Shin was surprised to hear his name from Milt’s lips.
His face was visible only from the eyes and above. 【Analyze】 couldn’t be used when the target’s face wasn’t completely visible.
Milt was one of the top players among those caught in the death game. It wouldn’t be strange for her to identify Shin via 【Analyze】, but it was a mystery how she had found out it was him before even trying that skill.
“(I will deal with her. I don’t know if Milt noticed your presence too, but it’s best if you stay hidden.)”
“(Understood…her spirit’s condition is abnormal too, please be careful.)”
Shin nodded without turning back and emerged from the water as naturally as he could, in order to keep Milt’s focus on him.
His eyes never left Milt.
“How did you know it was me?”
“I have practiced spirit techniques focusing on the water element, after all. My Undine is a dear friend, and you were underwater. I don’t think I need to explain further.”
“Ah, a technique that wasn’t in the game…no, I should stop thinking in these terms.”
Shin didn’t know what spirits were. He discarded that opinion, reminding himself to stop thinking with a game-like frame of mind.
“I’m glad you understood so quickly. I too have something to ask you, can I? I didn’t contact the others, so rest easy.”
“Well isn’t that grand. What do you want to know?”
Milt’s expression became stern after Shin’s question. After staring at Shin for several seconds, she spoke.
“Are you really Shin?”
“At the very least, I think I am. I don’t know if it’ll be enough proof, but I remember the battle when I cut you down.”
Shin talked about his final battle with Milt. Some of the information he mentioned was only known to them.
“I see, you really are Shin…but if you are in this world, then it means you died? Did someone kill you? Or was it a monster?”
“No one killed me. I was pretty surprised myself when I got here.”
“I bet. I was completely lost too, at the beginning.”
Shin continued the conversation while studying Milt’s reactions. Time passed, but no other presence was entering his field of perception.
Rather, Shin noticed that Milt’s way of talking had changed. Her polite speech was gradually turning into a somewhat childish one.
“You came here to destroy the ritual, I guess?”
“You don’t need to hide it. I’m sure you did. The Shin I know would never ignore something so cruel. Because Shin is scary….and….kin…d….”
Shin called to Milt when her words started to sound feverish. She had been talking happily until a moment ago, but her expression had gradually turned into a grimace of pain.
“Ah, aaah…Shi…n…? It can’t…be….I’m, dea…..d…? Aaah…Shin…Shinshinshinshinnn!!”
Milt started moving while repeating Shin’s name.
Creating ripples in the water, she moved next to Shin in an instant. Even if her mental state was abnormal, her physical body remembered her movements and reproduced them perfectly.
A deranged smile was on her face.
“I felt something was off…so I was right.”
After muttering a curse, Shin prepared to fight back. He caught her right hand, which was aiming for a palm strike, with his left hand, then stopped her left knee strike with his right hand.
Milt, thus unable to move one arm and leg, tried to kick Shin with her right leg. Shin let go of her limbs and dodged the kick aimed at his chin.
He had cast 【Cure】 to heal her status ailments, but black mist had covered the attacking Milt’s body; the magic skill had not affected her.
However, Shin’s 【Cure】 had dispelled most of the black mist. Using it one more time would have likely generated the desired effects.
Possibly because of the mist’s disappearance, Milt’s expression started to seem confused. She had put distance between them, as if scared by something, and started to attack randomly, like a complete beginner.
Shin drew closer to Milt, while nullifying the continuous magic attacks with his innate resistance.
“I wan…ted..wanted…to see yo….where….fight…sleepy…scary…”
The words coming out of Milt’s mouth were scattered, broken. Shin thought she was reliving memories of the death game.
His assumption came from the knowledge of her reason for being so obsessed with fighting.
“….am I, alive? I will, wake up? No….if so…then…”
Milt’s next words cleared all of his remaining doubts.
“Someone, please……………kill, me.”
Milt’s words left her lips as tears streamed down her cheeks, but Shin refused her.
He stopped both of her arms with his right hand, then grabbed her head with his left hand.
“Come back to normal already!”
The skill he used blew away all the mist haunting Milt’s body.
He had infused more magic power in this second 【Cure】, which easily blew past the mist’s resistance and healed Milt’s status ailments.
Milt’s status was now normal. However, possibly because of the mental burden, she had lost consciousness.
Shin couldn’t leave her lying naked like that, so he materialized a mantle and laid it on her.
“If even someone her level ended up manipulated, there are demons on a whole other level than the one in Bayreuth.”
“A Duke class, maybe? Or even…”
“Could be a Grand Duke.”
Milt’s stats were high enough that, with the right equipment, she could fight toe to toe with Kagerou. Being a poison user, she had trained her resistances to status ailments too.
Despite that, she had been affected by powerful status ailments.
Whoever had put Milt under their control was someone with abilities equal or superior to hers.
While Shin and Schnee were talking, Milt mumbled softly.
As she slowly opened her eyes, maybe because she noticed the presence of people in the vicinity, she looked towards Shin.
“Hey there, you’re awake?”
“Ah, yes….eh? Shin!? Why!? Aaah! Why am I naked?!?”
Milt fully regained consciousness, slightly panicking after noticing her state. She apparently had no recollection of recent events and was rightfully confused, voicing questions such as “Where am I!?” or “Why is my body all sticky!?”
“Er….anyway, let’s calm down, OK?”
“Shin, why are you naked too…? C-could it be that you have taken advan–?!”
“I haven’t!! And look better, I’m wearing a swimsuit! I’m not naked!”
Shin couldn’t help but interrupt Milt’s words, whacking the girl looking up at him, wrapped in the mantle, over the head.
“Hitting her on the head in her current state would be too much, I think…?”
“Nah, no problem if it’s her.”
Shin looked over at Schnee, showing her that there was nothing to worry about, then turned to Milt again.
Milt had somewhat calmed down, thanks to Shin’s chop, and focused on understanding her current situation and whereabouts.
“So have we calmed down now?”
“My head hurts, though. But this lack of mercy is just like you, Shin. First of all, could you tell me what I was doing here, and naked?”
“Before that, tell me how much you remember. You just jumped at me, you know. Well, I guess you could wear something first.”
Shin demanded an explanation from Milt, arguing that he had the right to ask first.
Milt put some clothes on, finally looking presentable, and started talking while massaging her head.
“…..and that’s all I can remember. It’s all blurry after that…I felt my consciousness return fully when I saw your face in front of me.”
Milt explained how she had joined ‘Ouroboros’ Hollow’ in her search of strong opponents; she had visited this cave in an escort mission for the Summit Faction, but then her memories became muddled.
She had surely met someone, but couldn’t remember who it was.
“I see, they basically did what they wanted with you.”
“Aah…I have no excuses.”
Milt’s head hung in shame for letting something like that happen to her.
Having fallen to someone’s manipulation had hit her deep.
“Shin, you’re going to rescue the person I kidnapped, right?”
“Yes, along with someone else though.”
“Could you take me with you? I have to put an end to what I caused, with my own hands.”
Her tone of voice was calm, but Shin felt that Milt was angry.
She had a peculiar code even in her PK days; she would only start a fight to the death if the opponent agreed to it. Even if she had been manipulated, she probably didn’t want to blame others for something she had done.
“More fighting power is always welcome, but there are people close to the girl you kidnapped on our side, you know?”
“That’s fine. Or rather, that means I should do it even more. I only kill when I am attacked with killing intent, or the opponent agrees to a duel to the death. I dislike and have no intention of assisting kidnapping or blackmailing. I had no control over what I did this time, but it doesn’t change that it was me. I have to make amends.”
Milt’s expression stiffened.
Shin saw it and thought that she wasn’t trying to deceive them.
“(Schnee, what do you think?)”
“(At the very least, I don’t think she’s acting. Because her contract spirit seems to have placated too. It was probably concerned about its master’s abnormal state.)”
After hearing Schnee’s opinion via Mind Chat, Shin thought that it could be a good idea to bring Milt along.
It would mean to add a former enemy among their ranks, but Shin knew Milt’s personality; he was sure that even if they didn’t bring her along, she would act on her own.
“Got it. You can come with us, and it’ll be a great help if you cooperated with us. But only if you don’t act on your own accord. If you stand in the way of our objectives, then I really won’t have any mercy.”
“I know that well. Fighting against you is an extremely charming prospect, but I couldn’t enjoy it in this situation.”
Milt seemed to understand that she wasn’t actually trusted and nodded with conviction.
“No need to be charmed. We’ve wasted enough time, let’s go back for now. You have 【Shapeshift】 attached, yes?”
“No problem, look.”
Milt answered Shin’s question and transformed her equipment.
Her battle wear, oriental styled with a great amount of skin exposure, changed shape adhering to Milt’s body.
“A school swimsuit…but why…”
Milt’s transformed swimwear left Shin at a loss for words. Like a good student, she even had “Milt” printed on the swimsuit’s chest area.
Re-attaching the enchantment 【Shapeshift】 as many times as needed would allow the user to pick their favourite type of swimsuit.
For that reason, during the game era very few wore swimwear considered “for fetishists”, like school swimsuits or string-type swimwear.
“Hehehe, I will let you know that this shape grants a 10% speed boost to underwater movement!”
“Who even programmed this…”
Shocked and defeated to learn of this surprising bonus, Shin swam back at high speed, his party in tow.
“I might as well introduce you, she’s more or less my former support character, Schnee. She’s strong, but don’t get any weird ideas.”
Thinking it weird to not do their introductions, Shin decided to do it first.
“And this is Milt. She’s an advanced player they used to call “Milt the Poison Lolita” during the game era.”
“Po, poison Lolita…?”
“Hey!! What kind of introduction is that!? I didn’t choose to be this short anyway!”
Shin had exposed Milt’s nickname in a completely casual manner.
Milt’s height was the same as her real body, 145 cemel.
She had apparently used her real self’s face in the game, with her still innocent-looking features, more on the cute than the beautiful side.
However, her body was a junior high school student’s at most. It would be a bit of a stretch even to think of her as a high schooler.
One of VR’s characteristics was the inability to change significantly not only one’s facial features, but also one’s physique.
“She got that nickname because she looks like a lolita and is a poison user. They also called her stuff like “Mini Berserker”.”
“There’s always something saying how short I am ! My main job is conjurer after all, and I might be small but I’m not flat!”
Saying so, Milt pushed up her chest with her hands.
The swimsuit, which was already considerably stretched, changed shape under Milt’s hands.
Her chest had been “touched up” to the point that one could imagine she had went a little overboard when creating her avatar. Such symbols of maternity was already quite prominent in their natural state, but now they looked slightly lewd.
Added to Milt’s looks, this Lolita + Big breasts + School swimsuit combination created a very “dangerous” view.
“If you have time to act silly, then speed up. And once we get on land, stop messing around.”
“First you reveal my nicknames, but then you ignore me, huh…reminds me of how cold the old Shin was.”
“It’s just your imagination. Do you feel any change in your condition, by the way?”
“Ah, no. I’m alright. Even if I was under control, I was practically sleeping. My head doesn’t hurt or spin. No problem even I’m poked fun at, like you just did.”
Milt had noticed that Shin had tried to annoy her on purpose and stopped complaining.
She didn’t look like she was forcing herself. Her HP and MP had not changed either and her status showed a complete recovery.
“Anyway, I have to applaud your lack of any reaction after seeing this physique of mine. And I thought that this kind of body would be more popular with boys than my real life one.”
What a shame…so muttered Milt, in a manner that made it hard to tell how serious she was.
Shin didn’t find Milt unappealing either. But he wasn’t the kind of person to react to nudity or sexiness in a situation like that.
“You’re a mystery as usual.”
“A woman of mystery, that’s who I am.”
“Don’t puff up your chest dressed like that. We’re almost there.”
Shin spoke while looking at the light filtering from above the water. The three had reached the shore in a few minutes.
“Sir Shin, who is this person?”
Their return had been slightly late, but the party had come back safely. Noticing the added presence of Milt, though, spurred the question from Konig.
“Ah…I’ll explain, so please listen until the end.”
As Milt would join their entourage, her true identity had to be revealed.
Milt, above all, was Hermie’s kidnapper. If they hid the truth now, and it was revealed by a turn of events later, things would likely take an unfortunate turn, so it was decided to reveal the truth now.
After the explanation, Konig remained in deep silence.
He had grabbed his blade’s hilt as he heard the newcomer’s name, but somehow Shin managed to explain to the end.
“You really don’t remember anything?”
After a long silence, Konig asked a question with a calm tone.
From Konig’s viewpoint, as one of the victims and Hermie’s personal guard, simply hearing “she was manipulated, there was no other way” was obviously not enough to convince him.
“I can’t make any excuses about that. But I too resent having been used that way. Shin saved me after all, so I want to show my gratitude. I know my words are less than convincing, but at least I am confident I could match a divine beast in battle.”
Milt spoke while looking directly at Konig. Her eyes expressed that she had no intention of backing out.
“I knew it would turn out like this…”
Shin had expected this development, so he carried Konig away, without missing a beat.
“Sir Shin, I do not mean to doubt you, but will this really be all right?”
“I know what you mean. But it would not be wise to act separately. You also know how strong she is, right?”
Konig was not in prime condition at the time, but Milt had easily bested him. Her stats were also higher than his.
Even using Shin’s map and detection abilities to the fullest, it would have been difficult to find Hermie, who was not a member of their party or a support character.
The cave interior, which was mostly artificial, was quite large, even considering only the extent they were aware of. They had to look for Hermie while avoiding traps and enemy eyes, definitely not an easy feat.
Even if they let Milt go, if she was found Shin’s party’s freedom of movement would be limited as well; and if a Grand Duke-class demon was among the enemy ranks, they would have to go confront it.
Considering that there were also chosen ones among the enemies, there was nothing to lose in having as much fighting power as possible.
“Well, if we used one of these we wouldn’t have to worry about betrayal.”
With these words, Shin pulled out one of the Submission Collars retrieved from Bulk’s room.
Konig let out a frustrated grunt.
He too knew that Milt’s eyes were not lying.
Besides, he probably would not want to use the Submission Collar on someone who wasn’t some despicable villain, but had just been manipulated.
“….I suppose there is no other way.”
Konig cast away his personal feelings and agreed.
“My name’s Milt. My race is High Pixie and I’m a Conjurer. This is my dear Undine friend, her name is Nel. Anyway, everyone is so strong here! Why don’t we fight later?”
Milt introduced herself to the party while Shin was away. Although the last part was unnecessary.
After that, they heard from Milt all the information she remembered about the cave’s layout, to speculate where Hermie was held and the ritual would take place.
After all party members reviewed their roles, the party started moving.
“To think that it’s possible to speak underwater.”
Tiera muttered this comment while swimming next to Shin on their way towards the cave.
Her swimsuit was a brilliant green bikini, and a necklace imbued with the skill 【Dive V】 floated above her chest.
“Even though I’m using the same skill too, I have no idea how it’s possible to talk underwater though.”
“There’s no air forming around our mouths either, so it’s a mystery how we can breathe too. Well, thanks to this we can move through the water, so I suppose I’ll just accept not understanding how it works.”
The whole party was heading towards the underwater cave’s entrance.
Yuzuha and Kagerou were in tow, dog paddling behind them.
They passed the lake where Shin and Milt met and proceeded forward, wary of any traps or guards.
As long as Shin and Schnee made full use of their detection skills, only an exceptionally intricate trap could slip through their vigilance.
“There are a lot of dwellings and storage rooms in the shallow areas. I guess the more important parts are deeper?”
“Probably, yes. I remember I went down a fair distance. Even though this isn’t their headquarters, the Summit Faction is a large organization. They even reinforced the cave’s walls to prevent them from crumbling easily.”
“I should have guessed. When there are many holes, all it would take is just one earthquake to wipe it off the map.”
The walls were bumpy and uneven, but the path was wide enough for 4 adults to walk side by side.
There also were many large hall-like clearings, personal rooms, and storage rooms; if they had built so many without reinforcing the walls, they would have definitely crumbled sooner or later.
Shin’s party proceeded deeper and deeper while checking the map for the room they were looking for. Since they searched each floor they visited, their progress couldn’t be very fast.
Roughly 1 hour since they started their descent, Shin’s 【Magic Sonar】 picked up a larger clearing in the map.
It was far larger than the rooms used as storage rooms. It appeared that there was something in the back of it, but 【Magic Sonar】 couldn’t scan the room completely, so it was only partly displayed on the map.
“Could it be the ritual site?”
Schnee whispered softly.
“It could be. What do you say, Milt?”
“I think you guessed right. I do remember it was a large room.”
It was possible for Hermie to be imprisoned near the ritual site; Shin and the others proceeded downwards, while searching the surroundings even more carefully than before.
As they were descending, Shibaid called to Shin, who was walking next to him.
“It certainly looks like there are Grand Duke-class demons here.”
“I can’t pick up anything in my detection range, though…?”
“I can feel their fighting spirit. This stale, foul feeling…it’s a “War God”-type, no doubt about it.”
Shibaid’s eyes were fixed in one direction as they walked, his words filled with conviction.
Shin asked Schnee with his eyes, but she shook her head.
As Schnee had previously felt something other than miasma, Shibaid had probably felt something the other party members couldn’t.
There was no proof for his words, but no one doubted Shibaid. Konig and Milt knew that it was not odd for those who dedicate themselves to battle to be able to feel the presence of other powerful warriors.
Tiera also did not say anything, probably because she too possessed a similar unique sense.
“A solo type, maybe. Hopefully there aren’t raid types then.”
The humanlike demons called “War God”-type, compared to raid-types, had fixed conditions to defeating them, so it was not impossible to take them down even when fought for the first time.
They were still powerful enemies, but considering the expected spent time and sustained damage to defeat them, they were still easier targets than others.
“We’re almost at what could be the ritual site. Let’s continue talking later.”
The whole party shut their mouths at Schnee’s warning.
The detection fields did not pick up anything in particular.
With Shin and Schnee leading, the party headed towards the place thought to be the ritual site.
“Kuu! This place is yucky!”
Yuzuha and Kagerou suddenly became agitated. Their whole bodies’ fur stood up, as if they were trying to intimidate something.
“What’s wrong now?”
Yuzuha answered Shin’s question, expressing her thoughts while stumbling on her words.
According to her, this location was a node of Ley lines, but because of the miasma their original function was inhibited.
“You can feel it?”
“It’s the same as the place I was before, it feels sick here, kuu…”
The clearing seemed absolutely normal, but they soon realized that there was a very large magic circle drawn on the ground. The material reinforcing the walls and ground was clearly different from the other rooms too.
Apparently, this magic circle was part of what was negatively influencing the flow of the Ley lines that Yuzuha had talked about.
“The stench of blood is strong here, after all. Who knows what gruesome things they have been up to in here…after all they did to us, let’s show them what our craft can do.”
In case they couldn’t find Hermie, the party retraced part of the magic circle, in order to prevent it from activating.
Shin was not familiar with magic circles so large as to encompass a whole floor, so Schnee directed the operation.
“Okay then, time to see what’s ahead.”
After the modification of the magic circle was completed, the party assembled before the door leading beyond the ritual site.
It was a heavy door 4 mels high and 3 mels wide. It was locked as well, but before Shin’s party the lock was no different than a toy.
Shin and Shibaid pushed open the door, which clearly had to be guarding something important.
Maybe because it had been used with care, the door opened without so much as a sound. The scenery behind it, however, was something no one could have expected.
“Are you kidding me..”
Shin unconsciously muttered under his breath.
Before their eyes lied a gigantic crystal, roughly 10 mels tall. Its transparency was so high that it looked like artificially polished glass.
Because of that, the thing…rather, the living being inside the crystal could be clearly seen.
Schnee whispered the name of the person in front of her eyes.
It was, without a shred of a doubt, Shin’s 2nd support character, Filma Tolmeya.