Waiting for them inside the room was Zear. He looked the same as he did during the commission, an aged gentleman, but he now carried a stick in his right hand.
“Thank you for leading our guests here. You may leave.”
Zear had the soldier leave, then turned towards Shin’s party.
“First, let me apologize for summoning you here without warning. I had to talk to you at any cost.”
“Ah, no, it’s no problem, but…”
Shin hit Hilamee with his elbow to prompt her to reply. The group’s leader was supposed to be her.
“Do you have any doubts concerning the inquiry commission?”
“…well, yes, To be honest, we expected that we would have to argue more.”
“The extermination faction, yes? I understand their point myself. I understand distrusting lady Luxuria. However, there would be no point in working quietly for three years, as she did. Her abilities allow her to easily control others after all. Even if we chose to exterminate her, very few could stand up to her. The elite warriors of our country could possibly match her in battle, but how many casualties would that cause? It would also create a gap for Greed to strike through. Both in terms of fighting power and strategy, needless fighting would be a very poor move on our part.”
The extermination faction was eerily quiet because work had been done before the inquiry apparently. Hilamee had been unaware of this previous effort as things had been done in secret.
“Furthermore, we had sir Cobal infiltrate the extermination faction, but he is on our side.”
As far as rank was concerned, both Zear and Cobal were dukes. On the surface, however, Zear appeared to be of a slightly higher rank.
“Is it alright to tell us something so important?”
“I thought it wiser not to keep secrets from you. That talk about being the descendant of a clan of devil hunters was a lie, yes?”
Zear answered Shin’s question with a question of his own, a sharp look on his face. His eyes showed that he was confident that he spoke the truth, or so Shin felt.
Shin glanced at Hilamee, who had perceived the same thing and nodded at Shin.
“…indeed. It is true that I…no, I will drop all pretenses now. I’m not a member of devil hunting clans or anything of the sort. It’s true, however, that if Luxuria ever went wild, I could dispose of her.”
“Yes, I have heard of your strength. We have done our own research. Today I have seen you with my own eyes, so I am completely sure. To shake after just looking at someone…didn’t happen to me since I met sir Shibaid, who used to serve a High Human.”
Shin’s eyebrows rose slightly at the unexpected mention of a familiar name.
Zear’s level was 255. It wasn’t clear if he was a Chosen One or a normal person, but to raise one’s level to the limits couldn’t have been easy. Zear accomplished it, however, so he had to be much more than just the old noble he looked like. Shin had also realized that the stick he held concealed a blade inside.
“Strength varies greatly, even amongst Chosen Ones. Those called former players, thanks to their knowledge, often win even against opponents with similar stats. Could you be one too, like sir Masakado and Lady Hilamee?”
“You know of players, sir?”
“In my youth, I did my share of traveling. Thanks to that, I learned much more than I would have if I stayed inside the country.”
Former players. Hilamee was the first to react to Zear’s words. They weren’t exactly secret words, so it wasn’t too difficult to imagine that a noble’s information network could pick them up. Many former players successfully used the knowledge they acquired in the game era after all.
“What if I was?”
Hilamee’s reaction outed Shin as a former player. Shin thus asked Zear the reason behind his question.
“Some former players do not disclose all the information they possess, to avoid being known as such. Our country, however, is currently in a difficult situation. You all could probably deal with Greed…but as you have probably heard, the monsters spawning in the surroundings have changed. Reports say that powerful monsters are increasing. Greed can enslave monsters, yes? If such monsters attack us in groups, would we be able to beat them back? Even if we did, how many casualties would there be? There are few Chosen Ones in our country. We are not always subject to such danger, unlike Balmel, so our soldiers are one or two ranks lower than other countries’.”
Shin had heard from Hilamee that Erkunt’s armed forces were of a decent level, considering the country’s size, but that was just because there were no hostile countries nearby and the monsters in the surroundings were relatively weak. They were not powerful enough to deal with calamities such as Greed.
Masakado was temporarily absent too because he had gone to exterminate a monster that normal adventurers couldn’t handle, as Hilamee had confirmed.
“I wish for your assistance, for the sake of our country, for the sake of our people.”
Zear then bowed his head.
For a duke to lower his head before a mere adventurer -ranked A, but without any title- was unfathomable in noble society. Shin knew that much too.
The assistance of Shin and his party was indispensable. Zear had enough information to understand that. At the same time, the dangers and risk of threatening the country were enough to make him lower his head without hesitation.
“I have no intention of just leaving like this either, as I plan to destroy Greed. Ah, let me tell you in advance, the drop items will be ours, okay?”
“Hah, you speak as if victory was certain. Considering lady Luxuria’s obedience, I suppose that you have that much in you.”
Shin expected to be told that it was too early to say that, but unexpectedly Zear just showed a wry smile. He surely knew that Luxuria was a devil, but since the commission he kept referring to her as “lady”.
“It might be strange for me to say, but in a bout between Greed and my master, my master has little chance of losing. As a devil, I guarantee it.”
“I doubt I can finish him off without letting it cause any damage though. By the way, you don’t need to call me that anymore.”
They had decided that Luxuria would call Shin “master” to show that she was under his control. Now that he had dropped his facade as a devil hunter, there was no need to continue.
Luxuria did not change it, though.
“You men like this kind of thing, don’t you? Would you like me to serve you more?”
“This isn’t the right time. At all.”
Luxuria peeked closer to Shin’s face, and he answered by covering her face with his hand.
“Hmm, truly different from the devils spoken of in legends.”
“We just acted on instinct then, just like animals. At present, we possess enough intellect to rival people like you. That is why we can co-exist. Because of such intellect, however, we can also use methods other than brute force.”
Sending cohorts to Luxuria, releasing monsters in the dungeon. Such things didn’t happen in the game era.
“So even among people, some are fascinated by devils and decide to cooperate with them…”
“I believe it is already happening. Greed stimulates people’s desires, so merchants are the most prone, for example. Even if we devils don’t do anything, people act on their desires already, don’t they?”
“It pains me that I cannot deny that. No matter the era, money and power corrupt minds.”
Zear probably had someone on his mind, as his brow furrowed.
“There’s no point in being negative, let’s talk about what to do next instead. Ah, but I need to say something first.”
“What would that be?”
“Luxuria can surely be an asset in battle, but I do not recommend having her fight directly against Greed. When a Deadly Sin devil defeats another, the winner absorbs the loser and grows. This includes Luxuria too. I don’t think it’s too likely, but our enemy is a devil, he could use tactics we don’t expect. So I propose Luxuria acts as bait, then when Greed makes his appearance she should focus on defending.”
“Hmm, I see. If lady Luxuria grows too strong, after this commotion settles other problems might arise, is that it?”
“If I draw in Greed’s power, my personality might end up changing. We definitely have bad affinity. So I’d appreciate it if someone else delivered the final blow.”
Luxuria talked while her shoulders dropped. Her current self probably had bad affinity with aggressive devils.
“Let us hear judgment on this issue too then.”
Zear then looked towards a corner of the room, though there was nothing but the wall there.
Shin, however, could see the silhouette of people standing beyond the wall.
A man wearing luxurious clothing and a crown, the very picture of a king, and a very young boy. With them there were also three men and one woman, all wearing armor.
—–Fagall Ent Level 213 Holy Knight
—–Sherlene Ragass Level 238 Holy Knight
Among the armored silhouettes, Shin was particularly interested in these two. The youngest among the male knights and the only woman. The young man was called Fagall, the woman Sherlene.
Fagall was approximately 170 cemel tall. He had well kept blonde hair and blue eyes brimming with confidence.
Sherlene, on the other hand, was a bit taller than Fagall, with hair kept neatly too, tied in a side ponytail.
Her features were handsome, her stance upright. If she wasn’t wearing armor, one would think she was a model. Her sharp look made her seem cold, but, unlike the slightly nervous Fagall, she did not look too tense.
The wall slid open, letting the group waiting beyond it inside. Fagall and Sherlene stood on each side of the person who looked like a king, ready to protect him and the prince-like boy if needed.
“I am the king of the Erkunt kingdom, Kreunzeit Fow Erkunt. I have listened to your conversation from the other room. I too shall take part in it from now.”
Just as Shin guessed, the crowned man was the king of Erkunt. He was blonde with blue eyes, rather slender but with a fierce look in his eyes.
The boy next to him, the prince, took a glance at Schnee after entering the room and was half mesmerized. Even after Shin and the others were introduced, his eyes were glued on Schnee. When Zear called to him, he returned to his senses and introduced himself.
“My name is Hawgilear Fow Erkunt. I am still young, but please allow me to join as well.”
“Allow me to speak as the representative of our group. My name is Hilamee Hirasato. We offer our humble strength and abilities to His Majesty the King.”
The king nodded in response to Hilamee’s greeting, but prince Hawgilear was still looking at Schnee.
Zear introduced the other members of the king’s party, but among the armored knights, only Fagall and Sherlene were introduced: the other two remained unnamed. Despite having entered the room with the rest of the group, they remained standing against the wall.
Zear, instead, mentioned more interesting information: Fagall and Shirlene possessed the title of “Hero”.
“Hero”, the title possessed also by Eline, who had kidnapped the orphan Millie and try to offer her as sacrifice. The title itself had no negative connotation, but because of that past experience, Shin did not see it in a positive light.
“So you are the lust devil. I see, other than your obvious beauty, you possess a certain sensual charm. You could surely make men do your bidding, even without using any skill.”
“Oh my, you certainly know your way with the compliments. Might you be interested in putting me to the test?”
While Shin was trying to make sense of the situation, the conversation quickly took a problematic turn. King Kreunzeit, however, plainly refused Luxuria’s proposal.
“Very charming proposal, but I’m afraid I shall decline. The queen would be jealous.”
Zear and Sherlene visibly winced at the king and devil’s far too casual exchange. Shin shared their sentiments too.
“Luxuria, let’s be serious now.”
“Oh, the much rumored king can sure recognize such a joke.”
“I must say those rumors are intriguing…but I believe this is no time for jest. How do you plan to oppose the Greed devil?”
King Kreunzeit smoothly entered the conversation. His previous casual manners disappeared, as a strong aura of authority filled the room.
It wasn’t like the pressure or killing intent emanated when fighting, but the sort of aura that made you want to kneel in reverence.
“Luxuria can detect Greed himself, so if he ever comes closer we’ll be able to tell. I have supplied her with tools to contact me as soon as she detects his presence. Until he makes a move, Yuki and I will inspect Erkunt’s surroundings. The spawning monsters are clearly different than normal, so there must be something triggering them; we will find that something and destroy it, to reduce Greed’s pawns as much as possible, thus also limiting potential damage and casualties.”
“What about the castle? I hear that the devil has allies among the people.”
“That falls upon the soldiers’ shoulders, I’m afraid. If they are not manipulated, but collaborating with the devil with their own free will, it would be difficult for us newcomers in Erkunt to detect any unnatural behaviour.”
Not even Shin could do everything by himself. Monsters were easy and just needed to be defeated, but with people things were not so cut and dry. One wrong step and Shin himself could end up becoming a criminal.
“Indeed, you are correct. This is our country, I would not be worthy of the title of king if I entrusted everything to an outsider. Sir Zear, I leave the castle issue to you.”
“We will move on our own as a mobile unit of sorts. Even if we joined the army, it would just be more difficult to move together.”
“That is inevitable. There is too much of a gap between the Chosen Ones and regular individuals.”
Things were proceeding much more smoothly than Shin had imagined.
Having Chosen Ones act only among themselves was a basic tactic: this happened in every country, to avoid normal soldiers to get involved in battles between Chosen Ones.
Once they learned that Greed was coming, the army started patrolling the areas surrounding the kingdom with increased frequency and also started specialized training. They planned to focus on buying time, leaving the extermination of the enemy to the heroes.
The strategy itself would not change greatly, excluding the added manpower of Shin and Schnee. There was thus no need for detailed strategy meetings.
After they decided how to communicate and Shin provided all necessary items, the meeting seemed to be over: just then, one of the knights standing near the wall whispered something in Zear’s ear.
Zear nodded and said to let the person through.
“Who is coming?”
“The captain of the royal knights, who I had asked to keep our useless nobles occupied. He is a loyal retainer who has fought side by side with His Majesty. He does not possess any titles, but his prowess in battle surpasses even heroes.”
“That is quite impressive.”
Shin was really impressed with the forces that the kingdom could muster. Two heroes would be more than enough for the surrounding countries to be wary of them, but they were hiding an even greater trump card.
As Erkunt housed the institute, the presence of strong Chosen Ones was apparently more of a source of relief than concern.
The door that King Kreunzeit’s party had used opened again, letting a man clad in stocky lead-colored armor inside. His grey hair was tied behind his head, sleepy black eyes behind a pair of sharp glasses. As far as appearance was concerned, he was not very knight-like.
The scales growing like bags under his eyes especially gave an eerie impression.
“I apologize for the wait. These are the people in question?”
“Yes, they confidently stated that they can hunt down the devil. Quite reliable fellows, let me introduce you to them. This man is Namsaar Argain. He might appear somber, but I assure you that he is very capable.”
“I know I look like that, but there was no need to point it out. More importantly, I know that the heroes and sir Zear are here too, but to personally appear before a devil? What were you thinking, king?”
Namsaar spoke without an inch of restraint to king Kreunzeit. His expression suggested that what he really wanted to say would have been “what the hell, man?”
His eyes looking at Shin’s group were filled with suspicion.
“A clan of devil hunters, huh? Never have I heard of such people. I’m relieved that, at the very least, it doesn’t look like he’s being charmed.”
“Sir Argain, the heroes are here too. Could you have some trust?”
“I do. But as leader of the royal guards, it is quite troublesome not to be present since the beginning in cases such as this. No one knows when something unexpected might happen.”
Namsaar was looking towards Luxuria. It wasn’t clear if he knew that she was supposed to be under Shin’s control, but he was very wary of her.
“Let us talk about that later. We have to discuss our countermeasures against Greed first.”
Zear would fill Namsaar in at a different time. When he heard that the general strategy would not change much and Shin’s group would move independently as a mobile unit, Namsaar gave a small nod.
“I see, there is no need for me to say anything then. Having adventurers join the army all of a sudden would just make it more difficult to move as groups. What concerns me is whether these people can actually be useful or not.”
The final sentence completely changed the room’s atmosphere. Hilamee glared at Namsaar, while Luxuria seemed impressed by his boldness.
Shin, on the other hand, agreed that such a concern would be natural. Even if Namsaar knew about Shin’s achievements, defeating large quantities of monsters in Balmel, a Deadly Sin devil was a vastly superior opponent.
Namsaar seemed to respect Shin for the fact that Luxuria really wasn’t using mental skills and they could talk normally, but he apparently viewed Shin’s actual battle prowess as another matter entirely.
In such a situation, only Schnee had the same expression as before.
(Uh oh, she’s getting irritated…)
King Kreunzeit and his party, Hilamee, Luxuria, no one seemed to have noticed, but Shin could tell that Schnee’s mood was getting very sour very quickly.
Her atmosphere didn’t show it, nor did her expression, but Shin could clearly tell.
“Namsaar, try to choose your words carefully. Do you not feel anything?”
“I can tell that this man is capable, but only you and I, sir Zear, can. Many would not accept this.”
Namsaar replied to Zear’s warning without batting an eyelash. Shin could understand his argument, so he did not say anything in return.
“My apologies, sir Shin. This man is the leader of the royal guards, and as such does not view this matter too favorably.”
“No, it is difficult to believe that a single man can defeat a devil just like that, so I do not mind at all. It would be troublesome for us not to be trusted at all, however. Should I prove my actual prowess in some manner?”
“Let’s have you fight Fagall then.”
Shin expected Namsaar to say that he would confirm it personally, but he instead pointed at one of the heroes.
“Wait, why do I…why should I be the one to face sir Shin, captain? If you have doubts about his abilities, sir Namsaar, why not engage him yourself?”
“Are you not always complaining about how you don’t have enough chances to duel? If he really is as strong as he claims, he’ll be a worthy opponent. He might even easily crush you, I think?”
Fagall was about to complain, but Namsaar replied plainly. Probably irritated by the fact that he was expected to lose, Fagall flinched.
“I will lose, you say?”
“That’s just what I feel. To have some rootless wandering adventurer save our country in its time of need, to entrust the defeat of the devil to him…it might be inevitable, but as one of this country’s defenders, is it not pathetic? Do show sir Shin here the worth of our country’s heroes.”
Despite Namsaar’s long-winded speech, what he was ordering Fagall to do was to check just how strong Shin was.
“…ha…ha. Understood. Sir Shin, I apologize for the sudden request, but would you accept my challenge to a duel?”
Fagall sighed, then formally challenged Shin. His expression showed that he was apologetic, but also curious. It seemed to be true that he was not satisfied and frustrated with regular training. If Shin was indeed as strong as he said to be, he could fight to his heart’s content.
Namsaar probably chose Fagall also to let him release such frustrations.
“Yes, understood. Shall we do it right away?”
The discussion was pretty much over. What remained was meeting with soldiers and officers and giving them detailed instructions, so holding the duel then and there was not a problem.
“That’s alright with me, but—”
Fagall turned towards king Kreunzeit.
“That is quite all right. I too wished to witness his battle prowess. I authorize you to use the royal army’s training grounds. I expect a bout in grand style.”
“In grand style, your majesty?”
“Even if our heroes talk about you, sir Shin, there are those who might still not believe. If many soldiers actually witnessed you fight, however, they will have to believe. We have to have them learn that it is simply natural to entrust the important task of defeating the devil to you.”
“Very well, understood.”
Facing a devil would be the task of heroes, Erkunt’s most powerful warriors. Those who knew about devils would surely think so. Changing that required a very solid reason.
There were still those who did not know about Shin and his achievements. The duel was also necessary to convince them.
Looking at Namsaar’s attitude however, Shin could not help suspecting that he planned to make him stand out and, if all went well, use him as bait.
“I guess I have to do it in grand style then.”
Shin thought that there was no real need of hiding his true abilities anymore, as this whisper escaped his lips. It was already known far and wide how he had performed incredible feats, outside his control, so he gave up on holding back.
Shin followed the soldiers and king Kreunzeit’s group out of the room.
Hearing his mumbling, Hilamee was worried that the hero might die, but Shin did not notice it.