A pair of human shapes sprinted through the forest. They were Vampire Brides, Shalltear’s minions-cum-concubines.
The two of them ran at breakneck speeds along the beast-paths of the forest, as though they were trying to cut through the vegetation. The terrain was atrocious, with branches and twigs jutting out from all sides. However, their dresses were not damaged in the slightest, and the high heels they wore easily pushed them over the terrible footing as they forged ever onward.
The leading Vampire Bride carefully cradled Shalltear, while the one behind her dragged something which looked like a dried-out log.
They were not far from the place where they had parted ways with Sebas. Since they had no maps or the like, they had no idea how far they were from their destination, save that they would probably have to run a long way. However, the clanging of hard metal rang through the air, and the lead Vampire Bride immediately ground to a halt.
As the beast-path was narrow, once the person in front stopped, the person behind had to do so as well.
“Why did you stop?”
Just as the Vampire Bride in front was about to answer the question that had come from behind, she shuddered as the Mistress she was holding fixed her with a cold glare.
Pearls of cold sweat bloomed on her back, because she was deeply aware that her Mistress was not a kind or merciful person.
Shalltear, who was lounging in the Vampire Bride’s arms — in other words, in a princess carry position — stretched her legs in annoyance.
The Vampire Bride sensed what that meant and released her.
As though escaping from a cage, Shalltear somersaulted out.
With a dextrous leap, she leapt into the air, and her high-heeled feet trod the ground beneath her. The dress she wore cascaded down to cover her legs.
Once on the ground, Shalltear flipped her hair in irritation and cricked her neck.
The Vampire Brides could not help but gulp as they noticed the frigid look in Shalltear’s eyes.
“What’s going on here?”
The reason Shalltear was not running in the forest was because she felt it was a bother, and because she did not want to dirty her shoes. There was another reason for that, but nobody here would speak it, or even think of doing so. Even in Nazarick, only a few people would dare bring it up to her face.
Since they were now transportation tools, the Vampire Brides could not stop without instructions from Shalltear. She had no use for legs which moved on their own.
Depending on the reason that they disobeyed her commands, they might end up suffering terribly.
That was the message which Shalltear’s eyes carried. No, it would be a mercy if pain was all that awaited them. There was murderous intent in her previous question.
In the Great Tomb of Nazarick, the lives and deaths of everyone other than the NPCs created by the 41 Supreme Beings were at the disposal of the relevant Floor and Area Guardians. If they continued annoying Shalltear, they might be executed on the spot.
Knowing this, the Vampire Bride — who had the feeling that this might be her last will and testament — nervously began to speak:
“Forgive me, but I stepped into a bear trap.”
Shalltear looked down, and saw that the jaws of a crude metal trap had snapped shut around the Vampire Bride’s slender leg.
This was not a trap designed to deal with human beings, but wild bears, which were mighty and tough creatures. It could easily shatter the ankles of any human — even one wearing greaves — who stepped into it.
Of course, Vampire Brides were very different from human beings.
Even when pierced by the bear trap spikes, which were used to hobble animals, the Vampire Bride did not feel any pain or suffer broken bones. She did not appear to have been hurt at all.
Vampire Brides could resist damage from just about any physical damage apart from that inflicted by weapons made of silver or certain other special materials, or magic weapons bearing specific enchantments. Fortified with this damage reduction, there was no way that a simple steel bear trap could possibly injure her.
Still, while she was immune to its damage, the beartrap had fulfilled its other purpose of impeding their movement.
Since the trap was not coated in poison, it was clear that it was not intended to kill its prey. Its purpose was to impede its targets, slowing the opposition down by forcing them to deal with a casualty (burden).
Shalltear remained silent, but shook her head as though to say “it can’t be helped”.
“Get out of it, then.”
“Yes! At once!”
Upon hearing Shalltear’s command, the Vampire Bride reached out with her slender hands and promptly pulled apart the jaws of the trap. Unable to resist a strength which exceeded that of a bear, the trap gave its prey up.
The sight of a beautiful girl prying open a bear trap seemed surreal but anyone who knew the strength of a Vampire Bride would not find it strange.
“Still, the fact that there’s a trap here suggests we’re close to our destination. I thought we were still quite far away.”
“Yes, please wait a moment.”
Following that, the Vampire Bride at the rear dumped the log-like object she was carrying on the ground.
It was a human corpse, desiccated and mummified. However, she had not been carrying an ordinary cadaver. It possessed a false life, which it showed as it stirred into stiff activity.
Its arms resembled withered branches sprouting sharp claws, and points of crimson light glowed in its empty eye sockets, like a Vampire’s. Abnormally sharp canines gleamed within its half-open mouth.
This was a monster called a Lesser Vampire.
It was all that remained of the bandit who had been exsanguinated by the Vampire Brides.
“Tell me, are we close to your hideout?”
The Lesser Vampire nodded deeply to its mistress, making a sound that was somewhere between a groan and a moan.
“—He says so, Shalltear-sama.”
“Is that so? Then why aren’t there any traps linked to them?”
In addition to the beartraps, there should have been alarm bells and so on. However, they had not found any such traps.
Shalltear looked around, probably checking to see if anyone was hiding nearby. The Vampire Brides began a visual search as well, until their mistress shook their head to indicate that they should stop.
“...Well, forget it. It’s not like you have any detection abilities anyway...”
As they heard those mumbled words, the Vampire Brides realised why they had been forgiven.
The Vampire Brides — their mistress included — did not possess any trapfinding skills, which was why they had been allowed to live after failing to detect the beartrap. Perhaps their mistress felt that it was illogical to mete out punishment for failing to do something they could not have succeeded at in the first place..
“If I’d known, I would have borrowed that girl for this.”
Solution had levels in assassin-type classes, and with her thief skills she could have easily discovered those traps.
“Meh, there’s no point griping about something you don’t have. Then, let’s hurry up to the bandits’ lair.”
♦ ♦ ♦
Soon, they had reached the sellswords’ hideout. Though they were still in the forest, the trees were growing thin, and beyond this place there were no more trees, only an overgrown field littered with rocks.
This terrain was known as a karst.
There was a large hole in the center of a bowl-like depression, from which faint rays of light streamed out. Judging by the angle of the light, there must be a sloping path leading downward.
There were two shapes near the cave entrance. It was evident at a glance that they had been deliberately positioned there.
They were round wooden barricades reaching up to the height of a man’s belly, though they were otherwise unremarkable. They were little more than a pile of wooden logs, but there was a sentry on each side.
It would seem the intention was to use the logs as cover from ranged attacks, so they could protect themselves if the enemy fired on them with bows and get inside to warn their comrades.
Under normal circumstances, launching a frontal attack from this distance would allow the bandits to prepare their weapons and send reinforcements from the cave. Also, all the rocks which were big enough for intruders to hide behind had already been moved away, in order to prevent a stealth approach.
In addition, there were large bells on the sentries’ shoulders. Even if they were somehow downed by a sneak attack, the sound of the bells would alert their friends to the presence of enemies.
One could say that it was quite well thought out.
This situation was insoluble by purely physical means, but there was a way past it.
That was by using magic.
After casting a [Silence] spell, the attackers could kill them all in one go. Alternatively, they could use [Invisibility] to hide their approach, or [Charm Person] to draw out the opposition. Destroying the bells was also an option.
As Shalltear pondered which of these methods would be the most entertaining, Shalltear realized that there was an important piece of information which she did not have.
“Is there only one entrance?”
The Lesser Vampire nodded stiffly in response to Shalltear’s question.
Shalltear smiled. It would seem that there was no need to overthink this.
This sturdy defense could be used to ward off ambushing enemies or allow one man to hold off a horde. However, Shalltear and her followers were different.
Charging straight in would not pose a problem to people who were so unimaginably powerful that they could crush humans like bugs. The only relevant consideration was if there was an exit through which the opposition could flee.
“Is that so. Then, since we’ve arrived, there’s no need to hide in the shadows. Honestly, I’m not used to that sort of skulking around anyway.”
“After all, anywhere you go is sure to shine brightly, Shalltear-sama.”
“Stating the truth hardly qualifies as flattery. You’d best think harder if you want to try sucking up to me.”
Ignoring the Vampire Bride begging forgiveness with a lowered head, Shalltear reached out and grabbed the body of the Lesser Vampire.
“I shall entrust the weighty duty of being the vanguard to you. Go, then.”
Her slender arms blurred, and the Lesser Vampire tore through the air before striking one of the sentries. Due to the spin imparted during the throw, the Lesser Vampire spun end over end several dozen times before hitting the man.
The force of the impact beggared the imagination. Not just the sentry’s head, but even his chest spurted blood in all direction.
The stench of fresh gore hung in the air, and the other man could not parse what had just happened before his eyes. All he could do was stare dumbly at his colleague’s tragic fate.
Still, this was quite an amusing sight to the thrower.
“Truly magnificent, Shalltear-sama.”
The Vampire Brides applauded Shalltear, who was pumping an arm in victory. Needless to say, the Lesser Vampire had been pulverized, but the three of them did not seem troubled by that at all. That creature had never been a part of Nazarick to begin with, and had only been made for amusement. They felt nothing about how it had just been destroyed.
In addition, it had originally been a human being. Shalltear did not recall what she had promised him before.
“Now, how about the other one...”
Shalltear looked between the two Vampire Brides. They got the message and hurriedly passed her a rock which was suitable for throwing.
As she heard the sound of a bell from the distance, Shalltear grabbed a rock which was slightly larger than her hand.
Her delicate hand moved with shocking speed. In the next moment, Shalltear observed the results in the distance and happily pronounced:
“Then… that would make two strikes, hm?”
Applause rang out once more.
Then, the sound of a sentry shouting about an enemy attack reached Shalltear’s ears. It would seem that another sentry had heard the sound of the bell.
As she looked inside the cave, which seemed to be getting noisier and noisier, Shalltear smiled gently before ordering:
“Then, let’s go. You, keep watch from on top of a nearby tree and make sure nobody escapes. You, take the role of the vanguard and clear a path for me. However, do tell me if you encounter anyone who’s stronger than the rest. I want to play with them.”
Having received her orders, the Vampire Bride stepped forward, slowly approaching the cave entrance—
—And then she vanished.
The earth collapsed — no, the earth did not collapse. She had stepped into a pit trap.
Perhaps Shalltear might have been able to avoid the trap before falling into it, but the Vampire Bride’s reactions were not enough for her to evade a trap where the earth vanished under her feet.
Still, the Vampire Bride was a low-level vassal who had no particular ability to detect traps, so there was nothing to blame her for. That was why she had been forgiven earlier. Still, even if she understood why it had happened, Shalltear still made a noise of annoyance. After that, she smiled sweetly. That was not a smile born of kindness, satisfaction, or even embarrassment.
Come to think of it, she should have anticipated that they would put a pit trap in front of the cave entrance. However, it angered her that she had not seen through it, had even fallen for it. It was with a heart boiling with such emotions that she had smiled.
Shalltear Bloodfallen was a Guardian of the glorious Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick. The fact that a servant of such a mighty individual had fallen for a trap like that was utterly intolerable.
A voice filled with murderous intent leaked from between Shalltear’s crimson lips:
“Get out of there before I tear you to pieces.”
With a great leap, the Vampire Bride vaulted out of the pit and landed beside it. Though her clothes were stained by mud, there was no sign she had been hurt.
“Don’t disappoint me again.”
“My deepest apologies—”
“Forget it, just get in there. Unless you want me to throw you in like that trash from just now?”
As Shalltear reached out with a grabbing gesture, the Vampire Bride wailed in acknowledgement and immediately rushed into the cave. Shalltear followed leisurely behind her, strolling slowly into the cave.
As the clamor from outside filtered into the private room, the hand working on a weapon paused, and a pair of ears pricked up.
There was the sound of fighting, people running, and some screams mixed in.
They had been attacked, but there was still no idea of the attackers’ numbers and their abilities. This was despite being trained to loudly shout that information when an attack came.
He could still hear something. This might have been a private room, but it was within a cave and had only a curtain in place of a door. The only thing separating this place from the entrance was distance, and while the curtain was thick, sound could still get in.
There were close to 70 people in the mercenary band known as the Death-Spreading Brigade. They were not as strong as him, but they were still grizzled veterans.
A raid by a small number of men would not cause such chaos. With that in mind, it might be reasonable to deduce that a large force had descended upon them. However, that did not explain why there was no sound of a great host outside, and the enemy did not feel that numerous.
“Then… could they be adventurers?”
That might explain this strange feeling of attackers who were few in number and possessed great fighting power.
He slowly rose to his feet, hanging his weapon at his waist. He put on a chain shirt, which did not take much time to don. Then, he attached a leather pouch with several potion bottles to his belt and tied it in place. Since he was already wearing his enchanted necklace and rings, his preparations were now complete.
He flung aside the curtain before stepping onto a central path within the cave.
Countless lanterns hung at evenly-spaced intervals on the walls, each glowing with a [Continual Light] spell. It was bright enough that one could scarcely believe they were in a cave.
The light illuminated his entire body.
He was tall, but not skinny. The body beneath his clothes was as solid as steel. He had not honed his physique through strength training, but through live battles.
His hair was sloppily cut and thus looked uneven. It looked quite messy. His brown eyes stared keenly forward, and the corner of his mouth was curled up in the beginning of a sneer. His chin was overgrown with stubble that looked like mildew.
Although he appeared quite slovenly, his movements were nimble and graceful, like those of a beast.
As this man arrived at the entrance which was under attack, another man burst in from the other direction. He seemed quite familiar — he was a sellsword from the Brigade. As the mercenary saw him, a look of triumph blossomed on his face.
“The enemy’s attacking, Brain-san!”
The bitterly smiling man — Brain — responded:
“I know the enemy is attacking. What I want to know is how many are there? Who are they?”
“Yes! There’s two of them, both women.”
“Women? Only two of them? Could it be… Blue Rose, hm.”
Brain tilted his head in what seemed like puzzlement, and then he strode out toward the cave entrance, through which the clamor poured.
The strongest adventurer team in the Kingdom was called “Blue Rose”, and it was composed of five women. At that time, Brain they counted an old lady among their number. She and Brain had exchanged blows, and both sides had come away covered in wounds. He had also heard that the strongest assassin in the Empire was apparently a woman.
Powerful women were not exactly a rarity. Although women had weaker bodies than men, magic could easily cover that gap.
And of course, if someone with powerful physical abilities was augmented with equally powerful magic, the result would be invincible.
Respect welled up in Brain for these opponents, who stood as few against the many. His blood boiled in his chest, a battle-lust which resembled a hunger to do battle with mighty opponents.
“Hm, there’s no need for you to come over. Just make sure you guard the inside well.”
After giving the sellsword his orders, Brain strode forth, toward an unknown yet powerful foe.
♦ ♦ ♦
His full name was Brain Unglaus.
Originally, he had been nothing more than an unassuming farmer. However, he was possessed of a natural gift, which was a talent for swordsmanship. With the aid of this talent, he was practically invincible as long as he had a weapon in hand. On the battlefield, he had not taken any wounds more severe than a scratch, and he could be described as a fighting genius.
Having never known defeat in swordsmanship, he walked an eternal path of victory.
Nobody, not even himself, had doubted this. But the Kingdom’s royal martial tournament had changed the course of his life.
At first, he had not joined to win. He had simply intended to let the entire Kingdom know of his prowess. His aim had been to leave everyone crushed at his feet. However, he could barely believe the result of that tournament.
For the first time since he had picked up a weapon — no, for the first time in his life, he had been defeated.
The man who defeated him was Gazef Stronoff. He was now the Kingdom’s Warrior-Captain, and the mightiest warrior in the surrounding nations.
Before they faced each other, the two of them had swiftly cut a swathe through their respective divisions. However the intense battle between them used up all the time they had saved.
In the end, Gazef had seized victory with the move called the [Fourfold Slash of Light]. The tale of that struggle was immortalized in song and story. In addition, the ascension of the lowborn Gazef to the position of the Warrior-Captain was proof of how spectacular that battle had been. Even the nobles who detested him could not dismiss him as a weakling.
Though the winner was covered in glory, Brain — the loser — felt as though all his efforts up to that point had gone up in smoke. However, Brain had also learned that the dream of becoming the strongest in the world was not one that only he possessed. It would seem his perspective had been too limited.
After retreating into himself for over a month, Brain broke through the despair that would drive anyone to drink, and pulled himself together.
He refused employment offers from several nobles, having decided for the first time in his life to strengthen himself.
He trained ceaselessly, honing both his skills and his body.
He learned about magic and furthered his knowledge.
The genius now applied himself like a scholar.
Defeat had only made Brain stronger.
He did not want to work for nobles because he did not want his talents to rot away. One needed sparring partners when practicing the martial arts. Mere discussions of theory were not enough. In addition, there were vocations that allowed him to fight often and earn a good wage.
He did not choose the profitable path of the adventurer because adventurers did not have many chances to kill people. Of course, they fought a lot of monsters, but Brain’s ultimate goal was to defeat Gazef. With that in mind, he had to train himself by fighting other humans.
Within this limited range of options, Brain chose to join the Death-Spreading Brigade. Granted, they were only a band of sellswords, but any mercenary company would do.
He had only one aim in mind.
That was to wipe away his earlier shame and avenge his defeat with victory.
In order to achieve this aim, he needed greater skills. Brain was willing to sacrifice anything for a weapon that matched his skills.
Magical weapons were very expensive, but he did not seek something as simple as a magic weapon.
In the south, far from the Kingdom, there was a city in the desert. Stories of blades that carved steel like mud came from there, weapons which were far superior to weakly enchanted magic weapons even without any enchantments of their own. Such swords commanded staggering prices, enough to make one’s eyeballs pop out when one heard of them. Those weapons were what Brain wanted.
And in the end, he finally obtained a 「Katana」.
Currently, Brain’s abilities had reached their limit. He was quite confident that he could defeat anyone easily, even if his opponent was Gazef. Even so, he did not allow that to get to his head, but continued training himself without fail.
Every time he closed his eyes, he saw that scene again.
He saw that scene from the martial tournament, that beautiful battle with Gazef. He had evaded that strike of his which nobody had been able to avoid, and responded with four simultaneous slashes.
With no way to imagine himself in defeat, all he could see was the noble form of the man who had beaten him, branded into his mind.
♦ ♦ ♦
Brain walked to the entrance of the cave, and the faint smell of blood greeted his nose. The screams had stopped. That meant that all his comrades near the entrance had been slaughtered. Only about two or three minutes had passed.
There should have been at least ten sellswords at the entrance. Their orders were to hold fast, to buy time for the others to gird themselves for war. But to think someone had killed all these mercenaries in so short a time—
“If there’s only two intruders, that means their abilities must be around the same level as mine.”
Brain smiled coldly.
As he walked easily forward, he downed a potion from the pouch on his waist. The incredibly bitter liquid flowed down his throat and into his belly. He quaffed another bottle, and—
A wave of heat expanded from his guts, flowing into every corner of his body. In response to that heat, he could hear his muscles bulging and tightening.
This rapid muscle augmentation was the result of the magic contained within the potion.
The first magic potion he had drunk contained had the effect of a [Lesser Strength] spell, followed by one which bestowed [Lesser Dexterity] upon him.
There was no need to ingest the potions. They would work as long as a certain amount of the liquid made contact with his body. However, Brain felt that they would be more effective when drunk, rather than applied. Of course, that might have just been a whim of his, but whims like that sometimes gave rise to surprising power.
After that, he anointed his katana with an oil. Said oil left a faint bluish-white glow on his blade, before vanishing as it was absorbed into the metal. That oil bestowed the effects of a [Magic Weapon] spell upon his weapon, temporarily enchanting his sword with magic and increasing its sharpness.
“Activate 1, Activate 2.”
In response to those command words, a subtle wave of magical power spread out from Brain’s necklace and ring to envelop his body.
The Necklace of Eye was a necklace which protected one’s ability to see, granting blindness resistance, darkvision, flash compensation and other effects. There was no point in a warrior having the best weapon if he could not hit with it, after all. A common adventurer tactic was to rob a foe of their vision and finish them off with ranged weapons from a distance. The fact was that Brain had suffered that sort of treatment at the hands of adventurers before obtaining this necklace.
After that, he activated an item which could both store and release low-tier spells, the Ring of Magic Bind. The spell it released was one reduced energy damage, [Lesser Protection Energy].
If there were really only two attackers, then it was worth fully preparing himself to face them. It would be too late to regret not having made the proper preparations afterwards.
With that, he was ready.
He took several deep breaths, expelling the intense heat brewing within his body.
As he was now, Brain — his body enhanced by various effects — was a swordsman who stood at the peak of humanity. He was absolutely confident in his fighting ability, and a savage grin bloomed on his face.
Now that I’ve prepared myself, I hope you’ll show me a good time.
♦ ♦ ♦
The further he advanced, the stronger the scent of blood became—
Two shapes appeared before him.
“Oi oi, it looks like the two of you had a lot of fun.”
“Hardly. I don’t know if it’s because these people are too weak, but they’re not filling up the Blood Pool.”
The response to Brain’s unhurried entrance was that casual line. It might have been because the opposition knew Brain would come at them directly. On his part, Brain had no intention of hiding himself, so perhaps that reaction was only to be expected.
As he looked on the intruders before him, Brain slightly wrinkled his brow.
I was told there were two women, but one’s little more than a little girl, and they’re in dresses…?
Still, Brain cast aside those thoughts, because above the head of that unimaginably beautiful girl hovered an orb that seemed to be made of fresh blood.
“Don’t think I’ve seen that spell before… are you two magic casters?”
Both of them wore dresses, garments that were unsuitable for combat. However, if they were magic casters, he could understand why they did not wear armor.
“I am a divine magic caster who venerates the First of the Blood, the Divine Ancestor Cainabel.”
(TL Note: It’s 神祖カイン アベル, where the 神 implies that he is a god. Also Brain mispronounces it.)
“The ‘Shin-sow Kine-able’? Never heard of him before, is he some sort of evil deity?”
“That is correct, but he was defeated by the Supreme Beings. Apparently, he was just a ‘weak event boss’, or something. One would expect nothing less of the Supreme Beings."
Brain looked away from the muttering girl and turned his eyes to the woman that looked like a follower. That woman was also a beauty, with full, upthrust breasts, wreathed in an erotic musk that titillated the senses.
Her white dress was flecked in crimson spots. That implied she was the vanguard.
Brain relaxed his shoulders, and then gripped the hilt of his sword.
“Forget it, I’m ready. I can wait for you if you’re not, how about it?”
The girl looked at Brain in surprise. Then she covered her mouth and laughed quietly.
“How brave. Will you really be alright by yourself? I don’t mind if you call all your friends over.”
“There’s no amount of small fry which can hurt you, right? Then I’ll be plenty enough.”
“It can’t be helped if you don’t know how high the stars are, right? Childish thoughts like being able to touch the stars by reaching out for them are best left for a girl with childish sentiments like Aura. They’re disgusting when you hear them coming from an adult.”
“And why can’t such a person exist? What would a little girl like you know about a man’s dreams?”
Brain raised his blade, levelling its tip at the two of them. As she saw this, the girl looked boredly at the ceiling, then forward, and then—
The girl raised her chin, and the woman charged.
Her movements were swift as the wind — however, even if she moved like the wind, Brain could still cut her easily.
As he shouted, Brain brought his katana down with a forceful swing. Filled with a power that could split an armored warrior bodily in two, it raced through the air like a hurricane.
“Hmph, that was too shallow, huh?”
Counter-attacked mid-charge, the woman leapt away as she pressed her hand against her chest. The cut started from her left shoulder and ran across her breasts.
Brain frowned as he stared at his foe.
Part of it was because he could not finish her off in a single strike, but there was something else Brain did not understand. That something was why the woman’s shoulder was not bleeding. Her blood should have been spurting out, under normal circumstances.
Could it be magic?
As that thought ran through Brain’s mind, he saw what was happening to the wound under the woman’s hand, and he narrowed his eyes.
The shoulder wound was slowly healing up. He had heard of certain healing spells which worked quickly, but this did not feel like one of them. That being the case, there was only one answer.
His opponent was a monster with powers of regeneration. Her sharp canines were exposed and her red pupils were filled with hostility. She looked almost the same as a human being...
As he pondered these facts, Brain finally deduced the true identity of the monster.
“A vampire… no? Special abilities include… fast healing, mystic eyes of charming, life drain, creating spawn through blood drain, weapon damage resistance, cold resistance? There should also be… ah, forget it.”
There was no need to bother with the rest. With that, he gripped his katana’s hilt once more.
The woman’s eyes went wide, and her red pupils seemed abnormally large.
In that moment, a fog suddenly clouded Brain’s mind, and he felt favorably disposed toward the enemy before him. However, he dispersed the fog with a quick shake of his head.
“...Mystic eyes, huh? My will isn’t weak enough to be affected by that sort of thing alone.”
Having drawn his sword, Brain’s heart was like a sword as well, cleaving effortlessly through regular mind-control.
The Vampire Bride bared her fangs to frighten him, but that attempt at intimidation was tinged by her own fear. If she felt that she was stronger, then all she would need to do was charge him without bothering with the scare tactics. In other words, she felt that she needed to be wary of him after his counterattack, or perhaps it was because she felt he was a strong opponent.
“Pretty smart. Still, a beast making a decision like that is little more than instinct…”
Brain slowly advanced on the Vampire Bride, who steadily retreated in time with his movements.
Brain scoffed in boredom. The Vampire Bride seemed to think her opponent was taunting her and so she ceased her backwards motion, but instead stepped forward.
The two of them were roughly three meters apart; a distance the Vampire Bride could cover in a single bound. Even so, she did not pounce him, because she feared Brain’s abilities. And then— the Vampire Bride smiled and extended a hand.
A shockwave rippled through the air towards Brain. Given that this spell could easily dent a suit of full plate armor, it would severely injure Brain — who wore only a chain shirt — if it struck him. In addition, landing that single spell could change the course of this battle, given the difference in the fundamental physical attributes of both parties.
However — the Vampire Bride’s eyes went wide in surprise.
“Smile after you hit, unless you want me to see through your attack.”
—He was unharmed.
Brain’s mocking laugh rang out after easily avoiding the invisible shockwave. The Vampire Bride panicked and stepped back. Originally, she had believed humans to be an inferior species and had looked down on him. However, the look of her face was now one of shock as her assumptions had been disproven.
Brain did not show it on his face, but he knew he had to change his tactics now, because he had not expected his enemy to use magic as well.
Brain’s target was the man called Gazef. He desired to cross swords with him. Therefore, his knowledge of magic was not as great as his knowledge of blades. He did not know the mysteries of magic and had no idea what kind of tricks his opponent would pull next.
In the end, the two of them ended up staring at each other.
The girl standing at the sidelines was displeased by this deadlock, and could no longer hide her annoyance.
“Eh, tag out.”
The girl snapped her finger, and the crisp, clear sound made the Vampire Bride’s body shudder.
Brain remained still as he watched the Vampire Bride look away.
It was a perfect chance to attack, but Brain did not do so. He shifted his attention from the Vampire Bride facing him to the girl.
She was petite, though the fact that her breasts were full and bulbous seemed quite out of place on her skinny body. Her delicate arms looked fragile enough that Brain felt he could break them if he exerted his full strength.
There were many kinds of divine magic casters. Perhaps she was not a melee-oriented Cleric, but a spell-oriented Priestess, or perhaps she was a Bishop, who specialized in spellcasting.
However, she was asking to tag in so she could fight in person. That implied she was confident of victory even without her vanguard. What that meant — as Brain thought about it, he smiled.
Doesn’t look like a command to a summoned creature. That means she must be a Vampire as well.
In addition, given the girl’s attitude, she must be a higher order of Vampire. Monsters’ appearances often did not match their actual abilities, so it would not be strange for that little girl’s body to possess higher physical abilities than the Vampire from just now. In addition, she had observed Brain’s formidable combat prowess and still chosen to take the field.
In contrast, the Vampire Bride looked afraid.
A mistress who can frighten a Vampire… Looks like she’ll be a tough foe. I’ll need to be on my guard.
As he sized up the girl, Brain continued pondering her true identity.
Speaking of a Vampire’s mistress, could she be one of those legendary Vampire Lords? I heard there was one of them who earned the title of “Landfall” for destroying a nation… however, the stories also say she was wiped out by the Thirteen Heroes.
If she had been beaten by heroes in the past, then his opponent was hardly invincible.
Brain tightened his grip on his katana’s hilt, slowly shifting into an attack stance.
“I am Brain Unglaus.”
After Brain identified himself to this mighty foe, the girl reacted in a surprising way; she quirked an eyebrow at him.
Feeling somewhat uncomfortable, Brain asked the girl:
“...What is your name?”
“Ah! You wanted to know my name. Cocytus might have gotten it right away but I’ve never looked at people like that before, so it took me a while to get it. My apologies, but you should have just asked me directly.”
The girl took up the hems of her skirt and curtseyed elegantly, like a dancer at a ball.
“My name is Shalltear Bloodfallen. And the pleasure will be all mine.”
♦ ♦ ♦
That elegant curtsey was directed to a man who stood before her with a drawn blade. He was unsure if she knew she would not be attacked, or if she was confident of dealing with any attack that did come. Judging by her expression, it would seem to be the latter case — “Someone like you is nothing to be afraid of.”
—Let me break that self-assurance of yours.
Brain stared silently at Shalltear, his eyes keen razors that would terrify even a hardened veteran. Her calmness irritated him, but on the flip side, that expression of hers played right into Brain’s hands.
It was the arrogance of the strong.
This arrogance was one of the weapons humanity could use to defeat monsters, whose power outstripped that of human beings. In fact, Brain had played on this sort of opportunity before to defeat several monsters who were mightier than himself.
The most important thing was — he could mock them after he defeated them. After he told them, “You can look down on some people, but not others.”
“Are you not going to use martial arts?”
They were skills mastered during a warrior’s quest for martial perfection. Some people called them ki or some kind of aura, but they defied easy description.
In the face of a massive, towering foe, a person who had learned [Fortress] could negate the mighty blows of his opponent and stand blade to blade with him.
Someone who had learned the ability to concentrate ki onto his blade and swing with [Slash] could slay even the most resilient of foes in one hit.
Against heavily armored foes, the bludgeoning martial art called [Bash] came into play.
Anyone who had learned to temporarily improve their physical parameters with [Ability Boost] could seize victory through their power of their augmented bodies.
A warrior needed to anticipate all sorts of circumstances, learn various martial arts, and incorporate them all into his own strength. This went double for adventurers, who were often plunged into bizarre battle conditions.
That being the case, what about Brain?
“Hmph, I won’t need martial arts for a brat like you,” Brain responded. It was a lie, of course. He was not stupid enough to announce his ace in the hole to his opponents.
Brain exhaled slowly and lowered his stance, returning his sword to its sheath.
He was preparing for a draw cut.
His breaths became long and shallow.
He focused his mind into a single point, and in the moment where it was fully concentrated, his awareness rebounded, expanding back outward. His perceptions were on a level where he was fully aware of everything around him; sounds, the air, and other sensory phenomena. This move was one of the original martial arts that he had created — [Field].
Its range was not great, only about three meters in radius, but the martial art allowed him to perceive everything within that radius. Perhaps it might be easier to explain it as boosting his accuracy and evasion while within that area.
Combined with Brain’s honed body, this martial art possessed extraordinary power.
He was confident that he could emerge unscathed beneath a hail of arrows. In addition, his precision was such that he could cleave even a tiny grain of wheat in two.
All living things died when weapons struck their vitals. Thus, all one needed to do was master techniques which could accurately strike said vitals.
Rather than learn a broad range of techniques, he had focused on one single goal. His goal was to strike faster than his opponent, to accurately deliver a single, fatal blow, and in the course of his studies he had innovated a second unique martial art — [Instant Flash].
That high-speed strike was swift enough to be undodgeable, but he had not stopped there.
His training after that was extraordinary, in pursuit of the peak of excellence. He must have practiced it hundreds of thousands, no, millions of times. His ceaseless use of the [Instant Flash] had caused calluses to grow on his palms, specializing them in performing the technique, and parts of his sword’s hilt had been worn into the shape of his grips.
In his unending quest for perfection, he had once more birthed a new technique.
He could cut his foe so quickly that blood would not even stick to the blade. Feeling that he had reached the realm of the gods, he named that technique [God Flash].
With that move, his opponents would not even realise he had struck.
Once he combined these two martial arts, the [Field] which guaranteed a hit and the [God Flash] that struck at divine speed, there was no way anyone could avoid being slain in one blow.
His strikes were aimed at his opponents’ vitals; specifically, their necks.
This was his secret move — the “Mogaribue”.
(TL Note: A mogari (虎落) is a form of bamboo fence, while the mogaribue (虎落笛) is the sound of the winter wind blowing through that fence, like a flute)
It was named for the sound his opponents’ blood made when it spurted from the stump of their severed necks.
Against Vampires, there would probably be no spray of blood, but being able to sever his foe’s neck probably counted as a victory.
“Are you done preparing yet?”
As she looked at Brain, who stayed silent and did nothing but breathe, Shalltear shrugged in boredom.
“I’m ready to make my move, so if you have any last words, feel free to say them~”
“—Then let the trampling begin.”
Shalltear strode forward with that cheerful pronouncement.
Are you kidding me?! We’ll see how calm you are after your head hits the ground.
Brain did not say that. He felt that doing so would break his concentration and waste his effort.
Shalltear’s steps were unguarded, seemingly defenseless, as dainty and casual as if she were heading for a picnic.
This was not the way a warrior moved. Brain fought the urge to grin.
He felt she was foolish, but there was no way he would go easy on her.
Brain went on to use [Ability Boost]. He was waiting for his opponent to enter his [Field], which was also his striking range, and once she did so he would attack. Arrogant monsters who thought themselves mightier than others were all like that. After all, humans were weak creatures with inferior physical abilities, and no special abilities of note.
However, I’ll teach you how dangerous it is to look down on mankind.
Brain mused that martial arts were created to fight beings that were stronger than humans.
— I’ll finish you off in one hit.
Haughty monsters would often struggle when pushed into dire straits. If he could not finish her off in one blow, she would probably instruct her Vampire to come help her. Then the battle would become two against one, and even Brain would be hard-pressed to hold them off.
Thus, he needed to kill her in one blow.
Brain’s face was impassive, but he was laughing internally.
He laughed at his opponent’s leisurely approach; perhaps she did not know that she was climbing the stairs to the chopping block.
Three more steps, two more steps.
...One more step.
—Your head is mine!
With that mental declaration, Brain struck with all his might.
He expelled a short, forceful breath.
His blade cleared his sheath, slicing through the air at Shalltear.
There was a single word to describe the speed of this movement — lightning. By the time one saw it, one’s head would have fallen, so quickly did it take place. After practicing millions of times, it was truly a divine flash.
As Brain thought that—
—He stared in shock.
The blow had missed. The strike into which he had poured his entire being had been evaded.
If that had happened, he might have been able to admit that he had met an unimaginably powerful opponent.
Shalltear had caught it with her fingertips.
She had caught Brain’s lightning-fast strike.
In addition, she held his blade gently, like one would the wings of a butterfly.
Brain could not help but pant heavily, as he felt the air seem to freeze around him.
Those nearly-inaudible words accompanied each gasp he made.
Brain struggled desperately to rein in the tremors within him, as the scene before his eyes utterly defied his expectations. However, it was an undeniable fact that there were two of Shalltear’s ivory fingers upon the body of his blade — her thumb and her forefinger.
More than that, she had not seized his blade from the front, but hooked her arm around the swing to catch it from behind. Without once entering the path of the strike, she had caught up with the speed of the katana — with the speed of his [God Flash].
Although she appeared to be gingerly grasping the blade, with hardly any effort at all, Brain could not budge his sword backward or forward, despite pouring the full strength of his body into his exertions. It was like yanking on a chain fastened to a stone several hundred times his own body weight.
And then, the force on his sword suddenly increased, almost throwing Brain off balance.
“Hmph, Cocytus has several of these too, but since there’s an astronomical difference between the wielders, it’s hardly worth being on guard for.”
Shalltear pulled the grasped katana before her, studying it.
As Brain understood what she had said, the inside of his head turned white.
It was a sense of despair which denied his entire life.
Even so, he pulled himself together again. That was because he had been defeated once, and just as a broken bone would knit back thicker and stronger, he had developed a resistance to the condition of defeat.
It was impossible, but he had to believe it.
He had to believe the fact that her fingers could easily seize his divinely-fast strike.
His face nearly turned pale from the weight of that shock, and Shalltear wrinkled her brows in surprise at this development.
Then, he heard something like an exaggerated sigh of disappointment.
“You understand, right? You can’t beat me without using martial arts. If you understand, please don’t hold back. Shouldn’t you go all out now?”
As those cruel words reached his ears, Brain could not help but curse:
“You damn monster—!”
As she heard him, Shalltear smiled innocently, radiant as a blossoming flower.
“Is that so. Do you finally understand? I’m a cold, merciless, cruel — and lovable monster.”
After letting go of the katana, Shalltear leapt back, to her original position, accurate to within the millimeter.
“Are you done preparing yet?”
Shalltear’s delighted smile and those words combined to make Brain’s blood boil. How much further are you going to scorn me? Instead, as Brain realised that his opponent was powerful enough that she could look down on someone like him who had reached the limits of human strength, he could not help but be afraid.
—Should I run?
Brain had always felt that living was the most important thing. If he was outmatched, he should run, and erase his shame at a later date. Brain felt that as long as he survived, he could claim the victory in the end, because he was sure he could get stronger in the meantime.
However, how could he flee someone whose physical abilities overwhelmed his own by such a large margin?
As though freshly awakened, Brain reconfirmed the location he was targeting.
He was aiming for her legs, to reduce his opponent’s mobility before escaping at top speed.
He would avoid the radius in which his foe had seized the strike made with all his might, and instead attack something which was harder to defend.
With that in mind, Brain turned his attention to Shalltear’s neck as he resheathed his katana. When [Field] activated, he could strike accurately even with his eyes closed, so it made sense to deceive his opponent with his eyes.
“—Let the trampling begin.”
Shalltear stepped forward once more in an exaggerated fashion.
Although he had previously expected that she would step into his [Field], it was the opposite now — he hoped that she would not enter the [Field].
How pathetic is this, Brain mentally chastised himself. Still, even his desire to avenge himself could not ignite his fighting spirit. It was like a fire that had run out of fuel. He tsked, and used [Field] to monitor Shalltear’s movements.
Three steps, two steps, one step—
—She was in range.
As Brain stared at Shalltear’s neck, he noticed her mocking expression out of the corner of his eye.
—His target was the right ankle she was putting forward.
He swung down with his katana, using his body weight to further hasten his blow.
As he cast his stress aside, he was certain that this swing was faster than the previous one. Even he had no way of defending against a strike of that speed.
I can do it!
Just as he was about to slice off the girl’s delicate ankle that revealed itself from beneath the hem of her skirt—
—The hilt of Brain’s katana slid from his hands.
Brain’s line of sight did not move, and he had no idea what had happened. However, the special sensory abilities granted to him by [Field] made him acutely aware that his beloved katana was now on the ground, trod under a high-heeled foot.
It was impossible. Yet, it was an undeniable reality.
The reason Brain’s katana had slipped was because of the shock transmitted into his hands when that high-heeled shoe had stepped on it.
There was only one reason not to believe this.
That reason was: despite heightening his focus to its limit, he still had not sensed his opponent’s movements. Yes, not even within the [Field] of which he was so proud.
She was close enough that if she reached her hand out, she could touch him. Shalltear’s disdainful gaze landed on Brain from such a short distance. The startling pressure it generated threatened to crush the air along with Brain himself.
Brain’s breathing grew chaotic.
His sweat flowed like rain, soaking his entire body. His field of vision trembled and an intense feeling of nausea came over him.
He had been through several risky encounters before, so desperate situations were a common sight for him. However, those encounters were little more than child’s play compared to his present predicament.
The high-heeled shoe pulled off the blade, and Shalltear silently leapt away.
“—Are you done preparing yet?”
The third repetition of those words filled Brain with an incomparable sense of despair.
Next, she would say “Let the trampling begin.” However, just as Brain thought that would happen, he heard something completely different.
“Could it be that… you can’t use martial arts?”
That voice — filled with pity and surprise — made Brain draw a sudden breath.
He could give no reply. No, to be precise, he did not know what to say. Perhaps he could playfully reply like a clown: “Ah, I used them just now, but you defeated them easily.”
Biting his lower lip, Brain retrieved his katana.
“...Could it be that you’re not actually that strong? I thought you were stronger than those chaps at the entrance… Sorry about that, I measure strength in meters, so I can’t discern differences of a millimeter or two.”
He had worked so hard and so long.
During the showdown with Gazef, he was overly confident in his natural abilities, so he had not trained and lost to someone who had. As a result, his defeat had turned into his motivation.
The mindset he had developed, of standing up again from defeat — of earnestly honing his skills to produce results — were nothing but foolishness to the monster before him.
This can’t be happening. All along, I’ve been slaying those monsters who scorned me and mocked me for being weaker than them—
As those thoughts rose through Brain’s mind, he struggled to press them down, and in their place—
With a great shout, he made his move on Shalltear. Brain swung at Shalltear — who had a puzzled look on her face as she watched him attack — with all the force his body could muster.
His blow, which marshalled all the muscles of his entire body, could easily cut an armored human being in half.
Shalltear had no intention of evading that stunning strike. The way she watched the gleaming arc of white light descending upon her made Brain think that he might be able to land a hit.
However, the scene from earlier denied those thoughts of his. Could he really strike her so easily?
In the next moment, those fears were confirmed.
As a crisp ringing filled the air, Brain once more saw an unbelievable sight.
Shalltear had swiftly flicked the nail of her left little finger — roughly two centimeters long — with blinding speed. In addition, Shalltear did not seem to be using any strength at all; the rest of her hand was balled up into a fist, leaving only the little finger sticking out; and it was slightly bent.
With that motion — which did not even qualify as toying with him — she had parried that blow which Brain had struck with all his might.
Parried that blow which could cleave full plate armor, shatter swords, and break shields—
Struggling desperately to pull together his shattered will to fight, he focused his strength into his hands which trembled from the impact of Shalltear’s parry. He raised his katana high and brought it down, and then — Shalltear still casually deflected it.
Shalltear yawned in an exaggerated manner, even going so far as to pat her mouth with her right hand. She was intentionally staring at the ceiling now. It would seem she was no longer taking Brain seriously.
Even so — Brain’s katana had still been deflected.
By the little finger of her left hand—
A roar issue from Brain’s throat. No, it was not a roar, but a cry of despair.
Horizontal slash — parried.
Diagonal slash — parried.
Frontal slash — parried.
Diagonal cut — parried.
Vertical cut — parried.
Horizontal cut — parried.
No matter the angle, no matter the direction in which he made his attacks, all of them were deflected.
It felt as though his katana was being drawn to that nail, and in that moment Brain finally understood.
His opponent was truly powerful. Even his hard work and natural talents could not even bring him close to her feet, let alone onto her level.
“Ara~ tired already? Though come to think of it, this nail clipper’s pretty dull.”
Brain stopped swinging as he heard those surprising words.
Could one cut through a mountain with a sword? That was impossible; even a child knew that. Then, could he beat Shalltear? Any warrior who faced her would know that answer.
There was no way he could defeat her.
Human beings could not defeat entities who were beyond human imagination. If anyone was able to stand toe to toe with her, that someone must surely be a mighty individual who was beyond the realm of mankind. Regretfully, Brain was merely a warrior who stood at humanity’s peak.
Indeed, no matter how hard he worked, as long as he was still a human being, he would be nothing more than an infant flailing around with a stick.
“...I… trained so hard…”
“Trained hard? What a pointless statement. I was created strong, so there was no need to train hard in order to become stronger.”
Brain laughed as he heard this.
I tried so hard, and got so far. But in the end, it doesn’t even matter. How self-centered was I, thinking I was a genius?
His legs felt heavy, like they had been squashed by huge boulders.
“...? Ahahahaha, what are you crying for? Did something sad happen?”
He understood what Shalltear was saying. However, her voice was muffled, as though it were coming from far away.
Even his determination to train himself, the determination that let him burst the blisters on his hands to continue swinging a heavy iron bar, was meaningless. Wearing heavy armor and running long distances was meaningless. Defeating monsters by himself was also meaningless.
It was all meaningless. Therefore, Brain’s life was also meaningless.
In the face of a truly puissant being, Brain was no different from the powerless weaklings he used to mock.
“I’m an idiot…”
“...Are you done? Then it’s about time to wrap this up, no?”
Shalltear giggled as she advanced on him, her little finger extended. Brain cried out; not a warrior’s call to battle, but a child’s weeping.
Brain ran wildly.
He faced his back to Shalltear.
Having experienced Shalltear’s physical ability first-hand, he expected that she would catch up with him immediately.
Still, he paid that fact no heed. Or rather, Brain no longer had the energy to worry about that sort of thing. He simply revealed his defenseless back to her, scrunching his face up into a tear- and snot-filled mess as he desperately ran deeper into the cave.
Just then, an innocent girl’s voice, laced with bloodlust, came from behind Brain.
“Are we playing tag then? You’re going to play all sorts of games with me? Then I shall enjoy myself, ahahahaha~”
A cold wind blew through the main hall, slipping through the gaps in the barricade and washing over the surviving men of the Death-Spreading Brigade, all 42 of them.
The main hall was the most spacious part of the cave system, so it was commonly used as a dining area. However, it was now an emergency stronghold.
This series of caves — the sellswords’ hideout — was centered around this long and narrow hall. Several smaller caves radiated off along its sides, and they were used as personal rooms, armories and food storage. Therefore, if this place was taken, the other locations would also fall easily. When attacked, it thus made sense to designate this place as the linchpin of their final defensive line.
That said, it might have been called a stronghold, but it had not been built to the standards of one.
They had upended their crude tables and stacked up boxes to form a simple barricade. After that, they had strung up several chest-height ropes between the entrance to the main hall and the barricade, in order to ward off anyone who might try to charge the barricade. Once the enemy ran into the obstacles, the defenders could avoid being drawn into a melee.
Almost everyone was arrayed behind this defensive formation, holding their crossbows as they waited in the center, left and right wings.
Even if it came to a shooting match, the dimensions of the main hall and the size of the entrance gave an overwhelming advantage to the defenders in the hall. In addition, now that they had all spread out, the attackers would end up taking fire from all the defenders no matter where they decided to attack. Even area-effect attacks would have trouble taking them out because they were spread out. This troop arrangement was designed to provide covering fire, and it was called a crossfire formation.
It was a simple battle array, but it could hold off an enemy force larger than itself.
And then, disquieted looks began appearing on the men’s faces.
As the men trembled, their chain shirts quivered along with them, producing the rustle of links sliding over other links.
The interior of the cave was cool, and quite comfortable even on summer days. However, what they felt now was not exactly coldness.
Just now, peals of laughter had rung in from the outside. Due to the echoes within the cave, it was transformed into a shrill, sexless laughter, which was what had chilled them to their bones.
They believed that since the strongest man in the Death-Spreading Brigade — Brain Unglaus — had sortied, there was no need for them to build a barricade or the like.
That laughter had shattered their conviction.
Brain was unbeatable. That was what they believed.
Brain was far stronger than an ordinary man. Even Imperial knights could not possibly defeat him. Not even monsters could. He could slay an Ogre in one hit, charge into a Goblin horde by himself and mow them down like grass. If the entire Death-Spreading Brigade crossed blades with him, he might well end up taking all their heads. What else could they call him but their strongest man?
But if such a man had been defeated, what did that mean?
The fact that someone could fight Brain and still laugh like that could only mean one thing.
Everybody knew it, but nobody dared to say it.
All they could do was look silently at each other.
The eyes of everyone gathered here went wordlessly to the entrance of the hall — in the direction of the rest of the cave.
The tension in the air thickened, and then—
The sound of running came toward them, growing louder and louder.
Someone gulped loudly. The sounds of several crossbow strings being drawn back could be heard amidst the silence.
As the sellswords watched the hall’s entrance, a man sprinted into view, panting heavily. It was a miracle that nobody had loosed their bolts at him.
The man who shouted was the head of the mercenaries — the Brigade’s leader. Soon, a great cheer exploded through the hall. Their jubilant cheers came from their belief that he had defeated the intruder.
There were sounds of voices congratulating Brain, as well as those of hands patting each other on the shoulder.
They chanted Brain’s name over and over again. Amidst this praise, Brain stood at the entrance to the hall, holding his weapon in one powerless hand as he quietly surveyed the faces of the sellswords around him.
No, that was not right. His expression suggested that he was looking for something.
The cheering died down as though suppressed, as the sellswords picked up on Brain’s strange mood.
Brain ran for the barricade.
“Oi! Wait up, we’ll open up for you!”
Brain paid those words no heed as he squirmed into the barricade, forcing his way through without wasting a single moment before continuing his run.
He felt the sellswords stare dumbly at him as he opened a door. It led to a cave which was being used as a storeroom, and he rushed inside.
“What’s wrong? Did he put something in there?”
“Who knows? It feels weird, though… was he crying? Nah, that couldn’t be!”
They stuck their heads out to look at the closing door, but the mercenaries were thoroughly baffled by the strange event which had transpired before them.
Only one person here was frowning; the brigade’s leader. This was because only he — no, Brain knew as well, so that made two — had an idea of what was going on. However, he did not have the time to verify his suspicions.
The sound of slow, graceful steps drew close, followed by the slow appearance of a stranger in the entrance.
None of them had any idea who that person was. Since nobody in the band knew this stranger, it was clear that it was the intruder who had sparked this disturbance, and the commotion vanished in an instant.
Impossible. If that were really the case, that would mean that the reason why Brain was here had now taken a 180-degree turn. If the intruder was still alive, it meant that he had fled here.
In addition, there was only one intruder, its back hunched in a bizarre way.
It was not tall and looked like a girl. Her arms hung limply below her, as did her head. The strange thing was that given the position of her head and the bottom of her neck, it looked like the latter was three times longer than that of a regular human being.
She had a full head of lustrous silver hair which dragged along the ground as she slowly entered the hall. She wore an exquisitely-crafted dress, which seemed to be wreathed in darkness.
A wave of heart-stopping cold accompanied this dreadful visage.
Her head slowly came up, her face obscured by the strands of silvery hair. Through them, they could see a pair of red lights, which slowly narrowed down to needle-sharpness.
Everyone knew what this meant — much to their misfortune.
She was laughing.
That frightening girl raised her head, revealing a beautiful face. However, nothing could be more revolting to the people who had just seen the state of her. Those elegant features looked like a mask sculpted by a top-rate artist.
“Good evening, everyone. My name is Shalltear Bloodfallen. Is this the finishing point? Does this mean the game of tag is over?”
As she spouted those bewildering lines, the girl — Shalltear — looked around. However, that beautiful face of hers wrinkled, probably because she had not found the person she was looking for. In the unbroken silence, the girl’s voice rang forth once more.
“Are we playing hide and seek noooooooow?”
She giggled merrily, seemingly amused by this. Shalltear lowered her head and laughed and laughed and laughed, her silver hair shrouding her face.
As the sellswords gasped at the sight before them, Shalltear’s laughter grew ever louder.
Her full-bellied mirth echoed through the hall as the girl slowly raised her head again.
The face they saw made the sellswords feel like their hearts were being crushed in their chests, and that ice water was filling their veins.
That face was no longer beautiful. The color flowing out of her pupils had dyed her eyes completely red, and the two neat rows of white teeth in her mouth now resembled a set of delicate syringe needles, like a shark’s gaping maw. A lewd pink glow leaked from her throat as transparent saliva drooled from her mouth.
Shalltear bared her fangs and grinned, so wide that the corners of her mouth almost touched her ears. She laughed several dozen times, like the tolling of an off-key bell.
Whimpers of despair filled the air of the hall.
Though they were in a cavern, it seemed as though even the air could not bear it and joined in with the resounding echoes.
It was none of them.
This was terror incarnate—
Despite the distance between them, they could scent blood on her breath. Due to the intensity of the stench, it seemed as though even the air was turning red.
Overcome by panic, one of the sellswords screamed and depressed the lever on his crossbow.
The bolt tore through the air and embedded itself deep into Shalltear’s chest. The impact made her waver slightly.
Upon hearing their leader’s voice, the sellswords came to their senses, chased away their fear, and fired their crossbows as one.
The bolts which shot out roared like a downpour, riddling Shalltear’s body with projectiles.
Of the 40 bolts fired, 31 of them had hit, each piercing deeply into her body. At this range, the bolts could even go through metal armor, so this was the logical outcome.
In addition, the four which had entered her head would have been fatal for a human being.
Someone breathed, “We killed it…”
Those words were the hope which all of them were clinging to. Although their foe was still standing, so many bolts stuck out of it that it resembled a porcupine. By common sense, it should have been definitively dead.
Still, while that thought filled their minds, the smoking cinders of fear within their hearts could not be extinguished.
As though driven by some acute sixth sense, the sellswords began reloading their crossbows.
And then — Shalltear moved.
Like a conductor preparing to direct a performance, she slowly spread her arms. The bolts which covered her body began working their way out and then fell to the ground. None of them had so much as a single drop of blood on them, nor were their heads dented. It was as though they had never been used at all.
Shalltear laughed, and a vile, predator's snarl appeared on her face.
Scattered cries of terror rose from the frightened sellswords. As though urged on by those cries, countless bolts ripped through the air toward Shalltear once more.
The numberless projectiles impaled her eyeballs, pierced her throat, penetrated her abdomen and sank into her shoulders. Yet the girl who had met such a grisly fate merely seemed annoyed, as though she had been caught in a drizzle.
“It’s uselessssssss~ But you still try so haaaaaaarrrrrrd~”
She took a step forward, and then — she leapt.
The ceiling was about five meters above the cave floor. The girl jumped high enough to reach out and touch it easily. She sailed gracefully through the air and landed on the other side of the barricade. As her high heels clacked on the ground, all the bolts stuck in her fell off as well.
She turned to look at the soldiers behind her, who were reloading their crossbows.
She stepped forward — and punched.
She did not even put her back into it. It was a simple, casual punch. That said, it was possessed of extraordinary speed and its destructive power was out of this world.
Her hand pierced the body of the sellsword she had punched, sending him flying into the barricade. With a heaven-shaking crash, the wood of the barricade disintegrated, spraying splinters everywhere.
Only the silence of wood chips falling to the ground could be heard in the silence that filed the hall.
The stunned sellswords stopped reloading their crossbows, staring dumbly at Shalltear.
Shalltear stuck her index finger into the mass of blood floating above her and drew out a strand of blood, which turned into a character before her. It looked like a Sanskrit character or a similar symbol, and it was called a Magic Rune.
Shalltear possessed a class called Blood Drinker, and this was one of its skills: Blood Pool. This orb of enchanted blood could store the blood of victims for various purposes. It could also drain mana from the blood, so one could use skills that augmented spells without consuming extra MP.
“[Penetrate Magic - Implosion].”
After casting this 10th tier spell — which was of the highest tier of magic — the bodies of ten mercenaries began swelling up from inside.
There was no time for them to cry out. All they could do was watch their bodies expand inexorably, looks of ignorant terror on their faces. Then, in the next moment, their bodies burst, like balloons popping.
“Hahahahhhahahaahaha! Firewoooooorks! How prettyyyyyyyy~”
Shalltar pointed to the spraying blood, applauding and cackling as she did.
Following that cry, an estoc impaled Shalltear’s chest from behind — piercing her heart. It sawed up and down, as though to widen the wound.
“Die, you monster!”
The broadsword swing after that nearly clove Shalltear’s head in half, its point stopping after it pierced her left eye.
“You lot, hurry up and get stuck in!”
As wails and cries rose from them, three mercenaries hacked at Shalltear’s body with the weapons they had at hand.
They swung over and over again, but Shalltear still stood firm, despite having a broadsword buried halfway into that face of hers. Said face bore a frightening smile, with no sign that she was in pain at all.
After they tired of attacking her, the sellswords cast down their swords and switched to punching and kicking her, the tears streaming down their faces. Though they were much larger than she was, Shalltear remained unmoved. It was as though the sellswords were assaulting a huge boulder.
Shalltear tilted her head to look at the mercenaries and began thinking. Then she clapped her hands together, having thought of some devilish scheme.
“Hahaha, hahaha, hahahahaha!”
She exhaled, as though expelling the heat from within her. The thick stench of gore made the people around her nauseous.
Shalltear carelessly wrenched out the broadsword stuck in her head. Once it was gone, there was no sign that she had ever been wounded in the first place.
Just as she was about to swing it, she halted halfway. Rust covered the broadsword, and it slowly crumbled away. In her blood-addled mind, she thought about a penalty from one of her job classes — Cursed Knight — and she tossed it away in a vaguely disappointed manner. Then, she casually flicked one of those delicate ivory hands of hers.
And thus, three skulls rolled to the ground.
“Run away! Run away! Run for your lives!”
“We can’t beat a monster like that!”
The sellswords screamed and fled in all directions.
Having lost all will to fight, one of the running men was seized from behind by Shalltear, who grasped his head with both her hands and squeezed. His head popped open like a shellfish having its carapace cracked open, and his brains squirted out.
“Hahahahahahahahaha! Whaaaaat’s that look on your faces, are you scaaaaared~? Wait a minute, hahahahahaha! Hang on a bit, I’m iiiiiiiiitttt—! Hahaha, hahaha, hahahahaha!”
Their curiosity piqued by that sinister voice, the sellswords turned to see a stomach-churning sight. The blood-drunk queen of nightmares chased them down, not allowing a single mercenary to escape.
One of the fleeing men stumbled, rolling beneath Shalltear’s feet.
“Spare me! Please! I won’t do anything bad again!”
As she looked on the man, crying and whimpering for mercy as he grabbed her leg, Shalltear’s face split into a predatory grin. The sellsword immediately understood what that smile meant and his face turned an ashen gray.
“—So hiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh uuuuuupppppp~”
Still clutching her leg, the man was lifted bodily into the air. With one hand clutching his back, she threw him lightly at the ceiling.
Unable to resist her supernatural arm-strength, the mercenary finally let go and squeezed his eyes shut. After a brief period of weightlessness, he felt the pull of gravity dragging him down again; and then his hand struck the ground, sending a gout of pain through his body.
Being able to feel pain was proof that he was still alive. The mercenary, grateful for being able to escape death, eased his eyes open ever-so-slightly, and then he realized that he had been celebrating too soon. This was because Shalltear’s slender ivory-white hands had gently embraced him, not allowing him to fully touch the ground.
He had not escaped from the clutches of this terrifying monster.
No, not just that — a gaping maw opened before him, looking like a lump of clotted blood, radiating a stench he had never encountered before.
“Hahaha, hahaha, how fuuuuuuuuun~ Did you really think you could die so easilyyyyyyyyy~ Nooooooooooope~” she said as she stuck her tongue out at him.
“Spare, spare me—”
“Noooooooooope— I haven’t fed in soooooooooo looooooong~”
Her mouth opened until it was past her ears, until it was big enough to gulp an entire skull down.
♦ ♦ ♦
Nobody here knew this.
Nobody here knew that the monsters called True Ancestors in the DMMORPG YGGDRASIL were physical incarnations of disaster.
The mouth that opened to the height of her ears was in a semi-circular shape, and the two canines within it were long enough that they reached her chin. Her brilliant scarlet eyes were the color of blood, and the fingertips of her dried-wood arms sprouted claws that were about ten centimeters long. She looked like she was hunched over whenever she moved, and leapt at her prey in a flying charge.
That was the the posture she had.
Vampires were monsters which were crossbreeds of humans and bats, and the high-tier Origin Vampires looked more monstrous than the others.
The only Vampire-type monsters which could be said to be beautiful were Shalltear’s concubines, the Vampire Brides.
The only reason why Shalltear the True Vampire looked so beautiful was because her guild member who designed her was skilled at drawing and turning his art into reality.
Shalltear’s current appearance was her original look as a True Vampire. In other words, her usual appearance was merely a sham.
♦ ♦ ♦
Like a rubber toy, or a bloated, disgusting leech, Shalltear gnawed at the sellsword’s throat.
It was not clear if the sellsword first felt dozens of needles pierce his throat, or if he heard the gross sound of his blood being drained away in an instant.
The man felt his very existence being siphoned away, and the chilling dread of that realization instilled a terror in him which he had never felt before.
However, even as he tried to struggle, his limbs grew heavy and his eyesight darkened.
After draining him dry, Shalltear tossed aside the dessicated corpse, licking off a stray drop of blood with a moist, gleaming tongue. Then, she smiled brightly at the other sellswords, who did not know if they should flee.
“Sooooooooo~ maaanyyyyy~ mooooooore~ snaaaaaacks~ for meeeeeeee~”
Countless screams of anger and cries of despair echoed through the great hall—
♦ ♦ ♦
Shalltear grinned evilly as she stood within the silent hall which was now devoid of any movement. The orb of blood above her head had absorbed a lot of fresh gore, to the point where it was only a little smaller than her head.
“Thaaaaaaat waaaaas fuuuuuuuuuun~”
After hearing Shalltear’s exclamation of delight, the Vampire Bride — who had been stationed at the hall’s entrance to prevent anyone from escaping — lowered her head and added:
“I am glad that you enjoyed yourself, my noble master.”
“Time for the maaaaaaiiiiiiin diiiiiishhhh~”
Shalltear wrenched open the door to the storeroom into which Brain had fled, bursting the lock off. The hinges still hung from the door in Shalltear’s hand.
The storeroom was cramped, with several bags and boxes within.
It was here that Shalltear smelled something surprising — fresh air, scented with dust, the aroma of the wind from outdoors. At the same time, the spoor of a human grew fainter. Shalltear might have lost herself in her Blood Frenzy, but she still remembered the mission assigned to her.
With a furious roar, Shalltear shoved away the obstacles in her path, and advanced to the place from which the wind blew.
She found a hole behind the boxes, which had been blocked up by sandstone less than a meter ahead. The fresh air flowed in from a gap in the rock.
“An escaaaaaaaaape tunneeeeeellllll—?!”
The Lesser Vampire had not been lying — he did not know there was an escape passage here.
A problem one often ran into with the use of magical charms was that one could only learn what the subject already knew. The target could not give answers which they did not have, and if they believed a falsehood to be the truth, then the questioner would only learn the falsehood.
Unlike Mare, Shalltear did not have any magic to move the earth, If she tried to clear it with a shockwave, it might drop the entire ceiling on them.
He had escaped.
Those words floated to the fore within her bloodsoaked thoughts. To some extent, Shalltear understood that she had failed in her part of the mission.
Shalltear snarled in anger.
Why was this pitiful insect of a human being not moving in accordance to the wishes of Shalltear, a Guardian of Nazarick?
All I want is to turn your unnecessary lives into a feeble contribution to the glory of Nazarick; why don’t you understand and rejoice in that fact?
Shalltear ground her teeth, and then the Vampire Bride who had been assigned to lookout duty called out from behind her.
The fact that one of her Vampire Brides had left her post incensed Shalltear, and her vision turned red as she briefly entertained the idea of killing her. In the end, she managed to bank the flames of her wrath with great effort. If she had left her position for an important matter, then she should be spared.
“Whaaaaaaat — is iiiiiiiiiiit?”
“Several people are headed this way.”
“Hm~ Leftover survivoooooooors~? Theeeeeeen~ let’s go out and meet theeeeeeeeeem—! Ahahaha, hahaha, hahahahaha!”
Shalltear leapt up, and like a little bird flitting through the night, she hopped over the log barricade at the cave entrance. The Vampire Brides which accompanied her slowly advanced forward.
Shalltear looked on her targets with a smile.
They were a disciplined, well-trained party.
The frontliners comprised three male warriors, each equipped with different gear, but all of them had on a hauberk of scale armor, with a weapon in hand and a large shield on their backs.
Behind them was a red-haired female warrior in banded armor.
There was a lightly-dressed man holding a staff in the rear. He was probably an arcane magic caster. Beside him was a divine magic caster who wore a cleric’s robe over his armor and had a holy symbol shaped like a flame around his neck.
There were six of them in total, and although they were surprised at the sight of Shalltear as she emerged from the cave, they calmly went on alert, a movement born of accumulated experience.
Although it was not bad to slaughter weak humans, who had the consistency of tofu, more resilient opponents like this were more interesting.
WIth a look of anticipation in her crimson eyes, Shalltear directed a predatory grin at the people before them.
Shock appeared on the face of the arcane magic caster, but only for a moment, and then his expression hardened.
“Enemy: probable Vampire! Only silver or magic weapons effective! Unbeatable opponent! Fighting withdrawal! Don’t look at her eyes!”
—A cry rang forth, easily audible by anyone in this depression.
The shouted commands had been pared down to the bare minimum, and everyone swiftly reacted to them. The warrior at the lead unlimbered his large shield and took a defensive stance. He averted his eyes, looking instead at Shalltear’s chest and belly.
During this time, the female warrior behind them had taken up the weapon passed to her by the warrior in front and began applying something to it.
An unpleasant odor wafted into Shalltear’s nose.
It was alchemical silver.
This was a sticky salve made by alchemists. The magical substance spread across the weapon when applied, coating it in a thin membrane and making it function as though it were made of silver.
Weapons made of silver were not only more expensive than regular weapons, but they were softer than steel and not suitable for long-term use. Therefore, many adventurers purchased salves like this and applied them to their weapons when the need arose, allowing them to temporarily take on the properties of silver.
Wielding weapons which now radiated a silver gleam, the group moved to corral their foe as they fell back.
Their fighting withdrawal was an impressive display. The party seemed to be like a single organism as they fell back in an orderly manner.
“My Lord, O God of Fire—”
“Enough with the useless stuff, hurry up and cast a defensive spell!”
The arcane magic caster restrained the cleric — who was planning to raise his holy symbol — and then began casting a spell on the frontliners. The cleric followed suit.
Although the exact composition varied between jobs, most clerics could use divine power to turn, rebuke or destroy creatures such as undead, demons, angels and the like. However, these abilities only worked on monsters weaker than themselves. In other words, the arcane magic caster had seen the cleric preparing to turn undead with divine might, instantly divined the difference in strength between their foes and themselves, and then instructed him to do something else with his power.
As she watched this series of actions, Shalltear eyed the leader of the party, intending to capture him in accordance with her orders. However, the murderous impulse to spill more blood slowly dyed her heart a crimson red.
She wanted to slaughter them, pulverize them, dismember them, and bathe in their blood. Her breathing grew ragged and she began foaming at the mouth.
“[Lesser Mind Protection].”
The two magic casters laid their spells upon the frontline warriors.
A vague hunt of respect bloomed in Shalltear’s overexcited mind. Although these spells were of the lowest tier — the 1st tier, in fact — they were still the most suitable magic for the current situation. They were unlike the sellswords who had lashed out thoughtlessly, or that stupid warrior who had come out by himself without even knowing martial arts.
Still — no mattered how hard they struggled, meaningless actions were still meaningless. Against a foe who was so overwhelmingly superior to them, nothing they did could possibly mean anything.
Their adorable show of resistance was the last straw that broke the back of Shalltear’s wavering self-control.
“I can’t… I can’t take itttttttttt— I can’t hold back any moooore~!”
With a cry like she had torn free of her bindings, Shalltear stepped forward.
Her steps were light and easy, like a dancer’s. However, to the people before her, she moved faster than the wind.
She thrust out a spear hand.
It pierced her victim’s shield, shattered his armor, ignored his magical protections, ripped straight through his skin, muscle and bone, and closed around the heart which had been beating just a moment ago. And then — she tore it out. As she stood over the body of the collapsed warrior, Shalltear held up the reddish-black mass of tissue — deformed in her grip — before the others. The female warrior whimpered in fear, while the priest’s face twisted in anger.
Shalltear had expected these reactions. Satisfaction filled her as she watched them, and with a revolting smile, she cast a spell.
The warrior who had lost his heart slowly stood back up, now transformed into a Zombie, the lowest-tier of undead. Yet, she was not finished.
Shalltear gulped down the heart she was holding, and then reached into the orb of blood floating above her. What she brought back down was a pulsing lump of gore — a caricature of a heart. She then tossed the lump into the Zombie.
The blood-lump writhed like a maggot, then distorted itself as it flowed into the Zombie’s body. In an instant, the Zombie shuddered, its body spasming several times before its exterior slowly changed.
It seemed as though all the water had evaporated from its body, given how its skin had turned into something which resembled dried bark. It sprouted sharp claws and its canines jutted out. Before long, the undead creature before them could no longer be considered a Zombie.
As they watched the birth of a Lesser Vampire, the adventurers exclaimed in shock.
“Impossible! I’ve never heard of a Vampire which could use such high-tier magic without cost!”
“You’re looking at one right now, so don’t panic! Calm down and think!”
“—Retreat’s going to be hard! Attack!”
The cleric panicked. Perhaps the others had been influenced by that, but one of the warriors swung at Shalltear. The other attacked his former comrade, who was now a Lesser Vampire.
“My Lord, O God of Fire, repel the unclean!”
The cleric held up his holy symbol, which emitted a burst of divine power. Of course, it had no effect on Shalltear.
The sword of one of the warriors bit into the body of the Lesser Vampire, which had been immobilized, possibly by the cleric’s divine power. This was a half-baked Lesser Vampire which had been made from a Zombie, which was why the divine power was actually effective, but the knowledge that the Zombie she had made had lost to divine power displeased Shalltear.
She flicked her little finger, parrying the sword pointed at her, and then glared annoyedly at the cleric who stood in the back line.
She casually swiped her right hand, but this careless blow was enough to behead the sword-wielding warrior, sending him to the ground in a spray of blood.
That buff spell was cast on the final warrior, who was now fighting a slowed-down Lesser Vampire with his own enhanced body. The warrior had the upper hand, and pressed his advantage.
Since they seemed to be having fun, Shalltear decided to leave them be. After all, there was still prey remaining. Her mind clouded with bloodlust, Shalltear turned to the cleric before her.
The female warrior stepped forward, putting herself into the line of fire, though she only wielded an ordinary steel weapon.
How adorable, she’s still taking a stance with a sword despite her fear — though that was ultimately the pitiful resistance of a small animal. A wave of heat and delight grew in Shalltear’s lower abdomen.
What sounds would she make when she chewed off her fingertips? Maybe she could cut off her ears and feed them to her. No, she should drink her blood first. After all, she was the first female prey she had encountered since she had come to the outside.
“You’ll be my desseeeeeeeeerrrrrtttttt~” Shalltear bellowed from her gaping maw as she leapt over the woman.
Easily leaping over the female warrior, Shalltear landed before the arcane magic caster and the cleric.
Before the cleric could react, Shalltear already had the hand holding his holy symbol in her grasp, and she squeezed. The cleric’s bones disintegrated under that irresistible force, and shreds of muscle and skin squirted from the gaps between Shalltear’s fingers.
After hearing the cleric’s cries, Shalltear was quite pleased with herself, and decided to grant him mercy and end his torment.
With a wave of her hand, the blood spurting from the stump of the cleric’s neck flowed into the orb of blood above Shalltear’s head. She nodded in delight.
At this point, somebody thrust a sword into Shalltear’s back with all their strength. However, attacks like that were completely ineffective against her. Shalltear stood firm like a great tree, though she found the swordpoint protruding from her chest a minor inconvenience.
“No way… not working?! Isn’t this a silver weapon!?”
The sword had pierced her chest — and her heart, as it turned out — but Shalltear’s nonchalance drew a garbled scream from the female warrior.
Since the female warrior did not have a silver weapon, she must have taken it from the body of the slain warrior.
The arcane magic caster was correct, but he was not entirely right. In order to harm Shalltear, a weapon had to be made of silver and possess sufficient mana, or it would require a weapon with a powerful elemental enchantment. Simply being made of silver was not enough.
Shalltear paid the female warrior behind her no heed, and looked at the shocked arcane magic caster.
In desperation, the magic caster cast a spell, sending two arrows of light streaking at Shalltear. However, they were easily resisted.
This was the result of one of Shalltear’s special abilities — spell resistance. It was not a perfect defense, and depended on the attacker’s own strength. However, given the precipitous gap between their power levels, she could easily resist spells from him.
In other words, there was nothing the arcane magic caster could do to Shalltear.
“Sooooooo~ booooooooooor~ iiiiiiiiiiing~!”
With a casual wave of her hand, Shalltear relieved the person who no longer interested her of his head.
Looking back, she saw that the Lesser Vampire was still struggling with the other warrior.
Shalltear picked up the two fallen heads on the ground and tossed them at the two combatants. The heads — massing about six kilograms each — flew forth with supernatural speed. Then, as expected, both sides collapsed to the ground.
While Shalltear was not paying attention, the dessert (the female warrior) flailed wildly at Shalltear’s body with her sword.
Still, what good did that do?
It did not hurt or even bother Shalltear, and it was a meaningless gesture. The only effect it had was opening up holes in her clothes, but as long as Shalltear herself was fine, the magic clothing would automatically restore itself.
“Now theeeeeen~ desseeeeeerrrrrtttttt~! Let’s eeeeeeaaaaatttt~!”
Shalltear sounded like a child leaving their favorite food for the last — however, she had a nauseating, wicked smile on her face as she turned to face the female warrior who was hacking away at her back.
As the female warrior met Shalltear’s crimson gaze, the female warrior realised that she was the sole survivor, and stumbled back, eyes glistening with tears. She scrabbled at her waistpouch, fishing around inside for something.
Shalltear leisurely savored the blood-dimmed world before her. She seemed curious about what the woman was doing.
Soon, the female warrior pulled out a bottle and threw it.
Shalltear narrowed her eyes at the bottle tumbling through the air, and smiled coldly.
Although the female warrior had hurled it with all her strength, the speed at which the bottle travelled seemed almost unbearably slow to Shalltear. She could have easily dodged it, but her pride as one of the strong did not allow her to avoid it. In addition, she wanted to see the look on the woman’s face when her final trump card crumbled before her eyes.
The urge to slaughter grew and grew.
However, Shalltear tamped it down. After all, the more she controlled herself, the sweeter her delight would be when she finally indulged herself.
Shalltear watched the bottle flying at herself, and idly contemplated it.
It was probably holy water, or some sort of firebomb. She refused to give up despite knowing her struggles did not matter, and continued her pitiful resistance. Perhaps she should start by making her suffer until she prayed for death before slowly tasting her blood. If she was a virgin, she would drain her dry, but if not there were all sorts of lovely games they could play together, as long as she minimized the amount of blood lost.
Having made her decision, Shalltear swatted aside the flying bottle. The force of swiping at the bottle caused the crimson fluid within it to spill from the bottle’s mouth and splash on Shalltear’s skin.
And then — there was a faint stinging pain.
The insides of Shalltear’s mind went white for a moment, and her bloodlust was instantly extinguished.
She looked at the place from which the pain had come, which was the hand which had batted the bottle aside. An acrid odor and a wisp of smoke boiled up from the place where the liquid had touched her.
Shalltear turned to look at the fallen bottle. Its mouth was open, and a faint, sweet scent came from it. Shalltear was very familiar with that container.
It was a potion bottle of the kind commonly used in the Great Tomb of Nazarick.
The liquid within should have been a low-tier healing potion. Since healing items could damage the undead, it was probably why Shalltear’s skin had been slightly dissolved.
Her roar shook the very air.
“Capture that woman unharmed!”
Upon hearing Shalltear’s command, the Vampire Brides — who had only been watching from the sidelines up till now — sprang into action. In an instant, they had seized the arms of the female warrior while she attempted to flee during Shalltear’s brief stupor.
The female warrior struggled valiantly, but the Vampire Brides’ strength far outmatched hers, and they dragged her before Shalltear.
“Look into my eyes!”
Shalltear seized the female warrior’s chin and forced her to look into her mystic eyes. Of course, she was very careful to control the amount of force that she used. It would be quite troublesome if she ended up wrenching the woman’s jaw off because she used too much strength.
This was because Shalltear could not use regular healing spells, despite being a divine magic caster.
A thin film seemed to cover the eyes of the female warrior as she was forced to meet Shalltear’s enchanted gaze. The look of fear and hostility on her face soon became one of friendliness. This was the charming effect of the [Mystic Eyes of Charm] skill, and Shalltear ordered the female warrior released once she felt it had taken full effect.
There were many questions she wanted to ask, However, one burned ahead of all the others.
Shalltear picked up the fallen bottle and held it before the female warrior’s face.
“Tell me about this potion! Who did you get it from?!”
“A man in black armor gave it to me at the inn.”
What about it? The female warrior’s answer seemed to leave that unsaid, and Shalltear’s body seemed to freeze over.
“...No way… no, this can’t be… but… where… in which city is this inn?”
“It was an inn located in E-Rantel.”
Shalltear gasped in shock as she felt the world spin. This was because she had a rough idea of who the black-armored man actually was.
If her guess was correct, that only raised more questions. Why did this woman have this potion? That person would not give out potions for no reason.
“Could it be…”
Had that person given the female warrior an order? Or perhaps he had given it to her in order to strengthen their good relations?
Shalltear recalled the dashing image of Ainz Ooal Gown, the absolute ruler of the Great Tomb of Nazarick. The unease she felt at possibly having ruined one of her master’s plans filled her with limitless frustration.
“Why did you come here? What was your objective?”
She was no longer in the mood to dance around the topic. She had to find out as much as possible, and so she stared at the female warrior with eyes that were now bloodshot for a completely different reason.
“Yes. Our job is to protect the city, so we came to investigate when we heard there was a bandit's’ nest nearby. In the end, we found something strange, so we split up our team. Our party was responsible for a reconnaissance in force, which brought us here.”
“You split your team?”
“Yes. We didn’t know how many bandits were present, so we decided to split up and draw the enemy into a trapped area the other party was setting up.”
“So there’s another team,” Shalltear muttered. She clicked her tongue as she realised that this meant more trouble for her.
“Then, how many of you came here?”
“There were seven people including me, and then—”
“Hm? Wait, seven people? Not six?”
Shalltear counted the corpses around them. Three warriors, one mage, one cleric — and this woman. The numbers did not add up.
The female warrior’s answer to Shalltear’s doubt-filled gaze was direct and to the point:
“Yes, there was also a ranger. He said that he would hurry back to E-Rantel for help if an emergency occurred.”
The arcane magic caster’s voice had been very loud — loud enough that everyone in the depression could hear him.
Eyes wide open, Shalltear charged up the sides of the lowlands, faster than the wind. She leapt over the edge and looked around, but even her darkvision-capable eyes could not penetrate the depths of the forest, and though she listened carefully, she could only hear the wind blowing on the grass and trees.
Shalltear did not possess any detection abilities or divination magic. Under these circumstances, finding a single person in the entire forest would probably be impossible.
“Son of a bitch!” she cursed.
He had escaped; she had been too careless. Shalltear ground her teeth as she realized that she had let two of her prey slip away.
Several shadows wavered into existence near Shalltear’s feet. The shapes of several wolves appeared, but unlike regular wolves, their fur was black as night, and their eyes radiated a malevolent crimson glow.
They were level 7 monsters, Vampire Wolves.
One of the skills Shalltear possessed was called [Household Summons], which allowed her to call forth various monsters. However, these were the ones best suited to tracking and pursuit.
“Hunt down and kill everyone in the forest!”
Upon hearing the shouted order, the ten Vampire Wolves surged into the woods as one.
As she watched the Vampire Wolves leave, Shalltear felt that there was very little chance that they could eliminate the opposition. She thought of Aura, and mused that even if he was not as talented as her, the opponent was still a ranger, and ought to know how to evade pursuit.
In other words, he would probably escape. If that was the case, what should she do next? Shalltear hurriedly returned and seized the female warrior before asking:
“Did anyone else receive a potion or other items from the man in black armor?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Really now! Then, next question, will that ranger link up with the other party?”
“No. Our plan was that if either of the parties was in danger of being wiped out, he would abandon the other one and return to the city. That choice had the highest chance of keeping us alive.”
They had made meticulous preparations in case they failed, and it was this careful planning which had left her powerless to respond. As Shalltear realized this, anger burned within her.
“How dare you miserable humans come up with so many tricky ideas — if I earn the right to rule you, I’ll treat you like the worms that you are!”
Still, even venting her spleen would not change the present circumstances.
The opposition would bring news that there was a Vampire here back to the city.
Although Shalltear did not know if the opposition had clearly seen her face, human eyesight would probably not be able to discern the identity of Shalltear in the depression.
Shalltear cursed again, and then continued to think.
The orders Ainz had given her were—
Your prey this time are criminals and other undesirables whose absence will not be missed.
For instance, if you encounter anyone among the bandits who can use magic or martial arts, you are to capture them at all costs, even if you have to drain them dry and make them your slaves. You are also to capture anyone who knows about this world and who is skilled in combat. However, do not make waves; if people know Nazarick is making a move, it might cause a lot of trouble for us.
—And that was it.
That being the case, she had already violated many aspects of those orders.
Shalltear struggled to resist the impulse to scratch at her head.
“It’s still okay, it’s still okay, it’s still okay.”
She seemed to be trying to persuade herself.
Perhaps the other side would bring the news of a Vampire back, but her name and the involvement of Nazarick would not be exposed.
In other words, she had not left any clues which would link the Vampire attack here to Nazarick. If the people in the city thought about it, they would only conclude that the sellswords here had been slaughtered by a wild Vampire — if one existed in the area.
There were inconsistencies anywhere, but the opposition would not be able to find them without gathering more information.
Shalltear continued thinking.
The question now was what to do with this woman under the current conditions.
Though she was currently charmed, this woman had not completely lost her memory. The quickest way would be to kill her, but that posed problems of its own; namely, why Shalltear’s master had given this woman that potion.
If her master had given her the potion for some reason or purpose, then killing this woman would obstruct her master’s goals, which would be very bad.
If she let her go, her employers would definitely ask why she was the only one who had survived. In addition, she knew a lot — in particular, Shalltear’s appearance. While that was not a problem now, nobody could tell how that situation might develop in the future.
The best way would be to contact her master, but Shalltear could not use the [Message] spell.
Then what should she do—
“Ahhhh— Ainz-sama is going to scold me…”
Shalltear muttered so softly that nobody could hear, grabbing her head in agonized thought.
“If only I didn’t have this [Blood Frenzy]... no, saying that would be disrespectful to my creator, Peroroncino-sama. If only I could control this [Blood Frenzy]…”
It was too late for any regrets, and no matter how she dealt with this woman, it seemed a scolding would be inevitable. The question now was how to minimize the damage which had been done.
“Worse” was still better than the “worst”.
Shalltear thought and thought, until it seemed smoke would start to come out of her ears, before coming to a conclusion.
Rather than killing her, letting her live gave her more options. She could not take back the fact that she had killed her, but sparing her allowed room for the situation to play out.
That was what Shalltear had decided. Or rather, this was how desperately she was trying to delude herself.
“What is your name?”
“Got it… I’ll remember it!”
Shalltear ordered the girl called Britta to stay where she was, then brought her two Vampire Bride servants some distance away:
“In any case, let’s recover everything here and then retreat right away.”
She had her doubts about whether there would be time for that. However, she still had to take a chance and hope that the opposition would think that wealth had been her objective. Though she had failed in her mission, she still had to make plans to spread false information.
“Shalltear-sama, what should we do with the women?”
As she heard the question, Shalltear looked to Britta in the distance.
“Leave her be.”
“No, I was referring to the other women.”
“—What? What other women?”
“Yes, Shalltear-sama. I searched the interior to root out any fish who slipped our net, and I found several women who seem to have been used to satisfy the men’s lusts. What should we do with them?”
Shalltear’s face froze.
What was this all about?
Shalltear turned back to look.
If her face had not been seen, she could leave them and be done with it. However, she did not know if that was the right choice. She should probably kill them all as well. No, if she did that, it would be quite unnatural for Britta to be the sole survivor.
Shalltear was frustrated that she could not come to a conclusion which benefited her.
“What should we do—”
“Hah?! I don’t know!”
The look on Shalltear’s face seemed to say: Why the hell are you lot telling me all of this? As long as I don’t know, I can claim ignorance, but if I know and deliberately ignore it, I’ll be betraying my master.
“Whatever! I don’t know! Leave them be, dump them here! Throw Britta in with those women!”
“Will that be all right?”
“How the hell should I know, dammit, shut the hell up!”
“My apologies, Shalltear-sama.”
“We’re leaving, get ready!”
The Vampire Brides bowed and began moving. Shalltear grabbed her head and slowly crouched down.
“...I’m going to be scolded for sure… what should I do… however… hm?”
Shalltear raised her head, looking toward the part of the forest where the Vampire Wolves had gone.
“...Did they find him?”
Shalltear sensed the disappearance of her familiars. It was not the disappearance of magical banishment, but the discorporation of being killed.
“Follow me after you take care of that woman! Get the marker ready!”
Having made a decision, Shalltear paused only to snap off a terse command before sprinting out at lightning speeds.
Although she was forced to slow down in the forest, as long as her targets were human beings, they could not escape from Shalltear’s clutches, even when mounted.
She burst from the forest, to the last known position of her familiars.
There were twelve people before her.
Each person was attired in a full panoply of equipment which varied between each of them.
Their gear was not simple and functional, but as decorative and unique as Shalltear’s own equipment. They looked quite potent at a glance. Of course, Shalltear did not have any skills to discern the power of magic items, so she had to go by her gut, but she felt that their magic items might be of legendary-class or above.
Doubts appeared in Shalltear’s head, given that she had no idea where these people hailed from. These twelve people seemed completely different from the others that Shalltear had seen in this world. It was the difference between a lion and a mouse.
Shalltear considered the twelve men and women, and her gaze finally rested on one of them, a man.
That man… is he strong?
Shalltear was surprised and had no levels in dedicated warrior classes, so her assessment of her opposition’s strength told her that he was not only stronger than the Vampire Brides she had brought along, but stronger still than Solution, the Pleiades battle maid.
Shalltear took a closer look at the man.
The gear he wore seemed to have been designed for use by a man, which was why she had pegged him as a male, but he seemed quite androgynous in appearance.
She did not know if he was male or female, since he resembled both a man or a woman, yet did not look like either. He was not very tall, and seemed quite youthful. Perhaps he was still growing, which only made it harder to tell.
His hair was black and long, almost reaching the ground, while his keen eyes had red pupils which regarded Shalltear with caution. He carried a plain-looking spear which seemed incongruous with the rest of his equipment.
The man issued a clear, crisp command — like the surface of a frozen lake — and panic broke out in the rest of the party. Shalltear had no idea what those words meant. However, she imagined that whatever was being used was powerful, possibly enough to rival Shalltear’s sole divine-class item.
The others sprang into action in response to the command, but Shalltear paid them no heed. There was only one person who stood out in her reckoning; the others did not seem like much of a threat.
The group’s formation was centered around a woman in a strange dress.
It had a high-necked collar, with two long slits on either sides, so it was probably some sort of ladies’ full length dress. It was silver in color, with a five-clawed dragon picked out in gold thread along its surface.
In Ainz’s world, this sort of dress would be called a qipao.
However, the woman wearing it was very old, her face was full of wrinkles, and her exposed legs looked like burdocks or dried potatoes. That dress was thoroughly unsuitable for her and frankly speaking, it made onlookers frown. Shalltear even went so far as to avert her eyes.
♦ ♦ ♦
However, this was the last link in a long chain of accidents and coincidences.
If even a tiny little detail had occurred differently, things might have turned out some other way.
If Ainz had not captured Nigun, if Ainz had not counterattacked the Theocracy’s divination spells so fiercely, if the Theocracy had not mistaken this for the revival of the Catastrophe Dragon Lord, if Shalltear had not been distracted — perhaps events would have unfolded differently. However, the sum of all these possibilities might have instead been phrased as an inevitability.
That qipao was called [Downfall of Castle and Country] (Kei Seke Kouku). This was a sacred treasure left behind by the gods who saved all humanity, and its power exceeded that of anything which Shalltear carried.
(TL Note: 倾城倾国: this is the item Nigun mentioned as “Kei Seke Kouku” in Vol. 1)
♦ ♦ ♦
This was the first time which Shalltear — as a Guardian, one of the highest-ranking entities in the Great Tomb of Nazarick — had ever shivered. It was a subtle observation, or one could call it a warning from a sixth sense.
Shalltear’s eyes turned, intending to seize the old lady her instincts were warning her about.
That human had to die at all costs.
The spear-wielding man rushed at her just as she realized this and was about to make her move.
Shalltear batted him aside with all her might. However, when subjected to a strike that would pulverize a weak human being, the man was simply knocked back and did not perish on the spot. In addition, his will to fight was still intact despite being blown away.
Shalltear cast a spell, centered on the old lady.
“[Mass Hold Species]!”
She wanted to capture several people. This was because she had a premonition that capturing these people would not only make up for her previous errors, but earn her praise.
As she thought that, Shalltear’s mind suddenly turned white.
It felt as though part of her thought processes were gone, because she could not comprehend what was happening. And then, when she realised what had happened, Shalltear was shaken to the core, fear filling her undead heart.
This was mind control.
As an undead being, she should have had complete immunity to mind-controlling items, yet her will was still being dominated. She desperately tried to engrave hatred and anger on her gradually-whitening consciousness, and as her mind pondered countless variations of the worst-case scenario—
—She wailed, weeping tears of blood as she struggled to fight back against the dominating force which was corrupting her, a Guardian of the Great Tomb of Nazarick.
However, despite Shalltear’s frantic resistance, her will was steadily bleached away. Nor could she use teleportation magic. This was because her mind would be completely overshadowed if she allowed herself to be distracted by such matters.
Shalltear used a class skill to create a [Purifying Javelin]. It was a gigantic lance of the holy element, and despite her own evil alignment, it could still cause massive damage to her foes. The most important thing was that she could spend MP to imbue it with perfect accuracy and tracking ability.
As she marshalled her utmost opposition, Shalltear glared at the user of the technique, the old lady who was planning to defile her. She did not take the man who held the large, mirror-like shield standing between her and the old lady into consideration.
And then — she threw.
With the part of her mind that was still conscious and aware, she hurled the lance which she held.
As her mind went white, she used that skill of hers to the full extent of its power, striking an augmented blow.
The strike flashed by in a streak of light and struck the old lady after penetrating the body of the man in front of her and the shield he was holding.
The last thing Shalltear saw was the panicked group and the two of them coughing up blood in agony.
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