The next morning.
Shin’s party verified that all those affected by the sleeping drug had woken up, they then promptly began preparations for departure.
After buying the necessary supplies and checking the route, the group climbed onto a carriage.
The party heading to the coastal cave included 5 people and 2 animals: Shin, Schnee, Shibaid, Tiera, Konig, Kagerou and Yuzuha.
Lilishila also wished to go, but as she did not possess enough fighting power to protect herself, unlike Tiera, with her contracted partner Kagerou, and the upper-class chosen one Konig, she remained in Palmirack.
From a fighting power standpoint Konig couldn’t compare to Shin’s party, but as he would have followed them to the cave anyway, they decided to move together from the start.
“In any case…”
Noticing Konig’s fascinated expression, Shin talked to him.
“Hm? Is something wrong?”
“No, well, it’s about this carriage…how does it work? It’s running so fast yet I cannot feel a single vibration. I was prepared for the fatigue traveling for long hours would have caused, and yet…”
“Ah, I see.”
In this world, the technology to stop horse carriages from vibrating was still underdeveloped; the faster the carriage went, the stronger the vibrations became.
Being forced to withstand such vibrations for long hours would cause more fatigue than Shin imagined.
Before, when they had accepted an escort mission for merchant carriages to Beirun, the merchant dwarf Nack had modified the carriage in order to minimize the vibrations and also adjusted the driving speed to not make the carriage shake too much.
“This carriage is somewhat special. An acquaintance of ours modified it, that’s what made this possible.”
“Is that so. Well, I must say I’m happy I predicted wrong. At this pace, we will arrive sooner than expected.”
Konig surely wished to rescue Hermie as soon as possible. His eyes were fixed on the direction the carriage was proceeding towards.
“Let’s not be hasty, friend.”
“I know. Looking at the scenery flying by so quickly helped me calm down too. If the carriage ran at normal speed, I would probably have jumped off and started running by myself.”
This carriage was being led by the divine beast Kagerou, after all; it would definitely be faster than Konig running. From Shin’s standpoint he still wasn’t completely calm, but his impatience wasn’t showing on the surface, at least.
“We will probably come to face enemies equal or superior to you, sir Konig. They might serve as nothing more than a placebo, but I prepared a piece of equipment for you. Please do use it.”
Alongside these words, Shin passed an item card to Konig.
What materialized was an amulet-type accessory, which was endowed with resistance to status ailments and the ability to nullify instant death attacks once.
“Can I really have this? Surely it must be precious to you?”
Konig did not understand the amulet’s abilities just by looking at it, but he could clearly feel the magic power emanating from it, which prompted his question to Shin.
Even Konig, who did not possess the 【Appraisal】 skill, could understand how Shin’s equipment was out of the ordinary.
It was obvious that, considering where they were headed, Shin would not pull out just an ordinary amulet.
“It’s not worth that much, really, so please don’t worry. It’s a kind of insurance, in case anything happens.”
As Shin explained the effects of the amulet, Konig was greatly surprised, but that was obvious too.
An amulet with such powers could very well be a national treasure in this world, after all.
“I knew you were out of the ordinary, but who in the world are you people, really…?”
“Just normal adventurers. As you know, magical items can be found in dungeons. We have explored many of those, so we had plenty of chances to find such items; that’s all there is to it.”
“Being able to explore such dungeons already puts you leagues above the average person, though. You must be chosen ones, am I right?”
“Well, something like that.”
Shin gave a vague answer and laughed wryly.
Items with powerful abilities couldn’t be found in low-level dungeons, naturally. If one wanted items that satisfied the needs of a chosen one, exploring dungeons of relatively high difficulty was necessary.
The adventurers thus needed to be adequately skilled.
Such skill was beyond the scope of a normal person who just accumulated level ups.
Shin casually handed around items that couldn’t be bought with money; it was not strange for Konig to start being wary of him.
“Rather than that, I’ll borrow your weapon for a little while, sir Konig.”
“By the…! When did you..?”
What Shin had casually lifted was the sword Konig had at his waist, 『Haufer』. Shin calmed Konig down, who had not realized that his weapon had been taken away, and activated a skill.
After adding limited-time stats increases and magic skills, Shin returned 『Haufer』 to its owner.
“…I noticed my sword sparkled, but what did you do?”
“I can’t power it up properly in a carriage, so I just attached a couple of bonuses. If you focus, you will be able to use physical boost skills and magic skills.”
“…..you used an item, then?”
“Having more power at your disposal will only help, won’t it?”
Shin answered the question with another question, trying to avoid answering.
Their departure had been rushed, so they didn’t have time to power up properly, that was all. It was just a temporary boost, as there was the risk of being attacked during travel.
Among Shin’s possessions there also were weapons stronger than 『Haufer』. But their stats requirements were rather high; Konig would only be able to handle a few of them.
Changing weapons without much thought would cause its handling prowess to decrease, in total opposition to the intended results; thus, this makeshift boost was all he planned to do until they could properly rest at night.
“I’ll make it a bit better tonight, so for now please make do with that.”
“Hmm, you speak as if this was something very simple, but I can feel much more magic power from the sword…”
Konig looked on in bewilderment at his faithful sword and the unusual aura it emanated.
“Our opponents are skilled professionals, after all. We have to be prepared too.”
Knowing well that he would probably be riddled with questions later, Shin used skills without reserve.
One reason was not letting Konig die, of course, but the first priority was raising the success ratio of Hermie’s rescue as much as possible. Holding back and then not being able to save her would have been a pathetic ending.
Shin’s party was strong, but its members were very few, after all.
They had skills to compensate for their numbers, but that couldn’t be said to be the best solution to perfectly carry out their mission.
Facing an enemy of unknown size while scouting them, engaging in battle, and performing a rescue operation all at the same time, would easily create openings in their defenses.
One reason to let Konig join their party was to at least partly cover for such a weakness.
“How are we going to move once we reach the destination?”
After they finished making preparations and sat down for a meal, Konig asked this question.
As the carriage was proceeding at high speeds, the coachman, Schnee, could not leave her position to join the discussion.
“First, I aim to infiltrate the location without being seen. Yes, it’s important to stop the ritual, but the first priority is to free the sacrifices. Before anything else, I’d like to avoid any conflict.”
“Indeed, without the sacrifices the ritual can’t proceed either.”
Konig agreed to Shin’s proposal.
That was the simplest and quickest way to put a stop to the enemy’s plans.
“It would help if we knew the cave’s internal structure. It’s a natural cave, so I doubt any maps exist…but most of all, we have no idea of the enemy’s numbers.”
“Should Shin and I go inspect first?”
“I think that’s better, yes. I don’t honestly want to waste even a second, but acting on impulse and messing up would be worse. It’s kind of frustrating, though.”
Shin nodded at Schnee’s words. In any case, risks remained. They could not decide which strategy had higher risks.
“Thus all we can do is wait.”
“That’s right. We would only be in Shin and Yuki’s way, after all.”
Even if accompanied by Kagerou, Tiera’s low stats and Shibaid’s vanguard-type job made them ill-suited to infiltration missions.
They were both fully aware of this, and agreed to stand by without a word.
“I suppose that’s the only way.”
Konig too, despite his frustration, agreed to wait.
They continued discussing and decided what their next general plans would be, after which Shin started reinforcing their weapons.
“Well then, time to start.”
He materialized a portable furnace from an item card and infused it with magic.
Doing so caused a violet flame to appear in the middle of the furnace.
“The color’s different. Now that I think about it, it’s been different since then.”
The flame used to be red during the game era. The first time he tempered a sword at Tsuki no Hokora after coming to this world too, the flame’s color was slightly violet.
It had been a very small change, though, so Shin just thought it was an effect of the world not being a game anymore. Even if he focused, the color was the only change he could perceive.
He tried holding a random sword over the fire, to be sure, but nothing unusual happened. The magic that reached Shin’s hands through the blade was the same one he was well familiar with. Nothing felt off.
“Shin? Is anything wrong?”
“Oh no, nothing.”
After confirming that the color was the only change, Shin thrusted Konig’s 『Haufer』 into the fire.
After a few seconds, 『Haufer』 glowed red-hot within the purplish flames.
It wasn’t normally possible to work on a Legend-grade weapon with just a portable furnace. Shin’s magic power and the specially-made furnace, while they couldn’t go as far as to let him temper it into another weapon, allowed him to power it up.
“Do you mean you can modify Legend-grade weapons too? I heard that even skilled dwarves have difficulty with it, but…”
“Chosen ones aren’t bound by common sense, after all. But all I can do is reinforcing it, mind you.”
Shin made sure to point out that he can only modify Legend-class weapons, not forge them.
Shin already knew that Rionne’s Legend-grade greatsword, 『Muspelm』, was considered a treasure of incommensurable worth in this world.
Considering Konig’s personality, it was hard to imagine that he would talk about Shin to just anyone, but Shin made the decision of limiting the information he would give the knight.
“Even just being able to reinforce an already powerful Legend-grade weapon is a precious ability, I’d say.”
“It’s also useless without anything to use it on, though.”
As Shin said, in a world where even Rare and Unique grade weapons were scarce, he had few chances to use this ability of his.
It was like a chest of treasures…without a key.
“Well, here you go. I could increase the sword’s strength and sharpness and added an effect that amplifies the effects of the user’s magic. Adding the limited usage effects I added before, it’s become quite the nice trump card, I would say. Please do check if it feels weird in any way.”
Shin then handed the reinforced 『Haufer』 to Konig. Two new emerald-green lines adorned the sword’s silver blade.
Konig muttered while looking at 『Haufer』.
He then firmly held the blade’s grip and, after moving a few steps away from Shin and the others, swung the sword lightly. The magical blade drew a silver streak through the air as it cut through it with a sharp sound.
Konig nodded appreciatively, then returned to his stance and swung the sword in succession.
What school were those movements from? Following 『Haufer』’s flowing movements, silver streaks of light illuminated the darkness.
“Impressive indeed. I feel nothing unusual.”
After performing several sequences of sword techniques, Konig expressed his admiration to Shin.
“Good to know. Next up is the armor, take it off, will you?”
Konig, who had kept 『Haufer』 equipped expecting to test it in actual fighting, was still wearing his armor too.
He nodded at Shin’s invitation and a second later his armor sparkled and gradually vanished turning into an item card.
It was different than using the menu during the game era; in the game, the transformation would only take an instant.
It was very similar to the phenomenon Shin had seen during the battle against Barlux. But he was not completely positive that a card had been used at that time.
“If you don’t mind me asking, has that armor received any special treatment? It’s the first time I’ve seen an armor turn into a card in this manner.”
“Is that so? I have heard that this is a technique developed by people who are attempting to resurrect the technology to transform equipment instantly, which was common before the ‘Dusk of the Majesty’. It appears that technicians from the red and black factions collaborated and made it usable normally.”
As it was a battle gear-related technique, the factions strong in blacksmithing and alchemy likely focused all their knowledge to bring it back.
“I see. It’s not complete, so there’s a slight time loss.”
“That’s right. It removes the chore of taking off equipment every time though, so I find it really valuable. There are however few blacksmiths, alchemists, or wizards that can apply this treatment. Mine was performed by a high-rank alchemist of the Church, but it was not an easy feat at all.”
While listening to Konig, Shin materialized the armor once more. He did not place it into the furnace, however, but placed his hand on it to inject magical power within it.
Shin used 【Appraisal】 on the armor while powering it up, but maybe because the technology used in it did not exist in the game era, he could not analyze it in detail.
(Maybe this is something similar to an Art?)
Shin barely knew anything about the Arts.
He had returned to Bayreuth after the battle with Girard, but he had been teleported to the sacred place Kalkia right away. There he joined the Balmel defensive battle, followed by Millie’s kidnapping.
There was no time to ask Schnee or Shibaid to teach him about them.
“….now it’s complete.”
After increasing the armor’s sturdiness and its stats, albeit slightly, Shin turned the armor into a card and gave it back to Konig.
Konig equipped it once more and checked how it felt. The size had not changed, so he moved around a little to see how much his physical abilities would power up.
“We have an early start tomorrow too. Better go rest now.”
“Should someone stand guard?”
“I doubt most monsters could elude our divine beasts’ eyes.”
Yuzuha and Kagerou’s danger perception abilities were much higher than average security items. The possibility of being attacked by surprise was extremely low.
In addition, the carriage had been modified before departure, in order to be used as a simple base of operations.
If someone was resting inside, the carriage was protected by a 【Barrier】 and a 【Wall】 that only field bosses could break through. Plus, even when sleeping, Shin and Schnee’s danger perception abilities were almost fully active. It was safe to say that a surprise attack was impossible in that situation.
“That’s true too. It’s more likely for the monsters themselves to turn tail and flee. They would probably be scared and not get closer even if they are asleep.”
Konig agreed to Shin’s words too.
After finishing dinner, the group headed back to the carriage to sleep.
In a dark room, a single faint light was flickering.
In the center of the 20 mels square room were a magic circle 15 mels wide and a barrier enveloping it. On the magic circle about 20 people could also be found, men and women ranging from children to adults.
“Damnit!! Let me out!! Let me out of here!!”
Someone’s scream echoed through the room.
Those inside the magic circle who could still move began to desperately hit the circle’s barrier. Most of them were men, but among them some held children or women in their arms.
None of them carried anything resembling a weapon, nor did their clothes look like what someone who battles for a living would wear.
Indeed, all those inside the magic circle were perfectly average civilians.
“Hey now, you’re at it again? It’s like you enjoy it even…”
Among the desperate shouts, a jaded voice echoed outside the circle.
Illuminated by the light emanating from inside the circle, the silhouette of the owner of the voice emerged from the darkness.
The face that appeared once belonged to the man called Eline.
“Oh my, isn’t this aura I feel Adara’s? It’s been a while.”
“Will these even be enough?”
The man who was called Adara answered. It seemed like that was his original name.
“Many drops make a shower, as the humans say. Well, this is something of a pastime for me, if I can get something from it, wonderful, but that’s about it. It is truly moving to see others act to save their loved ones, after all. ”
“Because the following despair will just taste better, right? You’re the same as always, Scoruas.”
In the upper section of the room, shaped like a gallery on the stage below, Adara spoke to the silhouette grinning before him, Scoruas.
Scoruas was a man with features much like a handsome prince’s. His white hair and red eyes, illuminated by the room’s lights, had something that attracted others’ attention. If he ever joined a party, there would be no doubt that he would garner the attention of many noble maidens.
That is as long as they were not aware of the personality of a man who found delight in the anguished screams coming from the floor below.
“Our masters might be different, but we both serve the same Miasma Lord. I thought you would share this emotion with me, don’t you?”
“I’m a parasite-type, you’re a created-type. Our births are different, so our likes and dislikes are too, I guess? If the mutant-types saw this stuff they’d gobble them all up right away, you know?”
All demons were under the command of one of the three Miasma Lords, the strongest among the Grand Duke class of demons.
All demons, from the moment of their birth, acted with the goal of resurrecting the Miasma Lords, using human despair and grief as fuel.
However, demons with especially strong personalities would distort even this imposition.
Adara and Scoruas were such demons; their strong personalities allowed them to break off the yokes that once restrained them.
“I understand that kind of thinking, though. I would like a bit more cooperation, to be honest. My subordinates haven’t awoken yet, and it appears that Magnamuc* has been erased too.”(T/N: Changed from Magunumuku)
Scoruas talked while shrugging his shoulders. He didn’t appear to feel the least bit of rage towards their comrade’s demise.
“Hm? Didn’t it infiltrate some country somewhere?”
“The same country where the man you have with you was.”
While saying so, Scoruas pointed at something behind Adara’s back. It was Wilhelm, standing expressionless.
His right hand gripped the hell spear 『Vakira』.
“Bayreuth kingdom, was it? I don’t think the rabble there could have defeated someone of that level, though.”
“It looks like the closer princess wasn’t around, but it looks like there was a skilled fighter we don’t know about. Someone good enough to slay him without creating the slightest commotion.”
Despite the fact that more obstacles appeared before them, Scoruas’ expression remained serene. After all, having no worthy opponent to face was a source of boredom for him too.
“Well then, looks like we’re almost finished here.”
Scoruas cast a glance to the floor below. Something was changing within the magic circle.
The bodies of the people who weren’t beating on the barrier, collapsed on the ground or became unconscious, started to emit light.
“Ah, aah..my…my child…!!!”
The voice of the man holding a child rose above the others.
The baby was unconscious, barely breathing. The body had turned into a globe of light and disappeared.
In the arms of the man remained only the tiny clothes the baby was wearing.
All witnesses to the baby’s transformation began to pound on the magic circle’s barrier with more intensity.
Some were pounding so fiercely that blood started dripping from their fists, but even so they did not let up.
“Goddamnit!! Don’t go away, noooooo!!!”
No matter how powerful their blows were, however, the barrier did not budge.
It was a barrier that only someone on Wilhelm’s level could have broken through, after all. For average citizens without any special power, there was nothing they could do.
One by one, the prisoners fell to their knees, screaming.
In their arms rested only the bones of those they had tried to protect with their lives.
“BEEEEEEAUTIFUUULLLL!!!! That expression, that moment when hope turns into despair! This is art, yes art! These howls, this anguish! Delicious!! Such delicacies!!”
Scoruas spread his arms wide and cheered loudly.
It was a one-man standing ovation, after he had seen a memorable show.
What he was ecstatically watching, though, were the last moments of people who had lost the will to live, between tears and sobs, drenched in fresh blood.
As it had happened to their loved ones, they too turned into light and disappeared.
As all its prisoners vanished, a small part of the magic circle glowed red. It was a minuscule change, small enough that it could be considered just imagination.
Adara shrugged his shoulders while looking at Scoruas, his expression still filled with twisted joy.
Adara could understand why Scoruas did what he had done, he just personally found it pointless.
Looking for more worthy sacrifices would be more effective. That was Adara’s line of thinking, and also why Hermie had been kidnapped.
“Hmm? Ooh. I see it was worth it to bring him here.”
Adara felt that the aura behind him had changed and turned around; as before Wilhelm was standing, motionless. The hand gripping 『Vakira』 was doing so much more tightly, while the mist enshrouding him would turn sometimes red and evaporate, only to return shortly and repeat the process. It appeared as if the mist itself was burning.
Wilhelm was in a manipulated and unconscious state, but he had nevertheless reacted to the gruesome scene that he had witnessed.
It was clear proof that Wilhelm was fighting against Adara’s control.
“Nice, nice, that’s how I want you to be. How many more will die before you point that spear at me?”
Despite the possibility of the manipulation breaking off, the expression on Adara’s face was of twisted joy, much like Scoruas’.
Not caring about how many would die for the sake of their pleasure was a trait the two demons had in common. Even if their likes and dislikes were different they were still both demons, the same type of creature.
Even if the yoke restraining them had been removed, their first priority had not changed. The difference was in the process towards achieving that goal.
It takes many forms. For Adara, the endless thirst for stronger opponents, so strong it almost exceeded the Miasma Lord’s resurrection as priority. For Scoruas, the “pointless” staging of shows of despair and the superiority felt towards its own comrades.
In fact, Scoruas did not even recognize the existence of his fellow demons, unless they were Duke class or Grand Duke class, like him. Magnamuc, a Count class, was treated like an expendable pawn.
“Oh my, is that him rebelling to your control? Quite an energetic boy, isn’t he.”
In the magic circle, figures covered in black cloaks were leading humans inside, roughly the same number as before.
Scoruas moved his look away from that operation and looked at Wilhelm.
“How many times have I told you? It’s all about quality. Don’t you try to steal him though, am I clear?”
“I would never do something so petty, my friend. I am interested in the taste of his despair, though…”
Scoruas licked his lips. All demons fed on humans’ negative emotions, but among them Scoruas possessed exceptional hunger.
It was difficult to define the quantity of food like “human’s negative emotion”, but still it was not something that could be consumed without limit.
The quantity of energy that could be absorbed and stocked depended on each demon’s level, rank and individual characteristics.
Scoruas was one of the Grand Duke-class demons that boasted the highest capacity for energy absorption.
“Looking at him reminds me…what happened to the ghouls headed to Sigurd? You were there too, weren’t you?”
Scoruas inquired, his expression genuinely looking like he had forgotten everything about that until now.
He hadn’t supported Hermie’s kidnapping directly, but it was Scoruas who sent the monsters to Sigurd.
“Ah, they didn’t actually do anything. They got stomped out by the guy in the ambush who had transformed into the priest.”
Adara spoke casually, with no regard to their fallen comrades. It was not even clear if there was any sense of camaraderie among them.
“I put a little trick inside the Megurade I sent with them too, how did that go?”
Powering monsters with miasma was an easy feat for a demon. They could turn monsters more obedient and resilient.
Scoruas knew that no average chosen one could have matched Megurade’s vitality and offensive ability. He had predicted that even if it couldn’t destroy Palmirack, it would have laid waste to at least half of the city.
“It’s in the powered form…I didn’t watch until the end because I could have been found, but it was dangerous. They were accompanied by a divine beast! It’s as strong as me and you, possibly more, that’s for sure.”
While talking, Adara’s smile twisted even more than when he was talking about Wilhelm. It was almost strange that he didn’t confront the monster then and there.
“….oh, another thing. There were some powerful people there too, but I knew one of them.”
“Oh, that’s interesting. Who was that?”
“Schnee Raizar. You’ve heard of her too, haven’t you? She was under a High Human once.”
“Oh, she was there? I did hear that Tsuki no Hokora disappeared, now that you mention it. I thought it had been wiped off by someone. After all, there are some nasty demons that even she couldn’t deal with by herself. And I bet plenty have a bone to pick with her.”
“Haha, like you’re one to talk.”
Adara replied, always a grin on his face.
He and Scoruas were not enemies at present; demons generally allied with other demons if they served the same Miasma Lord. They were also never in good terms with demons serving other Miasma Lords.
Scoruas had actually slayed several Marquis and Count-class demons who served a different Miasma Lord.
When monsters are subjected to miasma, they can transform into demons, albeit rarely. Ever since the game era, that type of demon is called mutant-type.
The demons Scoruas had slain were indeed followers of the mutant-type Miasma Lord.
Of course, doing so would create hate and resentment among other mutant-type demons; Scoruas had already been targeted several times.
“That’s the last thing I want to hear from you. Aren’t all other Grand Dukes the same? Demons with strong individuality, like you and me, don’t care in the slightest. What I kill are those boring things which can only follow their instincts.”
“That’s true too. Well, I just wanted to say that Schnee Raizar and her party might come here, so keep it in mind.”
“Understood. Hehe, Schnee Raizar…what will your despair taste like…?”
“You really never change, do you…I’m going back to my room, contact me if anything happens.”
Adara retreated back to the room assigned to him, leaving the drooling Scoruas behind. Wilhelm followed him, in complete silence.
After some time, screams filled the cave again.