This happened before Shin and the others met with Lilishila.
Wilhelm was in a certain store in Sigurd.
The store was small, barely lit, and reeked of tobacco.
Magical items of unknown usage lay forgotten on the badly arranged shelves.
“Found you at last.”
Wilhelm was slightly irritated. The informant he counted on had moved; finding the new location took longer than expected.
“Now now, don’t give me that after showing up without an appointment.”
The man who owned the store shrugged after hearing Wilhelm’s words.
In a place like Sigurd, with a high flow of traffic, it was not odd for an informant like him to frequently change locations.
“It stinks here.”
“That’s what you say before even greeting me? This incense was made in Hinomoto, you know?”
Muttering about Wilhelm’s lack of understanding for Wabi-Sabi (The beauty of transience and imperfection), the bearded owner blew smoke from his pipe.
What a pity for the incense.
“Jai. I’m sorry but I have no time to enjoy stuff like that. Save it for after our business is done.”
“That’s scary. You’re even more aggressive than usual…what happened?”
The man, Jai Tret, felt that Wilhelm was different than normal. His aloof expression changed completely when he posed the question.
He too hails from the same orphanage, and left to adventure 5 years before Wilhelm.
Now he’s an active informant based in Sigurd.
“They kidnapped Millie. Bulk from the Church is the main culprit.”
“!?…You’re sure of that?”
Wilhelm explained the situation in detail to the stunned Jai. After he heard everything, Jai was rubbing his chin, deep in thought.
“Eline, huh. If he got involved, it means they’re really playing for keeps.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Among the apprentices raised within the Church, Eline’s the strongest. Using him is testament of how big this thing is.”
Jai then added that when Eline moves the resulting damage is always massive, although it never reaches the public.
“Eline comes from some small village, but he has had extreme physical abilities ever since he was a brat, apparently. Bulk heard about it and took him in…and here we are.”
When the Church ministers personally requested to take him in, Eline’s parents happily entrusted him to them.
In exchange for a large sum of gold.
“Misguided knowledge about the Chosen Ones, that was.”
Eline, a Chosen One, possessed physical abilities far beyond his age; the village treated him as a cursed child. Being smarter than other children became a burden to him.
“I couldn’t care less about that bastard’s story. What the hell does that change? You think I’m going to shed a tear or something?”
“Yeah, here’s what I’m getting at. Bulk took Eline back with him, and poured all his enthusiasm in educating him. Thanks to that, his intelligence spiked in a weird direction…now he can’t be handled anymore.”
“Nothing I didn’t know of yet.”
They had met and crossed swords already. Wilhelm already knew that he wasn’t sane.
“Just hear me out. I heard this information from one of my personal connections…our guy seems to possess a certain title.”
“Yeah, you’re going to be surprised. Eline was born with the title of “Hero”, they say.”
Wilhelm couldn’t grasp the meaning of Jai’s words right away.
“We’ve known each other for a long time, but I never thought you’d be the type to spout jokes like that.”
“Don’t be like that now. I did think it was a bad joke the first time I heard it too.”
No one aware of Eline’s true nature would ever imagine using such a word to describe him.
The only thing about him that’d fit the definition would be his appearance.
“So it’s not a joke?”
“I have information that backs it up. That title is supposed to have the effect of strengthening your body.”
“You’re sure of that?”
“Yeah. He is unbelievably strong, that’s true. That might be the reason why he tends to talk too much. Someone heard him let that slip out of his mouth. That someone has already been taken care of, though…only a few informants know of this.”
“And you’re one of those few then. Is that really true? Sounds fishy to me.”
“Shut up. It’s a fact that just knowing this stuff gets you erased!”
It seemed like Jai wanted to imply he’s too strong for that to happen to him.
“This piece of information alone is worth 100 Jul gold coins! I’m only talking about it because it’s you.”
“More like because Millie’s involved, right?”
Jai had once escaped a mortal situation thanks to Millie’s predictions.
Despite looking as suspicious as possible, he was someone who always did the right thing in such situations.
“Who cares about why. There’s more important stuff to deal with right now. What you said removed all my doubts. Since Millie has been kidnapped, the Holy Woman’s definitely involved in this.”
“The Holy Woman?…There are 3 women with that name now, aren’t there. Considering Millie’s abilities, it’s about ‘Prediction’?”
Wilhelm was aware of three of those Holy Women: the “Sooth-Saying Holy Woman”, the “Purifying Holy Woman” and the “Healing Holy Woman”.
Considering Millie’s ‘Star Reader’ ability, the “Soothsaying Holy Woman” is likely to be the connection.
“Bingo. They say that lately, the Soothsaying Holy Woman is feeling under the weather. Actually, it’s because Bulk’s manipulating her though.”
“He can control a Holy Woman!?”
“I heard this from another source, but apparently in a certain cave you can find an item that grants control over whoever’s equipped with it. It was found with other cursed gear and entrusted to the church to remove the curse, but they swapped it with a dud…and now Bulk’s been using it.”
Jai explained that a B-rank adventurers’ party found it inside a yet to be cleared dungeon.
“Stay on your toes. If you end up having that thing attached, even you might not be able to fight it. They say that even some upper class Chosen Ones fell under its influence.”
Jai’s serious expression as he spoke this last warning was one Wilhelm had never seen before.
“…I’ve heard enough. But there’s something I just don’t get.”
Wilhelm had received important information, but there was one thing he could not understand.
“What’s that now?”
“How do you know all this inside information? You just said yourself that the church erases anyone in possession of troublesome information, right?”
Jai was not a Chosen One, unlike Wilhelm. No matter how good he was at hiding, he could not stay safe forever.
“That’s because the Church isn’t a paragon of unwavering loyalty either. Even ignoring the Millie business, Bulk has his fair share of failures. There are people opposing him. Eline too, he might be an upper class Chosen One, but because of Bulk he’s a useless Church Knight. They’d be happy to be rid of Bulk. And one more thing, the adventurer who found the manipulation item is one of my best clients.”
Jai explained how he had a solid source of information for the manipulation item as well.
Wilhelm could not know at this point, but that information had come from Lilishila. She had disclosed it to the informants she could trust.
Yet not even Lilishila knew about the “Hero” title, mainly because the source of the information had been erased.
“I see. So your connections prove useful…sometimes.”
“You could have spared me that last word, damn you.”
“Who are these people opposing Bulk, anyway?”
“Fine, ignore me. They’re the Holy Woman’s personal guards, people indebted to her. Some of them are high-ranked too, so they know how Bulk’s been handling her. If killing Bulk could dispel the item’s effects, rest assured that he’d be six feet under by now.”
Not knowing how to dispel the effect of the manipulation item, they can’t make any moves. Capturing Bulk and interrogating or torturing him could be one way, but who knows what could happen to the Holy Woman.
Bulk dies and the Holy Woman goes with him…would not be a happy ending.
Jai also added that it’d be hard to subdue him, having Eline as guard.
“The Holy Woman’s being held hostage, pretty much. Some people have no choice but to obey Bulk’s orders.”
“Can they be useful to him, though?”
“If you don’t want the Holy Woman to be hurt…that’s all he needs to say.”
“Tch, disgusting bastard.”
Wilhelm clicked his tongue while making a distorted grimace. Jai was feeling the same as well.
“Wilhelm, what are you planning to do now?”
“I’m going back to the inn first. They’ve never been more supportive, you see. The ones who went to the Church might even be back, with Millie in tow.”
Thinking that it wouldn’t be impossible for Shin to pull it off made Wilhelm grin. Seeing Wilhelm like that caused a puzzled reaction in Jai.
“Who’d think I’d ever see you talking of someone with a face like that. Is it a Chosen One?”
“Nope, but a monster through and through. I’m warning you though, don’t start getting curious.”
“Must be something else for you to say that. I’d love to ask you to introduce us, but I’ll stop for now.”
Jai understood that Wilhelm wasn’t joking and nodded strongly, albeit a bit comically.
Curiosity killed the cat, as they say. Informants are sensitive to information that should be left alone. Though there are times when they get closer all the same.
“Maybe there’s nothing to worry with a guy like that on your side, but let me tell you one more thing. If you plan to mess with Bulk, other than Eline there’s one more person you have to pay attention to.”
“The upper class Chosen Ones are being manipulated, right? But you’re telling me it’s only one more guy?”
Eline is obviously dangerous, but the upper class Chosen Ones are also a threat themselves. Based on Bulk’s personality, Wilhelm struggled to imagine that he’d only had Eline and one more person at his beck and call.
“There are other upper class Chosen Ones, that’s true. But this guy, like Eline, has abilities far higher than the others. The name’s Konig Bolt, he’s one of the top swordsmen of the Church. He’s being manipulated by that item though. If you can get rid of that somehow, you can avoid having to fight him.”
Apparently he was one of Holy Woman’s personal guards. He had probably been targeted because of his skills.
Jai adds that he even owns legendary-class equipment.
“This is all I can tell you. You better make good use of it.”
“You bet I will. I will definitely rescue Millie. And while I’m at it I will settle the score with that twisted bastard.”
“Haha, good to hear that…counting on you.”
The last words Jai added were filled with his frustration for not being able to go help her himself.
Wilhelm visited another few stores, then headed back to the inn.
It had taken him considerable time to find Jai’s store, so when he looked up at the sky the sun was already descending.
Wilhelm walked on towards the inn, in complete silence. On the way he bought skewered meat from a street stall.
He proceeded at a relaxed pace, tasting the perfectly cooked meat in his mouth.
Yet his feet were not heading towards the inn.
“You’ve been following me for a while now. What do you want?”
Wilhelm stepped into a deserted alley and interrogated the empty space before him.
No answer to be heard, Wilhelm’s eyes focused. He pointed the skewer he had in his hand towards the alley’s darkness and shot it.
Wilhelm’s muscular strength shot the skewer through the darkness just like a powerful bow would have, sending it piercing the air towards its target.
An instant before the skewer disappeared into the darkness, something emerged from it. Along with a sound of the wall being struck, the scenery of the dark alley appeared to distort slightly before Wilhelm’s eyes.
The distortion lands on the ground and turned into a person clad in a brown coat.
“You are Wilhelm Avis?”
“What if I am?”
“A certain person wants to meet you. Allow me to accompany you.”
Wilhelm couldn’t identify the person’s expression or racial characteristics because of the hood. But the voice sounded like a man’s.
“You really expect me to just follow you quietly?”
“We’ll take you by force…is something we’re not strong enough to say. My apologies for following you. But refusing me will ultimately bring disadvantage to your side.”
Wilhelm furrowed his brow after hearing the man’s words.
“The person wanting to meet you is someone that detests people that abduct children.”
“…so not a servant of some pig-faced priest, huh.”
“If you visited Jai, you should already know. We are not so docile as to just obey without a word.”
Wilhelm remembered what Jai said about the opposing faction. Judging from his words, it was probably this man who passed the information to Jai.
“There’s someone I want to contact first though.”
“Apologies, but I can’t allow that.”
“You need as many allies as you can, don’t you? I can at least guarantee that there’s no risk of betrayal.”
“It would inconvenience us for your comrades to be near. We could contact you like this just because you moved on your own.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“This is the only way to avoid being found out. That’s all I can say for now.”
These people would be inconvenienced by Shin and the others’ presence, which may cause something to happen. At this point in time, Wilhelm did not have enough information to deduce what the reason could be.
Following the man would likely mean not making it back at the time set with Shin and the others. This caused Wilhelm to reflect in silence for a while.
(What will they do after failing to make contact with me?)
Wilhelm’s absence wouldn’t cause a serious loss in fighting power. Just Shin, Schnee and Shibaid would be more than enough.
Tiera herself possessed less fighting power than these three, but her partner Kagerou was more powerful.
If something happened to Wilhelm now, from the timing they would surely think the Church was involved.
(They would go after Bulk. If they go to the Church, there’s a high chance we’ll bump into each other.)
Considering Shin’s party’s abilities, they could very well rescue Millie without Bulk knowing.
Directing their attention to Wilhelm instead of Shin’s party would be good too.
In addition, even if he was manipulated, Wilhelm could not imagine Shin’s party would be defeated.
“…where is this person that wants to meet me?”
“The Church’s Headquarters. I will be your guide.”
“Lead the way.”
As Wilhelm consented, the man moved to a corner of the alley and searched the ground. After a few seconds, his hands stopped moving, holding what looked like a handle-shaped object.
The man tightened his grip on the object and the ground swelled up, revealing a pathway leading underground.
Wilhelm followed the man down the underground passage. The 3 mels wide tunnel they entered continued in both directions.
No light illuminated the dark corridor; when the man closed the entrance, utter darkness filled the surroundings. Only when the man lit the lantern he was holding could they see several mels in front.
The man proceeded without hesitation through the barely lit tunnel. He turned left at a crossroad, right at the next T-intersection.
Wilhelm could not fully understand how the complicated network of paths was connected.
The succession of similar-looking paths coupled with the obstructing darkness would disrupt the sense of direction of any intruder.
Even with Wilhelm’s sharp senses, he lost track of how much time had passed since they entered.
If he lost sight of the man, it would be very difficult to find his way out alone.
Just as Wilhelm thought so, the man stopped in his tracks.
The path that looked like it would continue forever had approached its end.
The man shone his lantern on a certain spot on the wall and pushed it. This caused the wall to slide and reveal a stairway large enough for one adult man to pass through.
As Wilhelm proceeded to follow the man up the steps, he had already pushed the ceiling open and was checking the surroundings of the exit.
What the underground tunnel led to was a tiny room. The two men exited it and found themselves in a corridor lined with gorgeous decorations.
“We’re inside the Church?”
Wilhelm had no recollection of the place, but the scenery outside the windows allowed him to estimate his current whereabouts.
It appeared they were inside one of the buildings at the edge of the Church compound.
“There are paths leading to the Church strewn throughout this city. Although very few know that this is the entrance.”
“Just memorizing your way through it is pretty impressive.”
“After 30 years of exploration, I know it like the back of my hand. But enough idle talk, let us head to the person awaiting us.”
Despite being inside the Church, there were few people in the surroundings. Wilhelm’s detection ability barely perceived any human presence around them.
As the two descended several stairs, proceeding as not to meet anyone else, they finally reached a corridor with doors on the left and right sides.
Wilhelm was wondering what the doors concealed, but as the man proceeded straight without paying the slightest attention to the doors, Wilhelm gave up on his mental investigation.
If it’s unrelated to Millie’s rescue, then there’s no point in knowing.
He had received messages from Shin’s party while moving, but chose not to open them in front of the man.
After proceeding further down the corridor the two came upon a door clearly different than the others.
The lavishly decorated door, which occupied a whole section as a room, was also where the corridor came to an end.
After saying so, the man knocked on the door with a peculiar rhythm, and the door opened by itself.
It stopped after a few seconds, leaving an opening large enough for one adult person to pass through.
The man then stepped through the opening and Wilhelm followed after him.
The room inside was quite large, its floor rising higher in the back. It looked just like an altar, and Wilhelm was baffled and impressed at the same time that anyone would live in a room like that.
“Milady Hermie. I have brought sir Wilhelm.”
The man had walked up to the canopy and reported Wilhelm’s arrival, which prompted an answer from a crystalline voice beyond the heavy curtains.
After a little while, the owner of the voice emerged from behind the curtains and showed herself.
“Pleased to make your acquaintance. My name is Hermie Schultz.”
“So you’re the ‘Soothsaying Holy Woman’?”
“I am often addressed thus, yes. However, such a pseudonym has barely any meaning at present.”
Hermie’s expression clouded. Wilhelm’s eyes turned to the collar around her neck.
Wilhelm assumed that the eerie-looking thing was the manipulation item that Jai had mentioned.
“What did you call me for?”
“To return Millie.”
With these words, Hermie opened the canopy’s curtains wide, revealing a king-size bed and Millie sitting on it.
Millie had known Wilhelm had arrived from his voice, and as Hermie opened the curtains she jumped up and ran to him.
Her eyes brimming with tears, Millie grabbed onto Wilhelm.
Wilhelm held her gently as not to hurt her.
“Will-nii, is Shia-nee…is Shia-nee okay!?!”
“Don’t you worry, she’s as lively as they come.”
Those words spread great relief in Millie’s heart.
She had heard from Hermie that Rashia was safe, but she could not erase all doubts until hearing the same from someone she trusted.
“What’s happening here, though? You were supposed to have been abducted by that Bulk bastard.”
Why was Millie in a place like that? Wilhelm inquired Hermie while patting the little girl’s head.
“This girl and I share the same ability. Bulk ordered me to teach her how to control it.”
Teach her how to control it. That alone wouldn’t be a problem.
However, Bulk would never give her back just like that.
“Bulk plans to offer her as sacrifice. I suppose he only thinks of her ability as a way to raise her worth as sacrifice.”
Hermie did not know what effect that could have on the ritual. She did not want to know either.
If things continued on as they were, both her and Millie would not be able to escape Bulk’s grasp.
Having realized that, Hermie took the risky decision of ordering one of her men to bring Wilhelm there, in order to save Millie.
Wilhelm was surprised to hear a word so foreign to him. He knew of the existence of the Summit Faction, but he thought they were terrorists that attacked without discrimination.
After Hermie explained about the Summit Faction and their activities, faint blue veins could be seen emerging on Wilhelm’s forehead.
“What insane bastards. But I still don’t understand why you called for me. You should have known that I’m not the only one coming to save Millie, right?”
Wilhelm swallowed his anger and interrogated Hermie again. Why call him specifically, when calling Shin or Schnee would have resolved everything faster?
“I am aware that there are others trying to save Millie. But my ability allowed me to see only you and the female elf. And about her, all I could see was very rough and uncertain. Once, I saw you saving a woman called Rashia, and there was a black-haired man with you…but I only saw him that time. My power has its limits, after all.”
Hermie thus confessed her inability to see Shin, Schnee or Shibaid.
Wilhelm knew how outside the norm those three were, so he did not find such a reason hard to accept. Difference in level and status, quality of weapons and armor, superiority of species…there were too many possible reasons.
“I see. Thinking about those guys, it’s not strange that I’m the only one you could see. Enough about them though.”
That was all Wilhelm could say at that point.
He too was similar to them as for being outside the norm, but compared to Shin and the others he still paled.
“Back to the topic, what do you plan to do now? Even if Millie’s safe, you’ll still be sacrificed, won’t you?”
Thinking that it wasn’t something to talk about then and there, Wilhelm returned to the topic at hand.
“I…I cannot escape.”
Hermie spoke while shifting her gaze to the ground. Resignation was palpable in her words.
Looking at the source for that feeling, Wilhelm spoke.
“The item that forces obedience upon those who equip it, huh.”
“I heard from an informant. Looks like it’s that collar?”
“Exactly. I have only received orders that prevent me from doing certain actions now, so I can move freely to a point…but if I receive the order, I can do the cruelest things without hesitation.”
Hermie’s pupils trembled while she talked, her fingers brushing against the collar. Wilhelm could not know what horrible things she had been forced to do until now.
But judging from Hermie’s pained expression, it couldn’t have been anything pleasant.
“Are you conscious after you receive an order?”
“I am…vaguely conscious. I suppose I could say it feels like being in a dream.”
Hermie explained how she wasn’t fully conscious. Wilhelm thought that if she was, her emotional state now would be much worse.
“…I can’t do anything about that thing around your neck. Sorry, but I’m going back with Millie.”
“That is fine. That is not why I had you come here, after all.”
Wilhelm’s words made Millie raise her voice in disbelief. She was about to appeal to Wilhelm to save her, but then her eyes met Wilhelm’s expression of suppressed regret.
Hermie understood his feelings and nodded after hearing his words. The smile appearing on her lips was born from being genuinely happy that Millie would be safe.
While feeling Millie’s gaze, Wilhelm knew he was feeling irritated. There was something he didn’t like about Hermie’s expression.
“What’s up with that face?”
The sudden question changed Hermie’s expression from smiling to confused.
Hermie thought that her release of the kidnapped Millie could have been considered suspicious by Wilhelm.
She had expected the possibility of being asked if she was being manipulated and was just trying to make them lower their guard.
Fortunately that didn’t happen: Wilhelm agreed to take Millie back without hesitation.
Maybe because she had found some solace in that, Hermie could not understand Wilhelm’s words immediately.
“It’s the face of someone who doesn’t care about themselves.”
“…if that’s what you think, could you please hear my request?”
As she understood Wilhelm’s words, a thought formed within Hermie.
Maybe she would be able to accomplish the other objective for calling Wilhelm there.
“Please, kill me.”
Hermie’s words were followed by shocked exclamations from the guide and Millie.
The real purpose of the man who brought Wilhelm to take Millie back was saving Hermie.
Hearing the same Hermie ask Wilhelm to kill her would obviously cause him to raise his voice.
“Are you serious?”
“Even if I keep on living like this, I would just cause problems for many people. If I die and Millie disappears from here, Bulk’s plot will fail too. Because of this collar, I cannot do it with my own hands, so…I beg of you.”
“That cannot happen!! Do you want the earnest efforts of all those trying to save you to be in vain!?”
“It will be too late if things continue like this.”
Hermie’s eyes were resolute as she stated so.
“What have you seen?”
Hermie was about to start talking, when her face twisted into a grimace of pain. Through her fingers tightly holding her neck, Wilhelm noticed the words etched on the collar’s light up.
“My…apologies. The collar prevents me from saying any more. But if things go on like this…the Eltnia continent will fall in ruin.”
“….the Demon, huh?”
Wilhelm guessed what Hermie meant to say through her fragmented words.
He was gathering information on Bulk his own way too; his information sources were not limited to Jai.
Among the pieces of information Wilhelm had collected, there were connections between Bulk and the Demon, albeit not confirmed.
“It is a very powerful one as well. If you understand me, please…”
“Sorry, but I can’t do that.”
Wilhelm cut off Hermie’s words while patting Millie’s head, who was silently looking up at him.
(I’m not usually one to rely on others, but…)
Wilhelm was a seasoned warrior too. The thing that Hermie talked about, something which could destroy the whole continent…he had felt, ever so slightly, traces of it ever since he arrived in Sigurd.
It wasn’t within Sigurd itself, but not too far from it, something of unknown nature was beginning to move.
From that supposedly dangerous thing, however, Wilhelm could not feel any deathly presence.
The reason was that until hearing Hermie’s words, he did not perceive that sense of irritation as something concrete.
But now he understood the reason. He felt that something even larger than the menace Hermie spoke about was blocking it.
There was only one thing he could think of.
“Even if I don’t kill you here, that enemy or whatever isn’t going to accomplish anything, you know.”
“How can you be so sure!? That is not something mere humans can compare to!”
Instigated by Wilhelm’s lack of sense of danger, Hermie loudly let out her feelings.
She could not express it in words, but Hermie had seen it through her ‘Star Reader’ ability. The massive shadow emerging from the ritual site, and the destruction in its wake.
Hermie knew that even if she pleaded to the people trying to help her – such as the man who guided Wilhelm – to kill her, they would never consent.
She had Wilhelm come not only to entrust Millie to him, but also to ask him to kill her.
“If it was only me in Sigurd, it would have worked, maybe.”
The lack of worry in Wilhelm’s words clouded Hermie’s expression further.
There was a definite difference between Wilhelm and Hermie’s reactions to the coming danger.
The cause for this difference was one simple thing. Knowing a certain person or not.
Who could ever predict it?
That the race talked about in myths was now here in this city?
Who could ever predict it?
That he and his comrades were already on the move?