about it.
“Well, enough wandering around. Time to go back, I guess.”
No sign of Schnee. As soon as Shin turned around, towards Shigureya, he received a Mind Chat message from her.
“(I saw Hameln. We will come in contact soon.)”
Schnee’s voice echoed from afar. It was a mass transmission, a message sent to all registered users.
“Hameln? He can’t be trying to unleash a pack of monsters here, can he!?”
Shin slipped in a nearby back alley, activated 【Hiding】 and kicked the ground hard. Jumping straight above the buildings, enlarged the map, confirmed in which direction Schnee was and started running.
Contrary to his predictions, Schnee was on top of a hill near the town. Near her there was just one more marker, colored neutral green. It had to be Hameln.
“There are presences of monsters around Barbatos, but it’s not a pack large enough to attack the city. So I guess that it’s not his objective this time?”
Shin ran, slicing through the wind.
He tried to guess what Hameln would be trying to do, but in the end Shin did not have enough information about him. In the game, Shin had exterminated the monsters and delivered the final blow, but until the end he did not learn exactly what it was Hameln wanted to do.
A few seconds before Shin reached the hill, Hameln’s marker changed to red.
“What’s going on now?”
The map couldn’t show the markers’ behaviour in detail. What was clear is that Schnee had brushed right next to Hameln, then stopped.
Schnee and Hameln were on a hill of moderate height. Thinking it would be a waste of time to go around, Shin jumped down from the roof, then kicked the ground again to boost himself up, hard enough to leave a crevice.
What Shin saw on the hill was Schnee collapsing and Hameln missing an arm.
As soon as he saw her, Shin found himself screaming.
His desperate call managed to barely reach her before she fell.
Smoothly, Schnee’s body rose again, and without a sound moved behind Hameln. Her hands gripped 『Blue Moon』, the weapon she had dropped moments before.
Hameln had been distracted by Shin’s shout and noticed Schnee’s approach only at the last moment, moving away instinctively.
She had apparently been damaged enough to cause her to collapse. Schnee’s attack lacked sharpness: it only managed to wound Hameln’s chest.
Hameln, now at a certain distance from Schnee, saw his coat tear in half. There was no blood, though: the slash likely failed to reach his body.
“Schnee!! Are you all right!?”
“Yes, no problem.”
Shin checked Schnee’s condition, while glaring at Hameln. She did not appear injured anywhere. Her level and status were the same as always too.
“Quite the speedy arrival, my friend. I must say I did not think we would meet again, though.”
Hameln spoke to Shin in a cheerful tone.
“I couldn’t care less. What did you do to Schnee?”
“Oh, it’s hardly something worth mentioning, really. I just used an affection-resetting item. Honestly speaking, I doubted it would actually work, you know. I thought you would have reset it already during that event, to collect items. It only works once, as you know.”
“….the 『Cursed Tag of Crippling』!”
Hameln’s smile widened and Shin materialized 『Moonless』. He was worried about Schnee’s condition, but it would have been much more troublesome to let Hameln go.
“Where did you get it? It should be impossible for players to create them.”
“The Kishimi clan, was it? They’re in this world too, you see. The item I used is something I found in their settlement, after wiping them out. Oh, do not worry: the one I used on Schnee was the last one I had. I have no other items to reset affection level.”
Hameln continued talking in a whimsical tone, but Shin did not hesitate and attacked him with 『Moonless』.
He would not kill him, as there was information to be extracted.
Before Shin could strike, however, a shadow appeared between them.
Shin clicked his tongue as he swung down 『Moonless』 and cut the intruding shadow in two. Because of the unexpected mass of the target, however, Shin’s sword slash did not have its usual speed.
The shadow’s identity was a monster with damage-reducing capabilities, Mad Shadow.
As the name said, its damage reduction ability allowed it to decrease the damage it received to one third, and worked both on physical and magic attacks. In addition, it could also wrap itself around swords and lances to make it more difficult to fight.
As it just happened to Shin, the monster could also slow down attack speed: it was hated by players especially when encountered in time attack events.
Its level was fixed at 100 and it had no offensive capabilities at all: on the other hand, its VIT was said to be over 800.
The Mad Shadow didn’t manage to completely wrap Shin’s 『Moonless』, but lowering Shin’s attack speed allowed Hameln to move away from his attack range.
“You probably wanted to capture and draw information out of me, but I had no intention of hiding anything from the beginning, so I guess I’ll have my say and go. It’s possible to make items to return affection level to what it was. Whether the item works or not, however, is all up to luck. Of all the times I’ve tried it on support characters until now, it worked about half the time. Other choices would be event bosses that are not confirmed to exist here too, but you could always try looking for them, I suppose.”
“….why did you tell me all this?”
“What effect would it have on a High Human’s support characters? Will it really go back? That’s what I’d like to see. I did not have the smallest inkling of wanting to erase Lady Schnee. The exchange just now took me by surprise, but it would have been boring to continue. I am sure you will understand that I am speaking the truth, dear Shin?”
Just as he said, Hameln probably just wanted to see the results of using the item. His words and actions seemed exactly the same as they were during the game.
For better or worse, Hameln did not seem to particularly care about anything other than his own objectives.
He frequently acted as MPK (Monster Player Killer) because he enjoyed looking at people struggle: whether his targets survived or died as a result, it was of no concern to him.
Considering his past, it did not seem like he was lying.
“Well then, I shall take my leave now. I’m looking forward to the next time we meet.”
Hameln had been talking behind a large quantity of Mad Shadows he had summoned as a barrier, but his presence now vanished. His way of disappearing did not make it look like he had used high-speed movement or 【Hiding】: he had probably used teleportation. Without a marker, there was no way of tracking a teleported target.
Shin took care of the remaining Mad Shadows, then talked to Schnee.
“What exactly happened here?”
“I do not know anything more than what Hameln said. He said he used a Cursed Tag, but I do not feel anything wrong with my condition.”
Schnee answered matter-of-factly to Shin’s question. She did not seem to be in a serious condition, nor to be enduring anything. It was probably true that there was nothing wrong with her.
Her matter-of-fact behavior, however, was a stark contrast with the usual Schnee. She was far too expressionless when talking about her condition.
“….do you remember me?”
“I remember that you are my creator and the lord whom I should serve.”
“It has been less than an hour since I appeared on this location and begun my activities, so I would say that there is nothing more to add.”
Schnee answered Shin’s somewhat upset question without changing her expression a bit.
Her gaze did not have the usual warmth anymore: it was simply observing the being known as Shin. Shin felt his blood turn cold.
“Like that I left you in charge of Tsuki no Hokora for all that time.”
“Do you mean the base?”
“We went to Falnido, Hinomoto, lots of other places too, didn’t we?”
“I do not remember, but…”
“….even Filma and Shibaid?”
“Who would they be?”
Schnee’s expressions clouded after Shin’s barrage of questions. It was not an act, she really did not know.
“Are you serious….?”
Finally, Shin sighed.
Judging from her words, it looked like Schnee had returned to the stage just after a support character has been created, her memories reset. She could use her equipment without problems, so her level and stats must be unchanged.
Affection level rose little by little as the player stays logged in: if the support characters acted alongside the player or certain items are used, it can increase by large amounts.
If affection level is reset, related memories and memories experienced when affection level was high are probably erased along with it.
Schnee was Shin’s first support character. They were together most of the time since he started playing, so her affection level was pretty much constantly growing.
Thing would have probably been different if he just had her manage the store, but it was likely that for Schnee resetting affection level also meant erasing all her memories.
“Do you have any other questions?”
“Well, let’s wait for Filma and the others to arrive first. Let me tell you first that Filma is a support character, like Shibaid.”
“Support characters other than me? I am supposed to be the first in order of creation, though.”
Schnee seemed puzzled to know about other support characters being created all of a sudden.
With her memories reset, it was no wonder that she did not remember about the support characters created after her.
For Schnee, the time spent in that world was almost zero. She probably found it bizarre for multiple support characters to exist.
“I don’t know if you will believe me, but you have actually lost your memories. Once Filma and the others learn about it, they will probably ask you the same questions I just did, but please bear with it.”
“Understood. I will be on standby, then.”
Schnee said nothing else and fell in complete silence. It seemed she had no intention of actively engaging in conversation.
She stood upright, her hands lightly resting on her skirt, not the smallest movement. If she didn’t blink, she could be passed for a very well done doll.
Yuzuha, to whom Schnee had not paid the slightest bit of attention, emitted a lonely growl.
(Memories disappear, huh.)
Shin could have asked more questions to grasp Schnee’s current situation, but he didn’t find himself able to. He was more shocked than expected at hearing Schnee call him “lord” with that blank tone and expression.
He could feel a sort of respect from her, but nothing more. The smile she had just a few hours before was nowhere to be seen.
(The 『Cursed Tag of Crippling』. To reverse its effects, I need the 『Blessed Tag of Bonding』, if memory serves me right.)
The item that resets affection level, officially named 『Cursed Tag of Crippling』, had been implemented in the game during the 『Depths of Oblivion』 event.
It was used by enemies which targeted not players, but support characters, forcing their affection levels back to zero.
In more precise terms, however, their memories were not lost, but only taken away.
During this event, alongside with the 『Cursed Tag of Crippling』 an item called 『Blessed Tag of Bonding』 was implemented as well. Using it would restore the lost affection level.
If something disappears, it can’t be brought back. But if it’s taken away, it can be taken back, and memories will return too…or so the event’s description said.
Other than using the Blessed Tag, the way to restore memories was to defeat the evil god the Kishimi clan venerated, the event’s boss. In the game, the tags had 100% success rate, but if Hameln had been speaking the truth, it was now a gamble.
During this event, many players reset their support characters’ affection levels on purpose, to then raise them again and obtain more 『Drops of Erathem』. The Cursed Tags could reset affection levels only once per character. Considering the reward, it wasn’t a big loss.
Shin too was no different: he had reset the affection levels of all his support characters from number 2 – Filma – onwards. Schnee, however, was different.
Clearing the event with a support character not affected by the Cursed Tag awarded a special reward. Shin thus did so with Schnee, his strongest support character at the time.
(Shit!! How could I have expected this!?)
Schnee, the only one among Shin’s support characters that could be affected by the Cursed Tag, encountered Hameln and had the Cursed Tag used on her. Shin could have never fathomed such a possibility.
Shin knew what materials were needed to create the Blessed Tag, but the Cursed Tag was not something players could create. Shin scratched his head, desperately trying to recover any useful information. He could not come up with anything, however, and eventually Filma and the others arrived.
Even after looking at Shibaid and Filma, support characters like her, or Tiera, with whom she used to manage Tsuki no Hokora, Schnee’s behavior did not change at all.
“….it really looks like you forgot all about us.”
“So it seems. All I have is the impression of meeting you all for the first time.”
“Looks like you act and speak a bit different too.”
Ever since Shin came to this world, Schnee always had a warm atmosphere, so as Filma said, her personality could have changed too.
“I have no recollection of ever taking any disciples.”
“You simply forgot. Please remember!”
Tiera kept pressing, with tears in her eyes, but Schnee was simply confused.
If Schnee hadn’t saved her, Tiera wouldn’t be who she is now. Having lived for so long together, it was a real shock for her to be forgotten.
“Calm down, Tiera. It’s not like there’s no way to bring Schnee back to the way she was.”
Shin told the others the information he received from Hameln. The source was an enemy, but concerning the Blessed Tag, Shin had used them too during the event, so there was no mistake.
The problem was that even using the Blessed Tag, there was just a 50% chance of it working.
In case it failed, they would have to go look for the event boss, which they were not even sure existed.
“Is it really true that I have lost my memories?”
“Yeah. According to your memory, you just woke up in this world and fought Hameln, right? If so, it would be weird that your non-combat skills are leveled up too. Your Cooking skill is as high as IX, isn’t it?”
“…indeed, I do possess many skills that I have no recollection training. So it is true that I lost my memory.”
Schnee checked her status and nodded, convinced.
Her expression barely changed, just like before, so Shin was not sure if she was really convinced or not. At the same time, he wondered if she always was so deadpan.
Filma then asked him a question.
“So, do you have the item that could recover her memory?”
“….I don’t have all the materials. I’m missing something called 『White Scent Nectar』, anyone heard of it?”
Shin checked his item box, then replied to Filma’s question.
Event item materials normally couldn’t be used to make other items, so there was no point in gathering them in large quantities. He had something remaining from when he made Blessed Tags for Filma and the others, but it wasn’t enough to make another one.
“Why don’t you try contacting the Golden Company’s Berett, first? I suppose that’s our best chance for finding it.”
“Yeah, that’s right. I’ll ask anyone I can contact first. Players like Hibineko could be carrying some too. Filma, guys, you’ve never heard of this item, right?”
“Nor have I.”
“I would have said it already if I had.”
Filma, Tiera and Shibaid did not seem to know either.
Filma and Shibaid, however, seemed to remember about the event, so they knew what kind of item it was.
“In Tsuki no Hokora…wasn’t there a box materials come out of? Couldn’t there be some there?”
“That doesn’t create event-only materials. Checking the storehouse is a good idea, though. Let’s take a look in Celciutos’ and Rashugum’s store too.”
Thanks to Tiera’s mention of the material creation device, Shin decided what they would go next. He would only go visit Zigma at a later time.