The next day, a messenger from the royal castle visited Shin.
Shin went to the appointed location at the designed time and found Sherlene along with 48 knights under her direct command and 12 scouts dispatched from another platoon, waiting for him.
“—am I late?”
“No. There is still time. Because of our numbers, we moved in advance.”
“Do you always go scouting in such numbers?”
“No, this is because of your presence. Usually, there is one more squad of scouts.”
Based on the scouting area and ability comparison executed beforehand, Shin was judged to possess scouting ability equal to one squad. Shin himself wondered if he really had such a level of ability.
“We have prepared a horse for you, but will you ride it?”
“Thank you for your concern, but I will pass. I can ride, but I am faster on foot, after all. As a scout, I find it easier to move on foot too.”
“Hehe, is that so. Now that I think about it, I’m faster on foot too.”
Sherlene chuckled, maybe she thought Shin was joking.
The knights behind her, however, were taken aback.
“Hey, lady Sherlene laughed…”
“Lady Sherlene of all people…”
“Could it be that…spring has come…?”
“No, wait, that man has that elf with him, I don’t think that lady Sherlene…”
“No, you wait, lady Sherlene is a real looker too…”
Shin overheard the knights and glared at them to warn them not to say anymore. However, before they could notice, Sherlene turned around.
“Hahaha. I see we’re having a funny chat here, hmm?”
Sherlene was still smiling, but it was a very different smile than the one she showed to Shin: it didn’t have the slightest hint of warmth.
“Looks like you need more training. Once this mission is over, we’re going straight to the training grounds! Better get ready!”
The knights’ shoulders dropped in unison. Though, the mood didn’t change, it must have been something that happened often. The exchange would have left newcomers perplexed about how to act.
“We’ve wasted enough time. Let us head to the designated area.”
Shin didn’t say anything else and collaborated with the scouts in searching the area. Excluding race perks, in the scout corps didn’t include any individuals with exceptional abilities.
“What’s this? There aren’t that many monsters.”
Shin was scouting ahead of the rest and noticed that the quantity of monsters in his detection field was strangely small. The situation was very different from the time he had brought Lecus and his party to train.
He stopped scouting for the moment and returned to report to Sherlene. She had apparently noticed the lack of monsters as well, after the other scouts returned and organized the information.
“There are too few monsters, after all. According to previous reports, this area shouldn’t be any different from the others, though.”
“We should assume that something out of the ordinary has happened.”
“That’s right. Do you think this might be his doing?”
“Considering the timing, I think there’s a high chance of that. Or I should say, I hope that is the case. If something else was going on, we’d have a hard time dealing with it too.”
Shin nodded to Sherlene’s questions and jokingly shrugged.
“You’re right, hopefully that’s the case. Let us look for the cause, then. People, report anything unusual you’ve noticed, no matter how small it may be.”
Sherlene gave a small wry laugh, but then turned quickly serious as she addressed her knights.
The knights were the ones who routinely patrolled Erkunt’s surroundings: they would notice if something was out of the ordinary, through a viewpoint different from the scouts’.
The scouts scattered again to search, so Shin did too. He didn’t notice anything peculiar, however, except the lack of monsters.
“If something happened to the monsters, I guess I should focus on that?”
Shin thought this and decided to track a monster which was on the move. It was a zebra-like monster with bluish white streaks, with two twisted horns protruding from its temples, named Bluoth. Level 354, it was sometimes tamed by players to be used as a steed, and was known for its toughness and the crushing power of its hooves.
“It’s not under Greed’s control…usually they move in packs, maybe it got lost?”
【Analyze】 did not show the monster to be affected by Greed’s influence.
Not all horse-type monsters formed packs, but as far as Shin remembered, Bluoths always moved in groups. Now that the world wasn’t a game anymore, he couldn’t rule out the possibility of them acting on their own, but considering the timing, he wondered if it could mean something.
Shin followed the Bluoth, making sure he wasn’t spotted in turn. The monster didn’t seem to be particularly wary of its surroundings. After about 10 minutes, other monster presences entered Shin’s detection field. The new monsters were also heading in the same direction as the Bluoth.
“A cave? Monsters of completely different species can’t be gathering in an ordinary cave…”
The monsters heading in the same direction as the Bluoth were animal types, insect types and mineral types: a very diverse pack. According to the game rules, they were predators and prey, but now they were quietly proceeding together.
Some of the monster names were preceded by Avarice, showing that they were under the Greed devil’s control.
“Looks like I hit the jackpot.”
Shin marked the cave on his map and left for the time being. He hurried back to Sherlene’s location and reported what he saw.
“Monsters under Greed’s control are gathering in a cave…”
“There must be something there that is attracting all nearby monsters. When the Bluoth I followed came in contact with other monsters, “Avarice” appeared next to its name, so I guess he’s increasing cohorts with this method.”
“Which means that the more time passes, the more units it will have at its disposal. We should crush them, then.”
Shin reported the types and levels of the monsters he saw. Even if there were more monsters, Shin and Sherlene could manage to deal with them.
“I will assist you.”
“I will be counting on you. Troops, we move!”
The knights quickly get in formation following Sherlene’s order. Their expertise was clearly high too, but the knights under Sherlene’s direct command were all over level 200.
The soldiers in the training grounds were all around level 160. Sherlene seemed to be as strictly disciplined as her looks suggested, so the knights under her command were likely to be strictly trained as well.
They weren’t overwhelmed, nor did they just leave everything up to the scouts. Seeing them carefully check the surroundings, Shin felt impressed.
“The monsters seem to be entering the cave: there are only two at the entrance. I cannot detect any other monsters in the surroundings either.”
When the troops arrived close to the cave, Sherlene asked Shin to go confirm again the situation ahead. The monsters near the entrance were both over level 300, thus it would be dangerous to charge in together with the knights: she had the troops stop a bit far from the cave.
“Judging from the level, I suppose only sir Shin and I should go. Vice-captain, you and the troops stay here on stand-by. If anything unusual happens, contact me with that item.”
“Understood. Please be careful!”
The man addressed as vice-captain saluted, then ordered the troops to keep a strict watch of the surroundings. Based on the knights’ equipment, level and expertise, they would be able to deal with monsters around level 300.
They would only succeed, however, if the monsters were few in quantity. Inside the cave it would be difficult to get in formation, and the number of people who could fight at the same time was limited. It would be like ordering the knights to march to their deaths.
The knights understood that as well and were eager to do everything was within their powers. In case a large mob of monsters swarmed the entrance of the cave, they would use the message cards secretly stocked by Hilamee to contact Sherlene and Shin.
“Accompany me inside, then.”
Shin and Sherlene proceeded, using the trees as concealment, approaching the monsters without being seen.
Shin used his 『Kakura』 to cleave in half a mantis monster armed with 4 scythes, Force Scissors, while Sherlene thrusted her spear directly through the heart of Rock Boa, a monster clad in stone armor.
The monsters were defeated before they could warn their surroundings; leaving the rest to the knights, Shin and Sherlene walked onwards, with Shin in front.
Shin used 【Magic Sonar】 and the map to search the interior of the cave.
“This is pretty small…what’s going on?”
A large number of monsters had entered, so he thought they would find a dungeon; contrary to his expectations, however, the cave wasn’t large enough to be called a dungeon.
There were several pathways and small rooms: the cave resembled an ant colony. The only difference was that the pathways were not too steep and easily navigated by beings other than ants too.
Judging from Shin’s detection field, the various monsters gathered in small rooms, where they appeared to be simply waiting.
“It doesn’t seem like there are traps. The pathways are mostly one way, so we won’t risk getting lost. The monsters are packed in small rooms, however, so please be careful.”
To proceed while crushing the monster groups was an option, but scouting the cave took priority. Shin cast the magic spell version of 【Hiding】 on Sherlene and they started sneaking through the cave.
Thanks to the lack of monsters with wide detection fields and the relatively large pathways, they managed to proceed without fighting.
When they passed the rooms on the sides of the pathways they observed the inside and noticed that the monsters were standing by, separated by species. They were neatly lined up, waiting quietly.
“Sir Shin. While I find it hard to imagine, that’s…”
“Monster platoons, I guess. In every room there’s a monster that looks superior to the others…possibly the captain.”
It was just like the monsters were formed in troops, complete with leader. Their numbers were not extremely high, but they looked just like an army.
“There are monsters which normally don’t move in packs…this is bad.”
Monsters powerful enough on their own, now in packs. Sherlene, who was well aware of how terrifying monsters could be, understood what a fearful prospect that was. Her expression was very tense.
Then, as if to put even more pressure on her, Shin and Sherlene found something unexpected in a room that they thought was empty.
“These are…weapons? But this shape…”
“They’re weapons for monsters. Normally, partnered monsters would use them, but in this situation, I bet they plan to have the monsters here equip them.”
The wooden boxes in the room were packed with weapons for monsters.
Shin’s instincts as blacksmith detected a few very strong auras. He couldn’t tell for sure without looking, but there were probably Legend-grade weapons mixed in.
“What’s going on here…? This is just like…”
An army. Sherlene’s voice died in her throat before she could finish the sentence.
“It looks like they have been making preparations for a while. I’m sure that there are people involved too.”
If all the rooms without monster presences were used to stock weapons, the stock had to be massive. Compared to the human armies, they were few, but as they were all under Greed’s control, it was a completely different story.
A single armed monster could easily battle against multiple fighters at the same time.
If such monsters equipped gear like humans, what would happen? In terms of fighting power, they could be even more threatening than a natural disaster.
Furthermore, based on the current situation, it was clear that the monsters equipped with this gear were clearly set to attack Erkunt. It wasn’t strange for Sherlene to find herself unable to answer Shin.
“Could there be other places like this…?”
“It looks like this cave was dug by the monsters, so we cannot rule it out. We should be glad that we managed to find this place, however. I don’t know what would have happened if we learned about this when they actually attacked.”
“That’s, right. We were really fortunate to find out before the attack.”
They couldn’t just look at the negatives. Shin encouraged Sherlene to be more positive and she regained her composure.
“Shall we exterminate the monsters here, first?”
“Surely. Since we’re here, let’s also acquire the means to power up the troops on our side.”
“Power up our troops? Are you going to gather materials from the monsters?”
“No, I saw that there are also magic blades here, so we might as well take them for ourselves.”
Shin then started transferring the wooden crates packed with weapons in the item box. Thanks to the game settings still active, the items were categorized automatically.
Looking at the room turning empty in seconds, Sherlene was speechless.
“….sir Shin. I do not mean to pry, but…if you show me something like this, I feel the need to ask who you really are.”
“It’s an item box. I know it’s fairly rare, but there are other people who use it, aren’t there? You don’t have one, Sherlene?”
Shin had heard from Wilhelm that there was an item that granted the ability to use item boxes. Based on Erkunt’s scope, he was sure there had to be someone who had it.
“Very few, even among Chosen Ones, have one. I do not either. I knew it existed, I thought I knew about it, but it’s much more impressive than I expected.”
“Is it your first time actually seeing it?”
“I saw it before, but the user placed items in it one by one. I have never seen anyone use it like you do.”
Shin imagined that the use of the item box could have been different between former players and other people. There was no time to verify it now, so they set to exterminate the monsters after recovering all the gear.
Still concealed, Shin and Sherlene went into the rooms without monster presences and swept them clean of items, putting them all in Shin’s item box. The items included potions and ethers, so they decided to make good use of those too. Using their abilities as Chosen Ones, they gathered all items as fast as possible.
“With this we have recovered all items. Let’s go back to the entrance, then.”
“It’s the monsters’ turn, then. Are we going to ambush them at the entrance?”
“No, some of the monsters can dig holes, so I was thinking of eliminating them all in one fell swoop.”
Even heroes like Fagall and Sherlene were Chosen Ones with warrior-like abilities. It would take them a fairly long time to defeat such a large quantity of monsters. Such a way would be poorly effective this time: while they fought monsters near the entrance, others could dig escape routes.
Shin then decided to use one of the strategies more suitable for the location. He and Sherlene returned to the entrance: they made sure that no monsters were following them, told the knights posted outside that they would dispose of the monsters in the cave and had them go farther away.
“Here goes nothing.”
Shin activated the Water-type spell 【Deluge】, aiming it towards the interior of the cave. Just as the name suggested, a massive waterspout erupted from the 2-mel wide magic circle which had formed around Shin’s right hand.
Normally, the forest around the cave would be affected too, but Shin directed the wave fully inside the cave. Most of the monsters inside needed to breathe. The entrance of the cave was essentially sealed by 【Deluge】’s water pressure, so the only path left for them was to drown to their deaths.
In the meantime, Shin detected that some monsters started digging underground. The water current, despite its speed, could not fill rooms immediately. The water accumulated from the cave’s floor, so there was some time until all rooms were flooded.
“You’re not going anywhere.”
After detecting the monsters’ movements, Shin lifted his left hand. After a moment, red flashes shot out from it.
Lightning-type magic skill 【Split Spark】.
The thunderbolts, following Shin’s command, flew towards the stream flooding the cave. When the bolts touched the water surface, they disappeared as if they blended in it. The monster presences on the map then started disappearing, one by one.
Magically generated water was often an excellent conductor of magically created lightning. Shin used this to electrocute the monsters throughout the cave.
He had also used not any lightning attack, but 【Split Spark】 for a special reason. Normal lightning attacks would simply reach monsters more easily, thanks to the water, but 【Split Spark】 could travel through water spells or water, aimed directly at monsters or players to damage them. Even mineral monsters, which didn’t need to breathe, would be finished now.
15 minutes passed. Shin continued using skills from the cave entrance, eventually killing all monsters inside.
“You’re a first class user not only of physical skills, but also magic…”
Sherlene whispered this after studying the power and length of Shin’s spells. She knew that there were differences in power between Chosen Ones. She also knew that the same was true among those called former players. Shin’s powers, however, exceeded the Chosen Ones and former players that Sherlene knew.
A man that even devils feared.
Sherlene had been secretly ordered to verify the limits of Shin’s strength, but she started thinking that it might be impossible.