Entering Kalinsha castle was not difficult.
All they had to do was hide in barrels and be smuggled in as cargo. There would be checks, of course, but there were other barrels — eight in total — besides the ones they had chosen to hide in, so all they had to do was let the inspectors check those instead. The fact that they could get past security with such simple precautions was due to the diverse nature of the Demihuman Alliance.
The demihumans all came from different cultures and had varying social norms. If they had anything in common, it was that fighting strength meant everything. Therefore, when a powerful individual threw his weight around, he usually got it, and minor transgressions were all forgiven. To demihumans, their personal power determined their capacity for violence and in turn, their social rank. Those lower on the totem pole had no choice but to obey.
Therefore, a strong Zern could put an end to the cargo inspection by glaring at the inspectors.
Eventually, there was a loud thunk as the barrels were laid on the ground.
After that, someone knocked on the top of the barrel.
That was the signal that they had arrived at their destination. As planned, Neia counted out three minutes in silence as she listened to the Zern responsible for transporting them open a door and leave.
After the three minutes were up, Neia pushed up the divider above her. While the bigger pieces of raw meat did not fall when the divider tilted, the smaller chunks rained down on Neia. This barrel was constructed with a false bottom. Neia was below the divider and the fresh meat lay on top of it.
The reason why the barrels were filled with fresh meat and not vegetables or grain was so that they could use the scent of blood to mask Neia and CZ’s scent.
While Neia found it a little uncomfortable to be soaked in blood and juices from the meat, she still felt happy that none of the countermeasures they had prepared had been put to use.
Neia slowly lifted up the lid of the barrel and peered outside.
She looked around the darkened interior of the room — there was a faint light that might have been the glow from a magic item — and after verifying that there was nobody around, Neia slowly climbed out of the barrel.
There were all kinds of foodstuffs and urns on the shelves of this larder. There were also many barrels like the ones which had recently been brought here.
It took a lot of work, but she managed to climb out safely. In order to make getting back in easier, she left the divider standing inside the barrel.
They would need to use these barrels to escape after rescuing the Zern prince.
CZ, the other infiltrator, had just made it out of her barrel. She was shorter than Neia, so climbing out of the large barrel had been more tiresome. However, her physical abilities were far beyond those of Neia’s and even Remedios’, so she had managed to get out by herself before Neia could go over to help her.
“There’s meat stuck to your hair.”
CZ looked unhappy. While her facial expression did not change, that did not mean she had no emotions. Perhaps it was because she had been with CZ all this time or because Neia’s eyesight was excellent, or perhaps looking at the Sorcerer King’s bony features all this time had honed her ability to scrutinize others, but Neia had a rough grasp of how CZ felt.
CZ fumbled around to try and get the small bits of meat out of her hair, but they were stuck to the strands on the back of her head and she could not get them out.
While I was told to cut my hair short because long hair could be easily grabbed in combat, it seems there are many other drawbacks to it.
Neia went to CZ’s side and picked all the chunks out before tossing them into the barrel.
“…Thanks… Don’t want to infiltrate this way again.”
“We’ll have to do it again when we escape.”
CZ looked despondently at the barrel, then pulled a towel out of nowhere to wipe herself off before handing it to Neia.
The moist towel had a softness and fineness which Neia had never felt before. Neia imagined that it must have been very expensive. How had she gotten her hands on something like that? Were they common in the demon world?
As all these questions and more ran through her head, Neia wiped her hands that had been made sticky by the meat, and then wiped down CZ’s hair with the clean bits. While it only made her feel better, it was better than not wiping at all.
“Don’t mention it.”
While Neia was doing this, CZ took out her weapon.
That strangely-shaped device was apparently a ranged weapon called a spell gun. It used mana to fire bullet-like bolts, and it felt like a crossbow. CZ had said something about the gunpowder not showing any signs of combustion or something, but Neia had not understood any of it, so the explanation was wasted on her.
She had wanted to test it out, but CZ refused to part with it, so CZ’s fighting ability was still an unknown. Still, she was a difficulty rating 150 demon, so Neia felt that there was nothing to worry about there.
CZ produced the Ultimate Shootingstar Super and a quiver of arrows out of nowhere like a stage magician before handing them to Neia, and in turn Neia returned her the dirty towel.
Initially, there had been a discussion on how Neia would bring her bow along. The bow’s stave was very long, and when one added camouflage on top of that, she would not be able to close the lid on the barrel, and if the barrel were opened she would be exposed.
While they could have let the Zern carry it in, the bow was a magnificent piece of work and it would have left an impression on others. In addition, the Zern had also refused, for fear of being drawn into all this if the rescue mission failed.
In the end, when everyone had told her to leave the bow behind, CZ said that she could store her weapons in a mysterious space in the air, so she could put the bow in there as well.
The uneasiness of bringing a valuable item lent to her by the Sorcerer King on a mission in a dangerous place blended with the reassurance of not having to part ways with her weapon. Caught between the two emotions, Neia thanked CZ for her kindness. It would seem CZ had accepted Neia as her junior back then, and after that CZ had occasionally acted like her senior.
Part of that was how Neia had to address CZ as “CZ-san”, because CZ would make a fuss if Neia did not. However, CZ was a pretty girl, and when she made a pouty face — she could tell even though CZ did not show expressions — Neia actually found it kind of cute.
After they had each readied their weapons, CZ was the first to move.
Neia pricked up her ears to listen for any movement outside the door, but there was nobody there.
“…Let’s head out.”
Time was short, so Neia nodded.
The Liberation Army was approaching Kalinsha while the operation to rescue the Zern Prince was in progress, so the battle for Kalinsha would begin soon.
1: Neia and CZ would infiltrate Kalinsha and rescue the Zern prince.
2: The Liberation Army would approach Kalinsha and begin their attack.
3: If the Zern prince was rescued, the Zern would act as a fifth column within the city walls.
4: If item 3 failed, then instead of the Zern opening the city gates and guiding the Liberation Army in, Neia and CZ would have to handle that task. However, that was far too much for them to take on, so they would only do what was within their capabilities.
Those were the key points of the battle plan.
The important thing was that if they could rescue the Zern prince, then they could count on the Liberation Army and the Zern to relieve them even if they were forced to hunker down and defend themselves. This was good for the Zern as well; if the rescue succeeded, they could release the prince after Kalinsha was taken back.
In other words, whether or not they could take Kalinsha back simply and with minimal casualties all hinged on successfully rescuing the prince.
As she felt the weight crushing down on her shoulders, Neia groaned as her tummy hurt again.
Therefore — there was not much time. Once the Liberation Army began their attack on Kalinsha or if they were detected before that, Kalinsha’s security posture would be upgraded.
In accordance with what they had planned, CZ produced a bottle of what looked like perfume out of nowhere and sprinkled it on Neia and herself. It seemed to be some kind of consumable magic item that contained the first tier spell [Odorless]. There was not much of it, so they had to conserve it as much as possible.
CZ cracked open the door, peered around outside, and then slipped out.
They had selected their route and decided on how to deal with various situations after consulting the map of Kalinsha, and they had already discussed what duties each of them would be handling.
Neia exited the room as well, then carefully closed the door so as not to make noise before running after CZ.
Though I’m not really helping much…
Frankly speaking, under the present circumstances Neia was nothing more than a burden. That much was instantly clear when one looked at CZ’s running stride. She ran like her father moved through the woods — no, she was far better, being both swift and silent. She was definitely using some kind of technique there..
She’s a demon, but she uses techniques like a human… It’s always the ones you can’t judge by their appearances which are the scariest, huh?
While they could have left everything to CZ, Neia’s presence was both to keep an eye on CZ and also to ensure that it was a joint effort between the Sorcerous Kingdom’s CZ — assuming she was truly bound to the Sorcerer King — and the Holy Kingdom’s Neia that rescued the prince. That way, the Holy Kingdom could act like they had contributed to it.
The passages were dark. It was night-time. Moonlight streamed in through the windows — or rather, the only thing which entered was the moonlight. There were no other sources of light here, no magical illumination or torches.
This was because many demihumans were indifferent to the darkness. However, there were different degrees of being able to see in the darkness. While some species had complete darkvision, most of them simply had superior night vision. Therefore, Neia and CZ avoided the moonlight and slunk from shadow to shadow.
As a human being, Neia had to focus herself and sharpen her senses. Not only could she not see clearly due to the darkness, the patrolling guards did not carry light sources either, so she could not spot them from afar.
While she did not quite understand why the larder had lights, that was probably for the sake of those species who lacked darkvision.
The two of them kept their footfalls as quiet as possible while they ran through the castle towards their destination.
Considering CZ’s physical attributes were far superior than Remedios’, even a pace which left Neia panting and barely able to keep up was probably slower than a jog to CZ.
They occasionally spotted demihuman guards, which was their cue to hold their breath and quietly wait for the opposition to move on. They could not kill them, because that would mean having to take care of the corpses and hide their traces. Since they were in the midst of the enemy, it would be best not to be spotted at all until the rescue was a success.
Fortunately, Neia and CZ were not spotted, and they continued forward.
There were few guards within the castle thanks to most of the personnel being assigned to the walls and the watchtowers, as well as the city’s prisons. The Sorcerer King had killed a great deal of demihumans, which meant that they could not set up a tight security net. Thus, vigilance within the castle had grown lax, according to the Zern.
The reason why they could proceed safely was because the Zern had reconnoitered the area ahead of time and made nearly-perfect preparations, but Neia still felt a twinge of uneasiness.
There were two challenges in their way.
The first was the long passageway they had to traverse in order to reach the tower.
The second was the bridge to the tower — the aerial walkway.
There were no hiding places there, and obviously there would be sentries standing watch as well, not just one guard, but several of them. In addition, at least one of them would be stationed out of the line of fire for ranged weapons because they were on guard against ranged attacks,
While they had discussed the matter in a big group in front of Gustav’s map, they would still have to pass through both these places in order to reach the tower.
If we could use [Invisibility] to deceive their eyesight and [Silence] from the priests to deceive their hearing, we would be able to infiltrate perfectly… that’s why adventurers — who form groups that can take on all kinds of situations — are so highly-valued.
Eventually, the two of them reached their objective.
This was the first challenge, the long passageway. If they tried to run straight down it, they would be spotted before they could cover the distance. In order to avoid that, they needed to reach a location where they could execute ranged attacks while not being spotted by the opposition.
That was why they had come here, the level above the long passage, the room directly above where the guards were stationed.
If they lowered a rope from here and rappelled down the outer walls, they could take a shortcut without being detected.
“…Is this the place?”
In response to CZ’s question, Neia consulted the map in her head and the route they had taken, and nodded a yes.
“…Hm. Not bad.”
CZ’s reply sounded like she was praising a junior, and then she pressed her ear to the door. Then, she quickly and silently opened it.
While the room was filled with various sundry items, it looked like it had not been used in a long time, and there was a white layer of dust on the ground. However, there were traces that the Zern scouts had been here. They had moved between the window and a very large shelf.
CZ produced a rope out of nowhere. It was the same color as the castle wall.
After that, she secured it to the large shelf. She used all her strength to tug on it to see if it could take the weight of Neia and herself, but it did not budge, and it showed no signs of fraying.
The size –and weight — of the shelf was a factor, but the web-like strands stuck to the shelves was probably more important. The Zern who had come to this room beforehand had fixed it in place with sticky threads taken from the Spidans.
The window opened easily, and CZ looked at the city walls outside. After verifying that there were no patrolling guards in sight, CZ slung her weapon onto her back and said, “I’ll go first.”
She threw herself out of the window and slid down the rope to the window below.
She took her weight on one hand and used the other to push open the next window, which opened easily. That too had been the work of the Zern.
CZ then slid inside. Her skilful movements had only taken a few seconds.
After confirming that the room below was safe, CZ poked her face out and beckoned to Neia.
Neia grabbed the rope and leaned out of the window.
While the window on the floor below was only four meters away, they were now over 100 meters off the ground. If Neia fell, she would go SPLAT. No, it would be worse if she did not die. She would surely be tortured until she gave up what she knew and then she would be killed. Falling to her death would be a merciful alternative.
The rope had evenly spaced knots along its length — handholds, in other words — and there had been no problems during the several practice sessions they had conducted. However, training felt completely different from the real thing.
Ahh, I really don’t want to go…
But she had no choice. If only there was something like a balcony that she could just jump down on–
Neia gripped the rope tightly as she pushed her entire body out of the window. She crossed her legs to firmly clasp the rope between her thighs.
After this, all she had to do was descend slowly.
The ground’s just a little lower. The ground’s just a little lower.
She slowly went down the rope, reminding herself not to look down over and over again.
She shifted her weight from her right hand, and then to the left, just what like she had practiced. The wind blew and made her body shake at an intensity that could not be compared to training at all.
Come on, come on, come on, me! CZ should have been more scared than this!
The window was open because of the Zerns’ help.
However, if someone had locked the window after the Zerns opened it, then CZ would have had to climb back up. With that in mind, Neia — who only needed to make a single trip — had it easy in comparison.
She finally approached the window, and CZ reached out to grab Neia’s body. Thus, she pulled Neia in with incredible strength.
“Thank, thank you.”
“…Mm. But, too long… I’m taking it in, hold this.”
CZ leaned out of the window and raised her magic gun. Neia held the rope as indicated. There was a pop-hiss of expelled air and Neia felt a force tugging on the rope. CZ had cut it with her weapon.
She pulled the severed rope back into the room and dumped it in the corner. They would not be using this route on the way back, so she had pulled it back in rather than let it dangle freely, but there were merits and drawbacks to that.
The merit was that it minimized the risk of being spotted by the sentries on the walls.
The drawback was that if anything happened and they could not exfiltrate by their planned route, they would not be able to climb to the upper floor with this rope.
In the end, the two of them had decided that the drawbacks of being spotted outweighed the merits.
“It’s done, CZ-san. Next we need to get past the first obstacle…”
“…Mm. Let’s go… got to kill them. Can you do it?”
“Mm. I think I can.”
Once they stepped out of this room, they would be in a position to shoot the sentries stationed along the passage.
If they could not kill them before they raised the alarm, all their effort would be wasted.
Neia took out her bow and nocked an arrow. CZ raised her magic gun as well.
“I’ll take the right, you take the left, CZ-san.”
CZ formed a circle with her thumb and her index finger.
The two of them exchanged looks, and then CZ pushed open the door.
Neia made eye contact with a nearby — about 1.5 meters away — demihuman. He did not know what was going on or who they were. The demihuman was so surprised that he could not parse the situation, but Neia did not hesitate and put an arrow into him.
With a katsun, the arrow pierced his skull through the forehead.
I did it!
While Neia’s skills had played a part, most of the work had been done by the Ultimate Shootingstar Super™.
Thank you, Your Majesty!
Just as Neia’s arrow pierced the demihuman through the head, CZ’s spell gun blew off half of the other demihuman’s head.
The demihumans made more noise than she expected when they collapsed. Neia hurriedly pricked up her ears. Fortunately, she could not hear anyone running towards this place. It would seem nobody had spotted them yet.
They had already assigned their tasks beforehand. As CZ dragged the corpses into the room they had just entered with the rope, Neia used the smell-clearing item CZ had lent her. After that, she reached for the waterskin on her belt and poured the powerful wine within all over the place, washing away the chunks of meat, brains, skull and bloodstains on the ground. As the stench of alcohol filled the air, CZ emerged from the room, then produced an empty wine jug and poured a little bit of the jug’s wine inside before quietly ripping it up and leaving it in place.
While they had tried to cover it up, it was very likely that the next shift would sense something was up when they came to take over. She would be able to relax if they could put the bodies into CZ’s mysterious pocket dimension, but CZ said that she would not do so, thus they left the corpses in the room. Of course, they had made preparations there too, but there was no way to make sure that they would not be found.
They had to assume that they did not have the luxury of ample time.
They finally reached the second obstacle, the aerial walkway. Of the several scenarios they had come up with, this was the closest to being ideal. They still had time and nobody had spotted them yet.
“…It’s a race against time now.”
“I know. If I slip, don’t worry about me.”
The path from the castle to the tower was roughly two people wide.
There were no walls on either side — it was open to the air. Apparently several people had fallen off the side before, and after seeing this, all she could think of was that it was only to be expected.
This aerial walkway was the reason why this place was the final redoubt when engaging invaders during a siege.
A large force could not pass through here, so an advantage in numbers would be nullified. At the same time, there was also the risk of falling. If there was a spear line at the end of the path, breaking through would be very difficult. This design was the kind that attackers hated. One would need magic casters with attack spells like [Fireball] to take it down.
Using ranged weapons for a sustained attack was disadvantageous for Neia’s side, which was operating stealthily and under time constraints. Therefore, all they could do was charge into close range and finish off the enemy, while the enemy could hit them with ranged weapons and they did not have the benefit of cover.
In that case, they would need to close the gap before the sentries spotted them. But at a closer look, the path was uneven. It was designed to slow down anyone trying to run across and force them to slip and fall off the sides.
This is dangerous… if an enemy runs into me and grabs me… I’ll fall off and die. If I’m not careful…!
After screwing up her determination, Neia realised CZ was staring at her. Although they were of the same sex, being stared at by CZ, the doll-like beauty, made Neia a little embarrassed.
“…Using it… Neia, wait here.”
“…I’ll take care of the door guards. No matter what happens, don’t come out.”
Before she could get an answer, CZ vanished.
She had disappeared. This was not some super high-speed movement. CZ had been standing here until just now and then she had vanished into the air like she had been an illusion.
A wave of confusion assaulted Neia. However, CZ had already told her to wait, so she ought to stay here and wait.
Neia concealed herself at the entrance to the aerial walkway and listened carefully to the tower and the path behind her for anything out of the ordinary.
Several seconds later — something happened at the guard post.
She heard a scream and then the sound of a guard collapsing.
Neia poked her face out to see what was going on and saw CZ emerge from the guard post. CZ waved to beckon Neia over.
As Neia began to panic and wonder what was happening, CZ’s waving gesture grew larger, until her entire body was moving.
Could she not go, now that CZ had done that much?
Neia bent low, then ran across the windswept, frightening aerial walkway as she paid attention to her footing.
After she was across, she could smell blood from the guard post. Several dead demihumans lay on the ground, and CZ stood inside, with her usual blank expression. She held what looked like a very sharp and large knife in her right hand. The blade was smeared bright red, and she had her spell gun in her left hand.
“…Clear. Move in.”
“…Can’t disappear any more today.Be careful.”
It would seem there was no need to explain, so Neia did not ask, but merely followed behind her.