Clack, clack, clack.
Someone’s heels echoed through the quiet church halls.
A smaller figure masked in a hood was walking down a path.
This figure eventually stopped in front of one of several similarly shaped doors. This was the room that Hermie rested in.
The door was open, and a man wearing armor was lying face down on the floor. He was unconscious.
“Pardon my intrusion.”
The voice of a young boy echoed. Or a young girl with a low voice. The voice’s gender couldn’t be identified just from listening to it.
There was a casualness to the hooded figure’s gait, as if one were walking into the room of a close friend. Inside of the room, several others were unconscious, with no outside wounds. They were breathing with a stable rhythm, much like being in a deep sleep.
“Are you resting? I guess you’re resting? Then off I go.”
The hooded figure confirmed that everyone in the room was asleep. They headed further in, to see another door inside. This door was opened, and a young girl was asleep next to two soldiers.
The figure made sure that the girl sleeping near the bed was Hermie. As a hand reached out from the cloak towards Hermie, the sound of a gust of wind could be heard.
The cloaked figure grabbed the flying dagger between their fingers, without even glancing at it.
“Now now, color me surprised. You are still awake?”
“Who… are you?”
The knight who stood up while uttering these words was Konig.
He had forced his unstable body to stand, just barely. Blood was dripping from his mouth because he had bitten his lips to maintain his consciousness.
“Oh yes, I didn’t introduce myself, did I. Good evening, sir. My name is Milt, I’m a member of “Ouroboros’ Hollow”. I have come here to borrow Milady Hermie. Any resistance is futile, so it will be easier for you to stay quiet, you know?”
Milt’s introduction barely finished when Konig unsheathed his blade and attacked. The upper-class chosen one stepped in forcefully, with speed unimaginable for the heavy armor he equipped.
Milt’s speed however, exceeded his. The intruder’s body appeared to lean just slightly, yet Konig’s strike was avoided with ease.
Konig’s sword slashed repeatedly through the small room, yet he didn’t even manage to lay a finger on Milt, almost as if the unwanted visitor was but an illusion.
“Impressive attacks, as expected from an upper-class chosen one.”
Milt commented with nonchalance while avoiding Konig’s attacks. Even against an upper-class chosen one such as Konig, his opponent did not show the slightest agitation.
Konig was swinging his sword despite drowsiness and powerlessness -of unknown origins- that were attempting to take over his body, while Milt seemed completely unaffected.
Who would emerge victorious was painfully clear.
“Yet, it’s a shame. This isn’t quite enough to stimulate my appetite. I don’t have much time to waste either, so I’ll be taking my leave soon.”
After speaking, Milt suddenly vanished from Konig’s sight; the invader had sneaked closer to Konig’s chest, to deliver a blow that the drowsy Konig had no hope of parrying.
Milt’s palm strike struck squarely against Konig’s armor, and the resulting shock burst throughout the knight’s body.
Konig’s breathing was momentarily stopped by the impact that propagated through his armor. The knight then collapsed to the ground and would not stand up again soon.
It was not a blow that would have normally defeated him, but the abnormal statuses that crippled Konig prevented him from defending against it.
“Okay then, now that there’s no one in my way, I can get back to work.”
Milt made sure that Konig was out of commission and lifted the sleeping Hermie.
After setting up a certain mechanism, Milt left the room and headed towards Palmirack’s entrance.
While walking through the empty corridors, Milt talked out loud.
“This was even too easy…since this place was reactivated it means one of the Rokuten came back, so why was it so easy?”
For an infiltrator, nothing is more welcome than a lax security. Milt, however, seemed to be nothing but dissatisfied.
“The only member of the Rokuten involved in the Death Game should have been Shin, but I can’t imagine he’d let normal people inside Palmirack without doing anything…but there’s no way one of the other 5 came. And if Shin had come here, it’d mean that he died…but I just can’t accept that someone killed him…”
Milt kept walking on, while voicing complaint after complaint.
The present Palmirack had lowered security, in order to prevent danger for the people of the Church. Thanks to that, nothing would happen even if Milt simply walked out like this.
Milt had not actually “infiltrated” Palmirack either. The Ouroboros’ Hollow member had just walked through the front door, undisturbed.
“Aah, I want to meet Shin…if only he was here, I would be fulfilled even without having to do stuff like this…”
Milt’s words sounded like those of a maiden in love, or a boy dreaming about his hero, but hid something close to obsession within them.
Milt kept walking on towards the main entrance.
Listening to the sound of explosions in the distance, the intruder disappeared in the darkness once again.
Shibaid was the first to notice the anomaly.
After exterminating the undead monsters headed towards Sigurd, he searched the nearby presences and realized that Wilhelm’s was nowhere to be found.
Shibaid’s perception radius was smaller than Shin’s or Schnee’s, but still much wider than an average chosen one. Despite that, he couldn’t find any trace of Wilhelm’s presence, no matter how much he searched.
He went to the location where Wilhelm was supposed to be, but could not find any clue.
Something must have happened to him…it was just a matter of time before Shibaid reached this conclusion.
“(Things are taken care of on our end. How’s the situation there?)”
“(The monsters have been exterminated. But something strange is going on.)”
Through the well-timed Mind Chat, Shibaid informed Shin about Wilhelm’s disappearance.
Thanks in part to the improvement of his weapons, Wilhelm’s power had increased further after meeting Shin. He was a warrior who had survived many deadly battles, he couldn’t have been defeated by monsters of this level.
After taking care of the consequences of their battle in the surroundings, Shin and Schnee joined Shibaid and investigated the surroundings.
Yet no matter how much they sharpened their focus, there was no trace of Wilhelm in their field of perception. They too headed to the place where Wilhelm was supposed to be, which Shibaid had already inspected, but could not find any traces of their comrade either.
“No sign of major fighting…can we then exclude the possibility that he fought someone and was taken away?”
“If the opponent was from the Summit Faction, it is possible that Wilhelm was prevented from resisting by means of a hostage. Alternatively, a Mind-type spell could have been used on him.”
With information as scarce as it was, speculating had its limits. The group was then joined by Tiera and Kagerou, who did not possess perception abilities as strong as Shin and Schnee and had gone looking for clues by foot.
“Have you found anything?”
“Nothing, there’s no presence in the surroundings after all. What about you?”
“….I couldn’t find anything decisive, but there is one intriguing place.”
“An intriguing place?”
Tiera responded to Shin’s question with a brief silence. After letting out a small sigh, she answered.
“Follow my lead, I’ll take you there.”
Tiera said just that and proceeded to give orders to Kagerou. The place they headed to, at a speed matched to Shibaid, the slowest member of the party, was an apparently ordinary grove.
From Shin’s standpoint, he couldn’t sense anything unusual within the surroundings. It was the same with Schnee and Shibaid, in fact, their eyes gave off an expression of being utterly confused.
Tiera descended from Kagerou and walked towards the center of the woods. Kagerou grew smaller and walked near Tiera’s feet.
A few steps behind Tiera and Kagerou, Shin’s party too entered the woods.
After walking for several minutes, they reached a clearing. Tiera stopped just one step before entering it.
“Is this the place?”
“Yes. You might find it hard to believe, there was an extremely powerful Demon here until moments ago.”
Shin’s expression turned sour after hearing Tiera’s words. Schnee and Shibaid reacted the same way, especially the latter; his battlefield had been the closest, after all.
However, no matter how high Shibaid’s level and stats were, his enemy detection radius was not as wide as Shin or Schnee’s. If the enemy had used skills such as 【Hiding】, it wouldn’t have been strange for Shibaid not to notice anything.
“Could this Demon, have done something to Wilhelm?”
“If so, it must have been a considerably high-ranked individual. Possibly even a Named One.”
“Yes, in that case it could have infiltrated here unnoticed.”
Among the Demons with high rank, there were some that could match Schnee and Shibaid.
That considered, it wasn’t improbable that Wilhelm had been taken away with little or no resistance.
“Er, do you really believe me?”
Looking at Shin’s party trusting her words without question, Tiera voiced her surprise.
“Huh? Why should we doubt you? You’re not the type to spout lies or jokes in a situation like this, are you?”
“But it was just a feeling…I have no proof or anything.”
“That may be so, but we at least trust you. That’s why we believe you, even without proof.”
Shin answered firmly to Tiera’s whispered doubts.
In this world, after all, unexplainable phenomena such as magic and skills existed in large number. It wouldn’t be incredible to be able to perceive miasma or Demons somehow. In addition, elves and pixies possessed a sixth sense, or intuition, known for its sharpness.
The target of such sharpness differed from person to person, but it was likely that Tiera’s upbringing had made her sensitive to malice and ill intentions.
“It’s faint, but I feel something close to lingering miasma here. What about you all?”
“I cannot feel anything.”
“I feel something different from miasma. But I don’t think it is something malicious.”
Having come closer, Shin and Schnee perceived a lingering presence.
Shibaid looked puzzled.
“It seems that you are perceiving different things.”
“What I’m feeling is probably something similar to what Tiera felt. I wonder what Schnee is feeling, though.”
Shin had experience with miasma, so he was sure of what he had felt. He had no idea, however, of what the “something different from miasma” Schnee felt could be.
“At the very least, it is not miasma. A peculiar item, maybe…by the way, Shin, you had powered up Wilhelm’s weapon, didn’t you? Couldn’t it be that?”
“It’s true that I changed Wilhelm’s weapon to 『Beinot』, but did it have an effect like that?”
Shin tried to recall 『Beinot』’s characteristics.
True to its “Holy Spear” moniker, 『Beinot』 was highly effective against the undead. It could affect Demons too, but just enough to be considered an added bonus.
It definitely did not have anything that could leave miasma behind this way.
“If anything, its grade changed.”
“Yes, it went one grade up, from Mythology to Ancient. That could be the reason, I don’t know the details though.”
Even so, there were no other clues leading them further as of now.
The party split to inspect the surroundings once more, but could not find anything; only time passed.
“…I’ve looked all over, but there really isn’t anything here, huh.”
“I haven’t found anything either.”
“Nor have I.”
“Nor I. There’s no trace of fighting, so either he was captured or they used hostages. Those are my guesses.”
Shin, Tiera, Schnee and Shibaid reported their findings after regrouping.
What they discovered was just the absolute lack of any clues.
“Nothing to do here, let’s go back for now. It would be pointless to stay here longer, and I have a bad feeling…”
Ever since Millie’s abduction, they were always reacting to the enemy’s initiatives.
That was probably why Shin felt that this ordeal was far from over.
Shin’s sudden shout startled Tiera.
He had noticed Palmirack’s abnormal situation as soon as they returned.
“Sleeping drug. It has been vaporized to affect the whole structure.”
Schnee identified the anomaly quickly, though it was already too late.
“Shit, they really were here too!”
As Shin used Pamirack’s functions to run a search, as expected, he found no trace of Hermie.
“Our information was leaked?”
“I have no idea. As far as we know, no one was under control, but…”
What Shin’s party imagined first was the black collar used to control Hermie.
While waiting for the messenger, however, they had made sure that there was no one equipped with it. No one was afflicted with abnormal statuses, so it was improbable for someone inside to be under enemy control.
If the leak had been on purpose, however, the collars had nothing to do with it. They couldn’t rule out the possibility of the presence of other “Summit Faction” members within Palmirack.
“Well, I suppose we should consider ourselves lucky that it wasn’t poison. Let’s blow away the drug first of all.”
Using a wind-type skill, Shin drove away the sleeping vapors hanging in the surroundings. It wasn’t something that caused any physical burden, so the affected people were simply sleeping. It was night, a time when people normally spent sleeping, so there hadn’t been any particular commotion. Maybe only the risk that the people who fell asleep in the corridors or on the floor would catch a cold.
“Lowering the security came back to bite us, I see.”
“But unless you did that, it would not have been possible for so many people to live in the Church.”
Shin scratched his head at the situation, but Schnee replied that there was nothing he could do about it.
The actual problem was that it was impossible to host such large numbers of people of the Church, even just in Palmirack’s surface floors, while keeping its security systems 100% active.
To leave the systems active he would need to either register all inhabitants as guests, thus not targeted by the security system, or send them all out.
In the Church there were more than 1000 people, from the Pope to the apprentices. It was impossible to register all of them as guests.
Shin’s party then headed to Hermie’s quarters, in search of clues.
“Even Konig was affected…but wait, his sword is drawn.”
Shin realized that among all those who fell asleep, only Konig managed to resist.
“I’m going to search this place. Schnee, please go check on Lilishila.”
“Understood. I will bring her here once she wakes up.”
Schnee left for Lilishila’s quarters.
Shin then entrusted Shibaid and Tiera with removing the status ailments and headed to Konig.
“Hey!! Wake up!! What happened here!?”
Shin removed the sleep status from Konig and tried to shake him awake. Thanks to the resistance owed to his status as upper-class chosen one, Konig woke up as soon as the status ailment was removed from him.
“Sir…Shin? W-where is Lady Hermie!?”
As soon as he regained his senses, Konig jumped up and checked the surroundings. As he saw Shin in front of him, he asked about Hermie’s whereabouts.
“I’m sorry, but we just got here. The messenger was a monster too, so we couldn’t obtain any real information.”
“The messenger was a decoy, then…gah,how could I have let this happen..!”
Konig’s fist clenched at the thought of his failure.
“This mark is Ouroboros’ Hollow, isn’t it.”
Shin examined the mark left in Hermie’s room and identified the culprit. It was the same mark as the one they found underground.
“That’s beyond doubt. Hermie’s kidnapper stated so as well.”
“Did you see the culprit?”
Konig’s words captured Shin’s full attention.
“A while after I started feeling strange, a hooded figure appeared in the room. The mantle and hood prevented me from seeing their face, but he called himself Milt.”
Konig gave Shin all the information he could remember. The intruder was of short stature, with a voice that could have been both a man or a woman’s. Konig, -though he had been in poor condition- also noted that the cloaked figure had avoided all his blows with ease.
“That’s all I can remember.”
“That’s more than enough. I feel like I know this person.”
It was Konig’s turn to latch on Shin’s words. Ouroboros’ Hollow was a famous organization, but its members were shrouded in mystery.
“I remembered. Small, voice of unclear gender, fighting prowess superior to upper-class chosen ones, the sleeping medicine used here and the name Milt…I’m positive I know who it was.”
It was a coincidence that Shin remembered.
Most of the PKs that Shin had cut down either had eyes filled by hate and resentment or distorted smiles, expressions averted from reality.
Among them, the woman called Milt always had a strangely amused smile on her lips.
She was famous ever since the time when THE NEW GATE was just a game.
She was the type that found endless pleasure in duels to the death, who felt truly alive only at death’s doorstep.
She publicly stated how she would fight anyone strong enough, no matter if they were people or monsters.
That did not change even after the start of the Death Game; even if her way of thinking and playstyle were more and more shunned, she was a deviant who would often barge in the front lines during boss hunt quests.
She would never actively hunt weaker players, and while fighting she would always honestly cooperate with the main party. She was famous in certain circles as she would escape as soon as the fighting ended.
Milt’s style was to use anything and everything that could be used. She was especially talented in the use of poisons, both for battle and for escape.
She became involved with Shin in the time he was called “God of Death”; it was at his hands that she had fallen.
That was everything Shin knew about Milt.
(…Was she the kind of person to assist a kidnapping, I wonder?)
What Shin felt after remembering about Milt was doubt.
Her abnormal conduct was something that made her position slightly complex too.
She did not assault, rob, or slaughter players for fun, as most PKs did. Maybe she had participated in such activities unbeknownst to Shin, but he had at least never heard such rumors.
A PK unlike any other PK, that Milt was assisting in kidnapping…there was something off about it.
“Please tell me, what in the world is she?”
“…simply put, a fiend for battle. She wouldn’t hesitate before cutting someone down, but as far as I know she wouldn’t engage in something so bothersome as kidnapping. ”
Shin explained about Milt to Konig taking care to avoid any game-related jargon.
Shin remembered that her STR stat was at least above 700, while -possibly as a trade-off for this- her VIT was barely above 300. Her stats distribution was not focused on a single stat, but certainly highly skewed.
“If what you say is true, sir Shin, then it’s understandable how she could be part of Ouroboros’ Hollow. That guild often receives requests from kingdoms all over to exterminate powerful monsters or dangerous criminals. Cooperating with the Summit Faction is probably to fight against stronger enemies, I’d wager.”
“I suppose you’re right.”
Konig’s words were perfectly logical. If there was the possibility to fight against powerful opponents, regardless of “good” and “evil”, it wouldn’t be strange for Milt to participate.
“Let’s forget her train of thought for now. We’ll have to face her when we go rescue Hermie anyway, let us focus on finding out where Milt went first.”
Shin set aside his doubts and changed the topic.
If what happened that night was all connected, Wilhelm was likely to be in the same location.
“I think it’s safe to assume she headed to the Summit Faction’s base.”
Shin heard Lilishila’s words and turned towards her, then noticing how she was still unsteady on her legs.
“That was quick…are you alright?”
“I was forced into slumber, so I am still a little unstable, but that’s not a problem. Concerning the destination, we have more or less pinpointed the location.”
While investigating Bulk, they had found miasma-filled places which were likely to be used for the ritual.
“Could you tell us?”
“Of course I will. Let us go to the table.”
As the current room only had a small table, they moved to the adjacent one.
There Lilishila pulled out an item card and materialized it on the table.
What appeared was a map depicting a region with Sigurd at its center. While the area it showed was not very large, its level of detail was on a whole another level than the map Shin had bought in Bayreuth.
“We think that there are 3 locations likely to be used as ritual sites.”
After saying so, Lilishila placed two black stones on the map. One was on a mountain north-west from Sigurd, the other on a forest area in the south-west.
“The last remaining place is beyond this map, on the coast south-east from Sigurd. We have confirmed that in all of these locations there is a cave leading underground.”
“What makes you think that miasma is accumulating there?”
Shin, thinking that there were many caves other than those three, expressed his doubts aloud.
“These three locations were all theatre of large-scale conflicts in the past, which saw a great number of casualties. They are also reported to be locations where Ley Lines gather. We speculate that they might be plotting something by using these two elements.”
“I see. Yuki, Shibaid, do these locations tell you anything?”
Shin requested their opinion as they had traveled through many lands for years.
“As Lady Lilishila said, these three locations have indeed had large conflicts with numerous casualties. Especially the south-east coast and the south-west forest also saw large appearances of undead monsters. I have never heard anything in particular about the north-east mountain, however.”
“Hmm. I share her opinion on the coast, but have never heard much about the forest. As for the mountain, I have visited in the past to exterminate the ”Dragon Alado” that had appeared there. If I remember correctly, part of its body had undergone metamorphosis…possibly due to the effects of miasma.”
Adding the two opinions together, it was concluded that all three locations could be places where miasma gathered easily.
The Dragon Alado Shibaid spoke of was, after all, a type of Undead dragon.
At the same time, Shin also asked Yuzuha via Mind Chat if she knew anything about the three locations.
“(Kuu, Yuzuha doesn’t know…)”
Yuzuha, who had barely ever left her shrine, did not have any information about the three locations.
However, in addition to Yuzuha’s tracking, and the clues on hand, they are able to decide on a plan of action.
“(Well, that’s not really unexpected. Rather than that, what does the tracking technique you used on the figure who flew off from the church say?)”
As she spoke via Mind Chat, Yuzuha pointed her front right paw forward.
“(Schnee, do you know what direction Yuzuha is pointing at?)”
“(….It appears to be south-east.)”
It was vague, but in the same direction lied one of the locations Lilishila had suggested. As they had a few other clues at the moment, this was their greatest one.
“Good, let’s head to the coast then. Our foes can teleport and tame flying monsters, so the distance shouldn’t be a problem for them.”
Also taking Yuzuha’s opinion into consideration, Shin decided to make the southeast coast their destination.
He thought about splitting the group for the search, but among the Demons there were also some Schnee and Shibaid could not handle alone.
Including the presence of “Ouroboros’ Hollow”, which also counted the former player Milt among its ranks, Shin decided it would have been unwise to split their forces.
“I’d like to leave right away, but let’s wait for everyone to wake up first.”
“I agree. This sleeping drug affected all present despite the large size of the area. It could have caused other ailments on some.”
The drugs used by former players are more powerful than what is in circulation now. Even if no one was in risk of dying, there could have been affected subjects who continued sleeping.
However, it was already midnight; as they couldn’t simply go wake everybody up, the group decided to wait until morning.
They also had to prepare supplies for what would be a long journey, as well as find the detailed route to the coastal cave.
“Even Yuzuha is at her limits, huh.”
“It is really late, after all. Let’s leave preparations for tomorrow morning and go rest ourselves.”
Schnee made her proposal while looking at the drowsy Yuzuha.
No matter how high one’s abilities might be, fatigue is inevitable. There was not enough time for a full rest, but there was no need to stay awake either.
“That’s right. Lady Lilishila, you and your men should rest too. Even if we stay up thinking now, we would only grow more tired.”
“You’re…right. To be perfectly honest, I don’t feel too well.”
Checking the route wouldn’t have taken much time. Considering Lilishila’s poor condition and the damage Konig sustained, they decided to rest too.
Shin’s party too headed for some usable empty rooms. After laying Yuzuha on a bed, Shin lied down himself.
After whispering the name of the woman he had fought to the death before, Shin closed his eyes. What he pictured were her strangely warm smile and the other ferocious smile, which pulled the edges of her mouth so high that she looked like a different person.
If she had been sent from “Ouroboros’ Hollow” to the Summit Faction’s aid as a combatant, it would almost definitely turn into a fight to the death.
In that case, Shin could end up having to kill the same person twice.
“That’s a twist of fate I don’t need at all…”
After this whisper, Shin fell into slumber.