“Here we are.”
Shin and Schnee parted ways with Lilishila and were now in Bulk’s residence.
Shibaid had already purified all the miasma, so it looked like any other room.
Shin and Schnee’s honed detection-type abilities, however, revealed the presence of miasma-emitting items -miasma stones- scattered throughout the room.
“I see, all these miasma stones explain why Bulk was like that.”
“What do you mean?”
“Bulk’s body was actually in a really nasty state. The miasma’s corruption had entered its final stage.”
During Bulk’s interrogation, Shin found out that more than half of his body had already turned black. If this was still the game era, he would have been far beyond salvation.
“In a state as advanced as that, I bet he barely felt pain anymore. Looks like he himself hadn’t realized it, though.”
That time, Bulk wasn’t paying the slightest attention to his own body. Even seeing its blackened appearance solicited no reaction in him.
It appears that another effect of miasma contamination is the loss of the ability to perceive such abnormalities.
It would be impossible for anyone to not notice the oppressing miasma leaking out every time the room’s doors opened.
“These are all the ones in this room, then.”
“Adding the other room and the hidden room, it’s become a considerable amount, hasn’t it?”
Schnee spoke while looking at the small mountain of miasma stones in the center of the room.
The stones, each half the size of a fist, were 11 in total. A large number for just one room.
According to Shin, even just one stone would have been enough to fill the room with miasma.
“With so many stones, even if Palmirack’s functions worked, purification would be pretty difficult.”
“That could have been their goal.”
Even if Palmirack was not fully functional, the miasma accumulated near its core was a very small quantity. That influenced the purification mechanisms Palmirack was equipped with.
The walls of Chimeradite composing Palmirack are a combination of several different structures.
The walls of all rooms and corridors are made in Adamantine mixed with Chimeradite. In certain locations the walls were built by also using Mithril, which can easily transmit the effects of magic. If it detects the presence of miasma, it will automatically perform a purification on the miasma.
The Orichalcum used to coat the walls also possessed the ability to purify miasma, thus Palmirack itself made it difficult for miasma to accumulate within its walls.
However, if a large quantity of miasma was created in one spot, like this time, purification would be difficult even if all functions were alive. Schnee’s prediction had fully hit the mark.
“There’s nothing else worthy of note here. Let’s go to the next room.”
After completing their investigation of the first room, Shin and Schnee moved to the next.
Roughly the same number of miasma stones had been placed in the adjacent room as well. They could imagine how the room must have looked dark and stagnant because of the miasma.
“By the way, could you gather any information from Bulk?”
“He believed himself to be completely sane, but his memories were full of holes. He remembered about the ritual and the sacrifices, but the couldn’t say anything specific about the headquarters or the other central members. He remembered that a woman with blonde hair was supposed to come for him, but couldn’t even remember her name.”
Shin had used a mind-type skill while interrogating Bulk. He could force him to confess the information he knew, but in the end what he could gather was not much.
Shin didn’t know if it was because of the miasma’s effects or some other factor, but it appeared as if he had made preparations not to leak any information in case something happened to him.
There was not, however, the possibility that he had been controlled via an item or skill.
The reason being that he was talking about his ridiculous desires fluently. Maybe it had to be expected, but he had solid foundations for his current state.
“The man who was with him…Eline, was it? It didn’t seem like he had been subjected to the miasma.”
“He was an upper-class chosen one after all, I guess he had high resistance? He had decent items too, and his weapon was 『Exvaine』 after all. I do think he was subjected to other things, though.”
It might not have been Filma’s original weapon, but 『Exvaine』 was a powerful sword. Compared to other weapons of lower level, it might have helped resist the miasma’s effects.
Thinking about how perverse Eline’s personality was, however, suggested that it might have been formed by the explosive combination of Bulk’s education and the miasma’s corruption.
“Alright, we’ve checked this room too. For a leading member of the Faction, there isn’t anything of value here.”
Bulk’s residence was impregnated with miasma, yet nothing of importance was found except the miasma stones.
Considering that things related to the Faction were not hidden, but simply not there, one could start doubting that Bulk’s assertion of being one of the Faction’s central members.
“Maybe he was simply deluded that he was a lead member, or it was an illusion induced by the miasma.”
“That’s possible. He was just a kidnapper after all.”
Bulk was a pawn, used for gathering sacrifices through his position as priest. That was Shin and Schnee’s theory. But even if it was the truth, Bulk’s acts forbade any pity.
“Next is the hidden room, then.”
“If anything is to be found, I suppose it will be there.”
Shin activated the room’s controls and opened the doorway to the room.
He then grimaced at the foul stench emanating from it, much as Shibaid had done.
“….this is far beyond being just “stinky”.”
“What an awful smell.”
Shin and Schnee proceeded through the corridor, enduring the nauseous odor. After reaching its end they opened the door without hesitation.
“Splattered blood doesn’t go away, does it.”
“So it seems.”
When they visited the assassin several days before, Lilishila told Shin about how corpses disappear. He thought that their blood would vanish as well, but one look at the horrible state of the room made him change his mind.
The floor, the walls, even the ceiling were stained with what appears to be blood.
“But even so, Schnee…does this look like a drawing to you too?”
“It’s quite disturbing that it was drawn with blood.”
Shin and Schnee were looking at the drawing of a snake coiled around a half-broken mask, which occupied an entire wall.
Maybe because it had been painted with blood, the impression it gave to the viewer was a gruesome scene.
“I feel like I have seen this before…”
“This is the emblem of a dark guild. If I remember correctly, it was quite a large organization.”
Shin, his head cocked to one side, was trying to grasp an elusive memory. Schnee answered with confidence.
The ominous drawing before their eyes was not a completely new sight.
“Do you know the name of the guild?”
“The guild is called “Ouroboros’ Hollow”. It’s famous for accepting any request if the reward is adequate. On one hand, they undertake even criminal acts such as assassination and thievery, on another, they will take down other dark guilds or catch criminals if rewarded amply enough; in a way, they can be useful to society. That’s why all countries have a difficult time dealing with them.”
“I see, a true jack of all trades. I feel I heard that name somewhere before.”
“….that’s because it stems from a PK guild from the game era. It was formed by members of guilds you crushed, Shin.”
“That explains it.”
Schnee had pronounced the last sentence with a slightly stiff expression, but Shin’s answer was short. Compared to Schnee, his tone of voice was much more casual.
The actual problem was that, looking at the picture, Shin simply thought that he had seen it somewhere before. The reason for this was he didn’t feel it was worth remembering PKs after cutting them down.
PKs simply caused damage to other players, without a reason or a cause. Shin spared the least amount possible of his resources for such people.
He hated them. He resented them. But he never thought of keeping in mind the PKs he killed or the PK guilds he destroyed.
Even if he were questioned about feeling remorse after taking people’s lives, or how he could forget about people he killed, Shin would not care in the slightest.
There were some players who felt guilty about killing PKs, but Shin could not understand that sentiment.
“Even if they were offered heaps of money, gathering sacrifices would be too much even for them, don’t you think?”
“It is said that if the reward is enough, they will undertake any mission, no matter the content. Rather, there is the possibility that they are actively involved. Those who share a connection with players can cause the spread of miasma, and there were also quests where if the player didn’t stop it in time a Demon would appear. On the contrary, it is also possible to lead things to failure. In the past, I have participated in an expedition to bring down a group who tried to do just that, so I don’t think it’s impossible.”
“That really happened? Well, the ones I crushed were all players, so there’s no doubt that are support characters such as you exist. If there is game era knowledge, it’s possible I suppose.”
Quest disruption by PKs happened during the game era too. Causing the birth of powerful Demons was possible.
There was the impression of a slight discrepancy with the Summit Faction’s goals, but considering the miasma found in Bulk’s quarters, it could be concluded that the organization had its share of internal conflict.
“I suppose Bulk must have acted on his own too, for his personal agenda. A reason to conclude as such, was that he was secretly connected with the underground guild “Immoral Sacrifice” too, after all.”
“That guild could be no more now. After all, “Ouroboros’ Hollow” does not tolerate multiple contracts with other guilds.”
Schnee had heard that in the past, someone who had a contract with Ouroboros’ Hollow had bound a contract with another dark guild, thus causing that guild’s annihilation.
For Ouroboros’ Hollow, contracting another guild means that its own strength was being doubted. Needless to say, the contractor had been targeted too.
“As expected of a major organization. That’s some grand scale planning.”
Shin spoke with a sigh. There was nothing to laugh about.
“So there aren’t any clues here either?”
“What we have now is only the shadow Tiera saw and the messenger Bulk talked about, I suppose.”
“Better than nothing, I guess. Let’s focus on the day after tomorrow first.”
Shin decided to make preparations in order to gather as many clues as possible.
Shin and Schnee completed their investigation of Bulk’s residence and returned to Lilishila’s room.
Shin thought he would find someone inside, but maybe because their search ended rather quickly, no one was there yet.
Shin ran a search using Palmirack’s functions and found that Tiera, Wilhelm and Millie were in the same room.
Lilishila and Shibaid were on the verge of breaking into one of the rooms in the residential section. It looked like they had already captured several rooms. They were likely fighting against Bulk’s allies.
“Looks like everyone’s doing fine for now.”
“Shibaid is with Lilishila too, so I doubt anything bad could happen.”
Shin nodded in agreement to Schnee’s words and headed to where Tiera and the others were.
As Shin and Schnee entered the room, Millie noticed and ran up to them.
“Hey there, good morning. How are you feeling?”
Shin caught Millie as she jumped to him and checked her status. Her HP and MP were completely recovered and she did not appear to have any status conditions.
The status screen can not show everything, but at the very least she had no visible aftereffects.
“Have you heard from Tiera?”
Millie nodded, smiling. Tiera, walking behind Millie, nodded too after meeting Shin’s eyes.
“There’s no time to lose then. After all, Rashia and Thoria must be worried sick.”
Shin spoke while patting Millie’s head.
They had previously contacted Vizzy to let her make preparations, so they could leave right away.
They asked Vizzy to protect Millie until Shin’s party had stopped the ritual.
Wilhelm with his powered-up equipment, Vizzy and the Elder Dragons she had gained control of, even if enemy hands approached them again, they would not go down easily.
“Are you departing?”
“Yes, there are people worried about Millie. They deeply regretted not being able to protect her, you see.”
“I understand. It is best to hurry, then.”
Hermie showed a relieved smile after speaking. Hermie had been used in the past for the abilities granted by her title, so she was glad to know that Millie, who shared the same title, was cherished.
“We have already made the necessary preparations. We were thinking of leaving now, actually.”
Shin nodded at Hermie’s words and faced towards Wilhelm.
Wilhelm too could use the item box, so he could leave right away without needing time to prepare. Millie had been kidnapped with only the clothes she had on, so she obviously had no luggage to speak of.
They decided to wait for Shibaid to come back and leave once they were all together.
Shin’s party left Sigurd momentarily, to see Millie and the others off.
The carriage they rode on blazed through a wasteland heading to the meeting point with Vizzy at a slightly ridiculous speed due to the power of Kagerou’s pulling.
Normally the carriage would be shaking violently, but the shock absorbing mechanism equipped on the carriage’s cabin worked perfectly, preventing the passengers -especially Millie- from feeling sick.
“Will, Will!! Look outside! It’s like we’re flying!”
“Easy now, or you’ll fall from your seat.”
Millie’s eyes were sparkling looking at the scenery breezing past them much faster than in a normal carriage, and Wilhelm cautioned her. She was not being careful about her foothold, so a stronger shock could have sent her flying out of her seat.
“Some things don’t change no matter where you go, huh.”
Shin felt as if he was looking at a kid excited to be riding a train and let that remark slip. Even when he had gotten used to the game world, he would sometimes remember the real world.
“Did you recall something about your homeland?”
Tiera asked the question as Shin was gently looking at Millie.
“You looked like you were thinking about something far away. Usually people think of their homeland when they look like that, no?”
“I really looked like that?”
“Well, that doesn’t apply to everyone, but…I get the feeling I was right this time, wasn’t I?”
“Well, not too far from the truth, let’s say.”
Tiera asked for confirmation and Shin replied after some thought, his head cocked to one side.
One could say it was his homeland, but strictly speaking it really wasn’t. Since it was in another world.
“I was thinking of the past though, that’s for sure. I was thinking that kids act the same everywhere, you see. I’ve seen children act the same way as Millie, so…”
“I see, there was a time when “things like these” were normal, then.”
Tiera assumed that Shin was talking about the world before the “Dusk of the Majesty”. She imagined that there once were carriages this fast running through city streets.
“Children don’t change, no matter the times we’re in. Yes, I can see that.”
“The things we do are pretty much the same, after all. Hunt monsters, forge weapons or armor, create buildings, do research, go on adventures, or do battle. Some people play dirty, others work diligently. We’re all living beings, there aren’t many differences.”
In THE NEW GATE, the playstyles…the ways to live were too many to count. All players had a different one, and this world was no different.
“A world packed with High Humans like you, right? I don’t even want to think about it.”
“Hey now, there weren’t many at my level. Including me, there were only 6.”
“It’s insane that there were even 6! I’m really glad I wasn’t born in that era, for sure!”
Wilhelm says so light-heartedly with his legs crossed and back leaning on the carriage’s wooden partition.
The carriage was protected from outside noise via magic, making its interior quiet; everyone could hear the others talk.
Almost all members knew that Shin was a High Human, so they could talk without reserve.
The only person who wasn’t told this information was Millie. However, she said that she realized it the first time she met Shin, surprising the whole party.
“Shin is, kinda, amazing.”
“That’s a whole other level of ambiguity. Come to think of it, you told Schnee that I would be back soon. Did you see that in the future?”
“You see, I saw Schnee hugging someone, all happy. I felt all warm in my chest, so it had to be something good.”
Millie had predicted that after Schnee told her that she was waiting for her master, apparently.
Her ability at the time was still unstable, but for some reason that time she felt a strange confidence, so she told Schnee about it.
Everyone nodded at Millie’s words. Starting from Wilhelm, however, all members reacted to a different part of her recollection.
“So that’s what happened…but still, hugging, huh…?”
“I heard something similar too…so she hugged him, is that so.”
“What a mysterious ability…master, you really hugged him?”
“(Kuu! Schnee likes Shin very very much!)”
Wilhelm grinned, Shibaid nodded, Tiera inquired seriously. It was a side of Schnee they had some difficulty imagining, so their interest shifted away from Mille’s ability.
The only salvation was that Yuzuha’s telepathy had reached only Shin.
“W-what is it with you all? That’s not the part that needs to be talked about here!”
This agitated response came from Schnee, who was holding the carriage’s reins and could not participate in the conversation.
Only Yuzuha knew that when Shin and Schnee had met again, she had hugged him without thinking, but now the truth had been revealed to all.
It was quite a surprise for everyone that the usually straight-laced Schnee they knew had been so forward.
“We’re talking of a noble High Elf who never had romantic rumors about her, after all. A passionate hug, is it? Truly forward indeed.”
“I see, I wasn’t aware but you didn’t miss your chances to act. Very good, very good I’d say.”
Looking at Schnee abandon her coachman role and unusually panicked, Wilhelm and Shibaid’s expressions became sympathetic.
Even though they had just met, the two poked fun at Schnee just communicating through their eyes and facial expressions.
“She doesn’t deny it, so…it’s true?”
Tiera’s reaction was slightly different. She understood from Schnee’s reaction that what Millie said was true, and at the same time she felt a certain uneasiness in her chest.
Tiera didn’t know of the “bed sharing incident” or the “moonlight encounter”, so she couldn’t decide if Schnee’s feelings towards Shin were born from loyalty or affection…or rather, she purposefully put off such a decision, but the present situation made things very clear.
But what was the feeling of uneasiness in her heart? Tiera couldn’t understand.
She had been exiled from her village before ever experiencing such feelings and lived at the Tsuki no Hokora since then; she did not have a name for what she was feeling right now.
“You better go easy on Schnee, or she’ll make you regret it later, you know?”
“To be able to poke some fun at Tsuki no Hokora’s very own Schnee Raizar is something that will happen only this once in my lifetime. I can’t let this chance go.”
“I was certainly not poking fun at her. I simply found all this heartwarming.”
“You two are going to pay for this…!”
Behind Shin, who was sitting with his back to the coachman seat, Schnee uttered these words with a menacing tone. Her embarrassment was so strong that even her long ears were all red.
Wilhelm and Shibaid’s grins widened even more.
Shin, on the other hand, was unsure about what to do. Tiera was slightly annoyed.
Crying “kuu, kuu” and “gruu, gruu”, the two divine beasts adjusted the carriage’s course, which had lost its coachman’s control, and brought it forward to its destination. Inside the carriage, however, confusion reigned supreme.
“Here, we’ve arrived. Come down quickly, everybody.”
The chaotic atmosphere had to be endured for a few minutes. Thanks to Yuzuha and Kagerou, they arrived at the meeting point without trouble.
In order to wipe away that awkward atmosphere, Shin urged the passengers to go down quickly.
Both Wilhelm and Shibaid knew when to stop, so they promptly obeyed.
“Fufu, fufufu. You will be repaid for this favor very soon.”
Behind Shin, the still flushed Schnee had made her decision.
Having had little to no experience of being made fun of in the past, the damage she sustained seemed to be quite high.
“Go easy on them, OK? Besides, well… even embarrassed like that, you were pretty cute, you know?”
“EH!? Ah, er, thank you…very much…”
Shin tried to console her with words he wasn’t used to saying, and the effects were greater than he expected.
Seeing Schnee go all red, he was struck by her cuteness again.
“Er, aren’t you…used to hearing things like this?”
“It depends on who says them…if it’s the person I l… I like, of course… of course I’d be happy…”
Schnee glared at Shin while her voice trailed off to a whisper. Another cute expression, and Shin couldn’t help but pat her head gently.
That sudden gesture made Schnee let out a little cry. Shin’s hands stroked her hair gently, expressing the master’s feelings to his companion.
Shin realized what he was doing and pulled back his hand with a surprised expression. The warm emotion that had sprung forth in his heart had guided his hand.
A feeling that Shin had once experienced, but then lost. The feeling of deep affection towards someone else.
Shin himself was a bit surprised by his own heart’s transformation.
There were, however, other things to make sure first.
He stole a quick glance at Schnee’s expression, and found it frozen in what seemed like ecstasy.
Shin sighed with relief that, at least, she wasn’t in a bad mood.
“Y-yes!? What is it!?”
“Well, er, nothing. My hand kind of moved by itself…”
“No, well, I didn’t dislike it, so…”
Are you a teen again!?! Is what Shin wanted to say to himself right now. That’s how awkward their conversation was. Not that he didn’t enjoy it, though.
Shin felt clearly how his emotions were changing.
“Shin-nii, Schnee-nee, do you have the hots?”
Shin and Schnee were still lost in their own world when a childish voice called to them. They looked at the source of the voice and found Millie staring at them.
“Eeeheh!? Ah, yeah, Millie, didn’t you go on ahead with the others?”
“They told me to come call you, since you’re so late.”
“I see. We’re coming, so go on ahead.”
“Okay….but you have the hots?”
“Enough about that!”
Shin tried to change the topic, but it didn’t work on Milie.
Millie’s face as she was running back to Wilhelm, as expected, had a big grin.
“….it looks like we should hurry ahead.”
“Indeed. But please, wait just 20 seconds.”
Schnee felt that she was still red, so she and Shin got down from the carriage after she had calmed down a little.
“My my? There’s something interesting going on here, isn’t there?”
Shin and Schnee joined the others, only to find Vizzy also looking at them with sympathetic eyes.
Among those present, only Tiera -who was carrying Yuzuha- looked at the two latecomers with different eyes.
Shin had almost reached the limits of his patience and darted a look at everyone present.
“Guys, if you don’t cut it out already you’ll make me angry, all right?”
“Alright, let’s stop the jokes for now. We’ll have to be sharp and focused for what’s coming, after all.”
“Yes, though we can say that there’s less pressure on our shoulders now.”
A state of prolonged emotional tension often invites unwanted accidents.
Shibaid and Wilhelm know that from experience; their poking fun at Schnee served to ease the whole party’s tension too.
Of course, they couldn’t deny that there were other reasons too.
“Agh, you people are just… anyway. We will deal with our mission as soon as we can, so please take care of Millie in the meanwhile.”
“You just leave it to us! We’ll do our very best!”
“We’re not going to let them have their way again.”
Vizzy stood proudly, while Wilhelm expressed his strong conviction. With the Elder Dragons’ assistance on their side too, they couldn’t be defeated easily.
Vizzy called the Elder Dragons, and as Wilhelm turned away from Shin’s party, Millie suddenly stopped.
“Hm? What’s wrong, Millie?”
Shin called to the Millie, still not moving an inch, but received no response.
Shin was looking at Millie with suspicion, when suddenly her body was covered in a faint light. Millie’s magic power was astir.
“What’s going on?”
Shibaid too, like Shin, noticed Millie’s unusual state. Schnee reacted by analyzing the young girl.
“I suppose this is the “Star Reader” title’s activation.”
“The title, you say?”
Tiera, not being able to understand the situation, did not know what to do.
“It’s all right, it’ll be over soon.”
Only Wilhelm seemed to know what was happening to Millie, thus he told Shin’s party not to worry. True to his words, Millie returned to her normal self in less than a minute.
“What did you see?”
“A woman with red and purple hair and the man who kidnapped me.”
Wilhelm’s expression turned sour at Millie’s words.
“Millie, you mean Eline?”
“Yes, but…he was strange.”
“In what way was he strange?”
“He was the same, but…different.”
The whole party contemplated Millie’s riddle-like words.
Shin further asked what she meant, but Millie couldn’t explain well and would simply repeat how “He was the same, but…different.”
“Will-nii, you should go with Shin-nii. I think it’s better that way.”
“You won’t be in danger?”
No one doubted Millie’s -a Star Reader’s- words.
But it would be meaningless if Millie was in danger because of that. That’s what spurred Wilhelm’s question.
“I’m all right now.”
“…Got it. I’ll do as you say then.”
Wilhelm, as if he had lost to Millie’s insistent look, agreed to her request.
There would be less protection for Millie and the church, but he decided to trust Vizzy and the Elder Dragons with that.
According to this world’s common sense, 5 Elder Dragons -albeit small- counted as a small army already, so there would be nothing to worry in most cases.
“We’ll be waiting for your message then~”
“Do your best, everyone!”
With the ones carrying Vizzy and Millie leading the rest, the 5 Elder Dragons flew off in the sky. Shin and the others waited until they couldn’t see them anymore, then returned to the city of Sigurd.
“Well, we have some time to kill, and the first thing we should make sure that the news of the fall of Bulk’s faction don’t spread.”
As they crossed the gate into Palmirack, Shin contacted Lilishila and used an illusion magic.
If word of Bulk’s defeat spread, the messenger wouldn’t appear.
Lilishila too was cooperating as not to allow any information leak, but the disappearance of the priests colluding with Bulk would certainly cause suspicion.
For that reason, Shin re-created the figures of Bulk and his allies via illusions, to show them leading their normal everyday lives.
Bulk’s clique wasn’t one to appear in public often, so Lilishila agreed too that the trick would work for a few days.
“In any case, I didn’t think it would be so difficult to gather information.”
“That’s right. Not even one of the priests allied with Bulk knew anything…”
Shin sighed after interrogating the last captured priest. Schnee, who had accompanied him, was impressed by the enemy’s information management.
They had questioned the priests about the messenger who was supposed to come meet Bulk, but most of them had never even seen her. It couldn’t have been a cognitive impairment caused by the miasma; the messenger had surely used some form of camouflage.
“With things as they are, we have no choice but to leave the matter to chance.”
“It also depends on who we have to deal with…but there seems to be no other way.”
Neither Shin nor Schnee believed that the messenger could have been an honest person. Also considering what Tiera had witnessed, there was a high probability that the messenger was not a human, but a demon.
Fooling humans using High Humans as lure…it was not beyond the scope of what a Demon would do.
“Everyone’s here, I see. Let’s decide our roles for the day.”
Shin and Schnee returned to the room assigned to them within Palmirack and begun their discussion with Shibaid, Wilhelm and Tiera, who were waiting for them.
The result was that, using illusion magic, Shin would take Bulk’s role, Schnee Hermie’s and Tiera Millie’s. Wilhelm and Shibaid would standby, ready to stop the messenger in case she tried to flee.
Kagerou, as usual, would be in Tiera’s shadow.
Yuzuha would not participate in the fighting, in order to continue tracking the target.
“All right. Then all that’s left is see what our opponent does.”
Shin’s party thus started the operation to rescue Filma.