The fateful final day finally arrived.
Shin woke up 20 minutes earlier than usual.
“Good morning, si…ahem. Good morning. You’re up earlier than usual.”
Schnee was about to give her usual polite greeting, but corrected herself halfway through. The words that followed, however, were kind of awkward.
“Morning. Don’t force yourself to change, take your time.”
“I do it because I wi..want to.”
Schnee’s attempts at speaking less politely sometimes met such quirky results. She only tried when she was alone with Shin, though. It didn’t go well every time: she was too used to speaking politely, so sometimes their conversations turned awkward.
“Well, let’s take it easy, anyway.”
There was no need to rush.
“I’ll go wash my face.”
Shin got out of bed and went to the bathroom. He made preparations quickly and had breakfast.
“You don’t need to hurry, there’s still plenty of time.”
“…was I in that much of a hurry?”
“Hehe. Just like you did in the past when looking forward to an event.”
Shin was eager to see how Lecus’ party would fight, that was probably why he was hurrying.
“I wonder why..it’s not like they’re my disciples or anything, but it’s just such fun to see them grow.”
“I understand, I had a similar experience too. You can’t help being happy, seeing your pupils become stronger.”
Schnee laughed and Shin smiled back. She had prepared some herbal tea, to help him calm down, so Shin started sipping on it to kill time.
“Weird, how could they be late today, of all times?”
Shin and Schnee arrived at the institute, eager and excited, but none of the three students showed up at the appointed time. Even if they were late, Lecus or Gian would have contacted them.
Shin and Schnee separated to go check the boys’ and girls’ dorm, only to learn that the three students had apparently already left.
“It doesn’t look like they had any other things to take care of…something must have happened after they left.”
Myu was especially excited about the day, so she had talked about it with friends in the dorm as well. The students’ friends, who told Shin and Schnee about their departure, all claimed they didn’t know anything about any other plans.
The appointed location was inside institute grounds, so it was difficult to imagine that they had been caught up in trouble on their way there.
“Do you think they might still be in the institute?”
“I want to say yes, but there’s something that bothers me.”
What concerned Schnee was the man that Luxuria talked about, who introduced himself as Avaritia’s follower: Hexen. He had fled without fighting, so his strength was unknown, but if he had been able to run away from a Deadly Sin Devil, he clearly wasn’t an average person.
“After we started training, those three went often to the infirmary, as Luxuria said. If Hexen saw them, he might have thought of using them as hostages…”
For Shin and the others, Luxuria’s change of heart, which allowed her to co-exist with people without hurting anybody, was very welcome. When Shin saw her earnestly concerned about people, or rather children, he was very surprised.
This change, however, could turn out to be not completely positive. The more Luxuria treasured people, the more her heart was closer to them, the more weakness would be generated.
Just as it had happened to Shin in the past, when someone close to you was targeted, you can end up becoming powerless.
“Schnee, please contact Hilamee. I’ll go see if anyone went out of town.”
If they had been taken away, it was highly likely that they would be already outside the town. There was nothing else Shin could do at the moment.
Even Shin and Schnee’s high battle prowess was little use when looking for someone.
“Shit! Tell me that we didn’t guess right!”
Shin expanded his detection field as much as he could.
It was a mere coincidence. While he was expanding his detection field from their location towards outside the institute’s premises, he noticed three presences moving together.
The three dots were heading towards the supposedly sealed training dungeon. He kept following their movements and saw that 2 of the dots gathered around the entrance of the training dungeon started moving towards the three approaching dots. They were probably security guards: eventually, they came in contact with the three dots.
One of the dots stopped moving, and all the other dots started drawing closer too. They were clearly fighting, which gave Shin a bad feeling about the situation.
“Those three presences…could it be them?”
Schnee probably noticed that something was off from Shin’s reaction and expanded her detection field as well.
“I don’t know what could be the cause, but yes, maybe. Let’s go check.”
They had no other clues at the time. It could be a diversion, but it was far too difficult to find to work as one. There had to be another objective in play. Shin decided to message Hilamee, then go to the training dungeon.
“Hey, are you all right!?”
When Shin and Schnee arrived the fighting was already over: Bermann and the other security guards were all lying on the ground. As it turned out, they really fought against Lecus’ party. Since the three “intruders” were students they knew and chosen ones, they managed to send an emergency message, but ended up defeated.
“Kh, how shameful…we couldn’t stop them…”
Bermann and the guards were dejected, but based on their equipment and training, they should have been able to hold on until Shin and Schnee arrived. Shin thus inquired further, only to learn that Lecus’ party moved and fought as if they were completely different people. It was clear that, after all, they weren’t acting on their own will.
“Will you go by yourselves? It’s too dangerous. We should wait for the headmistress.”
“We have contacted her already. Saving those three is a higher priority now.”
If they were strong enough to defeat Bermann’s group in so little time, sending reinforcements would just create more casualties. The next task was definitely Shin and Schnee’s specialty. Saying that they would just do some reconnaissance, the two entered the training dungeon.
The walls and floors did not seem to have changed. The traps and contents appeared to be just like the training dungeon always used to be.
“They have definitely gone inside. Not much time seems to have passed either. I can’t tell which floor they warped to, though.”
Schnee had tracked the three student’s traces with her kunoichi abilities. They had gone to the teleport device room, but it was not possible to know which floor they had gone to.
“We should be able to find some traces in the floor they went to. I doubt they went to one of the higher floors in this situation…it’s a gamble, but let’s try going to the deepest part, from level 200, first.”
If they didn’t find any traces of the students, they would be forced to check all other floors one by one. Hoping that his hunch was right, Shin and Schnee used the teleport. At their destination, they found clear traces that someone had passed.
“The gamble paid off, then.”
Their relief was very short, as they couldn’t relax just yet, and resumed tracking. Thanks to 【Magic Sonar】 they could tell how the floor was structured, so they used together with other detection skills to track the three runaways.
“No response in the map. But the tracks clearly lead to the deepest part of this area.”
In a normal cave, they could scan underground right away, but training dungeons allowed to see only the floor where one was currently located. Shin’s detection field showed that not only the three students’ responses weren’t there, but no monsters were either.
“In any case, something must have happened, that’s for sure…”
The situation was very similar to when the mob ants were amassed in floor 200. While keeping their guard up, Shin and Schnee hurried to the lower levels, but found nothing anywhere. This continued five times, but when they reached floor 205, something changed.
“Yes, without a doubt.”
Before the stairs leading down to floor 206, they found a door just like the ones placed before boss chambers. The three students’ tracks led here too.
“We can’t see inside, huh. Schnee, get ready for an ambush.”
They had made necessary preparations for battle while they descended. Judging it likely that they would fight devil-related foes, both Shin and Schnee equipped anti-devil gear.
After Schnee concealed her presence with a skill, Shin opened the door and noticed the silhouette of a man, pierced in the middle by something. He wasn’t anyone they knew. Based on the fact that the map didn’t show his icon, he had to be already dead. What pierced the man seemed to be a half-transparent tentacle.
It looked like the aura that appeared when Shin or Schnee used skills: its color, however, was much darker and sinister-looking.
Shin then looked at the base of the tentacle.
“What the hell’s that?”
The appearance was just like the 『Piece of Avarice』 that Shin found after exterminating the Mob Ants, but its size was at least three mel, much larger than the one found in the mob ant’s body.
The tentacle was a mutation of aura, so after being removed from the man’s body, it returned silently to the aura emanated by the piece, though it was hardly fitting calling it like that.
Piece of %#ice – Level 605
【Analyze】 revealed the name and level, and that not only its appearance was abnormal. Judging from its size and the aura it emanated, it was surely something completely different.
The 『Piece of Avarice』 was an item used to reinforce equipment: devil energy turned into a crystal. If used on a monster, it turned it into a stronger version under the command of the corresponding devil, but the piece itself had no fighting ability.
“At least they’re safe for now?”
Before the 『Piece of Avarice』 stood Lecus and his party, with blank expressions on their faces.
They were supposed to have received damage in their battle against Bermann and the other guards, but their HP gauge was maxed out. At the very least, they weren’t controlled corpses.
Over their heads there were 『Piece of Avarice』 with similar size as the one Shin first found. The three pieces emanated auras just like the larger one, connected in strings to the three students’ limbs. The three smaller pieces did not show name or level, so they were probably just support units of the larger one.
We’ll save them first, then destroy the big piece.
Shin and Schnee communicated via Mind Chat, then looked more closely at the larger piece. It was very close to the three students: destroying it would have likely released them from its control, but if they were attacked while trying to save them, it would be troublesome.
Shin was thinking about how to separate the fragments from the students, but Lecus and the others moved first.
Myu and Gian came closer to him, with Lecus following them a few mels behind. The main piece did not move, which was unsettling, but a chance at the same time.
Both positively and negatively, however, the three students surpassed Shin’s expectations. The speed at which they were moving was much higher than what he remembered. They were probably powered up by something: the aura stretching from the fragments trailed after them, like afterimages.
They probably hadn’t noticed Schnee, who was still concealed. Myu and Gian attacked Shin from the right and left side, with a flying kick and a medium thrust. Shin grabbed Myu’s gauntlet and the tip of Gian’s spear, stopping their attacks with brute strength.
They were indeed faster and stronger than before, but not enough to pose a threat to Shin. He could still make short work of the three. It was because of this that he threw Myu away and pulled the spear to knock Gian on the ground. Just then, three lightning bolts flew through the air and struck him.
“I thought you’d attack them at the same time too, but I guess it won’t go like that?”
The bolts scattered before Shin’s defense power and his equipment; he then swatted away a gust of invisible wind with a hand.
Lecus’ 【Thunder Line】 had been shot as to avoid Myu and Gian.
If he really was under the devil’s control, he would probably attack with no regard for their safety…so guessed Shin, but reality turned out different.
The other 2 students resumed their attacks too: Gian came from the front, Myu from the back, with 2 other 【Thunder Line】 bolts coming from the sides. All attacks came with perfectly displaced timing: there was no possibility of the 2 close combat fighters to be struck by the aftershocks of the 【Thunder Line】 bolts.
Even if controlled, they clearly understood that if they came in contact with someone hit by 【Thunder Line】, they would be shocked too.
“You fight together even better than before.”
They weren’t moving with their free will, but even so they attacked with perfect timing. Such movements were possible because of their training, which seemed ironic in this situation. Shin thought that he would have preferred not seeing the results of their training in this manner.
He ignored the thunderbolts, leaving their neutralization to his gear and defense power, and attempted to destroy Myu’s fragment first, since she had the highest mobility.
He tried to stop her with a skill that caused paralysis, but one instant before he could strike, the aura from the fragment enveloped Myu and nullified the paralysis effect.
The impact of Shin’s attack wasn’t completely blocked, so Myu shook a little, but she quickly regained her stance. She was also healed, apparently.
If the opponent was a simple monster, Shin could take it down with one blow, but he couldn’t use the same strategy with Myu.
The main piece did not attack, but it couldn’t be ignored: the situation was more difficult to handle than what Shin estimated.
“(I can’t just waste time like this. Guess I’ll be more forceful)”
Shin was worried about leaving the three students under the influence of the sinister aura for a long period of time. He told Schnee, via Mind Chat, that he had to act with less concern for the damage that could be caused.
Gian and Myu started their third assault. Shin, however, did not defend himself. He received Myu’s kick and grabbed her head, then went on to meet Gian’s spear himself.
The spear was repelled by Shin’s gear, knocking Gian off his balance. Ignoring the spear, Shin advanced forward and grabbed Gian’s head too.
Just like miasma, devil power could be erased with 【Purification】. He had caught the 2 with anti-devil gauntlets, which had started eating away at the devil power from the moment they had come in contact with the 2 students’ heads, and with 【Purification】 the aura completely disappeared.
Shin then used a Flame-type skill, concentrated in one spot, to attack the smaller fragments that connected Lecus’ party to the larger piece. Because of the purification, the limbs of dark aura that chained Lecus and the others vanished, then heat lines were released.
Shin wasn’t sure that the chains would disappear if the fragments were destroyed, so he used magic to make sure to destroy them completely.
After the heat lines disappeared, there was no trace of the smaller pieces. Myu and Gian fell down, as if devoid of all strength. As far as Shin could tell, they were not affected by any negative status conditions.
“I am sorry, I failed.”
“Don’t be, that couldn’t be helped.”
Schnee had faced against Lecus, but since he was close to the main piece, a barrier was formed and, before she could attack it, Lecus had been transported before it.
“Devil – Killer – Arm…”
Shin and Schnee were considering their next action, when Lecus’ mouth uttered a series of words. Differently from his previous empty look, his eyes were now firmly looking at them.
“Luxeria – Aura – Trust?”
The uttered words became gradually clearer. Then, before Shin and Schnee could move, the aura binding Lecus disappeared and the piece returned to the larger one. At the same time, Lecus dropped like a marionette with severed strings.
He wasn’t affected by status conditions, like Myu and Gian: the main piece had thus released Lecus of its own will.
“Don’t need that anymore.”
Normal, clear speech was heard from the main piece. Shin thought that it was trying to catch them off guard, but it didn’t seem like it was going to attack. Despite its lack of eyes, however, they could feel someone, something, staring at them.
“What are you trying to do?”
Despite the reply, it didn’t seem like they could actually communicate.
Before Shin could ask anything else, the aura took tentacle form again and attacked Shin.
“Schnee, take those 2 away. I’ll go rescue Lecus.”
Shin slashed the tentacle aura with the anti-devil longsword 『Isla』 and started running.
【Spirit of Pigritis Level 605】
【Analyze】 activated again, maybe because the piece was acting in a different manner. What it showed was clearly different from before.
“A piece of Sloth? Not Avarice?”
Shin was confused by the new name, but his opponent didn’t give him time to think. Thankfully, the aura tentacles aimed at Shin only: he avoided moving too much, so that Lecus wouldn’t become a target, and moved gradually closer while parrying the tentacles’ attacks.
In case Lecus was targeted, he kept magic stocked at all times.
“Looks like our friend here is very interested in me. Sorry, can you take care of Lecus too?”
Schnee returned, still concealed, and Shin asked her to rescue Lecus. If Shin did it himself, the tentacles might have targeted the elven student.
“Death, come. Me, I, greed, sloth, lust, all, can kill.”
The aura’s color changed. It was as sinister as before, but the faint yellow hue now turned green.
“OoOh, oOooh, O Death! O HuNTeR of DeAdlY SinS!”
An unnaturally echoing voice spread from the piece. The aura tentacles underwent a change too. They were no more just different shapes of aura: their tips changed to sharp blades, their size growing much larger too.
The tentacles were now 7: the many tentacles from before merged, so their individual power likely increased.
“I see, so this is Sloth.”
Shin looked at the piece, split in 2 parts: it was an ability that the Sloth devil possessed. As far as Shin knew, Sloth could originally split even more, but now it was probably limited by something, and did not split into more than 2 parts.
All tentacles rushed towards Shin: he was the sole target just like before. 14 blades surrounded him, to attack from all sides.
“Yes, target me, just like that!”
Shin ran in the opposite direction of Lecus’ location, to make it easier for Schnee to rescue him. He lowered his stance and jumped towards one side of the tentacles, to take care of some of the blades and lower their total number.
The blades attacked from all sides, but their number was limited. Since they attacked from the front, back, sides and even from above, a max of three blades could attack from one direction: a number Shin could easily neutralize.
He stopped 2 with the longsword and another with his gauntlet. The repelled blades carved through the ground like digging through sand. They looked thin, but their offensive capabilities were clearly higher than their level.
Shin then slashed the aura that bound the blades to the piece, severing it as if cutting through rubber. The separated blades vanished, while the piece’s aura formed new ones. Recovery speed was around 1, 2 seconds.
The piece continued saying the same lines while attacking Shin. It had probably completely forgotten about Lecus and the others. It felt almost obsessed in attacking Shin. The tentacles’ attacks, however, were not haphazard at all: they didn’t interfere or bump against each other, moving precisely towards Shin.
He avoided another barrage and went closer to the piece and kicked one of its 2 prongs. The aura was scattered and a large crack appeared on its surface.
Then, something bizarre happened. The HP gauge of both soul fragments decreased. As far as Shin remembered, after splitting they should have had separate HP gauges. If it wasn’t a display error, it meant that even after splitting the soul fragments retained HP in common.
“Maybe it’s related to the voice being there or not?”
Shin had kicked the part that didn’t say anything.
“You’re not hearing me, are you.”
Shin tried to talk with the source of the voice as he parried the blades, hoping to gather information, but received no response at all. Deciding that all he could do was defeat it, he gripped his longsword with more power.
He had already confirmed that Schnee had moved Lecus somewhere safe. There was no risk of involving him anymore.
As he made this conclusion, the soul fragment had turned back into one. Probably due to this fusion, its HP was back at max.
Shin faced it head on: the sharp aura blades were met with the blade of his longsword 『Isla』, which swung infused with Shin’s magic power, slicing the blades in 2. The longsword’s silver blade now had blue patterns, because of the magic power dwelling in it.
It was the perfect situation for the anti-devil longsword 『Isla』 to exert its full power. Maybe because of its boosted effectiveness against devils, the blades regenerated at slower pace than before. Even before regenerating, though, the tentacles continued to attack.
The soul fragment had returned to being one, but the tentacles were still 7. Far from being enough to stop Shin.
Shin continued mowing down the tentacles, without an inch of restraint, then sunk 『Isla』’s blade into the soul fragment. Its special effectiveness manifested fully, slicing the fragment in two.
Just to be sure, Shin swung 『Isla』 again. 6 shattered fragments fell to the ground, melting away as soon as they touched it. Soon after, a green crystal about the size of a fist appeared.
“…is it over?”
Shin examined the crystal, which turned out to be the item 『Drop of Pigritis』, proof of defeat of the Sloth devil. In other words, even if its appearance was different, the soul fragment that fought against Shin was the Sloth devil itself.
The crystal’s size, however, was half of what it used to be.
Shin wasn’t convinced that it was truly over. His opponent was a devil: the name displayed was Sloth, but its appearance and abilities were both different than what he remembered. It could have been pretending to be defeated, only to attack again by surprise.
The map, however, did not show any presences except Shin’s own. He asked Schnee too, who was with Lecus and the others, but she didn’t feel anything either.
According to what Lecus and the others said, they were approached by a man on the way to training grounds, but could not recall what happened next.
That man was on the corner of the room, deceased. Shin and Schnee had arrived too late, there was nothing to do about it. He also was probably the man who had visited Luxuria.
Although the name changed halfway, the three students were under the control of a 『Piece of Avarice』. It couldn’t be unrelated to Greed.
Shin and Schnee entrusted Lecus’ party to Hilamee, who had rushed to the dungeon after receiving the message, then left. Because of the nature of the incident, it would be dealt with in absolute secrecy. They headed to the institute to discuss further.
“By the way, Luxuria mentioned having met Sloth, didn’t she.”
Shin remembered this detail during the conversation with Luxuria as they were heading to the institute grounds. At the same time, he remembered what happened when he sliced the soul fragment in 2.
“Is anything wrong?”
“No, well…Sloth might have lured us there to decrease Greed’s power…is what I was thinking. It wasn’t as strong because it had taken Greed’s power, maybe. Not that I have any proof.”
Shin hadn’t failed to notice that just before 『Isla』 struck the fragment, the aura protecting it weakened. He thought it was because of the longsword’s anti-devil properties, but even so, the timing was too perfect.
The words “Death!”, uttered by the fragment, concerned him too. To Shin, it sounded like it was pleading to “Give us death!”.
“According to Luxuria, Sloth too refused to fuse. It could have been its way to fight against it.”
Schnee had heard those words too. Because of this, she could agree that Shin’s theory was not a far-fetched fantasy.
“…I’m liking less and less the fact that Greed is out there, doing whatever it pleases.”
Shin and Schnee, quietly renewing their resolve, walked towards the institute.
The day of the decisive battle was not too distant.