After falling asleep holding Shin’s hand, Schnee woke up in a field of flowers. On a small hill basked in light, she saw flowers she seemed to remember, lulled by the wind.
She quickly knew where she was. She had visited it for the first time, but Shin’s shocked expression and actions impressed her deeply.
It was the place where Shin’s lover rested.
—Yes, the place that reminds you of the woman that continues to live in your heart.—
She could turn her head enough to look at the surroundings. Her body, however, was lying on the ground and would not move. It did not budge an inch, no matter how much she tried, as if she were tied to the ground.
Even if she had been affected by a binding skill, Schnee, in her current state, could easily break out of it, even if she had to move the ground itself. However, she couldn’t move her arms at all.
“What are you doing there?”
While struggling to regain her freedom, Schnee heard the voice of her beloved master, Shin.
Yuzuha was on his shoulder, Tiera next to him.
“I’ll leave you behind if you don’t get a move on.”
Saying so, Shin walked past her, heading for the top of the hill. He didn’t seem to care about Schnee’s situation at all.
Tiera was walking right next to him. Upon closer inspection, someone’s shadow seemed to be overlapping her silhouette.
No, that is my place. Those were the words that surfaced in Schnee’s heart as she watched them. Schnee tried desperately to stand up, but her limbs would not move, as if she was paralyzed.
—-Within that elf, inhabits your lord’s loved one. Naturally, she walks at his side—-
Shin did not react to Schnee’s yell. He spoke to Tiera, smiling, as they climbed the hill. On top of the hill, a view that Schnee had never seen before appeared.
She had heard about it.
A large human construct, so big it was hardly possible to imagine it really existed, a skyscraper.
An intricate structure supported by steel and powered by electricity, something that not even magic could replicate.
Clothes she had never seen before.
Metal carts that moved without horses.
Bridges spanning within the city, people walking on them.
A world without magic or monsters. A world that, despite this, created weapons that could kill millions at once. That was the “real world” that High Humans like Shin spoke about. The place Shin and Tiera were walking towards.
—-That is a place you cannot reach. You will be left behind—
Schnee screamed. Shin was going back to his former world. I have to go to him.
As she thought so, the binds tying her arms and legs vanished. Even before she could think, Schnee ran.
Shin and Tiera were walking a few dozens mel ahead: with her speed, Schnee would have reached them in seconds. The distance between them did not shrink, though: on the contrary, it grew wider and wider.
Why can’t I reach them?
No matter how hard I kick the ground, the scenery does not change. No matter how much I stretch my arms, they will not reach Shin. Frustration, irritation mounting. I can see them yet I cannot reach them.
—You will never reach him. You will never get closer. You are not fitting—
Schnee couldn’t hold back her shout.
I have to slow him down, even just a little.
Her pleas, however, did not even reach Shin.
Her body stopped responding again. She collapsed in the dirt and mud of the ground.
As if deriding her crawling efforts, what Schnee saw, when she finally managed to raise her head, was Shin and Tiera stepping into the other world. They were swallowed by the light before her.
She was not chosen. He did not stay. It was one of the worst futures she could imagine.
Schnee screams, her hands grasping for the light. They did not reach. It was too late.
The light before her grew hazy because of the tears. The next instant, she woke up.
For a second, she couldn’t remember where she was.
Using 【Night Sight】, she could see her stretched hand and the ceiling above it.
After her quickly beating heart and ragged breath calmed down, Schnee sat up.
“I was dreaming…?”
After a moment of relief, Schnee remembered the content of the dream and looked around her. There was no one else in the room. Shin wasn’t there either, naturally.
“That…can’t have happened, right…?”
Schnee whispered while holding the right hand that Shin had held until she fell asleep.
Her fear wouldn’t go away. She thought she heard very ominous words.
Her right hand retained nothing of the previous warmth. Her own hands seemed to have turned into ice.
Schnee called the name of her beloved. Not as her creator or her master.
That sensation was proof of her feelings, as one person, as one woman.
Or at least, it was supposed to be.
She couldn’t be sure of her feelings. Probably because of the cursed tag, she retained little of her memories and feelings.
When she called Shin’s name, she partly felt she was being disrespectful. That was her feeling as a servant, not something that was part of her original self.
Her original self called Shin’s name with affection. There was no sense of duty in that.
Schnee got off her bed, left her room and headed towards Shin’s.
Her conscience gradually grew hazier, her senses dulled, her body unstable. So cold. Freezing.
—-If you cannot let him go, just make him yours—
Someone’s voice reacher her ears. She had heard it before.
Schnee did not know.
Schnee was supposed to be going towards Shin’s room, but all of a sudden found herself outside the log house. Her body was taking her to the exit of the faerie village.
—If you do so, the one you so desire will be forever by your side—
“Forever…by my side…”
For Schnee, those words were too sweet a temptation. She did not want to even think about being apart from him. She did not want to even imagine he could be gone forever. She wanted him to touch her. To love her.
—-even if as a silent corpse—
The words spoken by the mysterious voice did not reach Schnee anymore.
Her heart was plunged in such chaos and confusion that she could not tell what she was feeling anymore. Even in such a state, her legs moved steady, as if they had a mind of their own.
Wrapped in her alluring nightgown, Schnee disappeared from the faerie village.
Schnee had disappeared. Cruelly enough, the first to find out was Shin, who wanted to tell her the words he failed to utter the night before.
“Schnee is gone!? Are you serious!?”
“Calm down Filma, you’ve heard that already too.”
After making sure that Schnee was really gone, Shin relayed the information to the rest via Mind Chat. Even so, she couldn’t help asking.
For Filma, Schnee was someone very special.
“There’s no response in the faerie village. I think…she went outside.”
“But why? There was no sign about any of this last night…!”
Filma didn’t let Shin out of her sight. She was sure that if Schnee had done something unexpected, he must have been connected somehow.
“Shin. Did something happen to Schnee after dinner?”
Shibaid’s question put everyone’s thoughts into words.
Even Tzaobath, who was the least involved one in the group, had perceived that Shin and Schnee shared a particular relationship.
“Hey, Shin, did something happen after that…?”
“…yeah, that’s right. I don’t want to spend too much time on this, so I’ll give you the general gist.”
Shin told everyone about Marino’s possession of Tiera and his conversation with Schnee afterwards.
Filma whispered, her body shaking. The next instant, she pressed Shin for answers.
“Why couldn’t you tell her that you’ll stay!!”
Shibaid stopped Filma from grabbing Shin and lifting him. He was physically stronger, but she didn’t let go. Both exerted their power without reserve.
“Why are you stopping me, Shibaid!?”
“Staying here means throwing away his homeland. That isn’t something you can decide so easily!”
Shibaid had left his country out of loyalty for Shin. He could still return, but he had chosen Shin over his country and had told some of his closer followers that there was the possibility that they would be enemies in the future.
Because of this, he could understand Shin’s struggle to a degree.
Filma let her arms drop after hearing Shibaid’s words.
“That’s…that’s true too, but…”
“You lot, there is something you should be doing now before quarrelling among yourselves, is there not?”
Tzaobath spoke next. The group was on the log house’s terrace, so Tzaobath could participate in the conversation too.
Shin and the others knew that looking for Schnee was more important than standing there talking: Filma probably couldn’t hold back anyway.
“We’ll talk again once we’re back.”
Filma took a deep breath to calm down, then clapped her own cheeks.
“Let’s go find big sis Schnee then. We’ll need some transport first of all…can you give us a hand, Tzaobath?”
Sety asked Tzaobath to carry them, as casually as if she was asking it to help with shopping. It happened when they first arrived in the faerie village too, so apparently they shared that kind of relationship.
“The evil deity is involved, thus I could not possibly ignore this. I shall assist you.”
“Transport first? Do you already have an idea where she could be?”
As far as Shin could remember, Sety never learned any stealth skills such as 【Tracing】. It would have required long and strenuous effort to train it to usable levels, but considering the time Shin was absent, it wasn’t impossible.
“Of course I do. I asked the Tsumugins and they said that the cursed tag’s presence left the village. They also said they’ll show us the way.”
“I see. We’ll try to locate Schnee with our skills too, if both point the same way, there’ll be no mistake.”
Schnee was Shin’s support character, so he could find her position or at least the general direction she was in on his map. The same could be said for the other support characters, but messages could not be sent until Shin actually met them.
“May we go right away?”
Shin asked Tzaobath for confirmation and the latter nodded.
“I am ready anytime. You need not address me so politely either. We will be comrades in arms from now on. It would not sit well with me to be treated so by someone I have entrusted my back to.”
“Understood…no, got it. Then I’ll do as you say. Sety, are you ready?”
Shin accepted Tzaobath’s proposal, then checked on Sety.
“I can go whenever too. To bring big sis back to normal, I’m ready to do pretty much anything!”
Sety beat her chest as she proudly made her statement. The others shared her same feelings, even if they didn’t put them into words. Filma was especially brimming with killing intent towards the evil deity.
“While her memories might be faulty, the girl is still a High Elf. To be able to manipulate her, the enemy surely is the evil deity itself. Have you thought of any countermeasures yet?”
“Please wait. Let me check what I remember.”
Spurred by Tzaobath’s warning, Shin gathered what he remembered about the evil deity Adetropos.
The first thing he remembered is that Adetropos used attacks that caused mental status abnormalities. 【Confusion】, 【High Confusion】, 【Charm】, and 【Brainwash】: the monster’s greatest and most dangerous characteristic was its tendency to fire barrages of such spells. It was even capable of generating fields that reduced the effects of status effect prevention skills and equipment by one stage.
Many complained about the Adetropos event, as it was more likely to be defeated by one’s own allies than the boss itself.
“Hand me your accessories everyone, I’ll upgrade them.”
Shin made this request after explaining his strategy against Adetropos. The 『Age of Gods Earrings』 Shibaid and Filma had equipped, which normally prevented status ailments, would be reduced to just increasing defenses against them when facing Adetropos: they wouldn’t be enough to prevent negative statuses.
In the game there was a limit to the number of equippable accessories, so players would focus on strengthening defenses or preventing only certain status effects. They would split the statuses among the party members, to prevent the danger of all members being affected at the same time.
In the current world, however, accessories could be powered up more than in the game era and there was no equipping limit anymore: they could take more extensive countermeasures.
“Filma, Shibaid, and Sety can equip multiple boosted 『Age of Gods Earrings』. With them you won’t be affected by status ailments unless something really unexpected happens. Tiera, you can’t equip the 『Age of Gods Earrings』 because of your stats, but we’ll make do with numbers.”
Shin thought about countermeasures for Tiera while upgrading the 『Age of Gods Earrings』. If she couldn’t count on quality, they had to rely on quantity.
Earrings, necklaces, rings, bracelets, hairpins, etc. Shin would have her wear more accessories, as long as they didn’t make it harder for her to fight. He tried attaching a few rings to a chain, thus turning them into a necklace, and they all retained their effects, so he used that method too. Shin also added a protection to the Geyl coin Tiera used as necklace, for added insurance.
“OK, Tiera should be alright now. So only Yuzuha and Kagerou are left. You can’t use the earrings either, so…”
“Kuu, I can. I want the ear thing.”
Yuzuha, from Shin’s shoulder, pointed at Filma’s earrings.
She had worn equipment when they entered the underwater cave to go save Hermie, but that was equipment made for partner monsters.
『Age of Gods Earrings』 were made for players and support characters, so Shin hadn’t considered them for equipment Yuzuha could use. Besides, as far as Shin remembered, Divine Beasts were unaffected by skills causing mental status effects. In a way, they were natural enemies for the evil deity.
Yuzuha had still not regained her complete form, however, so Shin decided to give her the item, just in case. He gave her the boosted 『Age of Gods Earrings』 and another item to strengthen defenses against negative status effects. Yuzuha turned into human form and wore them.
“I see, you can use them like that.”
Yuzuha puffed out her chest proudly, then turned back to fox mode. The earrings covered part of her ears, and other items also transformed in a way as to not to get in the way of her movements. They were mostly covered by her fur and not visible, but Shin could tell that Yuzuha was still equipping them.
“Next is Kagerou. You can’t do the same thing Yuzuha did, so we’ll just use a necklace.”
It was a pretty classic method for four-legged monsters. Other types included attaching accessories to their legs or tails. Kagerou did not resist at all as Shin equipped the accessories. Afterwards, it made a few small jumps and ran a little, in order to check if they would inconvenience its movements.
“I’ll ask just in case, but do you need anything, Tzaobath? I’m not sure if you could equip my items though.”
“Do man-made items have an effect on me?”
“Who knows? But it seems they do on Yuzuha and Kagerou, so I think the possibility is there.”
“Hmm. Then I shall request the same mental protection items you gave to the Element Tail. To be manipulated by that would be a worse humiliation than losing to it.”
Tzaobath spoke, sparks of fire burning in his breath. It was usually calmly imposing, but when it came to the evil deity, even the dragon would lose its temper.
“Earrings…wouldn’t work, I guess. Could you try wearing them as bracelets or rings?”
Thinking that a collar would be out of the question, Shin did not even mention the possibility.
The size of equippable items could be adjusted, so they were supposed to grow larger or smaller automatically, but nothing happened when Shin gave them to Tzaobath.
“Hmm, no reaction?”
“There aren’t any partner monsters your size after all. Maybe the size adjustment range has limits? If so, there’s not much I….ah!”
Shin took the item back from Tzaobath and took out another item card.
“What is that?”
“A paint-type accessory. Drawing a pattern on the body’s surface applies a magic enchantment.”
In the game era, it was used as a fashion item. It could be applied anywhere on the body and did not interfere with other equipment. Paint-types too, however, used up one accessory slot, so most players usually used more effective earring, bracelet, or hair ornament types.
“I see, it is applied on the skin, so size is not a concern. Let us try it then.”
Tzaobath nimbly took the item card with its claws and materialized it. Once the pattern that appeared in midair was placed anywhere on the body, the item was equipped.
“This seems to be working…I feel something covering my whole body. Can you tell?”
“Yes, I can. So paint-types work well with large sized creatures…I’ll keep it in mind.”
Paint-types were less effective than other accessories, but there was next to no chance of them being destroyed. Even if the arm the pattern was placed on was severed, items or Divine skills could restore both the arm and the pattern. This wouldn’t work with rings or armbands, however: if they were destroyed, they were almost impossible to restore mid-battle, barring very high auto-restoring abilities.
For added insurance, Shin added paint-type accessories to the rest of the group too.
“Attach them wherever you like, and the effect will activate.”
Shin then added a paint-type just above the left side of his chest. As he did, the painted pattern passed through his clothes and attached itself to his skin. He chose to apply it to his chest as, unlike arms or legs, it was a part less likely to be lost. Like Shin, Filma and the others applied the patterns to their chest too.
Shin, Shibaid, and Sety had little exposed skin, so the patterns couldn’t be seen, but Filma and Tiera’s chests were more visible, so the flowery patterns were partly visible.
Yuzuha turned into human form again to apply the patterns, then turned back to small fox mode. That form was more comfortable for her apparently.
Kagerou lay down on its back as Tiera applied the pattern.
“Okay, now all preparations are done. Let’s go.”
The group ate a quick breakfast with food Shin had ready in the item box, then climbed on Tzaobath’s back. The faerie village, without Sety maintaining it, would probably disappear soon after she left. It was also Shin’s private area, however, so it was possible to turn it into a card and carry it. When he did, maybe because he turned the area into a card, or maybe he was the original owner, the burden of the preservation shifted on Shin.
“What is the direction?”
“That way, straight north-north-west.”
Sety asked the Tsumugins, then pointed towards a point in the sky. Shin’s 【Tracing】 showed the same direction.
“Wait for us, Schnee, we’ll arrive in no time!”
Shin whispered while glaring at the direction the evil deity was thought to be.