“What did you think of what Luxuria said?”
Shin asked Schnee as they were walking back to the hotel.
“Would you too like to do it? All three together?”
Not expecting for that topic to come back again, Shin inadvertently raised his voice. Luxuria was a beauty that was not inferior to Schnee, even if it only looks. Shin would certainly have been interested in her before his relationship with Schnee had advanced to where it was today.
However, things were different now. With Schnee at his side, he would never lay hands on other women, let alone a devil. There was also the fact that Schnee would become quite scary if he ever did.
“I’m just joking. Personally, I don’t think she was lying. Knowing her real identity, we can’t help being suspicious, but she didn’t say anything strange. I thought that she might plan to absorb Avaritia after we weakened it, but if she did she would become not only our, but also Erkunt’s enemy. It wouldn’t make sense for her.”
With Shin’s party and all of Erkunt as enemy, no amount of absorbed energy or increased level cap would be enough.
“As she said, we have to gather info first. Right now, we just know that someone with a 『Piece of Avarice』 infiltrated the institute.”
It could be a teacher, a student, or simply someone who sneaked past the security guards and into the dungeon. It was still a complete mystery.
According to Luxuria, the man claiming to be one of Avaritia’s subordinates was a young man with short red hair and brown eyes, called Hexen.
Being a monster, Luxuria can’t use 【Analyze】. Because of this, they couldn’t know if Hexen was a real or false name.
“Even if with an item, he still managed to escape from Luxuria. He has to have about 600 AGI.”
“Could he be a former player?”
“It’s possible. If there are people that see this world as a continuation of the game, it’s not too weird that some might think of siding with the devils. But I’ve never heard of someone called Hexen before.”
There were tens of thousands of players, so only very few were well known. Shin remembered the names of famous players, or at least the players that interested him, but they would be less than 1% of the total. It wouldn’t be strange if Hexen was an advanced player Shin simply didn’t know.
“Let’s check the names of people when we are outside, I guess, though I don’t think it’ll help much.”
“We should also talk again with Hilamee. This Hexen might have waited for her to go away before making his visit.”
Hexen’s visit happened just when Hilamee was in the royal castle, apparently. While not among the most advanced players, Hilamee was still one of the strongest individuals in this world. Her equipment had come from Shin, so she would be stronger than someone else with similar stats. In a battle, she would be much more dangerous than the average person.
If Hexen really waited for Hilamee’s absence to visit Luxuria, there was the possibility that fighting was not his forte.
Some players preferred to focus on a single stat, like STR or AGI, so they could only show their true power in specific situations.
If Hexen had focused on AGI, mages that could compress space itself were a natural enemy. Hilamee could do just that, so he would have surely wanted to avoid her.
“…let’s keep that as one possibility. He might be a devil worshipper, who did not lay hands on Luxuria as she’s a devil herself.”
There wasn’t enough information to make a proper assessment: the only thing they could do now was to keep their eyes peeled.
“Oh? Isn’t that Bermann?”
A horse carriage was stopped in front of Shin and Schnee’s hotel. Bermann, whom Shin had given a screenshot to and asked to relay a message to Hilamee, was talking with a hotel clerk, but noticed Shin and started walking towards him.
“Hello, I’m sorry to bother you when you’ve just arrived, but could you return to the institute?”
“Did something happen?”
“No, just that it would be best to talk about that in the institute grounds. Some also objected to have the headmistress come see you herself, as unwanted rumors would arise.”
Luxuria said that the headmistress would probably contact them the next day, but Hilamee was quicker.
Hilamee knew 【Hiding】, so she could have come to the hotel without being noticed. Though, as headmistress, there was a risk her movements would be tracked by foreign spies, thus causing trouble for Shin and Schnee.
Some foreign agents were specialized in seeing past skills such as 【Hiding】, so there was the possibility that they could see past Hilamee’s too.
“If so, we’ll come with you.”
“I apologize. We don’t want to bother you either.”
Even if Shin and Schnee were extremely strong, having them take care of monsters too powerful for the institute to handle was not something they would really want to do, or so Bermann’s expression said.
Maybe because of their pride as security, the other guard that came with the carriage had the same expression. It was probably because of such character and personality that they were entrusted with guarding the dungeon. Shin and Schnee got on the carriage and returned to the institute.
According to Bermann, Hilamee had returned just minutes before he arrived to deliver the message. She had been busy welcoming students from a foreign country: Hilamee apparently had more work than Shin thought.
“Once this vacation period ends, the new term will start, after all. We had been making preparations to welcome the students from abroad when you arrived, sir Shin. Because of the strange accidents in the dungeon, however, we have our hands full with making sure our kingdom doesn’t get too involved in this situation.”
The institute bore the name of Erkunt, though it wasn’t officially affiliated with the kingdom of the same name. On the surface, they were on an equal footing, and the kingdom did not openly dictate the institute’s policies or principles to follow.
Among Erkunt’s elites, however, there were individuals who tried to exert their influence from the back if they could not do so from the front.
“The kingdom itself requested us to find out who these people are, but they must be of quite high standing, because any evidence is always carefully erased. We also cannot deny the existence of people within the institute that are trying to curry favor within the kingdom”
“There’s always all sorts of intents and goals within all organizations…”
It couldn’t be avoided in something as large as a kingdom or the institute. Those with strong ambitions or those trying to use their standing to gain favors never completely disappeared.
The kingdom’s elite surely possesses considerable authority and wealth. According to Bermann, at least half of them were upright people, which was already very positive.
“I’m sorry for making you come all the way here.”
“No, don’t worry. I did ask to report about the Greed business, after all.”
Shin and Schnee got off the carriage and entered the headmistress’ quarters, where Hilamee greeted them, bowing. She had probably heard from Bermann, as her expression was clouded as well.
“Is everything okay? I heard there’s some trouble with the kingdom too.”
“It’s alright, for now. You’ve defeated the monsters under Greed’s influence, so the fact that I am connected to you has helped. Luxuria is also considered personnel that I summoned here.”
“Putting Luxuria aside, how does knowing me help in any way?”
“You’re quite well known, actually. There are even traveling minstrels that sing of your feats in the Balmel defense battle. People also talk of your expedition in the dangerous sea areas near Barbatos, from which you returned without losing a single party member. Merpeople and fishpeople talk of your strength in the taverns.”
Time had passed since the Balmel battle, so Shin thought that it would be forgotten by now. On the contrary, however, new topics of conversation had joined it and became known as far as Erkunt. The words merpeople and fishpeople hit too close to home.
“’Shin the Slashing Hammer’…you’re quite the hot topic, you know?”
“For real…? When I went to the guild to accept the battle training request, they didn’t pay much attention to me, though…”
“Did you have your weapon with you then?”
“No, I just visited the reception, so I didn’t bring anything.”
“That could be the reason. You’re pretty famous for wielding a sword that looks like a dull weapon. We’re pretty far from Barbatos here, so the people that don’t know you well probably didn’t think that you were the same Shin.”
『Kakura』 was starting to be Shin’s signature weapon. He had used it in Erkunt too, but only inside the institute, so probably rumors of it hadn’t reached the guild. Thinking about it, recently there were more and more students, other than Lecus’ party, joining his training sessions. Some of them looked at Shin with quite ardent gazes sometimes.
“Could it be that there are rumors spreading about me teaching here?”
“Yes. Many doubted it at first, but lately the students are prioritizing your training over guild requests. We’re lucky that there are few people around because of the vacation period, or things would have become hectic.”
“Even you say battle feats…there’s only the Balmel thing, right? Was it really that special?”
So Shin asked Hilamee, thinking that there had to be other famous adventurers. He felt that she was exaggerating a bit too much.
“Guilds share information about the phenomenon of monster ‘floods’ from Sacred Lands. Furthermore, the event you played a large part in was classified as ‘Grand Flood’, which is many times larger than regular ones. It has never happened in recorded history for such an event to pass without casualties. When information was first made public, there were a lot of theories thrown around about who this adventurer called Shin could be.”
Incidentally, the feats accomplished by adventurers such as Shadow and Hibineko were mostly expected: unlike Shin’s, their names had come under the spotlight several times, so people were not surprised by their actions anymore.
The same was for Schnee: her feats were regarded as natural for someone of her fame.
“Ah…I see. A newcomer appearing all of a sudden, that’s how they see it?”
“Your adventurer rank was very low at the time too. A mysterious powerful warrior appeared in Balmel, that’s what everyone said. Because of the distance, official guild information is all we could get too. There’s no internet or anything in this world, after all.”
“So even if things are getting quieter where the information came from, in far away places it’s still the talk of the town, then? Good thing I didn’t take out 『Kakura』 outside…”
『Kakura』 was a weapon that stood out easily even if it was just carried. Shin would have definitely been noticed if he simply equipped it in public.
“If so, isn’t it a problem to give special treatment to Lecus and the others?”
“No, they did ask for it after all. We couldn’t train them enough until now, so this one time please let them use their strength to their heart’s content.”
Very few in the institute could train the 3 prodigies at full power: only Hilamee, Masakado and few others. Chosen Ones did enroll in the institute, but not many chose to remain as instructors. Even if they did, they only taught their own disciples.
“Couldn’t you hire retired adventurers?”
“If they’re really skilled, countries or guilds get to them first. Even if they wish to train successors, it’s more efficient to take in disciples. Very few people would just teach their skills to anyone.”
For adventurers, the fighting style they had honed was an asset: they wouldn’t just give it to anyone.
“No one knows what the institute’s students will do after getting their training, after all.”
Some would become adventurers, while others enrolled into armies. There was also the possibility of them changing aspirations and aim to become researchers. The institute simply imparted its knowledge, it was up to each individual to decide if they would use it on the field or accumulate it.
“I’ve contacted former players too, but they always refuse without even considering it. I suppose it isn’t a very appealing position.”
The more she talked, the more Hilamee became depressed. There were former players who had formed guilds to help new players in the game era, so she had contacted them.
Very few former players outed themselves as such, however; Shin too could not tell if he did not know them already. Because of that, Hilamee had not managed to contact many.
“Now that I think about it, as long as they didn’t plan to from the beginning, not many people would think of becoming teachers in this world…if they had battle-related jobs, they’d become adventurers or military, if they had creation-related ones they’d open their own shop or workshop…”
If circumstances were different, Shin would have probably thought the same thing. He wouldn’t have considered becoming a teacher either.
“There aren’t many schools like this either, which might play a part too.”
“It takes a lot of money to further one’s studies, so students necessarily come from rich families. I have seen several institutions like that.”
Schnee added her own comments to Shin’s words. The institute needed financial resources to run. The Erkunt institute gathered finances by conducting its own research and technology development, keeping school fees low enough for not so affluent students to be able to frequent as well. It wasn’t something other schools could do easily, however.
Education was not compulsory in this world: very few aimed to be teachers, and even if they did they weren’t guaranteed to be able to. There was no ‘soil’ for the people Hilamee sought to grow.
“How about hiring graduated students? If they were taught here, they’d know already how things go, to an extent….from your reaction, I suppose that didn’t go well either?”
“Exactly…many come from outside Erkunt, so they mostly go back to their homelands. Others continue to pursue their fields of research, or use the skills they learned to become artisans. Very few choose to become teachers…it shouldn’t be a bad career, though.”
After releasing a deep sigh, Hilamee suddenly slapped her own cheeks. With the sharp clapping sound, light returned to her eyes.
“Anyway! I’m sorry, we’ve gone off topic enough. Let’s get on to the main topic.”
“Are you okay? Your cheeks are pretty red.”
“I went a little too hard…”
Hilamee massaged her cheeks while using 【Heal】 on herself. Her cheeks remained red, maybe out of embarrassment. Shin didn’t question her further.
“So, about the Greed affair. You’ve met Luxuria, so I suppose you already heard about it?”
“Yes, we met her on our way back and heard about it. It looks like Greed, or Avaritia, tried to absorb Luxuria.”
Hilamee had already heard of Avaritia’s attempt: Shin made sure there were no discrepancies between what they knew, then said that, if possible, he wanted to take down the greed devil.
“It would be a great help for us, but…it’s kind of pathetic to rely on you so much.”
Hilamee looked very apologetic, her eyes lowered, so Shin interjected, a bit awkwardly.
“Well, actually, we have our own reasons for targeting Avaritia, not only helping you or Luxuria.”
“What would those reasons be…..?”
“Among the unique items Avaritia drops, there’s one that lowers skill costs on accessories. That’s what I’m aiming at.”
“There was an item like that…? I’m sure you could make incredible accessories even without it, though.”
“What I want to forge with it is a wedding ring, attach it with the best skills possible.”
Shin remembered that he hadn’t told her yet, so he announced to Hilamee that he had married Schnee. Luxuria had mentioned them loving each other and seeking each other, so Hilamee too probably knew already, but he mentioned it just in case.
“I see, so that’s your reason…wait, a wedding ring???”
“Well, things happened, so we didn’t have time to make one…”
“You’re way, way, way too casual about this!! That just won’t do!! You need that before proposing, don’t you know!?!”
Shin didn’t think it was absolutely necessary, but even if he told the excited Hilamee to calm down, she probably wouldn’t.
“We absolutely must defeat it, then!! A happy marriage is much more important than a devil’s life!”
Hilamee was brimming with enthusiasm, clenching her fists. It was good for her to have perked up, but Shin had no idea why she was that eager.
He looked at Schnee, wondering if she was perplexed too, but she was eagerly nodding at Hilamee’s words, not perplexed in the slightest.
“Don’t push yourself too hard, okay…?”
“No problem. For the sake of a happy marriage, we must accept any sacrifice that may occur…”
“Is that really not a problem…?”
It was a topic that probably resonated loudly within Hilamee: her eyes gleamed in a way Shin found almost scary. If this was a manga, they would be definitely glowing darkly.
“By the way, who did the proposal?”
“I asked her to marry me.”
The situation wasn’t romantic at all, which was Shin’s sole regret.
“Right!! The man should be the one confessing, right!!”
“Is there someone you want to confess to you?”
Shin could only think of Masakado, who was in the same party as Hilamee in the game.
“I’m doing my best to give him hints…I think he noticed, but still, there’s no progress…”
Hilamee sighed again, her shoulders dropping. Schnee put a hand on her shoulder and nodded once more, as if saying that she understood that frustration all too well.
Shin couldn’t feel more uneasy.
“What kind of hints did you send?”
“Well, you see…”
Hilamee’s love troubles suddenly took over the conversation. The words “fickle” and “can’t make a proper decision” popped up from time to time. Thinking that Schnee might have felt the same way, Shin received damage, even though they weren’t talking about him. He imagined their words as knives, stabbing him repeatedly.
“Er, could we start talking about what countermeasures to take…?”
Shin made a timid proposal, worried to let things proceed like that. The two ladies returned to their senses, coughed loudly and looked at him.
“…let us resume this conversation another time.”
They looked like they still had things to talk about, but the topic was shifted back to the main reason Shin and Schnee were there.
“For starters, I’m thinking of going outside of the castle walls with Schnee, using Lecus’ party’s training as an excuse. Should we put anti-monster traps in the dungeon? We can make sure only monsters coming out of it are attacked.”
“I would love that, but it might be difficult if you set items only you can use. If they ever malfunction, no one could fix them. Besides, I cannot authorize something like that by myself. We would need to obtain permission from the institute’s directors.”
Even the headmistress could not act as she pleased. The Erkunt institute had several other directors, whose approval was needed for most if not all major decisions.
“I’m sure they would approve quickly if I told them about your actual identity, though.”
“Anything but that.”
“Right? So we should tell them that ‘Shin the Slashing Hammer’ is on our side and…”
“Whaaat!? Are you serious!?”
Surprised by the unexpected development, Shin immediately stopped Hilamee’s train of thought. Rumors about his fighting prowess were spreading, but not about his skills with item crafting.
“What you have is a Legend grade weapon. If we introduce you as someone also knowledgeable in the field of magic items, things will work out.”
“Well, that could be true, but…”
Feeling that the rumors might power up even more, Shin felt conflicted. Because of the diffusion of the “Slashing Hammer” nickname, the tales of his participation in the Balmel battles were spreading even more. Such rumors hadn’t reached Erkunt yet, but were very well known in Balmel.
Information warped as it spread, however: especially it traveled through average people, it transformed in incredible ways. At Balmel many had witnessed Shin fighting, but even so erroneous informations and rumors were spreading. He was afraid to know what things had reached Erkunt, which was quite far from Balmel.
If they knew who he really was, they would know how wrong the rumors were, but except his party members very few people knew that in Erkunt.
“If things are like this, I might as well say that I was a disciple of Kain or Hecate…no, that would only make things worse, wouldn’t it…”
They could say that his companion Schnee – Yuki was skilled in crafting magic items, but Shin thought that rather than doing that, it would be better for him to step forward.
“There’s no helping it…let’s do what you said. I’m here now, but won’t be in the future. If you’re worried about the traps malfunctioning, we’ll just use them while I’m here.”
The reason why the rare monster Mob Ant Queen had become a cohort of Greed was unknown.
There was a high chance of someone having brought a 『Piece of Avarice』 in the dungeon, but there could be other methods. In such a case, there was no harm in being cautious.
If the traps were used while Shin was present, he could fix them in case of any malfunctions.
“Understood, I will use this approach then.”
After discussing other minor details, Shin and Schnee left the institute. Because of having gone back and forth twice from the institute to the hotel, the sun was already beginning to set.
“It took more time than expected, huh. At least she offered us lunch, though.”
After the dungeon’s exploration and the conversation with Luxuria it was already past noon: Shin and Schnee had returned to the institute to talk with Hilamee afterwards.
There was still some time before sunset, but not enough to think about going somewhere.
“Shall we stay at the hotel tonight?”
“Yes, let’s. Can I go do some shopping?”
“Sure, I’ll come with you.”
Schnee didn’t say what she wanted to buy, but Shin figured that it was probably groceries. When Shin and Schnee went shopping together, people sometimes addressed them as if they were a young married couple. Schnee herself enjoyed very much being addressed as his wife, as she said to Shin, blushing…obviously making him blush too.
Shin remembered this episode, trying hard not to grin, when he heard the shop owner say goodbye to Schnee. They were negotiating about something, but judging from their smiles, it looked like the transaction had gone well. Though she was just buying vegetables.
“I’ll carry the bags.”
“Thank you very…”
“Hm? What’s wrong?”
Schnee didn’t finish her sentence, so Shin wondered what had happened. After a brief silence, she whispered “thanks”.
“You see! I usually speak in a kind of formal tone, but since we’re hus, husband and wife now…well, I thought I should be less formal, so…”
Schnee started explaining herself quickly, but her voice gradually grew fainter, inversely proportional to her ears getting redder. Ever since they arrived in Erkunt, Schnee was much more expressive. Looking at her thinking too much and getting flustered always made Shin laugh.
“T-there’s nothing funny about this!”
“Well, looking at you talking like that, all red and all, is just too funny, haha.”
Realizing how flustered she looked, Schnee blushed even more violently.
“That’s good, though. It doesn’t feel right to be the only one talking casually.”
“Hmm, well, from now on, I’ll do my best…only when we’re alone.”
“Well, you can do it any other time too.”
“It’s too embarrassing!!”
Schnee had used a formal tone for more than 500 years: even if she was told to speak less formally, it had become a habit of hers.
Shin told her again that she could change little by little, as they headed towards the hotel. They had just finished shopping, so they attracted attention like before. Shin walked while lightly pushing Schnee forward. He was carrying the grocery bags, obviously.
When they arrived, he put the groceries in the item box. It was still early for dinner, so they sat on the sofa to rest a bit.
“It feels more tiring to just go shopping, somehow…”
“Maybe because people are looking? I heard from Vulcan that you’re quite the celebrity too around here.”
At first she was talked about as “the elf with the man that looks like the Slashing Hammer”, apparently. The students trained by them and the clerks assisting her shopping, however, started spreading rumors about her strength, personality, beauty etc.
The fact that she visited the workshop district with Shin helped spread the rumors too: it was an area mostly visited by men, so the chance of seeing a beautiful elf there became well know quickly, according to Vulcan.
Vulcan was often holed up in his smithy, but Vaal often talked with clients too, many of which persistently asked him about Schnee.
“The same thing happened in Balmel too. I didn’t act with this disguise, but for some reason people started talking all the same.”
“Tiera’s more famous there, after all, the beautiful archer who swept monsters away with a single arrow…you were fighting alongside her, so you became famous together, I suppose.”
Tiera’s sniping from the castle walls had been talked about quite a bit, because of its high power too.
Shin and Schnee produced more impressive battle results, but because of the appearance of the mysterious “Red” too, they were treated as skilled adventurers and not much more.
“They asked me a lot of questions too. Which one I liked, if it was both, all stuff like that though.”
At the time, Shin’s party was only 3 members, excluding Yuzuha and Kagerou. Being one man with two women, the conversation would often naturally shift in that direction.
“I was asked the same things too, but mostly by women.”
Men often asked Shin how he had hooked up with them, if they had a physical relationship and other ‘material’ questions, but women inquired more about romance, also asking how their party had been formed and what relationship Schnee had with the only man, Shin. Elves rarely formed parties with members of the opposite gender, which spurred even more questions.
When they explained that the party was formed because Tiera had been rescued by Shin, many women reacted with a shriek Schnee didn’t quite understand: “Oh lord!! He’s just like a prince on a white horse!!”
“I understand that you might give that impression, as you freed her from a curse that lasted over a century…but I too waited for you for 500 years, so I don’t really like the fact that Tiera might be your partner…and well, at the time I was hiding my identity as Schnee Raizar, so I understand that people might focus on Tiera, but—”
Schnee started talking quicker and quicker, clearly annoyed.
“H-hey! Schnee! Why are you heating up like that?”
“Why, you ask!? Some people even told me that I should confess already, or that you surely liked Tiera better!!”
Schnee, remembering things she was told at the time, pouted. Looking at her almost childish gestures, Shin smiled. After calming her down, he changed posture and put her head on his lap.
“No need to pout like that. We’re together now, aren’t we.”
“I know that…but imagining you with someone else gives me chills…”
Elves were normally monogamous. Schnee shared this belief too, so she never enjoyed seeing high-ranked adventurers or nobles with multiple partners. She understood that strong people were surrounded by people interested in them and did not criticize them, but would not want the person she liked to do the same. In simple words, she wanted the complete monopoly.
Shin caressed her head, to which she whimpered happily. Schnee’s ears flickered, as to show her good mood. Without saying anything else, Shin just continued caressing her.
Schnee’s hair, illuminated by the lights, were very pleasant to the touch. Shin had started caressing her head to calm her down, but he had lost the timing to stop and simply continued.
After a while, Shin noticed that Schnee’s reactions were odd, or rather, she didn’t react at all. He peered closer at her face to see why and noticed that her eyes were closed and she was breathing softly, asleep.
She was simply defenseless. Without the flimsiest barrier or weapon, just laying there on the sofa, she was completely relaxed. Schnee would never let her guard down like this normally: she allowed herself to do so because Shin was with her.
He tried poking her cheeks to see if she was just pretending to sleep, but she just grunted a little: she was really asleep.
“Well, usually the positions would be reversed…but this feels good too.”
Shin talked to himself, thinking that it was usually the man sleeping with his head on the woman’s lap, but the reverse was nice too.
Schnee’s defenseless figure, proof of her trust towards Shin. Looking at her peaceful sleeping face made him feel happy.
“Guess I should cover her.”
The room was warm, so there was no risk of catching a cold, but Shin opted to put his mantle over her as blanket, leaving aside the question whether they could even catch a cold with their stats.
There was still some time left till dinner time, so Shin decided to use it to leisurely enjoy Schnee’s sleeping face.